The rise of ISIS and its threat
November 17, 2015 3:54 PM   Subscribe

Counterterrorism "expert" David Kilcullen discusses the rise of ISIS with historian Robert Manne. Kilcullen was a senior adviser to General David Petraeus in 2007 and 2008, when he helped to design and monitor the Iraq War troop "surge".
posted by mattoxic (45 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Kilcullen has penned the latest Quaterly Essay, and more about the essay can be found here.

Note that I'm not a shill for this (hence not hyperlinking), I generally like the quarterly essay, and the world would be a better place if more people read it.

For non Aussies, Robert Manne is an professor at Melbourne's La Trobe University, and is the right's (well the local weirdos who work for Murdoch ) enemy #1
posted by mattoxic at 4:00 PM on November 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

why the scare quotes?
posted by andrewcooke at 4:01 PM on November 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

Scare quotes are so frequently apropos.




(but seriously, "expert" is a quotation and "surge" was from the linked blurb itself.)
posted by Rangi at 5:32 PM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Rise of daesh. Daesh.
posted by Karaage at 6:04 PM on November 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'd put Kilcullen in the center-left politically, with a realist bent. He is usually pessimistic in his assessments. This seems to be driven by his belief that we are facing 50+ year conflict without easy diplomatic or military answers.
posted by humanfont at 6:08 PM on November 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'd love to read that essay. Too bad it requires a subscription.
posted by echocollate at 6:49 PM on November 17, 2015

I'd love to read that essay. Too bad it requires a subscription.

An ebook for $10 AUD, which is about $0.23 USD
posted by mattoxic at 6:53 PM on November 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thank you
Listening to the interview now. This is really good.
posted by dougzilla at 6:58 PM on November 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Frontline is starting right now with a special episode on ISIS.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:02 PM on November 17, 2015

Ah, excellent, thanks. I missed the e-book option.
posted by echocollate at 7:03 PM on November 17, 2015

Thank you for this. I have been looking for a non partisan critique of the Obama foreign policy approach in the middle east. Thank you!
posted by RedShrek at 7:18 PM on November 17, 2015

An ebook for $10 AUD, which is about $0.23 USD

i'm really confused. when i first visited the site, i thought the prices were in USD, and that they were high. then i read your comment and thought they were low. but now google is telling me that $10 AUD is $7 USD. how do you get $0.23 USD?
posted by andrewcooke at 7:24 PM on November 17, 2015

how do you get $0.23 USD

posted by oluckyman at 7:35 PM on November 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

how do you get $0.23 USD?

I've seen the future
posted by mattoxic at 7:35 PM on November 17, 2015 [9 favorites]

Robert Manne used to be the editor of Quadrant and was considered to be center-right back in the day. I don't know whether he actually shifted his positions, or whether the positions shifted beneath him.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:48 PM on November 17, 2015

Frontline: The Rise of ISIS

ISIS in Afghanistan
posted by homunculus at 10:06 PM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

triggerfinger: “Frontline is starting right now with a special episode on ISIS.”
It's… grim. Just in the first ten minutes they show "school" where the adult teaches the children what jihad means. Then he shows them various weapons and how to use them, prompting them with the answers when they don't know them. The looks on the little boys' — a couple appear to be maybe eight or nine — when they dry-fire the pistol… I just don't even know.

“ISIS[sic] in Afghanistan”FRONTLINE, 17 November 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 10:14 PM on November 17, 2015

Please, if you have a spare hour and are not hearing-impaired, click on that link and listen to the interview. You will be glad you did. Otherwise, the article (which I have not read) sounds like it will contain many of the points Kilcullen makes.

Once Professor Manne makes his well-intentioned-but-long, waffly introduction, Kilcullen delivers pretty much the finest backgrounder on the evolution of Islamic State I've had the pleasure to hear to date. I'm not particularly deeply read on the topic but he appears to be entirely non-partisan in his analysis.

For me, there are four highlights (though the whole interview is gold):
1. Clear analysis of US (and allied governments') policy failings that made their mess in Iraq even worse
2. A reality check on what Islamic State has become and why "western" powers' over-reliance on previous tactics would likely miss their mark
3. A very succinct, powerful and non-combative response to those who try to paint Islam as inherently violent (which I'll use the next time I find myself in one of those conversations); and
4. The origins of the surge in Russian involvement in Syria and its links with other actions in Europe.

Thank you, mattoxic.
posted by Lesser Spotted Potoroo at 1:07 AM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Manne and Kilcullen YT link
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:30 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Why the scare quotes?

The FPP describes him as "a senior adviser to General David Petraeus" and his bio says he was "special adviser for counterinsurgency to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice."

He's one of the Bush people and he's being interviewed as an "expert" on the middle east and that should be enough to scare anyone.
posted by three blind mice at 3:22 AM on November 18, 2015

ideological knee jerk without listening to the post? that'd be metafilter.
posted by andrewcooke at 3:24 AM on November 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

He wasn't a Bush guy. Before we invaded Iraq he was calling it a "fucking stupid idea."
posted by humanfont at 3:48 AM on November 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yeah, three blind mice, I made that fleeting, mistaken assumption too. Reckon you'll really appreciate what he has to say in the interview. Even in the first 15 mins you'll gain a more nuanced picture and by the end it becomes clear he's a "Dealing-with-reality-on-the-ground Guy."
posted by Lesser Spotted Potoroo at 4:31 AM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

He is totally wrong about the Iraq invasion. The American government knew exactly why crushing Afghanistan was an insufficient response to the 9/11 attack. The buzz began immediately. There were not enough high value targets in Afghanistan.

These people had to really show everybody not to fuck with them. That takes a demonstration of resolve.
posted by bukvich at 5:40 AM on November 18, 2015

This is some really intelligent stuff and well worth your time. From someone who was there, rather than some nong in a chair.
posted by Wolof at 5:47 AM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Fucking Egyptian goddesses. They hate our freedoms.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:02 AM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Thanks for posting, in my opinion Kilcullen is one of the most intelligent voices out there when it comes to the conflicts in the Middle East. His COIN 28 Articles (PDF) were essential reading for military leaders deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I'm always interested to hear his take on current events. In our current climate of shouting cable news talking heads and soundbite politicians, it can be difficult to find reasoned analysis. Kilcullen is someone worth listening to.
posted by Man Bites Dog at 6:36 AM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am surprised that the Administration isn’t making the military case for letting the refugees in. Every refugee that leaves ISIS-controlled territory weakens ISIS. One of ISIS stated major objectives is to get refugees to stop leaving their nascent Islamic State. In their September issue of their magazine, they tried to dissuade refugees from leaving the Islamic State. Here, in a video, they are calling leaving the Islamic State a grave sin: Here is a transcript of the video. In the transcript, they state: "In our times, Allah has bestowed His grace upon the nation of Prophet Muhammad by establishing the Islamic State in Al-Sham and in Iraq, and elsewhere upon the Earth. Any Muslim for whom Allah has established Dar Al-Islam in his country should live in it, and any Muslim living in an infidel country should emigrate to Dar Al-Islam, as was ordained by Allah and the Prophet Muhammad.” They also state: "If you consider emigrating from the land of Islam to the land of Infidels, leaving your brothers, the mujahideen, behind, to defend the honor of your women and the women of your brothers, and leaving behind your sisters, who are being raped day and night in Damascus, Homs, and elsewhere – you should know that you are committing a grave sin.”

In other words, they want Muslims to stop leaving for the West and those in the West to come home. This is not surprising, as no incipient state wants to have its population leave while it is struggling to survive. There are also indications that a lot of unwilling people are being forced to join their ranks, as this interview with a captured ISIS member demonstrates.

What I don’t understand is why the Administration hasn’t made this case. Taking refugees from Iraq and Syria means less boots on the ground for ISIS, less economic activity and fewer funds from that economic activity going to ISIS. If the Administration could get a general to get in front of the podium and explain this, it could pop the anti-refugee bubble. We need more people to leave the Islamic State, not less. Hopefully, the Administration can get in front of this, as it would blunt a lot of the talk coming out of the GOP and put them on the defensive.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:33 PM on November 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State
By Christoph Reuter
An Iraqi officer planned Islamic State's takeover in Syria and SPIEGEL has been given exclusive access to his papers. They portray an organization that, while seemingly driven by religious fanaticism, is actually coldly calculating.

I believe this was posted to MetaFilter when it came out, but it pops into my head every time ISIS is discussed.
posted by phoque at 4:55 PM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

how do you get $0.23 USD?

Same as in town.

“People used to say to me, 'what are you studying Islamic insurgency for. Like when’s that ever going to happen?' And I was like, ‘I don’t know’.”

Well, uh…

Seriously, informality of language there aside, nothing against Kilcullen, but we're all sort of a victim of Santayana here (forgetting the past and doomed to repeat it).
Free apple if you know who George Habash is without google.

Arab ( terrorism was a punchline in the 60s and 70s. Terrorist plane hijackings were used as cliched comedy sketches.
This sort of vanished from the social consciousness with the fall of the Soviet Union (even though hijackings and terrorist attacks continued) and indeed the seriousness of it was ridiculed (e.g. Clinton blowing up an "aspirin factory" to distract from his plochop scandal).

Now, part of the problem was with the loss of the Soviet Union Arab nationalism lost a lot of cover support.
We all know (hopefully) that we used international religious radicals like the mujahedin against the secular Arabs (like Saddam Hussein) and the Soviets ( in particular in Afghanistan where Osama’s former usefulness has been well documented here and elsewhere).
Here’s the thing, doesn’t it seem odd that the PLO would oppose ISIS? At first blush I mean. The PLO are terrorists. ISIS are terrorists.

Well – and this is a sharp thumbnail sketch of a very fuzzy situation – the PLO and the Ba’athists (Assad f’rinstance) are a holdover from the communist supported revolt against European colonialism. More socialist than secular, but whatever would hold the state identity together was the thing. The more artificial the state, the more oppressive the secular power required.

Now the tension between resisting impiety and resisting imperialism in the Middle East and the Muslim world has been there for a while (read George Antonius - basically religious folks fighting each other and inviting foreign meddling to fight it and secular folks fighting foreign meddling) but where the organizing force of the nationalists has been in the emergency war powers (destruction of Israel), the religious fanatics’ victims are mostly Muslim. Sort of a Nazis vs. Inquisitors thing going on.
Again, overly simplified what with the ethnic rivalries, the Shiite/Sunni thing (or the Alawites in Syria who were chummy with the French, yadda yadda yadda, all info up for folks with google).

All that to say, we all know the tyrannical rule was all that was keeping people of rival ethnicities and faiths together, but that was because their interests weren’t common because the west had (has) put them at odds.

So it’s not that what Kilcullen is saying isn’t valid, but these groups are natural growths of the chaotic landscape we’ve created. Despite, in some cases, fostering some groups (like the Muj,

The idea of invading Iraq, dropping Hussain, then trying to fight to keep people from killing each other was (is) astronomically stupid. I can’t think of any better terms to describe it than what it is – radically opposed sectarian groups we fomented radicalism among, barely kept in check by a violent oppressive dictatorship we installed, then violently removed, who then violently attack each other while we violently attempt to keep peace.
Of course, that’s writ on a larger scale and less explosively generally speaking but it’s what we’re still going through now. Creating our own enemies.

So, refugees – yeah, remember the Yarmouk camp?
That’s this in a nutshell. In 2002 there were 100-odd thousand people there. 10 years later constant fighting, starvation, disease, reduced the number to 20,000 and we did….?
IIRC I mentioned here a while back going in with a well protected humanitarian aid force, that is, international troops protecting international aid workers with the objective of bringing aid to refugees, would be a good idea.

As it is, I’d feel pretty pissed if I was getting worked over in a Syrian refugee camp and the international community that was ignoring me suddenly started blaming me for crap going on in their backyard.
Right now the choice is support despots who oppress people with secret police or support theocratic zealots who oppress people with religion. The Russians position is obvious. The Saudis are throwing money at various people causing more chaos. I don’t envy the Israelis having to do the John Woo three way gun standoff thing.

I don’t agree with Kilcullen’s idea of increased bombing or treating ISIS as a nation (or as a nation-building enterprise).
Right now their operational presence is limited, their mobility is only on roads, their supply is subject to 2nd hand logistics (bought mostly with narcotics and black market oil). Strategically their days are numbered as soon as enough people get tired of their shit. But, they can gain “ground” by getting more recruits.

Only way to successfully destroy that – bombing/killing being the asshat method – is to create stability. Which would be humanitarian aid, constructive engagement, all that. Get people squared away, less desperate, make the place safe for police, etc. Remove their attempt to be a legitimate government by creating a better government (a better local government anyway, I'm fine with clipping Assad, or giving him a sandwich, whatever it takes) and giving more people more power in their process.

But we like fighting fire with fire for some reason. Never seen a fire department successfully do that m’self.

“…had this really complex problem going on in Pakistan…instead of dealing with that, because it was too complex to think about, we invaded Iraq.”
Quoted for truth. Sorta.

I mean, I can’t believe how clearly Pakistan was in the picture. I think it’s more precise to say we allowed the invasion of Iraq because it was too complex to think about. Damn that’s sad. OTOH Trump is leading the pack in the presidential race so I’d’ve crapped my slacks thinking about that was while Bush was President.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:46 AM on November 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Reposting from the Paris thread but also on topic here: Saudi Arabia: an ISIS that Has Made It
posted by Meatbomb at 1:59 PM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I guess this is as good a place as any.

Joyce Carol Oates caught some backlash,but it's not a terrible question. Anyone who's had an abusive partner can talk about the happy memories, the joyful times. What's life and theology like inside?
The utopia of Isis: inside Islamic State’s propaganda war
Fahmy points to images showing serenity and repentance – “suggesting that any individual will always be embraced by the organisation and forgiven for past affiliations upon joining the ‘caliphate’” – alongside others promoting the idea of victimisation by the West, such as graphic photographs of children killed by drone strikes. Like British newspapers, the group also seized on the image of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy on the beach – as an illustration of the dangers of emigrating.

Fahmy notes that very little utopian Isis propaganda is seen in the West. Might we understand the group better if it was?
ISIS Women and Enforcers in Syria Recount Collaboration, Anguish and Escape
Dua, Aws and Asma were among the lucky: The choice to join was available to them. And each chose to barter her life, through work and marriage, to the Organization.

None of them subscribed to its extreme ideology, and even after fleeing their homes and going into hiding, they still struggle to explain how they changed from modern young women into Islamic State morality enforcers.

In the moment, each choice seemed like the right one, a way to keep life tolerable: marrying fighters to assuage the Organization and keep their families in favor; joining the Khansaa Brigade to win some freedom of movement and an income in a city where women had been stripped of self-determination.

But every concession turned to horror before long, and the women came to deplore how they were pitted against their neighbors, part of a force tearing apart the community they loved. Only months in, widowed and abandoned and forced to marry strangers again, would they see how they were being used as temporary salves to foreign fighters whose only dedication was to violence and an unrecognizable God.
The Real Power Of ISIS
“Mr. Hitler has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. Hitler knows… that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice.”
Not joy, necessarily, but worse: purpose, meaning ... a place in the world. Utopia.
They deal in chaos, but they work from a script. The failure to understand that is costing us dear
Radical Arab Sunni revivalism, which Isis now spearheads, is a dynamic, revolutionary countercultural movement of world historic proportions, with the largest and most diverse volunteer fighting force since the second world war. In less than two years, it has created a dominion over hundreds of thousands of square kilometres and millions of people. Despite being attacked on all sides by internal and external foes, it has not been degraded to any appreciable degree, while rooting ever stronger in areas it controls and expanding its influence in deepening pockets throughout Eurasia.

Inside the surreal world of the Islamic State’s propaganda machine
Abu Hajer, who is now in prison in Morocco, is among more than a dozen Islamic State defectors or members in several countries who provided detailed accounts to The Washington Post of their involvement in, or exposure to, the most potent propaganda machine ever assembled by a terrorist group.

What they described resembles a medieval reality show. Camera crews fan out across the caliphate every day, their ubiquitous presence distorting the events they purportedly document. Battle scenes and public beheadings are so scripted and staged that fighters and executioners often perform multiple takes and read their lines from cue cards.
A Message From Paris
So Why France, and why now?
What have we learned from Paris (and why even Paris?)? Meet The New Islamic State, Same As The Old Islamic State. Will this war be won by fourth-generation means? Or did the Paris attacks mean ISIS is tapped out? A weakening IS still has striking power, still twined up with the West's military agencies, whose response is under review.
Why do "the terrorists" always seem to get what they want? It's because they're secret masterminds - so secret they're amateurs. Could It Happen Here? Be careful of Magical Thinking About ISIS
Now IS is unrivalled among jihadist groups, and no one knows quite what to do that won’t make the problem worse. Anything that can be done now risks being too little, too late. It’s true that IS is no match, militarily, for the West. The attacks of 13 November were in the anarchist tradition of the ‘propaganda of the deed’, and we shouldn’t fall for it: the social order of Europe isn’t in jeopardy. But it would also be a mistake to underestimate the problem. IS has managed to insert itself, with no small amount of cunning, and with acute sensitivity to feelings of humiliation, into two of the most intractable conflicts of our time: the relationship of European societies to their internal, Muslim ‘others’ and the sectarian power struggles that have engulfed the lands of Iraq and Syria since 2003.
The Feds already have a list of Muslims in the US, living in the 'gray zone' of the West. How many would you cast back into the seas? You should never fight the battle your enemy wants you to fight, so welcome refugees (but screen out engineers). No matter ISIS' rotten roots, Does ISIS really have nothing to do with Islam? What about all those other violent ideologies: the anarchists, the red brigades, etc? Since terrorism is violence with political change as the goal, refuse to be terrorized.

Could the West even intervene effectively? What about the usual suspects - fight them or fund them? ISIS is effective because of decentralization and survivability, the "starfish caliphate." Whatever happened to Al Qaeda? The US has a comprehensive strategy ... to defeat an ideology (not 'ancient hatreds')? Maybe we should just get the hell out of a war the West cannot win.
So what is to be done?
Give up democracy and trust in "wise" men and women? That would be an even greater victory for the terrorists. Give in to anger and invade Syria, hoping to wipe ISIS off the face of the Earth? Perhaps, but that will not kill the vision promoted by ISIS. Rethink alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan where the jihadi ideology has more support? That would only create a larger space for ISIS and its progeny to prosper in. There are no ready answers, but one thing should be clear: Just as ISIS has developed a strategy that thrives on disorder, so must those opposing it. This attribute – recently named antifragility by Nassim Taleb – is an essential feature of successful processes in complex systems. In such systems, any process or strategy based on explicit, detailed planning is doomed to fail simply because the behavior of the system is deeply unpredictable. To succeed, a strategy must be opportunistic, exploiting the disorder freely available within the system rather than seeking to protect any specific fragile order. It will need to be open-ended rather than goal-driven, and necessarily involve many detours, backward steps, and re-evaluations. Individual decisions within such a strategy may be inexplicable or even apparently counter-productive. Above all, the strategy must be inherently dynamic – seeking to shape the flow rather than preserve a status quo, and trying to actively exploit the chaos created by the terrorists before they can exploit it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:40 AM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

“Revolution and Counter-Revolution: Kemalism, the AKP and Turkey at 90,” Gareth Jenkins, Turkey Analyst, vol. 6, no. 20 06 November 2013
Ninety years after its foundation on October 29, 1923, the Turkish Republic is already radically different to how its founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), intended. More change seems inevitable. Since it first took office in November 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has gradually dismantled Atatürk’s ideological legacy. In its place, the AKP has introduced not a pluralistic democracy but a new form of authoritarianism.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:52 PM on November 24, 2015

“Turkey: The New Model?” Ömer Taşpınar, The Brookings Institute, April 2012
posted by ob1quixote at 8:54 PM on November 24, 2015

Last Jewish family in Aleppo flee for Israel
Exclusive: Having survived more than four years of civil war in Syria by keeping their faith secret, the Halabis escape with help of smugglers

The Syrian Jewish community used to be huge, but I think they're almost all in the USA and Israel today. The disappearance of Jews in the Middle East is truly extraordinary. I can't think of a parallel. There are very few communities left outside Israel, and I don't think there are any substantial communities left at all.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:27 PM on November 24, 2015

Heh: ISIS Nova Scotia changes name to avoid terrorist group association
[...] The immigration group said at one point the connotation was so bad, staff were embarrassed to wear their name tags and partners were unwilling to say their name at public events.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:06 PM on November 26, 2015

ISIS, Liberal Democracy, and the Holy Catholic Church: A Call to Arms
We strike a man’s face when we can no longer strike his heart. We put bullets in the minds we cannot change. Violence begins where argument fails, and the fact that liberal governments can only meet ISIS’s terrorist attacks with bombing campaigns indicates that the two entities stand across an absolute impasse over which no dialogue, discourse, or insult can reach.

ISIS and liberal democracies hold radically opposed theologies. They believe incompatible doctrines of the Divine. Only by understanding this theological rift will we understand why ISIS hates us, why we hate them, and why groups like them will rise up and terrorize liberal democracy until the Last Days.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:28 PM on November 27, 2015

ISIS’ Grip on Libyan City Gives It a Fallback Option
MISURATA, Libya — Iraqi commanders have been arriving from Syria, and the first public beheadings have started. The local radio stations no longer play music but instead extol the greatness of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:54 PM on November 29, 2015

German vice-chancellor accuses Saudi Arabia of funding Islamic extremism in the West
In a highly unusual moment of a Western politician attacking a critical Arab ally, Sigmar Gabriel says the time has come to make it clear to Riyadh the time of looking away is over
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:29 PM on December 6, 2015

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