The Politics of Evil: At UN Speech, Barack Obama Channels His Inner George W. Bush Barack Obama


Obama at the U.N.

Every year, heads of state from around the world descend on New York City for a United Nations summit. Over the course of several days, presidents and prime ministers take to the podium to address their colleagues and, they like to think, the globe. Since 9/11, the U.S. president has generally used the late September speech to make the case for a war on terror. Although the Obama Administration prominently dropped the usage of the term "war on terror," it continued the strategies and actions that that term defined.

Earlier this week the U.S. began to bomb ISIS targets in Syria, an extension of an anti-ISIS campaign launched in Iraq. So the president's speech at the UN today focused on the airstrikes in Syria and the wider campaign against ISIS, a self-styled Islamic State.

President Obama called ISIS a "network of death," arguing that "there can be no reasoning,  no negotiation, with this brand of evil." In making the case for the anti-ISIS campaign President Obama has adopted the language George W. Bush deployed when first formulating the war on terror. "We face a brand of evil, the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time in the world," President Bush told airline employees on September 27, 2001. Later, he would place Iraq, Iran, and North Korea in an "axis of evil," a term that coud've been ripped from a comic book.

Bush was a fan of using the word "evil" to describe Islamist terrorists, and it shouldn't be surprising that President Obama has found the strong, unequivocal, and emotional word useful in defending the anti-ISIS campaign. ISIS has played into the characterization too, embracing it. It's hard to argue a bunch of nuts trying to start a government in the desert through a religiously-motivated campaign of mass murder aren't evil. They fit the definition pretty well. But U.S. foreign policy shouldn't, and can't, be about extinguishing evil the world over. Liberals seemed to understand that, or pretended they did, when George W. Bush was president. This week they're not protesting yet another unconstitutional war launched by an imperial executive. No. Instead, they're protesting climate change capitalism.