Responding to the Paris Aftermath

Huffington Post
By Christine Todd Whitman
November 19, 2015

As I watch governing officials react to the atrocities in Paris, Beirut, and on the Russian plane, I am stuck that, for the first time in this country, we are determining the status of people by their religion. I understand fully the need to protect, but banning all Muslims from entering a state begs the question of what do you do with practicing Muslims already within our borders? Who do we next automatically paint with such a broad brush, all those of Arab decent? Is this a repeat of the interment of all Japanese during WWII? Or of atrocities committed by another nation against people of one particular religion?

I would hope not.

Just as ineffective is the idea that we can just take all the terrorists out with bombs. You can’t bomb an ideology. Targeted takedowns of the leaders of a movement, yes, but carpet bombing will only result in more adherence to the cause.

Rather, this is the moment for the President to act as a leader. This is our fight, but not ours alone. President Obama should call a summit of all those whose way of life is threatened by ISIL, not just the European nations, and develop a plan of concerted action and the true sharing of intelligence. And, yes, that means engaging with Russia. If Putin refuses to go along, then the NATO and other countries should develop real economic sanctions. Putin may seem untouchable in Russia now, but that will fade when all people feel the pinch.

I support the creation of safe zones within Syria; we should agree to protect them, provide food and medical care, but we also need to train the young men to take back their country. No outside nation can truly turn the tide, but those whose homes, livelihoods and heritages have been taken from them can with help. This is where the international community can really make a difference and where America must lead the way.

There are several other areas where we, as US citizens, will have to confront some hard truths. The world around us has changed. The sort of technology we have today was never even remotely anticipated by our Founding Fathers. We, in the United States, will have to lose some of our privacy. It makes no sense to me that there are encrypted sites that even the developers cannot hack once they are in use. There have to be backdoors and we have to accept that as a people. We can design safety procedures to protect the blanket gathering and storage of data, but we cannot tie the hands of those charged with protecting us in this way. We can’t make it easy for the terrorists to hide their planning. We are going to have to realize that, much as Lincoln did during the Civil War, we in the US may lose some of our civil liberties until we have things under control.

Additionally, we need to get serious about climate change as populations displaced by weather extremes such as droughts and floods in sub-Saharan countries are the most fertile ground for ISIL recruiting. Let’s not forget that it wasn’t ISIS that initially caused instability and displacement in Syria. Researchers in March noted that the extreme drought in Syria between 2006 and 2009 was the result of climate change, and was a key factor in the civil unrest that kicked off in 2011. It was in this tumultuous environment that ISIS has been able to thrive.

What happened in the last week is a stark reminder that we are facing an enemy who is sworn to end our way of life and who is honored to die in the cause while taking as many civilians as possible. They won’t be satisfied until their vision rules the world. We can fight back, but we must be smart, careful and effective. This is the leadership role that the United States must accept and embrace.