Obama’s remark that the IS is nihilistic has been bothering me ever since he made it, but not for the reason that it is a false statement. Indeed, it is obvious to anyone with access to a dictionary that the IS has political-religious objectives and that it is not nihilistic. The problem with Obama’s statement is that it fails to recognize and acknowledge the cause of the IS, and by not seeing the cause it misapprehends the inflammation and chooses a course of action that throws gasoline on the fire and spreads the conflagration further.
Like Bush before him with Saddam Hussein and Iran, Obama’s impulse is to view the IS in moral terms as an evil organization and to affix responsibility and blame for its evil actions upon those who lead it and adhere to it. He judges them, and this moral judgment is prone to result in a sentence and a punishment inflicted by him or assisted by him with the cooperation of other states and peoples in the region. However, calling something evil and seeking to exterminate it or its perpetrators doesn’t necessarily get at the cause of the evil and doesn’t necessarily stop it from spreading further. It does exactly the opposite, attracts fuel to the evil fire. World War II cannot be used as a model scenario for exterminating evil. That required unbelievably barbaric bombing and destruction. The temptation to do the same and widen the war occurred in Korea but was averted. However, in Southeast Asia the bombing of Cambodia alone exceeded that dropped on Japan in World War II, and it failed in its goal.
Obama and Bush before him have both made a great effort to separate their attacks on evil from attacks on the Muslim world in general, and they have been exactly correct in doing so. Nevertheless, the methods they have used, military methods, have occurred in Muslim lands and have severely damaged innocent Muslim people as so-called collateral damage. Even if a person perpetrating evil has been eliminated, justice has been severely undermined by the American methods of operation. America has done evil, but this is the basic fact that Bush and Obama and the American people following them are ignoring. Evil easily begets evil, and this has occurred. American evil has caused the retaliation on American soil. This has caused the blowback. It has caused the threats against America. It has provided the sparks leading to bigger and bigger fires, first al-Qaeda and now the IS.
I know that most Americans will reject what I am saying out of hand. To admit that one’s country has done unimaginable evil is very difficult, and especially difficult when one has heard the opposite for years on end, when one is patriotic, when one empathizes with the Americans killed and injured in what was advertised as a noble effort to remove some threat or some evil. The inability of America’s leaders to see the evils they have perpetrated, much less acknowledge them and change their behavior, is symptomatic of a disorder of the mind in which one fails to see reality. Instead one discards certain facts and selectively emphasizes certain other facts, the result being to create an illusory image of reality and what one has actually done. Bush and Obama cannot recognize and admit to themselves that they are murderers. The large numbers of senators and representatives who have participated in the murders likewise cannot admit this fact. How far down or how deeply this illusory reality has spread among members of government and within the American people is something I do not know. I only know that the U.S. government in the name of the American people has done great evil. I say this with no hatred in my heart for this country or its people. If anything, my emotion is the opposite. I say it not as a judgment but to state a fact that contradicts the basis of righteousness upon which American leaders have been proceeding.
The specific evil that got me writing for LRC was the propaganda campaign of Bush prior to attacking Iraq. That period of time, 2001-2003, was when the full impact of the American empire first hit me. My consciousness had been awakened earlier, a good deal earlier, but the scope of the lies being told and the aggression being perpetrated were so great and so blatant that I could only maintain my own sanity by objecting. Fortunately, LRC provided a means.
What is the source or the sources of the evil that grips Washington? This is lost in the fogs of history. It is enough if we recognize the psychopathology, the disorders of the mind, that are now prevalent in Washington and among Americans and that continue over and over and over to construct a fantasy version of reality that breeds evil in response.
It is true that the behavior of the IS stands miles apart from that of others who also are Muslims and who do not identify people as apostates and kill them. It is true that those doing this bear responsibility for their actions. However, although they have chosen to murder, they are not solely the cause or causes of their decisions. They didn’t create the context from which their evil has sprung. They didn’t intervene in the Middle East for decades on end. They didn’t apply sanctions to Iraq for years on end. They didn’t attack Iraq. They didn’t attack Libya and Afghanistan. They didn’t undermine Syria. They didn’t supply arms and training to various groups in these countries that they laid their hands on. They didn’t look the other way as various other Arab nations, allies of the U.S., supplied arms. Americans did all this and more.
It’s always been a source of wonder to me that peoples on the receiving end of America’s foreign and war policies in these lands were not more radicalized as they have been as in the IS. Maybe this was simply a matter of time.
The clock is ticking. America keeps adding fuel to the fires it has sparked. American leaders and Americans have to recognize their own guilt and part in causing something like the IS to form. They have to recognize that their interferences in the Middle East, Afghanistan and parts of Africa have been evil and a failure, and, if possible, they need to recognize the sources of that evil and root them out of their thinking. The same sources have brought America into Ukraine and that conflict. A kind of insanity, a kind of psychopathology, is prevalent. There is excessive fear of the foreign. Senators excite the population with images of members of IS flying into the U.S., ready to wreak havoc, just as earlier propaganda collated Saddam Hussein with mushroom clouds. Paranoid leaders hold the matches in their hands, ready to start more fires overseas.