President Obama has been criticized on the right (by Charles Krauthammer, for example) for saying that the so-called “Islamic State” is neither a state nor Islamic. Actually the President is right on both counts, but wrong to think that it matters.
To understand what the “Islamic State” is we must first point out that there is a continuum between
- Terrorism and Insurgency – get enough terrorists together to form a small army and they will try to take and hold territory, destabilize governments and take over. It has been said that every terrorists wants to grow up to be an insurgent. One past example is the LTTE, aka the Tamil Tigers. They took over part of Sri Lanka, before the Sinhalese wiped them out.
- Terrorism and Organized Crime – manpower, arms and ammunition all cost money. Organized crime is a way to pay for it all. The FARC, aka Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia got so involved in their finances that they are more of a drug cartel than a terrorist group or an insurgency.
- Terrorism and Cults – in order to justify heinous acts of violence against innocents to yourself, you need to be a true believer in your cause, whatever it is. Aum Shinrikyo was a cult that perpetrated the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway.
- Terrorism and Social Movements – this is what Islamofascist terrorism has become now that al-Qaeda’s Senior Leadership has been degraded by operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by time itself. Rather than the command-cadre organization that it was prior to 9/11/2001, al-Qaeda has spawned numerous organizations, some very loosely affiliated, and others, like the so-called Islamic State even in rebellion against it.
So the “Islamic State” is a terrorist insurgency that funds itself via organized crime (among other sources) and is an instance of the cult-like social movement that Francis Fukuyama termed “Islamofascism.
President Obama announced that he plans to solve this problem by a sustained counter-terrorism strategy. It’s going to take more than that. Let’s hope he’s holding more cards than he’s showing right now.