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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

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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


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.

The Biden Follies Continue

At best, the vice president of the United States is cleverly lulling his opponents into a state of complacency before dazzling them–and the rest of us–with wit, intelligence, adroitness and cunning we never thought he had in him.

Or, you know, he could just be a bumbler of gargantuan proportions:

Vice President Biden just capped off one heck of a week with this doozy at a Democratic women’s conference on Friday. While talking about how the Republican Party has changed, Biden brought up a couple of former colleagues who often worked across the aisle.

This is the part where you link to the Washington Post story, and watch the video embedded there.

Done? Good. Now read the below:

If you missed it, you can be forgiven. “Packwood” is former senator Bob Packwood. And for those who didn’t follow politics in the 1990s, he’s not really the kind of person you should be speaking well of at a women’s conference.

The Oregon Republican resigned from the Senate in 1995 amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assaulting women. The Senate ethics committee had voted unanimously to recommend his expulsion.

This is the part where I write something along the lines of “imagine if a Republican did this kind of thing.”

And yes, this has been a bad week, even by Biden’s standards:

It’s been a rough week for Biden, who is no stranger to gaffes. On Tuesday, he used the term “shylock” to describe people who gave bad loans to members of the military. The word is generally recognized as an anti-Semitic slur, and he later apologized.

The next day, he referred to Asia as “the Orient” and said that “we’ll determine” whether the U.S. needs to send ground forces to fight ISIS. President Obama has repeatedly assured the American people that there will be no U.S. troops on the ground fighting ISIS.

At least that last gaffe has the virtue of being more attuned to reality than the president’s statements on the prospect of ground troops in Iraq. But of course, that doesn’t change the fact that Biden was talking out of turn when he made his pronouncement on ground troops.

As expected, we are told that Biden’s gaffes don’t matter because the “news media tends to overhype gaffes,” and that a gaffe only matters “when it motivates the base.” Funny; none of Ronald Reagan’s gaffes, Dan Quayle’s gaffes, or George W. Bush’s gaffes did much to motivate the base, but we’ll never stop hearing the end of them and we’ll never stop hearing about how they supposedly indicate that neither of the three was up to the demands of national leadership. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that Reagan, Quayle and Bush were/are Republicans.

Iran’s Political Establishment Has Not Reformed Itself

To wit:

Six Iranians arrested for appearing in a video dancing to Pharrell Williams’ song Happy have been sentenced to up to one year in prison and 91 lashes, their lawyer says.

The sentences were suspended for three years, meaning they will not go to prison unless they reoffend, he adds.

The video shows three men and three unveiled women dancing on the streets and rooftops of Tehran.

In six months, it has been viewed by over one million people on YouTube.

The majority of people involved in the video were sentenced to six months in prison, with one member of the group given one year, lawyer Farshid Rofugaran was quoted by Iran Wire as saying.

And (alas) more:

A blogger in ‘poor psychological condition’ has been sentenced to death after being found guilty of insulting the Prophet Mohammad on Facebook.

According to an ‘informed source’, speaking to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Soheil Arabi, 30, had kept eight Facebook pages under different names and admitted to posting material insulting to the Prophet on these pages.

Mr Arabi, who was arrested along with his wife in November last year by agents from the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is said to have written the “material without thinking and in poor psychological condition”.

Branch 75 of Tehran’s Criminal Court, under Judge Khorasani, found Mr Arabi guilty of insulting the Prophet, or “sabb al-nabi”, on 30 August.

Article 262 of the Islamic Penal Code states insulting the Prophet carries a punishment of death, however, article 264 of the Penal Code says if a suspect claims to have said the insulting words in anger, in quoting someone, or by mistake, his death sentence will be converted to 74 lashes.

From time to time, I am obliged to state my strong belief that the Iranian regime is unworthy of the Iranian people. This is one such time.

Inconvenient Former Defense Secretaries

Robert Gates has already spoken out against the Obama administration’s policy on combating ISIL, but you would expect those kinds of partisan potshots from a Republican, wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s not like any Democratic national security grandee would criticize the president’s approach, right?



Two defense secretaries who previously served under President Obama are now criticizing his decisions in countering the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).

In a new interview with “CBS Evening News,” former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says ISIS emerged as a threat because the US pulled out of Iraq too soon and became involved in Syria too late.

“I really thought that it was important for us to maintain a presence in Iraq,” Panetta, who served as defense secretary and director of central intelligence under Obama, told CBS in a short clip of a full interview to air on “60 Minutes.”

Panetta tells reporter Scott Pelley the entire national security team was unanimous in urging the president to do more to support rebels who, fighting against Bashar al-Assad in Syria at that time, had begun a civil war that now continues to rage more than three years later.

“The real key was how can we develop a leadership group among the opposition that would be able to take control. And my view was to have leverage to do that, we would have to provide the weapons and the training in order for them to really be willing to work with us in that effort.”

To be entirely fair to the president and his administration, I have long been a skeptic of American military action in Syria, but I certainly agree with Panetta that we pulled out of Iraq too soon. I suppose that someday, it might dawn on the Obama administration that leaving Iraq before American national security goals were fully met and the Iraqis were fully able to stand up on their own two feet helped make it necessary for us to go back in, but it doesn’t look like the administration will be having the epiphanies I want it to have anytime soon.

Incidentally, let’s all remember that during the 2012 presidential campaign, Team Obama attacked Mitt Romney for supposedly stating that “we should still have troops in Iraq.” As far as I am concerned, Romney should completely plead guilty to the charge. History has vindicated the view the president ascribed to him, and no less a non-Republican than Leon Panetta would say as much.

God Save the Queen

So, Scotland has gone to the polls, and it has decided to remain part of Great Britain. I had worried that nationalist sentiments and the perception of momentum behind Scottish independence might cause the people of Scotland to make a terrible decision; I am relieved to see that my fears were unfounded.

Having written that, there can be no doubt that a great deal of national healing needs to take place in Scotland. This piece by Michael Ignatieff, which reflects on bad feelings that remain from the Quebec independence fight back in 1995, is a useful guide for Scots who seek to engender a national feeling of unity in the aftermath of the referendum vote. Here is hoping that the people of Scotland–from the politicians to the populace–take heed of Ignatieff’s words, and work to ensure that there will be no lingering sense of resentment now that the outcome has been settled.

Here is hoping as well that politicians in all countries pay attention to Walter Russell Mead’s observations:

The most important lesson of the whole referendum may be this: that large and complicated political unions require decentralization and local control in order to survive. The centralizing, rationalizing impulse which imbues all great federal capitals with the desire to impose uniform laws and regulations across their territory—in Washington, in Brussels and in many other cities besides London—is something that needs to be kept within strict bounds.

The 20th century was an age of centralization. Industrialization made societies much more complex and increased the demand for uniform national legislation and policy, while the limits on communications and technology made the rise of large, centralized bureaucracies the most efficient and often the only feasible way to manage the affairs of large organizations. Moreover, with only a very small percentage of the population (only 1 or 2 percent early in the century, and not rising fast until after World War 2) having college educations, there was a shortage of people with the experience and breadth of knowledge necessary for many of the functions of government administration. Progressive ideology was all about creating effective bureaucracies and taking key issues out of politics and handing them over to (allegedly) meritocratic and apolitical administrators who would serve as the guardians of the public weal.

The 20th century was the golden age of the centralizing state, and the advanced industrial nations, including ones like the US and the UK where historically governments had been smaller and less intrusive, were marked by strong progressive and bureaucratic governments. This form of government had its problems and limitations, but it did many things well: improving public health and education, providing a framework for the development of a much more sophisticated and technologically advanced economy, organizing for victory in World War Two and the Cold War and so on.

However, in the 21st century it appears that the progressive ideal of the state will no longer suffice. A better educated and more sophisticated population is less willing to delegate important decisions to technocrats. Parents who feel they are as well or better educated than their children’s schoolteachers are less willing to defer to educational bureaucracies. Patients who surf the web want to understand their treatment options and look to doctors more as advisers than as authorities.

Additionally, in consumer societies people are used to getting satisfaction from their transactions with large entities. They refuse to stand in line for hours at the department store checkout counter, so why should they stand in line for hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles? As commercial institutions get better at providing services that are individualized and convenient, our expectations for the delivery of government services also rise. That puts great stress on centralized bureaucracies; making ‘customers’ happy is not the way that government offices and bureaucrats traditionally work.

Quite so. The best way for nation-states to engender feelings of national unity and counter secessionist sentiments is for the governments of those nation-states to show that they trust and respect local governments. As Mead notes, a sophisticated populace with access to treasure troves of information via the Internet–along with the attendant capacity to make decisions without bureaucratic interference–will accept nothing less.

As a final matter, let me note that the Putin regime has been paying attention to the vote in Scotland, and decided to remind the rest of the world that it has not lost its capacity to be ridiculous.

We Finally Have a Strategy to Deal with ISIL

It involves . . . well . . . um . . . let me give the microphone to the secretary of state:

John Kerry suggested today that the task of defeating the Islamic State could fall to Iran and the Syrian government if the US was “failing miserably” in its effort to defeat the jihadists.

The hypothetical scenario raised by the secretary of state is likely to be a new frustration for the White House, which has spent the day quashing speculation by American generals that US ground troops could be sent back to Iraq.

Mr Kerry’s words may also heighten Sunni suspicions that the US secretly intends to ally with the Shia governments in Damascus and Tehran against Isil.

Mr Kerry made the suggestion as he faced hostile questions from Republicans during a hearing of the Senate foreign relations committee.

He was asked by Marco Rubio, a hawkish Republican, whether American combat forces could be deployed to the Middle East if commanders deemed it was necessary for defeating Isil.

Mr Kerry repeated President Barack Obama’s pledge not to deploy ground troops under any circumstances but then raised the prospect of Iranian and Syrian intervention.

“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals but you’re presuming that Iran and Syria don’t have any capacity to take on Isil. I mean, who knows? I don’t know what’s going to happen here,” he said. “If we’re failing and failing miserably who knows what choice they’re might make.”

If you read that excerpt without giggling and slamming your head against your desk, you are made of stronger stuff than I am. The secretary of state of the United States of America is publicly speculating on the possibility that we might be “failing and failing miserably” in the fight against ISIL, and that if we are, the Iranians and the Syrians will come in to save our bacon militarily.

Presumably, this kind of talk is supposed to make me confident that the adults are in charge in the Executive Branch. But somehow, I find myself less than reassured.

Can We Please Have a Reality-Based President?

Barack Obama continues to pretend that there isn’t a sand castle’s chance in an earthquake that we will need ground troops in Iraq:

President Obama doubled down Wednesday on an increasingly questioned pledge: There will be no U.S. ground combat troops back in Iraq.

“I will not commit you, and the rest of our armed forces, to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” Obama told troops at the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.

After a briefing with military leaders at CENTCOM, Obama said forces in Iraq and Syria must fight ground battles against the Islamic State, a jihadist group also known as ISIL and ISIS.

Obama also said the United States — which is conducting airstrikes in Iraq and planning them in Syria — will be joined by a coalition of other nations under threat by the Islamic State.

“This is not and will not be America’s fight alone,” Obama said.

The renewed pledge of no U.S. combat troops came amid some skepticism over whether the United States can follow through on a plan that relies on Iraqi and Syrian forces to roll back the Islamic State.

No one should believe these claims, of course, and it is refreshing (and unsurprising) to see that former secretary of defense Robert Gates is calling shenanigans on the president’s comments:

President Obama will have to use ground troops against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in order for his plan to succeed, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.

“The reality is, they’re not gonna be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces, or the Peshmerga, [or] the Sunni tribes acting on their own. So, there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy,” Gates, who served under Obama, said on “CBS This Morning.”

“And I think that by continuing to repeat that [there won’t be boots on the ground], the president, in effect, traps himself,” he said.

Gates’s remarks came a day after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said the president told him he would consider putting U.S. troops in direct combat on a “case-by-case” basis.

When it comes to the issue of ground troops, either the Obama administration will be forced to reverse course–which will reveal that its current rhetoric, ruling out the use of ground troops, is naïve at best, and dishonest at worst–or the administration will prosecute this war ineptly and incompetently, leading to a strategic defeat for the United States and a serious setback for American interests. That I am forced to root for the former scenario to unfold is an indication of just how bad our choices are.

Regarding a Certain Lobby that Represents a Certain Middle Eastern Nation

You’ve heard this story before, I am sure. A small Middle Eastern country is throwing its weight around and using its outsized powers to influence American foreign policy in the region. While some people shy away from discussing this unsettling–and possibly pernicious–phenomenon, more and more observers are taking note and speaking out, asking why American foreign policy and the grandees who help shape it should be in thrall to this tiny nation-state.

Did you think that I was writing about Israel and the Israel lobby? If so, you thought wrong:

The New York Times recently published a long investigative report by Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams, and Nicholas Confessore on how foreign countries buy political influence through Washington think tanks. Judging from Twitter and other leading journalistic indicators, the paper’s original reporting appears to have gone almost entirely unread by human beings anywhere on the planet. In part, that’s because the Times’ editors decided to gift their big investigative scoop with the dry-as-dust title “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks,” which sounds like the headline for an article in a D.C. version of The Onion. There is also the fact that the first 10 paragraphs of the Times piece are devoted to that highly controversial global actor, Norway, and its attempts to purchase the favors of The Center for Global Development, which I confess I’d never heard of before, although I live in Washington and attend think-tank events once or twice a week.

Except, buried deep in the Times’ epic snoozer was a world-class scoop related to one of the world’s biggest and most controversial stories—something so startling, and frankly so grotesque, that I have to bring it up again here: Martin Indyk, the man who ran John Kerry’s Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, whose failure in turn set off this summer’s bloody Gaza War, cashed a $14.8 million check from Qatar. Yes, you heard that right: In his capacity as vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Program at the prestigious Brookings Institution, Martin Indyk took an enormous sum of money from a foreign government that, in addition to its well-documented role as a funder of Sunni terror outfits throughout the Middle East, is the main patron of Hamas—which happens to be the mortal enemy of both the State of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.

But far from trumpeting its big scoop, the Times seems to have missed it entirely, even allowing Indyk to opine that the best way for foreign governments to shape policy is “scholarly, independent research, based on objective criteria.” Really? It is pretty hard to imagine what the words “independent” and “objective” mean coming from a man who while going from Brookings to public service and back to Brookings again pocketed $14.8 million in Qatari cash. At least the Times might have asked Indyk a few follow-up questions, like: Did he cash the check from Qatar before signing on to lead the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians? Did the check clear while he was in Jerusalem, or Ramallah? Or did the Qatari money land in the Brookings account only after Indyk gave interviews and speeches blaming the Israelis for his failure? We’ll never know now. But whichever way it happened looks pretty awful.

Surely, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt will be writing papers and books soon, denouncing the influence of the Qatar lobby with the same vehemence and insistence with which they denounce the influence of the Israel lobby. Right? Because to do otherwise, would be to act like hypocrites. And I’d hate to think that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are hypocrites. Why, it would shatter my world if I ever find out that they are.

Another Reason to Root for a “No” Vote in Scotland

A “Yes” vote could wreck the scotch industry:

The liquor and its marketing have resulted in a booming business. When I toured more than a dozen Scotch whisky facilities in June, meeting with distillers and other industry folk, they were effervescent and confident. Scotch whisky sales have been soaring around the world, almost doubling in the past decade to $7 billion — a huge sum for a country of just 5.3 million people. In fact, Scotch is Scotland’s second-biggest export after oil.

Which explains why so many people I spoke to didn’t just think independence, which Scotland will vote on this week, was risky; they thought, in the words of one distiller as we sipped his whiskey drawn straight from the barrel, that it’s “baloney.” (More than two dozen Scotch industry workers — from executives to coopers who make the barrels — didn’t want to weigh in by name because their companies are playing neutral in the political battle.) Everyone I chatted with had a sophisticated sense of currency issues and trade policy, and most thought it crazy to risk killing their profit machine. Rather than join the chaotic Eurozone, independence supporters, despite their break-from-Britain rhetoric, still want a currency union with the mother ship. But it’s not at all clear that Scotland could remain part of the pound sterling.

And then there’s the problem of exporting their Scotch. A new Scotland would probably have to reapply to the European Union to get coveted, duty-free membership access to 27 countries. Scotch whisky’s status under British bilateral trade accords would be uncertain at best. Plus, whisky makers import barrels that have been used by bourbon distillers in the United States and sherry producers in Spain. Would they still get access to those as easily? The cooperages I visited are machine-assisted, but they still forge barrels much as they would have done 200 years ago. Like automotive manufacturing, it’s a delicate symphony of global suppliers and markets

What’s more, distilleries are part of multinational enterprises that crave a free flow of goods and predictable laws. Dewar’s is part of Bacardi. Glenmorangie is part of the Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy empire. Johnny [sic] Walker is part of Diageo.

Earlier coverage of this issue can be found here. Along with others, I worry that even if the “No” side prevails, the damage to the United Kingdom will have been done by a spirited “Yes” campaign that is entirely ignorant of the deleterious economic consequences of secession, but also has been entirely masterful in campaigning for Scottish independence.

Remember How the President Promised that We Won’t Be Involved in a Ground War in Iraq?

If not, let me remind you what he said:

Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground.  In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces.  Now that those teams have completed their work –- and Iraq has formed a government –- we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq.  As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission –- we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.  But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.  We’ll also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control.

(Emphasis mine.) So, we’ll just send 475 servicemembers, and their sole purposes will be “to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.” But no ground war for American forces, and surely, we won’t send any more servicemembers, right?



President Obama’s top military adviser said Tuesday that he would recommend deploying United States forces in ground operations against Islamic extremists in Iraq if airstrikes prove insufficient, opening the door to a riskier, more expansive American combat role than the president has publicly outlined.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that while he was confident that an American-led coalition would defeat the Islamic State, he would not foreclose the possibility of asking Mr. Obama to send American troops to fight the militants on the ground — something Mr. Obama has ruled out.

“My view at this point is that this coalition is the appropriate way forward. I believe that will prove true,” General Dempsey said. “But if it fails to be true, and if there are threats to the United States, then I, of course, would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.”

General Dempsey acknowledged that this would run counter to the president’s policy, but he said, “He has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.”

Now, to be sure, regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised to find out that the administration may be considering putting in additional ground troops in Iraq, and getting them involved in combat operations. I wrote in my initial post that “[t]here is no way on this or any other planet that we are going to achieve a decisive victory over ISIL via airpower alone,” and evidently, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff feels the same way. But if all one had to go on was the president’s speech, one would be shocked by this latest revelation. And although the president owed it to the American people to prepare them for the possibility that additional American ground troops would be needed for combat operations in Iraq, not one bit of General Dempsey’s message found its way into the text of the president’s address to the nation.

Imagine that.

Recall that the Bush administration has been accused by many a demagogue of lying the nation into a war in Iraq. The claims were always bogus, but for those who are interested in keeping score, the Obama administration is actually doing just about everything that the Bush administration was charged with doing by its critics.

Stop Me If this Sounds Familiar


This week vandals sprayed the words “Jews” and the Nazi slogan “Sieg Heil” on the office windows of the Lausitzer Rundschau, a newspaper known for its coverage of far-right groups.

The week before four swastikas were daubed on other offices of the paper as well as “Jews, kill them” and “We’ll get you all”. There were similar incidents against the daily in 2012.

“These threats and acts of vandalism must be stopped and I am confident that the authorities will take the necessary precautions to ensure journalists’ safety,” the OSCE’s media representative Dunja Mijatovic said.

“I welcome the condemnation of these attacks from the highest level of the German authorities in Brandenburg state and trust that these incidents will be swiftly and thoroughly investigated,” she said in a statement.

Note this story as well:

Chancellor Angela Merkel led a rally against anti-Semitism in Berlin on Sunday, telling several thousand people that Jewish life is part of Germany’s identity and she wants to ensure that Jews feel safe here.

Germany’s Jewish community organized the rally at the capital’s Brandenburg Gate after tensions over the Gaza conflict spilled over into demonstrations in Europe that saw anti-Jewish slogans and violence.

Germany’s Jewish community organized the rally at the capital’s Brandenburg Gate after tensions over the Gaza conflict spilled over into demonstrations in Europe that saw anti-Jewish slogans and violence.

President Joachim Gauck joined ministers and Germany’s top Protestant and Catholic clerics at the event along with Muslim community leaders.

Jewish leader Dieter Graumann said the summer saw “the worst anti-Semitic slogans on German streets for many, many decades.”

“We won’t let ourselves be intimidated,” he said. “But we would have liked a bit more empathy in the last few weeks. Many of us still come from Holocaust families … how do you think we feel when we hear on German streets today, `Jews to the gas?'”

Merkel said it is “verging on a miracle that well above 100,000 Jews live in Germany today,” seven decades after the Nazi Holocaust. After the end of World War II, only around 15,000 remained in Germany.

“It is a monstrous scandal that people in Germany today are being abused if they are somehow recognizable as Jews or if they stand up for the state of Israel,” she said. “I will not accept that and we will not accept that.”

Of course, I can’t possibly understand why such a fuss is being made over this issue in Germany–or elsewhere, for that matter. After all, I was of the understanding that “anti-Semitism scarcely exists in the West.”

Let’s Please Stop Bragging about Our “Achievements” in Syria

During President Obama’s address to the nation this past Wednesday, he said the following:

Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world.  It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists.  It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny.  It is America –- our scientists, our doctors, our know-how –- that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola.  It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so that they can’t pose a threat to the Syrian people or the world again.  And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, and tolerance, and a more hopeful future.

(Emphasis mine.) Ahem:

A toxic chemical, probably chlorine, was used as a weapon to attack Syrian villages in April, an international watchdog agency confirmed on Wednesday.

The conclusion, based on months of investigation by a fact-finding team, appeared to indicate that the Syrian government was continuing to use chemical weapons in the country’s civil war, despite having agreed to forswear the weapons, surrender its arsenal and tear down its manufacturing plants.

The agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said in a statement from its headquarters in The Hague that the information its team had collected provided “compelling evidence” that the toxic chemical was used “systematically and repeatedly” in Talmanes, Al Tamanah and Kafr Zet, three villages in northern Syria.

It said it had “a high degree of confidence that chlorine, pure or in mixture, is the toxic chemical in question,” based on the descriptions, physical properties, behavior of the gas, and signs and symptoms resulting from exposure, as well as the way victims responded to treatment.

The fact finders did not specify who had conducted the chlorine attacks. But its full report, which has been shown so far only to governments, is understood to leave little doubt that the Syrian government was responsible.

Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the organization, said in a telephone interview that witnesses cited in the report saw bombs dropped from high-flying helicopters that released the gas on impact. Of all the combatants in the civil war, only the Syrian government is known to have the ability to conduct such an aerial attack.

The fact-finding team said it was continuing to investigate reports of subsequent chlorine attacks, including a spate of new allegations in August.

(Emphasis mine.) I suppose this is why the president was careful to say that the United States helped get rid of Syria’s declared chemical weapons. The undeclared ones are continuing to be quite the irritant, aren’t they? And their continued presence makes it abundantly clear that this administration has not come close to achieving its objectives in Syria.

Barack Obama Is Not George W. Bush

As Bruce Ackerman–who is no one’s idea of a right-wing legal theorist–points out, George W. Bush never came close to running the type of imperial presidency that his successor is running:

PRESIDENT OBAMA’s declaration of war against the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria marks a decisive break in the American constitutional tradition. Nothing attempted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, remotely compares in imperial hubris.

Mr. Bush gained explicit congressional consent for his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast, the Obama administration has not even published a legal opinion attempting to justify the president’s assertion of unilateral war-making authority. This is because no serious opinion can be written.

This became clear when White House officials briefed reporters before Mr. Obama’s speech to the nation on Wednesday evening. They said a war against ISIS was justified by Congress’s authorization of force against Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that no new approval was needed.

But the 2001 authorization for the use of military force does not apply here. That resolution — scaled back from what Mr. Bush initially wanted — extended only to nations and organizations that “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks.

Mr. Obama is rightly proud of his success in killing Osama bin Laden in 2011 and dismantling the Qaeda network he built up. But it’s preposterous to suggest that a congressional vote 13 years ago can be used to legalize new bombings in Syria and additional (noncombat) forces in Iraq. In justifying earlier bombing campaigns in Yemen and Somalia, the administration’s lawyers claimed that the 2001 authorization covered terrorist groups that did not even exist back then. They said it sufficed to show that these groups were “affiliated” with Al Qaeda.

Even this was a big stretch, and it is not big enough to encompass the war on ISIS. Not only was ISIS created long after 2001, but Al Qaeda publicly disavowed it earlier this year. It is Al Qaeda’s competitor, not its affiliate.

Mr. Obama may rightly be frustrated by gridlock in Washington, but his assault on the rule of law is a devastating setback for our constitutional order. His refusal even to ask the Justice Department to provide a formal legal pretext for the war on ISIS is astonishing.

I cannot agree more, and of course, it should come as no surprise that the anti-war crowd–which protested George W. Bush’s policies at the drop of a hat and which made him out to be some kind of dictator–has been largely silent in the face of the Obama administration’s consistent efforts to undermine constitutional principles.


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