The signs of the times as read by the Roger Cohen of New York Times at least in his piece The Great Unraveling throw shadows upon a doubtful scene. He surveys our age and writes, “it was a time of beheadings. … a time of aggression. … a time of breakup. … a time of weakness…. a time of hatred. … a time of fever. … a time of disorientation.” And yet they had come to that pass sleep-walking, unmindful “until it was too late and people could see the Great Unraveling for what it was and what it had wrought.”
It was a time of catastrophe because it was equally a time of folly. For it was a time when people got Nobel Prizes in advance of achievement; when people reviled their heritage the better to free themselves of the past as well as the future. It was time when they cast away the victory of the Cold War and the result of the Second in the vague belief they could remake the world retrospectively. It was a time when civilization apologized for its existence to the barbarians, because the only criterion they recognized for civility was guilt. It was a time when national borders were abolished by the men sworn to defend them; when students were taught it was shameful for a father to wear the uniform of his country to his daughter’s school; when people were told it insensitive — perhaps even criminal– to display the American flag. It was the hour when Teach For America determined that math was the “domain of old, white men” and was determined to teach only “critically conscious mathematics” whose subjects were “Sweatshop Accounting,” “Racism and Stop and Frisk,” “When Equal Isn’t Fair,” “The Square Root of a Fair Share” and “Home Buying While Brown or Black.”
Oh yes it was a time.
A moment when homomorphism became a bigoted word and the Niggard of the Narcissus became an racist book. An occasion when L’Hôpital’s rule might be confused for a provision in Obamacare, a Strange Attractor become an LGBT term; where the Witch of Agnesi runs a spa in Beverley Hills; tensors something kids had out and syntactic sugar a substance strictly banned in the Michelle Obama school lunch program. It was a time when even Hilbert’s Hotel had become but a place of sordid assignation. It was a time. A time of ignorance with only the memory of something left behind left to give unease.
They are still puzzling over their estate, but the smoke of doubt has clearly crept into the temples of the establishment. The Washington Post warns that China’s “creeping invasion” of East Asia is occurring at the same time as Vladimir Putin’s slow motion takeover of the Ukraine. And not just the smoke of doubt, but the smell of actual fear. The New Republic notes with alarm that “Obama’s Scariest ISIS Comment Yet is: ‘I’m Not Going to Anticipate Failure'”. It’s just hit them: there’s no Plan B.
President Obama made the comment in a private, off-the-record meeting with a select group of journalists before his prime-time speech last week. On Sunday, Peter Baker, who was not at the meeting, reported in the New York Times about what was said there. Among other things, Obama was reportedly asked how he would adjust his strategy if his new plan proved unsuccessful. “I’m not going to anticipate failure at this point,” Obama responded, according to Baker’s report.
Second-hand accounts of these meetings often unintentionally warp the true meaning of the president’s statement. But if Baker’s reporting is correct, it represents a dangerous mentality from the Obama administration. If we’ve learned anything from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is that we should anticipate failure. There’s almost a zero percent chance that Obama’s plan will be perfectly successful—or even somewhat successful. Already, over the weekend, there are reports that the Free Syrian Army—one of the factions of moderate rebels that Obama wants to arm—will not take part in the new coalition to defeat ISIS. Those reports could prove false, but they demonstrate just how fraught the conditions are in the Middle East.
But perhaps the truth is scarier. There wasn’t a Plan A either. Never was. Andrew Sullivan is slowly beginning to realizes there was perhaps never a coherent plan at all. He writes, “Obama’s New War: Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb”. Sullivan left out the last “dumb”. In Radical Math such lists the expletives (separated by spaces) should arrive in even numbers.
The liberal flagships are beginning to feel the scales falling from their eyes. And they don’t want to look, because they’re out on the edge and it is too far to fall. One of Elizabeth Scalia’s most telling insights is that “‘smart, urbane, sophisticated” people saw themselves shining in Obama, as the idolaters saw their reflections in golden calf. And that vanity blinded them to the obvious until now, when it is almost too late; it made them see as the Duke of Wellington a man who was only just Harry Flashman, a clever adventurer with a talent for taking credit for things. A blank screen who was just a blank screen.
That’s how it came to this. Now perhaps their only chance is to keep going in the barrel until it zooms over the Niagra falls, hoping they will make it past the rocks to some, to any stretch of beach. For as Flashman once observed, “there’s a point, you know, where treachery is so complete and unashamed that it becomes statesmanship.” What’s the alternative to stupidity now? Now that they’ve gone so far it’s almost a shame not to see it through to the end. And therein rests the last remaining chance of the liberal establishment, imploring such divinities as they still believe in — luck maybe — that their hero can create a chaos so complete it will embroil the entire Muslim world, Russia and China in a vast conflagration before it consumes them.
And if doesn’t work, here’s Flashman’s last-ditch advice. “Thats what you young chaps have to remember. When you run, RUN! Full speed. Don’t dither or dally even for an instant. Let terror have his way, for he’s the best friend you’ve got”. We’re not at the running stage yet, but give it time. Give it time.
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