Why ISIS is winning, with America’s help

November, 2015

Migrants fall as they rush to cross into Macedonia after Macedonian police allowed a small group of people to pass through a passageway, as they try to regulate the flow of migrants at the Macedonian-Greek border September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Migrants fall as they rush to cross into Macedonia after Macedonian police allowed a small group of people to pass through a passageway, as they try to regulate the flow of migrants at the Macedonian-Greek border September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

The first thing to understand is that we will never be able to totally defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or Daesh as it is called by those in the Middle East who hate it. At least not in the sense that we defeated the Nazis and the imperialist Japanese during World War II. Fourteen years after 9/11, you’d think we would realize that by now that global terrorism is now part of the “new normal,” and we’re going to have to find a way to live around it. It’s not going away.

For those of you who doubt my hypotheses, pause a moment to think of what the world was like before 9/11. Now think about the way that you live now.

The end of privacy and the growth of surveillance,  particularly on the Internet which is surreptitiously and often illegally spied upon by world governments, the long security lines at airports, no-fly lists, draconian national security measures, the repeated blows to the world economy, and the trillions of dollars spent on security and military apparatus to try and create the illusion that we are all perfectly safe.

If Osama bin Laden did have a wish list, we’ve helped him check off a lot of his goals.

While we will never be able to completely crush the seeds of this phenomena, we can complicate its growth and reduce its effects. In some ways this is exactly what we’ve done to al-Qaeda. Although the terrorist group continues to sporadically undertake terrorist missions, there was little doubt that after the death of Osama bin Laden, the elimination of much of al-Qaeda’s leadership, and the choking off of many of its major sources of funds, that al-Qaeda is a weakened entity.

And although it doesn’t look like it at the moment, we had actually been doing the same thing to ISIS.

The attacks in Paris were as much a sign of ISIS’s weaknesses, as a demonstration of its ability to strike at will. And if the governments of the Western world had grasped the opportunity to turn this horrible tragedy against ISIS, we might have been able to pull a small but important victory against these murderers out of a horrible tragedy.

Instead, we played the hand that ISIS dealt us like a bunch of hillbilly rubes at a blackjack table in Las Vegas.

But first, how did ISIS get to be so powerful?

If it was possible to create a list of things not to do in order to help ISIS spread its tentacles around the world, we ignored or overlooked almost every warning. There are many mistakes to which we could point, but I’d like to focus on two or three of them.

The first, and perhaps the most damaging, was the way America laid the groundwork for Nouri al-Maliki to become prime minister of Iraq. While there were a multitude of things that George W. Bush did wrong, this one falls directly on the shoulders of Barack Obama and his advisers. Al-Maliki was the wrong man, at the wrong time, in the wrong place.

A Shia politician with a unquenchable thirst for revenge and power, he did everything in his power to alienate the Sunni minority in Iraq. What we actually desperately needed was someone who could build bridges with the Sunni community, not burn them or blow them up.

And so when ISIS came along, there were more than a few of Saddam Hussein’s old Baathist party members, and many young disillusioned and angry Sunnis who were ready to sign up. This helped give ISIS the base from which to spread across the region.

Second was our inability to decide how exactly we wanted to deal with the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. I don’t plan to sit here and argue in favor of one strategy or the next. The problem was that we really didn’t have any strategy, and by the time we developed an effective one the horse was out of the barn. Now that didn’t mean we couldn’t get the horse back in the barn, but our hesitant response, in a situation where a fluid and thoughtful response was needed, cost us precious time.

Which brings us to Paris and its aftermath: the refugee crisis.

The refugee situation is one of the best examples we could offer to the Muslim world that ISIS is not the Islamic champion it claims to be. Remember, the main organizing principle behind the creation of ISIS was as a stepping stone to the creation of a Islamic caliphate. The message that ISIS leaders sent out to the world, particularly to young people through social media, was ‘come here and help us build this paradise.’

The Syrian and Iraqi refugees undermine everything ISIS tells the world. Instead of staying and embracing the ISIS new Golden Age, Syrian refugees could not get away fast enough. At first ISIS didn’t mind Syrian families leaving, thinking them unworthy of being part of this new utopia. That disinterest, however, turned ugly when MILLIONS started to leave. ISIS still maintains the illusion that it doesn’t care if Syrian families leave, but in order to do so they have to pay a high ransom that few can afford, and those who try to escape are executed on the spot if caught – women and children included.

So here we are, with this opportunity of not only showing the Syrians fleeing from the brutality of ISIS, but the rest of the Muslim world, that ISIS is little more than a collection of fundamentalist thugs and criminals that has little to do with Islam as most Muslims practice it, and the West is as open and welcoming and democratic as we brag that it is.

What did we do instead? We used the Paris bombings as an excuse to launch a wave of xenophobic and racist hysteria unlike anything we have seen since America’s McCarthy era. Not only have we turned on the people who need our help the most, we used it as an excuse to attack every innocent Muslim in the United States.

It’s like we opened up a recruiting center for ISIS, and we’re doing everything that we can to keep that line of volunteers moving along. We helped prove that everything that ISIS has been saying about the West is correct – “The West hates Muslims and treats them as dirt, so come here and help us create the caliphate.”

It’s hard to watch such staggering stupidity and ignorance blossom in front of our very eyes. Instead of letting courage and compassion be our guides, we have let fear and racism determine our responses.

And we’ve helped turn the world into a very dangerous place for all peoples, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs, for a very long time.

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

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Terrorist attacks are sign of weakness, not strength http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-isis-islamic-state-paris-beirut-syria-iraq-perspec-1117-20151116-story.html

Why ISIS would attack Paris, according to an expert http://www.vox.com/world/2015/11/14/9735512/paris-attacks-isis-why

Top 10 Mistakes of former Iraq PM Nouri al-Maliki (That Ruined his Country):  http://www.juancole.com/2014/08/mistakes-maliki-country.html

Why we stuck with Maliki — and lost Iraq https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-we-stuck-with-maliki–and-lost-iraq/2014/07/03/0dd6a8a4-f7ec-11e3-a606-946fd632f9f1_story.html


Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.






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