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Not-So-Senseless Violence

December 8, 2014 in Economics

By A. Trevor Thrall

A. Trevor Thrall

President Barack Obama declared the latest beheading by the Islamic State group — this one of American aid worker and former Army Ranger Peter Kassig — an act of “pure evil.” But as ugly as the act was, it was also an action taken with a strategic end in mind. The question we should be asking is: To what end? Why has the Islamic State group pursued a strategy of beheading Westerners, and specifically Americans?

One potential answer is that it wants to create fear. At the international level, the Islamic State group might gain from instilling fear and caution in the minds of Western leaders to discourage them from getting engaged in its fight for control of Iraq and Syria. In this light, the beheadings could be seen as a warning of how badly things will go for the U.S. and its allies if they send ground troops to confront the group.

At the regional level, by beheading Westerners, the Islamic State group is showing other groups that it has the strength and resolve to thwart the Great Satan and to carry out its plans, enhancing both its status and recruiting capability. By extension, terrorism’s fundamental purpose is to control through fear, something that the citizens of Iraq and Syria know all too well. Though its vicious tactics have not garnered much love, the strategy of violence has probably enabled the Islamic State group to exert greater control over its occupied territory than it would otherwise have been able to do.

There’s a logic to the Islamic State group’s horrid beheadings.”

All of that is certainly plausible, but it is also possible that the beheadings reveal a more complicated strategy of baiting the United States into overreaction. What if the Islamic State group wants the United States to get more involved? What if it wants the United States to send more ground troops?

This may sound bizarre on the surface, but it makes sense if we assume that the Islamic State group understands the likely consequences of its strategy. And of all people, its leaders should recall what happened the last time a group started killing Americans. Al-Qaida’s leadership fully expected the U.S. to react to 9/11, even if it did not realize that it would lead to full-scale war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given that the Islamic State group …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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