Anti-corporate demagoguery. Is there anything it can’t solve?
President Obama says he is ready to go after gasoline price gougers announcing today a new task force to “root out any cases of fraud of manipulation” of oil markets… “Folks are out there dealing with gas at $4 a gallon,” he told the Nevada crowd, “it’s tough.” He said he had already asked the Attorney General “to look into any cases of price gouging.” The Attorney General’s new energy fraud team will… “root out any cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices, and that includes the role of traders and speculators. We’re going to make sure that nobody’s taking advantage of American consumers for their own short-term gains.”
Coming from a trailblazer of union-friendly crony capitalism, you’d expect more circumspection about taking advantage of American consumers for short-term gain. Maybe the oil industry isn’t heavily unionized, or perhaps the issue is too pressing to be picky about who gets thrown under the bus. In any case, oil companies are this week’s designated target for grassroots outrage and — if reports of $5 gallons don’t go away soon — that’ll be true for some time to come. Read More
King & Spalding, the law firm hired by the U.S. House of Representatives to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, announced today that it has withdrawn from the assignment, after gay rights groups launched a national attack campaign targeting the firm.
The Human Rights Campaign, which planned to protest outside of the law firm and was working to discourage recruits and clients from using its services, praised the decision on its website. “King & Spalding has rightly chosen to put principle above politics in dropping its involvement in the defense of this discriminatory and patently unconstitutional law,” said the HRC. Read More
The AP and other news organizations are reporting that Syria’s Assad government has taken out the mailed fist and has slammed into Daraa with tanks, snipers, and thousands of troops. This, of course, is all too reminiscent of the Hama massacre in 1982, when Hafez al-Assad’s ordered his brother, Rifaat al-Assad to lay that city waste to suppress a rebellion centered there. Somewhere between ten and forty thousand Syrians died and the city looked like Berlin in 1945 .
The AP report has a remarkable quote:
“Let Obama come and take Syria. Let Israel come and take Syria. Let the Jews come,” shouted one Daraa resident over the phone. ”Anything is better than Bashar Assad,” he said, playing on Syria’s hatred for Israel to highlight how much town residents despise their leader.
If that’s what people in the streets of Syria are saying, I suspect the days of the Assad regime are numbered, however many tanks and soldiers they deploy.
The background on Obama’s 2009 and 2010 diplomatic offensives against Israel are now well-known enough that the narrative is inching toward conventional wisdom. The president entered the White House intent on putting daylight between the United States and the Jewish state. He choose settlements as a wedge issue designed to split Netanyahu from the Israeli public and topple the government, in the process changing the widely understood interpretation of “settlement freeze” from “no expansion outside existing blocs” to “no Jewish construction over the Green Line even in Jerusalem.” Either Netanyahu would halt all construction and lose the Israeli right, the thinking went, or he would put himself on the wrong side of the United States president and lose the Israeli center. Satisfyingly clever.
Of course the administration’s reading of Israeli polling data was flat wrong, and even Israeli opposition chairwoman Tzipi Livni insisted that Jerusalem was a consensus issue. Read More
In the current issue of First Things, James Nuechterlein has written a short essay, “Ideology and Transcendence,” which addresses — with typical intelligence, balance, and honesty — an issue that I have thought about almost since I first became interested in politics and the philosophies informing it.
Nuechterlein asserts that everyone thinks ideologically, though not everyone wants to admit it. “We each create a framework of understanding that shapes our reaction to new events and information,” Nuechterlein writes, and it’s hard to imagine our functioning without them. “In their absence, after all, we would all face the absurd and impossible prospect of each day recreating from the chaos of information that washes over us a coherent structure of meaning,” he says. At the same time, we have to be open to second thoughts and re-interpreting events. “The trick is to not let our cognitive instincts take over our thinking entirely,” Nuechterlein writes. “The cultivation of self-doubt is an intellectual and moral virtue, even if, pushed too far, it can leave us incapable of decisive action.”
The things that shape the ideologies we embrace are complicated. Read More
Can Muammar Qaddafi be toppled without the U.S. committing to more than a couple of drones and some care packages? No one is quite sure. If not, is there any conceivable justification for the U.S. to stay involved at all? On that point, opinion is clear: No – unless of course you’re in the Obama administration and you’ve got to disambiguate on Sunday-morning TV. But amid all the analysis of the operation’s efficacy, few have mentioned that there is more at stake here than the unpromising mechanics of a led-from-behind kinetic military action not to remove a madman we demanded removed. As Elliott Abrams notes at the Weekly Standard, “It is an immoral position for our country to take.” How so? He paints this unimprovably bleak portrait to make the point:
We will be providing the Libyan rebels with “vehicles, fuel trucks and fuel bladders, ambulances, medical equipment, protective vests, binoculars, and non-secure radios.” Secretary Clinton said we’ll be providing some halal meals, too. This will take them to the front lines, allow them to have lunch and see the enemy, and enable them efficiently to report back on the number of dead and wounded brothers in arms—or perhaps more accurately, brothers without arms—who those ambulances are removing.
“It is a formula,” Abrams concludes, “unworthy of our country.” On that point, opinion is nearing unanimity.
John makes some astute comments regarding Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker article on President Obama’s foreign policy doctrine. It’s just too easy to poke fun at the concept of “Leading from Behind,” so excuse me as my tongue goes fully into cheek. Just as Barack Obama’s election led to the renaming of a handful of elementary schools, perhaps in the spirit of “Leading from Behind,” it’s time to embrace the Obama enthusiasm and recast other concepts. Edward Smith was the captain of the Titanic. While it may appear at first glance that he erred when the Titanic struck an iceberg, perhaps a more charitable reading was that he was “sailing from below.” France has traditionally become the butt of jokes because of its penchant for surrender (e.g., “Why did the French plant trees along the Champs d’Elysee? German soldiers prefer to march in the shade.”) But they should not be ridiculed: Rather than surrender quickly, the French simply preferred to “resist from behind.” Don’t call Deepwater Horizon an oil spill: It was simply “greasing from below.” We miss a debt payment? That’s “Financing from Behind.” Back in 1992, I got a D in an organic chemistry test. At the time, I was concerned. Now, I realize I should not have been. I was simply learning “behind the curve.” I’d certainly love to play poker with President Obama one day, because while other players might seek a full house or, at least three-of-a-kind, our president might “gamble from behind” and instead settle for a pair of threes.
More seriously, while President Obama may believe that the U.S. is reviled in much of the world, a lesson I learned from years crisscrossing the Middle East and, more broadly, Africa and Asia, is that when it comes to American policy, other nations will criticize us no matter what we do. We are “damned if we do, damned if we don’t.” In such circumstances, the best thing to do is to worry less about what people might think, and simply do what we think is right. There is a State Department corollary to this which became apparent during the Cold War, in the run-up to the Operation Iraqi Freedom, and many times since. Perhaps instead of seeking to change American policies to win plaudits in their countries of residence, American diplomats would be better served arguing and defending American policies, leaving no criticism unanswered.
Iran claims that it’s discovered a new Stuxnet-like cyber attack against its systems, which it’s dubbed the “Stars” virus. Based on the reports from Iran, the virus hasn’t done much damage yet, and is currently under investigation.
“Fortunately, our young experts have been able to discover this virus and the Stars virus is now in the laboratory for more investigations,” Gholamreza Jalali, Iran’s commander of civil defense, told the Mehr news agency. “In the initial stage, the damage is low and it is likely to be mistaken for some of the executable files of the governmental institutions.”
Officials haven’t explained which specific system the virus was targeting, or what impact it was supposed to have. But Jalali did claim that the attack could have endangered the lives of Iranians if it hadn’t been caught early enough. He said that Iran will take legal measures to counter cyber attacks in the future. The regime already said earlier this month that it plans to sue the German-based Siemens corporation for allegedly providing intelligence used to create the Stuxnet virus.
“Many countries such as Russia consider any cyber attack as an act of war against themselves,” said Jalali, insinuating that the regime may be considering other measures against these alleged attacks.
When a presidential adviser is quoted in the New Yorker as using an allusion to a comic figure of fun in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta to describe Obama’s foreign policy approach, the White House must know it’s in trouble.
The first person to be described as “leading from behind,” at least as far as I know, was the Duke of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers, Gilbert and Sullivan’s last great success. The Duke explains that when he was in the army he occasionally led his regiment into action and “invariably led them out of it.”
In enterprise of martial kind,
When there was any fighting,
He led his regiment from behind–
He found it less exciting.
But when away his regiment ran,
His place was in the fore, O–
The Duke of Plaza-Toro!
I agree with John that whoever gave Ryan Lizza that quote would be well advised to stay away from upper-story windows.
Franklin Graham gave an interview to ABC’s Christiane Amanpour. In it he praised Donald Trump, about whom the Reverend Graham said, “When I first saw that he was getting in, I thought ‘well this has got to be a joke,’ but the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, ‘you know maybe the guy’s right.’” Graham also spoke about the spirit of the anti-Christ, the end times, and President Obama. He is, Graham says, a “very nice man,” though Graham seems to reserve judgment about Obama’s American citizenship. And then Graham ventures into speculation about whether or not Obama is a Christian. The Reverend Graham acknowledges that Obama claims he’s a Christian – but then focuses on semantics. “For him,” Graham says of Obama, “going to church means he’s a Christian.” For Graham, on the other hand, the Christian faith is a matter of allegiance to Jesus.
The problem is that President Obama has never claimed that the definition of Christianity is church attendance. Read More
One piece of information that stands out from the latest trove of leaked documents on Guantanamo Bay out is the high number of “high risk” detainees who have been released or transferred into the custody of foreign countries:
The secret documents, made available to The New York Times and several other news organizations, reveal that most of the 172 remaining prisoners have been rated as a “high risk” of posing a threat to the United States and its allies if released without adequate rehabilitation and supervision. But they also show that an even larger number of the prisoners who have left Cuba – about a third of the 600 already transferred to other countries – were also designated “high risk” before they were freed or passed to the custody of other governments.
This may explain the recidivism rate we’ve seen over the past few years. The Bush administration released or transferred 532 prisoners and the Obama administration has released or transferred 68 detainees. A total of 82 former detainees have returned to terrorism, according the latest Pentagon calculations.
The documents also confirm what critics of closing Guantanamo Bay have been saying all along. Since most of the remaining 172 prisoners are considered high-risk, the administration is caught in a situation where it’s unable to prosecute the majority of prisoners in civilian court, and would also face a major risk by releasing them. This leaves Obama with no other option but to keep the detention center open.
It is horrifying to read that 476 prisoners managed to tunnel out of Sariposa prison in Kandahar. These include a large number of Taliban commanders and facilitators—the very people that U.S. troops have put their lives on the line to catch. Now they are back out and free to plot fresh terrorist incidents that undoubtedly will kill lots of Afghans and NATO troops. I can only imagine the demoralizing effect this has on the men and women on the front lines.
While a terrible setback, it should not be unexpected, given that in 2008, 1,200 prisoners escaped from the same facility. Meanwhile at Pul-e-charki, the maximum security prison outside Kabul, there have been credible reports of the Taliban running terrorist operations out of their cells. When prisoners are not being given the run of the prison, they reportedly come in for mistreatment. Read More
The most-discussed article of the week will surely be Ryan Lizza’s report on the development of the Obama foreign policy in the New Yorker, called “The Consequentialist.” The notable quote in the piece comes at the end:
One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength.
The crystallizing phrase “leading from behind” may not be something you’ll see on a sign at the 2012 Democratic convention, but it will almost certainly be in the acceptance speech of the nominee of the Republican party at its 2012 convention, and will be thrown in Obama’s face during the presidential debates by his GOP rival, and will be the centerpiece of the critique of Obamaism going forward. It’s so revealing, in fact, that I wouldn’t be surprised if the White House goes on a hunt to find the person who said it in order to defenestrate him before he does more colossal damage to his boss’s chances of reelection.
More to come on this unexpectedly revealing article later today. Leading from behind. Hoo boy.