Foreign Policy Digital

What the End of ISIS Means

Five questions to help understand what exactly America’s latest Middle Eastern war has, and hasn’t, accomplished.

Unless you’re someone who thinks beheading people is an appropriate way to advance a repressive political cause, the imminent demise of the Islamic State is welcome news. But we should be wary of a premature “Mission Accomplished” moment and be judicious in drawing lessons from an outcome that otherwise merits celebration.

Toward that end, here is a preliminary assessment of what the defeat of the Islamic State means, in the form of five questions and some provisional answers.

Was the Islamic State a genuine “revolutionary state”?

Back in 2015, I noting the similarities between the Islamic State and other revolutionary movements (e.g., the Jacobins, Bolsheviks, Khmer Rouge, etc.), and I drew some fairly obvious lessons from those earlier historical episodes. Each of these radical movements proclaimed an extreme vision for transforming society, believed the forces of history (or divine providence) were on their side and guaranteed their success, relied on extreme violence to advance their aims, and possessed some capacity to inspire people in distant lands. Yet I argued that the Islamic State was not as dangerous as many people maintained, because most revolutionary

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