Sunday, 08 February 2015
The US defense establishment believes that the ISIS video of the Jordanian pilot was a miscalculation. I believe this is false. Here’s why:
- The establishment believes the video was meant to coerce. To scare the Kingdom into neutrality. Instead, it backfired, and the King of Jordan vowed a “relentless” war against ISIS. << This is an interesting narrative, but that’s not what happened.
- Instead, ISIS used the video to provoke Jordan. ISIS selected the punishment (it was insulting) and the victim (he was the son of a politically important tribal chief) with care. This implies that the video was meant to produced outrage, not coercion. ISIS did this to provoke Jordan into rash actions that it could take advantage of.
- This is already happening. For example: Jordan’s retaliatory air strike on ISIS turned into a PR failure when ISIS claimed it had killed a western female hostage by mistake. NOTE: this suggests that ISIS has a much faster OODA loop than the coalition.
Jordan Fights Alone
ISIS understands something that most of the suits in the US security system don’t. Despite the constant rhetoric out of Washington, there isn’t really a western coalition against ISIS. The west isn’t part of this fight, nor will it be for some time to come. This means that if Jordan fights ISIS, it will do so alone:
- The US will send Jordan a smattering of weapons, money, intelligence, and trainers. The US won’t send ground troops, despite the fact that Obama recently made a request for authorization to use force against ISIS.
- On the ground, all Jordan can expect, is some help from random Syrian, Kurdish and Iraqi militias. That’s it.
- On the battlefield, the west’s only contribution will be a scattershot, low intensity air bombardment. A contribution that is insufficient for an enemy this large, complex, and dangerous.
Jordan’s Next move may be Fatal
Even isolated and alone, Jordan is a tough nut for ISIS to crack. So, for ISIS to defeat Jordan, it needs Jordan to make a strategic mistake and this video was intended to force this mistake. For example:
- Jordan joins the Syrian civil war in order to fight ISIS. Jordan gets sucked into the Syrian quagmire and becomes destabilized.
- The Kingdom makes a bold incursion into ISIS held territory with an elite maneuver unit. This vehicle heavy unit, built along western lines, would be very dependent on supplies but would be able to advance quickly (aka get itself into trouble quickly). To capitalize on this, ISIS would feint a retreat to entice the Jordanian unit deep into ISIS territory in search of a decisive (revenge fueled) engagement. When the Jordanians get deep enough => ISIS would mount a defense, tie up the unit, and swarm its long supply line. Isolated, deep in enemy territory, and swarmed by fanatics => the Jordanian unit would be quickly routed and the captives executed. Panic would spread like wildfire.
- Jordan cracks down on ISIS and al Qaeda supporters within the country and roughs up the massive refugee population living there (for example; over 800,000 Syrians are refugees in Jordan). This creates dissent that ISIS can use. These restive populations become particularly useful if battlefield defeats (see above) weaken, panic, and bleed the Kingdom’s Bedouin aristocracy.
PS: Some analysts are adamant in claiming that a nation-state like Jordan won’t turn a provocation into a disaster by sending forces deep into ISIS territory. My counter: the US invaded Iraq based on the provocation of 9/11.
PPS: For those who believe western air power + Jordanian troops would roll ISIS >> that’s a very rosy analysis unlikely to hold up on the field.