American Elephants

Digging the Hole Deeper. by The Elephant's Child


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not going to end well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama Dithers While Syria Burns by The Elephant's Child

I am accustomed to a world in which the Defense Department, and the intelligence agencies keep track of what is going on and have an array of response plans for potential events. We have known for a long time that Bashar Assad, the Syrian dictator, has a supply of chemical weapons (WMD) which he acquired from Saddam Hussein. But we don’t know what to do?

A Civil War has been going on in Syria for some time, and it has been escalating steadily, with millions of refugees, In 2009,, Kerry said “I believe very deeply that this is an important moment of change, a moment of potential transformation, not just in the relationship between the United States and Syria but in the relationship of the region.” that “Syria is an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region.”

In 2010, the Kerrys were  great pals of the Assads, and Bashar’s stylish wife Asma was featured on the cover of Vogue. So much for understanding the region.

On Monday, it was a bit different. Kerry said:

The meaning of this attack goes beyond the conflict in Syria itself, and that conflict has already brought so much terrible suffering. This is about the large-scale, indiscriminate use of weapons that the civilized world long ago decided must never be used at all – a conviction shared even by countries that agree on little else. There is a clear reason that the world has banned entirely the use of chemical weapons. There is a reason the international community has set a clear standard and why many countries have taken major steps to eradicate these weapons. There is a reason why President Obama has made it such a priority to stop the proliferation of these weapons and lock them down where they do exist. There is a reason why President Obama has made clear to the Assad regime that this international norm cannot be violated without consequences. And there is a reason why no matter what you believe about Syria, all peoples and all nations who believe in the cause of our common humanity must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again.

So all officialdom talks about what they will do. The leaks tell Assad that he can relax, we have no intention of destroying the regime, an American military attack could begin as early as Thursday, and will involve three days of missile strikes. Perhaps they should let him know the exact schedule so he can prepare to avoid any damage. The object of the strike seems to be to let the world know that Obama does too mean it when he draws a red line. The whole thing is not about actually doing anything, bur simply about making a political statement.

Political statements can be delivered in political ways. American military personnel should not be put in harm’s way to make a “political statement.”

There are a number of sources who note that it is quite possible that it is the rebels who are using chemical weapons rather than Assad, because he seems to be winning without drastic steps. Lebanese-American scholar Fouad Ajami has pointed out that:

Syria’s main asset, in contrast to Egypt’s preeminence and Saudi wealth, is its capacity for mischief.

Ideally, the regime should be removed, but there is no one to replace it. The rebels are infiltrated with al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. American foreign policy is once again an exhibition of indecision and incompetence. Broadcasting everything you might do not only appears weak, but puts our military at risk. Can we assume that they have no other weapons than chemical ones? No stinger missiles or the equivalent?

Public dithering inspires no confidence from the people, from the nations of the world, or from the enemy. No confidence at all.

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