What is the Future of ISIS Now That Baghdadi is Gone?

We all know it would be premature to call ISIS defeated just because the self-proclaimed leader of the modern day Caliphate has met his demise. The idea of a Caliphate is still alive and well in the minds of many ISIS fighters. Just because ISIS is all but defeated in Syria, doesn’t mean its brutality and activities is over, far from it, warn experts on the matter. ISIS is very much becoming a global organization, and we’ve already seen the havoc it can cause throughout the Middle East and elsewhere.

Let’s discuss what happens next as the U.S. withdraws from the fight, pulls troops out of Syria, and declares a job well done. ISIS fighters are still out there in large numbers and have a presence in what looks to be 20 provinces or so. Organized groups, call them franchises if you’d like, ready to continue the fight, while recruiting more. The concept of a modern day Islamic Caliphate isn’t gone.

What is This Modern Day Caliphate All About Anyway?

Well historically in Islam, Muhammad was the divine leader of all of Islam. His first successor was Caliph Abu Bakr and ruled over what was the first Caliphate or the “Rashidun Caliphate’. According to historians, there were four Caliphs of the Islamic Empire. The Rashidun Caliphate lasted approximately 30-years.

It was the goal of Osama bin Laden to eventually unite all of Islam into a Caliphate, a lifetime project even he believed would take centuries to complete. Baghdadi had more aggressive plans to unite all of Islam under one rule, a Caliphate, and declared himself the leader.

This was a rather bold move considering a Caliphate didn’t exist, as individual countries make up most of the Islamic World today. It was also a rather harsh dictatorial approach, as only God (Allah) could decide the mortal human leader of the Caliphate. Baghdadi didn’t care and waged war within countries on anyone who resisted. Driven by religious conviction and recruiting passionate Muslims to come to fight, they brutally set out to set the clocks back to the past period of the Rashidun Caliphate.

We’ve Seen What ISIS Did in Its Quest – What Will It Try Next?

Needless to say, Baghdadi might be dead, but the passion, rage, and fervor of his followers is still very much alive. As ISIS finds defeat in Syria, its fighters have not all been killed, many have slipped away leaving the area to fight another day. Remember the recruited fighters came from all over, some as far away as North America, many from Europe, Africa, Indonesia, and most from the Middle East. These fighters are battle hardened and we’d be in denial to believe they no longer have the same ideology.

What about Syria, is ISIS totally defeated in Syria? There is no doubt that Baghdadi’s death is a major symbolic blow to ISIS. After all, he was the ‘leader of the Caliphate’ even if self-proclaimed. ISIS has lost in Syria, but its organization elsewhere is still in operation. Just in the last few years, ISIS has set up operations in Central Africa, India, and Pakistan. We can expect ISIS in Turkey to grow bolder and come out of the shadows there.

The Reality has Set In – ISIS isn’t Going Away – But Is It Our Fight?

There is a lot of talk in the Washington D.C. area foreign policy think tanks about what the U.S. ought to be doing about Syria now that ISIS is on the run, and what we should do about ISIS going forward. In 2016 Trump ran on “getting the US out of these endless wars” and the fight against ISIS is the epitome of an endless war merely because the leadership of ISIS and its fighters see it as such. They won’t stop until every infidel has been converted or killed or so they proclaim.

One of the goals of these Islamic fighters is to outlast their enemies’ will to fight and then defeat them. ISIS sees this as a generational fight, an on-going struggle, and it gives them a sense of purpose. Such strong will makes ISIS a dangerous adversary. Foreign policy researchers at the FDD remind us that it would be naïve to believe that ISIS is totally defeated or that merely killing its leader will cause the organization to crumble.

The Trump Administration is facing reality and weighing the taxpayers’ costs of the fight, and the loss of American lives to continue according to experts on international diplomacy. Their ‘realist’ approach is indeed an ‘America First’ point of view. Still, we have allies in the region who’ve counted on us to help keep the peace. Withdrawing troops puts forth further instability in the region.

What Comes Next In Syria With ISIS?

International diplomacy researchers at the FDD are watching closely to see if the U.S. withdrawal in Syria will relieve tensions among allies in the region or if it will, in the end, turn out to be the best choice provided the circumstances. It appears the Kurdish fighters in Syria are going to take some serious losses, and the remaining ISIS fighters will be further decimated by a combination of Turkish, Syrian, and Russian military advances according to research from the FDD. So, is this the end of the United States’ involvement in the Syrian Conflict? President Trump has warned that any mass slaughtering of Christians or the Kurds will not be tolerated there.

Does this mean we are only partially withdrawing from Syria and keeping an eye on the situation, or was that ‘warning’ or suggested ‘redline’ just more political rhetoric? Were our announcements of withdrawal overstated for purposes of misdirection for the enemy? The three-dimensional chessboard of diplomacy is filled with items of contention, each one examined under its own merits and how it fits into the larger scheme of things. It’s difficult to judge foreign policy endeavors by watching the media pundits who have only half the information. What comes next in Syria is anyone’s guess.