Make no mistake, there is an emerging bipartisan consensus that a certain amount of terrorism is just the price we have to pay to live the way we want to live. Now, to be clear, very few people will come out and say this explicitly, and national-security establishments do their best — within certain, limited parameters — to stop every single terror attack, but more than 15 years after 9/11 it’s clear that there are prices our societies aren’t willing to pay. And neither our nation nor any of our European allies is willing to pay the price to reduce the terror threat to its pre-9/11 scale.
Consequently, an undetermined number of civilians will die, horribly, at concerts, restaurants, nightclubs, or simply while walking on the sidewalk. It almost certainly won’t be you, of course, but it will be somebody. And they’ll often be kids.
While it’s impossible to predict any given terror attack, there are two laws of terrorism that work together to guarantee that attacks will occur, and they’ll occur with increasing frequency. First, when terrorists are granted safe havens to plan, train, equip, and inspire terror attacks, then they will strike, and they’ll keep striking not just until the safe havens are destroyed but also until the cells and affiliates they’ve established outside their havens are rooted out. Second, when you import immigrants at any real scale from jihadist regions, then you will import the cultural, religious, and political views that incubate jihad. Jihadist ideas flow not from soil but from people, and when you import people you import their ideas.
Let’s look at how these two ideas have worked together in both Europe and America. The map below (from AFP) charts significant terror attacks in Europe (including Turkey). You’ll note a significant increase in activity since 2014, since ISIS stampeded across Syria and into Turkey and established a terrorist caliphate in the heart of the Middle East. There existed a safe haven and a population to inspire back in Europe. The result was entirely predictable:
What about the United States? A similar phenomenon was in play. This Heritage Foundation timeline of terror attacks and plots documents a total of 95 incidents since 9/11. The numbers are revealing. After the implementation of the (now) much-derided Bush strategy, there were a grand total of 27 terror attacks and plots — almost all of them foiled.
After the end of the Bush administration, the numbers skyrocketed, with 68 plots or attacks recorded since. A number of them, including the Fort Hood shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, the San Bernardino mass murder, and the Orlando nightclub massacre, have been terrifying successful. Indeed, there have been more domestic terror plots and attacks since the rise of ISIS in the summer of 2014 than there were in the entirety of the Bush administration after 9/11. And make no mistake, jihadist terrorists are disproportionately immigrants and children of immigrants.
What did Bush do that was so successful? He not only pressed military offensives in the heart of the Middle East, he fundamentally changed the American approach to immigration and implemented a number of temporary measures that, for example, dramatically decreased refugee admissions and implemented country-specific protective measures that have since been discontinued. And don’t forget, aside from their reckless immigration policies, our European allies weren’t just beneficiaries of the Bush doctrine but also participants in Bush’s military offensives. Our NATO allies have been on the ground in Afghanistan since the war launched in earnest. Britain was a principal partner in Iraq.
It seems clear that the great Western democracies would rather face an increased terror risk than make the sacrifices that have been proven to mitigate the danger.
Here is the bottom line — since the end of the Bush and Blair administrations, it seems clear that all of the great Western democracies would rather face an increased terror risk than make the sacrifices that have been proven to mitigate the danger. There is little appetite across the entire American political spectrum for an increased ground-combat presence in the Middle East. So the slow-motion war against ISIS continues, and terrorist safe havens remain. In the United States, even Trump’s short-term and modest so-called travel ban has been blocked in court and lacks public support.
If you listen closely, you’ll note that some politicians are actually starting to level with their people. They’re not willing to do what it takes to reduce the terror threat to substantially lower levels, so they’re trying to adjust their populations to the new reality. After the Nice truck attack, the French prime minister said, “The times have changed, and France is going to have to live with terrorism.” German chancellor Angela Merkel also told her people that they have to “live with the danger of terrorism.”
All too many Americans, sadly, still seem to labor under the fiction that they can have it all — tolerant immigration policies, no land wars in Asia, and Muslim allies who finally pick up the slack with the right level of prodding and with appropriately minimal air support. When necessary, we can send in our SEAL Team superheroes to take care of the truly tough tasks.
Well, that’s a strategy, but it’s one that means that every few months we’ll put memorial ribbons up on Facebook and Twitter, express pride in our valiant first responders, and wrap our arms around grieving parents who have to close the casket on their eight-year-old girl. It’s a strategy that expresses pride that we foil most attacks, and it’s one that leads us to hope and pray that the losses remain acceptable.
The Western world knows the price it has to pay to decisively reduce the terror threat. It’s no longer willing to pay that price. It’s no longer willing even to let their militaries truly do the jobs they volunteered to do. So there will be more Manchesters, more Parises, more Nices, and more Orlandos. But that’s what happens when we’re not willing to do what it takes. I hope at least our hashtags can make us feel better about our choice.
— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.