Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Defining Question of 2015 (And Beyond)



Time Magazine released its Person of the Year Award for 2015 today. The winner is Angela Merkel, certainly for her controversial stewardship of the Greek bailout but even more so for her brave and welcoming stance to Syrian refugees. Perhaps even more notably were the two people who finished behind her: Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (the leader of ISIS), and Donald Trump (who has taken over the American news cycle in the latter half of 2015). Note: Time has always said it is judging importance not heroism. 

The question that links all three is simple: What do we do about terrorism?

Baghdadi's strategy is obviously to promote it and to encourage it. Trump wants to respond out of fear and hatred; close the borders and preach differences. Merkel hopes to meet the challenge with understanding and compassion. 

Here's to hoping Angela Merkel wins out.

Other related thoughts.

1. A number of liberals have argued that Donald Trump is Republican's comeuppance for promoting intolerance and preaching extremism since the Clinton era. I think there is some minimal truth to this. But the far right is doing well everywhere: France, the UK, and Sweden have all seen large surges for the far right. Hungary and Poland both have extremely conservative leaders. Trump certainly is his own animal, but I think he is pretty clearly a reflection of broader social trends. The far right has thrived on workers displaced by the financial crisis and globalization, as well as an increased fear of terrorism. This is all of the West, not Trump specific.

2. Generally, the Republican response to Trump's recent proposal has appropriately been condemnation. That said, there have been a number of dissenters.  Shame on them. 

3. 2016 is becoming a national security election. This is bad news for Bernie Sanders. But it's probably good for Democrats in the long run, because Hillary Clinton has a muscular foreign policy and is perceived as a no nonsense iron lady even by her opponents. You hear people say she's ruthless and unlikable, but certainly not that she's a pushover.  

4. I don't think being afraid of Islamic terrorism is a crazy thing, and liberals who make such claims are helping the far right just as Donald Trump and similar voices are strengthening ISIS's message of an Islamophobic West.

5. Destroying ISIS in Syria will make Westerners more safe in their home country. In a discussion with my friend today, he insisted taking on ISIS in the Middle East would have little impact. He viewed terrorism as a kind of whack-a-mole, if we eliminate them in one place they will just pop up in another. I think this is too defeatist for several reasons. First, ISIS's strength in Syria, Iraq, and Libya promotes their message: that the West cannot beat them and that they have established our own caliphate. People want to join ISIS in part because it seems like they are successfully standing up to the man. Second, a safe home base gives ISIS the power to plan attacks in safety. The longer they have a home base and financial control over resources, the more likely they will be able to obtain chemical weapons or worse. 


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