Belmont Club

The Pretzel Man

Dick and Liz Cheney in a WSJ article point out that president Barack Obama is in the unique position of fighting himself.  What is worse, his evil twin has launched a surprise attack on his other half.  The Cheneys write:

On a trip to the Middle East this spring, we heard a constant refrain in capitals from the Persian Gulf to Israel, “Can you please explain what your president is doing?” “Why is he walking away?” “Why is he so blithely sacrificing the hard fought gains you secured in Iraq?” “Why is he abandoning your friends?” “Why is he doing deals with your enemies?” …

Mr. Obama is busy ushering America’s adversaries into positions of power in the Middle East. First it was the Russians in Syria. Now, in a move that defies credulity, he toys with the idea of ushering Iran into Iraq. Only a fool would believe American policy in Iraq should be ceded to Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terror.

Ushering is booming these days. Obama’s allies having ushered these rebels into the Syria find these same rebels ushering themselves into Iraq. The onslaught has compelled the president to consider an alliance with arch-enemy Iran to quell the very same people fighting the selfsame Iran across the Syrian border. Nowhere is his dilemma more acutely illustrated than the problem of finding airbases from which to bomb the advancing ISIS columns. The Washington Post highlights how hard it is to find Sunni airbases from which to bomb Sunni rebels.

The Pentagon, for instance, has major air bases in Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The rulers of those countries are Sunni Muslims and are generally leery of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite whom the White House has criticized for exacerbating sectarian tensions.

But they point out the president is unlikely to get permission to bomb from these Sunni countries simply because they are supporting the very forces he plans to attack. It’s quite a twist, leaving him with few clear options other than throw in with Iran, his adversary in the nuclear nuclear face off with Israel.

Such an alliance, as a US military officer observes, would give the Iranians de facto control over any bombing campaign in Iraq. Gary Roughead, a retired four-star admiral and chief of naval operations from 2007 to 2011 was quoted by the Washington Post as saying “for targets in populated areas, the United States would have to rely to a large extent on intelligence provided by the Iraqi military”. That means the Shi’ite military or the Iranians will spot for American air power.

President Obama is now paying the ultimate price for having no strategic goals; no global context.  His sophisticated foreign policy world consisted of disconnected contexts in which contextualized deals could be made.  He’d deal, deal and deal. Nuance. Smart diplomacy. The localization of scope meant the same actors could assume the value of “friend” in one context and yet be foe in another.  That’s why Obama had so more different flavors of al-Qaeda than there are varieties of tomatoes in ketchup. Perhaps the saddest news of recent days is the admission by a former Nigerian president that the girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram are gone forever. Maybe the lesson is that Boko Haram, al-Shabab, Abu Sayyaf, al-Qaeda, ISIS and ISIL are pretty much the same terrorist variable. Despite our best efforts to discriminate between them, they’re none of them “our partners for peace”.

But Obama could maintain a plethora of scopes because unlike the simplistic George W. Bush, he could ‘walk and chew gum’. Now he is finding that it was he who was mistaken.  There is only one Middle East after all. Iraq has exposed his exquisite nuances as mere self-deception. This lack of a solid metric has left him helpless in the current crisis.  He doesn’t know which side of himself to fight.

“Militarily, we can do just about anything we want,” said David Deptula, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who helped lead previous air campaigns over Iraq and Afghanistan. “The question is, to what end?”

Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan might have thought the object of military action was simple: victory. But in Obama’s world “victory” is an obsolete word. And consequently there is no yardstick against which his military options can be meaningfully measured.

Much has been made of the president’s deployment of up to 375 troops in Iraq. Is that a small number or a big number? It depends. If Obama intends to “win” against his foes it is probably about 30,000 men too few. If he has no intention of winning against anybody and he is just using the men as a stopgap to kill time until the story goes away then it is 375 too many.

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If you’re not going to “win” in some definable sense, why bother to play? President Obama has no coherent definition of winning, no metric of what it means to be ahead.  The very notion of triumphing has somehow become evil. Instead he has raised process to an end it itself and plays a scoreless game in a world of local contexts.  His goal is merely to be perceived as ‘engaged’ and acting ‘responsibly’ — whatever that means.

In consequence Obama is being led around by the nose in ever narrowing circles. The Washington Post notes European countries are selling arms to Russia while condemning it over Ukraine; the Pakistanis are ripping America off, charging it billions to defend their wretched government while playing a treacherous game. And now Obama is on both sides of the Sunni-Shi’a conflict.

It looks like they’ve lost the plot. Hillary Clinton, in a recent interview said she couldn’t quite believe what her own State Department was telling her about Benghazi. “Hillary Clinton, in a sit-down interview with Fox News, suggested Tuesday that she had doubts from the outset about whether the Benghazi terror attack was triggered by a protest over an anti-Islam film — though her State Department pushed that narrative for days.”

Here’s some advice to Hillary. Never believe yourself. But her situation is hardly unique. Large swathes of the administration are doing a land office trade misleading each other. Susan Rice believed the CIA about Benghazi and the Sunday talk shows believed Susan Rice. Mitt Romney had his doubts, but he was set straight by Candy Crowley. Barack Obama credited his advisers when they told him that al-Qaeda was finished. And Congress was assured that Lois Lerner’s emails were available until they went missing.

The fundamental problem is that both in small and big things the Obama administration has poisoned its information stores. Dick Cheney put it this way. “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” What the administration needs most is the truth — about something — anything. It needs a starting point. That is probably the reason why Donald Trump bizarrely argued that America should never again go to war in the Middle East again unless the president was determined to take every drop of oil from the conquered country. It was a coarse idea but it reflects his desperation. Trump wanted something tangible, something verifiable in place of all the smoke and mirrors. Trump noted that China got most of Iraq’s oil and to Donald, there was something wrong with that picture.

Today the New York Times note that China is worried about its investments in that country as al-Qaeda, funded by America’s allies, advances on its refineries. Won’t America blunt the attack by joining forces with its enemies to fight its former friends? Temporarily of course. No wonder “China … emerged as the big winner from the strife, at least in terms of oil interests.” They’re not insane. Arguably America is acting insane.


Obama is busy trying to prove America never goes to war for oil. He is busy trying to occupy the moral high ground. He doesn’t he want Maliki to win, nor al-Qaeda to win either. At the same time he doesn’t want to fight any of them. All he wants them to reconcile with each other. And he’s willing to send 375 men to make it happen.

Maybe Obama should go and grab the oil just once, for a change, simply to be crazy in a normal kind of way.

Recent items of interest by Belmont readers based on Amazon click-throughs.

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