What’s Next For ISIS?



Going my way?


As we talked about last week, ISIS is clearly entering a new phase as they lose territory in the Caliphate. I said that they might transform into a “carnage-based idea”, but of course that is pretty vague, and not really informative. I had meant to bring up this piece in War on the Rocks by Clint Watts, who goes into great detail about the three different types of ISIS affiliates: Statelets (as in Yemen, Libya), Insurgency (like Boko Haram) and Terrorist Organization (Saudi Arabia).

Watts discusses foreign fighters, trained in the caliphate, who will be unable to return to their actual homes after ISIS collapses in Syria and Iraq. They are the ones to watch to see the strength of the movement. “The most indicative data will come from the roughly 15% of Islamic State foreign fighter survivors I estimate will be unable or unwilling to return home. These “floating” fighters lacking roots to a homeland affiliate will be inclined to choose the most promising global affiliates for safe havens.”

I think this is very true. Over the last 25+ years, we’ve seen increasingly-sophisticated foreign fighters find the group that best represents both their ideology, and, more important, the desire for successful jihad. It’s why AQAP was so powerful; it was the most far-reaching and far-sighted AQ affiliate out there. But now we see even AQAP struggling to reach an even newer and less-patient generation, losing fighters to ISIS. As they increasingly clash, though, I’d put my money on AQAP.

And that’s the big question, for me. ISIS was extremely bold in declaring a caliphate, knowing that the aura of success (and their actual battlefield success) would draw in more foreign fighters, and more money. As they begin to lose on that battlefield, will ISIS central still have much control? Will the ISIS brand, to use an awful term, still mean much? That is, when shifting toward affiliate-based statelets and insurgencies, will they still be ISIS in any recongnizeable way, or just groups with a shared heritage but different, more localized goals?

That to me is key. In the same article, Watts mentions how Central Asian fighters might “choose to resettle with an Asian group known for attracting foreign fighters, such as the Khorasan wilayat or possibly more likely the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).” The IMU has been around for a long time. It’s been both a generator and absorber of jihadists. It has long-term and essentially-localized goals. I think that a lot of groups, no matter their worldly ambitions, eventually get settled into what is happening around them. What made ISIS different, even more so than their lust for carnage and media sophistication, is that it pretended otherwise. But even with the spate of attacks, even with the “inspired” killers in cities around the world, they spent far more time fighting  the near enemy.

So then, as they change, as lose that idea of the caliphate, will ISIS really mean anything? Or will they be just a blip? An important one, one that changed the game, for sure. But in the end, will it just be a splintered movement, a period of consolidation followed by fracturing, before the next consolidation? I tend to think so. I think their “affiliates” will be even less affiliated than AQ. That might make whatever they are, in however many forms they are, even more dangerous, though, as everyone will have to up their game to get recruits.

Would be interested to know how I am misreading this, of course.

Tim Tebow, Dana White, And More Trump Convention Madness


The electrocution of Topsy was called an “actuality” film by Edison, less a documentary than what we would now call a reality show, given that it was staged. Seem about right.

Hey, remember in 2012, when the RNC scrambled to build an entire night out of a ripped-from-context and intentionally dishonest interpretation of “you didn’t build that”? They had signs and decorations and chants, and a whole lineup of speakers assuring the American public that there was no such thing as the communitarian spirit in American history, and every success story was entirely individualistic. I thought it was the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen in politics.


There are plans to emphasize different themes each night of the convention. Mr. Trump wants to touch on a few of his favorite hot-button issues, like the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, former President Clinton’s infidelities and border security.

“Border security” is a thing, of course. I think an overblown thing, and an issue which Trump reduces to vile caricatures and demagogic European-style race-hatred, but at least it’s an issue. Clinton’s infidelities? Does he really think that’s going to help him capture any more voters? I know that the yapping and erect idiots in Cleveland will be salivating at the scandal, a chance to chap up and groove back into their salacious 90s heyday, but everyone else? They know this was a losing bet, right?

Also, is marital infidelity really the card Trump wants to play?

And the less said about Benghazi the better. The Republicans love it, because then the party of the Iraq war can pretend they care about Americans dying in the Middle East.

OK, but: the lineup. Peter Theil! It’ll be exciting hearing him tell the crowd that he, as a rich person, has the right to destroy any media he doesn’t care for. Tim Tebow, who, I guess, is a good guy, really. And it’s in theory good to expand the rostrum away from politicians. And maybe a guy with such a squeaky clean and evangelically-loved image as Tebow might help soften Trump’s image, but I doubt it. It’ll allow the already-convinced to rationalize their vote, and maybe that’s good enough.

THe best might be Day 2, with it’s Focus On The Economy. The first listen speaker is Dana White, the President of the UFC. You might think, well, that’s ridiculous. What does he know about the economy? He’s actually perfect. The UFC is an organization known for hardballing its workers and punishing any employees who stray. It has a slavish devotion to wringing out maximum profits from its soon-to-be-broken fighters, demanding complete and total subservience, and then casting them aside the moment they stop being useful. It’s why the model is breaking, as fighters like Conor McGregor try to leverage their own power. But really, it’s the Republican economic apotheosis. Just as you can say that boxing/MMA is sport at its most basic, the UFC is capitalism at its finest: workers should have no rights, should be bled dry, and then discarded, all in the name of huge profits. Don’t be surprised if Dana White is named Secretary of Labor in a Trump administration.

Also, Night 3 is going to have both Newt (scheduled, so if he’s VP he’ll speak anyway) and Ted Cruz. Do you think that Cleveland can handle such collective self-regard? Such faux-intellectual preening and self-righteous anger on cue. I am glad I have softball on Wednesday nights. I don’t know if I could handle the two back-to-back. Although Cruz’s speech might be a masterpiece of self-regard and self-interest. There’s no doubt he sees his speech as nothing more than a launch for 2020. It’s going to be maddening and fantastic.

Oh! And did you think there wouldn’t be diversity? There is, you idiot. There is. “There are a few African-Americans, like Jamiel Shaw Sr., who became an outspoken advocate for tougher immigration laws after his son was killed in 2008 by an undocumented immigrant…” See? Trump knows he needs minority outreach. So let’s get a black guy who hates Mexicans!

(That isn’t totally fair. This man suffered a hideous tragedy. But still: reducing immigration to a series of bloody handbills is dangerous nonsense, and Trump’s idea of minority outreach is pitting them against each other.)

I’ll give Trump credit. He seems to have backed off on his “loud people that everyone hates” strategy, as Don King and Sarah Palin seem to be off, and there’s no Mike Tyson, either. But still. This is going to swing between surreal lunacy and scratchy, hateful, pseudo-tough chest-thumping anger. They’ll denounce the lies of Hillary and how she, and she alone, is responsible for Americans dying in the Middle East. We’ll hear about how Bill once had sex about a million times. It’ll be a carnival of juvenalia, projected paranoia, fear-mongering, race-baiting, and hate. It’s a nightmare vision of a broken America, beaming from a possible future, coming at you in primetime, four days next week.

Stock up on a good bourbon and a lot of cheap beer, America. It’s gonna be ugly.