Antiterrorism After Obama

By Daniel Henninger

Wall Street Journal

March 23, 2016


It is true that the Brussels bombings raise questions about whether Donald Trump, John Kasich, Ted Cruz or yes, Hillary Clinton, would best be able to lead the world against Islamic terror. But the effect of the bombing on the presidential race has no meaning without first addressing our man in Havana and America’s twice-elected president, Barack Obama.

Unless the campus left succeeds in its effort to tell its professors what they are allowed to think, future historians will have to account for the rise of Islamic State—in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino and its future bomb sites—during the years Barack Obama held office. Either there is some connection, or it has been mere coincidence.

The U.S. is in a tumultuous political moment, and it is important to understand Mr. Obama’s role. The tendency in our hyper-personalized politics is to attribute policy to the idiosyncrasies of one person, in this case “Obama.”

Mr. Obama, for all his self-referencing, is an important transitional figure in the Democratic Party. He represents an unmistakable departure from the robust internationalism of FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and Bill Clinton. Obama Democrats are the New Left progressives who challenged their party’s establishment in the streets of Chicago in 1968, the most pivotal year in the modern history of the Democratic Party.

Notice that Mr. Obama said in Cuba, “I have come to bury the last remnant of the Cold War.” Across the 40 years of the Cold War, which the American left dismissed as “wasteful military spending,” the holder of the office Mr. Obama occupies now was called “the leader of the free world.” As he departs office, President Obama is the leader of . . . what?

Whatever one’s view of the Cold War between the West and Soviet Communism, the world was united then in containing and defeating an ideology whose publicly stated goal was to displace the liberal values of the democracies.

That unity was a “remnant” worth preserving. Instead, the world today is disunited in its opposition to the ideology of radicalized Islam.

In terms of finally understanding how the Obama presidency gave up America’s traditional world role, what will sit in memory is the news photograph of Mr. Obama attending a wreath-laying ceremony at the Jose Marti monument in Revolution Square, with the iconic picture of Che Guevara looming on a wall behind him.

It is not that Che Guevara was a stone killer, as Alvaro Vargas Llosa was quoted on these pages this week. It is the idea, kept afloat by the international left for nearly 50 years after his death, that “Che” was a romantic revolutionary figure.

Mr. Obama is a product of the American left’s revisionist interpretation of revolutionary movements as ultimately benign and rational. The Obama foreign policy has been about reasoning with revolutions.

Operating out of the new Democratic Party’s anti-Cold-War model, the Obama presidency has extended the hand of mutual understanding (a doubter would call it accommodation) to a succession of revolutionary leaders: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syria’s Bashar Assad, and the Castros, who now seem to arrest and beat up dissidents out of reflexive habit.

The now-manifest, deadly flaw in the progressive Obama foreign policy is that uncontained revolutionary ideologies today are nearly always centrifugal, overrunning national borders—Islamic State into Europe, Iran across the whole of the Middle East, Putinized Russia into Ukraine and Syria. China’s presumably civilized Communist revolution is spreading across Hong Kong into the South China Sea.

The Brussels bombing surfaced two worldviews in its bloody wake, Mr. Obama’s and that of Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. Mr. Obama said he never considered canceling his attendance at the baseball game in Havana, because as the AP reported, it is Mr. Obama’s view that as long as people refuse to disrupt their lives because of terrorism, “we’re going to be OK.”

Describing the attacks in Brussels as “the most brutal barbarity,” Mr. Michel said: “We are confronted with enemies who want to fight against our freedoms. We have to act to protect our way of life.”

After Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels and the rest of Islamic State’s daily slaughter routine, the moment has arrived to bring back the Cold War. The alternative view held then by national leaders was that large revolutionary movements can be inherently violent, implacable and unappeasable. And that a civilized world order survives by containing or defeating them.

In the past, Europe argued it was exhausted by two world wars and found solace in a welfare system that goes by this bitterly ironic description: cradle to grave. Digging too many graves again, leaders in Europe and elsewhere look willing to follow America’s lead. But will they?

Imagine Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich or Hillary Clinton persuading these national leaders to follow the U.S.’s lead. Which one of these four are they likely to believe and follow? This is one vote the U.S. electorate had better get right.