At Long Last, Assange’s Arrest

Julian Assange has gone from left wing hero to right wing hero to an arrestee of the United Kingdom awaiting extradition to the United States, where there’s no telling what might happen to him next.
By now you probably know that Assange is the founder and publisher and editor and seemingly the only employee of the Wikileaks web site, which has won a worldwide readership by exposing documents illegally obtained from governments around the world. Way back in ’10 he published a trove of documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq obtained from Army Private Bradley Manning, who somehow had access to the material that exposed to American allies and tactics to the enemy, and has since had government-paid sex change surgery and become Chelsea Manning while serving a 35-year prison sentence. Of course he or she became such a cause celebre on the left that his or her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama, which of course outraged everyone on the right.
In ’16 Wikileaks published a trove of illegally hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee that proved embarrassing for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, which might or might not have been but almost certainly were obtained from the Russian government, and at that point the left disavowed Assange and a strange new right embraced him. “I love Wikileaks,” Republican presidential nominee told his enthralled rally crowds, and his apologists were explaining how Assange was no different from The York Times publishing the “Pentagon Papers” about the Vietnam War Daniel Ellsberg had illegally purloined, which the left still celebrates and the right used to consider treason. Trump won the nomination either in spite of or because of his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well the war he draft-dodged in Vietnam, so his embrace of Assange seemed entirely fulsome.
Shortly after becoming a left-wing darling back in ’10 the Swedish government issued a warrant for Assange’s arrest on charges of sexual assault and rape, but Assange claimed he was the victim of a right-wing American plot that the Swedish government was somehow in on and thus gained refuge from the left-wing and anti-American Ecuadorian government at its embassy in the United Kingdom. He’d been stuck inside the building until Thursday, but after Wikileaks recently leaked some documents he was rather brusquely escorted out of the embassy and into the rough arms of the British authorities.
Although we assume that Ecuador’s embassy in London is a pleasant place to be, the years Assange spent entirely inside its walls do not seem to have been unkind. The last photos of Assange showed a rather dashing young fellow with a full head of distinguished wavy white hair, but the video of of him being dragged out showed a crouched and balding fellow with an ugly white beard, clutching a copy of some conspiracy theory book, hardly the sort of heroic figure that either the right or left could embrace.
The Brits plan to turn him over to the Americans, rather than the Swedes, which will surely prove interesting.
The “fake news” National Broadcasting Company has some all-too-real video of Trump praising Wikileaks 141 times at 56 campaign rallies, but on Thursday Trump was telling reporters that “I know nothing about Wikileaks. It’s not my thing. I know there’s something about Julian Assange, I’ve been seeing what happens with Julian Assange. And that will be a determination, I imagine, by the Attorney General.” Meanwhile, Assange’s erstwhile apologists on the left looked almost as ridiculous.
As modestly reluctant as we are to claim the moral high ground, we never did like this Assange fellow. Although we’re free press purists who will defend the publication of the Pentagon Papers, the Wikileaks disclosures revealed the identities of American collaborators who were killed as a result, which was more than the Pentagon paper did and was far more than was necessary to make a case against an arguably unjust American policy, and we think that’s a crucial difference. We never cared much for the Democratic party or its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, but we nonetheless thought it outrageous that someone would illegally hack the party’s e-mails and that her opponent would publicly ask the Russian government to illegally hack her e-mails.
By now Assange is a crouched and balding and white-bearded arrestee with no friends to his right or left, and from our current vantage point on the political sidelines we don’t much care what happens to him, although it will surely take up much news space..

— Bud Norman

A Less Than Optimal Campaign

What a sorry state of affairs for Barack Obama’s re-election campaign when he can’t even go on the Daily Show without feeding another bad news cycle.

In the latest of a series of missteps, the president appeared Thursday on Jon Stewart’s cable television comedy program and described the murder of four Americans during a Sept. 11 terror attack on the embassy in Libya as “not optimal.” The jarring understatement will likely be replayed on various other media, and repeatedly at the conservative outlets, which can’t be helpful to Obama’s cause.

The president’s many die-hard defenders will note that the questioner had introduced the term “optimal,” a slightly mitigating point, but it won’t spare him another day of damning headlines nor spare him the damage of the sound bite. Combined with the widely reported fact that Obama embarked on a fund-raising trip to Las Vegas in the immediate aftermath of the murders, the president’s description of the terror attack as a “bump in the road” during a later interview, and his many week’s of dissembling about the true nature of the incident, the latest statement is likely to bolster an ever more widely held impression that the president’s sympathy for the victims is, well, less than optimal.

Nor is the president in any position to complain that his critics are harping on a mere choice of words, having spent much of the day on harping on Mitt Romney’s brief mention during Tuesday’s debate of considering “binders full of women” while hiring workers during his term as Governor of Massachusetts. The president seemed to find this a most hilarious misstatement during Thursday’s stump speeching, as did several of the commentators at the friendlier cable news services, but after a day’s consideration we’re still unable to find exactly what’s wrong with Romney’s boast.

In a speech to a typically sycophantic crowd the president said that he doesn’t have to resort to binders to find qualified women to work for his administration, presumably because the resumes and background checks and other necessary paperwork are delivered on silver platters or some other such conveyance, but that only attests to Romney’s relative frugality. The tactic also provided unfriendly media such as this to remind readers that Obama’s White House has been described by a woman there as a “hostile workplace” and has a history of paying its women employees less than their male counterparts, and it’s unlikely that voters concerned with the dire state of the economy and the growing dangers of the international scene will agree that Romney’s admirable desire to find qualified women workers, through binders or any other means, are a more significant matter.

Let us hope that many voters will also be slightly irked by a reminder that Obama was appearing on the Daily Show. The appearance was in keeping with the president’s preference for presenting himself mainly on such lightweight programs as The View, Entertainment Tonight, and, as we never tire of mentioning, the Pimp With a Limp’s radio show. This schedule has solidified Obama’s standing as Celebrity in Chief, a title that probably impresses many people who won’t bother to find their way to the voting places, and while that might diminish his stature with the more serious-minded it usually has the compensating advantage of shielding the president from tough questions.

Stewart’s more awe-struck fans will insist that he’s a serious satirist in the tradition of Jonathan Swift or Mark Twain, and an influential conduit of the news to today’s youth, but he’s basically a guy who makes funny faces into the camera and flatters the pretensions of his slacker audience with sneers and snarkiness, and Obama had every reason to expect the usual gentle treatment. Indeed, Stewart’s unfortunate choice of the word “optimal” was seemingly intended to euphemize the situation as much as possible, making it all the more embarrassing that Obama was somehow able to turn it into a snippet for an upcoming Romney ad.

Tuesday’s debate was supposed to be the turning point for Obama’s recently besieged campaign, but all they got out of it was the futile efforts to exploit Romney’s binders, and more harm from the ongoing Libyan fiasco. One word won’t change the campaign, whether it’s “optimal” or “binders,” but there seems to be a cumulative effect of Obama’s self-inflicted wounds.

— Bud Norman

Where the Buck Stops

As the tragedy that occurred in Libya on Sept. 11 becomes an ever greater embarrassment for the Obama administration, the administration’s excuses become ever more desperate.

The latest official line was trotted out in last week’s vice presidential debate when Joe Biden, in between his constant snorts, sighs, and rude interruptions, attempted to deflect the blame onto the State Department for failing to inform the president of repeated requests from the ambassador for more security and onto the House Republicans for cutting for the State Department’s security budget. Obama’s remaining supporters should hope that he comes up with something better for tonight’s debate, because neither argument is convincing.

Even as Biden was pleading Republican-imposed poverty as the reason for the fiasco, we were wondering if the money allocated for security was insufficient or merely misspent according to naïve notions about the Middle East. There were already reports that the Marines were denied ammunition to guard the Egyptian embassy, which had been attacked and trashed by an Islamist mob the same day as the murderous assault in Libya, and it seemed unlikely that the budget was so niggardly that it couldn’t afford a few bullets. Since then the story has proved even more improbable, as we’ve learned that the State Department’s security budget is twice what it was a decade ago, and that there was an extra $2 billion sitting around in the agency coffers earmarked for embassy security. In another example of the administration’s questionable priorities, we’ve also learned that there was enough money in the State Department’s budget to purchase a $108,000 charging station for one embassy’s newly purchased Chevy Volt.

Nor are we impressed with Biden’s claim that the fault lies not with the president but rather with the woman that he appointed to oversee the State Department. Although Hillary Clinton has dutifully accepted responsibility for the failure to provide the necessary security, surely Obama deserves some blame for putting her in charge. Nor does Clinton’s soldierly mea culpa change the fact that she and Obama, as well as several other administration officials, continued to peddle the story that a virtually unknown low-budget video had caused the tragedy, a bald-faced lie that resulted in the imprisonment of a filmmaker and yet another blow to the invaluable tradition of free speech.

Perhaps Obama will be so bold as the reiterate that argument advanced by campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, who has claimed that the death of an American ambassador and three of his brave countrymen in a terror attack by a group supposedly vanquished by the administration would be of no interest to anyone if not for the nitpicking of Mitt Romney. There might be something to that, but if so the country has bigger problems any presidential candidate can possibly remedy.

— Bud Norman