One man, one truck, 84 dead and counting

-5

A distraught woman cries, asking for her missing son, as she walks through the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Nice, France (AP)

The components of this latest weapon of mass terror are simple: One (1) human being, prepared to die; one (1) large truck.

In today’s world, both are readily available. And in France on Thursday, the combination was used to murder more than 80 innocent people celebrating a national holiday on a warm, Mediterranean night.

Yes, it’s frustrating to once again be trying to process this, to hear the same worn language of condemnation and solidarity from world leaders. Yes, it’s cause for anger and perhaps fear. How do you find and stop that single individual? How do you defeat the kind of people who would perpetrate such an atrocity?

The instinct of course is to strike back and strike back hard, so let’s go with that approach for the moment. Who do we attack, and where? Against what targets do we unleash the greatest military the world has ever known?

With that, already the decision has grown more complicated. Talk all you want about getting tough and taking off the gloves and — well, you know the rhetoric. You’ve heard it. You may even have expressed it. But what does that really mean? What does it offer, beyond the obvious emotional appeal?

Let’s assume that the perpetrator in the French attack was sent by ISIS; ISIS sympathizers are already claiming it as an act of revenge for the recent killing of Abu Omar Shishani, its secretary of war. As Shishani’s death suggests, the entity calling itself the Islamic State is already reeling in military terms, its precious “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq reduced to a fraction of its previous territory, manpower and resources. Earlier this week, President Obama had announced the deployment of another 500 troops to Iraq to support the forces preparing to finish off the job.

If that’s the strategy and that’s the target, we’re already winning that war. Why doesn’t it feel like we’re winning? Our military leaders are can-do people, ready to fight wherever and whenever we ask, but why are they all but unanimous in warning that in the end, this is not a war to be won through military means?

Because to use the classic formulation, defeating the Islamic State and dismantling its caliphate is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

The truth is that our physical power and muscle — the traditional aspects of “strength” — are limited in this context. The high-tech, hugely expensive and top-of-the line F-35 fighter jets being built in part at the Lockheed plant here in Marietta are the most advanced weaponry ever built by man, and are certainly more than a match for a man and a truck.

But again: Which man, and which truck? Our enemies are pretty smart; they have designed their own weaponry in exquisite counterpoint to our own.

There are some — the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams of the world — who will tell you that the answer is to return to the Middle East in force, putting boots on the ground in, well, the potential list is pretty long. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen? We could conquer easily, but then what? It’s a question to which they have never had an answer. To exert control would require long-term occupation, and we saw how that went in Iraq and how it’s going in Afghanistan.  Earlier incarnations of ISIS thrived in Iraq even when we still occupied the country, and in fact much of our current predicament can be traced back to our botched attempt to project “strength” and “authority” in the heart of the Arab world in the wake of Sept. 11. “Shock and awe” ain’t all it was cracked up to be; our enemies can pull off shock and awe too.

Yes, improved intelligence is necessary, but that too is not sufficient. What intelligence system, what law enforcement network, is capable of finding a man and a truck? The truth is that they often do find him and stop him, many more times than we know. The truth is also that they cannot do so every time.

A war on Islam? That’s a pretty farflung enterprise. Malaysia, India, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Niger …. Shishani, the dead ISIS leader, was born in Chechnya. The smarter course, the less emotionally resonant course, is to enlist the Islamic world in common cause against these idiots, because the idiots are their enemies as well as our own. They kill far more fellow Muslims than they do the “infidel.” A truck bomb in Baghdad earlier this month killed more than 200 people in a marketplace; another attack struck Medina in Saudi Arabia, right outside the tomb of the prophet Muhammed, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

We can also withdraw, try to close ourselves off from the rest of the world, become more insulated and defensive. You hear a lot of that kind of talk too these days, from people who portray themselves and that strategy as “strong” and “tough”. Again, there’s a lot of appeal in the idea of strength. The problem is that approach amounts to surrender, not victory. That is precisely the goal that the terrorists wish to accomplish. And if you close off the borders and cease the flow of people and strangle the flow of goods, the Internet will still offer ways for our enemies to reach the aggrieved, the resentful, the mentally ill.

UPDATE (11 a.m.): Newt Gingrich proposes to confront each of the 3 million Muslim-Americans in this country, including native-born and naturalized citizens, and demand a repudiation of Sharia. He also proposes to deport those who refuse to do so. Given that Sharia is a term just as debatable within Islam as the real meaning of the Bible is within Christianity, it is an absurd notion. It also flagrantly violates a number of the provisions of the U.S. Constitution. But hey, it’s strong and tough, right?

So here comes the hard part, the part in which words such as patience and diligence and stubborn commitment come into play. There’s no emotional resonance in that, no suggestion of an easy or simple answer. But life is like that. You know you’re not going to build financial security on some get-rich-quick real estate scam, you know that you’re not going to pay off your mortgage in two years through these five easy steps, and you know enough not to trust the hucksters who claim otherwise. Likewise, you’re not going to solve the challenge of radical Islamic terrorism by saying the words “radical Islamic terrorism” and talking vaguely of being strong.

This is at root a war of values, pitting freedom and openness and life against repression, cruelty and death. The people behind ISIS are a pitiful few in relative terms, and the ideology that they preach is antithetical to most of the world and most of the Islamic world as well. If given any chance whatsoever, people flee that vision; they want nothing to do with it. And the way that this will be won is to employ those strengths of freedom, openness and life at every opportunity, and to never lose faith in their power.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

710 comments
Bill OrvisWhite
Bill OrvisWhite

WHEN ARE WE GOING TO DO SOMETHING? We have such a weak-kneed leader who is just sitting on 'his' hands while innocent bloods spills forth in the streets of Secular Europe!!!!! BILL IS SICK AND TIRED OF THIS NONSENSE! A Real U.S. President would put Secular Europe under Marshall Law, send as many troops throughout the region as possible, arm the daylights out of our friends over there whether they like it or not, bomb the living s*it out of the ratholes that these filthy jihadists live and train all the while putting the entire Arab world on notice that WE THE PEOPLE are going to stop these thugs with or without them!!!!!! SICK AND TIRED!!!!!! Amen, Bill 

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Turkey's military just led a coup and have taken over their country. Reason: too much autocratic rule and Muslim extremism.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Paul42 

Late as always.

When, oh when, are Muslims going to condemn Muslim radicals?!!?!!?

So what...you think governments should dictate what should and should not be preached in sermons?

You're how far from Houston? Mayor Parker sure thought so.

Houston’s Pastors Outraged After City Subpoenas Sermons Over Transgender Bill

http://time.com/3514166/houston-pastors-sermons-subpoenaed/ 

Perhaps it's you that warrants closer scrutiny.

schnirt

Paul42
Paul42

@FIGMO2

You don't do sarcasm very well, do you?

That's been a mem of conservatives for some time now.  Jay provided a laundry list of major examples of prominent Muslim leaders doing just that.

This is a case of a military strongman doing things his way.  I thought conservatives would identify with it.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Paul42 @FIGMO2 Since those ministers/churches ventured into politics, maybe they should lose their tax exempt status?

Up In Cleveland
Up In Cleveland

My theory on why Trump picked Pence over Newt is that in the end it came down to the fact that say what you will about him Newt can be real entertaining. Trump isn't going to get upstaged by anyone.

elgrunir
elgrunir

@Up In Cleveland  He doesn't want to share the spotlight or microphone any more than he has to, so he picked someone who'd toe that line.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

 I will be speaking for Trump on this blog

I will be speaking for the trees.

/headin' upstairs.

breckenridge
breckenridge

"We’re allowing people into our country who we have no idea where they are, where they’re from, who they are. They have no paperwork, they have no documentation, in many cases, and Hillary Clinton wants to allow 550% more than even Obama and he’s letting them in by the thousands. Out of control."  Donald Trump, 7-14-2016

Hmm. Sounds like Homeland Security has really dropped the ball.

But things are about to get a whole lot better.  Once Trump is elected, I fully expect him to appoint Fox News recognized terrorism expert and former Happy Days star Scott Baio to head up Homeland Security.  And that alone will have that jihad bunch laughing, err I mean shaking, in their boots.

Up In Cleveland
Up In Cleveland

@breckenridge What kills me is that he spews crap like this and nobody calls him on it. Every news organization ought to play the video and then follow with "In reality.........

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@Up In Cleveland @breckenridge ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN do that constantly.  And never do the same with Hillary.  Do you watch nothing but Hannity?  Now they didn't do it much when Trump was knocking off legitimate Republican candidates.  Then they got scared that he might actually beat their candidate HC.

elgrunir
elgrunir

NICK DANGER:  Downthread, baby!

DebbieDoRight
DebbieDoRight

Former Florida QB Tim Tebow declined an offer to speak at the Convention in Cleveland. Reports are coming in that he said he had to wash his hair that night....

breckenridge
breckenridge

TD are you going to be speaking at the republican convention next week? I know you're involved in Cobb county politics, and due to huge number of republicans that have declined I was wondering if you got the call.

td1234
td1234

@breckenridge I will be speaking for Trump on this blog and other places from this day to election day. 

breckenridge
breckenridge

Last week it was blacks, this week it's Muslims again.  Now....suppose there were a lone wolf attack by an American born black who at some point had converted to Islam?  Oh man, it'd be a racism-and-bigotry-fest all rolled into one.

td1234
td1234

@lvg Nope, just a few Chris Kyle types on the roof watching, waiting and if they make a move putting them out of their misery. 


And if you do not think that is what will happen then you are a fool. 

Doom Classical liberal
Doom Classical liberal

@breckenridge


"Oh man, it'd be a racism-and-bigotry-fest all rolled into one."


This from the guy who rants daily about white Southern Baptists? Now thass funny!

ByteMe
ByteMe

@InTheMiddle2 They have their permits as do some of the fringey right-wing white guys.  Police Chief and mayor not happy at all with how this is turning out for them.

ByteMe
ByteMe

@breckenridge The New Black Panthers -- all two of them -- plan to show up at the RNC convention next week fully armed and openly carrying.  Seems they let you do that in Ohio.  Should make for some Fox news moments....

lvg
lvg

@ByteMe @breckenridge Second amendment may all of a sudden need some infringing with Blacks ,marching with assault rifles.

honested
honested

@td1234 @lvg 

I guess that's the sort of killin' that your left hand, doom, is comfortable with.

elgrunir
elgrunir

@InTheMiddle2 @ByteMe  Well, then, why don't we let more countries be "free" by not having bases there and/or not invading them?  Or is this another instance where we're better than everyone else, so it doesn't matter?