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Send Ground Troops, Reject Syrian Refugees?

Duke faculty share insights on last week's terrorist attacks in Paris

Duke experts says now is not the time to send U.S. ground troops to Syria
Duke experts says now is not the time to send U.S. ground troops to Syria

Debate over how the United States should respond to last week’s ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris have elevated arguments for sending in ground troops to Syria.

The tragedy has also led governors in several states – including North Carolina – to oppose accepting Syrian refugees in their states.

Duke faculty members have weighed in on both issues, providing insights and perspectives to the media.

Law professor Charles Dunlap Jr. said given that ISIS has made it clear they have a global agenda of terror, it’s understandable consideration would be given to sending more U.S. ground troops to the Middle East.

That may be necessary at some point, but the U.S. should first increase its air campaign against ISIS, said Dunlap, an expert on warfare policy and strategy and executive director of Duke's Center on Law, Ethics and National Security.

"Before we put another young American in harms’ way on the ground, we ought to subject ISIS to the full might of U.S. and allied airpower,” said Dunlap, a former deputy judge advocate general of the U.S. Air Force. “This is not the time for timidity; every member of ISIS should be living with the stark terror of instantaneous death from above."

Dunlap is taking questions about the U.S. military strategy against ISIS, which you can submit to Duke will post his responses Friday on the recently launched Campaign Stop 2016 website, viewable at

Duke terrorism expert David Schanzer offered a similar assessment this week, arguing that despite the horrific attacks in Paris that left at least 129 people dead, the reasons against a large-scale land invasion by U.S. and NATO forces against ISIS in Iraq and Syria remain.

"Such an invasion will deepen the extremist narrative of clash of civilizations between the West and Muslims, will insert our militaries into a deep, nasty and unwinnable civil war, and the invading force will eventually be responsible for reconstructing a semblance of order and governance in a chaotic region infected with sectarian divisions," said Schanzer, an associate professor of the practice at the Sanford School of Public Policy.

"We should remember that ISIS desperately wants to satisfy its blood lust fighting against Americans on its home turf. However, when ISIS is committing atrocities against or being attacked by other Muslims, it has a much harder time explaining how it is advancing the cause of Muslims or representing Islam in any comprehensible way," added Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

David Siegel, an associate professor of political science, wrote in an op-ed that more should be done to change the environment that can lead to support for ISIS.

“The supporters of ISIS in Iraq and Syria lack everything from jobs to viable political representation,” wrote Siegel, whose areas of specialty include political violence and terrorism.

“Multi-state negotiations need to guarantee viable power sharing as a central tenet of governments in Iraq and Syria. Integration begins with feeling like you have a stake in the system, and that the system offers the promise of a better life for yourself and your children.”

Siegel added: “The supporters of ISIS outside the region feel marginalized at home and are drawn to the allure of perceived meaning in their actions. Take away the local support of ISIS by instituting real power sharing and investment in the region and the allure ends. Reduce the xenophobic calls to religious or ethnic purity by not reacting as ISIS wants us to and marginalization diminishes. Ethno-religious groups like ISIS want you to hate members of their group. This hate helps drives their recruitment. It’s a strategy called provocation. And it’s easy to resist just by not responding with hate.”

On Tuesday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory joined more than half the nation’s governors asking the federal government to halt sending Syrian refugees into their states because of fears would-be terrorists could sneak in with them.

One of the attackers in Paris had a fake Syrian passport, according to media reports, which has helped stoke their fears.

Robin Kirk, who co-chairs the executive committee of the Duke Human Rights Center, derided the governors’ opposition to accepting Syrian refugees.

“It’s appalling and it’s fear-mongering and it’s terrible public policy,” Kirk told The Charlotte Observer. “These are people fleeing ISIS. That’s why they’re risking their lives and the lives of their children. … They are not a horde of suicide bombers.”

The Obama administration opposes the governors’ stand, and plans to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. in the coming year, which it says can be done securely.