By Jeffrey Schulman
UPDATE: Recently an ISIS video has emerged suggesting one of the Japanese hostages has been murdered.
I just read an interesting piece, “The Islamic State is Failing at Being a State,” in the Washington Post. The story is a typical, western, feel-good piece chronicling how ISIS, surprise surprise, isn’t nice to ordinary people. The story is also conveniently set up to make the case for the popular narrative; that ISIS’ failure to be nice to the population will lead to their resistance eventually the people will gain freedom for themselves…
Usually repression works, as we sadly live in a world where whenever a populace loses its fear or desperation, it grows desirous for ever more. It tends to be the most liberal and generous administrations that suffer most from the blight of revolution.
Liz Sly’s (the author) understanding of great affairs is distinctly ordinary here, but her efforts as an investigative journalist seem to have borne fruit. It was very interesting to learn that most of the administrators remaining in ISIS territory are still drawing salaries, from the Syrian government no less. Likewise, it seems that western charities are among the only providers of essentials to the unfortunate, since ISIS is strapped for cash. After a failure to extort the US and UK, ISIS has now abducted two Japanese nationals and is demanding $200 million in ransom. The tricky problem here is that the Japan Self Defense Force, the Japanese military, has almost no military presence outside Japan.
The United States ought to take action to ensure that ISIS is not paid. The only reliable way to do this would be for the president to authorize a rescue operation. The hostages then would either be saved or killed, and ISIS would find itself dealing with an increasingly bleak pecuniary situation. Without money, it would be much harder for the terrorists to present a macro-threat. Running around the desert with guns is fairly straight forward, but complex organizational resources, requiring significant quantities of money, are necessary to present a large scale problem to western nations.
This situation shows that the United States should take a more strategic approach to the wars on terror. Just like during World War II, the resources and war-making capacity of an entire population under the control of, or sympathetic to, hostile forces determines the strength of the enemy, as much as soldiers themselves. Large scale strategic bombing is obviously off the table. However, that does not mean that there aren’t substantial steps that can be taken to generally weaken populations in hostile regions. We could;
- Refuse to supply arms to all but the most stable states
- Ban humanitarian groups from acting behind enemy lines
- Strike strategic non-military targets
- Rely on financially efficient tools such as surveillance drones.
- Take action against states that fund terrorism or invest in radicalized areas
The cumulative effect of the strategic approach would be to ensure that the US is as strong as possible in relation to any potential foes. By taking an approach that protects the economically important parts of the western world at minimum financial cost, it is possible to successfully maintain stability in the Middle East, even while devoting the bulk of available resources to other regions. Weakening entire states and regions will insure that all emerging threats present a less serious danger, since whatever their structures or ideologies, they will be in a resource-scarce environment. Meanwhile, far more military forces will remain available- that, more than anything, is important in an increasingly resource-constrained environment.
Jeffrey Schulman writes TFO’s weekly security column “In Defense of Defense” and is a former writer for The Varsity. His blog Thoughts can be found at jeffreyeschulman.blogspot.com