Brussels attacks show we must fight terrorists with logic, not emotion

The Observer editorial board

A man lights candles at a makeshift memorial in front of the stock exchange in Brussels.
A man lights candles at a makeshift memorial in front of the stock exchange in Brussels. Getty Images

The deadly attacks in Brussels have left Americans facing that familiar sense of dread that always follows these terrorist offensives.

Watching the disturbing images from Brussels, we ask: Could it happen here next?

Uncertainty ratchets anxiety levels higher, but we must insist that our leaders act on logic, not emotion. If we let anger overwhelm us, we risk moving too aggressively, and perhaps counter-productively – as we learned by invading Iraq. If we instead retreat from a complex and confusing world, we give our enemies space to grow.

These points appear to be lost on Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. In the wake of the Brussels attacks, both have floated or reiterated reckless ideas from both extreme ends of the spectrum.

Cruz, feeling pressure to outflank tough-on-Muslims frontrunner Trump, suggests that we “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”

Coming from a Harvard-educated lawyer and former Supreme Court clerk, this is an astonishingly rash proposal. He is arguing for nothing less than suspending the Constitutional rights of a segment of the American public based solely on their religious identity.

As Bernie Sanders correctly replied: “It would be unconstitutional. It would be wrong. We are fighting a terrorist organization … We are not fighting a religion.”

Trump, of course, sees no problem with “securing” Muslim neighborhoods. He says the Brussels attacks show the wisdom of his call for a ban on Muslim immigration, for torturing terror suspects and for retreating from America’s long-standing commitment to NATO.

Beyond the question of legality, these simplistic black-or-white ideas simply don’t work when applied to a complex world and multifaceted problems such as international terrorism.

Military experts say terror suspects give false information when tortured. New York officials say the police unit Cruz admires for its work spying on Muslim neighborhoods was disbanded not because of “political correctness,” but because it didn’t produce any terrorism leads.

The U.S. has made progress against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. We need more. To pin down a multinational foe, we need reliable allies. How long will such allies remain with us if we don’t behave any better than the homicidal zealots we’re fighting?

Trump asked why America must always take the lead in NATO. France’s ambassador to the United States gave a simple, straight-forward answer during his visit to Charlotte this week.

“If you don’t have a gendarme of the world,” Gérard Araud said, “the hooligans are much more dangerous.”

Isolationism is not an option for America. Betraying our values and our Constitution shouldn’t be, either.