Avoiding the Trap of Retaliation

The Paris terror attacks brought demands for retaliation against the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility, but by lashing out against the group in Syria and Iraq the West may be falling into a trap that will only strengthen the terrorists, writes John V. Whitbeck.

By John V. Whitbeck

For French President François Hollande, the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, carried out by French and Belgian citizens with the Islamic State claiming credit, changed maybe not everything but certainly his tone and emphasis. He has dialed down his oft-repeated “Assad must go” mantra. Defeating and destroying the Islamic State has become France’s urgent priority.

Hollande set out to pull together a “grand coalition” of all concerned states to achieve the defeat and destruction of the Islamic State a worthy goal if it were possible. But Hollande’s peripatetic travels this past week and his meetings with David Cameron, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Matteo Renzi and Vladimir Putin have made clear that the attacks in Paris have not changed the priorities of some potential allies in the fight.

President Obama holds a joint press conference with President Hollande of France in the East Room of the White House on November 24, 2015. (Photo credit: Whitehouse.gov)

President Obama holds a joint press conference with President Hollande of France in the East Room of the White House on November 24, 2015. (Photo credit: Whitehouse.gov)

For the Sunni Gulf states, the priorities remain “regime change” in Syria (regardless of what might replace the regime), keeping Shiite Iran down and fighting perceived “Iranian proxies” (most notably now in Yemen).

For Turkey, the priorities remain “regime change” in Syria (regardless of what might replace the regime) and keeping the Kurds down, both in Turkey and in Syria.

For the United States and the United Kingdom, the priorities remain “regime change” in Syria (with little regard for what might replace the regime), keeping Russia down and keeping the Sunni Gulf states happy.

For Russia and Iran, the priorities remain preventing another Western “regime change” in the region (after the Western “successes” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya) and preserving the Syrian state, their long-time ally, and its state structures (with or without Bashar al-Assad).

For other countries without strong views on the merits or demerits of “regime change” in Syria, the Islamic State does not appear to be cause for undue concern. Their governments may also recognize that even modest or token involvement against the Islamic State would, without having any constructive impact, raise the risk of retaliation against their own people perhaps, as in Paris, by “their own people.”

For many Sunnis living in the Islamic State’s “caliphate” covering parts of Iraq and Syria the organization’s harsh, austere and often savagely brutal rule appears preferable to restored rule by what are widely perceived by Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis to be Shiite-dominated or even Iranian-dominated governments.

As for outside pressure, regional Sunni states currently show no interest whatsoever in deploying their own ground forces against fellow Sunnis. Western “boots on the ground” beyond being a politically hard sell after the U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan is an avidly sought boon by the Islamic State, which would present itself as Islam’s defender against Western “Crusaders.” And it is widely recognized that aerial bombardments alone cannot defeat and destroy the Islamic State. So, what are Western states to do?

Perhaps, the best (though emotionally unsatisfying) option is to resist succumbing to hysterical calls for yet more and intensified Western violence in the Muslim world and for more restrictions on civil liberties at home, which are certain to stimulate more conversions to jihadi militancy while diminishing the quality of life for all.

Perhaps, the best course is for Western states to relax and accept that the Islamic State is an ugly reality that is here to stay, at least for some considerable time, that containment is the best that can be hoped for and achieved in the near term and that containment can best be achieved by the Iraqi and Syrian governments and their own military forces.

Perhaps, if the West’s sits back and waits, the Islamic State’s aura of excitement will wear off, it will become just one more failed state like so many other regional states in which the West has previously intervened and the peoples of the region might then be able to sort out their own problems in their own way.

Since, through its ill-conceived experiments on the Muslim world, the West has played the role of Dr. Frankenstein in creating the monster now called the Islamic State, it can be argued that the West has a moral responsibility to do everything in its power to right its wrongs in the region.

It would take a level of wisdom and courage rarely attained by Western politicians to recognize that, in the current circumstances and notwithstanding their moral responsibility, Western states can now achieve more by doing less and to act accordingly.

John V. Whitbeck is a Paris-based international lawyer who writes frequently on the Middle East.

14 comments for “Avoiding the Trap of Retaliation

  1. Mark Thomason
    December 1, 2015 at 11:07

    The ISIS did this for a reason, and that reason was in large part to inspire reactions. Giving them exactly what they want would be fairly stupid.

  2. Joe Tedesky
    December 1, 2015 at 02:24

    Consider this, that the U.S. ignored what the Turkish military was about to do. That the NATO powers by their either looking the other way, or by them doing an April Gilespie on Erdogan, had created the perfect storm. Knowing that after having Turkey shoot down one of their Russian fighter jets, would prompt the Russian’s to put in place their S400 missile system, to protect Russian aircraft over the sky’s of Syria, was the goal of this possible NATO plan. Now, what will the outcome be, after the next plane shot down over Syria (which will be reported as being flown over the Turkish sky) will be an American F16 on an innocent reconnaissance run? Would something like this rally America to put boots on the ground? Tonight on CNN hosted by Erin Burnett, Robert Baer (ex-CIA) openly worried out loud about something like what I just described, as being a possible scenario that could play out between the NATO forces and Russia. I also suspect that Erdogan’s days are already numbered, and that may be just fine and dandy, when it comes to the U.S. agenda at large.

    Terrorist will survive, as long as they keep serving the interest of the mighty Western War Machine, which profits and gains from their being able to exist. Having Muslim terrorist around to scare the Western populace, is also great cover for Israel to come down hard on the Palestinians. Have pity for the decent Muslims who need to live through these hard and terrible times.

    • Joe Tedesky
      December 1, 2015 at 03:01

      If you wonder what the anti-Putin propaganda might sound like, if Russia gets out of line, then read this;


      Keep in mine what this author wrote, is being written without an American plane being shot down….so imagine what will be written, if sadly an American plane is sacrificed for such a mission of doom.

  3. Joe
    November 30, 2015 at 07:03

    Less is more whenever right wing foreign policy is examined, because it is fundamentally treason, never anything more than a gambit to create and support foreign enemies so as to disguise themselves as protectors and accuse their opponents of disloyalty. We now have the right wing warmonger tyranny over democracy against which Aristotle warned millennia ago. They are truly traitors wrapped in the flag, and always have been.

    If the US had put its “defense” budget into humanitarian aid as rigorously controlled, it would have friends and no enemies around the world, it would have killed no one rather than many millions, it would be more democratic, and its infrastructure would be well tended, its own poor better off.

    Reduce the US “defense” budget 80 percent over five years, accompanied by diplomatic efforts in N Korea etc., and you will see no lapse of security, but rather an improvement in security, delayed only by the blowback from warmonger policies. Accept the bully logic of the right wing, and the US is finished, and none too soon in the accounts of history.

  4. Abbybwood
    November 29, 2015 at 23:37

    Looks like the cat is out of the bag regarding Turkey buying millions in ISIS oil:


    • F. G. Sanford
      November 30, 2015 at 06:04

      I especially enjoyed learning that Paul Bremer ran the same scheme in Iraq that Bilal “Mini-Me” Erdogan is now running in Syria – loading the oil onto tankers without any documentation, selling it, and transferring the proceeds to Bush crony clandestine bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, all orchestrated by Bain (AKA Mitt Romney) Capital. Gee whiz, no wonder there’s incentive to get another Bush into the White House! And, no chance whatsoever we’re gonna get to read those 28 pages!

  5. N Dalton
    November 29, 2015 at 23:31

    One must see the situation based on several new revelations and must be reminded vehemently that it was the United States that created ISIS – to the Israel lobby demand, which directs U.S. Middle East policy, and the Military-Industrial-Complex – which profits from the former group’s actions.


    Furthermore,that the entire covert strategy was sanctioned and supervised by the US, Britain, France, Israel and US Vice President Joe Biden admitted last year that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Turkey had funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Islamist rebels in Syria that metamorphosed into ISIS.


  6. Abe
    November 29, 2015 at 22:24

    Strangling NATO’s Terrorists at the Border

    Russia’s increased activity along the Syrian-Turkish border signifies the closing phases of the Syrian conflict. With Syrian and Kurdish forces holding the border east of the Euphrates, the Afrin-Jarabulus corridor is the only remaining conduit for supplies bound for terrorists in Syria to pass. Syrian forces have begun pushing east toward the Euphrates from Aleppo, and then will move north to the Syrian-Turkish border near Jarabulus. Approximately 90-100 km west near Afrin, Ad Dana, and Azaz, it appears Russia has begun cutting off terrorist supply lines right at the border. It is likely Syrian forces will arrive and secure this region as well.

    For those that have criticized Russia’s air campaign claiming conflicts can’t be won from the air without a ground component, it should be clear by now that the Syrian Arab Army is that ground component, and has dealt ISIS and Al Qaeda its most spectacular defeats in the conflict.

    When this corridor is closed and supplies cut off, ISIS, Nusra, and all associated NATO-backed factions will atrophy and die as the Syrian military restores order across the country. This may be why there has been a sudden “rush” by the West to move assets into the region, the impetus driving the United States to place special forces into Syrian territory itself, and for Turkey’s ambush of a Russian Su-24 near the Syrian-Turkish border.

    What all of this adds up to is a clear illustration of precisely why the Syrian conflict was never truly a “civil war.” The summation of support for militants fighting against the Syrian government and people, has come from beyond Syria’s borders. With that support being cut off and the prospect of these militants being eradicated, the true sponsors behind this conflict are moving more directly and overtly to salvage their failed conspiracy against the Syrian state.

    What we see emerging is what was suspected and even obvious all along – a proxy war started by, and fought for Western hegemonic ambitions in the region, intentionally feeding the forces of extremism, not fighting them.

    NATO’s Terror Convoys Halted at Syrian Border
    By Tony Cartalucci

    • Peter Loeb
      November 30, 2015 at 15:35

      MANY VIEWS—-

      John V. Whitbeck’s article above should be read after Lawrence
      Davidson’s article “Is Assad Part of the Solution” . I have
      commented on world hegemony below Davidson’s article and
      need not repeat myself here.

      “For French President François Hollande, the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, carried out by French and Belgian citizens with the Islamic State claiming credit, changed maybe not everything but certainly his tone and emphasis. He has dialed down his oft-repeated “Assad must go” mantra. Defeating and destroying the Islamic State has become France’s urgent priority…” (Whitbeck above)

      I referred to this reality in my comment to Davidson. If Hollande and
      the other French humor Americans with their “Assad Must Go!” chants,
      so be it.

      Taken together with the comment of “Abe”‘s “Strangling NATO’s Terrorists at the
      Border” (above) and its accompaning link we have an excellent view of current
      events in Syria.

      As in my comment to Davidson, I cannot urge too strongly a close reading
      of the UN Security Council Resolution of November 20, 2015 which
      is on the UN Security Council’s website. That resolution, drafted by France,
      was passed unanimously and supported by both the US and Russia among
      others. “Abbywood” in a recent comment pointed out the reluctance
      of Samantha Power who had the US support a resolution providing for
      the policies Russia and France are pursuing.

      —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

      • Peter Loeb
        November 30, 2015 at 16:11

        The UN Security Council Resolution on Syria is:

        S / RES / 2249 (2249)

        —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

        • Peter Loeb
          November 30, 2015 at 16:14

          FROM A HUMAN!!!


          Resolution on Syria in the United Nations Security Council is:

          S / Res / 2249 (2015)
          Sorry for the error.

          —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  7. Jay
    November 29, 2015 at 21:56

    ISIS claimed responsibility for the Paris attack?

    Um, no.

    ISIS said something like “good job” after the fact.

  8. F. G. Sanford
    November 29, 2015 at 20:27

    …and, this strategy would preserve the proxy army for the eventual attacks on Iran and Russia! It would be utterly senseless to deny ISIS’s “right to exist”. Gee whiz…where have I heard that line before?

    • David Smith
      November 30, 2015 at 14:17

      You nailed it, Mr. Sanford.

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