The Paris Attacks Shouldn't Cause Us to Escalate the War Against ISIS

Learn from our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.


ISIS video

Last Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris have dramatically increased the pressure on President Barack Obama's administration to intensify the ongoing military campaign against ISIS. Somewhat predictably, Republican candidates have launched a barrage of vague calls for the United States to do more in Syria. Within the Democratic Party, too, support for more forceful action is growing. On Saturday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) argued that "limited air strikes and support for Iraqi forces and the Syrian opposition are not sufficient to protect our country and our allies." 

Unfortunately, just how military escalation will render western nations significantly more secure is largely omitted from the calls for more action.

The notion that the United States can protect itself by defeating ISIS is illusory. To be sure, any substantial contingent of U.S. ground troops could probably recapture territory under their control without much difficulty. It would be virtually impossible, however, to kill or capture every Islamic State fighter in Iraq and Syria. And the sad reality is that even with U.S. assistance, central governments in Baghdad and Damascus are unlikely to be able to establish firm, prolonged control over all their nominal territory. For that reason, any military victory over ISIS would be temporary at best.

That is a lesson that we should have extrapolated from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. military was able to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq fairly easily. Yet the U.S.-sponsored successors to those odious regimes have been incapable of establishing enduring stability and security in either country—despite the fact that the United States has spent over $85 billion since 2004 training and equipping their security forces.

Moreover, although the United States has succeeded in decimating al Qaeda's leadership and destroying terrorist training camps, the U.S. invasions perversely helped to spawn new terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS. Another major U.S. military intervention in the Middle East would fuel terrorism by bolstering the narrative that the United States is at war with Islam. 

After all, the Islamic State's initial focus was on establishing a caliphate in the Middle East. Following the commencement of U.S. air strikes, however, the group has gradually focused more on attacking targets in the West. To some extent then, the U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State probably instigated the Paris attacks.

Even if a U.S.-led coalition were able to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, this would not eliminate the threat of terrorism within the West. Although the media has highlighted the Paris attackers' links to ISIS in Syria, they were essentially "home-grown" terrorists. As Francois Hollande acknowledged in a major speech to a joint session of parliament at Versailles on Monday, "We know, and it's cruel to say that these are French who killed, on Friday, more French."

Although the military defeat of ISIS might quash a major source of inspiration and support for would-be terrorists within Western countries, it would not eliminate the threat. As long as the socio-economic marginalization of Muslims continues throughout the West (particularly in Europe), and radical Islam presents an apparent means of empowerment, terrorism will persist. Rather than attempting to defeat the Islamic State militarily, Western countries should therefore focus on mitigating the threat of terrorism through improved intelligence and law enforcement.

Already, it is becoming clear that the Paris attackers had been on security services' radar. That fact suggests that further improving domestic surveillance and multi-national intelligence sharing could help forestall such attacks. Of course, those efforts will inevitably impinge, to some extent, on civil liberties, which are fundamental to Western civilization. For that reason, Western citizens will have to accept some risk of additional terrorist attacks as a price of their freedoms. Fortunately, that risk remains, even after the Paris attacks, incredibly small and thus manageable.

NEXT: Banning Syrian Refugees Won't Make America Safer, Only More Ashamed of Itself

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  1. “they were essentially “home-grown” terrorists”

    Except for, you know, the ones who are Syrian refugees.

    1. That was at most one (1) guy and what he was is a bit unclear IIRC.

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    2. And it’s not like the other ones were actually born there either. Just because they didn’t arrive with the last batch of refugees doesn’t mean that they were born and raised French.

      Anyone who can look at the Muslim situation in Europe and still think there’s some benefit to open borders needs to have their fucking heads examined. There’s no way to spin this into some libertarian fantasy of economic prosperity and cultural integration. They tried. It failed. The end.

      1. You’re not going to get very far with real logic on that subject here. Too many Reason posters are fanatics about open borders no matter what. I suspect they would gladly see their families slaughtered if it meant there would be a borderless society.

        1. I know. I don’t get it. For a bunch of people who supposedly pride themselves on being rational and empirical, they simply refuse to see the reality on the ground for what it is, and instead counter with purely academic arguments for why their policy really SHOULD work.

          Never mind that Europe has essentially been testing their theories on open borders for the last twenty years, and has nothing to show for it but Islamic ghettoes, terrorism, political correctness, cultural bullying, and the general upending of civil society.

          Oh but Europe just didn’t do it quite right… give it time… this study says its actually working… etc. They sound like socialists explaining for the millionth time that you just don’t understand ‘real’ socialism, which has never been tried before, but should be perfect this time around.

          Time for a sober, rational reexamination you guys. Seriously.

          1. The problem, Chip, is that too many libertarians base their policy beliefs by starting out with the world being a perfectly libertarian place.

            Meaning, their fix for everything is “Everyone becomes libertarian, then this happens.”

            Not so different from Marx’s New Man, is it?

            Fucking retarded, mock them every chance you get..

          2. When did Europe become a Libertarian paradise? See here in the USA our open borders which have been an open border since the founding of the country has been successful because of our market based capitalist system. When the system isn’t rigged by Unions and politicians it works. We are the example, not Europe. Do you see Latinos blowing themselves up in America?

            1. Hate to break the news to you, but in case you haven’t noticed the USA right now looks far more like the quasi-socialist welfare state of Europe than the market capitalist system of our own past.

              You want open borders again? Dismantle the fucking welfare state first. But you can’t have open borders AND our current ever-expanding social welfare and not expect fucking disastrous results. Anything else is putting the cart before the horse. And advocating open borders while the welfare state is intact is just completely ignorant.

              But that’s not even the main point here; welfare isn’t making Muslims blow themselves up. Their culture is. Sorry to say, but not all immigrants are created equal. No matter how great your free market might be, it’s simply not going to convert radical Muslims into peace-loving libertarian capitalists.

              Libertarians need to take a seriously objective look at the fucking facts here, and stop being slaves to their own ideology.

  2. Libertarian pacifism has always astounded/amazed/disgusted me. The thought that just leaving everyone alone is fine, but it hardly takes into account that horrid thing called “reality” – if you want someone to stop punching you in the face, you kick their ass so bad they fear you the rest of their life.

    The consequences for terrorist attacks has to be so mind-numbingly horrible that contemplating one is immediately rejected, even by would-be terrorists.

    1. I don’t think this article is calling for pacifism, but rather a response that doesn’t involve large scale military action on the grounds that it will be costly and ineffective in the long term. Is that correct? I don’t know, but a rehash of Afghanistan and Iraq is certainly not in the interests of the U.S. Limited airstrikes and special forces operations don’t seem to have a great track record, either.

      1. “A rehash of Afghanistan and Iraq” is a strawman put up by Reason to avoid having a serious discussion about foreign policy.

        1. Really? So if we left both countries after, say, one year of active fighting you think things would look substantially different than they do now? If anything I think they would look worse.

          The problems with nation-building were symptomatic of a larger problem, namely that neither country had/has a culture or store of civil institutions to support the governments that the U.S. would like for them to have.

          1. Fuck after “one year of active fighting.” Iraq was defeated in a matter of days. Kick their ass, tell them next time we’re going to do it worse, and go home. Their government is not our business.
            And even we demanded the head of Saddam, there still would have been a functioning government.

          2. // you think things would look substantially different than they do now?

            Yes, there would be far fewer people to become terrorists

            if they pull that shit again, go in there and kill scores of them again

            rinse and repeat until the threat level is down to zero

            can’t be any terrorism if there are no people to be terrorists

            If you’re thinking that this policy could lead to the complete destruction of entire societies and the deaths of tens of millions of people, you’re right, and that’s a feature, not a bug. What you fail to see is it would literally not be our fault and entirely up to the people fucking with us to get us to stop, which we would on a dime if we felt all threats were ended.

            1. This is exactly the correct answer.

              Criticize the “occupation” of Iraq and Afghanistan all you want, but there’s no question that the initial destruction of Al Qaeda destroyed their ability to attack us for years.

              Go in. Kick ass. Leave. Rinse/repeat, until they stop, or they’re all dead.

          3. We don’t need “nation building.” What we need is high-tech guerilla warfare against the terrorists in Northern Iraq and Syria. It doesn’t have to cost more than what we’re doing now, just constant, ongoing, and without concern for “collateral damage.”

            What’s needed is similar to the war the Texas Rangers waged against the Comanches in West Texas during the latter part of the 19th century. The Islamic terrorists need to be harassed without let-up. This needs to go forever or until there are none of them left. We need to fight this war in such a manner that we suffer as few casualties as possible and so that our soldiers are put into as little danger as possible and so that the enemy suffers sustained, widespread casualties.

        2. calling it a strawman… is a strawman, to avoid having to deal with the fact that intervention here would be about the same. those who ignore history and all. the biggest difference here, is that we are even more half ass in our execution, because we don’t want Assad to win.

    2. Libertarians absolutely believe in the right to the retaliatory use of force.

  3. Another Reason foreign policy article composed largely of question begging.

    “Afghanistan’s current government doesn’t work” -and what does Reason think this demonstrates? That intervention therefore can’t work because nation-building does not work? This is not serious argument at all.

    “Learn from our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

    Oh fuck off. You don’t want people to ‘learn’ from Iraq and Afghanistan you want to use these as cudgels against all foreign intervention regardless of how appropriate the comparison to the Afghanistan and Iraq adventures, which were blunders mostly due to the ‘nation-building’ component of them.

    1. If we all could just stop breathing the terrorists will leave us alone. /pacifist
      If we turned their Mecca & Medina into glass after 9/11 we wouldn’t have this problem. /war-boner
      Maybe if we take a REASONABLE approach and if someone punches us, threatens our way of life/liberty; we treat them like the enemies they are. /meh

      1. I favor the Batman approach. Make bad guys so afraid of you they won’t do bad things.

    2. so… are you suggesting that our mistake in those wars was trying to turn them into stable governments? i mean, I’m not for nation building, as a rule…. but that’s kind of a naive attempt to brush off the analogy. you think trying to leave them with a stable government is the reason those went badly?

      of course there is one key difference…. the dictator we want out of power on this one, is actually on the other side from the terrorists. our problem is not nation building, it’s destroying the ones we don’t like, as a matter of policy. you realize this is a war where we have aided both sides, in some manner or another?

      1. I’d suggest just securing the oil fields, but just one major string of Iraqi oil fields under ISIS’s control stretches for something like 250 miles between Baghdad and Mosul. That’s not even counting the Syrian oil fields. To hold them all, you’d have to garrison a piece of wasteland maybe a little smaller than Ohio and ruthlessly drive off all comers.

        These days, we seem to have plenty oil in our own hemisphere. Maybe it’s just not worth it, anymore. Just stop importing Muslims to the U.S. and let them keep killing themselves over there.

        1. You think they are going to stop there? How optimistic of you. Isis will use every dime of that oil money to spread like a cancer.

          1. Then maybe Saudi Arabia and Iran should spend some of their oil money to fight them.

      2. Our mistake has always been finding reasons to stay after the purple fingers start waving. That’s the point where everything beyond should be with the goal of getting out. Might take a year to do so. But that is precisely the moment where locals have to understand that they have just crossed the threshhold of self-governance and their future is now theirs.

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  5. That fact suggests that further improving domestic surveillance and multi-national intelligence sharing could help forestall such attacks.

    Libertarian magazine advocates further curtailing of civil rights. Yay.

    1. I don’t think that’s what they said. I think they said because we will not do those things that we will have to pay a certain price, of danger of these attacks, in exchange for our freedom from this civil liberty intruding, but that price is not high because its not likely to happen.

  6. enough bombs will stop any force, period

    what you MEANT to say was that nothing that THE 40% OF PEOPLE WHO ARE PUSSIES AND WHO HAVE A DISPROPORTIONATE SAY IN DIRECTING THIS NATION would let us do would stop ISIS

    yes, we know that. Which is why sane rational people have been saying from day 1 that the only thing to do with the middle east is blow it up.

  7. So, Stapleton’s answer to the civilized world is to sit here like him and piss ourselves. The liberal mind never ceases to amaze.

    How better to align with the now awakened French and others and lay waste to any Isis held territory wherever found, eliminating any and all training support facilities, military facilities and personnel. How about any pipeline and/or tanker truck carrying oil from any Isis held territory considered fair game of the Predator Drone? Perhaps enlisting other countries to freeze suspected Isis assets held in the name of other countries? Then again, put governments around the world on notice that any and all comfort to this enemy will result in sanctions and forfeitures? Hear that Qatar, Saudi Arabia? How about air cover for the Kurds? How about charging the Saudis with harboring the refugees from Syria? How about some economic muscle flexed on that worthless United Nations shithole for some sanctions with teeth?

    Better responses are almost endless.

    1. With Obama, none of those things will happen. Instead, we will get more Syrian refugees, more terrorism, flowery speeches, unjustified claims of success and LOTS of ineffectual hand wringing.

  8. The reason that terrorism grows and thrives in Europe is that they don’t protect free speech. They have all sorts of libel, racial incitement, and blasphemy laws (varying by country). As a result, speaking out is criminalized, and this turns people who want to speak unpopular views into criminals and jihadists. Now France wants to restrict rights even further, and this will only make the problem worse. Europe must decriminalize hate speech and blasphemy. (Much like our decriminalization of drugs dampens the drug war – similar dynamic.)

  9. The solution is the same for ISIS as it is for any societal problem, capitalism. Improve the lives of the common people through capitalism and they won’t support the radicals.

  10. Because most terrorists are homegrown, instead of bombing Afghanistan for the umpteenth time, we should instead focus on bombing US cities – Detroit, Los Angelas, Miama – and hopefully destroy the areas where we know these terrorists may be hiding.

  11. And what exactly does Iraq have to teach us about fighting ISIS?

    We invaded Iraq to rid ourselves of a dictator who ” was a force of evil in the world” and “kills his own people!” It was only after we succeeded in removing him that Iraq became home of active terrorist organizations.

    So the lesson of Iraq would be to avoid deposing dictators because what replaces them may very well be worse.

    Our Nobel peace prize winning president, who will make the world love us again and who doesn’t do “stupid stuff,” has learned this “powerful lesson” so well that he repeated the mistake in Libya, and is in the process of repeating it again in Syria. And in each case, terrorist organizations far worse than the dictators have predictably emerged.

  12. Let’s see if I’ve got this right. This is all Europe’s fault for not doing a better job of assimilating Muslims fleeing intolerance and repression in the Middle East. So, we should fault Europe for its intolerance and repression of Muslims, while giving a free pass to ISIS for its intolerance and repression of Muslims (and Christians, and Jews).

    What I need to have explained to me is how, no matter what goes wrong in the world, it’s always our fault.

  13. “The Paris Attacks Shouldn’t Cause Us to Escalate the War Against ISIS”

    Well, basically correct, but limited!

    Civilization is at war with ALL [IF they have read the koran, as I have, there are NO moderates!] followers of the certifiably psychotic, demon possessed, [YES, I have studied the “biographers.”] genocidal, pedophile, maniac!

    I hope we ALL understand exactly what [actually, WHO] we are fighting, but any signs of understanding are pretty faint!

  14. Perhaps this goofball should realize that war against ISIS is totally unlike the wars waged elsewhere.
    If anyone needs to learn a lesson, it would be Brad. Get real Stapleton.

  15. Americans roared against bombing Syria, so a few days later they splash “ISIS” all over the headlines. Great timing. A good excuse to start bombing anyway.

    Along comes Russia then. After getting Assad to get rid of his chemical weapons (after the REBELS used them in an exposed false flag operation) and watching the Americans pour support to “moderates” through Saudi Arabia (major ISIS supporter and Assad/Iran rival), Russia steps in to start real bombing.

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