Oh, no! Not another American war against evil!
This time, it’s the Islamic State (IS). After the attacks in Paris, Barack Obama, spokesman-in-chief for the United States of America, called that crew “the face of evil.” Shades of George W. Bush. The “evildoers” are back. And from every mountaintop, it seems, America now rings with calls to ramp up its war machine.
By the way, George W., how did that last war against the “evildoers” work out for you? Not quite the way you expected, right? I bet you didn’t imagine that your “Global War on Terror” would plant the seeds of an Islamic State and turn significant stretches of Iraq (and Syria) into fertile soil in which IS would grow into a brand new, even more frightening enemy.
But that’s the way wars against evil always seem to work.
Pardon me if I vent my exasperation with all the Washington policy-makers, past and present, surrounded by their so-called experts and those war-drum-beating pundits in the media. I know I shouldn’t be shocked anymore. I’ve seen it often enough as a historian studying wars against evil in the past—ever since biblical times, in fact—and as a citizen watching wars in my own lifetime, ever since the one that tore Vietnam (and, incidentally, America) apart.
Still, it drives me crazy to watch policy-makers and experts making the same dumb mistakes time after time, several mistakes, actually, which synergistically add up to one self-defeating blunder after another.
What’s worse, the dominant trend in public opinion is so often on the side of just those mistakes. You’d think someone would learn something. And in that someone I include “we, the people,” the nation as a whole.
Yet now, facing the Islamic State, you guessed it: We’re doing it all over again.
Let me try to lay out our repetitive mistakes, all six of them, one by one, starting with…
Mistake Number One: Treating the enemy as absolute evil, not even human.
Barack Obama called the Paris tragedy “an attack on all of humanity,” which means that, even for the president, IS fighters stand outside that category. They are evidently some other species and merely appear to be human. And this was the mildest of descriptions in this overheated political season of ours. “The face of evil” sounds modest indeed compared to the vivid images offered by the Republicans vying to replace him. For Ben Carson, IS are a bunch of “rabid dogs”; for Ted Cruz, “scorpions.” Donald Trump calls them “insane,” “animals.”