Belmont Club

Finally Here

Ishaan Tharoor and Julia Smirnova in the Washington Post cite a diplomat who claims that “the West dismissed Russian offer to help remove Assad in 2012” because they felt he was ready to fall over.  The article says:

Finnish diplomat and Nobel laureate Martti Ahtisaari suggested that there was a moment early on during Syria’s hideous war when a political solution could have been thrashed out. Ahtisaari claims that in February 2012, when the conflict had claimed under 10,000 lives, Russia’s envoy to the United Nations outlined a peace plan that could have led to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s exit from power….

“Nothing happened because I think [the Western diplomats], and many others, were convinced that Assad would be thrown out of office in a few weeks so there was no need to do anything,” Ahtisaari told the Guardian.

By August 2011, the White House had already demanded that Assad cede power. The glow of the Arab Spring, which had seen a succession of entrenched dictators fall in the space of a year, had probably influenced the administration’s thinking on Syria.

The “Arab Spring”.  Remember that?  The air was electric with Hope then. Three years later, the Daily Beast reports that “just ‘four or five’ U.S.-trained anti-ISIS fighters are combatting the so-called Islamic State … despite a program that cost as much as $500 million,” according to U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin.

Quite a reversal of fortune. Dan de Luce at Foreign Policy writes that the administration is no longer hoping for victory in Syria — or one might add in Yemen, Libya or Iraq either.  It is merely hoping to keep its five Syrian fighters from being killed off.

Anxious to avoid another damaging setback for the training effort, the White House and the Pentagon are looking at attaching small numbers of fighters to larger established forces in northern Syria to ensure the rebels are better protected on the battlefield by more numerous experienced troops.

An administration which once promised to lower the oceans has downsized its expectations. Welcome to the post-Western era. Eli Lake writes that even the GOP understand that it’s over. America is diminished. Not a single one of the Republican candidates wanted to do anything more now than slow down the drift to the falls.

Even Marco Rubio, the candidate with the most developed hawkish worldview, doesn’t propose to end evil regimes. He has identified threats from Russia, China, Iran and radical Islam. But his main point is that U.S. power should be used to blunt these powers and strengthen the allies most threatened by them. Rubio is not promising liberation, so much as he is promising deterrence.

It’ll be lucky to achieve even that. Stephen Sestanovich writes in the Wall Street Journal that the administration is worried that Obama will look weak if he meets with Putin — but is afraid not to. It’s the fear of the man with nowhere to go. The Washington Post reports that the president has decided not to impose sanctions on China before the visit of China President Xi Jinping next week.  He can’t look weak yet he can’t be strong.

The decision followed an all-night meeting on Friday in which senior U.S. and Chinese officials reached “substantial agreement” on several cybersecurity issues, said the administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the topic’s sensitivity.

The potential for sanctions in response to Chinese economic cyberespionage is not off the table and China’s behavior in cyberspace is still an issue, the official said. “But there is an agreement, and there are not going to be any sanctions” before Xi arrives on Sept. 24, the official said.

Trapped between the requirements of pretended majesty and the reality of decline the administration just lets it happen.  Catherine Herridge and Matthew Dean at Fox write that “a private industry IT security firm tells Fox News that personal data stolen over the span of several high-profile U.S. cyber breaches is being indexed by China’s intelligence service into a massive Facebook-like network.”

According to CrowdStrike founder Dmitri Alperovitch, Chinese hackers are using information gained from the breaches of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, as well as intrusions into the Anthem and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield health insurance networks, to build a complete profile of federal employees in what the company calls a “Facebook of Everything.”

“That can now be used to embarrass you publicly and force you to work for the Chinese government,” Alperovitch told Fox News. “It’s, in effect, a private version of Facebook with much more detail about your life than even Facebook has that the Chinese now have access to.” Current and former intelligence officials echoed the assessment.

Perhaps the president will remonstrate with the Chinese, but to what end?  The migrant people flows overwhelming Europe’s borders has exposed the catastrophic collapse in the Western government’s will to survive.  It’s shown everyone they will do nothing to resist a forceful advance. The only response they are still capable of is buying their enemies off.

Adam Credo at Freebeacon alleges that “the United States has provided secret assurances to Europe, China, and Russia that it will protect companies working with Iran from consequences related to the possible reimposition of sanctions set to be lifted under the recently inked nuclear deal, according to a document provided to Congress and obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon.”  When the president guarantees the profits of his rivals he’s no longer doing anything but playing for time.

Dion Nussbaum at the Wall Street Journal describes how Moscow simply blew off Chuck Hagel when he remonstrated with his counterparts over Ukraine. Ashton Carter doesn’t think it’s worth another try and has dumped the whole sorry mess onto the lap of John Forbes Kerry.

When Russia started massing troops on the Ukraine border last year, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called his counterpart in Moscow to voice U.S. concerns. …

During his two years in office, Mr. Hagel made his relationship with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu a priority. The two leaders spoke by phone four times last year as ties with Russia deteriorated. When Russian troops prepared to seize control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, Mr. Hagel was at the forefront of the American pushback.

This time around, it has been Mr. Kerry who has taken the diplomatic lead. Since taking office in February, Mr. Carter has had no contact with Mr. Shoygu.

Sounds like a plan.  Leave it to JFK. Dan Drezner asks in the Washington Post: “who lost Ukraine?” without being able to provide a definite answer. But if it’s a question you have to ask, one most definitely doesn’t want to know.

All the same the president recently reminded the Republican debaters that it’s impolite to talk about bad news.

As Republican presidential candidates lay into his record, President Barack Obama on Wednesday chalked up the attacks to expected election-year politics but said there was “nothing particularly patriotic” about their rhetoric.

“Despite the perennial doom and gloom that I guess is inevitably part of a presidential campaign, America is winning right now,” Obama said at a meeting of the Business Roundtable in Washington. “America is great right now. We can do even better.”

Too bad Bernie Sanders didn’t get the word. The Hill says “Sanders won the GOP debate — on Facebook” — for the second time in a row to. We have truly entered the age of marvels. Interestingly, Sanders won “the debate” by complaining that America was practically on its knees — after 7 years of Obama, imagine that — proving we need to continue the trend, perhaps on Twitter.

Joshua Hersh, in an article describing the migrant trek through Europe, has perhaps unwittingly captured the dead-end nature of recent events. He depicts a crowd of people making their way toward what they are sure is safety, prosperity and permanence.

Periodically, crowds would migrate toward the metal gates that demarcate Hungarian territory — newly reinforced with rounds of barbed wire, and guarded by riot police, army units, and helicopters that periodically swooped low over the gathering, in a manner that reminded more than a few of the Syrian air force’s bombing runs. “If the Free Syrian Army was here, they’d shoot that helicopter down,” one young refugee said….

“Everything I had is finished,” he said. “I’m young, so I should have a future, but what is my future? My future is this gate — let it open.”

As he was speaking, a crowd of people who an hour earlier had surged toward the gate, spurred on by a rumor that it was opening, charged back in the other direction. At the front, families had mixed in with young, agitated travelers, who jeered at the Hungarian police and chanted, “Open, open, open!”

But there is no longer any permanence on the other side of the gate, either in Hungary or anywhere else. The only remaining mercy is not to tell the migrants it’s an  illusion, to leave them with the dream the West no longer has.  We live in the post Pax Americana.  It’s not the age of peace, security and wealth that all those who hoped for the end of American dominance promised it would be. Yet it is what it is:  a fulfillment of sorts, a tragic glimpse into the possibilities of getting what you want.

Who knew that hope would ultimately mean surviving itself?


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