In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on USNews.com
Between 2005 and today, on radio interviews and TV appearances, in news articles and books, this author has beaten one drum about the issue of terrorism in the streets of London, Paris, New York and Jerusalem: Either the West decides that terrorism is a war to be fought overseas, or its civilian populations will be victims of what deluded authorities call a “crime at home.”
In 2006 hundreds of people (myself included) stood in line for hours at Heathrow following the plot to blow up as many as 10 Trans-Atlantic flights, mine included. This was one of the small prices to be paid for not understanding that this was a war – not a crime, not a military action, but an ideological and full-on campaign.
The events in Paris this week were predictable, not in their exact aspect, but in their consistency. There will be more. Every shopping mall, water treatment facility, church, synagogue, electric power station, football stadium and school will live with the haunting fear that they could be next. Every time you take off your shoes at the airport, wonder with dread about how much volume your liquids measure in your suitcase, hand over your ID for the millionth time, have your motives questioned by an authority figure or find it hard to travel or enact business abroad, think of the ultimate extension of this: the 9/11 terrorists in New York and Washington, the subway attacks in London and Madrid and the massacre of journalists in Paris.
Either the forces led by the United States, Great Britain, France, Israel and others will root out the terrorist camps, logistics trains, safe havens and rogue state governments, or they will systematically destroy the civil liberties and freedoms they cherish. Either there will be a righteous response or the lack of response will feed every type of extremist on the political spectrum to use both the action and inaction of governments to rally their followers. This has always been the choice since 9/11. The George W. Bush administration knew this and prosecuted war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The current administration has retreated into the Bill Clinton playbook of treating terrorist acts as isolated crimes. Even when the Obama administration has gone after the Islamic State group, it is without any strategic coherence or overall goal.
The West needs to come to terms with seven simple facts:
First, the new terrorism that emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s is apocalyptic in desire, whose roots lie in Sunni and Shiite Islamic extremism. The groups are divided into core leaders and organizations, franchises, “lone wolves” and aspirational individuals who seek maximum destruction.
Second, the debate about whether Islamic extremist terrorism should be treated as a war or a crime should have died a painful death on 9/11. It has never, nor ever will be, a crime, and if it is a war, then all elements of Western national power should be used to destroy it.
Third, if the only wars of success that America has fought in the modern age demand unconditional surrender, then this war should definitively not be an exception. There is no negotiation, no parley and no clauses to acquiesce. The enemy can fight and die or surrender.
Fourth, those that fight without rank, uniform and flag are not criminals, pirates or soldiers. They are what Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and George W. Bush knew them to be: enemy combatants. They, having no honor, should therefore receive no honors of war. They have forfeited all by attempting to destroy the line that has separated innocent civilian from combatant for thousands of years. What they do by using the tools of the soldier in civilian garb is the greatest of war crimes, leading to more civilian deaths than one can count. The United States should push the United Nations to adopt this policy as part of international law, codifying international norms that clearly state that terrorists and pirates do not receive the treatments of prisoners of war or criminals.
Fifth, Western intelligence services should not interfere with policy. The jigsaw puzzle of intelligence is one where they always want one more piece. The Western media has fed this by continuously asking if intelligence backs up some policy. The presidents and prime ministers of the West need a coherent strategic policy regardless of the intelligence reports. Intelligence should serve to make the policy a success, not drive the policy itself. If the policy is full war with Islamic extremism, then the Western intelligence agencies should salute and engage. This obviously applies to the Western militaries in the same fashion.
Sixth, the West should bolster the previous American doctrine that stated that any nation that aids, comforts or assists a terrorist organization are themselves branded as a terrorist state and subject to the same war. If Damascus and Tehran want to engage in evil, let them suffer the consequences.
Seventh, the West needs a strategy that embraces the ideological and political side of the war. It will not be enough to destroy the terrorists and their camps; there must be a methodical Western-supported program to bring democracy, civil society, the rule of law and free markets to those areas of the world.
The Paris attacks should light the torch of Western unity. The Paris attacks should be the last act of barbarians before their demise. If the West in general and the United States in particular fail to engage in a policy of full war overseas, then they will have to fight for their own streets at home.