Blogs: Paul Pillar

Foreign Policy in an Ignorant Democracy

The Newest Hit to America's Image

Getting to Negotiations on Syria

Felling ISIS and Facing Reality About Terrorism

Paul Pillar

Based on experience, much of the reaction will consist of an urge to use military force, amid continuing insurgency in Iraq and Syria, to find and destroy a command center that is thought to organize and order such terrorism. But although some individual extremist leaders will be killed, no such center will be found. It will assume a place in U.S. military history comparable to the "Bamboo Pentagon" that was assumed to exist somewhere in Cambodia and to control all of the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam. Military operations aimed at the chimerical terrorist command center identified with ISIS will have the counterproductive effect of stimulating more of the very kind of anti-Western terrorism that the operations were intended to prevent.

If we are fortunate, maybe instead a more accurate lesson will be drawn from the disjunction between a destroyed ISIS caliphate and continued international terrorism in ISIS’s name. The lesson would be that groups such as ISIS are less prime movers of terrorism and more a name and a cause to which radicals attach themselves to believe that they are acting on behalf of something larger than themselves and their own demons and grievances. A corollary is that the likelihood of Americans becoming victims of this brand of terrorism has less to do with battle lines on a Middle Eastern map than with whether our own actions generate and sustain such grievances.

Image: A U.S. Army M109A6 Paladin in support of  Iraqi security forces’ advance toward Mosul. DVIDSHUB/Public domain

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The Importance of Apolitical Security and Law Enforcement Services

Paul Pillar

Based on experience, much of the reaction will consist of an urge to use military force, amid continuing insurgency in Iraq and Syria, to find and destroy a command center that is thought to organize and order such terrorism. But although some individual extremist leaders will be killed, no such center will be found. It will assume a place in U.S. military history comparable to the "Bamboo Pentagon" that was assumed to exist somewhere in Cambodia and to control all of the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam. Military operations aimed at the chimerical terrorist command center identified with ISIS will have the counterproductive effect of stimulating more of the very kind of anti-Western terrorism that the operations were intended to prevent.

If we are fortunate, maybe instead a more accurate lesson will be drawn from the disjunction between a destroyed ISIS caliphate and continued international terrorism in ISIS’s name. The lesson would be that groups such as ISIS are less prime movers of terrorism and more a name and a cause to which radicals attach themselves to believe that they are acting on behalf of something larger than themselves and their own demons and grievances. A corollary is that the likelihood of Americans becoming victims of this brand of terrorism has less to do with battle lines on a Middle Eastern map than with whether our own actions generate and sustain such grievances.

Image: A U.S. Army M109A6 Paladin in support of  Iraqi security forces’ advance toward Mosul. DVIDSHUB/Public domain

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