It has been some time now since the husband and wife team of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik committed their act of terrorism in San Bernardino, California–a story that has popped back up in the news because of the FBI court case requiring Apple to unlock the couple’s iPhone. In the aftermath, as a way to determine a motive, investigators initially focused on a garbled message on Facebook left by Malik. The message purported to claim an allegiance to Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. This led many in the media–and armchair analysts online–to confirm that the attack was at least inspired by IS. But digging deeper into the lives of Farook and Malik revealed a more al Qaeda-style ideology. The fact that Malik was involved in the shootings suggests more al Qaeda than Islamic State. Why? Because of the roles women play in each organization.
The violence occurring in the Middle East is the result of a revisionist movement, namely the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which seeks to conquer the greater region and expand its caliphate. A group that knows no geographical boundaries, its rapid rise is a symptom of what is widely regarded as the post-Westphalian trend the world has taken. Further, the volatility accompanying years of sectarian division has only been exacerbated by western involvement in the region, a century-old pattern of attempts to dictate the direction of governance dating back to World War I.
The Islamic State group (ISIS) is running up against a wall. As national coalitions take a larger role in the fight against ISIS, the group will become increasingly unable to operate on as large a scale as it has in years past, and it will be pushed out of its previously held territories – its decline may take years or even decades, but it will ultimately decline. But although ISIS may deplete its resources and feel increasing pressure from the international community, its members will not simply disappear as the group loses momentum.
In the second installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, the main character Luke Skywalker is prompted to enter a cave on the planet Dagobah by his teacher, the venerate warrior Yoda, as part of his training. Luke senses the evil within, and so, he arms himself before proceeding. Yoda, understanding the challenge before his pupil, counsels Luke to leave his weapons behind. Trusting prudence over wisdom, Luke arms himself and plunges into the cave where he is confronted by a manifestation of his nemesis, Darth Vader. Skywalker defeats his foe in a brief saber duel but his moment of victory is interrupted when Darth Vader’s mask disappears to reveal Luke’s visage.
Much has been made of the Obama Administration’s decision to reduce the scope of its train and equip program in Syria. While the decision to dramatically overhaul the failed initiative was certainly correct, its successor seems even less likely to achieve meaningful results. Instead of discussing how best to interact with Syrian rebels, the nation should be discussing what it seeks to gain in doing so. The United States has pursued a confused and reactionary strategy in Syria that has failed to identify a clearly defined goal or objective. In order to assess how the United States can move forward in achieving its regional objectives, it must first define its end goal.
The recent wave of international terror attacks committed by the Islamic State (IS) — in Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and France — mark a significant departure from the group’s past strategic approach. For much of its existence, most notably under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, IS’s overriding priority has been state-building. Localized terrorism in Iraq and Syria, widely used by the organization as it transitioned from an insurgency to a proto-state, has been employed as a method of population control.
Several years ago, during a visit to the U.S. Army War College, I was invited to have lunch with some of its instructors. The school teaches Army officers about strategy and its course offerings (“Civil-Military Relations,” “Peace and Stability Operations,” “Irregular Warfare”) reflect that mandate. So, naturally, the lunch discussion focused on strategy, and how to teach it. While I don’t now recall the exact details of that conversation, a statement by one of the war college’s professors has stayed with me. It brought immediate laughter — and unanimous assent. “Just remember,” he said, “that no matter what the question, the answer is always Clausewitz.”
August 6th is the 70th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima with the Atomic Bomb that would lead to the surrender of Japan in World War II. As I consider the historical implications of the bombing, I am drawn to my discussion with my Kodokan Judo instructor, Dr. Sachio Ashida, who fought for the Japanese during World War II and ponder the implications of today’s war against the Islamic State.