Our AWOL President

“Listen, doctor.  I’ve got a boy here in cardiac crisis.  You can’t treat that with Coca-Cola or Bisquick.  We’re going to have to use real medicine this time.  Now I’m sending him to Athens General.  You’re his regular f*cking doctor, you get your fat ass out of bed, get down here and go with him!”

          —Michael J. Fox as Dr. Benjamin Stone in Doc Hollywood

 

This is unforgivable.

As reported in the last post, last Wednesday Paris went into almost total lockdown mode after Islamist terrorists went on a bloody rampage at the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing twelve, including an unarmed police officer.  They killed another cop on Thursday, and later engaged in a fiery hostage standoff with French police.  Ultimately, seventeen people died in the biggest terrorist assault on French soil in memory.

Last Friday Obama paid lip service to U.S. support of the French in the wake of the hostage standoff:

“It’s important for us to understand—France is our oldest ally.  I want the people of France to know that the United States stands with you today, stands with you tomorrow.”

Apparently Friday’s promise of tomorrow didn’t extend to the day-after-tomorrow.

On Sunday millions—literally millions—took to the streets of Paris in peaceful demonstration of solidarity against the barbarism of militant Islam.  Some 40 presidents and other world dignitaries were there at the head of the march.  Among those joining French President Francois Hollande were German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron.  Hell, even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas managed to be civil enough to show up at the same event together. 

So, where was U.S. President Obama?  I don’t know for sure—it’s a little early to be working on a March Madness bracket, even for him—but I can tell you where he wasn’t:  he was not in Paris to join the other leaders of the free world in demonstrating for free speech and against Islamist terrorism.

He didn’t even bother to vote “present” this time.

Rusty, surely he sent Vice President Joe Biden to represent the U.S., didn’t he?

Um, nope.

Well, of course he sent John Kerry then, right?  I mean, that is kind of right down the middle of the job description for the Secretary of State, isn’t it?

It is, but sorry, Mr. Kerry couldn’t be troubled to reschedule his appointments in India.

The highest level U.S. official anywhere near the scene was lame-duck Attorney General Eric Holder, who was in Paris for a previously-scheduled anti-terrorism conference, but skipped out prior to the rally so he could tape a softball interview for Meet The Press.  [As an aside, query why an anti-terrorism conference is a task for the Attorney General as opposed to, say, the Secretary of Homeland Security, except that I guess it presents one last opportunity for a European vacation boondoggle on the U.S. taxpayers’ dime.]  Thus, the U.S. delegation at the demonstration consisted of Obama bundler-turned-ambassador Jane Hartley.

Um, who?

In other words, when the whole of the civilized world finally stood up and stood together against the barbarism of radical Islam, the United States was effectively nowhere to be seen.

This is embarrassing beyond description.

Following the 9/11 attacks, President Bush—correctly, by the way—made the case that the struggle against the Islamists—he was more politically-correct than he should have been and labeled it a “war on terror”—was not just an American cause, but it was a cause for the entire free world.  And on that theme he went to our allies around the world and persuaded them to join us in a campaign to root out and destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan as a message to all who would slaughter innocents in the name of Allah.  France joined in that struggle, and 88 Frenchmen have made the ultimate sacrifice in that effort.

In short, when we sounded the clarion call for volunteers to man the ramparts against radical Islam, the French answered, “Oui!”.

Yet when it was France’s turn to be on the wrong end of a bloody scimitar, where was the U.S.?

It’s not about offering assistance, contrary to the flaccid excuses offered by Secretary Kerry.  The French never needed our help tracking down and destroying the perpetrators of the immediate crisis at hand.   It’s about leadership and solidarity against the greater global threat.  Say what you will about the Al Sharpton, Quanell X, Jesse Jackson, and the like; at least these would-be black leaders know when to show up.  When it comes to uniting the civilized West against the Islamists, the great superpower of the West simply cannot just post “#JeSuisCharlie” on Twitter and call it a day.

Of course, the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem, and this is where the rubber meets the road for this Administration.  This President and his lackeys have a long and well-documented aversion to recognizing that the world faces a real and serious threat from the Islamists.  Attending a global-scale rally would have been a tacit admission that last week’s events in Paris go beyond an isolated one-off incident, and are instead part of a much broader and much more serious problem.  And that’s simply too much for an Administration that has the hardest time even pronouncing the word “terrorism,” much less using it in the same sentence with any form on the word “Islam.”

So what does it tell our allies that, when they gather to mourn their dead and cry out in defense of freedom in the face of Islamist violence, the U.S. essentially R.S.V.P.s “Non”?

What does it tell the Islamists that, when the Western world rallies in defiance against their acts of terror, ostensibly the most powerful nation on the planet can’t or won’t show its face?

Like it or not, the U.S.—at least until the Chinese call in our debt—occupies a unique position in the world, particularly the West.  We cannot play ostrich and hope that by ignoring it or just not speaking its name the Islamist threat will just go away.  The U.S. must be the tip of the spear at the vanguard of this fight, not hiding on the back bench behind the cheerleaders.  We must lead.

This is a serious fight with serious stakes.

And we must be present to win.

Chickenshit

Umpire:          You’re pushing it, buddy, you’ll find out.  You want me to run you?  I’ll run you!

Crash:            Oh, you want me to call you a cocksucker?

Umpire:          Go ahead.  Try it! 

Crash:            You want me to call . . . beg me!

Umpire:          Try it! Call me a cocksucker!

Crash:            Pretty please, beg!

Umpire:          Call me a cocksucker, and you’re outta here!

Crash:            Pretty please, beg me!

Umpire:          Call me a cocksucker, and you’re outta here!

Crash:            You’re a cocksucker.  You’re a cocksucker!

Umpire:          You’re *outta* here!

        —Stephen Ware as the Umpire, and Kevin Costner as “Crash” Davis in Bull Durham

Why does the Obama administration hate Israel?  More specifically, why does this administration, and Obama in particular, hate Benjamin Netanyahu?

Just this week, a piece in The Atlantic quoted multiple unnamed “senior officials” in the Obama administration referring to the Israeli Prime Minister as “chickenshit,” saying the former commando and combat veteran has “no guts.”

Wow.  Really?

That’s a hot one coming from this President and this administration, particularly while hiding behind journalistic anonymity.  But apparently this is just the latest in a running list of derogatory references to Netanyahu that The Atlantic catalogues as including: “recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and ‘Aspergery.’”

Is this really how we speak about the leader of one of our closest allies?

Meanwhile, last week in response to the killing of a 17 year old Arab-American by the IDF, the Obama administration issued a statement expressing “its deepest condolences to the family.”  That’s fine, so far as it goes, but when State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was informed of reports that the teen was killed while throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli civilians when he was shot (and later buried wearing a Hamas handkerchief), she refused to identify that as an act of terrorism, thus denying the IDF’s action any cloak of legitimacy.  I note this is exactly the same tactic used by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist apologists when they simultaneously denounce “terrorism” yet refuse to condemn Hamas or Hezbollah.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new, and the Obama administration’s mistreatment of Israel and Netanyahu is well documented.  For example:

March 2010:  Obama abruptly leaves a meeting with Netanyahu to have dinner in the White House private residence, leaving Netanyahu to twiddle his thumbs.

May 2011:  Just prior to a UN vote on the recognition of an independent Palestinian state, Obama publicly calls for a return to the pre-1967 borders, thus undermining Israel’s negotiating position.

November 2011:  Forgetting he has a hot mic, Obama complains to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, “You’re fed up with him?  I have to deal with him every day.”

September 2012:  Obama refuses Netanyahu’s request for a meeting, despite Netanyahu’s volunteering to fly to the District to do it.

July 2014:  While Israel is actively engaged in an effort to stop Hamas from firing rockets from Gaza into Israel, the administration announces $47 million in aid for Gaza, where instead of building hospitals and homes, Hamas builds tunnels for smuggling terrorists into Israel.  This is on top of the $400 million a year the U.S. sends to the Palestinian Authority, which under the unity government arrangement, helps fund Hamas.

Why are we being like this?

The Atlantic, for its part, blames the soured relationship on Israel, in particular on the continued building of settlements on the West Bank.  To be sure, the settlements tend to present a stumbling block on the road to peace, as they increase Israel’s hold on buffer zones she views as necessary to her national security.  But The Atlantic—and, apparently, the Obama administration—forget that Israel has a history of giving up land for peace only then to be attacked from the very land she gave up (see, e.g. Israel’s withdrawal from settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005).

And Israel has good reason for concern.  Israel is tiny; with about 8,000 square miles of territory and a population of 8.2 million, she is roughly the same size as New Jersey.  Discounting the West Bank, Israel is barely 8 miles wide at her narrowest point, which makes for a very precarious defensive situation.  She is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, and hostile Islamic states to the south (Egypt), east (Jordan), and north (Lebanon and Syria).  She has been invaded or threatened with imminent invasion by those states three times in the last 60 years (1948, 1967, and 1973).  Calls for the destruction of Israel are common in the Islamic world, which is becoming increasingly influential on the international stage; the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has a permanent delegation to the UN, and its 57 member states typically vote as a bloc together with permanent Security Council members Russia and China, and is a primary driver behind pushes for UN resolutions criminalizing any speech deemed “insulting” to any religion (read: anything that upsets Islam).

And ISIS now controls areas barely 200 miles from the Israeli border.

You’ll forgive the Prime Minister if he’s more than a little frustrated and impatient with a U.S. administration that has little serious time (or regard) for him, even as it inches ever closer to a deal that will ultimately allow Iran to become a nuclear power.  Iran has repeatedly, and in no uncertain terms, declared its desire and intention to erase Israel from the map.  There is no reason not to take them at their word; if the Iranians get a nuclear weapon, they will use it on Israel, and they will do so immediately (Iran’s Shahab-3 cruise missile has a range of 1,200 miles, placing Jerusalem and Tel Aviv within easy striking distance from western Iran).

And that’s where the rubber really meets the road, because what it tells us is that in this drama there are, in fact, good guys and bad guys.

In contrast to Iran, or Hamas in Gaza (at least tolerated, if not supported, by the ruling Palestinian Authority in the West Bank), or Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel has never called for the destruction of any nation or group of people.  And what’s telling about that is that Israel could long ago have cleaned Gaza and the West Bank of every living Arab if she wanted to.

But she hasn’t.

To the contrary, Arabs in Israel enjoy full citizenship, the same as Jews or anyone else.  They can and do vote, serve in the Knesset or the courts, and own property.  They pay the same taxes and receive the same government benefits as Jews.  They can freely and openly practice their religion.  Women, homosexuals, and even Muslim Arabs enjoy more freedom in Israel than anywhere else in the Middle East.

That we won’t stand firmly with what is obviously the only open, free, democratic society in the region—and indeed, why we instead are almost openly hostile to it—is flabbergasting.  And it stems directly from this administration’s pathological inability or unwillingness to call a spade a spade.  If we learned nothing from the Harry Potter franchise, it’s that you can’t fight an enemy until you have the courage to call it by its name.  Yet these people are so wrapped up in their hyper-politically-correct worldview that they can’t acknowledge reality.  They can’t accept that there are in fact good guys and bad guys, and identify them.  They can’t call terrorism terrorism.  They can’t call evil evil.

I suppose we shouldn’t really be surprised at this point.  This is the same administration that blinked at its own “red line” in Syria; couldn’t pull the trigger on defending the consulate in Benghazi, and then repeatedly tried to blame it on a stupid internet video rather than call it terrorism (and two years later, Obama still has never had enough spine to stand before the American people like an adult leader and discuss that incident); insisted on calling the shootings at Fort Hood “workplace violence” despite convicted killer Nadal Hassan repeatedly shouting “Allahu akbar” as he did it; still hasn’t taken meaningful action to curb the growing threat from ISIS; delayed an attempt to rescue ISIS hostages until the intelligence on their location was stale (two have since been beheaded); and three times canceled the raid to capture/kill Osama bin Laden.  Not coincidentally, this is the same administration that repeatedly gets caught spying on our closest allies (no wonder Obama almost never sits down with any of them one-on-one); has repeatedly hidden from legitimate inquiries behind stalling and bogus claims of executive privilege; never takes live press Q & A; and routinely engages in sophomoric gamesmanship.

And now we know this is the same administration that anonymously badmouths its friends to the press.

We have a word for that:

Chickenshit.

Hither, Dither, and Yon

Borodin:    Captain, I would never disagree with you in front of the men, you know that.  But in this case, Viktor is right: it would have been better if you had *not* informed Moscow.

Ramius:     Oh, Vasili, Moscow is not the worry, nor the entire Soviet Navy.  I know their tactics.  I have the advantage.  No, the worry is the Americans.  We meet the right sort, this will work.  We meet some “buckaroo”. . .

        —Sam Neill as First Officer Vasili Borodin, and Sean Connery as Captain Marko Ramius in The Hunt For Red October

 

I have complained many times in this space about this President’s lack of visibility and more-than-curious refusal to address the nation on serious crises.  I’m beginning to re-think that, and maybe it’s better sometimes if he’d just keep his mouth shut.

On Thursday Obama broke from his usual pattern and actually gave a press conference to address the situation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.  During those remarks, the President said, “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet.”

What?

This is troubling on a number of different levels.  First, if you don’t yet have a strategy, why on earth are you holding a presser to announce that fact to the world, including ISIS?  As we’ll discuss in a moment, this is not an isolated incident for this, er, Commander-in-Chief.

Second, how is it that the President has no strategy for dealing with ISIS?  The group has been part of the anti-Assad uprising in Syria for years.  Although he cavalierly dismissed them as the “JV” back in January of this year, the intelligence community has been warning about them since about that same time.  And it’s been all over mainstream Western news for months that ISIS was taking vast territories from a badly overmatched Iraqi army.  On June 9, ISIS captured the key Iraqi city of Mosul.  Yet nearly three months later, the Obama administration still doesn’t have a plan for dealing with them?

This comes on the heels of Obama in effect announcing that he doesn’t yet have a plan for dealing with increased Russian aggression in Ukraine.  There he went a step further by announcing what his plans would not be, explicitly taking any military response off the table.  I am not suggesting that military intervention necessarily is the appropriate response to the situation in Ukraine, but why on earth would you say out loud that it’s not an option?  By doing that, Vladimir Putin now knows the worst risk he faces is economic sanctions, and with winter approaching a Europe that depends on Russian gas he knows the U.S. is not likely to get significant European support for much beyond what is already in place.

And this is not new for the Obama administration.

Recall March 2012, when Obama—thinking he was off-mic—told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that after the election he would have “more flexibility” regarding U.S. missile defense systems in Europe.  Translation: he told the Russians that if they would just be patient, he would be able and willing to give them what they want.

If publicly telling your adversaries that you’re taking options off the table is bad, the reverse—publicly making threats you are not willing to carry out—may be worse.  Rewind to August 2012, when the President told the world that the use of chemical or biological weapons in the Syrian conflict would be a “red line” for the U.S. as far as military intervention.  Fast-forward to August 2013, when alleged evidence that the Assad regime was using such weapons against civilians prompted calls for action, and Obama denied he said what he said, and then he did nothing.

As not quite an aside, this is essentially the same thing he did with respect to Benghazi, when he promised to bring those responsible for the attacks to justice, and has done basically nothing since. He is now in the process of doing precisely the same thing with respect to the murder of journalist James Foley.  Yet while on his recent vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, he found time to work in eight rounds of golf, raising his total to 35 rounds this year, and 192 rounds since he took office.  It is also worth noting that while ISIS and the Russians have been on the march and the administration did not have a plan, the Commander-in-Chief had time to attend over 40 fundraisers this year; that’s over eighty in his second term, nearly three times Bush 43’s second term tally.  Obama’s total of nearly 400 is second only to Bill Clinton.

Time and again, the President has publicly shot off his mouth about strategies and plans—or the lack thereof—with respect to foreign policy matters.  He has absolutely no grasp of the concept of playing it close to the vest when dealing with adversaries.  Sun Tzu, writing some 2,500 years ago, emphasized the importance of information, particularly about the capabilities and intentions of your opponent, in deciding conflicts; Obama seems to have missed that one.

This administration lives in a state of total denial regarding the threat from our enemies. In point of fact, the administration has expressly denied that ISIS is at war with the U.S., despite the fact that ISIS has expressly and repeatedly said that it is.  Instead of acknowledging the reality and dealing with it for what it is, the Obama administration steadfastly refuses to take them at their word, and has consistently attempted to deal with ISIS and other Islamists as civilian criminals, rather than soldiers at war.  Further, FreeBeacon.com reports that the latest FBI domestic threat assessment refuses to include Islamist jihadis among those threats, focusing instead on things like anti-government militia groups, black separatists, and both sides of the abortion debate.  The FreeBeacon piece notes that the FBI is advised on domestic terror threats by operatives of al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

This childish game of insisting it won’t be so as long as we refuse to name it is dangerous.  You may choose not to defend yourself, but you have no choice about being in a fight if the other guy wants to fight.  When you broadcast your every move to the world, ignore what your adversaries tell you are their intentions, and on top of that allow those same adversaries to advise you on how to respond to threats, your ability to defend yourself even if you wanted to is reduced to nil.

Perhaps we could do with a little less talking, and a little more doing.

The Price Of Afghanistan

Welcome back, my friends

To the show that never ends

We’re so glad you could attend

Come inside, come inside

            —Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, Karn Evil 9 1st Impression, Part 2

 

No, the IRS didn’t come cart me away.  Yet.

Yesterday an Afghan security guard opened fire and killed three American medical personnel in a hospital in Kabul.  This is the latest instance of so-called “green-on-blue” attacks, where armed Afghans working alongside “coalition” forces turn their weapons against their erstwhile allies.  According to longwarjournal.org, as of October 2013 there had been 83 such attacks since 2008.  Just another instance of dead Americans in a war zone far away, and I know it’s not nearly as interesting as mysteriously-vanishing airliners, or capsized Korean ferries (hence you won’t see this on CNN), but it does beg a question:

Why are we still there for these latest three Americans to die?

Let’s be clear: Afghanistan is at the crossroads of nowhere.  It has no strategic significance, no resources anyone needs, and it wields no political stroke.  It’s a godforsaken hellhole that civilization left behind a millennium ago.  So why are we there?

To recap some rather unpleasant history, on September 11, 2001, 19 jihadists hijacked four U.S. airliners, crashing two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York (ultimately obliterating both buildings), and one into the Pentagon.  The fourth was apparently being retaken by the passengers, so the jihadists crashed it into the ground in a field in Pennsylvania.

The attacks killed 2,997 people, excluding the jihadists.  Remember that number.

U.S. intelligence quickly identified the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda as being responsible for the attacks, and on September 14 Congress—by a combined vote of 518 to 1—authorized the use of military force against those nations, organizations, or persons the President determines were responsible, and against those harboring such organizations or persons.  Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden—who later admitted responsibility for the attacks—was traced to Afghanistan, and the U.S. State Department demanded that the Afghan government turn him over.  The ruling Taliban—bad guys in their own right—refused.  On September 20, in an address to a joint session of Congress, President George W. Bush reiterated the demand, and warned that “they will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate.”  Still the Taliban refused.  So on October 7, the initial bombing campaign in Afghanistan began.

At the time, this was a rational response to the attacks.  If the perpetrators were not acting on the Taliban’s behalf (or with their blessing), there was no reason not to hand bin Laden over.  The Taliban’s refusal to do so suggests the other alternative—that the perpetrators were acting on the Taliban’s behalf or with its blessing—in which case the attacks were an act of war by Afghanistan just the same as if they had invaded Manhattan with uniformed troops.  And Americans—myself included—almost unanimously supported the action at the time.  Hell, even Senators Joe Biden (D-DE), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Kerry (D-MA), and Harry Reid (D-NV), just to name a notable few, voted in favor of authorizing a military response.

But that was nearly thirteen years ago.

By the end of 2001, the Taliban had been overthrown, although they would continue to wage an insurgency war out of neighboring Pakistan (theoretically a U.S. ally).  For the next ten years, through the end of the Bush administration and well into the Obama administration, U.S. forces continued to occupy Afghanistan to provide “security” and hunt for Osama bin Laden.

And Americans continued to die.

On May 2, 2011, U.S. special forces troops finally caught up with bin Laden—ironically in Pakistan, which one tends to suspect knew where he was all along—and killed him.  Over 1,500 Americans had died in and around Afghanistan by that point.  But with the Taliban out and the al-Qaeda mastermind now dead, surely the mission in Afghanistan was complete, right?

Wrong.  And as we approach the third anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan.

And Americans still continue to die there.

I asked you to remember the number of victims killed in the 9/11 attacks: 2,997.  The American death toll in Afghanistan is now 2,317, meaning our response to the 9/11 attacks has killed nearly as many Americans as the attacks themselves.  761 Americans—roughly a quarter of the total—have died in the three years since Osama bin Laden was killed and the last ostensible purpose of the campaign was achieved.  If you count all coalition military casualties, there have actually been more “good guys” killed (over 3,400) participating in our campaign in Afghanistan than were killed by the jihadists in the first place.

At some point, doesn’t the cure become worse than the disease?

Crass as it is compared to the human cost, let’s also consider the financial cost of this crusade.  Through fiscal 2011, we had spent something like $468 billion fighting the Taliban and chasing bin Laden.  By now, the price tag is surely well over $500 billion and counting.  That’s more than 50 times the estimated cost to rebuild the World Trade Center—which, 12 years later, still hasn’t been completed, while we’ve been arguing over the location of mosques and whether documentaries about 9/11 are offensive to Muslims (of course they are; everything offends them).  One suspects we could have just bought Afghanistan outright for less (the Louisiana Purchase—a much larger and vastly more resource-rich territory—was had for a paltry $280 million in today’s dollars, and Alaska—almost as large as Afghanistan, and again much more resource-rich—was purchased for mere pocket change of about $119 million).

To give some perspective, $500 billion would rank 20th among world GDP, just behind that of Switzerland, and ahead of countries like Sweden and Norway.  The entire U.S. federal budget was less than $500 billion in constant (2009) dollars as recently as 1979.  And for all that spending, and all our fancy technology (most of which, if Iraq was any guide, will ultimately be abandoned if and when we ever leave Afghanistan), we’re 12 years in and still can’t declare victory against an enemy that can barely muster better than sticks and stones and the occasional homemade bomb.

Why?

This is not a knock on our men and women in uniform.  They are the finest professionals, and they do the job they are given, but in this case we’ve never really defined what that job is, which makes their task impossible from the outset.  Not only are political (and political-correctness) considerations preventing our military from winning, they’ve never even been told what a win looks like.  So on and on it goes, and that begins to highlight the real cost.

Although draft registration is still required for American males between 18 and 25 years old, since 1972 we have operated an all-volunteer military force, or “AVF.”  That’s fine for short term military responses in Grenada or Somalia.  But the AVF was never designed for decades-long prosecutions of wars/occupations on multiple fronts.  With no draft to provide large scale influxes of fresh personnel, the same people have to rotate in and out of country over and over.  Years and years of multiple deployments take their toll on morale and numbers.

It’s no wonder, then, that we see two-bit regimes like Iran and Syria now openly thumbing their noses at U.S. threats (or “red lines,” or whatever).  It’s no wonder that we see Vladimir Putin feeling his oats in Crimea.  It’s no wonder that we see the Chinese in a rapid military buildup mode.  Diplomatic pressure and even sanctions are ultimately only as good as the credibility of any military action to back them up.  But in large part as a result of a decade in Afghanistan (combined with Iraq), those who would do things counter to the interests of the U.S. and its allies look at us and see a nation whose population is war-weary (and in any event has the attention span of a gnat), and whose military is depleted (and still tied down) and lacks the practical ability to replenish itself.  In other words, we’re spent, and we’re spread too thin, and everyone knows it.

Combine that with an obviously weak and indecisive Commander-in-Chief who plainly lacks the stomach to make hard decisions or to commit forces to combat, and a very public drawdown of the U.S. military in general, and just how credible is any sabre-rattling out of D.C. going to be any more?  Putin can rest pretty comfortably in his assumption that when push comes to shove, there will be no real pushback from the U.S. in Crimea.  Or Moldova.  Or Belarus.  Kim Jong Un and his benefactors in Beijing have to like their odds that the same is true on the Korean peninsula.  Maybe even in Japan.  And when you add in the new influx of cash Obama is permitting to run into Teheran, you have to think the Iranians feel less and less apprehensive about pressing their nuclear aspirations.

This must be very comforting to our allies in places like Warsaw, Jerusalem, and Seoul.

Theodore Roosevelt counseled that one should speak softly and carry a big stick.  We’ve been swinging blindfolded at the piñata so long now we don’t have any stick left, and once that happens it doesn’t matter how loudly you mindlessly proclaim that “there will be consequences,” or that rivals are on the “wrong side of history.”

Or “we will, at last, have peace in our time.”

This, I fear, will prove to be the real cost of Afghanistan.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Edwards:       Drop the weapon and put your hands on your head.

K:                    I warned him.

Edwards:       Drop the weapon!

K:                    You warned him.

Edwards:       Don’t make me kill you.

Jeebs:              You insensitive prick!  Don’t you know how much that stings!

—Will Smith as Edwards, Tommy Lee Jones as K, and Tony Shalhoub as Jack Jeebs in Men In Black

OK, everybody who’s surprised by the colossal failure of the rollout of FUBARCare raise your hand.

Mr. Obama, you can put yours down.

Amazingly, the Progressives are still trying with a straight face to defend this thing, and some are even having the brass stones to blame Republicans for the problems.  But by now it is impossible for any remotely rational person not to see what a pack of lies this has been:

But the FUBARCare debacle over the last week is hardly surprising; to the contrary, it was utterly predictable, because it is merely the most recent illustration of this Administration’s consistent display of incompetence and deceit.  Indeed, is there anything this Administration has touched that hasn’t turned out to be a gigantic steaming pile of cow flop covered with (f)lies?

Afghanistan

The primary goal of our military involvement in Afghanistan was to “get” Osama Bin Laden.  That was achieved—in Pakistan—on May 2, 2011, over two and a half years ago, yet Americans are still dying in Afghanistan.  At last count, over 700 Americans—more than during the entire Bush administration—have been killed there since Bin Laden’s death.  Why?  Perhaps if Obama attended a security briefing once in awhile he’d be aware that our armed forces are still engaged in that theater.

Benghazi

On September 11, 2012, four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in a series of military-style assaults on our consulate—sovereign U.S. soil—in Benghazi, Libya.  Although Stevens had repeatedly warned of the deteriorating situation and requested additional security, although escalating incidents over the preceding several months had led the British to close their facility, and although the 9/11 anniversary posed an obvious symbolic targeting date, the Administration refused to bolster security and left the diplomatic personnel in place.  Although the President knew about the attacks less than 90 minutes after they began, and although they took place over a period of some nine hours as the President and his staff watched in real time via surveillance drone, the President did nothing.  That weekend, Obama sent U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice all over the Sunday talk shows with a series of talking points blaming a silly internet video when they knew it was an al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist assault, while he ran around to multiple campaign fundraisers.  Obama later pledged to hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice, yet to date the only person jailed as a result has been the producer of the irrelevant internet film (who just recently got out of prison); no one in Libya has been arrested, and the Benghazi raid isn’t even among the crimes for which the Administration is offering a reward for information.

Economy and Budget

We’ve been told for several years now that we’re in a “recovery” from the Bush recession.  Obama has repeatedly said that he was focused like a laser on jobs, and that he “will not rest” until everyone has one.  Yet as of September, a full ten million people have left the workforce since Obama took office.  Workforce participation is now at a paltry 63%.  A recent Census Bureau report counts more people receiving means-tested government benefits (read: welfare) than with full-time jobs.  Meanwhile the national debt now exceeds $17 trillion, nearly double what it was when Obama took office (just under $10 trillion), Obama is continuing to spend at around a $4 trillion/year clip, and Harry Reid says “everybody” wants to pay more in taxes.

This is some rescue.

Fast & Furious

On December 14, 2010, U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in a gun battle with Mexican drug runners.  Guns used in the fight were traced back to Operation Fast & Furious, a Justice Department action in which illegal guns were deliberately permitted to be sold and transported outside the U.S. in an effort to track them to Mexican cartels.  Despite multiple memos and emails to Attorney General Eric Holder mentioning the program—including some from before Terry’s murder—Holder has steadfastly denied (read: lied) knowing anything about it.  Since then, he and the President have spent the better part of the last three years doing everything possible to avoid providing Congress, the American people, or the Terry family any information about it.

Government “Investments”

Obama the investment banker, in his infinite wisdom, illegally diverted $80 billion in TARP bailout money effectively to nationalize GM and Chrysler.  On the GM side alone, taxpayers are still out nearly $20 billion, and the GM stock still held by the government would have to triple in value for John Q. Public just to break even.  To put that in perspective, the first time in our entire history that the total federal budget reached $20 billion was 1942, and here we’re talking about the loss on a single piece of a single program.  Meanwhile as I have reported previously, Obama’s Energy Department has lost billions making high-risk loans to unproven “green energy” firms—many, not coincidentally, owned by huge Obama donors—that have gone belly-up.  And the few jobs “created” through the bailout and loans have in large part been overseas.  Not a particularly good rate of return.

IRS & NSA

When the IRS hasn’t been gearing up to serve as the jack-booted enforcers of FUBARCare, it turns out they’ve been selectively targeting conservative political groups to delay or deny them tax-exempt status.  Originally passed off as the isolated action of a couple of rogue low-level employees in Cincinnati, it is becoming increasingly clear that this was actually a deliberate program to weaponize the IRS as a political tool for the Left, overseen at the highest levels.  Meanwhile, we’re learning that the NSA has been—without a warrant—effectively spying on millions of innocent private U.S. citizens.  Once again, however, the Administration absolutely refuses to discuss either issue with Congress or the American people.

World Image

Obama took office pledging to restore America’s image in the world.  Then in his first official act, he embarked on a global apology tour, basically denouncing everything America has ever been or done.  Since then, he has displayed a breathtaking lack of leadership in the Middle East, he’s been horrifyingly weak in dealing with Russia, and he’s alienated and offended our European and Western Hemisphere allies by repeatedly getting caught spying on them (compounded by the fact that he never sits down with those leaders one-on-one to foster those relationships).  The Saudis have recently severed diplomatic ties.  And Obama’s relationship with Israel is so deteriorated that one suspects the only circumstance in which he wouldn’t piss on Benjamin Netanyahu is if the Prime Minister were on fire.  If there is left any nation that would count us as a friend, or at least acknowledge any respect for us, I don’t know who that would be.

At this point the grim reality has to be inescapable.  Even the true believers on the Left can’t avoid recognizing—without engaging in an unconscionable self-fraud—that this President is an embarrassingly epic failure.  He has accomplished exactly nothing positive, and the level of arrogance, ignorance, incompetence, and paranoia that permeates this Administration is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.  At the end of the day, we’re left with nothing but angry lectures, empty platitudes, cheesy staged political stunts, fundraisers, and golf.

And lies.  Upon lies.  Upon lies.

This is what you get when you elect a community organizer with literally zero real-world experience, whose sole drivers are a blind adherence to radical ideology, and a limitless thirst to erect a monument to his own ego, real-world results and consequences be damned.

Some of us tried to tell you . . .

Casting Stones

 

Saw another fella talking on the TV show

Trying to tell me how to live, and just how I should vote

He says he believes in the sanctity of life

A hundred thousand died, tell me are you sanctified

Now you without sin, pick up that stone

You without sin, pick up that stone

            —Hootie and the Blowfish, The Killing Stone

 

I will say this: at least he’s gone to Congress.

The Obama administration continues to press its case for Congressional authorization to launch some kind of strike against the Assad regime in Syria for its alleged use—now two weeks ago—of chemical weapons in the civil war there.  In an attempt to distance himself from the criticism that this is all about his saving face after painting himself into a corner by issuing his “red line” ultimatum last year, the President now swears up and down that this isn’t about his credibility, but about global credibility if the international community doesn’t enforce its own international norm:

“I didn’t set a red line.  The world set a red line.  The world set a red line when governments representing 98% of the world’s population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war.  Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty.  Congress set a red line when it indicated that in a piece of legislation titled the Syria Accountability Act that some of the horrendous things that are happening on the ground there need to be answered for.  And so, when I said, in a press conference, that my calculus about what’s happening in Syria would be altered by the use of chemical weapons, which the overwhelming consensus of humanity says is wrong, that wasn’t something I just kind of made up.  There was a reason for it.  That’s point number one.  Point number two, my credibility is not on the line.  The international community’s credibility is on the line.  And America and Congress’ credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.”

Oh, so this is all about standing up for international “norms” against this kind of behavior?  As an interesting aside, almost simultaneously with the President denying he had set any red lines himself, his Secretary of State was in front of the House Foreign Relations Committee attempting to deflect questions about why act now and not in response to earlier chemical weapon attacks by the Assad regime in part by saying the earlier attacks happened before Obama drew “his red line” [RDW Note:  sorry, I don’t have a link for that, just happened to catch him saying that live]

I guess Secretary Kerry didn’t get the talking points memo.

I’m not sure what “international norm” the President thinks is enforceable in Syria.  If he’s referring to the Chemical Weapons Convention signed in 1992, and which the U.S. ratified in 1997, Syria has never signed that.  If he’s referring to the 1925 Geneva Protocol, while Syria has acceded to it, there is considerable debate whether it applies to internal civil conflicts.  Neither situation poses a clear international mandate for unilateral U.S. action, and query why it’s taken them two weeks to come up with this explanation.

The President’s effort to shift responsibility for the “red line” drawing onto Congress by citing the Syria Accountability Act is a nice try at establishing a domestic mandate, but misses the mark.  The SAA was passed in 2003, seven years before the Syrian civil war began, and thus obviously was not meant to deal with Syria’s conduct in that conflict.  Moreover, it had little to do with Syria’s use of chemical weapons, but was instead was almost entirely directed at Syria’s support for Hezbollah as an exporter of terrorism, and getting Syria out of Lebanon.  The chemical weapons concerns cited in the Act were tied to Syria’s development of ballistic missile delivery systems—that was the WMD threat to American interests: the idea that Syria was developing the capability to deliver those weapons over some significant distance (read: Israel).   Moreover, the SAA did not authorize or even mention the use of military force in Syria; it talks about import/export embargoes and diplomatic restrictions, not F/A-18s and cruise missiles.

The President wants to wrap himself in the cloak of universally-recognized “international norms,” but it’s very difficult to claim that moral high ground when the international community is universally against you on the subject of making a retaliatory strike.  The UN is against it.  Obviously our rivals are against it.  Even our allies—to the extent we have any left—are either against it, or not willing to participate.  It is a strange champion of “international norms” indeed who goes on a violent crusade with the support of almost literally no one on the planet.

We’re rightly horrified at the indiscriminant killing of civilians; war is an ugly, ugly business.  But if we’re honest with ourselves, our own history over the last half century leaves us little moral currency with which to insist upon donning the Lone Ranger’s white hat on that count.  Chemical weapons?  How about the 20 million gallons of Agent Orange sprayed by the U.S. military in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, more than a little ironically as part of us injecting ourselves into someone else’s civil war.  Our use of Agent Orange resulted in an estimated half-million killed or maimed, as many as a million with permanent health problems, and up to 500,000 children born with birth defects.  True, Agent Orange was intended as a defoliant to get rid of jungle hiding places, but it was a chemical nonetheless.  And dead is dead; does it really matter whether we killed them with a nerve agent, herbicide, high-explosive, bullet, or a pointed stick?

You want something more recent?  How about drone strikes?  Since 2004, U.S. drones have killed between 286 and 1500 civilians in Pakistan alone, and we’re not even at war with (or in) Pakistan.  Add to those the tens of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we have a non-combatant body count over the last eight years that would rival anyone, and we’ve done it all in other peoples’ back yards.  How many civilians in other countries have the Russians killed in the last 8-10 years?  How many countries have they bombed?  How about the Chinese?  Hell, even the Iranians haven’t been doing that.

We can debate the national security necessity and unavoidability of these things; that’s not my point.  My point is if the issue is international outrage over the random and large-scale killing of innocents, however that is achieved, we don’t have clean hands.  Our presuming to lead the chorus of righteous indignation over Syria—particularly when there’s no choir backing us up—should raise more than an eyebrow or two.

Before we claim not only the right but the moral obligation to take unilateral violent action in another country to enforce an “international norm” on behalf of an international community that has neither asked us to do so nor supports us doing it, maybe—just maybe—we should consider the glass house in which we sleep. 

What goes around . . . 

Who’s Who In Syria?

 

You love me, but you don’t know who I am

I’m torn between this life I lead and where I stand

And you love me, but you don’t know who I am

So let me go, let me go

            —3 Doors Down, Let Me Go

 

Consider this as the Obama administration is preparing to begin military intervention in the civil war in Syria.

Last week the New York Times published a piece telling the story of Matthew Schrier, an American free-lance photojournalist imprisoned for seven months in Syria.  Schrier was attempting to travel to the city of Aleppo when his cab was stopped and he was taken into custody.  He was told he was on trial before an Islamic court, but was not told what the charges against him were.  His prison guards looted his bank accounts and shopped in his name on eBay.  They hacked his email account and sent messages to his mother.  They beat him so badly he could not walk, and he could regularly hear the screams of other prisoners being similarly beaten.

Rusty, isn’t this why we have to go in and get rid of Assad?

The problem is, Schrier was a captive/victim of rebel forces, not the Assad regime.  And his story highlights the basic problem with the administration’s blindfolded and naive policy in the Middle East:  it’s a dangerous game to go picking winners and losers when you don’t really know who the combatants are, because it’s nearly impossible to tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  Yet the administration has for some time verbally supported the rebels in Syria, even if it doesn’t know exactly who the rebels are or what (if anything) they represent. 

But the current positioning of naval assets to launch strikes into Syria represents a new escalation of involvement.  Ostensibly, any strikes would be in retaliation for what we’re told is Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Haven’t we heard the whole crusade-against-WMDs tale before?

The administration assures us that it’s virtually certain that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons last week, killing between 300 and 1300 people, depending on who you ask.  Of course, we’ve previously seen dubious and even false claims of this nature before.  Secretary of State John Kerry—he of the “seared—searedin me” memory† of being in Cambodia in Christmas 1968, except that it didn’t happen—tells us it is “undeniable,” but offers no proof other than his say-so.  And, conveniently, we’re already being warned that the actual evidence to support the allegation that (a) chemical weapons were used, and (b) it was Assad’s forces that used them may have been destroyed.  So we’re left to accept on faith this administration’s claim that military intervention in someone else’s civil war in which we do not know who the combatants are is justified because the administration says one side has used WMDs.

At least Bush 43 made some attempt to demonstrate his case for moving into Iraq.

You’ll forgive us if we’re just a wee bit skeptical at this point of anything anyone in this administration says:

  • It has yet to tell the truth about Benghazi, and has gone to some lengths to stonewall, obfuscate, and outright cover it up;
  • It has yet to tell the truth about Fast & Furious, and has gone to some lengths to stonewall, obfuscate, and outright cover it up;
  • It has yet to tell the truth about NSA spying, and has gone to some lengths to stonewall, obfuscate, and outright cover it up;
  • It has yet to tell the truth about the IRS being deployed as a political weapon against conservative groups, and has gone to some lengths to stonewall, obfuscate, and outright cover it up;
  • It lied about the practical and fiscal effects of Obamacare (“if you like your coverage/doctor you can keep it,” “I won’t sign anything that adds one dime to the deficit,” “premiums will go down under Obamacare”).

For those of you true believers, recall that Obama promised you he’d end the war in Afghanistan, and close Guantanamo Bay, neither of which has come to pass.  In fact, I defy you to give me a single example of anything over the last six or seven years on which this administration has told the truth or kept its promise, other than the promise to enact “fundamental change,” (and notice they never told you what that change was going to be).  And now Obama wants us to take him at his word that new military intervention in Syria is justified.

Trust me.

The fact of the matter is this administration has been consistently and spectacularly on the wrong side when it comes to sticking its nose in to pick winners and losers in the rash of civil wars in the Middle East.  The situation is not better, and U.S. interests are not more secure as a result of Obama’s support of rebels in Libya and Egypt; Libya turned a relatively benign but stable regime into a chaotic maelstrom of fundamentalism, ultimately costing the lives of four Americans in the military-style assault on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi, and in Egypt a stable and pro-U.S. regime was replaced with an unstable soup of military control and Islamist extremism.  In both instances, the administration seems to have been woefully ignorant as to just what they would be getting as a result of regime change.  And in the one instance where there was a clear “bad guy” to remove that would have resulted in real and positive change for American interests in the region—Iran 2009—the administration did . . . nothing.

Obama has made no case for intervention in Syria.  He has offered no explanation as to what risk of harm the Assad regime posed or poses to American interests or those of any of our allies;  Assad never threatened the U.S. or Israel.  Indeed, I don’t recall that Obama’s made any effort at all to communicate to his employers—the American public—what’s going on, why it matters, and what he proposes doing.  It is impossible for this administration to make an intelligent choice in taking sides, because when it doesn’t and can’t know who the players are or what they represent, it can’t know on which side U.S. interest—if any—lies.

I hear the human rights argument.  But it is not our business—nor is it a legitimate function of the federal government under our Constitution—to be the world’s policeman, particularly if it’s going to involve the expenditure of vast amounts of taxpayer money or cost so much as a single American life.  Otherwise, why aren’t we also deploying to Sudan, Somalia, Burma, the Philippines, Kashmir, Balochistan, Nigeria, Yemen, and the many other places around the globe where there are ongoing armed domestic conflicts?

And the stakes are much, much higher this time.  Nobody was really all that bent over American involvement in Libya and Egypt.  But Syria’s different.  They are a client state of Iran, and pretty chummy with Russia.  One suspects Vladimir Putin is itching for a chance to assert himself on the global stage, and you know he’s morally certain that when push comes to shove, our Commander-in-Chief is a pussy.  Iran and Syria have both made clear that they will respond to a U.S. attack by retaliating against Israel.  All three of them know perfectly well that the American public does not have the stomach or attention span for a fresh military engagement in the Middle East.  This isn’t the time or place to be provoking either the Russians or the Iranians, especially with so little U.S. upside, if any.

At the end of the day, the conflict in Syria is a civil war.  It’s their fight, and they need to be left to fight it, particularly when we can’t possibly have enough information to take sides.

_______________

† Ironically, when Kerry said this in 1986, he was giving a speech denouncing U.S. military involvement overseas when the White House wasn’t—in his view—telling the American people the truth about it.

Why Syria?

Jones:             I ought to kill you right now.

Belloq:            Not a very private place for a murder.

Jones:             Well, these Arabs don’t care if we kill each other.  They’re not going to interfere in our business.

            —Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, and Paul Freeman as Rene Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark

I am not a pacifist or an isolationist.  But I’ve been wondering for some time why we are bothering with Syria.

Not that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad makes me all warm and fuzzy, because he doesn’t.  I get it that he’s a dictator, and I agree that to the extent his regime is oppressing or even brutalizing opposition factions among his own people that’s a bad thing.  But there’s a serious question being missed in a lot of the discussion over the civil war currently being waged there, and that is: what business is it of ours?

It’s a mistake we’ve made repeatedly over the last 100 or so years, and we don’t seem to learn.

One could argue that the U.S. had little self-interest in intervening in World War I or in the European theater of World War II.  A German victory in either case was not going to pose a threat to the U.S. or to U.S. interests.  Hitler wasn’t going to invade North America, a German-controlled Europe would still have been open for business, and you could argue that (had Hitler confined his Eastward ambitions) the Nazis would have provided just as good a buffer against the Soviets as did NATO.  To be sure, the Nazis were horrific mass-murderers, but it’s not the United States’ job to police that sort of thing on a global basis.  Nothing in the Constitution gives our federal government a mandate to spend untold amounts of taxpayer money and citizens’ lives trying to protect the citizens of other nations from dictatorial tyranny.

At least the Germans were invading other countries, and there is something to be said for helping to defend your allies when attacked.  But in the latter half of the twentieth century and continuing to the present, we have repeatedly involved ourselves in (and in some instances have instigated) other nations’ civil wars. 

In the 1950s it was Korea.  Ostensibly, that was to prevent the spread of Soviet communist influence, although query what real difference the tiny Asian peninsula would have made to U.S. interests.  I guess we might not have Hyundai and Psy today.  37,000 dead Americans later, we have a 60 year old stalemate, with soldiers permanently monitoring a demilitarized zone established by their great-grandfathers.  We repeated the mistake in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s, with even worse results.  After some 10 years, billions of dollars, and the loss of 58,000 more American lives, we—due to political failings, not military—accomplished none of what we claimed to be trying to achieve.  The communists overran the south, and to this day are the ruling party in Vietnam.  Adding to the disaster, U.S. involvement in the Vietnamese Civil War at least indirectly led to the rise of the charming Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and the communist takeover of Laos.

Small-scale U.S. involvement during the 80s and 90s in civil wars in El Salvador, Bosnia, and Somalia yielded ambiguous results at best, but still begged the question what U.S. interest was at issue justifying the expense of blood and treasure?

Fast-forward to the new millennium.  Bush 43 took us into Afghanistan to hunt down al-Qaeda in what was initially an arguably legitimate response after 9/11.  But the manhunt soon became a quest to oust the ruling Taliban from power—something almost wholly unrelated to the 9/11 attacks—essentially creating from whole cloth a civil war to replace a regime that was irrelevant to U.S. interests.  The “democracy” we have installed there hasn’t exactly resulted in a replacement government that is all that U.S.-friendly.  Meanwhile, we’ve lost 2,200 American lives (and counting); ironically that’s almost as many as were killed in the 9/11 attacks the Afghan war was supposed to avenge, and nearly a quarter of those losses have occurred since the death of the very man we were there to hunt down in the first place.

Bush 43 also took us back into Iraq, originally to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.  But as in Afghanistan, the original purpose morphed into a quest for regime change, once again basically creating a civil war in the interest of democracy.  And, as in Afghanistan, the government we set about removing from power was all but irrelevant; Iraq had been militarily neutralized in the first Gulf War, and wasn’t a serious threat to U.S. interests, nor was Saddam Hussein particularly destabilizing.  He was a bad guy, but he was a known quantity.  After another 4,400 American deaths, we have no WMDs, and an unstable democracy highly vulnerable to infiltration by radical Islamists.

Although Obama has gotten U.S. troops out of Iraq, we inexplicably remain deployed in Afghanistan now two full years after the original objective—getting Osama bin Laden—was achieved.  And Obama has given varying degrees of support to opposition forces in civil unrest/wars in Egypt and Libya as part of the continuing “Arab Spring,” ultimately resulting in the ouster of established governments.  All of this was undertaken in the interest of promoting democracy; but what about the interest of the U.S.?  Hosni Mubarek in Egypt was a stabilizing presence in the region; he was a reliable ally, and was at least able to coexist with Israel.  Moammar Gaddafi was no friend, but his regime hadn’t been a serious threat to anybody since the late 1980s; as with Saddam Hussein, at least he was a known quantity.  Now both have been replaced by unstable “democracies” run by Islamist majorities heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The lesson from all of this experience should be that attempting to export democracy by force rarely if ever works to our benefit.  None of these examples present a case where U.S. interests were clearly advanced, and in several cases our efforts have been demonstrably counter-productive, if not outright failures.

Which brings me back to Syria.

Our track record alone counsels against getting involved there.  But more to the point, I don’t see what interest we have in that fight.  Assad wasn’t threatening the U.S.; he wasn’t really even threatening Israel.  Recent experiences with Egypt, Libya, and Afghanistan demonstrate that replacing a known dictator with an unknown “democratic” government doesn’t necessarily result in a new U.S. friend.  And while you might argue that it’s a humanitarian thing and he was brutalizing his own people, that doesn’t answer the question of whether that’s an appropriate business for the U.S. federal government. 

Moreover, one of the problems with these conflicts is it is often very difficult to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  Witness last week’s story about Assad using chemical weapons against the rebel forces; it turns out it may actually have been the rebels who used them.  And it’s been known for some time that the rebel coalition is infiltrated by elements of al-Qaeda.  

Every time we go trying to make some place safe for democracy and turn people who are not historically or culturally predisposed to self-rule into little Americans, it goes bad.  At the very best, it costs us enormous amounts of money and thousands of lives.  Any meaningful attempt to establish a new government requires a long-term U.S. military presence to prop it up, and even then there’s no guarantee that what you get with the new is any better for U.S. interests than what you had with the old; in some instances—like Syria—the potential downside is actually much worse.

The lesson, as always . . . be careful what you wish for.

*************

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Sorry for the absence, but the truth is I’ve been a little tired and needed a break from the fight. 

What Are You Doing, Dave?

“All these documents are yours.  The people’s property; you paid for them.  But because the government considers you children who might be too disturbed or distressed to face this reality, or because you might possibly lynch those involved, you cannot see these documents for another seventy-five years.  I’m in my early forties, so I’ll have shuffled off this mortal coil by then.  But I’m already telling my eight-year-old son to keep himself physically fit, so that one glorious September morning in the year 2038 he can walk into the National Archives and find out what the CIA and the FBI knew.  They might even push it back then.  Hell, it may become a generational affair, with questions passed down from father to son, mother to daughter.  But someday, somewhere, somebody will find out the damn truth.”

            —Kevin Costner as District Attorney Jim Garrison in JFK

 

Unpleasant as it is, I want to return to the subject of Benghazigate.

It’s already bad enough that the same President who shamelessly co-opted himself into the Navy SEALS for political gain in the killing of Osama Bin Laden turned his back on them when they needed his help in a life-or-death situation.  But there’s a potentially telling question gnawing at me that I don’t think is being asked.

We know now that one or more surveillance drones were over Benghazi viewing and recording the attack on the consulate compound and CIA safe house in real time.  It appears there were also security cameras recording from inside the compound.  Senators John McCain (R(sort of)-AZ) and Rob Portman (R-OH) of the Senate Armed Services Committee have been trying to obtain those tapes, but have been stonewalled by the FBI, which is claiming all that material is classified top secret.

Leaving aside the issue of why CIA or military surveillance data is with the FBI, and where the FBI gets the authority to determine what is/isn’t top secret classified material, here’s my question:

Why was there a drone over Benghazi at all?

I know Obama has a drone fetish, but unless it’s just standard operating procedure to have drones in the air everywhere at all times—which begs a whole other set of disturbing questions—what was going on at the consulate compound that merited an unmanned surveillance drone that happened to be over just the right place at just the right time?

Carried a step further, what was going on at the consulate compound that makes what the drone captured on tape so sensitive to national security that it has to be classified top secret and kept from the Senate Armed Services Committee (and in that event, why is it with the FBI, and not CIA or the Joint Chiefs of Staff)?

Rusty, you know perfectly well that national security requires a certain amount of classified intelligence, and that there are things the federal government has to be able to do without public scrutiny.

Quite so.  Sun Tsu preached the importance of gathering intelligence and that some of that has to be done covertly.  And I am the last one to suggest that every breath the government takes from a security standpoint should be open for all to see.  But that leads to a whole other set of questions.

For a minute let’s give the President the benefit of the doubt that there were sensitive top secret national security activities going on and the situation on the ground was such that it merited the use of unmanned surveillance.  As an initial question, then, if that’s the case why send in a drone to film it and run the risk of it—and its footage—crashing or being shot down and captured?  But more to the point, if it was so secret and so dangerous, then why wasn’t there adequate military security already in place?  If the activities there were so sensitive that the surveillance footage is so top secret it can’t even be shown to the Senate Armed Services Committee, why weren’t the assets and personnel already there to protect them from prying eyes in such a dangerous locale?  Moreover, if what was going on there was so important and so classified, why was there no rescue effort made, and why no immediate attempt to move in afterwards and secure the premises and whatever sensitive material might still be left there?

These are important questions that I don’t really hear anyone asking.  And when you start trying to connect the dots of the information we do have, it gives every appearance that there’s something really sinister going on here.

Bear in mind that for all its bluster about transparency, this is already an administration that stonewalled a House investigation into Operation Fast & Furious for the better part of a year, and when it was finally backed into a corner it threw up a bogus claim of “executive privilege” to hide its internal documents discussing the program (or, to be more precise, its after-the-fact documents discussing how to spin the fiasco to the media).  In Benghazi we have a situation where the administration knew enough about what was going on to have an unmanned surveillance drone watching the attack as it happened.  Yet although it had no security assets at the compound ahead of time, made no attempt to intervene in the attack at the compound while it was happening—despite watching it live, and what appear to have been multiple calls for help on the ground—and made no attempt to secure the compound afterwards, the administration now claims what the aerial and surface surveillance apparatus recorded in that compound is “top secret.”

You can’t have it both ways.  If there were top secret activities in Benghazi that now justify keeping surveillance material from the Senate, those people and assets should have been protected.  If you were worried about what was going on there becoming public from a legitimate national security standpoint, there should have been some kind of intervention.  You certainly shouldn’t have left the place, and whatever top secrets it might still have contained, open for three weeks before being secured, searched, and cleared of all sensitive material.  If there weren’t top secret activities in Benghazi, then there’s no reason to keep data and information from the Senate.  As it stands now, however, your average resident of Benghazi knows more about what was going on there than the Armed Services Committee.

I have no illusions about it happening before next Tuesday.  But there’s a lot of smoke here, and I suspect when we finally get to the bottom of this we’re going to find quite the fire.

Oooh, That Smell

“Did you hear that?  He just let the guy die, man.  He just gave him up.  Gimme that headset.  That’s like pulling the trigger yourself.” 

            —Paul Gleason as Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson in Die Hard

 

To quote Genius Joe (albeit speaking in another context), “This is a big f***ing deal.”  And the longer it goes on, the more disgusted I get.

You are no doubt well aware that on September 11 the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked and burned, resulting in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.  What we now know is that there were actually two separate coordinated attacks—one on the consulate proper, the other on a “safe house”/CIA base about a mile away—carried out over several hours.  But as this story continues to unravel, it increasingly demonstrates—once again—the colossal naiveté and gross incompetence of this administration.

And its pathological inability to tell the truth.

On September 12, President Obama gave a five minute address in the Rose Garden before jaunting off to Vegas to raise campaign money.  Now 49 days later, this is the one and only time Obama has addressed the nation on the attack.  Lest I be accused of taking something out of context, the entire transcript as published by the White House itself is available here.  But at the beginning of his remarks, Obama said this:

“Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths.  We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.  But there is absolutely no justification to [sic] this type of senseless violence.”

Plainly, the President was drawing a connection (i.e., suggesting a motivation) between the Benghazi attack and the stupid anti-Mohammed video Innocence of Muslims.  Obama made no mention—none—of the nearly simultaneous riot and burning of the embassy in Cairo, no mention of al Qaeda, and only once at the end did he make a single generic reference to “acts of terror.”

Over the next several weeks, the message out of the White House was garbled at best.  On September 13, Press Secretary Jay Carney linked the regional unrest to the video: “The protests we’re seeing around the region are in reaction to this movie.”  On September 16 U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice made the same connection on Meet the Press.  On September 18 Carney reiterated it: “Our belief based on the information we have is it was the video that caused the unrest in Cairo, and the video and the unrest in Cairo that helped—that precipitated some of the unrest in Benghazi[.]”  And as late as September 20—nine days later—President Obama was still linking the two during a town hall interview on Univision.

But when this it was a spontaneous protest narrative began to unravel, the administration began looking for scapegoats; so it blamed bad intelligence.  The message was confusing and inaccurate, you see, because they were only reporting what CIA was telling them, and CIA was getting it wrong.  There’s just one problem:

The administration had the actual information in real time.

It turns out, an unmanned Predator drone was over Benghazi, watching the attack as it happened.  And the administration—including the White House—was informed of the situation via email during the attack.  You can argue about what was motivating the attack or who, specifically, was behind it, but those issues are totally irrelevant while the attack is going on.  The immediate issue during the attack is defending against it—whoever is behind it or why—and protecting Americans in danger.

Not only did the Obama administration know that Benghazi was under attack as it was happening, but there now are reports that the CIA detachment in Benghazi made multiple requests for military help and they were not only denied that help, but told to stand down and not go to the aid of the besieged consulate.  This, despite having military assets available at multiple locations within short travel times of Benghazi.

What’s worse, it didn’t take much to see this coming.  The Benghazi mission was bombed twice in the five months leading up to the September 11 attack.  U.S. and British diplomats were attacked in June, and the British closed their consulate their shortly thereafter.  And the U.S. diplomatic mission had repeatedly requested additional security, but was denied.  Not only that, but it was denied ostensibly due to a lack of funding, even as the State Department was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy Chevy Volts for the embassy in Vienna.  Say what you will about whether the administration had specific advance warning of an attack; even without an engraved invitation specifying the time, place, and manner of the assault, it should have been obvious that Benghazi, Libya was an exceedingly dangerous place for a U.S. diplomatic mission, and it begs the question why there wasn’t enhanced military security—i.e., heavily armed Marines—already in place heading into the 9/11 anniversary.

Maybe if the President attended a security briefing once in awhile, he would have had a better grasp on this situation in advance.  Maybe if he weren’t spending literally millions of dollars hosting lavish State dinners there would have been room in the budget for additional security in Benghazi.  Maybe if he spent less time partying with Beyonce and more time protecting American lives and American interests, Chris Stevens and the other 3 Americans would still be alive.

And this highlights the most disappointing aspect of this whole episode.  Rather than stand up and deal with the issue, once again this administration’s first instinct was to hide, deflect, distract, and blame.  Interestingly, when he spoke in the Rose Garden on September 12, Obama said nothing about the drone coverage or emails telling them about the attack in real time—4 p.m. in D.C.  Instead, he said “ . . . last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi,” as though they found out about it after-the-fact on the nightly news like the rest of us.  Obama went on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart—as an aside, isn’t Comedy Central sort of beneath the office of President?—and the best he could say was that the deaths of four Americans was “not optimal.”  Meeting with the father of slain Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods in a staged-for-TV service at Andrews Air Force Base, Obama gave him a dead fish handshake, wouldn’t (couldn’t?) look him in the eye, and managed only an insincerely mumbled “sorry.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for her part, blamed the video and said they would prosecute the filmmaker, even though we now know she knew better.  This is not the behavior of genuinely sympathetic human beings, but of pure political hacks with something to hide, looking for cover.

This administration, and this President, are simply incapable of telling the truth or accepting actual responsibility for anything.  We’re going to learn more over time, although I fear the real core telling truths won’t come out until after the election.  But what is apparent now is this:

  • The administration had ample information ahead of time that there was a need for additional military security in Benghazi and didn’t provide it;
  • They watched the attacks as they were happening and refused to send help, and four Americans are dead as a result;
  • Then the administration lied about the whole thing.

Mr. President, the smell of death surrounds you.