‘To Beat ISIS, the Arab World Must Promote Political and Religious Reforms’, Rule Jebreal tells us. Picking on a writer for a headline is a mistake — who knows where it came from in the editorial process? — and, besides, this one employs (the exhortative) ‘must’ in its sole appropriate usage — as the completion of a hypothetical imperative. “If you want X, you must do Y” — that’s OK. (Y is a necessary condition for the accomplishment of X.) ‘Must’ is tolerable if it’s kept on a leash.
Once it slips the collar, ‘must’ reverts to its status as the most preposterous word in the English language, an instrument of sheer obfuscation. Watch it go:
The United States must review its policies across the Middle East. … It must take a stand against Riyadh’s promotion of exclusionary Wahhabism. […] … Likewise, pressure must be placed on Egypt to abandon its witch hunt of the Muslim Brotherhood. In undertaking an effective counter terrorism strategy, the United States must partner with the Arab states to undertake political reforms that ultimately lead to underwriting a social contract in which every group of the population are represented and protected. […] … If the United States and Iraqi government want to defeat ISIS, they must now ensure the inclusion and protection of Iraqi Sunnis, Kurds and Yazidis, along with the majority Shi’ites [this one is minimally OK]. […] … Eventually, a process of reconciliation must be initiated between Shi’ites and Sunnis. This centuries-old dispute is played out today in a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has produced a monster that threatens the national security of not only Middle Eastern nations, but also the United States. It must come to an end. […] … The Obama Administration must pursue a policy of severe sanctions against any and all countries that finance jihadist — even if they are our own allies. … What will ultimately turn the tide in the Middle East are groups that actively advocate for a democratic culture and its values around the Arab world. A campaign to promote these ideas on every level must begin, as part of the counterterrorism initiative launched by Kerry. [Emphases added.]
Must they, really? Will they? Can they?
It’s irritating to see moral fanaticism — betrayed by its distinctive combination of groundless certainty and communicative fervor — masquerading as realistic analysis. The disguise is only necessary because the prescription so exorbitantly exceeds the diagnosis, tripping eagerly into glassy-eyed deontological intellectual abandonment.
“The Middle East must stop being the Middle East, and America must help to make this happen.” It can’t, and it won’t, on both counts. The musty smell is simply annoying.