So far, we can be sure only of one thing: We have no line on what's happening. Accordingly, we don't know what to do.
One might suppose we had figured out some of the essential matters 10 years ago, starting with the attack on the twin towers, followed by the U. S. counter-attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq. We were on the right track. We knew that a crazed -- I used the adjective deliberately, in its dictionary sense, without theological overtones -- faction in the Muslim world wants us dead or submissive on account of our disgusting commitment to human freedom, made worse by our outrageous instinct to defend and pursue that freedom abroad.
It has come to this: If you believe in freedom or in Jesus Christ or in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you're a target for elimination at the hand of the crazies. (Aren't people who blow themselves up, and others with them, just a little, you know, tetched in the head?) The world is at war in a way unfamiliar to most of its 7 billion people, but we are at war, nonetheless, and are in need of strong leadership, as I was saying.
We seemed for a while to be waiting out the crazies, hoping they might find more fruitful pursuits, especially if we assured them of our good intentions and democratic instincts. They fling our patience back in our faces. These are villainous people, which is what they think of us, but so what? They are wrong. A concerted worldwide effort against them is of the essence.
An effort led by whom?
Whether there is a point in landing with both feet upon the self-absorbed, self-adoring Barack Obama, I tend to doubt. Obama is Obama, with three years left to serve as president. It may not be possible to wake him up. The very least others may do while we wait out our national penance for the last election is try to focus with energy and intelligence on the role of the United States in the world at large. That role is one that continues to trouble Americans.
Are we the world's policeman -- a rhetorical question popular in post-Vietnam times? Are we just people who prefer being left alone, eschewing foreign entanglements -- the precious myth that neo-isolationists cultivate, in defiance of the historical record (the Monroe Doctrine, the Barbary pirate war, the Spanish-American War, etc.)?
The main thing we might want to be considered is bright. A bright people is unlikely in the extreme to let foreign enemies circle it, taunting it, beating up on its friends and associates, not to mention murdering their citizens and distorting relationships of all kinds. The crazies lack the ability to topple the republic. The damage of which they are capable, nevertheless, here and abroad, is extensive and costly.
A serious public debate, led by serious people -- of whom there are relatively few in government these days, in either political party -- could reinvigorate thinking and planning. As it is, we just sail along in these confused, leaderless times, taking in the view, reacting to discrete and specific events, unprepared, consequently, to react with intelligence and decision.
I hadn't meant to make these points today. I'd intended to speak to the miserable plight of ordinary people like the Pakistani Christians and the mall shoppers in Nairobi, caught between the crazies and their own semi-tuned-out governments, which doesn't count the government of the world's theoretically most liberty-loving nation -- our own. Then I got to thinking. Are we going to do anything serious in our post-Syria mood, or do we go right on vegetating, waiting for the vegetable peeler to descend upon. Oh, not us! Surely not us!
Care to bet?