Franklin D. Roosevelt told a frightened nation on the eve of World War II that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," and it was a message everyone understood. Fear paralyzes even the strong. The United States had a war to win, and paralysis doesn't win wars.
Now we are engaged in another great struggle,(to steal language from another wartime president), testing whether this nation, or any nation conceived and dedicated to liberty and freedom as this one is, can survive and endure. Barack Obama, alas, is neither a FDR nor an Abraham Lincoln.
Mr. Obama is mortally afraid of offending Muslims, radical or otherwise, whom he imagines are the key to making America safe. He's heard that evening music from the mosque. He finally recognizes the painful truth that domestic and sometimes homegrown terrorism is more than "workplace violence," but wants to put American safety in the hands of Islamic "partners" of dubious reliability.
Fear drives Republicans, too. When duty calls, earplugs can be a comfortable answer. Paul Ryan, the new speaker of the House, backed by a comfortable Republican majority, is mortally afraid of Barack Obama. He executed a monumental cave on the new budget of bloat, waste and extravagance that would make a Democratic spendthrift lose his breakfast, lunch and dinner. He expects, in connivance with the Democratic minority, to get the House to approve it on Friday. Mr. Ryan, with a grin as broad as the Capitol rotunda, looks in the photographs as if he had just won the lottery.
Many Republicans caved with him, showing no shame, and now owe John Boehner an apology. The Republicans in the House threw out Mr. Boehner for caves like this. He did it on nearly every issue crucial to the Republicans keeping their word to the people who sent them to Washington, and Mr. Ryan seems determined to protect the losing streak. We can expect the Republican tough talk to resume next year when the elections approach, voter anger subsides, the Republican candidates return with their begging bowls.
Americans traditionally expect more from presidents, and with this president they're resisting, as good citizens, the temptation to wonder whose side this guy is on. President Obama can't bring himself to consider that the enemy, now clearly establishing itself within the borders (porous as they are), won't be deterred by good wishes, good faith and good speeches. Mr. Obama's strategy is to disarm everyone, take it easy on evil, and set an example of peace in our time that will transform enemies into docile friends.
Mr. Obama is an intelligent man but he's addicted to theory over experience, which makes him a slow learner in a time and place where indifference and delay can be lethal. His national security strategy has the usual bureaucratic slipperiness, "Countering Violent Extremism," and the nation continues to pay a high price for it on the installment plan. We just paid the latest installment in San Bernardino.
"Countering Violent Extremism," or CVE, as its fans call it, insists that radical Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam or the ideology that reviles the United States and dares anyone to do anything about it. CVE was introduced in Mr. Obama's first term, and he loves it even if no one else does. The authentic threat to national security is not from terrorists, so the theory goes, but from provocation of Muslims by Americans who understand very well that radical Islam is at war with America. The only way to deal with terrorism is to find "partners" in the Muslim communities, even those who may be influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, recognized as evil by certain governments in the Middle East - Egypt, for example - even if the White House has deliberately blinded itself to reality.
Mr. Obama's latest expedition into the fantasyland where fools rule is to avoid bombing the propaganda centers identified by U.S. intelligence as the source of effective ISIS recruiting. To do that would "invade the privacy" of ISIS recruiters.
One recruit influenced by ISIS propaganda was the late Tashfeen Malik, the San Bernardino killer whose endorsement of jihad and her disdain for America was all over the Internet's social media. But U.S. immigration agents were forbidden to read such revealing rants because guidance from "Countering Violent Extremism" forbids it.
Now that the facts about the program have slipped out, anyway, the White House is trying to sell stammer and splutter that the instructions were only "guidance." But it was "guidance" that Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, declined to countermand even when his agents pleaded with him to do it. The president didn't want to hurt the feelings of Islamic radicals. Confronting the enemy can be so fatiguing.