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Credit Where Credit is Due

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

— Bud Norman

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Quoth McRaven, Nevermore

President Donald Trump’s latest war of words is with retired four-star Navy Admiral William McCraven, and so far as we can tell Trump is predictably getting the worst of it.
After earning a degree with honors from the University of Texas McCraven was commissioned the Navy and volunteered for it’s elite frogman and Seal units, then rose through the ranks during both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations, eventually being entrusted with command of the Navy’s special forces and European fleet, but he’s best known as the guy who led the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. One can hardly describe him as a “very low-IQ individual,” or impugn his manliness, and a name like Bill McRaven doesn’t easily lend itself to a taunting nickname, but McCraven’s been publicly critical of certain aspects of Trump’s presidency, so Trump is required by his immutable character to punch back somehow or another.
When McRaven’s name up during a Sunday interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, the most damning thing Trump could think to say is that “He’s a Hillary Clinton backer.” Wallace was trying to explain to his viewers that McRaven is a former Navy seal and all that when Trump interjected, and when Wallace tried to resume MccRaven’s impressive resume Trump once again interrupted to say, “Excuse me, but he’s a Hillary Clinton backer.” Eventually Wallace got to the part about the Bin Laden raid, and Trump sneered that “He’s a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer. Frankly, wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama Bin Laden a lot sooner than that?” Thus Trump stepped boldly onto the minefield.
Pretty much the whole interview was s public relations disaster for trump. He probably figured he was on friendly terrain at Fox, but he apparently hasn’t noticed that Wallace and Shep Smith and Brett Baier and a few other Fox journalists still tend to ask some embarrassing questions from time to time. and Trump was ill-prepared for that sort of thing. He claimed complete credit for some Republican victories in the midterm elections, and denied any blame for the more numerous losses. He also spouted some self-apparent nonsense about how Finland doesn’t have fires like California is suffering because they rake their forests, citing the Finnish president as his source, which resulted in the Finnish president denying to the world he’d ever said any such thing and lots of Finns making jokes about it on the internet, including one waggish Finnish woman who posted a photo of herself in the forest with a vacuum cleaner under the heading of “Just another day in Finland.” Trump also wound up making a rare admission of error by saying he probably should have observed Veterans day despite the rain and his busy schedule.
Even so, the worst fallout was from the feud with McCraven. By Monday McRaven was telling the Cable News Network that “I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else. I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for. I admire all presidents, regardless of their party, who uphold the dignity of the office and use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times.” We also didn’t back anyone in the last election, although we cast a protest vote for some suitable right-of-center protest candidate, and for all his faults we still miss George W. Bush and lately have a very begrudging newfound respect for the way that Obama at least didn’t go out of his way to start futile feuds with his fellow citizens all the time, so we think McRaven got the better of the exchange.
McCraven has left it to his many apologists to rightly note that he couldn’t have legally killed Bin Laden any sooner without presidential approval, and both Bush’s and Obama’s apologists can credibly argue that these things take time, no matter how impatient the immediate gratification sorts out there might be. Besides, even if McRaven is a damned Democrat it doesn’t mean he’s wrong about everything. McCraven once pursued a journalism degree his stellar studies at the University of Texas, and his public complaints about Trump’s ongoing war with the free press, which originally provoked Trump’s ire, sound fair enough to our ink-stained journalistic souls. We rather like how this McCraven fellow fights his war of words in pristine parseable English with facts at hand, and in general we like the cut of his four-starred naval admiral jib, and at the risk of sounding like Republicans In Name Only we can’t say the same for his latest foe.

— Bud Norman

A Not So Fond Farewell

President Barack Obama gave his farewell address on Tuesday night, so at least we’ve got that going for us.
President-elect Donald Trump once again grabbed all the attention, of course, with his indignantly “tweeted” denial of some juicy new allegations that were reportedly included in the intelligence community’s much-debated reports to Congress and other officials concerning Russia’s alleged meddling in the past election. A maybe true and maybe not true dossier of allegations was compiled by a reportedly respected ex-British intelligence official, and is now splashed all over the internet, and it mentions Russian prostitutes and some very kinky sex acts, as well as several presumably more hygienic but no less newsworthy contacts that Trump’s business and campaign officials had with Russian officials, and it’s undeniably more irresistible conversation fodder than another one of Obama’s orations.
All that cloak and dagger and kinky sex stuff will play out over the next several days or weeks or months, though, if not much longer than that, and in the meantime we feel obliged to take note of Obama’s speech.
For the past nine years or so we’ve been hearing about what a wonderfully eloquent orator Obama is, but we were once again unimpressed. The language is well-crafted enough by comparison to his successor’s schoolyard taunts and constant interjections of “believe me” and “OK?” and “that I can tell you,” but that’s damning by faint praise, and up against an Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King or any other first rate rhetorician it’s not at all memorable. Even his most awe-struck admirers are hard-pressed to remember any line he ever uttered quite so iconic as Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address coinage of “military-industrial complex” or John Kennedy’s “bear any burden” shtick or even George W. Bush’s pithy “soft bigotry of low expectations,” and what they do come up with about “no red states or blues states” and “hope and change” and “yes we can” and that one about the sea levels falling now sounds faintly ridiculous after eight long years of his tiresome speeches.
Which left poor Obama, just 10 short days away from the seemingly inevitable inauguration of Trump, with the difficult job of making the case that all that hope had not been misplaced. He had a friendly audience in his adopted hometown of Chicago, all revved up by a soulful rendition of the the National Anthem, and he bounded on the stage with a rock star’s roar and a rock star’s rote greeting to a certain local neighborhood and a whole of thank you thank you very much, followed by some lame self-deprecating humor about being a lame duck, then he started waxing eloquent. He did so well enough that his still-ardent admirers who still feel that hope were probably tugging at their eyes, but any eyes that have been keeping a more unblinking watch on the past eight years were rolling.
There was some nostalgic talk about his young and idealistic days as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago, and how he learned that “Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.” That same south side of Chicago is presently so disorganized that it has a murder rate that would shock the denizens of your average third world hellhole, but so far the survivors haven’t gotten involved and engaged and demand change from Obama’s associates at City Hall, and somehow we got the sense that he wasn’t urging them to start now.
He followed that up with some rousing stuff about the wisdom of the founding fathers and their belief that we are “endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” At any rate it would have been rousing if he hadn’t spent the past eight years giving speeches about the country’s racist and sexist and classist origins, and steadfastly defending abortion rights, and restricting the citizens’ liberty in numerous ways, and generally making life miserable for anyone who was just trying to live it. There was some more rousing-for-the-faithful stuff about onward and upward to the more perfect union, along with a list of liberal goals that have been achieved over the years.
Even Obama had to admit that “Yes, our progress has been uneven,” and sometimes even “contentious,” and there was no talk about ocean levels falling or a new era of hope and change or any of the other stuff so many people were swooning for starting back about nine years ago. Instead, Obama tried to argue that things had worked out even better than promised. He touted the end of a Great Recession and “reboot” of America’s automotive industry and eight straight years of job growth, the shutdown of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and new relations with Cuba and of course the oft-cited death of Osama Bin Laden, along with a health care plan that insured another 20 million Americans, and boasted that “If I had told you that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high.
Even if that were all true it’s still setting the sights a little bit lower than during the messianic ’08 campaign, as far as we’re concerned, but without looking anything up and despite the florid language we were ready to dispute almost all of it. The Great Recession of ’08 did indeed come to an end, but recessions have always come to an end and usually with more robust employment gains than during the past below post-World War II averages, and who’s to say that whoever bought out General Motors would haven’t hired more workers? Iran’s nuclear weapons program is still on schedule and has a few billion dollar extra in its coffers thanks to Obama’s largesse, our new relations with Cuba are far too chummy with a communist regime for our tastes, and Obama saying he succeeded in killing Bin Laden where Bush had failed is like Nixon claiming credit for getting to the moon where Johnson and Kennedy had failed. That 20 million insured figure is by almost all other accounts vastly overstated, and includes a lot of people stuck on Medicaid and forced by buy overpriced insurance they don’t need, and it’s clearly one reason job growth has been so sluggish, and so many more people are stuck paying exorbitant rate increases and swelling budget deficits to pay for it that the guy who promised to repeal Obama’s signature piece of legislation wound up winning.
At that point Obama had to chide the crowd for booing the guy who did wind up winning, and we’ll give him credit for doing that, and he pledged a peaceful transfer of power and gave some props to George W. Bush for doing him the same solid. That was followed by a lot of talk exhorting Democrats to continuing be Democrats, and racism and climate change being very bad, and peace being better than war, along with some bragging about the oil boom he did everything he could to thwart, and a whole lot of blather that will be little noted and soon forgotten, to borrow a phrase from a more memorable orator. It didn’t convince us that we’d been wrong all along, and that Obama really was the Messiah we’d been told, but we suppose the true believers liked it, even if they can’t remember a single line of it today.
At this point we’re quite agnostic on the question of whether Trump really did pay those Russian prostitutes to perform those kinky sex acts while on a Moscow business trip, or whether any of those other dealings actually occurred, but we’re quite convinced he’s also no Messiah. All we can say at this point is that we can’t say we’re looking forward to four or eight more years of schoolyard taunts and constant interjections of “believe me” and “OK?” and “that I can tell you,” but at least the rest of Obama’s ponderous speeches will be more easily ignored as the forgettable asides of an ex-president.

— Bud Norman

A Terrorist’s Reading List

We’re the snoopy sorts who will always seize the opportunity of a party to look over the nearest bookshelf, assuming there is one, and glean whatever insights it offers into the host’s mind. The fine folks at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence apparently share the same fascination with other people’s reading habits, and have helpfully compiled a list of the books that our brave fighting men seized during their raid on the home of the late Osama bin-Laden.
It’s a fascinating collection, although much of it is surprisingly familiar to anyone who has lately been invited to the home of an up-to-date American liberal. The list includes “Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies” and “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance” by Noam Chomsky, the esteemed linguist and far-left political analyst, “The Best Democracy that Money Can Buy” by far-left journalist Greg Palast, “Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower” and “Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II” by far-left historian William Blum, as well as several other similarly fashionable far-left titles. We couldn’t find Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth” or anything by Maya Angelou or the “magical realists” of South America on the list, but otherwise bin-Laden seemed to share the same literary tastes as President Barack Obama or any other impeccable liberal. We’ve long marveled at the way pro-homosexual, pro-abortion, anti-God leftists have found so much common ground with Islamists who execute homosexuals and subjugate women in an attempt to impose totalitarian theocratic control, but their overlapping reading lists suggest they at least share the same dissatisfaction with western civilization.
When asked about his terrorist reader, Palast told Politico that he was embarrassed only because “It’s clear that Osama was more well-read than our president (though, in George W. Bush’s defense, there’s much to be learned from ‘My Pet Goat.’)” Never mind that Bush’s staff and the press corps that covered his presidency were astounded by his voracious reading habits, or that he routinely read more substantial fare than Palast will ever produce, the liberal urge to feel intellectually superior to that much-ridiculed president is apparently all the more urgent when the topic at hand is a mass-murdering terrorist such as bin-Laden. Palast also complained that investigative reporting is “a profession banned in the U.S.A. after September 11, 2001 — when journalists were replaced by Brian Williams and others wearing his hairdo,” but we recall plenty of journalistic investigations into Bush’s alleged perfidy that lasted a full seven years after that date, and it wasn’t until the Obama administration that the Department of Justice pressed criminal conspiracy charges against a reporter and the likes of Sharyl Atkisson found themselves stymied in their investigations at such media outlets as CBS News and the Brian Williamses and similarly coiffed anchors everywhere stopped questioning authority. We can sympathize with Palast’s disappointment that Bush never bought his books, since as far as we know Bush never bought one of ours, but it hardly seems a sufficient reason to prefer bin-Laden, even if the hit squad had found an old copy of “The Things That Are Caesar’s” in his house.
Evil mass-murdering terrorist that he was, we have to give bin-Laden credit for delving into a wider range of books than most of our left-wing friends. He also had such weightier fare as “The Oxford History of Modern War” by Charles Townsend, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” by Paul Kennedy, and “The U.S. and Vietnam 1787-1941” by Robert Hopkins Miller, which goes back at least 175 years further than seems necessary. A practical man, bin-Laden also had such drier tomes as “Guerrilla Air Defense: Antiaircraft Weapons and Techniques for Guerrilla Forces” by James Crabtree, “Handbook of International Law” by Anthony Aust, and “Checking Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions” by Henry Sokolski and Patrick Clawson. We’ve not read any of these books, and therefor cannot comment on their merits, but we are eagerly awaiting the movies. “A Brief Guide to Understanding Islam” by I.A. Ibrahim was also found on bin-Laden’s bookshelf, so we also have to credit him with more interest than the usual left-winger in that subject.
Like so many of the left-wingers we know, bin-Laden also had an avid interest in conspiracy theories, as shown by his ownership of such books as “Black Box Voting, Ballot Tampering in the 20th Century” by Bev Harris, “Bloodlines of the Illuminati” by Fritz Springmeier, and “Conspirators’ Hierarchy: The Committee of 300” by John Coleman, and “Secrets of the Federal Reserve” by Eustace Mullins. We’re awaiting the movies on these books, too, but on the basis of the titles alone we will assume they’re the sort of thing that only a left-winger or someone off the Arab Street would take seriously. More intriguing is bin-Laden’s interest in the various “truther” conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack, as evidenced by such books as “New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11” by David Griffin, and we’d like think it irked hit that some people were trying to deny him credit.
Most striking, though, is the lack of anything entertaining on bin-Laden’s shelf. When we’re inevitably forced to go into hiding from the American government we intend to stockpile plenty of P.G. Wodehouse’s elegant comedies and Scott Phillips’ lurid thrillers and something of a more titillating nature as well, along with the usual how-to books and canned food and ammunition, and it makes us think all the less of bin-Laden that he couldn’t appreciate such fine writing. It’s nice to think that his final days were spent holed up in some desolate hiding place in a third-world hellhole without anything to fun to read, though, and we hope that if he had the internet he never stopped by here.

— Bud Norman

Making a Killing on a Killing

Even the most dedicated Obama-bashers, including your humble correspondent, were obliged to admit that he did something right when he gave the order to kill Osama bin Laden. Even some of Obama’s most ardent admirers, though, have reluctantly conceded that he’s been overdoing the chest-thumping lately.

The president marked the one-year anniversary of bin Laden’s death by making a surprise visit to Afghanistan, where he gave a nationally-televised speech announcing a “strategic partnership agreement” with that country’s beleaguered government, unveiling a new campaign ad that subtly suggests his Republican challenger wouldn’t have bothered to kill bin Laden, and explicitly making the same claim to reporters at a news conference. In addition, his numerous political and media surrogates have been gleefully engaging in the sort of triumphalist crowing that Obama once disdainfully described as “spiking the football.”

The political rationale is obvious, given that the killing of bin Laden is the one thing that even the most dedicated Obama-bashers have to admit was something he did right, but he might be squandering his political advantage with wretched excess. It’s not just that such a proud celebration of a man’s death is a bit unseemly, although that is a problem even when the departed is so thoroughly unlamented as bin Laden, but it also provokes a discussion of other issues that won’t be as favorable.

The president’s critics will be quick to point out that he opposed the harsh interrogation techniques that yielded the intelligence that made possible the killing of bin Laden, something his CIA director has reluctantly admitted, and that other vital intelligence came from detainees at the Guantanamo base that Obama has vowed to get around to closing someday. With the provocation of Obama’s efforts to publicize the anniversary of bin Laden’s death, those critics also won’t seem petty to point out that the policies deriving from the president’s pacifist campaign pose also made it unthinkable for the Navy SEALs to capture the late al Qaeda leader and get even more intelligence.

By taking his bows in Afghanistan, Obama also brought what will likely be unwelcome attention to a much-ignored war that continues at a deadly pace for American troops. Obama used the speech to tout recent troop reductions and promise a complete withdrawal by 2014, but gave no reason to believe that anything of lasting importance to American security will be accomplished by that arbitrary date.

It’s all been too much for some members of the military, who are now openly criticizing the president’s attempts to win political points with their efforts. If their complaints were widely circulated beyond the British press it would be a major public relations problem for the president, as they poll better much than he does.

Another possible drawback to Obama’s efforts to publicize the bin Laden killing, at least as far as the more attentive swing voters are concerned, is how it reminds that it was the one thing that his critics had to concede he did it right. The death of bin Laden won’t put any back to work, or lower the price of groceries, and there won’t be another anniversary before election day.

— Bud Norman