American Elephants

Having a Lot of Family for Christmas? by The Elephant's Child

The Fabled Darwin Awards for 2013  have been released:

Honoring the Least Evolved Among Us. And the winner is —

When his .38 caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked.


And the Honorable Mentions are

  1. The chef at a hotel in Switzerland lost a finger in a meat cutting machine and after a little shopping around, submitted a claim to his insurance company. The company expecting negligence sent out one of its men to have a look for himself. He tried the machine and he also lost a finger. The chef’s claim was approved.
  2. A man who shoveled snow for an hour to clear a space for his car during a blizzard in Chicago returned with his vehicle to find a woman had taken the space. Understandably, he shot her.
  3. After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed to be transporting from Harare to Bulawayo had escaped. Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies. The deception wasn’t discovered for 3 days.
  4. A man walked into a Louisiana Circle-K, put a $20 bill on the counter, and asked for change. When the clerk opened the cash drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register, which the clerk promptly provided. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled, leaving the $20 bill on the counter. The total amount of cash he got from the drawer… $15. [If someone points a gun at you and gives you money, is a crime committed?]
  5. Seems an Arkansas guy wanted some beer pretty badly. He decided that he’d just throw a cinder block through a liquor store window, grab some booze, and run. So he lifted the cinder block and heaved it over his head at the window. The cinder block bounced back and hit the would-be thief on the head, knocking him unconscious. The liquor store window was made of Plexiglas. The whole event was caught on videotape.
  6. As a female shopper exited a New York convenience store, a man grabbed her purse and ran. The clerk called 911 immediately, and the woman was able to give them a detailed description of the snatcher. Within minutes, the police apprehended the snatcher. They put him in the car and drove back to the store. The thief was then taken out of the car and told to stand there for a positive ID. To which he replied, “Yes, officer, that’s her. That’s the lady I stole the purse from.”
  7. The Ann Arbor News crime column reported that a man walked into a Burger King in Ypsilanti, Michigan at 5 A.M., flashed a gun, and demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he couldn’t open the cash register without a food order. When the man ordered onion rings, the clerk said they weren’t available for breakfast… The frustrated gunman walked away.
  8. When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street by sucking on a hose, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find a very sick man curled up next to a motor home near spilled sewage. A police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline, but he plugged his siphon hose into the motor home’s sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to press charges saying that it was the best laugh he’d ever had and the perp had been punished enough!
In the interest of bettering mankind, please share these with friends and family…. unless of course one of these individuals by chance is a distant relative or long lost friend. In that case, be glad they are distant and hope they remain lost.
(h/t:  My Underwood Typewriter)

How Worried Should We Be About Iran? Very. by The Elephant's Child


So many of President Obama’s policies leave one puzzled. What can he possibly be thinking? Why would he do this? Why would he assume this to be a good idea? Particularly in the case of the interim agreement that the United States and its partners cut with Iran last week in Geneva which seems to be a centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. The core objective of the past two decades — preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — and threatening fundamental regional and global interests have been ignored. Nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, strengthening the forces of radicalism and terrorism in the region — what can he be thinking?

We have compared Obama to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who pursued a policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler, and agreed to the Nazi demand that Czechoslovakia should cede the Sudetenland to Nazi Germany to stave off a threatened invasion — without consulting the Czechs.

Obama does manifest some of Chamberlain’s trusting naïveté and insular self-righteousness. More important perhaps, like Chamberlain, Obama thinks his job is to accommodate domestic war-weariness and to keep us out of foreign conflicts. Also like Chamberlain, Obama in the Middle East has inclined toward appeasing Muslims at the expense of Jews in the Holy Land. And like Chamberlain, Obama will go down in history as a failed leader of the leading Western democracy, one whose policies will have to be reversed—one hopes this time at less cost—by his successor.

Churchill succeeded Chamberlain in 1940 and saved the West.

The Obama administration apparently believes that the supreme leader might forsake his historic quest for nuclear weapons begun under the Ayatollah Khomeini and carried forth under Khamenei and every Iranian president. The United States, “the epicenter of evil” has rallied the West against the Islamic Republic.

The idea seems to be that the supreme leader, and his Revolutionary Guards who control the nuclear program, terrorist operations and domestic riot-control aren’t sufficiently committed to developing a nuclear weapon that the persuasive voices of moderation from the Obama administration can seduce them from this dangerous path. Um, they seem to believe that the newly elected president Hassan Rouhani, and foreign minister Mohammad Zarif are forces for moderation. The evidence for this is a nice smile and a lot of fantasy. They believe that Rouhani must be a reformer — he has a PhD from a Scottish university. Ruel Marc Gerecht, who is an expert, spells out the evidence for fantasy. Do read the whole thing.

At the core of Washington’s debate about Iran’s nuclear program is a confluence of naïveté and fear of another war in the Middle East. The latter reinforces the former and bends the analysis of Iran’s internal politics. It makes America’s foreign policy elite, which has never been a particularly God-fearing crowd, even more blind to the role of religion in Iran’s politics. The president himself appears to believe passionately that an irenic American foreign policy insulates the United States from Muslim anger and terrorism.

No one in the Middle East believes that Obama would order a strike. The Washington foreign-policy establishment have conceded the bomb to Iran. They argue for “containment.” The only thing that matters is that we will not bomb Iran’s nuclear sites. Most on the Left do not envision any need for a militarily strong and aggressive America pushing back against Iranian adventurism. Containment is a synonym for  patient, peaceful engagement and American withdrawal. Gerecht summarizes:

President Obama’s eagerness to avoid an unpleasant binary choice—surrender publicly to Tehran’s nuclear fait accompli or preempt militarily—will have led him to a situation where he confronts the same choice, but with Iran’s hand stronger and America’s weaker. Khamenei will have called Obama’s bluff—and will have billions more in his bank account. In all probability, the president has bought into a process of diminishing returns that he cannot abandon for fear of the cruel binary choice. For that matter, he may already have decided that the left-wing of the Democratic party is right.

Well, that’s what we get when the president can’t be bothered to attend his intelligence briefings. Does he worry at all about the new ICBMs being developed by North Korea and Iran?

Dan Bongino, former Secret Service member, now running for Congress in Maryland, has said that the White House staff were like kids with a shiny new toy. No one knew anything about government, and they treated the president like a cult figure — if he said it, it must be true. Nothing could be more dangerous than an ideologically-driven megalomaniac surrounded by obsequious yes-men in the White House.

NSA Data Collection: Who? What? When? and Why? by The Elephant's Child

Scott Johnson reported at Powerline on a panel on NSA data collection at the National Lawyers Convention. The panel consisted of moderator former Acting Attorney General George Terwilliger, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and George Mason University Law Professor Jeremy Rabkin.

If you had concerns about the activities of the NSA, about National Security, and what is meant by data collection or just wondered ‘what-the-heck’ in the wake of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, you will find this fascinating. What starts as a question about what is turns into a question of accountability. How do you make government accountable, and what is the responsibility of the executive to be accountable and make sure that his appointees are accountable. It is deeply interesting and worth your time.

Nations Spy on Each Other? Can This Be True? by The Elephant's Child

How do governments find out what other countries are thinking, what they really plan, what they are talking about behind the scenes? Read the papers? Listen to the speeches? Hang around people who might know something? Yes, and much more. Nations need intelligence about what other nations may do. Nations have interests, and nations have allies, but we still need to know what’s going on behind the facade. So do they.  Nations spy. So what? When a spy infiltrates the government of another nation, they try to root it out, and may send him to prison or shoot him.

For some real insight into the current flap about the revelations of whashis name Edward Snowden, please read this piece by a career diplomat who has served in many parts of the world. Actually, add him to your blog list while you’re at it. He is invaluable.

Hardly necessary to emphasize the absurdity of Germany, France, and other nations getting so huffy about American taps on their communications. American outrage about communication monitoring has given other nations room to pose. Their citizens will act as if the United States has treated them with intolerable suspicion, and believe that the American president may have lost control of his own intelligence services and they have become victims. Germany and other nations have shown no commitment to hard power or in taking sides. Europe has long settled comfortably under the umbrella of American power. With Mr. Obama trying hard to diminish American power, other nations are getting nervous. It’s easier to feel put upon by the Americans.

Will Mrs. Merkel say again, as she did in 2007, “For me, as German chancellor, Israel’s security is never negotiable. Protecting Israel is part of my country’s reason of state. I believe that an hour of truth has now arrived when we must show we stand by our word.

Funny how the chancellor of the world’s third-largest arms-dealing country, in her reluctance to talk of any use of force anywhere, is looking like Mr. Obama’s doppelgänger. Yet she says America needs friends—although surely not ones thinking Washington will want to spy less effectively.

This excerpt from Walter Russell Mead writing on U.S. Negotiations with Iran explains a lot.

Judging from what we see from the outside, the White House does not appear to have a clear strategy in mind at this point, but the trajectory of its internal drift suggests that many there (perhaps including the President) would be ready to sell the Crescent to Iran in exchange for a face-saving, war-avoiding nuclear deal. This is probably how Jerusalem, Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Riyadh are all reading the President’s deep reluctance to take decisive action against Assad. In Jerusalem, this belief leads people to want to engage closely with the Americans in an effort to make sure that any deal addresses Israel’s red lines on nukes and Hezbollah. In Tehran it strengthens the hands of those who favor the course of negotiations; Obama appears willing to pay a substantial price for the nuclear deal and the very act of engaging weakens American power and promotes the Shi’a cause. In Riyadh this perception heightens the rage and fear that people there feel and has led to what, by Saudi standards, is a public tantrum of epic proportions. In Moscow this is seen as both a satisfying symbolic setback for the United States and a substantial victory over the Sunni jihadi threat the Kremlin sees as a major threat. In Beijing it is read as another chapter in the story of American decline.

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.

Please Let a Crisis Go To Waste. Act Slowly and Thoughtfully Instead. by The Elephant's Child

A Memorial Service was held yesterday for the victims of the Navy Yard shooting. The president gave an emotional speech, sharing the sorrow of the victims families, friends and co-workers.  He is good at that, and his words are usually well-received.

Mindful of his training in Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”, and Lenin’s rules, however, the president is loath to allow any crisis to go to waste. When emotions are high, it’s the best time to push people to get involved in banning guns. And it’s true. An emotional event can get people to want to — do something.

The midst of a crisis is the worst possible time to attempt to decide what to do to stop the next one. Laws made in the throes of emotion usually turn out to be bad laws. Aaron Alexis, the shooter, was apparently emotionally disturbed. People instantly want to make laws to put crazy people somewhere were they can’t hurt anyone. Well, of course. But mental health is not a cut-and-dried situation. We don’t know very much about how to fix people.

The Left always assumes that the answer to any problem is another government program or a new law. And the government seldom does anything well, except for increasing the power of the administrative state. Aaron Alexis passed a background check for purchasing a gun with no problem. Washington D.C. has draconian gun laws. Alexis passed through the special security arrangements at the Navy Yard. The Navy Yard is, as are all Military bases and facilities — a gun free zone. In 1993, one of Bill Clinton’s first actions on taking office was to ban guns at all military installations.

Aaron Alexis had a special secret security clearance that allowed him access to the Navy Yard. He had lied on his enlistment form about prior arrests, and nobody checked. He had quite a number of run-ins with police, but received an honorable discharge and was hired as a defense contractor in 2012. A D.C. Rapid Response team was told to stand down. Is there a pattern of governmental success here?

When an American ambassador and his technology chief were being killed in Benghazi, the workers at the consulate under fire, and the two former SEALS trying to rescue them, another Rapid Response Team was told to stand down. And the rescued workers have been ordered to speak to no one about what happened.

President Obama wants to fix all this by banning guns for everyone — except the government, of course. He could immediately lift the order banning guns at all military bases. That would remedy the situation at the Navy Yard, and at Fort Hood. Oddly enough, gun-free zones seem to create an incentive for shooters. They are inclined to avoid places where people are armed. I am not suggesting that nothing should be done, and clearly when people are a danger to society, they should be removed from society — but did anyone beg that the recent shooters be locked up before they did their shooting? Did anyone know that they were dangerous? Does anyone have sensible suggestions on what to do and how it could be accomplished?

Bureaucrats and demagogues are always ready to do something, but they have way more faith in government’s abilities than I do.

Jay Carney Speaks by The Elephant's Child


This one’s going to go in the record books of inane comments by a Press Secretary:

“When it comes to being a commander in chief, the American people, at least in my estimation,  appreciate a commander in chief who takes in new information and doesn’t celebrate decisiveness for the sake of decisiveness.”

Lets not have any decisiveness around here. Sheesh.

How Much is Al Qaeda Involved in Syria? by The Elephant's Child

Thomas Jocelyn testified yesterday to the House Committee on Homeland Security, about al Qaeda in Syria and the threat that poses to the United States. Al Qaeda affiliates and allied jihadist groups dominate the insurgency in the heart of the Middle East. The Long War Journal published his testimony.

“The situation inside Syria is grim, with a despicable tyrant on one side and a rebellion compromised by al Qaeda and like-minded extremists on the other. In between these two poles are the people who originally rose up against tyranny in search of a better life. As we’ve seen time and again in this long war, Muslims embroiled in violence in faraway lands are often the first line of defense against an ideology and an organization that pose a direct threat to the West.”

We should have no illusions about the nature of the Syrian war. What we are witnessing right now is a conflict that will have ramifications for our security in the West. The fighting in Syria and the terrorist campaign in Iraq are deeply linked, feeding off of one another in a way that increases the violence in both countries and potentially throughout the region. American interests outside of Syria have already been threatened by the war. We saw this late last year when al Qaeda repurposed a cell of Jordanian citizens who had fought in Syria for an attack inside their home country. They reportedly had the U.S. Embassy in their crosshairs and were planning a complex assault involving other targets as well. …

Al Qaeda and its extremist allies have grown much stronger since late 2011. Al Qaeda does not control the entire rebellion, which is made up of a complex set of actors and alliances. However, al Qaeda and its allies dominate a large portion of northern Syria and play a key role in the fighting throughout the rest of the country. These same al Qaeda-affiliated forces have fought alongside Free Syrian Army brigades. There is no clear geographic dividing line between the most extreme fighters and other rebels. For example, al Qaeda’s affiliates played a key role in the fighting in Latakia, an Assad stronghold on the coast, in early August. And within the past week we saw al Qaeda-affiliated fighters lead an attack in Malula, a Christian village not far from Damascus. These are just two examples chosen from many.

Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s emir has made the fight for Syria a strategic priority. They are political revolutionaries who are looking to establish an Islamic Emirate in the heart of the Levant. They want a state of their own — as a start.  Other al Qaeda groups have joined the fight — the Taliban from Pakistan, Chechens , fighters from South Asia and North Africa, are fighting alongside each other. There is a Syrian Islamic Front that fights alongside al Qaeda. There is a direct connection between the terrorists over there and terrorists over here. Some are being repurposed for  operations against the West. And al Qaeda is recruiting Westerners who can be used against their home countries. They are looking for chemical and biological weapons in Syria, and an al Nusrah Front cell has been arrested and found to be in possession of about 2 kilos of sarin gas. Iraqi officials claim to have broken up an al Qaeda cell that was seeking to launch sarin gas attacks in Iraq, Europe and possibly North America.

Do read the whole thing. These people do understand that we are in — a long war — and have been since 9/11. It is civilizational and serious and real, and we must take it seriously.

NOTE: A piece I posted on September 3 was based on an article from the Institute for the Study of War, and based on information from Elizabeth O’Bagy, who was an adviser to John Kerry and supposedly an expert on the situation in Syria. The Institute has discharged her for misrepresenting her credentials, and she is apparently involved as a lobbyist for the Free Syrian Army. So I don’t know if any of what I wrote is true, nor if the map is correct.

War and Empathy and Unbeliveably Small Strikes. by The Elephant's Child

It is 9/11. and the mind goes back twelve years to that terrible day, and to Benghazi on 9/11. The President and Vice President and their wives and the entire White House staff were photographed on the White House Lawn where they observed a moment of silence, and then the president went off to pass out food to the needy — in his continuing push to make 9/11 a “Day of Service.”

I don’t get it. I see no relation between mourning those we lost and doing some volunteer work. But then I’m not much on “moments of silence,” which I guess are to be seen as a one-minute collective observance of sorrow. If we do it collectively it is more meaningful? I’ll just go on mourning all day, the images don’t stop replaying in my head. I guess if you are a collectivist, you think collectively.

It is another day in the War on Terror. Yes, terror is a tactic, not the producer of terror, but that is simply semantics. What do you want to call it — a war on jihadists?

Americans are confused by World War II, when we had clear enemies — Germany, Japan and Italy. They expanded into conquered territory and we had to drive them out. The War was a total effort. Civilians did war work, bought war bonds, raised victory gardens and did without a wealth of things to which we were accustomed. The war lasted a neat four years, the victory was clear and surrender abject and total, followed by occupation.

Now there remains for Americans an expectation that a proper war will have those characteristics. In World War II people were thoroughly weary of war, but they knew that it had to be won and the enemy defeated utterly. There was no talk of “war weariness.” You even heard people during the War in Iraq or in Afghanistan complain that civilians weren’t asked to buy bonds or accept rationing. They weren’t proper wars because the home front just went on with ordinary life, undisturbed.

Richard Cohen, liberal columnist for the  Washington Post, asked plaintively “Where’s the moral outrage?”

The civil war in Syria has cost more than 110,000 lives. It has produced a humanitarian calamity — well over 2 million refugees.

Bashar Assad has massacred his own people by conventional means and is accused of using poison gas several times, most recently on Aug. 21, when his military murdered 1,429 people, including more than 400 children. …

I pick on the American left because it is liberal and because that suggests empathy, concern and internationalism.

The American right is now going through one of its periodic bouts of lunacy, reverting to a comfy isolationism-cum-selfishness that has often characterized it. (I should note, though, that back in the late 1930s, Norman Thomas, the six-time socialist presidential candidate, supported the isolationist America First movement.)

Isolationism-cum-selfishness? Hardly, but then empathy, concern and internationalism are not reasons to go to war either. War is a serious business, and with Iran in full-fledged support of Assad, must be considered seriously. An “extraordinarily small ” strike is not a serious response. And the president’s speech last night indicated that he is not serious.

My point is that the more military action departs from the example of World War II as it exists in memory, and movies, the more reluctant the people. You need the Draft, War Songs, Bond Drives, and some kind of deprivation for the people so they feel involved.  Americans want to support their president, but when offered only an “extraordinarily small” reprimand, the people sense that there is no clear strategy there at all.

A Total Absence of Easy Answers Anywhere by The Elephant's Child

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has narrowly agreed to Obama’s request for approval of his show of force against Syria, and it will go on to the full Senate.  The President, in Stockholm, said that he didn’t draw a red line against the use of nerve gas — the world did, or our nation did — just don’t blame him. It is not his credibility that is at stake, it is America’s and Congress’s credibility, and the international community’s credibility. Besides he has the authority to act on his own anyway.

It seems to be the case that Mr. Obama was trying to set a trap for Republicans. If they said no, which he was sure they would, then they could be blamed for everything. He has never really been interested in foreign policy, and wanted only to diminish Americas posture in the world, because he thought we were something of an international bully. On the other hand, he takes great pleasure in reminding everyone that he is the leader of the free world, the commander-in chief of all he surveys, he just doesn’t want to do anything about it that could be blamed on him.

Secretary Kerry insists that it is Assad who used poison gas, but Secretary Kerry has untruthfully testified before and his credibility is at stake. It is a real conundrum for members of Congress, right and left. Obama has dithered and waffled, refused to make decisions, and insisted that it doesn’t make any difference when he chooses to act because the military told him it didn’t matter. The military, on the other had said simply that they would be ready to act.

So we have to do something, but just what the something is — is not defined. We were supposedly giving weapons to the Free Syrian Army, but that never happened. Is the Foreign Relation Committee getting better answers?

If the President is not serious, Republicans are. Some are deeply concerned that he is making a major mistake and want to discourage him. Others will support him because they do not want to diminish America’s authority when their president has made such public demands. It is not in the country’s best interest, or the world’s, to have an irreparably damaged U.S. President only a little more than eight months into his second term. Making the president look bad may be appealing to those who oppose his policies, but is it wise to do so on the world stage?

Republicans oppose ObamaCare, not because it is Obama’s initiative, but because it will collapse of its own error, doing irreparable damage to the country as it does. They oppose his demand for more spending, and increasing the national debt not to oppose his initiatives, but to keep him from further damaging the country.

On his brief visit to Sweden, it would be wise if Mr. Obama were to take notice of the Swedish economy. Sweden has long been a shining goal for the left as a typical European welfare state. In the past two decades, however, the country has transformed itself from a stagnant welfare state into a vibrant modern economy that has significantly advanced economic freedom — in contrast to Mr. Obama’s America where economic freedom has been declining at an alarming rate. (click to enlarge)

economic freedom in Sweden

Sweden has cut their spending as a portion of gross domestic product by about 20%, while America’s has increased by about 10%. Their corporate tax rate was 60 percent, and they have cut that to 26.3 percent. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has reduced the corporate rate further to 22 percent, and pointed out that corporate income tax is probably the most damaging of all. Sweden has survived the global downturn quite nicely. The U.S. would do well to follow their example. Don’t hold your breath.

A Moral Imperative to Save Face for Obama? by The Elephant's Child

What a mess the whole Syrian situation is. President Obama, in a desperate attempt to appear strong, yet avoid any military entanglements in Syria before the election, made the mistake of threatening Bashar al Assad with a “red line,” warning him of any use of chemical-weapons. That was a statement of sorts that anything short of chemical weapons would be receive no pushback. and Obama was portraying himself as weak and ineffective unless he did something.  Assad is now publicly chortling about how weak Obama is.

So now Mr. Obama is relying on his usual strategy of placing responsibility in the lap of Congress. If Republicans don’t go along, he can blame them for America’s failure, and avoid any responsibility himself. Those who do go along can face stronger primary challenges  using that vote against them. With Mr. Obama, it is always is about him, and he is above all — a political person.

There are no good answers, or even acceptable answers. Congress is asked to choose between a weak response that does nothing to end Syria’s civil war or depose Assad, or a “no” vote that harms American interests by making it clear that Obama has no support at home.

According to today’s news, apparently the weapons that were to be supplied to the Syrian dissidents have never reached them. There is much confusion about the rebels, and separating the various factions into the good guys and the bad guys. Some suggest that there are no good guys, but that is apparently not the case.

The Institute for the Study of War shows a map of the Divided Syria: (click to enlarge)

A Divided Syria
The dark grey areas are held by extremist groups like al Qaeda in Iraq, Jabhat al Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate, and are less interested in defeating Assad than they are in holding their Islamic emirate in the north of the country. The light grey areas are a collection of groups known as the Free Syrian Army that are fighting the regime.

John Kerry elaborated what the administration has in mind, but it doesn’t tell us much.

It will not involve any boots on the ground. It will not be open ended. And it will not assume responsibility for a civil war that is already well underway. The president has been clear: Any action that he might decide to take will be [a] limited and tailored response to ensure that a despot’s brutal and flagrant use of chemical weapons is held accountable.

Apparently chemical weapons are easily made, and some of our European friends have been selling them such materials. There are other players too, of course: Iran, Israel, Russia, al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Middle East. The idea that the above description of our action would hold Assad “accountable” and deter any future actions on his part seems a bit fatuous.

Obama is not claiming that military action will have an important effect of Syria, but rather that maintaining the international taboo against the use of chemical weapons is a moral imperative. So it is posturing, but without any real teeth. Foreign Policy says the U.S. had intelligence on the chemical strike before it was launched. But we took no action, so its not all that much of a moral imperative.

Joseph Curl, writing in the Washington Times, says it is simply a political calculation:

The first rule for President Obama: It’s all about 2014. The second rule for President Obama: See Rule No. 1.

Make no mistake: The president couldn’t care less about the plight of Syrians, the 1,500 gassed to death — including nearly 500 children. It’s all about 2014. Win the House, reign supreme.

Victor Davis Hanson summarizes the situation with his usual efficiency. “What are the president’s strategic objectives in the present mess? Does he know”

There are four general strategic options — predicated on the political fact that either the Congress will approve the operation or that the Obama administration will ignore it if it doesn’t, and that Obama is not worried about either the present absence of both public support and any militarily credible allies, and that he need not explain our primary objectives that will be made up as we go along.

Dr. Hanson also reminds us of the similar effort to restore credibility when Bill Clinton bombed an aspirin factory after the attacks on the East African embassies.

CORRECTION: Elizabeth O’Bagy who was the official at the Institute for the Study of War on whose work this piece was based has been discharged from the Institute for misrepresenting her academic qualifications. She was also, apparently, an adviser to John Kerry, but she represents the Free Syrian Army in Washington DC, and is not an unbiased source. So I don’t know if the map is correct or if the information is correct.

That Was Then, This is Now, And Tomorrow? by The Elephant's Child

Back in 2007, when Barack Obama was a mere senator, he was asked when Presidents have the authority to launch a military strike without congressional authorization. He had a precise answer at the ready. He told The Boston Globe:

The Supreme Court has never held that the president has such powers. As president, I will follow existing law, and when it comes to U.S. citizens and residents, I will only authorize surveillance for national security purposes consistent with FISA and other federal statutes.

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

The interview goes on, but of course it is hard to be consistent over time, and particularly when you are commenting on a situation and when you are embroiled in the situation yourself. Yet, it is useful to understand the changing views of an official. This is difficult territory. Still the interview is interesting, and Senator Obama is quick to grasp the opportunity to attack Bush with all the usual leftist talking points. Do not the comment on “warrantless surveillance of American citizens,” I think that’s something like hoist with your own petard.

The president, in an imprudent moment, announced that “Assad must go,” but did nothing at all to salvage his pronouncement, lessen the conflict, nor encouraged others to keep the rebellion from getting worse. Then he announced that he was drawing a”red line” in regard to chemical weapons, but did nothing about that either. People all over the Middle East seem to be killing their own people without any serious reaction from the rest of the world.

If we have a clear policy in regard to the Middle East, no one seems to know just what it is. One day Bashar al Assad is a “reformer”, then he is a perpetrator of crimes against humanity. Poison gas seems somehow worse than just shooting people, but for all of Obama’s declarations of red lines and crimes against humanity — we seem to have no policy except the delusion that all problems in the Middle East are because of the “conflict” between Israel and Palestine, and if the Israelis will just stop “building settlements” than all will be well. No mention of Palestinians rockets, of course.

It just doesn’t add up to a policy.


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