By Iran Review
By Hadi Khosro-Shahin
The Islamic State (Daesh) operations in the French capital, Paris, amounted to an act of all-out war. This war is a telltale sign that Daesh is now both a caliphate and a network. Daesh is the spinoff of the bittersweet experiences of radical fundamentalism over the past decade and, therefore, is looking for a foothold in the Middle East, while at the same time trying to leave a footprint outside this region. Therefore, it fights its own style of war in the Middle East, while in regions beyond that, chooses the method used by its predecessor, al-Qaeda.
However, the leader of Daesh, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is not repeating the strategic mistake that the former al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, made, and instead of targeting the United States, wages war against those countries which have one trait in common: social fault lines and gaps. If Daesh is actually advancing unrivaled in Iraq and Syria, the main cause behind this is not an ominous plot hatched by the West or the East, but is the real gaps that exist among various ethnic and religious groups in these countries. Daesh takes its power from these gaps and in a blink of an eye stages its show of force. When it comes to this issue, there is not much difference between the failed states of Iraq and Syria, and the modern and secular France. If Sunnis in Iraq and the Levant throw their weight behind the Daesh caliphate, there are five million Muslim Arabs, most of whom living a marginal life in France, who can lend their support to al-Baghdadi’s tribe, not just on paper, but in the real battleground.
Although democracy has been proven to be the most effective political system in the contemporary history, in times of crisis, it turns into one of the weakest forms of governance. Democratic systems are not powerful enough in fighting insecurity and crisis. The tragic incident of November 13 was neither a product of the social government of the French President Francois Hollande, nor was it a result of the weakness of the rightist French opposition. Democracy was the main cause behind failure of France in fighting radical fundamentalism on the streets of Paris. Therefore, in the early hours after the catastrophe in Paris, democracy stepped back in order to give way to exclusive jockeying of power through use of brute force. Closing borders, stopping city trains, limiting free traffic of citizens and deployment of about 1,500 extra soldiers and ground forces in the streets of Paris were signs of nothing but the withdrawal of democracy. Democratic systems are usually inefficient when it comes to prediction and resolution of security crises and this is why in the early hours of the terror attacks, they lose the ground to brute force.
The effect that the November 13 tragedy will have on the structure of domestic policy in France will not be solely restricted to some temporary and on-the-spot limitations. This incident will change the nature and fabric of politics and society in France, and subsequently in other European countries. Strengthening of the radical right, a return to the era of identity-based and racial conflicts in modern Europe, all-out opposition to the wave of immigration into Europe, weakening of convergent trends within framework of the European Union and, finally, imposing further limitations on democracy will be part of the consequences of this French disaster. Under such tumultuous conditions, the winners of political competitions will be those who are more populist and those who resort to more radical language and measures in the face of minorities, immigrants and all those who are considered “others.” Therefore, radical politicians are sure to see the light at the end of this absolutely dark tunnel. The early reaction that such rightist politicians as Le Pen are sure to show to this incident is a meaningful smile. Strengthening of Le Pen’s position in France will trigger a domino, which would finally travel through all European countries. France and Europe are not similar to the United States and this is why France’s November 13 will not bear the slightest similarity to the United States’ September 11 in terms of what it will do to the domestic structure of the country.
From the viewpoint of foreign policy, however, November 13 in France will bear strange similarities to the United States September 11. Just in the same way that September 11, 2001, influenced the structure and rules of the international system for more than a decade, the tragic incident on November 13 enjoys such a potential and capability. France is among the most important members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Paris was faced with an all-out terrorist onslaught in the ending hours of last Friday. Daesh has officially assumed responsibility for this all-out war. This group has already formed a caliphate in Iraq and the Levant and this means that perpetrators of terrorist attacks on the streets of Paris will be certainly punished on the narrow streets of Iraq and the Levant.
This incident will greatly increase the possibility of military and all-out presence of NATO in the Middle East and, most probably, such a presence would be followed by a long-term political plan for this region of the world. This incident will also put an end to the foolish idea of Americans and the West about reducing their military and costly presence in the Middle East and turning their strategic focus to East Asia. However, such a return to the Middle East will have in its core an escalation in conflicts and clashes between transregional and regional powers. When the dust of terrorist attacks in Paris settles, hostility between the East and the West will increase due to conflict between their interests and it would not be an exaggeration to say that this may even lead to another world war in international system.
More than a decade of struggles by nation-states against subnational actors that use terrorism as a tool shows that these struggles have been practically inefficient and unsuccessful, because neither al-Qaeda has been annihilated through such struggles, nor even the Taliban. The sole outcome of this confrontation has been the birth of sons, who have been less controllable and more violent than their fathers and predecessors. The bitter reality is that subnational actors have been integrated into structure and dynamism of the international system. There is no denial of this reality, but the door is still open to containing it. The structure and rules of game in the international system must be looked upon in a different way in order to make restoration of international peace and security possible. Peace is no more achieved through nation-states. To establish peace, new rules must be accepted and a new model for negotiations and diplomacy must be offered. The state-centered talks in Vienna on the situation in Syria are not efficient enough to restore security to the Levant and, as a consequence, to other critical regions in the Middle East.
The tragic incident of November 13 in France can wreak the same havoc to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his aides, which happened to the foreign policy of the former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami, following September 11 attacks. The military presence of NATO and subsequent escalation of conflicts in the Middle East can postpone the détente policy of Rouhani’s administration or even bring it to a total halt. However, a consolidated and unanimous foreign policy will be an antidote to possible military interventions in the Middle East. The Islamic Republic of Iran can produce opportunities out of the tragic events of November 13 in France and their immediate aftermath. However, to do this, the Iranian administration must proclaim a policy that would be harbinger of peace and cooperation from Iran. Under the present critical conditions, the Islamic Republic must introduce itself as a moderate country and anchor of stability in the Middle East. To project such an image, the world must hear a single voice from Iran; otherwise the country would be faced with serious and immediate threats.
The tragic attacks of November 13 proved that the strategy of fighting crisis outside borders is not capable of controlling and managing desecuritizing and destabilizing processes. Following terror attacks on the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, France sent its fighter jets to Iraq and Syria in the vain hope of averting a war with Daesh at home and to take the war to the Middle East. However, this strategy practically expired last Friday. This is why it is necessary for the Islamic Republic of Iran to think about new and effective measures in its military, security and intelligence strategies in order to ward off ominous plots hatched by such terrorist groups as Daesh. Enforcing more effective control over the country’s borders can be just one of the solutions available to Iran’s intelligence and defense officials. The new measures must be also taken with great speed without losing any possible opportunity. By taking appropriate measures, Iran will continue to remain the anchor of stability in the Middle East.