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Image source: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/us-intelligence-jihadi-threat-2023
9 April 2023

On Mao, Marxism, Revolution, and the Return of the Islamic State (Again, Again)…[Recommended Innovation Articles (and Commentary) 19]

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Original post can be found here: https://benzweibelson.medium.com/on-mao-marxism-revolution-and-the-return-of-the-islamic-state-again-again-recommended-489148dd7db1

This week’s article is a fascinating read (and NO PAYWALL!!!), despite being written in 2016. While ISIS did collapse in Iraq and Syria by 2018–2019, the latest news today in 2022 is that the organization is again resurging in Africa and other areas, demonstrating a long-term resiliency and ability to morph into newer versions resistant to earlier successful counter-terrorism efforts. Thus, this paper remains valuable for future applications. The kicker is that in our particular focus on China, we often fail to realize how different the Chinese Communist government is, ideologically, philosophically, and strategically from a Western, modern (Clausewitz, Wesphalian, Newtonian, Baconian, Jominian) social paradigm for conflict, diplomacy, reality. Indeed, if you see analysis on the PRC, Chinese strategic vision, or operational planning for conflict over Taiwan and you see nothing but our particular mode of warfighting logic and rational (COGs, LOEs, Ends-Ways-Means, inputs-outputs, MOEs, MOPs, etc), we are ignoring very important tensions and distinctions. This is where Whiteside’s article comes in handy.

Craig Whitside wrote “New Masters of Revolutionary Warfare: The Islamic State Movement (2002–2016)” for Perspectives on Terrorism, Vol. 10, Issue 4 in August 2016 and that article is available for PDF download here for free:

https://drive.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/binaries/content/assets/customsites/perspectives-on-terrorism/2016/issue-4/403-new-masters-of-revolutionary-warfare-the-islamic-state-movement-2002-2016-by-craig-whiteside.pdf

Whiteside’s article explains how ISIS (or the Islamic State, ISIL, the Daesh, or other term) are able to spread, increase in power, and if struck, rescue and restore their efforts over time. He uses Mao’s political war theory of “desert, pursuit, consolidation.” This is how Mao took original Marx/Engel theory, drew inspiration from Lenin’s adaptation of it in the Russian Revolution, and then transformed it into a Chinese rural, agro-worker configuration that also appreciates Chinese culture, history, philosophy that dates back to Daoist and Confucian (and Buddhist) ancient origins. China in the 20th century had some integration of ancient Greek-Roman logic and natural philosophy, but only in an assimilation that layered atop a firm foundation in far earlier Eastern ideals, beliefs, thinking. Mao realized this and built a different (termed Sino-Marxist) approach to Communism that was Chinese in design, not a mirroring of earlier Marxist or Leninist designs. This distinction is important, but often overlooked or ignored by our Western frames.

Whiteside then projects Mao’s concepts upon how the Islamic State would further adapt those concepts, but reconfigure them within a radical Islamic ideological and Middle Eastern cultural-sociological context. If we were confused on how the Taliban (which are not ISIS, but represent an overlap of how shadow organizations can operate a pseudo-states within a weak or dysfunctional/collapsing state) were able to maintain order, taxation, Sharia law and local enforcement for years despite significant US and ANSF target efforts, consider p.6 and how the Islamic State would operate in a Mao-inspired mode of irregular warfare. Note- Mao positioned as supreme not the destruction of enemy military forces (Clausewitz), but the positioning of political education (in Marxist orientation) first. Then, propaganda, and only third would fighting be recognized. ISIS would do a similar approach, modifying spectacular terror attacks into this relationship.

On pp. 7–9, Whiteside breaks down ISIS strategy using the Sino-Marxist IW theory modified by Islamic State ideological and cultural concepts. Namely, assassinations and spectacular suicide attacks are done at the “fighting third level” to compliment their education and propaganda activities, all funded by their shadow government taxation and local management/security of contested or collapsed population centers. It is interesting that mass casualty events that included many civilians became successful for ISIS, in that traditional IW assumes that such attacks might weaken their IW efforts to win “hearts and minds.” In ISIS’s approach, one might say that “winning the hearts and minds is secondary to winning their afterlives”, in that their ideological approach sought ramifications that appeal to that society and culture whereas Mao would not have an equivalent in Chinese culture, ideologies, philosophies that are eastern (and not monotheistic, or related to Judean-Christian constructs).

pp. 9–10 provides useful charts illustrating how ISIS would go about these three Mao-IW phases of revolution, with each time period of ISIS development couched in how they approached warfare, governance, economic sustainability, propaganda, and self-sufficiency. This paper wonderfully explains the rise and fall of ISIS, and how we might be seeing yet another rise as ISIS 3.0 begins to expand again in Africa, Pakistan, parts of Syria, and potentially again in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2023.

A fascinating paragraph on p. 11 demonstrates how powerful Mao-styled IW and political war theory unfolds. That a poll in Mosul in late 2015 found that most citizens opposed the ISIS rule, but still found that life was improving under them versus the US or Coalition enabled Iraqi Government is telling. This is during some extensive attack periods where ISIS killed many civilians and terrorized populations- something that in our western framing of IW theory would suggest that the Iraqi security forces and policy makers might benefit from. They did not.

Readers likely will find many applications for this paper- for AFRICOM,SOCAFRICA, CENTCOM, but also INDOPACOM, China and the Taiwan scenario, GPC, and for space warfighting and deterrence, how the PRC might be waging a far more sophisticated strategy of global competition through education/propaganda, economic warfare, and only in a distant third, the familiar kinetic fighting we often prioritize first and foremost (after we declare deterrence has failed).

https://benzweibelson.medium.com/recommended-innovation-articles-and-commentary-18-toward-a-theory-of-space-power-selected-7f43a104228b

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