Why Donald Trump is ISIS’s favorite candidate in the presidential race

Written by Amelie Theussen, Ph.D.-Candidate at Center for War Studies

With the presidential elections in the United States less than seven weeks away and the presidential candidate’s race entering its final phase, the world is watching in suspense - or might it be horror – as the candidates battle directly on screen. Donald Trump’s suggestions have led to many shanking, wondering heads, but have also secured him the Republican nomination and strong support in the American population. Latest polls listed at the New York Times have him at 42 percent and Clinton at 45.

 But Trump’s counter-terrorism and anti-Muslim polemic and policy suggestions have not only garnered him support from within the American population, but also from an unwanted direction: interviews with ISIS supporters and former fighters suggest that the group is rooting for Trump, as the impending change in their main adversary’s leadership provides ISIS with an opportunity to advance both their military and ideological goals. In an interesting piece for Foreign Affairs, Mara Revkin and Ahmad Mhidi uncover the reasons for “Why ISIS Is Rooting for Trump”: ISIS’ jihadists “believe that he will lead the United States on a path to self-destruction”. Revkin and Mhidi find four particular reasons:

  1. “Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric plays into ISIS’ narrative of a bipolar world in which the West is at war with Islam”. In this bipolar world, you are either with them or against them, with no space for neutrality. Trump with his derogatory and extremely generalizing statements against Muslims makes the perfect enemy, as he seems to subscribe to the bipolar world. Clinton on the other hand, who repeatedly insists that “Islam is not our adversary” and “Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people” cannot as easily be demonized.
  2. “ISIS hopes that Trump will radicalize Muslims in the United States and Europe and inspire them to commit lone-wolf attacks in their home countries”. With increasing territorial losses and military setbacks for ISIS, their propaganda machine has turned focus towards inspiring homegrown terrorism and so-called “lone-wolf” attacks. For them Trump gives credibility to the idea that Muslims are neither welcome nor safe in the West, and thereby facilitates radicalization. As Matt Olsen points out in his article “Why ISIS Supports Donald Trump”, Trumps rhetoric alienates and marginalizes Muslim Americans who are “in the best position to recognize the signs of radicalization and intervene before it’s too late”. This creates distrust towards government and law enforcement agencies and severely hampers possibilities to identify radicalized people and disrupt potential attacks.
  3. “ISIS supporters believe that Trump would be an unstable and irrational leader whose impulsive decision-making would weaken the United States”. According to Revkin and Mhidi, Trump is seen as “crazy” or “insane” and ISIS supporters expect that his erratic temperament would damage the US’s relations with its allies and maybe even provoke new conflicts, for example with China, or lead to isolationism, leaving the mess in Syria for the Russians to deal with. Olsen points out that Trump through his volatile ways undermines counterterrorism efforts, which are dependent on close cooperation with American allies.
  4. “ISIS subscribes to the prophecy of a “Final Battle,” to take place in the northern Syrian town of Dabiq, in which the caliphate will decisively triumph over its enemies. Some ISIS supporters believe that Trump would lead the United States and its Western allies into the apocalyptic clash they have been waiting for”. According to Twitter chatter, Trump’s belligerent rhetoric and his popularity among the American population are seen as herald for the coming apocalypse. “From ISIS’ perspective, Trump’s eagerness to wage war against the caliphate makes him an ideal adversary for this prophesied final battle.”

Consequently, despite his commitment to eradicate ISIS, Trump might be playing right into their hands. If Revkin and Mhidi’s analysis is right and Islamophobic politicians make the best enemies, according to Olsen Hillary Clinton would be the much better choice for national security.  

Further Reading:

For the elections polls at the New York Times check out this page (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/polls.html?_r=0).

You can find Mara Revkin and Ahmad Mhidi’s article “Why ISIS is rooting for Trump. Islamophobic Politicians Make the Best Enemies” at Foreign Affairs here (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-08-24/why-isis-rooting-trump-0) and Matt Olsen’s “Why ISIS Supports Donald Trump” in the Time here (http://time.com/4480945/isis-donald-trump/).

 And if you want to know more about Trump’s ideas for his anti-terrorism policy, head over to Foreign Policy and read Max Boot’s argument “Why Trump Is the Islamic State’s Dream Candidate” here (https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/09/19/why-trump-is-the-islamic-states-dream-candidate-us-election-terrorism/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=flash%20points%209-20&utm_term=Flashpoints).

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