November 17, 2015
The Ideal and the Real
Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty says that “An armed attack against one or more members in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” The attack on Paris is a test of NATO’s viability. If NATO nations don’t react decisively and in concert to destroy ISIS, NATO, as a vital instrument for maintaining peace and deterring aggression, will be seen to be in decline, and indeed that will be the case. A NATO force on the ground is needed to do what needs to be done, which is to destroy ISIS and occupy its territorial base. The United States should support and contribute to this effort, but not play the dominant role.
Suppose, it is rightly asked, this mission is carried out, and those portions of Syria and Iraq that were occupied by ISIS become occupied by NATO forces –– then what? At this point the mission decidedly is not accomplished. It is essential that a grand bargain be concluded among all parties in the region, a task of great complexity and one that cannot succeed unless it’s to the benefit of all legitimate interests This is a difficult but not unattainable goal. A treaty is possible under whose terms the NATO nations, Turkey among them, and Russia, the Kurds, the Baghdad-based shiites, the Iraqi Sunni tribes, even President Assad and his Syrian loyalists, and certainly the peacefully inclined peoples of the region can all feel better about than the current state of affairs. Such a settlement would have the effect of ending the flight of refugees and allowing many to return home.
There is no indication that any of the above will happen. The consensus of NATO nations is to keep on with the present policy but try harder. Maybe this for the best: the gap between the ideal and the real is wide. But maybe not. Every ISIS success bolsters its claim of enjoying a divine imprimatur, an illusion that will be unsustainable once it’s defeated, but will be perpetuated so long as it operates in its new-claimed homeland and projects deadly power abroad.
It is is often said that this is a Muslim problem and that the Muslim nations of the region must take the lead in removing the scourge. That would be desirable, but it hasn’t happened and there’s no indication that it will. For that reason, NATO must take the lead, of course securing cooperation of regional Muslim nations as much as possible. It is also said, and rightly so, that terrorism issues from many quarters, and defeating ISIS won’t stop it. This is true, but it's a good place to start.