Pandora Report 7.19.15

An out of town visitor and a newly rescued pet have kept me very busy this week. Luckily, the news was very straightforward—the nuclear deal with Iran and ISIS with their chemical weapons. We’ve even got a few stories you may have missed.

Have a great week!

A Historic Deal to Prevent Iran from Acquiring a Nuclear Weapon

After two years in the making, the P5+1 settled negotiations to reach a comprehensive, long-term nuclear deal with Iran this week. Despite satisfaction with the outcome, many say that the deal will not end Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and will not change Iranian policy towards the USDick Cheney responded that the deal makes use of nuclear weapons use more likely and former Senator Jim Webb said the deal weighs in Iran’s favor. Nevertheless, the Obama administration seems pleased with the deal and will work on its passage.

DipNote—“President Obama said “I am confident that this deal will meet the national security interests of the United States and our allies. So I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal. We do not have to accept an inevitable spiral into conflict. And we certainly shouldn’t seek it.’”

ISIS Has Fired Chemical Mortar Shells, Evidence Indicates

It seems like déjà vu all over again as reports this week said that the Islamic State appears to have manufactured rudimentary chemical weapons and attacked Kurdish positions in Iraq and Syria, evidently multiple times in multiple weeks. Investigators reported that the incidents seemed to involve toxic industrial or agricultural chemicals repurposed as weapons. This could signal “a potential escalation of the group’s capabilities” though, is not without precedent.

The New York Times—“In the clearest recent incident, a 120-millimeter chemical mortar shell struck sandbag fortifications at a Kurdish military position near Mosul Dam on June 21 or 22, the investigators said, and caused several Kurdish fighters near where it landed to become ill.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 Image Credit: U.S. Department of State

New from the Biodefense Faculty

On this #FacultyFriday, we’ve got a recent publication from Dr. Trevor Thrall and Pandora Report staff writer Erik Goepner on the fall of Ramadi. They say,

Though a city of moderate strategic value considering its proximity to Fallujah and Baghdad, Ramadi does not spell victory for ISIS anymore than Iraq’s retaking of Tikrit from the insurgents spelled defeat for ISIS (despite suggestions to the contrary from the Obama administration). The battle for Iraq will depend on the ability of the Iraqi government to mobilize enough effective fighting power to stop the ISIS expansion. Unfortunately for Iraq, despite over a decade of U.S. investment in training and equipment, Iraq’s military appears incapable of mustering consistent fighting effectiveness to deal a decisive blow to ISIS on the battlefield.

Their entire piece is available on The National Review, here.

New From The Biodefense Faculty

On this #FacultyFriday, we’ve got recent publications from two George Mason Biodefense faculty members.


Dr. Gregory Koblentz looks at America’s next big nuclear challenge from Iran.

The April 2 framework agreement between the P5+1 and Iran fails to address an important risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Through a combination of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities and facilities and more intrusive verification mechanisms, the framework adequately addresses two major risks posed by Iran’s nuclear program—breakout and sneakout. The framework, however, completely ignores the risk of leakout: the proliferation of nuclear technology and expertise from Iran to other countries. Iran, once the recipient of foreign nuclear assistance, is now poised to provide that assistance, either deliberately or through unauthorized acts by scientists or companies, to other countries.

His entire piece in The National Interest can be found here.


Dr. Trevor Thrall (and Pandora Report staff writer Erik Goepner) make the case against ground engagement with the Islamic State.

The most common argument made by hawks for U.S. engagement is to prevent future Islamic State-sponsored terrorism against the U.S. homeland. Our track record on homeland security since 9/11, however, reveals that a ground war is unnecessary. In the 13 years before 9/11, Islamist-inspired groups launched five attacks on U.S. soil. In the same period since 9/11, just four attacks have been carried out in the U.S. despite the rapid rise in Islamist mobilization and growth in global terrorism. From 2000 to 2013, the number of Islamic-inspired terrorist groups on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations spiked 185 percent, while the estimated number of Islamist fighters rose 243 percent. Clearly, the United States’ success at limiting attacks on its homeland has come not from destroying terrorist groups abroad, but through improved intelligence and other homeland security-focused efforts.

Their piece in The Detroit News can be found here.

Readings on the Islamic State

By Erik Goepner

What ISIS Really Wants” by Graeme Wood, The Atlantic

A provocative and interesting article, Wood suggests that while much of what the Islamic State does makes no sense to a Western mind, their actions are, largely, sensible “in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.”

Wood goes on to assert that the Islamic State is, as they claim, Islamic. He yields the point that IS has attracted some psychopaths, but that the preaching of IS results from “coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Of particular interest to policy makers, Wood argues that ignoring IS’ “intellectual genealogy” will promote U.S. responses that inadvertently strengthen the group. Similarly, he cautions against assuming that if religious ideology does not matter much in Washington, it must not matter in Iraq and Syria.

What is the State of Islamic Extremism: Key Trends, Challenges and Implications for U.S. Policy?

Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, 13 February, by Lt Gen (ret) Flynn, Dr. Lynch, professor at George Washington, and William Braniff, Executive Director National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.

Of note, Mr. Braniff referenced scholarly research that suggests one of the critical predictors of increased terrorist group lethality is competition among terrorist groups. Each group attempts to “outbid” the others in terms of attacks.

Image Credit: Mo Riza

The So-Called Islamic State

By Greg Mercer

Ever since al Qaeda in Iraq rebranded itself as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in 2013 and split from al Qaeda at large, there has been some confusion as to how exactly to refer to the entity. The extremist group’s growing paramilitary force is attempting to create an independent state governed by a Wahhabist ideology. It has been referred to as the Islamic State, IS, ISIS, and ISIL, with no convention appearing to have emerged, and there has been just as much coverage about the debate surrounding this nomenclature vacuum.

The Associated Press, writing in June of 2014, notes that the Arabic name Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham translates to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, and that al-Sham, which encompasses the Middle East from southern Turkey to Egypt, and is also referred to as “the Levant.” Based on this interpretation, the AP argues that “ISIL” is both the most accurate translation and a clear indication of the group’s aims, as “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” implies that the group is interested in only two countries. Finally, they note that ISIL is the abbreviation used by the United Nations.

Ishaan Tharoor, writing for the Washington Post in June of 2014, notes that ISIL is used by the State Department and President Obama. However, he points out that the translation leading to ISIL might not be infallible. Citing Hassan Hassan, he notes that “the Levant” might be considered an outdated term, and that “Greater Syria” can be used to refer to the area in question, in which case the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, and thus ISIS, could be appropriate. He also notes that ISIS is attractive for the way it rolls off the tongue. Tharoor says that the difference between ISIS and ISIL is not as politically charged as, for example, the difference between “Burma” and “Myanmar.”

In September of 2014, Ian Black, writing for The Guardian (which uses ISIS as its in-house standard), noted the sordid history of Islamic State names, and explained that the French government had offered up the term “Daesh,” the Arabic acronym for Al Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham, and which is disliked by Islamic State supporters for notably leaving out the “Islamic” signifier. CNN covered this policy as well.

”You have to name things correctly,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Christiane Amanpour. “They are not a state… they are not representative of Muslims.”

Fabius noted that using the term, which is disliked by extremists for its pronunciation similar to Arabic words for “trample,” or “crush,” is an appropriate response to the group’s brutality. Daesh, then, is a much more politically charged name than IS, ISIS, or ISIL, chosen not just for accuracy, but also for the connotation that it carries for the enemy. It also, notably, leaves out “Islamic,” an attractive option for those who desire to make it clear that these extremists are not representative of Islam or Muslims.

Among this debate though, there is an underlying solidarity. The news of France’s refusal to use Islam-based names came alongside their addition to the forces conducting strikes against targets in Iraq. President Obama might have used a different term than France, but he did so in praising France’s military actions.

Referring to the term Daesh, Army Lt. Gen. James Terry said, “Our partners, at least the ones that I work with, ask us to use that, because they feel that if you use ISIL, that you legitimize a self-declared caliphate. … They feel pretty strongly that we should not be doing that.”

A Google Trends search for ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State, and Daesh reveals the overwhelming popularity for ISIS among Google searches:

ISIS GoogleGoogle

While some of the searches for ISIS can be attributed to it being a word with other connotations (an Egyptian goddess, for instance), the search volumes for all of the terms appear to spike at the same times, indicating major news events, with a much higher volume of searches containing ISIS than the other names. While this might not indicate which is the most popular among governments or news outlets, it shows that ISIS seems to be the name of choice for Google users, and the general public.

Regardless of the naming conventions that they adopt, many countries see a common threat in Iraq and Syria.

 

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)