Ayoub El-Khazzani, aged 25, failed to reach the trigger of his Kalashnikov aboard a train passing through Belgium en route to Paris last month, which enabled three Americans and a Briton to stop the radical Islamist from killing any of the train’s nearly 500 passengers. When the four were awarded the Legion d’Honneur in Paris, it had been nine months since the gruesome Charlie Hebdo killings in that city.
The Americans remember 9/11; we remember Madrid (2004), London (2005), Paris (2015), and many other outrages, and we were relieved not to have to add the high-speed Thalys train to the list. Innocents have met a violent death at the hands of a few fanatics, thousands have been maimed. Europeans have been feeling under siege even before the new waves of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea began reaching us; the possibility of ISIS fighters being smuggled in among them has added to the sense of crisis.
Our Ruling class is at odds about how to respond to the Middle East warring factions’ threats and blandishments because it has forgotten US foreign policy’s basic principle – we are on America’s side – and never learned what justifies departure from that principle, namely war.
John Quincy Adams best stated the principle. America, he said, “is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.” When foreigners war amongst themselves, we Americans must take neither side. If and when we do, we make their wars our own. Then we must deal with the consequences according to the logic of war.
The Egyptian people’s rejoicing over the armed forces’ overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s looming dictatorship was mixed with…anger at the American people – anger sure to trouble our relations with the Muslim world’s vital center; trouble which our foreign policy establishment richly earned by playing sorcerers’ apprentices in Egyptian politics. This meddling is neither new nor confined to Egypt. Breaking this half-century old destructive habit is essential to restoring our peaceful relations with the rest of mankind.