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Belmont Club

A Decline in Competence

May 8th, 2014 - 3:29 pm

Imagine it’s 1989 and the Berlin Wall is coming down. The clown Reagan has somehow pulled something off. Everyone is confused but delighted. Fast forward to 2014 and the peace everyone had thought would last is breaking down. Where is Obama? Everyone is confused but not so delighted.

It is as if some general catastrophe impends; we cringe not even knowing from whence the blow will come. Graham Allison writing in the National Interest asks “Could the Ukraine Crisis Spark a World War?”

He knows its a silly question but as Allison reminds us in the article, World War 1 began over a silly thing too. “Mark Twain observed that while history never repeats itself, it does sometimes rhyme. In the combination of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the collapse of authority that is destabilizing Ukraine, can we hear echoes from a century earlier when the murder of an Austrian Archduke sparked a great European war?”

If those making fateful choices in Washington, Berlin, and Moscow today were to pause to reflect on what was done—and not done—in 1914, they would recognize that the current crisis poses much greater danger than they now imagine. This would stir them to think well beyond their current conceptions of events and to stretch to much bolder, preventative initiatives than we have seen thus far.

Allison, who made his academic reputation writing the Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis may be worried that today’s leaders cannot manage what on the face of it, seems a much lesser crisis.  Otherwise why write the article? But if today’s crisis is smaller than formerly, so are the minds that must grapple with it. This little thing may somehow spin out of control.  The danger of war is founded not  so much in the challenges of the moment as in doubts over our ability to meet that challenge; it is a concern over the competence of today’s leadership, perhaps that of Washington’s most of all.

Angelo de Codevilla, writing for the Hoover Institute is troubled by the same nagging worries. Like Allison, he looks back at history for clues. In an article called America: Founded for Peace, Codevilla argues that the Founders tried to write America out of the world’s conflicts but their successors found themselves dragged back time and again.

America’s settlers had not crossed the Atlantic to fight battles of their own, much less the king’s. The New England colonies took enthusiastic part in war against France’s Quebec primarily to secure their frontier against the horrific Indian raids that the French were sponsoring. But by the mid-eighteenth century the British habit of trying to command colonial militias for imperial priorities rather than for domestic peacekeeping had worn thin the colonists’ loyalties. After the French and Indian War of 1763 had ended these raids, participation in the British Empire became synonymous to Americans with domestic oppression.

Thenceforth, the Americans’ supreme request of British authorities was to be left in peace. In 1774 Thomas Jefferson, echoing countless preachers and local authorities, described the “rights of British America” in terms of the people’s natural right to have, to hold, and to dispose of lives and property, a right that comes from God and hard work (cf. John Locke) rather than from any potentate. The Americans of 1776–83 fought to be equals among the nations of the earth, from which they hoped only mutual forbearance.

But the unavoidable happened. As America grew great it inevitably became a deciding factor in the great quarrels of the world. In the terrible words of Leon Trotsky “you might not be interested in war but war is interested in you.” Codevilla notes that time and again, America’s attempts to withdraw from the world only condemned it to unpreparedness when finally dragged in — such as World War 2.

The sixteen years of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s presidencies were plagued and well-nigh defined by inability to deal with foreign war’s powerfully divisive influence at home. Both presidents tried to keep out of the Napoleonic wars by balancing increasingly warring factions at home, and by mere economic sanctions abroad. But, they ended up having to fight the War of 1812—a war as disastrous at home as it was abroad—because they had stopped building the navy that Washington and Adams had started, and unarmed diplomacy proved impotent to diminish British and French pressure on America. New England almost seceded from the Union, the British Army burned Washington, DC, and Britain’s Indian allies massacred the first settlement of Chicago.

If America could not leave the world to its quarrels it could at least deal with them wisely.  The Founders left posterity one final safeguard against war in the federal structure of the United States.  It was their belief that by leaving the power of the purse and authority to declare war in the House of Representatives that with the help of States represented in the Senate then War, if embarked upon, would not be chosen lightly.  It could certainly not be started by a capricious American executive.

But the Founders had not reckoned with the emergence of imperial presidency whose national security decisions would be made by characters like van drivers and authors of romantic novels in the Mills and Boons tradition. They had not foreseen the emergence of an unaccountable Washington, a closed circle, driven by fads and fantastic ideas, whose leading members redefined War as “kinetic military action” deployed at the instance of a “responsibility to protect”.

But now, as Allison reminds us, the hard choices are upon us. Or rather it is upon the van drivers and novelists and Chicago Messiahs upon whom it has devolved. Allison writes, “at this point in the Ukrainian tragedy, the danger of a violent outcome that will dismember Ukraine is rising rapidly.”  Surely he jests. Isn’t Global Warming the real danger of the hour?

Unless U.S. and European leaders act in the week ahead, before Ukrainians vote for a new President on May 25, they will, de facto, have been partitioned. And even if the United States and Europe respond by imposing biting sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy—a big “if”, given the interpenetration of the Russian and German economies—facts on the ground will be no more reversible than Russia’s annexation of Crimea….

the combination of Putin’s actions and Western reactions will poison relations between Putin and Obama for the remainder of his two-and-a-half years in office … if an isolated Russian spoiler undermines the sanctions regime that has motivated Iranian interest in a negotiated solution, and Iran resumes or accelerates the nuclear program it was pursuing before the current pause, the United States and Israel will rapidly come to a crossroad. They will be forced to choose between seeing Iran acquire a nuclear bomb or bombing it to prevent that happening, igniting what is likely to become a wider war in the Middle East.

Second, think about the Baltics. Imagine a scenario in which we see a replay of Crimea or Donetsk in Latvia where one quarter of the population are ethnic Russians or Russian speakers … The brute fact that Latvia is a member of the NATO alliance is hard to ignore. The United States and other members have solemnly pledged themselves to regard “an attack upon one as an attack upon all.” But will German troops come to Latvia’s rescue? And if they did, would a majority of Germans support that action? Would the French, or British? Would Americans?

Would Obama?  If Allison were confident that Washington was pondering these weighty issues, that someone were ready for the 3 AM phone then there could be less of an impulse for he and countless others to proffer advice.  And so the advice is proffered but to what end? The sort of administration that would heed this advice is would need to understand it, and that is not a given.

It is at this point that the “terrible if’s” accumulate.  The most disturbing thing about Barack Obama’s presidency has been his inclination to lie. One might think the president’s real foreign policy competent or incompetent. But one cannot argue that it is what he says it is. The Benghazi attack was not about a video. Nor were his sanctions going to do much to stop Russia. If he actually believed what he said we would be in bigger trouble than if he were lying to us.

There are none so blind as they who will not see. The Daily Beast writes, “The State Department under Hillary Clinton fought hard against placing the al Qaeda-linked militant group Boko Haram on its official list of foreign terrorist organizations for two years. And now, lawmakers and former U.S. officials are saying that the decision may have hampered the American government’s ability to confront the Nigerian group that shocked the world by abducting hundreds of innocent girls.”

And remember Benghazi’s attackers? Time Magazine writes:

“The individuals related in the Benghazi attack, those that we believe were either participants or leadership of it, are not authorized use of military force,” Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a top-secret hearing of the House Armed Services Committee Oct. 10.

Dempsey said the U.S. military could do little more than act like a sheriff’s posse, sent out to round up suspects.

The most disturbing thing about Benghazi isn’t whether the president game is deep or shallow. It’s that he’s not telling the People what the game is. ”This is my last election,” he told Putin’s emissary. “After my election I have more flexibility”. Flexibility to do what? Mr. President?

The reason the Founders left that the ultimate decisions of peace and war be left to the most representative level of government was to force the executive to explain to the public what things like “flexibility” were about.  They wanted to compel the president to think things through, to make the case before the public ear. Before we can answer the question ‘what shall we do?’ it is first of all necessary to answer ‘what have we done?’.


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Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
"You may say to yourself, My God! What have I done?"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7pVjl4Rrtc

That was 30 years ago. Ronald Reagan was President and John Lehman was building the 600 ship Navy. As a work of art and comment on this topic, I do not believe that it can be improved upon.

Politicians lie. All politicians engage in secrecy, manipulation, and coercion, All Presidents resort to espionage. Washington did and Lincoln did and so did Jefferson too. The problem with Obama is not that he is Machiavellian. It is not that simple. The problem is that he is not on our side. The problem is that far from assuming the distasteful burden of politics to preserve the finer qualities of the people unsullied he debases the people to make them more compliant with his desires. He is not doing it for us. In Obama's world we are doing it for him.

Even Old World aristocrats knew that they had to observe the forms of serving something greater than themselves. The Nobility of the Sword had to face the theoretical possibility of leading troops in combat. The bureaucrats and landed gentry, Nobility of the Robe in the French terms but there are equivalents elsewhere, had to display enough hypocrisy "the homage that Vice pays to Virtue" to satisfy popular opinion. That has gone by the boards. On matters both large and petty the people were and are treated with contempt. The consequences were unfortunate in France. Let us hope that we manage better.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Cold War was fought with a leadership that came to maturity in the crucible of WW-II. Notwithstanding the accumulation of staff weenies, suck ups, and the contemporary equivalents of John "paper cut" Kerry; leadership was perforce selected on the basis of competence and ability to coordinate competing needs into a coherent whole. That generation lasted just long enough to give us the power to hold together to see the fall of the Soviet Union.

It is a different generation in power now. It is one that not only is not selected for competence, it abhors competence as something that is a threat to the regime of special privileges based on ideology, fiction, and class structure. We do not have competent leadership to weather a lesser crisis than Ukraine. Let alone the multiple crises facing us now.

And that application of the Peter Principle is not restricted to our country. And like in our country, the rulers share the illusion of supercompetence unsupported by any empirical data or proof.

Recovery from this debased state is difficult. As has been seen in pretty much every Chinese dynasty, the Eastern Roman Empire, and the Western Roman Empire with successor states; competence, even loyal competence, is viewed as a threat by those in power. So they destroy the only hope of national survival out of jealousy and fear.

Our current leadership, regardless of political party; is weak, incompetent, venal, suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, and there is no real world touchstone that they accept to measure themselves by and aspire to. They raise impotence to new levels, and indeed are probably incapable of managing a nocturnal emission without catastrophic results.

And this sorry lot of lop-earred duds claims sovereign overlordship over us and our posterity forever.

Wo3 de5 ma1 he2 ta1 de5 feng1kuang2 de5 wai4sheng5 dou1. Ai1ya1, wo3men5 wan2le5.

Subotai Bahadur
(show less)
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
First of all, all this Administration's duplicity and seemingly treasonous conduct is not solely the work of Buraq Hussein. Hilary and John F'g Kerry went right along eagerly. No one has spilled the beans on what was done or why it was done.

This did not start with Benghazi or Ukraine either. Early on, Start II was a treasonous fiasco wholly supported by the Democrats and not just a few Republicans . The Congressional Democrats have never raised an objection on any foreign policy issue, and to their shame it has been rare to hear one from the Republicans either.

The whole of the Democratic Party has endorsed the abandonment of our allies and our responsibilities in the world, with nary a peep from the Republicans, who have abdicated the role of the loyal opposition completely. The Pubs are now the "for sale at any price" opposition, ready, willing and able to sell out the country on a moment's notice.

The entire DC political establishment has been bought and paid for by I suspect foreign Banking, Corporate and Oil interests, and until the whole of this establishment is brought to a severe and harsh prosecution and punishment for their treasonous crimes, our nation will be in an extreme, existential jeopardy.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (92)
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No different from the Bush Regime and the constant barrage of lies to murder Iraqi's.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm at the point in the Winston Churchill biography where Poland was just invaded. England had given her word of honour (yep, they used to talk about Honour) that she would come to Poland's aid in the event of an attack by Hitler. Chamberlain, the Appeaser, was STILL clinging to the idea that he could kiss Hitler's ring and get out of going to war. But he was forced to recall Parliament to London on an emergency basis. The House of Commons was packed: everyone was straining at the leash, sure there would be a Declaration of War. Here's how Manchester describes it:

"At 7:30 pm, a crowded House awaited the prime minister's announcement. Parliament, like the British press and public, was ready for war. The secret conduct of foreign policy was past. The country knew of His Majesty's Government's [HMG] commitment to Poland, knew how deeply the German army had penetrated the Polish defenses, knew England's delay in declaring war was responsible for the Luftwaffe's supremacy in the skies over Poland, ans was ready to come to her aid. Spears had never seen Parliament 'so stirred, so profoundly moved. . . . The benches were packed. The unbearable suspense was about to be relieved. One and all were keyed up for the announcement that war had been declared.'

"To Churchill, there was 'no doubt that the temper of the House was for war. I even deemed it more resolute and united than in the similar scene on August 2, 1914, in which I had also taken part.' As Chamberlain rose, another MP felt that 'most members of the House were ready to show their intense relief that the suspense was ended by cheering wildly.'

"'But as we listened,' Spears wrote, 'amazement turned to stupefaction, and stupefaction into exasperation.' Chamberlain was speaking, not of Nazi crimes, or of suffering Poland, nor Britain's honor, but of 'further negotiations,' or rather of their possibility, since the German govt. had rejected the last such proposal. But, the prime minister said to the staring, straining, immobile House of Commons, that was not necessarily a reason for discouragement. The Fuhrer of the Reich was a very busy man. It was not impossible that he was pondering the Italian govt's suggestion for a conference. Chamberlain affirmed HMG's demand that German troops leave Poland but-- despite the unanimous vote of his own Cabinet for war, and his pledge to report it to Parliament -- Chamberlain mentioned no deadline for their departure. 'If the German Gov. should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty's Govt. would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier.' Then, he said triumphantly, 'the way would be open to discussion' between Poland and the Reich, in which case 'Britain would be willing to be associated with such talks.'

"He sat down. No one cheered. Instead, Hugh Dalton heard what he called 'a terrific buzz.' Margesson signaled his whips to brace for physical violence, and with reason. [Cabinet members] Duff Cooper and Amery, Dalton saw, were 'red-faced and almost speechless with fury.' Cooper himself had 'never felt so moved.' Spears saw the House 'oozing with hostility.' Two MPs actually vomited. Churchill, for once understating the hostility to Chamberlain, merely noted that 'the Prime Minister's temporising statement was ill-received by the House,' but Amery wrote that 'Parliament was aghast. For two whole days the wretched Poles had been bombed and massacred,' and here was the prime minister of Great Britain discussing how 'Hitler should be invited to tell us whether he felt like relinquishing his prey! And then there were all these sheer irrelevancies about the terms of a hypothetical agreement between Germany and Poland.'

"... When Arthur Greenwood rose to reply for the Opposition, Amery, fearing a 'purely partisan speech,' shouted, 'Speak for England!' Greenwood, not known for his eloquence, stammered and said of Chamberlain, 'I must put this point to him. Every minute's delay now means the loss of life, imperilling of our national interest -- ' He hesistated, and Boothby called out, 'Honour.' Greenwood said, 'Let me finish my sentence. I was about to say, imperilling the very foundations of our national honour.'"

They had to DRAG Chamberlain across the finish line, squealing and protesting and in utter denial about the true nature of Hitler until it was basically shoved down his throat with a crowbar. But note that they had strong conceptions of duty and national honor. That they were appalled by the slaughter of the Poles -- who threw their horse-mounted cavalry against the German tanks in a desperate attempt to hold their frontiers; and in just two days, 100,000 Poles had already been killed.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
--that was a great selection --thanks --

From Sept '39 until May 10 '40 was the 'Sitzkrieg' --until today's date 1940, when Hitler sent his army around the end of the Maginot Line. The sneaky bastid!
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not specifically on topic, but I just came across this excellent essay on the madness of the Left - http://www.scifiwright.com/2014/03/the-unified-field-theory-of-madness/. Well worth reading.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
bizarre this franco-indian alliance that was fought by the Anglo-Saxons,

is it because the French were settled where these anglo-Saxons thought they shouldn't, and bloody was more a anglo-Saxon fact than French's

ie Land run

http://www.lepoint.fr/c-est-arrive-aujourd-hui/22-avril-1889-le-jour-ou-les-fermiers-americains-volent-l-oklahoma-aux-indiens-22-04-2012-1453856_494.php#xtor=CS1-31

oh and how washington got "la patée" from a bunch of french settlers with their indian alliés in Virginia

http://www.herodote.net/1756_1763-synthese-86.php

and how Montreal was defended by the French voltigeurs (75%) that the Brit governor recruited against the american invasion, they did such a good work that Quebec was allowed to keep its french language and religious catholic religion, in the meawhile french language was a natural border to any american candidate as illegal into Canada

http://www.warof1812.ca/propand.htm


15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cIjTodmfk0

--par your viewing plaisir, MC. Tho i think they took the field, at least you get to see many Redcoats shot up by French troops --Kubrick film, Barry Lyndon.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
The fecklessness of the Obama administration's foreign policy is hardly anything new. The essential problem is that the Democratic Party's default position on foreign policy is Wilsonian, complete with a presumption that America really needs a university administrator from Princeton who stoops to conquer the Presidency of the United States of America. It may seem be hard to believe, but Barack Obama's foreign policy is no worse than Woodrow Wilson's foreign policy – they are both rooted in the same haughty narrow mindedness.

Decline in competence? That would imply that the foreign policy of “progressives” might have been more competent at one time than it presently is. President Obama is merely tracing the footsteps of President Wilson. It is a testament to over a century of hagiography that the presidency of Woodrow Wilson is seen as a role model for future presidents rather than the disaster it really was.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
...complete with a presumption that America really needs a university administrator from Princeton who stoops to conquer the Presidency of the United States of America.

Yes, but then Obambus wasn't even a university administrator.

And things are another century gone, hasn't anybody learned anything, especially pretenders from the academy?

Two further degrees of incompetence, if you ask me.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
There's another factor that worked there.
In the experience of most civilized people in the 18th century, "peer to peer" wars weren't ideological. They determined who you paid taxes to, which flag you flew, but didn't have that much impact on how the average person lived.
The American Revolution and the revolutions that followed WERE ideological. The average Frenchman's life was changed more by the French Revolution than by a millennium of wars after Tours in 732. 18th Century man saw war as a game for kings. Why get involved?

But now things have turned. War once again is a matter of ideology. Like minded Western states don't fight with each other. Russian and Chinese Neo-fascism, and Islamic Theo-fascism fight. And the outcomes of those wars DO change the lives of "commoners"- and in the long run, us. But they are not the wars the Founders were thinking of. They were envisioning the wars they knew and understood, with the colorful uniforms and the long titles and canons settling disputes between aristocrats.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
I stupidly posted a question (before rushing off to town) regarding a comment by Wretch which referred to an apparent Assad victory.
Rereading the comment, I see it includes many other examples/defeats, which renders my comment absurd.
---
I was referring only to his citing an apparent victory by Assad and NOT... the rest, so given that, I'll rephrase the question:

Is an Assad victory good or bad news for us considering the current makeup of the "rebel" forces there?

In other words, aren't the "rebels" more of a threat to us than the execrable Assad?
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's an impossible question for anyone to answer, since the only "good" result from our POV would be if everyone on both sides of that conflict died, and the land they lived in was sewn with salt and left absolutely and completely desolate for a millennia or two.

The only bright spot in the whole situation is that they may just do that themselves, without our help.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
O'Bama began his sorry trek toward foreign policy disaster with his abandonment of Iraq, where the US had established through a demonstration of overwhelming power a relatively stable modern ally and an undeniable major presence in the Middle East. That was probably the stupidest decision since Johnson's administration. From that followed O'Bama's determined descent into his wonderland of foreign and domestic communist fantasy. It will require 20 years for the nation and the world to recover from him. His legacy will be death, waste, and destruction for millions across the Earth.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think you are too optimistic! Under Carter we lost only Iran to the forces of evil and we still pay a steep price for that. Obama creates many times more chaos and I suspect that we will pay for these errors for 100 years or more.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
On 9-12 a news anchor postulated that it might take us 10 years to end the war begun by the Islamists. I corrected him immediately, and I predicted "50 years."

But that was before I noticed that the occupant of the Trojan Horse (we all seemed to miss) would get elected in 2008 and actually fight on the other side. Now I say 100 years too; but only if we somehow survive in the next 20.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sadly, I agree.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
O/T With the appointment of a select committee on Benghazi, there is going to be an interesting interplay over the issue of lying to Congress.

BP's David Rainey's appeal before the Fifth Circuit is moving along.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/us-seeks-reinstatement-charge-bp-spill-case-23536305

"Prosecutors urged a federal appeals court panel Wednesday to reinstate a criminal charge alleging that a former BP executive obstructed a congressional investigation into the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The case before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involves allegations that David Rainey failed to disclose information from BP PLC indicating that the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon explosion could have been far higher than estimates then being made publicly.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt threw out the obstruction-of-Congress charge against Rainey. At issue is whether the law Rainey is accused of breaking applied to congressional subcommittee investigations. Arguments centered on legal semantics during the hearing conducted before the appeals court judges — Emilio Garza, E. Grady Jolly and Stephen Higginson.

Engelhardt had ruled in favor of defense lawyers who argued that the law refers specifically to committees, but not subcommittees.

Justice Department attorney Christopher Smith, arguing for reversal of Engelhardt's ruling, said the appeals court should use a broad definition of the word "committee" in interpreting the law.

Arguing for the defense, Reid Weingarten told the panel that the term "committee" in Congress is a narrowly defined legal term. "If you read the statute, you don't see 'subcommittee' anywhere, end of story," he said.

Engelhardt had also sided with defense attorneys who said prosecutors failed to expressly allege that Rainey knew of the pending congressional investigation he was accused of obstructing. Prosecutors say in briefs that the allegations are clear in the indictment.

The panel gave no indication when it would rule."

It would be hard to find two more hated organizations than BP during the spill and the IRS. So the outcome of Rainey's appeal will put forward a result by which to weigh Lois Lerner's testimony before congress.

"Equal protection under the law"? The Law of Unintended Consequences" may rise up and bite the Democrats on the butt.

15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
A CEO's real job is to keep up paying the 'protection' money to the Government Mafia.
Who has the guns, here?
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
The reason that war in Europe is again possible is that Obama absolutely refuses to negotiate with Russia. He demands submission. This is how he deals with his domestic opposition, too; submit and be silent.

Putin has repeatedly tried to get the US/EU to the negotiating table, and they refuse to come. If war does break out, the US/EU will have started it.

An the fact that the US/EU engineered (Nuland's $5B) a coup d'etat that overthrew and democratically elected government does not bode well either.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
--i'd phrase that differently. The way you put it, it sounds as though provocateurs have been provoking in support of the status quo ante-provocation. Since this seems to be nonsense, we ought to proceed on the basis of who is and who isn't acting against interest.

Long/short, who was/is Nuland et al representing? It's clearly not the entity referred to as 'America' --else we would be chomping at the bit to fight the Rooskies, and to fight 'em in eastern Europe, and right now.

A lot of folks are a whole lot more interested in fighting an enemy a whole lot nearer.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're both right.
It ain't the American people.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
...and Hoping for Change.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
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