By John B. Quigley
The response to the Paris attack should not be military.
The impetus to retaliate is understandable. French President François Hollande is speaking in terms of a war against the Islamic State, just as President George W. Bush spoke of a war against al-Qaeda in 2001.
The threat to do something similar in Washington, stated by an Islamic State member a day or two after the Paris attack, only heightens the concern and makes it seem as if we must do something decisive to stop the terrorist group.
The problem is that a military effort to eradicate the Islamic State is not likely to work. President Obama understands that if he were to proclaim a goal of definitively eradicating the Islamic State in the short term, he would fail and would have to eat his words.
Use of force has gotten us into the fix in which we now find ourselves. Our response to the attacks we suffered on 9/11 was military. Our aim in invading Afghanistan in 2001 was to stop terrorism, but we seem only to have spawned more. We did limit al-Qaeda's ability to operate in Afghanistan, but the group moved elsewhere, and the anger we generated may have brought even more down on us.
Our invasion of Iraq in 2003 replaced a Sunni-led government with a Shia-led government that carried out a vendetta against the Sunni population. While we occupied Iraq, we worked to remove anyone who had supported the prior regime from government employment. That left the Sunnis thinking they had no role in the new Iraq. The exclusion of the Sunnis spawned Sunni-led armed groups like the Islamic State.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, a philosopher and longtime student of the Middle East, wrote in the wake of the Paris attack: "Until the powerful countries of the world are seen as mainly driven by a desire to care for the well-being of everyone else on the planet and the well-being of the planet itself, and care not only out of self-interest but also out of a new consciousness in which we all come to truly understand our mutual interdependence and oneness, what we saw in Paris this past week is destined to be an increasing reality in the coming decades."
The response to the Paris attack should be to set the West on a path to dealing with the Middle East in a way that undermines the anti-Western attitudes that lead to indiscriminate violence of the kind we saw in the streets of Paris. The Paris attack provides a new and compelling reason for the West to take action to undercut negative sentiment about the West.
Of the various conflicts, one where we still have a chance is that between Israelis and Palestinians. The lack of a solution for that conflict, which has been festering for so long, bears a direct relation to the carnage in Paris. The support of the Western powers and particularly the United States for Israel was a battle cry for Osama bin Laden when he first organized al-Qaeda in the 1990s.
The Arab countries were unable to deal with Israel to secure self-determination on the Palestinian side. Bin Laden attracted the youths of the Middle East by telling them that violence was the way to fight the West and to force Israel to accommodate the Palestinians. He successfully played on the perception that the United States had been bought off by Israel to let it take over Palestinian land through its aggressive settlement policy.
Obama wisely is not buying into Hollande's thinking that an increase in military power in Syria is the proper response. Lerner's approach has a greater chance of achieving a long-term solution. Through positive policy changes, we must change the perceptions that have generated terrorist attacks.