Tragedy in Paris: Lessons & Courses of Action

Primer on National Power

            Bataclan Theater, Stade France, Le Petit Cambodge, Avenue de la République, Charonne, and Beaumarchais – these are the six locations that Islamic terrorists, under the banner of ISIL (or “Daesh”)[1] brutally murdered more than 100 people and injured hundreds more. The after effects of this attack will continue to reverberate throughout the western world.

Presently, media of all kinds is overflowing with commentary and criticism about what should be done in response to the attack. Already, French President François Hollande authorized French forces to bomb Daesh’s “capital” of Raqqa, Syria. Additionally, there are reports that the French may be collaborating with the Russians to synchronize some Russian military operations with a French aircraft carrier that is moving to the Middle East to participate in anti-Daesh operations. Here in the United States, President Barack Obama flatly rejected calls to change course on his anti-Daesh strategy or the plan to accept Syrian refugees. In Belgium, authorities conducted hundreds of raids on known and suspected locations of Daesh sympathizers, suspected terrorists, planner, and financiers. With all this happening, will these tasks be sufficient to prevent future attacks?

DIME: Combatting Terrorism

The challenge for any government or country to combat the problem of terrorism is that there are only so many tools that can be used. Broadly speaking, there are four main tools for the exercise of a government, or country’s power. These tools are conveniently known by the acronym DIME – Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economic.


Direct diplomacy would be impossible because Daesh is not a recognized country and no diplomatic relations exist. Indirect diplomacy, such as forming international coalitions, is possible, but still would not bring Daesh down. Furthermore, indirect diplomacy has its challenged because of the competing interests of the numerous stakeholders that are interested in Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, Turkey, and Lebanon, all which comprise Daesh’s operating area. Thus, with respect to combating Daesh, the main tools to use are Information, Military and Economic.


Information is likely the most easily available and simplest to disseminate. Social networks, Internet forums, text messages, leaflets, television, and radio permit the same messages to reach people in multiple forms. The question becomes what message should be transmitted? Governments can tailor messages through officials and ministers and press releases. Individual people are providing messages through their own networks. Two categories of messages are streaming from the Western World to Daesh: 1) the barbaric attacks in Paris will be avenged; and 2) you are not a legitimate country or fighting force. The strength of these messages will be measured by the length of time they are sustained, the will of the citizenry to continue to the fight, and the efficacy of other measures to combat Daesh.

Two examples of the use of the Information tool are from President Barack Obama:

1. On the morning of November 13, 2015, he said that the Islamic State was “contained.”

2. On November 16, 2015, he said, “ISIL is the face of evil. Our goal, as I’ve said many times, is to degrade and ultimately destroy this barbaric terrorist organization.”

Without praising, commenting or criticizing the President’s remarks, it is reasonable to ask what messages are being sent from the United States on this issue.


The next tool of national power is the military. The scope of American military power is broad and deep. Our capabilities include pinpoint surgical strikes with drone-based missiles, such as the one that apparently ended “Jihadi John’s” reign of terror. The United States can also muster 100,000+ Army and Marine forces to conduct lengthy land campaigns. Currently, the United States is carrying out selected air strikes against particular Daesh targets in Iraq and Syria. President Obama recently announced that the United States would deploy 50 military advisors to the region. However, that deployment comes on the heels of learning that the Pentagon spent $500 million dollars in a completely ineffective effort to train Syrian rebel forces. Critics from all sides have been imploring the President to increase the American military presence in Syria to take the fight directly to Daesh. The President explicitly declined those invitations.


The final tool in the national box is economic. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the United States has ample methods to exercise economic power. Some options include economic assistance, sales of military equipment, grants, loans, and purchases. Against Daesh, the United States could freeze the funds of terrorist financiers; as well as, work to break Daesh oil smuggling.

To defeat the Islamic State, the Western world must bring all of their national tools to the fight. Although France’s bombing response to the Friday the 13th attacks was swift, the fight against Daesh has raged for many years.

Master Sun teaches that no country has benefitted from prolonged warfare. The United States and its European and Middle Eastern allies should rethink their approach to redefine the mission, create the appropriate strategy, and use the appropriate tactics to swiftly end Daesh’s control of territory in the Middle East. Only then will the risk of future attacks start to decrease.

[1] I will use “Daesh” because words matter in this fight.