|Does this ammo vest make my ass look fat?|
The political blanket wrapped around the fight against ISIS tends to prevent any reliable assessment of what's going on in Iraq and Syria. That's doubly true in Canada where, as the economy languishes in contrast to America's, the 'war on terror' has become Harper's best pre-election trump card.
I know, let's head to a country that has a stake in the fight, Lebanon. Here's a handy assessment published in The Daily Star.
The success of insurgent movements is often based on their ability to exploit existing social contradictions and cleavages. However, ISIS soon forgot how central this had to be to its strategy, and instead highlighted its sheer brutality. Violence can be a valuable tactic to sow fear among foes; but there is a stage at which it has a contrary effect. It unites previously divided adversaries; it provokes outrage and dread that makes resistance much more bitter; and it may define a group at the expense of the more important image it seeks to project.
All this has been visible in recent months. By conquering territory in Iraq and decapitating American hostages, ISIS precipitated a tacit alliance between the United States, Iran, Iraq’s government and the Gulf states, whose divisions and rivalries had allowed ISIS and other jihadi groups to grow in the first place. This coalition has turned the tide, spearheading the recapture of Diyala province in Iraq as well as large swathes of northern Iraq, making ISIS-controlled Mosul vulnerable.
Much the same can be said of the ISIS offensive against Ain al-Arab, or Kobani, which proved to be the group’s great blunder. While the town’s strategic significance was limited, its symbolic importance was immense: it was a battle that the U.S., ISIS and the Kurds could not afford to lose. Ultimately, coalition aircraft were able to inflict far heavier losses on ISIS than was sustainable and the group was obliged to withdraw.
Moreover, Turkey emerged from the confrontation bruised, as its implicit collaboration with ISIS came under international scrutiny. Worse, the U.S. formed an alliance with Syrian Kurds close to the Kurdistan Workers Party opposed to Ankara.
The third error of ISIS was to allow itself to be characterized by its violence, when the ultimate aim of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is to set up a caliphate that will draw Sunnis toward him. Yet aside from psychopathic terror groups, who really wants to rally to such a repulsive, pathological entity whose sustainability is in greater doubt by the day, and whose only attribute is an ability to concoct barbaric ways to kill people?
If ISIS were ever to have appeal as a state project, it would have to incorporate elements of “soft power” into its agenda. Ironically, the Nusra Front, otherwise little better than ISIS, has attempted to do so, showing itself to be more merciful, which has shielded it in certain parts of Syria.
Baghdadi’s state has been an illusion. Hubristically, it announced some months ago that it intended to print a new currency. Yet its economic backbone is collapsing; those living in its areas appear to be less and less satisfied with their predicament; and there are even senior figures within ISIS who now regret having joined the group, as Martin Chulov reported in a recent piece for the Guardian on the formation of ISIS.
To those who might have followed ISIS once, the appeal is largely gone. The group has been so vicious, while offering no recompenses, that few see benefits in joining it. ...ISIS will remain with us, but it’s fair to say it has created a perfect storm of animosity and opposition, which means its ability to extend its authority has been decisively curtailed.