The advancing onslaught of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq has left observers scrambling. Analysts have published articles and referenced history in an effort to explain why the timing of the surge is significant and how the current strategic and tactical efforts of the network support an overarching motivation and goal. These variables would ostensibly assist the public in understanding the purpose for the group’s existence.

As a consequence of the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003, many policy analysts have subscribed to the perception that U.S. influence around the world is waning. Comparatively speaking, many of these same analysts have pointed to the rise of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) as both a variable in the collapse of American influence as well as for context in proving the point that American power is in decline. Taken in context of the unpopularity of the war in Iraq in many countries around the globe, it is easy to accept that American foreign policy remains a divisive issue at best and for many an example of American decline at worst. Domestic politics has compounded the clouding of this issue. American policy makers and security strategists are often restrained due to the United States’ character as a Republic. The accountability of Executive and Legislative office holders to their constituencies in elections ensures a modicum of responsibility is impressed upon each elected official in the form of votes. This ensures that the decisions of the American government remain close to the people and lends transparency to the process of governing and executing foreign policy.

The surge of ISIS into Iraq this past month has brought recent American foreign policy decision back into the public debate in stark relief. Observers have noted the shrewdness of the social media savvy group in embracing its public profile and have analysed the group’s statements in an effort to understand where the group envisions itself as regards the international structure. With the establishment of The Islamic Caliphate, the group is clearly in pursuit of tacit international legitimacy and the benefits that come with a recognized state. However, it is unlikely that the international community would even consider offering the group the legitimacy of a recognized state, largely due to the nature in which the group arrived at the declaration and the threat that the group poses to all surrounding states. A key moment in the history of ISIS is certainly the takeover of Mosul in Iraq. We analyzed the offensive into Mosul at Foreign Intrigue on June 11 as ISIS moved into Mosul in our article “ISIS and the Fall of Mosul.” News outlets have produced good information and background as well. ABC News noted a map tweeted out by ISIS this past weekend.

ISIS has built its reputation as the the standard-bearer of jihad in its years of war in Syria. In battling the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to a stalemate, ISIS has garnered international appeal in fundamentalist circles while inspiring and attracting recruits from Europe and the Caucasus. The potential for a wider international jihadist effort, inspired and spearheaded by a suddenly surging ISIS, has become the topic du jour for many western policy analysts. As the crisis in Iraq has escalated, policy professionals and military analysts have been producing public assessments of ISIS, breaking down the group’s motivations, strategies, and goals. A few writers in particular have bravely strayed from conventional wisdom as it is constructed with the ongoing events in Iraq and have drawn keen interest for their conclusions.

In her International Policy Digest article, “Beyond Iraq: Consequences of the ISIS Advance,” Danielle Grassi outlines several variables to help explain the motivation for the timing of the ISIS surge. Grassi states that the factors laid out in her article have catalyzed and  burgeoned the success of the group in the past year.

Further, she posits that the recent capture of territory throughout Iraq helps explain where the group will focus next and for what purpose. Grassi notes that the astonishing speed by which Iraqi cities have fallen, how the regime of Nouri al-Maliki has helped facilitate the rapid decline in stability left by United States military and diplomatic forces, and underlines the sectarian divisions that would theoretically play a pivotal role in the bloody violence ISIS hopes to foment in Iraq.

Grassi begins with an analysis of the effectiveness of ISIS in battling a state military in Syria. Grassi posits that the Syrian conflict has force-multiplied the effectiveness of what is, by comparison to the Syrian state military, a miniscule force:

Events in Syria should have represented a wake-up call to policymakers both locally and internationally. The rapid conquest of Raqqa and other territories in northern Syria had already highlighted the great military capabilities of the group and its high degree of organization. (Grassi, International Policy Digest, June 19)