Zakaria: ISIS may be most significant terrorist organization we’ve faced
August 26th, 2014
02:38 AM ET

Zakaria: ISIS may be most significant terrorist organization we’ve faced

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria, traveling in Bodrum, Turkey, about recent developments in Iraq. This is an edited version of the transcript.

What do you make of the growing international alarm over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)?

The level of concern about ISIS is very deep, and very different from what I heard only a few months ago. There’s a sense that ISIS has become what al Qaeda always wanted to be. Remember, the world al Qaeda means base. Since 2001, al Qaeda really hasn’t had a base. It's been running around in mountains and caves.

ISIS is developing a very large, deep and sophisticated base. It has a financial base, by some estimates making $1 million a day. It has the ability to sell oil and wheat at a bargain. And of course it has this extraordinary military capacity. That military capacity is morphing in the wake of American air strikes. It’s moving from an open ground strategy, taking towns, to a guerilla strategy, hiding within towns. A kind of Hamas strategy. But all in all, if you look at that this, this is the most significant terrorist organization I think we’ve really ever faced. 

It's an alarming thought. You mentioned it has a military base there, but it also has a base of support. It represents something for Sunnis.

That's the core of it in a sense because they’ve been able to take so much land and move within the population. You know Mao Tse Tung of China always said that gorillas swim like fish in the water, meaning that they have to be people, the locals have to be friendly otherwise they're not going to be able to stay there.

What has happened is that ISIS has stepped into the Sunni discontent, the Sunni discontent about being ruled in Syria by Alawites, this minority sect that they regard as heretical. And in Iraq being ruled by Persians, which is how they regard the Shia government of Iraq, even though it isn't actually Persian.

And that reality is in many ways at the heart of it. There’s another piece, which is some of Saddam Hussein's old Baath Party military machine is back. You see some of these characters – the old skeleton of Saddam Hussein's army.

For many Americans, the beheading of James Foley brought ISIS into focus, although U.S. officials, as you mentioned, and others have been concerned about this for some time. Now that the U.S. is considering more military action, is it safe to say that the U.S. is at war with ISIS? And in the region do you find that because of the concern there, that others are willing to join the U.S. in a real fight against ISIS?

I think now I'm beginning to sense that awareness and that willingness. Look at Turkey, for example. In some ways the ISIS problem was fuelled by Turkey. The Turks began their opposition towards the al-Assad government in Syria saying we don't want al-Assad. We’re going to find a moderate opposition. They tried to stand up a moderate opposition, they essentially created the Syrian Free Army. It didn't really go anywhere. These guys weren't great fighters, they weren't able to fight. At that point, the Turks decide out of frustration to just let anyone into Syria. And that strategy of letting anyone in fuelled the worse kinds of people going into Syria and forming and building what is now ISIS.

So everybody now has had a kind of wakeup call. There are many, many debates about what you can do and how you can do it because ISIS is strong enough that air strikes alone are not going to defeat it. Fighting it from Iraq alone probably won't defeat it. The real challenge is what do you do in Syria? You don’t have powerful, capable moderate forces. The only force that is battling ISIS in Syria of any note is, of course, the army of al-Assad, the government of Syria.

And the United States and Turkey are both deadly opposed to it. So that's the strategic conundrum. We don't quite know how to get at ISIS in Syria. Iraq is easier, but they can always move across the border to Syria and recoup and rebuild.

Does this change the strategic calculus for the U.S. and the West when it comes to al-Assad? Is there an odd alliance that results from this where the U.S., the West are fighting against ISIS with them together?

There’s a pedigree of this kind of thing in international relations. When Churchill was asked why Britain aligned itself with communist Soviet Union, he said if Hitler had invaded hell, I would have joined forces with the devil.

The problem here is it's not going to be that easy to align ourselves with al-Assad. Al-Assad is the reason you have the insurgency in the first place. Al-Assad is the reason you have this massive discontent. I think in this case what you have to try to do is get at the roots of ISIS' support, and that is the Sunni discontent. You have to get the Iraqi government to be more inclusive and broaden out and reach out to the Sunnis and frankly start buying or renting the tribes, which is what David Petraeus did when he was general there.

You mentioned how Turkey inadvertently contributed to the ISIS problem by letting the foreign fighters across the border. I wonder about the U.S. role. President Obama has called it a fantasy, in his words, that U.S. military action before this point would have done anything to stop ISIS's rise. Do you think that's fair? Do you think that the U.S. inadvertently contributed by not acting in Syria earlier?

What I'm hearing on the ground here is that there are a lot of people who wish the United States had been more involved. They definitely feel like it would have helped. But they are also very aware of the reality that ISIS is a much more dedicated, much more efficient, much more organized fighting force than any of the other ones around, that perhaps it was inevitable that the most intense forces are going to survive here.

If you look at the ones that are doing well in Syria and have been doing well for two years now, it's groups like ISIS, al-Nusra, these very hard lined religiously oriented forces. The nice liberal democrats or the moderates – they have really have not shown themselves to be able to fight and fight hard anywhere.

Now maybe this could have changed with a modest amount of American support. It seems to me highly unlikely. It seems much more likely that in one of these highly polarized civil war struggles, the extremes went out and the center gets crushed.

Post by:
Topics: Terrorism • Turkey

soundoff (380 Responses)
  1. shehar39

    Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says that the United States and all countries that were funding the Free Syrian Army ‘rebels’ and other militant groups fighting against Bashar Assad in Syria, including al-Qaeda linked ones such as Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS fed the growth of today’s the Islamic State, which now is an out of control terrorist group.

    August 26, 2014 at 3:23 pm |
    • Philip

      So, what's so new about this way of doing things? Usama Bin Laden was paid 50 million dollars to oust Russian troops from Afghanistan and hit the FBIs 10 most wanted list. (1998)
      Ones man's terrorist has always been another man's freedom fighter. And the other way around. Nothing new going on over there. Same old same old. War profiteers in action...just doing what they do. With church leaders for cheerleaders of War.

      August 26, 2014 at 4:44 pm |
      • honest insight

        Thanks Philip.......... you speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.............

        August 26, 2014 at 6:41 pm |
      • banasy©

        Hello Philip. I see you're back. We have some fences to mend. Still ranting on I see. Have fun.

        August 27, 2014 at 6:30 am |
  2. Philip

    "ISIS may be the most significant terrorist organization we've faced"? No. That would be the 1,200 armed and organized street and outlaw biker gangs terrorizing US for decades. Rayping, robbing, and murdering thousands of citizens each year. And not too few police officers. Get a clue already.

    August 26, 2014 at 4:49 pm |
    • honest insight

      Thanks again.............. US biker gangs are a bunch of macho drugee sickos, riding Harleys......... period...........

      August 26, 2014 at 6:43 pm |
      • Philip

        Thanks. Nice to meet you whatever your name is. he he

        August 26, 2014 at 8:34 pm |
  3. Danny Rogers

    The only thing that will stop this is force of arms and that will in the end take thousands to the grave! Stop them now or fight them here it's just that simple. I only wish that God would put an end to this madness, however as God has not moved (YET) I think it's time we do!!! Lets get this mess cleaned up!

    August 26, 2014 at 5:20 pm |
    • honest insight

      Dear Danny, the US started this madness, when they illegally crossed the border into Iraq, in March 2003, murdered 1000's of Iraqis, rendered millions of Iraqis homeless, and completely destroyed their nation........... and now you want GOD to put an end to this madness???????? It is your bed of roses......... now lie in it............

      August 26, 2014 at 6:48 pm |
    • Philip

      True. And is why bipartisan congress passed the National Defense Authorization act which authorizes US troops to shoot domestic terrorists on US soil just as troops are praised for doing overseas.
      President Obama already signed this Act into law, so you will see the USMC taking on Hell's Angels. The US Army erasing Crops&Bloods. Assisted by drones and praised by honest hard working citizens. Loathed by lazy folk and looters.

      August 26, 2014 at 8:22 pm |
  4. chri§§y

    Biker gangs huh? WHEN was the last time you heard THAT? Its not the 70s need to be more concerned about what your own government is doint to you than some wannabe gangs riding motorcycles!

    August 26, 2014 at 6:57 pm |
    • Philip

      Chrissy. There are over 1,200 street and outlaw biker gangs NOW. ways more gang bangers and lazy fat men riding in outlaw biker gangs than ever before!
      Update thyself woman! he he

      August 26, 2014 at 8:17 pm |
  5. chri§§y

    Lololol sounds like someones on drugs alright....and i dont think hes riding a freaking harley either!

    August 26, 2014 at 7:23 pm |
    • LaBella

      🎶The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive

      And those who must walk because they are to addled to posess a valid DL.

      August 26, 2014 at 7:40 pm |
      • LaBella

        Too addled.

        August 26, 2014 at 7:51 pm |
  6. Ferhat Balkan

    There are no easy answers to how to deal with the situation in Iraq. I believe the conflict can be potentially resolved in 2 ways:

    August 26, 2014 at 7:36 pm |
    • Ferhat Balkan

      Sorry, my keyboard decided to act up, so I'll just continue as a reply..
      1) CIA – send in infiltration agents and locate the whereabouts of al-Baghdadi. Then send in a surgical strike and take him out. This will take off the "head" of ISIS and break down their organization. I believe Baghdad as their leaderi is the brains as well as the driving force behind ISIS. Without him, ISIS will be crippled and easily dealt with. The CIA with it's nearly $80bln budget should certainly have the capability of carrying this mission out.
      2) The Marshall Plan – Send in aid, instead of bombs or weapons. It worked flawlessly after WW2, why not in the Middle East? America should be remembered as a peacemaker, not as a war maker. If we pour aid and money into Iraq the way the US did to Europe after WW2, the local people will no longer have a need for ISIS and will no longer support them. This notion may sound naive, but it worked before and it can work again. Bombing people into submission is not the way, as it creates an endless cycle of war. We've seen this cycle in Gaza.
      The above 2 steps can be used in combination to resolve the situation in Iraq. I believe it to be the most peaceful solution with less casualties and with a positive outcome.

      August 26, 2014 at 7:48 pm |
  7. chri§§y

    Funny i just NEVER see any! And i sure as he!! havent heard of any bigtime murdering rampages going on by biker gangs!!! This must happen ONLY in colorado huh? And the media must be part of a coverup too? HE HE HE

    August 26, 2014 at 8:28 pm |
  8. chri§§y

    Oh gees @ Philip! They did that for the beginning of your New World Order remember? To make the American Holocaust possible... it had nothing to do with motorcycle gangs. And YOU were the one who gave me the link to THAT!

    August 26, 2014 at 8:33 pm |
    • Philip

      Why yes, Chrissy. Colorado is home to the infamous Son's of Silence outlaw biker gang. Colorado's primary source for crystal meth, not counting men who live with their own mothers making meth in sheds behind mommy's house.

      August 26, 2014 at 9:26 pm |
  9. James Chen

    Unfortunately, both U.S. and Turkey did not inadvertently contribute to this conundrum, but willfully contricuted to it.

    August 26, 2014 at 8:34 pm |
  10. chri§§y

    Spot on @ James Chen! Yes they did!

    August 26, 2014 at 8:35 pm |
    • Philip

      BS. The US and Israel armed the madman Saddam Hussein after he had committed atrocities against his own citizenry which is a violation of international law.
      Read the Teicher Affidavit and shut the heck up.

      August 26, 2014 at 9:44 pm |
      • LaBella

        🎶Tell em Shut up, shut up, shut up
        Tell em shut up, I'm talking
        I'm talking to you
        Said uuh shut up, shut up, shut up ya'll
        Shut up I'm talking to you

        August 26, 2014 at 10:07 pm |
  11. LaBella

    🎶Karma police, arrest this man
    He talks in maths
    He buzzes like a fridge
    He's like a detuned radio

    August 26, 2014 at 8:37 pm |
    • Philip

      Karma dictates what happens to gang bangers in their "next life", not this one, LaBella. You confuse the Karma with God's word which says Whatever someone sows that someone reaps.

      August 26, 2014 at 9:50 pm |
      • LaBella

        🎶Reach out, touch faith.
        Your own personal Jesus
        Someone to hear your prayers
        Someone who cares
        Your own personal Jesus
        Someone to hear your prayers
        Someone who's there

        August 26, 2014 at 10:12 pm |
  12. Philip

    Chrissy? You must be living in the woods of lesser Michigan or something. Our cities are packed with gang bangers and outlaw motorcycle gangs. Google 'List of gangs' and find out for yourself who pose the greatest threat to security in America.

    August 26, 2014 at 8:46 pm |
  13. chri§§y

    And yea the CRIPS and bloods were made most notable because they were highlighted in many "beach" movies in the 60s and 70s! Good grief!

    August 26, 2014 at 8:46 pm |
  14. My Picture Of Mohammad


    August 26, 2014 at 8:48 pm |
  15. chri§§y

    Lol i am NOT wasting my time buying into your latest and greatest @ Philip! The BIGGEST threat this country has is the VERY people that have been chosen to run it! And if YOUR hoods in colorado are THAT out of control you better buy yourself a gun!!! And there has NOT been a report of murdering motorcycle gangs in foreverrr!

    August 26, 2014 at 8:52 pm |
  16. Philip

    Over the past decade, annual estimates of the number of gang members have averaged around 750,000 nationally. The most recent estimate of approximately 782,500 gang members represents a small increase (3.5 percent) over the previous year but remains statistically unchanged from 2006.
    750K domestic terrorists are here right now. And you said Al Qaeda would attack again, G dubya. And ISIL might come to America , Barrack.

    August 26, 2014 at 8:52 pm |
  17. LaBella

    🎶The sale of pills are at an all time high.
    Young folks walking round with their heads in the sky.
    The cities ablaze in the summer time.
    And oh, the beat goes on.

    Evolution, revolution, gun control, sound of soul.
    Shooting rockets to the moon, kids growing up too soon.
    Politicians say more taxes will solve everything.

    Eve of destruction, tax deduction, city inspectors, bill collectors,
    Mod clothes in demand, population out of hand, suicide, too many bills,
    Hippies moving to the hills. People all over the world are shouting, 'End the war.'

    And the band played on. 🎶

    44 years ago. 1970. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    August 26, 2014 at 9:01 pm |
    • Philip

      Welcome to the "Let's Quiz Chrissy Show". With your host, Ahkmed the Terror Guy.
      Hello to be for u @ Chrissy. Nice thing to be have u as guest for showing. 🙂
      For points of 50, who are have killed more Americans?
      A.) ISIS
      B.) American street and biker gandsters

      For two bit bonus, please for to be telling who killed more US troops last year.
      A.) Enemies
      B.) Suicide
      Thank yous for to be playing. many great fortunes smile down if you answer correctly. 🙂

      August 26, 2014 at 9:18 pm |
      • LaBella

        🎶Well, the only person talking about love thy brother is the...(preacher.)
        And it seems nobody's interested in learning but the...(teacher.)
        Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration, Aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation.
        Ball of confusion. Oh yeah, that's what the world is today

        August 26, 2014 at 9:23 pm |
    • Philip

      Don't be ashamed that you didn't know that suicide kills more US troops than enemies do, Chrissy. Most all of US are ignorant of this.
      But do be ashamed that you deny the damages done to America by outlaw gangs. That you are ignorant of just how many thousands of Americans that are rayped, robbed, and murdered by biker and street gangs is simply amazing.

      August 26, 2014 at 9:34 pm |
      • LaBella

        🎶Big man (Yeah)
        Walking in the park
        Frightened of the dark
        Some kind of solitude is measured out in you
        You think you know me but you haven't got a clue

        August 26, 2014 at 9:39 pm |
    • Philip

      Chrissy. Please stop being in denial of FBI crime stats. Outlaw street and biker gangs run rampant in America. Just because they haven't rayped or robbed you yet doesn't mean they aren't murdering thousands of US. Sheesh woman!

      August 26, 2014 at 9:52 pm |
      • LaBella

        🎶Hey clueless why you do you always do this
        Do I have to go through this with you again?
        Do you know how to read a thread? Use the reply button?

        August 26, 2014 at 10:27 pm |
    • Philip

      TOPIC: Outlaw street and biker gangs kill more of US than ISIS/ISIL. Who cares to debate this statistic?

      August 26, 2014 at 10:03 pm |
    • Philip

      Go by FBI crime stats and CIA World Fact book stats, Chrissy. Not by opinions of TV taking heads. Thanx.

      August 26, 2014 at 10:13 pm |
      • LaBella

        Sure thing, John McFarkleberry. Just as soon as I change my name to Chrissy.

        August 26, 2014 at 10:32 pm |
  18. chri§§y

    Im relatively certain that any rational person whos been to the "metro Detroit" area would EVER call it the "woods of lesser michigan"! But ill consider the source and move on. Have a nice time in fantasyville horror, colorado ok! Lol

    August 26, 2014 at 9:03 pm |
    • Philip

      Check that. There are over 1,200 MAJOR organized gangs of criminals in the USA. 25,000 street and outlaw biker gangs in all.
      Hordes of armed and organized Americans pose the biggest threat. Not "ISIS". Pull your head out already

      August 26, 2014 at 9:08 pm |
      • LaBella

        No one understands
        Jack knife
        In your sweaty hands
        Some kind of innocence is measured out in years
        You don't know what it's like to listen to your fears

        August 26, 2014 at 9:18 pm |
  19. chri§§y

    Meant NEVER

    August 26, 2014 at 9:04 pm |
    • Philip

      That wasn't members of ISIS that set fire to 30 buildings in Ferguson/St. Louis. That was members of US.

      August 26, 2014 at 9:11 pm |
  20. rupert

    Why do women remove their eyebrows and then draw them back on with bla ck pencil.
    I don't get it.

    August 26, 2014 at 9:10 pm |
    • Philip

      In order to garner attention from Rupert, obviously. And vice versa.

      August 26, 2014 at 9:22 pm |
    • dazzle

      @rupert, only a few woman do that and it is most unattractive. It's nice to have well groomed brows which can be attained by tweezing or waxing.

      August 26, 2014 at 9:26 pm |
  21. chri§§y

    Omg ty @ rupert! Finally some sane conversation! Lol hey Philip...HOW many females in the US? HOW many males in the US? HOW many cats? HOW many dogs? Do you see WHERE im going with this? Probably not so ill tell you...who gives a rats a55 how many...its ONLY important if they DO something!!!!

    August 26, 2014 at 9:22 pm |
    • Philip

      Huh. Outlaw street and biker gangs deal crack and crystal meth, Chrissy. And have rayped, robbed, and murdered thousands. Why are you blind to this?

      August 26, 2014 at 9:28 pm |
    • rupert

      Oh. Okay. Thank you philip,dazzle and chrissy.

      August 26, 2014 at 10:34 pm |
  22. chri§§y

    And get a clue yourself philip...its really "Lets see how quick i can show the world how DUMBED down YOUR Host can be...hosted by Fruit Loop Philip! But please ladies and gents...dont do this at home!

    August 26, 2014 at 9:28 pm |
    • Philip

      I dare you to spend 24 hrs. at a Sons of Silence biker rally, Chrissy. Get it?

      August 26, 2014 at 9:30 pm |
  23. chri§§y

    I KNOW the stats on Veterans @ Philip! Its one of MY crusades if you paid attention more to WHAT i say! Its alot more important to me than worrying about WHOs using WHAT form of transporation or WHY they are!

    August 26, 2014 at 9:40 pm |
    • Philip

      Did you know this:

      August 26, 2014 at 9:55 pm |
      • Philip

        OUTLAW BIKER GANGS I SAID. Not motorcycle enthusiasts. Sheesh.

        August 26, 2014 at 9:57 pm |
  24. chri§§y

    Oh and HOW did that lil bit of info feed into YOUR topic?? Whatever youre smoking...please STOP!

    August 26, 2014 at 9:43 pm |
    • Philip

      Oh brother. What pharmacy products have you been using, Chriisy.

      August 26, 2014 at 10:00 pm |
  25. chri§§y

    Wow! You would THINK 1000s of raypes and murders in this country by one SPECIFIC group wouldve made ALL the news, wouldnt you? I wonder HOW they kept that secret from everyone in this country except YOU??? I think Mr King of Crap...if i were YOU i would shut the heck up before i tell anyone else to shup up! Youre only embarressing yourself...if you have common sense anyway!

    August 26, 2014 at 10:02 pm |
  26. chri§§y

    Wow! You would THINK 1000s of raypes and murders in this country by one SPECIFIC group wouldve made ALL the news, wouldnt you? I wonder HOW they kept that secret from everyone in this country except YOU??? I think Mr King of Crap...if i were YOU i would shut the heck up before i tell anyone else to shut up! Youre only embarressing yourself...if you have common sense anyway!

    August 26, 2014 at 10:03 pm |
    • Philip

      Simply Google List of gangs in America, Chrissy. Sheesh. You will find what TV news does not report. TV reports focus on foreign terrorists, not domestic ones.
      There are in fact 25,000 armed hordes of Americans currently members of outlaw street and biker gangs. If "ISIS/ISIL" had this many "terror cells" in America and US troops did nothing about it, you would complain.
      Read the NDAA Act of Congress. US troops have been authorised by congress and Obama to shoot domestic terrorists on US soil.
      But you won't read it. You will watch TV and be made even dumber.

      August 26, 2014 at 10:10 pm |
  27. chri§§y

    TOPIC:.What do you make of the "growing INTERNATIONAL alarm" over ISIS???

    August 26, 2014 at 10:13 pm |
    • Philip

      I make that Americans kill more Americans than any foreign group could imagine doing each year. And that troops are prescribed suicide pills should they suffer trauma.

      August 26, 2014 at 10:16 pm |
  28. chri§§y

    Smh @ Philip...its you who doesnt have a clue!

    August 26, 2014 at 10:19 pm |
  29. chri§§y

    Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as you please.
    Mark Twaine.
    You must be a fan of his eh @ Philip?

    August 26, 2014 at 10:27 pm |
  30. chri§§y

    Heres one more for you @ Philip...cuz ya know...i never read, i only watch tv. Thats why i have over 5000 books dont ya know. Anyway: Potentially, a government is the most dangerous threat to mans right. It holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against LEGALLY DISARMED victims!
    Ayn Rand

    August 26, 2014 at 10:34 pm |
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