Will the U.S. take decisive military action against the Islamic State after the attacks in Paris?
“We say to the states that take part in the crusader campaign that, by God, you will have a day God willing, like France’s and by God… we swear that we will strike America at its center in Washington,” declared the Islamic State group in an online video published on Monday.
It is against U.S. government policy to comment on threats, but Reuters found out from the Department of Homeland Security that “there was no credible threat of an attack on U.S. soil.” While there is no fear in Washington, the Friday attacks in Paris have made an impression on the governors of some U.S. states. Already, half of them have declared they do not want any Syrian refugees in their states. They are afraid some of them might be terrorists.
The Obama administration has promised to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next 12 months — and no changes are planned.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted immediately after the events in Paris, up to 63 percent of Americans fear a similar attack in their country. But in practice, America is safer than Europe.
First (and foremost), after the attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, the security apparatus was significantly expanded. Methods of mass surveillance, heavily exploited by the U.S. government — as we know from Edward Snowden — have also arisen. More than a trillion dollars has been spent on homeland security since 2001 (not including defense spending).
Moreover, America is in a good location. Oceans separate it from the rest of the world, so terrorists would have to arrive by plane. When the point of entry into a country is an airport, it is easier to control newcomers. Radicals could potentially sneak across the Mexican border — there have been many alarms warning of this possibility in the right-wing media — but it would be difficult, because they would stand out among Hispanic immigrants.
Perhaps even more important than the ocean isolation is that Muslims are much better assimilated in the U.S. than in Europe, especially compared to France. There are approximately 3 million Muslims in the U.S., but they are not the poorest social class, they do not isolate themselves in their communities, and they do not create ghettos. At most a couple hundred U.S. citizens went to Syria or Iraq to join the jihadis, whereas at least several thousand European volunteers are among the Islamic State group. Most importantly, these returning “soldiers of the holy war” are the biggest threat, because they have passports from the countries in which they were born or raised, in addition to experience gained during the war in Syria and Iraq.
Will America decide, after the events in Paris, to opt for more vigorous military action against the self-proclaimed caliphate? We do not know. What is certain is that yesterday, from the port of Norfolk, Virginia, a fleet of five ships set sail for the Persian Gulf. Among them: the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, the destroyer USS Bulkeley and three additional destroyers. In total, more than 5,000 sailors, soldiers and pilots sail on them. USS Harry S. Truman uses nuclear reactors for propulsion, is 333 m (1,092 feet) long, and is as high as a 24-story building. It can also accommodate up to 90 aircraft.
Americans explain the departure of the fleet as normal and planned in advance to replace the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which left the Persian Gulf a month ago. For this reason, for the first time in many years, America does not have any aircraft carriers in the Middle East. Republicans declare this as further evidence that Barack Obama ignored the Islamic State group (a few hours before the attacks in Paris, he said that the “Islamic State’s expansion has been halted”).
The absence of an aircraft carrier does not mean America has stopped bombing the radicals. They continue to do so — in recent days, they carried out airstrikes on oil facilities of the self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq, using, among others, the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. A few days ago, they dropped a bomb from a drone to kill the notorious “Jihadi John,” a British citizen of Iraqi origin who, last year, slashed the throats of two American journalists and three British humanitarian activists who had been kidnapped in Syria.