Beyond Winning and American Leadership

We have witnessed some pretty awful presidential press conferences in our time, but President Barack Obama’s performance in Turkey on Monday surpasses them all. There was nothing so memorably pithy as “I am not a crook” or “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” but it was packed with more pure nonsense and un-presidential prickliness than anything we can recall.

The Cable News Network reached into its thesaurus to describe the president as “unyielding” in the headline, but by the second paragraph was forced to settle for “testy,” and even such polite press as described him responding to reporters questions with “mild irritation.” We’d have gone with “annoyed,” “arrogant,” “dismissive,” “snarky,” “snarling,” and “downright un-presidential,” but that would only be a warm-up for all for the pure nonsense that he spouted. Little wonder that the president was “defensive,” as other press outlets put it, as the recent victories of the Islamic State in Paris and Beirut and over the skies of Egypt and across an expanding caliphate in the Middle East, as well as his venue in recently-bombed and refugee-swarmed Turkey, forced him to defend his foreign policy in general and his dealings with the Islamic State in particular. Pure nonsense is necessary to defend such a record, and some un-presidential prickliness is inevitable.

Obama had once scoffed at the Islamic State as a “jayvee team” of terrorism, and even after it seizure of an area larger than most European countries and its downing of a Russian jetliner over of Egypt and successful bombings against its Shiite enemies in Lebanon and another deadly attack in Turkey, and just hours before it launched a coordinate attack on six sites in Paris he boasted they were “contained,” so even the most cooperative press had to ask if he might have underestimated the enemy. The president explained that the expansion their Middle Eastern caliphate had not lately increased, a claim that even one of the most reliably supportive Democratic senators disputes, and which ignores its recent incursions into Lebanon and Turkey and the very heart of France, and we think even the most sympathetic observer would note some mild irritation on the president’s part.
Obama was more upbeat as he announced that “What is different this time” is that all the major parties involved in the Syrian civil war now “agree on a process that is needed to end this war, and so while we are very clear-eyed that this will be a very, very difficult road still ahead, the United States, in partnership with our coalition, is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian, and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.” This is hardly Churchillian in its rhetorical spelndor, even without the accompanying prickliness, and only reminds how very, very difficult that road to surrender to Iran over its nuclear ambitions proved to be, and it was immediately undercut by his comments on how relentless the United States will be on the military front. “And let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terroristic attack from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist attack that’s operating anywhere else — in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?”
This is a devastating rebuttal of whatever straw men Obama imagines are advocating 50,000 troops in Syria, but it raises unsettling and unasked questions about what Obama would do in the case of a terrorist attack from Yemen or the former Libya that he bombed into chaos or North Africa or Southeast Asia or some other likely place of origin, and it has little to with the debate that’s actually occurring. Not only in the Republican nomination race but even in the most respectable foreign policy think tanks there is a growing consensus that some change of course is necessary, and the president responded to such contrary opinions by saying that “if people want to pop off and have opinions about what they think would do, have a specific plan. If they think somehow that their advisors are better than my joint chiefs of staff or my generals on the ground, I would like to meet them. I would like to have that debate.” Reports indicate that those generals on the ground are being ignored, and the joints chiefs of staff at this point are more considered concerned with gender equity and a welcoming atmosphere for non-traditional recruits, and the advice Obama has been following has turned out as it has, so the president is left with prickliness.
“What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people and protect the people in the region who are getting killed to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that,” the president, sounding rather testy. The statement implies than “winning” and “American leaders” are scare quote-worthy slogans that have no relationship to what will protect America and the people in the regions we’re doing some of the killing and for allies as well as “people like France,” and if it were only pithier it would live in presidential press conference infamy with “I am not a crook” and “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” The historical consequences of such thinking, though, are likely to be far worse.
There was the familiar talk about not being at war with Islam, which Obama noted that even George W. Bush had said, and some worries that you can’t deal with suicide bombers, which isn’t even Rooseveltian, given that FDR had the Navy stand up against kamikaze pilots, and similar prickliness, but he topped it all with his insistence that America grant asylum to at least 100,000 “refugees” from the Syrian civil war, and his support for Europe taking in millions more. Those “refugees” include a suspiciously high number of fighting-age males, many have proved not be from Syria at all, at least one was involved in the horrific attacks on France, and despite his administration’s earnest assurances that they’ll all be carefully checked out there’s really no way of knowing, given the lack of Syrian record-keeping and current poor relations with the Syrian government, who might be a bad guy among the newfound wards of the state. This is all part of that humanitarian front, apparently, and the president insists it would be racist and xenophobic and downright un-American to question the wisdom of relocating the Middle East’s apparently unmanageable pathologies into America and the rest of the west, and that his more enlightened attitudes will eventually win the heart of the Muslim world.
We expect that most of the western world, even the bluest portions of the formerly stiff-spined America, will expect a less prickly and more robust response to the latest outrages. The Islamic State seems poised on further outrages yet, and far more robust responses will be required.

— Bud Norman

Until the Next Paris

Every time Islamic terrorism strikes against the west, as it does all too often, we somehow expect that at long last the reaction will be different. Instead of the obligatory worries about the anti-Muslim backlash that never occurs, or the rote assurances that Islam is a Religion of Peace, or the reflexive moral relativism that seeks to excuse cold-blooded murder as no worse than western civilization, we hold out faint hope that this time there will only be righteous outrage and a collective resolve that such barbarity will not be tolerated. The past weekend’s meticulously planned attacks on at least six locations in Paris, which killed more than 120 innocents and wounded hundreds more, sadly seems to have brought us only one more outrage closer to that surely inevitable day.
All of the usual hand-wringing about potential rather than actual victims of terrorism and pretzel-logic apologetics and ahistorical litanies of the west’s alleged past sins have predictably followed the carnage, and much of the west’s political leadership immediately demonstrated it usual cowardice. There were the same old statements of sympathy and support from the west’s capitals, of course, but most were couched in the same old language that seeks to avoid mentioning the ideology that has motivated the latest carnage. Almost nowhere in the halls of western government, except in the currently socialist and instinctively pacifist but momentarily enraged capital of Paris, is there any frank acknowledgment that a sufficient portion of the Islamic world has declared war against the west and that the west has every right and a moral obligation to protect its citizens, their freedoms, and their objectively superior culture.
President Barack Obama’s official statement was sympathetic and supportive and quite sure that “Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress,” but he was careful to not make any mention of who might have committed such a crime against the city or what might have motivated them. In a televised debate among the Democrats hoping to succeed, which was hastily changed to deal with the breaking news rather than the income inequality and Republican “war on women” and other topics they would have rather dealt with, none of the candidates were willing to accept the notion of Islamic terrorism even with the modifier of “radical” attached. Both the current occupant of the White House and each of his would-be successors maintained their welcoming stances regarding the tens of thousands of Middle Eastern of male and fighting-age “refugees” seeking asylum in America, none were willing to question the wisdom of the past seven years of empathetic outreach and brazen appeasement to the Islamists, and all maintained their calls for cuts in defense spending and increases in immigration from the Muslim world.
Even the journalists posing the questions during that dull debate seemed eager to change the subject, and we don’t wonder why. Just hours before the Islamic State launched its deadly attack on Paris Obama had gloated to the American Broadcast Company the terror gang was “contained,” echoing his earlier characterization of the growing caliphate as a “jayvee team” of terrorism, even though the same group of killers had recently downed a Russian airliner and bombed its Hezbollah rivals in Beirut and still controlled a large and expanding chunk of what was formerly Iraq and Syria, and the related messes in Libya and Turkey and Jordan and the tidal wave of refugees spilling into Europe and America made the breaking news all the more inconvenient for the administration. The unsurprising revelation that the perpetrators of the Paris attacks included some newly-welcomed “refugees” raised questions that even such reliably far-left outlets as the United Kingdom’s Guardian had to ask, and no one on the welcoming committees anywhere has any plausible answer. Some reliably far-left pundits even in the United States are noticing that the refugees are flowing out of areas once pacified by more confident western governments, but long since abandoned for ostensibly progressive reasons, and a Democratic field that includes the Secretary of State who bombed Libya and pulled out of Iraq and “reset” relations with a Russia that is suddenly in the middle of everything, a self-described socialist who immediately attempts to change the subject back to income inequality and Wall Street’s wickedness, and a former governor who has nothing to say except to chime that he also wants a very multi-national and nuanced response was few good answers.
There are other parties with other views to be found almost everywhere, that being one of the reasons that western civilization is objectively superior to others, so there’s still that faint hope that the proper outrage and resolute response can still be mustered. Already there’s much hand-wringing in the respectable press about the possibility of right-wing parties gaining a political advantage from the attack. In America “right-wing” means the Republicans, whose supine response to the last seven years of retreat should placate even the most paranoid left-winger, even if all the party’s candidates have been at least somewhat tougher in response to the Paris events than their Democratic counterparts, but in Europe that sometimes means the more unsavory nationalist and racialist and authoritarian notion of “right-wing.” So far as we can tell the United Kingdom Independence Party and Geert Wilders’ party in Holland and many of the other party’s resistant to unrestrained immigration are reasonable advocates of national sovereignty and the perpetuation of their cultures, but in some cases such as France’s National Front and several of Germany’s most forthright opponents to their country’s insane immigration the likely beneficiaries do have worrisome roots in the continent’s Fascist and Nazi past. When widely-held common sense opinions are ruled by the elites as beyond the bounds of respectable opinion, the most disreputable sorts of parties are bound to benefit, and if the elites here had the same power to define such boundaries as they do in Europe we’d surely be in the same position. Even here the candidate most likely to benefit from the public’s outrage is Donald Trump, so America might not be so well-positioned as we had once thought.
Here and throughout the rest of the west the anti-immigration forces are gaining strength, at least, along with any voices that dare to challenge the elite opinion that the occasional downed airline or shot-up concert hall or bombed marathon or act of “workplace violence” that claims 13 lives on an American military base are just the price to be paid for maintaining the western elite’s sense of moral superiority. We hope that this yields leaders willing to defend the western values of tolerance, free speech, and religious pluralism, and even the Judeo-Christian traditions that once led us to the modern world, and that we won’t have to choose between those who would sacrifice that for security and those who would throw it all away for the sake of some self-loathing suicide impulse. That significant portion of the Muslim world intent on waging war against the west is clearly determined, and sooner or later they’ll backlash they’re begging for.

— Bud Norman

The Republican Race Just Got Angrier and Better

The average Republican primary voter’s seething anger toward the party’s congressional leadership has been the driving force in the party’s presidential race thus far, to the point it’s driven the electorate so stark raving mad that until recently itDonald Trump has been pushed to the top of the polls, and this looming budget deal that the leadership has concocted with President Barack Obama is not going to calm any conservative’s temper.
The deal is just plain awful in every way. It effectively ends the “sequestration” budget cuts that lowered the government’s share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product from 25 to 20 percent and reduced the annual budget deficits back to the level of the Bush administration, which admittedly doesn’t seem like much, and it also caused cuts in defense spending that are painful to conservative sensibilities, but it was arguably the best the leadership could get and inarguably the most that the leadership could brag about. This is in exchange for promises of budget cuts in 2025, which are unlikely to be worth as much as the magic beans that the Democrats had also offered, and basically represents a complete and utter capitulation to Obama and his free-spending ways. There’s nothing in the deal that addresses Planned Parenthood’s baby-parts business or the Environmental Protection Agency’s rapaciousness or any other other conservative budget complaints, it goes the wrong way on entitlement reform, and it outlasts the Obama administration and thus spares him any more fights over how he spends the public’s money.
As awful as it is as policy, it’s even worse as politics. Aside from infuriating their own average primary voter, and in a futile attempt to lure the sort of uninformed general election voter who is far more likely to be lured by whatever free and shiny object the Democrats are offering, the Republican party’s official leadership are weakening their position with the solid majority of respondents to almost every poll we’ve ever seen who think the government should spend less and do less. The official Republican leadership’s spin on it seems to be that Boehner shrewdly sacrificed his standing with his party’s vast membership, such as it was, to ensure that incoming Speaker John Ryan can begin his more steadfastly conservative reign untainted by the sins his predecessor had so selflessly taken upon himself. This is all going to going down with Ryan’s gavel, though, and he’s not going to get any credit for it from the more establishmentarian organs of the mainstream press, who are already gearing up to portray him throughout the presidential campaign as the right-wing crazy that he used to be back in the good old days of ’12 when he was chosen as the party’s running mate to placate a conservative base weary of the establishment nominee Mitt Romney. Since then Ryan’s gone wobbly on illegal immigration and government shutdown brinksmanship and other causes dear to conservatives’ hearts, however, and by now no knowledgable observer expects a reign more steadfastly conservative than Boehner’s. Thus we have an emboldened left, a dispirited right, and an uninformed middle that will be reassured by the 3l-second network news snippets in between pop songs that the Republicans are still crazily right-wing and the Democrats are still winning.
The average Republican primary voter gets his news in three-hour chunks from talk radio and in page after pixelled page of reliable conservative news sources on the internet and sometimes even on a printed page, and his response to all of this will naturally affect the presidential race. Our guess is that the already flourishing anti-establishment candidates who are completely untainted by any previous elective office will continue to do well, and it will be interesting to see if blustery real estate billionaire Donald Trump or soft-spoken physician Ben Carson gets the best of it, or if the formidable but fading high executive Carly Fiorina can get back in the mix. As the best-selling author of “The Art of Deal,” with a hard-to-deny reputation as a ruthless dealmaker, Trump should gain some advantage, although we’re still convinced what kind of a deal the relatively recent Republican and only occasionally conservative fellow consider would consider good. Among the establishment politicians, both Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are presented with an excellent opportunity, and it will be interesting to see which one makes the most of it. Given the understandably seething anger of the average Republican primary voter, we expect they’ll try to out-do one another in their willingness to gum up the works. If we were betting men, and if he we had any money to bet, we’d go with Cruz.
Both men came into office by besting the “establishment” candidates in their states, with Rubio the most celebrated because he had upset the hated Rockefeller Republican and soon-to-be Democrat Charlie Crist in his primary, and in a swing state at that, but since then Cruz has proved the more reckless provocateur. His filibustering attempts on previous budget showdowns were widely blamed for the inevitable frenzy of news stories about National Parks closing and old folks dying while their Social Security checks went undelivered and Earth spinning out of its orbit that inevitably followed, as well as the electoral disasters that also didn’t happen, so of course the average Republican primary voter, if not the uninformed voter hearing those 30-second news snippets, has looked kindly upon him ever since. As the most notoriously anti-establishment of the elected officials, he’s well positioned to lead a charge here, and he strikes as the sort who seize it.
Rubio might surprise us, though. We still fondly recall the handsome young fellow who vanquished Crist, and all the rousing speeches about capitalism and constitutional guarantees of liberty and all that full-throated Cuban anti-communism, and we can’t help thinking he’d make a good pick against whatever crazy lefty the Democrats might come up with. Although the 30-second news snippets will continue to characterize him as a right-wing crazy he still needs to shore up that credential with we actual right-wing crazies, so a good old-fashioned Jimmy Stewart-style filibuster would do him even more good. It would also remind the public that he’s a Senator doing his job, which further refutes a minor controversy about all the Senate votes he’s been missing lately while out on the campaign trail, and ensures his name showing up in a lot of headlines that even the most uninformed voters are likely to spot.
Former Florida governor and Bush family scion “Jeb!” Bush tried to exploit the mixed votes in this weeks presidential debate, and the general consensus of pundit opinion is that Rubio responded nicely by contrasting his record with presidential candidates ranging from Sen. John McCain to Sen. Barack Obama, and that Bush’s already faltering campaign took another hit. We can’t see how the oh-so-establishment candidate from the oh-so-establishment family ever thought he stood a chance, and we can’t see how he’ll get one out of a budget deal that confirms every seething angry anti-establishment suspicion of the average Republican voter. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also had a good night slapping around the media in the last debate, but he has a certain East Coast attitude about guns and a shoddy record on Muslim jurists and other issues dear to the hearts of more heartland conservatives, as well as the audio of him of praising Obama’s Hurricane Sandy efforts and photos of them hugging together on the New Jersey shore like the end of some of Will Smith-Josh Rogan “bromance,” so he also never stood a chance and doesn’t stand to gain one from this awful budget deal.
Whichever candidate winds up winning the nomination on the seething angriness of the seething angriness of the average Republican primary voter, we don’t worry that all the pandering will hurt their chances in a general election against what left-wing crazy the Democrats put up. For all the effort packed into those 30-second spots to make the Republicans look extreme, the Democrats are staking out wildly unpopular positions on guns, illegal immigration, law enforcement, abortion, and even on the economic issues that take more than 30 seconds to explain. If Rubio or Cruz have to explain their brinksmanship on a budget showdown to a general electorate, they can say that they did it so that the government would have to spend less and do less, which always polls well, especially after the National Parks are re-opened and the old folks never did miss a Social Security check and Earth stays in its orbit. Given the mood of the average American voter, who by now regards both the Democrats and Republicans with a seething angry suspicion, the candidate that is mostly convincingly running against both parties stands to do well.

— Bud Norman

E-Mails, “Emails,” and Alternate Realities

According to no less an authoritative source than The New York Times, “Obama’s Comments About Clinton’s Emails Rankle Some in the F.B.I.” We don’t hear that from any more authoritative source, however, so we can’t shake a nagging suspicion that’s there’s a lot more to it than what the once-venerable paper would now consider “All the news that’s fit to print.”
There’s no doubt that President Barack Obama did indeed go on television’s “60 Minutes” program and say that former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private and unsecured e-mail server didn’t pose a threat to national security, even as he acknowledged that it was a mistake, and we won’t quibble with the article’s characterization that he “played down the matter.” Nor do we doubt that The New York Times’ multiple reporters accurately quoted or paraphrased the unnamed current Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and one named former law enforcement agent who claim to be infuriated by the president’s prejudgment of a matter they are still diligently investigating. We don’t doubt that all the names and titles and other facts that are explicitly stated have been assiduously checked by what’s left of the Gray Lady’s copy desk, even if they are now so trendy they’re no longer hyphenating “e-mails,” but what’s not stated yet clearly implied still smells fishy.
The article includes some unexpectedly interesting background material, including past administration crackdowns on federal officials’ handling of sensitive material, and past instances of the administration resisting prosecutions of other more politically necessary officials, to the extent that a typical New York Times reader might find it shockingly critical of the administration. Even under the cloak of anonymity those unnamed FBI and other law enforcement officials will likely seem convincingly outraged to the average Times reader, and the average New York Times reader might even conclude that the president is protecting a fellow Democrat from due treatment under the law. The average New York Times reader would be delighted to hear that, though, so we can’t credit the paper with any institutional courage, and we find it interesting that they’re still running articles with Clinton and “emails” in the same headline.
We don’t have even any unnamed sources in the FBI, but we do have a theory based on the reports of The New York Times and the rest of the old-fashioned that this is all bunk. Based on pretty much everything we’ve seen, heard, and read during the past seven years we have concluded that Obama is convinced he really is the messiah he proclaimed himself to be during the ’08 election, that he wants his transformative reign continued through the ’16 and ’20 elections, and that Hillary Clinton is not his chosen successor. A similar empiricism has convinced us that the F.B.I. is no longer the doggedly independent institution of Jimmy Stewart and Efram Zimbalist Jr., and that it now contains more than a few agents willing to anonymously feign outrage at administration criticism of an investigation that has long been given administration blessing. Even The New York times concedes that the administration “walked back” its criticism in short order, and that the downplaying included an admission Clinton had made a mistake, and future Times stories will no doubt include further unnamed high administration officials leaking further disclosures about those “emails,” but that the administration can point to an unexpectedly critical New York Times story that seems to have its hands of any blame.
Given the lack of attention paid by the F.B.I. to other administration scandals, its sudden doggedness about Clinton’s “emails,” and all the resulting drip, drip, drip of stories quoting an ongoing investigations and plenty of highly placed yet unnamed administration officials, we can see why Obama might want to portray him as downplaying the matter. Given our experience of The New York Times, we can believe it would happily cooperate. We recently ran into a friend of ours who is a political Democrat tonight and he thought our theory that ridiculous, but he was also convinced that Clinton is the inevitable nominee and that only the inevitable Jeb Bush nomination could stop her.

— Bud Norman

Renewing the War in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the war in Afghanistan will outlast his presidency, with at least 5,500 troops still there on his successor’s inauguration day, and we realized that it was the first mention of that unhappy subject we’d heard in some time. The 18-year-old privates who are still slogging it out in that godforsaken land were 4-year-olds when the conflict began, so by now it has about the same slight effect on the public’s consciousness as one of those long-running reality shows that you are only reminded of when they are inexplicably renewed for another season.
Obama was unmistakably disappointed to make the announcement, and understandably so, as it broke one of his solemn campaign promises from the heady days of ’08 and acknowledged that his Cairo speech and the rest of that open-handed outreach to the Muslim world hadn’t fully soothed the more savage Islamist breasts and that his hated neocon critics had been right all along, but he didn’t have any choice. Ever since he kept his campaign promise to “end the war in Iraq” an even more troublesome war has sprung up in that country and spilled into Syria and drawn in the Iranians and the Russians and unleashed a highly problematic flood of refugees into Europe, not to mention the war in Yemen and the instability in the Libya that he bombed into anarchy and the recent acts of violence against Israelis that he has to make excuses for, so leaving Afghanistan when it’s still so ripe for picking by the worst sorts of people would have been more than even a Nobel Prize-winning peacenik’s reputation could endure. Better to make the inevitable announcement now, let the unpleasantness in Afghanistan once again recede from public attention, and allow the more worshipful first generation of biographers to dwell on how he “ended” the Iraq War.
One hopes the decision will at least prevent the worst-case scenario of the Taliban regaining control of the country and re-opening the terrorist training camps that started the war in the first place, but at this point no one seems to be talking about a best-case scenario. Even in the Bush administration’s most hopeful dreams of democracy-building there were was never any thought that such a stubbornly tribalistic and bellicose and backward country as Afghanistan could ever transformed into something like a functioning state, although they did think that it might be achieved where some Iraqis could still recall a relatively modern and democratic Baghdad, so the goal was always to establish an Afghan government with some legitimacy that would impose at least enough order to shut down the terrorist training camps. That’s still the goal, so far as we can tell, but it’s not at all clear that the past six years or so of the effort have brought us any closer, nor can see how the 9,800 to 5,500 troops that Obama will continue to deploy are going affect any further progress.
The question hasn’t come up in any of the presidential debates, so far, and none of the candidates seem to be talking about it, and neither does anyone else. When we bring it up we’re forced to admit that we can’t see any more favorable outcome than a long hard slog by 18-year-old privates who weren’t even born when this mess began. There are 18-year-old privates in South Korea and Japan and Germany whose parents weren’t yet born when the wars that landed them there began, however, and sometimes that’s the price to be paid for a relatively peaceful global order, and no one likes to talk about that.

— Bud Norman

Three Speeches Worth Reading

The United Nations has been celebrating its 70th year of existence with a week-long marathon of orations by world leaders. Most of it has been as pointless as the United Nations itself, but three of the speeches merit some consideration.
The first was by President of the United States Barack Obama, and it’s a remarkably mushy piece of work. He starts with the obligatory genuflections to the UN’s high ideals, segues into some blather about how “five years after the global economy collapsed, and thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized and people are once again being lifted out of poverty,” and he somehow keeps a straight face throughout. The rest is mostly a similarly silly defense of his foreign policy.
He boasts that “Together we’ve also worked to end a decade of war,” by which he means his unilateral retreat of all American troops from Iraq. That another war has since started up as a result of that decision, which is now the main topic of conversation at the UN and elsewhere, goes unmentioned until later. He also boasts that we will soon have affected a unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan, “having its mission of dismantling the core of al-Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11,” and he sounded quite confident that will work out just as well. There are further boasts of “transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” and he still kept that straight face while asserting that “As a result of this work and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago.” He humbly acknowledges that there’s still an awful lot of terrorism going on, and that core of al-Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11 “does pose threats to governments and diplomats, businesses and civilians all across the globe,” but with all the progress he’s made in releasing captured terrorists he doesn’t seem very concerned.
Eventually Obama does get around to that war that’s presently going on in Syria and Iraq and other jurisdictions of the Middle East, complete with beheadings and crucifixions and chemical weapons attacks and Russian anti-aircraft equipment that seems an odd thing to have against a terrorist army lacking an air force, and is now causing an invasion of Europe by hundreds of thousands potentially millions “refugees” from even the jurisdictions that aren’t under fire, and he’s willing to concede that “The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge.” His dismissal of the beheading and crucifying Islamic State as a “jayvee team” of terrorism and his past praise of the Syrian dictator as a “reformer” presumably occurred before that early on date when international community recognized the stakes.
We also note he’s still insisting that “the situation spiraled into civil war” as “many retreated to their sectarian identities” of “Alawites and Sunni, Christian and Kurd,” as if each of those groups shared the same blame. Such moral equivalency is perhaps required at a United Nations assembly, at least if you’re a properly educated liberal such as Obama, but the world is full of more practical people who will recognize that it’s nonsense. The Christians of Syria and Iraq and the rest of the Middle East have mainly concerned themselves for civilizational survival for the past 1,300 years or so, with few resources to make trouble even if they were inclined to do so, and the reasonable-by-Middle-Eastern-standards Kurds have been in pretty much the same situation. Neither group has received any useful military benefits from either Obama or that international coalition he keeps talking about, and apparently they can’t even count on any rhetorical support.
There was some sterner talk, as well. Obama insisted on an international ban on the use of chemical weapons in the multi-sided war, and actually boasted that “When I stated my willingness to to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly.” Neither did he ever act on it, of course, but he seems proud to note that the UN’s Security Council never passed a resolution about it. Without that credible threat of military force an international ban on chemical weapons will likely be as useful as that “No Gun Zone” sign posted on the campus of the latest mass murder, but Obama is pleased to say that “However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been for a diplomatic resolution to this issue.” He seemed to sincerely believe that Putin has helped to rid his Syrian allies of their chemical weapons arsenal, and that both parties can be fully trusted.
There was further stern talk about the use of “all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region,” and ensuring the free flow of oil from the region, and dismantling terror groups, and then he launched into that awful deal with the Iranians that seems to allow them to cheat their way to a nuclear bomb while a $150 billion check for more support of terrorism and “death to America” rallies. This included the moral equivalence between Iran’s hostage-taking, terrorism, war-mongering, threats of genocide against the Israelis, brutal suppression of its own people, and the fact that “Iranians have long complained of a U.S. history of interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing the Iranian government during the Cold War.” That America’s role in overthrowing an domestically unpopular Iranian government that was almost as brutal as as that unfortunate country’s current one has long been overstated is of no matter, of course, so long as Obama looks better than his country.
The speech was delivered with that grandiloquently upturned chin and in that famously stentorian Obama baritone, and thus sounded a lot better than it looks on paper, so it got the usual rave reviews in the American media. How it played with the international audience, which has gotten harder to please over the past five years, is less clear. The applause wasn’t nearly so rapturous as in the past, and we suspect they mostly heard the part about Obama’s preference for a diplomatic resolution and his admissions of America’s past sins and how the Christians and Kurds are as guilty as the rest.
Worse yet, the speech was shortly followed by a far more believably stern oration by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama’s supposed partner in shutting down the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program also opened with the obligatory genuflections to the UN, but in his case he was proud to say it all started at the Yalta Conference where his Soviet predecessors steamrolled the haplessly idealistic Roosevelt administration into ceding eastern Europe to communist rule and establishing the Security Council so that Russia could veto anything that might promote liberty and democracy. He generously acknowledged that the other Security Council members didn’t always agree with Russia, but he didn’t offer any apologies. Instead he launched into a history lesson, saying “We all know that after the Cold War, a single center of domination emerged in the world,” and explaining that “those who found themselves at the top of that pyramid were tempted to think that if we are so strong and exceptional then we know better than anyone what to do and why at all should we reckon with the UN, which instead of automatically authorizing and legitimizing necessary actions often creates obstacles or, in other words, ‘stands in the way.'”
So far the speech seems written to defy any possible rebuttal by Obama, who might very well have written the speech himself. Putin goes on to say that America’s actions as the lone superpower are entirely responsible for the 1,300-year-old Islamist jihads that have been heating up at least since the Algerian revolution in ’50s, and that also sounds a lot like any of Obama’s stump speeches since at least the ’08 election. The Russian president goes on to say that Russia is therefore obliged to come to the world’s rescue by crushing the Islamist State and protecting the Assad regime and enhancing the power of its Iranian patron and bringing the former American protector of Iraq under its influence, much as Mother Russia once single-handedly saved the world from Naziism, and so we should all be grateful the Russian-Iranian-Syrian axis that is imposing its will on the Middle East. We’re hard-pressed to think how Obama might refute that, but we’re confident he would prefer it involve a diplomatic resolution.
Obama did talk about how Russia’s aggressions in the Middle East as well as Ukraine and other sections of its former Soviet empire have resulted in financial problems, defections, and some international opprobrium, but Putin doesn’t seem to care much about any of that. If he’s been dealt as a weak hand as Obama insists at least he’s been playing it better than Obama’s flush of bleeding hearts, and although it might not work at the end of that long arc of history that Obama likes to say is always bending toward justice he’s likely to reap the benefits until then, and nothing in Putin’s speech left any doubt that he intended to continues his policies with or without the benefit of a diplomatic solution.
The speech probably played well in the Russian press, which is almost as dutiful to its president as its American counterparts, and it certainly made an impression on its intended international audience. Although the applause was perfunctory, the audience could not doubt that Putin meant every word of it.
Nor could anyone doubt a singe word of an even sterner speech by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The former special forces fighter didn’t bother with the obligatory genuflections to the UN’s high ideals, and instead noted the many times that the organization was “obsessively hostile towards Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East.” After punctuating this with a long, silent stare at the body’s worst anti-Semites, Netanyahu then launched into a blistering denunciation of the west’s capitulatory deal with Iran over its nuclear weapons saying, “This deal doesn’t make peace more likely. By fueling Iran’s aggressions with billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it makes war more likely.” He pointed out that since the framework of the deal was agreed upon Iran has sent more fighters to Syria to supports its regime, shipped tons of weapons and ammunition to Houthi rebels in Yemen, threatened the government of Jordan, increased its efforts on behalf of Hamas and Hezbollah in its terror wars against Israel and Lebanon, continued its chants of “Death to America,” and reiterated its desire to annihilate Israel. There’s no refuting any of this, and moral equivalences with Israel and its erstwhile allies in the west are hard to make, so we expect that both Obama and Putin were glad they didn’t have to follow this speech.
Rather than making apologies for his country, Netanyahu vowed to defend it. He vowed that Israel will continue to defend itself against any attacks from Syria, and to prevent the flow of arms through Syria to Hezbollah, and to do whatever is required to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Although he was not specific about that third promise, it was strongly implied that whatever is required might be required soon. The language was blunt, and poetic only when Netanyahu spoke of the challenges the Jewish people have faced before and are ready to face to again, but at no point did it leave room for doubt.
Even the most eloquent speeches, no matter how grandiloquently upturned the chin or stentorian the baritone delivery, are only useful to the extent that speaker means it. We have no doubt that Putin and Netanyahu mean what they say, so all that talk about the UN’s high ideals and the hope of a diplomatic resolution is quite unconvincing.

— Bud Norman

Are You Serious? The Bad Guys Are

The pull-out quote of the day belongs to one Jassem Mohammed al-Bayati, a member of the Iraq parliament’s ruling coalition. Explaining to The Washington Post why his government has recently joined “a substantial and serious coalition” with Russia, Iran, and Syria in the fight against the Islamic State, he said: “Iraq has had enough of the unserious support and procedures of the international coalition.”
That unserious international coalition that al-Bayati refers to is the Obama administration and whatever partners it still has on board, so it’s hard to dispute his characterization of their efforts in the region. The administration’s apologists will note that the administration has spent a congressionally authorized $500 million to train and equip 5,400 Syrian good guys to get in on the fight against the Islamic State yet not on the side of Russia, Iran, and Syria, but after days of denial the Pentagon finally apologized last week for the fact that only 54 of them actually took the field, and that at the moment only four of five of them are still in the fight, and that one of them and his 70 or so ragged troops had recently surrendered all their equipment to a group backed by al-Qaeda, which has now reportedly put aside any theological quibbles and allied itself with the Islamic State in the ongoing troubles. Meanwhile, the once formidable fighting forces of the more or less moderates Kurds are getting pounded, largely due to a lack of support from their former American friends, erstwhile allies ranging from Israel to Saudi Arabia are also making plans for a post-American era in the Middle East, and everywhere from Ukraine to Japan people are figuring out that America’s amity has no benefits and America’s enmity brings no consequences. This is bound to strike any Middle Eastern observer as unserious, even in the unlikely event they share Obama’s assessment of the ascendant Islamic State as the “jayvee team” of terrorism.
Russia, Iran, and Syria, on the other hand, must appear quite serious to anyone with an existential stake in the situation. Russia is consolidating its recent gains in Eastern Europe as it assumes a new role as the power broker in the Middle East, Iran is gloating over a deal that gives them an easy path to a nuclear bomb along with a $150 billion signing bonus it can spend on terrorism against the country it continues to call “the Great Satan,” and Syria continues to feel free to cross any red lines that the administration might threaten. The Sunni monarchies that are threatened by both the Shiite Iranian-Syrian axis and the more radical Sunni Islamic State-al-Qaeda axis might yet team up with the Jewish state of Israel, which faces the same threats and suddenly finds itself with some very strange bedfellows, but any alliances that might occur will be made with the clear understanding that the Americans they once counted on are no long serious.
How this might improve America’s standing in the world remains to be seen, but we’re sure the administration’s apologists are already working on some explanation. If the combined might of Russia, Iran, and Syria were to defeat the Islamic State, or at least hold them in the current stalemate through the next election, it will surely indicate the Islamic State really was a “jayvee team” after all. That three of the world’s worst governments would hold sway in a key part of the world, where once valued allies and essential national interests are at stake, well, that can be blamed on George W. Bush or some other manifestation of America’s racist and Islamophobic and imperialist hubris. The vice president once boasted Iraq was a “stable government” and “one of the administration’s greatest achievements” when American troops were pulled out, in keeping with a campaign promise made long before the resultant catastrophe, but that shouldn’t stop him from stating the argument in a presidential campaign.
These are serious times, but we can’t argue with any Iraqi parliament member who thinks we have an unserious administration. We worry that he and a lot of other influential people around the world share our suspicion that the administration was elected and re-elected by an unserious country.

— Bud Norman

Bon Voyage, Boehner

We won’t have Speaker of the House John Boehner to kick around anymore, at least not after the end-of-October resignation he announced last week, and we’re glad of it. His cautious style of leadership was ill-suited to these times of constitutional crisis, as far as we are concerned, and we never did enjoy kicking him around.
Although we consider ourselves as rock-ribbed and radical as the next Republican, and are in a very confrontational mood lately, we couldn’t quite work up the same red-hot hatred for Boehner that all the right-wing radio talkers and grassroots activists seem to have cultivated. Maybe we were just suckers for the lachrymose Speaker’s compelling sob story about his rise from a humble home atop his father’s bar in a working class neighborhood to the heights of politics, or it’s that our disagreements always seemed to have less to do with his policy preferences than about the tactics best suited to achieve them, or that we well remember what it was like when San Francisco’s well-heeled Nancy Pelosi so expensively wielded the gavel. To say that Boehner represented a great improvement over his predecessor is to damn with faint praise, of course, but at least the deficits are down since to slightly less scary levels since he took over the House and there haven’t been any bills passed nearly so bad as Obamacare and the rest of what has happening when the Democrats everything, and something in our perpetually pessimistic conservative temperament makes us glad for such small favors.
Those right-wing radio talkers and grassroots activists will rightly note that cap-and-trade and open borders and Iranian nuclear bombs with a $150 billion signing bonus and all sorts of other Democratic craziness that would have passed the Reid-Pelosi Congress have nonetheless been achieved by executive action, and with only feeble resistance from the Republican majorities that were installed in congress to prevent it. This is why we’ve concluded that Boehner had to go, and that so should his counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but we will concede that their leadership has at least reduced the president to executive actions that can be more easily undone by the executive actions of a new and more sensible president.
We’ll even hold out hope that Boehner’s and McConnell’s cowardly cautiousness have made it slightly more more probable that we’ll soon have a new and more sensible president. Already such still-influential press outlets as The Washington Post are gleefully fretting that the conservative elements of the Republican party that forced Boehner out and now have their sights set on McConnell “can’t govern” and will instead rashly shut down the non-essential government, which is most of it, and that all hell will surely break loose. We’re inclined to believe that there’s already far too much governance going on, that progress would be better measured by the number of laws repealed and regulations rolled back and entire agencies abolished, and that a shut-down of all of those non-essential services would be salutary, especially during the winter when few people are planning vacations in those photogenic national parks, and we’re certain that even our left-wing radical president would blink before allowing a default on the national debt, but we acknowledge that not everyone shares our rather right-wing perspective on such things.
There are only so many of us right-wing crazies out there, and a smaller number of the left-wing crazies on the other side, and therefore policy is so often decided by those uninformed voters in the middle. What little information these voters possess usually comes from the 30-second news updates that are wedged in between the latest pop tunes on the radio each hour, and that brief attention span does not take in anything more than a vague awareness that the latest spat is all about those anarchist conservatives wanting to shut the government down. The other day we heard a short National Public Radio report about the latest possibility of a government shutdown explained as the Republicans refusing to fund the women’s health care services provided by Planned Parenthood, with no mention that Planned Parenthood is mostly a network of abortionists and that a series of hidden camera videos have revealed that they routinely sell the remains of late-term fetuses and even live but promptly terminated births for profit, and one needn’t be such a jaded old pol as Boehner or McConnell to worry how a fight on such terms might end up.
Still, we hope that whoever winds up with Boehner’s job, and with good luck McConnell’s as well, is at least somewhat more daring. The last government shutdown was widely blamed on the Republicans, but ended soon enough for the party to win gains in the election, and the next one might be as well-timed. If the Republicans are willing to fund pretty much everything except Planned Parenthood all of those right-wing talkers and a few of the honest press writers might be able to persuade the public that Democrats were the ones who shut down the government for radical reasons, and people might finally notice that a government shut-down isn’t that big a deal after all, and a reasonable Republican candidate might even enjoy support from that uninformed middle as well as all the suddenly enthused right-wing crazies such as ourselves. Something in our instinctively pessimistic conservative temperament, though, urges at least a wee bit of that old establishment caution.

— Bud Norman

North to Alaska, the Rush is On

The great state of Alaska had two notable visitors this week, with both President Barack Obama and a convoy of Chinese warships dropping by. The former was there to whip up support for his initiatives to end “global warming,” and the latter presumably had other reasons.
Whatever motives the Chinese might have for their provocative journey into the Bering Sea just off the Alaskan coast, they were probably more successful than the president. Global warming alarmism is unlikely to play well in Alaska, where the people are more troubled by the lack of infrastructure that has resulted from environmental regulations than they are by the fact that winter nights will soon -23 below Fahrenheit rather than -30 below Fahrenheit, even if the president’s dire predictions of a seven point rise in temperatures prove true, and they’ll be disinclined to worry that the difference will result in any rise of the sea levels. Obama is probably willing to write off Alaska’s reliably Republican and rather insignificant number of electoral votes to use its recently more acclimate climate as means of scaring the lower 49 states into panicked submission to earth-saving regime of brand new regulations, but all the polls confirm our belief that this is unlikely to sway a public that is already paying higher electric bills as a result of all other earlier regulations.
Perhaps Obama’s target audience was the rest of the world, which has always provided the approval he seems to most desire, but that also doesn’t seem to be working out. The big visit to Alaska and one of its recently retreating glaciers, but not one of its recently increasing glaciers, came in advance of the president’s meeting with several northern hemispheric countries on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, so clumsily named so that the acronym spells out GLACIER, where he hopes to reach an agreement on limits of carbon emissions and other environmentalist bugaboos. Despite all those photographs of Obama standing near a glacier that has reportedly receded a few meters or so in recent years, the governments of China, Russia, and India have already declared they’ll have nothing to do with it. Given the combined carbon emissions of these economies it’s hard to see how Obama will will keep his campaign promise to halt the rise of the seas, even if you do believe his dubious theories of “global warming,” so the time spent on the Alaska trip might have been better spent attending to other matters of more pressing importance.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to say what that provocative convoy of Chinese warships is doing in the Bering Sea just off the coast of Alaska, one of the fully-fledged and great states of the United States of America. Our guess is that they’re testing the extent of America’s weakness, but the country’s government seems to have other priorities.

— Bud Norman

It’s Still Mount McKinley To Us

By the standards of President Barack Obama’s many outrages, his decision to re-name Mount McKinley isn’t very consequential. Still, it’s infuriating for a variety of reasons.
There’s the fact he did it by executive action, for one thing. Mount McKinley was so named by an act of Congress, and signed into law by a predecessor president, and under our constitutional system presidents aren’t supposed to be able to unilaterally repeal laws. This president obviously believes otherwise, as already shown by his executive actions on illegal immigration and other matters, and that is a problem of the greatest consequence.
We’re also appalled that the memory of President William McKinley, who was a vastly better President than Obama, is being quite officially dis-honored. McKinley inherited office during an economic depression and led the country to unprecedented prosperity, was victorious in the Spanish-American War, and never asserted the unilateral power to repeal laws. He probably would have accomplished even greater things if he hadn’t hadn’t been assassinated by a crazed anarchist early in his second term, which at this point is rarely taught in schools, and the now-faint memory of that tragedy also deserves the honor that Obama presumes to withdraw.
McKinley was a successful and much beloved Republican president, though, and it’s all the more galling that this surely had something to do with it. One strains to imagine Obama ever withdrawing an honorific from any Democratic president, and we note that his Treasury Secretary has even chosen to withdraw the staunch abolitionist but notoriously capitalist Alexander Hamilton from his place of honor on the ten dollar bill, rather than the slave-holding and Indian-persecuting but Democratic Party-founding Andrew Jackson from his spot on the twenty, so there’s also the added stench of rank and most petty partisanship.
The new name for the mountain is Denali, which is the old name that indigenous Alaskans use, but this exquisite sensitivity to the special interests of an ethnic identity group also rankles. The area surrounding Mount McKinley is already acknowledged as the Denali National Park, the indigenous Alaskans have always been free to call the mountain whatever they wish, just as native New Yorkers still refer to John F. Kennedy Airport as Idlewild and we Kansans call the river running nearby our home the “Ar-Kansas” rather than the “Arkan-saw,” and there’s no reason the rest of the country should cease it’s admittedly mostly unknown homage to McKinley. The same impulse to impose a guilt-ridden revisionist history on the public is driving Hamilton off the ten spot in order to make room for a woman or a person of color or best of all a woman of color, and it’s erasing the Confederate battle flag from the roof of the “Dukes of Hazards” muscle car, and it’s appetite for destruction is such that won’t be satisfied until every vestige of such dead white, male, and rock-ribbedly Republicans as McKinley are long forgotten.
What can be done by executive action can presumably be undone by more sensible executive actions, at least, so one can hope that someone more along the lines of William McKinley will come along next year and start getting some un-doing done. In the meantime, it’s still Mount McKinley to us.

— Bud Norman


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