Saturday, August 20, 2016

When Domestic Political Rhetoric Harms Foreign Policy Objectives

Obama and Hillary Founded ISIS!
MEMRI TV Clip No. 5623

Anyone who keeps up with what goes for political analysis in the Middle East knows that the discourse is full of conspiracy theories shaped to explain how the US is at fault for everything wrong with the Muslim Arab world.

One particularly egregious, widespread conspiracy theory in the Middle East is that the US founded the Islamic State.

This is false, of course, but when a candidate in this year's election makes the same claim,and even doubles down on the claim (before watering the claim down a week later), the conspiracy theorists in the Middle East feel themselves powerfully confirmed in their belief that the primary intention of the US in the Middle East is to sow discord and reap the destruction of Arab societies.

For more on this MEMRI report, see this video and its transcript.



At 1:09 PM, Blogger King Baeksu said...

It's interesting that someone with such a sophisticated grasp of the English language would confuse or conflate hyperbolic sarcasm with the peddling of conspiracy theory.

The mainstream media and voting public are not terribly interested in the rarefied heights of academic discourse and debate. Attention spans are short and pithy soundbites are what generally generate traction (especially online, where "virality" is always the goal). This is the reality in our modern form of mass democracy, like it or not.

No one who was listening to Trump thought he meant that Obama (and $hillary) literally founded Isis. If you were a follower Scott Adams' blog, it would have been immediately obvious that Trump was deploying classic "persuasion" weaponry by using such a strong and sticky term as "founded." An egghead disquisition on how Obama and Clinton had "enabled the rise of Isis through a series of questionable policy decisions and counterproductive interventions in the region" and so on and so forth would have been the equivalent of hitting the snooze bar in the minds of most voters.

However, provoking debate around use of the term "founded" was a brilliant persuasion play, since it brought renewed public attention to the link between Obama's foreign policy and the spread of Isis, and if you were curious about Trump's allegation you could easily do more research yourself and find that many facts do indeed suggest that Obama and Clinton bear immense responsibility for the creation of Isis and its rapid rise, not only in Iraq and Syria, but also in Libya and elsewhere in the MENA region.

A quick search online, for instance, will quickly reveal that arming the FSA and other rebel groups in Syria was probably not the wisest move, since they were either infiltrated by radical jihadhis early on, or later defected to Isis or had their arms looted by marauding soldiers of the ever-expanding caliphate. And, of course, Obama's decision to pull out of Iraq created the vacuum that was quickly filled by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and former officers of Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard, who constitute the core of Isis, of course.

And now here were are continuing to discuss this issue over a week later, filing in the details of Trump's general statement and certainly not helping the cause of $hillary's campaign, as near as I can tell. Mission accomplished, in other words. The Master Persuader wins yet again.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"It's interesting that someone with such a sophisticated grasp of the English language would confuse or conflate hyperbolic sarcasm with the peddling of conspiracy theory."

KB, you don't want to go down that road. Let's keep our discourse respectful. Your points are always interesting, and we agree on many things.

Anyway, whether Trump meant "founded" literally or figuratively, the problem I was pointing to was how the Middle East understands the term "founded."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:55 PM, Blogger King Baeksu said...

Jeffery, I concede I scanned your post too quickly the first time around and focused too much on your characterization of what Trump allegedly claimed, and ignored the part about how such comments may be received in the Middle East. My bad.

Truth be told, I don't think Trump really cares at this point what people in the Middle East think about statements he makes on the campaign trail, since he is speaking mainly to the American people. In any case, I lived in the Middle East myself, and conspiracy theories are certainly rife there (Israel is a particular bugbear, of course). Should Trump or any other particular presidential candidate be responsible for the curtailment of anti-US conspiracy theories in the region? I would argue not, since such an attitude is rather paternalistic and in my opinion they need to figure out how to be able to distinguish fact from fiction themselves. It's all part of developing a mature civic society and public sphere in the region, which still has a long, long way to go.

Indeed, by trolling so many people so effectively with his many provocations and outrageous statements, Trump may actually be providing a public service even to those in the Middle East: After all, being conned can be an educating experience, and the more often the guillible are taken in, the more likely they are to eventually wisen up. Moreover, the problem with "conspiracy theories" is that the notion is used by way of contrast to maintain the fiction of an impartial, objective media that is able to offer an unfiltered and entirely truthful view of the world and reality. And that is probably the greatest conspiracy theory of all.

At 9:41 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

And, of course, conspiracy theories sometimes turn out to be true. I've heard said that "God" is the biggest conspiracy theory of all . . . but it might be true.

Jeffery Hodges

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