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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

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Life Goes On

A steady stream of cute kids in scary costumes dropped by our front porch in search of candy on Thursday, a scarier-looking bunch of the hated Boston Red Sox won the World Series on Wednesday, but our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad will commence a season with great expectations on Saturday. Each passing day has lately been shorter and cooler and every night longer and colder as one season gives way to another, but the neighbors will decorate the long cold nights with bright lights until the warmth and storms of spring surely come again.
Those of us who pay too much attention to economics and politics and world affairs and such will occasionally lose sight of the fact, but life goes on. The economy has been limping along on artificially low interest rates and endless money-printing that will inevitably come to an end before the high unemployment and limited opportunities do, for the time being politics has bestowed a government-run health care system so calamitous that even the press cannot pretend otherwise, and the world seems to be readying itself for a contentious and bloody post-American era that will begin with the apocalyptic suicide cult of medieval nutcases that runs Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, but life goes on. Most people still get up and go to their jobs, or their two part-time jobs, and they come home and watch over those cute kids, and they watch sports, and the rest are still are getting their benefits or struggling along somehow. The guys on the talk radio shows and the people who call in are all plenty steamed about it, and all but most naively idealistic of the millions who have lost their insurance plans or seen them become vastly more expensive as a result of Obamacare probably feel the same, but it doesn’t seem to come up in conversation so often as the kids or the sports teams as life goes on.
Perhaps this is proof of the resilience of the American spirit and what’s left of capitalism, and we certainly hope so, but sometimes it feels more like a supine acceptance of American decline. The extraordinary number of Americans no longer bothering to even seek work goes largely unremarked, the broken promises of a conspicuously inept government are merely laughed at in the late-night monologues, and America’s diminished role in the world is little noticed and widely regarded as a welcome respite from the messy business of imposing some sort of international order. There’s an eerie lack of outrage about any of it, at least when the radio dial is tuned away from the talk shows, and a palpable sense of resignation.
Neither is there much of talk of hope and change and the fundamental transformation of America, as liberalism seems dispirited by its manifest failures and struggles to make the obligatory excuses, and it suddenly seems possible that the public’s discontent will at last express itself loudly at next year’s mid-term elections. In the meantime some of those people who are still going to a full-time job are pulling new energy out of the ground with astounding new technologies despite the government’s best efforts to stop them, and others are creating equally amazing innovations that will revolutionize other industries in ways the bureaucrats haven’t dreamed how to regulate, and many will go home from more mundane enterprises to raise cute kids who will someday come up with something even better.
Unless the country can muster a little more outrage, though, those cute kids could inherit a lot less than they deserve.

— Bud Norman