Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

The Cold Realism of the Post-Paris War on Terror

| November 20, 2015

The time for supporting democratic regime change across the Muslim world is over. It's accept Assad and his like, or embrace the chaos.

Like then-President George W. Bush's declaration of a war on terror after 9/11, French President François Hollande declared France to be at war following the appalling attacks of Nov. 13 by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. While the Paris attack provides a fresh impetus for the West to defeat the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism, it also shows how profoundly the post-9/11 war on terror has failed. After all, haven't jihadi networks massively proliferated since 2001, leaving Western capitals and cities across the Muslim world perpetually on edge, poised for the next fresh carnage? Post-Paris, the war on terror won't be part of a neoconservative project to remake the world in our own image, but a Burkean conservative posture that accepts the devils we know.

The fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the litmus test of this proposition: He's a murderous butcher, but only his ground forces can realistically retake much of the ISIS-controlled territory. They haven't been able to until now, because Western and Gulf states have backed a kaleidoscopic variety of rebels seeking to oust Assad, tying down much of the Syrian military. The fact that much of the territory lost by the Assad regime has wound up in the hands of ISIS and hard-line Islamists has created a climate of moral relativism, where neither Assad nor ISIS make for an attractive option. But this moral relativism has led to inaction and tragedy. Call it the Hamlet non-strategy....

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For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Simpson, Emile.“The Cold Realism of the Post-Paris War on Terror.” Foreign Policy, November 20, 2015.

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