Category Archives: The World

Is the Special Relationship getting a little less special?

Halcyon days of the Special Relationship.

Halcyon days of the Special Relationship.

See this news today?

Britain, Belgium and Denmark on Friday joined the U.S.-led coalition of nations that are launching airstrikes on Islamic State group militants in Iraq, committing warplanes to the struggle against the extremists….

Good for them, but what took so long? The French have been with us from the outset. The French! Plus Saudi Arabia and other countries in the neighborhood.

Apparently, the PM had to do some heavy lifting to bring this about:

British Prime Minister David Cameron made a passionate plea that spelled out the consequences of inaction in drastic terms – noting that the militants had beheaded their victims, gouged out eyes and carried out crucifixions to promote goals “from the Dark Ages.”

“This is about psychopathic terrorists that are trying to kill us and we do have to realize that, whether we like it or not, they have already declared war on us,” he said. “There isn’t a ‘walk on by’ option. There isn’t an option of just hoping this will go away.”

Cameron told a tense House of Commons in a more than six-hour-long debate…

Why would debate have taken six minutes, much less six hours? Yeah, I know — Iraq. The same electorate that tossed out Churchill after WWII turned on my man Tony Blair over Iraq, and they’re still kind of cranky over it.

Sigh. All’s well that ends well. The vote was 524-43 for action, so that’s something.

And remember Kosovo?

And remember Kosovo?

Why DO Americans freak out so over single-payer?

One recent morning, I watched another episode of “The West Wing” while on the elliptical trainer. It was the one titled “Drought Conditions,” the 16th episode of Season 6. It’s the one you might remember best from the scene when Josh and Toby actually get into a fight, right there in the West Wing, and Toby gets a nasty cut on his cheekbone. (See above.)

At this point in our story, Josh has left the White House to manage Matt Santos’ bid for the Democratic nomination for president. His candidate has done better than expected in New Hampshire, but Josh is worried about another candidate who has come out of nowhere to start grabbing support that should go to Santos. This new candidate, Rafferty, is using language that Toby once wrote for Bartlet in favor of a single-payer health care system. Toby admits he’s been collaborating with Rafferty. This is what precipitates the fight.

Anyway, there are two or three conversations about this, and we pick up on the fact that, way back before they won the White House, everybody else had to talk Toby (and presumably President Bartlet) down from their politically unpalatable position.

This was so familiar to me. This episode aired two years before I wrote my column asking why no presidential candidate, even in the Democratic field, dared to say “single-payer,” other than fringe extremists such as Dennis Kucinich. Barack Obama certainly didn’t dare say it. My attitude was much the same as Toby’s: What’s the point in even having Democrats, if they can’t stand up for something so obvious, so commonsense, so entirely accepted in the rest of the advanced world — and so in their wheelhouse ideologically?

Anyway, I finished watching the episode just as I finished with the elliptical trainer. (I do 40 minutes, which is almost perfect for watching American “hour-long” commercial TV shows.)

While doing my crunches and stretches after, I put on a few minutes of a “30 Rock” that I’d started watching previously. It’s the one when Jack and Avery have their baby, reluctantly, in Canada after failing to get back across the border before she gave birth.

Which leads to this exchange, which interrupts a phone call Jack is having with Liz Lemon:

Avery: This woman is trying to tell me that we don’t have to pay for any of this.

Woman: Right. The Canadian health care system…

Jack: Oh, no you don’t. We will not be party to this socialist perversion. You will take our money.

Woman: I’m sorry, sir, I can’t do that.

Liz (on the other end of the phone): Oh, this is gonna be good.

Jack: Avery, can you walk yet?

Avery (rising from her bed, holding the baby): I am right behind you, Jack.

Jack: Let’s go find a Canadian who will take our money.

That is played for laughs, and it is hilarious, particularly Jack’s hyperbolic crack about “socialist perversion.”

But what it’s making fun of isn’t funny. Why DO Americans freak out so over something that Canadians and Brits take for granted?

Y’all know me. I’m a center-right kind of guy (if you must place me on that stupid left-right spectrum), and on some things a neocon. I want the federal government out of things it has no business in, such as education (which means, by the way, that I would never vote for the fictional Matt Santos — he comes across like he’s running for school board rather than POTUS).

But putting everybody into the same risk pool and eliminating profit from the payment system just seems like common sense, not radical at all. Paying my premiums (or if you prefer, taxes) for coverage that I can never lose, no matter where I go to work in the future, also just makes sense to me. Having something simpler than either the patchwork of private coverage or the complex maze of Obamacare just makes sense to me.

I don’t get why it doesn’t make sense to other people — and in fact, freaks them out so. I mean, intellectually I understand that some people have a sort of religious horror of the government being involved with anything. I accept that they are that way. But I have trouble understanding why they’re that way. Why do Americans get so worked up about something that other people who are so like us culturally — such as the Brits, and the Canadians — take for granted, as a matter of course?

Some of y’all have tried to explain it to me in the past. Maybe you should try again. Maybe I’ll get it this time. Then again, maybe not.

The thing is, I can probably recite all of the objections. The words I know. What I don’t get is the passion, the horror at the idea. It’s the emotion that eludes my understanding…

Khorasan a worse threat than ISIL? What’s next? Terrorists with superpowers, led by General Zod?

When it comes to foreign affairs and matters of national and collective security, Americans are notorious about not paying attention, or not paying attention for long — and then being totally shocked and surprised by subsequent developments.

If network news starts showing starving people in Somalia, we’re all, “Let’s send in the troops and feed those people!” Then, after the Battle of Mogadishu, we’re like, “What! We still have people over there and they’re getting killed? Let’s get out of there!”

The fact that the NSA was collecting and sifting metadata to counter terrorism was known by people who paid attention for years, and uncontroversial. Then Edward Snowden makes a fuss and we’re all like, “What!?!? I didn’t know we were doing that! Let’s stop it!”

And so forth.

Although I used the pronoun “we” above, I like to think of myself as not really one of those Americans. I like to think I follow things less fitfully, and am less surprised at developments.

But today, I feel like one of those people.

Here I had just gotten used to the idea that ISIS, which the organization itself calls Islamic State, and the in-the-know people inside the Beltway call ISIL, was this shocking new animal, a self-financing terrorist army, with capabilities that made those old Mustache Petes in al Qaeda look pathetic, with the power to capture and hold territory and carve out new countries at will. So I felt like I was hip and up-to-date and had a good grasp on things.

But then we started bombing targets in Syria last night — no surprise there, of course, to those of us paying attention — and all of a sudden there’s a shocking new wrinkle. Not only were we hitting ISIL targets, but… well, read this from The Washington Post:

In addition to a broader campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State targets across Syria on Monday night, the United States also pounded a little-known but well-resourced al-Qaeda cell that some American officials fear could pose a direct threat to the United States.

The Pentagon said in a statement early Tuesday that the United States conducted eight strikes west of Aleppo against the cell, called the Khorasan Group, targeting its “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications building and command and control facilities.”

Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later told reporters that the group was in the “final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland.” He added, “We believe the Khorasan Group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe” or the United States, having attempted to recruit Westerners who can more easily enter the target countries….

The Independent termed Khorasan “a terror group more feared by US officials than Isis.”

And I’m all like, “WHAT!?! We’re just beginning to deal with ISIL, which I’ve come to understand is way worse than al Qaeda, and now you tell me there’s something out there even worse — which I don’t think I had ever even heard of before now? WTF?”

“What am I going to learn about tomorrow? A terrorist army with superpowers, led by General Zod?”

But then I calmed down, and realized that Khorasan is only worse than al Qaeda in that it was planning attacks here at home. Which is certainly one sense of “worse,” from an American perspective. But they don’t seem to be a rampaging terrorist army like ISIL. They’re more old-school. In fact, Muhsin al-Fadhli learned the terror trade at Osama bin Laden’s knee.

Khorasan is a serious new threat, apparently pursuing an unusually sophisticated strategy:

Khorasan hasn’t arrived to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. It’s not interested laying claim to great swaths of land and resources, as is the Islamic State. Rather, American officials told the Associated Press, its members have come from Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan to exploit the flood of Western jihadists who now have skin in the fight — and possess very valuable passports. According to the AP, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri dispatched this deputy to recruit those Western fighters, who have a better chance of escaping scrutiny at airports and could place bombs onto planes.

But so far, they don’t seem to have superpowers. Which is reassuring…

Regarding Scotland, I add my cheers to Friedman’s

Friday night, I ran into our own Phillip Bush at the Greek Festival. He had a pint of beer in hand, which he had obtained at the craft beer stand next to the main tent, where Greek-flavored music was being performed. I asked if he would recommend one of the beers. He said that, Anglophile that I am, I should get a Skunk Cabbage ESB, to celebrate the Scots’ rejection of separatism.

Which I did. And I congratulate the local brewers — I liked it better than the legendary Fuller’s ESB.

But I congratulate the Scots even more heartily. And I share this Tom Friedman column, which Samuel Tenenbaum brings to my attention:

Three Cheers for Pluralism Over Separatism

MADRID — THIS was an interesting week to visit Britain and Spain — first to watch the Scottish separatists push for independence and then to watch Basque and Catalan separatists watching (with disappointment) the outcome of the vote. One reaction: I’m glad a majority of Scots rejected independence. Had they not, it would have clipped the wing of America’s most important wingman in the world: Britain. Another reaction: God bless America. We have many sources of strength, but today our greatest asset is our pluralism — our “E pluribus unum” — that out of many we’ve made one nation, with all the benefits that come from mixing cultures and all the strengths that come from being able to act together.

As I’ve asked before: Who else has twice elected a black man as president, whose middle name is Hussein, whose grandfather was a Muslim, who first defeated a woman and later defeated a Mormon? I’m pretty sure that I will not live long enough to see an ethnic Pakistani become prime minister of Britain or a Moroccan immigrant president of France. Yes, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., reminds us that we’re still a work in progress in the pluralism department. But work on it we do, and I’ll take the hard work of pluralism over the illusions of separatism any day….

Graham, McCain blame Obama for not stopping ISIL earlier

This is from an op-ed piece by the two senators in National Review:

President Obama cannot avoid his share of responsibility for the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). As dangerous as ISIS is now, its rise was neither inevitable nor unpredictable. Time after time, President Obama had the opportunity to act when U.S. engagement could have made a decisive difference, and in pulling back from America’s traditional leadership role, he left a vacuum for other, more dangerous actors to fill. As a result, the situation in Iraq and Syria has descended into a crisis that poses a direct threat to the United States. Worse yet, our options for countering this threat are fewer and far worse than they were just a few years ago.

At least four of President Obama’s key decisions stand out…

Boiled down, the four are:

  1. The “failure to leave a residual force in Iraq in 2011.”
  2. In 2012, “when President Obama’s entire senior national-security team — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey — identified the threat posed by radicalization in Syria and recommended a proposal to arm and train elements of the moderate Syrian opposition.”
  3. “President Obama’s decision not to strike the Assad regime in September 2013 after Assad crossed the president’s own red line…”
  4. “Finally, in the fall of 2013, President Obama refused to launch targeted strikes against ISIS in Iraq when some U.S officials and Iraqi leaders were urging him to do so…”

Hindsight is indeed 20/20, but in this case, a lot of people were seeing trouble back then, and trying to tell the president. Of the four, I continue to find No. 2 the most startling. That wasn’t about the president’s political opponents second-guessing him. It was about him ignoring his whole team.

Open Thread for Thursday, September 18, 2014 — Special Scottish Referendum Edition

Today, I’ll offer you two choices:

  1. Discuss the independence referendum in Scotland, results of which will come in over the next few hours.
  2. Discuss whatever you like. I mean, if the Scots can do whatever they like, including committing economic suicide, then why shouldn’t my fellow Americans say what they please? (Within reason, and my civility rules, of course. Because this blog isn’t a bloody democracy. Harrumph.)

I see that YouGov has the Scots deciding to stay in the UK. If that’s correct, they haven’t gone completely mad. Or, if you prefer, they haven’t gone totally radge.

As to why I oppose Scottish secession, I do so for the same assorted reasons I oppose the Confederacy, Quebec secession, the disintegration of the Balkans, the Anschluss and Putin slicing off a chunk of Ukraine on the grounds of protecting ethnic Russians. Throw in my Anglophilia and my affinity for the Special Relationship, which causes me not to want to see Britain divided and weakened.

Also, I think the Union Jack is one of the most beautiful flags ever. By comparison, the St. Andrew’s Cross alone seems rather sad…

1200px-Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg

Yes, says the general: Ground troops may be necessary

Here’s today’s lede story for The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal:

Dempsey opens door to combat troops in Iraq

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff raised the possibility Tuesday that U.S. troops could become involved in ground attacks against the Islamic State, despite repeated pledges to the contrary from President Obama.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that U.S. military advisers are helping Iraqi government forces prepare for a major offensive to reclaim territory seized by the Islamic State in recent months. Although the advisers have been assigned primarily to assist with planning and coordination, Dempsey for the first time suggested that they eventually could go into the field on combat missions.

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Islamic State] targets, I’ll recommend that to the president,” he testified….

Maybe we can degrade and destroy ISIL with only air power. But as I’ve said before, we don’t know that we can — which is why it is ill-advised, sinking to the level of “doing stupid (stuff),” to rule out using ground troops on the front end. (Saying you don’t want to do it is one thing. Saying on the front end that you won’t is another matter.)

Ground combat troops could become necessary. Which is why a senior general officer, who must have plans for all contingencies, would say what Gen. Dempsey said. And why the president shouldn’t have said what he said.

Going into a fluid military situation, you can’t know that it won’t become necessary to resort to ground combat. You just can’t.

Lindsey Graham’s reaction to Obama’s ISIL speech

Above is a video of Lindsey Graham speaking on the House floor about the plan for combating ISIL that President Obama spoke about last night.

Here are some excerpts from Graham’s speech:

  • “About the speech last night, what bothered me the most was the way it started. The President tried to tell us that as a nation we’re safer today than we have ever been. Do you believe that? I don’t. There are more terrorists, more organizations with more money, more capability, and more weapons to attack our homeland than existed before 9/11. We’re not safer than we were before 9/11 and that’s just an unfortunate fact.”
  • “Every president, every senator makes mistakes. History judges you not by the mistakes you make but by what you learn from them.”
  • “Here’s what I ask of the President – stop caveating everything. Look the enemy in the eye and say ‘We will destroy you’ and stop. Look the American people in the eye and say ‘We have to win, we will win and I will do what is necessary to win.’”
  • “The American military…..they’re tired, but they’re not too tired to defend this country.”
  • “The President also said this operation against ISIL will be like other CT (Counter-terrorism) operations over the last five or six year. No, it will not! This is not some small group of people running around with AK-47s. This is a full blown army. They were going to defeat the Kurdish Peshmerga, a pretty tough fighting group, if we hadn’t intervened. To underestimate how hard this will be will bite us.”
  • “Mr. President, please be honest with the American people about what we face. Somebody’s got to beat this army. This is not a small group of terrorists. They have howitzers. They have tanks. They are flush with money. They are getting fighters from all over the world. But they can and will be defeated. They must be defeated.”
  • “There is not a force in the Mideast that can take these guys on and win without substantial American help.”
  • “Mr. President, if you need my blessing to destroy ISIL, you have it. If you need to follow them to the gates of hell, I will send you a note – ‘go for it.’ If you need Congress to authorize your actions, let me know. You say you don’t and I agree with you, but if it makes us stronger for this body to vote in support of your plan to destroy ISIL, I will give you my vote. But here’s what I expect in return — your full commitment to win.”
  • “One thing I can promise the American people – if we take on ISIL and lose – we will unlock the gates of hell. And hell will come our way.”

Graham speak

The best part of President Obama’s speech tonight

Here it is:

When we helped prevent the massacre of civilians trapped on a distant mountain, here’s what one of them said. “We owe our American friends our lives. Our children will always remember that there was someone who felt our struggle and made a long journey to protect innocent people.”

That is the difference we make in the world. And our own safety — our own security — depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for — timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth….

Yes, that is what sets this nation apart. We are the nation that will go halfway ’round the world to save endangered and oppressed people. And we are the one nation that can do that, time and again. We have the power; we have the resources. And therefore we have the moral obligation.

That’s not the only reason we must “degrade and destroy” ISIL. It also involves doing “what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for.”

The monsters of ISIL must be stopped. And we’re the ones to do it. It’s great that the president is enlisting others to help. But it’s going to depend on us, and our resolve to end this evil.

Good news: It’s not the economy. Bad news: It’s not foreign affairs, either…

Last week, the WSJ’s Daniel Henninger wrote a column that, from my perspective, was expressive of wishful thinking.

At one point, he wrote, “The world has reframed the politics of the 2016 election.”

A bit later, he said, “In a foreign-policy election, as it looks like we are going to have in 2016…”

Oh, if only it were so, Daniel.

Reason would dictate that we would have such an election. To begin with, all presidential elections should be foreign-policy elections, since that’s the most critical part of the job of POTUS.

But with what’s happening now in Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan and so on, there should be no question at all — a rational electorate would want first and foremost to know how a prospective president would lead us in dealing with the rest of the world.

But it doesn’t work that way, does it?

Still, my heart beat a bit faster when I saw this headline on my NPR app this morning: “It Might Sound Stupid, But Maybe It Isn’t The Economy This Time.”

But then I read on. Turns out that the world out there still doesn’t make the cut:

The economy is not the No. 1 issue?

That’s right. Gallup pollsters asked voters what was important, and the No. 1 topic turned out to be dissatisfaction with politicians. No. 2 was immigration. The economy had slipped to No. 3….

“Foreign policy/Foreign aid/Focus overseas” came in sixth.

And even the economy’s third-place status was rather artificial. Yes, “Economy in general” came in third, but “Jobs/unemployment” came in fourth. And if you combine the two, which would make more sense, they’re easily in first place.

And don’t get all overexcited and think that because “immigration” came in second, the public is all worried about the horrific conditions in Central America. No such luck.

If I had responded to that poll, and the question had been open-ended, I might have said, “dissatisfaction with voters…”

We’re in trouble when a really big country is in the hands of a guy who says stuff like this

When I saw the headline, I had to ask the question:


Can you believe this? A country that until recently was one of the world’s two superpowers is now in the hands of a guy who goes around saying stuff like this?

So, OK… the Russians are saying this was quoted out of context, which means, we hope, that Putin was saying, essentially, I’m not trying to take Ukraine. If I were trying to take Ukraine, I’d take Ukraine.

But still. The problem here is that Putin is the kind of guy who does say stuff like this, with or without his shirt on. And that’s trouble for all of us…

HERE’s a strategy for dealing with ISIS: Let’s do them the way the Aggies did the Gamecocks

tan suit

And oh, yeah — what’s with the tan suit?

Yes, that headline is my way of admitting that I don’t have a strategy for dealing with ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State/QSIS. I don’t even know how to solve the confusion over what to call them.

But then, I’m not POTUS. And the man who is is taking a lot of flak for his honest admission yesterday that “We don’t have a strategy yet.” (Possibly the worst such gaffe since Toby Ziegler said C.J. Cregg could go to Ramallah to “swat at suicide bombers with her purse.”) Which he perhaps deserves, for having made some of the decisions that led to the metastatic growth of the former al Qaeda in Iraq that has turned into that new thing, a self-financing, blitzkrieging army of bloodthirsty terrorists.

But having left Iraq without any sort of residual force to act as a counterbalance to instability, and having ignored the advice of his entire national security team three years back when there was still a chance to prop up some moderate alternatives in Syria, I’m not entirely sure what the president should do, what we should do, now.

Which is why you might see me indulging myself in irrelevancies, with the rest of the ADD brigade, over such trivia as the president’s tan suit. Sorry about that. But truly, I’m at a loss for more helpful observations to offer.

And, oh, yeah — Russia is invading Ukraine with impunity. (At least the president is visiting Talinn to express support for a nervous NATO ally, for what that’s worth. I’m not sure how reassuring that will be. They’ll probably be on pins and needles hoping he doesn’t say the words, “red line.”)

Any ideas, folks? I’ll be glad to pass them up to the White House.

Seriously, I’m glad the president wants to get his ducks in a row and have a strategy, instead of the fits and starts of our actions thus far, which have had a “what are we actually trying to do?” feel about them. Although driving them from Mosul Dam was encouraging, as was rescuing the Yazidi. But we need something a little more thought-out, and effective, than a #bringbackourgirls type of reaction to outrages.

And I hope this administration is up to it. A lot of people — including, I saw this morning, Maureen Dowd and Eugene Robinson, not your usual Obama-hating suspects — seem to have their doubts these days.

Graham gives Rubio a big pat on the head in SC

I sort of missed this event up in Anderson yesterday, but U.S. News and World Report was there:

Lindsey Graham Calls Marco Rubio ‘Son of Ronald Reagan’

South Carolina’s senior senator offers high praise of his colleague.

ANDERSON, S.C. – Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., “the son of Ronald Reagan when it comes to national security” Monday night at a barbecue gathering of nearly 1,000 conservatives in the upstate.

South Carolina’s senior senator also dubbed Rubio “a rising young star” in the GOP “who you will see a lot,” a nod to his colleague’s White House aspirations in 2016.

The high praise comes from one of the Senate’s biggest foreign policy hawks at a time when the country is confronting how to deal with the unraveling violence and chaos in Iraq being caused by the radical Islamic State….

Not to mention, it comes as certain Republican stars are championing isolationism.

I don’t know whether this is just Lindsey being polite to the visiting fireman, or maybe he’s getting on the Rubio bandwagon. This bears watching.

When you think about it, who is coming along in the next generation to carry the national security torch in the GOP? Also, I suppose Graham and McCain appreciate the help they got from young Master Rubio on the ill-fated immigration bill — which frankly was the first time I took favorable notice of him.

ISIS, the Black Hole of Evil

Flag_of_The_Islamic_State.svg

If Iran, Iraq and North Korea once constituted the Axis of Evil, what is ISIS?

It’s the Black Hole of Evil. It’s growing rapidly in mass, sucking in territory throughout the regions of the Tigris and Euphrates, and sucking in people — the sort who flock to evil and wish to be a part of it — from across the globe. You’ve probably already seen the statistic that there are more British Muslims in the jihadist force now than there are serving in the British military.

By comparison, al Qaeda is the Quaint Mom-and-Pop Shop of Evil, tut-tutting on the sidelines as its onetime offshoot grows and grows and grows, committing atrocities at which bin Laden’s old organization blanches.

I was inspired to this observation by Richard Cohen’s reflection today on the Islamic State as an expression of evil:

I used to not believe in evil. When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire,” I thought it was a dandy phrase but also a confession of ignorance. The word itself connotes something or someone diabolical — bad for the sake of bad. The Soviet Union was bad, I conceded, but not for no reason. It was bad because it was insecure, occupying the flat, inviting, Eurasian plain, and because it had a different system of government that it dearly wanted to protect. Reagan had it right, though. The Soviet Union was evil.

Now we are facing a different type of evil. The Islamic State, in whose name Foley was beheaded, murders with abandon. It seems to love death the way the fascists once did. It is Sunni, so it massacres Shiites. It is radical Sunni, so it eliminates apostates. It is Muslim, so it kills Yazidis, a minority with a religion of its own, and takes as plunder their women as concubines. Men are shot in graves of their own making.

The Nazis are back — differently dressed, speaking a different language and murdering ostensibly for different reasons but actually for the same: intolerance, hatred, excitement and just because they can. The Islamic State’s behavior is beyond explication, not reacting as some suggest to the war in Iraq — although in time it will try to settle some scores with the United States — but murdering and torturing and enslaving because this is what it wants to do. It is both futile and tasteless to lay off blame on others — the West, the colonialists of old or the persistent Zionists — or to somehow find guilt in the actions of the rich or powerful because they are rich or powerful. You can blame the victim. You can even kill him….

Cohen was in turn inspired by this essay by Martin Amis in the Financial Times over the weekend. I’m still plowing my way through that. More observations may be forthcoming in this space…

Maybe the terrorist who killed Foley was a British subject, but there’s no way he was a ‘Westerner’

News reports such as this one challenge our convictions about citizenship and identity in a modern, pluralistic, liberal democracy:

The beheading of an American journalist at the hands of a London-accented extremist prompted deep reckoning among Britons on Wednesday over the particularly vicious role their countrymen are playing in the destabilization of the Middle East.

Security officials in London have been sounding the alarm for more than a year over the large number of foreigners in Syria, with the chief of Scotland Yard telling reporters last week that about 500 Britons are among the thousands of Westerners who have joined the fight….

I’ll confess right now that my first reaction is one that is unworthy of someone who prizes living in a pluralistic society. My first thought is, “That was no Englishman. That was a foreigner who had lived in England.”

But then, I have to correct myself: If Scotland Yard says there are “500 Britons” fighting for ISIS, then I have to take it to me that they hold British passports (I sincerely doubt that the Yard is referring to the old ethnic identity of Briton, as in the people who lived in Albion before the Angles and the Saxons showed up.)

And if they hold UK passports, then they are Brits. They are British subjects, with the same rights and privileges as Sir Paul McCartney or Hugh Laurie or David Cameron. That’s the way it is, and the way it should be. To say they are less English (or less British) than James Bond because they belonged to a culture that made them likely to become Islamist terrorists is to deny what separates us from the cultural fascists of ISIS.

However, all of that said… I still don’t see how they, or the 100 or so Americans among the terrorists, can be called “Westerners.” That implies a cultural orientation, one which these fighters categorically and viciously reject. Western culture is something they are against, presumably. They may hold passports from Western nations, but everything they are cries out against all that is Western — including our pious, correct insistence that legally, they are just as British as Monty Python.

Terrorists such as these challenge our vocabulary. We must choose our words carefully, as we are trying to define a new thing, a thing that if it had its way would kill us all. A decidedly unWestern thing…

Who’s doing stupid s___ now? Not Hillary Clinton

During the January 2008 meeting in which I shot this photo, then-Sen. Obama persuaded me he had a clear, correct conception of America's proper role in the world. Today, I have my doubts.

During the January 2008 meeting in which I shot this photo, then-Sen. Obama persuaded me he had a clear, correct conception of America’s proper role in the world. Today, I have my doubts.

Hillary Clinton is sounding better and better. I liked reading this:

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton has not yet said whether she will pursue the presidency. But for a candidate-in-waiting, she is clearly carving out a foreign policy distinct from the man she used to serve.

In the spring, President Obama articulated a philosophy for avoiding dangerous entanglements overseas that was modest in its ambitions and focused on avoiding mistakes. Don’t do stupid things, he said.

Now Clinton is offering a blunt retort to that approach, telling an interviewer, “Great nations need organizing principles — and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”…

She drew special attention to Obama’s determination to sidestep costly foreign interventions. The president and his aides have referred privately to that strategy in recent months as, “Don’t do stupid s—.” That approach has come under fire from some now that Islamist militants have gained ground overseas.

… she argued that the United States has to strike a better balance between overreaching in foreign affairs and being so restrained that conflicts can spiral out of hand.

“You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward,” Clinton said…

Amen to that. That “down on yourself” think is particularly to the point. In this context, it refers to the president being down on his country (I haven’t noticed him being down on himself, personally), and seeing it as unworthy of trying to do any good in the world. Which is not an appealing trait in a POTUS.

In the same editions of The Washington Post (OK, maybe not in the actual paper, but on my iPad version, which is what I see), the paper’s house conservative, Jennifer Rubin, gives Mrs. Clinton a backhanded complement in the course of giving Rand Paul a good slap upside the head:

Will Americans want to replace President Obama with a candidate who thinks critics of his failed Middle East policy are “warmongers,” who thinks containment of Iran shouldn’t be ruled out, who opposed imposition of the Menendez-Kirk sanctions, who thinks Guantanamo Bay terrorists should be moved to the United States for trial, who wanted all troops pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and who didn’t want to take any action in Syria? It seems Hillary Clinton doesn’t think so, and I suspect she’ll start running from Obama’s Iran policy just as she has from his treatment of Israel and refusal to take action in Syria. Why then does Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) think the Republican Party will accept positions that even Hillary Clinton can’t stomach?

Oh, and to complete the hat trick on deriding Obama’s foreign policy, Dana Milbank had this to say today, in the same paper:

President Obama must really be teed off.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, his once-loyal secretary of state and his likeliest successor, has gone rogue, criticizing his foreign policy as too timid.

Obama responded with not one but two rounds of golf….

Obama stood on the South Lawn on Saturday updating Americans on the new bombing campaign in Iraq — and then he boarded Marine One for a two-week trip to Martha’s Vineyard. There, half an hour after arriving at his vacation home, he was already on his way to a golf course. He played again Sunday, then had a beach outing Monday followed by a political fundraiser.

Even presidents need down time, and Obama can handle his commander-in-chief duties wherever he is. But his decision to proceed with his getaway just 36 hours after announcing the military action in Iraq risks fueling the impression that he is detached as the world burns….

Aw, give POTUS a break. He needs a vacation from the strain of not doing stupid stuff around the world. Or smart stuff, either.

With a program like this, maybe even I could have served

I’ve always chafed at the fact that I could not serve in the military, because of something as simple and stupid as chronic asthma.

As long as I use Asmanex and Singulair daily, it’s totally under control, as my nightly strenuous workouts on the elliptical trainer prove. (Although, I confess, the drugs available when I was military age were considerably less effective.) But as an Army general confirmed for me recently, they don’t want you if you need to take anything on a regular basis.

But according to this video shared by Stan Dubinsky, Israel makes it possible for anyone and everyone to serve in the IDF.

That’s the way it should be. I think everyone should serve. It’s good for the individual, and good for the society overall. But at the very least, you should be allowed to serve if you want to.

Here’s a piece about the Israeli program:

Children with special needs in Israel face an often harsh disappointment at the age of 18, when they are left behind as others join the IDF. A unique project seeks to change that, allowing disabled children to overcome their limitations and enlist.

Maj. Col. (res.) Ariel Almog founded the project ten years ago, to integrate disabled youth into the IDF in a three-year program, helping prepare them for independent life in Israeli society.

A few months ago the association “Lend a Hand to a Special Child,” founded in 2005 by parents of special needs children, joined the project to help increase its scale and allow thousands of disabled youth to join.

Rabbi Mendi Belinitzki, CEO of Lend a Hand to a Special Child, explained that the project “starts in the army but doesn’t end there. We can clearly see how afterwards it leads to a better integration into the society, the community and the workforce.”…

Yeah, I know, wise guys out there. This indeed invites comparison to the classic Onion piece about “very special forces,” which was funny but cruel.

But this is a serious matter. Everyone should have at least the opportunity to serve.

Mind the gap there, cobber! Crowd works together to rescue fellow commuter

Does the public transit system in Perth, Australia, warn commuters to “Mind the Gap” the way the Tube does in London?

If so, this man failed to heed the warning, and might have lost his leg and even his life if not for the quick reaction and concerted effort of his fellow riders.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

“Transperth spokesman David Hynes said the man was boarding at the tail end of peak hour, but the train was still fairly busy.

” ‘He stood in the doorway and as he was sort of taking up his position there, one leg slipped outside the door, slipped outside the gap, and he was stuck,’ he said.

” ‘We alerted the driver, made sure the train didn’t move.

” ‘Then our staff who were there at the time got the passengers, and there were lots of them, off the train, and organised them to sort of rock, tilt the train backwards away from the platform so they were able to get him out and rescue him.’ “

The man was fine, by the way, thanks to all those strangers.

Brigid Schulte of The Washington Post once teased me after I had said for the umpteenth time that I loved public transportation, saying something like, “I know you do, you communitarian, you.”

But this public transit incident is communitarianism squared…

mindthegap

Sheheen asks Moniz to spare us the nuclear waste, thanks

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This came in earlier today from Vincent Sheheen. Make of it what you will:

Sheheen to DOE Secretary: SC Is Not A Nuclear Waste Dumping Ground
Camden, SC – Today Vincent Sheheen urged Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to join him in preventing South Carolina from becoming a dumping ground for international nuclear waste, as the Secretary toured the Savannah River Site and visited the Aiken area.
The text of Sen. Sheheen’s letter to Secretary Moniz is pasted below.  View a PDF of the signed letter at: http://vincentsheheen.com/?p=594
July 28, 2014
The Honorable Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy
US Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave. SW
Washington DC 20585
Dear Secretary Moniz,
As you will no doubt see on your visit today, South Carolina is a beautiful state, blessed with tremendous natural resources and hardworking people. We are also proud to have the Savannah River Site (SRS) in Aiken, which provides jobs in the community and does important work for our country.  But South Carolina is not a nuclear waste dumping ground.
I write today to ask you to join us in preventing German radioactive waste from being dumped in our state. We’ve been down this road before, and South Carolina won’t be fooled by promises again.
The federal government’s proposal to ship nearly 1 million highly radioactive graphite spheres from Germany to Charleston and then transport it to the Savannah River Site is deeply troubling. The proposal is unprecedented in its scope and size – and for the sake of the local families and businesses, for the sake of our state, the proposal should not move forward.
This German commercial nuclear waste was created by experimental reactors in Germany. The clean-up or storage of the radioactive by-product should be the responsibility of the German government. It’s not right for Germany or for the US federal government to throw this responsibility off to the people of South Carolina.
We know that once these highly radioactive graphite spheres are at the SRS they are going to stay here, likely forever. There is currently no disposal system at SRS – or anywhere in the United State for that matter – to handle the reprocessing of this waste. So, once it’s here, it will sit here. And sit here. And sit here.
Until we have made headway in dealing with the 37 million gallons of waste that we currently have at the SRS, we should not take on this burden from other countries. Our focus must remain on cleaning up the tanks at SRS remaining from its time producing plutonium.
These are tough issues that affect the people from Aiken to Charleston and around our state. Governor Haley refuses to speak out on this issue, but that does not mean South Carolinians support this proposal.
South Carolina is not a nuclear waste dump.  Please help us keep it that way.
Sincerely,
Sen. Vincent Sheheen
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