The “Third World War” that has haunted the media ever since the attacks in Paris is the product of overheated imaginations. World war? Paris isn't even Europe's 9/11. The bombing of a commuter train outside Madrid in 2004 killed almost twice as many people as the attacks in Paris. Nonetheless, Paris marks the start of a dangerous new phase of Islamic terror. The Islamic State group began a new offensive in the French capital. They brought urban warfare from the Middle East into the heart of Europe.
So far, the Islamic State group has used only “lone wolf” attacks. Paris, however, was carefully choreographed. The terrorists demonstrated supreme tactical skill. All this just one day after President Obama celebrated the “containment” of the Islamic State group.
The Main Conflict Rages within Islam
The threat level has risen, as shown by the cancellation of the international soccer match between Germany and the Netherlands in Hanover. CIA Director John Brennan doesn't consider Paris a one-off event, and warns of other attacks already “in the pipeline.” For what purpose? A key phrase in Islamic State propaganda is the “destruction of the gray zone” in which Europe's Muslims find themselves: between good and evil, the caliphate and the unbelievers. The terror attacks are meant to turn the West against its Muslim citizens, an overreaction that will radicalize them. Then they would leave the gray zone in droves and defect to the Islamic State group.
That scenario isn't exactly absurd. The “us against them” mindset propagated by Europe's ultra-rightists will actually attract new recruits to the Islamic State group. All the more reason to expose the “culture war” for the nonsense it really is. The main battle rages within Islam — a “culture of struggle,” in which the various peoples and sects tear one another to pieces — with thousands of times more victims.
If its anger is redirected against Europe's Muslims, the West will be doing the Islamic State group’s work for it. Instead, the opposition must come from the Syrian and Iraqi Islamic State strongholds. The political conditions for that are in place. America, Europe, Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf States — all of them are ready to fight against the Islamic State group. But a coalition of the willing needs leadership power to take on the heaviest burdens. Obama's America is no longer willing to shoulder that burden.
The Europeans, on the other hand, want to be like the U.S. and not put any boots on the ground. Russia and Iran mainly want to rescue Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are flying sorties but do little else. The notion that Sunni armies would cooperate with the West to help clean up Iraq and Syria is about as realistic as peace breaking out between Israel and the Palestinians.
Even so, the West must react. It would be enough if America would not bomb so half-heartedly, as it has been. The Islamic State group is a real nation, an entity with capitals in Mosul and Raqqa that have vulnerable logistics and administrations. However, lacking forward deployed special forces, there can be no precision bombardment. For better or for worse, Obama will have to ramp up the presence of his elite ground units.
Don't Call Up the Specter of World War III
And the Germans? It will require a convincing response when France invokes the EU treaties. Article 42.7 of the Lisbon treaty states: “If a member of the European Union is the victim of ‘armed aggression on its territory’ other states have an ‘obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power.’” One answer could be that the Germans will help France with aerial operations, and no one will request the deployment of ground troops.
The West can drive up the cost of terror with systematic and open-ended attacks on major Islamic State group targets. Terror requires a base. In Europe, policing and reconnaissance exist to co-opt Islamic State recruitment. In Syria and Iraq, the target is terrorism's infrastructure. The Islamic State group dreams of an apocalypse, and the West has the means — perhaps with the help of Russia — to put an end to that dream.
It could succeed without ever invoking the specter of a “Third World War.”