If we won’t fight IS on its soil, it will bring the fight to ours



by George Petrolekas

The Globe and Mail
March 24, 2016

The attacks in Brussels reveal that the strategy to defeat Islamic State is in shambles. Many in the West, including Canada, are living in a surreal bubble of imagination – thinking IS will somehow self-destruct, yet unwilling to do what it takes to extinguish the IS flame of inspiration, direction and support to adherents in our midst. Lighting up monuments in the colours of Belgium to demonstrate solidarity is nice, but ultimately meaningless.

The Brussels attack was not unexpected. Belgian security forces have been on high alert since Salah Abdeslam, one of the Paris bombers, returned to their country last fall. The Belgians conducted raid after raid, locked down Brussels on several occasions in anticipation of an attack – a lot of security work that did not prevent this week’s carnage at Zaventem Airport and Maelbeek subway station.

Our unwillingness to materially expand the effort against IS in Syria and Iraq is assuring that the battlefield will be over here, rather than fighting IS over there.

We should take stock of what fighting at home means and the stark choices it imposes on us.

Already, experts are advising that, beyond security inside airports preventing bombs on airplanes, security rings should be expanded to include all airport lands. In practice that means kilometres from an airport you’d pass an armed checkpoint and have your car and baggage sniffed for explosives before you could park and enter a terminal. Why would this logic be limited to airports? Why not commuter trains and subways?

Anti-immigrant rhetoric has risen in the United States and Europe: Profiling of residents in Muslim communities and arbitrary security stops of people to check their papers are slowly becoming mainstream ideas. It won’t stop at profiled communities. In Belgium, preventive detention, house arrests and stopping people without probable cause is now a reality.

Do we wish to live as we have in the past – in a free society – or do we trade liberties for draconian security measures to create the illusion of safety? Clearly, the latter option has not prevented Paris, and now Brussels. Nor have we considered cost. Every dollar spent on security and screening is a dollar not spent on health care.

By not taking the attack to IS in its homeland, the West continues to play into IS’s strategy: Draconian security measures boost the narrative of a civilizational struggle. Retaining lands, dispensing its form of justice, raising a new generation of children schooled in the curriculum of terror and providing direction and material support to adherents in our own lands only promises that we will be in a long war.

Rather than withdrawing our fighters, we should be quadrupling the numbers. As a point of comparison, even if the total coalition effort currently devoted to Iraq and Syria were quadrupled, it would only represent half the effort committed to Gulf War One – arguably the last time that the West won anything in the Middle East.

A massive intervention, not only of air power but of boots on the ground, is the only thing that will eliminate IS as a source of inspiration. As long as IS exists, the inspiration will remain.

But it cannot simply be a military effort. Planning for a new system of government, for rebuilding, must be a part of the solution to fill the vacuum the military action would create. Over the five years of the Syrian civil war (a different conflict) and the two years since the emergence of Islamic State – the so-called international counternarrative has yet to be developed or propagated. The international donors conferences for reconstruction have yet to materialize. UN-mandated forces for peace and the development of governance, education and justice systems to replace IS are nowhere in sight.

And so, we default to defending here at home, as we have been unwilling to fight over there. The results will be more attacks like the ones in Brussels and Paris.

George Petrolekas served with the military in Bosnia, Afghanistan and NATO and is a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Photo Credit: War on the Rocks

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Annual Defence Procurement Conference

Ottawa, Ontario

October 25, 2022


G7 Update

by Heather Hiscox (feat. Andrew Rasiulis), CBC, June 30, 2022

Inside Policy: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

by Editorial Staff (feat. Rob Huebert), MLI, June 30, 2022

Canada to upgrade Latvia battlegroup to a brigade, boost number of troops

by Editorial Staff (feat. David Perry), Kelowna Now, June 29, 2022

What slowdown? Canada's economy to top G7 on high oil, crop prices

by Julie Gordon and Rod Gordon (feat. Kevin Birn), Saltwire, June 29, 2022

Alliance renforcée

by Céline Galipeau (feat. Stefanie von Hlatky), Le Tele Journal, June 29, 2022

1.6 million public chargers needed in Canada for EV transition

by Larysa Harapyn (feat. Brian Kingston), The Financial Post, June 29, 2022

Passport? What passport?

by Martin C. Barr (feat. Andrew Griffith), Laval News, June 29, 2022

Oil production test looms for OPEC heavyweights Saudi Arabia, UAE

by Editorial Staff (feat. Ellen Wald), S&P Global, June 29, 2022

Eric Nuttall & Amrita Sen - Oil & Energy Update

by Eric Nuttall (feat. Amrita Sen), Nine Point Partners, June 29, 2022

All talk, no traction

by Maura Forest and Andy Blatchford (feat. Robert Huebert), Politico, June 29, 2022

U.S. pushes for Russian oil price ceiling. Feasible?

by Matt Levin (feat. Ellen Wald), MARKETPLACE, June 28, 2022

Russia Ukraine Update

by Susan Bonner (feat. Andrew Rasiulis), CBC Radio One, June 28, 2022

Un sommet de l’OTAN pour tenir tête à la Russie

by Marie Vastel (feat. David Perry), Le Devoir, June 26, 2022

A geopolitical alternative system of co-operation for nations

by Staff Reporter (feat. Swaran Singh), The Zimbabwe Mail, June 26, 2022

Analyst says high oil prices spurs little drilling

by Lee Harding (feat. Kevin Birn), Western Standard, June 26, 2022

It’s time for Canada to get serious about defence

by John Ibbitson (feat. James Fergusson and Rob Huebert), The Globe and Mail, June 25, 2022

Trudeau meets with Rwandan president, expands diplomatic mission in Kigali

by CBC Newsroom Staff (feat. Colin Robertson), CBC Newroom, June 24, 2022

With New Threats Looming, Canada Commits Billions to Air Defense

by News Desk (feat. Andrea Charron), New Express News, June 24, 2022

Drop in oil prices is not a quick fix for global inflation

by Editorial Staff (feat. Amrita Sen), The National, June 24, 2022

Highs and Lows of the Spring Sitting

by Peter Van Dusen (feat. Andrew Griffith), Prime Time Politics, June 24, 2022

Oil Incurs Second Weekly Loss As Analysts Differ On Inflation, Demand

by Ship and Bunker News Team (feat. Amrita Sen), Ship And Bunker, June 24, 2022


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 150–9th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3H9


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6


Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: [email protected]


Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.


© 2002-2022 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email