Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Geopolitics 101: A Machiavellian analysis of ISIS

     The declared aim of ISIS is to re-establish the Caliphate, by which they mean the old Ottoman Empire, probably with additional territories. To achieve this goal, they have started a war against the local Middle Eastern governments, and have seized control of major transportation routes. They have slaughtered whole villages, displaced hundreds of thousands, and done everything they could to put pressure on the regional governments. They initailly formed an alliance with Syria, but I think that is a purely pragmatic move; in the long run they want to displace the Syrian regime as well.
     Correction and update 2015-05-17: ISIS's initial alliance was with the opponents to the Syrian government. It has been short lived.
     Do they want to conquer the West? The answer is no. It’s impossible to do that. They have barely enough manpower and materiel to maintain their hold on the areas they have conquered in the Middle East. Their demand for a $200 million ransom for the Japanese hostages suggests they are running out of cash. So what’s the purpose of their continued provocation of the West?
     Looking at their strategy with a Machiavellian stance, I see two goals for their recruitment of disaffected Westerners, their murder of Western hostages, and their support (almost entirely verbal, not material) of Jihadist actions in Western states.
     First, they want to provoke Western action in the Middle East, which will tend to raise tensions (as the diplomats put it) between the West and its Middle Eastern allies. They know that Western military action relies on conventional weapons, which cause a lot of so-called collateral damage, which will create a backlash against the West. It will also provoke anxiety among Muslims in the West, and when Western casualties mount, anti-war sentiment will increase. And of course they want to disrupt the alliances between the West and  those Middle Eastern States they hope to include in their Caliphate.
     Second, they want to foment political instability in the West by deflecting Western public opinion from their Middle Eastern ambition and making it focus on the danger to Westerners in their own countries. They know the anti-Muslim backlash will increase disaffection and anxiety among Muslims. They want a backlash against Muslims in the West so that they can present themselves as the only true, safe, and Islamist refuge for Muslims worldwide. Hence the beheadings of hostages, and the support of the Charlie Hebdo murders, and the praising of any action that can be even remotely connected to Jihadist beliefs. The reactions by the Canadian and other governments shows that this strategy is having considerable success.
     Today's news out of Jordan indicates that their strategy is having some success in the Middle East also. The killing of a Jordanian pilot has Jordanians wondering whether they should participate in the war against ISIS. If Jordan pulls out, support from other Middle Eastern states will also diminish. This will enable ISIS to conquer those states with relatively little military effort. That, which includes the elimination of Israel, is their first goal.
     Their ultimate goal is to purify Islam of all versions that they believe to be heretical. If they ever reach that point, they will begin to attack the Muslim states in the rest of the world.
   Update 2015-02-04 21:52: Jordan's response to ISIS's murder of the Jordanian pilot was to execute two Al Qaeda prisoners they held, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment. The Jordanian public have turned their rage against ISIS. Seems ISIS miscalculated. Also, the enmity between ISIS-style Islamism and Islam generally has sharpened. Doesn't look good.

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