After the Paris Massacre the Usual Playbook Begins the Long Haul

In the short-term at least, we’re all sadly familiar with the drill.

Cabinet heavyweights have met in closed sessions. Ministers, grim of face and heavy of portentous file, have trooped into the White House, Ten Downing Street et al, only to emerge later promising the usual. We’re shoulder to shoulder, there’ll be no hiding place, our way of life will go on and we shall never surrender.

The afterburners of retribution have already been seen in the night sky as Western air forces ‘step up’ their ‘pounding’ and ‘blitz’ of this thing that calls itself Islamic State.

The staccato language of threat levels will throb out clearer and more urgently, Call of Duty figures weighed down with arms and armour will haunt the more obvious public target buildings. Police? Soldiers? It’s getting hard to tell. Off with your shoes, off with your belt, turn up earlier for your flight. This way please, not that way.

It’s the whole well-thumbed playbook, page by page. The surface-calm efficiency of Western states trying to reassure citizens

The usual suspects will be arrested and seen to be arrested. Other, darker things, which must be done but not seen to be done, will probably happen too. As Algerians and New Zealanders recall all too well the French are none-too-squeamish when they’re down to the wire.

It’s the whole well-thumbed playbook, page by page. The surface-calm efficiency of Western states trying to reassure citizens that they can still be rich, free and alive all at the same time. Let’s not undervalue it too far.  Leaders have to lead. What else can they do?

But the longer-term implications for western foreign policy of Paris’ agony are much harder to define.

ISIS is not going to be bombed out of existence by smart weapons and drones. They can hit it alright, they can even occasionally hit it hard, but they can’t destroy it.

For all its front-of-house mediaeval psychopathy ISIS is a diversified operationAnd the war-weary western public is simply not going to back a major campaign on the ground against ISIS in Syria, even if any army large enough to do the job could be assembled from regiments still unpacking from long tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The option of economic strangulation remains probably the best bet but even there scope for success looks very limited.  The organisation is thought to be much less reliant on the donations of individual sympathisers than it was at its inception, and certainly much less so than the likes of Al Qaeda ever were.

It has also proven a relatively competent state administrator, able to levy taxation within the lands it dominates, supplemented by black market oil dealing and, according to reports out of Russia, the heroin trade as well. For all its front-of-house mediaeval psychopathy ISIS is a diversified operation and all the harder to choke for that.

And overall looms the question. The one, big question.

It was Tory right-winger Alan Clark of all people who asked it early, before what was to become Gulf War One, “So we bomb Iraq for a few days and then what?”

The possible scope of it has sadly widened beyond Iraq but, more than 20 years after it was posed, we still don’t have an answer.

More about the author

About the author

Born and raised in Swansea West, one of the safest Labour seats in the country, David is perhaps unsurprisingly a High-Tory, Euroskeptic Royalist Libertarian with an unhealthy adoration for Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. As a result he is seldom pleased by anything that ever happens, and always on the verge of quitting the whole jamboree. A former Special Writer at the Wall Street Journal, he knew the crash was coming when he saw a piece about Louis XVI reproduction furniture "for your Winnebago."

Follow David on Twitter.




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