ISIS is the embodiment of evil. But:

“We don’t understand real evil, organized evil very well,” said America’s former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, in an interview with The New York Times. “This is evil incarnate.”

“People like [Islamic State commander] Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi have been in a fight for a decade,” he added. “They are messianic in their vision, and they are not going to stop.”

My question is: does anyone ever “understand” evil? I don’t think so. Evil’s very nature is to be inscrutable. Evil is altogether mysterious and altogether different from the way most people operate or could even imagine operating.

In all the biographies and histories that have dealt with Hitler, for example, who has ever really explained him? No one.

Religious people posit a spiritual origin for evil. Non-religious people tend to doubt its existence, until they look into its eyes.

If it were necessary to fully understand evil in order to fight it, World War II would have never been won by the Allies. What is necessary is to be able to recognize evil and see it for what it is quite early in the game. Those are the important first steps. The next steps are finding the will and the tools to fight it. Evil is very strong, because it doesn’t know the same restraints and limits as morality or good.

Regarding ISIS, Elizabeth Warren pipes up:

“It’s a complicated situation right now in Iraq and the president has taken very targeted actions to provide humanitarian relief that the Iraqi government requested, and to protect American citizens,” Warren told reporters. “But like the president I believe that any solution in Iraq is going to be a negotiated solution, not a military solution. We do not want to be pulled into another war in Iraq.”…

“The point is there has to be a negotiated solution in Iraq, but we don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Warren said. She said, “This is partially a question of whether the U.S. government negotiates or whether we have the Iraqi government doing these negotiations, and how we help support them as they try to maintain an integrated country, and a country that better represents all of the people who live there.”

We may not understand evil, but we’ve learned that negotiating with it is impossible. The very nature of evil precludes negotiations, and it can only be met with great strength rather than weakness. Elizabeth Warren doesn’t even understand that much. Or perhaps she understands it and is just pretending not to, because she knows that’s an atittude that pleases her base.

Ronald Reagan may have been our last president who understood evil—at least, that is, how to recognize, name it, and fight it. Jimmy Carter was a religious man, so you’d think he would have known evil when he saw it, but that did not seem to be the case. The Bushes, both elder and younger, fought it militarily but in the case of Bush I he didn’t finish the job, and in the case of Bush II he made too many compromises with it prior to the surge, and ultimately ran out of time when Obama took over. And Bill Clinton didn’t think in terms of evil at all.

But Warren’s words seem positively nonsensical. Perhaps the most curious thing about the quote is that she says there has to be a negotiated settlement in Iraq, whether it’s the US or the Iraqi government participating in the negotiations. But why this must be the case is left unexplained. Does she really think that the ISIS lion is going to lie down with the lamb? Far from being obligatory, is it even within the realm of possibility? A group like ISIS can only be destroyed or it will destroy the good in its path. It cannot be reasoned with.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]