SAN DIEGO – Americans have short memories. For many, the recent terrorist attacks on Paris may have already slipped their minds as they focus on shopping, decorating and baking.
We interrupt this holiday season for an urgent message: These are serious times that call for serious leaders. But serious leaders are elected by serious people. And when the time comes to confront evil, many Americans are not serious people.
In the last few weeks, two Russian planes have been shot down (one by Turkey and the other by the Islamic State), French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin have teamed up to destroy the Islamic State, British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged Parliament to authorize airstrikes in Syria, and the Islamic State has issued a new round of threats against U.S. cities. Meanwhile, there remains little common ground between a U.S.-led coalition that includes Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states and intends to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a Russian-led faction that includes Iran and Hezbollah and seems determined to keep Assad in power. It’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re on the brink of World War III.
Yet for the most part, President Barack Obama continues to play it cool. However, during a recent trip to Malaysia, he finally got all fired up. Too bad it was at the media, which he warned should not make too much of “a bunch of killers with good social media.”
Maybe Obama doesn’t fully understand the threat. Or he doesn’t want to worry Americans. Or he doesn’t want to rush to war and repeat the mistakes of the former president he seems to admire least: George W. Bush. Or he knows he’s a short-timer and doesn’t want to start a prolonged military campaign he can’t finish. Or he has checked out, and he is already thinking about building his presidential library, booking six-figure speeches and writing his memoirs.
Here’s my theory: Obama seems to be one of those peace-loving souls who are reluctant to give war a chance. I think he has never felt at ease with the United States using military power – beyond quick Special Op missions and surgical drone strikes – to impose its will. Some presidents jump at the chance to use the military. Obama recoils from it.
Yet sometimes you don’t have to look for war. Because war finds you. These mass murderers are playing a totally different game. They have a strategy, and we don’t. Their resolve is clear, and ours is in doubt.
Worst of all, Americans tend not to connect the dots. What our enemies envision as a coordinated global assault, many of us see as unrelated attacks. We witness a terrorist assault in France, and some Americans think it is limited to France.
Our worldview is all wrong. We look at the map and see separate countries. Islamic State militants look at the same map, and the only division they see is between believers and infidels. One group gets to live, the other must die.
Americans know the world is complicated. We don’t expect our leaders to have all the answers. But we do want to know that they understand the threat, that they can destroy the enemy, and that they’re up to the task of keeping us and our families safe.
But we have to do our part as well. And it starts with being serious about confronting this threat.
Look at how poorly many Americans reacted, on television and social media, after the Paris attacks. They claimed this was France’s problem. They blamed Obama for not preventing the tragedy. They blamed George W. Bush for supposedly creating the Islamic State by invading Iraq. They made the usual and tiresome comparisons to the Vietnam War. And they worried about sending Marines to Syria because, as someone told me, “those are somebody’s kids, too.”
Really? This is where a segment of the country has arrived? We value life so much that we’re squeamish about sending Marines to fight enemies abroad so we don’t have to fight them at home. This isn’t the glee club. We’re talking about Marines. Isn’t that their job? Does a society that thinks it must protect children from peanut butter and make sure our college students “feel safe” on campus now think it’s time for our military to be bubble-wrapped?
We may not have to worry about our enemies defeating us. We’re doing a splendid job of that all by ourselves.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.