I predict that the ISIS state in Syria and Iraq will collapse as fast as it arose. Indeed, I will go out on a limb and say I expect it to be gone by the end of 2016.
That the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) will be gone is predictable — all totalitarian states eventually disappear because of three main developments: Cadres become disillusioned, subject populations suffer and external enemies increase in number. All these problems afflicted, for example, the fascist states of World War II as well as the Soviet bloc.
ISIS will collapse quickly because it suffers from an extreme form of these problems.
▪ Disillusioned cadres: The heaven on earth that ISIS promises its recruits turn out to be closer to hell, prompting many of them to flee and many more to want to. Growing numbers of ISIS fighters lack loyalty to the group, toiling only for the money or out of fear.
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The reasons can be as mundane as bad food and as elevated as bad theology, but grievous disappointment is the common theme coming from the ranks of ISIS members. Radical ideologues evolve into penitents; drug-addled fighters end up as near-vegetables.
▪ Suffering subject population: ISIS oppresses the unfortunate millions who live under its rule in a territory about as large as Great Britain. If a few benefit from the system, the great majority suffer from the petty interference, impoverishment, arbitrary rules, brutality and sadism that characterize ISIS dominion. These subject people will rebel whenever the opportunity arises.
▪ Foreign enemies: ISIS seems to take pride in making as many enemies as possible, which may burnish its credentials for purity but leaves it exceedingly vulnerable. It gratuitously alienated Jordanians by burning alive an air force pilot; it enraged Turks by setting off bombs in major cities; its acts of violence in Paris, Brussels and beyond have made it enemy No. 1 in much of the West (including the Islamists who live there); it alienates everyone with the destruction of antiquities, the use of poison gas and videotaped beheadings. Its only alliances are with like-minded groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria.
As a result, ISIS has become uniquely reviled. For example, in an unprecedented meeting, the U.N. Security Council in December voted unanimously to impose far-reaching economic sanctions on ISIS. On another level, a recent large-scale survey found half of 18- to 24-year-old Arabic speakers saying that ISIS is the “biggest obstacle facing the Middle East,” more so than unemployment, Israel or Iran.
In all, ISIS is losing personnel, economic power and territory. Leaders are escaping to the friendlier confines of Libya. Renegades are revealing files with contact information of ISIS members. Bombings by many air forces combined with Iraqi government-backed efforts are taking their toll on ISIS, especially on its finances. In 2015, ISIS lost Baiji, Kobani, Sinjar and Tikrit, amounting to 20 percent of its territory in Syria and 40 percent in Iraq. These losses continue into 2016, with Ramadi and Palmyra already spun out of its control.
Abdel-Moneim Said, an Egyptian analyst, compares ISIS now to the last, desperate and doomed year of the Nazi Reich.
But if the ISIS state in Syria and Iraq is doomed, ISIS will live on in other ways. First is the successor state in Libya and perhaps also others in Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond. Second is the very idea of the caliphate, a 1,400-year-old concept of Muslim supremacy full of malign implications for modern life.
Let us hasten to bring about and then celebrate the forthcoming demise of the Islamic State centered in Raqqa, Syria, without deluding ourselves that ISIS is entirely finished. To achieve that requires, unfortunately, defeating and marginalizing the entire Islamist movement.
This, too, may happen, but it is many years off.
Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.
© 2016 Daniel Pipes