Monday, August 11, 2014

ISIS vs. The Next Leading Brand

Is This Bad? It Looks Kinda Bad ...
Iraq, as a sovereign power, is on the verge of collapse. With al-Malaki refusing to step down, ISIS having managed to over-run several Kurd troops, and their seizure of the Mosul Dam (which, if it collapses (and it will if they simply don't maintain it) will destroy Mosul and maybe even Baghdad, it seems likely that even the US getting back in the game isn't going to change things.

The Omnivore sees Obama's limited response as a clear sign to Malaki that Obama's not going to save the former PM's political career from ISIS--but there doesn't seem to be any other real ideas on the the table. The Iraqi army is worthless against ISIS, apparently having lost the mental-game:
Simply put they attack using simple combined arms but they hold two force multipliers – suicide bombers and a psychological force multiplier called TSV – Terror Shock Value. TSV is the projected belief (or reality) that the terror force that you are opposing will do anything to defeat you and once defeated will do the same to your family, friends and countrymen. TSV for ISIL is the belief that they will blow themselves up, they will capture and decapitate you and desecrate your body because they are invincible with what the Pakistanis call Jusbah E Jihad “Blood Lust for Jihad”. I have worked the Iraq mission since 1987 and lived in and out of Iraq since 2003. TSV was Saddam’s most effective tool and there is some innate characteristic of the Iraqis that immobilizes them when faced with a vicious, assuredly deadly foe who will do exactly as they have done to others – and they will unsuccessfully try to bargain their way out of death by capitulating.

The ISIS Brand

ISIS was, originally, fighting for the 'rights' to be called Al Qaeda in Iraq. That was what they wanted coming out of Syria and that's, basically, who they still are, operationally. However, something happened about the time they shortened the ISIS name (they'll always be ISIS to me, though), to IS: the Islamic State.

What happened was that they no longer cared about being Al Qaeda (in Iraq or anywhere else): their brand value exceeded that of AQI's. After that, they stopped caring. They're "winning" the brand-war because they've managed (or lucked into) both a string of wins (everyone loves a winner) and a social-media presence that, while most likely 'augmented' by western people who are not really ISIS members in the conventional sense, are joining up and amplifying their message.

ISIS stands for extreme televised brutality, fundamentalist Islam, and, most of all, victory. They have an Internet presence that is, to The Omnivore's read, unparalleled. Here are some samples:
Reader Dave provides two other links of interest:

In English!
 ISIS Jihadi T-shirts!! Dave notes that if, in fact, this is ISIS, it's a quantum step up for Jihadis to be able to put together a funny western insult (as opposed to the traditional pig-dog).

Of course it's most likely that the shirts (and the tweets) have nothing to do with ISIS proper and are just unaffiliated fan-boys--but even that is worrisome: 2005 Al Qaeda didn't have t-shirts and a, uh, funny ... MySpace page (Osama should've totally had a live-journal--like Kim Jong Il's).

Someone motivated to go take a phone-selfi at the White House might be incentivized to do more if the right people could get their hands on him. The point isn't that ISIS are marketing wizards exactly--it's that they are presently making all the right moves to take advantage of the social media space they wish to inhabit.

They are:

  • Global. Despite a bunch of name changes (they'll always be ISIS to me) they are well known, well recognized. Expect and improved, western friendly logo within a couple of months.
  • Up-Trending. Their brand is hot. If you are a jihadi? Today, you want to be ISIS
  • English Language Savvy. The reason we killed Al Alwaki was because he was a valuable and dangerous propagandist. He understood English and the west and was able to reach out to westerners in a way Al Qaeda generally could not. Not so ISIS. While their high command may well not be well versed in the ways of the west, their recruits are. They seem to be using that.
  • News Savvy. Atrocity videos are not new--but ISIS is working them. They are remaining in the news cycle and doing things that will keep them--and their supporters--visible. Such as? Embedded journalists.
This combination makes them, to The Omnivore's read, a truly global terror force. Al Qaeda was able to launch an over-seas attack by using tons of money and carefully selected volunteers. ISIS may be capable of the nightmare scenario: recruiting abroad purely over the Internet. They have announced plans to attack the White House.

We shouldn't make too much of ISIS the desert army. They're still highly limited in their capabilities. But we shouldn't ignore their brand which, if they manage to survive air-strikes (and they will, we're not trying to destroy them) will grow even stronger. Eventually it'll grow strong enough to operationalize people here at home.

Fifteen Numbers About ISIS.

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