Ted Cruz, Donald Trump (AP/Gerry Broome/Reuters/Chris Keane/Photo montage by Salon)

We need adult leaders: Brussels attack is a sobering reminder of how important it is to have grown-ups in office, not Cruz or Trump

The Brussels attack drives home how critical it is to have adults, like Clinton or Sanders, in charge


Amanda Marcotte
March 22, 2016 6:28PM (UTC)

It will likely be days, perhaps weeks, before we know much about the horrific terrorist attacks on an airport and subway in Brussels on Tuesday morning that killed dozens of people. But one thing is absolutely certain: It is a good thing that we in the United States have a grown-up in charge. No doubt whatever President Barack Obama does will come under scrutiny (some useful, most not), but we can rest assured that whatever it is, it will be a considered decision, informed by good faith assessments of intelligence and rooted in an understanding that these situations are too complex to be dumbed down to a bunch of bigotry towards Muslims, the vast majority of whom have no relationship to terrorism.

This is an election year, and these attacks should serve as important reminder of how critical it is to have a grown-up in the Oval Office. Looking over the viable presidential candidates in the race, it's clear that narrows the field down to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. They have their differences, of course, and some of those are around foreign policy.

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But both will assuredly approach the ongoing and complicated problem of international terrorism in the same spirit that Obama does: As adults who make decisions based on information and who both understand that the ISIS situation requires a military response (yes, even Sanders), but who show no interest in exploiting these situations in order to start adventure wars or push bigoted opinions about immigrants.

The same can not be said for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, both of whom are using this attack as an excuse to strike meaningless poses and engage in magical thinking. The idea of either of these clowns being in charge during a crisis should strike a cold jolt of terror right to the heart.

Trump is already acting like an absolute child about all this, literally equating the bombings with the leveling of the entire city of Brussels.

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"Brussels was a beautiful place," he said on Fox News. "And now you look at it, and it’s a disaster. We have a worldwide situation that is out of control."

The bombing was terrible and the damage, both in terms of lives lost and to the city's infrastructure, is extensive. But contrary to what Trump says, Brussels is still there and still beautiful. Brussels and Paris survived the frigging Nazis, but Trump would have you believe that these cities will be torn to the ground because of attacks orchestrated by scattered, stateless terrorist organizations.

To make matters worse, Trump is using these attacks to chew over his obsessive hatred of immigrants, calling once again for a ban on Muslim immigration. I hesitate to call this response "childish," because most children are more capable than Trump of understanding how stupid it is to assume collective guilt of a group, in this case Muslims, simply because a few people in it do something wrong.

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More importantly, as the actual adults have repeatedly been clear about, since ISIS uses claims that Westerners hate Islam as part of their recruitment propaganda, the smart move would not be to feed the paranoia. But, Trump is a selfish monster and is willing to feed ISIS's narrative if it helps him get into office, even though doing so costs lives.

This is a man who, when asked by the Washington Post about his Middle East policies, went on a rant about how unfair it is that some of Qatar's airports are nicer than some of ours, and it's not entirely clear that he understands that they paid for those airports themselves or that massive tax cuts for billionaires will undermine any hope of infrastructure improvement at home.

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Not that Cruz is any better. He used the Brussels attacks this morning to push magical thinking of the most childish sort on social media.

"Make no mistake — these terror attacks are no isolated incidents," Cruz wrote on Facebook, falsely implying that anyone has ever said otherwise.

"Radical Islam is at war with us. For over seven years we have had a president who refuses to acknowledge this reality," he added, which is more specific and therefore more clearly labeled a lie.

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President Obama has not hidden or denied that ISIS and ISIS-inspired terrorists use religion to justify their violence, saying, "They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam." What he refuses to do, however, is conflate the beliefs of a relatively small number of terrorists with Islam as a whole, because, unlike Cruz or Trump, Obama is a grown-up.

Cruz, being a physical adult but clearly not a grown-up, seems to believe in magic, insisting that that the President needs to utter the magical words "radical Islamic terrorism" instead of more using more exacting, careful language.

"And the truth is, we can never hope to defeat this evil so long as we refuse to even name it," Cruz writes. "That ends on January 20, 2017, when I am sworn in as president." So not only does he think that the words "radical Islamic terrorism" are magic and will force ISIS into submission, but he also appears to think his hand touching a Bible has magical properties that will cascade across the planet, eliminating terrorism through Cruz-Bible magic.

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This problem of adult Democrats vs. child Republicans didn't start with the 2016 primary, either. It's worth remembering what White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke said George W. Bush did in the days — hours, really — after Al Qaeda-linked terrorists bombed New York City and D.C. on September 11, 2001.

At the heart of Clarke's charges is a meeting he said he had with Bush on Sept. 12, 2001, in the White House Situation Room. Clarke said Bush pulled him and a few others into a side office and demanded that Clarke determine what role Iraq played in the attacks.

"The president, in a very intimidating way, left us -- me and my staff -- with the clear implication that he wanted us to come back with the word that there was an Iraqi hand behind 9-11 because they had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office," Clarke said on ABC's Good Morning America.

Cruz's insistence on stomping out complexity and nuance is a chilling echo of the Bush administration's attitude when it came to the 9/11 attacks and Iraq, a willingness to exploit many Americans' ignorance about the breadth and diversity amongst Muslim people to bolster enthusiasm for a war that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda's terrorist attacks.

The Iraq War is what happens when grown-ups are not in charge. Both Cruz and Trump are going to run around in the next few weeks, stoking bigotry and exploiting ignorance to get votes without any regard for the human cost of such behavior. People who behave like that are simply too irresponsible to be trusted with the presidency. We're lucky to have President Obama in office on a day like today, and we will need people like him, actual grown-ups, in office in the likely case that future crises will happen.


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. Her new book, "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself," is out now. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

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Bernie Sanders Brussels Attack Donald Trump Elections 2016 Hillary Clinton Isis Ted Cruz Terrorism

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