PHOENIX — In the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris, the world’s leaders have been focused on what it might take to stop the Islamic terrorist group ISIS, which claimed responsibility for the Friday assaults that killed 129 and wounded more than 300.
But until the “root cause” of the movement is addressed, there likely will be new groups to carry out attacks, according to Arizona State University experts who study terrorism and war. ISIS, in fact, grew out of Al Qaeda.
“It’s not as if the issue of Islamic fundamentalism and the various threats emerging out of the region are associated only with this one group,” said Daniel Rothenberg, co-Director of ASU’s Center on the Future of War and professor of practice at the School of Politics and Global Studies. “And similarly, there are so many complex root causes of these movements that it seems unlikely that the dismantling of a particular group means that the root cause’s driving interest and support will disappear simply because a group is defeated militarily.”
Rothenberg noted the “enormous difficulty” to ensure 100 percent security against these kinds of attacks in a free society. And added that the best the U.S. can do is learn a lesson from what took place in Paris and have a sense of “how dangerous political violence can be and the sense of insecurity that can be produced by these attacks.”
Peter Bergen, the center’s other co-Director and a specialist on terrorism and national security, said the United States “will not execute a grand invasion” of Iraq or Syria by U.S. conventional forces, but response attacks will be prepared more quickly and be more frequent moving forward.
“There’s no political constituency on any side that is looking to be in the Middle East in any substantial way,” he said. “So, that means we’re looking at airstrikes, limited U.S. special forces, drone strikes and the like.”
Bergen said the goal of the U.S. is to get ISIS out of Iraq’s major cities of Ramadi and Mosul and Syria’s “de facto capital” of Raqqa.
“In Iraq, we’re operating with the Iraqi government. In Syria, we’re not operating with the Syrian government, clearly, so our options are a lot more limited in Syria,” he said. “But we saw Friday that Kurdish forces, with some American help, took the town of Sinjar, which is halfway between Raqqa and Mosul. That doesn’t help ISIS because it can’t effectively get its road communications to its two most important centers of power.”
Reed Wood, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies and specialist in terrorism, said policy makers and leaders in places like the U.S. and Europe need governments of Muslim countries to work with them to succeed in countering Islamic extremist groups. Earning these countries’ trust will not be easy if “anti-Muslim rhetoric” continues.
“ISIS gains traction among the communities from which it draws support,” he said, “because they’re able to sell a narrative that the West is not only inconsistent with their view of Islam and what they want the world to look like, but is also hostile to Muslims.”
President Barack Obama recently created a plan to place Syrian refugees in different parts of the U.S., but Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued a statement Monday calling for a halt of all placement of Syrian refugees in the state of Arizona, given the events that occurred in Paris last week. Two dozen governors have demanded a halt to placing refugees in their states.
“These acts serve as a reminder that the world remains at war with radical Islamic terrorists,” the statement read. “Our national leaders must react with the urgency and leadership that every American expects to protect our citizens.”
Reed and Rothenberg said that Ducey’s decision is counterproductive.
Rothenberg said states are not the correct governmental bodies for making foreign policy determinations.
“Most likely, statements of this type are ways in which governors (Ducey is not the only governor who has made this claim) seek to respond to the tragedy of the Paris attacks in a way that suggests an interest in the security and well-being of state residents,” he said in an email followup question. “That said, this is a poor means of engaging the complexity of the threat or the seriousness of engaging ISIS and related forces.”
France’s President François Hollande said his country is at war with ISIS and European news organizations have used the term World War III. However, the ASU experts said that this battle is “nothing on that scale.”
“It’s pretty premature to claim that this is the start of a World War,” Rothenberg said. “For Syrians, the devastation of conflict is extraordinary and impactful in almost every way. They don’t need the designation ‘Third World War’ for there to be the experience of extraordinary conflict.”
“It’s not even close to World War III,” Wood said. “Although it is likely to be something we’ve never experienced before, it’s not a world war.”
“ISIS is not the Nazi party or anything close,” Bergen said. “It’s a fairly small group of people with limited capabilities. Yes, they can carry out a terrorist attack in Paris and kill more than 120 people, but the Nazi’s could have wiped out European civilization. And if there was a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia, it would’ve been the end of the world. So, let’s kind of put this in some perspective.”
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