When President Obama changed course abruptly on Saturday and announced that instead of attacking Assad’s regime in Syria, he would “seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” my immediate reaction was to roll my eyes.  Here we go again, trying to have it both ways.  It’s reminiscent of announcing a surge in Afghanistan, then simultaneously announcing a date certain for beginning to draw down the extra troops.

Conservative pundits whose national security opinions I generally respect jumped on Obama with both feet.  Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz breached the magazine’s normal practice of not publishing new material on the Jewish Sabbath, with a blog post headlined “Obama’s Bizarre Syria Policy.”  The next day, Peter Wehner weighed in with a blander headline, but stated high in his post that “President Obama has handled the Syrian situation with staggering incompetence.” They both make a strong case, which you can read for yourselves.

Other pundits opined that the delay would give Assad time to hide his chemical weapons; that it made Obama look ridiculous to decide we should strike Syria, but delay it until Congress returns from vacation; and asked why does the commander-in-chief think he needs Congressional approval for limited military action in Syria, but did not feel the same way in Libya?

All reasonable arguments.  But then military leaders declared that the delay is not a significant tactical setback.  Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said:

Many of Assad’s assets we’d like to target are “fixed installations” he can’t move; the amount of intelligence and surveillance assets being devoted to the region should make it difficult for him to move matériel out of sight; and Assad’s current position, engulfed in a civil war, means he can’t exactly be moving military units, such as rockets or artillery, as he wishes.

Obama can be criticized for being indecisive, which is not what you want in a commander-in-chief.  But stubborn persistence also can be taken too far.  President George W. Bush — whose decision to overthrow Saddam I supported then and support to this day — has to answer for staying with a failed strategy in Iraq for years after it was clear a change was needed.

I think faster action on Syria might well have been preferable for the immediate tactical situation.  But if Obama succeeds in getting Congressional approval — a big if, but not impossible — it may be worth it in the long run to have an intervention supported by Democrats as well as Republicans.

Despite Obama’s wishful declaration that “this war, like all wars, must end,” the war against Islamic extremism will certainly outlast his presidency — and it may outlive all of us.  Future presidents will also have to wrestle with how to make war against Middle Eastern terrorists and despots, and I’m thankful that Obama is helping to build a bipartisan history of asserting America’s strength.

(Syrian flag from Wikipedia)

Never Forget

I’ve published this every September 11 since I began blogging in 2008.  It’s dedicated to the men and women of the United States armed forces, and to every firefighter who has ever run into a burning building — 343 of them in particular.

Some day soon I need to write more extensively about the name of this blog. It comes from something that English statesman Edmund Burke apparently did not actually say, so I’ve felt free to modernize the language:

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

Regardless of who said it first, that sentence is the purest possible distillation of my worldview, and September 11 is a powerful annual reminder of why I regard it as an enduring truth.

The events of 9/11 were the legacy of more than two decades of doing nothing, or next to nothing, in response to attacks from fascists in Islamic guise.

Militant Islamists declared war on America in November 1979 by taking hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. This was followed by 1983 attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut; the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie in 1988; the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993; the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996; the simultaneous 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000; along with smaller atrocities too numerous to list.

Only after 9/11 did America, led by a President who despite his substantial flaws was resolute enough to call evil by its name, finally mount a sustained response and take the battle to the enemy. And no, Saddam was not behind the 9/11 attacks — but liberating Iraq and planting a (still-fragile) democracy in the heart of the Islamic Middle East is an essential part of the broader war.

All of this is why, despite profound disagreements with the Republican Party on social issues, despite voting for Bill Clinton three times (including 2000), I can no longer vote for Democrats for President. Not until the party has a standard-bearer who understands the cost of meekness in the face of fascism, and who is prepared to stay on the offensive against people for whom “death to America” is not a metaphor.

2012 update: Obama has turned out to be more willing to use force than I expected when I wrote the last paragraph above during the 2008 campaign.  The takedown of Osama bin Laden was a genuine triumph.  But at the end of the day, economic strength is also a national security issue, and I’ll feel (somewhat) safer on that front with Republicans in charge.

One of Iran's nuclear facilities, near Qom

Three assumptions are implicit in the headline, and I feel pretty confident about all three.

Let’s start with the easy assumption: Romney will be the Republican nominee. I declared Romney the inevitable victor way back in January, and I see no reason to change my mind just because the underlying reality is having trouble keeping up with my insight.

Second assumption: Israel will attack Iran.  Here I’ve actually changed my mind since I wrote “Pace Bolton, I’m Betting Against an Israeli Air Strike on Iran’s Nuke Facilities” in July 2009.   Way back then, in the wake of Obama’s inexplicable tardiness in condemning the theocracy’s crackdown of what didn’t quite become the Second Iranian Revolution, America’s greatest former UN Ambassador said:

Iran’s nuclear threat was never in doubt during its presidential campaign, but the post-election resistance raised the possibility of some sort of regime change. That prospect seems lost for the near future or for at least as long as it will take Iran to finalize a deliverable nuclear weapons capability.

Accordingly, with no other timely option, the already compelling logic for an Israeli strike is nearly inexorable. Israel is undoubtedly ratcheting forward its decision-making process. President Obama is almost certainly not.

That inexorability, which I didn’t buy back then, has had nearly three years to continue inexorabilizing.  Back then, Obama’s emerging lack of support for the Jewish state seemed to me to be the main non-logistical barrier to an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.  Obama still is not the world’s biggest fan of Israel, but his attitude toward Iran certainly has hardened.  In a long and thoughtful overview this week of the recent rhetoric, one of Meryl Yourish’s co-bloggers wrote:

Obama stated quite forcefully that he is not going to abide a situation where US will have to deal with containment of nuclear Iran. On the face of it, this is as clear-cut declaration of intentions as anyone would hope to get from a leader of the superpower.

Obama may not want an Israeli attack, he may still be trying to dissuade the Israelis from attacking, but it would be hard for him to take any action against Israel if it attacks.  And if you have any doubt that Israel has the guts to attack eventually, I commend to you Jeffrey Goldberg’s column this week, “Israelis Grow Confident Strike on Iran’s Nukes Can Work.”

The third headline assumption is a bit more subtle.  I’m assuming not just that the attack will happen, but also that it will happen before November 2012.  Once upon a time I might have thought that Israel would delay until 2013 in the hope of acting under a more supportive U.S. administration.  But there’s obviously no guarantee of a Republican victory, and a re-elected Obama who never has to campaign again might become even less sympathetic to Israel.

So what’s the answer to the headline query — will an Israeli attack on Iran help Obama or Romney?  Hell, I don’t know.

Tempting though it is to end the post there, I may as well share the few ideas I have on the matter.  Obviously, who it helps will be affected by what happens after the Israelis attack.  Iran’s Supreme Theocrat Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday:

“We do not have atomic weapons and we will not build one. But against an attack by enemies — to defend ourselves either against the U.S. or Zionist regime — we will attack them on the same level that they attack us.”

In Iran-speak, Israel is the Little Satan and America is the Big Satan. It would be suicidal for the Iranians to overtly attack American forces while launching a retaliation against Israel — but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  Keep in mind that we’re dealing with a culture that glorifies martyrdom.

In wartime, Americans tend to rally around the president, at least initially.  More than two-thirds of Americans supported the beginning of George Bush’s war in Iraq. So unless Obama utterly abandons Israel in its time of greatest need, I tend to think an Israeli attack will favor Obama’s re-election.  Sure would take a lot of attention away from the economy and Obamacare.

As a frequent critic of President Obama, I feel duty-bound to have his back when he gets something right.  Obama has been criticized from both the left and the right over the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a treasonous American citizen killed by a drone-fired missile in Yemen.  But in addition to being a tactical victory, that operation is a welcome reminder that the President understands we are at war.

Or at least, on some days he understands it.  Occasionally his “I’m-not-Bush” compulsions overwhelm his commander-in-chiefness, as when he pre-announces a retreat while announcing a surge, or when he floats the indefensible idea of trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a few hundred yards away from Ground Zero.  But eventually he backed off both of those bad ideas, as well as his grand-standing promise to close Guantanamo.  On a more positive note, the take-down of Osama bin Laden was a gutsy call and a genuine triumph for the Obama presidency.

Writing in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen is troubled by the legal ramifications of killing an American citizen, although he admits that “a little ‘yippee’ emitted from me when I heard the news.”

Something big and possibly dangerous has happened . . . in secret. Government’s most awesome power — to take a life — has been exercised on one of its own citizens without benefit of trial. A guy named Barron and another named Lederman apparently said it was okay. Maybe it was. But I’d sure like to hear the attorney general or the president explain why.

Two thoughts:  I’d like to hear that explanation as well, but I’m not holding my breath during an election campaign.  And, somehow I’m pretty confident that these two “guys” in  the Justice Department, who apparently drafted a legal memo supporting the legality of  killing al-Awlaki, will not end up demonized in anything like the manner of John Yoo.

I voted against Mr. Obama, and intend to do so again, but from the start I’ve been looking for silver linings in his presidency.  Here’s one: Taken as a whole, the Obama presidency is tugging America in the direction of bipartisan support for the war against Islamic fascism.  America may become safer as a result.

Photo from Wikipedia

While the world waits patiently to see if Norway will join Oklahoma City [Whoops! and Virginia Tech! and Columbine!] in the modest panorama of non-Islamic terrorist atrocities (thereby doubling the size of the panorama), Glenn Greenwald is getting out in front with a predictable gambit: Blame America First.

Still, I can’t help noticing, and being quite bothered by, the vast difference in reaction to the violence visited on Western nations such as Norway and the violence visited by Western nations (particularly our own) on non-Western nations.  The violence and indiscriminate death brought today to Oslo is routinely and constantly imposed by the U.S. and its closest allies in a large and growing list of Muslim nations.  On a weekly basis — literally — the U.S. and its Western allies explode homes, mangle children, extinguish the lives of innocent people, disrupt communities, kill community and government leaders, and bring violence and terror to large numbers of people — those are just facts.  And yet a tiny, tiny fraction of attention, interest and anger is generated by such violence as compared to that generated by the violence in Oslo today.  What explains that mammoth discrepancy in interest, discussion, and media coverage?

What explains the discrepancy? The false premise explains it.  The difference between “collateral damage” — an ugly but accurate term — and the deliberate targeting of random innocents explains it.  The other thing that explains it is that unlike Greenwald, most people in our society are, ya know, on our side.

It’s also interesting to note that Greenwald implicitly assumes that the attack is probably “jihadi” related.  Why else go into detail about Norway’s participation in the wars in Afghanistan and Libya?  He’s less interested in giving Islamists the benefit of the doubt than he is in saying “we’re just as bad.”

(Photo of Glenn Greenwald from Wikipedia — I totally can’t be bothered to figure out all their licensing blather, but I think that means it’s in the public domain.)

 

Osama White House celebrationThe Rev. Bernard Poppe, my priest and friend, is more liberal than I am.  (Ditto for 98% of his flock at St. George’s Episcopal, in the deep blue town of Maplewood, NJ.)  So when Bernie started his sermon on Sunday by indicating he had mixed feelings about the death of Osama bin Laden, I was prepared to sit politely in silent disagreement.

But I found I had no quarrel with anything he said.

He said he was pleased at the news bin Laden had been killed — but then appalled by the tenor of the celebration in front of the White House and elsewhere.  He questioned his own motives: “I’m not supposed to rejoice  at anybody’s death.” He was unpersuaded by the notion that bin Laden had been “brought to justice,” because justice implies due process and an opportunity to mount a defense.  The celebrations made it seem more like vengeance than justice.  I hope I am accurately reflecting what he said — Father Poppe sometimes posts his sermons online, but this one was delivered without notes.

Father Poppe

I also reject the “brought to justice” formulation, although my reasons probably differ from Bernie’s.  The idea that the fight against Islamic jihadism is a war, not a law-enforcement issue, is a well-established conservative meme — I’ve written about it here, here and especially here.  Bin Laden declared war on America in 1996, but our government did not acknowledge that we were at war until that awful day in 2001.  Much of the Left still has not acknowledged it, although President Obama, to his immense credit, has.

My faith teaches me that Osama bin Laden was a child of God and a sinner — and that he shared those traits with me.  Few people in recent history have more fully earned a double-tap to the forehead, and yet hatred and the lust for vengeance are ugly emotions that lead to bad places.  It’s appropriate for a minister to remind us of these things.

But if we are not to celebrate death, and if we reject the law-enforcement model, I still believe there is reason to rejoice in the success of the Navy SEALs.  We cheer not for vengeance or justice, but for victory.  We did not start this war, and it is not over, but our side has won an enormously important battle.  I think we can celebrate in good conscience.

Props to the Prez for Getting bin Laden

Got it done.

I’ve been highly critical of President Obama in the past, and I have no doubt that I will be again.  I’m opposed to essentially his entire domestic agenda, and I hope to help vote him out of office 18 months from now.

However.

On the foreign affairs and national security front, Obama’s performance has been a mixed bag — which is to say, much better than on domestic matters.  After the newly elected President retained Bush’s defense secretary, I started tagging some of my posts with Bush’s Third Term.  Obama went on to allow the Iraq war to stay won, and properly escalated in Afghanistan.  (I’m puzzled by Libya, but hoping for the best.)

For at least the next 20 months, Obama is my president, and on some level I wish him well — particularly in his role as commander-in-chief.  I have nothing but contempt for Rush Limbaugh’s pre-election “I hope he fails” rhetoric, or for his sarcasm in the wake of Obama’s success this week.

The 1980 debacle at Desert One

The SEALS did the most dangerous part of the mission, of course, but don’t underestimate the danger Obama stared down in giving the green light. The mission went off flawlessly — but there was no guarantee of that.  The compound could have been more heavily defended, multiple helicopters could have been lost.  It’s not hard to imagine an outcome like Desert One in 1980, which cost eight American lives and contributed to Jimmy Carter’s defeat.

The safer route would have been to have a Predator launch a missile into the compound — zero chance of American casualties, and presumably 100% casualties in the compound.  But that would have meant the death of multiple women and children, and no guarantee that bin Laden would subsequently be identified.

Despite the risks, despite not being certain that bin Laden was even in the compound, Obama signed off on the mission.  It could have ended badly, but it did not, and Obama deserves enormous credit for a landmark victory in the war against Islamic fascism.  Congratulations, Mr. President, and thank you.

Now about that healthcare bill…

.

He shaved before Obama's speech

A teacher in Washington state found a unique way to keep the memory of the 9/11 attacks alive:

Weddle has wanted to cut his beard for years. His wife, Donita, has wanted him to cut it, too. But for Weddle a vow is a vow and so he hadn’t even trimmed it until Sunday night.
Weddle was a substitute teacher in Wenatchee when the infamous al-Qaeda terrorist attack occurred on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 3,000 Americans.

Weddle was so caught up in the news that he neglected to shave. A week or so later, he vowed not to shave until bin Laden was captured or proven dead. He figured it would just be a month or two.

Looking like that, he would have been ill-advised to visit Pakistan. (H/T: Neo)

Oh yes, commentary… I’ve been more focused on reading than on writing.

Obviously it’s a huge victory for Obama, who deserves credit not just for authorizing the raid, but for insisting on putting boots on the ground rather than just firing a missile from a drone.  In addition to ensuring that Osama is actually dead, the commandos apparently scooped up every computer and thumb drive they could find. Apparently hundreds of analysts are pouring through the captured files now, although why some official thought it was a good idea to leak that fact is beyond me.

Delighted though I am in the outcome, I have to say I thought Obama’s flowery speech Sunday night was a bit unseemly in its striving to take credit for the achievement.  When Saddam was captured, President Bush left it to the local ambassador to make the announcement.

Pakistan has a lot of explaining to do.

Finally, chalk up yet another outstanding mission for the Navy SEALS. I may get in trouble with my son for saying this, but how did the Navy end up being the go-to service for elite snipers and commandos?  Wouldn’t you expect that it would be the Marines or Army?

Hey, I wonder what I’d look like if I grew my beard really long…

1979

This is a roundup of some of the best commentary I’ve seen on the bizarre dismissal of Juan Williams.  Cliff May sets the scene:

Juan Williams

So much for National Public Radio’s commitment to freedom of speech. As just about everyone now knows, NPR fired commentator Juan Williams for expressing not an opinion but a fear — one that millions of Americans almost certainly share.

“When I get on a plane,” Williams told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, “I’ve got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

This reminded me: A few years ago, I was traveling with a government official from the Middle East. His name clearly identified him as a Muslim. We were screened at two airports, and I noticed he was not searched thoroughly. He told me that was not unusual — and he was not pleased by it. Why not? Because, he said, “If they’re not scrutinizing me, who else are they not looking at? I don’t want to get killed in a terrorist attack any more than you do.”

To express that fear in public cannot be a firing offense.

Dr. K cites an unexpected authority to emphasize a similar point:

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I want to start by having people look at this quote from Jesse Jackson about 18 years ago in which he says, I hope we can put it up on the screen, that when he walks down the street, hears footsteps, and he starts thinking about robbery, he looks around and when he sees someone who is white, he feels relieved.  Jesse Jackson is saying this. In other words, if the people he looked at were black, he would feel anxiety or fear.

Now, this — there is nobody in his right mind that is going to say that Jesse Jackson is a racist, anti-black racist. He’s not.

From the left flank, here’s Tim Wise (h/t Tigerhawk):

Yet what had Williams done, exactly? He acknowledged his own biases, and then explained the fallacy embedded therein. He was being honest, and in so doing, demonstrating an important fact that the nice white liberals who predominate at NPR try to deny, especially for themselves. Namely, that even the best of us can be taken in by racism, by religious bias, by ethnic chauvinism, by prejudice. No matter our liberal bona fides, the bottom line is this: advertising works, whether for selling toothpaste, tennis shoes, or stereotypes….

The only difference between Juan Williams and the people who fired him is this: Williams is honest enough to admit his own damage. And importantly, what the research on this subject tells us is that it is precisely those persons who are able to see and acknowledge their biases who are the most likely to challenge themselves, and try valiantly not to act on them. In other words, it is the Juan Williams’s of the world whose self-awareness in this regard will minimize the likelihood of discriminatory behavior. Meanwhile, it’s the liberals who deny to their dying breath that they have a “racist bone in their bodies,” or who swear they “never see color,” or insist that they are open-minded, forward thinking and free of prejudice, who are often unable to see how their internalized biases effect them, and move them around the chessboard of life without them even realizing it. Frankly, those are the ones from whom racial and religious “others” probably need the most protection.

Seth Lipsky in the Wall Street Journal describes the forces aligning against government-subsidized broadcasting:

At least one good thing has come out of National Public Radio’s firing of Juan Williams. NPR’s vice president had barely hung up the phone after informing Mr. Williams that he was being terminated—and refusing to meet with him, a long-time colleague, to discuss the matter—when the calls began for Congress to cut off funding for NPR entirely.

Bill O’Reilly… called for “the immediate suspension of every taxpayer dollar going into NPR.” Sarah Palin issued a Facebook posting called “Juan Williams: Going Rogue,” in which she wrote: “If NPR is unable to tolerate an honest debate about an issue as important as Islamic terrorism, then it’s time for ‘National Public Radio’ to become ‘National Private Radio.’”

Then South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint issued a statement saying that he would introduce a bill to end federal funding of public broadcasting. Most significantly, the man who may be the next House Speaker, John Boehner, told National Review Online: “We need to face facts—our government is broke. Washington is borrowing 37 cents of every dollar it spends from our kids and grandkids. Given that, I think it’s reasonable to ask why Congress is spending taxpayers’ money to support a left-wing radio network—and in the wake of Juan Williams’ firing, it’s clearer than ever that’s what NPR is.”

Jennifer Rubin:

With over 500 TV stations as well as satellite and over-the-air radio, why in the world do taxpayers need to pay for left-wing propaganda masquerading as news? Seriously, that’s what the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Fox News’s cable competitors are there for.

Yasser Arafat, the Father of Modern Terrorism, whose 1994 receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize tarnished that award for all time, pioneered the art of condemning violence in English while encouraging it in Arabic.  He largely got away with it, because of a shortage of Arabic-language speakers in America and Europe.

Enter MEMRI, the indispensable Middle East Media Research Institute, founded in 1998.  MEMRI has played a role in virtually every news article you’ve ever seen about radical Muslims preaching death and destruction in Arabic, not to mention Farsi, Urdu, Pashtu, Dari, Hindi, and Turkish.

(Hm… the premise of this post was that it’s refreshing to see MEMRI with a translation of a Muslim with a moderate message.  So I get a couple of nice setup paragraphs written… and I realize the article in question was actually written in English.  Whatever.  Onward!)

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is a former Commodore in the Saudi Arabian Navy, who spent several years in the U.S. as a liaison officer at the Pensacola Naval Air Station (where my favorite sailor did his A School training last year), after spending several years in the late 1970s studying at the State University of New York’s Maritime College.  While in New York he visited the “breathtaking” World Trade Center more times than he could count.

During his years in the U.S. … well, let him tell it:

I drove on every highway and used every airport you can think of. During all that time I never had any problem praying and practicing Islam. As a matter of fact, the American people are the most admired for their respect of the Islamic religion. We prayed everywhere – in the classroom, the office, airports and in any highway exit. So Islam can be practiced anywhere without any fanfare or prestigious mosque. The U.S. is the most tolerant country regarding building an Islamic center. But why [did] Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf choose Ground Zero?”…

When I watched the collapse of the World Trade Center and the rescue efforts done by the people of New York, I knew for sure that someone I know was a victim or a rescue member. Two weeks later I received an e-mail from the Maritime College Alumni Association announcing the death of two of the school graduates. One is from the class of 1963 and the other from the class of 1986 (I will not mention their names). Another very close friend of mine and from the same class (1979) left one of the burning towers 15 minutes before it collapsed. Now I am emotionally more hurt than before. …

This is why I think that we Muslims have to carefully consider the place where the mosque will be built. There are a lot of mosques in Manhattan and having the mosque near Ground Zero may bring more harm to the Muslims than good. There is freedom of religion, but there is a common sense too.

Well said, Commodore Al-Mulhim.

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