Let us try a thought experiment.
Assume you’re running for president on a platform of restoring national greatness, self-respect and security, and you wish to criticize the sitting commander in chief for being oblivious to, if not accidentally enabling, the rise of the world’s deadliest terrorist organization. What might you say to make your case?
You might point out that Barack Obama’s wholehearted support of an Iranian satrap in the form of the former Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki—a man Obama described on the White House lawn in 2011 as the elected leader of “a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq” and the “most inclusive government” in that nation’s history—was probably a bit of a bloomer in hindsight, and an avoidable one.
Obama’s own vice president correctly assessed, not a year earlier when the administration backed the premier for re-election, that Maliki “hates the goddamn Sunnis” and that the goddamn Sunnis are the bellwether constituency determining the fortunes of Sunni jihadism in Mesopotamia as well as the necessary bulwark for destroying and discrediting it, as Obama has lately discovered to his own embarrassment.
You might also point to the near-criminal indifference by the current White House to the slow-motion catastrophe that has unfolded in Syria. Many decent and “non-radicalized” Syrians initially saw the United States as a prospective savior from Assadist atrocities. Now many view it as an Assad accomplice, just as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the so-called Islamic State, has been saying for years.
I know, I know. The Middle East is such a complicated and messy place, so difficult for Westerners ill-versed in the theology of Islam or the history of the Arab people to wrap their heads around. Yet I recall one Syrian rather ably trying to translate this obscurantist culture: “If my daughter is being gang-raped in front of me, I would prefer the person taking revenge to wear a green beret, but am I going to object if he instead arrives in a long black beard?”
You could say quite a lot to make your case, as it happens.
But here is what you probably should not say if you are already on record suggesting that President of the United States was born in Kenya and is a closet Muslim:
“In many respects, you know, they honor President Obama. He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder. He founded ISIS. I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”
For added measure, as The New York Times dutifully reported Thursday, Donald Trump made sure to then articulate Obama’s full name, probably because his middle one, “Hussein,” doesn’t sound so reformed Protestant.
Through the morning I have watched people on social media try to explain away this latest descent into demagogic incitement as yet another example of how the mainstream media “spins” and lies about Trump’s rhetoric to suit its own pro-Clinton agenda. See, by saying “founder” three times and “founded” once, the tell-it-like-it-is, anti-establishment nominee with the discourse of a sixth-grader was speaking artfully. He only meant that Obama’s misguided decision-making led inadvertently to the establishment of the caliphate in 2014 and that Clinton (who opposed much of that decision-making as secretary of state), was complicit.
But then, Trump doubled down. In a follow-up interview with the conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Trump clarified his perhaps overly nuanced position about Barack Hussein Obama: “No, I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.”
Whenever debating a Trump surrogate over what isn’t even a dog-whistle but rather a bullhorn-relayed conspiracy theory, bigotry and or fanatical imbecility, the usual response one hears is twofold.
First, one is told, he didn’t mean what you think he meant and he was “clearly” or “obviously” saying something different and benign.
Rudy Giuliani tried this trick on CNN’s New Day on Thursday morning, in a lengthy and tough interview with Chris Cuomo, over Trump’s earlier comment about how “the Second Amendment people” might stop Clinton from appointing Supreme Court justices who intend to destroy the constitution. For Giuliani, there was no ambiguity except that created by the “Clinton spin machine.”
Trump was advocating that gun-rights activists merely “lobby” to keep the Democrat out of office or perhaps her nominees from the bench, not open fire on anyone with an AR-15. But when pressed by Cuomo, he allowed that the statement was “open to interpretation.” (That it certainly was to the Secret Service, which repeatedly questioned Trump about encouraging violence against his political opponent.)
Well, which “interpretation” does Giuliani believe that the GOP nominee wants his most ardent backers to make when he refers to the president as the creator and MVP of a terrorist network? And what does the former New York City mayor suppose Trump really “meant” when he wondered elsewhere who the true perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks are?
As “Morning Joe” Scarborough, once a Trump pal, and now Trump-appalled, has told the world (at last), Trump may not really believe any of this stuff. This is just Trump’s way to “play it cynically,” essentially betting he can pander to the worst instincts and ignorance of his audience. “This is all a scam,” Scarborough said.
And here’s the ultimate irony. It’s the burnt sienna blowhard the head-loppers want to see in the Oval Office. A Syrian rebel I’ve known for quite a while, and who’s in the trenches fighting both Assad and ISIS, told me the other day, apropos of nothing, that jihadists on the ground pine for a Trump victory in November. Why? I asked. “Because he will destroy America before they will.”