What began as a hypothetical question in my Townhall column from April “Do World Leaders Actually Know How to Respond to Terrorism?” has turned into a real one. A rhetorical and admittedly snarky inquiry meant to highlight the weak response of Western leaders to terrorism now reads more like a legitimate question.
By measure of its tactics, a Manchester attack anywhere would be difficult to defend against. Law enforcement remains hard pressed to prevent this type of bombing in a public space. It would take many a keen eye and significant training to identify potential threats among a large crowd – and be right each time. Elected officials are similarly incapable of crafting public policy solutions that guarantee against all risk.
But the issue of terrorism grows as long as the focus rests on reactive security. The commonly used “Left of Boom - Right of Boom” spectrum explains the problem. Left of Boom is military jargon for the preparation and prevention side of an attack. Right of Boom is the recovery and repair. Many Western leaders committed to the fight still work at right of boom and talk about left of boom. That should be reversed.
Authorities knew Salman Abedi. And they still could not stop him. Whether he was on a watch list is immaterial to the fact that their foreknowledge did little more than make it easier to identify him after the massacre.
Moreover, it should not be missed that another concert attack in greater Europe occurred during an American performance. The 2015 Bataclan attack in France went down during a performance by U.S.-based Eagles of Death Metal. This is not a coincidence. Symbolism plays an enormous role in attacks directly coordinated by ISIS – a quality common to their parent organization, Al Qaeda. Make no mistake, ISIS is sending a message to America.
National Review author David French plainly stated that the “best deterrent to jihad is the obliteration of jihadists.” And he’s right. A Godfather operation of sorts is in order. Recall at the conclusion of the 1972 blockbuster when Michael Corleone had each head of the rival mob families terminated at the same time.
A crude analogy that doesn’t have exact parallels. But the point is made. No more war of attrition. No more being hamstrung by the political complexities. No one can expect to fight this war without unintended consequences. But the possible consequences compared to the actual, ongoing ones, like in Manchester, demand action.
The Western world needs to craft a rather simple, international operation that targets major jihadist organizations for annihilation; a simultaneous operation that brings the full and immediate weight of Western militaries against the likes of Boko Haram, the Islamic State, and Al Qaeda. These are the immediate concerns. Yes, we must address funders. Indeed, the cyber element and online radicalization matters. But there is no substitute for direct and overwhelming force.
Unfortunately, a group of cultural overlords who are blinded by their own prejudice toward Western society and who stubbornly refuse to associate these actors with a given religion – perverted interpretation or otherwise -- have a disproportional influence over matters of security, especially in Europe.
Rarely has the world seen such hubris, coupled with such impotence from so many in charge. Few times in history have Western citizens lived under the political and cultural rule of so many who harbored such deadly delusions about the enemy. They work harder at drawing historical equivalences than at evaluating facts – everything from Columbus to the Crusades has been used to rationalize away the painfully obvious truth that some people will kill you regardless of who you are or what you do.
Just this month, suspected terrorist and British national Khalid Mohamed Omar Ali was caught carrying knives in Westminster near the recent vehicle attack. The Guardian described the potential terrorist as "…born outside of Britain…went to school in [a] multicultural area that has a long history of neglect and where sections of the community mistrust the police and other authorities." In other words, "we will not tell you where he came from and will blame the United Kingdom for its neglect of multiculturalism, which clearly led to his radicalization."
In a stark reminder of how far some will go to defend their ideological myths, the Independent just responded to the Manchester attacks by saying there’s “only one way Britain should respond to attack…carrying on exactly as before.” Don’t do anything different.
This isn’t incompetence. This is the most deadly form of arrogance.
Professor of Religion David Cook writes “Although one can project upon the fighters and say that perhaps they are aggrieved because of Western foreign policies or maybe they fight because they are improvised, or repeat the narratives that Western policy makers and media figures tell themselves and their audiences, all of these ideas are contrary to what the jihadis themselves say…it is time that we take this claim seriously…and take their stated goals seriously.”