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Another Scare from the Korean Peninsula

The nutcase dictatorship of North Korea has been a problem for America since before we were born, but lately it has become scarier than ever. Fox News had a story about the North Koreans recently loading cruise missiles aboard a patrol ship, the Washington Post reported they now have a nuclear missile small and light enough to fit atop the intercontinental ballistics missiles they’ve recently successfully tested, and on Tuesday President Donald Trump responded that “North Korea best not make any more threats” lest it be “met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
That successful ICBM test brought down severe economic sanctions on North Korea from the entirety of the United Nations, and Trump’s rhetoric drew the predictable bipartisan criticisms, but as usual neither seems to care much what the rest of the world thinks. As has been the case since before we were born there are no easy solutions to the problem, but this time around are openly threatening the hard ones. By now we’ve lived through more North Korea scares than we can recall, but this time around seems different.
As discomfiting as Trump’s remarks were, we won’t pile on the bipartisan heap with our usual criticisms. The critics rightly noted that Trump’s characteristically un-parsable language was eerily similar to the apocalyptic hyperbole the North Koreans have long spewed, but the past 50 years of more diplomatic language haven’t prevented this scary moment, so there might be something to to be said for saying things in a way the nutcase North Koreans understand. All through the past 50-plus scary years of both Democratic and Republican administrations America’s clearly understated policy has been that any nuclear attack on our soil will be met with a devastating response, which has thus far worked well enough with far more formidable enemies than the North Koreans, so we won’t object if Trump is merely overstating the same old policy in typically Trumpian fashion.
That ominously-named policy of mutually assured destruction maintained a relative peace in the post-nuclear age because America has has been demonstrably able to make good on the threat, so neither do we mind that Trump is proceeding apace with the previously scheduled war-game exercises with the South Korean democracy and other relatively sane Asian allies and other displays of America’s military might. We’re not sure if the more war-wary and wised-up generals and admirals who surround Trump signed off on that “fire and fury and frankly power” statement, but we’re sure the rest of it wouldn’t be happening without their assent, and we trust that like any soldiers they’re more interested in deterring a war than provoking one.
Which is not to say that Trump’s role in all of this isn’t also a bit discomfiting. His characteristically mangled English leaves some room for doubt about whether that “fire and fury and frankly power” would follow mere threats, and what levels of threat would trigger it, and sometimes there’s something to be said for more diplomatic language. On Tuesday he was “tweeting” that Fox News report full of the anonymously-leaked intelligence sources he usually rails against, seemed to be taking some heed of the Washington Post story with same intelligence agencies whose conclusions about Russian meddling in the past election he has scoffed at, and he wasn’t ready to meet the press and formulate anything at all reassuring. Should the hard solutions become necessary Trump will need bipartisan and widespread public support to pursue them, and so far he’s failed to achieve that. Most of the rest of the world tries to translate his un-parsable English and finds him a bit nutty, too, and that also doesn’t help.
Which is not to say that Trump is nearly as nutty at that nutcase North Korean dictatorship, though, and we hope that both the domestic and international audience will keep in mind that they’re bad guys of this scary moment. Trump’s intrepid if occasionally independent United Nations ambassador did a great job of bringing even the Russians and Chinese on board with the sanctions, and those planned war games exercises might prove an effective bargaining chip in yet another round of negotiations, and for now we can still hope that with the help of all those war-way and wised-up generals his famed real-estate-deal negotiating abilities will suffice to at least kick this radioactive can a bit further down the road toward some sensible solution. We’ll also hope that the nutcase North Korean dictatorship has a few war-wary and wised-up generals of its own, too.

— Bud Norman

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A Big Blast in Afghanistan

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

— Bud Norman

Taking In-Coming From the Out-Going

In the long stretch between Election Day and Inauguration Day the Obama years have overlapped with the Trump years, and of course that is not going well. Two such oversized egos as President Barack Obama and president-elect Donald Trump, both with such undersized regard for the longstanding norms of the American republic, were never going to amicably share such a drawn-out moment in our recently rancorous history.
The pair had a somewhat promising photo-opportunity together when they met in the White House just after the election, although most of the shots showed them both looking a clearly stunned and unsettled by the results, and they both described the long conversation as cordial and said all the reassuring things that outgoing and incoming presidents always say. Since then, however, things have predictably deteriorated. Obama gave a widely publicized interview with an old friend in which he speculated that he could have a won a third if only the Constitution had allowed, which is the kind of thing that two-term presidents have traditionally said only in chats with old friends that aren’t so widely publicized, and Trump responded with a petulant “tweet” saying “I SAY NO WAY!,” which is entirely unprecedented in presidential history.
Obama was then at Pearl Harbor for a somber World War II memorial ceremony with the Japanese Prime Minister, where his speech included that “It is here we remember that even when hatred burns the hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is the most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward; we must we much resist the urge to demonize others,” which can arguably be interpreted as a criticism of the incoming president, which is indeed a departure from tradition for out-going presidents. Trump certainly seemed to take those arguably anodyne phrases personally, as he quickly “tweeted” in response that “Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks. Thought it was going to be a smooth transition — NOT!,” which is also well outside the usual norms of presidential rhetoric.
So far both sides are claiming all the re-hiring and re-painting and re-assignments of parking spaces that go with any old presidential transition are nonetheless proceeding smoothly, along with the gold-plating of the toilets and the skimpier uniforms for the household staff and whatever else is required for this particular presidential transition, but the rift has already had consequences more significant than hurt feelings. Obama has unleashed such a last-month torrent of regulations that Trump will be hard-pressed and much-hassled to un-do them all, and Trump is already talking deals with the long line of companies that have threatened to move jobs out of the United States. One can only imagine what sorts of presidential pardons will be issued between now and the still-distant Inauguration Day by the out-going president, and what the president-elect will have to “tweet” about it, but one of the in-coming president’s most trusted advisors is already advising an entirely unprecedented and vastly more pervasive use of the president’s pardon powers. Obama has ordered retaliation for Russia’s internet hackings and other meddling in the election, which the Central Intelligence Agency and other officials confirm, but Trump continues to deny it ever happens and told the press that “I think we should get on with our lives” in any case.
The two are also clashing over the very serious matters of Israel’s security and the rest of that thorny Middle Eastern situation. After nearly eight years of diplomatic and rhetorical slights against Israel, and a long effort to negotiate a very accommodating deal with with the Iranian apocalyptic suicide cult that has vowed to build nuclear missiles to wipe out the Jewish state, Obama has concluded his time in office by allowing the United Nations to pass a resolution condemning the building of housing for Jewish Israelis in some disputed territories. The disputes regarding those territories are complicated, and to be fair Obama has also added $34 billion worth of state-of-the-art American weaponry to Israel’s arsenal during his administration, but there’s a lengthy case to be made that Obama’s legacy is a disgraceful backstabbing of our only modern and democratic and mostly sane friend in one of the world’s worst but most unavoidable neighborhoods.
Trump tried to fit his argument against the move into a “tweet,” and came up with “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!” Although poorly punctuated and otherwise quite unprecedented in the history of presidential rhetoric, we’ll concede it does contain a certain kernel of truth. There is a lengthy case to be against the United Nations in general and its treatment of Israel in particular, and we’ve made it at length here over the years, but when you try to boil it compress it into 140 characters concluding with “So sad!” you wind up calling into question every international agreement that the United States has ever negotiated through the United Nations, which is not something an in-coming president should be doing. The past many millennia of human history show that successful diplomacy requires a certain precision of language, and that punctuation is also important, and the sooner the president-elect realizes this the better.
Neither man has proved himself worthy of the high office they momentarily seem to share, and their clash of oversized egos has been a tawdry spectacle. We’re supposed to take sides, so we’ll stick with the old norms of the American republic.

— Bud Norman

Three Speeches Worth Reading

The United Nations has been celebrating its 70th year of existence with a week-long marathon of orations by world leaders. Most of it has been as pointless as the United Nations itself, but three of the speeches merit some consideration.
The first was by President of the United States Barack Obama, and it’s a remarkably mushy piece of work. He starts with the obligatory genuflections to the UN’s high ideals, segues into some blather about how “five years after the global economy collapsed, and thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized and people are once again being lifted out of poverty,” and he somehow keeps a straight face throughout. The rest is mostly a similarly silly defense of his foreign policy.
He boasts that “Together we’ve also worked to end a decade of war,” by which he means his unilateral retreat of all American troops from Iraq. That another war has since started up as a result of that decision, which is now the main topic of conversation at the UN and elsewhere, goes unmentioned until later. He also boasts that we will soon have affected a unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan, “having its mission of dismantling the core of al-Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11,” and he sounded quite confident that will work out just as well. There are further boasts of “transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,” and he still kept that straight face while asserting that “As a result of this work and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago.” He humbly acknowledges that there’s still an awful lot of terrorism going on, and that core of al-Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11 “does pose threats to governments and diplomats, businesses and civilians all across the globe,” but with all the progress he’s made in releasing captured terrorists he doesn’t seem very concerned.
Eventually Obama does get around to that war that’s presently going on in Syria and Iraq and other jurisdictions of the Middle East, complete with beheadings and crucifixions and chemical weapons attacks and Russian anti-aircraft equipment that seems an odd thing to have against a terrorist army lacking an air force, and is now causing an invasion of Europe by hundreds of thousands potentially millions “refugees” from even the jurisdictions that aren’t under fire, and he’s willing to concede that “The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge.” His dismissal of the beheading and crucifying Islamic State as a “jayvee team” of terrorism and his past praise of the Syrian dictator as a “reformer” presumably occurred before that early on date when international community recognized the stakes.
We also note he’s still insisting that “the situation spiraled into civil war” as “many retreated to their sectarian identities” of “Alawites and Sunni, Christian and Kurd,” as if each of those groups shared the same blame. Such moral equivalency is perhaps required at a United Nations assembly, at least if you’re a properly educated liberal such as Obama, but the world is full of more practical people who will recognize that it’s nonsense. The Christians of Syria and Iraq and the rest of the Middle East have mainly concerned themselves for civilizational survival for the past 1,300 years or so, with few resources to make trouble even if they were inclined to do so, and the reasonable-by-Middle-Eastern-standards Kurds have been in pretty much the same situation. Neither group has received any useful military benefits from either Obama or that international coalition he keeps talking about, and apparently they can’t even count on any rhetorical support.
There was some sterner talk, as well. Obama insisted on an international ban on the use of chemical weapons in the multi-sided war, and actually boasted that “When I stated my willingness to to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly.” Neither did he ever act on it, of course, but he seems proud to note that the UN’s Security Council never passed a resolution about it. Without that credible threat of military force an international ban on chemical weapons will likely be as useful as that “No Gun Zone” sign posted on the campus of the latest mass murder, but Obama is pleased to say that “However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been for a diplomatic resolution to this issue.” He seemed to sincerely believe that Putin has helped to rid his Syrian allies of their chemical weapons arsenal, and that both parties can be fully trusted.
There was further stern talk about the use of “all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region,” and ensuring the free flow of oil from the region, and dismantling terror groups, and then he launched into that awful deal with the Iranians that seems to allow them to cheat their way to a nuclear bomb while a $150 billion check for more support of terrorism and “death to America” rallies. This included the moral equivalence between Iran’s hostage-taking, terrorism, war-mongering, threats of genocide against the Israelis, brutal suppression of its own people, and the fact that “Iranians have long complained of a U.S. history of interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing the Iranian government during the Cold War.” That America’s role in overthrowing an domestically unpopular Iranian government that was almost as brutal as as that unfortunate country’s current one has long been overstated is of no matter, of course, so long as Obama looks better than his country.
The speech was delivered with that grandiloquently upturned chin and in that famously stentorian Obama baritone, and thus sounded a lot better than it looks on paper, so it got the usual rave reviews in the American media. How it played with the international audience, which has gotten harder to please over the past five years, is less clear. The applause wasn’t nearly so rapturous as in the past, and we suspect they mostly heard the part about Obama’s preference for a diplomatic resolution and his admissions of America’s past sins and how the Christians and Kurds are as guilty as the rest.
Worse yet, the speech was shortly followed by a far more believably stern oration by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama’s supposed partner in shutting down the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program also opened with the obligatory genuflections to the UN, but in his case he was proud to say it all started at the Yalta Conference where his Soviet predecessors steamrolled the haplessly idealistic Roosevelt administration into ceding eastern Europe to communist rule and establishing the Security Council so that Russia could veto anything that might promote liberty and democracy. He generously acknowledged that the other Security Council members didn’t always agree with Russia, but he didn’t offer any apologies. Instead he launched into a history lesson, saying “We all know that after the Cold War, a single center of domination emerged in the world,” and explaining that “those who found themselves at the top of that pyramid were tempted to think that if we are so strong and exceptional then we know better than anyone what to do and why at all should we reckon with the UN, which instead of automatically authorizing and legitimizing necessary actions often creates obstacles or, in other words, ‘stands in the way.'”
So far the speech seems written to defy any possible rebuttal by Obama, who might very well have written the speech himself. Putin goes on to say that America’s actions as the lone superpower are entirely responsible for the 1,300-year-old Islamist jihads that have been heating up at least since the Algerian revolution in ’50s, and that also sounds a lot like any of Obama’s stump speeches since at least the ’08 election. The Russian president goes on to say that Russia is therefore obliged to come to the world’s rescue by crushing the Islamist State and protecting the Assad regime and enhancing the power of its Iranian patron and bringing the former American protector of Iraq under its influence, much as Mother Russia once single-handedly saved the world from Naziism, and so we should all be grateful the Russian-Iranian-Syrian axis that is imposing its will on the Middle East. We’re hard-pressed to think how Obama might refute that, but we’re confident he would prefer it involve a diplomatic resolution.
Obama did talk about how Russia’s aggressions in the Middle East as well as Ukraine and other sections of its former Soviet empire have resulted in financial problems, defections, and some international opprobrium, but Putin doesn’t seem to care much about any of that. If he’s been dealt as a weak hand as Obama insists at least he’s been playing it better than Obama’s flush of bleeding hearts, and although it might not work at the end of that long arc of history that Obama likes to say is always bending toward justice he’s likely to reap the benefits until then, and nothing in Putin’s speech left any doubt that he intended to continues his policies with or without the benefit of a diplomatic solution.
The speech probably played well in the Russian press, which is almost as dutiful to its president as its American counterparts, and it certainly made an impression on its intended international audience. Although the applause was perfunctory, the audience could not doubt that Putin meant every word of it.
Nor could anyone doubt a singe word of an even sterner speech by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The former special forces fighter didn’t bother with the obligatory genuflections to the UN’s high ideals, and instead noted the many times that the organization was “obsessively hostile towards Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East.” After punctuating this with a long, silent stare at the body’s worst anti-Semites, Netanyahu then launched into a blistering denunciation of the west’s capitulatory deal with Iran over its nuclear weapons saying, “This deal doesn’t make peace more likely. By fueling Iran’s aggressions with billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it makes war more likely.” He pointed out that since the framework of the deal was agreed upon Iran has sent more fighters to Syria to supports its regime, shipped tons of weapons and ammunition to Houthi rebels in Yemen, threatened the government of Jordan, increased its efforts on behalf of Hamas and Hezbollah in its terror wars against Israel and Lebanon, continued its chants of “Death to America,” and reiterated its desire to annihilate Israel. There’s no refuting any of this, and moral equivalences with Israel and its erstwhile allies in the west are hard to make, so we expect that both Obama and Putin were glad they didn’t have to follow this speech.
Rather than making apologies for his country, Netanyahu vowed to defend it. He vowed that Israel will continue to defend itself against any attacks from Syria, and to prevent the flow of arms through Syria to Hezbollah, and to do whatever is required to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Although he was not specific about that third promise, it was strongly implied that whatever is required might be required soon. The language was blunt, and poetic only when Netanyahu spoke of the challenges the Jewish people have faced before and are ready to face to again, but at no point did it leave room for doubt.
Even the most eloquent speeches, no matter how grandiloquently upturned the chin or stentorian the baritone delivery, are only useful to the extent that speaker means it. We have no doubt that Putin and Netanyahu mean what they say, so all that talk about the UN’s high ideals and the hope of a diplomatic resolution is quite unconvincing.

— Bud Norman

The Moral Equivalence Contest’s New Contenders

When confronted with some foreign evil, the American liberal has a strange impulse to insist something morally equivalent is wrong with his own country in general and its conservatives in particular.
We’ve long noticed this tendency, and for many years having been ranking the most outrageous examples. So far the winner is still a friend of ours who, during a discussion about the old tradition in India of burning a widow alive on her husband’s funeral pyre, insisted that western culture does things to women that are every bit as bad, although she couldn’t quite think of any on the spur of the moment, followed by another a friend, a music-loving hippie who insisted that Afghanistan’s Taliban was no worse than the George W. Bush administration and contended that the Taliban’s complete ban on music was negated by a local college radio station’s cancellation of his favorite program. President Barack Obama sometimes seems intent on winning our competition, and his claim that Americans shouldn’t “get on a high horse” about the Islamic State chopping heads off because many centuries ago the Crusaders did some nasty things in their defensive war against a similarly brutal Islamic imperialism is certainly worth consideration, but this week also saw a couple of new contenders.
One is Samantha Power, Obama’s representative in the United Nations, whose recent commencement address at Barnard College told the women accepting their $250,000 degrees from that elite institution how very bad they have it. She recalled the sexism that once excluded women from colleges, and although she acknowledged that women now earn about 60 percent of all colleges she assumed that her distaff listeners were still troubled by “persistent self-doubt,” “fear of making mistakes,” and letting those doubts “get in the way of your voices being heard.” Our experience of young women is that their self-esteem has been carefully nurtured by modern education and popular culture, they’re no more afraid of making a mistake than your average Obama administration member, and that nothing gets in the way of their voices being heard, and we were entirely unsympathetic to all the personal anecdotes that followed about juggling motherhood and UN diplomacy, but what struck us as especially absurd was Power’s portentous note that there is a higher proportion of women in the Afghanistan parliament than in the United States’ Congress.
It was part of a spiel about how women’s rights have advanced in that formerly Taliban-ruled country to the point that it now has a national women’s cycling team, with no mention that this admittedly positive development is entirely due to an invasion and occupation by American forces that began during a previous administration, or any acknowledgement that those cyclists will almost surely be back in burqas shortly after the Obama administration’s planned retreat, and we suppose it can be taken as an upbeat exhortation to continue the march of women’s rights, but the tendency toward moral equivalence was unmistakable. Powersalso mentioned that young woman who has been carrying a mattress around Columbia University all year to protest its failure to punish the young man she alleges raped her, even though the evidence suggests that the the university and the city police declined to take any action for lack of evidence that she was raped, and the alleged rapist has numerous e-mails and other communications suggesting that she’s the sort of troubled young woman who haul a mattress around a university campus for an entire year, and generally spoke as if womanhood were at least as much a travail in America as in Afghanistan or anyplace else. We can only hope that $250,000 buys enough education at Barnard College that there audience will know better than believe such nonsense.
The other recent contestant in our moral equivalence idiocy contest is someone named William Saletan, who took the digital pages of Slate.com to explain why Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is just like all the Republican candidates for president. He doesn’t allege that any of the Republicans hopefuls have been chopping off heads or doing any of the other deadly things that have brought the Islamic State such notoriety, but he does claim that they sound a lot alike. He notes that al-Baghdadi has said that he is waging a war of Muslims against non-Muslims, just as the Republicans have said that al-Baghdadi is waging a war of Muslims against non-Muslims. As if that weren’t damning enough, Saletan also notes that al-Baghdadi has said that his version is Islam is incompatible with western values, and that there are verses in the Koran and Hadith that urge violent jihad against non-Muslims, and sure enough many of those Republicans agree. He further notes that al-Baghdadi has warned Muslims that America has no respects for their rights, and although he can’t think of anything the Republicans have done to confirm this warning other than some gripes about a mosque being built near the former World Trade Center location and former Sen. Rick Santorum’s complaint that we’re not dropping enough bombs on al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State he still thinks that the IS and the GOP are pretty much the same. Indeed, he concludes that the GOP is “working for Baghdadi” by opposing it, and signs off with a haughty “Remind me again who’s naive.”
Perhaps it’s us who are naive, but to our ears the GOP candidates and al-Baghdadi don’t sound any more alike than Hitler and Roosevelt did when the former said his country was at war with us and the latter agreed that we were indeed at war. Of course, the modern liberal would also find some moral equivalence there.

— Bud Norman

Crossroads, Paths to Peace, and Blah Blah Blah

That speech President Barack Obama gave to the United Nations’ General Assembly on Wednesday wasn’t all bad, but the good parts were a begrudging repudiation of his past statements and the rest of it was just awful.
There was at last an acknowledgement that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the reason for the Middle East’s dysfunctions, an “illusion” that has previously formed the basis of administration policy, but of course it was accompanied by a claim that “the violence engulfing the region has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace.” There was some needed tough talk about Russia’s recent aggressions in Ukraine and America’s commitment to its NATO obligations, which had been described in a previous UN address as “relics of the Cold War,” but except for the very non-lethal aid and ineffectual sanctions that he boasted of nothing that will do any good for the Ukrainians. There was a heartening claim that “America is and will continue to be a Pacific power,” but nothing about funding the Navy at the levels it needs to make that claim more than mere bluster. There was also some talk about how Iran must not let his generously provided opportunities to abandon its nuclear weapons program pass, but nothing specific about what might happen if they continue building the bomb.
The rest of it probably had the assembled delegates, good guys and bad guys alike, rolling their eyes. After opening with some happy talk about what a great time it is to be alive and some flattery about the UN’s role in bringing about this golden era, without bother to apologize for not asking the body’s permission to conduct his various bombing campaigns around the unprecedentedly peaceful globe, he humbly admitted that there is nonetheless a “pervasive unease in our world.” He attributes this to the “failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world,” his previous flattery of the UN notwithstanding, and to “violent extremism.” That failure of the international system presumably refers to Russia’s and China’s failure to secure UN approval for their ambitions, but he made clear that he didn’t blame any that violent extremism on Islam. Even as he was raining missiles down on a group calling itself the Islamic State because it has lately been following Islam’s clearly stated Koranic commandments to behead infidels and conquer new territory he stressed that it had nothing to do with their religious affiliations.
Even in a speech full of such of euphemistically described threats, he found time to throw in some blather about eradicating world poverty while simultaneously advocating crippling the world’s economies with useless regulations to combat the non-existent threat of climate change. There was also the obligatory confession of America’s sins, specifically the shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, that the president can’t possibly know was justified or not, with no mention of the far more numerous shootings of black teenagers by other black teenagers, along with a reference to the wars fought between Christians some centuries ago.
Worse yet, such nonsense was wrapped in the most hackneyed cliches about crossroads and different paths and young people yearning for a better world, along with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt of all people. The president was first elected on a widespread hope that his soaring oratory and personal awesomeness would suffice to bring about world peace, but it doesn’t seem likely to pan out.

— Bud Norman

Scaring the Young for Mother Earth

The most stubborn winter we can remember has at long last ended here in Kansas, and we seem to have skipped spring altogether and headed directly into summer. May arrived at a chilly 35 degrees, but since then we’ve had nothing but high 90s and low 100s in at the afternoons with just a few brief moments of ideal moderation in between. We can’t complain, not after eight straight months of relentless griping about the cold, but neither can we consider it an unalloyed good. There’s suddenly a lot of lawn work to be done, for one thing, and worse yet, global warming alarmism is now back in season.
All the hysteria that now accompanies warmer days is annoying to old-timers such as ourselves, who have been through enough of Kansas’ famously cussed weather to have noticed how very erratic it is and how little it cares about human activity, but apparently it is downright nerve-wracking for the young folks. According to an intriguing report in Canada’s The Globe and Mail, “Child psychiatrists, psychologists and educators say they’ve seen an escalation in the anxiety levels of today’s youth, who are constantly exposed to doomsday talk about the destruction of our planet.” This strikes us as unfortunate, and even akin to a sort of mass low-level child abuse, but the scribes at The Globe and Mail seem to regard it as a positive development. The story is “part of a series examine the health repercussions for Canadians of a changing climate,” and argues that making the next generations of Canadians even more neurotic than usual is just one of those repercussions and perhaps the one that will finally force Canada to revert to a pre-agricultural society that will surely result in paradise.
The Globe and Mail’s story begins with the obligatory anecdote, and concerns a sweet-sounding 14-year-old whose downtown Calgary neighborhood was recently devastated by floods on the Bow and Elbow rivers. We can readily sympathize with the poor lass, as we are nestled between the Arkansas and Little rivers that occasionally interrupt the persistent droughts by threatening to jump their high banks, and would have flooded our humble bungalow on a few occasions if not for the enormous Big Ditch that the city plowed on the west side five decades ago, and we are therefore saddened to learn that she has since become such a global warming enthusiast that she’s joined her school’s Model United Nations program to “take an active role” in combatting the stuff. It’s sad enough that the poor lass has had the bejeezus scared out of her by nature’s savage fury and humankind’s recklessly high-minded conjecture, but to think that she’s also been taught to place her innocent youthful faith in the likes of the United Nations is downright heart-breaking. The authors of The Globe and Mail’s story are encouraged by this tale, though, and hold out hope that it will spur the change needed to reassure all the panicked 14-year-olds that the future will be saved.
“While the Alberta floods haven’t been directly linked to climate change,” The Globe and Mail rather glumly conceded, but it was quick to add that “destructive weather events are expected to increase in the future.” Those expectations come from the same experts who cannot explain why there has been no global warming during that 14-year-old’s lifetime, a “pause” that rudely defied all the experts’ computer models that continue to predict an increase of destructive weather events sometime in the future, but this goes unmentioned in the story. Also unmentioned is the possibility that the Bow and Elbow rivers rise and fall on their own, as they’ve done for the past many millennia, or the possibility that Calgary needs to dig a Big Ditch or devise some other man-made solution for flood control. Such counter-intuitive notions are unlikely to occur to the United Nations, but we hope at some point they pop into that 14-year-old girl’s head.
A warm early summer night on Monday allowed us to sip a beer and catch up with an old friend at the patio of Harry’s Uptown Bar and Grill, and during our far-ranging conversation he lamented all the global warming propaganda that his 10-year-old son daily encounters. We know his son as an all-American boy, bright and buoyant and being readied for an uncertain future, and we were relieved to hear that he’s being taught a healthy skepticism about the imminent end of the world. The kid is such a classic Kansas boy that meteorology is one of his many intellectual enthusiasms, and he can already name the kinds of clouds that dot our skies and predict the calamities that are likely to follow with the accuracy of a grizzled old-timers, and he’s seemed to have acquired the stoic respect for the unconquerable power of nature that is the beginning of Kansas wisdom. There’s an avuncular right-wing internet wag in the boy’s life who has warned of impending economic collapse user the weight of unsustainable debts and an irreversible decline in his nation’s cultural standards, and his dad is probably sowing the same doubts, but at least he’s not worried that the family’s big ol’ Chevy Suburban is going to cause the apocalypse.
That 14-year-old Canadian girl and our 10-year-old Kansas pal aren’t hearing anything new. Our youth was in the era when Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome and every other Hollywood filmmaker was predicting a bleak future of mass starvation and Soylent Green, but instead we’ve arrived at a time of mass obesity and human remains are being used for furnace fuel rather than a dietary staple. Most of our peers wound up rather screwy as a result, now that we think about it, and if the likes of The Globe and Mail have their way future generations will similarly suffer, but we’ll leave that to the future. It’s summertime, and the living is easy.

— Bud Norman

That Was Then, This Is Now

There’s no telling how the imminent American military action against Syria might affect the future, but even before the first cruise missile has been launched it has already altered the past.
Students of recent history will recall how the bloodthirsty cowboy crusader George W. Bush blundered into a catastrophe in Iraq by touting dubious intelligence reports about weapons of mass destruction in defiance of the sage skepticism of United Nations inspectors and all of the deep thinkers on the left, then waging high-tech war against a dictatorship that posed no immediate threat to America’s national security without the approval of Congress or the UN’s Security Council or any countries of the Islamic world. Anyone familiar with conventional wisdom is also aware that the peace-loving and culturally-sensitive community organizer Barack Obama then won the presidency on promises to pursue a more placid foreign policy, won a Nobel Peace Prize for the accomplishment, and that all has been well in the world ever since.
This inspiring and seductively simple narrative now requires some revision.
Some of it was ahistorical all along, with one example being that Bush did win congressional approval for the war, and with a broad bi-partisan majority that included both of the people Obama would choose as his Secretaries of State at that, and a number of Arab countries were openly pleased to be rid of a troublesome neighbor and some even provided help, but pretty much all of the cherished history is called into question by the lead-up to the Syrian war.
There is compelling evidence of Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its citizens, which is the stated reason for America’s intervention and arguably a worthy justification, but Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had also used them and there was also compelling reason to believe he had more, possibly even very the same ones that his Syrian Baathist allies are now using, but now we are told that UN weapons inspectors and other skeptics are not the all-knowing experts they once were. Approval from Congress and the UN and the Arab League and the likes of such liberals as Dennis Kucinich are apparently no longer needed to justify a war, as the Obama administration has not made so much as a token effort to acquire any of them as it prepares for war, and it turns out that sometimes even the most placid foreign policies apparently require military action.
Those with a stubborn fondness for the old history will insist that things are different this time around, and of course they have a point. They will correctly note that Obama will likely limit this action to a few a perfunctory missile-lobs and certainly will never commit ground troops vulnerable to the inevitable casualties, but that means he won’t be able to affect the aftermath and prevent the likely ascendancy of an terror-loving Islamist regime taking over, so the outcome probably won’t be noticeably better. This time the goal is to merely prevent further chemical attacks and not the messy business of regime change and installing a democratic and pro-western government, the administration’s spokesman assures us, but if the current Syrian regime is left in place it will be both strengthened and emboldened by surviving an assault by the American military. This time is for purely humanitarian reasons, and nothing so gauche as national interests, but such higher-minded reasons don’t necessarily ensure more favorable results.
The complexity of the problem and the reasonableness of the various points of views are well worth noting, which is change from the recent history. Back in the days of Bush it was so much simpler, as Obama and other liberals could easily assume that anything the president was wrong, but now we are expected to believe that anything the president does is right. Some people will go along it with, if recent history is a reliable guide, but the latest polling suggests there is already much skepticism about the wisdom of getting involved in Syria’s civil war. The public can also be wrong, and often is, but it usually waits until a few casualties make the headlines before turning against a war, so its early opposition to this effort bodes ill for the future. It might also suggest a change in the view of the past, but that remains to be seen.

— Bud Norman

A Bad Week at the UN

Several of the world’s leaders addressed the United Nations this week, and it was a frightening spectacle.

The president of Iran delivered an eschatological rant about the coming return of both Jesus Christ and the Twelfth Imam, called for a new world order organized in opposition to the west, predicted that the Islamist uprising known as the “Arab spring” will spread across the globe, and later told reporters that Israel will eventually be “eliminated.” The newly-installed president of Egypt demanded that freedom of expression be restricted to prevent criticism of Islam, and the president of Yemen echoed the call. Continuing in a disconcertingly similar vein, the president of the United States went so far as to say that “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

Obama went on to condemn the destruction of Christian churches and denial of the Holocaust, both of which are all-too-common forms of expression in the Middle East, and he also gave a brief defense of the first amendment to America’s constitution, which he noted is so permissive that it even allows for criticism of himself. Still, there was something unsettling about the specific deference to the prophet of Islam.

Along with some full-throated and harshly worded denunciations of the little-known home movie that the administration continues to blame for the outbreak of deadly rioting at American embassies around the world, the president’s concern for Islam’s reputation is clearly an attempt at placating a lunatic mob. Elsewhere the administration is now conceding the obvious fact that the deadly attack on the vulnerable American embassy in Libya was a long-planned terrorism attack that merely used the movie as a pretext, and the past weeks of thumbs-down reviews of the movie have not stopped the demonstrations, but the president’s faith in the power of appeasement apparently remains strong.

Even if the violence could be quelled by the submissive silence of all Americans, it would not be nearly worth the price. Better men that Barack Obama have fought and died to protect the right to free speech, and more of them stand ready to do the same..

Obama is now careful to tout the American tradition of protecting the right of free expression, but his words will surely ring hollow to the man who made that much-maligned movie, now residing behind bars after the administration found his work “reprehensible and disgusting.” Officially the filmmaker is being held for a violation of his probation on a charge of bank fraud, which reportedly forbade him to post anything on the internet, but the notion that his imprisonment has nothing to do with the administration’s desire to demonstrate its respect for the religious sensibilities of the howling mob is as far-fetched as the notion that numerous spontaneous riots against the months-old movie just happened to break out on the eleventh of September.

The cost of sacrificing free speech to the mobs of the Middle East would especially dear. Those mobs have made clear over the past centuries that anyone who doesn’t believe that Islam is the one true religion, which includes the vast majorty of Americans, is slandering its prophet by saying so. They also regard as slander any statement that takes issue with the misogyny, poverty, disease, illiteracy, technological backwardness, xenophobia, and brutality that prevail wherever the religion has become dominant. One can only hope that futures does indeed belong to those who are willing to take such a stand.

— Bud Norman