Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Paris Terror Attacks: An American Perspective

Large-scale terrorism in Europe is, of course, nothing new. Recall the train bombing in Spain in 2004, and the 7/7 terror bombings in London. Now, however, if Daesh (the Arabic name for Islamic State that the group does not want outsiders to use, hence why I use it) is truly to blame for the attacks, as it so claims, it represents a shift in its global strategy.

France's President François Hollande has vowed to fight the terrorists continually and "without mercy." Indeed, France has time and again shown itself to be an active partner in the global fight against terror and has upped its involvement in the Middle East and North Africa. In recent years France has been a large contributor to international security missions, such as Operation Serval (it's military mission in Mali). In terms of the international operations against Daesh, it began its airstrikes in Iraq in 2014, and recently began its airstrike campaign in Syria, while later moving an aircraft carrier off the Syrian coast.

One must not underestimate the psychological effect the attacks already have had, and will continue to have, on the French people. The country already suffered one bloody attack in January, and this time the attackers did not strike major tourist venues like the Eiffel Tower or Versailles, but rather entertainment venues, places where people come precisely to relax.

As someone who utterly lacks experience or a respectable knowledge of terrorism, I couldn't, in all good consciousness, try to offer an analysis of the attacks themselves. Nevertheless, I feel I can offer a few thoughts on the US reaction to the attacks.

One telling aspect of the reaction to this tragedy is the outpouring of support for the French people from across the US. For some strange reason, which I've never been able to figure out, I've long had a fascination with the France-US relationship and the way our two populations view each other. A certain amount of Francophobia certainly pervades in American popular thinking, although it is, for the most part, completely harmless. Yet, from what I've noticed among my own friends, there has been a more pronounced outpouring of support for France and its people than I'd expected. People who otherwise never discuss international issues have been changing Facebook profile pictures and posting statuses of support for France.

According to one expert (Jean Benoît Nadeau in Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong, if I'm not mistaken), one of the biggest misunderstandings in the France-US relationship is that Americans tend to see the French as intransigent for not always following the US in lockstep, and for being more vocal in its public criticism of the US. The French, on the other hand, see no reason why two countries can be friends and still have their public "lovers spats" every now and again.

Indeed, France's operations against Daesh, while part of the US-led coalition, have also been highly independent in nature. France is, and often has been, willing to act on its own even during the era of trans-national alliances. Recall that Charles DeGaulle was willing to pull France from NATO's operational structure when he felt the Atlantic Alliance did not serve the interests of La Republique. Some may see France's tendency to go its own way as some sort of Gallic unwillingness to be a part of a team. Yet for me, France's willingness to work with its allies while maintaining a certain degree of independence means that France is self-confident, unique, and is in fact a team player in its own special way.

Now the question remains as to how much the recent attacks will affect France's operations against Daesh. Recall that after the train bombings in Spain in 2004, the Spanish public voted the conservative government of José Maria Aznar out of office in favor of the left-wing PSOE. Aznar had been an ardent supporter of Gorge W. Bush's mission to Iraq, and the bombings, claimed by al-Qaeda, were deliberately timed ahead of the Spanish elections so as to influence public opinion and ultimately induce them to vote for a government that would pull Spanish troops from Iraq. And that's exactly what happened. 

For now, it seems that France has determined not to allow the attacks to dissuade her or let her become a prisoner of fear. Nevertheless, as with the US after 9/11, France will likely change to a degree. To say that France "will never the same again" may be an exaggeration, for it isn't as if Europe hasn't known mass terror before. Yet from all this we can glean two things: when push comes to shove, France and the US are solid allies, our disagreements and rivalries notwithstanding; and now the time has come where France must show her resolve and determination not only to Daesh but to the rest of the world, lest those who perished did so in vain.

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