Our editorial: Stand against terror
The Islamic State made it quite clear in Paris on Friday that it is not contained, and that containment is not an effective strategy to combat this particularly bloodthirsty strain of terror. This latest attack on western soil should ignite a passionate commitment to destroy ISIS at its roots.
An angry and distraught French President Francoise Hollande threw down the gauntlet immediately after the killings ended, vowing a “pitiless war” against the Islamic State and saying France will escalate its military efforts against Islamists in the Middle East and Africa. The European Union issued a statement pledging to support the fight against terror with “ruthless determination.”
That’s the right rhetoric. It must be matched with the right action.
The United States and its European allies have moved cautiously against the Islamic State, which now controls a large swath across Iraq and Syria. They have been content to provide intermittent air cover and targeted missile strikes while counting on Sunni forces to do the ground fighting.
That is not a winning strategy. Nor should much comfort be taken from the fact that the Islamic State has not been able to expand its footprint recently, and may even be losing territory.
Just hours before the Paris strikes, President Barack Obama assured a television interviewer that ISIS was contained, if not yet decapitated. Aside from the unfortunate timing, it continued a pattern of premature presidential proclamations of success in the terror war that extend back to George W. Bush’s declaration of “Mission Accomplished.”
It also reflects a limited view of the Islamic State threat.
As Paris demonstrates, the terrorists’ reach is not restricted by the geographic space it occupies. It has the ability to do horrific harm by dispatching to the west a relatively small number of jihadists — or cultivating them inside the target country.
Obama continued his practice of speaking of terrorist strikes as if they were criminal acts, rather than acts of war. He promised those responsible would be “brought to justice.” But the remedy to terror is not to arrest bad individuals; it is to annihilate an evil ideology.
That requires a commitment to an expansive military campaign that so far neither the president, Congress nor the American people have shown any appetite for prosecuting.
Again, Paris reminds us that this is not someone else’s fight. The murderous ambitions of the Islamic State extend well beyond the borders of the Middle East. And it is undeniably expanding the pace and success rate of its killing. Just two weeks ago, ISIS brought down a Russian airliner over Egypt, killing 224. The death toll in Paris will likely reach above 150, with more than 300 wounded.
If the escalation continues, and crosses the ocean, the United States may not have the luxury of a patient strategic response to the Islamic State.
Admittedly, expanding the military engagement is not a simple enterprise. For one thing, in Syria ISIS is battling the regime of Bashar Assad, who has used chemical weapons against his own people, is an enemy of the United States and is aligned with Russia and Iran. Finding the good guys to back continues to be challenging.
But the west’s stepped down presence in the Middle East and lack of a cohesive strategy to destroy the Islamic State has enabled genocide to go unchecked in that region, and terror to be exported outside of it.
What’s needed, and quickly, is the pitiless response of which Hollande spoke.