NYT Op-Ed: It's a 'Moral Hazard' to Call ISIS 'Evil' or a 'Cancer'

In a Friday op-ed which appeared in the paper's international print edition on Saturday and which can reasonably be seen as giving voice to an editorial board which wouldn't dare put their name to it, La Salle University Political Science Professor Michael Boyle strenuously objected to recent characterizations of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

We can't call ISIS "evil." We also shouldn't call them a "cancer," or "savage," or "barbaric." Oh, and the fact that George W. Bush called Al Qaeda "evildoers" is why ISIS came to be, and why our problems with radical Islam are now worse. Excerpts follow the jump:


The Problem With ‘Evil’
The Moral Hazard of Calling ISIS a ‘Cancer’

MichaelBoyleLaSalle2014wide

The beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has rightly provoked global condemnation of the insurgent group and its horrific tactics. Yet it has also led to a disturbing return of the moralistic language once used to describe Al Qaeda in the panicked days after the 9/11 attacks.

In an eerie echo of President George W. Bush’s description of the global war on terrorism as a campaign against “evildoers,” President Obama described ISIS as a “cancer” spreading across the Middle East that had “no place in the 21st century.” Secretary of State John Kerry condemned ISIS as the face of a “savage” and “valueless evil,” while Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, called the group “barbaric.”

... condemning the black-clad, masked militants as purely “evil” is seductive, for it conveys a moral clarity and separates ourselves and our tactics from the enemy and theirs.

But if the “war on terror” has taught us anything, it is that such moralistic language can blind its users to consequences. Describing a group as “inexplicable” and “nihilistic,” as Mr. Kerry did, tends to obscure the group’s strategic aims and preclude further analysis. Resorting to ritualized rhetoric can be a very costly mistake if it leads one to misunderstand an enemy and to take actions that inadvertently help its cause.

After 9/11, the Bush administration’s repeated use of the language of good and evil played directly into the hands of Al Qaeda.

... (it) gave Al Qaeda a boost in funding and recruitment that sustained the group for nearly a decade.

... However appalled we might be by a group’s actions, our objective should always be to understand our enemies as they do themselves: in this case, a highly organized insurgency with specific strategic objectives.

This last aspect is particularly important because the discourse of “evil” can create a slippery slope in which almost any countermeasures become permissible to stop the advance of the threat. This week, Mr. Kerry tweeted that ISIS “must be destroyed/will be crushed.” America is still extricating itself from the huge costs and reputational damage sustained by more than a decade of foreign wars begun in the name of stamping out “evildoers.”

Got that? The "evildoers" tag, all by itself, has led to a decade of misery — not (to name just a few things) the left giving aid and comfort to the enemey by rooting for chaos in Iraq while Bush 43 was president, not President Obama's premature withdrawal from that country, and not Obama's rules of engagement which have seriously handicapped our efforts in Afghanistan. And as to our "reputation," does anyone rational believe that our reputation has improved since Dear Leader took office in January 2009?

Sadly, Mr. Boyle is giving voice to legions of leftists, including, I would contend, the editorial board at the News York Times, who think that refusing to correctly characterize an "evil" enemy for what they are is deserving of some kind of badge of honor, and that "moral clarity" is for simpletons.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.