I was flipping through radio stations in my car during a drive from Virginia to Connecticut Monday night when, somewhere in the middle of Delaware, I happened across the type of terror that always besets lonely travelers on deserted roads in horror movies and leads to a gruesome and terrible death.
Meghan McCain’s voice emanated from my speakers.
McCain was interviewing her father, Sen. John McCain (great get, Meghan’s booker!), for her radio show “America Now,” which is a thing that exists. The senator was there to assuage his daughter’s fears about ISIS after the Paris attacks and pump his buddy Lindsey Graham’s presidential campaign by extolling Graham’s foreign policy experience. (Which apparently consists of three decades in the JAG corps and three dozen Senate-sponsored trips to war zones.) All this while slagging on the do-nothing President Obama. In fact, if you listen to the interview, you can hear John McCain expressing his deep, deep, deep disappointment that the president has not taken any of his advice on how to militarily kick ISIS right in the beytsim.
But what really caught my attention was this snippet:
MEGHAN MCCAIN: Bernie Sanders was on “Face the Nation” yesterday saying that global warming led to the rise of ISIS. Do [snicker] you think there’s any validity to that? Because I thought it was a whole bag of crazy.
JOHN MCCAIN: Well you know, that substance has been legalized in a lot of states and it’s on the ballot in Arizona…
[CROSSTALK AS MEGHAN LETS OUT A LAUGH THAT SOUNDS LIKE A HYENA WITH A HEAD INJURY]
JOHN MCCAIN: That’s the only conclusion that I can draw.
Ho ho, that whackadoodle Bernie Sanders, suggesting that radical changes in the planet’s climate might lead to violence and terrorism as humans fight over rapidly diminishing resources! One would think such a scenario would not be so unthinkable to people from Arizona, of all places.
Peggy Noonan had also mocked Sanders for this point after he made it both on “Face the Nation” and at Saturday night’s Democratic debate. The grand dowager of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page called the senator “daffy” for his comments, which is the Upper East Side patrician-speak for “zonked-out pothead.”
I am sure that the McCains and Noonan are not the only conservatives having giggling fits over the linking of climate change to terrorism. Unfortunately for all of them, Sanders is at least partly correct.
While Syria’s civil war began in 2011, several research studies have traced the seeds of the conflict back to 2006. That was when the nation began experiencing its worst drought on record, a drought that researchers believe was exacerbated by climate change. The agriculture industry collapsed, and many poor rural farmers migrated to Syria’s cities, which were already overcrowded with refugees from Iraq who had fled the insurgency then killing thousands of their countrymen in the wake of the United States’s invasion.
The Syrians and Iraqis were often unemployed and living in grinding poverty at a time when the drought caused food prices to rise. The regime of Bashar al-Assad mostly ignored the resulting political pressure. Snubbed by their leaders, starving and sinking deeper into poverty, Syrians began protesting Assad. These protests spread and eventually exploded into the all-out civil war that continues today. The chaos of that civil war gave ISIS the opportunity to capture territory and establish its murderous regime.
To be sure, the drought is not the only cause of the Syrian civil war or the rise of ISIS. There are the long-standing divisions in Arab societies between the religious and the secular, the different branches of Islam, Sunni versus Shia, the sometimes uneasy coexistence with the regions Christians and other minorities, the de-Baathification of the Iraqi military, the Arab Spring that saw populations across the Middle East rise up against unpopular dictators. Hell, we can blame colonialism and the Sykes-Picot Agreement in part for the current conflict while we’re at it.
At worst, Sanders might be guilty of oversimplifying things a bit. But there is no doubt that climate change-fueled drought was one condition that came together with several others at the right time to light the fire that killed people on the streets of Paris last Friday.
Now, I don’t expect better of Peggy Noonan or either of the McCains, even if one of them is an elected official of long standing in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. (Actually, that probably lowers his standing in my eyes.) But it might behoove all of them to do some basic Googling before shooting off their mouths over how hilarious they find it that the old hippie Vermont senator would raise so fanciful a notion as climate change for fueling ISIS’s rise. I’d suggest the same for the rest of the Republican Party if I thought they might learn something.