Early reports are indicating that British citizen Mohamed Emwazi, AKA Jihad John, has been killed by a US drone strike in the so-called Islamic State’s capital city of Raqqa, Syria. Jihad John was used as an ISIS frontman, a sort of Cobra Commander figure, in propaganda films in which hostages such as John Foley were beheaded. While confirmation of his death is not forthcoming, the press and many Americans are already chalking this one up as a victory. A propaganda win, not far removed from the type of information operation which the Russians are also waging in Syria.
Human beings love narratives, cute stories which tie events together into a cohesive plot. Countries which are traditionally adversarial towards each other are currently using the ISIS narrative to their own ends. ISIS is a boogyman, one which represents the deepest fears that the West has about the Middle East, Arabs, and Islam. Because of this it makes for great narrative fodder for players as varied as Iran, Russia, the United States, the Kurds, and other countries who are now cracking down on internal dissent with the excuse that they are merely fighting ISIS in their home countries.
Americans are just as susceptible to propaganda as anyone else of course. We love fictional tales of maverick empowered female CIA operatives who track down Bin Laden and lead heroic military men into his home to kill him. Many in the CIA love the fiction as well, as indicated by their collaboration on the the film Zero Dark Thirty. In Russia, Vladimir Putin has based his political career on an imaginary persona, the guy who rides bears and shoots a whale with a crossbow. In Syria, the daily propaganda quota from the Russians tells us that Putin is crushing ISIS in weeks, something America failed to do in years. However, when we take a closer look at Russian airstrikes in Syria we see that they are not targeting ISIS for the most part, but rather trying to prop up and protect the Assad regime. This is no surprise of course, Putin went on 60 Minutes and told the American public that this is what his agenda was.