As the old saying goes, journalism is the first draft of history.
But, journalists and pundits do more than just tell us what happened. They offer the first take on what went wrong and on who is responsible. They hold people accountable. Given that we are all prone to take lessons from the past, how we apportion blame shapes the way we confront challenges in the future.
One knows that the Democrats used the 9/11 Commission skillfully to absolve the Clinton administration of all blame for the attack on the World Trade Center. The Republicans went along for the ride because they did not understand what was going on.
Now, with ISIS on the rise and Islamic terrorism becoming a worldwide scourge, liberal Democrats in particular are laying down their narrative: they blame the Bush administration because it led the incursion into Iraq. They tell us that we should never again put troops into Iraq or Syria because that is the lesson of the Bush wars.
Forget about which Democratic senators voted for the Bush war... OK.
Thus, it is relevant—we don’t know how relevant—that a New York Times columnist like Roger CohenA, hardly a right winger, holds Barack Obama responsible, at least in part, for what happened in Paris last Friday.
Conservative critics of Obama have often characterized him as feckless, but Cohen’s view has more weight. It comes from someone who has on occasion supported the president. For example, Cohen supported the appalling Iran nuclear deal.
Contrasting French President Hollande and President Obama, Cohen says:
The French President, François Hollande, says France is “at war” against “a jihadi army.” France will be “pitiless.” There will be “no respite, no truce.” More than two years ago, after President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, Hollande was ready to bomb Syria alongside President Obama. Then Obama wavered. Hesitation has been Obama’s modus operandi on Syria.
Now there are body bags in Paris.
Today, Hollande is trying to put together a coalition to take the fight to ISIS. Cohen is not optimistic that Hollande will be able to draw Obama into the fray:
If the President Obama he finds is the same Obama who spoke in Turkey on Monday, the French president will be disappointed. The contrast between Hollande’s fire and Obama’s flatness as he insisted he would not put American troops on the ground to defeat ISIS was one of the stranger aspects of being in Paris this week.
It was clear again that Europe’s generational struggle for unity and freedom against totalitarian violence tends to leave this post-Atlanticist president cold. Words and body language are not everything. Still, they count.
Perhaps Hollande will provide some leadership in the struggle against global Islamist terrorism. We are confident that Hillary Clinton, a leading figure in setting the Obama policy on terrorism, will not.
Yesterday, Hillary put her ignorance on display by favoring the absurd meme that Islam is a religion of peace. True enough, it comes to us from George W., but since when do Democrats feel compelled to echo his words. Everyone but Hillary knows that Islam is a religion of conquest and terror.
True enough, as it has often been noted, not all Muslims are terrorists. But it is also true that nearly all terrorist activity in recent years has been perpetrated by Muslims.
No serious human being believes that world leaders like Hollande, Putin and Xi Jinping are going to rally behind the leadership of Hillary Clinton. But, yesterday Hillary presented a strategy to defeat ISIS.
The Republicans achieved their own success in the House of Representatives by passing a veto-proof bill slowing down the arrival of Syrian immigrants.
And yet, note very well, the leading Republican candidate yesterday swamped that news and made Hillary look like a statesman by declaring that all American Muslims should register in a national database and be tracked by law enforcement. Another leading Republican candidate called Syrian refugees “rabid dogs.”
If you think that these are winning formulae, I have a bridge to sell you.
Be that as it may, Cohen also dismisses Obama’s argument against real military intervention. He easily refutes the Obama argument about what is and is not a recruitment tool:
True, jihadi terrorism (not “extremism”) will not disappear overnight if the United States and its allies take back the territory ISIS controls in Syria and Iraq. But the existence of this “state” is a compelling recruitment tool. It gives ISIS oil revenue (between $500 million and $1 billion a year), training camps, stature, space to enact its wanton brutality, and a base to direct international killing.
This border-straddling ISIS sanctuary must be eliminated, just as the Afghan safe haven of Al Qaeda was after 9/11 (before the disastrous distraction of Iraq). Raqqa is much closer to Europe than Tora Bora. ISIS has effective terrorists but indifferent soldiers. They are beatable. Kurdish militias — not the U.S. military by any means — have made rapid inroads. They and other local forces can help.
But Obama does not have the will. “Let’s assume we send 50,000 troops into Syria,” he said in Turkey. “What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen?”
That’s a straw-man game unworthy of the president. Its subtext: Because you can’t solve all the problems of the world, solve none. ISIS in Syria and Iraq is the core of the terrorist threat to Europe and America today. So destroy it.
This is what Vladimir Putin is doing by sending troops into Syria. Cohen adds:
President Vladimir Putin has forces on the ground in Syria. He has at last turned Russian bombing against ISIS after the terrorist group’s downing of a Russian passenger jet. Like Hitler, ISIS may have made the fatal mistake of targeting Moscow.
Stalin was an effective Western ally in World War II. Hitler was defeated. But the division of Europe ensued and the Soviet enslavement of half the Continent. Maybe Putin can help against ISIS, but if the West is a mere spectator the result will be equally disastrous. America and its allies must be as present on the ground as Russia if they are to shape the Syrian denouement. President Assad is not part of the solution. He’s part of the problem.
… The West has lost its spine, a spine called America.
How did this happen? Cohen suggests that the fault lies in our psycho approach to terrorism. We believe, doubtless because generations of therapists have pounded it into us, that it is bad to get angry. It is bad to feel hate. Anger and hate are, we have been taught, emotional toxins. We need to eliminate them from our system, the better to love the terrorists who want to destroy us. Kill them with love, it’s a message that one columnist called Lennonist—as in John Lennon.
Obviously, fear is not the answer. Since terrorists want to terrorize us into submission to their religion, to make us feel guilty for the ills that have befallen them and their people, we should not to go on an extended guilt trip about the faults and flaws of Western civilization.
And yet, too many students on too many college campuses seem to be capable of nothing but such guilt trips. Worse yet, spineless administrators are emulating the president by bowing down in Obamaphile submission to their imperious demands.
Fair enough, hatred and anger are not quite the same thing, but, how about a little of both, a little spine, a little resolute aggression against the people who shoot up concert halls and cafes and hotels.
Cohen is right on this point:
But freedom has to be fought for. It can demand anger. These killers make us hostages of our own democracies. They trample on the very border-crossing freedoms that European passports afford them. The West, post-Iraq, has lost its capacity for rage, even at this. That is dangerous.
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We may not know who exactly the killers are but we know what they want to destroy. They spit at Montaigne, Voltaire and De Tocqueville. They loathe reason. They detest freedom. They cannot bear the West’s sexual mores. They would enslave the world, particularly its women, to the cruel god of their medievalist reading of Islam.
To be fair, it isn’t as though we are running low on rage. Every day brings us pictures of enraged young people marching on college campuses. The problem is, their rage is directed against the same targets that the terrorists despise.
Could that be the reason why the American president and his supporters cannot muster up any anger against terrorists? Could that be why their fight seems to be against white privilege, Western civilization and whatever America stands for?