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Belmont Club

Eat All You Can

August 9th, 2013 - 4:32 pm

An observer of from Mars, untutored in the ways of Washington, might conclude that the administration was suffering from multiple personality disorder. Even as the New York Times reported that Syria was becoming the new extremist haven for  Jihadis, Foreign Policy wrote that the US will now let in thousands of Syrian refugees.

With conditions continuing to deteriorate in Syria, the Obama administration is making a major policy shift by agreeing for the first time to allow thousands of new Syrian refugees into the United States … The numbers are relatively small: just 2,000 refugees, compared to an estimated two million people who have fled Syria during the civil war. But it’s a significant increase from the 90 or so Syrian refugees who have been permanently admitted to the U.S. in the last two years. And it’s not entirely uncontroversial. The refugees, mostly women and children, will be screened for terrorist ties — a process that could take a year or more to complete.

Just as the administration confidently announced that al-Qaeda was on the run the Washington Post announced its expansion. “Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen is focusing on expanding its presence in a remote eastern province that is the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, even as the group remains the target of U.S. drone strikes and Yemeni military assaults, according to Yemeni officials.”

AQAP’s ambition of creating a new haven in Yemen was underscored this week as the Yemeni government announced that it had foiled a plot by the group to seize Mukalla, the capital of Hadramaut and a vital seaport, and to destroy an oil pipeline and gas facilities. It was the first time, officials said, that AQAP had tried to take over Mukalla.

Despite the fact that the Washington Times warned that “security inside Iraq is unraveling at an alarming pace, and al Qaeda terrorists there aren’t just pulling the thread; they’re setting it on fire,” the UN announced its receipt of  a $100 million fund to the world body’s counterterrorism efforts — from Saudi Arabia.

“The Secretary-General expresses his appreciation for the significant contribution the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is making under the wise leadership of the King to strengthen international peace and security, especially in the global fight against terrorism,” said a statement issued on Wednesday by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.

The Saudi funded Center will be headquartered in New York City. What could go wrong?

While the press announces America has won in Afghanistan, the Military Times carries an article warning against handing it over to the Taliban “As U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan, some local leaders are making cease-fire and other agreements with local insurgent groups, a trend that carries risks but could also help hasten peace, military officials say.”

The agreements, some of which are little more than temporary cease-fires, carry the potential to be damaging if Afghan commanders “relinquish core responsibilities and local security standards when they enter into an accommodation with insurgents,” the report says.

Who’s going to be in charge of Afghanistan in 10 years’ time? Why ask the question when to retreat today is to advance. The State Department evacuation from its Lahore, Pakistan consulate to avoid terrorist threats is a triumph, just as Pakistan is a staunch American ally where Osama bin Laden was once stopped for speeding by a traffic cop 8 years before the SEALs ended his career.

In America the US President thinks he can cut Russia down to size by disarming America.  Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) urged President Obama to “rethink” plans to negotiate cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal with Moscow, a day after the White House canceled a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Surely Vitter must be a bigot, because President Obama is on schoolyard buddy terms with Vladimir Putin.

Asked whether he can get ‘big stuff done without having a good personal relationship with Putin,’ Obama responded by noting that ‘I know the press likes to focus on body language and he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the classroom.’

But as shutters snapped and reporters shared wary glances, the president insisted that ‘I don’t have a bad personal relationship with Putin. When we have conversations, they’re candid, they’re blunt; oftentimes, they’re constructive.’

Nothing is bad news for the President. Even the bad news is good news says Politico. “Al Qaeda’s back, and its timing couldn’t be worse for the Republicans who are taking on the national security wing of their party.” Its resurgence undermines any attempts to rein in what some have called the national security state.

Now, the libertarian Republicans who are trying to rein in the NSA — steering their party away from the security-first mind-set that dominated for most of the post-Sept. 11 years — will have to shout above the GOP establishment’s warnings that the new dangers from Al Qaeda prove why the surveillance is necessary.

Thus, the apparent failure of Barack Obama’s policies are a compelling reason to give him more power. He can’t lose. And if he does, it’s not his fault. One of the most common explanations for the administration’s apparent setbacks is that events won’t cooperate with his plans. The Arab Spring, Grand Bargains, Resets, Hope and Change … all are being frustrated by a perverse reality. As the Washington Post recently said, he is too noble to fight — and reality is too Republican to appreciate it.

From the beginning of his tenure, the president has been reluctant to build a legal framework that would assume that the fight against al-Qaeda and like-minded groups might go on for a long time. He not only proposed closing the prison at Guantanamo, rightly given its poisonous effect on the United States’ image, but he also opposed options to hold prisoners taken in future operations. … The president also has sought to minimize U.S. involvement in dangerous countries as much and as quickly as possible….

His hope of fighting the bad guys as antiseptically as possible, with drone strikes and a minimal presence, may prove as forlorn as President Clinton’s similar effort in the 1990s, when the equivalent weapon at his disposal was cruise missiles.

But the real reason for the incoherence of American policy, James de Long argues in his article “Detroit and the Special-Interest State”, is that America is incoherent. It has been captured by special interest lobbies and no longer has a consistent vision of the general welfare. What passes for Federal Government is simply the aggregation of special interest demands — even in the international political sphere. It’s a bunch of contradictory, self-defeating and incoherent activities whose single unifying factor is gimme.

The anti-nuclear, environmentalist, open borders, UN-centric, public sector union, redistributionist, feminist, gay and third-worldist lobbies have usurped the script-writing power to which the Federal government acts. Everybody’s pushing their agenda in a compartment. And the aggregate result, however irrational, however insane, is the received and unchallenged wisdom. De Long explains how it happened:

under the pressure of the war, the Cold War, the Great Society, environmentalism, the civil-rights revolution, feminism, and unionism, the [Founder's] principles crumbled. Indeed, to a large degree the doctrines reversed. The job of government became not to pass laws for the general welfare, but to identify particular worthy groups and empower them. Benefits were bestowed on special interests and routinely fed back into the political system to maintain the power of the bestowers. And government was regarded as the prime mover of every social and economic system from the economy to health care to agriculture to telecommunications….

Capture by faction has become endemic. As government has grown and budgets and regulatory empires have expanded, economic and ideological factions have carved off satrapies in the agencies and congressional subcommittees. The true greens control EPA. Unions have Labor and the NLRB. The banks have the Fed and Treasury. The energy companies used to have the Department of Energy, but now it is in the hands of the green crony capitalists. Farm policy is controlled by a coalition of agricultural interests and food-stamp advocates. HUD serves housing industry and urban constituencies. HHS and its state satellites are a tool of the health-care industry — my state senator in Montana deals with 63 health-care lobbyists, all of them focused on one thing: more money from the state. Academia, teachers’ unions, and the consulting industry control the Department of Education. Public employees have become a powerful interest group in themselves. And so on.

Conservatives keep arguing about Obama’s political philosophy, but they miss the point. His strength is that he has none. He has no views on environmental or labor or health or education policy; whatever the interests that have been given that part of the government want is all right with him. His job is to assure each member of his coalition that it will indeed be given freedom of action, to mediate the occasional conflicts, and to serve as a mouthpiece when interest-group talking points are put on his teleprompter.

And so ambassadors are chosen not because they know anything about diplomacy, but so they are the “first” woman, gay, Muslim or black envoy to a particular country. Actions from foreign policy, counterrorist strategy, energy policy and nuclear weapons are crafted to satisfy individual lobbies and contributors. This fragmentation gives foreign lobbies enormous power over Federal government policy since they no longer have to corrupt America in its vastness but only the small minority which owns a  given Empowerment Policy. To keep America dependent on foreign oil just fund the Greens. To destroy education in America just fund the unions. To disarm America just jump up a bunch of kooks.

America is easy to defeat in detail. That accounts for the extraordinary incoherence of American public policy today. The Federal Government today is hardly a strong horse — except to its own law abiding citizens —  it’s a camel designed by a committee.

The logical outcome of these trends is Detroit writ large. The special-interest state feeds on itself as more groups give up — they stop opposing those who capture government and join them, grabbing a share. As the situation deteriorates, an end-game situation develops in which the direness of the situation actually encourages greater irresponsibility. If things are going to crash, then every interest has an incentive to grab as much as it can as quickly as it can. It is a familiar commons problem: The more that other people add cows to an over-grazed pasture, the greater your incentive to add even more of your own cows before all the grass is eaten. Restraint is a sucker’s game.

A man from Mars might think Washington was crazy. But not crazy, De Long argues, just sane in a perverse way.


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