The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Damned If You Do

Barack Obama finally realized (or was convinced by other aides and confidants) that he was in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. In this case he acted correctly—postponing a consideration of any attack on Syria until he has "consulted with Congress." It is highly unlikely that the Congress will approve Obama's adventure, so for now at least, his threatened attack on Syria is a no go. And that's a good thing.

The President painted himself into a corner with loose talk about red lines, and as a consequence, felt forced not to look weak in the eyes of our adversaries. But a missile attack that did not topple the Assad regime or pummel it mercilessly would have looked weak and ineffective in any event. Worse, if his attack did topple Assad, the victors would have been mad-dog Islamists (one leader recently appeared on a YouTube video—unvetted, but still disgusting—eating the heart of a dead Syrian soldier) Another victor would have been al Qaida. What a mess, and another testament to the fecklessness of the President's foreign policy efforts in the Middle East over the past five years.

Barack Obama lost the majority of his liberal base on the Syria attack, not to mention a significant majority of all Americans. He was roundly and justifiably criticized from the Left and the Right, from foreign allies and adversaries alike. It's hard to build that kind of a coalition, but Obama managed to do it.

One would hope that the amateurs in the administration and the President himself would learn from this disaster. But I doubt that they will. The hubris and concomitant incompetence of this presidency continues to astound.

Update (9/2/13):

One of the President's home town newspapers, The Chicago Tribune, summaries this foreign policy debacle:
So ended the most puzzling, and potentially disastrous, week of the Obama presidency.

He failed to muster world support for a military response on Syria. He failed to convince the American public of the value in such action. He sent Secretary of State John Kerry out twice to issue broad declarations that the U.S. was prepared to act forcefully, but he gave away military advantage by assuring the world — and Bashar Assad — that the U.S. response would be quite limited. Moreover, Assad gained the opportunity to protect his troops and materiel by filtering them into the civilian population.
This president is quick to blame others for damage related to his poor policy decisions. The damage related to this decision is clearly self-inflicted.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Wag the Dog

With each passing day, the Obama threat of a "shot across the bow" for Syria becomes more ridiculous. The U.K. now recognizes that bombing Syria with no strategy in place and no national interest at stake is a losing proposition. It has rejected the bid to go to war. So much for President's "coalition." Ironically, he has become the very thing he criticized in 2008—a cowboy who goes it alone (even though George W. Bush had UN support and a coalition of many countries when he went into Iraq).

But the President plods on, seemingly more worried about his "red line" than he is about the potentially serious unintended consequences of an attack.

Caroline Glick, a resident of the very bad neighborhood that is the Middle East, comments:
Syria is controlled by Iran and its war is being directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and by Hezbollah. And arrayed against them are rebel forces dominated by al-Qaida.

As US Sen. Ted Cruz explained this week, "Of nine rebel groups [fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad], seven of them may well have some significant ties to al-Qaida."

With no good horse to bet on, the US and its allies have three core interests relating to the war. First, they have an interest in preventing Syria's chemical, biological and ballistic missile arsenals from being used against them either directly by the regime, through its terror proxies or by a successor regime.

Second, the US and its allies have an interest in containing the war as much as possible to Syria itself.

Finally, the US and its allies share an interest in preventing Iran, Moscow or al-Qaida from winning the war or making any strategic gains from their involvement in the war.

For the past two-and-a-half years, Israel has been doing an exemplary job of securing the first interest. According to media reports, the IDF has conducted numerous strikes inside Syria to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry, including missiles from Syria to Hezbollah.

Rather than assist Israel in its efforts that are also vital to US strategic interests, the US has been endangering these Israeli operations. US officials have repeatedly leaked details of Israel's operations to the media. These leaks have provoked several senior Israeli officials to express acute concern that in providing the media with information regarding these Israeli strikes, the Obama administration is behaving as if it is interested in provoking a war between Israel and Syria. The concerns are rooted in a profound distrust of US intentions, unprecedented in the 50-year history of US-Israeli strategic relations.
It's reasonable to ask how, exactly, will a few hundred cruise missiles and possibly fighter bombers advance these core interests? How will an equivocal response (the only kind that Barack Obama is willing to make) not be viewed a weak, confused, and ineffective?

Again Glick comments:
Obama believes he can prove his moral and strategic bonafides to the public by declaring his outrage at Syrian barbarism and then launching a few cruise missiles from an aircraft carrier. The computer graphics on the television news will complete the task for him.

The New York Times claimed on Thursday that the administration's case for striking Syria would not be the "political theater" that characterized the Bush administration's case for waging war in Iraq. But at least the Bush administration's political theater ended with the invasion. In Obama's case, the case for war and the war itself are all political theater.
With his foreign policy in the Middle East in ruins and his domestic policy an abject failure, I'm not sure "political theater" is exactly the right term for what's happening. It's wag the dog, baby, wag the dog!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pandora's Box

In my view, Stratfor regularly publishes the Web's most indepth, rational, and non-partisan analysis of geopolitical matters. Today's Stratfor analysis by George Friedman addresses the looming attack on Syria. Friedman, not one for conspiracy theories or wild assertions, writes:
Al Assad is a ruthless man: He would not hesitate to use chemical weapons if he had to. He is also a very rational man: He would use chemical weapons only if that were his sole option. At the moment, it is difficult to see what desperate situation would have caused him to use chemical weapons and risk the worst. His opponents are equally ruthless, and we can imagine them using chemical weapons to force the United States to intervene and depose al Assad. But their ability to access chemical weapons is unclear, and if found out, the maneuver could cost them all Western support. It is possible that lower-ranking officers in al Assad's military used chemical weapons without his knowledge and perhaps against his wishes. It is possible that the casualties were far less than claimed. And it is possible that some of the pictures were faked.

All of these things are possible, but we simply don't know which is true. More important is that major governments, including the British and French, are claiming knowledge that al Assad carried out the attack. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a speech Aug. 26 clearly building the case for a military response, and referring to the regime attack as "undeniable" and the U.S. assessment so far as "grounded in facts." Al Assad meanwhile has agreed to allow U.N. inspectors to examine the evidence onsite. In the end, those who oppose al Assad will claim his supporters concealed his guilt, and the insurgents will say the same thing if they are blamed or if the inspectors determine there is no conclusive evidence of attacks.

The truth here has been politicized, and whoever claims to have found the truth, whatever it actually is, will be charged with lying. Nevertheless, the dominant emerging story is that al Assad carried out the attack, killing hundreds of men, women and children and crossing the red line Obama set with impunity. The U.S. president is backed into a corner.
It is more than a little ironic that Barack Obama and his supporters were apoplectic when George W. Bush attacked Iraq because of the threat of hidden nukes. Bush spent months and months at the UN and got congressional approval for the strike. With hindsight, his decision was a bad one.

Obama is giving lip service to the UN, but with a UN ambassador who was too busy to attend the first meeting on the subject, it appears that a feckless UN will be useless (as it almost always is). The President has given no indication that he is going to ask Congress for approval.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, an attack on Syria is a bad idea. Although it will allow moral preening by those who are rightfully appalled by the claim that Assad used chemical weapons, it opens a Pandora's box of unintended consequences—all of them bad—and is not in the strategic interest of the United States.

Again from Stratfor:
Syria was not an issue that affected the U.S. national interest until Obama declared a red line. It escalated in importance at that point not because Syria is critical to the United States, but because the credibility of its stated limits are of vital importance. Obama's problem is that the majority of the American people oppose military intervention, Congress is not fully behind an intervention and those now rooting the United States on are not bearing the bulk of the military burden -- nor will they bear the criticism that will follow the inevitable civilian casualties, accidents and misdeeds that are part of war regardless of the purity of the intent.

The question therefore becomes what the United States and the new coalition of the willing will do if the red line has been crossed. The fantasy is that a series of airstrikes, destroying only chemical weapons, will be so perfectly executed that no one will be killed except those who deserve to die. But it is hard to distinguish a man's soul from 10,000 feet. There will be deaths, and the United States will be blamed for them.
If you are to believe Obama's shrinking legion of rabid supporters, you'd think the President was smarter than this. Apparently, he isn't.

Update (28 Aug 2013):

As I recall, the run-up to the Iraq war had many months of UN inspections, meetings at the UN, lengthy presentations outlining our belief that Saddam Hussein had WMD stockpiles, and major consultations with between the President and Congress. And still, the Left screamed when military action was taken and continue to suggest that "war crimes" were committed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Bill Roggio and Lisa Lundquist
note that some fundamental questions remain unanswered as Barack Obama stumbles headlong into military action with Syria:
When will the proof be produced, and what is it? … Since the site of the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack is in territory that has been a rebel stronghold for months, is it reasonable for the US to have made this claim? … Is there a possibility that the Aug. 21 attack was an accidental hit — of chemical stocks belonging to either the regime or the rebels. … Why is the US so quickly dismissing the UN investigative effort as too late. … Is there a way to rule out the possibility, given the timing of the Aug. 21 attack, that it could have been perpetrated by rebel groups seeking to draw the US into a military intervention against the Assad regime? … What is the US’s endgame in Syria?
These are all reasonable questions, none of which have been answered with any specificity. But that's really not a surprise. With this "transparent" administration, so many questions on so many things -- and so few answers that have any substance.

Monday, August 26, 2013


The United States has spent the last decade mired in the cesspool that is the Arab Middle East. Duplicitous "allies" in Iraq and Afghanistan use our military and our money as a way to defeat their tribal enemies and have exhibited no more gratitude or allegiance than a predator to his prey. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama after him adopted the fantasy notion that "democracy" and nation-building would work in a society with vicious tribal divisions, rampant corruption, massive illiteracy, and a generally broken culture.

Barack Obama led from behind in his attack on Libya, and the result is a Islamist gang-dominated state that is no better off that it was when Mohamar Kaddafi was dictator. Obama further aligned himself with the virulently Islamist (and anti-Western) Muslim Brotherhood after he advocated the overthrow of Egypt's pro-western dictator Hosni Mubarack. The results—all bad—are playing themselves out in the streets of Cairo as I write this.

And now, the President is in a bind over Syria. A civil war rages in that country. It might have been possible to shape events in Syria if action was taken two years ago [see Update-2, following]. The President dithered. But today, we lose no matter which side in Syria prevails. Bashar Assad, a puppet of Iran and Russia, is a brutal dictator, but he is generally predictable. His opposition is Islamist and getting more radical by the month. If they prevail, a new Islamist client state of the Mullahs in Iran will emerge.

It looks like the President, who has painted himself into a corner with his earlier statements on Syria, will take limited military action because Assad has used nerve gas against his population. As horrific as this event is, it is not in the national interest of the United States to intervene in some limited (the word "proportional" is being bandied about by liberal pundits) way. A limited military attack is unlikely to have any long term affect and may have serious unintended consequences.

Although his supporters tout the President's approach as "smart diplomacy," we have had anything but over the past five years. So what would be "smart?" "Smart" would be a aggressive support for Iran's dissident faction with back channel communication indicating that as Iran ratchets up its support for Syria, we ratchet up unrest in Iran. "Smart" would be tangible economic rewards for the Russians in an effort to have them back off. "Smart" would be actions against Hezballah in Lebanon, a cats paw that will be played against Israel by Iran if action begins in Syria. "Smart" would be aggressive military action against any Iranian vessel that threatens our navy in the gulf. "Smart" would be the movement of U.S. troops in Afghanisatan toward the Iranian border.

But a half-hearted limited military adventure in Syria? The time has passed for that option. It will likely occur, and like almost everything else associated with this president's foreign policy, it will not end well.


Richard Fernandez comments further:
But the blatant stupidities are starting to worry even Colin Powell who says there’s no point to acting in Syria without knowing who you’re helping.

“I have no affection for Assad,” Powell told Bob Schieffer on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” while mentioning he knows the Syrian president and has personally dealt with him. “He’s a pathological liar.”

However, Powell said, “I am less sure of the resistance. What do they represent? Is it becoming even more radicalized with more al Qaeda coming in, and what would it look like if they prevailed and Assad went? I don’t know.”

That’s Common Sense 101, but the point is apparently one too difficult — or too simple — for the President to grasp. Obama is trapped by his own propaganda, the victim of his own myth. He came to power on the strength of his supposed genius; his messianic transcendance. He was destined to make the world America’s friend; usher in a world without nuclear weapons; and fundamentally transform the nation. He was even going to make the oceans fall. Why he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in anticipation of achievements he had not yet even attained.

It is these expectations that weigh down on him like lead. Had Obama not made any of these vaunting boasts he might not look like the fool he is now. But as his speech on “Red Lines” exemplifies, the teleprompter can write check his autopen doesn’t even know how to sign.

Perhaps the only remaining reason for striking Syria without first deciding policy is simply to demonstrate to low information voters that he’s still President; that he can still do something, even if that something is pointless. The dangers be damned.


And this comment on recent past history from Caroline Glick:
America's powerlessness in Syria is largely Obama's fault. At the outset of the Syrian civil war two-and-a-half years ago, Obama outsourced the development of Syria's opposition forces to Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. He had other options. A consortium of Syrian Kurds, moderate Sunnis, Christians and others came to Washington and begged for US assistance. But they were ignored.

Obama's decision to outsource the US's Syria policy owed to his twin goals of demonstrating that the US would no longer try to dictate international outcomes, and of allying the US with Islamic fundamentalists.

Both of these goals are transformative.

In the first instance, Obama believes that anti-Americanism stems from America's actions. By accepting the mantel of global leadership, Obama believes the US insulted other nations. To mitigate their anger, the US should abdicate leadership.

As for courting Islamic fundamentalists, from his earliest days in office Obama insisted that since radical Islam is the most popular movement in the Islamic world, radical Islam is good. Radical Muslims are America's friends.

Obama embraced Erdogan, an Islamic fascist who has won elections, as his closest ally and most trusted adviser in the Muslim world.

And so, with the full support of the US government, Erdogan stacked Syria's opposition forces with radical Muslims like himself. Within months the Muslim Brotherhood comprised the majority in Syria's US-sponsored opposition.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

With a "B"

President Obama and his Democratic colleagues tell an unquestioning media that they are hard at work reducing our yearly deficit. The media reports this unmitigated nonsense without so much as a comment, let alone a probing question that might allow the public to understand that spending is increasing, not decreasing. Yearly deficits are, of course, different from the national debt, but it's still instructive to note that over the past 11 months, out national debt has increased at an average rate of $2.06 billion per day. That's billion with a "B."

During that time the infamous sequester occurred. If you were to believe President Obama and his Democratic colleagues, a 2 percent cut in Federal spending was going to cause the world to come to an end. Fortunately, that didn't happen, even as Democrats struggled to find any sign of that the "meat-axe" budget cuts were causing small children to starve, seniors to live on the streets, or the sick to die from lack of care. None of that happened, but any further attempt to cut spending will be met with the same predictions of calamity.

Over the next few months, the budget battles will be re-engaged. There will be much drama and many outrageous claims, but it's highly unlikely that any substantive cuts will occur. After all, we all want to avoid calamity ... don't we?

To illustrate, Noan Findley comments on a small (by Federal standards) program that is indicative of unnecessary spending:
Nothing better illustrates the impossibility of killing a federal entitlement than the fraud-riddled Obamaphone program.

The $2.1 billion giveaway, funded by a tax on every cellphone service contract, is a well-documented boondoggle — an estimated 41 percent of the phones go to ineligible recipients.
Let's assume that the estimates of fraud are wrong and that only 1/4 of the phones go to ineligible recipients. That's still a half a billion dollars of waste!

It would be refreshing to see this program cut or reformed, but as Findley notes:
So why hasn’t it been axed? Because federal spending programs rarely die, and are even more rarely reformed.

Every dollar the government spends has a constituency. In this case, the private companies providing the phones are perversely motivated to ignore eligibility requirements — the more phones they pass out, the more money they make. The recipients of the phones are voters, and the administration has no incentive to alienate its own voters to save such a piddling amount as $2.1 billion.

Federal programs are judged on their intent, not their performance. For example, the General Accounting Office two years ago identified $18 billion of waste in federal job training initiatives, and yet there’s been no move to cut off those funds, because no politician wants to vote against job training.
As is the case with most government programs, the phone program was started with the best of intentions. But as the years pass, these programs grow and grow until they become targets for fraud and abuse.

Our current national debt is $16.74 trillion. When the President took office, the Debt-to-GDP ratio was under 70 percent. Today, it is 101 percent. The President and many in Congress don't seem to care, and that is breathtakingly irresponsible.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Course Change

President Obama and his supporters told us in 2011 that the "Arab spring" would lead to democracy in Egypt. His sychophants in the MSM parroted his words, never looking at history and never questioning the wisdom of his judgement. Obama warned that democracy would come to Egypt in fits and starts, but the "mostly moderate" Muslim Brotherhood (MB) would rule with, well, moderation. Fits and start, indeed. Moderation? There was never a chance that would happen, but the President was either too ill-informed or too caught up in his own fantasy view of the world to recognize the inherent danger in backing and even wooing the MB.

Barry Rubin comments:
There is a long history of Western powers believing that they could manipulate or work with radical Arabic-speaking states or movements to redo the regional order. All have ended badly.
But what is more shocking is the repeated meme that the MB were moderate or at least mostly moderate. They.Are.Not. Nor have they ever been. Again from Rubin:
There are huge amounts of archival evidence, including documents showing not only Nazi payments to the Brotherhood but also that the Nazis provided them with arms for a rebellion to kill Christians and Jews in Egypt. … There is no evidence that the Brotherhood has changed its positions.

Richard Fernandez suggests that an incompetent administration was lead astray by an incompetently managed state department:
Thus the authoritarian, the church-burning, anti-semitic nature of the Bros [MB] should not have been in the least surprising. What was surprising was that State didn’t see it coming ...

The State Department should have realized that walking down the aisle with the Muslim Brotherhood to the altar of democracy was like handcuffing yourself to an anvil and trying to swim the English channel. [emphasis mine] They were bound to drag Obama down and they did. One of President Obama’s favorite phrases is “false choice”. He once said “we Reject the False Choice Between Our Security and Our Ideals”. On another occasion he thundered against the false choice between privacy and security in discussing the NSA scandal. What are we now to make about the choice offered to the Egyptian people between the ideological descendants of Stalin and Hitler? The President should dust off the teleprompter and say, “I reject the false choice …”
But that would require Barack Obama to do what intelligent leaders must always do — re-evaluate preconceived notions that are demonstrably incorrect and make a course change.

It is way past the time when this country and its President should "dust off the teleprompter" and state:
"We reject the false choice between friendship with the mainstream of Islam and the need to avoid taking a strong position on radical Islam. We sincerely want to peacefully coexist with Islam, but only to the extent that Islam is willing to peacefully co-exist with us. We believe that the vast majority of Islam wants peace and friendship and desires a mutually beneficial relationship with us.

"But Radical Islam, exemplified by the Muslim Brotherhood, is antithetical to our values, our culture and our future. When it threatens us directly we will fight it, and we will win. When it threatens others, we will help those threatened to overcome it. We do not want conflict, but we will no longer be silent when a repressive, intolerant, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, homophobic ideology wants to dominate the weak and murder those who oppose it."
Heh. The teleprompter will remain dusty throughout the remainder of Barack Obama's term, and if things go as I expect, well into the second decade of the 21st century. By then, it will be too late for a course change.

Update (19 Aug 2013):

Walter Russell Mead provides another look:

President Obama has had a rude awakening in the Middle East. The region he thought existed was an illusion built on American progressive assumptions about the way the world works. In the dream Middle East, democracy at least of a sort was just around the corner. Moderate Islamists would engage with the democratic process, and the experience would lead them to ever more moderate behavior. If America got itself on the “right side of history,” and supported this hopeful development, both America’s values and its interests would be served. Our relationships with the peoples of the Middle East would improve as they saw Washington supporting the emergence of democracy in the region, and Al Qaeda and the other violent groups would lose influence as moderate Islamist parties guided their countries to prosperity and democracy.

This vision, sadly, has turned out to be a mirage, and Washington is discovering that fact only after the administration followed the deceptive illusion out into the deep desert. The vultures are circling now as American policy crawls forlornly over the dunes; with both the New York Times and the Washington Post running “what went wrong” obituaries for the President’s efforts in Egypt, not even the MSM can avoid the harsh truth that President Obama’s Middle East policies have collapsed into an ugly and incoherent mess.
In fairness, the illusion of democracy in the Middle East began long before Obama was in office, but his administration perpetuated the fantasy and if anything, adopted a foreign policy that made a bad situation much, much worse.

Friday, August 16, 2013

100 Days

In the early days of the Watergate scandal, investigative progress was glacially slow. The Nixon Whitehouse stonewalled every congressional query, and Nixon's supporters denigrated any attempt to get to the truth. It was, after all, a "third rate burglary" of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. At the time, it looked like it was going nowhere. A corrupt and venal president was looking for political intelligence that would somehow put his opponents at a disadvantage. It took almost two years for the truth the be known and ultimately forced Nixon to resign his presidency.

As the current IRS scandal approaches day 100, investigative progress continues to be glacially slow. The Obama Whitehouse has stonewalled every congressional query, and Obama's supporters have denigrated any attempt to get to the truth. The IRS scandal is, after all, (1) the work of rogue IRS agents in Cincinnati (oops, that's wrong!), (2) a misinterpretation of complex tax laws that never reached D.C. (oops, check that!), something that did reach D.C but never reached the Whitehouse in any way (oops, wrong again!), (4) a "phony" scandal (really?).

As I have stated in a number of recent posts, Obama's IRS scandal has a distinct and obvious nixonesque feel. The only problem is the offenses that allowed the IRS to target small, citizen-organized opposition groups are far more serious and ominous than a "third rate burglary" of the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

The Washington Examiner comments:
It takes preternatural naivete to accept claims that nobody in the Obama White House knew about the illegal targeting conducted by the IRS during the 2010 and 2012 campaigns, namely the harassing treatment of Tea Party, conservative and evangelical groups seeking nonprofit status. Obama has a history of going after critics with something more than reason and logic. In 2008, he encouraged supporters to "get in their face" when dealing with opponents. There was also the massive call-in organized by his campaign the same year demanding that a radio station cancel an interview with National Review's Stanley Kurtz about Obama's links to radical leftists like Students for a Democratic Society/Weather Underground bomber Bill Ayers.
Indeed, "preternatural naivete" is something that many innocent Obama supporters have in abundance, but it's not what drives the Democratic politicians who look the other way when laws are alleged to be broken.

People close to this President likely sanctioned the IRS attack on his opponents. At the least, they have corrupted a government agency (recall that in 1972, the IRS actively resisted requests from the Nixon whitehouse to do essentially the same thing that has happened in this instance) and in all probability that people close to this President have committed criminal acts. The public is understandably more worried about a a dreadful economic picture that remains after five years of Obama's flailing attempts to achieve economic growth through massive government spending and increased taxation. The media? Crickets.

Will the truth emerge? I think it's possible, but unlikely. The media led the charge against Nixon's corruption and to some extent forced the political class to act. The MSM remains silent, refusing to investigate a clear case on government corruption at the highest level, afraid that they'll bring this presidency (already an objective failure) to its knees. But the IRS scandal investigation will move forward. It will be interesting to see what develops over the next 100 days and the 100 days after that. Until the truth emerges, it will not stop. Nor should it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


I can still remember the breathless commentary by the more liberal elements of the MSM (and that means just about everyone in the media) when the "Arab Spring" began in Egypt in 2011. Pictures of young secular liberals marching "for democracy" in the streets of Cairo were followed by laughably naive dissertations on the power of Facebook and Twitter to effect societal change. Barack Obama rushed to disparage Hosni Mubarack, Egypt's hard-line dictator but America's staunch ally, and at the same time embraced the "moderate" Muslim brotherhood, a rabidly Islamist organization with all that label implies. Feverishly trying to embrace Islam, Obama providing funding and encouragement for Egypt's new Islamist President, despite warnings that moderation was not in the cards.

Those of us who argued that the Arab spring would not end well have been vindicated over the past few months. "Democracy" is dead in Egypt, moderation is non-existent, but violence is alive and well.

George Bush, and Barack Obama after him along with many others, naively thought that we could somehow instill Western values in the Middle East (it really doesn't matter whether we're talking about Egypt, or Iraq, or Afghanistan). Bottom line: it isn't going to happen any time soon.

Stanley Kurtz comments on all of this:
Nobody talks about the Middle East’s social system, not only Islam and its sectarian divisions, but the patterns of tribe and kin that govern so much of life in this part of the world. Political events in the Middle East cannot be understood in isolation from the fundamentals of social life. Yet in our “multicultural” age, taking culture seriously as something that can influence politics or block political and economic modernization is now taboo.

This leaves us naively hoping for a Middle Eastern future modeled on our own hugely different social assumptions. Not content to simply long for a “democratic transition,” we actually assume that one is taking place, even as events before our eyes disprove this fantasy at every stage. One man, one vote, one time. It happened in front of us, yet we refused to see it. Egypt’s secularists and military did see what was happening and took action. They weren’t democrats either, but at least they understood their opponents.

No peace without including the Muslim Brotherhood, which represents so much of Egypt? Quite right. No peace. What this argument fails to recognize is that the image of a national reconciliation that encompasses all parties in Egypt — the goal the [New York] Times and the [Washington] Post want us to work toward –- is a chimera. The minimum consensus on social fundamentals necessary for democracy to function is simply not present in Egypt, and there is no reasonable prospect that it will be any time soon.

Come to think of it, Barack Obama took George Bush's mistakes in the Middle East and he made them worse. Virtually all of Barack Obama's foreign policy is a "chimera" that has adopted a view of the world and its actors that is pure "fantasy." Wishful thinking is not a strategy, nor is it policy, nor can it lead to anything good in the hardball world of the Middle East. And yet, Obama and his administration continue to make poor decisions and embrace bad actors as the region devolves into chaos.

Update - 1 (16 Aug 2013):

Even The New Republic (a leftist publication and a rabid supporter of Barack Obama) is beginning to ask questions about the president's incoherent approach to Egypt (and by inference, the Middle East in general):
The best defense I can muster for Team Obama's pathetic response to the events of the last month in Egypt is that the men and women in charge of American foreign policy simply don't mind looking foolish. No, really: Obama has espoused the generally astute opinion that the immediate reaction of the American president is not the most important aspect of every worrying development on the planet. Not all problems can be fixed by a show of American strength or outrage or willpower. And really, in the grand scheme of things, whether the administration looks silly or weak is less meaningful than whether it is effective.

Alas, this quasi-defense doesn't apply in the case of Egypt, where the death toll from the last 24 hours stands above 500. (Injuries are at about 3,700.) Not only has the administration looked weak and unprepared, but it looks unintelligent, too. The New York Times had several superb articles on the "crisis" today—as an aside, I wonder if people would use words like "crisis" if the Iranian mullahs had just slaughtered hundreds of people—but the one that caught my eye concerned the comments from the admistration yesterday. As Mark Landler and Michael R. Gordon somewhat snidely (and appropriately) put it:
[Secretary of State] Kerry announced no punitive measures, while President Obama, vacationing here on Martha’s Vineyard, had no public reaction. As his chief diplomat was speaking of a “pivotal moment for Egypt,” the president was playing golf at a private club.
It's very troubling to think that an incompetent, ideological amateur is in control of middle eastern foreign policy. Storm clouds have already gathered. The problem is, with this level of incompetence the United States and its few allies in the region will feel the brunt of the storm.

Update - 2 (16 Aug 2013):
And this exceptionally accurate assessment by David P. Goldman commenting on Barack Obama and some republicans condemnation of recent violent events in Egypt:
Such is the absurdity of both parties’ stance towards Egypt: the Egyptian military is doing America’s dirty work, suppressing a virulently anti-modern, anti-Semitic and anti-Western Islamist movement whose leader, Mohammed Morsi, famously referred to Israelis as “apes and pigs.” It did so with the enthusiastic support of tens of millions of Egyptians who rallied in the streets in support of the military. And the American mainstream reacted with an ideological knee jerk. America’s presence in the Middle East has imploded.
{American} "elections have consequences" that don't stop at our borders.

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Narrative — Education

In thinking in greater detail about the narrative (also discussed in my last post), I've come to understand that it leads us astray in many aspects of public policy. The narrative is a meme, often proposed by politicians of either party, activists, and others. It is picked up by the MSM and cultivated to become conventional wisdom. In some cases, the original meme was fostered with good intentions—to try to make things better—but in many others it was developed cynically to provide benefit/power/influence to those who orginally developed it. In either case, once the narrative has been developed, the vast majority of "news" stories reinforce it. Investigative reports (once the mainstay of true journalists) avoid any mention of information that might negate the narrative in any significant way, and people who attack the narrative with countervailing facts are assailed as extremists or worse. The reason, of course, is that when the meme is adopted widely throughout the media, it becomes part of a broad area of subjects that all fall under the term "political correctness."

One of the most powerful narratives that has been fostered and continually expanded over the past 50 years is the K-12 education narrative. The core narrative is that we as a country are failing to properly educate K-12 students, particularly in urban areas. One corrollary, often fostered by Republicans, is that teachers are the culprit and that better education can only be achieved if we somehow force better teachers into the system. Another corrollary, fostered by Democrats, is that we don't spend enough money on education and that better results will occur if we just spend more dollars. Like all narratives (and their corrollaries), there's more to it than that. But if core truths conflict with The Narrative, political correctness nullifies those truths.

The Narrative and its corrollaries do have some truth to them, but they are fundamentally flawed because they don't provide broad context, leave out key factors that influence the education of the most vulnerable in our population, and forget that millions of students receive a fine education in this country and go on the become the innovators for the next generation.

Glen Reynolds has been discussing the problems of K-12 education for many years, and now suggests that the entire system is about to "implode"—particularly in urban settings. You only have to think about the abject failure of Detroit's education system to see the first signs of that implosion. Today, he posted a lengthy comment (at 8:26am) by a teacher that questions The Narrative. The Teacher asks for anonymity because his/her comment challenges The Narrative, speaking truth to political correctness. That's a dangerous thing to do in contemporary America. Here's the comment:

I’ve thought about this and thought about this. And I don’t care to have my name attached to these thoughts, as I’m currently a teacher, but I need to express them. As I peek into your corner of the internet, I see all sorts of posts about the k-12 implosion, and I thought you might be willing to listen.

We, as a society, mandate that all children must be in school until 16, and we must provide educational opportunity to the willing until 18. If there’s an IEP in place, that age can go as far as 21.

A school in which I used to teach was failing. Is failing. Has always failed. Our staff was more than 50% non-traditional teachers. We had a strong core of Teach For America and Teaching Fellows – neither of which pull in your regular “he who can’t? Teaches” anecdotes. Most of us were “wanting to help where we can” folks.

We couldn’t make a dent in that school.

The only reason that the 60% of the kids who bothered to show up daily even came to school was for the 2 free meals and the climate control. We needed a force of 15 security people to keep the kids IN CLASS. They had no desire to learn. They did not CARE if they failed. I never, ever had kids who started at my school as 9th graders and had enough credits to be juniors by their third year. Most didn’t even have enough credits to be sophomores. And this was when summer school was free!

Most of my 33-student classes had a regular showing of about 20-25, and it was never the same kids.

Those that did come were usually passed up to their current grade based on age – after all, who wants a 16-year-old boy in classes with an 11-year-old girl? No one. And we can’t just stop them all in 9th grade! Why, it would be full! So, I had kids who read at 2nd grade level to 11th grade level, with math scores in the same range. All in the same classroom. About 60% of the time.

Now, there were the other issues. I didn’t see them in my room, but we did have some mongo fights in the school. We had fires (never had to have drills because we had fires). Anything we didn’t have nailed down got stolen. But that’s all secondary. Mostly, I liked my kids a lot. I got along with them very well. I even taught some pretty good science when I had seniors – kids who had cared enough to slog through 4 years of prison-without-bars, as they called it.

The primary issue is that these children (and their parents) have no vested interest in education. If they merely showed up to school, I was required to pass them. The D’s in my class were really F’s, but I gave them D’s because they showed up enough that I knew failing them would do them no good and would only get me in a world of trouble.

They look at school as something that is done to them. Something that they are subjected to. Sure, all kids kind of view school like that. But when the family is not saying that it’s their job, when they simply don’t see that school gets them anything? There will be no successful school with these children.

By the way, most of the children we had swapping in and out of our EMO-run (like HMO only E for Education!) public school went to a local charter. That charter has since failed.

What really scares and saddens me is that this is where the argument on education reform is centered: on these kids who WILL NOT SUCCEED. I’m sorry. They won’t. The public school system I teach in has plenty of escape routes for kids with parents who care: from charters to special admit public schools. And most of those special admits? They succeed. Because the kids who don’t care are forced to leave.

(Don’t look at me like that. Most of those special admit contracts aren’t even academics-based. They’re attendance and behavior (no fighting) based. I teach at a school like that now. And it works.)

So these fat politicos go around slamming the teachers at these under-performing schools. Fine. Whatever. I could always go back to computer programming. But what got me was the great gobs of money that were shoved into that failing school. My school now? I have to buy my own equipment. All of it. I’m currently saving my Amazon dollars to buy calculators for my room, because school calculators are only for math classrooms. There? We had 35 Hooke’s Law experiment setups, just as a case in point. Chemicals, balances, optics, electronics, you name it? We had it. If great gobs of money are making it into the classroom, you’d better bet that there’s skimming off the top. In fact, when the school was being taken from its EMO partner because it was STILL failing 7 years after the EMO took it over, the local politicians got slammed for back-room deals where they were trying to take over the school. Those who didn’t have their hands in that cookie jar were just lining up to get “those poor public school tortured kids” onto the rolls of their charter schools.

It was something I was very familiar with. The charter schools would sign in, say, 100 kids in September. The checks for those kids clear from the state sometime, I’d say, around December. Because by January? Those failing kids were sent back to my public school. We’d get 20 kids back from the charters, and we could not turn them away. The reasons were myriad: truancy, tardiness, uniform violations, sass. Nothing the public schools can expel for. But the charters can. Meanwhile? I wonder if they report to the state that they dropped Suzy Sunshine off their rolls, and she’s now back in the public school system? I wonder what happens to the rest of the money?

There HAS to be a reason that all of the politicians in this big city are lining up to have their own sponsored charter schools. And I’m betting altruism has little to do with it.

So, to recap: The big comprehensive schools are failing. And it is not surprising. But many of the other public schools are not. And letting politicians have yet another way to steal money from the people is bad.

There are core truths in what this teacher says. Truths that run counter to The Narrative. Truths that if recognized might (over time) lead to better approaches and at the same time, lower expenditures. But truth is often anethema to The Narrative. It threatens the benefit/power/influence of those who originally developed it.

And for that reason, you won't see educators like this teacher interviewed on 60 Minutes. Not a chance.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Narrative

Both the Left and the Right have their narratives, but it is the Left that often ventures into the through-the-looking-glass world where saying something that's demonstrably false is perfectly okay, as long as it fits within a specific belief system. True becomes false and false becomes true.

For example, the latest terrorist threat warning demonstrates that Barack Obama was either very poorly informed about the strength of al Qaida during the last presidential campaign or he lied for political purposes. But that can't be, because the narrative among his many supporters in the MSM is that Obama is brilliant (so he could't possibly be ill-informed) and transformative (so he couldn't possibly stoop to dishonest political ploys).

Richard Fernandez gets to the kernel of the problem when he writes:
How could he [Obama] get it so wrong? The New York Times’s coverage of President Obama’s canceled summit with Putin illustrates one reason why. This time NYT argues 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.
Just think of it! Putin is missing out on the honor of meeting Obama. Now Putin won’t be invited to Leno. He’ll miss out on the chance to come out on Oprah. He must be crazy.

This is another case of the “wish being the father of the deed”. It is yet another instance of the Narrative being taken for reality. The NYT thinks Putin reasons like them. In the Narrative universe — the one which the NYT inhabits — Barack Obama is at the center of Washington and Washington is a 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 as Bret Stephens [of the WSJ] 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.
For me, that's the most galling thing of all. All presidents make bad decisions and all presidents get things wrong, sometimes spectacularly so. But the media used to call them on it and let the citizenry know that mistakes had been made. Things are very different with Barack Obama because the magnificence of this president is the narrative.

The narrative is also bolstered by omission. When discussion of poor domestic or foreign policy decisions can't be deflected, they are softened by omitting mention of the president, even when his actions were directly responsible for the decision. For example, one of the president's truly bad decisions was to escalate military actions in Afghanistan, thereby prolonging our involvement in that cesspool of corruption, anti-American sentiment, and hopelessness (none of which Barack Obama's policies have changed). You'd think that the media would emphasize the magnitude of this mistake, but again the Obama-as-flawless-leader narrative prevails. Richard Benedetto comments:
Majorities of Democrats and Republicans now say that the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting, according to a late-July ABC News-Washington Post poll.

That should be big news, but it created hardly a ripple out there in media land. Afghanistan is oh so yesterday.

We hardly ever hear a word about Afghanistan out of the White House, let alone from President Obama. The strategy appears to be that if the president stays out of it, he won’t get blamed, or at least it won’t be seen as his problem when things go bad. Thus, most of the administration’s public talk about Afghanistan comes from the Pentagon and military commanders in the field. The commander-in-chief rarely makes speeches on Afghanistan, and rates nary a mention in news accounts. And that, apparently, is the way he likes it.

It is not as if there has been no news reporting from that war-torn country. There has been quite a bit of it lately, but little has been good.

For example, a front-page story in Monday’s Washington Post details one of the big problems the United States faces is it winds down its military presence there: the closing of a notorious prison for enemy detainees dubbed “The Second Guantanamo.” The story outlining the headaches goes on for 1,320 words, but Obama is not directly mentioned once. There is a reference to the “Obama administration,” but there is no response in the story from the White House. Nor was one sought (or at least it wasn’t mentioned in the piece).
And that's how the president's Preatorian Guard in the MSM does its work.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013


Back in early July, I noted that the ever widening Benghazi and IRS scandals had a definite Nixonesque feel to them. Yesterday, Victor Davis Hanson, a noted conservative historian, commented on the many parallels between The Nixon Whitehouse and the Obama Whitehouse. He writes:
None of these scandals so far has been as ignored as the initial Watergate break-in and associated Nixon-administration misdeeds. If the doctrinaire press [the MSM] is now leading from behind, instead of launching a full-scale attack as it did in the Watergate years, the media as a whole are far more diverse than in 1973, with so many different venues and agendas that it’s difficult to suppress the truth for long.

Remember, between when the Nixon operatives drew up their initial plans to commit illegal acts in early 1972 and when the media furor over cover-ups and lying forced Nixon out of office in late summer 1974, the time elapsed was over 30 months — a period as long as or longer than the gestation of the present scandals. Recall also that no one died in Watergate; that the IRS resisted, not abetted, calls to go after critics of the president; and that Attorney General John Mitchell did not lie under oath to Congress. Scandals wax and wane, but until the truth is told, they never quite end.
I hope that Hanson is correct, and that the outright corruption of the IRS by operatives that were either loosely or directly connected to the Obama administration and the politically-driven decision making that influenced the Benghazi coverup come to light. But there is no doubt of the truth of Hanson's words when he discusses the stonewalling that has occurred from the Obama Whitehouse:
There is also nothing new in administration denials. Both President Obama and his press secretary, Jay Carney, characterized the Benghazi, IRS, AP, and NSA allegations as “phony.” So too Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, characterized the Watergate break-in as “a third-rate burglary attempt” and insisted that “Certain elements may try to stretch the Watergate burglary beyond what it is.” In August 1972, when news of the break-in first got out, Nixon himself assured the nation, “I can say categorically that . . . no one in the White House staff, no one in this Administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.” The Obama administration’s variation on outright denial is “What difference, at this point, does it make?” And when Jay Carney declares, “I accept that ‘stylistic’ might not precisely describe a change of one word to another,” I am reminded of Ron Ziegler’s quip, “This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.”
The difference, I think, is that today's MSM sits back and accepts the claims of Obama and Carney with very little, if any, push back (in fact, in many cases, they attempt to bolster the administration's misleading and ridiculous claims (think: Cincinnati). During an earlier era, the claims of Nixon and Zeigler were parsed word by word, every news organization trying to break a new and more damaging element of the story. In those days, the MSM did its job. Today—not so much.

As Hanson correctly points out, the "media" is far more diverse today, and alternative sources of news (blogs, forums, and independent political/news websites) continue to dig. Hopefully, the truth will come out.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

On the Run

Just when I though the Obama administration couldn't possibly make another egregious foreign policy error, the State Department issued a set of terrorist warnings that seem just vaguely off-key. Based on "chatter" gathered by our intelligence services, they tell us, we have issued broad based intelligence warning and shuttered 21 US embassies throughout the Middle East for varying amounts of time. All of this, "in an abundance of caution." US citizens have been told to limit travel into the Arab crescent and leave Yemen altogether, and politicians are warning us that al Qaida is on the march.

Wasn't it just 11 months ago, during the presidential campaign, that Barack Obama crowed that Osama bin Laden was dead and al Qaida was "on the run." Looks to me as if our state department staff at US embassies are the folks who are on the run.

It may be that a true attack is in the offing, but let's think about this logically. Senior al Qaida leaders are well versed in the intelligence gathering capabilities of the CIA, the DIA, the NSA, and the alphabet soup of other Sigint gatherers. Would they really be so stupid that they provide "specific" threat level intelligence that telegraphs their evil intent. Maybe. But I doubt it. And think about this: al Qaida achieved their goal without murdering a single innocent or loosing a single martyr to the 72 virgins. Just Chatter away and the United States cowers in the dark, hoping that their embassies will be safe if they're closed, but forgetting that many other US interests abound throughout the Middle East, and all of them are soft targets.

Seems to me that the Obama administration is more concerned with CYA than it is with the international image of the USA. Angelo Codevilla comments:
The shutdown and warnings, then, proceed from the assumption either that the terrorists “chatter” amongst themselves blissfully ignorant of what anyone who cares to look knows about NSA’s reach, or that they willfully warn us. That assumption flies in the face of experience. The terrorists who have bitten us have not chattered, while those who chatter do not bite. The terrorists who brought mortars and grenade launchers to destroy US facilities in Benghazi and kill our people did not chatter. The US government is up against serious people. Unfortunately, it gives proof of unseriousness.

The US government’s assertion that the “threats” emanating from this “chatter” were somehow “specific” belies itself because it is contrary to common sense. Any specificity would focus attention on specific people and places rather than eliciting meaningless general measures and warnings. That attention’s effectiveness would depend on secret preparations for counter strokes, not on public displays of fear.

This leads reasonable persons to conclude that some enemies of the United States, well knowing that NSA is listening, decided to give it an earful, with a few names and places thrown in by way of example, but not enough to remove the impression they sought to give of general mayhem. And so they ‘chattered.” They had sound reason to believe that US intelligence executives would trigger equally incompetent policy makers, fearful of being blamed for an attack on their watch preceded by such “chatter.”
This administration and the foreign policy decisions it makes are often characterized by "unseriousness." Even if an attack does occur, there are other ways this threat could have been handled, and none of them would make it look like the United States is the entity that is on the run.

Update (8/7/2013):

Looks like I'm not the only one who confused and concerned about this latest terrorist warning. This from McClatchy:
If ordinary Americans are confused, they’re in good company. Analysts who’ve devoted their careers to studying al Qaida and U.S. counterterrorism strategy can’t really make sense of it, either. There’s general agreement that the diffuse list of potential targets has to do with either specific connections authorities are tracking, or places that might lack the defenses to ward off an attack. Beyond that, however, even the experts are stumped.

Take this sampling of reactions from prominent al Qaida observers:

“It’s crazy pants – you can quote me,” said Will McCants, a former State Department adviser on counterterrorism who this month joins the Brookings Saban Center as the director of its project on U.S. relations with the Islamic world.

“We just showed our hand, so now they’re obviously going to change their position on when and where” to attack, said Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst who was part of the team that hunted Osama bin Laden for years.

“It’s not completely random, but most people are, like, ‘Whaaat?’ ” said Aaron Zelin, who researches militants for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and blogs about them at

Read more here: