Belmont Club

The Legion of Doom

The second-ranking CIA official now calls Syria the greatest threat to American national security today:

The Central Intelligence Agency’s second-in-command warned that Syria’s volatile mix of al Qaeda extremism and civil war now poses the greatest threat to U.S. national security. Michael Morell says the risk is that the Syrian government, which possesses chemical and other advanced weapons, collapses and the country becomes al Qaeda’s new haven, supplanting Pakistan.

Shouldn’t he ask: “Who armed the Syrian rebels”? And might not he say: ” … in addition to Pakistan”? It is not as if Pakistan has greatly improved over the last five years. Syria is a problem on top of Pakistan. The distinction is important: in assessing a situation, the direction of change is often more important than the current status, and the direction in this case is not encouraging.

Perhaps one sign that the War on Terror isn’t over comes from the New York Times:

T.S.A. Expands Duties Beyond Airport Security

As hundreds of commuters emerged from Amtrak and commuter trains at Union Station on a recent morning, an armed squad of men and women dressed in bulletproof vests made their way through the crowds.

The squad was not with the Washington police department or Amtrak’s police force, but was one of the Transportation Security Administration’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response squads — VIPR teams for short — assigned to perform random security sweeps to prevent terrorist attacks at transportation hubs across the United States.

“The T.S.A., huh,” said Donald Neubauer of Greenville, Ohio, as he walked past the squad. “I thought they were just at the airports.”

He thought wrong:

“Our mandate is to provide security and counterterrorism operations for all high-risk transportation targets, not just airports and aviation,” said John S. Pistole, the administrator of the agency.

Does that mean the “War on Terror” is … expanding?

Maybe. Al-Qaeda, far from being hunkered down in caves, is holding conference calls. An intercept of a conference call “of more than 20 far-flung al-Qaeda operatives” triggered the latest security alert. “This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom,” one U.S. intelligence officer told The Daily Beast:

Al Qaeda leaders had assumed the conference calls, which give Zawahiri the ability to manage his organization from a remote location, were secure. But leaks about the original intercepts have likely exposed the operation that allowed the U.S. intelligence community to listen in on the al Qaeda board meetings.

Ready to take on the Legion of Doom

Legion of Doom? I’m ready.

Hmmm … maybe Obama is so far ahead of al-Qaeda, he doesn’t care if he concedes a handicap. Why not let them know their lines are tapped? Can they resist his mighty hand?

The conference among “far-flung operatives” was an amazing achievement for an organization already declared dead and buried. Bret Stephens recalled the obituary while writing in the Wall Street Journal:

In May, Barack Obama told an audience at the National Defense University that the core of al Qaeda was “on the path to defeat.” The “future of terrorism,” Mr. Obama predicted, would involve “more localized threats … these threats need not rise to the level that we saw on the eve of 9/11.” He ended by calling for repeal of the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force — Congress’s declaration of war on al Qaeda.

Yes, the president’s May speech contained all the required caveats about the abiding terrorist threat and the continued need for vigilance. But the gist of the address was clear, as was its purpose: to declare the war on terror won — or won well-enough — and go home …

The speech at the National Defense University was billed as a major presidential address. A lengthy article in the New York Times, written days later, reported it was a “window into the presidential mind,” the result of “an exercise lasting months,” a matter not just of Mr. Obama’s policy, but of his very legacy.

Yet here we are, not three months later, faced with a threat that makes a comprehensive and vivid mockery of everything the president said.

How could he get it so wrong? The New York Times’ coverage of President Obama’s canceled summit with Putin illustrates one reason why. This time, the NYT argued that Putin would regret not meeting Obama:

In a statement, the White House said the president had decided to postpone the summit meeting between the two leaders after concluding that there had not been enough progress made on the “bilateral agenda” to make a meeting worthwhile. …

Mr. Obama’s decision to forgo the summit meeting with Mr. Putin, which was first reported by The Associated Press, is a blow to Mr. Putin that will deprive him of a high-profile moment on the worldwide stage. It also threatens to add to the already chilly relationship between the two countries.

Now Putin won’t be invited to Leno! He’ll miss a chance to speak to Oprah! He must be crazy.

This is another case of the “wish being the father of the deed,” yet another instance of the Narrative being taken for reality. The NYT thinks Putin reasons just like them, seeing a world where Barack Obama is at the center of Washington and Washington is the center of the universe. If President Obama declares al-Qaeda to be dead, then al-Qaeda must in fact be deceased. If President Obama supports the Syrian rebels, the Syrian rebels must be worthy of support. If President Obama decides not to meet the president of Russia, then Putin is losing out.

It’s like Versailles in the days of Louis the XIV: the inmates cannot conceive that an external universe exists, one in which another sun shines more brightly than the Sun King.

Yet, as Bret Stephens points out, the Emperor has no clothes. He is manifestly capable of getting things fundamentally, spectacularly and catastrophically wrong, and the media elites are pathologically incapable of acknowledging this.

While a person untutored in the ways of Washington might conclude that recent events show President Obama is in the last stages of losing the vestiges of American influence in the Middle East, passively watching the rearmament of Japan, haplessly presiding over the resurrection of the Cold War, and being driven back by al-Qaeda into a static defense of the homeland, this cannot possibly be true: the Beltway pundits have decreed otherwise.

None of these bad things is yet fait accompli, but if any are to be avoided, the political establishment has to acquire a degree of intellectual honesty and vision which it has so far conspicuously lacked. They at least have to start calling things by their proper names.

Historians may mark the middle of 2013, with its cascade of catastrophes and the sale of former media giants for chump change, as the time when the first signs of fear entered the Realm of the Sun King. When they sensed their jobs, pensions, and status were in peril. When they apprehended the first forebodings of physical danger — not from those who they declared public enemies, like the Tea Party, or Sarah Palin — but from those who, in PC piety, they had declared and thought their friends. When they realized they might one day ask: “Where are my legions O Varrus? Where are my legions?” And I don’t mean the Legion of Doom, either.

In other news, Japan launched a destroyer — the DDH-183, JS Izumo.

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