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“A Crackpot, Deviant Sect”: An Apocalyptic Death Cult Has Its Limits

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
          —Voltaire

Years before Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden, this column argued that al Qaeda was capable of “theatrical acts of mass murder,” but was not a military threat to the United States.

The phrase infuriated some readers. Back then tough guys talked about fighting “Islamofascism,” supposedly a totalitarian ideology linking bitter enemies such as Iran and al Qaeda (but never Saudi Arabia, where the oil and money are, and where almost all the 9/11 conspirators originated) in an alliance to destroy Western Civilization.

Nobody says that any more.

My point was simple. Fascism was a poor analogy. Pundits’ Churchillian fantasies aside, what made Nazism “uniquely dangerous wasn’t merely Hitler’s hypnotic ideology. It was German militarism and hyper-nationalism run amok. Islamic extremists control none of the world’s 60-odd Muslim-majority nations. They have no army, air force or navy. They pose no military threat to the integrity of the United States or any Western nation.”

Nor does ISIS, al Qaeda’s more flamboyant and equally murderous rival. Last week’s appalling atrocities in Paris, Beirut, and Egypt underscored that reality in the bloodiest possible way. Almost everybody anticipates similar attacks in the United States. We must pray that they fail. However, as President Obama has said, a terrorist willing to die can murder innocents in restaurants as easily as in Connecticut classrooms.

Yet for all the fury and despair these attacks have evoked—I think of a little Parisian girl named Charlotte and her family—ISIS cannot and will not prevail. It’s less a political movement than an apocalyptic death cult, and definitely not an existential threat to the United States, France, or Russia.

Sane leaders would know better than to antagonize three of the world’s most powerful military establishments at once.

ISIS’s self-anointed “Caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is not that kind of leader. Think David Koresh or Jim Jones with a militia and a Koran instead of a Bible. Theologically, ISIS is to Islam as the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity, by which I mean they’re a crackpot, deviant sect. But they’re even crazier than that.

Madness, however, has never prevented cult leaders from gaining an enraptured following. If anything, the converse appears true.

It’s a fact of life Orwell recognized in a 1940 review of Hitler’s Mein Kampf: “Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them, ‘I offer you struggle, danger, and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.”

Writing in The Atlantic, Graeme Wood explains ISIS’s hypnotic appeal to dispossessed and humiliated young men:

During the last years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Islamic State’s immediate founding fathers…saw signs of the end times everywhere. They were anticipating, within a year, the arrival of the Mahdi—a messianic figure destined to lead the Muslims to victory before the end of the world…. For certain true believers—the kind who long for epic good-versus-evil battles—visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fulfill a deep psychological need.

It almost goes without saying that you can’t make treaties with such people. They can only be defeated.

The question is how? And at what cost?

Confronted with a newly belligerent press corps in Turkey recently, President Obama spoke mockingly about taking action that would “somehow in the abstract make America look tough or make me look tough.”

“When you listen to what [GOP candidates] actually have to say,” the president said, “what they’re proposing, most of the time when pressed they describe things that we’re already doing. Maybe they’re not aware that we’re already doing them. Some of them seem to think that if I were just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference, because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough.”

Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum went down the list of the GOP candidates’ suggestions, but found nothing new:

There’s a lot we can do to defeat ISIS, and most of it we’re already doing. Airstrikes? Check. Broad coalition? Check. Working with Arab allies? Check. Engage with Sunni tribal leaders? Check. Embed with the Iraqi military? Check. There’s more we could do, but often it’s contradictory. You want to arm the Kurds and create a partnership with the Iraqi government? Good luck. You want to defeat Assad and ISIS? You better pick one. You want to avoid a large American ground force and you want to win the war fast? Not gonna happen.

Yes, Obama’s “red line” in Syria was a strategic blunder; his “junior varsity” remark was cocky and ill-advised. Also, Vladimir Putin’s right: The Assad government’s bad, but ISIS is far worse.

However, ISIS has turned to terror because it’s gradually losing the ground war, and the Caliphate is shrinking.

La belle France is not.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, November 18, 2015

November 18, 2015 Posted by | Adolph Hitler, ISIS, Paris Attacks | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Dole, Nazis, And Desperation In Kansas”: Pat Roberts’ Oblique-But-Clear Hitler Comparison

Weren’t politicians supposed to agree that invoking Hitler is usually a bad idea? Somebody better remind Pat Roberts, the Kansas senator on whom the GOP’s hopes of taking over the Senate increasingly depend, that that’s the general bargain. Because lately, the evermore desperate incumbent is going around the Jayhawk State saying things like this:

“There’s a palpable fear among Kansans all across the state that the America that we love and cherish will not be the same America for our kids and grandkids, and that’s wrong. One of the reasons that I’m running is to change that. There’s an easy way to do it. I’ll let you figure it out. But at any rate, we have to change course because our country is headed for national socialism. That’s not right. It’s changing our culture. It’s changing what we’re all about.”

All right, no explicit Hitler mention. But…national socialism? We’ve all heard Obama equals socialism until it’s coming out our ears. But national socialism? That’s Nazism. The National Socialist Democratic Workers’ Party, in case you’d forgotten. And there was only one. Benito Mussolini came out of the more straightforwardly named National Fascist Party. Japan had something called the Imperial Rule Assistance Association.

But only Hitler’s Germany had a national socialist party (well, also certain successor offshoots, as in Hungary). So it’s pretty clear what Roberts is saying here. He would deny it, of course, if Kansas reporters tried to ask him. But denying it would be like giving a speech that makes reference to gruesome murders by repeated stabbing and using victims’ blood to write “Helter Skelter” on the walls and then saying goodness no, whatever gave you the idea that I was referring to Charles Manson?

This is not okay. But I would suspect Roberts is going to get away with it, because Greg Orman, the independent challenger who is lately running ahead of him, is not going to stand up in the state of Kansas a few weeks before Election Day and defend Barack Obama on anything, even an oblique-but-clear Hitler comparison.

The more one studies Roberts, the more one concludes that he is the kind of fellow that former Nebraska Senator Roman Hruska had in mind when he famously quipped that mediocre people are entitled to a little representation, too. Mediocre at best, malevolent at worst. It interests me that he’s lately trotted out old Bob Dole to campaign with him. Dole, coming as he does from an earlier time and now a defanged nonagenarian, represents a degree of old-school moderation at this point in his life, so by appearing with Dole while making references to national socialism, Roberts can cleverly have it both ways. But I hope enough Kansans remember what Roberts did to Dole when the latter was counting on him most.

Dole, who suffered a crippling injury in the Big War, had been one of the leading sponsors of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990. He always called it a proud moment. Fast-forward to late 2012, when the Senate was considering approval of an international treaty designed to spur other nations to emulate the United States’ groundbreaking law. Dole was its most famous spokesman. On December 4, 2012, the now-wheelchair-bound ex-senator rolled himself onto the floor of the old chamber to pigeonhole his former colleagues. A heart-rending scene. How could he lose?

Well, one way he could lose was for his old friend Roberts, who was in the House while Dole was in the Senate, to vote against him, which Roberts did. In fact both Kansas senators did—Jerry Moran’s betrayal was even worse, since Moran had committed to the measure publicly, which Roberts hadn’t. The right-wing lobbying machinery got cranked up and warned God-fearing Americans that approval of this treaty would give the United Nations the power to end home-schooling, or something like that. And so the world’s greatest deliberative body voted down a treaty inspired by our own good example because, you know, one-worldism, Obama, national socialism, and so on. And Roberts and Moran were the prime profiles in cowardice.

The only other time in his career that Washington took much notice of Roberts came during the Iraq War, when he walked point for the Bushies in bottling up for more than two years a report on how the administration misused pre-war intelligence. If you followed such things at the time, perhaps the phrase “Phase II report” will snap a synapse or two. Roberts made repeated promises early on that he would release the report, that there was nothing to fear and that he certainly wanted the truth. Then the weasel words crept in and he started to say things like: “I’m perfectly willing to do it, and that’s what we agreed to do, and that door is still open. And I don’t want to quarrel with Jay [Rockefeller], because we both agreed that we would get it done.” He reversed himself and danced all over the floor. The report was eventually released, but long after it would have had any dramatic political impact, which was of course why Roberts delayed in the first place.

So this is the career Roberts is seeking to salvage by dragooning the man he once betrayed into last-minute service and by raising the specter of America’s Nazi future. Roberts is behind right now, and GOP Governor Sam Brownback looks like he’s going to lose, meaning perhaps the top two Republicans in deep-red Kansas might go down in flames. And it would be nice to think that the right-wing extremism of the Obama era would come back to bite them in, of all places, the Koch brothers’ backyard.

UPDATE: I see from Greg Sargent that Roberts was asked about this quote by a reporter yesterday. He said: “I believe that the direction he is heading the country is more like a European socialistic state, yes. You can’t tell me anything that he has not tried to nationalize.” Great. So a United States senator has no idea what “national socialism” means. I guess in this case that qualifies as reassuring.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 26, 2014

September 28, 2014 Posted by | Kansas, Pat Roberts, Senate | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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