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For Everyone Who Doubts the Threat Hamas Poses to Israel . . .

Be sure to read this article about the tunnels dug by Hamas to allow terrorists to launch surprise attacks on Israelis and kill or kidnap scores of them. The following excerpt provides a good summary of the story, but do read the whole thing:

While Israel, a nuclear power, takes pride in having fielded one of the world’s most technologically advanced armies, its adversaries have charted a decidedly different course. For half a century, the Palestinian resistance has proved to be something of an incubator for the tools of unconventional warfare: hijacking, hostage-taking, suicide bombings—all highly visible terror tactics designed to attract the world’s media outlets. As a result, Israel has repeatedly been forced to adapt to its enemies’ lower-cost, higher-yield methods.

Underground networks are just the latest example. According to the Israeli Security Agency, better known by its Hebrew abbreviation, Shin Bet, Hamas began building tunnels under the Gaza Strip as early as 2000. For the most part, these were crude structures designed for one-off attacks against Israeli forces, which withdrew from Gaza in 2005. A year later, however, Hamas used just such a tunnel to sneak into Israel and kidnap a 19-year-old soldier named Gilad Shalit. “This was one of the most asymmetrical incidents in recent memory,” a senior Israeli intelligence official asserts. “One Israeli soldier was held for five and a half years and traded [in 2011] for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.” Another top official agreed, “This was a proof of concept for them. Tunnels work.”

The next time that someone tells you that Hamas poses no threat to Israel, or that the threat is exaggerated, or that Hamas does not so much as wish to cause catastrophic damage to Israel, cite this article to them. It may not actually change the minds of those who are committed to the belief that Israel is illegitimate and that efforts to destroy it should not keep us up at night, but it will at the very least force Israel-haters and those who are unconcerned with the country’s fate to contend with actual facts.

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Why Are We Aiding ISIL?

And make no mistake; we are. I understand and appreciate the desire to lend humanitarian aid to innocent civilians, but we have no evidence whatsoever that civilians are actually receiving the aid; rather, it appears that the aid is being diverted to meet ISIL’s needs and interests. Behold:

“The convoys have to be approved by ISIS and you have to pay them: the bribes are disguised and itemized as transportation costs,” says an aid coordinator who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition he not be identified in this article. The kickbacks are either paid by foreign or local non-governmental organizations tasked with distributing the aid, or by the Turkish or Syrian transportation companies contracted to deliver it.

And there are fears the aid itself isn’t carefully monitored enough, with some sold off on the black market or used by ISIS to win hearts and minds by feeding its fighters and its subjects. At a minimum the aid means ISIS doesn’t have to divert cash from its war budget to help feed the local population or the displaced persons, allowing it to focus its resources exclusively on fighters and war making, say critics of the aid.

The aid is being used to materially assist a group with which the United States is at war. It’s a hard decision to make, but the decision must be made to stop the flow of humanitarian assistance until ISIL’s hold on the territory where the aid is flowing is disrupted.

Are We Finally Going to Close Guantanamo?

Well . . . maybe, if certain noises from the Obama administration are to be believed. But Benjamin Wittes is rightly skeptical:

Let me be blunt about this: I will believe this the day it happens, and not a moment before.

If Obama were serious about using the power of his office to close Guantanamo, he would have done it already. He would have vetoed one of the bills that have carried the transfer restrictions. He would have signaled clearly in one of his earlier signing statements that he reserved the right to defy the relevant provisions—and done so. He would have used his considerable negotiating leverage in his dealings with Congress to work his will at a substantive level on the relevant legislation. He has not done these things, because closing Guantanamo—while a sincere priority, I am sure—has always been a secondary or tertiary priority. It’s a priority that has yielded to health care and to other national security needs and concerns. And so it will yield again to his higher-order priorities.

It is costless for the administration to float to reporters that it is “drafting options” for unilateral action in this area. It signals seriousness about reviving the matter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more such stories. I will be very surprised, however, to read the one that says the president has actually signed an order to proceed with Guantanamo closure without Congress on board. Yes, I know: political calculations may be different after the mid-terms; the costs to Obama of action will be less. But even after this last election, Obama will still need to get things done—ISIS fight appropriations, for example, or authorization. The question is whether Obama will want to gum up the works on everything over where he stores a small number of people, a matter on which nearly all Republicans and most Democrats will oppose him. He won’t. If he were willing to stick his neck out on this issue, he wouldn’t have spent the last six years protecting it from the axe.

Quite so. I suspect that Guantanamo will not actually be closed down by the time President Obama leaves office, which will, of course, mean that yet another campaign promise from 2008–repeated in 2012–will be broken. What must the president’s supporters think about that?

Congratulations to Malala Yousafzai

In Pashtun, “Yousafzai” has the same meaning as “Yousefzadeh,” so I am entirely willing to pretend that Malala Yousafzai is my cousin. In that vein, my family is immensely proud that she has won the Nobel Peace Prize, and in a much more serious vein, the prize is entirely deserved. Malala’s work in fighting to ensure that women and girls have access to educational institutions–despite the Taliban’s irrational and lunatic opposition to the education of women and girls–and the courage she displayed in recovering from a Taliban assassination attempt and resuming her work, are nothing short of extraordinary and inspirational. Giving her the Nobel has been just about the best thing that the Nobel committee has done in years. It is wonderful to see that Malala has gotten this award, and it is even more wonderful to consider that recognition from the Nobel committee will help inspire others to take up the cause she has taken up so bravely and so skillfully.

The Very Inconvenient Leon Panetta

This is just devastating:

After resigning as secretary of defense last year, Leon E. Panetta watched with growing dismay at what he perceived as a president losing his way. Instead of asserting American leadership on the world stage, Mr. Panetta concluded, President Obama was vacillating and overly cautious.

“He was concerned about the frustration and exhaustion of the country having fought two wars,” Mr. Panetta observed in an interview on Monday. The president, he said, nursed “the hope that perhaps others in the world could step up to the plate and take on these issues.” As a result, he added, “there was a kind of a mixed message that went out with regard to the role of the United States.”

Typically frank, occasionally feisty and finally free of the constraints of clearing opinions with the White House, Mr. Panetta is re-emerging with a blunt account of his time in the Obama administration. In a new memoir to be published on Tuesday, Mr. Panetta draws a largely respectful portrait of a president who made important progress and follows a “well-reasoned vision for the country” but too often “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.”

More:

In an interview at his home with Capital Download, USA TODAY’s video newsmaker series, Panetta says Obama erred:

• By not pushing the Iraqi government harder to allow a residual U.S. force to remain when troops withdrew in 2011, a deal he says could have been negotiated with more effort. That “created a vacuum in terms of the ability of that country to better protect itself, and it’s out of that vacuum that ISIS began to breed.” Islamic State also is known as ISIS and ISIL.

• By rejecting the advice of top aides — including Panetta and then-secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — to begin arming Syrian rebels in 2012. If the U.S. had done so, “I do think we would be in a better position to kind of know whether or not there is some moderate element in the rebel forces that are confronting (Syrian President Bashar) Assad.”

• By warning Assad not to use chemical weapons against his own people, then failing to act when that “red line” was crossed in 2013. Before ordering airstrikes, Obama said he wanted to seek congressional authorization, which predictably didn’t happen.

The reversal cost the United States credibility then and is complicating efforts to enlist international allies now to join a coalition against the Islamic State, Panetta says. “There’s a little question mark to, is the United States going to stick this out? Is the United States going to be there when we need them?”

[. . .]

In the book’s final chapter, however, he writes that Obama’s “most conspicuous weakness” is “a frustrating reticence to engage his opponents and rally support for his cause.” Too often, he “relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.” On occasion, he “avoids the battle, complains, and misses opportunities.”

Still more (via InstaPundit), which indicates that contrary to Obama administration statements–and those of likely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton–there was no effort on the part of the administration to work with the Iraqi government in order to construct a Status of Forces agreement that would have allowed American troops to remain in Iraq. Of course, longtime readers of mine know this already, but it is nice to see that the point has been made anew. Would that more media outlets pick up on it. Here is some of Panetta’s actual commentary on the matter:

We had leverage. We could, for instance, have threatened to withdraw reconstruction aid to Iraq if al-Maliki would not support some sort of continued U.S. military presence. My fear, as I voiced to the President and others, was that if the country split apart or slid back into the violence that we’d seen in the years immediately following the U.S. invasion, it could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the U.S. Iraq’s stability was not only in Iraq’s interest but also in ours. I privately and publicly advocated for a residual force that could provide training and security for Iraq’s military.

Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy did her best to press that position, which reflected not just my views but also those of the military commanders in the region and the Joint Chiefs. But the President’s team at the White House pushed back, and the differences occasionally became heated. Flournoy argued our case, and those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.

… To my frustration, the White House coordinated the negotiations but never really led them. Officials there seemed content to endorse an agreement if State and Defense could reach one, but without the President’s active advocacy, al-Maliki was allowed to slip away. The deal never materialized….

Of course, it ought to go without saying that Panetta’s criticism should be part and parcel of the 2016 presidential campaign. When Hillary Clinton runs for president–and I think that we all know that Hillary Clinton will run for president–she will cite her foreign policy experience as a major reason for why she ought to be elected, and she will cite the supposed foreign policy successes of the Obama administration in order to try to convince voters that Clinton would make a great leader of the free world.

Panetta’s narrative interferes with those claims, which I guess is why partisans on the port side of the political divide are so busy trying to diminish the credibility of that narrative–going so far as to claim that Panetta’s willingness to publish a book while President Obama is still in office demonstrates a certain lack of loyalty. Funny; these same people weren’t making these same claims when Paul O’Neill and Scott McClellan published books attacking George W. Bush and his administration.

In Which Jimmy Carter Tries to Rewrite History

I know that I am late to this, but it is worth noting that the 39th president of the United States is busy trying to change how we remember the past. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. Jimmy Carter didn’t merely lose because he failed to get tough with Iran. He lost because the economic situation in the United States was nothing short of awful, and because he was considered responsible for the awful economic situation:

Inflation was still out of control, the economy was beset by another stage of torpor, and Ronald Reagan offered optimism in the face of the declining mood of the country. Moreover, during Carter and Reagan’s only debate in the 1980 presidential elections, Reagan closed by asking voters are they better off than they were four years ago; many agreed they were not.

Maybe Jimmy Carter thinks that we can’t Google and find all of this out; thus his attempt to change the narrative of the past. Nice try, I suppose, and I guess that if I had to bear the burden of Carter’s legacy, I would want to play games with history as well. But at the end of the day, whom does Carter think he is kidding?

The Human Rights Situation in Iran

It remains awful:

The heavy steel door swung closed behind me in the cell. I took off my blindfold and found myself trapped within four cold walls. The cell was small. High ceiling, old concrete. All green. An intense yellow light from a single bulb high above. Somehow I could hear the horror in the walls, the voices of previous prisoners whispering a painful welcome. I had no way of knowing whether they had survived. I had no way of knowing whether I would. So many questions were crowding my mind. I heard a man moaning. It was coming through a vent. I realized that he must have been tortured. Would I be tortured, too?

I was, and am, a philosopher, an academic. Life had not been easy for Iranian intellectuals, artists, journalists, and human-rights activists since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in 2005. As a thinker on the margin of Iranian society, I was not safe, and so, rather than stay in Iran, I had accepted a job offer in Delhi, India. I had come back to Tehran for a visit. On the morning of April 27, 2006, I was at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport to catch a flight to Brussels, where I was to attend a conference. I had checked in my luggage and gone through security when I was approached by four men. One of them called me by my first name. “Ramin,” he said, “could you follow us?”

“I’ll miss my plane,” I said.

“We just want to ask you a few questions.”

People around us were watching, but nobody moved. I realized that I had no choice but to go with them.

What follows is a horrifying account, one that lends credence to my longstanding belief that the regime in Iran is not worthy of the people it purports to lead.

Don’t Know Much about Recent History

The New York Times was forced to issue the following correction recently:

An article on Sept. 11 about President Obama’s speech to the nation describing his plans for a military campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, gave an incorrect comparison between efforts by the president to seek allies’ support for his plans and President George W. Bush’s efforts on such backing for the Iraq war. The approach Mr. Obama is taking is similar to the one Mr. Bush took; it is not the case that, “Unlike Mr. Bush in the Iraq war, Mr. Obama has sought to surround the United States with partners.”

Of course, anyone with a decent memory regarding the events of the past decade or so would have been able to save the Times from committing any kind of error in the first place. Google could have also set the Times straight, but I guess that the folks running the Gray Lady decided that it would be more fun to be amusingly wrong than it would to be boringly right.

Incidentally, I agree entirely with Dylan Byers’s e-mail correspondent.

Quote of the Day

I stand by what I wrote today: the videos of [ISIL] beheadings need to be independently confirmed before they are part of the historical record. They may well be completely accurate but there are not yet independent confirmations that they are accurate. On a larger picture note: had an evening with a group of well-informed international attorneys and prosecutors. A Pakistani lawyer who is a fourth-generation scion of a major Pakistani political family explained what I keep hearing from many parts of the plugged in educated elite of the Middle East: ISIS, he said, is grassroots Wahabism – the extreme and brutal “version” of Islam (many moderates say it bears no likeness to Islam.) But these grassroots, uneducated, extremist people are funded heavily by a) Saudi Arabia b) Israel (!) and c) America. Why? I asked. He replied: Saudi Arabia which has 14,000 princes and princesses — vast wealth — wants to replicate its extremist version of Islam around the world for ideological reasons and have endless resources to do so. B) Israel has long had a policy of ‘divide and conquer” Muslim states and wants an alliance with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to go up against Assad and Iran (this is the third solid source we are hearing this ‘new alliance” from.) He said that Israel has heavily infiltrated the Egyptian army and security services by bribery, which is one reason Egypt did nothing for Gaza but close its borders.And C) America has several powerful factions: Big Oil, war interests, right wing christians, AIPAC, the Armenians (!) who are trying to organize like AIPAC, and Arabists, who are the only groups who care about what happens in the Middle East. And they all mint money and prestige by having a brutal Muslim threat on the horizon.

He made the fascinating point that Israel benefits from funding ISIS too because the more brutal Islam looks, the better for Israel internationally. So the REAL struggle right now is…between extremist (wahabbi, Saudi-funded, etc) factions and moderate Muslims such as those responsible for the Arab spring. That is the news behind the news…so YEAH I want to source those videos properly.

Naomi Wolf. As one Facebook friend commented on my page, Wolf is now claiming that “[t]he Jews are behind ISIS. I can’t believe she went there, but she did.” As Charles C.W. Cooke points out, Wolf’s recent rantings include the following statements:

Driven by a desire to crack down on the people it serves — and to justify its actions abroad — the United States military is inventing crimes against humanity and attributing them to the Islamic State.

In Australia, a grateful government has jumped on these fabrications, and is employing them to justify a “draconian loss of freedoms.”

Claims to the contrary notwithstanding, America’s interest in the international Ebola outbreak has little to do with concerns about a lethal pandemic and more to do with the country’s establishing a convenient pretext for the imposition of martial law.

And, finally, the true results of September’s Scottish independence referendum were suppressed by that country’s electoral commission.

And of course, it is worth reminding people–as Cooke does–that Naomi Wolf has been a lunatic for quite a while:

Back in 2008, before Obama had been inaugurated, Wolf was touring the country warning anybody who would listen that the republic had fallen and that the citizenry should be preparing a resistance movement. “Americans are facing a coup, as of this morning, October 1st,” Wolf told Seattle’s KEXP, before promising listeners that she would soon be posting to her website a comprehensive set of instructions outlining “how to arrest the president.” “I’ve been saying for months,” Wolf insisted, “that leading up to the election you’re going to start seeing instability, hyped threats, hyped emergencies, hyped crises in order to create an atmosphere of urgency in order to justify a crackdown.” “I feel,” she explained, “like this is my one chance to alert America.” She wasn’t joking. Adopting a hysterical tone that would have prompted even Alex Jones into a period of self-reflection, Wolf warned that “we have almost no time” to push back against the “emergency.” And then she hawked her book to the audience.

The performance was a tour de force. Funnily enough, though, Wolf did notdiscuss what had become of her previous exhortations. She never does. Instead, she just keeps on going: warning of a coup here; predicting martial law there; and, all the while, heralding a glorious resistance movement that never quite needs to be arranged. There are, Wolf argued in the Guardian in 2007, ten inevitable steps that serve as the prerequisites to fascism. Fair enough. And yet precisely how these are playing out in America seems to depend upon her mood. Sometimes, she argues that these steps have already been taken: If voters were only “willing to look,” she proposed in 2007, they would see that “each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.” At other times, they are just around the corner: In the last days before the 2008 election, she claimed to have noticed that the United States was coming to resemble other “closing societies” in which “the leader or the president will send military — especially during an election — to beat or harass or arrest voters and opposition leaders.” And, on occasion, she has even argued for both propositions at the same time, contending simultaneously in September of 2008 that the election was going to be canceled and that, if John McCain beat Barack Obama, Americans would be swiftly subjugated under a tyranny run by Republican mastermind Karl Rove and the “designated muse of the coming American police state,” Sarah Palin. Such, I suppose, are the burdens that our modern-day Nostradami bear.

All of this leads one to wonder anew why anyone takes Naomi Wolf seriously.

In Which I Worry about what Might Happen in Hong Kong

Recall this post. Recall in particular this little bleak statement of mine:

I’d like to think that this conflict will end peacefully, and with a diminution of the power of the Chinese government. I fear that it will end horribly, with the government asserting its authority in Tienanmenesque fashion.

Ahem:

Beijing has a harshly worded message for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

Not only is Beijing unwilling to reconsider the August decision to allow only Communist Party-approved candidates to run for Hong Kong’s highest office, but Hong Kongers who continue to participate in the protests should expect dire consequences, an editorial in the People’s Daily newspaper warned today.

Some activists and analysts, including a former Tiananmen student leader, say the piece bears a marked similarity to a notorious editorial that ran the People’s Daily more than 25 years ago. That piece was later blamed for leading to the brutal crackdown on demonstrations, which killed hundreds or thousands, depending on estimates.

Today’s People’s Daily editorial (link in Chinese, our English translation here) says the Beijing stance on Hong Kong’s elections are “unshakable” and legally valid. It goes on to argue that the pro-democracy “Occupy Central” protests are illegal and are hurting Hong Kong. “If it continues, the consequences will be unimaginable,” the editorial warns.

Well . . . All of this is quite worrisome indeed. I don’t suppose that we might have some leverage with which to persuade the Chinese that cracking down on the protests in Hong Kong would be a radically bad idea, do we? And if so, will the Obama administration use that leverage at all?

Of Israel, the United States and Double Standards

As David Bernstein points out, the United States government is fond of insisting that Israel work extra-special super-duper hard to prevent innocent civilians from dying in Gaza (never mind that by stationing weapons near Palestinian civilians and turning them into human shields, Hamas actually bears responsibility for the deaths of civilians in Gaza). The problem, however, is that the United States fails to apply the same standard of care to its own airstrikes in Syria.

This, of course, is hypocrisy–pure and simple. And it is astonishing that the Obama administration has been allowed to get away with being hypocritical on this issue. I was led to understand that the allegedly all-powerful Israel lobby was supposed to prevent this kind of blatant double standard from being implemented. But we are where we are, which, if anything, indicates that those interested in having actual facts undergird the debate over the Israel-Hamas conflict, and Middle East policy in general, should welcome a more powerful Israel lobby than the one which we have now.

An Intelligence Failure of Alarming Proportions

How bad were we at assessing the threat posed by ISIL? This bad:

By late last year, classified American intelligence reports painted an increasingly ominous picture of a growing threat from Sunni extremists in Syria, according to senior intelligence and military officials. Just as worrisome, they said, were reports of deteriorating readiness and morale among troops next door in Iraq.

But the reports, they said, generated little attention in a White House consumed with multiple brush fires and reluctant to be drawn back into Iraq. “Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” said a senior American intelligence official. “They were preoccupied with other crises,” the official added. “This just wasn’t a big priority.”

The White House denies that, but the threat certainly has its attention now as American warplanes pound the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State in hopes of reversing its lightning-swift seizing of territory in Iraq and Syria. Still, even as bombs fall from the sky thousands of miles away, the question of how it failed to anticipate the rise of a militant force that in the space of a few months has redrawn the map of the Middle East resonates inside and outside the Obama administration.

President Obama fueled the debate in an interview broadcast over the weekend when he said that intelligence agencies had underestimated the peril posed by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Mr. Obama accurately quoted James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, acknowledging that he and his analysts did not foresee the stunning success of Islamic State forces or the catastrophic collapse of the Iraqi Army.

But by pointing to the agencies without mentioning any misjudgments of his own, Mr. Obama left intelligence officials bristling about being made into scapegoats and critics complaining that he was trying to avoid responsibility.

“This was not an intelligence community failure, but a failure by policy makers to confront the threat,” said Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

More from Josh Kraushaar:

In attempting to downplay the political damage from a slew of second-term controversies, President Obama has counted on the American people having a very short memory span and a healthy suspension of disbelief. The time-tested strategy for Obama: Claim he’s in the dark about his own administration’s activities, blame the mess on subordinates, and hope that with the passage of time, all will be forgotten. Harry Truman, the president isn’t. He’s more likely to pass the buck.

Yup. This Keystone Kops behavior should get underlings fired, and should get the president to assume personal responsibility for the bungling that took place on his watch. Unfortunately, as Kraushaar suggests, recent events appear to suggest that mistakes will simply be swept under the rug in the hopes that the public will forget all about them.

Quote of the Day

MARACAY, Venezuela—A string of deaths in a hospital here has sparked fears of a potent, mosquito-borne disease and led authorities to seek a doctor’s arrest for allegedly sowing panic, leaving residents wondering how to explain their symptoms.

Angel Sarmiento, president of the College of Doctors in Aragua state, told reporters on Sept. 11 that a virus or bacteria may have been responsible for the deaths of eight patients in quick succession at the Central Hospital of Maracay. A ninth patient died three days after Dr. Sarmiento’s comments.

Insisting there was no cause for general alarm, President Nicolás Maduro last week accused Dr. Sarmiento of “psychological terrorism.”

The confusion in Maracay over the deaths—and over who to believe on their cause—shows how difficult it has become to arrive at a rational approach to public health in Venezuela. Part of the problem, doctors here say, is that the silencing of independent media has squelched the flow of information.

“To dissent, to have a position different from the government, leads to a witch hunt,” Dr. Sarmiento said in a telephone interview on Friday. “I am not a terrorist. I am a doctor.” He said he was still in Venezuela but was in hiding because he worried he would face a politically motivated prosecution.

Juan Forero. And to think that some people still deny the fact that Venezuela has turned utterly dysfunctional

Our Astonishingly Incoherent Anti-ISIL Policy

So, notwithstanding the Obamaesque promises of 2008–and after–we are at war again in Iraq. And if that isn’t enough, we are also at war in Syria. Here is the stated reason for our intervention:

The U.S. launched eight airstrikes Monday night against a little-known, al-Qaida-affiliated militant group in Syria.

The United States Central Command said Tuesday morning that American forces hit the Khorasan Group near Aleppo to stop “imminent attack-planning against the United States and Western interests.” At a Pentagon press briefing shortly after, defense officials explained just how imminent such an attack may have been.

“The intelligence reports indicated that the Khorasan Group was in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland,” said Lt. Gen. William Mayville, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

U.S. strikes hit the group’s “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications building, and command and control facilities,” according to a Pentagon statement released Tuesday morning.

In other words, Barack Obama, having criticized his predecessor for having waged a preemptive war against terrorists and terrorist organizations . . . is waging a preemptive war against terrorists and terrorist organizations. This is the part of the blog post in which I am compelled to quote myself:

. . . I guess this means that Barack Obama is officially a neoconservative now. There is nothing about his speech that would sound strange coming out of the mouths of people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz or anyone else commonly known as a neoconservative.1 Is this what Obama voters expected when they cast their ballots in 2008 and 2012? I suspect not, so if Obama voters aren’t outraged by recent developments, they aren’t paying attention. Their man wasn’t supposed to turn into George W. Bush, after all. Please, oh please, oh please let us never again claim that this administration is filled with realists, or that this president has a healthy appreciation for the virtues of realpolitik.

Of course, when it comes to our action in Iraq, it is worth reminding ourselves–again, and again, and again, if necessary–that if we had not exited Iraq prematurely, we might not be in the mess in which we find ourselves. I trust that no one thinks of Dexter Filkins as some neoconservative warmonger; perhaps his expert analysis of the situation will convince some enthusiasts of the early Iraq pullout that leaving Iraq early has indeed led to a strategic disaster for the United States. Relatedly, I remember when George W. Bush waged war in Iraq with a broad coalition that was disparaged as consisting of “the bribed and the coerced”–as though bribery and/or coercion had never been used before or since in order to form an international alliance against a perceived threat. Boy, those were the good old days, huh?

As for our actions in Syria, let’s all remember that Team Obama accused Mitt Romney of wanting to drag us into war in that country, which I suppose looks kind of bad, given the fact that the administration has managed to wage war there without Romney so much as lifting a finger in order to help. Speaking of Syria, the New York Times editorial board is forced to come out against the Obama administration’s Syria policy. The bulk of the editorial complains that the administration failed to get the proper authorization from Congress for military action in Syria, but even if proper authorization were gotten, we are still left with the problem that there is no coherent design to be discerned in the administration’s actions regarding Syria. Kathy Gilsinan properly raises the concern that we are flying blind:

On Monday night, the United States struck targets in Syria for the first time as part of its expanded air campaign against ISIS—a campaign that had previously been limited to the Iraqi side of the terrorist group’s border-spanning domain. But the anti-ISIS mission Barack Obama outlined in an address on September 10—”We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL”—had expanded in another way, too, as the U.S. launched strikes on a separate group in Syria that many Americans hadn’t heard of until recently. The Khorasan Group, which the president introduced briefly on Tuesday morning as “seasoned al-Qaeda operatives in Syria,” appears to be part of a faction that is actively fighting ISIS, meaning America has now bombed two opposing sides of Syria’s many-sided civil war. Has the military operation announced by the president only weeks ago already outgrown its original mission?

[. . .]

. . . with the mission of Obama’s September 10th speech so vaguely defined—“We will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. … If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven”—it’s hard to tell what the U.S. mission is creeping from, or what it might be creeping to.

The Obama administration has noticed that it’s not exactly doing a great job at convincing the American people that it knows what it is doing in Iraq and Syria. As a consequence, the president decided to give an interview to 60 Minutes to explain his actions. The result was . . . well . . . this:

President Obama acknowledged in an interview broadcast on Sunday that the United States had underestimated the rise of the Islamic State militant group, which has seized control of a broad swath of territory in the Middle East, and had placed too much trust in the Iraqi military, allowing the region to become “ground zero for jihadists around the world.”

Reflecting on how a president who wanted to disentangle the United States from wars in the Middle East ended up redeploying to Iraq and last week expanding air operations into Syria, Mr. Obama pointed to assessments by the intelligence agencies that said they were surprised by the rapid advances made in both countries by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

“Our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that, I think, they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Mr. Obama said on “60 Minutes,” the CBS News program, referring to James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence. Mr. Obama added that the agencies had overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi Army to fight such Sunni extremists. “That’s true. That’s absolutely true,” he said.

In citing Mr. Clapper, Mr. Obama made no mention of any misjudgment he may have made himself. Critics have repeatedly pointed to his comment last winter characterizing groups like the Islamic State as a “JV team” compared with the original Al Qaeda.

We usually don’t see eye to eye on the political issues of the day, but for the second time in this blog post, I am going to cite favorably to Kevin Drum:

I can’t find a full transcript to verify that this was the complete context surrounding Obama’s remark, but I wonder what possesses him to do stuff like this? It’s Management 101 that you don’t throw folks under the bus (on national TV!) unless you have pretty convincing reasons for doing so. I mean, all he had to do was say that “we underestimated” what was happening in Syria.

This is really tone deaf. Even if the whole debacle really was Clapper’s fault, it would still sound terrible to say so. Was this just a real-time flub? Or, after six years, does Obama still not understand how petty it sounds to try to deflect blame this way?

More from Eli Lake:

Nearly eight months ago, some of President Obama’s senior intelligence officials were already warning that ISIS was on the move. In the beginning of 2014, ISIS fighters had defeated Iraqi forces in Fallujah, leading much of the U.S. intelligence community to assess they would try to take more of Iraq.

But in an interview that aired Sunday evening, the president told 60 Minutes that the rise of the group now proclaiming itself a caliphate in territory between Syria and Iraq caught the U.S. intelligence community off guard. Obama specifically blamed James Clapper, the current director of national intelligence: “Our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that, I think, they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” he said.

Reached by The Daily Beast after Obama’s interview aired, one former senior Pentagon official who worked closely on the threat posed by Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq was flabbergasted. “Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bullshitting,” the former official said.

Clapper did tell The Washington Post’s David Ignatius this month that he underestimated the will of the ISIS fighters in Iraq and overestimated the ability of Iraq’s security forces in northern Iraq to counter ISIS. (He also said his analysts warned about the “prowess and capability” of the group.)

Still, other senior intelligence officials have been warning about ISIS for months. In prepared testimony before the annual House and Senate intelligence committees’ threat hearings in January and February, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the recently departed director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the group would likely make a grab for land before the end of the year. ISIS “probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014.” Of course, the prediction wasn’t exactly hard to make. By then, Flynn noted, ISIS had taken the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, and the demonstrated an “ability to concurrently maintain multiple safe havens in Syria.”

The 60 Minutes interview was supposed to make us believe that the Obama administration has a handle on things. If anything, it has only succeeded in increasing doubts about our anti-ISIL policy, not to mention the intellectual honesty of the president of the United States.

Something Interesting Is Happening in Hong Kong

Link:

A wave of protest in Hong Kong that engulfed the city could continue into the week as thousands of residents defied a government call on Monday to abandon street blockades, students boycotted classes and the city’s influential bar association added its condemnation of a police crackdown on protesters.

The public resistance underscored the difficulties that the Hong Kong government faces in defusing widespread anger that erupted on Sunday after the police used tear gas, pepper spray and batons to break up a sit-in by students and other residents demanding democratic elections in the semiautonomous Chinese territory.

On Monday the Hong Kong government canceled the city’s annual fireworks show to mark China’s National Day, which falls on Wednesday, and government censors in Beijing ordered websites in mainland China to delete any mention of the unrest.

By evening, the crowds had swollen to greater numbers than the night before, when a police crackdown failed to dislodge protesters from a major thoroughfare in the heart of Hong Kong and appeared to have motivated more people to join the student-led protests. A government announcement that the riot police had been withdrawn from the protest centers also seemed to open the door to growing demonstrations.

“This morning I was happy to see that they stayed and insisted on continuing the protest,” said Cindy Sun, a 30-year-old bank worker who joined protesters during her lunch hour.

Ms. Sun said she thought the police response, especially the use of tear gas, was excessive. “The students were completely peaceful,” she said.

Many of the protesters were wearing surgical masks and goggles in anticipation of police trying again to disperse them with tear gas or pepper spray.

“Yesterday, it was like a war. There were tear gas grenades everywhere,” said Eric Yeung, a geologist who marked his 28th birthday on Monday by joining the protests. “There’s another feeling tonight. It’s like a party. Emotions are high.”

Of course, it ought to go without saying that I support the protests–not only because supporting the protests is the decent thing to do, but also because from a realpolitik perspective, the delegitimization of the Chinese regime is a remarkably effective way to put China on the defensive geopolitically, thus curbing China’s ambitions to assert itself as a regional hegemon in Asia and to threaten the projection of American power (particularly naval power) in the region.

I’d like to think that this conflict will end peacefully, and with a diminution of the power of the Chinese government. I fear that it will end horribly, with the government asserting its authority in Tienanmenesque fashion.

How to Be Utterly Unreasonable (Corey Robin Edition)

Those who are closely tracking the Steven Salaita affair know that Corey Robin–who is a “political theorist” at Brooklyn College–has perhaps been Salaita’s most ardent defender and champion. This article profiles Robin. Note the following:

In the Salaita case, Todd Gitlin faults Mr. Robin for failing to engage with the substance of Mr. Salaita’s tweets, at least as far as Mr. Gitlin has seen. Mr. Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, points to this Salaita tweet from July: “There’s something profoundly sexual to the Zionist pleasure w/#Israel’s aggression. Sublimation through bloodletting, a common perversion.” As Mr. Gitlin views it, “Salaita crossed the line from incivility to rank hatred.”

Mr. Robin has actually blogged about one of the most potentially offensive tweets. More broadly, though, he acknowledges “deliberately not engaging in the content.”

As he explains why, he seems on the verge of exploding.

“Todd Gitlin and I could go back and forth for days,” he says. “Parsing tweets! Like, tweets! Tweets!”

For those keeping score, Todd Gitlin is not exactly the type of person to strike one as a right-wing academic, so it is probably safe to say that Gitlin has no ideological axe to grind when it comes to dealing with Robin. (It is probably also safe to say that Gitlin has no ideological axe to grind when it comes to dealing with Salaita.) As I read the excerpt above–and I certainly do believe that this is a fair reading–Gitlin was/is intellectually offended by Salaita’s substance-free, tasteless, unqualified pronouncement regarding “Zionist” sexual “pleasure[s],” and is less than pleased that Salaita would debase himself and the rhetoric concerning Israel in such a manner. Additionally, Gitlin appears to be less than pleased that Robin won’t acknowledge that the tweet in question is, at best, juvenile.

And you know what? Gitlin is right to be less than pleased. After all, when it comes to commenting on juvenile tweets by Salaita, how hard would it be for Robin and other Salaita-defenders to say something along the lines of “yes, some of these tweets are tasteless, offensive, and over the line. Yes, some of them betray a lack of maturity. But that doesn’t change the fact that Salaita’s speech is protected by the First Amendment, and that he likely has a valid breach of contract claim against the University of Illinois for suddenly deciding to revoke a job offer”?

But Robin can’t even say that. He can’t even make a small concession in favor of decency, tact, common sense, and civility–not even when doing so will cost him and his side nothing in terms of the legal claims they make in Salaita’s defense.

It’s a wonder to behold this kind of obtuseness in action. And I for one can do without such wonders.

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