American Elephants


The Bergdahl Blunder is Not About Bowe, But About Barack Obama by The Elephant's Child

The center of the Bowe Bergdahl scandal is not the young man who apparently deserted his post in wartime, but the President of the United States. President Obama was advised by senior military leaders not to make the prisoner swap with the Taliban. Barack Obama released five top Taliban leaders in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl. This has been compared to releasing five four-star generals belonging to the  enemy in the midst of war.

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In fact he has been advised fairly continually since 2011, not to negotiate with the Taliban, and not to release these five Taliban leaders (the worst of the worst).

The Obama foreign policy was failing on every front. The president’s handlers developed a program to show that he was really in charge. The first was a quick flight to Bagram Airfield as the first photo-op. (See how I care about the troops). Two days later, there was a Rose Garden press conference to announce his decision about future U.S. troop levels and his timeline for ending the war in Afghanistan( in command) The next day he was off to West Point to deliver “a major foreign policy address” at the commencement ceremony (Commander in Chief). The address received polite applause from the cadets who had undoubtedly hoped the address would be about their future, since it was their graduation.

Back in the real world, setbacks in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Ukraine continued. China continued making increasingly aggressive territorial claims, Russia was doing the same, and the White House inadvertently “outed” the CIA station chief in Afghanistan.

It has been said for some time that the president frequently does not take intelligence briefings or chooses to ignore the advice offered by intelligence officers in those meetings, and relies on his close associates instead.When Russian tanks rolled into Crimea, the administration admitted it had no strategic warning of just what Putin was up to.

The Veterans Administration scandal broke to American outrage, and the president was sure that returning the long held prisoner-of-war to the bosom of his family would get the vets off the front pages. With progress on ending America’s overseas wars and closing the detention facility at Guantanamo, he expected a big jump in the polls. Didn’t work. Susan Rice was sent to the Sunday shows. Bergdahl was a hero, the president had an obligation to prioritize the health of Sgt. Bergdahl. His life could have been at t risk. The Taliban would kill him if word got out. (then they’d have nothing to trade), The Taliban would kill the deal if word got out. Something over 90 people in the administration and in Qatar knew about the deal, just not Congress. And the most recent is that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is the one who signed off on the deal. The president’s insistence on never accepting any blame for anything gets tiresome. The Bergdahl affair is something the president blames on his enemies in Congress. “I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up on Washington,” he said.

“The controversy whipped up by others” says an article in The Federalist is in reality President Obama’s desire to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. His administration has already written a memo contending that the executive does not possess sole authority on such matters. Obama’s drive to undo anything and everything done by his predecessor is hampered by the Constitution. You have “an increasingly hegemonic presidency that employs the Constitution as campaign fodder during election season but sees it as a nuisance otherwise.”

It has become clear that President Obama was motivated less by any desire to bring this particular prisoner back, than by a desire to make a deal with the Taliban. The president himself said that the deal could “open the door for broader discussions[with the Taliban] about the future [of Afghanistan] by building confidence.”

Which leads to the news today that al Qaeda has taken over Mosul. The Iraqi Army which was shaping up well, but unready for prime time, needed the extra time with U.S. Military help denied them by the Obama administration. The foreign policy of “Anti-Bush” has not worked too well. Not many people know that the major portion of the military death rate in Afghanistan was under Barack Obama. Obama came into office believing that his ability to make speeches that swayed people into doing what he wanted was all that was needed in American Foreign Policy. That hasn’t worked out either.

Add the problem that the Taliban have now got their hands on modern U.S. heat-seeking Stinger missiles. This is the result of the U.S. government’s efforts to arm the Libyan rebels which backfired, ending up with flooding weapons into Syria.

The prime duty of the President of the United States is foreign policy, protecting the United States of America. President Obama doesn’t like foreign policy and tries to avoid it. He believes in making deals, in negotiation. He believes firmly that peaceful negotiation leads to finding common interests which is the basis for agreements. The government of Iran, for example, believes firmly in the art of deception, which is approved by the Koran. As diplomats pronounce the July 20 deadline for a nuclear deal dead, the ayatollahs have managed to string us along for eight months. So there we are.



Naivety And Incomprehension: What Happened to The Working Relationship? by The Elephant's Child

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Vladimir Putin just pitched the post Cold War rule-book out the window, and the European countries are understandably nervous. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement that he wants to downsize the military to the size it was before World War II, may go down in history as the most inappropriate announcement ever made by a cabinet member.

The White House spin machine is telling friendly reporters that Vladimir Putin has fallen into a trap,  which may be carrying the idea of “spin” a little too far. Walter Russell Mead said “Putin is increasingly likely to go down in history as a failed state builder, a man who took Russia down the wrong path and who added to the burden of Russian history.”

But those are long term considerations that, unfortunately for the diligent White House staffers working to spin the next news cycle, won’t help the President now.  In the short term President Putin has put President Obama in an ugly spot. President Obama’s foreign policy depends on three big ideas: that a working relationship with Russia can help the United States stabilize the Middle East, that a number of American adversaries are willing to settle their differences with us on the basis of compromises that we can accept, and that President Obama has the smarts to know who we can trust.

Putin’s attack on Ukraine calls all three propositions into question. What Obama’s belief in the possibility of deals with countries like Russia and Iran leaves out is that some countries around the world may count the reduction of American power and prestige among their vital interests. They may not be hampering and thwarting us because we are unnecessarily and arbitrarily blocking their path toward a reasonable goal; they may be hampering and frustrating us because curbing our power is one of their central objectives. This is not necessarily irrational behavior from their point of view; American power is not a good thing if you hate the post-Cold War status quo, and it can make sense to sacrifice the advantages of a particular compromise with the United States if as a result you can reduce America’s ability to interfere with your broader goals.

Washington’s flat-footed, deer-in-the-headlights incomprehension about Russia’s Crimean adventure undermines President Obama’s broader credibility in a deeply damaging way. If he could be this blind and misguided about Vladimir Putin, how smart is he about the Ayatollah Khameni, a much more difficult figure to read? President Obama is about to have a difficult meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he will tell Netanyahu essentially that Israel should ground its national security policy on the wisdom of President Obama and his profound grasp of the forces of history. The effect will be somewhat undermined by President Obama’s failure to understand the most elementary things about Vladimir Putin.

Foreign policy is harder than it looks, and Mr. Obama’s foreign policy team is not an impressive bunch. Will the American public see this as just another case of difficult foreigners doing bad things in some little-known country, or will they see this as  clear evidence that this president is too naive and too passive and he is endangering the country?

Secretary Kerry said huffily on Face the Nation: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country. That’s not the act of somebody who’s strong, Putin is acting out of “weakness” and “desperation.”

It’s easier to threaten friends. They probably won’t do anything. Obama said essentially that if Israel wouldn’t agree to the U.S. idea of a peace deal with the Palestinians, then the U.S. won’t be able to defend Israel if the peace talks fail. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which began last July, have made no visible progress. Palestine refuses to recognize the right of the Israeli state to exist, won’t stop shooting rockets into Israel, continues to teach its small children that martyrdom in the interest of killing Jews is a holy aim, and insists of the ‘right of return.’ Obama’s ideas about Israel were likely formed by his friendship with the radical Palestinian professor Rashid Khalidi. He does not change his mind.



No Army Training In The Last Six Months. Preparedness Loses Out To Politics. by The Elephant's Child

General Ray Odierno, Army’s Chief of Staff told a Washington conference on Monday that the U.S. Army had not conducted any training in the last six months of the fiscal year ending September 30.

He added that there are currently only two Army  brigades rated combat-ready. A brigade numbers somewhere around 3,500 to 5,000 troops, commanded by a Colonel. That adds up to around 7,000 to 10,000 troops and less than one-third of what the combat veteran regards as necessary for national security. Odierno said:

Right now, we have in the Army two brigades that are trained. That’s it. Two.

Troops being deployed to Afghanistan now are prepared only to train and assist Afghan troops, not to conduct combat operations themselves, though there is no guarantee that they will not find themselves actually in combat, while accompanying Afghan soldiers.

Sequestration had its origins in the debt-ceiling battle of 2011. The President’s team, in an attempt to force Republicans into a compromise, devised the sequester as a sort of nuclear option. Sweeping cuts across all discretionary spending — including defense spending in a time of war, would be such a bitter pill to the Republicans, that they would fold and stop insisting on cuts in spending. Republicans took in the Obama team offer, and spat it out. The President remains furious.

Harmful automatic budget cuts — known as the sequester — threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs, and cut vital services for children, seniors, people with mental illness and our men and women in uniform.

These cuts will make it harder to grow our economy and create jobs by affecting our ability to invest in important priorities like education, research and innovation, public safety, and military readiness.

You have undoubtedly heard the president bragging about bringing the deficit down.  Depends on who he’s trying to impress. Because the sequester is automatic for nine more years, it can only be changed or undone if both houses vote to change it. It is a powerful tool for Republican negotiators in the budget conference committee, and gives them leverage to address the real driver of the debt — entitlement spending. Left unchanged, the combined unfunded entitlements of Social Security and Medicare threaten to bankrupt the country.

Republicans are trying to save the country. Democrats are trying to win. It’s politics all the way down.

Obama has made an effort to make the cuts forced by the sequester as painful as possible, just as he did with the government shutdown.

All this to obey Obama administration orders to drastically cut the Army and military spending and meet cuts under sequestration. Since the Obama Pentagon began the troop draw-down two years ago under the president’s orders, more than 33,000 active duty soldiers have been cut.

Current plans call for additional reductions of 42,000 soldiers in the next 23 months to a total of 490,000, down from 570,000. Those cuts have been accelerated by two years under Pentagon orders and will involve involuntary separations of thousands.

Military planners, under directives from Defense Secretary Hagel, now anticipate administration orders to sever another 70,000 active duty Army personnel at all levels. There is apparently a purge going on of some of the nation’s top veteran generals, allegedly for personal misconduct.

It is not a peaceful world. Al Qaeda is on the rise, Bashar Assad seems to have control of Syria after gassing dissidents, the Saudis are not friendly. Egypt is no longer under the control of the radical Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and a more friendly Army-backed government has taken over— so we have discontinued aid. Having botched Syria, botched a status of forces agreement in Iraq, Iraq is in flames again with an upsurge of al Qaeda in Iraq. So we are in peaceful conversations with Iran, the sponsor of all Middle East terrorism. Good time as any to cut back on military readiness.

Whenever wars are over, America settles back into heedless slumber, and we are never, never prepared when trouble breaks out again, as it always will.



Don’t Blame Obama, He Was Busy Fundraising. by The Elephant's Child

Britain’s Independent newspaper has a story revealing “the inside story of the US envoy’s assassination: America was warned of embassy attack but did nothing.”

The killings of the US ambassador to Libya and three of his staff were likely to have been the result of a serious and continuing security breach, The Independent can reveal.

American officials believe the attack was planned, but Chris Stevens had been back in the country only a short while and the details of his visit to Benghazi, where he and his staff died, were meant to be confidential.

The US administration is now facing a crisis in Libya. Sensitive documents have gone missing from the consulate in Benghazi and the supposedly secret location of the “safe house” in the city, where the staff had retreated, came under sustained mortar attack. Other such refuges across the country are no longer deemed “safe”.

Politico reports that the Obama administration is flatly denying the report that diplomats were killed as a result of a “continuing security breach,” and “no intelligence indicating that the attack was premeditated.” It was 9/11 and the Embassies were unprepared.

The administration said:

Shawn Turner, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, emailed: “This is absolutely wrong. We are not aware of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi was planned or imminent.”

That’s silly. The attackers were armed with mortars and RPGs, that’s not a spontaneous action. The film was just an excuse, and the administration should be blaming the attackers and their planners, not a stupid amateur film which was just an excuse.

In the Wall Street Journal, Hussain Haqqani, a professor at Boston University who served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S in 2008-2011, wrote:

The attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions this week—beginning in Egypt and Libya, and moving to Yemen and other Muslim countries—came under cover of riots against an obscure online video insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. But the mob violence and assaults should be seen for what they really are: an effort by Islamists to garner support and mobilize their base by exacerbating anti-Western sentiments. …

Yet the momentary triumph of burning another country’s flag or setting on fire a Western business or embassy building is a poor but widespread substitute for global success that eludes the modern world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. Violent protest represents the lower rung of the ladder of rage; terrorism is its higher form. …

…the U.S. would do well to remember Osama bin Laden’s comment not long after the Sept. 11 attacks: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” America should do nothing that enables Islamists to portray the nation as the weak horse.

Barry Rubin, writing at Pajamas Media writes under a headline saying “Egypt Kicks Sand in Obama’s Face; Obama Gives Money, Arms, and Apologies”  Ouch.

But note well that everyone — except the Western media — understands that holding such a demonstration at the U.S. embassy in Cairo on September 11 means supporting the September 11 attack. The Egyptian government knew the time of the demonstration and the participants — it was all publicly announced — yet Egyptian security forces did not protect the embassy. And so the demonstrators scaled the wall, entered the compound, tore up the American flag, and put up the historic revolutionary flag of Islam (the eighth century black one, not the seventh century green one) in its stead. Why didn’t Egyptian security forces stop them? It was a deliberate decision no doubt taken at the highest level.

Rather than expose the phony excuse for the demonstration and condemn the Egyptian government’s behavior, the U.S. government groveled. It issued statements in English apologizing for the fact that someone had exercised his right of free speech within its country. The tweets it sent out in Arabic were even worse, pitiful pleas of the we-are-on-your-side-against-this-terrible-Islamophobia variety. And will Egypt’s failure to protect the embassy — because it is on the side of America’s enemies — have any effect on the Obama administration’s helping the Egyptian government get two German submarines (against Israel’s efforts), taking $1 billion off Egypt’s debt, and having a nice meeting with the visiting Egyptian president (while refusing to meet Israel’s prime minister, this supposedly super-pro-Israel president)? You know the answer.

This is a policy of institutionalized cowardice unprecedented in U.S. history.

Do read the whole of this one. It’s eye-opening, and follow his links. I am so grateful that we no longer have to rely on the “mainstream media”who no longer practice journalism, but are simply the PR arm of the Obama White House, and can find other sources for our news.

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America the Unexceptional: That’s Not Working Either. by The Elephant's Child

Bret Stephens who addresses foreign affairs for the Opinion page at the Wall Street Journal’s column today carries the headline “Barack Obama, Global Has-Been.” Ouch. The thrust of Mr. Stephens’ argument is that Barack Obama has confused popularity with respect.  He would rather be liked than feared. He wants America to be simply one among many nations, not exceptional, not special. And he has said just that.

But Mr. Obama confuses the meaning that Americans have of “exceptionalism.” Oh, sure, in contests, Americans will proudly annoy everyone else by shouting “USA, USA, USA”. People who come to this country for the first time are amazed by the flags flying everywhere, at private homes, and yes, at car dealers. We think we’re exceptional because we love our country and we want everyone else t know it. That doesn’t mean that others don’t love their country — no comparison is intended — simply that we do.

For Mr. Obama,…his core foreign policy concept —that global popularity generates global power — has failed. No U.S. president since John F.Kennedy has come to office with more global goodwill than Mr. Obama; no US. president since Jimmy Carter has been so widely rebuked.

Consider the record. His failed personal effort to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago. His failed personal effort to negotiate a climate-change deal at Copenhagen in 2009. His failed efforts to strike a nuclear deal with Iran that year and this year. His failed effort to improve America’s public standing in the Muslim world with the now-forgotten Cairo speech. His failed reset with Russia. His failed effort to strong-arm Israel into a permanent settlement freeze. His failed (if half-hearted) effort to maintain a residual U.S. military force in Iraq. His failed efforts to cut deals with the Taliban and reach out to North Korea. His failed effort to win over China and Russia for even a symbolic U.N. condemnation of Syria’s Bashar Assad. His failed efforts to intercede in Europe’s economic crisis. (“Herr Obama should above all deal with the reduction of the American deficit” was the free advice German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble offered this year.) …

That isn’t to say that Mr. Obama hasn’t had his successes. The Libya intervention was a triumph, albeit of an odd sort since it was carried out in such a reluctant, last-minute, half-embarrassed fashion. Killing Osama bin Laden and dramatically expanding the number of drone strikes will forever be to the president’s credit—even if his administration’s tawdry efforts to publicize them for political gain will forever diminish the achievement.

Mr. Stephens adds that he tends “to think that the buzz about American decline mistakes the mediocrity of the president for the destiny of the nation.”

To be absolutely fair, here is Roger Cohen, a columnist for the New York Times: He says:

Well, four years have passed and Obama has adroitly steered the bankrupted United States he inherited away from the precipice but has not provided a “different future” worthy of the hope invested in him; and that imagined team of rivals became a team, or rather a coterie, of idolizers.

There is only one star in the galaxy at this White House and his name is Barack Obama. Everyone in the Sun King’s court has drunk the Kool-Aid. …

To his immense credit he took a big gamble on killing Osama Bin Laden. But elsewhere he has been cautious to a fault, eyeing the political calendar. He held out a hand to Iran but promptly reverted to tired old carrots and sticks; his response to the great popular uprising of 2009 was slow. He took half-steps on Israel and Palestine — criticizing Israeli settlements, saying the pre-1967 lines were the basis for a two-state peace — only to offer zero follow-through. Nothing changed.

On Egypt, he toyed with preserving Mubarak ad interim before the tide became irreversible. On Syria, he has in essence dithered. On Afghanistan, domestic politics dictated the agenda, at a cost in American lives.

Mr. Cohen is a liberal, and I left out the part where  he talks about the “superb job” Hillary Clinton has done, but you can read it for yourself.  Mr. Cohen’s point seems to be that Liberals will just have to hold their noses and vote for Obama anyway.

I believe that Mr. Obama is running against the American grain. He arrived with flowery words promising really good things, and has delivered disappointment. He thought he had everybody lined up behind him, but he didn’t pay attention to see if the people were following. They weren’t.




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