Daesh: One Head on the Hydra
Despite the loud mouth of Donald Trump not a day goes by when ISIS (Daesh in Arabic) is mentioned by major media outlets. With the amount of media attention that the terrorist group receives one might think that they actually pose an imminent existential threat to the United States- it does not. What we should be worried about is the socio-political environment that produces Daesh. If the U.S. cares at all about the stability in the Middle East, then it has to start addressing the “day-after” Daesh and be forward-thinking in its foreign policy.
As an organization, Daesh is nothing more than a pathetic attempt at building a society whether under the guise of a caliphate or anything else. All the elements of a successful society-cultural, social, scientific, or technological institutions- Daesh neither produces nor innovates in any of these important sectors. It does not seem interested in developing them either. It uses weapons and technologies of others against its enemies because it is incapable of innovation and production.
Therefore, Daesh cannot be more than a pirate society. The organization reaches out to the most disenfranchised and disturbed around the world to be its martyrs. In part, the strength of Daesh comes from the powerless and vulnerable individuals among us and from the worst our own domestic and foreign policies have produced. Recruiting the best of the worst says a lot about Daesh’s actual strength. Despite Daesh’s weakness, we are obsessed with the threat it poses.
Naturally, we look to neutralize that threat. The problem is that we are not going about it properly. We see Daesh as the problem and therefore look to destroy it militarily. However, this won’t happen even with unrivaled might of the U.S. Military. The problem is much greater than just the organization, and little suggests that “jihadist” groups can be defeated solely by military actions. In this regard, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East needs rehabilitation if not an overhaul.
We must realize that Daesh is the by-product of political crisis in the post-2003 Middle East. The invasion of Iraq and the dismantling of and the dismantling of the state institutions there created a socio-political vacuum which became a breeding ground for extremist groups. More so, the political gridlock within Iraq, particularly from 2011-2014, fueled the flames of frustration among both the Sunnis and Shiites. Arabs and Kurds, contributing to radicalization in Iraq. This also means that the political mistakes are not entirely American. Ultimately, Daesh is a product of Iraqi fragmentation. It is not an import.
The American mantra has been to defeat Daesh first then focus on political solutions to overcome the Iraqi political gridlock. Yet, these two things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the opposite strategy of tackling political problems first then defeating Daesh may prove more successful. We cannot destroy Daesh without a plan for the whole of Iraq, and now Syria for that matter. Essentially, there are two forms of Daesh: Daesh as an organization and Daesh as a phenomenon/ideology. The first one is the form that is produced by the dysfunction within the Iraqi political system. The second is the chronic problem, which will persist long after we annihilate the organization itself.
What happens when we destroy Daesh leadership and “reclaim” Daesh’s territory? We have seen this problem before: It is a cycle. A broken domestic political system leads to severe fragmentation which then leads to radicalization finally culminating in a radical terrorist organization like Daesh. The jihadist organizations that we continue fighting are a product of local politics and of U.S. vision in Iraq in the post 2003.
It has been 13 years since the invasion of Iraq. The upcoming generation of youth in Iraq has known nothing but conflict, violence, and its horrors. We will defeat Daesh, but if we think Daesh is bad, then imagine what will emerge from their ashes. Without a hard look at the source problem, we will be locked into an increasingly taxing guerilla war in the region with increasingly threatens our own security and interests.
Ahmet Yucesoy is a member of the 2016 Ibrahim cohort.