Paris and the Rubicon

France needs military means in order to keep the solemn promise of destroying the Islamic State.

Nov. 13 in Paris was the crossing of the Rubicon. Following the attacks on the Russian plane in the Sinai and Shiite neighborhoods in Beirut, the attack on the French capital indicated an irreversible transition — the Islamic State has changed its nature. Instead of just a territorial movement looking to build a jihadi caliphate in the Middle East, it appears to be a terrorist network capable of running operations anywhere in the world. In the waters of the crossed Rubicon floats the corpse of the Islamic State group containment strategy. We know nowadays that the only effective response to the challenge is to deprive the jihadis of their territorial base via a decisive territorial offensive such as the one undertaken in Afghanistan in 2001. Barack Obama, however, explicitly discarded this option, whose viability depends on American leadership.

Containment was originally an appropriate strategy. The Islamic State group changed its nature because it was losing the war. Its offensive motivation stopped the dikes formed by Iraqi Shiites in the south and the Kurds of Iraq and Syria to the north. In the last few months, under the impact of air strikes and Kurdish and Shiite counteroffensives by land, the Caliphate’s territory has been reduced by about a quarter. The series of attacks, which culminated in Paris, intended to change the scenario and thus intensify the recruitment of terrorists.

“Clash of Civilizations” — this is the aim of the attacks. Jihadis sow fear to harvest Islamophobia. They want the European nations to close their borders to Muslim refugees and to call their Muslim citizens suspects. In France, particularly, they intend to boost Marine Le Pen’s presidential candidacy for the National Front in order to draw a blood border between “French Apostates” and “pure Muslims.” It is not fortuitous that the Islamic State group’s statement claiming the attacks defines Paris as the “capital of pleasure and prostitution.” When former President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested putting electronic anklets on thousands of young Muslims who haven’t responded to specific allegations, the Islamic State group celebrated a triumph in their recruitment campaign.

“Total war,” announced President Francois Hollande, while Prime Minister Manuel Valls compromised France with the goal of “destroying IS.” The French government couldn’t have said anything else, as the lack of a dramatic response will make tensions already showing in French society even worse since the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre. But France needs military means to fulfill the solemn promise. And that is why, in the interval of national mourning, while ordering mostly symbolic air attacks against Raqqa, Hollande attends meetings in Washington and Moscow. The former European power needs to articulate an international coalition willing to undertake “total war” to eradicate the Caliphate.

Obama spoke about the historical community of values between the United States and France, and the French colors lit up One World Trade Center in Manhattan. However, below the surface, there is a bitter dispute between Hollande and Obama. Before the National Assembly, the French president invoked a clause in the European Union treaty that enshrines the principle of collective defense. The clause, never before used, mentions the famous Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which qualifies an act of war against any member of the alliance as an aggression against all. Carefully, but in daylight, France pressures the United States calling for a territorial offensive.

Hillary Clinton, the probable Democratic candidate for the White House, distinguished her position from Obama’s, declaring it is time to evolve from “containment” to “destruction” of the Islamic State group. However, she carefully pointed out that the tool would be a coalition of regional powers supported by air action by world powers. Hillary knows that this will not happen because the Islamic State group’s presence serves, one way or another, the different regional actors. Jihadis harass the Syrian regime and Iraq’s Shiite government, which interests Saudi Arabia and Turkey. On the other hand, the Islamic State group threat offers a glimmer of legitimacy to Assad’s tyranny in Syria and an alibi for Iran’s involvement in Iraqi affairs. Finally, the limited combat against the Caliphate assures the Kurds U.S. military assistance.

In Korea, in 1950, the U.S.-led forces operated under the United Nations flag. This precedent would serve as a model for a coalition of world powers aiming to eradicate the Caliphate. But this time, Russia would be a fundamental component of the coalition, a statute guaranteed by Moscow’s military intervention in the Syrian conflict. The hypothesis demands concomitant implementation of the peace plan in Syria, as proposed by Moscow — meaning without immediate elimination of Assad’s regime. Vladimir Putin’s bluff in Syria would be awarded twice by the political transition agreement in Syria, and by the presence of Russian troops in Syria and Iraq. France would have the “total war” that it couldn’t start alone, and Europe would see a light at the end of the long tunnel of the refugee crisis and the lasting threats of terrorist attacks coordinated from a territorial base.

The obstacle is the United States. The indispensable superpower turns its strategic focus to Asia, engaging in the long-term goal of counterbalancing the Chinese influence in the East. That is why Obama raised the commitment of not engaging territorial forces in a new conflict in the Middle East, a pillar of American foreign policy. These were, however, decisions made before the fateful Nov. 13. They wouldn’t resist the reproduction of the carnage of Paris in London, New York or Washington.

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