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November 30, 2015

4 Talks from Authors of Bestselling ISIS Books

Learn about ISIS from the authors of four of the best reviewed and most popular books on the group. These four talks are like a mini-course into the messy political and ideological circumstances that gave rise to such a horrific group. The authors also provide some informed suggestions as to what can be done to counter this terrifying organization.

1. Joby Warrick on Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS

In this talk from early October 2015 at Politics and Prose bookstore, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post journalist Joby Warrick talks about his recently released book Black Flags. He tells the story of the rise of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who founded the group which would become al-Qaeda in Iraq after the U.S. invasion in 2003, and although al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006, the group he founded would ultimately become the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and then in 2013 after having expanded into Syria, call itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Warrick talks about some of the more frightening figures he met in his research for the book, and he explains the ideology and goals of ISIS. The Q&A provides many more interesting facts as Warrick provides insightful answers to good questions from an informed audience.

2. Michael Weiss on ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror

If you'd like to delve deeper into the complexity of ISIS and the situation in Syria and Iraq, then watch this 90-minute talk delivered in February of 2015 from the International Peace Institute featuring Michael Weiss, co-author with Hassan Hassan of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. In this dense talk Weiss outlines the sectarian conflicts which are being waged between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the region and how these conflicts are playing into the fight against ISIS. He covers how much of the leadership of ISIS comes from former Ba'athist military and intelligence officers who had served during Saddam Hussein's rule. He discusses how ISIS is able to continually recruit more members when they have such a ruthless and radical ideology. At the end of the talk he answers many good questions from the audience. While Weiss believes the future of Syria and Iraq is grim, he provides some strategies that the U.S. can take to counter this totalitarian, mafia-like, terrorist organization known as ISIS.

3. William McCants on The ISIS Apocalypse

In this talk from the Brookings Institution in September of 2015, William McCants, author of the book The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State, talks about how ISIS has grown to the extent that it has in recent years. He focuses on the doomsday ideology they espouse and how this differs from other terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda. He points out the significance social media has played in recruiting new members of ISIS from countries throughout the World, and how large a role the Syrian civil war has played in their expansion. McCants has an optimistic view that ISIS will be defeated by their many enemies in the region, and suggests that their primary motives are establishing and expanding the Islamic State and not necessarily conducting terrorist attacks in foreign countries.

4. J.M. Berger on ISIS: The State of Terror

In this talk from May of 2015, J.M. Berger talks about aspects of the book he co-authored with Jessica Stern called ISIS: The State of Terror. Berger talks about the rise of using social media within ISIS which has been so critical to their recruiting and to their notoriety. He attempts to explain their ideology which is both apocalyptic and millenarian. He suggests that to deal with this group of an estimated 30,000-50,000 members, we need to provide counter propaganda and alternatives to Sunnis who might potential join their ranks. In the Q&A time, Berger is questioned as to how a group that is so violent and sociopathic can recruit so many people. Berger explains that the Internet has been instrumental in uniting large amounts of people around all sorts of crazy beliefs, whether it be conspiracy theories or the radical ideology of ISIS.

For more on ISIS check out this 2014 documentary from FRONTLINE:

The Rise of ISIS

Watch this PBS Frontline documentary on the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Starting with the withdrawal of American ground troops, this documentary examines the political climate of Iraq and the conflicts between Shiites and Sunni Iraqis since that time. After increased dissatisfaction with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his support of Shiites, the Sunni insurgency began to grow. Aided by the rise of ISIS in the Syrian Civil War, the group began driving out Iraqi government forces in key western cities in Iraq. The documentary concludes with ISIS controlling large portions of both Iraq and Syria, and revealing their notorious human rights abuses and war crimes. With interviews from U.S. intelligence officials and members of the Obama administration, the documentary examines the increased recent involvement of the U.S. in the region and the possibility of putting ground troops back in Iraq. This 50-minute documentary is available to stream for free from the PBS Frontline website.

And for a decent debate on ISIS check this out:

Containment Is Not Enough: ISIS Must Be Defeated

Watch or listen to this debate from back in August of this year with the motion "Containment Is Not Enough: ISIS Must Be Defeated". In the debate, foreign policy experts argue over what the Obama administration's next steps should be in dealing with ISIS. The side for ISIS being defeated proposes that simply containing ISIS in the region poses a threat to the surrounding region and the enemies of ISIS around the World, and that this threat will only grow over time. These foreign policy experts do not advocate putting "boots on the ground" of U.S. troops, but they feel a much stronger resolution needs to be put in place to roll back and defeat ISIS.

The side for containing ISIS and staying the course with the current U.S. policy, feels that containment is the best option at this time while we wait for the conflict to play out, and that ultimately the turmoil in Syria and Iraq are not our battle to win. They also cite the lack of political will for a full scale war against ISIS in the wake of two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have cost the U.S. an estimated $3 trillion and have cost the lives of over 6,000 American troops and an estimated 200,000 Iraqis and Afghans.

It's a good debate that helps to make sense out of a very complicated and messy situation in the Middle East and the results of the debate are quite interesting. Towards the end of the debate questions are received from the audience including questions from David Petraeus and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The debate can be watched on YouTube or downloaded on MP3 from the Intelligence Squared U.S. website.