The American Left and ISIS
Since the appearance of ISIS, the usual suspects on the left -- those in politics and media in particular -- have bent over backwards to argue that it has nothing to do Obama, that his silly foreign policy, undergrad strategic considerations, and infinitely collapsible notion of American responsibilities unfolded in a vacuum and could not possibly have had any effect on anything. No, the fault, of course, is that of George W. Bush and his neocon camarilla. If it weren’t for Bush, a strong, wise, and humane Saddam Hussein would be present to destroy this Jihadi upsurge, exactly the way Gadhafi and Mubarak did.
This chatter has redoubled since the ISIS tightened its hold on Syria and northern Iraq and Obama demonstrated himself incapable of mounting any sort of coherent resistance. It can be found anywhere from the NYT to HuffPo to CNN, but I saw put most succinctly by Ron Fourier of the National Journal:
Called again to confront a threat in the Middle East, Americans keep tripping over the baggage of George W. Bush.
In 2003, we trusted. Not again. The president vowed retribution against terrorists who slaughtered Americans. The Defense secretary and secretary of State spoke of imminent threats. The intelligence community leaked word of Americans-turned-terrorists and sleeper cells. Those actions echo today, but Americans are of a different mind—not nearly as credulous, or as willing to fight.
Utilizing foreign policy, whether successes or failures, to manipulate domestic politics is mostly an exercise in self-delusion, since there is rarely any one-to-one correlation involved. That is clearly the case with the Bush-wrecked-the-Middle-East argument. The Mideast being what it is, nobody ever comes out a clear winner. The best that can be done is to control the latest blowup while preparing for the next. Hoping for permanent closure in the sand belt is a wish-fulfillment daydream.
That said, one thing that is utterly clear is that the current Mideast situation is not only largely the fault of Barack Obama, but of the entire American left, including politicians, academics, the media, and the entertainment world. It was leftist policies (often non-policies) that triggered today’s chaos, that channeled it, and that has rendered solutions both difficult and ephemeral. The Mideast today is an indictment of both Obama and the entire leftist cohort. Compared to this crew, George W., whatever his errors and shortcomings, looks gigantic. Whatever his mistakes, whatever he did wrong, we know this: when somebody finally nukes Manhattan, it won’t be Saddam Hussein.
We’ll start the video rolling at 9/11, remaining fully aware that the operation itself was the direct result of Bill Clinton’s finickiness and timidity. (Not to mention Jamie Gorelick’s obsessive tinkering with the nation’s counterintelligence system.)
Even as the national reaction to the attack gathered force, the left set out to undermine it. Recall the California pol whose first thought was to screech, “America, what did you do?” Those who joined him -- and there were plenty -- were blown back by the public response, deciding that momentary silence was the best policy.
Except for Michael Moore. The day after the attack, Moore blogged one of the most infamous phrases ever written about 9/11 (possibly excepting those of Ward Churchill).
If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him. Boston, New York, D.C., and the planes' destination of California — these were the places that voted AGAINST Bush
This set the tone for further leftwing responses. Bush was the story -- not the terrorists, not the victims. 9/11 was simply more ammunition. Bush was not going to be allowed a success. The United States was not going to be allowed a victory. While the left might not be capable of much in the way of positive achievement, it has always been great guns at destruction. The U.S. was going to feel the full force of that tendency.
One development that for some reason stuck in my mind was a quickly staged New York performance of Bertolt Brecht’s Arturo Ui, the cast headed by Al Pacino and Steve Buscemi. Brecht’s play was a satirical attack on Hitler, reworked to target Bush and the war effort, which was depicted as little different from Hitler’s takeover of Europe.
This continued throughout the postattack period -- Checkpoint, a novel by high-class porn writer Nicholson Baker, a film, and at least two plays were published calling for the president’s assassination. As a full revelation of the enormity of the Bush tyranny, the authors, directors, and publishers were immediately struck with… nothing. No effort whatsoever was made to silence or even address these people. If you tried such a thing concerning Obama today, the black suits and helicopters would descend upon you like hail.
The apotheosis was reached with Fahrenheit 911, a fake documentary by none other than Michael M. himself, utilizing the Bushhitler thesis to create doubt in the public mind and disrupt efforts against the Islamist threat.
The left were clearly out to duplicate the experience of Vietnam. In so doing, they gave direct encouragement to the Jihadis through assurances that the United States would not see the effort through, that it would be sabotaged from within, and that the Islamists would escape full retribution for their actions and eventually achieve their goals. (As Michael M. himself put it: “They are minutemen. And they will win.”) Much of this exact program, needless to say, was put into effect by the Obama administration.
The first strike against the Jihadi strongholds, targeting Taliban Afghanistan, occurred too swiftly for the left to muster effective opposition. (Ironically, I was on a panel the very day the campaign opened, persuading several left-wing feminists that such a strategy would favor Afghan women. News of the attack came just as the panel was ending. One of them raised her fist and shouted, “For the women of Afghanistan!”)
The Bush administration’s greatest error of the campaign now unfolded -- rather than take down Hussein’s Iraq in short order, the U.S. paused for a year and a half. The reasons remain unknown, though they probably involved mollifying the cabinet’s more moderate members by kowtowing to the UN and a spineless Europe.
This pause allowed the left to gather its forces, build up steam, and attack on a broad front. This was the period of “blood for oil” mythology, along with the pseudo-Freudian interpretation that Bush was attempting to make up for his father’s failure in Iraq. (At the same time, the left was praising Bush 41 as a great man who knew when to stop.)
The most blatant effort involved direct personal support for Hussein, one of the foulest tyrants of the late 20th century. Leading the parade here were three Democratic representatives, Jim McDermott, David Bonior, and Jim Thompson, who, as the Coalition gathered its forces, flew to Baghdad at Saddam Hussein’s expense. The three met personally with the dictator, though what was discussed remains unclear.
At the same time hundreds of other sandal-wearers appeared in Iraq offering to serve as “human shields” for probable targets, demonstrating considerable faith that American pilots would be more humane than the Jihadis behind the September 11th attacks. Though widely covered and praised by America’s patriotic media, these people vanished just before hostilities broke out. (Many evidently made a mad dash across the country to the friendly Jordanian border.)
The Second Gulf War ended with victory, though serious flaws arose during the post-conflict occupation. Media jumped on these failings while ignoring everything else. Western reporters worked hand-in-glove with the Ba’athist resistance. Palestinian stringers were utilized, few of whom, it goes without saying, had a constitutional revulsion against manipulating the facts. Rocket attacks by insurgents were scheduled for the benefit of media cameras, and attacks were carried out with due regard for reporters’ deadlines. You can examine major media outlets for the entire period of the war and not find a single reference to any of this.
Scandals were inevitable amid the complexities of military occupation and national reconstruction, and the media took full advantage of them when they appeared. The most virulent involved Abu Ghraib, the main prison in Baghdad, where a National Guard MP unit largely composed of backwoods types tormented and humiliated a number of prisoners. This was presented not as an isolated failure, but as a direct result of administration policies, and beyond that, the entire American effort. Never did major media report that the problem lay in a command failure -- the prison commander, Colonel Janet Karpinski, an affirmative-action promotion out of the Clinton era, scarcely set foot in the prison itself, allowing ill-disciplined and badly-led troops to run riot. Mark this one up to the feminists.
The same type of coverage was given to the main terrorist prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Gitmo was relentlessly characterized (by Senator Richard Durbin, among others) as a concentration camp on the same level as the Nazi camps or the Soviet Gulag. Repeated reports -- almost entirely fabricated -- described torture, starvation, and petty harassment such as tossing Korans into toilets. This received wisdom became one of Obama’s major campaign themes, leading him to promise to close the camp down within a year (six years later, that promise abides in Limbo along with many others.)
The true measure of Gitmo can be gained from the fact -- universally both acknowledged and ignored -- that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is a Gitmo grad, released in the stampede to let go “harmless” prisoners in hopes of bringing the numbers down. (A process-easily picture: “We gotta let go ten! That’s what the DoD PR people say. How about… Baghdadi. Yeah -- throw him in too!”) How many of his comrade mujahedin share his record is unknown, but the number is likely to be very high. You will fail to find mention of this in any of analyses of ISIS, but, dude, it was, like, seven-eight years ago, right?
When the surge strategy was introduced to save the faltering Iraq occupation, both media and political leftists turned on its most capable advocate, Gen. David Petraeus, with a vengeance. He was pilloried as a traitor, a fool, a front for the Bush administration. No less a figure than Hillary Clinton called Petreaus a liar in the Senate on national television. Following the success of the strategy, Petraeus was at last brought down by a cabal of corrupt, grasping females, none of whom should have been in the positions they were occupying.
All this had two purposes: the destruction of an American president, first, and beyond that, the crippling of the United States as a whole in the face of a dramatic and global threat.
Obama’s actions are merely icing on the cake. He contemptuously tossed aside a recommendation by President Bush to maintain 20,000 troops in Iraq while refusing to negotiate a correlation of forces agreement with the Maliki government. Iraq became the sole nation liberated by the U.S. in the past century with which no military connection was maintained. As a result, the incompetent Noori al-Maliki was allowed to give full play to his more brutish instincts, quickly unraveling everything the Coalition had built. While it would be going too far to say that this was what the Obama administration intended, the possibility was probably not overlooked either.
Beyond this we have the shadowy and ill-reported “Arab Spring” strategy evidently cooked up by a coven consisting of Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, and Susan Rice, the chief outcome of which has been chaos in Libya and a massacre at Benghazi, near civil war in Egypt, and overall collapse across the Mideast culminating in the rise of ISIS. The American media has done nothing to expose or even allude to any of this. We will learn how it all actually unfolded at some point farther down the line -- perhaps in twenty years or so.
Obama’s full response was to insist that ISIS is actually called something else and to make a speech the content of which was evidently cleared with none of our allies beforehand. There it stands: a non-strategy featuring a non-alliance aimed at non-goals. And it’s all George W. Bush’s fault.
As is almost always the case, none of the price is being borne by the individuals responsible. Thousands are dying under the most horrific circumstances conceivable. Small children have been beheaded. Entire villages buried alive. Vast areas are in abject chaos, with entire countries in danger of sliding into the sinkhole the region has become. But Jim McDermott remains in office. Steve Buscemi is star of a successful cable series. Hillary Clinton is on the verge of announcing for president. Not a single word of regret has been heard from any one of them. Why should there be -- do you think that Tina Fey has lost a minute’s sleep over providing cover for Vladimir Putin? (Though it should be added that ISIS victim James Foley was in effect a propagandist for Islamism. His execution was a calculated kick in the teeth for his leftist allies.)
There have been plenty of mistakes in dealing with the Jihadi threat. There are always mistakes in any complex effort, and there is something deeply wrong with the claim that this is not the case, and that the counterterrorism policy represents some kind of anomaly in an otherwise unsullied parade of triumphs. But it’s also true that the actions of the left cannot be defined as “mistakes.” The American left deliberately undermined this country’s campaign against Islamist terrorists in support of their own agenda. Every element of the left -- the feminists, the multiculturalists, the pacifists, the anti-militarists, the Marxists -- has played a part.
So there’s considerable irony in seeing the ball at last in their court. There can be little doubt as to how badly they will handle it, with their “smart diplomacy,” their “soft power,” their “leading from behind.” The inevitable result will be yet more unspeakable human suffering, as far as the eye can see, and the mind can encompass.