[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]
As I mentioned previously, I was invited to be a contributor to the new (and evolving) e-zine The Chicago Progressive where I will tackle much the same subjects that we do here, albeit for a general audience attuned toward music, culture and the arts instead of for the natsec nerds, strategy wonks and milblogger crowd. here’s my latest piece:
While the 2014 election results which gave Republicans control over the next Congress promise a change of direction and increased conflict in Washington over hot-button issues like immigration reform and Obamacare, one issue that is not likely to change: American policy toward Syria and ISIS. Republicans, no less than Democrats are deeply divided over what to do, as are key figures in the administration. Part of the problem is the nature of the menace posed by ISIS itself – violently barbaric, growing in strength and implacably hostile to the West, yet only indirectly threatening to America at best. The steady-stream of ISIS atrocities keep it on the front pages – along with demands that the Obama administration “do something” – without ISIS taking actions threatening enough to Americans justify the risk of a major US response.
The truth is that despite lurid stories of ISIS operatives infiltrating over the Rio Grande leaving a trail of prayer rugs and jihadi literature in their wake, the threat of acts of major domestic terrorism by ISIS foreign fighters is remote. Unlike al Qaida, which was always primarily an elite transnational terrorist group looking to strike America, ISIS is predominantly a regionally based mass-movement insurgency rooted radicalized Sunni Arab theology and anti-Shia grievances. ISIS gains political traction for its brand of extreme religious violence outside of Iraq and Syria only where similar ethnic and sectarian demographics and anarchy prevail – like in the Sinai and Libya, as Der Spiegel reported last week.
The strategic threat posed by ISIS to the United States is fairly limited and mostly indirect, coming mostly from secondary or long term effects that are adverse to longstanding American interests:
a) Ideological – Every ISIS success helps inspire a hyper-radicalization of young, angry, Sunni Arab males into a generation of crypto-mahdist revolutionaries akin to the radical wave of terrorism and revolt inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 (ex. Bela Kuhn, Mao, Ho, the Bavarian Soviet, Comintern etc.). This potential fallout is the most serious threat to regional stability in the Mideast and is already happening.
b) Destabilization – The fragile and authoritarian Gulf monarchies and Saudi Arabia with a large generation of idle, well-off, underemployed youth are acutely vulnerable to subversion byISIS (which they ironically helped fund). Any serious effort by ISIS to militarily challenge these states is likely to be accompanied by vicious anti-Shia pogroms and atrocities, possibly provoking Iran to intervene. This risks whipping up a “Muslim Thirty Year’s War” from Pakistan to the Mahgreb. While this likelihood is modest and its effects on US interests secondary, were Pakistani nukes to get loose or an Iranian-Saudi war to be triggered, it would become an urgent threat of the first order.
c) Terrorism -, Terrorism against regional American/western targets by ISIS s a certain eventuality, it has not happened yet because doing so is not a priority. ISIS leaders have demonstrated a remarkable strategic focus and discipline (more than we do, to be blunt) and have bigger fish to fry fighting local rivals right now. Terrorism against the continental United States by ISIS is not very probable (except by internet self-radicalized amateurs) and if it happened, while awful for the victims, most likely far less significant than 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing. I wouldn’t stay awake at night worrying about foreign ISIS fighters nuking Manhattan. […]
Read the rest here.