As I write this, there are still many, many questions that remain to be answered about the Friday the 13th Paris terrorist attacks. More than 120 people were murdered. Scores more injured. Claims of responsibility by ISIL or affiliates have to be considered credible until proven otherwise. There is still a lot of fog in this “Act of War,” as French President Francois Hollande called it on Friday evening.
The early temptation will be to find someone to blame – whether the cause is classified as a failure of intelligence, inadequate immigration policies, returning foreign fighters or unreported domestic radicalization efforts that were not caught early enough. There is likely to be some truth and a large amount of unsupported political posturing in each early analysis. Accurate context and factual objectivity rarely influence punditry these days.
The best early analysis I’ve seen comes from CSIS Global Security Expert and current holder of the Arleigh Burke Chair in Strategy, Anthony Cordesman. It is quintessential Cordesman – written with crystal clear analysis where historical context and current events are objectively placed in their proper perspective at the strategic, not just tactical, level. This is what intelligent analysis is supposed to be.
Entitled “Paris, ISIS and the Long War Against Extremism,” Cordesman brilliantly makes the case that so long as there is an internal struggle within Islam and countries where Islamists are fighting each other, we have to expect more events like September 11 and the Paris attacks. Every single word is worth reading and re-reading again. But this paragraph really jumped out at me:
“Paris is also a warning that the best counterterrorist efforts in the world cannot protect any country, particularly the open societies in the West, from every attack; and that no victory against any given movement can be decisive. The forces that have created violent Islamist extremist movements over the past decades – and that came home to Americans on September 11, 2001 – are simply too great for any lasting near-term victory in what some call the “war on terrorism.”
As we enter a Presidential election year, bluster that says the United States can defeat ISIS, AQAP and other forces who have stated that an attack on the United States and our allies is a primary goal, means that political bluster is completely out of touch with reality. Let that sink in the next time you hear simplistic solutions to long-term, complex global problems.