Belmont Club

Belmont Club

The Subhumanization of Muslims

September 22nd, 2015 - 7:13 pm

If anyone believed a Muslim could be president, it was probably George W. Bush.  After all, GWB  got the lion’s share of the then-new Muslim voting bloc in the 2000 presidential elections.  ”According to a CAIR poll released after the election, [the final results] were 72 percent for Bush, 8 percent for Gore and 19 percent for Nader.”  The events of September 11, 2001 did not change GWB’s mind.  In a landmark speech before the National Endowment for Democracy in 2003, the year Bush invaded Iraq, he committed himself to the fatal goal of a decades-long effort to bring democracy to the Middle East.

As the 20th century ended, there were around 120 democracies in the world — and I can assure you more are on the way. (Applause.) Ronald Reagan would be pleased, and he would not be surprised.

We’ve witnessed, in little over a generation, the swiftest advance of freedom in the 2,500 year story of democracy. Historians in the future will offer their own explanations for why this happened. Yet we already know some of the reasons they will cite. It is no accident that the rise of so many democracies took place in a time when the world’s most influential nation was itself a democracy. …

Our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come. In many nations of the Middle East — countries of great strategic importance — democracy has not yet taken root. And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free. (Applause.)

Some skeptics of democracy assert that the traditions of Islam are inhospitable to the representative government. This “cultural condescension,” as Ronald Reagan termed it, has a long history. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, a so-called Japan expert asserted that democracy in that former empire would “never work.” Another observer declared the prospects for democracy in post-Hitler Germany are, and I quote, “most uncertain at best” — he made that claim in 1957. Seventy-four years ago, The Sunday London Times declared nine-tenths of the population of India to be “illiterates not caring a fig for politics.” Yet when Indian democracy was imperiled in the 1970s, the Indian people showed their commitment to liberty in a national referendum that saved their form of government.

The Democratic Party and then-candidate Barack Obama decisively convinced the American electorate that Bush had embarked on an impossible mission.  Obama came to power largely by pushing the notion that bringing democracy to the Middle East was a fool’s errand. By 2010 it had been dropped altogether. Francis Fukuyama, in a Wall Street Journal dated 2010 titled, “What Became of the ‘Freedom Agenda’?” argued that the United States was better off working with dictators because if one actually gave Muslims a democratic choice they would choose Islamism more often than not.

It does mean working quietly behind the scenes to push friendly authoritarians towards a genuine broadening of political space in their countries through the repeal of countless exceptional laws, defamation codes, party registration statutes and the like that hinder the emergence of real democratic contestation.

The longstanding risk that true democratization will lead to takeover by radical Islamists remains real; our ideals do not require us to commit suicide in this manner.


Another Strand in the Wire

September 20th, 2015 - 6:10 pm

The Economist‘s data team notes that “Europe will soon have more physical barriers on its national borders than it did during the Cold War”.  More wire, watchtowers and rotating sensors than ever before. Three quarters of the barriers went up after September 11, more than a third of them in this year alone.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, 40 countries around the world have built fences against 64 of their neighbours. The majority have cited security concerns and the prevention of illegal migration as justifications. More than 30 of those decisions were made following 9/11, 15 of them this year. In the Middle East, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria as well as the associated wave of refugees have prompted most countries to close borders. By the end of this year, when it completes its border-wall with Jordan, Israel will have surrounded itself entirely. In Asia, too, walls and fences have proliferated, generally designed to prevent illicit movement of people and goods rather than to seal disputed borders, though Kashmir’s line of control at India and Pakistan’s disputed northern boundary remains a highly-militarised example.

This is not the One World Without Borders that the 21st century promised.  Somehow things went wrong, yet the walls are only likely to multiply. Yemen is tipped to generate the next migrant flood toward Europe. The country has imploded, leaving multitudes desperate for a way out. The wealthiest are considering booking passage to on cattle boats to Djibouti, where they can expect to wait, and wait … and wait.

Or maybe the next country to totally dissolve will be Palestine. The Jerusalem Post believes the Palestinian Authority is about to collapse. When it does, all semblance of organized fighting will melt into total madness. “After the Kalashnikov era was put down and defeated during the second intifada and Operation Defensive Shield, the Palestinians are going back to their roots – fireworks, Molotov cocktails, and stones. It’s a return to the stone age.”

It’s not quite accurate to say the “stone age”. Egypt’s plan to flood the underground tunnels through which the Gazans important unregulated food, people and weapons is more in keeping with the Age of the Pharaoah than the neolithic period.

Underground, an entire network of smuggling tunnels was fully operational. As it had been for years, allegedly with Egyptian border guards looking the other way. Hamas earned millions of dollars in tax revenues from these smuggling operations.

But aside from seemingly harmless goods, the tunnels were also used as passages for weapons and fighters. Hamas denied such “transits”…but with the changing political tides in Egypt, the denials meant nothing. And such passages became an even bigger concern than they might have previously been.

So the Egyptians tried to build a wall, and also destroyed built-up areas to create a buffer zone. The Gazans only dug deeper, and farther.

People here say there are so many tunnels – some going as deep as 30m – that these have likely already destabilised the ground. But many feel they were left little other choice than to dig a way out.

This time Egypt is going to dam up the land and let the water seep down into the burrows. The Associated Press says “Gaza’s Hamas rulers are calling on Egypt to halt a project aimed at destroying the last remaining smuggling tunnels along the border. The project is being billed as an Egyptian military-operated fish farm that would effectively fill the border area with water.” There were even rumors that “fish” was a euphemism  for crocodiles to serve as further deterrent from tunneling.


The Bear Awakes

September 19th, 2015 - 6:26 pm

The United Nations says there are now more refugees than at any time in recorded history. They are at levels greater than World War 2.  This reflects growing warfare in the world. “In the past five years, at least 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited: eight in Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, northeastern Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and this year in Burundi); three in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, and Yemen); one in Europe (Ukraine) and three in Asia (Kyrgyzstan, and in several areas of Myanmar and Pakistan).

What’ worrisome is that the list is growing longer. Things are not getting better but worse. The 15 new wars are giving rise to instability on their margins and are likely to multiply. Now refugees are beating at the doors of Western Europe, which was heretofore directly untouched. But perhaps the most dangerous recent development are increasing tensions with Russia.  To paraphrase president Obama’s jibe at Mitt Romney, which is ironically recoiling on himself, not only are the 80s asking for their foreign policy back, it looks like the 50s are chiming in too.

Julia Ioffe in Foreign Policy says that for the first time since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon is preparing for war with Russia: “Exclusive: The Pentagon Is Preparing New War Plans for a Baltic Battle Against Russia.  But the really troubling thing is that in the war games being played, the United States keeps losing.”

For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. Department of Defense is reviewing and updating its contingency plans for armed conflict with Russia. …

“Everyone’s judgment at the time was that Russia is pursuing objectives aligned with ours,” says David Ochmanek, who, as deputy assistant secretary of defense for force development, ran that office at the time. “Russia’s future looked to be increasingly integrated with the West.” Smith, who worked on European and NATO policy at the Pentagon at the time, told me, “If you asked the military five years ago, ‘Give us a flavor of what you’re thinking about,’ they would’ve said, ‘Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism — and China.’” …

Then came the Obama administration’s reset of relations with Russia, and with it increased cooperation with Moscow on everything from space flights to nuclear disarmament. … It was there that, in February 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin caught Ochmanek and pretty much every Western official off guard by sending little green men into Crimea and eastern Ukraine. “We didn’t plan for it because we didn’t think Russia would change the borders in Europe,” he says. Crimea, he says, was a “surprise.” …

“We just don’t have those forces in Europe,” Ochmanek explains. Then there’s the fact that the Russians have the world’s best surface-to-air missiles and are not afraid to use heavy artillery.

After eight hours of gaming out various scenarios, the blue team went home depressed. “The conclusion,” Ochmanek says, “was that we are unable to defend the Baltics.”

The Bear is making a comeback in the Middle East too. As Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times explain, the Obama administration may also have trouble defending Coalition air assets over Syria. ” Russia’s military buildup in Syria now includes surface-to-air missiles as well as combat aircraft with air-to-air capability, deployments that raise “serious questions” about Moscow’s role in the region, Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.”  Russian air defenses mean that the drones, upon which Obama depends, have suddenly become vulnerable.


Finally Here

September 17th, 2015 - 7:36 am

Ishaan Tharoor and Julia Smirnova in the Washington Post cite a diplomat who claims that “the West dismissed Russian offer to help remove Assad in 2012″ because they felt he was ready to fall over.  The article says:

Finnish diplomat and Nobel laureate Martti Ahtisaari suggested that there was a moment early on during Syria’s hideous war when a political solution could have been thrashed out. Ahtisaari claims that in February 2012, when the conflict had claimed under 10,000 lives, Russia’s envoy to the United Nations outlined a peace plan that could have led to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s exit from power….

“Nothing happened because I think [the Western diplomats], and many others, were convinced that Assad would be thrown out of office in a few weeks so there was no need to do anything,” Ahtisaari told the Guardian.

By August 2011, the White House had already demanded that Assad cede power. The glow of the Arab Spring, which had seen a succession of entrenched dictators fall in the space of a year, had probably influenced the administration’s thinking on Syria.

The “Arab Spring”.  Remember that?  The air was electric with Hope then. Three years later, the Daily Beast reports that “just ‘four or five’ U.S.-trained anti-ISIS fighters are combatting the so-called Islamic State … despite a program that cost as much as $500 million,” according to U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin.

Quite a reversal of fortune. Dan de Luce at Foreign Policy writes that the administration is no longer hoping for victory in Syria — or one might add in Yemen, Libya or Iraq either.  It is merely hoping to keep its five Syrian fighters from being killed off.

Anxious to avoid another damaging setback for the training effort, the White House and the Pentagon are looking at attaching small numbers of fighters to larger established forces in northern Syria to ensure the rebels are better protected on the battlefield by more numerous experienced troops.

An administration which once promised to lower the oceans has downsized its expectations. Welcome to the post-Western era. Eli Lake writes that even the GOP understand that it’s over. America is diminished. Not a single one of the Republican candidates wanted to do anything more now than slow down the drift to the falls.

Even Marco Rubio, the candidate with the most developed hawkish worldview, doesn’t propose to end evil regimes. He has identified threats from Russia, China, Iran and radical Islam. But his main point is that U.S. power should be used to blunt these powers and strengthen the allies most threatened by them. Rubio is not promising liberation, so much as he is promising deterrence.


Two Moons

September 16th, 2015 - 7:07 am

Are you old  enough to remember the Space Race?  Then watch your step gramps. People born after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon are well into middle age.  Those who actually remember it are elderly.

It’s now ancient history as Wikipedia notes.  ”The Space Race was a 20th-century (1955–1972) competition between two Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (US), for supremacy in spaceflight capability. It had its origins in the missile-based nuclear arms race between the two nations that occurred following World War II, enabled by captured German rocket technology and personnel. The technological superiority required for such supremacy was seen as necessary for national security, and symbolic of ideological superiority. The Space Race spawned pioneering efforts to launch artificial satellites, unmanned space probes of the Moon, Venus, and Mars, and human spaceflight in low Earth orbit and to the Moon.”

History buffs will note that it was once a three way competition.  Believe it or not there was once a British space program which sputtered out early in the race. “A British rocket named Black Arrow did succeed in placing a single British satellite, Prospero, into orbit from a launch site in Australia in 1971. Prospero remains the only British satellite to be put into orbit using a British vehicle.”

However space flight is ramping up again, this time with a different cast of characters driven by a different set of motives.  The private sector will play a far bigger role in the 21st century than it did in the 20th.

Two videos which describe a permanent return to the moon as a prelude to deeper space missions provide an almost eerie contrast to each other.  The first video is produced by the European Space Agency.  The second is by Google.   Both videos are high quality efforts, however like the approaches they represent, the presentations are a contrast in styles.

They could not be more different from one another.


Tolstoy and Watertight Bulkheads

September 14th, 2015 - 9:01 pm

The MIT Technology Review has a list of 10 technology “breakthroughs” for 2015.  Under each entry there is an estimate of availability. Supercharged photosynthesis for example, may take 10-15 years to begin the multiplication of the world’s food carrying capacity. “It can be a decade or more before even simple crop modifications reach farmers, let alone changes as complex as reëngineering how plants carry out photosynthesis. But once scientists solve the C4 puzzle in a plant such as rice, they hope, the method can be extended to dramatically increase production of many other crops, including wheat, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, and soybeans.”

It’s not easy. One answer to why innovation is hard was provided by Leo Tolstoy in the famous opening of his novel, Anna Karenina.  He wrote, “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. The correct answers to problems tend to be alike while there are a multitude of ways to get things wrong (i.e. “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”).

This maxim is sometimes called the Anna Karenina principle after the novel.   However Tolstoy was not the first to notice it.  Aristotle anticipated Tolstoy by many thousands of years when he observed that “it is possible to fail in many ways for evil belongs to the class of the unlimited … while to succeed is possible only in one way”.  For years it was commonly assumed there was a right and wrong way to do things.

Recently however, the great wealth of the West has dulled the edge of the Karenina Principle and made it possible for contemporary politicians to think that anything goes.  It is now possible to seriously argue that every culture, religion, and approach is just as good as any other.  In this world of the technological tour de force success has now become matter of intentions.  British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn can say with a straight face the reason some people are still poor is because we refuse to share. There is no issue of means; only a deficit of will. The only intellectual crime  left is to imagine that any family should be unhappy.

In the world of anything goes “virtue signalling” can be substituted for the needless art of competence.  That term, invented by British writer Libby Purves, describes an exhibition of moral superiority which wins the day.  Moral superiority is now all it takes to fix things.  Engineering — especially social engineering — has been radically simplified. Will it, and it is. In place of “true or false”, “correct or incorrect” the contemporary thinker can merely substitute the term “good or bad” or better yet “progressive or reactionary” to characterize any approach to a problem and make a judgment on that basis.


The Map Comes To Life

September 13th, 2015 - 6:13 pm

At intervals in history the map redraws itself.  This may be one of those times. The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that Iraq and Syria are breaking up and the process is irreversible. The Associated Press reports:

Iraq and Syria may have been permanently torn asunder by war and sectarian tensions, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency said Thursday in a frank assessment that is at odds with Obama administration policy.

“I’m having a tough time seeing it come back together,” Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart told an industry conference, speaking of Iraq and Syria, both of which have seen large chunks territory seized by the Islamic State. …

Iraqis and Syrians now more often identify themselves by tribe or religious sect, rather than by their nationality, he said.

“I think the Middle East is going to be seeing change over the coming decade or two that is going to make it look unlike it did,” [CIA's] Brennan said.

Brennan and Stewart forgot to add Libya and Yemen to his list.  They have already disintegrated. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard needlessly observes that countries invented by European diplomats Sykes and Picot have largely ceased to exist. Now  Evans-Pritchard wonders whether that other boundary drawn up by European diplomatic treaties — the European Union — is now entering a similar period of revision.

It would be a dramatic reversal of fortune for a continent which only one and a half decades ago was celebrating its forthcoming triumph.  Not only is the EU beset with an unresolvable currency crisis but with a flood of refugees that threatens its political union.  It is facing territorial challenges from its south even while a new east-west division in Ukraine rises to its east.

There’s another European migration crisis out there, and it’s one you probably haven’t heard about in a while. More than 2 million people have fled their homes in eastern Ukraine since government troops and Russian-backed separatists went to war last year.

Hundreds of thousands of residents have sought refuge next-door in Russia. But most of those who’ve escaped their hometowns — more than 1.4 million — remain in Ukraine as internally displaced people, or IDPs, according to the United Nations. …

“In many senses, Ukraine’s emergency looks ‘invisible’ or ‘hidden’ for outsiders,” said Nina Sorokopud, regional information officer for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). That’s because the vast majority of displaced people from the war-torn Donetsk and Luhansk regions have been accepted into homes and other private communities across Ukraine, Sorokopud said in an email. Only 5 percent are housed in official IDP shelters, she added.

At this critical time the West has no face.  Merkel and Obama each seem eager to outdo each other in doing nothing decisive. By contrast, the single most prominent figure behind Europe’s woes is Vladimir Putin.  Putin has allegedly created a two corps force in-being on the Donbas while he switches to Syria.  ”The Russians formed two army corps. They are led by Russian officers, with their staff HQ in Novocherkassk, Russia. Rank-and-file members of the corps are 40% local rebels and 60% Russian contract servicemen and mercenaries. ”

With the West fixed in place on Europe’s eastern marches, Putin is challenging allied air control over Syria dispatching advanced air defense weapons and personnel to bolster the Assad government.  This represents a potential threat to the “secret drone war” the administration announced in the Washington Post. Now president Obama must either enter into an arrangement with the Kremlin or run the risk of accidental conflict over the Friendly Skies of the Levant.

Moscow is sending an advanced anti-aircraft missile system to Syria, two Western officials and a Russian source said, as part of what the West believes is stepped-up military support for embattled President Bashar al-Assad. …

The United States has been leading a campaign of air strikes in Syrian air space for a year, joined by aircraft from European and regional allies including Britain, France, Jordan and Turkey. U.S. forces operating in the area are concerned about the potential introduction of the weapon, the diplomat said. …

Even if Russians operated the missiles and kept them out of the hands of the Syrian army, the arrival of such an advanced anti-aircraft system could also unsettle Israel, which in the past has bombed sophisticated arms it suspected were being handed to Assad’s Lebanese guerrilla allies, Hezbollah.

President Obama may be feeling double-crossed by his partners for peace. “Obama explained during a town hall event with members of the military that he warned Putin years ago not to support the tyrannical dictator.”

“I remember a conversation I had with Mr. Putin four or five years ago where I told him that was a mistake … he did not take my warnings and as a consequence things have gotten worse,” he said. …

“The strategy that they’re pursuing now by doubling down with Assad, I think is a big mistake,” he said. “You can’t continue to double down on a strategy that is doomed to failure.”

Obama said that the United States would continue talking with Russia to convince them that their actions were bad for Syria. He signaled that diplomacy was the primary vehicle for restoring order in Syria, encouraging the Russians to “get a little smarter.”


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Prediction From the Grave

September 11th, 2015 - 4:44 am

Very few would have predicted on September 11, 2001 that the headlines 14 years later would feature an American president arming Iran; that there would be millions of Middle Eastern Arabs flooding into the heart of Europe.  Or  Saudi Arabia, while refusing to accept any refugees from an Islamic civil war in Syria, would instead offer to build 200 mosques in Germany,  one for every hundred who has arrived to spare the Germans the trouble and expense of building the mosques themselves.

Few could have imagined that rail and road transport from Hungary to Germany would be interrupted to hold back floods of people in numbers unseen since World War 2.  Not many would have guessed that the Palestinian flag would fly over the UN in New York, despite the objection of the United States.

Hardly anyone would have foretold the return of the Russia to the Middle East, spearheaded by a legion of forces who had honed their skill at “hybrid warfare” — then an unknown term — in Ukraine.  Not just anyone mind you, but as Michael Weiss in the Daily Beast notes, “the Kremlin isn’t sending just any troops to prop up the Assad regime. It’s dispatching units that spearheaded Russia’s slow-rolling invasion of Ukraine.”

Except one man: Osama bin Laden.  Unlike the American public, which still expected its leaders to defend them against aggression on that fatal day, Bin Laden had come to the conclusion the American elite would run at the slightest difficulty.  What convinced him was the precipitate withdrawal of American troops from Somalia in 1996 following the incident popularly known as Blackhawk Down.

The photos taken by Canadian photographer Paul Watson, of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu spelled the beginning of the end for U.S.-U.N. peacekeeping force. Domestic opinion turned hostile as horrified TV viewers watched images of the bloodshed—-including this Pulitzer-prize winning footage of Somali warlord Mohammed Aideed’s supporters dragging the body of U.S. Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland through the streets of Mogadishu, cheering. President Clinton immediately abandoned the pursuit of Aideed, the mission that cost Cleveland his life and gave the order for all American soldiers to withdraw from Somalia by March 31, 1994. Other Western nations followed suit.

When the last U.N. peacekeepers left in 1995, ending a mission that had cost more than $2 billion, Mogadishu still lacked a functioning government. The battle deaths, and the harrowing images prompted lingering U.S. reluctance to get involved in Africa’s crises, including the following year’s genocide in Rwanda. In 1996, Osama bin Laden cited the incident as proof that the U.S. was unable to stomach casualties: when “one American was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear.” Never before or since had a photo altered a nation’s political destinies so much so.

Bin Laden knew that the weakness of the West lay, not in it’s armed forces, technology or economy, but in the alienation of its own elites. Attempting to explain the complete capitulation of the Western decision makers to the refugee flood rushing at their borders Peggy Noonan notes in her Wall Street Journal article that the political and cultural elites no longer even regard territorial integrity as an existential issue. It was something well enough to have, but certainly nothing worth defending to the point of inconvenience; and most assuredly not unto the death.


The Thirteenth Crisis

September 9th, 2015 - 5:06 am

Ishaan Tharoor argues in the Washington Post there are 7 crises in the Middle East as important, or more important, than president Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.  ”Removed from the bluster in Washington, the Middle East’s most vexing challenges have little to do with Iran’s capacity to build a nuclear weapon … here’s what is far more of a problem.”

1. The Syria endgame
2. The spread of the Islamic State
3. The war in Yemen
4. Turkey’s renewed civil war
5. Failing, corrupt governments
6. The zombie afterlife of the two-state solution
7. The Egyptian political tragedy

Not everyone may agree with Tharoor’s enumeration, but it’s a pretty good list. It’s not complete, Had he cast his eyes beyond the Middle East, Tharoor might have added to his heptalog:

8. The war in Ukraine
9. Chinese expansion in Asia
10. The fraying and fragmenting of the European union
11. The spread of Islamic fundamentalism through North and Sub-Saharan Africa;
12. The growing danger of a global economic crisis.

Yet a mere listing of the world’s current difficulties does not sufficiently capture the essence of the crisis. The real problem isn’t that the list is seven or eight.  The most worrisome thing is the list is growing. Worse, as the list lengthens the individual crises begins to merge and interact.  For example, the crisis in Ukraine is starting to combine with events in Syria.  The connection has been developing for some time. Carol Williams of the Los Angeles Times reported as far back as January, 2015 that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against “childishly” excluding the Kremlin from the fighting global terrorism as punishment for its role in the Ukraine crisis.


Moral Triumph

September 7th, 2015 - 9:59 pm

Many experienced politicians survive controversy, not by changing who they are, but by making alterations to style and a few minor concessions to policy.   Amy Chozik of the New York Times describes how Hillary plans to rejuvenate her campaign.  The article says Hillary Clinton’s handlers plan “new efforts to bring spontaneity to a candidacy that sometimes seems wooden and overly cautious … they want to show her humor. … they want to show her heart”.

New dresses, color combinations, scripted jokes.  There will be a lot of changes to style.  In policy not so much. In a nod to the refugee crisis overwhelming Europe Hillary told journalists that although some may not realize it, the Syrian situation was a “global crisis”, noting she was long a voice urging more action.

Calling the crisis “heartbreaking,” Clinton said that the issue was one that “the entire world now sees doesn’t just affect the Syrian people; it affects all of us. That’s what I’ve been saying for years.”

Clinton also said she supported doing more to arm moderate Syrian rebels early on in their fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad, a position that President Barack Obama disagreed with. Asked whether Obama’s foreign policy caused the crisis, Clinton said that “the world’s policies” were responsible.

“I advocated for — as I say — a more robust policy. But sitting here today, I can’t say that would have, on its own, made a difference, because this had to be an international effort,” she said.

It was an acknowledgement by Hillary of failure — the “world’s failure” and not hers to be sure —  but it was uttered for the purpose of putting aside the problem and not fixing it, at least until the campaign implemented the serious business of style.  The politician’s estimate of what is important was captured in a quote in Chozik’s piece: ”Experience does not matter to them. What matters is you appear genuine.”

Form, not function. Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post describes the triumph of the spin doctor’s art when he focused on what he calls president Obama’s greatest achievement:  managing to make The Base feel good about itself despite its obvious and glaring failures.

This may be the most surprising of President Obama’s foreign-policy legacies: not just that he presided over a humanitarian and cultural disaster of epochal proportions, but that he soothed the American people into feeling no responsibility for the tragedy.

Starvation in Biafra a generation ago sparked a movement. Synagogues and churches a decade ago mobilized to relieve misery in Darfur. When the Taliban in 2001 destroyed ancient statues of Buddha at Bamiyan, the world was appalled at the lost heritage.

One reason is that Obama — who ran for president on the promise of restoring the United States’ moral stature — has constantly reassured Americans that doing nothing is the smart and moral policy. He has argued, at times, that there was nothing the United States could do, belittling the Syrian opposition as “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth.”

The president is a supreme snarkster and possesses the genuine knack for depicting any disaster as a moral triumph. Physical setbacks don’t bother him because he has the uncanny ability to make people feel good about what they might have formerly been ashamed.  He has a ready-put down for any “crazies” who might disagree with him and  parlayed this skill into the highest office in the land. An example of his masterful ability to turn news lead into gold was his handling of the Bowe Bergdahl hostage exchange.