President Obama, finally waking from his foreign policy slumber, said that ISIS “has no place in the 21st Century”; but of course it does. The group is no more brutal than Genghis Khan, the Crusaders, Napoleon, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, and our modern-day political expansionists al-Qaeda and the Taliban. As Charles Cooke recently wrote in the National Review (8.22.14) anyone who believes that ISIS is an anomaly, an unfortunate but bizarre and random happening that is only temporarily interrupting mankind’s progress towards a better and happier future is simply whistlin’ Dixie.
This instinct is folly, the product of the mistaken conviction that man is perfectible and his nature pliant, and that there is something intrinsically different about our age. “The lessons of history endure,” Oklahoma University’s J. Rufus Fears observed beautifully, “because human nature never changed.” Fears goes on to say:
“All the human emotions are the same today as in Egypt of the pharaohs or China in the time of Confucius: Love, hate, ambition, the lust for power, kindness, generosity, and inhumanity. The good and bad of human nature is simply poured into new vehicles created by science and technology”
Where in human history have men not acted violently and aggressively? In what century has their been peace, harmony, and the social equilibrium that promotes it? None. ISIS is not hors de serie, but familiar and very predictable. It is only idealists who ignore history who see ISIS’ territorial expansion and uncompromising techniques as blips in a progressive curve.
Shakespeare is perhaps the best-known chronicler of history and the human nature which provides the engine and the fuel for the repetitious cycles of aggression, expansion, civil and military conflict, war, depredation, destruction, and consolidation. If Shakespeare’s Histories were laid out in chronological order, the names, dates, and places would change, but the events would not. Kings and kingdoms rise and fall, expand and contract, consume and are consumed, win glorious victories and are defeated in bloody routs.
What interested Shakespeare was not so much the events themselves, too predictable and familiar to be of dramatic interest, but the characters who are always fascinating and unpredictable in their particular, personal dramas. The rise and fall of Coriolanus is predictable – a military man of great strategic vision and heroism who comes a cropper not because of his battlefield errors but because of his vixen mother, Volumnia. Macbeth is not unusual in his desire for kingdom and glory nor for his bloodiness, but because of his entry into the world of The Weird Sisters and his ambitious wife. Richard III is not memorable for his many murders – every English king had a dossier full of murders, beheadings, and burnings at the stake – but for the cackling, amoral joy he took in dispatching his enemies.
What is interesting about ISIS is not what they do, but how they do it. They did not decapitate the journalist James Foley like Henry the VIII or the Jacobins – a quick, sure slice of the sharpened sword or the guillotine – but slowly and and brutally.
Elegantly dispatched were Edmund de la Pole and Edward Stafford, both of whom were plotting to kill Henry and take his throne; John Fisher, who refused to accept Henry’s position as the head of the Church; and Thomas Cromwell, who, having been a longtime favorite, was eventually deemed too Lutheran for Henry’s tastes. American journalist James Foley, by contrast, had his throat slowly cut with a tiny, possibly blunted knife, his head clumsily sawn off over seven agonizing minutes. Goats have been afforded better endings. Can this be real?
Of course it can. ISIS is no different from the invading Moguls or today’s Islamic radicals, both of whom used horrible means to frighten and intimidate their enemies. The path of Genghis Khan was lined with the decapitated, impaled heads of those who had the temerity to resist his armies. Hamas, al-Qaeda, and al-Shabab blow up civilians in crowded markets and deliberately target school children.
Intimidation and frightful terrorism are ideal tools for a weak-willed and morally dissolute enemy. One of the reasons the Viet Cong were so successful was because of their booby traps. American GIs were prepared for frontal assaults, firefights, and skirmishes, but were psychological devastated by the uncertainty of being blown to smithereens by a landmine. The deployment of IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan have had the same effect.
According to Marine Corps Colonel (Ret.) Gary Anderson, a military historian, Genghis Khan sent out advance messengers who let civilian populations know what he would do to him if they resisted and that they and their families faced evisceration, beheading, and dismemberment unless they retreated. This is no different from ISIS which uses social media for the same ends. The videoed execution of Foley was but the most recent example. Again according to Anderson, ISIS is not linear in its advances, but chooses to take over the weakest towns and communities first. These towns may not necessarily be poorly defended, but have no fortitude or moral conviction. They would rather roll over before the enemy than fight.
The videos are meant to send a clear message to everyone – the towns in ISIS’ line of fire, the Middle East, and clearly the West. The leader of ISIS, Imam Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, understands the current moral weakness of the United States and unwillingness to commit to all-out war. Baghdadi sees American concern for civilian casualties, its priority of sparing American servicemen’s lives, and its overarching concern for preserving American values of decency, democracy, and liberalism; and knows it is no match for its own amoral, unflinching, and absolute drive to victory.
We Americans simply don’t get it. We cannot possibly grasp the reality of any group who does not subscribe to Western values. ISIS must be evil, Satanic, and demonic; for it not, how could they blow up innocent children, bayonet infants, rape and disembowel women? And therefore we will go to war for the wrong reasons – to root out evil – rather than to eliminate an implacable and determined enemy who threatens our vital regional interests.
Because we will engage in a moral struggle – good vs. evil – we will not abandon our principles. We will not bomb civilian areas where ISIS supporters reside. We will not capture ISIS leaders and publically castrate, eviscerate, and behead them on camera. All that we will do in our moral crusade will be to incite those who are on the fence to militancy and anti-American hatred. While it is true that so-called Political or Radical Islam is not totally unified, and that there is plenty of scope for internecine struggles; there is much in common among the Taliban, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Hamas, ISIS and the hundreds of other smaller Islamic groups fighting in Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria.
Our war may be with a multi-headed Hydra, but it still against one enemy – Radical Islam, and unless we understand the enemy and adopt his tactics, we are bound to lose. Charles Cooke concludes by saying:
The stated aim is the “establishment of the Islamic khilafah” — a neo-caliphate that would stretch across the whole world, subjugating everything in its path and bringing all mankind under its ghastly authority. Such promises seem almost risible when sampled from the comfort of North America. But there is little that is amusing for those who find themselves in the way — no comfort to be taken from arbitrary assurances about the “right” and “wrong” sides of history, or consolation to be derived in verbal condemnations from distant powers. Our security and our “progress” is what we make of it, for there are no wars to end all wars; there are plenty of barbarians in the year 2014; and it definitely, most definitely, can happen again.
There are many differences between American conservatives and liberals; but the most telling is one of philosophy. Conservatives believe in the immutable force of human nature which has remained unchanged for millennia. It has been and always will be aggressive, self-serving, territorial, and brutal. Conservatives also believe in the innate inequalities in human society – there will always be divisions in wealth, power, and intelligence; and the combination of human nature and human weakness are deadly. Political leaders must accept the fundamental aggressiveness and territorial imperative of all nations and people, and deal with it on equal terms.
Liberals or progressives believe no such thing. Man is perfectible, and the United States with is unflagging commitment to moral authority, civil rights, democracy, and the Rights of Man must show the way to the unenlightened. We must lead by example and by force if necessary…but we can never lower our standards and certainly never use immoral or unethical means to extend democracy. In fact, most progressives believe that an expression of democratic values alone should defeat the enemy. Once restive populations have seen the light of American liberalism, they will turn to us – just like native populations who have been easily converted to Christianity by missionaries motivated by Biblical authority.
The conservative, Shakespearean, Machiavellian approach to world events is the only rational and reasonable one, especially for 2014.