Advertisements

Credit Where Credit is Due

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has reportedly been killed by the American military, and although we never exult in the death of another human we must admit the world is better off without him. Baghdadi was the leader of the Islamic State, the radical Islamist State terror gang that bloodily reigned over a large swath of the Middle East until recently, and anything that hastens its demise is for the best.
President Donald Trump characteristically took most of the credit for how Baghdadi had “died like a dog,” although he also acknowledged the efforts of the troops who had actually carried out the dangerous mission, and we must begrudgingly admit he has done something right. We were always harsh critics of President Barack Obama, but begrudgingly gave him some of the credit for the necessary killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, so we’re obliged do the same for Trump.
We only gave Obama so much credit for the bin Laden hit, though, and would always roll our eyes when our Democratic friends boasted of how Obama had succeeded where President George W. Bush had failed, which seemed to us like bragging about how Nixon landed a man on the moon after Presidents Kennedy and Johnson had failed in the effort. These things take time, usually more time than any president has, and in the end presidents just give the go-ahead and take the credit for what was long planned before they took office.
Obama would have never been able to order the mission that killed bin-Laden if Bush hadn’t driven al-Qaeda from its base in Afghanistan, and redirected America’s intelligence and military and diplomatic power to the fight against radical Islamism, and whatever you think about how that’s worked out it did wind up with Obama taking credit for taking out bin-Laden and al-Qaeda not being in the news these days. The Islamic State wound up bloodily ruling a large swath of the Middle East in large part because of Obama’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq, where they had mostly won a very unpopular Bush started, but by the end of second term Obama was gored to send a small number of troops to Syria to train and support and give air cover to some fierce and relatively democratic Kurdish fighters who were opposed to both the Islamic State and the Syrian dictatorship.
The strategy came to fruition during the Trump administration, with the Islamic State driven from its self-proclaimed Caliphate, albeit still intact as a terror organization with operatives all over Europe, and at that point Trump claimed all credit for the victory and decided to abandon our Kurdish allies to an invasion by the Kurd-hating turks, and let Turkey and the Syrian dictatorship and its Iranian and Russian allies work things out. Even a majority of the Republicans in Congress thought this a premature withdrawal and abandonment of America honor, with some comparing it to Obama’s blunder in Iraq, but Trump has at least gone back for long enough to take out Baghdadi.
He’ll surely be bragging about it until election day, if he gets there, just like Obama did with bin Laden, only far more so. Back then Trump “tweeted” a lot about how Obama was getting too much credit, and how any old president would have done the same thing. In one “tweet” he gave the credit to Admiral William McRaven, who meticulously verified bin Laden’s location and planned the mission, but these days McRaven is an outspoken critic of Tump’s foreign policy, so now we’re not sure who the hero might be.
With all due respect to both presidents for giving the order any old president would give, the deaths both of bin Laden and Baghdadi are only so big a deal. The murderous medieval ideology they championed remains a threat to peace and freedom on earth, and will require America’s careful thought and constant vigilance and occasionally violent engagements. Neither party seems up to that on a regular basis, but we figure they both have their moments.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Another Memorial Day

Today’s a good day for burgers and beer and goofing off and other great American things, but one should also aside a few moments of gratitude for the brave soldiers and sailors and airmen who make them possible. In hopes of helping, we’ll observe our tradition of re-posting an essay we first published back in ’12. It’s still all too true.

On a long walk through old and picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, you might happen upon a small monument to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Located on a tiny triangle of grass diving a street leading to Riverside Park, the memorial features a statue of a dashing young soldier armed with a rife and clad in the rakishly informal uniform of the era, a cannon captured from a Spanish ship, and a small plaque thanking all of the men who served America in that long ago conflict.
We always pause at the spot to enjoy the statue, an elegant bronze work that tarnished a fine emerald shade, and often to reflect on the Spanish-American War and the men who fought it. Sometimes we’ll wonder, too, about the men and women who honored those soldiers and sailors by building the small monument. The Spanish-American War had been one of the controversial ones, and the resulting bloodier war in the Philippines was still underway and being hotly debated at the time monument was installed, so we suspect it was intended as a political statement as well as an expression of gratitude, and the the monument builders had to endure the animosity of their isolationist neighbors.
We’ll also wonder, on occasion, how many passersby are surprised to learn from the monument that there ever was a Spanish-American War. The war last for only four months of 1898, and involved a relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors, so our current crop of history teachers might be inclined to give it only mention as a regrettable act of American colonialism before on to the more exciting tales of the ’60s protest movement or whatever it is they’re teaching these days. The world still feels the effects of those four months in 1898, when that relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors ended more than three centuries of Spanish colonial preeminence on the world state, and permanently altered, for better and worse, the the destinies of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, yet the whole affair is now largely forgotten.
If you keep walking past the park and across the Little Arkansas River toward the east bank of the Arkansas River, just beyond the Mid-America All-Indian Center and the giant Keeper of the Plains statue at the confluence of the rivers, you’ll find a series of similar monuments dedicated to the veterans of other wars. One features an old torpedo and honors the men who died aboard the S.S. El Dorado, “One of 57 submarines on eternal patrol,” during the Second World War. Another monument lists the names of the many local men who died serving in the Merchant Marines. An austere black marble plaque beneath an American flag is dedicated to all U.S. Marines. There’s a more elaborate area devoted to the veterans of the Korean War, with a statue, several flags, numerous plaques and a Korean gateway, which wasn’t erected until 2001, long after the controversies of the conflicted had subsided.
The veterans of the Vietnam War are honored with a touching statue of an American soldier standing next to a seated South Vietnamese soldier, which was donated by local Vietnamese-Americans as an expression of gratitude to everyone of all nationalities who tried to save their ancestral homeland from communism, and that won’t be formally dedicated until the Fourth of July. We hope the ceremony will be free of protestors, or any acrimony, but even at this late date the feelings engendered by that war remain strong. Some Americans veterans of the war have publicly complained about the include of a non-American soldiers in the veterans’ park, while some who opposed the war have privately grumbled about any monument to the Vietnam conflict at all. Both the memorial and the attending controversy serve as reminders that the effects of that war are still being felt, not just by the world but by individual human beings.
Walk a few more blocks toward the old Sedgwick County Courthouse and there’s a grand monument to the Wichita boys who went off to fight for the Union in the Civil War, featuring the kind of ornate but dignified statuary that Americans of the late 18th Century knew how to do so well, but a more moving memorial can be found over on Hillside Avenue in the Maple Grove Cemetery, where there’s a circle of well-kept graves marked by American flags and austere gravestones for the Wichita boys who didn’t come back. Throughout the city were are more plaques, statues, portraits, and other small markets to honor the men and women who have fought for this country, and of course a good many graves for fallen heroes in every cemetery. This city honors those who fight for its freedom and safety, and that is one reason we are proud to call it home.
There is no monument here to the brave men and women who have fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no memorial to those who died in those far-off lands, but there should be, and soon. Both wars, and especially the Iraq War, have been controversial, and any memorial will be perceived by some as a political statement rather than an expression of gratitude, but it is not too soon to honor those for fought for us. The effects of the wars will outlive all of us, and none of us will ever see their ultimate consequences, but there is reason to believe that the establishments of even tenuous democracies in the heart of the Islamic middle east and the defeats of Al-Qade and the Islamic State might yet prove a boon to humanity, and that faint hope is the reason those brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought and died there.
If we wait until the ill feelings subside, we might wait until the wars have been largely forgotten. In every city and town of the country there should be something that stands for those who gave their lives for American in even the most controversial wars, and it should be something that will stand for a century or more. Something that will cause the passersby of the 22nd Century to stop and reflect, and be grateful.

— Bud Norman

The Afghanistan War Goes On

America has been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years long years, and after President Donald Trump’s nationally televised address on Monday it’s clear the fighting will continue for a while. That’s not good news, of course, but it could have been a lot worse.
It would have been worse news if Trump had announced he was keeping his oft-repeated campaign promise to concede defeat and allow the Taliban to reassume control of the country where their al-Qaeda allies planned and trained for the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Trump admitted in a fairly well-written speech that doing so remains his instinct, so it’s very good news that he allowed the more carefully reasoned and far-sighted analysis of his far more experienced advisors to dissuade his instincts for a change.
It’s also as good a bit of news as one can hope for at this point that Trump didn’t make any characteristically grandiose promises about how America’s going to be winning so much you’ll get bored with winning and that it’s going to be so quick and easy your head will spin. Winning in Afghanistan won’t require leaving a fully westernized and modern country, a far-fetched fantasy that Trump effectively ridiculed on the campaign trail, but any semblance of victory does require a reasonably sane Afghan government that can defend itself against the inevitable attempts to once again turn the country into a training ground for future Islamist terror attacks on America, and we are reassured that Trump has been made to realize even that more modest goal is still necessary and that even after 16 long years it still can’t be done quickly or easily. Trump didn’t give a Churchillian sort of speech to prepare the people for the long struggle ahead, but at least he overcame his instinct to make promises that can’t be kept.
There was the usual lack of any specificity in Trump’s address, but that’s probably good news as well. He hinted that more troops would be deployed, although probably not as many as his generals had requested and surely not enough to turn Afghanistan into a thoroughly modernized and westernized country, but at this point there’s no reason for us or the enemy to know with any more specificity that at least the fight will continue. He hinted that America would prosecute the war with more ruthlessly self-defensive rules of engagement, which we think wise, but the fairly well-written script didn’t include any historically unfounded talk about summarily executing prisoners of war with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, as Trump recently advised the Spaniards to do after a recent Islamist terror attack, and these days we also have to count that as good news.
Aside from the life-and-death consequences of war there are also political implications to be considered, and we expect Trump handled those well enough for a change.
If you’ve been following the Trump presidency reality show so far you know that he recently accepted the resignation of “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, a longtime champion of the inaptly named “America First” non-interventionist school of foreign policy that so aligned with Trump’s instincts, who had famously been feuding with the more experienced and knowledgeable and far-sighted and hawkish generals who were serving as Trump’s Defense Secretary and national security advisor and chief of staff, so that’s a big sidebar story that won’t amount to much. Bannon has returned to the editorship of the Brietbart.com news site, which did much to promote Trump’s candidacy and presidency among a certain readership, and is already running articles of the newly stated Trump policy, but at this point we don’t expect that Trump will lose the support of many of its readers.
The rest of the media probably won’t manage to do much harm, either. When America went to war in Afghanistan those 16 long years ago it was in response to that country providing haven for the planning and training of an attack on American soil even worse than the attack on Pearl Harbor that had forced America into World War II, and Republican President George W. Bush was authorized the use of military force with bi-partisan support. Although Democratic President Barack Obama had been a strident critic of America’s war in Iraq he also deployed more troops to Afghanistan, even if he did so at lower levels than the generals recommended and with ludicrous timelines and rules of engagement, and his congressional authorization also won bipartisan support. Even Trump can expect to get the same benefit of the doubt, and he won’t suffer any significant loss of support from the far-left and despite Bannon’s best efforts only a slight loss on the far-fight.
Besides, there’s bound to be a solar event or sports competition or debt ceiling debate or Russia revelation to divert the public’s attention coming soon. After 16 long years the public has become accustomed to waging war in Afghanistan, and has largely come to realize there are no quick paths to anything resembling a victory but no available way out of getting out that wouldn’t be disastrous, so its hard to fault Trump for overcoming his simultaneously noninterventionist and militaristic instincts and being led to the same conclusion.
Over the past long 16 years the war in Afghanistan has claimed more than 2,400 American lives, with far more life-altering casualties, and although each of them is a tragedy that should be honored and mourned and carefully considered there’s a ruthless mathematics to war that publics have always also acknowledged. At this rate the war will have to carry one for another century or so before it reaches the death toll that caused America to exit the shorter Vietnam War, and hardier previous generations sacrificed as many of their children on a bad afternoon at Gettysburg or a rough morning on the beaches of Normandy, so except for the occasional desultory address on national television by Republican and Democratic presidents alike the Afghanistan war will probably go on unnoticed by all but those few unlucky patriots who have to fight it.
We’ll hope for the best, though, and begrudgingly admit that at least Trump didn’t it make any worse.

— Bud Norman

Memorial Day

Among the fallen heroes we honor today are some who fought in the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Ramadi in order to bring democracy to that country and cease its support for terrorism. Lately both cities have fallen into the hands of a sadistic terrorist gang calling itself the Islamic State, presidential candidates from both parties are questioning the decision to send American troops into Iraq in the first place, nobody seems to be asking it if was a good idea to withdraw them, and those who survived the ordeal are feeling forgotten and disrespected. We won’t take up time on a holiday best spent with barbecue and beer by arguing the wisdom of the American efforts in that country, or their apparently premature end, but we would like to let those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan know that they are well remembered by re-running a post from a Memorial Day past:

 

On a long walk through the old and picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, you might happen upon a small monument to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Located on a tiny triangle of grass dividing a street leading to Riverside Park, the memorial features a statue of a dashing young soldier armed with a rifle and clad in the rakishly informal uniform of the era, a cannon captured from a Spanish ship, and a small plaque thanking all of the men who served America in that long ago conflict.
We always pause at the spot to enjoy the statue, an elegant bronze work that has tarnished to a fine emerald shade, and often to reflect on the Spanish-American war and the men who fought it. Sometimes we’ll wonder, too, about the men and women who honored those soldiers and sailors by building the small monument. The Spanish-American War had been one of the controversial ones, and the resulting bloodier war in the Philippines was still underway and being hotly debated at the time the monument was installed, so we suspect it was intended as a political statement as well as an expression of gratitude, and that the monument builders had to endure the animosity of their isolationist neighbors.
We’ll also wonder, on occasion, how many passersby are surprised to learn from the monument that there ever was a Spanish-American War. The war lasted for only four months of 1898, and involved a relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors, so our current crop of history teachers might be inclined to give it only short mention as a regrettable act of American colonialism before rushing on to the more exciting tales of the ‘60s protest movement or whatever it is they’re teaching these days. The world still feels the effects of those four months in 1898, when that relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors ended more than three centuries of Spanish colonial dominance, commenced more than a century of America’s preeminence on the world stage, and permanently altered, for better or worse, the destinies of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, yet the whole affair is now largely forgotten.
If you keep walking past the park and across the Little Arkansas River toward the east bank of the Arkansas River, just beyond the Mid-America All-Indian Center and its giant Keeper of the Plains statue, you’ll find a series of similar monuments dedicated to the veterans of other wars. One features an old torpedo and honors the men who died aboard the S.S. El Dorado, “One of 57 submarines on eternal patrol,” during the Second World War. Another lists the names of the many local men who died while serving in the Merchant Marines. An austere black marble plaque beneath an American flag is dedicated to all U.S. Marines. There’s a rather elaborate area devoted to the veterans of the Korean War, with a statue, several flags, numerous plaques and a Korean gateway, which wasn’t erected until 2001, long after the controversies of that conflict had subsided.
The veterans of the Vietnam War are honored with a touching statue of an American soldier standing next to a seated South Vietnamese soldier, which was donated by local Vietnamese-Americans as an expression of gratitude to everyone of all nationalities who tried to save their ancestral homeland from communism, and that won’t be formally dedicated until the Fourth of July. We hope the ceremony will be free of protestors, or any acrimony, but even at this late date the feelings engendered by that war remain strong. Some American veterans of the war have publicly complained about the inclusion of non-American soldiers in the veterans’ park, while some who opposed the war have privately grumbled about any monument to the Vietnam conflict at all. Both the memorial and the attending controversy serve as reminders that the effects of that war are still being felt not just by the world but individual human beings.
Walk a few more blocks toward the old Sedgwick County Courthouse and there’s a grand monument to the Wichita boys who went off to fight for the union in the Civil War, featuring the kind of ornate but dignified statuary that Americans of the late 18th Century knew how to do so well, but a more moving memorial can be found clear over on Hillside Avenue in the Maple Grove Cemetery, where there’s a circle of well-kept graves marked by American flags and austere gravestones for the boys who didn’t come back. Throughout the city there are more plaques, statues, portraits, and other small markers to honor the men and women who have fought for their country, and of course a good many gravestones for fallen heroes in every cemetery. This city honors those who fight for its freedom and safety, and that is one reason we are proud to call it home.
There is no monument here to the brave men and women who have fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no memorial to those who died in those far-off lands, but there should be, and soon. Both wars, and especially the Iraq war, have been controversial, and any memorial will be perceived by some as a political statement rather than an expression of gratitude, but it is not too soon to honor the men and women who fought for us. The effects of the wars will outlive us all, and none of us will ever see their ultimate consequences, but there is reason to believe that the establishment of a democracy in the heart of the Islamic middle east and the military defeat of al-Qaeda will prove a boon to humanity, and that is the reason those brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought and died there.
If we wait until the ill feelings subside, we might wait until the war has been largely forgotten. In every city and town of the country there should be something that stands for those who gave their lives for America in Iraq and Iran, and it should be something that will stand for a century or more. Something that will cause the passersby of the 22nd Century to stop and reflect, and to be grateful.

— Bud Norman

A Not-Yet Final Report on Benghazi

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s final report on the Benghazi tragedy comes far too late to change the results of the last the presidential election, and perhaps too early to affect the next one, but it is welcome nonetheless.
Although history’s final report on the matter will surely be even harsher, the report provides a damning indictment of the administration’s competency and honesty as well as a definitive rebuttal to its apologists. The report concludes that an American ambassador and four other Americans were killed in a terrorist attack in the consulate at Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, because the State Department ignored numerous credible warnings to deny them adequate security, and that contrary to the repeated claims of the president and various subordinates during his re-election campaign the deaths were not the result of a spontaneous reaction to an obscure anti-Islamic video but rather a carefully planned military assault by an al-Qaeda-affiliated terror group. Both of these points have long been made in the conservative press, but after the desperate attempts of the administration and its allies in the mainstream media to deny them as right-wing conspiracy-mongering it is nice to have confirmation from a congressional committee dominated by partisan Democrats.
The report further acknowledges that none of the terrorists responsible have suffered any consequences, despite the promises of the administration, and quotes witnesses who frankly admit the political nature of the State Department’s actions before and after the attacks. It doesn’t call into question the disastrous Libyan policy that preceded the attacks, or note the outrageous damage done to the First Amendment when the filmmaker falsely of that anti-Islamic video blamed for the attacks was imprisoned on the pretext of a parole violation, but it’s still strong stuff coming from a committee headed by California’s reliably left-wing Sen. Dianne Feinstein. While some conservative critics have complained that the report does not explicitly blame President Barack Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, neither does it attempt to exonerate the two people ultimately responsible for the conduct of the State Department.
Obama’s brazen lies about Benghazi were sufficient to win him re-election, with considerable help from his adoring allies in the media, and he will therefore be able to maintain his incompetent and dishonest control of the State Department for the next three years. By the time Hillary Clinton begins her widely-presumed campaign for the presidency many Americans will likely agree with her famously callous opinion that “What difference, at this point, does it make,” but one can hope that at least one person responsible for the Benghazi tragedy will at least be held responsible.

— Bud Norman

On the Run

The American government has taken the extraordinary step of closing its embassies in a wide swathe of the Muslim world for a week, and there’s no way of knowing for sure if it’s a good idea. The information that prompted the decision is classified, what has been leaked to the press has no doubt been leaked selectively and reported incompletely, and even in those in the know can’t say with any certainty what might happen next.
This hasn’t stopped the criticism, of course. Some are arguing that even if the terror threat is real it sends a dangerous signal of weakness to be seen hiding from it, and that the better response would be heightened security and defiance. Others are making a case that the temporary closings only force the terrorists to delay their plans for a week, and that if measures can be taken in such a short span of time to thwart the plot they should have been undertaken earlier. Still others are contending that the threat isn’t real, and has been manufactured by the administration for political reasons.
There is no hard evidence for the lattermost school of thought, but the cynicism is understandable nonetheless. At this point any base motivation for the administration’s actions seems all to possible, and the countless lies told about the deadly attack on a consulate in Libya last September 11 prove that president and his advisers regard even matters of national security as subordinate to the political considerations. To further fuel the speculation the embassies are being closed at a time when the country is debating the administration’s invasive intelligence-gathering techniques, with even more controversial details slowly emerging, and the claims of an imminent terror plot have become a talking point for the administration’s defenders in both parties. The talk of a terror plot also comes at a time when the president’s poll numbers are in decline and could use a boost of rally-round-the-president sentiment, leading to the now obligatory talk of a “wag the dog” scenario.
Although plausible, these theories strike us as unlikely. Closing so many embassies for such an extended period of time is a far more elaborate response than a political ploy would require, and hiding Americans away hardly seems calculated to bolster the president’s reputation for boldness. A strategy of shrugging off any controversy as a “phony scandal” has worked well enough for the administration, too, and the debate about the National Security Agency’s methods wasn’t even the most damaging brouhaha afoot. More convincingly, an eminent threat of a serious terror attack is not the sort of lie that President Obama likes to tell.
All of the lies told about the Benghazi debacle, as well as the conceit that the Fort Hood massacre was an act of “workplace violence” committed by overstressed soldier, and that the bombings at the Boston Marathon were caused by the alienation felt by two immigrants who had been insufficiently embraced by American society, were all in service of a bigger lie that the terror threat had receded. During his re-election campaign the president constantly boasted that al-Qaeda was “on the run,” and after it proved a successful pitch he has made the claim that the war against Islamist terrorism was winding down. The president no doubt wishes it were so, as it would vindicate his accommodationist instincts, justify the defense cuts he has always desired, and allow him to spend the money and his time on the domestic initiatives that are most dear to his heart. He might even have believed it, but the embassy closings are an unmistakable admission that Islamist terrorism remains at least as deadly a threat as ever.
Admitting this unpleasant fact creates more political problems for the president than it could ever solve. The administration’s response to terrorism has been a strange brew of drone strikes and apologetic speeches, scanning the phone records of millions of average Americans while failing to heed warnings about specific Muslim suspects, “kill lists” of suspected terrorists in some countries while arming Islamist revolutionaries in others, and it’s suddenly harder to make the case that it’s working.

— Bud Norman

Huma Nature

Of all the weird things about Anthony Weiner’s scandal-plagued run for mayor of New York City, and there are many of them, perhaps the weirdest is the adulation that has been heaped upon his wife.
Some sympathy for a wronged woman is understandable, even if such chivalry is in short supply when conservative women are being slandered by political opponents and foul-mouthed comedians, and any man with a cheating spouse will be ridiculed as a cuckold, but the kind words for Huma Abedin have gone far beyond supportive. Mika Brzezinski at MSBNC tweeted a paean to Abedin’s bravery, Slate magazine wrote of her dignity, and countless commentators tried to outdo one another in praising the extraordinary intelligence of a woman who married a high-tech flasher and national punch line. Perhaps the most worshipful Abedin coverage of all came from New York magazine, where Mark Jacobson wrote that “It was quite possible that she was the most cosmopolitan human being on Earth” and gushed that “Her brown eyes were pools of empathy evolved through a thousand generations of what was good and decent in the history of the human race.”
Aside from the obviously overblown writing, the likes of which has not been since Barack Obama’s first campaign for the presidency, this hyperbole requires a willful ignorance of some basic facts. One need go only one generation in Abedin’s lineage to find some far less than good and decent. Abedin’s father was a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization whose motto declares that “jihad is our way, dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope,” and was a longtime editor of its al Qaeda-financed Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. Abedin’s mother was also a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, a remarkable feat given the organizations medieval misogyny, and assumed control of the JMMA after her husband death’s as well as running an organization called the International Islamic Committee for Woman and Child which was tied to a designated terrorist group calling itself Union for Good.
Lest one think that we are visiting the sins of the father upon the daughter, to paraphrase another religion, Huma Abedin was an executive editor of the JMMA at the same she served as an intern in the Clinton White House — insert your own intern in the Clinton White House joke here — and was an executive board member of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Muslim Students Association while a student at George Washington University.
This resume didn’t keep Abedin from obtaining the necessary security to become an assistant to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with whom she had a famously close relationship, and although it might be entirely coincidental the State Department became ever more accomodationist with the Muslim Brotherhood. The same president that has lately banned College Republicans from his speeches insisted that the Brotherhood be present for his much-hyped oration in Cairo, the organization was effectively ushered into power briefly after Obama insisted that the generally pro-American former dictator Hosni Mubarak resign from office, and Clinton personally intervened to reverse a Bush-era rule prohibiting the Muslim Brotherhood founder’s grandson from entering the country, among other Brotherhood-friendly moves by the administration.
All of which is considered impolite to mention by the pundits who are going on at such length about Abedin’s beauty, bravery, brains, and all-around awesomeness. Aside from the assumed Islamophobia of such quibbles, there’s also Abedin’s famously close relationship with Clinton to consider, after all. Still, we thought it worth mentioning.

— Bud Norman

Bad Guys, Worse Guys, and the Middle East

Perhaps there is some coherent reasoning behind America’s recent foreign policy, which now finds the country backing a bunch of al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist nutcases in the bloody Syrian civil war. If so, it would be nice if someone from the Obama administration could provide the explanation.
To be fair to the Obama administration, not backing the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist nutcases was also a bad option. The Assad regime that the rebels are trying to overthrow is also quite nasty and a threat to American interests, its continued survival would strengthen the position of a troublesome Iranian regime that is rapidly closing in on a nuclear weapons capability, Assad’s use of chemical weapons has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation, and after Obama’s declaration of a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons inaction would further erode America’s credibility in a region where it has already been ceding influence. At this point, with no good guys left in the fight, backing a bunch of al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist nutcases is arguably the least-worst option.
Lest one be too fair, though, it should also be noted that it was a series of blunders that led us to this point. The Obama administration spent years that could have been used bolstering a more democratic and pro-western resistance in a futile attempt to flatter Syria into compliance with international standards of behavior, with the past Secretary of State praising Assad as a “reformer,” which was part of an equally futile effort to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions by the force of sheer niceness, and the “red line” declaration was a bit of too-little, too-late bluster that only boxed the administration into its current lousy options. An conspicuously equivocal relationship with Israel, precipitous withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, the betrayal of a friendly regime in favor of a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, the “lead from behind” toppling of a dictator who had already bowed to American in Libya, the tragic debacle that followed in Benghazi, and a generally apologetic tone all further encouraged defiance from the likes of Assad, and all of the tinpot satraps of the Middle East are probably as a confounded by American foreign policy as we are.
It could get even worse, of course, if American aid to the rebels fails to topple Assad and he and his Iranian allies are able to trumpet their victory over the imperialist crusaders. It could also get worse if the rebels prevail, and they provide yet another model to provoke Islamist uprisings elsewhere and provide state support to terrorism against their former imperialist crusader allies. Things might get better, we suppose, but it’s hard to see how.
There will be the inevitable “wag the dog” theories that Obama is concocting a foreign military adventure to distract attention from the myriad scandals that have suddenly beset his administration, but as much as we are inclined to believe the worst of him it seems implausible. Something is always going on to justify such speculation, which arises with every foreign crisis, and Obama is at least shrewd enough to realize that another war won’t placate a left-wing base smoldering over revelations of an invasive National Security Administration and backing a bunch of al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist nutcases won’t please a right-wing opposition infuriated by the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment. After winning re-election on the argument that al Qaeda has been routed, and telling an audience at the National Defense University that the war on terror is winding down because “That’s what democracy demands,” we suspect that Obama would prefer a juicy celebrity scandal as a distraction rather than another war.
As appealing as the conspiracy theories might be, the more likely explanation is that a combination of bad luck, bad choices, and the inherently dangerous nature of the world have led us to this unpleasant situation. We’ll hope it all works out, somehow, but that’s not how we’ll bet.

— Bud Norman

Insufficient Outrage

More information about the Benghazi terrorism attack was revealed to a House investigative committee on Wednesday, and like everything that was already known about the deadly fiasco it was damning to the Obama administration. Many questions remain unanswered, but at this point the president and his supporters can only wonder how severe the political damage will be.
It should be very severe. After bombing an odious but largely defanged dictator out of power in Libya, and without any of the congressional or United Nations approval that liberals usually demand, the administration sent American diplomatic personnel into the ensuing chaos without the security arrangements that longstanding State Department rules require. Numerous impassioned requests by the highest ranking of those personnel for more security were repeatedly denied, on cables carrying the signature of the Secretary of State, even as the ominous date of Sept. 11 approached. When a terrorist group attacked the consulate in Benghazi on that date and murdered the ambassador and three other brave Americans, normal response procedures were ignored, the president went to bed in order to be fresh for a fund-raiser in Las Vegas, and military units that might have been able to save those under attack were told stand down. Afterwards the president and other members of his administration repeatedly lied to the public that the deaths occurred during a spontaneous demonstration rather than an al-Qaeda terror attack, in service of a broader lie that al-Qaeda had been vanquished. The lie made a scapegoat out of an American who had exercised his constitutional rights by making a little-seen video about Islam, and the filmmaker was soon imprisoned on a parole violation charge that would have surely been overlooked if not for the administration’s dishonest vilification of his work. Investigations into such misfeasance and malfeasance were subsequently thwarted by administrative stonewalling and outright bullying of people with embarrassing information to divulge, and we’re sure we have left out some other disgraceful aspect of the scandal.
In our time a president was forced to resign in disgrace and another was impeached for matters that were trivial by comparison, yet it now seems unlikely that Obama will suffer no such consequences. House Democrats made a half-hearted effort on Wednesday to blame the whole matter of Republican-inspired budget cuts, even though the figures and an internal State Department investigation have refuted such nonsense, but the White House has thus far been content to act as if the matter were a minor mishap of no interest to anyone but their most embittered enemies. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously dismissed a question about her failure to investigate the incident by indignantly asking “What difference, at this point, does it make?” White House press secretary Jay Carney recently characterized the four deaths in Benghazi as something that “happened a long time ago.” Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland added a morbid twist to this insouciant line of defense by musing during Wednesday’s hearings that “Death is part of life.”
Such an audacious response might just work, given the lack of interest among much of the media. Despite the bombshell revelations from Wednesday’s hearings, the big stories of the day on the hourly radio updates were a murder conviction in Arizona and the ongoing investigation of three kidnappings in Ohio. Influential media such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have lately been paying a grudging amount of attention, but without the undisguised outrage that marked their coverage of the minor brouhahas that have afflicted past administrations. More openly partisan outlets have happily echoed the administration’s claim that any attempts to draw attention to the ineptitude and dishonesty are mere political point-scoring. It worked well enough to get the administration through the last election, although the facts known even then were infuriating to anyone paying attention, and it is depressingly possible that it will work well enough to get Hillary Clinton past the next election.
A few bold Republicans in the House seem determined to keep the story in the news, though, and the conservative media will do their best to help. These efforts might not succeed in bringing down the administration, but the president’s critics can take some solace in knowing that there is nothing about the Benghazi story that can help the president.

— Bud Norman

Taking Both Sides

One might have gleaned from the past election an impression that Islamist terrorism had vanished forever after President Barack Obama personally killed Osama bin Laden with his bare hands, but apparently this is not the case. The bombings at the Boston Marathon and the Canadian government’s thwarting of an al-Qaeda plot to commit mass murder on a train heading to the United States are only the most recent events indicating that Islamist terrorism remains a problem.
Thus far the reaction to these events has been largely apolitical, as most of the country remains in one of those moments of post-terrorism unity that punish any attempts at partisan point-scoring, but the necessary arguments about how to proceed will soon commence. Already the well-rehearsed rationalizations are being trotted out in the liberal media, along with the usual hand-wringing about the great Islamophobic backlash that is ever feared but never realized, and the conservative press has begun easing into a full-throated critique of administration policies. All of the familiar points will be reprised, but the debate will be complicated this time around by the shrewdly political nature of Obama’s policies.
Obama has presented himself as a hard-nosed hawk who has continued such Bush-era protocols as indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act, ordered a surge in Afghanistan and prolonged the withdrawal from Iraq along the Bush timetable, prosecuted a terrorist-killing drone war with a ruthlessness that even Bush didn’t dare, and endlessly reminded the public of bin Laden’s death. At the same time he has cultivated a reputation as the Nobel Peace Prize-winning antidote to that awful cowboy Bush, and the impresario of conflict resolution who ordered a decrease in troop strength in Afghanistan and got us out of Iraq, won over Muslim hearts with his exotic background and eloquent apologias to Islamic culture, and banned such nastiness as the enhanced interrogation techniques that led to bin Laden’s death. As political strategy it has been a stunning success, with critics on both the left and right muted and the non-ideological center well satisfied so long as nothing was blowing up. A radical Islamist shouting “Allahu Akbar” killed 12 people at Fort Hood, Texas, but that was easily dismissed as just another instance of workplace violence, and an Islamist terror group killed an ambassador and three other Americans, but that was in some far-away place called Benghazi, Libya, and the Islamist governments being welcomed into power by the administration were reportedly an “Arab Spring,” so it seemed to be working.
Now things are blowing up, and too close to home for the media to ignore, and the policies don’t seem to be working to anywhere near the extent that the president and his supporters have promised. Specific questions will now be asked about the immigration rules that allowed the suspects into the country, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s aborted inquiries into one of the suspect’s increasing radicalization, the legal procedures being used to try the surviving suspect, and other matters arising from the Boston bombing, but there will also be a broader debate about the totality of the administration’s policies. Some will blame the hard-nosed protocols carried over and expanded from the Bush administration, while others will blame the tendencies to legalism, appeasement, and accommodation, but it will be most interesting to hear Obama defend his combination of the two.

— Bud Norman