The Totalitarians Among Us

Herschel Smith · 03 Mar 2014 · 15 Comments

Victor Davis Hanson observes: In short, Obama will always poll around 45 percent. That core support is his lasting legacy. In a mere five years, by the vast expansion of federal spending, by the demonizing rhetoric of his partisan bully pulpit, and by executive orders and bizarre appointments, Obama has so divided the nation that he has created a permanent constituency that will never care as much about what he does as it cares about what he says and represents. For elite rich liberals…… [read more]

Egypt And A Third Way In American Foreign Policy

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 2 months ago

Today’s post gets its launching point from an article by Barry Rubin in which Mr. Rubin sounds a very dire note for the prospects of anything like a pro-Western democracy emerging from the unrest in Egypt.

There is no good policy for the United States regarding the uprising in Egypt but the Obama Administration may be adopting something close to the worst option. This is its first real international crisis. And it seems to be adopting a policy that, while somewhat balanced, is pushing the Egyptian regime out of power. The situation could not be more dangerous and might be the biggest disaster for the region and Western interests since the Iranian revolution three decades ago.

All this may very well be the case and there is no good reason that, with this President, the worst will come to pass.

But this observation is particularly instructive, if true:

Look at Tunisia. The elite stepped in with the support of the army and put in a coalition of leadership, including both old elements and oppositionists. We don’t know what will happen but there is a reasonable hope of stability and democracy. This is not the situation in Egypt where the elite seems to have lost confidence and the army seems passive.

Add to this Mr. Rubin’s observation that

There is no organized moderate group in Egypt. Even the most important past such organization, the Kifaya movement, has already been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader until recently was Abdel Wahhab al-Messiri, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a virulent antisemite.

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That is not to say that there aren’t good, moderate, pro-democratic people in Egypt but they have little power, money, or organization. Indeed, Egypt is the only Arab country where many of the reformers went over to the Islamists believing-I think quite wrongly-that they could control the Islamists and dominate them once the alliance got into power.

Nothing would make me happier than to say that the United States should give full support for reform, to cheer on the insurgents without reservation. But unfortunately that is neither the most honest analysis nor the one required by U.S. interests. In my book, The Long War for Freedom, I expressed my strong sympathy for the liberal reformers but also the many reasons why they are unlikely to win and cannot compete very well with the Islamists.

In all of the justified gloom over the prospects of Islamofascists coming to power in Egypt, the situation need not be as hopeless as Mr. Rubin and others fear.  As Mr. Rubin notes, the biggest difference between the unrest in Egypt and that in Tunisia is an “elite [that] seems to have lost confidence” and an army that “seems passive.”

Furthermore, there are pro-democracy groups and moderates in Egypt.  The problem is that they are weak, underfunded and disorganized.

Do you think this is something that the U.S., with its vast resources and connections to the Egyptian military might be able to remedy?

The urgent need for the people of Egypt and for U.S. interests is an all-out effort, behind the scenes and out of the public eye, to rally the moderate, non-Islamofascist groups in Egypt, with quick infusions of money and communications equipment, while making the necessary connections to the Egyptian military.

Publicly, the U.S. does seem rather limited.  Despite Obama’s naive speeches to the “ummah,” the Egyptian people have no significantly better opinion of the U.S. in 2011 than it did in 2008.  Privately, however, there is still great potential for the U.S. to aid in transitioning power away from the widely-hated Mubarak regime and toward some form of less-authoritarian leadership, backed by the military, that will promise free and fair elections.   Of course, the Islamofascists will no doubt contend for elections.  The U.S. must be prepared to back those parties that hold out the best hope of resisting the radical Islamists.   There is no reason for the U.S. to be passive, a grave mistake we made in Iraq and in Gaza.   Again, it need not be public but we should ensure that pro-democracy groups not be at any disadvantage to the Islamofascists.

The Third Way

To hear pundits such as Barry Rubin and others talk there appears to be only two options: full support for authoritarians friendly to the U.S. or support for popular uprisings regardless of the potentially disastrous consequences.

The dearth of strong, pro-democracy groups and leaders in Egypt points to a far more disturbing problem: the United States’ abject neglect of democracy in the Middle East.   As discussed in an earlier post, our neglect of democracy is a national disgrace.   It is inconceivable that over 60 years could have passed by without the development of credible pro-democracy groups in Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

This suggests a “third way” for U.S. foreign policy:  a two-track strategy that both recognizes the necessity for dealing with authoritarian regimes while also taking positive action to change those very regimes, preferably from the inside out.

The first track is to acknowledge– though not necessarily approve– the existing, authoritarian governments that are not openly hostile to the U.S.  There is an important distinction here that no authoritarian government, Middle East or no, can truly be counted as “friendly” to the U.S.   Authoritarianism, in whatever form, is antithetical to American values and to U.S. interests, even when it takes the guise of regimes that offer cooperation with some U.S. objectives in the world.

A true ally is a nation sharing our core beliefs in human rights, free expression and free exercise of religion– basic Western Democracy.   Excluding Obama’s disgraceful and curious treatment, Great Britain has historically been our closest ally — ignoring those, minor  spats in 1776 and 1812.   Nations with these common values are natural and easy allies:  Canada, Australia and Israel, for example.

Even nations new to the family of freedom–what Donald Rumsfeld termed the “New Europe” of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic– share a great affinity despite cultural differences.  These newly freed nations of Eastern Europe were all too familiar with the high price of freedom and its precious nature.

In this first track of foreign policy, the U.S. can justifiably acknowledge Middle East regimes that are not openly hostile to the U.S. without counting them “allies” and certainly without bowing to them (as Obama did with the Saudis in 2009).   Most importantly, to the extent that we provide military or other aid, it must come with clear strings attached.  Which brings us to the second track of U.S. policy.

The second track insists that any U.S. aid is accompanied by the development of democratic foundations.  This may take different forms in different places, but, in general, the U.S. should act on the firm conviction that every nation is either moving in the direction of greater freedom and human rights or in the direction of greater oppression and tyranny.

The U.S. will do all that it can to nurture leaders and institutions that subscribe to the core values of Western Democracy, for the day that will inevitably come when the authoritarian regime passes away.   In an ideal world, the authoritarians peacefully relinquish control and a transition is made to a democratic republic.   In a less than ideal world, the regime is pushed out and the U.S. will do all that it can to ensure that the new government is established with core, democratic values.

To be sure, we have to take the world as we now find it and not as we would wish it to be.  The U.S. has squandered decades in “stability operations.”   In football parlance, we call that “playing not to lose.”  It is not a winning strategy in football and it is surely not a winning strategy in global politics.   When we look at Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan and Gaza, maintaining the status quo is simply not an option.

Turning to Egypt, the U.S. should be doing everything it can right now to identify every, plausible democratic leader in Egypt– scattered and disorganized as they may be– and pour every helpful resource into them.   At the same time, the U.S. should be using every contact and channel it has with member of the Egyptian military to forge effective alliances with the democratic groups to serve as a bulwark against the Islamofascists.

Assure the military that they will have full U.S. support if they back the pro-democracy groups.   Sponsor public information campaigns by these democratic groups that blankets Egypt with the message that only an open and free society with full human rights for all– men and women — will make any real, lasting difference for Egypt.   Link these messages with one or more parties or coalitions that people will be able to readily identify and associate with these messages of freedom.   Once the message has achieved a certain “market penetration,” the military can then announce, however subtly, that it would support a national referendum to elect an assembly to begin drafting a constitution.   In the meantime, the military will keep order.   If possible, one or more of the democratic leaders will be appointed to lead the government on an interim basis.

It’s not perfect.  Much could go wrong, but this is the kind of fight that America needs to be about.  Unlike the passive stance adopted by Obama and other Realists, we cannot sit on the sidelines and hope that genuine democracy will somehow spring up.   It won’t.   The Islamofascists are too well organized and too ruthless to fail to take advantage of a chaotic situation.

The U.S. must do all that it can– by necessity behind the scenes given our poor public image in the Middle East– to promote genuine voices of democracy that can truly eventually be called allies.

Why bother?  What is the urgency?  Simply this: the freedom that we know in America is a revolutionary concept in this dark world, and it is under assault everywhere.  If we value our own freedom, we must have the courage to export the American Revolution everywhere we can.   Not at the point of a gun, that is a sign of failure (though, as in Iraq, a sad necessity).   We are not conquerors, we are liberators.   We need not be ashamed.   People want freedom.  It may take much longer in some places, but we should never yield the stage to the dark doctrines of oppression as our default posture.

UPDATE:  Michael Totten recently posted his interview with Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution.

In response to the a question about the development of Iran during the 1960′s and 70′s and the rise of radicalism in Iran, Milani elaborates:

We had a class of brilliant Iranian technocrats, many of them educated in the United States, including right here at Stanford. They put into effect a remarkable process of industrialization that by 1970 was bearing fruit. These people demanded political rights, and the Shah, instead of opening the country, clamped down with the one-party system.

I am absolutely convinced that in 1975, when he was at the height of his power, if the Shah had made just a third of the concessions he later made in 1978, we would be looking at a very different Iran today.

MJT: It was too late in 1978.

Abbas Milani: What Mubarak and the Shah both failed to understand is that if you make concessions when you’re weak it just increases the appetite for more concessions. If they would have made concessions when they were in a position of power, they could have negotiated a smooth transition to a less authoritarian government.

In Egypt, when the US pressured Mubarak to announce that he would not run again, that he should come out publicly and say he has cancer and that there will be a free election soon, he instead tried to create a monarchy.

MJT: He wants his son to succeed him.

Abbas Milani: The reverse happened to the Shah. He also had cancer, but he hid it from everybody. He had a son who was then eighteen years old. If he had given up the throne and created a regency in 1977, as some had advised him to do, instead of making concessions under pressure in 1978 when all hell was breaking loose, I could easily imagine a different Iran.

What could America have done differently? Milani discusses the long-term mistakes that the U.S. made in dealing with Iran and the Shah in particular:

MJT: Jimmy Carter often gets blamed for Khomeini coming to power in Iran. Do you think that’s fair? What could he have done to stop it?

Abbas Milani: I don’t blame the revolution on Jimmy Carter, but I think he does bear some responsibility. He could not develop a cohesive policy. He wasn’t paying attention to Iran. He was preoccupied with Camp David. He couldn’t bring Cyrus Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski into a cohesive position. He kept vacillating from one extreme to another. This only exacerbated the American inability to understand what was going on.

The failure to understand what was going on dates back to the Lyndon Johnson years. The Johnson administration succumbed to pressure from the Shah to cease all contact with the opposition inside Iran. The US remarkably even agreed not to contact a former prime minister because the Shah didn’t trust him. The Shah even created a diplomatic row when a former Iranian ambassador was invited to a party. Not to a secret meeting, but to a party.

Because the US was involved in Vietnam and had listening centers in Iran monitoring Soviet activities, and because Iran was flush with cash in 1972 and was willing to sign contracts with American companies, the US agreed to cease contact. Yet the CIA predicted an Iranian revolution as early as 1958. And what they said would happen is almost exactly what happened. They said Iran’s rising technocratic class, the teachers, and the new urbanites are all disgruntled and that if the government doesn’t open up the system they’ll find any leader they can and topple the Shah.

The Kennedy administration pressured the Shah to make changes that were based on the standard modernization theory. You modernize the infrastructure, you educate the people, you create a better economy, and you open up the system politically. Kennedy pushed the Shah toward this and the Shah complied. He himself wanted to make changes. He wanted to make Iran a better place. The Kennedys hated the Shah. Bobby Kennedy absolutely despised him. John Kennedy disliked him, if not outright hated him.

But just as the economic changes were bearing fruit, making political change more necessary, the oil price shot up. Nixon came in and made the decision to cease pressuring the Shah. The Shah had stopped listening anyway because he had all the money he needed.

Carter came in and renewed the pressure for democratization, but he renewed it at the worst possible time, when the economy was diving. Iran was borrowing money that year. The Shah went from giving away a billion and a half dollars to borrowing 700 million from Chase Manhattan. So the economy was diving, the Shah’s health was deteriorating, and suddenly the suppressed opposition felt that the Shah was fair game because Carter was talking about human rights.

MJT: But what should Carter have done instead? Are you saying he was he wrong to talk about human rights?

Abbas Milani: No, he should have talked about human rights, but he also should have understood that you have to go step by step. Concessions need to be made in a timely fashion from a position of power. Carter should have made it clear that he was for change, but not for change at any price. Brzezinski understood this much better than anyone else in the administration but didn’t get his way. And on the other side we had the Shah undergoing chemotherapy and his endogenous paranoia, depression, indecisiveness and vacillation. The result was disaster.

When asked by Totten what Milani would advise Obama to do in the current crisis in Egypt, he had this to say:

Abbas Milani:

I would say to President Obama that he must make it clear to Mr. Mubarak that he must clearly and categorically say he won’t run again and that his son won’t run, that he will turn over the daily affairs of the state to a coalition of opposition parties. There might be a chance for a gradual transition and the absorption of the elements of the Muslim Brotherhood that really are moderate.

If this doesn’t happen, if Egypt goes into a protracted period of lawlessness, or if there is a Balkanization of the society, Mubarak will do a tremendous disservice to Egypt, to democracy, and to the United States. He’s going to put the United States in a very difficult situation.

The most important lesson that needs to be learned is that the United States must push its allies to make concessions when they are in a position of power, not when they are in peril.

The majority in Turkey, Egypt, and Iran once accepted the notion that enlightenment, democracy, modernity, reason, and the rule of law were good things, that the West has used these things to good purpose, and that we in the Muslim world should find our own iteration of them and catch up. Now the radical fringe is much stronger and directly challenges this. They say they do not want reason, they want revolution. They don’t want laws, they have the Koran. They don’t want equality because the Koran says there is inequality and they abide by the Koran. They say they don’t want democracy, that it’s a trick of the colonial Crusaders.

Thirty years ago people laughed at these ideas. Now they’re being said more and more often and openly. If the Muslim Brotherhood wins, or if Egypt becomes democratic…

MJT: It’s a big deal either way, isn’t it?

Abbas Milani: It is. Because it is Egypt.

(Emphasis Added)

This interview clearly shows why the U.S. cannot afford to take a passive approach with authoritarian “allies.”  In the end, we lose the “ally” to extremists, lose all credibility we should have as democratic revolutionaries and, perhaps, lose a bit our soul as well.

The Marines in Sangin

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 2 months ago

Tony Perry, who has become one of the most significant war reporters in the MSM, gives us this report on the Marines in Sangin.  I must quote a significant amount of it, point you to the source article for the rest, and then I’ll make a few observations.

Marines tell of snipers who fire from “murder holes” cut into mud-walled compounds. Fighters who lie in wait in trenches dug around rough farmhouses clustered together for protection. Farmers who seem to tip the Taliban to the outsiders’ every movement – often with signals that sound like birdcalls.

When the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, deployed to the Sangin district of Afghanistan’s Helmand province in late September, the British soldiers who preceded them warned the Americans that the Taliban would be waiting nearly everywhere for a chance to kill them.

But the Marines of the Three-Five, ordered to be more aggressive than the British, quickly learned that the Taliban wasn’t simply waiting.

In Sangin, the Taliban was coming after them.

In four years there, the British had lost more than 100 soldiers, about a third of all their country’s losses in the war.

In four months, 24 Marines with the Camp Pendleton-based Three-Five have been killed.

More than 140 others have been wounded, some of them catastrophically, losing limbs and the futures they had imagined for themselves.

The Marines’ families have been left devastated – or dreading the knock on the door.

“We are a broken-hearted but proud family,” Marine Lt. Gen. John Kelly said. He spoke not only of the Three-Five: His son 1st Lt. Robert Kelly was killed leading a patrol in Sangin.

The Three-Five had drawn a daunting task: Push into areas where the British had not gone, areas where Taliban dominance was uncontested, areas where the opium poppy crop whose profits help fuel the insurgency is grown, areas where bomb makers lash together explosives to kill and terrorize in Sangin and neighboring Kandahar province.

The result? The battalion with the motto “Get Some” has been in more than 408 firefights and found 434 buried roadside bombs. An additional 122 bombs exploded before they could be discovered, in many instances killing or injuring Afghan civilians who travel the same roads as the Marines.

Some enlisted personnel believe that the Taliban have developed a “Vietnam-like” capability to pick off a platoon commander or a squad or team leader. A lieutenant assigned as a replacement for a downed colleague was shot in the neck on his first patrol.

At the confluence of two rivers in Helmand province in the country’s south, Sangin is a mix of rocky desert and stretches of farmland where corn and pomegranates are grown. There are rolling hills, groves of trees and crisscrossing canals. Farmers work their fields and children play on dusty paths.

“Sangin is one of the prettier places in Helmand, but that’s very deceiving,” said Sgt. Dean Davis, a Marine combat correspondent. “It’s a very dangerous place; it’s a danger you can feel.”

Three men arrived in Sangin last fall knowing they would face the fight of their lives.

1st Lt. John Chase Barghusen, 26, of Madison, Wis., had asked to be transferred to the Three-Five so he could return to Afghanistan.

Cpl. Derek Wyatt, 25, of Akron, Ohio, an infantry squad leader, was excited about the mission but worried about his wife, pregnant with their first child.

Lance Cpl. Juan Dominguez, 26, of Deming, N.M., an infantry “grunt,” had dreamed of going into combat as a Marine since he was barely out of grade school.

What happened to them in Sangin shows the price being paid for a campaign to cripple the Taliban in a key stronghold and help extricate America from a war now in its 10th year.

When Lance Cpl. Juan Dominguez slipped down a small embankment while out on patrol and landed on a buried bomb, the explosion could be heard for miles.

“It had to be a 30- to 40-pounder,” Dominguez said from his bed at the military hospital in Bethesda, Md. “I remember crying out for my mother and then crying out for morphine. I remember them putting my legs on top of me.”

His legs were severed above the knee, and his right arm was mangled and could not be saved. A Navy corpsman, risking sniper fire, rushed to Dominguez and stopped the bleeding. On the trip to the field hospital, Dominguez prayed.

“I figured this was God’s will, so I told him: ‘If you’re going to take me, take me now,’ ” he said.

His memories of Sangin are vivid. “The part we were in, it’s hell,” he said. “It makes your stomach turn. The poor families there, they get conned into helping the Taliban.”

Like many wounded Marines, Dominguez never saw a Taliban fighter. “We don’t know who we’re fighting over there, who’s friendly and who isn’t,” he said. “They’re always watching us. We’re basically fighting blind.”

His mother, Martha Dominguez, was at home the night of Oct. 23 when a Marine came to her door to tell her that her son had been gravely injured. She left her job right away and rushed to his bedside in Bethesda. She’s never been far away since.

When Dominguez’s father, Reynaldo, first visited the hospital, he was overcome by emotion and had to leave. “Mothers are stronger at times like this,” Martha Dominguez said.

Juan Dominguez has since been fitted with prosthetic legs and a “bionic” arm and is undergoing daily therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He and his girlfriend have broken up.

“She wanted someone with legs,” his mother said.

When he’s discharged, Dominguez wants to return to Deming to be near his 8-year-old daughter, who lives with his ex-wife, and open a business painting and restoring cars.

But his immediate goal is to be at Camp Pendleton, in uniform and walking on his prosthetic legs, when the battalion returns in the spring.

By some accounts, no district in Afghanistan is outpacing Sangin in “kinetic activity,” military jargon for combat.

“Sangin is a straight-up slug match. No winning of hearts and minds. No enlightened counterinsurgency projects to win affections,” said Bing West, a Marine veteran who was an assistant secretary of Defense under President Reagan. “Instead, the goal is to kill the Taliban every day on every patrol. Force them to flee the Sangin Valley or die.”

Read the rest at the link.  This is a gripping tale of brave Marines in a fight for their lives.  Perry – whom I will always stop to read – sadly lists the Marines who have perished in this particular fight.

Kinetic activity is preceding reconstruction, as it must, but take note again of this important statement: Dominguez never saw a Taliban fighter. “We don’t know who we’re fighting over there, who’s friendly and who isn’t,” he said. “They’re always watching us. We’re basically fighting blind.

I know that I have debated others over the notion of a large versus a small footprint in Afghanistan, and I have also agreed to the idea that the support to infantry ratio is far too high, in Afghanistan and everywhere else.  But if we’re losing men to unseen fighters, if we’re not in the homes of the folks, if we’re not setting in place roadblocks, if we’re not taking census, if we don’t know the people we are aiming to secure, and not seeing the enemy we are supposed to kill, then there simply aren’t enough Marines in Sangin.  Period.  Further debates are meaningless and irrelevant.

I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating.  When we waste time and resources throwing billions of dollars at wasteful MEUs for Marines to go to every port city in the Mediterranean and Israel to get falling down drunk, pretending that we are actually going to conduct large scale forcible entry on a near-peer state, while fellow Marines get their legs blown off in the Helmand Province, we have a moral problem.  No, not a morale problem – a moral problem.

Concerning the Rebellion in Egypt

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 2 months ago

Just a few days ago I sent the following note to a friend:

NRO is panning Mubarak’s admin, and most commentators I read are ready for something new in Egypt.

But listen to my concern.  I know that he is a dictator, and has in fact been hard on Christians in Egypt, except Coptic Christians as long as they don’t proselytize Muslims.  To be sure, I have no love for Mubarak.  I really don’t.

But … remember our history.  Ayman al-Zawahiri came from Egypt as well as Sayyid Qutb, father of modern jihad.

But they both stayed behind bars.  Mubarak, if he hasn’t done anything else, has certainly clamped down on radical jihadism in Egypt, maintaining his own rulership, to be sure, but you know the saying: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

The most recent riots have also seen a lot of Muslim on Christian violence while shouts of “Allahu Akbar” were heard.  There is a tempest brewing, and I’m not so sure that it’s all good.

What will the next ruler bring?

There are a host of crackpot theories and commentaries out on what is causing this and what to do about it.  Michael Sheuer – who is always quick to throw Israel under the bus as if that would make the Muslim world love us – is also equally quick to point to Operation Iraqi Freedom as a cause for instability in the region.  If there is a culprit having to do with OIF, it pertains not to the campaign per se, but to our lack of vision in prosecuting it as the regional war that it is (including regime change in Iran).  But Michael Sheuer’s views on OIF are shortsighted.

I won’t weigh in on causes.  This is a complex region with complex actors.  Regarding our stance, I find myself in agreement with John Bolton who demurs from the rosy views (“We aren’t entering the Age of Aquarius in Egypt”), and Michael Ledeen.

And what about us?  We are supposed to be the revolutionaries, and we must support democratic revolution against tyranny.  But we must not support phony democrats, and for the president to say “Egypt’s destiny will be determined by the Egyptian people,” or “everyone wants to be free” is silly and dangerous.  Egypt’s destiny will be determined by a fight among Egyptian people, some of whom wish to be free and others who wish to install a tyranny worse than Mubarak’s.  That’s the opposite of freedom.  Think about the free elections in Gaza that brought the Hamas killers to power.  For that matter, think about Khomeini, viewed at the time as a progressive democrat by many of the leading intellectual and political lights of the West, from Foucault to Andrew Young.

We should have been pressuring the friendly tyrants in the Middle East to liberalize their polities lo these many years.  We should have done it in the shah’s Iran, and in Mubarak’s Egypt, and in Ben Ali’s Tunisia.  It is possible to move peacefully from dictatorship to democracy (think Taiwan.  Think Chile.  Think South Africa).  But we didn’t, in part because of the racist stereotype that goes under the label “the Arab street,” according to which the Arab masses are motivated above all by an unrelenting rage at Israel for its oppression of the beloved Palestinians.  That myth went along with another:  the belief that the culture of the Arab world (sometimes expanded to “the culture of the Muslim world”) was totally resistant to democracy.  The tumult has nothing to do with Palestine/Israel and even a blind bat can see hundreds of thousands of Arabs fighting for democracy, as have their fellow Muslims in Iran.

We shoulda, coulda done better all along.  But here we are.  It’s quite clear that Obama is totally bamboozled.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is already eyeballing a piece of the pie, and their cousins in Jordan have threatened every Arabic nation who supports the U.S. with the same sort of rebellion.  We’re in a dangerous time, and the framework for it has been under construction for quite a while.

The administration cannot be blamed for the failings of previous administrations, and there are plenty – from the failure to press for regime change in Iran, to throwing money all over the Middle East without commensurate demands not only for pro-democracy reforms, but for hard action against the Muslim Brotherhood.

But of the more current and obviously ridiculous failures is bowing and kowtowing to every tin pot dictator on earth in an attempt to talk our way to foreign policy success.  The final and most egregious failure has to do with the diminution of the CIA and human intelligence assets and resources.  The CIA was eviscerated under Clinton, built back only slightly under Bush, and now interests itself in things like anthropogenic global warming.

Educated action would have required prior preparation, an understanding of the hazardous waters in which many billions of the world’s people swim.  We can’t save the Mubarak regime, and it isn’t a good idea to try.  But with the proper planning we could have been ready for events like this one, with knowledge of the main actors within the Egyptian Army and intelligence communities, a close relationship with them, and enough leverage to make a difference in the final outcome.

As it is, Ledeen is right.  The Obama administration looks like a deer in the headlights.  The Middle East is ready to rock and roll.  Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine are trouble spots, and will likely only become more unstable.  Unfortunately, the Obama administration hasn’t been invited to the dance.

What will happen to a nuclear Pakistan when the Tehrik-i-Taliban seize control of nuclear weapons or cause the regime to collapse?

Help Wanted Fixing Budget Deficit (Spineless Need Not Apply)

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 2 months ago

Although this information has been out since last year, in view of the $1.5 Trillion Deficit for 2011 projected by the Congressional Budget Office, it is well worth taking another look at this, updated report from The Cato Institute (and the accompanying video), titled, “New CBO Numbers Re-Confirm that Balancing the Budget Is Simple with Modest Fiscal Restraint.”

(Hat tip to Instapundit).

Here is the money quote:

Many of the politicians in Washington, including President Obama during his State of the Union address, piously tell us that there is no way to balance the budget without tax increases. Trying to get rid of red ink without higher taxes, they tell us, would require “savage” and “draconian” budget cuts.

The Congressional Budget Office has just released its 10-year projections for the budget, so I crunched the numbers to determine what it would take to balance the budget without tax hikes. Much to nobody’s surprise, the politicians are not telling the truth…

The chart below shows that revenues are expected to grow (because of factors such as inflation, more population, and economic expansion) by more than 7 percent each year. Balancing the budget is simple so long as politicians increase spending at a slower rate. If they freeze the budget, we almost balance the budget by 2017. If federal spending is capped so it grows 1 percent each year, the budget is balanced in 2019. And if the crowd in Washington can limit spending growth to about 2 percent each year, red ink almost disappears in just 10 years.

When was the last time that our political leaders found the spine to balance the budget?

… I also examined how we balanced the budget in the 1990s and found that spending restraint was the key. The combination of a GOP Congress and Bill Clinton in the White House led to a four-year period of government spending growing by an average of just 2.9 percent each year.

Mr. Mitchell perhaps gives Bill Clinton and the GOP Congress too much credit.  Recall that the 1990′s involved huge cuts to the Defense budget (which came back to haunt us later).  The savings in Defense outlays was plowed into all sorts of domestic goodies for both Clinton and Congressional constituencies, but the fact remains that the politicians somehow managed to keep overall spending down even in the midst of increasing revenues from a booming economy.

The lesson seems clear:  get the Federal budget in line with revenues and start reducing the overall, Federal debt.   This seems to be experience elsewhere in the world:

We also have international evidence showing that spending restraint – not higher taxes – is the key to balancing the budget. New Zealand got rid of a big budget deficit in the 1990s with a five-year spending freeze. Canada also got rid of red ink that decade with a five-year period where spending grew by an average of only 1 percent per year. And Ireland slashed its deficit in the late 1980s by 10 percentage points of GDP with a four-year spending freeze.

No wonder international bureaucracies such as the International Monetary fund and European Central Bank are producing research showing that spending discipline is the right approach.

As Mr. Mitchell’s article notes, fixing the deficit is not a complicated matter.  It simply requires our elected leaders to say no to the ever-growing wish lists of the Left and the President.

Hopefully the new Congress is up to the task.

When All Your Friends Are Authoritarians: Obama “Ratchets Up” Pressure On Egypt

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 2 months ago

Poor Obama.  This just isn’t what he signed up for when he decided that the World needed him to heal the planet and slow the rise of the oceans.

All those pesky, little people, yearning to be free.  They just keep fouling up his Plan to make the World love him, er,  America, again.

Every time Obama finds a nice authoritarian that he can work with, those darn democracy types throw the guy out or at least threaten to do so.  In Tunisia, for example, the ambassador sent by Obama as the point man for U.S. policy there, had many fond things to say in 2010 about the now-defunct authoritarian regime.

Now comes this Reuters article by Matt Spetalnick and David Alexander, “Obama Ratchets Up Pressure On Egypt,” to further highlight what a tough time Obama is having with the protests against his buddy Mubarak in Egypt.

President Barack Obama called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday to make “absolutely critical” political reforms, ratcheting up pressure on a key U.S. ally in the face of street protests seeking his ouster.

Weighing in for the first time after three days of Egyptian unrest, Obama was careful to avoid any sign of abandoning Mubarak but made clear his sympathy for demonstrators he said were expressing “pent-up frustrations” after decades of authoritarian rule.

Yes, one can imagine that after “decades” of authoritarian rule the people might have some “pent up frustrations.”  What kind of tongue-lashing did Mubarak get, exactly?

“I’ve always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on reform — political reform, economic reform — is absolutely critical for the long-term well-being of Egypt,” Obama said as he answered questions from an online audience on the YouTube website.

Whoa!   That’s mighty strong talk, Mr. President.  Too bad Obama was not around in the 1970′s.   He might have said the same thing to Brezhnev after decades of authoritarian rule in Eastern Europe and saved the U.S.S.R. the trouble of collapsing on itself.  Talk about healing the planet!

Be careful, Hosni.  Barack might not send you a birthday present this year.   (Sadly, you will not be getting that bust of Winston Churchill that he was dying to unload).

How has that steady pressure by Obama worked out? According to the Reuter’s article:

Mubarak has rarely heeded U.S. pressure before over his government’s behavior, and it remains to be seen whether tougher language will translate into anything of substance.

Not fair, that.  Obama is trying to give Mubarak some tough love, but sometimes you just have to let a strong ruler figure things out on their own.

Then there is this:

U.S. influence at the street level in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world is also minimal. Anti-American sentiment remains high despite Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world and his efforts to ease hostility toward Washington generated by his predecessor George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

The administration is also hemmed in by its desire to avoid the impression of further U.S. interference in the region. Bush’s “freedom agenda” was widely reviled in the Arab world.

What???

That pesky “Arab street” again.   How could they have resisted the prophetic magic of the Great Orator’s 2009 speech?  Hasn’t Obama won them over with his teleprompter turn-of-phrase and smooth delivery?  According to the Reuters article, not so much.

Next we read that the “administration is hemmed in” because it cannot afford to be seen as interfering in authoritarian’s business.   Yes, that would be bad.   Afterall, the article notes, everyone knows that “Bush’s ‘freedom agenda’ was widely reviled in the Arab world.”

Funny thing about that, though.  Widely reviled?  Perhaps Spetalnick and Alexander suffer from a common ailment of the Left: revisionist memory syndrome.  Despite the undeniable unpopularity of the 2003 Iraq invasion, those pesky Arab people were surprisingly supportive of that Bush “freedom agenda.”

Strange, the average Arab seemed to strongly support democracy even while disapproving of U.S. “interference” in the region.   That darn Bush again!  He was just not sophisticated enough to realize that Arabs won’t support freedom if you interfere.

An excellent piece by Larry Diamond of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution is well worth a read in this regard.   Mr. Diamond has the audacity to suggest that more interference, not less, is the way to inspire greater democracy in the authoritarian Middle East.

Sadly, it seems that Obama, like much of the Left, is far more comfortable with authoritarianism than with the messy apparatus of democracy.  Time and again, the Obama Administration has failed to strongly condemn even the most brutal authoritarian regimes like Iran.

Why?  Ultimately it may be due to a basic worldview where it is far easier, in Obama’s mind, to effect change through one, strong, all-powerful ruler, than through persuasion of large groups of independent-minded people.  This is Obama’s approach, in general, to domestic policy as well.  He strongly favors Big Government solutions and is not afraid to act unilaterally (such as the FCC net-neutrality and EPA carbon emission rules) where Congress refuses to go along quietly.   It has been widely noted that Obama has a disturbing tendency to make himself the focus of everything he says or does.

In short, Obama treats authoritarians like Mubarak and Ahmadinejad with kid gloves because he has a natural affinity with them coupled with a deep fear of popular sentiment (see Tea Party movement, Obamacare opposition, reduction of Federal spending).

Not only does this not bode well for the cause of freedom in the Middle East, but we can expect more authoritarian reactions from Obama here in the U.S. as the Republican-controlled House increasingly resists his Big Government agenda.

Let Him Who Has No Gun Sell His Robe and Buy One

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 2 months ago

From AJC:

A gun rights group filed a notice Wednesday that it will appeal a federal judge’s dismissal of a suit challenging a state law banning weapons in churches, mosques and synagogues.

John Monroe, the attorney for GeorgiaCarry.org, filed a notice that he plans to ask the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review U.S. District Judge Ashley Royal’s decision. Royal ruled Monday that a 2010 law that lists places of worship among locations where guns are not allowed did not violate the First Amendment right to freedom of religion or the Second Amendment guarantee of a right to bear arms.

The lawsuit — brought by GeorgiaCarry.org, the organization’s past president and  the minister at the Baptist Tabernacle of Thomaston — challenged the inclusion of places of worship on a list of places where guns are not allowed –  government buildings, courthouses, jails and prisons, state mental hospitals, nuclear power plants, bars without the owner’s permission and polling places.

The suit called the handgun “the quintessential self-defense weapon in the United States.” Former GeorgiaCarry.org president Ed Stone and other worshipers argued that they should be able to arm themselves “for the protection of their families and themselves” without fear of arrest and prosecution on a misdemeanor charge. The Rev. Jonathan Wilkins of the Baptist Tabernacle said he wanted to have a gun for his protection while working in his church office.

The church claimed members’ efforts to practice their faith had been “impermissibly burdened” because they felt they needed to be armed but feared being arrested if they brought their guns to services.

And Stone wrote in a filing that his  “motivation to carry a firearm as a matter of habit derives from one of my Lord’s last recorded statements at the ‘last supper,’ that ‘whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one … I believe that this injunction requires me to obtain, keep and carry a firearm wherever I happen to be.”

Jesus told us that “The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man” (Matt 15:18).  Man is no tabula rasa, but guns are what theologians call adiaphorous, or morally neutral.  Christ knew that his people would need protection, and thus he commanded that self preservation come even before clothing.

That’s the key, isn’t it?  It’s something the pro-gun control lobby doesn’t get.  Ownership of firearms has nothing to do with wishing others harm or even in inflicting harm.  It’s always best if a weapon works as a deterrent.  But a man’s life is worth so much that God expects us to do our utmost to preserve and protect it.

Unfortunately, Judge Royal’s decision isn’t based on the idea self preservation.  This church (along with others like it) is now the most vulnerable place around for a perpetrator of a crime to cause carnage and take innocent lives.  The Judge doesn’t intend it, but she has made those parishioner’s time at worship much more dangerous.

Christ said “let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one” (Luke 22:36).  Judge Royal has now come in between these men and their God-given duty to protect their families.

Prior:

Obama Administration to Press for Gun Control

Second Amendment Challenge

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit for the link.

Obama Administration to Press for Gun Control

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 2 months ago

So my oldest son Joshua calls me up and says to me, “Well, you were right.  Look on Drudge right now.  In the wake of the Arizona shooting, the White House is going to press for more gun control.”  I responded that just as a leopard cannot change it spots, Obama cannot change himself.  He is a statist and everything he does will be consistent with that worldview.

I had predicted to my son that the Obama administration will press for more gun control, which (I speculated) will include not only a ban on high capacity magazines, but a renewed “assault weapons” ban, extended waiting periods for any firearm – including long guns – and a whole host of other things.  Time will tell the scope and breadth of the proposed legislation, but this should become more apparent within the next few weeks.

At the beginning of his State of the Union address, President Obama tipped his hat to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who’s now recuperating in a Houston medical facility. But throughout the hourlong speech, he never addressed the issue at the core of the Giffords tragedy—gun control—and what lawmakers would, or should, do to reform American firearm-access laws.

That was intentional, according to the White House. An administration official says Obama didn’t mention guns in his speech because of the omnipresent controversy surrounding the Second Amendment and gun control. Tuesday’s speech was designed to be more about the economy and how, as Obama repeated nine times, the U.S. could “win the future.”

But in the next two weeks, the White House will unveil a new gun-control effort in which it will urge Congress to strengthen current laws, which now allow some mentally unstable people, such as alleged Arizona shooter Jared Loughner, to obtain certain assault weapons, in some cases without even a background check.

Tuesday night after the speech, Obama adviser David Plouffe said to NBC News that the president would not let the moment after the Arizona shootings pass without pushing for some change in the law, to prevent another similar incident. “It’s a very important issue, and one I know there’s going to be debate about on the Hill.”

The White House said that to avoid being accused of capitalizing on the Arizona shootings for political gain, Obama will address the gun issue in a separate speech, likely early next month. He’s also expected to use Arizona as a starting point, but make the case that America’s gun laws have been too loose for much longer than just the past few weeks.

Even though Loughner used a pistol (Glock 9 mm) with an extended magazine, the administration will make a case for a renewed ban on every weapon that could possibly be placed in that category, including long guns.  I had previously issued a challenge concerning extended magazines and other such bans of hand guns, posing the question whether such a ban is logically and constitutionally legitimate.  To date there hasn’t been even a hint of success in supporting such a ban.

It doesn’t matter.  In the spirit of Rahm Emanuel’s dictum never to let a crisis go to waste, the White House doesn’t want to appear to be capitalizing on the Arizona shooting, but intends to capitalize on the Arizona shooting.

Prior:

Second Amendment Challenge

Legislation on High Capacity Magazines

Breyer: Founding Fathers Would Have Allowed Restrictions on Guns

UPDATE: I was right about the assault weapons ban.

“The president has been clear about his position on the assault-weapons ban, to use an example … back in the campaign, that’s been restated,” Mr. Plouffe said.

Candidate Obama supported reinstating the assault-weapons ban, which expired in 2004 – and which included a ban on high-capacity magazines. But since becoming president, Obama has largely steered clear of the gun issue. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg chided Obama Wednesday for making no mention Tuesday of what he called “the broken background check system.”

Forget about high capacity magazines.  Those will get swept up in the larger rubric of “assault weapons.”  He’s going for bigger fish in this legislation.

Sharia is Coming!

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 2 months ago

From a Small Wars Council discussion thread of September 2010 entitled Sharia is Coming! Sharia is Coming!

Rex Brynen:

From the Centre for Security Policy, Shariah: The Threat to America (An Exercise in Competitive Analysis—Report of Team ‘B’ II):

Today, the United States faces what is, if anything, an even more insidious ideological threat: the totalitarian socio-political doctrine that Islam calls shariah. Translated as “the path,” shariah is a comprehensive legal and political framework. Though it certainly has spiritual elements, it would be a mistake to think of shariah as a “religious” code in the Western sense because it seeks to regulate all manner of behavior in the secular sphere – economic, social, military, legal and political….

…as this report documents powerfully, our leaders have failed to perceive – let alone respond effectively to – the real progress being made by the Muslim Brotherhood in insinuating shariah into the very heartland of America through stealthy means. Team B II believes that the defeat of the enemy’s stealth jihad requires that the American people and their leaders be aroused to the high stakes in this war, as well as to the very real possibility that we could lose, absent a determined and vigorous program to keep America shariah-free. To that end, Team B II sets forth in plain language who this enemy is, what the ideology is that motivates and justifies his war against us, the various forms of warfare the enemy employs to achieve his ends, the United States’ vulnerability to them, and what we must do to emerge victorious.

The team was lead by retired Lieutenant General William G. “My God is bigger than yours” Boykin. As far as I can see, it contains no actual experts on Islam or Islamic law. That may explain the factual inaccuracies and rather hysterical, paranoid tone.

Tom Odom:

Is Allen Arkin gonna play the Imam?

I mean really, “concerned with the preeminent totalitarian threat of our time: the legal-political-military doctrine known within Islam as “shariah,” is more than a little hysterical.

Steve Metz:

It’s very sad that Boykin and Soyster were part of this. Some people are just hard wired for fear and hate. They’ve been lost without a mission since the demise of the Soviet Union. In the absence of a real demon, they concoct one out of whatever raw material is available.

Dripping with sarcasm and disbelief, no?  Perhaps a mixture of pity and indignation.  Guffaw.  Harrumph.  Stupid Appalachian hicks.  How ridiculous that whomever wrote about such an idea as militant Sharia would even be allowed to own property or vote.  They must be in need of reeducation.  At a minimum it’s time to roll out the sensitivity classes.

Or maybe not.

Europeans often fantasize about America’s so-called Jewish lobby, which they claim has a chokehold over American finance, media and politics and is responsible for all manner of conspiratorial evil. But few Europeans like to talk about the growing influence of Europe’s Muslim lobby, a conglomeration of hundreds of Muslim political and religious organizations — many of which are media-savvy mouthpieces for militant Islam that openly pursue anti-European, anti-Western and anti-Semitic agendas and often receive financial support from Islamic fundamentalist countries like Saudi Arabia.

In a Europe where Islam is the fastest-growing religion, and where the number of Muslims has tripled over the past 30 years, Europe’s Muslim lobby is becoming increasingly assertive and skilled at pressuring European policy-makers into implementing countless pro-Islamic policies, especially ones that institutionalize Islamic Sharia law. Muslim lobby groups are, in fact, transforming European society in ways unimaginable only a few years ago; critics say their ultimate goal is nothing less than the Islamification of Europe.

Some of the most effective Muslim lobby groups are located in Britain, home to one of the largest Muslim communities in Europe, and include organizations such as the Muslim Council of Britain [MCB], Britain’s largest Muslim umbrella body with around 500 affiliated national, regional and local organizations, mosques, charities and schools. It recently pressured the British government into adopting Islamic law and giving Sharia courts full powers to rule on Muslim civil cases.

The British government has quietly sanctioned the powers for Sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence. Whereas previously, the rulings of Sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced, and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims, rulings issued by a network of five Sharia courts are now enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court. Sharia courts with these powers have been set up in Birmingham, Bradford, London and Manchester and the network’s headquarters are located in Nuneaton, Warwickshire; and two more courts are being planned for Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Overall, at least 85 Islamic Sharia courts are now operating in Britain, almost 20 times as many as previously believed. A study by the Civitas think tank found that scores of unofficial tribunals and councils regularly apply Islamic law to resolve domestic, marital and business disputes, many operating in mosques. The study warns of a “creeping” acceptance of Sharia principles in British law.)

Although the MCB, which represents half of the country’s 3 million Muslims, presents itself as the moderate face of Islam in Britain, the group has its origins in the extreme orthodox politics of Pakistan. The MCB and some of its affiliates sympathize with, and have links to, conservative Islamist movements in the Muslim world, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami, a radical party committed to the establishment of an Islamic state in Pakistan ruled by Sharia law.

More locally, Andrew McCarthy observes, after discussing our our Western pet desires to coddle Islam as a religion of peace, that:

The Jeruslam Post’s Barry Rubin won’t play along. He disrupted our sweet dreams last week with a pronouncement from al-Azhar University. Al-Azhar is the centuries-old seat of Sunni scholarship in Egypt, a status that vests its sharia scholars with unparalleled doctrinal influence over the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims.

It is conventional wisdom among the West’s Islamophilic opinion elites — and thus prototypically among Obama administration officials — that jihad, the Islamic injunction to struggle in Allah’s cause, has been distorted by sharia-obsessed Islamophobes into a summons to destroy the West. Jihad, this wisdom holds, is just an internal exercise in self-betterment — kind of like greening the planet and brushing after every meal. Jihad becomes confrontational and even violent only in self-defense, when Muslims are truly under siege.

Au contraire, says al-Azhar’s Imad Mustafa. To be sure, he agrees that the doctrine of “defensive jihad” calls for war against non-Muslims who “attack” Muslims. But defense, for purposes of this doctrine, is in the eye of the beholder — or, more accurately, in the eye of the mufti who decides what sorts of provocations constitute an “attack.” Implicitly, that leaves room for lots of pretty offensive jihad if the mufti construes the concept of “attack” broadly enough. What is bracing about Mustafa’s new fatwa, however, is that he’s not leaving anything to chance. He’s making what is implicit unmistakably explicit.

Besides the defensive variety, Mustafa expressly endorses “offensive jihad” as the license to attack non-Muslims living in non-Islamic countries. It is the consensus of sharia scholars, he instructs, that offensive jihad is “permissible” in three different situations: (a) “to secure Islam’s border”; (b) “to extend God’s religion to people in cases where the governments do not allow it”; and (c) “to remove every religion but Islam from the Arabian peninsula.”

So it’s up to you.  There are those who lampoon calls for caution and diligence concerning assertive Islamic theology and civil law.  Then there are those who point to examples of it already having essentially taken over, such as in parts of Britain or those Islamic neighborhoods in France where the police wont even go.

Where do you stand?

AP-GM Love Fest: Govt Motors Meets Govt Press

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 2 months ago

WARNING: Cynicism Alert.

Is it just me or does this article, “Resurgent GM Nips At Toyota’s Heels In Sales Race,” by Tom Krisher of the Associated Press strike anyone else as fawning and full of half-truths and omissions?

Let’s see.

Here is the opening paragraph:

The resurgent automaker reported Monday that its worldwide sales last year came within 30,000 of beating Japanese rival Toyota, which took a big hit because of safety recalls.

There is part of me that wants to believe that this actually true, that GM (erstwhile known as “Government Motors” since the Federal bailout in 2009) is actually turning things around.  But then the cynic in me chimes in.

“Wait it minute,” that voice says. “Isn’t this the same Associated Press that has shilled for Obama without shame since the 2008 Presidential election cycle?  This good news wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that the GM bailout is one of the centerpieces of Obama’s claim to have actually accomplished something of value in his first, two years?  Failure of GM equates to failure of Obama and his Big Government philosophy.”

No, I reply, that is crazy talk.  Paranoid.  This is the Associated Press.

Taking a closer look at the article, it does mention that Toyota took a “big hit because of safety recalls.”   How big of a hit?  Why, the article doesn’t say.   Funny, too, that the AP fails to mention that the gains in sales that came at the expense of Toyota resulted, in large part, from aggressive buyer incentives such as zero interest rates and favorable trade-in terms.

And, as Megan Mcardle pointed out in an article in The Atlantic in April, 2010, troubling clouds loom over GM in the form of unfunded pension liabilities that will need to be paid starting in 2013.

According to a January 11, 2011 article in The Wall Street Journal, the sale of new stock in GM did not go very well for U.S. taxpayers either, but, oh well.   The WSJ article is also optimistic but, unlike the AP article, does not fail to mention the fact that GM stock price would have to reach at least $53 per share just for taxpayers to break even for the $50 Billion bailout.   The GM IPO in November 2010 was a lowly $33 per share.  But great news!  It is now trading at $38.91 per share!  It just has to rise another 26%.   Let me know if you are getting any returns like that on investments.

The point is that the article by AP’s Tom Krisher does not ask any of the hard questions.  In fact, it doesn’t ask any questions at all.   It reads like a GM press release.  I do not claim to be a journalism major nor steeped in the code of journalistic ethics, but from a consumer standpoint and as one who looks to news accounts for both sides of any issue, this article is worrisome.  Nothing in life is completely one-sided.   There is no such thing as unmitigated success or disaster.  Yet this AP piece is all sunshine and smiles.

A quick check of other articles by Mr. Krisher indicates that he has written quite a few, very positive articles on General Motors and Chrylser with almost unseemly titles since November 2009.

It is yet another example of how the news media in this country continue to fail American citizens, and fail them miserably with one-sided accounts.   This is the very kind of thing that makes all of us cynical and distrustful of media outlets.

And to make the cynicism complete, all indications about Obama’s State of the Union address are that he will focus on economics and the resilience of U.S. companies in competitive global markets.   Nice how Krisher’s article dovetails with that theme, just a couple days before it is delivered.

This stinks to me of Government Press.  Whether this AP article actually resulted from coordination with the Administration, it certainly has the appearance of it.  The Associated Press and its writers have a duty to report the good AND the bad AND the ugly.  This article, at the very least, fails that test.

But I doubt that anyone at GM or in the White House will be complaining.

Short Term Thinking and Long Term Failure in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 2 months ago

The always scholarly and thoughtful Joshua Foust gives us a good and provoking piece in the Atlantic entitled How Short Term Thinking is Causing Long Term Failure in Afghanistan.  Some of it is reproduced below, but make sure to visit the article and read it all.

On October 6, 2010, Lieutenant Colonel David Flynn, charged with clearing a tiny village in the Arghandab district of southeast Afghanistan, called in 49,200 pounds of rockets and aerial bombs, leveling it completely. According to Paula Broadwell, a former adviser to General David Petraeus, Flynn believed that the village of Tarok Kolache was empty of civilians and full of explosive traps. The Taliban, Broadwell recounted for ForeignPolicy.com, had “conducted an intimidation campaign” to chase away the villagers and promptly set up shop inside the village. In earlier attempts to clear it, Flynn’s unit had taken heavy losses, including multiple amputations from homemade explosives and several dead. He decided the only reasonable way to “clear” the mine-riddled village was to bomb it to the ground. When Tarok Kolache’s residents tried to return to the homes their families had maintained for generations, they found nothing but dust. Flynn offered them money for reconstruction and reimbursement, but getting it required jumping a long series of bureaucratic hoops, some of them controlled by notoriously corrupt local politicians. Flynn, and later Broadwell, who is also writing a biography of Petraeus, declared it a success.

Josh then goes on to lament the nature of pressure to show results that accompanies time lines for withdrawal.  It is a well known lament, a sad song I have sung many times concerning both Iraq and Afghanistan, the premature withdrawal from Iraq, the ridiculous Status of Forces Agreement under which our remaining troops operate, and so on.  This dirge is well rehearsed with my regular readers.  Josh continues.

Tarok Kolache is the kind of horror story that always accompanies war. “This is not the first time this has happened,” a platoon leader who served in Kandahar recounted to me. There, the destruction of mined villages is common. Last November, the New York Times reported that demolishing unoccupied homes and towns had become routine in several districts in Kandahar. Because the war has displaced an estimated 297,000 Afghans, many of whom will flee during extended violence and later return, homes are often empty. In October, the Daily Mail quoted this same Lt. Col. Flynn as threatening villagers with their town’s destruction if they did not report Taliban activity to his soldiers (the village in that story, Khosrow Sofia, was later burned to the ground much like Tarok Kolache). In neighboring Helmand province–even more violent than Kandahar–Marines have explicitly threatened villages with destruction if local civilians didn’t volunteer the locations of near IEDs.

Joshua, respectful of the job that the military is doing, does note that there is no ill intention even with hard tactics.

It’s worth repeating what should be obvious to anyone who has worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan: this isn’t driven by malice. The recent and overwhelming emphasis on expediency, from both the military and its civilian leadership, has changed incentives. In his 2009 Counterinsurgency Guidance, General Stanley McChrystal told the troops in Afghanistan that “Destroying a home or property jeopardizes the livelihood of an entire family – and creates more insurgents. We sow the seeds of our demise.” Last year, General Petraeus repeated the advice to his troops. But the U.S.-led campaign in the south of Afghanistan is increasingly obsessed with “momentum,” or the need to make steady, ever-greater progress. It’s a word one hears often from the U.S.-led force in Afghanistan, whether in official press releases, network news interviews with Petraeus, or casual conversations with officers. When Broadwell wrote up Flynn’s decision to destroy Tarok Kalache, she approvingly cited the need to maintain “momentum.”

“In Afghanistan, second and third-order effects are largely overlooked,” Morgan Sheeran, a Sergeant First Class who teaches at the Counterinsurgency Training Center in Kabul, told me. The result, Sheeran said, is that decisions are often made in the moment without understanding their long-term consequences.

These statements by Sheeran seems to be particularly ungracious to me, and it ignores a large body of data that argues that rather than overlooking or not understanding second and third order effects, many times Marines and Soldiers in the field are making nuanced value judgments based on the situation, and with full knowledge of the second and third order effects.

I tend to doubt the Pajhwok Afghan News as a reliable and unbiased source, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Marines in Helmand had made it very difficult for the villagers if they harbored insurgents.  Having a son who did counterinsurgency in Fallujah in 2007 I know a little something about hard places with hard people, and I know something about the tactics used by the Marines.  Josh also laments the hard tactics used by the Afghan National Police, and I know something about the tactics used by the IPs in Fallujah; again, hard tactics for hard people where the insurgency had hung on longer than almost anywhere else.  Good governance and digging wells didn’t turn Fallujah in 2007.  I simply cannot divulge any more than this about Fallujah IP tactics, but I suspect that those tactics have somewhat abated.

I once asked a respected and notable theologian if he believed in “such-and-such” (the specific point of doctrine isn’t important, and it had nothing to do with the essentials).  His response to me is telling.  He responded, “yes, no and maybe.”  His nuanced reply set up categories, put in place stipulations, and laid caveats, so that a simple yes or no didn’t suffice.  It was a conversation rather than a sound bite.

Perhaps this is a poor analogy, but when asked: Is counterinsurgency razing towns to the ground, or is it providing funds for jobs programs?  Is it sitting and drinking Chai, or is it kicking in doors?  Is it taking off your Oakley wrap-arounds to befriend the elders, or is it projecting force and engendering fear?

I think that the answer is yes, no and maybe.  It is something that only the boots on the ground can know, changing with the times and epochs, evolving with stages of the campaign, and germane and applicable depending on the specific population and insurgents (and it’s not something that can be ascertained through high value target hits by operators living on FOBs and riding helicopters to the field).  With Josh, I lament the defeatist mentality that wants to talk with hard core Taliban and get out now.  I want to stick this out until we’re done, even though I wouldn’t engage in the degree of nation-building espoused by Josh.

When the Marines (24th MEU) first entered Garmsir in 2008, they killed 400+ Taliban, and literally leveled parts of Garmsir.  Yet the people are on record wanting and asking them to stay, themselves lamenting the departure of the Marines and advent of the British.  So I just don’t think that it’s as simple as seeing hard tactics as a function of a hurried campaign.


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