Fighting ISIS will be a long war

Story highlights

  • Aaron Miller: Don't expect quick victories against violent jihad
  • He says Muslim majority must have strong part in conversation

Aaron David Miller is a vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and author of "The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President." Miller, a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations, discusses the Paris attacks in this Wilson Center video. Follow him on Twitter @aarondmiller2. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Anyone hoping that the Paris attacks will somehow transform the fight against global jihad and produce a quick and definitive defeat for the bad guys and victory for the good ought to take a deep breath.

We must take advantage of the Paris carnage to mobilize international and regional allies in the fight; but we should have no illusions it will produce quick or even lasting victories.
    Aaron David Miller
    Even if the Paris attacks turn out to be transformative event; they're likely to represent another turn in the very long war against global jihad. Here are six reasons why.
    • It's a long war because 15 years after 9/11 and decades after Islamic suicide terror made its Middle Eastern debut in Lebanon with Hezbollah attacks against U.S. Marines and embassies, we're still fighting it. The dismantling of al Qaeda central and the killing of Osama bin Laden hasn't ended the threat; it has morphed and evolved into other groups such as ISIS, Khorasan and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
    It's the long war because as necessary and vital as military airstrikes are, they can't provide the definitive answer to the problem. Indeed, 9/11 resulted in the two longest wars in American history and partly helped to create the situation we face today. Massive airstrikes and deployment of thousands of ground forces without securing an end state that ensures coherent and stable governance will not address the underlying conditions on which the jihadis feed. In fact, the budding grand alliance (France, the U.S. and Russia) will be perceived by radical Muslims as a war between the Christian West and Islam and will only feed jihadi propaganda and even boost recruitment.
    It's a long war because key Arab states are melting down. In Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq there is neither good, stable nor coherent governance. Instead, you have large and empty and ungovernable spaces; sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shia empowering transnational actors willing and able to fill the vacuum. Even in a country like Egypt, we now see a home-grown insurgency affiliated with the Islamic State that has already destroyed a Russian commercial airliner. Even if the Syrian civil war ended, the jihadi insurgency would continue feeding on local grievances; Indeed, paradoxically you might see a surge of foreign fighters flocking to Egypt to continue the struggle.
    It's the long war because the West cannot win the fight against radical Islam until the Muslim majority begins to confront and deal with the cancer of the extremist ideology within its midst. The West continues to infantilize Muslims by somehow assuming that the war against the jihadis can be won with the great powers taking the lead role. "Where is the panel... on the Sunday talk shows where you have Muslim leaders alongside Western leaders to talk about how they're going to conquer this problem," asked Princeton Professor Amaney A. Jamal. Instead, we get Westerners talking at Muslims about how to resolve their problems. Indeed, Islam needs reform by Muslim reformers who can offer an alternative vision to counter the one the jihadis are peddling; and leaders of these countries need to engage in political and economic reform to eliminate the grievances on which the jihadis feed.
    It's the long war because ISIS has jumped borders and morphed into an idea as well as a physical movement or proto terror state. And that idea can inspire the disenchanted, alienated and aggrieved and create a sense of aspiration -- violent though it may be -- in otherwise purposeless lives. Europe is a fertile breeding ground -- 20 million Muslims out of 1.4 billion; and fully a fifth of the recruits to ISIS hail from European lands. European security services are overwhelmed with the challenge of tracking and preempting terror attacks and will continue to be.
    And it may be a longer war, unless we start describing accurately the nature of the challenge we face. Sure this is violent, extremism producing heinous acts as both President Barack Obama and Secretary John Kerry have said. But it's also a particularly vicious kind of terror. It's driven by a global jihad of radical and extremist Muslims who draw on actual and perversions of Islamic texts to kill Muslims and non-Muslims in an effort to impose their twisted vision of the world. We need to delegitimize the radicals and also be careful with our words so that we don't alienate the vast majority of the world's Muslims who despise what a minority does in its name. John Kerry's recent comments seemingly drawing an understandable distinction between the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks and those in Paris are just the kind of stumble we need to avoid.
    The global jihad cannot destroy Europe, America, Western civilization or fundamentally alter the contours of history. Global jihad is driven by a vicious, fascist ideology that can cause terrible suffering and destruction. And should these groups gain access to chemical or biological weapons, we'd face a catastrophe.
    Still, the Council on Foreign Relations' Micah Zenko notes that "terrorism represents only a small fraction of overall violent deaths. The annual number of violent deaths worldwide is 508,000, according to the "Global Burden of Armed Violence 2015: Every Body Counts" report. In other words, less than 7% of violent deaths are a result of acts of terrorism. Compare the 32,727 terrorist fatalities to the estimated 377,000 people who were killed, collectively, in interpersonal violence, gang violence or economically motived crimes." Some 63% of all attacks occurred in just six countries: Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Syria.
    This isn't yet a World War II-level scourge, even though the challenge of global jihad may well be the most critical national security challenge we face today. But, sadly, unlike the Second World War, this conflict will be far longer. We need to prepare for what promises to be the long war of the 21st century.