Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

Barking up the wrong tree!

My two Airedales have many remarkable qualities. Don’t, please, tell me you don’t know what an Airedale is! It’s that dog that is the quintessential happy face with a beard that used to illustrate almost every dog story and every can of dog food.

Granted we are a relic of the past. Everyone from Teddy Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson used to have them in the White House. There was a time, around the turn of the 20th century, when they were the American dog. I grant you they also went with big frame houses, big families, a chicken in every pot [with rice] for Sunday dinner, and an occasional slap across the chops if you didn’t behave properly, especially at meal time, and got caught putting the chewing gum away under the table.

But these days they are considered “big dogs”. [What do those “big dog” people think when they see the occasional Great Pyrenees? I used to meet a lady in Central Park in New York with one, a very well behaved critter. But I did wonder how she fitted him into an apartment on Central Park West.]

Nobody has told my two guys, a male and a female, that they are “big dogs”.  So whenever I am there – and often when I am not – they climb up on my big double bed. They generally sleep. Luckily for me, the male likes to sleep with his muzzle arranged over my feet. That keeps my toes, always cold in mid-summer, warm. They occasionally grunt when I roll over on one of them.  But by and large, we share the accommodations without rancor.

They don’t pay much attention to the television, which runs incessantly – sometimes [let’s be honest, often] when I am sleeping. [I was finally forced to shell out a hundred bucks for some nifty ear phones the other day so that when I am listening at full gallop, with my disappearing hearing, I don’t keep the whole house awake.] In fact, I find the best way to go to sleep is to tune in CNN and let that old Phumpha Wolf Blitzer, or even better, Amanpour whose generally stranded somewhere between Tehran and London,  put me right to sleep. Not Becky Anderson though – that’s a voice from hell and an accent [does anyone outside some special place in Yorkshire understand that accent?]. She grates.

But, curiously, and I have never understood this mystery: whenever a dog comes on the screen, my male, is all ears. [Name’s Yamana Nobori – “mountain guide” in Japanese because he was up and out of his little fenced-in turf at three weeks, climbing back and forth in to suckle Mom, and then running around the “fence” in the living room, barking at his 11 – yep! count them — 11, all beautiful fellow puppies, no runts if you please!]

I read that dogs don’t see too well, not as well as us humans [although count me out with my glaucoma!] They smell above and beyond the call of duty to discern the characteristics of the scene and those around them. But now wait a minute!: my old Sony TV is pretty good still [probably with an old tube better than what they put out today with those twisted slanted borders]. But it doesn’t give you smells, at least not yet.

So how does Nobori know a dog has just come on the screen? He watches silently but intently as long as the dog is on the picture. I notice, too, that he looks for it to come off the back on one side or another after it disappears. Then after a spell, he gives it up and goes back to sleep. Maybe he does have one eye open for the next dog on TV?

All this to tell you that Nobori is an art critic, too.

‘Cause my Airedales know when they hear a real barking dog!


What is not holding the world together

In one of those misbegotten historical analogies, it’s fashionable these days to talk about the parallels between our current scene with the world of 1914. Most historical comparisons are faulty, but often made by people who should know better.

Nothing, in this instance, could be further from the truth.

That we are coming up on the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War is not a good enough excuse for these misapprehensions. Whatever else the 1914 world was, it constituted at its head a collection of somewhat threadbare empires that shared the uneasy job of ruling the world from an industrialized, dominant Europe. They all, despite the deanship of the British Empire “on which the sun never sets”, shared enough equality to be fierce competitors. And therein lay the roots of the catastrophe of The Great War from which European [and therefore world] civilization has never completely recovered.

True, today there are regional conflicts blossoming [or continuing their traditional animosities] all over the globe. And there is the disconcerting arrival of a new boy on the block, China, which like Wilhelmine Germany often seems itching for a fight. And there is the constant possibility of outbreak of new conflicts, even one that might seduce all the major and [many if not most of] the minor powers. War is, after all, one of the traditional adventures of the human race and despite the optimists not likely to disappear.

But there is one cardinal difference between the end of the Belle Époque and the world of 2014: the U.S. for all its failings is still the overwhelmingly the single dominant geopolitical giant. Furthermore, with the defeat of fascism in World War II and communism in The Cold War, Washington won at least token lipservice for the supremacy of democratic political systems and market economics.

Look around the world and one sees, often unremarked because it is so accepted as the norm, the influence of this  and other American “soft power” on every other country. It is, for example, the now requirement for a written constitution however lacking in the genius of that formidable U.S. document. Or whether it is the smaller seedy copying of American popular culture, the wretched loud, inane poverty-stricken rhythms that pass for music or a call for “a government shut down” in Thailand’s current near civil war, the U.S. sets the fashions.

There is an underlying and basic reason for this American omnipresence. For whether it is accepted by the world, or indeed by its own citizens, the American state’s claim to exceptionalism is not rooted in race, language, or even geography, but in ideology. It’s not a coda such as the totalitarians of the 20th century preached that could rouse populist sentiment for others’ subjugation and war. But it is a call for a new individual freedom which older societies have never known and now attempt to emulate. That difference of the Americans from earlier dominant states, perhaps more than anything else, sets 2014 apart from 1914 under any consideration of today’s concert of powers.

Indeed, there are two fundamental questions when examining what is going on in our world today:

  • Is it that the current scene is that different than it has always been, except for the explosion of information [and disinformation] due to the digital revolution which constantly remolds our perceptions of reality?
  • Even more germane, is the current American amateur and incompetent leadership simply aberrant, or has “the American century” [so beloved of Henry R Luce who set many of those U.S. patterns of communication and influence] ended like the empires before it, starting a steep and inevitable decline?

There are no easy answers to either of these questions.

For one thing, the revolutionary effects of digitalization of the economy are rolling out on a daily basis like waves from a tempest. Whether it is in communications or fundamental scientific research, the effects of the new breakthroughs are incredibly forceful. They are changing our society in so many ways we cannot possibly comprehend them at their first encounter. Yet human emotions, the raw material of political events – and conflict – are not that different however much forced into new channels of expression. The Balkan wars the world went through in the final decades of the last century had the same roots and expressed themselves not all that differently than they had when they became the trip wire for opening the century with World War I.

It’s our hypothesis here that wherever regional conflicts exist, they are markedly affected by the overall dominance of the U.S. and its intellectual as well as its power projections. That is not to say, of course, that these regional conflicts are – as the U.S.’ bitterest critics would pretend – the result of American action. Washington did not invent, for example, those excruciating tribal, ethnic, religious and political feuds which bloom perennially in the Middle East. They have, indeed, in many instances existed for more than a thousand years, some even much longer.

But it is to say that American strategy and policy toward that region, and other conflicted areas around the world, is an all important ingredient of the total mix. The fact, for example, that the U.S. has for more than a century [at times, ironically, with the help of the Japanese in an earlier alliance with the British] maintained freedom of the seas in the Western Pacific is as much a part of that regional heritage as any indigenous element.

It is all too apparent, then, that the current U.S. administration’s, and yes, manipulation of American resources around the globe, is critical to the maintenance of the balance of power and to peace and stability. Nor is it to say that there is a foolproof methodology in working out those stratagems. It was, after all, one of the most seasoned diplomats, Secretary of State Dean G. Acheson, who helped loose the Korean War by publicly excluding that peninsular when he defined the American “defense perimeter” in East Asia.

Just as the Soviet Union and North Korea in 1950 tried to move into what they saw as a vacuum, around the globe today chaos and aggressive forces are filling the void created by the Obama Administration’s attempted withdrawal of American power. Pres. Obama and Sec. Kerry may see themselves as master Machiavellians, “leading from behind” or organizing vast pacts for peace and stability with aggrandizing powers such as Iran. But they are in fact agreements not to agree.

I the real world, the exercise of authority, however skillful the diplomacy, must in the end be met with a concomitant commitment of resources, and alas! including military power. The Obama amateurism is self-evident when the Oval Office first commits the U.S. to a military thrust at the barbarous al-Assad regime in Syria, and then as Joe Alsop once said about a similar episode in Laos under Pres. John F. Kennedy, “marched up the hill with bands playing and flags waving, and then casually marched down again”. And thus the death warrant was written for the efforts to build a non-Communist South Vietnam.

It is no secret that the American electorate is tired of war, not with the common sense to see that enormous sacrifices in both Iraq and Afghanistan may have been for naught. And it would be foolish to minimize the difficulty of making a policy that calls for the backing of force in that domestic environment on the eve of new elections. [It’s called statesmanship!]  Yet the Obama Administration has followed not led: in the Iraq withdrawal when it would not pursue diligently the necessary agreement for maintaining a continuing U.S. force to stabilize the democratic regime Washington was leaving behind. In foreign affairs as in most human activities, there is no “sure thing”, of course, and it may well be that had that been done, the present chaotic sectarian war would have exploded anyway. But it is certain that one of the reasons for the current chaos there is the lack of a forceful American policy.

It was all very well for Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, again with trumpets, to commit the U.S. to a “pivot” to Asia in the face of what is the publicly unacknowledged – for good and sufficient reason – the growing aggressiveness of a nascent China. Luckily the rapid integration of American and Japanese military power is moving ahead on autopilot despite the Obama Administration’s neglect of Tokyo’s first strong prime ministry in more than two decades. There is, of course, the little problem that the Obama Administration [or any U.S. executive] can not get out of the Mideast briarpatch to turn its full attention elsewhere. But increasingly aggressive rhetoric matched by a snowballing military force with all the borrowed and stolen American technology is bringing a “Chinese problem” into  focus that cannot be denied despite the entreaties of American business always after its dollar. [Remember that U.S.-Japanese trade maximized on the eve of Pearl Harbor!]

It’s not likely we will know the answer to these colossal ambiguities for a very long time, maybe having to leave it to historians. And much depends on how much more damage Mr, Obama and Mr. Kerry can do in the three years of their administration yet to play out. But the world is watching the growing circus with increasingly trepidation.


Mrs. Clinton’s Mideast chicken salad

Secretary Hillary Clinton, after briefly nurturing husband Bill, is in the Mideast skirting [in pantsuits] two dangerous games of chicken.

Headlined, of course, is confrontation with Tehran’s mullahs over their nuke ambitions. She’s there to buck up Washington’s Persian Gulf minipetrostate allies. Touring Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier promised new weaponry for the shaky sheikhs who might be first casualties if hostilities explode. But despite Mrs. Clinton’s  “crippling” sanctions threat, Iran’s defiance – backed by Russian and Chinese obdurate opposition to ratcheting them up – trips the Geiger counters.

Mme. Secretary is skipping Israel. Just as well not to have eye-to-eye contact what with Israel’s implied threat to unilaterally attack to slow Mr. Ahmedenijad’s efforts. As the Obama Administration keeps redrawing the “red lines” closer and closer to accepting a nuclear-clad Iran – first enrichment, then weaponization, then delivery — aggravated by Tehran’s threats, the Israeli “never again” syndrome swells.

That’s why part and parcel of Washington’s Iran confrontation is a parallel nuanced tit-for-tat between Israelis and Washington. The President’s extensive pre-White House Palestinian, Pakistani and other Muslim acquaintanceship lurks quietly offstage. That seems the only justification for Washington’s renewed efforts to woo Syria, keystone in regional forces arrayed against Israel. For, defying Washington, Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad reasserts control in Lebanon, transfers Tehran’s weapons to Hizbullah, provides sanctuary for radical jihadists, allows terrorists infiltration into Iraq, all the while tightening Tehran ties.

On the Israeli-Palestinian front, Mr. Obama’s dramatic initiative to feature Israeli “settlements” in Occupied Territories taken after Jerusalem’s 1967 victory got his peacemaking efforts off to a bad start.  No American, Israeli – or even Palestinian – negotiator had ever made their disposition sine qua non for starting negotiations. That gambit, apparently, was dreamed up by the first ever retired uniformed National Security Adviser, Marine Gen. James Jones. Earlier he tried to draw up a minimal security agenda — for the Israelis, if you please. It didn’t. And he hasn’t been heard from recently on this subject, and not much on other issues.

In any event, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu grabbed the ball and ran. Sentiment for expanding suburban Jerusalem for Israeli metrosexuals, military Jordan River strongpoints for Israel Defense Forces, and Judea and Samaria hilltops for the religious have coalesced behind him. Howsoever growing European criticism, Israel’s crushing Gaza campaign at least temporarily halted Hamas’ missiles. So “Bibi” has more support than “normal” for an Israeli PM facing the notoriously fractious Knesset and Washington’s incessant intrigue to wangle a more pliant replacement.

Mr. Netanyahu did throw a sop to U.S. negotiators with a temporary postponement of “settlements” construction. Mme. Hillary, stroking a sow’s ear into a silkpurse in Israel last fall, labeled it an “unprecedented” concession. It’s the only one she is likely to get, confronted with Israeli dominance of an Arab Palestine divided between dissolving West Bank Fatah and Tehran-backed jihadist Hamas in Gaza.

Furthermore, Mr. Netanyahu deals from a pretty tall deck. It was he, after all, as finance minister – with PM Ariel Sharon – who broke the back of the traditional Histadrut-socialist lock on the economy. Unleashed, finally, old fashioned Jewish entrepreneurship has blossomed – not least in digitals, pharmaceuticals and weaponry exports. Building an independent central bank with Stanley Fisher, Nairobi-born professor, quintessential New York Citibanker, and IMF veteran, Mr. Netanyahu has led Israel through the perils of the worldwide financial crunch better than most. The economy dipped only briefly into negative growth. There’s even been some unacknowledged spilloff for Palestinian West Bankers.

So when U.S. Special Emissary George Mitchell publicly threatened to scratch U.S. loan guarantees unless “settlements” were halted, the current shoot-from-the-hip Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz brazenly countered that Israel could do without them — and besides, he said, they had already been negotiated for the next round. Now Mitchell, whose stock and trade is his role in the Northern Ireland settlement [which keeps coming apart], leaves no footprints as he commutes around the region. In fact, just before getting off, Mrs. Clinton boosted former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair into the so-called “peace process” leadership. Blair is more acceptable to Jerusalem – even if he will likely arouse Israeli allergies when he taps Foreign Office Arabists for expertise.

Quietly, too, the U.S. is pressuring the Israelis through weapons transfers. Washington refuses [as it does Britain] special Israeli adaptations of F35 joint fighter radar. There has also been a hold on the latest helicopters. With American supply lines overstretched in two wars, Israel’s American partisans who argue there is no formal Obama Administration embargo are probably correct. And, at a time when Mr. Obama’s huge Congressional majority is fracturing with medical “reform”, blue dogs, abortion, and growing apprehension about the fall elections, Rahm Emanuel doesn’t need a showdown with Israel’s staunch, extensive [mostly Democratic] Congressional Jewish [and Christian Evangelical] lobby.

Still, games of chicken have a way of getting out of hand – especially in the world’s most volatile poultryroost fitted out with escalating weapons buildups.


No reset, no restart — no deal with Moscow

“Reset” is the trendy way the Obama Administration describes its Russian efforts. In his “comprehensive” approach, Mr. Obama reversed Condoleeza Rice’s foreign policy haiku ending with “neglect Russia”. Instead of that virtualization, the Obama Administration has gone crashing ahead trying to set up a new relationship with an extremely fragile Moscow regime.

Mr. Obama’s charm offensive hasn’t gone any place for the simple reason Russia is an old, wounded wolf, armed with the fangs of an ageing nuclear arsenal, but with the stench of death. Falling longevity among men, alcoholism, HIV-AIDS, etc., and a nonreplacement birthrate could cut Russia’s 150 million by 20 million in the next 20 years.

Any IT nerd could have told Secretary Hillary Clinton if you push the reset button, and it doesn’t work, you have to start looking for a new motherboard, power supply, video card, or memory. Maybe memory is key given our long Cold War history.

It’s true Mr. Obama’s interlocutor Vladimir Putin’s popularity appears high [probably higher than Mr. Obama’s]. But it’s explained by the old Russian lament, “If the Tsar only knew …”, protecting Kremlin rulers as Ras clambered back into an authoritarian state.

In a bid to set up a Barry-Vlad relationship, Mr. Obama quickly canceled painfully negotiated agreements with the Poles and Czechs of anti-ICBM deployments. Defense Sec. Robert Gates guarantees a more effective shorter range substitute. But mid-January Iranian space flights are not very reassuring as they presage Tehran ICBMs.

If the Central European abandonment was supposed to produce Russia’s help in halting the mullahs’ nukes, it hasn’t. For the moment, Moscow hides behind Beijing’s opposition to stringent sanctions. And the Kremlin just announced it won’t cut off missiles technology which [along with Chinese and North Korean transfers] fuels the mullahs’ program. Furthermore, Moscow’s is huffing because Washington also needs Romania for the new deployment, treading where the Russians believe they deserve hegemony. And for the new program Washington has had to hustle anti-misile defenses in the Persian Gulf oil sheikhdoms, objects of growing Iranian bellicosity — and seduction.

Picking up on every president since the Soviets got the hydrogen bomb, Mr. Obama reportedly is about to conclude a new strategic arms agreement. That’s seen as incremental progress toward the old vision of a nuclear-free world. Professions of that blessed future got Mr. Obama to Oslo. Truth is the Russians, despite their propaganda, will accept the deal with alacrity because it only confirms the erosion of their weaponry but commits the U.S. to cutbacks. [Moscow’s newest ICBM keeps failing tests, threatening overall Russian strategy.] Perhaps that’s a draw; Mr. Obama apparently intends to refit our nuclear warheads, a controversial but necessary maintenance.

Efforts, generally, to woo the Russians back into the post-Soviet implosion era of good-feeling isn’t on line. All observers – not just those tacky meaningless polls – report Russian anti-Americanism skyrocketing, despite Mr. Obama’s worldwide mea culpas. Tattered negotiations to get Moscow into the World Trade Organization have stymied over issues the Bush Administration couldn’t budge. Beleaguered Special Trade Rep. Ron Kirk’s office doesn’t want to talk about it.  The Russians have even threatened $800 million in American chicken imports, one of the few trade deals going.

The agreement to help Washington out in Afghanistan by transiting non-lethal cargo because of Pakistan’s deterioration has stymied. Mr. Putin’s efforts to thwart U.S. bases in the Stans have failed. But Vice Pres. Cheney’s “southern energy corridor” to move Central Asian fossil fuels to markets through Turkey, with lower world recession demand is further sabotaged with Russian counter-initiatives and Ankara’s growing love affair with Moscow.

But even with the oil price creeping back up, Moscow’s mainstay economic prop is troubled. The gas monopoly Gazprom is creaking. Intrigue to control European markets has drained resources from poorly maintained pipelines, away from new prospecting. Were there weather or some other emergency, it’s doubtful Moscow could meet West European commitments. Going for East Asia markets – including extended negotiations with Beijing – has soured. Mr. Putin’s confiscation of European and Japanese Sakhalin equities has the majors thinking twice about lending capital and technology essential for the next oil and gas push in the Far East and the Arctic.

Minor political rebellions at both ends of the Federation – in the Maritime Provinces and in the Kaliningrad enclave – are symptomatic of what could develop into another implosion. Internal democratic forces have been squelched. But Russia’s large Muslim minority is increasingly restive. Mr. Putin’s Georgian aggression last summer, setting up two new Potemkin states, has only aggravated the running sore on his southern flank. Not only has Chechnya not been pacified, but terrorism is spreading to neighboring “republics”. Attempts to organize a state Muslim organization to match the compliant Orthodox Church has come a cropper. There is new Moscow-Muslim Tatarstan tension. [Lenin can’t go home again.].

Still, Russian bombast and Mr. Putin’s macho photographs seem to have mesmerized Washington. Never mind if the computer has hanged.


Foreign policy by prayer

In a region noted for miracles – Israel’s prosperous if beleaguered survival, despite attempts to mobilize 360-million Arab enemies, is a recent example – prayer could be a way to make U.S. policy. Although she now contributes only by inheritance, former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice voiced that possibility, woefully, recently: “…We have only one choice: to trust that in the long arc of history those shared beliefs will matter more than the immediate disruptions that lie ahead and that, ultimately, our interests and ideals will be well served.“

To quote John Maynard Milord Keynes, in the long run we will all be dead.

Reality is the Obama Administration cannot continue to abdicate America’s responsibility, leaving a worldwide vacuum to be filled by every would-be amateur Metternich. Obviously, policy is made with many unanswered questions. But leadership requires sorting possibilities, and decision-making, usually accepting the best of poor alternatives.

In all the uncertainties facing Egypt’s future, and indeed, the whole Arab world, by encroaching poverty pitted against rising expectations, none is so mysterious as current U.S. policy.

The talking heads more or less confirmWashington was unprepared for Cairo’s implosion. Okay, as some of us over 35 know, human events are largely unpredictable. Who could have guessed immolation by an unemployed vendor in tiny Tunisia, hardly respectable among the macho Arabs, would topple the dominoes?

But Egypt was notorious as a classically fragile third world country. There was always potential drama in rising unemployment, underdeveloped or depleted natural resources, literally thousands of years of bureaucratic malfeasance. Ruled by a highly personalized military dictatorship, no secure succession was in sight to its 83-year-old, ill, reactionary head. Yet Cairo dominated culturally a region because of its fossil fuel resources critical to the U.S. and the world economy. Yet destabilization came as a surprise? Yes, the U.S. is in a period of overwhelming domestic concern. Fickle Washington is notoriously a one-issue theater – and the Obama Administration is still winding down two wars. But surprise?

Looking for an explanation, the inevitable conclusion is the foreign policy establishment – in and out of government, for with the Inside the Beltway revolving door they are indistinguishable – is incompetent. Why?

“Group think” dominates analyses. Fads and instant expertise – instead of the long, hard, slog through history and anecdotal information – preclude originality. Even the Pentagon, supposedly noted for realism, bought into the most primitive “scientism”: the hypothesis scientific method could be applied to social problems. It spent tens of millions of dollars on “software” replacing the old crystal ball, the alchemist’s puttering, the Gypsy soothsayers on Manhattan’s Second Avenue, or the oracle of Delphi but didn’t see this coming.

Even now most media chatter trots out tired clichés. Basic problems are ignored or obfuscated. Not even the right questions are posed, at least not publicly:

1] How is any Egyptian regime going to meet growing unemployment and unrest among a notoriously young population? Will the new regime reverse largely protectionist, corrupt Murbarak policies which inhibited foreign investment and technological transfer. [Read the labels: Highly valued Egyptian cotton is made into sheets, towels and garments in India, China, Bangladesh – any place but Egypt!]

2] Fatuous rationalizations about Islam dominate the politically correct discourse. No one, probably including the Muslim Brotherhood itself, knows the fanatics’ strength in the new environment. But can there be any doubt a movement grounded in radical political and primitive Islam, threatens all modern values? Even if analyses arguing the Brothers are currently ambivalent are correct, will the obviously difficult days ahead not stir its original bowels of fanaticism as has happened elsewhere?

3] With continued military dominance likelihood, how far have the jihadists penetrated its lower echelons? Is a sergeants’ revolt likely – just as Gamal Abdul Nasser overthrew the original 1952 military coup instituting failed pan-Arab nationalism and a Soviet alliance? Doesn’t anyone remember Pres. Anwar Sadat was assassinated during a military review by the Brothers’ intellectual offspring in “borrowed” uniforms?

4] Most important, what role can America actually play? Is it wise to continue making public statements, often contradictory within 24 hours? Wouldn’t a quieter diplomacy – if such can be conducted given Washington’s official blabbermouths and wikileaks’ assistance – be more effective? Given past history in Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, etc., isn’t the influence of the Pentagon on Egyptian military – despite the annual $1.5 billion aid bribe – questionable? Is America’s “soft power” being mobilized? coordination between policymakers and propaganda, official and unofficial, in a world of instant replay?

Pres. Barack Obama’s ideological proclivities will have to give way to realism if the U.S. is not to stumble further. Nothing was clearer when his feathers were ruffled by admonitions from old Egypt-hand Amb. Frank Wismer advocating a transition with Mubarak.

Running American foreign policy is not community organizing agitation, but a hard-headed, facts-based choice of always difficult alternatives. Choices have to be made, quickly, quietly, and judiciously. Harry Truman had it right: constitutionally and historically the presidency of the U.S. is a strong executive, and it sometimes doesn’t matter as much what the decision is but that it be made.