There is an interesting post about ISIS up at the Lawfare Blog by Thomas Hegghammer, the director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI). It analyzes the various reasons why ISIS declared a caliphate in the territory it currently controls in Syria and Iraq, as well as the impact of that declaration on other jihadi groups. His bottom line:
The bottom line is that business in the jihadi world will largely continue as usual after the declaration. Over time, the new caliphate will come to be seen as just another militant group, albeit a very presumptuous one. In the meantime, it is probably wise for Western governments to let the internal jihadi debate run its course. Premature military intervention will give the caliphate a jump start it does not deserve.
Hegghammer brings some reality to the discussion, contra the majority of pundits that equate all Islamic fundamentalist groups with al-Qaida:
For “old” jihadi groups like al-Qaida, ISIS’s move is utterly preposterous. The veterans see themselves as having spent a lifetime fighting superpowers, all the while holding back on declaring a caliphate—only to see a bunch of newcomers come in from the sidelines and steal the trophy. Adding insult to injury, ISIS is now demanding that the veterans submit to the authority of a young, obscure (at least until yesterday) caliph. That demand comes because in theory, the leader of a caliphate rules all Muslims and has supreme executive authority in military matters. All this while ISIS supporters taunt the old guard on social media with comments such as: “If Al-Qaida and al-Taliban could not establish khilafah [caliphate] with all their power and territory for all these years, how can we expect them to suddenly unite upon haqq [truth] now? Al-Khilafah does not need them, rather, they need al-khilafah.”
A number of the world’s most senior jihadi ideologues have already come out against ISIS on the caliphate question, and the criticism from supporters of al-Qaida and groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida-anointed jihadi group in Syria, has been scathing. Meanwhile, ISIS has so far only received the pledge of allegiance (bay’a) from a small number of minor clerics, dissidents from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and groups in the Syrian-Iraqi theater that were at risk of being swallowed by ISIS anyway. To be sure, ISIS has also seen many declarations of support from grassroots sympathizers around the world, but it is unclear whether these are newly won adherents or people who were cheering on ISIS already.
Should or shouldn’t the U.S. intervene? Well…it’s not clear cut.
However, the caliphate declaration has created a temporary political situation in which the entire jihadi movement is having to decide whether to support ISIS or not. A U.S. offensive in Iraq right now would force that decision in ISIS’s favor for many groups and individuals. Had the caliphate not been declared, a U.S. intervention would not have quite the same rallying effect. Of course, the U.S. may well choose to ignore these factors, but then at least ISIS has done what it could to maximize the cost for the United States associated with an offensive. If, on the other hand, the United States decides to postpone its contribution to the Iraqi counteroffensive, ISIS will temporarily face less resistance. The caliphate declaration may thus have been partly designed—or at least timed—to help ISIS consolidate its territorial gains in Iraq.
These were just some of the many interesting nuggets from Hegghammer’s piece. The entire thing is worth reading: