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Victor Davis Hanson

Our ‘Face in the Crowd’

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Elia Kazan’s classic A Face in the Crowd is a good primer on Barack Obama’s rise and fall. Lonesome Rhodes arises out of nowhere in the 1957 film, romancing the nation as a phony populist who serially spins yarns in the most folksy ways — confident that he should never be held to account. Kazan’s point (in the film Rhodes is a patsy for conservative business interests) is that the “folks” are fickle and prefer to be charmed rather than informed and told the truth. Rhodes’s new first name, Lonesome, resonates in the film in a way that Barack does now. Finally, an open mic captures Rhodes’s true disdain for the people he champions, and his career crashes.

So what is collapsing the presidency of the once mellifluous Obama? It is not the IRS, AP, VA, or NSA scandals. Nor did the nation especially fault him for Benghazi or the complete collapse of U.S. foreign policy, from failed reset to a Middle East afire. In each case, he either blamed Bush or denied there was a smidgeon of wrongdoing on his part.

Certainly, the stampede at the border, as disastrous as it was, did not ipso facto sink Obama’s ratings. Ditto the embarrassing Bergdahl deal, in which we traded a likely deserter for five Islamist kingpins. Was it the ISIS ascendance that is leading to genocide and a nascent caliphate? Not in and of itself.

We could go on, but you get the picture that it was all of the above that finally became too much, as Americans turned Obama off because they were all lied out. In all of these scandals a charismatic Barack wheeled out the teleprompter, smiled, dropped his g’s, soared with “make no mistake about it” and “let me perfectly clear,” and then, like Lonesome Rhodes, told the “folks” things that could not be true or at least were the exact opposite of what he himself had earlier asserted.

The result is that should Obama claim again that he is going to lower the seas, cool the planet, or that he is the man whom we are waiting for, Americans would laugh. They would chuckle about more promised recoveries, millions of new green jobs, an expanding economy, or a safer world abroad. Again, we are just too lied out to believe anything our slick version of Lonesome Rhodes says anymore. And that fact may best explain his 39-41% approval rating.

Barack Obama is once again lamenting the charge that he is responsible for pulling all U.S. peacekeepers out of Iraq, claiming that the prior administration is culpable. But Obama negotiated the withdrawal himself. We know that not because of right-wing talking points, but because of the proud serial claims of reelection candidate Obama in 2011 and 2012 that he deserved credit for leaving Iraq. That complete pullout prompted Joe Biden to claim the Iraq policy was the administration’s likely “greatest achievement” and buoyed Obama to brag that he was leaving a stable and secure Iraq. Think of the logic: pulling all soldiers out of Iraq was such a great thing that I now can brag that I am not responsible for it.

Posted at 7:36 pm on August 17th, 2014 by Victor Davis Hanson

The Un-Midas Touch

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“Tell me, doc. Why do all these bad things keep happening to me?”

Everything that Barack Obama touches seems to turn to dross. Think of it for a minute. He inherited a quiet Iraq (no American combat deaths at all in December 2009). Joe Biden bragged of the calm that it would be the administration’s “greatest achievement.” But by pulling out all U.S. peacekeepers — mostly for a 2012 reelection talking point — Obama ensured an ISIS wasteland. He put his promised eye on Afghanistan at last, and we have lost more soldiers there than during the Bush administration and a Taliban victory seems likely after more than a decade of lost American blood and treasure. The message seems to be that it is better for Obama to have his eye off something than on it.

Remember those threats to Syria? After the U.S. threatened and backed off, the violence only escalated and spilled into Iraq.

Libya was no paradise under Gadhafi, but it is now Mogadishu on the Mediterranean. Not even the president’s supporters believe that he told the truth about Benghazi. Reset with Russia green-lighted Putin, as he sized up Barack Obama as a lamb waiting to be eaten. The Bowe Bergdahl-for-five-terrorists swap (likely illegal) is not headline news only because dozens of scandals since have eclipsed it, and the likely deserter is apparently still kept incommunicado, lest he speak in the fashion of his father at the earlier White House press conference. I don’t think Bergdahl is a model for future negotiations with the Taliban.

Israel? We never have been more estranged from the Jewish state. Open mic outbursts against Netanyahu define our true policies. The terrorist state run by Hamas is now a partner for peace – tunnels, missiles, syringes, handcuffs and all. Did outreach to Hamas lessen or spike violence?

Did the “special relationship” with the Islamist Recep Erdogan lead to regional calm, and does it still exist?

The war on terror? Obama has derided most anti-terrorism protocols, even as he kept some Bush-Cheney policies — to the incoherent point that no one has any idea what the U.S. is doing. Jihad a personal odyssey? Muslim Brotherhood largely secular? Major Hasan’s murdering mere workplace violence? Outreach to Islam NASA’s primary mission? Remember overseas contingency operations and man-caused disasters? In the Obama war on terror, waterboarding three architects of 9/11 is our “folks” torturing their “folks”; but judge/jury/executioner drone strikes that blow up 2,000-plus suspected (not confessed) terrorists — and anyone in the general vicinity when the missile hits — are far more moral. Out of sight, out of mind.

When CIA Director John Brennan speaks, we all assume he is not telling the truth, as in the past. Whatever the DC dictate is at the present, Brennan makes the necessary immoral adjustments.

Past cabinet heads? No one knows exactly the circumstances under which Lisa Jackson, Hilda Solis — and even David Petraeus — left their offices.

Posted at 7:06 pm on August 10th, 2014 by Victor Davis Hanson

1984 Redux: Orwellian Illegal Immigration

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When Everything Is a Lie

Everything we are told about illegal immigration is mostly a lie, and a self-serving one at that. Remember that fact, and the current debate over the border becomes comprehensible.

Fleeing to an Oppressive Society?

Most of the advocates for open borders agitate from a position of criticism of the U.S. By that I mean we rarely hear La Raza activists explain why they want amnesties for millions of illegal aliens, at least in the sense of why millions have left Mexico to risk their lives to arrive in the U.S.

What is it about America that attracts patriotic Mexican nationals to abandon their own country en masse? That is not a rhetorical question, given much of the immigration debate is couched in critiques of the U.S. The pageantry of an open-borders demonstration is usually a spectacle of Mexican flags. How odd that almost no advocate ever says, “We want amnesty so that our kinsmen have a shot, as we have had a shot, at an independent judiciary, equality under the law, the rule of law, true democracy, free speech, protection of human rights, free-market capitalism, and protection of private property. For all that, millions risk their lives.” But instead there is either nothing, or a continual critique of the U.S. If we were to take a newly arrived illegal alien, and enroll him in a typical Chicano Studies course, he would logically wish to return across the border as soon as possible.

Unemployment Is Too Low?

Do we really need millions of new workers in a supposedly worker-scarce America from Latin America? The unemployment rate in the American Southwest is still high. Floods of illegal immigrants only drive down wages in agriculture, the hospitality industry, construction, landscaping, and social services. The influx enriches employers, dumps the resulting medical, legal, educational, criminal justice, and social costs on the taxpayers, and undermines the viability of U.S. workers, many of them, for example, Mexican-Americans. If one wished to hurt American maids, nannies, gardeners, plum pickers, roofers, cooks, and janitors, one could do no worse than flooding the border with illegal immigrants. Elites benefit from cheaper entry-level wages, and then brand all others as nativists and xenophobes who object to the hypocrisies involved (e.g., so the Menlo Park techie must sigh, “Juanita is the best maid I ever had; but I had to put our Connor and Ashley into prep school because with all these immigrants coming into our area, they watered-down the AP curriculum at the local high school”).

Diversity Bad?

Likewise, racist chauvinists who destroyed immigration law call others racists. But in fact the open-borders movement is race-obsessed to the core. Its message is anti-diversity, and anti-inclusiveness. Latino activists (in the age of the Redskins controversy, how has the racist rubric La Raza continued?) have essentially hijacked U.S. immigration policy and set the following parameters: almost all illegal immigration shall come only across the southern border from Mexico and Latin America. Almost all legal immigration shall be predicated on family ties, which ensures Latinos will be privileged over all other groups, regardless of skill sets or education. If one objects that such a de facto policy is ethnocentric and does not result in ethnic, cultural, or professional diversity, then he is rendered a xenophobe. Racialists through extra-legal means have expropriated federal immigration law. It no longer exists. The losers are the Kenyan dentist, the Filipino nurse, the Estonian doctor, the South Korean architect — any who are not Latino, any who do not break U.S. immigration law, and any who have  professional degrees and skill sets to offer America. How is that not biased to ignore all notions of diversity and meritocracy in favor of using only ethnic criteria?

Posted at 8:00 pm on August 3rd, 2014 by Victor Davis Hanson

Why Is the World Becoming Such a Nasty Place?

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Border Disorders

Central American parents send their unescorted children northward in hopes of remittances and eventual anchor amnesty for themselves. Our friend Mexico facilitates the exodus through its own sovereign territory (hoping that no one stops along the transit, and happy that the border is further shredded). Central American governments seem happy too. More money will be sent back home. Fewer mouths will be left to feed. Possible dissidents will emigrate. A new generation of expatriates in the U.S. will grow fonder of and lobby for Central America the longer they don’t have to live there.

We utter “the children,” and discussion about proper culpability, cynical manipulation, and disinformation ends. In such a fantasy world, parents don’t manipulate “the children” as pawns; countries don’t try to export what they see as their surplus population; Mexico doesn’t stir the pot; and liberal activists don’t cynically calculate electoral advantage. There are children in need at the border — but there is a great deal more as well. When the president of the United States renders his nation’s immigration laws irrelevant, people notice. And when he establishes a radical expansion in entitlements, those abroad likewise notice. And when he offers a narrative that “they” are culpable and owe much to the exploited, people arrive.

What If?

Try a thought experiment of extending the logic of the current border disorder. Imagine a growing disequilibrium between Chicago and Canada. (On the other hand, why imagine it since it already exists?) Thousands of the children from the most violent areas of the inner city of Chicago — where shootings are approaching levels in Central America — decide to flee the misery for the chance of something better elsewhere. They head north. Some are preteens; some are teenagers; most are innocents; some gang members; some come with their parents; most do not. Most are poor and without resources and capital. They begin walking or getting on trains to Canada and soon mass there at the border in the thousands, as refugees from horrific conditions of the inner city of Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago. Some gang members have charged them transit fees. Imagine further that U.S. officials, with a wink and a nod, had encouraged them to leave, given the endemic violence, and the social costs of addressing it. Their parents likewise hope that they are adopted by the Canadians, given citizenship and that they soon become anchors for their own emigration out of war-torn Chicago. And imagine what might be the reaction if the children were not welcomed en masse by Canada. Would we then blast and damn Canada as nativist, racist, and uncaring for not openly bringing our “children” into their homes? Would the influx be a moral act on the part of the United States or American parents who willingly facilitated the transit, and would it be a fair charge against Canada for not immediately taking the arrivals in as likely future citizens?

Posted at 6:14 pm on July 27th, 2014 by Victor Davis Hanson

Obama’s Tranquility

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Smooth landing not guaranteed.

Barack Obama’s team recently took credit for improving the “tranquility of the global community,” and the president made it clear just what a calm place the world has become during his tenure.

But this summer Obama’s tranquil world has descended into medieval barbarism in a way scarcely seen in decades. In Gaza, Hamas is banking its missile arsenal in mosques, schools and private homes; even Hitler did not do that with his V2s. Hamas terrorists resort to trying to wire up animals to serve as suicide bombers. Aztec-style, they seek to capture Israeli soldiers to  torture or trade — a sort of updated version of parading captive soldiers up the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan.

Hamas cannot build a hotel, but instead applies its premodern cunning to tunneling and killing in ever more insidious ways. Yet it proves incompetent in doing what it wishes to do best — kill Jewish civilians. Its efforts to kill Jews while getting killed in the process earn it sympathy from the morally obtuse of the contemporary world who would have applauded Hitler in 1945 as an underdog who suffered greatly as he was overwhelmed by the Allies that he once tried to destroy.

In Paris, just seventy years after the Holocaust, sympathetic rioters hit the streets to cheer on Hamas’s efforts to kill more Jews with their crude versions of Vergeltungswaffen. The passive French solution apparently is once again to encourage Jews to leave the country, given the growing number of new Nazis in their midst. Whether Hamas or Putin, the European response is always the same: why cannot they just go away to bother to some Jews or Americans, and leave us alone?

Russian operatives, role-playing as Ukrainian separatists, shot down a civilian airliner, then tried to doctor the debris field, then let the bodies decay, and now are looting the wallets of the dead. You cannot get much less tranquil than that.

In Iraq, ISIS, not content with the usual Middle East savagery, resorts to warring on religious  icons, as if torture and murder of the living do not offer enough outlet for their barbarity. They blow up mosques, shatter tombs, and deface graveyards, in their eagerness to restore the 7th century. All that seems more Dark Age than merely medieval.

Iran just missed our “deadline” that was supposed to result in fewer centrifuges in exchange for suspending the sanctions. No sane person now believes that the Iranians will stop nuclear enrichment, or will not get a bomb, or will not threaten to use it when they get one. What will Secretary Kerry do, now that the currency of “red lines,” “deadlines” and “step-over lines” has been all used up?

Posted at 1:34 pm on July 20th, 2014 by Victor Davis Hanson

All Clintoned Out

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Barack Obama did not blow apart Hillary Clinton’s huge lead during the 2008 Democratic primaries just because he was a landmark African-American candidate, new to the scene, and a skilled campaigner. Even Democrats were all Clintoned out.

By such weariness, I don’t suggest that either of the Clintons is unpopular. Indeed, Americans apparently look fondly back on the high-growth 1990s as the continuation of the Reagan-Bush boom years, and a time when Democrats and Republicans finally fixed budget deficits. (Note well that when Obama went back to the Clinton-era tax rates for the more affluent, the deficit dipped, but certainly did not approach the balanced budget that was once achieved by spending discipline under the Clinton-Gingrich compromise.)

The problem instead is Hillary Clinton herself. She is not a very good speaker, and is prone to shrill outbursts and occasional chortling. She has a bad habit of committing serial gaffes (e.g., speaking too candidly), and what she says on Monday is often contradicted by her rantings on Tuesday. She seems cheap and obsessed with raking in free stuff. When Bill steps in to correct her mistakes, either sloppily or out of some strange psychological spite, he usually makes things even worse. We saw that often in 2008 and are seeing it again now. But aside from the cosmetics of her political style, the Clintons are faced with two fundamental obstacles in 2016.

One, Hillary Clinton seems to be interested in running on the elite progressive themes of equality and fairness. The problem here is obvious. Few Americans have more enriched themselves by trading on their public service than have she and her husband. A George Marshall in retirement Hillary is not.

With the Clintons there is always a catch to the apologies for their progressive graspingness. At a time of record student debt, sky-rocketing tuition, and scandalous university perks, Hillary Clinton is now charging over $200,000 for a brief run-of-the-mill “I am Hillary” speech — no landmark political announcements, no insights into foreign policy, nothing much other than standard liberal therapeutic boilerplate trading on her increased market value due to her recent tenure as chief foreign affairs officer of the United States.

When these exorbitant fees were questioned by the liberal media, she seemed stunned that any would doubt her progressive fides, and cited her past caring for the poorer off. Then she backed off and assured us that the money went to “charity.” Of course, with the Clintons, we know there is always a nuance and tweak to follow. So next, the “charity” turned out to be the Clinton Foundation, which tends to fund the extravagant private jet travel of mostly Bill and Hillary and their appendages.

Posted at 7:41 pm on July 13th, 2014 by Victor Davis Hanson

California’s Hydromania

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Two events now characterize the California agrarian heartland, the richest and most productive farm belt in the world.

One, of course, is the third year of drought. I refer here to nature’s lack of rain and snow. But also factor in the state’s additional man-made drought, through diversions of precious stored reservoir water from agriculture and community use to environmental causes that demand more river water must flow out to the sea.

The state’s environmental fanatics over thirty years ago cancelled the critical tertiary phases of the California Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. I guess those in the Bay Area whose lives rest on Hetch Hetchy delivered reservoir water deemed reservoirs for all others passé and so 19th century.

The result is that a brilliantly engineered water transfer system — 80% of Californians live where 20% of the state’s rain and snow fall — designed to incrementally expand as population grew, became frozen in amber. We had a wonderful water storage system for 23 million people in 1980. But it proved completely inadequate for the 40 million plus of 2014, who assumed household and drinking water, irrigation supplies, and clean hydroelectric power came out of thin air.

The other facet of this disaster is a surreal, counterintuitive mad land rush in the Central Valley. The focus is on any farmland in a strip from the Sierra foothills to five miles west of the 99 Highway. Open land that just five years ago went for $5,000 to $6,000 per acre is now selling at $20,000 and more. Nut orchards and prime vineyard land that were priced at $15,000 in 2009 now are haggled over at $30,000 to $40,000. The price seems to escalate monthly in direct proportion to the fall of the water table.

Posted at 7:40 pm on July 6th, 2014 by Victor Davis Hanson

In Search of What You Resent

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The Maliki government in Iraq fueled anti-Americanism as it systematically destroyed the coalition government that the Americans had created and protected by the surge. Maliki, who had once been hunted by the genocidal Saddam Hussein, in a sense was a creation of the United States and its commitment to consensual government in Iraq. So was the pluralistic idea of a Shiite majority for the first time gaining ascendency on the principle of one person, one vote — and through the blood and treasure of American soldiers during the surge. No foreign leader in recent memory has been so lucky to have an American patron.

By 2011, Maliki thought he could pose to Iraqis with cheap anti-Americanism while bluffing the Obama administration into agreeing to a status of forces renewal agreement that both sides knew was in their mutual interest. But the fool Maliki did not realize that politics for the Obama administration (“ending one war, winding down another”) was even more a first principle than it was for Maliki. The result is Obama pulled every American out of the hard-won and stable Iraq (“stable” is Obama’s characterization, not mine alone), found his reelection narrative, and now Maliki is close to losing his country.

Maliki failed to grasp that Obama had even less trust in the influence of America to do good things abroad than did Maliki himself. But the larger irony is that now Maliki is begging for a return of American hard power to save his government from those killers that his policies helped create. In extremis, he understands that no other country would depose an oil-rich tyrant, stay on to foster democracy, leave the oil to its owners, and then leave when asked — and finally consider coming back to the rescue of an abject ingrate.

The Latin America narrative in the age of Obama — often best characterized in Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, or Venezuela — is little empathy south of the border for the Yanqui paradigm of free-market democratic capitalism. The stale 1960s rhetoric of colonialist, imperialist, racist, etc. is back in vogue in much of Latin America, and Mexico as well, encouraged by an administration that itself is unlikely to defend present or past U.S. conduct.

Likewise the themes of most Chicano-Latino studies programs in the U.S. are American culpability, racism, and colonialism — the same old, same old whine of the myriad faults of the U.S. In my community, the time it takes a first-generation foreign national to cross the border illegally, and then to develop a sort of resentment toward the U.S. and a romance about the birthplace he abandoned, seems about five years.

Why then are tens of thousands of Latin Americans willingly flooding into a supposedly racist country where cutthroat capitalism ignores the poor and the oppressed such as themselves? In most past polls of Mexican citizens, two general themes often show up: the majority of Mexican nationals believe that the American Southwest still should belong to Mexico, and a sizable minority would like to leave Mexico for the U.S. You figure out the mentality. I cannot but I do detect the vague paradox: Mexico wants Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California back so that it resembles Mexico, which many Mexican citizens would then leave because it had become, well, Mexico. What is this strange attraction toward a country that, in so many formal announcements both south of the border and among open-borders advocates north of it, is supposedly suspect?

Posted at 9:30 pm on June 29th, 2014 by Victor Davis Hanson

The Decline of Western Civilization in a Few Paragraphs

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Every once in a while, a criminal case — consider the O.J. trial — reflects the immoral course of our current trajectory. Here is an ongoing local criminal case that pretty much sums up what is happening to our culture, laws, and society at large.

Perla Ibeth Vazquez, 27, is now on trial in these parts. On Oct. 21, 2011 (a mere two-and-a-half-years ago?), she was drunk, drove, and killed, according to the Fresno Bee, one “Frank Winslow, 54, a family man and truck driver for Foster Farms who was only a few miles from home when he was killed on Highway 168 near Ashlan Avenue.”

The Bee added that the local prosecutor, Steven Wright:

[L]aid the groundwork by telling the jury that Vazquez had pleaded guilty to drunken driving in Tulare County in 2006 and again in Fresno County in 2010. Each time, a judge warned her that if she got drunk and killed someone, she could be charged with murder, Wright said.

Should we laugh or cry at those long-ago judicial “each time” warnings — given that they assumed that two felony drunk driving convictions were not necessarily reason to think there would be a fated third or fourth? A judge warns her about her own murdering to come? Might he have warned all of us about being her murdered victims to come? He is warning her of consequences, but not us of our shared danger of having her on the streets? Can we not have an Amber Alert when serial drunk drivers are cut loose?

Some of you are wondering how someone, who in the last eight years has been convicted of two DUIs, can still be on the road. Brace yourself. The truth gets worse in our current lawless society that has become a veritable Road Warrior apocalyptic nightmare.

The Bee account continues:

Wright also told the jury about another incident. In August 2010, just 11 days after she pleaded guilty to her second DUI, the California Highway Patrol caught Vazquez driving 120 mph on a local highway. Her breath smelled of alcohol, her speech was slurred, and she did poorly on a sobriety test, so the officer arrested her, Wright said. But she was never charged.

At this point,  I pose the following questions to readers. What would happen to any of you if you were pulled over going 120 mph, following two prior DUI convictions? And what would happen if you “did poorly on a sobriety test”? And what does that mush-mouth word “poorly” mean? Flunked? Sort of flunked? Kinda flunked? Jails are too crowded for those who don’t pass out?

Posted at 5:01 pm on June 22nd, 2014 by Victor Davis Hanson

War Was Interested in Obama

 

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Leon Trotsky probably did not quite write the legendary aphorism that “you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” But whoever did, you get the point that no nation can always pick and choose when it wishes to be left alone.

Barack Obama, however, never quite realized that truth, and so just declared that “the world is less violent than it has ever been.” He must have meant less violent in the sense that the bad guys are winning and as they do, the violence wanes — sort of like Europe around March 1941, when all was relatively quiet under the new continental Reich.

One of Obama’s talking points in the 2012 campaign included a boast that he had “ended” the war in Iraq by bringing home every U.S. soldier that had been left to ensure the relative quiet and stability after the successful Petraeus surge. In the world of Obama, a war can be declared ended because he said so, given that no Americans were any longer directly involved. (Remind the ghosts of the recently beheaded in now al Qaeda-held Mosul that the war ended there in 2011.)

Iraq is in flames, as is “lead from behind” Libya, as is “red line” Syria, and as are those places where an al Qaeda “on the run” has migrated. Had Obama been commander in chief in 1940, he would have assured us that the wars in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France were “over” — as they were in a sense for those who lost them, but as they were not for those next in line.

Of course, the Maliki government owns most of the blame for the spreading destruction of Iraq. Its retrograde exclusion of Sunnis from meaningful government helped to offer a fertile landscape to a resurgent al Qaeda. Now in extremis he seeks U.S. help. But Maliki’s pathetic past chauvinistic posturing over the status of forces agreement made it easy for Obama to pull out. (Hint to former U.S. clients: never horse-trade with Barack Obama over a needed U.S. military presence by threatening to eject all Americans; he will gladly call your bluff and leave every time.)

What, then, happened to Joe Biden’s boast that Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration”? Biden said this after the successful Bush-Petraeus surge (that he had opposed and declared a failure) had ensured a relatively quiet country when Obama assumed office.

We know the predictable Obama script for Afghanistan. He “ended” that conflict too, or at least he will have by 2016. His habit in that accordion war was to contextualize every surge, escalation, or new operation in Afghanistan by promising a date when we would leave or deescalate. Behind the recent quietude in drone missions and the Bergdahl swap, we see Obama at work “ending” the war in the following actions: We talk with the Taliban; we deliver to them their bloodiest cutthroats (captured at a cost in American blood and treasure); and we wink that we will not be so offensive-minded as in the past.

In exchange, the Taliban promise to behave and dial down their barbarism until we “end” the war and are gone. Then, like Saigon in 1975, all hell breaks lose and the executions begin. How odd: we went into a chaotic Libya to stop the killing and were about to go into bloody Syria to stop the killing — and left a quiet Iraq to ensure it.

Posted at 1:35 pm on June 15th, 2014 by Victor Davis Hanson