This Is Our Pearl Harbor

By “our” I mean the world’s, in its now–after ISIS’ Paris attacks–international fight against “Islamic” terrorism. Note that I put Islamic in quotation marks. It seems to me there’s nothing remotely Islamic–a word whose root, Islam, means, if I remember correctly, Peace–in terrorism. The United States, of course, has endured more than its fair share of terrorism, not least the 9/11 attacks: The Marine barracks bombing, the first Trade Center bombing, the attack on the USS Cole, the east Africa embassy bombings…

But other countries have suffered this barbarity as well.

Still, it took the well-coordinated November 13 attacks on the French capital for the world to properly, if finally, consider itself to be at war with ISIS. Nevermind what ISIS has perpetrated since its inception in its “own” territory. Nevermind its October 31 bombing, in the Sinai, of Russia’s Metrojet flight 9268 that killed more than 200. Nevermind the ISIS bombings in Beirut, on October 12, which resulted in the death of 43 and the wounding of 239. Nevermind the roadside bombing ISIS undertook in Baghdad on October 13, killing 26 and wounding dozens.

The world is up in arms about the October 13 Paris attacks. Just look at Facebook, where many profile pictures peek out from an opaque French tricolor.

This reminds me of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even today, every American remembers that it occurred on December 7, 1941–a date which FDR said, “will live in infamy.” And it has. Yet Japan also–and virtually simultaneously–assaulted Guam, Wake Island, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand. Who remembers that?

The Japanese strategy, at least, was sound from the perspective of its day: Cripple the US Pacific fleet in a single blow and–in the time it will take the US to rebuild it–consolidate and fortify their gains in Asia, using the Pacific Islands as a picket or perimeter. And it worked, in this context, mostly. Navies of the day were built upon the battleship, and all eight of our battleships stationed at Pearl Harbor were damaged. Four were sunk; seven were raised, and six eventually returned to service. Only the USS Arizona has remained on the bottom.

But the Japanese failed to recognize both the ascendancy of the aircraft carrier–none of ours were in harbor that infamous day– and the industrial capacity of the United States. They wound up biting off more than they could chew.

So has ISIS, with the Paris murders.

In my November 5 column I wrote, “How long, I wonder, will it be before ISIS is able to mount some kind of attack distant from its own domain?” Now we know. After the capital of France, we can expect an attack almost anywhere–even here at home. And precisely because of that–because ISIS has mounted the world stage–ISIS should expect more of the world to stage attacks against it. This, surely, is more than ISIS can chew.

In the November 5 column I called for special forces to be arrayed in rotating missions from a carrier group each in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. I think now that we should add a third carrier group, and base it in the Red Sea. This will enable us to deploy covert missions–and air power–against ISIS from Libya through the Sinai to Syria and Iraq. Make no mistake: We are at war, and with a very slippery cast of characters. With no real state to contend with–no nation with borders–the enemy is a fluid force against which we must retain an elasticity of operations. I can’t think of anything more effective than special forces supported by smart bombs.

We can’t just intervene again, writ large, like the proverbial bull in a china shop. That, ultimately, leads nowhere–certainly not to a sustainable peace. We must be seen by Muslims to be combating those who have, historically, killed the majority of them–Islamic extremists.

Much as we did during World War II, when we adopted a “Europe first” approach, the priority in defeating these extremists must be in the Middle East. Only when they’re six feet under can we turn our attention to Africa’s Boko Haram and al-Shabab. Why? Because while the latter currently are containing themselves to Africa, they might not always do so.

The above is what I’d do as confronted by the war we are presently in. The prescription for peace is entirely different. It may begin with weaning ourselves off Middle Eastern oil–although that might result in the impoverishment of those countries who only have oil to offer the world–but it has to end somehow, without the West’s intervening, in a reconciliation both between Sunni and Shia and between Israel and the Palestinians they displaced. Let’s see where we can go from there.

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