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The New Normal is Abnormal

Marine general James Mattis is credited with saying that “no war is over until the enemy says it's over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote.”  The global jihad’s response to the ponderous, pre-announced offensive against ISIS in Syria has long been anticipated: they would counterattack.   Yaroslav Trofimov, writing in the Wall Street Journal back in 2015, predicted that the Paris attacks represented the first stages of its riposte in the West.

The Paris massacre occurred as Islamic State was suffering military setbacks in Syria and Iraq, losing territory to the Kurds in both nations and being subjected to an intensified air campaign by both the U.S.-led coalition and, since recently, Russia.

“Islamic State is on the defensive and so it is shifting toward terrorist activity, particularly in Europe, because that is an accessible area for them. This is the way to make sure people keep speaking about them, and to appear as an attractive group that remains capable of spectacular action,” said Camille Grand, director of the Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique, a Paris-based defense and security think tank.

Mattis' warning didn't prevent Western leaders from declaring victory.   Speaking to reporters in Malaysia, Obama dismissed the Paris attacks as the work of a "handful of killers" and proclaimed that "we will not accept" the idea of terror attacks on restaurants, theaters and hotels as "the new normal." Only four days ago the president called the Belgian president to congratulate him on the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, who was captured in Molenbeek, the so-called Jihadi capital of Europe, a suburb of Brussels itself, after police had failed to find him there despite repeated searches.

That Abdeslam was found just a short distance from where police had been looking for him for weeks should have clued Obama in to the possibility that he had a base of sympathizers. Abdeslam's ability to go to ground right under the noses of the Belgian authorities should have suggested that European counterterrorism was mutating into something more deadly: counterinsurgency.

Counter-terrorism is the police vs a "handful of killers".  Counterinsurgency is the state vs a rival state.  The attack on Brussels may mean Trofimov was right: Obama's handful of killers now had a social base of potential sympathizers legally indistinguishable from the original European inhabitants and from which they could launch attacks at the "very heart of Europe", as Christopher Dickey described Brussels in the Daily Beast.

Dickey cites Syrian Jihadi Musab al Suri's strategy for fanning the flames of insurgency along the classic playbook. Kill the infidel and so provoke a response which can be used to recruit even more adherents. Create a European intifada, in a united front with the old continent's well-established Leftist radicals, and rip the continent apart.

Acts of terror, dubbed “resistance,” would heighten the already existing “Islamophobia,” and “exacerbate the contradictions,” as communist revolutionaries used to say, until hatred and suspicion ran high and integration became impossible.

Since the Nov. 13 atrocities, that process has been taking shape, with increased resentment and fear linked to the coincidental mass influx of refugees from the Middle East. Indeed, the impact of these atrocities has reached the United States political scene and has been exploited extensively by presidential candidate Donald Trump.

To prove al Suri's thesis wrong, the Europeans might even try to import more immigrants from the Middle East, to show that openness and understanding is more powerful than C4. Yet if Belgium itself is any guide, the prospects for C4 are better than the milk of human kindness. Nadette de Visser notes that,  being in the "heart of Europe", Belgium had welcoming borders but that did not keep its Muslim population from restiveness. Her sources say "one per 1,260 ... has been involved in jihad in Syria and Iraq".  Eight out of a hundred Belgian Muslims are combat veterans in an aging, pacifist Europe.

“There is a link to Molenbeek,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel cannily concluded soon after the Paris attacks. “We are focused on prevention but we need to act repressively, too,” he said.  And that "repression" often signposts the road to counter-insurgency. For one, resource-intensive police work can no longer be sustained. Vivienne Walt, writing in Time, says the European security services are overwhelmed. She notes that the most frightening thing about the Brussels airport and subway attacks is they come right after the security services have given European ISIS their best shot. Yet, after months of maximum effort raids in the aftermath of Paris, the European jihadis have proven their ability to strike literally right next to the headquarters of the European Union. President Obama's congratulations to the Europeans may have been a little premature.

For intelligence officials and police, Tuesday’s attacks are a major blow after months of their anti-terrorist operations, not only in Belgium but across the continent. ... Scores of armed police have conducted street-by-street searches in Brussels for months, in an attempt to dismantle a network of jihadists that have taken root in the capital. The country has been on high alert since the Paris attacks last November 13, which involved about 10 jihadist gunmen-suicide bombers. At least five attackers came from one small corner of the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek, just six stops from the Maelbeek station where the bomb exploded.

David Goldman says that Europe's security model has collapsed, arguing that after years of simultaneously pursuing mass immigration, multiculturalism and low defense spending on the one hand and trying to maintain internal security on the other, they now realize that the circle can't be squared. Goldman writes, "European security has collapsed, perhaps irretrievably. So many prospective terrorists are now operating in Europe that security services have lost the capacity to monitor potential threats. ... Europe has the simple choice of allowing humanitarian disasters to occur on its borders, or losing control of its own security."

At this critical juncture, the European leadership is likely to heed Yogi Berra more than James Mattis.  Berri once advised those who came to a fork in the road to take it.  This means that Europe will allow humanitarian disasters to occur on its borders AND lose control of its own security. It will try both opposing policies at once without the resources to succeed at either. David Cameron, after convening COBRA in response to the Brussels attack (why doesn't he convene GI Joe?), announced: "I have chaired a meeting of Cobra – we are increasing police presence at ports, airports, Tube stations and international railway stations." In other words, everything the Belgians did to no avail.  Cameron will do it because he wants to "stay in Europe" for no other reason than that the alternative is unthinkable.

In retrospect, the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was the humanitarian crisis on the EU's borders, combined with the mass refugee flows from MENA. This ended any hope the European jihadi problem could be contained by counterterrorism. Now, with numerous Jihadi sympathizers inside Western borders and potentially many more on the way, it is increasingly headed down the road to long drawn out war. Insurgencies, RAND study notes, last an average of 10 years; in this case Europe would be lucky to escape with that.

That's the fork in the road, and they'll take it. The inevitable consequence of the mindless European collapse is to open the flanks of countries like the US, Australia and Canada to the same threat. The ship of Western globalization, having no internal subdivision, once open to the sea in one place, is everywhere subject to flood everywhere. The US will face the same dilemma as Europe and probably do the same thing.

The difference is, because President Obama has defined the bar down he'll think he's doing the smart thing. In a Tweet responding to the Brussels attacks, Obama said, "the whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people's ordinary lives. And one of my most powerful memories and one of my proudest moments was watching Boston respond after the marathon ... THAT IS THE KIND OF RESILIENCE AND THE KIND OF STRENGTH THAT WE HAVE TO CONTINUALLY SHOW IN THE FACE OF THESE TERRORISTS".  (Emphasis his).

In that view, all that is necessary to defeat Islamic terror is to stoically bear its hurts. To get up with your own leg blown away and hop to the finish line like it happened everyday. And just maybe -- it will. In other words, it's the new normal;  exactly what he said the Paris bombing would never herald. Maybe that's political progress.  To the concept of "leading from behind" one can add "winning by getting used to losing".

Follow Wretchard on Twitter.


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