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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Here comes Ross Douthat, trying to sort out Obama’s foreign policy.  He’s got the right idea: watch the actions, add them up, toss with just enough realism-speak, and voila!  An Obama Doctrine.

Douthat rightly, I think, starts by saying that the Hagel and Brennan nominations to head the Pentagon and the CIA are good starting points for analysis, because they represent what he intends to do.  And he’s got the major themes right, too:

Like the once-hawkish Hagel, Obama has largely rejected Bush’s strategic vision of America as the agent of a sweeping transformation of the Middle East, and retreated from the military commitments that this revolutionary vision required. And with this retreat has come a willingness to make substantial cuts in the Pentagon’s budget — cuts that Hagel will be expected to oversee.

But the Brennan nomination crystallizes the ways in which Obama has also cemented and expanded the Bush approach to counterterrorism. Yes, waterboarding is no longer with us, but in its place we have a far-flung drone campaign — overseen and defended by Brennan — that deals death, even to American citizens, on the say-so of the president and a secret administration “nominations” process…

To the extent that it’s possible to define an “Obama Doctrine,” then, it’s basically the Hagel-Brennan two-step. Fewer boots on the ground, but lots of drones in the air. Assassination, yes; nation-building, no. An imperial presidency with a less-imperial global footprint.

I don’t think this rises to the level of a strategy, let alone a doctrine. It’s all about tactics.  It lacks a mission statement.  What is Obama trying to accomplish?  When and how will we know we’ve won or lost?  And what is “imperial” about it?  Are assassins “imperialists”?

Douthat seems to recognize this when he talks about Obama’s retreat from Bush’s “revolutionary vision.”  A president in full retreat from those challenging America, and killing Americans and our friends and allies wherever they can, is hardly an imperialist, whatever his shoe size.  Indeed, the president’s increasingly embarrassing insistence on cutting some sort of deal with the biggest and most aggressive American enemy — the Iranian regime that arms, trains, and supports most all of the killers — suggests that “appeasement” is a better description.

And yet, as Douthat (and Obama) would hasten to object, we’re killing a lot of al-Qaeda Arabs, aren’t we?  And we certainly didn’t appease Osama bin Laden, did we?  And Camp Gitmo is still producing obese terrorists, isn’t it?

True.  These are the Bush tactics, carried forward by Obama.  And the lack of strategic vision is also a carryover from the Bush years.  The Bush Doctrine was enunciated early after 9/11:  to wage war against the terrorist organizations that were targeting us, and against the states that supported them.  That was the original rationale for going after Saddam, and the foundation for the campaign against the “Axis of Evil,” explicitly including Iran, Iraq and North Korea.  But the Bush Doctrine was only fulfilled twice.  It began and ended with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Long before Obama, the United States was seeking deals with Iran and North Korea, and embracing Syria as a friendly.

So Douthat’s claim that Obama has abandoned the “revolutionary” Bush policy is overstated;  Obama is carrying on both the Bush tactics (from drones to vigorous interrogations to military tribunals) and the failed, post-revolutionary Bush strategery, as crafted by Colin Powell, Stephen Hadley, Condi Rice, and Richard Armitage.

To be sure, there is one big difference:  where Bush seemed inclined to keep a meaningful number of fighting men and women on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama sounded the retreat.  That’s a big difference, and its consequences are much more significant than a smaller footprint in the region.  Just ask our friends and allies in the Middle East.  As Tony Badran writes, all our non-Israeli allies are Sunnis, and they see an Obama policy that seems consistently anti-Sunni.  Take the Saudis, for example.  They keep asking why the United States doesn’t support the Syrian opposition (contrary to what you read in the popular press, we have done next to nothing to help Assad’s enemies).  And they ask why Obama is so acquiescent to Iraq’s top dog, Maliki, who supports Assad and enables Iranian assistance to the besieged tyrant in Damascus.

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John Mackey, the feisty CEO of Whole Foods, says Obamacare is “fascist economics” and he regrets having said it, even though he insists — correctly — that it’s a textbook case of Mussolini-style corporate statism.  Private property continues to exist, but the state controls all business.  That’s why the fascists called their totalitarian system a “third way” between unbridled capitalism and Soviet-style Communism.

Back in the twenties and early thirties, before German National Socialism became the archetypal “fascist” doctrine, Mussolini’s call for a new kind of national economy intrigued many serious thinkers and leaders, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Mr. Mackey was also right to regret using the term “fascist,” because it invokes so many passions and stereotypes that it hinders, rather than advances, understanding. But “fascism” was a very successful mass movement in Western Europe for an entire generation, and it flourishes in many countries today.  It behooves us to understand why it was so popular, and how most of our politics differ from it.  We have fascist economics, but certainly not fascist politics or foreign policy in America today, even though there are echoes of  it every so often.

There are many varieties of fascism, but the principal elements are:

  • A single party dictatorship, headed by a charismatic leader.
  • A politics of enthusiasm, involving the masses in ritual public celebration, and direct exchanges between the leader and his followers en masse.
  • Hypernationalism, or, in the Nazi case, racism, based on the claim that the nation or race is unique, superior, and entitled to play a major role in world affairs.
  • The aforementioned “corporate state” in which private property is legitimate, but the state dictates its proper use.

Fascism was created by the generation that fought, and died in historically unprecedented numbers, in the First World War.  It was very much a war ideology:  the post-war world, they insisted, must not be governed by the effete and corrupt ruling classes of the past, but by those who had demonstrated courage and virtue in the trenches.  The elevation of war heroes to national  leadership was seen as a guarantee that future generations would be shaped by the best the nation (or, in the case of the Third Reich, the race) could offer, and they vowed to fight, and destroy, those who had opposed the war, and sapped the nation’s virility thereafter.

As they extended their control over their countries, the fascists bragged of having created a new polity, a totalitarian state that controlled everything and everybody.  Fascists’ heroic virtues were incarnated in a charismatic leader.  Mussolini’s mass appeal was remarkable — you can see it in the monster crowds that gathered under his balcony in Piazza Venezia — as was Hitler’s, and that of others, from Romania to Spain (the charismatic leader there was not Franco, but Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange).  It was common to speak of such leaders as “men of destiny,” world-historical individuals who had imposed their will on history and would reshape the world.

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You know all this, of course, because you’ve been reading these blogs all along.  But as my mother used to tell me with her charming smile and melodious voice, repetition is the basis of all learning.

It is no doubt true, as so many wonks intone over and over, that we are targeted by lots of “non-state actors.”  But those “actors,” gangs like al Qaeda, Hezbolah, Islamic Jihad, and Jammaah this-or-that, are state-supported.

My old boss, Alexander Haig, used to growl, “we have to go to the source,” by which he meant the Soviet Union.  And whenever he said it, there were pious cries of “but NO!”  from the usual quarters, such as Foggy Bottom and Langley-on-the-Potomac.  They insisted that we did not “know” that the Kremlin was in any way “behind” terrorist groups, and when it was pointed out that the PLO actually trained IN the Soviet Union, they responded by denying it was a terrorist organization.  They redefined it as a “national liberation front.”

Turns out Haig was right;  we know the KGB and GRU were actively supporting groups including Baader-Meinhof in West Germany, and Red Brigades in Italy, as well as Arafat’s killers.  We know it from their own archives, their own emigres, their own defectors (take PJ Media’s own Ion Mihai Pacepa, for example).

Further confirmation from the real world:  When the Soviet Union imploded, terrorism took a hit.  It revived when the Islamic Republic of  Iran, working with the reconstituted Russian intelligence services, became the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, and waged war against us.

By now, everybody knows about Iran’s activities in the Middle East and South Asia, from its proxies (Hezbollah, the small army around Mookie al Sadr in Iraq, Islamic Jihad, al Qaeda, Taliban) to the Quds Force killers at work in Syria and Lebanon.  We also know about Iranian activities in Latin America, from the massacres in Argentina in the 1990s, to the remarkable spread of Iranian agents, including large numbers from Hezbollah, in recent years, starting in Venezuela.  The Defense Department recently published a helpful study of this worrisome phenomenon.  And we are learning about Iranian activities in Africa:

● Iranian weapons have been pouring into Kenya, and are being used by various murderous militias;

● Iranian ammunition is all over the place, from the Ivory Coast to Nigeria.

● Our ambassador in Yemen stood up the other day and announced that Iran is doing its best to foment civil war in that country.  

And I haven’t even mentioned Mali, where thousands of French soldiers are fighting, and we are providing logistics.  If things go badly, which can always happen, American fighters may join in.

It’s what happens when you lead with your behind, which is Obama’s strategery of choice.  Try this:  “AQIM’s creation of a haven in northern Mali was made possible in part by the fall of Libya’s dictator, Moammar Ghadafi, which unleashed a flow of weapons and fighters from Libya into Mali.”

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The New Iranian Hostage Crisis

January 6th, 2013 - 6:12 pm

Over and over again, we are told that direct U.S.-Iranian negotiations would be a radical departure from past practice, and might decisively improve the “relationship.”

Both claims are false.  Direct negotiations would not be new — talks between the United States and the leaders of the Islamic Republic have been conducted by every administration since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini brought down the shah — and there is no reason to believe that a “grand bargain” is on the horizon.

The Obama administration started talking to the Iranian regime even before the 2008 elections, and those talks have continued apace.  They have recently hit a snag over a familiar subject: hostages.

Although the talks between the two countries are invariably conducted in secret, the long story of U.S.-Iranian negotiations is abundantly documented. The United States started negotiating with the leaders of Khomeini’s revolutionary movement even as the shah was preparing to flee Tehran in early 1979.  High-ranking officials of the Carter administration’s State Department and Pentagon worked feverishly to maintain the military, commercial, cultural, and diplomatic alliance between the two countries.  These efforts famously failed, but the talks continued, even during the long hostage crisis, and led to a formal agreement (the Algerian Accords of 1981) that produced the release of the American hostages on Ronald Reagan’s Inauguration Day.

Every American administration thereafter attempted to reach a modus vivendi with the Iranians.  Reagan’s efforts led to weapons sales and further hostage releases.  Clinton and Albright publicly apologized for previous American policies, and eased visa restrictions and sanctions. George W. Bush actually believed that Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Nicholas Burns had negotiated an historic deal with Iran’s regime (in the person of Ali Larijani) in the late summer of 2006.

The conviction that Bush never tried to reach a working agreement with the Iranians is deeply embedded in the conventional wisdom (and in Iranian versions of events; see for example the preachy oped in the New York Times last Friday, in which two Iranians say that when the Bush administration offered to talk, “the Iranian government rejected the offer of direct, high-level talks as insincere”)  yet full details are in a multi-part BBC television series broadcast several years ago.  In that documentary, major participants (including Nicholas Burns) appear on camera recounting how, at the last minute, the Iranians requested three hundred extra visas for a monster delegation to fly to the UN.  The visas were duly issued — Rice understandably didn’t want to give the Iranians an easy out — but Larijani’s plane never left Tehran.  Burns and Rice had gone to New York to greet Larijani and celebrate the historic moment.  When the Iranians failed to appear, Rice flew back to Washington.  Burns hung around for a couple of days, vainly hoping the Iranians would eventually show up.

The Obama team began talking directly to the Iranians even before the 2008 elections — a campaign representative traveled to Iran to present the candidate’s hopes for improved relations — and the efforts continued throughout Obama’s first term.  The latest talks took place in Lausanne and Doha in the months prior to the 2012 elections and, as the New York Times reported, the two sides agreed to continue negotiating if the president were reelected.

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The CIA Goes Back to the Movies

January 1st, 2013 - 10:20 am

Well, it sure beats talking about Benghazi.  A few days after the (acting) chief spook wrote his review of Zero Dark Thirty, the Agency itself has returned to its new favorite subject, enlightening its readers about their latest deep thinking about Hollywood.  And guess what?  After careful study and analysis, they still think that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on the big screen.

You can get the gist of it from the headline:  “Hollywood Myths vs. the Real CIA.”

Maybe they’re preparing to offer an online course or something.

Meanwhile, your friends in Langley are trying to make you better informed, and, as before, they’re not talking about our enemies, or the global war against American civilization, or the unmentionable “terrorism.”  Nope.  Taking a cue from their leader in the White House, it’s all about themselves.  “CIA.gov wants to share some of the facts with you.”

Really.  Like what?  Well, like the CIA has very small (indeed “insect-sized”) listening devices (I guess that’s why they’re called “bugs,” huh?) and froovy robot fish that can sample water.  But the big “reality” from CIA.gov is that most of the folks who work for our once-secret espionage agency are NOT spies.  They may recruit spies, and run spies, but they are not actually spies themselves (true enough).  Furthermore (although you won’t get this from CIA.gov), most of our important spies have been walk-ins.  We didn’t go out and find them and lure them to betray their country.  They decided to do that, and came to us. And you’ll be pleased to learn that we’re in great shape to deal with them.  CIA’s got “a diverse workforce.”

That’s not always a good thing, by the way.  It prompts a flashback to a  Cold War story, I think when the hapless Stansfield Turner was in charge of CIA.  The wonderful Carter years.  A man in Czechoslovakia who wanted to spy for us arranged to meet a CIA guy at a bistro in Prague.  He was told that the spook would be easily recognizable because he would have the Herald Tribune with him.  So the would-be secret agent goes to the bistro and spots a big black man–six and a half feet tall–wearing cowboy boots, with the Trib on the table in front of him.

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