What Lies Behind the Paris Terrorist Attacks

The terrorist attacks in Paris during this past weekend (November 13-14, 2015) are not random. There is a primary reason why they happened. Specifically, it owes to the “contain but not defeat” strategy against ISIS. Western nations, led by the U.S., deserve considerable blame. We consciously decided not to destroy ISIS, but to merely “keep it under control.” At the root of this strategy looms an arrogant, deeply held belief among the American political establishment that we are the only remaining super power in the world.  At first, this may seem to be a stretch. So how can I connect the dots from the terrorism in Paris to Middle Eastern policies in the West?

From all the facts surfaced thus far, ISIS carried out the attacks and the blood of many remains on their hands. This was no false flag operation. ISIS hates western culture and seeks jihad against the infidels. At this time, expert sources believe ISIS planned and carried out the highly organized attacks through immigrants entering France some time ago and because of at least one Syrian jihadist hiding amidst the recent refugee flood into Europe. As a result, it can be expected that western powers, especially France, will double-down in their fight against the ISIS caliphate and indirectly, Bashar Al-Assad, the wobbly head of what’s left of the Syria state. However, will Western powers alter their overall strategy for the Middle East? It seems unlikely because to do so would require a direct confrontation with Russia in Syria. There are many moving parts churning away in Syria right now. It isn’t likely, however, that World War III will emerge from the tumult in the near-term.  Over the long haul, however, that may be exactly what happens.

French Soldiers After the Terrorist Attacks
French Soldiers After the Terrorist Attacks

Before this weekend, President Obama had been seeking to reassure Americans and our allies that everything was copasetic. However, no sooner had President Obama proclaimed that ISIS was “contained” than terrorism exploded in Paris killing over 120 persons and leaving at least one hundred more in critical condition. CNN documented Obama’s untimely remark during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:

Washington (CNN) On Thursday, President Barack Obama declared in an interview that ISIS had been “contained,” asserting that the terror cell had been stalled in Iraq and Syria.

The next day, ISIS claimed responsibility for one of the worst terror attacks in European history, shattering what had been a growing sense of momentum in the global fight against extremists and driving home the frightening ability of ISIS to inspire and possibly coordinate attacks outside their power base in Iraq and in Syria.[i]

CNN elaborates:

The stated goal of the U.S. had been to decapitate ISIS, but the group, claiming credit for the attacks in Paris, has shown that containment and decapitation clearly don’t work against an organization that courts death and is atomized to the point individuals or small groups can act largely on their own. ISIS has quickly matured during the Obama administration from a group the President once called al Qaeda’s “JV team” to a terrifying threat to the West. It’s a threat the U.S. and Europe clearly do not yet fully understand. [ii]

As I have written previously, what Obama promulgated just a few days ago admits what his primary directive concerning American strategy is. The U.S. has never intended to destroy ISIS, but to “contain it” and leave enough of its remnants in place to maintain pressure on Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. seeks regime change even though it is quite unclear what would arise in its place afterward.

On October 25, 2015, I wrote:

The top priority in today’s U.S. geopolitical and military strategy for the Middle East constitutes a very different and ill-advised motive.  President Obama’s stated primary goal is to seek regime changes across the board, eliminating the old autocrats from the late Muammar Gaddafi to the heinous president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.  His priority is not to destroy ISIS.  As far as ISIS is concerned, President Obama’s plan has been to allow ISIS to remain alive so that it will continue to pressure Assad into resigning.  Taking a step back to gain perspective, we can conclude that the core tenets of U.S. strategy to bring “peace” to the Middle East is to eliminate the old order which we once fervently supplied and supported with our foreign aid, military technology (if not armed forces), and covert operations carried out by our special forces.[iii]

Indeed, more pieces are in motion on the chess board, however, than just “taking out ISIS.” The chess match involves the sparring between the U.S., NATO, and Russia. Consider the following: on the surface, the U.S. seeks to establish some semblance of democratic government in the Middle Eastern states.  This effort may be sincere, but our will to accomplish this transformation has continued to be less than required. Since 1950, “nation building”  on the heels of military action sanctioned by our foreign policy has not been one of our strong suits. Witness Libya where the CIA supplied the inspiration and the weaponry to take out Muammar Gadhafi. Likewise, look at Iraq where its crippled government cannot stand against ISIS without U.S. and Iranian support. What the U.S. leaves in its military’s wake generally counts as little more than chaos.

Russian President Vladimir Putin charges that this methodology of fomenting rebellion and “creating chaos” is the underlying U.S. motive rather than its asserted moral argument that the U.S. seeks to nurture democracy. Putin alleges that U.S. objectives emanate from an intentional and sinister strategy thought out meticulously in the darkened corridors of power in Washington, i.e., the intelligence sectors within the American government. Putin asserts that the overarching U.S. plan seeks regime change but will settle for chaos through “color revolutions” – orchestrated domestic protests carried out by natives of foreign lands (but funded and supported by the CIA) against any government of consequence antagonistic to U.S. wishes. Little doubt remains that such covert operations constitute the classic signature of the CIA as has been well documented by Tim Weiner in his 700-page historical expose of CIA blunders, Legacy of Ashes. Other American critics such as F. William Engdahl in his book A Century of War asserts that the “rope” in this tug of war equates to who controls the oil. All U.S. action, according to Engdahl, is just as sinister as Putin says it is.

Others charge that the real motivation for Obama is his fondness with Islam and his connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. Former U.S. Representative Allen West contends that the “Brotherhood” even infiltrated Obama’s administration.

“[W]e do have Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups and individuals infiltrated into this current Obama administration,” West wrote on his Facebook page. “This is serious.” West slammed Obama’s Middle East policies, criticizing his “very conciliatory speech” in Cairo in 2009 and his stance on former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in 2011. “Many warned of the rise of the ‘granddaddy of Islamic terrorism,’ the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt as the only viable and organized political entity,” West wrote. “We were castigated as alarmists and Islamophobes. The Muslim Brotherhood even lied about running a candidate for President. We are now witnessing the result of our blindness.” [iv]

However, given the record of President Obama, it stands to reason that incompetency and not malfeasance constitutes the plausible fault in U.S. foreign policy. This administration has demonstrated an inability to discern its real enemies and allies as well as overlooking the consequences of its foreign policy throughout the Middle East.

Whether we can go so far as to declare that Obama is a closet Muslim, or that a secret cabal of shadowy international bankers controls Obama remains beside the point. What seems evident is that U.S. strategy builds on a perception that Russia continues to be a “regional power” and the U.S. can dominate them in virtually any sector in the world we chose. And for several weeks in the skies above Syria, that has proven no longer to be true.

What I allege is that Obama’s decision not to leave a residual force in Iraq and not to destroy ISIS outright underlies numerous horrific outcomes in recent events.  Obama failed to understand the critical balance of power in the Middle East.  His decision to make a treaty with Iran will likely prove to be misguided.  His seemingly indifference toward Israel’s government springs from this assumption.  Saudi Arabia, which has been an ally for decades flowing millions of barrels of oil to the West and key to the support of the petrodollar, faces enemies that it may not be able to oppose.  All of these issues demonstrates a serious inability to discern who are friends are and what could result from our failure to choose the right side to be on.

But to go further and cite some of the most dire consequences of U.S. strategy is not that difficult.  I can point to how the so-called Arab Spring demonstrably run amok in every instance, how the flight of a million plus refugees into Europe will have a destabilizing effect on governments there.  Then there is the terrorism in France.  We abandoned Iraq, left scores of weapons there, and virtually assured that either the Sunni radicals in ISIS  or the extremist Shia in Iran would eventually gain the upper hand throughout the fertile crescent.  These are all consequences of a shortsighted Middle Eastern strategy. Furthermore, our approach to solve the turmoil in the Middle East has dire consequences over the longer term.

The U.S. and its allies have been (and still are) willing to arm and train specific Syrian rebel groups with the stated objective of eliminating the threat posed by ISIS—despite the fact these groups have less-than-secret connections to Al-Qaeda (notably through Syria’s Al Nusra). The U.S. aggressively demands Bashar al-Assad step down from office, but to no avail, especially given Russia’s lending an indispensable hand.

Indeed, throughout this effort, the U.S. has counted on Russia steering clear of the fray in Syria—which was a serious miscalculation. Syria has been Russia’s one certain ally in the region for decades. Russia’s port at Tartous on the Mediterranean remains vital to their national interests.  And the issue of access to and the distribution of oil and natural gas is part and parcel of Putin’s overall strategy to control the West by controlling access to this region’s fossil fuels. (See Martin Katusa’s timely study, The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp).

Consequently, Russia elected to enter the Syrian civil war and determined to destroy all rebel groups—not just ISIS.  On October 7, 2015, Zack Beauchamp asserted the same:

When Russia started bombing in Syria last week, it said it was targeting ISIS — a claim it’s stuck to pretty consistently in the past week. But this map [see below] of Russian airstrikes in Syria so far, put together by the Levantine Group, tells a very different story.

The Levantine Group’s analysts used a proprietary network of sources, cross-checked with open-source media and information released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, to determine the locations hit by Russian planes. This map shows those strikes overlaid on territory controlled by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, by anti-Assad rebels, by ISIS, and by Kurdish forces.

The results are striking — Russian strikes have overwhelmingly targeted rebel-held territory in western Syria rather than the ISIS strongholds in the north and east:

Russian Attacks on Syrian Rebels
Russian Attacks on Syrian Rebels (Source: The Levantine Group)

“The Russian air campaign is not geared toward the so-called Islamic State,” Michael Horowitz, a Syria analyst at the Levantine Group, told me via email. “Russian airstrikes are focusing on opposition groups controlling northwestern Syria, including the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, other Islamist groups such Ahrar al-Sham, and ‘moderate’ groups including the Free Syrian Army (FSA).” [v]

This vantage point allows us to zero in on what really is at stake in Syria. The United States continues to advance “the Great Game” of the nineteenth century, which was played between the lion of Great Britain and the Bear of Russia. In the twenty-first century, the game continues. But it is the United States primarily (with support from the U.K.) that seeks to offset the power of Russia, nowadays run through the “kleptocracy” of Mr. Putin.

The United States is not the sole superpower anymore. Because of advances in Russian military weapons, and because of its own longer-term strategy, the U.S. stands in danger of attack  from Russia through Russia’s reinvigorated and highly capable nuclear arsenal.

The New Tactics of Global War by Benjamin Baruch and J.R. Nyquist
The New Tactics of Global War by Benjamin Baruch and J.R. Nyquist

A recent book for which I was privileged to write a Foreword, takes up this argument in detail. The book, The New Tactics of Global War: Reflections on the Changing Balance of Power in the Final Days of Peace, by Benjamin Baruch and J.R. Nyquist, explains why the U.S. strategy is leading us deeper and deeper into a conflict with Russia which has been at the core of Russian strategy for decades, both before and after the fall of the Soviet Union. I recommend readers pick up a copy to explore the ‘chess match’ underway today and why terrorist acts, such as what we have just witnessed in Paris, are connected to and not detached from, the broader events in our world today.


[i] Sciutoo, Perez, Liptak, Wolf, CNN, “Why did Obama declare ISIS ‘contained’ the day before Paris attack?” 11/14/15.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] S. Douglas Woodward, “Our Misguided Motives in the Middle East.” October 25, 2015, see

[iv] See 

[v] Zack Beauchamp, “The Russians Say they are Bombing ISIS in Syria. This Map Shows they are Lying,” October 7, 2015, Vox, See


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