Are ISIL’s attacks the desperation of a Cornered Rat? The Kerry-McCaul Debate

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday evening at the Aspen Ideas Festival that

“It has been more than one year since Daesh has actually launched a full scale military offensive, and that’s because our coalition is moving relentlessly on every front . . . Now, yes, you can bomb an airport, you can blow yourself up. That’s the tragedy,” he continued. “Daesh and others like it know that we have to get it right 24/7/365. They have to get it right for ten minutes or one hour, so it’s a very different scale . . . And if you’re desperate and if you know you are losing, and you know you want to give up your life, then obviously you can do some harm.”

Everything is so partisan in the United States that Kerry’s remark drew a sharp rebuke from Congressman Mike McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the Homeland Security said that it “defies reality.” McCaul said that President Obama and Kerry had been saying that ISIL is “on the run for many years, and they’re not — they’re on the rise.”

So who is right here?

There is no reasonable metric whereby Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), is “on the rise.” It is McCaul who is detached from reality on this point.

Since its apogee in summer of 2014, I figure Daesh has lost some 60% of the territory it once held in Iraq. The US government was saying it had lost 40% last January, and since then both Ramadi and Fallujah have fallen to the Iraqi government, along with Hit and other areas, including territory north of Beiji. In fact, the losses may be more like 70% in Iraq.

All Daesh really has left in Iraq is Mosul and its hinterland. Given what has happened in the first half of 2016, it doesn’t seem to me that Daesh will have Mosul next year this time. As a “state,” Daesh is being rolled up.

Likewise, in Syria it has lost Palmyra and the northern half of al-Raqqa province, and has all but lost the key transport node of Manbij. Although press reports typically say the estimate is that they have lost 20% of their Syrian territory, it has to be more. Half of their main province, al-Raqqa, would be more like a third of total holdings in Syria.

The red on this map shows what Daesh has lost since February:

There is no way to look at this history of the past two years and conclude that Daesh is “on the rise.”

They will lose all their territory, and still be able to launch terrorist attacks. But they wanted to be a state, and on that they will lose.

What is really funny is that the US Republican rightwing is now actually invested in Daesh being a success story. The national security narrative is seen by them as an asset. McCaul knows very well that Daesh is going down, but is alarmed that the Kerry story about it might be accepted by the public.

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Related video:

RT: ” ‘You cannot negotiate with a mad dog – and that is what ISIS is’”

9 Responses

  1. Isil is going down but son of Isil is on its way. American criminal policy of mass murder in the Middle East incubates the next horror.

  2. don’t worry. we will find some new reason to drop bombs even IF isis is defeated. thats what we do. democrats and republicans are arguing for show. the plan is to bomb forever.

  3. most of the republicans voted for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is going on in the middle east, Libya and Europe is their creation, including Ms. Clinton. We need to get out of there fast. Apparently Mr. Obama will not get us out. We need a leader that get us out of there now. We are not going to impose our system of government on them.

  4. Seems a bit premature to declare mission accomplished against ISIL. As long as the causes of terrorism (i.e., regime change, invasion, occupation, assassination, drone wars, missile strikes, etc.) remain unaddressed, the reaction (blowback), terrorism, will continue, if not by ISIL, then by its successors. And when you consider that, at various times, we use ISIL or its comrades as instruments of our own foreign policy (our bastards), as in Syria and previously, Afghanistan, then it turns into a Frankenstein monster story… Anyway, that’s how it looks to me.

    • “As long as the causes of terrorism (i.e., regime change, invasion, occupation, assassination, drone wars, missile strikes, etc.) remain unaddressed”

      Islamic terrorism predates all of your “causes” cited above.

      Some examples:

      A. The 1993 bombing in the garage of the World Trade Center. And the blind sheik behind it.

      B. The plot broken up in 1996 to bomb six trans-Pacific airliners.

      C. The 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

      D. The bomb-laden boat that exploded and damaged the USS Cole in Yemen.

      There are others too numerous to mention, but all predate the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the U.S. and Western response to terrorism.

      • Maybe start with French invasion and occupation of Algeria in 1830 and then go forward comprehensively, with the US getting into the game of crushing Muslims from 1948 forward.

        • Or we could go further back to the Barbary pirates, along the North African coast, and their trade in European slaves dating between the 17th to the late 18th century.

        • Yes because Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries didn’t destroy or occupy African coastal cities and steal millions of people from Africa compared to a tiny number of Europeans taken in the Mediterranean.

  5. To combat ISIL effectively the nations that fight ISIL must come up with an answer for “what after ISIL is defeated”? I have not heard or read any coherent answer. I am not even sure that we will get one because the interests of those nations are too diverse.
    “Freedom and democracy” alone will no longer do.
    Separation of state and religion which is really what is absolutely needed first will not happen soon. Can you imagine what King Philip II of Spain would have done with a citizen of Spain who would have demanded that? That person would have been burned alive during auto-da-fe. The Catholic ISIL of that time.
    The other side was not any better as shown what happened when the “Watergeuzen” (Water Beggars) captured the town of Den Briel and promptly murdered every Catholic priest there. The Protestant ISIL of that time.
    The current world of the ISIL is historically where Europe was at the time of Philip II and the “Watergeuzen”which is why I am pessimistic.
    Perhaps that is also a compelling reason to let that region wrestle itself out of that period without external intervention.
    The only state or group which deserves any support must fight for ‘separation of church and state’.
    The governments of Iraq and Libya are thereby disqualified. Syria is a mess but I believe that Assad was a secular ruler. Even so his constitution demanded that the President must be a Muslim.

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