Batman and Bush's Failure to Combat Terrorism

This past weekend witnessed the release of one of the biggest cinematic events of all time: The Dark Knight. For this auspicious occasion the Living Liberally Blog is rolling out multiple Big Picture reviews in the next couple days. I'm going first. Enjoy!

Of the countless movies made since 9/11, this new Batman film might have the most accurate depiction of the political and social climate of the world as it is today. A world largely uncontrolled by law and order, instead run by criminals, who are in turn pursued by vigilante heroes who stand in for a largely ineffective law enforcement. This leads to feelings of great fear and insecurity among the people of Gotham.

In The Dark Knight, Gotham is faced with its most treacherous villain yet: The Joker. Heath Ledger's brilliant and maniacal anarchist clown should be remembered one of the finest movie villain performances of all time. Ledger's Joker eschews all order, whether it is the power of the state or the invisible hand of capitalism. He appeals to a side of humanity more disordered than even the basest most animalistic parts of our minds. His complete unpredictability becomes a power that he uses to control the population of Gotham, much like the specter of terrorism has dominated the American psyche since 9/11.

Batman, our hero, who, in the time between the first movie and this one, has fought to put most of Gotham's big villains behind bars. He's done so as a vigilante and without much support (and a little disdain) from the people of Gotham City. While much of the film focuses on Batman's trying to reconcile the good that he's doing with the hate he incurs from the public and it's elected officials, the film's true protagonist is the people of Gotham City, whose mood, almost like that of a Greek Chorus echoes throughout each scene.


The political side after the jump!


Many writers such as Andrew Klavan in the Wall Street Journal and Matthew Yglesias from The Atlantic have suggested that in this film Batman is representative of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, reluctant and unpopular leaders who have to make difficult and strong decisions.

I think this is an accurate comparison, if you substitute the war on the terror for Batman's war on the overwhelming crime and corruption that consumes Gotham. Like Bush and Cheney, Batman, in the first film and the beginning of this one, believes that he must use illegal tactics (torture et al) to pursue villains that don't play by the rules. He also believes that what Gotham City (in Bush/Cheney's case, the World) needs is a symbol of hope and strength so that everyone will know that someone with Batman's advanced and invincible weaponry is out there trying to make the world better.

This is similar to the rationale that the Bush administration when going initially prosecuting the war on terror, as Matt Yglesias lays out in his great book Heads in the Sand, that the US military has the immense power to go into the world and unilaterally fix any problem that arises, as long as it doesn't have the shackle of organizations like the UN (in Batman's case, the Gotham City law enforcement) around it's neck.

But John from Cogitamus lays out the one lesson Batman learns that Bush and Cheney haven't:

Batman begins to realize that what Gotham needs is not a caped crusader, but a functioning law enforcement system. He begins seriously considering retiring the rubber PJs as Gotham's police and prosecutors become more effective.

While the Bush/Batman doctrine can sometimes prove effective in the short term, inspiring the Sunni Awakening in real life and the Batman-dressing vigilantes in the film, this system cannot and will not reign in the ultimate forces of terror in our world. John continues:

The Gotham system is the problem, where mobsters and police pick sides based on the day of the week and their mutual enemies, when a psychopathic avenger like Two-Face finds himself executing police or mobsters based on the flip of a coin, and when the nominal forces of order are fundamentally impotent because that's how everyone wants it, all we can say is that Gotham feels awfully Westphalian. The solution is not more disorder (more extreme vigilanteism) but better law and order.

Most of our world, like Gotham, is without the law and order it needs. Many parts of it are run by greedy criminals with little or no regard for human rights. Whether it's in Zimbabwe or Afghanistan, Iraq or Darfur, the greatest, most heinous acts of terror go largely unpunished, and the truth is that Bush/Batman can't do anything effective about it because our national power, just like Batman's personal power, is limited.

What Batman realized and Bush needs to realize is that only when we create some semblance of a liberal world order, by creating strong and democratic military alliances, will we be able to effectively control terrorism. As Nolan's films (and John) wisely point out: the Joker, this paragon of chaos and terror, came to power in the first place as the natural criminal adaptation to Batman's tough vigilantism. Just as Bush's unilateral War on Terror has created more new terrorists than ever before, Batman's vigilante War on Crime only creates more powerful and evil criminals.

The Dark Knight should be a best picture nominee. It is masterfully entertaining, effective and provocative social commentary. The action is extraordinary, making minimal use of CGI while still maintaining its ridiculously awesome stunts. And all of the actors, this really is an ensemble piece, deliver outstanding performances. If you haven't seen the Dark Knight yet, then it's about time you did.

What about the scene after

What about the scene after Batman stops Harvey Dent from playing too much Russian Roulette with the crazy Joker henchman? Batman then reflects that 'he's now seen what he'd have to become' and he won't do that. Do what? Torture.

Okay, sure, he tosses some people around, but he's Batman and it's a summer action flick, of course he's going to crack some heads -- the point is there are lines he won't cross. Bush and Cheney on the other hand, erased those lines. John Yoo argued that the lines were impeding the Constitution and were essentially illegal. Alberto Gonzalez had no memory of recalling what line we're even talking about.

Bush and Cheney shouldn't be compared to any sentient beings with a modicum of compassion ever ever ever again. They are purely despicable.

Thanks for the comment. My

Thanks for the comment.

My main point, probably not as effectively articulated as it should have been, was that terrorist organizations would be more effectively pursued by an international law enforcement or police, than by a military.

I also support Barack Obama.

Your review was laughably

Your review was laughably bad.

"What Batman realized and Bush needs to realize is that only when we create some semblance of a liberal world order, by creating strong and democratic military alliances, will we be able to effectively control terrorism."

So, look who's calling for a new world order now? And btw, Bush tried desperately to get a coalition in Iraq. And he got one. Ooooh, Jacques Chirac said "no", wow that's a real tragedy. And for your information, John McCain has called for a coalition of Democracies to fight terrorism. So, I guess you'll be voting GOP this time, huh. Do my a favor, though and leave the new world order 1984 psychotalk out.