ISIS raises much of its money just as a well-organized criminal gang would do. It smuggles, it extorts, it skims, it fences, it kidnaps and it shakes down. Although supposedly religiously inspired, its actions are more like those of an organized criminal cult.
When U.S. combat troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan in December 2014, and training units follow two years later, the dynamics that once turned northern India's Kashmir into both a target and an incubator of global terrorism may return. This would threaten U.S. security, as well as that of the region.
Recent analysis about how to defeat the Islamic State tends to be based on no more than intuition, a general sense of history, or a small number of cases of questionable comparability. A study of 71 historical cases of counterinsurgencies should help provide empirical evidence to this important debate.
Reports that the United States refused to pay ransom for journalist James Foley, only weeks before it released Taliban prisoners in exchange for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, have caused confusion about U.S. policy. On the surface, it may seem inconsistent. Why release prisoners but not pay ransom?
The threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters cannot be resolved by the United States, or any ally, working alone. It calls for broad international cooperation on law enforcement, intelligence sharing and other areas for many years to come.
Disrupting the terrorist safe havens in Syria and Iraq would require a balanced approach that makes the business of terrorist planning and training difficult without entangling U.S. forces in new conflicts and angering the very populations the United States seeks to assist.
To disrupt al-Baghdadi's advance, the United States and its allies should start by addressing the source of the problem -- the conflict in Syria. They can begin by negotiating a truce with President Bashar Assad to stop the fighting in Syria.
While the United States could embark on a much wider war in Iraq, there's little reason to think it will rush to do so or that using airpower to help defend the Kurds will make such an escalation inevitable.