What can we learn from this? A few random thoughts:
First of all, if the claims of responsibility bear out, then we have to accept that ISIS is, contrary to Barack Obama’s claims on Friday morning, nowhere near contained. This group managed to get eight operatives into Paris to conduct an attack on par with the one in Mumbai almost seven years ago, and that attack took place a day after a significant attack in Beirut. Can anyone seriously believe that this is the only cell that ISIS has planted?
Second, when seconds matter, police will take minutes to arrive. According to reports, four of the attackers in the Bataclan Theater, where an American band was performing, spent at least twenty minutes firing into the hostages before French cops stormed the building. The good news is that in the United States, most states have passed “shall-issue” or “constitutional carry” laws. As an Uber driver in Chicago, an off-duty security guard in Clackamas, a doctor in Philadelphia, and a former police officer in Colorado Springs, among others, have proven, an armed citizen can mitigate, if not stop a mass shooting. We can also note, for the record, that France’s gun laws, which make New Jersey’s look tame, did not prevent the terrorists from getting full-auto Kalashnikov assault rifles, not to mention suicide vests.
Third, the post-9/11 security measures that have been lost must be re-built, and the dismantlement of those that remain must be stopped. Short version: The CIA program so badly mischaracterized by the Feinstein report and the media must come back, and Gitmo must remain open. And while killing the bad guys can be satisfying, we need to know what those sickos are planning – that means capturing them, getting them to talk, and then keeping them on ice somewhere, preferably where Amnesty International or similar groups can’t find them.
Fourth, we need to stop half-assing the fight against ISIS. This group is a serious threat requiring a serious response, not the pinprick air strikes and occasional commando raids we see now. That means we need boots on the ground in Iraq, the boots that Barack Obama recklessly withdrew at the end of 2011, and they will need sufficient air support as well. And when this fight is done, they need to stay to win the peace that follows. This will be a long-term commitment – think about how long American troops remained after the Korean War. To support this fight, there needs to be another buildup of the American military – one preferable back to the force levels built up under President Reagan.
This is not going to be an easy task. ISIS has proven that they are very capable planners, they have managed to entrench themselves in parts of Iraq and Syria, and they may already have cells in the United States. But if the United States doesn’t act now, we will see more attacks in the future – and they could make Friday’s attack in Paris look tame by comparison.