What do ISIS want? Donald Trump.

As the terror outfit gets squeezed they will increasingly become more desperate to increase their operations globally...

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
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The political and military machine of ISIS in the Levant is creaking at the seams. In the wake of the Russian intervention in Syria, and continued actions by the United States and their NATO allies in Iraq and the eastern areas of Syria, the group has lost somewhere between 20- to 25 percent of its territory, it is losing fighters, their recruitment efforts are faltering, and, as I have argued before, they seem to be making preparations to abandon the Levant altogether and move on to Libya and/or Afghanistan.

The pressure they are being put under in their home base is the explanation for the escalation in overseas attacks against soft targets since last autumn. And it is for this very reason that we should expect more attempts of this kind in the West in the coming months. As ISIS get squeezed they will increasingly become more desperate to increase their terrorist operations globally.

And the expectation that they will lose their base in the Levant also changes their strategic calculus: it stops making sense to sink resources and fighters in a battle they expect to lose, and it starts making sense to direct those resources towards global attacks which maximize the propaganda benefits for their ideology.

In these circumstances, in this period of flux where they are dependent more on volunteers from target countries than things that they have under direct and immediate control, recruits become the key strategic resource. If ISIS keeps finding the amounts of recruits it needs to execute its tactics, they will continue to be a threat long after we have destroyed their base in Raqqa. If, on the other hand, we manage to suffocate their inflow of recruits, they will wither away.

Just as ISIS is about to implode in the Levant and lose credibility with sympathizers and potential recruits, Trump is proposing to do exactly what would restore their fate

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

It is based on these facts that the former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden has described Donald Trump as "the best recruiting sergeant for ISIS". What Donald Trump offers ISIS is a constant flow of recruits. And this is so for a number of reasons.

First of all, Trump has become a champion of the narrative of a global “clash of civilizations” which ISIS themselves are pushing, and on which their perverted ideology relies. ISIS has, from its very origins in Al-Qaeda, relied on a narrative of Muslims being systematically oppressed all over the world and Islam being held back from achieving its potential by the Crusader West and their Zionist allies.

ISIS calls young, impressionable Muslims to arms on the premise that the entire West is already at war with them, and they need to defend themselves and their Muslim community from these aggressors.

Trump’s conclusion

What Trump does is to look at the ISIS propaganda against the West and says that all 1.5 billion Muslims in the world can be assumed to be similarly hostile to the West. His conclusion is that we therefore need to go to war with the entire Muslim world. Where once propaganda was just fabricated nonsense, Trump is proposing to make it true.

Secondly, there is Trump’s recent proposal to send 30,000 troops to fight ISIS on the ground. This would be a huge coup for ISIS: as German journalist Jurgen Todenhofer who was embedded with the terror group observed, this would bolster ISIS back to undisputed leader of the global terror movement. You cannot be the number one terror group in the world unless you have fought the number one global power.

But if “America” takes you seriously enough to fight a conventional war with you, then you become the focal point of all the hopes and dreams of the movement. Just as ISIS is about to implode in the Levant and lose credibility with sympathizers and potential recruits, Trump is proposing to do exactly what would restore their fate. Especially since all top military figures suggest that if we want to go in and actually win this, we need 90,000 troops, not 30,000.

And for the West to get itself dragged into this kind of war is nonsensical just in terms of cost-benefit analysis. US casualties will be the best piece of propaganda possible for ISIS and will take their social media operations to a new level which will result in more recruits coming to the region to fight the US. And of course, once you are on the ground, anything except a complete victory by Western powers would be seen as a victory for ISIS.

It is possible to defeat ISIS. And what we are doing at the moment, building alliances around them and providing logistical and air support for groups who oppose ISIS on the ground is working. It is slow, but it is steady. It really is only a matter of time until the group gets degenerated to a critical point after which it will implode.

What Donald Trump is proposing to do is to breathe a new lease of life back into ISIS, by doing every single possible thing wrong. Let us hope that if the people of the United States lose their sense and elect him, the military would nonetheless keep its senses and do what Michael Hayden said it would do: it would refuse to follow his orders.
Azeem Ibrahim is an RAI Fellow at Mansfield College, University of Oxford and Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim

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