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A Hard-Earned Vacation

Today President Donald Trump starts a planned 17-day vacation at his swank private New Jersey golf club, and we can hardly blame him for wanting to get away from the swamps of Washington, D.C., for a while. Thursday brought fresh leaks of some embarrassing phone calls Trump had with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia, as well as the news that the special counsel investigating the matter of what Trump now calls “Russia” has convened a grand jury, and that’s despite the best efforts of tough new chief of staff who was installed after a major administration shake-up and another week of rebukes by everyone from the Boy Scouts to America’s police chiefs to the Republicans in Congress.
The ostensible reason for the time away is that the White House is replacing its 27-year-old air-conditioning and heating system, and after the couple of sultry summers we’ve spent in Washington that seems plausible enough, although we’re not sure if President Andrew Jackson would have though so, and the timing does seem suspiciously fortuitous. Trump had long criticized his predecessor for spending too much time on golf courses, just as his predecessor had even more hypocritically criticized his predecessor for the same thing, and with his own private golf course being reimbursed by the government Trump will probably take an even worse public relations hit than either of them, but by now it could be a lot worse. If Trump can keep his thumbs gripped to a golf club rather than tapping out a “tweet” on his telephone, and stay away from interviews and otherwise avoid compounding his problems while his lawyers and remaining staff do their best to sort things out, that would probably be 17 days well spent.
The leaks about those embarrassing phone calls with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia had already been partially leaked way back in Trump’s second week of the job, but despite the momentary embarrassment Trump was able to dismiss them as “fake news” with with the politely oblique help of the other countries involved, and it was quickly forgotten in all the other news that kept coming. This time around there are full transcripts of the conversations, which are even more embarrassing in full context, and the White House is neither confirming nor denying their veracity, and neither are the other two governments involved, and by now the guy embarrassing himself on those transcripts sure does sound an awful lot like Trump.
The phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull reveals Trump trying to weasel out of a deal the United States had during struck his predecessor’s administration to take in 1,250 refugees, getting the numbers involved and other basic facts of the deal wrong along the way, frankly worrying how it would “It would make me look terrible,” and abruptly ending the conversation after saying that he’d had a much more pleasant telephone call that day with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Worse yet, as far as Trump’s most loyal supporters might be concerned, in the phone call with Mexican President Pena Nieto he seemed to concede that he’d never really meant all that campaign rhetoric about making Mexico pay for a wall across the entire southern border, but expected the Mexican government to play along with it for the ruse for a while. Nieto bluntly said Spanish equivalent of “nyet,” so far the Republican majorities in Congress have been similarly reluctant to cough up the funding for a border wall, and this is not a good time for people to be reminded about it along with all the further “fake news” leaks that can neither be denied by confirmed by the White House.
The leaks about the special counsel convening a grand jury to issue all sorts of subpoenas in that “Russia” investigation have also been neither confirmed nor denied by the White House, so they’re also looking pretty credible, and although you can spin it so it’s not such a bad thing there’s no way of making it out to be a good thing. That special counsel has a formidable reputation as a dogged but by-the-book investigator, and according to the book the paneling of a grand jury implies some pretty darned prima facie evidence that something fishy’s going on, and for now all questions about it are being referred to the president’s and his family’s and staff’s outside legal counsel.
Given all the other leaks about “Russia” that have neither been confirmed nor denied over the past eight months or so, and instead been to referred to all the various outside counsels that are now involved, we can easily understand why Trump is wanting some rest and relaxation on a familiar golf course. Someone pretty high up in Trump’s administration  is leaking the latest leaks, too, so all the more reason to take some time off from whomever that might be. We’re sure he’ll still be in constant communication with the rest of the executive branch while he’s contemplating a chip shot, just as his predecessors claimed to do, and we hope he at least breaks par.
According to some rather embarrassing leaks to Golf Magazine and Sports Illustrated, though, Trump is also  a notorious golf cheat who routinely claims to have broken par, and so far the White House neither confirms nor denies this.

— Bud Norman

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Winning Friends and Influencing People, Trump Style

Some people voted for President Donald Trump because of his speak-first-and-think-later style, on the theory that all those carefully worded opinions that politicians tend to offer had led only to American carnage so surely some crazed off-the-cuff bluster would set things right, but we suspect that most of the people who voted for him did so in spite of it lest Hillary Clinton win. The prospect of a Clinton presidency remains horrifying, but Thursday offered reminders of how very bad the choices were in the last election.
The National Prayer Breakfast was awful enough, with Trump using the solemn occasion to get a couple of childish digs in against former action movie star and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s low-ratings on the “Apprentice” reality show that made the future president a national celebrity after years of New York tabloid fame. Except for making the President of the United States look petty and vain it didn’t do much harm, and the ongoing feud might help goose the ratings for a show he retains an executive producer credit on, but his reportedly testy telephone conversation with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is more worrisome.
Those reports suggest that Trump spent much of the call boasting in exaggerated terms about his election victory, then went sour when the talk turned to a deal that President Barack Obama had negotiated for America to take in 1,250 middle eastern refugees being held in Australian detention centers, and ended with Trump angrily telling Turnbull that it was the worst conversation he’d had with a foreign leader all day and then abruptly ending it less than halfway through the time that had been scheduled. Spokespeople for both leaders insisted it had all been very cordial and productive, but the reports from multiple media had multiple sources at both ends, the part about Trump’s exaggerated boasting seems altogether believable given his recent on-the-record and on-video speeches, numerous Republican officials did feel obliged to go on the record about their support for Australia, and the “tweet” Trump issued right afterward about the “dumb deal” lend further credence to the reporting, as does pretty much the entirety of Trump’s career.
The deal that Obama negotiated regarding the refugees is arguably dumb, as so many of Obama’s deals were, but given that it only involved 1,250 people, not the 2,000 that Trump claims, and that the agreement also allowed for American officials to screen out the riskier sorts, we can’t see how it’s dumber than giving offense to an Australian Prime Minister and all the people Australians who elected him. America’s friendship with Australia has included their stalwart support through two world wars and a cold war and the hotter wars in Korea and Vietnam and the more recent battles against radical Islam in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, and it makes an American president look vain and petty to cut short a conversation about such a relatively trivial matter. Despite the name Turnbull’s Liberal Party is the Australian counterpart of America’s Republican party, too, and undermining him helps the more anti-American opposition in the same way that Trump’s gruff approach to the Mexican President Pena Nieto helps the far-left Marxist who is lately rising in the polls. It might make Trump look tough to those who voted for him because of his talk-first-and-think-later style, but at this point the rest of the world’s opinion also matters.
No matter how dumb the refugee deal might have been it was an agreement that a longtime friend made with a duly-elected American government, too, and Trump’s penchant for suggesting that such agreements won’t survive our quadrennial elections can’t give his future negotiating partners much long-term faith in what he might come up with. The allies we’ve had in Europe through two world wars and a cold war and the more recent conflicts are already worried about his talk about not honoring the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations that have been so essential to the world’s relative peace and prosperity over the past 70 years, and an unnecessary spat with such a reliable ally as Australia over such a small matter as 1,250 refugees we’re allowed to vet will not be reassuring.

— Bud Norman

The Classics and the Current Scene

There’s a certain unmistakable craziness afloat these days everywhere along the political spectrum throughout western civilization, and in times like these our temperamentally conservative soul seeks solace in classical history and its constant assurance that our remarkably resilient culture has been through all this sort of thing before. Western history is not altogether reassuring, though, as it also frankly reveals that such times are awful to live through, whatever happy chapters might await some day long past our passing.
We were last reminded of this when Europe’s vexing problems with the recent wave of Middle Eastern and North African refugees started washing ashore, and trainloads of unaccompanied minors were crossing into the United States from only slightly more assimilable cultures, and some scholarly fellow reminded us of Edward Gibbons and his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” which described how the Goth invaders welcomed by the Romans “still wore an angry and hostile aspect; but the experience of past times might encourage the hope they would acquire the habits of industry and obedience; that their manners would be polished by time, education, and the influence of Christianity, and their posterity would insensibly blend with the great body of the Roman people.” It seemed an eerily apt description of the western elite’s optimistic multi-cultularism, except that they no longer put in any stock in that Christian influence and no one who’s paying any attention any longer takes western education seriously, and the rest of it also seemed eerily familiar. “Notwithstanding these specious arguments, and these sanguine expectations, it was apparent to every discerning eye, that the Goths would long remain the enemies, and might soon become the conquerers of the Roman Empire. Their rude and insolent behavior expressed their contempt of the citizens and provincials, whom they insulted with impunity.”
After that desultory blast from our historical past, a recent round-up of headlines from across Europe will sound discomfortingly familiar. Although the European press was slow to give up its specious arguments and sanguine expectations it now begrudgingly concedes that at a welcoming party for newly arrived “refugees” in Germany the honorees seized the opportunity to grope and sexually assault their hosts, that similar behavior by recent immigrants was epidemic in public squares around the continent during New Year’s Eve celebrations, that rape and other violent crimes by the new arrivals are now common, and that the welfare-dependent new arrivals are expressing their contempt of the citizens and insulting them with impunity, and that they may yet prove the conquerers who usher in the Dark Ages. This is by now apparent to every discerning eye, even in a Europe that doesn’t have a First Amendment and a resulting right-wing press, so the main concern is now with hoping that it doesn’t benefit those awful right-wing parties.
So far as we can tell, being here on the prairie and thus so far away from the action and reliant on the heavily-censored press, many of these awful right-wing parties are merely proposing a sensible alternative to cultural suicide. The Fleet Street press is pretty puckish even without a First Amendment, and reading of even their most critical suggests that the dreaded United Kingdom Independence Party merely wants independence from the suicidal European Union and its immigration policies, which seems reasonable enough, and we’re not at all scared even by that Geert Wilders in Holland, who is banned almost in every respectable jurisdiction, and certainly not by Holland’s agnostic Somalian refugee Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who now lives in for fear of her life in America because of those offended by her steadfast defense of of western rather than Islamic values, and who has also been banned from American campuses, and neither do we fear the continuing influence of Pim Fortuyn, the homosexual and secularist and libertarian who was assassinated by a radical environmentalist for launching the “right-wing” crusade against mass immigration. Even in the worst case scenarios, we wonder if any of those “right wing” parties are any crazier than those more respectable parties with their specious arguments and sanguine expectations about the new arrivals neatly fitting in with the churches and gay bars next door and diversity-tained companies next door, and we note that the European press has admittedly been surpassing the facts lest those right-wing parties seem reasonable.
Still, we cannot dismiss the more respectable left’s worries. Classical history also warns us against that strain of patriotism that mutates into nationalism, and all the troubles that has caused in just the past century, and a lot of those European right-wing parties do seem to veer off in a troublesome direction. No matter how comely its leadership, the National Front in France hasn’t yet disavowed its Vichy roots, whatever purposes they might serve American interests many of those anti-Putin forces in Ukraine have roots in the worst of Europe’s history, some of the other vigilante groups around the continent are also a bit rowdy for our tastes, and at this point there are more anti-immigrant parties popping up around the west than we can vouch for. By now our only hope is that Europe allows enough room for frank discussion to come to a reasonable conclusion, and that hope seems faint.
“Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defense. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. To succeed in a plot was to have a shrewd head, to divine a plot still shrewder; but to provide against having to do either was to break up your party.”
The impeccably conservative Kimball dredged up this ancient comment by the Greek historian Thucydides, commenting on long ago events, to convey his current distaste with the Republican and therefore right-wing presidential candidacy of real estate mogul and reality show star and recent Democrat Donald Trump, currently the front-runner in his party’s race, and we have to agree this desultory blast from the past is redolent of a round-up of recent headlines from the campaign. We don’t mean to equate Trump with the worst of Europe’s current right, and we certainly don’t mean to equate him with the best of it that wishes to merely forgo civilizational suicide, but we do think he’s a recklessly audacious and imprudent sort who confuses frantic “tweeting” and shock jock taunts with manliness and who has pulled off countless improbable plots and divined far more implausible ones, and we do share Kimball’s discomfort. He’s settled on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose right-wing views and reckless audacity have arguably infuriated the supposedly right-wing Republican elites even more than Trumps, and we’ve tentatively reached the same conclusion, although after reading so much history we’re reluctant to place much faith in any mere man. The craziness on the left seems all the more frightening, though, where a self-described socialist and the epitome of a western elite vying to see who can offer the most specious arguments and sanguine expectations, and even the most ancient histories can’t provide any comparable craziness as a guide.

— Bud Norman

Peace, Love, Tolerance, and the Hard Facts of Life

The more we learn about Wednesday’s horrific massacre in San Bernardino, the worse it looks for the peace and love and tolerance side of each of the acrimonious debates that always follow these sorts of tragedies.
While much of the peace and love and tolerance side of the divide spent most of Wednesday hoping that it would turn out to be another rare case of white Christian males motivated by a homicidal hatred of the Planned Parenthood clinic that was reportedly a mere 1.3 miles away, it turned out to be a man and a woman of Middle Eastern descent who considered themselves devout Muslims. All the Republican presidential candidates spent the day awaiting more facts and offering thoughts and prayers for the victims in and their families in the meantime, which was widely ridiculed by the more secular sorts who thought it more appropriate to being paying homage to all the gun control catechisms rather than any of that God-bothering stuff, and The New York Daily News went so far as to headline it’s tabloid cover with “God Isn’t Fixing This,” but even in this post-religious age we expect that those Republicans candidates got the better of that exchange.
The male half of the murderous duo was an employee of the San Bernardino County Health Department that was targeted, leading to faint hopes that it was just another one of rare cases of “workplace violence” that happen in a country where gun rights are allowed, much like that Army psychiatrist of Middle Eastern descent who was shouting “Allahu Akbar” as he shot down thirteen men at women at the Fort Hood Army Base, but the multiple reports of a massive arsenal and thousands of rounds of ammunition and numerous bombs and radio-controlled delivery systems found in his house, along with the apparent planning involved in the massacre and his previous travels in the Middle East and his electronic contacts with the more radical elements there all suggest this wasn’t a spontaneous reaction to some office spat. By the end of the second day even President Barack Obama was speculating about “mixed motives” for the shooting, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was glumly conceding that the shootings were an act of terrorism, although she still wouldn’t say of what sort. All of the Democratic presidential candidates and seemingly the rest of the party have steadfastly eschewed any reference to radical Islamic terrorism, which leaves them on the ridiculous side of all the resulting exchanges about a variety of related.
The assurances of the administration and its party that the there is no such thing as radical terrorism, that the pesky terrorist groups and lone wolf and lone couple-of-wolves terrorists who insist otherwise are simply mistaken, that the Islamic State that has recently inflicted an even deadlier toll on Paris and Ankara and Beirut is merely a “jayvee teams” that is “on the run” and “contained” and being “degraded” while on the way to be shortly “destroyed,” and that a conference about “climate change” is the most powerful rebuke to such nothing-to-do-with-Islam annoyances, all suddenly seem less credible. Those old saws about terrorism being a result of rampant anti-Islam sentiment and lack of opportunities afforded to Muslims in the west aren’t holding up well, either, given that the male murderer was gainfully employed by his local government and living in comfortable home in a well-regarded community that was amply stocked with weapons and ammunition and pipe-bombs and radio-controlled delivery systems, even if he wasn’t the son of a billionaire, like Osama bin Laden, and he seems to have no trouble importing his murderous wife from the Middle East, and even in supposedly Islamophobic America the neighbors who were slightly suspicious of conspicuous radicalization were reluctant to say anything for fear of being accused of Islamophobia.
Neither do the facts of this case help those who are arguing that peace and love and tolerance requires allowing many thousands of refugees from the war-torn Middle East in the country. We’re assured that the refugees are mostly children and elderly widows, and although most of them are actually fit young men of fighting we’re assured that their backgrounds will be thoroughly checked, but a murderous male and the murder wife whose immigration was routinely allowed suggest the government might so efficient about such things as it claims to be, and once again we expect they’ll get the worse of the exchange.
The peace and love and tolerance side of the debate still seems hopeful that the incident will help them persuade the country to disarm its lawful and patriotic citizens, but we expect that the more pragmatic portion of America will be clinging to its guns all the more bitterly in the aftermath of this event. None of the “common sense” solutions put forth so far would have prevented the murders in San Bernardino, or any of the all-too-frequent mass shootings that truly did not have nothing to do with Islam, and all of them would make it harder for the average American to defend himself when they do inevitably occur. Even if the San Bernardino murders had been the long-anticipated yet never-realized act of crazed Tea Partiers, we think the peace and love and tolerance side of the debate would still have fared badly.
Still, we hope there’s some practicable measure of peace, love, and tolerance in the solutions that are pursued, no matter how debased those noble values have been rendered by their high-minded advocates. The righteous outrage of the French people to the similarly motivated but even more deadly attacks on Paris have vaulted the unsavory Le Pen party to the top of the polls, similar events in other European countries have benefitted similarly unsavory parties, everywhere in the west where the established and respectable parties have adopted a policy of unfettered immigration and self-debasing multi-cultularism a potentially dangerous backlash is brewing, and there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t happen here. The Democratic Party seems committed to pretending there is no such thing as radical Islamic terrorism and that even if there is the only solution is to disarm the American people, so it therefore falls on the Republican Party to formulate a more sensible response that is honest and frank but not inflammatory or authoritarian. We’re cautiously hopeful that might prove true, and quite convinced that the peace and love and tolerance side of the debate is currently getting the worst of it.

— Bud Norman

Giving Thanks for the Holiday Pause

Our heartfelt thanks have been duly given, and we’re slowly coming out of our annual tryptophan coma, so it’s back to our usual business of going on about the sorry state of the world. There’s usually not much in the news during the long Thanksgiving weekend except the easily avoidable fisticuffs over Black Friday bargains, which is another thing to be thankful for, but we expect that by Monday the news will be back in force and we want to be braced.
Several intriguing stories have been temporarily replaced with holiday programming but are bound to be back on the air before all the Christmas specials start up. There’s that 13-month-old video of a fatal and highly suspicious shooting of a black man by police in Chicago, and the shootings at a Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis, and the spreading epidemic of protests at American universities over far less macro-aggressive racial matters, and a gnawing suspicion that it’s going to be a long, hot winter. Such unanticipated problems of the post-racial era will likely complicate the on-going debates about the refugees from the Syrian war and the broader issue of unfettered immigration, which will be going on through New Year’s and into the coming primaries.
There’s always a chance those obligatory annual Black Friday estimates will be disappointing, and that the Chinese economy will further suffer as a result, and that the long-feared rate hikes by the Federal Reserve will spook the markets that have so long relied on the intoxicating sweetness of quantitative easing, and that the economy will once again be a pressing issue. The Syrian civil war that’s fueling the aforementioned refugee crisis, as well as a recent spate of terror attacks around the world, will surely not go unnoticed even in a holiday news season. There’s also the big climate change conference coming up in Paris, which the President is touting as a huge blow against the terrorists, unless they manage to blow it up, in which case they would still be a less urgent threat than climate change, but barring any such mishaps we can’t see that story having any legs.
All of which will continue to affect those primaries, which are another thing to grouse about. In almost every cast those suspicious police shootings of black men seem to happen in Democrat-controlled cities, and in the case of that-suppressed-for-13-months-video it happened in a community that was once personally organized by the President himself and is now run by his former Chief of Staff, but we expect that all the Democratic candidates will try to out-do one another in their indignation about the Republicans and their weird insistence on the need for law enforcement and a right to self-defense. The Syrian stuff will make the Democrats all the more insistent in their belief that climate change really is the biggest threat America faces, which polls about as well as the gun-grabbing rhetoric, and the ramped-up share-the-wealth talk isn’t likely to sway a public that can’t help noticing how the wealth seems to be shrinking. Meanwhile the Republicans seem intent on picking whichever candidate can muster the greatest bluster about it all, and it’s hard to hold on to tryptophan-induced sense of serene gratitude.
There’s something to that Thanksgiving insight, though, and we’ll try our best to bitterly cling to it through the coming news. We hope you’ll let that holiday happiness linger at least through the weekend, too, although we can’t promise we’ll have any good news come in the inevitable Monday.

— Bud Norman

The Exponential Complexities of the Middle East

A Russian fighter jet was shot down Tuesday over Syrian air space by an American-armed Turkmen militia group on orders from the Turkish government, further complicating what was already the most confusing conflict in the history of war. The situation will require the most wily and nimble and resolute response by America’s leadership, so we expect that things are about to become even more complicated.
The Turkmen are ethnic Turks living in Syria but loyal to Turkey, which is at odds with the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, whose efforts to remain in power through a long and bloody and confusingly multi-sided civil war have been much aided by the Russians, which is presumably why the Turkmen shot down the Russian fighter jet even though it had reportedly left Turkish air space after a brief and apparently uneventful incursion. Turkey is for some reason or another a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, despite Prime Minister Recep Erdogan leading the country toward a more radically Islamic state, and Erdogan retains a “special friendship” with the Obama administration, probably because of Turkey’s increased radicalization, and the administration is also at odds with Assad, who has crossed “red lines” that changed the president’s calculus and now “has to go” to and is constantly subjected to similarly tough talk from the administration, but unlike the good old days of the Cold War it is no longer so simple as that. Another one of the many sides in the Syrian civil war is the Islamic State, which the administration insists is neither Islamic nor a state even though it has some pretty specific Koranic verses to explain what it’s doing in the Indiana-sized territory it now controls in former parts of Syria and Iraq, and at the moment they’re a bigger pain in the global posterior than even the Assad regime. Pretty much everyone at least claims to be opposed to the Islamic State, including Assad, whose sincerity on this matter is not to be doubted, and Russia, whose warplanes have been effectively targeting the Islamic State rather than the Turkmen and the other American-backed anti-Assad forces ever since the terror group shot down one of its jetliners, and the Assad regime’s sponsors in Iran, who as always are complicating matters further yet.
Which doesn’t begin to suggest the geo-political complexities, much less the domestic political implications, which together are exponential. The Syrian civil war has sent millions of refugees from all over the region into Europe and North America, with opportunist asylum seekers far from the conflict joining the flood, and the inevitable populist backlashes are brewing on both continents. The Islamic State’s terrorism has struck in Turkey and Lebanon as well as the heart of France, and Belgium seems to have been spared so far only by a complete lockdown of its capital city, and the groups threats against several countries including the United States can no longer be dismissed as the bluster of a “jayvee team” of terrorism, and there’s worldwide discontent and increased military action by formerly pacifist countries about that as well. Joining forces with Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies could quickly solve the Islamic State problem, but all those non-Islamic State sides would still be fighting a Syrian civil war and the refugee problem would continue and the rest of the Muslim world’s problems, such as the Yemen civil war that’s largely kept Saudi Arabia from asserting any Sunni power against the Shia Iranians and Alawite Assad in all this mess, or the Palestinians’ “stabbing intifada” against the Israelis, which has largely been overlooked amongst all the other complexities, so it seems unlikely that any country will have the region’s infectious woes solved by its next election.
One can only hope that the utter ineptitude of the current administration leading up to this sorry state of affairs will be well considered in this country’s next election, and that perhaps some correction will be made even before then. All that talk of Assad having to go and red lines being set and moderate forces being trained and air strikes being ordered was always accompanied by assurances of no American boots on the ground and little in the way of action, which emboldened Assad and his allies to use the red-lined tactics that sent the millions of refugees fleeing the region and the thousand of inspired western jihadists flooding into the region to fight for the Islamic State, and a similarly clumsy and irresolute response to Russia’s revanchism in Ukraine seems to have emboldened that country to fly over NATO airspace with impunity. In this case they seem to have made a miscalculation, failing to account for the fact that Turkmen militias armed with American weaponry don’t particularly care what American foreign policy prefers, and that despite its “special relationship” with American neither does Turkey, but once again they didn’t underestimate American resolve. The Iranians, who have been ratcheting up the “death to America” ever since they might or might not have agreed to America’s utter capitulation to its nuclear weapons program, which is eventually going to complicate things to a point that the current mess seems like the good old days, likely figures that it can maintain its puppet Assad regime and leave enough Islamic State to bedevil the infidel west and proceed with its master plan for the battle of Armageddon.
We’ll freely admit that we see no way out of this, but what worries us is that the administration won’t. Instead they insist that our policies have contained the Islamic State, that the refugees should welcomed with certainty that none will import the pathologies of the regions they are fleeing, that Russia’s seemingly expanding influence is a sign of its weakness, that all those “death to America” chants in Iran shouldn’t scuttle the deal we might or might have cut capitulating to their nuclear weapons program, and that climate change is still America’s greatest foreign policy challenge. There are reports that the American jets flying over Islamic State-controlled areas are at last dropping their bombs on the convoys of stolen oil that finance their operation, and that there are a few Americans boots actually on the ground helping to guide the missiles, and the administration did acknowledge Turkey’s right to defend its airspace, and we even read that we’re arming the Kurds, who seem to be among the more reasonable tiles in the vast and vibrant multi-cultural mosaic that is the war-torn Middle East, even though the administration denies it so as not to offend our special friends in increasingly radicalized Turkey, which has its own internal Kurdish problems, which is another one of those complexities, so perhaps there is some wising up going in the administration.
The most immediate concern is that an official if unaccountable NATO member has shot down a Russian fighter jet, and that the world will at long last come to the same ending as “Doctor Strangelove,” but we expect it will prove more complicated than that. We can easily imagine President Barack Obama sounding very much likely President Merkin Muffly as he apologizes to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and although we despite Putin’s nakedly expansionist national ambitions we credit him with the shrewdness to be satisfied with a few carpet bombings of the offending areas and the west’s abject appeasement. This doesn’t seem like something we’ll be going into toe-to-toe nuclear combat with the Russkies over, as Slim Pickens might have said, but one never knows. Our only surety, alas, is that the whole wide world is now one very sticky wicket.

— Bud Norman

Chuckling Away the Refugee Crisis

We have long noticed that whenever a doctrinaire liberal is confronted with verifiable facts and irrefutable logic he tends to respond with a condescending chuckle and an upturned chin and a self-righteous assurance that only the worst sorts of Fox News-watching and church-going and Republican-voting people and otherwise uncivilized people would be rude as the mention such things. This annoying tendency has been on conspicuous display during the recent debate about what to do with that tidal wave of people desperately fleeing the Middle East, which we are assured is a blameless part of the world where a Religion of Peace prevails, when the modern liberal has been reduced to condescending chuckles and ad hominem arguments to explain why the western world is obviously obliged to import millions of potentially dangerous people from the pathologies of a hostile and increasingly belligerent region.
It wouldn’t be so annoying if it were only coming from the hipsters at the local beer dive, but it’s also coming from President Barack Obama and all of his potential Democratic successors and too many of their allies in the respectable press, not to mention such formerly sensible European Union grandees as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and it seems at the moment the tidal wave will prove irresistible. This comes just days after at least one lone wolf of that tidal wave of putative “refugees” helped pull off a sophisticated and deadly terrorist attack on Paris, and shortly after their allies in the Middle East had downed a Russian jetliner over Egypt and bombed some religiously internecine enemies in Beirut and Ankara, and long since the European continent has been engulfed in decades of similar difficulties with an unassimilated Muslim population, and a numbing 14 years since America suffered an even more deadly attack on its soil, and by now the modern liberal hopes that the same old condescending chuckle and rote recitations of moral relativism will once again suffice. Real arguments for the insane policy of relocating a large chunk of the most troubled parts of the world to the west, however, are harder to come by.
There’s the hard-to-resist sob story about innocent refugees of war, of course, but in this case a suspiciously large chunk of the refugees of the Syrian civil war are young and male and fighting-fit, and an awful lot of them don’t seem to be from Syria, and at the moment a large chunk of Syria as well as Iraq and many other Middle Easter countries are “governed” by people who have openly declared war on the west, and it takes quite a condescending chuckle to dismiss any concerns that the unwashed public in Germany or red state America might have about it. We’re told that the refugees will be properly “vetted,” but no chuckling or ad hominem attacks on our racist motives can dispel our doubts that there’s a database somewhere that can reliably verify each of the proposed 100,000 “Syrian” “refugees” that the administration wants to bring in are really who they say they are, or that the records we’ve been allowed access to in the currently at-war-with-us country of Syria are at all reliable. The lower administration officials whose reputations are at stake on such obviously ridiculous claims are more carefully stating their statements, but the higher and more term-limited officials above them doing the usual chuckling and disparaging of dissenting opinions. The same thing seems to be going on in more vulnerable Europe, and even there the population seems rightly skeptical. There’s the same condescending chuckles and upturned chins and self-righteous talk about religious discriminations, as if the Christians and Yazidis and other victims of the region’s religious genocides weren’t already underrepresented in the west’s relocation efforts, and as if those genuinely blameless minorities didn’t import a cultural and religious hostility toward the west, but we doubt it will prove persuasive to the publics that are expected to welcome these new neighbors.
There’s already a populist backlash growing almost everywhere, from the majority of the United States whose governors have raised objections to the suddenly insurgent political parties that are drawing massive protests through the the rest of remnants of the western world. To the extent the condescending chuckles and ad hominem attacks have succeeded in banishing such arguments from respectable debate In some parts of the western world have succeeded, the most disreputable sorts of people have seized an advantage. In France the notorious and Vichy-linked Le Pen Party has surged in the polls, similarly suspicious organizations Germany are gaining on the increasingly unpopular Merkel, and even here in the relatively unaffected United States Donald Trump has increased his lead in the Republican party’s presidential race, and whichever Democrat facing him seems sure to fare badly on the refugee issue and the broader question of immigration into the country.
That condescending chuckle and those ad hominem arguments cow a lot of people into compliance with liberal orthodoxy, both here and in Europe, but they don’t always carry the day. There are not only a lot of governors but also a full slate of Republican candidates questioning the idea of allowing large numbers of “Syrian” “refugees” into the country, and they seem to have counterparts around the rest of the western world, and in many cases they seem reasonable people, and there’s some hope that the for-now majorities in those jurisdictions will wind up voting for the most respectable champions of the status quo, and that their votes will still count.

–Bud Norman

Beyond Winning and American Leadership

We have witnessed some pretty awful presidential press conferences in our time, but President Barack Obama’s performance in Turkey on Monday surpasses them all. There was nothing so memorably pithy as “I am not a crook” or “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” but it was packed with more pure nonsense and un-presidential prickliness than anything we can recall.

The Cable News Network reached into its thesaurus to describe the president as “unyielding” in the headline, but by the second paragraph was forced to settle for “testy,” and even such polite press as Politico.com described him responding to reporters questions with “mild irritation.” We’d have gone with “annoyed,” “arrogant,” “dismissive,” “snarky,” “snarling,” and “downright un-presidential,” but that would only be a warm-up for all for the pure nonsense that he spouted. Little wonder that the president was “defensive,” as other press outlets put it, as the recent victories of the Islamic State in Paris and Beirut and over the skies of Egypt and across an expanding caliphate in the Middle East, as well as his venue in recently-bombed and refugee-swarmed Turkey, forced him to defend his foreign policy in general and his dealings with the Islamic State in particular. Pure nonsense is necessary to defend such a record, and some un-presidential prickliness is inevitable.

Obama had once scoffed at the Islamic State as a “jayvee team” of terrorism, and even after it seizure of an area larger than most European countries and its downing of a Russian jetliner over of Egypt and successful bombings against its Shiite enemies in Lebanon and another deadly attack in Turkey, and just hours before it launched a coordinate attack on six sites in Paris he boasted they were “contained,” so even the most cooperative press had to ask if he might have underestimated the enemy. The president explained that the expansion their Middle Eastern caliphate had not lately increased, a claim that even one of the most reliably supportive Democratic senators disputes, and which ignores its recent incursions into Lebanon and Turkey and the very heart of France, and we think even the most sympathetic observer would note some mild irritation on the president’s part.
Obama was more upbeat as he announced that “What is different this time” is that all the major parties involved in the Syrian civil war now “agree on a process that is needed to end this war, and so while we are very clear-eyed that this will be a very, very difficult road still ahead, the United States, in partnership with our coalition, is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian, and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.” This is hardly Churchillian in its rhetorical spelndor, even without the accompanying prickliness, and only reminds how very, very difficult that road to surrender to Iran over its nuclear ambitions proved to be, and it was immediately undercut by his comments on how relentless the United States will be on the military front. “And let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terroristic attack from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist attack that’s operating anywhere else — in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?”
This is a devastating rebuttal of whatever straw men Obama imagines are advocating 50,000 troops in Syria, but it raises unsettling and unasked questions about what Obama would do in the case of a terrorist attack from Yemen or the former Libya that he bombed into chaos or North Africa or Southeast Asia or some other likely place of origin, and it has little to with the debate that’s actually occurring. Not only in the Republican nomination race but even in the most respectable foreign policy think tanks there is a growing consensus that some change of course is necessary, and the president responded to such contrary opinions by saying that “if people want to pop off and have opinions about what they think would do, have a specific plan. If they think somehow that their advisors are better than my joint chiefs of staff or my generals on the ground, I would like to meet them. I would like to have that debate.” Reports indicate that those generals on the ground are being ignored, and the joints chiefs of staff at this point are more considered concerned with gender equity and a welcoming atmosphere for non-traditional recruits, and the advice Obama has been following has turned out as it has, so the president is left with prickliness.
“What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people and protect the people in the region who are getting killed to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that,” the president, sounding rather testy. The statement implies than “winning” and “American leaders” are scare quote-worthy slogans that have no relationship to what will protect America and the people in the regions we’re doing some of the killing and for allies as well as “people like France,” and if it were only pithier it would live in presidential press conference infamy with “I am not a crook” and “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” The historical consequences of such thinking, though, are likely to be far worse.
There was the familiar talk about not being at war with Islam, which Obama noted that even George W. Bush had said, and some worries that you can’t deal with suicide bombers, which isn’t even Rooseveltian, given that FDR had the Navy stand up against kamikaze pilots, and similar prickliness, but he topped it all with his insistence that America grant asylum to at least 100,000 “refugees” from the Syrian civil war, and his support for Europe taking in millions more. Those “refugees” include a suspiciously high number of fighting-age males, many have proved not be from Syria at all, at least one was involved in the horrific attacks on France, and despite his administration’s earnest assurances that they’ll all be carefully checked out there’s really no way of knowing, given the lack of Syrian record-keeping and current poor relations with the Syrian government, who might be a bad guy among the newfound wards of the state. This is all part of that humanitarian front, apparently, and the president insists it would be racist and xenophobic and downright un-American to question the wisdom of relocating the Middle East’s apparently unmanageable pathologies into America and the rest of the west, and that his more enlightened attitudes will eventually win the heart of the Muslim world.
We expect that most of the western world, even the bluest portions of the formerly stiff-spined America, will expect a less prickly and more robust response to the latest outrages. The Islamic State seems poised on further outrages yet, and far more robust responses will be required.

— Bud Norman

Until the Next Paris

Every time Islamic terrorism strikes against the west, as it does all too often, we somehow expect that at long last the reaction will be different. Instead of the obligatory worries about the anti-Muslim backlash that never occurs, or the rote assurances that Islam is a Religion of Peace, or the reflexive moral relativism that seeks to excuse cold-blooded murder as no worse than western civilization, we hold out faint hope that this time there will only be righteous outrage and a collective resolve that such barbarity will not be tolerated. The past weekend’s meticulously planned attacks on at least six locations in Paris, which killed more than 120 innocents and wounded hundreds more, sadly seems to have brought us only one more outrage closer to that surely inevitable day.
All of the usual hand-wringing about potential rather than actual victims of terrorism and pretzel-logic apologetics and ahistorical litanies of the west’s alleged past sins have predictably followed the carnage, and much of the west’s political leadership immediately demonstrated it usual cowardice. There were the same old statements of sympathy and support from the west’s capitals, of course, but most were couched in the same old language that seeks to avoid mentioning the ideology that has motivated the latest carnage. Almost nowhere in the halls of western government, except in the currently socialist and instinctively pacifist but momentarily enraged capital of Paris, is there any frank acknowledgment that a sufficient portion of the Islamic world has declared war against the west and that the west has every right and a moral obligation to protect its citizens, their freedoms, and their objectively superior culture.
President Barack Obama’s official statement was sympathetic and supportive and quite sure that “Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress,” but he was careful to not make any mention of who might have committed such a crime against the city or what might have motivated them. In a televised debate among the Democrats hoping to succeed, which was hastily changed to deal with the breaking news rather than the income inequality and Republican “war on women” and other topics they would have rather dealt with, none of the candidates were willing to accept the notion of Islamic terrorism even with the modifier of “radical” attached. Both the current occupant of the White House and each of his would-be successors maintained their welcoming stances regarding the tens of thousands of Middle Eastern of male and fighting-age “refugees” seeking asylum in America, none were willing to question the wisdom of the past seven years of empathetic outreach and brazen appeasement to the Islamists, and all maintained their calls for cuts in defense spending and increases in immigration from the Muslim world.
Even the journalists posing the questions during that dull debate seemed eager to change the subject, and we don’t wonder why. Just hours before the Islamic State launched its deadly attack on Paris Obama had gloated to the American Broadcast Company the terror gang was “contained,” echoing his earlier characterization of the growing caliphate as a “jayvee team” of terrorism, even though the same group of killers had recently downed a Russian airliner and bombed its Hezbollah rivals in Beirut and still controlled a large and expanding chunk of what was formerly Iraq and Syria, and the related messes in Libya and Turkey and Jordan and the tidal wave of refugees spilling into Europe and America made the breaking news all the more inconvenient for the administration. The unsurprising revelation that the perpetrators of the Paris attacks included some newly-welcomed “refugees” raised questions that even such reliably far-left outlets as the United Kingdom’s Guardian had to ask, and no one on the welcoming committees anywhere has any plausible answer. Some reliably far-left pundits even in the United States are noticing that the refugees are flowing out of areas once pacified by more confident western governments, but long since abandoned for ostensibly progressive reasons, and a Democratic field that includes the Secretary of State who bombed Libya and pulled out of Iraq and “reset” relations with a Russia that is suddenly in the middle of everything, a self-described socialist who immediately attempts to change the subject back to income inequality and Wall Street’s wickedness, and a former governor who has nothing to say except to chime that he also wants a very multi-national and nuanced response was few good answers.
There are other parties with other views to be found almost everywhere, that being one of the reasons that western civilization is objectively superior to others, so there’s still that faint hope that the proper outrage and resolute response can still be mustered. Already there’s much hand-wringing in the respectable press about the possibility of right-wing parties gaining a political advantage from the attack. In America “right-wing” means the Republicans, whose supine response to the last seven years of retreat should placate even the most paranoid left-winger, even if all the party’s candidates have been at least somewhat tougher in response to the Paris events than their Democratic counterparts, but in Europe that sometimes means the more unsavory nationalist and racialist and authoritarian notion of “right-wing.” So far as we can tell the United Kingdom Independence Party and Geert Wilders’ party in Holland and many of the other party’s resistant to unrestrained immigration are reasonable advocates of national sovereignty and the perpetuation of their cultures, but in some cases such as France’s National Front and several of Germany’s most forthright opponents to their country’s insane immigration the likely beneficiaries do have worrisome roots in the continent’s Fascist and Nazi past. When widely-held common sense opinions are ruled by the elites as beyond the bounds of respectable opinion, the most disreputable sorts of parties are bound to benefit, and if the elites here had the same power to define such boundaries as they do in Europe we’d surely be in the same position. Even here the candidate most likely to benefit from the public’s outrage is Donald Trump, so America might not be so well-positioned as we had once thought.
Here and throughout the rest of the west the anti-immigration forces are gaining strength, at least, along with any voices that dare to challenge the elite opinion that the occasional downed airline or shot-up concert hall or bombed marathon or act of “workplace violence” that claims 13 lives on an American military base are just the price to be paid for maintaining the western elite’s sense of moral superiority. We hope that this yields leaders willing to defend the western values of tolerance, free speech, and religious pluralism, and even the Judeo-Christian traditions that once led us to the modern world, and that we won’t have to choose between those who would sacrifice that for security and those who would throw it all away for the sake of some self-loathing suicide impulse. That significant portion of the Muslim world intent on waging war against the west is clearly determined, and sooner or later they’ll backlash they’re begging for.

— Bud Norman

Renewing the War in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the war in Afghanistan will outlast his presidency, with at least 5,500 troops still there on his successor’s inauguration day, and we realized that it was the first mention of that unhappy subject we’d heard in some time. The 18-year-old privates who are still slogging it out in that godforsaken land were 4-year-olds when the conflict began, so by now it has about the same slight effect on the public’s consciousness as one of those long-running reality shows that you are only reminded of when they are inexplicably renewed for another season.
Obama was unmistakably disappointed to make the announcement, and understandably so, as it broke one of his solemn campaign promises from the heady days of ’08 and acknowledged that his Cairo speech and the rest of that open-handed outreach to the Muslim world hadn’t fully soothed the more savage Islamist breasts and that his hated neocon critics had been right all along, but he didn’t have any choice. Ever since he kept his campaign promise to “end the war in Iraq” an even more troublesome war has sprung up in that country and spilled into Syria and drawn in the Iranians and the Russians and unleashed a highly problematic flood of refugees into Europe, not to mention the war in Yemen and the instability in the Libya that he bombed into anarchy and the recent acts of violence against Israelis that he has to make excuses for, so leaving Afghanistan when it’s still so ripe for picking by the worst sorts of people would have been more than even a Nobel Prize-winning peacenik’s reputation could endure. Better to make the inevitable announcement now, let the unpleasantness in Afghanistan once again recede from public attention, and allow the more worshipful first generation of biographers to dwell on how he “ended” the Iraq War.
One hopes the decision will at least prevent the worst-case scenario of the Taliban regaining control of the country and re-opening the terrorist training camps that started the war in the first place, but at this point no one seems to be talking about a best-case scenario. Even in the Bush administration’s most hopeful dreams of democracy-building there were was never any thought that such a stubbornly tribalistic and bellicose and backward country as Afghanistan could ever transformed into something like a functioning state, although they did think that it might be achieved where some Iraqis could still recall a relatively modern and democratic Baghdad, so the goal was always to establish an Afghan government with some legitimacy that would impose at least enough order to shut down the terrorist training camps. That’s still the goal, so far as we can tell, but it’s not at all clear that the past six years or so of the effort have brought us any closer, nor can see how the 9,800 to 5,500 troops that Obama will continue to deploy are going affect any further progress.
The question hasn’t come up in any of the presidential debates, so far, and none of the candidates seem to be talking about it, and neither does anyone else. When we bring it up we’re forced to admit that we can’t see any more favorable outcome than a long hard slog by 18-year-old privates who weren’t even born when this mess began. There are 18-year-old privates in South Korea and Japan and Germany whose parents weren’t yet born when the wars that landed them there began, however, and sometimes that’s the price to be paid for a relatively peaceful global order, and no one likes to talk about that.

— Bud Norman