News organizations from around the country have been weighing in on the Paris terror attacks all weekend and into Monday. Here are some excerpts:
Dallas Morning News
After ‘act of war,' solidarity with France means tough choices
Shock and revulsion resonates throughout the world to the barbarity inflicted by Islamic State terrorists Friday in Paris. Americans of all political and religious persuasions feel deep sympathy for the French people. Our solidarity is unshakeable in the fight to defeat this Islamic State cancer.
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We must now ask what solidarity means in real terms. Many soul-searching questions lie ahead as Americans recognize that the Islamic State is not going to fade away, and the threat of similar atrocities inches closer to our own shores. Islamic State zealots will not be satisfied with the caliphate they claim to have established in Syria and Iraq. They want the rest of the world to cower in fear.
The White House and Congress now must weigh an appropriate U.S. response. France is a close NATO ally, whose defense we are treaty-bound to support militarily – as France did after the 9/11 attacks. French President Francois Hollande declared Friday’s attack an “act of war.” Those words have real consequences.
The Islamic State is far from contained. Consider the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last month, killing 224. A day before the Paris attacks, bombers unleashed hell in a crowded southern Beirut neighborhood, killing 43. Or the horrific videotaped beheadings and other executions earlier this year.
The terrorists are not even slightly interested in negotiations or diplomacy. Death is no deterrent in their quest for radical conquest.
Muslim nations must step up and fight to deny the Islamic State the caliphate that, the terrorists claim, heralds the battle leading to Islam’s world domination. So far, Kurdish fighters backed by U.S. air support and a small number of special operations advisers have been the primary forces courageous enough to take the fight to the enemy. Most of the Arab world stands by, watching.
America cannot stand by as well. Tough choices are ahead as our leaders debate the merits of a return to ground combat in Iraq and Syria. And, given the likelihood that Islamic State sympathizers also are planning high-profile attacks on U.S. soil, all Americans must gauge the limits of their tolerance for the kinds of invasive intelligence-gathering techniques that could help deter terrorist attacks but also threaten privacy.
Western Muslims, the ones most attuned to what’s happening in their community mosques and meeting sites, must summon the courage to speak out if they suspect radical cells in their midst.
We don’t claim to have easy answers. But as Americans engage in symbolic acts of solidarity with our French counterparts, we must acknowledge that standing firm against terrorism requires deeds, not just words.
ISIS has changed French politics
Paris is getting back to life as usual after Friday’s attacks, if you discount the armed police on the streets and a general sense of grief. But for France, the question of what President Francois Hollande should do, now that he has declared the nation at war, remains unanswered.
This situation is completely different from the aftermath of the attacks in January on the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Then, Paris was all about unity. The lone voice of Marine Le Pen’s nativist National Front, attempting to make political capital out of the tragedy, was ignored. Those attacks weren’t directed at the citizenry as a whole, but at a very particular kind of magazine and a Jewish supermarket. Charlie Hebdo was not France’s 9/11. Friday’s attacks were.
The calls Le Pen made in January to end Europe’s open borders are now mainstream. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to recapture his political relevance by out-toughing Hollande’s straight-talking Interior Minister Manuel Valls, as well as Le Pen. He has called for a wholesale change in French foreign policy that would involve a realignment with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policy in Syria, as well as for forcing 11,500 citizens suspected of extremist sympathies to wear electronic bracelets.
The French media is filled with articles worrying about what the sociologist Jean-Pierre Le Goff called the “angelic and pacifist mentality” of a country that already has fewer restraints on surveillance by its intelligence service than the U.S., and restricts displays of Islamism among its large Muslim minority more than most European countries. Still, France is looking to find an equivalent to the post-9/11 U.S. Patriot Act.
Islamic State must be delighted. It is changing French politics as surely, if not as dramatically, as al-Qaeda changed the politics of Spain through train bombings in 2004 that led to a change of government. What is dangerous is that, despite what Sarkozy and Le Pen may say, there are few effective remedies available to France.
Islamic State might be less happy if the response to Friday’s attacks was an effective international military intervention to destroy it in Syria and Iraq. And indeed, Hollande stepped up the pace of French airstrikes against IS in Syria on Sunday night. But he surely knows, as Islamic State does, that an extra 20 bombs dropped on Raqqa will change little.
French security analysts such as Bruno Tertrais say Hollande is weighing whether to ask NATO to invoke Article 5, its collective defense agreement, as Europe offered to do for the U.S. after 9/11. If France, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member, is at war, as Hollande has said, this would seem be a logical step.
It could have some practical benefits. It would, for example, make it easier for U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to persuade the British Parliament to join the U.S. and France in the coalition delivering air strikes in Syria. Perhaps other NATO members would contribute some planes or logistics, too. NATO’s central command resources would become available.
“It would be a get-out-of-jail-free card for Cameron,” says Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network, whose work focuses on European security. “But the whole question of what the strategy is in Syria would still be on the table.”
Hollande and his advisers must also know that an Article 5 declaration would change little unless it involved NATO ground troops, which is highly unlikely. The air campaign would still rely overwhelmingly on U.S. resources and the strategic questions would remain. Who provides the ground forces needed to make air strikes effective? How do you combat Sunni radicalization if, like Russia, you rely on the Sunnis’ enemies – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Shiite Iran – to provide those ground troops?
Islamic State must be destroyed in its havens, so those questions need to be answered. In the meantime, the reality for Paris and other European cities is that so long as Islamic State believes it can raise its profile and recruit by staging attacks on Europe, more attacks are almost inevitable. The best defense is to spend more aggressively on intelligence and disrupt jihadist cells across Europe. Policing in Belgium, where France’s Interior Minister now believes Friday’s attacks were planned, is probably as important to French security as what happens in Syria.
That is something NATO cannot fix. And with Europe in its current, disjointed state, neither can Hollande.
Paris attacks shine more scrutiny on incoming refugees
Before the staggering terrorist attacks on Paris, Europe was struggling with a refugee crisis: tens of thousands of Syrian refugees seeking shelter as they fled war in their homeland.
By Sunday, as details emerged on the terrorists who had assaulted one of the world’s grand capitals, Europe had a vastly more profound refugee crisis.
Authorities say that one of the suicide bombers was carrying a Syrian passport, issued in Greece on an emergency basis. He arrived as a refugee with no papers and left with a passport that allowed him to travel from Greece to Serbia, Macedonia and eventually to France.
The attacks, and the news that one perpetrator apparently was embedded among refugees, fueled angry right-wing protests in France over the weekend. Pressure grew on political leaders across Europe to slam the door on a European Union plan to shelter 160,000 refugees among member states. Poland’s new government announced after the attacks that it won’t accept the refugee quotas set by the EU.
The debate leapt across the Atlantic. Republican U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York urged the White House to suspend its plan to accept up to 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. He disputed the administration’s contention that “robust vetting procedures” would screen out potential terrorists. “There’s virtually no vetting because there are no databases in Syria,” he said. “There are no government records. We don’t know who these people are.”
True, refugees don’t leave Syria with their papers up to date and perfectly authenticated. They’re fleeing for their lives, with the possessions that they can carry or wheel behind them.
The nucleus of the assault on Paris may turn out to be homegrown terrorists, though.
The suspect with the Syrian passport, apparently under a false identity, was one of as many as two dozen jihadists in what the Associated Press says was a sleeper cell. Three of the suspects were French citizens, two of whom had been living in Belgium. Few details have been released about the rest of those involved.
The humanitarian crisis created by tens of thousands of people fleeing Syria won’t neatly resolve itself by closing national borders. Winter approaches. The refugees need to be sheltered and fed.
As French warplanes on Sunday pounded Raqqa, the Syrian center of Islamic State operations, with more concerted efforts to come, the prospects grow that even more refugees will flee.
Many of them will have to be sheltered on foreign soil. The changing dynamic might give more impetus to a complicated task: establishing a safe haven on Syrian soil. The prospects for the refugees grow more grim – shelter in place or take a long trek to an increasingly hostile Europe.