A Big Blast in Afghanistan

America’s war in Afghanistan has dragging on for so long that by now most Americans have largely forgotten about it, but it was back in the news on Thursday with a literal bang. The Air Force dropped the Mother of All Bombs on an Islamic State encampment, and that’s not just Trumpian hyperbole but the actual nickname of the weapon.
The official moniker is Massive Ordinance Air Blast, but the initials naturally inspired the more apt term that all the military types apparently use. It weighs 22,000 pounds, packs a net explosive weight of 18,700 pounds, and is said to be the most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever deployed in the long history of war. That’s still probably insufficient to bring a conclusion to what is already America’s longest-running military conflict, but surely enough to have a literal impact on the Islamic State.
Such serious ordinance suggests a renewed American seriousness about the Afghanistan war, and the broader war on terror, so even if it doesn’t serve any broader military strategy that’s good enough for us. There can be no pity for the Islamic State savages that the bomb fell on, who are just one of the problems we face in Afghanistan but a bigger threat in Iraq and Syria and all the places around the globe where they’ve pulled off terror attacks, and it’s hard to pass up such a golden opportunity to eliminate so many of them in one fell swoop. Although the Islamic State usually embeds itself in civilian areas the target was carelessly free of any non-combatants, and the Russians and Iranians and Sunni Arabs and other players that make fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria so complicated don’t care about godforsaken and mostly oil-free and perpetually troublesome Afghanistan, and that big bomb had been sitting around in a warehouse for years with no good reason not to use it. A 22,000 pound bomb can’t be launched from even an almighty B-52 or placed atop even the most powerful missiles and instead has to be pushed out of a cargo plane, meaning it’s only useful against enemies who lack even World War II-vintage anti-aircraft systems, so that’s another reason to grab the rare chance to try it out on the likes of the Islamic State.
Coming shortly after the 59 Tomahawk missiles that were launched at an airbase in the trickier Syrian terrain, it also sends a potentially useful signal of resolve. President Donald Trump’s administration has since sent mixed signals about that Syrian strike, with the Secretary of State warning that anybody who murders young children anywhere in the world can expect more of the same and the White House Press Secretary stressing that what the president had said just a days before about not being the policeman of the world still applied, and those more conventional bombs don’t seem to have stopped that airbase from launching it’s own conventional bombs in its long-running civil war, but the message with the Mother of All Bombs probably won’t be so muddied. Although the Syrian strike eked out a 51 percent approval ratings in the first poll, there was also heated criticism from both the peacenik left and the isolationist right, as well as principled constitutional conservatives who had insisted that President Barack Obama seek congressional approval for such an action and the sorts of intellectually honest liberals who had to admit they had defended Obama’s inaction. Trump himself had also urged inaction at the time, and “tweeted” the missiles strikes were only used to prop up sagging poll number, and plenty of others on both left and right proved just as flip-floppy, and there’s no telling where they might all flip and flop to next.
What just happened in Afghanistan is a whole lot simpler, though, in military as well as domestic and international politics terms. America went to war in Afghanistan because that is where the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were launched, and similar intolerable acts were still being planned, and not just President George W. Bush but also future Democratic presidential nominees John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and the United Nations Security Council and the leaders of pretty much every decent democratic nation agreed that was sufficient reason to wage war there. Since then there’s been plenty of argument about how it should be fought, although the troop levels and casualty rates have lately been so low you wouldn’t have noticed it during the past campaign, but even after so many years there’s still a bipartisan consensus that America remains entitled to drop any old bomb on that troublesome land that it chooses.
Trump’s action was still empowered by the military authorization that bipartisan majorities granted way back when it all started, too, so there’s no trouble with the argument that critics on both the left and right are raising about the constitutionality of that Syrian strike, and it’s not the same betrayal of his isolationist campaign rhetoric, which also included explicit promises to bomb the barnyard epithet out of the Islamic State. The Russians still want nothing to do with Afghanistan ever again, the Syrians and Iranians and their Sunni antagonists have little reason to care, the United Nations and all the decent democratic nations have more pressing concerns, and the Democrats have better fights to pick, so we can hope that he’s taking advantage of a rare opportunity take care of some business in Afghanistan. Should Trump administration articulate how it’s serving some broader strategic purpose, which it very well might, that would also be nice.
There’s really no getting out of Afghanistan until we leave a country that’s unlikely to ever try anything like Sept. 11 again, and even that low bar seems awful high for a long time to come, and unlikely to be achieved even with the Mother of All Bombs, but with low troop levels and relative-to-the-history-of-war low casualties America has kept the country’s long history of hate from infecting the rest of the world for the past 16 years or so. Such small victories aren’t satisfying to any American, and especially to such accustomed-to-winning-big-league types as Trump, but that’s how the score is kept in a season that’s arguably been lasting the Seventh Century or so.
Dropping that Mother of All Bombs on a remote and conveniently civilian-free camp full of murderous Islamic State thugs during a unique opportunity to do so was a good idea, and kudos to the generals who came up with it and the president who listened to them, despite his campaign promise that he knew more about the Islamic State than the generals did. We’ll count it as one of those small victories in a long, long war, and faintly hope that Trump will settle for that claim.

— Bud Norman

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The Democratic Panic

Although the presidential election is still more than 15 months away, and the odious Donald Trump is currently atop the polls in the Republican race, it’s none too early for the Democrats to panic. The situation is now so desperate that such names as Vice President Joe Biden, former Vice President Al Gore, and current Secretary of State John Kerry are being bandied about.
Ever since she lost in ’08 the conventional wisdom has assumed Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic presidential nominee for ’16, but on this date in ’15 it no longer seems so wise. All the opinion polls have lately been brutal, with majorities of Americans finding her untrustworthy, a plurality of Democratic voters in the crucial first primary state of New Hampshire preferring her self-described socialist rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and her lead over potential Republican rivals in swing states has evaporated. The press has lately been just brutal, with apologetic reports dripping out about the Federal Bureau of Investigation involving itself in the matter of the private e-mail account she used to conduct public business, which naturally reminds everyone of the past 23 years of Clinton scandals, and then there’s the problem that she’s an inept politician and a thoroughly unlikeable sort and too tied up with corporations to pass muster with a currently far-left Democratic party. As hard as it is to abandon seven years of conventional wisdom, we’re not surprised to Democrats scrambling for a Plan B.
It is a sign of how very panicked the Democrats are, though, that such names as Biden, Gore, and Kerry are being bandied about. Biden is such a gaffe-prone doofus who has failed in two previous attempts at the presidency that even the leftist clowns at “Saturday Night Live” have taken notice, Gore is by now mostly associated with the “global warming” hysteria that the gleefully carbon-emitting general public isn’t the least bit hysteric about, and Kerry is the guy who lost to someone named Bush and has since negotiated that lousy Iran-gets-a-nuclear-bomb deal that all the polling shows the the public absolutely hates, and except for that faux-Indian woman from Massachusetts who thinks that businesses don’t have to hire security guards because the government is doing such a good job of keeping us all safe, it’s hard to think of a more plausible name the Democrats might come up with. The Democratic party’s current panic seems entirely justified.
Our guess is that the odious Trump’s current poll-leading twenty-something numbers are an absolute ceiling on his support, and won’t suffice when it gets down to a two or three man race, or a two man and one woman race if former computer company executive Carly Fiorina continues to surge, and that he’ll affect the general election only if his formidable ego compels him to run as a third-party candidate.n The eventual Republican nominee will likely be someone with a successful record of political leadership, with far fewer scandals than Clinton, and despite the best efforts of the media will be conspicuously less ridiculous than Biden, Gore, Kerry, or even that faux Indian woman from Massachusetts, We figure they might as well go with Sanders, who seems a likable enough fellow despite his self-described socialism, but coming from the virtually all-white state of Vermont he’s having trouble with the black vote, which is lately booing down his reasonable claim that “all lives matter” and is unaccountably loyal to the Clinton name, and if Obama were to come out for his Vice President or current Secretary of State rather than his mere former Secretary of State that would likely shift the black support and leave Clinton’s already troublesome poll numbers caving. A Gore candidacy would also peel off a significant number of Democrats nostalgic for the era of Hillary Clinton’s husband’s presidency, so almost any scenario makes Clinton’s previously assumed coronation all the more doubtful.
The Republicans could still screw this up, and the odious Donald Trump seems determined to make that happen, but as of now we can see why the Democrats are the ones in panic mode.

— Bud Norman

As Long as You’re Looking Good

By happenstance we found ourselves chatting with a most affable Venezuelan fellow the other night at a local bistro. We don’t mean to pretend we’re so cosmopolitan as this atypical evening at a West Douglas hipster dive in Wichita would suggest, but there was also a delightfully bawdy Englishwoman and a couple of polite but circumspect Poles in attendance. At any rate, we commiserated with our newly-fledged Venezuelan friend about the political and economic woes in his homeland, which are even more socialistic and screwed-up than the situation here, and he shrugged his shoulders and waved his hands and said it had been a bad 14 years for his country. We joked that we were surprised President Cristina Kirchner had proved so awful, given that she was kind of hot when the country elected her, but he seemed to take our jest in earnest as he sighed the same disappointment.
From our conversation we had gathered that the fellow has made something of a success of himself in our ruthless local capitalism, and he seemed quite sensible, so it was surprising to surmise that he had apparently expected the stark raving left-wing Kirchner to lead his country anywhere but bankruptcy just because of her past comeliness. Although we’ve long been enamored the sultry appeal of the Latin bombshells, from Lupe Velez and Dolores Del Rio to the invariably naked Sonia Braga of ’80s and the latest offerings from multi-cutural Hollywood, but we’d like to think we’re not such suckers for a pretty face that we’d entrust any of them with a head-of-state position, especially if they were stark raving left-wingers, as most of the probably are. By that point in the evening we were starting to overlook the tattoos on that delightfully bawdy Englishwomen, though, and we had to admit that personal appearance plays a disproportionate role even in our own politics.
In vain we tried to remember the last American major party presidential nominee who was outright ugly. Nixon, maybe, although we expect that in ’68 a still-significant silent majority of the country foun his receding hairline and ski-slope nose somehow reassuringly seasoned, and that in the hirsute year of ’72 it didn’t matter what he looked like against such a grizzled old hippie freak as George McGovern. We got a lot of laughs back in ’04 by asking “Why the long face, John Kerry,” but even he was rescued from outright ugliness by a certain Boston Brahmin quality to his visage. Kerry still lost to the good-old-boyish looks of George W. Bush, Nixon got edged out by the more photogenic John F. Kennedy, and the most physically appealing candidates have usually prevailed in almost every election as far back as we can remember. The buff young fighter pilot that was once Sen. John McCain might have stood a fighting chance against the smooth-skinned Barack Obama and his ivy-covered Afro-cool, but the war-wounded old man who ran instead never had a prayer. Mitt Romney’s wholesome handsomeness was too redolent of those corny old ’50s sit-coms, and were thus trumped by the grayness and wrinkles that four years of fruitless administration had gadded to his opponent’s already ivy-covered Afro-cool. Lincoln is generally regarded as the great of all presidents, even by the egomaniacal current occupation of the office, and he was widely derided for his ugliness at the time of his administration, but that was a pre-electronic age of media that will unfortunately never be recovered.
This disturbing human tendency toward superficiality might yet provide our collective rescue, however. The conventional wisdom’s horrifying conclusion is that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States, and it is reassuring to think we might spared that eventuality by her increasingly haggard and harridan looks. There are ample other reasons to oppose this awful woman’s ascendance to the presidency, but in her case we’ll take whatever we can get. It would be nice if the country could up with a majority for some bland-looking but high-performing chief executive such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry or even better yet but less-handsme Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but we’ll be hoping for an outright ugly Democrat to oppose them.

— Bud Norman

Enemies Foreign and Domestic

The Obama administration has offered an “open hand” to the mad mullahs running Iran, a friendly “re-set” of relations with the kleptocracy in charge in Russia, and F-16s to the Muslim Brotherhood, but warned those pesky Republicans that “If they bring a knife to a fight, we bring a gun.”
We can’t recall the last occasion when any Republican brought a knife to a political dispute, or even any rhetorical sharpness, but such an unaccountable inconsistency is a peculiar characteristic of the modern progressive movement. In the properly progressive view of things any foreign foe is merely a insufficiently placated friend, no matter how theocratic or kleptocratic or female-genital-mutilating it might be, while anyone who espouses certain ideas about balanced budgets or individual liberty or the advisability of letting Kathleen Sebelius micro-manage America’s health care system is to be regarded as a dangerous lunatic and treated accordingly. This is a common refrain of our liberal friends and fellow bar patrons, who will wax poetic about the sincere religious convictions and ancient cultural authenticity of the fellow who is swinging a scimitar around his head and shrieking “Allahu Akbar” but worry that the lawn-mowing Baptist down the street is plotting a fascist conspiracy, and for the past five years or so it has been a consistent policy of the government.
Lately the administration has been talking tougher to America’s geo-political foes, but only because it has become necessary given the failure of all that open-handedness and re-setting friendliness to sufficiently placate them into friendship, and we don’t expect that our foes are any more impressed by the bluster than we are. Secretary of State John Kerry just assured the Israeli-American Public Affairs Council that “We will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear bomb, period,” but even the Iranians are well aware that his boss used the same emphatic “period” to assure Americans that if they liked their health plan they could keep their health plan, and that it turned out to be as reliable as his declaration of a “red line” against Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Similarly tough talk has been deployed against Russia after its annexation of a large chunk of Ukraine, which has re-re-set relations with that old adversary to Cold War days, but it’s all about standing with the international community and imposing sanctions and ignoring the reality that the relevant members of the international community won’t go along with sanctions because they’re more reliant on Russian natural gas than on America’s gaseous promises. There’s no longer any talk of supplying the Muslim Brotherhood with advanced military aviation, Allah be praised, but only because a military coup has conveniently removed them from power in Egypt.
However weak the Obama administration might seem in foreign affairs, however, any domestic opponents should remained warned that it is far more ruthless in domestic matters. There are no rhetorical open hands or offers of a re-set to the Republicans, who are routinely derided for wanting dirty air and water an the worst possible outcomes for the poor, and of waging a war on women that stops just short of clitoridectomies but will go so far as to withhold subsidies for contraception. Although the administration eschews any of Nicolo Machiavelli’s pragmatic prescriptions for foreign affairs it eagerly embraces Saul Allinsky’s even more ruthless “Rule For Radicals” when dealing with domestic matters, and anyone who makes a sizeable donation to a Republican candidate or reports a story unfavorable to the administration is likely to soon hear from the Internal Revenue Service o the Department of Justice or some suitably scary regulatory agency.
The IRS operative who has invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid nosy questions about her agency’s harassment of Ocala’s political opponents is being called back to a congressional hearing this week, and although we’ll be interested to hear to what she will or won’t say we expect it will be largely overlooked by a media suddenly interested in events abroad. This seems a shame, as her testimony or lack thereof will likely shed light on how very imposing the administration can be when it puts its mind to it. When Obama unleashes the IRS on Vladimir Putin or the Iranians or any of the other increasingly troubles regimes abroad it will suggest that he’s at last ready to rumble.

— Bud Norman

The Second Time As Farce

Russia’s brazen revanchism in Ukraine has led to talk of another Cold War, and that does not bode well. After five decades of toil and trouble and the occasional close call on a nuclear catastrophe the last Cold War ended more or less to the satisfaction of the free and democratic world, but this time around the people in charge of our side have forgotten how it was done.
Worse yet, they stubbornly refused to ever learn. The current Secretary of State was wrong on every Cold War issue his entire adult life, from his slanderous testimony against his fellow servicemen during the Vietnam War to his opposition to President Reagan’s aggressive moves against the Soviet Union to his embrace of the South American Marxists who continue to impoverish and oppress that continent, yet he seems not to have noticed how history repudiated his views. Our current president was smoking dope with the Choom Gang and reading Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth” when the Cold War was being brought to a successful conclusion, but time clearly hasn’t changed his simplistic understanding of those complex events. Their Democratic party backed out of the Cold War during George McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972, and it remains so resentful of how it worked out that it seems intent on nominating the architect of the present apologetic Russian “re-set” diplomacy in 2016.
The people are ultimately in charge, according to a cherished theory of American government, but they also seem to have forgotten the lessons of the Cold War. Many of them are now too young to have any personal memory of the era, and what little they know of it has been gleamed from “The People’s History of the United States” that was assigned by their hippie high school teachers or the self-serving rationalizations of the tenured radicals at their state-funded universities, while those old enough to recall when the Iron Curtain first descended on the European continent are gradually dwindling in number and strength. Most of those in between are forgetful of a conflict they never had to fight, reminded only when the late movie is poking fun at the duck-and-cover fearfulness that Hollywood found so funny or praising the blacklisted communist screenwriters that it found so brave, and few care where a candidate stood in those long-ago days or even how they think of today’s foreign policy challenges.
In 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin warned that the weakness then-Sen. Barack Obama had shown in the recent Georgian debacle might provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine, and of course this was offered by the press as proof of what a dim-witted yokel she was. In 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney warned that Russia was seeking to re-establish its Soviet-era empire, and Obama responded by taunting that “the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” The lame and unoriginal line got a big laugh in the press gallery and the faculty lounges and the other progressive corners of society, and it certainly didn’t hurt Obama’s re-election chances, but it should have served as a warning that the president was himself stuck in an ‘80s mindset of nuclear freezes and moral relativism and a naïve yearning for peace through weakness.
Now Obama is explaining that he doesn’t see Ukraine as a “piece on a Cold War chessboard,” and we are to be reassured that he won’t play the same dreary game that dragged on over the decades. Putin is clearly intent on playing it, however, and will not stop pushing the pieces around just because Obama declines to take his place at the board. To carry the chess analogy further the position has clearly changed, but the correct strategy and tactics of the game have not. Apologies and appeasement have always provoked aggression, cultural confidence and a strong military have always deterred it, and anyone paying attention during the Cold War has seen the proof. The administration is now vowing to “stand with the international community,” as if that might put a scare into the Russians, and threatening to revoke the country’s membership in the Group of Eight, as if Putin so yearns for those pointless meetings, and even suggesting economic sanctions, as if Russian had anything it wanted to sell except for oil and natural gas that Europe has to buy, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being intimidated by a president who is cutting the military and withdrawing from America’s global leadership role and is clearly embarrassed at the way his predecessors won the Cold War.

— Bud Norman