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Obama and the Psychology of a Country

Stephen Hayes, an investigative reporter for The Weekly Standard, reports that Obama Administration scandals around war-on-terror intelligence are nothing new:

Readers of this magazine are familiar with the story of the documents obtained in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The Sensitive Site Exploitation team on the raid collected more than a million documents​—​papers, computer hard drives, audio and video recordings. Top Obama administration officials at first touted the cache as the greatest collection of terrorist materials ever captured in a single raid and boasted that the contents would fill a “small college library.” An interagency intelligence team, led by the CIA, conducted the initial triage​—​including keyword searches of the collection for actionable intelligence. And then, according to senior U.S. intelligence officials with firsthand knowledge of the controversy, the documents sat largely untouched for as long as a year. The CIA retained “executive authority” over the documents, and when analysts from other agencies requested access to them, the CIA denied it​—​repeatedly.

After a bitter interagency dispute, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, allowed analysts from CENTCOM and the Defense Intelligence Agency to have time-limited, read-only access to the documents. What they found was fascinating and alarming. Much of what these analysts were seeing​—​directly from Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders​—​contradicted what the president and top administration officials were saying publicly.

The issue has bubbled up, again, because “more than 50 intelligence analysis” have come forward with complaints that their findings have been altered somewhere high up the chain of command.  Want to bet more Americans know that Donald Trump made fun of a disabled reporter than that some higher-ups in the president’s administration appear to have modified intelligence and stonewalled analysts for the sake of the president’s reelection campaign?

Political bias is clearly in play when it comes to what stories mainstream journalists pursue and how they frame them, but some of the blame falls on the market, as well.  A great number of people have voted for Barack Obama, and the more decisively he proves to be an ideological and functionally incompetent charlatan, the less they’d be inclined to pay attention to his performance.  Meanwhile, others have now more than once been through the exhausting process of learning about some major scandal, fighting back against the mainstream spin and public incredulity, and watching the whole thing fade into the surge of another scandal.

So, the country has pretty much settled into an understanding that the president is a terrible amplifier of an untrustworthy government, and that it’s ultimately voters’ fault.  People don’t want the blame, and they don’t want to change the unhealthy impulses that will inevitably lead to our current political condition.  The attitude is therefore to turn away while the bumbler-in-chief finishes out his term and just hope for something better next time around.

That would certainly fit Pew poll results showing only 19% trust in government and only 34% trust in the general public, but a majority still want the government to do things for them.

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The Doubtful Refugee Screening Process

At the outset, let me say that I’m not fully committed to the no-Syrian-refugees position, either on a temporary or permanent basis.  However, there’s something suspicious in the quick progressive push-back against concerns about the process.  For some, it’s simply a partisan position.  For others, it’s the progressive foible of the total domination of feelings and simplified morality:  Refusing people who are fleeing danger is bad, and I’m not bad, so therefore any resistance to this specific refugee process, performed by this specific presidential administration, is immoral.

When it comes down to it, very few of the people raising concerns about Syrian refugees are absolutists.  Letting in two-year-old Christians, for example, would not meet much, if any resistance.  In other words, while one side is arguing principle, the other is arguing process.

I bring the issue up again because a Facebook thread initiated by Matt Fecteau includes a link to a White House infographic about the refugee-acceptance process, and reading through it reinforces concerns about the process.  Fecteau repeatedly insists that the burden completely falls on the candidate for refugee status, but that’s really not what the steps illustrate.  Sure, they can’t withhold information that they have (and get caught), but it’s entirely a process of checking the information that’s available.  In a war-torn country (that wasn’t exactly First World to begin with), that’s a risky proposition.

The steps rely almost entirely on the records of the United States, or those to which it has access, which might weed out the upper tiers of those involved in global jihad, but certainly not all those who are just sympathizers or who have simply not done anything, yet.  Moreover, there’s no indication of risk for potentially risky refugees if they are caught.

The most important point, however, continues to be the lack of trust that the Obama Administration has earned.  The refugee process puts the burden on a bureaucracy under a petulant, ideological executive, and that executive has decreed that he wants 10,000 people pushed through this system in the next year.

The fact that so many people are responding to concerns about this matter with accusations of bigotry is a sign both that there’s even more reason to fear that the process won’t be well executed and that our society has a serious cultural illness.

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Syria Refugees and Imagining a Good President

Some recent posts in this space and arguments on Facebook prove that I’m happy to argue over the moral principles and civic practicalities around United States policy on Syrian refugees, but I have to admit a level of disbelief that this is what we’re arguing about and holding competing rallies over at this particular time in history.  With that disbelief comes an urge to imagine how this issue might have proceeded under a decent U.S. president.

Imagine if, rather than taunting members of the opposing party, which is expressing views that appear to be held by a significant majority of Americans, President Obama had said something like this:

Events in Syria are a matter of war and national security, but they are also creating a humanitarian disaster.  My administration will therefore continue to hold a higher target for admitting refugees into our country.  But I understand that the American people have reasonable apprehensions about the refugee process, in light of the atrocity in Paris, and that large lines of differing opinion currently run across our nation.

My administration will therefore be pausing the acceptance of such refugees for a very brief time — so brief, I’ll be honest, that I expect it to have a negligible effect on the program.  We’re already in the process of inviting people with widely varying views on the matter — people with credibility among those who hold each viewpoint — to gather together to review our process and our projections.  That review will be wide open to the public, and when it is done, we will adjust our policy or modify our process in a way that addresses valid concerns.  We’ll also put out a brief report explaining how refugee review works and giving the American people some sense of who is in the pipeline now and whether that will change.

Personally, I have great confidence that the concern about these refugees is more a misunderstanding than a disagreement, so I expect we’ll move forward with the policy with little or no change.  But we’ll have to see.

I’d probably want more than that, but such an approach would defuse a lot of the discord and address, not dismiss, Americans’ real and legitimate concerns.

Of course, seven years in, that ship has sailed for the Obama Administration.  He staged some performances along those lines early on, but they were obviously for show.  Just look at the party-line votes on ObamaCare, including one on Christmas Eve, followed by procedural tricks to pass it into law.

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Terrorism and the President

Last night, I received a little push-back on Twitter to my reaction to the attacks in Paris, specifically President Obama’s comments thereon.  By Obama standards, the commentary wasn’t that bad.  His bar is so low it’s on the ground, of course, but he managed to refer to himself fewer than a dozen times in the 500 words, and at least he didn’t deny that Islamic terrorism was behind the attacks; he just sidestepped the perpetrators altogether.

The problem is that he’s just so weak, and the world is as it is in large part because of his weakness.  (Whether it’s deliberate is another subject.)  He came into office and traveled the world to point a finger of blame at his own country.  He cashed in a victory in Iraq for electoral gain and thereby precipitated much of what followed.  His actions in Afghanistan have been less than impressive, his administration (with Hillary Clinton) turned Libya to (even greater) turmoil, he helped foment unrest in countries like Egypt, while knocking the wind out of it in Iran, where it might have turned things for the better.  His fecklessness in Syria drew that country toward its calamity, and his timidness against Russia has invited that country to press for advantage.

That’s before we get to domestic politics, where open borders have drawn masses of untraceable, low-skilled people into our stagnant economy (which his policies have helped to keep stagnant), and his strategy of fomenting divisions along lines of identity politics (especially race) has weakened us as a nation.  And don’t forget the observation that he’s used taxpayer dollars to make it boom-time for left-wing activists while the bureaucracy under him directly attacks his opponents and imposes policies across the board that erode freedom and opportunity.

All of this leaves us extremely vulnerable.

On the national security front, the two options are to attack the terrorists’ infrastructure in their home countries, thus drawing the fighters back to that land, over there, or to build our own defenses and attempt to identify, trace, and neutralize them on our land, over here.  President Obama apparently lacks the will and clearly lacks the credibility to attack over there, and in any event, it likely aligns with his domestic goals to increase the reach and invasiveness of the government among its own people.

At this point, however, the country is so divided and distrustful of itself and the government that a dragnet sufficient to stop the largest attacks (but never all of them) is sure to fray as Americans resist it.  Meanwhile, the enemy is inside the gates and proclaiming, “The American blood is best, and we will taste it soon.”

It takes a great deal of inanity to get the world to a precipice like this, and another year of this president promises only more inanity.

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The Permeating Narrative (Or Not)

Is it possible to doubt this what-if imagining of what the national political discussion would be if Mitt Romney had been elected and were in the same position with foreign policy as Obama?  (The likelihood is that outcomes would have been dramatically different with the policies of a President Romney, but we’re talking hypotheticals, here.)

If Romney were president right now, the White House would be surrounded by protestersand candlelight peace vigils night and day. Some would wave American flags, some would wave signs calling for impeachment, some would have pictures caricaturing the president as Hitler or an animal. They would chant “Not in our name!”, or “Bring them home!”, or “Hey ho, hey ho, Romney has got to go!”

If Romney were president, nightly news reports on CBS, NBC, and ABC would have regular features on war crimes, quagmires, and collateral damage. CNN would be wall-to-wall with team coverage of protests, interviews of bombing witnesses, and Anderson Cooper walking through rubble in full body armor.

If Romney were president, every political analyst left of Judge Napolitano would be fretting over the war-weary public turning the upcoming election into a referendum against the president and his party. Vox and FiveThirtyEight would have maps showing how many Senate seats Republicans would lose because of the president’s sure-to-plummet approval rating. And then there’s MSNBC.

One finds it difficult not to conclude that all of those anti-Bush activities were either completely fake or were the fashionable expressions of gullible people.  The links at the end of this Ed Driscoll post on Instapundit point to some of the absurd credibility-destroying Obama love from the news media in 2008.  The people who behaved in that fashion — or even just tolerated and facilitated it among their colleagues — have to twist reality not just to serve their preferred political narrative, but because their error was so massive and destructive.

The great 2008 conning of the American people has made the world a less wealthy and more dangerous place, and a final tally of its consequences by honest historians decades from now might have to put the toll at trillions of dollars and millions of lives.  Those who played some role in the scam therefore have tremendous incentive to keep it going as much as possible.  Meanwhile, the wolves and scavengers continue their work in the shadows of the facade of normalcy.

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Russia and the World in Which We’re Now Living (Thanks, Obama Voters!)

So, Russia appears to have targeted some U.S. allies in Syria…

Human rights groups say Russian airstrikes in Syria targeted US-backed rebels on Thursday, as a new report claims hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived for an upcoming ground offensive. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims the targets of Russian airstrikes included US-backed group Tajamu Alezzah.

… after giving the U.S. one-hour notice (at our Iraq embassy) to get out of the way:

On Wednesday, US diplomats in Baghdad were reduced to the role of meekly receiving a message. Russian air strikes on targets across Syriawould commence in one hour, their visitor told them. For the safety of all concerned, it would be better if the US Air Force stayed out of the way and suspended its own bombing campaign in Syria.

Russia denied the targeting…

‘The rumours that the target of these air strikes was not IS positions are unfounded,’ Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in New York on Thursday after meeting his US counterpart, John Kerry.

… but then again, Russia denied it was moving in on Ukraine.

Hey, remember when President Obama and the New York Times mocked Mitt Romney for calling Russia a “geopolitical foe”?  Be sure to pay attention to the consequences of believing that partisan spin and reelecting Obama.

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Increased Pollution Means More Opportunities to Abate Pollution

For the “perverse incentives of environmental regulations” file, we learn that Russia and Ukraine may have been increasing their polluting activities so that they could abate the problem and sell the carbon offset credits to other countries to help them meet their anti-pollution goals:

According to a study released in the journal Nature Climate Change, plants in Russia “increased waste gas generation to unprecedented levels once they could generate credits from producing more waste gas,” resulting in an increase in emissions as large as 600 million tons of carbon dioxide—roughly half the amount the EU’s ETS intends to reduce from 2013 to 2030.

As Glenn Reynolds suggests, “It’s like the whole thing is just one big scam.”  Environmentalism is just about perfect, from the progressive point of view.  It provides an excuse to grab power for the government; it creates channels for corruption to make friends and allies filthy rich (and launder money back to politicians); and it all comes wrapped in the motivational package of a pseudo religion.

And here’s a bonus lesson on Iran:

The UN seemingly left it up to national governments to oversee these projects, and now it has a full-blown crisis on its hands.

Although contested, there have been reports that, under the deal promoted by President Obama, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will send unqualified inspectors to keep an eye on Iran’s nuclear program and may rely on Iran, itself, to participate in the inspections.  Budding internationalism and the push for a global government that is not democratic, but is bureaucratic, come with the gigantic, existential question over whether we can or should trust such a system.

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Sum of All Fears; Sum of All Obama Policies

We tend to be nostalgic for the times of our youth, but one burden that I have been very happy not to see darken my children’s minds is the prospect of nuclear explosions.  Sure, as long as they exist (and they will, barring a complete global societal collapse) they will be conceivable, but with the end of the Cold War, there’s been a palpable decrease in the possibility.  Terrorists have striven to fill some of the void, but their capabilities are substantially less than those of modern nations and competing superpowers.

This period of relative tranquility may be nearing its end.  Here’s Investor’s Business Daily (via Instapundit):

In the latest edition of its propaganda rag, the Islamic State says it has enough cash to buy a nuclear weapon from Pakistan and smuggle it into the U.S. through Mexico. This is the sum of all fears, and it’s not overblown. …

Despite falling world oil prices that have slowed IS’ energy revenues to about $2 million a week, the terror group is still raking in more than $1 million a day in extortion and taxes alone. IS has also stolen some $500 million from state-owned banks in Iraq.

The incompetent poseur in the White House has made a hazardous mess of the planet, particularly the Middle East, where dangerous people took the measure of the president far better than American voters did, and they’ve taken full advantage of the historic opportunity.

Meanwhile, in order to tilt domestic political scales, Obama has widened the holes in the sieve that is our southern border.  As a draw, to pull people through that sieve, he and his fellow Democrats (with a compliant lack of resistance from Republicans) have proceeded to expand welfare offerings while adding tripwires to the obstacle course of political correctness.

When history’s most momentous events touch upon our daily lives, they tend to seem impossible until bad decisions make them inevitable.

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Riotous Ripples in the Rule of Law

It’s one thing to read about riots in a distant city.  It’s another thing to see ripples of the same disregard for law and order closer to home, as in Ethan Shorey’s Valley Breeze article:

Police in Pawtucket say a crowd of young people pelted them with bottles and rocks following a Memorial Day fireworks display at McCoy Stadium Monday night.

Police responded to the area of Jenks Junior High School shortly after 9:30 p.m. for several reports of groups fighting. Officers were confronted with large groups totaling about 75 to 100 people. As they tried to disperse the groups, they were hit with bottles and rocks.

A resident who was in the area of the skate park outside Jenks said that teens made reference to the Baltimore riots as police hit them with pepper spray, at least one shouting, “this ain’t Baltimore.”

I wonder if stories like this are popping up in local newspapers across the country.  And if they are, is this a destructive fad or a crack in our civilization?

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Nuclear Politics at Brown

Secretary of State John Kerry’s international security adviser, Joseph Cirincione, was recently at Brown University to promote his boss’s work in Iran, and to attack members of the opposing party as cynical opportunists who’d risk the world’s security for a cheap political point:

The framework meets all the U.S. goals, he said. If the final agreement “is close to what the framework is, we’re in pretty good shape.” 

Politics and ideology are behind most of the opposition. Republicans do not want to give a Democratic president what some people believe “could be the most significant foreign policy achievement in over 20 years,” he said.

Nothing that I’ve read about this deal supports Cirincione’s claims, including this Mortimer Zuckerman commentary in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.  Indeed, Cirincione’s statement that “if you do not get the agreement, you can forget about reducing the nuclear dangers in the world” strikes me as completely inverted, as does his assertion about the political opportunism.

But even a mildly critical mind should flag that “most significant foreign policy achievement in over 20 years” phrase.  If Cirincione, his boss, and his boss’s boss actually believe that an agreement would be such a huge achievement, they’ve got obvious incentive to be able to proclaim that one has been reached.  As Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner put it, the administration “appears to want a deal at any cost.”  If that’s the case, the risk isn’t just in not “reducing the nuclear dangers in the world,” but actually making them much, much worse.

It’s fair to assume both sides of the domestic debate are playing politics, to some degree or another.  That being the case, I look forward to reading about an event at Brown offering the opposing view, in an article of the same size and prominence in the Providence Journal. 

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Reading into Militarization of the Police

Stephen Beale had an interesting article on GoLocalProv, last week, on the trend of local police militarization that quoted me.  Here is the complete comment that I sent him:

Military equipment — from machine guns to armored trucks — is designed for use against an enemy, mainly in hostile terrain. That’s a very different mission from serving and protecting a civilian population at home.

We have to balance community security and officer safety with individual liberty.  However, militarization of police is implicitly a constraint on our freedom.  My larger concern is that big government and militarized police go hand in hand.

For isolated incidents in which a significant military-type force is needed, domestically, actual military units can be called in to assist local law enforcement.  If police departments find they need this sort of firepower to enforce the law, generally, we have to start wondering why there’s so much law to enforce.

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The World the West is Creating with Vladimir Putin


Is there a better way than political authoritarianism and stunted economic growth that Vladimir Putin’s subjects (including high-ranking oligarchs) might want to consider? Western elites might not like to admit this, but ratcheting up an “uncivilized” tribal strategy may be an effective way for Putin and current Russian leadership to answer this question in the negative, by boosting the morale (at least in the short term) of his Russian followers, and by frightening an “internationalist” coalition away from being willing to take the steps necessary to slow his expansion.

The ultimate effectiveness of this strategy depends on the strength and the nature of the coherence of the adversary that Russia faces.

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Global Consequences of Elections

It’s nearly gasp-inducing to see Foreign Affairs and Humanities Professor Walter Russell Mead’s headline, “Have We Gone From a Post-War to a Pre-War World?” (Via Instapundit.) As the United States prepared its response to 9/11/01, the sense was palpable, in certain quarters, that any sort of actual war was objectionable mainly on the grounds that we were in a post-war world in which all differences could be resolved without organized violence on that scale.  It wasn’t just that that war was unnecessary, but that all war had been rendered unnecessary by diplomacy and technology.

And yet, here we are:

… it is possible that other powers may not be sure how committed the United States is to defending its allies or its interests around the world, and that can make bold or even rash moves look attractive.

It’s possible, for example, that some people in the Chinese leadership look at President Obama’s mixed messages about his “red lines” in Syria and wonder how seriously to take American red lines in the Pacific. … Russia and Iran may be asking themselves similar questions and looking for places where they can push against what they see as weak spots in the U.S. alliance system. At the same time, countries that depend on U.S. guarantees (like Israel and Japan) may become more aggressive to deter potential adversaries.

Mead’s analysis — comparing the global circumstances leading to WWI with the present day — is nothing if not balanced, and he doesn’t downplay the significant differences between the eras, in terms of the players and their alliances and capabilities.  Still, he notes, many of the differences are unpredictable.  Pre-WWI, transportation timetables forced escalation, as no power could delay its decisions and allow opposition to amass forces in exposed areas.  Preparation for potential war thus became akin to an act of war in its effect on decisions.  High-tech may be similar.

One variable that Mead does not mention, but that worries me, is that the golden opportunity that the Obama presidency presents to enemies and competitors will not last forever.  On a predetermined timetable, his authority will end, meaning that global powers have a deadline by which to decide what position they want to be in when the people of the United States place another — probably (hopefully) stronger and more competent — person in that role.

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UPDATED: Losing Iraq and Progressive Assumptions

It might not be much less tenuous than a mere metaphor, but I can’t help but see recent events in Iraq as a lesson in one of the fundamental assumptions behind progressivism. Glenn Reynolds writes that President Obama “didn’t lose Iraq, he gave it away,” and then quotes this, from The Hill:

The White House on Wednesday expressed concerns that Islamic militants had regained a foothold in Iraq after an al Qaeda-affiliated group seized control of a second major city. …

Earnest said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” the instability could create a humanitarian crisis, with reports saying Iraqi security forces had fled both cities and thousands of refugees were seeking shelter.

To the extent that Nobel Peace Prize winning Obama actually cares at all about humanitarian crises around the world, it seems likely that he considered Iraq to have reached a stage in its development and thought that, if it didn’t march toward Western-style governance, at least it would hold steady at the level of civic enlightenment that it had achieved under American tutelage.  Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way.  Regression is possible — maybe even probable, where a society’s supports have been eroded.

In Iraq, the supports were easy to see, mainly consisting of the presence of U.S. military forces, but the principle appears wherever progressives have placed their destructive hands.  One can see it in the apparent belief that business-type people will continue to produce no matter the taxes  and regulations that government imposes… because that’s just what business-type people do.

One can also see it in social policy, where the only explanation for progressive policies (if they aren’t simply evil) is that their advocates don’t realize that a community doesn’t advance in a constant, progressive evolution, but rather each individual must develop into each advancing stage from the raw stuff of human nature.  The human race doesn’t achieve the stage of liberté, egalité, fraternité like it reached the stage of opposable thumbs.  We need the supports of traditions and institutions that shape the individual according to lessons learned from the past.

Update (11:27 a.m., 6/12/14):

Here’s Vice President Biden in 2010, as if to illustrate the point.

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