November 9, 2015

DAVIES | This Week in Lies and Idiocy

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Last week, I heard a couple of news items that caught my ears. First was the announcement by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter that the United States would not “hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL.” Besides sending the pitch of Lindsay Graham’s voice above the human aural register, Secretary Carter’s statement was interesting for its word choice. Specifically, ‘opportunistic’ struck me as a rather poor selection.

Defined as “exploiting chances offered by immediate circumstances without reference to a general plan or moral principle,” ‘opportunistic’ embodies precisely the opposite of what most would argue a military intervention requires. Considering Secretary Carter uttered it in the same breath as he promised American boots on the ground, one has to question how such disastrous diction came to pass.

While an odd choice for a Washington official describing military action, in reality ‘opportunistic’ is not an inaccurate word when applied to United States strategy in Syria and Iraq. After all, it is difficult to argue that Washington has a coherent plan for “degrading and destroying” ISIS. War isn’t funny but I’m sure there were many barely stifled laughs after a top general announced that “four or five” U.S.-trained Syrian rebels remained active on the ground. The massive failure of this $50 million dollar program alongside Vladimir Putin’s Syrian fait accompli and ISIS’ recent territorial gains makes the idea of a coherent American plan quite ridiculous.

Equally problematic is the assertion that American foreign policy is guided by moral objectives, despite what Donald Rumsfeld and his fellow gun-toting democratizers tell us. From the justification provided against tumbling communist dominoes to the private-profit motivated jaunts into Iraq and Afghanistan, recent history is littered with examples of American interventionism devoid of morality.

While initially bemused by why Secretary Carter would use such a word, I now realise that he was merely being honest. Someone must have slipped him a drop of truth serum (but the United States government would never do that? Right?). At this stage, it is difficult to describe the American anti-ISIS intervention as anything but opportunistic.

The second glorious sound bite to tickle my ears came from Ben Carson, a man whose success relies partly on rumors of his having stabbed someone. A 1998 video of him giving a commencement speech at Andrews University resurfaced recently in which he claims that his “own personal theory” of the pyramids being built for grain storage supersedes years of archaeological and historical research.

In his treacly tones Dr. Carson expounds upon this belief to a chorus of amens as he segues into an interestingly self-referential passage on the power of God. He says, “People may not even be able to explain what you’re accomplishing,” before continuing, “All you have to do is accept His presence and his total understanding of everything and link yourself with that.”

While founded in scripture and belief, these words now form the mantra running through the mind of every Ben Carson supporter and the question bouncing around the heads of every political commentator. Can anyone, disciple or critic, really explain how Dr. Carson has risen to the commanding status of tied frontrunner in Republican primary polls?

It is rather difficult to explain how he has accomplished such a feat given his lack of policy depth (see his 10 percent ‘tithe’) and penchant for lying (see the rest of his campaign). Many have pointed to his evangelical appeal to explain Carson’s success, particularly in Iowa polls where evangelical voters have a disproportionate influence in primaries. Also frequently cited is his disarmingly quiet manner, maintained even when comparing Obamacare to slavery or when informing the American people that “many of them are stupid.”

How an evangelical neurosurgeon can be so thin on facts and thick on deception is inexplicable. More confusing is how such a man can reach the top of the polls while presenting a body of policy proposals that could be scribbled on a napkin.

However, maybe a rightly guided idiot savant is what America needs. Ben Carson might be the only one who can guide the ship of America back into the seas of morality. Of course, he won’t lend us any coherent plan besides accepting His presence but, in the words of Dr. Carson himself, “believe me: Do not worry about it, because the stakes are much too high.”

Alex Davies is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at ajd253@cornell.edu. Have I Got News For You? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

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