ISIS and the post-Brussels world

By The Hon. David Kilgour on April 4, 2016

Since the suicide bomb tragedies in Brussels, the appeal of Senator Bernie Sanders as the next president of the United States to many across America and the world concerned about global security could diminish in favor of Secretary Hillary Clinton. 

Helping Clinton’s candidacy is her “smart power” approach to world issues. Where Sanders is more focused on domestic issues, she provided a detailed policy to win“more partners and fewer adversaries” in her 2014 book, Hard Choices. She believes probably more than Sanders that determined resolve now among the 60+ member nations of the International Coalition against ISIS must prevail over fear if ISIS and global terrorism are to be defeated to a point where they no longer offer false hope to disaffected people.

In Iraq, for example, Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister from 2006-2014 continuously mistreated-no doubt at the behest of Iran’s Shiite mullahs-Iraq’s large Sunni population. Clinton asserts that ISIS, which falsely purports to represent Sunnis, will be toppled across Iraq only if there is another uprising by Sunnis-just as a Sunni Awakening toppled al-Qaeda starting in 2007.

Even before the events in Brussels, Clinton had advocated intensified coalition efforts to deny ISIS control of territory through more allied planes, more strikes, a broader target set, and an immediate “intelligence surge” to identify and eliminate its command, control, and economic lifelines.

Both Clinton and Sanders as president would probably encourage some European governments to be more welcoming to newcomers. In Belgium, about 500 residents have been recruited to fight for ISIS in Iraq and Syria, mostly from Molenbeek near the centre of the European capital. Among Molenbeek’s social problems are youth unemployment in the 40 percent range, a Belgian government ban on wearing a veil in public, and Saudi imams preaching extremist Wahhabism since the 1970s. The resentments felt by many Muslims in Belgium must be approached with resolve. 

Robert Pape at the University of Chicago, who studied every suicide attack since 1980, says religion is a tool for recruitment and persuading people to overcome their aversion to killing innocent people, including children, and themselves. 

David Brooks noted in a New York Times column about ISIS that those in mass movements are driven mostly by frustration: “...the only way to alter their personal situation is to transform the world in some radical way. The big thing today is that you don’t actually have to join a mass movement any more. You can follow it on line and participate remotely.” 

Last week, Sanders said about Brussels, "there is a lot of work to be done to protect our country, as well as to protect our allies in Europe and elsewhere..." Pressed on the alliance with Arab countries to counter ISIS, he was non-committal.

In contrast, Clinton offered a comprehensive response at Stanford University. Months ago, she noted, “We should (not) again have 100,000 American troops in combat in the Middle East. If we have learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that local people must secure their own communities. We... should support local and regional ground forces in carrying out this mission.”

Clinton wants the international coalition to defeat ISIS with all feasible haste. The war strategy against ISIS of air and ground power, with the latter coming from the Kurds, Shia and Sunnis opposed to ISIS, is now succeeding. 

Robert Pape, who has studied suicide terror since the 1980s, thinks the strategy is working so well that ISIS last October could launch only eight suicide attacks in Iraq and Syria and have shifted in desperation to suicide attacks in Turkey, downing a Russian plane on October 31st, and the Paris attacks on November 13th. 

Brussels could quite possibly prove to be one of its final major atrocities if the international coalition can remain sufficiently united and determined.

David Kilgour was Canada's former Secretary of State for the Middle East and Central Europe.


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