A Real ‘Phantom Menace’ Threatens Establishment Parties


The Economist magazine is fretting that, in the upcoming French regional elections, the anti-immigrant National Front party “may win elections on fear of a non-existent migrant wave.”

Headlined “Phantom Menace,” the article dripped with all the condescension of a political elite that can’t imagine what all the fuss is about with waves of “refugees” flooding Europe from the Middle East.

No doubt written before the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, the article serves as a sort of time capsule of a view so prevalent among establishment politicians just days ago. Its assumptions rest on the rather meaningless point that the “refugees” are headed “overwhelmingly to Germany, not France.” It concludes, insultingly, that “[f]or many, they need only to see the television images of migrants wading ashore in Greece to swing behind the [National Front].”

It turns out the public was right to be concerned about those television images.

The attacks in Paris are rightly issues of national security and terrorism. They recall the earliest days of nation states when there were actual enemies that sought to destabilize or destroy rival nations or civilizations and governments’ first duty was to protect its citizens.

The sheltered writers at The Economist may earnestly believe that we have evolved since then, that our interconnected world of finance, trade and telecommunications have elevated increasingly enlightened humans into a shared culture. To these scribes, any barbarians that want to attack us are such a statistically insignificant percentage of the millions of refugees, who are simply committing “acts of love” to better their families, that it is irrational to worry about them.

There is some truth in this, of course. The fact that most people aren’t murderous terrorists, though, is of little comfort to an anxious public who witnesses the carnage just a few individuals can commit. Most of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks were likely already in France long before the migrant surge from the Middle East began. That too, however, is a meaningless fact.

If anything, it raises even more concern about an influx of millions of “refugees” from a war-torn region tinged with long-standing animosity, if not outright hatred, towards Western values. If governments are unable to police terrorist sympathizers already in a nation, how can they provide security with an influx of millions more people, at least some of whom have nefarious motives?

The Boston Bombers were themselves “refugees” from war-torn Chechnya in Russia. They were known to law enforcement as possible threats and there had even been explicit warnings from Russian intelligence about them. In a number of recent terrorist cases in the U.S. and around the world, the perpetrators were invariably already known to law enforcement.

Even when some arm of the government tagged an individual as a threat they were able to commit violent acts due to either miscommunication among government agencies, incompetence or the overwhelming number of threats law enforcement has to monitor. The public’s anxiety, contra The Economist, isn’t so much about “refugees” per se, but governments’ inability to manage or police the situation. The public, whether French, American or British, simply no longer believes the government is able, or willing, to take the steps necessary to assure their security.

This sentiment was not created by the Paris attacks, but has been growing since at least the financial crisis. The persistent strength of outsider candidates in the Republican nomination fight is due, in large part, to a feeling that the establishment party is out of touch with the public. The cavalier attitude of much of the Republican party to the problem of illegal immigration rings hollow to large sections of the public who are living on the edge of economic anxiety.

The unwillingness of the Republican party to challenge the Obama Administration or to take any steps to address economic uncertainty or an increasingly chaotic world has alienated millions of voters. The Democrat party is completely AWOL on the public’s growing anxiety. At its Presidential debate on Saturday, none of the three candidates had any concrete solutions or proposals to address the Paris terrorist attack. Vermont Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders used the attacks to stress the importance of combating climate change.

President Obama has petulantly stated that the attacks in Paris warrant no change in his strategy, approach or even priorities. In the days following the Paris attack, the Obama Administration even released additional prisoners from the military’s Guantamino Bay detention facility. In an interview published Tuesday, Obama reiterated his commitment to pursue gun control legislation before the end of his term.

Most Republican Governors, since the Paris attacks, have announced that their states will no longer accept Syrian “refugees.” It isn’t clear they have this authority or will expend the political capital necessary to make it real. In the coming weeks, Congress will debate “defunding” any program bringing Syrian refugees into the country. Theoretically, the government could “shut down” over the debate, unless President Obama agrees to end the program.

Of course, no one believes the Republican Party will “push the moment to its crisis.” Even if it did, a federal judge can be found to order the country to accept the refugees. As the horror of the Paris attacks fade, the issue will muddle through the courts to a universally unsatisfactory end.

Early in the 20th Century, enlightened scribes believed that war was becoming a thing of the past, as the modern world was increasingly connected by strong financial, communications and cultural ties. The old idea of nation-states or clashes of civilizations was antiquated, it was argued. The horrors of the Great War destroyed that pastoral idea.

The “Phantom Menace” The Economist dismisses is all too real. The menace isn’t the refugees, though, but rather our faith that government and politicians have our interests at heart. To paraphrase Churchill, the Paris attacks weren’t the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning. If the establishment parties don’t adapt quickly, the public will confine them to history.