Monday, June 30, 2014

ISIS Tweaks Its Branding

In today’s social media world, even terrorists understand the power of marketing and image.

ISIS, the Islamic terror group that’s been making waves lately, has a branding problem.   No, not the beheadings; that’s part of its terror strategy and it’s working just fine to help craft the image the group wants.  No, not the crucifixions, which are accomplishing the same purpose.  No, not its habit of lining up prisoners in front of mass graves and then opening fire until the weapons run dry.  Same deal there.  ISIS obviously subscribes to the notion that anything worth doing is worth overdoing.  And when it comes to terror and brutality, it’s clearly emerged as the best in its class.

No, the branding problems lies elsewhere.  Specifically, no one knows what to call it.  “Bloodthirsty baby-killing victim-beheading mass-murdering Islamic terrorists” would be accurate but a bit unwieldy.  After its first big push into Iraq, media reports were referring to it as ISIS—The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  Then they were calling it “ISIL”—Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  And since then, one reporter will use one name while another, sometime within the same newscast or on the pages of the same website or newspaper, will use the other.  That kind of confusion won’t do.  So now the group has decided to shorten its name to simply “Islamic State.” 

That settles the ISIS vs. ISIL argument, but still creates a problem.  What’s the acronym for Islamic State?  “IS?”  And if so, how do you pronounce that?  “Iz,” as in the verb, or “Iss,” as in the hiss of a snake?  The latter would be more appropriate, but still doesn’t sound right.  I nominate the acronym IsSta (For “Islamic State”) and would pronounce it, “Iss-Ta.”  That rolls off the tongue better.  Even so, for the sake of plain communications I’m going to continue to refer to it as ISIS until some kind of consensus emerges.

Now, you may wonder why the ISIS leaders would want to drop any mention of the territory they control from their name.  Well, there’s a reason for that, too.  I told you in a previous post that ISIS’s goal was not to dominate Syria or Iraq, but rather the entire world.  It plans to establish a 7th century caliphate for our planet.  Some liberals and doves (the two concepts are not necessarily synonymous) scoff at the notion.  But what does ISIS itself say?  It’s just announced that it plans to create a—wait for it—world caliphate.  It’s demanding that Muslims everywhere—and please note that there are 1.6 billion of them with a presence on every continent—swear allegiance to and obey the group’s boss.  Its communiqué confidently states that the mere presence of any one of its fighters on any soil anywhere immediately establishes its authority.  Reuters quotes the statement as saying, “The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khalifah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas.” 

Khalifah means “caliph” which in turn means Allah’s representative on Earth.  Are you curious to know who this good and holy guy is?  I’m glad you asked.  It’s Abu Bakr al-Baghadi, the gentleman I wrote about before.  This is the cat who used to be in American custody, and who jauntily declared upon release, “I’ll see you in New York.”  That guy. 

But don’t worry.  He probably meant that he’d be in town buying a bagel, grabbing a New York style pizza, or maybe taking in the sights on Times Square.  In fact, I can just see him now watching the Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve.  “Five!  Four!  Three!  Two!  One!”  And you can fill in the blank with what happens at “zero.” 

But don’t let my hyperbole alarm you.  Doves assure us we have absolutely no reason to worry about ISIS right now.  I found the latest such bland assurance in my morning paper.  George Bisharat, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law, says ISIS really is a pretty small group overall, and it’s going to have its hands full with the mundane details of governing its newly captured areas.  “Holding territory and governing are not tasks to which it is well adapted, and doing so will require it to institutionalize and localize in ways that may render it more accountable—and vulnerable.”

More accountable?  Really?  This is the point at which, were I one of those mouth-frothing, desk-pounding, bleeding-at-the-eyes-nose-and-ears conservative broadcast bloviators, I might start to call names.  Instead, let me just ask:  where do newspapers find these guys?  There is a place for ivory-tower academics.  But every now and then, just for a change of pace, they should let down a rope ladder, descend, and take a walk through the real world, just to see what it’s like.

In the real world of Afghanistan, the Taliban weren’t so busy with governing that they couldn’t help their buddies in al-Qaeda export terror to America on 9/11.  The only way we found to hold them accountable was to physically go there, take some names and kick some butts.  Following its 1979 Islamic revolution, our friends in Iran weren’t so busy with the boring tedium of bureaucratic administration that they couldn’t find the time and energy needed to become the world’s largest state exporter of terror.  And we still haven’t found a way to hold them accountable for that. 

The suggestion that governmental responsibility will somehow turn ISIS into a kinder, gentler terrorist group is the latest in a long series of Iraq “absurdocities”—an absurdity that travels at the speed of light, goes off with a blinding flash that illuminates failures in leadership and basic rationality, and leaves a lingering odor.

As for the Iraqis formerly under our protection who’ve now fallen under the thumb of ISIS, Bisharat admits that for them life “will be hell” for a while.  But he says we don’t have to worry about that, either, even if we were inclined—which we’re not—to give a damn now about them after all the trouble our meddling in Iraq has cost us.  “ISIS will ultimately fail,” he writes, “not because we bomb it into oblivion, but because Arabs will reject its particularly inhumane and harsh perversion of Islam—a religion that was founded on principles of mercy, justice and equality.”

Well, let’s see how the big revulsion-fueled reform movement is going.  In Pakistan over the weekend, a family miffed that its 17 year old daughter was marrying without their consent expressed its feelings by hacking the happy couple to death with a butcher knife.  Although my morning paper didn’t mention it, this was an honor killing, one of many that have made the news lately.  And it was a family affair—the parents, two uncles, and a grandfather joined in, forcing children to watch.  Because, you know, a family that slays together stays together.  

Meanwhile in Nigeria, hundreds of girls remain missing after Islamic extremists kidnapped them.  Really, it sucks to be a woman in some parts of the world. 

I don’t mean to suggest that any one culture has a monopoly on violence against or repression of women.  God knows, that’s not true.  But nor can the following fact be ignored (quoting a line from the Associated Press version of this story that was left out of my morning paper):  “Marrying for love is a taboo among conservative Muslims in Pakistan, where hundreds of people are killed each year by their own relatives over alleged sexual indiscretions, which are believed to bring shame upon the family. The victims are usually women but in some cases couples are killed.” 

Note that word:  hundreds.  Talk about your “tough love.”  When it comes to your daughter, nothing says “I love you” like a blade across the jugular.  If the big revulsion over this kind of thing that Bisharat sees coming really is on its way, so far it’s walking on tiny little cat paws. 

As for ISIS, I haven’t seen a lot of reports about attacks on women in the western media, but one Middle Eastern news site is reporting rapes and other atrocities.  Other sites there are posting similar reports.  I can’t vouch for the veracity of any of them.  But with ISIS already ordering women to wear the niqab (which is only slightly less restrictive than a burqa in that it does allow a narrow slit of exposure around the eyes) it seems fair to suggest that this area is in no danger of becoming a bastion for the women’s lib movement any time soon.

Islamic militants.  Sheesh.  What are you going to do with them?  Extremists will be extremists.

Near the conclusion of his piece, Bisharat congratulates our president for extricating us “from two failed wars.”  Let’s be clear.  We went into Iraq for the wrong reasons.  The hawks sold America a bill of goods.  But even so, Iraq was stable when the Bush administration handed it over to his successor.  Iraq became a “failed” war at the precise moment when Mr. Obama abandoned it.  We left Iraq with a weak and poorly led military, and no jet fighters.  Not a one.  Over the weekend Russia stepped in and began delivering combat aircraft to our former client state.  Russia.  What does that tell you about the effectiveness of this administration’s foreign policy?

As for Afghanistan, neither the word “extricate” nor the words “failed war” accurately describe it.  Yet.  But they will, and we know the precise date those labels will become appropriate:  the end of 2016, at which point the last of the U.S. forces will withdraw.  But exactly like Iraq, Afghanistan will not wind up as a failed plan.  It will be a planned fail.

Now that we are where we are in Iraq, what does President Obama say about ISIS?  His view is more realistic than Bisharat’s.  On Sunday the president acknowledged that thousands of ISIS fighters have perfectly valid western passports, and he’s concerned.  “We’ve seen Europeans who are sympathetic to their cause traveling into Syria and now may travel into Iraq, getting battle-hardened.  They come back.”  And he added, “They don’t need a visa to get into the United States.”

So, what to do?  Should we worry?  Or not?  And what should we do about it?

The president doesn’t seem to know.  But nor do Americans.  The most recent poll showed we really don’t want to send any more troops there, but we’re split on whether air strikes would be appropriate.  The president has flatly ruled out the former and has said the latter tactic is off the table for now, too.  But Americans do seem to agree on one thing:  the president is floundering.  We do not approve of the way he’s handling the crisis.

So what should we do?  If we don’t like the president’s strategy, what’s our big idea for a solution?

Let’s admit it.  We’ve got nothing.

Two big problems stand in the way of any effective response.  One, the American people are sick of this war.  The hawks who led us into it were wrong about absolutely everything, and now we’ve booed them off the stage.  So we are not going back in, not even if this is our mess and it’s in our best interests to deal with it.

Two, the free world expects us to take care of this problem—not just because it’s our mess to clean up, which it is, but because the rest of the world always expects us to take care of security.  And historically we’ve been only too happy to do that.  Why?  That’s a different discussion for a different day, but the short answer is that we’re chumps.

What needs to happen is that our allies, which face a danger from terrorism almost equal to that facing us, should join together with us to take care of this problem.  It wouldn’t be hard; ISIS is a 20th rate military power with no air support.  But don’t bet the farm that this will happen.  In fact, don’t bet that loose change in your pocket that you’re planning to spend on a bag of vending machine potato chips.

What will happen is that ISIS will form its own state—it has, in fact, already done so.  Eventually, it will export its terror.  Down the road, we may well have to go back in to take care of it.  And then it’ll be tougher, costing us much, much more in blood and treasure.  ISIS looted hundreds of millions of dollars from banks in Mosul.  No telling what kind of weapons it’ll buy with all that lucre and have waiting for us.

Some of my more dovish friends deny that ISIS will ever pose a major threat to Fortress USA.  We’ll see.  I personally think we’ll be lucky if we make it unscathed through the next 12 months.  Time will tell. While we wait, we should save up our military money.  I have a feeling we’re going to need it.  And we should set some aside for Afghanistan, too, where we’re about to repeat the mistake we just make in Iraq.

I’ll be bloviating on this more tomorrow morning.  I’m doing guest shift on Tucson’s PowerTalk 1210, from 5:00 AM to 7:00.  I’ve been on radio and TV a few times over the past years, but this is the first time I will have been on the air by myself holding down a full radio shift since—well, let’s just say it’s been a long time.  I’m more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs about it, mainly because I’m worried that I’ll run out of things to say.  But those who know me are worried that I won’t.

If you’d like to call in, the number is 520-750-7456.  If you don’t want to call in, the number for that is the same.  My leanings fit with the format of this station:  we’re politically neutral, and all opinions are welcome.

I’m sure Iraq will come up.  Given the nature of the subject, I don’t promise your breakfast won’t do the same.


Other Bashful Bloviator posts on politics can be found here.

©2014 by Forrest Carr.  All rights reserved.

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