Various commenters have been badgering me to run a discussion of the Paris massacres and subsequent international response on this blog. I've been reluctant to go there because we invariably get far more smoke than light in the heat of the moment, and because it's not a terribly productive use of my time.
(Update: as of 2-Dec, the war faction won in the British Parliament and the bombers are already flying missions. How this plays out remains to be seen.)
Once the scale of the atrocity was clear certain responses became inevitable. President Francois Hollande of France is facing re-election in early 2017, 18 months out, and he is both relatively unpopular and threatened by Marine le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant, racist, neo-fascist National Front. Failing to go Full Bush on those to blame for the massacres—in this case, ISIL/Da'esh—would be electoral suicide, and so within days France sent its nuclear carrier battle group in the direction of Syria. Aide Memoire: do not fuck with the French, they have a centuries-long history of being an aggressively expansionist imperial power. Their collapse during the second world war was an historical aberration arising from the scale of their war dead a generation earlier (8% of total male population killed, many more injured; compare that to the ~2% death toll of the US Civil War). That they successfully resisted pressure from George W. Bush and Tony Blair to join the Iraq invasion is largely attributable to then-President Jacques Chirac, who as a young man had fought in the Battle of Algiers, and had a much better idea of the likely consequences of trying to occupy an Arab nation than the neoconservative adventurers. But these recent precedents are both anomalies, and expecting the French to sit on their hands in the face of a direct attack would be as delusional as expecting Margaret Thatcher to ignore the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Isles in 1982.
Also from the let-sleeping-empires-lie department: it's a bad idea to piss off the Russians, too. In particular, Vladimir Putin's current presidency appears to be running off a very traditional Russian script whereby economic woes at home can be ignored by playing to the gallery with a display of strength. When Metrojet Flight 9268 was blown up by a bomb over the Sinai Peninsula and Da'esh claimed responsibility it was only a matter of time before the White Swans were brought out to score the entirely gratuitous point that the Russian Air Force has got a very big dick indeed. (Syria is within range of Su-24M and Su-25 tactical aircraft, which are far more numerous and much cheaper to operate; also, Scotland, Spain, Italy, and Greece are just slightly off the shortest route between Olengorsk and Idlib. Someone was not only waving their dick in public, but anxious that it be adequately admired by NATO.)
The Russians are also, cannily, building bridges. Their support for the Assad regime—a very long-term client state—is not unexpected; their tactical measures seem to focus on allowing the Syrian government to maintain contiguous territory for the Alawaite minority that it represents. Negotiations with Iran appear to be focussed on building a coalition of people who really don't get on with Wahhabite militias, such as Al Qaida in Iraq and the even-more rabid Da'esh, but also with Saudi Arabia (the elephant in the room who the west are habitually ignoring).
But there is another threadbare former imperial player in the region who we've been ignoring—and finally there's climate change.
Turkey was, prior to 1918 and the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the hegemonic imperial power in the middle east, in the form of the Ottoman Empire. Syria was as much a part of Turkey's "sphere of influence" as the Eastern Ukraine was of Russia's—incidentally, another zone where the post-1918 settlement is going up in gunsmoke and it's raining airliners. More to the point, geopolitically Turkey is in a weird position. It was roped into NATO in the wake of the second world war as part of the USA's policy of encirclement of the USSR—but Turkey's national aspirations are intrinsically at odds with some of its NATO partners, spiking on occasion to the level of warfare. Let us not forget that Turkey was also the imperial hegemon that ruled Greece and the Balkans. And today Turkey controls a vital regional resource—the tributary rivers that flow into the Euphrates, the main supply of irrigation of water into Syria and northern Iraq. Turkey has been damming the Euphrates and restricting the water flow to Raqqa province, violating international water sharing conventions. Syrian anger over the Güney Doğu Anadolu project was a major reason why the Assad government began providing material support to the PKK insurgency in Turkey. In turn, Turkish control over the Euphrates headwaters is a potent weapon against the Kurdish independence movement.
I'm an outsider and not adequately informed on this area. However, it looks (from here) as if the Turkish centralizing obsession with suppressing the PKK has led to the destabilization of Syria and northern Iraq. Syria's government encouraging a push towards water-intensive agriculture coincided with the most intense drought on record in Syria, from 2007 to 2010, then ran into the generalized political discord of the Arab Spring: the Ba'ath government badly mishandled the demographic/economic situation during the 00's and it would be a mistake to lay the blame for the Syrian civil war entirely on Turkey. However, cutting the river water supply to a drought-stricken region in the middle of a period of popular discontent didn't help.
Today, 4 years after the war began, Syria is a shattered mess. It's noteworthy that Da'esh controls areas where the water supply has been most badly affected, crippling agriculture, the main support of the poor, mostly conservative Sunni locals. Add in lots of former Iraqi army officers (pushed into fighting by the de-Ba'athication policies imposed by the US occupation and then the anti-Sunni policies of the subsequent Shi'ite government in Baghdad) and a seasoning of Wahhabite fanatics, and you have the recipe for Da'esh to get started, take root, and hold territory.
So what is to be done?
The British government of David Cameron, for no sane reason, seems to think that bombing the crap out of these drought-stricken regions is going to make Da'esh go away. (There's a parliamentary debate tomorrow, to be followed by a vote that the proponents of bombing will probably win). The trouble is that bombing may initially show some signs of successfully killing off groups of insurgents. But air strikes are a very blunt instrument—the post-1920s replacement for massed artillery—and sometimes it goes horribly wrong.
More to the point, it won't cure the underlying problem, which is idiots in Ankara messing with the region's water supply in the service of short-term political expediency. The Turkish Deep State is becoming increasingly brutal in its murderous attacks on peaceful Kurdish dissidents, and it seems willing to risk a much more dangerous escallation in the process.
What we need, I think, is not more bombs: there are too many bombs falling already. What we need is enough coastal desalination plants to relieve pressure on the Syrian water supply, combined with resettlement camps for refugees fleeing the war, and systematic initiatives at ground level to protect them from the Da'esh revenants—whose support will fade away once someone else is providing the basic services that Da'esh offers to those it conquers (when it's not enslaving, raping, and murdering them).
(And I think it's clear that we need to be rid of Da'esh for good. Even the Nazis didn't lower themselves to booby-trapping the mass graves of their genocide victims to prevent them being decently reburied.)