Category Archives: The World

The morality isn’t QUITE as clear as Krauthammer says

From Charles Krauthammer’s latest column:

Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. Yet we routinely hear this Israel-Gaza fighting described as a morally equivalent “cycle of violence.” This is absurd. What possible interest can Israel have in cross-border fighting? Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows the proudly self-declared raison d’etre of Hamas: the eradication of Israel and its Jews….

He’s right that there is not moral equivalence here, and that Hamas is the party that is in the wrong. They are the ones who started this by firing the rockets, and absolutely refusing to stop firing the rockets, which is all they had to do, at any time, to stop the violence.

But the fact is that innocents are being killed, and up to the time he wrote his column, they were Palestinian innocents, for the most part (the Israeli casualties have started climbing now that the IDF is engaged in ground operations, which is always the way).

And that raises the huge moral contradiction in this conflict:

  • Hamas is trying to kill innocent noncombatants in Israel, but failing.
  • Israel is trying NOT to kill innocents, but is doing so regularly.

That’s Hamas’ fault, no doubt about it. As Krauthammer says, those Palestinian innocents are being sacrificed by Hamas deliberately to score international PR points.

As Netanyahu says,

“Here’s the difference between us,” explains the Israeli prime minister. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”…

And what else is Israel to do, since Hamas won’t stop firing the rockets?

Krauthammer’s conclusion is inescapable. But it’s wishful thinking to say this is a moment of unusual clarity. The situation presents a moral mess, which is exactly what Hamas, of course, wants. The matter is clear to Krauthammer, and clear to me. But it isn’t to everyone, and to the extent that is the case, Hamas is succeeding.

Haley doesn’t want those children fed and sheltered in SC

Gov. Nikki Haley is walking a very fine line.

On the one hand, she decries the “humanitarian crisis” of those thousands of children, driven by desperation we can’t even imagine, who find themselves alone on this side of the border. We are told that “As a mother (emphasis mine), Republican Haley said finds it ‘disturbing’ that the migrant children would be left ‘to fend for themselves’ as they attempt to cross the border.”

Which, you know, suggests a modicum of compassion.

On the other hand, she wants to make sure that, as the government figures out what to do about this crisis, none of those children are sheltered here in South Carolina — not even on federal reservations such as military bases, which to my mind would be none of her business.

This sort of dims the halo of her compassion, to say the least.

France isn’t anti-Muslim, just anti-religion. Feel better?

Oh, I miss my Economist subscription, which the newspaper used to pay for.

But fortunately, the magazine did allow me today to read the piece promoted by this Tweet:


And here, basically, is the answer to the question:

France adheres to a strict form of secularism, known as laïcité, which is designed to keep religion out of public life. This principle was entrenched by law in 1905, after fierce anti-clerical struggles with the Roman Catholic church. Today, the lines are in some ways blurred. The French maintain, for instance, certain Catholic public holidays, such as Ascension. But secular rules on the whole prevail. It would be unthinkable in France, for example, to hold a nativity play in a state primary school, or for a president to be sworn in on a Bible.

Over the past 30 years, in response to a growing assertiveness among the country’s 5m-6m Muslims, the focus of this effort to balance religious and secular needs has shifted to Islam. After a decade of legal uncertainty over the wearing of the headscarf in state schools, the French government in 2004 banned all “conspicuous” religious symbols, including the Muslim headscarf, from public institutions such as state schools or town halls. This was followed in 2010 by what the French call the “burqa ban”, outlawing the full face covering in public. Critics accuse France of illiberalism, of curbing freedom of religious expression, and of imposing a Western interpretation of female oppression. Amnesty International, for example, called the recent European court ruling “a profound retreat for the right to freedom of expression and religion”. For the French, however, it is part of an unapologetic effort to keep religious expression private, and to uphold the country’s republican secular identity. Interestingly, many moderate Muslim leaders also back the ban as a bulwark against hard-line Islam….

So now you see. The French aren’t anti-Muslim. Just anti-religion. Sorta.

That will make some of you feel better, and some worse…

Obama, the coup de main commander in chief

Something struck me over the weekend about POTUS.

We know he’s not much of one for committing conventional forces. He’s no Rommel or Patton; you’ll never see major armored formations maneuvering in large land battles if he can help it. And trench warfare is about 180 degrees from anything this commander in chief would engage in.

He’s even hesitant about the use of air power in any sustained way. He went along in Libya, but on the condition that we were just what Nick Adams in “No Time for Sergeants” called the whole danged Air Force: the helpers. Leading from behind, and all that.

On the other hand…

He’s more willing than any president in my lifetime to launch one-time, deus ex machina attacks from the sky, with devastating and deadly effect. I refer here to the drones, which he has used more extensively by far than any predecessor.

Also, let’s not forget the killing of Osama bin Laden. Or the snatching from Libyan soil of one of the ringleaders of the Benghazi attack, just last week, the success of which the president was happy to tout:

“It’s important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice,” the president said Tuesday at an event in Pittsburgh. “That’s a message I sent the day after it happened, and regardless of how long it takes, we will find you. I want to make sure everyone around the world hears that message very clearly.”…

No, he’s not one for the long-haul slog. But if he can pounce down on you and kill or capture you out of a clear blue sky, leaving behind nothing but a puff of dust in his wake, he will get your a__.

Over the weekend, it finally hit me: He’s the coup de main president. For those not up on military theory, a coup de main is “An offensive operation that capitalizes on surprise and simultaneous execution of supporting operations to achieve success in one swift stroke.

It’s like, if this generation of leaders had been in charge of the Normandy invasion, you’d want Colin Powell in charge of the beach landings — he’s all about putting massive, irresistible force on the objective and overwhelming the enemy’s defenses. But you’d put Obama in charge of something like the Pegasus Bridge operation — a swift, sudden attack by glider-borne troops on a small target of strategic importance to the overall operation.

Except he wouldn’t have gone in for that “hold until relieved” part. He would have wanted to go in, kill all the Germans defending the target, then get out. Which wouldn’t have been helpful in that case, since we needed the bridge to advance inland. So, bad example.

But you know what I mean — don’t you?

Way harsh assessment of Obama’s Mideast performance

Jennifer Rubin, the house conservative at the WashPost, calls my attention to this way harsh assessment of President Obama’s performance in the Mideast, from (not too surprisingly) Elliott Abrams, who served in both the Reagan and Bush 43 administrations:

There’s always Tunisia. Amid the smoking ruins of the Middle East, there is that one encouraging success story. But unfortunately for the Obama narratives, the president had about as much as to do with Tunisia’s turn toward democracy as he did with the World Cup rankings. Where administration policy has had an impact, the story is one of failure and danger.

The Middle East that Obama inherited in 2009 was largely at peace, for the surge in Iraq had beaten down the al Qaeda-linked groups. U.S. relations with traditional allies in the Gulf, Jordan, Israel and Egypt were very good. Iran was contained, its Revolutionary Guard forces at home. Today, terrorism has metastasized in Syria and Iraq, Jordan is at risk, the humanitarian toll is staggering, terrorist groups are growing fast and relations with U.S. allies are strained….

That wasn’t quite enough for Ms. Rubin, who got in another couple of licks:

Add to that a new Rand Corporation study showing terrorist groups’ activity has increased 50 percent in the last three years and the near-collapse of the nuclear non-proliferation architecture and you have a truly troubling conflagration: more terrorists, fewer functioning central governments and the potential widespread possession of weapons of mass destruction (already used multiple times with no consequences by Bashar al-Assad)….

Yeah, I know, consider the sources. But I’ve become somewhat jaded myself with the president’s policies, or lack thereof, over the last couple of years. So I resonate a bit to these messages…

 

Rebekah Brooks: How could anyone with hair like that be guilty?

OK, so maybe someone with hair like that could be guilty. But the jury said she’s not, and it’s sort of good to know that that mane will continue to wave wild and free, whatever its owner did:

David Cameron’s former communications chief Andy Coulson is facing jail after being found guilty of conspiring to hack phones while he was editor of the News of the World.

Rebekah Brooks, his predecessor in the job, walked free from the Old Bailey after she was cleared of all four of the charges she faced in the eight-month trial….

I imagine Boadicea, the Celtic queen who led an uprising against Roman occupation, having hair like that. I don’t know why; maybe because of pictures such as this one

The ‘little Tony Blairs of Kosovo’




I love this little film that The Guardian has put together, about all the 15-year-old boys named after Tony Blair, who led the Western alliance to rescue Kosovo just before they were born.

I like footnote-of-history things like this. And since Tony Blair is my main man, one of my favorite political leaders of the past generation, that makes this all the better…

A full day of wonderful meals in Thailand

My daughter — the one in Thailand, in the Peace Corps — posted today on her blog to let us know how well-fed she is, in keeping with the military junta’s happiness campaign.

She posted quite a cornucopia of enticing dishes. But they also came across, to this benighted Westerner’s eyes, as evidence of just how exotic her surroundings are. That plate of mangosteen and rambutan look like Star Trek props.

I hereby copy and paste her entire post. Shop Tart, eat your heart out:

In accordance with my host country’s happiness campaign (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/04/thailand-to-bring-happiness-to-the-people), I would like to share something that makes me SO happy every day in this country: FOOD.  I took pictures of my breakfast, lunch, and dinner the other day with the intention of making everyone back home super jealous of me.  
                                                                          Breakfast

Mangosteen and Rambutan.  I’m not a huge rice for breakfast person, which is fine because wherever I go in the morning I will inevitably be presented with a large plate of fruit.  On this day, I was accompanying the health clinic to the schools to teach about oral hygiene, when I was  presented with two of my favorite fruits.  Mangosteen, the purple one, is the Queen of Fruits and Thai people say that it makes you cool when you eat it (temperature wise- I don’t want to get all you nerds’ hopes up).  Rambutan is also quite delicious and juicy once you peel those crazy green spikes off. Thai people have really got this whole hospitality thing down.
Lunch

 

Pad Gapow- A spicy, garlicy, deliciousy chicken situation

 

Dtom Yom Gung- A classic, sour shrimp stew made with chili peppers, lemongrass, cilantro, limes mushrooms, etc. Idk I learned to make this the other day but I didn’t take notes. Whoops.

 

Gang Jut- Pork stuffed inside of large celery-like chutes, boiled with cabbage.

 

Pad Pak- Fried vegetables.

 

Dinner

 

Rice
Rooa- Bamboo, coconut Milk, and mint

 

Nam Prik Ga Peet with Vegetables- Basically homemade chili sauce
Gang Malagow- A papaya stew with pork

 

Dtom Gai Baan- Boiled chicken, vegetables, and spices.

 

Gapow Moo- Spicy Pork

 

Khay Giaw Pak Da Om- Omelette made with a stringy green

 

As you can see, I eat pretty well.  I apologize for not cooking, therefore having no idea of the actual ingredients, but you get the “picture”.  Maybe in the future I will try harder.  I did not even include the many snacks I ate that day, including, but not limited to- grilled chicken skewers drenched in a creamy peanut paste, some kind of hot peanut drink, thai doughnuts that we dipped in a condensed milk and some sort of green fluffy stuff, boiled lotus seeds, and a sweetened coconut milk desert with tapioca balls and gelatin noodles.  We joke that I will return to America fat.  That’s fine.  Anyway, hope you enjoyed the pictures, and now you have evidence that I am not starving.  I will post a coup update soon!

I think my favorite would be the Dtom Yom Gung. Being a Southern boy, I’d eat it over rice, like gumbo….

Unusual split between McCain, Graham on Iran, Iraq

This WashPost headline (“Wait, John McCain and Lindsey Graham are at odds? Yes — on Iran and Iraq“) grabbed my attention this morning:

Pick your favorite foreign policy debate and odds are hawkish Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) will be on the same side. Not so when it comes to the escalating situation in Iraq.

McCain on Monday warned sharply against the idea of collaborating with Iran to help the Iraqi government push back against radical Islamist fighters…

“It would be the height of folly to believe that the Iranian regime can be our partner in managing the deteriorating security situation in Iraq,” said McCain in a statement….

Appearing on the Sunday news shows, Graham cautiously endorsed the idea, provided certain conditions are met.

“Well, we’re going to probably need their help to hold Baghdad,” he said on CBS News’s “Face The Nation.”

On the same program, Graham said, “We need to all make sure Baghdad doesn’t fall

It’s not really a huge split, except that McCain’s language (“height of folly”)  is so emphatic. But worth making note.

Frankly, I’m intrigued by the implications of working with Iran for other issues. No, I don’t expect us to become big buddies and see them immediately drop their nuclear program for their new pals, but crises breed opportunity, and there could be one here — aside from the immediate tactical situation, which sees Iran in a better position to act than the U.S.

It’s going to be tough to work with the mullahs while simultaneously pressing Maliki to be less of a Shi’ite chauvinist (thereby making his regime one more worth saving), but it’s worth exploring.

So I think Graham’s being the more pragmatic and flexible here…

Editor’s note: The above video clip — one of my most popular ever — is NOT from this week. It’s from May 15, 2007.

The Bergdahl scandal — and ‘scandal’ is what it’s becoming — seems about to burst into full flower

At this hour, The Washington Post is touting an “exclusive” in which Afghan villagers give their eyewitness accounts of the day Bowe Bergdahl walked away from his post. They say he appeared, inexplicably, to be deliberately seeking out the Taliban:

To them, it’s clear something was wrong with the American. And he seemed to be deliberately heading for Taliban strongholds, they say.

“It was very confusing to us. Why would he leave the base?” said Jamal, an elder in the village of Yusef Khel, about a half-mile from the American military installation. (Like many Afghans, he goes by only one name). “The people thought it was a covert agenda – maybe he was sent to the village by the U.S.”

Locals remember Bergdahl walking through the village in a haze. They later told Afghan investigators that they had warned the American that he was heading into a dangerous area.

“They tried to tell him not to go there, that it is dangerous. But he kept going over the mountain. The villagers tried to give him water and bread, but he didn’t take it,” said Ibrahim Manikhel, the district’s intelligence chief.

“We think he probably was high after smoking hashish,” Manikhel said. “Why would an American want to find the Taliban?”…

This comes out as the Taliban releases video footage of the handover of Bergdahl to U.S. special forces. In the video, the sergeant looks highly stressed, even terrified. Of course, there could be many interpretations of that. Even if everything about his “capture” were kosher and he was thrilled to be handed over, he could have been afraid they’d shoot him at the last minute.

But that is secondary to the Post story. The newspaper’s political blog, The Fix, declares that “Bergdahl is the new Benghazi.” Indeed. Only this is one that people other than dog whistle-attuned Republicans can understand.

No wonder, as The Guardian reports, “US military promises ‘complete review’ into Bowe Bergdahl capture.” The whole happy-welcome-home scenario seems increasingly untenable.

Graham decries Palestinian political merger

This came in this afternoon from Lindsey Graham:

Graham Statement on Palestinian Authority-Hamas Unity Government


WASHINGTON
 – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on the Palestinian Authority-Hamas unity government.
“I’m extremely disappointed to hear that President Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, has decided to form a unity government with Hamas, a violent terrorist organization. This decision undercuts any hope of a viable peace process.
“I do not believe it is in our national security interest to begin a dialogue with a government that includes a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of the state of Israel.
“Secretary Kerry’s statement that the Obama Administration will continue to work with this new government is very disturbing and inappropriate. I will be joining Democrats and Republicans in efforts to suspend all aid to the Palestinian Authority as long as they continue this unity government or until Hamas recognizes the state of Israel and rejects terrorism.
“For our country to be supporting this new unity government sends the worst possible signal to terrorist organizations and is incredibly insensitive to the people of Israel.”
####

I share the senator’s concern, although I don’t know whether I think it’s “inappropriate” for the U.S. to deal with this disturbing new entity. I sort of want to know what the alternatives are.

The Palestinian Authority was our one and only Palestinian entity to talk peace with, while Hamas was the terrorists. What are we supposed to do now?

Graham, McCain, et al., on Afghanistan drawdown

I missed this release yesterday, but it still seems to me worth sharing:

Graham, Ayotte, McCain on Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal Announcement

 

WASHINGTON ­– U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) and John McCain (R-Arizona) released the following statement on President Obama’s announcement on Afghanistan today, which includes withdrawing all U.S. troops from the country by the end of 2016:

 

“The President’s decision to set an arbitrary date for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is a monumental mistake and a triumph of politics over strategy. This is a short-sighted decision that will make it harder to end the war in Afghanistan responsibly.

 

“The President came into office wanting to end the wars he inherited. But wars do not end just because politicians say so. The President appears to have learned nothing from the damage done by his previous withdrawal announcements in Afghanistan and his disastrous decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq. Today’s announcement will embolden our enemies and discourage our partners in Afghanistan and the region. And regardless of anything the President says tomorrow at West Point, his decision on Afghanistan will fuel the growing perception worldwide that America is unreliable, distracted, and unwilling to lead.

 

“The alternative was not war without end. It was a limited assistance mission to help the Afghan Security Forces preserve momentum on the battlefield and create conditions for a negotiated end to the conflict. The achievement of this goal, and the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, should be determined by conditions on the ground, not by the President’s concern for his legacy.

 

“All wars end. The question is how they end. The war in Iraq has ended in tragedy. And it is difficult to see how we can succeed in Afghanistan when the President tells our enemies that our troops will leave by a date certain whether they have achieved our goals or not.”

 

###

On a side note… I’ve pretty much gotten Kelly Ayotte playing Shemp to Joe Lieberman’s Curly, but I still miss the old Three Amigos. By the way, I went looking at her website to remind myself what Sen. Ayotte looks like, and as my old softball teammate Dave Moniz would have said, key lid

Ayotte

And yeah, that’s David “Big Papi” Ortiz with her.

Arrested for getting ‘Happy’ in Iran

Thought this was an interesting slice-of-life-on-the-other-side-of-the-universe item: Iranian students arrested for having made a popular video based on the pop song, “Happy.”

Hassan Rouhani Tweeted his dissent from the official disapproval, thereby asserting his “moderate” cred abroad and, I suppose, playing “good cop” for domestic consumption:

The kids in the video are reported to be out of jail now, but not the director. You know, the authorities can’t be too careful with a dangerous character like that guy. People can’t be allowed to just wander around loose making upbeat, G-rated videos that make people smile…

Below is the full video:

Where does the SECOND largest number of immigrants to SC come from?

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The intuitive answer — Mexico — is correct as the answer to the question, “Where do most immigrants (or rather, a plurality of them) in South Carolina come from?” Nationally, about 15 percent of new immigrants come from our neighbor to the south, and that’s enough to put Mexico out ahead in most states.

That’s according to a map Slate put together based on Department of Homeland Security figures.

But what country comes in second? It may surprise you — it did me. It’s India. Where Nikki Haley’s people are from. Throughout the Deep South, Mexico is first and India is second. And in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, India comes in first.

The maps offer some interesting groupings. In the very center of the country — Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa — the second-largest immigrant group is from Myanmar. And in Tennessee and Idaho, it’s Iraq. I don’t know why.

Anyway, fun facts to know and tell…

The kidnapped Nigerian girls

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Did you see the photo the First Lady tweeted yesterday? I liked it, and it seems as good a way as any to start a thread about this crime against humanity committed by Boko Haram (not to be confused with Boko Maru).

Here’s a good piece from The Guardian answering key questions about the crisis.

And I also like this piece in the NYT, about the fact that what this group has done is so outrageous that it has embarrassed other Islamist groups.

Further thoughts?

 

For you space buffs, a nice shot of Manhattan

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This sort of image is fairly unremarkable in these days of Google Earth, but I thought it was worth reTweeting when I saw it yesterday.

A Japanese astronaut (I’m still adjusting to there being such things) shot this picture and Tweeted it with the simple observation, “Nice pass over New York City.

Yes, it was. Very clear. It would be cooler if the resolution were higher, but still nice.

And yes, in these days when Americans no longer have a means to get into space and have to hitch rides, there are still people up there, still grooving on the view…

Google Maps version

Google Maps version

Maybe Gowdy can help me understand the ‘why’ on Benghazi

Alternate headline: “Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!”

You’ve no doubt seen the news by now that 4th District Congressman Trey Gowdy (you know him — he’s the guy who defeated Bob Inglis because Inglis, of all people, wasn’t “conservative” enough in the Tea Party year) will pitch for the GOP in the big game — that is, he’ll chair the select committee to investigate Benghazi, which a former White House staffer characterized recently with the immortal words, “Dude, this was like two years ago.”

As this was all breaking, I happened to watch the third season episode of “The West Wing,” “Ways and Means,” in which C.J. said:

Leo, we need to be investigated by someone who wants to kill us just to watch us die. We need someone perceived by the American people to be irresponsible, untrustworthy, partisan, ambitious, and thirsty for the limelight. Am I crazy, or is this not a job for the U.S. House of Representatives?

I don’t know what about this situation made me mention that. Unless the White House deliberately manipulated the House into doing this by releasing those emails.

Anyway, now that this is back before us, we ask the eternal question: Why?

Rep. Gowdy puts it this way:

“Twenty months after the Benghazi attacks, there remain unresolved questions about why the security was inadequate, our response during the siege itself, and our government’s interaction with the public after the attack. All of those lines of inquiry are legitimate and should be apolitical. Facts are neither red nor blue.

“While people are free to draw different conclusions from the facts, there should be no debate over whether the American public is entitled to have all of the facts. In a courtroom, juries are free to believe one witness over a hundred witnesses. But you cannot make that or any other credibility determination if you do not have access to all relevant witnesses, documents and other tangible evidence.

“Four of our fellow citizens were murdered, and a facility emblematic and representative of our country was attacked and burned on the anniversary of 9-11. Our fellow citizens are full well capable of processing the truth about the attacks and aftermath, and most assuredly entitled to hear it.”…

OK. If the hearings are going to focus on “why the security was inadequate” and “our response during the siege itself,” so that we might avoid such tragedies in the future, and make our embassies and consulates secure, let’s get started.

But where Republicans lose me is on the third thing, the thing they go on and on and on about: “our government’s interaction with the public after the attack.”

Frankly, I decided a long time ago that Susan Rice wasn’t the sharpest knife in the Obama administration’s cutlery drawer (although she looks awesome next to the kid who made the “Dude” crack). I was relieved when she didn’t become secretary of state, and disappointed when she became National Security Advisor. (As Sonny Corleone would say, “Nixon had Kissinger; look what I got.“)

I decided even longer ago than that that I had no interest in watching the Sunday morning political talk shows, and not just because I was busy going to Mass then. I figured out that if they made news, it would be on the wires (the Sunday shift has to write about something).

So what Susan Rice said on Sunday political talk shows doesn’t exactly rock my world.

Earlier in the week, I had seen reports that the administration had amended its initial assessment that the attacks were just about that horrendous anti-Muslim video. (Scout, I lost my link to that story, and you helped me find it, but I lost it again, so help!) I heard that within 24 hours of learning of the attack in Benghazi itself. I was satisfied.

If Susan Rice said something else, I’m not terribly surprised. But I’m not up in arms.

I find myself asking, “so what?” So Susan Rice tried to make the administration look good (if what Republicans keep saying is true). That seems to be pretty much in character for her.

I also find myself wondering why Republicans get so offended at the idea that the Muslim video triggered these attacks. It was causing demonstrations elsewhere. It just wasn’t crazy to think at first, however erroneously, it might have had something to do with Benghazi.

We know that expressions of disrespect toward the prophet on the part of private parties in the West had triggered violence in the Muslim world before. Why not now?

There’s some kind of dog whistle this issue blows on the right that is just inaudible to me.

But anyway, let’s collect those facts that are neither red nor blue, and figure out how to avoid this kind of deadly debacle in the future. But let’s not go on and on about irrelevancies that happen to scratch the itch of one end or the other of the partisan spectrum.

U.S. isolationism rising. Meanwhile, the world doesn’t cooperate and go away

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Here’s an ominous juxtaposition of stories from today’s news. First, this poll:

A near-majority of Americans say the United States should become less active in world affairs, a dramatic change from the post-9/11 national environment and one that comes as President Barack Obama tries to juggle crises in the Middle East and the Ukraine.

In a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll, 47 percent of respondents said the U.S. should dial down its activity in foreign affairs, versus 19 percent who said the country should be more active around the globe. Three in ten respondents said the current level is correct.

That represents a major flip in how Americans view world affairs since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. At that time, nearly 4 in ten Americans said they wanted to see more engagement around the world, and just 14 percent said the nation should be less active.

Comparable studies in the mid-1990s found that about a third of Americans believed the U.S. should reduce its foreign policy footprint….

Hmmm… I wonder… Could that be the same 47 percent Mitt Romney was on about?

Meanwhile, we have this item from The Guardian, which no one could mistake for a pro-interventionist newspaper:

The biggest geopolitical risk of our times is not a conflict between Israel and Iran over nuclear proliferation. Nor is it the risk of chronic disorder in an arc of instability that now runs from the Maghreb all the way to the Hindu Kush. It is not even the risk of Cold War II between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

All of these are serious risks, of course; but none is as serious as the challenge of sustaining the peaceful character of China‘s rise. That is why it is particularly disturbing to hear Japanese and Chinese officials and analysts compare the countries’ bilateral relationship to that between Britain and Germany on the eve of the first world war.

The disputes between China and several of its neighbours over disputed islands and maritime claims (starting with the conflict with Japan) are just the tip of the iceberg. As China becomes an even greater economic power, it will become increasingly dependent on shipping routes for its imports of energy, other inputs, and goods. This implies the need to develop a blue-water navy to ensure that China’s economy cannot be strangled by a maritime blockade.

But what China considers a defensive imperative could be perceived as aggressive and expansionist by its neighbours and the United States. And what looks like a defensive imperative to the US and its Asian allies – building further military capacity in the region to manage China’s rise – could be perceived by China as an aggressive attempt to contain it….

It’s no accident that we see Americans gazing into their isolationist navels, anxiously taking their own temperatures, while a British publication gazes out at the world as it is. Even as it ceased to rule half the world, Britain has remained at least interested in what happens around the globe. Whereas the average American on the street will always default to isolationism, barring catastrophic events that temporarily turn his attention abroad.

Which, in a world that has relied since 1945, and especially since 1991, on American engagement — economic, diplomatic, humanitarian and yes, military — as a stabilizing force, is not a good thing.

For a generation, China has steadily been engaging more closely with the world, including nations in our own Monroe-Doctrine backyard. One of the first editorials I wrote for The State in 1994 was on the subject of Chinese diplomatic and trade initiatives in the Western Hemisphere. They have been so successful that, according to Stratfor, a Chinese economic slowdown has a deleterious effect on the region:

A looming slowdown in the Chinese economy promises trouble for China’s economic partners in Latin America, especially commodity exporters. The growing relationship between China and Latin America is on display this week as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi tours the region in a trip that will wrap up April 26. Wang is visiting Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina to discuss bilateral financing and trade deals.

China’s slowing economy and potential for domestic economic instability threatens to sharply lower demand for key commodities exported by Latin American countries. Particularly vulnerable are countries such as Brazil, Peru and Chile that have seen China rise in importance as an export destination…

My relativist friends will say that’s fine. We had our time; maybe it’s China’s turn. All nations are alike — there’s nothing exceptional about our own; any perception to the contrary is pure, narrow chauvinism — and a world in which China is the dominant influencer is no worse than one that turns to America.

As you know, I believe they couldn’t be more wrong.

Fortunately, everyone who has held the White House in my lifetime agrees with me — or at the very least says he agrees with me, whatever his actions may say. Our serious political discussions tend to be about ways and means, not ultimate aims. In fact, while he was defending a foreign policy based on the assumption that intervening in Iraq was the worst foreign policy mistake of our time (with which I’m bound to disagree, at least somewhat), I rather like the president’s invocation of a doctrine based on singles and doubles rather than home runs:

MANILA — At a news conference in the Philippines on Monday afternoon, President Obama initially scoffed when a reporter asked him to explain the “Obama doctrine” in light of his handling of recent world events.

But then he seemed to embrace the idea. Surveying hot spots from Syria to Ukraine, Obama laid out an incremental, dogged approach to foreign relations that relies on the United States deploying every possible economic and institutional lever before resorting to armed force.

“That may not always be sexy. That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows,” said Obama, who is nearing the end of a week-long, four-nation tour of Asia. “But it avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run. But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.”…

The problem with isolationists is that they don’t even want us to get up to bat. They don’t even want to show up for the game. Which is not good for the country, and even worse for the rest of the world.

The president in the Philippines -- reaching out, engaging with the world.

The president in the Philippines — reaching out, engaging with the world.

Graham: Leave more troops in Afghanistan

Just now seeing this release that moved late yesterday:

Graham, Ayotte, McCain Issue Statement on Afghanistan

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), and John McCain (R-Arizona) today made the following statement on Afghanistan.

“We hope a recent press report that the White House is considering a post-2014 force in Afghanistan well below the recommendations of our military commanders is incorrect.

“After 13 years of sacrifice and investment, success in Afghanistan is now within our grasp. The last thing we should do in the coming years is increase the risks to our mission unnecessarily. We believe the recommendations of our military leaders represent sound military advice and would allow for continued U.S. support in the areas still needed by Afghan security forces. Maintaining several thousand additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan could mean the difference between success and failure.

“This is the lesson of Iraq. The administration ignored sound military advice and adopted a high risk strategy of withdrawing all U.S. troops. The result, tragically, is a resurgent Al-Qaeda, rising violence, and growing risk of renewed sectarian conflict. That fatal mistake in Iraq must not be repeated in Afghanistan.

“We stand ready to support a follow-on force that is consistent with the recommendations of our military commanders and that will end the war in Afghanistan with success.”

###

I generally agree. The total pullout from Iraq was a terrible move, and I’d hate to see it repeated. Too many have sacrificed too much to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban.

What, were all Obama’s drones broken that day?

Slate brings this to my attention:

A new video apparently released by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism analysts scrambling. The video, which had been circulating on jihadist websites and was brought to light by terrorist watchdog group Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), shows what appears to be the largest gathering of al-Qaida militants in years, and is one of the more brazen al-Qaeda propaganda pieces to be released in some time.

Appearing front and center in the video is AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi. Known as al-Qaida’s crown prince, al-Wuhayshi is second within the group’s global power structure….

His appearance in the video is especially notable given that the meeting seems to be out in the open, running counter to speculation that AQAP leaders had gone underground and were communicating solely by courier. …

Huh. That’s not good. Al Qaeda feeling free to have company picnics.

Of course, I was being facetious about the drones. Something people miss is that, amazing as modern surveillance is, it doesn’t see everything.

But this does represent an intelligence failure, apparently.

I blame Edward Snowden. Not that I have any reason to do so; I just choose to blame him. The way Democrats blamed Bush for everything, and Republicans blame Obama for everything. I blame Snowden. Call it Snowden Derangement Syndrome… Some of y’all have already accused me of something like that, so I might as well roll with it…