How Terrorist Groups End
(Christopher Harmon, November 26, 2019)
Transcript available below
About the speaker
Dr. Christopher C. Harmon is the Donald Bren Chair of Great Power Competition at Marine Corps University (MCU) where he lectures across the schools within MCU – (the Marine Corps War College – MCWAR, the Command and Staff College – CSC, the School of Advanced Warfighting – SAW, and the Expeditionary Warfare School – EWS.) Some terrorist campaigns are short; some last for decades. Most terrorist campaigns do end….but how? The answers not only reveal much about a given terrorist group, they also aid us in identifying good strategies for countering such political violence.
Dr. Harmon’s work — from a 2004 think tank report to lectures at the National Counter-Terrorism Center and Interpol headquarters — has focused on five results: defeat of the terrorists by force; arrest or killing of the leader(s); terrorism’s turn up a pacific political path; defeat via good grand strategy including law enforcement; and terrorist success. His lecture will address a dozen important modern groups of varied ideologies and will include Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Long ago stirred by the question of this evening’s topic, Dr. Harmon created a rubric and concept of analysis, articulated in many publications from 2004 through 2010, including a book chapter for Cambridge University Press in early 2006. He is lead author or editor of six books, including A Citizen’s Guide to Terrorism & Counterterrorism, Toward A Grand Strategy Against Terrorism, and The Terrorist Argument. The latter book’s thesis was presented at a Westminster Institute lecture in December, 2017 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q8U7T1vJcw).
Harmon’s most recent essays are in Combating Terrorism Exchange, the geopolitical journal Orbis, and Oxford Bibliographies.
Dr. Harmon wrote his political science dissertation on terrorism in the early 1980s at the Claremont Graduate School in California, where he had also earned his M.A. He continued that work as Legislative Aide for Foreign Policy to a member of Congress and, much later, director of counterterrorism studies programs in Asia and Europe for the U.S. government. A professor at civilian and military graduate schools, including the Naval War College, Dr. Harmon has also taught courses at The Institute of World Politics on terrorism and on counterterrorism.
Robert R. Reilly:
Our speaker tonight is Dr. Christopher Harmon, who is the Donald Bren Chair of Great Power Competition at Marine Corps University in Quantico. There he teaches at schools such as Command and Staff College and the School of Advanced Warfighting.
If I say anything about Chris, I hope he’s not offended, it’s all terrorism all the time in the sense that he is one of the world experts on this subject and he has written voluminously on it. I’ll just mention quickly, some of the books he has edited and made a major contribution in; A Citizen’s Guide to Terrorism & Counterterrorism, Toward A Grand Strategy Against Terrorism, and then two years ago, the last time Dr. Harmon spoke here it was to present his new book, The Terrorist Argument: Modern Advocacy and Propaganda. I highly recommend that presentation, which is of course on our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q8U7T1vJcw).
His recent essays appeared in Combating Terrorism Exchange, Orbis, Oxford Bibliographies. Chris received his PhD at the Claremont Graduate School, again on the subject of terrorism and counterterrorism. He also worked in Congress as a legislative aide on foreign policy issues.
He has taught at a number of universities and other military universities, including the Naval War College and also here in Washington, DC at the Institute of World Politics, again on the subject of terrorism and counterterrorism. The intriguing subject tonight is: “How Terrorist Groups End.” Chris?
Christopher C. Harmon:
Thank you, Robert. I have lost some of my voice, but I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to be back with Westminster Institute, so I’m going to run through and I’m hoping that it will hold up. It’s difficult to be dull with terrorism. It’s also easy to go astray, so the most important thing for some folks is to say what it is anyway. It’s a difficult topic, so let me try a definition on you. And that is – it’s not mine, it’s one from a think tank that I’ve used for years.
Terrorism is the deliberate and systematic, murder, maiming, and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends. That I think is a short and clean definition and you’ll see from that and from the way I approach things that I do include insurgencies, which can be quite different from small terror groups, but which use terrorism systematically. If that’s the case, I will include them. It is of course true that dealing with insurgencies to counter it is sometimes very different from dealing with a small terror group.
I’m going to proceed with five of the common ways that I’ve found that people think about terrorism and its end. I began this work in about ’03. I’ve continued it, and I still think the subject is highly valuable, and it seems to me that every time someone dies – as Al-Baghdadi has done recently – it does raise the question for us: what does it mean to see a leader go? How do you defeat a terror group? I think history is rich with examples, so I will spend some time with history, starting with first the defeat by force, whether military or police.
The Dutch Approach
If you can tolerate a little history, many of you will remember that Holland in the ’70s had quite a time with South Moluccan separatists. They were Asians living in Holland, and using that stage for their political advantage in trying to fire up others to allow for a free South Moluccan state which they might take a part in. They began in 1970 and ’78, conducting a whole series of important terrorist operations. One was at The Hague, for example, an Embassy of Indonesia, that was their target, that Indonesia was to yield the territory that would become this new South Moluccan state. Thirty people were taken hostage. The event eventually ended in the surrender of the terrorists, but there was a series of events which followed that was discouraging, and included a plot to kidnap the Queen.
And then seven armed South Moluccan took a train and a consulate at the same time, a sophisticated, simultaneous operation; two targets at the same time such that if police were to respond at one scene, they could kill hostages at the second. There were other sort of advantages for that. This was eventually resolved with some deaths, and some sense of limited calm returned.
But the Dutch had clearly been rattled, and they knew the lesson of Munich 1972 when the Germans found themselves completely unprepared, and began thereafter to train a very first-rate, counter-terrorist squad within their national police, which they call GSG-9. The Germans were helpful to many Europeans, and these Dutch took help from many Europeans.
There was yet another incident then in which their new unit in Holland was to be needed. It was a special assistance unit put together within the Dutch Marines. There was yet another train hijacking, and this time the secondary target was a children’s school, a devilish combination for any government to deal with in a simultaneous attack.
They did it very well in the following way: rather than storming the train, which had been barred shut, they used sophisticated commandos and listening devices and teamed up at nighttime, put frame charges around certain doors of the train cars they had intended to burst through, and then at the right time, they flew a series of jets over the top of the plane, creating a fantastic amount of noise, disorienting the terrorists. It was quite a Special Operation, and probably the first time that had been done in modern times, and they did then blow the doors and shoot the bad guys, and save most of the hostages, and the Marines emerged from that with quite a reputation.
Still however, the Dutch approach was inviolate, and the Dutch approach meant to try to negotiate as reasonably long a time as could be before armed force was required. Yet there was still another attack then, a fourth major attack by a self-identified Moluccan suicide squad, which attacked a government building. Fortunately, this was not so clever. They had way too few gunmen, and the Dutch Marines were ready for them. So they ended up with long jail sentences.
Well, these kinds of uses of force – that one’s totally forgotten – some others are more memorable. You remember Entebbe in ’76, which was an extraordinary Special Forces’ operation by the Israelis. On the other hand, it did not end Palestinian terrorism. The work of the Dutch Marines in Holland within that different context successfully terminated that rebellion. In ’77, there’s something called the German Autumn you may know about, in which force played a very key roll in defeating the Red Army Faction, which you would know as Baader-Meinhof.
MRTA in Peru
And in ’96-’97, there was a kind of drama in Lima which should be brought back to memory because I find my students tend not to know of it. Although there’s a wonderful book you can read by Luis Giampietri, who was not only inside the building where he was held hostage, he had trained some of the Special Forces who broke in to said building and saved his life.
It’s an extraordinary story. It’s called 41 Seconds to Freedom. It’s as good as any of the Bourne movies, and I recommend it strongly because it’s true. Luis Giampietri is still alive and he lives in Lima. You may remember that an obscure group called MRTA or Túpac Amaru had taken a whole building that Japan owned, and some eight hundred hostages. It was an extraordinary event. They whittled that number down over time as they like to do. It appears by releasing people to show humanitarianism or reasonability or willingness to negotiate. So they did that and they got down to far fewer than eight hundred, but it was still a dicey situation. The siege went on for four or five months.
Peruvian authorities used a number of techniques that are quite interesting. First of all, they negotiated, but in fact we know they never intended to do a negotiated solution. They didn’t expect it was possible, they didn’t anticipate it, and they probably didn’t trust whatever deal would be made. But they used that weapon of negotiations, and with it they used the time they had.
So they developed wonderful kinds of methods for approaching a problem. First of all, they built a mock-up on an Army base or Air Force base of the building itself so that the commandos could rehearse. Secondly, they brought the training of those commandos to a very high peak. Thirdly, they actually smuggled listening devices into the building. Some of them were highly sophisticated, and some of them landed in the lap of Luis Giampietri. And so you had scenes such as a man walking the halls of the building while being a hostage, appearing to read from the Bible and pray, but he was actually speaking into the Bible because there was a listening device in the Bible, and he was talking directly to the commandos.
So the exterior force had unrivaled intelligence about what was going on inside the building. So although the twelve or thirteen terrorists were well armed, in the end, when they tunneled under and blew the floor of the building and got inside, it didn’t last very long. That kind of operation effectively terminated MRTA. I give you a couple of these examples because I’ve read so many times that force can’t defeat terrorism, and there are cases where that’s simply flat wrong. In fact, no one ever talks really about the campaign Sri Lanka undertook against the JVP Maoists that ended in ’89. That was a broad policing effort which ended very brutally with the execution probably at close hands of the leader of the JVP. And then people do know about the LTTE Tigers even, which ends in ’09, so in that one small democracy there have been two good cases in which a lot of force was used and it truly did defeat insurgency.
The second thing I’ll approach is the issue of decapitation. If you can identify the leaders of a group and in fact there’s a very strict hierarchy in the group, wouldn’t it be sensible to simply take off the top layer without having to wage some kind of counterinsurgency war? And decapitating such a group is in fact the usual dream of a people who are commanders, who are statesmen because it seems efficient and it can in fact be much more humane than fighting a broad war.
Now, this audience has some advantages over some of my younger graduate students. Some of you know about Frederick Funston, a brigadier volunteer who went to the Philippines, and in 1901 conducted a brilliant operation in which they decapitated the first of the major Filipino revolutions, that led by Emilio Aguinaldo. They pinned him down on the floor of his headquarters, they got him into Manila, and he not only surrendered, he wrote two books which were rather generous to the Americans, which is an extraordinary end to a rebellion. That case is totally forgotten, I find, although it used to be taught frequently in our Command and Staff colleges and war colleges. In that case, decapitation worked. In most cases, it doesn’t.
National Liberation Front (Algeria)
And a classic was during the Algerian war. The French – I know you’ve all seen something about that or maybe you’ve seen the Battle of Algiers, a wonderfully useful movie. In the war between ’54 and ’62, a most remarkable result occurred because a country that was a nuclear power, a victor in World War II, held a seat on the Security Council, and headed an empire was defeated by a guerrilla force, which was in fact mostly held outside the country by effective French defenses. It’s an extraordinary situation and one in which politics rather than war played the far greater part. The French actually grabbed four of the FLN leaders on a flight they were taking over parts of North Africa. They forced the aircraft down, and for about 48 hours they thought they had done a magnificent thing. It had almost no effect because there were nine so-called historical figures in the FLN movement on the Algerian side, and the others just carried on as though nothing had happened. And so there was almost no effect from that.
And that in fact is what has often happened, and something like that – if we had time, we could discuss the Kurdish Workers Party – something a little bit like that has happened with respect to the Kurds, who started a revolution in the mid-’70s and are still somewhat loyal to its leadership, headed by Abdullah Öcalan, who is actually in jail. Those Kurds are now somewhat related, but somewhat separate from, the militias that you know from the Iraq War.
The best case probably in modern times is almost as good as the Aguinaldo one, is that of Sendero Luminoso in Peru. So I talked about a different group, Shining Path they were called, was different, they were Maoists and they had not only a strict hierarchical government, they had in effect a cult of personality over Abimael Guzmán. He was charismatic. He devoted his life to teaching and raising people as radical as him. He was smart. He held two PhDs, and he farmed out all of his students to run other schools around Peru, and did that rather than sort of a coup d’état strategy. Guzmán essentially controlled some one-third of Peru. The situation was so dark, I remember when I was writing an article about it in ’92 and Guzmán was captured. The literature at that time was almost universally dark. No one really knew how the government would prevail over this maoist terrorist organization.
But they did and the way they did was rather illustrative in an era when we have to have these horrible public arguments about torture and things like that. A very young man, a major within the national police in Peru, set about establishing a small intelligence unit that did good old-fashioned persistent police work. They were laughably underfunded, they didn’t have enough automobiles, they never had enough personnel, and moreover, a famous man now because he’s been in jail named Montesinos, who was one of the supervisors, persistently was a problem. He pestered him left and right about what they were doing, tried to defund them.
Nevertheless, Major Jimenez continued working with very few people and gradually began tracking down key people within Sendero Luminoso. They figured out a lot of things about the man personally, including what disease he had in his skin and what he liked to drink. And as they gradually found a few document caches here and there, they got closer and closer to the leadership and suddenly in September of ’92, this tiny little police unit within another unit within a larger security forces of Peru managed to effect the capture of Guzmán, who is still in jail today. It was a remarkable effect because it let all of the air out of the entire insurgency. There were a few subordinate leaders who tried to carry on. They didn’t do well. In effect they were beaten by the decapitation of their group; good policing, good intelligence.
The third thing I would talk about and this is one in this town, Washington, we talk all the time about having a good grand strategy, you know, something larger than the martial, something in which all of the parts have a place, a way to harness all elements of national power. We’ve all learned this from our newspapers and our graduate schools and our staff colleges. But in fact of course it is very hard to do. Most of the strategies we develop do not get implemented or they are kind of one-sided. All of the Europeans for example think that our view of counterterrorism is entirely military, which is dead wrong, but that is what they think.
Well, there are cases in which a grand strategy was developed and done really well. One of the oldest cases – and Richard Bach Jensen has done some nice writing on this – is the anarchists. The anarchists you remember well because for thirty or forty years they bedeviled the West, killing prime ministers and presidents and people with crowns on their heads, and it seemed so hard to catch them.
They were a little bit like the Sunni Islamists we think about today because they were internationally-minded; that is it didn’t matter which country they came from, they were often highly literate and educated. They worked in print shops or bookstores or they worked for governments or they ran little publishing efforts. They were good speakers, orators, propagandists. They could move rather quickly too, so when police would harass them in London, they would turn up in Bern, Switzerland, and live there for a while. It was very difficult to figure out how you could ever identify something as fuzzy as an anarchist and find an anarchist organization. And yet they carried around these things called infernal machines, which were the technology of the early dynamite era; Nobel’s product. So it was very difficult.
What was done? Not much for a long time. For example, in this country we had no legal mechanisms for tracking or arresting this kind of person, and in fact many democracies had inadequate legal bases. So they had to pass laws that would allow for the arrest of such a person who was advocating violent revolution on the basis of anarchism. They had to learn to begin coordinating, and the Americans were not the best at this, but the Russians were good at it, the Germans were good at it, some of the other Europeans. They would try to stage international conferences to discuss the problem and deal with it.
At home, the national government began to begin to do a kind of thinking about what the Secret Service or later the FBI could develop in terms of databases and such on these kinds of people. And then they began policing them with seriousness, so if anybody went and gave a hotblooded speech about how we should overturn the government with violence, he might do it once but after that there might be a couple policemen watching his next performance, and if he moved from, say, Patterson, New Jersey to New York, there might be somebody following him or alerting the New Yorkers.
And gradually, many countries, not so much Italy, but many other countries like the U.S. began to get a handle on these guys, and they began to use the power of visas and expulsion and deportation, which they did in the so-called Palmer Raids that all of us learned about in school. We were all told that was a very bad thing; the Palmer Raids. On the other hand, they expelled a lot of violent anarchists who were blowing up things and shooting people on behalf of a notion of a government-free world.
So having done a series of those things I’ve just sketched, they finally got at them and the problem gradually disappeared. In Russia, they did not have so much a grand strategy, they had a strategy for the use of force. And the Bolsheviks had come into power, and all rivals to Bolshevism were now to be dealt with in a severe way. Winston Churchill had a great passage on this in his World Crisis book, done in the post-World War I period. He’s describing then how the Bolsheviks dealt with anarchism.
Churchill says about the period after 1917, ‘Social revolutionaries, Mensheviks, many smaller groups of Socialists; all, especially the most extreme, those nearest in opinion to the Bolsheviks, were marked for destruction. The doctrinal left flank had been turned and every gradation of political opinion known to man crumpled up almost simultaneously. One sect alone made a momentary stand. The anarchists, strong in the traditions of Bakunin, conceived themselves unapproachable in extremism. If the Bolsheviks would turn the world upside down, they would turn it inside out; if the Bolsheviks abolished right and wrong, they would abolish right and left. They therefore spoke with confidence and held their heads high. But their case had been carefully studied in advance by the new authorities. No time was wasted in argument. Both in Petrograd and in Moscow they were bombed in their headquarters and hunted down and shot with the utmost expedition.” Thus they perished in Russia. In most other countries they went to jail or gradually aged out.
I had a long prepared section on the ETA Basques, which I’ll go to if I’m asked in discussion. I wrote about this in Orbis in the fall of 2012. I’d noticed a sharp decline in Basque terrorism, which I’ve studied a lot and was fascinated. What I argue in that piece is – and this is so relevant now as the Spanish authorities consider the Catalonian issue and what is appropriate by way of autonomy or even independence. They worked against the Basque problem for over half a century, and they finally got it. It took a long time as it does in democracies, but they did it.
The three major things I found were first of all dealing with the French retreat because all of these guys could go across into France, and in fact, there are Basque lands in France too as you would know. They could operate in Spain and then escape. Gradually, for lots of reasons they got the French to finally begin working with them and they were able, therefore, to start arresting Basques when they were in Spain. In one year they arrested some one hundred.
Secondly, they did systematic and thorough policing. So they have the famous Guardia Civil, they have others in urban areas, Special Operations groups, and they were persistent and aggressive. They did not always follow the law. From about ’83-’87, there was actually a pro-state terror group operating with government officials. It was a frightening thing for any democracy. It was called the anti-terrorist liberation groups or GAL. It was a bad idea and it wrecked the prestige of the socialist government of the time, but the other policing they did well. They became more sophisticated and clever. They showed a lot of willpower and gradually, some seven to eight hundred Basques were put in jail for this.
The third thing they did was grant semi-autonomy. That is something I’m sure that governments like France and Spain think about, the Catalonians may be thinking about. They gave the Basques far more control over their own affairs in terms of language and economic matters, domestic affairs. Obviously, there was no Basque foreign policy, but they gave them a piece of homeland, which they could call their own and be proud of and govern in a semi-autonomous fashion, and it was highly successful. So it is a study I often think of because it was a long-term, deliberative, patient kind of thing.
And what did it do in an era that we think so much terrorism may be has to have an unpleasant conclusion or no conclusion? They manage to wrap it up by separating Basque terrorism from Basque nationalism. The message from Spain for years and years at a time was it is quite proper to be proud of to be a Basque, quite proper to want to teach and speak the language. Of course, you should be doing that again and now it is allowed. It is quite proper to have a Basque political party, although if they went too far towards ETA, they would be banned and they were, but you cannot do the sword and the pistol. No more car bombs, for which ETA was famous. And they gradually separated then Basque militancy from legitimate Basque nationalism, which could flourish within any democracy.
Transition to pacific politics
The fourth area is a transition to pacific politics suggested maybe by the Basque case. Now, some groups would just never do this; maybe the Bolsheviks, maybe ISIS. Some try in democratic politics and fail and turn the other way; Aum Shinrikyo in Japan. Sometimes they try to make a transition and it fails them. In Colombia right now, FARC is trying very hard to transition from a militant group into one that votes and runs as a political party, but they are facing some assassinations and some real violence as they come public and put down their weapons. It is a dangerous time, and in fact, they know that M-19, April 19th, an earlier group in the same country laid down its arms after it had been largely defeated by force, and many, many of those people were assassinated. So the transition into pacific politics is very difficult. Of the scholarship that I have seen, people are too often emphasizing this on the basis of things like the IRA case. There are cases like that, but there are not as many I think as we would like.
One of the very good ones is in Nepal. It is still unfinished business, but it is remarkable. People with a dedicated view of protracted warfare on a maoist model, willing to overturn a society completely. They fought in the fields for about ten years. They made a lot of progress as a military force. They developed militias, they developed sophisticated guerrillas, they were on their way into the later phases of maoist work where you had more and more regular army. And by doing so, they forced their way into government. There is now a parliamentary process in which the maoists are incorporated. And indeed, there have been about five to six major figures, that is prime ministers, presidents, who were maoists. A woman in charge now I think is a maoist. Another man named Comrade Prachanda has been prime minister twice since the end of that rebellion. So they figured out how to fold into the democratic process in Nepal.
Now Tom Marks at National Defense University still publishes, warning us that there is a lot of violence in the countryside, which people just do not want to talk about. There may be some parts of the rebellion that are still going on, but by in large, the people at the top of the maoist hierarchy have in fact, allowed themselves to be domesticated enough to rule at least with the other parties and out of a parliament.
I will move on to the last of the five, and then I have a word or two about ISIS. The last one is a kind of reminder of why I think we are interested in this because it is not just about maybe understanding some obscure people like Baader-Meinhof or some place in Peru that might be interesting to a professor. A lot of this has to do with whether the good guys are winning or losing. It is pretty much as simple as that. The fact is the number five category is that terrorists sometimes win, and I think we have a tendency to forget that. So I talk about the Bolsheviks who are a great case because you know you may have had the sort of graduate school professor – I did once where I was instructed that whatever my ideas about Lenin might be, in fact, the Bolsheviks repeatedly published against terrorism and called it infantile, left-wing-ism and things like that.
And in fact, reading Trotsky and Lenin gives us a lesson in this because there was a kind of double deal involved always. They were definitely against the kind of terrorism that they did not control like that by the social revolutionaries. They were very much for the terrorism they could control, the parts of it that Bolsheviks could control. Outside their control, it was a problem for them in management. With them, it was something they could do and did quite well. They just wanted it done at the time and the places of their choosing. There’s writing by Lenin, for example in a letter to comrades in St. Petersburg in ’05, that make that clear. So the Bolsheviks had a conception of it, which they used to break down Russian society until such time as their effective coup d’état could be made, so they had a complicated approach to their insurgency, of which terror was part.
The Algerian FLN was one of the great stories, you know, an eight-year war waged by people who had very little. Even the good arms they often had from external forces – East Bloc, Yugoslavia, their Arab partners – were often un-deployable because they could not get them into the country or did not get the training grounds to use them, but nonetheless they won, and they shaped the post-war world. When the Algerians won in ’62, people like Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat took an extremely close look. In fact, both of those people came to Algeria to personally inspect what had happened.
A third example would be the Khmer Rouge, which started in ’61. A maoist insurgency, it received lots of help from China. They gradually actually took over the country in ’75, and for three or four years they had quite a run of it with the genocide of which we all know. They were run out of power by the Vietnamese Army, but they won and they were in power to the end of the 1970s.
The PLO. I found in my searches individuals in the East Bloc as early as ’56. In ’64 you get the foundation of the PLO proper. You have systematic training of Fatah and other guerrilla groups by very good governments and people skilled at that kind of thing, and you have effectively – while there has been a division in the Palestinian movement – you have the heirs of Yasser Arafat, acquiring something called the Palestine Authority, which is not only there, but which has received much American aid, quite an interesting thing. That was a long, long effort by Palestinians, who profoundly believed in nationalism, and who were very much ready to use terrorism as one of the many means towards that end.
Limited strategic gains
The last way that I think the winners category should be considered is kind of parties who make limited strategic gains. That is perhaps they do not grasp all power, but perhaps they cut out enough of a country or a government such that they are demonstrably powerful like Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is so strong that it has effectively compromised the sovereignty of that country, in my own view, or like Hamas, which does govern Gaza in its limited way, or like the Taliban. They not only won in Afghanistan until they got about 90% of that country until the Coalition drove them out in ’01, we are now seeing Taliban the second time around, and we are in the awkward position of making some kind of peace deal with this long-run, long-time guerrilla organization that has been very, very potent.
So why do we care about all this?
I hope to get closer and closer as we think about it to secrets to defeating terrorist groups, and to understanding how they win. What does it all mean about ISIS? Well, the whole town is trying to figure that out, aren’t they? So everybody in all the journals and at all the think tanks are working away at trying to assess what it really means to have lost al-Baghdadi. It is an interesting case and I am a bit at variance with many of my colleagues in the analytical community.
So you have this group which is kind of a son-of-Al Qaeda, but a prodigal son. They divide on a couple of grounds. One is that the Al Qaeda people were always restrained about the damage they wanted to do to the Shia. They felt that the community of Islam while large and fortunately getting more militant, could not be divided. That would be a damaging thing, and so while they despised the Shia, most of them, they did not want to openly say so or attack them. ISIS as you know from their publications routinely, ferociously criticizes all Shia and attacks them too.
There are some considerable personality differences. Then there is just kind of a policy difference that leaps out. Al Qaeda never established anything like a caliphate. They looked towards establishing one one day, but they did not say they were going to do it, and bin Laden was in certain ways a kind of modest man and he never said he was the Caliph. When al Baghdadi announced that he was and that he had founded a state in ’14, this kind of transformed the whole scene with terrorism. They lost the advantages of terrorism and guerrillas in the sense that they now had a territory to defend. They now became responsible for actually governing and administering things. And yet, as we know, they were fantastically successful. They really had a remarkable, large territory, which they ruled in the end.
Well, what does it mean when you take the leader out?
I think there are probably two centers of gravity with ISIS. One is the ideology, which is not going away and it is that which so many analysts are now thinking about because they know the ideology will continue to animate different attacks from small units, individuals acting on their own, lone-wolves, regional powerhouses. They will try again to develop their strength in the Philippines. They have strength in many places in Africa.
But what I think is being missed is the significance to me of the particulars of the declaration of the caliphate. By declaring himself to be in the line of the Prophet, from the correct family, by having a doctorate in theology that he could point to, by having around him a lot of good officers out of the Iraqi armed forces, he was able to say that he had founded a state and was ready to lead a state, and had all the legitimacy and natural authorities to lead a new state. Now, not everybody accepted. You did not see Al Qaeda’s families all moving to emigrate and move there as he encouraged them, but a lot of other people did.
So my suggestion is that the most important thing about the group even larger than its ideology was in fact the leader who created the organization and who created the state and who declared that he was in a sense, in essence, the state, that he had to be looked to for political and religious reasons, that he controlled for example all the judges, he controlled the tax collectors, he controlled the armies.
And so I think now there’s a kind of reservation in Washington. No one wants to say mission accomplished because it isn’t, but I think we are missing something that is very central and that is every group, the many I have talked about tonight, is they all have unique characteristics, and this one was to be the first in modern times a caliphate of the twenty-first century. It was an extraordinary and original idea in many respects, and it succeeded for a long time. And so I believe that the eradication of the land he held and the man himself are profoundly important. There will be more ISIS attacks of course, but in larger terms, I think that is extremely important.
I look forward to your arguments or questions or discussion points.