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Belmont Club

Smoke Detector

July 23rd, 2014 - 3:30 pm

The New York Times notices the smoke collecting on the ceiling of the auditorium of the world and wonders whether there might be something to worry about. Peter Baker in an article titled “Crises Cascade and Converge, Testing Obama” notices that things are falling apart. “Not long after a passenger jet exploded in midair and plummeted to the ground in Ukraine last week, escalating a volatile crisis pitting the United States and Europe against Russia, President Obama’s thoughts turned to Syria.”

Baker has a thought. These problems may be linked.

Rarely has a president been confronted with so many seemingly disparate foreign policy crises all at once — in Ukraine, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — but making the current upheaval more complicated for Mr. Obama is the seemingly interlocking nature of them all. Developments in one area, like Ukraine, shape his views and choices in a crisis in another area, like the Middle East.

Like Sherlock on the trail, he suggests a common cause links them all. But we are advised not to worry, because the president is hot on the trail of the mystery; trying to identify the factor that connects all these catastrophes. Patience is advised, it is not elementary, my dear Watsons. The world is a complex place which only the the very smartest can understand.

Little wonder then that in recent days the president seems almost to be suffering geopolitical whiplash. “We live in a complex world and at a challenging time,” he said wearily last week after making a statement in which he addressed Ukraine, Gaza, Iran and Afghanistan, all in the space of seven minutes. “And none of these challenges lend themselves to quick or easy solutions.”

So he spends himself unstintingly trying to untie the Gordian Knot. But here’s a quick solution. Cut the Gordian Knot: resign.

That will work if the nexus of these problems is the president himself.

There is of course an alternative hypotheses. One theory is that our current failures are rooted in the end of the Cold War. Or perhaps in the legacy of George Bush. If we could only return to the days of Dr. Strangelove or before the year 2000 then all would be well. This is a favorite of those who see the world in complex terms. Baker writes:

The cascading crises reflect larger trends, according to Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. While the Cold War made for clear relationships, there is no such structure anymore. “So what you have are relationships where you may cooperate with certain countries on certain issues on certain days of the week, while on other issues on other days of the week, you may compete or simply go your own way,” he said.

The problem with this analysis, apart from the unavailability of a Time Machine to solve it, is that it may be inverting the direction of causality. Haass’ nostalgia for the Cold War may really be a longing for the competence in American leadership which characterized it then. He doesn’t miss the Cold War. He misses Harry Truman; he misses Ronald Reagan. It’s not unreasonable to think that if Barack Obama had been president during the Cuban Missile Crisis then you would not be reading these words.  And then you wouldn’t miss the Cold War so much.

But Obama’s the president we’ve got.

One of the fundamental tests of leadership is an ability to include one’s self in the critique. One of the most disturbing things about Obama’s style of management is his absolute inability to consider he might have something to do with the catastrophe. The Usual Suspects are anyone but his magnificent self. It’s a blind spot. It’s like watching a basketball player refuse to consider there may be anything wrong with his form after missing the last 100 of 100 shots.

The world is a complex place but the key to unraveling complexity is knowing where to start looking. It lies in finding the key.

But if Obama and his supporters are ruling out the obvious, so too are many of the president’s critics who hope that at some point — perhaps when he misses 500 out of 500 — that he’ll suddenly realize that he’s doing it wrong. They’re hoping for this because the common perception is that the world is stuck with him until 2016. But perhaps he won’t notice he’s missed the last 1,000 shots for the very same reason that caused the blunders already committed.

The one crisis that Peter Baker omits to mention is the inability of the American political system to diagnose and fix itself.  It lies in the circumstance that Baker can realize the world is falling apart without being able to put his finger on why. It is exhibited in Alan Dershowitz’s perspicacious insight that Israel has been put in an impossible position while remaining a pillar of the Democratic cheering squad. They can enumerate the problems but they don’t know what it means.

The feedback loop is kaput. That is the key. But no one in Washington seems capable of divining where the smoke on the ceiling is coming from because it’s coming from them. The significance of the dog that did not bark in the night is that nobody in establishment DC is barking. It means things will only come to a head when the theater actually starts to burn.

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Top Rated Comments   
Let us pause and consider for a moment that millions...... millions..... of our fellow citizens (some would say TWANLOC) look at the world today and say "Elizabeth Warren! Yessiree, that's who is needed right now to sort all this out. Run, Liz, Run!"

Elizabeth Warren.

Let us ponder that for a moment. And realize that Obama is as much a symptom as a problem.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
Some day historians will look at our time and marvel that this Titanic of a nation didn't notice any of the impending icebergs because it was too busy forcing nuns to buy contraceptives. Or maybe what will get them is the way so many people were fooled into thinking a blank slate president could become clear and decisive when necessary.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Rarely has a president been confronted with so many seemingly disparate foreign policy crises all at once..."

If this halfwit were reviewing a 3 Stooges movie, after Moe, Larry and Curly had connected the water pipe to the electrical box and the gas pipe to the faucet with the concomitant destructive and comic results, he would probably lament "Rarely have home handymen been confronted with so many seemingly disparate home repair crises all at once..."

The world, just like a house, truly is a complex place, especially when one doesn't know WTF one is doing.
32 weeks ago
32 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (131)
All Comments   (131)
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From Professor Dershowitz's piece Mr. Fernandez links to: "This of course is part of Hamas' grand strategy: by targeting Israeli civilians and international air travel from its own civilian areas, Hamas leaves Israel no choice but to take military actions that risk the lives of innocent Palestinians."

This notion that Palestinians are innocent civilians has got to be something novel; a thing we read and hear from Fox News and other right-leaning news organizations. In days gone by 'innocent' enemy civilians were quite simply "enemy civilians." Where were all those innocent German civilians incinerated by RAF and USAF bombers during the second world war?
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
A friend of mine, 65, devotee of every "reality competition" show on TV, watches the TV propaganda ("news") religiously and with unquestioning faith, and is, BTW, a very nice lady, said yesterday, "Poor Obama! those people are so mean to him, saying such hateful things!!! His hair has gone gray, poor man!!!"

The "media" have much to answer for. This lady is patriotic, opposes (inter alia) the illegals swamping our country -- but doesn't connect Comrade Zero with anything bad that's happening in our country. Not. One. Thing. In vain do I remind her that HE's the one who opened the borders, etc. If she hasn't seen it on the stinking networks, she cannot believe it.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Mr. Paul is championing the restoration of voting rights to felons, wants to ease sentencing of nonviolent drug offenders and says he disagrees with Republican-led efforts in several states to curtail early voting and require voters to show photo ID at the polls."
Apple, tree.

Warren Vs Paul, our choice:

A Socialist Liar or a Nutjob.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
sk said: Am I mistaken

That's the question, but the answer is difficult. 9/11 happened, y'know. But the Arab Spring had not yet happened, as you may recall we welcomed this in Tunisia and thought it might spread across dar al-Islam. Actually, even earlier it surfaced in semi-Arab Iran - and we let it go, and nothing happened. We aided it "kinetically" to get the overthrow of Mallomar Gaddafi, but the results were not everything we hoped for, and we have declined to aid it in Syria. Also since then China has started coming out of their coccoon, and we have yet to see where that leads. But Turkey denied us access to Iraq, the Palestinians were doing what the Palestinians always do, and Putin was already doin what he does, so it wasn't all that quiet.

But mostly I wanted to say "Mallomar Gaddafi" in response to your "Miramar".
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Am I mistaken in remembering that during the Bush years when we were heavily engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rest of the world was relatively quiet? We were preoccupied and stretched pretty thin in those years which seemingly would have presented would-be troublemakers with a golden opportunity. Could it be that they, much like Miramar Gaddafi, were mightily concerned about what the crazy cowboy in the White House, urged on by his evil right hand, might do next? A large part of the problem today is that the world pretty much knows what Barack Obama will do.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
" A large part of the problem today is that the world pretty much knows what Barack Obama will do."

He will do what he does best - attend a political fundraiser.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Q: Incompetent or Malevolent?
A: All of the above

Dr. Mabuse, epignosis and cfbleachers (quoted below) provide a good narrative of how the incompetence can go on and on and...

The malevolence comes into play with the attitude that even if things don't turn around and the result is chaos, they will find a way to benefit from that chaos.

Another twist on the map metaphor: they give us a map and directions that are supposed to take us to Milwaukee, but the countryside looks nothing like Wisconsin and BTW what are we doing in this handbasket?

Dr. Mabuse:

"I think it's more a case of someone trying to get somewhere while holding the map upside down, or with a broken compass that's pointing the wrong way. In that case, you would consistently do the wrong thing while expecting that things should be working out any minute"


"The invisible hand moving the puppet is convinced of her own infallibility. Every one of her close confidants is in violent agreement. Eventually, it will all work out fine..."


"they drop you of in Miami and give you a map of Milwaukee.

When you tell them that you are lost and confused, they tell you to read the map harder."
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
A weak president begets a weak Great Satan.
No one fears a not-so-Great Satan.

Strong horse, weak horse. People are kicked by the strong horse and kick the ass of the weak horse.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
John Kerry pays condolence call on family of fallen American IDF soldier
Max Steinberg. Here is how Americas top diplomat handled himself-

" "How's your day?" Kerry asked as he sat down. "How's your day?" Evie ( Max Steinbergs mother ) asked back. "My day's going better than yours," he said.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
And if Joe Biden had been there, he'd have said something anatomiical.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
Obama's policies and guidelines for the US space industry are basically OK. At least he's not billing us for GPS use.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
All is needed is a use tax on GPS receivers
OOPS; Liberals actually in government are too 'bright' to read BC. chuckle.
31 weeks ago
31 weeks ago Link To Comment
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