American Elephants


History is Still With Us. Do We Need Reminding? by The Elephant's Child

It’s hard to remember that the year 1990 was 23 years ago, and those who born at “the End of History” are now 23 years old and the “young invincibles”on whom Obama depends to rescue the unworkable liberal dream of ObamaCare from oblivion. In 1990, capitalism had triumphed and there was no serious ideological challenger left in the world. The global trend toward freedom swept away dictatorships, apartheid in South Africa and the Serbian challenge in the Balkans. Was the 1990′s only the high point of Pax America and global freedom?

Well not so fast. September 11 was a rude awakening to the fact that history was still with us, and the twelve years since have only proved the point. Dictators are reasserting themselves in the former Soviet Union, radical Islam gets even more radical and is close to having a nuclear weapon, and mayhem breaks out with regularity. The American superpower has lost its will to lead a world order, let alone police it. We apparently want to be just another nation among others, and as the United States retreats, disorder increases.

Kim Jong Un reminds us that the totalitarian mind has not vanished, even if we’d prefer not to see. The North Korean dictator reminds us that not even family is immune. The public frog-march and execution of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, is a reminder of just what the totalitarian mind is capable of, and why it remains a challenge to the world.

It also turns out there is a challenge to democratic capitalism: the eternal human temptation to rule and subjugate other human beings. The motivating ideology varies, such as fanatical Islam, what is left of Communist belief in China and North Korea, tribalism in parts of Asia and Africa, or simply the quest for power and control.

North Korea’s regime is instructive precisely because it has managed to survive and become even more threatening despite the post-Cold War currents of freedom. Partly this is due to its isolation, and partly to the protection of its patrons in Beijing. But its survival is also the result of the regime’s sheer will to dynastic power at all costs, and the West’s willingness to ignore its horrors.

The totalitarian mind is increasingly a threat to us all, because it is rapidly acquiring the technology to kill people far beyond the population of North Korea.They have nuclear warheads and will soon have a missile that can reach the United States, and they are happy to share the technology to anyone with enough cash.



Merry Christmas from the United States Air Force! by The Elephant's Child

The United States Air Force Band performed a surprise flash mob at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on December 3.  Lovely!



Why Should We Remember Pearl Harbor? It Was 72 Years Ago! by The Elephant's Child

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(Republished from Last year)
Every year on December 7, we say “Remember Pearl Harbor” but fail to point out why we should be remembering. John Steele Gordon in his essential history An Empire of Wealth: the Epic History of American Economic Power, outlines the state of the world:

In a fireside chat on December 29, 1940, Franklin Roosevelt first used  a phrase that would prove enduring when he called upon the United States to become “the great arsenal of democracy.”
…..War had broken out in Europe on September 1, 1939, after German troops invaded Poland, and France and Great Britain stood by their pledges to come to Poland’s aid. Few Americans thought the Nazis anything but despicable, but public opinion in the United States was overwhelmingly to stay out of the conflict.  Many newspapers…were strongly isolationist. In 1934 Senator Hiram Johnson of California had pushed through a bill forbidding the Treasury to make loans to any country that had failed to pay back earlier loans.  That, of course included Britain and France.  On November 4, 1939, Congress had passed the Neutrality Act, which allowed purchases of war materiel only on a “cash and carry” basis.
…..Seven months later France fell to the Nazi onslaught, and Britain stood alone.  In the summer of 1940 Germany proved unable to defeat the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain and thus gain the air superiority necessary to mount an invasion across the English Channel. It tried instead to bludgeon Britain into submission with the blitz and to force Britain into submission by cutting off its trade lifelines across the Atlantic. It nearly worked. …
…..At the time American military forces were puny.  The army had about three hundred thousand soldiers—fewer than Yugoslavia—and was so short of weapons that new recruits often had to drill with broomsticks instead of rifles. The equipment it did have was often so antiquated that the chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, thought the army no better than “that of a third-rate power.” The navy, while equal to Britain’s in size, lacked ammunition to sustain action, and much of its equipment was old or unreliable.

Roosevelt realized what was at stake in terms of America’s own security, but he felt that Britain must survive long enough to hold the Nazis at bay while the U.S. rearmed and he was able to  bring the American people around to see where their own true interests lay. This was easier said than done.

On September 16, 1940 Congress approved the first peacetime draft in American history and 16.4 million men between the ages of 20 and 35 registered. But it specified that none was to serve outside the Western Hemisphere and that their terms of service were not to exceed twelve months. In 1941 Roosevelt was able to get Lend Lease through Congress, and after Pearl Harbor, isolationism vanished from the American political landscape.

Japan ran loose over the Pacific for the next six months, taking Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaya, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, the Dutch East Indies, and Burma while threatening Australia and India.

The rearming of America was one of the most astonishing feats in all economic history. In the first six months of 1942, the government gave out 100 billion in military contracts— more than the entire GDP of 1940. In the war years, American industry turned out 6.500 naval vessels; 296,400 airplanes; 86,330 tanks; 64,546 landing craft; 3.5 million jeeps, trucks, and personnel carriers; 53 million deadweight tons of cargo vessels; 12 million rifles,carbines, and machine guns; and 47 million tons of artillery shells, together with millions of tons of uniforms, boots, medical supplies, tents and a thousand other items needed to fight a modern war.

We weren’t ready for Pearl Harbor, nor for Africa, nor the European front. We disarmed after World War II and we were once again not ready when North Korea invaded the South. We weren’t ready when Saddam Hussein marched into Kuwait and we weren’t ready for 9/11. America’s national character is perhaps always ready to assume that the war just finished was the last — ever.

Does anyone assume that now, we would have six months to a year to begin to produce the necessary equipment and round up and train the necessary troops? I seem to remember Donald Rumsfeld saying, to vast scorn from the American media—”you go to war with the army you have.”

It’s quite true, and the threats don’t always come from the direction you expected. When America is perceived as weak — as we are today, and indecisive — we are in greater danger. The “Arab Spring” has “unexpectedly” not turned out to be a people seeking for freedom and democracy. Instead the goal appears to be Sharia and dictatorship. Al Qaeda is again on the rise, and we seem to be rearming them. Syria’s Assad evidently is preparing to gas his own people. And we are cancelling missile protection for Eastern Europe because Obama wants a reset button with Russia, and now has more “flexibility.”

We must remember Pearl Harbor as a warning from the past. The troubled world keeps sending us reminders, and we fail to pay attention.



Other Times, Other Wars: Divided and United by The Elephant's Child

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(Antietam Bridge, Md, September 1862)

Ron Radosh has a column today on a new album of the songs of the Civil War, It is called “Divided and United” as a tribute to those who lived through those terrible years of a divided nation. The artists are drawn from the best of Nashville’s talent, the traditional singers as they call themselves  in opposition to “folk-singers” and try to capture the music as it was known then, from the sheet music they have.

If you click on the link just below the picture of the album, it will take you to Amazon where you can play a brief sampler of the songs. I’m going to have to get this one.

I lost two great uncles on each side of the Civil War, the Southern part of the family came from a small town in South Carolina near the Georgia border; the Northerners set out from South Carolina for Ohio Territory just after 1800. They were ardent abolitionists, and their Ohio church was a station on the underground railway.

Three brothers fought on the side of the Confederacy, one was killed in the battles around Richmond. My great grandfather and his brother-in-law took a wagon up across South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia to Richmond to bring his body home. The other was the only Confederate killed at Snicker’s Gap.The youngest of the Southern brothers was in the cavalry, and survived the war.

On the other side, Nathan died some time after Chickamauga, possibly from wounds from that battle, or in some other skirmish. The other I know only as “Uncle Frank” from a small Daguerreotype photo and the notation “died in the Civil War.”

Take some time to read about the Civil War. “The American Union was created by the Revolution, the American nation was forged only upon the awful anvil of the Civil War,” as John Steele Gordon wrote. The American Civil War was the largest war fought in the Western world in the century between the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815 and the outbreak of World War one on August 1, 1915.

The carnage was without precedent. On the single day of September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, the Union Army had casualties of 2,108 killed and 9,549 wounded. More casualties on that one day than in the entire Mexican War. The total military losses in the war on both sides, officially 498,333 — were more than 3 percent of the American male population in 1860, four and a half times our percentage losses in World War II.

Always unprepared for war, the federal government had been operating at a deficit since 1857. In 1860, the national debt stood at $64,844,000 and the Treasury was nearly depleted. In December of that year, as the Southern states began to secede one by one, there was at one point not even enough money on hand to meet the payroll. Three months later, at the time of the first Battle of Bull Run, the War Department alone was spending a million dollars a day.

A young banker named Jay Cooke was made the agent of the federal government to sell a new issue of bonds. He bypassed the banks, arranged for the bonds to be issued in denominations as small as $50, and sold them directly to the people. In other words, he invented the bond drive, which has supported all our wars ever since.



No Army Training In The Last Six Months. Preparedness Loses Out To Politics. by The Elephant's Child

General Ray Odierno, Army’s Chief of Staff told a Washington conference on Monday that the U.S. Army had not conducted any training in the last six months of the fiscal year ending September 30.

He added that there are currently only two Army  brigades rated combat-ready. A brigade numbers somewhere around 3,500 to 5,000 troops, commanded by a Colonel. That adds up to around 7,000 to 10,000 troops and less than one-third of what the combat veteran regards as necessary for national security. Odierno said:

Right now, we have in the Army two brigades that are trained. That’s it. Two.

Troops being deployed to Afghanistan now are prepared only to train and assist Afghan troops, not to conduct combat operations themselves, though there is no guarantee that they will not find themselves actually in combat, while accompanying Afghan soldiers.

Sequestration had its origins in the debt-ceiling battle of 2011. The President’s team, in an attempt to force Republicans into a compromise, devised the sequester as a sort of nuclear option. Sweeping cuts across all discretionary spending — including defense spending in a time of war, would be such a bitter pill to the Republicans, that they would fold and stop insisting on cuts in spending. Republicans took in the Obama team offer, and spat it out. The President remains furious.

Harmful automatic budget cuts — known as the sequester — threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs, and cut vital services for children, seniors, people with mental illness and our men and women in uniform.

These cuts will make it harder to grow our economy and create jobs by affecting our ability to invest in important priorities like education, research and innovation, public safety, and military readiness.

You have undoubtedly heard the president bragging about bringing the deficit down.  Depends on who he’s trying to impress. Because the sequester is automatic for nine more years, it can only be changed or undone if both houses vote to change it. It is a powerful tool for Republican negotiators in the budget conference committee, and gives them leverage to address the real driver of the debt — entitlement spending. Left unchanged, the combined unfunded entitlements of Social Security and Medicare threaten to bankrupt the country.

Republicans are trying to save the country. Democrats are trying to win. It’s politics all the way down.

Obama has made an effort to make the cuts forced by the sequester as painful as possible, just as he did with the government shutdown.

All this to obey Obama administration orders to drastically cut the Army and military spending and meet cuts under sequestration. Since the Obama Pentagon began the troop draw-down two years ago under the president’s orders, more than 33,000 active duty soldiers have been cut.

Current plans call for additional reductions of 42,000 soldiers in the next 23 months to a total of 490,000, down from 570,000. Those cuts have been accelerated by two years under Pentagon orders and will involve involuntary separations of thousands.

Military planners, under directives from Defense Secretary Hagel, now anticipate administration orders to sever another 70,000 active duty Army personnel at all levels. There is apparently a purge going on of some of the nation’s top veteran generals, allegedly for personal misconduct.

It is not a peaceful world. Al Qaeda is on the rise, Bashar Assad seems to have control of Syria after gassing dissidents, the Saudis are not friendly. Egypt is no longer under the control of the radical Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and a more friendly Army-backed government has taken over— so we have discontinued aid. Having botched Syria, botched a status of forces agreement in Iraq, Iraq is in flames again with an upsurge of al Qaeda in Iraq. So we are in peaceful conversations with Iran, the sponsor of all Middle East terrorism. Good time as any to cut back on military readiness.

Whenever wars are over, America settles back into heedless slumber, and we are never, never prepared when trouble breaks out again, as it always will.



Obama Declares War On 90-Year-Old World War II Vets! by The Elephant's Child

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The monuments and memorials on the Mall in Washington D.C. are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, rain or shine. Except when President Barack Obama has shut them all down to show how awful the Republicans are for shutting down the government and refusing to pay our debts. Except the Republicans did not shut down the government. They have passed several bills fully funding the government, which the Senate turned down.

Stung by headlines from all over the world describing the U.S. president as “weak,”
“indecisive” and other terms equally abusive, Mr. Obama is anxious to show how strong he can be when faced with his own recalcitrant Congress. “I won’t Negotiate” he has proclaimed, over and over,once again failing to recall that there are three coequal branches of government and the executive is just one of them, and the Constitutional duty of the House is to control the budget from overspending executives.  He even invited the Republicans up to the White House to tell them in person that “I won’t Negotiate!” This is a very angry president.

He will show them. He has barricaded all the open-air monuments on the Mall. Honor Flight veterans of World War II, on all-expense-paid visits to see the memorial erected in their honor, were fenced out by newly erected barricades. 90 year-old veterans who once stormed the beaches of Normandy and the shores of Iwo Jima know a thing or two about storming barriers. The Honor Flight from Mississippi was assisted by a bunch of Republican House members. Some of the vets returned home triumphantly waving yellow police barricade tape, as they once waved captured Nazi and Japanese flags.

No 90-year-old veteran in a wheelchair is going to get the best of Barack Obama!. Today he has ordered the barricades wired together. Such a small, petty man. These men have one chance to make this trip to see the memorial that honors their terrible sacrifice and all of the friends they lost.

BVkshNuCMAA8yzaThis is the memorial for the veterans of World War I.  Only a single barricade panel to symbolically keep out the ghosts of all the dead veterans. Their memorial has outlived them, and who even remembers Cambrai or Passchendaele anyway?

Overreach, as usual. The federal government tried to shut down Mount Vernon, but discovered to their consternation that it is privately owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. So they barricaded the parking  lot. The parking lots are jointly owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies.

“It’s a cheap way to deal with the situation,” an angry Park Service ranger in Washington says of the harassment. “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.” I hope that ranger cannot be identified, or he’ll get audited or even fired.

Mt. Vernon is not alone, the National Park Service, under orders to close everything down, is trying to close all sorts of privately owned facilities in, or connected to parks. The Pisgah Inn a private hotel that holds a concession on the Blue Ridge Parkway has defied intimidation and a Park Service order to close its doors. Inn owner Bruce O’Connell said today that he had reopened his doors for customers, since he is private property and uses no government personnel. “I’m questioning their authority to shut me.” Mr. O’Connell said.

Other private businesses that run concessions have been closed like City Tavern in Philadelphia and the Nauset Knoll Motor Lodge on Cape Cod. The chief spokesman for the Park Service says they have no choice but to shut down concessions. “…without an appropriation the entire system is closed and cannot reopen until funding is restored.  We do not believe its appropriate or feasible to have some parts of the system open while others are closed to the public.” There’s that annoying little fact that concessions pay the government—not the other way around.

Open: Camp David and the military golf courses where the president usually plays. Shut down: broadcasts of NFL games and the baseball playoffs to overseas troops who usually look forward to watching on the American Forces Network.

The interesting thing is that it takes funding to send out Park Rangers to shut down concessions, put up barricades, and man the barricades to be sure that no one looks at a monument. It is obviously not a necessity to shut down monuments, nor to put the entire Park Service on extended hours to make life difficult for the public.

There was a great Photoshop yesterday of two helicopters hovering over Mt. Rushmore with a huge drape of a giant white sheet to keep people from seeing presidential faces. Obama just hasn’t thought of that yet. Hilarious!



Barack Obama’s Misguided Political Theater by The Elephant's Child

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Barack Obama is determined to blame the Republicans for the government shutdown, but his efforts at political theater leave something to be desired.

Obama has never felt that the simple effects of law are quite enough to expose the degraded results of Republicans efforts to foil his plans. To emphasize the horrible results of the government shutdown, the Obama administration’s bright idea was to barricade national monuments to keep veterans from visiting them. These are open air monuments.

You have a lot of very ticked-off 85 and 90 year-old World War II veterans brought to Washington DC  by the organizers of the Hero Flight Network, to see the World War II monument honoring their service and their losses.

After a group of veterans broke down the barricades at the national World War II Memorial Tuesday afternoon, organizers of one Hero Flight Network group told BuzzFeed it wasn’t the last Washington would hear from them. Veterans are plotting another protest at the same place Wednesday, and expressed interest in staging similar events at sites across the nation’s capital, including the Lincoln Memorial — an act of civil disobedience that would likely pour fuel on the already highly flammable politics of the government shutdown.

“We have people here that are 80 and 90 years old and they closed down all the bathrooms?” said Tony Nussbaum, a 25-year veteran of the Air Force from Iowa and a leader of the state’s Hero Flight group. “I’m about to just start pissing on the trees.”…

On Wednesday, the scene could repeat itself when groups from the Honor Flight Network — a national charity that brings aging World War II veterans to visit the national monument to the conflict they fought in — are scheduled to arrive at the massive outdoor memorial. Meanwhile, veterans have pondered staging a similar protest at the Lincoln memorial, said Jamie Miller, a five-year veteran of the Marine Corps and another organizer of the Iowa group that stormed the World War II memorial Tuesday.

Not only a dumb attempt to make veterans suffer for political theater, but how completely tacky. No class. No class at all. Misplaced priorities, as usual.

A National Park Service employee threatened to arrest the vets, many in wheelchairs. The Honor Flight is an all-expense-paid trip for the vets, many of whom have never seen the monument to their service.

 



How Much is Al Qaeda Involved in Syria? by The Elephant's Child

Thomas Jocelyn testified yesterday to the House Committee on Homeland Security, about al Qaeda in Syria and the threat that poses to the United States. Al Qaeda affiliates and allied jihadist groups dominate the insurgency in the heart of the Middle East. The Long War Journal published his testimony.

“The situation inside Syria is grim, with a despicable tyrant on one side and a rebellion compromised by al Qaeda and like-minded extremists on the other. In between these two poles are the people who originally rose up against tyranny in search of a better life. As we’ve seen time and again in this long war, Muslims embroiled in violence in faraway lands are often the first line of defense against an ideology and an organization that pose a direct threat to the West.”

We should have no illusions about the nature of the Syrian war. What we are witnessing right now is a conflict that will have ramifications for our security in the West. The fighting in Syria and the terrorist campaign in Iraq are deeply linked, feeding off of one another in a way that increases the violence in both countries and potentially throughout the region. American interests outside of Syria have already been threatened by the war. We saw this late last year when al Qaeda repurposed a cell of Jordanian citizens who had fought in Syria for an attack inside their home country. They reportedly had the U.S. Embassy in their crosshairs and were planning a complex assault involving other targets as well. …

Al Qaeda and its extremist allies have grown much stronger since late 2011. Al Qaeda does not control the entire rebellion, which is made up of a complex set of actors and alliances. However, al Qaeda and its allies dominate a large portion of northern Syria and play a key role in the fighting throughout the rest of the country. These same al Qaeda-affiliated forces have fought alongside Free Syrian Army brigades. There is no clear geographic dividing line between the most extreme fighters and other rebels. For example, al Qaeda’s affiliates played a key role in the fighting in Latakia, an Assad stronghold on the coast, in early August. And within the past week we saw al Qaeda-affiliated fighters lead an attack in Malula, a Christian village not far from Damascus. These are just two examples chosen from many.

Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s emir has made the fight for Syria a strategic priority. They are political revolutionaries who are looking to establish an Islamic Emirate in the heart of the Levant. They want a state of their own — as a start.  Other al Qaeda groups have joined the fight — the Taliban from Pakistan, Chechens , fighters from South Asia and North Africa, are fighting alongside each other. There is a Syrian Islamic Front that fights alongside al Qaeda. There is a direct connection between the terrorists over there and terrorists over here. Some are being repurposed for  operations against the West. And al Qaeda is recruiting Westerners who can be used against their home countries. They are looking for chemical and biological weapons in Syria, and an al Nusrah Front cell has been arrested and found to be in possession of about 2 kilos of sarin gas. Iraqi officials claim to have broken up an al Qaeda cell that was seeking to launch sarin gas attacks in Iraq, Europe and possibly North America.

Do read the whole thing. These people do understand that we are in — a long war — and have been since 9/11. It is civilizational and serious and real, and we must take it seriously.

NOTE: A piece I posted on September 3 was based on an article from the Institute for the Study of War, and based on information from Elizabeth O’Bagy, who was an adviser to John Kerry and supposedly an expert on the situation in Syria. The Institute has discharged her for misrepresenting her credentials, and she is apparently involved as a lobbyist for the Free Syrian Army. So I don’t know if any of what I wrote is true, nor if the map is correct.



War and Empathy and Unbeliveably Small Strikes. by The Elephant's Child

It is 9/11. and the mind goes back twelve years to that terrible day, and to Benghazi on 9/11. The President and Vice President and their wives and the entire White House staff were photographed on the White House Lawn where they observed a moment of silence, and then the president went off to pass out food to the needy — in his continuing push to make 9/11 a “Day of Service.”

I don’t get it. I see no relation between mourning those we lost and doing some volunteer work. But then I’m not much on “moments of silence,” which I guess are to be seen as a one-minute collective observance of sorrow. If we do it collectively it is more meaningful? I’ll just go on mourning all day, the images don’t stop replaying in my head. I guess if you are a collectivist, you think collectively.

It is another day in the War on Terror. Yes, terror is a tactic, not the producer of terror, but that is simply semantics. What do you want to call it — a war on jihadists?

Americans are confused by World War II, when we had clear enemies — Germany, Japan and Italy. They expanded into conquered territory and we had to drive them out. The War was a total effort. Civilians did war work, bought war bonds, raised victory gardens and did without a wealth of things to which we were accustomed. The war lasted a neat four years, the victory was clear and surrender abject and total, followed by occupation.

Now there remains for Americans an expectation that a proper war will have those characteristics. In World War II people were thoroughly weary of war, but they knew that it had to be won and the enemy defeated utterly. There was no talk of “war weariness.” You even heard people during the War in Iraq or in Afghanistan complain that civilians weren’t asked to buy bonds or accept rationing. They weren’t proper wars because the home front just went on with ordinary life, undisturbed.

Richard Cohen, liberal columnist for the  Washington Post, asked plaintively “Where’s the moral outrage?”

The civil war in Syria has cost more than 110,000 lives. It has produced a humanitarian calamity — well over 2 million refugees.

Bashar Assad has massacred his own people by conventional means and is accused of using poison gas several times, most recently on Aug. 21, when his military murdered 1,429 people, including more than 400 children. …

I pick on the American left because it is liberal and because that suggests empathy, concern and internationalism.

The American right is now going through one of its periodic bouts of lunacy, reverting to a comfy isolationism-cum-selfishness that has often characterized it. (I should note, though, that back in the late 1930s, Norman Thomas, the six-time socialist presidential candidate, supported the isolationist America First movement.)

Isolationism-cum-selfishness? Hardly, but then empathy, concern and internationalism are not reasons to go to war either. War is a serious business, and with Iran in full-fledged support of Assad, must be considered seriously. An “extraordinarily small ” strike is not a serious response. And the president’s speech last night indicated that he is not serious.

My point is that the more military action departs from the example of World War II as it exists in memory, and movies, the more reluctant the people. You need the Draft, War Songs, Bond Drives, and some kind of deprivation for the people so they feel involved.  Americans want to support their president, but when offered only an “extraordinarily small” reprimand, the people sense that there is no clear strategy there at all.



There You Go — Because Obama! by The Elephant's Child

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.




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