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Your Candidates For Commander-in-Chief, Alas

While President Barack Obama was making another stop on his diplomatic trip to the Far East Wednesday, his would-be successors were appearing on the MSNBC cable network’s “Commander in Chief Forum,” with both spending a half-hour or so answering a series of questions about defense and foreign policy from the National Broadcasting Company’s Matt Lauer and selected members of a an audience comprised mostly of military veterans. None of it, needless to say, was at all reassuring.
A dear friend’s 70th birthday party and a principled lack of cable access kept us from watching the event live, but thanks to the modern miracle of YouTube we were able to watch all the grilling of both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, and without commercial interruption at that. We can’t recommend you do, though, as the lack of direct confrontation between the candidates made for rather dreary viewing.
An unfavorable coin toss determined that Clinton would be given the first half-hour, ending that remarkable 6-for-6 coin-flipping streak that helped her win the Iowa caucus, and her bad luck didn’t end there. She had a well-crafted introductory statement about her long experience in foreign affairs as a First Lady and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Secretary of State, and how it has honed her judgment, but that just walked right into Lauer’s first question about that unindexed and yet ongoing e-mail scandal of hers. She had a well-rehearsed answer acknowledging that it had been a mistake to use a private server for many of e-mail communications, insisted she had used only the government server for anything with a “header” indicating it was classified. She clearly hoped that no one would know that much classifiable information was coming to her attention before it could be classified, and that someone with better judgment would have treated it as such, and that there are plenty of other holes in her story. Alas, the next audience member was an Air Force veteran whose work had required security clearances, and who was convinced that he would have been jailed for the actions Clinton has now admitted, so she had to run through yet another variation on the same unconvincing lines.
Lauer then asked about Clinton’s vote as a senator in favor of the Iraq War, which is by now such an unpopular affair that the Republican nominee is bragging that he had always opposed it and that George W. Bush had lied the country into the mess. Clinton once again apologized for the vote, and rightly noted that Trump’s claims to have been opposed all along are completely baseless, then made a plausible argument that her willingness to admit and learn from mistakes has improved her judgment. Although still on the defensive she seemed to be punching back at that point, but the next question was about that awful deal the Obama administration struck with the Iranians on their nuclear weapons programs.
Clinton first noted about how she had worked to impose harsh sanctions on the Iranian government, without acknowledging that the sanctions had begun under the previous administration, then boasted that had succeeded in forcing Iran to the negotiating table. Given the worse-than-Nevill-Chamberlain sort of appeasement that resulted from the negotiations this hardly seems a success, but at least the worst of the deal was finalized by her successor as Secretary of State. She’ll be very tough in enforcing that awful package of appeasement, Clinton assured the audience, and she also talked tough about Iran’s many other outrages, and we had a certain sense that she was trying to put at least some distance between herself and the Obama administration.
There was also talk about the sorry state of the Veterans Administration, which Clinton can’t be readily blamed for and which she seemed plenty outraged about, and when asked to explain her policy toward the Islamic State “as briefly as you can” she sounded very hawkish even as she promised there would be no ground troops in either Iraq or Syria. She also talked about going after Islamic State leader Bagu al-Baghdadi, “just like we did with Osama bin Laden,” reminding the audience of the Obama administration’s biggest hit of the past seven-and-a-half-years, and finished with a vow to be tough on terrorism but making no promises to prevent it altogether.
Even Trump’s most media-averse admirers would be hard pressed to find fault with Lauer’s performance, which kept Clinton on the defensive through most of the interview. A more thorough interrogation about the e-mails would have required the hours that Republican congressional investigations spent on the matter, so we’ll also give Lauer some reluctant credit for compressing it into a few challenges about her most outrageous claims. Even Clinton’s most die-hard detractors would have to admit that she seemed quite feisty in her defense, however, with none of the coughing fits or fatigue or seizures or other afflictions that have lately been talked about all over the internet, and unless you’re already well aware of what she was talking there were no takeaway gaffes. We imagine that her most avid fans were well pleased with the performance, that her most disdainful detractors were not at all swayed, and that anyone in the undecided ranks would be waiting to hear what the Republican might say.
What the Republican had to say was hard to parse, as usual, but so far as we can tell it boiled down to him saying that everything was going to be great with him in charge, believe him. Asked what experiences he had to demonstrate the judgment to run America’s foreign he mentioned his vast business empire, which includes deals in countries overseas, some of which of are really taking advantage of the rest of the United States, believe him, so surely he could tell when it was necessary to put American military lives in harm’s way. He reiterated his lie that he was speaking out against the Iraq War before it was launched, citing an interview in GQ magazine that appeared about a year into the war as proof, and added that the Obama administration’s withdrawal from Iraq was also a “total disaster.” Trump was asked about his well-known propensity to say outrageous things, and his own recent admission that he has occasionally chosen wrong words, and how that might affect his performance as a head of state, and Trump went on about how certain wrong words were needed to defeat all those more qualified Republican candidates that stood in his way to the nomination. He then mentioned his recent trip to Mexico, where he was respectfully greeted with diplomatic protocol and didn’t say anything to get him kicked out, then bragged that the trip had been so successful that some Mexican official who arranged the trip was fired due to the Mexican public’s ensuing outrage over the invitation.
Lauer revived an old Trump quote claiming to know more about the Islamic State than the American military’s generals did, and Trump noted that the generals have no been successful thus far, although he blamed Obama and Secretaries of State Clinton and John Kerry for the failure, and that there might well be an entirely different group of generals he’ll be dealing with that, and that they’ll be the types who won’t have MacArthur and Patton spinning in their graves. He even suggested that his secret plan for defeating the Islamic State will await the 30 days he’s giving the generals to come up with their own plan, and that their might might even be incorporated into his secret plan, but in any case it’s going to be a great plan, believe him.
Whatever that plan might turn out to be, be assured that if it amounts to any military action at all it’s going to include plenty of old-fashioned plunder. Trump has embraced the far-left’s chants about “Bush lied, people died,” but he clearly has no use for that “No blood for oil” slogan, and explained that “I’ve always said we shouldn’t be in there, but if we’re going to get out, take the oil.” At this point Lauer made a rare interruption to ask how that might be accomplished, and Trump acknowledged that some people would be “left behind” to get the job done, and Lauer didn’t ask how many of these people there would be, or how many soldiers and airmen would be needed to protect them, much less the many hundreds of miles of pipelines and supply lines need for the project, not to mention the fallout from the inevitable worldwide outrage over the planet’s mightiest military power claiming waging openly proclaimed wars of plunder.
A woman who was introduced as a Democrat and a graduate of the first West Point class to include women got to ask a question about illegal immigrants being allowed in the military, seeming to favor the idea herself, and she got a big hand for that first woman West Pointer distinction, and with his usual keen sense of the crowd Trump said he would work with that. The next questions were about Russia, though, and not so easily handled.
Whatever concerns the people of Mexico or those unfortunate oil-rich lands currently held by the Islamic State might have about a Trump administration, the future of Russo-American relations look rosy indeed, believe him. Trump once again confidently predicted he would have “a good relationship with Putin, and a very good relationship with Russia,” again promised that “as long as he says good things about me, I’ll say good things about him,” protested an interjection by Lauer about the likelihood that Putin’s government hacked the Democratic National Committee by saying “nobody knows that for a fact,” lamented that Obama and Putin were photographed exchanging icy stares during the Group of 20 summit, and seemed sure he’d get a more respectful Air Force One greeting from the Russians than Obama got from the Chinese. Trump suggested a possible alliance with the Russians against the Islamic State, made no mention of Russia’s aggression in Georgia and the Ukraine and threats against much of the rest of the former Soviet empire, and when asked about such issues he said “it’s possible” that Putin will abandon his revanchist ambitions in the event of a Trump administration.
Trump was also asked about the VA, a problem he also cannot be credibly blamed for and is plenty outraged about, and he offered what seemed a sensible idea of providing vouchers for veterans to seek care in the private sector when waiting lines at the government-run doctor’s office became dangerously long. Clinton had scored some points with the veterans by opposing “privatization,” which according to the polls even scares veterans in this day and age, and we note that Trump took pains to insist his plan wasn’t “privatization.” We’d prefer a capitalist-minded Republican who’d embrace the term and make the compelling case for it, and there’s no better case to be made for it than government-run health care, but these days that’s too much to ask for. One of the last questions was about the large number of sexual-harassment charges being alleged in the military, and Trump was reminded of a “tweet” that read “What did these geniuses think when they put men and women together?,” and he defended it by saying “Many people say that.” He added that it was necessary to keep the military court system, and then later that we need to establish a military court system, and he did come out forthrightly in favor of imposing consequences for sexual assaults.
Lauer’s now being pilloried by the left for failing to press Trump on many of these statements, but from our never-Trump perspective on the right we’ll grudgingly concede that it would have been awful hard to compress all the questions into a mere half-hour. With about two-thirds of Clinton’s interview spent on the defensive we’ll have to kick our feet against the sand and lower our heads and say it seemed fair enough, all in all, and that the candidates had only themselves to blame.
Trump probably came out of it slightly better than even, poll-wise. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters got the the “take their oil” rhetoric they’ve come to expect, while Trump’s most die-hard opponents will glumly concede that at least he didn’t repeat his talk about the indiscriminate torture of detainees and the killing of their civilian relatives and the neo-con overreach of the past 16 years of American foreign policy, and the sensitive souls of the Huffington Post were even worried that might have seem slightly presidential to those who can’t spare the time to think through the implications of that “take their oil” policy. Most of Trump’s most disdainful opponents won’t bother with that, either, but in any case they’ll not be swayed.
Clinton and Trump will face each other head-to-head later this month, unless Clinton succumbs to fatal illness or Trump finds some scheduling or moderator issue as an excuse to dodge it, depending on which internet rumors you prefer to believer, and that might be more fun. At this point, though, we don’t expect it will be any more reassuring.

— Bud Norman

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When It’s All So Awful It All Cancels Out

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee delivered an address on Wednesday about why the presumptive Democratic presidential is obviously unfit for the presidency, and we can’t see how any fair-minded individual might disagree he he made a very persuasive case. We’ve been earnestly pleasing the very same case since way back when the presumptive Republican nominee was saying the the presumptive Democratic nominee would make a great Secretary of State and was contributing to her phony-baloney family foundation and inviting her to his third wedding, and although we’d like to think we did so with more thoroughness and a more Swift-ian wit and less hypocrisy we concede he did a pretty good job of explaining why that awful woman should never be allowed to become president.
With characteristic bluntness he called her a “world-class liar” and the “most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” and convincingly backed up the slurs with a familiar and well-established litany about the past decades of lies and corruption and other assorted scandals that have dogged her for her song long they’re now dismissed as “old news.” The speech would have had to have gone on as long as a Phillip Glass opera to include all the lies and corruption that we’ve dutifully passed along about the presumptive Democratic nominee over the years, so we can’t fault the presumptive Republican nominee for his lack of thoroughness, and we freely acknowledge that his rhetorical bluntness has proved far more effective than our Swift-ian wit, but we do worry that the blatant hypocrisy somehow blunted the message.
The presumptive Republican nominee’s speeches quite rightly denounced the presumptive Democratic nominee’s phony-balony family foundation as an influence-peddling scheme, but his fans will have to console themselves that his own six-figure contribution to that scam and his past boasts of buying political influence elsewhere just goes to show what a shrewd businessman he is. The presumptive Republican nominee quite rightly criticizes the presumptive Democratic nominee’s decision as Secretary of State to overthrow the odious-but-largely-defanged dictatorship of Libya’s dictatorial regime and boasts that he was more prescient about the matter, even though you can still watch the YouTube video of the presumptive Republican nominee urging the same disastrous policy as the presumptive Democratic nominee, and he’s running against her vote for the second Iraq War, falsely claiming that he was against it all along and now staking out the disproved andleft-of-the-presumptive-Democratic-nominee claim that “Bush lied, people died.” The presumptive Republican nominee’s otherwise convincing critiques of his erttwhile friend and new-found enemy’s “re-set” policy with Russia are undermined by how his own staff’s friendly business relationship with the nasty dictatorship there, and his unsettling “bromance” with that country’s dictator, and given how much the average voter pays attention to this stuff in these post-Cold War days we’d call it a draw. Although we pay far more attention to these matters than average voters, our experience of the average voter suggests we’d also have to call it a draw.
A few days ago the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was giving her own big speech about how the presumptive Republican nominee was a world-class liar and a thoroughly corrupt person, and except for the utter hypocrisy of such a world-class liar and thoroughly corrupt person complaining about him we didn’t find anything that fair-minded person wouldn’t agree with. Which is we find ourselves in these hot and sultry summer pre-convention days, and we can only hope for cooler temperatures come fall.

–Bud Norman

The Washington Post and the Rest of the Post-American World

These are dark times for such war-mongering neoconservative globalists as ourselves, as all our crazy notions about America being obligated by whatever’s left of its global economic and military and moral superiority to play a leadership role in maintaining some semblance of international order are clearly out of fashion. By now such an established institution as The Washington Post is convincingly arguing that the presumptive Republican nominee is running to the peacenik-left of the presumptive Democratic nominee, and giving him a strange new respect for it.
The presumptive Republican nominee loves to assail the press in general and The Washington Post in particular, as does every Republican politician, and he’ll no doubt have plenty of perfectly reasonable reasons to do so over the course of the campaign, as does every Republican politician, but even such a thin-skinned sort as Donald J. Trump would be hard-pressed to find any fault with a remarkable recent opinion piece by Post stalwart Marc A. Theissen. The author obligingly provided some heartening quotes from the presumptive Democratic nominee’s recent big foreign policy speech about how “If America doesn’t lead, we leave a vacuum,” but he seemed to do so with appropriate sarcasm, and how she promised to “go toe-to-toe” with Russian strongman leader Vladimir Putin, but he added the necessary point that she was the one who offered the ridiculous “re-set” button that emboldened all of Putin’s revanchist ambitions, and how she emphasized the need to “stick with our allies,” but he also noted that she was also in on the sell-out of Poland and the Czech Republic over a previously-agreed-upon missile defense deal, and how “we should listen to the generals,” but he rightly noted that she was also in on the disastrous pull-out from Iraq that all the generals warned against. He noted her all-too-plausible argument that Trump is “temperamentally unfit” to be Commander in Chief, but we couldn’t help sensing a certain amount of appropriate sarcasm there about her own questionable temperamental fitness, and when he quoted her all-too-plausible argument about Trump’s “affection for tyrants” he rightly noted that Clinton once described the tyrannical Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer” and the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak as a “friend of the family.”
The essay also quotes Trump saying that “I’m the one who didn’t want to go into Iraq, folks, and she’s the one who stupidly raised her hand to go into Iraq and destabilize the entire Middle East,” and the characteristically un-parsable “Her decision to go into — and this was her baby, Libya — was a disaster,” and politely adds without any question that Trump has boasted of his opposition to both of those ill-fated wars. Since the reliably left-wing Washington Post suddenly won’t bother to fact-check these claims by the presumptive Republican nominee, it’s left to such right-bastards as ourselves to note that both boasts are typical of the lies that he routinely tells. While all the other shallow B-list celebrities from the Dixie Chicks to the Kardashians to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama were loudly stating their widely-quoted opposition to the Iraq War, Trump’s only public utterance on the matter came on Howard Stern’s shock-jock radio show, presumably in between the usual talk about nude lesbian strippers, and on that august occasion he was clearly if reluctantly in favor of it, with his reluctance apparently stemming from a regret that he hadn’t been in charge of the first Iraq War and made that turn out more wonderfully. As for the Libyan debacle, you and your lying eyes and ears can still watch and listen to Trump on YouTube prior to the war urging that we topple the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, who was undeniably an awful dictator but had largely been neutralized as a threat to national security after he gave up his weapons of mass destruction as a result of that second Iraq War that Trump now lies about having been against along.
It’s admittedly a matter of opinion rather than fact, but in the highly unlikely case we were ever stalwarts at The Washington Post we would have also argued that Trump’s implied assertion that prior to the Iraq War the Middle East was in any meaningful sense “stable” suggests he wasn’t paying much attention at the time, and that there’s nothing in Trump’s casino-and-strip-joint or scant foreign policy career to suggest that the Libyan War he so ardently urged on YouTube would have turned out any better under his guidance. Although we’ve been loathing and criticizing and ridiculing Clinton since long before those good old days when the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee was saying what a great Secretary of State she would be and inviting her to his third wedding and contributing to her phony-baloney influence-peddling “family foundation,” we’d also be obliged that to agree that her opponent is indeed temperamentally unfit to Commander in Chief and does indeed have an affinity for tyrants, and that Mubarak was at least better than the Muslim Brotherhood crazy that her administration eventually helped install, and that it wasn’t her vote for the Iraq War but rather her early retreat from the cause that make us loathe her, and that the presumptive Republican nominee is the one now insisting on the absurd calumny that “Bush lied, people died.” This sorry state of affairs might please one of the stalwarts at The Washington Post, but it portends dark times to such war-mongering neoconservative globalists such as ourselves.
In truth we have no affinity for war, there’s nothing the least bit “neo” about our Burkean and Old Testament and life-long conservatism, and although we’re rooting for the whole planet to do well we’ve long believed that America’s former idealistic exceptionalism would best shine the light to that long-sought path toward peace and prosperity. As we’ve said many times, our reading of history suggests that when there is no Pax Hellenica or Pax Romana or Pax Brittanica or Pax Americana there is no pax at all, and for now such crazy notions are clearly out of fashion in both parties and on the pages of such established institutions as The Washington Post. The presumptive Democratic nominee is lucky to be at long last rid of a self-described socialist challenger who was undeniably pristine on his anti-Iraq War views, she’s now running against a presumptive Republican nominee who goes even further than any of them with his absurd “Bush lied, people died” calumny, neither have any idea how to maintain America’s economic primacy and both are promising to maintain America’s military superiority on the cheap, and neither are capable of expressing any belief in America’s exceptionalism, and neither provide any convincing case for it. That stalwart at The Washington Post seems to hope the self-described socialist Sanders’ fans will be drawn to Trump, and to worry that some war-mongering neoconservative globalist Republicans such as ourselves will be swayed that Clinton at least hasn’t suggested starting a nuclear arms race in east Asia and breaking up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance and re-negotiating all the economic arrangements that have  also been the lynchpin of the semblance of international order in the relatively peaceful and prosperous post World War II-era, but a shrewd old friend of ours at a local hipster dive says that foreign policy questions rarely affect a presidential election, and he’s probably more right about that than the stalwarts at The Washington Post. So at this point we have no idea how it will turn out.
In these dark times our best advice to the rest of the world, which we are rooting for even in our most patriotic and nationalist fervor, is to prepare for the next phase of the post-Pax Americana planet. An America reduced to choosing between this go-round’s godawful choices of presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees will surely leave the rest of the world on its own, for better for worse.

— Bud Norman

A New Year Opens in the Middle East

Unsurprisingly enough, the first big story of the year is coming at us from the Middle East. That constantly troubled region was already troublesome enough for the rest of the world, what with civil wars breaking out in Syria and Libya and Yemen and elsewhere and the refugees spilling into the west in unmanageable numbers and ballistic missiles test being conducted by aspiring nuclear powers and terrorist attacks occurring from Paris to San Bernardino, but now we’ve got that whole Shi’ite versus Sunni thing coming to a head with increased tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The Shi’ite versus Sunni thing goes back more than 1,400 years, and so far as we can tell has something do with whether Mohammad’s family or closest friends should have inherited his spiritual authority, but we’ll skip ahead to the present day when Iran is the most powerful Shi’ite country and Saudi Arabia is the most important Sunni country and the old hatreds still persist. The two countries were already fighting proxy wars in Yemen, where Iran-backed rebels had overthrown the Saudi-backed government, and in an even more complicated war in the former portions of Iraq and Syria that are now controlled by the Islamic State, which is Sunni but threateningly crazy even by Saudi standards, where the Saudis’ ineffectual fighters are also opposed by the Iran-backed Syrian regime and their suddenly dominant Russian ally, but now the tensions have again  been significantly increased. After a couple of decades of imprisonment the Saudis chose the date of January Second to execute, by beheading or firing squad, 46 crazy-even-by-Saudi-standards Sunni terrorists and one prominent Shi’ite cleric. That lattermost execution seemed calculated to inflame Shi’ite sensibilities and quickly led to an arson assault on by an angry mob on the Saudi embassy in Iran, which was clearly tolerated by the otherwise repressive Iranian regime. Since then there’s been a suspension of diplomatic ties and talk of outright war, as well as the usual diplomatic dissembling.
It’s enough to roil the international stock markets and recall Iran’s past assaults on its guest embassies and spur conspiracy theories about how the plunging price of oil is provoking a mutually beneficial war, and it’s bound to affect the ongoing politics of the United States of America. Even such harsh critics are ourselves won’t blame the Obama administration for the more-than-1,400-year-old Sunni versus Shi’ite thing, but even the administration’s most determined apologists can’t muster an argument that the past seven years of American foreign policy have worked out well. The retreat from Iraq is looking very much like a mistake, even if America’s entry into the country is so widely regarded as a mistake that even the leading Republican candidates feel obliged to say so, and that awful deal giving Iran $150 billion and no meaningful restraints on the nuclear weapons program they’ve been flouting ever since it went unsigned is looking more awful than ever, the planned retreat from still-troublesome Afghanistan now looks as if it might await another administration or two, and even modern liberalism’s exquisitely well-intentioned guiding principle about abandoning traditional allies and extending open hands to traditional enemies is now clearly called into question.
The Republicans will be challenged to come up with a plausible solution to this more-than-1,400-year-old mess, and we have little confidence they will, but we expect that even the most stridently xenophobic and reactionary policies they propose will seem more plausible than whatever the Democrats can come up with. The Democrats are by now obliged to pretend that whatever ails the world surely has nothing to do Islam, and that whatever more-than-1,400-year-old problems do seem to be occurring can surely be blamed on George W. Bush’s crazy cowboy ways, and that at any rate climate change is the more pressing concern, so we expect they’ll find themselves in a defensive position by Election Day. There’s no telling what will happen between now and then, but another terror attack on the west seems more likely than an outbreak of peace.
We have little regard for the terror-supporting and theologically totalitarian but not quite so crazy as Islamic State regime of Saudi Arabia, and none whatsoever for the terror-supporting and theologically totalitarian and soon-to-be-nuclear-armed regime of Iran, and at this point our only rooting interesting in the region is for democratic and humane Israel and the last of the Christians and Yazidis and Zoroastrians and secular agnostics and other religious minorities in that dismal part of the world, and we won’t pretend to have solutions to this more-than-1,400-year-old problem. Something different is obviously called for, however, and one way or another we do expect that will eventually occur.

— 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

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

Revising the Foreign Policy Theory

As improbable as it might seem in retrospect, the theory underlying the Obama foreign policy when it was unveiled during the 2008 presidential campaign was that because of the candidate’s African heritage, Arabic middle name, Muslim schooling, and Messianic persona, “The day I am inaugurated, not only will the country look at itself differently, the world will look at America differently.” Throw in some silver-tongued and culturally relativist rhetoric, a bit of “daylight” between Israel and America, and other assurances that America had abandoned its past racist and imperialist bellicosity, we were assured, and the past millennia-and-a-half of unpleasant would cease. This fanciful notion had an understandable appeal to a war-weary country, but after seven years it requires a bit of revision.
The promised withdrawal from the hated war in Iraq has ceded control of a third of the country to the barbaric Islamic State, with the rest of the country increasingly reliant on the support of Iran, which has lately been backing a successful revolt against the American-backed government in Yemen, which the administration continues to cite as a model of its anti-terrorism strategy, complicating the administration’s efforts to capitulate to all of Iran’s demands in its negotiations over that country’s nuclear weapons program, which has already prompted Saudi Arabia to join a nuclear arms race in this volatile region. The Syrian civil war continues to rage despite the use of chlorine gas by the Syrian dictatorship, which once again crosses the president’s declared “red line,” which was supposed to have been settled through “re-set” relations with Russians, who continue to occupy large chunks of Ukraine and seem ready to grab more land. Libya continues its descent into chaos since being bombed into anarchy by a coalition “led from behind” by America, Afghanistan anxiously awaits the results of another American withdrawal, and Iran continues its reach into Lebanon and Jordan. There’s by now enough daylight between Israel and America to fill an Alaskan summer, enough to have scuttled any chance of a promised peace agreement with the Palestinians, yet our negotiating partners in Iran continue to chant “Death to America” and the rest of the Muslim doesn’t seem any more friendly.
Such a conspicuous gap between between what was promised and what has occurred requires some explanation, even for the most credulous press, so the reporters at Politico dug deep into their rolodexes and found some ambitious unnamed officials who were willing to give it a try. Someone described as a “Senior State Department official” went so far as to say that “If there’s one lesson this administration has learned, from President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech through the Arab Spring, it’s that when it comes to this region, nothing happens in a linear way — and precious little is about us, which is a hard reality to accept.” We are heartened to hear that the administration has learned something over the past six years, and can appreciate how hard it must have been to accept that not everything that happens in the Middle East is about us, given their previous deep-seated beliefs that all the pathologies of the Middle East are entirely America’s fault, but we’re not reassured the right lessons have been learned.
The administration still seems intent on whatever bargain the Iranians might agree to, with a recent Iranian defector saying “the U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf,” although all the linear and non-linear ways that might turn out are catastrophic. Its apologists continue to blame the blame the policies of the previous administration, and by extension the previous 200 years of American foreign that sought to protect the country’s interests, even as they insist it is no longer about us. There is retreat on one front, drone strikes on another, and alliances that seem to mean little in terms of useful support on yet another. There is little reason to believe the administration understands that while events are always beyond America’s control they are rarely beyond its influence, that the more strident passages of the Koran and the Hadith have something to do with conflicts that have been ongoing since long before the founding of the American public, or that the relatively tiny population of Jews in the relatively tiny country of Israel aren’t somehow responsible for the whole mess.
One promise kept has been that the world now sees America differently. The world now sees us as an untrustworthy friend and harmless enemy. Perhaps America also sees itself differently, too, but we hope not.

— Bud Norman

Foul Language and Fouler Policies

The vulgar language an unnamed senior White House official used to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is getting all the attention, but The Atlantic Monthly story headlined “The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations is Officially Here” is full of far more disturbing revelations. Even a crisis in America’s relationship with its most important Middle East ally might not be the worst of it.
Not that the vulgarity isn’t worth noting. The unnamed senior White House official used a barnyard epithet commonly understood to mean coward, which is a most peculiar slander against a former special forces soldier who fought with distinction in two wars and a series of daring missions and as Prime Minister has led his country through existential wars, and odder yet coming from an official speaking on behalf of a former community organizer who will never be mistaken for Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and has long made clear that he considers Netanyahu all too inclined to fight. Senior White House officials astute enough to remain unnamed are not likely to have let such a phrase slip out accidentally, so one can only assume that the insult was carefully chosen.
What renders the insult completely absurd, however, is that the official was accusing Netanyahu of cowardice for failing to launch a war against Iran that the United States government has exerted great effort to prevent. The unnamed senior White House official even boasts that Israel’s failure to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons program “was a combination of our pressure and (Netanyahu’s) own unwillingness to do anything dramatic.” So the administration will deliberately insult a key ally as a coward for not doing something they had pressured him not to do, a mindset far more worrisome than the juvenile language used to express it. Netanyahu is also faulted for failing to “reach an accommodation with the Palestinians and Sunni Arab states,” as if a Palestinian government that lobs rockets at Israeli civilians and proudly proclaims its desire to destroy the Jewish state has any interest in making peace, and as if the Sunni Arab states aren’t currently more worried about the nuclear program in Shiite and Persian Iran that the United States has restrained Israel from destroying, so there’s no mistaking that America is pursuing a Middle Eastern policy based on false assumptions.
The historically crucial relationship between Israel and the United States can be repaired by a new administration in this country, and Netanyahu has proved himself brave enough to continue the defense of his country no matter what unnamed senior White House officials might think of it, but the article hints at possibilities that will be harder for future presidents to deal with. Written by a noted sycophant for the White House and clearly intended to convey its sneering contempt for a key ally, the article credits the administration’s cunning use of an Israeli for “what turned out to be an effective sanctions regime,” but it fails to mention that the sanctions have been weakened and the nuclear program continues and doesn’t seem to notice that unnamed senior White House official seems mostly relieved that it’s “Now too late” for a military strike that would end it. That pressure that the official boasts about was achieved largely with promises that America will never allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon, but at this point even a sycophantic article in The Atlantic Monthly leaves an unmistakeable impression that was just another promise never intended to be kept. No one named or unnamed in the administration speaks as harshly of Iran’s brutal theocratic rulers as they do about the leader of the one humane and democratic nation in the region, the White House has kept its “open hand” policy intact despite the worries it causes those Sunni Arab nations that Israel is expected to accommodate, further overtures to the Iranians have been made in the futile hope they will help in our desultory efforts to fight the Islamic State terror gang that continues to gain territory in Iraq, and an Iranian bomb now seems a fait accompli.
Senior White House officials can be expected to deliver on-the-record speeches about containment and moral equivalence and deterrence and other reasons not to be worried about a nuclear bomb in the hands of a government that routinely shouts “Death to America,” but we will not be reassured. Cold War analogies are always suspect coming from a party that advised surrender in that conflict starting with the McGovern campaign and continues to decrease America’s nuclear defenses, and the mutually assured destruction that worked with an officially atheist communist government might not work out as well with an apocalyptic suicide cult hoping to bring about the arrival of the twelfth mahdi and the prophesied end times. Those Sunni Arab states that the administration wants the Israelis to appease will probably seek their accommodations with Pakistan-provided nuclear weapons of their own when their mortal enemy acquires one, especially when it has been made so clear that America’s protection cannot be counted on, and a nuclear arms race in a region so riven with ancient hatreds and fanaticism is unlikely to end well. At that point, even the most vulgar language will be required to describe the outcome.

— Bud Norman

When the Scapegoats Bite Back

Having grown up on cloak-and-dagger movies, a favorite genre of our father, we know better than to provoke the wrath of an espionage agency. Those guys are always portrayed as ruthlessly efficient sorts, and they’ve put more athletic and handsome men than ourselves in perilous situations we do not wish to endure, so we make it a point not to say anything unflattering about them. President Barack Obama has apparently been watching too many “chick flicks” and arty independent releases, however, as he’s foolhardily started a public relations fight with the entire intelligence community.
It’s all a result of that Islamic State terror gang that’s lately been conquering huge swaths of Syria and Iraq and spreading the most gruesome sort of mayhem along the way, including the widely publicized beheadings of two Americans and other westerners. The situation is all the more embarrassing for the president because he had run for re-election on the boasts that American troops had been withdrawn from a stable and secure Iraq, that Islamist terrorism was “on the run” and “the tide of war is receding,” and that as recently as last winter he was telling a fawning interviewer that the Islamic State terror gang was the “jayvee team” of Islamist terrorism and nothing to worry about. Now that the “jayvees” are within a mile or so of Baghdad that the president is insisting he never called them that, a claim so preposterous that even the friendliest press won’t pretend otherwise, so he’s been casting about for another explanation that confirms his infallibility. What he came up with during a recent interview with “60 Minutes,” which is where Democratic presidents go to get some much-needed sympathy, is that his Director of National Intelligence has already volunteered that the intelligence community got it wrong.
The Director of National Intelligence might have professional reasons to throw himself under the proverbial bus, but his underlings in the various agencies are apparently less willing to take the blame. They’ve responded not with wristwatch-laser beams fountain pen explosives or the other high-tech gadgetry that always figures in the movies, but rather by reaching into their old fashioned Rolodexes for the phone numbers of well-placed reporters who owe them favors. No less a fancy-schmantzy newspaper than The New York Times, which has previously been willing to re-write the history of the Iraq war and the rules of English grammar to accommodate the president, was indebted enough to its deep-cover sources to produce a damning rebuttal to the administration line. According to the inevitably unnamed but assuredly senior intelligence and military sources, the president had been warned in alarmed language as early as late last year about the rising threat of the Islamic State but failed to pay heed.
One wonders that those unnamed sources were owed, because a close reading of the article buttresses conservatives articles that The New York Times is usually inclined to ridicule. Even the token right-winger at The Washington Post was allowed to note that it shows that Obama’s decision to withdraw all troops from Iraq rather than negotiate a new status of forces agreement has proved unwise, that the resulting sectarian violence was foreseeable, and that the president ignored the intelligence community’s warnings for political and ideological reasons. All of these revelations feed a growing public perception that the president is too busy with golf and fund-raising to be a serious steward of America’s foreign policy, and it doesn’t help to have new revelations about how often he skips his national security briefings altogether. The last time this was in the news was right after the tragic fiasco at the American consulate in Benghazi, when the administration laughed it off with claims that the president didn’t need to question is advisers because unlike his illiterate predecessor he could read reports and was “among the most sophisticated consumers of intelligence on the planet.” That explanation was sufficient to win the president re-election, but with the Islamic State at the gates of Baghdad and the cloak-and-dagger guys now in full revolt it might not prove as effective in the upcoming mid-terms.

— Bud Norman