So what was Friday’s attack about? Killing random people in restaurants and at concerts is a strategy that reflects its perpetrators’ fundamental weakness. It isn’t going to establish a caliphate in Paris. What it can do, however, is inspire fear — which is why we call it terrorism, and shouldn’t dignify it with the name of war.
It is always better to wait a day before reacting to something like the Paris attacks. It’s easy to say “We have to do something”, that our response must be vicious and overwhelming. Let’s call that “bed-wetting.” As used here, bed-wetting isn’t a physical or psychological term, it is describing the emotional response to fear that causes us say “do something!” So put French President Hollande into the “bed-wetting” category. He said that France would engage in “pitiless war”, as if some wars involve pity.
Really? A “war” on terrorists? Does that sound familiar to anyone? We know how that ends.
It is bed-wetting when several US state governors respond to Paris by announcing the ban of Syrian immigrants.
Other “bed-wetting” examples are Republicans ratcheting up the rhetoric, intimating that what’s being done by President Obama has failed to keep the country safe. Some are calling for an increased US footprint in the Middle East, including “boots on the ground,” and an increased role for the NSA in surveillance and intelligence-gathering capabilities.
So, can we see beyond bed-wetting to leadership? This is certainly a time for leadership. But what are the chances? Mr. Obama is in Turkey for the G20 meetings. He has conferred with Putin. Did they talk concretely about cooperating in Syria?
Obama is also meeting with Erdogan, the Saudi king and the Emir of Qatar about how to combat ISIS, despite the fact that all of them are ISIS sponsors. Will anything come from those meetings?
Bed-wetting says terror is about Islam, and leadership is about the bold use of our military. The roughly one billion Muslims who aren’t currently engaged in killing us (or each other) must be made part of the solution through leadership. Yet, bed-wetting demonizes all of them.
So, what should we do?
We need to stop pussyfooting around what we know to be true.
1. We should declare war on ISIS and Al Qaeda. A declaration of war forces us to get beyond posturing and political finger-pointing.
2. It is high time we tell Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to stop funding the head choppers and suicide bombers. We have to say, “One more dollar to the jihadists, and we no longer buy your oil”, regardless of the consequences. The friend of my enemy is my enemy.
3. We must recruit Russia and Iran as allies in this fight. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. This means we must stop demonizing Putin about Crimea and Ukraine, at least for the time being.
4. Europe must re-establish strict border controls.
5. Erdogan’s facilitating of a Muslim invasion of Europe must end.
6. The West must accept that Syria’s Assad is going to stay in power for a while.
7. We must accept the cooperation of all who fight ISIS, including Hezbollah, despite what Israel might say.
Now, none of the above points will be supported by the bed-wetters. Their dependence on the politics of fear prevents them from thinking outside of the neocon box. As Charlie Pierce said:
A 242-ship Navy will not stop one motivated murderous fanatic from emptying the clip of an AK-47 into the windows of a crowded restaurant. The F-35 fighter plane will not stop a group of motivated murderous fanatics from detonating bombs at a soccer match. A missile-defense shield in Poland will not stop a platoon of motivated murderous fanatics from opening up in a jammed concert hall, or taking hostages, or taking themselves out with suicide belts when the police break down the doors.
Posturing about Russia and Iran fall into the same category.
We must accept that there will be Paris-type attacks inside the US homeland. Despite our huge anti-terror funding of the police, the possibility of jihadi success here is real. The Paris model of mostly local French and Belgian jihadis born of Muslim immigrants is also a viable model for attacks in the US.
It’s very human to fall for the ‘we’ vs ‘them’ meme. Because it feels good, and you can be sure it makes those around you feel good too. But that is only an illusion in times of fear and insecurity, when we don’t have a simple answer.
Leadership or bed-wetting. You choose.