Having read many Facebook posts since the tragic attacks on Paris, I see two camps emerging and, not surprisingly, they tend break down along lines of political affiliation. On the right (mostly), I see anger at and repudiation of Obama’s failed policies in the Middle East in general and in Syria specifically. On the left (mostly) I see indignantly righteous pleas not to politicize such a tragedy, but rather to focus solely on love and healing. We are all Parisian today.
I agree unconditionally with exactly half of the latter view. It is indeed a time for love and healing and my heart and prayers go out to all Parisians and all other human beings affected by this, which should be everyone. However, I disagree with the notion that we should not politicize it because by “politicize” the left means “point out the failings of our policies.”
Let me draw an analogy that has been helpful to me in thinking through this conundrum of whether we should be pointing fingers while a certain group is grieving so intensely. The example that is instructive is a major plane crash. When an airliner crashes (in the clear absence of foul play), think about what happens. Two very distinct parallel paths emerge and both emerge instantaneously. The first path is, of course, one of grieving with and for the families of the passengers whose lives were lost in the crash. The second path is the one driven by NTSB and is an immediate and intense investigation into the cause of the crash. The same would be true of an explosion in a manufacturing plant or a major oil spill.
My guess is that if you word searched all the articles in all the newspapers following a major airline crash, you would find that the top hits include words like tragedy, loss, prayers, vigils, and the like. But, I’m nearly certain that the number one search hit would be “black box.” Nobody ever felt better about the loss of a family member in a plane crash because the black box was found. It can’t bring anybody back and it can’t rewind time and stop the crash. However, the information contained in the black box may very well prevent the next crash. That is why the NTSB performs such a thorough and immediate investigation of every aviation accident, no matter the size.
The investigation may find that there was pilot error; that poor decisions were made at critical times. If so, this information can be incorporated into pilot training programs in an effort to prevent a similar accident. If the black box shows a mechanical problem with the aircraft, that information can be used to train mechanics or incorporated into the design of new airplanes. So, while the NTSB operates with somewhat less vitriol than I’m reading on Facebook about the Paris attacks, both serve the critical function of figuring what went wrong and making sure we learn from it to prevent future tragedy.
The global community is best served by this type of “root cause” analysis in the wake of the Paris attacks. Of course, the complex and multivariate nature of geopolitics and religion makes this a difficult task. In fact, the analysis might reveal mistakes made before Obama came to office. If so, we should learn from them as well as those made by the current administration. It is now very clear that Obama dramatically misunderstood and underestimated the threat posed by ISIS. He considers it Al Qaeda’s JV team. Well, not so much. Hours before the attack, he said ISIS was contained. Uh, no. He drew red lines in Syria, then totally ignored them. Dumb. He refuses to even identify our enemy as radical Islam. Mindless. One of the attackers was a Syrian refugee. Letting 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US is not such a good idea now. You get my point. There’s a lot of material to sift through to figure out what went wrong and make darn certain it doesn’t happen again, in Paris or anywhere else. But, we need to commence that exercise immediately and, if it involves some uncomfortable finger pointing, so be it.
And, to be clear, this isn’t a uniquely American issue, though ISIS has already started naming our cities as future sites of attack. It would be prudent to look carefully at all the mistakes made in Europe in general and France in particular. Their policy of what Brett Stephens referred to in the Wall Street Journal this morning as tolerance of intolerance has created a mess for them. We need to learn from that (see comment above about Syrian refugees).
The point of this post is not to actually perform the post-hoc analysis, though it was easy to identify some key areas upon which to focus. The point is that we must grieve and analyze in parallel because ISIS is not stopping to grieve for anyone in Paris. It is imperative that we, as a democracy, have an immediate and open dialogue about what went wrong with Obama’s policies. We have a major decision to make in under a year as to whom we should entrust with the Commander in Chief title for next 4 years. Do we want the person who worked closely with Obama to create the current mess? Or do we want someone else? It is completely appropriate for any of the current presidential candidates on either side to very clearly state what he/she thinks went wrong here and articulate what she/he would have done or will do differently. That, as much as anything, will shape our future in this realm.
Please, everyone, don’t stop grieving and praying for Parisians. We have been there before and we know how much it sucks. Let’s just be as certain as we can that we don’t go there again. Say what you will about George W. Bush, but, as his brother said in the second debate, we were very safe under him after 9/11. Are we still? Open discussion about the Paris attacks will help guide the decisions that will keep us safe. Let’s start them right now.