Stupid Foreign Policy MEME OF THE WEEK: You're Helping ISIS If You Talk About Their Ramadi Victory
UPDATE: One of the Foreign Affairs writers has responded to this article, and I've responded in kind below.
Imagine the following headlines during World War Two:
December 1941: "If you talk about Pearl Harbor, you're aiding Japanese imperialism."
December 1944: "If you talk about the German encirclement of Bastogne, you're aiding the Nazis."
August 1940: "If you talk about the Italian conquest of British Somaliland, you're aiding fascism."
For most today, these statements would seem silly. During that time, they would have been taken for a case of insanity.
But this sort of headline is what we were treated to in Foreign Affairs this week in response to the conquest of Ramadi in Iraq last week by the Islamic State in an article, "Don't Aid ISIS," by Bridget Moreng and Nathaniel Barr.
Their argument is that if you recognize the ISIS conquest of Ramadi and talk about its possible implications, you're aiding ISIS propaganda efforts:
Alarmist analyses of Ramadi aren’t just wrong, they’re dangerous. By inaccurately interpreting the takeover as an indication that ISIS is on the rise, commentators are playing directly into the group’s narrative [...]
This dynamic has been a problem for some time. In November 2014, multiple leading news outlets reported that ISIS had taken over the Libyan city of Derna, when in reality, ISIS was only one group in a patchwork of militant organizations operating in the city. And this time around, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour quoted a former CENTCOM advisor saying that 6,000 Iraqi forces had fallen to just 150 ISIS fighters in Ramadi. This claim is almost certainly untrue, as ISIS is unlikely to have sent only 150 fighters to wrest control of a major urban city. This is the type of exaggerated analysis that plays into ISIS’ hands by portraying it as a super-human fighting force.
ISIS has even incorporated Western analysts’ comments into its own propaganda: its monthly English-language magazine Dabiq dedicates a section—entitled “In the Words of the Enemy”—to quoting Western government officials and analysts who have warned of ISIS’ growing strength.
Analysts should remember that their assessments of ISIS’ capabilities resonate far beyond the Beltway and the national media. Misinterpretations of battlefield developments and exaggerations of the jihadists’ strength complicate U.S. efforts to fight them in the arena of public opinion, and by extension, on the battlefield.
There seems to be several things happening here.
With respect to their claims about the number of ISIS fighters in Ramadi, you have their naked assertion of what they think ISIS would do versus a statement by a former CENTCOM adviser to a news organization. Had Moreng and Barr responded with "ISIS mobilized X elements from city Y to Ramadi," then their dismissal of the CNN report would have more merit. As it is, they're engaged in little more than wishful thinking. Is their denial of the claim sufficient to dismiss the report altogether? Clearly not. An account with actual reality-based reporting in the Wall Street Journal is leagues more substantive.