With the apparent death of another journalist at the hands of ISIS, it seems like a good time to reflect on what these executions are actually intended to achieve, and how world governments should respond to it.
Sensational violence is a tool used by extremist groups to draw large countries into guerrilla-style conflicts that they historically cannot win. Asymmetrical warfare is the bailiwick of non-state actors. It is why the U.S. lost in Vietnam, Russia lost in Afghanistan, and why despite spending billions of dollars and over a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, neither peace nor political stability have been achieved in either country. It is the same reason why rockets continue to rain down on Israel despite decades of military attempts to route militants out of Gaza, and also why the British government was unable to bring the IRA to heel through its military might alone.
There is no military solution to ISIS. If you want to understand why, I encourage you to read Matthew Hoh’s remarkable and well-informed take on the issue:
American military involvement will serve as an accelerant to and a prolonger of this Iraqi civil war. American bombs, bullets and dollars will further strengthen the bond between Sunnis and extremist groups like ISIS, increasing Sunni desperation by intensifying their backs to the wall dilemma and justifying the propaganda and rhetoric of ISIS: a narrative of a Western campaign of international subjugation enacted through Shia, Kurdish and Iraqi ethnic minority puppets. Further, such American support will strengthen the resolve of the al-Maliki government not to reform and not to address Sunni grievances. With the renewed backing of American might and money, al-Maliki’s government will feel no need to restore a balance of power in Iraq and will continue a policy of disenfranchisement and marginalization of the Sunni population and leadership. Only by withholding support to al-Maliki’s government, and not by sending advisers, tomahawk missiles or cash, will there be a reason for al-Maliki’s government to negotiate and seek peace.
The Iraqi and Kurdish militaries are fighting ISIS, but peace will only be achieved in Iraq when Sunnis are given a meaningful opportunity to participate in Iraq’s Democratic institutions. Until that happens, groups like ISIS will always be able to take advantage of the resentment of oppressed political minorities in order to create an atmosphere of instability and violence. Extremism breeds in places where political oppression and poverty are rampant. Give people access to public institutions, and lift them up economically, and groups like ISIS begin to atrophy and die for lack of a receptive audience. Extremists still exist in wealthy countries, but they don’t have enough resources or influence to conquer and lord over an entire jurisdiction. That alone is sufficient to show the effectiveness of economic prosperity and political enfranchisement over military solutions, which can never succeed at stamping out extremist movements without a political solution that enfranchises people and lifts them out of the desperate economic conditions that so often serve as a breeding ground for radical violent movements.