Belmont Club

Belmont Club

The Return of the Jolly Roger

March 27th, 2015 - 5:31 pm

Jeff Gerth and Sam Biddle at Gawker write that Hillary’s private email server acted as portal to a private intelligence network that included retired members of special operations, former CIA clandestine personnel and foreign informers.  Acting in some indeterminate capacity over it was Sidney Blumenthal, former aide to president Bill Clinton and now apparently a retainer to the family dynasty.  It was the compromise of Blumenthal’s emails by the Romanian hacker Guccifer that in part led to journalists to discover Hillary’s private email account.  Publicly available sources describe Guccifer as a taxi driver who penetrated the email accounts of the Bush family, Colin Powell and of course Sidney Blumenthal by sheer persistence.

Returning to the subject of Hillary’s private apparatus, the Gawker story, based on a laborious reading of the emails, which were posted on the internet in 2013, says Blumenthal sent Hillary reports which “appear to have been gathered and prepared by Tyler Drumheller, a former chief of the CIA’s clandestine service in Europe who left the agency in 2005.”

There are references to “Cody”, “Cody is Cody Shearer, a longtime Clinton family operative—his brother was an ambassador under Bill Clinton and his sister is married to Clinton State Department official Strobe Talbott—who was in close contact with Blumenthal.”

There are references to “Moin”. “While it’s not entirely clear from the documents, “Moin” may refer to the nickname of Mohamed Mansour El Kikhia, a member of the Kikhia family, a prominent Libyan clan with ties to the Libyan National Transition Council.” The correspondence appears to show Hillary watching Libya fall apart. A private fact finding mission was apparently commissioned to ascertain facts on the ground.

A May 14, 2011, email exchange between Blumenthal and Shearer shows that they were negotiating with Drumheller to contract with someone referred to as “Grange” and “the general” to place send four operatives on a week-long mission to Tunis, Tunisia, and “to the border and back.” Tunisia borders Libya and Algeria.

“Sid, you are doing great work on this,” Drumheller wrote to Blumenthal. “It is going to be around $60,000, coverting r/t business class airfare to Tunis, travel in country to the border and back, and other expenses for 7-10 days for 4 guys.”

["The general" and "Grange" appear to refer to David L. Grange, a major general in the Army who ran a secret Pentagon special operations unit before retiring in 1999, according to the article.]

All in all the emails provide a glimpse into the world of a great political family, conducting what at times appears to be a private policy and rewarding loyal individuals with access to governments who were influenced or indeed installed in power by the actions of the United States. “At least 10 of the memos deal in whole or in part with internal Libyan politics and the government’s fight against militants, including the status of the Libyan oil industry and the prospects for Western companies to participate.”  There is nothing overtly illegal described in the emails.

However there is clearly the  question of whether enlisting private parties, both foreign and domestic to perform certain tasks in exchange for access or rules in successor governments is not in some ways like issuing letters of marque by executive order or private assignment.  For those who don’t know what a letter of marque is, “in the days of fighting sail, a letter of marque and reprisal was a government license authorizing a person (known as a privateer) to attack and capture enemy vessels and bring them before admiralty courts for condemnation and sale. Cruising for prizes with a letter of marque was considered an honorable calling combining patriotism and profit, in contrast to unlicensed piracy, which was universally reviled.” Under US law only the US Congress can issue letters of marque.

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Germanwings Flight 9525

March 26th, 2015 - 5:10 pm

By now nearly everyone knows that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally flew Germanwings Flight 9525 into the Alps, killing nearly 150 innocent people. Lubitz turned the features intended to turn the flight deck into a fortress to create a space in which he could commit his crime undisturbed.  Authorities have now mounted a massive effort to find some motive or explanation for his actions.  They may succeed in unearthing a publicly acceptable motive or nothing, for the blackest of boxes is not the flight data recorder but the innermost citadel of consciousness.

Sometimes people do things that nobody else can understand.  Sometimes they even do things that are contrary to their rational interest.  The underlying premise of the A320 security  model was enlightened self-interest. Because the pilot shared the fate of the plane and all its passengers it was assumed that he would do nothing to harm the collective platform.

But once upon a time men knew that self-interest was not always a true shield.  What Milton called “the unconquerable will” often trumped it; demanding it should be obeyed, even when destruction is the result.  The name given to this unquenchable selfishness used to be evil. There is a strange moment in the New Testament when the disciples marvel at Christ’s ability to cast out demons and He responds by recalling a memory from an eon past. “It was a little before your time,” He told his followers, “but Satan and I have fought before.”

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.”

Christ’s reminiscence is one of the spookiest moments in the New Testment.  He knew evil of old.  We, on the other hand, have forgotten it, or deny it exists. Lufthansa thought it could make its planes safer through layers of screening and automated processes, but it failed to defend against the oldest enemy of all: the insistent will. To guard against this old enemy — which civilization remembered until recently — systems of checks and balances were built into critical systems to ensure that no single individual will could unilaterally control them. “Per US Air Force Instruction (AFI) 91-104, ‘The Two-Person Concept‘ is designed to prevent accidental or malicious launch of nuclear weapons by a single individual.”

In the case of Minuteman missile launch crews, both operators must agree that the launch order is valid by comparing the authorization code in the launch order against a Sealed Authenticator (a special sealed envelope which holds the code). These Sealed Authenticators are stored in a safe which has two separate locks. Each operator has the key to only one lock, so neither can open the safe alone. Also, each operator has one of two launch keys; once the order is verified, they must insert the keys and turn them simultaneously. A total of four keys are thus required to initiate a launch. For additional protection, the missile crew in another launch control center must do the same for the missiles to be launched. As a further precaution, the slots for the two launch keys are positioned far enough apart to make it impossible for one operator to reach both of them at once.

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The Battle For Saudi Arabia Begins

March 25th, 2015 - 5:34 am

Yemen’s US backed president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled Yemen ahead of an advancing column of Houthi rebels as the Kingdom moved up major military units to its southern border. The New York Times reports:

SANAA, Yemen — Yemen’s foreign minister has called for an “immediate” Arab military intervention against advancing Shiite rebels.

Riad Yassin told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite news network on Wednesday that Yemen had asked Arab countries — especially oil-rich Gulf Sunni countries — to send air and naval forces to counter Shiite rebels known as Houthis.

But the collapsing regime’s defense minister did not flee quickly enough. The Washington Post says the rebels have the Yemeni official in their custody.  The Telegraph says the Saudis are “moving heavy military equipment including artillery to areas near its border with Yemen, US officials said on Tuesday, raising the risk that the Middle East’s top oil power will be drawn into the worsening Yemeni conflict.”

The buildup follows a southward advance by Iranian-backed Houthi Shia militants who took control of the capital Sanaa in September and seized the central city of Taiz at the weekend as they move closer to the new southern base of US-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The armor and artillery being moved by Saudi Arabia could be used for offensive or defensive purposes, two US government sources said. Two other US officials said the build-up appeared to be defensive.

Julie Pace and Ken Dilanian of the AP write the epitaph for what president Obama once described as his model for fighting extremists in the Arabian peninsula. “Once hailed by President Barack Obama as a model for fighting extremism, the U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Yemen has all but collapsed as the country descends into chaos, according to U.S. and Yemeni officials.”

“It is the model that we’re going to have to work with, because the alternative would be massive U.S. deployments in perpetuity, which would create its own blowback and cause probably more problems than it would potentially solve,” Obama said in January as the situation in Yemen deteriorated.

Now, virtually all of the Yemeni troops that had worked with the U.S. are engaged on one side or another of a three-pronged political struggle between the remnants of the Hadi government, supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the Houthi faction, U.S. officials say. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak by name about sensitive intelligence assessments.

The fall of Aden would put the “Bab al-Mandeb strait, a Red Sea shipping lane vital to oil shipments” within anti-ship missile and mining operational range of Iran. In 2013 a security expert from Brookings warned about the scenario that is now unfolding.

“If the south of Yemen were to break away and become an ally of the Iranians, it would be a major strategic gain for Tehran,” said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow and director of the Brookings’ Intelligence Project, part of the Brookings’ Institute. “It might more than compensate for the loss of Syria if Assad’s government falls.”…

Hirak’s power base is a geopolitically strategic territory in southern Yemen that lies alongside part of Bab al Mandab, a narrow strait traveled by many giant oil tankers bound for the U.S. and Europe. Bab al Mandab—Arabic for Gate of Grief—is so named for the treacherous journey through waters just 18 miles wide at points.

Security is a concern at Bab al Mandab, which stands, along with the Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz, as one of the world’s major oil-supply choke points. Yemen’s national security forces and its coast guard have been strained since the country’s revolution took root in 2011.

Some Western officials worry that Iran could use military allies along Bab al Mandab to disrupt shipping there, as it has attempted to do along its own coast on the Strait of Hormuz. Together, the Strait of Hormuz and Bab al Mandab are conduits for 22% of the world’s oil supply, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“If the Iranians are able to control Bab al Mandab and the Strait of Hormuz, they’d be able to have a chokehold on the global economy,” a Western diplomat in San’a said.

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William Cruz

March 24th, 2015 - 1:00 am

Michael Van Der Galien has tried to understand why the Ted Cruz presidential candidacy announcement has set social media on its ear and advances a tentative theory. “But why are leftists’ heads exploding as well? I’ve got no doubt I know the answer: they fear him. Tremendously even. He is everything they oppose: a true, small-government conservative.”

If that were all Cruz were guilty of it wouldn’t be half bad.  It’s far worse.   His “Imagine” speech seemed calculated to ridicule every Leftist shibboleth with predictable effect.  The Left lost no time characterizing him as a Christian bigot, a patriarchal supremacist,  an uneducated, crazy, anti-poor, anti-abortion “uppity loudmouth” besides being that supreme abomination, a White Latino.    If there’s some sacred cow in the Leftist canon Ted Cruz has left undefiled, he will soon enough defile it.  That’s the plan.

Cruz was intentionally provocative because he intends to make the Left itself the main issue.  People of all shapes and sizes were rising to their feet, clapping their hands raw and shouting themselves hoarse not because they necessarily agree with his policy positions, but because he was sticking it to the Man.  He was knocking Gessler’s hat off the pole in the public square and the onlookers loved it.

In around the year 1307 the Habsburg overlords of the alps appointed a man called Gessler to rule over the villagers. Gessler hung his hat on a pole in the square and demanded that all the townsfolk bow before the hat.

We all know what happened next. A fellow named William Tell wandered into the village and did the unthinkable. He refused to bow before the hat.

On 18 November 1307, Tell visited Altdorf with his young son and passed by the hat, publicly refusing to bow to it, and so was arrested. Gessler—intrigued by Tell’s famed marksmanship, yet resentful of his defiance—devised a cruel punishment: Tell and his son would be executed, but he could redeem his life by shooting an apple off the head of his son, Walter, in a single attempt. Tell split the apple with a bolt from his crossbow.

William tell did something everyone thought was impossible.  He resisted. The power of Ted Cruz’s speech stems from his refusal to bow before the liberal hat. If you were to re-write his speech into its essentials it might sound like this. “Imagine if we could tell all the stuffed shirts in the media to buzz off. Imagine if we could tell the busybodies to butt out our lives. Imagine if we could actually tell the IRS we want to keep our money. Imagine if we could the tell the NSA you need a warrant to tap my phone. Imagine if we didn’t have to feel guilty of being Americans. Imagine that we could call Islamic terrorism by its name.”

Of course Cruz put it more cannily then that, but that was the message.  We can continue.

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Round Two

March 23rd, 2015 - 5:29 am

A kind of tipping point may have been reached in recent weeks.  Eric Schmitt of the New York Times reports that with the loss of Yemen, America has been deprived of one of its main bulwarks against Islamist forces. “The evacuation of 125 United States Special Operations advisers from Yemen in the past two days is the latest blow to the Obama administration’s counterterrorism campaign, which is already struggling with significant setbacks in Syria, Libya and elsewhere in the volatile region, American officials said Sunday.”

The loss of Yemen as a base for American counterterrorism training, advising and intelligence-gathering carries major implications not just there, but throughout a region that officials say poses the most grievous threat to United States global interests and to the country itself. …

“We will have no intelligence footprint,” Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “Good intelligence stops plots against the homeland. Without intelligence, we cannot effectively stop it.”

Paul Bonicelli writes at Foreign Policy: “Look at a map of the Arabian Peninsula and the surrounding region while taking into account recent headlines and you’ll see that both sides in the war between Shiite and Sunni radicals are defeating the United States. That is, radical Islamist forces (both sets of them) are winning and the United States is losing. We are in one of the most significant crises we have faced in the Middle East because the White House has managed to discourage and weaken all of our allies and at the same time provide opportunities to all of our enemies.”

This means the most important U.S. interests in the region are in peril. It is within the realm of possibility that the Saudi kingdom could fall to both the Islamic and the Shiite forces surrounding it even though these forces are locked in the centuries-old contest between Shiite and Sunni. And if the Kingdom falls, Israel and Egypt are alone….

Significantly, Iran stands to score a double victory in the cold war it launched with the United States over 25 years ago. Unless the Congress checks the Obama administration, the Iranians might well win the nuclear contest with the United States this year. But it could win the conventional forces contest with the United States even sooner, although it would be sharing that victory with Sunni radical forces like the Islamic State and al Qaeda.

It is almost impossible to imagine a way for Obama to leave office without being seen as having presided over a catastrophe that let our greatest enemies rise to perhaps unalterable victories. The catastrophe: a nuclear Iran and its proxies surrounding what’s left of Saudi Arabia after the Islamic State and al Qeada forces disfigure and dismember it.

The Middle East is the most important region in the world to the United States along with Europe in terms of U.S. security. Obama might have dodged a bullet with Ukraine (we’ll see) because Putin, like the Soviets, operates according to Realpolitik which America can understand even when it doesn’t agree with it. Putin’s aims are relatively limited: he wants respect, a cowed near-abroad, and, above all, to stay in power. He does not want the international system fundamentally changed.

That all sounds pretty dire and one hopes its not true. But former GOP presidential candidate John McCain is even more pessimistic.  He would disagree with Bonicelli about Russia’s relative benignity. RealClearDefense editor Harry Kazianis sat down with Sen. John McCain to discuss options for American allies and Russia and was told “Mariupol Is Next”. The Russians, he believed, are prepared to secure the link to the Crimea and then move on to the Baltics, where they could take one or two provinces of Estonia or Latvia just to show they can against which NATO would do absolutely nothing.

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Losing Yemen

March 22nd, 2015 - 5:13 am

The last US special forces have been withdrawn from Yemen without exciting much notice from the US press.  Max Boot tweets: “All US SOF evacuating Yemen. Huge win for AQAP, huge defeat for US. How many foreign policy disasters can we handle?” Reuters reports, “the United States has evacuated its remaining personnel, including about 100 special operations forces, from Yemen because of the deteriorating security situation there, U.S. officials said on Saturday.”  This means that the last vestiges of what the Obama administration only recently touted as their model counter-insurgency operation are gone.  The collapse has flown largely under the media radar.

Last week Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post reported that $500 million dollars in American supplied weapons are now in the hands of “Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda”.  The Islamist blitzkrieg is living off huge quantities of captured US materiel.

“We have to assume it’s completely compromised and gone,” said a legislative aide on Capitol Hill who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

U.S. military officials declined to comment for the record. A defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, said there was no hard evidence that U.S. arms or equipment had been looted or confiscated. But the official acknowledged that the Pentagon had lost track of the items.

CBS News reported that an “Obama administration’s senior counterterrorism official acknowledged Thursday that the U.S. intelligence community was surprised by the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Yemen.”  Nobody saw it coming, but the very same people assure the public they know what is to come.  They’re in intelligence, right?

Nick Rasmussen, who directs the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Yemen’s American-funded army failed to oppose advancing Houthi rebels in the same way the U.S.-supported Iraqi military refused to fight Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants last year.

What happened in Iraq with the onslaught of ISIS “happened in Yemen” on “a somewhat smaller scale,” he said. “As the Houthi advances toward Sanaa took place… they weren’t opposed in many places…. The situation deteriorated far more rapidly than we expected.”

The Associated Press reports that the Saudi sponsored government, having fallen back on Aden, may now be making its last stand. “ADEN, Yemen (AP) — This port city, perched on an extinct volcano protruding into the Arabian Sea on Yemen’s far southern edge, has become perhaps the last refuge of the country’s embattled president, and it feels like now all his enemies are bearing down on it.”

The city is visibly expecting assault, whether from the forces of Hadi’s rival, ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has allied himself with the Shite rebels, or from al-Qaida militants. Army and police forces loyal to Hadi and their allied militiamen patrol Aden’s streets and man checkpoints at key locations. Tanks guard roads leading to the city and children are largely staying home from school.

“There are great fears that plans are underway for Aden to meet the same fate as Sanaa,” Nayef al-Bakry, Aden’s deputy governor, told The Associated Press. Referring to Saleh and the Shiite rebels, “they want to extend their reach on both the ground and on the coast.”

The situation was concisely summarized by the Telegraph, which described Yemen as “a battlefield for Saudi Arabia and Iran” adding that an attack on Shi’ite Mosques by ISIS shows that the battle is fully joined. Con Coughlin, the Telegraph’s defense editor says that the Saudis may now be driven to intervene forcefully, just as they did in Bahrain when their interests were threatened. If so they will have their work cut out for them. Pakistan has declined a Saudi request to send troops to reinforce its border.

Saudi Arabia’s campaign to build a broad Sunni alliance to contain Iran has apparently suffered at least a setback from Pakistan. Islamabad has opted, at least for now, to avoid becoming entangled in the sectarian cold war between Riyadh and Tehran.

Earlier this month, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited to the kingdom for urgent talks with King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and his advisers. The king met Sharif at the airport to underscore the importance of the talks. The main topic was Iranian aggression in the Arab world and the impending deadline for the P5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear project. The king wanted firm assurances from Sharif that Pakistan would align itself with Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab allies against Iran, especially in the proxy war now underway in Yemen.

Salman specifically wanted a Pakistani military contingent to deploy to the kingdom to help defend the vulnerable southwest border with Zaydi Houthi-controlled north Yemen and serve as a trip-wire force to deter Iranian aggression. There is precedent for a Pakistani army expeditionary force in Saudi Arabia. After the Iranian Revolution, Pakistani dictator Mohammad Zia ul-Haq deployed an elite Pakistani armored brigade to the kingdom at King Fahd’s request to deter any threats to the country. In all, some 40,000 Pakistanis served in the brigade over most of a decade. Today only some Pakistani advisers and experts serve in the kingdom.

According to Pakistani sources, Sharif has reluctantly decided not to send troops to Saudi Arabia for now. Sharif promised closer counterterrorism and military cooperation but no troops for the immediate future. Pakistan also declined to move its embassy in Yemen from Sanaa to Aden as the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council states have done to distance themselves from the Houthis.

There will not be much sure help from Washington either. Coughlin says that the Saudis are now doubtful of Obama’s commitment to the kingdom.

President Barack Obama is said to be keen to cut a deal with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who yesterday claimed that the talks were taking positive strides and that “there is nothing that cannot be resolved.”

But the talks are being viewed with deep scepticism by the Saudis and other countries in the region, including Israel, which fear that Mr Obama is preparing to do a deal that would allow Iran to retain the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons, even if Tehran gives commitments not to do so.

And if that is the outcome then the Saudis will want to have a nuclear deterrent of their own, with the result that a conflict that is currently being fought with proxies might one day escalate in an all-out nuclear war between Sunnis and Shias.

And if the Saudis lose Yemen?

Trying to make sense of Barack Obama’s foreign policy has become something like a branch of Kremlinology.  Opinions vary between whether the president has either cleverly set Iran against Riyadh or he has let loose all the devils in hell. Early in February, Michael Doran “a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a former senior director of the National Security Council” wrote a long paper trying to make sense of Obama’s strategy only to reach the conclusion that the president’s objectives are secret.

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De Horror, De Horror

March 20th, 2015 - 7:18 am

If the timing was accidental it was most inopportune.  David Petraeus chose now, of all times, just when the president was reaching the peroration of his pitch to sell a nuclear agreement with Iran to assert 5 things in the Washington Post. “In his most expansive comments yet on the latest crisis in Iraq and Syria, he answered written questions from The Post’s Liz Sly, offering insights into the mistakes, the prosecution and the prospects of the war against the Islamic State, which he refers to by its Arabic acronym, Daesh.”

The bullet points are as written by the Washington Post.

1. Shiite militias and Iran now pose a bigger regional threat than the Islamic State.
2. You can’t find a solution to the Islamic State without empowering capable local Sunni forces
3. Syria is a ‘geopolitical Chernobyl’ and needs to be addressed immediately
4. America’s influence is waning in the Middle East
5. Petraeus told Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani to “pound sand”

Taken collectively Petraeus points seem to be at variance with the president’s strategy, if not in total contradiction.  For if the general’s assertions are true, why is president Obama making a deal with a “bigger regional threat than the Islamic state”? Why is the administration providing support for the man Petraeus told to “pound sand”? Why has US airpower been put at the potential disposal of Iran as it stirs up the “geopolitical Chernobyl”? And who are we talking to?

If Iran is the devil, why is president Obama sitting down to dinner with it? The answer to this puzzle is provided by a lawyerly word which enables us to believe two contradictory things at once. These objections are admitted and then dismissed by the application of the word “decoupled”.  President Obama has decoupled, disconnected or severed Petraeus’ considerations from his nuclear deal.

It’s not that the general is a liar. Petraeus’ Iran actually exists in one universe while Obama’s Iran exists in another. It’s just that they can be treated severally by this strategy. Stephen Hayes at the Weekly Standard explains how it works:

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What Me Worry?

March 18th, 2015 - 11:06 pm

It’s as horrifying as watching a train wreck.  As predicted in yesterday’s post Obama’s foreign policy has nowhere to go, but he’s prepared to go there with considerable velocity.  The New York Times says that Obama will go all out against the Israeli prime minister and may switch sides in the UN on the Palestinian issue.

now that Mr. Netanyahu has won after aggressively campaigning against a Palestinian state and Mr. Obama’s potential nuclear deal with Iran, the question is whether the president and prime minister can ever repair their relationship — and whether Mr. Obama will even try.

On Wednesday, part of the answer seemed to be that the president would not make the effort. … And with Mr. Netanyahu’s last-minute turnaround against a Palestinian state alongside Israel, several administration officials said that the Obama administration may now agree to passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution embodying the principles of a two-state solution that would include Israel’s 1967 borders with Palestine and mutually agreed swaps of territory.

Those borders, the subject of contentious negotiations for decades, include the West Bank, occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. Most foreign policy experts say that Israel would have to cede territory to the Palestinians in exchange for holding on to major Jewish settlement blocks in the West Bank.

Hell hath no wrath like Obama scorned. Michael Crowley at Politico writes that “angered by Netanyahu’s hard-line platform towards the Palestinians, top Obama officials would not rule out the possibility of a change in American posture at the United Nations, where the U.S. has historically fended off resolutions hostile to Israel.”  Russia and China will probably be delighted to accommodate Obama, doubtless remembering Napoleon’s adage: “never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

Any chance that such an action will win the everlasting gratitude of Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood range from slim to none. Destroying Israel is one of those zero-coefficient variables.  You can expend as much energy on it as you like — even hurt a lot of people — but it won’t improve America’s strategic position by a single iota.  It’s like one of those actions people do when they’re angry at losing their girl friend.  They throw the TV out the window and kick the dog.  The usual result is a broken TV and dogbite, but still no girlfriend.

The administration has reached the stage of pointless self destruction and even Tom Friedman knows it.  In a doleful, despairing editorial he says it’s hopeless. Nothing works. Everything has failed. It’s all for nothing.  ”Have I ruined your morning yet? No? Give me a couple more paragraphs.”

O.K., so we learn to live with Iran on the edge of a bomb … why are we, for the third time since 9/11, fighting a war on behalf of Iran? … In 2003, we destroyed Iran’s main Sunni foe in the Arab world (Saddam Hussein). But because we failed to erect a self-sustaining pluralistic order, which could have been a durable counterbalance to Iran, we created a vacuum in both Iraq and the wider Sunni Arab world. That is why Tehran’s proxies now indirectly dominate four Arab capitals: Beirut, Damascus, Sana and Baghdad.

ISIS, with all its awfulness, emerged as the homegrown Sunni Arab response to this crushing defeat of Sunni Arabism … Why is it in our interest to destroy the last Sunni bulwark to a total Iranian takeover of Iraq? Because the Shiite militias now leading the fight against ISIS will rule better? Really?

If it seems as though we have only bad choices in the Middle East today and nothing seems to work, there is a reason: Because past is prologue, and the past has carved so much scar tissue into that landscape that it’s hard to see anything healthy or beautiful growing out of it anytime soon. Sorry to be so grim.

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Uh-oh

March 18th, 2015 - 1:56 am

President Obama’s hopes for a grand bargain with Iran took a plunge toward the rocks with the come from behind re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel.  Breitbart called it somewhat incongruously, the “St Patrick’s day miracle in Israel”.  Obama had counted on teaching Netanyahu not to defy him.  Somewhere along the line the lesson went very wrong.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apparently defied the mainstream media and the Obama administration with a stunning, come-from-behind victory in Israel’s elections on Tuesday. Netanyahu’s Likud Party had been projected to lose to Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union by a margin of 26-22. Two exit polls released at the close of voting, however, suggested Likud would win, 28-27 (a third poll showed them tied). Netanyahu is now expected to form a new governing coalition.

Netanyahu was under pressure from voter discontent over his handling of the domestic economy.  He might have lost of his own accord until president Obama’s clumsy effort to unseat him allowed Netanyahu to play the national security card and turn the tables. “Netanyahu had three messages: first, that if Israelis wanted him to return to power, they would have to vote for his party; second, that he would not allow a Palestinian state to be created despite earlier commitments; third, that foreign donors and governments were mobilizing Arab voters, including some who oppose Israel’s existence, to turn out.”

And it worked. The New York Times sputtered in barely contained fury. “Israel’s election has done a lot to reveal the challenges facing the country and the intentions of the men who seek to lead it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outright rejection of a Palestinian state and his racist rant against Israeli Arab voters on Tuesday showed that he has forfeited any claim to representing all Israelis.”

Mr. Netanyahu showed that he was desperate, and craven, enough to pull out all the stops. On Monday, he promised that if his Likud faction remained in power, he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state, thus repudiating a position he had taken in 2009.

Obama had struck at the king — and missed. He’s been doing a lot of striking and missing lately. In the weeks previous the president also tried to push Congress out of the deal he was negotiating with Iran and similarly struck out. Politico reports that Democrats are now prepared to buck White House on the Iran nuclear deal.

Even as the White House ramps up pressure on Congress to stay out of its negotiations with Iran on a nuclear agreement, Republicans are on the brink of veto-proof majorities for legislation that could undercut any deal.

And that support has held up even after the uproar last week over the GOP’s letter to Iranian leaders warning against an agreement.

Though several Democratic senators told POLITICO they were offended by the missive authored by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), none of them said it would cause them to drop their support for bills to impose new sanctions on Iran or give Congress review power over a nuclear deal.

That presents another complication for the administration ahead of a rough deadline of March 24 to reach a nuclear agreement with the country.

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March, 2015

March 17th, 2015 - 4:19 am

If the world had a plotline, you would have to guess it.  Just exactly what the series finale will be is a closely held mystery, though the show’s been running for a long time. What we have in place of clear main narrative arc are a succession of subplots, all mixed together. There are cliffhangers episodes:  who will Israel elect as prime minister or why did Putin disappear?  The resolutions to cliffhangers like these are soon known.  Their purpose is to hold our attention intensely for a moment and pass.  Then we are back to the main plot.

In them are woven long running dramas, such as the Hillary Clinton story and the yet unfinished saga of Barack Obama.  These involve characters we love, or hate, as the case may be, whose fates we are interested in.   Just when we think we have them pegged some episodes into the series, producers suddenly reveal an even deeper malice or perhaps a more redemptive side to them and we come back for the next episode to see what happens next.

Yet these characters, with their personal crises are not central to story.  Despite their claim to bestride events, the main characters like us live within a vast, incomprehensible canvas which we often call “history”.  Though they hold lofty titles there is the sense that they, in common with other mortals, are swept along by happenings.  Things occur like meteors falling from the sky.  Burma and China exchange threats and who knew that could happen? Russia rattles its saber in the Ukraine portending war maybe.  The Saudis  warn they will get the Bomb if Iran gets it first.  But such threats occur with such regularity we hardly pay attention.  Yet we know, or sense, that when the time comes the producers will bring one of these background events to fore in the future. In the meantime we forget it until that anticipated episode comes around.

Even the leading characters are just going through the motions of trying to control things. Joshua Muravchik argues in the Washington Post that our leaders have decided that its better to do nothing and just hope for the best.  In the case of Iran the Obama administration apparently decided long ago that inaction was the better part of valor.

National security adviser Susan Rice declared at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference before Netanyahu’s speech that “a bad deal is worse than no deal.” So if Iran will accept only a “bad deal,” what is President Obama’s alternative? War?

Obama’s stance implies that we have no choice but to accept Iran’s best offer — whatever is, to use Rice’s term, “achievable” — because the alternative is unthinkable.

But should it be?

Why is the alternative unthinkable? Because history is out of our main character’s league. Like the rulers of ancient cities they climb to their towers and consult the stars.  And then they descend on the morning to look wise.  But to act? That is unthinkable. So they focus instead on controlling backyard barbecue smoke emissions, suspending 11 year olds for bringing leaves that only look like marijuana to school. That is more their speed. When they feel their oats our greater leaders take drastic steps like censoring speech on Facebook or enact speech codes to shut out the world. Andrew McCarthy writes that our civilization is seeking protection from danger in denial. Even though certain immigration trends have manifestly created certain effects, thinking about them has been effectively banned. McCarthy writes:

We need to understand that, contrary to Obama administration suggestions, what is at stake is not just speech that almost all of us would agree is in bad taste and that would not be missed if it were barred. What is at stake is the ability to tell the truth. What is at stake is the ability of a free society to engage in robust discussion in order to develop public policy, particularly security and crime-prevention.

“What is at stake is the ability to tell the truth.” But we can’t handle the truth. And what holds true for Islamic immigration in Europe holds true for many other things. So as ISIS continues to destroy churches and towns across the Middle East, as it expands into Africa as the “strong horse”, we just pretend it isn’t happening, just as politicians make promises and pretend they are going to fulfill them.

The Diplopundit notes that out of a billion emails trafficked through the State Department, only 41,749 were for the record. “The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi had 993 record emails compared to US Embassy Islamabad that only had 121 record emails preserved. The US Consulate General in Guangzhou had 2 record emails while USCG Ho Chi Minh City had 539. It looks like the US Embassy in Singapore with 1,047 record emails had the highest record emails preserved in 2013. The frontline posts like Baghdad had 303, Kabul had 61, Sana’a had 142 and Tripoli had 10 record emails in 2013.” Speaking of Hillary’s record during the Benghazi consulate incident Trey Gowdy noted how sparse were the secretary’s official utterances.

“If you think to that iconic picture of her on a C-17 flying to Libya, she has sunglasses on and she has her hand-held device in her hand,” Gowdy said, referring to a photo of Clinton that became a popular meme. “We have no emails from that day. In fact, we have no emails from that trip. So it strains credibility to believe that if you’re on your way to Libya to discuss Libyan policy, that there’s not a single document that’s been turned over to Congress.”

The main characters in our drama know you’d better not give history an official statement lest it turn it into a knife and shove it in their posterity. So our leaders don’t do change. Hope at the outside. Perhaps they hardly even know where they are in the stream of things.

Which brings us to perhaps the most entertaining elements of the world show: the random ridiculous events and the walk on characters. We learn for example that “ancient relics looted by ISIS in Iraq and Syria are showing up on eBay”. We are reliably informed that the most popular man on Iraqi Youtube sites is Abu Azrael, AKA the “angel of death“, a former university lecturer turned Shi’ite militiaman whose trademark is dealing with ISIS prisoners with an M-4 carbine in one hand and axe in the other. What does he do with the axe? I’m afraid to axe.

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