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Against ‘Evil’


I suppose it is poetic justice to see strawman arguments deployed against President Obama rather than by him. But John Judis’s criticism of his Oslo speech misfires. His main complaint is that Obama should not have invoked “evil” in his case for the justifiability of war. Writes Judis, “the term ‘evil’ expresses condemnation of an individual or institution without implying clearly what they have done wrong.” The same could be said of the terms “immoral” or “unjust”; should they too be banished from the political lexicon? Judis reminds us that declaring, say, al-Qaeda to be evil does not settle the argument about the best way to combat it. Who said it does? Not the president.