Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues

ISIS sucks at war, excels at marketing

Here’s an entertaining and fact-and-interesting-speculation-filled post by Gary Brecher, The War Nerd about ISIS.

He’s got experience in the region and credibly asserts something that I inexpertly suspected ever since ISIS released videos of their first beheading of a westerner: that they are a bunch of morons.

I mean, really, what do you expect? Public opinion in the West was, and still is divided between those who want to intervene and those who want to stay out of it. But chopping someone’s head off on YouTube pretty much guarantees that the needle moves. And in the West it moves against you.

Of course it’s great at-home marketing. People who want to see the West embarrassed are delighted! Look at what these guys can do! Look at how impotent the West is! Yay Jihadists! Let’s go join them and chop off some heads! And rape some infidel women while we’re at it!


But in the West the video has a different effect. People convinced of the value of intervention become more convinced. People who are against intervention feel the ground on which they stand become less solid. Most important, people who are undecided decide. A few decide that you are dangerous and must be avoided. Most decide that you are dangerous and must be stopped. Too bad for you.

Then the writing is on the wall, and the back room politics start to work against you. Your important allies, the ones who have been secretly funding you, start to have second thoughts. They’re not backing a winner. They’re backing idiots.

And as the money dries up, so does whatever fighting capability you had. And your ability to raise more money. Because an Army without money is doomed, no matter how many wanna- be’s join their cause.

And then your grand narrative starts to unravel. You stop being the great hope of the Islamists: the carriers of the flag around which they will rally and restore historical greatness. Instead you become the latest and least credible of a long-line of might-have-been losers. Remember when Saddam was the great hope? Remember when Osama was?  Where are they now?

Brecher’s an entertaining writer, and his analysis of what’s going on behind the scenes seems to conform to the latest facts I’ve been able to collect.  “War Nerd” is a kind of cool handle.


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