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Richard Fernandez

Richard Fernandez’s portal is at Wretchard.com.

The Thirty One Years

George Friedman’s book, Flashpoints: the emerging crisis in Europe is tour d’horizon of European civilization. The main question it tries to answer is whether European history, with its tragedy and glory, has fundamentally changed.  He begins his inquiry by describing the incredible arc of European achievement and disaster. It was on Europe that the Enlightenment was born. It was from the shores of Portugal that the world first became aware of itself; when separate isolated civilizations were drawn together by sailing ships into one globe. Here modern science and technology was born. And here it all came crashing down in the most destructive”thirty one years” (1914-1945) in human history.

It was as if some Faustian fire took Europe in one fell swoop from barbarism, “a time when people believe the laws of their own village are the laws of nature”, to civilization “where people continue to believe in the justice of their ways but harbor openness to the idea they might be in error”, straight to final and fatal phase: decadence “in which people come to believe there is no truth, or that all lies are equally true.”

For Friedman the question of Europe’s fate is personal. His own birth at the end of the European catastrophe and so he wants to know how it will turn out. His father survived Hitler, then Stalin.  We read about the elder Friedman bringing the infant author and the rest of the family with him to America. The Europe from which they escaped was the incredible cauldron described by Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, a vast killing field of unimaginable proportions. Or if you prefer, it was a flight from the universe of Alan Furst, whose evocative novels of Europe in convulsion can be read almost as fantasy by moderns who cannot believe that such a place ever existed or could ever exist.

What the refugee Friedman family sought as it made its way by rubber boat across the Danube was ordinary life: a place without “lists”, the land without the knock on the door and streets empty of marching armies of idealists. His father had lost faith in politics, causes, civilization, perhaps even in humanity itself.  All he wanted was somewhere to hide and America looked like a good place to start.

My father never forgave the Russians for perpetuating the terror the Nazis had begun. He never forgave the French for being weak and corrupt and losing a war in six weeks. He never forgave the Poles for counting on the French instead of themselves. And above all he never forgave the Germans. My father never forgave Europe for being monstrous, and he never forgave Europeans for how easily they forgave themselves. For him, Europe was a place of monsters, collaborators, and victims. He never returned to Hungary, or to Europe. He had no interest in going there. When I was in college I asked him why he refused to recognize that Europe had changed. His answer was simple: Europe will never change. It will just act as if nothing happened.

When I look at the European Union now, I think of my father’s words. It is an institution that acts as if nothing happened. I don’t mean by this that it doesn’t know what happened or isn’t revolted by it. I mean that the European Union — as an institution and an idea — is utterly certain that all is behind it, that it has willed its demons to depart and they have listened.


Posted at 2:08 am on April 19th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

Creative Workspaces

If you could pick your own workspace, what would it look like?  A friend of mine, a  writer by occupation, works from a tower in southern European village and recently shared a picture of his study. It’s quiet, with inspiring views on every side, without obvious distractions but with every necessity near to hand. It is exactly the kind of place that comes to mind when one thinks of a place to write. However, what constitutes a “perfect” work environment appears to vary widely.

Buzzfeed has a photo collection of the studies used by famous writers and designers from the 19th and 20th centuries.  Mark Twain’s had a pool table. Some, like EB White’s are monastic in their austereness, as if White deliberately chose to remove anything that might get between him and his typewriter.  Others, like Bill Buckley’s, look like a bomb had detonated in it.  They are strewn with a profusion of papers and devices. There was probably a hidden order to the apparent disorder but only Buckley’s mind held the key.

Software developers are a somewhat newer type of intellectual and the Business Insider has a collection of pictures posted by people who work in Silicon Valley.  What is instantly evident is the almost universal minimalism of their environments.  One person works from a laptop while apparently lying on a crummy mattress. Another works out of a shed.  A few choose what one might rationally predict a developer’s workspace to look like, a quiet room with a wrap around desk and multiple monitors linked to host a single virtual screen, or perhaps to split up to provide separate portals into distant machines located who knows where.

Many developers have a highly developed awareness of being at once disembodied and central; and so would feel that one really haven’t arrived as a serious developer if you have actually be somewhere physical, as in punching a card to go into a building.  They might regard with horror people who are actually required to put on a suit to program. Thus, many work out of laptops despite the limitations of a cramped screen and rotten keyboard because that’s the badge of freedom.  An example of status is one featured workspace consisting of a laptop on table somewhere in Mexico implying that next week its owner will be in some other town, in some other country.

Clearly the programmer’s universe is in some internal space, either in the virtual world or in his own mind to which the workspace is incidental.  But that was true even of writers in the past. Emily Dickson almost never left Amherst, Massachusetts and was bedridden in her later years.  Yet she wrote of her ability to roam the wide spaces of the universe from the confines of her room:


Posted at 9:22 pm on April 16th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

Avoiding the Unthinkable

Rarely has there been such a mismatch in raw talent, creativity and energy as between the opposing sides going into the 2016 election.  The Republican side — whether one approves of them or not — has a new generation of leaders: Jindal, Paul, Fiorina, Rubio, Cruz, Walker to name some.  Even their supporting cast can boast of the likes of Paul Ryan and Tom Cotton.  By contrast the Democratic Party only has tired old Hillary Clinton and perhaps Elizabeth Warren.

Yet Jamelle Bouie of Slate believes Clinton is the Democrat’s “indispensable candidate” — “more vital to the future of the Democratic Party than even Democrats realize”.  They need her and they need her bad. He advances two reasons in support of this conclusion.  Hillary alone has a chance of winning and she must win in order to preserve the gains of the Obama era and second, only Hillary the figurehead can hold together a Democratic party seriously split by Obama’s shift to the Left.

while his legislative agenda has long since stalled, he’s made ample use of executive authority to protect his core accomplishment—the Affordable Care Act—and advance priorities in immigration, climate change, and civil rights. But none of that will stand if Democratic Party can’t win in 2016. … their national strength could collapse as the country swings to the Republican Party. …

the president [Obama] presides over a divided party. One wing, personified by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, is furious with Obama’s relationship to Wall Street, his penchant for compromise, and his willingness to always take a half loaf—to rarely take a stand against his ideological opponents.

The other wing is the mainstream of the Democratic Party. It’s content with the progress of the Obama administration and more interested in protecting its gains from a radical-minded Republican Party than expanding the possible of liberal politics.

They wanted a president who would speak to their concerns, who would reverse the Bush years and usher in a new progressive era. …

Clinton’s strength—her influence across the breadth of the Democratic Party—is a unifying force. Polls make it clear that almost every constituency in the party, from liberals and blue dogs to black Americans and working-class whites, is ready for her candidacy. The ideological divide in the Democratic coalition—the fight between Wall Street–friendly Democrats in the center and populist Democrats on the left—is dampened by her presence, not because of any sudden love or affection, but because the various factions see Clinton as the key to keeping the White House and saving the gains of the Obama administration from a far right—and come 2016, restless—Republican Party. It’s no surprise that the bulk of the Democratic Party machinery has fallen behind Clinton. Given the stakes, no one wants open warfare.

I will add a third reason for the necessity of a Clinton victory, which Bouie diplomatically fails to mention. Hillary must win the Oval Office to sign the pardons which will be required and stall the investigations that are sure to crop up if a Republican wave engulfs both the White House and Capitol Hill.

But in any case Hillary has become the last remaining hope that Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again. The degree to which her healing presence is required is underscored by a Haaretz article, which argues that Hillary is needed to bring Jewish voters back into the Democratic fold.   She must haul back Jewish voters who have been tossed overboard by the incumbent. “American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat, except when the presidential candidate is viewed as unsympathetic to Israel.”  That means a face from the good old Clinton years.

She must function like a monarch, a unifying figurehead who will keep all the Big Tent’s identity groups from ripping each other’s guts out over the last remaining piles of other people’s money. The Slate article concludes, “to underscore the Democrats’ plight, as a thought experiment, imagine if Clinton didn’t run.” Bouie then describes a scene of apocalyptic desolation, concluding in the critical observation that for some unaccountable reason the party “has a shocking lack of new talent”, making Hillary the last hope.

Then the Democrats would have a problem. Well, two problems. First, as previously mentioned, the ideological fights in the party would spill out into the open. The unity created by Clinton would fall apart, as centrist Democrats fought to retain their influence and liberal Democrats fought to displace it. In this world, you might see a Warren candidacy, and you’d certainly see efforts from the handful of Democratic politicians with ambitions in 2016….

One of the real problems of the Democratic Party, both for 2016 and looking forward, is the extent to which it lacks a bench of nationally viable leaders. It’s not just that, if Clinton didn’t run, Democrats would have to choose from a group of unknown and unfamiliar faces. It’s also that—across all offices—the party has a shocking lack of new talent.

Bouie is exactly right except for the modifier “new”. The Democratic Party has a shocking lack of any talent period. And that includes the incumbent president, most of his principal officers and Hillary herself. As Carly Fiorina has repeatedly asked, what has Hillary Clinton ever accomplished? It’s a question to which no satisfactory answer can be found. It is as elusive as the president’s school transcripts. The depth of Hillary’s ineptitude was underscored in a book by former British diplomat Emma Sky.


Posted at 11:48 pm on April 14th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

The Future of Identity Politics

As a child I saw an ad for movie — which I never watched — titled “Japanese Tank Versus American Armored Car”.  All these years I’ve wondered what I missed by not viewing that extraordinary confrontation. But there was no need to worry as more bizarre spectacles awaited. Decades later Twitter is alive with matchups for the next presidential like “Two White Histpanics Versus One Elderly Woman” or “Elderly White Woman Versus White-Looking Native American”.

If it sounds weirder than Nipponese Tank vs Detroit Armored Car it is because identity politics is being driven by the American kaleidoscope of identities into a kind of reductio ad absurdum. One Tweet captures how strange things look through the traditional liberal identity politics viewport now that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have declared their candidacy for president.

Really The GOP is just “old men”hmmm two Republican hopefuls are in their early 40s still while #Hillary is almost 70.

Who’s a minority? In 2003 the New York Times noted that “Hispanics have edged past blacks as the nation’s largest minority group”.   Pew Research notes that in California whites are now minority in California because Hispanics are in the majority.  NBC reports that by 2043, whites will no longer be the majority overall. So are Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio “minorities” (being Hispanic) or in the majority?  Or are they in either category only sometimes?

Matt Walsh says its time to call identity politics off.  ”No, it isn’t ‘time for a woman to be president.’”, he says. “It’s time for a competent adult of either gender to be president.”  But describing the possibility of a world without identity politics to the Left, a world in which only individuals matter, is like suggesting life after death. The “progressive” site South Lawn looks at one proposal to save identity politics by redefining “whiteness” as an ideology.  It is “a specific and foundational origin of violence … an intentional and specifically curated identity, culture institution and strategy of domination created by white people themselves to keep Black, indigenous and other racialized pepole down”. In that world, anyone can be “white” as long as they think the wrong thoughts.  But South Lawn’s authors object, if skin color is invisible how will we recognize it?  After all, Thomas Sowell is “white”, appearances to the contrary, but how can anyone tell this up front?

There is nothing in this critique that one can use to organize or build community around; rather it is simply one more scold in an atmosphere full of them. I challenged the person who posted it to find me something similar on how you can build bridges or educate the mass of people that we will actually need in order to build a coalition for change. She replied that she was not necessarily using it to exclude folks from spaces; fine, I said. I do not understand how one can post something like that and say with a straight face that they “are not trying to exclude”, but I was ready to let it go.

In a situation where “identity” is no longer physically evident, the only solution to the problem of identity assignment is credentialing.  After the Left decided to add the sexual identity product line to their traditional list of offerings they were faced with the nettlesome problem of transgenders. Recently a woman walked into a change room in Fitness Planet gym to find a biological male in it.  The biological woman complained and was thrown out of the club.

Imagine walking into a women’s locker room at your local gym and you see someone disrobing only to reveal they have male private parts. According to Planet Fitness, that’s no problem at all, if the male sincerely thinks he is a female with male parts.

McCall Gosselin, director of public relations at Planet Fitness Corporate, provided this statement to Health in an email: ‘Planet Fitness is committed to creating a non-intimidating, welcoming environment for our members. Our gender identity non-discrimination policy states that members and guests may use all gym facilities based on their sincere self-reported gender identity. The manner in which this member expressed her concerns about the policy exhibited behavior that management at the Midland club deemed inappropriate and disruptive to other members, which is a violation of the membership agreement and as a result her membership was cancelled.

You can sympathize with the club. If they had thrown the biological man out of the biological ladies’ room the lawyers of the Left would have descended on it.  When it is no longer possible to determine identity by inspection it will have to be defined by assignment. Some bureaucrat or certificate authority has to issue a token of Hispanic-ness or female-ness, otherwise identity is indefinite.


Posted at 8:11 pm on April 13th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

The Game of Drones

One sign that Democracy is struggling in the world is the runaway success of the HBO series The Game of Thrones. No longer do the public see the world as led by reverend statesmen, but on the contrary as being manipulated by amoral, bloodthirsty and power-mad conspirators. The Independent writes “the Game of Thrones universe is so rich with metaphors that it’s already been used to explain everything from American presidential candidates to English soccer teams”.

The newspaper then proceeds to analyze the Middle East in terms of the TV show. The House of Lannister is Saudi Arabia. House Stark represents the crushed liberals and democrats. House Baratheon is Arab autocrats. House Targaryan the United States. The White Walkers are ISIS. The Night’s Watch are the Kurds. You can make up your own correlatives. Why not?

The Washington Post naturally attempts a comparison with the District, “ever wonder what ‘Game of Thrones’ would look like if it were set in our own nation’s capital?”. Unfortunately the Washington Post comparison only goes as far as simulating the opening credits. It never tells us for example, who in the current roster of politicians ought to stand in for the loathesome King Joffrey, Cersei Lannister or that marvelous dwarf Tyrion, though some obvious candidates come to mind.

While our formal model of governance is still representative democracy, our mental cultural models have migrated to authoritarian elitism.  The world really does believe their betters run affairs along the lines portrayed in the series. Obama was eager to meet the Castros.  Netanyahu not so much. Putin is widely admired throughout the world, as is the dictator of China.  Even in America the wannabe dynasts are trying their luck.

Robert Tracinski, writing in the Federalist, says the fascination with the series is rooted in modern cynicism. “Which is disturbing, because the story line and view of life in “Game of Thrones” is unbelievably grim.”


Posted at 7:03 pm on April 12th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

Malice vs Incompetence

One of today’s man-bites-dog stories is that America cannot evacuate its nationals from war torn Yemen. Rather it hopes countries like India can do it for them. A State Department official said the U.S. government, which is providing logistical support for the Saudi campaign, believes it is too dangerous to risk a military operation to rescue Americans. “There are no current U.S. government-sponsored plans to evacuate private U.S. citizens from Yemen,” the official said. “We encourage all U.S. citizens to shelter in a secure location until they are able to depart safely.”

Fortunately New Delhi will ride to the rescue of Uncle Sam. “India has won many friends by evacuating nearly 1,000 nationals of 41 countries from warring Yemen. … Along with some 4,600 Indians, Singh’s mission rescued citizens of Britain, France and the United States.”  The days of “exceptionalism” are over.  Americans being left on the beach alongside wretched 3rd World nationals is part of the march toward making it a normal country occupying a status considerably below India and perhaps above Nepal.

There was a time of course when claiming American citizenship carried the same weight as the ancient civis romanus sum.  ”I am a Roman citizen.” It conjured images of  grey warships offshore and grim faced Marines poised behind the ramps of landing craft. It implied diplomats who could pound the table as the local warlords quivered.  And even if it didn’t always quiver they sometimes did, for the despots could never be sure the Navy was not actually there.

But today even diplomats have no expectation of being saved from the tender mercies of knife-clattering Jihadis. If local secret agents who risked their lives for America can be left to their grueseome fates then ordinary citizens will have to make their own arrangements. At a State Department press briefing  one journalist actually asked Marie Harf if Americans should swim out of the country.

Swimming might be a better idea than taking the land route, given that Saudi Arabia has bombed refugee camps.  CNN reports that “Bab al-Mandab is one of the busiest waterways in the world, a thoroughfare for oil tankers and cargo ships. It’s now being crossed by desperate Yemenis in rickety fishing boats seeking refuge from the conflict threatening to engulf their country.”

For the other surprise story of the day is that Pakistan is not riding to the rescue of the Kingdom. In a rather shocking vote, Pakistan has refused to send troops to Saudi Arabia’s aid. “ADEN (Reuters) – Pakistan’s parliament voted on Friday not to join the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, dashing Riyadh’s hopes for powerful support from outside of the region in its fight to halt Iranian-allied Houthi rebels.”

The Washington Post asks in story redolent with mixed metaphors whether Yemen going to become Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam.  Or — perhaps we can coin the phrase now —  Iraq going to become Iran’s South Korea. Perhaps the phrase the Washington Post was looking for to express its geopolitical perplexity can’t be found in Apocalypse Now but in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy tells Toto ”we’re not in Kansas any more”.

We’re in world where Indians rescue Americans. The Saudis may be in a fight for their lives.  The landscape has turned upside down. One person whose world view changed from black and white to technicolor in an instant is Times of Israel military correspondent Mitch Ginsburg who charts his journey from being an admirer of Barack Obama to being absolutely terrified of what new catastrophe he will cause now.


Posted at 5:58 pm on April 10th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

Iran Pulls the Rug From Under Obama

According to the Oxford English dictionary, the proverb “the wish is father to the thought” means “we believe a thing because we wish it to be true.” President Obama wanted a deal with Iran so badly that he thought he actually had one. However, today President Rouhani of Iran spelled it out for him. The deal he had isn’t the one he thought he had. USA Today reports:

Iran’s president on Thursday said Tehran will not sign a final nuclear deal unless world powers lift economic sanctions imposed on the country immediately.

The United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany — the so-called P5 +1 group — reached an understanding with Iran last week on limits to its nuclear program in return for lifting crippling economic sanctions, after extended talks in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The U.S. has previously said the sanctions would be lifted in phases, but the details have not yet been negotiated.

However, in a televised speech on Thursday, President Hassan Rouhani appeared to rule out a gradual removal of the successive round of sanctions that have hit hard its energy and financial sectors — and crippled its economy.

“We will not sign any deal unless all sanctions are lifted on the same day,” Rouhani said, according to Reuters. “We want a win-win deal for all parties involved in the nuclear talks,” he said.

Rouhani added “the Iranian nation has been and will be the victor in the negotiations.” That’s rubbing it in.

Only yesterday:

Acting State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf on Wednesday dismissed a critique of the Iran nuclear agreement from former secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, by saying their comments amount to “big words” and that the two secretaries don’t live in the real world. “I heard a lot of, sort of, big words and big thoughts in that piece,” she said.

So for Harf’s benefit, as well as that of her employer, here’s Agence France-Presse:

Iran wants international sanctions lifted on the day of the implementation of an agreement with world powers on its nuclear programme, President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday. “We will not sign any agreements unless on the first day of the implementation of the deal all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the same day,” Rouhani said.

Or, as CNN puts it: “Iran: No signing final nuclear deal unless economic sanctions are lifted on same day.”

Not that Tehran’s about-face changes anything. In the administration’s words, “a bad deal is better than no deal.” And sure, this is a bad deal, but it’s a “once in a lifetime deal.”

Obama says his doctrine is “we will engage,” but it looks like the actual doctrine is “we will be fooled.” Of course they insist that nobody will make a fool of them, however they reserve the right to make fools of themselves.

It’s painful to watch. It’s hard not to think that Iran is out to humiliate Barack Hussein Obama. With this calculated slight, they not only want to wipe the floor with his reputation, they want to see him crawl. And he probably will. Obama gave them Iraq, allowed Iran into Syria, permitted Hezbollah to take over Lebanon, and let them run him out of Yemen all in the expectation that Rouhani would give him his “game changer,” his “once in a lifetime deal.”

And now, after he’s handed in all that earnest money and proclaimed his purchase to the world, they won’t deliver the merchandise. He’s been had, pure and simple. They gave him a special surprise gift and he’s proudly opened it in front of relatives and friends, only to discover it contains a pile of … .

Iran knows he won’t fight, because he’s already scuttled his position in Iraq and allowed himself to be humiliated in Syria by drawing “red lines” with crayons. His “moderate rebel forces” in Syria have all defected to someone else. Iran watched America flee from Yemen, Obama’s counterinsurgency “model,” leaving a list of local U.S. intelligence agents to fall into their hands. Those men are probably being hunted down or dying in agony. Tehran probably gaped in amusement as he made enemies with their oldest ally in the Middle East, Israel, all for the sake of the agreement they have now thrown in his face.

If Obama was going to fight, he would have done so already. And now it’s too late. Who in the region will trust Barack Obama? Israel? The survivors of Yemen? A loyal remnant in Syria?  Maybe someone in Anbar who fought for America and then escaped first from ISIS and then the IRG?

Maybe there’s somebody left who hasn’t been sold out.

So let’s ask Marie Harf: how does it feel to be double-crossed? In a way, this final act of cruelty is not in Iran’s interest. The Hill reports that the Left had gone all out to endorse Obama’s “historic” deal: “Liberal Democrats have mounted a furious offensive to convince Senate Democrats to oppose legislation the White House warns could kill a nuclear deal with Iran.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared that “these negotiations must be allowed to proceed unencumbered.”

But some people are so craven they excite disgust even from those at whose feet they fall. The ayatollahs had to kick at the upturned faces. They just couldn’t help themselves.

It’s not too late for Obama to ask himself: is this how an American behaves? Is this how any self-respecting person behaves? But maybe it is too late. Maybe it’s been too late for a long time.

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Double Paradox, Rapid Growth and Rising Corruption in China
Cities and Stability, Urbanization, Redistribution, and Regime Survival in China
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Posted at 3:38 am on April 9th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez


Yesterday after a long period of neglect, I decided to replace the disc brakes on my bike. The store sold me a set of Shimano upgrades and offered to install them for about seventy bucks, but I decided to do them myself on the principle that you are always better off knowing how, rather than paying someone to remain in ignorance. That of course meant considerable grief and repeated returns to the shop to get brake pads they had forgotten to include and later for outrageously expensive aluminum adapters to mate the brakes to the nonstandard frame. Toward the end I was almost stumped by a problem of insufficient clearance, which after some thought I solved with some metal washers. Then finally it was perfect: the wheels turned freely until a touch of brake brought the wheels to an instant halt.  They were done. More important, I knew how to do it again if I had to.

No person’s education is complete without an acquaintance with nuts and bolts. Whether it concerns reassembling a a wheel or mounting a chain over sprockets, you learn there is nothing so fatal as disrespecting reality. Insignificant items like the order in which you tighten bolts or the thickness of little metal circles have an importance you never suspected.  Even the amount of tightening torque is important. The wholeness of your head may depend on a small detail like whether you installed a part the right way around.

Much of the unease which some feel toward the administration comes directly from the cavalier sloppiness of its work. Whether it is ‘forgetting’ to tell a judge that illegal immigrant work permits whose applications are before the court have already been granted or destroying evidence before they remember it had been subpoenaed or hearing Marie Harf cavalierly dismissing a joint letter by two distinguished former secretaries of state on the inadvisability of the Iran deal as “sort of, big words and big thoughts” — you get the sense of an indifferent crew, of people who got a pass for just being there.  Everywhere you look, there are parts left over where there should be none, things eerily rattling around inside the motor that should be silent and a weird kind of shimmy in joints that should have no play.

But worst of all there is the dismissive sense that care and craftsmanship don’t matter, that things will work anyway. The Obama administration’s supporers, like Harf, appear impatient to achieve progress without the encumbrance of old geezers like Kissinger and Schultz pointing out obvious mistakes in the Iran agreement.

Care for detail is regarded as a form of sabotage or obstructionism. Mark Joseph Stern in Slate captured the attitude of many Obama supporters when he wrote, ”why do we still tolerate the Supreme Court?”

Already this term, the conservative justices look poised to strike down an anti-gerrymandering law and a restraint on judicial campaign finance. The court could also strip 8.2 million Americans of their health insurance thanks to a malicious, mendacious lawsuit. … If we want to curb the Supreme Court’s power, all we have to do is ignore it.

Why tolerate it indeed? He points out that “all we have to do is ignore it.”  They are like guys who find a part in the shipping box which has no obvious use to them and whose purpose they are too lazy to look up in the included manual. So they just toss the superfluous item in the trash reasoning it’s probably not important anyway.


Posted at 8:31 pm on April 8th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

A Belly Full of War

Now, a publication based in Lebanon, analyzed “the personal testimonies of 49 ISIS members, as broadcast on various Arab and international television stations” to determine what motivated them to join. “Its findings challenge much of the conventional wisdom currently prevailing: most notably, it found that earthly, material motivations – e.g. the pursuit of social status and financial wellbeing – are at least as significant in drawing recruits as religious ideology, and possibly even more so.”  Some of the testimonials apparently gave multiple results and are shown in the tables below

To the question what the ISIS recruits were seeking the answers were for the most part the old standbys of young men: fame, money, thrill, revenge.  Only 2 out of 46 testimonials emphasized “justice”.  Just the one came seeking redemption.

Status 19
Identity 8
Revenge 5
Responsibility 4
Ideology 3
Thrill 3
Justice 2
Death 1
Redemption 1

The proximate motivation of the fighters was also at variance with the conventional Western wisdom.  The biggest reasons were religious belonging (as opposed to metaphysical conviction).  If only one came for salvation, by contrast many acted from a sense of belonging to a social group.  They perceived themselves as defending their branch of Islam, performing the duty Jihad,  affirming Muslim solidarity.  They were fighting for the ashes of their fathers and the temples of their gods. In a world that preached multiculturalism, the ISIS recruits went to war for the most monocultural and sectarian of reasons.

Interestingly only 5 out of the 68 analyzed responses traced their anger to imprisonment or hatred of Eurocentric culture.  More people came in reaction to the War in Syria or the chance money than from some perceived beef at the hands of the West. In the hierarchy of provactions, Gitmo doesn’t even rate.

Interesting too were the differences in motivations by place origin, ISIS fighters from the MENA region came mostly for  status (22%) or thrill (22%), while Western recruits came to address a profound sense of alienation. Sixty two percent came to find their “identity”. This makes sense, the fighters from the region were poor, rootless men; “soldiers of fortune” as it were.  By contrast, the Westerners were more affluent youths looking to find themselves, have lost their identity somewhere in the Western schooling system, where they were waiting one supposes for another to be issued to them, only to find a blank stare.

Defending Sunnis 15
Jihad 14
Radical environment 11
Muslim belonging 8
War in Syria 8
Money 6
Ex-prisoners 5
Reaction to Western culture 1


Almost none of actual reasons for joining the Jihad correspond to the narratives pushed vigorously by the Western Left.  For example, Palestine (which figures so prominently in the Western narrative) is absent from the picture.  The enemy seems less the Jew than the other kind of Muslim.  The psychopathic element also plays a big role. A disturbing number of recruits came to kill people for the thrill of it.  Many came for whatever money they could make. Only among the Western recruits was there any motivation resembling the “root causes” the Western academia peddles with such certainty.

Of nearly equal interest to the psychology of conflict is an article in the Telegraph which challenges yet another common Western misconception: the idea that Muslims or Arabs are fundamentally indifferent to pain and suffering, a characteristic once ascribed to the black African.  The article says that after years of fighting, the Alawites of Syria are almost ready to throw in the towel because they just cannot go on. The hardship is just too great. “The Alawites, the Assad family’s sect, have seen up to a third of their young men killed in the Syrian conflict and mothers are now refusing to send their sons to war.”


Posted at 5:56 pm on April 7th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

The Confidence of the One

Readers will probably not be surprised to learn that the administration’s new counterterrorism model is the campaign against al-Shabab.  Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post says that “President Obama has cited the battle against al-Shabab militants in Somalia as a model of success for his relatively low-investment, light-footprint approach to counterterrorism.” Jaffe adds “this week’s massacre of 148 people at Garissa University College, the deadliest terrorist attack on Kenyan soil in two decades, demonstrates the limits of the administration’s approach and the difficulty of producing lasting victories over resilient enemies.”

It may reassure the reader to learn that the former administration template for success was Yemen. The Washington Post article recalls that “only last fall, Obama was touting his counterterrorism strategy in the region as one that ‘we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.’”  How did it fall apart just when it attained perfection, like some house of cards collapsing under the final fillip?

The Moving Finger continues to guide Obama’s pen, teleprompter and phone in what he believes is a direction of progress. Speaking of his controversial framework deal with Iran with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times the president expressed a serene confidence that despite raucous warnings to the contrary, Tehran could easily be handled. ‘Iran cannot fight us,’ he said. And even America is sucker-punched he believed it could easily shrug off the blow.

We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” the president said. “You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies. The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. … You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.

After all if America beat the Soviet Union, why should it worry about Iran?  Of course Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama may be two different quantities, a subject to which we will return later. But expressing her indignation at the doubters, Diane Feinstein told reporters, “I wish that he [Netanyahu] would contain himself, because he has put out no real alternative,” Feinstein said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’”

Just sit back and watch. David Rothkop of Foreign Policy  has been watching and impertinently suggested name for Obama’s new Middle Eastern doctrine:  ”Operation Charlie Foxtrot”. It is brutally descriptive. He writes, “the entire Middle East is at war right now, and the Obama administration’s strategic incoherence is aiding and abetting the chaos.”

The situation in the region is unprecedented. For the first time since the World Wars, virtually every country from Libya to Afghanistan is involved in a military conflict. (Oman seems to be the exception.) The degree of chaos, uncertainty, and complexity among the twisted and often contradictory alliances and enmities is mind-boggling. America and its allies are fighting alongside Iran to combat the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria but in Yemen, the United States and many of those same regional partners are collaborating to push back Iranian-backed Houthi forces. …

The indignant comments of American Gen. Lloyd Austin this week denouncing the idea that he might ever command troops that would fight alongside Shiite militias after their treatment of Americans during the Iraq War were moving. But they rang hollow given that they hung on a semantic deception. The world knows that America is providing air support for Iranian-led, Shiite-militia-backed, Iraqi-supported forces in the war against IS in that country. They know that for all the talk of America’s coalition, Iran is gaining more influence in Baghdad because they are willing to put boots on the ground. That is why it is not Austin but Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani who is celebrated as a hero in and around the Shiite and even in the Kurdish regions of Iraq. Do not think this reality, denials aside, has not fed the growing and acute distrust of the Obama administration among some of our most vital allies in the Gulf, in Egypt, and elsewhere.

But such misgivings did not seem to worry the White House. In fact, the Associated Press said that administration officials announced they were on the verge of a “forever agreement” with Tehran. “The White House deployed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz – a nuclear physicist – to offer a scientific defense of a deal that Moniz said would block all Iranian pathways to a nuclear weapon. He described the emerging deal as a ‘forever agreement,’ disputing skeptics who contend it would merely delay Iran’s progress toward a bomb.”

“Forever” may be the length of time American citizens trapped in Yemen may have to wait for succor. The Guardian reports that “Americans in Yemen fear they have been left behind as bombing escalates. Despite having three navy ships in nearby waters, US has not evacuated civilians from Yemen, many of whom have travelled to port city of Aden seeking rescue, US citizens trying desperately to leave war-torn Yemen fear they have been left to their fate by their own government as fighting escalates between rebel fighters and Washington’s allies.”

By contrast, “China, India, Pakistan and Somalia have sent ships and planes to evacuate their citizens trapped in Yemen” according to the International Business Times. These countries may harbor doubts over Obama’s new models, Saudi Arabia’s military efforts in Yemen (which the administration is supporting) among them.  Things do not appear to be going well. A few days ago, the Kingdom asked for warships, planes and soldiers from Pakistan, which will reluctantly comply with its benefactors in Riyadh, despite the risks to themselves. The New York Times reports:

“Saudi Arabia has asked for combat planes, warships and soldiers,” Asif said, without specifying where Saudi wanted them deployed.

Arif Rafiq, a Washington-based adjunct scholar with the Middle East Institute, said earlier Pakistan was hoping to satisfy Saudi expectations at a “minimal” level.

“They’re unlikely to be part of any meaningful action inside Yemen,” he told Reuters. “Maybe they will reinforce the border.”

Sharif owes the Saudis. Endemic tax dodging means Pakistan needs regular injections of foreign cash to avoid economic meltdown. Last year, the Saudis gave Pakistan $1.5 billion. Saudi Arabia also sheltered Sharif after he was overthrown in a 1999 military coup.

But joining the Saudi-led coalition could inflame a sectarian conflict at home where about a fifth of the population is Shi’ite and attacks on Shi’ites are increasing, further destabilizing the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people.

Pakistani intervention would probably also anger Shi’ite power Iran, which shares a long and porous border in a region roiling with its own separatist insurgency.

The risks to Pakistan may include being on the losing side.  The Saudis, according to the press, have inflicted widespread damage on Yemeni civilians but the rebels are still advancing.  They are alienating their friends without defeating their actual enemies. Barak Barfi in the National Interest believes that Saudi Arabia’s Arab Alliance is a paper tiger, or rather a rent-an-army, which will soon be worn down, scattered and defeated by the more professional Iranian backed forces.


Posted at 5:12 pm on April 6th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez