There’s a political cartoon on circulating the Internet after the coordinated terrorist attack on Paris. It’s of the Statue of Liberty, climbing down from her pedestal and looking across the Atlantic to a burning Paris and declaring, “I’m coming!”
Only she’s not. America will not go into the battle this time. Listen to the candidates, the media, the public. We have turned inward, to our comfortable isolationist soul, which we prefer despite our reputation for “meddling” abroad.
We are the people of whom John Quincy Adams once said:
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
We’ve Enabled Europe to Stop Defending Itself
The Marshall Plan, that massive investment in capital and defense we provided in the years after World War II, was a huge change for us. We wanted to avoid another world war, which we had to enter both times. It was expensive in every sense of the word. But everyone settled in. The western world relied on us after the Marshall Plan. We got used to the control. We became the world’s policeman and underwriter.
The European nations got used to social welfare states that they could afford since they did not need robust defense budgets. Over the years, they coddled their own citizens against the truth of world conflict, so when we walked away—or, let us be accurate, when the world demanded we leave and take our fighting nature with us—Europe was left vulnerable.
The nature of the threat was merely a detail. What was certain was that a threat would come. And it has. Even still, the danger had a hard time getting the world’s attention. After Paris on Friday, it has it.
A Weak Defense Invites Attack
When I saw the Statute of Liberty cartoon on Saturday, I wondered, can we really not see that Paris has a timeline, a context? For instance, many of the very same people now publicly calling for prayers for Paris and the support to France complained about our “arrogant” involvement previously. Do they really think America will fight? It is as if people in power believe that all terrible events strike randomly, like lightning, and that the lightning has nothing to do with the thunderclouds that bring it.
This attack did not come like lightning. None of this was surprising. President Bush warned us eight years ago. See above video. He tried to prepare us about seven years before that: “Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.”
The Israelis know it. They released a video about fighting Europe’s war just last week. The peaceable people of the region have lived it. Many are now huddled and stranded, and no one seems to care. We are fretting about the refugees and mass migration into Europe and ignoring, like the good little politically correct acolytes we are, that most of those are adult males, not families. The threatened families are, well, dead or huddling in places like Jordan. For them we offered—what?
This Is Not Like September 11
If we do provide assistance, it will not be the precision, boots on the ground plans to avoid collateral damage. It will be messy.
Already, just 48 hours later, France has been raining bombs down on Syria, supposedly on our intelligence—that’s the assistance we are likely to provide—while they are perhaps courting the Russians as allies.
The Russians are not known for military mercies. These will not be the meticulously planned precision strikes of the Afghan or Iraq campaigns in 2001 and 2003. Remember waiting a long month—wasn’t it five weeks—from the September 11 attacks to the launches against the Taliban? Or the months of delay for an eighteenth United Nations resolution against Saddam? Neither the French, nor the Russians, will likely feel it necessary to go through UN formalities.
Why has France acted so hastily? Fast and furious is the option they’ve got. An allied NATO campaign isn’t likely. As a policy wonk friend explained well on Saturday:
Let’s game out that hypothetical and likely never-to-happen [NATO] Article V call from France to the alliance: how do we think a White House that has bent over backwards to avoid a boots-on-the-ground commitment in the Muslim world, and also has repeatedly praised and affirmed the positive intrinsic qualities of that same milieu, would react to a request to commit an army on a punishment expedition to that sphere? The question answers itself: an American supportive commitment would almost certainly be limited to the existing mix of special forces and airpower, giving the French as much as we give the Kurds. This in turn is one big reason President Hollande is exceedingly unlikely to issue the call, as the things it exposes about the real state of the alliance and especially the will of its dominating partner would be exceedingly damaging.
I listened to the second Democratic debate—one that was hastily turned into a foreign policy, national security, and terrorism debate after the attacks on Paris—hoping to be surprised by some realistic analysis. My hopes were dashed. Even Vox knows the three candidates failed the Paris and ISIS questions.
Democratic Candidates Dither and Blame the Victims
Candidate Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of State for Obama’s first term and who should know the realities cold, said she wants more info so top people can think and analyze and come up with a plan sometime in the undefined future. Candidate Martin O’Malley wants basically the same thing. Candidate Bernie Sanders thinks it is all related to climate change. (Pause for a moment to honor the nerve it must take to say something so ridiculous to a national audience.)
If that weren’t ridiculous enough, he also adheres to that noxious and naive argument that but for our invasion ten years ago, ISIS would not exist. This line of thinking smacks of blaming the victims—a argument vehemently protested in other contexts.
ISIS ideologies existed prior to 2003. We did not create them. ISIS’s predecessors exported terrorism then, too. They reign today because of our ill-advised, premature pull-out of the region. ISIS is not powerful because of our invasion but because of our exit.
But that is not the prevailing narrative now. Americans were already acting out of character before being berated for our actions and earnestly worrying if we had caused it all. We have little political will to fight absent another attack on us.
World War Déjà Vu
The hashtags might fly. The city skylines will glow in thick stripes of red, white, and blue. The politicians and so many others will publicly claim a prayer to a God that many of them don’t believe in. We will put on a good show of caring, but the harsh truth is, we aren’t coming.
We remain at heart as our sixth president had described. Unless we elect one of the Cuban senators, Americans will not come to Europe’s aid until they are in chains or on their knees and we feel the threat on our own shores. Perhaps that will happen faster than in the past, but students of history know that is how this story goes.
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10).