Littwin: What’s next in a post-Paris world?

We now live in a post-Paris world. And the question, after the unspeakable horror of the attacks, is just what that means.

It must be obvious to anyone paying attention that ISIS is hoping not just for a strong reaction but for an overreaction. That’s why the ISIS brand of terror is nearly always terror at its most intentionally provocative.

Overreaction brings recruits. Horror brings recruits. A beheading video demands a response. Destroying iconic pieces of past civilizations demands a response. As Harleen Gambhir, a counterterrorism analyst, wrote in The Washington Post, the attack on Paris was a trap for Europe and its right-wing anti-immigrant parties, with ISIS expecting a crackdown on innocent Muslims already living there and a movement that would make the current refugee crisis even worse.

In America, the most surprising takeaway from the Democratic debate Saturday night was that the ever-prepared Hillary Clinton did not have a sound-bite-ready plan for what to do about ISIS in the post-Paris world.

Instead, she stumbled on whether the Obama administration had been slow to recognize the danger of ISIS — of course it had – and allowed herself to get caught up in a discussion of her long-ago vote on the Iraq war and the semantical difference between “radical jihad” and “radical Islam.”

What it showed, as much as anything, is just how difficult the question is to answer. If there’s anything we should have learned in the post-9/11 world, it’s that nearly every response we’ve tried has had its own problems.

By Sunday, Clinton was back in form, saying it was America’s role to pull our allies “off the sidelines” on ISIS and into the fight. She was calling for American leadership, without fear of anyone asking the follow-up question of where that leadership might take us.

What Clinton did know, and from the start, was what not to say. Fortunately for her, if not for America, the many Republicans in the presidential field were all too ready to fill that gap, walking right into Gambhir’s trap.

We can start with the GOP co-leaders. Donald Trump, when not saying the attack was about gun control, was reiterating his blame-Obama-first, no-refugee positions. Ben Carson said that America needed to do a better job of creating a coalition to join the battle. But when asked three times by Chris Wallace whom he would call to help create the coalition, Carson seemed to have no idea. Finally, he offered “all of the Arab states” and “all of our traditional allies.” On Twitter, this was being called the Sarah Palin response.

Ted Cruz, meanwhile, said we were being too careful in our bombing and that we should worry less about killing innocent civilians. No, he really said that, and he didn’t stop there. He then went out of his way to make sure this was being interpreted as a Christian vs. Muslim battle. Cruz said that we should not allow any Muslim refugees from Syria into the country, no matter how deserving, saying the idea was “lunacy.” He said Christian refugees, on the other hand, presented no “meaningful” risk to America and should be welcome. He didn’t say how we would be able to tell the difference between Christian and Muslim, presumably because he’ll never have to actually make that choice.

From the serious candidates, Jeb Bush showed his original answer on his brother’s war in Iraq was his real answer. He is now saying it’s time to declare war on ISIS and if that means American troops, then that means American troops. He offered up a list of actions, including a no-fly zone, which could, of course, mean a possible confrontation with Russian planes, but I didn’t notice any exit strategies.

Bush also said that the ISIS attack was a part of an “organized attempt to destroy Western civilization.” Of course, ISIS has no ability to destroy Western civilization. It has the ability, sadly, to (apparently) blow up a Russian plane, ignite killing bombs in Beirut, and attack Parisians in nightclubs and restaurants.

Marco Rubio, meanwhile, took us back to pre-Iraq-war days and called the battle with ISIS a “clash of civilizations.” In The Atlantic, Peter Beinart takes apart that idea. ISIS, he points out, is not a civilization, but rather a self-declared and unrecognized state in parts of Iraq and Syria. You can extend the argument and say the war is against radical jihadists or radical Islamists – take your choice if you must — but they are not civilizations either.

Rubio goes on to make the old argument that they “hate us because of our values.” He says the attacks on the West are about freedom of speech and tolerance and diversity and women driving cars. He doesn’t say, Beinart points out again, why ISIS would then blow up a Russian plane and why it would be at war, say, against undemocratic Syria.

None of this is to say that there isn’t real urgency in taking on ISIS. The urgency may lead to real negotiations between the U.S. and Russia on how to end the Syrian civil war. France will take a leading role. The coalition, meantime, will grow. And the next president will almost certainly be faced with what to do next.


Photo credit: Klovovi, Creative Commons, Flickr


  1. I agree with your assertion that this perversion of humanity is hoping for a “reaction”/”overreaction” posit. That being said, I also believe there is a way, short of boots on the ground, to more effectively address this issue:

    This OpEd came across my Newsfeed on FB, and immediately made an impression. I must admit I’ve been guilty of using the term mentioned in this article to describe ‘Daesh’. As it is with the NoNotoriety campaign, no more. No longer will I be part of something that arguably gives this perversion legitimacy. The more people who see this and begin calling these perverts of humanity what they actually are, the more likely they will be defeated albeit over time.
    The more we know……..

  2. Once again, a horrific act. Paris, attacked with rifles and bombs by a small number of young men. As days go on and the investigators piece together information, there will be a greater understanding who the attackers and their supporters are, who trained and equipped them, who paid for the operation, and who created the ideology and rhetoric to justify and motivate such an attack.

    In the meantime, many appropriate the event for their own purposes. Advocates of Gun control – more AND less; of Military action – less AND more; of Immigration – less AND more; Partisans – urging election of right AND left, Republicans AND Democrats.

    Maybe a songsmith can start warming up. In the meantime, here’s my poor effort.

    And it’s 1 2 3 what are we fighting for?
    Don’t ask me I don’t give a damncan’t stop to hate!
    Next stop is Viet Nam the Caliphate.
    And it’s 5 6 7 so open up them pearly gates.
    There ain’t no time
    to wonder why
    We’re all gonna die.

  3. “Yes, Iran will still be a sponsor of terror and, yes, it will have more money to put to bad use”
    Mike Littwin, September 04, 2015. commenting on the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear agreement

    With that one sentence Mr. Littwin cavalierly argues that making an agreement with a country that sponsors terrorism is defensible.

    With that one sentence Mr. Littwin seeks to draw a distinction between those who sponsor terrorism and those who carry it out. There is, of course, none.

    With that one sentence Mr. Littwin appears to differentiate between Iranian sponsored terrorism and non-Iranian sponsored terrorism. The former acceptable, the latter despicable.

    With that one sentence Mr. Littwin makes clear his belief that politics trumps humanity. Would Mr. Littwin have been as amenable to Iranian sponsored terrorism if the Iran nuclear agreement had been authored by a Republican administration? I think we all know the answer to that one.

    How, you might ask, could anyone who lived through 9/11 possibly justify making agreements with those who sponsor terrorism? I don’t know either.

    Mr. Littwin seems to rationalize his surrender-first strategy by pointing out “that nearly every response we’ve tried has had its own problems.” Ignoring—something he’s very good at– that apathy also has consequences.

    Here’s what counterterrorism analyst Harleen Gambhir believes:

    “The United States and its allies must respond quickly to (the ISIS) threat.
    None of these anti-Islam activities justifies the horrors that the Islamic State has committed, nor have they caused those atrocities; Europe could be as welcoming as any could wish, and still the Islamic State would send fighters and recruit disaffected locals.

    Europe must avoid the trap that the Islamic State is setting by focusing its responses to the Paris attacks and other outrages against the perpetrators and their supporters.”

    Mr. Littwin does admit—in the last paragraph, naturally– there is a “real urgency in taking on ISIS” What form he believes that urgency should take is left unanswered. No surprise there.

    Unlike Mr. Littwin, Mr. Gambhir is much more forthcoming on what needs to be done:

    “The Paris attacks must become calls to action to end the wars that are tearing the Middle East apart and flooding the world with desperate refugees. They are yet more proof that WE CANNOT LIVE IN PEACE AT HOME WHILE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ARE ENGULFED IN WAR.”

    How will Mr. Littwin justify his insouciant acceptance of those who sponsor terrorism as the price of doing business? He won’t, he’ll simply ignore it.

    But it’s a little more difficult to ignore the more than 120 dead bodies that littered the streets of Paris last Friday night.


    Courage enlarges, cowardice diminishes resources. In desperate straits the fears of the timid aggravate the dangers that imperil the brave. – Christian Nestell Bovee

    “President Francois Hollande deemed the shootings and bombings “an act of war.” He said early Saturday, “We will lead the fight, and we will be ruthless.”
    ‘France is at war,’ Hollande says” – CNN

    “On Sept. 6, 2012, Obama boasted at the Democratic National Convention that “al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat.” Five days later, al-Qaeda-linked terrorists attacked two U.S. diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya, killing the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

    “On Jan. 7, 2014, Obama dismissed the Islamic State as the “JV” team in an interview with the New Yorker, adding that the rise of the Islamic State was not “a direct threat to us or something that we have to wade into.” That same month, the Islamic State began its march on Iraq, declaring a caliphate, burning people alive in cages and beheading Americans.

    Then on Thursday, Obama did it again, telling ABC News, “I don’t think [the Islamic State is] gaining strength” and promising “we have contained them.” The very next day, the Islamic State launched the worst attack on Paris since World War II, killing at least 132 people and wounding more than 350 others.

    How many times is this sad spectacle going to repeat itself?” – Marc A. Thiessen Washington Post

    “Democrats who debated in Iowa last night were very, very concerned about the Paris terror attacks and the growing evidence that ISIS—or Da’esh, as it is called in the region—has metastasized into a true global threat. Very concerned. Bernie Sanders even thought that this barbaric challenge to civilization should be “eliminated”…although it was not as great a threat as global warming, he allowed, which—hold on, here—causes terrorism. You know, droughts and floods set people in motion and…well, never mind.

    Indeed, political correctness makes it impossible for Democrats to face, head on, by name, the essential problem: the rise of Islamic radicalism—or jihadi-ism, as Hillary Clinton tried to call it (and almost succeeded). This is not just a word game.” – Joe Klein Time

    “The irony of those (Democrats) unwilling to call the threat of radical Islam by its name is that in endeavoring to be intelligent and understanding, in trying to avoid painting with “too broad a brush,” they are in reality betraying their ignorance or inability to grapple with the true nature of today’s foe

    Our leaders do us no service when they fail to recognize that the threat the so-called Islamic State and its allied terrorists represent is a civilizational not a geopolitical conflict, and can only be understood through that lens. The radicals who perpetrated the Charlie Hebdo attack were not motivated by Western Imperialism, but by members of a free society violating Islamic law.” – Daily Beast

    “’Cause I don’t have no use
    For what you loosely call the truth” – Tina Turner

    Greenlight a Vet
    Folds of Honor
    Memorial Day – May 30, 2016

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