A diplomat’s perspective on ISIS

One of the speakers on our Crystal cruise, which included stops in Morocco, was Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Morocco, Marc Ginsberg. One of Ginsberg’s talks was on the situation with ISIS (see also the book Black Flags, which Ginsberg recommends for background and which I discuss in Vetting immigrants for terrorism potential).

Ginsberg talked about some of the wellsprings of Islamic jihad:

  • verses in the Koran
  • jihad tutorials on YouTube and Facebook
  • ISIS “media products” (20 per day), which these days are “mostly on tactical subjects, how to rent a truck to kill pedestrians, how to make bombs.”
  • thousands of hours of YouTube sermons by Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. citizen imam killed by a drone strike (the Week).
  • huge surpluses of young people generated by population growth in Islamic countries that have adopted European medical and resource exploitation technologies (chart for Morocco, which Ginsberg says has supplied quite a few volunteers for ISIS)

Most of these are not governmental, but Ginsberg, as a former government official, sees the role of governments and the U.S. government in particular as key. Qatar, the Saudis, and the Emiratis are financing “terrorists” (I don’t like to use the term, but Ginsberg did). The Obama Administration through “ignorance and determination to avoid responsibility” helped ISIS to grow. His former boss Bill Clinton is not entirely off the book; Ginsberg pointed out that the U.S. spent a huge amount of money and military power to establish Kosovo as a Muslim state within Europe. Now the kids and grandkids of the people whom we purportedly rescued are joining the jihad. Partly this is due to Saudi funding that is transforming Kosovo into a Wahhabi state.

Ginsberg is more impressed by the Trumpenfuhrer’s foreign policy than by Obama’s: “Trump gets an A+ for the liberation of Mosul.” It is unclear why this deserves an A because Ginsberg noted that, as in the movie Team America, liberation meant that “the city is now completely destroyed.” Trump also gets praise for “unshackling” the U.S. military compared to the “inept” Obama Administration.

Despite Trump having taken up residence in the Reich Chancellery, Ginsberg says that ISIS is now doing pretty well. They’ve turned the Sinai into a “killing field for the Egyptian military” and are generally poised to take over the Sinai.

As with most smart people, Ginsberg is better at describing the history of a problem than at coming up with solutions. He would like to see Google and Facebook forced to remove jihad-related content, which he says is a violation of their current terms of use. Unfortunately the companies don’t care until there is some negative financial consequence, e.g., corporate America pulling ads. More problematic to implement would be Ginsberg’s proposed ban on encrypted communication apps, which he says are critical to waging Islamic jihad. I can’t figure out how that would work since it is possible to get an Android phone that will accept apps from any source, right? Even if iPhones are completely locked down, what stops would-be jihadis from using unlocked Android phones and putting whatever applications they want on them?

It was an interesting talk to hear, but not an encouraging one.


  1. Suzanne Goode

    October 10, 2017 @ 12:42 pm


    Ginsberg claims that ISIS is taking over the Sinai. So I googled a hotel where our family stayed multiple times in the early 1990s (husband was with USAID in Cairo, about 4 hrs away by car), as it was close to Eilat (dolphin swim, aquarium, and clean water/food), and had a salt water pool and mini village with playground, etc., for our then-young children. It sounds as though it’s still a wonderful destination, in spite of the 2004 terrorist attack at the entrance: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g297557-d1228401-Reviews-Taba_Hotel_and_Nelson_Village-Taba_Red_Sea_and_Sinai.html

    So perhaps it’s too close to Israel to have been infiltrated by ISIS?

  2. Neal

    October 10, 2017 @ 1:23 pm


    >Ginsberg is more impressed
    >by the Trumpenfuhrer’s foreign
    >policy than by Obama’s

    Foreign policy in general, or foreign policy with regard to ISIS?

  3. paddy

    October 10, 2017 @ 2:04 pm


    You wouldn’t even need the app to be on a phone – just web browser access to an encrypted message site. Tutanota.com for example, implements crypto inside your browser – even they (supposedly) can’t read your messages between you and another user.

  4. philg

    October 11, 2017 @ 11:32 am


    Neal: Ginsburg characterized the Obama Administration as having been incompetent in every area of foreign policy that was discussed on the trip, including with respect to North Korea and the Middle East. He didn’t talk about what Obama and team might have done in Latin America, though.

  5. Neal

    October 11, 2017 @ 11:37 am


    philg: Did he say that President Trump’s policy was an improvement in all of these areas?

  6. philg

    October 11, 2017 @ 12:06 pm


    Neal: Yes. In every area where the administrations could be compared, the Trump Administration was pursuing a more sensible policy and was being more effective. That said, even mediocrity would have been an enormous improvement over the Obama State Department in this guy’s view.

  7. ZZAZZ

    October 11, 2017 @ 12:07 pm


    >>>Ginsburg characterized the Obama Administration as having been incompetent in every area of foreign policy that was discussed on the trip, including with respect to North Korea and the Middle East.

    At a minimum, I’d require an enumeration of the supposed defects in Obama’s policies before granting the guy a hearing. Quite likely the supposed defects aren’t defects at all–that’s usually why they are left unstated. Just calling him incompetent without an explanation is just slander.

  8. philg

    October 11, 2017 @ 12:40 pm


    ZZAZZ: Remember that this guy was a professional diplomat and therefore a bureaucrat within the Clinton Administration. Unlike a typical American, therefore, he didn’t see President Obama as a demigod like an Egyptian pharaoh. So he wouldn’t have been attributing the described incompetence of the Obama Administration to a godlike Obama at the top, but rather to a set of individuals, most of whose names would be unknown outside the Beltway. Similarly, when looking for things that the Trump Administration could do better he would be talking about Rex Tillerson and subordinates, not about a god-like omniscient Trump.

  9. the other Donald

    October 11, 2017 @ 3:35 pm


    Trump only needs one constituent: Donald Trump. He just kisses his own ass until it feels like the whole world is with him. Even Little Rocket Man will be on board soon.

  10. ZZAZZ

    October 12, 2017 @ 3:15 am


    Well, I must say that Hillary’s stint as Secretary of State looked like an excuse to tour. So maybe the guy has a point.

    Most of my life I thought it takes special abilities that are invisible to me to perform in high positions, but now I think the people in high positions are just ordinary people making the same mistakes I or anyone else would make.

  11. json formatter

    October 12, 2017 @ 4:25 am


    Ginsberg is better at describing the history of a problem than at coming up with solutions

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