Opinion writer

France, as its Prime Minister Manuel Valls aptly put it, is at “war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islamism, against everything that is intended to break fraternity, liberty, solidarity.” Unfortunately, it is not clear everyone has gotten the message.


Thousands gather at Republique square in Paris on Sunday. (Peter Dejong/Associated Press)

In an appalling display of the criminal justice mindset that still dominates President Obama’s worldview, he sent already-resigned but not-yet-replaced Attorney General Eric Holder to France (who didn’t even bother to attend the public gathering). Upward of a million turned out in Paris and demonstrations sprang up around the country in displays of national solidarity. England sent Prime Minister David Cameron and Germany sent Chancellor Angela Merkel. Israel sent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even the Palestinian Authority (disingenuously, perhaps, but then hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, right?) sent its president, Mahmoud Abbas. The U.S. sent Holder. Like Inspector Clouseau, he was on the case (!) — as if there is a discrete homicide at issue here — but couldn’t find his way to the mass demonstration. (Our ambassador to France attended, it is reported.)

Let’s consider what occurred. A NATO ally was attacked. “In Article 5 the NATO nations ‘agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all,'” John Yoo explains. “It should not matter that the attacks came at the hands of a terrorist groups, rather than a state. We considered Article 5 triggered by the September 11 attacks and our European allies ultimately assisted us in our campaign in Afghanistan. France could ask other NATO countries for assistance to seek out and destroy al Qaeda in Yemen and other countries to prevent future attacks.” But, of course, France is unlikely to do that. (Benjamin Wittes, an expert on the law of war, dryly notes, “This would conflict with the whole European way of seeing terrorism.”)

The blitz on France should remind us, however, that this is precisely how we began in 2001 when the U.S. president, not so long ago, understood war had been launched against the United States. Article 5 of NATO was invoked after Sept. 11, 2001, setting the framework for European participation in the Afghanistan war. The French attacks should halt the rush to repeal the authorization for use of military force, although it should be updated and expanded to cover additional groups. Yoo argues that “the Paris attacks show, once again, how foolish the Obama administration — and others like Senator Rand Paul — have been in the last year in toying with the idea of supporting repeal and replacement of the AUMF.” He adds, “The rise of ISIS and the Paris attacks demonstrate that the U.S. should be redoubling, rather than retreating, in our fight against al Qaeda and other extremist Islamic groups.”

In a sense, that war — the war Valls recognized — against al-Qaeda but also jihadism — continues to this day, making a mockery of the idea that Obama “ended” wars. It is revealing that recently the administration was considering repealing the AUMF against al-Qaeda because, after all, we were winding down operations in Afghanistan. For six years, the administration has evidenced a complete misunderstanding of the enemy we are facing. Having no high-level representative at the unity march was the perfect exclamation point on the administration’s policy of self-delusion and exemplified Obama’s retreat from the world. We are not leading; we are not even following.

One would hope that the latest incident puts the brakes on efforts to tie the National Security Agency’s surveillance program in knots. Had Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) gotten their way, the NSA would already be operating under a bevy of restrictions. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (Tenn.) remarked last week, “Hopefully people realize that the NSA plays a very, very important role in keeping Americans safe, and my guess there will be less of a desire to hamstring them unnecessarily.”

It might also be a good time to drag Silicon Valley moguls up to the Hill to see why they insist on selling phones that lock out law enforcement and give a virtual cone of silence to terrorist plotters. We might hope the president’s zeal for releasing Gitmo detainees would slow and his sense of urgency about moving forcefully against the Islamic State would intensify, but maybe that is too much to expect.

Consider the girlfriend of one of the terrorists, Hayat Boumeddiene, who purportedly may have made her way to Syria (where we have done little to oust Bashar al-Assad and sat idly by as jihadists rushed in). If the suspect wanted in connection with these terrorist attacks were a U.S. national, as a former State Department official reminds us, we would Mirandize her if she were captured. If she refused to talk, we would have to cease questioning her. Even if she talked, we would be restricted to the U.S. Field Manual to question her, even if we believed she had crucial information about future plots. If we couldn’t capture her or if the administration preferred not get into all those troublesome questions about interrogation and detention, perhaps the president would order a drone strike, which, if carried out at a cafe, Rand Paul would denounce as a violation of her constitutional rights. Yes, that is how absurd and dangerous our approach to fighting back in a war against Western civilization has become.

As for Europe, the test will come when the Sunday marchers go home. France has been on the front lines against al-Qaeda in Mali, but will it redouble and join efforts — and will the rest of Europe lend a hand — in defeating the Islamic State? Will Europeans drop counterproductive stunts aimed to delegitimize Israel (through the ICC or through the BDS movement) and focus on the shared enemy of the West, Islamic extremists? Will it insist the U.S. not give away the store to Iran, whose acquisition of a nuclear capability would bring us one step closer to the time when jihadists won’t be using guns in grocery stores but dirty bombs and nukes to take out cities?

Valls gets it. Netanyahu gets it. When will the president and American neo-isolationists on the right and left? Never, I would suggest, which is why we need to replace them with capable leaders.

UPDATE: The first potential 2016 contender to weigh in is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who sends this to Right Turn: “This is simply no way to treat our oldest and first ally. President Obama should have stood with France in person, defending Western values in the struggle against terrorism and showing support for the victims of this despicable act of terror. Skipping this rally will be remembered as a new low in American diplomacy.” Other potential 2016 contenders will now scramble to catch up to Perry, no doubt.