As many Americans sang “La Marseillaise” and expressed solidarity with the French after the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, Republicans rushed to seize political advantage.
Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee threatened savage bombing campaigns. Cruz, possibly inspired by Herod the Great, promised he would not worry about slaughtering innocents. These holy warriors will say anything to win cheers from the xenophobic, Christianist GOP base, ignoring the spectacular failure of reflexive, ill-targeted militarism in the past. Meanwhile, President Obama’s Pentagon quietly took out ISIS leaders in Syria and Libya.
Instead of showing strength amid tragedy, conservatives turned cowardly and demanded that Syrian refugees be turned away lest a jihadist be lurking among them. Never mind the major role America played in creating chaos in Syria, where civilian deaths dwarf those in Paris. On the night of the attacks, ordinary Parisians took stranded strangers into their homes. They displayed more courage than is being asked of Americans. Despite more than half of America’s governors absurdly announcing their own harsh immigration policies, refugees face extensive screening procedures.
Muslims across the world have denounced the attacks. Ignoring this hampers the relationships we need to defeat the extremists. Appropriately, many Western leaders have begun using the Arabic acronym for ISIS, “Daesh,” which has a mocking connotation. Declaring yourself a caliphate does not make you one.
We must respond to the attacks intelligently and in cooperation with our allies. We cannot simply bomb our way to safety. We cannot wall ourselves off from a world in which we are deeply engaged commercially and culturally, and in which we extensively project ourselves militarily. We cannot prevail unilaterally or by holding ourselves above the rest of the world. We cannot paper over legitimate grievances resulting from our past actions.
As Edward R. Murrow said in delivering the political epitaph of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954, “We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our own history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.”
Surveying the psych ward of Republican candidates, exploiting fear may offer their best chance of retaking the White House. Three factors make this doubtful: a war-weary public, the candidates’ lack of discipline or understanding, and our former Secretary of State.
While the Republicans excoriate Hillary Clinton for failing to use their designated magic words to describe the jihadists, she demonstrates the calm single-mindedness needed to defeat civilization’s enemies and not just win primaries. Despite her flaws, she is head and shoulders above the competition. She speaks knowledgeably about conflicts all over the world, and knows the players. She is the seasoned pro with Situation Room experience. Contrasted with their fiery rhetoric, her steadiness will lift her as Obama’s lifted him during the 2008 financial crisis.
Republicans’ eagerness to bomb regardless of the target reminds me of mockery directed toward German rocket scientist (and American space program architect) Wernher von Braun in 1960: “I Aim at the Stars (but sometimes I hit London).” The private arsenals being stockpiled by some anarchists and paranoiacs are likelier to be used against federal agents or people of color with car breakdowns than Islamist fanatics.
Conservatives’ portrayal of Obama as a hapless Commander in Chief runs up against his record: he got bin Laden, his credible threat of force led to the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons, and the nuclear sanctions he and Clinton assembled brought Iran to the negotiating table.
The war with Daesh is on many fronts. We do not fight it coherently if we focus only on attacks against Western targets while ignoring (say) the suicide bombings in Beirut on November 12. Our evident indifference toward non-Europeans renders us derelict in facing the global threat; but Republicans are too busy insulting them to recognize them as vital allies. Donald Trump imitates the Chinese saying, “We want deal.” His bold new insight is a Charlie Chan impression?
With their pandering to intolerance and know-nothingism, Republicans are on the verge of an electoral disaster in 2016. Stoking panic over terrorism may be their only gambit. But we’ve been there before. Let us make sure that we are not deceived again.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2015 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.