A report released today by the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics—a think tank tied to former UK prime minister Tony Blair who helped orchestrate the 2003 invasion of Iraq—shared grim findings about the chaos that will persist in Iraq and Syria if ISIS is wiped out militarily.
The study finds that about 60 percent of Syrian rebels are sympathetic to ISIS—yes, those unvetted Syrian rebels to whom our government continues to funnel weapons, which, more often than not, end up in terrorist hands—and a third of the rebels explicitly share its ideological goals.
So if ISIS falls, these extremists are more than ready to take its place:
The current focus on a military defeat of ISIS does not consider the other groups in Syria (and around the world) with exactly the same global ideology and ambition.
Our research has found 15 groups stand ready to succeed ISIS. Their ideology is Salafi-jihadism: a transnational religious-political ideology based on a belief in violent jihad to enforce a return to a perceived Islam of the Prophet Mohammad’s first followers.
Its cuel and horrific acts rightly shock us. But ISIS is not simply a ‘death cult.’ The group represents a continuation of a way of thinking that started before it existed and will carry on if it is defeated. The West risks making a strategic failure by focusing only on ISIS. Defeating it militarily will not end global jihadism.
Of course, none of this is surprising given the way ISIS itself came to power. Remember, before the war in Iraq, ISIS did not exist and al Qaeda didn’t have a significant presence within Iraqi borders. That invasion led directly to the expansion of al Qaeda and rise of ISIS, and since 2003 both Presidents Bush and Obama have continued the endless American foreign policy cycle of destroying monsters so new ones can come to power.
As the old maxim says, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In the war on terror, it seems, it is too much to ask our government to remember 12 years of history as it charges on to clear the way for ISIS’s as-of-yet unknown successor.