Within Range

One trivial but often underappreciated fact about the battle of Midway was that for Spruance to hit Nagumo he had to expose his carriers to reciprocal damage. Once you close with an opponent he closes with you. Risk is often symmetric. Nimitz understood this well, and it lies at the heart of his order to the carriers on that occasion. He told Spruance, “you will be governed by the principle of calculated risk, which you shall interpret to mean the avoidance of exposure of your force to attack by superior enemy forces without good prospect of inflicting… greater damage on the enemy.”


The Bob Woodwards of the future will have their hands full examining whether Barack Obama understood this principle as well as Nimitz.  Jean Kaufman at PJMedia has an incisive piece titled “Obama, the Betrayer” which indirectly addresses this very point. She argues the Obama’s past political triumphs were essentially achieved by pre-emptive strikes on his foes, none of whom had the temerity to retaliate effectively. Perhaps for Obama as for Nagumo there developed the conceit of the Gaishu Isshoku — “one touch of the iron gauntlet” — which was all it took to win the day. Kaufman describes the genesis of Obama’s style:

If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s well worth reading to get a key to the very special Obama ruthlessness. The gist of it is that newcomer Obama, after being tapped by established Chicago African-American politician Alice Palmer to be her successor, mounted legal challenges to the petitions of all his Democratic rivals (including, it turns out, Palmer), knocking them off the primary ballot on technicalities and running unopposed, thereby guaranteeing his own victory before the voting ever began.

Obama won his first race for office not because of his intra-party collegiality, but due to his lack of it. Thus, when he got to the Illinois Senate his reputation preceded him and his potential for power was acknowledged. He seems to have adopted the Machiavellian strategy that it is better to be feared than loved.

The efficacy of secrecy, speed, disinformation and ruthlessness — especially ruthlessness —  may have surprised Obama at first. But once proved these methods became part of his political technique. The Daily Beast has a portrait of the kind of man required for this style of operations: Jonathan Malis was an attorney who impressed Eric Holder by being even meaner than  him; and whom he consequently recruited.


One of the lead federal prosecutors behind the Justice Department’s sweeping seizure of the Associated Press’s phone records is deputy chief of the criminal division Jonathan Malis—a hard-charging 15-year veteran of the U.S. Attorney’s Office who is known among colleagues for a single-minded, even zealous, pursuit of his criminal targets. And there’s perhaps no better illustration of his aggressive style than the fact that he once had a caustic, highly personal exchange with Eric Holder, who at the time was a defense lawyer in private practice but is now the attorney general—that is, Malis’s boss.

Malis was Holder’s kind of guy. Like the Borg, Obama’s team assimilated the most ruthless of the opponents they encountered. But if character is fate, so is bureaucratic repertoire. Agencies develop a set number of scripts they can run;  and limited repertoires were  memorably illustrated in the dialog from the movie “Five Easy Pieces”.

Dupea: I’d like a, uh, plain omelette, uh, no potatoes, tomatoes instead, a cup of coffee, and wheat toast.

Waitress: No substitutions.

Dupea: What do you mean? You don’t have any tomatoes?

Waitress: Only what’s on the menu. You can have a number two – a plain omelette. It comes with cottage fries and rolls.

Dupea: Yeah, I know what it comes with, but it’s not what I want.

Waitress: Well, I’ll come back when you make up your mind.

Dupea: Wait a minute. I have made up my mind. I’d like a plain omelette, no potatoes on the plate, a cup of coffee, and a side order of wheat toast.

Waitress: I’m sorry. We don’t have any side orders of toast. I’ll give you an English muffin or a coffee roll.

Dupea: What do you mean you don’t make side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don’t you?


If you keep recruiting corsairs then piracy becomes an inevitable part of the way you operate. Once thuggery is on the menu it worms its way into the dishes.  Soon it will come with the sandwiches as standard. As pointed out in a previous post, the most striking thing about the Obama scandals is “the sheer, unbridled malevolence” of them; it seems almost a signature. Maybe it is signature.

To illustrate Forbes describes a suit by a health care provider in California against the IRS for seizing 60 million health care records, including those of all California state judges, without a warrant.

According to a story by Courthousenews.com, an unnamed healthcare provider in California is suing the IRS and 15 unnamed agents, alleging that they improperly seized some 60 million medical records of 10 million Americans, including medical records of all California state judges on March 11, 2011. …

“These medical records contained intimate and private information of more than 10,000,000 Americans, information that by its nature includes information about treatment for any kind of medical concern, including psychological counseling, gynecological counseling, sexual or drug treatment, and a wide range of medical matters covering the most intimate and private of concerns,” the complaint states.

“Despite knowing that these medical records were not within the scope of the warrant, defendants threatened to ‘rip’ the servers containing the medical data out of the building if IT personnel would not voluntarily hand them over,” the complaint reads.


Comes a point when you just don’t do things any other way. Actions like these were a sign that “calculated risk” had given way to habitual recklessness. And recklessness — as Nagumo discovered — isn’t free. It catches up with you sometime.

It’s interesting to speculate how early in the administration’s history this recklessness became established.  There are signs that suggest it was there as early as Benghazi.  Andy McCarthy at the National Review argues from timing that the infamous video story had its genesis in a 10 pm phone call between Hillary and Obama on the night of the attack.

We do not have a recording of this call, and neither Clinton nor the White House has described it beyond noting that it happened. But we do know that, just a few minutes after Obama called Clinton, the Washington press began reporting that the State Department had issued a statement by Clinton regarding the Benghazi attack. In it, she asserted:

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.

Gee, what do you suppose Obama and Clinton talked about in that 10 p.m. call?

Interestingly, CNS News asked Carney whether, in that 10 p.m. phone call, the president and Secretary Clinton discussed the statement that Clinton was about to issue, and, specifically, whether they discussed “the issue of inflammatory material posted on the Internet.

Carney declined to answer.


They thought they could play fast and loose with reality. Why? They had done it before.  So they would do it again.

What happened next may have surprised Obama.  Unlike the earlier challenges mounted at him the Benghazi scandal did not go away.  Maybe he had made too many any enemies. Perhaps there were too many in the know to shut up entirely. But in the end the conservatives kept coming in their own clunky way, almost like the torpedo squadrons at Midway.  Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the Benghazi hearings is they never gave up, even when none of the hearings or stories in the conservative media seemed to strike a direct hit.  But they held the public’s attention until a seemingly endless serial of scandals materialized out of the sky to fall on Obama’s narrative.

Clarice Feldman has a wonderfully atmospheric piece describing the the process of lawyering up. Attorneys are scavengers of the DC ecosystem. They feast on the fallen.  And what is more the fallen need them. Still, scandals mean legal fees and legal fees mean lawyers. The culture of the District is dog-eat-dog and for the first time in its long career Obama’s sneak attack force is feeling the bite of the dogs.

In a little noticed set of articles both Bobby Jindal and John Boehner now say that ‘firings are not enough’.  “You cannot take the freedom of law-abiding Americans, whether you disagree with them or not, and keep your own freedom. When you do that, you go to jail.” That shifting in  talking points is interesting. It suggests a decision has been considered,  perhaps only by a faction in the Republican Party, to take the “calculated risk” of closing with the Obama political machine and up the ante.


This creates a dynamic of its own. The way the world works — a fact Nimitz understood — is that any time you get close enough to threaten someone with jail  you take a symmetric risk  yourself.  One of the reasons that political crises spin out of control is that stakes are raised beyond the normal. And all of a sudden the currency stops being access or invitations to cocktail parties.  What starts to matter is survival and staying out of jail.  You stop talking to friends and nothing is the same.

The Washington Examiner is reporting that the lower level IRS employees in Cincinnati are now leaking in self-defense. “Everything comes from the top.” It does? Well what do you know.

An Obama on the defensive may prove less formidable than the same person on the attack. The biggest liability now facing the Obama team is that maybe they’ve forgotten how to act when the enemy can hit back.  Nimitz knew that reality always bites back.  But maybe that’s why history will remember Nimitz as Nimitz whereas Obama has already been compared to Nixon and that may be the best he can hope for.

Things are by no means over. In fact the action has scarcely begun. Yet perhaps for the first time it’s a real fight, whose future will be driven by one thing: the degree of acceptance by Obama’s opponents of political risk. As they say, no guts no glory.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99
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