Shortly before the Paris attacks, which claimed the lives of 137 people, President Barack Obama remarked on the West’s successes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Some analysts surmised, after the deadly attacks, that these territorial setbacks in the Middle East had frustrated Islamic State and led its members to turn to Europe as a more accessible venue for their portfolio of destruction.
Why does it matter whether this possible shift in focus is a sign of weakness or strength, of frustration or confidence? Because it provides insights into how the West should react to the Brussels attacks.
For starters, law enforcement — the front line of this asymmetrical war outside of the Levant — should do exactly what it has been doing: find the perpetrators, identify the members of their wider network and seize the weapons and the persons responsible for the bombing attacks.
But the larger question of fear is at issue here. If the Brussels attacks are indeed a desperate sign of panic on the part of Islamic State, then the proper response to Brussels is not fear, but a sense of sorrow and loss. We — the public, the media, public officials and politicians — would do well not to yield to the inaccurate and inflame our sense of vulnerability and weakness. The defensiveness of Islamic State on the run may well reap far more violence before the group’s death throes. But the West should not be deterred from keeping up its pressure on Islamic State at home and abroad.