Exploiting the ISIS bogeyman

Well, that didn’t take long. Cue the scary music: Republicans are using ISIS to prop themselves up as the supposed best hope to protect the nation’s security. Only the GOP can save you from being murdered in your beds. Members of the Islamic State are clearly the scariest thugs EVER. So say ads backing Republican candidates — facts be damned.

The Texas lieutenant governor claimed that “prayer rugs” have been found on the Texas side of the U.S.-Mexico border (it turned out to be an Adidas soccer jersey). There were earlier claims by a Texas sheriff that “them Muslim books” were found by the border. Again: True Muslims would never discard the Quran. And they would certainly keep any real prayer rugs to give themselves a clean place to pray.

Several Republicans are claiming that ISIS is on our border. Others say ISIS already has “established cells” in Mexico, without any evidence. Scott Brown, running for Senate in Massachusetts (whoops, New Hampshire), has a scary new ad about Southern border security, even though both states are in New England. Perhaps New Hampshire should have considered closing its borders so the carpetbagger Brown couldn’t have moved in.

ISIS beheadings? Check, and horrible. But wait — some fired worker in Oklahoma beheaded one of his coworkers. Now there are “copycat beheadings” by other groups, too. And don’t forget that some of the supposed moderate “CIA-vetted” rebel groups in Syria also are guilty of beheadings. And beheading is how Saudi Arabia carries out its death penalty.

A little historical perspective, if you please. Not that we should hold a contest for worst murderers in history, but as bad as ISIS is — and those guys are bad, no argument — the members of the Islamic State have some pretty serious competition. But they’re the ones with video. They can scare us as never before, and politicians can exploit the whole situation for electoral gain. So let’s take a stroll down murdering memory lane:

Pol Pot. The leader of the communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia led his forces for only four years: from 1975 to 1979. During that time, about 1.5 million people out of a population of 7 million to 8 million people died. Causes of death included starvation, execution, disease, and simple overwork as the ruthless dictator and his followers forced the populace to work in the rice fields. He especially targeted the educated and former upper classes to form a classless peasant society. There’s a reason they called those fields “the killing fields” — bodies were buried in mass graves. One detention center that held 20,000 people had only seven survivors.

Remember that the U.S. bombed Cambodia as part of the campaign against communists during the Vietnam War. U.S. planes dropped 500,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia over four years. When all U.S. efforts were stopped by 1973, the Khmer Rouge controlled three-quarters of Cambodia. Mission accomplished? Not so much. Maybe the United States should learn a lesson here.

Idi Amin. Amin ruled Uganda for eight years, from 1971 to 1979. He became known as the “butcher of Uganda” during his presidency, when he sent “killer squads” into towns and the countryside to kidnap, torture, and murder supporters of his political rivals and the president he had ousted in a coup, Apolo Milton Obote. Amin expanded his targets to include rival tribal members, journalists, lawyers, homosexuals, students, and senior bureaucrats. The total death toll is estimated at 300,000 to 500,000 people. Idi Amin was never brought to justice.

Rwandan genocide. In 1994, a plane carrying the Hutu Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was shot down as it approached the capital city of Kigali. This attack served as a catalyst to unleash Hutu forces on the Tutsi minority in the country. Over the course of three months, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus would be killed by gun and machete. Women were brutally raped. About 2 million Rwandans fled the country, worsening refugee crises in countries near by. And the world stood by. By the time the U.N. Security Council voted to send in peacekeeping troops, the genocide was largely over. Some higher-ranking Rwandan military and security officials were convicted by 2008.

Need we go on? In 1941, the Nazis machine-gunned nearly 34,000 Jews into the Babi Yar Ravine outside Kiev over two days — possibly the worst atrocity of the war. They covered the bodies with dirt and rock — even those who were still moving. Catholics killed up to 70,000 Protestants in 1572 during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. And how many people did Josef Stalin have killed during his time in power? Some estimates are as high as 20 million Russians. Bosnian ethnic cleansing of Muslims by Serbs. God knows how many have died in North Korea, because we can never get any real news from there.

Should the United State and the world have gotten involved to stop these atrocities? They did in World War II, and the world was clearly better off without Adolf Hitler’s Nazis. Can we stop every group, every atrocity? Obviously, we can’t. So how to choose?

I suggest that one way NOT to choose what to do about ISIS is to listen to the most hyperactive politicians and media reports and start bombing without a clear goal in mind. Many Middle East countries have joined the fight, at least somewhat — still waiting for Turkey. Several European countries say they’re in. So what are they all going to do? Supply planes and bombs? Pat themselves on the back so they’ll be “part of the team” of good guys? Even the president of Iran says that airstrikes are “a form of theater rather than a serious battle against terrorism,” as President Hassan Rouhani told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in a recent interview.

In an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes, President Obama said he started the bombing campaign against ISIS because it’s up to America to lead, because “this is who we are. People don’t call Beijing; they don’t call Moscow. They call us.” Maybe. But bombing is not going to do the job without Iraqi forces willing to follow the airstrikes with enough soldiers to root out the well-funded ISIS forces. Their recent history was cutting and running rather than facing the enemy; why should we think they have magically become better fighters? And all this occurs while Congress can’t be bothered with doing its constitutional duty to declare war or authorize the president to take action. The latest GOP talking point is that “it’s up to Obama to call us back” or “it’s up to Obama to write a bill.” Funny, the Constitution says it’s Congress’ job to write laws.

Somehow, I don’t think this is the way Obama wanted to spend his last two years in office.

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