Belmont Club

Belmont Club

Malice vs Incompetence

April 10th, 2015 - 5:58 pm

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.


Iran Pulls the Rug From Under Obama

April 9th, 2015 - 3:38 am

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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April 8th, 2015 - 8:31 pm

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.


A Belly Full of War

April 7th, 2015 - 5:56 pm

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.”


The Confidence of the One

April 6th, 2015 - 5:12 pm

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.


The Easter of Crisis

April 5th, 2015 - 3:04 am

The Pew Research Center  thinks the jury is in on John Lennon’s “Imagine” prediction.  The dream of a secular, liberal world isn’t going to happen. Pew  projects that by 2050 “Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world”.  However, ”atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion … will make up a declining share of the world’s total population”.  The Muslims will outnumber them.  In fact the Hindus will outnumber them.

Not only will liberal secularism not inherit the earth, the trope that Christianity is a Eurocentric religion foisted on the poor benighted colored masses will finally be laid to rest.  Islam will become a major European religion and make up 10% of the population.  Over the same time frame, Muslims will outnumber Jews in America.  Statistically Christianity will become the black man’s religion and “four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.”  It is not fanciful to think that by then, all the best white people will be Muslims.

Christianity is literally under the gun, even though it is growing rapidly, though not as rapidly as Islam.  During the Lenten Way of the Cross, Pope Francis warned that the days of persecution have returned.  ”We see, even today, our brothers persecuted, beheaded and crucified for their faith in you, in front of our eyes or often with our complicit silence … Christians are, of course, not only the victims of homicidal violence in the world, but we cannot ignore that in many countries they are the most frequently targeted victims.”

The BBC reports that the Archbishop of Canterbury will deliver a similar message.

That “complicit silence” goes by another name: political correctness, the unwritten Code of the West. It was on display in Barack Obama’s message to Kenya regarding the massacre of nearly 150 mostly Christian persons at Kenya’s Garissa university by the El Shabab Islamic group.   Not once did Obama mention who killed who Garissa.    It was as if it just happened. A man from Mars might imagine the murders were committed by persons unknown instead of by an organization which proclaimed its name from the housetops.

Michelle and I join the American people in expressing our horror and sadness at the reports coming out of Garissa, Kenya. Words cannot adequately condemn the terrorist atrocities that took place at Garissa University College, where innocent men and women were brazenly and brutally massacred.  We join the world in mourning them, many of whom were students pursuing an education in the pursuit of a better life for themselves and their loved ones. They represented a brighter future for a region that has seen too much violence for far too long. We also commend the heroism of the responders who lost their lives in the selfless protection of the students and faculty.

Concerned, but not concerned enough to name the attackers. The president of Kenya by contrast, was far less inhibited by political correctness — the ‘complicit silence’ — that  has muted voices. He actually named the perpetrators, who operated in the “full glare of day”.

(Reuters) – Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Saturday that those behind an attack in which al Shabaab Islamist militants killed 148 people at a university were “deeply embedded” in Kenya, and called on Kenyan Muslims to help prevent radicalization….

“Our task of countering terrorism has been made all the more difficult by the fact that the planners and financiers of this brutality are deeply embedded in our communities,” Kenyatta said.

“Radicalization that breeds terrorism is not conducted in the bush at night. It occurs in the full glare of day, in madrasas, in homes, and in mosques with rogue imams.

Why can’t the Left see attackers who act in the “full glare of day”?  Because they don’t want to. Obama’s inability to be as forthright is the consequence of a bet gone catastrophically wrong. The bet (as famously expressed in Lennon’s “Imagine”) was that if Judaeo-Christianity were abolished the way would be clear for a new world in which the Left would usher in an age of tolerance, love and understanding.  Thus when Islam takes the axe to Christianity it is in a manner of speaking only clearing the brush.  The San Diego Gay and Lesbian News has one of the clearest statements of this point of view. They write:

the Christian Bible endorses slavery, racism, tribal warfare, torture, the concept of women and children as chattel, and the death penalty for over 30 offenses. (You likely qualify.) It offers an exclusive alternative to eternal damnation, driving believers to seek converts when and where they can. It teaches that infidels have no moral core and advocates separation from religious outsiders. It elevates sexual purity to the level of moral purity.

When one sees things this way it follows that until Christianity is dead, the world will never be free, for in their view it is “an iron age ideology” guilty of sexism, theocracy and dominionism (“a God-given mandate to seize the reins of power, ruling according to biblical principles”) which must be swept away, much as Nazism was. And for that reason while they might be personally sorry for the students killed in Garissa they may still believe that it’s a blow in a good cause.  Hence the silence.  Hence the empty condolences.


Locked Out of His Own Cockpit

April 3rd, 2015 - 6:03 am

One of the first comments on the last thread posed a very perceptive question: “did we ever have the right, or the means, to stop Iran from building a nuke, short of invasion and ‘regime change’?” To the extent that America ever had such a right it was granted by the tacit consent of the “international community” itself in the aftermath of World War 2 by a planet weary of war.  Politically speaking the Security Council got its authority from the same source. The devil’s bargain for the hegemon is it can only continue to regard itself as special as long as it retains the confidence of the “international community” and only if it keeps the peace.

But in the three generations since 1945 the hegemon has either lost the mandate of heaven or president Obama has simply decided to exit the business. Consequently it no longer has the right — not the will in any case — to stop Iran from building a nuke.  That strategic decision will haunt president Obama’s framework deal with Tehran.  It will only work within a framework that he himself has dissolved.  Peggy Noonan glimpses the contradiction in her Wall Street Journal article.

Barack Obama, six years into his presidency, does not have a foreign-policy legacy—or, rather, he does and it’s bad. He has a visceral and understandable reluctance to extend and overextend U.S. power, but where that power has been absent, violence and instability have filled the void. When he overcomes his reluctance to get involved, he picks the wrong place, such as Libya, where the tyrant we toppled was better than many of those attempting to take his place.

Syria, red lines, an exploding Mideast, a Russian president who took the American’s measure and made a move, upsetting a hard-built order that had maintained for a quarter-century since the fall of the Soviet Union—what a mess.

In late February, at a Washington meeting of foreign-policy intellectuals, Henry Kissinger summed up part of the past six years: “Ukraine has lost Crimea; Russia has lost Ukraine; the U.S. has lost Russia; the world has lost stability.”

But she does not take the thought to its conclusion. There is now no one who can make — or is willing to make — a deal like this stick. In a power vacuum, without a stable structure of international governance to guarantee credible enforcement, vague “framework deals” of the sort cobbled together in Lausanne can be destabilizing rather than steadying. Vague agreements with disputed provisions which lack a clear means of enforcement will tend to increase uncertainty instead of diminishing it. The world is already highly uncertain and needs more predictability, not less. Ironically may now be a whole lot more uncertain after the framework agreement than before it.

According to Nour Malas and Rory Jones of the Wall Street Journal, it may be sending everyone to battle stations. The Sunnis see the deal as reflecting U.S. weakness while the Shiites see it as confirmation Iranian ascendancy, which is exactly the wrong sort of message to send.  Faced with the shadowy provisions of the deal, everyone may take the counsel of their fears.

“This nuclear deal is a face-saving thing for Obama,” said Hamid al-Mutlag, an Iraqi Sunni lawmaker. “America should put a condition on Iran in this deal: Hands off Iraq.”

Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, who is allied with the country’s pro-Western political camp, said Arab states were no longer waiting on the U.S. to take action.

This roughly translates to: “Sharif Will Kane has left town. It’s every man for himself boys.” Even in distant Australia Greg Sheridan writes, that a “weakened Barack Obama makes Iran the winner in Mid-East chaos”.  Nobody is sleeping better tonight because nobody knows where this goes.


Awaiting the Next Act

April 2nd, 2015 - 12:57 pm

It’s been announced that the Obama administration has reached an “historic” deal with Iran over its nuclear weapons development program. President Obama “warned Congress against taking action that could upend work toward a final deal”, in the words of Julie Pace of the Associated Press.

“The issues at stake here are bigger than politics,” Obama said during remarks in the White House Rose Garden. “These are matters of war and peace, and they should be evaluated based on the facts.”

Obama spoke hours after negotiators in Switzerland reached a framework agreement outlining limits on Iran’s nuclear program and setting the stage for work on a final deal over the next three months.

The president called the agreement “a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives.” He said verification mechanisms built into the framework agreed to in Switzerland hours earlier would ensure that “if Iran cheats, the world will know it.”

The world will know if Iran cheats for about 12 months. According to CNN’s description of the deal’s parameters that is all the warning time the deal likely provides. Tehran agrees to keep 6,104 centrifuges, put its remaining facilities under IAEA inspection. Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.  ”Iran’s breakout timeline — the time that it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon — is currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months. That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least ten years, under this framework.”

It will be argued that the deal is ‘better than nothing’ — a word which necessarily means “all Obama could get”. But a better description might be “something rather than nothing”.  For a Nothing was what it threatened to be. The agreement was always like a movie McGuffin, “a device or plot element in a movie that is deliberately placed to catch the viewer’s attention and/or drive the logic of the plot, but which actually serves no further purpose – it won’t pop up again later.”

And if it does you will learn  that “historic”  now means a year’s warning.  Time was when “historic” meant centuries, like the pyramids that look down on the Gaza plain. History under the Obama administration now means a year’s grace looking up to you from the paper.


Who Are You?

April 1st, 2015 - 4:28 am

A Pennsylvania woman recently made news by nearly rising to partner in a law firm before it it was discovered she never had a license to practice nor a degree. However, nobody says she wasn’t a good lawyer and is only being charged with misdemeanors.

PITTSBURGH — A central Pennsylvania woman used forged documents to pretend to be a lawyer for a decade and was in line to be named partner when her fraud was discovered late last year, according to charges filed by the state Attorney General’s Office. …

State prosecutors contend Kitchen fooled BMZ Law by forging a law license, bar exam results, an email showing she attended Duquesne University law school and a check for a state attorney registration fee. …

If Kitchen [the accused] improperly handled an estate, those whose estates she handled could file civil complaints against her and/or her Huntingdon County law firm, Avalli said. But if she properly administered their estates, they may not have claims against her, he said.

Avalli said Kitchen was probably working at a competent level, judging solely by her decade-long employment at the law firm.

“If there were no bells and whistles going off after the first year or two, nobody probably had any reason to believe she wasn’t who she said she was,” he said.

If the allegations against her are true, Kitchen could have become proficient in her craft by repetition, but would not know the “subtle nuances” of the law or the theoretical foundations of why she’d be doing certain things, said Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney Blaine Jones.

“Law school teaches you the theory, and that’s basically the foundation, but you have to get the practical experience, too,” Jones said.

Perhaps even more astonishing was a recent discovery in Britain that technically unqualified overseas doctors were being employed by the National Health Service, which was none the wiser. In this case the qualifications were being embellished without their knowledge by the recruitment company that placed them. The recruitment company collected inflated rates based on the faked qualifications but received  as suspended sentence. The judge said it was  ”pure luck” no one was harmed.

Midas Medical Recruitment altered the CVs of locum medics, “embellishing” their experience and adding bogus references from consultants.

While charging the hospitals £120 an hour, the court heard Midas paid some clinical staff as little as £15 an hour.

As Judge Robin Johnson gave headhunter Ross Etherson a “wholly exceptional” suspended sentence, he also criticised NHS management by saying some bosses failed to carry out even the most basic checks on doctors they were employing. …

“It is fortunate that there is no occasion were such lack of experience on behalf of one of these doctors impacted on the health of the patient, but that was purely down to luck.”

The next time you board a plane, remember this: the Chinese press reports that literally hundreds of pilots are flying around its skies equipped with fake credentials. The consequences of the fraud were much more serious, as several passenger aircraft are believed to have crashed as a result.

The newspaper report also noted that Shenzhen Airlines reportedly had 103 of the pilots with faked work histories on the payroll.

A spokesperson with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) confirmed the figure of more than 200 pilots who falsified their flying histories, adding that all those found with fake resumes have been punished accordingly. …

The report comes as the administration investigates safety measures nationwide following an Aug 24 crash that killed 42 people at a small airport in the northeast, in China’s worst commercial airline disaster in nearly six years. Another 54 people were injured in the crash of the Brazilian-made Embraer 190 plane belonging to Henan Airlines during a nighttime landing at Yichun in Heilongjiang province.

Shenzhen Airlines is the parent company of Henan Airlines.

Bogus degrees are big in China and not just in the airline industry.  The Wall Street Journal wrote, “accusations that a prominent former Microsoft Corp. executive in China distorted his academic credentials have triggered a heated public discussion in the country over what experts say is pervasive academic fraud.”


Payday Loan

March 30th, 2015 - 7:39 pm

One of the signs of bankruptcy is the willingness to sell valuable items cheaply for immediate cash or borrow small sums of money at high rates of interest. The most familiar example is the payday loan, meant to tide a cash-strapped person over until the next salary day. “Since payday lending operations charge higher interest-rates than traditional banks, they have the effect of depleting the assets of low-income communities. John Hudson and Colum Lynch argue in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration is down at the Iranian pawnshop trying to get something — at almost any rate of interest — because they are so politically broke.

“Part of the reason [the Iranians] are playing such hardball right now is they know the U.S. can’t go back without anything,” said Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council and an occasional contributor to Foreign Policy. “But if the Iranians walk away, it’s less of a problem for them, because the interim deal is still in place for another three months.”

Republicans, and a significant number of Democrats, have told the White House that an Iranian failure to spell out specific concessions by the March 31 deadline would be a clear sign that Tehran can’t be trusted and an indication that additional pressure through sanctions legislation is needed. The White House worries that any new bill would derail the talks and hopes that striking a deal this week will make it easier to persuade lawmakers to hold off on passing sanctions legislation.

However, the pressure to produce an agreement to show the U.S. Congress is making the P5+1 negotiating team look desperate for a deal, which has caused some European officials to question America’s emphasis on the March 31 deadline.

Increasingly confident, Iran has even backed away from an earlier promise to ship their atomic fuel out of the country as part of a larger deal. The New York Times reports: “For months, Iran tentatively agreed that it would send a large portion of its stockpile of uranium to Russia, where it would not be accessible for use in any future weapons program. But on Sunday Iran’s deputy foreign minister made a surprise comment to Iranian reporters, ruling out an agreement that involved giving up a stockpile that Iran has spent years and billions of dollars to amass.”

Instead of prompting the American negotiators to pack up their papers and say ‘call us when you are serious’ Laura Rozen suggests that State was willing to find a way around that difficulty. But the administration is now so short of leverage that it is almost impossible for it to stand fast.  All it can do now is temporize, live from paycheck to paycheck; to hold off the wolf for one more day.