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Belmont Club

Catastrophe Inc

April 23rd, 2014 - 6:24 pm

Another catastrophe has overtaken John Kerry.  It’s almost routine now. The Middle East peace process that was going to fix everything has finally gone belly up.  John Kerry’s tireless overtures have somehow resulted in the Palestinian authority joining Hamas. You wonder how he did that. That alliance with the terror organization deep-sixed any hopes for a deal with Israel. The New York Times dolefully reports that things aren’t working out as planned:

The unity pact, coming days before the April 29 expiration date for the American-brokered peace talks that have been the mainstay of Secretary of State John Kerry’s tenure, surprised officials in Washington, which, like Israel, deems Hamas a terrorist group and forbids direct dealings with it. After months of intensive shuttle diplomacy in which Mr. Kerry staked his reputation on the peace process and even dangled the possibility of releasing an American convicted of spying for Israel to salvage the lifeless talks, his spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, called the Palestinian move “disappointing” and the timing “troubling.”

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties,” Ms. Psaki said, citing conditions Hamas has repeatedly rejected. “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist.”

Good news is pretty thin at Foggy Bottom. This latest setback comes after a State Department spokesperson failed to name a single accomplishment of the agency under Secretary Hillary Clinton.

State Department Press Secretary Jen Psaki was flummoxed, too, when asked about a 2010 State Department Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) that summarized then-Secretary Clinton’s goals and accomplishments.

‘Can you, off the top of your head, identify one tangible achievement that … resulted from the last QDDR?’ asked an Associated Press reporter during the daily briefing.

‘I am certain that those who were here at the time, who worked hard on that effort, could point out one,’ Psaki replied through a forced smile.

‘I’m sure there are a range of things that were put into place that I’m not even aware of,’ she offered moments later.

‘I won’t hold my breath,’ the reporter shot back.


48 Frames Per Second

April 22nd, 2014 - 2:13 pm

How much do world leaders respect president Obama?

“Over the past few years, NATO countries have helped Russia revolutionize its armed forces,” writes the Daily Beast.  ”Now questions are arising about a German defense contractor that trained the Russian military” .

“This wasn’t just about implementing lessons learned from [the 2008 invasion of] Georgia, it was about giving them a basis for a different kind of operations,” said Fiona Hill, a former top intelligence official on Russia, now with the Brookings Institution. “We should have been paying more attention to this. There have been these signals for a long time, but we have been misreading them.”

But it’s hard to misread this: “the State Department said Monday that it is investigating allegations that the Syrian government used a toxic chemical in an attack on a rebel-controlled area, raising questions about whether President Bashar al-Assad is violating an international agreement to destroy his most lethal chemical stockpiles,” writes the Washington Post.

That would be a violation of the landmark deal between president Obama and Assad announcing the destruction of his chemical weapons arsenal. If true, not only has Assad not forsworn chemical weapons, he using them again. Kinda like promising not to hit Obama and then hitting him again.

The Washington Post has this again to add to the tale of injury: “pro-Russian separatists block monitors from buildings in east Ukraine, diplomats say.” They were promised access under the Geneva agreement forged only last week.

Free passage of the monitors and the disarming of separatists were key elements of the agreement reached in Geneva on Thursday among the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union, and the very terms that U.S. officials said would be the primary test of whether Russia intended to comply with the accord.


The Undiscovered Country

April 20th, 2014 - 6:21 pm

The Daily Telegraph reports this Easter week that China is on course to become the country with the largest number of Christians in the world. “The number of Christians in Communist China is growing so steadily that it by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America.”

The new spread of Christianity has the Communist Party scratching its head. …

Yet others within China’s leadership worry about how the religious landscape might shape its political future, and its possible impact on the Communist Party’s grip on power, despite the clause in the country’s 1982 constitution that guarantees citizens the right to engage in “normal religious activities”.

As a result, a close watch is still kept on churchgoers, and preachers are routinely monitored to ensure their sermons do not diverge from what the Party considers acceptable.

The standard secular Western narrative was that Christianity would fade away as people became more hip and cool. But hip and cool don’t always add up to smart. Recently a woman made news in Britain by announcing her intention to have a government-funded abortion so she could appear in the Big Brother show.

She told the Sunday Mirror: ‘An abortion will further my career. This time next year I won’t have a baby.

‘Instead I’ll be famous, driving a bright pink Range Rover and buying a big house. Nothing will get in my way.’

She added: ‘I want to be famous for being me – Josie Cunningham, a glamour model in my own right.

‘If I want to do that I need to put my career first.’

Ms Cunningham has now posed in a series of photographs showing off her growing baby bump.

Incidents like this raise the issue of whether it’s really true that hip people are the smartest kids on the block. Perhaps the future doesn’t belong to the secular left which likes to depict itself as the inheritor of all intellectual endeavor. To help them in this assertion they push the belief that Easter is about superstitions, chocolate eggs and talking bunnies.

But Christians, presumably including those in China, know that Easter is really about the fate of the universe. It’s an oddly philosophical problem, but one which if you think of it, may have bugged each of us at one time or other. One of the biggest questions humans through the ages grappled with is the question of whether the universe was malignant or benign.


Getting It

April 19th, 2014 - 4:30 pm

One of the most powerful political weapons in the world today was — is —  self-hostaging.  A party threatens to harm itself unless demands are granted. “Then it will be your fault.” This tactic was on full display in the Middle East.

BREAKING: Palestinians Threaten to Dismantle the Palestinian Authority.

Will the crisis in the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations soon lead to the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority? Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas gave a veiled threat stressing that he will dismantle the Palestinian Authority in his meeting with Israeli Knesset members in Ramallah, but now it seems that the implicit threat might soon become an official position in peace negotiations….

In recent times, the Palestinian Authority has examined how they can dissolve themselves in the event that the talks fail with Israel. In this case, the Palestinians state that the burden will fall on Israel. As of today, the Palestinian Authority receives over $2 billion per year in donations from other countries across the globe.

Refugee ships headed for Europe are sometimes admitted on an analogous threat.

Almost 1,000 illegal immigrants landed in Italy yesterday after threatening to throw babies into the sea if their rusting ship was turned back.

The 240ft Monica had been spotted in international waters during the night.

When Italian coastguard boats drew alongside, the crews were shocked to see men and women on board begin dangling the infants over the side.

The refugees – mostly Kurds and many said to be heading for Britain – calmed down only when they were assured they would not be turned away from Italy.


Outpost in the East

April 18th, 2014 - 5:11 pm

A Washington Post report that the US has decided to deploy ground forces to Poland, ostensibly to act as a tripwire to deter further Russian threats, raises some interesting issues.

Poland and the United States will announce next week the deployment of U.S. ground forces to Poland as part of an expansion of NATO presence in Central and Eastern Europe in response to events in Ukraine. That was the word from Poland’s defense minister, Tomasz Siemoniak, who visited The Post Friday after meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon on Thursday.

Siemoniak said the decision has been made on a political level and that military planners are working out details. There will also be intensified cooperation in air defense, special forces, cyberdefense and other areas. Poland will play a leading regional role, “under U.S. patronage,” he said.

The first is why the story was leaked from a Polish source in an administration that almost always rushes to announce moves it wants to depict as decisive. It is almost as if Warsaw wanted to pre-empt Obama before he could have second thoughts.

The second issue is that Poland will be taking the lead “under US patronage”. Obama, as usual, will be leading from behind.  The Washington Post story quotes the Poles as confessing that “US patronage” will be a hollow unless America re-arms. Here is how the WaPo put it:

But the defense minister also said that any immediate NATO response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, while important, matter less than a long-term shift in the defense postures of Europe and America. The United States, having announced a “pivot” to Asia, needs to “re-pivot” to Europe, he said, and European countries that have cut back on defense spending need to reverse the trends.

“The idea until recently was that there were no more threats in Europe and no need for a U.S. presence in Europe any more,” Siemoniak said, speaking through an interpreter. “Events show that what is needed is a re-pivot, and that Europe was safe and secure because America was in Europe.”



April 18th, 2014 - 2:16 am

The BBC reports that pro-Russian separatists are already violating the Four Party Geneva agreement before the ink is dry on the paper.

Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk say they will not leave the government building there, defying the Kiev authorities and threatening a new international deal on Ukraine.

The separatists’ spokesman told the BBC that the Kiev government was “illegal”, so they would not go until the Kiev government stepped down.

Russia, Ukraine, the EU and US earlier agreed that illegal military groups in Ukraine must leave official buildings.

They reached the deal in Geneva.

What’s a deal if nobody respects it? Barack Obama himself seemed to know the deal he reposed such hope in wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. USA Today reports:

President Obama expressed skepticism Thursday over a possible diplomatic deal over Ukraine and indicated that he remains ready to impose new sanctions on Russia if necessary.

“My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days, but I don’t think — given past performance — that we can count on that,” Obama said during a White House news conference.

But he authorized it anyway and went straight to the press declaring he didn’t even believe in his own deal.  To paraphrase Groucho Marx, Obama should warn everybody to stay clear of a deal negotiated by himself.


The Louder They Come, the Harder …

April 17th, 2014 - 5:18 pm

A surprise deal has been reached at the Four Party talks in Geneva, which the president touted as his diplomatic option. Nothing had been expected to come of the talks and the standoff had been predicted to continue. The Daily Telegraph reports that a decisive movement occurred instead.  ”Vladimir Putin has secured key concessions from Ukraine and its Western supporters as the Kremlin was offered a central role in determining the future of its neighbour and former client state.”

In return the West gets to send observers who can watch as Russian agents relinquish their hold on public buildings. The price: Russian say-so over the future of Ukraine.

Well, not really such a surprising deal.

If the agreement holds, a monitoring mission of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe would oversee the handover of occupied government buildings by protesters in return for an amnesty for anyone not facing capital crimes.

Ukraine’s interim government in turn agreed to accept future talks on far-reaching constitutional reform that would grant the Russian-speaking east the extensive autonomy demanded by the Kremlin. …

There was little detail however on how the parties could meet the challenge of persuading the pro-Russian protest movement to withdraw from public buildings as well as convince the anti-Russian militia groups in western Ukraine to accept Russia demands for all armed groups to disband.

The administration is selling the agreement as an Obama victory. The LA Times says Russia has avoided sanctions for now, as if Putin had just dodged the wrath of Obama. But the Times admits Russia gets to keep troops inside Ukraine.


Complete Fiasco

April 16th, 2014 - 2:16 pm

Only a day after the White House grandly declared its support for the Ukrainian offensive to quash separatists on its eastern border, “a defense expert said that the government bid to push back the separatists was ‘already a disaster, bordering on a complete fiasco’” according to the Los Angeles Times.

gunmen seized a column of six armored vehicles from Ukrainian soldiers and narrowly failed to grab three more.

Ukrainian media reported that 30 armed men captured another building, municipal headquarters, in Donetsk, the main city of eastern Ukraine. Unconfirmed Russian news reports said about 300 Ukrainian soldiers deployed in the area had laid down their arms. …

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry confirmed that the armored vehicles has been lost to the armed separatists in the town of Kramatorsk.

The Wall Street Journal put it less jarringly. “Ukraine’s Efforts to Regain Control of East Sputter”. But a retired US general office speaking to NBC News said it all. Putin’s winning without even having to invade.

“I think Putin’s smarter than to have an invasion,” Gen. Montgomery Meigs told NBC News, referring to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. “He has the whip hand with all his special-ops guys running around firing up the Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.

It’s time to recall how the White House supported Kiev. Time Magazine said:


Retreat Hell Yeah

April 15th, 2014 - 9:16 pm

Don’t write a check your a** can’t cash. Never draw a Red Line that you’re not prepared to enforce. Don’t threaten consequences you’re not prepared to impose.  Never make as if you’re drawing a weapon against an armed man and come up pointing your finger. Some people learn life’s lessons after a while.

Some people never learn. Time magazine  reports that the White House has backed the Ukrainian government’s efforts to suppress separatism on its eastern border with an expression of support. As for tangible help, nada.

White House Backs Ukraine’s Eastern Offensive.

The White House says it supports the offensive against separatists in the country’s eastern provinces, which began Tuesday 25 miles north of Slovyansk and could expand to 10 cities throughout the region

The White House said Tuesday it supports military action taken on Tuesday by the interim government of Ukraine against separatist militants across the eastern part of the country. …

U.S. officials say there are no current plans to provide weapons to Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reports. Officials estimate there are roughly 50,000 Russian forces deployed to the country’s border with eastern Ukraine.


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Sadist Versus Narcissist

April 15th, 2014 - 3:16 pm

The danger in the Ukraine crisis was always that the Ukrainians — or some faction therein — would fight the Russians, escalating the crisis.  Resistance from Obama was not in the cards. CNN quoted David Frum as saying that Obama had in effect gave Putin the “green light” to carve up Ukraine.

Obama’s admirers think so too, though they put it differently. Ronan Farrow has advised the president to do nothing as Russia advances. “So, President Obama waiting and exercising caution isn’t necessarily sitting on his hands. It may be the caution that we need right now.”

Farrow’s right. Obama’s not sitting on his hands. He’s waving Putin through. The effect is the same.

Even Obama’s former diplomatic appointees can see what’s happening. James Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq in the Obama administration, implored NATO to send troops to the Ukraine because nothing else would be believed. He said, “The best way to send Putin a tough message and possibly deflect a Russian campaign against more vulnerable NATO states is to back up our commitment to the sanctity of NATO territory with ground troops, the only military deployment that can make such commitments unequivocal.”

Interestingly Jeffrey doesn’t see Ukraine as an end-point of Putin’s plots but a way station to other “more vulnerable NATO states”. And he is anxious to prevent the action from shifting Westwards, may because he knows the stuff Brussels is made of.

The “fragile” EU, having expanded its remit East, now claims it is too fragile to resist Putin now that he’s on the counteroffensive. An article in Bloomberg says, “the U.S. readiness to impose new economic sanctions on Russia over Ukraine is offset by the European Union’s reluctance to introduce stronger measures that could threaten its already fragile economic recovery.”

Translation. They won’t even back serious sanctions. The soft-power superpower that is the EU has looked into its arsenal of diplomatic demarches and human rights declarations and found — nothing. So now they want Obama to ante up the lead in stopping Vlad.  They’ll bring up the rear, maybe tomorrow. But Obama needs the EU in the van, with its greater market share of Russian goods.  We have the classic tableau.

Alphonse: After you monsieur.

Gaston: No, no. After you.

Alphonse: But I insist. After you.