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Is the Islamic State Really Such a Psychological Enigma?

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By all means let's mourn together; but let's not be stupid together.

""""""""""""""""""""""""""-Susan Sontag

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The costly debacle known as the Iraq War put the US government in a tough spot that's now exacerbated by the rise of the Islamic State in Anbar Province and western Syria.

A recent New York Times story referred to the Islamic State (also ISIS or ISIL) as a "conundrum" -- "a hybrid terrorist organization and a conventional army." The focus of the story was Major General Michael Nagata, who heads something within the Pentagon known as the Strategic Multilayer Assessment. The Times called it an "unofficial brain trust outside the traditional realms of expertise within the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies, in search of fresh ideas and inspiration." Besides this theoretical effort to delve into the psychology of the Islamic State, General Nagata has been assigned by President Obama the practical battlefield task of training local Syrian and Iraqi forces to fight the Islamic State.

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Major General Michael Nagata, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at Camp Bucca and the Islamic State leader today
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"We do not understand the movement," General Nagata said of the Islamic State. "And until we do, we are not going to defeat it. We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea." The Islamic State's efforts to reach into places like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya and even Afghanistan "is a huge area of concern," said Lisa Monaco, Obama's counterterrorism adviser. CIA Director John Brennan said, "We have to find a way to address some of these factors and conditions that are abetting and allowing these movements to grow."

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General Nagata's concern is this: "There is a magnetic attraction to I.S. that is bringing in resources, talent, weapons, etc, to thicken, harden, embolden I.S. in ways that are very alarming." In other words, the Pentagon and the US government are seriously scared of the Islamic State and what it means in the Middle East, North Africa and Southwest Asia. General Nagata, we're told, wants to introduce complexity into the conundrum. Some might say it's a bit late in the game for that. To his credit, the general seems to realize that the Islamic State is playing the US like a fiddle. "They want us to become emotional. They revel in being called murderers when the words are coming from an apostate. They are happy to see us outraged," he says. This suggests that, so far, US belligerence has played right into the hands of the Islamic State, and General Nagata knows it.

The problem with General Nagata's effort is it fails to include in the analysis the elephant sitting in the room. That elephant is the culpability of the United States of America in fomenting the rise, and the sustaining power, of the Islamic State. Without us, there would be no Islamic State. The disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq started with the criminalization of the ruling Ba'ath Party and the absolute disbanding of the Iraqi military. This stupid decision was further exacerbated by a desperate and ruthless campaign of focused killing in Anbar Province to neutralize the leadership of the Sunni insurgency that -- surprise! -- rose in direct opposition to our invasion and occupation. Our cavalier exhibition of "shock and awe" on Iraqi society ended up turning the keys to the country over to the out-of-power Shiites allied with our worst enemy, Iran. Besides being ill-conceived and dishonest, what we did in Iraq was an incredible insult to Sunnis.

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I'm a 68-year-old American who served in Vietnam as a naive 19-year-old kid. From that moment on, I've been studying and re-thinking what US counter-insurgency war means. I live outside of Philadelphia, where I'm a writer, photographer and (more...)
 

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