Category Archives: leading from behind

The American Iran disaster


It is hard to exaggerate the strategic disaster that has befallen American relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

At a time of increasing acts of terror – unfortunately now “lone wolf” murders that have no central command – the Obama Administration in a series of encounters has emboldened one wing of Islamic terrorism. It may be ironic but hardly laudatory that the U.S. and its allies are now more dependent for their ultimate defense on the conflict between the two wings of Islam, Sunni and Shia, and their terrorist offspring.

The Obama Administration early on lost its strategic bearings in dealing with a fanatical regime in Tehran aiming to become the hegemonic power in the Mideast. That defeat is at every level – strategic and military, economically, and in propaganda. It is true, of course, that much of the difficulties of dealing with the mullahs predates Obama’s seven years in the White House. One might even, at the risk of offending those who quite rightly worship at the shrine of Ronald Reagan, recall his failure to cope with Tehran. It was, after all, Reagan who did not retaliate after calling the suicide bombings which killed 299 American and French Marines in October 1983 in Beirut a “despicable act”. There was circumstantial evidence of Iranian complicity. Contradictorily, Reagan withdrew from the Lebanese peacekeeping force.

When a grass roots movement against the mullahs took to the streets following the stolen president elections of 2009 calling for American assistance, the Obama Administration turned its back on them. For all the talk about moderates and radicals in the Tehran regime, there is little hope that its leaders would modify their regional aggression and worldwide terrorist activity so long as it is successful in increasing Iranian influence. That is very much the case now with full-fledged allies on the Mediterranean: Hezbollah in Lebanon, the reeling but still functioning al Assad regime in Syria, and even the Sunni Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

Instead, Obama has sought to make some sort of pact with the mullahs, apparently believing American concessions would satisfy their hunger for international aggrandizement. It is only likely to feed it. The lengthy negotiations to limit Iran’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction have turned into a farce. When Tehran objected to inspection of their military installations as part of the enforcement arrangements, the issue was simply dropped by Washington. At the very moment the success of the agreement was being heralded in Washington, Iran launched tests of new intercontinental ballistics missiles in defiance of UN Resolutions which could one day strike the U.S..

It may be a long time before we know why a group of American sailors were captured and then publicly humiliated by Tehran to prove U.S. impotence in the region. We may not know soon whether it was indeed a navigation accident and engine problems which called for a quick and nonconfrontational return, or perhaps even more threatening, Iranian technical capacity to interfere with the ship’s GPS. But the spectacle will highlight the reputation of the U.S. in the region for a very long time, and undermine any American strategy. Again, as in the swaps with the Taliban, Washington has given back a disproportionate number of proven terrorists – including some involved in bombings against Jewish installations in Argentina, and at the very moment a new administration in Buenos Aires has again promised to take up investigations of the incidents. It seems not only possible but likely, that like the released Guantánamo prisoners, most soon will be back at their trade.

The removal of sanctions and return of blocked funds probably exceeding $150 billion will be significant in helping the mullahs through their current economic crisis brought on by heavy military expenditures – including maintaining Iran Revolutionary Guard forces in Syria. Renewed oil and gas sales in the price-gutted world market will help only marginally. But there is little hope for regime change without substantial assistance from abroad. That, obviously, will not come from this American administration, leading from behind to enhance rather than diminish the major threat to peace and stability posed by the Tehran fanatics.

sws-01-18-16

 

A grim anniversary


Fourteen years after a massive and highly sophisticated attack on multiple critical targets in the United States from a foreign invader, the outlook is grim:
The instantaneous rally of the American people in one voice after 9/11 demanding retribution and assurance of no repetition of these catastrophic events has been replaced with a cacophony of bickering about a confused and indecisive foreign policy.
The immediate response of the George W. Bush Administration to destroy the model for any sanctuary providing a base from which any such future attack might result has ended in two contentious, indecisive wars.
The possibility of a similar sanctuary being provided to new jihadists with the same intent not only cannot be ruled out, but in fact, seems almost inevitable given the continuing growth of radical Islam and new terrorist movements employing our own and most novel techniques for social interchange.
Mobilization for what must be seen as a long and complex war against Islamic extremism is beset with contradictory and failing effort. Perhaps most of all, there is a failure to identify correctly the ideological enemy as was done through an intellectual mobilization parallel to the arms buildup during The Cold War.
Worst of all is that even critics of current policies and failures suggest wholly inadequate remedies, if at all, such as Gen. David Howell Petraeus’ proposal that we play one Islamic terrorist faction against another, presupposing intelligence and Machiavellian prowess current U.S. leadership does not have.
This failure to cope with the continuing threat to the U.S. with a studied withdrawal from leadership wherever possible has led to a virtual breakdown of the post-colonial Arab and Muslim political structures. And that has led to a massive movement of displaced persons toward refuge in Europe. Their acceptance, however justified on humanitarian and economic grounds [with the catastrophic decline in Western birthrates and its labor force], is fraught. It is far from clear that post-Christian Europe, with its inability to muster a dedication to a new civic culture, including a failing European Union, can withstand this erosion of its traditions that will come with the onset of this new Muslim totalitarian infusion.
It is possible, of course, perhaps even likely, that the American people will reverse course in 2016, with a new visionary leadership. That happened, of course, after an earlier period of disenchantment and despair, with the arrival of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s leadership was more psychological and emotional than highly evolved economic and political strategies despite all the attributes now accorded his rallying leadership.
That may not be necessary again. The U.S. is still the overwhelmingly superior power on the world stage with no likely immediate competitor. It still has abundant resources, and above all, a capacity for technological breakthroughs, that makes it possible to once again lead the kind of struggle against Islamic terrorism which eventually caused the Soviet Union to implode. But we are dealing with an old, if reactivated, enemy that always lurks inside the broader aspects of one of the world’s most important religions and its 1.3 billion nominal adherents.
Nor will abandoning “leading from behind” for a new leadership role work wonders quickly. The losses of the past decade will not be accommodated quickly, and to do so will require leadership and a new civil spirit to follow it that is not yet visible in American public life or in the beginnings of the campaign for the new presidency. Candidate Donald Trump may play on the long simmering frustrations and appetite for change, but he does not nor is he likely to provide the kind of informed leadership that is required.
There will be a great deal of oratory during the next few hours recalling the 9/11 tragic circumstances. But the country still awaits a clear and resounding call for a new understanding of our problems and a dedication to overcome them.
sws-09-10-15

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The Obama Persian Mystery


Obscured by all the hullabaloo over the Congressional speaking invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the more fundamental mystery of the Obama Administration’s Iranian strategy.
Laying aside the increasingly evident incompetence of the political hacks, wordsmiths and other amateurs the President has surrounded himself as foreign policy advisers, there is still the unanswered question of what Obama intends with his policy toward Tehran.
The pettiness of the White House stance toward Netanyahu notwithstanding, it is unlikely that the Israeli leader will add more than detail and reinforce the vast array of background threat we already have about the Tehran regime: It has violated international obligations for almost four decades, pursued a policy of state terrorism throughout the world, made every effort to diminish and expel American influence in the Mideast region, and seeks a role as a major power. Furthermore, there is unfortunate evidence that is close to achieving regional hegemony with its domination or alliance now with four, however embattled, Arab regimes – in Damascus, Hezbollah in Beirut, Hamas in Gaza, and the new Yemen Sana government. Having squared the Arabian peninsular, it has created near hysteria in Saudi Arabia, the U.S.’ nominal principal ally in the region and a leader of Sunni Islam, which like the other Gulf Arab states feels abandoned by Obama’s Washington.
Were Tehran to succeed in its program to build weapons of mass destruction– nuclear bombs and intercontinental missiles to deliver them– it would consolidate its place as Washington’s premier foreign policy problem.
Although the Administration spokesmen claim the final details of an agreement with Tehran are still not finalized, every indication is that Washington is prepared to extend earlier concessions which would give the mullahs “nuclear weapons threshold” capacity. That would include the ability within a short period through an inventory of enriched uranium and large batteries of centrifuges to produce more weapons fuel quickly to become a nuclear power.
It has been the stated policy of previous U.S. administrations– and by the Obama Administration itself– Washington would not permit the Iranian religious fanatics to cross that red line. That position has been endorsed not only by all the NATO allies but also inferentially by Moscow and China, despite their underhanded cooperation with Tehran in pursuit of nuclear power capability. It should be noted that Tehran’s enriched uranium pursuits are not a requirement for a country– still endowed with enormous oil reserves– for a nuclear power program as some two dozen other countries have demonstrated under United Nations and bilateral political and technical agreements eschewing any capacity to enrich fuel.
As this situation inevitably moved toward crises with the Iranians continuing to build nuclear capacity– despite their announced cutbacks under preliminary agreements with the Obama Administration– it behooves us to try to understand the Obama strategy. Incidentally, the Netanyahu controversy has obscured the news just this week that the UN Atomic Energy Commission to which Iran must report its activities under the control treaties has found evidence of new, secret and unreported Iranian nuclear activities. This was the pattern for some 17 years before the Iranian enrichment activities were revealed by Iranian scientists in exile to the UN control group. It is this history which puts a question to any claims by the Administration that it is creating under any new agreement the ability to monitor and halt any violations of the Washington-Tehran pact.
Given this only partial background of U.S.-Tehran negotiations over its attempts to create nuclear weapons capability, there is great puzzlement over what the Obama Administration is attempting in its current search for an agreement. That search, in itself, has created confusion about Obama policies which in the past have supported the Moslem Brotherhood– even after its overthrow by an Egyptian government– with its dedication to the destruction of Shia [Iranian] influence, and the Sunni Arab allies who see Tehran as their principal rival and enemy in the region.
Conflicting statements from the White House, Secretary of State John Kerry and his State Department, it is virtually impossible to discern a central Obama strategy in this miasma.
Since the beginning of the Cold War in the 1940s, of course, the possibility that Iran with its inherited mantle of the long history of the Persian empire, its size and the sophistication of its elite, might become a powerful ally of the U.S. in the region. That earlier strategy collapsed in 1979 when a combination of internal forces and the tacit support of the Washington foreign policy grey eminence, Averill H. Harriman and his protégé, U.S. Ambassador to Iran William Sullivan, helped bring down the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Reza Shah was, to some extent, the victim– as he himself had sometimes warned — of his “white revolution”, an attempt to destroy the landlord-back feudal system he had inherited and moved to modernize. Washington’s hand-handed efforts to back a military government collapsed in the face of the onslaught of religious fanatics, who have periodically dominated Persian history even in pre-Islamic eras.
Whether Obama is attempting a new modus vivendi with a new more powerful Iran, despite the Mullahs’ anti-American record, or not, I the negotiations already endanger the current shaky balance of power in the area. Cairo, long considered the leader and center of the Sunni world, which has just declared war on Hamas, once the Egyptian protectorate, feels doubly threatened by a distant American policy and Iranian terrorist inroads on its doorstep in the Sinai. A tacit approval by the U.S. of nuclear weapons capability by Iran would likely set off a nuclear arms race in the area– with the Saudis already tacitly allied to Pakistan whose nuclear weapons are generally seen as financed through grants and loans from Riyadh.
Whatever information and advice Netanyahu may offer in Washington, is not likely to unlock this mystery of what exactly the Obama Administration thinks it is accomplishing with an Iranian policy which keeps slipping away from original stated intent of removing all possibility of Iran obtaining weapons of mass destruction.
sws-03-02-15

Islam is the problem


The worship of Mohammed’s followers throughout their history has rarely constituted a religion of peace, contrary to repeated statements by leaders in the West – above all Pres. Barack Hussein Obama. These have been made in their pursuit of trying to defuse the current crisis, but nevertheless are now a part of the problem..

One might stretch to argue that Mosses, founder of Judaism, had a “battlefield commission”. But neither Jesus, Gautama nor Confucius, leaders or founders of the several other great world religions, advocated violence. Nor were they soldiers as was Mohammed, the messenger who carried the word of Allah to his flock.

Furthermore, virtually all Muslims accept that in his last decade of what may be a largely legendary life, he pursued that career with ferocity in the destruction of his Arabia peninsular enemies, most notably the contemporary Jewish tribes who refused to accept his new religion. The history of Islam is inseparable from its attempt to conquer alien societies and turn them forcibly to its belief. That code demands – unlike the other great religions today – unquestioned obedience to a legal as well as a moral code of contradictory but supposed God-given dictums from the Koran and the accumulation of practices in the hadith, pronouncements and activities surrounding Mohammed the man.

Again today, as repeatedly in the past 1500 years, the West is fighting off a campaign of Muslim fanatics to overtake and replace its Judeo-Hellenist-Christian- civilization. Rather than massive armies at the Tours battlefield in the 8th century or at the gates of Vienna in the 16th and again 100 years later, this time the attacks are continual thrusts at the ineludible vulnerable “soft targets” of modern open societies.

As incomprehensible as it is to Westerners and non-Muslim societies of the East, these fanatics are willing to die so long as they can bring pain and disaster on their targets. It is, as some Muslim fanatics have proclaimed proudly, that the rest of the world loves life and these psychotics worship death.

When the leaders of the whole world – not excluding both Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Liberation Organization Mahmoud Abbas – came together in Paris for a demonstration of unity of purpose against this new threat to humanity, there was a missing figure. It was no accident, as the Communists would say, that Obama was not there among the leaders of most of the civilized world.

In a tortured and benighted view of the world’s issues, Obama apparently believes that outreach to the Muslim fanatics through Islamic state leaders – including the mother hen of all the contemporary terrorists, the insidious Muslim Brotherhood – will appease the tiger. His closest advisers make desperate attempts to convince the rest of the world that the great mass of Muslims are innocents. True enough, but that they will [the “good”Germans with the Nazis or a dozen other historical instances] bring down the militants is highly questionable. .

Obama rides this tiger not only in great peril to the country he leads and to the world in general, but at the risk of his own role in history. Calling a blatant attack at Ft. Hood by a twisted mind – a psychiatrist indeed! – “workplace violence” not only distorts the real meaning of the incident making it impossible to deal with it, but this refusal to name the crime makes it difficult to meet out the modest reparations to the survivors.

In the same vein, by not identifying the current worldwide campaign of terrorism – now into its second decade – as an outgrowth of Islam itself, he and his advisers make it impossible to understand it and mobilize to defeat it.

At the United Nations, instead of a straightforward attack on the origins of this violence to all civilized society, Obama was busy warning against any attack on the sanctity of Mohammed’s name. [A documentary producer who had the audacity if however clumsily to challenge the relationship of Islam to the wave of terrorism still is serving a prison sentence, part of the design to obscure the martyrdom of four Americans at the hands of terrorists at Benghazi.] Nothing plays more into the lying of Muslim fanatics in dealing with their fellow citizens; they can carefully site elements of their dogma which sanction deceit in their professions of innocence with nonbelievers.

Any attempt to take on the long awaited need to bring the religion of Mohammed to a test of modernity and contemporary morality is denounced. Earlier attempts were abandoned after a bitter debate in Andalusia, Spain, in the late 12th century when Ibn Rushid [Averroes], ironically sometimes called “the father of modern Western secularism”, was defeated in his efforts to find a synthesis of Hellenic, Judeo-Christian and Islamic values. Ironically Averroes contributed mightily to Western religious and philosophical thought. But his Islam retreated into the thousand-year bowels of a totalitarian conformity that imprisons it to this day. Those who call for a constructive new debate are quickly denounced as “Islamophobia” – even when they come from acknowledged scholars such as the eminent modern philosopher, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger.

It remains to be seen if Muslim leaders will rise to join Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who recently pleaded with Islamic clerics to examine their game. He argued Moslem “thinking” had stymied, that concepts “we have sacralized over the years” are “antagonizing the entire world”. In practical terms of a hard-bitten military leader of the largest and most important Arab nation, he argued that it is not “possible that 1.6 billion people [a reference to the world’s Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live”. He warned that Egypt [or the Islamic world in its entirety] “is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.”

Again, it is no accident that the Obama Administration’s relations with the al-Sisi regime hang by a thread while it has continued to court the likes of Turkey’s increasingly Islamicist Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan [and with a lesser and lesser degree of success]. It also continues to bemoan the fall of al Sisi’s predecessors, the discredited Muslim Brotherhood. [Alas! That is also true of Hillary Clinton with her own close connections to the Brotherhood leadership through her principal aid, Huma Mahmood Abedin.].

Recognizing Islam’s relationship to the Muslim terrorists is critical if the U.S. and the world is to defeat this aberration before it destroys Western civilization through its steady depredations, always forcing restraints on our liberties in order to defend ourselves.

sws-01-11-15

 

 

 

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Transformation of U.S. foreign policy


Barack Hussein Obama, with a group of largely ideologically primitive amateur policymakers but skillful media manipulators, set out in 2008 with the stated purpose to “transform” the American Republic. Although their emphasis was more related to domestic issues, their goals also required a linked fundamental reorientation of American foreign policy.

With the prospect that in a few days, another defeat in Congressional midterm elections will severely limit his further initiatives in the remaining two years of the Obama Administration, it must be acknowledged that at least temporarily Obama & Co. have succeeded in their overall aims in the international arena.

That is a stark contrast to the domestic scene where most Obama policies have either failed spectacularly or are in a state of continued dispute in the face of, however eroded, traditional values, the weight of inertia, and that incredible American entrepreneurial utilization of technology. In energy, for example, perhaps the most important ingredient of economic policy, the technological breakthroughs in the exploitation of gas and oil – the shale gas revolution – have completely upended Obama’s energy strategy. Not only is the outlook for fossil fuel reserves, worldwide as well as domestically, been completely changed, but the always volatile energy costs now appear headed for a long period of falling real prices. Obama’s attempt to stampede the U.S. economy into highly government subsidized so-called alternative sources of energy are in shambles – at an untold cost to the taxpayer, or course.

The Obamaites have been far more successful in their pursuit of a dramatic reorientation of U.S. foreign policy. It remains to be seen, of course, whether those initiatives are a permanent feature of the international scene. But, for the moment at least, Obama has accomplished his goals: Gone largely is continuing recognition of Washington’s post-World War II leadership of the coalition of allies which not only won the greatest war in history against the Nazis and Japanese militarists but also outran the threat of another totalitarian enemy, Soviet Communism.

The Obama view was that in the half-century-plus of Washington world leadership, if not in its longer history including slavery, America had made too many mistakes, that its worldwide dominance was on balance deleterious, that a better role would be one of, at most, primus inter pare. Furthermore, reaching out rhetorically to former perceived victims of American actions would be a pathway toward peace and stability. In short, what he and his colleagues saw as a more compassionate and understanding American executive could go far in curing the world’s problems rather than using its power to help stabilize the world scene. [Never mind their dismissal if remarked at all of the enormous extension of aid to the world over previous decades.]

To a considerable extent, Obama – with the aid, however reluctant she now says, of his former secretary of state Hillary Clinton – has been able to achieve these policies.
But the daily headlines also tell us that the goals of this strategy has not been achieved in any quarter of the globe. But to the contrary, the world has hardly ever been in such disarray with or without an activist U.S. leadership.

Two points need to be made quickly:

The Obama Administration and its policies are not responsible for most of the world’s political problems, misgovernment and violence. It did inherit what despite one of the longest periods of peace in Europe’s history with its overwhelming influence on world affairs, was a volatile world scene. In short, the world is the jungle it always was. And recent events have shown us political movements demonstrating the ugliest aspects of human nature, too, are still with us. In short, it is clear that no farseeing American strategy could have done more than ameliorate the world scene, as some of us would argue it did for some six decades.

Secondly, the history of ideas suggests that Obama’s international perspective did not spring like Athena fully formed and armed from Zeus’ forehead. Obama’s theories of international relations rely heavily on that strong undercurrent of American thinking which always sought to minimize our exposure to the rest of the world’s problems.

That was the case, rather successfully throughout most of the 19th century with the help of His Majesty’s British Navy, and the God-given geographic isolation that two oceans afforded the U.S. [One has to recall, for example, that only a little over a year before the Pearl Harbor attack, legislation for extension of universal military service passed the House of Representatives by only one vote] Not only was that complicated concept, generally dubbed “isolationism”, part and parcel of American political thinking from the beginning of the Republic, but its supporters in more recent past have included a wide swath of supporters across the political spectrum from “Prairie radicals” to the complex sympathies of the warring parties in the U.S. electorate. [Pacifist and Socialist Norman Thomas sat on the same “America First” – the most active of prewar isolationist organizaions — platform with members of the pro-Nazi German American Bund in Yorkville in 1940.]

Still, the list of successful “accomplishments” of the Obama strategy to diminish America’s role in international affairs is long.

• By abandoning the deployment of anti-missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, arduously negotiated, Washington not only dealt American missile defense a body blow but awakened the old threat of decoupling European security from America’s worldwide strategies.

• The refusal to lead the alliance which overthrew Qadaffi in Libya resulted not only in the tragic and ignominious death of an American ambassador and three other Americans but is leading to an anarchic situation there – with its threat to Egypt and the rest of North Africa and oil markets – with possible jihadist ascendancy.

• An amorphous position toward the U.S.-Israeli alliance, despite pro forma statements to the contrary, emboldened jihadist Hamas and further diminished the possibility of a Palestinian negotiating partner for an accommodation between the Jewish state and the Arabs.

• The refusal to lead a Western alliance in support of Ukraine against the Hitler-tactics of infiltration and puppetry of Russia’s Vladimir Putin has not only diminished the fragile Kyiv government but put into question the guarantees of the NATO alliance to its Central and Eastern European members.

• Neither Obama’s ostensibly seminal addresses in Cairo and Istanbul with apologies for pretended insults to Islam by the U.S. and a more than sympathetic reading of the history of Islam have improved relationships with the Muslim world nor diminished the growing Islam;s traditional jihadist elements.

• Courtship of the controversial Muslim Brotherhood, apparently a critical part of Mr. Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan’s nonconventional view of Islam, has widened the gap with the Egyptian military now ruling what has been the most important Arab country and a leader of the Muslim world and other Arab allies in the Gulf.

• A studied neutral position toward Chinese claims on Japanese occupied territory returned under bilateral postwar agreements to Tokyo and no immediate followup to Clinton’s statement of reorientation of U.S. strategy toward Asia has unnerved traditional Asian allies.

• Continued flirtation with the tottering Communist regime in Havana has encouraged Moscow to try to resurrect its alliance with Castro Cuba, encouraged elaborate Cuban espionage in the U.S., and undermined the continuing dissident democratic movement in Cuba supported by Cuban Americans in the U.S.

It is far from clear that in the kind of volatile world in which we live, the “success” of Obama’s transformation of American policy would not be the object of a concerted reversal by a new administration in 2016. Or, indeed, as despite cryptic language and new names for old crimes [workplace violence for jihadist terrorism], the Obama Administration is now by force majeure is being made to reverse course. The great danger is, of course, as in the present attempt to cope with the ISIL phenomenon in Iraq and Syria, Obama’s half-measures will lead to further disaster.

sws-10-05-14

The “New” Middle East


As usual, there are more questions than answers about the current Middle East situation. And, for that matter, there is difficulty following the gyrations of Obama Administration policy.

But there is growing evidence a defiant Israel, stoic in the face of Hamas’ ability to exploit the misery of its own making for Gaza’s 1.8 million and growing pressure from the Obama Administration for an indecisive ceasefire. Jerusalem appears dedicated to the destruction of the most dynamic terrorist organization in the Mideast. Successful demilitarization of Gaza would not only remake the Israel-Palestine relationship but could be the world’s first conclusive victory in the war on Islamic terrorism. In a rapidly evolving situation, not only changing conditions but loyalties and alliances is breathtaking.

Here are some basic considerations:

Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is beset with the typical domestic Israeli ideological in-fighting, from peace advocates on the left to proponents of reoccupation of Gaza on the right. But he rides a wellspring of domestic support, despite heavy casualties, for refusing a temporary compromise with Hamas such as those in 2008, 2009 and 20012 . Furthermore, what is seen now as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s 2004-5 unilateral Gaza withdrawal and destruction of its four Israeli Settlements has further discredited “land for peace” – that is abandoning 1967 conquests of the locales of the historic Hebrew kingdoms for a “two state solution”. But the Israeli public is still absorbing the evidence of a major intelligence failure in underestimating Hamas’ capacities with its sophisticated tunneling operations. That surge of suicide bombing, mayhem and kidnapping was planned for September 2014 Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year]—to take advantage of a Jewish holiday, an echo of the Arab surprise of the 1973 Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] War. It remains to be seen, of course, whether Jerusalem with the tacit concurrence of Cairo, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Mohammed Abbas’ Fatah movement, will have the stomach for completing of Hamas decimation.

Iran

Destruction of Hamas would be a severe blow to Tehran’s mullahs, who have used it as a further diversion from demands by the U.S., Israel and other American allies to halt the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. It was not only that Hamas represents part of the strategic pincers in the south with Iranian supported Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the north against any Israeli attempt to take out Iranian nuclear weapon potential. But the ability of Shia Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to jump the deadly 1600-year-old sectarian divide to support Hamas as a product of the ultra-anti-Shia Sunni Moslem Brotherhood. The Tehran-Gaza alliance unites Islamic terror in a way not seen before. Even Iran’s traditional enemy, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, now reaching for ultimate power in the Turkish presidential elections this fall as he moves closer to the Brotherhood, had also become one of Hamas’ patrons. Will the Tehran mullahs watch this asset fall apart, or would they, for example, finally unleash Hezbollah and its missiles on Israel’s north in order to try to rescue the Hamas remnant?

Egypt

Contrary to the 2012 Gaza ‘truce” when Mohammed Morsi rode the wave of a Moslem Brotherhood electoral victory, Pres. Gen Abdel Fattah el-Sisi sees Hamas as an enemy. The ruling Egyptian military is in a brutal campaign to wipe out the Brotherhood’s domestic political and paramilitary following. Furthermore, Hamas’ Iranian connection on Egypt’s doorstep imperils Cairo’s traditional political and cultural leadership of the Arab and Muslim world. Tacit military cooperation with the Israelis is restoring Egypt’s control over Sinai and presumably would close the smuggling routes for longer-range Iranian missiles and other weaponry reaching Hamas through the Red Sea and Sudan. It remains to be seen if al Sisi can maneuver a ceasefire/truce in tacit cooperation with the Israelis which will dismantle Hamas’ military as a minimum while all the while paying enough homage to Gazan victims to quiet the Arab Street’s overall sympathies for the Palestinian cause.

Qatar

This tiny little Gulf sheikhdom with only 2 million people – if the highest per capita income in the world from its enormous gas reserves – has taken a hit. That’s because Qatar’s al Thani family’s high stakes game of playing all sides included being the principal backer of Hamas. It was not only Qatar’s financing but IT controls which permitted Hamas to launch thousands of missiles at Israel from its sophisticated tunnels, protecting them from air power and preparing a growing terrorist plot against Israel. While Qatar played a principal role in the Obama Administration’s “lead from behind” in toppling Muamar Qadaffi in Libya, it is the principal funder for the jihadists against Washington-backed moderates seeking overturn of the al Basher regime in Damascus. Qatar also was middleman in swapping of five Taliban commanders imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held for five years by the Taliban/ Although it has the smallest military force in the region – 11,800 conscripts – Washington sold it $11 billion in weapons earlier this year including anti-aircraft missiles and looking forward to a major fighter purchase later. This was the price for use of a major air base where Washington strategists attempt to coordinate defense for all the Gulf states against an increasingly menacing Iran. Washington reached agreement to continue to operate and maintain troops at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base at least through 2024, having moved there when Saudi Arabia reversed course after originally hosting U.S. forces during the Gulf Wars. Qatar’s bitter feud with Saudi Arabia, restrictions on the use of the base and meddling in its Gulf neighbor’s domestic politics limit that cooperation. A collapse of Hamas could prejudice the whole shaky network of Qatar’s activities, perhaps demanding a new American strategy to oppose Tehran in the Gulf rather the dawdling talks extended for four months which are neither inhibiting Tehran’s weapons progress, and now lightened sanctions, are restoring its economy.

UN

Admission that three UN Gaza schools stored Hamas armaments [then returned to Hamas] is finally giving currency to the region’s greatest “secret”, the 70-year-old effort of the UNRWA, a highly paid international secretariat [including Hamas members], with the collaboration of neighboring Arab states, to cultivate a “refugee” status for Palestinians. UN operated schools have preached anti-Semitic hatred and jihad against the Israeli state. Simultaneously while Israel absorbed 800,000 Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, shorn of all their possessions, the oil-rich Gulf states imported millions of labor from South and Southeast Asia, largely refusing Palestinian Arabs emigration or naturalization. Recent events have forced UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon into condemnation of Hamas violation of repeated attempts at cease fire in contradiction to the UNWRA. Slowly the barbarity of Hamas’ strategy of deliberately exposing Gazans to additional jeopardy from Israeli aerial and ground bombardment in order to exploit world sympathy is seeping through a media unable to report actual conditions in Gaza for fear of their reporters’ lives. For example, CNN interviews with spokesmen for Hamas have without identification taken place in one of the area’s largest hospitals. Some UN officials – for example, from the head of the UN Human Rights organization condemning the U.S. for its participation in developing Israel’s Iron Dome defense and suggesting Washington should aid Hamas in a parallel effort – may finally be bringing some semblance of balance into mass media reporting in the area. It remains to be seen whether Washington, as the disproportionate bankroller of UN activities and massive direct payments to the Palestinians, will use its leverage to reform the aid-giving process. U.S. .Sec. of State John Kerry’s proposal – apparently “demanded” in a bitter conversation by Obama with Netanyahu – to use Qatar and Turkey as mediators in a Gaza ceasefire outraged the Israelis and their American supporters. The effort to cut out Egypt, the traditional mentor for the Gazan Arabs, appeared to be a continuation of the Obama Administration’s flirtation with the Moslem Brotherhood and its cool relations with the Egyptian military. But, almost immediately, including public statements, Washington flipped back to endorsing Cairo as the mediator, including a role for Mohammed Abbas and his West Bank Palestinians. Cairo’s backing by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Arab League has not only strengthened what had been seen as Abbas’ fading role but that of the Palestinian “moderates” despite their public caterwauling in defense of Hamas.

Washington, momentarily, has few options but to wring its hands over the civilian carnage in Gaza and to hope that others will find the basis for ending the crisis successfully, that is, with the demilitarization of Gaza.

Sws-08-02-14

Horror vacui


This column was originally published in The Washington Times,  Sunday, March 20, 2011. It has not been reedited.
 By Sol Sanders
President Obama has given new meaning to that epithet “imperial presidency.” It was slung at Richard M. Nixon not only for his extravagant White House “palace guard” — some in kitschy uniforms — but for his more serious unconstitutional overreaching.
But though imperial in his style, Mr. Obama reigns; he does not rule.
Whether on domestic or foreign policy, Mr. Obama abdicates to congressional or bureaucratic control, then spins the resulting muddle as something for which he is not responsible. One sees, for example, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen pontificating far above their pay grades, only to be contradicted either by events or Mr. Obama himself. The president takes a hands-on approach only in maintaining his left-wing political base, be they Wisconsin unionists or Washington lobbies.
This standard operating procedure is reinforced by Mr. Obama’s denigration of historic American accomplishments, often on foreign soil. In the one international arena where he has sought leadership, relations with the Muslim world, the result has been an almost total disaster. Having made what he considered two seminal speeches offering renewed friendship with Islam, he now finds American interests in jeopardy in both locales. Turkey, once a stalwart NATO ally and the site of his first lecture, defies the West on the Iranian nuclear weapons issue, the greatest threat now facing the alliance. His Cairo speech, seemingly falling on deaf ears, was followed by his bemused administration fostering regime change but adding little to the still-undetermined outcome in Egypt.
Of course, Mr. Obama did not create these long-simmering crises. But he contributes to them through his administration’s lack of faith in American power, hard and soft. Favoring multilateralism to American leadership, Ambassador Susan Rice preaches that gospel at the United Nations but neglects reform of the organization’s abysmal corruption and inadequacy. Only when Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi began slaughtering his own people did Washington join the move to redress the charade of Libya’s prominence on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Aristotle observed nature’s abhorrence of a vacuum — the “horror vacui” — and we are getting a demonstration geopolitically when the world’s paramount power chooses not to lead. Or worse still, when Mr. Obama trumpets a policy without following through. Minor players take the field, exacerbating regional conflicts in an increasingly intertwined world.
Nowhere has that been more apparent than in Washington’s approach to the Egyptian regime’s collapse, the Bahrain religious conflict and now the Libyan civil war, with their attendant threat to world energy supplies.
Like a sick dog to its vomit, Washington returns again and again to the Israeli-Palestinian issue as the magic bullet to cure the Middle East’s troubles. It’s the one international issue where the president enthusiastically commits his prestige. But having chosen Israeli settlements in areas won in the 1967 war as fundamental — it was a subsidiary issue until he came along — Mr. Obama jeopardizes Israel’s basic security, further postponing any agreement. The absurdity of his position is self-evident: In a “two-state solution,” he ignores Israel’s almost 2 million Arabs but insists a Palestinian state must be “judenrein.”
Elsewhere, lack of U.S. leadership — withholding even rhetorical support for Iran’s opposition — has helped extend Tehran’s fanatic and kleptocratic tentacles across the Fertile Crescent. The Persian mullahs have managed to play all sides in “the Arab spring.” Not only does Tehran use Shiite Syrian and Lebanese co-sectarians, but it sponsors Sunni Palestinian terrorism, including Hamas. Iran may well profit from whatever comes of Mr. Obama’s belated moves to oust Col. Gadhafi.
The arguments against American intervention in Libya were strong but, ultimately, Mr. Obama could no more ignore Tripoli than rising oil prices spurred by his administration’s counterproductive domestic energy policies could fail to cripple American recovery.
Thus Mr. Obama and the U.S. have been sucked into a vacuum, in part of the president’s own making.
• Sol Sanders, veteran foreign correspondent and analyst, writes weekly on the convergence of international politics, business and economics. He can be reached at solsanders@cox.net.

Why is everything going wrong?


It isn’t.

There is an old axiom in the news business – or what is left of it as traditional newspapers die to be replaced, for the moment at least, by amateurism on the internet and its social networks – that good news is not news. So we get a steady diet from the media of the worst/most dramatic happenings, now delivered in seconds across the world, and in apocalyptic terms. For nothing is as common as the young [or willfully ignorant] journalist who writes about this or that particular happening as “the first time ever”, “the biggest ever”, or “it is in [whatever other way] unique”. More times than not, the event is a repetition, however singular in its own way in time and space, of something that has happened before. As clichés go, “there is nothing new under the sun” is not a bad one.

But in direct contradiction, I was astonished at a recent Fortune magazine item: entrepreneurs in California have launched a $220-million assembly line – and photographs do make the completely automated selection, weight and packing facility the size “of four football fields” look something like Henry Ford’s old original. It will send to market 800 bags of fruit or 18 million “mandarins” harvested daily. That’s a new undertaking in what is all but a stagnant economy, with massive unemployment, and a Washington economic policy at war with business. Mind you, I doubt the little fruit which it and another rival company are developing almost overnight in California – already reaching half the households in the U.S. according to Fortune — will taste as good as the little old fashion Florida tangerine or that most delicious of all fruits, the Japanese mikan. But it will give large numbers of the American people more access to a cheap [in real terms] citrus than they have ever had. And that, my man, is progress in the face of the welter of bad news all around us.

Okay, now that I have dispensed with the Pollyanna, what is going wrong and why?

For it is not to say that we are in the midst of a cataclysm of troubles, at home and abroad, or again, to deny we have seen far deeper crises. Think of Abraham Lincoln’s outlook at the eve of the civil war. Or, as I recently was telling a friend, it was my duty as a 15-year-old high schooler in January 1942 to go from classroom to classroom reciting a narrative on world events erupting out of Pearl Harbor. It was a grim list of defeats and retreats by the U.S. and its allies. Britain had survived the Blitz, eight months of bombing of civilian targets, but just. Hitler had launched [and we did not know it was to be a disaster] the largest military adventure of all time against the Soviet Union. Two of Britain’s vaunted battleships had been sunk off Malaya’s east coast anticipating the fall of Singapore, what Winston Churchill called the worst defeat in British military history. Most of our Pacific fleet had been sunk at Pearl Harbor with only the aircraft carriers luckily absent at sea. It was the worst of times.

That’s, of course, what we used to call “the old Buddhist argument, things could always be worse. We could be in a 1914 situation – although I think the current widespread comparison highly deficient – and facing such calamities. But for the moment, our concerns of the worst and longest recession in the post-World War II American economy – with its repercussions for rest of the world – and a spate of regional conflicts, however bloody and ugly, around the world, is not the terrible conflict of World War II.

Truth is the carefully manicured narratives of past history usually present a straight-line story of what we now see as the major issues. But during the time those events were transpiring, the contemporaries probably felt the same way we do today, harassed by a whole series of displacements and conflicts, some of them bearing directly on our own lives.

Still, having listed all these caveats, it is appropriate, I believe, to look around and see what is happening and make our guesses as to why:

1] The world since 1945 had learned to live with one major, dominating power, the United States. Not only had it not seen at home the depredations which had scourged Europe and Asia, but it had grown new muscle in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s economic mobilization for war despite the tragic loss of 416,000 lives in combat. The overwhelming majority of industrial and agricultural production lay with the U.S. and whether it chose to use it or not, gave it the power to try to decide world events.

In the midst of the worst zig in the business cycle since the Great Depression of the 1930s. we have an administration in Washington – in part representing a war-weary electorate and an increasingly redistribution of world power – with the most nexperience president and adminmistrative team in modern U.S. history. To add to the difficulties, Pres. Barack Obama believes he has received two mandates to “transform” the American economy and political scene. A part of his program is to increase the “redistricutive” mechanism of the U.S. government through heavier taxation and regulation.

Internationally, the President attempts to step back from the role Washington has taken during the whole post-World War II period. He proposes to “lead from behind”, imitating the old adage that the dagger being at its most powerful when it is still in the scabbard. The President and advisers believe they are sophisticated enough to arrange new patterns of world relationships which would require no U.S. military application of force while we tend to our own somewhat dilapidated infrastructure and meet the demands of a new post-digital revolutionary age.

But the question that goes begging is whether Washington may well have done is to remove itself from regional conflicts [except as feckless mediators] throughout the world leaving a large vacuum permitting the play of the always present destabilizing and destructive forces.

2] The Cold War is over and with it, largely, the alternative a vast bureaucracy forcing a top-down social engineering on a goodly section of the European population under the name of Communism. That was supposed to result in “a peace dividend” for the U.S. economy and the American people. That has not come to pass, in part because the largest part of maintaining world order and stability continues to fall on the shoulders of the Americans. Also an old threat to Western dominance and civilization, the Arab/Muslim fanatic, has again risen to become an international menace.

Using much of the same technology which has enriched Western life and the newly developing economies, the jihadists have learned to project terror into the very heart of non-Muslim societies as well as exacerbate age-old bloody feuds among the Prophet’s followers. Having failed to make the transformation into modern societies, the Arab countries and other Muslim societies are again ravaged by old tribal and ethnic conflicts. But these threaten to spill over into other parts of the world as repeatedly Islamic terrorist acts, successful, or unsuccessful have dramatized. The failure of U.S. military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan to dramatically curtail these terrorist activities seems likely to continue to be a preoccupation of the U.S. and its allies into a distant future.

3] The digital revolution has unfurled technology beyond the wildest dreams of even its most astute advocates. [I am reminded of an old piece of advice from a friend when interviewing an academic on Latin America: “Remember he knows far more than he understands”.] In fact, it has created a second industrial revolution in which technology – sometimes even at minimum expense – has disrupted the whole schedule of work. Jobs and even careers thought essential to industrial societies for generations are being eliminated overnight. The complications are infinite as the Obama Administration’s ham-handed effort to reform U.S. medical services has demonstrated. Yes, medical expenses have grown disproportionately to the rest of society’s costs – although they may be slowing temporarily because of the economic recession. But is it not obvious that increasing applications of expensive new science to our aches and pains would do just that?

The unanticipated events and unintended consequences of this technology is upending the entire world, including setting up new relationships within the American domestic society as well as among nations. Nothing could be more indicative of the new situation than the internet which arose almost by accident and now dictates an increasing part of our economic and social life. That means that government policy, so often written to placate particular sections of the electorate, is often upended by the new technologies. No clearer example exists than the attempt of the Obama Administration to dictate energy goals has been totally vanquished by the introduction of new technologies with the shale gas revolution..

Life has never been simple – not since the first caveman hit the second caveman over the head with a club as they wrestled for the same piece of meat or the affections of a blonde playmate. Common sense tells us that despite the huge and unknowable advances in technology that will continue to be the order of the day.

So, make the best of it. There is a jungle out there and we all must gird our loins to cope. But that has been the nature of life on this planet from its inception. It behooves us to make the most of it and get on with the job of living even in these troubled, as they always are, times.

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The Asia scrum


Rather suddenly there is a welter of developments turning Asia’s dozen-odd countries into a cat’s cradle of conflicting interests – some new — that could lead to war.

Central, of course, is “a rising” China. The Chinese, themselves, have given up the phrase “a peaceful rising”. That was a promise that the new boy on the block would not repeat a united Germany’s late arrival as a strong player in Europe, setting off two world wars. Now almost daily aggressive rhetoric in official Chinese media is matched by extravagant territorial claims against its neighbors in northeast and southeast Asia coupled with a rapid naval buildup. Infringement of the cease fire lines in the Himalayas accompanies temporary military thrusts against Indian forces.

China’s only ally in the region, North Korea – dependent on Beijing aid for its very existence – has turned even more enigmatic. A highly publicized – unusual in such frequent eruptions – purging of its No. 2 leader is inexplicable even to the experts. Its tightly controlled media showed Jang Song Thaek being yanked off to prison. Then the uncle by marriage to the 31-year-old Kim Job-Un, third member of the Kim dynasty, was summarily executed.

One side effect has been both official media in China and North Korea accusing each other of perfidy; Jang was close to Chinese official and business interests. Yet there is no sign that they are not still wedded in their opposition to Japan and the U.S. These events have written a death notice for Washington’s continuing hope that Beijing could and would intervene to halt North Korea’s expanding weapons of mass destruction program. And the Obama Administration, like its predecessors has no answer to the conundrum of the continuing Pyongyang blackmail for additional aid as an incentive to halt its weapons program.

On the other side of the East [or Japan] Sea, most of which Beijing now claims as a restricted area, Japan’s extremely popular Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has defiantly defended Tokyo’s longstanding claim to sovereignty of disputed rocks between its Islands and the Mainland. His attempt to restore Japan’s economy, dawdling for a decade, has been accompanied by a campaign to regain a sense of national purpose. His strategy includes breaking through the virtual monopoly of the leftwing mainstream media not excluding the government radio and the Communist Nikyoso teachers union. Visiting Japan’s shrine to its fallen war dead was part and parcel of that cultural offensive. But because of the enshrinement there of World War II war criminals, it was looked on askance [and for propaganda] by Beijing and South Korea.

Obvious self-interest is being flaunted for political advantage: Beijing threatens to impose economic strictures on Tokyo. Seoul has refused needed Japanese ammunition for its UN Peacekeeping Force under attack in South Sudan. In a period of rapidly declining GDP and attempts at reform, Beijing can ill afford to abandon its heavy reliance on Japan for China assembly for third Japanese markets. Furthermore, Beijing has always looked to Tokyo not only for investment but for technological and management know-how, reflected in Japan being China’s No. 1 supplier in their $334 billion trade [2012]. Seoul’s collaboration with Japan, including such recent joint naval exercises, is essential for any effective counter to China’s power sponsored by the U.S. in Asia.

Abe, anticipating that Beijing despite all the talk of reform will not be able to boost its domestic consumption, long the holy grail of Japanese and Western business, is encouraging Japanese business to look elsewhere. Already Japanese direct investment into China plunged by nearly 37% in the first nine months of 2013, to only $6.5 billion, in part because of the outlook for Chinese markets. Alternatively Japanese investment in Southeast Asia’s four major economies ­— Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines —­ surged by over 120% to almost $7.9 billion.

Tokyo is moving quickly to exploit the new opening in Burma through its traditional special relationship there, Not least it cultivates opposition leader Suu Kyi, whose father, one of the martyred leaders of the independence struggle, was a Japanese protégé. Tokyo has written off more than $5 billion in debt for the reforming generals, and offered new infrastructure loans. Completing the circle, Tokyo has just announced $3 billion for Burma’s long-suffering minorities in off and revolt against the central government since independence.

Japan’s attempt to move away from China toward South Asia has its geopolitical aspects as well: a recent joint naval exercise with Indian forces off that country’s coast, a first, backs up its attempt to encourage an export led investment in the other Asian giant. It is part of a growing Japanese military, integration with its U.S. ally, and projection of its power and prestige overseas.

Radical shifts are taking place elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Thailand’s feud between an urban Sino-Thai Establishment – including avid supporters of the King and Queen – and rural voters is escalating. Rioting with upcoming elections – which the opposition threatens to boycott – have already dampened continued rapid expansion of tourism which accounts for over 7% of Thailand’s economy. And it could threaten foreign investment which has made region’s leading automobile industry a cog in the growing worldwide car assembly network.

Eighty-six-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is ill and apparently unable, especially given his closest followers’ involvement, to make his usual intervention to calm political waters. And the Thai military, which many hoped had been ruled out of a new democratic, booming society, now have hinted they will lapse back into their old coup habit as they did in 2008 if street violence continues. Meanwhile, no one is paying much attention to a growing insurgency in Thailand’s Malay provinces on its southern border. That augurs badly for the region with Malaysia’s own increasingly Islamicist Malays moving toward conflict with its Chinese and Indian minorities, and more radical politicians arising in the more isolated states on Thailand’s border.

Indonesia, largely ignored despite its fourth largest population in the world nearing 250 million – almost a third under 14 — has temporarily staved off a balance of payments crisis. But its meager 3.6% increase in gross national product in 2013 is not what is required for one of the world’s most resource endowed countries with a generally docile and hardworking population. Highly dependent on a few mineral and agricultural specialty exports, Indonesia has been hard hit by the downturn in the world commodity prices. Despite large oil and gas potential, one of the founders of the Organization of Petroleum Export Countries [OPEC] became a net importer in 2009. Corruption, protectionism and fluctuating economic and fiscal policies have discouraged foreign investment and technological transfer. Despite conventional wisdom that Islam in Indonesia is moderate and catholic, incorporating large elements of its pagan and Hindu past, the world’s largest Muslim nation has always had a virulent jihadist movement. Indonesian authorities have been less than prescient in cracking down on it. In a deteriorating economy, it could become a major factor in the worldwide Islamicist terrorist network.

It was into this rapidly moving miasma that Sec. of State Hillary Clinton just two years ago announced the Obama Administration’s “pivot”, a turn from concentration on the Middle East to focus on Asia. But to continue Clinton’s metaphor, a pivot is a “central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns or oscillates”. It could well be that in the world of diplomacy – and geopolitical strategy — one does not reveal the fulcrum. The U.S. has every reason to hope and even pretend that the growing aggressive rhetoric and behavior of Communist China is not the central issue in Asia for the foreseeable future. But to ignore that threat publicly is not to make it central to the strategy shift which was so loudly proclaimed.

Yet, particularly in its relations with Japan, since 1950 the keystone of American strategy in Asia, the Obama Administration appears not to have a China policy beyond associating itself rhetorically with China’s neighbors resisting Beijing’s encroachment. It may be just as well that U.S.-Japanese military integration under an expanded Mutual Defense Treaty is moving rapidly ahead on autopilot. For despite Tokyo’s continued public espousal of close relations, the coolness between Abe’s Tokyo and Obama’s Washington are an open secret. The strong – by the exotic standards of formal diplomatese – of Washington denunciation of Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine [“disappointing”] — was a shock in Tokyo despite an earlier warning. Washington’s refusal to take a direct hand in smoothing relations between its two most important bilateral allies in Asia, Japan and South Korea, has been …disappointing in Tokyo and elsewhere. That is particularly true since U.S.diplomats [and retired Foreign Service Officers] and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel have publicly espoused mediation between Japan and China.

The Washington-sponsored Trans Pacific Partnership, an ambitious attempt to create a vast new common market including 40% of U.S. trade, all North America and some hangers-on, is stagnating, in part because of inattention from the Administration’s leaders. And it is no secret that excluding China from the TPP – even if there were not substantial justification given its unfair trading practices – is presumably a part of the pivot.

But shaking off the Middle East, even with repeated attempts at “leading from behind”, is certainly not conclusive. This weekend’s crisis in Iraq and Washington’s promise to intervene short of boots on the ground shows how hard it will be to disentangle the U.S. from primary concentration on the area. Sec. of State John Kerry’s persistent – if unrealistic – devotion of enormous time and energy toward a breakthrough in Israel-Palestinian relations, too, points in another direction

The U.S. President is scheduled for a swing through Asia in April. It remains to be seen whether the Administration will publicly try to tidy up its “pivot’ with new initiatives.

.Until then the “pivot” is flapping in the growing East winds of change.

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“The long march through the institutions” halts – temporarily?


In 1967 Rudi Dutschke, a flamboyant leader of post-World War II European student radicals looking back on two centuries of failed revolutions, had an epiphany: instead of attacking prevailing institutions head on, he advocated his fellow revolutionaries should take a “long march through the institutions’ of power to create radical change from within government and society by becoming an integral part of the machinery.In the decades since, more than one aspiring revolutionary has attempted to implement his strategy, some even claimed credit for inventing it.

But American students, more intent on panty raids and Florida spring break orgies when not on their iphones, have never been serious politicians. That is especially true compared to the history of student activism bringing on regime crashes in Europe and Asia. Looking back, the anti-Vietnam War student protests – including the tragic 1970 clash at Ohio’s Kent State that claimed four student lives and one permanent paralysis – were atypical. In fact, the American anti-Vietnam War protests were more conceived in guilt by ill-informed, ahistorical, cosseted collegiates unjustly spared Vietnam military service.

That all comes to mind, now, trying to make sense of Obama Administration policies through the fog of its obvious overwhelming incompetence. One begins to discern a pattern, a template that does come right out of the 60s. And alas! It is, willy-nilly, by accident or design, a success — albeit temporary — for “a long march through the institutions”.

We know less than we should about Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s own scholastic life, mainly because he has expended every effort and vast sums to block the normal scrutiny given politicians. But enough is known to perceive him as one of those young radicals who took “the long march”. Policy in the second administration — now free of any new electoral veto except for next year’s mid-term Congressional elections –reflects all the old attitudes of generations of dissent from the left to traditional American values and resulting domestic and foreign policy.

The current tempest over Obamacare is, of course, not only quintessential but expresses the state of mind of the country’s current elected executive. One is tempted – seeing the unbelievable extent of the disastrous rollout – to see conspiracy. For even to the least computer-literate among us, whose daily lives involve constant contact with remarkably skilled IT marketing and billing in the private sector, it is inconceivable that the federal government could not have employed commensurate skills. Was this incredible mess just an accident characterizing the incompetence of the Obama Administration? Or did “the evil geniuses” behind Affordable Care – for example, the estimable “bioethicist” Dr. Zeke Emanuel – really intend chaos? Could it have been they meant to destroy former health care patterns, whatever their shortcomings, to create a situation so enervating that an exhausted body politic would accept Obama’s favored solution: “single payer”, “socialized”, government mandated medicine?

Probably not, simply because it’s clear the technicians, at least, suspected a coming disaster which has overtaken the purported “chief legacy” of the Obama Administration. The Obamacare chaos has now jeopardized, at least temporarily, the whole “liberal”/left agenda. But what we do see, in fact, is an aspect of that same “long march through the institutions”. Individuals have reached the government zenith with the mindset of earlier generations of American pseudo-revolutionaries who along the way enthralled a less astute and pampered academic and media elite.

Evidence for this hypothesis is even more dramatic in the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. For there, except in moments of crises, the U.S. public’s interest and direct involvement is minimal. American lifestyle with its abundance not only of the necessities of life, but increasingly luxuries in the pursuit of elaborate leisure patterns, has given determined leadership an opportunity: making external policy has been a plaything of the elite because of largely apolitical citizenry.

So it was that idealists [and some realists] seized world leadership vacated by an exhausted Europe after World War II. An increasingly prosperous American public was willing to pay the bills without too many questions, especially since it offered new opportunities in foreign trade. It permitted Washington to contribute mightily to the reconstruction and growing prosperity of the Europeans. At the same time, it called for continuing sacrifices for policies – not always astute — in defeating the new totalitarian menace of the Soviet Union and world Communism. It even took a hand, with not all that much success, in efforts initiated by the former European colonial powers, to lift so-called Third World countries out of their misery.

But always at their back were the minority voices on the left. They were armed, often, with sound argument based on gaps in strategy and policy – or the obvious failures such as unresolved wars in Korea, Vietnam, skirmishes in Latin American, and now Iraq and Afghanistan Their litany was never exclusive. They often shared common cause with individuals in the political center and the right. And that old cliché about the commonality of extremes was certainly often the case; “isolationism”, for example, on the “far right” was often shared by the “far left” if for very different reasons. But today in part because of the vacuum created by the Obama Administration’s “lead from behind”, bereft of American leadership destructive regional forces in almost every quarter of the globe have been unleashed.

This arrival of the left at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue via the long march zigzags back to an earlier time. But its fundamental beliefs, again allowing for its performance inadequacies, are clear:

  • A cultural war against traditional American institutions, disparaging and denigrating historic icons, emphasizing the foibles and transgressions [e.g., the unresolved issue of slavery] of The Founders Their unique contribution to Western political thought through their major achievement, the American Constitution, is seen as a “bourgeois” formula, its fundamentals to be amended or circumvented by “progressive” thought supposedly allied to changing economic and social conditions.
  • Increasing government intervention as the solution to all social and economic policies. Mounting evidence that many of the governmental social programs have had enormously damaging unintended consequences has not been a deterrent. Broader government powers of direct intervention and regulation have been seen as the only solution to the increasing complexities of modern life.
  • Anti-anti-Communism whereby Soviet totalitarianism was given a pass. Supporting its satellite proponents in Cuba, Nicaragua, Chile, Vietnam, or even North Korea in its earliest days, was a “progressive” pilgrim’s progress. In its most extreme forms, advocates proclaimed the necessity for an inevitable compromise between Marxist-Leninist values and those of traditional American capitalist democratic society.
  • Abnegation of American leadership and sovereignty in favor of promises of multilateralism in which the U.S. role would be marginalized. Reliance on the United Nations where a plethora of corrupt, demagogic and unrepresentative voices dominated was seen as an alternative to the exercise of American power. NATO, the most successful alliance in history, was either opposed or at every turn sought to be sabotaged.
  • A blind faith in negotiations for their own sake, with authoritarian regimes who do not know the meaning of compromise. The use of force in international relations was seen as a violation of the moral code; the concept of even a war of defense against evil forces was questioned. Instead naïve solutions were sought to problems which had long decades of complex history.

·        A blind faith in technology as a replacement for detailed knowledge and historical perspective and judgment achieved through accumulating large bodies of statistical “fact”. It is “Scientism” which the philosopher William James warned us about more than a century ago. This was reflected often in a marriage of convenience with the diplomatic corps, which for whatever its skills at protocol and the “modalities” of negotiation, falls a perfect victim of what the French call “déformation professionelle”. Foggy Bottom has rarely had a strong claim to a realistic view of the perils of international affairs.

The President has expounded repeatedly on almost all these theses, if not directly by indirection. Overturning the established order through “transformation” as he has labeled it is the order of the day for Obama and his close associates in either formal or informal positions of power. Where law and custom is contrary to their new concepts, a stretch of executive privilege and discretion is a major tool for trying to create a new order even if the legislative arm has demurred.

Yet, if we accept the hypothesis that a radical leftwing minority American leadership has reached the apex of their “long march” by capturing the presidency and Democratic Party Congressional leadership, it is by no means certain their victory is not pyrrhic. The fact that Obama’s once seemingly fanatical following among the so-called sophisticated young is turning away seems to be proof positive of the disaster which has overtaken the Administration. The debacle of Obamacare is so great as to deal the left a blow from which they cannot recover, at least in the near term.

And thus “the long march”, while a temporary victory, has led to such chaos at home and abroad that it is increasingly rejected by a traditionally complacent American body politic. Americans, falling back on legendary common sense, as always, will try to get on with their “pursuit of happiness” promised them in their fundamental political agenda. What is lacking for the moment is leadership out of the swamp.

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Ghosts of East Asia


          

There is an eerie feeling of déjà vu about the drama in the East China Sea just now.

Again an authoritarian government with a rapidly expanding politicized military is making more and more aggressive noises, in large part in pursuit of its voracious appetite for energy. The U.S., hegemonic power in the Western Pacific since the beginning of the 20th century, is being challenged. Washington again follows a zigzagging policy, all the while protecting freedom of the seas – even for its adversaries.

It was after all imposition of the American oil embargo on Japan in the summer of 1941 which was the final tripwire leading to Tokyo’s attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew’s reports of rumors of a surprise attack were discounted. When it came, of course, the U.S. — despite an overwhelming majority opposition until then against a vocal minority adroitly headed by Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt — plunged into a catastrophic worldwide conflict. The U.S. saved the world from unprecedented organized bestiality, ultimately winning against initial odds.

Like all historical comparisons, this one is full of holes.

Still, a search for possible/probable oil and gas deposits is the main incentive for Beijing’s snowballing claims on its aquatic periphery. UN specialized agencies estimate China’s energy consumption by 2035 will grow by 50% to 1.8 times the United States’ [now at about one-fifth of world consumption]. That estimate may be exaggerated, considering China’s declining economic activity after two decades of unprecedented growth.

Nevertheless, much of a probable gigantic increase – given its already 1.3 billion people, four times the American population – will have to be imported. That’s despite exploitation of China’s large if poor coal reserves, limited possibilities for China from the U.S.’ shale revolution because of water shortages, exploitation of Tibetan rivers’ hydro potential despite endangering flow to most of South Asia, and significant solar and wind efforts largely based on American technology..

A solution to China’s problems could come from Russia’s vast reserves in Siberia, old Chinese claims there temporarily muted by Beijing. But despite frequent announcements of impending new agreements, China’s conversation with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, has channeled the old George Bernard Shaw gibe at Lady Astor, “Your profession has been established, Madame, it’s the price we are discussing.”  Ras’ Putin’s energy potential is handicapped with high costs, insufficient reinvestment in infrastructure and foreign investors wary after partial expropriation of their East Asian Sakhalin finds after they brought on production at huge cost.

Moscow’s industrial strategy is so muddled now that China has just made a deal to import Russian crude through a new pipeline to Central Asian producers. Another new Chinese pipeline to bring Burmese [and Mideast] crude, skirting the Malacca Straits chokepoint, to remote southwest China is threatened with a flare-up of long summering northern Burma Kachin revolt.

In other words, China’s energy future is precarious at best.

True, Chinese Communist leadership tries to use jingoistic appeals to its long suffering 200 year history of Western and particularly bloody Japanese aggression to justify claims on the farthest — albeit brief – historical reaches of imperial China. But nationalism, for all its notoriety – from the May 4th [1919] Movement of young intellectuals demanding modernization to Sun Yat Sen’s Republican campaign against the last “foreign” [Ch’ing or Manchu] imperial dynasty — is limited to a Westernized elite. It is not the force that for a millennium brought near total destruction to warring European nation states. Like the Indians, the Chinese despite the contemporary explosion of communication live in a parochial culture largely baring comparisons outside their own vast spectrum of language, ethnicities and race.

Bottom line: China’s new claims on virtually all the seas around it are largely economically motivated. But their drive to become a blue water naval power to advance those claims not only challenges their neighbors but inevitably the U.S.

For despite the Obama Administration’s aspirations for “leading from behind”, it’s the U.S. Navy which guarantees international freedom of the seas with America’s vast military expenditures, larger than the combined military budgets of its leading allies and contenders. The irony, and one about which Beijing has no illusions, is that it is Washington which insures China’s growing lifeline to its aggressive grabs at Mideast, African and Latin American oil. Even if China follows Japan’s successful search for modernization – as it always does – to go for “fire ice”, the vast methane hydrate deposits prominent in East Asian deep waters, it needs a claim. That’s what it is now staking.

This Chinese pursuit of more and more extravagant boundaries – even to the point of damaging its short-term strategies such as cultivating anti-Japanese, anti-U.S. feeling in South Korea to prevent the consolidation of “an Asian NATO” – may be as subtle as some believe. That is, by making outrageous demands, then backing off, Beijing ends up exploiting well-known American impatience and the nervousness of the Japanese and smaller Southeast Asian neighbors. Or, more likely to some observers, these new thrusts represent a less studied Chinese strategy than they do a struggle over the loosening hold of Communist civilians over its traditional Siamese twin, the People’s Liberation Army.

Either way, the Obama Administration – just as the Roosevelt Administration in the late 30s – is giving off mixed signals.

It was Sec. of State Hillary Clinton who in 2012.ostentatiously launched the Obama Administration’s “pivot to Asia”: in her article “America’s Pacific Century” in the flashy Foreign Policy. Not that most American international affairs wonks had an argument against the general thesis: developing Asia would increasingly change the world balance of power and Washington ought to shake some of the dust of the Middle East and pitch toward the unknown role a renascent China seemed more than eager to play.

But some of us wondered at the time if the Mideast curtain would be so easily closed, and whether Washington wasn’t underestimating the Chinese challenge. Nor was it clear how the U.S. Navy was to honor its enlarged task with numbers of ships at a pre-World War I level. Granted, increased technology – one has only to look at the drone revolution – compensates for tonnage in any new strategic environment. But that marvelous seagoing monster the USS George Washington neither can be in two places at one time nor is there no limit to its projection of power.

That can only mean a dubious worldwide strategic vacuum entails.

Alas! Not only did that Mideast tarbaby’s sticky hold turn out to be minimized  but a new Chinese-Japanese dispute over rocky atolls between them – coming out of nowhere on the Chinese side – has befuddled Washington. The Obama presidency has said the U.S. recognizes their longtime Japanese occupation. It has no alternative: in the 1971 Washington-Tokyo agreement returning Okinawa to Japan, an accompanying map includes the rocks along with islands south of that important East Asian American base. This chain, along with the Japanese archipelago itself, and Taiwan is the island barrier the Chinese naval power must finesse to reach trans-Pacific significance.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has just reiterated the proposition that the American-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty, the keystone of American strategy in East Asia since the 1950s, covers these islets. But at the same time, Foggy Bottom spokesmen keep repeating the inanity Washington does not recognize Japanese sovereignty.

When China announced its most recent seaside ploy, most of the territory between China and Japan and South Korea incorporated into its “air defense zone”, the Obama Administration, uncharacteristically, sent unarmed B-52s zooming through it as an in-your-face denial of China’s claims. But then it promptly turned around and first suggested, then ordered American airlines flying through the area to signal Beijing prior to transiting. Thus, in effect, Washington recognized Beijing’s claim. Furthermore, it came just hours after Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had ordered three Japanese airlines to withdraw their earlier acceptance of just such a procedure. There is a hint that Washington didn’t even tell Abe, our principal Asian ally, the turnabout was coming.

Beijing’s game is a dangerous one. Having U.S., Japanese and Chinese military aircraft in more than usual juxtaposition in a relative small area, even up in the air and naval craft e also involved, is scary. Chinese communications, much of it built on stolen American intellectual property, are probably better now than they were in the 2001 Hainan incident. Then a cowboy Chinese fighter pilot killed himself when he scraped an unarmed American surveillance plane over international waters. Circumstantial evidence indicated Beijing wasn’t running the show, that the locals were out of control, and the foreign ministry was ill informed. A rather naïve retired admiral, the U.S. ambassador, told newsmen he couldn’t understand why his old friends in the Chinese military weren’t returning his calls. The Chinese saved face by forcing the U.S. plane down, then returning its crew — and the plane, literally in pieces. But it was not an attractive template for the kind of international disputes which could now erupt at any moment.

The rest of Asia is now holdings its breath, waiting for an episode or for the Chinese to back off, now that Obama has made major concessions. Hopefully, and there are plenty of signs, U.S. military and intelligence collaboration, especially with Japan but increasingly, again, with old Southeast Asia allies, is growing in view of the Chinese threat. It’s apparently without much White House input, perhaps luckily.

And, yeah! everyone can take reassurance from the dispatch of Vice Pres. Uncle Joe Biden on a swing through the area.

sws-12-01-13

How do you say “schmooze” in Chinese?


There was less than met the eye at the two-day summit of China’s Xi  and Pres. Barack Obama.Neither party was in a position to tackle the growing list plaguing the relationship between the superpower and the superpower-wannabe. That might or might not have been a product of their particular personal abilities – and the much too often media true- romance about relations among major world figures. It is a question better left to future historians.

But a two-day schmooze session was about all the leaders of two mighty world powers could hope for. Given their miserable overflowing in-boxes back at homeoffice, it was to be welcomed by both leaders.

Pres. Barack Obama’s administration has turned premature lame duck – even before midterm Congressional elections next year. They hold, at least for the moment, little promise for his Democrats to either retake the House where the purse strings abide but even threaten the fragile Democratic leftwing-nonentity Senate alliance.

Obama came to Sunnylands –  how appropriate for a supposedly serious geopolitical conclave vacuous to its core  – bloodstained from Washington.scandals still metastasizing Try as he has, Obama has failed to use the bully pulpit to take the spotlight with his talk of a somewhat improved economy and a handful of endorsements for social issues for his farleft base. Instead, there is the Republican Greek chorus drumbeat exploitation a growing spectacle of incompetence, petty corruption and failed ideologically-driven failed “comprehensive” solutions. Obama’s directed feints at infinitely complicated social, political and economic problems requiring petty politics maneuvering has never had White House vigor.

Pres. Xi Jinping, although superficially in better shape, also was vacationing from domestic problems that not only threaten his administration, but according to many knowledgeable observers, the Communist Party’s regime itself. Such warnings have come even from CPC leaders public statements. Xi’s answer to multitudinous crises bearing down on him in his first months in office is ever more slogans. A little learning is a dangerous thing, as they say, and Xi’s short American sojourns have apparently given him a heady notion of “soft power”. He played the role of Charming Old Uncle leading up to his elevation — assisted by his sing-along wife, purportedly a nationally known chanteuse if in military uniform.

But even the best imitation of American PR cannot camouflage a flagging economy with growth falling far below the formerly accepted minimum for stability, a pending regional and local debt-credit crisis, and an overall economy increasingly victim as “the world’s factory” of general world economic malaise, not excluding the EU. Despite repeated assertions of policy changes, Beijing has failed to get off the top-down unlimited expansion of capital plant jeopardizing what must in time become a shift to a  more consumer oriented economy if it is to prosper.

For all the talk of lessons learned from an entirely illogical historical analogy of China to Germany and Berlin’s aggressions in the 20th century as a latecomer to the table of the Westphalian nation-state, there isn’t much evidence Beijing has learned whatever “lesson” there was to be had. All the while touting peace and stability, China has laid fantastic claims to southern ocean resources never claimed before except with a few dots on a map, initiated a border incident to the century-old Himalayan frontier map dispute with India on the eve of their vice president’s visit, challenged a new more assertive Japanese government over islands for whose claim the Chinese can muster little authority, and been unwilling or unable to rein in chauvinistic and even threatening talk by mid-level military. Neighbors like the Southeast Asians, while always intimidated by their huge northern goliath when it is ascendant, are furious, flirt with whatever surcease Obama offers with his so-called “pivot” to East Asia, and try to get their ducks together for a united front to Beijing. [Meanwhile, they are lapping up the benefits of a new China economy next door.] Soft power, indeed!

Nor will Obama’s new foreign policy team likely have answers for any of the outstanding issues which Beijing’s policies or lack thereof present the U.S. Navy, the traditional peacekeeper in the Western Pacific. All are leaders from behind, American exceptionalism deniers, and UN-firsters who like their boss mask all this with macho pronouncements on drone warfare and guard intelligence data mining. SecState John  Kerry apparently blithely plans to outdo Hillary Clinton in accumulating mileague in some sort of timewarp in which he thinks he is continuing the old Mideast shuttle diplomacy in the midst of a total breakdown of the 1920s Anglo-French biorder arrangments. Susan Rice, with some of the sharpest elbows in Obama’s inner circle, is now supposed to be the great mediator of conflicting bureaucracies as National Security Adviser. Many will see her appointment, finally, as conclusive evidence it is time to make that NSA, too, subject to Congressional advice and consent, like every other cabinet post. For her very appointment was a poke in the eye to the Republicans – if not some of the conservative Democratic senators – given her still unexplained role as spokesman for the Administration in the Benghazi affair. The President, himself, had said she knew nothing and had nothing to do with it. The new ambassador-designate  to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is noted for her shoot-from-the-hip pronouncements on everything from how the UN should organize a military operation to “free” the Palestinians from the Israelis to hints Washington intervene in the current Syrian shambles. She is consistent in believing the highest US foreign policy priority is averting human rights catastrophes, whenever, wherever, however. In the not so far background is Brennan of Arabia as head of CIA, apparently the main influence on Obama’s serendipitous theories about Islam and Muslims – at least before the Arab Spring ripped open the real Mideast underbelly.

There is, of course, the mysterious disappearing act of Tom Donilon, outgoing NSA, as one of the President’s intimates and supposedly author of “the pivot”. Without much Asia background he was the China hand who went to Beijing to set up the meeting’s agenda such as it was. Civilian life is not, in the end, one would assume, going to protect him from Congressional inquisitors – if they ever get back to it – asking his role in the Benghazi “stand down” that refused aid to the beleaguered murdered victims in Libya

None of the outstanding issues between Washington and Beijing will get anything but rhetoric for a while: Former chief of staff and now Treasury Sec. Jack Lew has reaffirmed that Chinese manipulation of their currency is still as big an issue as ever despite its small appreciation in recent months as Fed Chairman Ben Bernandke continues to roll the dollar printing presses. But Treasury will not formally invoke the sanctions required if Beijing were to be formally named. The private sector, fortunately, has waked up to what continued, persistent and defiant cyberwarfare by the Chinese is doing to the already shredded concepts of intellectual property which Beijing ignores and, of course, eroding our vast but dwindling technological military lead.

Washington keeps lighting candles and praying Beijing will do something to restrain the North Koreans building weapons of mass destruction. But despite warm noises from various official and media sympathizers, in fact, what Beijing is doing is turning all its efforts to harnessing the North Korean economy such as it is but with its valuable direct access to the Pacific. Beijing obviously is anticipating that day when the starving, bluffing Pyongyang regime finally implodes and the remnants slide into the lap of South Korea, an American ally.

So, another year, another summit – although actually we are going to have at least two more this year. One has to have sympathy for poor old grand sumiteer Henry Kissinger, running around China before the big affair. The ageing Henry was only able to get the BBC to listen to his views of what, where and how relations ought to be arranged between the two powers. After all, Kissinger, whatever his exaggerations of his role, did live in the world of the giants now taken over by pigmies in pseudosumitry. No wonder he can’t get his foot in the door.

sws-06-09-13

 

 

 

 

Bengazhi: the honor of the American military is hanging in the balance


A version of this column is scheduled for publication in worldtribune.com, Monday, May 13, 2013.

Despite the distractions of a continuing unemployment crisis and the media’s concentration on stories of human depravity, the scandal of the death of four Americans including an ambassador in Bengazhi — “a long time ago” according to the Administration’s spokesman — will not be put down.

Three sets of issues follow the testimony of three whistleblowers from the Department of State appearing before the early May meeting of the House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform:

Why were proper preparations not made to defend American personnel and territory [the embassies and consulates] in the chaos of newly liberated Libya, especially on the anniversary of 9/11?

Why did the Obama Administration feed explanations of the origins of the event which were boldfaced lies – a “cover-up” for which we now have confirmation from U.S. government documents?

Why were American military forces in the region ordered not to go to the aid of the embattled American ambassador and his handful of ad hoc defenders, even including that additional small Special Forces group available in Tripoli?

It is, of course, the second set of these questions which has gained what little media attention there has been, largely until this past week reported only by Fox News. That is the nature of the American political process. For quite correctly, if the party in power has made extraordinary efforts to mask failures in strategy and tactics, it assumes an even wider political significance than the very events themselves. To lie in covering mistakes is seen in the American political culture as a greater sin and violation of the voters’ mandate than the act itself.

But in the long run of history, it may well be that the third of this group of questions is the most meaningful, that is, the role of the American military.

Despite their magnificent performance as the most skilled warriors in modern history, the American military have been bogged down in continuous war for more than a decade. Huge mistakes in strategy – the decision not to finish off Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the First Persian Gulf War and the notorious articles of engagement in Afghanistan have prevented conclusive victories.

But there are almost no critics of substance of the performance of American soldiers, sailors and marines themselves. Not only is their valor self-evident, but their honor in pursuing the brutal demands of extended conflict are also a cardinal aspect of this past decade. [I would be one of those who argue that pinpointing in so far as that is possible in any armed engagement of terrorist leadership with unmanned aerial vehicles is as humane a pursuit as war permits against an enemy which boasts of its own attacks against civilian targets.]

Sacrifice is, of course, the name of the game for every man and woman enlisted in the U.S. armed forces. The possibility of losing life and limb in defense of American national interest is of course implicit in their service contract with their country. Yet one of the time-honored traditions of the U.S. military, paid for with countless lives over the two hundred years of the Republic, is that embattled comrades are never voluntarily left on their own to face an enemy no matter the prospects for an outcome. “Just as you have a responsibility to your country under the Code of Conduct, the United States government has an equal responsibility—to keep faith with you and stand by you as you fight for your country”, says The Code of the U.S. Fighting Force.

But in his testimony before the House Committee, Gregory Hicks, in command in the Tripoli embassy in the absence [and later death] of Amb. Chris Stevens in Bengazhi, claims the remnant of a Special Forces security force — already shredded by orders from Washington — was ordered to “stand down”. Hicks told investigators that SOCAFRICA commander Lt. Col. Gibson and his team were on their way to board a C-130 from Tripoli for Benghazi prior to an attack on a second U.S. compound “when [Col. Gibson] got a phone call from SOCAFRICA which said, ‘you can’t go now, you don’t have the authority to go now.’ And so they missed the flight … They were told not to board the flight, so they missed it.”

Nor did assistance arrive from the U.S. military outside Libya during the eight hours that Americans were under attack, trapped inside compounds by hostile forces armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and AK-47 rifles. Obama administration officials have insisted that no military resources could have made it in time. This has been refuted categorically by former military and CIA officials.

A White House official told CBS that, at the start of the attack, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “looked at available options, and the ones we exercised had our military forces arrive in less than 24 hours, well ahead of timelines laid out in established policies.”

Hicks has testified: “…I talked with the Defense Attaché, Lt. Col. Keith Phillips, and I asked him, ‘Is there anything coming?’ And he said that the nearest fighter planes were Aviano [Italy], that he had been told that it would take two to three hours to get them airborne, but that there were no tanker assets near enough to support a flight from Aviano. [Fighters were routinely refueled in NATO bases in nearby Sicily during the overthrow of Qadaffi.]

“…And for the second time that night [before 5:15 AM attack], I asked the Defense Attaché, is there anything coming, is there anything out there to help our people from, you know, big military? …The answer was, it’s too far away, there are no tankers, there is nothing, there is nothing that could respond.” [A Delta Special Forces strike force was on exercises in Croatia, not more than four hours away.]

“…The second team — the Defense Attaché worked assiduously all night long to try to get the Libyan military to respond in some way. Early in the morning — sorry, after we were formally notified by the Prime Minister, who called me, that Chris had passed, the Libyan military agreed to fly their C-130 to Benghazi and carry additional personnel to Benghazi as reinforcements. Because we at that time — at that time, the third attack, the mortar attack at 5:15, had not yet occurred, if I remember correctly. …I still remember Colonel Gibson, he said, ‘I have never been so embarrassed in my life that a State Department officer has bigger balls than somebody in the military.’ A nice compliment. “

Members of the Committee – except for Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York’s 14th Congressional District who immediately charged critics of trashing the military – have tiptoed around this issue. Apparently they fear further accusations such as Ms. Maloney’s.

Yet at the heart of the Bengazhi unknown is Gen. Carter N. Ham, commander of the Africa Command, who, suspiciously, was removed within a month of the events ahead of the usual end of his command and then given early retirement. The Committee and the country need to hear from him where the order to stand down came from, whether it was, indeed, his decision, his superiors at the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, or with the Commander-in-chief in the White House where constitutionally it should have been. At least according to official statements, the President went to bed and departed on Air Force One the next day for a fundraiser only seven weeks before the election.

The honor, the integrity and the reputation of the American military hangs on the legitimate answers from the participants to these questions, the military as well as the civilians.

sws-05-11-13

What Obama Could Do


The dust has far from settled on the Washington stalemate over setting a new debt limit. As Thomas Sowell pointed out, so logically, were an increase in the debt ceiling only  “routine”, held up by pesky Congressional Tea Partiers, as the spenders charged, then what would be the purpose of having a ceiling at all? But while an indecorous debate encapsulated the larger ideological divide, America rapidly moves on, remorselessly, to threatening politico-economic issues cascading in from Europe and Asia as well as at home.

Ironically the current world crisis proved one thing: a continuing overwhelming faith in America’s importance, whether economically or culturally. Proof is “the flight to quality” by investors worldwide into the American Republic’s indebtedness as witness all-time record low interest in U.S. Treasuries auctions. Prime Minister David Cameron’s turn to American police [overcoming the usual our British Greek to your American Roman prejudices] in the face of chaotic English urban rioting is another indicator. But disquieting news from Libya approaching indecisive civil war and tragic events in Afghanistan where withdrawal leaves a highly vulnerable Pakistan indicate just how wanting is continued Obama Administration “leading from behind”.

US economic amelioration and patching up its world role would require extraordinary statesmanship. And as many observers, Pres. Harry Truman for one, have judged, the Constitution and history has made the presidency a very strong executive, and it sometimes matters less what he decides but that he act. “The buck stops here”, Mr. Truman’s pithy saying, remains a call for presidential courage on Pres. Barack Obama.

Here’s the kind of action that might result were that summons answered:

  • Send Michelle and the kids off to Martha’s Vineyard while making a seminal Oval Office Labor Day speech on economic affairs.  The spin might be: while holding to fundamental beliefs for a new era of economic justice, pragmatism demands that agenda be put on hold to meet the deepening emergency replaced by a program of cooperation with business to produce jobs immediately.
  • Ask the Congress to skip vacation and reconvene in special session, if needs be three days a week, to consider economic-political measures necessitating legislative action, or simply as a forum to vent the public’s criticism.
  • Call for a summit at the highest level with our allies in Europe and Japan on the world economy — including the simultaneous attendance of all central bankers –to discuss coordinating economic strategies and tactics.
  • Begin weekly meetings in closed session with a group of recognized private sector leaders to brainstorm recovery strategies and tactics.
  • Call for an immediate minimum two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, ask Congress immediately to cut capital gains to zero, and begin the examination of longer term tax alternatives including a flat tax.
  • Propose a tax reform commission of experts modeled after the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission to suggest immediate incremental incentives for small businesses – the fountainhead of jobs.
  • Lift all administrative restrictions on discovery and production of fossil fuels, especially in the Gulf and Alaska and Virginia, creating perhaps a quarter of a million jobs immediately.
  • Use the extensive administrative powers written into Obamacare to suspend any implementation for at least five years and suggest its review by a body of medical, insurance and regulatory technocrats to be presented to the Congress before November 2012.
  • Ask Congress for a one-time tax remission for multinationals to encourage repatriation of an estimated $2.5 trillion in profits held overseas, on condition 25% be invested immediately in an infrastructure fund [highways, bridges, airport, rail reconstruction, etc.], a private sector Reconstruction Finance Corporation administered by those companies in collaboration with local governments.

And then sit back and see the American economy take off!

Alas! I fear we have as much hope for such a program, either thematically or in its specifics, as the proverbial snowball in the nether regions. Hangers-on, leftwing Democrats and the kept mainstream media will continue to hope for victory in next year’s elections, clinging to an agenda designed to enthuse the President’s “politically correct” base, demonize his opponents and flimflam independents by pretending a position of compromise.

Unfortunately, it looks like that indomitable American economy with its incredible history of jobs creation will have to continue to tread water – as it will manfully — against a Washington tide.

sws-08-12-11

Armagedon? Not exactly


We live in a media world constantly trumpeting something happening for the first time ever, the biggest, the best or the worst something happening or predicted, or something that inevitably will happen if something isn’t done. Often that simply doesn’t square with the facts or history. 

The Obama Administration, fighting for a second life after 2011, has joined this Hallelujah chorus to frighten the electorate into accepting a bad bargain: a short-term bailout with more taxes, bigger deficits — and more government. It gets widespread support — from “special interests” [yours and mine] to the bond rating agencies who failed so miserably in the 2007-08 financial crisis. Mind you, those agencies should also be warning us the outlook for American government securities is grim if Washington doesn’t surgically go after its runaway spending and unsustainable deficits. [Shame on old friend Stuart Varmey for not making that clear on Fox News during one of Bill O’Reilly’s tantrums.]

As I write facing a new debt ceiling deadline, one recalls Sec. of Treasury Timothy Geithner has cried wolf too many times adding further confusion. It’s certainly legitimate to speculate whether Treasury could – as many experts insist – scrape together enough cash to pay creditors for a few more weeks while longer term solutions were put in place.

True enough, the U.S. government has never defaulted on “the good faith and credit of the U.S.”. Were it to do so, all its vast implications are probably unfathomable. That it would not be good for individual citizens is obvious. Still, it is quite another matter to call it the end of the world.

While it is true the U.S. has never defaulted per se, something pretty close came about not so long ago as financial history goes. By 1970, Washington had got itself into a fix, in many ways similar to today’s. The dollar was greatly overvalued with bills coming due for Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson‘s Great Society and the Vietnam War. International balance of payments tilted with inflexible fixed currency rates established by the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement. Inflation threatened.

On August 15, 1971, President Richard .M. Nixon unilaterally repeat unilaterally suspended theoretical convertibility of the dollar into gold, set a new lower rate, and demanded our trading partners raise their own currencies. In December 1971 they gathered at the Smithsonian to sign on; there wasn’t a lot they could do. By the way, it didn’t work: two years later, Washington again realigned gold and the world set off on fluctuating currencies tied to the dollar which it has tried to maintain ever since.

Mind you, yes, of course, it was a different world. Europe and Japan had recovered from World War II but weren’t admitting it. Japan was running up huge dollar holdings, sucking away American manufacturing jobs, much as China today. But the U.S. was seen as cock of the walk with strong – if sometimes knuckle-headed – leadership. [That was long before President Barack Obama spent two years “leading from behind”, denigrating America’s past, its uniqueness and its leadership role.] Pres. Nixon and his president-aspirant Sec. of Treasury, blustering Big John Connally, slapped on wage and price controls, a calamity abandoned three years later when inflation hit double digits. But, in effect, “the Nixon Shocku” [as the Japanese who got caught flat-footed called it] had chopped its creditors off at the ankles.

Perhaps the most significant difference, among many, from those days is a world crisis in every theater. The Euro, a figment of Brussels bureaucrats’ imagination without EU unified fiscal and monetary policy control, is on the ropes. Sterling is in equally bad straights with the UK trying to dig out of more debt than any other industrial country. The Japanese, borrowing yen from themselves with abandon for a quarter of a century, now face mammoth new reconstruction with the world’s fastest ageing population. China, with its deus ex machina of unlimited infrastructure expansion, subsidized exports and a walled-in market, is slamming on the yuan brakes against incipient inflation. India faces runaway inflation with its rupee investors taking their capital elsewhere because they don’t see massive reform of a former Soviet-bent East IndiaCo. system. Mideast sheikhs are squandering their [and our] petrobillions in the same old way.

Things look disastrous in Washington, but bottom line: compared to whom?

sws-07-22-11