Will The U.S. Respond To The Paris Attacks? There Are A Lot Of Options, But None Are Very Good

The United States has been fighting ISIS for over a year. President Obama has launched airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria, where ISIS is based, and more recently deployed 50 special forces troops to Syria last month to help local forces battle the extremist group. The horrific attacks in France on Friday, however, put enormous pressure on Obama to increase the United States' role in fighting ISIS. No one can say for sure how America will respond to the Paris attacks, but U.S. leaders have a few options in front of them. Unfortunately, they're pretty bad options.

One possibility would be to escalate American airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. The Obama administration has already hinted that it may do this, with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes saying Sunday that "working with the French, we'll be able to intensify our strikes against ISIL in both Syria and Iraq." But American warplanes have been bombing both countries for over a year; as evidenced by the violence in Paris, this hasn't prevented ISIS from launching a major terrorist attack against one of America's strongest allies.

America could also take it a step further and impose a no-fly zone in Syria. In this scenario, the United States would declare a section of Syrian airspace "off-limits" to any jets that weren't either American or allied in the no-fly zone effort. But ISIS is primarily, and possibly exclusively, grounded; a no-fly zone would primarily debilitate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, not ISIS. Furthermore, Russia is launching its own airstrikes in Syria, so a no-fly zone could inadvertently result in the United States shooting down Russian jets, which is the kind of thing that accidentally leads to World War III.

And then, of course, Obama could do what many Republicans have been urging him to do: deploy substantial ground troops to Syria. Obama has resisted these pleas, arguing that American troops in Middle East countries too often cause more harm than good (ISIS, for example, was a direct result of the American invasion of Iraq). The Obama administration ruled this possibility out once again on Sunday, and that wasn't a surprise. After all, Obama ran for president on an anti-war platform and successfully withdrew troops from Iraq once elected. He is unlikely to start another war right before leaving office.

There are other possible responses to the Paris attacks that would include the United States, most notably a NATO intervention. Additionally, the United States is already helping France wage its own air campaign against ISIS. The fact is, however, that America just doesn't have any great options in this situation. As atrocious as the Paris attacks were, they didn't increase the odds of American warplanes successfully eradicating ISIS, nor did they decrease the odds of a U.S. ground invasion in the Middle East backfiring spectacularly. ISIS must be stopped, but it's unclear if the United States, acting on its own, has the capacity to stop it.