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ISIS and the domestic and foreign policy challenges ahead for the US

ARLINGTON, VA - AUGUST 21: U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey speak to the media during a press briefing at the Pentagon, August 21, 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.
ARLINGTON, VA - AUGUST 21: U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey speak to the media during a press briefing at the Pentagon, August 21, 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Washington, D.C.—The threat posed by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a unique threat unlike the threat posed by the birth of al Qaeda. Without getting into too much of the technicalities of the movement, this article is geared to show some of the challenges that this “Modern Radical Movement” poses to the US and other western allies.

In order to better understand the threats, I will draw from a few experiences from other nations—experiences in domestic terrorism. These nations fought terrorists inside their borders, unlike what the US has been accustomed to since 9/11.

The Islamic radical movements are very different and pose a very unique set of threats and challenges to these nations under their radar. This article will not discuss terrorism in the Middle East but will touch on the dynamics of internal threats posed by these international terrorist groups that have strong bases inside other nations. ISIS is such a group.

Spain is a country familiar with domestic terrorism. Since 1958, Spain had to deal with groups such as ETA, a radical movement formed by students also known as “Euskadi Eta Askatasuna.” In Spanish the name meant “Pais Vasco y Libertad.” The group had a goal to gain independence from Spain to seven regions of northern Spain and in the process, they engaged in an “Asymmetric War” against the state with many terrorist attacks.

I highlight the problem in Spain because the threat was not an external force such as al Qaeda. It was an internal conflict launched by citizens of Spain. This posed a much more difficult task for the Spanish government that had to re-think their policing and internal security programs.

Another country that experienced internal terrorism for many years was Ireland and the United Kingdom. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was a group that had its roots inside society and inside the borders of Ireland and the UK for that matter.

South of the US border, Mexico also experienced internal terrorism. In Mexico, the Liga Comunista 23 de Septiembre was a domestic terrorist group. In English the 23 of September Communist League was a movement that began in 1973, which was formed by students that were part of Christian Socialists and Marxists movements at the time.

The groups that scattered all over Mexico were decentralized and they carried out kidnappings, killings, and terrorist attacks.

Mexico, UK, Ireland, and Spain, to name a few, have experienced internal terrorism (Domestic Terrorism) and they had to deal with it by applying domestic policy. Their movements did not go out or became international movements.

Thinking that ISIS still is just a regional threat and not a threat that has both domestic and international implications for the US may be a real problem.

Additionally, it is possible to argue that the threat posed by ISIS could never be as well organized as the threats posed inside these nations, but today even attacks such as the attack in Nairobi, Kenya on September 2013 are attacks that can be devastating. The 2014 holiday season is just around the corner.

Therefore, this also means that foreign policy and domestic policy application to terror threats are two very different animals and neither one appears to be in place to deal with ISIS, as of now.

There is a big difference in how policy is applied to foreign and domestic threats. In this case, ISIS is a real and existing terror threat as to foreign policy. While it is an emerging terror threat, when it comes to domestic US policy.

Lately, most of the focus is in foreign policy. I believe that it is a mistake when the domestic policy on how to deal with ISIS is set aside or it is left at the mercy of foreign policy.

The US has focused the anti-terrorism and counterterrorism policy efforts in “Containment.” Containment basically means to fight the terror wars outside their nations i.e. keep them out of the US for example.

However, ISIS is a game changer and ISIS appears to challenge the policy of containment. The game changer is the fact that ISIS is a modern kind of radical movements that recruits from inside the nations that are fighting a war in other nations i.e. Iraq and Syria.

One example is the postings of supporters of ISIS where they would take pictures outside landmark places inside the US, such as the White House, with a message saying that ISIS is already is inside the US should be of great concern to the people in the US.

Additionally, the beheading of the journalist James Foley, conducted by citizen of the UK, is a situation that cannot be ignored.

C.S. Abdalla, Intelligence Analyst with Contingent Security Services, Ltd. stated that in February 2014, al Qaeda Central (AQC) leader Ayman Al Zawahiri had called ISIS to stop attacking other al Qaeda affiliates and stop their brutalities inside Iraq.

Abdalla stated that ISIS had refused to follow orders from al Qaeda, which ultimately caused Zawahiri to publicly disowned ISIS calling it “too violent.”

Abdalla stated also that ISIS has the ability to recruit talent from many different countries such as Spain and Germany (in addition to the UK and the US). Already inside ISIS ranks, nationals from the UK and the US.

These terrorists have been very active in the war zones and very active in social media, which has also spurred additional interest from potential recruits.

It is possible that the concerns in Great Britain today to elevate their “Terror Alert” is that inside their own border may have ISIS terrorists planning some kinds of attacks or that Great Britain is dealing with their domestic policy right now before crisis erupts inside their border.

As far as funding goes, ISIS has money and the now controls a great part of two countries. Their operations appear to be highly organized based on their annual reports. They have also showed a great ability to run as a quasi-government.

Their level of violence is extreme and shows that they are not going to stop, even when threaten by the US.

The lack of a real plan by the US on the other hand is only giving ISIS more time to organize and continue its recruitment from the very nations that are trying to stop them.

The longer the US takes to make a plan on how to deal with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the more vulnerable the US becomes.

As far as dealing with the sympathizers and the people in the US who may already be planning some form of terror attacks, this kind of situation is very different than the plan required in terms of foreign policy.

The recent attacks in the Boston Marathon should have been a wakeup call that domestic Islamic radicals live among us and that they may be willing to attack.

Therefore, the question should be split in two parts: What is the foreign policy response to the threats posed by ISIS? And how is the US preparing to handle the terrorists already aligned with ISIS inside the US?

Failing to address these two questions separately may bring the US into a climate of fear and uncertainty. Underestimating ISIS should not be an option.

It is possible that terrorists among us may be already planning attacks, while the focus in US policy is to deal with ISIS as a foreign treat and not an already domestic terrorist threat.

Should you worry?

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