I am astonished by how the murderous Islamic State has arisen seemingly out of nowhere and now controls as much territory and people as many countries now represented in the United Nations.
Everybody seems to be against ISIS and they wage war against everyone except those willing to submit to their idea of Sunni Islam. Yet they seem to go from strength to strength.
I am reminded of the Bolsheviks, who also seemingly came out of nowhere, represented a minority of the population of the old Russian Empire and yet through unrelenting force and propaganda came to rule a great nation.
They were a faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party, a Marxist party with its main strength among factory workers in the big cities. The October Revolution was a military coup against a government led by the Mensheviks, the other Marxist faction.
They were opposed by the Social Revolutionary Party, a non-Marxist radical agrarian party with strength among the Russian peasant majority. They also were opposed by Russian liberals who favored a capitalist democracy, by supporters of the former Tsarist regime, by separatists in Ukraine and central Asia, and by the armies of the Western allies and Japan.
The anti-Bolshevik forces disliked each other almost as much as they did the new Bolshevik government, and they never could unite. Trotsky’s Red Army defeated them one-by-one.
The western Allies could not have defeated the Bolsheviks without the same all-out effort as their fight against Germany and the war-weary people of the Allied nations were not willing to support such an effort. The effect of the Allied intervention was to make Russians think of the Bolsheviks as patriotic defenders of their country.
Finally years of lawless violence made people willing to support any government that would provide a minimum of law and order.
I do not say the Bolsheviks were exactly like the Islamic State. For one thing, they had a positive program—”land and peace”, although they later reneged on the “land” part. Nor do I say the Islamic State is destined to triumph as Lenin’s Bolsheviks did.
But I see parallels between the Bolsheviks then and ISIS now.
One is the law of unintended consequences in action. The German high command sent Lenin into Russia to destabilize the Russian government, just as the United States armed and supported radical Sunni militias in Libya and Syria to destabilize those countries’ governments.
The anti-ISIS forces cannot agree among themselves, any more than the anti-Bolshevik forces can. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Turkey and Israel would not like to see ISIS defeated if that meant an increase in the power of Iran, Syria or Hezbollah. ISIS, like the Bolsheviks, has a single goal—to seize and hold power.
We Americans and our European allies now as then are weary of war and intervention, and so we intervene half-heartedly. The Bolsheviks were not half-hearted, nor is ISIS.
Finally most people prefer to be ruled by tyrants of their own nationality than by foreign occupiers, and the Sunnis of Iraq and Syria might prefer even ISIS to more years of lawless violence.
What is the solution? I confess I don’t see a solution.
The Islamic State Is Here to Stay by Ahmed S. Hashim for Vice News.
War with ISIS: As the militant threat grows, so does the West’s self-deception by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.
Chaos in Libya paves way for Islamic State expansion by Rebecca Murray for McClatchy newspapers.