Speaking to a nation grief stricken after the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, President George W. Bush declared that “our war on terror … will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” Now, 14 years later, France has been shaken by an all too familiar horror, and President Francois Hollande has similarly vowed to be “unforgiving with the barbarians (with) all the necessary means, and on all terrains, inside and outside.”
The parallels in these responses should simultaneously reassure and give us pause. Absolute condemnation is the only possible reaction to these abominable attacks by those who embrace the universal values of life and liberty. But faced once again with innocent lives taken by a murderous, radical foe, we must re-examine and re-energize our response.
No longer are we unprepared or unaware — as we were on the morning of 9/11. Yet terrorism continues to plague us. The Islamic State terrorist group’s combination of territory, resources and global appeal makes it more dangerous than previously acknowledged and more of a threat than al-Qaeda.
We must gird ourselves for the possibility of more attacks. We have been largely successful in protecting our homeland, and those efforts should be intensified. This means increasing surveillance, sharpening intelligence, cutting off illicit financial flows and enhancing intelligence sharing with our allies. And we must marshal a “coalition of the willing” to take the military fight to the enemy with a much more robust effort to deny ISIL a haven in Syria and Iraq, and lead a diplomatic offensive to bring an end to the Syrian civil war.
But we must also reflect on why — after a decade and a half — the threat of Islamist terrorism remains not just undiminished but enhanced.