Obama trying to sound tough, even resorting to the use of B-movie cliches and poor grammar

I heard a clip of this portion of the president’s speech to the United Nations today, referring to ISIL:

There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.

First, I cringed a bit at the B-movie cliche, as in, “dis is the only language dese creeps unnerstand.”

Then, I cringed again at the grammar. Of course, it should have been “killers such as these.” I can forgive the improper use of “like” instead of “as,” but the number disagreement was a bit much.

Do you suppose he did that intentionally, to sound more like the tough guy? Cuz, ya know, tough guys don’t do grammar…

7 thoughts on “Obama trying to sound tough, even resorting to the use of B-movie cliches and poor grammar

  1. Bryan Caskey

    I have no problem with that passage. The “this” that you’re cringing at doesn’t really grate on my ear. It’s clear (to me anyway) he’s referring to the jihadist group ISIS – as a singular entity.

    Side note: Are we officially saying ISIS, ISIL, or IS? I see all three. I don’t think it really matters what we call them, but I think we should agree….you know, just before we eradicate them so there’s something consistent in the history books. Personally, I’m fine with calling them “The Lunatic Head Choppers”, but that sounds too much like the name of a weird rock band.

  2. Brad Warthen

    We started out calling them ISIS, for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. But from the start, some called it ISIL, for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

    Then, it declared the caliphate, and named itself the Islamic State. Here it gets interesting, because a lot of news organizations started calling it that, probably because it is a common journalistic convention to call organizations and movements whatever they call themselves. It’s a way of being neutral. News people don’t like to make a judgment themselves on such things, as they think it smacks of expressing an opinion. Or something.

    But in this case that policy is problematic, as plenty of Muslims object to that name. They say this group is not truly Islamic, and they deny that it has established the caliphate. So to my thinking, calling it that amounts to siding with the terrorists and against other Muslims — the kind we prefer not to offend.

    About a month ago, I started noticing that people within the national security establishment in Washington, across the spectrum from POTUS to Lindsey Graham, were usually calling it ISIL. Wanting to sound in-the-know, I started calling it that, too…

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Lindsey Graham loved the tough-guy line. OF course, being Lindsey Graham, he didn’t think it went far enough:

    “President Obama rightly said radical Islamists only understand the ‘language of force.’ However, when President Obama then pledges not to use ground forces against ISIL, he emboldens the enemy. They hear what we, the United States, will not do to defeat them.”

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    Harry and others apparently think I’m just being a wise guy here — and I am to some extent — but there are a number of reasons why this line jumped out at me.

    First, it was the line that NPR chose to play in a report about the speech Wednesday afternoon. So initially, that line was all I knew about the speech, which invited particular scrutiny.

    Second, there is the fact that it makes a painfully obvious argument. Painfully obvious to me, and to Lindsey Graham, and to many others — the argument that the use of force is necessary in dealing with ISIL. But then I have to stop and think — President Obama is always speaking to his base (among other audiences, of course). And a key element in his relationship with his base is that he, Barack Obama, will not lead us into war, ESPECIALLY not in Iraq. He and his base share a superstitious horror of the idea of engaging militarily in Iraq. That’s something only BAD people like George W. Bush do.

    So he has to point out that force is necessary in this case, and why it is necessary, however much he and a substantial portion of his base would like to avoid the fact.

    Finally, I’m struck by the oddity of the cliche: “The only language UNDERSTOOD by killers like this…”

    Of course, we’re not trying to get ISIL to understand anything. What we’re saying is that they are beyond understanding — they don’t want to understand, and we can’t make them understand. We’re way past the hearts and minds stage with these people. We’re trying to kill them, and degrade their ability to pose a threat to others. I suppose “understanding” could come into play among ISIL survivors who get away and go find something more constructive to do with their lives, but that’s not the main thrust of what we’re doing.

    When we say, “all you understand is force,” what we mean is that there is nothing I can do or say to get you to understand, so I’m going to use force to stop you from doing what you’re doing.

    And we have come to, well, understand that ironic use of “understand,” because it’s been used so often…

Comments are closed.