How the Islamic State Is Like a Multinational Corporation

The Islamic State is aligning itself with affiliates in Asia and Africa. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Islamic State is aligning itself with affiliates in Asia and Africa. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Many in the United States have failed to see the urgency of the Islamic State because it seemed focused on the Middle East and thus a good candidate — whether you’re coming from the left or libertarian right — for non-intervention. But the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have disabused us of the notion that the Islamic State isn’t afraid to punch above its weight and take on Europe and the United States. At Politico Magazine, Harleen Gambhir writes:

ISIL’s global strategy should come as no surprise. In fact, ISIL has pursued an international expansion campaign from the moment it declared its “caliphate” in June 2014. While the group solidifies its proto-state in parts of Iraq and Syria, it also is expanding its would-be caliphate regionally — and preparing for the apocalyptic war it desires with the West.

To expedite that, the Islamic State is “fostering affiliates in Muslim-majority areas and directing and inspiring terror attacks in the wider world,” including “Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Russia and Nigeria,” and, in the future, Bangaladesh, Tunisia, and Somalia. Mergers and acquisitions, in other words!

(Breaking for an incipient panic attack as we briefly contemplate the Islamic State taking over the world.)

Kruse writes that, “Its growth strategy is sophisticated and systematic” — wait for it — “much like a multinational corporation expanding by acquisition.”

Rather than build affiliates from the ground up, ISIL co-opts and changes existing militant groups or networks, some of which have splintered from Al Qaeda. Potential affiliates must consolidate factions, select a leader and present a military plan to ISIL’s leadership for approval, according to ISIL’s own standards.

Also, like a multinational, the Islamic State performing due diligence.

ISIL then chooses whether to establish a wilayat, or province, in the affiliate’s operating area. ISIL’s leaders help these affiliates to become more brutal and effective by exporting military training and expertise. ISIL calls for international recruits to reinforce its strongest partners; it also provides military training and funding to some affiliates.

The irony of the Islamic State’s resemblance to a multinational corporation is almost too delicious. But, it plans ahead, unlike multinationals (seem to, at any rate).

ISIL’s most dangerous affiliates are those that give the group strategic resilience: They’re strong enough that they could help the group survive even if the group were to be wiped out in its home territory of Syria and Iraq.