Peter Bergen at CNN estimates the total number of Islamist Jihadists in the world, over the dozen or so areas where there are conflicts.
If we tally up the low and high estimates for all these groups, we can begin to have a sense of the total number of jihadist militants that are part of formal organizations around the globe. We found that on the low end, an estimated 85,000 men are fighting in jihadist groups around the world; on the high end, 106,000. …
(We excluded from our overall account the armed forces of Hezbollah and Hamas, because these organizations also engage in conventional politics and governing and also do not attack American targets — all facts that make them at odds with al Qaeda and its affiliates and splinter groups).
In one sense the approximate number of 100,000 is reassuring as it represents just 0.006% of the total Muslim population of 1.6 billion.
But I also find it a frighteningly large number, as this is not an estimate of conventional forces, but of people willing to die as part of a jihad, including suicide attacks.
By historical standards this is hardly a major threat. At the end of the Cold War, Soviet and other Warsaw Pact countries could muster around 6 million men to fight in a war against the West, a number that is some 60 times greater than the total number of militants estimated to be fighting for jihadist organizations today.
And, of course, the Soviets had a vast supply of nuclear-armed, land-based missiles, nuclear-armed submarines and nuclear-armed bombers and many other highly sophisticated weapons systems that jihadist organizations have never acquired and are quite unlikely to.
The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that the threat posed by jihadist organizations around the globe is quite inconsequential when compared with what the West faced in the past century.
I don’t think it is comparing apples and applies. The nature of warfare has changed. Look what damage a dozen terrorists did on 9/11. They may not be an existential threat, but they are a significant one.
The vast majority of the estimated 85,000 to 106,000 militants fighting with militant jihadist groups around the world are fighting for purely local reasons, for instance, trying to install Sharia law in northern Nigeria or trying to impose Taliban rule on Pakistan and Afghanistan, while only a small number of these militants are focused on attacking the West.
That is some relief (except for the locals), but once they succeed in forming Islamic states with sharia laws, will they become safe havens for those who want to attack the West?
Having said that, the best outcome in Iraq and Syria might be to let ISIS rule the area they already have, rather than try to bomb them into submission. Let them have their own mad evil country, and watch it crumble as they try to govern with no ability or resources.