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Nothing Succeeds Like Success
ISIS Becomes the Cool Group to Join

This here is something that should keep Western policymakers up at night:

A Sunni jihadist group that has seized vast territories in Iraq and Syria is parlaying its battlefield successes into a recruitment drive that is attracting more foreign fighters, say Western and Arab officials.

The message from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS: Join us in forming a Sunni-led religious state spanning from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.

One recruitment video, released on Friday, shows gun-toting militants, speaking with British and Australian accents, extolling the virtues of jihad and inviting viewers to join their battle in Syria and Iraq.

It’s simple: success attracts publicity, money and recruits. ISIS may or may not be able to hold onto its territorial gains in Iraq and Syria, especially if the U.S. and others can work with non-crazy Sunni groups and traditional leaders to block the consolidation of a dictatorship most people in the region will hate.

However, the huge, headline gains of the recent offensive has made ISIS the ‘it’ group in the terror competition, and vulnerable youth are going to feel the pull—including in the U.S., Western Europe, the Caucasus and as far away as China. Wonderful.

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  • Boritz

    They are in competition with The Last Ship which should improve USN recruitment.

  • rheddles

    Fly paper.

  • gabrielsyme

    Because America is continuing to insist on anachronistic and irrational borders, it has creating the permanent conditions for insurrection both in Syria and Iraq. The best opportunity for sectarian recociliation in Iraq has passed, and some kind of partition in the best interests of both Sunni, Shia and Kurd. Likewise, a reasonable settlement in Syria might involve the division of the country into a Eastern quadrant (perhaps united with Sunni Iraq) and a Western half.

    Of course, in order for a new, mainly Sunni state in Mesopotami to be stable, there will have to be some sort of central, moderating force. The best candidate (and perhaps the only candidate) would be a branch of Jordan’s royal family, the Hashemites.

    • Andrew Allison

      It’s more than just Syria and Iraq; it’s the whole post-Ottoman carve-up. Trouble is, it not up to us to fix it even if we could. Those in power will not relinquish it without a fight (Assad being just the latest example), and history tells us that national boundaries get redrawn by the winners of wars. In Iraq, the Kurds have the means to defend the territory they have acquired, but a new de jure boundary would have to be recognized by whoever controls the other side of it when the dust settles on the latest Sunni/Shiite fracas.

      • gabrielsyme

        I think you’re underestimating the power of the West to change things if it chose to. The United States could signal to Kurdistan that it would recognise a UDI over certain borders, much of the west would follow. Much the same could happen with a new state of Upper Mesopotamia.

        Recognising a new state is actually not terribly difficult, the question is whether the US has the power to get other interested parties to at least grudgingly accept the new settlement. Shia Iraq doesn’t have the power to effectively evict ISIS, much less a nation with greater public support and international recognition. Nor really, do the Shia have much of an incentive to hold on to the Sunnis, given the instability they cause, and the fact that the Sunni areas don’t hold any significant amount of oil. Leave Baghdad to the Shia and they ought to be happy enough.

        Syria is a more difficult proposition. That said, Assad might easily be convinced to allow some of the restive and purely Sunni areas of Syria to go their separate way in exchange for an end to the war and the stabilisation of his regime.

        • Andrew Allison

          There’s no question in my mind that the US lacks “the power to get other interested parties to at least grudgingly accept the new settlement.” The good news is that you are mistaken about the oil in Sunni territory, so partitioning could be feasible if the parties were to agree upon it; the bad news is that they show no sign of being willing to do so ( Another problem is that half of the “Shia” region on the map is, in fact, mixed Sunni/Shiite.

          • gabrielsyme

            Well, my point is that I don’t think the United States actually has to exert much power to effect a partition of Iraq on acceptable terms. After ten years of internal conflict, the three main groups would be in large part relieved. Probably the Kurds would be most pleased and the Shia rump and Iran least happy, but the Shia don’t have any essential interests in northern Iraq and it’s hard to see them going to war to preserve a unified Iraq when their only likely support is going to be Iran.

            History tells us that national boundaries get redrawn by the winners of wars.

            A major problem right now is that the current international order makes it nearly impossible to obtain secure and permanent border changes by conquest. And the United States is as culpable as any in clinging long-redundant borders that merely result in instability, poverty and continued conflict. Recognition of Crimea’s annexation by Russia needs to be a potential option if we rapproachement with Russia becomes desired; partition of Iraq not only ought to be considered but implemented. Other frozen conflicts (e.g. Nagorno-Karabakh, Transdniester) should at least have border changes open for discussion.


    All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put poor Humpty together again.
    Are we obligated to buy all The Pottery Barn after some one renamed it The Pottery Bomb with American made RPG’s?

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