We Are At War

PARIS – Ever since the terrorist attacks in January on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, Parisians knew that barbarism lurked around the corner, and that it would strike again. But it is one thing to know something, to anticipate it, and another to be confronted with the grim reality. On Friday night, reality struck us with a vengeance. We are at war. It would be wrong – even dangerous – not to admit it. And to win will require clarity, unity, and firmness.

Clarity of analysis is what we now need the most. We barely know our enemy, except for the intensity of his hatred and the depth of his cruelty. To understand his strategy, we must recognize him for what he is: an intelligent – and, in his own way, rational – adversary. For too long, we have despised and underestimated him. It is urgent that we now change course.

In the last few weeks, the Islamic State’s strategy of terror has brought death to the streets of Ankara, Beirut, and Paris, and to the skies over Sinai. The identity of the victims leaves no doubt about the message. “Kurds, Russians, Lebanese Shia, French: You attack us, so we will kill you.”

The timing of the attacks is as revealing as the targets’ nationality. The more the Islamic State is defeated on the ground and loses control of territory in Syria and Iraq, the more it is tempted to externalize the war to deter further intervention. The synchronized attacks in Paris, for example, coincided with the Islamic State’s loss of the Iraqi city of Sinjar.