The Islamic Vortex (Note-3a)

This blog has doubtless generated rafts of unreliable predictions. The one that has been nagging, however — ever since Scott Alexander called me out on it in the comment thread there — was advanced in the most recent sub-episode of this series. Quote: “Baghdad will almost certainly have fallen by the end of the year, or early next.” Even if the time horizon for this event is stretched out to the end of March 2015, I have very low confidence in it being realized. The analysis upon which it was based was crucially flawed. I’m getting my crow-eating in early (and even if — by some improbably twist of fortune — ISIS is in control of Baghdad by late March next year, it won’t be any kind of vindication for the narrative I was previously spinning.)

Where did I go wrong (in my own eyes)? Fundamentally, by hugely over-estimating the intelligence of ISIS. The collapse of this inflated opinion is captured by a single word: Kurds.

Just a few months ago, ISIS enjoyed a strategic situation of extraordinary potential. It represented the most militant — and thus authentic — strain of Arab Sunni Jihad, ensuring exceptional morale, flows of volunteers from across the Sunni Muslim world, and funding from the gulf oil-states, based upon impregnable legitimacy. It was able to recruit freely from the only constituency within Iraq with any military competence — the embittered remnants of Saddam’s armed forces, recycled through the insurgency against the American occupation, and then profoundly alienated by the sectarian politics of the new Shia regime. It was also able to draw upon a large, fanatically motivated, Syrian Sunni population, brutalized and hardened by the war against the (Alawite, or quasi-Shia) Assad regime in that country. Both enemy states were radically anathematized throughout the Sunni world, deeply demoralized, incompetent, and patently incapable of asserting their authority throughout their respective countries. In consequence, a re-integrated insurgent Sunni Mesopotamia had arisen, with such historical momentum that it served as a concrete source of inspiration for energetic holy war, and a natural base for the eschatalogically-promised reborn Caliphate.

The wider environment was more complicated, but also highly encouraging. The Jihadi legitimacy of ISIS made opposition from the Sunni Arab states to the south (Jordan, Saudi Arabia) unthinkable. That left four major sources of substantial hostile intervention: Israel, the United States, Turkey, and Iran. Taking these in turn:

(1) Israel, by all game-theoretic sanity, was a de facto ally. Perhaps it is. It had no intelligible motive for intervention, and were it to do so the legitimacy of ISIS would be immediately elevated to stratospheric levels. Baghdad or Damascus regimes dependent upon Israeli support would be obviously politically unsustainable. (Israeli war against ISIS puts it in objective collaboration with Iran — which isn’t going to happen.)

(2) The USA was burnt out, directionless, strategically-conflicted to the point of psychosis, and politically-toxic to near-Israeli levels. Relevant at this point only as a Jihadi recruiting tool.

(3) As a NATO member, Turkey completes the troika of Westernized states, whose intervention would naturally tend to reinforce a clash-of-civilizations escalation, to the extreme medium-term advantage of ISIS. While a Sunni state, it is not Arab, and would quickly generate extraordinary ethnic animosity. With Turks having lost the previous Caliphate, there is no imaginable circumstances in which the Sunni Muslim world would entertain the prospect of them leading — or even seriously interfering with — the next one. Turkish intervention might no doubt slow things down, but it could not conceivably stabilize the situation in Mesopotamia. The effect would be to rapidly expand the conflict into Turkey itself, and even into Turkic Central Asia. There is no reason to think Turkish popular opinion would support a strategically pointless, bloody war in the south. (We will get to the critical Kurdish factor in a moment.)

(4) From a strictly military point of view, Iran possesses a mixture of capability and commitment that makes it a uniquely formidable opponent, but here the political calculus is also at its starkest. From the moment it intervenes, the Sunni-Shia sectarian character of the war is consolidated, and generalized, into a truly global, climactic struggle between the two dominant branches of the Muslim faith. From a local (Mesopotamian) uprising, ISIS’s war would be transformed immediately into an apocalyptic religious event, setting the world to the torch. Jihadi recruitment and funding would become a worldwide deluge. For the Iranians, there is no imaginable end-point to this, short of an absolute resolution at the level of eschatology, or revolutionary world-transformation. ISIS has the base-brain juice for that, does Teheran?

… but then we get to the Kurds. Of course ISIS should have courted them, anything else is utter madness. While not Arabs, they’re Sunni. They already hate the Baghdad regime, and long for secession. They’re more than willing to be persuaded to fight Turks, Persians, or (Alawite) Syrians, if the need arises. Played with even a minimum of intelligence, the Kurds would have provided a wedge to break Iraq apart definitively, distract the (Baghdad) regime, strip it of oil revenues, keep the Turks and Iranians nervous, and even provide various kinds of active support as they saw their long-held dreams of an independent Kurdistan arising and beckoning like a tantalizing jinn at the edge of the new Jihadi Caliphate. It’s the ultimate no-brainer.

Instead, ISIS threw everything away fighting the Kurds. It’s an organization of idiots, and a whole bunch of its fighters are now pointlessly dead idiots. No Baghdad-by-early-2015 for you losers. I’m embarrassed to have been drawn out of my dismissive contempt.

December 3, 2014admin 31 Comments »

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31 Responses to this entry

  • vxxc2014 Says:

    Well Bravo for your Honesty.

    May I suggest in all my also new-found public humility [of which way to approach the American Problem] that you reconsider ideology and game theory?

    And they can’t help the Kurds, they hate, H8, HATE each other. Same with the Turks.

    I find no fault with Turkey’s policy by the way and I’ve been saying so under my name. Who would trust Washington?

    This is why ISIS however in it’s 2014 manifestation is very interesting to me: they made social networked swarming war work, and work well …until something went wrong. That something may have been concentrating to take towns such as Kobani.

    Or it may have been a Scaling Problem going from small groups to larger coordinated offensives, and even earlier their logistics, both made the mistake of concentrating so Air Power had a decent ROI in terms of targets.

    English/American Air Power has been something our foes have been wrestling with since Rommel in North Africa. His solution for France – of Positional Warfare …yes Rommel himself – was sound therefore.


    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 3:56 pm Reply | Quote
  • Chris B Says:

    Inbred morons bankrolled by Saudis to stir up trouble with the acquiescence of the US/UK/Israel secret services. They have no real backing beyond that, nor do they have leaders with any strategic intelligence. They are pawns from the start. Same play as with the Ukraine Nazis and militias in the Ukraine. In both case the key is the LNG pipelines to Europe. Of course, you are correct in regards to the forces that are being unleashed.Manipulators can only use what forces are present and in play.


    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 4:34 pm Reply | Quote
  • Aeroguy Says:

    On the topic of geopolitics and predictions, there’s the house of Saud’s decision to up oil extraction. On the surface as reported it’s an economic gambit to maintain market share. From a game theory perspective it’s clearly part of a larger Western strategy to squeeze Russia and Iran. The alternative is that undermining US energy independence efforts (fracking red tribe, green energy blue tribe) is just as important (though cheaper oil benefits the economy as a whole). It depends on if you imagine USG leaning on the Saudis to lean on Russia/Iran or the Saudis leaning on the US (as well as Russia/Iran).

    So for predictions, do the Saudis relent when they have their market share assured with an eye for ending the “price war” asap. Or are they going to find excuses to protract the low prices long enough to do serious damage to Russia/Iran (at the expense of their reserves under orders by the foreign policy establishment). I think prices aren’t going to go back up for at least a few years.


    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 6:06 pm Reply | Quote
  • E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Says:

    So the Kurds manifest the archetype ‘tarbaby’? But thas raciss.


    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 7:23 pm Reply | Quote
  • The Islamic Vortex (Note-3a) | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 8:36 pm Reply | Quote
  • Derfel Says:

    The problem with the Kurds is that their political organizations are secularized and Marxist. They could never be tempted into joining ISIS.

    This is also relevant for Western politics, i think. A victory for communist and feminist Kurds against “mysoginistic” Islamists is a huge propaganda boost for the Western left, who can now finally oppose political Islam without being considered racist. Look how exultant the War Nerd is and how clearly compares himself and his liberal allies in the West with the Kurds, and the Right with the ISIS “bigots”.


    John Reply:

    They not only use female soldiers to defend their towns but send them on offensive operations against assad(with their consent):


    John Reply:


    admin Reply:

    “Joining ISIS” goes way beyond anything imaginable, agreed. A tacit alliance, however, would have been hugely advantageous to both sides.


    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 8:41 pm Reply | Quote
  • Izak Says:

    My biggest problem with this blog is what attracts me to it most: the admin finds the world very, very exciting — far much more than I do. I find myself constantly disagreeing with the official XS predictions, but they sure do put a spring in my step, for whatever irrational reason.


    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 8:47 pm Reply | Quote
  • Orlandu84 Says:

    @ admin, “It’s an organization of idiots.”

    What kind of organization, and what kind of idiot is ISIS? As smart as the people on top may be, they do not have full and total control over their forces – militias are decentralized by nature. ISIS’s leadership might have wanted to ally with the Kurds, but their forces probably never would have. Accordingly, ISIS is fighting as best as it can given its internal limitations.


    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 9:46 pm Reply | Quote
  • Y.Ilan Says:

    ISIS is facing failure because of the general Arab tendency for overly exuberant violence. From personal experience, Arabs can indeed be cunning in warfare; but when their blood gets to their heads, when things become a matter of honor, manliness or prestige, they can completely lose it and stop thinking. Hamas sending commandoes from the sea in broad daylight or ISIS attacking everyone around them, this characteristic can affect decisions from the tactical to the strategic.


    dantealiegri Reply:

    I’d be interested in you expanding your thought on this. I’ve recently been reading on the difference between tactics and strategy. While I have heard this before, in the past I gave it little attention because I was less open to the notion cultural/racial differences. This sounds like a huge strategic deficiency.


    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 9:57 pm Reply | Quote
  • Irving Says:

    This is spot-on. I will only add that at least at the beginning, the number of Kurds fighting for the ISIS was pretty substantial. I will try and dig up the source, but apparently at one point around 20 percent of their fighters were Kurds. Then the ISIS tried to fight the Kurds head-on, which was obviously a disastrously stupid thing for them to do. All of a sudden we had reports coming out of Kurdish ISIS fighters being executed for leaking intelligence to their ethnic brethren, etc.. My suspicion though is that the ISIS decided to fight the Kurds probably because so much of the higher ranking members and militia leaders of the ISIS are ex-Ba’athists, and we already know what they used to do to the Kurds when Saddam was around. These ex-Ba’athists probably were and are quite unlikely to ever consider the Kurds in any other light than as implacable enemies who must be exterminated entirely.


    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 10:13 pm Reply | Quote
  • Rasputin Says:

    This is exemplary. Too often people become dogmatically attached to their opinions / predictions. Setting the record straight, in light of new evidence / further developments on the ground, is invaluable because otherwise readers are left wondering where the author stands after initial predictions are clearly going to be rendered invalided. The Antiversy would approve.

    However – and I was going to post something to this effect in relation to Moldbug’s Bitcoin ‘prediction’ – it seems to me that NRx blogs are also an act of willing (something into being). In order to will something into being, a prediction is an act (of faith) as much as it is a cold, calculated assessment of probability. Possibility, is more important, and can be activated through writing persuasively and communicating one’s thoughts. If any ISIS members are reading this blog perhaps they should put you on a retainer.


    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 10:55 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lord Auch Says:

    Un Occhio, Moshe Dayan, offered sage advice when asked why he was such a successful soldier. His response? “Fight Arabs.”


    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 11:26 pm Reply | Quote
  • Scott Alexander Says:

    I wish I could take credit for having predicted this one, but I was just working off of a principle that Baghdad is big and defensible and full of angry Shiites. ISIS could easily have fallen apart smashing itself against that particular wall.

    But that ISIS never even got to the point of being able to *attempt* an attack on Baghdad leaves me just as surprised as you.

    I sort of feel like there might be a momentum factor here, though. ISIS’ strength is its reputation and its ability to provide jihadis (both actual and potential recruits) with a supply of cheap loot and easy victories. That was simple to do in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, which the Iraq War and the Syrian Civil War had already pulverized, but after they did that, their choices were Baghdad (difficult for reasons above), Assad strongholds in Syria, or taking on serious competent countries like Turkey, Iran, Jordan, etc.

    I wonder if, absent other good ways to expand, their commanders made a disastrous miscalculation and figured Kurdistan would be more doable than the alternatives.


    Zimriel Reply:

    I’d predicted western and central Saudi as the lowest-hanging fruit. Apparently I’d overestimated Baghdadi.


    Contemplationist Reply:

    That may have been true at one point but it’s definitely not so now
    as the Saudis have hired Pakistani Army troops to guard that border.


    Posted on December 3rd, 2014 at 11:53 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alrenous Says:

    Here I’ll repeat the idea that the opinion of someone who made a prediction that happened to be wrong is worth thousands of post-facto opinions.

    I can’t remember if I’m on record. My logic, in its entirety, was, “Journalists think ISIS is scary and competent, therefore it is cute and incompetent.” I dunno. I don’t think beheading is scary. I think competent lethality is scary, and if you have the latter you don’t need to make a big show of the former.

    I wonder if the Chinese army is competent? Unlike the Americans they haven’t been in any wars recently. Of course the Americans would be competent if they weren’t under such heavy parasite burden. I’d take American soldiers into the field against anyone, just not the officers. I wouldn’t want the Russians even as allies without some serious distance. The red army’s zerg rush mentality hasn’t really gone away.


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Scariness is a means, not an ends. When you see folks trying to be scary, you have to wonder about them.


    Alrenous Reply:



    Posted on December 4th, 2014 at 1:07 am Reply | Quote
  • Zimriel Says:

    I’m not entirely convinced that the Kurds “hate the Baghdad regime” – rather, I think that this statement is vague. The Kurds hated Maliki, sure, but Maliki was a jackass.

    The Kurds need Baghdad and points south(east). The Kurdistan is landlocked and that’s the easiest route to the World Ocean. Whatever regime is ruling Baghdad doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, matter much to Erbil. What does and should matter to Erbil is the specific policies that regime is enacting. Saddam’s genocide and Maliki’s blockade were clearly Bad For The Kurds. This new guy in Baghdad seems to be doing better (so far).


    Zimriel Reply:

    I guess what I am saying is that opinions can change, but geography usually can’t.


    Posted on December 4th, 2014 at 2:22 am Reply | Quote
  • spacenookie Says:

    Well, as I have said before, the real story is the collapse of the Iraqi National Army, and the resulting power vacuum that pulled a small militia called ISIS all the way to the gates of Baghdad. Our international elites had 10 years and a trillion dollars to build their ideal multicultural government protected by a modern multicultural army, and the first time somebody knocked on the door, the whole rotten establishment caved in.


    Posted on December 4th, 2014 at 3:03 am Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    I don’t understand why you bother. Middle Eastern peoples are too stupid to fit into any analytic framework that you can come up with. It’s just not your strong suit. ISIS aren’t French philosophers.

    Not that Muslims are my strong suit either, but my less abstract take on the situation is:
    1- Muslims in general are too retarded to be able to build anything lasting these days.
    2- USG seems to be hell-bent in preventing any sort of order emerging in the Middle East. If something seems to work, expect big bombs to fall on them in 2 weeks tops.


    Amon Khan Reply:

    Underestimating Arabs and Islam could be a fatal mistake. I’ve got news for you friend: those dumb Muslims are in the process of conquering key parts of the West, including the capital of its former imperial heartland. True, they’re not going about it like French fag philosophers, but the old-fashioned method of breeding and fighting is no less effective it seems.

    The languid individualist intellectuals celebrated by modern Westerners represent a very late stage of decadence; the Muslims taking over their streets represent the revitalizing barbarians already inside the gates. History suggests that it’s just a matter of time before this war is won.

    The genius of Islam is not found in its philosophy, but in its ability to wage *total civilizational war*, to motivate men to collectively fight, breed and not succumb to the sort of suicidal decadence that is endemic to the white man today. Islam is something like universalized National Socialism, which is an awesome power to contemplate, and the perfect foil for the liberal Jew World Order. The turning point will be when a critical mass of working class whites (see Pierre Vogel) realize they have more in common with their Salafi neighbors than the Eurofag elites who claim to represent them. It’s probably the contest between racialists and Muslims for the hearts and minds of rank and file whites that will determine the fate of the West. Don’t underestimate the latter’s chances!


    dantealiegri Reply:

    While I appreciate your enthusiasm, I don’t think those here are underestimating Arabs and Islam, at least not in the way you are talking about here. We ( I say with caution ) are well aware of the technique of immigration as conquer.

    I would caution that you appear to be making a mistake that is very common – taking a history and drawing a line from it, without assuming that there will be any change in the environment.

    The simple fact is Islam may do some 4th century total civilizational war, but the reason the west is not is that with two world wars in recent memory, where 20th century total civilizational war was done, and the scar on the psyche of the west is large.

    Ask yourself: if the USG was willing to use a nuclear bomb on Japan simply as a show of power, what would a smaller frightened USG do to the near east?


    spandrell Reply:

    Thanks for proving my point.

    Where do these people come from?


    Bob Reply:

    Right, but if that happened, wouldn’t Russia just take over Europe? The Muslims wouldn’t be able to maintain the techno-military infrastructure necessary to defend against an advanced opponent like Russia. The Russians can be brutal and there’d be no Western liberals around at that point to raise a stink about the Russians engaging in mass killing or shipping war prisoners off to Siberia to work them to death.


    Posted on December 4th, 2014 at 6:25 am Reply | Quote
  • strelkov Says:

    “… but then we get to the Kurds. Of course ISIS should have courted them, anything else is utter madness.”

    Hahaha, what?


    Posted on December 4th, 2014 at 3:53 pm Reply | Quote

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