American Elephants


There Are Also Consequences to Not Having a Foreign Policy. by The Elephant's Child

In the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan says:

Sept. 11 started the century and brought forward the face of terrorism. It is still there and will continue to cause grave disruptions. Since then we have seen we are living in a time of uprisings, from the Mideast to Africa to the streets of Kiev. We are learning that history isn’t over in Europe, that East-West tensions can simmer and boil over, that the 20th century didn’t resolve as much as many had hoped.

A Mideast dictator last year used poison gas on his own population and strengthened his position. He’s winning. What does that tell the other dictators? What does it suggest about our future?

At the American Enterprise Institute, John Bolton writes:

President Obama has three significant Middle East diplomatic initiatives underway, treating, respectively, Iran’s nuclear weapons program; Syria’s deadly, exhausting conflict; and the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Into these negotiations, Obama and his administration have poured enormous amounts of American prestige, time and effort.

Although rarely considered collectively, these three efforts constitute a significant strategic package for a White House that all too often hardly bothers with foreign policy. These initiatives truly reflect Obama’s view of America’s international role: His is a world of rhetoric and talk, not power.

Thus, Iran has not feared U.S. military strikes against its nuclear weapons program, and now, as a result of November’s interim agreement in Geneva, it does not even fear international economic sanctions. Neither the Bashar Assad regime nor Al Qaeda terrorists in Syria see any prospect of material U.S. intervention. And the main pressure being applied in the Israeli-Palestinian matter is against Israel, heretofore Washington’s strongest regional ally.

The Obama administration’s three initiatives will come to naught because they are based on error. Iran uses negotiations to buy time to continue work on their nuclear program. Obama thought Russia shared his objective of a peaceful transition from the horror of the use of chemical weapons on his own people, to something else. We could have dealt with it directly by helping the opposition in Syria, or tackling the problem’s root cause, the regime of the mullahs in Tehran.

We don’t seem to know who our friends are. The Palestinians have no legitimate governing institutions that are capable of hard decisions, like making compromises or overcoming resistance from Hamas or other terrorists. A regime that trains its small children to grow up to be suicide bombers is not going to make reliable agreements about anything.

Failing to understand reality, and failing to grasp the consequences of such failure weakens the United States and emboldens our enemies.

An interview with Col. Austin Bay pointed out that there are approximately 200 wars going on currently in Africa — real wars.

Venezuela is falling apart. Their foreign minister blames the United States and called US Secretary of State John Kerry a “murderer” who has fomented unrest that has killed 28 people in their country. Since street demonstrations began against President Nicholas Maduro’s socialist government in early February, Venezuelan ministers have been accusing Washington of stirring u[ the country’s worst political troubles in a decade. President Maduro says that a bird is giving him advice from the late President Chavez.

There’s more, of course. Argentina is in deep trouble, our newly appointed ambassador neither speaks the language, nor has ever been to Argentina, but did provide significant funds for Obama’s reelection.

Qatar hosts the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command, but also supports the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and radical Sunni outfits in Syria. Support for Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels was too much for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the U.A.E. all recalled their ambassadors from Qatar.

And so the World turns on, altering and illuminating the affairs of man. Or something like that.



Could We Possibly Get to A Point Where We Are Not “Astonished” by Events? by The Elephant's Child

Politico report called it “a crisis no one anticipated.” The Daily Beast, reporting on Friday’s US intelligence assessment that “Vladimir Putin’s military would not invade Ukraine,” and quotes a Senate aide claiming that “no one really saw this kind of thing coming.” The American Interest noted that the mainstream media remains deeply convinced that President Obama and his dovish team are “the masters of foreign relations, nothing poor Putin did could possibly derail the stately progress of our genius president. There were, we were told lots of reasons not to worry about Ukraine. War is too costly for Russia’s weak economy. Trade would suffer, the ruble would take a hit. The 2008 war with Georgia is a bad historical comparison, Putin doesn’t want to spoil his upcoming G8 summit, or his good press from Sochi.”

How many times did foolishly confident American experts and officials come out with some variant of the phrase “We all share a common interest in a stable and prosperous Ukraine.” We may think that’s true, but Putin doesn’t.

We blame this in part on the absence of true intellectual and ideological diversity in so much of the academy, the policy world and the mainstream media. Most college kids at good schools today know many more people from different races and cultural groups than their grandparents did, but they are much less exposed to people who think outside the left-liberal box. How many faithful New York Times readers have no idea what American conservatives think, much less how Russian oligarchs do? Well bred and well read Americans live in an ideological and cultural cocoon and this makes them fatally slow to understand the very different motivations that animate actors ranging from the Tea Party to the Kremlin to, dare we say it, the Supreme Leader and Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As far as we can tell, the default assumption guiding our political leadership these days is that the people on the other side of the bargaining table (unless they are mindless Tea Party Republicans) are fundamentally reasonable people who see the world as we do, and are motivated by the same things that motivate us. Many people are, of course, guided by an outlook not all that dissimilar from the standard upper middle class gentry American set of progressive ideas. But some aren’t, and when worlds collide, trouble comes.

Canada has promptly recalled its ambassador to Russia, and cancelled their attendance at the G8 conference. The G7 are suspending their participation in any international summit in Russia. I think that The American Interest has it exactly right. The White House operates on the assumption that the people with whom we negotiate are really reasonable people who basically want the same things that we do.  Well, no they’re not. Has no one noticed that Putin has allied himself with Syria, Iran, North Korea. Moscow denounced the overthrow of Moscow’s man in Kiev, Viktor Yanukovych as the illegal work of fascist bandits.

Obama wants stability. He sees Ukraine as a crisis to be managed. Democracy must come organically from international developments, not imposed by outside intervention. What he does not understand is that American inaction creates a vacuum. Obama’s meaningless “red line” in Syria invited in Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Obama’s failure to get a status of forces agreement with Iraq invited in Iran and al Qaeda. And he is apparently ready to turn Afghanistan over to the Taliban. Obama’s lifting of the sanctions against Iran has allowed them the freedom to finish developing their nuclear weapons.

These are not reasonable people who want the same things we do.The citizens of these countries may be reasonable people, but their governments are a different bunch. The people of Iran were once quite cosmopolitan, but the Mullahs await the return of the Mahdi  and expect nuclear weapons to hasten the reestablishment of the Caliphate.

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The Saudis and  the leaders of the Gulf States are deeply worried about Iran. One might assume that they are more familiar with their neighbors than we are. We should perhaps pay attention.

Putin has told us over and over that the fall of Soviet Russia was the world’s greatest catastrophe, and he clearly regrets the loss of superpower status. Part of restoring the Soviet Union would seem to be recapturing its former satellite states. If we paid attention, and knew our history, we might anticipate such crises. That seems a worthy goal.



Thinking About U.S. Foreign Policy Or — Not Thinking. by The Elephant's Child

Daniel Greenfield wrote a few days ago:

It was the fall of ’38 and the motion was submitted to approve “the policy of His Majesty’s Government by which war was averted in the recent crisis and supports their efforts to secure a lasting peace.”

The policy being referred to was the Munich Agreement which carved up Czechoslovakia and the war being averted was World War II which would come shortly anyway. Of the hope that war would be averted through appeasement, Winston Churchill said, “Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonour. They chose dishonour. They will have war.”

Echoing that old Munich motion, the pro-Iran left is calling the nuclear deal that lets Iran keep its nukes and its targets their Geiger counters, Obama’s “achievement”. Any Democrat who challenges it is accused of obstructing the only foreign affairs achievement their figurehead can claim.

Victor Davis Hanson offered his view of the Obama Doctrine:

Summed up, the Obama Doctrine is a gradual retreat of the American presence worldwide — on the theory that our absence will lead to a vacuum better occupied by regional powers that know how to manage their neighborhood’s affairs and have greater legitimacy in their own spheres of influence. Any damage that might occur with the loss of the American omnipresence does not approximate the harm already done by American intrusiveness. The current global maladies — Islamist terrorism, Middle Eastern tensions, Chinese muscle-flexing, Russian obstructionism, resurgence of Communist autocracy in Latin America — will fade once the United States lowers its profile and keeps out of other nations’ business.

The methods to achieve this recessional are tricky — as they are for any aging sheriff, guns drawn, who hobbles slowly out of a crowded saloon on his last day on the job. American withdrawal must be facilitated by the semblance of power. That is, rhetoric, loud deadlines and red lines, and drones can for now approximate the old U.S. presence, as America insidiously abandons its 70-year role as architect of a global system that brought the world unprecedented security and prosperity. “No option is off the table” tells most foreign leaders that very probably no option ever was on it.

Winston Churchill, to the House of Commons May 2, 1935:

It is possible that the dangers into which we are steadily advancing would never have arisen…[but] when the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which might have effected a cure.

There is nothing new to the story. It is as old as [Rome]. It falls into that long dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foreign, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong — these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.

Dore Gold, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States:

The US and Iran speak very different diplomatic languages that cannot be bridged by a dictionary alone. In the West, candor is central to confidence-building; for the diplomats of the Islamic Republic, deception is a way of life.

Daniel Pipes, in the Washington Times:

The recent fall of Fallujah, Iraq, to an Al-Qaeda-linked group provides an unwelcome reminder of the American resources and lives devoted in 2004 to 2007 to control the city – all that effort expended and nothing to show for it. Similarly, outlays of hundreds of billions of dollars to modernize Afghanistan did not prevent the release of 72 prisoners who have attacked Americans.

[Maladies] run so deep in the Middle East that outside powers cannot remedy them. Water is running out. A dam going up on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia threatens substantially to cut Egypt’s main water supply by devastating amounts for years. Syria and Iraq suffer from water crises because the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers are drying up. [The] poorly constructed Mosul Dam in Iraq could collapse, frowning half-a-million immediately land leave many more stranded without electricity or food. Sewage runs rampant in Gaza. Many countries suffer from electricity black-outs and especially in the oppressive summer heat that routinely reaches 120 degrees.

People are also running out. After experiencing a huge and disruptive youth bulge, the region’s birth rate is collapsing. Iran, for example, has undergone the steepest decline in birth rates of any country ever recorded, going from 6.6 births per woman in 1977 to 1.6 births in 2012. This has created what one analyst calls an “apocalyptic panic” that fuels Tehran’s aggression.

The Wall Street Journal offered “An Obama Foreign Policy IQ Test:”

During a visit to Washington last week, U.S. commander in Afghanistan General Joseph Dunford offered a take-it-or-leave-it scenario: Maintain a post-2014 force of 10,000-strong that is minimally sufficient to train the Afghan military and protect U.S. diplomats, spies, aid workers and troops—or pull out entirely at year’s end. The Pentagon added a political sweetener by calling for a complete withdrawal of the residual force within two years. In other words Mr. Obama could claim to have ended the Afghan war as he leaves office. The generals know their Commander in Chief.

President Obama has been here before. In his first term he had to deal with a difficult leader about a future U.S. military presence in Iraq. He settled for a complete pullout. Unlike in Afghanistan today, at least the war in Iraq was over and the country’s military was reasonably well-trained and funded.

We now know the Iraqi withdrawal was one of the President’s worst blunders. Without America’s calming presence, Iraqi politicians reverted to bad sectarian habits. U.S. troops could have also helped stop the jihadist spillover into Iraq from Syria’s civil war. Al Qaeda has returned and taken control of chunks of Anbar Province, which had been pacified at great cost in American lives.



Today’s Must Read Essay, Not to Be Missed. by The Elephant's Child

Today’s must read column is by Victor Davis Hanson, who explains the Obama Doctrine for America — our foreign policy, theory and practice.

Summed up, the Obama Doctrine is a gradual retreat of the American presence worldwide — on the theory that our absence will lead to a vacuum better occupied by regional powers that know how to manage their neighborhood’s affairs and have greater legitimacy in their own spheres of influence. Any damage that might occur with the loss of the American omnipresence does not approximate the harm already done by American intrusiveness. The current global maladies — Islamist terrorism, Middle Eastern tensions, Chinese muscle-flexing, Russian obstructionism, resurgence of Communist autocracy in Latin America — will fade once the United States lowers its profile and keeps out of other nations’ business.

Do read the whole thing. I think Dr. Hanson is spot on, though I wish it were otherwise. We will pay a high price for our gullibility in electing this man.

If you find that piece rewarding, as I did, you may appreciate Dr. Hanson’s self-described ‘apocalyptic essay’ on Monday, in which he is not so optimistic, but excellent, as always.

 



Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures And Why They Matter. by The Elephant's Child

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Mackubin “Mac” Owens is an American military historian. He has been a Dean at the Naval War College, a senior fellow at the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and is the editor of its journal Orbis. He had an important column on Obama’s Foreign Policy at Real Clear World this week, one that everyone should read, to understand the shambles of American Foreign Policy, what we’re doing, and why it matters.

U.S. foreign policy is in shambles, characterized by drift and incoherence. It is at best a-strategic at worst anti-strategic, lacking any concept of how to apply limited resources to obtain our foreign policy goals because this administration has articulated no clear goals or objectives to be achieved. The foreign policy failures of the Obama Administration are legion: the Russian “reset” that has enabled Vladimir Putin to strut about as a latter-day czar; the betrayal of allies, especially in Central Europe, not to mention Israel; snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq by failing to achieve a status of forces agreement (SOFA) that would help to keep Iraq out of the Iranian orbit; the muddled approach to Afghanistan; our feckless policy-or lack of policy-regarding Iranian nuclear weapons, not to mention Libya and Benghazi, as well as Syria. President Obama has said that he was elected to end wars, not to start them, as if wars are fought for their own purpose. Ending wars is no virtue if the chance for success has been thrown away, as it was in Iraq.

Observers disagree about the causes of the Obama failures in foreign policy. Some attribute them to indifference, others to incompetence-although the two are not unrelated. Still others contend that the results we are seeing represent the desired outcomes of more insidious motivations. But no matter the cause of Obama’s dysfunctional foreign policy, the result is the same: weakness that opens the way for those who wish America ill. Winston Churchill’s 1936 characterization of the Stanley Baldwin government as Hitler gained strength on the Continent echoes ominously today: it was, said Churchill, “decided only to be undecided, resolved to irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”

To the extent that it has any intellectual foundation, the Obama foreign policy represents a species of “liberal internationalism,” which holds that the actors in the international political system (IPS) tend towards cooperation rather than competition. Liberal internationalists contend that the goals of actors within the IPS transcend power and security; they also see an important role for actors in the IPS other than states, including international institutions such as the United Nations.

Here is the rest of the story:

 



The Oddities of Thanksgiving Day by The Elephant's Child

Light blogging. Yesterday was a cooking day. Well-brined turkey, sage stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes with a dollop of brandy and cream (NO marshmallows), a pureé of broccoli and green beans, Idaho potatoes, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. The president had 11 different kinds of pie, and a side of traditional macaroni and cheese. Do other people do this? I had never heard of macaroni and cheese as a Thanksgiving day specialty. It’s always interesting to hear about other people’s Thanksgiving traditions.

We are of Yankee heritage and do not do cornbread stuffing. My father handed down his Southern grandmother’s cornbread recipe which I cherish — but not in the bird. I used to do oyster stuffing in one end and sage in the other, but got too many complaints from non-oyster people. The vegetable of choice here seems to be brussles sprouts, as my grocery always starts off with a big display which is quickly decimated. I have never been able to make friends with the sprout, though I love cabbage. (Fresh cabbage in ½” dice, sauteed quickly in butter, dollop of sour cream and lots of black pepper).

The loony left was out with their usual ignorant “Genocide Day” huffings that America had committed genocide on the American Indians, and concurrently that in that picture of George W. Bush’s surprise Thanksgiving Day visit with the troops in Afghanistan — that was a plastic turkey.



Saudi Arabia Threatens to Sever Diplomatic Ties With U.S. by The Elephant's Child

And on the Foreign Policy front, all is not well either. So how is that vow to “repair America’s frayed alliances” supposedly frayed and battered by the Bush administration working out?

The Kingdom is not keeping secret any longer its disgust with the administration’s policy drift in the Middle East. Prince Turki al Faisal, the former Saudi ambassador in Washington explained his view of the deal Washington struck with Moscow over Syria’s chemical weapons.

“The current charade of international control over Bashar’s chemical arsenal,” the Prince told a London audience, “would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious, and designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down, but also to help Assad butcher his people.” It’s a rare occasion when a Saudi royal has the moral standing to lecture an American President, but this was one of them.

The Saudis asked the U.S. to beef up our naval presence in the Persian Gulf against a potential Iranian counter-strike, only to be told that we didn’t have the ships. Mr. Obama was nonchalant about our shrinking Navy. But there are consequences for our actions on the international scene.

If you look at foreign newspapers, it is surprising how much of their “news” is devoted to America and what we’re doing, whether it’s fads or politics or policy. Americans, on the other hand, probably because we live in a big country with major cities across the U.S., don’t really pay much attention to what is going on elsewhere. Part of that is simply language. Most other countries learn English as their second language, Most Americans take a language course in high school, but never learn to speak one.

Mr. Obama has been quite clear that he wants the U.S. to be just another nation among other nations, not a superpower. He opposed the Iraq War as a “dumb war” with no understanding of why we were there, and assumed that the only reason for being in Afghanistan was to “get” bin Laden, which he couldn’t quite bring himself to order when it came to it, until forced into it. We had won the Iraq war, but V.P. Biden could not arrange a status-of-forces agreement, and when al Qaeda in Iraq returned and started killing Iraqis, their foreign minister begged for us to return, but too late. The War in Afghanistan was to be conducted “nicely,” with our troops training Afghan recruits with unloaded weapons to show our niceness, which got a lot of our troops killed. I would be willing to bet that Mr. Obama has never seen a military movie, nor read either any military history, nor any of the great military novels. I may be wrong.

The troubles with Saudi Arabia have been developing for some time. David Ignatius wrote that “Saudi officials in Riyadh that they told him that they increasingly regarded the U.S. as unreliable and would look elsewhere for their security. in 2011.” They were dismayed when we deposed Mubarak and even more so when we backed the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi. They are afraid of the Iran/Syria nuclear adventurism, as are many other countries in the Middle East, with reason. The Syrian rebels have learned that there really aren’t any red lines, and any adversary can call our bluff. Obama is more eager to court enemies than reassure friends, as the Poles and Czechs have learned, when we withdrew ballistic-missile defense as a way to appease the Russians.

Fouad Ajami explains the problems of the Obama foreign policy cogently in a piece at the Wall Street Journal today, which may be behind a subscription barrier, but read it if you can.

We must not underestimate the tenacity of this regime and its will to rule. We should see through the rosy Twitter messages of President Hasan Rouhani, and the PowerPoint presentations of his foreign minister, Mohammed Jawad Zarif. These men carry out the writ of the supreme leader and can only go as far as the limit drawn by the Revolutionary Guard. …

The gullibility of Mr. Obama’s pursuit of an opening with Iran has unsettled America’s allies in the region. In Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates there is a powerful feeling of abandonment. In Israel, there is the bitter realization that America’s strongest ally in region is now made to look like the final holdout against a blissful era of compromise that will calm a turbulent region. A sound U.S. diplomatic course with Iran would never have run so far ahead of Israel’s interests and of the region’s moderate anti-Iranian Arab coalition.



The Most Important Essay You Will Read This Year! by The Elephant's Child

Commentary Magazine has published a preview article from its September issue at their “Contentions” blog: “The Citizen of the World Presidency” by Elliott Abrams. He is a deeply thoughtful Foreign Policy scholar, and the lengthy essay is quite wonderful. If you are not alarmed about American foreign policy, you haven’t been paying attention. 

It is perhaps more a growing sense of unease, trying to figure out what our foreign policy, if any, is? Mr. Abrams spells out where we are, and shares the unease. The essay is, in a way, comforting, for it clarifies that our worries are not unique and we are not alone. Do read the whole thing, it is deeply informative, and if unsettling, will give you not only food for thought, but new direction. Probably the most important essay you will read this year.



Liberalism’s Continuing Inability to Make Sense* by The Elephant's Child

Did we slip into some parallel universe when I wasn’t looking?  In today’s news: Homeland Security loses track of one million foreigners. Homeland Security knows that they arrived in the United States, but they cannot prove that they left the country.An internal audit found that the department won’t meet its own goals for deploying an entry-exit system — a 2004 statutory requirement. So Janet Napolitano, basking in such successes has moved on to run the California  University system, at an enormous jump in remuneration.

The union that represents the people who would have to decide who gets legalized under any new immigration law said that the Obama administration is not ready to handle such an influx of applications. Even limited legalization such as just granting citizenship rights to so-called Dream Act immigrants could lead to problems. “I cannot stress enough how ill-equipped USCIS is to engage in the sort of far-reaching plans before Congress right now— including both the enormous legalization programs proposed as well as the historic increases in both immigrant and non-immigrant visas: said Kenneth Palinkas, president of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Council.

Without much publicity or official announcements the United States has released five top Taliban detainees from Guantanamo as a goodwill gesture to the Taliban. There are no reports of the Taliban releasing captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl. A U.S. official said that the prisoners were released under the condition that they will not engage in any violent activity.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in pursuing Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act  which prohibits discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion, sex , or national origin has alleged that retailers Dollar General and a US subsidiary of auto maker BMW have broken federal law by using criminal background checks in employment decisions. State Attorneys Generals are pushing back: “An employer may have any number of business-driven reasons for not wanting to hire individuals who have been convicted of rape, assault, child abuse, weapons violations or murder — all crimes specifically mentioned in the complaints. No matter how unfair a bright-line criminal background check might seem to some, it i s not your agency’s role to expand the protections of Title VII under the pretext of preventing racial discrimination.”

Contra Costa County, CA, won the right to run a health care call center where workers will answer questions to help implement ObamaCare, and the over 200 jobs it will provide. Half the jobs will be part-time, so the call center does not have to provide health care benefits. The County had about 7,000 applicants for jobs with good working wages and benefits — Supervisors had no idea the jobs would be part-time.

Could be a parallel universe,  just a bad dream, or — your government at work.

* A line from William Voegeli’s Never Enough



We’re Going to Talk to the Taliban, Talk to the Taliban, No One’s Asking Why. by The Elephant's Child

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The United States is commencing negotiations with the Taliban — the people who are trying to kill American soldiers every day. What is it that we are negotiating? The Taliban has no reason to negotiate seriously with us. Obama has already scheduled when our troops are leaving, so the prospects for a Taliban military victory in Afghanistan would seem to be good. Why would the Taliban make concessions of any kind?

Investors said today that Obama “is practically engineering a silent coup against flawed Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with whom we replaced the Taliban in 2001. He’s copying America’s worst mistake of the Vietnam War, when the Kennedy administration betrayed South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem 50 years ago.

Karzai  backed out of impending talks with the Taliban after the U.S. announced its diplomats will negotiate directly with the country’s bloodthirsty former rulers.  The American announcement was met by a Taliban rocket attack on Bagram Air Base that killed four of our troops and wounded six others.

More to Karzai’s distaste, however, the political office the Taliban opened in Qatar on the same day the U.S. formally announced our nationwide transfer of security to Afghan government forces bears the name the Taliban used as rulers, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It sounds awfully like a provisional government.

Karzai, whose father was gunned down by the Taliban outside a mosque in 1999, can read the writing on the wall. His days are numbered.

Back in 2007, when Obama was first campaigning for president, he argued that the Iraq war was a diversion from U.S. national interests, and that the legitimate war — the one Americans needed to win— was in Afghanistan. Since then he’s been trying to talk back the idea of victory. By setting a deadline for when we’d be out, Obama lost the confidence of America’s allies among the Afghans and convinced the Taliban and the Pakistanis that their strategy was working.

If they follow their usual course, the Taliban will turn on and purge any pro-Western Afghans as soon as the last Americans depart. Our allies who have sent troops to help with the fight in Afghanistan will lose even more confidence in the trustworthiness of America. And as Michael Rubin wrote: “the idea that Taliban terrorism defeated a superpower is what every Islamist from Minneapolis to Mogadishu and from Tehran to Timbuktu will conclude, as they plot their future strategy and tactics in their ideological confrontation with Western Liberalism.” That does not bode well.

Obama came into office with profound ignorance of foreign policy, and was sure that his visit to Pakistan when he was in college,  and living in a Muslim country as a child gave him a special ability to make peace with the Islamist world. That went well.

He carelessly threw away a hard-fought victory in Iraq, his embarrassing misunderstanding of the Arab Spring has ignited a sectarian war across the Middle East, and convinced our allies that the United States of America is weak and not to be trusted. In his canned speech at the Brandenburg Gate, he announced new efforts to shut down Guantanamo Bay, which suggest he may meet the Taliban demand that he release Taliban detainees.

Having successfully weakened America’s position in the world, and with apparent indifference to the increasing danger of nuclear proliferation  — is he still counting on talks with Iran, North Korea and China?—he announced that he wants to cut our nuclear arsenal by one-third, because he thinks nuclear disarmament is a really swell idea. Has he learned yet that Vladimir Putin is really not a nice guy?

Opening talks with the Taliban have been “delayed,” just announced on the radio. The Taliban went overboard with the new offices in Qatar, importantly named “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and with a Taliban flag flying over the office. Bad move. With Karzai backing out of talks, apparently someone in the administration has finally noticed that this is not cool at all. More backroom shuffling around. More statements for the public to paper over the pretensions of noble intent. Can’t be done. Dreadful stupid mistaken mess. .



The Drawdown Diet for Marines: by The Elephant's Child

While the workday here is usually considered to be eight hours, for the Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province the workday is twelve hours long. The midnight ration service — known as “midrats” —supplies breakfast to Marines on the midnight-to-noon shift, and dinner to the Marines who are ending the noon-to-midnight work period.  It’s described as one of the few times the Marines can be together in one place.

Starting Saturday, they don’t get a hot cooked meal, but a pre-packaged MRE (meal ready to eat). They are also removing the 24-hour sandwich bar. There aren’t a lot of luxuries at Camp Leatherneck. A hot meal doesn’t seem too much to ask. The federal government has lost interest in Afghanistan and the dismantling of U.S. military facilities. More than 30,000 U.S. service members will leave Afghanistan in coming months as the U.S. prepares to hand the country over to the Taliban in 2014. ["responsibility for security to Afghan forces in 2014"].

This may seem to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as a good way to save money, since they are winding down. But it is a huge blow to morale. Since Mr. Hagel’s only qualification for his current position was that he had been an enlisted man in Vietnam, one would think he would be more sensitive to the needs of the troops on the ground. It’s embarrassing. MREs are meant to be an alternative when real food is not possible. The Marines are furious. Lt. Col Cliff Gilmore who has been deployed to Afghanistan since February has the unenviable task of enforcing rules handed down.

“The fact is our force in Afghanistan is shrinking fast and all the creature comforts and services deployed military-members have grown accustomed to over the past decade are going to be reduced,” Gilmore wrote in an email to NBC News. “When serving we are challenged to endure different things — to face different challenges — over time. But we’re an odd bunch, we Marines — probably no surprise that we’ll complain more about losing the sandwich bar on the way out than we did about getting shot at on the way in.”

The tactical reason for the cooking scale-down is that the people who are assigned to “support services” — such as food workers — “need to go home before the people who provide the security which enables those services,” Gilmore wrote. “This is a natural outcome of the drawdown process unrelated to sequestration or the ongoing budget issues back in the States.”

Here at home military families are gearing up to spur food donations for all the troops in Afghanistan, and have launched a Facebook page called “Breakfast for Bagram,” to try to relieve  the monotony of MREs.




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