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Friday, October 21, 2016

It’s the Ebola panic all over again.

Except they’re calling it ISIS this time.

OMG! OMG! We’re all going to die!

Cable TV news networks won’t be happy until they’ve got the whole country hiding in the basement, glued to Wolf Blitzer’s lugubrious team of terrorism experts warning of theoretical, if not downright imaginary, threats to America’s shopping malls and vital fast-food industry, while square-jawed pundits on Fox News and MSNBC debate nomenclature and counsel manly resolve.

Hardly a day passes in this country without a mass-shooting episode or toddler-involved homicide. Yet ISIS has them in a tizzy. Even Hardball’s excitable Chris Matthews has caught war fever.


Sometimes I wish they had the collective intelligence of my wife’s personal kitten. Martin’s an orange tabby the big dogs found abandoned on a gravel road in the woods last year. Now that he’s too big to sit on her head comfortably, he sometimes watches ballgames with me.

Mostly, he ignores the TV. But the other day, Martin got so excited during a Razorback basketball game that he jumped from the ottoman and tried to capture a player running across the screen. I believe he pounced three times before concluding that what looked like prey was a two-dimensional illusion.

Martin’s career as a basketball fan ended abruptly.

Clearly, ISIS is no mere illusion. But it’s definitely more of a TV show than an existential threat to national security. However, when I see polls suggesting that a growing majority of Americans now supports sending ground troops back into Iraq (and Syria?) to fight yet another ultimately unwinnable war against “evildoers,” I wonder if we’re capable of learning anything as a nation.

Yes, the organization’s sickening “snuff videos,” as blogger Digby aptly calls them, are uniquely infuriating. Sadistically choreographed and slickly-produced, ISIS’s stonings, beheadings, and live burnings elicit exactly the fear and revulsion they’re meant to. The immediate impulse is to exterminate all the brutes. Until I gave it 10 seconds’ thought, I could even sympathize with an Arkansas politician’s call to nuke the SOBs.

But look at it this way: The videos are also symptomatic of madness and increasing desperation. As President Obama has suggested, ISIS is clearly more of a criminal death cult than a military organization. For a Western analogy, think Jim Jones or David Koresh in the wilderness.

What’s more, for all the messianic delusions in ISIS’s primitive theology, as explained in Graeme Wood’s epic exegesis in the Atlantic, the organization has already checkmated itself.

“Much of what the group does looks nonsensical,” Wood explains, “except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a 7th-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse….They refer derisively to ‘moderns.’”

Rather like cracked “End Times” thinkers in our own tradition, ISIS believes that it can force God’s hand and bring about the Apocalypse by re-establishing a Muslim “Caliphate,” and then luring the “Crusaders” into battle.

A glance at the map, however, reveals that ISIS has basically conquered all the thinly populated desert territory it can reasonably hold. It can maintain a semblance of control only through stark brutality and terror. It’s basically a ragtag, pickup-based militia lacking any means of attacking the United States unless we make it easy for them by re-invading Iraq.

ISIS has no Air Force, no Navy, no real artillery or armored brigades apart from captured Iraqi gear it can’t effectively service or repair. The Turks could crush ISIS whenever they wish, but choose not to act for fear of empowering the hated Assad regime in Syria and/or its Iranian Shiite allies (themselves protecting Baghdad).

Meanwhile, President Obama’s tactics for confronting ISIS may not be very exciting in the action/adventure film sense, but they’re nevertheless surrounded on all sides.

Writing in Vox, Zack Beauchamp cites a consensus of informed observers: “If you want to understand what’s happening in the Middle East today, you need to appreciate one fundamental fact: ISIS is losing its war for the Middle East.”

U.S. air strikes have blunted the terrorists’ ability to launch effective attacks. Many are foreign fighters drawn by the lure of charismatic ideology and seemingly dramatic victories, who now find themselves far from home, “outgunned, outnumbered and friendless.”

The very theological certitude that attracts young jihadists has also made the movement strategically dumb. Attacking the Kurds was criminally stupid. Drawing Jordan into the fight could also prove a fatal error.

“ISIS has staked its entire political project on one theory,” Beauchamp explains. “They are the true revival of the early Islamic caliphate, destined not only to maintain and expand their theocratic state but to bring on the apocalypse. Once you understand that, ISIS’s blunders look less like miscalculations and more like inevitable results of its animating ideology.”

An ideology that cannot but fail, if the United States has the political maturity to remain calm until that happens.

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  • Dominick Vila

    In the age of selfies, when millions of people try to show the world how beautiful they are; manifestations of evil or decay such as the death of a Liberian immigrant in Dallas becomes a pandemic that threatens are lovely lives, ISIS becomes a nation-less super power that could destroy America at any moment, and the potential construction of a nuclear weapon by Iran is enough to send the citizens of a country with thousands of nuclear warhead and the delivery system needed to reach their targets with pinpoint accuracy, running for cover. No wonder so many among us believe they must have domestic arsenals to defend themselves against the boogeyman. The only positive thing I can think of is that someday this may all prove to be a financial bonanza for psychiatrists.

    • chisolm

      Your comments are similar to what the appeasers said about Nazi Germany while they were killing millions of Jews and others they deemed inappropriate to live.

      • bernieo

        Yes because ISIS is a nation with a well funded, highly advanced military-industrial complex doing its bidding.

      • ralphkr

        A major difference that you are ignoring, chisolm. Nazi Germany was a major industrial nation with a powerful military capable of defeating neighboring industrialized nations with relative ease while ISIS is busily conquering desert wasteland and dependent upon funding by collecting ransoms for prisoners while surrounded by far more powerful and modern nations who are starting to wake up and slapping ISIS down.

      • Dominick Vila

        How many Third Reich appeasers supported a few well placed bombs to deal with the threat W created? Appeasement has very little to do with paranoia, let alone pragmatism and objectivity.

  • Godzilla

    ISIS is not a US problem, yet. Time will tell. What I don’t understand is where this “war on Islam” mantra is coming from. I don’t know a single person who thinks that we are a war with Islam, none, no one. Yes, there are a few idiots out there who just simply dislike Muslim’s, but they are far and few between. I recall a convenient store being vandalized after 911, because the owner wore a turban. He was from India and not a Muslim, the kids all got caught and have since learned a valuable lesson about different religions. Many folks from the community came and helped clean up the mess and board up the windows, myself included.
    As for my personal arsenal, they are to protect me from those evil whitetail deer and scary squirrels flying all over the place. Since more people in the US are actually killed by deer each year than by terrorist’s, I think I’m doing my best to protect my neighbors. LMAO!

  • Theodora30

    The original caliphate was the exact opposite of what these ignorant fanatics are trying to do. After the fall of Rome plunged Europe into the Dark Ages it was the most advanced Western civilization. The libray in Coroba Sapin was the largest in the world. The medical school in Salerno, Italy was cutting edge. Architecture, science, math, poetry flourished. It was the Muslims of this time who adopted the zero from Indian mathematicians then developed our number system which is far superior to Roman numerals. Islamic society was also tolerant of those from other faiths. For example many Jewish scholars rose to prominence at court.
    The ISIS idiots are as ignorant of their own history as we Americans are.

    As for them main point of this article I recently read that US law enforcement ranks domestic terrorism as a bigger threat tha international terrorism but apparently it is considered impolite for our MSM to report on homegrown extremists.

  • Alvin Harrison

    I can’t believe it…this writer gets it…perfectly. Ebola was to scary for America but a single terrorist wasn’t scary enough….bring on ISIS…there you go. Scary terrorists that will allow you to be controlled, stripped of more of your rights without a peep. You Democracy is being dismantled before your eyes and you are marching right along …Fellow Americans do not fall for these fear tactics again…ISIS is ebola will consume it and find your self doing anything you are told to keep them at bay…like Somali terrorist in your malls….get a grip and grow a pair chicken littles…

  • David

    it is not to late to follow McCains urgent advice from a year and a half ago and arm them a little better. “I don’t know who or where but we better arm somebody in the middle east soon or I am going to have a stroke” John McCain October 14, 2013.

  • It’s funny that when homeland security is about to be defunded because of the Emperor’s unconstitutional actions, that the regime goes public with a threat that ISIS is going ton hit an American mall. Could the regime’s propaganda machine trying to make Homeland security relevant just when Congress is about to stop funding? All this regime does is lie.

  • FT66

    Those who are trumpting war, must register themselves first or their family members to show how much they love their country. “W” used to say “we have to go and fight them there there where they are, so that they don’t come and fight us at home”. To fight us at home!! when? when everyone of us has fallen asleep!!! All war mongers must not think of sending others kids to die, without showing themselves a good example that whoever, including them , are ready to die for their country.

    • ps0rjl

      I couldn’t agree more. If you think we need boots on the ground by all means suit up or shut up.

  • ps0rjl

    ISIS and most other terrorist organizations are not that much of a threat to us. What is a threat is the ‘lone wolf” terrorist who acting alone or with just a few other homegrown radicals can cause major damage and/or loss of life. We should all be vigilant but not scared. If something doesn’t look quite right call the authorities but for goodness sake don’t be a scared ninny.

  • Jonathan Leibowitz

    To be honest, my big concern is Ted Cruz. The guy seems to have been acting as an agent for a foreign government lately.

  • Stuart

    This is all yet another distraction from Benghazi.

  • Louis Allen

    Wow! This guy Lyons has defined to a “T” all that is wrong with the leftist/liberal/”progressive” thought: a criminal naivete.
    Keep sleeping, America.

  • Captain Dickson

    On these Middle East issues, conservatives sometimes need to better recognize where their patriotism is being used against them.

  • Melissa Newton

    Whether it is in the Middle East or other places, George Washington warned us of the serious perils of foreign favoritism: