Paris, Fear, and Repetition

by , November 20, 2015

The strange contradiction about America’s staunchest defenders is that they so often seem perfectly willing to sacrifice the country’s best ideals in order to enhance their own safety. And they’re not really doing so particularly. Human beings ignore the banal ways they might leave this mortal coil – home accidents, car accidents, heart disease – and instead fixate on plane crashes and terrorist attacks like last week’s horror in Paris.

Never mind the refugee crisis for the moment. Most readers will know I am for open borders. Let us at least say that what cannot be condoned is what the US makes policy – wrecking countries, and then leaving the desperate end result to fend for themselves. We can argue in the comments about this more, if anyone cares to.

The refugee crisis was already full blown by the time a small band of terrorists used suicide vests and AK-47s to kill more than 120 people who were happily enjoying a night in Paris. But Paris is big, because for all sorts of reasons connected to media and to myopia and perhaps to racism, the West cares a lot more about the dead Westerners than it does the victims of its wars, or the civil wars caused by its interventions.

It is infuriating to not be able to just feel bad for victims of horrible violence, but to instantly fear what the US and the West will do in response. But that is my first reaction now. September 11 was half my life ago. I know what it means for the world and for the US when terrorists succeed in killing more than one or two Westerners. It means panic. It means fear mongering. It means a sense of satisfaction among the hawks and the Snowden-haters and those knew all along that we weren’t safe, that nobody was safe. It means encryption is evil and must be stopped for safety, and that more bombs are coming, and more terrorists will be born out of this new “merciless” fight.

And we have to be safe, you see. Which is why politicians and pundits are now rising to the occasion to make sure we are good and terrified of dying by the hands of terrorists, no matter how unlikely that contingency remains.

Make no mistake, ISIS is a scary bunch of people. There is no need to deny this fact. The really frightening thing is that even for someone like me, who thinks they know better, it can be hard to remember the cloudiness of 9/11 and to realize that this kind of panic has happened before. We had USA PATRIOT, we had two ground wars, we had a decade of murderous choices that lead to the existence of ISIS. But when a bunch of people in a city we’ve all heard of get killed, the fear says “do something – do anything to prevent this from happening again.”

Maybe we can shut down mosques, which presidential candidate Donald Trump will not take off the table. Pundit Sean Hannity seems to agree that no cost is too high to protect a single American life from potential terrorists. A few comments and a relatively early dislike of the Iraq war has made a few people cling to Trump as the candidate most likely to stay home from war. And he does continue to harp on the issue, even in a Thursday tweet where he mocked writer George Will for being a big pusher of the war.

However, as I have said in the space previously, the point is not who can be against the last Iraq war. Who is going to be against the next one? Who can actually learn from the mistakes of the past and stop making new terrorists and leaving more casualties?

The man who casually suggests mass deportations and violating religious freedom does not seem to be the antiwar candidate we’ve waited for. Neither, naturally, is former Gov. Jeb Bush who hilariously danced around the issue of a power vacuum that ISIS filed, without mentioning his brother’s part in that disaster. Hillary Clinton is a confirmed hawk, and Libya is on her head. Ben Carson, strangely, was against both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and even professes to distrust the National Security Agency, yet his fear of immigrants and Muslims has lead to him hinting that he would be willing to violate their civil rights.

Meanwhile Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Bernie Sanders are our mixed defenders of freedom at home and not killing everyone abroad. But neither of them is really willing to go radical enough. And it’s hard to blame them when we know the chances of anyone beyond the status quo being elected to the highest office in the land.

A media friend recently suggested it would be Marco Rubio vs. Hillary Clinton in 2016. That sounds about right. You don’t have the Bush stain then, but you can still be assured that W.’s mistakes will continue radiating across the globe. Lip service to the mistakes of the past decade are not going to change anything. You have to learn something. And based on the paranoia and war drums in response to Paris, that’s the one thing America and the West hasn’t done.

The most perfectly American response to the attacks came from Sen. Ted Cruz. He must be quoted in full: “[Radical Islam] will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties, when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life.” What a phenomenal example of the double think of American foreign policy. Nobody could accuse ISIS of being defenders of human life. Somehow this means America and its allies must be just as savage because no body count can be high enough to knock them off of their pedestal.

Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for and a columnist for She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs at

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