Hollow Men in a Miley Cyrus World

The past week has felt otherworldly. Nothing seems real, nothing seems too absurd to turn out to be true.

A gaffe becomes a red line and then official doctrine, until it becomes inconvenient, and then you did it, world, not the man who said it in the first place.


The president says we must act against brutality, urgently, so I’ll go play some golf and wait around for Congress to get back.

A war hero travels to Syria with our enemies to promote an American war on behalf of al Qaeda. That’s not a plot from Homeland. It actually happened.

A secretary of state relies on a 26 year old “expert” to sell a war to Congress, and it turns out that the “expert” isn’t, but may be an agent of enemy influence. Also not a plot from TV. It actually happened.

A gaffe gets disavowed before becoming official policy and a full-blown peace plan in the hands of one of our greatest strategic rivals.

A peacenik president makes the case for military strikes he doesn’t believe in. The peacenik president has morphed into a war monger. Russia steps up as a false peacemaker. Some of our leaders pretend that a deal with liars in Moscow and Damascus brokered by the feckless French and the UN will bring about peace in our time.

Assad is Hitler, this is a “Munich moment,” but we can trust him not to lie to us while he fights for his life in a civil war. He can reliably disarm a country whose territory he doesn’t fully control.


It’s all absurd. But it’s all real.

While all of this is going on, our countrymen are 12 times more likely to click on stories about Miley Cyrus and her tongue and her twerking than they are to click on stories about what could turn out to be World War III.

Something has been bouncing around back in the shadows of my brain, something I forgot, then remembered. A lyric from an obscure song, based on a famous poem.

We are the empty men, we are the masked men
Resting together, cavity, stuffed with straw
Figure, without shape, shadow, without nuance
Impotent power, the empty men
Movement, without action
All who have gone with true vision
To death’s higher dwelling, may recall us here
Not as ‘damned, destructive ghosts
But only as the empty men
Simply as the masked men

Someone emailed this to us today and it struck me as wildly inappropriate. But it isn’t. It’s perfect.


Miley Cyrus and Barack Obama are performers. Both are guilty of autotuning rather than perfecting. Both are trying to prove that they’re all grown up now. Obama even metaphorically stuck his tongue out at half of America, while he was performing as a concerned statesman.


And so to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.

To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough. (emphasis added)

Get the nuance there? Obama’s “friends on the right” (as a partisan senator and partisan president, he hasn’t made any friends on the right) only care about power. Military might. Brute force for hollow aims.

The president who supports infanticide in America wants war to protect children in Syria. He is a masked man.

What cause in Syria is “so plainly just”? Helping Islamist kidnappers and head-choppers while they wipe out Christians? Any victory in Syria, which Obama does not now and never has pursued, would be hollow. We would be swapping out one enemy for another, like poisoning a fire ant hill only to find that it had moved to a new spot under our feet.

Impotent power, empty men. We thought we really could change the Middle East. But we can’t. Not by might. Not by power.


Russia is now presenting America with a plan to deal with the chemical weapons that last week Syria claimed it did not have. The charade masks the fact that there is no way to verify much of anything on the ground in Syria while its civil war rolls on. But it’s a “victory” which will be “vigorously pursued.”

It’s movement, without action.

And so it goes. Assad is a reformer. Putin is a peacemaker. The experts are frauds. War heroes sidle up to enemies. Obama swings around Washington on a wrecking ball.

The Syria crisis ends, if if ends, not with a bang, but with a cynical sneer.

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The song is “Hollow Man,” by Daniel Amos, based on “The Hollow Men” by T. S. Eliot.


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