While the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has now proved an unexpected capacity for overseas attacks, the end result will almost certainly be a quicker demise of the original political-messianic project. Why did striking out at foreign powers suddenly become a priority?
The battle to carve out the new homeland has hit some rough patches. The euphoria after the taking of Mosul in June 2014 has faded, and the conquering of Fallujah last summer has yielded no real strategic advantage. Indeed, it has begun to unite ISIL's fractious enemies: the Iraqi military, Iranian-backed militias and Kurdish forces.
Meanwhile, Russia's military intervention to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, even if it has been more directed at U.S.-backed Syrian rebels than at ISIL forces, bodes ill for the jihadis. Most important, even as the terrorists were carrying out their spree in Paris, Kurdish Peshmerga forces were mopping up after successfully taking the key Iraqi city of Sinjar this week.
All of these developments may cut deeply into the narrative of scriptural inevitability that ISIL uses to attract and keep its followers. The problem with a doomsday cult is that you have to keep your followers on edge, believing that the apocalypse is just around the corner.
In any case, as ISIL and its supporters congratulate themselves, seeing a barbaric victory in Paris, they are forgetting the fate of another extremist Muslim group, one that had actually come much closer to achieving its dream of a lasting fundamentalist political entity but got mixed up in a spectacular terrorist attack against the West. One suspects that, in hindsight, the Taliban rues the day it gave Osama bin Laden sanctuary to plan 9/11. Let's hope that someday soon, as its last adherents die or slink away, ISIL feels the same way about 11/13.
Tobin Harshaw, Bloomberg View
Like millions of people, I've been obsessively following the news from Paris, putting aside other things to focus on the horror. It's the natural human reaction. But let's be clear: It's also the reaction the terrorists want. And that's something not everyone seems to understand.
Take, for example, Jeb Bush's declaration that "this is an organized attempt to destroy Western civilization." No, it isn't. It's an organized attempt to sow panic, which isn't at all the same thing.
The point is not to minimize the horror. It is, instead, to emphasize that the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted, but from the wrongheaded responses it can inspire.
Terrorism is just one of many dangers in the world, and it shouldn't be allowed to divert our attention from other issues. Sorry, conservatives: when President Obama describes climate change as the greatest threat we face, he's exactly right. Terrorism can't and won't destroy our civilization, but global warming could and might.
Again, the goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, because that's all they're capable of. And the most important thing our societies can do in response is to refuse to give in to fear.
PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times
Paris is where a long trail of blood and tears, meandering through the centuries, has now stopped — for a brief while. As in many other places, the hands that pulled the triggers and pulled the fuses of bombs belonged to men and women in whose hearts burned the fires of religious zeal.
Religion, it would seem, breeds violence. We are tempted to conclude: The sooner humanity either eradicates or quarantines off religion, the better our world will be. This conclusion would be too hasty, however.
First, if the hope for the world depends on eradication of religion, we should all despair. Religions are growing. In 1970 there were 0.71 billion unaffiliated or nonreligious people, while in 2050, there will be 1.2 billion. That's impressive, until you compare it with the projected growth of religions.
Between 1970 and 2050, the number of Hindus is projected to grow from 0.43 billion to 1.4 billion, the number of Muslims from 0.55 billion to 2.7 billion and the number of Christians from 1.25 billion to 2.9 billion. It is impossible to eradicate or quarantine religion.
Second, many are mistaken about the relationship between religion and violence. The data do not support the claim that world religions are by nature violent. The single most significant factor in determining whether a religion will be implicated in violence is the level of its identification with a political project. Put the glove of religion on the hand of either a revolutionary or a statesman, and religion will more likely than not turn violent.
Many religious people, especially religious leaders, seem unable to resist the lure of political power. They hope to use the power of the state to achieve what they deem to be noble ends of their religion. But the attempts of religions to assert dominance in political societies are disastrous, mainly for people who suffer as a result but also for these religions themselves.
Miroslav Volf, Washington Post
When French President Francois Hollande said Friday's attacks on Paris were an "act of war," he was following a script set by George W. Bush in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Rhetorically, the language of war to describe a terrorist attack sends a message of seriousness and outrage. But as the United States's post-9/11 wars show, it isn't always wise to elevate a terrorist group to the level of the sovereign entities that traditionally have the authority to make war.
This was a mistake with respect to Al-Qaida, but it's a greater mistake when it comes to ISIL, whose primary aspiration is to achieve statehood. By saying that ISIL is in a war with France, Hollande is unwittingly giving the ragtag group the international stature it seeks.
A head of state who says that war has been made against his country must have a credible response in mind. Hollande must certainly realize that by acknowledging a war against France, he's acknowledging a war that France can't win, at least in the short term. More air attacks won't defeat ISIL definitively. Thus, the metaphor of the "act of war" puts France into a disadvantageous position: It's at war with an enemy, but it lacks the political will or military capacity to defeat that enemy.
Morally speaking, a terrorist attack may be as evil as an act of war. But practically, the two are very different — and preserving the distinction is wise.
Noah Feldman, Bloomberg View
In 2004, a series of terror attacks shook Russia. The second Chechen war between Russian security forces and separatist guerrillas in the Caucasus had been underway for almost five years when a suicide bomber blew up a subway train in Moscow in February of 2004, killing 42. In June, 10 people were killed by a bomb in a crowded market in Samara; in addition, police offices in the Caucasus were attacked, resulting in hundreds of casualties. Kamikazes blew up two passenger airliners, claiming 90 victims, and another suicide bomber detonated herself near a subway station, taking 10 lives.
Finally, a Chechen band seized 1,128 hostages at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia; 334 civilians, including 186 children, died during the three-day siege.
Russia has seen more terrorist attacks since that horrible year, but never another series on that scale. In 2005, President Vladimir Putin recruited the son of Chechnya's former top Muslim cleric, Akhmad Kadyrov — killed in yet another 2004 terror attack — to run Chechnya for him. Ramzan Kadyrov, then 29, was eager to avenge his father's death. He got from Putin generous funding and a dispensation to ignore federal laws, sparing no one he considered an enemy. It took him a little more than three years to end the war and make it pointless for the defeated separatists to plot terror attacks on Russian cities. The few big attacks that followed were only an echo of a once powerful campaign.
Putin intervened in Syria in part because he remembers Chechnya, and because thousands of the separatists who fought him there have now joined the ranks of ISIL. These people represent a threat like the one Russia faced in 2004, because a new war provides a new goal and new sources of funding.
Putin's bet is now the same as in Chechnya: He aids a ruthless local leader, President Bashar Assad, in taking the war to anyone who takes up arms, whether an Islamist, a terrorist or a separatist.
France and other U.S.-led coalition countries must all now assume they are potential targets for attacks like the ones in Paris. They need to decide whether they should subscribe to Putin's method of stamping out terror.
One thing is clear, though: Until the Syrian conflict is resolved and ISIL is defeated at its epicenter, no country is safe from attacks like the one that shook Paris.
Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg View
ISIL must be crushed, but that requires patience, determination and the coordination of strategies and goals that has been sorely lacking among countries involved in the war on the group, especially the U.S. and Russia.
The attacks in Paris sent a major shock wave around the world, and the Beirut bombings and the downing of the Russian civilian jetliner were every bit as horrific. The group has demonstrated that there is no limit to its reach and that no nation is really safe until they all come together to defeat this scourge.
NEW YORK TIMES
ISIL's strategy is to polarize Western society — to "destroy the grayzone," as it says in its publications. The group hopes frequent, devastating attacks in its name will provoke overreactions by European governments against innocent Muslims, thereby alienating and radicalizing Muslim communities throughout the continent. The group calculates that a small number of attackers can profoundly shift the way that European society views its 44 million Muslim members and, as a result, the way European Muslims view themselves. Through this provocation, it seeks to set conditions for an apocalyptic war with the West.
Unfortunately, elements of European society are reacting as ISIL desires. Far-right parties have gained strength. The Paris attacks surely will prompt an anti-Muslim backlash.
Europe must avoid the trap that ISIL is setting by focusing its responses to the Paris attacks and other outrages against the perpetrators and their supporters.
Most urgently, however, Europe and the U.S. must accept the reality that protracted sectarian warfare in the Middle East is a clear and present danger to their safety and security at home. The wars in Syria and Iraq are mobilizing radicals from across the world. They are arenas in which terrorists can acquire the skills of warfare to bring directly into the West. Our complacency about those conflicts must end. We cannot live in peace at home while millions of people are engulfed in war.
Harleen Gambhir, Washington Post
President Obama was right when he called ISIL a "cancer," but it is a cancer that metastasized on his watch. Paris is proof. So are Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and North Africa.
We must wage the war to defeat the enemy, not merely to harass it. For over a year, the president has clung to the hope that an air campaign is sufficient. It demonstrably is not. He must call in the best military minds from the U.S. and NATO, actually listen to what they have to say and, finally, construct a comprehensive strategy that integrates our effort with those of the Kurds, Turks, Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians.
Leading Muslim nations and peoples must immediately engage in a sustained global campaign to promote tolerance and eschew violence. ISIL's recruiting propaganda must be countered with a much larger, more focused effort to discredit it and replace it with traditional Islamic values.
The West must stop the insanity of welcoming hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East without knowing who exactly they are. Women, children and the elderly, perhaps, but not thousands upon thousands of single young men.
Only the U.S. can lead this war, and that leadership means being willing to devote whatever resources are required to win — even boots on the ground. We must do what it takes.
Mitt Romney, Washington Post
The idea that we can retreat from the world, hermetically seal borders (which does nothing about terrorists who are Western nationals, as some of the Paris killers appear to be) and let Muslim states work things out on their own is precisely the sort of pre-9/11 and pre-11/13 thinking that leaves us at the mercy of the jihadists' whims. If we do not fight them there, we will fight them here. That has been the lesson which we, at our peril, have refused to absorb fully.
Friday's events should prompt some serious reflection about our policies and politicians. We need serious leaders for serious and deadly times. We cannot afford to put our security in the hands of blowhards, know-nothings or neo-isolationists. Those who advanced or countenanced the policies of the last seven years should not be re-elected or promoted to higher office. If we do not rouse ourselves, the next targets will be U.S. cities. Anyone who thought otherwise got a rude awakening on Friday.
Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
Lindsey Graham, one of the more sensible candidates in the Republican presidential race, suggests what just may be in this day and age a unique solution to the ISIL threat — bipartisan cooperation with Barack Obama.
Appearing with Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie on NBC the day after the tragic terrorist attacks on Paris, the South Carolina senator suggested that the president should call in all of those seeking his job, as well as congressional leaders, and devise a plan to eliminate the worldwide terrorist organization once and for all. In the meantime, he said, Congress should restore budget cuts to the nation's chief intelligence operations.
Graham said he believes that much of the Middle East is growing more and more alarmed about ISIL and that it would be ready to enlist in a joint force that would include Turkey and the U.S., but only if President Bashar Assad of Syria is finally removed. Talks in Vienna for a Syrian cease-fire are creaking along but may have been accelerated by the Paris incident.
Although Graham's proposals are solid and his intentions good, getting the warring parties in this country and in the world to unite in an effort that would prevent the continuous assault on humanity by the worst hoard of barbarians since Genghis Khan may be impossible. Where does that leave us?
It seems inevitable that Americans ultimately will have to once again commit their manpower and resources at a much greater level than they have. Hope that it is not too late, that Obama's reluctance to involve us more deeply until now hasn't made any swift resolution increasingly difficult. Finger-crossing is advisable here.
Dan K. Thomasson, Tribune News Service (TNS)
It has been obvious for some time that this proto-state in Iraq and Syria cannot be contained or ignored. In the last two weeks, it has murdered scores of innocents in Beirut and Paris. Evidence suggests it bombed a civilian Russian aircraft over Egypt. This says nothing of its trade in child sex slaves and attempts to wipe out the region's remaining Yazidis.
None of this is to say the U.S. should invade the caliphate like it was Saddam's Iraq. But the aim of the new war should be regime change without compromise. And on this, Democrats appear to agree.
It's a point not lost even on the socialist senator from Vermont. In his opening remarks Saturday night, Bernie Sanders said, "Together, leading the world, this country will rid our planet of this barbarous organization called ISIS."
George W. Bush couldn't have said it better.
Eli Lake, Bloomberg View