In the Aftermath of Paris, Part One:
ISIS Won On Friday, February 13, agents of ISIS carried out a coordinated attack of devastating effect at several venues on a warm, pleasant night in Paris, leaving 129 citizens of the world dead. France has been under attack by ISIS since the Charlie Hebdo attack in January, and before, yet the citizens of France and the residents of Paris are resilient, determined, and remain free.
But, in America, ISIS won a great victory to their perverted eyes. If they want their own version of Armageddon brought down upon them to end the world, then of course attacking the world's greatest powers is bound to tempt that fate. Before the Paris attacks, ISIS apparently brought down a Russian passenger jet with a small home-made bomb hidden in a soda can. Yet it is in America where the terror seems to have the greatest effect. ISIS has not won in Paris. But it has in Washington and in at least 31 governors' offices throughout this land. ISIS won here without firing a single shot on US soil. They won because we let them get inside our collective psyche. We let them scare us to the point that we are willing to forgo the very things that make us who we are, for the sake of a false sense of security.
In a recent poll, 65% of Americans now want boots on the ground in Syria. Two-thirds of the states in the United States are preparing to refuse Syrian refugees asylum in our country despite the fact that not one single refugee has been linked to any act of terror anywhere. One of the Paris attackers was carrying a Syrian passport, but it proved to be fake. In fact, every attacker on Friday was a citizen either of France or Belgium. They were home grown, like Timothy McVee in America. The House of Representatives has passed legislation to require individual sign-offs on all entering refugees by key security heads that would effectively disable those leaders from performing the rest of their duties. One Presidential candidate has even suggested that a national registry be mandated for people of Muslim faith.
France seems to look at this tragedy differently. Not all Frenchmen, to be sure, but the ones I am hearing from are more concerned that every attacker was home-grown. Somehow each was radicalized and turned into a weapon of mass destruction. The French want to figure out how to be more inclusive and less racist as part oif their strategy to make their country as safe as possible. It happened to them, yet we in America take it personally. We seem to be clamoring for less inclusion and more racial profiling, with it spewing out the rhetoric of hate that emboldens and empowers the terrorists and gives them recruiting tools right in their bloodied hands.
One thing terrorist attacks prove, if nothing else, is that they target their victims randomly without regard or concern for humanity. This is not the act of a soldier. It is the act of a criminal. This is not a conventional war. It cannot be won by conventional armies fighting in conventional ways. Boots on the ground helped create ISIS in the first place and will not be sufficient to destroy it. We must change our mindset, as the French seem to be doing. We need to disband the tools of hatred and recruiting. Meanwhile, we must label these terrorists for what they are: criminals. Criminals are watched, chased, caught, and brought to justice. ISIS won their victory last week. Ultimately, ISIS will fail in the “war” they are waging. Their acts go against the very God they claim to emulate. We must not let our acts betray the God or Gods each of us holds as our moral compass, or we become no better than terrorists ourselves.
In the Aftermath of Paris, Part Two:
Fighting ISIS I am a pacifist, so it is with great difficulty that I say the following. However, the events in Paris underscore for me that the world is at war with ISIS, and that ISIS is at war with the world. I still find it unbelievable that a mere thirty thousand “soldiers” can hold the world hostage with the threat of random and unrelenting violence, but it is what is happening. The old saying goes, if you want a war you will find a way to have one. If a terrorist wants to inflict terror, he will find a way. This said, the leaders of the West in particular are flat out stupid to think that conventional warfare will work. Has it yet? Boots on the ground helped create this situation in the first place because end strategies were never developed. At the end of World War One the “old men of Versailles” saw to it that the losing nations, particularly Germany, would pay for what they did and thereby ensured a second world war. But at the end of World War Two the Western Allies, at least, strove not to repeat the mistakes of the past, instead endeavoring to help the vanquished rebuild behind the Marshall Plan. But when we deposed Saddam Hussein we were ineffective in rebuilding the region mainly because we had no idea – and still have no idea – what the Middle East is like or how its politics operate. So now we face splinters of the terrorist group we originally targeted in Afghanistan in 2002, spreading throughout the world in small but effectively destructive cells.
Armies and air strikes have not stopped them. Destroying the Caliphate their leaders are attempting to create will not flush out the hidden cells. Fighting ISIS is much more complicated, much more electronic and much less military, but we seem to be stuck fighting the last war. ISIS fights unconventionally and we must respond unconventionally. Simplify in the face of complexity. Redefine the enemy first: they are criminals, not soldiers. They are murderers, not patriots. Hunt them down with police and special and/or tactical forces, flush them out, capture, and bring them to justice, and, if necessary, kill them. This must be a coordinated effort between local law enforcement working in conjunction with international special forces and a world wide cooperative intelligence effort. We spend billions of dollars bombing Syrian and Iraqi sand; use that money to finance proper intelligence gathering, surveillance, personnel training and outfitting, and police action. It could become a bit like the Wild West out there but at least that is something Americans can understand.
We cannot hope to stop every fanatic or crazy person from acting in explosive violence. Domestic America is proof of that with our bi-monthly massacres. But we can find radicalized individuals, one by one, and take legal action against them. We should never fight terror by inflicting terror, but we can remove its agents from the playing field, at least as effectively as our drone strikes and bombing runs, and I believe much more so. The other part of the equation is to truncate the radicalization of these angry young men and women, to find ways to redress their perceived grievances and re-direct their angry energy into forms that might actually help the very people they might attack. What I suggest is not perfect, and I offer no specifics because I suspect we will have to act on a one by one basis, but our own energies and resources would be better spent trying to fix things rather than destroy them.
A good pacifist is also a student of war. It bears repeating: lesson one is, yesterday's tactics don't work today but today's generals always forget. Except for one, who figures out another way and takes the rest of us by surprise. We need to stop being surprised.
In the Aftermath of Paris, Part Three: Coalitions
France has been attacked. Russia has been attacked. America has been attacked. Great Britain has been attacked. Mali has been attacked. And more, and more – the list grows as the tactic of terror finds its expression written in blood. ISIS is not an American problem or a Russian or French one. It is not a regional problem confined to the Middle East to be left to the nations neighboring Syria and Iraq. It is not a problem of one state or nation attempting to conquer another, although one component of the very complicated situation is ISIS' apparent desire to create its own Caliphate. It is not a religious problem although many on different sides would make it so. ISIS is a world policing problem. If we simplify our approach to think of ISIS (and Al Qeada) as internationally illegitimate criminals and nothing more, we may begin to resolve the problem that bombs and troops cannot. Strip this enemy of any other legitimacy or label. Call them what they are and pursue them in that light.
There are steps to be taken. A loose coalition already exists, but it must expand. The United States and Russia must coordinate their efforts and realize each other's political ambitions within the region. This is key – ISIS would love nothing better than to see a military confrontation between the two superpowers over Syrian airspace escalate into a new Cold War. Perhaps both Putin and Obama can agree to remove politics altogether until the simpler task at hand is fulfilled, namely, destroying ISIS. The rest of NATO and the world community should climb on board, with the United Nations taking a leading role through an empowered World Court backed by a coalition not of armies but of police. France might just lead the way, and the World Court headquarters in den Haag is ready and waiting to fill its docket.
Americans in particular should start by admitting that we have no idea what is really going on in the Middle East, that we do not understand how Theocrats think, that we are out of our depth trying to tell the people there what to do and how to do it. But we can do things. We can offer massive rewards to ISIS members to bring in other ISIS members, or turn themselves in for “repatriation.” Spend what it costs to kill one to buy one instead. It won't get them all, but it may gut their numbers.
We must address the core of the problem: desperate, angry young men (mostly men) who will jump to a cause for a sense of family pretty much at the drop of a hat. Testosterone is the enemy when combined with a certain fundamental belief in one's own invincibility. People under 25 are easily coerced into causes that are often violent. They develop an “us against the world” attitude, easily exploited. They can become convinced that inflicting fear is the same as earning respect. They measure respect earned by our response to the fear inflicted. Wars are not fought by soldiers fifty years of age or older. I think they should be. In the meantime, we must divert these young people from their destructive behaviors. We need to fight radicalization with education. We need to promote tolerance of all faiths and belief systems. We need to stop invoking God as an excuse to kill and maim each other. When faced with injustice and cruelty offer justice and kindness. We need to accept the responsibility to provide all peoples of the earth with basic needs for survival with dignity: among them, food, shelter,clean water and air, work, education, and healthcare. FDR said as much 70 years ago. It's time to act.
I was born in Holland in 1950. My parents immigrated to the US when I was two. I have many close friends and family on both continents. My wife Diane and I have been happily married since 1974. I have four children and one grandchild (two more are on the way). I love writing and sharing what I wrote most of all..