Here is a summary of some of those voices.
We cannot hope to reduce the danger from this sort of violent extremism if we do not understand and acknowledge its origins. Contrary to the writings of contemporary Islamophobes, jihadi violence is not intrinsic to Islam. The Quran explicitly forbids attacks on innocent noncombatants, and the vast majority of devout Muslims around the world utterly reject such actions….
Rather, jihadi terrorism is a political movement based on a minority’s narrow and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. To some extent, the emergence of groups such as the Islamic State or the original al Qaeda is symptomatic of the broader legitimacy and governance crisis in the Arab and Islamic world. It is also, however, an unfortunate but understandable response to decades (or even centuries) of Western interference in the Middle East, and especially to the policies that have taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the region.
To acknowledge this fact in no way justifies what happened in Paris, and I am most certainly not defending, excusing, or rationalizing what the attackers did last Friday or what other terrorists have done before. At the same time, to pretend that American and European actions have nothing whatsoever to do with this problem is to bury one’s head in the sand and ignore the obvious. To note just one example of the West’s own role in creating this problem: Had the United States refrained from invading Iraq back in 2003, there almost certainly would be no Islamic State today.
We have to face facts squarely: Decades of misguided U.S. and European policies have left many people in the Arab and Islamic world deeply angry at and resentful toward the West. Those policies include the West’s cozy coddling of various Arab dictators, its blind support for Israel’s brutal policies toward the Palestinians, and its own willingness to wage air campaigns, employ sanctions, or invade Middle Eastern countries whenever it thinks doing so suits its short-term interest. Consider how we would react if some foreign power had been doing similar things to us — and not just once but over many years. Unsurprisingly, among those many angry people are a few — fortunately, only a few — who decide to try to pay back the West for what they regard as illegitimate and murderous interference. Their response is morally despicable and will solve nothing, but it should not be all that difficult to fathom.
Walt said the US and France need to stay out of these battles because they can’t wipe out the Islamic State and if they do, another extremist jihadist force will just rise in its place.
The only long-term remedy to this danger — and remember the solution will never be total — is the restoration of more legitimate and effective state institutions in these regions. But as we have now seen repeatedly, creating the necessary institutions is not something an invading army can do, especially not one as tainted by history as the forces of the West. It can be done only by the people who live in these areas, and not by us. And that is why the main effort to deal with the Islamic State must be carried out by local actors, with the United States (and France) remaining as far in the background as possible. If our post-9/11 track record is any indication, however, we’ll probably do the exact opposite.
Walt famously concluded in 2009 that the U.S. had killed at the low end 200,000 Muslims in the Middle East in 2009, at the high end 1 million.
Obama stood firm against the temptation to use the shootings at a facility to aid the challenged as a pretext for war abroad…
Obama’s advice to the American public is to tough out these soft target attacks by sticking to our values and preserving our liberty, and by not being baited into big foreign military quagmires.Obama’s message is entirely plausible as a response…
Whether this message of patience and steadfastness will be enough to assuage anxieties is not clear. And more important than anxieties are the war lobbies, fueled by campaign cash to hawks in Congress, which demand really big wars that are good for their business.
The atrocities committed in the latest Paris attacks rightly horrify us, but they should surprise no one, least of all the French. …
There’s no mystery as to why [they attack us]. It wasn’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, the Islamic State’s message was clear: “You attack us, so we will kill you.” By now every government should recognize what America learned on September 11, 2001. Wandering the globe 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 the Islamic State should realize retaliation is likely, probably against people innocently going about their lives, as in Paris—and in Beirut the day before and Sharm el Sheikh a bit earlier still.
This kind of terrorism simply is another weapon of war. …
While President Hollande studiously ignored his role in the tragedy, the 129 people slaughtered on the streets of Paris ultimately paid the price of his 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 which loose the dogs of war should stop assuming that their own people will not be bitten. Being a liberal democracy does not turn bombing and killing into an act of immaculate conception. Instead of pretending that their nations enjoy immunity from the inevitable horrors of war, Western officials should make the case to their people that the likely costs are worth the benefits. In this case that 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 European allies involved “over there”?
There is much foolish talk, especially on the right, of the U.S. being involved in World War III or IV. For instance, desperate to catch up in the presidential race Jeb Bush argued that “Radical Islamic terrorists have declared war on the Western world.” Sen. Marco Rubio, who exhibits an astonishingly simplistic view of the world despite his claimed foreign policy credentials, similarly asserted: The terrorists “hate us because of our values.” Which raises the question why ISIL 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 tolerance and Western civilization, but brutal combat: all were at war with the Islamic State….
Bandow noted the Republicans have collapsed on this issue. They’re captured by neoconservatives, when Republicans ought to be offering an isolationist response to Middle East violence.
[T]he Paris attacks encouraged Republican presidential candidates to become even more irresponsible, calling for more war against more people. Already some 3500 American military personnel are active advising and training Iraqi troops…
Terrorism is evil and awful. But the best tactic against it is to stay out of other people’s wars. That should be the principle lesson of Paris, like 9/11. With the U.S. election less than a year away, voters desperately need a candidate willing to put their interests before that of neoconservative ideologues and foreign monarchs. Until then Americans are doomed to fight more unnecessary wars and risk more unnecessary terrorist attacks.
Here’s Peter Beinart on the neoconservative braintrust advising Marco Rubio. Aformer liberal interventionist, Beinart has now adopted a realist tone:
Then there’s the end of Rubio’s statement: “[T]hey do not hate us because we have military assets in the Middle East. They hate us because of our values. They hate us because young girls here go to school. They hate us because women drive. They hate us because we have freedom of speech, because we have diversity in our religious beliefs. They hate us because we’re a tolerant society.”
This is simply false. The Islamic State may hate tolerance, liberty, and women’s rights. But that’s not why its cadres attacked Paris…the Islamic State fights those who block its path to power, whether they are liberal democracies or not. It attacked Russia because Russia joined the war in Syria on Assad’s side. Although Moscow has focused many of its air strikes on other Syrian rebel groups, the Islamic State evidently now sees the Russians as a battlefield enemy. That’s also how it sees France, which in September expanded its air strikes against ISIS from Iraq to Syria. Just last week, France announced it was sending an aircraft carrier to launch raids against the organization from the Persian Gulf. ISIS specifically cited France’s participation in the “Crusader campaign” in Syria in its statement claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks…
The United States and France are challenging that control, and as long as they are, the Islamic State will try to attack them. America’s domestic freedoms, precious as they are, don’t have much to do with it.
Adam Shatz in LRB makes the point that in an era of globalization, the terror attacks are not blowback, they are an inevitable tactic in a globalized conflict. There is no “there” and “here” anymore, and inequality is an important element of the conflict.
France has been using those weapons more frequently, more widely, and more aggressively in recent years. The shift towards a more interventionist posture in the Muslim world began under Sarkozy, and became even more pronounced under Hollande, who has revealed himself as an heir of Guy Mollet, the Socialist prime minister who presided over Suez and the war in Algeria. It was France that first came to the aid of Libyan rebels, after Bernard-Henri Lévy’s expedition to Benghazi. That adventure, once the US got involved, freed Libya from Gaddafi, but then left it in the hands of militias – a number of them jihadist – and arms dealers whose clients include groups like IS. France has deepened its ties to Netanyahu – Hollande has made no secret of his ‘love’ for Israel – and criminalised expressions of support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement...
In one of his last interviews, Tony Judt said:
“When Bush said that we are fighting terrorism ‘there’ so that we won’t have to fight them ‘here’, he was making a very distinctively American political move. It is certainly not a rhetorical trope that makes any sense in Europe, [where politicians recognise that] if we begin a war between Western values and Islamic fundamentalism, in the manner so familiar and self-evident to American commentators, it won’t stay conveniently in Baghdad. It is going to reproduce itself thirty kilometres from the Eiffel Tower as well.”
The French government refuses to accept any such thing. Most people in Paris were stunned by 13 November, but not those who were listening to IS. Weeks earlier, Marc Trévidic, a magistrate who specialises in terrorism cases, warned in Paris Match that France had become IS’s ‘number one enemy’ because of its activities in the Middle East…
The airstrikes France is conducting with Russian co-operation may provide the public with a taste of revenge, but airstrikes seldom turn people against their rulers and often do the opposite. In co-ordinating the strikes with Russia, Hollande is moving in a direction fervently advocated by the French right, which has been suffering from an acute case of Putin envy…
IS has managed to insert itself, with no small amount of cunning, and with acute sensitivity to feelings of humiliation, into two of the most intractable conflicts of our time: the relationship of European societies to their internal, Muslim ‘others’ and the sectarian power struggles that have engulfed the lands of Iraq and Syria since 2003.
In an earlier era, these conflicts might have remained separate, but they are now linked thanks to the very devices that are the symbol of globalisation, our phones and laptops. It no longer makes sense to speak of near and far, or even of ‘blowback’: the theatre of conflict has no clear borders, and its causes are multiple, overlapping and deeply rooted in histories of postcolonial rage and Western-assisted state collapse. The attacks in Paris don’t reflect a clash of civilisations but rather the fact that we really do live in a single, if unequal world, where the torments in one region inevitably spill over into another, where everything connects, sometimes with lethal consequences.
Eric Margolis at the Unz Review offers a neo-isolationist argument I wish we were hearing from some US politicians:
[W]hy should American stick its head again in this Mideast hornet’s nest?
To what gain? Can America afford such expensive imperial games when it is mired in debt? Or risk clashes with nuclear-armed Russia?
The imperialist camp will cry “stability,” that old code word for the Pax Americana. The neocons will howl that murderous ISIS must be stopped, ignoring that the US ally in Egypt, “Field Marshall” al-Sisi, killed more civilians in one day than ISIS did in Paris. No one will admit that most of ISIS’s attacks are revenge for US and French bombing of their towns and villages, nor that their gruesome executions of prisoners are meant to recall Guantanamo’s prisoners.
The American plan in Iraq and Syria is merely to kill as many “bad guys” as possible. Such sterile, juvenile strategy helped lead to America’s humiliating defeats in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. One would wonder what US special forces “trainers” have to teach Iraqis, Afghans and Syrians about war?
Arrogance and ignorance led the US to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. Heedless of past mistakes, Washington is again rushing in where wisemen fear to tread.
Ira Chernus has an analysis up at Tom Dispatch on the grandiose mythologies that are fueling our country’s endless war against evil.
Call it blotting out history. We lose the ability to really understand the enemy because we ignore the actual history of how that enemy came to be, of how a network of relationships grew up in which we played, and continue to play, a central role.
The historical record is clear for all who care to look: The U.S. (the CIA in particular) was a key to the creation, funding, and arming of the mujahidin, the rebel fighters in Afghanistan who took on the Soviet army there in the 1980s, the men (often extreme Islamists) whom President Ronald Reagan compared to our founding fathers. From that situation came al-Qaeda.
George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq cracked the region open and paved the way for the Islamic State. The Bush administration tore Iraq to shreds and then demobilized Saddam Hussein’s army and dispatched its members to the unemployment lines of a wrecked country.
One of those shreds, al-Qaeda in Iraq, populated by disaffected officers from that disbanded army, would later transform itself into the nucleus of the new Islamic State movement. Indeed the U.S. nurtured the present leadership of that movement in American military prisons in Iraq, where we introduced them to each other, so to speak. The process was at least hastened, and perhaps ultimately caused, by the vehement anti-Sunni bias of the Shi’ite Iraqi government, which the U.S. installed in power and also nurtured.
To sustain our image of ourselves as innocents in the whole affair, we have to blot out this empirical history and replace it with a myth (not so surprising, given that any war against evil is a mythic enterprise). That’s not to say that we deny all the facts. We just pick and choose the ones that fit our myth best…
He also echoes the theme: bombing Syria is an act of war and will justify attacks on the west:
Every one of Washington’s words and acts of war, every ally like Great Britain that joins the bombing campaign against IS, only confirms the Islamic State’s message that Muslims are under attack by the West. All of it only plays into the IS’s own apocalyptic worldview. Every step in the process makes the IS more attractive to Muslims who feel oppressed and marginalized by the West. So think of every threat uttered in the presidential campaign here and every bomb now being dropped as yet more global recruitment posters arriving “like manna from heaven” for that movement. Each is an invitation to launch yet more Paris-style attacks.
Our blindness to them as human beings, and to all the ways we have influenced them, increases their power and undermines our power to shape the outcome of events in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Greater Middle East. Ironically, we accept this loss of power willingly, even eagerly, because it allows us to hold on to what seems to matter most to us: our vision of a war against inhuman evildoers, which brings us to…
Finally, the realist Anatol Lieven made the New York Times with his recommendation for a “radical” new strategy for winning the war against ISIS, essentially a political solution engaging the Russians. Though he was a bit more warlike than the other voices I have quoted, he also sees US culpability in the violence visited upon the west.
[I]n both Syria and Iraq, it was to a very great extent the savage oppression of the governments based in Damascus and Baghdad that infuriated large sections of their Sunni populations and created the conditions for ISIS to take over the leadership of the Sunni resistance. Simply to restore the rule of the existing Syrian and Iraqi regimes over the whole of their territory would require prolonged and ferocious repression, leading to more waves of refugees and more Sunni Islamist revolts — revolts that would doubtless once more be backed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other Sunni states. Washington has realized this in the case of Syria, but not in the case of Iraq. Moscow, it seems, has not yet realized this in either case.
To create an effective strategy to defeat ISIS and Al Qaeda will require a radically new Western strategy, based on a new and truly international coalition backed by the United Nations. The first step toward this is to recognize — as an increasing number of American analysts have started to do — that the “Pax Americana” in the Middle East has now comprehensively failed, and that the United States has nothing to lose by seeking the help of Russia and other states to create an international solution.
The goal that we should be working toward is full military and political cooperation between the West and Russia in order to defeat ISIS and promote a postwar settlement.