By Al Emid Author Journalist Broadcaster
The Glamourous Life of an Author
Literally around the world, mourners have set up memorials with flowers, votive lights, French flags and other items to express their grief over the tragedies in Paris. Strangers who would normally walk past each other talk as they deposit their tributes in city squares. Towers and buildings have been swathed in red, white and blue — the national colors of France.
Following the Paris massacre last Friday that left approximately 130 dead and over 350 injured these people come to pay their respects and to honor the victims. The massacre has had such a deep impact that individuals who otherwise would not give France much thought now crave updates about the massacre and the hunt for the terrorists who perpetrated it.
Still, long after the cleaners have cleared away the flowers and votive lights, we will have to grapple with some very difficult questions with anti-terrorism strategy at the top of the list. Early Friday, before the Paris attacks, President Barack Obama had insisted during an ABC interview taped on Thursday, that the United States and its allies had contained ISIS. Hours later the terrorists wreaked havoc across Paris and then most of them blew themselves up with suicide vests provided by their handlers.
What do these tragedies say about the effectiveness of the drive against ISIS to date? Obama has long said that the United States would work with coalition partners to ‘degrade and destroy’ ISIS and espoused a doctrine that he has called ‘strategic patience’. At a press conference in Antalya Turkey on Monday he insisted that his plan, comprising air strikes and local forces, was working and would produce results over time. However, one can reasonably argue that the three terrorism tragedies – Paris and before it Beirut Lebanon and Sharm el-Sheikh Egypt call into question the effectiveness of the strategy. That leaves open the question of whether a wholesale change in strategy would produce better results. If so, what strategy would work – or at least appear more promising? Can Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry cobble together an agreement with the other members of the anti-ISIS coalition?
How confident can we be that on this side of the Atlantic we will only have to deal with ‘lone wolves’ and ISIS recruits taken in by social media? How safe is North America? On Monday ISIS released a video claiming that it would attack Washington and police and security forces predictably ramped up precautionary measures. How much of its threats can ISIS actually carry out and how much is propaganda and posturing, designed to frighten us in the West?
We know for certain that security will stay high at ‘hard’ targets such as airports but to what extent can even the most diligent authorities prevent problems with so-called ‘soft targets’ – public places such as the stadium, concert hall and restaurant in the Paris massacre?
And what of the near-impossibility – proven again by the Paris attacks – of keeping all suspects under surveillance 24 hours a day? Even the level of intelligence gathering has become something of an issue as Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida criticized fellow candidates Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen Rand Paul of Kentucky for voting to weaken American intelligence programs. Speaking at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council Annual Meeting on Monday he suggested that weakening intelligence-gathering capabilities would leave the U. S. vulnerable.
Are we – or at least are some North American politicians – headed into a fortress mentality with immigration policies? Sen. Cruz, as quoted in the Washington Post and other publications said the country could continue to provide a ‘safe haven’ for Christians but not ‘refugees that may have been infiltrated by ISIS.’ Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has called for sealing off American borders.
Is this going to be the flavor of political discourse in the near future?
How much of the rhetoric surrounding ISIS in the United States is purely political, when set against the current contests for the presidential nomination? As quoted in the Palm Beach Post Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson told reporters in Florida on Sunday that “we have to recognize that the global jihadist movement is an existential threat.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina said on Fox News Sunday fifteen months ago that ISIS posed “an existential threat”.
There are three questions here: whether ISIS is a genuine threat in North America, if so how much of a threat and whether the threat is being used as a convenient political issue.
In the more global political arena, will Russian President Vladimir Putin use the fact that the United States, its coalition partners, Russia and NATO (which he despises) have a common enemy as leverage to escape the isolation that followed the Ukraine adventure?
Are social policies including treatment of refugees going to suffer any further than they have already? At time of writing over half of American state governors have criticized Obama’s refugee policy and plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees next year. They have indicated that they do not want Syrian refugees in their states. (But we should note that the loudest critics of Obama’s policies are Republican governors.) They cite the possibility (as ISIS has threatened) of infiltration of refugee groups by racial jihadists.
And what of future crises? The Paris tragedies were carried out by well-organized and well-armed teams. Do they point to sleeper cells in Paris and elsewhere in France? Are there sleeper cells in other countries? If so, in which other countries?
Following almost a year of research, Al Emid’s fifth book entitled What You Need to Know About ISIS – Terror, Religion, War and the Caliphate and set for release by Quidne Press in early 2016 goes behind the news about ISIS and examines what might lie ahead. He has begun developing a follow-up book tentatively set for release later in 2016.