To call the Paris attacks a tragedy simply doesn't do it justice. To have to bury a loved one and find a way to go on is beyond description. And we all grieve in our own ways. For some, it is quiet, filled with reflection and a controlled response. For others, it is very loud and requires screaming demands for revenge. This is true for countries as well. The French in particular and the West in general now have to decide which path they will take. While the latter, screaming for revenge, might feel more viscerally appealing after the anguish that has been splayed across the world in the last few days, I strongly hope that they consider the former, reflection and a controlled response.
After 9/11, the U.S. watched its Twin Towers fall over and over and over again on all of the major networks for days, weeks, months, years. And the response from the White House was simple. We will make them pay. We will may all of them pay. Worse, we will make anybody pay who we think might, could, would, or should be a threat. Hence, the U.S. took the entire world by the throat and shook it. However, the unfortunately result was that the U.S. created far more enemies than it was able to destroy. Instead, rather than motivate the vast number of moderates in the Middle East and around the world that the U.S. really was the victims and that the best thing was to help them eradicate Al Qaida, the U.S response including Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and more, convinced many of them that maybe the U.S. had it coming or at least that it wasn't their business. That's what the last 14 years have established.
As we watch and try to understand, a couple of things seem clear. ISIL conducted these coordinated attacks for a reason. Like Al Qaida, they had a point. Was it because they hated the French's freedom? It was idiotic when talking heads and the White House said it 14 years ago and it would be idiotic to say that now. Rather, the purpose is similar. ISIL, like Al Qaida, wanted an overreaction and a platform to recruit. They both wanted to see the West kill and overstep so that they could point at the abuses and motivate that vast number of Muslim moderates that their way was the right way. The Americans gave Al Qaida that opportunity. Remember the man standing naked on a box with a bag over his head holding wires at Abu Ghraib? The perfect recruiting poster.
The French and the West have an opportunity to determine how to respond to these latest attacks. There is a natural desire to scream from the rooftops, "carpet bomb the entire region and let God sort it out?" I get it. Its makes sense. But to do that would be a disaster and result in the very thing that Al Qaida wanted those years ago and ISIL wants now, martyrs and recruitment posters.
What France and the West must do is motivate the vast numbers of moderate Muslims and others throughout the world to see ISIL for what they are, fanatics and terrorists who have no place and no support. This requires an extremely controlled response where only those responsible for the attacks are targeted and that extreme care must be taken to make sure that all innocents are protected. This is difficult in a war zone but is critical under these circumstances. This is the only way.
The French are in mourning and the entire world is mourning with them. It is time to bury their dead and remember those that sacrificed. It is also time to determine what worked and what didn't work regarding security and international policy and how they got to this place. However, now is absolutely not the time to stand in the streets and scream about revenge.
That's how the French win. That's how the whole world wins.