Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New neighbours

At Vox, Zach Beauchamp finds a number of reasons (plus one to be sure) to declare victory over ISIS --

For months, ISIS has been trying and failing to take Kobane. Its recent push, beginning on around September 16, looked likely to succeed. But Kurdish fighters, with heavy American support, have pushed ISIS back. Kobane could still fall, but the Kurdish resistance has shattered the perception of ISIS invincibility — a crucial element of its recruiting pitch. "The [loss of] prestige in the jihadi movement could do a lot of damage to them," Garteinstein-Ross suggests. "ISIS can draw so many recruits because they're seen as the strong horse, because they're winning. [Kobane] shifts that perception."

The red flag here is the analysis of ISIS in terms of the strong horse metaphor -- an old expression of Osama bin Laden's, whose greatest trick may have been to get the Bush White House to think about the Middle East in those terms.

The FT's David Gardner has an alternative explanation of Kobane/Ain al-Arab --

The siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, for example, on the border with Turkey, is often described as strategic or symbolic. Yet there is no especial imperative why the warriors of the Isis caliphate should expend the lives of about 500 of their number to seize this particular stretch of Turkey’s 1,300km frontier with Syria and Iraq. They have turned Kobani into a symbol, but by attacking it they have driven a wedge between the neo-Islamist rulers of Turkey and their Kurdish minority.

Looking at maps and declaring that they've lost this town or that town is not going to cut it. ISIS is moving along the rivers and showing they can slowly tighten the stranglehold around cities without ever having to mount a direct assault. As someone else quoted in the FT article says, they've been reading up. Especially on East Asian insurgencies.

If your humble blogger was advising the White House, the advice would be that it's time to talk some Viet Cong veterans out of retirement and ask them what the US should have done against them in the 1960s. Because that's where we are now in Iraq/Syria.