Paris. Je t’adore. I love Paris.
When the news broke I was lost. Lost in this crazy lost world. A world that has lost its friggin’ mind. Paris? Seriously? Even the stoner guy checking me out at the QFC, the one who was unable to follow directions to find a restaurant a block away when I tried to tell him about it once, even he said, “Paris? Dude! What did they do? I mean, I thought they were pretty chill.”
This guy’s view of world affairs may be a bit misinformed (since France has been involved in fighting in the Middle East and North Africa forever) but he was right. Paris is about life, not death.
Last year this time we were there, on a mission to support our wonderful French friend M who had suffered a stroke. We spent several weeks hanging out with her and her husband JL. It was one of the most positive experiences of our lives, immersing ourselves in France and all things French for a bit, falling in love all over the place. With the food, the beautiful buildings, the laid back pace of life. But above all, with the people. The ones that so many Americans have so much trouble understanding. With their strong sense of who they are in the world, boasting about their great chefs and rich culture, thinking they are superior to everyone else. But who can blame them? The food really does taste better there, no lie. But too many Americans just don’t understand them.
The thing that always strikes me about this France/U.S. disconnect is that it is so wrong. The reason that the disconnect is wrong is that the French love us. They really do. Americans need to understand that.
What has always been the symbol of everything we stand for as a nation? The White House? Non. The Empire State Building? Not really. The Grand Canyon? Sort of, but not quite. No, the ultimate symbol of everything that has made us great is the Statue of Liberty, the one most of our ancestors sailed by on their way to Ellis Island, the one that represents the freedom and opportunity of our great nation. And, like all that fantastic food, who made that perfect symbol? The French, of course. They gave us the statue that became the ultimate symbol for our country.
When we were visiting our friends last year we were walking along the Promenade des Anglais one fine afternoon in Nice, relishing the fresh salt air, basking in the Sunny-South-of-France sun, taking our time to stroll along, not a care in the world.
Being in France, in other words.
Suddenly there it was: right there on the sidewalk in the middle of this perfect slice of paradise: a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty. Why? It had been placed there by the Mayor of Nice to commemorate the long-standing friendship between our two countries, because they wanted to remember the bond our countries have had since the beginning. You see, this goes way deeper than the Statue of Liberty.
The United States was created when the French came to our rescue, much as we came to theirs in WWI and WWII, helping us topple the Brits and set up a model government that became the envy of the world. At least the good world.
And now the bad world is leaving its calling card in the middle of the City of Light. Forcing them (or at least trying) to turn their lights out. After the attacks one of the first things the authorities did was to turn the lights off at Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. How ironic – success, of sorts, for the ISIS bad guys.
But only for a second. It won’t last. Their days are hopefully numbered.
But France and the French? Non. They are so much more like us than most people know. What did the crowd do as they left the bombed stadium? Sing La Marseillaise, their national anthem.
I wrote that a while ago, two days after the ISIS attacks.
As I did, our French friends were literally five miles up in the air speeding their way towards Seattle, straight from Paris. They had been trapped in their apartment, just blocks from the Scene of the Slaughter, two days before. Coincidentally they had been scheduled for months to board a plane and fly to Seattle on November 15th.
Fortunately, they made it here safe and sound, and the time since has been spent catching up with lots of conversation and good food and wine and late night discussions about everything from ISIS to Foie Gras. And, best of all, we were able to share our Thanksgiving with them, complete with green bean casserole and marshmallows on our sweet potatoes (which they found a bit bizarre…)
Last night five of us (which included our French Canadian friend JG) sat around the table arguing about the Middle East. Once ex-pats all, between us we have lived in the U.S., Canada, Japan, England, Saipan, Greece, Malawi, Viet Nam, Komoro, Morocco, Trinidad, Algeria and Qatar. Can you say world travellers? Plus, although they are as French as apple tarte, JL was born to French parents in Morocco and M was born in Algeria, also to French citizens. Plus, JL has written a book on Qatar. So, as you can imagine, the opinions were strong and well informed.
JL’s thesis for the evening was that the EU needs to create a universal Immigration Enforcement System, with officers moving freely between countries, heavily trained and able to confront the enormous problems facing them caused by immigrants streaming in through soft borders like Greece. JG disagreed, pointing out, probably correctly, that the French and English and Germans would never be content to delegate that authority to foreigners.
I found myself reflecting on our own Federal Law Enforcement System, despite all of its flaws (which I never hesitate to point out here). We are truly fortunate to have the capacity to coordinate our efforts across enormous geographic areas, with agents from Florida to Alaska, Hawaii to Maine, all trained in a universal program, with the ability to bring the same diligence to bear across the length and breadth of our country, speaking the same language, sharing the same cultural heritage (more or less) and able to focus our efforts efficiently and productively.
Not so Europe, where a hodgepodge of competing interests and political agendas have led to an inefficient and ineffective system to protect the common borders of the EU countries. Hence the steady stream of terrorists into countries like Belgium and Germany, fresh from the battlefields of Syria.
Which got me thinking: ISIS is the most serious threat the World has faced since Hitler. Period. Like Hitler, they imagine a world dominated by their totalitarian control, with absolute power in their hands, free to bring down their reign of terror at will on the unwilling. Make no mistake. It’s what they are all about.
That is not to say that I don’t have the audacity to try to understand their position. Like the great man said, “Know the enemy”. I like to think that I understand why they are doing what they are doing. It’s not brain surgery; they blast their reasoning all over the Internet. They feel that America and “The West” have invaded their countries and brought war and mayhem to destroy their way of life.
If you think about it, they have a point. But, so what? That does not make it OK to blow people up in concert halls and sidewalk cafes in Paris. Or Beirut. Or Mali.
So, we have to stop them. But how?
My proposal would be to begin developing a total global approach to terrorism, with the U.S. taking the lead, of course (as always) but with complete involvement and cooperation from the countries that are at risk of attack.
I’m talking about a strong, competent, well-trained police force of professionals, dedicated to finding and catching the criminals who are committing these murders. Military and Espionage agencies are just not trained properly and bring too much pre-existing baggage to the equation.
Although, above all, we need to beef up the undercover work in the Middle East. Significantly. Some skilled UC operatives are clearly in order there. Bombing them into oblivion just isn’t going to do the trick. They will simply rise up from the ashes like noxious weeds. It’s literally giving them what they want: Armageddon.
My buddy from Stanford Law, Ron Noble, ran a little agency for several years called Interpol, until he recently retired from his job as Secretary General. That is not the type of program I am suggesting, but it is a start. Building on Ron’s work we need to ramp up the investigation and enforcement of international criminal laws, bringing our shared perspectives on criminal law into the game, working together to fight this menace.
And quickly. In case you haven’t noticed, the map showing ISIS controlled territories is expanding faster than a rampant forest fire. The time to act is now.
So, if the candidates running for President could get a clue and quit talking about hair-dos and who is uglier and which church people go to for a second, it might be nice if they gave some thought to an actual real problem for a change, and see if they can come up with some concrete solutions. If they did, we could be leading the way towards eradicating the murder and mayhem that is increasing in every corner of the world exponentially.
Until they do, we will be at the mercy of a seriously disjointed and ineffective and basically non-existent response to ISIS. Which I for one, don’t appreciate. It is time to put on our thinking caps, join hands with our friends across the globe, and make a move.
The time to act is long overdue. We can’t wait any longer. ISIS is coming soon to a ballpark or theater near you, like it or not. Rather than get used to it, let’s get rid of it. And once we do, perhaps then we can see what can be done about correcting the mistakes we have made in the past that have led to this insanity. It’s our only choice.
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