You can almost set your watch to it. Within 24 hours following nearly every recent terrorist attack or horrifying ISIS video, The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald exploits the tragedies as a platform for his ongoing finger-wagging and tsk-tsk scolding of the U.S. and other western nations (but mainly the U.S.). Earlier this week, ISIS burned alive a Jordanian pilot and released the video into the world and, right on schedule, Greenwald posted another article condemning the U.S. for collateral damage in the war on terrorism.
It’s the usual Greenwald game. First of all, warning, the article is preceded by a file photo of a badly burned Vietnamese child. We’ll continue the debate another day about the efficacy of flogging readers over the head with graphic imagery. But since Greenwald didn’t warn anyone, I suppose I will. Anyway, following his own condemnation of the pilot’s immolation, Greenwald immediately segued into how America is worse than ISIS because of our use of drones and much more, illustrated with the usual Glennzilla crutch: blockquote, blockquote, blockquote, blockquote until our eyes bleed. To be fair, his blockquotes weren’t strictly about drones, but delved back to the Vietnam era and napalm, so at least there was some variety.
After his stack of blockquotes about America’s history of being Worse Than ISIS, Greenwald wrote the following about the U.S. condemnation of the terror group:
That’s exactly what makes the intensity of these repeated denunciation rituals somewhat confounding.
Confounding? Are Americans (and Jordanians for that matter) not allowed to condemn ISIS because of alleged past guilt? He appears to conclude that we have no right to condemn our enemies when they summarily execute journalists and prisoners-of-war. If so, how exactly are we supposed to respond? Shrug our shoulders and say, Oh well, we’re no one to talk, so keep going, ISIS. Greenwald wrote:
…it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the ritualistic expressed revulsion has a definitive utility. The constant orgy of condemnation aimed at this group seems to have little purpose other than tribal self-affirmation: no matter how many awful acts our government engages in, at least we don’t do something like that, at least we’re not as bad as them.
Notice the use of “expressed” to imply that it’s not genuine revulsion. He also used variations on the word “ritual” twice to prove that we do this automatically and without thought. Nice. It’s all just cosmetic, according to Greenwald: the U.S. uses these executions as propaganda to absolve itself from its own terrible actions. It’s ironic since these ISIS killings have a similar “utility” for Greenwald who zealously scrambles to his keyboard every time — strapping on his tinfoil hat and clicking through his “Neener Neener” bookmark folder, frantically copying and pasting every too-long block of text that mitigates the horrendous actions of ISIS by illustrating the comparatively worse brutality of Americans.
Indeed, Greenwald wrote that in “some instances” America “may” not be as bad as ISIS, but it’s just a “matter of degree than category,” which is another way to say, We don’t saw the heads off journalists, but we do a variety of other terrible things that are often worse. He cited how the Taliban might use a suicide bomber to attack a funeral, but we also bomb funerals — and sometimes we attack the same funeral twice (the report of such an attack has been disputed).
Intentions matter. Morality matters. In these areas, ISIS and the U.S. couldn’t be more disparate. It must be nice to live inside Greenwald’s simplistic bubble where shades-of-gray don’t exist and details don’t matter; where morality is an either/or proposition; where the U.S. is always the greatest of all evils and collateral damage doesn’t exist. What he continuously ignores is that while we’re by no means perfect (no nation is) and while we’re guilty of manyhorriblethings, American goals, motives and, yes, morality is vastly superior to ISIS in just about every way — though when faced with this counterpoint, Greenwald has often fired back with a conspiratorially dismissive, That’s exactly what They want you to think.
If Greenwald is under the badly mistaken impression that the U.S. and ISIS share similar goals and similar morality, then he ought to come right out and say so. Just say it: America is worse than ISIS, across the board. Even though he’s not always that explicit, it’s easy to finish reading a Greenwald post with the impression that ISIS is morally superior, a consequence of his lop-sidedly copious list of U.S. crimes, among other tactics. In the real world, outside of the Greenwald bubble, this isn’t even debatable. Even in the Middle East, where the U.S. isn’t hugely popular, it’s vastly favored over ISIS, with the latter receiving practically nonexistent popular support, maxing out at with around one to five percent favorability.
Greenwald’s litigator style requires that he ignore any exculpatory details that dull the impact of his argument. He’ll only cite articles that lead his readers to his preordained conclusion that the U.S. is worse than everyone, and therefore the U.S. is the real enemy of the world. It’s intellectually dishonest. He won’t mention that the Arab world agrees with us about ISIS. He won’t mention that, right or wrong, we’re at war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and therefore killing enemy combatants is justifiable. He won’t enumerate ISIS’s stated goals because doing so would reveal ISIS to be far worse than the U.S., in spite of drone casualties.
That last point is critical. Had Greenwald existed during the American Civil War, he likely would have scolded the Lincoln administration for condemning southern atrocities like Andersonville because of, I don’t know, the ransacking of southern plantations by Union infantry, totally neglecting to take into consideration the entire purpose of the South’s decision to fire upon Fort Sumter in the first place. The mission of ISIS is clear: to execute journalists, civilians and military personnel in support of a war to oppress the world under its antiquated theocratic dogma. However, because the U.S. has repeatedly inflicted collateral damage, it’s “confounding” to Greenwald that Americans would condemn ISIS’s actions. But sshhh! Greenwald only wants us to know that President Obama is a baby killer, and therefore ISIS should get a free pass.
With post after post, Greenwald’s thesis is growing increasingly evident: Everyone’s Guilty, So No One Is; including ISIS, which we’re to conclude is just as horrendous as everyone else. So, not only are we not allowed to condemn what they do, but we have no moral authority to even consider them to be an enemy.
If Greenwald’s application of the biblical maxim “He who is without sin cast the first stone” is so airtight, literal and absolute, then he’s not allowed to condemn anyone else for being dishonest or deceptive — ever — because, well, just read Greenwald’s latest post. It’s both.