Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Obama Loses the Left

By Michael Barone
Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Iraq, immigration, inversion. On all three of the issues referred to, President Obama finds himself forced by events to do something he dislikes — and he’s in trouble with much of his Democratic-party base for doing so.

Obama seemed ill at ease before the camera and teleprompter on the evening of September 10th. Sending troops into Iraq and Syria is probably the last thing he expected to do when he set out running for president in 2007.

He still insists that he will send in “no ground troops,” though it appears that hundreds of U.S. military personnel are literally on the ground in Iraq. He seems still not to understand that publicly ruling out an alternative means that your enemies know your plans — and can take advantage of them.

But that’s not enough to propitiate at least some Democrats who supported Obama fervently because they believed he would remove U.S. troops from the Middle East and never send them back there.

One of his chief advantages over Hillary Clinton in 2008 was her vote for the Iraq War resolution in 2002 and Obama’s opposition to it, albeit as a state senator from an overwhelmingly Democratic district.

In the late 1960s, Democrats switched from being the more hawkish of our two parties, more likely to support military interventions and commitments, to being the more dovish. Visceral opposition to military action, and suspicion that even the most limited such action will lead to massive war, is deeply implanted in many Democratic voters.

You can expect, therefore, a skittish reaction to Obama’s announcement of a military escalation from senatorial and congressional candidates in states with dovish Democratic electorates such as Colorado and Iowa. We may also see depressed turnout of Democratic doves all over the country in November.

It is apparent that Obama’s decision to take military action against the Islamic State, however limited, came despite his deep-seated feelings and was forced on him by events. American voters do not take kindly to videotaped beheadings of Americans. It unleashes a Jacksonian impulse to wipe the people who do these things off the face of the earth.

Obama, like his predecessor, likes to depict Islam as a religion of peace. An unhappily large number of Muslims, however, have other ideas. Their aggression and immunity to appeasement have forced the president to take actions that he, like many of his fellow Democrats, abhors.

On immigration, Obama has found himself again forced to disappoint a core constituency. On June 30, he met with immigration advocates — that is to say, heads of groups that favor legalization of large numbers of illegal immigrants.

He let them know, and authorized his aides to let the world know, that he intended to issue by summer’s end an executive order legalizing perhaps as many as 10 million. He did so even though there’s videotape of him telling Univision in March 2011 that such an order would “ignore” laws passed by Congress and to “ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.”

Obama’s breathtaking willingness to signal an intention to violate his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the law drew some unfavorable but muted attention. But it gained more attention as tens of thousands of underage (and adult) illegal migrants from Central America started streaming across the Rio Grande.

That vast movement undercut the argument that legalizing one group of illegals would not create incentives for more to cross the border. Now Obama says he won’t act till after November’s election, if then, leaving legalization advocates “bitterly disappointed in the president and Democrats.”

Iraq and immigration are familiar issues. Inversions — merging companies seeking foreign domiciles to partially avoid the U.S. 35 percent corporate tax — are not. Inversions happen because the U.S. has the world’s highest corporate tax rate, a problem even Obama has said should be fixed.

But he has made no serious attempt at negotiating reform with the willing chairmen of the tax-writing committees. So instead, Democrats are demagoguing “unpatriotic” corporations and threatening to re-tax transactions going back to 1994.

Unfortunately for them, as three Politico reporters conclude, “the issue has turned out to be pretty much a massive dud.” The fact that Obama supporter Warren Buffett financed the Burger King-Tim Hortons inversion didn’t help.

On Iraq, immigration, and inversion, events have forced Obama into embarrassing reversals that disillusion his base and leave others unconvinced. Hope and change?

Obama’s Sort-of War

By Victor Davis Hanson
Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How can we account for the apparent flip-flopping of the Obama administration about what we are doing, or might do further, to the Islamic State?

At times the secretary of defense seems at odds with the secretary of state. The administration seems not to be reacting to its own intelligence information about the Islamic State. Nor is it heeding the professional advice of the Joint Chiefs or top-ranking military officers in the field. Instead, in the run-up to the midterm elections, Obama appears to be guided largely by a stubborn adherence to his own past political truisms, and that explains the current inability to articulate a strategy or craft a coalition.

In anti-empirical fashion, the following axioms must be true — and thus the facts on the ground in Syria and Iraq must be massaged to reflect these beliefs.

1. The growth of the Islamic State has little if anything to do with the total withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011. Our departure did not prompt the Maliki government to backslide into religious oppression, free the skies for foreign powers, and open the countryside to resurgent Islamists.

2. The success of the Islamic State has nothing to do with the past failure to aid anti–Bashar Assad groups in Syria that once upon a time may have also opposed the Islamic State.

3. The current ascendancy of the Islamic State has nothing to do with a sense that the credibility of the United States in the region is diminished, or that enemies in the Middle East are emboldened by past non-enforcement of loudly announced red lines, step-over lines, or deadlines. Nor does it have to do with the situation on the ground after the bombing of Libya, or with the promise to vacate Afghanistan, or with the shunning of our old allies in the Gulf and Egypt.

4. The administration’s current Middle East plan of reaching out to the Islamic world — from the euphemisms about terrorism to the proclamations of underappreciated Islamic achievement to outreach to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Iranians — has largely worked and therefore should be continued. Hence, the statement that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam.

5. The principal source of the ongoing violence is past U.S. presidents — especially George W. Bush — who stirred up the hornets’ nests by bombing Iraq. The upheaval in the Middle East cannot be blamed on Barack Obama, who simply inherited a mess and so cannot be faulted for matter-of-factly trying to pass it on to the next president.

6. The American people are horrified by the televised beheading of American journalists and want something done. Indeed, they are seething at videos of the innocent people slaughtered by sadistic jihadist bullies. But they are also exhausted by Iraq and Afghanistan and sick of the Middle East — enemies, neutrals, and perhaps even allies alike. Therefore, a loud but limited bombing campaign may soothe angry American feelings without making long-term costly commitments that could turn unpopular. The Islamic State can be waited out.

7. The United States’ drastically improved energy picture makes intervention in the Middle East, or even support for oil-producing monarchies, less important. The administration believes that it can afford to weather this storm and return to its policy of benign neglect of the Middle East.

8. Are we really that much in danger? The administration assumes that it is unlikely that, for all its braggadocio, the Islamic State can hit the continental United States as al-Qaeda did 13 years ago, and therefore there is no need to conduct careful reviews of visas from the Middle East, or to plan a long-term strategy to deny the Islamic State resources, or to ratchet back up the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols. The jihadists will soon deflate after blowing their last bursts of hot air.

9. The debate over the U.S. reaction to the Islamic State is terribly unfair to Nobel Laureate Barack Obama. He has made it clear that he is not so interested in foreign affairs. He has emphasized to Middle Eastern journalists his own father’s Islamic pedigree and has apologized for past American behavior and promised a different future ethos. Someone in the Middle East is not appreciating the fact that Obama neither sounds nor looks like a typical American president, and such obtuseness is terribly insensitive and exasperating, and interferes with what Obama is trying to accomplish. It is hardly fair that those who are not looking for war should be found by it.

10. Hope-and-change rhetoric can still do much to solve the crisis. Declaring the Islamic State a jayvee amateurish force, only to upgrade it later, or deprecating the Syrian Free Army as little more than a fantasy of inexperienced professionals and then counting on it for support, or suggesting that we are at war and not at war — all these are sort-of strategies to keep narratives changing as rapidly as are events on the ground. There is no need for consistency in judgment, given that things happen, and the press will largely not collate past assertions with present contradictions. In short, teleprompted rhetoric, with plenty of let-me-be-perfectly-clear emphatics, can sound enough like a foreign policy that enough Americans will believe something is being done while the crisis naturally abates.

If we keep all the above assumptions in mind, then what the Obama administration has said, and will say tomorrow, has a certain logic and consistency. And that is the problem, as potential allies sit tight, all too aware that should they join the cause of the administration they may well be left high and dry, or worse, when Obama turns his brief attention span elsewhere. Theirs is a dangerous assumption, but an understandable one as well.

A Moving Target

By Ian Tuttle
Tuesday, September 2014

Q: Barry has a military. With its 1.4 million servicemen and women, thousands of aircraft, naval vessels, and land vehicles, 5,000 warheads, and several billion rounds of ammunition, this military contains enough energy to both degrade and destroy Barry’s enemies, who are primarily “extremists” who are — let me be perfectly clear — not Islamic. This energy is available for immediate release in a blistering campaign of shock-and-by-god-awe when Barry demurs. In what state is this energy? Circle the correct answer.

A: Kinetic

B: Potential

Being “probably the smartest guy ever to become president,” no doubt Barack Obama would breeze through the above question, curing Ebola en route to the answer. But lesser mortals, such as this humble liberal-arts-school author, are likely to find themselves stumped.

“War” being, until very recently, the “wrong terminology” for the exercise of American military force against enemies dedicated to America’s annihilation, the present administration found a fitting euphemism in “kinetic military action.” “Protecting the Libyan people, averting a humanitarian crisis, and setting up a no-fly zone” required “kinetic military action,” as White House aide Ben Rhodes explained in March 2011.

The term has re-emerged in the debate about the nature of the conflict with the Islamic State. Over the weekend, a State Department official traveling with John Kerry told reporters that “there have been offers to CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] from Arab countries willing to take more kinetic actions.”

“Kinetic action” is a paradigmatic 21st-century phrase — sophisticated, important-sounding, meaningless. Try taking “action” without kinesis — that is, without movement. The Greek κινεῖν, whence our “kinetic,” simply means “to move,” whether it’s to move from one place to another, or to be moved by a piece of art.

“Kinetic” is an apt description of every major battle there has ever been, since they’ve all involved, well, moving. Xerxes moved 2.5 million fighting men across the Hellespont into Greece, reports Herodotus, and Alexander did the same 150 years later, though going in the opposite direction, and with a decidedly smaller force. Caesar’s army crossed the Rubicon, Napoleon’s forces marched on Moscow, Russian forces swept toward Berlin. “Kinetic actions,” all of them.

As a more refined term of military art, “kinetic” characterizes nearly all of the weaponry that preceded explosives. The stones in David’s slingshot, the boulders in Frankish trebuchets, cannonballs, even bullets — all are “kinetic” weaponry. Their deadliness depends strictly on the energy with which they strike.

There are more recent, concentrated attempts to mitigate the need for a big boom. In 1981 the U.S. Air Force employed aerospace contractor Vought to develop an anti-tank missile that would use its speed, not explosive warheads, to destroy targets. Vought’s Hypervelocity Missile gave way to the MGM-166 in the late 1980s: a Line-of-Sight Anti-Tank/Kinetic Energy Missile, often fired from atop a Humvee. An Army Future Combat Series program to develop a smaller, hypersonic version — a Compact Kinetic Energy Missile — was canceled in 2004.

But the science-fiction possibilities survive. In 2006, SFGate wrote about a possible weapon system that could sling metal rods, using the earth’s orbit, at underground bunkers — for instance, deep-buried nuclear-weapons facilities. Insiders called them “rods from God” — “think of a bundle of insulated metal telephone poles, dropped from an exquisitely calculated orbital location and reaching a speed of Mach 10 (over 7,000 mph) by the time they hit Earth.”

Deploying these weapons could justifiably be called “kinetic actions.” But, of course, that is not what the Obama administration has in mind.

Ironically, the current administration has commandeered a term that gained traction among members of George W. Bush’s Cabinet following the September 11 attacks. From Bob Woodward’s 2002 book Bush at War:

    For many days the war cabinet had been dancing around the basic question: how long could they wait after September 11 before the U.S. started going “kinetic,” as they often termed it, against al Qaeda in a visible way? The public was patient, at least it seemed patient, but everyone wanted action. A full military action — air and boots — would be the essential demonstration of seriousness — to bin Laden, America, and the world.

As Timothy Noah observed at Slate at the time, “kinetic” here was supposed to mean “active, as opposed to latent,” where “less violent and more high-tech means of warfare, such as messing electronically with the enemy’s communications equipment or wiping out its bank accounts” would be “non-kinetic.”

Noah categorized “kinetic warfare” as a “retronym,” a coinage of former George McGovern campaign manager Frank Mankiewicz, used “to delineate previously unnecessary distinctions” — for instance, “analog watch” or “two-parent family.” Given a tactical menu that includes “cyberwarfare” and “psychological warfare,” such a retronym would seem to make sense.

But to modify “warfare” according to stratagem only begs the question that the Obama administration has repeatedly struggled to answer: Are we at war, or not? Presumably, citizens would feel less than confident about the long-term vision of a government that claims to be “at war” when it comes to email sabotage, but not “at war” when it comes to “boots on the ground.” Undoubtedly Langley’s computer geeks are hard at work corrupting data on mainframes in Iran, North Korea, and elsewhere, but we are not “at non-kinetic war” with those countries — because we would not be willing to go to “kinetic” war. If you are unwilling to engage the enemy in the trenches, you are not at war.

The administration conceded on Friday that the United States and the Islamic State are at war — but this “kinetic military action” is likely to look very “non-kinetic.” After all, the president has already precluded significant military action. This returns us to our original quiz question: What kind of energy does the American military have at the present time? It seems to be neither kinetic nor potential.

Then again, after violating the laws of the land and of logic, why should the laws of nature be any different?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Islam’s Nightclub Brawl

By Theodore Dalrymple
Monday, September 15, 2014

Youth, as everyone knows who has passed through it some time ago, is the age not of idealism but of self-importance, uncertainty masked by certitude and moral grandiosity untouched by experience of life — or, of course, the age of total insouciance. It is not surprising that ideology makes young men dangerous, for it is in the nature of ideology to answer all the difficult questions of human existence while giving believers the illusion of special understanding and destiny not available to others.

With the downfall of the Soviet Union, Marxism lost almost all of its appeal for hormonally disaffected young men of the West, leaving them bereft of significance and purpose. Except for one group among them, they now had only a potpourri of causes (sexism, racism, the environment, etc.), none of which quite met the need or filled the gap.

The group excepted, of course, was the Muslims. Islam was waiting in the wings with a ready-made ideology. Nature hates a vacuum, especially in young men’s heads, which are all too easily filled with quarter-baked ideas. Islamism is so stupid, so preposterous and intellectually nugatory, and so appallingly catastrophic in its actual effects, that it makes one almost nostalgic for the days of Marxism. At least Marxism had a patina of rationality, and most of its adherents (in the West at any rate), while not averse to violence in the abstract, were willing to postpone the final, extremely violent apocalypse to some future date and did not believe that by blowing themselves up or cutting people’s throats they would ascend directly to the classless society or meet Marx in his pantheon. You could be a martyr in the Marxist cause, but only on the understanding that death was final. The best you could hope for was that, after the final victory of the proletarian revolution, you would have a postage stamp issued in your memory. This does not have quite the same attraction as an everlasting orgy in a cool desert oasis while everyone else is roasting eternally in Gehenna (no bliss is quite complete without someone else’s agony).

The other great advantage of Marxism, from the point of view of national security, was that it was not dominated by ethnic minorities (as Islam is, give or take some converts), so that, however vehement the language of Marxism or its imagined solutions to the world’s problems, its organizations were easy to infiltrate. The observed and the observer shared the same general culture; there was no foreign and unfamiliar tongue to learn; and though it had its jargon, it was easy to master. Moreover, very few young men in the West went off to join Marxist insurgencies around the world or posed a threat to their own countries when they returned. They preferred support in theory to participation in practice, certainly after World War II. Only the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War attracted Marxists to real combat.

But the sheer stupidity of a belief that is incompatible with the most obvious reflections on current reality and on history is, alas, no obstacle to its spread; and Islamism has been able to inspire, if that is quite the word, hundreds or thousands (no one knows exactly how many) of young Muslims from Europe, and a few from North America, to fight for Islamist causes in the Maghreb, the Sahel, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. Among them are thought to be about 700 from Britain, the largest contingent of any Western country. Though France has a Muslim population twice as big as Britain’s, its jihadist contingent is estimated to be about half the size of Britain’s.

The South London accent and intonation of the apparent killer of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines, and the manner of the murders, have shocked and horrified people in Britain. Very little is known of the man, not even his ethnic origin: In London, a third of whose population was born abroad, there are so many possibilities, even among Muslims. But his joy in his own brutality, his sadistic delight in doing evil with the excuse that it was for a supposedly holy cause, in inflicting such a death under the illusion that it was a duty rather than a crime, was obvious. His “faith” allowed him to act out the fantasy of every dangerous psychopath dreaming of revenge upon a world that was not good enough for him and that otherwise failed to accord him the special notice or place that he thought he merited.

Not only is the British contingent the most numerous among the Western jihadists, but by all accounts they are the most brutal of the brutal. That, at any rate, is the conclusion of researchers at King’s College London who have followed the evolution of the jihadi temptation in Britain, the latest instance of what Jean-François Revel called “the totalitarian temptation.”

Two questions call for answers. The first is why there should be proportionally more jihadis from Britain than, say, from France. The second is why they should be more brutal. Since the premises of the questions themselves are somewhat speculative, depending on information that is itself far from proved beyond reasonable doubt, any answers must be even more speculative. In any case, the uncovering of the why of any human conduct is seldom straightforward.

Are there more British jihadis, for example, because the condition of Muslims in Britain is worse than elsewhere? In answering this question it is well to remember that Muslims are not just Muslims and nothing else. The Muslims in Germany are mainly of Turkish origin; in France, of North African; and in Britain, of Pakistani or Bangladeshi. Any difference in their collective behavior, therefore, might be attributable to their origin as much as to the country of their upbringing.

The position of the Muslims in Britain is not “objectively” worse than that of their coreligionists in France; if anything, the reverse. It is considerably easier for a young Muslim man to obtain a job in Britain than in France, and social ascent is easier. Britain is more obviously a class society than France, but also more socially mobile (the two things are often confused, but are different). And there has been no legislation in Britain against the public use of that cherished Muslim symbol of male domination, the veil.

But failure is not necessarily easier to bear in a more open society than in a closed one: On the contrary, resentment is all the stronger because of the additional element of personal responsibility for that failure, actual or anticipated. In some ways, life is easier, psychologically at least, when you can attribute failure entirely to external causes and not to yourself or anything about yourself. The relative failure of Muslims (largely of Pakistani origin) is evident by comparison with Sikhs and Hindus: Their household wealth is less than half that of Sikhs and Hindus (immigrants at more or less the same time), and while the unemployment rate of young Sikhs and Hindus is slightly lower than that of whites, that of young Muslims is double. Sikh and Hindu crime rates are well below the national average; Muslim crime rates are well above. Racial prejudice is unlikely to account for these differences. Jihad attracts ambitious failures, including those who are impatient or fearful of the long and arduous road to conventional success. Jihad is a shortcut to importance, with the added advantage of stirring fear in a society that the jihadists want to believe has wronged them, but that they are more likely to have wronged.

But why should the British be the most brutal of European jihadists, by all accounts the doctrinally most extreme among them (supposing that reports of this are true)? This, I think, is explicable by the nature of contemporary British culture, using the word “culture” in the widest sense. It is the crudest, most aggressive, and most lacking in refinement of any of the Western cultures, at least of any that I have observed.

Nowhere else known to me do so many young men desire to look brutish and as if the slightest disagreement with them, the first thing denied them, the first word they deem offensive, will cause them to become violent. In no other country in the world are so many doormen and bouncers necessary to keep order in places of entertainment; in no other place in the world does collective enjoyment so quickly turn to fight and riot. Eye-to-eye contact is regarded as a challenge and can lead to an attack of murderous intensity, while sexual crudity and incontinence are accompanied by furious jealousy, a common occasion of violence among young men.

Before they find in Islamism the answer to life’s problems, the jihadis have often fully participated in this way of life. Jihadi websites enjoin their coreligionists to forswear it as degraded and horrible (as indeed it is): Those who do the enjoining know whereof they speak.

Instead of forswearing their brutality, however, they moralize it and give it a semblance of a cause and purpose. For them, jihad is a nightclub brawl on a huge scale with a supposedly transcendent purpose. In being the most brutal of the brutal, they show how partially British they are.