"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Trump, al-Baghdadi, And Why The Gory Details Matter

Donald Trump enjoyed a major victory yesterday (10.27.19) when he announced the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS.  “He was vicious and violent”, said the President, “and he died in a vicious and violent way, as a coward, running and crying”. According to the White House, al-Baghdadi, terrified of the approaching American special forces, ran scared and cowering down a dead-end tunnel, then detonated a suicide vest, taking three of his children with him.  The White House was forthcoming with graphic video footage of the aftermath of the assault, and spokespersons described how the scattered remains of the ISIS leader were scooped up, bagged, and after a few words said by an imam tossed into the sea.

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The man was not simply a terrorist, nor the leader of a violent jihad, nor America’s most wanted man.  He was scum, a sniveling coward, hiding behind his innocent children, a craven, weak, twisted autocrat who ran like a rat into the darkness away from his pursuers.  His remains were given no respect, no religious ceremony, not acknowledgement that the man had ever existed.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was nothing more than a sack full of slimy guts and brains, dumped overboard like swill, garbage, and human waste.

The words chosen by the President were deliberately crude, bloody, and intemperate.  There could be no possible circumstances surrounding Baghdadi’s death other than the military operation which hunted him, found him, and killed him.  There was nothing about  Muslim piety, faith in the Qur'an, jihadist pretentions, or geopolitical amorality.  Only the beheadings, disembowelments, rapes, and torture he condoned and promoted mattered; only the bloody, inhuman, bestial actions of his followers counted; only the unholy, impious, profaned murders were to be noted.  Since he gave his pursuers no chance for retribution or vengeance, the only action – the best action – was to desecrate his name and reputation, to disregard any acknowledgement that he lived, give only a passing gesture to his religion for political reasons only.

 If Trump had had his way, his remains would have been unceremoniously tossed into the sea with no ceremony whatsoever; but still, wrapped and prayed over notwithstanding, he was still tossed in the sea like a bag of putrefying, stinking garbage. He was not interred in hallowed ground to be given a place to be worshiped.  While his admirers might still remember him for his holy war against the infidel, they would have to acknowledge that he ran away like a frightened schoolgirl, whimpering and sobbing only to obliterate three innocent children – not in the name of jihad or Allah, sacrificial victims in a holy war, but because they happened to be there.

It is useful to note President Obama’s temperate, unemotional, factual announcement of the killing of bin Laden:
The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida, and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who've worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.
In Obama’s words Bin Laden was called to task for his deeds; but by the very declaratory and unemotional way in which his atrocities were mentioned, he was portrayed him as one of the many despots of the modern era, assigning him an affectively neutral place in history arrayed alongside the likes of Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Mobutu and even Stalin and Mao without further comment.  Had he fallen during Trump’s watch, he would have been villainized and caricatured just as Hirohito and the Japanese were - bucktoothed, slanty-eyed, crazed savages.  The killing of bin Laden would have been celebrated in the same way – a cowardly faux-Muslim, surrounded by women, whimpering and begging for mercy as the Special Forces closed in, and blew him to smithereens.

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America seems to have gone all soft and giving with its culture of ‘inclusivity’, compassion, and unquestioning respect; its acceptance of even the most deviant behavior because of the inevitable and unavoidable socio-economic factors which have conditioned it.  For a number of years American military strategy has been based on a policy of minimum civilian casualties.  Contrary to the less nuanced and more absolute policies of WWII when the killing of civilian populations, both in Germany and in Japan was acceptable as a strategy of war, today’s policy, a throwback to the discredited ‘hearts and minds’ strategy of Vietnam, is to treat civilians as innocent victims.  Also, contrary to the WWII American commitment to victory at any cost, when soldiers’ lives were expendable relative to the nature of the enemy, today’s military is overly cautious, concerned more with limiting American casualties than inflicting them on the enemy.

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Which is why Trump’s statements about the killing of al-Baghdadi are significant and important.  In a fight against implacable enemies, whether al-Qaeda, ISIS, or others, the US must convey the same determined, amoral, absolute commitment to victory.  No politically correct, measured, response can be tolerated.  The war is with Islam, albeit with its most radical elements.  It is against Russian, Turkish, and Chinese hegemony.  It is to defend American geopolitical and economic interests, and no holds barred.

Trump has been criticized for his intemperance, for not ‘acting Presidential’, for pulling no punches, and for his nationalistic, white supremacy.  Yet most Americans love his crowing about the killing of al-Baghdadi, the elimination of America’s Most Wanted Man and his ignominious removal; his at long last restatement of America’s amorality, an embrace of Machiavellian and Kissinger-esque realpolitik, a return to America-first nationalism, and a militant counter to foreign hegemonism. 
Machiavelli’s argument is compelling, for even in a cursory reading, history reveals itself as repetitively aggressive and self-serving; and as Shakespeare and Machiavelli have concluded, these impulses are at the very heart of human nature.  Neither one has any interest in moral regeneration. 

Richard III in Shakespeare’s version, sees the ghosts of the people he has killed, but goes on to the battlefield to pursue his interests regardless of the moral insights he may have gained from his visions.  Iago, Aaron the Moor, Edmund, Goneril, and Regan go to their deaths morally unregenerate. Cordelia is moral from the beginning, and King Lear perhaps alone among Shakespeare’s plays deals with good and evil – her battle against her immoral sisters and enemies – but it is still about the unending cycle of kings and queens, ascendancy and downfall, machinations and power.

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The US has been myopically romantic in its view of history.  There is such a thing as a better world, and despite history  if we all pull together, we can realize it.  Nonsense.  Wars occur exactly because nations believe in progress.  The sooner we realize that history will always be characterized by conflicts between opposing utopian philosophies in countries led by amoral, venal, self-interested,and  ambitious leaders, the better.  The sooner we shed our righteous mantel of moral exceptionalism and get with the program of dog-eat-dog Machiavellian reality  the better off we will be.

In an increasingly competitive, hostile, and aggressive world, the United States must lose its compassionate ‘inclusivity’.  America’s enemies and adversaries have no patience whatsoever for tolerance, accommodation, and good will.  Political, geographic, and territorial hegemony is the name of the game, and all that matters.  The more the US insists on moral authority and righteous exceptionalism, the more it will lose out to Machiavellian operatives.

The excoriating, demeaning, de-manning, de-mythologizing  words of Donald Trump are welcome and needed.  We have rid the planet of an ignorant religious zealot, a so-called Islamic prophet and hero who has been disgraced, discredited, killed,and discarded by the forces of secularism and democracy.  Good riddance to bad rubbish.

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