Look, even authoritarian and totalitarian states can't prevent domestic terrorism. What hope do relatively open societies have? Open societies abound with "soft targets," that is, noncombatants going about their everyday lives. They are easy hits for those determined to inflict harm, especially if the assailants seek to die in the process.
We also know, as U.S. officials acknowledge, that NATO bombing of jihadis boosts recruitment.
So if Americans and Europeans want safer societies, they must discard the old, failed playbook, which has only one play—more violence—and adopt a new policy: nonintervention.
But how are we to pursue this saner policy in the face of a determined refusal to understand what happened in Paris?
All too typical was a recent discussion on CNN in which an American-Muslim leader and an English former jihadi debated whether the attacks in Paris are best explained by the marginalization of France's Muslim population or by an "ideology." Missing was any reference to France's bombing of Syria. (France is Syria's former colonial overlord.)
How could that not have been part of the CNN discussion? The answer cannot be ignorance. Indeed, throughout the weekend the bombing of Syria was often acknowledged on France 24 television. At times the Paris attacks were portrayed as acts of vengeance, however horrifyingly misguided and evil. (While attacks on noncombatants are undeniably evil, we must note that western governments incessantly claim to act on behalf of their people.)
Why do the U.S. media think Americans need not know what the French know? (I won't say America's establishment media never associate jihadi terrorism with revenge, but it's far too infrequent.) The Islamic State's own statement made clear that the attacks were in response to the French bombing of Syria.
Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), and as long as they boast about their war against Islam in France and their strikes against Muslims in the lands of the Caliphate with their jets, which were of no avail to them in the filthy streets and alleys of Paris. Indeed, this is just the beginning. It is also a warning for any who wish to take heed.
The New York Times reported that a witness to the Paris violence heard one perpetrator say, "What you are doing in Syria, you are going to pay for it now."
The upshot is that war on Mideast populations will not prevent terrorism against western societies. On the contrary, it will make terrorism more likely because "the action is in the reaction." Indeed, the U.S.-led coalition commits terrorism in the eyes of its victims—so many of whom are noncombatants. Who can blame them when, for example, the Obama administration has no idea whom it kills with its "signature strikes" by drone? As The New York Times reported,
Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.
That is hardly the way to win hearts and minds. One might be tempted to ask if the foreign-policy elite will ever learn. But if it has no incentive to learn, why should it bother? Has it learned anything from the uninterrupted flow of money and arms to the jihadis from its allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Turkey? Has Israel's tilt toward the radical Sunnis made any impression?
Finally, just as more war will fail to protect Americans and Europeans, so will further destruction of their liberties fail. Closing these open societies is a bizarre way to answer jihadis. Better to liquidate the self-destructive empire and privatize security. It's often said that "freedom isn't free." Fine, but why must we pay monopoly prices for inferior "services?"
This piece originally appeared at Richman's "Free Association" blog.