The Corner

We’re Witnessing a Small Response to a Big Threat

We should be having a good, serious debate after Paris, not just about Syrian refugees, but how our country faces an Islamist threat that isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

As mentioned in today’s Morning Jolt, the Bush-era approaches to terrorism – invading Afghanistan and toppling the Taliban, enacting the Patriot Act, setting up the prison at Guantanamo Bay, invading Iraq, waterboarding, black sites, extraordinary rendition — were sweeping, controversial . . . attempted game-changers. We can argue the effectiveness of these choices, but they were big moves, designed to disrupt those who wanted to kill us in a big way. An enormous threat came crashing into Americans’ lives, and the response was similarly enormous.

The Obama-era approach, largely embraced by Europe’s political leadership, is designed to be much less controversial and on a much smaller scale:

‐Drone strikes, launched far away from the West and the eyes of the media.

‐Small-scale training of Syrian rebels, pulling the plug after training only a handful complete the training.

‐Deploying 50 special-operations troops to Iraq to assist our allies.

‐Announcing “red lines” and then forgetting about them when enforcing them appears too controversial.

‐A relentless emphasis on “soft power” and public diplomacy, with officials underlining the need to address the “underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism.”

‐An attempt to get other countries to take bigger, more prominent roles in worsening crises by “leading from behind.”

‐Endless calls for a political solution to Syria – as if sides that have slaughtered each other and used poison gas to murder women and children can just hash out their differences across the negotiating table.

This entire approach is small-ball, incremental, risk-averse. The Obama administration and European plan against terrorism is to use intelligence, launch intermittent, small, targeted military strikes, and rely on good police work. This approach is much less controversial, and it works a lot of the time. The problem is that when it fails, a hundred or so people die in the streets and theatrical stages get covered with blood.

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