Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fighting Terror is More Than Defeating ISIS

A man plays John Lennon's "Imagine" in Paris after the attacks on Friday

The pernicious cancer that is ISIS has done what many thought was only the group's pipe dream: they attacked a Western nation, bringing the carnage and horror they have employed across Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Beirut.

If you turn to Facebook or other social media, you'll see people's profile pictures adorned in the French tricolor, symbolizing solidarity with the wounded nation. An honorable gesture, to be sure, but one that I did not see utilized after the Beirut bombings, or the Sharm el-Sheikh plane crash, or the myriad other atrocities being committed across the Middle East. That's a problem.

Yes, ISIS needs to be destroyed. We need to wipe them out completely. But if we want to avoid these tragedies in the future, we need to stop accepting Middle East instability as the norm. We need to stop catalyzing regime change with no post-change strategy. We need to stop throwing money at and selling arms to repressive regimes in the region. We need to start realizing that an unstable portion of the world is not only a threat to area nations, but to all nations. It is 2015, we are a globalized planet. Globalization doesn't just mean business can reach new international markets more easily, it also means that we are all that much more connected. ISIS and al-Qaeda aren't regional problems - they're now global.

In response to 9/11, Washington declared a war on terrorism, which, on its face, is inane. You cannot declare war on an ideology - you will never, ever win. ISIS is a short-term manifestation of a long-term problem. When Joe Biden declared that the United States is not in the business of nation-building, he was way off the mark. ISAF member nations cannot destroy a nation and then not step up when it is time to rebuild. Post-war infrastructure - economic, political, physical - needs to be part of any military strategy, otherwise you open the door to what we're seeing now.

One thing that will not solve the ISIS problem - and will actually further long-term terrorism - is trying to close Western borders to those fleeing the unimaginable hell that exists in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. If Western nations are not willing to engage in post-war nation-building, then the very least they can do is take displaced civilians in. We as the West have an opportunity here to be known for humanitarianism and compassion instead of as the owners of unmanned aircraft that fire off missiles at any given moment in the Middle East. If we tell these civilians to stay where they are, all we are doing is serving them up to terrorist groups as either victims or recruits. That serves no one's end except the terrorists'.

We can cut down limbs from the tree of terrorism, but if we're not addressing the root causes of the problem - war-torn hellscapes that these kids grow up in, with zero opportunities, be they economic or educational - we're not going to solve it. We cannot deny that we've helped create these environments that allow terrorism to flourish. We did it in Afghanistan in the 80s, we did it with Iraq in the 2000s, we did it with Libya and Syria more recently. If we want to stop ISIS in the short term, we need to destroy them. If we want to minimize terrorism in the long term, we actually need to help to build stable Middle Eastern states.

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