Does Putin Back Hillary?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Democrat standard-bearer Hillary Clinton in happier times. [Credit: thepoliticalcarnival.net]

Perhaps because I’m in Italy, I’ve not been infected by the contagion that has spread more rapidly than the Zika virus: the febrile notion that Russian president Vladimir Putin is subverting our electoral process in an effort to elect Donald J. Trump as president.

Never has such conspiratorial speculation mutated so quickly into received wisdom. Continue reading

Cruz Missiles

Ted Cruz, like every other presidential hopeful, vows to destroy the Islamic State. Should we believe him? [Credit: ABC News]

Ted Cruz, like every other presidential hopeful, vows to destroy the Islamic State. Should we believe him? [Credit: ABC News]

Ted Cruz says we don’t have a dog in the Syrian civil war.  He nevertheless wants to carpet bomb the civil war’s leading belligerent, the Islamic State (IS).  Which just might kill some dogs. Continue reading

History Won’t Win The War Against Terrorists

President Obama sounded presidential Sunday night in his Oval Office address. [Credit: CNN]

President Obama sounded presidential Sunday night in his Oval Office address.   [Credit: CNN]

“We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.  And there are some steps we could take … to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently: common-sense gun safety laws, stronger background checks.”  President Obama, December 2, hours after the San Bernardino shootings

“It is clear that the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West. They had stockpiled assault weapons, ammunition, and pipe bombs. So this was an act of terrorism.”  President Obama, December 6, on the San Bernardino shootings.

Sometimes the country needs a President, not a partisan. Continue reading

There Is No Plan To Destroy The Islamic State

Hillary Clinton presented her plan for defeating the Islamic State recently. It won't work. Nor will those advanced by her Republican opponents. [Credit: NY Daily News]

Hillary Clinton presented her plan for defeating the Islamic State recently. It won’t work. Nor will those advanced by her Republican opponents. [Credit: NY Daily News]

When pressed by a normally docile gaggle of White House reporters recently over whether he would consider changing his failed Syria strategy, President Obama reverted to form: he accused Republicans of religious bigotry and cruelty to children.

His political opponents, he said, believe that “only Christians, proven Christians, should be admitted” as refugees and that we “shouldn’t admit 3-year old-orphans.”

The President’s efforts to divert attention from his foreign policy debacles (which helped make orphans and refugees of three-year-olds) have so far fallen flat.  The vast majority of Americans has lost confidence in his campaign against the Islamic State.  A Washington Post poll found that 57 percent disapprove of the way he’s dealing with the terrorist group – including 46 percent who strongly disapprove – against only 35 percent who support him.

That public sentiment, of little interest to the President, is a leading concern for those vying to succeed him.  Even Bernie Sanders claims to have a plan to destroy the Islamic State. Though they differ in certain respects, most of these plans call for dropping more bombs against more targets from planes flying the flags of more countries (with the possible exception of Russia), providing more arms to factions we don’t really know and can’t really trust, and deploying more military “advisers” (not to be confused with “boots on the ground”) to the region.

All of them suggest that Islamic State can be vanquished with relative ease and at little cost.  All of them are blowing smoke. Continue reading

Is President Obama Right About Putin?

Vladimir Putin delights in outwitting President Obama at every turn. But is the President right when he says the Putin's Syria adventure is "not a smart strategic move?" [Credit: Daily Mail and Getty Images]

Vladimir Putin delights in outwitting President Obama at every turn. But is the President right when he says that Putin’s Syria adventure is “not a smart, strategic move?” [Credit: Daily Mail and Getty Images]

The U.S. and Russia blundered to the brink of nuclear war in 1983 according to recently declassified documents, a reminder that as frayed as relations between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have become, things could be far worse.

The NATO exercise that threatened mutually assured destruction began with a fictional scenario that today doesn’t seem all that fictional — Russia delivers arms to Syria and Iran.

Leaders of several Gulf States, threatened by Russian intervention, seek U.S. military involvement, according to the scenario.  The President responds by dispatching military advisers to the region and increasing our naval presence there.

As the NATO war game played out, rising tensions eventually provoke Russian military aggression against its neighbors.  The U.S. President, in response to a request from his military commanders, authorizes the “limited use of nuclear weapons against pre-selected fixed targets.”

Russian military leaders who observed the NATO exercise concluded that the U.S. was plotting a real nuclear strike against the Soviet Union.  American intelligence officials had no idea at the time how badly the Soviets were misreading our intentions or how close the world was drawing toward nuclear conflagration.  War was averted.  But just barely, if the newly declassified intelligence assessments are to be believed.

Today, Russia is doing far more than merely supplying arms to Syria and Iran, leaving President Obama frustrated and flummoxed, but not fumbling for the nuclear launch codes.  Instead, the President watches helplessly as Vladimir Putin asserts himself in a region where the U.S. once held sway, vaguely warning that Russian intervention is “not a smart, strategic move.”

He may be right. Continue reading

President’s Iraq Strategy Avoids Doing Nothing … But How Will It End?

A Libyan rebel for whom we provided air support celebrates in 2011. Today those same rebels have reduced the country to bloody chaos. Will our bombing in Iraq and Syria produce a better result? [Credit: The Guardian]

A Libyan rebel for whom we provided air support celebrates in 2011. Today those same rebels have reduced the country to bloody chaos. Will our bombing in Iraq and Syria produce a better result? [Credit: The Guardian]

The black flag of jihad flies over much of the country.  City after city has fallen to islamist insurgents.  Militants burn houses and attack ethnic minorities and journalists.   The popularly elected government, powerless to stop the onslaught, appeals for outside help.  Fearing that the country is fast becoming a “terrorist hub,” a Western government this week sought to “mobilize the international community” to launch a war against the jihadists.

Iraq?  No.  Libya, a country where we conducted airstrikes in 2011 in support of an odd assortment of ground forces that included more than its share of misfits and fanatics.

If that strategy produced such a miserable result in Libya, can we reasonably expect it to work in Iraq and Syria? Continue reading

Iraq: In Search Of An Organizing Principle

The President has decided to fight jihadists threatening to kill Yazidis with bombs instead of hashtags. But it's not clear why. [Credit: Business Insider]

Sunni radicals are threatening to massacre an obscure ethnoreligious group known as Yazidis.  The President has decided to fight the jihadists with bombs instead of hashtags. But it’s not clear why. [Credit: Business Insider]

“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Another August.  Another flirtation with war.  In the psychodrama that is the Obama Presidency, our hero vacillates between war and peace, detachment and intervention, riding out the storm and steering into its teeth.  The rest of us are left to guess whether he will respond to the next humanitarian crisis with bombs or hashtags.  There is, as Mrs. Clinton notes, no “organizing principle” to lend coherence to our foreign policy. Continue reading

Can President Obama See The World As It Is?

President Obama this week urged graduating West Point cadets to "see the world as it is." But does he see it all that clearly? [Credit: NY Daily News]

President Obama this week urged graduating West Point cadets to “see the world as it is.” But how clearly does he see it? [Credit: NY Daily News]

President Obama’s mastery of the obvious was on display this week during his lengthy address at West Point.

“Isolationism,” he declared, “is not an option.” There’s a bold statement.  But that’s “not to say that every problem has a military solution.”  Has anyone ever said that?  “War rarely conforms to slogans.”  Rarely?  “U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance.”  Has that ever been suggested?  “America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland, or our way of life.” That’s a relief.  “The most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.”  Really.  But “a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.” That would require an awful lot of invasions.  “We must uphold standards that reflect our values.”  Upholding standards that don’t reflect our values would seem wrong.  “We should not expect change to happen overnight.”

Change, nevertheless, is occurring – but not the sort of change the President has been advocating. Continue reading

The Iran Nuclear Deal and the Price of Raising False Hopes

US Secretary of State John Kerry shares a moment with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammed Javad Zarif, after concluding an agreement for relaxed sanctions and renewed talks.  [Credit: BBC]

US Secretary of State John Kerry shares a moment with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammed Javad Zarif, after concluding an agreement for relaxed sanctions and renewed talks. [Credit: BBC]

Iran, World Powers Reach Historic Nuclear Deal. – Washington Post 

What was agreed last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake.” — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The irresistible tendency of government to oversell its achievements was on display in this past weekend’s announcements of an agreement between Iran and the so-called G5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.

News outlets the world over heralded the Iran nuclear deal as “historic.”  Its critics called it historic folly.  Reviewing the agreement, it appears that both sides are exaggerating. It neither sets back Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons nor facilitates their development. Continue reading

Syria and the Future of US Policy

credit abc

The August 21 chemical attack in Syria has ironically left Assad more securely in power than before, while increasing Russian influence in the region. [Credit: ABC]

The Syria episode is behind us, but after the President’s serial improvisations, our policy, aims and interests remain unclear.

Continue reading