For most Americans, the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris last week served as a troubling reminder that radical Islamic terrorism is, and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable future, one of the most serious and persistent security threats facing the United States and our allies.
 
As we mourned the loss of life and grieved with the families of the victims in France, we also looked inward, evaluating the strengths and vulnerabilities of the security situation in America. In Washington, D.C., on the campaign trail, and around kitchen tables across the country, everyone was asking: what can be done to ensure that a similar attack, or worse, isn’t carried out on American soil?

As well we should. In the wake of an attack like the one perpetrated in the streets of Paris, this is one of the most important questions to ask. And it is the only clear-eyed, sober response to the stated intentions of radical Islamic terrorist groups – like ISIS, which claimed to have directed the Paris attacks – whose organizing principle is the wholesale slaughter of every man, woman, and child who fails to submit to their violent, repressive authoritarian rule.
 
Establishing an Islamic caliphate governed by sharia law and exterminating all of those outside of it – especially those living in non-theocratic democracies, like the United States – has long been the explicit objective of groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram. And in the wake of the Paris attacks, the threats of violence against Americans within the United States have only grown more frequent and specific.
 
Much of the conversation this week centered around how the United States should respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. The United States has a long, admirable tradition of welcoming foreign refugees, especially those fleeing religious persecution, like many of the roughly 10 million Syrians either internally displaced or seeking asylum abroad. But at the same time, the first and most important responsibility of the U.S. government is to protect the lives and liberties of the American people – including from threats originating within sympathetic refugee populations.

"This is an urgent issue that could have serious – and irreversible – national security implications. So it’s important that we proceed cautiously and cooperatively, without the name-calling and political point-scoring that too often degrades our policy discussions."
This is an urgent issue that could have serious – and irreversible – national security implications. So it’s important that we proceed cautiously and cooperatively, without the name-calling and political point-scoring that too often degrades our policy discussions.
 
But we must be careful not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. The number of refugees fleeing the chaos and violence in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East will only continue to climb unless and until we confront the questions at the heart of the matter – like, why is there a Syrian refugee crisis to begin with? What were the policies and actions that helped create the conditions for the rise of ISIS? What, if anything, can the U.S. government and military do to defend vulnerable communities abroad from systematic religious persecution before they become refugees?
 
These are complicated questions to which there are no easy answers. But they are the questions we must be asking ourselves and our elected representatives – especially those aspiring to become the next commander-in-chief, who have a unique responsibility to offer more than just talking points and platitudes. With the global jihad effort spreading and metastasizing, the flow of refugees from the war-torn corners of the world steadily advancing, and the 2016 presidential campaign heating up, we can’t afford to pretend otherwise.