SAN DIEGO – There’s a scene in the great western “Tombstone” where Wyatt Earp, played by Kurt Russell, points a shotgun at a terrified member of a murderous gang. “The Cowboys” were responsible for much mayhem, and they all wore red sashes.
“The Cowboys are finished,” he says. “I see a red sash, I kill the man wearin’ it!”
This sounds like a good way to deal with the Islamic State, which has now declared war on much of the world. In a new video, militants vow to attack Washington. Anyone who wants to belong to this club should pay the ultimate price as a membership fee.
There’s a time for words, a time for warnings, and a time for war. Last Friday’s massacre in Paris – where Islamic State militants callously murdered more than 120 civilians who were just out for a night on the town – and the subsequent reports that the monsters intend to carry out acts like this elsewhere tell us that now is the time for war.
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I say that not because I like war but because I’m rather fond of reality. The reality here is that the civilized nations of the world are already at war, even if they don’t acknowledge it. The reality is that most of what this administration thought about the Islamic State was wrong – that it was the “JV” (junior varsity) team, that it had been “contained,” that it was at most a “regional” threat, and that it could be defeated by bombing safely from the air without ground troops.
And for the parents, family and friends of 23-year-old Nohemi Gonzalez, the only person killed in the attack on Paris who was identified as an American, the cruelest reality of all is that there will be an empty seat at Thanksgiving. A design student at California State University, Long Beach, Gonzalez, was studying abroad for a semester – a long way from her family’s home in Southern California. Her mother, Beatriz, said studying in the City of Light was one of her daughter’s dreams. You can bet that neither Nohemi Gonzalez nor any of those who loved her ever imagined that a semester in Paris would cost this young woman her life.
Her parents undoubtedly want justice, maybe even vengeance. But how do they get their heads around the idea that the culprit is a shadowy band of cowards and thugs on an international killing spree? Gonzalez’s parents are in no position to bring her assailants to justice.
That’s the job of their government, whose chief responsibility is keeping its citizens safe. This administration clearly isn’t up to the task. It’s shown itself to be naive and incompetent. But it is also populated with just enough lawyers to make it slipperier than most.
For example, in an interview this week in Paris with NBC News’ Lester Holt, Secretary of State John Kerry downplayed the well-coordinated attack as an isolated incident: “Any individual who wants to strap a suicide vest around them can walk into any public event in most places in the world and blow him- or herself up and destroy people with them.”
That’s ridiculous. We’re talking about multiple acts of violence carried out simultaneously in five locations in and around the French capital. The perpetrators were part of a sophisticated terrorist network based in Syria and appear to have planned the assault from Belgium.
President Obama didn’t do much better. In a string of flat remarks from Turkey, where he was attending the G-20 economic summit, Obama called the massacre a “setback” and said he isn’t interested in “winning.” He defensively said he is “too busy” to hear ideas about how to fight terrorism, and saved his angriest barbs for media critics and Republicans running for president.
It was a tour de farce. You’re likely to see more emotion from the guy who does your taxes.
It’s not like Obama has to do all the work. The Islamic State has put in the effort necessary to wage war around the globe. All the president has to do is acknowledge the obvious: that we are at war, and that we cannot afford to lose.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.