THURSDAY’S terror-by-truck attack in Nice, France, was shocking in its outcome — 84 people killed and hundreds injured — but not in its methods. Jihadis have long called on sympathizers to transform everyday vehicles into instruments of mass slaughter.
Six years ago, Al Qaeda’s English language magazine, Inspire — the publication that taught the Boston Marathon attackers how to manufacture pressure-cooker bombs — explicitly encouraged “lone wolves” to ram pedestrians with their cars. More recently, the Islamic State’s principal spokesman, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, has called for similar tactics. Over the past few years, vehicle attacks without the use of explosives have taken place from Israel to Canada.
If we are serious about eliminating this threat, the West has to make some major changes. First, and most obviously, we have to recognize that the Islamic State’s occupation of large sections of Iraq and Syria is not a distant tragedy, but the driving force behind these attacks, operationally and inspirationally.
Theoretically, the United States leads a coalition of 65 nations against the Islamic State. In reality, most of these countries do little besides talk tough. Even those that do contribute in a meaningful way — and that includes France — rarely go beyond airstrikes and the occasional special forces raid. Not only has this lackadaisical approach failed to defeat the Islamic State; its failure plays into the group’s claim to be invulnerable and chosen by God. The same goes for other extremist organizations that hold territory, like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the various groups vying with one another for control of coastal Libya.
The West may be tired of war, but to borrow a phrase, war is not tired of us. We must refocus and redouble our efforts against the Islamic State and its ilk, even at the risk of getting embroiled in another expansive military campaign — though we should also rely on local Arab and Muslim allies to provide the ground forces. Only by destroying the Islamic State as an organization can we delegitimize it as a source for global terror.