Monday, August 12, 2013

Giving new meaning to ‘let’s roll’

Rather than run toward danger, Obama’s America curls up

We all run across the pill bug in our gardens. At the first sign of danger, the tiny, paranoid crustacean suddenly turns into a ball — in hopes danger will have passed when he unrolls.

That roly-poly bug can serve as a fair symbol of present-day U.S. foreign policy, especially in our understandable weariness over Iraq, Afghanistan and the current scandals that are overwhelming the Obama administration.

On Aug. 4, U.S. embassies across the Middle East simply closed based on intelligence reports of planned al Qaeda violence. The shutdown of 21 diplomatic facilities was the most extensive in recent American history.

Yet we still have more than a month to go before the 12th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, an iconic date for radical Islamists.

Such pre-emptive measures are no doubt sober and judicious. Yet if we shut down our entire Middle East public profile on the threat of terrorism, what will we do when more anti-American violence arises? Should we close more embassies for more days, or return home altogether?

Apparently al Qaeda did not get the message that the administration’s euphemisms of “workplace violence,” “overseas contingency operations,” “man-caused disasters” and jihad as “a holy struggle” were intended as outreach to the global Muslim community.

Instead, the terrorists are getting their second wind, as they interpret our loud magnanimity as weakness — or, more likely, simple confusion. They increasingly do not seem to fear U.S. retaliation for any planned assaults. Instead, al Qaeda franchises expect Americans to adopt their new pill-bug mode of shutting down and curling up until danger passes.

Our enemies have grounds for such cockiness. President Obama promised swift punishment for those who attacked U.S. installations in Benghazi, Libya, and killed four Americans. So far, the killers roam free. Evidence abounds that they have been seen publicly in Libya.

Instead of blaming radical Islamist killers for that attack, the Obama re-election campaign team fobbed the assault on a supposedly right-wing, Islamophobic video-maker. That yarn was untrue and was greeted as politically correct appeasement in the Middle East.

All these Libyan developments take place against a backdrop of “lead from behind.” Was it wise for American officials to brag that the world’s largest military had taken a subordinate role in removing Moammar Gadhafi — with a military operation contingent on approval from the United Nations and the Arab League, but not the U.S. Congress?

No one knows what to do about the mess in Syria. When you do not know what to do, it is imprudent to periodically put down “red lines.” Yet the administration did just that to the Bashar Assad regime over the past two years.

In a similar vein, the administration has so far issued serial “deadlines” to the Iranians to cease the production of weapons-grade uranium. The mullahs don’t seem much worried about yet another deadline.

In Egypt, the United States went from abandoning ally and crook Hosni Mubarak to welcoming the freely elected and anti-American Muslim Brotherhood. Now, we are both praising and damning the military junta that overthrew President Mohammed Morsi. Do we still call that “the Arab Spring”? Is a junta still a junta, a coup still a coup?

Our entire antiterrorism agenda is a paradox. Mr. Obama ran for office on the promise of shutting down Guantanamo Bay, curbing the Patriot Act, ending renditions and preventative detention, and mumbling about drones. Then, in office, he went both hot and cold on all of them.

U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. hinted at trying accused terrorist killers such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in civilian courts and holding CIA interrogators responsible for enhanced interrogations. Then the administration abruptly dropped those bad ideas and embraced or expanded many of the Bush-Cheney antiterrorism protocols — and in many cases, went far beyond anything envisioned by the prior administration.

These paradoxes were not lost on our terrorist enemies. The successors to Osama bin Laden apparently guessed that the Obama administration might not like America’s antiterrorism policies any more than the terrorists themselves did.

News that the FBI scrutinized and then apparently forgot about unhinged Islamists such as Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan sent the wrong message to terrorists. Was the Obama administration more worried about hurting feelings than preventing further attacks?

Other rivals and enemies are now fully aware of our new pill-bug mode in the Middle East — and are willing to bet that it might apply everywhere. Without worry over the U.S. reaction, Russia has given tentative asylum as a reward to Edward Snowden, who single-handedly exposed — and sabotaged — a vast National Security Agency spying network. Increasingly, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan seem to be on their own with a bullying China, unsure whether to bend or resist.

Meanwhile, the new American pill bug curls up in hopes that the mounting dangers will just go away.



War by wordplay

By Charles Krauthammer

Jen Psaki, blameless State Department spokeswoman, explained that the hasty evacuation of our embassy in Yemen was not an evacuation but “a reduction in staff.” This proved a problem because the Yemeni government had already announced (and denounced) the “evacuation” — the word normal folks use for the panicky ordering of people onto planes headed out of the country.

Thus continues the administration’s penchant for wordplay, the bending of language to fit a political need. In Janet Napolitano’s famous formulation, terror attacks are now “man-caused disasters.” And the “global war on terror” is no more. It’s now an “overseas contingency operation.”

Nidal Hasan proudly tells a military court that he, a soldier of Allah, killed 13 American soldiers in the name of jihad. But the massacre remains officially classified as an act not of terrorism but of “workplace violence.”

The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others are killed in an al-Qaeda-affiliated terror attack — and for days it is waved off as nothing more than a spontaneous demonstration gone bad. After all, famously declared Hillary Clinton, what difference does it make?

Well, it makes a difference, first, because truth is a virtue. Second, because if you keep lying to the American people, they may seriously question whether anything you say — for example, about the benign nature of NSA surveillance — is not another self-serving lie.

And third, because leading a country through yet another long twilight struggle requires not just honesty but clarity. This is a president who to this day cannot bring himself to identify the enemy as radical Islam. Just Tuesday night, explaining the U.S. embassy closures across the Muslim world, he cited the threat from “violent extremism.”

The word “extremism” is meaningless. People don’t devote themselves to being extreme. Extremism has no content. The extreme of what? In this war, an extreme devotion to the supremacy of a radically fundamentalist vision of Islam and to its murderous quest for dominion over all others.

But for President Obama, the word “Islamist” may not be uttered. Language must be devised to disguise the unpleasantness.

Result? The world’s first lexicological war. Parry and thrust with linguistic tricks, deliberate misnomers and ever more transparent euphemisms. Next: armor-piercing onomatopoeias and amphibious synecdoches.

This would all be comical and merely peculiar if it didn’t reflect a larger, more troubling reality: The confusion of language is a direct result of a confusion of policy — which is served by constant obfuscation.

Obama doesn’t like this terror war. He particularly dislikes its unfortunate religious coloration, which is why “Islamist” is banished from his lexicon. But soothing words, soothing speeches in various Muslim capitals, soothing policies — “open hand,” “mutual respect” — have yielded nothing. The war remains. Indeed, under his watch, it has spread. And as commander in chief he must defend the nation.

He must. But he desperately wants to end the whole struggle. This is no secret wish. In a major address to the National Defense University just three months ago he declared “this war, like all wars, must end.” The plaintive cry of a man hoping that saying so makes it so.

The result is visible ambivalence that leads to vacillating policy reeking of incoherence. Obama defends the vast NSA data dragnet because of the terrible continuing threat of terrorism. Yet at the same time, he calls for not just amending but actually repealing the legal basis for the entire war on terror, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

Well, which is it? If the tide of war is receding, why the giant NSA snooping programs? If al-Qaeda is on the run, as he incessantly assured the nation throughout 2012, why is America cowering in 19 closed-down embassies and consulates? Why was Boston put on an unprecedented full lockdown after the marathon bombings? And from Somalia to Afghanistan, why are we raining death by drone on “violent extremists” — every target, amazingly, a jihadist? What a coincidence.

This incoherence of policy and purpose is why an evacuation from Yemen must be passed off as “a reduction in staff.” Why the Benghazi terror attack must be blamed on some hapless Egyptian-American videographer. Why the Fort Hood shooting is nothing but some loony Army doctor gone postal.

In the end, this isn’t about language. It’s about leadership. The wordplay is merely cover for uncertain policy embedded in confusion and ambivalence about the whole enterprise.

This is not leading from behind. This is not leading at all.



Norway ponders conservatism and the future of the welfare state

Parts of Northern Europe have had a bit better luck than some other sectors across the pond during the economic troubles of the past decade, but they still have had to deal with the legacy of welfare states and costly entitlement programs. Earlier this year, Mary Katharine looked at Sweden’s attempts to deal with rising debt and costly entitlements, while Erika covered some steps being taken in Denmark to deal with their long term financial issues arising from the same core issues. This sense of realism and worry about the future seems to be spreading across the region, and John Fund has a great analysis of current events in Norway, where conservatives seem poised to take control of the government there for the first time in ages.

    If polls taken over the last year are accurate, the eight-year-old Labor-party government of Jens Stoltenberg is headed for a landslide defeat.

    Normally, you would think it would be a shoo-in for reelection. Labor’s social democrats have long thought of themselves as the natural party of government — Labor has been the leading party in Norway for all but 16 of the last 78 years. While much of Europe is wracked by recession, Norway’s economy grew by 3 percent last year, and the unemployment rate is only 3.5 percent. Norway’s GDP per capita is now over $60,000 a year.

    But Norwegians appear likely to elect a conservative coalition government for the first time in over a decade. Polls show the Conservative party leading with 32 percent of the vote, which should give it 58 seats in the 169-seat parliament, a dramatic increase from 2005, when it won only 23 seats. The Labor party has about 30 percent of the vote, and its left-wing allied parties are floundering. The Progress party — a populist party that supports low taxes and stricter limits on immigration, and that worries about Muslim extremism – has about 16 percent of the vote, and it and the Conservatives, together with their smaller allies, look to have a clear majority in the new Parliament. Both the Conservative party and the Progress party are headed by women — former local-government minister Erna Solberg and economist Siv Jensen, respectively — making it very likely that Norway will soon have its second woman prime minister.

We don’t tend to hear much about Norway over here, aside from one tragic shooting by a madman, but that’s likely because things have been going fairly smoothly for them. As Fund notes, the discovery of massive oil deposits off their coast in the sixties led to the formation of a state operated oil company which generates more than a third of the country’s entire revenue. The lion’s share of those profits go straight into Norway’s Government Pension Fund, doled out from there to an extremely generous welfare program. This report provides details of just some of the benefits being funded by the government, including free healthcare, dental care until 19 years of age, and cut rate prescriptions. They also offer essentially unlimited disability payments, pensions for retirees, survivor benefits and more. So in such an apparently successful socialist paradise, why would the voters suddenly turn to the conservatives?

As Fund notes, there is a growing realization and public discussion of the fact that, “the oil won’t last forever.” And with an ever increasing – and aging – army of pensioners to fully support, if either the supply or the profitable demand for oil were to begin to plunge, the system would collapse under its own weight. Rather than waiting for the wolves to actually arrive at the door, it appears that the citizens are actually thinking of planning for the future. Not in any “radical” and massive ways, mind you, but even baby steps can get you started on the road to redemption. If nothing else, this might make the Norwegian elections worth watching this year. Stay tuned.



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