Archive for the ‘Islam’ Category.
I chatted to a friend of mine this morning over what’s been going on in Gaza. He’s Jewish and was quite critical of Israel in a post on Facebook. Instead of commenting on his post, I messaged him, and we went back and forth regarding Israel. Our discussion made me realize how American Jews simply do not get Israel. They don’t fully comprehend what Israel is about. American Jews have had it easy for the past few generations. It’s been a long time since discrimination against Jews was common, and anti-Semitism has been a low key affair here in the USA when compared to Europe and the Middle East.
There have always been some Jews that were Zionists, that felt a deep seated, often faith-based need for the establishment of the state of Israel. But it wasn’t until the Russian Pogroms at the turn of the century followed by the spike of anti-Semitism in continental Europe that culminated in the Holocaust that a majority of Jews understood the necessity of Israel. For two millennia Jews had relied upon “blending in”, compromising whenever necessary, and relying upon the humanity of non-Jews for their existence. But the Russian Pogroms followed by the Holocaust proved the bankruptcy of such beliefs. Jews might be safe for awhile, but they could never rely upon non-Jews for their very existence. Hitler proved the fragility of the Jewish people, how easily their situation in the Diaspora could turn from success and prosperity to survival overnight.
Hitler and the Nazis did not arise from nothing. The only difference between them and the various kings and queens who expelled or sanctioned the slaughter of Jews since the fall of the Roman Empire was scale. Queen Isabella would surely have used train cars to expel the Jews from Spain had they existed in the 15th century, and the Czars would have resorted to the gas chambers had they the technical know-how of 20th century Germany. To the survivors of the Holocaust “Never Again” didn’t mean the world should never allow mass murder on the scale of the Holocaust, for the Jewish community it was a warning that never again should the Jews entrust their survival to anyone but themselves.
The State of Israel promised that no matter how bad things got in the Diaspora, every Jew had a home, a place of safety, a “plan B” for when things got bad and the disease of Jew Hating arose. For over 60 years Israel has provided that plan B to all Jews no questions asked, and hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Soviet Union to Ethiopia have taken Israel up on the offer.
American Jews of today don’t understand the need for this. Generations have grow up in a culture where not only are Jews accepted, individuals are celebrated. Instead of seeing Jews as “Christ killers” conservative American Christians see Jews as co-religionists and view Israel as proof of the promise and power of G-d’s Word. But through the centuries Jews have enjoyed such prosperity, success and even celebration in places where they were later slaughtered.
The signs are already here. While the fundamentalist Christian sects remain strong Israel supporters, the more liberal Christian sects are falling prey to leftist ideology that embraces anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism and the cause of the Palestinians. Jewish students are increasingly harassed on college campuses. Yarmulka wearers are attacked. As the BDS movement evolves the distinction between Israeli policy towards the Palestinians and Judaism itself becomes erased. Jew Hatred is so deeply embedded in Western Society that it doesn’t take much for it to arise to the surface. America has a long tradition of Jew Hatred; we just haven’t reverted to type just yet. But we will, and once the disease infects the moderates and eventually the Right, American Jews will learn what “never again” truly meant, but as usual they will only learn it the hard way.
There will always be non-Jews like me who support Judaism for various reasons. Are American Jews ready to rely upon the likes of me for their safety and survival? I would hope not. American Jews need Israel more than I do. It’s their Plan B, there for them when the s**t hits the fan and they need to get out quick. But it will only be there for them if they support it every time it needs them to.
Recently a very good friend of mine asked me about some statements I’ve made about Kirsten Powers’s conversion to evangelical Christianity. I enjoyed her role as the lone lefty Special Report with Bret Baier on Fox News. I’ve always found that position to be a tough one and tend to respect the liberal who is willing to sit there (I’m also a fan of Juan Williams who has appeared there numerous times).
I do like Powers, particularly for her work on the Kermit Gosnell case. Although I am both pro-choice and pro-life (it’s not as untenable a position as either side thinks) I found the MSM’s avoidance of reporting on the case typical. Powers’s reporting was necessary and must have been tough for her, and I wonder if her experience sitting in the courtroom and seeing pictures and video of Gosnell’s atrocities played a role in her conversion.
As I’ve grown older I’ve tended to avoid images of brutality. When I was younger I could stomach the horrors of concentration camp movie reel footage, but now when I happen upon these images today I simply lack the stomach for it. I feel that because of my past exposure I don’t need to see such imagery again. I haven’t forgotten the suffering of the Holocaust, and it shows through my unwavering support of Israel and the Jewish people. Yesterday I caught Nazi newsreel footage of Jews being herded into cattle cars, then their processing upon arrival in the concentration camps, cans of zyklon B, a still smouldering skeleton in a crematorium. I cannot learn anything more from these images except to deeply despise idiots like Toure Neblet for suggesting the Jews survived the concentration camps and came to the US because of the “power of whiteness.”
As for Christianity, I’m still an agnostic on my best days, atheist on my worst. But I do not share the Left’s animus against Christianity, especially considering the latitude it gives Islam. Only the Left’s rejection of Christianity can explain its alliance with political Islam, a religion that has no divide between church and state, treats women poorly and executes homosexuals, though I am somewhat encouraged by the Left’s boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
But I am still what the Jesuits educated me to be: suspicious of organized religion of all types just some more than others. Boko Haram, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Al-Qaeda. These are not Christian outfits, and the best the Left can come up with is Westboro Baptist Church – which hasn’t exploded any airplanes, thrown grenades in any markets, or fired any missiles. When evangelical Christians start kidnapping girls and firing rockets into Israel, perhaps I’ll reconsider my view that they are relatively harmless.
Samuel Tadros writing for American Interest explains why anti-Semitism permeates Egyptian thought.
Egypt’s modern history is the story of continued failure: failure to modernize, failure to deliver the promised salvation to the masses, failure to better their miserable conditions, and above all the failure of a country to find the place it believes it deserves under the sun. Defeats, failures, and disappointments have taken their toll on the people. Only the existence of a Jewish conspiracy against Egypt, Arabs, and Islam can offer them solace. Only by believing that the Jews are responsible for their miserable conditions can they find comfort.
Read the entire thing.
Let me state flat out that I like gay people. I’ve grown up with gay people, and a good chunk of my friends are gay. Having lived a rather unconventional and at times Bohemian life embedded in “gay culture” homosexuals don’t scare me a wit. They are first and foremost people, and like people most are decent human beings while others are less so. But the ones who are complete jerks aren’t that way because they’re gay/bisexual or what have you. They’re that way because they’re just asshats.
Until the State gets out of the marriage business, as far as I’m concerned they should be able to marry or not marry whomever they want. The Law is a blunt and crude instrument which is why I would prefer our society limited it – something it has never done. Laws stay on the books long past the time when people remember why they were made in the first place. So until that time comes and we cut back the thicket of laws that threaten to choke our society, I don’t see what harm gay marriage does to our Society that heterosexual marriage hasn’t already accomplished. I grew up in the 197o’s when divorce became common, and witnessed second-hand the devastation of my friend’s lives. Sorry, no-fault divorce ruined Marriage and the American family. Gays can’t possibly harm them any worse.
But a recent debate among my liberal friends sparked by the discovery of a dissenter in their midst, got me thinking. The issue involved the Colorado case where a bakery refused to do a wedding cake for a gay couple. One of them had posted their idea of a cake done to placate the suing couple and abide by the law. Needless to say, it wasn’t something edible.
Living in Asia taught me a thing or two about people. First, whites aren’t the only group on the planet that are racist. It’s a human thing; people seem programmed to trust someone that looks and acts like them versus someone who looks or acts differently. In Korea I was refused service by cabbies and kicked out of restaurants. In Japan the Wife and I had trouble finding a landlord willing to rent to us because we were gaijin on top of the day to day stares, epithets and other rude behavior that’s visited on foreigners there. But some of the Japanese were terribly nice. I had complete strangers help me out of many jams, including a salaryman who was willing to hand me a phone card so that I could call an airline to notify them I was late for a flight. In the end while they were in the minority, the kindness shown to me by the Japanese made up for the majority of those who ignored me or treated me disrespectfully.
I didn’t patronize the restaurants where foreigners weren’t wanted. There were plenty of places that enjoyed the traffic of foreigners, so there was no reason for me to stamp my feet and insist one particular restaurant serve me. I simply too my business elsewhere. I understood that there was no way I was going to change their minds about foreigners or Americans, so I just left them alone. There were others to choose from.
And that’s what bothers me about the ruling. You can’t legislate a change of heart. There is no way you are going to make that baker respect homosexuals by threatening him with fines. Today a black man can walk into any bar he wants and the law backs him up. But there are still bars in this country where a black man would not want to go because he’s not going to be shown common courtesy. It can go the other way too; Spike Lee is getting heat for his racist attitude toward white people who are moving into his old neighborhood and changing its character, and there are hip-hop clubs where white people aren’t welcome. How would suing a red-neck bar or a hip-hop club change attitudes?
One could argue that by forcing bigots to change their actions they will over time make them see the error of their ways. To me it’s a variation of the “they don’t like us because they don’t understand us” idea, a myth that originates 500 years ago in the writings of Erasmus. Erasmus saw ignorance as the root of all evil, and knowledge as its opposite. Education held the power to enlighten the ignorant and Erasmus assumed that even the most illiterate and ignorant savage would be transformed into a humanist given the right education. History since Erasmus has been pocked with well-educated savages and bigots including Pol Pot, who attended a French electrical engineering school, Josef Stalin who attended seminary, and most recently jihadi leaders such as Osama Bin-Laden, who received a civil engineering degree in 1979, and Ayman Zawahiri who finished medical school in Cairo. The assumption that people hate out of ignorance is itself an assumption based on the feelings of cultural superiority of the group being hated.
Members of the group cannot accept that a bigot may know and understand them plenty yet still hate them, but I doubt blacks and Jews have this problem. Many of the most die-hard racists in the American South grew up with black people and were very familiar with black culture and personally knew black people, but that didn’t stop them from opposing Civil Rights or the end of Jim Crow laws. Jews lived throughout central and eastern Europe almost completely integrated into the fabric of these societies yet that did nothing to stop their neighbors from turning them over to the Nazis during the Holocaust. Perhaps it’s an expectation held only by those of privilege who find themselves suddenly in a new minority such as white men who come out gay.
Even Andrew Sullivan has come out against the ruling. “Leave the fundamentalists and bigots alone. In any marketplace in a diverse society, they will suffer economically by refusing and alienating some customers, their families and their friends.” I doubt I’ve agreed with him once since his neo-con days.
Look, I’m not saying being gay in America is easy. Having lived in gay neighborhoods and seen my gay friends suffer everything from being shunned by their families to wilding attacks, I don’t buy the common right-wing arguments that people “choose” the “gay lifestyle.” Gay people in America still suffer.
But guess what? So do women. So do Jews. So do black people. And yes, so do white men. No group holds a lock on the “victim” label, but the ones who have held it the longest succeed without employing it. The Stonewall Riots weren’t that long ago in cultural terms. What has been achieved in less than half a century is cause for gay pride, but whining to the government over a wedding cake at a time when gays are being jailed in Africa, attacked in Russia, and even areas of formerly safe cities such as London’s East End should gave American gays pause. It’s a very dangerous world out there, and becoming more so as Islam replaces liberal Christianity and Judaism in Europe. Perhaps some perspective is needed.
As Andrew Sullivan notes, gay people can make the bigots suffer simply by avoiding their businesses. Gays tend to have smaller families and often have two incomes, meaning that they have higher disposable incomes. Gays also tend to be loyal with their business, supporting those that treat them respectfully while avoiding those which don’t. Few businesses have the balance sheets that can afford cutting off an entire segment of customers, but in my view it a baker doesn’t want a gay couple’s cash, then he or she shouldn’t be forced by the government to take it.
I decided to clean out my draft folder as part of my end-of-year housecleaning, a practice I picked up while living in Japan where housewives work hard to start the New Year with a clean house in contrast to the western practice of waiting until the end of Winter. Writing for this journal doesn’t follow any particular routine. Sometimes the words flow; other times each one comes out snarling and biting. Often I’ll start a post without knowing where it’s going, only finding in retrospect what my subconscious had planned. What follows are posts where I thought I knew where they were headed only to find myself stranded in a desert without a map or cell phone coverage. Here are the results.
The Clash of Western and Islamic Values – Part 2 – April 2013
The first part of this series is here.
The First Amendment of the US Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This has come to be interpreted as the separation of Church and State put forth by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 in which Jefferson wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
Secular Christians can trace this doctrine back even further, to Jesus Christ’s answer to the Pharisees seeking to entrap him. “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Show me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.” Matthew 22:15-22. This doctrine was later expanded upon by St. Augustine writing four centuries later noting the differences between an “earthly city” and the “City of God.” Martin Luther took St. Augustine’s ideas even further in his Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms which postulated that God worked his will through secular institutions as well as through divine acts. Luther also promoted secularism in his book “On Secular Authority,” writing that a government could not force spiritual beliefs on someone because such beliefs would be held insincerely and would therefore be invalid in God’s eyes. Luther’s ideas would then be picked up by John Calvin and other Protestant reformers, and later James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in the United States.
Even with a relatively clear and consistent philosophical lineage the United States has struggled with the concept of separation of Church and State almost since its inception. For the first hundred years of the Republic the First Amendment was viewed as applying specifically to the federal government; states were free establish official religions. Massachusetts supported Congregationalism until 1833. States continued supporting religion by enacting Blue Laws, abiding by religious holidays and providing other public concessions to religious groups. The Supreme Court finally began to weigh in on the issue, ruling in Reynolds v. United States (1878) that state laws prohibiting bigamy trumped religious laws (Mormonism in this case) that allowed it. It banned school prayer in public schools in its rulings in Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963). Since then the Supreme Court has delineated a distinct line between religion and secular society. Nevertheless that line continues to be defined by lawsuits challenging the legality of public religious displays and the wearing of religious head coverings on the job.
Islam is quite different…
Classic Parables Revisited: Teach A Man To Fish: April 2013
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie
Sir, why where did you get that fish? Do you have a fishing license? Sir. Turn around. TURN AROUND! HANDS ON YOUR HEAD! NOW ON YOUR KNEES! ON YOUR F***ING KNEES SIR!... You have the right to remain silent…
Give a man a fish, unless he’s a vegan in which case you might want to consider a protein substitute such as soy or seitan. I’m not sure about the rest of the parable though since both require extensive farming and production skills.
Give a man a fish? Sure go right ahead and pull a helpless animal out from its environment and murder it. How would you like it if a being plucked you out of your house, suffocated you and laid you on a plate, you speciesist!
Give a man a fish, but only after obtaining the necessary permits from the Interior Department and your state’s Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Since you will not be consuming this fish, you will therefore have to acquire permits for safe food handling and storage. Was the fish immediately refrigerated upon its catch? Can you guarantee that everyone who touched the fish did so with clean gloved hands? Has the fish itself been tested for toxins, particularly mercury which tends to accumulate in the food chain? As a food distributor you will also be subject to additional local, state and federal laws controlling the safe distribution of foodstuffs. Have your facilities been inspected by these relevant authorities and have the forms been filled out? Can you prove with 100% accuracy and certainty that all documentation of your seafood distribution service is on file with the appropriate state, local and federal authorities?
Give a man a fish just make sure both you and the man claim it on your taxes, otherwise he could be subject to penalties including fines and jail time for failure to report income.
Give a man a fish? How about a woman or those of undetermined gender? Would you have them starve – or do you relish your traditional role in a male-dominated hierarchy as provider?
Why I’m a Gun Owner and Member of the NRA - May 2013
I grew up in suburban St. Louis in a household that never owned guns. My father served in the Philippines in World War 2 and brought back a Japanese sword as a souvenir, which he sold for a pittance in 1972 because he was afraid I’d find it and hurt myself with it. During my teens it was probably a good thing that I didn’t have access to a gun because I suffered from depression after surviving several deaths in my family including that of my father. I was different, nerdy and bookish in a world before nerds became billionaires and elevated their social status. Dungeons and Dragons? I played it for nights on end. Science Fiction? Some of the best books I’ve ever read.
I attended college in San Diego. I worked part time at a video store in La Jolla, and was robbed at gunpoint for $500 and two videotapes while making $4.25/hour. I was so scared I couldn’t leave my apartment for three days and ended up quitting my job. I lived in a gay neighborhood in San Diego although not gay myself. As a social outcast I had like many found acquaintances with other social misfits and out-of-the-closet gays have always been a welcoming group for those who accept them for who they are. One summer a group of youths were attacking gay men with baseball bats, and killed an 18 year old boy a block away from my apartment. It was the first time in my life I ever considered owning a gun because just how is a single person going to fight off a gang of toughs? And they weren’t asking questions to verify their target was a homosexual, like “Can you name the bar where Liza Minelli’s character sings in Cabaret?” Or “Who is the Divine Miss M?” (Answers: Kit-Kat Klub, Bette Midler) I ended up attending a candle-light vigil in his memory soon after, and marched in a parade against gay bashing although the attacks continued. I left San Diego and the country soon afterward.
In Tanzania we lived in an extremely isolated research camp on Lake Tanganyika accessible only by a 6 hour trip by speedboat. The greatest threat we faced there was leopards. The Wife found a large male a few times on the trails, and I walked into a female with cubs on a path alone one day. She growled, and I froze before slowly edging backwards out of sight and running like hell back to camp. There were no guns where we were, even though we lived among wild chimpanzees and other African animals that place humans on the menu, with hippos being the greatest threat we faced while traveling the lake. About two years after our stay the camp was raided and researchers were held hostage by Congolese pirates, and since then researchers have had armed guards on site.
After returning to Delaware a friend of mine got me interested in target shooting, but I didn’t shoot or own a gun for years. During that time I came out of my bank and passed a black woman wearing a full burqa going into the neighboring bank. I learned later that she robbed it. I was also once behind a man at a local WaWa who had numerous Nazi and white power tattoos on his neck and face. My gut instincts were going wild; the guy was clearly such bad news and I half expected him to rob the store. He didn’t, was polite to the black cashier and left. I couldn’t get out of the store fast enough. A few days later three black women were attacked while on their way home from church in downstate Delaware. The suspect in custody was the tattooed Nazi at the Wawa.
I took up target shooting because of the challenge. That friend of mine told me with practice everyone can achieve 90% mastery of a firearm, but every point of that last 10% requires much more. It’s just you and the target, with the variable being you. The gun can be sighted and turned into a constant. Ditto the ammunition which is so precisely made that any two rounds in a box will fire with the same velocity. It is all about breathing, self-control, awareness – all very familiar to anyone who has studied Zen. When in the zone, there is nothing else but you and the target. The gun becomes just a means for you to place the hole you see in your mind on the paper target down range. A bystander would think it’s nuts to speak about Zen and mindfulness with guns, but you have to experience both to believe it for yourself and see that it’s really not as crazy as it seems. I just wish I was better at both. I indulged myself with a membership at an indoor range, and the Kid and I would go once or twice a week to try different guns.
I didn’t purchase my first firearm until just before we moved to rural North Carolina in 2009. It was a Marlin .22 bolt-action rifle with scope, a good beginning gun according to the salesman at the gun range. It proved to be a very good gun, easy to learn on and very easy to get acquainted with the responsibilities that come with gun ownership. Renting a gun at the range was easy compared to ownership. Owning a gun meant that I had to clean it, zero-in the sights, and most importantly keep it safely. That meant storing it unloaded at all times with a locked cable running through the action with the key on my person but not on my key ring to keep it hidden.
The .22 led to to a pump action shotgun, a New England Arms 20 gauge that introduced us to skeet shooting. Shooting a moving target is much more of a challenge than a stationary one, and the Kid excelled at it shooting much better than me. Later we traded that shotgun in for a 12 gauge over/under when he joined the shooting team at his high school.
The third gun was a S&W M&P 15-22. This gun looks like an M-16 to the uneducated eye and use a 25 round magazine. Technically this is an assault rifle, although it’s difficult for me to consider as such. It is best used for target practice at close range (50-100 yards) with iron sights.
I then purchased a Ruger Mini-14, my first large caliber (.223 or 5.56mm) rifle that could be considered a true assault rifle. It is a serious gun that I originally bought to set off exploding targets but then proved useful in the bit of drama that I can’t go into detail about. It was this event that brought home the seriousness of guns for self-protection. The time between the 911 call and the arrival of the police was too long and during that time we were in extreme danger. At the time I couldn’t determine whether the person I was helping was a threat or not, so I had to keep him outside where I could watch him as well as look out for the threat he had escaped from. I looked into the foggy darkness surrounding our home and I wanted the ability to if necessary throw up a curtain of lead. For that reason I purchased the Saiga 12 with extended magazine. The Saiga 12 is a Russia semi-automatic shotgun modeled on the AK-47. With a large cap magazine, it could done exactly what I needed that night where my targets would have been shapes moving through the dark fog. I purchased it soon after the incident and added a drum barrel that holds 20 rounds, a mix of slugs and 00 buck shot.
Another need the drama pointed out was a secondary weapon, a handgun. I am not a big fan of handguns because they are much more prone to accidents than a rifle. But the incident showed a need for something small that I could resort to if I became separated from my rifle. To that end I have become a serious fan of Glocks which are guaranteed not to fail when you need them the most.
What is almost impossible for anyone who is not familiar with guns to understand is that all guns are not equal. Just because you have a gun doesn’t mean you can protect yourself or your family. For example, the Marlin is a great gun for shooting paper targets but at close range its scope is a hindrance to aiming as is the small capacity magazine. The .22 round is five one hundredths of an inch larger than a pellet fired from a pellet gun, and although it has more force behind it than its air-powered cousin, it lacks stopping power. On adrenaline or meth chances are a bad guy is not going to feel the round unless it penetrates his skull or chest. Even the M&P15-22, an assault rifle in .22 caliber is best employed against a squirrel invasion. Against a group of armed attackers it would be pretty much useless…
Power Outage: June 2013
My son alerted me to the coming storm with a cell phone call. “Are you off the road?” I asked, and he replied that the rain and wind were so bad he had pulled off into a parking lot. I told him to stay put until the worst had passed and hung up. I was driving home and saw the heavy black clouds above the Blue Ridge mountains. There’s dark blue storm clouds and then there’s black, and I knew whatever was heading my way was bad. This was confirmed by two alert on the cell phone, warning of severe storms and a tornado watch. At least the Kid was safe, as was the Wife, so I raced home to beat the storm.
It came quicker than expected sweeping through and knocking out power as it did so. Almost as soon as it began it was over. There was little rain that came with the storm, and looking out my office window I didn’t see much, so I stepped outside. Damage was worse than I thought. The ground was littered with small branches and leaves. The gas grill had been blown from one side of the deck to another. Several small trees had snapped behind the house, opening up a gap into the forest behind it. I took the car down the drive and found that several trees had fallen blocking my exit to the road. I drove back to the shed, grabbed a chain saw and as the rain and wind picked up I began cutting up the toppled and snapped Virginia Pines and Pin Oaks. Lightning crackled in the clouds above me, but there’s something about feeling trapped on your own property that stills the fear it would normally cause. In its place was dread, though. These straight line winds are bad in this part of America, earning them their own name: derecho. If things were this bad in my area, I expected them to be worse elsewhere. And I was right. At its height over 120,000 people were without power in central North Carolina.
Power outages are no fun no matter where you are, but they are worse in rural areas simply because when the power goes out, so does access to clean water since most of us rely upon electrically powered well pumps. Suddenly all those little life tasks one takes for granted like brushing one’s teeth or showering after working up a sweat in the garden become problematic. After four years here I had stored a few cases of drinking water in the basement, so I brought them up, instinctively and futilely clicking the light switch as I headed down into the dark basement. I used the dim light from my phone to guide me through the labyrinth that the basement had become in darkness, and retrieved the water, small plastic 500 ml bottles that aren’t the easiest thing to use for anything other than drinking.
The first night showering was not a problem for anyone but me, so I drove the ATV down to the pond with a bar of soap and towel. The pond is fed by runoff and has all kinds of critters in it including large carp and the occasional copperhead and snapping turtle, all things that a man considers especially carefully when stripping down and jumping into the shallows. My feet sank deeply into the muck but the water was warm and the fading sky ablaze with sunset. I had taken similar baths when I was much younger for a complete year in Africa, and there was a certain satisfaction from bathing naked in one’s own pond on one’s own property shielded on all sides by one’s own woods and hills.
The night was spent fitfully even though the storm had brought cooler temperatures. The Kid was hanging outside with a buddy, fishing in the pond in the middle of the night, listening to music on the car stereo, and other things, each of which sent the outside dogs into a panic. Animals are especially sensitive to rhythms and the power outage had thrown everyone’s off. The teens messing around outside sent the dogs into frenzies at various points in the night. Even after the kids had settled down the dogs were hyper alert, barking at anything and everything. This kept me in a constant state of low-level awareness as I lay half-awake in bed, waiting for the air conditioner to kick in, the ceiling fan to whirl, and the phone to beep – all sings of a return to normality.
But those signs hadn’t come yet in the morning, and the world doesn’t stop for those who haven’t slept well or been able to shower with clean water. Another problem reared itself: toilet flushing. It didn’t take too many flushes to release all the residual pressure from the water pipes, presenting us with another challenge. I took the ATV down to the pond with several buckets and an empty trashcan, filled the latter and brought it back up to the house. I then dispensed full buckets of pond water to the bathrooms to be used for flushing. Hand washing was another matter, and the small water bottles weren’t particularly up to the task but sufficed.
Then there was work. I ended up going to the Wife’s office but was refused usage of the secure wi-fi and the public was down, as was power to half of the town. Reports rolled in of people losing entire freezers full of deer, beef, chicken and other meats. The local Wal-Mart lost it’s entire frozen and refrigerated food sections, a loss of tens of thousands of dollars. “It’s such a waste,” the Wife said about the lost food, but what choice did anyone have? At least her office had electricity, so I rigged up my cell phone as a wi-fi hotspot, boosting my Verizon bill by $20 but allowing me to connect to my laptop to the servers it needs in order for me to work.
After 24 hours things were starting to look pretty grim. No power had been restored anywhere in the nearby counties as work focused in the cities and suburbs of Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Rural communities sent their linemen and trucks to help return service to those areas while their own homes and families remained in the dark. The power company said most service would be restored after 4 days but warned that some might be without power for longer. The hotels in the area, at least the ones with power, began filling up, but on a holiday weekend at the busiest time for weddings there weren’t many spare rooms to begin with. Instead we sent the Kid off to spend the night at a friend’s, and the Wife and I hunkered down for another sleepless night in the dark on our property.
The next morning…
I’m fascinated by disaster and failure. I’m not talking natural disaster; although fascinating in themselves (who around back then does not recall when Mount St. Helens blew up in 1980?) natural disasters don’t provide teachable moments the way a man-made failure or disaster does. Soon the Discovery Channel and The Science Channel will simulcast a scripted movie about the Challenger disaster. The movie is based on Dr. Richard Feynman’s memoir “What Do You Care What Other People Think” and will invariably show how Science and the human analytical mind went from a cloud of smoke and debris at 50,000 feet to the reason for the disaster: an O-ring seal in a solid rocket booster. Such failure analysis is why travel on large aluminum jets is the safest method of transportation in human history, going from perhaps the deadliest form of transport to the safest in less than a century. Such success came about through hard detective work the scene of each disaster, followed by a long period of investigation and analysis where the failure was pinpointed and most importantly, having the lessons learned applied to the rest of the industry.
The bible for those interested in the study of failure is German professor Dietrich Dorner’s 1996 book, The Logic of Failure. The book is based on a set of cognitive experiments done with software simulating a small town’s society in the US, and a fictional area in the Sahel. The studies found that while participants came from varied walks of life and backgrounds, “People court failure in predictable ways.” It then ties the experiments to real life failures such as the nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl. As a systems analyst involved with complex multi-million dollar software development programs, I consider the book “must reading” for everyone in IT. Feel free to pass along a copy to those behind the Obamacare rollout.
Five years ago the people of Iraq had, thanks to the blood of thousands of American and allied soldiers, achieved a level of freedom unparalleled in their history. The national sport of kite flying was legal again and girls headed to school in Afghanistan. al Qaeda and its affiliates were on the run and confined to lawless patches in northern Pakistan, northern Nigeria and Somalia. Iran was boxed in between biting sanctions that undermined the regime internally, successful American military operations on either side of it, and an Israel ready, willing and backed by American leadership to attack Iran to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons. China was busy flooding the world with cheap crap, content to use North Korea as its proxy to stir up trouble in favor of the regime in Beijing. Our relationship with Russia had begun drifting away from engagement towards confrontation over its aggression towards Georgia, but Russia was clearly a state in decline both internally and internationally. Even Syria was seen as a player, with Democrats having genuflected at Bashir Assad’s feet, Nancy Pelosi having claimed “the road to peace begins in Damascus” in 2007, four years before Vogue’s schmaltzy interview with the Assad family, “A Rose In the Desert.”
Today Iraq is a client state of Iran, its skies filled with Iranian cargo planes resupplying the Assad regime in Syria and Hezballah in Lebanon, its social fabric once again ripped by car bombs as the Sunni/Shi’a war rages on the ground. The Obama administration, convinced of its failure before it took office walked away from American success in Iraq by its refusal to negotiate a status of forces agreement with Baghdad. Historians will one day ask “Who lost Iraq?” and the answer will be Barack Obama. Immediately after setting up their base in Afghanistan in 2001, the Marines buried a piece of steel taken from the World Trade Center rubble on the site. Soon the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies will reclaim this as a war trophy as the kites and girls disappear from the streets, and the music that has filled the air in Kabul since 2001 will be replaced once again with silence punctuated by gunfire and explosions. Again historians will ask “Who condemned these people to savagery? Who lost Afghanistan?” Again the answer will be President Obama, a man who once called Afghanistan “the good war.”
After taking power President Obama fluttered around the world on what critics like me called his “Apology tour,” apologizing for American misdeeds both real and imagined, in the belief that the new-found humility would please our friends and sway our enemies. The Obama Administration has accomplished exactly the opposite. Today Iran is expanding its “Shi’a Crescent” throughout the Middle East, and the only ones standing in the way is Israel in an unlikely (and unspoken) alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. This after a popular rebellion took the streets in 2009 that could have changed the course of History, but it received no hint of support or backing from the Obama administration and it was ruthlessly crushed. It will be decades before the people rise up against the theocracy, if they ever do.
Today from Morocco across northern Africa to the Sinai, and from Nigeria across the continent to Somalia Africa burns with Muslim extremists allied with al Qaeda. Obama’s support of the rebellion to replace Mohammar Khaddafi in Libya has opened a Pandora’s Box of weaponry built over decades by Libya’s Great Loon, handing AK-47s, RPGs, and anti-aircraft missiles to everyone with an axe to grind and a Koran burning a hole in their hearts. Where there had been one failed state 5 years ago, Somalia, there are now at least 3 (Somalia, Mali, Libya) with numerous others (Algeria, Chad, Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Western Sahara) circling the drain. After Khaddafi’s fall al Qaeda training camps sprouted like mushrooms across North Africa and the Sub-Sahara, breathing the lawlessness that the Libyan Debacle created, and repaying the Obama administration for its “lead from behind” strategy by killing an American ambassador and his three bodyguards in the first such incident in 30 years.
Although the administration’s failure vis-a-vis China is not as bad as the disaster it has created in the Middle East, the Obama Doctrine of placating our foes while dissing our friends has been noticed in Asian capitals. South Korea is developing closer ties with China at the same time Japan rearms and prepares to ditch its anti-war constitution ghost written by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Nations like Pakistan who haven’t really decided whether they are American allies or its enemies see no downside to throwing their lots in with the Chinese or Iranians. Pakistan even provides China the tail-section of a top-secret stealth helicopter used in the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden, America’s enemy number 1 watching porn in air conditioned comfort on Pakistani soil. There is no blow-back, no consequences suffered for entertaining the man responsible for the deaths of 3,000 Americans, and none for handing over the tail rotor section to America’s greatest military adversary. And to top it off, the true hero of the event, a local doctor who had the guts to help the Americans confirm Bin Laden’s identity, sits in jail as a traitor to his people. If anything playing up to America’s adversaries almost wins respect from the Obama administration itself. China understands this best, waging a cyber war against the US government and private industry without retribution.
Then there’s Europe. When the Obama Administration hasn’t sacrificed its allies to appease its enemies in Teheran and Moscow, it bugged their phones, proving yet again this administration’s inability to differentiate friend from foe. “Everyone does it,” is not an acceptable excuse for a superpower. There is absolutely no reason the US should be bugging Angela Merkel’s phone just as there is no reason it should be spying on 10 Downing Street. Perhaps the mushy-headedness that comes with moral relativism has blinded the administration to the differences of say, between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, or David Cameron and Ayatollah Khamenei. The “Special Relationship” with the UK is special for a reason, one that is much older than the inhabitants of the West Wing and much more sublime than the political wonks can comprehend. Ditto the German Chancellor. Frau Merkel was born in East Germany and has first hand experience with illegal and unjustified surveillance. Unlike some of her predecessors, she has not risen to power on an anti-American platform, and has done an exemplary job of aligning the interests of Germany with the broader interests of Europe and the United States. Spying on her was a stupid idea that should never have been approved, and once approved, it should have been cancelled, and if not cancelled it should never have been revealed. Yet a contract DBA waltzed off with the keys to the entire American Intelligence in the worst espionage failure since Klaus Fuchs handed the Soviets the Bomb. Again, no consequences. No one fired let alone jailed.
Many on the right have concluded that this is all by plan, that the Obama administration and his Democratic party supporters have been intent on taking the ship of state and intentionally running it aground because they are socialists or communists. In the Irving Kristol Lecture to the American Enterprise Institute on February 10, 2004 Charles Krauthammer suggests it is more complex and subtle than that:
“What I do know is that today it is a mistake to see liberal foreign policy as deriving from anti-Americanism or lack of patriotism or a late efflorescence of 1960s radicalism.
On the contrary. The liberal aversion to national interest stems from an idealism, a larger vision of country, a vision of some ambition and nobility – the ideal of a true international community. And that is: To transform the international system from the Hobbesian universe into a Lockean universe. To turn the state of nature into a norm-driven community. To turn the law of the jungle into the rule of law – of treaties and contracts and UN resolutions. In short, to remake the international system in the image of domestic civil society…
And to create such a true international community, you have to temper, transcend and, in the end, abolish the very idea of state power and national interest. Hence the antipathy to American hegemony and American power. If you are going to break the international arena to the mold of domestic society, you have to domesticate its single most powerful actor. You have to abolish American dominance, not only as an affront to fairness but also as the greatest obstacle on the whole planet to democratized international system where all live under self-governing international institutions and self-enforcing international norms.” – Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passion, Pastimes and Politics
Seen in this light, Obama’s foreign policy has not been a failure at all. It has accomplished exactly what it was intended to do. It has weakened America’s foreign policy hand across the board. America’s military is weakened through political purges of its officer corps, lack of direction and budget cuts. Its diplomatic corps is undermined by the lack of protection of its staff, as proven in Benghazi, by the White House’s high-handedness shown towards America’s closest friends the UK and Israel, and the spying program targeting American allies as well as its enemies that State Department personnel are forced to explain in their host countries. Its adversaries Syria, Iran and North Korea are all in better positions than they were five years ago. Ditto China and Russia. As the US weakens its enemies strengthen, and its allies are then forced to either band together (EU standing up to Russia and encouraging Ukraine to join, ASEAN nations co-coordinating efforts to balance China) or leave its sphere of influence entirely (Saudi Arabia, Egypt and perhaps Israel in the Middle East, South Korea in East Asia).
Obama has domesticated America on the international stage, to use Krauthammer’s term: so now what? Where is the Golden Age promised by Locke and the internationalists? If they are correct, a humbled America should encourage its enemies to stop their own military buildups (they don’t need offensive military capability with America’s gone). North Korea and Iran no longer need nukes now that American nukes are rusting away awaiting destruction as Obama unilaterally disarms. Without American backing Israel should engage its enemies diplomatically in a desperate bid to secure peace with the Palestinians. The world should be much better today than it was five years ago.
Is it? I suppose that depends on your perspective. Five years ago Americans could have traveled safely throughout Africa except for one nation Somalia. Today I’d hesitate to walk through the narrow streets of Zanzibar as I once did freely nearly two decades ago, and have struck Valley of the Kings in Egypt off my bucket list until further notice. Northern Kenya, Mali, Eritrea, Mauritania, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Western Sahara, and Libya are now no-go areas for Westerners. I suppose that’s great if you can’t help but shout Allahu Akhbar every time you touch an AK-47, but for the rest of us things have gotten worse not better under the new regime.
Dietrich Doerner writes, “For them (people who failed most often at complex analytical tests) to propose a hypothesis was to understand reality; testing that hypothesis was unnecessary. Instead of generating hypotheses, they generated ‘truths’.” The Obama administration came to power proposing a hypothesis, that the world would be a better place with the United States weakened. It treated this hypothesis as a truth, steadfastly refusing to let go of it, sacrificing ambassadors, diplomatic relationships built over generations, and American influence in the process. When Doerner’s study participants failed, they invariably blamed others for their failures just as the Administration has focused the blame on the GOP.
When the Obama administration took power I and many others had hoped it would govern from the center, that things wouldn’t be as dire as we had feared. We hoped that it would try its crazy ideas, learn they didn’t work, then try something else. But they didn’t learn. They stuck to their “truths.” Five years on our foreign policy is a shambles, America weaker and friendless as it has been at no other time in its history. The disaster is worse than we expected, and we still have 3 full years left in this president’s term.
Will America be able to survive this epic failure? Thirty-two years ago Ronald Reagan took power and turned around foreign policy debacles of the previous Carter administration pretty quickly. Will a Republican president be able to do the same after eight years of disaster? And what if the GOP selects the wrong candidate and Hillary Clinton wins in 2016? How much failure can this country accept and still survive?
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.
Over the past five years I have watched the collapse of American prestige in the world. I have come to terms with this loss, recognizing that such things are reversible and that a new administration will one day take over and reverse the decline. But as we learned during the Carter era, reinforced by Reagan’s retreat from Lebanon after 242 US Marines were killed in 1983 and later Clinton’s Somalia fiasco, such a loss resonates into the future. The prime example of this was Osama Bin Laden’s recognition of these failures as signs of America’ s loss of will, making it the “weak horse” which would collapse by the addition of a grain of salt on its back. One by one grains were added, the 1993 WTC attack, the Khobar bombings in Saudi Arabia, the Embassy Bombings of 1998, and the USS Cole attack of 2000, and the horse failed to fall. The 9-11 attacks were just more of the same, more grains of salt added to the horse’s back from Bin Laden’s perspective. But instead of collapsing under the strain Bin Laden’s metaphor collapsed, and he and his organization found itself on the defensive against a determined foe, one that eventually turned him into fish food in the Indian Ocean.
We are repeating history, and in this sequel we are much closer in time to Carter’s 1980 failed hostage rescue mission than we are to Tora Bora. President Obama’s core belief that words matter, that diplomacy can solve every crisis and that the military option is only resorted to by leaders less intelligent than himself, has been shown a failure to everyone outside his inner circle. Over the past 5 years (I include Obama’s promises in the final stage of the 2008 campaign as well as the self-importance he attached to his president-elect status after the 2008 election and before the 2009 inauguration) Obama has used promises and threats instead of deeds and action to guide US foreign policy. There was some success at first as allies took his word for the former and our enemies heeded the latter, but as the world changed the promises weren’t met and the threats weren’t acted upon, our allies became disheartened while our enemies were encouraged. Such mistakes must have come as a surprise to both, to see the most powerful and influential nation on earth run by an administration filled with the best and brightest progressive leaders the country had to offer acting like an impoverished, helpless and morally bankrupt banana republic on the world’s stage.
Nations adjusted accordingly. China has become more aggressive in its territorial claims. North Korea continues to threaten the world with nuclear annihilation with impunity. Iran has taken the success of North Korea to heart and vigorously pursues the Bomb. While the Obama administration spoke about the decimation of al Qaeda, the terrorist organization proved powerful enough to kill an American ambassador, the first in thirty years, take over leadership of the rebellion in Syria, turn Iraq into a killing zone, and scare the administration into closing a score of embassies throughout the Middle East. Not bad for an organization that the administration has said is “on the run.” Clearly al Qaeda accomplishes more in retreat than many armies do on the offensive.
Then there is Russia. It’s ironic that President Obama treats Vladimir Putin as his equal and Russia as a superpower by giving it veto power over American actions in the Middle East and throughout Asia. In effect Obama elevates the status of Russia while subverting American interests abroad. Such actions must demoralize nations in the former Russian sphere of influence like Poland and the Czech Republic, while encouraging our friends in the Middle East such as Israel and Saudi Arabia to begin to cut their own deals with Russia.
Speaking of friends, we once had one in Egypt. It was a typical Middle Eastern friend. It took gobs of money from us then fed the masses a steady diet of anti-American propaganda that encouraged Islamic terrorism. But the Egyptian regime was successful for the most part. It kept itself in power, maintained the peace – albeit a cold one – with Israel, and kept the foreign currency flowing into Egypt from European and American tourists. Make no mistake Hosni Mubarak was no Winston Churchill, and the Egyptian regime never had our back the way Australia always has, but to expect anything more from Arabs in the Middle East requires complete ignorance of the culture and history of the area. Nevertheless the Obama administration and the State Department under the leadership of Hillary Clinton, a woman whose resume highlight for the job included hosting dinners as the First Lady in the White House for eight years, proved through their actions (and inactions) that for all their supposed brilliance, they were at heart as dumb as a box of blocks when it came to Egypt.
First the administration saw the Arab Spring as a revolutionary moment for liberalism in the country, forgetting that Egypt has been ruled throughout its five thousand year history by pharaohs, kings and military juntas when independent and by Rome, the Ottoman Empire or France when not. Although Egypt lacked any democratic culture or institutions, the Obama administration happily threw Hosni Mubarak under the bus, thinking that he would be replaced by a liberal Democrat they had met at a Washington DC state dinner, Mohamed ElBaradei. The Obama administration didn’t understand what was really happening in Egypt during the Arab Spring: the military junta had stopped supporting Mubarak when he attempted to turn over power to his son and make the presidency a dynasty. Elections were held and the masses didn’t vote for a familiar face in the DC dinner circuit; instead they elected the front of a terrorist organization bent on the destruction of Israel and the United States, and the ideological parent organization of both Hamas and al Qaeda.
Maybe the Obama administration and the State Department thought they were dealing with the Egyptian equivalent of Sinn Fein, and that like the IRA in Ireland, the terrorists in Egypt would lay down their arms and take up the ballot box to achieve their aims of global conquest. Many on the Right questioned the administration support for the Brotherhood as being more diabolical, and that some great conspiracy lay behind American support of the Brotherhood even when it became obvious that it was trying to turn Egypt into an Islamic state like Iran. Although I doubt that Obama is a closet Muslim, or that Hillary’s “special friend” Huma Abedin’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood dictated our policy towards Egypt, nothing but sheer stupidity successfully explains our support of the organization as it attempted to wrest control of the state from the military. The military reacted and said “Enough,” taking power away from the Islamists and restoring the status quo of a generation ago when Mubarak ruled Egypt with military support and the Muslim Brotherhood conspired to take power from behind bars. The result of this episode in Middle Eastern foreign policy is the brilliant progressive leaders of the Obama Administration and State Department have angered all sides in Egypt.
For perhaps the first time in his life Obama will be judged not by his words but his actions. No speech he gives will excuse the failure of his leadership on foreign policy, particularly on Syria. It is ironic that the words so prized by Obama and his followers are what has boxed him into a corner in the first place. His team knew the ad libbed term “red line” would prove disastrous. Now he is so desperate he is begging Republicans like former foe Senator John McCain and House Speaker John Boehner to save him. Given the stupidity of the GOP it’s quite possible they just will, providing him the option he needs so that when things get worse in Syria he can blame them. Unlike McCain and Boehner I can live with an America that cannot be trusted by its friends and is no longer feared by its enemies – at least until January 2017. The progressives and Obama believed they knew best and elections have consequences. To paraphrase my late mother-in-law, they chose this path, and they must walk it.
Naked Capitalism had a post recently that set me off, A Disturbance of the Force?
The title of the piece says a lot about the writer – someone who can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
I have problems with every one of his points. First he makes no mention of the real scandals like the IRS targeting of the right wing, perhaps the most egregious abuse I’ve seen of executive power in my life. He then attacks the Obama administration without really attacking the man himself. Read about China’s Cultural Revolution. Hardcore Chinese socialists became disappointed with the results of the communist revolution, so instead of blaming socialism or the Great Leader Mao himself, they separated the man from his policies and attacked those responsible for implementing the latter for not going far enough. Given the cult of personality built around Obama, I’m not surprised this is happening. I’m expecting it to happen more – with criticism focusing on his underlings like Kerry, Clapper and perhaps even Hillary (as Biden’s team tries to poison her 2016 run).
He also fails to recognize the Ponzi Scheme at the heart of the pension mess: not enough younger workers to support older workers. The enemy of this scheme is not Wall Street – although WS has played the role of crack dealer to Democratic run municipal governments and the unions that put them in power. If the Democrats hadn’t aborted so many children or disseminated birth control as widely as they did, there just might be a larger youth cohort to support the retiring baby boomers. Unfortunately as happens to every pyramid scheme dreamed of since Ponzi himself, the System falls apart the minute the number of bettors declines. Democrats turned to Wall Street to provide higher returns needed to make up for the increasing pension shortfalls, but any non-lefty idiot knows that higher returns come with higher risks.
The real enemy of this guy isn’t Wall Street or the Koch Brothers or Fox News: It’s reality.
The reality is that civilization is under attack by Muslim extremists. Don’t take my word for it, take theirs. We can either fight them over there or fight them here. The Left seems to think the only threat to civilization is Christianity, an entity they’ve fought for hundreds of years. Christianity has lost, becoming neutered in the process. My old neighborhood in St. Louis where I grew up is almost entirely Muslim – Bosnian Muslims. My old Catholic grade school that once had K-8 enrollment of 500 closed down. The church where my father was buried out of and where I served masses (sometimes half-cocked on sacramental wine) has only a handful of elderly parishioners left. I drove past the place last week, and it really bothered me. Those nuns were decent human beings as were the priests, and they’re all gone now. If history is a guide, I expect the local muslims to buy the buildings and turn them into a mosque complex. Saladin would smile.
After Obama took power he made his Cairo speech in ‘09 and to a man who thinks words matter more than actions, he probably thought that’s all he needed to do. He would solve the Middle East because he was smarter than all of his predecessors combined. After all, that’s the way he had been treated all his life.
But reality hates to be ignored, and gradually it asserted itself. Several successful terror attacks happened on his watch, and probably scores more were thwarted. By then the withdrawal from Iraq was almost complete and the retreat from Afghanistan had begun. In order to keep power he had to prevent terror attacks, so the only option left was to use intelligence. Suddenly the NSA was Obama’s new BFF.
Manning, Snowden and Assange are idealists, and like idealists they are idiots. They live in a perfect world where Muslims love us, and al Qaeda is a fantasy that will disappear as soon as we hand Israel to them on a silver plate. Muslims don’t give a damn about the Jews. They’ve got a world to conquer and have God on their side. They will stop at nothing because why should they? In the Koran the ends justify the means; Mohammed regularly made treaties and broke them, killed those who had surrendered, slaughtered innocents. Everything was justifiable through the intent of implementing God’s will on earth.
This “Disturbance in the Force” may be the sensing of this idealist that his world is about to come crashing down around him. I know how it feels. My liberal spirit crashed down around me while I watched my son playing on a playground beneath the flight path of Philly International, and there were no planes in the air except a few F-16s in the days after 9-11. But that doesn’t mean I sympathize with him. In fact I’d laugh in his face given the chance and say, “Welcome to reality Nancy-boy.”
The Economist cover this week shows a man whose face is painted with the colors of the Egyptian flag under the words “Egypt’s Tragedy.” Writing that while Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood he represented “politics (as) subsidiary to religion, and are downright hostile to the attitudes towards women and minorities that pervade the Islamist movement,” the magazine worries that their ouster “sets a dreadful precedent for the region.”
Many dictators have taken power through the ballot box yet few have given up power that way. Both the Greeks and the Romans elected leaders who later became tyrants and seized power. Two millennia later both Hitler and Benito Mussolini were democratically elected to their nation’s highest offices. Fidel Castro used the power of his rebel army to guarantee his election as Prime Minister of Cuba in 1959. More recently the Iranian regime took power in elections after the fall of the Shah in 1979, and haven’t had a free and open election since. Hugo Chavez. Hamas in Gaza. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Dictators throughout history and around the world have found using elections to gain power is much easier than taking power by force.
Yet the list of dictatorships that lost an election and ceded power as a result is quite short. There surely must be one, but I can’t think of any. The ruling South African National party lost the 1994 election in which Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, but while the National Party excluded blacks from the vote, it was still a Democratic regime. The revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in 1989 from East Germany to the Soviet Union came about after massive protests, and the elections of Lech Walesa and Vaclev Havel and other opposition leaders and parties in the former Soviet Bloc resulted from these protests not through constitutional elections. When dictatorial regimes take power, they mean to keep it, and one of the first things they do is rig the Law to insure their place at the top of society in perpetuity.
So why do liberals hold elections in such high regard, resulting in farcical acts such as former president Jimmy Carter certifying the election of Hamas in Gaza or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela? One man one vote is a pervasive ideal that cuts across ideologies and forms of government. It is the start of the Republican form, and is found in everything from pure Democracy (think Switzerland), Socialism, Communism and Anarchism. Because casting a vote ideally represents an individual’s free will, the resulting form of government is thereby a legitimate expression of the voter’s intent. But history is replete with examples proving such an ideal is a complete fallacy. Voters may believe they are electing a protector of democracy only to see him become a tyrant after taking power. Or voters may use the opportunity to choose a non-democratic regime as has happened in Iran and Gaza.
What an election can do though is confer the mantle of legitimacy upon a dictatorship, and in Marxist philosophy such a dictatorship (by the proletariat) is necessary to reach the higher stages of communist development. Could this explain the progressive movement’s obsession with ballots? Honestly I’d be surprised if progressives thought that far ahead so other reasons must underlay the obsession.
Having an election does not guarantee a country is a liberal democracy. Such a belief that it does is yet another example of liberal magical thinking that confuses actions and results. An election cannot guarantee a functioning democracy just as a single battle cannot determine the outcome of a war. Democracy only has a long history on the European continent, and even there it is only within the last 50 years that democratic institutions have developed roots that can withstand the changes wrought when one regime leaves power and another replaces it. Even there a democratic Germany had to be restored through force of arms, Spain has only become democratic within the past 30 years, and the continent itself cannot decide how to govern itself at all levels, from the local through national to the international (the EU is far from being the pinnacle of Democracy).
Instead Democracy is a long process and casting ballots in an election has more symbol than substance. A free and fair election is meaningful only when institutions exist to support the results such as a free press, an independent judiciary and a military firmly under civilian authority. It is much more difficult to create these institutions from scratch than it is to throw an election without them. The American Occupation authorities in post-war Japan found this out the hard way when it allowed local and national elections in the aftermath of the war and watched the well-organized (and Soviet provisioned) Communist Party win them. Instead of ceding Japan to the Soviets, it annulled the elections and focused on creating the conditions necessary for democracy to eventually take root and Japan is better off today than it would have been otherwise. The US exercised a degree of authoritarian control in Japan and to a lesser extent in post-war West Germany that would be difficult to replicate in today’s politically correct times where “all cultures are equal” including those without any understanding of or foundation in Democracy.
Egypt’s democratic history is scant, it’s institutions non-existent. Any election Egypt holds is not going to usher in a democracy, it will instead legitimize and autocracy. Is a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship better for Egypt and the world than a military one? It is difficult to judge, but there are more instances of the army returning to their barracks and ceding power to civilian authority than there are of clerics returning to the mosques and doing the same. A magazine as venerable as The Economist should know this more than anyone.
Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer have been banned from entering the UK. A government spokesman justified the ban saying, ”We condemn all those whose behaviours and views run counter to our shared values and will not stand for extremism in any form.”
I suppose he doesn’t mean this extremism which exists in the heart of the UK and is protected speech.
Two good articles for future reference on Islam and the West’s blindness to it:
Christians in countries with Moslem majorities, or large minorities, are having a difficult time getting the rest of the world to recognize that most (as in about 80 percent) of the religious violence in the world is carried out against Christians and most of the violence is committed by Moslems. This is because the Islamic world, while unable to do much in terms of economic, scientific, or cultural progress, or even govern themselves effectively, have proven quite adept at convincing leaders and media organizations in the West that Islam is not the aggressor and is actually the victim. For those who have spent any time living among Moslems, this all seems absurd. But this delusion is real.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The Problem of Muslim Leadership
Some refuse even to admit that this is the question on everyone’s mind. Amazingly, given the litany of Islamist attacks—from the 9/11 nightmare in America and the London bombings of July 7, 2005, to the slayings at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, at the Boston Marathon last month and now Woolwich—some continue to deny any link between Islam and terrorism. This week, BBC political editor Nick Robinson had to apologize for saying on the air, as the news in Woolwich broke, that the men who murdered Lee Rigby were “of Muslim appearance.” Memo to the BBC: The killers were shouting “Allahu akbar” as they struck. Yet when complaints rained down on the BBC about Mr. Robinson’s word choice, he felt obliged to atone. One can only wonder at people who can be so exquisitely sensitive in protecting Islam’s reputation yet so utterly desensitized to a hideous murder explicitly committed in the name of Islam.
As I wrote in a previous post about multiculturalism, the blindness isn’t based on tolerance, it’s based in the very western superiority that multiculturalism is supposed to denigrate and deny. But I think the overall success of such propaganda victories for Islam is limited. Americans and the west in general have become used to violence from Muslims, and the constant but low-level war waged by its adherents has caused an “acceptable level of violence,” a term coined by the British during the “Troubles” in Ireland in the late 20th century. Some individual acts will shock us briefly in the news, as the murder in the English town of Woolwich has done in the UK, but within a few weeks everything goes back to normal. Even the Boston Bombings have done little to change the dynamic between Islam and American free society. It’s only when spectacular attacks like 911 are done that the game changes for awhile as it did in the years following the attack. But now, 12 years on, we’re back to a pre-911 attitude within the American government that has backed off the fight against Islamic terror and begun resorting to the half-measures of the Clinton era that emboldened Osama Bin Laden. But another attack of 911 or greater magnitude would force the same policy reversals of the Bush administration, and the political correctness which currently protects Islam would be at least temporary forgotten as the term Global War on Terrorism was dusted off.
911 was the best attack by Islam against the West since Suleiman’s Siege of Vienna, but it too failed in its goals of uniting Muslims in a global war to eradicate non-Muslims and create a global caliphate. Over the past 12 years Muslims have killed more Muslims than Jews, Hindu, Buddhists and Christians combined, and the divide between Shi’a and Sunni Islam is now wider than ever, partly because it’s much easier to attack a Muslim than it is a Christian given the depopulation of Christians and Jews from the Middle East. Divisions between the two main sects are difficult for non-Muslims to appreciate as Christianity has nothing to relate it to. The Protestant/Catholic split seems tempting, but it’s a very poor analogy. A better one would be if one of Christ’s apostles founded a separate version of Christianity at the same time Peter was building the Church after the death of Christ, and the two sects went their separate ways from there. The two would be separate for so long with such different beliefs and traditions that they may as well be completely different faiths. That gives you some idea of what the schism is between Sunni and Shi’a, and no Bin Laden or heir of his will be able to unite the Islamic world against the West without healing that split. As I see it there are only two likely outcomes: no unity or the systematic extermination of Shiites by Sunni, which Iran will never allow (unless it gets its nuclear weapon and is on the receiving end of one from Saudi Arabia or Turkey).
How to turn propaganda victories into real (military and socioeconomic) ones? This must be particularly frustrating to Islamists who see the global caliphate within their grasp, but like a desert mirage the closer to it they get the further away it becomes. So the best they can do is take comfort in the media victories and pray that someday Islam spawns a transformational figure that can unite Islam’s internal differences and leverage the media victories into something consequential. It will be a long wait.
It’s so easy to confuse them these days…