Winter 2016
Number 30

Editor's Note

Ilan Berman

Ever since it broke onto the scene in 2013, and especially following its declaration of a Caliphate in June 2014, the group now known as the Islamic State has taken on the role of global public enemy number one. Its unbridled brutality, its stunning battlefield successes, and its uncompromising, apocalyptic worldview have made the Islamic State the object of both horror and fascination throughout the international community.

Yet comparatively little is still known about the group – at least among the general public.  Just how strong is it? How does it function? Who are its affiliates? And, most importantly, what is being done to stop it? To answer these questions, we have conscripted a world-class panel of experts and scholars.

Our coverage begins with the workings of the Islamic State itself. Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi of the Middle East Forum gives us a unique, behind-the-scenes look at the mechanics of the group’s administration of taxes, education and justice. From there, our coverage turns to the group’s activities in the Middle East, and beyond. The Begin-Sadat Center’s Efraim Inbar explores the nature of the threat posed by the group to Israel. The Atlantic Council’s J. Peter Pham provides an authoritative look at the group that might just be the Islamic State’s most potent franchise: Nigeria’s Boko Haram. Anna Borshchevskaya of the Washington Institute examines the growing inroads being made by the Islamic State within the Russian Federation. And Egyptian scholar Nervana Mahmoud takes a look at the two-pronged threat the group now presents to the government of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in Cairo.

Our attention then turns to the state of American – and global – counterterrorism strategy. Jim Robbins of the American Foreign Policy Council provides a grim scorecard of the Obama administration’s minimalist approach to date. Former State Department official Alberto Fernandez outlines what has been done so far in the “war of ideas” against ISIS – and what more should be. Michael Clark of Cambridge University examines the response being marshaled by Shi’a forces to the Islamic State threat. Renad Mansour of the Carnegie Middle East Center offers up a compelling outline of the crisis and opportunity now confronting the Kurds as a result of the changing political landscape of Iraq and Syria. I follow with a breakdown of Russia’s high-stakes strategy in Syria – an approach deeply rooted in Russian fears of growing Islamic radicalism both at home and abroad. And we conclude with a look at what the Islamic State’s precursor and progenitor, al-Qaeda, is doing to remain relevant, courtesy of Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Nathaniel Barr of Valens Global.

Our “Perspective” interviewee for this issue is the Honorable Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon’s former Comptroller, who offers up some sobering thoughts on Iran, Asia and the fight against ISIS. Our newest “Dispatches” hail from India, Iran and Russia. As always, we conclude with reviews of a trio of important new books: on China’s grand strategy, the history and growing salience of special operations forces in the U.S. military, and the millenarian vision animating the radicals of the Islamic State.

In this edition of The Journal, just as in past ones, our goal was to provide you with a roadmap for the complex strategic challenges now confronting the United States. After perusing these articles, I think you will agree that we have done just that… and more.

Ilan Berman