Our friends in Paris are safe: “shocked, sad, anxious, but safe.” But also angry, en colère. A lot of their children’s friends and school mates were injured; a university friend, 21 years old, is dead. Here at home, we remember the Marathon bombing and try to multiply it thirtyfold. And, as we were Boston Strong, so too are Parisians rallying. As our dear friend put it, “we are the people of the Revolution and freedom. We won’t let them stop us.”
Spirit comes first perhaps, but so too must come a decisive and effective response. “The killing of innocent people based on a twisted ideology is not just an attack on France, not just an attack on Turkey, it is an attack on the civilized world,” said President Obama, and he’s right. (He can add the bombing of the Russian airliner over Egypt, suicide bombers in Turkey and the attack on Beirut in just the last month.) But where do we go from here? I was pleased to learn this morning that the United States had bombed the transport line for the oil that funds ISIS barbarity to the tune of $30 million monthly. (Good Lord, does this put me with the Donald?)
In the Democratic presidential debate from Iowa immediately after the ISIS attacks, I wanted to hear candidates’ thinking about strategy and tactics. All three Democrats spoke about the need not to go it alone, to work in concert with regional allies including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Iran and others. Senator Bernie Sanders spent 20 seconds decrying ISIS barbarity, then pivoted to his core economic inequality issues. In response to a question, he declared that climate change is the greatest security threat, but he failed miserably to lay out the relationship between climate-induced desertification, shrinking arable land, diminished food supply and war for what the Nazis called lebensraum, room to live. But his answer was too cerebral and lacked immediacy.
Governor Martin O’Malley cited the failure of intelligence on the ground, said we need to invest more to sustain democracy in the Middle East, and called on the United States to “lead from the front.” And Hillary Clinton, whom I had expected to outshine the others given her experience, was surprisingly reserved. As former Secretary of State, she grasped the complexity of the situation but was put on the defensive regarding her vote to go to war in Iraq and the impact of that failed effort on Middle East destabilization.
Over the weekend, Republicans weighed in. Senator Marco Rubio called for more air strikes and providing more support for Kurds and Sunni allies in the region. Senator Lindsay Graham called for 10,000 more American ground troops in Iraq and Syria. Professor Andrew Bacevich, who lost a son in Iraq in 2007, writes compellingly in today’s Boston Globe that we’ve tried war, that it has been futile and counterproductive. Despite myriad suggestions, a multifaceted, coordinated global strategy remains elusive.
Another challenge is sorting out the Syrian refugee situation. ISIS claims to have smuggled more than 4000 extremists into Europe disguised as refugees. Clearly the vetting process needs to be intensified and improved. It would be pitiful to punish Syrian refugees who are themselves fleeing the same terrorists.
The task is daunting, perhaps overwhelming for even well organized authorities trying to monitor and stop extremist activities. As a report in Stratfor Global Intelligence Security Weekly observed, “The process is like a shark attempting to select a few fish from among a vast shoal of baitfish swimming in unison.” Homeland Security has to be right every day of the year. Terrorists just have to be right once.
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