By Fareed Zakaria
What are the strengths of the Islamic State? I posed this question to two deeply knowledgeable observers – a European diplomat and a former U.S. official – and the picture they painted is worrying, although not hopeless…
…The Islamic State’s military strategy is brutal but also smart. The group’s annual reports – yes, it has issued annual reports since 2012 – detail its military methods and successes to try to impress its backers and funders. The videos posted online of executions are barbaric but strategic. They are designed to sow terror in the minds of opponents, who when facing Islamic State fighters on the battlefield, now reportedly flee rather than fight.
But the most dangerous aspect of the Islamic State, this diplomat believes, is its ideological appeal. It has recruited marginalized, disaffected Sunni youths in Syria and Iraq who believe they are being ruled by apostate regimes. How to handle this challenge?
The American, a former senior administration figure, counsels against pessimism. The Islamic State could be defeated, he said, but it would take a comprehensive and sustained strategy, much like the one that undergirded the surge in Iraq…
…The two observers agreed on one central danger. The temptation to gain immediate military victories over the Islamic State could mean that the United States would end up tacitly partnering Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. This would produce a short-term military gain against the Islamic State but it would be a long-term political disaster. “It would feed the idea that the Sunnis in Iraq and Syria are embattled, that a Crusader Christian-Shiite alliance is persecuting them and that all Sunnis must resist this alien invasion,” the European diplomat said. “The key is that Sunnis must be in the lead against IS. They must be in front of the battlefield.”
Watch the video for the full take or read the WaPo column