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Islamic State has become an existential threat to the West

15 Comments

The Europeans have - it's not news - tended to be snooty about the Americans. Especially the French, but the attitude is ingrained even in the "special relationship" with the UK.

In interviews with intelligence service people, mostly retired, for a project for the Reuters Institute, I often heard that senior British officers had thought the phrase "War on Terror" to be a stupid one, and that they never used it. It was not a war, they believed. The struggle was not "existential." It was a serious challenge from serious militants: hard, vicious but finite.

It's different now. Francois Hollande, the Socialist president of France, has said that the slaughter in Paris last Friday evening was "an act of war." Pope Francis, at a commemoration service for the 100,000 Italian soldiers killed in the World War One (his grandfather was one of the soldiers who survived) said that "one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction."

The Europeans aren't being snooty anymore: Paris, Friday, Nov 13, 2015, has brought Europe together in an agony of anger - so much, that it is the U.S. president who feels compelled to remind us that we should have a duty of welcome to refugees from Syria.

And there's another switch. U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, speaking on Monday in Los Angeles, said "I say to the American people: There is no existential threat to the United States. Nothing ISIS can do could bring down the government, could threaten the way we live."

But the man who commanded the British armed forces from 2010 to 2013 thinks that's mere complacency. General David Richards said at a history festival in June this year that the threat is existential and "that we need to approach this issue of Muslim extremism as we might approach World War Two back in the 1930s." In a recent book, he's said to have told the British prime minister that he lacked the courage to take the fight to Islamic State, being too obsessed with wishing to appear liberal.

There are three main reasons why Richards is right and Biden wrong. First, for some three decades, the nightmare of politicians and secret services has been that rogue states, and/or terrorist groups, would acquire weapons of mass destruction. It runs through "At the Center of the Storm," the memoir of George Tenet, CIA director from 1996-2004. It kept successive presidents, from Clinton through Bush to Obama, awake at night; prompted their interventions abroad and (in Obama's presidency) the heavy use of killer drones. It has meant that the National Security Agency (NSA) has now incomparably the largest budget of any intelligence service anywhere, so that the first "chatter" which reveals that the nightmare has real flesh can be detected.

Islamic State might be the organization to put flesh on that nightmare, because it has the money and can buy the expertise to make WMD. An investigation last month by the Financial Times found that in the areas of Iraq it controls, ISIS has "a sprawling operation almost akin to a state oil company that recruits skilled workers, from engineers to trainers and managers and produces about 34,000-40,000 barrels per day. The oil is sold at the wellhead for between $20 and $45 a barrel, earning the militants an average of $1.5m a day."

Put together money, expertise and an Islamist-nihilist philosophy, and you have a weapon of huge destructive power, pointing at both the West and the East.

Second, Islamic State is funding a large increase in its cyber warfare capability. George Osborne, the British chancellor, said that "ISIS' murderous brutality has a strong digital element. At a time when so many others are using the Internet to enhance freedom and give expression to liberal values and creativity, they are using it for evil."

Determined cyber attacks mounted by experts in cryptography could disable health and power systems, air traffic controls, nuclear power stations and much else: the human costs could quickly run into the tens of thousands, if closely coordinated.

Third, ISIS, more than any other of the Islamist groups, has the power to attract large numbers of young Muslims - men and women - to come to Syria and Iraq to fight with them, or to remain in the countries in which they were born and become an enemy within these states. The glamour of death, murder and "revenge" seems a powerful draw - amplified, it seems, by the hours many of the young jihadists spend before a screen replete with images of "Crusaders" and Jews murdering Muslims. There is thus a potentially active network of supporters in most of the Western countries, either radicalized or the future targets of radicalization. And there is no way, outside of a locked-down authoritarian state, for all of them be monitored all the time.

The safeguards of a democratic society bounded by the rule of law place limits: a member of France's internal secret service, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure, told the Le Monde reporter Jacques Follorou that, "You have to prioritize, if the lads don't commit any crime, its complicated to justify phone taps. You can't put people on whom you have no evidence under 24-hour surveillance."

This is not quite like any other war; nor can it be fought with previous wars' weapons. Ranged against Islamic State is the military might of the United States, the European states and, now, Russia. Surely, with the military and intelligence technology at their disposal, they can destroy a force which seeks to bring down 21st century civilization and substitute for it a medieval theocracy?

Yet working for the theocrats is the sluggish reluctance of the liberal, consumer societies of the West to gear up for war; to surround themselves with new security systems which will inhibit travel and entertainment; to lose or reduce the liberal safeguards which have been regarded as indispensable. Working for them, too, is a hatred so pure that young men can stride among the bodies of other young men, and women, and shoot those who moved - then blow themselves up. Working for them is the lack of our comprehension about how serious they appear to be.

This, I think, adds up to war: and an existential threat. A threat to our existence, our way of life.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2015.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

15 Comments
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To conflate even a large terror attack with a true existential threat, like those faced by many countries in WWII or that being faced by Israel now, is ridiculous. Over-reacting would bring about the author's third point: disaffection of more Muslims.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Islamic State might be the organization to put flesh on that nightmare (the nightmare of politicians and secret services has been that rogue states, and/or terrorist groups, would acquire weapons of mass destruction), because it has the money and can buy the expertise to make WMD.

Mr. Lloyd spins a fantastical tale. The ISIS of his imagination is unlimited in its potential and effect. While crying fire in the theater, Mr. Lloyd seems content to suggest no nation, no military power or social backlash can prevent ISIS from their gangsterism of world domination.

Perhaps it should be suggested to Mr. Lloyd that all transactions that support his million five a day oil sales are still dependent on a global financial system. Further, ISIS has a resume of slaughter that entices only the mentally disturbed. For Mr. Lloyd's fantastical toppling of nations to achieve ISIS's deranged goals the financial, military and social systems of the world must cower and pledge allegiance to an Islam of the 1400s.

Thank you Mr. Lloyd for your confused essay. The assumptions and effects are so far beyond the capabilities and motivations of educated and civilized people that they require one in three globally cherish a world where children and women are bulldozed alive into graves specified by a deranged reading of the Koran.

Have a cup of tea Mr. Lloyd. ISIS is as powerful as its sponsors make it and the control of its oil wealth ends with a carpet bombing or cruise missile at the control of NATO. Does Mr. Lloyd really believe one in three want the world ISIS wants?

Thanks again for the warning but leave the destruction of ISIS to those best able to fix and destroy targets essential to these maniacs. Scare and sell is the tactic of the advertiser, not the power of a global community who have bound together to end the primitive savagery of these gangsters.

Perhaps we should thank ISIS for their illustration of a world dominated by hate and insanity. Billions reject that as the future of the global community and the destruction these perverts is within all of our powers as civilized people. Thank you ISIS, you have created the Hiroshima of Religious madness the world will never forget. Shalom.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

I don't understand this term "existential threat". "Existential" is a philosophy term, like "existentialism". Does that mean we all threatened with angst?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

This sounds like more right wing rationalisation of why we should march off to another long war that will lead to more terror blowback in the future. It is a reactionary column supporting the fear mongering of those who think we need another war.

ISIS is dangerous. The presence of nuclear weapons that could end up in evil hands is a dangerous nightmare. But ISIS is not alone in this threat, nor does this threat mean an existential crisis for the west. A danger and a potential epic tragedy yes, existential no.

We need to handle ISIS and that is increasingly clear. But we don't do that through fear. We do that through global cooperation and policies that will enable us to thwart and reduce the ISIS threat without putting us in a powder keg situation where Russian and Western presence does not lead to an accidental WWIII.

If the author is looking for an existential threat to worry about that isn't ISIS. Global Warming is the only current threat that could bring down our global system. The mass migration of climate refugees will make Syria look like turn out from a busy concert. Food and water crisis will dwarf the repression of iSIS. The resulting global economic depression will kill countless people vs. a few hundred or even the thousands lost in Syria.

Climate is the threat we need to be truly terrified of and devoted to doing something about NOW. So maybe an article fanning those worries would be a piece of work better spent than this fear mongering and misguided article on ISIS.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

I don't understand this term "existential threat".

Its use in geopolitics/political science/international relations might be technically incorrect, but it basically means "a threat credible and capable enough to eliminate the existence of a nation state/group".

I agree with Laguna and kcjapan, the author's assessment of ISIS is totally overblown. Europe might be facing an existential threat, but the United States is not. Even if ISIS were to toss 1-2 nukes our way....the US as a nation, as a society, as a culture, would still exist. Partly due to geography (being separated from any potential invaders by 2 gigantic oceans, a frozen wasteland, and a desert) and partly due to demographics/history (a still-sizable industrial base, and a huge reasonably-educated population that is heavily armed)....the US is effectively unassailable by conventional means, and physically large enough to absorb the damage from anything less than a full-on nuclear exchange. Only Russia, China, the UK, France, and MAYBE India possess such a capability.

ISIS could pursue biological weapons, a Pandora's box that would fit their Doomsday-cult like proclivities rather well, but I suspect the CDC is competent enough to stamp out an outbreak. The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa was good practice.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

This, I think, adds up to war: and an existential threat. A threat to our existence, our way of life.

Lloyd is a Blairite, and I'm reminded of the WMD shell game.

Let us ignore the Neocon/ISIS symbiosis at our peril.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

This article is racist fluff.

I don't understand this term "existential threat". "Existential" is a philosophy term, like "existentialism". Does that mean we all threatened with angst?

That's more accurate than an actual threat to our existence. ISIS is tiny, and the only thing they threaten is our moral compass. Unfortunately, with all the racist rhetoric going around these days, they are winning.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Unfortunately, with all the racist rhetoric going around these days, they are winning. - comments

Hang on. Winning? What is ISIS winning? Bulldozing children and women alive into their graves? Please. Let's stay clear. ISIS is a tiny, revolting gangsterism using a false religion justification to rob some dough and kill children.

Doctor, the patient is the Middle East, ISIS is the Cancer. Cancer never wins, it kills. That's ISIS.

Better yet, killing ISIS is as easy as the Middle East makes it. If the nations of Solomon want Peace Allah will allow it.

Sorry on the testiness, that tiny child at Paris speaking with his Dad about the "bad men" totally rips the heart. When will the damage to these children become the driving force and not the greed of false religion guide resolution? Peace.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, speaking on Monday in Los Angeles, said “I say to the American people: There is no existential threat to the United States.

Yeah . . . because his boss said ISIS is, "Contained."

ISIS, more than any other of the Islamist groups, has the power to attract large numbers of young Muslims

That's cause Mecca and Medina rely on an alliance with radical imams. A radical clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads and preaches that radical islam that IS feeds on. Then, they sell it.

That's how the large numbers of young Muslims are attracted.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Hang on. Winning? What is ISIS winning?

ISIS has three objectives here:

1) Convincing the world that there is a war between Muslims and non-Muslims. This makes their recruiting easier as more Muslims will step up to protect 'their own' if they feel it is in defence of their people against the world.

2) Causing more military attacks by the West in the Middle East. The more attacks, the more innocents will be killed. The more innocents killed, the easier recruitment gets as more people will be angry about innocent deaths, and the more people will be willing to defend their land.

3) Convincing Muslims that the only place they will be accepted in the world is in the Middle East. Muslims in the Middle East cannot renounce renounce their religion, and cannot speak out against it either.

ISIS is winning because they have managed to convince so many in the West that it is an us vs. Muslim war, when it's not. At most it's us vs. ISIS, and in reality it's a Muslim civil war.

ISIS only has power over us because we give it to them.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

ISIS is winning because they have managed to convince so many in the West that it is an us vs. Muslim war, - comments

The Premise: ISIS actually wants to create a fascism of religion; in a Caliphate of their own.

The Game Plan: Selling a West v. ME/ISIS/Islam with random slaughter, beheadings and bulldozing children alive into their graves.

That ISIS! How did we miss this pitch?! It's got it all! Random slaughter, who could resist?! Man, that takes some cojones. That ISIS! Grrrrrrrrr!

Follow the money. It's not geehad, it's get rad, for a price. The biggest pyramid scheme since Tut. Follow the money.

This is also one of those little nasty creations of tech and hostage takings' mutant tumorous cancers. Sad part, it's just the start. Peace.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

kcjapan,

Thank you for the voice of sanity.

I greatly appreciate your posts.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Bert, someone has to look after you guys. Hopefully they'll show up some time.

A threat to our existence, our way of life. - Lloyd

The threat to "our existence" is insistence on hysterical polarizations Mr. Lloyd proposes.

The WMD card is too easily played to create monsters under the bed for political argument. Mr. Lloyd's progression from oil sales to an evitable nuclear bomb, as others have proposed, requires the assumption no civilized power can intervene in that fiction.

AWOL Bush already provided the reality of waste and destruction from the treatment of fear as reality for profit. ISIS is clearly one result. Europe unfortunately is paying for AWOL's fiction. Who will pay for Lloyds'?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

ISIS are not an existential threat to europe and the US, but they are certainly a nuisance that needs to be dealt with.

Bomb all the tankers, oil wells and refineries used by ISIS and keep doing it until they run out of money.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Scrote,

Tell me. Did you serve as an advisor to GW Bush?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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