The CNN screen blares “US cities step up security after Paris attack,” and “New ISIS threat of attacks includes Washington,” and the network is showing and interviewing a stream of politicians and military chiefs and security experts. They tell viewers that protecting every cafe and concert hall from potential terror attack is just impossible. They describe Islamic State as the worst terrorist scourge they can recall. They argue about whether President Barack Obama is right to insist that he will not be putting boots on the ground to tackle IS in Syria and Iraq.
The talking heads, from the president on down, it seems to me, are rather lost. Dianne Feinstein, a senator for more than 20 years who has sat on powerful foreign affairs and intelligence committees, has just mumbled something incoherent about the need to “get the Western world together” to “provide some elements of safety.” A succession of Republican would-be presidents are urging the tough-sounding but thoroughly generalized smashing of IS on the ground. “We should destroy them,” declares Jeb Bush. “I want to fight them in their backyard, so we don’t fight them in our backyard,” barks Lindsey Graham. The president has just slapped down his critics at a press conference, dismissing their suggestions in much the same way he used to brush off Benjamin Netanyahu’s objections to his Iran-empowering nuclear deal: “Folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do? Present a specific plan,” snaps the president. (Netanyahu did precisely that on Iran, of course, not that it helped.)
As bombers and gunmen targeted our buses and our shopping malls and our hotels and our colleges and our restaurants, we did two things that France, the US and the rest of the free world will have to do if they want to defeat this latest, particularly despicable Islamist terror iteration: We learned how to reduce our vulnerability to terrorism, and we tackled the killers in their centers of operation. Short-sightedly, hypocritically, and abidingly, the international community, including most of the Western world, barely understood the need for the former strategy, and castigated us for the latter.
We made it harder for terrorists to kill us by doing what those CNN experts are saying is impossible: yes, protecting our cafes, and restaurants, and shopping malls, and hotel entrances, and buses, and every other public place where our citizens gather, with barriers and metal detectors and security guards; all these years later, suicide bombers still can’t just walk into our theaters and concert halls.
We bolstered our intelligence-gathering in the viciously hostile Palestinian territories, notably including the West Bank cities from which we had withdrawn years before in the vain quest for peaceful coexistence. And to the ongoing fury of misguided critics everywhere, we built a security barrier — a mix of fences and sections of wall — so that Palestinian suicide bombers could not just drive into Israel and blow us up. We became a nation of domestic security analysts, gauging where to shop and whether or not to take the bus as we sought to minimize our exposure to the killers. And we toughed it out.
We also took the offensive, notably after that black March 2002, when we launched a major West Bank military operation to destroy the “infrastructure” of terrorism in the West Bank — the bomb-making factories and the bomber-indoctrinating production lines. Much of the international community, ill-served by some particularly pitiful journalism, misrepresented the operation, echoed false Palestinian claims about the death toll, and — notably led by then president George W. Bush — insisted that we stop and get out. But we didn’t. And that’s why, in 2015, when the current Palestinian political, spiritual and media leadership is stirring up its people to again kill the Jews, we’ve been enduring murderous stabbers and car-rammers, rather than mass-murderous suicide bombers. So far, at least.
France, the United States and the rest of the West are now grappling with many of the anguishing dilemmas we have lived with for years. How do you maintain your liberties, the West is asking itself, while tackling enemies who abuse all freedoms? What kind of laws need to be enacted? Who do you allow across your borders? Under what circumstances should preventive arrests be made, and suspects held without trial, and the internet surveilled, and incitement constrained? Not easy, is it?