Belmont Club

The Hidden Mutex

Elliot Abrams’ account of how the Bush White House decided not to bomb the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 — but then let the Israelis bomb it anyway — paints a portrait of the inner cabinet decision making process.  At meetings over the question of whether or not to bomb the North Korean designed Syrian reactor the various principals fought their corner, advancing the institutional views of the agencies they represented with the President having the last word. Bush apparently decided not to bomb the reactor. But when Olmert, despite American suggestions to the contrary, went ahead an bombed it, Bush was curiously unsurprised. Despite the passage of 5 years and the fact that nearly everyone of importance then is still alive Abrams is still not sure what happened.

So quickly did he accept the Olmert decision that I wondered then, and do still, if the president did not at some level anticipate and desire this result. He had sided with Condi and shown that she was still in charge of Middle East policy, but her “take it to the UN” plan had been blown up along with the reactor. He did not seem very regretful. What is more, he instructed us all to abandon the diplomatic plans and maintain absolute silence, ensuring that Israel could carry out its plan.

Perhaps the lesson in the Abrams story is that actions are the ultimate expressions of meaning. Words are nice, but handsome is as handsome does. In the end Bush came down on the side of Syria not getting the bomb. Outcomes are the most meaningful indicators of a presidential decision process. Glenn Greenwald would do well to bear that in mind when trying to understand why President Obama hasn’t worked out the way he expected.

This past week has been a strangely clarifying political moment. It was caused by two related events: the leak of the Justice Department’s “white paper” justifying Obama’s claimed power to execute Americans without charges, followed by John Brennan’s alarming confirmation hearing (as Charles Pierce wrote: “the man whom the administration has put up to head the CIA would not say whether or not the president of the United States has the power to order the extrajudicial killing of a United States citizen within the borders of the United States”).

Actually there have been a whole slew of clarifying moments. Time Magazine was quick to refute reports that the man who killed Bin Laden thinks he’s been screwed by the US Government. Citing an Esquire article that alleged “… the Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation: ‘Nothing. No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family,’ Time said: “As veterans’ advocates were quick to point out, that’s not true; he is entitled to five years of free health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

They forgot to add that after that the Shooter will be entitled to a lifetime of free Obamacare.

Or take the story that the woman cop who shot it out with the Fort Hood Jihadist thinks she was ‘betrayed’.

Three years after the White House arranged a hero’s welcome at the State of the Union address for the Fort Hood police sergeant and her partner who stopped the deadly shooting there, Kimberly Munley says President Obama broke the promise he made to her that the victims would be well taken care of.

“Betrayed is a good word,” former Sgt. Munley told ABC News in a tearful interview to be broadcast tonight on “World News with Diane Sawyer” and “Nightline.”

“Not to the least little bit have the victims been taken care of,” she said. “In fact they’ve been neglected.”

You don’t say?

Then maybe there’s Syria. As Walter Russell Mead puts it, it isn’t that President Obama should help the Syrian rebels, even though the best path might be to actually control them, it’s that he gave the impression he was going to help them and then did nothing.

As the FT points out, President Obama wants it both ways: he’s demanded Assad step down and called preventing genocide “a core national-security interest,” but promised in his second inaugural that “a decade of war is now ending.” He’s also threatened war with Syria if chemical weapons are used and proclaimed a “responsibility to protect,” but seeks to slash defense spending, might withdraw a U.S. carrier from the Gulf, and vetoed his cabinet’s recommendations on Syria.

The problem is not that the President is turning his back on Syria; there’s certainly a case that one could make for such a policy. The problem is that the President has neglected to make a case at all. He’s been content to make certain rhetorical promises while pursuing contradictory lines of policy. This is not only insincere to the American people, it is an extremely dangerous strategy: Iran, Assad, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel might no longer know what to expect from the U.S., or believe anything its Commander in Chief says. When one of the region’s most powerful actors projects that kind of weakness, it’s a game changer.

At the heart of each of these stories is a single consistent theme. What the President says is not what he will necessarily do. Glenn Greenwald is discovering that the contents of the box don’t match what was depicted on the label.

A whole slew of policies that would have triggered the shrillest of progressive condemnations under Bush – waging war after Congress votes against authorizing it, the unprecedented persecution and even torturing of whistleblowers, literally re-writing FOIA to conceal evidence of torture, codifying indefinite detention on US soil – are justified or, at best, ignored … [yet] … polls now show that Democrats and even self-identified progressives support policies that they once pretended to loathe now that it is Obama rather than Bush embracing them.

If a book by two former special operations soldiers is correct, then not only do the words on the box not correspond to the contents, they are sometimes the opposite of them. The book alleges that David Petraeus was set up by factions within the CIA and abetted by persons in the administration.

Senior CIA officers targeted Petraeus because they didn’t like the way he was running the agency – focusing more on paramilitary operations than intelligence analysis. They used their political clout and their connections to force an FBI investigation of his affair with Paul Broadwell and make it public, according to ‘Benghazi: The Definitive Report.’

‘It was high-level career officers on the CIA who got the ball rolling on the investigation. It was basically a palace coup to get Petraeus out of there,’ Jack Murphy, one of the authors, told MailOnline …

Petraeus was furious, they say, because he was kept in the dark about the raids being conducted without his knowledge by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) across Libya and North Africa.

Webb and Murphy claim that the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate and a CIA outpost in Benghazi proved to Petraeus that he was an outsider in the Obama administration and that he would remain marginalized as long as he was at the CIA.

Obama is stuffing the administration with senior officials who are “second-raters” or even “third-raters”. Why? Because he wants hacks. And Greenwald is beginning to get it.

Greenwald’s “clarifying political moments” are a fancy way of saying that the President systematically lies.  In Mead’s words he says one thing and does another. He promises free health care and raises its price, says he’ll get justice for the Benghazi victims and forgets it; offers free stuff to the young only for them to discover they will be soaked to pay for the the benefits of the old; says he’ll stop North Korea while doing nothing, pledges to support Egyptian democracy and delivers them over to a tyrant. Etc, etc, etc, etc. As Walter Russel Mead put it, he makes “certain rhetorical promises while pursuing contradictory lines of policy”.

But Mead is more astute than Greenwald. He argues that the real danger to this kind of opacity isn’t that it proves some kind of personal failing so much as it debases confidence in the United States. This is especially important because national security depends on the credibility of the United States.  Systematically debasing a Great Power’s pronouncements has the same ultimate effect as debasing the currency.

So when one asks ‘what did the President just promise?’ And the answer is who knows? Just spin the wheel of fortune; just lay out the tarot cards. Pick a number, any number: your guess is as good as mine, then there is real palpable danger.

Actually things are not quite that uncertain. The President one might argue, actually has a certain systematic set of priorities. The problem is guessing what it is.

It is like there was a hidden mutex.

Programmers will be familiar with the concept of a mutex — an object that assigns the priority of execution to a certain routine and denies that priority to all else until it is released. It behaves like a traffic cop that lets certain things go first and obliges others to wait. The problem with President Obama’s habit of falsehood is that it presents a dummy mutex to the world. If you believe the explict “go” signal you will crash in the intersection like the Syrians or the Egyptian protesters. But there is the possibility of a second channel signal. If you understand the real mutex you can decipher the actual signal. Kim things he knows what the real signal is. So he goes ahead and tests another nuclear weapon for North Korea.

Greenwald’s problem is that he took things at face value.  But maybe the “unprincipled Democratic hacks” who are cheering the President’s power grab on  are actually more perceptive than him. They for one were never taken in by the rhetoric. They listened to the guff politely and clapped, but understood the real priority was never ‘human rights’ or ‘pacifism’ or any of that twaddle the Obama campaign peddled to the rubes. The actual message was ‘seize domestic power by any means necessary’.  That was the signal of the hidden mutex.

And now they are betting they guessed right. The hacks aren’t cheering Obama on because they think it will lead to world peace. They are cheering him on because they hope to get paid or be awarded a plum position. That’s why they are hacks, Greenwald. That’s why they’re hacks.

All the other traffic that he imagined would proceed must stop. The “we won” express gets the green light all the way. The remaining mysteries are who is the “we” and what does “winning” mean.  Maybe we should ask the President what it signifies. Or maybe not.

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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