ISIS earned discussion in the first presidential debate on September 26, one in which Donald Trump continued to redefine presidential campaigns.
For a reminder of the stakes in this year's presidential election, and the difference that decisive leadership makes in the fight against evil, here's a recent review of the timely book 1932: The Rise of Hitler & FDR.
Even as ISIS inspires unfathomable, epic atrocities by its social-media-incited, monstrous followers across the globe--from California to Bangladesh to Nice, France--the group's core power base is showing severe cracks. Concerted military efforts in Iraq and Syria finally are bearing fruit, and are raising the prospect of a collapse of the ISIS caliphate.
These martial successes raise, for the first time, the potential for ISIS dissolving into an al-Qaeda-like diaspora of hunted guerrillas no longer tied to a nation-state. That would be victory for the West, but not a long-term solution. It would see ISIS continue the fight by fading into the broader, centuries-old efforts of radical Islam generally.
More military successes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria will tell us if the caliphate's days are numbered, and ISIS becomes merely part of a broader, decentralized campaign by radical jihadists.
A recent survey, complete with interactive maps and photos from space, shows the areas won and lost by ISIS during the recent conflicts in Iraq and Syria. These surveys exclude mapping of the equally important battles against new ISIS strongholds in Libya and the southern Arabian peninsula, but are illuminating nonetheless.
As this video shows, ISIS suicide bombers are openly operating in remote corners of Russia just as freely as they have caused mayhem in the more flashy capitals of Europe. However, the payback in Russia has been very different.
Recently, ISIS "goat herders" claimed they had lost an animal in an attempt to get close to a Russian military checkpoint in Chechnya. One of the ISIS operatives blew himself up; the other was shot and killed while trying to throw a grenade. The explosion seriously injured six Russian police officers.
The Russian government's response? Officials sent bulldozers to the homes of the terrorists' families and leveled them.
In a reminder of the very real daily threat ISIS poses, through both terrorism and conventional battle, to U.S. citizens and interests, ISIS forces recently killed a U.S. Navy SEAL fighting in Iraq. Using 100 troops and multiple vehicles, bulldozers and suicide car bombs as part of a coordinated attack, ISIS broke through fortified lines established by Iraqi Kurds known as Peshmerga. The Pentagon has not yet revealed the identity of the slain U.S. soldier, who was serving as an adviser to Peshmerga units north of Mosul.
New video of U.S. B-52's wiping out an ISIS facility near Mosul, Iraq is well worth watching for a real-time sense of the conflict. The video is reminiscent of Air Force footage of bombs unloaded in precision fashion on the same country during the Gulf War.
An ex-CIA operative claims, in a new book, President Barack Obama rejected a CIA plan to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad from power. Senior intelligence officials have confirmed this account, and believe this decision allowed for the growth of ISIS and other events that have destabilized the region.
Doug Laux, who worked undercover for the CIA in Syria and Afghanistan, details how Obama failed to act on a specific, "multi-tiered plan" to aid Syrian rebels and overthrow the Assad regime. This failure to act, and to prevent the subsequent Syrian civil war, fomented the rise of ISIS and related threats to Europe and the West.
In 2012, then-CIA Director and former general David Petraeus proposed a detailed plan to oust Assad from power. Laux helped write the "ops" plan. Obama nixed it.
Petraeus, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and others believe the plan might have prevented the Syrian civil war, which is being fought between the Assad regime and his allies and U.S.-backed rebels. The war has sent thousands of refugees pouring into Europe and ceded to ISIS a large chunk of the strife-torn nation-state.
Other intelligence-related news paints a still-darker picture. The Daily Beast reports the "growing scandal over cooked ISIS intelligence just got much worse" with the disclosure of retaliation against internal administration critics. The Obama administration reportedly demoted two senior intelligence officials at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) for questioning U.S. portrayals of progress in the war against ISIS. The analysts say they were forced out of their jobs because of their "skeptical reporting on U.S.-backed rebel groups in Syria."
As more innocents are slain and yet another great capital of Europe smolders after a deadly terrorist attack, Americans mourn these latest losses in the war against ISIS. Yet our thoughts also naturally turn to protecting ourselves from this metastasizing global menace. We do well at such times to recall how our nation arose in the first place.
The earliest Americans regarded the right to personal safety as the main right of individuals. Government is obligated to uphold this right more than any other right. It is this right that ISIS is systematically shredding across Europe, as governments throughout the Continent appear increasingly powerless to protect their citizens from this violent threat. Without personal security, all other rights become meaningless because they can’t be enjoyed effectively. That American voters in the current election season are embracing politicians who promise to protect their right to personal security is entirely human and entirely American.
The first Americans understood how central is the right of personal security. They relied upon the British political philosophers of their time in framing their argument for rights and revolution. When Thomas Jefferson wrote of the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, he was lifting almost verbatim the formulation of basic rights stated by the British philosopher John Locke: those of “life, liberty and property.” The British political philosopher whose work, in turn, influenced Locke was Thomas Hobbes.
Hobbes’s book Leviathan argued that the right of personal security is the fundamental civil right on which all other rights depend. Loyal subjects have a right to rebel against the Crown if the government fails to secure this right. When George Washington, following the American Revolution, saw this right threatened by the violent anarchy of Shays’ Rebellion, he urged the new nation to adopt a stronger federal union and a new Constitution.
The attacks on Brussels punctuate and remind us of these truths. ISIS has laid siege to our most basic civil right. The primacy of this right explains why the American people, quite reasonably, are demanding swift and resolute action by their government to ensure domestic tranquility.
As U.S. ground operations against ISIS inevitably lead to the capture of more members of the terror group, U.S. senators are urging the Obama administration to place ISIS prisoners of war in long-term storage in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A resolution backed by 15 U.S. senators, including Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, would ensure these "dangerous individuals" are not placed on U.S. soil nor "returned to the battlefield...to spread radical Islam." Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) is chief sponsor of the legislation.
In response to criticism from Pope Francis over his immigration policies, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump offered a claim that might have baffled many hearing it for the first time. Trump noted that ISIS covets the Vatican as its “ultimate trophy.”
Trump is right. In fact, for the past year, ISIS's leaders have made the sacking of Rome and conquest of the Vatican a top and oft-repeated goal. The mayhem they sowed in Paris in 2015 is proof their aspiration is not outlandish. ISIS’s enclave in north Africa is being groomed in part for this very purpose.
ISIS’s territory in north Africa provides a strategic launching point not only to raid European cruise ships in the Mediterranean, as ISIS has boasted of planning. Their stronghold in chaotic, war-ravaged Libya, and ISIS’s efforts to intimidate and infiltrate neighboring Tunisia, show shrewd strategic aims.
Tunisia, in fact, is the home of ancient Carthage. And Carthage, under its famous general Hannibal, launched a successful, highly unorthodox raid into the heart of Italy to terrorize its rival, Rome, more than 2,000 years ago.
Trump’s claim is well-founded in history, as noted in a previous post, "Hannibal's Ghost."
Two British expatriates from London have been identified as members of a terror cell in ISIS known as "the Beatles." The name was earned from their British accents. The group is reportedly responsible for kidnappings and murders at ISIS's behest.
ISIS leaders are seeking to turn ISIS-held territory in Libya into a base for launching ISIS's own navy. The goal is to attack cruise ships from Europe. ISIS already has claimed responsibility for terror attacks against European tourists vacationing in the neighboring nation of Tunisia in June 2015. If implemented, this latest, audacious plan would allow the militant nation-state to deploy a navy to support its armed operations on land. These have overrun much of war-torn Libya and terrorized other parts of Africa as far south as Nigeria.
From the "at least they're fiscally prudent" file: As part of recent budget austerity measures, ISIS leaders have cut the wages of its fighters in half.
ISIS is officially in the immigration business. Taking advantage of Syria’s 500-mile-long border with Turkey, which Turkish officials admit they cannot secure, ISIS has run a “sophisticated immigration operation” through the Syrian border, newly obtained records show. Kurdish forces recently captured the border town of Tel Abyab. There they took possession of passenger manifests showing ISIS’s own “department of transportation” issuing stamps to emigrants leaving ISIS-held parts of Syria for Turkey and Europe. Many of these individuals came from Tunisia, a hotbed of ISIS recruiting and organizing in north Africa.
The documents are the latest proof that ISIS is fulfilling its pledge to flood the West with ISIS supporters by exploiting immigration into southeastern Europe. President Barack Obama has said he has had “repeated conversations” with Turkish officials “about border security,” adding, “We’ve seen some progress on that front, but there are still some gaps.” It is unclear if the Turkish prime minister urged Obama to follow his own counsel, as the U.S. border remains similarly open to infiltration.
A Western journalist who managed to embed himself among ISIS and its leaders, survive, and emerge to report his findings brought forth a fascinating fact. He says ISIS leaders fear only one nation.
It is not the United States or any of its European allies. Nor is it Russia. It is Israel.
ISIS leaders respect Israeli forces, whom they view as “very tough” in fighting “guerrillas and terrorists.” In contrast, ISIS doubts the ability and willingness of U.S. and European powers to remain engaged in urban combat effectively for the long haul. ISIS grand strategy reflects this fear, as ISIS leaders seek to avoid provoking Israel at this time.
The season reserved for honoring the Prince of Peace has been largely punctuated this year by terrorism, random bloodshed and fear. The City of Lights became the latest great city to descend into a terrorist-induced state of nature, as the streets of Paris ran red with innocent blood shed by ISIS. In the New World, a Christmas party in San Bernardino, California, became the site of an ISIS-inspired massacre and the largest terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. In next-door Los Angeles, America’s second-largest school district suspended classes due to a terrorist threat. Voters in the most powerful nation on earth rallied to leaders promising to keep them safe.
The year closes with ISIS proving it is far more than a ragtag group of dust-covered revolutionaries cowering in tents or caves to avoid U.S. air strikes. The Associated Press has named ISIS the top story of 2015. The terror group has proven capable of striking cities throughout the West and expanding militarily across the globe. Its leaders boast of plans to extend their so-called caliphate into Europe and beyond. Softened by years of relativism and safety, the West struggles to understand and respond to the existential nature of the threat against it.
The civilized world braces for another, seemingly inevitable year of brutal conflict with a regime that acknowledges no boundaries, physical or moral. As Christmas beckons, the faithful turn to eternal verities to find comfort and hope—and light to pierce the darkness.
In the span of 24 hours, Democratic and Republican leaders presented the American people with dramatically different visions for the increasingly vital fight against ISIS. Rarely has the disagreement between leaders and parties on a major security issue been more stunning or revealing.
Following an ISIS-inspired massacre in San Bernardino, California, the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11, President Barack Obama tried to reassure the American people in a speech from the Oval Office on December 5. His much-hyped address offered little but gauzy liberal clichés, evasions and scolding of the American people. Obama’s blame-shifting proposal for more gun control was as useful and relevant as advocating a ban on medieval catapults; the semiautomatic rifles used by jihadists in Paris and California were already illegal in both locales. He spent much of his time condemning “hate” and praising “religious tolerance,” a sermon for which, at this point, a shaken American people clearly have little patience.
Yesterday Donald Trump, who in polls leads all Republican presidential candidates nationally, offered his reply. He urged a total ban on Muslims seeking to enter the United States. Polls show Republicans overwhelmingly believe America is "at war" with radical Islam and, by equal proportions, oppose Obama's proposal to resettle Syrian refugees in the country. Indeed, 54 percent of Republicans believe Obama himself is Muslim.
Trump’s critics immediately pointed out the courts likely would strike down such an immigration policy. Indeed, activist judges already have blocked states from prosecuting illegal immigrants, even when they confess to being in the country illegally.
The dueling speeches made clear that the fault line between Obama and Trump, and increasingly Democrats and Republicans, is over the very notion of radical Islam. Obama and most Democrats believe Muslim terrorists can be identified and stopped (though they do not explain how), and that such Islamists do not pose an existential threat to the United States and the West. Trump and most Republicans view ISIS as the tip of the spear for centuries-old armed Islamic expansion.
This much is clear. As ISIS supporters and allied radical Islamic terrorists shoot and blow up growing numbers of Americans at home, turning the nation's great cities into war zones with gun battles in the streets (Boston in 2013, San Bernardino/greater Los Angeles last week), Americans are tiring of excuses from policymakers. They are, moreover, running out of sympathy for the people and nations who export terrorists and human bombs to detonate among them.
This map and related article show the areas where ISIS has enjoyed notable success in recruiting American citizens and residents into its ranks.
Specifics on the individuals and ISIS hot spots across the country can be found in the article, a helpful analysis largely overlooked in the wake of the recent atrocities in Paris.
Besides striking widespread terror, ISIS and its followers have accomplished this: They have forced liberals who have long preached moral relativism to admit there is evil, after all.
This is no small milestone. For the better part of the last half century, liberal elites have instructed Americans and Europeans that all values are “relative,” or, in essence, equally right. Professors in our colleges and universities have uniformly drilled this moral relativism into their students. Students or faculty who dissent from this orthodoxy are ostracized or worse. Not surprisingly, these lessons have stuck.
Those taught moral relativism—including, most notably and obviously, prominent products of higher education such as Barack Obama—find it jarring and incomprehensible that there is real, unrestrained evil at work in the world. ISIS makes no sense to them.
ISIS and the diabolical acts it sponsors do not square with the idea that all values are relative and equally valid. In fact, it is a contradiction to believe at the same time (1) there are no absolute truths and (2) it is an absolute truth that ISIS is evil. Yet there we are—our leaders struggling to comprehend the situation because their tutors have handed them such ideological implosions while depriving them of the necessary understanding.
All of this was foretold. Thirty years ago, an obscure philosophy professor named Allan Bloom published an unlikely bestseller titled The Closing of the American Mind. The book warned that higher education was betraying the nation by inculcating moral relativism in college students.
Conservatives toasted Bloom as a hero. But because liberal bias in higher education was a thorny problem to solve, his warnings were ignored. Now, the intellectual rot he predicted has changed the country. Studies show the more college degrees a person receives, the more liberal that person becomes. Voting patterns reflect this reality. These social trends ensure that every year America drifts steadily to the left, becoming in the process less able and willing to defend itself against barbarism.
Passionately at the heart of modern liberalism is a relativism that compromises on everything but one nonsensical principle: The only absolute is that there are no absolutes. The West’s tepid response to ISIS reflects this uncertainty of ethical purpose.
The leaders of ISIS recognize and prey upon this muddle. Instead of preparing the nation’s future leaders to condemn and battle the evils of ISIS, our colleges and universities are paralyzed today with squabbles over whether vague and boorish behavior constitutes hate speech, and who is to blame. Meanwhile, the followers of ISIS have no problem figuring out what values they believe in—and showing they are willing to fight for them in the most bloodthirsty and disciplined manner. The confusion sown by American higher education could not have come at a worse time.
Over the past year, as ISIS began stitching together its patchwork of fiefdoms across Muslim-dominated parts of the world, Westerners generally scoffed at its declaration of a global “caliphate.” After all, it was assumed, this upstart group was merely a self-important remnant of al-Qaeda, itself laid low after 9/11 by U.S. and British military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This latest rogue band of terrorists running hit-or-miss operations and generally staying a step ahead of the law surely would fall apart in time.
That, of course, has not happened. Indeed, in many areas across the globe, ISIS is the law. The group has established working governments in zones they control from Africa to Afghanistan (see map). Its leaders have exploited civil wars and native Muslim populations to ring the globe with lands paying tribute to their often far-away sovereigns in Syria and Iraq. The “joke” has been on us.
Increasingly, in fact, it has been the West that has lost the power to control its own borders and national integrity. The efforts of European nations to defend their own sovereignty have been less effective, in many ways, than ISIS’s ability to create a sovereign nation from scratch in the Levant. Thus the spectacle of the mastermind of the Paris bombings, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, gloating that he freely traversed Europe despite being on multiple wanted lists there. He freely calls out European nations for welcoming Syrian refugees and enabling his exploits.
Will unusual alliances form to counter this threat? In the wake of the worst attacks on French soil since World War II, French President Francois Hollande naturally seeks to restore the alliance that helped end the evil at the heart of that same struggle. He has called upon the United States and Russia to put aside their differences to combat ISIS, just as the Allied Powers overlooked profound ideological and strategic goals in vanquishing the Nazis.
It is striking, at such moments, how little has changed in the balance of geopolitical power since the Second World War. France, which helped create America, now regularly relies upon it to safeguard the freedoms both nations cherish. Despite the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia remains America’s global rival.
And radical Islam tenaciously defies them all.
As the civilized world mourns the ISIS attacks and mass murders in Paris, some broader points largely lost in the commentary thus far should be noted. First, ISIS has bragged that it intended to use the Syrian refugee crisis--which it is fomenting--to infiltrate Europe. They have been quite open about this. Their strategy should be familiar to Americans, as it is similar to that used by Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the Mariel boatlift (read more at "ISIS Makes a Sequel to Scarface"). Given these facts, the current come-on-in immigration policies in Europe and America boggle the mind.
Also, ISIS has made no bones about their long-term, overarching intention to renew the Muslim invasion of Europe of centuries past. This includes nothing less than sacking Rome, arguably the spiritual capital of the continent. This is not so far-fetched (read more at "Hannibal's Ghost"). The growing specter of such an onslaught could not have been lost on the Vatican and Pope Francis, who issued tough statements and was unabashedly moved by the terrorism that has rocked Paris.
This clash of civilizations which has left one of the world's great capitals in a state of bloodstained chaos must lead all Americans to confront the new Dark Ages that ISIS seeks to bring back.
U.S. air power is backing an effort by Kurdish ground forces to win back Sinjar, a key Iraqi city lost to ISIS last year during its successful offensive in northern Iraq. American airstrikes pummeled Sinjar and the surrounding area in advance of the Kurdish militia offensive, launched today. The city and the surrounding area have witnessed ISIS atrocities against the Yazidi minority and other captives. The joint U.S.-Kurdish effort marks the latest American attempt to coordinate its anti-ISIS campaign with the proud and battle-hardened Kurdish fighters opposing ISIS (read here a previous discussion of "The Indomitable Kurds").
As British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama both openly speculate that the October 31 crash of a Russian airliner in Egypt was caused by a bomb, Egyptian and Russian officials have sought for a week to rebut those claims. Yet new images released of the destroyed airplane show projectiles exploded outward from the fuselage--the latest evidence suggesting a bomb detonated on board and corroborating ISIS's claims of responsibility. Now, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has ordered a halt of Russian flights to Egypt. Putin's action comes after a week in which ISIS spokesmen have gloated publicly over the crash, bragging that ISIS terror cells took down the liner in retaliation for Russia's military strikes on ISIS forces in Syria.