Mar 17

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Police Shootings", please click here.)

Almost a year ago, I knew that police shootings would be our “Most Thought-Provoking Event of 2015”. Why?

Because of the shooting of Walter Scott.

Walter Scott’s shooting definitely wasn’t the first (and probably wasn’t the worst) police shooting of an unarmed man, but it was the only one I followed in real time, right when the video leaked, following new information as it came out. Unlike other police shootings, there was no grey area. This video was a perfectly clear example of police misconduct, unequivocal in its ugliness, of a man literally getting shot in the back. For the first time, I (Eric C) spent two days researching, writing and collecting my thoughts on police shootings. This one was the turning point for me personally. Why?

Because I was so, so angry.

The lies infuriated me the most. Michael Slager, both during and immediately after shooting Walter Scott, lied about what actually happened, claiming that Scott went for his taser. The North Charleston Police then released similar statements, which were then repeated by the media. At the time, this was just one of many police shootings that I, and the rest of the country, ignored.

Then the cell phone video showing what actually happened was released, proving Slager’s account was false. For me, and the rest of the country, the release of this video changed everything.

This isn't the only example. Police officers misled investigators and the public (or lied) about Freddie Gray. And Aubrey Williams. And Nijza Lamar Hagans. Or Laquan McDonald. Or Derrick Price, in which the police also fabricated video evidence so they could beat a suspect. Or all the examples in our post here. I’m sure we could find more.

After all these tragedies, the simple takeaway is this: the public should no longer trust the police narrative in civilian shootings. At least, they shouldn’t take the officer’s word over that of the civilian’s. We’ve seen too many instances proving that, in a violent altercation, each side has their own reasons to lie. But I think I have a solution to make officers more wary about lying in the future:

Civilians need to keep the videos of police misconduct hidden from police for much longer.

If you film a police shooting, don’t release the video immediately. Or even a few days later. Wait, for a few weeks or months. Wait until the officer has lied, publicly. Wait until he has lied under oath. Wait until the media has repeated those lies. Wait until the department “finishes” their investigation. Then release the video. The public tends to believe what police officers have to say about shooting incidents. This happened in the Walter Scott shooting. At first, the public believed Slager, but within four days a video revealed his lies (and consequently the department’s lies).

Imagine if it had been held longer.

Right now, the video merely debunked Slager. But the entire process--from police investigating the crimes to district attorneys prosecuting the offenders--is culpable in defending police misconduct. If the video is held longer, more people can say and do things obstructing justice, and then get called out for it. Or worse.

Also, holding the videos will let the fear dangle longer. It would make district attorneys and police chiefs afraid that a video might be out there, and might drop at any time. It might make them actually investigate shootings with a critical eye, like they would for civilians. Or one could specifically leak the video to activists and lawyers so they can get officers to lie under oath. Tie them up in multiple knots. This would make police officers and police chiefs more wary about lying in the future.

I don’t want to keep writing about this topic. It is dark, ugly and divisive. But watching videos like the one of Walter Scott’s shooting, I know we have to.

Mar 09

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.)

“[Bill] O’Reilly asked Trump if he meant it when he said that he would “take out” the family members of terrorists. He didn’t believe that Trump would “put out hits on women and children” if he were elected. Trump replied, “I would do pretty severe stuff.” The Mesa crowd erupted in applause. “Yeah, baby!” a man near me yelled. I had never previously been to a political event at which people cheered for the murder of women and children.”

    - Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker

As we wrote on Monday, when politicians say they want to loosen ROE, they really mean killing civilians. The most egregious example during this campaign is Ted Cruz repeatedly threatening to carpet bomb civilians. Next most egregious is Donald Trump emphasizing he would kill terrorists’ families (really, force our soldiers to kill them) as vengeful punishment, even if it violates the military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Obviously, this is morally and ethically abhorrent. We’re not the only ones to condemn this talk. In fact, a ton of people (rightfully) condemned it. Most persuasively, the top general in Iraq condemned the idea of carpet bombing.

So we want to add our voices to the chorus. As a society, when history looks back on this moment, we want them to see that some people did adamantly oppose killing civilians. And we oppose it for a simple reason:

It is morally wrong.

Every moral philosophy utterly condemns killing civilians. The “Golden Rule”--treat others as you wish to be treated--is present in almost every major world religion. So if you are a Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Confucian or Buddhist, you shouldn’t think your country should kill civilians in warfare. Of course, followers of every religion have broken this policy at some point, but they still hold to it.

For the Republican candidates, though, the only moral philosophy that really matters is Christianity. Ted Cruz is part of a “National Prayer Team”. Marco Rubio has advised that faith, “influences every aspect of your life.” Donald Trump has also flouted his own religious bonafides, but also got into a scrum with the Pope.

So let’s summarize the Christian position on war crimes: it forbids them. Virtually every Christian thinker who studies the words of Jesus Christ finds it impossible to advocate killing civilians. (As Eric C reminds me, a textual/originalist interpretation of the Bible forbids wars in general, but that’s for a later discussion.)

Christian philosophy forbids war crimes but does allow for wars, through the dominant philosophy of “Just War” theory. This theory--which is literally thousands of years old, created and developed by Christianity's greatest thinkers--demands strict limits on when you can go to war (as a Christian), and if you go to war, who you can kill (as a Christian). Obviously, there are a ton of nuances here, but suffice to say that to justify war crimes primarily means ignoring one’s Christian faith altogether.   

This widespread moral condemnation of war crimes extends to America’s political philosophy. The Founding Fathers believed in strict limits on the ability of America to make war, and even limited the size of the military in the Constitution. The Founding Fathers of America abhorred war and feared what it would do to the soul of our country. If one of our political parties embraces the legal position of “originalism”--and Republicans do--it should listen to the Founders on war. Like James Madison:

“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other...No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

In the current Republican primary fights, Just War theory and limited military intervention have fallen out of favor. Instead, a “real politick” view of the world that basically says, “What happens in foreign affairs isn’t covered by morality” has dominated the debates. Basically, a state should do whatever it takes to win...including killing civilians. The Wiki article on Just War theory has a fairly good summation that viewpoint--even if some academics would quibble with its accuracy--perfectly captures the layman’s perspective on realism:

“Realism is a skepticism as to whether moral concepts such as justice can be applied to the conduct of international affairs. Proponents of realism believe that moral concepts should never prescribe, nor circumscribe, a state's behaviour. Instead, a state should place an emphasis on state security and self-interest.”

This is what Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are providing their third of the electorate. It is an “us against them” view of the world. And in that view, if you aren’t us, you are eligible to die, even if you’re a civilian.

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz won’t have to pull the trigger on their own actions. They won’t have to live with the moral consequences of their calls to kill civilians. The US Army does and, as a result, has embraced Just War theory to maintain its moral compass. As General MacFarland said in response to Trump and Cruz, “At the end of the day, it doesn't only matter if you win, it matters how you win...Right now we have the moral high ground and I think that's where we need to stay.”


Mar 07

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.)

Obviously Republican candidates want to get the support of soldiers. They want to be loved by our heroes sooooo bad. One of the easiest ways to pander, er, support, this demographic is to lambast our military’s rules of engagement (ROE):

Marco Rubio: “I think the United States military is operating under rules of engagement that are too strict and that do not allow us to pursue victory. When I'm president, that will change.”

Jeb Bush: “Get the lawyers off the damn backs of the military once and for all.”

Ted Cruz: "We need to define the enemy. And we need to be focused and lift the rules of engagement so we're not sending our fighting men and women into combat with their arms tied behind their backs.”

As Slate summed it up, “'Rubio, Bush, and Cruz all said they’d loosen the rules of engagement that supposedly constrain U.S. forces...But they didn’t specify how they would do this...or what effect the loosening might have."

Well that “effect” is what we are talking about today. (And have touched on in the past.)

The rules of engagement are restrictions on when soldiers, sailors, and airmen can open fire. At its most basic, it means clearly identifying a target as your intended target before you fire your weapon, call for artillery, launch a torpedo, or drop a bomb.

ROE has two purposes. In high-intensity warfare, ROE is vital to ensure you don’t kill your fellow soldiers. That’s right: the biggest reason ROE exists is to protect your fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines from being killed. If you don’t clearly know your target, in maneuver warfare it is all too easy to kill a fellow soldier. (Which is probably not the effect politicians want when they say we need to loosen ROE.)

Second, rules of engagement coordinate the fire of your soldiers in accordance with the commander’s intent. In a simple example, think of soldiers lying in an ambush. In that situation, the ROE says, “Don’t shoot until the commander fires.” In a historical example, think of Joshua Chamberlain at the Battle of Gettysburg. He had his soldiers both hold their fire--so that a single volley devastated the Confederates--and later had them fix bayonets--which made it impossible to fire their weapons. In both cases, they had to wait for his command to fire on the enemy, risking their own lives as they did.

Critics of ROE broadly would, in some sense, forbid officers from being able to make such orders. If the Civil War had today’s media and politicians, would they be criticizing Chamberlain’s decision to, literally, prevent his soldiers from shooting, sacrificing many lives in the short term, to win the war in the long term?

Our current wars aren’t high-intensity, but the need for ROE is just as important. In a counterinsurgency, the rules of engagement ensure that amped-up, trained-for-high-intensity-warfare soldiers and marines only kill military targets. In layman’s terms, non-military targets are “civilians”. That’s right, innocent people. Losing them loses the war. Having ROE isn’t just a legal requirement, it helps commanders on the ground win the war.

Republican candidates--led by some milblogs in the conservative web-o-sphere--disagree that stringent ROE wins the war. Their theory is more along the lines of “the more bad guys you kill, the better, even if you take some innocent people with them”. So the biggest effect of loosening ROE is that you kill more non-military targets (and remember, potentially fellow soldiers in coalition forces, like our Afghan and Iraqi partners).

Some Republicans think this keeps “the troops” safe because they can defend themselves easier. Like the Civil War example above, the troops are probably safer in the short term, though the civilians around them are dramatically less safe. Killing some innocent civilians turns a lot more against you. Once you lose the population, you lose the war. The longer the war goes on, the longer all soldiers are in more danger.   

A cynic would take it a step further. Far from just hoping that the number of military target exceed the civilians killed, one could argue that, in fact, Republicans don’t care if they kill innocent civilians. Yes, there are some Republican politicians who want dead women and children in foreign countries. And to get that honest assessment, you have to turn to Donald Trump:

“'We’re fighting a very politically correct war,' he said in response to a question about avoiding civilian casualties. “And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. They, they care about their lives. Don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”

And that is such a big nugget, such an immoral argument, we’ll have to debunk it in future posts.

Feb 29

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.)

President Obama is weak.

Every single Republican candidate has echoed this sentiment, including Carly Fiorina (in the fifth debate and falsely claiming American Generals retired because of Obama), Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio (here and here), Donald Trump, of course, Rick Santorum (here and here), John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson. Even the once-possibly-still-is-isolationist Rand Paul said it. If one candidate truly represents this point of view, it’s now out-of-the-race candidate Chris Christie, who described Obama as a “feckless weakling” at the fifth Republican debate, and kept repeating this talking point.

So literally every candidate.

Dated insults aside--I mean, seriously, Christie, “feckless”? What is this the 1950s?--this claim, like far too many others in this election by Republicans, has absolutely no merit. Look at one of Republicans favorite examples of Obama’s fecklessness, the capture and detention of ten US soldiers by Iran in January. If you missed this crisis, that’s because it was over twelve hours. But the Republicans candidates knew what this meant...weakness!

"If our sailors aren't coming home yet, they need to be now. No more bargaining. Obama's humiliatingly weak Iran policy is exposed again." - Jeb Bush on Twitter

“The only reason they were seized is because of the weakness of Barack Obama.” - Ted Cruz on Fox News Sunday

"WH says our sailors are being given courtesies? This is feckless. WH is endangering our troops. Demand their return NOW!” - Rick Santorum on Twitter

“Do you think Iran would have acted so tough if they were Russian sailors? Our country was humiliated.” and “Iran humiliated the United States with the capture of our 10 sailors. Horrible pictures & images. We are weak. I will NOT forget!” - Donald Trump on Twitter

In reality, this incident represents the Obama administration's strength on the world stage, if strength means getting what you want. Which it does. Since America now has diplomatic relations with Iran, its diplomats were able to quickly and effectively negotiate a solution. Fred Kaplan at Slate explains:

“If anything, the speedy, peaceful resolution of this incident could be seen as proof that Obama’s nuclear deal, which all the Republican candidates abhor, holds some collateral benefit in addition to its inherent merits—that the diplomacy it unleashed, after 36 years of official silence (Kerry and Zarif had been scheduled to talk on the phone Tuesday afternoon anyway), was what made the rapid settlement possible.”

In other words, diplomatic relations solved the crisis. And solved it better than George W. Bush did. In 2007, the Iranians captured 15 Royal Navy sailors and it took 13 days to negotiate their release. If you do the quick math, this means George W. Bush is approximately 45 times weaker than Obama, counted in pure man hours of captivity.

Of course, this is all selective, hypocritical politics. Under a Republican President--like, say, George W. Bush--these same candidates would have praised his leadership and strength in freeing the sailors.

What’s worse, and this is where this post will take a weird turn, is that Republicans believe Obama is weak because he won’t project military power abroad. Which is odd, because the American military, under Barack Obama, has bombed more countries than any President since Nixon, possibly FDR (a list that includes Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Syria). And we’ve sent troops to aid the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria. And possibly launched attacks in the Philippines.

So we disagree with the Republican’s rhetoric--Obama isn’t weak--but also still disagree with the President’s policy for being far too willing to use America’s military abroad. What’s worse, one of the most aggressive foreign policies in American history is being characterized as dove-ish-ness.

That’s truly terrifying.

Feb 24

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.)

Like businessman-turned-politician Mitt Romney before her, businesswoman-turned-former-candidate Carly Fiorina wants to broadly expand the size of the American military. While she was still campaigning, she often repeated her Heritage-Foundation-and-American-Enterprise-Institute-approved talking points, especially around warships, planes and tanks.

Carly Fiorina believes we need more! Lot’s more! Here’s the (unrealistic) plan she laid out at the debate in September:

“What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet...We need the strongest military on the face of the planet, and everyone has to know it. And, specifically, what that means is we need about 50 Army brigades, we need about 36 Marine battalions, we need somewhere between 300, and 350 naval ships, we need to upgrade every leg of the nuclear triad...”

Fiorina isn’t alone in her belief that the U.S. military needs to be larger. Jeb Bush promised to rebuild the military and increase its size and budget. Same with Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson. (According to both of the previous two links, Donald Trump both agrees and disagrees.) Cruz, Rubio and Trump all mentioned “rebuilding our military” in their speeches after South Carolina.

So I wanted Michael C to write a post explaining that while our military is smaller on the whole, it is more expensive and powerful. By far. Well, he already did...for the last election. Posted over at Tom Ricks’ blog “The Best Defense”, he explained how when it comes to the Department of Defense, even really smart business people like Mitt Romney lose their business acumen. It seems like Carly Fiorina (and possibly Donald Trump) have lost the same passion for fiscal discipline.

In that guest post, Michael C got to the core of the issue when it comes to the DoD’s budget: it isn’t about the sum totals; it is about efficiency. We pay way too much for every weapon system. And we don’t get quality anymore. The F-22 and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are over-priced monstrosities that barely fly...and don’t even fly combat missions in our current wars. But they make defense contractors a fortune.

This talking point about the military isn’t even true. The Obama defense budget is arguably the largest budget in inflation-adjusted terms ever. Claiming we need to rebuild the military is like saying you need to upgrade your vehicle as you drive off the lot in a new car. You just bought one.

More to the point, Obama isn’t even cutting the budget; he actually increased it. At least, according to reality.

Feb 22

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.)

Six months ago, you could have predicted Republicans would say some crazy things about foreign policy and our military. Loosening ROE? Pretty predictable. Obama is weak! Yeah, not true but kind of predictable. We need more military spending? Of course they would say that. (More on all three topics this week and next.)

And also waterboarding.

Sure, you could have predicted that Republicans (outside of John McCain) would have defended this so-abhorrent-even-the Nazis-initially-forbid-it practice. They’ve been defending torture ever since Dick Cheney and the CIA started doing it after 9/11.

But I’m not sure anyone would have predicted that Republicans would argue waterboarding didn’t go far enough at the eighth Republican debate:

“I would bring back waterboarding and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding. “ - Donald Trump

“And so, if it were necessary to, say, prevent a city from facing an imminent terrorist attack, you can rest assured that as commander in chief, I would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe." - Ted Cruz

So, in other words, anything is on the table. (When asked, Jeb Bush and Rubio dodged.) There’s no need to rehash this issue, since we’ve written about it so much in the past. So here’s a quick recap of why torture is wrong, morally and ethically, and some links:

1. Torture isn’t effective.

Practically, as The Atlantic sums up the Senate’s report on torture, torture doesn’t provide good intel:

“Despite their use against at least 39 detainees, there’s still no evidence that “enhanced interrogation” methods produced information useful to stopping terror attacks, while there’s plenty of evidence that those subject to torture produced false information in the hopes of ending their ordeals.”

Basically, you’ll say anything to not be tortured.

2. Torture will get Americans killed.

Trump argued that since ISIS beheads people, we have to torture them in response. If ISIS’s shocking actions anger him so much, wouldn’t our shocking actions anger extremists? Wouldn’t it inspire terrorists?

Yes, as The Atlantic, John McCain, The Daily Beast, and Slate have pointed out.

3. Our best quote ever on torture.

Which completely debunks Ted Cruz’ nightmare scenario above:

“Would the CIA have tortured Richard Jewell to find the locations of more bombs? Would Jewell have confessed if waterboarded? Would they have just killed him to stop him from attacking again?”       

4. Check out past On V posts on torture.

For whatever reason, the only times we’ve written about torture on the blog are when we’re writing about movies, like The Battle for Algiers (twice), Inglorious Basterds, Zero Dark Thirty (before the release of the Senate Torture report and called it!) and Homeland.

5. Torture is immoral.

Even if torture were effective, it doesn’t matter. It’s immoral.

And really, that’s all that matters.

Feb 17

In Spring quarter of 2003 at UCSB, two months after America invaded Iraq, I saw some Quakers at a table by the Rec center advertising options for young men to sign up as conscientious objectors for the draft. I spent a good thirty minutes discussing what I could do, as a pacifist, with them. (They were really incredulous when I talked to them, which made me wonder why they even bothered to set up the table.) I left without officially signing up as a conscientious objector. I didn’t think a draft would occur in the near future; it seemed like plenty of young men were willing to fight.

Like, say, my twin brother, who, during the same Spring Quarter of 2013, approached a table advertising UCLA’s ROTC program, and soon signed up.

I thought about this memory again watching the excellent new play The Dodgers last weekend. (Full disclosure: my girlfriend is Stage Manager for the production. Still, get tickets here!) In the play, a group of draft dodgers on a commune in the sixties deal with the threat of getting drafted, a fictionalized account of playwright Diana Amsterdam’s actual experiences.

There’s no better compliment I can give this play other than this: it inspired an entire post's worth of thoughts.

Military Conscription is Crazy Unethical

In perhaps the most powerful scene in The Dodgers, four eligible, military-age hippies watch as the draft lottery unfolds, hoping their birthdays doesn’t get called. It’s ironic when they realize the draft lottery hasn’t been shuffled properly. It’s tragic when their birthdays do get called.

Oddly enough, despite its brief appearance on the campaign trail--Ted Cruz doesn’t think women should be drafted--the draft feels like a relic, though every young man who turns eighteen in America still has to register with America’s Selective Service System, in case America returns to military conscription.

The Dodgers reminded me of how crazy unethical a draft is. Like truly, epically unethical. I’m not sure how, thousands of years from now, anyone will justify their existence or purpose. It will be seen as another relic of a barbaric age. (To note, every future generation views past generations, or should, as barbaric).

Forcing someone to go to war is a violation of basic liberties. It is a violation of one’s personal agency, both in terms of threatening their safety, but also forcing them to kill. Now, a defender of a draft would argue that drafts serve the greater good by protecting everyone’s agency and safety while solving the inevitable tragedy-of-the-commons problem of going to war. But if a war is so just and noble it must be fought, I have trouble seeing how a country wouldn’t be able to get people to fight in it. (Not to mention the long-held pattern of the rich and powerful getting their children out of the draft, as is mentioned in The Dodgers.)

The subject is too long for a blog post, but I love that The Dodgers brings this issue up again.

Vietnam as the Counter-Argument to the Pacifism Counter-Argument

When you tell people you’re a pacifist, as I am, you invariably get one rebuttal question:

What about World War II?

My first, albeit sarcastic, response is, “What about it?” (World War II is much murkier ethically, than most Americans care to admit.) But my real response is, “What about World I?”. As I wrote in the “World War I Problem”, while the proponents of war love citing the good wars (like World War II) they ignore the bad (like World War I). They ignore the meaningless, strategically dubious-yet-devastating-in-human-terms wars.

I could easily substitute Vietnam for World War I and the argument remains the same. Vietnam was a pointless mess that tortured an entire generation, not to mention killed tens of thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians. In retrospect, I doubt that anyone sees Vietnam as the bulwark against Communism people thought it was at the time. Russia would have almost certainly imploded two decades later regardless, with or without our involvement in Vietnam. Oh, and it was instigated on the basis of a lie. You kind of forget--I mean, I don’t, but the public at large--the stupidity and insanity of the Vietnam war. As we’ve mentioned before, Hollywood stopped making movies about Vietnam twenty years ago.

In our post-9/11 world, America has gone back to war, deploying troops to at least two countries--at least one of which began under false pretenses, again--and dropping bombs in, approximately, hundreds of other countries. We’ve forgotten how bad war can be.

Pacifists Aren’t Cowards

I do have one criticism with the play, and that’s that the main characters mostly focus on fear of dying rather than moral superiority of not fighting in an unjust war. (Not that this is inaccurate; I’m sure many, if not most, drafts dodgers didn’t want to die.)

When I had that conversation with the Quakers above, they pointed out that you can become a conscientious objector but still get drafted as a medic. For anti-war types and pacifists, this is an internal conflict, whether working as a medic saving American soldiers still furthers a war they consider immoral.

For me, it seems like a fair solution, fulfilling a constitutional obligation without violating personal values. I don’t want to go to war, not for fear of dying, but fear of killing. I don’t know what I’d do if I got shot at. I don’t think anyone does. (I assume, since my genetic equal served successfully in war, I probably could as well, but I don’t know.) Even if I were drafted--doubtful now, at my age--I would go, but I wouldn’t kill.

Feb 15

(To read the rest of our coverage on the 2016 Presidential primaries, please click here.

And, though many don’t want to believe it, the world is getting safer. There will be an end to war, someday, if the world works towards it. To read the rest of our posts on “The World is Getting Safer”, click here.)

Over time, words lose their original meaning. Often, exaggeration is to blame. The most obvious (and cliched) example is “literally” which literally no longer means literally. This “misuse” isn’t new or even that wrong from a literary perspective. (James Joyce, Mark Twain and Jane Austen all used it incorrectly.) You could (debatebly) throw “decimate” into this category, a word which once meant “one-tenth” now means “all”. I’m not immune either. Over the last couple months, I (Eric C) realized I use the word “infinitely” in definitively un-infinite situations. Michael C misuses “exponential growth” to refer to non-exponential growth and hates himself for it.

I fear this may happen to the word “existential”. “Existential” is supposed to refer to existence, meaning that if something is an “existential threat”, it poses a threat to your existence.

This word is literally being decimated by delusional (or fear-mongering) politicians.

I first noticed this language abuse by John McCain in 2008 during the presidential campaign, referring to terrorism generally. Of course, he’s not the only one. Long-time readers of On V may remember us writing about this before, citing major conservative thinkers scared of radical extremists. Since then, John McCain, and once-upon-a-time Republican Presidential candidate Lindsey Graham have continued the assault on language (and logic), by claiming ISIS poses an existential threat to America and the west.

Thankfully, some major conservative thinkers have debunked this abuse of language. That, alas, was but a brief blip in conservative thinking. Despite the patently inaccurate description, the entire Republican field has pushed the fact that ISIS is an existential threat:

- Ted Cruz, in an op-ed in the Washington Examiner, wants “to fight the existential threat of the Islamic State.”

- Ben Carson at the fifth debate: “But the war that we are fighting now against radical Islamist jihadists is one that we must win. Our very existence is dependent upon that.”

- Rand Paul feels ISIS poses a “global threat”. Which is somehow less accurate than “existential”.

- Or Marco Rubio at sixth debate: “There is a war against ISIS, not just against ISIS but against radical jihadists terrorists, and it is a war that they win or we win.”

- And Marco Rubio again at the seventh debate: "ISIS is the most dangerous jihadist group in the history of mankind. ISIS is now found in affiliates in over a dozen countries. ISIS is a group that burns people alive in cages; that sells off little girls as brides...They want to trigger an apocalyptic Armageddon showdown."

From the start, Michael C and I have followed a guideline for choosing what to write about on our blog: have a good take. A good take means saying something true, but, more importantly, something novel, unique or original. You might stand out if you argue the moon is a hologram (like this guy, somehow) but the claim is so patently false as to be uninteresting. Next though, a good take needs to be original, lest we become just another blog in the “internet echo chamber”.

There’s a caveat, though. If an idea is true, but the general public doesn’t believe it, well, we need to write about it. Even if others are saying it too. This applies to ISIS.

America has fighter planes, tanks, battleships, landing craft, nuclear weapons; ISIS has some trucks and a handful of missiles. America’s military has a budget of over half a trillion dollars annually; ISIS claims they have two billion dollars. America’s military has over 1.3 million people; ISIS has soldiers in the low thousands. We have rich allies with well-funded militaries; ISIS has, somehow, managed to also piss off Russia, the Kurds, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

So obviously ISIS doesn’t represent an “existential threat” to America. Or a global threat. Or really the world more generally.

As we said earlier, others have made this point. But it still needs saying. Many people rationally understand this; millions of potential voters don’t. Obviously, it is galvanizing Republicans, both their candidates and their admirers. But worse, some Democrats have basically conceded this issue. As we wrote about before, during Obama’s final State of the Union, when Obama said that ISIS didn’t pose an existential threat, some Democrats didn’t clap at this line. Hell, watching the New Hampshire returns last week, I saw on MSNBC’s scroll that 9% of Democrats in New Hampshire ranked ISIS as their most concerning issue.

ISIS may some day launch terrorist attacks against America. (Even then, statistically, the threat they pose to Americans is tiny. Less than bee stings and bathtubs. Or fireworks.) But the chances ISIS will threaten America’s sovereignty or borders is literally infinitely small. Both politicians and the media need to make this clear.