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Trump’s Triumphant Retreat

President Donald Trump prides himself on never admitting a mistake or backing off a stand, but on Wednesday he signed an executive order to end his own policy of separating children from parents detained as illegal immigrants. His Homeland Security secretary had previously said the policy didn’t exist, which was a lie, and Trump had also said it did exist but that he hated it and it was forced on him by a “Democrat law,” which was also a lie, and Trump and his die-hard defenders had also said the policy was unfortunately but necessarily strong, which might have been arguably true but is less persuasive in the wake of Trump’s executive order to end the policy.
We ran into one of Trump’s die-hard at the Vagabond dive bar over in Delano Wednesday night, and he was still defending the family-separation policy and was sorely disappointed that Trump had uncharacteristically caved to overwhelming public opinion, but we think our friend lost the ensuing conversation and his side was clearly losing the broader public debate. In every news medium but Fox News the coverage was full of cute and crying girls being ripped from their mothers’ arms, and and the administration’s media response was contradictory lies and endlessly-repeated footage Trump’s one-time campaign manager — not the one who’s currently in jail, but the one who manhandled a woman reporter at rally — responding to an account of a 10-year-girl with Down’s Syndrome being torn from her mother’s arms by sarcastically whining “Whaaah Whaah.” Needless to say, the administration was losing the news-cycle, bigly.
The opinion polls showed two-thirds of the country opposed to the policy, prominent and previously loyal congressional Republicans also disapproved, and Republican and Democratic governors withdrew their National Guard units from border enforcement, and a couple of major airlines apologized for flying some seized youngsters off to such far-flung locales as New York City and promised to never do so again. Every living First Lady went on record against the policy, including the one currently more or less married to Trump, along with First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and such a ratings-conscious president as Trump realized that no matter how contrary it was to his lifelong instincts he had to back off a stand.
Not that Trump admitted a mistake, of course. During a signing ceremony he still blamed the Democrats for a President George W. Bush-era law that he dishonestly says requires family separations as a matter of routine policy and couldn’t be undone by executive order, even as he boasted that he’s the first president since Dwight Eisenhower with the “political courage” to end the inhumane policy that he had been first to enact with an executive. He also reassured his die-hard defenders that he was still “very strong” on border enforcements, unlike the “open borders” Democrats who apparently enjoy Latino gang murders, even if he wasn’t willing to endure the sob-sister photographs and videotapes and audio tapes of cute brown-skinned toddlers crying for their mommas.
The news cycle probably doesn’t end here, though, despite Trump’s best efforts. The executive order Trump signed doesn’t address the two-thousand or so children who have already been separated from their parents and are currently alarmingly unaccounted for, and their fates will surely fuel some heartbreaking and all-too-real stories from the “fake news” for enough months to reach the mid-term elections next fall. Trump is still sticking the the administration’s announced “zero-tolerance policy” to prosecute every allegedly illegal border crossing, albeit with the parents and children confined in nearby cages, or “partitions with chain-mail walls” as a Fox News host put it, and there’s going to be newsworthy court cases going all the way to the Supreme Court about that. In the meantime federal law only allows the detention of foreign minors for 20 days, and although Trump recently lied to the National Federation of Independent Businesses that there are “thousands of immigration judges” there are in fact only 335, and due process requires complicated and time-consuming deliberations, so in 20 days or so the badly planned family separation policy will be dominating yet another a news cycle, barring any bigger developments in the trade wars or the “Russia thing.”
At this point, we’re mostly hoping those ninos will somehow be someday reunited somewhere with their madres and padres, and hold out fainter hope that America can still somehow enforce its borders in accordance with international law and basic human decency.

— Bud Norman

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Down at the Border

The special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” currently has President Donald Trump’s one-time campaign manager in jail and Trump’s former legal “fixer” facing similar legal difficulties, the First Lady is clearly unhappy in her marriage and the job it entails, and there’s a lingering discussion about why Trump is lavishing praise on North Korea’s nutcase dictator and still feuding with Canada’s democratically-elected Prime Minister. The president’s biggest public relations problem over Father’s Day weekend, though, was his “zero-tolerance” policy that separates children from the parents who have been caught illegally crossing America’s borders, which makes for some tear-jerking and potentially Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs of cute and crying toddlers being whisked away from their parents off to God knows where.
It’s all more complicated than those tear-jerking photographs might suggest, of course, and goes far back in complicated ways to the days of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, but rather than make those complicated arguments Trump has instinctively chosen to simplify it by brazenly lying. He blames those tear-jerking photographs on a “Democrat law” that requires him to drag children away from their mothers and fathers, and even as he appeals to his die-hard fans that he’s getting tough despite our weak Democratic immigration laws he expects the rest of us to believe those damned Democrats have forced him to adopt such severe measures.
We were tough-on-borders and opposed to those damned open-borders Democrats back when Trump was contributing big bucks to their damned campaigns, and we well understand how complicated the issue actually is, but we refuse to pretend that Trump is quote brazenly lying about it.
As old-fashioned conservatives we don’t believe there’s anything such as a “Democrat” or “Republican” law, only laws that were passed by a duly elected-legislature and signed by a duly-elected president, and in this case the law in question was passed by a majority-Democratic legislature but with numerous Republican votes and was signed by a Republican president. The well-intentioned law allowed an administration to separate children from illegal immigrants who might be engaged in human sex trafficking, which the Obama administration often used in less publicized cases, but it does not require an administration to pry children from illegal immigrants and legal asylum-seekers who crossed the border in violation of America’s misdemeanor laws. and Trump’s insistence that he’s forced by those heartless Democrats is a damnable lie. Attorney General Jeff Sessions invokes scripture to justify his “zero-tolerance” rule of using the well-intentioned and bipartisan law to pry crying children from their misdemeanor-commiting parents, drawing on the Pauline scriptures about obeying civil authority, but in the oh-so-conservatives verses of Leviticus they also admonish the children of God that “The foreigner among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt,” and the duly passed law by a bi-partisan legislature and signed by a Republican president law does seem to offer discretion.
This is all complicated further by the fact that even the quintessentially Democratic Obama also used the law to separate a few illegal immigrants from their provable progeny, which wasn’t nearly so publicized by either the mainstream media or Fox News, and that images of of children sleeping in wire cages on several of the networks and newspapers really was “fake news” footage from the Obama years, and that Obama deported far more adult and underage illegal immigrants than Trump ever gave him credit for, and that illegal immigration really is a problem. In spite of all these complications, though, Trump is still lying and Sessions is still citing highly selective scripture about about why those poor kids in those heartbreaking and potentially Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs are being ripped fromtheir misdemeanor-committing parents, and for now no one looks good.
Our hope is that they all somehow work it out fairly, and that America’s borders are properly secured but that immigrants who commit the misdemeanor of taking advantage of Trump’s booming economy don’t lose their children, and that at the very least everyone stops lying about it.For now the “Russia thing” has a former Trump campaign manager in jail, and a former Trump legal “fixer” in the legal crosshairs, and even the clearly disgruntled First Lady of the United States is “tweeting” her indignation about Trump’s “and Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy at the border, and it seems another bad news cycle for Trump.

— Bud Norman

 

Our Erstwhile Republican Heroes

These are the times that try our old-fashioned and conservative Kansas Republican souls. Many of the men and women we once admired for their rock-ribbed Republicanism and brave willingness to stand on principle and defy the ever changing forces of popular opinion are going squishy, too many of the last few who more or less stood steadfast to our old-fashioned and conservative Kansas Republican beliefs are either bowing out of public life or dying, and what’s left finds itself under assault from the newfangled Grand Old Party of President Donald Trump.
Once upon a time in America there was nobody we admired more in public life than Rudy Giuliani. He was a formidable lead U.S. Attorney in the southern district of New York, where he quite ruthlessly convicted a lot of mobster types, and although many Republicans of the time in New York and elsewhere thought he was rather over-zealous in his prosecution of some Wall Street types he wound up as the Republican party’s nominee for mayor of New York City. He lost his first bid to one of the long, long string of Democrats that had brought the notoriously crime-ridden and graffiti-covered city to the brink of bankruptcy, by the the time he made his second run things had gotten so bad that even the voters of New York City chose a Republican to turn around the fortunes of America’s most essential city.
Giuliani’s tough-talking style and even tougher policies angered the the leftward media in New York City and thus elsewhere, but he hung tough and the results were hard to argue with. His tough-on-crime attitudes toward law enforcement eventually reduced the city’s internationally scandalous murder rate by 66 percent, even as police shootings and complains of excessive force similarly declined. Following the model of President Ronald Reagan he drastically cut rates across the board and especially at the highest brackets, but it once again counter-intuitively resulted in such a economic boom that the revenues actually increased. By the end of the his controversial reign as mayor, Giuliani had restored New York City to its rightful status as America’s most essential city, and even the billionaire newfangled Republican and self-described socialist Democrat who’ve followed have been careful not to stray too far from the formula.
Since then, though, Giuliani has been on a conspicuous losing streak. He seems to have made some money in his private ventures of security consulting and whatnot, but in the public sphere he’s been a disaster. His bid for the Republican presidential nomination in ’08 didn’t last enough for the big states his “big state” strategy was counting, given the suspicion that heartland Republicans used to have about twice-divorced New Yorkers who’d once gone on record supporting gun restrictions and abortion bans and acceptance of homosexuals’ civil rights, and after that he largely dropped out of sight. Lately he’s been back in the news as Trump’s attorney, and has done such a disastrous job of defending his client’s now admitted payment of $130,000 to a pornographic video star and suspected role in a widely-acknowledged plot by the Russian dictatorship to affect that he’s also likely to find himself under assault from the newfangled Republican party of Trump.
Once upon a time in America we also admired then-Alabama Senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in part because of how much he was hated by the Democrats and the rest of the left for his reasonable ideas about border enforcement and the more general rules of law, but these days he’s under assault from those Trumpian sorts of Republicans. He greatly disappointed us during the presidential campaign by being the first Republican senator to endorse Trump more unreasonable ideas about sea-to-sea border walls and cops bumping suspect’s heads on the paddy wagons, but he rescued some of respect our respect by recusing himself from any investigations into the Trump campaign he’d been a part of and it’s contacts with Russian agents that he freely admitted he had not disclosed. Of course, that has brought him under constant “twitter” assault from Trump himself. California congressman quintessentially Trumpian Republican is now pushing to have Sessions held in contempt of congress for failing to provide documents he’s requested in his investigation of Session’s alleged involvement in violations of law as a result of a special counsel’s ongoing investigation into Trump and the “Russia thing.
Until recently we’d never heard of anybody called Ron Rosenstein, but these days he’s one of our favorite Republicans and of course is under even greater assault from the Trumpians, with several newfangled Republican congressman agitating for his impeachment. He’s the deputy Attorney General Attorney general that Trump appointed, and because the Attorney General Trump appointed had to recuse himself for principled reasons from that whole “Russia thing” Rosenstein is in charge of that mess, and Trump and the Trumpians don’t like the way he’s signed off on some rather ruthlessly Giuliani-esque prosecution methods. The life-long Republican is a key conspirator in the “deep state” conspiracy against former Democrat and Reform Party member and relatively newfangled Republican Trump, according to the talk on right-wing talk radio, and his newfound and feckless friends on the left aren’t likely save him.
Trump is doing some significant things right, as our old-fashioed conservative Kansas souls have to admit and the economic date indicate, but we’d still like to see a Republican party that can stand steadfast against the constant barrage of lies and porno performers and lies about porno performers and the juvenile “tweeted” taunts and the daily assaults on the successful post-war international order and our even more constitutional norm and the all-essential concept of an objective reality. Once upon a time in America House Speaker Paul Ryan was that kind of Republican, and his steadfast stand on balancing America’s budget once had the Democrat’s depicting him throwing your grandmother off a cliff, but he played that deficit-exploding spending bill that Trump signed and Ryan got all the blame for, and he’s bowing out of a tough re-election race because his rather half-assed criticisms of Trump leave him vulnerable to a primary challenge. So is the Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, whose voting record on rock-ribbed Republican issues is unassailable but has had the temerity to criticize Trump’s vulgarity and meanness and blatant dishonesty and even more blatant corruption, along with some overly zealous policies on immigration. Meanwhile senior Sen. John McCain is dealing with advanced cancer, and making funeral preparations that do not include an invitation to Trump, the draft dodger who infamously scoffed that although McCain voluntarily endured years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison rather than desert his comrades was a hero “only because got caught.”
Several lesser-known but equally admirable Republicans are also bowing out in the next mid-term election, and it’s not clear who will take their place. One of the Republican candidates in the Arizona primary to replace Flake is former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who accepted Trump’s presidential pardon and therefore admitted his guilt in violating the 13th and Fourth Amendment rights of Phoenix’s sizable Hispanic yet undeniably naturally-born American citizens, and was recently warmly greeted by Vice President Mike Pence, another Republican we once expected. The Republicans might pick up a seat in West Virginia by nominating a former coal mine owner who was convicted and served prison time for worker safety law violations that killed more than two dozen of the coal miners that Trump claims to love, and if he gets the nomination we’re sure he’ll get the same presidential endorsement as that credibly-accused child molester who nonetheless lost a safe seat to a Democrat down in Alabama.
Such is the state of our erstwhile law-and-order and family values party, and we still don’t like those damned Democrats any better.

— Bud Norman

Porno Performers, Evangelical Christians, and Those Hard-to-Answer Questions

Thursday brought both torrential rains and a gloriously warm and blue skies to our portion of the Great Plains, but back east in Washington, D.C., White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced unrelentingly stormy weather. We almost felt sorry for the poor woman.
On Wednesday night one of President Donald Trump’s more recent attorneys, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, had gone on Sean Hannity’s exceedingly Trump-friendly program on Fox News and acknowledged that eleven days before the past presidential election Trump paid $130,000 to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to not talk about an tryst she claimed to have had with him shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child. Both Trump and his White House press secretary had until then insisted the president knew nothing about any payments to any porno performers, and that you’d have to ask that lawyer the president once called his “fixer” and now describes as someone he barely knows, and has recently had thorough federal search warrant executed on his home and office and hotel room, so Sanders had some serious explaining to do.
She started her Spanish Inquisition of a White House press briefing with upbeat talk about Trump’s enthusiasm for National Prayer Day and the recent hopeful developments on the Korean peninsula, but the press corps were in no mood for that. They had some hard to answer questions about Trump recently blaming President Barack Obama for some Americans being detained by North Korea during his own administration, and the ensuing questions about the past misstatements about a now-acknowledged $130,000 payment to a porno performer made all that talk about National Prayer Day sound ridiculous. That got bogged down in talk about campaign finance law that Sanders had trouble explaining away, too, and those pesky reporters kept asking impossible to answer questions about how often the official White House position has shifted on countless matters, and why anyone should believe anything the White House press secretary has to say.
Sanders insisted that she first learned that the president had paid $130,000 to a porno performer when his lawyer blurted that out on the Hannity show, and even those cynical sorts in the White House press corps didn’t doubt that a bit. She couldn’t bring herself to blame her past misstatements about the matter on being deliberately misinformed by her boss, though, and without that frank admission it was impossible to reconcile what she was saying on Thursday with what she’d been saying until then.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders goes by that name because she’s proudly the daughter of Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister who served two fairly successful terms as Governor of Arkansas and ran a couple of futile campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination, and she seems to have inherited both her father’s political and religious instincts. Like many other professed evangelical Christians she considers Trump’s appointment of an anti-abortion Supreme Court Justice and revocation of the Johnson Amendment that threatened the tax-exempt status of any pro-Trump preachers and his professed enthusiasm for National Prayer Day more important than any hush money payments he might have to paid to somme porno performer, and of course she’s finding it hard to explain that to both the secular and spiritual sorts.
Our own secular and cynical selves are by now pretty much convinced that the current President of the United States did indeed have an adulterous encounter with a porno performer shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and by now the president’s lawyer has admitted on Sean Hannity’s show — of all places — that Trump paid her $130,000 not to say so. Our more spiritual and proudly evangelical Christian side still holds out hope that Trump and Sanders will offer not only confession but some semblance of contrition in the future, and that the routine lies they tell from behind a podium with the official White House seal about all sorts of things will eventually cease, but by now it’s only a faint hope.

— Bud Norman

The Enduring Truth of the Latest Outrageous Fiction

Those with a good memory for all the accumulated outrages of the past seven and a half years or so might vaguely recall the name of Jonathan Gruber, “the architect of Obamacare” who couldn’t keep himself from gloating at an academic conference about all the clever lies that were used to foist that awful law on an unwitting land. Some enterprising internet muckraker got his hands on the video of his remarks well after the fact, it gradually “went viral” on all the conservative sites at a time when the more conservative party was still firmly opposed to federal control of the health care system, and the uproar was sufficient that even the more polite media were forced to acknowledge for a brief news cycle that it really was rather outrageous. We’d almost forgotten the name ourselves, despite our good memories and constant score-keeping, but were reminded by the recent gloating of Ben Rhodes and the outrage it has produced for this brief news cycle.
Rhodes is described by even such a polite medium as The New York Times as “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign Policy Guru,” and he was so comfortable with the paper’s politeness that he felt free to boast that President Barack Obama’s even more catastrophic-than-Obamacare deal with Iran regarding its obvious and undeniable and still-ongoing nuclear ambitions was also sold on a pack of lies. He frankly acknowledged that the Republican argument of the moment that the election of a supposed “moderate” president didn’t mean that the hard-liners in the Iranian theocracy weren’t still in charge was entirely, and that Obama’s claim the Republicans opposed to the deal were effectively in cahoots with those hard-liners fighting their own country’s more radical elements was the sort of ingenious fiction that he once aspired to as a creative writing major.
Even such a polite medium as The New York Times couldn’t help noting that the 38-year-old “Boy Wonder of the White House” didn’t have any more applicable academic credentials to become the president’s most trusted foreign policy advisor and speechwriter other than their shared disdain of the policies of the George W. Bush administration and preference for spinning tales, and even the headlines of such usually diplomatic sources as Foreign Policy Magazine have resorted to language that we do not condone but concede is pretty much apt, and we must admit that even our more liberal counterparts once again have acknowledged that this is pretty darned outrageous.
We’d like to think that after another half year or so things will start to get better, but at this point it is a dim hope. The presumptive nominee of the putatively more conservative party lists health care as one of the core responsibilities of the federal government, and has expressed his admiration for Scotland’s totalitarian systems, but assures us it will be a great deal, believe him, and the more liberal party’s presumptive nominee is offering the suddenly seemingly plausible offer of dancing with the devil we know, and the Democrat is standing by the deal and the Republican won’t disavow the deal because promising he can out-deal the Iranian rug-merchants just as he out-dealed all his casino-and-strip-joint creditors, and both seem quite certain that their fanciful fictions can be sold to a gullible public just like the rest of the outrageous reality shows they’ve been starring in for many years.

— Bud Norman

A Not-Yet Final Report on Benghazi

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

— Bud Norman

When Honesty Isn’t the Best Policy

There are urgent moral arguments against lying, such as the risk of imperiling your immortal soul to eternal damnation, but a more persuasive reason not to lie is that you end up looking ridiculous when you are inevitably caught. This is true even for such a practiced and usually effective liar as President Barack Obama, whose ridiculous lies on behalf of his namesake Obamacare have lately forced him to tell even more ridiculous lies.
By now it has been widely noted that Obama and his hired spokespeople repeatedly assured the public that “If you like your health insurance you can keep it” under the Obamacare law, in order to get it passed by a narrow and entirely Democratic margin despite widespread public opposition, and by now it is also indisputably clear to the millions of people who have lost or are going to lose the health insurance they liked as a result of the law that the presidential assurance was not at all true. Obama originally responded to this embarrassing revelation by insisting that his claims were true, the evidence of all those cancellation letters notwithstanding, but that provoked such ridicule that he has since been reduced to insisting that he never made such ridiculous claims at all.
What Obama really said, he now insists, is that you can keep the health insurance you have and like “if it hasn’t changed since the law passed.” He’s also insisting you didn’t really like that cancelled plan, or at least you wouldn’t have if you’d had the superior insight into your personal health insurance needs that the all-knowing government has, so you should actually be grateful to him for forcing you to pay more of your evermore-hard-earned money for coverage you won’t ever need.
Obama has achieved a remarkably successful career in politics by spewing such obvious nonsense, and is therefore understandably confident that he can get away with it once again, but these lies will prove especially difficult to defend. Obama’s lies about such matters as the Fast and Furious gun-peddling operation and the investments in the soon-to-be-bankrupt Solyndra boondoggle being Bush-era initiatives, and the overly optimistic promises about the stimulative effects of his “stimulus” spending, and dubious-from-the-start and ultimately disproved claims that the deaths of four Americans in Behnghazi were a spontaneous response to a little-seen YouTube video rather that one of those planned terrorist attacks that his brilliant foreign policy had forever eliminated, were all happily corroborated by a loyal press and widely believed by a public that had no tangible reason to doubt the official storyline. This time there are too many people holding cancellation letters from their insurance companies to refute the official storyline, and even such loyal mass media as the over-the-air broadcast networks are unwilling to sacrifice what’s left of their credibility by saying otherwise.
The claim that you’re too stupid to know what kind of insurance you need, and t that the tee totaling post-menopausal couple of long-married folks should be grateful that they’re now compelled to pay for maternity and substance-abuse rehabilitation coverage, or the lucky-to-be-employed twenty-something should be altruistic enough to cough up a few hundreds bucks a month more to subsidize some old fogy he never met, will require more chutzpah than even Obama and his media acolytes can muster.
The task of putting over the lies is so daunting that the president and his advisors might even be contemplating that they had told truth, that Obamacare is a massive transfer of wealth from former Obama supporters to a few who will be forever grateful, but it seems Obama figured that wouldn’t have been a successful sales pitch. He doesn’t have one now, but at this point Obamacare is the law of the land and it’s just a matter of putting up a good front.

— Bud Norman

On the Run

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

— Bud Norman

Insufficient Outrage

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

— Bud Norman