President Obama Uses A ‘Dark Knight’ Metaphor To Compare ISIS To The Joker

Obama Addresses Nation On Deadline Date For Combat Troops To Leave Iraq
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Jeffrey Goldberg’s profile in The Atlantic called “The Obama Doctrine” is a must-read piece if you have a chunk of time to absorb the entire thing. There are several subsections to explore, but one attention-grabbing moment occurs when President Obama uses Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight to explain ISIS. Plenty of critics have assigned political meaning to The Dark Knight, and while Christopher Nolan insisted the film was simply entertainment, some folks later drew a coincidental tie-in to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Obama saw another use for the Joker.

Obama used this terrifying version of the Joker as a metaphor to remind himself, very early on, about what the U.S. was confronting with ISIS. Many feel that Ledger’s Joker cannot be rationally explained, and he constantly warped his own origin story. This chaos could explain Obama’s early reasoning on the Islamic State, but he also admits feeling responsible for not warning the public on a stronger level before the Paris terror attacks and the San Bernardino mass shooting. Obama assigns his lack of attention “to feelings and emotions and politics in communicating” as one of his presidential weaknesses, and he later tried to bring a sharper focus upon mitigating terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Here’s Obama’s ISIS-Joker theory:

Advisers recall that Obama would cite a pivotal moment in The Dark Knight, the 2008 Batman movie, to help explain not only how he understood the role of isis, but how he understood the larger ecosystem in which it grew. “There’s a scene in the beginning in which the gang leaders of Gotham are meeting,” the president would say. “These are men who had the city divided up. They were thugs, but there was a kind of order. Everyone had his turf. And then the Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. isil is the Joker. It has the capacity to set the whole region on fire. That’s why we have to fight it.”

The rise of the Islamic State deepened Obama’s conviction that the Middle East could not be fixed—not on his watch, and not for a generation to come.

This metaphor of ISIS as part of a “larger ecosystem” makes sense in light of the cultural vacuum that gave rise to ISIS, which is something that Bernie Sanders has used to chip away at Hillary Clinton and her actions in the Middle East as Secretary of State. Sanders strongly criticized Clinton for her role in overthrowing dictators like Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Sanders sees Clinton as partially responsible for the ball-dropping of such regime changes, which created a vacuum for ISIS to swoop in and gather disillusioned recruits.

In that same vein of thought, The Atlantic piece also highlights the ideological scuffles between Clinton and Obama:

Clinton’s assessment that “great nations need organizing principles, and ’Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Obama became “rip-sh*t angry,” according to one of his senior advisers. The president did not understand how “Don’t do stupid sh*t” could be considered a controversial slogan. Ben Rhodes recalls that “the questions we were asking in the White House were ‘Who exactly is in the stupid-sh*t caucus? Who is pro-stupid sh*t?'” The Iraq invasion, Obama believed, should have taught Democratic interventionists like Clinton, who had voted for its authorization, the dangers of doing stupid sh*t.

Well, that certainly explains the Obama-Clinton dynamic when they closely worked together, although Goldberg admits the two eventually “hugg[ed] it out” a few years later during a chance meeting. Like everything else in The Atlantic profile, both of these sections are much more complicated than face value, which is why it’s worth digging in deeper to the fuller piece.

(via The Atlantic)