WASHINGTON – Regarding the large-scale terror attack that just took place in Paris, the worst thing that we can do is to talk about it too much. Full blast 24/7 media coverage, inspired by the need to know “all the details”, laced with testimonials of scared people and clueless law enforcement agents –these are the people who are supposed to protect the citizens– fuel a climate of confusion and panic. Along the same lines, it is positively unhelpful to call terrorism an act of war, as French President Francois Hollande did, simply because the very term “war” conjures up an idea of national mobilization and total conflict.
What should be done?
Alright, then what should we do about this menace? Of course, all Western countries should beef up all their intelligence capabilities.
Ideally, intelligence services should be able to identify and apprehend or kill all would-be terrorists before they act. But this is probably impossible. Impossible to monitor millions of potential suspects, scattered all over Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and may be North America. Yes, you can have success here and there. Some of the operatives may not be so clever. Some leave trails. Some are clumsy. These will be caught.
But a few will slip through. And, as the Paris tragedy shows, it is enough to have less than ten operatives to cause mass casualties and utter chaos.
Attack the Caliphate
There is however at least one thing the West should do –immediately. The Western countries and their Arab allies should destroy –and I really mean destroy– the self-proclaimed Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. This intention was declared a while ago by US President Barack Obama, (remember “degrade and destroy ISIL”?). But nothing much has happened on the ground.
Sadly, a mighty coalition led by America produced almost no results, so far. This emboldens the ISIL radicals. They are challenged by a super power, and they are not retreating. In fact, they hold on to their conquests. In the eyes of the world, and especially in the eyes of young Muslims looking for a noble cause they could join, they are winning. And many want to join a winner.
Not the end of the story
Let’s be clear: even assuming renewed vigor and success, eliminating the Caliphate is not the ultimate strategic objective in this long conflict. The West and several Arab nations are dealing with small organizations whose operatives can rapidly move to different countries and easily blend in.
It would hurt morale
However, eliminating this political-religious entity would help. Right now, the very existence of the Caliphate is a symbol of victory. “The jihad has started, and we are winning, as our ability to rule over a vast territory demonstrates”. Well, eliminating this symbol of victory would hurt psychologically. It would inject doubts about the chances of eventual victory. It would diminish the ability to recruit more would-be jihadists.
A long conflict
Again, the Caliphate now controlling vast portions of Syria and Iraq is not the ultimate objective in this conflict. Unfortunately, we are dealing with an irrational millenarian ideology embraced by people who can and will adapt to different circumstances.
The loss of this ISIL stronghold in Syria and Iraq, assuming that we get to that point, would be a major loss. But not necessarily the ultimate defeat. At least some militants will move elsewhere.
That said, it should be done. Every day that goes by and the ISIL black flags are there to show who is in charge, is a day of victory for the radicals and for their cause.