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Strategy to Fight Terrorism Needs to Become Part of Presidential Debate

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

American presidential politics are certainly vulgar and loud, but what happened in Brussels reminds us that terrorism is politics too.

Terrorism is the politics of bodies and blood and the screams of the innocent asking why.


The West has been taught this again and again, and Tuesday the lesson was offered by Islamic State in Brussels, in the city of NATO, in the city of the European Union and now the European capital of Islamic jihad.

Don't take this as an indictment of Islam. But giving a name to a thing is the first step toward defeating it, and calling it mere terrorism is laughably tepid and incomplete.

It should be clear even to the most willfully moronic that this is a war against the West, and the Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS or ISIL, has made it a global jihad.

Yet what is the American strategy on Islamic State?

That's the problem. We don't know.

The American people don't want another war; we're tired of war. And the GOP establishment has been destroyed by the masters of its war-party wing, who now seek refuge in the Democratic creases of Hillary Clinton's pantsuits.

Even in this presidential political year, we aren't having a grown-up talk about the Islamic State. And we really don't know much about the strategy of Barack Obama's White House.

It's not really being discussed. And that's the problem.

Defeating the Islamic State means a real strategy: cultural, economic, political and military. And we should know it so we can argue for it or against it and so that Congress can vote it up or down.

But that would take political leadership. Unfortunately, President Obama isn't showing any.


Instead, he was busy at a baseball game in Cuba with dictator Raul Castro. Obama said a few words condemning terror but not much else.

His opening of Cuba is an important foreign policy effort. But couldn't he have canceled the ballgame and gone back to the White House to demonstrate to NATO allies -- and the people of Europe who loved him in 2008 -- that he's engaged?

Last year, the president was condemned by many on the right for saying, "We don't yet have a complete strategy," on the Islamic State. This was repeated ad nauseam by his critics after the news broke about Brussels, but it was only part of his quote.

"We don't yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis, as well, about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place. And so the details of that are not yet worked out," he said in 2015.

It's still not worked out, Mr. President.

He's withdrawn, now watching baseball, thinking about the Sweet 16, marking the end of his term, enjoying the applause wafting over him on his legacy tour.

Republican Donald Trump used the Brussels attacks to talk again about strengthening our borders and the need for waterboarding and torture.

Trump's timing is usually quite good, but just before Brussels he casually talked about withdrawing from NATO, which makes him appear either out of his league or somewhat idiotic.


The bit about the strong borders and stronger vetting of immigrants is legitimate, but his public arguments in favor of waterboarding are the foolish mouthings of an angry child.

Republican Ted Cruz made it clear he thinks we're at war with "radical Islam," something the American people understand, even if they're uncomfortable saying so, and the political left, of course, tore out its hair and burned up its angry thumbs on Twitter condemning him.

And Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, offered some vague poll-tested gobbledygook on "Good Morning America."

"But this is going to require a real upping of our security cooperation," she noted. "And there has to be some honest reckoning about what works and what doesn't work."

Hillary translation: What works? What doesn't? Strategy? What strategy? I don't want to criticize Obama, I need the guy. But what difference, at this point, does it make?

And Bernie Sanders avoided the issue, other than to offer condolences.

The coordinated Islamic State attacks in Brussels ripped dozens of human beings apart in explosions. It follows the Paris attacks by a few months. And both attacks have been aimed at the future of the European Union.

That future is now in doubt, Europe's open border policies questioned. And the rift widens between the EU's tired ruling political left and the growing anti-immigration parties of the right, as Europe cracks under the weight of Islamic refugees pouring in from the Middle East.


Those refugees overwhelming Europe -- economically and culturally -- are in part the result of decades of American war policy that destabilized dictators only to leave jihad blooming in what remained.

So of course all of this is very political. Only nincompoops would say otherwise. And there is no better time to hash it out than now, during our presidential elections.

Unfortunately, our politics isn't about grown-up talk of a Europe crumbling under the weight of unrestricted migration and cultural chaos.

And, like Bernie, the American left would rather not engage.

So our presidential politics are instead about whose feelings got hurt and safe spaces and who said what on "Saturday Night Live."

Our politics is increasingly about snarky thumbs on Twitter, where voters are unwittingly herded by sarcasm and fear of shaming into easily harvestable camps.

But the thumbs that terrorists care about are the ones on the ungloved hand, the thumbs that press the triggers and set off their bombs.

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