Je suis San Bernardino

Investigations into yesterday’s mass killings in San Bernardino continue, but based on the publicly available evidence so far, we can confidently draw two conclusions:

  1. Terror is waging war on us, and will win if we don’t fight back effectively.
  2. We need better gun laws to stem the tide of shooting deaths.

These propositions held true even before Wednesday’s horrific massacre of caregivers at a service center for the developmentally disabled.

They are doubly true now.

I. The War on Terror never stopped

The War on Terror is ongoing, whether you like it or not. Many Americans reject the very concept as irredeemably tainted by its association with the foreign policy failures of George Bush the Younger.

But that doesn’t change the reality of the situation: Even if we don’t want to be at war with terror, terror is nevertheless at war with us, and it will defeat us unless we respond intelligently and decisively.

With strong public support, President Obama drew down our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, our military de-escalation did not inspire Islamic extremists to call off their jihad against the West.

In fact, our withdrawals left power vacuums in both places. ISIL and the Taliban moved swiftly to fill them and build bases of operations from which to attack their enemies, including us.

Somehow — despite the long shadow of 9/11 and the recent horrors in Paris and Mali — some Americans still seem shocked that extremist fanatics can strike here in the US.

There have been some steps in the right direction, but not enough of them.

Two weeks ago, the UN Security Council unanimously authorized the use of force against ISIL. However, the body failed to invoke chapter nine of the United Nations Charter, which would have prompted the mobilization of a coordinated police action like the Korean War or the first Gulf War.

Obama’s decision earlier this week to send special forces to assist the fight against ISIL represented progress.

However, it is delusional to imagine that we can eliminate this menace without ground troops. It is cowardly and a dereliction of leadership to suggest that other countries should risk their infantrymen while we engage only with drones, planes and a few special forces.

At minimum, all NATO countries should contribute forces; ISIL has already attacked at least two member states (France and Turkey), so the collective security provisions of the treaty apply.

Moreover, if Obama were willing, he would be as capable as Bush the Elder of assembling an even broader multinational coalition, like the one that liberated Kuwait in 1991.

Those forces need to be committed to a prolonged occupation.

World War II was the last time the US and the world faced down evil of this depth. We finished the job then by keeping Allied troops in Japan and Germany for several decades after the war to help rebuild both countries and ensure their development into peaceful and productive societies.

Appropriately, few people at the time fretted about the potential cultural insensitivity of reprogramming the Germans and the Japanese. Both countries had spawned killaholic cultures, and for the sake of world peace, we set them straight.

Even if it meant revising their religious beliefs.

This was not as necessary in Germany. Nazi ideology was generally anti-Christian, so Lutherans and Catholics were pretty relieved to put Hitler and his occultist mumbo-jumbo behind them.

In Japan, however, the US stripped Shinto — the state religion — of its militaristic and nationalist trappings to ensure that the Japanese would no longer practice a religion apt to cause future wars. And it worked.

The present threat demands the same level of determination and commitment from us and from our allies.

II. Sensible gun control is long overdue

I pretty much lost all hope on this issue when a madman shot 20 six-year-old kids and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and our country did nothing useful about it.

Thoughts and prayers are not enough when overwhelming majorities supporting sensible reform get blocked by a handful of gun nuts.

We can complain about gutless politicians and powerful lobbies all we want, but nothing will change until we act.

Act by voting against every politician who cowers, grovels and takes money from the National Rifle Association.

Act by quitting the NRA, if you’re a member.

Act by voting for leaders who support treating guns at least as rigorously as cars:

If you own guns, you should need to register them, pay annual taxes for the privilege, buy liability insurance and get a license to use them, which would entail rigorous mental health screenings, safety courses and written and practical tests. And you would need that license before you buy a gun, ammunition or other firearm accessories.

No automatic weapons. No semiautomatic weapons that can be converted to automatic weapons with a kit. No cop-killer bullets.

Draconian financial penalties for nonviolent scofflaws. Long prison sentences for anyone convicted of gun violence.