To Degrade and, Ultimately, To Destroy (1)

The President’s summary of his policy on the Islamic State or on “the group known as ISIL” was not elegantly enunciated: “To degrade and ultimately destroy” is a compound infinitive phrase that is pitched to the demotic or colloquial in ways that contribute to misinterpretation and distortion.

The infinitive “to degrade,” a somewhat esoteric military term of art roughly inserted into public discourse some years ago, is meant to refer us immediately to an enemy’s capabilities, which are to be brought to a lower level, but the second and more common connotation of “degrade” is quietly also conveyed, perhaps somewhat intentionally if not entirely consciously: to humiliate, to render an object of spite.1 Regarding the phrase in its entirety, the absence of pauses (which could be indicated by commas) and the omission of the second particle “to” run the two parts of the President’s program together, and encourage his critics to indulge their impatience or polemical convenience, to drop the qualifying adverb “ultimately” altogether or to treat it as an intensifier, and, as events unfold, to expound on each day’s, week’s, or month’s necessarily mixed results as somehow contradicting a solemn promise or revealing a strategy already “in ruins” or “in full-scale… meltdown,” or suffering from a fatal mismatch of minimal means and maximal ends, or, also premature if less dramatic, simply “not working.

“To degrade and, ultimately, to destroy” might have been more difficult to misinterpret, since a more careful phrasing would clearly designate and distinguish two phases of a long-term strategy. As offered and initially implemented, if not as articulated or heard or unconscientiously translated, the strategy seems to mean “at first primarily to contain, but actively to contain in such a way, specifically by reduction of capacities and potentials, as to expose the targeted entity to destruction.” Indeed, the two-part program does not exclude – or perhaps can be taken to imply – a policy shaped to the nature of a presumed ultimately self-destructive phenomenon.


  1. To complete the linguistic circuit from the high to the low, we can observe that in the language of the street, or perhaps the language of the President’s “anger translator,” to degrade IS is to fuck IS up, to chingar IS, or perhaps to smash IS, like a bug. []

Home Page  Public Email  Twitter  Facebook  YouTube  Github   

Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

Posts in this series

0 comments on “To Degrade and, Ultimately, To Destroy (1)

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

    1 Pings/Trackbacks for "To Degrade and, Ultimately, To Destroy (1)"
    1. […] of theorist J.C. Wylie, defense analysts Adam Elkus and Nick Prime propose an alternative to “To Degrade, and, Ultimately, To Destroy“: an at least superficially simpler framework centered on the idea of […]

    Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



    Noted & Quoted

    TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

    For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

    The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

    Comment →

    Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

    Comment →

    [E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

    Comment →
    CK's WP Plugins


    Extraordinary Comments

    CK's WP Plugins