ISIS Not a Passing Thunderstorm

Some folks seem to think that the threat posed by the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) is being blown way out of proportion. In other words, this violent Islamist extremist group isn’t really that big of a deal.

If that were only the case.

On the contrary, the magnitude of the threat from the Islamic State is increasingly clear. As events unfold, it turns out to be worse than was originally thought — even for many of us who’ve been warning about them for a while.

The Islamic State isn’t just some passing thunderstorm.

Indeed, some people are predicting that the fight with the Islamic State could be a generational one. While that may edge on the side of being overly pessimistic, it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

For instance, we’ve been battling violent Islamist extremism since at least 2001 — now 13 years.

There are also other signs this threat isn’t being hyped. For instance, President Obama, who’s worked hard to downplay the terror threat during his term, wouldn’t be at “war” with the Islamic State if he could help it.

Nor would he be back in Iraq — not to mention Syria. In his recently published “kiss-n-tell” memoir, former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta describes how the White House wanted out of Iraq big time.

Moreover, after some 350 reported bombing runs (mostly in Iraq), the (mostly U.S.) air campaign seems pretty lackluster. While not the fault of our plucky pilots and whiz-bang war machines, air power has slowed the Islamic State’s advances, but it hasn’t rolled them back.

Rather than white flags of surrender, we’re still seeing too many black flags of the Islamic State.

Indeed, the fall of the strategic Syrian city of Kobani along the Turkish border to the Islamic State seems imminent. This is a cunning, capable terrorist “army” we’re up against.

Unfortunately, our raring-to-go offense is hamstrung by a cautious game plan. We’re fielding a limited air attack game and an almost nonexistent ground game — only made worse by a short (e.g., Turkey) and weak (e.g., Iraq) bench.

What about the homeland?

The Islamic State threat here is perhaps more remote, but we know they intend to do us harm — just listen to what they say. They’re also developing the capability (via foreign recruits) to put the hurt on the homeland.

The reported arrest of an American teenager in Chicago en route to Syria this week to join the Islamic State is a stark reminder of the potential threat. It’s only a matter of time before a terror plot against us is put into motion.

We certainly don’t want to fear-monger about the Islamic State, but considering how the Obama administration seemingly underestimated it, a little alarmism at the events of late shouldn’t be a surprise.

More importantly, the emerging facts on the ground in Syria and Iraq demonstrate that our current response to the threat needs an adjustment because — if anything — the Islamic State threat seems to be more misplayed than exaggerated.

 - Dr. Peter Brookes is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Originally appeared in The Boston Herald