ISIS is losing.
Several trends support that assessment:
- The amount of territory that ISIS, the self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate, controls is diminishing. Syrian rebel groups, Iranian surrogates, Kurdish forces, and Iraqi forces are all gaining ground in their battles with ISIS.
- Disenchantment among the people that ISIS rules is growing. ISIS' inability to establish an approximation of justice, deliver essential social services, and perform other basic government functions feed that unrest and dissatisfaction. Harsh, unmerciful laws, policies, and punishments, many of which lack a Koranic mandate, further alienate governed peoples.
- Recruits and prospective recruits attracted by ISIS' ideology are fleeing ISIS in a small but increasing trend.
- State opposition to ISIS is quickly becoming universal, uniting disparate states that include Russia, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, the US, the UK, France, and others.
- News media reports (e.g., "Unfriended," The Economist, December 12, 2015) are starting to chronicle ISIS' reversals.
Meanwhile, a new poll suggests that Americans' fear of terrorism is as high as immediately after 9/11. This is an irrational response lacking factual justification.
First, ISIS does not recruit, aid, or oversee homegrown US killers such as the couple responsible for the mass murders in San Bernardino. Although the couple found ISIS' rhetoric attractive and perhaps inspirational, this couple was a "time bomb" in waiting. Had ISIS not existed, another group's radical ideology would probably have caused this couple to "detonate."
The best steps toward preventing similar future incidents include (1) ending the American gunslinger culture, (2) implementing effective gun control programs, and (3) adopting policies to improve justice in the US and especially in the Middle East. To achieve the latter, the US should adopt policies that equitably balance Palestinian and Israeli concerns/aspirations, end support for exploitative tyrannies such as those in Syria and Saudi Arabia, and give Islam and Muslims the same respect given to Christianity and Christians.
Furthermore, public opinion leaders in the US should dial down their rhetoric. ISIS does not pose an existential threat to the US. Even if one considers the incident in San Bernardino to be a terrorist attack, which I do not (cf. The San Bernardino killings: crime or terrorism?), the incident was only indirectly related to ISIS.
Second, sending more US troops to fight ISIS actually helps ISIS. Few people in the Middle East want foreign troops – any foreign troops – on their soil. The battle against ISIS is one that only the peoples of the Middle East can win. This, in fact, is what they are doing. The US is neither a global cop nor omnipotent. We can encourage, we can provide humanitarian assistance, and, in very limited ways, provide military equipment and munitions. Anything else is counterproductive, at least in the long run. Demagoguery unhelpfully panders to fear; genuine leadership devises effective, ethical responses and then sells those responses to decision makers and the public.
ISIS is losing. We need to stay the course, confident in our choices and security.