Cumberland, November 16, 2015
In “Paris Attacks: The Acuity of Hindsight,”by Stratfor, Scott Stewart started his special commentary (November 14) as follows:
Until Nov. 13, the eight attackers… were just a handful of radical Islamists in a large universe of Islamist radicals in France. Many of these radicals are nonviolent, while a small segment of them are extremists who espouse violence to achieve their radical agenda — the type we refer to as jihadists. Yet even among the jihadists who advocate violence, there are divisions. Some maintain that jihad should be waged only defensively in support of fellow Muslims being oppressed or attacked in places such as Syria. Another subset advocates for attacks in a Western country such as France.… [A]mong the latter group, there are those whose threats are merely hot air and those who are actually willing to act. Even among those willing to attack there are actors who pose different degrees of threat. For French authorities, sorting through the universe of potential attackers to identify those who pose the greatest risk is a daunting challenge – as it is for any other government.
The process is like a shark attempting to select a few fish from among a vast shoal of baitfish swimming in unison. A shark has an incredible sensory array that is extremely effective at identifying prey to be devoured by its rows of formidable teeth. But the shoal provides security by making it next to impossible for the shark to identify the specific individual fish it needs to target. This is exactly the situation in which the French authorities find themselves. They have incredible intelligence capabilities (sensors) and very capable police and military forces (teeth). Yet, those intelligence and enforcement resources are quite limited and can be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the shoal of potential jihadist attackers.
For the full commentary see: https://www.stratfor.com/weekly/paris-attacks-acuity-hindsight?login=1.
For a discussion of security preparations in Paris see Bloomberg Business report Paris’s Charlie Hebdo-Prompted Alert Does Little to Defend City:http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-11-14/paris-s-charlie-hebdo-prompted-alert-does-little-to-defend-city.
With over 100 dead and over 300 injured in a country with one sixth of our population, France has now experienced its own version of our 9/11. In Paris, as with us in New York, the experience was and is personal. In Marseille as in Los Angeles, images conveyed the horror of the attack via television and the Internet. We are fourteen years ahead of France in directly experiencing this jihadist form of warfare. Jihad in Europe is no longer a matter of isolated incidents.
In the US, we have seen multiple changes since 9/11. Some of them were poorly conceived, and the outcomes have left dead Americans in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Some measures, like the Patriot Act, seem to have resulted in what appear to be mindless rules and regulations. These barriers mostly cause law-abiding citizens to be inconvenienced, but we surmise that some of them may also have prevented a sequel to 9/11. Though few systems are perfect, major system changes seem to have thus far thwarted major Jihadi-terrorist attacks in the US post-9/11. I do not recall any recent hijacking of an American plane. TSA procedures are a pain in the neck. And they cost billions. But they diminish the hijacking of planes.
In Europe, similar big changes are coming. The politics in these countries will get hot. And the entire debate over welcoming immigrants has changed. More detentions, more surveillance, and less privacy are inevitable in Europe because the political environment for use of power starts with the state. Continental Europe does not have our strong constitutional bias toward personal freedom. Our legal system offers some protection of individual rights because it is rooted in English law. Europe’s state-empowered system is rooted in Roman law.
In a few days the only French aircraft carrier will sail for the Persian Gulf. With certainty, the French will increase their use of air power over the region claimed by ISIS. Syria may experience a rain of fire. Will President Hollande now invoke a state of war? Will a broadened air campaign flatten the ISIS capital of Raqqa? . A broadened aerial campaign might flatten it. Not a single building would remain standing. Yes, innocents would be killed. But the stated capitol of ISIS would be completely destroyed. That is the price of war. In view, any territory claimed by ISIS must be leveled.
Wars end with the exhaustion or loss of patience by one side. In Vietnam, Americans lost patience, declared victory, and departed in defeat. Many of us recall the images of the evacuation of the American embassy at the fateful end of our withdrawal.
Wars also end with overwhelming destruction, as happened in World War II. Wars end when cities look like Dresden in Nazi Germany at the end of World War II or like Hiroshima. This lesson of history must be applied to any haven used by any group of radicalized jihadist assemblage.
Wars do not end when ceasefires are declared. Look at the Korean peninsula as an example of an endless ceasefire. Wars can end, however, when one side changes policy, as happened when the Warsaw Pact crumbled. Only then can some more peaceful outcome evolve, as in the Orange (Ukraine) and the Singing (Estonia) revolutions. But we also see that Ukraine has not yet found a path to permanent peace. And Estonia still fears its large Russian minority population and Mr. Putin as a neighbor.
No peaceful solution seems possible with ISIS. With ISIS, there can be no sympathy, no quarter, no respite, only a continuing destruction. So Western powers must remove the Jihadist group’s sanctuary, attack its funding, and preemptively diminish its sympathizers. That requires Western democracies to accept the killing of innocents. This was what Americans began to accept after 9/11. So will the French.
The politics of Western governments are hardening to the right. We see this trend in the US and will see more of it in Europe, and we see it in the growing militancy of Japan. As these politics evolve, voters will demand new tools and will sacrifice by assenting to an erosion of individual rights in exchange for perceived security. The forcible frisking of a jihadist by a security guard at the Paris stadium entrance stopped one of the murderers from imposing many more casualties with the explosives he was carrying. That guard had statist power on his side and did not have to read anyone his Miranda rights.
Stratfor writer Scott Steward’s metaphor of the shark is an apt one. The shark is about to get new teeth. And the climate on the shoal has changed.
I’m worried. The tradeoff of individual rights for security is fraught with danger. If we do it with balance, we may, just may, gain some safety. If we find power abused, we will have traded protection for security and ended up with neither.
David R. Kotok, Chairman and Chief Investment Officer