Inside the Islamic State

We’re looking inside the Islamic State: as a phenomenon and as America’s latest enemy in the endless war on terror. Do we know who they are, or how we plan to defeat them? President Obama says they aren’t Islamic and aren’t a state. It’s clear they’re a dangerous mad storm of Arab anger armed, in part, with hand-me-down American weapons. Could this be the coming Caliphate that Dick Cheney warned us against? What if it’s blowback that his Iraq War fired up? For a little perspective, let’s look back at the beginning of the Islamic State, known in 2004 as Al-Qaeda in Iraq:

Guest List
John Mearsheimer
historian and father of the realists at the University of Chicago, and author, most recently, of "How the West Caused the Ukraine Crisis" in Foreign Affairs.
As'ad AbuKhalil
Lebanese-American scholar, blogger at The Angry Arab News Service, and author of The Battle for Saudi Arabia.
Patrick Cockburn
journalist for the Independent and author of The Jihadis Return  
Hugh Roberts
historian of Algeria and the great explicator of Middle Eastern politics at Tufts University.  
Reading List

Our guest Patrick Cockburn has posted a typical excerpt of his new book, The Jihadis Return, on Vice (where you can also see the definitive news documentary on ISIS).

The myths regarding ISIS, brought to you by Vox. These include: “ISIS is irrational”, “ISIS’s extremism is popular”, and “the U.S. could destroy ISIS."

The FBI veteran, the moral hero of the torture moment in American policy, and now private analyst Ali Soufan gives America a reality check on Mideast strategy in The Guardian:
"...There can be no purely military solution, and it cannot be carried on by the West. When Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Turkey and, yes, even Iran, finally act as if the future stability of their region is at stake, only then will the tide turn. Only when the world – and specifically the region now plagued by bin Ladenism – is vested in the outcome will we prevent Isis from making bin Laden’s rhetoric more of a reality."

Iranians looking at the Islamic State see it as an American invention designed to drive a rift through the Mideast.

The ISIS strategy dates, according to several writers, from 2004 — to The Management of Savagery, something of a hit book among Sunni extremists. Our friend Steve Kinzer is praising Obama’s calm handling of ISIS in The Boston Globe, and recommending cooperation with Iran — provided the threat is great enough.

Related Content

  • Kunal

    Can’t wait for this show tonight. Did you see John Cantlie’s video today? Absolutely chilling…

  • Potter

    Excellent program. Guaranteed to cross your eyes. I am with Mearsheimer this time and Thomas Friedman “Take a Deep Breath” in the NYT recently. But best of all I like Chris’s suggestion that the Ottoman Empire somehow get’s re-created (without our forcing it of course). We could take everyone aside and do a Rodney King why can’t we all get along? thing. Hugh Roberts is always good but what a hard swallow to think of dealing or being able to deal with Putin and Assad. Khalil the “Angry Arab” on the West Coast wants to blame it all on US, some of it no doubt deserved. I remember the sea of people out in the streets of Egypt fed up with Morsi & Co. though. Israel had some weight in this discussion too re US policies. But the Bush wars, especially the “little Bush” war which broke apart Iraq are the gifts that keep on giving. It’s amazing how easily sectarianism arises. This was Assad’s strategy in Syria.

    The Iranian minister was floating around here these past days giving interviews to the media (NPR,PBS). Clearly he wants us to give Assad legitimacy as well.

    Let them fight it out. By stepping in, we prevent that.

  • Peter

    Good, interesting, refreshingly original program! The simple point that struck me most powerfully was that your guests all seemed to agree, emphatically, that ISIS posed absolutely no threat to the Unite States. What they indicated, without elaborating, was that they believe the powers that be in the US – from the President to US senators, the military, the most influential news organizations – are all either lying or embellishing or propagandizing. I wish very much your guests had had time to layout more facts that would have illustrated this point. I’m not saying I disagree with them. I, like most Americans, don’t know what to believe about ISIS and this current crisis. For me, however, this observation was very disturbing in that it just reinforced my own view that the US media fails so grossly to attempt to find and tell the truth to the American people. President Obama and so many others have quickly convinced us about how dangerous ISIS is and that, if they had been unchecked, they would have, very possibly, taken Baghdad and used their gains in territory to launch terrorist attacks against the US. I wish your guests could appear on television political news shows and express these views. Wouldn’t it be great to see a real debate over these fundamental topics? Instead, without a truth-seeking, independent media, we hear only the “conventional” view of ISIS.
    It all makes me more grateful for Radio Open Source.

  • Mary Fonseca

    As’ad Abu Khalil’s impassioned account of the players and their proxy wars etc left my head spinning and convinced me that hardly anyone who´s making US policy has much of a clue what’s going on amongst the many camps, most particularly the Saudis. Why don´t we just wait…and see?

  • Cambridge Forecast


    The phrase or composite word “World-Bedlam” was coined by the nineteenth century British polemicist Thomas Carlyle. You may know Carlyle as the author of such phrases as “cash nexus” which Marx and Engels borrowed from him. (Niall Ferguson of Harvard has a book
    by this name.). The phrase World-Bedlam is imentioned in the historical classic
    by George Rude, “The Crowd in the French Revolution”, where Rude writes about
    Carlyle’s reaction to the French Revolution in his writings on that epochal revolution:
    “Carlyle (felt) fascinated horror at the “World-Bedlam” or “anarchy” that it appeared to unleash.” (Rude book, Oxford, paperback, 1967, page 2)

    You cannot discuss “retro-pathological” phenomena like ISIS or the Islamic State (or “Boko Haram” or the Taliban) without first grasping the truth that the entire purpose of the neoconservatives and their rightwing allies in Israel such as Netanyahu was to bring about Carlyle’s “World-Bedlam” in the Muslim world in general and the Arab world in particular.

    The very cleavages discussed by the ROS quests (including Juan Cole at other times) such as Shia/Sunni, Arab versus Kurd, Muslim Arab versus Christian Copt, Saudi Arabia verus Iran as well as Qatar, and so on, are exactly what the neocons were looking at and hoped to inflame via the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I’ve called this impetus of the neocons “mayhemization” elsewhere on ROS comment sites.
    From the Muslim point of view, the world led by America and Israel is trying to kill and humiliate them., Thus the “ummah” (Muslim-dom akin to Christendom) is seen as under constant attack: Chechnya is a moonscape. Chinese Muslim Uighurs are being abused daily by the Chinese government. When the Serbs were murdering Muslims, the UN “split the scene.” Movies and TV shows are routinely Arab-bashing in tone.

    Palestine is the ultimate symbol of Arab and Muslim humiliation and despoliation continue daily as Israeli settlements expel Arab residents of Jerusalem right now.
    The Arabs and Muslim see the West as an enforcer of “Sykes-Picot” forever. (ie 1916 WWI Franco-British side deal to carve up Middle East).
    The global civil war, mayhemization and “World-Bedlam a la Carlyle will not come to an endpoint until and unless the West begins to allow for an “ummah-eye” view of the world.

    The endless backwardness and maladaptive attitudes and anti-modern attitudes, values, and stances (including “gynephobia”) of many Arabs and Muslims (ISIS, Taliban, “Boko haram”, etc) are precisely what makes them such a juicy target for neocon and Israeli wirepulling and conflict-mongering to achieve a ‘clash of cultures” which commentators like Norman Podhoretz openly
    call for in “Commentary” and other hate journals and Islamophobia vehicles. Israel is now
    an Islamophobia “think tank.”

    The Islamic State/ISIS is a pathological rampage which arose in this context of “World-Bedlam” promotion by Israel and the neocons. This puts the whole world in a kind of political-attitudinal “traffic jam.” Radicals are poeple who believe that “worse is better” and in that light it can be said that anti-systemic movements like IS/ISIS and the neocon/Netanyahu settler Zionism are basically mirror images of each other. Both have to be overcome and the creation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines is the only way to “break” both pathological movements.
    Richard Melson