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Monthly Archives: June 2010

Where Did the Tea-Party Anger Come From?

June 29th, 2010 - 4:38 am

Why is the Angry Public so Angry?

I think we all know why the Tea Party movement arose — and why even the polls do not quite reflect the growing generic anger at incumbents in general, and our elites in particular.

Anger at Everything?

There is a growing sense that government is what I would call a new sort of Versailles — a vast cadre of royal state and federal workers that apparently assumes immunity from the laws of economics that affect everyone else.

In the olden days, we the public sort of expected that the L.A. Unified School District paid the best and got the worst results. We knew that you didn’t show up at the DMV if you could help it. A trip to the emergency room was to descend into Dante’s Inferno. We accepted all that in other words, and went on with our business.

But at some point — perhaps triggered by the radical increase in the public sector under Obama, the militancy of the SEIU, or the staggering debts — the public snapped and has had it with whining union officials and their political enablers who always threaten to cut off police and fire protection if we object that there are too many unproductive, unnecessary, but too highly paid employees at the Social Service office. In short, sometime in the last ten years public employees were directly identified with most of what is now unsustainable in the U.S. The old idea that a public servant gave up a competitive salary for job security was redefined as hitting the jackpot.

The Tea Party is not over

There is another Tea Party theme that those who play by the rules are being had, from both the top and bottom. The Wall Street bailouts and financial help to the big banks smelled of cronyism, made worse by the notion that liberal “reformers” like Obama got more from Big Money than did the usual insider Republican aristocrats. (The continual left-wing trend of wealthy elites is an untold story, but it suggests a sort of noble disdain: “We make so much that we are immune from the hurt of higher taxes, but like expanded entitlements as a sort of penance for our privilege.”)

Emblematic of the anger at both top and bottom was the 2008 meltdown: those who had not played by the rules still got their mortgages, then defaulted, and left the taxpayer with their bills; those who made the loans and profited without risk took the bailout money, and left us with the cleanup. Those in between with underwater mortgages and higher taxes pay the tab.

We are not 19th-century poor

Somehow we forget that we are in the 21st century with our multitude of cell-phones, laptops, no-down-payment new car leases, big-screen TVs, cheap food, and accessible rent that have permeated all society and given the proverbial underclass appurtenances that only the very rich of the 1960s could have dreamed of. Yet the Dickensian rhetoric has only intensified. There is rarely any acknowledgment of the public’s investment in anti-poverty programs or of its efforts to promote social equality. Instead, an overtaxed electorate is constantly reminded of its unfairness and its moral shortcomings. (I just left a multimillion dollar ICU unit in Fresno, where I was visiting a relative. Over a third of the visitors there did not seem to speak English, and so I was impressed by the public generosity that extends such sophisticated care to those who that day seemed largely to have arrived here recently from Mexico. The notion that a visitor to Mexico could walk into such a unit in Mexico City and get instant, free — and quality — care is, well, inconceivable. Yet politicians talk of our heartlessness, not our generosity.)

Existential Blues

There is a sense of futility: new higher taxes won’t lower the deficit and won’t improve infrastructure or public service. Much of it will go to redistributive plans that, the middle believes, will only, fairly or not, acerbate social problems. In California there is a sense (born out by statistics) that we lack a civil and humane public culture brought on by two often neglected facts: a small cadre of overpaid public employees ensures that we don’t have the money for continuance of basic public services; and, second, we feel our tax money is going to redistributive entitlements rather than focused on improving a collapsing infrastructure of dams, canals, freeways, airports, and trains. The idea that a California could ever again build its share of the transcontinental railroad, recreate its Sierra network of dams, copy the Central Valley Water Project, or match the 1960s standards of the UC and CSU university systems is laughable. (But we surely could write a position paper on why the above are either ecologically unsound or in fact counterproductive.) In short, our intent now is not achievement, but equality by any means necessary.

Law — what law?

There is an anger that the law is now malleable. Creditors are bumped at Chrysler, violating contractual agreements. We hear of rumors that cap and trade and amnesty can be accomplished by administrative fiat rather than by law. Of course, BP is demonic in its Gulf performance, but where does Obama obtain the legal right to demand $20 billion in confiscated capital (why then not $50,100, or 200 billion?).

Federal immigration law — as Labor Secretary Hilda Solis recently demonstrated — is not to be enforced, since it is now a race/class/gender issue, or rather a question of demography as seen in purely political terms. Most accept that “government” goes after the misdemeanors of the law-biding citizen to justify its existence, while ignoring the felonies of the lawbreaker, whose enforcement requires expense, and occasional danger. (Why else would the federal government declare some border spots as “no-go” areas in the style of Sadr City?). Are we in Jacobin times, when revolutionary fervor determines which laws are enforced and which not, as if their validity is a political matter alone?

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The Washington Post publishes a long list of fact check requests sent to Gen. McChrystal before the Michael Hastings’ interview occurred. One could draw some legitimate inferences from them, in no particular order of importance:

1) Rolling Stone did not ask for confirmation of the most damaging slurs against superiors like Obama, Biden, Holbrooke, etc., which might suggest (you think?) that all along they were going to publish a very different narrative than the one implied by their rather tame queries for confirmation.

2) The reporter, Michael Hastings, has recently offered, postfacto, a few interviews, perhaps summed up by his suggestions that he is a very principled reporter who usually does not do “puff pieces” in order to gain access — unlike lesser others to whom he mock apologizes in advance should his more honest hard-hitting exposes have now endangered their genres. Not quite. It is clear that Hastings ingratiated himself to McChrystal’s staff as a kindred unconventional spirit — and for some bizarre reason, the latter actually believed that this newfound embedded pal with whom they joshed around with was going to write a sort of inside encomium on their hipster commander, hence their strange, almost slavish cooperation. If anything, I find the obsequious sort of reporter who gains intimate access with the implicit understanding that he will be largely complimentary more intellectually honest than a disingenuous Hastings, who burrows in under false impressions, and masquerades his ego-driven desire for fame and status by a sort of pseudo-”sh-t happens” bohemianism. It is just a question of how one chooses to sell his soul — or as my grandfather used to say about fruit packers (and who could have advised McChrystal), “it’s always better dealing with an upfront crook.”

3) There are a lot of errors in Hastings’ draft that are corrected by McChrystal’s staff — and these are all, except in one instance, the non-controversial ones, suggesting (you think?) Rolling Stone did not want the staff to know of the disaster that was coming. Note again how sneaky Rolling Stone was — asking for matter-of-fact confirmations of mostly mundane things that are intended to cement the picture of McChrystal as a gifted warrior of the sort that might even appeal to Rolling Stone‘s audience: a misunderstood Obamian that likes martial arts and wars with stuffy DC superiors. (I imagine that the staff wanted Hastings to know — off the record rather than to publish — that McChrystal voted for Obama as a sort of added incentive to deify their boss.)

4) So in just one case, Rolling Stone tips its hand by asking for confirmation of the fact that McChrystal voted for Obama; they are told explicitly by the staff that such information is inappropriate for publication (but apparently not for background information), and why — and so asked that it not  be printed, suggesting their growing worry (you think?) that a mildly controversial fact would be published (which turned out to be tame in comparison to what they did not dream was about to be unleashed). Again, note the stupidity: a military officer is at the 11th hour asking Rolling Stone not to publish an embarrassing fact about Gen. McChrystal’s political affiliation — and they seem to assume that good old Rolling Stone would not! (Sort of like asking the Taliban not to bury too many IEDs.)

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McChrystal’s Tragedy

June 23rd, 2010 - 12:06 pm

Where to start? Here’s is an update on the entire mess.

He Had to Go

1) McChrystal, in fact, is a brave and heroic figure deserving our respect. But among friends and with a mole in his midst, he still himself deprecated the commander in chief. His staff took care of the VP, the national security team, and most of the diplomatic personnel involved in Afghanistan. All came close to conduct unbecoming of officers: “In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama’s top people on the diplomatic side.” And here in McChrystal’s own words: “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?” And the general creates a climate in which his staff reduces his superiors to fools: “It was a 10-minute photo op,” says an adviser to McChrystal. “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his f…ing war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.” That’s right out of George McClellan’s frequent caricatures of Lincoln. What was more worrisome than the general’s own remarks was the ease in which his subordinates thought they could quite graphically trash their superiors — to a reporter, no less.

2) Is it smart to be in Paris within a mile of any creep from Rolling Stone? How dumb is that? Such tag-along groupie folk exist to trash the military, and only get close to officers by being disingenuous in a manner that most teenagers would not fall for — much less a four-star general supposedly adept in insurgency trickery. What was the motivation? An accident? Ego? An effort to send a shot across the diplomats’ bow? Worry that the war is going south and a cry from the heart to get attention?

3) Who wasn’t trashed? We get jokes about meeting with a French diplomat — at a time when we want the French to stay in the war. Why should we know that McChrystal voted for Obama? To this day, speculations about Petraeus’s political ambitions are always predicated on queries like: “But what party would he run with?” How did that come up? Do generals now self-identify as left or right — and if so, for what purposes other than careerist advancement?

4) If McChrystal were not fired, then what would have happened if a dissident colonel or major gave the same sort of trash interview about McChrystal himself, or if such an officer’s subordinate captains and majors dished the same dirt on McChrystal to the press that his team did about their president? McChrystal has a reputation for not tolerating any untoward conduct. Yet within hours he let into his innermost circle a creepy sort, and then all poured their hearts out to him. To whom wouldn’t they have talked trash?

5) The story was vulgar.  We are introduced to Gen. McChrystal in the piece as he flips off his polite his chief of staff (e.g., “The dinner comes with the position, sir,” says his chief of staff, Col. Charlie Flynn. McChrystal turns sharply in his chair. “Hey, Charlie,” he asks, “Does this come with the position?”). The point is not that officers talk tough, but that generals talk that way with outsiders in the room, and among lower-ranking officers.

And Then There Is The Politics of All This

1) Petraeus was a wise choice. He will face far less criticism from the media and politicians than during 2007-8 (e.g., there will be no more “General Betray Us” ads or “suspension of disbelief” ridicule, or someone like an Obama at the confirmation hearing sermonizing nonstop on why Petraeus’s efforts will fail), because his success this time will reflect well on Obama rather than George Bush. Consider the further irony that Obama is suddenly surging with Petraeus. Not long ago he was declaring that just such a strategy and commander were doomed to failure in Iraq (see below). Of course, then he was running to take office on what was wrong rather than trying to stay in office on what’s right.

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Obama’s Straws And Our Tired Back

June 20th, 2010 - 12:37 pm

Say it ain’t so Barack.

Some of the more naïve who voted for Obama were taken back by his sudden rush to take over insurance companies, banks, student loans, and the auto industry.

Did not they vote for a moderate, who in technocratic fashion would guide us on a centrist path, talk about Niebuhr, surrounded by Ivycrat experts and devoid of Bush’s ideological zeal? Oh well, that was no matter — that was just one straw.

But then soon, others wondered how a truther and racial demagogue  like Van Jones or a Mao aficionado like Anita Dunn ever got into the White House. This was last year about the time we were hearing from Democrats of a 50-year new liberal majority, and from Republican triangulators that they got the married, lean, cool, postracial rock star family man and we got the pink and pudgy divorced Beck and Rush.

No matter: Every president attracts the unhinged. So why, the voters thought, not give a pass to all that — or even to Obama’s own embarrassing “beer summit” (presidents, you see, have free afternoons and so can involve themselves in campus politics when favorite academics  rail about racial unfairness). This presidency, you also see, was going to be one long beer summit, where Obama listened and then gave a 50/50 hope and change speech while he rammed through an Ayers agenda.

Things happen, so such a little straw like that added little weight to our collective backs — no more than the strange stuff like the “wise Latina” remark of Obama’s new Supreme Court judge, or the “nation of cowards” blast from the attorney general.

That Pile of Straws — It Keeps Rising

Health care reinvention, or so some thought, would be postponed or scaled down, given the new mega deficits and Obama’s centrist promises. But then he smashed it through by hyper-partisanship, buying votes, and dissimulating about its real cost. Even independents felt that more straws were adding more weight after that six-month ordeal. After all, healers don’t do things like that.

Surely, he would learn from the blood on the floor? Nope — we are now suing Arizona for trying to enforce unenforced federal law? Most Americans support Arizona’s popular corrective, and would rather see Obama sue himself for not following his own laws. Add a twig or two over that.

In any case, all that acrimony is over, so we at least get back to moderate government? Hardly: cap and trade and amnesty are already being demogogued, while using the crisis of BP no less to further a mad green agenda. We can expect more of the political purchases and backroom deal making we saw in health care, though to less success this time. Our backs are getting more burdened.

Then there is our new foreign policy of bowing, apologizing, and reaching out to thugs in Cuba, Iran, and Syria, while snubbing liberal democracies like Britain, Colombia, and Israel. Why send a video to a creepy bully like Ahmadinejad, and snub brave dissidents in the streets of Teheran?

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Obama’s Gulf War III

June 16th, 2010 - 8:28 am

Manmade Disasters

The president last night addressed the nation on the oil slick, nearly two months into the disaster. He seems stunned that a single man in Washington is being held responsible for either a human error that is polluting the gulf, or an act of god that led to a tragic chain of events, inevitable at some point when drilling from 5,000 feet above the ocean floor.

Do not we see the injustice of it all, of holding a green Mr. Obama culpable for either the blowout or the tardy and insufficient efforts at clean-up? Does Obama appoint another “czar?” Does he do to BP what he did to Las Vegas, the saw-happy surgeons, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News? Is the spill to oil companies what the 2008 panic was to GM? Is there some sort of cash-for-clunkers PR fix? A Bush memo to be found ordering drilling from a zillion feet? Perhaps another  “wise Latina,” or an “Oooh. Van Jones, alright! So, Van Jones” to recruit?

What to do? Where to turn? Whom to blame? Who unfairly established this strange post-Katrina precedent that the president of all people — not the mayor, not the governor, not private enterprise — is ultimately responsible?

We can all  question that unfair premise, and did so in 2005, but critics like Obama himself made the federal response to Katrina a campaign issue. And so here we are with him hoisted with his own petard.

That old meany goddess Nemesis is at work again, causing havoc nearly in the identical spot as Katrina (but of course)— focusing on the young technocrat who so loudly blamed the “incompetence” of Bush during the New Orleans mess. Now our Oedipus is reduced to raging in his halls against BP, with thousands of hard-working Louisianans and other Gulfers the losers for this divine reminder about the wages of hubris.

Given the dearth of Obama’s executive experience, and given what we know of community organizing, and in light of what we saw in the 2008 campaign, the president is pretty much acting to script. Readers, you know it well by now and saw it again last night.

A) Talk in soaring hope and change platitudes without saying much of anything: no review of the actual mechanisms to close the well; no specific systematic overview of various ways of cleaning up the mess; no references to future contingency plans should present efforts come up short. We are back to the Victory Column or Cairo speech, and have the gasbag Edward Everett Hale at Gettysburg when we needed a  concise Lincoln.

B) Blaming “them” — as in, after 18 months, the Bush moles are still burrowed deeply into the regulatory agencies thwarting hope and change. Apparently it took the BP spill to remind Sec. Salazar and Obama just how ubiquitous the Bush incompetents and rascals were in their midst. Somehow Halliburton will find its way into the narrative (if it has not already). We get the script: each time Obama screws up, a new discovery is made that a Bushite was in deep cover and only now is found out.

C) Sue! Well before the oil stops, we are interested instead on how to punish BP. But this is the proverbial cart before the horse.  There is plenty of time to force BP to cough up punitive damages; but one does not demonize the company who is, for better or worse, trying to clean up as the oil pours out. (This reminds me of a farmer who stood screaming over his son and his friends in a packing house yard. The boy in reckless fashion has flipped a truck with eight pallets of Santa Rosa plums on it. As thousands of plums were rolling over the asphalt, instead of organizing a pick-up, the irate dad kept screaming reminders to the son exactly how much he had lost and how he was going to have to come up with thousands of dollars in restitution (the son, of course, did not work too hard with his friends in finding salvageable fruit on the tarmac and repacking what he could).

Add in the British pique at having Obama call out “British Petroleum” (officially is it not “Beyond Petroleum”?) in tones that suggest a sort of 1812 raid on the White House (in the context of the gift-giving mess, the bust fiasco, the Brown slap downs, the neutrality on the Falklands, the put down about the “special relationship,” and on and on, all reminding the British that they are getting the Israel treatment).

D) “Never miss a crisis.” Let me get this straight: as oil gushes forth, we are to use this disaster as a teachable moment to go the wind and solar route. OK, but fairly or not, the message to the shrimpers and hotel owners of the Gulf is: “Your misery has some didactic value for the rest of us, since after your Gulf is destroyed, we will shut down your rigs to ensure permanent poverty follows your misery.”

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Government by the Faculty Lounge

June 13th, 2010 - 9:20 am

The Professors Are In Charge

We are being run by the mindset of the faculty lounge, as if the philosophy or English department has taken over running the country. Let me adduce some random examples.

Taxes

Tax proposals in haywire fashion are thrown out almost every day from various Obamians, as if at a faculty bull session over coffee. Can we count them all — much less can small businesses plan to hire a worker when they don’t know how much more they will shortly owe the government?

Here is what we hear from Barack Obama: a restoration of the death tax. Trial balloons for a national sales tax or a VAT. How high will capital gains hikes go? Rates are to go back to or beyond (?) the Clinton income tax schedules? Was the cap to come off income exposed to the full FICA bite, and was it to be set at $150,000, $200,000, or $250,000? What exactly is the new health care surcharge? And when and if these federal income hikes are added to the states’ raises in state income, property, and sales taxes, what will the aggregate tax bite be? Does anyone know? Do any of these guys care how “they” are going to make enough money to pay “us”?

Finance

Match that tax uncertainty with a weird financial policy. Are Americans really saving more or is the new thrift simply a result of skipping out on mortgages and maxed out credit cards that has resulted in less collective debt —the banks eating the loss quite well by paying depositors about 1% on their savings while lending out at 6% and more, or having the government cover their bad debts? Are we not seeing a massive transfer of wealth as retirees and savings holders are getting nothing — or rather less than nothing when inflation is factored in — on their money, while debtors pay little in interest and now find class sympathy by not honoring their obligations? Is not the person who borrowed, spent, and defaulted now seen as the better American than those who saved, paid on time, and passed something on to their children? It’s as if the economics and political science departments now set  policy.

Race

Let me review the progress of the last two years, because the national mood reminds me of the free speech area at any California university where groups segregate by race while their professors celebrate “diversity.”

We had a green czar who claimed that whites pollute the ghetto and are more likely to be mass murderers. Our attorney general called the nation one of “cowards” for not holding racial conversations on his terms. He has no interest in trying Black Panthers who disrupted voting, but a great deal in trying the architect of 9/11 in a civilian courtroom, replete with Miranda rights, in Manhattan a few hundred yards from Ground Zero.

The Black Caucus, stung by serial charges against its members of corruption, wishes to prune back the House Ethics Committee as we now know it, presumably because it is “racist” as a bad messenger of inconvenient tidings.

The president came to the defense of a shrieking Harvard professor (not much going on in the world elsewhere) by claiming the police acted “stupidly” and characteristically stereotyped the non-white. Our new Supreme Court justice believes race and gender inherently make people smarter, or in her words a “wise Latina” is often a better judge than the old white guys who dominate the courts.

The doyen of the White House press corps, a liberal icon with a front-row seat at briefings, wishes not just that Israel disappear but that the Jews go back to Poland and Germany — and wins praise from Hezbollah and “sympathy” from her peers in DC.

Our governors of Massachusetts and New York allege their own unpopularity is due to racism — in the manner apparently unlike a most unpopular California governor who earned bad polls on his own.

To suggest that the president should not have said “kick ass” or “bring a gun to a knife fight” or “get in their face” or “tear up” a talk show host is to traffic in anti-black stereotypes.

Note the “no more disown Rev. Wright,” clingers of Pennsylvania, and “typical white person” of the campaign led to the above, just as the above in the next two years will lead to even more — given that our president has always sensed that racial identity politics is a sanctuary for setback and an embryo for career promotion.

Are the ethnic studies departments running the country?

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Life in Our Alternate Universe

I listened to two hours of news tonight, then read a sampling of columnists, and learned the following.

Turkey

We should blame ourselves for the estrangement with Turkey because (1) George Bush put it in a tight spot in 2003 (but Turkey simply took our foreign aid and said no to the  transit of the 4th Infantry Division, which, had it came down from the north into the Sunni Triangle, might have accelerated the collapse of Saddam’s forces); (2) the EU did not admit Turkey (given what we know between the relative attitudes toward thrift, finance, and legal compliance among Germans and Greeks, we could imagine what the divide might have been, say,  between Anatolia and Amsterdam); (3) the Bush neocons’  tilt toward Israel forced our natural Turkish ally into the Islamist camps (we are to ignore the unhinged rants of former Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, who started in on his hate the Jews/trash America outbursts in the 1990s, apparently to wide applause, that predated Bush).

What I did not hear from our pundits: (1) Turkey monitors the spiraling debt of the U.S., the new bowing/apologizing/outreach to Iran, Syria, etc., and senses weakness and hence opportunity rather than magnanimity and hence appreciation; (2) Turkey’s new efforts to be on the cutting edge of radical Islam while trying to be a window on the West are in perfect accord with some 400 years of Ottoman history, when contact with Western powers was largely parasitical and aimed at enhancing Muslim interests; it was never, before the shared fear of the U.S.S.R., an ally of liberal Western democracies, siding with imperial Germany in World War I, and signing a friendship pact of neutrality with Hitler in 1941, so there were always historical faultlines; (3) Turkey sees a growing distance between Israel and the United States and hence opportunity for it to slip in between to galvanize Islamic opposition in one-eyed-Jack fashion, while in the Southern Mediterranean to reestablish a larger presence toward a bankrupt Greece, estranged from both its northern Europe creditors and the United States (tired of cheap Athenian anti-Americanism).

Helen Thomas

I did not hear that she urged not just that Israel get out of the West Bank, not just that 1947 Israel cease to exist, and not just that Israelis leave the Mideast — but that Jews go to Poland and Germany (but, why, Ms. Thomas, not, say, to France or Lithuania?)

And here was the media reaction: (1) Ms. Thomas is almost 90, give her a break (but if that suggests she is senile, why the cherished seat as the doyen of the White House press corps?); (2) Ms. Thomas was a trailblazer and the greater good must outweigh the smaller bad (but she has a long history of especially inflammatory comments, and it is an American practice to punish public figures, whether a George Allen or Trent Lott, for a single outburst of racial or ethnic insensitivity); (3) She is sort of right, in that Israel will have to withdraw to its 1947 borders (but she did not imply that; instead she meant out of all the West Bank and Israel and back to the site of the Holocaust).

Therapeutic Foreign Policy

I also heard that the reset button foreign policy is working, especially in the case of the Mideast and Russia.

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Memo to Ambassador Tan

The Turkish ambassador to the United States has a long op-ed in the Washington Post asking for Israel to apologize to Turkey for the Gaza flotilla incident, and urging the U.S. to pressure Israel to act accordingly. It is an important document since Amb. Tan couches his argument in moral terms — Israel  illegally detained a ship on the high seas of civilian peace activists and human rights workers, killed Turkish citizens, and violated international law.

There is, of course, no mention by Tan of the origins and nature of the Turkish “peace” group that organized the gambit. Only in passing does the ambassador mention the rallying cries of the protestors (e.g., “Whatever the aid carriers may have chanted in opposition to Israel, this was a humanitarian initiative.”), after failing to note the chants, in fact, included both calls for a new holocaust (“Shut up, go back to Auschwitz” ) and glee about Americans killed on 9/11  (“Don’t forget 9/11″).

If anyone might be offering apologies, it should be Ambassador Tan, or at least an explanation for why a ship left a Turkish port headed for a planned confrontation. A ship, it should be added, staffed in large part by the Insani Yardim Vakfi organization, which according to American and European intelligence chiefs is a terrorist organization with ties to al-Qaeda — an apparent conclusion that formerly a Turkish government used to share when it periodically raided the IHH’s compounds.

But on a larger point, the sanctimonious tone of Tan’s piece is depressing. Turkey currently quite illegally and against world opinion sponsors the occupation of Cyprus. Nicosia is a far more divided city than Jerusalem. The Turkish government has killed far more Turkish Kurds than the Israeli government has Palestinians; it has zero tolerance for foreign human rights organizations that have wished to investigate the treatment of Kurds in Turkish prisons. Turkish fighter aircraft are not always so careful to stay on their side of the Aegean.

As far as the request that Americans pressure Israel, that is an odd wish from a society that continually broadcasts gruesome anti-American serials on its television channels, and now has chosen to reach out (far more even than the Obama administration) to the terrorist-sponsoring regimes in Teheran and Damascus that are responsible for a number of American deaths in Iraq. When Turkey has felt its own security threatened, it has had no problem with warning of an invasion of Syria or crossing Iraqi borders. Demands don’t work well in the Turkish-American relationship, as we remember from the U.S. House of Representatives’ request that the Turkish government offer some sort of regret for the genocide of the Armenians — a declaration that outraged the present Turkish government. Ambassador Tan evokes history, particularly the Ottomans and World War II, to cement his argument of past Turkish tolerance. Some of us who study Mediterranean history are not quite impressed by either the human rights record of the Ottoman sultanate or the Turkish role in the second World War, especially the German-Turkish friendship pact of June 1941, days before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. My problem is that when I travel abroad, whether in Vienna, Cyprus, or old Smyrna, I am reminded of a different sort of past.

Many of us who have had positive feelings about Turkey in general and the Turkish-American relationship in particular have seen this past week’s events as a reminder of how different the present Turkish government wishes our relationship to evolve. Turkey’s present reset diplomacy had long ago convinced the EU to have second thoughts about extending membership to Ankara. And despite the protestations of our own foreign policy establishments, most Americans sense that the end of Turkey’s participation in NATO is only a matter of when, not if. Turkey wishes to reestablish, mutatis mutandis, its old Ottoman role as the more legitimate voice of the Sunni Muslim world. And that means it must sound radical to Muslims and sober and judicious to Westerners — and sometimes it tries both at the same time, as we now witness.

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Our 1979

June 3rd, 2010 - 8:43 am

The Year That Was

It has been sort of a topos to evoke the specter of 1979. I’ve done it repeatedly, as have other observers.

Aside from the growing stagflation in the U.S. (I remember farming that year at the ending of an inflation-driven boom), that was the year that China invaded Vietnam. Muslims assassinated the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Russia later invaded Afghanistan. The world seemed to have become unhinged. And there was more still.

The shah was abandoned and soon fell, amid American proclamations of support for him on Monday, and then denunciation of his dynasty by Tuesday, and yet more leaked reports on Wednesday of reaching out to Khomeini in Paris. Soon in his death throes he would jet the globe looking for a home and a doctor, as the U.S. let the phone ring when he called.

Soon Ayatollah Khomeini arrived in Teheran from Paris and proclaimed an Islamic revolution. Iranian students (Ahmadinejad probably among them) stormed our embassy and took hostages. In no time Ramsey Clark was denouncing America on Iran’s behalf, and rumors abounded of Carter’s backdoor deal-making to get them home at any cost before the 1980 election. (In 1980 a humiliating and disastrous rescue mission would see imams desecrating American dead on worldwide television. I recall an odious Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhal, the hanging judge who sent thousands to the gallows, zipping open the body-bags to poke and probe the charred American corpses.)

The Sandinistas also took over Nicaragua. Radical Islamists torched the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. I could go on, but you get the picture. In all these cases, a baffled Mr. Carter sermonized a lot, blamed a lot — and in the end retired to the Rose Garden or fought rabbits from a canoe. He seemed petulant that he had come into the world in divine fashion to save us, and we flawed mortals were unwilling to be saved by him. The so-called “malaise speech” summed up his disappointment in the rest of us.

And after such a wonderful beginning…

So 1979 followed two years of Carteresque utopian proclamations. Do we remember them all still? There was Cy Vance, in perfect aristocratic style, and in perpetual atonement for his earlier support of the Vietnam War, with his creased brow and sermonizing tone, bringing in the kinder, gentler order. He resigned over the failed hostage rescue, replaced by a stoic Ed Muskie. And there was Andrew Young at the UN trying to be a sort of proto-Barack Obama, reaching out to the radical Palestinians, and so on.

Remember the commandments? No more inordinate fear of communism; human rights governing U.S. foreign policy; no more nuclear weapons housed in South Korea which was to be free of U.S. troops; outreach to the terrorist/rebel/reformer Mugabe, and so on.

In other words, it took a flawed world about 24 months to size up the new idealistic administration, and to determine that it either could not or would not continue U.S. foreign policy of the previous three decades. Soon the more daring then decided to make “regional adjustments.” Finally a panicked Carter was attempting everything from boycotting the Olympics and arming Islamists in Afghanistan to threatening to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East and restoring draft registration to reclaim lost U.S. deterrence.

Here we go again…

Obama started out in similar fashion with his first al-Arabiya interview. Then followed the apology tour, the bowing, the Cairo myth-making speech, the reach out to Ahmadinejad, Assad, Castro, Chavez, and Putin, the estrangement with Israel, the neglect of the brave Iranian dissidents, the phony deadlines over Iranian proliferation, the missile defense walk-back from the Poles and Czechs, the constant Bush-bashing reset-button diplomacy rhetoric, the serial humiliation of things British, the failed deal to appease Putin in hopes of Russian help in stopping Iran from going nuclear, the new loud commitment to the UN, the promises to end all nuclear weapons, the nuke deal with Russia that saw us give up sophisticated weapons to match dismantling of poorer Russian models—all amid a backdrop of massive U.S. spending and the highest two budget deficits in American financial history.

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