It was a sheepish response to a mind-numbingly stupid headline:
We must stop killer trucks. We need sensible truck laws to get rid of assault trucks. https://t.co/5M8UbtQKSO
— Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) July 15, 2016
No, CBS News.* The truck didn’t attack anyone. The driver of the truck attacked. So why the idiotic headline? It could be that they lacked sufficient information to put out an informed story. It could be that trying to thread the needle of political correctness left the truck as the easiest target to blame. Every other description would offend someone, and it’s standard operating procedure these days to use the passive voice and euphemisms to describe events, so that no one is angered by accuracy. Think, “police involved shooting.”
And folks on the twitters immediately saw the irony.
People want so desperately to be safe that they throw everything else to the wind in an attempt to bubblewrap their world. The problem isn’t that it’s wrong to want to be safe, or to want your family to be safe, but that our focus is directed to the Menckian solutions. The truck attacked? We must eliminate trucks. Do it for the children.
Obviously, this isn’t going to happen. We need trucks, and there are no answers to be found by creating common sense truck laws to keep assault trucks out of the hands of terrorists. As snarky as this sounds, because this time it’s trucks, the same rhetoric, and same logic, has prevailed as to guns and airplanes. No, they are hardly the same, but the flow of reason is.
THURSDAY’S terror-by-truck attack in Nice, France, was shocking in its outcome — 84 people killed and hundreds injured — but not in its methods. Jihadis have long called on sympathizers to transform everyday vehicles into instruments of mass slaughter.
Six years ago, Al Qaeda’s English language magazine, Inspire — the publication that taught the Boston Marathon attackers how to manufacture pressure-cooker bombs — explicitly encouraged “lone wolves” to ram pedestrians with their cars. More recently, the Islamic State’s principal spokesman, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, has called for similar tactics. Over the past few years, vehicle attacks without the use of explosives have taken place from Israel to Canada.
But the sheer scale of the carnage in Nice represents a chilling new development, and one that prompts justified fears of copycat attacks — and raises questions about what, if anything, can be done. If something as ordinary as a truck can cause so much death, is there any real hope for stopping terrorism?
The problem isn’t trucks. Or airplanes. Or even guns. When the next attack happens with some new tool of terrorism, the problem won’t be that either. It will be blamed. It will be discussed ad nauseam, Gayle King will say something idiotic and Charlie Rose will cringe while pretending she has some business being on the CBS News other than to fill the demographic. But it’s all nonsense.
Soufan comes at this from a geopolitical perspective, going after the root sources of radicalism elsewhere. But he cautions still about the simplistic warmongering and political grandstanding.
Theoretically, the United States leads a coalition of 65 nations against the Islamic State. In reality, most of these countries do little besides talk tough. Even those that do contribute in a meaningful way — and that includes France — rarely go beyond airstrikes and the occasional special forces raid. Not only has this lackadaisical approach failed to defeat the Islamic State; its failure plays into the group’s claim to be invulnerable and chosen by God. The same goes for other extremist organizations that hold territory, like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the various groups vying with one another for control of coastal Libya.
What? You really believe there was a coalition of the virtuous?
At the same time, we must be careful not to fall into the common trap of believing that military force is sufficient. As President Obama memorably told cadets at West Point, having the world’s best hammer is no excuse for seeing every problem as a nail.
A good warning, generally. But then, what does Soufan propose?
As well as denying the Islamic State and others physical territory, we must also deny them the ability to reach the minds of potential recruits.
Wait, what? Silence the propaganda? Stop the voices that radicalize?
Life for millions of young men in the Islamic world — and in Muslim enclaves in the West — is characterized by chronic unemployment, abysmal educational opportunities, social dislocation and widespread governmental corruption or indifference. In its well-produced propaganda, the Islamic State promises the opposite: a life of camaraderie, consequence, adventure, spiritual fulfillment and a chance to create an Islamic utopia.
The why is a fairly easy question. I’ve read some of the propaganda, and Soufan is right, it’s pretty damn good stuff. For the disaffected, the believers, the weak-minded, it’s a compelling call to glory. It’s not a lot different than the propaganda being fed us on most subjects, bringing tears to our eyes, anger to our hearts, and moving us to seek spiritual fulfillment for whatever spirit moves us. It’s just that this propaganda is their propaganda, as opposed to the propaganda in which you believe so very much.
So is Soufan saying that silencing ideas that give rise to radicalism will cure the disease? Not entirely.
Instead, we must work with countries in the Middle East and beyond to end the societal conditions that foster extremism. Again, we’ve long talked a good game under the banner of “democracy promotion” and other buzzwords, but we haven’t really committed ourselves. We must press hard for an end to repression and corruption, and thus make clear that jihadis do not enjoy a monopoly on rejecting failed policies.
It’s a little unclear how we’re to accomplish this. If people in Detroit can’t get jobs, should we be spending our capital on bringing jobs to Syria? And how do we “work with countries in the Middle East” who will be happy to take our foreign aid and less happy to become America lite?
And the irony is that this won’t stop the next attack anyway.
None of this will prevent the next attack, and more innocents are likely to lose their lives before the Islamic State and Al Qaeda are finally defeated. But that day will never come unless we refocus our efforts on doing what really matters.
Refocusing our efforts on doing what really matters is a great idea. Figuring out “what really matters” is the problem. Living with the reality that someone willing to give up their life to kill others isn’t easily stopped, whether they accomplish their goal by airplane, gun, truck or bomb. But the first step in figuring out “what really matters” is to not refocus on things that do not really matter. We can’t seem to get past that step. This doesn’t bode well for us.
*As pointed out to me, this wasn’t CBS News, but CBC (the Canadian news agency, eh?). I’m so American. Sorry. H/T Chris Rooney