– Larry Edwards
Friday the thirteenth was indeed tragic for several hundred people living in Paris. While what follows is not perhaps the uplifting message typically found in this column, I feel burdened to share some thoughts on the most recent, but sadly not the most outrageous act of terrorism.
Almost all of us can tell you exactly where we were and what we were doing on the morning of April 19, 1995; as many, or even more, can tell you exactly the same things about the morning of September 11, 2001. While the attacks in Paris may have less immediate impact on Oklahoma, the horror is just as real.
The jihadists promise more attacks on the “crusader” nations, especially warning the U.S. We should take them at their word and act accordingly. But, that’s the problem. What should we do? What is the appropriate action?
Maybe a few American briefly entertained the idea of “nuking” parts of the Middle East until nothing is left but sand and glass. While perhaps emotionally satisfying, such an act is itself horrible.
Neither can we pretend it won’t happen here (again). Of course we will ramp up security. Of course we will redouble our intelligence efforts. The problem with security is that there are too many “soft” targets, such as colleges, malls, movie theaters, etc. The problem with intelligence is that there is simply too much information out there to know exactly which intelligence is “actionable.” And there is a further complication, time. As time passes without an attack it is inevitable that we will lower our guard somewhat.
Humans, and societies, simply cannot stay on high alert indefinitely.
Again, what should we do? Surprisingly, the answer is fairly simple. Human beings, economists tell us, respond to incentives. It is our job, and that of the western democracies, to create incentives for individuals and groups to abandon terrorism and to create disincentives for those who persist in pursuing terrorism.
Those disincentives include a persistent and worldwide effort to destroy any individuals and groups that will not end their terrorist activities. To be successful, this effort must be thorough, unrelenting, and carried out with grim determination.
Less obvious, but perhaps no less important, are the incentives that can help people turn away from terrorism. The Middle East has a population that is typically young, poor and politically impotent. We need to assist and encourage the development of democratic movements and governments. We need to see the Middle East less as a source of a cheap commodity (oil) and more as a place we need to help by growing and diversifying its economy. A young man with a job and a voice is not likely to turn jihadist.
Likely there will be setbacks, perhaps terrible setbacks, but all we really can do is “Keep Calm and Carry On.”