The terrorist explosion in Brussels only underscored the obvious failures in the West to comprehend and address the seriousness of the threat being posed by radical Islamists and others to normal civil existence. As the shock and grief wears off the issue becomes what to do about preventing future events like Paris and Brussel from being followed next by Amsterdam or Rome or Madrid or wherever. It is fairly evident from the apparent lapses of Belgian authorities in the run-up to the bombing, that terrorist have abundant targets left and are facing inadequate, uncoordinated defenses.
Curiously, all of Europe is waiting for the decision of the British referendum in June as to whether Great Britain will or will not remain in the EU. For this matter there is enormous energy and concern because this vote could well affect economies throughout the continent. For the problem of combating terrorism it seems that petty and nationalist pride are disabling those who recognize the danger of the widespread terrorist plague. This threat can and will only be stopped when the entire effort proceeds with a full scale, European-wide effort at sharing of intelligence and joint police/military action. It seems the focus on Brexit—Britain living—is more compelling than terrorism.
The Kean Commission, created after 9/11, exposed very serious gaps, institutional pride, and rivalries within the American intelligence community. Some, but not all, of the problems have been corrected through statutory changes and executive orders. Others remain and require additional initiatives to adapt historical, institutional mindsets; but today there is at least an awareness in the intelligence and anti-terrorism community that these battles must be engaged with a united front. Transcending national historical boundaries in Europe is much more difficult given their history than dealing with institutional battles among U.S. Governmental agencies and departments.
There is another issue concerning how to respond to terrorist attacks which also reared itself this week. It is the general consensus that political leaders and Government must activate as soon as possible a move to return a society to normal practices following a terrorist incident. Schools, mass transportation, government offices, etc. need to be back to business as soon as possible, albeit with heightened security, in order to deny terrorists the reward that their violence successfully disrupted the life of a civilized society.
There is also another dimension to the West’s response; a strong sense of renewed purpose to fight the scourge of terrorism. One had a sense that Obama did not give the Brussels bombing a proper sense of gravitas in the same way that he had also not gone to Paris, like other heads of state, to show solidarity, unity, and determination with the people of France during their time of grief. The President can attend a baseball game in Havana—because the Cuba trip was a major foreign policy breakthrough—and he can be pictured dancing the samba in Argentina, but given America’s investment in fighting ISIS, it appeared to the public that he gave the terrorist attack rather short shrift.