So, “Make America Safe Day” is over, and I don’t know about you, but I feel much safer already! I know that all we have to do is elect Trump, and we’ll be fine. Or, as Mike McCaul, the inexplicable Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security said, “It’s time to take back our country and make America safe again!”
That’s a good jumping-off point for not just the emotional reaction, of which there was plenty, but the substantive one as well. Because that was sort of the heart of the night: argument through assertion. That’s common in politics, but it was common in a very dangerous way last night, which perfectly encapsulates the right’s unflinching commitment to not understanding the threat of jihad while spittling that they are the only ones who get it.
Because let’s start with the biggest lie of the night, the one that was the driving theme: Hillary Clinton can’t keep as safe (whatever that actually means), and Donald Trump can. That’s pretty normal, and I think you can argue pro or con on the first half of that, as long as you don’t use “Benghazi” as a data point, because come on.
What you can’t really argue, or, more to the point, that no one actually did argue, is that Trump can keep us safe. It was all just assumed that because Trump talks big, and says he’s going to go get them, he will. McCaul even said he’ll make the ground tremble under the terrorists’ feet. It’s actually amazing that all these people who ostensibly care about national security can bring themselves to pretend that Trump has any genius, expertise, competence, o even basic knowledge of these issues.
But that’s really the problem. He doesn’t need to have any knowledge, because their understanding of ISIS is reduced to talking point about “political correctness” and not calling the enemy by it’s name. Rudy Guliani, who gave the most effective speech of the night, was the clearest on this (all Rudy quotes come from What The Folly).
(On The Fort Hood shooting): The only person who couldn’t figure out this was an Islamist terrorist extremist attack was Barack Obama, who called it workplace violence. This is why our enemies see us as weak and vulnerable!
Donald Trump has said the first step in defeating our enemies is to identify them properly and see the connections between them so we can find them and catch them.
To defeat Islamic extremists, we must put them on the defense.
If they are at war against us, as they have declared, we must commit ourselves to unconditional victory against them!
(Wild applause, baying at the moon, a general sense of punchiness)
Rudy used this to segue into the Iran deal, misreading it entirely (as Kaplan points out), and pretending that the money going there is funding ISIS and AQ. Which he didn’t say explicitly, and may or may not believe, but these were his phantom “connections.”
And that’s really the heart of the right’s idea on terrorism: a monolithic enemy that can be defeated merely through the brawny use of strength and the exact right words*. They believe that there is such a thing as “unconditional victory”, which is a strange and grandiose and entirely misleading turn of phrase, since it implies that there is a scenario where conditions would be accepted or not, and that there would even be someone to whom you could deliver the conditions.
The jihadist threat is not one that can be bombed out of existence, nor one that can actually be defeated in a conventional sense. The problem that the right wing has is that they want to fight a war against an enemy that doesn’t exist. They can defeat “ISIS”, in its current incarnation, but have no answer for 1) what comes next in the wreckage of Syria and Iraq, 2) what happens to affiliates around the globe, and 3) what to do with the next mutation. They can’t see this because they are unable to understand that there are root causes of jihad‘s attraction that go beyond good and evil. As Scott Atran said in the NYRB this weekend,
Are we again dangerously underestimating ISIS’s will to fight, and its ability to endure and expand? Although military defeat in Iraq, Syria, and Libya could help make it more difficult for the group to recruit, we will not be able to defeat ISIS itself until we find a way to reconnect the neighborhoods, online communities, and other particularly susceptible social and political settings where attacks like what occurred in Nice continue to find inspiration and support.
“Reconnecting the neighborhoods” isn’t something I heard last night. I don’t think Barack Obama has all the answers, clearly. I don’t think Hillary does, either. But I think they both actually recognize the complex nature of the threat, and are seeing the world as it is. The party of realism is completely unmoored, and want to take our entire national security apparatus along with them.
* Everyone points out their weird and childish fixation with saying “Islamic terrorism”. It’s hard to say if they actually think that will defeat ISIS; it’s entirely possible that anti-PC cognitive dissonance has taken over, and they actually believe it’s a big deal, and that Obama is actively hurting the US by not saying it. What’s weirder is the “define the enemy” thing. It’s very post-modern: you’ll become what words are used to define to. It’s the mutability of the self in the face of the observer. Gombrowicz would totally dig their platform.