In 2013 the state of Maryland enacted new gun legislation imposing sweeping restrictions on the types of guns that could be sold in Maryland and requiring significantly more onerous procedural steps be completed by individuals seeking to buy guns in the state legally. The legislation, which banned the sale of so-called assault rifles, limited the size of magazines in weapons and required gun safety training for gun purchasers, was trumpeted widely in progressive circles, and predictions were made routinely by supporters that gun violence in Maryland would plummet as a result.
Two years later gun violence has exploded. Baltimore, the largest city in Maryland, is awash in homicides. As of this writing, the city is closing in on 300 homicides for the year, and, accounting for the decline in the city's population in recent years, the actual rate at which people are being murdered is at historic highs.
One might expect, as a consequence, that supporters of the 2013 law might begin to reexamine some of their assumptions and their claims. They might, for instance, now be forced to admit that banning assault rifles, which are almost never actually used to commit murder, is not a very effective way to control gun violence. Or, perhaps, they might accept that additional bureaucratic burdens imposed on the legal sale of firearms do nothing to impact the black market trade in guns and that almost all of the weapons being used to commit crimes in Baltimore are procured illegally.
Instead, however, supporters of the 2013 bill have opted for a different tactic. They have simply stopped talking at all. The death rate mounts daily. A few days ago a community activist who dared to speak up against drug dealers in his neighborhood was killed execution style, and the coverage of the event was over almost before his body was taken to the morgue. To quote Al Gore, the truth it seems is inconvenient.
A few days ago our President declared with a straight face that ISIS was now contained, that his "strategy" was working and that we were on our way to victory. The words had hardly left his mouth before Islamic terrorists allied with ISIS began slaughtering people in cold blood in the streets of Paris. One might expect, in an environment of rational discourse, that the juxtaposition might prompt introspection and a reexamination of some basic assumptions. It has not. The White House has issued statements reaffirming our opposition to "terrorism" and our commitment to combating it. Beyond that there has simply been deafening silence.
The truth is once again inconvenient.
The truth is that ISIS is not contained. It is growing. It is spreading. It is moving into Afghanistan, Libya, Turkey, the Balkans, Lebanon and a host of nations in Western Europe. It is gaining power and influence.
We are not winning.
The truth is we are not at war with terrorism. George Bush's decision to cast this struggle in that light was one of the many errors of his Presidency, and this President's decision to maintain that fiction another major misstep. Terror is a tactic only.
We are at war with Islamic extremism. That does not mean we are at war with Islam. In fact, the people of the Islamic world are being victimized by groups like ISIS more than anyone else. We are, however, engaged in an ideological struggle. ISIS and its allies are motivated by an apocalyptic, expressly religious worldview, and their actions are driven by and determined by that worldview. Pretending that this is not so makes about as much sense as denying that we were at war with fascism in the Second World War.
The truth is that if we do not begin to act like we are at war the kinds of attacks that have occurred twice this year in Paris will soon play out in American cities. We will be hearing the sound of suicide bombs in our streets and watching our fellow Americans executed by jihadists in our theaters. We have, since 9/11, lived in fear of mass casualty attacks returning to American soil. That day may be fast approaching.
Attacks like those that recently occurred in Paris are not the work of lone wolves. They are not the work of an organization grasping at straws, preparing to breath its last and trying desperately to project an illusion of strength. Attacks like this are the result of months of preparation by a well financed, well organized, robust enemy. They are a sign of an enemy that is gaining strength and increasing in sophistication.
We are at war. We need to behave accordingly.
We need to begin by abandoning our ridiculous obsession with pretending the enemy is something other than what it is. We are at war with Islamic extremists seeking to destroy all moderate Islamic regimes and Western governments. Say so.
We need to crush the Islamic State, the source from which the contagion spreading around the world is coming. That means intensifying air strikes. That means significant numbers of intelligence officers and Special Forces personnel on the ground in Syria and Iraq working with friendly tribes and moderate rebel groups. That means robust support in terms of money and arms for those groups.
We need to abandon any fixation on ending our involvement in Afghanistan. The last thing we need at this point is to drive ISIS out of Syria and Iraq and allow them to build a new nest in South Asia. We don't need significant numbers of conventional forces in Afghanistan. We do need intelligence and special operations personnel there to work with indigenous forces and continue the fight against Islamic extremists and the Taliban. That need will persist for the foreseeable future.
We need to hunt ISIS and similar groups relentlessly wherever they seek to establish a presence. Our enemies should be allowed no rest, no space for reorganization or gathering strength.
We need to ensure that our intelligence collection, particularly our human intelligence collection, is as robust as possible both abroad and at home. Recent "surprises" like the Russian movement into Syria, which apparently caught us off guard suggest that we continue to struggle in this regard. We cannot afford to be surprised at home again.
We are at war. That truth, like all the others, may be inconvenient. That does not make it any less true.