Posts Tagged ‘ISIS’



The vicious attacks by Islamist terrorist in Brussels this week firmly places Brussels, and the rest of western Europe, in the middle of the crescent of chaos that arcs from Tunisia to Sweden.

The arrest of Paris terror suspect Salah Abdeslam last Friday in Brussels took down one person and unwittingly unleashed a network of other terrorists who took over thirty lives in an orgy of terror and shut down an entire country if not all of Europe.

Belgium authorities touted Abdelslam’s arrest last weekend much the same way the Obama administration telegraphs the latest drone or Special Operations strike in Syria/Iraq/Libya with the ubiquitous headline “Number Two ISIS Commander Eliminated.” There have been so many “number two” ISIS commanders reportedly killed there is no mystery why we never hear of a “number three” in ISIS.

In 2008 Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom wrote a study of leaderless organizations, “The Starfish and the Spider” which was little read until recently. In this study Brafman and Beckstrom look at the fruitless strategy of targeting individuals in decentralized organizations such as ISIS. They do this by comparing a spider and a starfish, which look similar from a distance but up close are fundamentally different systems.

Killing a starfish is significantly different from killing a spider. A spider can be stopped by crushing its head because it is a centralized system.  If one tries to cut off a leg of a starfish not only does that leg grow back, but a new starfish emerges from that severed leg because its decentralized  system.

In combatting a decentralized terror network like ISIS, going after a known individual is like cutting off a starfish leg. The immediate threat is neutralized but the system lives on to metastasize into an even larger threat.

Belgium authorities saw what they thought was a spider in arresting one person only to be confronted with a starfish in the form of an ISIS network which struck with such force because authorities simply were not ready.

The Obama administration would be wise to peer through its policy binoculars and evaluate whether ISIS is the spider they assume it is…or is it a starfish?



Check and Checkmate in Syria

Posted: October 1, 2015 in Iran, Russia, Syria
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Our Daily Challenge: Checkered I too went with the obvious choice.


Today it was reported that Russian aircraft targeted sites outside of Homs which contained no ISIS elements but rather CIA funded rebels fighting the Assad regime.


Any hope that Russia is in Syria to take on ISIS is held only by the White House and its supporters. Vladimir Putin has no track record of being on “the right side of history” (as the White House has a proclivity to say).  To believe Russia would be an honest broker and a credible actor is nothing short of naive.

What is shocking is how bewildered this White House is in its reaction to Putin’s successful gambit of aiding President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the eleventh hour. From Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s remarks of “this is like pouring gasoline onto the fire” to John Kerry’s joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov following the announcement of Russia’s unilateral military action — this administration’s actions defy logic or explanation.

The Kremlin, in cooperation with Iran, has made an obvious promise to the Assad regime.  The Russians and the Iranians have promised to see the Assad regime through the present crisis. Russian airpower is the first strike in this promise. It has been reported in the UK press that Iranian and Hizbollah forces have entered the northwest area of Syria (targeted by Russian aircraft) in preparation for a ground attack on Syrian rebel forces holding that territory.

Inaction by the US has now brought on a wider conflict, leading to the real possibility of greater lethal complexity in Syria.  The White House has been checkmated but the true losers in this fiasco are the Syrian people themselves.


On the margins of the G-7 summit in Germany President Obama admitted he still doesn’t have a “complete strategy” to combat ISIS and bring a halt to its advances in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

One year after the fall of Mosul (June 10) and one month after the fall of Ramadi, ISIS is less than seventy (70) miles from Baghdad. In Syria, over 60% belongs to ISIS while in Libya ISIS operates at will in that lawless territory (abandoning the practice of calling it a state any longer.)  Yet the White House still has yet to decide on a strategy in stopping this army on the march.

It’s difficult to understand how an administration that can craft a global plan to combat climate change, overhaul the US health system and comprehensively critique and attempt to transform US civilian policing cannot sit down and design an effective strategy to combat a foe who is single handedly redrawing the map of the Middle East.

This single fact clearly demonstrates that President Obama has painted himself in corner with regards to sending US forces to combat ISIS, a corner he has put himself into with his own self congratulatory statements regarding “ending” the Iraq war in 2011.

Meanwhile ISIS rolls on toward Baghdad, Damascus and Tripoli while establishing a center of gravity in Kandahar province in Afghanistan.

Yesterday, a US official traveling with the President stated that this yet undefined strategy would eventually involve “including integration of Sunni fighters.” 

If mimicking the Sunni awakening movement of 2007 is a goal then this administration has failed before it started. The Sunni population in Iraq has never trusted the US. This made the Sunni awakening an even greater achievement in 2007 than the media gave the then Bush administration credit for.

Since then the Obama White House has abandoned Iraq with a total troop withdrawal in 2011 leaving the Shi’a majority government in Bagdad to wield absolute power over the Sunni population. Meanwhile Obama is knee deep in a rapprochement with Iran which has sent Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces to battle Iraqi Sunni enlistees of ISIS. Surely the lauded Jeopardy finalists at the White House can connect these dots.

It’s no wonder a strategy doesn’t exist to combat ISIS.  That space has been replaced with confused and contradictory thinking.


National Public Radio reported that the State Department is ready to launch its latest salvo in its effort to combat ISIS’ recruitment in the US. According to yesterday’s “Morning Edition“, the State Department has enlisted millennials, through a competition-something of a nexus of American Idol and Jeopardy, to design a social media strategy which combats violent extremism.

This latest idea comes from the scholar/practitioners of Foggy Bottom who  are the very same who designed that implacable hashtag campaign against Vladimir Putin (Jen Psaki’s #standwithUkraine selfie) following Russia’s ruthless invasion and annexation of Crimea.

Now the target for these new age warriors is ISIS’ recruitment campaign which State plans to counter with a robust “just say no to violent extremism” onslaught of tweets, Instagram photos and periscope real time and stackable videos.

Watch out Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, you’ve finally met your match brother.

The fact that this administration still cannot bring itself to say the words radical islam for fear of offending the most fragile elements of the Democratic party is difficult to comprehend and ultimately brings any efforts to combat it to an inauspicious closure.  The phrase violent extremism can be applied to anything from erratic personal behavior to the most loathsome of football fans, i.e. Oakland Raiders.  Perhaps it’s the very inability to quantify the phrase violent extremism, that keeps the Obama administration defaulting to it.

Combatting ISIS’ strategy both on the battlefield and here at home will require more than a college bowl exercise and certainly more than 140 characters floating in the ethernet. Real time challenges require real time effort-not a sham graduate seminar exercise. Once again the Obama administration is demonstrating it is out of its depth in confronting the real world challenges which are at its doorstep.

The Ghosts of Ramadi

Posted: April 15, 2015 in Uncategorized
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According to officials in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, it is just hours away from falling into the hands of ISIS insurgents.  Ramadi is the capital of Anbar Province which is a Sunni stronghold in Iraq and the 2006 birthplace of the Sunni Awakening which was a turning point in the fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2006. It was in Ramadi that Sunni tribesmen stood against insurgent violence in ever increasing numbers.  Prior to 2006 the first battle of Ramadi saw some of the toughest fighting to that date.

Today Ramadi is about to fall to ISIS, the “JV team” which the White House dismissed as inconsequential in January 2014. I suppose they get their “Varsity jerseys” with the capture of this vital city just 70 miles from Baghdad.

In the summer of 2004 Ramadi was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in the Iraq war to date.  The Marines (2nd Battalion/4th Marines) took the heaviest casualties it had experienced in over thirty years.  This first battle of Ramadi in 2004 saw the loss of 30 Marines and one sailor.  The Marines killed approximately 250 insurgents in this battle.

The second battle of Ramadi in 2006 saw over eighty (80) Marines killed. After the second battle the tide began to turn against Al Qaeda in Iraq when Sunni tribal leaders stood up to the insurgents and organized a well disciplined opposition supporting the Baghdad government. The Sunni Awakening has been studied as a turning point in the Iraq war, with Iraqis finally taking the lead in their security and their future.

Today Ramadi is positioned to be another trophy for ISIS as the White House wanders aimlessly in its “strategy of combatting ISIS” while trying to make friends and history with Iran. Allied airpower has been used for months without any significant degradation of ISIS’ capabilities. Meanwhile the White House has ceded the ground war to Iranian Shi’a militias in an attempt to use them as our proxy in Iraq.  This has lead to the improbable and preposterous strategy of aligning ourselves with Iran in this new Iraq war while opposing Iran in their efforts to conqueror Yemen.

What this administration fails to grasp is the concept of sacrifice. The US sacrificed its most precious resource in Ramadi over ten years ago, our warriors. In 2004 while Barak Obama was plotting his trajectory out of the state house in Springfield, Marines of 2/4 where winding through the streets of Ramadi fighting house to house to clear a determined enemy.

Now as President Obama is charting the design of his legacy, ISIS is devising the fall  and occupation of yet another Iraqi city. The same city US Marines defended and liberated from insurgents nearly ten years ago.

The President’s “JV team” (as if using a sports analogy somehow lessens the threat) is about to hit the big leagues as it closes in on Baghdad. The White House has completely misjudged ISIS and miscalculated the impact of their sweep through the region…but then the President has never been that good in picking his brackets.


William Golding’s 1954 dystopian novel The Lord of Flies is turning out to be the closest literary comparison to the Obama White House and its successive counterintuitive foreign policy decisions.

In The Lord of The Flies the boys are left to their own devices on a deserted island as they struggle to establish a semblance of order while being challenged by their youth and inexperience in the adult world in which they find themselves.  They establish seemingly well thought out initiatives , such as building a signal fire, only to lose their attention and it burns the nearby forest  nearly costing them their lives.

The novel chronicals the downward slide the boys take from adolescents who are focused on rescue to hunters who have no desire to return to civilization. Reason versus impulse courses through the chapters and becomes a dominate theme in the novel.

The unmistakable comparison of Golding’s novel to this administration’s foreign policy comes through with each policy decision announced and every press conference held.   President Obama’s spotlight 2009 Cairo speech of positively engaging the Arab world has now degenerated into a muted acceptance of Egypt’s President Sisi who, despite being ignored by the White House, is carrying the fight to Islamic extremists in his own country.  The focused”red line” that was pronounced regarding Syria in 2013 has morphed into a civil war with US policy actually aiding the outlaw Assad regime.

Iraq, which the White House so proudly announced had arrived in its path to democracy to the point of pulling all US military elements in 2011 has slid into an apocalyptic disaster with ISIS occupying one-third of the country and Iran being the US surrogate battling them on the ground.

Meanwhile Yemen, who was touted as a success by this administration just a year ago and declared a strategic partner against terrorism, is now in a full fledged civil war with Iranian backed Houthi militias ready to take over the country.

We could go on but perhaps the point has been made. What started out as focused foreign policies have been left unattended much as the boys in The Lord of The Flies and their signal fire. The difference being instead of the forest catching fire it is the Middle East that is now engulfed in flames.

The hubris of this administration is only outdone by their lack of attention to the challenges that they claim such dedication in solving. As in the ending of The Lord of The Flies, the lines between civilization and savagery are not as bold as we would like.  In the novel it was a naval officer who saves the boys from themselves and brings them out of the wilderness.

Who will it be that rescues US foreign policy and brings order out of the present chaos and thus restoring the balance between reason and impulse?


There’s a new sheriff in Iraq and the White House doesn’t seem to mind. In fact it appears the US has outsourced the “boots on the ground” option to Iran and its rising star in the personage of General Qassem Suleimani of the Quds Force.

All this after the US spent over $26 billion in recreating Iraqi security forces from 2003-11.  While some critics of the Bush White House will point to a wasted effort that is represented by so many members of the Iraqi Army melting away when faced by ISIS, while others will draw attention to the precipitous withdrawal from Iraq by the Obama White House thereby leaving a power vacuum ready to be filled.

The battle for Tikrit (Saddam Hussein’s hometown) over the past month between ISIS and Iraqi security forces bolstered by Iranian militia has brought the new reality to light in what was once thought a new beginning for Iraq. Where once the likes of General Raymond Odierno and General David Petraeus command multi-national brigades is now the area of responsibility of General Qassem Suleimani the commander of the Iranian Quds Force.

Ironically it’s the Quds who know US forces the best since they directed numerous campaigns against US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq for over thirteen years and still play a major role in the future of both regions. Now they come to be the savior of Iraq after the US vanished in 2011 while declaring victory and heading for the nearest exit.

The irony of this is outweighed, however, by the tragedy of the US sacrifice spent in Iraq in order to rebuild a country only to willingly turn over its security to the very man who plotted and carried out attacks against US forces both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House claimed airstrikes are turning the tide in the flight against ISIS in Iraq. In fact these airstrikes which some days number less than ten (10) are a weak substitute for what is really needed in this fight against ISIS which is ground troops. The President has insisted no US ground troops would be involved in Iraq in this fight against ISIS. What was not pointed out was the blind eye by this administration to the massive introduction of Iranian troops in Iraq along with the long term influence they will cast on that country.

We have outsourced call centers to India, we have outsourced manufacturing to China and now we have outsourced collective security of the Middle East to the country who every Friday after 1pm prayers chants ‘death to America.” But wait…the White House has kept it’s promise of no US troops in Iraq. What a time to start keeping promises.