« "All these units have now received Army numbers" - Press Conference Transcript of Chairman Of Donetsk National Republic posted by Walrus. | Main | The Fall of Tabqa Air Base »

27 August 2014


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Babak Makkinejad

Col. Haviland:

Why do you characterize ISIS as an existential threat to US?

I cannot see them being any kind of threat to the United States.

Duncan Kinder

While "the re-commitment of American troops in uniform will have a unifying anti-American effect on Muslim populations, even though the radical ISIS is viewed with horror by most of those local populations," we should consider this option anyway.

Not because it is some how good. Rather it is bad, very bad. Nor because this proposition is incorrect or even debatable. It is quite correct.

Rather, because we have better face up to grim realities, suck it up, and pay this price.

Because ISIS is worse.


"Existential threat?" "They'll hit us?" I'll have to see THAT to believe it. Particularly since Erdogan appears to have no problem with them at all. And he's right next door.

After they get done toppling Erdogan and the Saudi royal family, then I'll worry about an existential threat. Until then, they may be annoying and deliver the occasional kick in the shin. But existential threat? Really!!!


Mr Smith wrote that our nation (or is it our elites? Never mind) has come: "....slowly to the realization that ISIS presents us with real, long run, existential problems".

I'm not clear, precisely, what those "existential problems" are. I'm not indicating I think you are wrong. Rather, it seems to me to be incumbent, given the sad strategic and tactical history of the our ME policy recently, that we spell it out to the American people what those "problems" are. I think there are a ton of thing we are not going to like, to say the least, if the ISIS forces continue with their campaign. But that is not the same thing as saying they are an "existential" problem, as I think, that term is generally employed. i.e. how something threatens our existence. Perhaps, if you have the time and desire you might spell it out, briefly. Thank you in advance for any insight you can provide.

FB Ali

He analyses the situation well (except for one glaring error), but the solutions he proposes are poor ones.

He is mistaken in believing that the IS presents the US with "real, long run, existential problems". If by that he means a direct threat to the US, he is plain wrong. If he means it will restrict US ability to undertake geopolitical schemes in the Middle East and the Muslim world, he is probably correct (but that is hardly an "existential problem").

The first solution he comes up with is: "We need to keep trying to find Muslims who disagree enough with ISIS to fight against them". I presume he means Sunni Muslims. The short answer is: there are none to find (as he himself recognises).

The alternative he proposes ("... we need to arm anyone - Kurdish, Iraqi or Shia - who wants to fight against them") makes sense, but is unlikely to defeat the IS in the short term. The Kurds are not going to venture too far beyond securing the borders of their region. The Iraqi army is going to take a long time to become effective enough to seriously take on the IS.

He also recommends a "completely covert or clandestine struggle" by the US against the IS. By itself this will not defeat the IS. If it becomes more than a nuisance it runs the danger of forcing the IS to change its priorities and target the US, something it is unlikely to do otherwise.

That leaves his only good proposal: the Shia. The only effective force that will defeat the IS is a Shia one. But that doesn't mean the Iraqi Shia militias, nor can the Shia be deployed against the IS unless there is an overall change in US policies towards them.

An effective counter to the IS is for the US to come to an accommodation with Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. And try to push its Arab allies and proteges to do the same. Unfortunately, such a solution appears unlikely to be adopted.

William R. Cumming

Agree with General Ali!

And given the history have largely Christian armies succeeded in the Islamic World by force?

Time for new approaches?


Mr. Smith,

In my opinion CIA presents more of
an existential threat to the Republic
than does ISIS.

Had CIA "cut and pasted" from SST over
the last decade we would all be more free,
safer, and more prosperous.


USMC 1965-1972
FBI 1972- 1996


I think the difficulty in believing this threat is that we have been so lied to about past threats ie the Bush/Cheney administration. This whole existential threat is so 1984 or Israeli that it is not believable. Where is Camu when you need him?


Col. Haviland,

I read this and laughed. This magazine is probably written by MEMRI.



FB Ali,

Your final sentence is a masterpiece of ironic understatement.

Hypothetically though, it is amusing to contemplate the likely reactions of John "Pugnacious" McCain or Ms Lindsey should such a rational step be seriously proposed. The apoplexy that they both would likely suffer might conceivably carry them off to their eternal rest in the bosom of the Lord.

My wife's grandmother was a good, God-fearing woman, and when she was forced to endure unpleasantness from some fellow parishioner with whom she was not simpatico, she had a strategy that reconciled her desire to be shut of them while yet retaining her Christian charity. She would pray for the Lord to provide the offending party to be presented with an opportunity that was unquestionably good for them, and yet that would also remove them from her vicinity.

Alas, I am not so saintly as all that. In certain contexts, I associate myself with this quote from Clarence Darrow (sometimes attributed to Mark Twain in a slightly different form):

"All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike some one they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction."

So yeah, I know, I'm goin' to Hell...

Babak Makkinejad

Iran will not act against ISIS since ISIS is a threat to all Sunni states and not Iran.

ex-PFC Chuck

The far more immediate existential threat to the United States is internal, namely the criminogenic (to use Bill Black's term) environment that has emerged in our society over the past 40+ years and that has undermined the rule of law. We should address our own problems first and meanwhile move our foreign policy somewhat in the direction advocated by John Quincy Adams: "America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."




"All one has to do to understand that is read the history of the region. " Sadly we apparently no longer teach history for understand but only to memorize a list of names and dates.

mistah charley, ph.d.

In reply to JerseyJeffersonian

Your grandmother's good wishes for those she found unpleasant remind me of a line from Fiddler on the Roof, the rabbi's prayer for the Tsar: "May God keep the Tsar...away from us!"



The Islamic State is an existential threat to the USA.

The West grew based on science and reason but this century its 0.01% Overlords rejected them and embraced neo-liberalism; “greed is good”. The belief in the next life is the only means mankind has now to battle the looting by Western Oligarchs. As chaos spreads across the world, all the evangelic religions will gain new young warriors for God.

Of more immediate importance is the petrodollar. The Islamic State’s true goal is to be the protector of Mecca. The House of Saud is shaking. If King Abdullah and his Princes are beheaded, the West's financial House of Cards falls.


Given current treacherous circumstance, one might become nostalgic for the late Saddam Hussein… an evil yes indeed, but a much lesser evil than this ISIS explosion. Unintended consequences raises its ugly head once more.

We apparently broke it, so now we are being forced to own it.



I know I got a laugh out of this name:

“The timeline concludes with the date 201?’ and blank spaces and question marks for the photo and information of the next attack -- implying that it is coming soon.” said MEMRI Executive Director Steve Stalinsky."

Oddly appropriate.

Arun Gupta

I think veteran Pakistani journalist Arif Jamal would give you different reasons for the resurgence of the Taliban. Long, but worth viewing: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=rmT1WCurvsI


I think that the Obama crew will try to have it both ways in Syria and bomb both Assad and ISIS.

The R2Pers and neocons will push hard for that, because they just can't kick the regime change habit.

Since Obama is weak, the outcome will depend on who gets to bully him last.

William R. Cumming

I thought not science and reason except for application to superior weaponry was the reason for Western dominance the last 600 years?


"Alas, I am not so saintly as all that"

I am somewhat less saintly even. IMO blundering Generals and scheming überhawks in the mold of McCain and Graham ought to serve as privates or witnesses in the trenches of the wars of their making to experience them firsthand.

In that I am not claiming to be original. John Buchan beat me to the idea when he subjected von Schwabing to this fate in Mr Standfast.

Patrick Bahzad

Maybe there's a bit of a misunderstanding about the term "existential threat". So without putting words in Col. Haviland's mouth, let me just stated that the wording "existential threat" does not mean ISIS has the ability to wipe the US of the map. that's not what this threat is about. However, to give just one example, disrupting deliveries of oil from the region onto the world market can very well be an existential threat to the USA, even though they are self-sufficient for a few more years, but seering oil prices would take a toll equivalent to an existential threat to the US economy for example. In other words, existantial threat to US interests can be equivalent to existantial threat to the US as such.
And who would have believed in 2003, that a bunch of 2000 Ali Babas, hiding in holes in the ground in Eastern Afghanistan had the ability to launch the most destructive terrorist attack on US soil ever ? So don't underestimate ISIS willingness to build a power base from which they could operate to cause mayhem as far away as the US homeland. Food for thought in that regard: how many US citizens are fighting for ISIS ? Any idea ? What's gonna happen when or if they come home undetected and decide to continue their Djihad in the US ? The Europeans are very aware of the threat ISIS poses to them in that respect. If I were you, I wouldn't discount that risk out of hand either !


It is a threat to their ally/buffer state, Iraq. And they are actaully in a good position to fight ISIS. The war will be on somebody else's territory, and most of the bloodshed and 'collateral damage' will be on others. The effect will likely be to further weaken the Sunni parts of Iraq, where the war will be fought, which is good for Iran.

Iran is likely very resistant to ISIS attacks, becuase they'd have to penetrate a Shiite security state.



I note that if you are contending that removing a small fraction of one of the energy sources from the world market somehow represents and existential threat, then how do you classify the speculators who created the oil shock? OPEC? A hurricane in the Gulf? Regulation against future oil spills? The fed raising rates leading to lower investment in oil? One could go on, but I dont think you (or the evidence) argues that the US economic system is so weak it could not adjust and would be consigned by ISIS targeting a few tankers to the dustbin of history...

Now, starting a war in Ukraine - there you have a real existential (nuclear) threat. Running a deficit ad infinitum - that is an existential threat. A few apples coming home and doing what? Blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma? - somehow the US continued to exist. Its a problem, not an existential problem.

Typically, empires fail for internal reasons while entering themselves into one foreign adventure too many (perhaps on behalf of a small nation that leveraged internal (legal) political corruption) that bankrupts the treasury.Then, internal divisions - four horsemen stuff - does the rest.

I do consider the underlying philosophy of ISIS (or similar movements) an existential threat - it was scientific thinking that created the fantastic wealth enjoyed even by the poor compared to even a king a few centuries ago. Humanity faces critical problems (climate, energy, insufficient resources for a growing population) and I do not see solutions arising from the ISIS approach - turning a back on scientific reasoning. Such attitudes also are gaining currency in the US, compared to say 50 years ago, but the solution (IMO) is education.

Will the creeping IS-US war be the last for the US before our creditors pull the plug? I dont know, but the shift away from the dollar is an alarming existential threat of our own making. It is unclear to me how boots on the ground in Iraq solves anything that lasts until American's once again demand enough of our blood in the middle east sands - and we may already be there. Is the ISIS threat existential enough to override popular will - i.e., revoke democracy - in the way an ebola outbreak in the US would? I think not.

My solution: rapprochement with Iran, arm the Kurds but only defensively, sanction the actual ME origin of the 9/11 perps, exhibit a coherent foreign policy, and strong arm regional actors into cooperating to stabilize rather than continuing to destabilize Iraq and Syria, and get out of the China shop - i.e., resist the temptation for willy-nilly regime change - based on how well its worked out, if nothing else. IMO, most of the US existential threats are internal or arise internally, so are the solutions.

Patrick Bahzad

ISL, Totally agree with you in the sense, as I said by the way, that ISIS is in no position to "wipe the US from the map" as I put it, which is the "existential" level you're referring to in your example of risk of nuclear war vis-a-vis Ukraine (personally I don't think there is such a risk, but different story).
Basically, what i wanted to say in my MSG is that definition of "existential" depends on where you put the marker. From your perspective, you're right, ISIS is not a existential threat to the US.
Personally however, I think that a price of 200 dollars for a barril does qualify as an existential threat to the US, due to its consequences on the world economy, and thus US economy as well. The 1973 oil crisis was also an existential threat as such. It's not about US economy being strong or weak, but about the prize ther would be to pay in order to adjust. And in times of budget constraints, this is even more true. Anyway, it was just an example, i'm not saying this is about to happen, but we're talking about contingencies here.
As for your reference to a few bad apples, let's just hope, there won't ever materialize, because witnessing a terror campaign unfold in your country isn't something I would wish on anybody.
Considering where you apparently stand politically (not a criticism on my part, just statement), you should also realize that any such campaign would have drastic consequences in terms of civil and public liberties in the USA, reaching further than anything you've witnessed so far. Think about Ferguson on a large scale ... Isn't that something that could amount to a existential threat to the democratic fabric of your country ?
As for the rise and fall of great powers, there may be many reasons that explain them, usually it's a combination of reasons, but I wouldn't say the USA, for all the shortcomings and flaws you might see internally, is about to fail as a country, far from it.
Mind you, I'm not saying this to advocate for a Us boots on the ground approach, think that would be wrong, but the problem canno't be underestimated and it should be treated through a "lessons learnt" policy (based on Iraq and AFPAK experience).
Regarding your solution, I can't say I fundamentally disagree, but I'm too much of a realist (cynic maybe ?) to see this happen. There are many contradictory interests at work here, within the US itself, and within the current administration. Things might actually take a turn for the worse after the coming presidential election.
My guess, ISIS is gonna be a problem for a while, best thing to do is to try and contain it. the only upside is that ISIS serves as a magnet for most Djihadis now worldwide, so you got them "cornered" in a smaller area ... Let's turn it into a kill zone and see what happens. How we go about to achieve that is another story, but new alliances with regional powers having a beef in this fight might be an option.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad