American Elephants

How Come We’re Always Surprised by Events? by The Elephant's Child

article-2343392-1A5EE249000005DC-338_634x479Once again the administration is being taken by surprise. Moscow has established a new airbase in Syria to go with its existing naval base. and they are determined to keep Bashar Assad’s regime in power. The U.S. no longer has any influence in Baghdad, and ever since the U.S. forces pulled out in 2011, Iran has become the dominant player in Iraq.

When Russia sent in flights to create a new Russian military base in Syria, our protests were ignored. President Obama’s failure to act on his red line in Syria has consequences. When he could not even act against Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people or Iran’s development of a nuclear program, it ‘s pretty clear that he’s not going to do anything.

Humiliated, Obama is now trying to pretend that Putin will “help”take care of ISIS, but he has been attacking the rebels fighting the Assad regime instead. This is a pure power play by the Russian President. Leon Aron, who is the director of Russian Studies at AEI, looks at why:

  • To establish a sustained, open-ended Russian military presence in the Middle East for the first time since President Sadat sent Soviet personnel home in 1972, thus recovering a key Soviet geopolitical asset as postulated by the Putin Doctrine.
  • To establish the Russia-Iran-Syria (and possibly Iraq) de facto alliance as the dominant military and thus political actor in the Middle East.
  • To boost patriotic mobilization in Russia, which increasingly is the Putin regime’s sole claim to legitimacy. With the economy tanking fast, the ruble down 57% from this time last year, inflation at around 15%, and the seemingly stalemated war on Ukraine no longer generating enough heat to keep the patriotic fervor a-boil, Putin needs another “short, victorious war” (as the Minister of Internal Affairs Vyacheslav Plehve hailed the ultimately disastrous Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05).

The question becomes how far will Putin go? Both Aron and Ralph Peters suggest that we should be prepared for an “accidental” shoot down of a U.S. or British or French plane? That Putin delights in humiliating the United States is not a surprise. That the Obama administration seems regularly to be surprised is more worrying.

$500 Million. 5 Fighters. Obama Says It’s Not His Fault! by The Elephant's Child

damaged-buildings-syrian-civil-war1  When you draw a ‘red line,’ or ‘a line in the sand’ publicly in international terms, it is a very serious threat.  When you back down your reputation is permanently damaged. That is usually a lesson that one learns on the playground.

In a 2012 press conference in Stockholm, Obama said:

I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement in the situation. But the point that you made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria; it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us. We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.

Assad unleashed a sarin gas attack on Syrians in Ghouta just outside of Damascus. Obama avoided any action in Syria in order to help with the Iran negotiations. The image above is a neighborhood in Syria.

The answer was supposed to be investing $500 million in training some of the Syrian rebels to fight Assad’s army, but it actually yielded just four or five fighters.

So now President Obama and his foreign policy team are confused.Why is Vladimir Putin pouring troops and weapons into Syria? Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that it really isn’t helpful, and is making things worse. Russia has deployed a small number of tactical jets in Syria for the first time. Moscow is clearly preparing to help Assad cling to power. American pilots regularly fly surveillance flights and airstrike missions, the direct involvement of Russian forces could mean trouble.

Russia has been an ally of Syria since Sadat kicked the Soviets out of Egypt in 1972. Look at a map. Putin has re-claimed the Crimea and is simply asserting their influence in the Middle East. Putin’s ambition is always to avenge and reverse Russia’s humiliating loss of superpower status over 25 years ago.

Obama’s efforts to train an opposition army to fight the ISIS has been an abysmal failure. And an expensive failure. But the White House is not to blame. The finger, the White House says, should be pointed not at Mr. Obama, but at those who pressed him to attempt training Syrian rebels in the first place. The New York Times says:

In effect, Mr. Obama is arguing that he reluctantly went along with those who said it was the way to combat the Islamic State, but that he never wanted to do it and has now has been vindicated in his original judgment.

Mr. Trump simply says “Syria’s a mess, Why are we fighting ISIS in Syria? Let them fight each other and pick up the remnants.” A comment much in line with his simplistic answers to everything else.

Ryan C. Crocker who was ambassador to Afghanistan under Mr. Obama and ambassador to Iraq under George W. Bush said the president was right to think that a train-and-arm program would not work, but he either should have continued to resist or taken ownership rather than blame others.

How un-presidential that sounds — ‘We didn’t want to do it, we thought it was unsound but you made us do it,’ ” said Mr. Crocker. “It’s just indicative of their whole approach to Syria, which is not to have a policy. This is the worst thing they could say.”

Now refugees are flooding Europe. We don’t know who are refugees, who are migrants, and who are members of ISIS. What we are learning is that EU estimates are that four out of five migrants are not from Syria but from Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and even states farther removed. Mr. Obama’s response seems to be welcoming a hundred thousand or so refugees every year into the indefinite future.

Now It’s The IRS Again, With 334,000 Stolen Identities. If They Haven’t Got You Yet, They Soon Will. by The Elephant's Child

The news about our favorite bureaucracies just keeps coming. In this case it is the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS reported a wee break-in to its computer systems back in May. Now they have admitted that an additional 220,000 taxpayer accounts have been compromised.

So if the ObamaCare Hospital required computer breach didn’t get you, you have another chance to get your identity hacked by the IRS — that trusted organization that deals so efficiently with your taxes. There were also 170,000 instances of “suspected attempts that failed to clear the authentication processes.” whatever that means.

So the number of stolen identities now adds up to 334,000 , nearly three tunes the IRS original estimate of 114,000.

Why, it was only about a month ago that it was the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that admitted that Chinese-origin cyber attacks on its computer networks compromised the personal data of 22.1 million Americans who had been employed by the government.

And earlier this month defense officials said that Russia had launched a “sophisticated cyber attack” on the Pentagon’s unclassified email system used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the end of July. That breach affected approximately 4,000 military and civilian employees, including Chairman General Martin Dempsey.

The IRS break-in occurred in an online service called “Get Transcript” an application that helps taxpayers get their prior year return information. It has been shut down. The IRS will notify taxpayers who were potentially affected as soon as possible and provide them with support — such as free credit protection.

It would be reassuring to hear a strong voice from Washington, telling us that tech experts are already hard at work hardening off or rendering government computer systems impregnable from enemy attack. Instead, we hear the Democratic candidate for president insisting that she never received, saw, or heard of a classified document, and certainly never sent one. That server of hers was all yoga exercises and wedding plans and baby showers and messages to Bill, who has never sent an email message in his life.

Can we expect Cyber-Security from the folks who gave us ObamaCare?

The Encounter Between 9 Serious Men and One Large Ego. by The Elephant's Child

Donald_Trump__3158264bThe subject of the day is the debates, and Donald Trump. He does seem to suck all of the air out of the room.

My father would have described him with a rather old-fashioned word, “blowhard.” His candidacy can be summed-up as — I am Trump, I am very famous and very rich and you should vote for me.

Trump popped up just in time for the Republican Debates, loudly punching what is a hot button for many on the Right,  President Obama’s personal repeal, on his own “executive authority,” of the United States of America’s immigration laws. They have watched the trains with hundreds of illegals on top of the boxcars, they have watched them arrive, be sent all over the United States, and are inclined to blame it on Mexico.

Trump bellowed that he would build a big wall, a gigantic wall and make Mexico pay for it, and he might put in a big door for legal immigrants. Voilá, problem solved. Except it’s a shallow and superficial answer. Most of the immigrants have not been Mexican. It’s absurd to suggest that the Mexican government would pay for it.

It’s a huge and real problem, and nobody seems to know how to deal with it except to say that we must reform our immigration laws. Democrats want more Democrat voters, and their goal is to get them all registered to vote as quickly as possible. But this is not a column about immigration, but about Trump. He makes no serious effort in behalf of any issue, nor seems to have the discipline to master an issue.

Asked about ruling out a third-party run, he said if you nominate somebody I respect, then maybe he won’t. That sounds like somebody who has only been a Republican for the last few minutes.

(That’s not a nice picture, but I couldn’t resist. People always wonder — ‘What’s with the hair?’)

R.I.P. Robert Conquest by The Elephant's Child


The great historian of Russia has passed away at the age of 98. Robert Conquest spent 28 years at the Hoover Institution where he was a Senior Research Fellow. He has, perhaps, been best known for his landmark work The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties. Thirty-five years after its publication, the book remains one of the most influential studies of Soviet history and has been translated into more than 20 languages. It is a detailed log of Stalin’s assassinations, arrests, tortures, frame-ups, forced confessions, show trials, executions and incarcerations that destroyed millions of lives.

Conquest was the author of twenty-one books on Soviet history, politics, and international affairs, including Harvest of Sorrow, which exposed the terror famine in the Ukraine, Stalin and the Kirov Murder, The Great Terror a Reassessment, Stalin: Breaker of Nations and Reflections on a Ravaged Century and The Dragons of Expectation. The last two are treasured books of mine.

He wrote one science fiction novel, and lots of poetry for which he also received awards.

He had no shortage of awards, the Jefferson Lectureship, the highest honor bestowed by the federal government for achievement in the humanities (1930), the Dan David Prize (2012), Poland’s Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit (2009), Estonia’s  Cross of Terra Mariana (2008), and the Ukrainian Order of Yaroslav Mudryi (2005).

Educated at Winchester College and the University of Grenoble, he was an exhibitioner in modern history at Magdalen College, Oxford, receiving his BA and MA in politics, philosophy, and economics and his DLitt in history.

Conquest-2005-copyConquest served in the British infantry in World War II and thereafter in His Majesty’s Diplomatic Service; he was awarded the Order of the British Empire. In 1996 he was named a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.

He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.

( from the Hoover Institution, and Cynthia Haven)

Winston Churchill Had Advice On How to Deal With Vladimir Putin by The Elephant's Child
June 6, 2015, 5:52 pm
Filed under: Foreign Policy, National Security, Russia | Tags: , ,

From The Wall Street Journal’s “Notable and Quotable” column. The quotation comes from “What Would Churchill Do” by Mark W. Davis, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, Summer issue 2015 Wilson Quarterly.

During the Cold War, Churchill preached a stoic optimism equal to the long task of countering and containing Moscow’s designs. He said of the Russian people that the “machinery of propaganda may pack their minds with falsehood and deny them truth for many generations of time. But the soul of man thus held in trance, or frozen in a long night, can be awakened by a spark coming from God knows where, and in a moment the whole structure of lies and oppression is on trial for its life.”

The power of social media is the true “soft underbelly” of this regime. Putin himself revealed his fear of Facebook and Twitter when he signed new laws requiring social networks to store data on Russian users in Russia, subjecting them to censorship. The public murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemstov has opened the minds of young Russia, giving the West an opportunity to make the most of cracks and crevices in Putin’s firewalls. For the West, the best strategy is a policy of patience, firmness, and determination to undermine the Putin regime and frustrate its forays—for decades, if need be—until the day when the whole structure of its lies and oppression are put on trial by young Russians.

And we should remember Winston Churchill’s final bit of advice as he prepared to leave office: “Meanwhile, never flinch, never weary, never despair.”

ADDENDUM: Also in the Wall Street Journal, Holman Jenkins suggests that Russia’s president clearly seems to be lifting strategies from the Hitler playbook, likely deliberately so. Perhaps Obama is not alone in searching for a “legacy.”

Seventy Years Ago Today, Germany Surrendered Unconditionally. Long Live The Course of Freedom! by The Elephant's Child
May 8, 2015, 3:45 pm
Filed under: Russia | Tags: , ,

Winston Churchill Announces Germany’s unconditional surrender. One of those very special dates to be remembered.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,403 other followers

%d bloggers like this: