On Sunday, at the great Paris rally, the whole world was Charlie. By Tuesday, the veneer of solidarity was exposed as tissue thin. It began dissolving as soon as the real, remaining Charlie Hebdo put out its post-massacre issue featuring a Muhammad cover that, as the New York Times put it, "reignited the debate pitting free speech against religious sensitivities."
Again? Already? Had not 4 million marchers and 44 foreign leaders just turned out on the streets of France to declare "No" to intimidation, and pledging solidarity, indeed identification ("Je suis Charlie") with a satirical weekly specializing in the most outrageous and often tasteless portrayals of Muhammad? And yet, within 48 hours, the new Charlie Hebdo issue featuring the image of Muhammad albeit a sorrowful, indeed sympathetic Muhammad sparked new protests, denunciations and threats of violence, which in turn evinced another round of doubt and self-flagellation in the West about the propriety and limits of free expression. Hopeless.
As for President Obama, he never was Charlie, not even for those 48 hours. From the day of the massacre, he has been practically invisible. At the interstices of various political rallies, he issued bits of muted, mealy-mouthed boilerplate. Followed by the now-famous absence of any high-ranking U.S. official at the Paris rally, an abdication of moral and political leadership for which the White House has already admitted error.
But this was no mere error of judgment or optics or, most absurdly, of communications in which we are supposed to believe that the president was not informed by staff about the magnitude, both actual and symbolic, of the demonstration he ignored. (He needed to be told?)
On the contrary, the no-show, following the near silence, precisely reflected the president's profound ambivalence about the very idea of the war on terror. Obama began his administration by purging the phrase from the lexicon of official Washington. He has ever since shuttled between saying that (a) the war must end because of the damage "keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing" was doing to us, and (b) the war has already ended, as he suggested repeatedly during the 2012 campaign, with bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda "on the run."
Hence his call in a major address at the National Defense University to "refine and ultimately repeal" Congress' 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, the very legal basis for the war on terror. Hence hisaccelerating release of Gitmo inmates five more announced Wednesday fully knowing that up to 30 percent have returned to the battlefield (17 percent confirmed, up to 12 percent suspected but not verified). Which is why, since about the Neolithic era, POWs tend to be released after a war is over.
Paris shows that this war is not. On the contrary. As it rages, it is entering an ominous third phase.
The first, circa 9/11, involved sending Middle Eastern terrorists abroad to attack the infidel West.
Then came the lone wolf local individuals inspired by foreign jihadists launching one-off attacks, as seen most recently in Quebec, Ottawa and Sydney.
Paris marks Phase 3: coordinated commando strikes by homegrown native-speaking Islamists activated and instructed from abroad. (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo killings, while the kosher-grocery shooter proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State.) They develop and flourish in Europe's no-go zones where sharia reigns and legitimate state authorities dare not tread.
To call them lone wolves, as did our hapless attorney general, is to define jihadism down. It makes them the equivalent of the pitiable, mentally unstable Sydney hostage taker.
The Paris killers were well-trained, thoroughly radicalized, clear-eyed jihadist warriors. They cannot be dismissed as lone loons. Worse, they represent a growing generation of alienated European Muslims whose sheer number is approaching critical mass.
The war on terror 2015 is at a new phase with a new geography. At the core are parallel would-be caliphates: in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State; in Sub-Saharan Africa, now spilling out of Nigeria into Cameroon, a near-sovereign Boko Haram; in the badlands of Yemen, AQAP, the most dangerous of all al-Qaeda affiliates. And beyond lie not just a cast of mini-caliphates embedded in the most ungovernable parts of the Third World from Libya to Somalia to the borderlands of Pakistan, but an archipelago of no-go Islamist islands embedded in the heart of Europe.
This is serious. In both size and reach it is growing. Our president will not say it. Fine. But does he even see it?