Question and Answer

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on September 21, 2016

Question and Answer

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.

Question and Answer

  • “Here’s What May Have Happened to Your Class Clown”—headline, Yahoo! Lifestyle, July 26
  • “New York Bomber’s Father Denies All Knowledge of His Terror Plot as Classmates Reveal He Was a Class Clown Who ‘Found Religion on Trips to Afghanistan’ Two Years Ago”—headline, DailyMail, Sept. 20

It’s Always in the Last Place You Look 
“Vox Erases Jordan From the Map to Help Explain the Syrian Civil War; Update: Now Israel Is Missing”—headline, Twitchy, Sept. 20

Sex Sells?
“President Obama, speaking at an event Sunday in New York City, said that a bias against powerful women could hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton with voters in November,” the Washington Post reports:

“There’s a reason why we haven’t had a woman president,” Obama said at the fundraiser for Clinton. “We as a society still grapple with what it means to see powerful women and it still troubles us in a lot of ways, unfairly.” . . .

“This should not be a close election but it will be, and the reason it will be is not because of Hillary’s flaws,” he said.

Yeah, that must be it. After all, it’s not as if she isn’t likable enough.

Trump and ‘Treason’
“Hi!” Bloomberg’s Jennifer Epstein said to Hillary Clinton yesterday, when the Democratic candidate took questions from the press in White Plains, N.Y. Mediaitereports Epstein then asked this question:

“Are you concerned that this weekend’s attacks or potential incidents in the coming weeks might be an attempt by ISIS or ISIS sympathizers, or really any other group, maybe the Russians, to influence the presidential race in some way, and presumably try to drive votes to Donald Trump, who is, as you’ve said before, widely seen as perhaps being somebody who they would be more willing to—or see as an easier person to be against?”

Mrs. Clinton dodged the nutty Russian-conspiracy theory, but her answer still exerted upward pressure on eyebrows:

Well, Jennifer, I don’t want to speculate, but here’s what we know. . . . We know that a lot of the rhetoric we’ve heard from Donald Trump has been seized on by terrorists, in particular ISIS. . . .

They want to use that to recruit more fighters to their cause by turning it into a religious conflict. That’s why I’ve been very clear; we’re going after the bad guys and we’re going to get them, but we’re not going to go after an entire religion and give ISIS exactly what it’s wanting in order for them to enhance their position.

Secondly, we know that Donald Trump’s comments have been used online for recruitment of terrorists. We’ve heard that from former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who made it a very clear point when he said Donald Trump is being used as a recruiting sergeant for the terrorists. We also know from the former head of our Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, that the kinds of rhetoric and language that Mr. Trump has used is giving aid and comfort to our adversaries.

Politico observes that “aid and comfort to our adversaries” is “the constitutional definition of treason.” That’s not quite accurate; the Constitution uses the word “enemies,” which is more specific than “adversaries” (Vladimir Putin’s Russia, for example, is an adversary but not an enemy). But in this particular case, the distinction lacks a difference, since she’s referring to ISIS, which is undoubtedly an enemy.

So we have a campaign in which a mainstream news reporter is propagating wild conspiracy theories and a major-party nominee is leveling accusations of treason over political speech. And we’re supposed to believe the other guy is “abnormal”!

But we’d like to dilate on the less insane premise Epstein and Mrs. Clinton share—namely, that ISIS prefers Trump and that his rhetoric is helpful to its cause. The matter is indeed “widely seen” that way, at least among the foreign-policy intelligentsia, as evidenced by Mrs. Clinton’s various appeals to authority—to which we’ll add one more: a Foreign Policy essay by the Council on Foreign Relations’ Max Boot, a former Marco Rubio adviser who now backs Mrs. Clinton and fervidly opposes Donald Trump.

“Why Trump Is the Islamic State’s Dream Candidate” is the headline, but the case is very weak. Like Mrs. Clinton’s, it relies entirely on appeals to authority. Boot also cites Matt Olsen, along with some highly dubious sources—a pair of “ISIS spokesmen” quoted in Time magazine. Boot does make a strong case (as if one needed making) that Trump’s policy proposals are less than fully baked.

Is it true that anti-Islamic, or insufficiently pro-Islamic, rhetoric from American politicians encourages terrorism? The big picture gives plenty of reasons to doubt it. Such rhetoric was not a major feature of U.S. politics during Bill Clinton’s time in the White House, and that didn’t stop Islamic terrorists from attacking the World Trade Center, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the USS Cole, among others.

After 9/11, President Bush conspicuously adopted a conciliatory approach toward Muslims and Islam, which President Obama has carried to absurd extremes. Mrs. Clinton has followed their lead. “Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism,” she said during a public visit to Boot’s shop last November.

America was the target of terrorism when American politicians weren’t paying much attention to Islam, and also when they were speaking glowingly of Islam and denying its connection to Islamic terrorism (and still are, in the case of the president and the woman still favored to succeed him).

It would also be quite a coincidence if politically correct pieties—the sort of things members of the political class would be inclined to say regardless—just happened to be the exact formula for “winning Muslims hearts and minds,” in Boot’s phrase.

It is not our contention that Trump’s rhetoric is well-suited, or even better-suited than Obama’s and Mrs. Clinton’s, to that purpose. Rather, our default hypothesis is that the rhetoric of American politicians has much less effect on terrorists and would-be terrorists than Americans—who for understandable reasons are focused on our own politics—tend to imagine it does.

But the rhetoric of American politicians does matter to Americans. Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, has been widely mocked for this comment on CNN Monday (quote by DailyWire.com):

When it comes to ISIL, we are in a fight, a narrative fight, with them, a narrative battle. And what ISIL wants to do is they want to project that they are an organization that is representing Islam in a fight, in a war against the West, in a war against the United States. That is a bankrupt, false narrative. It’s a mythology. And we have made progress in debunking that mythology.

He may deserve mockery for the infelicitous phrase “narrative fight,” but there is a truth underlying it: Propaganda—or persuasion, to use a less loaded term—is a crucial element of warfare.

The problem with Obama and Mrs. Clinton is that they seem completely oblivious to the need for domestic persuasion—which is a fancy way of saying they are hopelessly out of touch with their countrymen, who require reassurance that our leaders know what they’re doing and are on our side.

The only message they are delivering to Americans is the message intended for the enemy, or for the population from which the enemy draws recruits. Consider Mrs. Clinton’s assertion that “Muslims . . . have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.” One can imagine—although we are skeptical—that that’s a useful thing to say for the purpose of propaganda aimed at demoralizing terrorists and appealing to nonterrorist Muslims. But from the standpoint of an American voter who takes the statement at face value, it is flatly false—a bold-faced lie, really, since Mrs. Clinton obviously knows it is false.

By contrast, what Trump has to say on this subject is a rough approximation of the truth. We’re uneasy with the roughness, but too many in the political class fail to appreciate the importance of the truth.

For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.