A Quiet, Safe Way Out

A recent video emerged of a young woman confronting Jeb Bush over the ongoing tragedy in Iraq. I admire Ivy Ziedrich’s unblinking resolve, as well as her unwillingness to display immediate and unearned respect to a member of the Bush family. But (you were waiting for the other shoe to drop), I do disagree that the United States “created” the Islamic State (Da’ish). Primarily, because it suggests that the people who did will it into existence have no personal choice, and that their victims are really just two- or three- or four-steps removed from American mistakes, which is, it is implied, where the “real” blood “really” rests. This is a gross obfuscation of the moral responsibility of the people who daily choose to murder their fellow human beings.

But I disagree for another reason that can be illustrated by assuming the statement is true. Those who say “we created Da’ish” never seem to take that thought to its moral conclusion: that “we” have an added responsibility to stop them. Instead, the thought ends right where it began, as another example of the fatalism and isolationism among some of the American left. Not only did “we”, in our omnipotence, “create them”, but there’s also nothing “we” can do about it. America is, apparently, at once strong enough to cause everyone else’s problems, but at the same time too weak to do anything about resolving them.

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Ivy Ziedrich, left, and Jeb Bush, right.

A nation that was democratically forced out of Iraq by the involved constituencies is seen by its own citizens as a rogue oligarchy, yet is only looked at suspiciously and thought to be violating the will of its people when conducting war, and not when sitting on its hands. If a nation is omnipotent, one should suspect both its actions and abstentions. Notice also that the assumption that other actors in the world merely react to what America does, and do not themselves possess unique goals, motivations, loves, hates, and choice, is a kind of orientalism. So is imagining that the enemies of leftists in the United States are the enemies of people everywhere, that the struggles are the same. This assumption is but a less blatant solipsism than one which says, “To hell with others.” It claims to care — and, I imagine, genuinely does — but that caring takes the form of coercion. Internationalism is a struggle to understand the struggle of others — it is not the imposition of my struggle on to a people whose preferences and immediate threats differ from, and in their contexts outweigh, my own.

To many Americans, Da’ish is an overblown pseudo-threat useful for neoconservative war posturing. To many Kurds, Iraqis, Syrians, etc., it is an existential threat. Some of these groups scoff at the United States for talking so much and doing so little while they make real sacrifices on the ground. They question America’s reluctance to fight its alleged “public enemy #1”, while Americans question their nation’s readiness for “another” war. What looks to us like a hawk looks to others like a calculating dove, aloof and safely removed, playing a distant game.

This means some Americans scoff at an organization which daily beheads and enslaves our brothers and sisters, insisting we both created the monster and cannot, or should not, stop it. The victims of slavery and genocide should, instead, lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. The conservative mantra for domestic poverty mouthed by the left onto the global stage, a cheap gesture of solidarity. I am interested in creating a left, and an America, which confronts fascism and totalitarianism, and stands with those fighting it now. But a left which seeks a strong, central government at home, and then says this government has no role to play in preventing murder abroad, is a left looking for a quiet, safe way out.

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