Return of the Evildoers

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, 7 November 2012. (Credit: The World Affairs Council)

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, 7 November 2012. (Credit: The World Affairs Council)

Barack Obama generally avoids the use of the term “evildoers.” That is the language of his predecessor, Bush-the-warmonger. One can make too much of the differences between the two presidents on matters of foreign policy. Both are leaders of the war state and, accordingly, conversant with the demonology of US war culture, which can be more or less nuanced. Early signs are that Jeb Bush prefers his brother’s bluntness.

Jeb’s anticipated run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination has occasioned the return of the language of evildoers (Ed O’Keefe, “The World According to Jeb Bush,” Washington Post, April 16, 2015). The term distances him from Obama’s foreign policy, which is a policy of “retrenchment,” according to the younger brother of George.

Jeb disapproves of Obama’s opening to Cuba. He wants more troops in Eastern Europe to counter Putin’s Russia, stronger sanctions against Iran, and closer coordination with Israel. It is wrong to pull US troops out of Iraq, he maintains. The exercise of American military power is good for the world. Our enemies need to fear us.

Here is what he told radio host Hugh Hewitt in a recent interview:

I think he [President Obama] started in office thinking all of the adulation was actually a policy. I think he actually thought the sheer force of his personality could change the world, that the speech in Cairo, the Nobel Prize, all of these things kind of validated the need. I [Obama] don’t need a doctrine that guides and create[s] a consistency in foreign policy. I [Obama] can just do this in a nuanced way. I also think that he honestly believes that America’s presence in the world needed to be pulled back, because it was not a force for good, that American power in the world was not a force for good. And what he’s learning is that voids are filled. And now they’re filled not necessarily by nation-states. They’re filled by barbarians. They’re filled by nation-states using surrogates. They’re filled by evildoers that now have technologies at their fingertips to be able to undermine not just the neighborhood in which they are, but undermine the world.

In short, American power is “a force for good” against “barbarians” and “evildoers” that aim to “undermine the world.”

Chapter 1 of our book, Hunt the Devil: A Demonology of US War Culture, illustrates the contemporary influence of the devil myth, before tracing its American genealogy, by featuring George W. Bush’s post-9/11 rhetoric of evil. Jeb Bush is conjuring up that same devil myth today to help bring a majority of voters into his political camp.


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