In recent weeks, ISIS has suffered territorial losses on multiple fronts, including in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. The organization may look nearer to defeat than at any time in the past two years, but there is still a great deal of fighting to be done before the group is destroyed, or more likely beaten back to an underground terrorist organization as it was in 2009.
The massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando—the worst act of terrorism on American soil since the attacks of 9/11—had barely ended when the debate over its significance began. As usual, the political class divided into competing camps, with liberals predictably claiming that the real issue is gun control and conservatives just as predictably claiming that the real issue is radical Islam. There wasn’t even agreement over whether this was a hate crime or an act of terrorism. (Why couldn’t it be both?)
The downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last October, for which the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) claimed responsibility, may ultimately prove more consequential than the horrific attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, that followed. Western security officials had long worried that their countries’ own citizens would conduct attacks after returning home from Iraq or Syria or strike out as “lone wolf” terrorists.
The next president of the United States will face tough decisions, including whether to commit significant ground forces, how much to support the Kurds, and what to do about Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. This video explainer examines the challenges.
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 12, 2016, Graeme Wood discussed the self-proclaimed Islamic State as a mass movement and laid out the reasons for reasonable versus unreasonable fear of the movement and its constituents’ intentions. Based on his interactions with the Islamic State’s supporters abroad, Wood recommended that future U.S. government policy responses toward the Islamic State take into account not only military and political factors, but also “countercultural, religious, and existential ones,” and that politicians remain simultaneously rational and empathetic for their constituents.
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