Ready for War With ISIS? – Foreign Affairs December 2014

Foreign Affairs’ Brain Trust Weighs In

A checkpoint in east Mosul, one day after radical Sunni Muslim insurgents seized control of the city, June 11, 2014.

A checkpoint in east Mosul, one day after radical Sunni Muslim insurgents seized control of the city, June 11, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

We at Foreign Affairs have recently published a number of articlesexamining how the United States should respond to theIslamicState of Iraq and al-Sham. Those articles sparked a heated debate, so we decided to ask a broader pool of experts to state whether they agree or disagree with the following statement and to rate their confidence level about that answer.The United States should significantly step up its military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.


Full Responses (see link below)


Blood Money – By Louise Shelley NOVEMBER 30, 2014

How ISIS Makes Bank

Damage at an oil refinery that was targeted by what activists said were U.S. strikes near the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, October 2, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

A key element of U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has been striking at the oil fields seized by the group to undermine its finances. But ISIS is a diversified criminal business, and oil is only one of its several revenue streams. U.S. officials ignore that fact at their own peril.

It is true that oil is ISIS’ key source of funding right now. The terrorist group has become the world’s richest precisely because it has seized some of the world’s most profitable oil fields in Iraq and Syria. Even with those fields operating below capacity due to a lack of technology and personnel, ISIS is estimated to be producing about 44,000 barrels a day in Syria and 4,000 barrels a day in Iraq. ISIS sells crude at a discount (around $20–$35 per barrel) to either truckers or middlemen. The crude gets to refiners at around $60 per barrel, which is still under market price. Smugglers pay about $5,000 in bribes at checkpoints to move the crude oil out of ISIS controlled territory. Even selling the oil at a discount via pre-invasion smuggling routes out of Iraq, ISIS can still expect over a million dollars in revenue each day.

And ISIS’ enemies are getting richer from the trade, too: Kurdish part-time smugglers who facilitate ISIS’ oil sales can earn up to $300,000 each month. A Kurdish newspaper recently published a list of people involved with ISIS, especially its oil operations. The list includes individuals with the last names of several Kurdish ruling families; a Toyota branch in Erbil, which sells ISIS trucks; a Politburo member and military leader; and oil refineries, among others. Some of those on the list were associated with oil smuggling under Saddam Hussein. Kurdish facilitators also provide goods to ISIS, including trucks, gas cylinders (for cooking and heating), gasoline, and other necessary commodities.

Oil is not ISIS’ only source of revenue. For example, when the group needed seed capital to recruit personnel and acquire military equipment to conquer the Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq, some of it came from donors in the Gulf States, who had funded the antecedents of ISIS. More recently, ISIS funding has come from the usual terrorist businesses—smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, and robberies. In one reported case, a Swedish company paid $70,000 to rescue an employee who had been taken by ISIS. And before the American journalist James Foley was beheaded, ISIS fighters demanded an exorbitant sum for his freedom, which they did not receive.

Still more funding comes from the sale of counterfeit cigarettes, pharmaceuticals, cell phones, antiquities, and foreign passports. The trafficking of some of these commodities into Turkey from Syria has risen dramatically. For example, cigarette smuggling has increased, fuel smuggling is estimated to have tripled, and cell phone smuggling has risen fivefold. ISIS is also taxing black market antiquities at 20–50 percent, depending on the region and type of antiquity. Meanwhile, foreign fighters sell their passports for thousands of dollars in Turkey before entering Syria, where the proceeds help fund them and ISIS. These particular forms of illicit trade are attractive to terrorists because there is less competition, less regulation, and limited law enforcement in these markets compared to others, such as the arms and narcotics trades.

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Empty Promises – By Rory Miller NOVEMBER 30, 2014

Why France Won’t Deliver for the Palestinians

Abbas and Hollande at the Élysée Palace in Paris, September 2014. (Gonzalo Fuentes / Courtesy Reuters)

Tomorrow, the French National Assembly is set to vote on a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state, a step already taken by the Swedish government, the British and Spanish parliaments, and the Irish Senate. Yet even with several other European countries looking to do the same, a “yes” vote would have little practical effect: it would be nonbinding, dismissed by the United States, and rejected by Israel. If such formalities really did matter, then a Palestinian state, which 134 countries have recognized, would already exist.

How the National Assembly votes and how the government of French President François Hollande responds does matter in other way—although not so much for Israel or Palestine as for France. The country is home to the largest Jewish population in Europe and the third largest in the world after Israel and the United States. Anti-Semitic attacks almost doubled in the first half of 2014 compared with the same period in 2013, and Jews are leaving the country for Israel in record numbers. This year, more new immigrants have arrived in Israel from France than from any other country in the world.

France also has Europe’s largest Muslim population, which is feeling increasingly restless and marginalized as well. The far-right National Front party, with its program of tough anti-immigrant measures, has made sizable gains in local elections across the country. Anger over such policies has only compounded a sense of injustice when it comes to Palestine.

Last summer, at the height of the Gaza crisis, tensions reached a fever pitch when thousands took to the streets of Paris and several other French cities. France’s ban on anti-Israeli marches and the violent clashes that ensued between the police and demonstrators recalled the infamous street fights of the early 1960s, in which hundreds of North African immigrants died protesting for Algerian independence. As one organizer of the recent demonstrations explained, “The Arab, the Muslim, and the black [are] going to public and expressing solidarity with a people under siege—and there’s a continuation of colonial policies of repression.”

Beyond such domestic considerations, the vote matters also because France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has demonstrated a long-standing ambition—bordering on a psychological need—to be taken seriously as a player in the Middle East. It is, in the final account, a referendum on whether France really is the West’s truest champion of the Palestinian cause.

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Dragon Net China’s Next Economic Miracle – By Jonathan Woetzel and Jeongmin Seong – NOVEMBER 17, 2014

An Apple store in Pudong, the financial district of Shanghai, February 29, 2012. (Carlos Barria / Courtesy Reuters)

With 632 million Internet users, China has already become the world’s largest e-tailing market, with almost $300 billion in sales posted in 2013. Although digital marketplaces have changed the face of Chinese retail, however, other major sectors such as manufacturing and healthcare have been much slower to embrace the Internet. China’s digital transformation is just beginning, which means that over the next few years, the world’s second-largest economy will radically transform the way it does business. And as new research from the McKinsey Global Institute projects, that change (from the adoption of online marketing and supply-chain management to cutting-edge innovations such as big data analytics and the Internet of Things) could fuel as much as 22 percent of China’s total GDP growth through 2025. How much of this potential China will actually see depends on the government’s ability to create a supportive policy environment, the willingness of companies to go digital, and the adaptability of workers.

As of 2012, only about a quarter of China’s small and medium-sized enterprises had begun to use the Internet for functions such as procurement, sales, and marketing. When they do go online, they and larger companies alike will be able to streamline their operations, find new ways to collaborate, and expand their reach via e-commerce. These types of changes are beginning to ripple through traditional industries outside the tech sector, translating into faster productivity growth.

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ISIS Goes to Asia – By Joseph Chinyong Liow SEPTEMBER 21, 2014

Extremism in the Middle East Isn’t Only Spreading West

A man prays in a mosque outside Kuala Lumpur. (Courtesy Reuters)

As the United States sought in recent weeks to assemble an international coalition to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State), it looked mostly to the Middle East and Europe, regions that it said face a direct threat from the militant Islamist group. But other parts of the world are just as anxious about ISIS — above all, Southeast Asia. The governments of that region have not publicized their concerns very loudly, but they are acutely aware that ISIS is a menace. Their top concern is that its extremist ideology will prove attractive to the region’s many Muslims, lure some of them to the Middle East to fight as part of the group, and ultimately be imported back to the region when these militants return home.There is a clear precedent for this scenario. During the 1980s, many young Muslims from Southeast Asia went to Pakistan to support the Afghan mujahideen’s so-called jihad against Soviet occupation. Many of these recruits subsequently stayed in the region, mingling with like-minded Muslims from all around and gaining exposure to al Qaeda’s militant ideology. Many eventually returned to Southeast Asia to form extremist groups of their own, including the notorious al Qaeda­–linked organization Jemaah Islamiyah that was responsible for several high-profile terrorist attacks in the region over the last 15 years. With evidence now surfacing of Southeast Asians among the ranks of ISIS casualties, it’s only natural that governments in the region are feeling a sense of déjà vu.

Michael O’Hanlon | The Obama Administration’s Plans for an Iraqi National Guard | Foreign Affairs

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry looks out over Baghdad from a helicopter, September 10, 2014. (Brendan Smialowski / Courtesy Reuters)

The most important part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent speech about Iraq and Syria wasn’t how many air strikes the United States will conduct and when — the elements that have dominated much of the analysis of the event. Rather, it was his call to form, from scratch, an Iraqi National Guard.

That plan is a bold one, and it follows on what has been a good summer for Obama when it comes to Iraq policy. He has gotten two crucial things right. First, by working with local allies such as the Kurdish peshmerga forces, Obama was able to use limited U.S. airpower to prevent further conquests by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State). Second, by holding off fro providing any more extensive help, he was able to push Iraqis to replace Nouri al-Maliki, the divisive incumbent prime minister, with a new one, Haider al-Abadi, and create a national unity government.

Obama didn’t make the latter decision simply because Americans like inclusive, democratic governance. It was because Maliki’s sectarian rule had so divided the country that the Iraqi army nearly dissolved when ISIS forces emerged on the battlefield this past spring. If the army was to be reconstituted so that it could reclaim the Sunni Arab heartland, including cities from Ramadi and Fallujah to Tikrit and Mosul, it needed a leader and a government it could believe in, obey, and die for.