by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of American Reporter Correspondents
November 2, 2015
THE ISLAMIC STATE WANTS WAR. LET'S NOT TAKE THE BAIT.
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- "This is a war on happiness. People were just outside, living their lives, not thinking about anything," Benjamin Romain, a patron at La Carillon, a sports bar in the 11th Arrondissement, told The Guardian the day after the bar was one of six targets in a coordinated attack in north-central Paris on Nov. 13.
Romain would have been at the bar on the night of Nov. 13, when a group of gunmen opened fire on patrons who were sitting at sidewalk tables, enjoying an unseasonably warm November evening.
Instead, Romain was inside the Stade de France with his brother and 12-year-old nephew, watching an exhibition soccer match between France and Germany. He told The Guardian he heard the three explosions - suicide bombers who detonated their explosive vests - and thought they were firecrackers.
It turned out he was where the worst violence on French soil since World War II. And it also turned out that it was sheer luck that he wasn't sitting at his favorite bar on a Friday night when the gunfire erupted.
You hear many stories like Romain's after a catastrophe - the sheer capriciousness of death in the midst of the random, ordinary acts of everyday life. After all, was there anyone - with the exception of their killers - who entered the Bataclan that night and expected to die? People were jammed into the concert hall to see the Eagles of Death Metal. They were not expecting literal death.
But that is what terrorism is about - to make people question their safety and security and inject fear into the everyday routines of living.
The attack at the Bataclan happened not far from the offices of Charlie Hebdo, where terrorists massacred most of the satirical newspaper92s staff back in January.
Many of the world's leaders walked down the Boulevard Voltaire, a few days after the massacre, in a show of solidarity with France and the Enlightenment ideals that were spawned there.
But barely nine months later, another group of jihadis returned to the neighborhood, and unleashed an unimaginably horrific attack. The veneer of normality that gradually returned after the Charlie Hebdo attack was violently ripped away.
Predictably, the blood on sidewalks was still warm as the cries for vengeance rang out. But vengeance isn't going to win the fight against the Islamic State, the thugs who claimed responsibility for the Paris attack.
Conventional warfare is useless in this regard, according to Andrew Bacevich.
"The fact is that United States and its European allies face a perplexing strategic conundrum," he wrote in the Nov. 16 edition of The Boston Globe.
"Collectively they find themselves locked in a protracted conflict with Islamic radicalism, with ISIS but one manifestation of a much larger phenomenon. Prospects for negotiating an end to that conflict anytime soon appear to be nil. Alas, so too do prospects of winning it.
"In this conflict, the West generally appears to enjoy the advantage of clear-cut military superiority. Yet most of this has proven to be irrelevant. Time and again the actual employment of that ostensibly superior military might has produced results other than those intended or anticipated.
"Even where armed intervention has achieved a semblance of tactical success - the ousting of some unsavory dictator, for example - it has yielded neither reconciliation nor willing submission nor even sullen compliance. Instead, intervention typically serves to aggravate, inciting further resistance. Rather than putting out the fires of radicalism, we end up feeding them."
Winning this war requires facing some hard truths, such as asking the U.S. government why it continues to give support to so-called allies - such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar - that have been stoking the fires of Sunni extremism for years?
Cutting off the financing and military support to the Sunni jihadists should be a non-negotiable demand.
It also will require working with Russian President Vladimir Putin to bring peace to Syria and allow the Syrians to elect their next government. The diplomatic tag team that led to the Iran nuclear deal can help isolate the extremists and stabilize the rest of the Middle East. And we need to deal with the massive refugee crisis that is a result of years of violence and warfare in the region.
We especially need to remember that the standard response to terror attacks - massive military retaliation - is counterproductive. It certainly didn't work for the United States after 9/11.
The goal of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda on 9/11 was to provoke an overreaction. That overreaction cost the United States more than $3 trillion, and counting, since 2001.
It has also cost the lives more than 6,000 U.S. service members and hundreds of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And it cost us our Constitution and the rule of law in our nation, and radicalized the Muslim world and fueled the growth of Islamic extremist groups.
So the West should not take the bait after the Paris attacks. There are many ways to neutralize extremists such as the Islamic State other than bombs and missiles. Let's use them.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.