Among the most obnoxious traits of the Islamic State is its ability to endure even though much of the world is arrayed against it. As Dominic Tierney at the Atlantic writes that the “acts of aggression and barbarism” perpetrated by the Islamic State “have mobilized a vast enemy coalition, which includes almost every regional power and virtually every great power (and notably the United States, often compared to the Roman Empire in its hegemonic strength). Yet, incredibly, this alliance seems incapable of rolling back the Islamic State. How can a group of insurgents declare war on humanity—and win?” After all:
By conventional logic, the militants’ strategy is reckless and even suicidal—the design of an apocalyptic cult with a death wish.
When, essentially, the Islamic State even stands in opposition to itself, how is it succeeding? Tierney writes:
… it’s also worthwhile to consider why seemingly strong coalitions are often much weaker than they look.
… disinterest, disunity, and discourse.
Re the first
The revolutionaries have a greater stake in victory than the coalition does.
Re the second:
Wartime alliances are often far less than the sum of their parts. Like a chain gang tied together at the ankle, the coalition lumbers along at the pace of its slowest member, moving at cross-purposes and continuously tripping over itself.
Re the third or “the weaker side’s ability to seize the narrative.”
In the case of ISIS, the more enemies the group faces, the more fodder it has to argue that Western infidels are dead set on oppressing Sunni Islam, and that the insurgents are God’s instrument, destined for victory.
Finally, to show how the various forces opposed to the Islamic State are working at cross purposes to themselves, Tierney writes:
Russia and Iran want to maintain the Syrian regime in power, whereas the Saudis insist that Assad must leave office. Turkey is worried about the Kurds. The United States only recognizes certain members of the anti-ISIS coalition as true allies, and deeply distrusts Russian intentions in Syria. The result is a dysfunctional war effort plagued by internal feuding.
While, for its part:
ISIS seems a model of unity: a single entity with a coherent command structure that can move forces from one front to another.