The bodies in Paris have not even cooled yet and already there are demands for a muscular, all-in style response to the barbaric attacks on people eating dinner and attending a concert in Paris on Friday. The earliest signs indicate that ISIS is who carried out the attack, and at least some of the attackers are not immigrants, but rather French nationals.
But here’s the problem: simply reinvading Iraq will not address this problem. America’s massive incursion into the region twelve years ago is largely what created ISIS in the first place by destroying the social and security infrastructure of Iraq and never replacing it with something equal. Now, ISIS has moved into the gap, and thrived by being so brutal. Western military force is what created the initial problem conditions of Syria, and there is no sound reason to assume more western military force will do anything beyond give us a touch of catharsis while continuing to make new problem conditions.
There are, however, three parties who are largely responsible for the utter carnage in the Middle East that is flooding Lebanon, Turkey, and the EU with so many refugees that the fabric of society is being stretched to the breaking point: Syria, Russia, and Iran. It was Assad responding to peaceful protesters with horrible brutality that created the conditions of the insurgency; it was Iran sending in Hezbollah and its own death squads that pushed people into militant groups like ISIS and Nusra, and it is Russia bombing marketplaces, non-al Qaeda groups, and medical responders who is solidifying ISIS as the only group capable of opposing the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
So let’s hit them where it will really hurt: not by adding a far enemy to the mix everyone can rally in unity against, but by directly addressing the drivers of the conflict as they exist now. This is an inchoate idea as of yet but it is important that, given the failure of warfare to degrade Islamist militancy in the region, we think of other means to address the problem. And as the attack in Paris shows, we can no longer keep it contained regionally: it is a pressing, serious problem here that needs to be dealt with beyond sending some weapons to some tiny militias.
For starters, instead of dropping a hundred billion dollars on a massive military response, let us instead use that money to subsidize European energy needs while they institute a total embargo on all Russian energy exports. Cut off Moscow from every single dollar and euro of its energy income. Make this total embargo contingent on Russia ending its support for the Assad regime, and ending its arms exports and bombing campaign in support of Assad’s brutality. This will cripple Russia’s economy to a degree the Ukraine sanctions have not, but it will be effective: the one thing Russia cannot live without is its energy exports. Deny them that in a major way, a total global ban on Russian energy exports, and they will be unable to hold out for very long.
At the same time, have the ICC issue arrest warrants for every single Russian, Iranian, and Syrian official and officer who has ordered, approved, or carried out a deliberate attack on civilian targets inside Syria. We know who they are, at least most of the, including the senior leadership in all three militaries. Make it impossible for them to move around the region without being arrested and tried for crimes against humanity. Make it impossible for them to hold a bank account, to conduct foreign purchases, or leave their countries until they stop intentionally destroying civilians and empowering ISIS. Similar open warrants should be issued for the commanders of ISIS along with any person, in any country, who at any time engages in fund raising, logistical support, or weapons sales on behalf of ISIS.
Place Russia on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Europe needs to unite against Iran and tell them that their ability to trade is once again being threatened by their continued use of death squads in Syria.
Bring France into Five Eyes and expand global surveillance against known and suspected logistical and fundraising nodes for ISIS and similar groups.
There are other ideas, I’m sure: creative ideas, ones that do not require repeating the same mistakes we have made for twenty years but which will still pressure and constrain events in the area so that terror cannot be exports. I’m sure all of you have ideas. Let’s hear them!
Update: Ask and ye shall receive. Some have suggested also removing Russia from SWIFT, which governs global financial transactions. I think that is definitely worth considering, though I’m more interested to start with energy. Besides which, Iran has been able to do plenty without being a part of SWIFT, and it seems to have only been strong sanctions against energy sales that really spiked their economy.
Another huge piece I forgot to include, and this just goes to show how much baseline assumptions drive and constrain much of our thinking, is a reconsideration of America’s relationship with the Gulf States, specifically Saudi Arabia. This is a good thing to ponder though I am certain no one in power right now is willing to cut them off entirely: for one, it will tank the global oil market; for another, it will probably result in a temper tantrum of terrorism that we won’t know what to do with. That does not mean we’re stuck with the Saudis but it does vastly limit our options. Maybe we start with demanding they resettle a million refugees and put a halt to all financing of Islamist groups while ending their stupid and counterproductive war against Yemen. Same with the Qataris, with the added caveat of making it clear we’re watching who they throw money to in the UAE.