Now that more than a decade has passed since September 11, 2001, for some, the events of that day appear increasingly distant. A new generation of Americans is coming of age that did not live through the horror of those attacks.
Until the Boston bombings, many of our citizens knew the effects of 9/11 only through the intrusive security requirements of air travel. If nothing else, recent events should remind us that we are a country at war, that radical Islamic jihadists are evil, and that America has a moral and security responsibility to lead the fight to defeat them. Unfortunately, we have a president who wants to declare the war over, the enemy defeated.
Time and again, he and his top officials have failed to characterize the threat for what it truly is. Senior administration officials have described the leadership of al-Qaeda as “a shadow of its former self” or as having been “decimated.” And to be sure, the current administration has achieved some very real counterterror successes.
But if we’re not even willing to characterize the war as a war, or the threat as a threat, how can we ensure that we will win this battle? If, instead, we want to see every act of terror in the United States as some isolated case, disconnected from a broader effort — as administration officials are now spinning Boston — we’re doing a disservice to the American people.
President Obama is failing to explain to the American people the consequences of this conflict, why it is important, what the stakes are, and who our enemy actually is.
Across the globe, we’ve seen the results of his approach: an America disengaged, failing to lead, unwilling to tackle tough challenges, while others, who often do not share our values, fill the void. We’ve gone from being a country with a decades-long record of shaping world events, the guarantor of peace and stability, to being, in many cases, a mere bystander to world events, lagging behind others.
In reaction to the approach of the current administration, some argue that we should hunker down here at home. They believe that the government has overreached on national security — that more than a decade after 9/11, we need to focus more on restricting our government than on fighting those who want to kill us and disrupt our way of life.
We debated many of these issues last year in the Senate during the discussion about indefinite detention as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The bombing in Boston shows the misguided nature of this approach and should serve as a reminder that the homeland can unfortunately become part of the battlefield.
We should of course ask questions of our law-enforcement and intelligence agencies about who knew what and when, but we should keep in mind that Boston shows that limiting government’s authorities, retreating from the world, and isolating ourselves will not keep us safe.
There are areas in our immigration system that need to be reviewed. We must ensure that the systems at the Department of Homeland Security, and its many agencies within, that we created to protect the American people have not created new stovepipes that prevent the sharing of information. We must make sure that in facing the threat of homegrown extremists, we are better able to understand and isolate the tipping point of radicalization that would lead someone to kill and maim his own neighbors. We need to find new ways to counter that ideology both at home and abroad, to support Muslim moderates and ensure that the ongoing transformation underway in the Arab world helps those who are seeking a more stable and prosperous future, not more chaos and instability.
The problems that plague parts of this world, from Pakistan to Yemen to Syria to Chechnya or Dagestan, are not of our making, but as recent events prove, they will continue to impact our own security. In our interconnected global world, these conflicts will eventually reach us in some way, even if it is only via an Islamist cleric preaching hate on YouTube who influences a young man living in the United States.
The question is whether we as a nation decide to give up our moral responsibility, and our own interest in seeking to confront this extremism head-on, because it is easier to stand by and do nothing. As we’ve seen far too often over the last four years, doing nothing means ceding leadership to others who are unlikely to share our interests and values and are often unable to contain the problem.
Neither option is acceptable, and neither approach will keep Americans safe. That should be the ultimate lesson of the terrible events in Boston.
-— Marco Rubio is the junior U.S. senator from Florida.