Obama And The World’s White Blood Cells

The world is in the midst of the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. Ebola is a rare virus that infects and eventually kills a majority of its victims. Some species of Ebola are more deadly than others, with one species killing almost 8 in 10 of the people it infects. There is often a lot of bleeding associated with an Ebola infection, like bleeding “from the eyes nose, ears, mouth, and rectum.” Here is one description of why Ebola is such a killer:

One of the main things that seems to make Ebola viruses especially deadly is that they seem to be able to evade much of the human immune system. Among other problems, white blood cells from the immune system are often seen to die off in patients. And if the body can’t fight fully back, the virus can just keep taking over.

In order to beat Ebola, bodies need a strong immune system—especially white blood cells—to fight back.

We, the United States of America, are part of the immune system of another fight against a deadly virus infecting a part of the world: Islamist terrorism. Currently its most deadly species is ISIL.

I have heard a lot of talk since Obama’s speech on Wednesday, outlining his approach to confronting the phony “Islamic State.” Some of that talk focused on the strategy, some of it focused on the legality, and some of it focused on whether we actually have a real coalition of nations, especially Arab states, sufficient to warrant going forward with any hopes of ebola flagsuccess. But despite all the debates, both legitimate and otherwise, we should never lose sight of the fact that if we fail to act against this spreading infection, no matter who is with us, it will have consequences we won’t like.

Right now, the Ebola virus is attacking people in West Africa, far, far way from the United States. There is little chance, at the moment, that we will be impacted by Ebola here at home. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have an interest in helping fight it in West Africa. The world is connected by airplanes. Everywhere. Ebola can have a first class ticket to nearly any destination in the world. And even though the United States doesn’t have much to fear from Ebola directly—we have the resources and technology necessary to keep a widespread outbreak from happening here—we do have national interests, both economic and moral, in not allowing Ebola to spread its infection to other parts of the world.

It’s the same way with the spread of the ISIL virus.

That’s why I was shocked to hear Jeffrey Sachs, a liberal, say on television this morning that he thought President Obama’s plan to attack ISIL was “absurd.” Not misguided or unconstitutional or insufficient, but absurd. Sachs was on television because he wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled, “Let the Middle East Fight Its Own War on ISIS,” in which he says:

…Obama is leading us into a prolonged trap; the fight against ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIL) is a fight that the region itself should lead…Yet again, as with George W. Bush, Obama will needlessly set the US up as the leader of a crusade against Islam…President Obama is getting us still deeper into this never-ending battle with monsters stoked by our own ill-advised policies…So why is Obama leading us further down this failed path? The US fights these failed wars mainly because of domestic politics….We can’t win this war any more that we could win the Vietnam War, but Obama dare not “lose” the war on terror before the next election…These wars are therefore as open-ended as they are futile…If the US had a real strategy for national success, we would let the Middle East face and resolve its own crises, and demand a UN framework for action.

Those kinds of sentiments are voiced by people who don’t view ISIL as a deadly virus that can spread to other regions of the world. But at the heart of those sentiments is a dangerous isolationist idea. It is a dangerous thing to say to countries in the Middle East that they are essentially on their own in the fight against ISIL. It’s not really our problem. We don’t have to worry about it here at home, so to hell with the rest of you. We’re tired of fighting your battles.

flag and cellsYet, just a moment’s thought would reveal what would happen, if we, and other nations around the world, felt the same way about Ebola, if we told the governments of Liberia, or Guinea, or Sierra Leone that Ebola was their problem, that if they wanted to fight it they should fight it themselves without our help. Ebola would spread. And kill.

Thankfully, we are not abandoning West Africa in its fight against Ebola. We, along with Great Britain, are even sending troops and other resources there to fight the spread of that deadly virus. And now President Obama, having begun the fight against a similarly deadly virus in Iraq, is poised to act against ISIL in Syria.

The world of nations is one body now. Islamist terrorism is a deadly, deadly pathogen that has infected a part of the world body. It’s current and most bloodthirsty strain is ISIL. We, the people of United States, are an integral part of the world’s immune system. We are its white blood cells. To ignore that reality is to invite more death and devastation, not less.


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  1. King Beauregard

     /  September 12, 2014

    It used to be that competence had a clearly liberal bias, back when the questions of the day were the likes of “do we invade Iraq over 9/11 attacks they had nothing to do with and WMDs that not even Hans Blix can find?” I think this has made a lot of Lefties intellectually lazy, in that they got used to all military intervention being wrong, all administration statements being lies, and so on.

    I also find myself questioning the morality of many on the left, who seem to be content with whatever happens so long as there is no blood directly on our hands.


    • When the U.S. military is run by Christians with barely any ideological distinction from the Muslim attackers, you would be supporting Holy War, not justice.

      You are asserting that one nation has the right to invade another nation because they don’t agree on what is justice.

      Mainly because of Christians/Republicans, the U.S. likes to think that it inately has unilateral power to mete out justice anywhere it can reach, and it abhors United Nations and any claim that maybe justice requires a dispassionate outside view.

      So, sure, a terrorist attack is a crime, and the criminals came from another nation, so support military action on the part of a country with unrestricted military power, no international accountability, and religious ideologues as leaders.

      The United States sort of deserves to be deserted by the concept of international justice because it doesn’t respect such a thing. But for the rest of the world, including especially countries where terrorism has become normal, if they are appealing to the United States instead of the United Nations for help, then the terrorists are the ones making the call.


      • Sorry, I missed your comment for approval. My bad.

        This isn’t a Holy War, nor am I advocating that it should be. We’re not going to drop bombs on ISIL because a) the U.S. military is run by Christians or b) ISIL members are Muslims. We are going to drop bombs on them because they are murderous thugs who are trying to kill as many people as possible who don’t follow their version of Islam or who otherwise get in their way of establishing what they laughingly refer to as an “Islamic State.” Aside from the moral case to bomb the hell out of them, left unchecked they would threaten the interests of our allies in the region and our own interests in time.

        It really is that simple, Tige. And no, we don’t have “unilateral power to mete out justice anywhere we can reach,” obviously. But in this case we do have the power to help remove from the world a virus that threatens its well-being. You can call that justice or anything you want, but I call it using power wisely and morally and quite justifiably.

        And the terrorists are not “making the call” any more than the Nazis made the call in WWII, except to the extent that their actions necessitate action on our part. I doubt very much that in the spring of 1945 the Nazis were proud they had made the call to get the U.S. involved in their attempt to conquer Europe. And I am hoping that someday the ISIS bastards in Iraq and Syria will go the way of the Nazis, making the call or not making the call.



      • King Beauregard

         /  September 17, 2014

        “When the U.S. military is run by Christians with barely any ideological distinction from the Muslim attackers, you would be supporting Holy War, not justice.”

        Yep, that’s Obama all right, trying to carve out a Christian empire. Why just the other day he made all members of the Armed Forces swear an oath to the one true Christian God and his only son our savior Jesus Christ.

        “You are asserting that one nation has the right to invade another nation because they don’t agree on what is justice.”

        Whereas you are willing to accept, as a definition of “justice”, a Wahabbist nutjob army that goes on genocidal rampages.


    • I am dismayed at a lot of what I hear coming from the left-leaning punditry. The critique seems to be along these lines: “We have messed up in the past, therefore we shouldn’t do anything in the future.” That, it seems to me, is one of the worst things about the left in this country. There is often an inability to understand that it can be just as dangerous and harmful to do nothing in a given situation as do something that might not work as planned or turn out to be wrong. Sometimes I don’t think lefties are trustworthy, when it comes to making tough decisions like going to war, or not going to war. Those Code Pink protesters at the Senate hearing today serve as perfect examples. “Violence breeds more extremism,” or something like that on their signs and on their lips. Well, sometimes it does, that’s for sure. But in this case the extremism is already there, and we have to deal with it. We can’t just sit around and moan about how stupid it was for George Bush to invade Iraq. Doing nothing is not an option. I think, to some limited extent, Obama was guilty of this strategic hand-wringing regarding arming the rebels in Syria. I totally understood his reluctance, and I even agreed with it at the time, but it turns out that doing next to nothing wasn’t the right thing to do. Now that doesn’t mean that John McCain and Hillary Clinton were right. It doesn’t mean that had Obama acted more aggressively things would have turned out better. In fact, things may even be worse, who knows. But we know that what was done did not work out and we have a fairly strong ISIL to deal with, which may take a long time to put down in Syria.


  2. I just received an interesting email from the Brookings Institute with a link to a newly published piece that summarizes an email conversation among several foreign policy scholars. The interesting part about this piece, for me, is that the scholars provide a very unbiased and realistic overview about the president’s speech on Wednesday. They ask some of the questions the rest of us might ask, but also shed light on some of the underlying issues at stake. One of those issues, which you touch on here, is why the U.S. needs to be concerned with ISIS in the first place. Unfortunately the president didn’t do a very good job explaining our need for involvement in his speech. According to Tamara Cofman Wittes, Senior Fellow and Director at the Center for Middle East Policy, Foreign Policy Program, the real threat from ISIS isn’t that it’s yet another terrorist group, but that it’s a “terroristic army and aspiring government that seeks to overrun not just state borders but states themselves….” To me, even with the little bit that I’ve been following the whole issue, ISIS’s intent is obvious and it is, indeed, seeking to form its own government. As such, it is more an insurgent group that we are seeking to stop – and with good reason. The problem is that in order to do so we may have to form alliances with groups and governments that, up until now, we were loathe to align with for a variety of (good) reasons. As such, getting cooperation from these entities may be difficult, if not impossible. Here is the link to the article, which I think you will find both enlightening and fascinating:



    • Dawn,

      I agree with you President Obama could have done a better job of explaining the situation. I don’t think he was up to his usual standards, but then this is a difficult issue to explain to average people who aren’t paying close attention. He could have said something that Tamara Wittes said (from that excellent article you linked to) that pretty much forms the case for what we are doing:

      It’s a terroristic army and aspiring government that seeks to overrun not just state borders but states themselves, and by doing so, to overturn the regional order on which a large chunk of the global economy rests. We can’t allow that to happen, and that is ultimately why we are willing to increase our limited military engagement and risk wider conflict.

      I like the three elements in that statement: a) these are terrorists who seek a genuine state, b) their actions disrupt the global economy through regional disorder, and c) all of which necessitates military engagement with risks. The only thing I would have included was a description of the brutality of this “terroristic army” and that would have been pretty much all that was needed to get the point across in a succinct fashion. He could have then gone on to fill in the details.

      Thanks for the link, Dawn. Good stuff.


      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. I’ve been reading all the follow-up comments to this post, and there are a couple things that stand out to me. First, I continue to be impressed by your ability to explain your point without resorting to ridicule or condescension. It is always refreshing for me to read such eloquent arguments – from both sides (for the most part) – and I enjoy checking in from time to time. Also, the biggest point in all of this is that ISIS is different from other terrorist groups in that they are seeking to form their own state – a position that, if I understand it all correctly, would create greater upheaval in the already unstable (or, at the very least, fragile) regional order that currently exists in the Middle East. Lastly, at some point someone pointed out that the “War Against Terror” is really a misnomer – we are fighting a war against terrorists. I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. It has always been my position that declaring a war against a particular idealogy is a waste of time and resources – something we should have learned in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Don’t insult our intelligence by trying to make our actions something they are not. I’m ok with fighting to protect our interests – and I’m going to guess that most Americans are, also. Just be somewhat honest about what’s going on, and don’t try to hide behind some tagline intended to spark our emotions in an attempt to gain our support.


        • You are right to note that ISIL’s biggest distinction from other terrorist groups is its state ambitions. It actually has a rudimentary ability to set up and run a state-like entity, although calling it an Islamic State (which they do) at this point is something of a joke. Former Baathist military commanders provide it with some military prowess and other experience necessary to set up a governmental structure, but it is far, far from that, especially with American missiles falling on them in Iraq and with Assad attacking them in northern Syria. Now is the time to go after them, before they can properly consolidate and govern the pieces of territory they now control militarily.

          As for the “war on terror” stuff, Obama has tried to get away from that idea ever since he took office. That phrase may have been developed to cover other, broader actions (like the horrific war we started with Iraq in 2003), so that those actions could be justified under that “terror” umbrella. But Saddam Hussein was never a terrorist in the sense that we are fighting them today. The war we are waging is against specific terrorist groups. Some would even say that technically it is more of a law enforcement action than a real “war.” I don’t really think it matters one way or the other. Our fight is against terrorists, period, just as you said.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Troy

     /  September 12, 2014

    I applaud your analogy here my brotha! This explanation makes more sense than what the President said the another night. Bravo!


  4. Duane,

    Well, I have to part ways with you here. I don’t see a parallel between Ebola and ISIS. In the case of ebola, victory is measured by the eradication of the virus. With ISIS there is no measurable victory. In fact, in all the years after 9/11, we haven’t eradicated al-Qaeda even though we cut off its head in the form of Osama ben Laden. This is because al Qaeda, like all terrorism, is a Medusa. Consider, for example, that we just killed al-Shabab’s leader Ahmed Godane in a drone strike in Somalia last week, and they have already picked a new leader.

    ISIS is relatively new to the game, but even if we get rid of them, history shows that there will be an ISIS 2.0 pop up later. Meanwhile, we still have Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, and other Jihadists to contend with.

    So, I agree with Jeffery Sachs on this one, although I think calling Obama’s plan “absurd” is a bit much. We have destabilized that part of the world for a long time, especially since March of 2003. No reason to believe we can stabilize it now.

    There is no winning here. Through its hubris and its hegemony and its drive to build a global capitalist empire, the United States has put itself in an untenable situation. Will Rogers famous quote is very apropos here, “When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging!”

    But Jeffery and I are not alone on this. On that point, here are a couple of good reads:



    There is another voice that we would do well to listen to. And that is Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, retired. I don’t know if you saw the discussion on the PBS Newshour last night (9/11), but Bavevich was on with three other so-called experts on the Middle East talking about Obama’s “plan.” As far as I’m concerned, his was the only voice of reason. In fact he called the plan “a game of whack a mole.” The others were mostly business as usual. Not a lot of deep thought there. Anyway, here it is, the pertinent part starts at 20:58:


    What we got here is a serious case of blowback. We’re in an area of the world that, with the exception of Israel and Turkey, doesn’t understand secular liberal democracy. The leaders are caliphates and kings – theocrats and autocrats. Lybia is now a failed state, along with Yemen. Syria’s in a civil war. The supposedly new government of Iraq appears to be no better than when Maliki was in charge. It’s still secular. And Maliki’s still in it.

    And are we really going to get in bed with Syria’s Assad? Or Iran’s current Ayatollah? And Saudi Arabia training troops to send to Iraq? Really? Sunni against Sunni? Sunni and Shia soldering side by side? I don’t think so.

    All things considered, I believe we should support the terrorists we like to help them fight the terrorists we don’t like — assuming we can tell the difference. But the countries involved have got to have some skin in the game. Their dependence on the U.S. to bail them out over and over has got to stop.

    So, to continue down the same path we’ve taken in the past — one that we know doesn’t work and that arguably makes things worse — is irresponsible and reprehensible. But that’s just my opinion.



    • Herb,

      You can check out my reply to Jim, but I will address a few things in your post:

      1.) “There is no winning here. Through its hubris and its hegemony and its drive to build a global capitalist empire, the United States has put itself in an untenable situation.”

      We can all agree that many mistakes have been made in the past. I have detailed them time and again on this blog. But whatever the path to this moment involved, the path forward has to be one with the best chance of success. Notice I didn’t say it was bound to be a winner. But there is one thing we know with a fair amount of  confidence: doing nothing guarantees there will be “no winning here.”

      2/) Relying on Colonel Bacevich, you said:

      As far as I’m concerned, his was the only voice of reason. In fact he called the plan “a game of whack a mole.”

      Bacevich’s critique of the Iraq fiasco is, of course, mostly correct. But, again, those mistakes may have led us to this position, but what is the best way forward? It may be a game of whack-a-mole. But the alternative is what? Sure, we have relied too much on our military in the past, as opposed to aggressive diplomacy, but no one can say that we haven’t tried diplomacy for the last few years. It has failed, when it comes to ISIL and what is happening on the ground right now. Obama has finally figured out that this calls for a military intervention, even as the diplomacy continues. I would argue that even if we have to whack these bastards from now until Allah comes back, if that is our only alternative to allowing them to establish a brutal and dangerous state in the region, then so be it. Raise my goddamn taxes and put my name on one of the bombs.

      3.) Sure, it would be nice if the regional parties had some skin in the game, but even if they only give superficial help (they do a lot behind the scenes they don’t want publicized; that is the way it is in the Middle East), we still are faced with acting. It is in our long-term interests.

      4.)You end with:

      So, to continue down the same path we’ve taken in the past — one that we know doesn’t work and that arguably makes things worse — is irresponsible and reprehensible.

      Of course if we do things that don’t work and make things worse, that is a bad thing. Problem is we don’t always know, beforehand, what will work and what will make things worse. I hear people all the time, I heard it this morning during the Senate hearings with Hagel and Dempsey, that if we had only armed the “moderate” rebels in Syria way back when we wouldn’t have this problem with ISIL today. Bullshit. We don’t know what would have happened had we poured tons of weaponry into that mess at the time. It could have been much worse than it is now. We do know that doing nothing, or next to nothing, didn’t work either. Obama’s strategy in that regard didn’t work out too well. But we don’t know what would have worked and anyone who says they know is a fool or a liar. What we know now, and with which you seem to agree (“All things considered, I believe we should support the terrorists we like to help them fight the terrorists we don’t like — assuming we can tell the difference”), is that something has to be done.

      5.) Finally, about the virus thing. You wrote:

      In the case of ebola, victory is measured by the eradication of the virus. With ISIS there is no measurable victory.

      They are eerily similar, Herb. Ebola comes and goes. It has been around for almost 40 years. It would be a strange thing to say of Ebola, back in 1976, “Well, we won’t be able to eradicate this virus for many, many years, so, let’s just do nothing.” Even if Ebola is never “eradicated,” the fight against it can’t and won’t stop. Ditto ISIL and other strains of Islamist extremism.



      • Duane,

        I still don’t like your Ebola metaphor; it’s apples to antelope. Ebola can’t think, can’t plan, can’t hate, can’t even carry a knife, much less behead anybody. Ebola is indiscriminate and apolitical, and doesn’t even have a religion that it can follow zealously, if not mindlessly. You can’t even see the damn things.

        Eradicating Ebola is nothing like eradicating terrorism, much less a specific terrorist group. In fact, I question whether “eradicate” is even the right word. We can eradicate yellow fever and polio, but we can’t eradicate the human condition, be it good, bad, or otherwise.

        On the rest of it, I go long with Russell Brand’s dissection of Obama’s speech, which you can see for yourself here: http://youtu.be/au2Iuba7RJ0

        I guess what gets my ire up here is one of those “here we go again” deals, where the definition of insanity applies — doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result each time. With all the unintended consequences that lay ahead, with all the history in that part of the world we’ve had to learn from, with the high possibility of circumstances hurling out of control at any time, Obama’s plan is, to me and many others, a fool’s errand.

        Obama has put us in a position where we have no other choice. He’s playing politics with American lives with no coherent exit strategy. This is not the 38th parallel. where we have to keep 50,000 troops just so North Korea can’t jump over the fence. There are way too many fences in the Middle East.

        Obama may actually outdo Bush-43 in making the biggest blunder of the 21st century. Charging ahead based for the most part on outrage and retribution while ignoring other more compelling factors and other more rational voices puts on a very dangerous path.

        I hope I’m wrong. But, then, I hope I win the lottery too.



      • Duane,

        Well I got so caught up in my harangue that I didn’t address your contention that, “there is one thing we know with a fair amount of confidence: doing nothing guarantees there will be ‘no winning here.'”

        I don’t see our position as “doing nothing.” What I would prefer is that the U.S. get out of the way as much as possible and let their “partners” in the region do the heavy lifting.

        For example, there are a number of countries — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt — that have military aircraft. That would include our partners in Europe as well. France has already signed up. Those assets, rather than ours, should be used to conduct bombing raids on ISIS.

        Also, any ground troops deployed to Iraq should likewise be from the affected states and/or Europe rather than ours. We could supply support like intelligence and munitions. But the point is to stay as far away from direct engagement as possible.

        On that point, an anti-propaganda campaign should be developed and conducted on social media to contradict the propaganda put out by ISIS to let people know what might happen to them if they sign up and how it’s the countries in the region that are conducting the fight — NOT THE U.S.

        There should be some penalty for any Islamic state that provides funding to ISIS such as paying double the amount involved to humanitarian relief efforts.

        Likewise, the UN should adopt a resolution to prohibit any of its members from paying ransom to any terrorist group holding one or more or their citizens.

        Those are a few ideas. The point is that the Muslims in the Middle East, especially the decision makers, hate Americans. The more we are directly involved in any military action, whether it’s ISIS or Al Qaeda or whoever, the more we stir things up and the easier it is for the terrorists to get more recruits.

        Now, these actions are not “doing nothing.” And certainly their feasibility/practicality in whole or in part is questionable. But they serve to underscore the position I’ve maintained all along that we are a big part of the problem in that area of the world and that, insofar as we can, we should distance ourselves from the action. If we don’t, then we’ll only create even more anti-American sentiment and make matters worse.



        • Herb,

          Okay, what you are advocating isn’t “nothing,” but it is pretty close to it, at least as far as appearances go.

          I can agree with you about not using our ground troops. We shouldn’t do that when there are other troops, with much more at stake at the moment, who are available.

          But I can’t agree that we should step back and not use our air power. Yes, there are other countries who can do much to help in that way, but there is no nation with our capabilities, which, I presume, would work much better if we were not only using our intelligence to guide the missions, but actually flying them. I have to assume that is part of the reason we will be undertaking ourselves many of the missions, both manned and unmanned.

          As for the other things you mentioned, sure there should be a campaign to counter the ISIL propaganda, a campaign that I would be happy to leave to the Arabs involved. But don’t expect too much. These folks traditionally don’t publicly side with the West against other Muslims, even though behind the scenes they are quite happy to help out.

          The UN will never, I am guessing, pass the resolution you mentioned. I don’t understand the thinking behind paying ransoms, beyond avoiding the sting of public opinion at home if a hostage gets killed, but it is apparently a policy of a lot of European countries. So, that likely won’t happen.

          Finally, I don’t think it is possible to “create even more anti-American sentiment and make matters worse.” The level of hatred for America among some Muslims has been high ever since we put bases in Saudi Arabia and invaded Iraq and occupied it for years. I can’t imagine that shooting more missiles and dropping more bombs on the much-hated ISIL (much hated by most Arabs) will do any more to harm our standing.

          The real danger may be the killing of civilians, as we attempt to target ISIL in populated areas. But there is so much killing going on in Syria now that I doubt if it will be possible to figure out who has done what, especially since there are almost no journalists willing to risk their lives covering the mess. No doubt ISIL will publicize any civilian deaths and they will claim those deaths were at the hands of Americans, but few in the Arab world will believe them (although a lot of misguided lefties here at home may be happy to believe them), and the few Muslims who do already despise us.



          • Duane,

            Methinks we have another dead horsey.

            As to the air strikes by U.S. planes, the ISIS killer of Steven Sotloff said this on the video: “You, Obama, have but to gain from your actions but another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone.”

            Obviously, this guy, supposedly representing ISIS, is telling us — Obama — to quit bombing the hell out of them. My point above was that we could do that simply by having other nations do the bombing for us. Ergo the U.S. will distance itself from that part of the conflict thereby neutralizing ISIS’s complaint.

            That’s why it is critical, in my opinion, to get the Arab states involved A.S.A.P. and minimize the DIRECT involvement of the U.S, as much as possible. I’m quite sure the press, both local and international, will report on the change, thus making the threats of ISIS meaningless.

            Otherwise, we’re just sticking our dick out there to get it stepped on. And that sets a precedent that says,

            “If you need help fighting terrorists, just call the ol’ US of A. We have a huge military industrial complex at your service and ready to go. We know mission creep too. So if your fighters get tired, not a problem. We’ll just throw our well trained and equipped soldiers into the battle to take the bullets for you. And, if you don’t need us right now, don’t worry about it. We’ll be in your part of the world from now until the sun blows up.”



            • The ASPCA will soon be on our asses, that’s for sure. It’s one thing to kill the horse and another to beat it after it’s dead.

              But I just wanted to say that I don’t give a damn that some ISIL bastard threatened us. Those people will hate us no matter whether we drop another bomb on them. They don’t need more reasons to despise us. It’s strange how some people argue that ISIL was baiting us to get in this war and some people argue that they are beheading Americans as a warning to stay out. My position is fairly simple: FUCK THEM. We will do what we think is in the best interests of the region, which, coincidentally, involves our own moral and strategic interests.



  5. ansonburlingame

     /  September 13, 2014


    In opposition to both Herb and Sachs, I applaud your comparison to “deadly pathogens”. One is a virus and one is diseased human thinking, using an “ancient book” to justify the thinking. People die from both causes and they should both be erradicated, in my view.

    But “bombing monkeys” (or wherever Ebola comes from) is not a complete solution any more than bombing individual “machine gun nests or trucks”. You can’t “kill’em all”, the carriers of such pathogens.

    You said something above, with which I have long agreed as well. You spoke of “Islamic terrorism” You, yourself, an avid Obama supporter used two words that his administration has long tried not to use, Islamic and terrorism. But you speak the TRUTH, the reality of the pathogen threatening the world today, Islamic terrorism. All monkeys are not bad nor are all Islamists. But there are a deadly group of “monkeys” and terrorist as well. Sort’em out and kill’em is my call for the sake of humans.

    Right now our best hope to contain Ebola is quarentine. Anyone with the disease is put in isolation. Therein they are “treated” until cured or simply die, in isolation. Same would go with diseased “monkeys” carriers of the disease. If we find ONE, we would kill it or at least isolate it outright, probably and if a whole tribe of monkeys was found I doubt we would spend much time trying to sort out individual carriers of the Ebola virus.

    Humans did the same thing with the Black Death centuries ago. We got rid of rats in our midst, carrying the disease. It worked until we finally found a vacinnation to prevent infection to “normal people” from that pathogen.

    If you look, you will find a blog by me speaking, among other matters related to “the speech” the assertion, true or not I don’t know, that we no longer interrogate captured Islamists. Certainly I doubt anyone new has been sent to Gitmo for some time now, maybe since Obama came to power. That would be like not conducting a “humane” medical exam before someone from “Ebola country” gets on an airplane headed or way, or if we found such a person with the disease, not isolating them from “normal society” and keeping them so isolated until we knew with certainty that they were cured.

    Our (lacking) strategy should be one of isolation, anywhere in the world, for anyone carrying the disease of radical Islamic terrorism. If we find a “tribe” exhibiting that disease, well ……… And in the meantime we look, secretly and very carefully anywhere in the world for the source from which that disease might come. When we find a source, like Wahhabism, well ……..? Sure that might not be the only source of radical Islamic terrorism, but it is a big enough of one to just “kill it” or at least isolate it as far as I am concerned. Yet our “friend and ally”, Saudi Arabia has been “spreading Wahhabism” around the world for a long time, now.

    Are we at “war” with Ebola? I hope to hell we are, for our sake and the sake of West Africans. Are we at war with radical Islamic terrorists? I hope to hell we are, but ………?



    • Yes, we agree on some of these issues, especially seeing ISIL as a strain of Islamist extremism that needs our attention.

      But there’s something you wrote I don’t get:

      If you look, you will find a blog by me speaking, among other matters related to “the speech” the assertion, true or not I don’t know, that we no longer interrogate captured Islamists.

      On your blog you indicate the source of that claim is a commenter on Fox. That ought to have been your first clue that it is patently false. But your second clue should have been that interrogation of prisoners has always been a part of warfare. Nothing has changed in that respect, except we no longer do it in violation of international law. How you can base part of your blog on a claim that not only was presumably presented without any evidence, but one that is so obviously false, is beyond me.

      By the way, I disagree with your statement on your blog, which you put into the mouth of President Obama giving a hypothetical speech: “I will ask Congress to declare war on radical Islam.” I can’t think of a single thing that would do more to set back the cause of fighting extremist Islamists than that. Our fight is against people who believe that violently imposing their version of Islam on others is Allah-blessed and against people who believe that America is their number-one enemy in that respect. Congress could no more declare war on “radical Islam” than it could declare war on “nazism” in 1941. It was the Nazis we were fighting in Europe, who were carriers of a horrific virus called Nazism. We were trying to kill as many Nazis as possible in hopes that Nazism would die with them. I don’t know if the same will work as well with killing Isil-like viruses in Syria or Iraq, but it has to be attempted. There simply isn’t any other way of proceeding, it seems to me.



  6. Duane,

    Your post inspired me to wander the internet in search of the meaning of WAR and in so doing I came across a summary of the philosophical thinking of Thomas Hobbes on the subject. Regardless whether one buys into his conclusions, his analysis is, I submit, as germane to present day as it was in the 17th Century. As a result, like Herb, I’m inclined to take respectful exception to your analogy comparing ISIS terrorism with ebola. According to Hobbes, what is going on with ISIS is nothing new, nothing like some new virus nor some new country, nor even some new aspect of human behavior. It is the same human behavior that has plagued human kind since the invention of agriculture and the invention of material surpluses.

    Arguing as he does for his ” . . . astonishing conclusion that we ought to submit to the authority of an absolute—undivided and unlimited—sovereign power”, he makes the case that “the state of nature is a state of war.” The summary says (emphasis mine),

    Taken together, these plausible descriptive and normative assumptions yield a state of nature potentially fraught with divisive struggle. The right of each to all things invites serious conflict, especially if there is competition for resources, as there will surely be over at least scarce goods such as the most desirable lands, spouses, etc. People will quite naturally fear that others may (citing the right of nature) invade them, and may rationally plan to strike first as an anticipatory defense. Moreover, that minority of prideful or “vain-glorious” persons who take pleasure in exercising power over others will naturally elicit preemptive defensive responses from others. Conflict will be further fueled by disagreement in religious views, in moral judgments, and over matters as mundane as what goods one actually needs, and what respect one properly merits.

    This sounds like truth to me. How then can anyone declare war on humanity’s basic nature? There’s no end to it. As Obama’s critics ask, what would victory over ISIS look like? The more prominent the U.S. becomes in the struggle the more we look like the prime target and the better is recruitment for the enemy. What to do? Hobbes would say, if I understand him, that we ought not only declare war, but make it a crusade under an executive with unlimited war powers. (Hmm. Seems we tried that just a decade ago.) Crush not only the fighting opposition and its leadership, but also all adherents of its philosophy. We did that to Nazi Germany, but can you do it to a loose organization of religious fanatics? I can’t buy that any more than I could Bush 43’s delusion of converting Iraq to a political clone of American democracy.

    Obama’s instinct in this is similar to my own. Conflict is inevitable. Nation-building doesn’t work, nor does going it alone as the world’s policeman, something we’ve tried to be since WW II with little success and enormous cost in blood and treasure. Isolationism is not an option because modern technology and communication has permanently interconnected all nations in a global economy. So, the president is trying his best to belatedly get as many allies as possible to see ISIS as a common threat and enlist their participation against it. Unfortunately, this approach is long-range and chancy. Some “allies” are tepid and others politically shaky. Worst of all, Obama’s political support at home is poor. The body politic wants quick, decisive action, but that is not to be. You can’t nuke a movement of religious fanatics, even if you wanted to. Hobbes would understand. The summary says,

    When people mutually covenant each to the others to obey a common authority, they have established what Hobbes calls “sovereignty by institution”. When, threatened by a conqueror, they covenant for protection by promising obedience, they have established “sovereignty by acquisition”. These are equally legitimate ways of establishing sovereignty, according to Hobbes, and their underlying motivation is the same—namely fear—whether of one’s fellows or of a conqueror. The social covenant involves both the renunciation or transfer of right and the authorization of the sovereign power. Political legitimacy depends not on how a government came to power, but only on whether it can effectively protect those who have consented to obey it; political obligation ends when protection ceases.

    I wonder what Hobbes would make of our current politics? Maybe he would declare us doomed and ripe for revolution.


    • The world, despite our current problems, has grown more peaceful, especially in terms of wars between states. That is a fact. Radical extremists with black flags make it seem quite the opposite, granted, but there is far less conflict around the world than in previous times, particularly in the first half of the 20th century. Much of what we see these days involves fights within states, like we see in Syria and Iraq and Ukraine (fueled by Russian’s hungry for regaining lost status in the world) and elsewhere. 

      No one believes that conflict will completely disappear and be replaced by peaceful cooperation everywhere. That won’t happen, if it ever happens, for many, many generations. But admitting that some level of conflict is here to stay, especially the kind ISIL represents, is not the same as agreeing with the blanket statement, “the state of nature is a state of war.” That is as false as saying, based on what has happened since WWII (the rebuilding of Japan and Western Europe, which has resulted in peace, not further conflict), “the state of nature is a state of peace.”  

      The truth is that the state of nature tends toward cooperation (which is implicit in Hobbes’ contract theory), with setbacks then advances, followed by more setbacks and advances. We seem to be evolving toward more integration on a world-wide scale, integration that, by necessity, requires greater cooperation. We are, obviously, a long way away from anything like achieving the kind of global peace that all of us want. But we are slowly making progress toward a better world in that respect, even though, admittedly, Islamic extremism is a force to be reckoned with right now and why I assert it is the equivalent of a health-jeopardizing virus. Oddly, in some ways, fighting ISIL is bringing disparate states together, as we are starting to see (although not enough is out in the open; a lot of the cooperation is behind the scenes) in the present conflict.

      So, I can’t agree with the premise behind your question, “How then can anyone declare war on humanity’s basic nature?” Obviously, if it were absolutely true that our basic nature was as war-makers, then it would be beyond foolish to think we could eradicate it. What our fight against ISIL shows, though, is that the world and human natures all around the world are opposed to ISIL’s bloodthirsty, brutal tactics and opposed to its objective of establishing an Islamic State by such barbarism. That seems to be to contradict, or more to the point, reveal a contradiction in Hobbes (later).

      The world (at least part of it) will certainly make war against ISIL, but not for the reasons Hobbes says are “normative assumptions” of his view of the state of nature. It will be because most of the world sees that ISIL is a kind of virus that has invaded the collective body of humanity and needs attention, else it will spread and kill even more. Like other types of animals, we seem to be wired not to kill each other, although there is a sense in which the techno-State (war technology, etc) has facilitated, even encouraged, such killing (somewhat contrary to Hobbes’ assertion that civilization is designed to deal with our violent natures, not facilitate them). Progress in the last 70 years or so has meant the taming of such states, in my opinion, more in line with Hobbes’ mostly correct assertion about the purpose of civilization. Cooperation, at least at the state-to-state level, is advancing, albeit slowly.

      Ebola-type viruses have been around a very long time. They’re nothing new. And neither are the ISIL-type viruses, call them memes if you want. Nazism was a virus we pretty much eradicated, although there are still a few Nazis around, and I don’t know whether we can eradicate Islamic extremism in the same way. I only know we have to fight this disease as best we can because the alternative, allowing it to thrive and kill, is unthinkable. This has nothing to do with nation building per se, although as post WWII proves, some forms of nation-building have merit. This has to do with recognizing the danger of allowing a group of fanatics, a growing group of fanatics, with lots of weapons and funding, experienced military commanders, and committed followers willing to die for Allah or something else, to have their way in a region we have utterly mucked up with past policies and actions.

      Finally, Hobbes remedy for his state of nature, granting absolute power to an executive, undermines his entire claim for the irremediable violent state of human nature. Why? Because most people, at least most people in the Western societies Hobbes influenced, don’t want to give absolute power to a monarch, even in a situation where they might “fear” a conqueror. We seem to realize that it is proper to also fear such potential tyranny, even if it is meant to “protect” us from our enemies. And besides that, the contradiction for me lies in the fact that if we can overcome our extremely self-interested states of nature in order to contract collectively with an absolute monarch to protect us from other extremely self-interested people, then perhaps that war-of-all-against-all state of nature isn’t as powerful or as universal as Hobbes says it is. If we were as naturally brutal as Hobbes claims, how in the hell would we be able to rationally desire an escape from the brutality? Perhaps the norm is toward cooperation after all, which to me explains why we, at least in the West, would want to organize societies that allowed for both security and freedom, for both a government and a means to check its power. 

      In any case, it is has been some time since I thought about all this, so I reserve, upon further reflection, to right to change my mind!



  7. ansonburlingame

     /  September 15, 2014

    An 18th Century philosopher is one thing. I note that a 5th Century (BC) philosopher (Plato) called for a strong “warrior class” within any society as well. Plato at least understood the nature of protecting society from others.

    A more up to date philosophical consideration is Neibur’s Just War. I have not gone back to reread or restudy that book but doubt he would support Obama’s current efforts as well.

    But having had a military education and career, I look at dropping bombs on people as war, of a sort at least. I also look at suicide attacks killing 3000 people with airplanes as war, of a sort as well, no matter what we call it.

    Legally, in America I suppose the only war is one declared by Congress, the last time being in 1941 as I recall. But I doubt anyone in America today with any knowledge of modern history (post WWII) would make the case we have not been at war since 1945.

    We were attacked in 2001 and almost immediately began dropping bombs on people, in Afghanistan. Was that war, or did the war only start when troops, army combat troops went into battle, but not a war because Congress did not authorize a war???

    If we have not been at war with Al-Qaida since 2001, then what would Hobbs, or Neibur, call “it”?

    We were attacked, losing 3000 Americans, in 2001 and started dropping bombs. We have now been attacked with two Americans having their heads removed, and hundreds of other non-Americas suffering the same thing. So once again we have started dropping bombs on a different group of people. And three years from now we will ……….?

    Philosophy and legalisms aside, I continue to believe we are at war with radical Islam and have been in such a state of war since 2001. We have been dropping bombs on people throughout that period of time, and using boots on the ground, including sneaky boots all that time as well. Now we have a new group to fight against and I mean fight against, not just try to talk them into being “nice to us and others”. That situation, I call it war, is going to continue now, like it or not.

    What to do about that is the dilemma, not what to call it, other than fighting against some really crazy zealots, which again, I choose to call war against radical Islam.



    • I used to be hung up on the whole idea of what we should be calling what we are doing against Islamist extremists. I’m not now. Call it a war, a police action, whatever you want. We never had a War on Terror. What we had was a war on terrorists. And what we have now is the same kind of thing we have had since 2001, and perhaps before that, except that the enemy is better equipped, better trained, and better financed than any we have fought so far. And this war, the larger war against Islamist fanatics, regrettably, has no end in sight, even if ISIL is pinned back in Northern Syria to be, hopefully, finished off by less extreme factions. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. And I mean guess.



  8. ansonburlingame

     /  September 19, 2014


    The long series of comments herein are productive, in my view. Too bad “Joe the Plumber” or “Chuck the CEO” won’t bother to read them and THINK about the points made. Today in America if issues cannot be reduced to Facebook or Twitter sound bites, not many Americans pay much attention.

    Here is something important in my mind, however. We, you and me, seem to agree that ever since 2001 we have been struggling with “terror” (OK call it “terrorists”). We continue to stuggle agains the same thing, today. In fact that “thing” as you stated has gotten worse (from our perspective or better in the eyes of radical Islam). In other words all, collectively, that we have tried so far has certainly not fixed the problem, solve the problem. It almost seems the problem has gotten worse (or better depending on perspective).

    Using recent history as a guide, and agreeing that the problem has not been resolved, and as well agreeing that the problem (radical Islam, or radical Islamists) is brutal, vicious, despicable, use whatever words you like, then what do we now do is the compelling question.

    Herb seems to say “get out of there and let them solve the problems”. Real hawks will say go in and really clean out the whole rat’s nest of radical Islamists. I have mentioned containment as a way to combat radical Islam just as we contained communism. Deterrence worked in that latter case. Could it work against radical Islam (or Islamists)? It bears serious consideration, in my view.

    Of course using containment with a very broad scope would require weaning the world off of dependence of oil, in the long term. Start now and do it should be considered as a matter of National Policy, in my view. I believe we both think development of an America Energy Policy thus far has been a joke as well. Why?

    Or we could “form a coalition” and go in to clean our the rat’s nest. Nope, that is impossible to get such a coalition together, getting America and the “Western World” to unite in a real war on every radical Islamist that ever raises his or her head, anywhere today. Of course Israel has been doing exactly that for 60 plus years and still remain standing at least. But Israel is simply not big enough to fight our war for us, with boots on the ground.

    What President Obama is now trying is to nip away at the extreme edges of radical Islam. No one with much sense thinks that will work as currently evisioned. In 2009 Obama firmly believed concilliation would work, focusing only on ties that bind. Now he wants to fight against the forces that divide, in a piecemeal fashion, and by and large getting someone else to fight for us, on the ground.

    I wish I was smart enough to have a good way to solve the problem. I do think that defining the problem, radical Islam (or if you like, radical Islamists) is a good first step. But for now we are told ISIL is not Islam??? So I guess our enemy is now anyone in the Middle East wearing black, including hoods and waving a knife? How do you bomb that, I wonder?



    • You wrote,

      What President Obama is now trying is to nip away at the extreme edges of radical Islam. No one with much sense thinks that will work as currently evisioned. In 2009 Obama firmly believed concilliation would work, focusing only on ties that bind.

      That isn’t right, Anson. He has been going after terrorists ever since he took office, notwithstanding his speeches in Egypt and elsewhere. In fact, he has been hitting them so hard in Pakistan and Yemen that he has been attacked by the left in this country for being too Bush-like. I suggest you go and read his speech accepting the peace prize. He has not been shy, nor does he think he should be shy, in using military force where it is warranted. His attempt at the beginning of his presidency to reach out to traditional enemies in the Middle East was praiseworthy. He attempted to use his rather unique background to his advantage, and to the country’s advantage. It didn’t work out so well, but he never stopped going after terrorists while he waited for the results.

      Plus, the current plan against ISIL has been developed by the military. Don’t you think the military has confidence in its own plan? If not, then it is either a very poor plan or a very poor military that planned it.

      I will agree with you that no one is, right now, smart enough to figure out a “good way” to solve the problems we are facing over there. The Bush decision to invade Iraq has made all solutions bad, some worse than others. It seems the thing to do now is do what we can to retard ISIL, if not completely destroy it. That is a form of “containment,” I suppose. And given that Americans do not want to send 250,000 troops to the region again, I suppose a form of containment is the best we can hope for at this point.



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