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. chri§§y

    Why? Jealous? I dont know...why do you? And you mean allegedly of Mike right?

    August 27, 2014 at 7:37 pm |
  2. Philip

    Unless Big Mike and his skinny sidekick have been cloned, it was them. If the video was not of them, the DOJ would not have asked Ferguson Police Department not to show it out of fear that even more buildings would be torched and stores looted. Which is what happened after that video was first shown.

    August 27, 2014 at 7:45 pm |
  3. Ferhat Balkan

    Although I do not condone violence or riots, I sympathize with the community at Ferguson. The people have a right to be angry. Unarmed black teens are being shot too often by Police. 3 Police officers out of 53 are black in Ferguson. You have a situation where the Police are acting like they're not there to protect the community... Instead, they're acting like they're there to control hostile territory. The Police will always have more power than the ordinary citizen. With more power comes more responsibility. We see many examples where the Police abuse their power which often ends up in fatality or uncalled for violence. This has to stop.

    August 27, 2014 at 7:47 pm |
  4. Ferhat Balkan

    Although I do not condone violence or r-iots, I sympathize with the community at Ferguson. The people have a right to be angry. Unarmed black teens are being shot too often by Police. 3 Police officers out of 53 are black in Ferguson. You have a situation where the Police are acting like they're not there to protect the community... Instead, they're acting like they're there to control hostile territory. The Police will always have more power than the ordinary citizen. With more power comes more responsibility. We see many examples where the Police abuse their power which often ends up in fatality or uncalled for violence. This has to stop.

    August 27, 2014 at 7:48 pm |
  5. Ferhat Balkan

    Although I do not condone v-iolence or riots, I sympathize with the community at Ferguson. The people have a right to be angry. Unarmed black teens are being shot too often by Police. 3 Police officers out of 53 are black in Ferguson. You have a situation where the Police are acting like they're not there to protect the community... Instead, they're acting like they're there to control hostile territory. The Police will always have more power than the ordinary citizen. With more power comes more responsibility. We see many examples where the Police abuse their power which often ends up in a fatality or uncalled for violence. This has to stop.

    August 27, 2014 at 7:49 pm |
    • Ferhat Balkan

      I apologize for the multiple posts. It looked as though my posts were not being posted earlier.

      August 27, 2014 at 7:53 pm |
      • Philip

        Actually, Ferhat, each year we see thousands of examples of gang bangers robbing stores, rayping women and girls, and killing other gang bangers as well as killing innocent citizens in cross fire.
        Police kill about 400 citizens each year, which is less than 1/10th of 1% of arrests made each year.

        August 27, 2014 at 8:00 pm |
      • Ferhat Balkan

        Philip, while that may be true, it is not an excuse for Police to use excessive force or racial profiling. They are there to protect and to serve the public. I am a white male who in my entire driving life have only been pulled over twice by Police. I'm not complaining, but ask any black man or woman. They'll tell you a different story. Most of them get pulled over twice that number in a month. Not only that, but let's take a look at another example: The woman that was beaten by the state trooper in California not that long ago. Nothing can justify a police officer beating a defenseless woman. We see these events over and over.

        August 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm |
  6. chri§§y

    I agree @ Ferhat! I am so sick of racism and bigotry!

    August 27, 2014 at 7:59 pm |
  7. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    The ratio of black and white citizens is Ferguson to black and white policemen there has been affected by a rapid shift in demographics. My understanding is that a town that was primarily white has become primarily black. The policemen in Ferguson probably were not anxious to walk away from their jobs and pensions when many white people moved elsewhere.

    August 27, 2014 at 8:25 pm |
    • Philip

      Exactly, Joey. Your angle is not shown on national TV and so for many here was the first time they ever thought of just how it is that a community with 3/4ths being of black skin color might have a virtually all white police force.
      Face it. Modern Americans enjoy violence more than was the case during the wild would west days. Had their been zero violence during protests, hardly any of US would have been glued to TVs during protests. Some even paid good money to go see Jesus Christ their lord and savior tortured on the big screen. Disgusting.
      Thanks for having a brain, Joey. And am looking forward to sparring with your mind in the near future.

      August 27, 2014 at 9:01 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        You're on, Philip.
        And all y'all watching, be reminded that we two do spar.

        August 27, 2014 at 9:23 pm |
  8. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    @ chrissy,
    I am certainly not a bigot, but I agree with @ Philip on the necessity of a police force's being able to maintain law and order.

    August 27, 2014 at 8:33 pm |
  9. Philip

    Ferhat. The vast majority of police make righteous arrests and shoot bad men rightly so. Whereas the 25,000 street and outlaw biker gangs raype rob and kill citizens UNRIGHTEOUSLY 100% of the time.
    Am done defending police over gang bangers in front of you ignorant ones.
    Have a good evening all.

    August 27, 2014 at 8:49 pm |
  10. chri§§y

    Joey, Joey, Joey. Do you perhaps need new reading glasses also? I never ever said a police force wasnt necessary! First of all i answered a question that rupert had raised. And then as is so very predictable about Philip...he jumped in and turned it into something entirely different! Now before you continue, go back to yesterday's posts and see where it all began.

    August 27, 2014 at 8:52 pm |
    • Philip

      As if @banasy didn't jump in and turn it into something entirely different", Chrissy. Obviously, you see through coke bottle glasses that magnify and differentiate between standards you set for men like me, and those you set women with one grey hair.

      August 27, 2014 at 9:16 pm |
      • LaBella

        🎶You're so vain, you think that was banasy?
        You're so vain, you probably think it's all about you, don't you? Don't you? Don't you?

        August 27, 2014 at 9:35 pm |
      • Philip

        Carly loved me. Get a clue, La Bella.
        My pet squirrel "Tictac" son of Chipper and Ada just met his first natural spouse a few days ago. Before I ever met her. I asked my daughter what I should name her. "Bella", she suggested.
        Guess what Bella's new name is now, and who her namesake is. Lmao 🙂

        August 27, 2014 at 9:43 pm |
      • LaBella

        Did you think that made sense when you typed it out?

        August 27, 2014 at 9:50 pm |
      • Philip

        Before I ever met you, rather, my daughter had named Tictac's first g/f "Bella".
        Here litlle la bellie . Grampa has peanuts for you. he he 🙂

        August 27, 2014 at 10:40 pm |
      • LaBella

        It made so little sense the first time, you typed it again?

        August 27, 2014 at 10:45 pm |
  11. chri§§y

    And as you also can clearly see pullups self righteous response...if we dont agree with him we are the ignorant ones. So Joey im gonna tell you something my grams used to say to us when we jumped into a conversation without knowing all the facts ~ "be very careful what cart you hook your horse too because it just might run away with you!"

    August 27, 2014 at 8:58 pm |
  12. Philip

    Ferhat. If the police had more power than outlaw gangs, there would be no outlaw gangs by now instead of their being over 25K ruling streets. And is why bipartisan Congress and president Obama agreed on the National Defense Authorization Act which authorizes US troops to give backup to local police who have been overwhelmed by outlaw gangs.
    Go troops! Get those lazy good for nothing outlaw street and biker gangs out if our lives! Thank you.

    August 27, 2014 at 9:06 pm |
  13. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    @ chrissy, this is not a trial.
    I addressed your previous post, 7:59 PM.
    My wagon is not hitched to any star because of agreement on a point.
    If you and Philip fight, I'm not in that.
    I have some views of racial problems that are not as sheepishly anti-white as some would like for my views to be.
    Violence involving policemen would not occur if all citizens and residents simply cooperated with the police.

    August 27, 2014 at 9:14 pm |
    • Philip

      Exactly, Joey. The only time I ever got into any physical altercations with police was when I failed to cooperate peacefully with them. Including the time I was ordered to disperse from protesting the War on the Iraqi peoples in 2003, clear back to the time I beat the crap out of officer Bosworth after being told I was speeding, and accused of being on a drug run to Dallas simply for having two black men with me.
      And I totally understand why policemen are a little trigger happy when facing big fat men who look and dress in gang banger costumes.
      And ignorance of their being 25,000 street gangs in America is no excuse. Ignorant is ignorant no matter if ugly and obese or not.

      August 27, 2014 at 9:28 pm |
      • LaBella

        🎶We used to smoke while we were jaywalking like it was your birthday every other Saturday night.🎶

        August 27, 2014 at 9:59 pm |
      • Philip

        We used to just have to poor out our beers if we got caught street racing while drinking. And told if we ever got caught again would be charged with DUI and exhibition of speed.
        Police were very forgiving when I was a young man. Then outlaw street and biker gangs grew large after the 60's drug revolution. Young men on drugs make easy marks for gang recruiters. And so Police just had to respond in kind...become more forceful of laws.
        Today, the police are getting ahead of the game in anticipation of US troops backing them up as organized street gangs are disappeared.

        August 27, 2014 at 11:05 pm |
  14. Philip

    Tell me, Chrissy. There's no such thing as reverse discrimination anymore? What doctor cured that, I wonder.

    August 27, 2014 at 9:20 pm |
  15. Philip

    When a black cop shoots a black man there is zero nationwide focus. Proof of reverse-discrimination being alive and well in the USA.
    When a community of black citizens that average 12% turnout to vote have a 97% turnout when a half-black man runs for president...

    August 27, 2014 at 9:33 pm |
    • Philip

      Was speaking of the community of the town of Nigton, Texas. Just outside of Lufkin. But surprisingly close to voter stats of Ferguson.

      August 27, 2014 at 9:35 pm |
      • LaBella

        Yeah? And what exactly is Nigton short for, smart guy? I know.
        Damn, you really lack some serious self-awareness.

        August 27, 2014 at 9:43 pm |
      • Philip

        Huh? The racist bigot citizenry which still exists in Lufkin Texas ordered every single black person to get the hell out of town. And so they did, peacefully. And formed a town that up until about 1971 was officially Named Nigh*r Town even on bigot Texas State Road maps. Official State maps.
        Today, that town is officially named Nigton. And has for generations had one single source of income; welfare. This is the case for most black citizens in the deep south. 43% of black citizens currently have one legal source of income; welfare. (NAACP statistic)
        Cops shooting black Americans are fall guys for millions of Americans who discriminate against black men. Millions of your dirt bags simply will nit hire a young black man. Unemployment among young black men hovers around 50% in most major cities. The few % of black thugs has you racist bigots scared to the point you won't hire one.
        And you freaking Southern Baptists still have all-white and all-black churches in the same small town. Segregated. Jerks.

        August 27, 2014 at 10:54 pm |
      • LaBella

        Look up what Nigton used to be called. And stop repeating yourself.

        August 27, 2014 at 11:52 pm |
  16. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    'Night, all.

    August 27, 2014 at 9:33 pm |
    • Philip

      Good night.

      August 27, 2014 at 9:36 pm |
    • LaBella

      🎶Goodnight, sweetheart, it's time to go...

      August 27, 2014 at 9:37 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      Philip's black-turnout comment caught me as I was turning off my phone to sleep.
      Yes, you gotta be in it to win it.
      I hope black citizens show up at the polls this fall.
      Republicans, BTW, always vote.

      August 27, 2014 at 9:43 pm |
  17. chri§§y

    Reading comprehension problems? I never said "star" either! And he!! yea there is still reverse racism @ Philip. But if you go back AND READ WHAT I POSTED i said racism and bigotry! I DID NOT say black or white!!! This is EXACTLY why i quit trying to have a normal conversation with you before and exactly why i will not again!!! Good night and have a lovely conversation all by your lonesome!

    August 27, 2014 at 9:42 pm |
    • Philip

      Racism is famous for being white v black, Chrissy. And our deep southern states are full of racist bigots. Many communities filled with Southern Baptists still have separate churches for whit and black churchgoers. Just because you are ignorant of this fact dies not disprove thongs I have seen with my own eyes and experienced with my own body.

      August 27, 2014 at 9:47 pm |
  18. chri§§y

    Oh and last but definitely NOT problem with that teen being killed is BECAUSE HE WAS UNARMED! I dont care what color he was!!!! Asta la vista mr K of C!

    August 27, 2014 at 9:47 pm |
    • Philip

      Most murderers ARE unarmed, Chrissy. Only a few use guns. Most use baseball bats, knives, crow bars....the weapon of choice for your average murderous woman is poison. For your average boy strung out on Ritalin, his own teeth are his weapon of choice. Followed by dinner forks.

      August 27, 2014 at 9:51 pm |
      • LaBella

        Now the jaywalking kid was a murderer?

        August 27, 2014 at 10:11 pm |
    • Philip

      Well, Americans sure care if a white man shoots a black man. When a black man shoots a black man, zero national press. Zero Al Sharpton.

      August 27, 2014 at 9:54 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        Exactly, Philip.
        Sorry, everybody: Philip is just saying what is true.

        August 27, 2014 at 10:00 pm |
  19. chri§§y

    The most rudest, obnoxious little man on the freaking planet! And to think i once thought you were nice?! THATs when i was ignorant!

    August 27, 2014 at 9:54 pm |
  20. Philip

    Good night, all. Remember. An American boy is called a man in America. Other than by old women still calling 4 year old boys "48 months old". And by those thinking that zero 14 year olds have ever been guilty of resisting arrest or failing to fully cooperate with police as every schoolteacher had taught them well.

    August 27, 2014 at 9:58 pm |
    • Philip

      *boy is called MAN on his 18th birthday. Especially if boy weighs over 250 lbs.

      August 27, 2014 at 10:00 pm |
  21. chri§§y

    Philip i already agreed with you last night on that very same statement as your 9:51 post so pat yourself on the back already! And lets just agree to NOT address each other again! And for the record in my opinion the past 2 nites conversing with you have made me think that the resident troll here (JR) is Prince Charming!!!

    August 27, 2014 at 10:00 pm |
    • Philip

      Fine by me. Pullup words and childish attempts at character assassinations are rather annoying. So you just butt out when Joey and I go toe to toe in the future. Deal.
      CNN needs to install old blocking features so individuals can block each other from seeing one another's comments.

      August 27, 2014 at 10:04 pm |
      • LaBella

        If you do not wish for people to attack you, perhaps you should return the same courtesy of keeping your comments as to what you perceive another's intelligence level to yourself. You do plenty character assassination of others. There is a word for that; hypocrite.

        August 27, 2014 at 10:24 pm |
  22. chri§§y

    Thats your opinion @ Joey something else...everybody has one!!!

    August 27, 2014 at 10:03 pm |
  23. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    Oh, wow.
    Can't we all just get along?
    @ chrissy, I said "star." I did.'t put it in quotation marks.

    August 27, 2014 at 10:06 pm |
  24. Philip

    Gang bangers pose a bigger threat than "ISIS".
    Anyone up for a lively debate?

    August 27, 2014 at 10:09 pm |
  25. Philip

    Even president Obama has admitted to being a member of one of Chicago's over 100 street gangs, and claimed to be a member of the only street gang in US history that only dealt marijuana. Never dealing crack or heroin or speed, etc. as all other drug dealing gangs do.
    The Chicago Stoner Dude gang? What? Lol

    August 27, 2014 at 10:13 pm |
    • Philip

      Have any of you ever seen pictures of young man BH Obama when he was in a street gang? His "gang banger" clothes were traditional Muslim garb. Really.

      August 27, 2014 at 10:20 pm |
      • LaBella

        No. Link it or lying.

        August 27, 2014 at 10:38 pm |
  26. Philip

    About 90% of black men shot to death in the USA are victims of black men. A cozy little statistic not broadcast by the race card master, Al Sharpton slash Jessie Jackyasome.

    August 27, 2014 at 10:16 pm |
    • LaBella

      And 90% of white men are shot by other white men. Fascinating.

      August 27, 2014 at 10:42 pm |
      • Philip

        No it's not fascinating or Americans would be glued to their TVs when a white cop shot a white man. Sheesh.

        August 27, 2014 at 10:57 pm |
      • LaBella

        I would have thought the sarcasm would be obvious, Philip. As was your statement, and my reply to it.

        August 27, 2014 at 11:54 pm |
  27. chri§§y

    Lol hey @ Labella Heres one for you to seranade with ~ here we go loopdy we go loopdy LIE!!

    August 27, 2014 at 10:23 pm |
  28. rupert

    Wow. What reading. So wonderful to read so many different opinions.
    Here is one opinion most will agree:
    Donna Summers and Michael Jackson were great. Many people still remember them. I still watch them on youtube.

    August 27, 2014 at 10:35 pm |
  29. chri§§y

    Ok now THAT just sounds SICK! I think grandpa and his peanuts should take a cold shower! HE HE YUK!

    August 27, 2014 at 10:53 pm |
  30. LaBella

    🎶Now it's time to say good night
    Good night, sleep tight
    Now the sun turns out his light
    Good night, sleep tight
    Dream sweet dreams for me
    Dream sweet dreams for you

    August 27, 2014 at 10:55 pm |
    • Philip

      Yes. In a weird sort of way, jaywalkers.
      You see, the one thing America's mass murderers have in common over the past 20 years is that they are all men or boys addicted to mind altering prescription drugs with labels warning suicidal ideation. Those drugs inhibit REM sleep and have caused many daytime walking nightmares. Not just the ones shown on TV. Thousands each year, rather.
      The young man on meds who mindlessly jaywalks is a newbie.

      August 27, 2014 at 11:20 pm |
      • Philip

        very mass shooting over last 20 years has one thing in common... and it's not guns.

        August 27, 2014 at 11:24 pm |
      • LaBella

        Are you saying that Michael Brown was on SSRI's, and that caused him to jaywalk? Or are you saying the cop that shot him was on SSRI's and that's why he shot him? You're all over the map on this. And if you have proof of this that isn't from some crazy site like infowars, link it. You didn't link the proof for your claim on Obama, so I have my doubts you will have proof for this.

        August 27, 2014 at 11:43 pm |
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