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Works and Days

Overseas Contingency Operations and Such

September 29th, 2013 - 8:42 pm

On the occasion of the outreach from Iran, and the embarrassment in Syria, it is wise to remember why and how our leaders became so inept at dealing with Islamists.

The Tsarnaev brothers killed and maimed in service to their version of Islam. So did Major Hasan, screaming Allahu Akbar as he shot his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood. The Middle East is undergoing the greatest religious cleansing of Christians of the modern age. This month, eighty Christians were blown up in a church in Peshawar, Pakistan — charged, tried, and executed in a nanosecond by Muslim suicide bombers.  At about the very same time, gunmen of the Islamist terrorist group Al Shabaab from Somalia murdered nearly 70 shoppers — after torturing and mutilating many of their victims — in a Nairobi shopping mall during a children’s event. None of these massacres had anything to do with the West Bank, Americans in Iraq, maltreatment of Muslims in the U.S., unkind immigration policies, undue attention shown Muslim travelers, or much of anything other than the usual grievances such as fighting back against terrorists.

Note that Europe and the U.S. are largely silent on the religious dimensions of this now almost daily violence. Apparently the EU and America believe that their own domestic security protocols have made it difficult for Islamists like the Tsarnaevs, Hasan, or bombers from Peshawar to harvest civilians with regularity in the West — or at least that terrorists can be kept out of Chevy Chase, the Upper West Side, Martha’s Vineyard, and Santa Monica.

Here follow some random observations from Obama administration officials about Islam and its role in energizing terrorists. John Brennan, the present CIA chief and at one time the president’s chief counter-terrorism advisor, once advised us, “Nor do we describe our enemy as ‘jihadists’ or ‘Islamists’ because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community.” If Major Hasan or the Tsarnaevs do not believe in jihad or in an Islamist worldview, what, then, drove them to murder? Losing a boxing match, or perhaps a slow-moving pathway to lieutenant colonel?

Here was former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: “The term Muslim Brotherhood is an umbrella term for a variety of movements. In the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular.” Is “largely secular” different from “secular”? If Clapper is right, why would they not their change their name to the “Secular Brotherhood”?

“When I became the NASA administrator,” NASA Director Charles Bolden told Al-Jazeera in 2010, President Obama “charged me with three things.” Bolden added that “perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.” Apparently, if they can “feel good,” they won’t feel bad about us, at least to the point of blowing us up.

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Goodbye Syria, On to Iran!

September 22nd, 2013 - 1:25 pm

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To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, this is the way Syria ends: Not with a bang, but a whimper. We are back where we started — lots of people dying — as the crisis recedes with a high five and a sigh, rather than with America blowing some stuff up.

The locus of our original outrage — 99,000 Syrians lost in a brutal sectarian war — had almost nothing to do with Assad’s alleged use of WMD. Thus the Syrian violence never could be addressed through even successful negotiations about mostly irrelevant WMD. It would have been as if, at the height of the Rwanda crisis, we had threatened to bomb an RPG depot to force the Hutus and Tutsis to continue with their machetes — then backed off, had an ongoing dialogue with Putin about such dangerous rocketry (as Rwandans continued at it with edged weapons), and called our bluff “non-stylish but smart diplomacy.”

So we moved on from Syria. The U.S. continues to express outrage and so continues to allow Assad and his many enemies to kill lots of people until one side loses or wins. The only difference, after the red lines were issued, hyped, and forgotten, is that while Assad once was ordered to step down, he is now a legitimate talking partner in global discussions. Using WMD worked. It certainly proved a good way for Assad to show off his French-accented English and stylish haircut and suit on prime-time American television. WMD proved a far better deal than a costly new Russian air-defense system in deterring U.S. bombs.

The present trajectory of endless haggling and rug-buying over WMD simply reduces the issue to its status before Obama’s unwise red line — mostly one of benign neglect, and mostly supported by the proverbially “tired” American people. After all, Obama can say to us, “Aren’t you happy with me that I didn’t do the stupid thing I promised to do?” Well, yes, sort of like the relieved police suicide negotiator after the would-be bridge-jumper finally slinks down off the pylon.

Obama is relieved that there is a critical but transitory moment of destiny in every crisis, real or manufactured. His own psychodramatic stare-down has long passed with his blink. It would be near impossible to work the public, the Congress, and the world back up into another melodrama. Again, because Obama never really wished to do anything in Syria other than bluster, there is no reason for him now to reopen the issue. And because Obama did not act when thousands died and he ordered Assad to go, and almost did act when WMD was used and did not, why act at all anymore? Even his critics prefer the virtual Obama.

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Syria in the Age of Myth

September 15th, 2013 - 11:28 pm

Myth I. Conservatives opposed to bombing Syria are isolationists.

Hardly. It would be better to call conservative skepticism a new Jacksonianism that is not wedded to any Pavlovian support for intervention or particular political party.

Instead, Jacksonians wish to husband U.S. power and prestige. Only that way can we ensure that we have both when existential crises loom—and many are now on the horizon.

The more prudent course is to weigh each intervention in terms of whether it serves long-term U.S. strategic interests. And ask if it can it do more good than harm to those beneath the bombs and at a cost commensurate with the results. Does it enjoy at least 50% support from the Congress and people? Have the president and his team worked hard to explain the rationale, methodology, and desired objectives to both allies abroad and Americans at home?

All that might sound like a lot of ifs—suggesting thereby an impossible bar for success abroad. But those prerequisites are neither too cumbersome nor guarantees of anything certain. After all, sloppy thinking occasionally can still result in won wars, while professional preparation can sometimes fail—given that nothing is certain in war.

Instead, such considerations offer a better chance of success when the bombs start falling. And they reflect an administration that takes military force seriously.

The present one does not. It still cannot explain why a “shot across the bow” and an “unbelievably small” bombing campaign are not “pinpricks.”  (Who wants to be the first or last pilot to die to prove that his mission was not just a pinprick, but instead achieved only unbelievably small damage?)

Why is Congress initially to be bypassed, then consulted, then to be bypassed if not on board, then to be postponed if believed not on board, and now to be forgotten? Is it really isolationist to doubt the wisdom and efficacy of bombing Assad when we were told it was to: a) help the rebels, b) destroy WMD, c) punish Assad for using WMD, d) warn others not to use WMD, e) remove him, f) weaken him, g) restore U.S. credibility, h) restore mostly Barack Obama’s lost credibility, i) thwart Russia, j) show Iran, k) welcome in Russia, l) ignore Iran, m) create stability after Assad’s departure, n) not  get involved after Assad’s departure, o) sort out good rebels from bad ones, etc.?

Weakening America and making Syria worse is not a proof of bipartisan interventionist support for the necessary postwar global system.

Myth II. John Kerry is far worse than Hillary Clinton at secretary of State.

True, poor Kerry is played hourly by the Russians and Syrians. He seeks to lecture and pontificate, not persuade and inspire. He ends up doing neither well. The secretary freelances into embarrassment. At times Kerry warns of imminent bombing; at times he champions sober negotiation; at times both and again neither. He talks ponderously and long. Even the Russians cannot stand the pomposity and cry no mas.

Kerry tries to resonate Obama’s orders. But he cannot—both because presidential directives, to the extent that there are any, are incoherent and unserious, and because, like Obama, Kerry made his career damning just the sort of unilateral preemptory military action—without allies, the UN, public support, or an authorization from Congress—that he is now demagoguing for. Was Kerry for Assad before being against him? Is Assad about like Genghis Khan—or is he now Hitler?—or worse, or maybe far worse? Are Assad’s soldiers lopping limbs and burning villages as Americans supposedly did in Vietnam? Or are some of the rebels the real cannibals and executioners of prisoners?

Yet all that said, Kerry inherited and made worse this mess, but did not create it. It was Hillary Clinton, not Kerry or even Obama, who first issued empty red lines that she either had no intention of enforcing or should have known that Obama had no desire to honor.

It was Clinton who grandly announced to the world that Kerry and other senators were right in declaring Assad a “reformer” and a “moderate.” It was Hillary who oversaw, along with Samantha Power and Susan Rice, the debacle in Libya. It was Hillary who explained why Gaddafi —the clever monster in rehabilitation doing all that he could do to massage Western oil-hungry and petro-dollar-grabbing elites—had to go, but why the suddenly now satanic Assad should be left alone to reform.

It was Hillary who was the architect of “lead from behind,” which proved nothing. Hillary thundered callously “what difference does it make?” over the four dead in Benghazi. Her State Department both stonewalled the Benghazi inquiry and, before the attack, refused to consider requests for more security.

It was Hillary who chortled in crude fashion “we came, we saw, Gaddafi died,” and in cruder fashion lied to the families of the dead that a right-wing video, not Islamist militias attacking a poorly defended consulate engaged in secretive arms smuggling, had led to the deaths of their sons.  And, yes, it was Hillary who jumped ship to avoid the consequences of her own disastrous tenure, while she hit the lecture circuit to cash in and prep for her 2016 presidential run.

Kerry is incompetently cleaning up the wreckage of Hillary Clinton’s disastrous tenure.

Myth III. America is now in decline after being humiliated in Syria.

Syria was a diplomatic disaster and emblematic of the larger Obama foreign policy catastrophe.

But America will survive it, and it will become a textbook example of what not to do, analogous to Kennedy’s disastrous Vienna summit with Khrushchev, or the sad decision to forfeit a won Vietnam to the communists in 1974-5, or Jimmy Carter’s annus terribilis of 1980. Yet Syria is not an historic date marking America’s descent into permanent decline.

America’s longer-term, post-Obama indicators are in our favor. We lead the world in innovation. Immigrants still seek the U.S. We will be more energy secure than at any time since the 1930s. Our deficits are sinking after sequestration, with fossil fuel expansion and cheaper energy.

Our top universities have never more dominated world-wide rankings.  Obama’s neo-socialism is waning; even he postpones elements of an unpopular Obamacare.

Even a slashed military is still far stronger than the next dozen militaries combined. One American worker, amid economic doldrums, still produces almost three times the goods and services of three Chinese workers. And so on.

Russia has brilliantly outclassed Obama. Yet Obama is not America and Putin is not Russia. The latter’s country is shrinking, increasingly unhealthy, a kleptocracy dependent solely on gas and oil revenues in the midst of an oil and gas boom elsewhere. A weak Obama and strong Putin do not translate into a strong Russia and a weak America. Obamitis will pass; the Russian malady will not be alleviated by Putin’s KGB cunning.

We will survive Obama, if barely, but then also flourish—if only by the wisdom of reacting to and doing the opposite of what the Obama era has wrought.

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Syrian Knowns and Unknowns

September 8th, 2013 - 5:48 pm
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A sign displays a message about Syria at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington August 28, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com)

1) Red lines: Does anyone believe we would be on the eve of a war with Syria had not Barack Obama on two occasions — echoed on two others by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — warned Bashar Assad of red lines surrounding the use of WMD?

Take those empty threats away, and one of two things would have more likely happened. First, there might not have been use of WMD, given no need to test or humiliate a perceived weak Obama. Or we would still be arguing over who actually used them. Not long ago, Senators Obama and Kerry would have lambasted the present impending intervention as a rush to war for the restoration of a president’s ill-advised forfeiture of credibility.

Fairly or not, the war is now seen as one to save the credibility of Obama’s pontification and Kerry’s sermonizing.

2) Authorizations: To go to war, a president usually seeks at least one of four requisites: authorizations from both houses of Congress, clear public support for action, plenty of allies, and cover from the UN in the form or a resolution or at least long discussion. Obama had obtained none of the four — despite arguing in the past that all four were necessary to do precisely what he is now doing.

Why do the American people, the Congress, our allies, and the proverbial “international community” on this rare occasion unite in not seeing the logic of Obama’s war?

3) The Military: Should not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs be an architect of the intervention? Yet Chairman Dempsey has made an astounding array of disturbing statements on Syria: “I think intervening in Syria would be very difficult. …  And I think that the current path of trying to gain some kind of international consensus is the proper path, rather than take a decision to do anything unilaterally.”

His concerns about the task are thematic in everything he says: “The U.S. military has the capability to defeat that system, but it would be a greater challenge, and would take longer and require more resources. … The air defense picture in Libya is dramatically different than it is in Syria. … Syria has five times more air defense systems, some of which are high-end systems.” And he warned, “This is about a 10-year issue, and if we fail to think about it as a 10-year regional issue, we could make some mistakes.” He summed up, “We have learned from the past 10 years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state. … We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action. … Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides.”

I cannot recall, on the eve of war, the nation’s top military officer so pessimistic about the chance of achieving anything significant.

If our top commander seems dubious, who then is going to lead us unabashedly to victory?

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Obama Indicts Obama

September 1st, 2013 - 3:09 pm

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One of the problems that Barack Obama has in mounting an attack against the Assad regime is that the gambit violates every argument Barack Obama used against the Bush administration to establish his own anti-war candidacy.

The hypocrisy is so stunning that it infuriates his critics and stuns his supporters.

Deriding the Iraq war was Obama’s signature selling point. He used it to great effect against both Hillary Clinton (who voted for the war) in the Democratic primaries and John McCain in the general election. For the last five years, disparagement of “Iraq” and “Bush” has seemed to intrude into almost every sentence the president utters.

And now? His sudden pro-war stance makes a number of hypocritical assumptions. First, the U.S. president can attack a sovereign nation without authorization from Congress (unlike the Iraq war when George W. Bush obtained authorization from both houses of Congress). Even if Obama gets a no vote, he said that he reserves the right to strike.

Second, Obama assumes that the U.S. must go it alone and attack unilaterally (unlike the coalition of the willing of some 40 nations that joined us in Iraq).

Third, it is unnecessary even to approach the UN (unlike Iraq when the Bush administration desperately sought UN support).

Fourth, the U.S. president must make a judgment call on the likelihood of WMD use, which is grounds ipso facto to go to war (unlike Iraq when the vast majority of the 23 congressionally authorized writs had nothing to do with WMD [e.g., genocide of the Marsh Arabs and Kurds, bounties to suicide bombers, harboring of international terrorists, violations of UN agreements, attempts to kill a former U.S. president, etc.]).

So review for a moment the Old Obama case against the New Obama.

On the perils of going it alone without allies

“Where the stakes are the highest, in the war on terror, we cannot possibly succeed without extraordinary international cooperation. Effective international police actions require the highest degree of intelligence sharing, planning and collaborative enforcement.” (2004)

So far no European or Arab nation has offered military support for our planned effort against Syria.

On the need to obtain UN approval before attacking another country

“You know, if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work, and, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account.” (2013)

After misleading the UN in obtaining no-fly-zones for Libya (and then bombing troops on the ground), Obama is not even approaching the UN for a resolution to bomb this time around.

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Is The War to Save Face or Save Lives?

August 29th, 2013 - 7:36 am

Click here to see the symposium of PJ columnists analyzing the pros and cons of an intervention in Syria.

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Most of the arguments pro and con for an intervention in Syria have already been made.

I think the consensus is that while stopping Assad in 2011 might have been wise (before the use of the WMD and 100,000 dead), doing so now is, well, problematic.

He has shown far more resilience than the administration thought when it ordered him to leave (dictators rarely leave when ordered to by an American president). The opposition seems far more dominated by al-Qaeda affiliates than originally thought (not all that many Westernized intellectuals, persecuted minorities, and Arab Spring bloggers are still left on the barricades).

In addition, both critics and supporters of the president point out that had Obama just kept quiet, he could have kept the option of intervening on his own timetable, rather than being forced to when his rhetorical red lines were not merely crossed but erased in humiliating fashion. Since his bluff has been called, he now has to act to save face rather than to save lives — 100,000 of them too late.

Yet the rub is not just that it is unlikely that we can find all the WMD depots and destroy them safely from the air (keeping them out of both Assad’s and our allies’ hands).

Nor is the problem just that it is unlikely that a limited punitive blow against Assad will topple him (and then what?) and restore American rhetorical credibility.

Instead, we are not sure that the opposition is likely to be any better than the monster Assad. Did we learn nothing from Libya and Egypt? The paradox in the Middle East is that Americans can control the postwar landscape and promote consensual government only by inserting large numbers of ground troops — an unacceptable political reality. A Putinesque shelling and bombing solution (more rubble, less trouble) is ethically unacceptable to most Americans.

Then there are the domestic politics. During the Iraq War, authorization from Congress was essential; now it is not? The excruciating and ultimately failed effort in 2002 at the UN took weeks; now it is not even attempted by a Peace Prize laureate? Bombing a monstrous regime guilty of past WMD use was amoral; now it is ethical?

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Democracy’s Dog Days

August 26th, 2013 - 6:34 pm

We all want democracy to thrive and flourish, but can it?

The Obama administration was quite pleased that the anti-democratic Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood had come to power through a single plebiscite. That confidence required a great deal of moral blindness, both of the present and past.

Like other once-elected authoritarians who believe that democracy is similar to a bus route — in the words of Mr. Erdogan of Turkey, once you get to your stop, you get off — Morsi had no intention of fostering the sort of consensual institutions so necessary for republican government. Almost immediately he gave a de facto green light to cleanse the government of his opponents, to Islamicize a once largely secular society, and to persecute religious minorities.

Like a Hitler, Mussolini, Mugabe, or Hugo Chavez, Morsi was counting on the legitimacy from a once-in-a-lifetime largely free election, and then the use of state power, if not terror, to institutionalize his authoritarian rule. Morsi’s legacy is that he was both a beneficiary of the Arab Spring in Egypt and almost singlehandedly ended it.

Unfortunately, there seem to be no signs of democracy’s revival elsewhere in the Arab world or, for that matter, all that many recent vibrant examples in the world at large these days.

In contrast, after the end of the Cold War there was a giddy “end of history” moment. By the new millennium, “democratic” government and free market capitalism were accepted as the natural — indeed, the foreordained — final stage in civilization’s evolution. And why not? The Soviet Union was in shambles. Eastern Europe was democratizing. Latin American democracies were starting to crowd out both communist and right-wing dictatorships. The European Union was ushering in the euro to self-congratulatory proclamations of a new social democratic heaven on Earth. The betting was when, not if, a newly capitalist China democratized. Bill Clinton, under duress, had moved America to the democratic center, and was helping to balance budgets.

Only the Islamic Middle East resisted the supposedly inevitable democratic urge. As the world’s regional holdout, the region was seen as well overdue for its turn at majority rule. Democratization, we Americans argued, might force the Muslim world to emulate those consensual systems with far better records of stable governance and widespread prosperity. With freedom and affluence, the age-old Middle East pathologies — misogyny, religious intolerance, tribalism, fundamentalism, anti-Semitism, and statism — would fade along with terrorist-driven violence. Or so it was thought.

Now, in the second decade of the new millennium, democracy is not just having a rough time, but failing in a way that its harsh critics so often predicted, from Plato to Nietzsche and Spengler.

Often the recent world confused plebiscites with democracy, as if the two were synonymous.

But does anyone think the once-elected Mr. Morsi in Egypt was a true democrat? Are the Iranian elections reflections of a free society? Were the austerity packages imposed on southern Europe part of a constitutional process? Is a Germany or Netherlands encouraged to hold elections about the fate of their participation in the EU? Does a Mr. Erdogan or Mr. Ortega — or did the late Hugo Chavez — operate within transparent and lawful protocols?

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There are many ways to learn about the bleaker aspects of human nature. One would be to run a pizza shop, or regularly to have to clean a public restroom. Perhaps giving close attention to the text of Thucydides might give a more abstract lesson. Also, the Old and New Testaments offer plenty of examples of the fallen state of man.

Obama apparently did not get the message. What is the common denominator of his failed foreign policy initiatives (reset with Russia; a new, kinder, gentler Middle East; supposed breakthroughs with China; outreach to Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela) and his domestic catastrophes (Obamacare, deficits, huge debts, chronic unemployment)? In a nutshell, he does not seem to know much about human nature, whether in the concrete or abstract sense. Obama never held a menial job or ran a business. In lieu of education in the school of hard knocks, he read the wrong, if any, seminal texts.

The problem with a thug like Vladimir Putin is not just that he does not respond to “outreach” and “reset,” but rather that he interprets such loud magnanimity as weakness. And when sermonizing and lectures are added to perceptions of American impotence, the impression of timidity leads further to contempt, and ultimately to a devilish desire to humiliate and disabuse a naïf Obama of his moral pretensions. And what of the world watching all this? Unfortunately, it is more likely to enjoy viewing a strong rebuff of utopian idealism than a weak embrace of it.

For the sellout of the Czechs and the Poles over missile defense, the unnecessary effort to enter into more strategic arms talks with the Russians, and the sermons about being a good citizen at the UN or tolerating dissent at home, in return we received Russian snubs over Eric Snowden and Putin’s obstructing U.S. efforts against Iran or Syria. Had Obama from the outset kept quiet about “reset,” avoided trashing his predecessor, and stood firm when Putin pushed, Putin would now respect him as much as he feels contempt.

In his Al Arabiya interview and Cairo speech, Obama sought to reach out to the Middle East on the unlikely premise that his own affinities with Islam (a Muslim father, a Muslim middle name, Muslim relatives), his mixed racial heritage, and his multicultural sympathies for the Islamic world would turn stand-offish moderates into friends and prior enemies into moderates.

But why so? All the silly euphemisms in the world — man-caused disasters, overseas contingency operations, workplace violence — would not make jihadists suddenly like the U.S. just because the new president was not a white, Christian Texan.

Such superficial affinities are as unlikely to promote diplomatic breakthroughs as they are likely to appear insulting. Does Obama have any experience with the particularly disturbing human characteristic — learned both from literature and the experience, say, of going to a dangerous public school — that forced efforts to fit in, to accommodate, to ingratiate, to seek affinities where they don’t exist are not interpreted as outreach as much as condescension?

The almost eerie hatred for Obama seen in Egypt — among the military, the Islamists, the Egyptian street, and even the secular pro-Western reformists — in part derives from a sense that Obama tried to cajole them all with cheap commonalities and mytho-histories rather than negotiate often conflicting national interests through tough transparent talks.

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The Mother of All Scandals

August 12th, 2013 - 8:48 pm

IRS?

A system of voluntary tax compliance cannot survive a dishonest IRS. Lois Lerner and company have virtually ruined the agency. For the foreseeable future, each time an American receives a tax query, he will wonder to what degree his politics ensures enhanced or reduced scrutiny — or whether his name as a donor, activist, or partisan has put him on a watch list.

Worse still, when a high commissioner of the IRS takes the 5th Amendment, it sends a frightening message: those audited go to jail when they refuse to testify; those who audit them who do the same do not.

AP?

The Associated Press/James Rosen monitoring by the Obama administration was creepy not just because it went after a heretofore obsequious media, but because Obama’s lieutenants alleged that the reason was aiding and abetting the leaking of classified material.

Of course, disclosing top-secret information and thereby damaging the national interest is no small thing. But was leaking the real reason that Eric Holder lied under oath when he assured his congressional inquisitors that he was not monitoring the communications of Americans — after he had done just that in the case of James Rosen of Fox News?

No modern administration has leaked classified data like the Obama administration. Do we remember a frustrated Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warning White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon “to shut the f— up” for disclosing the secret details of the bin Laden hit?

Or was John Brennan’s effusive blow-by-blow description of the Navy SEAL team protocol worse? Or for that matter, why did David Sanger and David Ignatius seem to have access to classified details about the bin Laden document trove and the Iranian Stuxnet cyber-war campaign? The obvious answer is that after the midterm election of 2010, a panicking Obama administration worried about reelection, and especially polls that suggested the president was weak on national-security issues.

To rectify that image, politicos began leaking the nation’s most intimate secrets to remind the public that, behind the scenes, Obama was a veritable Harry Truman. The problem with the AP was not that it leaked, but that it did not leak in a fashion and at a time of the administration’s own choosing. In other words, the Associated Press was a competitor when Obama wished a monopoly on the leaking franchise.

NSA?

No one knows much about the NSA mess. But already there are some disturbing developments. How can Director of National Intelligence James Clapper outright lie under oath without consequences after he assured the Congress that the agency did not monitor the communications of American citizens?

After the president’s press conference last week, an embarrassing paradox arose: the president promised all sorts of new NSA reforms. But why now, and for what reason the sudden worry? After all, Obama offered no new protocol to ensure that classified matters did not end up in the hands of a high-school dropout and highly ideological computer hacker like Eric Snowden.

Instead, the president de facto made Snowden’s case. It was only because of the illegal acts of Snowden that Obama promised future measures — not against the next Snowden, but against abuses promulgated by himself. Consider the logic: Snowden is supposed to be a criminal for leaking a top-secret intelligence gathering operation, but in response to that illegal conduct, Obama for the first time promises to address just the sort of abuses that Snowden outlined.

With enemies like Obama, the lawbreaking Snowden hardly needs friends.

Benghazi!

Of the four most prominent scandals — and by “four” I do not wish to deprecate “Fast and Furious,” or EPA Director Lisa Jackson’s fake email persona, or the arbitrary non-enforcement of the law, from ignoring elements of Obamacare to granting pre-election amnesty by fiat to over one million illegal aliens — Benghazi is by far the most disturbing; the scandal is insidious.

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Obama Who?

August 5th, 2013 - 12:26 pm

Critics of the president are convinced that Barack Obama will do lasting damage to the U.S. I doubt it.

Obama came to power in the third year of large Democratic congressional majorities. In his first referendum, he lost the House and he may soon lose the Senate; in other words, there followed a somewhat normal reaction against a majority party. Obama’s popularity rating is well below 50%, despite an obsequious media and a brilliantly negative billion-dollar campaign that long ago turned Mitt Romney into a veritable elevator-using, equestrian-marrying, canine-hating monster.

In the second term, there is little of the Obama bully pulpit left. “Make no mistake about it” and “let me be perfectly clear” can incur caricature, not fainting. “Really,” “I’m not kidding,” “I’m serious,” “in point of fact,” and “I’m not making this up” often prove rhetorical hints that the opposite is true. When Obama warns about gridlock in Washington, the “same old tired politics,” the dangers of a tyrant or king in the White House, the need for an honest IRS, or the perils of government surveillance, these admonitions have tragically become a psychological tic to warn us about himself. Former jokes about siccing the IRS on his enemies or using Predator drones to go after suitors of his daughters are as eerie as they are comedic.

Each new “historic” speech is by now mostly history repeating itself as farce. The Victory Column oration gave way to a flat vignette at the Brandenburg Gate. The Cairo speech follow-ups were mostly confusion about Egypt and Syria, without the fictions of the West’s underappreciated debts to Islam. The second Trayvon Martin aside on racial look-alikes was even more disturbing that the first. I don’t think Obama’s advisors will allow him to proclaim any more “deadlines,” or “red lines,” or any sort of lines at all in the Middle East.

Aside from Obama himself, no one in the post-Benghazi, -AP, -NSA, and -IRS scandal era references the president any longer as the former “professor of constitutional law.” In Obama’s case even the inflated title has become an oxymoron.

Ever so slowly, the press, albeit still for the most part privately, is learning that it has been had by one of its own. The breach of journalistic ethics turned out not to be a necessary means to an exalted liberal end, but instead was interpreted cynically by Obama as exemption for doing pretty much what he pleased — like going after AP reporters for leaking national security in a way the administration could only envy, given its own less impressive efforts to divulge what should not have been divulged. How odd that a truly adversarial press is an aid to conservatives in power, in keeping them on their toes about scandal, and how ironic that liberal media obeisance green-lights wrongdoing among those whom they deify.

What does the Arab Spring conjure up? Or “lead from behind”? Or “reset”? (If only Obama could envision Putin as George Zimmerman, we might get real on Russia.) Or an “OK” from the Arab League to act? Or CIA gun-running in Libya? Or the military non-response to Benghazi? Or the incarceration of Mr. Nakoula, the supposedly evil filmmaker? Or “al-Qaeda on the run”? Or the successive flip-flops on Mubarak, Morsi, and the Egyptian military? Or serial “deadlines” to Iran, or consecutive “red lines” in Syria? (If only these threats abroad carried as much weight as Obama’s promises to “bankrupt” coal companies and send our power bills “skyrocketing.”) Or the “peace-process” with the Palestinians? Or closing down the embassies of the Middle East? (If only Islamists were Republicans, they might be on the receiving end of real presidential threats like “punish our enemies.”) What do all these misadventures abroad have in common? I think the answer is nothing and everything: no consistency other than confusion.

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