Needless to say, Obama’s peroration before the General Assembly was all that we expected it to be. Predictably enough, after acknowledging the slight imperfections in our inherent goodness, he launched forward with Babies to the Fire, denouncing the unspeakable, yet depicted, horrors and evils of the Satanic Caliphate.
"But in this century, we have faced a more lethal and ideological brand of terrorists who have perverted one of the world’s great religions. With access to technology that allows small groups to do great harm, they have embraced a nightmarish vision that would divide the world into adherents and infidels – killing as many innocent civilians as possible; and employing the most brutal methods to intimidate people within their communities.
|Casting of the Innocents (Alexander Nevsky, 1938, Eisenstein)|
"First, the terrorist group known as ISIL must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed. This group has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria. Mothers, sisters and daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war. Innocent children have been gunned down. Bodies have been dumped in mass graves. Religious minorities have been starved to death. In the most horrific crimes imaginable, innocent human beings have been beheaded, with videos of the atrocity distributed to shock the conscience of the world."
The only surprise was that he did not resurrect the kadaververwertungsanstalt. Otherwise, Obama sounded entirely like Pope Urban II,
"From the confines of Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth and very frequently has been brought to our ears, namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race utterly alienated from God, a generation forsooth which has not directed its heart and has not entrusted its spirit to God, has invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by the sword, pillage and fire; it has led away a part of the captives into its own country, and a part it has destroyed by cruel tortures; it has either entirely destroyed the churches of God or appropriated them for the rites of its own religion. They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either spread upon the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate upon the ground. Others they bind to a post and pierce with arrows. Others they compel to extend their necks and then, attacking them with naked swords, attempt to cut through the neck with a single blow. What shall I say of the abominable rape of the women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. " 
So, here we are, on the anniversary of 9/11, once again sounding the trumpet for another crusade, although this time the bluster is hedged about with demurrers. Not for Obama the unapologetic bluster of a Bush; rather the honeyed poison of an Urban.
But the man who applies this salt should be prudent, provident, modest, learned, peaceable, watchful, pious, just, equitable, and pure. For how can the ignorant teach others? How can the licentious make others modest? And how can the impure make others pure? ... first correct yourselves, in order that, free from blame , you may be able to correct those who are subject to you. If you wish to be the friends of God, gladly do the things which you know will please Him. .. Let therefore hatred depart from among you, let your quarrels end, let wars cease, and let all dissensions and controversies slumber. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulchre; wrest that land from the wicked race, and subject it to yourselves
"We have not invested adequately in the public health capacity of developing countries. Too often, we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so. And we have not confronted forcefully enough the intolerance, sectarianism, and hopelessness that feeds violent extremism in too many parts of the globe. . . .
"We reject fatalism or cynicism when it comes to human affairs; we choose to work for the world as it should be, as our children deserve it to be. .... We believe that right makes might – that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future. ... America is committed to a development agenda that eradicates extreme poverty by 2030. ... I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals; that America has plenty of problems within our own borders. . . .
"I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri – where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear. . . .
"But we welcome the scrutiny of the world – because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfec ... We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come. Join us in this common mission, for today’s children and tomorrow’s.
But true to pattern, as Urban II had invoked the will of God, so too Obama sought to clothe his war on ISIS in the mantel of just necessity. After deploring the rape of virgins and the slaughter of innocents, Obama intoned,
No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.
The significance of this statement is apt to be overlooked until one takes note of the conditions the Church places on the invocation of the Just War Doctrine, viz:
[The] Just War doctrine gives certain conditions for the legitimate exercise of force, all of which must be met:
1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
3. there must be serious prospects of success;
4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition" [Catech. Cath. Church § 2309]. 
The Church’s just war doctrine, while reinforced by the example of Christ, derives in major part from Cicero who is generally credited with being the first to enunciate pre-conditions for just war,
Then, too, in the case of a state in its external relations, the rights of war must be strictly observed. For since there are two ways of settling a dispute: first, by discussion; second, by physical force; and since the former is characteristic of man, the latter of the brute, we must resort to force only in case we may not avail ourselves of discussion. ( Cicero, De officiis (On Moral Duties), 1.11.33-1.13.41.)
For Cato as for the Church, the essence of a just war is necessity — necessity, not expedience. The Church’s preconditions nail down what Cato had left a tad fuzzy: necessity must be demonstrated not merely argued.
The second condition of a just war is explicit and clear to anyone who understands English, viz: all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
“Must have been shown” is not the same as “There can be no reasoning – no negotiation.” The second precondition requires that non violent attempts at resolution be made and, having been made, be shown to be fruitless. Hypothetically asserting that it would be pointless to engage in negations is not a demonstration of anything. It is a mere assertion. If necessity is left to mere assertion then the entire construct collapses into a heap of rhetorical amour-propre.
Thus, the Church’s doctrine prescribes a mode of conduct not a mode of argument. At no time did Obama claim to have attempted negotiations with ISIS. Instead he supplanted the requirement of necessity with an ipse dixit of hypothetical impossibility.
The speech delivered this morning was trademark Obama. It contained all the usual nods to humanitarian ideals and progressive goals. It feigned a humble acknowledgement of our own imperfections. It held out the “hope” of a more just and equitable world. But all this, as usual, was the cotton candy fluff around the big stick of “diplomacy by force”.
We chipsters are not persuaded that the doctrine of just war is itself justifiable. Contrary to oft-asserted mistake the doctrine is not found in either St. Augustine or St. Anselm. The passage usually cited from Augustine’s City of God, is a literal aside wrenched out of context from a discussion of the Roman Empire’s linguistic and cultural homogeneity.
Early Christians (like Augustine) were quite familiar with Cato’s moral teaching and were equally adamant that there could be no appeasement of violence. By that they meant exactly the opposite of what we mean today. They did not mean that we had to fight violence but rather that we needed not to hand ourselves over to violence — that we had to suffer it instead of giving in to it.
"A Christian must not become a soldier, unless he is compelled by a chief bearing the sword. He is not to burden himself with the sin of blood. But if he has shed blood, he is not to partake of the mysteries, unless he is purified by a punishment, tears, and wailing. He is not to come forward deceitfully but in the fear of God.” (Apostolic Canons of St. Hippolytus XII-XVI)Thus, Clement of Alexandria described the Church as “an army which sheds no blood.”
“The safety of the City of God, however, is of such a kind that it can be possessed, or rather acquired, only with faith and through faith; and when faith is lost, no one can attain to that safety.” (Augustine, City of God, Book 22, ch. 6.)
"If you enroll as one of God’s people, heaven is your country and God your lawgiver. And what are His laws? You shall not kill, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Protrepticus 11, 116)
The evidence is overwhelming that the early Church did not espouse a just war doctrine but rather forbade a resort to violence in all cases. Period.
But the apple of self-preservation is too tempting. The rationale for a resort to violence was first enunciated by St. Constantine-Cyril in 851 when those pesky Muslims were besieging Constantinople. During a diplomatic parlay in 851, Caliph Mutawakki’s negotiating team opened up with quotes from the Gospel of Mathew,
"Your God is Christ. He commanded you to pray for your enemies, to do good to those who hate and persecute you, and to offer the other cheek to those who hit you. But what do you actually do? If anyone offends you, you sharpen your sword and go into battle and kill. Why do you not obey your Christ?" (The Orthodox Church and Society VIII.2)
To which St. Constantine-Cyril responded
"Christ is our God Who ordered us to pray for our offenders and to do good to them. He also said that no one of us can show greater love in life than he who gives his life for his friends That is why we generously endure offences caused us as private people. But in company we defend one another and give our lives in battle for our neighbors, so that you, having taken our companions as prisoners, could not imprison their souls together with their bodies by forcing them into renouncing their faith."
It was unalloyed Greek sophistry which quick-switched from referencing the collective we to talking about the we as individuals. Nay! Nay! We are not defending ourselves. Perish the thought. We are defending our neighbor — the old, the weak, the virgin, the innocent; each of us defending the other — like Christ — laying our lives down for others. No greater love hath man than this: than to bash the skull and pierce the gut of his adversary for the sake of his fellow man. All of which ignored the salient fact that Christ laid down his life by suffering violence, not indulging it.
We mention these things not with any expectation that the United States (or even, for that matter France) will espouse Christian pacifism, but to illustrate how far Obama has fallen from any semblance justness.
The Church’s doctrine of just war is a compromise — an appeasement of violence. It forgoes the gold and goes for the brass, seeking restrict violence to cases of last and necessary resort.
It is not an unreasonable rule but it is little better than Cato and falls short of Socrates. Obama does not even touch Cato’s toga. His speech before the U.N. General Assembly was more of the same high sounding, self-inflated exceptionalism for which he and his countrymen are renown.
But surely, it will be said, ISIS is a bunch of brutal barbarians who cannot be allowed to mow a path of blood with the Crescents of their scythes!
Like others we were appalled by the images of the beheadings and at least like some others have tried to fathom the mind behind the hand in such deeds.
Our quandary was put into perspective by a Canadian — a rather Tory type at that — who responded to a comment on how slow and sadistic the beheadings were by remarking that they were at least quicker than executions in Missouri.
Where was the incredulous outrage when, in 2006, U.S. soldiers strung up and beat a 21 year old Afghan cab driver for four days running until, as the coroner put it, his legs were, pulpified.
Is death by “pulpification” any less brutal? At the time, we called this matter to the attention of several senators and not one bothered with a reply. After all, it is not brutal when we, the exceptional Murkans, do it.
This is not to condone violence by a specious tu quoque but rather to point out the wages of violence when one gives in to it.
Humans whether American, German or Russian, whether Jewish, Muslim or Shinto, do terrible things, without exception, when they resort to violence. ISIS should not be held to an arbitrarily higher standard. It is par for the course.
Dilawar’s pulpified body was never broadcast on the nightly news; nor are we treated to images of the collateral death inflicted on wedding guests by our drones; and, when Israel, reduces neighborhoods to rubble and children to limp and charred flesh it is called a “justified reprisal.”
|Reprisal in Gaza|
Which perhaps sheds some light on ISL’s dark motives.
There is a controversial rule of war which allows belligerents to take reprisals against the opposing party. Reprisals refer to acts which are illegal if taken alone, but become legal when adopted by one state in retaliation for the commission of an earlier illegal act by another state.
Reprisals are (or have been) allowed against non-combatants in retaliation against acts of sabotage or killings by partisans and other non-official combatants.
Needless to say, much misinformation and propaganda surrounds this murky and unhappy aspect of international and customary law. All countries — including the exceptional United States — have engaged in reprisals. Most of the German reprisals during the second world war were illegal not in principle but because they were excessive.
Nevertheless, despite the volumes of arcana and hair-splitting, the law of reprisal ends up being an attempt to put a reasonable face on all hell and its minions. Riddled with conditions and exceptions, no real sense can be imposed upon eruptions of chaos.
There is thus a trend in international law toward outlawing all reprisals (and certainly all reprisals against non-combatants), but this is counterbalanced by an equal and opposite tendency to accept routine and predictable collateral damage as legitimate. In other words, when the "non-reprisal" is done impersonally and with banality.
Pondering these things, it seems to us that ISL’s notorious beheadings are conceived by them as forms of reprisal; and they have, in fact, usually been accompanied by some sort of retaliatory justification.
What this indicates is that ISL’s conduct (to the extent that a unitary control purpose can be supposed) is not animated by pure and arbitrary sado-barbarism, as Obama has claimed, but rather by the more conventional cruelty in pursuit of a geo-political purpose.
It is a significant distinction. There was no negotiating with the U.S. thugs who pulpified Dilawar because their conduct was no less and no more than indulgence in sadism for the sheer pleasure of it. They were not trying to achieve anything other than to inflict pain on Dilawar and thus there was nothing to negotiate or bargain.
But when cruelty is retaliatory and is used as a means of attaining some military or geo-political alternative, then (despite the sordid distaste) there is something which can be achieved by negotiation.
The people who control U.S. policy understand this. They (more than the rest of us) know what a disgusting enterprise the making of sausages is. They have been, are and will always be disposed to negotiating with cads of the lowest order if they think something can be gained thereby. A few beheadings will not stop America in her tracks!
The spectre of arbitrary and sadistic brutality is invoked merely to buttress the a priori argument that there could be no point in trying to negotiate with such inhuman beasts and therefore a resort to violence is justified.
The only thing demonstrated on Wednesday is that is the shameless hypocrisy of U.S. policy.