The Islamic State believes it can use its enemies' hands for its own agenda. Its propaganda material and its supporters' social media activity have made it apparent there are three key reactions ISIS is hoping U.S. policymakers, media broadcasters and citizens will have.
You can watch Clarion Project national security analyst Ryan Mauro discuss two of these reactions on "Kennedy" on FOX Business Network:
The first reaction ISIS is hoping for is the Western media facilitating its narrative of success, which is one of the biggest reasons for the terror organization’s rapid expansion. Battlefield achievements make the group more attractive to jihadists and are seen as proof of Allah's endorsement.
ISIS wants headlines like those about the Paris attacks; its bombing of the Russian airliner; the cancelled soccer game in Germany and the stabbing of a Jewish schoolteacher in France by ISIS supporters. It doesn't want headlines about how the U.S. killed "Jihadi John" in Syria and the leader of its affiliate in Libya; how it lost Sinjar and Beiji in Iraq or how U.S.-backed rebels in Syria are finally having success in pushing back ISIS.
Many people in the region immediately tweeted the Paris attacks would not distract from these losses. Their smack-talk to ISIS was based on a valid and important point. They did want not the media to limit its coverage to ISIS' success, but to include broader context that provides more accurate coverage that doesn't play into ISIS' hands.
The second response sought by ISIS is a vicious anti-Muslim backlash in Europe and the U.S. that the group believes will win them supporters. Online supporters of ISIS are open about how they hope a clash will divide Muslims into two camps: The pro-ISIS jihadists versus the pro-Western "apostates." The group thinks there is currently a middle ground that can be radicalized and won to its side.
The third response is the deployment of U.S. troops for a major ground war in Iraq and Syria; one where U.S. troops seize and hold territory and meet ISIS in the battlefield instead of just carrying out raids and training and advising Iraqi, Syrian and Kurdish partners.
A focal point of ISIS' apocalyptic vision rooted in Islamic prophecy is that "Roman" armies—American and European—will invade Iraq and Syria and engage in a bloody battle. ISIS hopes the apparent fulfillment of prophecy will activate millions of ISIS supporters who have not yet picked up a gun.
The opportunity to target U.S. troops has greater appeal in the bigger jihadist world and any documented capturing, injuring or killing of a U.S. serviceman has tremendous propaganda value. There are many risks that come with deploying U.S. combat troops for a major offensive. American President Barack Obama rejected the option after the Paris attacks and explained part of his reasoning:
"[It is] not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before, which is if you do not have local populations that are committing to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes, that they resurface, unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.”
ISIS will tell you what they want and how they plan to get it. All you need to do is pay attention.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.