Reality Check: Is ISIS Really Winning?

With the horrific attack in Orlando this past week it can almost seem like the Islamic State is unstoppable. Indeed, the terrorist organization has carried out numerous attacks on the Western world. We've had to deal with San Bernardino, Paris, Brussels, Australia, Paris again, and now Orlando. Surely this is a sign of a growing extremist vitality. The Islamic State is winning the war we are waging against extremism.

Or is it? The portrayal of ISIS in the media would certainly lead to the conclusion that the great American military is faltering against this dark force. But let's try to look at the facts. First of all, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the media is sensationalist. There is an inherent bias in America to report on stories with greater emotional and popular sway. Therefore, a terrorist attack in Paris or Orlando is going to get more publicity than a successful liberation in Iraq. This creates a system of information conveyance that is prejudiced towards the failures of the battle against the Islamic State. This phenomenon must be factored into anyone's judgment of the events unfolding on the world stage.

With this new recognition of bias, we should take another look at the news. You won't find it in the headlines or on the front page, but there is a catalog of the victories against the Islamic State in the secondary layer of the media. Within the past two years, ISIS has lost over one-fifth of its territory. The caliphate has seen the loss of Tikrit, Kobane, Ramadi, Sinjar, nearly the entirety of its border with Turkey, and countless oil fields. With the loss of territory the Islamic State has been deprived of vital sources of tax revenue, oil profits, illicit smuggling pathways, and coerced manpower.

Moreover, one can only speculate as to the decline in morale since the glory days of ISIS when it marched on Iraq's Second City, Mosul. And now that prize appears to be in jeopardy. Over the past month anti-ISIS forces have staged a three-fronted attack on Islamic State territory. At this very moment American backed Kurds are advancing on ISIS-held Manbij, Iraqi troops are advancing into the center of ISIS-held Fallujah, and the Syrian military is advancing toward Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State. This past weekend in fact the Iraqi military seized control of Fallujah's city hall. Once Fallujah falls, which seems imminent, the only major city left in ISIS's grasp in Iraq is Mosul which the Iraqi Prime Minister has vowed to take back with American military support.

Therefore, with nearly all of its important holdings gone in Iraq and its capital in the balance is ISIS really the invincible force it appears to be? Frankly the answer is no. Then why do we see an increase in terrorist attacks in the West? The answer is simple. The Islamic State is rapidly deteriorating and they know it. To keep up soldier morale and to continue their jihad they need to maintain their rock-star appeal. They need victories in a world where they are consistently being denied success. Inspiring an unstable individual in Florida to purchase a gun and kill fifty people is much easier than developing an effective military strategy to retake land they have decisively lost. Thus, the feeling that we all have of the invincibility of ISIS is just a capitulation to the terrorist propaganda machine. Ultimately, terrorist attacks are managed by the PR department and we should react to them as such.

It is extremely important, therefore, not to succumb to the ignorant ranting of an opportunistic demagogue. The death of fifty people in Orlando is apparently political fodder for our dictatorial presidential candidate. The effectiveness of ISIS propaganda plays right into his hand. ISIS creates the illusion, our candidate seizes upon that image and promises he can fix the problem. When you only have headlines and sensationalism to go off of then the candidate's vision may seem appropriate. However, headlines and sensationalism are not reality. What we are seeing is a classic reoccurrence of what has happened in history countless other times. A small group of people uses effective propaganda to inflate the apparent magnitude of their cause inducing a boisterous autocrat to restrict the values he was elected to protect. Voting for our demagogue is an uninformed vote against the morals and values of our nation.