At least 129 dead. Hundreds more wounded. The lie of a contained ISIS, rendered in innocent blood.
There are moments in human history when American leadership is indispensable. Shaping the global response to Friday attack on Paris is such a moment.
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After all, what occurred is no small event. Going about their lives, citizens of America’s oldest ally were maimed and murdered in cold blood. And they were gunned down and blown up for a simple reason: by their conduct — attending bars, a concert, restaurants and a soccer match — they represented the random individuality of democratic society.
ISIS wants us to believe that whoever we are and whatever our interests might be, we are not safe. Moreover, the Paris terrorists would surely have attacked America could they have done so.
First however, this grotesque assault on freedom requires our re-consideration of why America stands indispensable against the forces of fear.
President George W. Bush’s explained it best: “Our war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power. In the ruins of two towers, at the western wall of the Pentagon, on a field in Pennsylvania, this nation made a pledge, and we renew that pledge tonight: Whatever the duration of this struggle and whatever the difficulties, we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men; free people will set the course of history.”
Free people and the course of history. Ultimately, that’s what this comes down to. That’s because security against terrorism isn’t simply about ensuring physical safety. In greater measure, it’s about protecting psychological confidence. It is about protecting the belief of parents that their children will grow up in a society that allows for individual fulfillment. It’s about protecting the confidence of young people to go out and socialize at a bar or a concert without fear of being murdered. It is about protecting the belief that democracy flows from the will of the people rather than from the barrel of a gun. As I noted recently, “American patriotism rests on three unshakable foundations: belief in individual freedom, respect for our neighbors and support for constitutional democracy.”
All three of these ideals are under attack in France, and America must lead the world to defend the breach. First, President Obama should visit France at the conclusion of this week’s G-20 summit. Once there, he should speak to the French people, preferably in the French Parliament, and offer heartfelt words of support. Words and perceptions matter.
Second, the president should visit the bars and restaurants that were attacked. He should eat in them, drink in them and have his photo taken in them. In doing so, he can send the message the United States and France are bound inexorably in common support of free assembly. The president should also call on American tourists to reject ISIS terror and continue visiting France.
Finally, President Obama must use this moment to contemplate his legacy in 2017. Historians will judge how the president responded to this atrocity against a dear ally and America’s dearest values.