Wednesday, December 10, 2014

If at first you don't succeed, pretend that you did.

The Iranian mullahs are cheating on the preliminary nuclear deal they reached with John Kerry:
The United States has privately accused Iran of going on an international shopping spree to acquire components for a heavy-water reactor that American officials have long feared could be used in the production of nuclear weapons-grade plutonium.
A U.S. delegation informed a U.N. Security Council panel of experts monitoring Iranian sanctions in recent months that Iranian procurement agents have been increasing their efforts to illicitly obtain equipment for the IR-40 research reactor at the Arak nuclear complex.
The American allegations, which have never before been reported, come more than a year after the Iranian government pledged as part of an interim agreement with the United States and other big powers to scale back Iran’s most controversial nuclear-related activities, including the enrichment of high-grade uranium, in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief. They stand in stark contrast to recent remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has repeatedly credited Tehran with abiding by the terms of the November 2013 pact, which bound Tehran to suspend some of its work at Arak. “Iran has held up its end of the bargain,” Kerry said last month in Vienna as he announced a seven-month extension of the timetable for big-power talks.
The allegation is also sure to add to the mounting congressional unease over the administration’s ongoing talks with Tehran. Many lawmakers from both parties believe that the White House is making too many concessions to Tehran to cement a deal that it sees as central to the president’s legacy. With the GOP slated to take over the Senate next month, Iran hawks like Arizona Republican John McCain and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk are already promising to push through a new package of economic sanctions, a move that the White House believes would scupper the delicate talks with Tehran. Both men are likely to see the new U.N. allegations as proof that Tehran simply can’t be trusted to abide by the terms of a future deal.
Privately accused Iran? Why would the US accuse Iran only privately?
Obama administration figures used the annual Saban Forum on Middle East issues in Washington this past weekend to launch their counter-offensive against efforts to pass new sanctions against Iran. Both Vice President Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the event to tout the wisdom of the decision to allow the negotiations with the Islamist state to go into a second overtime period instead of the finite period they promised a year ago when they were extolling the virtues of a weak interim deal that we were told would soon be followed by an agreement that would end the nuclear threat. But Kerry’s talk of progress toward a deal and Biden’s stereotypical bombast about Iran not getting a bomb on this administration’s watch was given the lie by the report published today in Foreign Policy detailing American charges that Iran is already going on a spending spree buying material that could be used to produce nuclear-weapons grade plutonium for a bomb.

Well, surely, the leaders of our foreign policy establishment are willing to admit being wrong on this if by doing so they protect US interests. Right?
This is significant in and of itself as evidence of Iran’s intention to push ahead toward a bomb on both uranium and plutonium based plants. But it is even more significant because one of the administration’s principle talking points against further sanctions is that the existing laws (to which the administration had to be dragged kicking and screaming) are not only working but that Iran isn’t cheating on them or the interim accord. The evidence of Iranian activity not only debunks these assurances, it also illustrates that U.S. intelligence about what Iran is doing, which is crucial to monitoring compliance with any further agreements on Iran’s part, may not be up to the task of discovering what is really going on in their nuclear facilities.
That all of this is going on while the Iranians have successfully strung along American diplomats in the nuclear talks further diminishes the credibility of the pledges uttered by both Biden and Kerry. At best, Biden’s boast about a bomb not happening on Obama’s watch might be true. The weak agreements the president has promoted in order to vainly pursue his long-sought goal of dĂ©tente with Iran may not result in an Iranian bomb being produced before January 2017. But the erosion of the sanctions and the West’s agreement to tacitly recognize an Iranian right to enrich uranium, combined with an inability to do much about Arak, force Tehran to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to find out about their military-applications research, or to get the Iranians to negotiate about their ballistic-missile program may lead to one being produced on the watch of his successor.
All of these developments make it obvious that the only thing that can rescue diplomacy with Iran is for the U.S. to increase pressure on Tehran, not to play nice with the regime, as Obama always seems inclined to do. Last year, the administration beat back an effort to pass more sanctions that would have shut down Iran’s oil trade but would not have gone into effect unless diplomacy failed. The result of their conscious decision to play with a weak hand was a predictable failure. Faced with similar results as last year, the Obama foreign-policy team is undaunted and is pulling out the stops again to foil the majority of both Houses of Congress that want more sanctions.

Well, never fear. With John Kerry, as Glenn Reynolds says, the country is in the very best of hands.
Kerry is like a gambler who has lost everything, but figures if only he is given one more round at the craps table, he can win big. American national security, however, is nothing with which to gamble. Especially when a gambler is desperate, the house will always win. In this case, however, the house is not Washington, but rather Tehran.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Caligula names his horse ambassador to Hungary

The legend of the Roman emperor Caligula (actually his nickname; his real name was Caius) naming his horse consul is becoming more and more applicable to the Obama administration. First, you have John Kerry in the role of the "Dumbest Individual In a High Government Position Since Caligula's Horse -- and Probably Before That." Now, Obama names as US Ambassador to Hungary a soap opera producer:
Colleen Bell is a Hollywood supporter of Barack Obama. She is known as the producer of the wildly successful television soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. Bloomberg News columnist Jeffrey Goldberg has uncharitably characterized the show as “her masterwork.” Her true masterwork is in the fundraising department; she raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s reelection from her friends in Hollywood.
Obama duly rewarded Bell with appointment as the United States ambassador to Hungary. Okay, she earned the appointment the old-fashioned way. Her appointment remained pending in the Senate all year; she was only confirmed to the position by the Senate (under its new no-filibuster rule) earlier this week.
So, who cares that she can't actually identify any US interests in Hungary. She gave Obama a lot of money. And she's ... a soap opera producer!

So, it's obvious why we would want her as an ambassador, right?
White House spokesman Josh Earnest was unable to provide a cogent explanation for why Colleen Bell, a former soap opera producer, just became the U.S. ambassador to Hungary:

"Josh, I wanted to ask you about something else that happened today in the Senate," said ABC's Jon Karl in today's White House press briefing. "You had some of your ambassadors confirmed after a long, long process. One of those is Colleen Bell, confirmed as ambassador to Hungary. If you can remind me, what are Colleen Bell's qualifications for ambassador? Was it that she was a soap opera producer, is it that she gave hundreds of thousands of dollars -- or helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Obama reelection campaign? Why was she chosen?"
"As it relates to Ambassador Bell," said Earnest, after taking a shot at the Senate for being to slow to confirm Obama's picks, "she is somebody who retains the confidence that -- well, let me say it this way -- Ambassador Bell has the president's confidence that she will do an excellent job representing the U.S. and maintaining the important relationship the U.S. has with the government and the people of Hungary."
Karl followed up, "But where does the president get that confidence from? I mean, in her confirmation hearing she couldn't even name a single strategic interest the U.S. had with Hungary?"
"Well, she certainly is somebody, again, that is--has had her own distinguished private sector career--"
"As a soap opera producer," Karl interjected.
"Well, and as somebody who obviously has succeeded in the business world and she is somebody that the president has confidence will be able to maintain our relationship with the government and the people of Hungary," Earnest said.
Right now, Caligula's horse is looking more competent many members of the Obama administration.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

We can only hope

Michael Totten asks if these are the last days of the Communist Party in Vietnam. A taste:
Vietnam’s government still calls itself the Communist Party, but I saw more market capitalism in Vietnam than anywhere else in the world, including the United States where the economy is much more heavily regulated. It’s a little confounding.
“What does the word communist even mean anymore?” I asked a Vietnamese man named Huy in Hanoi. He calls himself Jason when talking to Americans because it’s easier to pronounce, so I’ll refer to him as Jason from here on.
“Communism today just means we're run by one political party,” he said. “Some people complain about that, but it doesn't matter to me as long as the government creates a good business and living environment, and it does. I don't want different political parties competing with each other and creating a crisis like in Thailand.”
The Thai military overthrew the elected government in May of 2014.
“If you were unhappy with the government, though, could you criticize it in public?” I said.
He laughed. “It's okay. We do it all the time. We're in a public place and I'm not keeping my voice down. You can criticize the government all you want as long as you don't take any action. Protesting the government isn't allowed, but we have had a lot of protests against China recently. We do get anti-government protests sometimes, though, even in Hanoi. It happens in Hanoi more often than in Saigon. People in the south don't give a shit, but people in Hanoi do it more often. The protests disappear quickly, though.”
A li'l more:
The Vietnamese government’s respect for human rights is hardly ideal and would be intolerable if ported over to the United States, but it is improving and it is currently better than at any time previously. That’s something, isn’t it? Surely it’s at least worth pointing out.
The country enjoys no freedom of the press, but foreign newspapers and magazines are available. So is the Internet, which includes information from everywhere about almost everything. That’s not enough—foreign newspapers and websites rarely cover local Vietnamese issues—but it’s also not nothing. At least people have a decent idea what’s going on beyond their borders, unlike the poor souls slaving away in North Korea with nary a clue.
Demonstrations are against the law, but some people go out in the streets and demonstrate anyway. At some point—it’s all but inevitable, really—so many people will demand change simultaneously that fear of doing so will be vaporized.

Impossible to say for sure, but the country could be one screw-up, reform, or mass protest away from blowing wide open. The timing of historical hinge moments is always unpredictable. No one could have predicted that Tunisia’s Mohammad Bouazizi would set himself on fire and trigger the Arab Spring, but it happened and something like it was bound to happen eventually. Authoritarian regimes can only achieve stasis and stability until they can’t. They always fail in the end.
The human rights record of every country on earth must be judged by the same standard. At the same time, it’s only fair to give a nation points for improvement if the improvement is genuine. One should not expect an authoritarian regime, let alone a totalitarian one, to snap its fingers and transform itself instantly into a Jeffersonian democracy. That’s not how history moves.
Pete Peterson—former prisoner of war in Vietnam, former Democratic Congressman from Florida, and the first US Ambassador to Vietnam after the war—agrees.
“When I was ambassador,” he told me, “I wanted to measure progress rather than compare the country to a 100-percent ideal. It did get better, and it’s still getting better. If you were to graph it, you’d definitely see the progress.”
Citizens aren’t fleeing the country by the millions anymore. Re-education camps no longer exist. Landlords are no longer executed. Facebook is no longer banned. Local people aren’t prohibited from speaking with foreigners anymore. Uncensored foreign newspapers and Web sites are available to everyone.
“There are still abuses, though,” Peterson said. “The government doesn’t tolerate opposition and dissidents are nipped in the bud at once. There is a lot of censorship, including self-censorship. Nobody wants to be the tall poppy that gets smacked down.”
The United States nevertheless had friendly relations with Vietnam, as it should. The war is long over. Our two countries share the same strategic vision for Southeast Asia, and our two peoples, despite a terrible history several decades ago, genuinely like each other.
I asked Peterson what he thinks is the biggest misconception Americans have about Vietnam, and I wholeheartedly agree with his answer.
“Not just Americans,” he said, “but people all over the world have no idea how huge Vietnam is. It’s not a wide spot in the road we can ignore. It’s the 13th largest country on earth and it has an enormous military, economic, and strategic capacity. It should not be ignored, but it is. And our blind spot—if we aren’t careful—could create a vacuum that’s filled by someone or something that we do not like.”
Read the whole thing.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Japan 1937

China is building an "airstrip capable" island in disputed waters of the South China Sea:
China is building an island at least 3,000 m long on Fiery Cross Reef that could be the site for its first airstrip in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Satellite imagery of the island taken on 8 August and 14 November shows that in the past three months Chinese dredgers have created a land mass that is almost the entire length of the reef.
Fiery Cross Reef lies to the west of the main Spratly island archipelago and was previously under water; the only habitable area was a concrete platform built and maintained by China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
The new island is more than 3,000 m long and between 200 and 300 m wide: large enough to construct a runway and apron. The dredgers are also creating a harbour to the east of the reef that would appear to be large enough to receive tankers and major surface combatants.
The existing structure on the reef's southwestern edge was home to a PLAN garrison and had a pier, air-defence guns, anti-frogmen defences, communications equipment, and a greenhouse. The concrete structure is currently not attached to the new island, but if previous Chinese land reclamation projects in the Spratlys are any guide, it is only a matter of time before it is joined up.
The Spratly Islands are claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. All but Brunei occupy islands or have built structures on reefs and shoals to assert their claims.
The land reclamation at Fiery Cross is the fourth such project undertaken by China in the Spratly Islands in the last 12-18 months and by far the largest in scope. China has built new islands at Johnson South Reef, Cuateron Reef, and Gaven Reefs, but none are large enough to house an airstrip in their current form.
Here is the satellite image of the island from Jane's:

Why would China do this?
China has been at a distinct disadvantage compared with other claimants in the Spratly Islands as it is the only claimant not to occupy an island with an airfield. Taiwan has Itu Aba (Taiping) island, the Philippines has Pagasa island, Malaysia has Swallow Reef (a reef on which it reclaimed land and built an airstrip), and Vietnam has Southwest Cay.
The work at Fiery Cross thus brings parity but is likely to cause alarm among the other claimants. China has previously shown it is willing to spend blood and treasure to assert its territorial claims in this region. Given its massive military advantage over the other claimants in terms of quantity and quality of materiel, this facility appears purpose-built to coerce other claimants into relinquishing their claims and possessions, or at least provide China with a much stronger negotiating position if talks over the dispute were ever held.
It seems that China is also taking advantage of the weakness of the US, in the form of the Obama administration's stupidity:
This development comes just days after American officials crowed over the inking of a deal between Beijing and Washington that would decrease the likelihood of military confrontation between the two Pacific naval powers. This despite the fact that the PLA has developed and deployed two brigades of “carrier killer” missiles, a system that the United States reportedly does not have the means to counter. Adding to the apprehension surrounding China’s regional ambitions, the White House has omitted in its annual reports to Congress developments relating to the PLA’s augmentation of its nuclear arsenal since 2010.
“The complete absence of these reports, combined with the administration’s patterns of conciliatory outreach towards Beijing, make it seem like the Obama administration doesn’t want to put public pressure on the Chinese government for its aggressive military developments designed to threaten the U.S.,” The Hill’s Rebeccah Heinrichs reported earlier this month.
America’s aborted pivot to Asia should redouble in the coming months, but it will be doomed to failure if it does not center on a military component. The only way to deter the aggression of revanchist forces in Moscow and Beijing is to confront them with a set of credible military disincentives which might dissuade them from engaging in bellicosity. In the absence of that policy or something similar, Russia has invaded a European state, and China is laying the groundwork for the acquisition of sovereign territory in the Pacific.
Sound familiar?
Yup. Japan 1937.

We are not so much avoiding war as we are delaying it until the cost will be catastrophic.

So Chuck Hagel is resigning as Secretary of Defense

For someone of his total stupidity and cluelessness concerning the defense of the United States (though he's a genius compared to his boss), I have just one thing to say:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Gathering seashells from ISIS

Not since the Roman Emperor Caius -- better known as Caligula -- ordered his legionaries to collect seashells as spoils of his war with Neptune has the leader of a major world power waged as laughable a military campaign as Obama is waging against ISIS. Max Boot:
RAND’s Benjamin Lambeth summed up the Afghan air campaign as follows: “[D]uring the 75 days of bombing between October 7, when Enduring Freedom began, and December 23, when the first phase of the war ended after the collapse of the Taliban, some 6,500 strike sorties were flown by CENTCOM forces altogether, out of which approximately 17,500 munitions were dropped on more than 120 fixes targets, 400 vehicles and artillery pieces, and a profusion of concentrations of Taliban and al Qaeda combatants.”
Now compare with the statistics on the current U.S. aerial bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. According to Central Command, in the 59 days between August 8, when the campaign started, and October 6, the U.S. has conducted 360 strikes utilizing 955 munitions.
That’s a big difference between dropping 17,500 munitions in Afghanistan and 955 in Iraq/Syria. So rare are U.S. strikes today that Centcom has actually taken to issuing press releases to announce the dropping of two 500-pound bombs.
The bare numbers understate the actual difference, moreover, because the U.S. was dropping heavier bombs from heavier aircraft such as the B-52 in Afghanistan which have so far not been utilized in Iraq/Syria. Moreover, the effect of strikes in Iraq/Syria is not as great because Obama has refused U.S. Special Operations personnel permission to go out into the field alongside indigenous forces to call in airstrikes as they did so effectively alongside the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. This is to say nothing of the fact that in neither Iraq nor Syria is there a ground force as effective and organized as the Northern Alliance capable of taking advantage of U.S. airstrikes to attack ISIS on the ground.
Why are we not putting more into this? As Boot explains, "[T]he lack of will exhibited by the commander in chief who has claimed as his goal the eventual destruction of ISIS but refuses to commit the resources necessary to achieve that ambitious objective."

Power Line's Paul Mirengoff agrees:
Perhaps other reporting will show that our air attacks were more substantial than what the military has revealed so far.
Or perhaps we will learn that a more aggressive, more constant assault on ISIS from the air was not feasible. But as of now, it appears that the air attacks were sporadic and that a substantial opportunity to degrade ISIS (to the extent that it can be degraded from the air) was squandered.
If so, this would be consistent with our concern that Obama’s “war” against ISIS may represent no more than an unserious attempt to “check a box” for political purposes before the upcoming election.
In any event, Obama’s decision not to deploy ground troops makes his “war” on ISIS problematic enough. If, in addition, his air campaign is to be half-hearted, the effort becomes a bad joke.
Almost as bad as Caligula's seashells.

Death by Multiculturalism

Bill Gertz in the Washington Free Beacon has an outstanding piece (as usual) describing how Obama is surrendering in the philosophical war against ISIS and Islamism in general:
The Obama administration is failing to wage ideological war against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) terrorists over fears that attacking its religious philosophy will violate the constitutional divide between church and state, according to an in-depth inquiry by the Washington Free Beacon.
Instead, the task of countering what President Obama called the “warped ideology” of ISIL is being farmed out to foreign states and Muslim communities that often share some of the same goals as the groups the administration calls violent extremists. This approach allows the administration to avoid identifying links between terrorism and Islam.
“While the government has tried to counter terrorist propaganda, it cannot directly address the warped religious interpretations of groups like ISIL because of the constitutional separation of church and state,” said Quintan Wiktorowicz, a former White House counterterrorism strategist for the Obama administration.
“U.S. officials are prohibited from engaging in debates about Islam, and as a result will need to rely on partners in the Muslim world for this part of the ideological struggle,” he said in an email interview.
Obama announced last month for the first time that his new counterterrorism strategy includes programs aimed at countering ISIL’s ideology. But a review of administration efforts shows very little—if anything—is being done to defeat or destroy the terrorist group’s religious ideology in a war of ideas.
This is the result of a fundamental -- and perhaps willful --  misunderstanding of Islam. Forget for the moment the violence being perpetrated in the name of Islam right now. There are two fundamental truths about Islam that non-Muslims frequently do not understand:

1. Of the Abrahamic faiths, whereas the Bible and the Torah are viewed by their adherents as a collection of stories that reveal the Word of God -- this is something of an oversimplification, but you get the idea -- but Muslims view the Qur'an as the literal Word of Allah. As in, the words in the Qur'an were exactly those spoken by Allah to Muhammad. That's it. No room for reinterpretation.

2. The Christian Bible has specific invocations (i.e. "Render unto Caesar") for the separation of Church and State. There is no such separation in Islam. Islam is to be an all-encompassing philosophy. Put simply, Islam is not and has never been "just" a "religion" - it is and always has been a political movement as well.

This is why our First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of speech don't quite match up with Islam. Because Islam or at least Islamists think religion and state should be the same, the political elements of Islam which should be subject to regulation by the state are instead viewed by the uninformed (with encouragement by Muslims) as merely "religious" and given a pass.

And, as usual, Obama and his "national security team" are among the most un of the uninformed:
Obama announced last month for the first time that his new counterterrorism strategy includes programs aimed at countering ISIL’s ideology. But a review of administration efforts shows very little—if anything—is being done to defeat or destroy the terrorist group’s religious ideology in a war of ideas.
At the United Nations on Sept. 24, the president asked the world body to come up with a plan over the next year designed to counter ISIL and al Qaeda’s ideology. He said ending religious wars through an ideological campaign in the Middle East will be “generational” and led by those who live in the region. No external power, the president insisted, can change “hearts and minds,” and as a result the United States would support others in the unspecified program of “counter extremist ideology.”
The administration’s so-called soft power approach to countering Islamist terrorism also appeared to have difficulty with clearly defining the religious doctrine behind the ideology of the resurgent al Qaeda offshoot now rampaging its way across Iraq and Syria.
Obama stated in a speech on Sept. 10 that ISIL is “not Islamic” despite the group’s use of a fundamental Islamic precept of jihad, or holy war, in expanding its reach and imposing anti-democratic, hardline Islamic sharia law in areas it now controls.
Analysts and statements by the president and other administration spokesmen also indicate the administration may not clearly understand ISIL ideology, a required first step in developing a counter to it.
Sebastian Gorka, a counterterrorism specialist, said the major problem for the administration in countering ISIL ideology is that most senior officials hold “post-modern” and “secular” views.
“As a result, they have almost no ability to understand the drivers of violent terrorists which are religious,” said Gorka, the Horner chairman of military theory at the Marine Corps University.
“When you don’t take religion seriously, it’s almost impossible for you to comprehend the philosophy of a suicide bomber, or someone who cuts off the heads of people in the name of jihad,” Gorka said.
Senior State Department officials have expressed the view that ideology plays no role in Islamist terror and is spawned instead by “local grievances” such as poverty or other economic and social privation, Gorka said. “That is utterly fallacious. If that were true, half of India would be terrorists,” he said.
Why might Obama and his "national security team" think this way? In a word: Multiculturalism:
The Obama administration, under pressure from domestic Muslim advocacy organizations, has adopted a politically correct approach toward Islam and terrorism that has resulted in removing mentions of Islam from its current policies and programs. Instead, counterterrorism programs and policies are carried out under the less-specific rubric of “countering violent extremism” (CVE).
Discussing Islam also has been placed off limits in many government and intelligence community counterterrorism programs as a result of pressure groups and Muslim advisers who insist such topics would violate constitutional separation of church and state issues.
That pressure has inhibited the U.S. government from addressing Islamist ideology in a significant way, critics say. Instead, the government has been forced to indirectly counter claims by terrorists, such as the false notion that the United States and the West are at war with Islam. It used public diplomacy programs and global “messaging” campaigns whose effectiveness has been questionable, to try and counter such claims.
James Glassman, former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, said “absolutely,” that the administration is hampered by concerns over First Amendment constitutional religious issues from conducting aggressive counter-ideology efforts against groups such as al Qaeda and ISIL.
“There is reticence, especially at State, to criticize a noxious political ideology based on a religion,” said Glassman, now with the American Enterprise Institute.
Glassman said from the start, Obama has played down the war of ideas in the struggle against terrorism.
During the transition from the Bush to Obama administration, “I was told by the Obama operatives assigned to State that the term ‘war of ideas’ was not to be used,” Glassman said.
“The war of ideas had been my focus at State, but the administration had no interest in continuing the work we were doing,” he said. “Ideology provides the environment and the justification for the activities of al Qaeda and ISIL. It must be dealt with—just as we dealt with communism from 1945 to 1990. It’s a long battle.”
Among those campaigning to ignore the Islamic elements of ISIS are our purported "allies" in the Middle East:
Obama told the United Nations in a speech to the General Assembly Sept. 24 that “extremist ideology” has spread despite more than a decade of military and intelligence efforts to kill al Qaeda leaders. Groups such as ISIL and al Qaeda have “perverted one of the world’s great religions,” he said.
The world, and specifically “Muslim communities,” the president said, must now take steps to “explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIL.”
However, most of the Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, so far have not denounced the ISIL ideology and do not appear to be engaged in counter-ideological campaigns designed to discredit the motivating force behind the group.
In other words, Obama may have dismissed ISIS as "not Islamic," but many of those countries that are "Islamic" don't seem to agree. So the question becomes, just how much does the ideology of ISIS differ from actual Islam?

And just how can we expect to win this war -- to the pitiful extend Obama is fighting it as an actual war -- if we refuse to identify the enemy because of "Multiculturalism?"

ISIS not a threat to America, huh?

State Department warns: ISIS attacks outside of the Middle East may be coming.

Watch Ronulans' heads explode over that one.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"[T]he Turks are watching ISIS destroy the Kurds, in much the same way as the Soviets stood by and let the Nazis crush the Warsaw uprising."

So says Richard Fernandez, in an absolutely brutal post describing the Turks' actions and Obama's betrayal of the Kurds, whose history seems to almost exclusively contain betrayal by just about everybody.
What’s old is new again. Bloomberg describes how the Turks are watching the Kurds die:
In blocking the resupply of the Kurdish fighters who are trying desperately to hold off a siege by Islamic State in Kobani, Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is making a decision that may haunt Turkey for years to come.
This is not just about Turkey’s failure to join the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State. It also threatens Turkey’s fragile truce with its Kurdish minority, many of whom are growing impatient with the sight of Turkish soldiers watching, from their side of the border, as Islamic State attacks Kobani.
As in the days of the Shah, the Kurds who had no faith in  regional allies put their trust in America. Why? Maybe that old black magic, some residual sentimentality compounded of Shane and High Noon and Saving Private Ryan and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington persuaded the Kurds against their better judgment to roll the dice one more time. But it’s come up snake eyes.  Like CNN says “several senior U.S. administration officials said Kobani will soon fall to ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State. They downplayed the importance of it, saying the city is not a major U.S. concern.”

Charming. Read the whole thing, as this is just a masterpiece of a post, which is not unusual for Fernandez. Robert Zubrin at National Review reaches the same historical conclusion, and in so doing describes a policy that may be a new low for an Obama administration that seems to relish in reaching new lows daily:
As these lines are being written, some 400,000 Kurds in and around the town of Kobane in northern Syria, on the Turkish border, are being besieged and assaulted by massed legions of Islamic State killers armed with scores of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and heavy artillery. Against these, the Kurdish defenders have only AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. The Kurds have called on the U.S. to send in air strikes to take out the jihadist forces. In response, the administration sent in two fighter jets Saturday, which destroyed two Islamic State tanks and then flew away. The Kurds are begging for arms. The administration has not only refused to send arms, but is exerting pressure both on our NATO allies and on Israel not to send any either. Over 150,000 Kurds have fled their homes to try to escape to Turkey, but they are being blocked at the border by Turkish troops. Meanwhile, Turkey is allowing Islamist reinforcements to enter Syria to join the Islamic State, while Islamist elements of the Free Syrian Army, funded and armed by the United States, have joined forces with the group in the genocidal assault on the Kurdish enclave.
According to Kurdish sources, the Turks are massing troops on their own side of the border, with the apparent plan being to sit in place and allow the Kurds to be exterminated, and then move in to take over the region once they are gone. This is the same plan as Josef Stalin used when he allowed the Nazis to wipe out the Polish underground during the Warsaw rising of 1944, and only afterward sent in the Red Army to take control of what was left of the city. If anything, it is even more morally reprehensible, since it could be pointed out in Stalin’s defense that his forces were at least pummeling the enemy elsewhere while the Warsaw fight was under way. In contrast, the Turks are doing nothing of the sort. For an American administration to collude in such a mass atrocity is infamous.
If we are to win the war against the Islamic State, we need ground forces, and the Obama administration has rejected the idea of sending in any of our own. The Kurds, who have demonstrated both their bravery and their willingness to be friends with America, are right there, and already engaged in the fight. If supplied with adequate arms and backed by serious U.S. tactical air support, they could roll up ISIS as rapidly as the similarly reinforced Northern Alliance did the Taliban in the fall of 2001. Done right, this war could be won in months, instead of waged inconclusively for years.
The administration, however, has rejected this alternative, and has instead opted for a Saudi-Qatari plan to allow the Syrian Kurds to be exterminated while training a new Sunni Arab army in Saudi Arabia. Given the Saudi role in the new army’s tutelage and officer selection, the Islamist nature of this force is a foregone conclusion. At best it might provide a more disciplined replacement for the Islamic State as an Islamist Syrian opposition at some point in the distant future (current official administration estimates are at least a year) when it is considered ready for combat. Meanwhile the killing will simply go on, with the United States doing its part to further Islamist recruitment by indulging in endless strategy-free bombing of Sunni villages.
Where I called Obama's coalition the Monty Python Cheese Shop Coalition, Red State is even more damning, calling it the Coalition of the Useless, with the coalition cows now coming home to roost:
When Obama embarked on his current ill-considered adventure in Iraq and Syria he decided he needed a coalition. Because President Bush. It isn’t that the coalition partners are actually able to contribute anything of value in the combat power arena but Obama needed a coalition and the regional coalition members all have interests at stake in Iraq and Syria. Never mind that those members, until lately, either directly or indirectly aided ISIS. As I noted in Obama Assembles Coalition of the Useless to Fight ISIS:
Only one Muslim nation, Turkey, is represented and based on their pro-ISIS actions to date one presumes they signed on more to ensure they are in the loop on decisions and have some degree of veto over US actions.
Because we assembled a coalition that is in equal parts useless and needless we are now harnessed to the regional ambitions of those coalition partners.
So we are essentially being held hostage by the Turks, who have never been friends of the Kurds:
When pressed to say why Turkey wasn't helping the PKK-affiliated fighters in Kobani, Erdogan said: "For us, the PKK is the same as ISIL. It is wrong to consider them as different from each other."
To begin with, this statement is simply untrue. While the PKK has carried out terrorist attacks in Turkey, it has never beheaded captives, engaged in genocide against civilians of different creeds or systematically raped women. The PKK doesn't want to create a caliphate across the Middle East and convert or kill all non-Kurds within it. What the PKK wants most is greater political autonomy for Kurds in eastern Turkey -- a negotiable demand.
Even if it worked to Erdogan's political advantage by tapping into Turkish nationalist sentiment, a return to war with the PKK would be destructive -- to the country and the wider region. Refusing to let Kurds resupply their kin through Turkish territory also makes Erdogan appear complicit in the rise of Islamic State.
Nevertheless, he is taking as tough a position with the U.S. as he is with Syria's Kurds, refusing to join the military coalition against Islamic State until the U.S. agrees to broaden its goals to include toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He also wants the coalition to enforce a no-fly zone and a (Turkish-dominated) buffer area in northern Syria from which to organize the attack on Assad.
This strategy would provide capable ground troops to follow up on the U.S. coalition's airstrikes -- so it is worth discussion. But negotiations should take place after Turkey joins the coalition. By essentially holding the coalition ransom to his demands, Erdogan is making its Arab members vulnerable to criticism at home. Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates also want to see Assad gone, after all. But they have accepted the "Islamic State first" approach, and at some domestic political risk.
Ultimately, Erdogan's stance will also strain Turkey's most important security alliances, which are with the U.S. and NATO. Turkey is denying its allies use of the U.S. airbase at Incirlik, just 100 miles from the Syrian border.
The fall of Kobani will not, as many say, prove that airstrikes against Islamic State can't work -- only that they can't work without Turkish cooperation. Kobani's defenders have been remarkably effective against a much larger and better armed opponent, and with access to arms and reinforcements, there is every reason to believe they could succeed.
Fernandez concludes his devastating assessment:
And that sensitivity (to the Turks), more than the fearsome air defenses of ISIS, is probably what is keeping US airpower at bay. The president is committed to jaw-jaw. And since he must jaw-jaw with the Turks, Iran, the UAE, and the Saudis, that means the Kurds must die-die.  It looks an awful lot like the administration is doing the bidding of its allies and not the other way around.  Maybe that’s what “leading from behind” really amounts to. Perhaps the administration has been promised that if they go along with Turkey, Anakara will clamp down on ISIS — someday soon. Just you wait and see.
But the cynical question remains: would you buy a used car from this administration, maybe the same one they bought from Turkey? Would you trust your life to them? Because ultimately you are, just as the Kurds did. But a  lot of LIVs will reason that they can trust Obama because it’s them and he is their beloved … so this time it will be different.  They won’t be shafted. No they won’t.

Well ... bye.

Mike Huckabee says he will leave the Republican Party if it stops actively opposing gay marriage.

I agree with the take from Curly Bill Brocius:

Probably news to Obama's "national security" team.

Michael Totten is one of the great unsung international journalists of the world, well-traveled, well-educated, and experienced with out the arrogance, condescension, or anti-American bias of, say, Christiane Amanpour. His columns speak simple and rather obvious truths that nevertheless seem to regularly escape the foreign policy establishment, especially those in or connected to the Obama administration. Totten has posted a few new Captain Obvious columns for the benefit of our foreign policy betters.

The first is that the members of ISIS are, generally speaking, psychopaths:
Roughly one percent of human beings are psychopaths . Most aren’t violent, and nearly all are high-functioning. Supposedly they are overrepresented in Congress, on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms, and in large urban areas.
They’re even more overrepresented in terrorist organizations like the Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda. Every violent psychopath with Muslim parents for thousands of miles in every direction is drawn to these organizations like maggots to meat. It gives them permission to behave monstrously with impunity.
I wasn’t a bit surprised to learn recently that two British jihadists purchased Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies before heading to Syria. They weren’t drawn there by religion. They were drawn by the license to kill.
So it naturally follows that, Totten reports, they are using human shields:
The Pentagon says Islamic State fighters in Syria are using human shields to protect themselves from American airstrikes. I can’t verify that claim, but it’s a little like saying the Islamists breathe oxygen. Of course they’re using human shields. It’s what terrorist armies in the Middle East do when facing a civilized enemy.
It wouldn’t accomplish squat against a war criminal like Bashar al-Assad. His regime would happily take out a thousand Sunni civilians to kill a single Islamist fighter. He’d see the thousand civilians as bonus points. But the West doesn’t fight like that and the Islamic State knows it.
Civilians always die in war zones. It’s unavoidable. The United States, however, takes great care to keep that number as low as possible. When the US Army and Marines took Fallujah back from Al Qaeda in Iraq (the Islamic State under its previous name) in 2004, for instance, they first spent weeks evacuating the city of as many civilians as they could before going in.
The US cares more about the welfare of Sunni Muslims in Syria and Iraq than the Islamic State does—which is not likely to help the medieval head-choppers and crucifixion enthusiasts much in the hearts-and-minds department.
The only issue I have with Totten here is that he does not explain the full calculus or what exactly the US is supposed to do about it. Here is how it works:
1. Islamist group uses civilians as human shields to protect military assets during their advance.
2. US bombs Islamist group.
3. US bombing of Islamist group kills said civilian human shields.
4. Islamist group screams "civilian casualties."
5. American, European, and Middle Eastern media report that the US is causing civilian casualties without reporting that said civilians were being used as human shields.
6. US looks bad and Islamists look good.
7. Islamist advance continues.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

This dilemma is due in large part to the dishonesty of the American, European, and Middle Eastern media, especially their anti-American bias. So what exactly is the US supposed to do about it?

As brutal as it sounds, the solution is to bomb the Islamists anyway. Yes, there will be civilian casualties in the short term, but if enemies of civilization see that they will get no benefit from using human shields, they will eventually stop taking them. In the long run civilian lives will be saved.

However, I don't expect the current American, European, and Middle Eastern media -- or the current foreign policy establishment -- to understand this rather simple calculus.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Well ... bye.

Barack Obama's attorney general Eric Holder is resigning. This is not entirely a good thing, because Holder -- perhaps the most dishonest, vile, racist, and loathsome individual to occupy a federal cabinet position in my lifetime -- deserves to be impeached and thrown into prison. But with these people we will take the good where we can find it, though, as Kemberlee Kaye at Legal Insurrection notes: "It’s quite frightening to imagine who will replace Holder. I’d like to think his replacement couldn’t possibly be worse, but this is the Obama administration we’re talking about."

Nevertheless, few are mourning. Power Line's John Hinderaker:
Holder has been a poor Attorney General. He will be remembered for Fast and Furious, consistently stonewalling Congress, and “civil rights” activism–which, however, had little to do with civil rights. Holder promoted gay marriage, refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, and did his best to enable voter fraud. He was a loyal Democratic Party foot soldier–conservatives aptly called him the Obama administration’s scandal goalie–but it is hard to think of any positive accomplishment during his nearly six years in office.
W. James Antle III at The National Interest:
Let us count the ways Holder has generated bad press for his boss. There is Operation Fast and Furious, a gun-running scheme that allegedly began as an elaborate sting operation to allow firearms straw purchasers to lead authorities to major gun traffickers. It ended up with the feds losing track of the guns, which were subsequently used in crimes—including murder—in both the United States and Mexico.
The death of federal agent Brian Terry blew the lid off Fast and Furious. In February, one suspect received a thirty-year-sentence for Terry’s murder. But the story remained safely marginalized in the conservative media, with the exception of dogged reporting by Sharyl Attkisson, formerly of CBS.
Despite representing the most transparent administration in history, Holder was widely accused of stonewalling congressional investigations into Fast and Furious. He was eventually held in contempt of Congress by the House, to which he responded by claiming to be a victim of partisan persecution.
Not long before news of his resignation came down, a federal judge denied a Justice Department request to delay the release of documents pertaining to Fast and Furious. The Obama administration had asserted executive privilege over the documents.
While Operation Fast and Furious was dismissed as a right-wing concern, Holder had no such luck with the Associated Press scandal. The attorney general was intimately involved in the seizure of phone records for more than twenty lines belonging to the AP. His Justice Department dug through the personal emails of Fox News’ James Rosen.
“Search warrants like these have a severe, chilling effect on the free flow of important information to the public,” First Amendment lawyer Charles Tobin told the Washington Post. “That’s a very dangerous road to go down.” The veracity of Holder’s testimony to Congress about the intention and scope of its reporter probes has been widely questioned.
The Holder Justice Department earned a reputation for being aggressive in the enforcement of laws it liked and more selective when it involved policies with which the administration disagreed (immigration restrictions, the Defense of Marriage Act).
Holder initially resisted congressional efforts to get more information about the Obama administration’s policy of extrajudicial killings for counterterrorism purposes. Did this include Americans on U.S. soil? And if so, under what circumstances? This led to the filibuster of CIA chief nominee John Brennan and a national debate on drones.
Holder, the first African-American attorney general, was far quicker than his boss, the first African-American president, to racialize national controversies. He was far less measured in his comments about the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. He famously called America a “nation of cowards” with regard to race.
“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder told Justice Department employees.
Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin retorted that Holder’s proposed dialogue “means the rest of us shutting up while being subjected to lectures about our insensitivity and insufficient integration on the weekends.”
But it is former DOJ attorney J. Christian Adams who has the masterpiece:
Our country is more polarized and more racially divided because of Eric Holder.  He turned the power of the Justice Department into a racially motivated turnout machine for the Democratic Party.  That was his job in this administration, and he did it well.

When I first reported on the racially motivated law enforcement of Holder’s Justice Department, it seemed fanciful to some. But after six years of Holder hugging Al Sharpton, stoking racial division in places like Florida and Ferguson, after suing police and fire departments to impose racial hiring requirements, after refusing to enforce election laws that protect white victims or require voter rolls to be cleaned, after launching harassing litigation against peaceful pro-life protesters, after incident after incident of dishonesty and contempt before Congress — after all this, it was clear to anyone with any intellectual honesty that this man had a vision of the law at odds with the nation’s traditions.
Eric Holder was a radical progressive who used the power of the federal government to impose his progressivism on the United States.  He loved big interventionist government that took sides based on your politics and your race.  He was a menace to the rule of law.
So he exits.  But instead of being shamed into obscurity as he ought to be, he will cash in.  He’ll abandon the tools of dividing Americans between black and white and worry about a new color: gold.  When Holder lands at a big and shameless lawfirm in Washington, D.C., it will say as much about the country in 2014 as Holder’s rancid tenure said about the modern Democratic Party.
Holder’s tenure represents the beginnings of a post-Constitutional era, where the chief law enforcement officer of the United States serves to dismantle legal traditions.  Holder is the first attorney general to whom law seemed to be an option, a suggestion on the way to a progressive future.  Most folks, and most lawyers, who didn’t devote daily attention to him might not have noticed the ground shifting during his tenure. But shift it did, and very deliberately.
Law, like liberty, is a tenuous thing. Failing to understand the sources of domestic tranquility, the sources of your relatively good life, usually also means failing to recognize the threats to that pleasant tranquility.  Holder used his time at Justice to do things that corrode the rule of law.  Law and liberty are precious things, and Holder did enormous damage to both.
Years ago I had the misfortune to be involved in a conference call with Eric Holder. I have spent most of my life dealing with politicians and lawyers. I cannot recall ever dealing with any politician or lawyer so pompous, arrogant, condescending, and self-important as Eric Holder came off in that call. Fortunately, even though most of the Republicans in the Senate rolled over for Holder -- Richard Lugar, I'm looking at you; your vote to confirm Holder by itself justified your removal from office -- some in the otherwise spineless GOP were willing to stand up to him:
Time and again, Eric Holder administered justice as the political activist he describes himself as instead of an unbiased law enforcement official,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) said after recalling that 17 House Democrats voted with Republicans to cite Holder for contempt of Congress.
“Through strong arming reporters, practically ignoring high level wrongdoing, blocking his own agency Inspector General’s access to information, and overseeing a Department that attempted to stonewall Congressional oversight with denials of what is now established fact, Attorney General Holder abused his office and failed to uphold the values of our Constitution,” Issa continued.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) made the same point in his statement on Holder’s decision to resign.
“Mr. Holder has consistently played partisan politics with many of the important issues facing the Justice Department,” Goodlatte said. “I hope that the next Attorney General will take seriously his role as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, working with Congress to ensure that the laws of our land are followed instead of being a roadblock on the path to justice.”
The American people seem to agree:
Even we were shocked when we researched our new book, “Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department,” at the extent to which Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has politicized the Justice Department and put the interests of left-wing ideology and his political party ahead of the fair and impartial administration of justice. However, there is no doubt that the American public has also recognized just how politically corrupt Mr. Holder is, given this month’s very embarrassing poll conducted by Hart Research for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal.
The poll asked respondents their opinions about 10 different national political officials, ranging from Bill Clinton to President Obama to Eric Holder, as well as the Democratic and Republican parties. They were given choices of very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, very negative and “don’t know the name.” About a third of respondents didn’t know who Mr. Holder is (37 percent). However, those Americans who knew Mr. Holder gave him the second-lowest “positive” rating of anyone or any organization on the survey at a mere 15 percent. Only Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio had a lower “positive” rating than Mr. Holder. The attorney general’s “positive” rating was less than half of the positive rating of the Republican Party and 27 points behind that of his boss, Mr. Obama, who was rated favorably by only 42 percent of respondents.
As former Justice Department prosecutor Andy McCarthy has said, the Justice Department under Mr. Holder has become “a sort of full-employment program for progressive activists, race-obsessed bean counters and lawyers who volunteered their services during the Bush years to help al Qaeda operatives file lawsuits against the United States.”
But,  hey! We don't want to be accused of being "uncivil." So, in order to end this post on a note of "civility," I will close with the same words with which I titled this post, with nicest thing I can say to Eric Holder, using the words of Curly Bill Brocius (Powers Boothe) in the movie Tombstone:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Barack Obama's Cheese Shop Coalition

In his recently announced campaign to do ... something to ISIS (or ISIL, or IS, or Islamic State, or whatever it's calling itself this week. I swear ISIS is like the Snoop Dogg of Islamist groups),Obama promised that we would be “joined by a broad coalition of partners” in fighting ISIS. Paul Mirengoff of Power Line identifies a problem in his open to this particular story:
So now President Obama wants to organize a coalition to take on ISIS, the group whose rise he ignored on the theory that it was the terrorist “jayvee.” Arab states — notably Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan — and Turkey are to be key members of the coalition.
Obama assigns these states primary responsibility for mobilizing Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria against ISIS. Presumably, Obama also wants their financial support and their help in cutting off funds to ISIS.
But there’s a problem: the Arab states don’t trust Obama.
It seems that when you spend most of your tenure at the White House stabbing US allies in the back, those allies are no longer willing to back you up when the chips are down.
President Obama, in a televised speech Wednesday night detailing his strategy for confronting the Islamic State, stressed U.S. support for the new Iraqi government’s effort to promote unity and enlisting Arab partners’ help to mobilize Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria against the group.
But already there is a disinclination to believe his promises, said Mustafa Alani of the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.
“We have reached a low point of trust in this administration,” he said. “We think in a time of crisis Mr. Obama will walk away from everyone if it means saving his own skin.”
Now why would they think that?
Different countries are suspicious of the United States for different reasons, but all feel betrayed in some way by recent U.S. policies, said Salman Shaikh of the Brookings Doha Institute in Qatar.
“They see the security threat posed by the Islamic State. They want it defeated, because at the end of the day, the Islamic State overturns states, and as states, they are threatened,” he said.
However, he said, “there’s this nagging doubt that this strategy is intended just to serve American interests and not the broader interests of the region.”
Most Arab states see the Obama administration as having created the conditions that enabled the Islamic State to thrive by not being more helpful to moderates in Syria and by continuing to back Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister in Iraq — long after it became clear that he was pursuing policies that were alienating the country’s Sunni minority.
There's that whole incompetence thing rearing its ugly head, as it so often does with Obama.
Driving the concerns is the memory of Obama’s turnabout on Syria a year ago, when the White House did not follow through on a threat to bomb Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons. Obama instead struck a deal with the Assad government to dismantle its chemical arsenal.
The reversal was the culmination of a series of disappointments for Arab supporters of the Syrian rebels who felt that the Obama administration had not kept its promises to aid the anti-Assad opposition. Obama has already said that existing plans to empower the Syrian rebels will be implemented as part of the new strategy against the Islamic State.
But, asked Jamal Khashoggi, an influential Saudi journalist who runs Al Arab TV channel: “What guarantees do we have that what happened a year ago won’t be repeated again?”
Obama's personal guarantee? Kerry's personal guarantee? Right, like those are worth anything.
The tacit alliance that has emerged in Iraq between the United States and Iran is further stirring unease that the new strategy will only further empower Iran and its Shiite allies at the expense of Sunni influence in the region. The example of the town of Amerli, where U.S. airstrikes helped Iranian-backed Shiite militias rescue the Shiite Turkmen town from a siege by the Islamic State, illustrated the ways in which the focus on defeating the Islamic State risks reinforcing Iranian influence, Alani said.
To Saudi Arabia and its gulf allies, the threat posed by Iran is at least as potent as that of the Islamic State, said Imad al-Salamey, a professor of political science at Lebanese American University in Beirut.
“In a strategic sense, the Islamic State does not pose a strategic threat to the gulf states the way Iran does,” he said, pointing to Arab concerns about expanding Iranian influence elsewhere in the region, including in Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain.
Obama's insistence on "negotiating" with Iran, always beyond stupid, is paying "dividends" in new and exciting ways. Now our allies don't trust us at all because we insist on giving in to their enemy -- and our enemy as well.

Mirengoff concludes:
Obama has dispatched John Kerry to the Middle East to rally the Arab states around Obama’s latest project. I suspect that the very appearance of our pretentious, foghorn Secretary of State, who not that long ago thought Assad was the key to lasting peace in the region, will reinforce the well-founded doubts about Obama’s seriousness and good faith.
So how "broad" is this "coalition of partners?"

Britain? No.

Germany. Uh-uh.

Turkey? Nope.

Saudi Arabia? No.

Egypt? 'Fraid not.

Jordan? No.

Qatar? No.

United Arab Emirates? Nope.

This "broad coalition" is starting to look like Monty Python's Cheese Shop.

The mere suggestion of which got State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf's boxers in a bunch:
MATT LEE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: The Saudis apparently don’t want to speak for themselves, that’s the problem. The Germans said they are not going to participate militarily, you have the Turks saying that, you have the British foreign secretary clearly uninformed about his own government’s position on this.
HARF: Why do you always focus on what people say they won’t do instead of the plethora of things they have said they will do? What is that what you focus — that’s actually not an unfair question, I don’t think, when we focus on our effort here.
These people are complete idiots.

Your Smart Diplomacy™ Update

I'm often said that Obama and his laughably-named "national security" team could not find, say, Syria on a map. I meant that literally.

And I was right. From a - ahem! - "Senior administration official" on a September 10 conference call:
I guess I would just add one thing on the coalition question -- and I think this is important to really focus on, which is to say, in discussions with governments in the region, notably the Saudis and the Jordanians, what is clear is that we have a very common view of this threat.  And this is really quite unusual. 
ISIL has been I think a galvanizing threat around the Sunni partners in the region.  They view it as an existential threat to them.  Saudi Arabia has an extensive border with Syria.  The Jordanians are experiencing a destabilizing impact of over a million refugees from the Syrian conflict, and are profoundly concerned that ISIL, who has stated that their ambitions are not confined to Iraq and Syria, but rather to expand to the broader region.
(emphasis added)

Sigh! Anything wrong with this statement? Let's take a look:

If you can find the "extensive border" Saudi Arabia has with Syria, please call. (Map from Washington Examiner)

These people are, indeed, complete idiots.

As T. Becket Adams, taking one from Glenn Reynolds, put it: "But don't worry: The country's in the best of hands."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ship from the Sir John Franklin's Lost Arctic Expedition found

This could be the biggest archaeological find in decades:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says one of Canada's greatest mysteries now has been solved, with the discovery of one of the lost ships from Sir John Franklin's doomed Arctic expedition.
"This is a great historic event," Harper said.
"For more than a century this has been a great Canadian story.… It's been the subject of scientists and historians and writers and singers. And so I think we have a really important day in mapping together the history of our country," the prime minister said.

At this point, the searchers aren't sure if they've found HMS Erebus or HMS Terror. But sonar images from the waters of Victoria Strait, just off King William Island, clearly show wreckage of a ship on the ocean floor.
The wreckage was found on Sept. 7 using a remotely operated underwater vehicle recently acquired by Parks Canada. When Harper revealed the team's success at Parks Canada's laboratories in Ottawa Tuesday, the room burst into applause and hollering.
"This is a day of some very good news," Harper told the assembled group of researchers, some of whom had flown all night to be in Ottawa for the announcement.
"It appears to be perfectly preserved," Harper said of the ship, adding that it has "a little bit of damage."

Harper said the "latest, cutting-edge technology" Parks Canada used was integral to finding the ship under layers of growth on the ocean floor. "With older technology, you could have come very close to this and not seen it at all."
Ryan Harris, an underwater archaeologist who was Parks Canada's project lead for this year's search, said the wreck was "indisputably" one of Franklin's two ships.
"It's a very substantial wreck," Harris said, putting to rest earlier fears that Franklin's ships may not be found intact after so many years.

The sonar image shows some of the deck structures survived, Harris explained, pointing out the stubs of the masts which were apparently sheared away by the ice when it sank.  Because the deck is relatively intact, the contents of the ship "should be very, very well-preserved."

The next step for the search team will be to take a look at what's inside.
In a statement, the prime minister said Franklin's expedition laid the foundations of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.  He called the lost ships Canada's "only undiscovered national historical site."

The prime minister paid tribute to the search teams — a partnership between Parks Canada, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Arctic Research Foundation, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Navy and the government of Nunavut — whose work since 2008 has paid off.

“This discovery would not have been possible without their tireless efforts over the years, as well as their commitment, dedication and the perseverance of the many partners and explorers involved," Harper said.
Queen Elizabeth sent a message for Canadians to the Governor General on Tuesday following the discovery.
"I was greatly interested to learn of the discovery of one of the long-lost ships of Captain Sir John Franklin. Prince Philip joins me in sending congratulations and good wishes to all those who played a part in this historic achievement," she said in a statement.
Franklin's crew became locked in the ice during a doomed search for the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean in 1845. All 128 crew members eventually died, though there's evidence to suggest some may have survived for several years.
Many searches throughout the 19th century attempted to find the lost ships, but the mystery of what happened to John Franklin and his men has never been solved.
Search parties later recorded Inuit testimony in the late 1840s that claimed one ship sank in deep water west of King William Island, and one ship went perhaps as far south as Queen Maud Gulf or into Wilmot and Crampton Bay. The location of this wreck backs up that testimony.
Sure sounds like they should have listened to the Inuits in the first place. Here is a shot of the side-scan sonar that revealed the presence of the ship:

First, some massive congratulations to everyone involved here. Can you imagine what that must have been like to see this image for the first time and realize you had just solved one of the biggest mysteries in history?

Probable route of Franklin Expedition. (Wikipedia)
On the darker side, can you imagine what it must have been like to be on the crew of the Erebus or the Terror and wake up one morning to see your ship had been trapped in ice and was now unable to move until the ice cleared? They had planned to hole up for the winter and had made contingencies for that, but this struck early, before they were ready and safely in a cove where they could wait until the winter ended. The ice had closed in around them overnight, and gradually began moving and twisting the ships. They had hoped the ice would clear in the summer, but it never did, and with their supplies (which included moldy and rancid food cased in lead-soldered cans by unscrupulous contractor Stephen Goldner) exhausted, they tried a desperate exodus across the ice trying to reach a Hudson Bay Company outpost far to the south. They never made it, and succumbed to illness, lead-poisoning, scurvy, exposure, and sunburn. Australian News has a chilling (no pun intended) image of what it must have looked like.

This has always been a huge deal in Canada and Britain. Until 1999, one of Canada's Northwest Territories was named "The District of Franklin" after Sir John Franklin. And when Harper made his announcement, the room burst into cheers.

I have seen questions -- questions that strike me as borderline offensive -- about the value of this investigation, questions about why should we care, as if history has no value. CBC journalist Peter Mansbridge, who has covered the expedition and even had some involvement in it, explains why:
When Sir John Franklin led his two grand ships of the Royal Navy, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror‎, from England's shores in 1845, thousands lined the shore to wave goodbye.
This was big stuff, the latest and best-equipped expedition to try to discover the Northwest Passage.

If this was successful, it would bring the riches of Asia to Europe far more quickly and less expensively than ever before.

For centuries, the quest had been on. It's why all the great European explorers had first bumped into North America. They weren't looking for a "Canada," they were looking for China.

We were just a stopover on the way, and a cold, icy one to boot. Franklin was going to change all that.

But three years after he and his 128 men left on their voyage, tens of thousands weren't standing on the shore welcoming him back.

Instead, they were attending special services in British churches desperately praying for him to be found.

Franklin was lost, nothing had been heard from him, and in 1848, the searches started.

There would be more than 40 in the decades that followed in the 19th century alone. It was to be the greatest combined search ever.

Parts of the story became clearer — Erebus and Terror had been locked in ice, Franklin had died on board and the ships were abandoned as the men tried to walk their way out.

What followed was a horrible tale of starvation, cannibalism and death. Not a single sailor lived to tell exactly what had happened.

And what was never solved was the mystery of Erebus and Terror — what had happened to the pride of the Royal Navy?

What all those years of searching for the two ships accomplished was the mapping, charting and‎ actual opening up of huge parts of Canada's North and West.

This isn't just a story of looking for old bones and old bits of ship — it's a story about us, about our country, about our history.
Hat tip to you, Oh, Canada! You deserve it.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The sad truth about libertarian policy on defense and international affairs -- UPDATED

was exposed -- again -- this time by Richard A. Epstein:
This past week, President Barack Obama shocked those on the left, right, and center when he announced that he had not yet developed a strategy for responding to the threats that ISIS posed to the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. It would, however, be a mistake to think that his paralysis in foreign policy is characteristic only of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Libertarians, both within and outside the Republican Party, are equally clueless on the ISIS threat. In fact, their position on ISIS is, if anything, more dangerous than that of the President. While the President has yet to formulate a strategy on the question, the hard-core libertarians have endorsed a strategy of non-intervention, which I believe is totally inconsistent with libertarian principles.
For my entire professional life, I have been a limited-government libertarian. The just state should, in my opinion, protect private property, promote voluntary exchange, preserve domestic order, and protect our nation against foreign aggression. Unfortunately, too many modern libertarian thinkers fail to grasp the enormity of that last obligation. In the face of international turmoil, they become cautious and turn inward, confusing limited government with small government. Unwisely, they demand that the United States keep out of foreign entanglements unless and until they pose direct threats to its vital interests—at which point it could be too late.
Epstein turns his considerable intellectual and rhetorical weaponry on Rand Paul:
The most vocal champion of this position is Senator Rand Paul. Senator Paul has been against the use of military force for a long time. Over the summer, he wrote an article entitled “America Shouldn’t Choose Sides in Iraq’s Civil War,” for the pages of the Wall Street Journal arguing that ISIS did not threaten vital American interests. Just this past week, he doubled down on this position, again in the Journal, arguing that the past interventions of the United States in the Middle East have abetted the rise of ISIS.
His argument for this novel proposition is that the United States should not have sought to degrade Bashar Assad’s regime because that effort only paved the way for the rise of ISIS against whom Assad, bad as he is, is now the major countervailing force. Unfortunately, this causal chain is filled with missing links. The United States could have, and should have, supported the moderate opposition to Assad by providing it with material assistance, and, if necessary, air support, so that it could have been a credible threat against Assad, after the President said Assad had to go over three years ago. The refusal to get involved allowed Assad to tackle the moderates first in the hope that the United States would give him a pass to tackle ISIS, or, better still, even assist him in its demise, as we might well have to do. It is irresponsible for Paul to assume that the only alternative to Obama’s dithering is his strategy of pacifism. Paul’s implicit logic rests on a worst-case analysis, under which no intervention is permissible because the least successful intervention may prove worse than the status quo. It is hardly wise to wait until ISIS is strong enough to mount a direct attack on the United States, when its operatives, acting out of safe havens, can commit serious acts of aggression against ourselves and our allies. It is far better to intervene too soon than to wait too long.
Very interesting that Epstein said this and came out with this devastating piece when he did, because at about the same time Rand Paul did an about-face:
Speaking to a ballroom later, some of the loudest applause for Paul came when he quipped: "If the president has no strategy, maybe it's time for a new president."
In an emailed comment, however, Paul elaborated by saying: "If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily."
Pretty big talk from someone who until that speech, as Allahpundit put it, "offered no strategy on ISIS at all."
You can read the above as credulously or skeptically as you like. Maybe it’s proof that Rand really is more hawkish than his old man and that, after some initial ambivalence, he’s been convinced by the intelligence that crushing ISIS is the only way to defuse the threat. Or maybe he’s looked at the polls lately and noticed that the mainstream conservatives he’s hoping to woo in 2016 are swinging back towards interventionism. Maybe it’s a bit of both.
I'm much more inclined to believe the latter. There are fundamental issues with  libertarian defense and foreign policy as expressed by Rand and his execrable father Ron. Epstein continues:
It is instructive to ask why it is that committed libertarians like Paul make such disastrous judgments on these life and death issues. In part it is because libertarians often have the illusion of certainty in political affairs that is congenial to the logical libertarian mind. This mindset has led to their fundamental misapprehension of the justified use of force in international affairs. The applicable principles did not evolve in a vacuum, but are derived from parallel rules surrounding self-defense for ordinary people living in a state of nature. Libertarian theory has always permitted the use and threat of force, including deadly force if need be, to defend one’s self, one’s property, and one’s friends. To be sure, no one is obligated to engage in humanitarian rescue of third persons, so that the decision to intervene is one that is necessarily governed by a mixture of moral and prudential principles. In addition, the justified use of force also raises hard questions of timing. In principle, even deadly force can be used in anticipation of an attack by others, lest any delayed response prove fatal. In all cases, it is necessary to balance the risks of moving too early or too late.
But defense of self and of loved ones is quite different from defending those whom you are charged to protect, as the government -- any government -- is under the social contract.
[S]elf-preservation and the protection of others form the noblest of state ends. The late economist and Nobel Laureate James Buchanan always insisted that a limited government had to be strong in the areas where it had to act. Perhaps his views were influenced in his time as an aide to Admiral Chester Nimitz in the Pacific theater during World War II. In responding to aggression, the hard questions are strategic—are the means chosen and the time of their deployment appropriate to the dangers at hand? Move too quickly, and it provokes needless conflict. Move too slowly, and the situation gets out of hand.
Senator Paul errs too much on the side of caution. He would clamp down, for example, on the data collection activities of the National Security Agency, which allow for the better deployment of scarce American military resources, even though NSA protocols tightly restrict the use of the collected information. It is wrong to either shut down or sharply restrict an intelligence service that has proved largely free of systematic abuse. The breakdown of world order makes it imperative to deploy our technological advantages to the full. Sensible oversight offers a far better solution.
The same is true in spades about the use of force in Iraq and Syria, where matters have deteriorated sharply since Paul’s misguided plea for non-intervention in June. It was foolish for him to insist (and for President Obama to agree) that the United States should not intervene to help Iraqis because the Iraqis have proved dangerously ill-equipped to help themselves. Lame excuses don’t wash in the face of the heinous aggression that the Islamic State has committed against the Yazidis and everyone else in its path.
Rand Paul likes to insist that the initial blunder was the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Whether that invasion was right or wrong is irrelevant today. The question now is how to play the hand that we have been dealt. Whatever the wisdom of going into Iraq, peace had been restored by the surge when President Obama took office in 2009. Since then Iraq’s factionalism has grown because Obama signaled disengagement the day he took office, and found himself unable to forge a status of forces agreement in Iraq in 2011. Being eager to get out, he could not figure out a credible way to stay in.
Unfortunately, Rand Paul writes as if Iraq’s many deficits are fixed facts of nature, wholly independent of the flawed U.S. policies that he has consistently backed, in sync with Obama’s aloof detachment. Yet these policies, tantamount to partial unilateral disarmament, have given our worst enemies the priceless assurance that they can operate largely free of American influence and power. There is nothing in libertarian theory that justifies dithering at home as conditions abroad get worse by the day.
But that is what the Ronulan cult, especially Ron Paul, demands. I do not believe that Rand Paul goes as far as his detestable father Ron does in the "Blame America First" theory, but he goes far enough. Policies he advocated got us into this mess, as anyone who spent even minimal time studying world history would have seen beforehand. Coming late to this particular party means death and destruction.

American isolationism and weakness do not beget security; American isolationism and weakness actually undermines it. Anyone who does not understand that has no business near the reins of power.

UPDATE: Rand Paul has doubled down on his flip-flop with a piece in Time carrying the Nixonian title "I Am Not an Isolationist."
If I had been in President Obama's shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS
Some pundits are surprised that I support destroying the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militarily. They shouldn’t be. I’ve said since I began public life that I am not an isolationist, nor am I an interventionist. I look at the world, and consider war, realistically and constitutionally.
Not necessarily in that order. If you have to explicitly say "I am not an isolationist," you almost certainly are an isolationist.

Allahpundit notes this does nothing to help Rand Paul improve his image as a foreign policy lightweight:

This is the same guy who was warning the U.S. not to act as “Iran’s air force” 10 weeks ago. Eliana Johnson asked one of Paul’s foreign-policy advisors what changed in the interim. “I don’t think two months ago any of us really had a clear understanding of the momentum this group had,” he told her. Er, okay, but Paul’s first Journal op-ed was published nine days after ISIS had seized Mosul. If that didn’t qualify as momentum, what would have?

In defense and foreign policy, you must be able to think five moves ahead. This is why Obama's "leading from behind" is so damaging. He is thinking five moves behind. Rand Paul is obviously little different.