The Corner

National Security & Defense

The Administration’s Adolescent Rants about ISIS

It is disheartening to listen to Obama and his administration voices childishly reiterating that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam because it does not represent the majority of Muslims or what Westerners perceive as normative values distilled from the Koran. 

No radical ideology, religious or otherwise, starts out coherently, much less representing the majority; but it eventually can if appeased and left unchallenged.

Does Obama think that National Socialism could never have represented the Germany of Goethe and Schiller just because it only appealed to a minority of Germans in the 1932 election or was clearly a perversion of traditional German values? 

All that was true, but irrelevant two years later when Germans who once laughed at the barbarity of National Socialism suddenly were willing to look the other way at its thuggery, killings, and ethnic cleansing in exchange for the sense of pride it lent a public that felt itself victimized. 

Western European observers of the 1930s who were worried at what was going on in Germany did not, like our president, insist that National Socialism had nothing to with socialism or Germany, but rather feared that it might exploit both and end up not just representing Germany, but enthusiastically embraced by a majority of Germans. They were right. Hitler rose to power not because most Germans favored euthanasia and rounding up Jews, but because they were willing to overlook that and a lot more if Hitler were able to win back respect for traditional German influence and status.

It matters little right now that most Muslims in theory reject ISIS and find its barbarity a perversion of what they see as traditional Islam, in the way National Socialism distorted classical socialism and German values and history. The key instead is to what degree by its success in gaining territory and numbers, and in humiliating the West, will ISIS gain adherents among Muslims? 

ISIS assumes that most Muslims, despite their present reservations over its methodology and religious contortions, harbor some quiet admiration that at least radical Islam strikes back at Muslims’ supposed oppressors. ISIS like Hitler expects that in time it will win psychological resonance for a large minority of Muslims — at least in sufficient numbers to ensure its existence and growth. The abyss from Bismarck and Hegel to Auschwitz was not inherently greater than from the Koran to ISIS, given the unchanging nature of humankind.

Psychoanalyzing Hitler or declaring that National Socialism was a betrayal of classical Germany or fearing conflating Nazism with Germany itself was a useless parlor game in the 1930s. All that mattered was whether Hitler’s thuggery could be humiliated — its bluff called in the Rhineland or at Munich — and shown to be weak and a prescription for disaster before it became too strong.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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