When we think of ISIS’s enemies, we usually list religions other than Islam, Islamics who reject Sunni puritanism, local states, Western states and so on. But from the perspective of Fourth Generation war theory, ISIS’s most important competition may be with Hezbollah. These two Islamic Fourth Generation entities represent two different models of 4GW. Hezbollah’s model hollows out the state where it is based but leaves it standing. The ISIS model does away with the state and creates a replacement in the form of a caliphate, which is a pre-state type of government. (Ironically, the ultra-puritan ISIS proclaimed a caliphate that, under Islamic law, is illegitimate, because the legitimate caliph is still the head of the house of Osman; the Ottoman sultan was also a caliph).
The competition between these two approaches to Fourth Generation war is ending, and the verdict is clear: the Hezbollah model wins. This does not come as a great surprise, except possibly to ISIS. By seizing territory and proclaiming a caliphate, ISIS opened itself up to defeat by state militaries. Those state militaries could fight the way they are trained and equipped to, in a war of firepower and attrition where the goal is to seize and hold ground. Whenever 4GW forces take on state armed forces in that kind of fight, they are likely to lose. They are pitting their physical weakness against their opponents’ greatest strength, which lies in the tactical/physical box on the grid. (For the grid, see the Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook.)
In contrast, the Hezbollah model uses a hollowed-out state to shift the conflict away from the tactical/physical box to 4GW entities’ greatest strength, the box marked strategic/moral (Col. John Boyd argued this is the most powerful box, while the tactical/physical box is the weakest in determining the ultimate outcome.) The Lebanese state protects Hezbollah strategically and morally because it is impossible to attack Hezbollah’s base without also attacking the nominally sovereign state of Lebanon. Because the international ruling elite regards attacks on other states, especially weak states that themselves pose no threat, as morally wrong, the attacker quickly finds himself condemned and isolated. This, more than Hezbollah’s tactical strength, is why ((((((((((Our Greatest Ally))))))))))’s attempts to attack Hezbollah on Lebanese soil have resulted in defeat, although Hezbollah is much better tactically than most other 4GW entities.
ISIS may now attempt to revert to the Hezbollah model, but I think it is unlikely to succeed. That model requires years of patient development and serving rather than oppressing the local population, and I doubt ISIS is capable of either. The fall of its illegitimate caliphate will erode its ability to recruit and to secure funding, and like Al Qaeda it will become a wraith of its former self.
But just at this point of success the West’s inability to understand Fourth Generation war will set it up again for failure. Western governments fall into the trap of defining their enemies as this or that particular 4GW bogeyman: al Qaeda or ISIS or Hamas or whatever. In doing so, they miss the forest for the trees. 4GW entities, Islamic or otherwise, come and go. Each particular entity matters relatively little. What matters is that they can generate themselves endlessly so long as we miss the real threat, in the form of the ground from which they all spring. That ground is the crisis of legitimacy of the state. As Martin van Creveld said to me many years ago, everyone can see it except the people in the capital cities.
The origin of the crisis of legitimacy, in turn, is the emptying the state of its content, something the Globalist elite demands. This “internationalist” view has been dominant among the global elite since the end of World War I, and you cannot now dissent from it and remain a member of the elite. That is why the elite so fears and loathes President Trump, who represents the return of state sovereignty – and with it a resurgent legitimacy of the state. Such a resurgence is the only thing that can defeat not this or that 4GW entity, but 4GW itself at the decisive strategic/moral level.
Does this make 4GW and the Globalist elite de facto allies? Draw your own conclusion.