The Big Lie in the debate over the chaos unfolding in Iraq is that somehow, the rise of ISIS would not be occurring were it not for President George W. Bush’s ostensibly indefensible ‘war of choice’; that by removing Saddam Hussein and participating in an ill-fated ‘nation-building’ project, we fostered instability and created a vacuum for ISIS — now called the Islamic State — to fill. Take away the Iraq War (and bring back Saddam Hussein), and, according to the likes of David Axelrod, we wouldn’t have to deal with this problem, since it wouldn’t exist.
It is simply a lie. Saddam Hussein, one of history’s bloodiest tyrants, was never a source of stability, and, unlike other former Arab autocrats like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, he was never ‘our bastard’; he was a longtime geopolitical nemesis and a clear threat to peace for as long as he remained in power. Saddam Hussein invaded two of his neighbors, fired SCUD missiles at a third, used chemical weapons on Iraq’s Kurdish minority, and funded regional terrorism. In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the bipartisan Iraq Liberation Act into law, making regime change the official stance of the United States toward Iraq. (As non-interventionists never tire of pointing out, yes, we did cooperate with Saddam Hussein — once, in the 1980s, when we simply determined him to be the lesser of two evils in his war against Islamist Iran).
Iraq under Saddam Hussein would have been a breeding ground for the likes of ISIS. Like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein was a Ba’athist, a secular strongman who sometimes allied with Islamists against common foes, but had little in common ideologically with them. Like Assad, he would have been a ripe target for Islamist ire during the Arab Spring, and would have likely responded in a manner much like Assad. Hillary Clinton is right that Syria poses a ‘wicked’ problem to the United States. Right now, Iraq does as well — but Assad’s fate — and his willingness to use chemical weapons against the people he claims as his — mirrors what an Iraq run by Saddam Hussein would surely look like right now, holding all else equal.
Of course, it is not necessary to hold all else equal, because, upon the recognition that the Maliki government clearly was not equipped to deal with terrorist threats to Iraq, the United States should have never abandoned the country. It is true that the government wanted us to leave — but that should not have mattered; Iraq owes the existence of its government to us, and our mission there was not primarily a humanitarian one, but was conducted for national security purposes. Do people suppose that Angela Merkel wants tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in Germany, or that Japan likes being denied its own military? Surely not. But Germany and Japan posed a threat to the United States and to the world order once, and we decided that it should never happen again — and we meant it. So it should have been in Iraq — but President Obama decided that his desire to fulfill an ideological campaign promise entitled him to suspend the reality principle. The ‘facts on the ground’ made it clear that Iraq was not ready to assume total responsibility for its own defense. This does not make Obama in any way responsible for the rise of ISIS, of course — ISIS alone bears responsibility for its own primitive savagery and inhuman barbarism — but it does make him short-sighted, perhaps foolish, even. His former Secretary of State certainly seems to think so.
In his indispensable book The Case for Israel, Professor Alan Dershowitz posits that, besides being the Jewish state, Israel is also the “Jew among nations” — constantly held to higher moral standards than its peers, and consistently singled out for one-sided, disproportionate criticism. The United Nations’ Human Rights Council — whose members include human rights dignitaries like Cuba and Saudi Arabia – voted this week to investigate Israel for war crimes while shrugging its shoulders as Hamas uses young children as human shields for their weaponry — which, as all but the most willfully ignorant among us know by now, is frequently hidden in hospitals and schools. The United States cast the sole vote against coercing Israel into a show-trial, while Europe cowardly abstained from distinguishing between good and evil.
Instead of utilizing ordinary logic and blaming Hamas for setting up children to die and using their corpses as war propaganda, for perpetuating the violence that will lead to the deaths of countless more innocents, and for refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist, Israel-haters assert either that Israel has brought Islamist terror upon itself, or that it simply shouldn’t give in to Hamas’ provocations — since, after all, defending its citizens will only invite more hatred and blame. The former throw their lot in with Hamas by fundamentally denying Israel’s right to exist, but the latter, like teachers who tell bullied students that they ought to stop making themselves targets for their tormentors, are no less reprehensible. For these people, Israel has two choices: stand by idly in response to unprovoked terrorist attacks, and allow its civilians to die — or fight back, only to be informed that it is not allowed to fight back unless it is willing to bear responsibility for the outcome of Hamas’ disturbing tactics. The Jews, then, must either allow themselves to die, or they must accept responsibility for the fact that they are hated. Heads, Hamas wins; tails, Israel loses.
Israel exercises force against Hamas rather than attempting to negotiate with it because Hamas simply cannot be negotiated with. This is not an opinion: it is in the words of its charter, which begins by approvingly quoting Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.” The charter then declares that this interpretation of Islam is its worldview, and declares that “our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious.” Current Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal explicitly denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Peaceful coexistence is impossible with people who wish only for your extermination.
Virtually all of the criticisms of Israel that deny its right to self-defense rest upon standards to which no other nation would ever be held. We are told that Israel’s response to Hamas is ‘disproportionate,’ the evidence for which is usually presented in the form of a t-ledger comparing the two sides’ respective body counts — as if the fact that Hamas has killed few Israelis in recent years is due to a lack of effort, rather than Israel’s vigorous efforts to defend itself — or, even more nauseatingly, as if Israel has a moral duty to let more of its own die before fighting back. We are told that Israel cannot legitimately conduct military operations in which civilians are likely to die — as if Israel does not go above and beyond to minimize civilian casualties, or as if some number of civilian deaths are not a tragic — but unavoidable — part of any military operation, just or unjust. Countless innocent German civilians, including young children, died in World War II. Are we to condemn as unjust every war conducted in the history of the human race?
Ultimately, the debate over Israel figures so prominently and arouses such passion because it serves as a proxy argument about morality and legitimacy in international relations. The world has increasingly turned against Israel. Is morality a popularity contest? Civilians, including children, die both in terrorist attacks and in military operations conducted in response to them. Is there no moral difference between the two? Hamas has explicitly stated its desire to exterminate the Jewish people — and the people of Gaza voted them into office — while Israel is an outpost of liberal democracy and individual liberty in a region that is otherwise a political wasteland of chaos and oppression. Must we view Israel and Hamas simply as two bickering sides?
All states are imperfect, and it really ought to go without saying that there are countless legitimate criticisms that may be leveled at Israel, its government, and its military. But Israel-haters and their fellow travelers’ ignorant propaganda masquerading as concern for children is a thin veil for the ugly relativism — and sometimes worse — inherent in any ethical perspective that is so morally enervated that it cannot reason beyond emotionally evocative photographs of dead children and t-ledgers of body counts.
Many have noted, in the current centenary observance of the beginning of World War I, that among the ongoing direct consequences of that global conflict and its aftermath was the Middle East map created at the 1919 Versailles conference. As with many of the contrived boundaries formulated at Versailles that year to satisfy the victors’ (Great Britain, France, Italy, the United States) revenge against the vanquished powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary,Turkey) AND their territorial ambitions, the lines drawn, and the new nations created, were mostly artificial and unstable, often ignoring the historic religious and ethnic groups in disputed areas.
In addition to the punitive terms against Germany, the most egregious acts of the resulting treaties were in the Middle East. The British government’s false promises to both the Jews in Palestine and the Arabs throughout the region are by now well-known and have led to decades of chronically bitter conflicts. Concessions to Italy in North Africa backfired before and during World War II. The aspirations of religious and ethnic groups were usually ignored. The dissolution of the vast Turkish empire did lead to a post-war revolution and the creation of a democratic secular regime in the now-smaller nation of Turkey, but even there the seeds of minority ethnic persecution and unfulfilled national aspirations festered.
Among the smaller but historic and culturally-rich groups in that region were the Armenians and the Kurds. The Armenians are Christians; the Kurds are Moslems. The former suffered genocidal and violent persecutions between the world wars, their populations were divided into the regions controlled by hostile larger groups. Eventually, following the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, an independent democratic Armenian state was created, fulfilling the aspirations of the first Armenian nation that existed 2600 years ago
The Kurds, on the other hand, have not been allowed their own state, although a revolt in 1922 declared the short-lived kingdom of Kurdistan that was suppressed in 1924, and its territory was turned over to the British mandate of Iraq.
When Saddam Hussein was overthrown through U.S. intervention in 2003, the Kurds of Iraq, living most in the north of that country, formed a semi-autonomous province, and although part of Iraq, they have for the most part controlled their area with their own leaders. As the U.S. has completely withdrawn from Iraq, and the central government in Baghdad faces insurrection from a new terrorist offshoot from Al-Qaeda which now proclaims itself the new Islamic “caliphate,” the Kurds have seized on the Iraqi disorder to reclaim and secure nearby areas and cities which were historically Kurdish lands.
Importantly, Turkey, which has long opposed an independent Kurdistan on it border, has reversed itself and now accepts Kurdish national aspirations in Iraq.
It is, as many have now observed, a rare opportunity to at least in a small way to repair the current Middle East map by creating an independent Kurdish nation. The Kurds are Moslems, but they are generally pro-Western and opposed to Islamic terrorism. If given their own nation, and supported by the U.S. and Europe, they would likely be another island of balance to the rabid anti-Americanism in Iran and Syria. Because the Kurdish territory contains
some of the current Iraqi oil fields, an independent Kurdish state could be economically self-sufficient. Since the population would be mostly ethnically and religiously homogeneous, an independent Kurdish republic would likely have few of the tensions so prevalent in the current “artificial” nations of Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Longer-term, Kurdish minorities throughout the region could settle in the new Kurdish state. Located between Turkey and Iran, it could serve as a buffer between conflicting Islamic forces in the region. Israel is known to be ready to welcome an independent Kurdish state, and would promptly add the new nation as a trading partner.
The Obama administration has stubbornly opposed a new Kurdish nation as a threat to Iraqi “unity,” but any true unity now seems beyond any reality in the present political situation. The United States should be advancing Kurdish national aspirations, not blocking them.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
Writing at the National Interest, Robert O’Brien joins a chorus of conservative commentators happily reminding the world that Mitt Romney was right to tag Vladimir Putin’s Russia as America’s top geopolitical foe, even going so far as to compare Romney to Winston Churchill. This has elicited eye-rolling from Daniel Larison, who in 2012 dismissed Romney’s criticisms of Putin’s Russia as “bizarre” and “outdated”:
Romney assumed that Russia was an inveterate foe of the U.S. on everything because Russia sometimes opposed U.S. policies. This took an unremarkable observation–Russia strongly disagrees with the U.S. on a few high-profile issues–and turned it into an absurd, discrediting exaggeration. He seemed to think that any kind of diplomatic engagement or accommodation with Russia on any issue was equivalent to appeasement. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t ever explain how the U.S. had “appeased” Russia (or any other government)–he was just reciting from an ideological script that he picked up from other people in his party.
In light of this year’s events, it is perplexing that anyone could any longer reduce the moral and diplomatic chasm between the United States and Russia to “disagreement on a few high-profile issues” — as if the clash between the two nations is nothing more than a petty ideological shouting match.
One may question the wisdom of Romney’s particular policy prescriptions — and it is no great surprise that the leader of a national political party would “recite from an ideological script” — but the question at hand is not about Romney per se, but about President Obama’s blindness toward Vladimir Putin’s imperial ambitions. In the campaign against Romney, Obama mocked him for being stuck in a “Cold War mentality.” But the so-called “Cold War mentality” is little more than a recognition of the stubbornly persistent primacy of power politics in foreign policy.
As Robert Kagan has cogently written, liberal internationalists have long dreamed of a Kantian world of ‘perpetual peace’ in which reason, diplomacy, and economic incentives will finally replace the need for projections of power — but this is a seductive illusion. The self-congratulating American narrative is that, as a threat to the prevailing liberal order, authoritarianism was vanquished at the end of the Cold War. To acknowledge that Russia is once again a geopolitical threat would be to admit that the ‘End of History’ has not arrived after all — and a war-weary public, tired of the burdens of global leadership, is loath to confront yet another imperialist autocrat who provides moral and material support to the world’s bloodiest dictators, seizes foreign territory, criminalizes dissent, and makes a fool of our president on the world stage. But this year’s events have decisively proven that Vladimir Putin intends to reassert Russia as a great power — and that his vision for the world is unquestionably hostile to American interests — and to the moral vision of classical liberalism.
At the bottom of Larison’s ambivalence toward Vladimir Putin is a sort of benign neglect; a lazy moral relativism that, while well-intended, cannot reliably distinguish between good and evil, seeing in Obama and Putin just two sides of the same belligerent coin. But the distance between the United States and Russia is not simply a “disagreement” over “a few issues” — it is a fundamental conflict of visions about the world order. In 2012, Larison approvingly quoted Heather Hurlbert, who argues that the ‘Cold War mentality’ is a sort of psychological need to rely on the “comfortable certainties” of the 1980s. But it is those who would ignore or dismiss Vladimir Putin who are retreating into the mirage of certainty; the implicit assumption that the existing geopolitical order will persist for all time if we would only leave well enough alone. But America’s enemies will never accept the unipolar order — it must be constantly, vigorously defended. If we choose to shirk from our responsibility to uphold the world order, others will step in and remake it in their own image. Vladimir Putin is taking the long view in his pursuit of power. America must do the same.
I recently wrote an article entitled “The Plot Against The World Atlas” in which I pointed out the numerous secession movements active in virtually all regions of the globe. The latest place where this has just occurred is the autonomous region of Crimea which has declared its independence from Ukraine (and imminent merger into Russia). The status of neighboring eastern Ukraine is, as of this writing, uncertain as it too might be (forcibly?) separated from Ukraine. These developments have dominated world headlines for some several weeks.
But almost ignored has been another place considering secession, one of the world’s most famous cities (and its surrounding region). For more than a thousand years, the Venetian Republic existed until Napoleon invaded and took it over. Now the voters of Venice and it surrounding region are voting during the next week whether or not they will secede and re-create a sovereign state separated from Italy. It’s not a official vote, although Venetian secessionists are hoping its results will lead directly to the famed tourist city separating from Italy, and the creation of an independent nation.
Having visited Italy many times, and being a enthusiast of Italy’s music, cuisine, art, literature and culture, I thought I had some sense of what Italian history was, but after recently reading The Pursuit of Italy (2011) by British historian David Gilmour, I realized how little I did know about this European nation which arose after the demise of the Roman empire on its territory.
It also helped me understand what the citizens of Venice and environs are trying to do, why they are doing it, and why it just might succeed.
The “nation” of Italy did not exist at all until after the mid-nineteenth century. Portrayed as an heroic and epic unification of the Italian peninsula, the creation of a “unified” Italy was actually a hasty contrivance in which its component parts rather reluctantly were cobbled together.
After the end of the Roman empire in the mid-first millennium, A.D., the territory around Rome divided into numerous city states, kingdoms and duchys. In the eight century A.D., the young city of Venice became one of the modern world’s first true and successful republics (a thousand years, it should be remembered, before the creation of the United States of America in 1789). The Republic of Venice itself lasted for more than a millennium, and was one of the political glories of Europe until Napoleon decided to embroil it and destroy it in his schemes of conquest.
There were other states on the Italian peninsula, including most notably, the Piedmont Duchy of Savoy (capital: Turin), the Papal States (capital: Rome), Kingdom of Naples (capital: Naples), Kingdom of Sicily (capital: Palermo), Duchy of Milan (capital: Milan), Republic of Siena (capital: Siena), Republic of Genoa (capital: Genoa), Republic of Florence (capital: Florence), as well as city states in Mantua, Asti, Lucca, Ferrara and elsewhere. Each of the cities and regions developed their own dialect of what has become the Italian language, their own distinct customs, traditions, cuisine and identities — and in large and important part, maintain them today.
In effect, Dr. Gilmour suggest, there is no true “Italy” at all, but a conglomeration of idiosyncratic cities and places cobbled together. This goes a long way to explain, perhaps, why the Italian peninsula, source of so much of the Western World’s culture from Roman times to the present, has had since World War II one of Europe’s most unstable and dysfunctional series of governments.
Most Americans, if they think much about Italy, think of it as divided between north and south, with its dominant city being Rome, and most of its other major cities being in the north, i.e., Milan, Genoa, Florence and Venice. In fact, until the nineteenth century, the largest city in Italy was Naples, capital of southern Italy.
Boundaries between this potpourri of city states and regions changed frequently, as did their rulers, especially as Italy became a Mediterranean focal point of trade and commerce. The military intrusions of England, France and the Austro-Hungarian empire were frequent, and for many hundreds of years, much of southern Italy was part of the Ottoman (Islamic) empire.
Dr. Gilmour makes the case, with considerable evidence and persuasive argument, that the Republic of Venice — of all this myriad of republics, kingdoms, and duchys — was the most accomplished polity on the Italian peninsula for so many centuries in the past. With the plebiscite now taking place there, we might be seeing the re-emergence of that historic national personality, and the first of many renewed divisions in Europe now underway — in Scotland, Catalonia, Belgium — each of them more peaceable and voluntary than what seems to be occurring in Ukraine.
-Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
The nature of international life is that there are always “hotspots” or areas in some form of natural, economic, military or cultural crisis that draw the world’s attention and concern.
As far as I know, there has not ever been, nor will there likely ever be, a totally peaceful or untroubled planet inhabited by human civilization.
What is curious, having established that, is that the crises tend in occur over and over, albeit sometimes years apart, in the same places.
Currently, the world’s “hotspots” include Ukraine, Venezuela, North Korea, China, Japan, Turkey, the Middle East, Spain, Italy, Greece and Argentina.
The reader familiar with only a limited background in history will recognize that over the past several centuries these same places have had recurring crises of one kind or another.
The one listed “hotspot” perhaps least well-known to Americans is Ukraine. This Slavic eastern European nation is one of the youngest countries in the world. Settled thousands of years ago, it eventually became the center of medieval Slavic life, and Kiev, its largest city, the de facto capital of the region. The cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, today much larger than Kiev, were then only outposts, and the tribes that created the Russian nation, then not as powerful and successful as those who lived in Kiev and its surrounding territory.
In the 1300s, Kiev had numerous rival rulers and declined. By the 1500s, however, the Romanov dynasty was established in St. Petersburg, and a Russian empire under the czars was created, stretching eventually all the way east to Siberia and the Pacific Ocean, and to the west, to central Europe. The early settlements of Kiev (Ukraine) and White Russia (Belarus) soon became subordinate and part of this empire.
Ukraine is remembered best in America today perhaps by its millions of Jewish immigrants and their descendants who came to the U.S. in waves from 1880 to 1920 following intense persecution by the Czar (and many Russians and Ukrainians) in a series of pogroms (or murderous attacks) on their ghetto communities in what was then called “The pale of settlement” — a region that included today’s Ukraine, Belarus and Poland.
Except for a short-lived Cossack republic in the 17th and 18th centuries, and a very brief period following World War I and the Russian Revolution (begun in 1917), modern Ukraine has not been a sovereign nation. Known as the “breadbasket” of Europe, the region produced most of the wheat and grain for two continents. After the Soviet dictator Stalin had consolidated his power at the outset of the 1930s, he instituted the deliberate and brutal starvation of the Ukrainian peasantry, and prior to the outbreak of World War II, millions of Ukrainians died from hunger. Nazi armies than overran Ukraine, and murdered millions more, including most of the Jews living in the region.
When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, Ukraine became one of the breakaway republics that became independent nations on the new Russian border.
The problems that face Ukraine are many. Although by now a major industrial area, as well as agricultural area, it depends on other nations (primarily Russia) for its energy needs, including supplies of oil and gas. The western, and largest, part of Ukraine 1s inhabited primarily by ethnic Ukrainians (77% of the population) who speak their own Slavic language. Their memories of what the Russians had done to them under the czar and Stalin have made them decidedly anti-Russian, and eager to join the western European community. However, in the eastern part of the country, around Kharkov, most Ukrainians are ethnic Russians (17% of the population), and speak the Russian language. A third region, to the south, is the autonomous republic of Crimea which it had been “given” to Ukraine in the Soviet years. This is the most tropical part of Russia and borders on the Black Sea with naval access to the world. (The Russian fleet uses Crimean ports by agreement with the previous Ukrainian government.) Most of those who live in Crimea are pro-Russian.
Although now adopting a representative democratic political form, Ukraine’s history and ethnic divisions have overshadowed the new republic’s attempt to create a viable nation. Political and economic corruption was rampant, and as in neighboring Russia, oligarchs soon emerged controlling vast parts of the Ukrainian economy.
It has been suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin wishes to reconstruct the old Soviet empire. If this is so, then Ukraine is an absolutely necessary component of such a reconstruction. An independent Ukraine that is part of the western European Union would mean that the old Soviet Empire could not be put back together. Ukraine is too large geographically, too populous, too economically significant, and too strategically located for such a Putin ambition to be fulfilled without it.
This means that it is likely that Mr. Putin will continue to intervene in Ukraine until it is under his de facto control. The invasion and occupation of Crimea now apparently taking place would be only the first of many interventions. After securing Crimea, Mr Putin will move to control eastern Ukraine.
Europe and the United States, for obvious reasons, would oppose this turn of events, but, at least for now, lack enough leverage to counter it successfully. Ukraine’s immediate needs include a large infusion of funds, something Mr. Putin had offered the deposed Ukrainian president as an incentive not to join with western Europe. The U.S. and the European Union are now scrambling to come up with finds for Ukraine, but so far none of them are talking about enough funds to make a difference.
Eastern Ukraine and Crimea are clearly pro-Russian and would likely cooperate with some form of Russian “occupation.” Larger western Ukraine, where the recent revolution began in the capital Kiev, would like resist any Russian attempts to restore the previous government. Thus, there are prospects of a civil war, or the partition of Ukraine into two nations.
With the European Union already in an economic crisis overtaking several of its members states, including Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy; and the U.S. in an historic withdrawal from its leading role in world affairs, it would seem that prospects for Ukraine at the outset of 2014 are not very bright.
This part of the world has known suffering and violence continually for a thousand years. This suffering and violence will now continue for at least another sad chapter.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
One conclusion that can be obtained from reading about the actual warfare in World Wars I and II, and then about the much briefer military experiences in the Persian Gulf, Afghan and Iraqi wars, is that the nature of these immense physical and violent confrontations has changed with astonishing velocity. The battles of 1914-18 now seem primitive and thoughtless, and it is startling how little intelligence was available to all sides as World War II began.
In the latter war, of course, the Allied side soon gained a significant advantage by acquiring the Axis side’s secret Enigma (German) and Purple (Japanese) codes. In spite of the Gestapo’s and other Axis spy groups’ ruthless reputations, their intelligence efforts, with a few and occasional exceptions, were generally spotty or poor. As the German dictator complained during the planning of “Operation Sea Lion” (the invasion of England) to his top generals, “We are separated from our enemy (Great Britain) by a ditch only 32 kilometers wide, and yet we have very little information about what they’re doing.”
Likewise, on both sides, Axis fifth column efforts against the Allies, and resistance efforts in the Axis-controlled European continent, were much more limited than the spate of romantic and often exaggerated accounts and novels which appeared after the war, and continue to do so in the present day.
Life in Britain during the threatened German invasion, including the blitz, was frightening and dangerous. Life in occupied Europe was even more so. (The courage of many who lived through these events, however, probably cannot be exaggerated or diminished.)
Until late 1944, the U.S., heavily embarked on its own Manhattan Project, had virtually no idea of the state of the German atomic bomb efforts (they had been abandoned in 1941). The German army did not know, until it had begun, where the Allied armies were landing in France on D-Day in 1944. The German leadership greatly underestimated the Soviet Union’s industrial capacity to recover after initial Axis successes in 1941-42.
At the outset of the Korean War, the U.S. misjudged the Communist Chinese willingness to cross into North Korea, and the Chinese subsequently did not calculate that the United Nations forces against them could recoup and return the battle lines to the 38th parallel.
The U.S. misjudged the tenacity of the Viet Cong guerrilla army in Viet Nam, and failed to put up sufficient forces to overcome its enemy.
The atomic bomb brought World War II thankfully prematurely to a end (although hindsight critics of President Truman’s order continue to ignore the overwhelming evidence that the Japanese military was prepared to fight on after 1945, even if their mainland were invaded, and were willing to sacrifice millions of their own people’s lives as well as the lives of Allied troops).
Since that time, military technology has advanced logarithmically and frighteningly, with its capacity to harm civilian as well military targets. Above ground, it seems there are few secrets anymore, and the nature of intelligence gathering, the ingenious novels of the “alcoholic” James Bond notwithstanding, has been fundamentally altered with computers, infrared detectors and cameras, and many other amazing devices now doing most of the spy work.
The current outcry about U.S. government surveillance, while perhaps justified in its objection to NSA overreach in its blanket spying on American citizens, is basically a national misunderstanding of the new conditions of global intelligence gathering, The experience of September 11 should have made most Americans aware that there are no longer any “rules” generally accepted in warfare in our time.
Nazi assaults on European civilians, not to mention their unspeakable role in the Holocaust, were a shock to the “civilized” Western world (still recovering from the traumas of chemical warfare and the mindless waste of troops on both sides in World War I). Although the U.S. and its allies won the recent “military” confrontations of the Persian Gulf, Afghan and Iraqi wars, their aftermaths have turned out to be quite problematic, The “enemy” in these confrontations did not simply surrender and dissolve, as they had almost always done in the past.
Proliferation of nuclear weapons, actual use of new chemical and biological weapons, and the testing of high-altitude electromagnetic pulse devices as weapons indicate that human loss of life and disaster can be obtained in hostile conflict on a much greater scale than ever before in history, perhaps even putting in mortal risk the human race itself.
Juxtaposed with the incredible advances in peace-time pursuits and humane interests of technology, including the mapping and use of human genome DNA, sophisticated robotics, transportation innovation, megacomputer capabilities, and so much else, it is becoming rather clear that the nature of daily life is about to include, much more than even the recent past, unsettling new conditions, anxieties and risks, and hopefully beneficial possibilities.
There will probably be no place to hide.
-Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
Several days ago, I suggested that American military action in Syria, the use of chemical weapons by Syrians against their own people notwithstanding, was not advisable. I enumerated the American past experience in the Middle East, going back to the Versailles Conference of 1919 when Euro-U.S. interference and involvement in the region began, and continuing with our inability to control events during the so-called “Arab Spring and its aftermath. I did suggest that some serious effort should be made to punish those who used the chemical weapons against civilians, which was clearly a horrendous war crime.
Since I wrote my thoughts in “What Should Be Done In Syria?” on these pages, no military action by the U.S. has taken place, but the Obama administration has ordered military preparations to make such action imminent. Before ordering that action, President Obama, as commander-in-chief, decided to ask for the support (but not the approval) of the U.S. Congress, and hearings for this are now taking place. It is not clear what Mr. Obama would do if he fails to receive congressional support. He has said it is not necessary, but he has asked for it anyway.
I would agree with the president that the proposed limited action, presumably bombing of Syrian targets (but no U.S. troops on the ground), does not require congressional approval. His gesture is clearly a political one. If he fails to get approval (more likely in the U.S. house than in the U.S. senate), he thus can rationalize his failure to observe his earlier warning to Syria that he would act if the “red line” of chemical weapons use was crossed. If he does get approval, he can share any blame that might result from U.S. action with the Republican opposition. His greatest risk would be taking action without the approval of both houses of Congress.
In the case of British Prime Minister David Cameron, he called Parliament back into session and sought approval for British action in Syria from a House of Commons his party clearly controlled. But in an historic turn of events, the House voted against his request, the first such action there since 1782 when the British leader Lord North asked for further military action against the rebellious American colonies, and was turned down. Mr. Cameron promptly withdrew his nation from the Western alliance planning to take action.
Only France today remains firmly committed to action in Syria.
Since there is very little support in the U.S. (and, to be fair, within the Obama administration) to commit troops to any action in Syria, the obvious choices seem limited to various aerial attacks by planes or missiles against Syrian military assets, including their remaining chemical warfare supplies. The question is: What meaningful result can occur from such a limited action? This question is especially pertinent since any element of surprise is presumably gone with all the publicity to our intentions in the region. A decisive military action or a highly successful special military operations might now be justifiable, but there is no indication yet that this is planned nor that Mr. Obama would order it.
Is Mr. Obama’s personal credibility, following more than a month of hesitation and delay, worth the expenditure of an expensive but only probable symbolic gesture? And what of that always critical factor, the unintended consequences, of any action we might take? “Unintended consequences” have been, so far, the major reality of our involvement in the seeming permanently hostile (to the U.S.) Middle East.
I do not share the same rationale that most U.S. “isolationist” officials and commentators have brought forward so far. I do not believe that the U.S. can retreat from its unique role in the world, nor be indifferent to threats, violence and subversion to the world’s democracies. But I do think that the use of American power, military and economic, must be employed more wisely and effectively than it has been. Nothing from the Obama administration so far indicates that any proposed military action would fulfill that goal.
Until and unless Commander-in-Chief Obama can prepare and execute a military action that would make a positive difference in the Middle East, Congress should withhold its support and consent.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
As it was two to three thousand years ago, the region we now call the Middle East has once again become, in recent years, the principal “war” battleground in the Western world.
The nature of war and conflict in this region is indeed “biblical” as the word is now used to describe something which is so generic to the major religious faiths of the West, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
To the other half of the planet, principally Asia and the nations of the Pacific Ocean, there must be a certain wondering how such a relatively small geographical part of the earth can be the source of such enduring violence, acrimony and war. Perhaps their puzzlement is similar to ours as we perceive the enduring conflicts of the Far East, rooted in Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Confucianism and now also Islam and secular Marxism.
It is part of the ongoing story of the human race that the ambitions and conflicts of its constituent groups (which formed after the Ice Age when “modern” civilization began) persist long after their geneses, long after the “reasons” and “causes” for them seemed pertinent.
Warfare is as old as the small groups of early humans who emerged from the caves and the steppes. Violence and aggression, it should not be forgotten, has not ever been absent from human history.
In our contemporary version, however, the crude clubs, spears and axes of early warfare have been replaced with devices of such “sophistication” and power that most persons in the world today recoil at the very notion of war. The problem is that “most persons in the world” do not have much to say about whether wars are fought or not. That is because another historic element of civilization, that is, the control of a group, nation, religion or people, remains in the hands of the very few (be they kings or emperors or dictators).
The introduction of democratic capitalism into human history is very recent, and represents a possible alteration, in the long term, of the phenomenon of war. Democratic nations, to be sure, have been involved in wars during their existence, but as former U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz (later U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for human rights) and others point out: there are very, very few instances of true democratic nations in the world going to war with each other.
There is only one true democratic nation now in the Middle East (I exclude Turkey whose leader has become increasingly dictatorial), and that is Israel. It should be no surprise that Israel has been the principal target and scapegoat for the other nations of the Middle East, nor should it be a surprise that, since democratic capitalism is a product of European Christianity, that the newer primary target is Christianity.
Syria is only one of the latest incidents of the seemingly endless geographical and sectarian conflicts in the Middle East. Europe and the West tried to intervene in this region after World War I when it attempted to construct artificial nations from warring tribes. Time and again, Europe and the Unites States have interfered and intervened in this region, including toppling a Persian government, installing the shah, in Iran. More recently, we intervened in Iraq, and most recently, we tried to play a role in the so-called “Arab Spring.”
As a self-described “civilized nation,” we have declared that certain lines of violence and cruelty cannot be tolerated. This particularly includes the use of chemical warfare against civilian populations. There can be no doubt that chemical warfare has once again been employed in the Middle East (it was widely and devastatingly used in the first Iran-Iraq war a few decades ago) in Syria.
Seventy years ago, the U.S. introduced nuclear weaponry to warfare in order to bring World War II to a close. There can be no doubt that, as terrible was this cost to the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (probably 200,000 deaths), that the use of the atomic bomb in August, 1945 saved literally millions of lives of American and Japanese soldiers, and Japanese civilians, had there been a subsequent invasion of the Japanese mainland.
The horror of nuclear warfare, furthermore, has kept it from being used for seven decades, even though (disturbingly) more and more nations have acquired its capability.
During most of history, wars were either won or lost. After World War II, we have seen the emergence of wars with no winners. This has been particularly true in the Middle East, where in spite of using tiny Israel as a scapegoat, the most violence has been directed by one Arab group against another Arab group.
If the definition of the purpose of war, and its justification, is to “win,” what can the purpose be of a war that cannot be won?
Senator John McCain and other self-proclaimed “moralists” in both parties have urged President Obama to take action in Syria. I have been a persistent critic of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy, but for once, I am sympathetic to his “caution” and hesitation. There is almost no support for such action in American public opinion (polls indicate up to 90% opposed to U.S. intervention). In Great Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has just sustained an historic defeat in the House of Commons after he sought authorization to attack Syria. That defeat, which included votes from his own party, reflected British public opinion. President Obama has now agreed to a debate and vote in Congress before taking action in Syria. If Congress reflects American public opinion, Mr. Obama will also fail to get support for proposed military action in Syria.
What are our interests in a civil war in which both sides detest the United States? What are our interests in a regional conflict where chemical warfare is even contemplated, much less used? What are our interests in the Middle East where our every action, other than our historical support of the state of Israel, has been a failure?
Punish those individuals responsible for the use of chemical warfare if that is possible,. They are truly war criminals. But beyond that, any military action we might take promises terrible new wounds and unthinkable new disasters.
-Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
Trying to understand events in other parts of the world is becoming increasingly difficult, paradoxically even as communications technology brings them physically into view almost instantly and so graphically.
Thus, the second “Arab revolt” in Egypt can be seen on the streets of Cairo in dramatic detail, and with numerous reports from local journalists and eye-witnesses on the spot in a continuous display.
But what we see, although vitally important to the event taking place, may not reveal much about what is happening behind the scenes where the most important decisions are being made.
When the first series of Arab national uprisings first began in 2011, they seemed to be spontaneous “grass roots” phenomena against totalitarian regimes, and were dubbed “The Arab Spring” in the West (U.S. and Europe) in an expectation that they would lead to new attitudes among Arab populations, an introduction of representative democracy into the region, and a reversal of the economic and political conditions which had dominated that part of the world for so long.
While it was true that many of the leaders of these uprisings were young and idealistic, the ruthless complexity of the Middle East also brought into contention for power many national and religious groups that would only replace one totalitarian regime with another. Any hopes that new governments might be more pro-American, less anti-Israel, and more tolerant of other religions (primarily Christianity) were soon dashed.
In a free election, leaders of the Moslem Brotherhood won control of Egypt, but soon proved unable to govern this largest of Arab nations successfully. Once again, large numbers of Egyptians took to the streets in protest against the new government. In fact, the numbers of protesters were so great that the true power in Egypt, its military, was forced to act to maintain order and stability. The elected leader was deposed, and many leaders of the Moslem Brotherhood have been arrested and otherwise detained. At the same time, the tone of most of the protesters was decidedly anti-American and anti-Israel.
On the surface, therefore, it might seem that only one Islamic regime will be replaced by another. That might be the case, but a little noticed event took place at the same time when the Israeli government agreed to Egyptian army movements in Gaza, something which is part of the Egyptian-Israeli agreements which have been in place many years. Also, quite notably, the Israeli government has been decidedly quiet about events in Egypt, although it is obvious they are following those events very, very closely. Does this mean a positive turn in the Egyptian-Israeli relationship?
We don’t know the answer to that question, nor to the question of what kind of government will now follow in Egypt, because, as I have been suggesting, we receive very little news beyond the raw television coverage in the public squares. Part of this is due to the very limited ability of American or European journalists to cover these events on the spot. Assaults on journalists have been frequent. Part of it is also due to the very limited access Western journalists have to Arab leaders and decision makers. And part of it is due to the bias of many journalists about U.S. and European foreign policies, especially those who want to portray those policies in a positive way, no matter what.
In 2011, there was a wave of optimism in the West following the so-called “Arab Spring.” This, it turned out, was premature at best, and perhaps even an overall misreading of what was happening.
In 2013, words of caution are much more in order.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
For each of the following countries, please say whether you consider it an ally of the United States, friendly, but not an ally, unfriendly, or an enemy of the United States.
- Ally 66%
- Friendly, but not an ally 25%
- Unfriendly 2%
- Enemy 1%
- Ally 61%
- Friendly, but not an ally 33%
- Unfriendly 2%
- Enemy 1%
- Ally 46%
- Friendly, but not an ally 32%
- Unfriendly 10%
- Enemy 6%
- Ally 44%
- Friendly, but not an ally 40%
- Unfriendly 7%
- Enemy 3%
- Ally 31%
- Friendly, but not an ally 47%
- Unfriendly 15%
- Enemy 4%
- Ally 25%
- Friendly, but not an ally 53%
- Unfriendly 10%
- Enemy 3%
- Ally 12%
- Friendly, but not an ally 37%
- Unfriendly 26%
- Enemy 16%
- Ally 11%
- Friendly, but not an ally 44%
- Unfriendly 26%
- Enemy 14%
- Ally 11%
- Friendly, but not an ally 41%
- Unfriendly 30%
- Enemy 12%
- Ally 11%
- Friendly, but not an ally 39%
- Unfriendly 28%
- Enemy 11%
- Ally 4%
- Friendly, but not an ally 18%
- Unfriendly 42%
- Enemy 28%
- Ally 4%
- Friendly, but not an ally 17%
- Unfriendly 40%
- Enemy 35%
- Ally 3%
- Friendly, but not an ally 7%
- Unfriendly 26%
- Enemy 58%
- Ally 2%
- Friendly, but not an ally 8%
- Unfriendly 34%
- Enemy 51%
Survey of 1,529 adults each were conducted on June 1-4, 2013. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points.
–Data compilation and analysis courtesy of The Argo Journal
When a world figure dies, so much is written about them, I rarely feel compelled to join in on the avalanche of tributes and commentary.
The occasion of the death of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is one of those moments, She was unquestionably one of the giant figures of the latter half of the 20th century.
I have noted, however, among some writers and other figures in her country, and in mine, an attempt to denigrate Mrs. Thatcher, almost all of this out of political spite.
The words “divisive,” “controversial,” “headstrong,” “vindictive,”and “unwomanly” are among many terms employed pejoratively (some of these terms otherwise might not be considered negatives) in this petty spite. In fact, her most famous unofficial title, “The Iron Lady,” which she bore proudly, was originally penned by her sworn enemy, the Soviets, because of her long opposition to communism.
Margaret Thatcher, like all politicians, made mistakes. Some of her policies did not work out. But to have played a vital part, along with Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Mikhail Gorbachev in ending the Cold War (1945-90), and in defeating totalitarian communism, places Baroness Thatcher in some very exclusive and important company. Completely on her own, she stood down attempts by the chronically dysfunctional Argentine government to annex the Falkland Islands, and helped restore a waning British self-identity.
The United Kingdom was once the greatest naval power the world has even known. It was for a few centuries the world’s greatest colonial power. At the outset of the 20th century, however, Britain was in decline, militarily and economically. By the end of the 20th century that decline had significantly increased. What has remained, however, on that small island is a legacy of language, law, and courage unmatched perhaps by any other national experience.
Even now, the UK remains outside (a Thatcher policy) the collapsing Eurozone, and holds its own with the major European powers of Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
Just as scholars, analysts and other commentators (including myself) are dissecting and reconsidering the careers of Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the heroes of the previous generation in the West, two great men who were, as all of us are, flawed and made mistakes, there will be time enough to analyze Margaret Thatcher’s time on the political stage.
The “death parties” and other “celebrations” of her death in the U.K. are childish and unbecoming of the British people. The denigrations of her contributions, at the moment of her death, are quite petty, especially by those men and women who fancy themselves as liberal advocates for women and feminism, but can’t allow that an English woman could accomplish so much for what she cherished and believed.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
President Obama’s Inauguration Speech yesterday has been called by pretty much all commentators as a rallying cry for the political left. The President seems to believe that his relatively narrow reelection victory is a mandate to expand the progressive agenda. You can read the full speech if you have the stomach here.
The President’s paean to liberalism and progressivism, while slightly out of place in an Inaugural Address, was not that surprising. Despite instances to the contrary, this President has always been a liberal and since the election he has seen no reason to hide his liberalism. We’ll be hearing much more of this in the coming four years.
However, there was one phrase in the President’s Address that stands out as particularly unsettling. National Review’s Roger Kimball has so far been one of the only columnists who has pointed it out, (another being Thomas Ricks from foreignpolicy.com) but anyone who has studied history will be concerned.
The President said: “Not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes; tolerance and opportunity, human dignity and justice.” (emphasis mine)
For those of you who aren’t so big into history let me explain. This phrase was infamously used by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after he signed the Munich Agreement with Nazi Germany in September 1938. This treaty opened the door for the Nazis to completely annex Czechoslovakia. Waving the treaty in his hand to a cheering crowd, Chamberlain proclaimed that it would bring “peace in our time”. Of course, Chamberlain’s appeasement strategy encouraged Germany to further acts of aggression. Less than a year after Chamberlain proclaimed “peace in our time”, World War Two started in Europe.
Now this could be simple historical ignorance on the part of the President and/or his speechwriters but it is unsettling nonetheless. Peace in our time? I’m sure the people being massacred by Bashir al-Assad’s forces in Syria don’t believe that. Neither do the people in Mali as their nation battles Al-Qaeda. Israel hardly seems ready to believe that there will be “peace in our time”. The Iranian mullahs don’t seem particularly interested in “peace in our time”.
The President has made it clear that he does not see the United States’ role as being a superpower that acts unilaterally. This President is definitely not interested in following George W. Bush’s foreign policy (except for use of drones, keeping open Guantanamo and perhaps some other things that we aren’t privy too). Here’s hoping that despite his use of the phrase, the President is not going to copy Chamberlain’s policies.
Yesterday, President Obama went against pretty much everyone’s advice and picked former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, setting up a major fight in the Senate. On its face this pick is trying to perpetuate the myth that Obama is some kind of “post-partisan” President but looking at the response from Senate Republicans punctures another hole in that myth.
Senator Cruz of Texas said this:
Chuck Hagel is not the right choice for Secretary of Defense, and if he is nominated, it is
difficult to imagine any way I could support his confirmation. Hagel has not been a friend of
Israel, our most important ally in a very troubled region of the world. And he has repeatedly
been soft on our enemies. Bullies do not respond to weakness, and Hagel’s stance on Iran –
the most serious national security challenge America currently faces — makes conflict more
likely, not less likely.
America needs someone leading the Pentagon who understands that peace comes through
strength. And we need a Defense Secretary who will stand unshakably alongside the nation
of Israel, because that alliance is vital to preserving U.S. security.
Although, if nominated, I will listen to what he has to say in a confirmation hearing, Chuck
Hagel’s record strongly suggests he is not that man.
Senator McCain commented:
“Chuck Hagel served our nation with honor in Vietnam and I congratulate him on this nomination. I have serious concerns about positions Senator Hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues in recent years, which we will fully consider in the course of his confirmation process before the Senate Armed Services Committee.”
And Senator Kelly Ayotte said:
“While I deeply respect Senator Hagel’s brave service in Vietnam, I am concerned by several positions he took as a senator – particularly his long-standing opposition to increased Iran sanctions and his views regarding Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as our close ally Israel. As the Armed Services Committee reviews his nomination, I will vigorously question him on these and other issues.”
The concerns that all three of the Senators mention come up for one simple reason; Hagel’s record and rhetoric shows a contempt for one of the United States’ closest allies, the State of Israel. His comments about the “Jewish Lobby” are a pernicious old myth of anti-Semitism; that there is some kind of Jewish cabal pulling the strings of the world. A vicious piece of garbage called Protocols of the Elders of Zion, made by Tsarist agents at the turn of the twentieth-century, essentially said that there was a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. Modern anti-Jewish leftists have taken this myth and updated it using phrases eerily similar to Hagel’s “Jewish Lobby” remark.
Even beyond that, Hagel also voted against sending a letter to the government of Russia asking them to combat anti-Semitism. He voted against sanctions on Iran and has been in favor of talking to the terrorist group Hezbollah. He thought the Surge in Iraq was a major mistake. In short, if there has been a foreign policy issue, Hagel has been wrong about it.
So this is the man that President Obama should be in charge of our defense policy. Combine Hagel with the oh-so-brilliant John Kerry at Foggy Bottom and you have the makings of a disastrous foreign policy that will make the mistakes of the last four years look like the good old days.
Elections have consequences. I highly doubt that a President Romney would nominate Hagel for dog-catcher, much less the Cabinet. Even sadder is the fact that barring a truly terrible confirmation hearing, he is likely to be confirmed; Democrats control the Senate after all. A Republican Senate would likely have killed a Hagel nomination in its cradle. Elections have consequences folks.
Fox News has learned from sources who were on the ground in Benghazi that an urgent request from the CIA annex for military back-up during the attack on the U.S. Consulate and subsequent attack several hours later was denied by officials in the CIA chain of command — who also told the CIA operators twice to “stand down” rather than help the ambassador’s team when shots were heard at approximately 9:40 p.m. in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
Former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were part of a small team who were at the CIA annex about a mile from the U.S. Consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team came under attack. When they heard the shots fired, they radioed to inform their higher-ups to tell them what they were hearing and requested permission to go to the consulate and help out. They were told to “stand down,” according to sources familiar with the exchange. An hour later, they called again to headquarters and were again told to “stand down.”
Woods, Doherty and at least two others ignored those orders and made their way to the Consulate which at that point was on fire. Shots were exchanged. The quick reaction force from the CIA annex evacuated those who remained at the Consulate and Sean Smith, who had been killed in the initial attack. They could not find the ambassador and returned to the CIA annex at about midnight.
At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied. There were no communications problems at the annex, according those present at the compound. The team was in constant radio contact with their headquarters.
(Reuters) – Officials at the White House and State Department were advised two hours after attackers assaulted the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 that an Islamic militant group had claimed credit for the attack, official emails show.
The emails, obtained by Reuters from government sources not connected with U.S. spy agencies or the State Department and who requested anonymity, specifically mention that the Libyan group called Ansar al-Sharia had asserted responsibility for the attacks.
The brief emails also show how U.S. diplomats described the attack, even as it was still under way, to Washington.
Methinks some intelligence types aren’t appreciative of being thrown under the bus. How is the liberal media going to react to this, I wonder.
The conventional wisdom surrounding tonight’s debate is basically accurate: for a former governor running to unseat a commander-in-chief whose foreign policy is viewed mostly favorably by the general public, taking control of a debate about that subject is going to be a tall order.
Yet, this race isn’t like 2004 — or even 2008. Foreign policy has taken a decisive backseat to economic and fiscal concerns, and Mitt Romney has fought his way to a small but comfortable edge over President Obama in the polls on those issues. His job tonight is to pass the viability threshold — not to slice and dice the Obama foreign policy agenda, which, as the unfortunate Libya exchange in the last debate demonstrated, can be a somewhat perilous task. The public is already skeptical of the administration’s response to the that fiasco. Romney does not need do take a sledgehammer to the president. There is an opening, but it’s not in vigorously attacking a popular commander-in-chief. Romney’s performance needs to be about Romney, not about President Obama. As I wrote after the Biden-Ryan debate:
What partisans…must keep in mind that these debates are about optics, not about the finer points of policy — it’s the candidates’ chance to show that they have the temperament and demeanor to deserve high office.
All that Romney needs to do is demonstrate that he has a solid grasp of foreign policy — and that he makes for a plausible commander-in-chief. He is not going to convince the general public in 90 minutes’ time that President Obama’s foreign policy agenda rests in shambles. But he can certainly convince them that he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the Iranian nuclear threat, the recent upheaval in the Middle East, and America’s role in the world as a force for good. If he can do that, then he will have — like Ryan two weeks ago — won by not losing. With just two weeks out, the momentum is still with him. It’s his night to lose.
Rosa Brooks, a former Obama foreign policy staffer really unloads on Obama in this four page article in Foreign Policy magazine:
Despite some successes large and small, Obama’s foreign policy has disappointed many who initially supported him. The Middle East initiatives heralded in his 2009 Cairo speech fizzled or never got started at all, and the Middle East today is more volatile than ever. The administration’s response to the escalating violence in Syria has consisted mostly of anxious thumb-twiddling. The Israelis and the Palestinians are both furious at us. In Afghanistan, Obama lost faith in his own strategy: he never fought to fully resource it, and now we’re searching for a way to leave without condemning the Afghans to endless civil war. In Pakistan, years of throwing money in the military’s direction have bought little cooperation and less love.
The Russians want to reset the reset, neither the Chinese nor anyone else can figure out what, if anything, the “pivot to Asia” really means, and Latin America and Africa continue to be mostly ignored, along with global issues such as climate change. Meanwhile, the administration’s expanding drone campaign suggests a counterterrorism strategy that has completely lost its bearings — we no longer seem very clear on who we need to kill or why.
Could Obama have done better?
In foreign policy as in life, stuff happens — including bad stuff no one could have predicted. Nonetheless, to a significant extent, President Obama is the author of his own lackluster foreign policy. He was a visionary candidate, but as president, he has presided over an exceptionally dysfunctional and un-visionary national security architecture — one that appears to drift from crisis to crisis, with little ability to look beyond the next few weeks. His national security staff is squabbling and demoralized, and though senior White House officials are good at making policy announcements, mechanisms to actually implement policies are sadly inadequate.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If Obama wants to fix his broken foreign policy machine, he can do it — but conversations with numerous insiders, as well as my own government experiences, suggest that he needs to focus on strategy, structure, process, management, and personnel as much as on new policy initiatives.
Not sexy, I know. But just as a start-up company needs more than an entrepreneurial founder with a couple of good ideas and a nifty PowerPoint presentation, the United States needs more than speeches and high-minded aspirations.
She goes on to list five action items Obama needs to do:
- Get a Strategy
- Get some decent managers
- Get some people who actually know something
- Get out of the bubble
- Get a backbone
It is a devastating article. Read the whole thing.
Is Obama about to throw Hillary Clinton under the bus? It’s starting to look that way. The Daily Caller reports:
The White House is throwing Hillary Clinton under the 2012 election bus.
Top officials have already claimed the nation’s intelligence agencies did not alert the White House to the growing danger facing the State Department’s facility in Benghazi, Libya, which was destroyed Sept. 11 by a jihadi attack on the 11th anniversary of the atrocities in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The claim was repeated Oct. 11 by Vice President Joe Biden during the vice presidential debate in Danville, Ky. “We weren’t told they wanted more security,” he announced.
Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser for communications, extended the claim Oct. 11 by telling told Foreign Policy magazine that neither Biden nor President Barack Obama knew of the growing danger.
“Biden speaks only for himself and the president and neither of them knew about the requests at the time,” Rhodes said, according to Foreign Policy.
“These kinds of issues are handling in the State Department by security officials,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said during Friday’s press briefing.
The consensus excuse that seems to be developing to protect the administration from the growing Benghazi scandal is that nobody from the State Department bothered telling the White House that more security was needed in Libya, nor that the embassy in Libya was requesting more security. Nor did anyone from the State Department bother to tell the White House until more than a week after the event that it was a terrorist attack, not a demonstration gone bad.
And who is in charge of the State Department? Hillary Clinton! (Have you noticed that Hillary seems to have disappeared in the past few weeks?)
This places the White House in an awkward spot. They must protect Obama at all costs, yet it is starting to look like in order to do that, they may have to throw Hillary under the bus. This could be disastrous for them as it would unleash a vengeful Bill Clinton upon them in the closing weeks of a tight election. If Hillary goes down, you had better believe the Clintons will be sorely tempted to take Obama down with them.
The White House wants to avoid that scenario at all costs, but the delays are killing them. They need to find a scapegoat but quick, yet the obvious one could end up sinking them.
Obama ran into a buzzsaw last Wednesday. In front of the entire nation, Mitt Romney sliced, diced, and shredded our sitting president. Mitt appeared cool, confident, positive, and in good humor. Obama appeared bored, disengaged, distracted, unsure of himself, and testy. One was the adult. One was the child.
Polls have since then shown a collapse in Obama’s standings on foreign policy and the economy. Romney actually leads in some of them in these key areas.
Mitt followed up his stellar Denver performance with a stellar foreign policy speech yesterday in Virginia. Cool, calm, positive and completely acting the adult, Mitt did to Obama’s foreign policy what he did to the man last Wednesday.
Romney is staking out the position of being “the adult in the room”. He did this extremely effectively during the Republican primaries. It is what won him the nomination more than anything else. He is now doing it again. It is one of his most formidable weapons.
So given Mitt’s successful history using this tactic, you would think that the Obama Campaign would rush to shore up Obama’s image to being at the very least the “other” adult in the room, right? Wrong.
First they set up an Obama interview with Nickelodeon which Mitt declined to do. (Obama has time to sit with Nickelodeon, but not the Israeli Prime Minister.) Then they release an ad featuring — wait for it — Big Bird!
So at the precise moment when Mitt is capitalizing upon his most effective trait — appearing as the adult in the room — Team Obama chooses to associate themselves with childish things. When Mitt is talking about taxes, jobs, the economy, terrorism and our embassies around the world burning, Obama calls upon Big Bird for help.
Hmmm. Who knows. It might actually work. All the same, I am fairly certain that Mitt’s team in Boston can’t believe their luck. What a contrast to present to a jittery electorate right exactly at the time when they are looking for someone to lead them through difficult and rough times.
The prepared text for this speech can be found here.
Maureen Dowd has joined the chorus of liberals not entirely satisfied with the Obama Administration’s response to the death of our Libyan Ambassador.
A woman named Rice in a top administration job, ambitious to move up to secretary of state, hitting the Sunday talk shows to aggressively promote a Middle East narrative that’s good for the president but destined to crumble under scrutiny.
Accusations that intelligence on Al Qaeda links in the Middle East was cherry-picked by American officials to create a convenient reality.
A national security apparatus that becomes enmeshed with the political image-making machine.
Last time it was Condoleezza Rice helping her war-obsessed bosses spin their deceptive web, as they recklessly tried to re-engineer the Middle East. This time it was Susan Rice offering a noncredible yarn as the Obama team desperately tries to figure out the Middle East.
W.’s administration played up Al Qaeda ties, exploiting 9/11 to invade Iraq, which the neocons had wanted to do all along. The Obama administration sidestepped Al Qaeda ties in the case of the Libyan attack to perpetuate the narrative that the president had decimated Al Qaeda when Osama bin Laden was killed, and to preclude allegations that they were asleep at the switch on the anniversary of 9/11. Better to blame it all on a spontaneous protest to an anti-Islam video on YouTube.
It’s remarkable that President Obama, who came to power abhorring the manipulative and duplicitous tactics of the Bush crowd, should now be vulnerable to similar charges.
Don’t get the wrong idea. Ms. Dowd hasn’t suddenly become a Romney supporter. She will still vote for Obama without a moment’s hesitation. Her editorial is full of instances real or imagined where Republicans supposedly did the equivalent thing. However, her spiel is still one more sign that the wheels are coming off of the Obama Administration’s explanation of the tragic events last 9/11.
Beyond that, it is proof positive that even the most liberal of the lefties (such as Ms. Dowd) eventually begin to balk at having to continually play toady to one of the most incompetent administrations this country has ever seen. They tire of turning a blind eye to it all. Their professional pride gets in the way.
But I am sure they needn’t be too worried about it. To quote Mr. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, “I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.”
Turkey says it has fired artillery against targets inside Syria after Syrian shells killed five people in a Turkish border town.
The Turkish military shelled Syrian targets identified by radar near the border, the office of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement.
Nato said it would hold an urgent meeting over the incident.
In Syria, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are trying to put down an 18-month-old insurgency.
Turkish territory has been hit by fire from Syria on several occasions since the uprising against President Assad began, but Wednesday’s incident was the most serious.
The shells, fired from Tall al-Abyad in Syria, hit the Turkish town of Akcakale.
The dead are said to include a woman and her three children.
Turkey is a NATO member. If they get pulled into this mess, our treaty obligations may cause us to get sucked into it whether Mr. Hopenchange wants to or not.
But then, he’s known for ignoring laws he doesn’t like. Why should a treaty be any different?
The U.S. ignores warnings of a parlous security situation in Benghazi. Nothing happens because nobody is really paying attention, especially in an election year, and because Libya is supposed to be a foreign-policy success. When something does happen, the administration’s concerns for the safety of Americans are subordinated to considerations of Libyan “sovereignty” and the need for “permission.” After the attack the administration blames a video, perhaps because it would be politically inconvenient to note that al Qaeda is far from defeated, and that we are no more popular under Mr. Obama than we were under George W. Bush. Denouncing the video also appeals to the administration’s reflexive habits of blaming America first. Once that story falls apart, it’s time to blame the intel munchkins and move on.
It was five in the afternoon when Mr. Obama took his 3 a.m. call. He still flubbed it.
A New Course For The Middle East
Disturbing developments are sweeping across the greater Middle East. In Syria, tens of thousands of innocent people have been slaughtered. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power, and the country’s peace treaty with Israel hangs in the balance. In Libya, our ambassador was murdered in a terrorist attack. U.S. embassies throughout the region have been stormed in violent protests. And in Iran, the ayatollahs continue to move full tilt toward nuclear-weapons capability, all the while promising to annihilate Israel.
These developments are not, as President Obama says, mere “bumps in the road.” They are major issues that put our security at risk.
Yet amid this upheaval, our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them. We’re not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies.
And that’s dangerous. If the Middle East descends into chaos, if Iran moves toward nuclear breakout, or if Israel’s security is compromised, America could be pulled into the maelstrom.
We still have time to address these threats, but it will require a new strategy toward the Middle East.
The first step is to understand how we got here. Since World War II, America has been the leader of the Free World. We’re unique in having earned that role not through conquest but through promoting human rights, free markets and the rule of law. We ally ourselves with like-minded countries, expand prosperity through trade and keep the peace by maintaining a military second to none.
But in recent years, President Obama has allowed our leadership to atrophy. Our economy is stuck in a “recovery” that barely deserves the name. Our national debt has risen to record levels. Our military, tested by a decade of war, is facing devastating cuts thanks to the budgetary games played by the White House. Finally, our values have been misapplied—and misunderstood—by a president who thinks that weakness will win favor with our adversaries.
By failing to maintain the elements of our influence and by stepping away from our allies, President Obama has heightened the prospect of conflict and instability. He does not understand that an American policy that lacks resolve can provoke aggression and encourage disorder.
The Middle East is a case in point. The Arab Spring presented an opportunity to help move millions of people from oppression to freedom. But it also presented grave risks. We needed a strategy for success, but the president offered none. And now he seeks to downplay the significance of the calamities of the past few weeks.
The same incomprehension afflicts the president’s policy toward Israel. The president began his term with the explicit policy of creating “daylight” between our two countries. He recently downgraded Israel from being our “closest ally” in the Middle East to being only “one of our closest allies.” It’s a diplomatic message that will be received clearly by Israel and its adversaries alike. He dismissed Israel’s concerns about Iran as mere “noise” that he prefers to “block out.” And at a time when Israel needs America to stand with it, he declined to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East—that is, both governments and individuals who share our values.
This means restoring our credibility with Iran. When we say an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability—and the regional instability that comes with it—is unacceptable, the ayatollahs must be made to believe us.
It means placing no daylight between the United States and Israel. And it means using the full spectrum of our soft power to encourage liberty and opportunity for those who have for too long known only corruption and oppression. The dignity of work and the ability to steer the course of their lives are the best alternatives to extremism.
But this Middle East policy will be undermined unless we restore the three sinews of our influence: our economic strength, our military strength and the strength of our values. That will require a very different set of policies from those President Obama is pursuing.
The 20th century became an American Century because we were steadfast in defense of freedom. We made the painful sacrifices necessary to defeat totalitarianism in all of its guises. To defend ourselves and our allies, we paid the price in treasure and in soldiers who never came home.
Our challenges are different now, but if the 21st century is to be another American Century, we need leaders who understand that keeping the peace requires American strength in all of its dimensions.
THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has scheduled a phone call for late morning Friday with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
President Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu on his trip to the United States, and the Israeli government presumably thought a meeting with the opposition candidate in the absence of one with the sitting president would be too provocative. But there was apparently an eagerness on the Israeli prime minister’s part to talk with Romney in order to help win as broad American support as possible for the red lines he outlined in his United Nations speech with respect to the Iranian nuclear program.
As for Romney, he expects to explore Netanyahu’s understanding of the red lines, and also, we are told, wants to hear Netanyahu’s perspective on developments elsewhere in the Middle East.
Apparently at the request of both principals, neither of their offices has put a hard-stop on their schedules for this call, so the discussion is likely to be both substantive and substantial.
So Romney visits with world leaders. Obama visits with Whoopi Goldberg.
I wonder if Obama is still attending his intelligence briefings.
On Sunday morning, BuzzFeed correspondent Michael Hastings emailed Philippe Reines, Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide and personal spokesman at the State Department, asking a series of pointed questions about State’s handling of the Benghazi fiasco, and Reines’ over-the-top attack on CNN. The emails quickly got personal.
Not only did they get personal, but extremely rude, crude, and obnoxious as well. If any Republican aide had used language a tenth as bad as this, the media would have had a field day. But as it is… .
I read through Hastings’ questions. I read them looking for a disrespectful, snide, or otherwise obnoxious tone. I saw none. Instead, I saw some very pointed questions getting asked. Perhaps the Democrats in the Obama Administration aren’t used to hard questions.
Hillary is in a tough spot. America’s Middle East Foreign Policy is in shambles, and Obama is desperate to get reelected. He’s proven multiple times he has no scruples throwing anybody under the bus, and Hillary is the most likely scapegoat for his Middle East policy collapse. To make matters worse for her, he doesn’t really need her anymore. She has stated multiple times she won’t serve a second term as SoS, and Obama got his prime time convention address out of Bill. So there is nothing stopping him from tossing her aside like so much wilted arugula. If she goes down, so does her hopes for 2016.
I can see why her close aide might be a bit testy.