ASPEN, Colo., July 24, 2014 —
It's important to recognize that the various religious extremist groups that threaten the United States do not share the same ideologies, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
"Some of them are opportunistic, some of them seek to establish a sense of political Islam and theocracy under sharia law, and some of them are apocalyptic, actually, meaning they have such a world view that it becomes of a magnitude that makes them, I think, especially dangerous," Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told an audience at the Aspen Security Forum.
The group known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant seeks a sense of religious legitimacy, he said. Its leaders believe they are the heirs to the Islamic caliphate that Muslims believe began with the prophet Muhammad.
"They can only sustain that religious legitimacy if they continue to succeed," Dempsey said. "So this is not a group that can go halfway. It has to keep moving toward its ultimate end-of-days, apocalyptic narrative or it will lose support, because it loses religious legitimacy."
ISIS must be contained, then disrupted and, ultimately, defeated, the chairman said.
"What makes it very hard is that ultimate defeat has to come from within the Sunni population," he said. Their defeat can be enabled and assisted by the United States, Dempsey said, but their end will come about only when moderate Sunnis of the region, and the world, reject them.
The group is very dangerous, he said. "They will employ whatever tactics they have to employ," the chairman added, noting that they have succeeded through infiltration and misinformation and by preying upon a "youth bulge" and disenfranchised populations in parts of the world that aren't led by inclusive governments.
"And then they just pop up one day, and you have to deal with them," Dempsey said. "And you deal with them by either allowing them their way or suffering the consequences."
The nation must take a long view in dealing with ISIL in particular, but also in dealing with many similar organizations that are filling voids where governments are absent or failing, the chairman said.
"This isn't about us. … This very much has to have the support of the government in Baghdad," he explained, adding that it remains to be seen whether the nation has a credible partner in the re-formed Iraqi government.
ISIL isn’t a unified force in Iraq, Dempsey said, but rather is a syndicate of several disenfranchised Sunni groups willing to work with ISIL “because they’re winning.”
“When you are disenfranchised and believing that the government in Baghdad will never be inclusive and never allow you to be part of the government, you’ll back a winner until that winner is contained,” the chairman said.
The collapse of the Iraqi military is representative of this disenfranchisement, he said. They were overcome because their soldiers concluded that their future did not lie with the government in Baghdad, Dempsey said.
“Look, why do any of us in uniform stand and fight?” he asked. “You know, it’s not just because were wear the uniform. We stand and fight because we believe in what we stand and fight for. … If we were ever placed in a position where you didn’t believe what you were fighting for, you know, you wouldn’t see the kind of military you have in the United States today.”
The problem of ISIL isn’t isolated to Iraq, he said. The border between Iraq and Syria has ceased to exist, Dempsey explained. In addition, Turkey and the Kurds in northern Iraq are uniquely positioned to pressure ISIL, he noted.
“It has to be a partnership, a coalition, and we have to build partners who can reject it from inside out,” the chairman said.
“The immediate task is to determine whether Iraq has a political future, because if Iraq has a political future, then we will work through Iraq, among others, to deal with the ISIL threat,” Dempsey said. “If Iraq does not have a political future as an inclusive unity government, then we’re going to have to find other partners.”
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)