Editorial: Knowing the enemy is first step in defeating ‘Daesh’

Editorial Board

A key to success in any military conflict is clear and reliable intelligence. Understanding an enemy and their intentions often goes a long way to forming a strategy to counter their efforts, or as Sun Tzu — perhaps the greatest military mind in history — put it, “if you know your enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” So understanding ISIS and formulating a coherent strategy to fight the extremist group is essential. However, that objective still seems to elude the United States and its allies.

While the U.S. government and all others involved are acting with the knowledge of all available intelligence, there has been a political outcry in the U.S. regarding President Obama’s perceived inaction against a most terrible enemy. It is important for the common citizen to understand the basic operations of our enemy, so that we can fully comprehend the full reasoning behind actions taken — or not taken — against ISIS.

The most basic understanding we can have of our enemy is knowing what to call them and we have that, right? Well, we may not even have the name nailed down with ISIS. When the group first became known in 2004 as an ally of Al-Qaeda, it was simply known as al Qaeda in Iraq. In 2014, after al Qaeda disowned the group, resulting in combat between the two terrorist organizations, it became the Islamic State in Iraq, then ISIS and ISIL, until most recently it dropped the geographic specificity and adopted the moniker Islamic State.

The titular confusions among its own leadership aside, it seems that even opponents of the group can’t agree on a name. France has been calling ISIS by a different name, Daesh, which corresponds to the acronym for ISIS or ISIL in Arabic because that is how the group’s Arabic enemies refer to the organization.

The thought is that referring to ISIS gives the group credibility as an Islamic organization “blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Muslim opposition forces are extremely opposed to granting the group status as an “Islamic” organization. For those reasons, this board will refer to the group as Daesh from this point forward.

So we don’t understand the name, but as long as the average American or any opponent understands the group’s power structure and general operating principles, we understand them.

In the simplest terms, Daesh wishes to establish a worldwide caliphate. A caliphate is an Islamic government ruled by a Caliph — successor to the Prophet Muhammad. To that end, Daesh obviously believes that opposing religions or Muslims who disagree or combat with them do not have a place in the caliphate. However, Daesh’s plans and strategies do not simply end with eliminating infidels.

This is an extremely organized and startlingly successful military operation, but in the regions that Daesh captures they also install their own form of government. The group has a defined leader in Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has a cabinet of advisers and is served by two “deputy chiefs,” one in Iraq, the other in Syria. Both of those men are in turn served by a number of governors in both countries who appoint their own extensive leadership councils in each region.

Daesh is also among the most well-funded terrorist organizations ever seen. The group is attacking banks and stealing the money, taking oil fields and selling the oil on the black market, which may be bringing in $3 million every day, and obtaining military armaments from mostly abandoned Iraqi Army posts — many of them supplied and funded by the United States.

Finally, the “worldwide” sentiment of the organization is far more accurate than any of us should be comfortable with. Daesh militants — totaling more than 11,000 — come from every corner of the globe, thanks to an online and social media marketing campaign that has been successful enough to perhaps even make some American firms envious.

So knowing your enemy turned out to be more of a complicated order than previously imagined, but at least we know ourselves. At least we have a clear and evident plan to combat Daesh, right?

Strike two.

American military forces have launched air strikes, but President Obama seems committed to keeping American boots as far away from Syria and Iraq as possible. He can hardly be blamed for this decision after he spent nearly all of his six years in office working to remove troops from the Middle East. The air strikes, while successful to a certain degree, have not stopped Daesh from taking more territory.

And while the United States is accustomed to taking the principle role as far as military operations are concerned, this may not be the desire of all nations involved in fighting Daesh. The country of Jordan appreciates that Americans have gone the “extra mile” and our efforts are appreciated.

“This is our war. This is not the West’s war. We are the spearhead of this war,” said Jordanian Interior Minister Hussein Majali in an interview with CNN.

This may be precisely the solution President Obama was hoping for, but Americans may be growing weary of lending military and financial support to Middle Eastern nations as the return on those investments does not have the greatest track record. While the Jordanian solution seems the best and most agreeable of all options, this development does leave room for confusion, miscommunication and disagreement in strategy.

Sun Tzu assures us that knowledge is the key to battle, but even more important are his words regarding charging into a fight without that understanding, saying “if you know neither your enemy nor yourself you will succumb in every battle.” There can be no assurance of victory without knowledge, so while it is important to stop Daesh as soon as possible, it would be irresponsible to act rashly without considering all possible actions and outcomes.