WASHINGTON – The latest Paris attacks rightly horrify us, but they should surprise no one, least of all the French. After all, France started bombing Islamic State forces 14 months ago.
The targeting of civilians is morally monstrous. However, it is sadly predictable, an almost common practice by weaker powers. A century ago ethnic Serbs and Russian anarchists employed this hideous tactic. More recently Sri Lankan Tamils and Iraqi Sunnis used it. Now IS is perfecting a weapon it had heretofore left to al-Qaida.
The Paris killings weren’t an attempt “to destroy our values, the values shared by the U.S. and France,” as claimed by Frederic Lefebvre of the National Assembly. Rather, admitted French academic Dominique Moisi, IS’ message was clear: “You attack us, so we will kill you.” As America learned on Sept. 11, 2001, bombing, invading and occupying other states, intervening in other nations’ political struggles, supporting repressive governments, and killing residents for good or ill inevitably create enemies and blowback.
Explanation is not justification. But any government that attacks IS should realize retaliation against people innocently going about their lives, as in Paris, is likely.
This kind of terrorism simply is another weapon of war. If IS was a normal nation, IS planes might have shot down French aircraft over the “caliphate” or retaliated by striking Paris.
IS undoubtedly had the desire but not the capability to strike directly. So it turned to terrorism. The 129 people slaughtered on the streets of Paris ultimately paid the price of the Hollande government’s decision to go to war.
Of course, those killed did not deserve to die. But said one of the killers, “It’s the fault of your president, he should not have intervened in Syria” and Iraq.
Western governments that loose the dogs of war should stop pretending that their nations enjoy immunity from attack. Instead, Western officials should warn their peoples that war includes the possibility, perhaps likelihood, of terrorist attacks at home. There are no certainties even for America, which has done surprisingly well since 9/11.
Which brings up the obvious question, why are the U.S. and its allies involved “over there”?
IS is evil, but the bloodshed it has unleashed is substantially less than that resulting from more conventional conflicts in Sudan, Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi and elsewhere. Indeed, IS isn’t even the most murderous terrorist organization. Nigeria’s Boko Haram holds that record.
During its rise, IS didn’t attack America or Europe. After all, it’s hard to build a caliphate, or quasi-state, if the U.S. is against you. And running a caliphate establishes a return address for retaliation after any terrorist actions overseas.
Of course, if successful, IS ultimately might have struck at the West. But there is no reason to believe that it would do better than al-Qaida post 9/11. Moreover, such a possibility would be best met by responding to any threat as it developed, rather than joining yet another interminable sectarian war in the Middle East.
Anyway, IS is unlikely to succeed in establishing a durable state. If nations such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey got serious about destroying IS, the caliphate would quickly disappear. They won’t act, however, so long as Washington insists on doing the job for them.
There is much foolish talk of the West being involved in World War III or IV. The simplistic U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio asserted: The terrorists “hate us because of our values.” Which raises the question why IS killed 43 Lebanese in a Hezbollah neighborhood in Beirut and 224 Russian passengers bound for Moscow. France, Russia, and Hezbollah were united not by liberal beliefs, but brutal combat: all were at war with IS.
Moreover, even at its worst terrorism does not pose an existential threat to America or its allies. Nearly 3,000 dead from 9/11 and hundreds in other incidents are an awful toll. But World War II consumed at least 50 million, and as many as 80 million, lives. Treating terrorism as an equivalent threat is simple nonsense.
Perhaps the greater outrage of the Paris attacks is that after turning his nation into a target, French President Francois Hollande used the new attacks to justify more intervention. Worse, the Paris attacks encouraged Republican presidential candidates to become even more irresponsible, calling for more war against more people. Yet none of the Republicans explained how deeper involvement in another burgeoning sectarian conflict would protect U.S. or allied security.
Terrorism is evil and awful. But the best tactic against it is to stay out of other people’s conflicts. Until then America and its allies are doomed to fight more unnecessary wars and risk more unnecessary terrorist attacks.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington.
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