Everyone's freaking out about the fact that an American named Douglas McAuthur McCain died fighting for ISIS in Syria, but this (from Michael Schmidt's story in The New York Times) makes perfect sense to me:
Mr. McCain's death ... is a sign that ISIS, at least in this case, is willing to use Americans on the battlefield in the Middle East rather than sending them back to the United States to launch attacks, as Western officials have feared.Our fear merchants always flip out imagining that Americans will learn terrorist skills overseas and then return to the U.S. to put what they've learned into practice. But why is that the ultimate fear? The people who've actually launched successful stateside terrorist attacks since 9/11 -- the Tsarnaevs, Major Hasan at Fort Hood -- were longtime U.S. residents with no battlefield experience who got the majority of their inspiration by going online right here in America. And the alleged threat that has Senator Inhofe's hair on fire -- that ISIS is "rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city" -- has nothing to do with combat skills or overseas experience. I think the special fear that we'll face combat-hardened returnees on U.S. soil comes from war movies, post-apocalypse video games -- and, maybe, the crypto-rape mental narratives that lead gun-rights activists and anti-immigrant zealots to imagine "urban thugs" and child immigrants invading the Real America in marauding waves.
"His death is further evidence that Americans are going there to fight for ISIS rather than to train as terrorists to attack at home," said Richard Barrett, a former British intelligence officer who is now a vice president at the Soufan Group, security consultants in New York. "Nor does it appear that ISIS regards Americans as assets that are too valuable to risk on the front line rather than to keep in reserve for terrorist attacks or propaganda purposes."
Obviously, we need to make sure the choke points are working -- Schmidt, in the Times, says the government knew about McCain and would have prevented him from returning:
The federal authorities learned only after he arrived in the country that Mr. McCain had traveled to Syria, according to senior American officials. In response, the American authorities included him on a watch list of potential terrorism suspects maintained by the federal government. Had Mr. McCain tried to re-enter the country, he would have almost certainly faced an extra level of scrutiny before boarding any commercial airliner bound for the United States, the officials said.Well, I hope so. But I'm not going to believe that ISIS in on the verge of sending a battalion to America just because ISIS wants me to believe that. I'm reminded of this from Jon Lee Anderson's recent New Yorker piece about the killing of James Foley:
Last week, I met with Faisal Ali Waraabe, a politician in the Justice and Welfare Party, from Somaliland. He is a candidate in next year's Presidential elections.... Last year, he lost his twenty-two-year-old son Sayid, who was born and raised in Finland, to the dark enticements of ISIS. His son had also persuaded his young, new wife to join him, and the two now live, according to his father, near the town of Raqqa, ISIS's main urban stronghold in Syria. Faisal showed me a recent video of his son, posted on an ISIS Web site, on his smartphone; it shows a black-turbaned young man mounted on a horse, talking in heavily accented Finnish, and smiling into the camera. Calling himself Abu Shuaib al Somali, Sayid says, "The rule of Sharia will even come to Finland, and if you get called then, alhamdulillah, you'll enter Jannah" -- paradise -- "inshallah and Allah will take care of the ones you've left behind."With fierce fighting still going on in ISIS's sphere of influence, how likely do you think it is that ISIS will launch an assault on Finland? How likely is it that ISIS believes the road to the global caliphate runs through Helsinki? And if a terrorist attack on Finland is planned, why telegraph it, alerting Finnish and global authorities to the identity of this Finnish national? Sorry, this is just a recruitment tactic built on trash talk. ISIS has its hands full. It's using foreign fighters to fight for the territory it's fighting in now. Be wary, but don't assume the ISIS hordes are coming soon just because they're boasting.