American Elephants


Can Obama Escape the Bubble? Probably Not! by The Elephant's Child

I have, in odd moments, been pondering Obama’s statement of his foreign policy— “no victor–no vanquished.” Where did he get the idea that was a workable or satisfactory policy? He clearly was proud of the alliteration. Conservatives were confused  by the statement.

But then I recalled the leftist movement to stop the practice of having winners in games, as part of the”self-esteem movement.” There should be no winners and losers they said— everybody gets a trophy, everybody gets a medal. Prizes were for participation. Wrecked all kinds of contests and games, and most of the fun. Not much satisfaction in competition when even the worst performers get the same medal.

That was, of course, mostly in elementary school, and given time, the self-esteem movement fell into disrepute when people realized that our kids had the greatest self-esteem in the world, but we were being beaten all hollow in things like math and science, reading and history. But it didn’t go away for everyone. The Left accepted it as a given, and decided that competition was a bad thing.

On the Right, Ted Forstman once remarked in the Wall Street Journal that “There has never been an industry, a business, or a product that competition has not improved.” For most Republicans, a completely unremarkable statement. Of course. Most of our economic ideas are based on just that idea. But Mr. Obama clearly does not get it. “No Victor, No Vanquished.” Everybody gets a prize. No winner, no loser. Nobody has to feel bad. Well, here is Ralph Peters:

Wars are to be won. They are not playing fields for theorists. Enemies are to be destroyed, not merely admonished. And the best chance to destroy a military enemy is to pursue him relentlessly and ferociously when his organization begins to come apart. From Varus’s Roman legions in the marshes of Germany through Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow to the destruction of, first entire Soviet armies, then entire German ones on World War II’s Eastern Front, down to the Highway of Death leading north from Kuwait City, mighty armies—or those perceived as such—have been destroyed utterly when their fronts collapsed and they struggled to save themselves by fleeing. This is a killing hour and we must rise to it.

And Victor Davis Hanson:

It is an iron law of war that overwhelming military superiority, coupled with promises to the defeated of resurrection, defeats terrorists—in the past, now, always—whether they be zealots, dervishes, or Ghost dancers. We do not really care whether bin Laden and his thugs are real Islamic fundamentalists, old-time Mahdists, or Christian nuts in drag. Nor does it ultimately matter much whether they plan to poison water, hijack airplanes, spread germs, or throw spitballs at us—only whether we have the military power and will to kill them first, destroy their enclaves, strip away their money and refuges, and demonstrate to their followers that death and misery are the final and only wages of a terrorist’s life.

The Left lives in an impermeable bubble. Leftist thought is contained within the bubble. They can shoot moral arrows at everyone else to demonstrate their moral superiority. Within the bubble they can reinvent history to make it more agreeable to present circumstances, whatever they may be. Unpleasant matters do not penetrate, or at least can be repelled.

The current situation in Iraq has required significant adjustment. Iraq was the “dumb war.” Obama believed the public was “war weary” because the media told him so, so he was impatient to get out and had little interest in a “status of forces” agreement, nor in how such agreements came about. It was a trophy in his trophy display. (Consistency is not required)

So when ISIS swept out into Iraq, nobody in the White House paid any attention, because Iraq was a done deal. When executions and beheadings penetrated the news, it was presumed that getting rid of the troublesome Maliki and forcing a more “inclusive” government would make everybody feel good and a “negotiated settlement” would prevail. But then Islamic State terrorists slaughtered 900 Yazidis in Erbil in an act of genocide. Obama had to act, and he danced around it trying to make sure that everyone understood that our military intervention was not really a military intervention and there were no boots on the ground, and we weren’t going to do boots on the ground.

Bubbles are artificial constructions that don’t stand up in the real world.



Saving the World With Platitudes, One At a Time. by The Elephant's Child

On August 8, Friday, The New York Times published an interview with the president by Thomas Friedman, titled a bit grandiosely “Obama on the World.” Mr. Friedman is a long-time admirer of Mr. Obama, so it is a gentle interview that allows the president to fully express his successes (many) and failures (very few). It’s hard to know just what to make of it.

Obama made clear that he is only going to involve America more deeply in places like the Middle East to the extent that the different communities there agree to an inclusive politics of no victor/no vanquished.

At the end of the day, the president mused, the biggest threat to America — the only force that can really weaken us — is us. We have so many things going for us right now as a country — from new energy resources to innovation to a growing economy — but, he said, we will never realize our full potential unless our two parties adopt the same outlook that we’re asking of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds or Israelis and Palestinians: No victor, no vanquished and work together.

America, he believes, is dysfunctional, and societies don’t work if political factions take maximalist positions. Oh please. Just explain yourself in straightforward prose — all of Obama’s problems derive from the nasty Republicans who won’t do what he says. Can he possibly believe that a clever new phrase will allay centuries-old enmity that has had Muslim tribes killing each other ever since the sixth century?

Scott Johnson, over at Powerline, apparently had the same misgivings. He said: “I asked the person who is perhaps the most worldly-wise man I know if he could comment on Obama’s interview with Obama apostle Tom Friedman as related …in the Times article “Obama on the World.” His acquaintance responded that he had wondered about this viewpoint.

He said both James Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr. separately and in other contexts said something about “ignorance allied with power” being the worst imaginable combination. I  just read a piece by Angelo Codevilla, which began with a similar quotation: “Combining the unbridled tongue with the unready hand.” Thus did Theodore Roosevelt define statesmanship at its worst. This is what America’s bipartisan ruling class is giving us.

Scott Johnson’s unidentified worldly-wise man continued:

I think with Obama it starts with ignorance which in his formative years became a required doctrine of the intelligentsia when it came to understanding the way the world works in matters of international security; to be considered politically correct you had to spurn and despise such painfully developed concepts and practices as the balance of power, the necessity of using strength and diplomacy in tandem, etc.

This was allied with a personal drive for High Moralism, the felt need to build a castle around yourself behind a moat of 12-foot thick walls from behind which you could shoot moral arrows at everyone else to demonstrate your superiority and quickly destroy any emerging criticism of yourself. So from this position of invincible ignorance allied with moral perfection and then allied with power, you could become able to cross a line in history to reach a new world shaped by your conviction of your perfected sensibility.

This would mean, 1.) taking the US out of its despicable role of world leadership, which has been immoral and has caused almost all the world’s problems over at least the past century, and 2.) “Transforming” America into a country moral enough to be worthy of you, a kind of big Belgium. As the wicked of the world have refused to fall into line behind this vision, it has made the president increasingly sour and feeling put upon.

At this point he has been forced to do something like take a presidential decision of the kind that all previous presidents have known they would have to take– the “hard decisions” recognized by the president’s hero Reinhold Niebuhr but never recognized by the president. So he has been forced by events to do it. But he didn’t want to do it. And he keeps making it clear that he is determined not to do it in an effective way, to assure our enemies of the many things he will never do, and to sulk about it for the foreseeable future as he relates his unappreciated fate to those who share his feelings, like Tom Friedman.

This makes sense to me. We on the right side of the political spectrum spend way too much time trying to understand the left — how they think, what they understand and what they don’t understand — because they just don’t seem to make sense. That is correct. They do not make sense. The philosophizing and moralizing that are such an animating factor and seem so formidable in the hot house of the faculty lounge — don’t work well out in the real world.

They are not operating in the real world. They don’t do their homework. “High moralism” just doesn’t cut it. It’s all very nice to come up with a new phrase — “no victor, no vanquished”— or you just have to compromise, and if  you don’t, we’ll wash our hands of you. This is not exactly a viable foreign policy.

Obama told Mr. Friedman that the “extremist ideology” that’s taken over the GOP, the “balkanization of the media has blocked my agenda.” What agenda is that? Can’t everybody just get along — is not an agenda. It’s not even an idea, but simply a platitude.

Tom Friedman apparently spent the weekend mulling things over. This morning he said we are absolutely clueless in the Middle East. That’s about right.




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