President Obama is known for his fluency in pop culture, but it was still a surprise to see in a long new feature in the Atlantic about his foreign policy that he compared the terrorist group ISIS to a Batman movie.
According to the story, in 2014 Obama worried that US intelligence was not taking seriously enough the threat of ISIS, also known as ISIL, which has grown rapidly and is notorious for videos of beheadings and its use of social media for propaganda and recruiting.
Here’s how Obama reportedly explained to advisers the group’s relationship to the larger forces at work in the Middle East and why it could be so harmful:
Advisers recall that Obama would cite a pivotal moment in The Dark Knight, the 2008 Batman movie, to help explain not only how he understood the role of ISIS, but how he understood the larger ecosystem in which it grew. “There’s a scene in the beginning in which the gang leaders of Gotham are meeting,” the president would say. “These are men who had the city divided up. They were thugs, but there was a kind of order. Everyone had his turf. And then the Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. ISIL is the Joker. It has the capacity to set the whole region on fire. That’s why we have to fight it.”
This does in fact explain what makes Heath Ledger’s Joker so terrifying, not just for Ledger’s unhinged performance, but within the story of “The Dark Knight”: He’s free even from the relative system of rules abided by fellow criminals. He’s total chaos and unpredictability — which is indeed how many see the threat of ISIS and its techniques.
Here’s the scene from “The Dark Knight” Obama was referring to:
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