4 Lessons From the Paris Terror Attacks
French President Francois Hollande has contended unambiguously that ISIS launched the Paris terrorist attacks Friday night, and ISIS itself has now claimed responsibility. It is not too early, even now, to draw important lessons from this tragedy. We do so both to prevent the near-term recurrence of more terrorist violence against the West, and to address seriously the broader, global Islamicist threat that has been growing, not diminishing, in recent years. We certainly have at least enough information and experience to draw working hypotheses for the next days and weeks until more details become available.
Indeed, this is a time for statesmanship, resolve and determination, not for sweeping the cruel reality of what has just happened under the rug. Our ability to safeguard the future may well depend in substantial part on what we do and how we do it in just these coming days and weeks.
First, the Paris attacks were not “senseless violence” as some media commentators observed as the news coverage unfolded.
Nor were they “an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share,” as President Obama said late Friday evening.
These Islamic radicals know who their enemies are, and have for decades. It is we — or at least some of our leaders — who have forgotten who is under attack.
This coordinated, well-planned and, sadly, well-executed series of assaults on innocent civilians was deliberate, ideologically motivated, and carefully targeted.
President Hollande was himself attending the soccer match at the Stade de France, where suicide bombers struck, and might well have been one of the targets.
At a minimum, the terrorists showed they could strike in close physical proximity to the head of the French government.
We should be immediately concerned that other attacks in prominent Western capitals, against senior European and US government officials and the West generally may be in the offing.
Second, we should not view the appropriate American and Western response as “bringing these terrorists to justice,” in President Obama’s words. This is not a matter for the criminal law, as many American political and academic leaders, including the President, have insisted, even after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
This is a war, as President Hollande has forthrightly called it, not a slightly enhanced version of thieves knocking over the corner grocery store within an ordered civil society. And the mechanism of response must be to destroy the source of the threat, not prosecute it, not contain it, not hope that we will “ultimately” destroy it. “Ultimately” is too far away.
Third, in light of Paris and the continuing threat of terrorism it so graphically conveys, we need a more sensible national conversation about the need for effective intelligence gathering to uncover and prevent such tragedies before they occur.
Knee-jerk, uninformed and often wildly inaccurate criticisms of programs (such as several authorized in the wake of 9/11 in the Patriot Act) have created a widespread misimpression in the American public about what exactly our intelligence agencies have been doing and whether there was a “threat” to civil liberties. Now is the time to correct these misimpressions, and to rebut the unfounded criticisms that have in too many cases become the conventional wisdom.
Similarly, in the debate over immigration and refugees, it is time to take into account the national security issues at stake.
Law-enforcement and intelligence authorities had already estimated earlier this year that thousands of European and US citizens had travelled to ISIS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq, there to receive training and financing to conduct terrorist operations in their home countries. These were individuals with valid passports and visas, taking advantage of holes in our detection and prevention capabilities.
One priority should be to determine if any of those perpetrating the November13-14 attacks in Paris had travelled to ISIS lands. And imagine now the dangers posed by the massive refugee flows moving into Europe from North Africa, the Middle East and even Afghanistan.
Finally, as we all know, the United States is already in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign. America’s proper place in the world should be at the very center of the debate.
This is precisely the right moment to discuss the threats we face and how to meet them. We should discard the conventional wisdom of political operatives and commentators who routinely say that American voters do not care about national-security issues.
The first responsibility of the president is to keep the country safe. While there are many important issues at stake next November, all of them come second when the safety of the country is at risk.
If citizens cannot get the attention of political candidates now, when can they expect to? As part of our shared obligations as US citizens, we should work to make 2016 a national-security election. Either we do it, or our adversaries will do it for us.
John Bolton was US Ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 through 2006. He is currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a Fox News contributor
This article was originally published by FOX News.