Like many, — perhaps most –men, I long dismissed the idea of rape culture. Sure, I knew rape and sexual assault occurred. Some of the most important women in my life suffered from sexual abuse. But I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that such despicable conduct was widespread, or that there were aspects of wider culture that enabled this. I saw accusations of rape culture as a cudgel, used by a certain variety of feminist activist to criminalize ordinary sexual behavior. I was reminded of scholars like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, who were alleged to have suggested that, given power disparities between men and women, women can never really consent and, therefore, “all heterosexual sex is rape.”
But no longer.
I have had the benefit of having some remarkable women in my life: my incredible wife, Ellen, my best friend, Melissa Greenwald, the extraordinary Cathy Reisenwitz. These are smart, successful, sex positive women. When they talk about the issue and what they have experienced in their lives, I have to listen.
When 9.7 million women post their experiences with sexual abuse under #notokay, I have to pay attention.
When I look at the way rape and sexual assault are treated by the courts, I have to take notice. The case of Brock Turner was not an aberration.
But perhaps the final straw was the Donald Trump groping tape. Not so much the tape itself, but the reaction to it. My Facebook and twitter feeds have been full of messages making excuses for Trump’s actions. I am told that this was nothing more than “locker room talk” or “vulgar language.” No, it was bragging about sexual assault. Yes, men and women often talk crudely about the opposite sex, but we do not, one hopes, kiss women or grab their private parts against their will.
Others have suggested that it’s not really assault, since the women didn’t explicitly and publicly object. Wrong. It’s not up to women to fight back, it’s up to men not to rape. Similarly, women are not to blame for their assaults because they were in the wrong place, drank too much, dressed provocatively, or had sex in the past.
And still others downplay Trump’s responsibility by suggesting that even though he may have bragged about grabbing women against their will, there’s no solid evidence that he actually did so. There are a fair number of women who claim that he did act in this way, or otherwise harassed them, but I’m not going to litigate that here. Rather, even if Trump was lying, his words and attitudes convey the idea that such conduct is acceptable. That, by itself, contributes to a climate where other women can be assaulted.
(And, yes, if Bill Clinton is guilty of even half of what he is accused of doing, his conduct is equally to be condemned.)
I’m not suggesting that every drunken fumbling between college students should be turned into a criminal matter. I’m not suggesting that those accused of sexual abuse should be denied due process. I am saying that the playing field is not level. The culture today too readily accepts the idea of male sexual aggression and entitlement. We can and must change the social attitudes about gender and sexuality so that women are treated as equal partners.
Life is a learning process. I never thought I would be saying this, but thank you Donald Trump for continuing my education.
Things fall apart; The center cannot hold
— WB Yeats
I’ve waited a couple days to comment on the unconscionable murder of police officers in Dallas last Thursday night, and the apparently unjustified police killings of two black men in the days proceeding it, to allow for a cooling of passions and a bit of perspective.
Unfortunately too few of us seem willing to take this course. Once again, we’ve allowed tragedy to become another opportunity for Americans to retreat to their respective corners — in this case Team Black and Team Blue – and begin attacking each other. But real flesh and blood people are dead, people with hopes and dreams, families, and others who loved them.
Before we get to the raw politics of the thing, therefore, let’s pause for a moment to remember the five brave officers cut down in cold blood by a madman: Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarippa.
At the same time, we cannot forget the two black men who died because other police were not as brave and dedicated, but untrained, unprofessional, panicky, or, let’s say it, quite possibly racist: Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
The cold blooded murders in Dallas were a vicious crime committed by a single individual, either deranged or evil or both. Nothing can justify those murders. But that doesn’t invalidate the complaints that have been raised about police misconduct and racial profiling.
Ironically, Dallas has one of the nation’s best police forces when it comes to reducing police brutality and building trust in the community. But as the killings of Sterling and Castile appear to show, not every police force is as well trained, and not every policeman is as honorable as those who were just murdered.
I’ve heard a number of commentators, in the news, and on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, say that we should always stand up for and support the police. No, we shouldn’t. We should stand up and support them when they do the right thing, as so many of them so often do at great personal risk, but when they do the wrong thing, we should be equally quick to condemn them and demand action.
I’ve also seen and heard a lot of criticism of Black Lives Matter. Some have gone so far as to call BLM a “terrorist group.” Get a grip. Does BLM sometimes use intemperate – even irresponsible — language. Absolutely. But unless you are prepared to be equally quick to denounce every Right-to-Lifer who refers to abortion providers as “murderers,” or those on both left and right who call their opponents “traitors,” you have little room to talk. You want intemperate or irresponsible speech? I give you Donald Trump.
More important than language is the issue that BLM has brought to the forefront. Race is still the great dividing line in America. We have come a long way in this country, but the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow still hangs over us. Nor have we achieved full equality yet. In a thousand ways, large and small, African-Americans go through life at a disadvantage. They will experience things from a perspective that I (and most of you, my readers) never will. And if you don’t believe that, your privilege is clearly showing.
We won’t know for certain what happened in the Sterling and Castile cases until a final investigation has been conducted. Initial reports can be wrong (recall Michael Brown). But clearly something is wrong.
Alton Sterling and Philando Castile would almost certainly be alive today if they were white. So would Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, and so many, many others.
And please don’t try to excuse this by talking about black on black crime. Yes, crime rates in the inner city, fueled in part by our war on drugs, are frighteningly high. A black man is far more likely to be killed by another black man than by a police officer. But the killing of an innocent man by a police officer is far worse than other killings because the police act under the color of authority. Police represent us. We pay their salaries. We give them a gun and a badge. We give them the legal authority to use force. When they gun down an unarmed black man, there is a splash back on us.
I don’t have a laundry list of policy prescriptions to deal with all of this right now. Sure there are things we can do — more community policing, training in de-escalation, ending the Godforsaken war on drug, for example. And we should realize that every time we pass a new law, make something else illegal, and give more power to the government, we are creating the potential for the next deadly confrontation.
But this really isn’t the time for debating policy. Perhaps what we really need to do now – right this moment- is simply to be kind to each other. We could do worse.
And with that in mind, I leave you with this:
There are times when simple moral decency requires one to rise above politics.
When Donald Trump implied that all Mexicans immigrants were rapists, Republicans rationalized that Hillary Clinton was worse.
When Trump made misogynistic comments about women, Republicans soothed themselves with the possibility that he might make good Supreme Court appointments.
When he threatened to ban an entire religion from this country, Republicans talked about the failures of Barack Obama.
When Trump re-tweeted racist nonsense about black crime, Republicans talked about party unity.
As trump welcomed the Alt-Right and openly avowed racists and anti-Semites into the ranks of his campaign, Republicans endorsed him.
But Trump’s recent attacks on a federal judge for the offense of being “a Mexican” is as morally offensive as any action by a presidential candidate in modern history. Set aside the fact that Gonzalo Curiel, was born in Indiana, and is as American as you or me. Set aside the fact that Judge Curiel is a courageous man who was actually forced into hiding after taking on the Mexican drug cartels. Set aside, even, the impropriety of a presidential candidate trying to intimidate a judge in a case where he is a litigant.
Set aside all that. Trump’s attack on Judge Curiel is plain and simply racist. The idea that Americans are defined by the ancestry and that people of certain ethnicity cannot be trusted to do their jobs, is the very heart of racism. It is wrong. More than wrong, it is morally repugnant.
So to my Republican friends, I say this is no longer about whether Trump might be slightly better than Hillary on this issue or that one. We would not have said, “well, David Duke had great views on the Second Amendment,” “I like George Wallace’s tax policy,” or “The Klan has a point about quotas.”
This is now about conscience. To continue to support Donald Trump is to acquiesce in the darkest impulses of mankind and stains the American soul. It is not about politics, it is about right and wrong.
I have known Paul Ryan since he was a legislative staffer. I know he is a fundamentally good and decent man. But in continuing to support Trump, he diminishes himself. The same is true for all those other Republicans, from Marco Rubio to John McCain to Bob Corker, who have sold their moral credibility for the sake of party unity or some other temporary political gain. It must stop.
When, someday in the future, your children or grandchildren ask you where you stood today, how will you answer them?
In the era of Donald Trump, perhaps nothing should surprise me any more. Still, I admit I am genuinely perplexed by the amount of criticism I’ve seen of the decision to replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill with one of Harriet Tubman. Trump, himself, weighed in of course, calling the choice “pure political correctness.” But, he’s hardly the only one. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been deluged by people discovering a new found reverence for our seventh president.
Of course, the outcry is not really about Jackson, an important figure in American history, though deeply flawed and far from the status of, say, Washington, Lincoln, or Jefferson. For some partisans, it is simply that if President Obama wants to do it, it must be wrong. But for far too many of those writing, there seems to be a fundamental objection to replacing a white male Founding Father, with a black woman.
This is pure symbolism, I’m told. Well, duh! What else are portraits on our money but symbols? And, if that’s the case, in a nation as diverse as ours, why shouldn’t women and people of color participate in those symbols. Indeed, given our long history of repressing women, African-Americans, and others, isn’t it all the more important to include them as part of American symbology?
But, I’m told, Harriet Tubman did not personally have the impact on U.S. history and development as Jackson. True. And isn’t that part of the point? Women and people of color were denied the opportunity to help develop this country in the way that white men could. That is changing. And it is long past time to recognize it.
In her own way and in the context of the times – indeed, all the more so given the context of the times – Harriett Tubman was a great woman. Born a slave, frequently beaten and abused, she escaped to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Not content with just her own freedom, she became a key organizer with the Underground Railroad, often risking death, imprisonment, or even re-enslavement to rescue other slaves. During the Civil wat she acted as a scout and spy, and later became the first woman to lead troops in a military engagement during the war, the raid on Combahee Ferry. After the war, she became active in the woman’s suffrage movement. A lifelong advocate for freedom and equality, who could better typify America and the American promise?
Political correctness – real political correctness – runs the gamut from dangerous to silly. No, eating a taco is not “cultural appropriation.” But every change that benefits women, African-Americans, Latinos, gays, or others who have long suffered as second class Americans, is not being politically correct. Sometimes, its simply overdue justice. And if putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill makes us a little more aware of our past, both the good and bad, I’m all for it.
As the choices for president become clearer, people ask me if there are any circumstances under which I could support Donald Trump. The answer is a clear and unequivocal no.
It’s not that I disagree with him on nearly every major issue, though I do. His specific refusal to reform entitlements, combined with his proposals to increase spending, threatens to bankrupt the nation. His anti-trade position would take us back to the days of Smoot-Hawley. He supports eminent domain abuse and corporate welfare. He backed TARP and the bank bailout. And I could go on and on. But as a libertarian, I don’t ever expect to find a candidate I agree with on everything. Hell, I didn’t agree with Rand Paul on everything. I certainly don’t agree with Hillary Clinton on, well, anything. For me, voting is almost always choosing the lesser of evils.
And it’s not his fundamental dishonesty, both as a candidate and a businessman. If I’ve learned one thing in Washington, it’s that politicians lie. Besides, Hillary Clinton has turned lying into a high art form. She lies even when the truth is perfectly fine — just for practice. Compared to her, Trump is an amateur liar.
It’s not even his temperament, though I find his bullying and name calling to be absurdly juvenile. He is thin skinned, and tolerates no dissent. His trademarks are braggadocio and loud shouting. He thinks that leadership is jumping in front of the mob and giving them whatever they want. That’s not exactly the sort of person I want with the nuclear codes. But to speak of an egotistical thin skinned politician is practically redundant. And, while Hillary may be more cold-blooded, she is no less wedded to her own lust for power. And vengeance? Thy name is Clinton.
Rather, I oppose Trump because I believe he is truly dangerous for the American experiment. This is a man who casually promises to commit war crimes. This is a man who wants to rewrite libel laws so he can sue journalists who write negative stories about him. This is a man who has tolerated if not encouraged violence by his followers. After a protester was beaten up at his event, he said that “maybe he should have been roughed up. What he was doing was disgusting.” He said of another protester, “I want to punch him in the face.” He praised Putin and said the Chinese “almost blew it” in Tienanmen Square, but finally “showed strength.” Scary stuff.
Most importantly, the man has consistently tolerated and encouraged outright bigotry. In fairness, politicians cannot be held responsible for every action of their followers. And politics often means associating with unsavory characters. Ted Cruz shared a stage with a preacher who says gays should be put to death. Barack Obama hung out with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. But Trump goes far beyond the usual necessities of politics.
He could barely bring himself to denounce David Duke and the KKK. (Aside from his wink and nod with Jake Tapper, consider his routine “I repudiate” of the Klan, with the 15 minutes he spends trashing, say, Vicente Fox.) He routinely re-tweets memes from white nationalist groups, and has tolerated their presence in his campaign. His misogynistic comments about women are legend. He mocks and denigrates Muslims, Mexicans, the disabled, and others. This is not about not being politically correct; this is about playing with evil.
In some ways the left is suffering from too often crying wolf. Almost any opposition to President Obama has been denounced as racist. We live in an era of “microaggressions.” But this time the wolf is here.
To support Trump is to give voice and legitimacy to the darkest and most repressive forces in America. That can never be allowed. For that reason, I say #NeverTrump.
Students of politics will recall that the 1991 runoff for governor of Louisiana featured an unappetizing choice between the openly racist Republican David Duke and the three term incumbent Edwin Edwards who had twice been tried, though acquitted on corruption and racketeering charges. (Edwards would eventually be convicted following his third trial in 2000. The dismal options in that election spawned the famous pro-Edwards bumper sticker; “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.”
As I ponder the growing possibility of a Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, I begin to understand how those Louisianans must have felt.
On the one hand, we have Hillary Clinton, a woman with whom I profoundly disagree on nearly every issue. She would almost certainly wreck the economy, burdening our children with another layer of debt and drowning us in new taxes and regulations. And, the thought of Hillary Clinton appointing a Supreme Court justice fills me with dread. Worse, unlike most Democrats she doesn’t even have the virtue of being good on issues of war and peace. She is every bit as interventionist as the most hawkish Republican neoconservative. And whatever current commitment she makes to civil liberties, gay rights, and such, they ring more of opportunistic political conversion than genuine conviction. And on top of all that, I believe Hillary is fundamentally dishonest, a woman who simply could not tell the truth if her life depended on it. I would rather eat ground glass than vote for her.
On the other hand, we have Donald Trump. Even if you assume that he’s telling the truth about his ever evolving views, it is hard to find anything that I can agree with him on. OK, he would cut taxes (though his actual plan is economic nonsense) and protect Second Amendment rights, but that’s about it. His positions, when not simply incoherent, are dreadful on issues ranging from entitlement reform to health care, from eminent domain to corporate welfare. He has a terrible record on civil liberties, even worse than Hillary. His opposition to free trade is antithetical to economic growth as well as liberty. And, of course, there is his ignorant, xenophobic, and frankly racist position on immigration. Indeed, throughout his campaign, Trump flirts with racism and racists, from his casual retweeting of “white power” memes to his toleration of anti-Semitic and white nationalist elements within his campaign. He also has tolerated, and sometimes seemed to encourage violence by his followers. He exhibits utter contempt for constitutional norms, even if he understands them. At bottom, he scares the hell out of me.
What then should a lover of liberty and a believer in limited government do? The crook or the bigot?
My friend Jonah Goldberg suggests that the only real option remaining may be SMOD (the sweet meteor of death). https://twitter.com/smod2016?lang=en
Yes, SMOD would likely mean the end of all life on earth. But after looking at the way this current election is headed, wouldn’t we deserve it? Count me in SMOD2016!
Rand Paul has ended his presidential campaign, and the postmortem begins.
Paul was once celebrated as the avatar of a burgeoning “libertarian moment.” Now, the failure of his campaign is being taken as evidence, somewhat gleefully by big-government social conservatives like National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru (http://bit.ly/1JYgrHr), more mournfully by libertarian pessimists like Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center (http://fxn.ws/1GpBpYg). The truth as I see it is, not surprisingly, more complex.
A political campaign was always a flawed and limited vehicle for the larger libertarian goal of a freer, more tolerant, more peaceful society. Candidates must inevitably operate within the constraints of the existing political system, one that requires compromises, waters down principles, and reveals flaws. Ultimately voters are looking at candidates and positions on particular issues of specific priority to each of them, rather than broad political philosophies.
And, to be blunt, we libertarians need to admit that we are still a minority of the electorate. Some estimates suggest that only about 11 percent of voters self-identify as libertarian. That number may be artificially low due to unfamiliarity with the term, but even if you use the broadest libertarian definition, being economically conservative and socially liberal, the numbers remain uncomfortably low. Using other criteria, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight estimates that slightly less than a quarter of the electorate leans broadly libertarian. And, even those who might be considered libertarian may hold views on specific issues that are not libertarian, and/or may not vote in a libertarian manner. Remember those signs during the Obamacare saying “Keep the government out of my Medicare.”
That’s not quite as bad as it looks though. We need to remember that most Americans are simply not ideological at all. The numbers of Americans who can be classified as conservative or liberal does not greatly exceed the number of libertarians. A committed minority can move elections. Still, libertarians should not indulge the fantasy that this is a libertarian country.
Rand, himself, attempted to walk a fine line in this regard. His strategy was to start with the base of libertarian voters who supported his father, and then expand that base by attracting more traditional conservatives. This sometimes led him to take non-libertarian positions, emphasizing his social conservative positions on abortion and gay marriage. He struggled early in trying to define his positions on foreign policy in the face of ISIS and the fear of terrorism, veering from traditionally libertarian skepticism about interventionism and regime change to more mainstream conservative positions on the IRAN deal and limiting the admission of refugees. He championed his opposition to NSA spying, but seldom talked about cutting taxes or spending. He was too often neither fish nor foul. Paul himself called it “libertarinish.” As a result, he often alienated libertarians, without attracting conservatives.
On top of that, Rand’s position as “the outsider” who challenges the establishment was usurped by the rise of Trump. When compared to The Donald, he looked increasingly conventional. He was no longer “the most interesting man in politics,” as Time magazine once christened him.
Could a better strategy or a better candidate have performed better? Perhaps, but most likely not in this environment at this time.
Still, we are better off because he tried. All too often, Rand was the lone voice of reason on the GOP debate stage, warning about the dangers of military adventurism and calling for greater concern about the poor and minorities. In a GOP field that is fighting over which country to invade next or which group to demonize the most, it was worthwhile simply to have a voice for the truth. The other candidates obviously have not paid attention to him, but maybe – just maybe – some Americans did. If so, that’s fewer Americans headed down the road to Trumpism.
Progress is almost always incremental. America is a conservative country in the sense that it instinctively resists great political upheavals or radical changes in direction. Change, in whatever direction, is almost always incremental. If we want to change things, we must offer real world, incremental solutions that move us in the right direction.
And, we should remember that Rand was a candidate, not the libertarian moment or the libertarian movement. He lost, the fight goes on.
My latest novel is out
An exciting tale of love, intrigue, and dark magic, set against a backdrop of religious and ethnic strife in 13th Century Europe. The story began with Days Dark as Night and continued with Nights Lit by Fire. Now in the thrilling conclusion, Simon and Joet have survived the siege of Cardester Castle, but their hold on Adama’s throne may be more perilous than ever. Caught between a wounded but still powerful papal army and the growing ambitions of Haakon, King of Norway, they must now confront an ancient evil rising once more in their midst. Priests and kings, peasants and sorcerers, all will play their part, as the fate of nations hangs in the balance. And this time, neither Simon’s strength at arms nor Joet’s arcane powers may be enough to save them.
Note: This is the paperback edition. The kindle version will be released on December 28.
Or start at the beginning:
Days Dark as Night is the story of Joet, a young peasant girl with magical abilities, who survives the massacre of her village to become the leader of her people. It is also the story of Simon, a disillusioned young knight, who must stand for what he believes is right—even if it means taking arms against his king and his own father. Caught up in a conflict that sweeps from the beginnings of the Inquisition to the founding of Amsterdam, from the bloody battlefields of Northern Europe to the papal palaces of Rome, these two young people will find themselves facing enemies far more dangerous than mere flesh and blood. Together, Simon and Joet will have to cast off a legacy of superstition and ethnic hatred, or see everything they hold dear consumed by the fires of war.
Simon and Joet have fought their way to Adama’s throne, but now they face new enemies both within and without. As civil war threatens to tear the kingdom apart and a papal army prepares to invade, a new threat arises—one that may be a match even for Joet’s arcane powers. As the action sweeps from the glittering palaces of Rome to the mead halls of Norway, Simon and Joet will find their lives and love tested by war, treachery, and the fires of dark magic.
Every weekday, I get in my car and drive into Washington, DC to work. At other times, I eat in restaurants, go the theater and concerts, or visit museums in the city. I live less than a mile from the DC line. So, yes, I find it a bit disconcerting when ISIS releases a video promising a Paris-style attack on the city.
Do you know what I’m going to do about it? Absolutely nothing. And, that’s a good thing. The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize. That’s why we call it terrorism. I refuse to be terrorized. I refuse to change my life or spend my days looking over my shoulder. I refuse to stop doing what I did before.
The same should be true for our government and our society. I don’t want to give up our civil liberties in order to purchase a little added safety. Should we be vigilant? Of course. Should we track down and arrest or kill the terrorists? Absolutely. But in an open, liberal democracy, there is no such thing as perfect safety.
I fully expect that, sooner or later, terrorists will strike again in the United States. Americans will die. That is terrible and tragic. But, last year, more than 35,000 Americans died in auto accidents. The reality is that I’m more at risk from driving my car to work than I am from terrorists. If all we cared about was preventing deaths, we would ban cars. That we don’t, shows a proper sense of perspective.
I want a similar sense of proportion when it comes to terrorism. I don’t want the government monitoring my communications, detaining people without trial, closing mosques, or otherwise violating our civil liberties in order to fight terrorism. We can be reasonably safe – not perfectly safe, but reasonably – without making America something less than America.
Similarly, I am disturbed by the hysteria surrounding resettlement of Syrian refugees. Is it possible that a terrorist might slip in amidst the widows and orphans (only about 2 percent of Syrian refugees coming to the US are military-age men without families)? I suppose so, although there are certainly easier ways for a would-be terrorist to get here. But is that very small risk worth denying America’s heritage as a refuge for people fleeing tyranny?
Nor should the fear of terrorism become an excuse for religious bigotry. As I wrote the other day, the attack in Paris was carried out by a cult of radical islamicists. That does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists or evil, or that Islam itself is a threat. As one Facebook meme put it very well: There are 1.2 billion Muslims. If they were all terrorists, we would all be dead by now. In fact, consider that those Kurds we are all cheering for their pro-Americanism – and for retaking ISIS-claimed territory in Iraq and Syria – are Sunni Muslims. And, lest you say that moderate Muslims are not condemning these attacks – yes they are:
ISIS is not going to conquer the United States. It is dangerous, indeed barbarous, but it is not an existential threat. But it can make us change our way of like. It can make us different than the country that I love. If they do, they will have won.
Before all else, my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of Friday’s horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris. And, not just the French. The day before the Paris attacks, suicide bombers in Beirut killed more than 40 people. The same day, a bomb at a funeral in Baghdad killed 24. And every day, terrorists murder countless numbers in Nigeria and Yemen and Syria and Bangladesh and….
Next, I speak as an educated and reasonably well-read layman. I am not an expert on military or diplomatic strategy. These are not policy areas that I work on. But, like many Americans, I have thoughts and ideas that I wish to share. Take them for what they are worth.
Let me begin, then, by disposing of some silliness – no stupidity. The attack in Paris was carried out by a cult of radical islamicists. That does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists or evil or that Islam itself is a threat. As one Facebook meme put it very well: There are 1.2 billion Muslims. If they were all terrorists, we would all be dead by now. In fact, consider that those Kurds we are all cheering for their pro-Americanism – and for retaking ISIS-claimed territory in Iraq and Syria – are Sunni Muslims. And, lest you say that moderate Muslims are not condemning these attacks – yes they are:
So, if you are among the people on my Facebook feed saying that we should nuke Mecca or shut down all the mosques, you are teetering dangerously close to idiocy.
That said, the failure of the Obama administration, the Democratic candidates for president, and certain liberal media outlets to admit that the attackers were radical islamicists is absurd. ISIS may practice a twisted medieval version of Islam, but there is no doubt that their vision of Islam is what motivates them. You cannot wage an ideological and theological battle if you don’t know – or admit — what your opponent’s ideology and theology is. Truth should not be a casualty of this war.
Second, the big question is what to do next. Like almost everyone else, I agree that “ISIS must be destroyed.” But how? The Obama administrations approach could hardly be less effective. The very fact that French warplanes struck a command and control center in Raqqa last night raises an obvious question. Why, after more than a year of US bombing, was there still a command and control center in Raqqa? The administration’s approach seems to be doing just enough to make us a target, but not enough to accomplish anything.
But what are the alternatives. “Bomb the shit out of them,” as Donald Trump says? Are we really prepared for massive civilian casualties from that type of bombing campaign. What do you do with a city that has a few thousand ISIS fighters hidden amongst tens of thousands of civilians? Are the civilians we will kill less innocent than the victims in Paris? I know and accept there will always be collateral damage during war. Sometimes its necessary. But how much are we prepared for, and what will be the blowback? Will we lose allies? Radicalize more Muslims?
Others cavalierly suggest more American troops. How many? And, recall that Vietnam started with just a few advisors. How will Iraqis and Syrians react to Americans occupying their land? And, how long must we stay there? Decades? We can conquer if we are willing to accept consequences, but then what?
Still other hawks, including Hillary Clinton and various Republicans, are calling for a No Fly Zone in Syria. But as Rand Paul pointed out in the last debate, what happens if Russians fly in our no fly zone? Are we ready to shoot down Russian planes? And what if they retaliate by shooting down ours? Do we risk war with Russia? Or do we back down – again – and look pathetically weak.
That leaves our current policy of arming and supporting allies like the Kurds and a motley array of Syrian rebels. The Kurds have done well, and I think we should arm them, but there are limits to what they can do. Syrian (and even Iraqi) Arabs have no desire to be ruled by Kurds. Sunni Muslims don’t want to be ruled by Shiites. Shiites don’t trust Sunnis. The Alawites, Druze, and other insular minorities have their own histories of ethnic hatreds. So who are our allies – and for how long? Do we decide who runs the place – or do they just fight it out?
On the other hand, I actually do think that territory matters in this war. ISIS needs its image of invincibility. It says it has reestablished the caliphate. Take that away from them, and they will be a lot less attractive to the disillusioned young people now joining them. I don’t think military options should be taken off the table. But we should recognize that there are consequences to our actions. There are always consequences.
I don’t have any answers. I have no moral objection to fighting a war (properly declared) against ISIS. I’m open to ideas about how to do this. There are many people – including many of you reading this – who know more about it than me. But, so far, much of what I’m hearing is cathartic but facile.
From those running for president, both Democratic and Republican, we need and deserve something more thoughtful.