On Monday, March 21, the Dean of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, as part of the Dean’s Colloquium, presented a lecture and discussion entitled ‘When Terrorism Works: ISIS and U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East’ featuring Assistant Professor of Political Science Peter Krause in O’Neill Library at 4:30 p.m.
A specialist in the politics of the Middle East, political violence, international security, and national movements, Peter Krause has conducted extensive fieldwork throughout the Middle East. Krause began the lecture with an overview of ISIS and its objectives.
“ISIS and its ever-expanding record of extreme violence may be growing, but a number of academics have suggested that terrorist attacks generally fail to achieve their strategic goals,” Krause asserted. “We shouldn’t let these claims mislead us into thinking that terrorism is an ineffective tactic with unattainable goals. By definition, terrorism is a political act, and yet most assessments of its impact don’t recognize agents of terror as key political players.”
Krause next identified the utility in studying the organizational effectiveness of terrorist organizations, and explained the wanton disregard for morality that terrorist organizations possess as formative of a strategic initiative to retain totalitarian power.
“Analyzing terrorist organizations as political entities is distinct from giving them legitimacy, and is necessary to understanding their motivations. Politicians often give speeches about what they’d like to do concerning taxes and health care, but scholars assume that politicians care first and foremost about maintaining office,” Krause said. “If we only analyze the achievement of publicly proclaimed objectives, we’d be missing what organizations who use terrorism crave the most: power.”
Krause subsequently proceeded to assess the geopolitical climate of Baghdad as a function of Sunni and Shia tensions in the city. “In 2003, Baghdad was an ethnically diverse city marked by mixed neighborhoods of Sunnis and Shias. However, sectarian groups incited a spiral of terrorist attacks that crescendoed after the bombing of the Shia Al-Askari shine in 2006,” he stated. Krause then asserted that the sporadic incidences of terrorism led to coerced population transfers that turned Baghdad into a battleground of homogeneous Sunni and Shia pockets by 2007.
Today, Krause asserted, Baghdad is “largely a Shia city,” in no small part due to the terrorist attacks of a number of Shia militias, some of whom elected to fight as “de facto U.S. ‘allies’” against ISIS. The Shia campaign successfully entrenched its militias as major political players whilst effectively redrawing Iraq’s demographic and political map.
“ISIS wants to reshape the Middle East and establish a Jihadi-Salafi ‘caliphate,’” Krause explained. In order to successfully establish and administer the caliphate, ISIS is faced with reshaping the demographics of the region, spreading certain ideas whilst weakening others, and becoming a strong enough organization to conquer and control large swaths of territory, prospects that the employment of terrorism has made less daunting, in Krause’s view.
“First, ISIS has exported the Baghdad blueprint, instigating campaigns of ethnic-cleansing against Christians, Yezidis, Kurds, and other ethnic and religious populations in Syria and Iraq,” Krause began. “By June 2014, ISIS had killed and abducted thousands and caused well over 2 million people to flee their homes in Iraq alone.”
This terrorist violence is ISIS’s form of “demographic engineering,” according to Krause, which allows it to create more homogenous territories of supporters (or at least intimidated non-enemies) that are less likely to challenge its authority and warped ideology.
Consequentially, ISIS’s employment of extreme violence has allowed it to successfully outbid Al-Qaeda and attract more recruits, so that the former affiliate is now the center of the global jihadist movement. “Research has shown that territorial control is the most important factor in causing a state to negotiate with a non-state actor, regardless of its ideology,” Krause mentioned.
All in all, Krause explicated, ISIS’s attempts to “kill free speech and less extreme interpretations of Islam” will lose in a war of ideas resultant to the wide-scale rejection of content by those inside and outside of the Middle East.
“The United States is now faced with the issue of containment versus the utilization of overwhelming military force to cause and submission and surrender of radical groups, and both options have tremendous ramifications of their own,” Krause commented. “Claims like ‘terrorism works’ or ‘terrorism does not work’ may make headlines, but they shroud a far more nuanced reality. Scholars, policymakers, and the public need to take this nuance seriously if terrorism is to prevented in the future.”
Krause is currently completing his book manuscript entitled Power, Violence, and Victory: Why National Movements Compete, Fight, and Win and is co-editing a volume entitled The Power to Hurt: Coercion in Theory and Practice. Krause has published articles on the causes and efficacy of political violence, U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war, and the war of ideas in the Middle East.