It is an example of the camel's nose under the tent and then there is, all of a sudden, a whole camel in the tent.
When the phrase first appeared, I assumed it would immediately die away given its absurd underpinnings. We actually do have a pretty good idea of what ISIS wants because they have publicly stated what those goals are many times and their actions have matched their words. Certainly one can create a marginal argument along the lines that they are playing a deep game, misleading us temporarily with near terms ideas, words and actions which are consistent with one another in order to divert our attention from their real goals, but that is quite a stretch. We know what they want. Graeme Wood provided a pretty good summary way back in March in the Atlantic in his article, What ISIS Really Wants. Mark Steyn has been trying for more than a decade to draw our attention to the fact that radical Islam in its various manifestations (ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Wahhabism, etc.) has been explicit that they do not want to reach some sort of diplomatic agreement; they want to destroy us as incompatible with their religious beliefs.
But our State Department and Administration have been fairly fixed in their view that it is a mystery what ISI wants. But not so mysterious, apparently, that it prevents State Department and its leaders and lackeys from turning around and claiming that a US domestic political opponent gives ISIS exactly what ISIS wants.
This seemed so intellectually pretzeled that I thought it would never gain traction.
My first thought when I initially came across the charge was not only that it was ridiculous but that it was irrelevant. It is important to know what your opponent thinks they want but it is more important to know what you want. What are your goals and what are you willing to do to achieve them? Whether your actions at some point coincide or not with the goals of an opponent is of interest but largely irrelevant as long as you have made an informed decision based on your own objectives. Or, as Taranto puts it in a recent piece, "But Mrs. Clinton’s fabrication obscures the real, albeit rhetorical, question—to wit, who cares what ISIS wants, thinks or says?"
Pretzeled logic and irrelevance. That doesn't seem like a good foundation for the take up of a new cliche but here we are months later and people are still making the ridiculous charge.
This was brought to mind by To Spite ISIS by James Taranto. His is the first time I have seen a commentator actually tackle the absurdity of the accusation that something so-and-so is doing only "gives ISIS what they want." He takes a somewhat different approach in order to make political points, but his underlying observation is correct.
The post-9/11 cliché “the terrorists will have won” now has a successor: “what ISIS wants.” President Obama himself employed a variation of the new slogan in his speech after the San Bernardino attack: “We should not be drawn once more into a long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria. That’s what groups like ISIL want.” (We guess ISIS wants Obama to call them ISIS and everyone else to call them ISIL.)
Then there was this much-discussed remark from inevitable presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during a little-watched Democratic debate 1½ weeks ago:
He is becoming ISIS’ best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.It’s not clear what she imagined Trump was saying in these videos, but it is clear she imagined the videos, as the Blaze reported on debate night. But Mrs. Clinton’s fabrication obscures the real, albeit rhetorical, question—to wit, who cares what ISIS wants, thinks or says?
To be fair to Mrs. Clinton, it’s possible she got confused and mistook Trump for another baby boomer politician who has appeared in an ISIS video. As the Daily Beast reported last month: “A new English-language video put out by ISIS calls Bill Clinton a ‘fornicator’ and George W. Bush a ‘liar.’ ”
Our purpose here is not to cast aspersions on President Clinton (or Bush), merely to underscore the silliness of Mrs. Clinton’s attack on Trump. If he were in an ISIS video, would that be to his discredit? Well, does knowing Mr. Clinton was in such a video change your opinion of him? Should it change anyone’s?
If anything, you’d think being cited in an ISIS video would be a point of pride. It is to Rick Santorum: “The only person that’s been listed in ISIS’ magazine as an enemy of ISIS is me,” BuzzFeed quotes Santorum as telling Breitbart radio.
Mrs. Clinton’s Trump tall tale also raises a question about her own view of ISIS. In a speech last month at the Council on Foreign Relations, she said: “Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.” If that is true, why would ISIS be so concerned about insults against “Islam and Muslims”? Trump has also insulted Seventh-day Adventists, but no one worries about what ISIS thinks of that.