Focal Points Blog

The Ghost of the Islamic State Future

Islamic State fighters recruited from points distant from Syria and Iraq might return to their countries of origin with murderous intent. Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Lately we’re being warned that a future source of Islamic State attacks will be its foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, who will return to their countries of origin and wreak havoc. In a cleverly titled National Interest article, ISIS Is Here: Return of the Jihadi, Bruce Hoffman writes:

The vast pool of recruits drawn to Syria affords ISIS and any of the other militant Islamist groups active there a surfeit of potential terrorists from which to cherry-pick and potentially dispatch back home to carry out terrorist attacks.

… One does not have to speculate terribly much to see the potential threat from ISIS to the West given its vast cadre of foreign fighters native to, or previously resident in, those countries. This unprecedented pool of foreign recruits suggests that ISIS would certainly have the capability to undertake more attacks modeled on the simultaneous assaults and running gun battles that occurred in Mumbai in November 2008 and Paris almost exactly seven years later.

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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.

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Ashton Carter’s Plan to Expand U.S. Military Presence Across the Globe Even Further

Also stationed on these bases are Special Operations forces that carry out hit-and-run raids and assassinations. (Photo: Master Sgt. Donald Sparks / U.S. Army / Flickr Commons)

Also stationed on these bases are Special Operations forces that carry out hit-and-run raids and assassinations. (Photo: Master Sgt. Donald Sparks / U.S. Army / Flickr Commons)

How many Americans are aware that the U.S. is currently engaged in five wars — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, and that our forces are involved in lesser conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia? The answer is, probably very few. These wars are largely out of the news, and since there are seldom any American casualties, they are virtually invisible.

Combat operations primarily involve drones operated from thousands of miles away, and bombs dropped from thousands of feet in the air. According to the Pentagon, there are currently 662 U.S.military bases around the world from which air strikes can be launched using a variety of aircraft. Also stationed on these bases are Special Operations forces that carry out hit-and-run raids and  sinations in various parts of the world.
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The Dayton Accords 20 Years On

Nothing new about Islamophobia in Europe. Pictured: Muslim war cemetery, Sarajevo. (Photo: Ivana Vasilj / Flickr Commons)

Nothing new about Islamophobia in Europe. Pictured: Muslim war cemetery, Sarajevo. (Photo: Ivana Vasilj / Flickr Commons)

Back in the early 1990s, a war broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Over 100,000 people lost their lives, and over two million were displaced. Rape, prison camps and genocide of Bosnian Muslims became common during the war, and it would eventually be marked as the worst conflict in Europe ever since the end of the Second World War.

Peace was established on November 21, 1995, as part of the General Framework Agreement For Peace, commonly known as the Dayton Accords. Formally signed on December 14 of 1995, the Dayton Accords are remembered today as an unfair treaty that ended the war but preserved the hostilities.
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The Islamic State Finds Rushing Headlong to the Apocalypse Easier Than State-Building

Onerous economic conditions in the Islamic State help fuel the refugee crisis. Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Onerous economic conditions in the Islamic State help fuel the refugee crisis.
Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Since the attacks in Paris that were either ordained or sanctioned by the Islamic State, it’s only natural to wonder what happened to its state-building project and its vision of itself as a caliphate? The Islamic State is behaving more like a terrorist organization than a state. That’s not to say that states don’t mount terrorist attacks, but they usually do it via proxy forces and don’t take credit for them.

In one of the most outstanding articles about the Islamic State that I’ve read yet (and I read a lot) titled Is There a Method to ISIS’s Madness? in the Atlantic, Shadi Hamid writes:

… the group focused its energy on developing fairly elaborate institutional structures in the territory it controlled within Iraq and Syria. ISIS wasn’t simply making things up as it went along. It may have been mad, but there was a method to the madness.

… But why, then, attack France—one of the more militarily aggressive Western powers—and potentially provoke a massive retaliatory response that would threaten the very “caliphate” it had spent so much time building?

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Yemen: Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam

The war on Yemen has left thousands dead and created hundreds of thousands exiles. Pictured: Yemen capital Sanaa. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr Commons)

The war on Yemen has left thousands dead and created hundreds of thousands exiles. Pictured: Yemen capital Sanaa. (Photo: Richard Messenger / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

1.

And then there is Yemen where a ragtag coalition – hardly worth the name – of Saudi-paid mercenaries is trying unsuccessfully to crush a rebellion and democratic movement (inaccurately referred to as a Houthi-ethnic revolt) in order to restore “their man,” Abd-Rabbuh orted against that country, this despite the fact that a major U.S.-supported war continues to devastate the country.1 Unless using Democracy Now!Truthdig, or Foreign Policy In Focus as main news sources, it is unlikely that people within the United States even know there is a war going on, to say nothing of the whys and hows, or where Yemen is even located.

Peace talks between warring factions in Yemen that collapsed a month ago, are scheduled to resume in a couple of days in Switzerland. They will coincide with a week’s ceasefire between the warring parties more than likely to be put in place at the same time. As a part of the ceasefire, Saudi Arabia has agreed to temporarily suspend its bombing campaign. While statistics vary as to casualty rates (with sources friendly to the Saudis claiming 2,500 dead, an Australian source gives a much larger, 6,000 figure) often missing from the picture is that war has already created 200,000 refugees, people who have fled the fighting which has engulfed essentially the whole nation. In the political vacuum created by the war, Al Qaeda has strengthened its position in the country’s southern regions.
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An End to the Right’s Reign In Spain?

Spain’s woes began with the American banking crisis of 2007-08, which crashed Spain’s vast real estate bubble and threatened to bring down its financial system. Pictured: Plaza Mayor, Madrid. (Photo: Rick Ligthelm / Flickr Commons)

Spain’s woes began with the American banking crisis of 2007-08, which crashed Spain’s vast real estate bubble and threatened to bring down its financial system. Pictured: Plaza Mayor, Madrid. (Photo: Rick Ligthelm / Flickr Commons)

“Volatile” seems to be the adjective of choice for pollsters going into the Dec. 20 Spanish elections, a balloting that will likely not only change the face of politics in the European Union’s (EU) fifth largest economy, but one that will have reverberations throughout the 28-nation organization. Long dominated by two parties—the right-wing People’s Party (PP) and the center-left Socialist Workers Party—the political landscape has atomized over the past two years. “For the first time in general elections in Spain,” says Manuel Mostaza Barros of Sigma Dos poll, “we have four parties polling above 15 percent when it comes to voter intentions.”

What levers [AB1]  those voters pull is very much up for grabs. Polls indicate that 41 percent of the electorate has yet to make up their minds. But whatever party ends up on top, it will have to go into a coalition, thus ending the reign of the two-party system that has dominated the country since the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
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Will Scarcity Lead to Anarchy in China as Robert Kaplan Maintains?

Chinese demand, such as for Senegal’s peanuts, fuels the developing world’s prosperity. (Photo: Japan Times)

Chinese demand, such as for Senegal’s peanuts, fuels the developing world’s prosperity. (Photo: Japan Times)

Renowned American journalist Robert D. Kaplan warned the West that, in the light of the quick deterioration of the arable land quality in interior China due to “deforestation, loss of topsoil and salinization”, when China’s population has reached “1.54 billion by 2025”, large-scale population movements from villages to cities would be “leading to a crime rate surge like the one in Africa and to growing regional disparities and conflicts in a land … as in Africa” [Note 1]. It is obviously more worrisome than the mainstream economists’ concern that China is unable to bypass the ‘middle income trap’ [Note 2].

Alongside this ‘middle income trap’ as a watershed between the rich and the poor, Kaplan highlighted “a bifurcated world” between the West and the Rest. “Part of the globe is inhabited by Hegel’s and Fukuyama’s Last Man, healthy, well fed, and pampered by technology. The other, larger, part is inhabited by Hobbes’ First Man, condemned to a life that is ‘poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.” Since “95 percent of the population increase will be in the poorest regions of the world”, “the revenge of the poor” would strike the civilized and advanced West. “Future wars will be those of communal survival, aggravated or, in many cases, caused by environmental scarcity” [Note 3].
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When the Left Turned Its Back on Nuclear Disarmament

Dr. Benjamin Spock was the head of SANE when it fractured over whether to continue focusing on nuclear war or ending the Vietnam War. (Photo: Thomas R. Koeniges / Public domain)

Dr. Benjamin Spock was the head of SANE when it fractured over whether to continue focusing on nuclear war or ending the Vietnam War. (Photo: Thomas R. Koeniges / Public domain)

Long periods of general public apathy about reducing the threat of nuclear weapons via nuclear disarmament, such as the one we’ve been living through since the Nuclear Freeze movement, are not new to the United States. Writes Paul Boyer in a March 1984 article in the Journal of American History titled From Activism to Apathy: The American People and Nuclear Weapons, 1963-1980, nuclear activism also experienced a long drought in the years before the Nuclear Freeze movement. The situation parallels today. Boyer writes:

The most reassuring answer would be that the complacency was justified-that the nuclear threat diminished in those years.

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Jabhat al-Nusra a Greater Threat to Syria Than Islamic State

Unlike the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra actually strikes the Assad regime. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra actually strikes the Assad regime. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

There’s no shortage of players acting in bad — or at least, questionable — faith in Syria. First, of course, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad; then the Islamic State — choose your poison. On another level, Russia, the United States, and France.

At the National Interest, Daniel DePetris writes about a player too often overlooked.

… with all of the concentration on the Islamic State, another highly significant and dangerous terrorist organization is operating largely under the radar: Jabhat al-Nusra [which] shares the same … interpretation of Islam as ISIL, despises any and all sectarian groups outside of Syria’s majority Sunni community and has engaged in the same kind of atrocities [as the Islamic State].

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