Belmont Club

Sleepwalking Through History

In the Obama administration things just happen. For example, “the Associated Press has learned that the Homeland Security Department official in charge of the agency’s immigration enforcement and removal operations [Gary Mead] has resigned after hundreds of illegal immigrants were released from jails because of government spending cuts.”

But the resignation is just routine according to administration officials. Quoting an ICE spokesperson, the Huffington Post said “there was no connection between the retirement of Enforcement and Removal Operations Director Gary Mead and the release earlier this week of hundreds of undocumented immigrants from detention”.

ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said Mead had announced his plans to retire “several weeks ago” to senior leadership at the agency. Mead will retire at the end of April, she said in a statement.

“The Associated Press’ report is inaccurate and misleading,” she said.

No connection.

What is true in domestic matters is even more true in foreign affairs.  Bill Gertz reports that “United States intelligence agencies recently detected China’s military shifting road-mobile ballistic missiles closer to its southern coast near the disputed Senkaku Islands amid growing tensions between Beijing and Japan over the islands dispute.”

Some days ago the New York Times reported that “Japan has asked the Chinese government to explain why Chinese ships have strategically placed several buoys in the East China Sea near a group of disputed islands, a Japanese government spokesman said…”

The spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, told reporters that ships from China’s State Oceanic Administration, which is similar to the coast guard, had placed the buoys last week in Chinese-controlled waters near the islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The uninhabited islands have been controlled by Japan for decades, but are claimed by China and also Taiwan.

Japanese media reported that the buoys might be used to track Japanese submarines in waters around the uninhabited islands, where Japanese and Chinese ships have chased each other in recent months. If so, their placement could represent another step in an ominous escalation in the standoff, which began with coast guard and other nonmilitary ships, but has recently begun to involve more heavily armed navy ships.

At another time this might have been a major presidential concern.  In days past the rising tensions between the two Asian giants might have provoked a soul searching reflection on whether the breakdown of the Pax Americana in the region was endangering world peace. But not today. Today the main problem is how to get as far away from the ticking timebomb as possible.

The LA Times says the administration has been working hard to avoid “alienating” Beijing over the islands. As in the case of Gary Mead the key problem is not to prevent the fiasco, but to distance the President from the fiasco. The LA Times continues:

The Obama administration has acknowledged Japan’s administrative authority over the islets and is bound by treaty to protect territories under Japanese administration. Still, analysts expect the two leaders to largely sidestep the issue in public remarks as Obama tries to balance Washington’s close ties to Tokyo with the need to maintain strategic relations with China, an increasingly crucial market and trading partner for the United States as well as North Korea’s closest ally.

Michael Ledeen writes that the Syrian civil war has metastized. Quoting specialty publications he notes that the conflict is now roiling Kurdistan.  It is dragging in Hezbollah — and Israel and Lebanon and …

Has Obama yielded to the advice of his senior military and foreign policy advisers, and–in partnership with, say, the Brits, the French, and the Jordanians–put some teeth in his thus-far empty cry “Assad must go”? Or is it, as no doubt some of the Islamists must suspect, a joint Israeli-Jordanian operation?

I don’t know. Kerry is apparently whispering to some of the opposition that “help is on the way,” which could mean almost anything. But whatever is going on should greatly concern the Iranians and their killers in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. For starters, the FSA has used some of their new toys to attack Hezbollah, in both Syria and Lebanon, which is tantamount to an attack on Iran itself.

I’m surprised that these attacks on Hezbollah haven’t received more attention, because they clearly show that the Syrian war has metastasized. In the past, the fighting spilled over across the Turkish border, but that seems to have stopped. The FSA warned Iran and Hezbollah that they were going to act, and now they have.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish elephant is breaking a lot of glasses and dishes, and again we don’t hear a lot about it.

Ledeen drolly asks, “the Syrian War has metastasized. Is Obama in it?” Nobody outside the magic circle seems to know. But here’s the more disturbing possibility: nobody knows.

Perhaps the President he hasn’t made up his mind over whether or not he has made up his mind. The common default assumption of journalistic observers is that a rational actor lives in the White House. They believe there’s Plan A. And a Plan B.

But supposing there’s no plan A or B. Or maybe a Plan exists, but its really Plan Number 97.b.1 — one so mutable that it changes from hour to hour depending on who the President spoke to last, so people can’t remember what it is current any more. Or equivalently, suppose the plan depends on Axelrod’s polling results for the day.

If so what is the meaning of the question: is Obama in or out of Syria? Will he support Japan or mollify China? What government service will he cut next?

It’s hard enough when you don’t know the answers to the questions. It’s a little harder when you can’t make up your mind what the question means.

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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