The cost of indiscriminate military action

The frustration is mounting.  People angry and saddened about the Paris attacks want the perpetrators brought to justice – well not the actual perpetrators since they are all dead, save for one.  But those who planned and financed it need to pay, with their lives if necessary.  IS is too dangerous and serious action is required – now!

Hence the call for increased air strikes and maybe even ground forces.  And, in fact, we have seen an uptick in bombing sorties, even if the results are not as great as we would want (see story here).  And now there are calls for the West to ignore the possibility (certainty?) of civilian casualties by essentially eliminating Raqqa a la Dresden in WWII (see story here).

For those with short memories, Dresden was a German city devastated in a long fire-bombing campaign in 1945 that killed approximately 25,000 people.  Yes, it may have ushered in a quicker end to the war in the European theatre (as may have the atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima months later in Asia), but the incident remains controversial.  Regardless of whether you see this tactic as justified or not, you have to agree that many innocent people died.

And some are saying that we should return to that particular measure now to get rid of IS once and for all.

The humanitarian argument notwithstanding (actually it should be the primary argument against this proposal), have those advocating this not read anything over the past – oh I don’t know 25 years? – about one of the crucial advantages enjoyed by Islamist extremists in their efforts to brand themselves?  For those who have forgotten, the ideology states that the West is at war against Islam and that the West wants to kill Muslims.  If we start dropping bombs against women and children, not only have we lost the moral superiority argument we love to flaunt, but we confirm and support the narrative of IS, AQ and others.  Do we really want to do that?

As I have written many times before, we need to carefully consider our responses, not just to what happened in the City of Light last week, but to the phenomenon of Islamist extremism.  We have come up with some great ideas (yes I am biased but Public Safety Canada’s outreach and radicalisation awareness seminars were brilliant) and some really bad ones (invasion of Iraq anyone?).  Indiscriminate bombing of Raqqa and other IQ strongholds would definitely be in the latter category.  Sure, we could deal IS a serious (fatal?  Hmm, not sure) blow but we would sow the seeds for the next version of IS.  Which we would bomb, leading to the next version of IS’ successor which we would bomb…I think you get the point.

Our narrative is already orders of magnitude superior to that of IS and its confreres.  Let’s not ruin it with a hasty act that sacrifices long term stability for short-term gain.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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