Religion of Intolerance III

“He reminds me a lot of Donna Reed, especially around the eyes.”

          —Robin Williams as Airman Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam

 

The so-called Religion of Peace has struck again.

Three masked gunmen carrying AK-47s shot up the Paris offices of the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, killing at least twelve.  For good measure, as they made their escape they took time to get out of the getaway car and shoot dead an unarmed policeman who was on his knees begging for his life.  Lest there be any doubt about the identity and motivation of the killers, let’s note that they punctuated their rampage with shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is great,” not only a staple chant of Muslim prayer, but also a common cry after victory in battle for Islamist fighters).  That was never good enough for the Obama administration to recognize the Fort Hood shooting as an act of Islamist terrorism (or an act of war), but I am willing to take them at their word when they—according to one witness—claimed to be al-Qaeda.

Why Charlie Hebdo?  It seems the magazine had a penchant for publishing material, in particular cartoons, satirically critical of Islam, including a recent tweet of a cartoon of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  And it is no doubt instructive that the killers did not appear to act at random, but asked for names and sought out specific people to murder.  Among the dead are four satirical cartoonists, including Stephane Charbonnier, who had a fatwa on his head over a 2011 cover caricature of Muhammed.   And one of the killers proclaimed, “We have avenged the honor of the prophet!”  So what we have appears to be some Islamists going on a murderous tirade because of a perceived insult based on a cartoon.

A cartoon.

I repeat: a cartoon.

Nobody else on the planet behaves like this.  No one.  The Islamists routinely proclaim their free speech right to gather in public and scream over bullhorns about death to Western society, death to those who “insult” the Prophet, and warning that 9/11 or 7/7 is coming again (run a YouTube search).  But anyone remotely critical of Islam is immediately branded a racist and accused of criminal hate speech.  Worse, every slight, however minor or innocent, is cause for worldwide protests, destructive and violent rioting, and murder.

Consider a few examples from just the last ten years:

November 2004: Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh is shot to death in streets of Amsterdam after releasing Submission, a film critical of the treatment of women under Sharia.

September 2005:  Burger King stops selling ice cream cones in Britain after a Muslim offended by the swirly lid design he said resembled the Arabic script for “Allah” threatened jihad.

February 2006:  Rioters kill at least five in protests over Danish cartoons mocking Muhammed.

August 2007:  Muslims take to the streets to protest the U.S. military giving soccer balls to Afghan children because among the number of countries whose flag was depicted on the ball was Saudi Arabia’s, which happens to bear the name of Allah (in a side note, Pentagon falls all over itself to apologize).

November 2007:  British school teacher in Sudan arrested and faced 40 lashes for allowing her class to name a classroom teddy bear “Muhammed.”

June 2008:  Suicide bomber kills at least six at Danish embassy in Islamabad in yet another attack in protest of the Danish cartoons.

July 2010:  Outraged Muslims riot in Kashmir over street vendors selling underwear with what rioters took to be a depiction of a mosque.

December 2010:  Bombers kill one and injure 2 in Stockholm in attacks still complaining about the Danish cartoons from four years earlier.

June 2011:  Thousands take to the Internet to condemn a Christian Egyptian businessman’s re-posting of long-existing images of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in traditional Muslim attire.

February 2012:  Thousands riot, killing at least 5, after U.S. forces in Afghanistan mistakenly burn a number of Qu’rans.

September 2012: Thousands riot across the Middle East over an internet video so imbecilic that no sane person would give it the dignity of considering it an insult.

Really?  You’re going to have thousands of people take to the streets to burn cars and bash in storefronts because someone is selling what looks like the outline of a mosque on some tighty-whiteys?  Movies, cartoons, ice cream, and soccer balls.  Oh, yeah, and teddy bears.  These are excuses for endless episodes of mayhem, destruction, and outright murder?

No, really, they’re charming people once you get to know them . . . and if you can get past their fetish for beheading people they don’t like.

As I said, no one else in the world acts like this, and they are doing it on almost every continent on Earth.  Even the North Koreans confine themselves to surgical cyber-attacks, and only when someone releases a movie about a plot to assassinate their sitting head of state (can you imagine what would happen if Americans burned down a mosque every time a U.S. President (or flag) was burned in effigy?).  But for the Islamists it’s simply a way of life:  Don’t like something?  Burn a car, throw some molotov cocktails at cops, or kill someone.

Then there’s the outright terrorism:

December 2014:  ISIS executes 150 women for refusing arranged marriages—read: refusing to become sex slaves—to ISIS soldiers.

December 2014:  Gunman sporting the black flag of jihad takes hostages at a Sydney café, ultimately killing two before being shot by police.

October 2014:  Jihadist attacks four NYPD officers with a hatchet.

October 2014:  Jihadist shoots up a monument and Parliament building in Ottawa, killing one.

July 2014:  Thousands of Jews flee Paris as Muslims engage in weeks of violent riots in support of Palestine.

September 2013:  Islamist militants storm a shopping mall in Kenya, killing 22.

May 2013:  Radicalized Islamists hack British soldier to death with meat cleavers in broad daylight outside Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich.

April 2013:  Radicalized Islamists (allegedly) detonate homemade bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three (including an 8-year old), and injuring dozens.  They later (allegedly) murder a police officer during their escape.

These are just selected examples from the last couple of years, and bear in mind that even if you give the benefit of the doubt (and that doubt grows with each passing incident) to those who naively claim that it’s only a relatively small minority of Muslims who support this stuff, as I covered a while back you’re still talking about a population of maybe 160 million or more.

And it’s not just rioting and terrorism. There’s also outright war. As we discussed a couple of months ago, although Muslims make up less than 25% of the world’s population, 67% of all the war on the planet today involves Muslims, and almost all of that is some form of Muslims trying to impose their version of Islam on other people by force.

And they’ve been doing it—continuously—for 1,400 years.

Let’s understand something,and make no mistake: it may take two to have a fight, but even if only one of you thinks it’s a fight, it’s a fight.  And if you can’t get your mind around that, you lose, brother.

We in the civilized world have to stop with the politically-correct multiculturalist “tolerance” crap and not only call these people out for the violent, cold-blooded savages that they are, but we then have to treat them accordingly.  You cannot appease them, you cannot apologize to them, and you cannot negotiate with them.  You have nothing they want except for you to bow to Mecca, cover your women, and say and do absolutely nothing that the most zealous among them might twist into the slightest insult against Allah, Islam, or Muhammed.  And they’ll kill you if you don’t.

Peace, my ass.

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Defanging

Put away that gun, this part is simple

Try to recognize what is in your mind

God help us, help us lose our minds

These slippery people help us understand

What’s the matter with him? (He’s all right)

How do you know? (The Lord won’t mind)

        —Talking Heads, Slippery People

 

Just a little food for thought today.

Having successfully stalled on immigration so his party didn’t have to face the voters on the issue, President Obama is now locked and loaded to move forward with unilateral executive action on amnesty, bypassing a Congress that come January will be controlled by the largest Republican majority in some 60+ years.  It used to be that “elections have consequences,” but I guess that’s only true if you still believe the Constitution and its concepts of separation of powers and enumerated (read: expressly limited) powers still mean anything.

Article I is really pretty clear on this:

“The Congress shall have the Power . . . To establish an [sic] uniform Rule of Naturalization[.]”

To the extent that the authority to regulate the border is exclusively the province of the Federal government, that power is vested solely in Congress.  It appears nowhere in Article II, and thus is not among the powers granted to the President.  In the land of the New Imperial Presidency, where a Republican landslide gets spun as simply an electoral mandate to give Obama whatever he wants, however, it appears that things are going to work a little differently.

But an added development is a little chilling.

NBC’s Tuscon affiliate is reporting that the Office of Border Patrol Training and Development has been inspecting border agents’ M4 carbines (the modern version of the old M-16, the military version of what we civilians carry as the AR-15).  I’m all for training, and periodically inspecting the weapons deployed in the field to ensure they are in good working order seems like a reasonable practice, except there’s just one minor problem:

The agents aren’t getting their rifles back.

That’s right, when the DC boys come to inspect, many of these rifles are not being returned, nor are they being replaced.  Agents are left with so few rifles that they are forced to share from a common pool, meaning no one has a rifle with sights adjusted to their particulars.  And many of the rifles removed from service have only routine minor maintenance issues that frankly any competent armory ought to have sufficient parts in stock to accomplish the repair on site.  Yet the men and women charged with securing the border are being left without adequate firepower to do it effectively, let alone safely.

We face an unprecedented wave of illegals, encouraged by the Imperial President’s promises of amnesty.  Reports that nearly a half million were caught last year—begging the question how many weren’t—were cleverly suppressed until after the election.  Now the Emperor’s minions are systematically disarming your Border Patrol.  But let’s look at this in its broader context.

This is the same administration that deliberately furnished thousands of military grade weapons to Mexican drug gangs, then lied about it, and is now hiding from it.  This is the same administration that is militarizing non-security-related government branches such as the Department of Education, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, purchasing thousands upon thousands of weapons and billions of rounds of ammunition.  And they can’t manage to find spare parts to get Border Patrol rifles back in service?

Obama and his Progressive hoardes have been trying to disarm you, the American Citizen, for years.  You no longer need guns for self-defense—not that that’s the valid Constitutional inquiry—they argue, because you have government security in the form of, among other things, the Border Patrol and Police.  Now they’re actually disarming the Border Patrol.  Meanwhile the likes of Eric Holder are stoking the embers of what will inevitably become an anti-police inferno in Ferguson, Missouri, thus effectively disarming the police nationwide, as they now face the Hobson’s choice of either not defending themselves, or being subject to politically-driven automatic murder indictments regardless of how legitimate the evidence shows their actions to have been.

Obama’s already gutted the military.  Now he’s rendering the Border Patrol and local police operationally impotent.  Which begs the question:

Who’s minding the gates to the castle?

Dropping The Ball On Ebola

If the world is a monster

’bout to swallow you whole

Philomath, they know the lowdown

Throw your troubles out the door

(I’ve been there, I know the way) Can’t get there from here

        —R.E.M., Can’t Get There From Here

 

I’ve been holding off on this, because I hate stating the obvious; but sometimes there’s just no way around it.

On March 25, the Centers for Disease Control reported an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Guinea, with 86 suspected cases resulting in 59 deaths.  In less than a week, that had expanded to 112 cases and 70 deaths in Guinea, and reports of infection were spreading to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.  Reaction from the White House?

Nothing.

Within two weeks the numbers in Guinea had risen to 151 cases and 95 deaths, and cases were further spreading in Liberia and Sierra Leone.  By the end of April the number of cases had passed 200, with 146 dead.  After five weeks, had the Administration blocked travel to/from these places?  Nope.

But it had managed to send a heavily armed team of federal agents to a ranch in Nevada to collect a tax bill.

Through May and June, the virus continued to spread.  By the end of June—90 days after CDC reported the outbreak—there were over 400 cases in Guinea, over 200 in Sierra Leone, and over 100 in Liberia; numbers double or more what they had been a mere eight weeks earlier.  Did the Administration move to block travel to the places battling the infection?  No.

But it did find time to make an illegal swap of five Taliban generals for alleged Army deserter Bo Bergdahl (as an aside, despite the apparently unanimous consensus of his unit as to what happened, we conveniently won’t have the results Army’s investigation until after the midterms).

CDC’s reported cumulative combined case totals continued to explode through the summer, as the virus further spread to parts of Nigeria (I’m only giving samples of the semi-daily updates here for space reasons; you can see them all here):

July 7:                 779 (481 dead)

July 14:               888 (539 dead)

July 21:            1,048 (632 dead)

July 28:            1,201 (672 dead)

August 4:        1,603 (887 dead)

August 12:      1,848 (1,013 dead)

August 19:      2,240 (1,229 dead)

August 28:      3,069 (1,552 dead)

In the five months since CDC first reported the pandemic, the number of cases had risen from 86 to over 3,000, with a fatality rate of over 50%.  By now, at least two Americans were among the medical aid workers infected while trying to care for the sick and dying.  Yet there was essentially no reaction from the Obama administration, and no move whatsoever to curtail traffic to the U.S. from the infected region.

On September 6, CDC reported that the infection had spread to Senegal, and was also being reported in Congo (although somehow CDC had determined that the latter was unrelated to the outbreak in West Africa).  Curiously, CDC for the first time included in its report—almost defensively—that no confirmed cases had been reported in the U.S.  Even more curious, CDC stopped including the cumulative numbers from West Africa in its semi-daily updates.

The following day—and I’ll leave it to you to speculate whether the CDC’s change in reporting the day before was mere coincidence—President Obama was on NBC’s Meet the Press, where he told Chuck Todd he was sending the Army to go build isolation units in Africa and that we need not worry about Ebola here:

“Well, Americans shouldn’t be concerned about the prospects of contagion herein the United States short term, because this is not an airborne disease.”

Just three weeks later, CDC confirmed infection of a man in Dallas who had flown here from Liberia.  He died October 8, and at least two of his U.S. caretakers have contracted the disease.  Now six-and-a-half months in, there have been nearly 9,000 cases, and nearly 4,500 deaths.  The disease has now been reported in Spain as well as in the U.S.  Although there is now some minimal level of pre-flight screening at some African airports, and post-flight screening at a total of five U.S. airports (beginning only this week), there is still no ban on travel to/from the affected areas.

This is inexplicably inept, or criminally derelict.

Efforts to aid local treatment to contain the disease are commendable, although one can question whether that’s within the U.S. federal government’s constitutional mandate; it’s almost certainly not a proper role for an already over-stretched military.  But if your objective is to protect Americans, the obvious and easiest first step is to ensure that that the disease can’t get here from there. And indeed, the WHO emphasizes the importance of keeping healthy people separated from the sick as critical to preventing spread of the disease.  Duh.  While it may be true that the Ebola virus itself is not airborne, its infected hosts certainly can be.  Airport screening is only as good as your ability to catch infected people; if they’re not yet symptomatic—it can take as long as three weeks after infection to show symptoms—or if they lie, you may well not find them until it’s too late.

Say what you want about the competency of CDC’s protocols, or the Dallas hospital’s initial response to the first case of infection.  None of those things would have been an issue if people from the affected region simply couldn’t come here in the first place.  Although Thomas Duncan would, tragically, almost surely still be dead, the two American nurses who are now fighting the disease wouldn’t be infected, and the dozens or more who have had contact with his caregivers (and so on . . . and so on . . .) would not now be at risk.

Unlike the crazies on the Left who to this day believe George W. Bush deliberately created Hurricane Katrina by executive order because he hates black people, I do not blame the Ebola outbreak on Obama.  Its presence now in the U.S. for the first time, however, rests squarely on the shoulders of his indecisiveness and the incompetence of his response once it came.  This really should have been a no-brainer, maybe not on the day of the first CDC report in March, but certainly by July when the pandemic was clearly exploding and was beginning to affect American aid workers in West Africa.  Yet although Obama told Chuck Todd in September he had made the Ebola issue a priority for his national security team what is now nearly four months ago, the one action item with the best chance of protecting Americans at home still hasn’t been taken.

Why?

That question becomes even more jarring when you compare the delay and non-response on Ebola to the speed with which the Administration acted to ban travel to Israel.  On the morning of July 22, a Hamas rocket landed about a mile from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.  One rocket.  Within 24 hours, the FAA had ordered U.S. domestic carriers to suspend flights to Israel.  Presumably the idea was to protect American lives that might be at risk should the fighting result in a commercial aircraft being hit.  Never mind that in living memory—someone please correct me if I’m wrong—no commercial airliner coming into or out of Ben Gurion has ever been hit by ordnance from the 60 year old Israel/Palestine conflict.

Clearly this Administration knows how ban travel, and to do it quickly, when it so chooses.  Why the inaction on Ebola?

Is the President afraid of damaging our critical diplomatic ties with Liberia?  Does he want to preserve our essential trade relations with Sierra Leone?  Does Guinea have some strategic position that is vital to our national defense?

Is it because the affected region consists almost entirely of heavy Muslim-majority countries (Liberia being the lone outlier)?

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised given this President’s track record of having no strategy to deal with ISIS in Iraq or with Russia in Ukraine, and complete inaction to secure the Southern border, among some of his more recent failures.  But we really have to ask in this instance how this President has managed to miss something so basic as taking the most concrete measure possible to prevent the virus from getting to the U.S. in the first place.  After all, how did Ebola get into Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria?  An infected person traveled there from Guinea where the initial outbreak began.

Now it may be too late.

Size Matters

 

Agent:     Stop, Ma’am, or I will be forced to treat you as a threat.

Victoria: Where, exactly, is the threat?

        —Thomas Mitchell as the Lone Agent and Helen Mirren as Victoria in RED

 

I hate to have to keep talking about the Islamists, and you may be wondering why I’ve been devoting so much time in this space to a handful of crackpots severing the occasional head in a desert on the other side of the planet.  If that were it, I wouldn’t.  But when you examine the thing you begin to see that there’s lot more to it, and it is in fact a serious threat not just to Western journalists, but to Western existence.

We are told that the issue isn’t with Muslims in general, and that violent extremism is confined to a very tiny minority.  We are told that this is a regional problem, something to be contained and managed.  But, as Andrew McCarthy pointed out in an excellent piece in National Review Online, we have to come to grips with the fact that this is not a matter of small separate clashes with ISIS in Iraq, Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Sudan, or al Qaeda wherever the hell they are.  There is no meaningful distinction between these groups, and we have to understand that rather than discrete, isolated conflicts, these are in fact multiple fronts in a single war being waged by a group that, whatever their internal differences, is united in ideological purpose: eradication of Western civilization and the establishment of a unified global caliphate.

To understand why this is so serious, let’s explore some numbers.

I have previously discussed data on global Muslim attitudes collected by the Pew Research Center.  In a report published last year, we saw that in most places surveyed, substantial-to-overwhelming majorities of Muslims favor making sharia the law of the land.  In many places, more than half not only want sharia, but they want it applied to non-Muslims as well as Muslims.  Some places surveyed showed majorities approaching a staggering 90% favor extreme penalties like beating and amputation for theft, stoning for adultery, and death for apostasy.  Significant numbers view suicide bombing and other violence as at least sometimes OK to defend Islam: Palestinian Territories 40%; Afghanistan 39%; Egypt 29%; Bangladesh 26%; Malaysia 18%; Jordan & Turkey 15%; Pakistan 13%.  Even in the U.S., that number is 20%.

Although perhaps not the majority viewpoint, this data suggests there is a large chunk of the global Muslim population that holds attitudes consistent with, if not sympathetic to, the ideology of the “extreme” Islamists.  And that’s even before we realize that Pew excluded many of the, let’s say, more enthusiastically Islamic countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Algeria, and Yemen.  I wonder why?  Of course it’s only conjecture on my part, but my guess is a survey including those countries would tilt the scales just a bit further towards a more ISIS-like set of beliefs.

What does this mean for an ideologically-based war against Western civilization?

Of the 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet today, there is some subset that to some degree or another supports the ideology and even the tactics of Islamist groups like ISIS.  It is difficult to quantify that number, in no small part because fear of persecution or adherence to the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya (which permits a Muslim to lie in order to protect Islam or other Muslims) may skew the results away from what might be called “extremism.”   I think the Pew data suggest a considerably higher number, but let’s say for discussion purposes it’s 10%.  That means the Islamist “population,” if you will, numbers 160 million people and growing.

Let me put that number in perspective.

The population of Nazi Germany in 1939 was about 70 million, or less than half the size of our discussion assumption of today’s Islamist population.  The combined population of Germany, Italy, and Japan at the outbreak of World War II was 186 million, or just a little bigger than the Islamist population today.  In more modern terms, according to The Economist 2013 Pocket World in Figures, an Islamist population of 160 million is larger than Russia (140 million) and just a little smaller than the combined present populations of Germany, France, and the U.K. (about 207 million), and large and growing chunks of all four are Muslim in their own right.

This is not something we can just dismiss.  Now, you might argue that the comparison to the Axis powers is inappropriate because the Islamists do not hold the same technological parity with the West that the Axis did, and you’d have a bit of a point.  I would counter, however, that the decisive difference any technology gap might make against the Islamists is rapidly shrinking as Iran moves ever closer to going nuclear, and as we continue to supply the Islamists with sophisticated weaponry, whether by giving F-16s to an Egypt that may or may not be able to shake off the Muslim Brotherhood, giving armored personnel carriers and RPGs to an Iraqi army that abandons them as they flee before advancing ISIS forces, or by abandoning materiel ourselves because we deem it too expensive to ship back as we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But there are also a pair of practical differences that to a large extent render the technology issue irrelevant in assessing the Islamist threat.  One is a matter of geography, or more to the point, lack thereof.  In World War II, you knew where—in an existential sense—the enemy was.  To fight the Germans, you had to go to Europe and push them back to Germany.  But the Islamists—and I think this is a lot of why we find it so hard to perceive this as a single war with multiple fronts instead of several isolated and unrelated skirmishes—know no geopolitical identity.  They are not bound by nationality, but by ideology, which means it is impossible to know where they are—again, in an existential sense—in order to fight them.  They are both everywhere and nowhere, and the ramifications of that are frightening, because it means they are not just in Gaza and Raqqa, but they’re also in our own backyard.

The second is a matter of psychology (or psychosis).  War is always brutal; there are always atrocities, and innocents are always killed.  But your basic German soldier in World War II did not want to die, and he didn’t really want to kill you.  Chances are he had no interest in whether Hitler conquered Europe or the world, and what he wanted most was just to go home to his farm.  The Islamists, however, are an essentially all-volunteer force of true believers.  If they’re fighting, it’s likely because they want to be there, and they want to advance the agenda of jihad towards a global caliphate that swallows Western civilization.  More importantly, they really, honestly, in-their-heart-of-hearts-down-to-their-DNA don’t care who gets killed in the process.  If it kills you, that’s fine.  If it kills them, that’s equally fine; what’s even better is if they can get themselves killed while in the process of killing you.  They don’t even care if their own children get killed—the internet is filled with videos of elementary age kids extolling the virtues of martydom.

Repeat after me, class: They.  Do.  Not.  Care.

This is the nature of the threat we face; it’s real, and it’s bigger than we imagine.  Whether we like it or not, this is an enemy that wants to destroy us, whether by conversion or the sword.  It is an enemy you cannot identify on a map; you can’t march into its capital city and claim victory.  It is an enemy that wears no uniforms; it draws no distinction on our side or its own between soldiers and civilians.  And it is an enemy that places no value on human life, not even their own; this means there is no compromise to be reached, because we have nothing they want except our submission or death.

You cannot negotiate with such an enemy.  Nor can you contain it.  Nor is it enough to (temporarily) “degrade” it, whatever that means.

You have to kill it.  It’s the only thing they understand.

 

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.

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.