Here is one of the most disturbing questions of all: How do you severely punish groups of fanatics for whom martyrdom is the highest aspiration? When French President Francois Hollande promises his nation “will be merciless toward the barbarians of Islamic State group” and “will act by all means anywhere,” what reason is there to believe that Islamic State maniacs will be moved in any way, except to laugh and expand their murderous assaults on humanity? Even with massive airstrikes, ISIS is threatening new massacres. So the answer is that there is no reason to believe that.
The leaders of so many countries that describe themselves as civilized are largely united in offering their condolences and offers to help France in this dark hour. But as the clock ticks on and the time comes to put meaning behind that resolve, it always seems to melt away as the memory of outrage is consumed by other burning concerns — the latest nastiness from Donald Trump, even the latest Justin Bieber scandal.
The political will, for instance, to put American lives at risk to effectively stop ISIS evaporates. The resolve is a victim, in part, of the cynicism of a nation that has grown weary of wartime loss and even more so about lies their politicians have told to justify the tragedy of military adventures. Any rousing promises of international coalition action against terrorists inevitably fade as leaders of the various countries engage in subterfuge to achieve their national and personal agendas.
Even if you bomb the crazies to smithereens, they will regenerate in the ashes, assisted by their undetectable supporters hiding within the borders of France, England and, yes, the United States. They are our alienated neighbors, secretly waiting for orders to start their own homicidal operation and march on the path to what they consider glory.
The politicians aren’t exactly covering themselves with glory with their bellicose simple-mindedness. First there is the inane argument over whether the lunatics should be described as creatures of “radical Islam.” Then on the Democratic side we have President Barack Obama pronouncing the Islamic State forces “contained” just before they ravaged Paris, and Hillary Clinton, in the debates, justifying her major contributions from Wall Street and the big bankers by ridiculously invoking 9/11. With a straight face, she explained that as a United States senator from New York, she helped the financial industry recover after the attack: “That was good for New York and it was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.” So the big-money people are just showing their gratitude.
Republicans pounced all over that one, but they’re not exactly coming up with any brilliant ideas either. Donald Trump suggests that he would target the oil fields that are held by the extremists, that he would “bomb the s–t” out of them. No nuance to the Trumpster. But we already knew he was a bulls–ter. And there are those like Ben Carson, among others, who advocate “boots on the ground,” forgetting that our leaders are hamstrung both by a lack of public enthusiasm for sending in combat troops and by a military force that is possibly stretched too thin by so many years of combat. Perhaps Dr. Carson is thinking of some sort of surgical strike.
Leave it to Pope Francis to perfectly describe the severe dilemma facing civilization: The terrorist attacks in Paris, he says, are a “piece” of a “piecemeal third world war.” “I am moved,” he continued, “and I am saddened. I do not understand — these things are hard to understand.”
That’s exactly the problem for our leaders. Terrorism is hard to comprehend. The solutions are not all that evident. So far we’ve gotten nothing but saber rattling from those who don’t seem to realize that so far they don’t have any sabers that work.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.