Trump, ISIS, and the Tactics of the Weak

A prominent Trump supporter recently offered a view that seems to represent much of the nation. “When I’m looking for somebody who’s going to deal with ISIS,” said Pastor Robert Jeffress, an influential TV host, “I want the meanest, toughest, son of a you-know-what I can find.” Few would doubt that Donald Trump is mean, but what makes Pastor Jeffress thinks he’s tough? What makes millions of Americans think Trump is tough when, in fact, his behavior suggests he’s unusually sensitive? What, for that matter, makes us think ISIS is tough — so much so that “looking for somebody who’s going to deal with ISIS” becomes the top priority? The answer is that Americans have been fooled by bluster and the tactics of the weak.

President Theodore Roosevelt: "speak softly and carry a big stick"
President Theodore Roosevelt: “speak softly and carry a big stick”

Bluster means loud, boastful, and threatening talk. It’s meant to give an impression of power. Terrorism plays a similar role, and in fact you might call it geopolitical bluster. It is devastating for its individual victims, but it has no military impact. So on a geopolitical scale, between nations, a terrorist attack is a loud, threatening statement. Continue reading “Trump, ISIS, and the Tactics of the Weak”

Terrorists and Barbarians

Vive la France
Vive la France

In the wake of terrorist attacks like Friday’s mass killings in Paris, we often call our enemies “barbarians.” They are not. Barbarians like the Vikings, Huns, and Xiongnu lived on the fringes of civilization and preyed on their richer and more settled neighbors. But they did not hate their victims. If fact, they often admired them and adopted their ways. The barbarians were not intolerant. Nor were they even immoral by the standards of their times, since few pre-modern societies condemned violence against outsiders. Barbarian raiders were just opportunists; looting and pillaging offered their fastest route to wealth. Continue reading “Terrorists and Barbarians”