A few days ago, Foreign Affairs published an article explaining „Why ISIS Is Rooting for Trump.“ Among the reasons given therein, the „prophecy of a „Final Battle“ once again reminds us of the waning „Islamic State’s“ ideologic base. In other words: There is a reason why US ground troops could still lead to highly dangerous ramifications.
The article identifies four principal reasons that make „Donald Trump“ a somewhat appealing candidate for the Islamic State: His anti-Muslim rhetoric and the resulting threat of a further alienation from the rest of the population, the possible radicalization of Muslims who may further carry out „lone wolf“-attacks, his generally destabilizing impact on the US, and, lastly, the Islamic State’s prophecy of a final battle with a modern version of the „Army of Rome“ which would constitute the US military.
This notion is well known ever since Willie McCants published an article on „What ISIS Really Wants“ in the Atlantic a few months ago. The whole piece adresses some myths concerning the Islamic State“, including that of absolute evilness, and outlines its religious fundament and why its actions not necessarily follow military and strategic objectives:
The Islamic State has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. It named its propaganda magazine after the town, and celebrated madly when (at great cost) it conquered Dabiq’s strategically unimportant plains. It is here, the Prophet reportedly said, that the armies of Rome will set up their camp. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Waterloo or its Antietam.
Now that it has taken Dabiq, the Islamic State awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse. Western media frequently miss references to Dabiq in the Islamic State’s videos, and focus instead on lurid scenes of beheading. [….] The Prophetic narration that foretells the Dabiq battle refers to the enemy as Rome. Who “Rome” is, now that the pope has no army, remains a matter of debate. But Cerantonio makes a case that Rome meant the Eastern Roman empire, which had its capital in what is now Istanbul. We should think of Rome as the Republic of Turkey—the same republic that ended the last self-identified caliphate, 90 years ago. Other Islamic State sources suggest that Rome might mean any infidel army, and the Americans will do nicely.
If the US were to attack the Islamic State by initiating a full-blown war, the consequences could thus be desastrous. On the one hand, Sunni Muslims all over the world may be convinced that the Islamic State was, in the end, right all the time. In a perfectly horrifying scenario, the number of foreign fighters would swell well into the 10 000s again. After all, jihadists share the believe that the US has been weighing a Crusade against Muslims for decades, a narrative that would be further bolstered. That, in combination with the failed efforts to successfully establish a functioning democratic state in Iraq, „would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance.“
Interestingly enough, however, the Islamic State would perhaps also be more assertive under Hillary Clinton. Although she ruled out ground troops, that may be subject to change if the circumstances warrant it – after all, her generally more hawkish attitude than Trump’s is well-known. One has to wonder whether she would indeed act more cautiously in light of the atypical possible consequences of a too far-reaching US military operation against ISIS.