Dan Froomkin at The Intercept is asking whether America is just playing into ISIS’s hands by going to war with them:
There are many reasons the U.S. shouldn’t go to war with the Islamic State — and the best one may be because that is exactly what they want us to do.
A growing number of people I consider experts in the field believe that the recent beheadings of two American journalists and a British aid worker were deliberate acts of provocation, and that ISIS is not just hoping for an American overreaction, but depending on it — perhaps even for its own survival.
Froomkin is a smart writer, and he quotes a lot of smart observers of America’s Middle East Follies who all agree that the beheadings that have brought us to this point have been intended to provoke the military response we’re now pursuing. And by “the beheadings that have brought us to this point,” I mean the two Americans and one Brit who were beheaded by ISIS on video. They are, after all, the only ISIS atrocities that really seem to be driving US policy, not the countless number of Iraqis and Syrians they’ve beheaded without cameras present, or, hey, the 8 or so people our close ally Saudi Arabia beheaded last month in the regular course of government business. But I digress.
This is, in my view, the correct interpretation of the beheading videos, or at least, let’s say, half of it. There are many reasons why ISIS chose to publicly murder James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and most recently British aid worker David Haines, but the two most obvious ones are: to bring attention to the group and raise its profile among potential recruits or financial backers, and to provoke a disproportionate American response. They’re trying to get us to run the Iraq War, which after all birthed the organization that would become ISIS, all over again. Nothing would bring more credibility to the “caliphate” than for it to stand up to and ultimately defeat the greatest military power of the time (kind of like the actual caliphate did once upon a time), and nothing would boost ISIS’s support in the Sunni community (the less extremist folks who are likely to reject ISIS’s strict manifestation of Islamic governance over time) than for it to defeat an American army that is seen as working on behalf (even if unwittingly) of a would-be Shiʿa takeover of the heart of the region. Get the Americans to start lobbing ordinance on Sunni civilians in the name of the government in Baghdad and its Iranian pals, and wavering Sunnis are again reminded why they’ve been mostly tolerating ISIS as the lesser of two evils when compared to Baghdad. Draw America into a full scale war that it doesn’t really have the heart to fight, win, and the whole region may open up to your advances. This is the Al Qaeda playbook, and ISIS knows that it works because America hasn’t really figured out how to counter it. Continue reading