Saturday, December 12, 2015

Evil on the March

Remember when George W. Bush denounced what he called “the axis of evil?”

His critics lampooned him mercilessly for being a fundamentalist fool.

Remember when Ronald Reagan pronounced the Soviet Union to be an “evil empire?”

His detractors denounced him mercilessly for being a Hollywood buffoon.

Today, the sophisticated thinkers who are running America’s foreign policy into the ground have been telling us that ISIS is a piddling threat, not something to get all lathered up about. They seem to believe that terrorist attacks cannot possibly come here and that the refugee crisis engulfing Europe is not really a problem.

Serious intellectuals, the sort that run Time Magazine, have made the authoress of the European refugee problem, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, their Person of the Year. And the dimwitted Canadian Prime Minister is welcoming Syrian refugees with open arms. O, Canada!

Last weekend I posted about a New York psychiatrist who suggested that President Obama should become Therapist in Chief. Clearly, Commander in Chief is beyond his capacity, so maybe he would be more comfortable handing out psychological nostrums.

Among the problems with the idea was this: President Obama has been acting as Therapist in Chief. That is why the American people are bracing themselves for another terrorist attack.

Oh well, you can’t be right all the time.

Anyway, the distinguished psychiatrist suggested that anyone who is afraid of ISIS is out of touch with reality, because reality tells us that ISIS is not an existential threat to America or to Western civilization. How does he know this? Well, Joe Biden said so. What more do you want?

Besides, the New York Times has already explained that the greatest threat that the nation faces is the NRA. Doesn't the New York Times only print the truth?

All of this being the case one is cheered to see a New York Times columnist, one Roger Cohen, who is more liberal than conservative, take the full measure of the threat ISIS poses and pronounce it to be EVIL. That’s right EVIL, as in axis of evil, and as in evil empire.

Obviously, no one is going to say that Roger Cohen is a buffoon. Instead the cognoscenti and the illiterati will ignore his column. All the more reason to post about it.

Cohen finds it passing strange that the Obama administration has based its policy on the notion that we must not give ISIS what it wants… namely for us to attack them militarily and to raze their cities. Obama has reasoned that since ISIS wants us to attack them, we shouldn’t. It is astonishingly ridiculous. I called it out several days ago.

Today, we give Cohen his say:

A whole relativist school has emerged that’s inclined to belittle the militants as a small Internet-savvy bunch of thugs, a “JV team,” as President Obama once called them, whose importance we only magnify if we confront them with the means they themselves use against the West — all-out war, that is.

For this school of thought, massive retaliation is precisely what the jihadis want; it will drive recruitment. Better to exercise the Obama doctrine of restraint. After the Paris killings, Vice President Joe Biden declared: “I say to the American people: There is no existential threat to the United States. Nothing ISIS can do could bring down the government, could threaten the way we live.”

For those who believe that Joe Biden’s musings light the path to reality, Cohen offers a quick rejoinder:

Nothing? Try saying that to the people of Brussels, in near lockdown for several days after the Paris attacks. Or the people of San Bernardino, where one perpetrator of the mass shooting, Tashfeen Malik, had pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

The central question looming over the coming year is whether or not Islamic State is an existential threat to Western societies, and by extension whether or not it can be allowed a continued hold on the territory it uses to marshal that threat.

Like Peter Quinn and many of the rest of us, Cohen understands that as long as ISIS is allowed to hold territory it will threaten Western civilization. One notes, in passing, that George W. Bush’s policy was to attack both terrorists and the nations that harbor them.

In Cohen’s words:

Today, Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa, much closer to Europe than the mountains of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, is tolerated as a terrorist haven, whereas Al Qaeda’s Afghan sanctuary was shut down by military force after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is as if the metastasizing jihadi ideology of which Islamic State is the latest and most potent manifestation has sapped the West’s will.

I do not see how the Islamic State can be seen as anything other than an existential threat to Western societies. It stands for the destruction of all the Western freedoms — from the ballot box to the bed — that grew out of the Enlightenment and the rejection of religion as the ordering reference of society. It would take humanity back to the Middle Ages and target every apostate for destruction.

The more unassimilated Muslims there are in the West, the more ISIS is allowed to hold territory, the more ISIS will be able to find recruits. And that is not even the worst. If ISIS holds land and revenue, it might well amass weapons of mass destruction.

Uh, oh!

Remember when George W. Bush was excoriated for mistakenly believing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Let’s keep in mind, the terrorist government of Iran is testing intercontinental missiles, and is hard at work developing the nuclear weapons. We must also keep mind that the Obama administration has kindly granted it the permission to do so.

ISIS or Iran… pick your poison.

In the meantime, Cohen challenges the relativist school that is running Obama administration policy:

The wait-them-out, relativist school has at the very least to clarify why it is confident that the militants will not use the land they hold and the oil revenues they amass to develop weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, or to launch a devastating cyber-attack on the West. It needs to explain why it believes time is on our side.

Finally, he concludes that if we do not face and defeat evil, we will see it propagate:

For evil, unmet, propagates. To allow Islamic State to consolidate its hold over territory and minds over the coming year is to invite, or at least to accept, an inevitable replay of the Paris or the San Barnardino slaughters. It is to accept that the Syrian debacle will worsen for another year. And that, in turn, will further exacerbate the anxiety and fears on which nationalist, often Islamophobic politicians in Europe and the United States thrive.


Illuninati said...

"And that, in turn, will further exacerbate the anxiety and fears on which nationalist, often Islamophobic politicians in Europe and the United States thrive."

Roger Cohen was doing OK until this sentence. Islamophobia is an oxymoron. Fear is not a phobia when they really are out to kill you.

Ares Olympus said...

Sure, let's call evil evil, and yet can we be consistent about this? Where does Saudi Arabia stand on the new axis or axes of evil? And why is Cohen so reluctant to mention their leadership in creating ISIS?

Oh, I guess Cohen has mentioned them recently, sort of...
Regional powers, especially Saudi Arabia, have an interest in defeating the monster they helped create whose imagined Caliphate would destroy them.
The battle will be long. Islam is in a state of fervid crisis, riven by the regional battle of Sunni and Shia interests (read Saudi Arabia and Iran), afflicted by a metastasizing ideology of anti-Western hatred and Wahhabi fundamentalism, seeking a reasonable accommodation with modernity. The scourge within it can probably only be defeated from within, by the hundreds of millions of Muslims who are people of peace and are as appalled as any sentient being at the Paris slaughter. Their voices need to be raised in unambiguous and sustained unison.

But articles like this do better:
Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia.

In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.
Is curing the disease therefore a simple matter? Hardly. Saudi Arabia remains an ally of the West in the many chess games playing out in the Middle East. It is preferred to Iran, that gray Daesh. And there’s the trap. Denial creates the illusion of equilibrium. Jihadism is denounced as the scourge of the century but no consideration is given to what created it or supports it. This may allow saving face, but not saving lives.

Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books.

The attacks in Paris have exposed this contradiction again, but as happened after 9/11, it risks being erased from our analyses and our consciences.

Of course it might be that Saudi Arabia is in the process of destroying itself, at leasr their efforts to flood the markets with more oil than demand is economic warfare against all oil exporters, even including Russia. How many years can Saudi Arabia spend down their assets before they run out of assets to sell?

I don't know how this story ends, but I think I'm with Obama. Compared to Saudi Arabia, ISIS really are a JV team, and they only look tough because that's what their PR campaign calls for.

And every bomb we drop that kills people not aligned with ISIS, the more ISIS hopes will be new recruits to their evil mission.

Until we have an endgame plan for the middle east we're just playing "Game of thrones" while not wanting anyone to win. I guess that's the lesser of all other evils.

The most patriotic thing we might do now is ban all oil imports outside North America, and raise the price of our domestic production that is about to collapse. At least we'd still have an oil industry after Saudi Arabia implodes into civil war in say 2020.

They say money is the root of all evil, and oil might be the root of all money. And the U.S. is intimately tied to both.

JPL17 said...

But Obama and the Left sincerely deny the existence of evil. They're therefore completely blind to its power and refuse to confront it.

For anyone who sees evil for what it is, it's not at all difficult to imagine ISIS taking down our way of life and self-governance. We've experienced 1 San Bernardino-style attack in the U.S. this month. Now imagine 1 per day. Now imagine 10 per day. Now imagine 140 dead instead of 14, per attack, per day.

Next imagine the U.S. and other Western governments continuing to refuse to take the harsh measures needed to suppress violent, radical Islam. Instead of doing that, they crack down on their citizens' rights of free speech, free association and, where it exists, the right to bear arms.

Next imagine the panic and outrage felt by the half of each country's population that feels betrayed by its government and wants to confront the evil, and the outrage and hatred directed against those very people by the other half of those countries' populations who are governed by political correctness, nihilism and cowardice.

From there, it's not too hard to imagine some Western governments' taking advantage of the civil disorder to suspend civil liberties, or even the political process itself; and their citizens' open resistance to such measures; and society's subsequent fall into a dangerous feedback loop.

Basically, we're in a race against time; either radical Islamists will be first in vastly escalating their violence in the U.S., or U.S. citizens will be first in expelling the nihilistic Obama administration and replacing it with one willing to engage in war against ISIS. So the next 13 months are critical. To those who can pray, I recommend doing so.

Bizzy Brain said...

“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Bizzy Brain said...

“You're bound to get idears if you go thinkin' about stuff.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

priss rules said...

The problem is the old adage 'the enemy of your enemy is your friend'.

During the Cold War, US came to side with Mao who was many times crazier than the Soviets.
And Carter and Reagan aided the Afghan Mujahadeen against the USSR. The Mujahadeen were patriots in the sense that they were fighting foreign occupation. But like ISIS, they were Muslim fanatics. (But then, one could say the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese were patriots fighting "US imperialists").
After Vietnamese drove out the Khmer Rouge out of Cambodia, China and CIA secretly gave support to remnants of the KR to harass the Vietnamese.

US sided with Hussein and armed him against Iran.
But then, Hussein became 'new hitler or stalin' when he invaded Kuwait.

It's the way foreign policy is played.

Evil regimes become 'moderate' allies depending on national interest.
In some ways, Saudis are nuttier than the Iranians, but as US and Saudis see Iran as a threat, they tend to get along.

Foreign policy isn't necessarily evil but it is essentially amoral.

In the case of ISIS, US and allies overlooked the threat because the ISIS terrorists were seen as doing the dirty job of weakening Assad.

Baloo said...

All good points, but let us not forget that George W. was the decider who declared that profiling Muslims was evil bigotry, and that decision contributed enormously to the mess we're in now. Obama didn't start this self-destructive PC nonsense. He just built on what Bush had already established.

Sam L. said...

"Cohen finds it passing strange that the Obama administration has based its policy on the notion that we must not give ISIS what it wants… namely for us to attack them militarily and to raze their cities. Obama has reasoned that since ISIS wants us to attack them, we shouldn’t." And yet clearly he does not want to deny the NRA their best recruitment pitch and the firearms industry its greatest salesman, himself!

As Illuninati said: Fear is not a phobia when they really are out to kill you. As they have demonstrated a number of times.

Anonymous priss rules said: The problem is the old adage 'the enemy of your enemy is your friend'. Which is wrong. Your enemy's enemy may be your ally, but not your friend. Not without proof. Over time.

Ares Olympus said...

JPL17 said... But Obama and the Left sincerely deny the existence of evil. They're therefore completely blind to its power and refuse to confront it.

Definining evil would seem to be important. There may be divergent definitions, and most of them probably end up as "what other people do that I would never do."

This idealistic article probably won't agree with Stuart's definitions, with empathy as central. So evil is dehumanizing others, but where does abortion fit? Is coercing a mother to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term evil, or is killing your own unborn child evil? Presumably a mother who agrees to an abortion needs to dehumanize the fetus as not being able to feel like a fully developed human.
‘Evil’ people are those who are unable to empathise with others. As a result, their own needs and desires are of paramount importance. They are selfish, self-absorbed and narcissistic. In fact, other people only have value for them to the extent that they can help them satisfy their own desires, or to which they can exploit them.

This applies to dictators like Stalin and Hitler, and to serial killers and rapists - I would argue that their primary characteristics is an inability to empathise with others. They can’t sense other people’s emotions or their suffering, can’t see the world from other people’s perspective, have no sense of their rights. Other human beings are just objects to them, which is what makes their brutality and cruelty possible.

Scott Peck explored evil, trying to take it more seriously, calling it antilove:
My second conclusion, then, is that evil is laziness carried to its ultimate, extraordinary extreme. As I have defined it, love is the antithesis of laziness. Ordinary laziness is a passive failure to love. Some ordinarily lazy people may not lift a finger to extend themselves unless they are compelled to do so. Their being is a manifestation of nonlove; still, they are not evil.

Truly evil people, on the other hand, actively rather than passively avoid extending themselves. They will take any action in their power to protect their own laziness, to preserve the integrity of their sick self. Rather than nurturing others, they will actually destroy others in this cause.

I define evil, then, as the exercise of political power -- that is, the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion -- in order to avoid extending one’s self for the purpose of nurturing spiritual growth. Ordinary laziness is nonlove; evil is antilove.

So ISIS's evil by Peck would appear to be using their fundamentalistic narrative to avoid their own spiritual growth. Being willing to die for a cause might have a chance of breaking evil, because it can be a selfless act, but being willing to kill for your cause, when there is no immediate threat shows an arrogance, a faith that you can play God and not get burnt yourself.

What I don't know how to rationalize is how to say bombing or even worse remote drone attacks, where there's no possibility of harm to self, how do you not become evil when you use a weapon where your targets have no power to fight back, where you can't guarantee your bombs will hit only people who deserve to die.

So the God which such people must worship, to propose things like "turning raqqa into a parking lot" is revenge certainly, but justified under the hope of future safety. People who are dead can't threaten you, and as long as there are people who might have loved the people you need to kill, then they need to be killed also, until no one is left to remember them, or your evil act.

So anyway, we'll need Stuart to help find a definition that only includes "what other people do that I would never do" so we can avoid pointing any fingers back at ourselves.

JPL17 said...

@Ares Olympus -- What a coincidence that you cite Scott Peck. I just started reading his book "People of the Lie" the other day. I just finished the part where he opines that people who are evil actually have consciences, but are unable to examine their own culpability and therefore have to constantly scapegoat others for all the problems that they actually cause themselves. And I'm about to start the part where he attributes this evil to a form of narcissism, which I'll describe after I actually read it.

Funny thing, though, is that although Peck wrote the book in 1983, and although you hold to the nihilist position that "evil" simply means "what other people do that I would never do", in fact, Peck's description of "evil" objectively fits Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and people who perform and/or willingly undergo abortions, to a "T".

I'll have to get back to you, however, with respect to your concern over whether it's ever OK to kill a completely evil enemy during war. I haven't gotten to that part yet.

Ares Olympus said...

JPL17, I wan't really intending to believe evil as "what other people do that I would never do". I am suggesting that's the only one where you can wield power in the world without worrying about your own immoral soul's destiny.

I don't think I actually read Peck's book "People of the lie", just various online sections or summaries of it. My guess would be that Peck would be reluctant to judge evil in people he didn't know personally, and that he would be skeptical against the idea of partisanship in evil.

On my answer on the abortion debate, I'm willing to consider a hierarchy of humanization, so a 6 week old fetus is less human, and a person with brain damage in a permanent como is less human, neither are in positions to take care of their own needs, and so their humanity has to be held in the hands of our humanity, and their lives can be ended, humanely.

On the other side, domesticated animals, whether pets or for sources of food, are also not in positions to take care of their own needs, so their "humanity" is held in our humanity, and their lives can be ended, humanely.

So the moral problem is what is humane ways to end someone's or something's life, and that becomes a battle between rationalizations and conscience, and so individuals and cultures can define "ritualized" narrative that defines the right way to carry that burden. So for animals you can decide killing for sustenance is good, killing for pleasure is bad, killing to end suffering is good, killing slowly to cause known suffering is bad, killing to protect yourself from immediate threat is good, killing someone who is defenseless and begging for mercy is bad. Following those agreed narratives allows you to keep your sense of humanity. And failing to find such narratives is what leads to disassociation and moves life closer to hell, and eventually drives people to end their own lives.

Pyschologist Jordan Peterson also explored nature of evil, like this video from 2008. He identifies arrogance and resentment as motivators towards evil.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. In 7th C, Islam invaded & conquered Hellenistic Christian N.Africa, much of Spain, and nearly France.

It enslaved Euros into 20th C. The most recent Conventional Invasion was 1683. It rested for awhile.

It has new Strategies & Tactics in 21st C.

Existential Threat? You gotta be kidding. -- Rich Lara