Let’s Finally Get This Right

The Paris attacks vividly illustrate the flaws in the West’s current approach to fanatical Islamic terror. Let’s not squander this moment to develop a smart and comprehensive strategy for eradicating this cancer, starting with the tumor that is the Islamic State.

It is difficult to find the words to write about the attacks in Paris.  We are saddened and horrified by the wonton violence and the scale of the carnage.   Our hearts go out to the families of those killed by the terrorists, and we pray for the speedy recovery of those who were wounded.  We support the French vow for a merciless response while hoping that the French do not lose their joie de vivre.

These sentiments are, unfortunately, all-too-familiar.  The attacks in Paris mark another very sad chapter in the West’s post-9/11 history, joining the attacks in Madrid and London as tragic reminders that fanatical Islamic terror is a metastasizing cancer that cannot be confined to the Middle East, Subcontinent, and North Africa.  Indeed, “containment” of an ideologically-driven non-state actor is an illusory objective in a flat world, as the downing of the Russian passenger jet over the Sinai further demonstrates.  And even if we could “contain” this cancer with geographic borders, would we want to sentence millions of innocent people living within them to the barbarism and depravity that are the hallmarks of fanatical Islamic terror?  No.  Liberté egalité fraternité. Fanatical Islamic terror must be eradicated.

To achieve this goal, the West must immediately change its strategy and prepare itself for a generational struggle, as I have argued since the inception of this Blog:

In August, I argued that the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) was shifting to a “far enemy” strategy and was  increasingly likely to launch attacks in the West, particularly as foreign fighters returned to Europe.  Given the increasing threat posed by IS, I asked a series of questions that our policy makers needed to urgently answer in an effort to revamp our strategy for defeating radical Islamic terror:

“If we are going to support the [Sunni regimes in the Middle East], then what additional steps will we insist these regimes take to cut off the flow of their citizens to al Qaeda and IS?

What additional measures will we and our allies implement to prevent IS and al Qaeda recruits from traveling into and out of conflict zones?

Are we satisfied that the [Sunni regimes] have taken adequate steps since September 11th to stop sowing the seeds of future violent extremism in the charities, mosques, and madrassas they fund? If not, what more must be done? How will we monitor and enforce progress in these areas?

What is our long-term, multilateral strategy for defeating al Qaeda and IS using all elements of national power in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East, recognizing that this is becoming a generational struggle and that IS’s greatest recruiting tool is its claim to hold territory?”

Sadly, these questions remain unanswered.  We have no comprehensive plan for defeating IS and al Qaeda on the ground, incarcerating those terrorists who survive military action, securing rather than closing our borders, and turning an entire generation of Muslims away from the path of violent radicalization that many of their older relatives have pursued since the mid-1990s.

Our policy making in the West, moreover, is seemingly paralyzed by a pendulum that never seems to swing through the middle.  In the U.S., we cannot escape the ghosts of Iraq or the seemingly inconclusive and endless engagement in Afghanistan.   We are, therefore, hamstrung in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. In Europe and across the West, the backlash against Syrian and other refugees has already begun, notwithstanding that such xenophobia not only represents a lost opportunity to win Muslim hearts and minds, but could actually feed the IS and al Qaeda narrative that the West is at war with Islam.  And in Europe, freedom of movement is under threat and there is a real danger that smarter border control policies could be bypassed in a counterproductive quest for maximum security.

We must not squander the resolve and solidarity resulting from the tragedy in France.  Many of us have signaled our support and sympathy for France.  Facebook, for example, is now aglow in le Tricolor.  These gestures of solidarity are heartwarming, but this virtual activism will not do anything to change the political dynamics currently at play as the West grapples with fanatical Islamic terror.  If we really want to support France, we should demand that the U.S. finally do what must be done:  Lead the development and execution of a long-term, comprehensive, and multi-lateral strategy for defeating fanatical Islamic terror using all elements of hard and soft power.  Let’s finally get this right.

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