Obviously ISIS needs to be countered with full military force. But if this alone is done, we condemn ourselves to a pathway of mutual brutality that will not destroy ISIS but will destroy the very freedoms that undergird western civilization. The only way to defeat ISIS is to understand that the attacks in Paris provide a new and urgent opportunity to seize the road to peace.
The fundamental point about ISIS is that until the crisis of the Middle East is resolved, at the heart of which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ISIS will never be defeated. If we do not grasp this, our democratic societies are going to be fatally undermined by increasing erosions of our liberties, and xenophobia will triumph over open borders.
If this comes to pass, ISIS wins because we would end up looking much like them. Rejecting Syrian refugees is not the answer to ISIS. Increased militarism is not the answer to ISIS. Compromising civil liberties is not the answer to ISIS. ISIS will only be eliminated, and the attacks on Paris truly honored, when the West acts decisively and urgently to settle the crisis out of which ISIS emerged and continues to be empowered.
Consider the following historical context: Since the nine Crusades from 1096 - 1272, continuing with various occupations by the European powers in the Middle East during the colonial period, and deepened by the literal carve up of the region by England and France after World War I, the Middle East has been in turmoil, largely as a result of European incursions.
World War II disrupted the Middle East even more as European politics and aggression spilled into the region once again, although in a much more virulent form. The unconscionable violence of the Germans against the Jews, symbolized so powerfully by the Holocaust, was not solved in Europe. It was largely resolved by establishing a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. Had there been deeper justice, part of Germany should have been designated as Israel. But that was not to be. The Arab world was forced to atone for the virulence of European anti-Semitism.
Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, there have been at least 15 wars, intifadas by Palestinians, and major Israeli military incursions into Lebanon and Gaza. When the U.S. invasions of Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq are added, and then the Arab Spring and its aftermath, including the civil war in Syria, the number of civilian and military casualties, displaced populations, and damage to physical infrastructure totals hundreds of thousands of deaths, mostly civilian, the displacement of millions of peoples, the Syrian refugees being only the latest example, hundreds of billions of dollars in damage to property and infrastructure, and trillions of dollars spent on military capacities.
For nearly 70 years the Middle East has been a perpetual war zone. This is the toxic mix out of which ISIS emerged and sustains itself. ISIS is driven by the very hate and wanton destructiveness that has been fomented by perpetual war by parties absolutely sure of themselves and completely unwilling to compromise.
Had President Obama been more in tune with this history and the magnitude of the Paris attacks, he would have used his press conference from the G20, not to defend policies that clearly are not working, but to convene an emergency conference of all parties to begin a serious process to solve the Middle East crisis. President Jimmy Carter did this in his time, for which Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1978. Obama can and must rise to the same occasion. The world gave him the Peace Prize as he started his presidency. Now let him, in his final year, earn it.
The situation today is of course much more complex and deadly than the 1970s, largely because conflict is now regional and the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have been so devastating, but something of the magnitude of Carter's achievement must be urgently enacted, backed by the full power and authority of the U.S. Government. If the Middle East crisis is solved, and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is at least reduced if not eliminated, ISIS would disappear because its feeding ground will have been done away.
Until peace prevails in the Middle East, ISIS will be empowered. Both to defeat this vicious enemy and to protect the liberties embodied by our civilization, peace must be sought as urgently as war.