isis tunisia

When the Obama regime engineered the overthrow of the governments of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt during the much ballyhooed “Arab Spring” the administration did not have a strategic or geopolitical goal in mind, rather it was carried out strictly in the service of domestic politics. Obama wanted to prove that he was the “anti-Bush.” He wanted to demonstrate the efficacy of “smart power.” And he wanted to be able to wage war on the cheap– war via drones and air strikes and proxy armies — that could overthrow regimes he didn’t like and replace them with friendly (or non-malign) regimes without the monetary or political cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So far it has worked really well. Libya has transformed from a totalitarian hell-hole to an Islamic terrorist hell-hole. Egypt went from a pliable military dictatorship to an Islamic dictatorship and back to an military dictatorship, albeit one that doesn’t trust us and owes us nothing. Syria’s Assad still stands but the effort to take him down have destabilized the entire region and created a humanitarian crisis of truly epic proportions. This brings us back to the little country that started it all: Tunisia:

Nearly four years after the Arab Spring revolt, Tunisia remains its lone success as chaos engulfs much of the region. But that is not its only distinction: Tunisia has sent more foreign fighters than any other country to Iraq and Syria to join the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State.

Woo hoo! Win!

There are some interesting takeaways in this story. The Islamist movement seems to be taking on more of an eschatological bent, looking at the ongoing struggle through the lens of end times rather than necessarily striving towards an actual physical regime. The establishment of a Caliphate is viewed in the way some Christian fundamentalists view Israel. ISIS seems to be actively marketing the availability of family life to young men who see this as being out of their reach.

Many insisted that friends who had joined the Islamic State had sent back reports over the Internet of their homes, salaries and even wives. “They live better than us!” said Walid, 24.

Wissam, 22, said a friend who left four months ago had told him that he was “leading a truly nice, comfortable life” under the Islamic State.

“I said: ‘Are there some pretty girls? Maybe I will go there and settle down,’ ” he recalled.

When this is placed in the context of reports of young women heading for ISIS territory (my post here plus this from Colorado), a more coherent ISIS strategy seems to appear.

There are three main points to consider before we try this again:

1. If a regime does not present a threat to the US or to its neighbors, to a great extent you are better off working within that regime to bring about change than overthrowing it. Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt were all notably harmless except to internal dissidents.

2. If you overthrow a totalitarian regime, the only force that will be available to take over is a more totalitarian faction. This is because to organize politically under a totalitarian regime you have to be totalitarian yourself. It is no accident that the only political opposition left to Hitler was communist. It is no surprise that Islamist of various stripes of fascination with terrorism took over Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.

3. If you don’t have a viable successor regime waiting in the wings or you don’t want a multi-year occupation effort you might want to leave well enough alone.