Tag Archives: Obama

The Turkish model is dead


The effects of Turkey’s secularist hiccup last week when for the most part junior military tried to overthrow the regime will be long-term, inimitable, and disastrous for the U.S. and Afro-Asia.
For almost a hundred years, Turkey’s effort to modernize from the top down has been a possible model for much of the non-industrialized world. Mustafa Kemal, the country’s victor in the civil war which destroyed the old Ottoman multicultural empire, set out to “Europeanize” the country, shearing off its former leadership as the clerical as well as political Islamic world.
For Washington, Ataturk’s successor regime has been a bulwark, with its second largest North Atlantic Treaty Organization. army [more than half a million] holding up the eastern wing of the alliance. During The Cold War it was Ankara’s forces backed by U.S. land, sea, and air bases that prevented further Soviet expansion into the Mediterranean. This has come at an enormous price [$4 billion by 1997 in direct aid] in American aid; as late as July this year an argument was continuing over a $26-billion package including grants and loan guarantees.
The selection of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party [AKP] in 2003 opened the floodgates to a new competitive economy replacing at least in part Ataturk’s state capitalism. Remittances from Turks overseas [three million in Germany alone], foreign investment and an ambitious overseas tied-aid program of its own, seemed to be fulfilling Kemal Pasha’s aspirations, making it the fastest growing economy in Europe at more than 10% annually.
Despite Erdogan and the AKP’s ambiguity on permitting Washington to move forces through Turkey during George W. Bush’s 2002 Iraq War – or perhaps precisely because of it – soon after his election Pres. Barack Hussein Obama began to court Erdogan. Obama apparently saw Erdogan as a moderate Muslim democrat who could help him stabilize the Middle East. In a 2011 interview Obama named Erdogan, along with Germany Chancellor Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, as one of the five world leaders with whom he had the strongest bonds. They exchanged frequent calls and the U.S. president commiserated for 45 minutes on the death of Erdogan’s mother.
But a flagging economy and Erdogan’s growing grasp for power as he moved into the presidency in 2012 has clouded the picture. A well-known quotation – whether true or apocryphal – describes Erdogan’s politics: “Democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off.” Long before the attempted coup, he had unmercifully purged the senior military – the guardians of Ataturk’s secularist state — installing his own men. He also packed the judiciary and has more journalists in jail than any other regime. His threats since the failed coup to go even further with repressive measures and his own new constitution look like an old Mideastern pattern.
But worse still has been his pandering to Islamic elements, especially rural Anatolia where his conservative views are most popular. How far toward an Islamic state will Erdogan go is now an open question? Earlier critics who pointed out Turkey did little to curb the flow of Syrian and other refugees to Western Europe – a million last year alone to Germany. In fact, he used the refugee flow to blackmail Merkel into a huge new aid program and a laissez-passer for Turkish citizens in the European Union. Other EU members may demur, particularly France, with its opposition coming to a head in October is stronger after the massacre last week on the Riviera. .Erdogan already has used any criticism of his regime in Western Europe and the U.S. as evidence for his frequent charges of foreign intervention.
Talk among Erdogan supporters of establishing Sunni Islam as the state religions have been knocked down by Erdogan himself. But he always has flirted with radical Islamic terrorists. Gaza’s Hamas [the cause of his break with Israel] has openly operated as has Erdogan’s sympathy for Hizbollah [even it is Shia] in its fight against Basher al-Assad in Syria. That makes him less than a reliable ally in Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s effort to “degrade and [eventually[destroy” Daesh [ISIS or ISIL]..
Not only is the Turkish model gone, but there is every reason to question its future role as a NATO member..[Erdogan temporarilly closed the joint U.S.-Turkish NATO Incirlik air base, only 80 miles from the Syrian border, which Obama has been using in his low level war against Daesh.] Such moves could cripple an already limping alliance, successful as NATO.was for half century in the defeat of Communism.
sws-07-18-16

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Obama’s Guantanamo politics feeds terrorism


Nothing so exemplifies Pres. Obama’s failed foreign policies and his attempts to usurp Congressional power than the mess that the White House has created at Guantanamo.
Obama promised in his 2008 campaign speeches that he would close the prisoner-of-war camp which the Bush Administration had created in the American Naval Base in southeast Cuba. The oldest overseas American base, originally leased from Havana after the U.S. liberated Cuba in the Spanish-American War in 1899, it has become an object of dispute since the advent of the Castro Communist dictatorship. The Bush Administration in its undeclared war against the stateless terrorists, first Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and then Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] and other terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, had used the facility for imprisoning and interrogating prisoners.
Obama has claimed, with little or no evidence, that “Guantanamo” had become a rallying issue for recruiting anti-American terrorists. He repeatedly expressed — the last time early this year in another message to the Congress — that he wants to close it down and transfer its prisoners to Mainland federal prisons. Congressional opposition to both goals has been fierce, even including some Democrats – -particularly those close to possible federal institutions that might be used.
The Castro government has demanded that Guantanamo be returned as part of the Obama Administration’s reestablishing diplomatic relations and attempting to normalize contacts after a half century of the U.S. attempting to isolate the Cuban dictatorship. So far, the White House has refused.
The 45 square miles of rocky, cactus-speckled hills and jagged coastline along a pristine blue-green bay filled with manatees and dolphins continues even with the latest digital communications to have strategic value for the U.S. Navy. As a self-contained town of 4,200 American service members, their families and a small army of mostly Jamaicans and Philippines contract workers, “Gitmo” is still seen as extending the Navy’s reach.. Coast Guard and Navy ships regularly refuel while serving on missions in the Caribbean, allowing such sea craft to extend their counter-narcotics trafficking operations and expand their rescue of commercial shipping..
Despite Congressional opposition, Obama not only has not instituted military courts to try Guantanamo prisoners but instead has been releasing them to various countries. They would ostensibly assure Washington that the prisoners would not return to combat. In some cases, the recipient governments have given less than firm guarantees but instead on humanitarian grounds have released their charges. Opponents of Obama’s policy see his steady release of prisoners as his way of evading Congress’ expressed wish that the facility continue to hold what would normally be prisoners-of-war held under international law were the U,S. engaged in fight with another sovereign government.
As of January 2016, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence [ODNI], 676 detainees Obama has transferred out of Guantanamo Bay. U.S. Authorities have confirmed 118 have returned to terrorist activities, while another 86 are suspected of doing so. Abdul Qayyum Zakir, released by the U.S. to Pakistan authorities, became head of the revived Taliban but was ousted in 2014 in a struggle among the top leadership.Mullah Abdul Kayum Sakir, another of the released prisoners,has been reported participating in the struggle for leadership in Afganistan. As early as 2004, former Vice President Dick Cheney claimed that detainees had hidden their real identities from interrogators, convincing them they were harmless to secure their release. There is also evidence that some of prisoners who had only marginal relations with the terrorists have been further radicalized in prison before their release to foreign governments.
There seems to be little doubt that the Obama Administration has minimized the use of possible intelligence from Guantanamo prisoners. And by releasing growing numbers, it is strengthening the leadership of the very terrorist organizations the White House has just announced it is sending an additional military increment of some 500 soldiers to fight.
sws-07-11-16

Readin, Ritin, Rithmetik


In another of those grabs for power, if slightly more subtle, Pres. Barrack Obama has laid out the government’s evaluation of the quality of tertiary educational institutions. It is another exercise of government power [and expenditure on unnecessary bureaucracy] that we did not need. There are innumerable independent and non-governmental sources for comparing individual university education in this country. Many, if not most, are relatively free of prejudice and conflicts of interest.
Above all else, that is not true of the federal government. It has a vested interest in distributing funds – in a variety of ways, from legitimate research grants to bogus efforts at affirmative action. It would be inevitable if these lines of support and ecommendations of universities were to cross.
But even more important, at least intellectually, is the obvious consideration that choosing a university – or not choosing one at all [more later] – is for the student and his [probably strapped parents] very much an individual consideration. It depends on everything from his desire to escape the old homestead as far as money can take him or those who want to remain a close to the feathered nest as possible. It depends on the student’s taste in exposure, whether he wants the anonymity of being a part of a huge mass audience or tended to in a small, intimate environment. Obviously the list of considerations goes on forever.
Obama on more than one occasion has alwo dropped into the automatic assumption as so many in the American elite – and professional educators – that college is for everyman. That’s despite the fact that recent California testing – and one has to be more than a little suspicions of the testors and their methodology – says too many high school graduates are just not up to challenge of a college curriculum.
That hardly comes as surprise: for half a century or more, most colleges have equired a freshman English course for the simple reason that the old grammar, elocution and even handwriting courses, have been abandoned for partial illiteracy. Many if not most high school graduates today have an inadequate comprehensive of their mother tongue, aggravated, of course, by the growing number of children who come from households where English may not be the mother tongue. This has been a part of abandoning many of the old standbys in secondary schooling. We have been startled to find the old phys ed has gone in many places, rewiring some basic hygiene and dietary instruction along with mandatory exercise. And we are surprise by the obesity figures!
There is the whole question of whether everyone should go to college. For many, if truth were told, it is a part of the lengthening adolescence in this society where the growing up is more and more thrust on the schools rather than taking place in the home and the society in general. For more than a hundred years, Germany has demonstrated that the higher forms of elementary education linked to private industry can well be an introduction to an alternate, worthwhile and prosperous lifestyle as a technician by providing an kind of indentureship to an industry along with the last years of formal education.
That this was once the case with many young immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century has been forgotten along the way. Many of us have immigrant grandparents who worked their way through night school where they learned English. Some even went to so-called trade schools and learned a “profesion” which did not require of them that they study history and technical subjects in a college enrvironment.
In a world where menial and unskilled jobs are being replaced faster than the blink of an eye through the digital revolution, it becomes even more important that we think of how to guide young people into technical skills that provide a livelihood. It’s a well known cliché among many employers now that they avoid the so-called graduates of college courses in information technology. The fact is that colleges are neither equipped nor are they sympatyhetic to that sort of teching. It would be far better that we create a new sort of technical high school which guarantees a young man or woman a technical education.
And that, as much as anything else, depends on return to some educational fundamentals that have been lost along the way. Old rote learning for some of the basics have been discarded for new and more erudite educational philosophies. And that has resulted, alas! in such ignorance of commonly held old knowledge that it intrudes on the new workplaces. We had the experience a few days ago of asking for shipping rates and found in both the major parcel companies that those answering the telephone could not neither spell Copenhagen nor quite identify where Denmark was!
But Obama’s new grab for instructing the unwashed mob on which university is the better one is not a contribution to the new education challenge awaiting us. And it is again another example of his fixation on big government as the solution to all our problems.
sws-09-13-15

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.

Beyond Obamcare. lies the world waiting …


 

With the U.S. transfixed by the Obama Administration’s massively bungled attempt to nationalize one sixth of the economy, the health welfare system, the rest of the world watches the slow motion unfolding of another debacle: the loss of post-World War II American leadership of the worldwide alliance for peace and stability.

Pro forma protests over snooping by the U.S. National Security Administration European and Latin American leaders are for popular consumption. Spying, and unfortunately counter-espionage which the Snowden revelations appear to be, have been and will continue to be a generally unspoken part of international relations. In fact, one can imagine German Chancellor Angela Merkel berating her own intelligence organizations for superior U.S. technology’s ability to listen to her limousine cell phone. The Saudis’ “renunciation” of a UN Security Council seat is no more than a media event. With their new vulnerability brought on by the Shale Revolution in the U.S., Riyadh’s antediluvian princes in their colorful robes have no place to go.

But these are tokens, taglines to a much larger eroding international picture.

Of course, the current disarray is not sudden, nor only the product of the Obama Administration. But Obama’s missteps have exaggerated growing difficulties for international governance “inevitably” arising from changes in the international balance of power over a half century since the Allied victory in World War II. And as always, of course, there is the unanticipated and the unintended consequences of well intended strategies and policies.

America’s junior partners, the European democracies, after five decades of unprecedented peace and prosperity, are facing domestic breakdown increasingly limiting their contribution to the world system. Social democratic remedies at the workplace have failed everywhere. A demographic catastrophe not only threatens their economies, but growing unassimilated immigrants from alien societies threaten to overwhelm their post-Christian cultures. A pampered public will not accept belt-tightening much less painful surgical elimination of waste and corruption. Greece, ancient home of democracy, is the apotheosis of the problem, a ticking timebomb on the doorstep of the rest of Europe.

Furthermore, the attempt to create an integrated European economy – let along a new international polity which could speak with one voice on international affairs – is in jeopardy and probably failing. British participation, essential to the project, is now more remote than ever given the failures of the continental Euro and resurgent English as well as Scot and Irish nationalism.

European integration had been seen as the ultimate panacea. It is now clear that is not the case, nor, indeed, is it apparent it can even be effected. In Berlin Das Mädchen,, representing the disproportionately most powerful of the member nation states, talks out of both sides of her mouth. She advocates a new European superstate but zealously guards Germany’s narrowest national interest as demanded by her role as an elected leader still obligated to put together an unstable governing coalition.

The Obama Administration’s answer to this dilemma is not that different from the waning years of the Bush Administration. Pres. George W. Bush’s earlier steadfast resolve gave way to Condoleezza Rice’s “clerk” management. In any case, Washington’s stance toward Europe in part always has been a myth about who led whom and how during the post-World War II recovery. Alas! the charismatic and determined [if occasionally misguided] leadership of Churchill, Adenauer, DeGaulle, and de Gaspari, and their technocratic supporters, has been replaced by feckless politicians. The 80s decade-long common-sense reign of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was only brief relief from the general intellectual decline.

The American standard around which the Europeans rallied, even when they were in denial or hypercritical, has been replaced by a bogus concept of “leading from behind” That kind of Machiavellian manipulation of others’ power would under the best of circumstances have been exquisitely difficult. But in the hands of the Obama amateurs, it descends into virtual chaos. Witness the Libyan intervention as its classic example. The Obama Administration and European friends failed to provide a model for a small, fragile but oil-rich Arab state. And the U.S. paid a terrible price with the murder of an ambassador and a major psycho-political blow to American prestige which will dog U.S. foreign – and domestic — politics for decades.

The naïve “transformation” which an inexperienced but arrogant elitist presidential mafia thought they could foist at home on a traditional society but one in revolutionary technological transition has been matched with aberrant theory abroad. For whatever reason, the idea that the Obama Administration could make a pact with a nonexistent, romantic version of Islam – a political religious belief still mired alternatively in pre-modern torpor and nihilistic violence — has shredded what was left of decades of Middle East strategy.

There Washington now finds itself on the wrong side of virtually every issue. By rote it nudges Israeli-Arab “negotiations”, which long ago foundered on Palestinian corruption and incompetence. Washington mistakenly believed it were the central issue, not the region’s poverty, illiteracy, tribal warfare and demagoguery. Obama’s refusal to personally intervene for a status of forces agreement to permit a continued military presence in Iraq squandered 4,000 spent American lives. It removed all possibility Washington could have a major impact on a recreated but highly volatile Baghdad and its enormous oil resources. Obama then launched into an effort to dethrone the barbarous al Assad Syrian regime, backed away, and now finds U.S. Syrian strategy at the mercy of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, himself increasingly turning to despotism and foreign adventure to hang on to his throne.

The Obama Administration continuously has importuned Iran, oblivious to that regime’s single-minded goal of making itself the hegemonic power and arbiter of the region’s vast fossil fuel resources. In the process, the White House ignores the interests of America’s longtime allies in the Gulf including, until now, the world’s marginal oil producer, Saudi Arabia. The Obama Administration helped install and got into bed with the Moslem Brotherhood in Cairo, the fountainhead of modern Islamic terrorism, apparently believing it some sort of Islamic equivalent of European Christian democracy. When that regime collapsed from ineptitude and domestic violence, Washington refused to accommodate to a popular military takeover endorsed by its other regional allies. Pres. Obama’s “best friend”, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has turned out to be a very bad regional weathervane. Even worse, Erdoğan duplicity [confusion?] in dealings with Palestinian Islamicists, Israel, the Brotherhood, the jihadists in the Syrian opposition, aided by an intelligence chief who favors Iran’s Shia fanatics, is adding to the regional chaos. Worst of all, Erdoğan with whom Obama fellow-traveled, endangers what’s left of NATO by playing with Chinese weapons possibilities.

The continued U.S. entanglement in the Mideast, always predictable, has put into question Washington’s announced “pivot” of resources to the growing Chinese Communist aggressive feints toward East and South Asia neighbors and Washington’s friends. With that strange aloofness which characterizes this Administration’s treatment of allies, it has failed to respond enthusiastically to the first strong government in two decades in the U.S.’ keystone Asia ally, Japan. [Luckily reflex collaboration between the U.S. military and its Asian allies, hangover from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, has reinforced strategy in the absence of White House leadership.]

Perhaps the most important politico-economic Asia-Pacific instrument in Washington’s hands, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an effort to create a common market to meet the competition of China’s state capitalism and subsidized trading, is hanging. The concern is that the Obama Administration’s next three lame-duck years, especially after the drubbing it seems now likely to take in next year’s elections, will not pursue it forcefully. In the balance is a revolutionary overhaul of a quarter of the world’s commerce and what may be the reemergence of a more vital Japanese economy.

Alternatively, the Obama Administration’s increasing reliance on the United Nations burdens that organization with more responsibility than its corrupt and incompetent secretariat can bear. Idealistic multilateralism is an excuse for lack of U.S. policy and inaction on a huge variety of fronts. Washington has, for example, increasingly abandoned leadership of the UN specialized agencies – whether the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, ignorant of the 17-year Tehran march toward nuclear weapons, or the growing specter of out of control biological breakthroughs which have enormous potential for solving life problems, or creating new diabolical weapons of destruction.

The shock and geopolitical lesson of 9/11 has been left behind somewhere in the bowels of the State Department and the Obama Administration’s National Security Council. Lost is recognition that the American homeland was no longer – if it had ever been in the world of intercontinental missiles – immune to the kind of destruction that our allies and enemies in Europe and Asia suffered in World War II.

With the strong prospect that the U.S. domestic scene will continue an impasse, as Obamacare has proved, America’s role abroad will be in abeyance. The world will just have to get along with the beached whale of a U.S — at least for a while.

sws-10-27-13

Hmmm. Perception vs. reality?


 

Perhaps the most difficult intellectual problem of human consciousness always has been sorting out perception, what seems to be, and reality, what is actually true.

It is clear that the digital revolution has intensified the conundrum. For the internet is a constant flood of false evidence but dressed in a seeming reality that often makes it indistinguishable from the real thing. So, a “photoshopped” picture of a bare-chested Pres. Vladimir Putin riding horseback with a Pres. Barack Obama behind him looks for all the world as an actual event. Although, immediately, in this instance, we know it is a good laugh – a joke, a hoax, perpetrated by one of Obama’s many critics with bitter humor since it is obvious no such meeting could have taken place without considerable publicity we never heard.

The very fact that a still photograph captures only a second in a more complicated scene or action in continuing life can be totally misleading. I marvel now looking at a splendid photograph [even if I do say so myself] I took more than a half century ago, published in my A Sense of Asia [Scribner’s,1969]. It is a serene Madonna-like portrait of a Lao mother and child with mist floating in behind their heads. Idyllic? Yes, but what’s missing, of course, are the terrible smells, the filth, the disease and the generally primitive living conditions that surrounded them in their isolated village in Southeast Asia on the edge of the Ho Chi Min Trail. There was no suggestion of the danger they constantly lived with, both from nature and the North Vietnamese Communists passing through enroute to South Vietnam.

But now an “audioshopped” recording of a human voice can be manipulated to sound, for example, just like a conversation that never took place. Some of those radio “interviews” between talk radio hosts are, in fact, conversations between backroom “producers” and the interviewee with the master’s voice and his questions inserted as an afterthought. [Transparency alert: I recently was inveigled into one.] Not exactly a total hoax but …not reality either.

Since the permanent capture of images began in mi-19th century, photographs have often been responsible, either by being falsely identified or tampered with, for faulty argument. They can play an enormous role in propaganda. The heart-rending photograph of an Arab father unsuccessfully shielding his son from Israeli military gunfire played into the saga of the Palestinians as only victims of the Israeli-Arab conflict. It just happened to have been concocted for a major French TV network which had to finally admit it was a fraud. But probably never wiped out was the effect of the whole affair on world opinion. Or we are still sorting out a photograph of the execution of a group of soldiers in the Syrian Civil War, presented as an atrocity of rebel jihadists but perhaps, in fact, a staged event by the al Assad regime.

In the pre-internet world, newspapers, radio and TV provided a diet of news and comment, at least to some extent vetted by the professionalism of the journalists, who, if for no other reason, were in pursuit of their reputations. But in the anonymous world of the internet, launching a canard of whatever proportions may have no repercussions for the author since only the most technically skilled recipient is capable of detecting subterfuge or even its origin if the author chooses to remain unknown.

It came as something of a shock a few years ago – I hadn’t given the whole issue that much thought – from the head of a business organization for hire to investigate financial and other business fraud that his field had mushroomed. “It is virtually possible to counterfeit any signature, any document and any transaction through the new digital tools”, he said. No wonder he was employed then by a Swiss “private” bank.

Thus, once again technology has proved itself neutral in the battle of ideas and the struggle between good and evil. Islamic terrorists, for example, have now learned not only to use the internet for propaganda of all kinds, but for instruction in terrorist techniques, and recruitment of jihadists. The sheer volume of the flow of the internet with few if any “intellectual” filters is what cascades down on those of us with even a minimum of computer literacy these days.

There was a time when, if you were interested in politics or even just general affairs of the world, you chose a newspaper with something of your “worldview” – and there were in “the good old days’’ a variety to choose from. You left it to the editors to give you their choice, for better or for worse, of what was important – even if as a New York Times Sunday reader that might amount to a heavier load than one hand could lift from your doorstep. Of course, that was when that august periodical was “the ‘paper of record” and not part of the current claque for a failing presidency.

This all comes to mind trying to sort fact from fiction in what is, obviously, whatever else it is, the campaign of the Iranian mullahs to ingratiate themselves with the Obama Administration and a war-weary American public. They have wielded a wide pitch to all and sundry, probably at the behest of their hired American public relations firm, or the instigation of their American-schooled Foreign Minister Javid Zarif who has also been a very busy salesman on TV and radio as well as in the printed media..

Pres. Hassan Rouhani has been interviewed repeatedly by everyone from Christiane Amanpour, herself reared in Tehran of a Muslim Iranian father and British Christian mother, to Ann Curry, who spent part of her childhood in Japan. [Speaking of perceptions: Curry’s interview was dominated — for me at least] — by a grotesque version of the Muslim hejab, a floor length veil which has been a symbol for centuries of the misogyny and subjugation of women in Islam and other traditional pre-industrial societies.]

There were the UN speeches, and in another jerk of Pres. Obama’s zig-zagging Mideast strategies, there was an on and off again scheduled handshake and personal meeting which finally ended in a telephone call by Obama with Rouhani enroute to his departure from New York City. [Was the NSA listening? After all, it was a call from a well-known terrorist to an American citizen.] All this was followed by a report from Obama on the call — all of 15 minutes we are told with time out for translations, one assumes, although both managed a “goodbye” in the other’s tongue.] Obama in a public statement gave assurances progress might be achieved on reaching a settlement of the long-standing issue of the Tehran mullahs’ pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and opposition to it from virtually all its neighbors as well as the U.S. and the European Union..

Mmmm. Perception versus reality? We are told Rouhani is a “moderate” [even if he did publicly brag of outfoxing the Americans, the EU and the UN International Atomic Energy Agency by “negotiating” for some two years while the Persians got another enrichment facility up and going at Isfahan]. And he was met by ]supposed?] protesters at the Tehran airport on his arrival with the 30-year-old slogans of “Death to America” and “Wipe Out Israel”. He even had a shoe tossed at him, that symbol of Muslim disrepute [which once almost caught Pres. George Bush but he ducked]. Yes, it may well be that there is dissension among the mullahs over policy. Yes, the sanctions – particularly the recent third party financial measures of the U.S. Treasury – have impacted on the Iranian economy despite a series of “passes” we have given allies to trade in Iranian oil.

But the question remains whether an authoritarian government, which is the principal support for the bloody al Assad family tyranny in Syria, and Hezbollah [which until 9/11 had killed more Americans in terrorist attacks than any other organization], Hamas, and other American enemies around the world, and which waged bloody war on our troops in Iraq, will give up nuclear weapons in its continued pursuit of hegemony in the Middle East? Is it not far more likely, having seen Pres. Obama march up the hill with flags flying and trumpets tooting, and then march down as quickly, the opportunity for another round of talking while progress continues on a nuclear weapon is not the real goal?.

Hmmm. Perception or reality?.

sws-09-29-13

Obama discovers American exceptionalism


Obama discovers American exceptionalism

            Among the welter of ironies concerning Pres. Vladimir Putin’s op-ed for The New York Times on the zig-zaggingSyria crisis is that Ras’ ghostwriter has however haphazardly touched on the fundamental issue. Given the arguments and syntax, I suspect the ghost’s first language was American, not Russian, something I will leave to future political exegesis. But one of the things this propagandist does by indirection is to identify Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s utter intellectual confusion.

There is certainly no reason why the mediocrity who now has through the vagaries of history slipped into the throne of the tsars would know. But the question of “American exceptionalism” played a role in the arguments leading up to Josef Stalin’s becoming the Soviet Union’s bloody dictator and arbiter of the powerful international Communist movement.

Before the Moscow Trials of the mid-30s when Stalin settled all political scores by reducing his enemies by a head as he once joked, when there were still convoluted arguments over international Marxism inside the Communist world, American exceptionalism was an issue. In 1929 Jay Lovestone took off for Moscow to plead his sudden dismissal as U.S. Party chairman. At a meeting of the Comintern, the supposedly independent directorate of world Communism,. Lovestone argued that Communism would not come in the U.S. through revolution. Given his independent character and living standard, Lovestone argued, the American worker was not of the European, Asian and African “proletariat” whom Karl Marx’ had promised would be “the gravediggerers of capitalism and forerunner of The Revolution”.

But Stalin was having none of it. In fact, as Lovestone told me, he barely escaped Vladimir Lenin’s self-appointed heir. Only through the assistance of the American Communist capitalist Julius Hammer, father of his more famous son Armand Hammer who with Soviet assistance became an international oil figure after World War II, Lovestone sneaked out of Russia. He came back to the U.S. to found, briefly, the American Revolutionary Communist Party. How he escaped assassination as was the fate of so many of Stalin’s enemies, even those abroad, is a bit mysterious. But decades later Lovestone went on to become collaborator with George Meany, the old plumber who headed the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. Together with the infant Central Intelligence Agency, they broke the hold of Moscow’s International Federation of Trade Unions on Western European labor trade unions at the outset of The Cold War, crucial in bringing the European Social Democratic parties, particularly the West German SPD, into the anti-Communist alliance.

It is very unlikely that Putin, a quintessential Russian secret police thug, knows much of this history. He was an unknown foreign agent until Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin plucked him from obscurity to protect Yeltsin’s corrupt “Family” of hangerons when that old drunkard exited power. [Markus Wolf, lifelong legendary head of Stassi, the enormous network of informers and enforcers who kept the East German state alive in The Cold War, quipped: “If he [Putin] spent 15 years [as liaison between the Soviet NKVD/KGB and Stassi at their joint training school] in Dresden, and I didn’t know him, he couldn’t have been much”.]

In America, Lovestone’s sectarian argument was never settled over how to gain influence for the miniscule American Communist Party camouflaging their more important espionage for Moscow. The argument, like the American Communists themselves, was victim of the gyrations of the “Party line”, subservient to Moscow’s international strategy including Stalin’s brief alliance with Hitler that brought on World War II. For a short period when Stalin was “Good Old Uncle Joe” in FDR’s Washington, the essential ally against the Nazis, the American Party under Earl Browder preached gradualism. [These stories never end: Browder’s grandson now wages a bitter argument with Putin over seizure of his extensive investments in Yeltsin’s Russia and the murder of his Moscow lawyer and collaborator.]

But American exceptionalism is framed in more elegant terms as a part of the intellectual life of The Republic over its two centuries. For, singularly. unlike other nation states organized under the aegis of the Westphalian System [Treaty of 1648], the U.S. has no claim to a long history, a common race or ethnicity or even language characterizing the state. [Benjamin Franklin, horrified at the cacophony of German Anabaptist voices on the streets of Philadelphia during the hot summer of 1781 when the U.S. constitution was being framed in secret, toyed with the idea of writing in English as the official language of the new Republic.]

The U.S. was, from its outset, an ideological construct, an original — if heavily borrowing on what The Founders as children of the European Enlightenment saw as the heritage of the democracies of Greece and Republican Rome. It did not celebrate a unified cultural ethos as did France, even the “United” kingdom, and later Italy and Germany. Instead, the American Republic was and is a political concept to insure the rights and privileges of a truly multicultural people to whom, unlike the European nation states, it ultimately owed its genius and power.

That complicated concept has been from the earliest days of The Republic the essence of “American exceptionalism”, the idea that because of the formation and nature of the country, it was different from other nation states in a fundamental way. This distinction has given a sense of mission to the American Republic – not the “gloire” of France, for example, but The Republic’s obligation by its very nature to espouse a new kind of national and international morality.

From the days of its earliest religious minorities seeking tolerance in The New World, Americans have always thought themselves “special”as Puritan lawyer John Winthrop proclaimed in 1640 aboard the Arabella enroute to Massachusetts:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.

Or whether it was the Deist Thomas Jefferson, writing in the Declaration of Independence:

[A]nd accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Or Abraham Lincoln presiding over the greatest American crisis, in his famous Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Or Ronald Reagan, the 20th century statesman bidding goodbye to public life:

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life…. And how stands the city on this winter night? … After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true to the granite ridge, and her glow has held no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

In a sense, it does not matter whether, indeed, the U.S. were “the New Jerusalem”. More important perhaps is that American leaders throughout their history have accepted the concept that The Republic was “different” from other countries, and therefore had a mission that went beyond the simple pursuit of its existence as a nation.

It was perhaps inevitable, if there is such a thing as inevitability, that when the U.S. emerged from the near suicide of the West in two bloody world wars as the overwhelmingly most powerful country with its vast economy and population, the concept of exceptionalism would be applied to international relations. Indeed, however unsuccessfully, three generations earlier Pres. Woodrow Wilson had proclaimed U.S. entry into World War I as “the war to end all wars” and his formulation of the concept of the League of Nations to settle international disputes was part of that American “mission”.

Again, ironically, despite the fact they drew much of their inspiration from Wilson’s “progressivism”, part and parcel of Obama and his supporters’ credo in pursuit of their ambition “to transform” the nation was rejection of  “exceptionalsim”. In one of his too many casual public statements, Obama dismissed it out of hand. At the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, France, in 2009, he said sarcastically:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

But on Sept. 10, only four years later, in his address to the nation on the Syrian crisis, Obama reversed that view as he floated in and out of issues:

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security.  This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them.  The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them.

In all the rapid permutations of the Syrian Crisis, it has taken [Ras] Putin’s numskull ghost writer to recognize that Obama, too, has come around to recognizing “American exceptionalism” — for better or for worse.

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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.

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Washington’s “political” class is blinging out!


           A couple of decades ago when that temple of conspicuous consumption, Neiman Marcus, opened another store in metropolitan Washington, my old friend and astute political observer, the late Nat McKitterick, warned me we were lost.

For it was about then that – “a political class” – was becoming apparent in the nation’s capital. It was a new phenomenon. Those of us who knew Washington pre-World War II., remember how it largely emptied out on the weekends when the government elite departed for hometowns. The wretched climate in the former swamp meant summer holidays were forced on the bureaucracy when the thermometer maxed out, then without the now ubiquitous air conditioning. In an era when the country depended less on Washington delving directly into our inner most reaches [and pockets], part-time government, or something approaching that, could be tolerated if not welcomed.

Certainly the Founders wanted the new Republic to have limited government, peopled by a constantly fluctuating hierarchy composed of a wide range of citizens with other professions and livelihoods. True, eight of the original 55 men who participated in framing the Constitution were sometime politicians. And fourteen were rich enough to own slaves. George Washington, himself, was not only a slave owner but one of the richest men in the New World. Eighteen framers might be called “speculators” in land and finance. Still, they dreamed of a regime in which the power of the state would be lodged at its lowest level and therefore more responsive to the will of the people.

And, indeed, at the insistence of “the radicals” they immediately adopted the ten first Constitutional amendments to guarantee the people’s rights, changes most of which had been discussed earlier. They were adopted to ease the document’s approval from the various states’ legislatures, jealous of their power and fearful of a central government. The tenth amendment put it in unambiguous 18th century prose: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The reasoning was clear: a ruling political elite was the nightmare of the Founders, especially those ideologues committed from the beginning to the Revolution against the British crown. Their opposition arose from an overweening King and Parliament repeat and Parliament which had usurped their rights as Englishmen. Steady progress of Anglo-Saxon individualism and strength of new and growing centers of power in Great Britain had erased the once divine right of kings. And then the power of the barons, squeezed reluctantly from John, gave way to a London elite which governed, but in part still based on aristocracy. That was not to be, the Founders hoped, in, after all, what was their Republic modeled on Greek popular democracy and the Roman worship of the law. [Benjamin Franklin, according to legend, famously quipped when asked by a constituent what had come of the secret constitutional conclave, and he replied, “A Republic, Madam, if you can keep it!”.]

But over two centuries that original intent, as undeniable as it is, has been chipped away “in order to form a more perfect union” and to meet the growing needs of a vast, new land and population and the effects of a continuing industrial revolution. By the time the U.S. finally assumed its obligations as a world power, in fact, as a superpower, in the post World War II environment, that process had gathered new, rapid momentum.

On The Hill, the old bourbon-and-branchwater boys gave way to new blow-haired pseudo-sophisticated Congressional staffers, who incidentally, didn’t know how to draft legislation. In the Congress, more and more seats were “inherited” – either through DNA or through gerrymandering which now was based on class, ethnicity and color rather than on old machine politics handing out a Christmas turkey. The two-year term in the House, intended to insure a rapid turnover close to the electorate, of necessity turned into permanent campaigning. The judicial system which more or less had bucked Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “court-packing” successfully in the mid-30s succumbed increasingly to politicalization – with sociologists rather than legal scholars providing psychoanalytical analysis for decision-making on school desegregation, and a couple of decades later, abortion, rather than resorting on the old torts.

In one of those vaunted reforms with unintended consequences [The 1883 Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act and all is subsequent additions], the effort to insulate the federal bureaucracy from the corruption of political “spoils” created an independent but self-aggrandizing bureaucracy. So much so that sheer dereliction of duty – as witnessed in the current Congressional hearings – is hard to punish with dismissal much less economic sanctions and imprisonment. Watching Committee television hearings, we have seen the apotheosis of the trendy, smirking, self-important, arrogant, self-anointed bureaucrat, defying elected inquisitor politicians – who, however tainted themselves, recognized the dangerous politicalization of the tax system has reached new and dangerous heights.

Grown like Topsy is a class of bureaucrats, political appointees supposedly in their command, reinforced by their K Street lobbyist appurtenances and an increasingly kept mass media and blabbering tax-free, high-paid foundations with pretenses for intellectuality. These latter all too often simply reflect the least common denominator on thinking about any strategy or policy. A systemic revolving door of cushy jobs await any government executive who falls from his seat – until the hoped for next election either brings him back or he continues to work with his alter egos in what is laughingly called the private sector.

Look around and you see the incredible character of our new political elite. They unashamedly reward themselves until the District of Columbia [despite its poverty-stricken Black ghetto] and the surrounding Maryland and Virginia counties have the country’s highest per capita incomes. Alas! The demise of the Founders’ effort for a politically neutral federal territory! And even with the Dulles Corridor information technology industry, you would be hard pressed to find productive sources other than intra-government relations.

To describe the relationship among the inhabitants of Georgetown, Langley, Bethesda, FriendshipHeights, and the other ‘golden ghettoes” of suburban Washington as incestuous would be magnificent understatement. These denizens are often tied by kinship – the former Internal Revenue Service head who presided when it targeted conservative organizations is married to the head of an Obama political organization [not audited], two major network news directors have siblings in “media relations” on the White House staff, etc., etc. They constantly hobnob in New York-priced restaurants, chatter at the plethora of cocktail parties, often vacation together in The Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard or other plush resorts, when not taking overseas “inspection” trips at the taxpayers’ expense.

It is no wonder that such inbreeding leads to group-think. Only such relationships could produce the catastrophe of a fanatical effort to remodel at one stroke one-sixth of the U.S. economy, the medical services and health industry with its infinite and unanticipated complications. And then, of course, to continue to pursue that course when every single opinion poll in the country shows a majority of the voters oppose it. Obamacare is, in fact, the culmination of a growing tendency of “the political class” to demonstrate increasing incompetence and lack of realism in the face of the growing complexity of American economic, social and political life after the subordination of old methodology by the digital revolution. But it was the ultimate expression of a political class who knowingly and arrogantly “know” what is good for the rest of the population.

Is all lost?

The closest I have ever come to Oklahoma was as a teenage ColumbiaUniversity student I got an invitation from Phil Spitalny’s All Girl Orchestra, then playing at the Warner Bros. Theater on Broadway, to see Oklahoma! Opening that 1943 spring. I assume its freshness and authenticity is a reflection of its namesake. To this observer it seems if one wants an antidote to what is happening in Washington, which inspires faith in the American ethos and its political dreams, he must turn to the victims of the recent Oklahoma tornadoes. Even the mainstream media, so often given to stigmatizing ordinary Americans as boobs [“who cling to guns, or religion”], had interview after interview with survivors who expressed their acceptance of the inevitability of life’s disasters but determination to adhere to old Oklahoman and American principles of self-help and perseverance. And I doubt that many of them would recognize a Los Rudos cocktail — with cilantro. As the Communists were want to say, it is not accident that not a single Oklahoma county voted for Obama in 2012.

Therein, perhaps, still lies the essence and the hope of the Founders’ American dream.

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Hello? Something in the water?


Follow the money No. 87

 Could more conspiratorial environmentalistas’ interpretations of our times be correct, that is, someone has been putting something in the water and we are all being lobotomized, even without major brain surgery?

You could make the case this week. Much of the world’s leadership, even though presumably suckling their bottled water, exhibits all the manifestations of imbibing something adversely affecting the normal cognitive processes:

  • Pres. Barack Obama gets on television to boost his proposal for creating jobs by massive government expenditures and tax increases at a time when mostAmericans think the main problem – after disappeared jobs — is a runaway federal deficit. Never mind he sent a $447 billion spend and tax bill up to the Congress without a co-sponsor in either of the houses, that his own Party’s Senate leadership initially refused to look at it, then introduced something radically different as a Millionaires’ Tax. All that even though the President has repeatedly endorsed his Republican opposition’s claim any tax increase during a recession is job-killer. Of course, neither bill has a – woops! we can’t say that any more – chance of getting through the Republican-dominated House or the splintered Democratic Senate. Hello?
  • Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [soon scheduled to slip back into the presidency in Moscow’s musical chairs] has dreamed up a restoration of Stalin’s old USSR as a “Eurasian Union”, a regional agglomerative dictatorship. Putin’s vision is a world of such regional blocs, graciously allocating the U.S. the Western Hemisphere. Unable to accomplish fundamental post-Soviet reforms, he has put together helter-skelter economic collaboration with neighbors [including pumping their gas and oil] with Belorussia, Kazakhstan and a loose customs union [Common Economic Space]. He now aims bringing in the current pro-Moscow Ukraine leadership. But his present arrangements already cost Moscow $1.7 billion in tariff sharing revenues last year. Meanwhile, prospective investors in this harebrain scenario are trading every ruble to dollar they can get their hands on and tossing them out of the country – more than a record $49 billion so far this year. Hello?
  • Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, chairing the Eurogroup finance ministers, says “[E]verything will be done”. He means in an effort to avoid Greek default and without Athens opting out of the 17-member single currency. But the rating agencies just whacked Italy’s credit rating, Spain’s soaring borrowing rate fell only because the already strapped European Central Bank bought its increasingly high risk bonds, and debt-ridden Portugal is failing to meet targets. The decision whether Greece will get the next tranche of its bailout was delayed until mid-November so the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF can pull themselves together to decide whether Athens has met conditions for receiving help. Latest official figures say not: the Greek budget deficit will hit 8.5 percent of GDP in 2011 instead of the 7.6 percent it promised creditors. Greek officials now pledge the 2012 deficit will be slashed 6.8 percent of GDP instead of the promised 6.5 percent if a €6.6 billion [$8.83 billion] worth of supplementary austerity and reform measures package is forthcoming by 2013 Without the “current” €8 billion [$10.71 billion] tranche, Athens would bankrupt by this November with major repercussions for Europe and the world. Hello?
  • Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad allegedly told visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu Damascus would strike Israel with missiles if NATO helps his country’s rebels during his rapidly escalating civil war. “If a crazy measure is taken against Damascus, I will need not more than six hours to transfer hundreds of rockets and missiles to the Golan Heights to fire them at Tel Aviv,” Assad warned after Turkish foreign minister conveyed a United States’ polite request to clear out. Assad continued: “All these events will happen in three hours, but in the second three hours, Iran will attack the US warships in the Persian Gulf and the US and European interests will be targeted simultaneously” True, Assad is rumored to have chemical and bacterial warfare stocks. But the Israelis sit on the Golan Heights less than 75 miles, downhill to Damascus. After Assad’s father tangled with the Israelis in 1982 — the largest air-to-air combat of the jet age and one of the shortest – Syria lost 85 Soviet MiGs. Hello?

Yep, must be something in the water, the wine, the arak or wherever.

 

Sol Sanders, a veteran international correspondent, writes weekly on the intersection of politics, business and economics, can be reached at solsanders@cox.net and blogs at http://www.yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com

Paralyzed? no, numbed a bit!


from a dear friend:

It is not the US President, Senate of Congress, but the full application of “check and balance”:
in the past “balance” was not applied to the full because Republicans and Congress shared the same basic values; now Congress as well as Senate are fundamentally divided, and Congress, Senate, Legislative and Executive all blocking each other. The US Government is paralysed, no matter who is President, and how good the President is…

I don’t see it this way at all.
First of all, the financial crisis [the 20107-08] was initially brought on by government interference resulting from the housing debacle which was the product, not of the markets, but of government legislation and regulation intended to manage the housing scene for supposed beneficial and narrower partisan ends.
The nature of the crisis was also exaggerated in the heat of the debate: there was no threat of immediate default given the government’s revenues, etc. Obama & Co. were trying to use  concern with default to force their philosophy of government intervention in the economy on the majority which still opposes it, at least in theory although the electorate has to some extent been “bought off” with populist arguments and “spoils”. It is a basic argument over whether more of the resources of the economy are to be used to fund government and its intervention in the markets and the society or to permit the markets with all their imperfections to dictate the direction and progress of the economy and the society generally by  maintaining maximum personal freedoms and choices.
The debate was useful and necessary as nasty as it looked. Great ideological battles are always ugly in a democratic society with representative government. After all, what is the use of having a debt ceiling if it is a matter of “routine” as the Administration argued, to keep voting it larger and larger, without this fundamental examination.
The partial resolution of the crisis has, for the moment, been effective. While it was a compromise of the goals of one party — the fiscal conservatives — it did accomplish its purpose by making increasing debt and additional taxation the main subject of the debate, which it had not been and which the opposition — the Obama Administration and its supporters — had refused to accept until now.
I think a watershed in thinking has been achieved and will have its long-term effect.
All this fashionable commentary — such as this BBC piece, which I see as typical of the “bien pesant”, and I must say, more trypical than not, of the BBC and The Economist — about the paralysis of government, etc., etc., is superficial and ahistorical. The U.S. has always gone through these kinds of crises when big issues are being debated. They are inevtiable, a part of the life of a relatively effective system of representative government but one based on a division of powers. [Please note that the European style of the monopoly of a legislative body — where it hasn’t broken down — rather than an intended balance of forces among legislative, executive and judicial certainly doesn’t work better. The evidence, if further historical references were not enough, is the crisis of the Euro and the EU which is as deep if not deeper than the present situation in the U.S. with less possibility of resolution, I would argue.]

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

Obama energy strategy: one part black magic, two parts propaganda


Again, and again, we must return to energy, the mother’s milk of the economy where the Obama Administration’s ham-fisted tactics are strangling the baby of recovery in the crib.

In his June 29th press conference, the President again singled out rebates to push U.S. fossil fuel production in his demand for tax increases for an economy already threatened by double-dip recession. The proposal compounds regulatory mischief: blocking oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico while Chinese and other foreign companies drill off Cuba almost within sight of Florida beaches, forfeiting 250,000 jobs. “Regs” threaten West Texas fields contributing 20% of U.S. new production because of an obscure lizard. The White House dallies over a pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands crude to Texas refineries. While Moscow pushes Arctic prospecting, Juneau can’t get Washington to open up 14.7 million acres of state land with the critical Alaskan pipeline faltering from declining throughput.

Mr. Obama’s token strategic oil release – into the international crude pool rather than reducing U.S. pump prices – was one more feint in Mr.

Obama’s ideological war on fossil fuels. [Never mind ignoring the reserve’s national defense character; it was never meant as a price instrument – nor political toy.]

All this is done under the rubric of protecting the environment. “Junk science”, as many highly qualified skeptics believe, may underpin claims fossil fuels consumption decisively impacts climate change. It will take decades to know, given our shallow data for changing climate through the ages.

But “junk economics” is all too evident in the Administration’s energy strategies. Granted, impediments to cheap energy were inherited from previous governments and imperfect markets. But Mr. Obama’s drive for “renewable sources” mimics earlier Carter Administration’s abandoned “alternative energy” skeletons still littering the landscape.

Mr. Obama’s wind power subsides are indeed producing jobs – for China and Spain – with transferred American companies’ technology. Chinese windmills and solar panels are exported to the U.S., often replacing American manufacture.

The vignette of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger entertaining the possibility of Chinese “high-speed rail” proposals with federal stimulus funds – just before California all but bankrupted — is quintessential of a mind set. High salaried propagandists for tax free non-governmental organizations [NGOs] promote “the environment” through advocacy of “mass transit”, citing China’s example. They fail to note deficit-ridden Chinese government railways – whose two top executives recently were arrested for stealing tens of millions – blackmailed European and U.S. companies for technology transfers in exchange for a phantom Chinese market. Now Beijing attempts exports while their own projects operate with anemic passenger loads — at lower speeds because of faulty engineering. The misrepresentation is all too typical of limitless, mindless propaganda pumped out on a daily basis, for example on that other Washington subsidized enterprise, National Public Radio, by the Obama cheering section.

In fact, a whole new era in fossil fuels is beginning. So-called “peak oil”, the crisis posited when diminishing reserves supposedly would meet rising consumption, has vanished. New vistas have developed worldwide with expanding deep-water drilling technology – a Norwegian billion-dollar floating platform in deep water off Rio de Janeiro, a good example. New fields await discovery in our own Gulf of Mexico – the less than cataclysmic British Petroleum oil spill notwithstanding. Recovering Iraq with the world’s second largest reserves, many yet untapped, is returning with 10 million barrels a day.

Even more spectacular, a new era for natural gas suddenly has emerged with new technology exploiting vast shale reserves lying deep below rock formations in a dozen countries, not the least the U.S. [An ironic comment on priorities: Beijing is investing government billions into American companies to get at that technology.] Of course, there already has been a half-baked university “study” by enviromentalistas arguing “fracking” – the process of getting at that gas – would poison ground drinking water. The study produces not a single instance nor does it explain the risk with most such deposits lying well below aquifers.

“Politically correct” spokesmen and the mainstream media promise black magic energy solutions, for example, electric cars, ignoring almost three quarters of our electricity for recharging batteries is met with coal and gas – much less the enormous costs and problems of grid expansion required for a massive changeover.

This conjuror’s trick has gone wrong; Mr. Obama is actually cutting the beautiful young lady in half as he cripples the energy sector.

sws-07-01-11

The Pakistan conundrum


Everything about Pakistan from its very beginning has been anomalous.

It was dreamed up by romantic poets but survival has depended on a stolid military drawing on British Indian Army professionalism. Its parameters were defined by Islam but its secularist elite sought a nation-state where none had ever existed. Its ethnic and linguistic diversity matches the Indian subcontinent’s endless array of races and cultures. Originally it grouped noncontiguous areas – East Bengal [Bangladesh], 1500 miles across India, seceded in 1971. From the beginning disputed borders included the world’s bitterest dispute, Kashmir.

Pakistan survived the first decade’s chaos after the 1947 British Indian Empire Partition with a million deaths and 25 million “population swaps” and began to modernize. Laissez-faire economics and signing on American anti-Soviet military pacts contrasted sharply with India’s Moscow alliance and catastrophic Soviet planning. But grasping feudal elites intertwined with repeated military takeovers brought on by near breakdowns — plus three and a half wars with India — generated a descending spiral.

Still, although among the world’s poorest, Pakistanis have produced brilliant entrepreneurs and talented professionals, many prospering in a 10-million diaspora [now suffering jihadist infiltration, particularly in Britain.] They remit more than $10 billion annually helping keep the country afloat.

But now, for all the U.S.’s satisfaction and strategic and tactical gain in ending Osama Ben Ladin’s career, one outcome is further erosion for Pakistan. Whatever your favorite conspiracy theory, Islamabad looks weak, incompetent and conflicted to its own people and the world. A fanatical jihadist minority had already been murdering its most popular secular politicians – including former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, wife of President Asaf Ali Zardari. Xenophobia arising from poverty and instability grows. [Only hours after the American raid, Karachi, Pakistan’s megapolis port-city of 20 million – and pivot for U.S. Afghanistan logistics — was paralyzed by political assassination only tangentially related to Ben Ladin.]

Nothing so characterizes these problems as “a victim syndrome” dominating Pakistan’s collective psyche — as it does the rest of the Muslim world. With some justification, Pakistanis see themselves used by Washington during the early Cold War [including as a base for U2 spy Soviet Union overflights], abandoned until time came to scotch Russia’s age-old drive to the Indian Ocean through Afghanistan, abandoned after the Soviet Union’s implosion until Islamabad’s cooperation again became essential to blowing al Qaeda’s Afghan Taliban sanctuary.

Current American withdrawal speculation feeds this old complaint and, although whispered, emphasizes Islamabad’s reliance on its “all weather” alliance with China. From Pakistan’s perspective, even the purportedly unofficial A.G. Khan nuclear proliferation network, a major friction point with Washington, bought Chinese missile technology [much of it “borrowed” from the U.S.]. That gives Pakistan at least a temporary advantage facing much larger, better armed India, always at the heart of Pakistan nightmares — and strategies. It’s reciprocated: before the Abottabad blood dried, Indian Chief of Army Staff V.K. Singh publicly claimed India could replicate the American raid. Pakistan’s Chief of General Staff Pervez Kayani’s immediate rejoiner: further American incursions would not be tolerated. Others threatened an Indian foray would be “catastrophic”; Pakistan recently talked of tactical nuclear weapons deployment.

Not only has Washington waffled, but it has fantasized. In the Bush II years, Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice announced henceforth Washington would treat each country separately without regard to their relationship. But when the Obama Administration named Amb. Richard Holbrooke as the essential coordinator for Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Washington caved immediately after New Delhi demanded his purview exclude New Delhi.

These complications show why Capital Beltway blather about Pakistan is not only irrelevant but dangerous. Yes, it would be satisfying to end massive U.S. aid — $7 billion in non-military since 1951, $1 billion arms and training annually since 2005. But then what?

Conspiracy theories – ranging from top level Pakistanis having safehoused Osama Ben Ladin to complicity of those same officials in the raid – will continue to proliferate. Soon Pakistan’s vast population [250 million] could again retreat to the edge of the U.S.’s consciousness. Yet Pakistan would be sidelined only at the world’s peril as the long-arm of 9/11 and other terrorist events, many including Pakistanis, have proved. Washington policymakers must help formulate how to prevent a nuclear-armed Pakistan turning into a failed state, threatening everyone — not least India’s 1.3 billion and its own Pakistan-size Muslim minority.

sws-05-06-11

Obama’s foreign policy: Look the other way to avoid disaster


Whatever the motives by all parties behind the Libyan intervention, the worst fears expressed in the UN resolution “authorizing” the use of force are coming true.

At this writing, half a million civilians in Libya’s third largest port-city of Misurata feel the blast of Muammar Qadaffi’s only half-crippled firepower. Pitifully, they include tens of thousands of Black African illegal migrants trying to get to Europe –hostages like oil in Qadaffi’s blackmail games with the Europeans. Two Western journalists’ deaths dramatized what could well turn into the kind of humanitarian catastrophe the UN trumpets but repeatedly fails to prevent. [A harbinger of a coming catastrophe, ignored by the media, was loss of 200 souls on a refugee ship in early April.]

Misurata is emblematic as the rebels’ outpost in the west close to the Libyan capital, 500 miles from their Benghazi stronghold in eastern Cyrenaica, proof Qadaffi rules largely by terror.

But the Obama Administration has failed to hand off to NATO the dictator’s ouster for which Washington itself along with the Europeans and most Arab states repeatedly calls. Half-hearted attempts to arm the rebels – first with “non-lethal” equipment and later with armed drones – are too little and too late to end what Washington admits is stalemate.

At the UN Security Council, opposition from China and Russia [and hypocritical India] always ready to sabotage Western initiatives, blocks expanding sanctions, including tens of billions Qadaffi’s family still dispenses. They help bribe African states – long on Qadaffi’s dole — who call for a negotiated settlement to rescue the regime. It also whets Russia and China’s appetite for re-initiating lucrative weapons sales to Qadaffi.

This fiasco is only the most flagrant in a growing list of Obama foreign policy disasters. Granted most crises are long in the making, nevertheless, Mr. Obama’s indecisiveness in all but his adamant refusal to fulfill the U.S. role as leader of the Western alliance aggravates every Mideast problem:

· Washington’s obstinate pursuit of accommodation with Syria, perhaps the Arab world’s bloodiest regime, has come a cropper as opponents test whether Dictator Basher al-Assad will escalate current dozens of killings against peaceful demonstrators to the tens of thousands during his father’s reign or abdicate to proliferating Muslim radicals.

· The Obama Administration’s insistence on pressing the issue of outposts in the West Bank, putting the Jewish state’s security at risk, has brought a near Washington-Jerusalem breakdown, endangering the U.S.’ only stable alliance in the region, further negating Israeli-Arab compromise.

· Washington’s indecision in fostering a Mubarrak transition opened the floodgates to the Moslem Brotherhood [whom only Mr. Obama’s Arab experts characterize as “moderate”], weakening Cairo’s military leadership and jeopardizing Egypt’s opposition to Iranian regional expansion.

· The Administration’s belated tepid support for Tehran’s dissidents has not only emboldened the mullahs to strengthen their terrorist tentacles to the Mediterranean and into Afghanistan, but encouraged the Germans, Indians, and of course, the Chinese, to continue flaunting economic sanctions.

· The President’s pretentious “outreach” rhetoric only strengthened the Arab/Muslim “victimization” complexes and symbolic bows to the Saudi monarchy have soured with what Riyadh sees as sabotage of its interests in Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen resulting in its noncooperation on boosting OPEC quotas thereby hiking petroleum prices.

· Everywhere U.S. prestige is taking a shellacking, not only from its opponents, but increasingly becoming suspect to European allies who suddenly have been set adrift without their traditional recourse to American leadership and firepower, in the midst of their own Euro/EC crisis.

The approaching electoral season’s probable concentration on domestic concerns is likely to give the Obama Administration some respite from foreign policy critics. Grounding his campaign headquarters in Chicago – to mask his dependence on its political base among the chattering classes on both coasts – may help obscure international issues. Indeed, American foreign policy since its emergence on the eve of World War I as a major player on the world stage has too often been piquancy for violent fluctuation between withdrawal and forced engagement.

But in the 21st century the digital revolution has sounded the death knell of many older perceived choices with instantaneous communication, globalize economics and space age weapons of mass destruction missilery. And, in the end, what may well be building is a new and unforeseen crisis – at the level of Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Turning away may not be a real option the American public will have this time.

sws-04-21-11

Petraeus’ day job


Whatever else oozed out of Washington’s recent Afghanistan flap, recognition that Pakistan is key to winning America’s longest war may be the most important. Both new Afghanistan Supremo Gen. David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen finally have got around to saying so publicly.

It is late coming.

Obviously, as in all wars, there will be a final political settlement. But in most wars that would come only when one side demonstrates overwhelming power. After a decade the U.S. may well be at the tipping point. That is behind Afghanistan Pres. Hamid Karzai talking of accommodation and frenetic shuttle diplomacy by Pakistan Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.

But victory in Afghanistan – if only modestly denying future sanctuary for international terrorists who produced the 9/11 long-range attack – also will demand a truce among cantankerous neighbors. Yet willful ignorance of the Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indian incestuousness has dominated Washington strategies. “We will treat India and Pakistan’s interests completely separately”, went the Bush Administration’s mantra.

At this very moment, the relationships are entering new convoluted crisis:

Pakistan is clumsily shifting from presidential to parliamentary government. The changeover loosens ethnic rivalries and empowers more petty politicians. Meanwhile, figurehead Pres. Asif Ali Zandari fends off humongous corruption charges virtually everyone in the country believes. To compound the disorder, an activist judiciary is trying to establish paramountcy. The only virile national institution, the military, runs a parallel government after Washington helped ditch Pres. Gen. Pervez Musharraf — perhaps poised for comeback if his old alter ego, Kayani, leaves for scheduled October retirement.

Overall, always fragile Pakistan despite sharp internal divisions is unanimous in seeing a friendly Afghanistan as quintessential to its survival. Vast and intricate geographic, historical, ethnic and religious ties bind the two countries. But suffice it to say that current enemies for both Washington and Islamabad – and New Delhi — were a byproduct of American assistance through Pakistan in the successful anti-Soviet Afghan war.  Some of those “holy warriors” want to turn back the clock to a pre-modern regime such as the one which housed Osama Ben Ladin. It is no wonder then, that in Kayani’s former spy command, Interservices Intelligence Directorate, old individual ties to terrorists abound — for better and for worse.

But to put the argument in its crudest form, having fought three and a half wars with India, Pakistan’s largely secular political class constantly looks over its shoulder at New Delhi as it tries to fend off rising Islamic extremism. New Pakistani-Indian bilateral discussions toward settlement have regained momentum. But they come when Kashmir, keystone to their conflict, is seething with anti-Indian violence.

True, Pakistan in the past has fed that conflict. But that more than half a million Indian security forces cannot pacify an area the size of Minnesota suggests another political compromise is necessary. Uncharacteristically, India’s military chief just said so publicly. But India treads warily with its own Muslim minority larger and intimately related to Pakistan’s 156 millions. Furthermore, India’s dozen so-called Maoist insurgencies which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh designated the country’s biggest security threat, are increasingly attacking economic targets.

None of this has slowed New Delhi’s Afghanistan intrigues. For India, too, claims the country is vital to its security. From New Delhi’s viewpoint Afghan instability partially checkmates Pakistan and its “all-weather” ally, Communist China. With no real progress in the Tibetan border conflict – Beijing scored a short but decisive war in 1962 – this puts Afghanistan on the list of Indian strategic priorities.

New Delhi’s $1.2 billion in aid is deftly leveraged. And an appreciative Mr. Karzai’s flirtation with India infuriates the Pakistanis. Islamabad recalls New Delhi’s longtime efforts with its then ally, the Soviet Union, to exploit the same borderland Pushtoon tribals who now provide the terrorists’ sanctuary. [Mr. Karzai refuses to accept the 19th Century British India-Afghanistan border which slashes through these tribal areas, his own ancestral home.]

When Pres Barack Obama made a feint at this fundamental problem by naming boisterous Richard Holbrooke super-ambassador to all three countries, New Delhi demurred loudly. As the Bush Administration before it, Mr. Obama hoped to use massive aid to Pakistan — $10 billion over five years — as leverage along with emerging strategic ties with India [if unspoken, against expanding Chinese power]. But Holbrooke has been reduced to barking around the edges of the bloated U.S. ambassadorial network that Petraeus is likely to find his greatest headache. [It was injudiciously targeted by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s staff in the infamous Rolling Stone article.]

Furthermore, India rejects international arbitration in Kashmir after refusing a 1950s UN plebiscite which it might well have won. Hanging on is now not only seen as strategic militarily but retaining the Himalayan region’s 10-million mostly Muslims is “proof” of India’s claim to “secularism” – in a country where recent history records too many Hindu-led depredations against Muslims.

Some in Washington see Petraeus with political ambitions. If so, now here is a political problem to cut his teeth on which would make any Potomac River circus look like child’s play.

sws-07-02-10

Taiwan: Guns, Beef — and Politics


Pres. Obama’s Chinese New Year’s gift, an arms purchase offer even with a $6.4 billion price tag, couldn’t be more welcome to Taiwan’s Pres. Ma Ying-jeou.

Last March his Kuomintang swept back into office with anti-corruption slogans, promising better relations with the Gigantest Panda across the Strait. That peaceful transition reconfirmed China’s first representative government in its vaunted 5,000-years for 23-million Taiwanese. But now the Mandarin-accented, Hong Kong-born, sleek politician’s polls droop.

Suffering from the world recession, constituents now want to know what Ma’s done for them lately

Welcome to democracy!

Furthermore, Pandas appearance is deceptive. They are notoriously uncuddly. [You wouldn’t be either if you only ate bamboo!]

Ma’s aggressive pragmatic courtship hasn’t stopped Beijing’s missile buildup [now at 1600], threatening the Island.

Furthermore, the Taiwan Relations Act – the Congressional initiative forced on Pres. Nixon and Henry Kissinger, a pledge the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s aid if and when – looks anemic. America’s extended engagements elsewhere, Mr. Obama’s attempted seduction of former foes including Beijing, his postponement of the next aircraft carrier, his lack of support during his Mainland visit last year, all look ominous. And despite a flip-flop by Panda-hugging Pearl Harbor U.S. Navy commanders – continued intel underestimation of growing Chinese naval strength seems to have produced that – Taiwanese are concerned their ambiguous de facto independence is at risk.

Despite Ma’s continued expressions of confidence in Mr. Obama, could the Americans get there quickly enough as in past crises?

The package – excluding F16s along with submarines which were at the heart of an original program almost twice that size, dawdling at both ends of the de facto alliance for almost a decade – is particularly fortuitous just now.

Ma has just come off his first Mainland trade negotiations. It’s the culmination of longtime pressure, particularly from American and Japanese multinationals, for more integration. Without closer Mainland ties, they argue, Taiwan would lose out among East Asia’s export-led economies. [Don’t hold your breath for promised swaps of expanded domestic markets for “export-led” strategies.] More than a half-million Taiwanese managing 7,000 Mainland firms with $150 billion investment doesn’t hack it, they argue; Taiwan industry is being hollowed out by the Island’s Number One trading partner.

And there’s little doubt that Ma’s “Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement” has been oversold.

He added the notion that without it, Taiwan would lose out in Southeast Asia after Beijing last year signed a free trade agreement with ASEAN [Association of South Asian Nations]. Closer examination, however, shows there is more sound and light than substance. After all these years the 10 ASEANs haven’t got their act together. Now one by one, to protect local industry, each country has caveated the agreement. [Vietnam had already seen its Tonkinese economy devastated through smuggled Chinese dumping.]

Meanwhile, many small Taiwan businessmen – where Ma’s Democratic Progressive Party opposition is strong – say they would be swamped by cheap Mainland imports. Ma already severely limited the opening to financial investment. Always cognizant inflation as much as Communist military prowess sank Chiang Kai-shek’s Mainland Kuomintang, Taipei has always clutched banking tightly.

Though former Pres. Chen Shui-bian and family were convicted on corruption charges, his DPP is making a comeback, capturing three January by-elections. Its southern agricultural heartland – after earlier seduction by Beijing’s special agricultural import deals – is worried. They blew Ma’s attempt at expanded U.S. trade, maybe eventually a free trade agreement, when the legislature forced a partial hold on beef imports. Enhanced communications including direct flights has increased Mainland tourism — but there are too many rumors of “tourists” disappearing into the woodwork.

It may take a while. But even in the new digital age, Taiwan’s role as “the unsinkable aircraft carrier” is bound to reassert its strategic importance as Beijing’s armaments drive turns hysterical in the face of a nonexistent enemy. Little boys given toys like to play with them. Example: the 2001 Hainan Incident when a hotshot fighterpilot crashed into an American spyplane over international waters. [Difficulties posed by Japan’s new government for the U.S.’ East Asia strategic redeployment don’t help.]

Beijing’s bombast over the long simmering deal is testing Mr. Obama. But cancellation of the two militaries’ contacts has been vastly overblown; they were never really reciprocal [During the Hainan crisis, the retired admiral ambassador, revealed his Chinese military “friends” wouldn’t return his calls.] And with American persistence, after a decent interval, the exchanges would probably be reinitiated as in past temporary cancellations.

But desperately grasping for some ideological footing for a regime long since abandoning Marx, Engels — and Mao, in all but iconography – Beijing has turned to traditional Chinese xenophobia/nationalism to keep out foreign “ideas”. That plus cyber warfare practice — and sheer Google hypocrisy — is the root of that current schemozzle.

The “Communists” have even resurrected once despised Confucianism as a cover for overseas propaganda. [George Mason University: shame on you selling out to this ploy!]

All this despite continued hot pursuit of foreign investment [and technological transfer] to keep the export-led jerry-built economy booming.

In all this muddle, “Taiwan” could again become a front burner issue.

Welcome to the real world, Pres. Obama!

sws-01-30-10

There are sanctions and sanctions


Surprise! Surprise! Our “multilateralist” European allies – never mind the Chinese and Russians — won’t crank up Iran sanctions.

Hypocrisy has reached new heights: during the annual German-Israeli joint cabinets meeting — deciding whether the Jewish state will again be gifted more submarines – comes a billion-dollar German package to stand up the mullahs’ LNG business. That’s the latest in1700 German companies tripling Hermes subsidized exports to $6.5 billion annually between 2000 and 2007. Some 50 German companies sell nuclear tech for Russia’s Iranian Bushwehr plant. And then there’s non-lethal support for Tehran’s ambitious missiles program. Ditto Italy, France.

Meanwhile, Pres. Obama might shade his eyes to survey the scene with the badly chewed open hand he has been extending the mullahs: a nuclear-clad Tehran would not only test the metal of Israel’s “Never Again”, likely producing new Mideast wars. It would redraw the world strategic map.

Just the threat has sent the Saudis again throwing money at Iranian ally Syria. Riyadh is trying to coax the Gulf minipetrostates into appeasement of Big Brother just across their pond. [They don’t call it the Persian Gulf for nothing.] A whirling idiosyncratic Muslimistic regime in Ankara bites its nails.

With nuclear weapons to dominate Arab oil, the mullahs might even halt the escalating erosion of their failed theocracy. [“Munich” not only armed a Nazi division with Skoda weapons for the attack on Poland initiating WWII but fed German nationalism.] Iranian WMD could help stifle nascent domestic dissidence with dreams of a new Persian empire – especially after latecomer Obama’s tepid endorsement of its martyrs.

In this muddle, conventional wisdom holds American unilateral sanctions won’t work.

That’s patently wrong. As always, the devil is in the details.

When Pres. Bush finally went after Pyongyang’s fronts in Macao – threatening Chinese banks dealing with them – Beijing saw to it that decades of counterfeiting $100 bills stopped, and Kim Jong Il had to look elsewhere for laundered money to cover his Danish pork tab.

NYC District Attorney Morgenthau has got the Treasury after years of dithering to move on flamboyant sanctions violators. Probably working around Presidential Adviser Volcker – the Swiss’ favorite American banker – Credit Suisse forfeited a $536-million fine for helping clients evade sanctions, giving up names. The U.K.’s Lloyds paid $567 to the Treasury and Morgenthau’s prosecution for setting up a special unit to flummox authorities. Barclays is under investigation. Morgenthau hints that Washington should do more, warning against Caracas’ growing ties to Iran.

If U.S. sanctions haven’t worked against Burma’s thugs – Sen. Webb’s endless mantra echoing in Foggy Bottom – it just could be because Chevron [successor to UNOCAL] and Total have poured billions into their pockets [receipts from a gas pipeline to Thailand built with slave labor].

The real question, as more often than not, is whether Obama will act. State has done a soft-shoe dance with California Congressman Berman for a ban on Iran’s petroleum product imports. But the legislation is camouflage. Does anyone really believe the always ambivalent Indians and the fragile Gulf states would halt the lucrative trade or that Washington would jeopardize relations to enforce it?

Furthermore, as George Washington University Professor Askari points out, it might have unanticipated consequences: Tehran’s more serious economic planners would welcome reducing extravagant consumption, saving foreign exchange and trimming monstrous subsidies —  all the while blaming it on The Great Satan.

Equally lame is the purported effort to go after accounts of the Revolutionary Guards. Dubai, for example, certainly before its recent near collapse, is happy hunting ground for South Asian embezzling politicians hiding their loot. And what about the VIP thieves running Iran?

But really effective – the operative word — unilateral sanctions against Iran could add one last straw to the mullahs’ camel’s back.

It requires sanctioning the central bank of Iran, cutting off credit lines to other central banks; Malaysia, for example. It means squashing letters of credit from American banks.

Most painfully, it means going after some of the two million Iranian Americans who flout the IRS by not reporting worldwide income. In the former environment no one could blame them – many refugees from the regime itself – for making a buck on the 15-20% interest rates on Iran-based accounts. But the income tax law ought to be enforced, and Berman ought to have a heart-to-heart talk with some of his constituents.

But in Washington, true enough Treasury Secretary Geithner has his hands full. New duty calls in trying to mitigate the scapegoating “populist” strategy of his boss against the banks. Obama now threatens New York City’s role as the world’s pre-eminent financial center. Nor does it help that the nominee for Treasury international assistant secretary hasn’t taken her seat, apparently because of tax and nannygate delinquencies.

Given the high priority Iran holds in the long litany of U.S. foreign policy issues – not the least its state terrorist maneuvers in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Bahrain, Yemen, and most importantly Iraq and Afghanistan – an authentic sanctions route ought to be tried. Tried before it is too late.

Decisions, decisions, decisions!


 

—– Original Message —–
From: “Truman Reference” <Truman.Reference@nara.gov>
To: “Sol W. Sanders” <solsanders@cox.net>
Sent: Friday, January 08, 2010 11:55 AM
Subject: Re: media request

> Dear Mr. Sanders,
>
> Thank you for the e-mail message that you sent us yesterday.  I have
> not found a speech in which president Truman used the phrase “the buck
> stops here” in the context in which you refer.  In a speech he gave at
> the National War College on December 19, 1952, Truman said, “You know,
> it’s easy enough for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the
> coach should have done, after the game is over. But when the decision is
> up before you–and on my desk I have a motto which says “The buck stops
> here”–the decision has to be made. That decision may be right. It may
> be wrong. If it is wrong, and it has been shown that it is wrong, I have
> no desire to cover it up. I admit it, and try to make another decision
> that will meet the situation. And that is what any President of the
> United States has to do. Just bear that in mind.”  The full text of this
> speech is located on our website at
> http://www.trumanlibrary.org/publicpapers/index.php?pid=2094&st=&st1=.
>
> In his Farewell Address of January 15, 1953, Truman stated, “The
> greatest part of the President’s job is to make decisions–big ones and
> small ones, dozens of them almost every day. The papers may circulate
> around the Government for a while but they finally reach this desk. And
> then, there’s no place else for them to go. The President–whoever he
> is–has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do
> the deciding for him. That’s his job.”  The full text of this speech is
> located on our website at
> http://www.trumanlibrary.org/publicpapers/index.php?pid=2059&st=&st1=.
>
> On a third occasion, Mr. Truman used the phrase, “the buck stops here,”
> in the context of his use of the atomic bomb in 1945.  Text of that
> campaign speech is located on our website at
>
http://www.trumanlibrary.org/publicpapers/index.php?pid=1989&st=&st1=http://www.trumanlibrary.org/publicpapers/index.php?pid=1989&st=&st1=.
>
> I hope that this information is helpful.
>
> Sincerely,
>
>
> Sam Rushay
> Supervisory Archivist
> Harry S. Truman Library
> 500 West U.S. Highway 24
> Independence, MO 64050
> 816-268-8211
> Fax: 816-268-8295
>
> >>> “Sol W. Sanders” <solsanders@cox.net> 1/7/2010 8:06 PM >>>
> Could an archivist help me please?
>
> If memory serves [and it doesn’t often], the phrase “the buck stops
> here” was originally in a larger Truman quotation. I believe he said
> something along the lines of 1] the Constitution and history have made
> the American president a very strong exeecutive, 2] because of that, it
> sometimes is as important that he make a decision as to what the
> decision is, and therefore 3] the buck stops here.
>
> Was there such a statement by the President? Can I have the exact
> text?
>
> Yours sincerely
>
> Sol W. Sanders

 

The case for messy multilateralism

By Richard Haass

Published: January 5 2010 20:42 | Last updated: January 5 2010 20:42

Every era of history is defined by its signature challenge. For the first half of the 20th century, it was what to do about German and Japanese militarism; for the second half, it was the struggle against the Soviet Union.

But today and for the foreseeable future, the principal threat to world order is not from some aggressive great power. Instead, we must contend with a host of global phenomena: the spread of nuclear materials and weapons, terrorism, pandemic disease, climate change and economic protectionism.

No country, not even the US, can face these challenges alone. The world is simply too large and too complex to control. By their nature, these challenges are best met by collective effort. Decisions to opt out of global arrangements (or an inability to opt in, as we see in the case of governments too weak to combat terrorists who set up shop on their territory) can have repercussions far beyond a country’s borders.

But to acknowledge that we are all multilateralists now (or at least need to be) is only to start the conversation. Multilateralism is not one thing but many. The issue takes on a new urgency in the aftermath of the recent Copenhagen conference, which brought together representatives of 193 governments in an unsuccessful effort to reach a formal, binding and comprehensive accord. Whatever its consequences for climate change, Copenhagen is but the most recent reminder that classic multilateralism is increasingly difficult to achieve.

This same reality also helps to account for the world’s inability to agree to a new global trade accord. Launched in Qatar nearly a decade ago, the Doha round of negotiations has stalled. There are simply too many participants, too many contentious issues and too many domestic political concerns to discuss.

This problem also explains the near-total irrelevance of the United Nations General Assembly. “One man, one vote” may provide a sound basis for domestic politics, but on a global scale democracy (or, more precisely, democratic multilateralism) is a prescription for doing nothing. It is not simply the large number of participants but the fact that it makes little sense to give countries with minuscule populations and economies equal standing with, say, China or the US.

The UN’s founders predicted as much when they created the Security Council. The idea was to establish an elite body to tackle the world’s most important issues. The problem is that the composition of the Security Council reflects what the world looked like after the second world war. That world is now more than 60 years old. Missing from the ranks of permanent members are India, Japan, Germany, Brazil and representatives of a more integrated Europe.

It was this weakness (along with the inability to agree on the make-up of a reformed Security Council) that in part led to the creation of the Group of Seven and the trilateral process in the 1970s. Japan and the European Commission gained a seat at this important table. Yet over the decades, the G7 also proved inadequate, as it left out such critical countries as China and India. Hence the emergence of the Group of 20 in the midst of the global financial crisis and the Major Economies Forum as concerns over climate change mounted.

It is too soon to judge the impact of these latest versions of elite multilateralism. In the meantime, we are seeing the emergence of multiple innovations. One is regionalism. The proliferation of bilateral and regional trade pacts (most recently in Asia) is in part a reaction to the failure to conclude a global trade accord. Such arrangements are inferior – they do not, for example, normally deal with subsidies, much less cover all products and services. They can also have the perverse effect of retarding trade by discriminating against non-members. But some trade expansion is preferable to none.

A second alternative is functional multilateralism – coalitions of the willing and relevant. A global accord on climate will prove elusive for some time to come. But that need not translate into international inaction. A useful step would be to conclude a global pact to discourage the cutting down and burning of forests, something that accounts for a fifth of the world’s carbon output. Copenhagen made some limited progress here, but more needs to be done to assist such countries as Brazil and Indonesia.

Yet another alternative might be described as informal multilateralism. In many cases it will prove impossible to negotiate international accords that will be approved by national parliaments. Instead, governments would sign up to implementing, as best they can, a series of measures consistent with agreed-upon international norms. We are most likely to see this in the financial realm, where setting standards for the capital requirements of banks, accounting systems and credit ratings would facilitate global economic growth.

None of this – not elitism or regionalism or functionalism or informalism – is a panacea. Such collective action is invariably less inclusive, less comprehensive and less predictable than formal global accords. It can suffer from a lack of legitimacy. But it is doable and desirable, and can lead to or complement classic multilateralism. Multilateralism in the 21st century is, like the century itself, likely to be more fluid and, at times, messy than what we are used to.

The writer is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of ‘War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars’

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010

Ye Olde Crabb sez:

Always wrong for the right reasons, the CFR spokesman expresses the case for messy decision-making.

Obamaitis


 

 

Ye Olde Crabb sez

 

comprehensive

 

New Oxford Dictionary:

 

b. Embracing many things, broad in mental grasp, sympathies, or the like.

 

incrementalism

 

(A belief in) the policy or practice of introducing change incrementally or by degrees; gradualism. (Esp. in Pol.)

 

Every time we hear President Obama use the word “comprehensive”, we reach for our remote — and prepare for the worst.

 

The morasse that health care reform has turned into is his “comprehensive” approach to a gigantic tissue of problems incorporating at least sixth of the U.S. economy – and every citizen’s psyche and ego.

 

In his Cairo speech announcing a comprehensive approach to the 1.3 billion Muslim world, the part of the world that didn’t yawn immediately went their own separate ways.

 

Dealing with the problem of Sudan, Africa’s largest state and one of its biggest problems, Obama’s tsar Gen. Scott Gration invited the Chinese into a comprehensive solution and now we have a a new Khartoum offensive against Darfur and the probability of the 30-year civil war in the South recommencing.

 

The Obama comprehenive settlement for the Israel-Arab feud has turned into Palestinians who cannot negotiate, Israelis who defy Obama on his settlements ban, and Special Envoy George Mitchell threatening to cut off Jerusalem‘s special loan guarantees he cannot enforce.

 

His comprehensive settlement with the Russians has turned into betraying our Central European allies and Moscow turning down every initiative — except arms control which would confirm their inability to build new longrange missiles and their decaying nuclear stockpile.

 

Mr. President, please, you came in on a messianic wave of sympathy and adoration. But there are limits, even for a charismatic leader.

 

Mr. President, please, one step at a time. That’s the way it is generally done in a representative, conciliatory democracy.