Last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris have dramatically increased the pressure on President Barack Obama’s administration to intensify the ongoing military campaign against ISIS. Somewhat predictably, Republican candidates have launched a barrage of vague calls for the United States to do more in Syria. Within the Democratic Party, too, support for more forceful action is growing. On Saturday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) argued that “limited air strikes and support for Iraqi forces and the Syrian opposition are not sufficient to protect our country and our allies.”
Unfortunately, just how military escalation will render western nations significantly more secure is largely omitted from the calls for more action.

The notion that the United States can protect itself by defeating ISIS is illusory. To be sure, any substantial contingent of U.S. ground troops could probably recapture territory under their control without much difficulty. It would be virtually impossible, however, to kill or capture every Islamic State fighter in Iraq and Syria. And the sad reality is that even with U.S. assistance, central governments in Baghdad and Damascus are unlikely to be able to establish firm, prolonged control over all their nominal territory. For that reason, any military victory over ISIS would be temporary at best.