Nearly $50 million a month: According to the AP, that’s what the Islamic State (ISIS) earns in monthly oil revenues. Yet while some analysts say ISIS’s oil earnings are lower, the group raises revenue from other sources as well. Although the United States coalition has waged war on ISIS for more than a year now, the group’s financial stability proves that it remains strong.
Still, as happened last December — before ISIS captured Ramadi, and before the Islamic State metastasized across the planet — an increasing chorus of voices are claiming that the Islamic State has lost its strategic initiative. This is untrue.
Consider two of these statistics again. Namely, that (at least in Deir ez-Zor) 44.7 percent of ISIS’s revenue comes from confiscations, and 43.6 percent of ISIS’s money pays for fighter salaries. They basically equal each other. This correlation teaches us something important: The Islamic State’s bureaucracy is both a product and a source of its military capability. The bureaucracy would not exist if ISIS had not captured so much territory. In turn, its territorial gains provide an immense revenue stream, thus allowing the group to continue its jihad.
Things are unlikely to change soon. Recapturing major cities such as Ramadi and Mosul continues to be a daunting, complex task for the Iraqi government. Moreover, the success on the ground of the Islamic State only reinforces ISIS’s recruitment propaganda about death and domination for the sake of an “ordained” cause. However perverse, this propaganda has powerful appeal with some young Muslims angered by economic stagnation under the rot of political Islam.
However we measure it, the Islamic State retains a great deal of power. And while we need a new strategy to confront the state (here’s my proposal
), we must also accept that ISIS now pursues transnational ambitions — including against the United States. As a consequence, any pretension that the ISIS threat has declined is a grave error. Indeed, if Russia and Iran continue to push Syria toward a battle between Assad and ISIS, ISIS will only grow stronger.
After all, between ISIS and Assad, many Syrian Sunnis will choose ISIS.
Tom Rogan is a writer, a panelist on The McLaughlin Group, and a fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter at TomRtweets. His homepage is tomroganthinks.com.