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Monthly Archives: April 2009

Just doing what he’s told, I suppose.  After all, he came into the Bush Administration expecting to supervise the retreat from Iraq and the Grand Bargain with Iran, only to find that the president wanted to up the ante in Iraq and challenge the mullahs on the ground.  So Gates duly supported the surge, and perforce cracked down on Iranian activities in Iraq.

Now comes Obama, who is all about smashing al Qaeda, and making the Grand Bargain with Iran.  So Gates duly blames the upsurge in violence in Iraq on al Qaeda–thoughtfully leaving Iran out of it, although they are in it up to their turbans–and warning that a military attack on Iran’s nuclear program wouldn’t really do much good.

Gates was quite categorical in testimony earlier this week to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

“The judgment of the commanders is this is an orchestrated effort on the part of al-Qaida to try and provoke the very kind of sectarian violence that nearly tore the country apart in 2006.”

One wonders which commanders he’s been talking to, since a report just a few days ago from American military sources on the ground in Iraq was equally categorical in claiming that “the US has found evidence of Iranian-backed Mahdi Army leaders conducting attacks that were designed to mimic al Qaeda suicide bombings.”  And the intelligence that underlies that claim was convincing enough for American forces to act, which annoyed the Iraqi Government:

The US military broke up an Iranian-backed terror cell associated with Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army during a raid in Al Kut in central Iraq. Iraqi officials are claiming the US military conducted the raid without approval.

Coalition forces killed one Iranian-backed terrorist and captured six others during a raid that targeted a financier that supports both the Mahdi Army Special Groups and the Brigade of the Promised Day.

Although the Maliki Government was upset by the American raid in Al Kut, the Iraqis are well aware of stepped-up Iranian attacks.  As Bill Roggio reports, Iraqi forces have been rounding up Mahdi Army terrorists for weeks of late around Basra, from which the Brits are now exiting.

None of this seems to have found its way into Gates’s testimony.  Had he spoken about such things, it would have inconvenienced the gaggle of Obaman czars and special envoys currently flooding several back channels to the mullahs in search of the evanescent Grand Bargain.  For those who worry about politicizing intelligence, leaving out inconvenient details is often a sign that the intelligence is being shaped to fit the desires of the policy makers.

Then there’s the question of the Iranian bomb.  Here again, Gates was quite explicit.

Use of the military option to force Iran to halt its nuclear program would only yield temporary and ineffective results, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Sanctions would make more sense, he said.

Gates said a military attack on Iran would merely send the country’s nuclear program further underground. Instead, the United States and its allies must convince Teheran that its nuclear ambitions would spark an arms race that would leave the Islamic republic less secure.

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“Never Again,” Obama Style

April 27th, 2009 - 8:32 pm

No president in modern times has managed to conceal so much of his biography as this one.  The journalists assigned to the Obama beat seem to have lost their traditional avidity for digging out the missing details.   We do not have a medical report, or a college transcript from Columbia, or a notion of how well he did in Harvard Law School.

These things are not automatically significant, but they can be.  Nobody thinks the president has some basic medical problem.  He shows every sign of being in excellent physical condition.  But so did John F. Kennedy, who turned out to have had Addison’s Disease, and was taking steroids and pain killers, which had an effect on his performance.  We didn’t know it at the time.  We should have.

What did Obama study?  With whom?  How well did he do?  Obama occasionally says things that are uncharacteristic of cultured persons, as when he flubs the number of states in the U.S., or when he seems to believe that they speak “Austrian” in Vienna.  Are these just occasional slips of the tongue?  Or did his college and law school years show a pattern of ignorance?  We’re entitled to know these things, but there is a disappointing, albeit quite predictable, lack of curiosity by the usual suspects in the media hunter/killer packs.

A great quantity of newsprint was filled with criticism of the Bushitlercheney insistence on secrecy, and rightly so.  Critics, and even would-be friends of the Bush Administration, were encouraged to believe all kinds of nonsense, much of which was fueled by the administration’s famous inability to explain what it was doing, and why.  In like manner,   the stonewalling of basic information about Obama fuels dark suspicion about the very legitimacy of his presidency, as in the ongoing demand that he prove his constitutional qualification for the office.

Lacking the basic information, we must use the old tools.  We must infer, deduce, and guess.  We have to parse his words and compare them with his actions.  He himself insists on this.  In March, when the North Koreans launched a rocket in the teeth of multiple international warnings, Obama insisted that “words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response.”  He rightly insisted that mere talk wasn’t good enough, because if warnings were ignored and no price was subsequently paid, warnings would become meaningless.  Without action, words mean nothing.

A joint U.S.-Europe declaration reiterated this theme, noting that North Korea was developing “the ability to threaten countries near and far with weapons of mass destruction. This action demands a response from the international community, including from the U.N. Security Council to demonstrate that its resolutions cannot be defied with impunity.”

Which brings me to his little-analyzed recent speech in the Capitol on the Holocaust Day of Remembrance, a theme inevitably close to the heart and soul of our first black president.  Some of it is Obama at his best, elegant, spare, right to the point.  He made a point near to my heart, which is often forgotten in the history of fascism:

It is the grimmest of ironies that one of the most savage, barbaric acts of evil in history began in one of the most modernized societies of its time, where so many markers of human progress became tools of human depravity: science that can heal, used to kill; education that can enlighten, used to rationalize away basic moral impulses…

Yes, fascism and Nazism came from two of the most advanced and most cultured Western societies, Italy and Germany.  And the institutions of those societies were enlisted in the service of the Holocaust, with precious little protest from the most cultured and advanced individuals in those societies.

the bureaucracy that sustains modern life, used as the machinery of mass death, a ruthless, chillingly efficient system where many were responsible for the killing, but few got actual blood on their hands…

Those words about bureaucracy, “that sustains modern life,” are a useful window into the way Obama views government.  He loves government, especially his own. But he’s got the Nazi story wrong.  The bureaucracy that conducted the mass murders was largely military, and the most important component was not part of the bureaucracy, or even the traditional army, but rather the SS, which was tied directly to the Fuhrer, not to the old German state.

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Spooks, Scoops and Pols

April 22nd, 2009 - 8:30 pm

“A fine mess down there, I must say.  Nobody learns, ever, so far as I can tell…”

It was hard to disagree, especially with one of the great experts on intelligence, the late James Jesus Angleton, once upon a time the head of CIA Counterintelligence.  I wanted his take on the latest Chinese fire drill over the abridged “torture memos” that the Obama people had made public, and all the subsequent smoke and fire about possible prosecutions and/or investigations of the “guilty parties.”

I’d had some repairs made to my ouija board, and had tracked him down in the great beyond.  He was more reflective than angry, which surprised me a little.  Back when he was destroyed by scandal–his enemies inside the CIA leaked details of his operation opening Americans’ mail–he was furious, and I had expected some of the old rage.  But no, he was in an analytical, almost philosophical mood.

ML: “So what else is new?  First tragedy, then farce, as Marx used to say.”

JJA: “Right.  And it works on all levels.  The politicians don’t learn that you can’t use the intelligence community as a pawn in their enterprises, the journalists are the willing instruments of leakers, whatever the consequences (even those who do worry about such things are rarely in a position to evaluate the consequences), and the intel professionals don’t foresee that the rules can be changed from one minute to the next.”

ML: “OK, let’s just look at that bundle of issues.  The politicians, for example.  In this case, the White House–sorry, everything’s personal in this administration, so we should say, President Obama–produced a few documents that laid out the interrogation methods used against the 9/11 terrorists and other enemy combatants.  His position was that it was important to show “the world” that his predecessors had done evil things, and he was coming clean, and we wouldn’t misbehave again.  It’s a variation on ‘the truth shall set you free,’ which after all is the CIA’s motto, isn’t it?”

JJA: “It is indeed.  There are several points, however.  First, is that if you’re going to have a secret intelligence service, it’s nuts to hang out all of its dirty linen in public.  You do it privately.  I have a lot of sympathy–not total, but a lot–with those who say that if we reveal our interrogation methods to our enemies, they will be better prepared to cope with it.”

ML: “Why not total sympathy?”

JJA: “For two reasons.  First, it’s probably impossible for them to believe that we’ve really told the whole story.  In the world they live in, no country would voluntarily reveal such information, and no country would freely deprive itself of the full range of interrogation methods.  So they probably don’t believe it; they probably think it’s some sort of diabolical trick, hahaha.”

ML: “Nobody’s made that point, but it’s certainly worth considering.  And the second reason you don’t totally believe that the revelations will make it easier for future interrogation targets to resist?”

JJA: “Because most of the time, torture, or even the methods that are called ‘torture’ but really aren’t (I mean, if sleep deprivation is ‘torture,’ then every family that’s had a baby has been tortured, hasn’t it?), are not necessary.  A skilled interrogator can usually get the information.  And a person being tortured will often give ‘information’ that’s invented, just to stop the pain.  So the ‘information’ is probably less reliable than that obtained through less violent means.”

ML: “I agree.  After all, we’ve had three babies.  But one of the horrible things about this whole question is that torture does work sometimes.  Even some of the French officers in Algeria–men who were opposed to torture–discovered, to their horror, that it DID work.  The traditional methods sometimes take longer, and you don’t always have the time, do you?  As it turns out, for example, we uncovered a plot to attack Los Angeles by subjecting two al Qaeda terrorists to some pretty violent treatment.”

JJA: “Yes, the whole subject is terrible.  For me, and I think George Friedman has made this point, it’s pretty clear that we were driven to the use of waterboarding and like because, as of 9/12, we didn’t know much about al Qaeda, and we didn’t know what we didn’t know (so we didn’t know how much time we had to get the information out of the people we captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan).”

ML: “So we’re back to the infamous intelligence failure again, aren’t we?”

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Saberi and Obama

April 19th, 2009 - 10:48 am

The president’s response to the sentencing of Roxana Saberi—eight years in prison—is a testament to the power of Iranian blackmail and Obama’s own pigheaded refusal to understand the nature of our enemies. His “disappointment” in the mullahs’ action (echoed almost to the letter by Secretary of State Clinton) suggests that he hoped, maybe even expected, something better from them. And that, in turn, demonstrates a refusal to see Iran for what it is.

If I were Saberi’s Iranian-American father, I would be furious, and I would be inclined to call a press conference to say that, while it may be interesting to know the President’s state of mind, and even a bit sad that he is disappointed, American presidents are not paid to share their emotions with us. Among other things, they are paid to defend us from our enemies. He has manifestly failed to do this in the case of Roxana. I would ask the president very publicly, “are you going to do anything for my daughter or not? Never mind ‘I’m disappointed.’ What will you do for her, and for the other Americans in the grips of the mullahs? Or are you going to wait until there are dozens of American hostages in Iranian hands?”

I think it’s a bit inconsistent for the president to take credit for the liberation of Captain Phillips—through the use of overwhelming military power—and then limit himself to expressing disappointment at the brutal treatment of an American journalist.  Why is Captain Phillips worth the deployment of the U.S. Navy, while Ms Saberi is barely worth a sigh of disappointment?

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The Ambassador to the Vatican

April 11th, 2009 - 4:21 pm

It seems that the Holy See does not want Caroline Kennedy as the American Ambassador, perhaps because of her (pro-choice) politics regarding abortion.  This unpleasant situation reinforces my long-held conviction that it is a mistake for the United States to send Catholic ambassadors to the Vatican, or Jews to Israel, or Latinos to Latin America, and so forth. No Italian American should be ambassador to Italy, no Russian American should be sent to Moscow, no Indian American to India.

The Kennedy nomination shows why:  nominating an American Catholic risks putting our ambassador in a very uncomfortable and perhaps even severely conflicted bind, in which he may have to choose between aggressively carrying out our policy or offending a foreign leader who holds emotional and perhaps even moral sway over him.  Why should a Catholic be placed in potential conflict with the Pope?  Why should a Jew be placed in potential conflict with the Jewish state?

If a non-Catholic were nominated, the abortion issue would be irrelevant, as it should be.  Our ambassador is the president’s representative to the Vatican, pure and simple.  He should not be in a position where he could be accused of betraying his faith, or his race, or his roots.  It makes his job even more difficult, and much more political than it should be.

Moreover, the foreign countries know full well that we are pandering when we send one of “their own.”  By and large, the most effective American ambassadors I have known are those who know how to get things done, which usually means they have a good relationship with the president, the national security adviser, and the secretaries of state and defense.  That’s what foreign leaders want, really.  Language skills, cultural/ethnic/religious background doesn’t matter nearly so much, if at all.

So send Caroline Kennedy to, say, Johannesburg/Pretoria.  Send black Americans to Europe.  Send Irishmen to South America, Jews to Japan and Singapore.  And stop this phony catering to what we wrongly imagine to be the politically correct desires of other governments.  We’re supposed to act like Americans.  You know, as if we didn’t care where your grandmother came from.

Hostages, Hostages Everywhere…

April 10th, 2009 - 10:22 am

When pundits and politicians talk about “negotiating with Iran,” it conjures up an image of well-dressed statesmen sitting in elegant rooms, talking about the niceties of international relations.  But this is only a part of the picture; much of the process is conducted in little hotel rooms by secret intermediaries, and they talk about very unpleasant things, such as torture and blackmail.  At least one recent “breakthrough” in relations with Iran was extorted from Great Britain and the United States by an Iranian proxy group in Iraq that kidnaped five British civilians two years ago, and, in the secret negotiations that have been conducted by anonymous middlemen two and three arms’ lengths away from the British Government, have offered to swap them for Shi’ite terrorists in American hands.

At the end of last month, an Iranian-sponsored terror group in Iraq announced that they had reached agreement with Her Majesty’s Government that would result in the staged releases of five British hostages in exchange for several terrorists held by American forces.  Not only that, but the Guardian reported that “efforts to finalize the deal were a factor in Britain’s move to re-engage publicly with Hezbollah’s political wing in Lebanon this month.”

In simple English, if the story is true, we and the Brits appeased the Iranians on two levels: we agreed to release their killers and the Brits legitimized Hezbollah.  Both we and the British officially reject dealing for hostages.

Kidnaping works most of the time (otherwise they wouldn’t do it), as Tony Soprano would be one of the first to tell you.  It works for the Mafia, the Somali pirates, and for terrorists, including Iran’s ruling mullahs.  I saw this first-hand in the mid-1980s, when I was an intermediary for the Reagan Administration, dealing with the regime of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose terror instrument, Hezbollah, had taken several American hostages.  Like every other democratically elected leader I know of, Reagan could not bear the thought of American citizens being deprived of liberty, and the actual circumstances were even worse: American hostages were being tortured to death.  In the course of winning the release of several American prisoners, Reagan made numerous public and secret gestures in favor of the mullahs, and they responded by toning down their anti-American rhetoric, and by calling a temporary halt to the kidnapings.  When the Americans agreed to sell weapons to the Iranians, the mullahs ordered Hezbollah to release some hostages.  The world saw the “diplomatic” gestures and proclamations, but the secret hostage negotiations were a central part of the story.

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April 3rd, 2009 - 8:23 pm

A week ago, we went to the annual ball of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society in Washington.  The Society is one of the wonders of America, a totally voluntary organization that helps Marines and Sailors and their families when things get tough.  They raise money for education,  organize family support, provide assistance for wounded warriors, and tend to needy parents, widows and widowers.

We were worried that the economic convulsions would decrease the level of support, but the Society had a record-setting year, which suggests that, whatever the political change, the American people know that we have the finest military ever, and that our warriors are uniquely worthy of all that we can do for them.  We’re going to get some of the details of the new defense budget early next week, and the rumors are alarming, so it’s good to see that popular support is strong.

Defense Secretary Gates gave the major address of the evening, along with the Chief of Naval Operations and the Marine Commandant.  Gates had to pause several times to stop from crying, notably when he compared his experience as a university president with his current obligations.  On campus, he was dealing with kids in tee shirts and backpacks.  Now he’s got men and women in uniform, and it’s clear that he understands that he is dealing with superior people.  I suspect that this realization came as a surprise to him, as it does to many non-military leaders who find themselves working alongside our armed forces.

As usual at these events, I was struck by the absence of media stars and intellectuals.  Going through the list of sponsors and attendees, I could not find a single major university, newspaper, magazine, or broadcasting network or even station.  And yet, many of the chief honchos of such organizations will privately brag about their friendships with military men and women, and, perhaps especially in Washington, you’d be surprised at the number of such people whose children have quietly put on a uniform and have served,  are serving, or will soon serve in harm’s way.  So where are they?

Shame on them all.  When the publisher of the New York Times contends that the future of his newspaper has the same moral standing as saving lives in Darfur, one can only groan at the moral blindness that seizes so many American elites.  If he and his ilk understood what makes this country great, he’d have sponsored a table, or at a minimum insisted that his Washington office purchase several tickets to this wonderful event, where even the music is outstanding.

Today we drove to Annapolis to attend the retirement ceremony for a great Marine officer, a full colonel who has fought on three continents.  He got a sendoff that you and I can only dream of, from letters of praise from his military and civilian commanders to words spoken by his Marines along the lines of “if my son had to go into combat, I’d want them commanded by you, sir.”

No politician, no editor, no professor, no captain of industry, not even a brilliant blogger, will ever hear anything like that.  But they should support those rare men and women of valor who do.

So we’ll rendezvous next spring at the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Ball.  Right?

Why They Hate Us

April 2nd, 2009 - 7:14 pm

I’ve never actually met Jamie Glazov, although we’ve filled many screens with our email correspondence, often in connection with his excellent discussions on Frontpagemag.com.  Now, having read his fine book United in Hate; The Left’s Romance With Tyranny and Terror, I have a much better sense of who he is: a refugee from Communist tyranny, a serious thinker about the crisis we’re in, and a remarkably sensitive analyst who is one of the few to have put proper emphasis on the close relationship between our current jihadi enemies and the radical leftists who have worked for our destruction for such a long time.

United in Hate should be a basic text for students of modern mass movements, and of totalitarianism.  He’s got a keen eye for evil, and relentlessly goes to the black heart of the matter: “The believers worshiped Lenin not despite but because of the terror he inflicted.”  Man is indeed more inclined to do evil than to do good, which is the starting point for Machiavelli’s politics.   Glazov knows that well, and he despises those many politicians and intellectuals who have fallen into line for the tyrants; he hates tyranny and is driven to understand why it has so often succeeded.  In case after case, he documents the enthusiasm of tyranny’s followers.  From Lenin and Stalin to Mao and Castro and Pol Pot, he catalogues the adulation of their supporters in the free countries of the West.

This terrible history is not well understood by students of recent generations, and United in Hate would be invaluable for that reason alone.  But it is much more, because Jamie spends considerable time on a subject that seems at first blush to be totally out of place in such a book: love.  And why does he spend so much time on it?  Because he understands that human love is the antithesis of the total control that the tyrants of the Left, and their newfound allies in the armies of militant Islam, strive to impose on the world.  “The individual’s right to pursue happiness…interferes with the building of the perfect, unified social order; human joy and cheer are tacit endorsements of the present order that both leftist and Islamist utopians want to destroy.”  And the most subversive of all human passions is love.

As he points out in a wonderfully compact paragraph, the greatest novels about modern tyranny “all powerfully depict totalitarian society’s assault on…personal love.”  But as Huxley, Orwell and Zamyatin all remind us, total tyranny is impossible; subversion invariably sets in.  Erotic passion overcomes both the seduction of tyranny and the tyrant’s threat to annihilate all those who fight him.  “And that is why love presents such a threat to the totalitarian order: it dares to serve itself.”  Against the cult of death that underlies all modern dictatorships, love is the most powerful form of the life force.  As Freud intuited, modern politics in its most extreme form is a battle between Eros and Thanatos.

The compulsion to extinguish spontaneous love, as Jamie tells us, is the point of intersection between the ideologies of the Left and the jihadis.  Some of the most fascinating pages of United in Hate spell out the details.  Jamie reminds us of things we failed to appreciate at the time, as for example the details of the will of the leading 9/11 terrorist, Mohammed Atta.  No women were to be present at his funeral, and were to be banned from ever visiting his grave.  Moreover, his shame about his own body was spelled out: “He who washes my body around my genitals should wear gloves so that I am not touched there.”

Thus, an Islamist terrorist felt no shame about mass murder, but could not bear the thought of a woman at his grave.  I have often said that the grim rulers of contemporary Iran are devoted to extirpating fun, which bears out Jamie’s point.  If a boy and girl dare to touch each other in public, the wrath of the state comes down on them.  And of course the women are always blamed for any sign of sexual pleasure; throughout the Islamic world women are blanketed in clothing that obscures their bodies, and women are beaten by men from cradle to grave.

Some years ago I was asked by a Hollywood producer whether I thought it was safe for him to make a movie starring an Arab terrorist.  Why not?  I asked.  If he’s the hero of the movie, the terrorists will love it.  Well, he replied, the FBI thinks it’s dangerous.  Not at all, I argued; if you’re really afraid of getting them angry, stop making movies about sex.

Among the many benefits of reading United in Hate, once you’ve done it, you’ll understand what drives our enemies, whether secular Leftists or fanatical jihadis.  You’ll understand what makes them hate us, and what they intend for us.  It’s an important piece of work.  Read the whole thing, as they say…lots of folks are;  it’s doing very well on Amazon, as it should.