President Obama’s approach of delayed and diluted action — ever doing the minimum demanded by domestic politics — has allowed ISIS not only to survive but to expand its appeal, its numbers, its territory and its global impact. Starbucks took 30 years to reach five continents. ISIS did it in two.
In his press conference in Turkey on Monday, Obama continued to insist that there was no need to change his Syria policy, that success merely “will take time.” Yet it’s precisely because of our unwillingness to take the threat seriously and then to respond forcefully that ISIS now has a deep bench of seasoned “middle managers” ready to replace the leaders we kill; it has tens of thousands of combat-veteran jihadis; it’s made the caliphate real in the city of Raqqa; and it’s had the leisure to learn how to cope with our weapons (human shields work every time).
With a free assist from Edward Snowden, it’s even learned how to circumvent our intelligence efforts. Ask the French.
Obama wouldn’t go to Raqqa. So the jihadis went to Paris.
Friday’s thoroughly planned and boldly executed attacks not only brought darkness to the City of Light, but scored an enormous propaganda victory for ISIS. With almost 500 Western casualties, a quarter of them dead, the carnage will prove electrifying to potential jihadi recruits around the world.
Just as important, our dithering also gave ISIS time to refine its techniques and strategies. Less than a year ago in Paris, a struggling al Qaeda staged a shocking, if crude, attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine. That incident now seems bush league compared to the latest attack, with its near-simultaneous strikes on six symbolic “lifestyle” targets packed with infidel victims.
The first attack was savage. Friday’s attack was savage and sophisticated.
Last week’s attack was planned in Syria. Three strike teams then infiltrated back into France or were activated in place. A support network supplied them with weapons and cars.
Limiting their communications to the bare minimum (and encrypting them), they relied largely on the techniques terrorists used a century ago: small cells, minimal contact, low profiles and deep planning (real strategic patience).
The result? A handful of men with small arms and home-brew explosives stunned the world.