US airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, far from “degrading” the organization, are actually giving ISIS a huge shot in the arm, according to FBI Director James Comey, who testified today before Congress.
The US operation seems to be playing directly into ISIS’ hands in many ways, with President Obama’s high-profile speech last Wednesday, promising to escalate the war on ISIS into neighboring Syria, paying off for ISIS in recruitment as well.
And see this.
Islamic State has won new recruits in Syria since President Barack Obama signaled last week that air strikes against the group will be expanded from Iraq to its strongholds in northern and eastern Syria, a group monitoring the war said on Wednesday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 162 people had joined Islamic State training camps in Aleppo province since Sept 10, when Obama said he would not hesitate to strike Islamic State in Syria.
The new recruits do not represent a big increase in the size of IS, which is estimated by intelligence agencies at 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq. But they do illustrate the risk that U.S.-led efforts to crush Islamic State will end up winning it more followers.
Daniel Ellsberg notes:
ISIS wants us to attack — it helps recruitment; makes parallel to Vietnam War
If this sounds naive, remember that Islamic terrorists weren’t even in Iraq until the U.S. invaded that country.
Former Washington Post and HuffPost writer – now with the Intercept – Dan Froomkin explains:
… experts in the field believe that the recent beheadings of two American journalists and a British aid worker were deliberate acts of provocation, and that ISIS is not just hoping for an American overreaction, but depending on it — perhaps even for its own survival.
They are trying to suck the west into the war with them…. Then they’ll be not only the regional bad boy, but also the bad boy for the global jihadi movement. They can then claim they are in an international war – a modern day Crusade – against all the countries coming to fight them.
What good would that do? According to Soufan:
[The Islamic State is] fearful of Islamists within [their movement] turning against them…. They want to fight the British and the Americans… to unify the extremists within and diminish any kind of meaningful threat within their support base. They are not fearful of secular or moderate people.
Journalist and author Steve Weissman writes for Reader Supported News that Obama is giving ISIS just what it wants:
… the more jihadis Obama kills, the more Sunnis that Obama recruits to their ranks. Not a winning strategy.
The killing of Mr Haines was not an act of revenge. It was an act of provocation. Like the two murders of the American journalists, it was designed to frighten and to inflame. It seems nothing would please Isis more than for these killings to provoke an intemperate and thoughtless violent reaction from those at whom they are aimed. Such a reaction might, in Isis’s crude and perverse logic, give them public legitimacy as victims rather than as killers. Such things have happened all too often in history. This in itself is a good enough reason for western leaders to have cool reactions.
Matthew Hoh, a former State Department official who resigned in protest in 2009 over U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, responded to ISIS provocation with a provocative headline in his Huffington Post essay: “The Beheadings Are Bait.”
He sees a repeat of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which achieved the goals of radical extremists vastly more than it achieved those of the U.S.:
… The Islamic State is a parasite of war. Its members and its narrative need war for their personal, organizational and ideological validation and success. That is why the only way to defeat the Islamic State is to take the war away from them.
A few members of Congress have raised concerns about playing into the Islamic State’s hands. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) recently spoke from the House floor, saying:
We have got to be sure that we are not falling into doing something that could be counterproductive because, clearly, ISIL did that to provoke a reaction, and I think that needs to be a part of the debate we have.
And Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN last month:
[W]e shouldn’t allow this horrible act to provoke us into doing things that are counterproductive.
There’s nothing that ISIS would like more than having us reintroduce ground troops in Iraq, for example. So we have to be careful not to let this, the horror of this act provoke us to doing things that don’t make sense for us to do and that’s very difficult, but I think it’s extraordinarily important we keep our focus on what we can achieve.
Whether a military response would be exactly what the Islamic State wants was the first question that former CIA Middle East expert Paul Pillar raised when I asked him earlier this month what sorts of questions the press should be pursuing instead of banging the drums for war.
And Juan Cole, the University of Michigan professor and authoritative Middle East blogger, writes that journalists are also getting played, by giving the beheadings too much free media:
These acts of public brutality against a helpless individual are intended in part to announce that despite their military superiority, Westerners are not 10 feet tall and can be cut down to size. They announce leadership and encourage angry young men to join ISIL rather than one of its many rivals. They also push Western publics to demand reprisals. Reprisals in turn can be used by the radical group as proof to its followers that it really is being unjustly targeted by the big bad superpower. It is a passive aggressive form of terrorism.
It seems to me that editors should refuse to play along with this sick game.
Liberals and conservatives agree: Bin Laden won, because the West overreacted and indiscriminately bombed and regime changed all over the Middle East … turning the Arab population against the U.S., and spending trillions in the process.
We’re about to do the same thing in overreacting to ISIS …