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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris Attacks, France, and ISIS

Tonight, one night after the vicious, senseless attacks in Paris, we went out to dinner at a restaurant near Notre Dame.  After dinner, we walked around the neighborhood.  It was crystal clear that the attacks kept people at home, away from the cafes and attractions.  This is Notre Dame at about 9 PM tonight.

Many of the nearby cafes were nearly empty.  Since I've lived here, I've never seen so few people in this area.  Here are a few observations on the current situation.

1) France is not a Wimpy Country

Living here in France, watching France 24 news (great, and no commercials), we hear a lot about the risks and costs of France fighting ISIS and Boko Haram, an African terrorist group claiming allegiance to ISIS.  A lot of Americans have held a grudge against France ever since they opposed the Iraq war.  Many have the wrong impression that France is some sort of pacifist country. On the contrary, today, the French are America's closest ally in the fight against Islamic extremism.  Here's a quote from today's Bloomberg Business: 

"French special forces have been tracking Islamist militants in the Sahara since 2013. France was the first European country to join the U.S. air strikes on Islamic State in Iraq last year and is the only European country to join the U.S. in air strikes in Syria." [italics added]

2) ISIS is No Gang of Thugs in the Desert

As fanatical and downright crazy as they seem when we hear of them burning people alive in stadiums, beheading people on video, and claiming credit for horrific attacks on the West, their fanaticism does not preclude taking practical, effective measures to build their economy and expand their recruitment.

ISIS is no a simple gang of terrorists, it's something resembling a nation.  Why do I say it's like a country?  If ISIS were a country, it would rank around 114th out of all 195 countries in terms of territory controlled.  In terms of economy, they would only rank 165th.  But that means their economic might is greater than 30 nations.

You've probably heard of their sophisticated propaganda videos and social media campaigns, meaning they have numerous web developers and audio visual techies.  They have a sort of government that "taxes" (extorts) money from the people living in territory they control.  More than 45,000 foreign fighters have joined ISIS.  According to CIA estimates, 15,000 arrived two years ago, and 30,000 arrived the next year.  In other words, despite all the bluster we hear from our Western governments about taking the fight to ISIS, ISIS' rate of growth is accelerating.

ISIS pays $10,000 recruiting bonuses for bringing in doctors and engineers.  Here's a quote from a recent Financial Times article on ISIS:

" is attempting to run its oil industry by mimicking the ways of national oil corporations.  According to Syrians who say ISIS tried to recruit them, the group headhunts engineers, offering competitive salaries to those with the requisite experience, and encourages prospective employees to apply to its human resources department."

Human resources department?  Of ISIS?

From selling oil alone, ISIS has annual revenues nearing $1 billion.  But oil accounts for only about a third of their annual revenue, according to some estimates.  They also bring in hundreds of millions annually from a combination of agriculture (they control about 40% of the cropland of  Syria), taxes, ransom for hostages, selling looted antiquities, and possibly selling harvested organs of those they kill or execute.  They are completely self-sustaining.

ISIS is no band of crazed fighters in white pickup trucks hiding in the desert.  This is a group that includes highly educated, skilled, one might even say comfortable, middle-class people.  A group with structure, strategy, and vast resources.  In other words, they're a growing and significant threat to the civilized world.

3) France Will Persevere

For the last few years, France has spent blood and money fighting Islamic extremists in Africa and  Syria.  This is why France was targeted in the senseless attacks yesterday.  These attacks inflict irreparable pain and loss on numerous individuals, but, rather than deterring France from fighting, they will only increase support for stronger offensives against ISIS.

My next post shows photos of night time lighting of the Eiffel Tower as a memorial.

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