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A nation must think before it acts.
On Aug. 22, ISIL’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issued his first message to his followers in nearly a year, calling on them to carry out lone-wolf attacks in the West. The message should alarm policymakers about a potential new wave of terrorist attacks, but it also serves as a reminder of how far the group has fallen and, more broadly, of a longstanding problem with jihadist grand strategies that ISIL has not been able to solve.
Before ISIL, transnational jihadists including Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the strategists Abu Bakr Naji and Abu Musab al-Suri, all tried and failed to achieve similar political objectives. The failure of ISIL’s grand strategy is just the latest iteration of a familiar problem. These actors all want to establish a caliphate on the ruins of Muslim nation-states and gradually expand its control, but to do this they must overcome the “aggregation problem”: how to turn disparate local successes into cross-border political impact and how to mobilize enough Muslims in support of the jihadists’ revolutionary vision.
Continue reading “Bound to Fail,” by FPRI Senior Fellow Barak Mendelsohn for War on the Rocks.