Same Mistake, Different Country

Let’s be absolutely clear here:

We.Have.No.Business.Being.In.Syria.

None.

Yes, it is horrible that Bashar al-Assad probably used chemical weapons on his own people. It is tragic. The photos are horrifying. But heartbreaking pictures make bad foreign policy. Bashar is a thug and a tyrant. And he is in many ways just as bad or worse than his father Hafez al-Assad. (See Hama to get a flavor of how evil dear old dad was). But we are not the Global police. Despite what the Susan Rices of the world believe, the US does not have a responsibility to protect everyone from every evil.

The primary obligation of the United States is to protect its citizens, territory and interests. Our secondary obligation is to come to the aid of our allies in protecting their citizens, territories, and interests. That is what is meant by National Security.

What Bashar al-Assad does not rise to those levels. He poses no threat to the national security interests of the US. However tragic it is that tyrant ruling that land is using WMDs on his civilian population does justify involving the United States.

And no, Iraq in 1991 is not the same. There, the US made it clear to Saddam Hussein that if he used chemical weapons against US troops during combat, we reserved the right to nuke Baghdad. There was a national security interest in protect US soldiers. What has happened in Syria does not rise to that level.

Does this affect our regional allies? Not really. We have been giving billions of dollars of weapons to our so-called allies in the region. If Turkey and Saudi Arabia thought this was serious problem, they would have been handling it themselves, and not waiting for us.

All last night’s missile attack does is give our putative allies in the region an excuse to continue to do nothing. If everything goes great, they get share in the glory. If things go south (which is general what happens), they get to wash their hands of it and blame the West and its Crusader mentality for the evils that befall the Syrian people.

And nothing good will come of this. How many countries in the Middle East do we have to destabilize before it’s enough? And what in our history of interfering in other countries’s internal affairs suggests we’re going to get it right this time? Afghanistan is still a crap show. The same with Iraq. Libya is a nightmare with people willing to die in the Mediterranean rather than stay there. Has our drone strikes in Yemen brought peace and prosperity to that Country? So why will Syria be different?

What happens now? We just lobbed a bunch of missiles at one airbase. What is al-Assad doesn’t stop? Are we going to keep firing missiles? Contrary to the myth spread by Bill Clinton’s acolytes, the Kosovo Air War in 1999 didn’t stop Serbian aggression. NATO was preparing to send in ground forces and Sloban Milosevic realized Boris Yeltsin was not going to send in troops to defendant Serbia. That’s what ended the air war.

Syria is not Serbia. Russia is already in Syria. If we are going to oust al-Assad, are we prepared to fight Russia?

And if for some reason, Russia decided not to intervene, what’s the outcome? A Syrian government made up of moderate rebel groups? Where are these moderate groups? There are no George Washingtons or Abraham Lincolns among the rebel groups. During the Obama Administration, the CIA funded one group and the Pentagon another. Did they fight al-Assad?

No.

Did they fight ISIS?

No.

Well then, who did they fight?

Each other.

And these rebels maybe moderate in that they ain’t ISIS. But that is not the same as thinking these groups have a Western-style outlook for the future of Syria. Recall Kayla Mueller had been captured by “Moderate Rebels” and then sold to ISIS for supplies. You think those groups interests are aligned with Americas?

The so-called moderates are primarily comprised of Sunni Muslim tribes. Those groups will turn on us. More importantly, they will turn on Shia minority. They will turn on the Alawite Minority. They will turn on the Coptic and Syrian Christian minorities. They will purge the land of anyone who is not them.

Let’s look at our glorious Libyan Campaign. Just like Gaddafi posed no threat to our National Security in 2011. The Libyan civil war was an internal matter and contained. Our decision to topple the regime, led to a power vacuum that resulted not only to the infestation of ISIS in the region, causing problems in the neighboring countries, but also to attacks on US national security including the infamous Benghazi debacle.  Let me make this crystal clear:

The 2011 United States decision to intervene and remove Muammar Gaddafi was a direct and proximate cause for the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi that kill a United States Ambassador.

Like Libya, nothing good can come our involvement.

In addition, further involvement will almost certainly create a situation where our attacks end up dislocating civilian populations. If we don’t want Syrian refugees coming into this country, then we sure as hell shouldn’t be in position where our actions cause refugees migration. There is something rather twisted about our willingness to wreck a country and then tell the people who we harmed that we don’t care what happens to them.

Again, if you don’t want refugees, don’t cause refugees.

And while we’re at, let’s stop and reflect that both Houses of Congress are in session this week. President Trump had every opportunity to request Congress pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force. (AUMF). Whether you approved of the Iraq war or no, George W. Bush went to Congress to get permission to launch a war. Obama did not. Trump criticized Obama. And yet, when the rubber met the road, Trump followed Obama and not Bush.

Just like Barack Obama did in Libya circa 2011, what Donald Trump did last night in launching military action against a nation that does not pose an imminent threat to US national security was Illegal and Unconstitutional.

Meet the New Boss. Same as the Old Boss.

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Why Won’t the Government Explain the Refugee Process

It has been under a week since the attacks in Paris and we’re still not sure of all of the details. It seems very likely the attack was directed by ISIS/ISIL. It is also appears one of the attackers entered Europe through Greece amongst a wave of Syrian refugees. (There are conflicting reports regarding the passport he was carrying. However, there does not seem to be any dispute that the dead man’s fingerprints match the ones provided to Greek officials in June).  Because one of the attackers was among Syrian refugees, there has been a growing chorus of people demanding a halt to the resettlement of the refugees until security agencies can verify there are no terrorists lurking amongst them. In this Country, at least twenty six (26) governors have stated they do not want Syrian refugees resettled in their states. (As an aside, the governors have absolutely no legal authority to block the refugees from coming into their states). The border and refugee crisis that bedeviled Europe this summer has reached America’s shores.

Despite having plenty of forewarning and time to formulate an effective strategy to handle this delicate issue, the US government has done nothing to explain to the American people how refugees are processed and settled in this country. Well, that’s not exactly true. The administration has done what is always does when someone disagrees with them: call them a racist. It is truly pathetic that President Obama is more upset with Republicans questioning his refugee policy than he is with entity that caused the problem in the first place. Beyond that, the administration is responding to every question about the refugees with the variations of the Wilford Brimley defense (i.e. “It’s the right thing to do.”). Why does that seem so familiar? Oh, that’s right, I discussed this back in September:

Why is it so hard for politicians to tell the voters, a/k/a the people who elected them, why they should accept the refugees? Simply mouthing banalities such as “It is the right thing to do” is pointless. (If the Road to Hell is truly paved with good intentions, than “The Right Thing to Do” is surely engraved on one of the bricks.). It is not only pointless but also an admission by the speaker that s/he has no idea why this is, only that this is what “correct thinking” people say to one another. Such vacuous statements do not inspire confidence in leaders. It generates distrust and feelings that those in power are trying to pull a fast one. The belief that the current political parties care more for outsiders than citizens has a corrosive effect on the body politic.

People have the right to be concerned. In fact, the only dumber argument from the pro-refugee side is “We shouldn’t be concerned about the refugees. If the terrorists want to infiltrate, they can just enter the country as tourists or students” argument. That’s your pro-refugee argument? Xenophobia? The proper response of the government is to address these concerns:

What should the politicians say? First recognize the concerns the citizens have. Actually don’t just recognize the concerns, but address the issues to let them know their leaders have their collective backs. That means thinking outside of your social circle. The reason the Democrat Party in the US is getting trounced in Congressional and State elections is because the leaders of the party do not understand the concerns of Middle America. Pauline Kaelism is not a healthy trait for politicians. Listen to the concerns and then allay them by letting the people know that you understand. Explain to them that the refugees aren’t hoovering up money and benefits and won’t steal jobs, but will help to the economy grow and broaden the tax base, reducing the tax burden on working families.

But they don’t. They use weasel words that try to deny the concerns of the people. Even worse, they try blame their own citizens for having these thoughts. This why the European Union is starting to show strains. The Schengen Agreement opened the borders between EU member states. It was supposed to encourage free travel. But with so many refugees coming in, member states are resurrecting border controls, as a “temporary measure”. But these controls are not so much designed to keep the refugees out, but keep the politicians in power. As Gov William J. Lepetomane observed, “We have to protect our phoney baloney jobs here, gentlemen! We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!”

And they’re still harrumphing today. Consider this tidbit from Bloomberg:

In a call with senior Obama administration officials Tuesday evening, several governors demanded they be given access to information about Syrian refugees about to be resettled by the federal government in their states. Top White House officials refused.

The most transparent administration is history is still refusing to be transparent in its dealings and is treating calls for it to be so as some sort of lèse-majesté. And just so we’re clear, this isn’t just Republicans complaining:

On the call several Republican governors and two Democrats — New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan and California’s Jerry Brown — repeatedly pressed administration officials to share more information about Syrian refugees entering the United States. The governors wanted notifications whenever refugees were resettled in their states, as well as access to classified information collected when the refugees were vetted.

Hassan, one of two Democrats to challenge the administration on the call, had already come out in favor of halting the flow of Syrian refugees to the United States. She expressed anger that state officials aren’t notified when Syrian refugees are resettled in their territory.

Brown said he favored continuing to admit Syrian refugees but wanted the federal government to hand over information that would allow states to keep track of them, the GOP state official said.

[White House Chief of Staff Denis] McDonough responded to Brown that there was currently no process in place to give states such information and the administration saw no reason to change the status quo.

Yeah, why change the status quo? Why take the time to actually explain, using you know, facts, when the current policy of treating the American people with utter contempt is working so well? Seriously, how difficult would it be for this Administration to come out and walk the American people through the process of how a refugee gains admission to this Country? Is it really that demeaning to Obama to expect him to explain his reasoning to the electorate?

Every description of the vetting process for refugees says the same thing: it is a long process with interviews and background checks and so on and so forth to weed out potential terrorists. Fine, but does that mean? How exactly do you determine that Rufus T. Firefly, who claims to be fleeing from war-torn Freedonia is who he claims to be? And how would you determine that he really is a refugee and not part of the Popular Front of Sylvania who has been carrying out terrorist attacks? If Freedonia is emershed in a civil war, might it not be a tad difficult to obtain paperwork from the Freedonian government? And would the Popular Front of Sylvania keep its records up to date and be sharing them with both the Freedonian and American governments? Since the government refuses to explain, doesn’t all of this seemingly require a high level of faith that the government knows what it is doing?

What is so odd about this situation is libertarian organizations, such as Reason and CATO, which normally (and properly) highlight the general high level of incompetence of the US government to do anything, are rushing out to defend the current refugee policy. Why are we supposed to believe the same government that allowed veterans to die because it was overwhelmed in trying to keep track of them will somehow properly vet refugees coming into this country? And if ABC News is right, we have evidence that the government has already screwed up the vetting process:

Several dozen suspected terrorist bombmakers, including some believed to have targeted American troops, may have mistakenly been allowed to move to the United States as war refugees, according to FBI agents investigating the remnants of roadside bombs recovered from Iraq and Afghanistan.

That’s more than whoops. It is an admission that vitiates the basic premise of the government’s argument that no terrorist has ever entered the country disguised as a refugee. Actually, it is worse: it is proof the government is knowingly and intentionally lying to the American people. And if it is lying to us about this, isn’t it fair to consider what else it is lying about concerning the vetting and resettlement process?

Back to Bloomberg:

Brown countered by noting that state law enforcement agencies have active investigations into suspected radicals and that information about incoming Syrian refugees could help maintain their awareness about potential radicalization. He suggested the U.S. had to adjust the way it operates in light of the Paris attacks.

McDonough reiterated his confidence in the current process. While promising to consider what Brown and other senators had said, he emphasized that the administration had no plans to increase information sharing on refugees with states as of now.

Translation: <Bleep> you, Jerry. We’ll tell you what we want, when we want.

So sure, the US may have allowed terrorists into this Country as refugees, but according to the guys running the current process, the current process is working perfectly. Worst.Appeal.To.Authority.Ever.

If the government would simply explain the hows and whys of the vetting process to the American people instead of treating them as mushrooms (i.e. keeping them in the dark and heaping shite on them), it would go a long way in alleviating people’s concerns. What is it Brandeis said? “Sunlight is the best disinfectant?” So shine a light on the refugee process and talk to the American people.

But Obama & Co. won’t. Instead, they see any attempt at explaining the process to be beneath contempt and not worthy of their time.

<sigh>

Fine. I’ll make the case for letting the refugees into the country.

Next: Why The US Can Safely Absorb Syrian Refugees

Life Is Not a Hamburger: Refugee Edition Part 2

We’ve established that heartbreaking photographs make bad foreign policy and knee-jerk xenophobia against the refugees caused by that foreign policy is unhelpful. Now we come to the part where pragmatism has to assert itself: explaining why refugees should be welcomed into a country and why the citizens should not fear them. Seems obvious and yet this key factor is often overlooked. Well, not so much overlooked as waved away as being irrelevant.

Let’s be clear: there is a big difference between 1) wondering why your country should be accept a bulk load of foreigners and 2) flatly refusing to take anyone different from you. Politicians, alas, for the sake of expediency often lump group 1 with group 2. And by doing so, they are playing with fire.

Dealing with refugees in normal circumstances requires planning. What Europe is witnessing with the influx of refugees from Syria and Africa requires logistical planning normally reserved for military campaigns. The refugees need places to live, food to eat, and assistance after arriving. It is equally logical that someone will have to pay for it all. In most instances, at least some of that cost will be borne by nation’s taxpayers. Most countries taking refugees do not want to be paying for these costs indefinitely. Therefore, it should be hoped that the refugees who are will find work. But seeking employment creates the impression that they are vying with taxpayers for jobs. So if you are a citizen of the country, you are confronted by an influx of people from a land culture different from yours, and on whom your tax dollars are being spent to house, feed and clothe, akk the while they are looking for jobs as you or your family members are doing. Can you understand why some people may be a little nervous and/or upset?

Why is it so hard for politicians to tell the voters, a/k/a the people who elected them, why they should accept the refugees? Simply mouthing banalities such as “It is the right thing to do” is pointless. (If the Road to Hell is truly paved with good intentions, then “The Right Thing to Do” is surely engraved on one of the bricks.). It is not only pointless but also an admission by the speaker that s/he has no idea why this is, only that this is what “correct thinking” people say to one another. Such vacuous statements do not inspire confidence in leaders. It generates distrust and feelings that those in power are trying to pull a fast one. The belief that the current political parties care more for outsiders than citizens has a corrosive effect on the body politic.

And if those in power won’t listen to the people, the people will turn to those who will. This is why the National Front, the Danish People’s Party, Freedom Party of Austria, Jobbik, etc. are all growing in political strength in Europe. In Germany, the Christian Socialist Union, by no-means a far right organization is showing nationalist tendencies as unease begins to grow. People are concerned, some frightened. And if responsible leaders will not address and allay those fears, others will exploit those concerns, often to the detriment of the citizenry.

What should the politicians say? First recognize the concerns the citizens have. Actually don’t just recognize the concerns, but address the issues to let them know their leaders have their collective backs. That means thinking outside of your social circle. The reason the Democrat Party in the US is getting trounced in Congressional and State elections is because the leaders of the party do not understand the concerns of Middle America. Pauline Kaelism is not a healthy trait for politicians. Listen to the concerns and then allay them by letting the people know that you understand. Explain to them that the refugees aren’t hoovering up money and benefits and won’t steal jobs, but will help to the economy grow and broaden the tax base, reducing the tax burden on working families. Something like:

Yes, we know there are a lot of people trying to get in. We know you are concerned that your taxes are being spent to feed, house and clothe these people instead of being spent on policies that benefit you, the taxpayer. And we know you are afraid the refugees are going to take your jobs. But this is why you don’t need to fear these things.

These people are coming to our country because of you. The refugees look at this country and are in awe at what you have accomplished. Because of you, our standard of living has never been higher. We live longer and healthier lives because of what you have achieved. These refugees want only what you want. They want to work.  They are not here to take your jobs. They want to find their own jobs. They want the chance to be productive members of society. For some, this was dream denied them in their own countries. Here, they can live this dream. And by living and working, they will help us. Business will grow because of you. And the growth of these businesses will result in more jobs being created. And as more jobs are created, businesses will have to increase your pay in order to compete with other companies looking to hire you. And just like you, these refugees, as they find work, will pay taxes and not need public benefits. The refugees don’t just want to share that dream with you, they want to help it grow and expand.

Now I know some of you might be concerned about criminal elements who maybe trying to hide amongst the refugees. We are thoroughly screening everyone seeking to enter the country and denying entrance to such individuals. If we find any such individuals in this country, we will remove and send them back from whence they came.

Or words to that effect.

But they don’t. The use weasel words that try to deny the concerns of the people. Even worse, they try blame their own citizens for having these thoughts. This why the European Union is starting to show strains. The Schengen Agreement opened the borders between EU member states. It was supposed to encourage free travel. But with so many refugees coming in, member states are resurrecting border controls, as a “temporary measure”. But these controls are not so much designed to keep the refugees out, but keep the politicians in power. As Gov William J. Lepetomane observed, “We have to protect our phoney baloney jobs here, gentlemen! We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph!”

Or, put another way, Life is Not a Hamburger: You Can’t Have It Your Way,

Election 2016: GOP Debate Round 2, Electric Bugaloo

Good granny gracious that was a long debate last night. And to whichever CNN producers allowed the social media question regarding the candidates choosing their Secret Service names: I hate you.

Last night’s debate (I’m not discussing the appetizer debate featuring… I have no idea. Didn’t get a chance to watch it and I feel pretty confident that none of the candidates had a Carly Fiorina moment that will vault them to Prime Time) was being billed as featuring CNN’s Jake Tapper as moderator with Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt as questioners. Turned out, Tapper asked most of the questions, with occasional queries from Bash. Hewitt apparently was just making a cameo, much like Steven Seagal in Executive Decision. I hope the candidates didn’t spend too much time reading the Looming Tower or the other books on Hewitt’s Necessary Bookshelf in preparation for having to answer his Foreign Policy Quiz.

I was uncomfortable with Tapper’s style. “Candidate X, Candidate Y has said we should invade Syria and defeat ISIL to stop Planned Parenthood. Why is he wrong?” The debate seemed to have undertones of Thunderdome: Two Candidates Enter, One Leaves. And the constant split screen with Donald Trump elevated him far more than was justified, especially as the night wore on and he started to shrink under pressure. I guess with 11 candidates, it was an easy way to spark a discussion, but it also had the side effect of minimizing some of the candidates. (Scott Walker spoke only for 8 minutes during the debate).

As for the Candidates, let’s break them down into brackets: The Outsiders (Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson); Senators (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio); and the Governors (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, and Scott Walker)

Outsiders Bracket

I’m pretty sure Donald Trump plugged his own office tower in an answer. This may explain how The Donald is planning to finance his Berlin-esque wall with Mexico: Product Placements in his Presidential Speeches. (“As I was riding in my luxurious Ford Limo, siping a Red Bull, which let me tell you has yuge benefits. People are always coming up to me saying, ‘Hey you really try Red Bull’…”).

Other than that, it was not a good night for Trump. Fiorina’s response to his sexist comments knocked him off his game. His sparring with the other candidates revealed that he doesn’t know much about the details of policies. Could I name the leaders of the Qud, Kurds, Hezbollah and other Middle Eastern groups? No. But there are two caveats: 1) I’m horrible with people’s names as a general rule and 2) I’m not running for President. If I was running, I’d tried to remember the names. More importantly, I would at least known why these people were important. My saving grace is my ability to recall details about people whose names I forget, either physical attribute or something about their personality or upbringing. (“Yeah, you know the barista that has the odd fear of bungee cords.”). Trump seems to think his saving grace is hiring someone who knows the Arab names.

The debate showed Trump is style over substance on the issues. He came off looking like a bully. And he can’t admit when he is wrong or he has made a mistake. Trump was more offended by Jeb Bush’s suggestion that Trump couldn’t get something built than by the implication Donald tried to buy political favors. Donald Trump is The World’s Croniest Capitalist: “I don’t always buy politicians. But when I do, I get what I want.”

In addition to the Donald not apologizing to Fiorina, his refusal to apologize for his comments Jeb’s wife, Columba Bush as well as his smug trashing of the Bush family was… well let me put it this way: I’m not a Jeb Bush fan. But if Jeb had turned and cold-cocked Trump right there and then, I’d vote for Bush III.

I know I said it after the last debate, but I really think Trump is hitting his high water mark. He’s not broadening the party’s base. The more the debates turn to substance, the less stature he has. The shot a Rand Paul? Odd, but you can make an argument for it. Attacking George Pataki? The man wasn’t even in the prime time debate and is one poll away from entering the Jim Gilmore zone. And Trump’s constant Appeal to Authority of unnamed people doesn’t disprove he is just making it all up as he goes along. Who are all these legal scholars that agree with Trump? Does he know them? Has he spoken with them? How about naming these people and letting the American people decide. And his answer to the vaccination question? Well, I believe William Shatner, sitting inside Air Force One, probably sums it up best:

“Help! Stewardess, Donald Trump is claiming vaccines cause autism!”

(Or was that from when Trump was trashing the 14th Amendment?)

The punditocracy, following the consulting of omens, has declared Carly Fiorina winner the debate. I guess you could say that. She was very strong, but not so that she has toppled Trump. But she probably had some of the better lines of the evening, including her response to Donald’s comments and his refusal to apologize:

“I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”

If she had dropped the mic then and walked off stage, I think Tapper would have looked into the camera and said, “Thanks for tuning in tonight.” But she didn’t and some of her claims, including the Planned Parenthood video, are complete bunk. You  just can’t keep make stuff up and not expect people to call you out on it. (I suspect she may have been referring to the videos released in aggregate, but that is not what she said or implied). And her refusal to answer the question about putting a woman on US currency was petty. There is nothing sacrosanct about who is and is not on money. It is a fair question to wonder if some bills should be redesigned and a new face placed.

I don’t know if Fiorina could really win. But, if nothing else, she has shown herself to be Cabinet Secretary material.

If Fiorina won the debate, Ben Carson has to be the co-runner up. He didn’t overly thrill and his answers tended to be long. (One Twitter-wit noted the longest distance between two points was a Ben Carson answer). But the doctor had a good grip on the questions and was able to answer with substance and occasional flashes of wit. The good doctor is not going to be the next President, but he has shown that he has the gravitas to be on the stage.

Senatorial Bracket

Marco Rubio was the clear victor of the bracket, and the other co-runner up. He was right to smack down Trump’s view that the entire political campaign should be English only.(“And if [voters] get their news in Spanish, I want them to hear that directly from me. Not from a translator at Univision.”). I could have done without the water joke or the reference to his dad as a bartender, but those aren’t deal breakers. I don’t necessarily agree with Rubio’s foreign policy view, but he has clearly has a grasp on world events. All in all, he presented himself as someone Americans could be comfortable with having his finger on the nuclear trigger.

Ted Cruz, on the other hand, is sinking. Beyond becoming Donald Trump’s mini-me on immigration, he is becoming more and more of a caricature of a candidate. He says he opposed John Roberts’s nomination, but he voted for his appointment to the Bench. This “I was against him when I was for him” is nonsensical. Cruz is a living version of South Park’s undergarment gnomes: 1) declare run for presidency 2) ???? 3) Sworn in as President.

The final senator, Rand Paul was fine. I’ve previously admitted that I’m rooting for him. Paul does best when he is able to highlight his libertarian views. When he was able to espouse those views, he was good. The exchange on medical marijuana and his opposition to Iraq highlighted these facts. (“If you want boots on the ground, and you want them to be our sons and daughters, you got 14 other choices. There will always be a Bush or Clinton for you, if you want to go back to war in Iraq.”) I don’t know if it was good or bad that at times he seemed exasperated by some of the answers. He recalls Jon Lovitz’s Mike Dukakis impersonation: “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.” The only way Rand is going to muscle into the top echelon is to stop trying to show his conservative bona fides, and focus on his libertarian ones. He need to show why he is the different type of Republican.

Governor’s Bracket

It wasn’t the greatest night for Jeb Bush. He was much better than the first debate, though that could be the soft bigotry of low expectations. He had a couple of good quips and seems to understand that he has to sell himself to the American People and not expect a coronation. But a lot of his policies seem to be warmed over concepts from his brother and father’s administrations. His favoring of Common Core doesn’t help him with the base. He opposes the sequester, the first time in who knows how long that the government has actually spent less money than the year before. If you believe in small government, isn’t cutting the budget part of the dea?  Opposing spending cuts won’t help him. Nor will his defense of the Chief Justice (unless he punched out Trump for the Donald all but claiming everything in the last 8 years was George W Bush’s fault).

John Kasich is doing better. Contrary to my original view, he seems to be rising while Walker is fading. He’s not doing anything to show why he would be a great President, but he’s not hurting himself. He is adopting a variation of the Romney 2012 formula, be everyone’s second choice. Then, when the voter’s preferred candidate drops out of the race, s/he will vote for Kasich. It’s not the most electrifying way to run, but maybe it works this time.

Scott Walker is flailing. He did ok, but he’s not standing out. Only 8 minutes of speaking is probably why he is becoming forgettable. But he’s also not inserting himself into the debates. With this many candidates, he’s going to have to muscle in on conversations or drop out. From what he said about his plans to overhaul federal labor laws, he could potentially make a good Labor Secretary.

Chris Christie’s performance was much better, even if the facts weren’t with him. Contrary to what he said, Christie has been opposed to medical marijuana and seems to be content with being Pot Prohibitionist in a time when that view is becoming increasingly outdated. I have mixed views on his slamming Trump and Fiorina bickering over their business leadership. On the one hand, he is probably correct that most viewers don’t really want to hear which of the two is better CEO. On the other hand, as a candidate that CONSTANTLY reminds us of 9/11 and his prosecutorial role in days following, he really doesn’t have the standing to criticize others for taking a similar tack based on their records.

Finally, there’s Mike Huckabee.  

There’s not much to say. Unless Kim Davis suddenly becomes a major political issue, Huckabee has got nothing and no visible means to broaden his base. In the pre-primary days, when the party bosses ruled, Huckabee would be the type of candidate mooted by a small group in order to gain some leverage in choosing the ultimate nominee. Huckabee won’t garner enough delegates to that at the convention.

As for the issues, I’m glad the candidates are talking about the 10th Amendment, but I think there should be more discussion of the 9th. And while it’s great to discuss the foreign policy implications of our actions in Syria, maybe the candidates could discuss why they’re seemingly ok with the current President engaging in ongoing military action in the absence of Congressional approval. While I think the Iran deal is incredibly bad and premised on wishful thinking, I would prefer if the candidates took a more serious tone when discussing it, as opposed to who will vacated it the quickest. (Rand Paul being a notable exception)

But at least they are discussing issues. The more debates, the better prepared the nominee will be for the general election. I was surprised Rick Perry was the first to call it quits. There are currently 15 candidates. Plus Jim Gilmore. I wonder if by October 28th we will be down to a dozen.

We’ll see how it goes in six weeks in Colorado.

One last note: 23 million people watched the debates last night. That’s slightly lower than the first debate (24 million), but still amazing. It is very clear the American people are paying more attention this cycle.

Life Is Not a Hamburger: Refugee Edition Part 1

Last week I noted how Heartbreaking Photographs Make Bad Foreign Policy. And sure enough, the usual suspects are calling for a more robust US intervention in the Syrian conflict. This has been heightened by reports that Russian Troops are fighting for the Assad Regime. (Why we should be angry that Russia has volunteered to become a lightning rod for Islamic terror is beyond me). What is troubling has been the reaction of many people who, while favoring military action, are refusing to accept the consequences of that policy. And by consequences I mean, the refugees.

There has been an outburst of conservative websites and groups of photographs and videos purporting to show the refugees are not actually refugees. The phrase that is used the most is “Trojan Horse”. The theory is these people are not fleeing the civil war, but are part of an invasion of muslims bent on conquering Europe, and then presumably, the United States. The “evidence” includes photographs of large amounts of men coming off trains in Germany without any women or children visible, the fact that many of the refugees are wearing nice clothes (Apparently, when you become a refugee, you must divest yourself of any Levi’s or other fashionable clothing you may possess and instead wear sackcloth and ashes) and have smartphones (I guess you’re supposed to trade those in for tin cans on wires), claims by ISIS/ISIL that it has sent terrorists in the teeming masses, etc. Even a story about a London based group that gives refugees the skills and training to repair bicycles has become “proof” of this supposed invasion. There are even claims that, Aylan Kurdi, the little boy in the photos whose washed up on the shore of Turkey wasn’t really a refugee fleeing ISIS.

I read these things and I must resist the urge to scream, “ARE YOU [EXPLETIVE REDACTED] KIDDING ME?”

One of my high school biology teacher’s favorite phrases was “Life is not a hamburger. You can’t have it your way.” I think that phrase should become a mantra repeated to the “Bomb, bomb Iran” crowd: You can’t go around thumping your chest, demanding military action be taken without accepting the consequences, the good and the bad. And a bad consequence of dropping bombs, no matter how noble or worthwhile the reason, is it tends to cause innocent people to lose their homes, livelihoods, and sometimes their lives. The idea that somehow they should just stay put while everything around them is exploding is not just stupid and ignorant, it is a sign of some serious cognitive dissonance.

Seriously, for those of you who are all for bombing the ever living crap out of a place to kill a bunch of people and don’t you think that has some sort of knock-on effect? I realize we have smart bombs, but they ain’t smart enough to differentiate between a terrorist and a civilian. The best a smart bomb can do is aim itself to the general area of where the baddie is holed up. This is a vast improvement since World War II when we had to level entire cities. Now we can blow up just the building. But if the terrorist is on the second floor of a five story apartment building, everyone living above and below him, regardless of their culpability, is also going to be caught in the blast. Many will probably be dead. And those that aren’t are now homeless.  And that means they have to go somewhere.They are now displaced. And another term for displaced persons is refugee.

There is also this odd belief that only poor people become refugees. Middle Class people will also suffer from the bombings and the war as it wipes out homes and businesses. You may be a very successful lawyer or doctor, but when your home is destroyed or your local neighborhood power plant is obliterated, you are going to have to leave with whatever you’re wearing.

I see jeans. They mustn’t be real refugees

And oh, by the way, you do realize Western Culture is ubiquitous, right? American capitalism is the predominant economic model on the planet. We sell everything to anyone. Levi’s and Reebok sell products in the Midwest and Southern United States, but also the Middle East, Southeast Asia, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, etc. So really, is it any surprise that people fleeing their homes are garbed in western attire? Or do expect them to stop and dress in what we consider to be appropriate Middle Eastern clothing?It’s as if our views of what refugees must look like are being dictated by some strange iteration of Mr. Blackwell.

These French children are too well heeled to be refugees in WW1. Must be part of a Trojan Horse plot.
These French children are too well heeled to be refugees in WW1. Must be part of a Trojan Horse plot.

By that logic, it also means they must shed themselves of modern technology, no matter how commonplace. Cellphones have become the primary means of communications around the world. As of 2012, 8% of the Middle East population had cellphones. While that may not seem to be a lot, it was almost double the number of phones from the previous year and the estimates in 2013 was a 39% increase by 2015. In sub-Saharan Africa (the other main source of refugees), cell phone penetration is even greater, with some predicting almost every African will have a cellphone by 2017.

And this idea that training refugees to have serviceable skills is somehow indicative that they have no need to flee from Syria is… well, it’s just insane. A lot of the same people who think having refugees become mild-mannered bicycle repairmen is wrong are the same lot bitching about migrants getting government benefits. If refugees can’t work, then they’ll be on the Dole. Why not give them skills so they can earn their own living, pay taxes and bitch about those lazy so and so’s just like everyone else. Instead, there is this odd Catch-22: We don’t want them getting government benefits but we don’t want them to have the ability to provide for themselves. In the immortal words of Zoolander’s Mugatu, “Doesn’t anybody notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”

Let’s be clear. I said last week and I still maintain,  most of these refugees should be going to other muslim nations. As the Spectator observed, Arab and Muslim nations traditionally invoke the concept of “Ummah” or brotherhood whenever the US or Western Europe or Israel does something in the Middle East as justification for violence. It is time these countries start accepting their brothers now in this time of need.

Unfortunately, I see no effort, by the Obama Administration to take up this mantle of leadership. (I would also point out I don’t see the erstwhile leaders of the Republican Party doing any better). There’s no point in expecting Europe to take a stand because Europe is incapable of making decisions and simply hopes the unpleasantness goes away.

Simply hoping it goes away is not a plan, it’s barely an aspiration. So until then, stop treating the people fleeing war zones as subhuman criminals.

It boils down to this simple concept: You don’t want refugees? Then stop bombing other countries.

You want to bomb other countries? Then be prepared to accept refugees.

You can only choose one option.

14 Years Later: Why It Has to Start to Feel Normal

This is the 14th anniversary of the attacks on the United States by Al-Qaida. If you were alive that day and old enough to be aware of what was happening, you will almost certainly never forget where you were.

This morning, Jim Geraghty of National Review posted a piece from his Morning Jolt asking if 9/11 was become too normal:

Doesn’t feel like 14 years have passed, does it?

I think I’m starting to understand how the Greatest Generation used to feel when December 7 would come and go on the calendar with barely a mention of the date’s significance. On the one hand, life has to go on. We can’t live in fear. Our foes want us paralyzed and overwhelmed by the horrific brutality of their actions. In 2011, the date fell on a Sunday, and the NFL played games.

Today — barring some terrible interruption from the bastards in al-Qaeda or ISIS — the kids will go off to school. We’ll all go to work. High-school football games will be played tonight. For millions of Americans, everything will seem pretty normal. In some ways, that’s pretty remarkable, and a testament to our men and women in uniform, our intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and everyone else with a hand in the tough, endless work of keeping Americans safe.

Some members of the Millennial generation may have clear memories of that day, but many were too young to have really understood what was going on. We are as far from that Tuesday morning as Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” was from September 2001.

And yet, it feels like we’re still processing the lessons of that day. For many of us, the brutal lesson of 9/11 was that we spent our lives walking around believing that unimaginable nightmarish horrors like skyscrapers disappearing in a cloud of smoke don’t just happen . . . and then one day, they did. Suddenly the unthinkable isn’t so unthinkable. And in that autumn, for many of us, the question was whether the future held even worse terrors to come. Chemical next time? Biological? A mushroom cloud on the horizon one day?

By and large, those worse terrors haven’t arrived – although assorted malevolent forces like the anthrax mailer, the Boston Marathon bombers, and the Fort Hood shooter certainly tried. So have we, as a country, been spending the past f14 years waiting for another shoe to drop that never will? Or will it come some day, feeling even worse when it arrives because we let go of that late-2001 dread?

I sent him an email responding as to why it had to feel just like a normal day:

As someone who is part of Gen X, I know I will never forgot where I was when 9/11 happened. Nor will I forget the sadness and anger I experienced when I learned that a former co-worker had been killed at the Pentagon and that a friend’s sister’s fiance was killed when the Towers fell. I can still recall the unease that permeated America in the months after the Towers fell as we wondered where and when the next attack would come.

But those attacks never came. Yes there have been terror attacks since, but nothing as audacious as 9/11. And that is a tribute to American ingenuity and know-how. We learned lessons from 9/11, not all good, but we learned them. And as we learned and internalized the lessons, we did something very important: we got on with the task of living.

There comes a point when the anniversary of a tragic day has to become a normal day. The day is not forgotten, but it cannot encased in amber and nothing changes. 14 Years after America’s entrance into World War 2, West Germany was a member of NATO, and Japan was a member of the United Nations. There was undoubtedly a lot of raw feelings in this country about both Axis Powers, but there was also an acknowledgement that holding perpetual grudges against them served no purpose.

That is the secret to American Exceptionalism. We look back and remember, but we do so while moving forward.

Look around the world, at cultures and societies that don’t do this. They live in the past, are unable to live in the present, or plan for the future. How much of Middle Eastern societies are predicated on grievances, real and imagined, that go back hundreds of years? None of these cultures have adapted to world as it is. As the UN Arab Development Reports have noted, the Middle East is not a hotbed of new ideas and technological advancement. Instead these cultures keep looking at what once was and wish to return to those alleged Golden Days. Isn’t ISIS the logical conclusion to such societies? How else to explain an organization dedicated to building a bridge to the 7th Century.

9/11 will always be a part of America. But we can’t allow it to become what defines us. That’s why it must start to feel like a normal day.

Heartbreaking Pictures Make Bad Foreign Policy

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. noted “Great cases like hard cases make bad law.” I was taught this in law school. A Great Case is one where the facts of the case are so unique and cries out for Justice. But the uniqueness also means that it should not be used to stand for a general principle of law. The Foreign Policy equivalent should be “Heartbreaking Images Make Bad Foreign Policy.”

This phrase popped into my head early this week when the image of dead three year old Aylan Al- Kurdi, washed up on the shores of Turkey appeared in the media. Al-Kurdi’s family was fleeing the Syrian civil war, bound for Greece and ultimately they hoped, Canada. To say the image is heart rendering is an understatement. And this sad scene has increased the call for the Western World to do…. something… about the Syrian Civil War.

The idea that the West can intervene in the Syrian conflict and make everything all better, while very tempting, is not just delusional, but evidence of some form of collective amnesia. We’ve seen this movie before any number of times before. In the 21st Century the tale has taken place in the Muslim world with the US coming to the rescue. We had the neocon production in 2003, The Invasion of Iraq. Remember the thrilling story of how the U.S. was going to overthrow Saddam Hussein and the Bathists, liberating the Iraqi people, allowing them to be governed by moderates? We were told that Shiite in Southern Iraq would welcome the U.S. Military as liberators, strewing rose petals at their feet. And how did that turn out for us and the Iraqis?

(Of course that claim was not only evidence of hubris, but also a refusal to acknowledge history. Why would the Shiites be happy to see us when we had abandoned them a decade prior to the mercy of Saddam Hussein after encouraging them to rebel?)

After Iraq wasn’t the smash hit it was hyped to be, the story-line cooled. Sure some liberals tried to revive it with Darfur. Tentatively titled Not On My Watch, it was to tell the story of America getting involved in Sudan to stop a genocidal leader and liberating the Sudanese people, allowing them to be governed by moderates. It even had George Clooney attached. But like many scripts, it just didn’t gain traction and was shelved.

Then in 2010, the liberal decided to reboot the concept. This time instead of the neocons, it starred the Responsibility to Protect (“R2P”) crowd. The setting was Libya and it was Wacky Gaddafi Has to Go . The plot was simple and familiar, Muammar Gaddafi, ruling nut-job, made some blustery statements about his people rebelling. The U.S., along with the UK and France, decided it had to stop a genocidal leader and liberate the Libyan people, allowing them to be governed by moderates. So strongly  was this believed, the Obama administration didn’t even bother getting Congressional approval (something Bush and the neo-cons secured). And the result of our intervention? Islamic fascists launching terror attacks in Algeria and staging an uprising in Mali, destroying swaths of the cultural heritage of Timbuktu all while Libya descends into further chaos and on the verge of becoming a failed state. (And we won’t even go down the rabbit hole that is Benghazi).

So both right and left wingers have had their military adventure in the Middle East. And both sides have seen it all go wrong.

And yet here we are, a mere two years since the American people rejected another reboot, My Chemical Assad, the stirring story of a Middle Eastern dictator using chemical weapons on his rebellious people. The U.S., along with tits allies (TBD) decided it had to stop a genocidal leader and liberate the Syrian people, allowing them to be governed by moderates. The R2P folk and the Neocons decided this should be a joint production. The President wasn’t quite on board (Remember the Red Lines?), but was willing to greenlight the shooting (literally). But then American people saw the cast of characters and decided to pass.

Can you imagine what Syria would be like if the West had launched military operations against Assad in 2013? Remember this was when ISIS was considered a JV team. Had the West toppled the Syrian regime back then, ISIS would be in complete control of Syria, portions of Northern Iraq and would be pressing against Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. (What? You think other resistance groups would have been in control? Please, they were trading hostages to ISIS for supplies.)  If Libya is is a crap show, Syria would have been that on Steroids.

And nothing has changed for the better. Simply bombing hasn’t solved the problem. The US and other countries have been bombing ISIS for almost a year now and it hasn’t weakened them. (Of course, the US is doing so without authorization from Congress and in violation of the Constitution, but no one in Washington seems to care about anything as trivial as limitations on power. As Rand Paul observed, most of his Republican opponents for the GOP nomination problem with Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy is that she is not that she is a dove, but that they want to start more wars than she.). Dropping munitions from on-high is not the same as having control on the ground. (One of the more pernicious myths that abounds in neocon and R2P circles is the US air intervention in Kosovo was sufficient to resolve the matter. It wasn’t. It was the Serbian realization that Russia was not going to intervene militarily to support it that ended the conflict).

The moderates still can’t fight. The US managed to vet  and train a mere 60 troops and they were all captured and killed within days of returning to Syria. (And our erstwhile Iraqi allies aren’t any better). Simply put, we lack the ability to control what happens in Syrian territory. Short of putting boots on the ground, we won’t. And therein lies the next issue: it would be American troops. None of our NATO allies are going with us. Or if they do, it will be token forces. We will do the heavy lifting and get all of the blame when something goes wrong.

And let’s be blunt: The Syrian/ISIS situation is not a national security issue for the United States. No American interest is threatened by the Assads maintaining control. Even if ISIS was to take control (which I don’t think will happen for the reason set forth below), it would have very little impact on the United States. We don’t have a mandate to rule the world. American foreign policy works best when it is doing any combination of 1) furthering free trade and 2) promoting democracy. And promoting democracy is not the same as installing democracy. The United States should do everything to ensure the building blocks for democratic governments are in place. But unless and until the people in those countries express a true desire for such a form of government, we should not be telling them what to do.

ISIS is a problem, but one that can be contained within Syria and Iraq. (Graeme Wood’s article is the best primer on ISIS and what we should do). And the best people to do that are Syria’s neighbors. The Saudis are financing opposition to Assad and blunting ISIS. In this, they are joined by Egypt and Jordan openly and other Middle Eastern countries less openly. Iran is backing the Assads and fighting ISIS. We have no need to intervene. Let the locals deal with a local problem.

Now you may object that I am casting this as solely a military campaign. What about humanitarian options? What about taking in refugees? And my response is what about it?

We should take in some refugees and Europe should as well. But so shouldn’t the Arab world. Why are refugees going to Saudi Arabia, or Bahrain or Kuwait or the UAE? Why can’t Qatar, a nation spending approximately $220 billion building air-condition, grass soccer pitches in the middle of a desert, spend some of that money on housing its fellow Arabs and Muslims? Isn’t one of the five pillars of Islam a duty of charity to the poor and needy? Would not people forced from their homes by other Muslims fall into the category of poor and needy? The United States and Western Europe should not and cannot be expected to shoulder the burden. The locals need to deal with this portion of the problem as well.

[updated: It looks like at least one Egyptian is prepared to put his money where his mouth is]

The United States has spent the last two decades engaging in moralistic crusades and has precious little to show for it. We need a more realistic approach and not embark on campaigns based on media images, no matter how gut-wrenching.
Heartbreaking Pictures Make Bad Foreign Policy.