American Elephants


It’s Not About Terrorism, It’s About the Lack of Opportunity by The Elephant's Child

Last night on Hardball on MSNBC, Host Chris Matthews interviewed State Department spokesgirl Marie Harf, who explained to viewers just why Obama’s attempts to deal with ISIS have been so ineffective.

Remember that Marie Harf, as a spokesperson, does not express her own opinion, but the opinion of her boss, Secretary Kerry, the administration and the president. So this is Obama ‘s foreign policy:

MATTHEWS: Are we killing enough of them?

HARF: We’re killing a lot of them and we’re going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians, so are the Jordanians. They’re in this fight with us. But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs, whether…

MATTHEWS: We’re not going to be able to stop that in our lifetime or fifty lifetimes. There’s always going to be poor people. There’s always going to be poor Muslims, and as long as there are poor Muslims, the trumpet’s blowing and they’ll join. We can’t stop that, can we?

HARF: We can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people…

It must often seem that conservatives are anxious to find anything that will reflect badly on Obama, but it’s the policies that are the problem, and I think Conservatives are seriously worried about national security, do not feel that the administration understands the problem, and fears that they want to make a deal with Iran, the evil state that sponsors the terrorism that we see in the world.

Conservatives are inclined to believe the “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” shouts of their officials. The “root causes” theme always has some appeal to the West, because it offers a simple, and simple-minded cure. But it never works and has been proven wrong over and over. Democrats just can’t bring themselves to believe in evil, except when applied to Republicans or anyone else who stands in their way.

And sorry, Marie. Wars are always won by killing the enemy, until they are so utterly defeated that they give up abjectly and permanently. Wars are not won with peace treaties, nor with amelioration of root causes. Wars are won by defeating the enemy. Mr. Obama is more concerned about global warming than the threat of Islamic terrorism, which he cannot even dignify by naming it.

The President does not know what he is talking about. He misconstrues Vladimir Putin, and does not know his history. He does not understand Iran, and does not grasp their intentions. He has surrounded himself with yes-men and women, and does not listen to disagreement. A president needs to have those who disagree with his policies around, so he can learn what the opposition thinks, and evaluate whether his own position is correct. He needs to be probing the best minds he can find, to learn and ponder ideas other than his own.

ADDENDUM:The jihadists recruited from Western countries are usually, according to studies, from comfortable middle class families, or well-to-do parents, who have been radicalized by charismatic preachers or recruiters. Poverty and lack of opportunity are not usually the problem.



The Indispensable Man by The Elephant's Child

Reposted from 2012

The George Washington that most of us see most often is the engraving after the Gilbert Stuart portrait on the one dollar bill.  Reproductions of the Gilbert Stuart portrait and a portrait of Abraham Lincoln used to hang on the front wall of every elementary classroom, with an American flag standing in the corner. But then we celebrated separate birthdays, and didn’t lump them together into 3-day weekends in which no one remembers any president at all.

The portrait above, and the portrait in the header were painted by Charles Wilson Peale, who I believe to be the most skilled portraitist of his day. He painted 6 major portraits of Washington from life, and nearly 60 others based on those life portraits. If you look closely at those and at the life mask below by Jean Antoine Houdon, they are clearly representations of the same man. In an age when there were no cameras, portraits were the only way people who could not see the subject in person had of knowing what they looked like. Only a few of the portrait artists were skilled, and many were no more than sign painters — and if they got the hair and the costume more or less right, it was the best they had.

We all know, I think, that George Washington had dreadful false teeth.  A terrible pity, both for the President — because they must have been instruments of torture in his mouth — and because they distract our attention from far more important things about the man. Certainly Washington must have had access to the very best dentists of the day. By 1789, he had only one of his own teeth left.  The teeth were horrible-looking contraptions made of substances like hippopotamus ivory, hinged at the back and operated with springs. He complained that they distorted his lips, and they must have distorted his appearance as well.

Gilbert Stuart was the most celebrated of portraitists.  He trained in London, and was thought to be a potential successor to the famed Sir Joshua Reynolds.  However Stuart was extravagant and fled in debt from London. He turned up in Philadelphia during 1795 , hoping to pay off his creditors by creating a multitude of portraits of the world’s greatest man. Washington sat to him for three separate portraits, and Stuart made hundreds of copies. Take a minute to get out a dollar bill, and recognize the Gilbert Stuart image from which the engraving was made.  It is a cruel portrait.

According to James Thomas Flexner’s Washington: The Indispensable Man, Washington and Stuart did not get on.  The portraitist usually kept his sitters amused and their faces alive by a flood of showy and outrageous talk. Washington always felt uneasy at having to remain still and being stared at and was put out rather than being amused.

Stuart, who felt that “artists were fundamentally superior to all other men including Presidents, resented Washington’s formality.  He could not forget what had resulted when, in trying to unstiffen the hero, he had gone to the length of saying, “Now, sir, you must let me forget that you are General Washington and I am Stuart the Painter.  Washington replied (as it seemed to him politely), Mr. Stuart need never feel the need for forgetting who he is and who General Washington is.”

Stuart emphasized, as no other portraitist did, the distortions of Washington’s mouth.  Flexner suggests that since Stuart was known to have angrily used General Knox’s portrait as the door of his pigsty that perhaps the harm he did to Washington’s historical image was somewhat deliberate.

This life mask by Jean Antoine Houdon gives us more clues as to what Washington actually looked like.  He was tall, about 6’2″, and most verbal descriptions mention his ‘roman’ nose, so it was perhaps a little prominent. This is not the face of the Stuart portrait, but looks more probable, and it is close to the Peale portraits.

Washington was an outdoorsman who spent much of his life in the saddle, and his complexion would have reflected that — more wrinkles, more weathered.  They didn’t have sunglasses and baseball hats with a brim to keep the sun out of the eyes,  lots of squinting.  The portrait above seems to match the life mask fairly well.  A far cry from the disagreeable Gilbert Stuart portrait.

I’m going a bit out on a limb here, but I spent some years in art school attempting to capture likenesses, and the smallest errors in size and distance relationships can lose a likeness completely.  Also, people see likenesses differently. Some will insist that two siblings look just alike while others will see no resemblance between the same two.  I have no real explanation for that.

I suspect that Gilbert Stuart had such a reputation as a great portraitist, undoubtedly aided by his own self description,  that perhaps people were apt to accept his work as the “right” one.  Portraits are an odd matter. One tries to capture a mobile. alive face that changes its expression constantly and represent it on a flat surface.  If you have ever had photographer’s proofs of pictures of you to choose from, that will explain the problem.  They’re all you, but you’ll like some much better than others.

Here are “reconstructions” done by a forensic reconstructionist of Washington at his inauguration, as a general, and at around the age of 19.  They are startling in their realism. I suspect (nit-picky as I am) that the face is too free of wrinkles, and too pinky-white, and not rawboned enough.  (I said I was being picky)  But they give you a vastly different impression of the man.  Haul out a dollar bill and compare.  Stuart played a cruel joke on Washington.

Washington didn’t know much about being a general when he was appointed by Congress to lead the American armies, but he was the best we had, and he did fine.  His men loved him, and he gradually taught them to be soldiers.  He was elected unanimously to be President when he wanted nothing more than to return to Mt.Vernon and retire from public life. The people idolized him.  He could have been a king or an emperor, or like some — a dictator for life.  But it was he, with his sterling character, who set the nation on the right path.  He was consummately aware that he was setting a path for those who were to follow him. He had a horrible temper, and mostly kept it under firm control.  Any of his deeds alone would have made him famous, but in twenty-four years he led our armies, won the war,  led the country, shaped a constitution, set a nation on its path and then went on home.



Just What Is The “Office Of The President Of The United States?” by The Elephant's Child

Reposted from 2010.

When George Washington was elected President, there were so many questions. A Republic was something completely new to the Americans.  What they knew was monarchy, and a very opulent monarchy at that.  They definitely didn’t want to go back to the pomp and circumstance of England.  The new office of the President of the United States needed importance, respect, dignity and what exactly? The people did not rebel against a King in order to establish a new monarchy.Congress insisted on a salary of $25,000, a huge sum for the time.  Washington accepted it reluctantly, but he spent nearly $2,000 of it on liquor and wine for entertaining.  He had, of course managed an army and a plantation.  In fact, Mount Vernon had more staff than his presidency did.

“Washington was keenly aware that whatever he did would become a precedent for the future. How often should he meet with the public? How accessible should he be?  Could he have private dinners with friends?  Should he make a tour of the new states?”  He sought advice from those closest to him, including his vice-president, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, his Secretary of the Treasury.  The only state occasions that any of them were familiar with were those of European monarchies.

“Hamilton thought that most people were ‘prepared for a pretty high tone in the demeanor of the Executive,’ but they probably would not accept as high a tone as was desirable.  “Notions of equality,” he said, were “yet…too general and too strong” for the president to be properly distanced from the other branches of the government.” Gordon Wood tells of the dilemmas.

“When Washington appeared in public, bands sometimes played “God Save the King.” In his public pronouncements the president referred to himself in the third person.  His dozens of state portraits were all modeled on those of European monarchs.”

We can be truly grateful that Washington was so aware that he was establishing precedent, and so careful of what he said and did.  He was setting an example, and everything he did was intended to hold the new nation together, to form a more perfect union.

One simple problem was what to call the president.  John Adams had discussed the problem with his colleagues in Massachusetts.  They called their governor “His Excellency”: should not the president have a higher title?  Adams thought only something like ‘His Highness’ or ‘His Most Benign Highness’ would answer.  Washington was said to have initially favored “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of Their Liberties.” The Dutch leaders of the States-General of the United Provinces called themselves “Their High Mightinesses” and they were leaders of a Republic.”  Madison managed to get his fellow congressmen to vote for the simple republican title “President of the United States.” And that was that.

Washington was relieved when the title question was settled.  But “he still was faced with making the institution of the presidency strong and energetic.” In fact, said Gordon Wood, “the presidency is the powerful office it is in large part because of Washington’s initial behavior.”

Gordon S. Wood: Empire of Liberty; A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815



Abraham Lincoln Was Born on February 12, 1809. by The Elephant's Child

Reprinted from 2011

I liked it better when we celebrated Lincoln’s birthday and Washington’s birthday separately. When it is “President’s Day.” and a three-day weekend, nobody remembers. And you and your children must remember this man. He saved the Union, and freed the slaves.

To understand America, you need to understand the Gettysburg Address (Vanderleun)

This picture emphasizes Lincoln’s height, although his lean body and the top hat emphasize it even more. He was 6’4″, tall today, but not unusually tall. Average height in the 1860s must have been much less. George Washington was 6’2″ and considered very tall.



It’s Not Always Easy To Distinguish Between Friends and Enemies by The Elephant's Child

U.S. President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu meet at the White House in WashingtonDemocrats are up to their old tricks. The New York Times, with their usual accuracy, accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of breaking diplomatic protocol by going behind the administration’s back  to accept an invitation to speak to Congress before receiving approval from the White House.

The paper of record was quickly forced to issue one of their frequent corrections, as Netanyahu did not accept the invitation until after the White House was informed.

Mr. Obama has reportedly asked the Congressional Black Caucus to boycott the speech, and Nancy Pelosi, the ranking Democrat in the House, said she was concerned that if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the U.S, Congress in March, it might result in negative ramifications for the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran.

She added that it was “not appropriate ” that Netanyahu will speak “only two weeks before an election”, but she did not mention the fact that high-ranking Obama administration campaign operatives are currently on the ground in Israel attempting to sabotage Netanyahu’s chances at reelection. The Israelis are offended at Obama’s interference in their elections. Obama may not have sent his campaign operatives, but he surely could have prevented their participation.  It seems highly unethical to interfere in another country’s politics, but Obama has done this before.

We are not getting straight talk from the administration about their negotiations with Iran. The Iranian regime “agrees” to certain principles regarding nuclear enrichment, and has been caught time and again violating their own agreement. The regime has built an 89-foot missile which may have the capability of striking the United States.

In an interview with Mathew Yglesias from the Vox.com  website, the president was asked about terrorism. He responded that the terrorism threat is overrated, and referred to the jihadists who committed the mass murders in Paris last month as “a bunch of violent vicious zealots” who “randomly shot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.” The Jews who were shopping for Shabbat” were just a bunch of folks in a deli, not a kosher delicatessen. The media, needing an audience, inflates the significance of these acts of random violence.

President Obama seems remarkably comfortable embracing our enemies and distancing himself from our long time allies. I don’t think this has ever happened in the United States before. Presidents have made mistakes, as they are only human, but this is something different. Obama’s statement was intentional, not accidental, for White House spokesman Josh Earnest and State Department spokesgirl Jen Psaki not only repeated the denial of the anti-Semitic nature of the kosher deli murders, but doubled down on it.

The Black Congressional Caucus, obediently, has announced that they will not be attending the Netanyahu speech because Bibi “disrespected” the president. Both Obama and V.P. Biden have announced they will refuse to meet with the leader of our closest ally in the Middle East during his stay in Washington.

The consequences of Mr. Obama’s denial of the nature of the targeting of the Jewish state by Islamic jihadists may be grave indeed. Obama is assisting Iran to emerge as a nuclear power, thinking that it will have no unpleasant consequences, because everyone is  reasonable and agreements can be reached by well-meaning people.

Well-meaning people who know their history and can remember our previous engagements with Iran and the mullahs, are deeply dubious about the president’s intent — and worried.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, will attend the speech. Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has placed a full page ad in the New York Times and the Washington Post urging Congress to put partisanship aside and listen to what Prime Minister Netanyahu has to say about the catastrophic danger of a nuclear Iran.

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President Obama Is Agonizing Over What to Do, Again. by The Elephant's Child

Obama watchingPresident Obama is agonizing again. Should he arm Ukraine, even as  Putin pushes ahead? Should he approve an effort to rescue hostages who might be executed? Should he send weapons to the Kurds? But that might anger Iran. He so wants a deal with Iran. What to do about ISIS, now they aren’t just beheading and crucifying, but immolating people? What if they captured an American soldier?

The U.S. has been bombing ISIS since August on the authority granted to Bush, but now Obama has requested that Congress pass an Authorization for the Limited Use of Military Force (ALUMF) that will allow Congress to weigh in without interfering too much in the president’s options. The result is a request that allows the president “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines to be necessary and appropriate against ISIL or associated persons or forces.” O.K. That should give him the authority to deal with this band of jihadi extremists.

But he wants limitations as well. The authority does not extend to “the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground operations.” What does that mean? You can have battles but only short ones? Engagements but not campaigns? Is this meant to prevent any extensive war that might annoy Iran or the Democrats in Congress? Additionally, the request says the authority will expire in three years. Is this intended, like our departure from Iraq and Afghanistan, to announce in advance precisely when we are leaving?

Obama clearly wants a deal with Iran. He believes that we can turn over the pacifying of the Middle East to Iran, and extract the United States from that region entirely. Let them manage Iraq and Syria and ISIL (he insists on calling the jihadis by that name,( the Islamic State in the Levant, essentially recognizing their statehood). Those little things matter.

Many recognize Iran as the main sponsor of Islamic terrorism in the world, and assume that when they keep shouting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” — they probably mean what they say. Coupled with their drive to get nuclear weapons, many do not believe that Iran is a viable partner in bringing peace to the Middle East. It is a difference of opinion, but certainly not an unimportant one.

That Democrats are intent on a deal with Iran was noted back at the end of January when Nancy Pelosi said that she was concerned that if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the U.S. Congress in March, it might result in negative ramifications for the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran. “Such a presentation could send the wrong message in terms of giving diplomacy a chance,” she told reporters. That explains that flap, and the Democrats’ effort to be engaged elsewhere on that day.

It is hard to understand what Democrats think we might get from diplomacy with Iran. Google: “Iran + EMP attack,” to get an idea of the concern, and the reason why Republicans want to hear from the Israeli Prime Minister who is also worried about Iran, and very dubious about any diplomatic efforts.

To return to the ALUMF, I suspect that the president wants Congress to “forbid” him from taking any real action against ISIS, so that he can avoid any problems with Iran in his continuing diplomatic efforts. They are going to great lengths to avoid giving offense to Iran, including lifting the sanctions and returning their money, thus enabling Iran to step up their nuclear efforts. Should Iran go nuclear, Saudi Arabia is prepared to go nuclear as well, quickly. Other Middle East countries would follow.

Obama is  not really old enough to remember the Carter years, and the hostage situation, nor the Iranian revolution. And the president is somewhat deficient in the history department as well. I just don’t believe that he grasps the problem of Iran. And I don’t get the idea that he has any national security advisors that he listens to, but rather that he tells them what his policy is.

Obama has strived throughout to avoid doing anything that Bush would have done, without much examination of why certain things were done.

Bernard Lewis once said something to the effect that “we are a country that has some religions, Islam is a religion that has some countries.”



Useful Euphemisms of the Hard Left by The Elephant's Child

RAMclr-020615-aloof-IBD-COLOR-FINAL147.gif.cmsWhy did Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast strike such a wrong note? David Gelernter suggests it’s to establish his own moral superiority.




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