13 years later and I haven’t forgotten. I haven’t forgiven either.
Archive for the ‘War’ Category.
The name of this journal is in honor to Occam’s Razor, the tool of logic used to decide when faced with two theories having the same evidence the simpler theory is most likely true. I selected this name because of the explosion of conspiracy theories that followed the 9-11 attacks. Occam’s Razor is to a conspiracy theory what a can of RAID is to a cockroach. In the immediate aftermath of the attack there were a multitude of explanations and justifications, from Bin Laden striking the blow to protest America’s refusal to curb global warming to the controlled demolition of the towers by the US government itself. Like cockroaches these theories managed to survive and evolve into what we now call 9-11 Truthers, a movement that has become a cottage industry where the only people not responsible for the 9-11 attacks are the ones who actually claimed responsibility for committing them.
Every generation has its tin-foil hat crowd, as do both sides of the political spectrum. FDR knew about Pearl Harbor well before the Japanese launched the attack. JFK was killed by the CIA, mob, Cubans or a conspiracy involving all three. The moon landings were faked as was Elvis’s death. Reagan was killed by Hinkley and replaced with an imposter. The CIA was behind the AIDS and Crack epidemics of the 1980s. Vince Foster was “suicided” by the Clintons.
There’s an anecdote where a great scientist delivers a lecture on cosmology in which he remarks the earth orbits around the sun. At the end of the lecture an old woman stands up and shouts, “That’s poppycock. Everyone knows the earth sits on the back of a giant turtle.” The scientist then asks the woman, if that were true what is that turtle resting on? “It’s turtles all the way down,” she answers.
I’m reminded of this anecdote whenever I visit sites like Zero Hedge where it seems the vast majority of posters are advocates of one conspiracy or another, and often many. Whether its the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17, the rise of ISIS, the civil war in Ukraine, rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza or the Ebola outbreak, some insidious group is behind it – and it’s never the obvious the person or group claiming ownership. Instead that person or group is claimed to be a shill or patsy.
Take for example the Ukrainian civil war. Although Russia is the obvious aggressor because it has the most to lose by having an independent and prosperous Ukraine on its border, the Russian government is not to blame. Instead a belligerent undercover NATO forces are massacring Russian speakers in the East and goading Russia into the war. NATO also bombed Flight MH17 and fabricated the telemetry and satellite data showing the plane was downed by a missile fired from Russian controlled territory. The whole purpose of this exercise is for the West to ignite a war with Russia, one that will cause the price of fuel to skyrocket for the benefit of American energy companies.
Then there’s al-Qaeda and its off-shoot ISIS. It’s a common belief that these groups are under the control of the CIA and the Mossad. All the terrorist attacks committed by these groups, all the beheadings and massacres are manufactured by bureaucrats in Langley and Tel Aviv, operating “false flag” divisions devoted to creating mayhem that then provides justification for their governments to meddle in the Middle East on behalf of the TPTB, the Powers that Be.
Mind you there is not a scintilla of proof behind any of this, and when proof countering this narrative is raised the conspiracy theorists simply move the goal-posts onto another area where the proof is not as definitive. Or they claim the proof offered was itself manufactured, making it impossible to disprove their position. Conspiracy theorists believe such maneuvers make their positions stronger, but the impossibility of disproving a theory actually weakens it from a rational point of view. For example a single piece of evidence could disprove Evolution; simply find the fossil of a modern animal such as a human or horse in sediments dating from the Jurassic Period, and the theory would be gravely weakened. Yet there is no such evidence that can possibly refute the theory that the World Trade Centers were destroyed through explosives set in the structures by the CIA or Mossad as many Truthers believe. The fact that we have video and thousands of eyewitness accounts of the airliners slamming into the buildings does not weaken their convictions. The dearth of such acceptable contrarian evidence forces these ideas out of the realm of factuality and into faith.
And who are the TPTB? It depends on whom you ask. For many it’s the extremely wealthy oligarchs that run the world’s economies, men of unimaginable wealth whose faces are not known, but who control the fates of Man in the same way the gods controlled the fates of the Greeks and Romans. But then one could ask, well, who controls The Powers That Be? Inevitably we run into the Jews. The Jews are the world’s favorite Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain that controls everything Evil. If something bad happens there is inevitably a Jew behind it.
But why stop there? Who’s behind the Jews? And then the lady at the back of the room stands up and says “It’s Jews all the way down…”
Over the past 5000 years of their existence other tribes and their religions have come and gone but the Jews remain. They have survived countless persecutions, pogroms, and the greatest mass-murder in History and still they remain true to their faith and identity. Over that time Jews have risen to the heights of power in every civilization they have lived in, wielding power in service to Ottoman sultans, defining Communism in Russia, and serving the cause of freedom and democracy in the American senate. Their success in the Arts is unparalleled. Countless writers, actors, directors and musicians hail from the ethnic group. Their importance to finance, established during the middle ages due to the prohibition of usury by the Catholic Church, gave them the control of wealth that lays at the heart of most anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. This survival and even thriving at times is historically unusual, and when you put success together with survival over 5 millennia, you have a recipe for those of weaker minds to fall for conspiracies involving favoritism or treachery.
And I must emphasize that anti-Semitism is the purvey of weaker minds. It takes much effort to understand History and its complexities, and that is simply too much for many to employ. It is much easier to fall back on conspiratorial beliefs that are simplistic but with a strong history of their own. And that I think is the problem with facts: they take more effort to put together to create the Truth than to weave falsehoods into a great Lie. It is much easier to dream up a conspiracy theory that explains the loss of Malaysian Flight MH17 than it is to objectively examine the evidence. It is also a much more compelling story. But just because it’s compelling doesn’t mean it’s correct, and that apocryphal lady’s belief in turtles will not pluck the Earth from orbit around the Sun and set it upon an infinite column of reptiles just as the Jews are as guilty or innocent as any other ethnic group for the sins of this world.
A few days ago marked the 2000th anniversary of the death of Augustus Caesar. The event passed quietly as far as I can tell which is a shame in my opinion. Augustus as well as his adopted father Julius Caesar shaped the foundation of our society in a way that even they would not have imagined. He should at least be remembered if not celebrated.
Most of us get history shoved down our throats. I remember being forced to read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar freshman year of high school when I was more interested in smoking pot and listening to Blondie than understanding Elizabethan English, even that of the Great Bard. Of course Shakespeare’s take on Caesar was about as factual as Tina Fey’s of Sarah Palin so I suppose I didn’t miss much. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve developed an interest in and a deep appreciation of ancient works. For this I credit “Black Swan” author and philosopher Naseem Nicholas Taleb, and the crazy frat boy turned project manager who turned me on to him. Taleb is one of the few writers I’d like to meet, and he has written extensively about the stoics and other ancient philosophers. I started reading Seneca because of him, and it hasn’t been easy. I’ve learned that I am weak when it comes to translated works. I need the rhythm and comfort of modern speech to appreciate these ancient writings, and while I’ve struggled with Seneca’s translation, The Complete Works of Julius Caesar as translated by W.A McDevitte and W.S. Bohn has been a good investment of $1.50.
Caesar writes in the 3rd person as if some disembodied narrator which I find somewhat annoying, but once you get past that his story comes alive. You are in the mind of one of history’s greatest generals at a crucial point in our civilization’s history.
One thing becomes quickly clear: Caesar is always at the disadvantage in battle. In Gaul his forces are always out-manned by the tribes arrayed against him, but Caesar understands victory does not rely on numbers alone, and his tactical genius combined with a veteran, well-disciplined force overcomes the numerical advantage of his enemies. But it isn’t easy. Here is a sample of Caesar in battle.
Caesar had everything to do at one time: the standard to be displayed, which was the sign when it was necessary to run to arms; the signal to be given by the trumpet; the soldiers to be called off from the works; those who had proceeded some distance for the purpose of seeking materials for the rampart, to be summoned; the order of battle to be formed; the soldiers to be encouraged; the watchword to be given. A great part of these arrangements was prevented by the shortness of time and the sudden approach and charge of the enemy. (Gallic Wars, Book 2, Chapter 20)
What comes through his narration is the unpredictability of war. One would also expect Caesar to embellish his successes while airbrushing away his failures, yet Caesar’s retelling of events comes through as exceedingly honest. For example, Caesar didn’t win all his battles. In fact at the battle of Dyrrachium he almost lost everything against another one of History’s great generals, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus or Pompey the Great.
Pompey had taken up a position upon some hills with his back to the sea. Unable to assault Pompey directly Caesar set about building fortifications around Pompey’s position with the idea of boxing him and eventually strangling his army. Pompey’s navy controlled the sea so his army could resupply whereas Caesar’s could not, but thousands of horses need a lot of forage Caesar became expert at picking off cavalry in search of food for their horses. A stalemate descended on the battlefield, and it wasn’t until two Gauls defected from Caesar’s camp to Pompey that the stalemate was broken. They informed Pompey about where Caesar’s forces were weakest, and Pompey focused his attack on that point. Caesar’s army turned and fled, and he struggled to figure out what happened, stopping panicked soldiers himself for details of the rout. Learning the circumstances Caesar believed that he had lost the war. Then his luck changed. Caesar writes,
In this calamity, the following favorable circumstances occurred to prevent the ruin of our whole army, that Pompey suspecting an ambush (because, as I suppose, the success had far exceeded his hopes, as he had seen his men a moment before fleeing from the camp), didn’t approach the fortification, and that his horse were retarded from pursuing… By retarding the rapidity of the enemy’s pursuit, preserved our army. (The Civil Wars, Book 3, Chapter 72)
Caesar had developed a reputation for daring as a general, but this can only have been abetted by his experienced army. Nowhere was this more apparent then at the Battle of Pharsalus, the climactic battle of the Roman Civil War. Before the battle Pompey had managed to starve Caesar’s army of supplies. Pompey employed this strategy of attrition, waiting for Caesar’s forces to fall apart under the stress of skirmishes and lack of supplies. Caesar in turn sought to provoke Pompey into battle, appreciating for himself the wisdom of Pompey’s strategy but Pompey resisted being drawn into battle. At this point Pompey had the high ground on a hill and had double the number of troops – 45,000 vs Caesar’s 22,000.
The pressure on Pompey to finish off Caesar’s forces was strong. His advisers and lieutenants pushed the old general to destroy Caesar and his army, and they claimed the victory at Dyrrachium proved that Caesar was fatally weakened. Excited at the prospect of ridding themselves of Caesar and returning to Rome as heroes, Caesar quotes one of Pompey’s generals as denigrating Caesar’s forces. “(This is not) the army which conquered Gaul and Germany… a very small part of that army now remains… the flower of the forces perished in the two engagements at Dyrrachium.” Finally Pompey relented, announcing “I have persuaded our cavalry, and they have engaged to execute it… to attack Caesar’s right wing on the flank, and inclosing their army on the rear, throw them into disorder, and put them to the rout, before we shall throw a weapon against the enemy.” (The Civil Wars, Book 3, Chapter 87).
Throughout his works Caesar portrays himself as favoring a peaceful resolution to a crisis over war, and when war was necessary, enforcing a just peace on the defeated. The lives of captured soldiers were spared; towns that surrendered to his army did not have their citizens put to the sword. These were uncommon practices by his enemies according to his Caesar, and his concern with his enemy and the Republic showed before battle. Facing double the number of men in his army, a force well supplied and enjoying better ground and lead by a general Caesar himself respected, Caesar exhorted his forces as Pompey began arranging his men for battle. “He took care to remind them that he could call his soldiers to witness the earnestness with which he had sought peace… he had been always reluctant to shed the blood of his soldiers, and did not wish to deprive the republic of one or other of her armies.” (The Civil Wars, Book 3, Chapter 90).
The pivotal battle turned out to be somewhat anti-climatic from a modern point of view, but here again Caesar’s experienced troops were the deciding factor. Charging towards Pompey’s forces required Caesar’s soldiers to cross a vast no-mans-land between the two armies. Pompey under the advice of his adviser Caius Triarius held back his men, waiting for Caesar’s troops to tire and then be easily beaten. But his experienced troops understood what Pompey was doing and changed tactics in the middle of their run. Caesar writes, “(Caesar’s men) perceiving that Pompey’s men did not run to meet their charge, having acquired experience by custom, and being practices in former battles, they of their own accord repressed their speed, and halted almost midway; that they might not come up with the enemy when their strength was exhausted.” (The Civil Wars, Book 3, Chapter 93). Caesar notes that Pompey’s men did not fail in the battle, “for they received our javelins, stood our charge, and maintained their ranks,” but within minutes the tide of the battle changed. Caesar had made up his thin ranks not in the customary three rows but four. This crucial fourth row of men were able to withstand the cavalry charge Pompey had planned; had that fourth row not been there the cavalry would have broken through Caesar’s line and been able to attack his forces from behind. But the fourth line held and pushed back the cavalry, sending it routing. Once that happened the battle was for all intents and purposes over. Pompey left the battlefield and returned to camp, eventually disguising himself and fleeing.
Throughout the books Caesar drops names of those who helped him which reminds me of the way American presidents pepper their speeches with the names of average Americans. I find it fascinating that over 2000 years later these men, or at least their names, are not forgotten thanks to Caesar’s pen. Caesar writes, “There was in Caesar’s army, a volunteer of the name of Crastinus, who the year before had been first centurion of the tenth legion, a man of pre-eminent bravery. .. He looked back at Caesar and said “General, I will act in such a matter today that you will feel grateful to me living or dead.”” Earlier in the Gallic Wars he notes “two very brave men, centurions, who were now approaching the first ranks, T. Pullo and L. Varenus. These used to have continual disputes between them which of them should be preferred, and every year used to to contend for promotion with the utmost animosity.” These two men became the main characters of the HBO series Rome. Caesar sprinkles these names and vignettes throughout this works, betraying what I consider to be a literary sensibility by the writer. Caesar was educated in the Greek classics so he probably understood the importance of supporting characters to help tell a story, and since the Romans themselves were just as interested in their own history as we are in theirs, he no doubt knew that his story would be much more interesting if it wasn’t filled with self-aggrandizing commentary. It’s a lesson our current leader should learn if he was open-minded enough to appreciate the thoughts of a “dead white male.”
I know I’m not the first to realize this, but the epiphany that a long-dead man like Julius Caesar could come alive in my imagination through his writings has been profound and humbling. The Renaissance thinkers believed that the Greeks and Romans had discovered all there was to know about the human condition, and that it was up to them to rediscover that knowledge and refine it. Like them I am simply amazed at how little has changed between Caesar’s era and our own when it comes to the human condition. Caesar is betrayed and lied to just as the EU is today by Vladimir Putin. He experiences fake friends just as the US does in the guise of the Saudis. His men act with honor and cowardice just as our soldiers do today. We may shoot missiles instead of launching javelins but I would bet that if you took one of Caesar’s legionaries and put him in a foxhole in Afghanistan he would get along just fine with American soldiers.
It is readily apparent to me why Caesar has not been forgotten over the millennia. He speaks to us across Time to remind us of that we face the same struggles he did, possessing the same soul-destroying fears as well as our own capacity for courage and greatness. Through his writings he transcends death and serves as an important guide for us as we stumble towards our own future.
Last night the police didn’t intervene as the looters took to the streets of Ferguson Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. “I think the first message is to remind all law enforcement that they are hired to serve and protect and if they’re going to sit back and watch looting, they’re not serving us; they’re not protecting us,” Pastor Robert White told the local Fox News affiliate. Former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch tweeted: “You did not see “police restraint” overnight. You saw police reluctant to act. We cannot keep stoning the keepers at the gate.”
This is a case of a police force clearly acting as petulant as a five year old who doesn’t get its way. Either we allow the police to do what they want, treat American soil as a de facto warzone and act as an army of occupation that is allowed to shoot first and ask questions later, or it’s not going to do its job. The “keepers at the gate” referred to by former police chief Fitch clearly have forgotten their mission to serve and protect. Their motto isn’t to disarm and pacify. This is Ferguson not Fallujah. Perhaps they need to get stoned to remember that, and if one of those rioters can’t hook them up Colorado is only 2 states away.
Do all American cops think this way? Do they see themselves working in a constant state of war in hostile territory? I need to understand how cops have become more paramilitary forces who subjugate and pacify the enemy and less beat cops who know the people they protect. I don’t see why such paramilitary tactics are needed in cities and suburbs in America of the 21st Century. We are a less violent society today than we were 40 years ago, so why are cops dressing and reacting as if they are living in a dystopian nightmare from the 1980s movie Robocop?
I want to believe that all cops don’t think this way, that there are some who understand the difference between policing and pacifying. But just because I want to believe doesn’t make it real.
Watching events in my hometown of St. Louis over the past few days has sickened me even though there is quite of lot of sickening things happening in the world. St. Louis isn’t a bad city but it is an American city and what we are seeing there can be extrapolated all too easily throughout the country.
For those unfamiliar with the area what is known as St. Louis is really more accurately called the St. Louis metropolitan area encompassing the city of St. Louis and the surrounding counties in Missouri and Illinois for a total population of about 2.5 million people. St. Louis county is politically separate from the St. Louis City and is composed of 91 municipalities and 9 unincorporated census-designated places. Many of those municipalities lack their own police forces and have agreements with the county to provide police and fire services, but many also do not. Anyone who has lived in the area quickly learns the speed traps run by police forces like Charlack (population 1,413) and Bella Villa (687 ), the latter even providing a link to online payment of traffic tickets. Locals soon learn where to speed and where to run a mile or two an hour below the speed limit to avoid being pulled over. Outsiders and those traveling through lack this knowledge and so get fleeced.
Ferguson is one of St. Louis county’s moderately sized municipalities of 22,000 people, and it has its own police force as you may no doubt already know. Having grown up in the area it was common knowledge that the best cops were the city and county cops because they were more experienced and professional. Being a teen meant that I was pulled over a lot growing up in the area, and I understand why and don’t really resent it. County and city cops never hassled me unlike the smaller municipality cops, and when they were needed the county and city cops were the ones who knew how to investigate crimes or handle bad situations. There is a basic reason for this: experience. Small municipal cops may know how to issue a ticket but they won’t know how to investigate a murder because such crimes rarely occur in these areas. In most such cases the county would be brought in to do the heavy lifting, but I always believed citizen safety and well-being would have been much better had the county cops done all the policing in the county instead of just the unincorporated areas or the ones with municipal agreements. Of course size is no guarantee of professionalism, just witness the troubles of the LA Police Department, but Michael Brown’s chances would have been better with a county cop than one of Ferguson’s finest.
I don’t know what happened that day. Messing with an armed cop always seemed suicidal to me. He may not have been in his right mind, drunk or on drugs and felt invulnerable. I understand that, having done stupid things myself while under the influence. But I also understand that wearing a badge can make some cops feel like Judge Dredd and have seen cops act in a way while wearing a badge that they wouldn’t without one. Add a gun and its sanctioned use by Society and the mix can prove to be a volatile cocktail too powerful for some.
He may not have attacked the cop at all, and even if he did reports that he was shot while running away scare me because as a gun owner I know the laws and the limits of self-defense usage of a firearm. Even if I had been attacked by an unarmed Brown, if I had shot him while he was running away I would be charged with murder. Stand your ground does not apply when your attacker is fleeing, and while the Stand Your Ground laws don’t apply to the police, other laws do.
Writing in Time Magazine Senator Rand Paul discusses another aspect of this case: the militarization of the police. He quotes Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennesee who has been writing about the attitude changes among the US domestic police forces from a force protecting the people to an occupation force. Reynolds notes, ‘Dress like a soldier and you think you’re at war. And, in wartime, civil liberties—or possible innocence—of the people on “the other side” don’t come up much. But the police aren’t at war with the citizens they serve, or at least they’re not supposed to be.” Rand also quotes Walter Olson from the Cato Institute, “Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors?... Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?”
Paul ends the must-read piece,
The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.
Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security. This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country.
Libertarians have been warning about the militarization of the police for years. In 2006 Radley Balko warned in his book Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America that the most common use of SWAT teams was the serving of narcotics warrants. As a reminder these are non-violent offenses. Balko writes, “These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.” The Glenn Reynolds piece that Paul quotes above was written in 2009. While their conservative allies may squirm as they question the legality of an increasingly militarized police, they should appreciate the danger to the Constitution.
The police are supposed to be guardians of the community they live in not foreign occupiers. It is time we rehumanized the police and returned them to the task of watching over the people instead of watching the people. Perhaps the killing of Michael Brown will start us down a new path that leads to a more peaceful and free society instead of the violent nightmare of the path we are on.
Update: Military vets sound off on the paramilitary tactics here.
The leader of Boko Haram is threatening to sell the 200 girls his outfit abducted from their boarding school 3 weeks ago into slavery.
“Some people should die. That’s just unconscious knowledge,” – Pigs in Zen, Jane’s Addiction.
This explains why Obama is scrambling around the White House trying to find the receipt for its purchase…
HatTip, photo and translation brought to you by SimplyJews.
In his article Vladimir Putin, Russian Neo-Con Atlantic contributing editor Peter Beinart takes neo-cons to task for exhibiting the same focus on military strength and ignoring economic power as Vladimir Putin. “In his approach to foreign policy, Vladimir Putin has a lot in common with those very American hawks (or “neocons” in popular parlance) who revile him most.”
Neo-cons revile Putin the most? Seriously? Beinart clearly doesn’t understand neo-cons at all.
To put it bluntly hawks respect other hawks not doves.
Neo-cons don’t revile Putin. Sure they think he’s a warmongering Russian leader who must be confronted by a strong American and European response, but “revile” him? Absolutely not. The neo-cons see Putin as a man who has been dealt a very poor hand but who has played it brilliantly. He has maintained power in a country with more ethnic, racial, political, economic, and social fault lines than any other nation on the planet. His opponents are vastly richer than his nation, yet he has been able to divide them in ways that are diabolical or brilliant depending on your perspective. America has the largest standing army on the planet yet Putin has managed to hold it at bay in Syria, and is able to bully and invade his neighbors with impunity as shown in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine today.
This doesn’t mean that neo-cons want to see Putin win in Ukraine or Syria. They still want to see him defeated. But in Putin they see a man who thinks like they do, who feels a deep sense of duty to his country and is willing to do whatever it takes to make his country great again. They may disagree with his actions, but they don’t question his motives.
Neo-cons revile the likes of President Obama and his administration. They detest the thinking so prominent in academia here and among European statesmen that the solution to every problem can be resolved through talking, and that war is an anachronism with no place in the modern world. They hate the assumption that underlays the thinking of the western intelligentsia, that nationalism is dead and borders are the last impediment to a new transnational utopia. And they especially loathe the attitude that words matter more than actions; Obama’s empty rhetoric is despised much more than Putin’s use of his military.
The truth is that if neo-cons could find an American version of Vladimir Putin they would do whatever it took to put him in the White House. Thanks to Putin people fear Russia in ways they no longer fear the United States, a fact that progressives who detest neo-cons don’t quite understand because they don’t see the world as Putin and the neo-cons see it: a zero sum game with winners and losers. Putin will do what it takes to see that Russia wins, and neo-cons respect that.
Homeland Security snipers pointing their rifles at frightened residents during a drug bust in New York is just another in a string of incidents where police use military tactics against an American civilian population. The Economist has a story discussing the militarization of the police, and it couldn’t come at more important time. Sooner or later someone is going to get hurt.
Evidently that’s sooner. The Economist reports 50 innocent people have been killed in “no knock” raids by the police, including 92 year old Kathryn Johnston who in 2006 confronted police with a pistol in her house after they smashed the door down. The cops shot her five times then planted marijuana in her house. It turns out they lied to get the no-knock warrant.
As a libertarian with a strong conservative streak I am very suspicious of the police yet supportive of their actions in general. I worry about their mindset that separates them from the general population to create an “us vs. them” attitude which can become self-fulfilling while at the same time recognize that bad guys often have access to the same firepower cops do. I worry about police taking away my rights and the rights of my teen age son, yet am thankful they are always just a phone call away. It’s a tough balance for me, so I can understand how it would be for a cop.
I don’t deny the police have a tough job. I wouldn’t want it. But if they are going to start viewing themselves as an occupying force they need to repaint their cars to blot out the “serve and protect” motto and replace it with a Judge Dredd quote, “I am The Law.” Each officer, each department needs to ask, do they want to create a police state for their children and grandchildren? Is this why they joined the police force in the first place?
So this is what a weak America looks like. President Obama issues threats to the Russians over their takeover of the Crimea, and they respond with laughter. Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov tweets a picture of Obama wearing a Russian lieutenant’s uniform.
A Russian news anchor states, “Russia is the only country in the world realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.” Pundits on the Left and Right, in Europe and the US see no way for the administration and its western allies to respond. Now Ukraine watches nervously with 60,000 Russian troops on its borders, awaiting Vladimir Putin’s next move. There is no downside to whatever it is. Putin can send the troops to take the Ukraine by force and nothing will stop him. The EU will fume, and the President will make another phone call, but nothing will stop him.
Putin has a once in a century shot at rebuilding the Russian empire at no cost. He’d be stupid to stop now. Not only Ukraine is at play, the entire former Warsaw Pact is now up for grabs. The Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia can’t resist Russian pressure, and neither can Poland. Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. The promise of 1989, of freedom and democracy for half a continent that had known nothing but war followed by repression, is threatened by a Russia that laughs at Western sanctions and posts photoshopped pictures of the American president. Oh, and one shouldn’t forget that it is also home to 4,500 nuclear warheads, so that comment about turning America into radioactive ash is not hyperbole.
For decades the Left has detested American exceptionalism. Starting after World War 2 and supported by the KGB, the Left has demanded America unilaterally disarm. Every movement the United States made to protect Europe was resisted by leftist parliamentarians, student protests and protestors chaining themselves to the gates of American military bases. European bureaucrats condoned this anti-Americanism while at the same time relied upon the American soldiers stationed at these bases as well as the political leadership in Washington DC that was willing to use them.
Now one of those Leftists sits in the White House. He has unilaterally withdrawn American forces from Iraq and now does the same with Afghanistan. Around the world American forces are being cut back to pre-World War 2 levels, replacing American soldiers with rhetoric. He has led an administration that rewards American adversaries like Russia, Iran and China, and punishes its friends like the UK and Israel. In short he has acted like conservatives expected him to act: gutting the military, weakening America and its alliances, and encouraging its foes. Putin’s actions in the Ukraine merely reflect this new reality.
Some leftists, particularly the more ideologically pure, will see these events in a positive light. A humbled America is the final bulwark standing between transnational socialism so its demise at the hands of one of their own will usher in the the triumph of socialist intellectual thought over capitalist avarice. The fact that China and Russia, two of the largest remaining socialist powers on the planet, are preparing to reap the benefits of the end of Pax Americana is as it should be.
The problem with this train of thought, perhaps perceived clearly by the Leftists in Europe, is that neither Russia nor China are true socialist states. Russia is controlled by the basest form of crony capitalism, with the oligarchs siding with Vladimir Putin reaping the state’s largess at the expense of the masses, before shuttling it off to offshore banks in Switzerland. China too is not very socialist. The people do not own the means of production unless you specify the term “people” to mean the children of party leaders. In fact China today has one of the purest forms of capitalism around, more akin to Britain during the industrial revolution and America a century ago as opposed to some communist utopia. In fifty years it’s more likely to look like 20th century America than some sort of Marxist paradise.
Since World War 2 some European states like Sweden and Denmark have crafted socialist paradises, and others like Germany, France and the UK have pursued socialist policies that now find themselves threatened by Russia. Russia controls 30% of the natural gas flowing to the continent, and has shown the willingness to use this resource as a weapon in the past. There is nothing to stop it from doing so in the future, which would destabilize these socialist-leaning European states through higher energy prices. With the Ukraine crisis proving NATO to be a paper-tiger, the continent lays ripe for the picking for Putin and his kleptocrats. The only realistic constraint on Russia is logistical: Putin doesn’t have enough men-at-arms or the ability to project force with lengthy supply lines.
In less than 3 years time America will replace the leftist in chief with another leader. Can Europe hold off Putin until then? The likely butt in the Oval Office chair will either belong to Hillary Clinton, a woman whose political experience helped create this problem with Russia in the first place, or Rand Paul, a neo-isolationist libertarian. Either case would mean the American Calvary wouldn’t be charging anytime soon to save Europe for a third time in a century.
Europe is on its own and will be for the foreseeable future. It will have to deal with Mr. Putin on his terms. For decades European lefties have dreamed of a weak America and it has succeeded. President Obama has taken a 300 lb man who was respected and feared and turned him into a 90lb weakling respected by no one, the laughing stock of the international community. It will be interested to watch how the Continent handles this blessing. At the very least, the Germans and Swedes better hope they don’t have any Russian-speaking minorities.
Update: Did Russian Intelligence Promote Obama from Lieutenant to Colonel? Personally I think his behavior warrants a promotion for the devotion he has shown to the Motherland.
Russian leaders have many qualities but unpredictability isn’t one of them. Events unfolding in the Ukraine have followed a pattern blazed by Soviet tanks crushing rebellions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia 12 years later. The only question at this point is where will they stop?
Any world leader that reacts with surprise over recent events in the Crimea, the appearance of soldiers wearing uniforms without insignia outside of airports, then the appearance of similarly clad men at other key facilities in the peninsula, followed by a formal request for Russian troops by the puppet authorities put into place by the men in the insignia-less uniforms, should be immediately impeached. Since his rise to power Vladimir Putin has acted the way one would expect the former head of the KGB in Soviet times to act. Putin sees the world in zero sum, Cold War era terms, and has acted accordingly.
While the US and Europe viewed the Cold War as long over, Putin evidently failed to get the memo. George W. Bush believed his personal relationship with “Pootie-Poot” would help him in his global war against terrorism. Putin provided little support, instead bolstering socialist regimes in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, capping off 2008 with an invasion of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. By then relations with Russia had deteriorated to the point where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised a reset of relations with the Kremlin, blaming the problems with Russia on the Bush administration. Putin acted accordingly, helping Iran develop its nuclear capabilities. Missing an opportunity to bolster the Libyan regime of Mohamar Khadaffi, Putin didn’t pass up the chance when the Arab Spring swept into Syria. While the West dithered over the support of rebels against Bashir Assad’s regime, Russia didn’t hold back. It provided money and diplomatic cover for the regime in the United Nations, the favorite playground for the post-Cold War thinkers proliferating in the West, and did the same for Assad’s primary backer Iran.
For those of us educated during the Cold War, none of this is surprising or new. Of course Obama and his crew were all educated during the Cold War as well, but evidently they were educated into believing the US was the reason the Soviets did the things they did. Such an attitude also manifests itself in what is called “beaten spouse syndrome” where an abused person believes he or she can control the abuser if only he or she did the right thing. This attitude is narcissistic, fantasy-based and wrong.
The control the US had against the Soviets was blunt. Brute force, mountains of men and material and lots of cash. Truman used it in Berlin in 1948, and for the next 40 years this power was wielded by his successors with varying degrees of effectiveness. That was pretty much it. Every word we said was backed up by the use of force. It was a simple language originating from the dawn of Time and the Soviets understood it.
Now Putin and his Soviet-era thinking has confronted Obama and his liberal idealist philosophy. And the winner? Well… The Russians still control most of Georgia. Iran is still refining uranium. Syria still has its chemical weapons. And the Ukraine is experiencing the same type of fear and hysteria Czechoslovakia felt in 1968.
A famous Democrat once said, “No man can tame a tiger by stroking it.” Before him one of his relatives once cautioned, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” These lessons have been lost on Obama and his minions who have lived in their comfy cocoons for too long. They are about to be schooled by Putin and the Russians, and this time Obama’s transcripts will be there for everyone to see.
There is nothing short of full-out war that Obama and the European leaders can do about Putin’s annexation of the Crimea. Putin knows the West has no stomach for war, so it will acquiesce to his aggression. Then the question is, where should Putin stop?
From a realpolitik standpoint, I see no reason why Putin should not fan his forces northward out of the Crimea to liberate Ukraine. At this point the only hindrances would be logistical. Do his forces have enough supplies to make it to Kiev? My guess is that local resistance would be miniscule in the countryside, and that most small and medium sized towns would side with the Russians. Only in Kiev would the Ukrainian regime be able to mount any type of notable resistance, and that could be handled through deals with many of the Ukrainian oligarchs supporting the regime. With Russia in control of the countryside, funding in-fighting and supplying anti-regime forces inside Kiev while laying a de facto siege to the city, resistance wouldn’t take long to overcome. Putin then could sweep away the current regime, promise elections in the fall to give a veneer of Democracy to the re-installation of a pro-Russian regime. This playbook was written in Eastern Europe after World War 2.
Will he stop with Ukraine? Success breeds success which is another way of saying people get greedy. I have no idea, but I’m reminded of something said long ago after another “surprise” annexation in Europe. When Chamberlain returned from Munich, Winston Churchill said, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.” Obama and the Europeans have shown their dishonor, and as a result the likelihood of war next week is much greater than it was last week.
There’s a song I like that has a verse, “Fortune presents gifts not according to the book. When you expect whistles it’s flutes. When you expect flutes it’s whistles.” I hear that song a lot these days even as life becomes extremely predictable. Obama makes another speech and continues to avoid the consequences of his actions. Another prominent opponent of the administration gets arrested or audited by the IRS and the media yawns. The stock market rising to greater heights even as middle class wages stagnate.
But as the song goes, when you expect one thing, be prepared for something else completely different. And that something just might be a war with tanks, missiles, ships and men in uniform, a conventional war after years of asymmetric guerrilla-style conflicts in Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Such a war would be fought on a scale not seen since World War 2, with tactics, technologies and weapons that have not seen mass usage since their inception, wielded by soldiers who have grown up in societies where “shared sacrifice” doesn’t go beyond recycling garbage.
For decades Americans have been conditioned to dealing with far-away threats that are small and because of their size, manageable. It was easy to sympathize with the Vietcong as many on the Left did during the 1960s and 1970s when the VC posed more of an existential threat to Saigon than San Francisco. Even today when those like me proclaim the threat posed by radical Islam, the potential of such a threat lies in one-off terrorist attacks and the long-term danger posed by the acceptance of the normality of Islam, due to our culture’s chauvinistic belief in moral relativism, than in cruise missiles striking targets in Washington DC or airstrikes in Los Angeles. Such ideas are almost unthinkable except as fodder for movies like Red Dawn or video games like Call of Duty: Ghosts.
We have lived for generations expecting whistles. Tin-horn dictators causing trouble in small, far away countries. The occasional terrorist attack by radicals, or some despotic regime stirring up trouble like North Korea. What happens when Fortune decides to present us with flutes instead?
If one listens carefully you can hear the high pitch whispering sound in the air emanating from the West. For centuries China has felt disrespected by its neighbors and bullied by the West. Today it is enjoying power and prosperity on a relative scale that hasn’t been experienced since the 17th century. But that economic might hasn’t translated into the military variety, and in some minds it cannot truly be freed from its past unless China takes its place as a military superpower. For many that means a return to a bygone era when China was the center of the world, and all states, especially those at its periphery, bowed to it.
And that time has come. The states at its borders are currently weak and in disarray. The United States is being eclipsed in economic, diplomatic, and military power by the Chinese regime, its president weak and timid. The next two to three years represent the best time for China to act with force and grasp its destiny. After that countries like Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines will have rebuilt their defenses enough to resist Chinese advances, and America will likely replace an appeaser like Obama with a Republican warmongerer the way Reagan followed Carter over 30 years ago.
There are three likely scenarios:
1. Forceful Unification of Taiwan – The Chinese have been building up their amphibious attack capabilities as well as locating several large missile bases across the Taiwan Straits for decades. During the same time they have infiltrated all levels of the government and military making it likely that a cross-straits invasion would be firmly ensconced on Taiwanese soil before any adequate response would be mounted by the Taiwanese government or military.
Then there’s the question of America. Would the Americans go to war over Taiwan? Much has been written about the defense treaty between the United States and Taiwan, but like all treaties, they are only as good so far as the treaty partners are willing to abide by them. The Taiwanese themselves expect an invasion within the next six years and believe the US would be defeated by China even if it did respond. Given the propaganda that would pour out of Beijing, it’s sycophants in European capitals, and its agents in the US all touting the invasion as an internal matter between Chinese, it is unlikely the US would go to war with China over Taiwan at all. The Chinese know this. The Taiwanese suspect this, and the Obama administration won’t admit this.
Diplomats like to state something to the effect that with all the cross-border trade and personal ties between Taipei and Beijing there is no need for a war to forcefully reunify China. Aside from similar attitudes towards Germany in the 1930’s, this ignores the problems of different elites ruling Beijing and Taipei. The princes who run mainland China, the scions and heirs of Communist revolutionary leaders, are not the same people who run Taiwan. Simply put there isn’t room for both in a reunited China, and it’s unlikely the Taiwanese elite, the scions and heirs of the Nationalists who fled China, would allow themselves to be ruled by the sons and grandsons of the enemies of their parents and grandparents. For elites survival is a zero-sum game, and it is likely to be the case with China and Taiwan. War will be the only way to decide who survives and who is forced into posh and comfortable European exile.
It’s not so much about economics or even territory anymore given that most of Taiwan’s investment is in mainland China. It’s about righting a wrong in the eyes of mainland Chinese nationalists. An independent Taiwan is as much an affront and humiliation to Chinese nationalists as the takeover of the American embassy in Teheran in 1979 was for Americans, except the embassy takeover lasted only 444 days while Taiwanese independence has lasted 65 years. Just because Americans have the attention spans of gnats with ADHD they shouldn’t assume the Chinese are the same. What happened in 1949 is just as important to them today as it was in 1949, just as the treatment at the hands of the European powers, and the United States, in the 19th century is as real and important today as it was yesterday, the day before or a 100 years ago. The Chinese have a memory that is just as long as their 5,000 years of history. Americans must remember that.
2. Small Battles Over Disputed Territories - China seems to make claims and demands of its neighbors on a daily, seemingly ad hoc basis. So far no lives have been lost, but it’s only a matter of time before China pushes its luck and a Philippine frigate or a Vietnamese “fishing boat” decides to push back. Such disputes are expected to be more common as China builds up its military and it’s neighbors do the same. While the scale of these confrontations will be small, and the likelihood of a unified aggressive response small, particularly from the United States, over time China will have seized what it covets at the expense of turning east and south Asia into the most heavily armed region in the world.
3. Full-Scale Sino-Japanese War – A small skirmish over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands could easily lead to full-scale war between the second and fourth largest economies in the world. Such a conflict is the least likely of these three scenarios to occur but it also stands as the most dangerous. An attack on Japanese soil by China could not be portrayed as a civil matter between participants as would be the case for an invasion of Taiwan. The Japanese response would also be much faster since Chinese spy capabilities to disrupt command and control in Japan through the spreading of disinformation and sabotage are nowhere near as developed as they are in Taiwan or even Europe and the United States. The Japanese ability to change their collective minds and act accordingly seemingly in the blink of an eye has been shown numerous times, beginning in the Meiji Period when the Japanese embraced modernity and embarked on transforming their feudal country into a modern nation, to the rise of the military junta in the 1930s that united the country in the war effort, to the post-war period when shared sacrifice rebuilt a country ravaged by the deprivations of war. Even more recently the rebound in Kobe after the 1995 earthquake and the effort to rebuild after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster show how quickly Japanese society can mobilize and work together on a common goal.
This ability to change and the national resilience it represents is unlikely to be adequately appreciated by Chinese military strategists. Pacifism has pervaded Japanese culture since the end of World War 2, and on the surface it’s difficult for foreigners to understand how Japan could turn away from it. But this ignores a basic fact: they’ve done it before, in the days after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were smoking ruins. They can easily slip back into a more militaristic stance.
Finally there is always a 4th option: a Black Swan that by definition cannot be foreseen, but could involve North Korea in some way shape or form. Also this analysis ignores South Korea, which at this time finds itself in the middle between China and the US and could play an important role in any conflict in the region. Additionally I don’t mention Russia since it is a weak player in the region.
In the past I have talked about the Chinese point of view of seeing the world in zero-sum terms. It is impossible for Chinese nationalists to believe that China can rise without other nations falling. Such nationalism has been out of favor for so long in the West that it’s difficult to see the world in these terms, yet our failure of imagination should not blind us to the forces motivating China as it takes its place as the world’s hyperpower. Regardless of what Sinophiles like myself and others want to believe about China, it is only the reality that counts. And the reality is that China’s rise is no longer peaceful, and the consequences will likely return the world to its default state of war.
NSA officials are considering amnesty for Edward Snowden in exchange for the remaining documents he has in his possession. I don’t think much of Edward Snowden. I’ve called him an idealist and by extension an idiot. But I also don’t think much about an organization that allowed a low-level government contractor access to what the NSA official investigating the theft of secrets called “the keys to the kingdom.”
I’m still trying to wrap my head around an organization that vacuumed up everyone’s personal data in all its forms – phone calls, blog posts, emails, chats – then allowed a low-level contractor access to its methodology and processes for doing it. Either the NSA is lying for some reason only the readers of John Le Carre novel would understand and Snowden doesn’t have such an important cache of data, or he does and the NSA is so desperate it will do anything to get the data back. The Machiavellian inside believes the former but the IT worker in Fortune 500 companies believes the latter. Bureaucracies do stupid stuff all the time, and while it’s possible this is all some kind of kabuki theater meant to mislead Russian and Chinese intelligence sources, Hanlon’s Razor leaves me believing Snowden did in fact do what he says he did and the bureaucrats in the NSA are busy pouring over procedures and decision trees trying to figure out how to handle it.
Regardless I believe Snowden should get amnesty in exchange for what he knows. Allow him to return to the US without fear and sit in front of the House Intelligence Committee to explain how he did what he did. Televise the hearings and let everyone including the Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies know what he knows. Give him the soapbox he craves, and then when he steps down let him slip away into obscurity. Don’t give him a fiery send off like Michael Hastings, it’s not worth feeding the conspiracy trolls on the Internet. Leave him alone.
But as he’s speaking and hogging the limelight, change the locks on the kingdom and hide the keys in a place where the peasants can’t get hold of them.
American diplomacy is a mess. Much of this can be blamed on the current administration who came into power believing they were different from the previous ones, gifted with talent and intelligence their predecessors lacked. But the truth is American diplomacy has always been a mess because honestly, we suck at it.
Having the ability to talk your way to get what you want is only useful for someone who is weak. In the hundred years or so after America’s founding when it was relatively weak to the Great Powers in Europe, we were far enough from the fray to not really matter, and the Europeans only took interest of us when they thought they could use us in their schemes against their primary European opponent. Thankfully American administrations heeded Washington’s advice to avoid foreign entanglements, and were content with expanding power across the continent. At our weakest point, the years of the Civil War, when the European powers had the opportunity to sway the outcome of the war, it was only a blunder by Confederate President Jefferson Davis to bully the European powers using cotton exports to European textile mills as his primary bargaining chip to attain diplomatic recognition of the Confederate states, and the Union’s more benign and positive support of free trade and past military cooperation with Britain and France that convinced these powers to stay out of the fray. Had Davis been more diplomatic and the European powers more interested in the goings on across the Atlantic, chances are good I’d be writing from my seat in the Confederate States of America.
Things changed after America achieved its “manifest destiny” of spreading across the continent, and began following in the footsteps of the European powers in constructing an empire. During this time diplomacy didn’t matter; what mattered was brute force and the ability to wield it, first in Mexico then throughout the Central America and the Caribbean as it displaced first France and later Spain. But America came late to the game, so its empire was small and inconsequential compared to the great empires of France and Great Britain, and the world wars that followed in the 20th century exposed the danger of empire building as well as the limitations of diplomacy. The Europeans chewed the fat with Hitler for years and it didn’t stop him from taking over continental Europe. Had Neville Chamberlain advised the King to select Lord Halifax, whom he liked and was the popular choice at the time, instead of the unflappable Winston Churchill, it’s quite possible Hitler would have held it.
Americans came closest to learning the art of diplomacy during the Cold War when military supremacy was far from assured while mutual destruction was. This was a decades long learning curve, and during that time the Soviet Union and the United States stood at the brink of war, most notably during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But these lessons have limited value in today’s world where there is no superpower to challenge us. Worse, the Cold War proved the Soviets were “rational actors”, something that isn’t assured by countries like North Korea, Iran or terrorist organizations like al Qaeda.
American foreign policy in the Middle East has never been handled well. After World War 2 America imported British policies in the region, then tailored them to fit the realities of the Cold War. These policies favored stable dictatorships that were either friendly enough to host America forces sent to guarantee the West’s oil supply, or at least were friendly enough not to host Soviet forces. The Soviets weren’t stupid, of course, and the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt who assumed a neutral stance towards the superpowers offered them an opportunity to expand their influence throughout the Arab world. Although officially non-aligned, the Egyptians followed policies that for all intents and purposes matched those of the Soviets, provoking the Eisenhower administration to isolate Nasser by supporting the Saudis as a counter-weight in the region. Thus began the alliance between the Saudis and the Americans, an alliance that has dictated policies by both governing parties over the next 50 years.
Has this policy benefited the United States? The Saudi monarchy and its supporting administrations have proven to be master diplomats. They’ve had to be because they have a valuable resource in a dangerous area and have limited means to defend it. The Saudis took power in the Arab peninsula by first co-opting the Wahhabi preachers prevalent in the area, then kept them under control by providing them a portion of the oil wealth they could use to spread their version of Islam around the world.
Wahhabi Islam is the most intolerant religious sect in the modern world. Imagine the Westboro Baptist Church with tens of millions of followers and billions of dollars yearly at its disposal, and even this analogy is limited due to the WBC’s non-violent teachings compared to the exhortations to violence that regularly appear in Wahhibi sermons and commentary. Yes WBC hold signs at military funerals stating “God Hates Fags,” but they don’t execute suspected homosexuals as the Wahhabis do.
Islam is a conversion-based religion, spreading throughout Asia and Africa and laying siege to Christian Eur0pe first in Spain and later in Eastern Europe. As Islam spread it changed as most conversion based religions do, incorporating customs and traditions of the natives, thereby making it more desirable to the locals at the expense of doctrine. Also lacking a central authority unlike Christianity, numerous strains of Islam appeared, making the Islam of Indonesia different from the Islam of India, which was different from the Islam of Iran which itself differed from the Islam of the Arab nations.
The Wahhabis took their opportunity to re-establish purity and achieve Mohammed’s dream of a global Caliphate by sending well-funded (thanks to Saudi money) missionaries to set up Wahhabi mosques and schools throughout the world, paying special attention to countries with large communities of Muslims. The Wahhabi missionaries would arrive in a community flush with cash, then set up a new mosque and madrassa preaching Wahhabi teachings. These mosques and schools could provide education and services that outcompeted the existing mosques and schools since these relied upon local funding to survive. The result has been the radicalizing of Muslims in previously multi-religious societies throughout Africa and Asia. Countries where Muslims and Christians had lived intermingled for years suddenly experienced religious strife such as has happened in Indonesia and most recently Kenya and Tanzania.
American foreign policy seems filled with ironies, and none is perhaps as ironic as the fact that the United States supported the Saudis to fight the existential threat of communism during the Cold War, only to create the existential threat of religious intolerance-bred terrorism.
The only thing that has kept Saudi Arabia from appearing on the list of states sponsors of terrorism has been its alliance with the United States. This alliance goes very deep, and the likelihood of its rupture is minimal. The Saudis have built deep personal ties with American leaders in politics, business and academia in their effort to sway American policy to favor their kingdom. The relationship has weathered Saudi sponsored terror attacks including 9-11 and the funding of Sunni militias in Iraq that killed hundreds of American soldiers. So far these ties and the influence that comes with it have convinced the Americans to defend Saudi Arabia from Saddam in Iraq and an Iranian regime seeking nuclear weapons. In a private comment released by Wikileaks former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the Saudis were willing to fight the Iranians to the last American, yet American leaders have been more than willing to give Saudi Arabia a pass on its sponsorship of terrorism while focusing on such sponsorship by its Shiite nemesis Iran.
Into this complicated situation America has elected its most inexperienced, arrogant and incompetent leader since before the Civil War. The Obama administration’s policy failures in the Middle East, from its failure to secure the peace in Iraq, through its naïve support of the Arab Spring to the gross mishandling of the civil war in Syria has destabilized the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. The selection of Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran has presented a tempting diplomatic opportunity for the United States, one that President Obama seems to be entertaining, as Rouhani makes tempting noises in the press about normalized relations with the West.
Is a normalized relationship with Iran worth entertaining? First, there is no doubt that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism, whether through its own Revolutionary Guard or through its support of Hezbollah. There also is no doubt Iran has American blood on its hands. But Shi’a Islam is nowhere near as intolerant a sect of Islam as Wahhabi Islam. Iran is much more tolerant of other faiths than Saudi Arabia, and has not built an industry out of sponsoring mosques and madrassas to inspire hatred of other faiths and sects. Traditionally Shi’a Islam also has something roughly akin to a separation between Church and State, something that the Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei have downplayed in order to maintain clerical supremacy of Iranian society. In the long run it is unlikely that Iran would present the existential threat to the United States that the Saudis have through their support of Wahhabism, and would likely be more amenable to taking a slower track towards nuclear weapons.
This is what Obama likely sees, and its a vision that in the eyes of a worthy leader could change history for the better. But Obama is not that leader.
Obama is desperate for success, and like any man who is desperate he will reach for anything. The Iranians know this which is why they are making gestures towards the current administration. They smell Obama’s desperation, and see an easy opportunity to separate the United States from its traditional Saudi and Israeli allies. They will negotiate from a position of strength, guaranteeing any diplomatic successes will only be attained through great cost by American negotiators.Is the Saudi relationship on the table? Perhaps not wholesale but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to put some daylight between the Saudis along with the Israelis and the American regime.
Given this administration’s track record, such offers should not be surprising. Look at the deal Putin got out of the President. The diplomatic community hasn’t seen a come-down like that since Carter tried rescuing the hostages in 1980. Obama’s idea of political horsetrading is making a speech. He’d be unable to get a good deal on a used car lot let alone in the international arena where regimes like the Saudis, Israel and Iran are fighting for their very existences.
There will come a time when America can strike a deal with Iran that will benefit both nations, but now is not that time. Such a time will only come when the situation is reversed, when America is negotiating from a position of strength and the Iranians are weak. Such a deal would likely see the United States freed from Saudi influence of its policies, allowing it to see the existential threat that the oil rich kingdom has unleashed on the world for what it is. Such an event would inevitably lead to the downfall of the House of Saud which is the policy Americans should have been pursuing all along since the end of the Cold War.
Now is not that time.
UPDATE: As usual Michael Totten explains why we should “Beware Persian Leaders with Masks” better than me, pointing out that Rouhani is not the leader of Iran: “Seriously, getting excited about Rouhani is a like foreign heads of state swooning when the United States gets a new Senate Majority Leader.”
1. I do not believe the US should fight wars for Saudi Arabia. By sponsoring Wahhabi Islam throughout the world our supposed “ally” in the Middle East should be treated as an enemy. If we cannot recognize that truth, the least we can do is allow it to fight its own battles. It has plenty of money to send suicide bombers to Syria. Let them martyr themselves there. Better Damascus than Denver.
2. I do not trust this administration to wage war. I do not believe Obama and his advisors understand warfare. Judging by their actions they have shown complete ignorance of the concept. Has anyone in the administration read Machiavelli, Clausewitz or Sun Tzu? For a bunch of supposedly smart people they sure have acted stupidly. If one has any doubt, look at Libya, Afghanistan and post-Bush Iraq.
3. I do not want America to become al Qaeda’s air force. There was a time two years ago when there were good guys (of a sort) among the rebels, but the administration ignored them, choosing instead to do nothing and hope the problem would go away.
4. I do not believe the US should attack a nation solely to protect Obama’s prestige. American prestige has already been decimated by the unprofessional statecraft of this administration. It cannot go much lower. President Obama made his bed, he should lie in it – for the next 3 years.
5. I do not believe the US should be the world’s policeman. I do not think one should have to apologize when a nation acts in its own best interest. That’s what nations are supposed to do. Regimes that don’t usually don’t last very long. The US has an interest in preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and intervention two years ago might have convinced the mullahs that we meant business and encouraged them to pursue peaceful nuclear development. But that line of reasoning has already been lost; the Iranians view American threats as empty so it will be up to the US to prove that otherwise sometime in the future. Unfortunately for the Syrian people that time is not now. The US has no interest to protect by intervening in their country. There is no rebel movement to back, no clear replacement to Assad besides fanaticism and chaos in the heart of the Middle East. While I personally empathize with the suffering of the Syrian people, I do not believe my people should sacrifice for them. Sad perhaps but true.