National Security & Defense

Why ISIS Will Attack America

There is no good in you if they are secure and happy while you have a pulsing vein. Erupt volcanoes of jihad everywhere. Light the earth with fire upon all the [apostate rulers], their soldiers and supporters.

— ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, November 2014

Those words weren’t idle. The Islamic State (ISIS) is still advancing, across continents and cultures. It’s attacking Shia Muslims in Yemen, gunning down Western tourists in Tunisia, beheading Christians in Libya, and murdering or enslaving all who do not yield in Iraq and Syria. Its black banner seen as undaunted by the international coalition against it, new recruits still flock to its service. The Islamic State’s rise is, in other words, not over, and it is likely to end up involving an attack on America.

Three reasons why such an attempt is inevitable:

ISIS’s Strategy Practically Demands It

Imbued with existential hatred against the United States, the group doesn’t just oppose American power, it opposes America’s identity. Where the United States is a secular democracy that binds law to individual freedom, the Islamic State is a totalitarian empire determined to sweep freedom from the earth. As an ideological and physical necessity, ISIS must ultimately conquer America. Incidentally, this kind of total-war strategy explains why counterterrorism experts are rightly concerned about nuclear proliferation.

The Islamic State’s strategy is also energized by its desire to replace al-Qaeda as Salafi jihadism’s global figurehead. While al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS had a short flirtation last year, ISIS has now signaled its intent to usurp al-Qaeda’s power in its home territory. Attacks by ISIS last week against Shia mosques in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a were, at least in part, designed to suck recruits, financial donors, and prestige away from AQAP. But to truly displace al-Qaeda, ISIS knows it must furnish a new 9/11.

#related#Its capabilities are growing

Today, ISIS has thousands of European citizens in its ranks. Educated at the online University of Edward Snowden, ISIS operations officers have cut back intelligence services’ ability to monitor and disrupt their communications. With EU intelligence services stretched beyond breaking point, ISIS has the means and confidence to attempt attacks against the West. EU passports are powerful weapons: ISIS could attack — as al-Qaeda has repeatedly — U.S. targets around the world.

An Attack on the U.S. Is Priceless Propaganda

For transnational Salafi jihadists like al-Qaeda and ISIS, a successful blow against the U.S. allows them to claim the mantle of a global force and strengthens the narrative that they’re on a holy mission. Holiness is especially important: ISIS knows that to recruit new fanatics and deter its enemies, it must offer an abiding narrative of strength and divine purpose. With the group’s leaders styling themselves as Mohammed’s heirs, Allah’s chosen warriors on earth, attacking the infidel United States would reinforce ISIS’s narrative.

Of course, attacking America wouldn’t actually serve the Islamic State’s long-term objectives. Quite the opposite: Any atrocity would fuel a popular American resolve to crush the group with expediency. (Make no mistake, it would be crushed.) The problem, however, is that, until then, America is in the bull’s eye.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

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