FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: But first here’s my take. Once again an ISIS murder leads to fears that it is winning and calls to do more. FOX News’ Bret Baier captured the mood like this.
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BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Horrific and barbaric, as well as calculating and skilled at high-tech propaganda.
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ZAKARIA: The general feeling is that ISIS is gaining ground with its diabolical methods. But is it really? The video of the pilot’s killing was slickly produced, but it might have been a fancy cover to mask an operation that had gone awry. Remember, it began as a moneymaking scheme to get a ransom for Japanese hostages, then turned into a hostage swap for a forgotten failed suicide bomber, and finally ended with the emulation of the Jordanian pilot.
Certainly ISIS could not have imagined the response its actions have triggered in the Middle East. With Jordanians united against it, clerics across the region loudly and unequivocally condemning the emulation and with Japan ready to provide more aid and support against it. Meanwhile news on the battlefield has not been good for ISIS. Brookings Institution scholar Kenneth Pollock describes this stunning reversal it has faced in Iraq.
“The Washington Post” has reported on the growing discontent within its territories. All this might help explain the brutality of the latest murder video. The group well understands that the primary purpose of terrorism is to induce fear and overreaction. When modern Middle Eastern terrorism first appeared on the scene in the 1960s and ’70s, the historian David Fromkin wrote an essay in “Foreign Affairs” that is perhaps the best guide to understanding this phenomenon.
Fromkin provided two examples of terror tactics that worked and have important lessons. He recounted a meeting in 1945 with the leader of the Irgun, a group of about 1,500 Jewish militants in Palestine, which was then part of the British empire. The Irgun knew that they could not defeat the mighty British Army so they decided to blow up buildings and create the appearance of chaos.
This, the Irgun leader told Fromkin, would lead the British to overreact by garrisoning the country, join forces from across the empire, and that would strain British coffers and eventually London would have to leave Palestine. Fromkin noted that the Irguns, seeing that it was too small to defeat Great Britain, decided as an alternative approach that Britain was big enough to defeat itself.
ISIS’ strategy is surely some version of this. The targeting of America and its allies. The videos, the barbarism are all designed to draw Washington into a ground battle in Syria, in the hope that this complicated, bloody and protracted war would sap the super power’s strength.
Fromkin offered another example, the National Liberation Front, the group of nationalists trying to break Algeria free from France in the 1950s and ’60s. The Paris government argued that Algeria was not a colony but part of France, with all of its citizens treated as French men and women. So the FLN began a campaign of terror in order to provoke an overreaction from the French government, getting them to regard all Muslim and Algerians as suspects.
Quote, “The French thought that when the FLN planted a bomb in a public bus, it was in order to blow up the bus,” Fromkin noted. But the FLN’s true aim was to lure authorities into reacting by arresting all the non-Europeans in the area as suspects.
The many recent acts of terror committed in Europe can’t be said to have a strategy but they could make European governments and people treat all Muslims in Europe as suspicious and dangerous, and then the terrorists will have achieved an important goal.
Now these things do not have to happen. Fromkin concluded his essay by noting that, though terrorism cannot always be prevented, it can always be defeated.
You can always refuse to do what they want you to do.