American Elephants

Digging the Hole Deeper. by The Elephant's Child


The President’s Speech from the White House hall attempted to hit all the necessary buttons. He went for a big emotional appeal on the horrors of chemical warfare, especially on children. He attempted to portray himself as a peace president. He ended the Iraq War, the troops are coming home from Afghanistan, endless wars that have been going on for a decade. He’s not Bush. He has invoked that for five years, but hasn’t got tired of it yet. He’s not going to do War. He’s not going to do Libya nor Kosovo. He has authority to do a retaliatory strike. Then he punched the patriotism button “The American Military doesn’t do pinpoint strikes”

The problem is, of course, that he was speaking with (as somebody said) Kerry’s foot in his mouth. The “unbelievably small” one. Yesterday, in passing, he invoked his Nobel Peace Prize, which was embarrassing, but he seems unaware that the Swedes momentary enthusiasm for the first black president was incredibly misplaced. He did not repeat that error in this speech. Yet he made no case for a limited retaliatory strike. You expected him to wave some papers and declare “Peace in our time.”

Ideally, when a dictator uses chemical weapons on his own people, a pinpoint strike with a very large bomb on the courtyard of the palace the very next day would effectively make the point. It’s the dithering around, the indecision, the failure to know where the palace courtyard is that make it clear that we haven’t been taking foreign policy seriously.

Charles Crawford, who was HM Ambassador in Sarajevo (1996-1998), Belgrade (2001-2003), and Poland (2003-2007) wrote in the Telegraph that “Monday 9 September, 2013 was the worst day for US and wider Western diplomacy since records began.

“At the Foreign Office here in London. We had the bizarre spectacle of US Secretary of State John Kerry giving a businesslike account of diplomatic incentives.”

If one party believes that it can rub out countless numbers of his own citizens with impunity using chemicals that have been banned for nearly 100 years because of what Europe learned in World War I, if he can do that with impunity, he will never come to a negotiating table … If you don’t draw those lines, and the civilized world is not prepared to enforce those lines, you are giving complete license to people to do whatever they want.

“However, almost in the same breath John Kerry blew up the logic of his own position by assuring a bemused world that any bombing by the United States would be “unbelievably small.”

You know the rest. Kerry bumbled on about if Assad gave up his weapons in the next week, and Putin tossed out a line about demanding Assad to put his weapons under international control, and Obama seeing the fly and not recognizing the hook— bit.  In the middle of a civil war? This is not going to happen. It is impossible. Chemical weapons are impossibly dangerous to handle. A new process of setting up a monitoring and destruction regime would give Assad a boost of legitimacy…

Obama has been uninterested in foreign policy, which interferes with fundamentally transforming America, and forgets that the main job of the President of the United States is paying attention to foreign policy. He is sure that the problems in the Middle East are all the result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He thinks the only bad guys are al Qaeda, and does not recognize the central role in terror of the Muslim Brotherhood. He got rid of all the dictators in North Africa, without recognizing that they at least kept a lid on things, and has left chaos in his wake.

This is not going to end well.

P.S. America is a Constitutional Republic, not a Constitutional Democracy.

The Consequences of Drawing Red Lines by The Elephant's Child

I have been an opponent of President Obama’s policies from the beginning. I didn’t believe he had the necessary experience for the highest office in the land, and he has lived up to that expectation. He does not understand economics, even the most basic economics, and his attachment to Keynesian theory and pump-priming have waged disaster on our economy. He has been sure that just spending more money is the answer to most any problem. It’s not.

His early statement that we were “five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America” sent chills down my back. His view of what is wrong with this country and needs to be transformed is completely at odds with my views. His insistence that the United States is not an exceptional country — or at least no more exceptional than any other — shows an unusual unfamiliarity with our history.

I will excuse quite a bit in most people because we are only imperfect humans, vain, ignorant, self-important, conceited, occasionally clever, jealous, greedy, the list goes on and on. There are no perfect people — even those we love most dearly have flaws which we choose to ignore. We speak and all too often say things we shouldn’t have said. But a president does not have that option.

The United States remains a powerful nation, and the words a president uses have consequences. That’s why presidents have many speechwriters, and senior advisers, and teleprompters too. To keep them from making clumsy international mistakes.

The President is now saying that he was elected to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t recall that. He was elected to be the first black president, and hope and change. We just didn’t know what he meant by change. He even mentioned his laughable Nobel Peace Prize today as some sort of resume enhancement. I do remember his claim that Iraq was a “dumb war” and his apparent belief that the only reason we were in Afghanistan was to “get Osama bin Laden.” Which he (The Seals) did, so now we’re done over there and we should just quit? Well, you don’t just “quit” wars. You win them or you lose them.

Yes, the President clearly opposes war. I don’t know of anyone that wants wars, but nations have interests and through misguided policies and ill-defined statements, and red lines, and bumbling, and dithering — wars have started that nobody wanted.

The Secretary of State also has speechwriters, but he wandered off track to say that we weren’t going to War in Syria, we were just going to do something “unbelievably small,” which prompted John McCain to note that was “unbelievably unhelpful.” Kerry added that Assad could turn over his chemical weapons to an international authority within the next few days ,and then we’d see. So Vladimir Putin immediately jumped on that and demanded that Assad turn over his weapons, then Hillary, forgetting that she no longer is the Secretary, chimed in to urge Assad to turn over the weapons, and blathered something about “holding Assad and the Russians to account.” The usual Hillary talk. President Obama may see an “out” in Putin’s demand. Another flip.

I believe that in international affairs you have to support your country, and keep  your policy disagreements with the president at home. President Obama is not making that easy. He’s all over the map, and as usual, it is all about him, not the nation. He has destroyed his credibility with his own party, he never really had any with Republicans, and he is losing what credibility he had internationally.  He is sending a message that he is not serious.

The president needs to learn that his words have consequences internationally. His statements are reported internationally. When he dithers, that is reported internationally too.  This time it isn’t about you, Mr. President. It is about America. There are consequences. When you find yourself in a hole, the best advice — is to stop digging.

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.

It’s Hard to Make Big Decisions, And To Make Them Honorably. by The Elephant's Child

On Saturday, President Obama spoke briefly to reporters, in the Rose Garden, about his decision to strike militarily at Syria in response the their gassing of 1500 Syrians and women and children, and to request authorization from Congress — then headed for the golf course.

Congress has no plans to cut short their 30 day vacation, the president did not call lawmakers back into session. No urgency. Military assets are in place, and ready for him to take action any time, no rush.

At the Washington Times, Joseph Curl says:

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. …

The conventional wisdom is, as usual, wrong. Losing the congressional vote won’t be an embarrassment for the president, as all the talking heads are still parroting. A loss would be a double win. First, because a “No” vote would allow the foreign policy neophyte to walk away from his blundering “red line” declaration on chemical weapons (“I wanted to go in, but Congress said no”). And second, should Republicans who voted for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars now oppose Syria, the president would be armed with clear “evidence” that their opposition is purely political.

Victor Davis Hanson says that “Obama Indicts Obama:”

One of the problems that Barack Obama has in mounting an attack against the Assad regime is that the gambit violates every argument Barack Obama used against the Bush administration to establish his own anti-war candidacy.

The hypocrisy is so stunning that it infuriates his critics and stuns his supporters.

Deriding the Iraq war was Obama’s signature selling point. He used it to great effect against both Hillary Clinton (who voted for the war) in the Democratic primaries and John McCain in the general election. For the last five years, disparagement of “Iraq” and “Bush” has seemed to intrude into almost every sentence the president utters.

And now? His sudden pro-war stance makes a number of hypocritical assumptions. First, the U.S. president can attack a sovereign nation without authorization from Congress (unlike the Iraq war when George W. Bush obtained authorization from both houses of Congress). Even if Obama gets a no vote, he said that he reserves the right to strike.

At the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin points out that “Obama’s politicizing national security:”

Democrats routinely accused President George W. Bush of “politicizing” national security, meaning that he allegedly would use national security success to bolster his political standing. Not only has President Obama exceeded that by leaps and bounds, by continually boasting about killing Osama bin Laden (and setting al-Qaeda back on its heels), but he has dragged domestic partisanship into national security. That is far more dangerous and inappropriate than anything Bush ever imagined.

Three important pieces for understanding the case of Syria. Is it a humanitarian necessity, a political ploy or simply about the 2014 election? Obama may be trying casually to trap Republicans and make them look bad, but if so how can you put American lives at risk?

A Level of Intensity Just Muscular Enough Not to Get Mocked by The Elephant's Child


Syria.  The U.S. goal is “not to get mocked?” We are going to attack sooner or later, but time is not of the essence, we can do it any time. We’re not going to attack Assad, nor his chemical weapons supplies, and we don’t want to hurt anyone.

A U.S. official said that the initial target lists included fewer than 50 sites, including air bases where Syria’s Russian-made attack helicopters are. The list includes command and control centers as well as a variety of conventional military targets. Perhaps two to three missiles would be aimed at each site.

What the hell is this? Don Rumsfeld remarked that “De-mystifying what you’re going to do to the enemy is — mindless. …There hasn’t been any indication from the administration in respect to what our national interest is.”

Mark Steyn thoughtfully added:

So what do we want in Syria? Obama can’t say, other than for him to look muscular without being mocked, like a camp bodybuilder admiring himself in the gym mirror. …

Meanwhile, the hyperpower is going to war because Obama wandered off prompter and accidentally made a threat. So he has to make good on it, or America will lose its credibility. But he only wants to make good on it in a perfunctory and ineffectual way. So America will lose its credibility, anyway.

Everybody is commenting. Vladimir Putin said he is sure that the attack was the work of rebels trying to provoke international— and especially American — involvement in the Syrian conflict. The government of Bashar al Assad, he said, would have no reason to use chemical weapons at a time when it had gained the upper hand in the fighting.

U.S. Intelligence agencies had indications three days beforehand that the Syrian regime was poised to launch a lethal chemical attack that killed more than a thousand people.

This kind of thing promotes endless speculation, which is of course useless, since you can’t get into another person’s mind, but you speculate anyway. Obama has been quoted some time back saying he didn’t believe anyone should be able to have a gun. I wonder if he has ever been to a war movie, or read any military history? He came of age when it was fashionable among lefties to protest all wars, in mindless ignorance of what they were actually about.

I spent a good part of last Sunday at Seattle’s Museum of Flight touring a B-17, admiring what was at the time, the brand new Navy Corsair, and the astonishingly huge X-15 Blackbird. I have always read military books. I cannot imagine being so unfamiliar with things military that I would confuse corps and corpse. But if you identify something as bad or evil, you’re not apt to pursue information about that subject, and you turn for information to the writers and historians who agree with you.  Trouble is, your ignorance usually catches up with you, especially when you’re trying to sound in charge.

No rush. Obama will consult with Congress, though he says, he is perfectly entitled to act on his own. Here’s the actual quote from the Los Angeles Times:

One U.S. official who has been briefed on the options on Syria said he believed the White House would seek a level of intensity “just muscular enough not to get mocked” but not so devastating that it would prompt a response from Syrian allies Iran and Russia.

The Pentagon Calls the Founding Fathers “Extremists” by The Elephant's Child

Major Nidal Hasan the U.S. Army Psychiatrist who opened fire on dozens of soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, has been found guilty of murdering thirteen people and of attempted murder of thirty-two by a panel of senior officers. In the sentencing phase of the trial, the panel has recommended that he be put to death, an unusual punishment for a military tribunal.  The entire incident remains classified by the U.S. government as “workplace violence” — a ludicrous euphemism for what was clearly a jihadist attack, and what Major Hasan has admitted that he intended.

Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim, admitted responsibility for the shooting at the start of the trial, saying he had been on the wrong side of a war against Islam and had switched over. During the proceedings, he declined to call any witnesses, testify or give a closing argument. He was prohibited by military law from entering a guilty plea.

At a pretrial hearing, the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, ruled that Hasan could not defend himself by arguing that he carried out the killings to protect Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. Instead, the defendant chose to make his case to the public through communiques and authorized leaks to newspapers, arguing that he was waging jihad because of the United States’ “illegal and immoral aggression against Muslims” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now the trial enters an appeals process, which will take several years. Hasan clearly prefers the death sentence, but appeals courts are unlikely to allow him to represent himself.

Those not on trial were those who, out of reluctance to offend or to appear Islamophobic, passed him on through training, ignoring his Jihadist outbursts, close association with Anwar al Awaliki the Muslim Imam who had decamped for Yemen, and statements about Islam. Even after the shooting, a ranking officer in his division remarked that it would be the greatest of tragedies if our diversity is harmed.

There are increasing signs that political correctness has reared its ugly influence in our nation’s military. So far it has killed far more of our soldiers than just the 13 at Fort Hood. The “Blue on Green” attacks in Afghanistan, where our troops are forbidden to carry loaded weapons to show their trust of their Afghan trainees is an inexcusable violation of basic safety — yet such a thing could not happen without orders and policy from above.

The “workplace violence” designation deprives the Fort Hood’s wounded of benefits, and recognition in a shameful way. The Obama administration still insists that Nidal Hasan was not a terrorist — an ongoing and embarrassing lie.

In the meantime, military training has become a strange world where the Founding Fathers have become depicted as extremists and conservative groups are defined as “hate groups.”

Saying “Give me liberty or give me death” qualifies Patrick Henry as an extremist, according to the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute training guide which has been obtained by Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information Act Request. …

Under a section titled “Extremist Ideologies,” the document states, “In U.S. history, there are many examples of extremist ideologies and movements. The colonists who sought to free themselves from British rule and the Confederate states who sought to secede from the Northern states are just two examples.”…

“Nowadays, instead of dressing in sheets or publicly espousing hate messages, many extremists will talk of individual liberties, states’ rights, and how to make the world a better place,” the Pentagon guide advises.

This is an emerging, and very troubling pattern.

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.

Fort Hood, The United States Army, Political Correctness. by The Elephant's Child


On November 5, 2009, at Fort Hood Texas, Major Nidal Hasan jumped on to a desk and shouting “God is great” in Arabic, started shooting with two handguns and extra clips. He killed 13 of his fellow soldiers, and wounded more than 30 others. He was not a combat trained soldier, but a psychologist. How could one man manage such carnage — on a military base?  Easy, Fort Hood was a “gun-free zone.”

Hasan is a Major, and a Muslim. He has never denied the killings, but freely admitted it. So the administration has labeled the massacre “workplace violence.” Our military has surrendered to political correctness.  They may not be defeated on the battlefield, but their effectiveness as a force will be nibbled away into insignificance as they struggle ever more vigilantly never to offend. The United States Military — our most revered institution.

Major Hasan released a manifesto to Fox News  a few days ago. The self-described Soldier of Allah sent several documents in which he explained himself as a jihadist, which he wrote while incarcerated. “American democracy places the sovereignty of man over the sovereignty of All-Mighty God. In American democracy “we the people” decide what is right or wrong, even if it goes against what All-Mighty God commands.”

I, Nidal Malik Hasan, am compelled to renounce any oaths of allegiances that require me to support/defend any man-made constitution (like the Constitution of the United States) over the commandments mandated in Islam (Quran and Sunnah). … I therefore formally renounce my oath of office as well as any other implicit or explicit oaths I have made in the past that associate partners with All-Mighty God [sic]. This includes my oath of U.S. citizenship.

He is annoyed that his act of jihad has not achieved the proper context. He wants to convince us that he is a faithful student of the Quran and is obeying God’s law. The fact that this Muslim jihadist was employed by the U.S. Military to provide psychological counseling to servicemen is so illogical to indicate severe dysfunction within the armed forces. There were plentiful signs that Major Hasan was becoming a close student and disciple of Anwar al Awaliki, since departed by drone in Yemen. Over and over clear indications that all was not well with this officer were overlooked, dismissed, ignored, apparently for fear of being accused of career-damaging Islamophobia — itself a clear indication that political correctness has developed deep roots.

Why has it taken 4 years? What has transpired in such a long period. Hasan grew a beard in obedience to Islamic law and against military rules? He was forced to shave, and the officer who forced him to shave was dismissed from the court. He has been collecting his $278,000 pay since the shooting. Has he been allowed to contribute that to Islamic ‘charities?’  Who knows. His only expression of regret was an acknowledgement that he was among “imperfect Muslims trying to establish the perfect religion.”

“I apologize for any mistakes I made in this endeavor,” said Hasan.

He has asked to be executed, but the military does not allow such a plea. And the military has not executed any prisoner in nearly a century. Execution probably sounds better with the promise of all those virgins than a life as a paraplegic in a wheelchair.

I am far more concerned about what this whole mess says about the state of the United States Army, and about the Obama administration. The “workplace violence” designation is simply embarrassing, deprives those severely injured personnel of the benefits that any other military members injured in the line of duty would receive, which has placed a number of them in dire financial straits. I simply cannot imagine what blame the administration thought to escape from this ploy. It is a disgrace.

ADDENDUM: Investors reports today that the Defense Department is slapping the survivors of the Fort Hood massacre with gag orders. They are telling family members not to talk to the press following testimony in the trial of Nidal Hasan. They are forbidden from discussing, among other things, their denial of benefits as a result of the Obama administration’s designation of the slaughter as a case of “workplace violence.”

The “workplace violence” designation has cost Sgt. Shawn Manning, who was shot six times by Hasan, around $70,000 in benefits. Because the Army decided that their wounds were not “combat related,” a number of benefits have been denied. The designation has even resulted in victims receiving smaller salaries than they would otherwise received.

The Army has said that if Fort Hood was called an act of terror and not “workplace violence,” it would have prejudiced potential jurors and denied Hasan a fair trial. Um— Nidal Hasan has proudly said that he did it, renounced his military oath and rank, and renounced his citizenship. The entire attack could have been avoided if clear warnings were heeded.

Michael Ramirez Nails It, Once Again! by The Elephant's Child


(click to enlarge)

Euphemism Amd the Shifting Meaning of Words by The Elephant's Child

In these pages I complain fairly regularly about changes in our vocabulary that the Obama administration has performed. Victor Davis Hanson agrees and starts right off with one of the most annoying — the   “Affordable Care Act.”  I think it tacks on “Patient Protection” at the end to complete the euphemism. (No wonder we call it ObamaCare.)  Dr. Hanson calls it “The New American Vocabulary.” His list does not include Blame: because none of that ever attaches to the president.

Affordable Care Act: Mostly unaffordable, uncaring, and inactive.

Assault Weapon: Paint your .22 black and add a plastic handle.

Associated Press: Leakers who dared to challenge the White House monopoly.

Baby: Punishment for a mistake.

Benghazi: We won’t have any more because one video-maker is now in prison.

Berlin Wall: Analogous to the Cold War fence that kept out German illegal aliens from entering a free East Berlin.

Biden: Buffoonery after it becomes boring.

Buffett: He alone built that.

Carney: Ron Ziegler lives!

Cashing in: A practice finally ended when Hillary Clinton and Lisa Jackson left office.

Coal: A toxic rock that the crazy Chinese believe makes heat.

Corporate Jet Owners: Sort of like Air Force One.

Corpsmen: Zombies.

Courts: Revolutionary tribunals.

“Cowards”: Everybody but “my people.”

Debt: What debt?

Debt Ceilings: Only Senate cowards vote not to raise them.

Deficits: Ex-presidents incurred them.

Diversity: Endangered by locking up mass-murdering Maj. Hasan.

Continue reading

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


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 Illusion of an Arab Spring is Long Gone. by The Elephant's Child


Sunrise at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt

Egypt has problems. Cast your mind back to May of 2011. Egypt is the 15th most populous country at 82,079,636 according to 2011 estimates. Cairo had a population of an estimated 10.902 million, and the median age was 24. Half the population lived on less than $2 a day, and a spike in food prices leads to real trouble. Egypt is the world’s largest grain importer. To rephrase that, they cannot feed their own population. The Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto has estimated that 92% of Egyptians hold their property without normal legal title. Egypt is dependent on revenue from tourism.

If you remember, Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year-old Tunisian street vendor helped to start what became known as the Arab Spring, by an act of desperation by setting himself on fire in a public square. That act led to spontaneous uprisings in Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria. The White House and the media spoke breathlessly of Western-style democracy sweeping across the Arab desert. They ignored polls that showed that large majorities of Egyptians were yearning to vote in Islamic law. Skeptics pointed out that the Arab world has no experience whatsoever of democracy, and radical Islamists would soon sweep in.

Obama urged on the rioters and pressured Mubarak to step down. They held elections, the Muslim Brotherhood got 60% of the vote, and Mohamed Morsi was elected President, and promptly dismissed the Generals of the Egyptian Army.

President Morsi has now handed over control of a tourist destination to a party that loathes tourists. On Sunday President Morsi appointed Adel al-Khayat of the Gamaa al-Islamiyya party as Governor of Luxor, a region that is home to the ruins of two temples and several monuments. The party holds conservative views against sunbathing, women wearing shorts, alcohol, and is responsible for the 1997 attack in Luxor that killed 60 tourists. The New York Times reported:

“A fatwa, or religious decree, published on the Gamaa al-Islamiyya’s web site advised members of the group not to build tourist accommodations. ‘Because tourist villages have aspects that anger Allah, including alcohol, gambling and other forbidden things, building these hotels and villages is considered aiding their owners in sin and aggression, and is not permitted,’ the decision read.”

Tourism accounts for more than 11% Egypt’s GDP, and 90 percent of Egyptians employed in  Luxor work in industries that depend on tourism to stay afloat. The revolution and the political turmoil following it has already nearly ended the country’s tourist economy, and this move won’t help.

To cap that off, President Morsi has escalated a fight with Ethiopia this week over a dam on the Nile River. Ethiopia is building a dam upstream from Egypt and expects to start filling in a 74 billion cubic meter reservoir in 2015. Egypt fears the dam will choke off its main supply of water.

Speaking to hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo Monday, Mr. Morsi said that Egypt was ready to “protect every drop of the Nile water,” for which it was ready to spill “our blood.” Conjuring up a conspiracy by domestic and foreign “enemies” to impoverish Egypt, he called on Egyptians to face up to the “threats to the country.”

The combative speech turned up the volume on bellicose noises from Cairo. Last week, the president held a meeting with opposition figures who, unaware they were being filmed live, said that Egypt may need to act militarily in Ethiopia to stop the construction of the dam. The video went viral.

Ethiopia dismissed the Egyptian threats as “psychological warfare” and said it will continue to build the dam.

Morsi has been in office for only 12 months, and none of the promises to make the streets safe or revive the economy have been realized. Youth unemployment is extremely high, and the government’s foreign currency reserves have been depleted. Egypt now depends on handouts from friendly nations like Qatar and Libya to buy food and fuel. The opposition has called for mass rallies across the country on June 30.

Secretary of State John Kerry has promised $4 billion in aid, and airplanes, but this is not an Arab Spring, and our government does not seem to grasp the nature of radical Islam. Now Mr. Morsi has turned to conspiracy mongering and nationalistic posturing. Didn’t work for Mubarak and his generals, and is unlikely to work in the current situation.

What our adventures in Syria will add to the mix remains to be seen. Our government seems remarkably naive in their approach to the Islamist governments in the Middle East.


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