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The Afghanistan War Goes On

America has been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years long years, and after President Donald Trump’s nationally televised address on Monday it’s clear the fighting will continue for a while. That’s not good news, of course, but it could have been a lot worse.
It would have been worse news if Trump had announced he was keeping his oft-repeated campaign promise to concede defeat and allow the Taliban to reassume control of the country where their al-Qaeda allies planned and trained for the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Trump admitted in a fairly well-written speech that doing so remains his instinct, so it’s very good news that he allowed the more carefully reasoned and far-sighted analysis of his far more experienced advisors to dissuade his instincts for a change.
It’s also as good a bit of news as one can hope for at this point that Trump didn’t make any characteristically grandiose promises about how America’s going to be winning so much you’ll get bored with winning and that it’s going to be so quick and easy your head will spin. Winning in Afghanistan won’t require leaving a fully westernized and modern country, a far-fetched fantasy that Trump effectively ridiculed on the campaign trail, but any semblance of victory does require a reasonably sane Afghan government that can defend itself against the inevitable attempts to once again turn the country into a training ground for future Islamist terror attacks on America, and we are reassured that Trump has been made to realize even that more modest goal is still necessary and that even after 16 long years it still can’t be done quickly or easily. Trump didn’t give a Churchillian sort of speech to prepare the people for the long struggle ahead, but at least he overcame his instinct to make promises that can’t be kept.
There was the usual lack of any specificity in Trump’s address, but that’s probably good news as well. He hinted that more troops would be deployed, although probably not as many as his generals had requested and surely not enough to turn Afghanistan into a thoroughly modernized and westernized country, but at this point there’s no reason for us or the enemy to know with any more specificity that at least the fight will continue. He hinted that America would prosecute the war with more ruthlessly self-defensive rules of engagement, which we think wise, but the fairly well-written script didn’t include any historically unfounded talk about summarily executing prisoners of war with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, as Trump recently advised the Spaniards to do after a recent Islamist terror attack, and these days we also have to count that as good news.
Aside from the life-and-death consequences of war there are also political implications to be considered, and we expect Trump handled those well enough for a change.
If you’ve been following the Trump presidency reality show so far you know that he recently accepted the resignation of “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, a longtime champion of the inaptly named “America First” non-interventionist school of foreign policy that so aligned with Trump’s instincts, who had famously been feuding with the more experienced and knowledgeable and far-sighted and hawkish generals who were serving as Trump’s Defense Secretary and national security advisor and chief of staff, so that’s a big sidebar story that won’t amount to much. Bannon has returned to the editorship of the Brietbart.com news site, which did much to promote Trump’s candidacy and presidency among a certain readership, and is already running articles of the newly stated Trump policy, but at this point we don’t expect that Trump will lose the support of many of its readers.
The rest of the media probably won’t manage to do much harm, either. When America went to war in Afghanistan those 16 long years ago it was in response to that country providing haven for the planning and training of an attack on American soil even worse than the attack on Pearl Harbor that had forced America into World War II, and Republican President George W. Bush was authorized the use of military force with bi-partisan support. Although Democratic President Barack Obama had been a strident critic of America’s war in Iraq he also deployed more troops to Afghanistan, even if he did so at lower levels than the generals recommended and with ludicrous timelines and rules of engagement, and his congressional authorization also won bipartisan support. Even Trump can expect to get the same benefit of the doubt, and he won’t suffer any significant loss of support from the far-left and despite Bannon’s best efforts only a slight loss on the far-fight.
Besides, there’s bound to be a solar event or sports competition or debt ceiling debate or Russia revelation to divert the public’s attention coming soon. After 16 long years the public has become accustomed to waging war in Afghanistan, and has largely come to realize there are no quick paths to anything resembling a victory but no available way out of getting out that wouldn’t be disastrous, so its hard to fault Trump for overcoming his simultaneously noninterventionist and militaristic instincts and being led to the same conclusion.
Over the past long 16 years the war in Afghanistan has claimed more than 2,400 American lives, with far more life-altering casualties, and although each of them is a tragedy that should be honored and mourned and carefully considered there’s a ruthless mathematics to war that publics have always also acknowledged. At this rate the war will have to carry one for another century or so before it reaches the death toll that caused America to exit the shorter Vietnam War, and hardier previous generations sacrificed as many of their children on a bad afternoon at Gettysburg or a rough morning on the beaches of Normandy, so except for the occasional desultory address on national television by Republican and Democratic presidents alike the Afghanistan war will probably go on unnoticed by all but those few unlucky patriots who have to fight it.
We’ll hope for the best, though, and begrudgingly admit that at least Trump didn’t it make any worse.

— Bud Norman

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Trump vs. the Media vs. the Truth and the Rest of Us

The battle between President Donald Trump and the ancien regime media continues to escalate, and just like his election campaign against Hillary Clinton we’re watching without a rooting interest. Once again both sides are embarrassing themselves with false claims and phony outrage and actual incompetence, and we’re just hoping that it somehow works out for the rest of us.
Most of the media have continued to do the same dreadful job they’ve been doing over the industry’s past several decades of declining circulation and ratings and ad revenues and public approval. Since Trump’s election the most established newspapers and news broadcasts and all sorts of more fashionable internet outlets have issued reports that required extensive corrections or outright retractions, there’s been an unabashed antagonism even in the supposedly straight news sections that can’t help but raise questions about objectivity, and by now even the most casual news readers have noticed that they’re getting all worked up over the same sorts of things they spent the Obama years writing about approvingly or ignoring altogether. They’re the same smug and self-serious bores they’ve always been, too, and still don’t seem to realize how badly it’s playing.
Yet Trump provides them plenty of fodder for a whole lot of gleefully negative but indisputably reporting, “tweeting” and extemporizing on-video claims that are easily disproved and endlessly corrected by the careful explanations of his underlings yet never fully retracted. They range from the petty, such as his continued insistence that the size of his inauguration crowd was bigger than all the evidence or any logic would support, to the potentially more consequential, such as his claims that a rigged election system cost him the popular vote and that Russia had certainly had nothing to do with him winning the electoral vote. Although the ancien regime media missed yet another bet by objecting to Trump’s Muslim-banning executive order by insinuating that it was motivated by “Islamophobia,” still not realizing how badly that old shtick is playing, they were able to generate plenty of pristine copy about how ineptly it was written by political hacks without the input of any of those top people that Trump promised to surround himself with, and how it wound up confusing all the bureaucrats downstream and causing all sorts of fuss for perfectly nice people and ending up with a lot of legal wrangling, and Trump referring to the “so-called judge” who issued an injunction and lots of people on the left and right noting that the judge is so called because he actually is a duly-appointed-by-a_Republican-and-confirmed-by-a-bipartisan-congressional-majority judge, and so far we’d score it all about even for both teams, with the rest of in the hole.
Trump’s next offensive was against the media’s alleged lack of “Islamophobia,” which he’s shrewd enough to know that most Americans and all of his supporters understand as a reasonable concern about Islamist terrorism, and he botched that persuasive argument by claiming that there’s a widespread media collusion that ignores acts of terror. Had he argued that many of the media are slow to acknowledge an Islamist motivation to an act or terror and when forced to try to underplay that fact of the story he would have had some basis for the claim, but instead he had his staff issue a hastily-assembled list of terror strikes that the media had “underreported.” The established papers and networks were happy to show the  list included several major terrorist attacks in Europe and Australia and the Middle East that you surely heard about if you’d turned on a television or radio or opened a newspaper or called up any sort of news web site in the days afterward, many more that were Muslim-on-Muslim killing in some geopolitically unimportant country by inconsequential gangs involving a small and numbingly routine number of victims. None of them were that white guy who shot all those black people in a South Carolina church or the white who shot up that mosque in Quebec, one of them was apparently some crazed homeless guy killing some tourists in an Australia hostel and the parents of the victims are “tweeting” their apparently real outrage that Trump has politicized the murders to gin up policies they don’t support, and it also didn’t include the “Bowling Green Massacre” that a spokeswoman claimed most Americans didn’t know because it was underreported, but which was in fact entirely unreported by it had not happened.
All in all we’d call that round another draw, and once again we can’t see that turning out well for the rest of us. By now most of the country seems to have chosen which side they’ll believe without bothering to carefully consider any of the facts or other alternatives on offer. By now we know way too many people who think that reptilian alien shape-shifters aligned with the Illuminati have something to do with it, way too many more who think the truth is whatever they find on their side of great cultural and economic and political divide and that everyone over on that side is lying, and that crazy liberal academic notion about objective reality being a mere social construct to maintain the establishment that can be deconstructed by the right mumbo-jumbo seems to have been adopted by our putatively conservative and proudly anti-intellectual president.
With no rooting interest to preoccupy we continue to grasp for objective reality, another one of those old-fashioned beliefs we bitterly cling to in these uncertain times. Our old college pal Pee Wee lives in the Washington, D.C. area and remains a Facebook friend, and he went down to look at the big protest on the Mall the day after inauguration and posted about a cop he talked with who said he’d also been on the job the day before and that the protest was far better attended, and even though Pee Wee’s a lifelong liberal we’ve never known him to lie about anything, and we’re pretty darned sure he’s not part of any Illuminati conspiracy, so we figure that Trump is overstating his crowd size and can’t help worrying about his apparent insecurity about matters of size. We also have to admit that even the most multiculturally sensitive media have all wound up acknowledging that sure enough yet another major terror occurred somewhere in the world, but we’re still hoping for a more reasoned and maybe even more intelligible argument from Trump that Islamist terrorism remains a reasonable concern.
In the meantime, we’ll be sticking to the facts as best we can find them and continue to criticize our media brethren and gleefully ignore that pudgy-faced provocateur and Chief White House Strategist Steven Bannon’s demand that we shut up. Go ahead and hate the press all you want, and much of the time you’ll be well justified in doing so, but at this point we’re mainly hoping that the freedom of the press survives this mess.

— 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

Let’s Make a Deal

The Obama administration’s deal with Iran is not only looking worse and worse with every Iranian pronouncement, it’s looking less and less like a deal at all. On Thursday the Ayatollah Khamenei delivered a speech and some official “tweets” saying that the White House is lying with “devilish intent” about what has been agreed upon, and insisted that no foreigners will ever be allowed in his country’s military sites to verify that it isn’t building a nuclear weapon, which suggests that the negotiations aren’t going so well as the administration has claimed.
Khamenei is the undisputed “Supreme Leader” of Iran, and the Obama administration’s lengthy correspondence with him shows that it also doesn’t dispute the fact, so his words can be taken as the official Iranian position. The official American position is still that the Iranians have graciously consented to international inspections to verify that the oil-rich country is only spinning its centrifuges and enriching its uranium and continuing its intercontinental ballistic missile systems strictly for peaceful energy purposes, and although we hate to think that an American president might be lying, much less with “devilish intent,” the speech and the “tweets” at least suggest a significant degree of misunderstanding between the two sides.
Perhaps the administration will concede to these latest demands, just as it has conceded to almost everything else Iran has demanded, and we don’t expect that even Iran’s insistence that “Israel’s destruction is non-negotiable” will prove much of a sticking point for the administration, but any deal on these terms will be a hard sell even to Democrats who are worried about their future electoral prospects. Some congressmen in the administration’s party are already balking about the relatively favorable terms the administration has described, and we’d like to think it’s also because they’re also genuinely worried about how such a deal might endanger the chances of world peace, and there’s already speculation that the administration is claiming they Iranians have made more concessions than they’re admitting to in order to stave off veto-proof sanctions bill, but we’d hate to be so cynical as to suggest that.
Still, Khamenei’s supreme leadership is so undisputed that he doesn’t have to worry about any pesky congressmen or public opinion, and even though we’re not convinced of his honesty he doesn’t seem to have any reason to lie about his position. We’re quite convinced he’s lying about what will be going on in those military sites he won’t inspectors to visit, as otherwise he wouldn’t have any reason to bar the inspectors, so our best guess is that Iran winds up with nuclear weapons with or without a deal. The official American administration position remains that the only alternative to any deal it might come up with is war, a prospect we do not relish, but we’re more and more inclined to think it might be better done with before Iran gets it nuclear weapon rather than after. Sometimes a lousy deal is the best deal that can be had, and when dealing with the likes of the Iranians and their devilish intentions it’s best to prepare for the worst.

— Bud Norman

Iran, Nukes, and the Parameters of a Robust Debate

There’s still no agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear weapons program, just “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” for an agreement, and the Iranians don’t agree that they’ve even agreed to that, but the president assures us this is progress toward peace in our time.
The “JCPOA,” which will soon be one of those must-know acronyms, does seem to have progressed from the administration’s opening bargaining positions but not toward anything that’s likely to result in peace. Even the sympathetic editorialists of The Washington Post concedes that “Obama’s Iran deal falls far short of his own goals,” noting that the heavily fortified Fordow plant and the rest of Iran’s nuclear centers will remain open, not one of the country’s 19,000 centuries will stop spinning, and that “when the accord lapses the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.” This was enough for the Iranian negotiator Javad Zarif to boast of the concessions he had forced, assuring his countrymen that “We will continue enriching, we will continue research and development,” but he later tweeted that the president was lying about whether the sanctions against Iran would end with reliable verification of their compliance to even such a generous agreement or immediately upon it’s signing. Much more negotiation seems likely, although the president seems eager to have it wrapped up before the Republicans in Congress can scuttle the deal with a sanctions bill and public pressure can force enough Democrats aboard to override a promised veto, but thus far the Iranians don’t seem very agreeable to anything that would actually end their nuclear weapons program.
The president said in a Thursday news conference that he will “welcome a robust debate in the weeks and months to come,” but he also set some parameters for that debate. He argued that the only three options are whatever capitulating deal the negotiations might yield, war, or return to the sanctions. He claimed that his most prominent foreign critics were itching for a war, saying that “It’s no secret that the Israeli Prime Minister and I disagree about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue,” and dismissed the sanctions idea as a plan to “hope for the best.” So the “robust debate” will be between bloodthirsty Jews and starry-eyed dreamers and our very pragmatic president.
If the eventual agreement results in an Iranian nuclear bomb, which seems entirely possible if not likely, we’ll be siding with the bloodthirsty Jews and the starry-eyed dreamers. Even the president admitted in his news conference that it was economic sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiation table, and anyone else might notice that since the sanctions were eased the Iranians’ negotiating positions have hardened, and a bit more of those sanctions might force the kind of widespread revolt among the Iranian people that the president declined to back in ’09, and some further diplomatic and economic isolation and a military coalition promising a viable threat might further encourage some necessary regime change, and as risky as that might be it that doesn’t seem so hopeful as that “JCPOA.” We don’t desire war, nor do we believe that anyone in Israel or among our other nervous Middle East allies would prefer to it to a tenable peace, but if the Iranians are as insistent on war as they’ve acted during these negotiations it might as well come before they get a nuclear weapon rather than after.
The negotiations are expected to continue through June, and there might not be any agreement at all, unless the administration gives in to all of Iran’s demands, which likely include at least one of the Kardashian sisters before it’s all over, and even then the agreement could easily be nullified by a new president. We note the Iranians are sticking to their position that “the destruction of Israel is non-negotiatiable,” which probably won’t be a deal-breaker for the administration, and that they expect the Saudi Arabian government’s U.S.-backed war against Iranian-backed terrorist rebels in Yemen “will, God willingly, have no result other than Saddam’s fate for the aggressors and the U.S. that is the direct sponsor of this crime,” but surely some accommodation can be reached on that as well. Still, there seems to be a lot of talking left even within the Parameters for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and even within the far more constrained parameters of that robust debate the president says he’ll welcome.

— Bud Norman

Déjà Vu All Over Again

The news from Iraq is very bad, and discomfortingly familiar. Anyone old enough to be haunted by the televised images of those helicopters lifting off from the embassy in Saigon, our erstwhile friends and allies clinging desperately to the skids in fear of the approaching enemy at the the desultory end of a long and hard-fought war, is already dreading the same scene being reprised in Baghdad.
The fall of Saigon occurred two years after America’s military had left the unpopular war in Vietnam, and was accomplished by a single column that marched down the country with no fear of the American air strikes that could have annihilated the troops. The impending fall of Baghdad will be accomplished by a ragtag army of terrorists traveling in sports utility vehicles with no fear of an American military that could easily repel them, but the American military was pulled out of the unpopular war two years ago and likely won’t be coming back. Many of the last Americans remaining in the country have already been evacuated from an air base in the terrorists’ path and plans have already been made for the evacuation of the Baghdad embassy, where our erstwhile friends and allies will likely be clinging to the helicopter skids in fear of the approaching enemy, and thus another long and hard-fought war seems to be coming to another desultory end.
The analogy is imprecise, as historical analogies always are, but the two events have the same glum feeling. The results will once again be horrific, and the same improvable arguments about who’s to blame are have already begun.
Just as the fall of Saigon led to violent upheavals in Laos and Cambodia, and left America’s South Vietnamese allies in the brutal hands of their communist conquerers, the march of that ragtag army of terrorists toward Baghdad began in war-torn Syria and will have repercussions throughout the Middle East and beyond. The communist takeover of all of Vietnam entailed inhuman re-education camps and spread boatloads of refugees around the world, even if the Vietnamese communists proved pikers compared to the mass-murdering zealots of their ideological compatriots in Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, while the terrorist army marching on Baghdad has already demonstrated a medieval cruelty in its conquests of Iraq’s second- and third-largest cities. The fall of Saigon represented a defeat in a larger and more crucial struggle against communism, and the fall of Baghdad will be at least as disastrous a moment in the fight against the Islamist ideology of that ragtag terrorist army.
Many of those who had opposed America’s war in Vietnam  welcomed the fall of Saigon it as sweet vindication for their stand, regardless of its consequences, and we expect that those who opposed the America’s war in Iraq enjoy the same reward after the fall of Baghdad no matter how bloody it proves. Just as the hawks of the Vietnam era argued plausibly but improvably that a couple of carrier-launched sorties could have enforced the peace that had seemingly been negotiated two years earlier, the last remaining Iraq hawks are arguing plausibly but improvably that the great victory loudly proclaimed two years earlier by the president could have been preserved by his quicker and more nimble response with the necessary military force. Neither side can offer with any certainty a happy scenario that would have resulted from their preferred policy, but once again the wrong lessons are likely to be learned.
Anyone reading the smart magazines or watching the movies in the immediate aftermath of the defeat in Vietnam knows that resisting communism’s international expansion was futile, and one can expect that the same sources will now explain the resistance to Islamism’s growing reach. The defeat in Vietnam was followed shortly by the election of a president who prided himself on not having an “inordinate fear of communism,” and his sanguine philosophy prevailed through the spread of communism of in Central America and Africa until the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan forced him to take such stern measures as boycotting the Moscow Olympics. The current president has taken an even more preening pride in his sensitivity to even the most Islamist strains of Islam, but will likely claim sweet vindication when the beheadings commence in Baghdad. The smart magazines and the movies will concur, and the Islamists’ expansion will continue apace.
That scrap in Vietnam can be seen in retrospection as a mere battle in the broader war against communism, and that ultimately turned out well, That brief but disastrous interlude of a merely ordinate fear of communism, along with a naive embrace of an Islamist regime in formerly friendly Iran, as well as a sputtering economy, led to the election of an old-school cold warrior whose confrontational approach to the Soviet Union led to its demise. One can hope for such a happy ending to the latest debacle, but it remains to be seen
That scrap in Iraq will eventually be recorded as just another battle in the war between Islamism and the west, which has been waged from Mohammad’s attacks on the trade caravan’s of the long lost word order his day to the Gates of Vienna to the Iberian Peninsula to the skyscrapers of Manhattan, but it will probably be at least a couple of years after the defeat before America rejoins the war. The current president has already proclaimed victory, the presumptive next president is the Secretary of State who voted for the Iraq as a Senator but quickly joined the coalition clamoring for defeat, and there’s an unsettling sense that it will take another few thousand Americans killed on homeland soil to rouse the country’s martial spirit. That presumptive next president is defending the current president’s decision to release five high-ranking terrorist leaders, much as the leader of that ragtag army marching on Baghdad had been released, by saying that it only threatens still-occupied-by=American-forces-Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan and not any American interests. America has arrived at a moment when it does not have an inordinate fear of Islamism, and might not recover in time.
The chaos and terror atop that embassy in Saigon was all the more unsettling because it seemed so symptomatic of the times, when American influence seemed at a low ebb throughout a troubled world and at home the economy and culture and spiritual core of the country all seemed in precipitous decline. With America’s enemies emboldened from the Crimea to the China Seas and the pop culture consumed with bigoted basketball team owners to homosexual defensive backs, there’s a depressingly familiar feel to the latest news.
History never repeats itself verbatim, however, and there are any number of possible outcomes in Iraq. News reports indicate that the insanely Shia rulers of the nutcase Iranian regime that came in to power back in the ’70s might defeat the insanely Sunni ragtag terrorist Army that is descending on Baghdad. Anyone not insanely Shia would be hard-pressed to see this as a positive outcome, however, and none of the other possible scenarios are promising, The American people might yet steel themselves for the challenges ahead, but we fear it will require unspeakable horrors.

— Bud Norman

A Soldier Comes Home

Only the most hard-hearted won’t be happy that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will soon be coming home to his family after five years as a prisoner of Afghanistan’s Taliban, but only the most soft-headed won’t have worries about how it was accomplished. Soft-headedness being so much more prevalent among the American public these days than hard-heartendness, the happiness is bound to play better in the press than the worries.
Bergdahl’s release comes in exchange for the release of five very dangerous men currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, an arrangement of dubious legality, and is intended mainly to meet a pre-condition for negotiations with the Taliban that will likely lead to even more worrisome concessions. There are also questions about whether Bergdahl was a prisoner of war or a deserter, and ample reason to believe that he’s not the gung-ho soldier the script requires. None of this should cause any worry to the Obama administration, however, which will likely benefit from the inevitable news footage of the Sergeant and his mother embracing at last.
The emotions of that moment will be prominently displayed on the front page of every newspaper in the country and impossible to dismiss, while the potential carnage and heartbreak made possible by the release of five is less easily grasped and impossible to photograph. The Obama administration has always intended to empty Guantanamo Bay, and the return of lone American prisoner of the Afghanistan War provides an excellent opportunity to reduce its population of detainees by five. With the end of the war already scheduled to coincide with the next presidential election, regardless of conditions on the ground, the heart-touching photographs of a soldier back in his adoring hometown will be useful in the mid-terms. Should any of the released terrorists succeed in their stated goals of mass-murdering Americans, Bergdahl and the conditions of his release will be long forgotten and politely unmentioned by most of the media.
Any questions of legality should also be answered by that front page photo of the mother and child reunion. From Obamacare to the Mexican border to the bureaucrats of the Internal Revenue Service such niceties as the rule of law are routinely flouted, and few will insist on any sort of punctiliousness when the administration can claim with a straight face that after five years they had too short a time to comply with the law and still save Bergdahl’s life. That the law was intended to prevent the release of dangerous terrorists will be little noted for the reasons explained in the previous paragraph.
Nor will most of the public take notice that while the administration is declaring something akin to victory in Afghanistan it is opening negotiations with the enemy by making concessions. At this point the left that opposed the war from the beginning is willing to end it on any terms, the right that supported the effort has long since given hope that the current administration will see it to a successful conclusion, and the vast majority of those in the middle will be satisfied that they don’t have to hear about it anymore. The mother and child reunion will be the happiest memory of the war, and the only one that sticks.
If Bergdahl proves less than the heroic figure required for the role, they can always change the script. A man embittered by the futile war that George W. Bush started but but liberated from its captivity by the noble Obama who ended it will make a suitable narrative, no matter that Obama had also advocated the war and was running it at the time of Bergdahl’s capture. Even the most far-fetched story lines work when the visuals are so strong as a small town and a mother embracing a returning soldier.
Which is not to say that we’re so hard-hearted we won’t be a bit choked up when he’s back on American soil. We’re glad he’s coming home, and would advise any Republicans raising pertinent questions to make clear that they are as well. The cold calculations of war are unappealing, as as anyone who fell for the sappy sentimentalism of “Saving Private Ryan” should realize, and one should always make them with a realization of the humanity at stake, and not be indifferent to the emotion of a mother and child reunion. Still, those worries persist.

— Bud Norman

Giving Peace Yet Another Chance

The theocratic nutcases who run Iran are boasting that the world powers have surrendered to their will with the newly announced agreement regarding their nuclear weapons program, and it seems they have a point.
A “Joint Plan of Action” announced by the Obama administration and its European negotiating partners allows Iran to keep its centrifuges running, leaves it with enough enriched uranium to build several bombs, entrusts enforcement of the few restrictions that are included to the watchful eyes of the same Nobel Prize-winning nitwits at the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency who have been enabling Iranian nuclear ambitions for the past decade or so, and ends the economic sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. The Iranians claim there is a further secret agreement that is even more to their liking, and the country’s president has been gloating about it on Twitter — “tweeting” apparently being permissible within fundamentalist Islam — while one of its generals has bragged to the press that it’s all due to the world’s fear of Iran’s military might.
Although the White House has denied any secret agreement it has also been suspiciously secretive about the details of what has been agreed to, and what the president has publicly said about the matter sounds considerably less cocky. In remarks to the press the president noted the agreement provides “time and space” to reach yet another agreement, that he can still decide not to agree to it and go back to the sanctions that led to the agreement, that congress shouldn’t re-impose sanctions, and that “What we want to do is give diplomacy a chance, and give peace a chance.”
It is never a good omen when a president of the United States is chanting old hippie slogans, but it is especially worrisome in response to the martial chest-thumping of theocratic nutcases intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. There is still a chance that Congress might scuttle the deal by continuing sanctions, as even some Democrats are unimpressed with the plan, and we hope they will do so despite the White House warnings that it would provoke a war. Allowing an apocalyptic suicide cult to set off a nuclear arms race in a traditionally bellicose region gripped by ancient and irrational hatreds cannot end well, and doing so for the sake of giving peace a chance makes no sense.

— Bud Norman

Blood, Sweat, Toil, and Boredom

The art of wartime oratory, like so much else in the modern world, seems in precipitous decline. One of thinks of such great exhortations to war as Henry V’s St. Crispen’s Day speech to his “band of brothers,” or Patrick Henry’s “The War Inevitable” and its memorable cry of “give me liberty or give me death,” or Winston Churchill’s defiant vow to endure “blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” or even that call to battle that Mel Gibson gave in “Braveheart,” and Tuesday night’s muddled message from President Barack Obama seems quite puny by comparison.
To be fair, Obama’s oration was no doubt hastily re-written to reflect all the recent developments, and there seems to have been little time left for the florid touches he usually favors. Still, even by current standards the speech was a conspicuously unpersuasive call to war.
The president began promisingly enough, laying out the reasons he believes Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad deserves some American military action. He helpfully explained to those just tuning in that “a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime” has become a civil war which has killed more than 100,000 people without provoking any American response, but when the Syrian government recently used chemical weapons against its citizens “the situation profoundly changed.” In case anyone might wonder why those killed in the recent gas attack are more deserving of American assistance than the much greater number who were killed and are still being killed in Syria by more conventional weapons, Obama offered a gruesome description of the massacre, alluded to some unseen proof of Assad’s culpability, and recited a short history lesson about the international prohibition on chemical weapons.
Upholding that prohibition and other norms of civilized international behavior, Obama argued, is a responsibility that has fallen upon the United States as the world’s sole superpower. He warned that if Assad is not punished for the attack he will continue to use chemical weapons, perhaps in a wider war that would threaten American allies, and similarly insane dictators such as the ones currently running Iran would be emboldened by our inaction. The argument is compelling, especially to bloodthirsty warmongering neo-con cowboys such as ourselves, but then he went and spoiled it all by attempting to reassure the dope-addled peaceniks who comprise his base of political support that he hasn’t gone all George W. Bush on them.

He noted that his planned war is not polling well, which he attributed to the public’s weariness after the long years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, and insisted that he ran for office he’d much rather devote his energies to such good works as “putting people back to work” and “growing our middle class.” Given the counterproductive results of his efforts on these projects one is tempted to rush into the nearest available war just to keep the president preoccupied, but of course Obama did not advance that very strong argument. Instead he promised that there would be no “boots on the ground,” that he would “not pursue an open-ended action like Afghanistan or Iraq,” and in a rare moment of bipartisan blame-laying he added that it also would not be a “prolonged air campaign like Kosovo or Libya.” While that dead white male Churchill guy would go on about “What is our aim? Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be,” Obama instead offered assurances that his short and sweet war’s only objective is “deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities.”

One might well wonder how such a bootless and brief action as Obama describes could achieve even these limited goals, but he was quick to add that it wouldn’t be the “pinprick” that some congressional critics have charged. He seemed especially offended by the term “pinprick,” and huffed with an uncharacteristic martial pride that “The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.” So we are assured that the war won’t be a full-blown Bushian affairs or a prick of a pin, rather something in the Goldilocks range of a just-right military action, and that it will be just enough to make Assad regretful.
There was also some quick rebuttal of the more popular arguments against the proposed war. Obama dismissed concerns about retaliation from Syria by noting the country’s lack of military might, although it seems to have enough of it to justify a war, and ally Iran’s world-wide terror network went mentioned, and he seemed quite confident that Israel will be able to respond to any attacks on its people. He also scoffed at the notion that the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist rebel groups Assad is fighting might benefit from an American military intervention, claiming that the majority of Syrian “just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom,” which would make them unique among the peoples of the Middle East, and promised that after any military action “We would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.”
We are unable to think of anything that has happened during the Obama administration that gives hope for his efforts to achieve such a political solution, but the president also touched on possibility that recent initiatives by Russian President Vladimir Putin might spare him the trouble of even a minor military action. He claimed that Putin’s offer is the result of “the credible threat of U.S. military action” and Obama’s own brilliant diplomacy with the man he has called a “bored schoolboy,” and held out hope that her erstwhile nemesis could prevent the need for war. So hopeful is the president that he has decided to delay a Congressional vote on the authorization for the use of military force, which is fortunate given the likelihood that he would suffer a politically embarrassing defeat if the vote were taken now, and he left us with a nagging suspicion that he even hopes the diplomacy will drag on long enough for people to forget that he ever proposed a war or gave this forgettable speech.

— Bud Norman

Nagging Doubts

The president’s efforts to whip up some enthusiasm for war in Syria are not going well. Members of Congress from both parties are reluctant to authorize military action, international opinion is almost entirely against it, and the latest revelations in the news aren’t likely to bolster the president’s case.
A story appeared Thursday in The New York Times, formerly a reliable friend of the president, which portrayed the Syrian rebels who are likely to benefit from American intervention as a bloodthirsty bunch of Islamist fanatics who have summarily executed prisoners of war and committed various other atrocities. The unsavoriness of our Syrian allies is also being widely reported in the European press, and Britain’s The Telegraph tells of the rebel’s brutal treatment of Christians in a captured town. Even the State Department is citing the rebels’ suicide bombings and frequent attacks on civilians in its warning against travel in Syria, despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s assurances to Congress that only 15 to 20 percent of the rebels are “bad guys.”
Such unfavorable coverage of our potential allies makes it hard to win support for their cause, and it also adds to the nagging doubts about who was responsible for the chemical weapons attack that is the president’s sole justification for taking action against the Syrian government. The administration is adamant that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad ordered the attack, and has lately elevated its language from “a high level of confidence” to “beyond the shadow of a doubt,” but the few pages of evidence it has offered for the claim are being widely disputed. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has provided the United Nations with 100 pages of argument that the rebels launched the attack to lure America into the country’s civil war, Florida’s ultra-Democratic Rep. Al Grayson is telling anyone who will listen that evidence of Assad’s guilt has been “manipulated,” and after the failure to find stockpiles of chemical weapons in Iraq after they were offered as one reason for a war there many people in between are bound to be suspicious.
We have no fondness for Putin or Grayson, or those who insist that the intelligence reports preceding the Iraq war were deliberately deceptive, but there is a troubling plausibility to their suspicions. The Syrian rebels seem quite capable of murdering a thousand of their countrymen in a false flag operation designed to dupe an American president, the president does seem quite capable of falling for it, and it is hard to explain why Assad would cross a presidentially-declared “red line” and possibly provoke American intervention and international scorn by using chemical weapons at a time when he seemed to be winning without them. The evidence against Assad might justify a high level of confidence, but at this point it does not seem beyond the shadow of a doubt, and it would be highly embarrassing to America if proof emerges that it has punished an innocent party and brought about the victory of the guilty.
Making a case that will overcome these doubts would be hard for any president, but this one is especially ill-positioned to make it. As a candidate he had happily exploited the public’s doubt about the intelligence that led to Iraq war, insisted that presidents don’t have the constitutional authority to order military action without congressional approval, argued that favorable international opinion was also required to fight and promised that he would be the one who would win it, and has president he now has to repudiate all of it. We’re told that some sort of action is needed to restore the president’s credibility, but his credibility is already a casualty of a war that hasn’t yet begun.

— Bud Norman