Tuesday, February 17, 2015


The right is flipping out because Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, just said this about the activities of extremist groups in the Middle East:
... we can't kill our way out of this mess.

We're -- we're going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the -- the world of Islam and -- and other parts of the world reject this radical violent extremism....
Oh, wait, sorry. It wasn't Marie Harf who said that. It was Mitt Romney, in his third presidential debate with President Obama. You remember Mitt Romney -- the guy the right-wingers decided was a prophet who got everything right in 2012, particularly on foreign policy?

Marie Harf, by contrast, said this about ISIS, setting off a right-wing freakout:
We’re killing a lot of them and we’re going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians, so are the Jordanians. They’re in this fight with us. But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs...
Oh, but "we cannot win this war by killing them" is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from "we can't kill our way out of this mess"! Right? And saying that we need "to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups" is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from saying that we should "put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the -- the world of Islam and -- and other parts of the world reject this radical violent extremism"! Isn't it? Of course it is!

Why? Because ... um ... hold on a second, it'll come to me....

This has been today's installment of It's OK If You're a Republican.

UPDATE: Just realized that I wasn't the first to notice this.


Victor said...

Man, talk about our Reich-Wingers parsing words!

ladyblug said...

The Republicans exhaust me. We are broken!

Ken_L said...

It is more than a little concerning to hear someone from the State Dept still suggesting that people join ISIS because they are poor or can't get jobs. It's applying a very American frame to a society that is nothing like America. And it's wrong.

People didn't become fanatical communists or feminists or Zionists because they couldn't get jobs. They did it because of a powerful commitment to an ideology which demanded they try to change the world. The sooner the Obama Administration realises that people join ISIS for the same reason, the better. Muslims don't travel from Australia and Canada and England to join ISIS because they can't get jobs. They don't want jobs. They want to help bring about the new caliphate. Spouting the nonsense Harf did just makes the Administration look as clueless as Bush's mob predicting they'd be greeted as liberators in Baghdad.

State Dept spokespeople have a track record of saying stupid things to the media, or being plain out of their depth when asked predictable questions. It's unforgivable going into the seventh year of the Administration. As I've argued before, Obama has many fine qualities but he's a terrible CEO.

Steve M. said...

She may be wrong, but I'm not sure that means you're right. From what I'm reading, a lot of decisions to travel to ISIS-held territory are impulsive moves to go join what, to the recruits, seems to be the most impressive fighting outfit rather than choices made based on "a powerful commitment to an ideology." The recruits are often marginalized, ghettoized kids. They're not necessarily shut out of the job market, but they feel out of place in their own societies. Maybe they become "devout" after joining a Muslim gang in prison, but that's not inevitably a deep commitment to a belief system -- it's just glomming on to a movement that seems to provide clues to the meaning of life.

Ken_L said...

"they feel out of place in their own societies."

Exactly, and you don't fix that by telling them McDonald's is hiring for a new store in their suburb. I don't know how you do fix it; maybe it's unfixable. But it's embarrassingly ignorant to say "We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs, whether ... We can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people …"

I thought Graeme Wood's piece yesterday http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/ was a great contribution to our understanding of ISIS. I'm not saying he's got everything right but at least he's trying to understand by gathering primary data. It's just so depressing to hear someone from the Obama Administration still going on like a college student from the 60s, as if it's all really a socio-economic problem that will go away if only we can make them richer.

Steve M. said...

I've only dipped into that article, but it seems to be focused on the leadership, not the recruits. No one is proposing a jobs program for the ISIS leadership. This is about the kids who get sucked in by the propaganda. At some point, they can be turned away -- but by what? And no, not jobs at Mickey D's -- the answer might be real participation in the larger culture (including real jobs). How you get there is the hard part. But the apocalypticism of the leadership isn't necessarily relevant when you're trying to nudge some kid from an isolated ethnic neighborhood away from this sexy-seeming army.

Kevin Hayden said...

Way back when, Saddam paid a tribute to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. In addition to the afterlife promises for martyrs, the bombers had a way to help provide decent support for their families for a year or more. So were they incentivized by ideology or money? Or some combination of both?

The State Dept could have chosen their words a bit more carefully, but I took the essence to mean that an eye for an eye wasn't going to close the deal, that some more nuanced and multi-tiered response had a greater likelihood of longterm success.

And considering the history of modern conflicts, almost all required ceasefires and peace talks and points won and concessions, so it's a pretty fair bet that killing, alone, would not achieve a victory in this conflict either.

Grung_e_Gene said...

There has never been a more mendacious group of cry-baby chickenhawk cowardly wimps than Republicans.

I don't know how the Post Vietnam GOP got the reputatio as he-man American defenders when they eschew military service and cry like castrated hogs when anyone in the media asks them what magazines they read or what SCOTUS cases they disagree with.

Ten Bears said...

Actually Ken, the Zionist commitment is to rule the world, they are, afterall, dog's Chosen People.

Joey_Blau said...

First...Mitt was quoted "Of course, the greatest threat of all is Iran, four years closer to a nuclear weapon." - how is it that we see Iran as so dangerous.. ?

I don't. Sure there was the hostage taking.. but how many people died on our side? Zero. Sure there was the Iran-Iraq War.. but who started it? Sure our Saudi ally hates Iran, but how long has THAT been going on... and yes there was some terrorist activity, and Hezbollah fought a.few wars vs Israel (and until Israel's sneak attack recently a al defacto peace has prevailed.) But but,

Greatest threat to peace? Oh pluueez.

Next. Look at Islamic Jihadists through a Marxist lens. These people are "alienated". We need a Marxist scholar to show how a dreary life of exploitation by industry or the state leads to joining a death cult

Philo Vaihinger said...

Well this is just silly.

We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs...


Would those be remotely like the "root causes" that led Americans to go to Europe to fight for France in The Great War?

Or to go to Spain to fight for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War?

Jesus, so these volunteers would not have gone if more and better jobs had been available to them here at home?

Is she an idiot, or what?

tgchicago said...


tgchicago said...

Here's the thing; a jobs program wouldn't be aimed at anyone already in ISIS. This is about potential new recruits. That's why she explicitly frames this as a medium-to-long term solution, not as a way to combat current ISIS fighters.

Does anyone deny that ISIS is still recruiting new members? Well, how are they doing that? By giving them (what they perceive to be) a better option than the other available options. A jobs program essentially tries to "recruit" these potentials before ISIS does.

The counterargument seems to suggest that these potential recruits are *already* possessed of a jihadist mentality. But if that is so, why aren't they already fighting for ISIS? No, these people haven't yet been persuaded that jihadism is the the right choice - but they could be. We want to make other options attractive so that they aren't ever persuaded to join the extremists.

What is wrong with snatching potential ISIS recruits away from choosing jihadism?

Ken_L said...

I rather thought that Western governments had been trying (largely unsuccessfully) to create jobs since the GFC. To, like, help unemployed Westerners. It's hard to credit that they will have any more or less success if the incentive is broadened to include anti-terrorism.

In any event it's a silly sideshow of an argument. Most people fighting for ISIS were born and raised in the Middle East, and that's likely to remain unchanged. Good luck trying to manage job creation programs in Libya, Syria and Iraq.

tgchicago said...

Western governments have shown far more interest in slashing budgets than creating jobs since 2008.

And yes, this is about increasing opportunities in the Middle East, not in the US. I agree that any such program will be very difficult, and success is far from guaranteed.

If you think this effort will fail, then what do you suggest as an alternative? Should we do nothing to forestall ISIS's recruitment efforts?