President Francois Hollande’s response to Friday’s vicious terrorist attacks in France, attributed to the Islamic State, was immediate and uncompromising. “We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless,” he vowed.
Whether France itself possesses the will or the capacity to undertake such a war is another matter. So too is the question of whether further war can provide a remedy to the problem at hand: widespread disorder roiling much of the Greater Middle East and periodically spilling into the outside world.
It’s not as if the outside world hasn’t already given pitiless war a try. The Soviet Union spent all of the 1980s attempting to pacify Afghanistan and succeeded only in killing a million or so Afghans while creating an incubator for Islamic radicalism. Beginning in 2003, the United States attempted something similar in Iraq and ended up producing similarly destabilizing results. By the time US troops withdrew in 2011, something like 200,000 Iraqis had died, most of the them civilians. Today Iraq teeters on the brink of disintegration.