ISIS and the Logic of Anarchy
“When a country is being subverted it is not being outfought; it is being out-administered. Subversion is literally administration with a minus sign in front.” ISIS has subverted western Iraq and eastern Syria because it is out-administering the Baghdad and Damascus regimes there. That is, ISIS has erected a competent bureaucratic authority covering everything from schools to waste removal which, combined as it is with repression, is secure and stable. And with that territorial security, ISIS has apparently created a central dispatch point for planning terrorist attacks abroad. Eventually, the end of ISIS can only come about when some other force out-administers it.
ISIS is the upshot of anarchy, in other words: a situation which obtains when a populated territory is without administration, so that warrior bands prevent anyone from feeling secure. The toppling of a secular Baathist regime in Iraq in 2003 and a revolt against another secular Baathist regime in Syria in 2011 reduced those countries to dust and chaos. Baathist totalitarianism, followed by such chaos, meant that only a movement equally extreme in its own right could take root and flourish in the vacuum. Thus, whatever strategy we follow against ISIS must have as its endgame a plan to out-administer it, or else anarchy will simply return and ISIS along with it.
We should consider what we can do, and why we can't do much of what we'd like, and act accordingly.
In the current situation, we can do nothing worthwhile abroad until we put our own house in order. Until our government is cleansed of traitors and tyrants, it is pointless to expect anything we get it to do to be done well.
Ah yes - out tyrant the tyrant is the "only" solution. Uh huh. Nope - individual responsibility beats tyrants every day of the week.
The chaos (not anarchy - there was never a lack of rulers in that region) is a result of US meddling. The foreign policy dilettantes in the US government thought they could control Muslim militia and use them for their own purposes (ousting Assad and installing a puppet regime). For some reason it didn't work out for them. The key to defeating ISIS is to not create them in the first place.
The ideological leaders of ISIS believe the only way to achieve the global Islamic caliphate they seek is by drawing the whole world into a bloody, apocalyptic battle. Responding to the provocations of ISIS with violence is exactly what they want, as it will beget more violence and only further their aims. Instead, I propose the following:
1) Stop the bombing and assume a posture of containment. Limit direct fighting to what is necessary to keep ISIS from expanding beyond its current borders. Continued bombing and fighting puts civilians at risk and helps legitimize their message.
2) Starve them of financial and material resources. To administer their territory, suppress populations that they control and expand to new areas; they must have revenue, weapons, and supplies. Prevent any business dealings with ISIS and their surrogates. This includes buying their oil. This includes selling them weapons and lethal aid, and anything else for that matter. This also includes financial and material support to “moderates” that may soon fall to ISIS or join them.
3) Isolate them ideologically to prevent recruitment and discourage foreign support. Expose them for the apocalyptic death cult that they are. Their actions only create death, suffering and isolation; and will not result in the glorious prophesied theocratic utopia they dream of. Coordinate for moderate religious leaders, intellectuals, civil society and states in the Islamic world to present a more compelling ideology of reconciliation. Publicly expose private and public supporters of ISIS worldwide as being the cause of suffering and the deterrents of peace that they are. Cut off the means of ISIS propaganda dissemination whenever possible.
4) Isolate them from local volunteers by providing better alternatives. Many ISIS fighters within the Middle East join the organization because they see no real economic opportunities or legitimate political representation. In a region rife with poverty and political repression for so long, some see ISIS as a means of change. Essential to this is real political change in Iraq and Syria – both regimes must be truly inclusive of all minorities, must treat their populations well, and must improve the delivery of essential services.
5) Isolate them from foreign volunteers by providing better alternatives. Many foreign fighters from ISIS join the organization because they feel they do not “fit in” with the societies in which they live and they feel marginalized by their governments. Anti-refugee, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment in Western societies exacerbate this problem. Public policies against these same individuals does the same. Promoting inter-cultural dialog in Western countries would help make them feel less like an underclass and part of greater society. Public policies that help to integrate them economically and provide them legal protections will make them feel less disenfranchised. As coexistence becomes more peaceful in Western countries, there is less reason to attack Western countries in the name of ISIS and less incentive for foreign fighters to take up arms for ISIS.
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