Korner 3: Is ISIS a Priority Threat to the U.S.?
seeing that a .44 magnum is the most powerful handgun in the world ...


I made a comment about "peace through strength" and one of our friends asked, "What, you don't think Democrats believe this?"

Thanks for the clarification mate.  Am glad that you and I agree on this.  

But at Bill James Online we routinely argue this point and the Democrats there routinely argue for disarmament and mollification, following the line of thought that tough talk is a "recruiting tool" for terrorists - and then taking it to the Nth degree.  Also on TV in debate I hear that a lot, that (for example) the travel ban on 7 countries will REALLY make ISIS mad at us now.  Mercy sakes, they might even start suicide bombing ... :- )

Don't think it is my imagination.  The only time James ever refused to answer a question from me ... James had politely argued, "Don't take Trump or Hillary or Obama on a sound bite.  Take them at what they actually believe, based on their track records."  I responded, politely, "You have followed Obama and Hillary for many years.  What do they actually believe on the idea of Nicer = Safer?"  Followed by quiet.

If the (D) folks here do not agree with the general concept of Nicer = Safer, perhaps the Democrat party is not as single-minded on this as I'd had the impression.



First, will cheerfully grant the point that, in the year 2016 A.D., terrorist destruction in Europe and the U.S. was overblown and demagogued.  President Obama's point of view is that "More people died in bathtubs last year than were killed by terrorists."

Second, I've never understood why $600 billion isn't enough to spend on the military.  I mean that literally; I don't understand it.  A single U.S. aircraft carrier could defeat the militaries of all but a few countries.  Maybe somebody has the answer for me.


My question is whether jihad (ISIS being the face of it) is a creeping threat -- a cancer that has necrotized the Middle East and that has begun to show up on the CT scans of Europe and the U.S.  Perhaps that's an alarmist view.  Or perhaps the 51st-percentile voter does indeed consider ISIS a dangerous long-term threat.

It seems that 5 years ago, many considered ISIS the 'junior varsity' and that might give us pause as to how easy it is to underestimate jihad -- how much they hate America, how badly they want to kill us, what lengths they are willing to do to accomplish it.  We talk about 1933 a lot; my personal view is that ISIS is indeed the young Hitler of our generation.  But could be wrong.


A certain middle ground says --- > we should slay ISIS overseas, where they are, but calm the deuce down about Muslim refugees.  I think I could be talked into this with the right logic.  Of course I don't have serious back-channel intel about the state of suitcase nukes, so am hamstrung about making the assessment.  Seems to me that the refugee debate centers around whether we want our culture changed the way European culture is changing; refugees simply haven't been good for Germany, however you argue it. 

But that may not be a national security question per se.



Last year, a couple of amigos pressed for the Korner on this issue.  In Aleppo, there are parents asking priests if it is okay to kill their children so that they won't be caught by ISIS.  The suffering is horrific.  If the U.S. didn't do something about it, it would have no right to intervene on humanitarian grounds anyplace, ever again.

On the other hand, there are 300-400 million refugees around the world at least.  We've got to set a budget.  As you have a personal budget for foreign aid.  You'd like to adopt 17 children who need homes, but you don't, and there's a reason for that.  Also, the ability to stop an immigrant at the border if he might have a suitcase nuke, that is the most basic responsibility of any U.S. President.  The Constitution emphasizes the President's latitude on immigration, precisely for security reasons.

The basic solution is proposed by the Middle Easterners themselves, in the main.  What Middle Eastern refugees need, long term, is a way to go home, a way to find peace.  That's my basic paradigm.

Destroy ISIS, set huge budgets for sanctuaries in their own part of the world, AGREE DEMOCRATICALLY ON OUR IMMIGRATION QUOTAS, ratchet up the "awareness" and the private charities helping Syrian* refugees.  That's all I got.  And, my friend, Americans are currently doing a lot of that.  We are generous to the world on immigration and we are generous on charity.  Compare U.S. behavior here to Mexico's, China's, or that in the Philippines.



Of course agree that ISIS is not going to cause a land war on the U.S. next year.  But you Dem friends don't worry that WWIII will likely match radical jihad against the West at some later date?  Or that the jihad could some day obtain a suitcase nuke?

What is the 30-year scan here as to whether jihad is a threat to the U.S.?

Honestly curious,





Nah, ISIS isn't likely an existential threat to the US.  

But neither was Nazi Germany.  We existed either way.  But the world was threatened in a manner that demanded our attention. 

ISIS has that potential.  Well, the hydra-headed Islamist/Jihadist movement does, ISIS being the most visible current incarnation.  And America is certainly threatened by ISIS funded/supported/encouraged attacks.  We've seen them already.

Crush them.  Be diligant and quick in identifying/responding to the next ISIS.  Seek a stable Islamic Middle East, one that reduces future threats, not enhances them.

And after step one, we can't simply tell the Saudi's/Iranians/Yemenis/Shiites/Sunnis/Copts/etc, "Now you guys all play nice together, with the rest of the world, too," leaving it at that.

Unfortunately, we have to be involved.  Actually, it isn't unfortunate.  When we withdraw, some other (often bad) actor fills the void.

Doc, I really do find the argument that an temporary and limited immigration ban (I have no problem with that word) only strengthens ISIS a very hard argument to buy.

Will they Double-Dirty-Dog Hate us now, while yesterday they only Double-Dog hated us?

Immigration is often a good thing (as my dad knows).  Assimilation is too.

Somewhere I have saved an article that speaks of successful immigrant populations to the US "checking their identity at the door." That does not mean that you eliminate every iota of the old-world culture, mind you.  But it does mean that you well...assimilate.

Ask the French about the other option.  

Middle Eastern immigrant groups have generally assimilated pretty well, minus a Burkha or two and some Sharia Law wild-eyed advocates.  This I shall not dispute.  But a bit of caution in a violent age isn't a bad thing at all.

We have a 90-Day ban on immigrants from 7 countries.  It hardly violates our "core American beliefs" (immigration bans or limits have long been a part of American history, btw......and they are not necessarily xenophobic).  120 Days of no refugees will impact some, but it is a relatively  short period of time.  I don't get the anger.  Really.

No Syrian refugees for the duration?  I expect this will be watered down and am certainly fine with that, but it sends a message.  That message is not one of hate, but one of controlled borders. 

When my dad came to the US from Canada in 1948, he had to show a letter from his bank that he had $1200 in deposit to get the visa to enter. That was 1948.  Propose that today and you would be accused of hating all Canadians, or of being a rascist so-and-so, by a significant chunk of the left-leaning voices.

Or just propose a 90-Day immigration stoppage from a whole 7 countries.  You get accused of the same thing.

An idea:  Two days after taking office, FDR proposed a work-week long "Banking Holiday," to help prevent runs on local banks.  It was a brilliant bit of "branding," calling it a "Holiday," rather than an emergency measure (which sounded ominous).  FDR knew the power of words.  Maybe Trump should have just proposed an Immigration Holiday.  :)

Ah...I jest.

Charles Martel's picture

Daesh may not be an existential threat to the republic, but it is part of a larger existential threat to the west, the Enlightenment and our Judeo-Christian traditions. Daesh gets the headlines but weaponized migration into a negative birthrate europe is the true threat to the west. It's the perfect trojan horse using the west's tradition of (masochistic) empathy against itself, pulling both from Christianity and the progresive left which makes it so effective. The US then is the last firewall protecting the contiunace of western culture and its values. Discretion is the prudent choice.  (I say this as a classical liberal atheist who is obviously quite enjoying the Trump admin so far.)


There go my summer plans.

No question that Trump angered some jihadists ... who quite literally already see us as Satan.  But I think you are stating the obvious my friend.  There comes the time when you stop worrying what angers Adolf Hitler.  For me we have long passed that point.  End of story.

I don't care what angers the jihadists.  They want my kids dead.  It's time to go fer yer guns, pardner.

The earliest people to see Hitler for what he was, were the heroes.  The ones who dragged their feet were the Neville Chamberlains.  Radical Islamic terrorism has declared war on us.  :: shrug ::  Moderate Muslims should speak out against jihad, as Germans should have spoken out against Hitler.


Assimilation is another good subject; the subjects are proliferating.  :- )   Too many likeable ideas in your post to respond to, as usual.  You remain the board MVP amigo, in a close count.


I'm one of the few people I know that still has good friends on both the right and left. So I get to have interesting conversations with both. My liberal friends are losing their minds, sometimes for valid reasons and sometimes for not. On the "ban", I'm with you in that I honestly don't see the problem. Except that I would have added more countries. Saudi Arabia is the largest funding source for the jihadi but we can't put them on the list? 

I explain it to my Liberal friends like this: If a country had an Ebola outbreak, we would not allow people to fly into the US from that country. We shut that down very, very fast. So what is the difference here? Can anyone argue that these jihadi are NOT just as dangerous as a communicable disease? 

And I'm no Trumper. I think there is a solid chance he doesn't finish his first term and I'll cheer the day that horrible person is no longer President of this country. 


Didn't you know?!

"More people in the US die from (insert you favorite accidental threat to life and limb) than from terrorism, ya dummy!"

'Course, people who argue this don't seem to recognize the admittedly FINE distinction between accidents that happen and a worldwide movement of determined militants who very purposely go about hiding among us in order to perpetrate mass murder.

Also, people who argue this seem to assume the US can't walk and chew gum at the same time. Something tells me that ruthlessly pursuing the ruthless won't seriously affect whatever efforts we make to curtail auto accidents. 


The arguments against the US taking an active role in fighting radical Islamic terrorism tend to come in three main flavors:

1) They have no borders...we can't fight what we can't point at and attack, it's like trying to kill a cockroach infestation one crushed bug at a time

2) They aren't, individually, a big threat since they lack the resources that we have...why spend so much effort on things that aren't that scary?

3) They fight us because we keep interfering...if we stop doing that, they won't hate us anymore

I think all of those things miss the point.  When you go out to mow your lawn, the grass is probably only a little too long...it looks OK, but it's getting a tad unruly...it's not like it's going to wreck your property value yet.  Yet.  When you go out to mow your lawn, you know full well that you'll spend a lot of effort to make it shorter again...and it will just grow back.  When you go out to mow your lawn, you don't make the silly assessment that, if you stopped mowing it, maybe it wouldn't keep growing back.

Fighting terrorism is like mowing the lawn.  If we don't fight, the threats will slowly grow until they swallow the world.  You have to mow the lawn.  And no, it never ends.  And no, that doesn't mean it's not worth doing.


In your entire lawn, there are only six blades that are terrorist.

And they're also green.

How do you find the right six to target?

Or do we just 'mow the lawn' with 100,00 ground troops...or bomb it all?

I know this sounds entirely snarky.  But there seems to be some sense that in the 15 years since 9/11, neither the Busn nor Obama administrations bothered to care about this...or were too stupid to see the obvious solution.

So I'm among those who wonder what the obvious solution is.  

The existing solution has been to do the necessary intel work...and then take the 'bad blades' out one by one.  Which we've been doing.  And is working.

Granted, the jihad-wannabes in some flat in Paris or Miami are another (and serious) problem.  But they don't seem to be affected if we invade the middle east.  


You seem to have taken my comments to mean that I'm advocating random indiscriminate attacks on areas with terrorist activity. I'm not.

The lawn is the groups we know about. Our intelligence gathering is imperfect and could be improved if we took the time to better understand the cultures in the places where terrorists keep coming from, but don't tell me we don't have actionable intelligence, and don't tell me ISIS has been laying low.  Not when they wave the black flag all over Syria and Iraq. Not when they broadcast their activities all over the web.

They WANT a conflict...I am proposing we give them one.  I'm proposing that they're today's lawn.  And that the lawn needs mowing.  And the way to do that is to keep your eye on the ball and not to call them the JV team and fritter around with red lines you refuse to enforce or pretend you can build a democratic state where no such state is requested or desired by the inhabitants therein (note I'm critical of both Bush and Obama).

And when you beat back ISIS, someone else will come along, and when they get tall enough on the global scene...you mow them down too.

And BTW...it isn't six blades of grass.  Our best estimates right now put the number of radicals willing to do violence in the Islamic world at between 500 and 800 thousand, though no one group dominates those ranks.  And our best polling suggests that those several hundred thousand men (and a few women) have the support of tens of millions of their Arab countrymen philosophically.  Routinely 80% of the Arab-majority populations say they favor Sharia, 60+% say you should be killed if you're homosexual or if you depict Mohammed or if you have sex out of wedlock. Most in the region agree that violence is sometimes required to spread Islam, though many fewer are willing to do the violence themselves.  In Egypt, >30% support ISIS when asked. In France, about 12% support ISIS.

This is a much, much bigger problem than you depict in your analogy. The longer you give ISIS credibility by treating them with kid gloves, and the more space you give them to recruit without fear of reprisal, and the more proof you hand them that the west has no resolve to fight, the more the Arab world will consider them legitimate and the bigger your problem will get.

You have to mow the lawn...you have to train your resources on targeting and destroying ISIS wherever they live.


Agreed: there are bad people living in foreign nations that want to do us harm.

Agreed: We would be better off (and the world would be better off) if those people were gone.

Question: what exactly is the course of action we should take that we haven't been taking for the last 15 years?

Question: who/what is preventing us from taking it?

Optional Question: how effective has the U.S. been in defeating/deterring ISIS?

I'm operating from the premise that both presidencies have agreed with the first two points above, and have acted accordingly.  So I'm just asking if there's some obvious (or not so obvious) step we should be taking.  


The UN Charter basically has The Prime Directive in it; don't go meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.

But I imagine it was written partially with the idea that sovereign nations would be mostly "moral" in their cause.

As a result, this is causing a lot of headache for the entire political spectrum, particularly the refugeee crisis and the unrest in the Middle East.

Personally, don't really know if direct intervention is better or not. But what I do believe is that there comes a point where it is very difficult to simply move people around because they're oppressed or they're poor.

The affairs of State/Pseudo-State/Non-State actors is wreaking havoc on the old system.

GregfromSpokane's picture

The  middle east has been at war for, I dunno 4000 years? To the extent that we are a presence that takes sides, we also become a target.

The only way out is peace. Not easily accomplished with peoples who have only known war and conflict. To the generals, no budget

for the military would be enough. U.S. military budget > the next ten countries combined. Unfortunately, there's no defense for a

10 year old with an explosive device strapped to his waist. Trouble is we are squandering our greatest assets, our men and women

 and trillions of $$$$$ for a hopeless cause. And when we attempt to bring our democracy to these countries, it  always fails. We

have a very hard time figuring out which side is the right side to back. We usually pick wrong (the Shah of Iran was a beauty).

All of the imigration, refugee problems are a result of the instability we helped create. Personally I'd build a wall around the

Middle East and stay the heck out. :-)


"when we attempt to bring our democracy to these countries, it  always fails"

How true.

This was the failing of George W. Bush. He and others in his administration convinced themselves of a sort of messianic policy. They boxed themselves into the idea that the only hope for peace was democracy in the Middle East. They were right, but the task proved beyond the means of mortal man, as I myself at the time and anyone who had read widely about the Middle East could have told them. Sometimes people are too smart for their own good (and the good of those they are charged to protect). It was an honest delusion, but a delusion nonetheless. 

Conflict in the Middle East must be managed as best as possible. There's only one Messiah, and it ain't GWB or Donald Trump. The Cold War suppressed problems with one big asterisk, it was a tinderbox that, if it ever exploded, might well have drawn the two superpowers into open military conflict. 

In the days of Gulf War 2 I used to argue with friends of mine who supported the Messianic War dream that presupposed Middle Easterners were yearning like their Western counterparts to simply be free to practice democracy. I remember one very, very smart friend sitting across from me at the table trying to persuade me that the Iraqis would rise up and seize freedom once our troops liberated them. 

In the '80's I read an enlightening James Clavell novel called "Whirlwind" about a fictional Western oil company operating in Iran with the cooperation of the Shah's government, and the whole country being became engulfed in factional rivalries once the Islamic fundamentalist Khomeini swept into power. There was no possibility of any sort of unity except for that imposed by an all-powerful and ruthless regime. Though a novel, the book introduced me to the social fabric of Iran and the rest of the Middle East. Unless we are prepared to brutally suppress the clan loyalties (and we shouldn't), we can never overcome their overarching, fractious demands. 

So we have to decide what actions will keep terrorism at bay, and severely punish it's every appearance. Easier said than done. Ultimately it is a game of whack-a-mole. You can't win, you can only hope to manage it. 


++ The  middle east has been at war for, I dunno 4000 years? ++

1) We forget that.  I certainly do.  Thanks for the reminder.

2) Even if we toppled a dictator for them and tried to install a humane democracy, they wouldn't want it, coming from us.  Sad but true.

3) We can still offer humanitarian aide, naturally.  But there are limits - coming from them.

RockiesJeff's picture

Oh yes, where was the legislation for mandatory velcro in all bathtubs?

Always enjoy the collective wisdom here in life beyond the diamond. I have lived in Southern CA And Miami for enough years to know the reality of illegal immigration and also the frustration caused to those who seek to come in legally. A little balance in politics would go a long ways....like in here. Thanks! Spring training looms.

A month from today Jeremy will take off for his first minor league camp. Time flies doesn't it?

Seattle Sports Outsider's picture

I might to look at this from is cost perspective. Isolated incidents are next to impossible to prevent, but we do our best as a security apparatus to do so. The greater danger from ISIS/etc isn't their individual direct action or "inspired" isolated events, it's the full scale State-sized war that follows or the psychological impact of fear on our population. Prevent the full scale war (cost of lives, money, energy, etc) and you've largely taken away their most effectively damaging weapon. Minimize isolated attacks (both number of and coverage of) and you've minimized their impact on our nation.

In regards to the "ban": there are many threats to lives in America. By selecting this particular "threat", from these particular nations says something above and beyond the narrative of "safety". We have specifically targeted one kind of threat over others equally or possibly greater. Giving that these nations also offer little economic benefit to the USA (and inversely cost us very little in potential economic blowback) also speaks to how we've made these selections. The EU/Saudi Arabia/Pakistan/Afghanistan are crawling with potential sources of attack, all with fairly easy visa access to the States. But banning these nations costs us more. We've picked out the least valuable to us and labeled them as unfit. The time/length of the ban is less relevant (unless it was a permanent/indefinite ban). In fact, because it's short term is even more problematic to our moral standing. Either ban all or none - we just chose to symbolically ban those than have the least value to perceived American interests.

About the refugee/immigrant issue: I look at the history of immigration (both refugee and economic immigrants) as largely a net positive over American history. The argument to keep out non "assimilating" immigrants is an argument of cultural favoritism (likely made also in an effort to keep out Jewish migrants, Catholic migrants, Eastern European migrants, Asian migrants, etc). Wether that is moral or not might inform the decision to allow people in. From a Christian perspective, taking in these people is prescribed. But then you face the potential of "watering down" the Christian majority in this country. So which principle wins out? Depends on how you define "American" culture and your view of what "Judeo-Christian" values calls us to do in response to need. I think it's we're starting to getting a much clear Lee picture of what Steve Bannon thinks.


If believing in American values vs Saudi values is 'cultural favoritism' then I hope all my grandchildren are extreme cultural favoritists.


Of course Christian values are to help the weak, which makes us thankful that America is clearly the most generous nation in the world.  Not in terms of institutionalized socialism, but in terms of personal generosity and in terms of using our power benignly.  The differences in benevolence between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. or P.R.C. are obvious to a schoolchild.  We didn't chase the Dalai Lama out of his homeland.

Helping the weak around the world doesn't necessarily mean importing 400 million refugees.  I would dearly love to, as I would love to adopt 25 poor children, but I can't.  So as a Christian I set a budget for feeding poor children overseas, lead projects towards that, etc.  

Do you?

Respectfully, cynicism can be fun, but it leads nowhere.  As James says, attributing the worst motives as a default assumption is almost always a guarantee that we'll misunderstand things.


Washington left office by warning the country to remember not to get too close to Europe - to retain our essential American nature.  The Founding Fathers endowed the President with vast powers against immigration, precisely because they wanted to avoid having *American values* watered down.

I believe it is good and right to guard against the 'watering down' of Christian-based values if we incorporated genital mutilation into our culture, fascism, censorship, murder of gays, taking power tools to children, and so forth.  I am 100% in favor of the American culture over the Saudi and Somali cultures.  

I also believe, from an atheistic point of view, that the New Testament is very obviously more benign than the Koran -- as I believe that the Buddha's teachings are more benign than an Iraqi handbook of torture.  Have you ever read the Koran?

It sounds very open-minded to say 'no one culture is better than another' but look down the road and see where that leads.  Honestly, you would not be happy with Sharia law imposed in America.


Also unclear where we got the idea that the U.S. is guarding against one threat.  ISIS ... Mexican drug cartels ... Euro techno-terrorists ... nuclear proliferation ... etc etc.  In my view ISIS deserves special attention, and immigration security is a pretty mainstream idea.

- Jeff

Seattle Sports Outsider's picture

I'm not sure you'd find a disagreement from me in regards to a preference for Judeo-Christian American culture versus other (Saudi, etc). But if the true end goal of our actions is to maintain the Judeo-Christian majority culture, then we as a nation should be honest about that.


We also must recognize our actions in this regard. You mentioned the Dalai Llama being chased from his homeland. The Chinese will mention chasing an entire native population group out of their homeland - America fulfilling its manifest destiny. Our essential American nature is an incredible thing (and often very generous), and also powerfully destructive.


But let's not explain away the actions we take (and the intention to keep our culture in its current iteration) under the guise of safety/security or otherwise - especially when its highly questionable to actually have a net effect of increase in safety at all. Just call it what it is.


That might be my number one wish, that on one side the VP would stand up and say, "I'm a Christian first, a Conservative second, and a Republican third," and on the other side the VP would say whatever is the analogy.  And that both Candidates would release their list of SCOTUS nominees before the fact...

For sure there are many annoying instances, both sides, of politicians refusing to let the people know what they are up to.  Probably my #1 complaint.


Yes there are certainly times a politican phrases a debate as 90% security when actually he is thinking 50% about assimilation.  Point cheerfully granted.  Or is thinking about indoctrinating schoolkids when the subject is charter schools.



Sorry...that dog won't hunt with me.

While we were making war with and ultimately conquering native American tribes throughout the US, it was far...far less barbaric than what was happening in the rest of the world.  We seem to have taken on the perspective that we, here in the modern world, should hold the world of 200 years ago (or even 80 years ago) to identical standards...this historical elitism will lead to all kinds of disordered and illogical thinking regarding who was doing what and why. For example, it is commonly asserted that the US has some special significance in the era of African chattel slavery.  We don't.  We were far from the only nation still practicing such slavery in 1960, and we were the only country that fought a bloody civil war to stop it on our lands.  And let's not forget where chattel slavery came from.


Slavery existed before Islam, but it took a very different form for most of the rest of the world and most of the rest of history (mostly indentured servitude or criminal contracts), with chattel (total domination and depravity) slavery rare and generally used as a punishment until the rise of Islam, at least in the civilized world.  Mohammed and those who followed him spread the slave trade throughout North Africa and the Middle East, and his idea caught on in Europe thereafter.  Then the west collectively, and at roughly comparable times, rejected that idea throughout the 19th century. America was no exception to this. And, today, we are, by far, the least racist nation in the west.  When surveyed, >20% of caucasian Frenchmen would be uncomfortable living in a neighborhood that was majority black...here in the US? 7% (I believe it was Gallop that tracked this figure and watched it plummet throughout the 60s and 70s).

Sorry, no...America is not a destructive force.  We get things wrong as all nations do, but we have done more to uplift the world, help the poor, serve as a model for an economic system that has cut global poverty by 80%, and fought and died for the freedom of other nations countless times. We are, far more than an imperfect nation that has made mistakes, a force for enormous good.

Seattle Sports Insider's picture

Because we change our political underwear every 4 years, we think we can wash away the destruction of our history. The rest of the world, and particularly subjects of our destructive actions don't operate with the same wash cycle as we do. Let's agree on American Exceptionalism while also being honest about our Americans Destruction (which is ongoing now and will no doubt continue). Let's all just be honest with ourselves and our neighbors - with an honest assessment of our actions and motives, how can we evaluate the outcomes and morality of our actions and improve ourselves and our nation. 


Could not have said it better.  

The US is, IMHO, the most benign superpower in history (though humanity is always advancing on this front) but also capable of sheer atrocity.  We need to stipulate the first and then laser-focus in on the second to slow it down as much as possible.



Respectfully, cynicism can be fun, but it leads nowhere.  As James says, attributing the worst motives as a default assumption is almost always a guarantee that we'll misunderstand things.

tjm's picture

At the risk of hitting the triple redundancy wall I will repeat: Bannon's order is not about security; it's about theatrics. It was already exceedingly difficult to get into the US, so difficult that tech companies have spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying to open restrictions on clearly qualified, non-threatening vias applicants.

There is no such thing as perfect security and I'm not sure anyone would want to live in a society that had it if it were. Stalinist Russia comes to mind.

I spent the first five years after 9/11  reporting and writing about radical Islam. And, BTW Doc, Iran is lovely this time of year! I came away from those years in the Middle East thinking that we were going to have shopping malls blow up here once every other month or so and was surprised when we didn't. The reason we didn't was that there weren't enough Americans who wanted to blow up malls and it was exceedingly difficult for people who did to get into the country. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the guy who devised and executed 9/11, worked for three years to get guys into the US for the Planes Operation. He wanted 40. He ended up with 19, NONE of them from the countries on the list. The only country on the list whose citizens tried to take part in 9/11 and couldn't was Yemen. Yemeni's routinely, almost absolutely, could not get visas. This was in 2000, not 2017 and it's gotten much more difficult since.

I'm also not sure the US, as rich as it is, could afford to build a security regime that even approached perfection. No one who has worked on these issues thinks otherwise - Democrats, Republicans or anyone else. The idea that this immigration stay is going to take us closer to that is laughable. So can we all agree this isn't about safety?

So for that reason I'm glad the conversation has turned to culture. This, I think is Bannon's genuine aim. I'll weigh in more fully on the cultural issue when I have more time - don't you guys work! - but let me say one or two brief things. Of course we don't want Sharia. Geez, Doc, do you always have to go to the end of the deck when you''re sliding a card into the argument? Sharia law doesn't exist even in most of the countries that have been Muslim for a thousand years. Pretty sure it ain't gonna happen here before the asteroid hits.

That said, cultural formation is a process of accretion. Changes don't happen overnight (unless we're talking about gangsta rap which as near as I can tell moved from the fringe of the culture to its ugly heart in less time than it took Mohammed to conquer the Saudi peninsula). So, yeah, I guess there's a danger American culture will change. Except looking back we seldom see it as having been a danger.  I personally kinda like having jazz and kung pao chicken and K-through-12 and magical realism and reggae and Buddhist temples and casual Fridays and, well, you get the picture. American culture wasn't handed down whole from on high. It was build by accident, by luck, by hand. It's still being built. It's not a frozen thing.


Hey, tjm

"Bannon's order is not about security; it's about theatrics."   

Let's just call it President Trump's order.  He was, after all, the one who ordered it.  But then I'm willing to assume that Bannon isn't a master puppeteer and Trump a better-haired Howdy Doody.  I'm willing to bet you mostly agree with that, too.  Apologies if I am wrong.

But all the same, nobody referred to Obama's policies as belonging to some staffer.

As to "theatrics," my goodness......which president, great or not, doesn't engage regulary in theatrics.  It really is part of the job.

President Obama drinking a brew at a table with two "good buddies?"  Theatrics.

Reagan chopping wood at his ranch?  Theatrics.

Kennedy playing touch football on the beach?  Theatrics.

Nixon visits China?  Pure and wonderful theatrics.

Sheep on the White House lawn?  Wilsonian theatrics.

Carter clasping hands with Sadat and Begin.  Historical theatrics.

G.W. Bush speaks amidst the rubble of the World Trade Centers.  Powerful theatrics.

FDR was the master of the theatrical image. Eleanor in the coal mines was theatrics.

Blocking the Keystone Pipeline in the name of global warming was theatrics, as completed or not, it will have no impact on global warming.  However,  I must admit to being frustrated with that bit of theatrical performance. 

Heck, it's been argued that the Emancipation Proclamation was part theatrics, as it didn't really free anybody.  It left the slaves held in the border states (the one's that recognized Lincoln as their president, remaining in the Union) alone while freeing the slaves in a part of the land that ignored the Proclamation whole-heartedly. 

It is a theatrical job, in many ways.  As a nation, we routinely demand such from our presidents.  It gives us a sense that they are at the wheel and have our backs.

Not all presidential theatrics are bad policy. I thought the Keystone decison was, and you think think an immigration suspension/ban is, but being theatrical doesn't make them bad.  

And it is a poor politician who doesn't understand the impact of good theatrics.  Trump, a theatrical man by nature, is highly aware of that, I suspect.

He was elected saying he would stop terrorists from entering the country, and this bit of theatrics simply establishes for his voters that he intends to deliver.

But a 90-Day stoppage is pretty insignificant beyond it's theatrical meaning.  Wouldn't you agree?

Edit:  Felt I needed to come back and add two things.

1.  Theatrical politics are sometimes the most powerful variety.  Not always, but sometimes.  See above.

2.  If I have misread your intent when using the term "theatrics," then I apologize early. 


tjm's picture

The difference here, I think, is that this is being presented as policy. Barack having a beer and Dutch chopping wood weren't. I completely agree this immigration stay is fairly insignificant policy-wise but I suggest it has real weight as a culture war weapon, which I think is its intent.

On it being Bannon's rather than Trump's: a difference between Obama and the current president is that he was someone who actually cared about, thought about, articulated, promoted policies. Whether you agreed with them or not, they were his. Not even Trump's strongest supporters say he is engaged in that way. He's just not a policy guy. Nor does he have to be. Other presidents, W, for example, were similar in that respect and that turned out - oh, wait, it didn't turn out very well, did it? Reagan would be a better example. Come to think of it, donkey presidents tend to be wonks, don't they. I guess Democrats are naturally technocratic.


I think it's helpful to separate those theatrics which imply, "here's who I am as a person", from those that say, "here's who we are as a people."

tjm's picture

And I never thought I needed an editor!


And I'm sure I do that too much.  Thanks for the reminder to be aware of it.

In this case, though, we were talking about a reductio ad absurdum.  Wasn't talking about you; was talking about the common idea (not necessarily espoused above!) that the U.S. culture is NO better than ANY other culture - and that to believe such is bigoted Eurocentrism.

In the context of such an absolute view, a reductio ad absurdum is not only acceptable, it's often the only way to understand.  It's especially important vis-a-vis Christianity and Islam.  What is the practical worst-case scenario with each?  There are no Christians anywhere who behead women *in the name of Jesus.*


TJM, for sure the border is going to leak like a sieve no matter what you do about it.  

But people are also going to drive drunk no matter what you do about it.  How about a complex plan to slow it down?


Border security involves many things, starting with the demoralization of ISIS on a macro scale.  Make it so it's not cool to be a Lone Wolf any more.  And then seven other things from there, including

a Wall,

ten thousand more border patrol agents,

an order for those agents to do their jobs, a

TSA system at the East and West coasts,

harsher punishments,

no more Help Wanted signs 10 yards past the border,

clandestine hits on convicted terror operatives,


China mostly has ahold of its terrorist problem.  ;- )  It can be done; the question is how do you get there morally.

tjm's picture

I don't know how to say this more forthrightly. I agree we need border security. I have a family. I personally want border security. My point is we have good border security now. This 90-day order does nothing to enhance it. Because THAT'S NOT THE POINT of it. Haven't I said this three times already?

I feel like Todd Snider standing on stage hitting the microphone - does this thing work?


You *infer*  that border security is not Trump's intent.

You infer this because you consider it self-evident that the measure is 100% ineffective.

My replies speak to the fact that I do not think your inferences are sound.  Gracias Terry.


 I read today that a terrorist can get on an airplane in Tripoli, with zero paperwork of any kind,  and land in the USA in eight hours. The seven countries have serious documentation problems.   The lack of central control is orders of magnitude worse.  In other countries, there is some semblance of airport security.

tjm's picture

I said it was unnecessary. I've flown in and out of four of the countries on the list and didn't notice any security differences whatsoever with, say, Egypt or the Emirates. I've no idea where you read this nice little terrorist tale, but if it were so easy why haven't we been flooded with Libyan bombers? Because even if said terrorist could do this he couldn't get into the US. He'd be turned back and sent homje on the next flight out.

These just-so stories are the foundation people use to build this idea that we are under seige. We're not! I'm not saying we're beloved around the world - we blew that oppotunity with the Iraq War, the CIA torture regime, Abu Ghraib, etc. It was so hard to get into the US since 9/11 that almost no non-domesticv terrorist has succeeded. That's not an inference. It's the apparently inconvenient factual record.


That is a key distinction, thanks.  And your point about "why no suitcase nuke so far?" has weight.  Thanks.


Do you think that President Obama would agree with you that there are no security differences between these 7 countries and other countries?  Why then did Obama flag them as seven special "countries of concern" in Feb. 2016?  

Egypt and the Emirates are NOT on the list of seven countries of concern.  But :- ) for sure those are impressive jet-setter credentials amigo.  LOL.

The "just-so story" .. here's a sample link, Libyan air moratoriums due to security in 2015.  The entire Sebha airport in Tripoli shut down for over two years.


Bush had an inkling of an idea that security was a problem. Al Qaeda was trying sending people across the border to disrupt New Years 2000. One was stopped up here at Port Angeles. Yet Bush wasn't prepared for what happened. And yes, I knew people who desperately wanted to blame him for it. He was putting together a grand plan when we were hit.

Trump's job is to anticipate the next 9-11, which will not be like the last 9-11. He has seven failed states where ISIS and Al Qaeda are gathering. Vetting in a failed state likely has its own set of problems. If he wants to tighten security a bit regarding failed states while he figures out what is going on, what's the problem? He needs to feel confident. The buck will stop with him.

Trump no doubt wants intel on these "bad hombres". He sent the Seals into South Yemen to get it. He didn't send drones to kill leaders. He went in to get intel as well.

I think he deserves more of the benefit of the doubt than many care to give him. He's doing his job. 


I think that the Middle East has had more or less the same level of atrociousness over the last 4000 years, but the rest of the world didn't know about it, because there was no CNN or Youtube.  I don't think the United States is doing anything that is going to change affairs over there.  For the Iraq war, the US lost 4,424 soldiers, had 31,952 war wounds and expended $2 trillion dollars (that's $6,269 per U.S. Citizen) to topple Saddam Hussein.  Now, Iraq is arguably in a worse state than when it had the ruthless secular megalomaniac at the helm.

If the US is going to make a difference in the Middle East, it has to go about doing things differently.  If it is not going to make a difference, then it should leave.  The US has 319 million people to take care of, and is the third most populous country in the world.  If there is aid, I'd like to see it spent on fixing the United States and some of the Western Hemisphere problems, such as Haiti and the bad parts of Mexico.  

Obama's remark about more people dying in bathtubs than from terrorists is wrong.  First, it is not the government's job to protect people from bathtubs, and by extension old age.  Second, terror isn't just a rare cause of death.  It is what it sounds like, scars society, and curses the ground where it occurs.  We don't have to feel bad when an elder falls in the bathtub, breaks her hip and then dies under anesthesia.  That's called dying of old age peacably in your sleep.

Just a few meandering thoughts.  


:: cue video of bipartisan ovation for Gorsuch ::   The Counselor has arrived!  :- )

Personally I'm also biased towards aid for Mexico.  I'd start with Juarez and other Mexican cities that look across the river at American towns.  The squallor in Juarez is gasp-inducing.

Don't know what you do, since the corrupt cops open envelopes and pilfer any money you send, including checks.  Perhaps fly over and drop food and clothing, violating their airspace?  Get Seahawks cheerleaders to fling stuff in with big rubber bands?

The Mexican government itself is as much an obstacle to that aid, as Middle Eastern attitudes are towards that aid...


Not to put too fine a point on it ... what if an anti-gay group had acheived the same terror in 2016, lining them up in the parking lot on 6 various occasions, and shooting them execution-style while yelling "Glory to God!"  Would President Obama have understood the ramifications then?

I mean it dispassionately.  Terror is about symbols, not body count.  Its goal is to raise anxiety.


which is why ISIS doesn't hate us more because of the ban...they rejoice in it.  It's a recruitment tool.

Obama kept us safe--quietly.

Trump roars that he's going to keep us safe--for no other reason than to hear himself roar.  We'll see how he does.  But he's going to be trying to beat a guy who batted 1.000.


It's generally considered common knowledge that Syria and Iraq have been run like roaches the last few years.  Bringing human rights violations that are of Nazi proportions.  I thought it was obvious that the reason that President Obama uses the "ISIL" acronym was because he wasn't exactly proud of the state of Iraq and Syria following his "containment" policy.   (I cheerfully expect to be challenged on both of those points also!  LOL.)

But you're saying that there have been no suitcase nukes yet?


Syria - the USA has waged a proxy war on them.
Iraq - the USA has waged an unrighteous war on them.
Iran - due to misunderstanding about Iran's Anti-Zionist stance and their involvement in destabilizing the Arab League countries why would you let them go to the US?
Yemen - an extremely unstable country that is the homeland of anti-American terrorists 
Libya - the USA put a hit on Qaddafi, what's the chance of revenge attack?
Somalia - the USA did little to stabilise their country - why were they even there in the 90's?
Sudan - the USA did next to nothing to help the Darfur region.

7 countires with plenty of reason to hate the US. Is the point of the ban to 1) appear to keep campaign promises and 2) recognistion that the US has made people from these countries pretty dang angry.


You listed 7 complaints against the U.S. with no perspective for what caused these actions, or what a Centrist's view of them would be.  It's like an argument that runs: 

1.  49ers - Pete Carroll ran up the score in that one game

2.  Rams - Carroll bolted USC because of a scandal, LA should hate him

3.  Cardinals - Carroll had an offensive lineman chop-block their DE two games ago

4. NFL Commish - Carroll bleats constantly about rigged officials

Concl - Pete Carroll starts every fight he is in.  He is a bad, bad guy

Okay, I guess I understand something, but what I understand is where you're coming from amigo ...


Forgive me if you've answered these ideas before... So if I am off in my sweeping assessment of the reason for the 7 specific countries, what are the other ideas out there? Bad airport security... bit of a meh answer to me... What are the centrists views?

tjm's picture

I'm curious what you think Obama's policies should have been. Bush negotiated the US exit. Obama just executed it. I'm appalled that the GOP has composed a narrative blaming Obama for the rise of ISIS. ISIS or something just like it was inevitable the day Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi Army. That was in June or July of 03. Obama was then a member of the Illinois State Senate.

I'm not at all sure Obama had much choice when he was handed the war. I'm also not sure that Trump has a policy that is different other than siding with Russia and Assad.


... but yes.  Bush signed a deal to withdraw militarily by 2011 (Obama was elected in 2008).  Obama then disengaged with Maliki over the period 2008-2011, never mind the fact that the option existed to keep 20,000 or so troops in Iraq as 'consultants.'

Here is an article from The Atlantic, obviously not a right-leaning site, spelling out why the years 2008-11 are not on George W. Bush.  Excerpt:


Sooner or later, honest liberals will have to admit that Obama’s Iraq policy has been a disaster. Since the president took office, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has grown ever more tyrannical and ever more sectarian, driving his country’s Sunnis toward revolt. Since Obama took office, Iraq watchers—including those within his own administration—have warned that unless the United States pushed hard for inclusive government, the country would slide back into civil war.

Obama inherited an Iraq where better security had created an opportunity for better government. The Bush administration’s troop “surge” did not solve the country’s underlying divisions. But by retaking Sunni areas from insurgents, it gave Iraq’s politicians the chance to forge a government inclusive enough to keep the country together.

For the Obama administration, however, tangling with Maliki meant investing time and energy in Iraq, a country it desperately wanted to pivot away from. A few months before the 2010 elections, according to Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker, “American diplomats in Iraq sent a rare dissenting cable to Washington, complaining that the U.S., with its combination of support and indifference, was encouraging Maliki’s authoritarian tendencies.”

But we can’t fully know because Obama—eager to tout a full withdrawal from Iraq in his reelection campaign—didn’t push hard to keep troops in the country. As a former senior White House official told Peter Baker of The New York Times, “We really didn’t want to be there and [Maliki] really didn’t want us there.… [Y]ou had a president who was going to be running for re-election, and getting out of Iraq was going to be a big statement.”

In recent days, Republicans have slammed Obama for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. But the real problem with America’s military withdrawal was that it exacerbated a diplomatic withdrawal that had been underway since Obama took office.


But, again, not especially interested in a long session of Obama-shaming over the state of the Middle East.


Thanks for that!

My position on the Middle East (and ANY world leader that dips his/her toes into that mess-o-potamia) is this: until someone demonstrates the winning formula for dragging the region, kicking and screaming, into modernity there isn't much point in finger-pointing.  In that much, I'm afraid I'm with Trump's campaign rhetoric to get out of military adventurism.  We're obviously not succeeding at it anywhere except a few patches during the Cold War (primarily in Asia).  So I support the idea that we stop directly intervening and bolster our borders.

That said, I don't think you can really blame a President for his role in that mess.  He's darned-if-he-do and darned-if-he-don't.  It's *not* America's problem--it's a WORLD problem.  The rest of the world is going to have to start pitching in meaningfully if we're ever really going to clean the region up.  Otherwise, all we end up doing is fighitng proxy wars there with our enemies.

I was with Dubya 100% when he went on his Crusade to bring Democracy and Enlightenment to the Middle East.  After experiencing the last fifteen years, though, I'm firmly of the opinion that the USA can't be out there trying to nation build.  We're terrible at it, empirically, and it's time to fess up to that reality.  I don't think anyone else is *better* at it than the USA--indeed, I think we're the best at it since the European Colonial Period, though outside of that time-slice it's not a terribly high bar to clear).


Yes, an excellent analysis.

And although it has nothing really to do with the overall thesis, I just can't get beyond Romney's assertion that the concepts of individual freedom and inalienable rights were 'birthed in the American Revoluton'.  Mind numbing.


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