On Sunday President Obama gave a primetime national address that was obviously intended to counteract the now deeply rooted and divisive Republican narrative that portrays the President as incompetent and as doing nothing to protect us from ISIL. The danger ISIL presents to America, as Lindsey Graham describes it, is apocalyptic in scale. Without immediate, decisive, and massive military action in the Levant, ISIL will, he warns, “open the gates of hell to spill out on the world”. Graham urges us to be terrified over the prospect that soon ISIL will be “coming here” to kill us all.
Fortunately for America, Republicans comfort us, a phalanx of super-hero GOP presidential candidates stands ready to be our saviors. Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham propose to wage an all-out, no-holds-barred conventional war against ISIL in the Levant. Donald Trump promises that he will “bomb the shit out of them” and that he will show no mercy as he calmly “takes out their families.” Ted Cruz guarantees that he will obliterate ISIL by “making the [Arabian] sand glow.” We can only hope that this was not a reference to the use of nuclear weapons.
None of these Republicans seem to have learned the lessons of Iraq and none are prepared to answer the obvious question, “And then what?” Will we once again work our magic as we “stabilize” the region just like we did after the Iraq War? Neither are they ready to address the blatantly obvious reasons why carpet bombing ISIL controlled regions in the Levant is not an option. The President is right. We must all disabuse ourselves of the idea that there are simple solutions and immediate remedies to the complex problems that now confront us as a human race.
The President also reminded us on Sunday that, although ISIL is a cancerous and perverted ideology that has spread in some Muslim countries and that although ISIL is a very real and evolving international threat, we cannot allow this fight to be defined as a war between America and Islam.
So exactly what will this seemingly now inevitable war truly be about? We must be crystal clear about the driving ideological forces that will fuel this war. We must disabuse ourselves of the illusion that this new global conflict will ever be resolved solely on the battlefields of the Levant. At its core, this will be a much larger war to determine whether a rational, humane, and egalitarian progressivism or an unreasonable, radicalized, violent, and inhumane form of devolutional regressivism will characterize and shape this post-modern century. This war will not be won by the use of military force alone. It will be, and has always been, a battle for the hearts and minds of people all across this globe.
Before America goes marching off to war in the Levant again it had better make up its mind about on which side of this conflict it stands. Either we stand unequivocally united for human rights, personal freedom, equality, and dignity everywhere or we, along with ISIL, stand against these values everywhere and forever. Our historically schizophrenic and chaotic approach to the Middle East must be abandoned. We must determine to never again be a self-serving supporter of despotic regimes in the region. We must repent that we failed miserably when, in the interest of a false sense of regional stability, we declined to support the human rights revolution that is now referred to as the Arab Spring. From that failure ISIS was born.
The 2016 Presidential campaign has laid the soul of the GOP bare for all the world to see. The inconvenient and unsettling truth is that America’s radicalized, corporatized and evangelized national Republican coalition is actually now best understood as a strange bedfellow with ISIS in a global war to ensure that a reasonable and progressive egalitarianism does not thrive in any significant part of the postmodern world.
The greatest threat to America is not ISIL. The greatest threat to our way of life is the threat of a fanatical and militant regressivism. In this country, today’s radicalized, evangelized, and corporatized GOP has not only deftly rallied all those who are intent on demolishing every hard-won guarantee for reproductive autonomy, sexual autonomy, workers’ rights, and equal access to healthcare. These religious, political, and economic extremists have effectively carpet-bombed every major achievement of the various human rights movements empowered in the 1960’s, which were in every case inspired by the powerful visionary ideals of the Age of Reason. Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” not only appeals to the anger some harbor over a sense of lost privilege. His slogan is just another slick way of saying that the devolutionary goal of the ultraconservative right that now dominates the GOP is to return this culture to some mythical era when reason and human rights were irrelevant.
There is another twisted way in which ISIS and a radicalized GOP may serve each other’s purposes. If the goal of ISIL is to lure America into abandoning her proclaimed devotion to the basic human values of freedom, dignity, courage, and equality, a radicalized GOP in search of power may find in the agenda and actions of ISIL a perverted justification for doing just that.
If ISIS is an existential threat to America, its greatest weapon is fear. We must not, out of fear, abandon our absolute devotion to the universal human right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let us hope that wisdom and patience prevail and that America refuses to oblige ISIL, to fall a victim to fear, to fully embrace the ideology of regressivism, and to play the game by ISIL’s rules.