American Elephants


What Does ISIS Want? by The Elephant's Child



Fooling the Public and Manipulating the Media by The Elephant's Child

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On May 5th, The New York Times Magazine published a lengthy interview with Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser.  Mr. Rhodes “travels with the president, sees him all day long, and not only writes his speeches and communications strategies but also shapes the content of policy.”

The piece was titled “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru: How Ben Rhodes rewrote the rules of diplomacy for the digital age” by David Samuels. It was a revealing interview. Mr. Rhodes says he has a sort of mind-meld with the president. Much has been made of the fact that Rhodes was working on an M.F.A. in creative writing, and now he channels the president’s consciousness into an optimistic narrative that shapes the president’s foreign policy.

Rhodes strategized and ran the successful Iran-deal messaging campaign, helped negotiate the opening of American relations with Cuba after a hiatus of more than 50 years and has been a co-writer of all of Obama’s major foreign-policy speeches. “Every day he does 12 jobs, and he does them better than the other people who have those jobs,” Terry Szuplat, the longest-tenured member of the National Security Council speechwriting corps, told me. On the largest and smallest questions alike, the voice in which America speaks to the world is that of Ben Rhodes.

Rhodes is a storyteller who” uses a writer’s tools to advance an agenda that is packaged as politics but is often quite personal.”

His lack of conventional real-world experience of the kind that normally precedes responsibility for the fate of nations — like military or diplomatic service, or even a master’s degree in international relations, rather than creative writing — is still startling.

The revelations of how the campaign to sell the Iran Deal to the public was developed, and though planned from the first days of Obama’s presidency, the “story” of the Iran deal began in 2013 when a “moderate” faction inside the Iranian regime led by Hassan Rouhani beat regime “hard-liners” in an election and then began to pursue a policy of “openness,” which included a newfound willingness to negotiate the dismantling of its illicit nuclear-weapons program.”

The president announced the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015: “Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not.” Actually the meaningful part of negotiations with Iran took place in mid-2012, many months before Rouhani and the moderate group where chosen in an election among candidates handpicked by the supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. There was never any new reality in Iran nor any moderate faction. With this one bold move, the administration would begin the process of a large- scale disengagement from the Middle East, which had always been Obama’s goal.

With the smug innocence of the morally superior, Mr. Rhodes revealed far too many truths about manipulating the media, his contempt for the press, and how he manages the flow of information. Since the actions of the Obama administration are obviously correct, selling the deal to Congress, and framing the deal as a choice between peace and war was Rhodes strategy.

Guided by his moral superiority, Rhodes neglected to consider that the American people aren’t much on being deliberately lied to, and the media isn’t enthusiastic about being manipulated, and especially about that being publicly revealed.

Articles about Ben Rhodes, about the NYT Magazine piece, and about the lies in presenting the Iran Deal have been forthcoming in a steady flow from all over the world. Congress has invited Mr. Rhodes to come testify about his part in the episode and it is suggested that if he does not turn up voluntarily, he will be subpoenaed.



A Truly Weird Electoral Season. by The Elephant's Child

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They are voting in Indiana, and the polls will be closing soon. I do not understand this presidential campaign at all. We are told that the people are really angry. According to the media and Donald Trump, they are angry about illegal immigration, and unfair trade policy that is negatively affecting our country. According to exit polls, the people are not particularly concerned about immigration as it is far down the list of concerns, and majorities prefer a path to citizenship.

Mr. Trump is going to build a huge big wall. And he is going to put big tariffs on any country that isn’t being fair. He’s going to be nicer to our friends so we will be closer, but he will insist that they pay a larger share of  the cost of protecting them from radical Islam. He liked World War II and the Cold War, but is against any foreign adventures since.

What the people seem to be angry about is the economy, the lack of jobs, jobs going to immigrants, they are fearful about terrorism, angry about the ridiculous hooplah over women’s restrooms being open to men, the increased cost of ObamaCare, the lack of jobs and economic growth, and increased inflation while salaries have not risen at all. Jobs have vanished on coal country, employment is down in oil and gas country because of the drop in the price of oil, some manufacturing jobs have gone overseas because of high corporate taxes, and some high-tech jobs have gone to H1-B immigrants.

All of these problems are the direct result of policies of the Obama administration. The stimulus didn’t work. Republicans warned that ObamaCare was not going to work and would cost more, not less; every Republican voted against he initial law, and have voted to repeal the act five times, Obama has vetoed their efforts each time. Jobs have gone to offshore companies as a direct result of the highest corporate tax in the world. The rise of ISIS and the war in Syria and the Middle East is a direct result of Obama pulling the troops out of Iraq too soon. President Obama vowed early to bankrupt the coal companies, which he has done in a misguided and fruitless battle against catastrophic global warming which exists only in the computer programs of the IPCC. And in refusing to utter the words Islamic terrorism, Obama has skewed all of our perceptions of  the Middle East and what is happening.

So the people are furious with the Republicans? Huh?

They blame the policies of the Obama administration on the Republicans? They don’t think the Republicans have done enough to stop the administration?

This is the first time, as far as I know, when a President of the United States has deliberately decided that “he has a phone and a pen” and he will accomplish by executive order or actions of agencies whatever he wants, and that he will pay no attention to the Constitution of the United States of America, because he believes it to be a tired old document that needs repealing or fixing.  The remedies available are to proceed through the courts in one lawsuit or another or to impeach the president. The Republicans have voted to repeal ObamaCare five times, Obama has vetoed every bill.

Results are in from Indiana, and Donald Trump has enough votes that he will be the presumptive nominee, for he is sure to pick up enough from states like California and Washington, for example, from the remainder of states left.  Ted Cruz has suspended his campaign.

I am not and have not been a Trump supporter. I do not understand what they hope for from what little Mr. Trump has had to say in his speeches.  His supporters seem to put a lot of faith in “Make America Great Again”  and “America First” which was a discredited slogan from  the America First Committee which was highly non-interventionist in the days just before World War II. I guess they see it as patriotism and strength. I see it as lacking in evidence.

We’ll see. Mr. Trump hasn’t even released his tax returns, and is due to face trial for fraud regarding his promotion of Trump University.  But then the case against Hillary proceeds slowly as well. What a weird, weird electoral season.



“Notable & Quotable” by The Elephant's Child

The Wall Street Journal included these lines from the Mayo Clinic’s online entry on narcissistic personality disorder in their “Notable & Quotable” column.

If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement—and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having “the best” of everything—for instance, the best car, athletic club or medical care.

At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior. Or you may feel depressed and moody because you fall short of perfection. . . .

[The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5] . . . criteria for narcissistic personality disorder include these features:

Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance

Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it

Exaggerating your achievements and talents

Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate . . .

Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner



We Need a Remedial Course in Knowing, How to Retain Knowledge and What to Do With It. by The Elephant's Child

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One of my perennial worries is about the state of knowledge. The world is, of course, always changing, but what has changed most dramatically is the flow of information.

We seldom give it a thought, but in the early days of the republic, news was transmitted by horse and rider, or coach.  And then the town crier  cried the news —and the simple word of mouth. Most people didn’t  have books, except for the Bible. The Revolution, the making of the Constitution, the War of 1812 all happened without telephone or radio to spread the news. The new Capitol in Washington D.C. was burned by the Brits, and it took days or weeks for anyone to find out.

The great Civil War took place entirely without a radio or a telephone, no newsreels, but there were newspapers and magazines, and even new photography, which has left a first visual record for us. There were railroads, and canals and roads.

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. Most people thought it was little more than a toy, but they soon began to install telephones in their towns, homes or businesses. The first one appeared in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1877 when a banker ran a line from his home to his bank.

The first transcontinental telephone call took place in 1915 from New York to San Francisco. In 1948 Bell Labs’ Claude Shannon published a landmark paper on “a Mathematical Theory of Communication” which provided mathematicians and engineers with the foundation of information theory which sought to answer questions about how quickly and reliably information could be transmitted.  Direct long distance dialing came about in 1951, and the first transatlantic telephone cable was installed between America and Britain.  It took 3 years and $42 million to plan and install using 1,500 miles of specially insulated coaxial cable.

The first television was introduced at the World’s Fair in 1939, but TV didn’t become common in people’s homes until the 1950s and sixties. The first public tests of a cellular phone system took place in 1978, and it wasn’t till the year 2000 that we finally reached 100 million cellular telephone subscribers.

Even the millennials probably know a little something about the history of the computer, but the kids in college who are protesting freedom of speech, don’t want to hear disagreeing words, need “safe spaces” and think buildings or statues, or crests that remind us of people who thought incorrect things in the past, should be removed.

Even Democrat Attorneys General and Rhode Island’s Senator Whitehouse are out to stamp out the utterances of those who have the gall to deny that a warming climate is going to destroy the earth.

The absurdity in the nation’s colleges and universities is happening at the rare time in our history when we are completely connected to all the information in the world, in an instant, at our fingertips. They are connected to networks of friends wherever they are and to thousands of people they only know through their devices.  Mine’s a tiny computer — roughly 2¾” by 5½”— and I can carry it around in my pocket, and talk to anyone in the world, and call up information from practically anywhere. But how am I supposed to know what is true and what is false?

We had to find out for ourselves how to deal with this flow of information and the even greater flow of advertisements and enticements and lies and scams. But we have had all the years of our lives to get used to things gradually.

Our schools, which are supposed to be the foundation of knowledge, have drifted off into realms of “social justice” and “diversity” and “white privilege” and women’s studies and black studies and college tuitions that range upwards from $50,000 to $60,000 a year and more, to receive less and less in the knowledge department.

Yet they are not only NOT teaching how to manage this flow of words and pictures and ideas, but don’t seem to recognize that the world has changed and they need to fill the kids on the past and how we got here as well as how to cope with the present and plan for the future.

Handwriting is out, ancient history is gone, what use is geography when you can call up Google maps in an instant? Social Justice isn’t even real. There is only one ‘justice’ which is found in the Constitution and the body of laws and in the courts. Students at Stanford (Stanford!) have petitioned for the return of Western Civ. Shakespeare is mostly gone, and Churchill is completely out of fashion. Yet there are more remedial courses in colleges than ever before, because too many students arrive unprepared to do college level work.

A political campaign is a bad time to bring up this subject, but it is the moment of our highest awareness. You can’t help but notice. When Hillary is attempting to make equal pay for women a central part of her campaign — and is unaware that it has been the law since 1963, She mentioned last year that Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism, more than once, in spite of the obvious facts of 9/11, Paris and Brussels. Bernie Sanders is espousing the most discredited political system the world has ever known, which is failing before our eyes in Venezuela, and Cuba, and other countries around the world.

I picked up a book a while back called Too Big To Know by David Weinberger, read some bits and put it aside to read later. Guess I’ll have to read it now.Here’s one paragraph from the Prologue:

So we are in a crisis of knowledge at the same time that we are in an epochal exaltation of knowledge. We fear for the institutions on which we have relied for trustworthy knowledge, but there’s also a joy we can feel pulsing through our culture. It comes from a different place. It comes from the networking of knowledge. Knowledge now lives not just in libraries and museums and academic journals. It lives not just in the skulls of individuals. Our skulls and our institutions are simply not big enough to contain  knowledge. Knowledge is now a property of the network, and the network embraces businesses, governments, media, museums, curated collections, and minds in communication.

I wouldn’t have chosen the words ‘exaltation of knowledge’, nor described it in quite those terms, but I’ll have to read the book. I’ll report back when I have.

*The photo is of the Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin, and those are the stacks.



President Obama Is Sending 200 More Troops to Iraq by The Elephant's Child

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On April 18, Hot Air reported that “President Obama has decided to add 217 more troops to fight in Iraq, raising the total number now serving in the country to just over 4,000.” AP reported:

Of the additional troops, most would be Army special forces, who have been used throughout the anti-Islamic State campaign to advise and assist the Iraqis. The remainder would include some trainers, security forces for the advisers, and maintenance teams for the Apaches.

The decisions reflect weeks of discussions with commanders and Iraqi leaders, and a decision by President Barack Obama to increase the authorized troop level in Iraq by 217 forces – or from 3,870 to 4,087. The advise-and-assist teams – made up of about a dozen troops each accompanied by security forces – would embed with Iraqi brigades and battalion, likely putting them closer to the front lines and at greater risk from mortars and rocket fire.

They are also sending Apache helicopters in addition to the advise-and-assist teams. The goal is to retake Mosul from ISIS, which they have held since June 2014. There will also be operations to take Raqqa, ISIS’s capital in Syria. You will notice that we always make an effort to tell the enemy just what we have in mind and what our plans are.

A U.S. military spokesman said that ISIS has lost nearly half its strength during the recent bombing campaign. They have put exceptional pressure on ISIS over the past 20 months. Strikes on ISIS-held oilfields have seen its cash flow cut by a third, and ISIS fighters have had their pay cut by half.

Six hundred ISIS fighters have been killed in the past three weeks alone, and precision drone strikes and covert Special Forces raids to take out senior leaders have left the terrorists “paranoid and in chaos.” 650 RAF strikes have helped to force the group to flee from 40 percent of the territory they once held in northern Iraq.

President Bush recommended that we should leave 20,000 troops in Iraq to maintain the hard-won peace, but the new President Obama had run on an anti-Iraq War campaign and a promise to get the troops out of Iraq. Once in charge, he ignored the Bush warnings, and abruptly pulled the military out, which inevitably led to the rise of ISIS.

It apparently took weeks of discussion to get to the point of adding 217 special forces troops. President Obama does not want to be blamed for any unfortunate events or bad results, but he does have confidence in America’s special forces. His fear of being blamed is probably the reason for unusually restricted rules of engagement that have left our military in a vulnerable position.



We Don’t Understand What is Happening. Are We Deliberately Ignorant? by The Elephant's Child

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Michael Ledeen, writing in Forbes, April 1: :The Whole World Is In Turmoil Not Just Us”

The fierce conflicts we are witnessing in the primaries are not just an American phenomenon, indeed it’s hard to find a country that isn’t fighting internally as we are.   Most of the world is intensely divided, and our own domestic debates are part of a global disruption.

The many divisions should not surprise us, as we are in the midst of a transition from the post-World War II bipolar world to something else, something as yet unclear.  In part, it is a return to historic normalcy, although few who grew up during the Cold War would recognize it as such.  The post-war world, for roughly a half-century after the defeat of Germany and Japan, was unusually peaceful compared with past centuries.  From 1945 until very recently, there was no major war, and “stability” was considered a fundamental objective of sensible strategy.  Three or four generations have grown up in that world, and are surprised at open conflict and instability.

Yesterday, Dr. Ledeen again, this time at PJ Media:

“Terrible Things Are Happening”

Americans just can’t take the Iranian tyrants seriously. If you ask us what Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei means when he leads his weekend crowds in a chant of “Death to America,” most Americans will not say “he wants to destroy us all.” Yet that is precisely what he means, and if we had leaders worthy of the name, they would be designing a strategy to bring down the Tehran regime before Khamenei and his evil henchmen do terrible things to us. Here.

Instead, the president and the secretary of state keep showering largesse on the ayatollahs, who respond by telling us they are preparing our destruction.

Just last week, for example, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari said Iran is preparing for all-out war with the U.S. and its allies, and has vowed Iran will continue advancing and testing its ballistic missile program.

Bret Stephens: The Wall Street Journal, 4/11/2016

Islam and the Radical West, The political orthodoxy of the left is the gateway drug to jihad.”

We’ve become lazy in our thinking about Islam and the West. Whether the Islam practiced by al Qaeda or ISIS is “radical” or merely traditional isn’t the question. It’s whether the West can recognize that the moral nihilism of today’s Jihadi Johns is the logical outgrowth of the moral relativism that is the default religion of today’s West.

Daniel Hannan: Washington Examiner, 4/11/2016

“The terrorist threat is getting serious, but we mustn’t panic”

Do you remember the footage of last month’s subway bomb in Brussels? You know, with the frightened passengers choking their way along a smoke-filled tunnel while children cried? Well, the man who shot that video was a friend of mine, a Brussels-based American freelance reporter who happened to be on the train, and who helped carry some people to safety.

Here’s the odd thing, though: I wasn’t especially surprised that he had been there. Knowing someone who has been caught up in a terrorist attack no longer feels strange. We are becoming habituated to jihad, blase about bombs.

And in contrast, a voice from the Left: Andrew J. Bacevich, Politico, 4/4/2016

“Let’s end America’s hopeless war for the Middle East”

A hundred years ago, the armies of World War I fought to a bloody stalemate on the Western Front and desperately searched for ways to break it and gain an edge. They field-tested tanks and poison gas, rolling barrages and storm-trooper tactics. Today, the United States is stuck in an analogous stalemate in the Middle East and Islamic world in general. And we are field-testing all manner of novelties, much like the great armies of Europe mired in the trenches: the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs and counterinsurgency, precision-guided munitions and unmanned aerial vehicles, not to mention such passing fancies as “overwhelming force,” “shock and awe,” and “air occupation.”

Yet as was the case a century ago, the introduction of some new battlefield technique does not necessarily signify progress. On the contrary, it only deepens the stalemate.




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