September 20, 2013 9:30 PM
American Banana Republic
The decay of a free society doesn’t happen overnight, but we’re getting there.
The CEO of Panera Bread, as some kind of do-gooder awareness-raising shtick, is currently attempting to live on food stamps, and not finding it easy. But being dependent on government handouts isn’t supposed to be easy. Instead of trying life at the bottom, why doesn’t he try life in the middle? In 2012, the top 10 percent were taking home 50.4 percent of the nation’s income. That’s an all-time record, beating out the 49 percent they were taking just before the 1929 market crash. With government redistributing more money than ever before, we’ve mysteriously wound up with greater income inequality than ever before. Across the country, “middle-class” Americans have accumulated a trillion dollars in college debt in order to live a less comfortable life than their high-school-educated parents and grandparents did in the Fifties and Sixties. That’s banana republic, too: no middle class, but only a government elite and its cronies, and a big dysfunctional mass underneath, with very little social mobility between the two.Like to change that? Maybe advocate for less government spending? Hey, Lois Lerner’s IRS has got an audit with your name on it. The tax collectors of the United States treat you differently according to your political beliefs. That’s pure banana republic, but no one seems to mind very much. This week it emerged that senior Treasury officials, up to and including Turbotax Timmy Geithner, knew what was going on at least as early as spring 2012. But no one seems to mind very much. In the words of an insouciant headline writer at Government Executive, “the magazine for senior federal bureaucrats” (seriously), back in May: “The Vast Majority of IRS Employees Aren’t Corrupt”So, if the vast majority aren’t, what proportion is corrupt? Thirty-eight percent? Thirty-three? Twenty-seven? And that’s the good news? The IRS is not only institutionally corrupt, it’s corrupt in the service of one political party. That’s Banana Republic 101.What comes next? Government officials present in Benghazi during last year’s slaughter have been warned not to make themselves available to congressional inquiry. CNN obtained one e-mail spelling out the stakes to CIA employees: “You don’t jeopardize yourself, you jeopardize your family as well.”“That’s all very ominous,” wrote my colleague Jonah Goldberg the other day, perhaps a little too airily for my taste. I’d rank it somewhere north of “ominous.”“Banana republic” is an American coinage — by O. Henry, a century ago, for a series of stories set in the fictional tropical polity of Anchuria. But a banana republic doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a sensibility, and it’s difficult to mark the precise point at which a free society decays into something less respectable. Pace Obama, ever swelling debt, contracts for cronies, a self-enriching bureaucracy, a shrinking middle class preyed on by corrupt tax collectors, and thuggish threats against anyone who disagrees with you put you pretty far down the banana-strewn path.— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2013 Mark SteynJuly 2, 2013
The Heady Vision of Control
Since the 18th century, the Left has made excuses for evil.When teenage thugs are called “troubled youth” by people on the political left, that tells us more about the mindset of the Left than about these young hoodlums.Seldom is there a speck of evidence that the thugs are troubled, and often there is ample evidence that they are in fact enjoying themselves, as they create trouble and dangers for others.Why then the built-in excuse, when juvenile hoodlums are called “troubled youth” and mass murderers are just assumed to be “insane”?At least as far back as the 18th century, the Left has struggled to avoid facing the plain fact of evil — that some people simply choose to do things that they know to be wrong when they do them. Every kind of excuse, from poverty to an unhappy childhood, is used by the Left to explain and excuse evil.All the people who have come out of poverty or unhappy childhoods, or both, and become decent and productive human beings, are ignored. So are the evils committed by people raised in wealth and privilege, including kings, conquerors, and slaveowners.Why has evil been such a hard concept for many on the left to accept? The basic agenda of the Left is to change external conditions. But what if the problem is internal? What if the real problem is the cussedness of human beings?Rousseau denied this in the 18th century and the Left has been denying it ever since. Why? Self-preservation.If the things that the Left wants to control — institutions and government policy — are not the most important factors in the world’s problems, then what role is there for the Left?What if things like the family, the culture, and traditions make a more positive difference than the bright new government “solutions” that the Left is constantly coming up with? What if seeking “the root causes of crime” is not nearly as effective as locking up criminals? The hard facts show that the murder rate was going down for decades under the old traditional practices so disdained by the left intelligentsia, before the bright new ideas of the Left went into effect in the 1960s — after which crime and violence skyrocketed.What happened when old-fashioned ideas about sex were replaced in the 1960s by the bright new ideas of the Left that were introduced into the schools as “sex education” that was supposed to reduce teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases? Both teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases had been going down for years. But that trend suddenly reversed in the 1960s and hit new highs.One of the oldest and most dogmatic of the crusades of the Left has been disarmament, both of individuals and of nations. Again, the focus of the Left has been on the externals — the weapons in this case. If weapons were the problem, then gun-control laws at home and international-disarmament agreements abroad might be the answer. But if evil people who care no more for laws or treaties than they do for other people’s lives are the problem, then disarmament means making decent, law-abiding people more vulnerable to evil people.Since belief in disarmament has been a major feature of the Left since the 18th century in countries around the world, you might think that by now there would be lots of evidence to substantiate their beliefs. But evidence on whether gun-control laws actually reduce crime rates in general, or murder rates in particular, is seldom mentioned by gun-control advocates. It is just assumed in passing that of course tighter gun-control laws will reduce murders.But the hard facts do not back up that assumption. That is why it is the critics of gun control who rely heavily on empirical evidence, as in books like More Guns, Less Crime, by John Lott, and Guns and Violence, by Joyce Lee Malcolm.National disarmament has an even worse record. Both Britain and America neglected their military forces between the two World Wars, while Germany and Japan armed to the teeth. Many British and American soldiers paid with their lives for their countries initially inadequate military equipment in World War II.But what are mere facts compared with the heady vision of the Left?August 28, 2013
Obama and the Art of Phoniness
The president is more concerned about the effect of his words than their relation to fact.
Many years ago, I was a member of a committee that was recommending to whom grant money should be awarded. Since I knew one of the applicants, I asked if this meant that I should recuse myself from voting on his application.“No,” the chairman said. “I know him too — and he is one of the truly great phonies of our time.”The man was indeed a very talented phony. He could convince almost anybody of almost anything — provided that they were not already knowledgeable about the subject. He had once spoken to me very authoritatively about Marxian economics, apparently unaware that I was one of the few people who had read all three volumes of Marx’s Capital and had published articles on Marxian economics in scholarly journals. What our glib talker was saying might have seemed impressive to someone who had never read Capital, as most people have not. But it was complete nonsense to me.Incidentally, he did not get the grant he applied for.This episode came back to me recently, as I read an incisive column by Charles Krauthammer, citing some of the many gaffes in public statements by the president of the United States. One presidential gaffe in particular gives the flavor and suggests the reason for many others. It involved the Falkland Islands.Argentina has recently been demanding that Britain return the Falkland Islands, which have been occupied by Britons for nearly two centuries. In 1982, Argentina seized these islands by force, only to have British prime minister Margaret Thatcher take the islands back by force.With Argentina today beset by domestic problems, demanding the return of the Falklands is once again a way for Argentina’s government to distract the Argentine public’s attention from the country’s economic and other woes.Because the Argentines call these islands “the Malvinas,” rather than “the Falklands,” Barack Obama decided to use the Argentine term. But he referred to them as “the Maldives.” It so happens that the Maldives are thousands of miles away from the Malvinas. The former are in the Indian Ocean, while the latter are in the South Atlantic.Nor is this the only gross misstatement that President Obama has gotten away with, thanks to the mainstream media, which sees no evil, hears no evil, and speaks no evil when it comes to Obama.The presidential gaffe that struck me when I heard it was Barack Obama’s reference to a military corps as a military “corpse.” He is obviously a man who is used to sounding off about things he has paid little or no attention to in the past. His mispronunciation of a common military term was especially revealing to someone who was once in the Marine Corps, not Marine “corpse.”Like other truly talented phonies, Barack Obama concentrates his skills on the effect of his words on other people — most of whom do not have the time to become knowledgeable about the things he is talking about. Whether what he says bears any relationship to the facts is politically irrelevant. A talented con man or a slick politician does not waste his time trying to convince knowledgeable skeptics. His job is to keep the true believers believing. He is not going to convince the others anyway.Back during Barack Obama’s first year in office, he kept repeating, with great apparent earnestness, that there were “shovel-ready” projects that would quickly provide many much-needed jobs, if only his spending plans were approved by Congress. He seemed very convincing — if you didn’t know how long it can take for any construction project to get started. Going through a bureaucratic maze of environmental-impact studies, zoning-commission rulings, and other procedures can delay even the smallest and simplest project for years.Only about a year or so after his big spending programs were approved by Congress, Barack Obama himself laughed at how slowly everything was going on his supposedly “shovel-ready” projects.One wonders how he will laugh when all his golden promises about Obamacare turn out to be false and a medical disaster. Or when his foreign-policy fiascoes in the Middle East are climaxed by a nuclear Iran.
— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc
July 24, 2013 12:00 AMYou may not have seen this — and you’re lucky if you didn’t — but a pro-abortion, or pro-choice, protester in Texas held up a sign that said, “JESUS isn’t a DICK; so keep him OUT of MY VAGINA!” (Nice semi-colon, by the way.)The protester is 14 years old. She explains herself, and her sign, in this article.There are a million things to say about this dear girl, and her sign, but one of them is this: What does that “vagina” business mean, exactly? I’m no anatomist, but don’t babies form in the womb? The thing is, a lot of these pro-choice folk regard abortion as a form of birth control, right?And it is, really: No baby, no birth.Ted Kennedy used to say that anti-abortion people were invading “our bedrooms.” I thought that was an interesting way of putting it. I have no doubt that Kennedy thought of abortion as birth control.Anyway — hope I haven’t ruined your day with this stuff.In a column last week, I spoke of Bob Filner, the “feisty liberal,” in the words of the Associated Press, who is mayor of San Diego. He is in hot water for sexual harassment.And the AP tells us in this article that “House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi won’t say if she thinks [Filner] should resign over allegations he has repeatedly groped women.” Nope. She “told reporters Friday she won’t make judgments about the accusations.”Of course not. But if the mayor were a conservative Republican, instead of a liberal Democrat: Would she “make judgments”?That’s the easiest question you’ll hear all day.A much better politician, than either Pelosi or Filner, is Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan. He’s the one who is tackling the problem — the gargantuan problem — of Detroit. Snyder is a new politician, a former venture capitalist and CEO.This article tells us a number of interesting things about him. He has “no known presidential aspirations,” it says. And it quotes him as saying, “I don’t spend time dwelling on my legacy. I just try to do my job well. That’s relentless positive action. No blame, no credit. Just simply solve the problem.”Snyder continues, “Here was a problem [meaning Detroit] 60 years in the making. The can was being kicked down the road for far too long. It was time to say enough was enough. Let’s stop, let’s stabilize, let’s grow.”Sounds good to me. Snyder is a Republican, and his opponent in the 2010 election was Virg Bernero, the mayor of Lansing. In this same article, he is quoted on Snyder.“It’s bold and decisive,” he says — referring to Snyder’s decision to take Detroit into bankruptcy. “You’ve got to give him credit, however late.” Bernero thinks that Snyder should have done this shortly after assuming office in 2011.“There was a sense of inevitability about this bankruptcy,” he says. “I would have moved quicker with an emergency manager. The ship couldn’t right itself. Why prolong the agony? Lance the boil and move on.”Well said. But would a Democrat have really — really and truly — acted this way, once in office? Would he have stood up to the forces that have to be stood up to? The race bullies and so on? I’m a little skeptical. Still, nice words.This article is of interest. I give you the first paragraph:The reigning valedictorian of the medical school at Israel’s Technion — the country’s oldest university, dating back to 1912 — is a Muslim-Arab woman from a Nazareth-area village who only became fluent in Hebrew after leaving home. 27 year old Mais Ali-Saleh, from the village of Yafa an-Naseriyye, considers herself both a feminist and a devout Muslim.But never forget that Israel is a racist state, an apartheid state. Never, ever forget it. Our leaders — particularly in academia, the media, and entertainment — tell us this constantly. So it must be true.I was reading about a Vietnamese dissident, and the persecution he is suffering. I thought of an encounter I had with Vietnam’s prime minister, some years ago. He is still prime minister — Nguyen Tan Dung. I met him at Davos, in 2007. He spoke to a small group of us journalists.He was smiling all the time. In fact, I wrote in my journal, “I don’t know how he can smile that long, and that broad. My face would hurt, simply as a physical matter.”Nguyen went on and on about how market-friendly and open Vietnam was. He got a little less smiley when I opened my mouth. Here are the relevant paragraphs from that journal:After hearing so much classical liberalism — I could be at the American Enterprise Institute — I am moved to ask the following: What elements of Communism still appeal to the ruling elites of Vietnam? And what about religious and press freedoms?On hearing my questions, Nguyen smiles just a little less. Before, he has been crisply confident, and now he is slightly hesitant. “May I reassure you,” he says, “that we are a socialist government, and that we continue to pursue the goal of socialism.” I love that “may I reassure you”! He says that “socialism in Vietnam can be characterized as follows: rich people in a strong country with a just, civilized, and advanced society.” He says that, “in Vietnam, the Communist party is the party to lead the country, and socialism is our purpose. This is the historic choice of the Vietnamese people. We have chosen this path on a voluntary basis.”I can’t help writing in my notes: “BIG LIE.”Oh, yes. One of the biggest.My apologies to all Ukrainians, but I enjoyed reading an article by David Blair, in the Telegraph. In 2000, he was in Sierra Leone, where there was a U.N. peacekeeping force. Different soldiers, from different countries, will have different characteristics. I’ll let Blair take over from here:I met their commander, who happened to be a British officer, and he told me about his little force. There was a bunch of Ukrainians, who typically rolled out of bed at noon, cracked open the vodka, and drank until dawn the next day, before going back to bed. The commander no longer bothered asking them to do anything.The list goes on. Fun stuff (even if your own country is knocked or analyzed, I think). Also deadly serious stuff.My fourth-grade teacher was a man from the Ukraine. (In those days, we always put the “the” before “Ukraine,” unless you were a conscientious supporter of Ukrainian nationalism and independence.) The things that those people endured from the Soviets . . .Longtime readers will recognize a complaint from me: Congressional bills should have neutral titles — numbers and whatnot. Not partisan titles, such as the “Make America Better” bill. (Support MAB now!)I thought of this complaint when reading this article. House Republicans have a bill they’re calling the “Student Success Act.” Democrats are retaliating by knocking the bill as the “Letting Students Down Act.” I say, slap a number on it — or some boring language — and proceed.Speaking of longstanding complaints: I have always objected to hissing. And, all of my life, the Left has hissed. They’ve hissed movies, plays, music, me — anything they don’t like. I’m sure that conservatives have hissed, along the way. Frankly, I have never been present for this.I wrote an essay on this subject in 2008: “‘A Perpetual Hissing’: Notes on an unfavorite practice.” (The quote — “a perpetual hissing” — is from the Book of Jeremiah.) I have nothing more to say on this subject, really.But I want to speak of a fresh instance. A friend of mine was attending a program of opera excerpts in San Francisco. On the program was a stretch from L’italiana in Algeri, the Rossini opera. At one point, Isabella says to Taddeo, “Meglio un Turco che un briccone” — which the surtitle in the house rendered “Better a Turk than a scoundrel.”And a woman behind my friend hissed.Now, we are talking about an opera written in 1813. And that particular line, of course, is “progressive”! Forward-thinking! “Multicultural”! “Better a Turk than a scoundrel.” But the woman in the audience could not help hissing. Because that’s what the Left does, or some of them do: hiss.Oh, what a disgusting, sinister practice. I could go on — but I did, in that essay.I want to end with a letter. It’s not too cheery, but it’s in keeping with my column today. (Sorry about that.) A reader writes,Jay,My girlfriend works at a retail clothing store in Chicago. She has recently had some issues with her manager (long stories, details don’t matter).Today, she was told by the manager, “Because you do such a good job selling, the other employees are intimidated. They are intimidated by your success. We want to move you to a fitting room [outta sight, outta mind], so other employees have a chance on the floor. I just want to have an environment where all people are equal and everybody does the same.”She has already found another job, and is leaving. By the way, the store called her into a meeting a few months ago and told her, “Employees said that, in the breakroom, you mentioned having a Bush-Cheney shirt. Some of them thought that was offensive, so we would like you not to speak of it at work.”We can accept this kind of country — just accept defeat, or a kind of dhimmitude. Or we can push back. Push back in myriad ways, at myriad turns.Jesse Jackson had — or has, I don’t know — his “Operation PUSH.” Here’s to an Operation Pushback.
July 9, 2013
Who Is Racist?
Progress in race relations isn’t achieved by having minority leaders.
I am so old that I can remember when most of the people promoting race hate were white.Apparently other Americans also recognize that the sources of racism are different today from what they were in the past. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 31 percent of blacks think that most blacks are racists, while 24 percent of blacks think that most whites are racist.he difference between these percentages is not great, but it is remarkable nevertheless. After all, generations of blacks fought the white racism from which they suffered for so long. If many blacks themselves now think that most other blacks are racist, that is startling.The moral claims advanced by generations of black leaders — claims that eventually touched the conscience of the nation and turned the tide toward civil rights for all — have now been cheapened by today’s generation of black “leaders,” who act as if it is all just a matter of whose ox is gored.Even in legal cases involving terrible crimes — the O.J. Simpson murder trial or the charges of gang rape against Duke University students — many black “leaders” and their followers have not waited for facts about who was guilty and who was not, but have immediately taken sides based on who was black and who was white.Among whites, according to the same Rasmussen poll, 38 percent consider most blacks racist and 10 percent consider most whites racist.Broken down by politics, the same poll showed that 49 percent of Republicans consider most blacks racist, as do 36 percent of independents and 29 percent of Democrats.Perhaps most disturbing of all, just 29 percent of Americans as a whole think race relations are getting better, while 32 percent think race relations are getting worse. The difference is too close to call, but the fact that it is so close is itself painful — and perhaps a warning sign for where we are heading.Is this what so many Americans, both black and white, struggled for over the decades and generations? To try to put the curse of racism behind us — only to reach a point where retrogression in race relations now seems at least equally likely as progress?What went wrong? Perhaps no single factor can be blamed for all the things that went wrong. Insurgent movements of all sorts, in countries around the world, have for centuries soured in the aftermath of their own success. “The revolution betrayed” is a theme that goes back at least as far as 18th-century France.The civil-rights movement in 20th-century America attracted many people who put everything on the line for the sake of fighting against racial oppression. But the eventual success of that movement attracted opportunists and even turned some idealists into opportunists.Over the generations, black leaders have ranged from noble souls to shameless charlatans. After the success of the civil-rights insurgency, the latter have come into their own, gaining money, power, and fame by promoting racial attitudes and actions that are counterproductive to the interests of those they lead.None of this is unique to blacks or to the United States. In various countries and times, leaders of groups that lagged behind, economically and educationally, have taught their followers to blame all their problems on other people — and to hate those other people.This was the history of anti-Semitic movements in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars, anti-Ibo movements in Nigeria in the 1960s, and anti-Tamil movements that turned Sri Lanka from a peaceful nation into a scene of lethal mob violence and then decades-long civil war, both marked by unspeakable atrocities.Groups that rose from poverty to prosperity seldom did so by having their own racial or ethnic leaders to follow. While most Americans can easily name a number of black leaders, current or past, how many can name Asian-American ethnic leaders or Jewish ethnic leaders?The time is long overdue to stop looking for progress through racial or ethnic leaders. Such leaders have too many incentives to promote polarizing attitudes and actions that are counterproductive for minorities and disastrous for the country.
— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc
July 30, 2013
How Liberalism Makes It Easier to Sin
Liberal politics provides cover for vice, while conservative sinners are called hypocrites.There are many liberals who lead thoroughly decent lives. And there are conservatives who do not.But that is not the whole issue.There is something about liberalism that is not nearly as true about conservatism. The further left one goes, the more one finds that the ideology provides moral cover for a life that is not moral. While many people left of center lead fine personal lives, many do not. And left-wing ideals enable a person to do that much more than conservative ideals do.There is an easy way to demonstrate this.If a married — or even unmarried — conservative congressman had texted sexual images of himself to young women he did not even know, he would have been called something Anthony Weiner has not been called: a hypocrite.Why? Because conservatives — secular conservatives, not only religious conservatives — are identified with moral values in the personal sphere, and liberals are not. Liberals rarely called Bill Clinton a hypocrite for his extramarital affair while president. George W. Bush would have been pilloried as such.Simply put, we do not generally judge personal conduct the same when it comes to liberals and conservatives.Both liberals and conservatives know this. As a result, as noted, liberal social positions can provide moral cover for immoral behavior in a way that conservative positions cannot.Though there are many sincere liberals, it is likely that this ability to provide moral cover for a less than moral life is one source of liberalism’s appeal.I first thought about this when I saw how the left-wing students at my graduate school, Columbia University, behaved. Aside from their closing down classes, taking over office buildings, and ransacking professors’ offices, I saw the way in which many of them conducted themselves in their personal lives. Most of them had little sense of personal decency, and lived lives of narcissistic hedonism. Women who were involved with leftist groups have told of how poorly they were treated. And one suspects that they would have been treated far better by conservative, let alone religious, men on campus.My sense was that the radicals’ commitment to “humanity,” to “peace,” and to “love” gave them license to feel good about themselves without having to lead a good life. Their vocal opposition to war and to racism provided them with all the moral self-esteem they wanted.Consider the example of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. He had been expelled from college for paying someone to take his exams. His role in the death of a woman with whom he spent an evening would have sent almost anyone without his family name to prison — or would have at least resulted in prosecution for negligent homicide. And he spent decades using so many women in so public a way that stories about his sex life were routinely told in Washington. (Read the 9,000-word 1990 article in GQ by Michael Kelly, who a few years later became the editor of The New Republic.)When this unimpressive man started espousing liberal positions, speaking passionately about the downtrodden in society, it recalled the unimpressive students who marched on behalf of civil rights, peace, and love.It is quite likely that Ted Kennedy came to believe in the positions that he took. But I also suspect that he found espousing those positions invaluable to his self-image and to his public image: “Look at what a moral man I am after all.” And liberal positions were all that mattered to the Left and to the liberal media that largely ignored such lecherous behavior as the “waitress sandwich” he made in a Washington, D.C. restaurant with another prominent liberal, former senator Chris Dodd.In addition to knowing that liberal positions provide moral cover for immoral personal behavior, liberals know that their immoral behavior will be given much more of pass than exactly the same behavior would if engaged in by a conservative.Women’s groups provided Bill Clinton with enormous moral capital because he supported their feminist agenda. One leading feminist famously said she would be happy to get on her knees and pleasure Clinton thanks to his pro-choice position on abortion.Conservative politicians have the same sex drive as liberal politicians, the same marital problems, and the same ubiquitous temptations and opportunities. And some will therefore engage in extra-marital sex. But every conservative politician knows that, should he be caught, his positions on issues not only do not provide moral cover for his conduct, those very positions condemn it. There is no benefit to the conservative sinner in being a conservative. There is great benefit to the liberal sinner in being a liberal.— Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. His most recent book is Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph. He is the founder of Prager University and may be contacted at dennisprager.com.
June 18, 2013
The Loss of Trust
Every untruth damages the presidency, not just the president.Amid all the heated cross-currents of debate about the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance program, there is a growing distrust of the Obama administration that makes weighing the costs and benefits of the NSA program itself hard to assess.The belated recognition of this administration’s contempt for the truth, for the American people, and for the Constitution of the United States has been long overdue.But what if the NSA program has in fact thwarted terrorists and saved many American lives in ways that cannot be revealed publicly?Nothing is easier than saying that you still don’t want your telephone records collected by the government. But the first time you have to collect the remains of your loved ones, after they have been killed by terrorists, telephone records can suddenly seem like a small price to pay to prevent such things.The millions of records of phone calls collected every day virtually guarantee that nobody has the time to listen to them all, even if the NSA could get a judge to authorize listening to what is said in all these calls, instead of just keeping a record of who called whom.Moreover, congressional oversight by members of both political parties limits what Barack Obama or any other president can get away with.Are these safeguards foolproof? No. Nothing is ever foolproof.As Edmund Burke said, more than two centuries ago: “Constitute government how you please, infinitely the greater part of it must depend upon the exercise of the powers which are left at large to the prudence and uprightness of ministers of state.”In other words, we do not have a choice whether to trust or not to trust government officials. Unless we are willing to risk anarchy or terrorism, the most we can do is set up checks and balances within government — and be a lot more careful in the future than we have been in the past when deciding whom to elect.Anyone old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when President John F. Kennedy took this country to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, may remember that there was nothing like the distrust and backlash against later presidents, whose controversial decisions risked nothing approaching the cataclysm that President Kennedy’s decision could have led to.Even those of us who were not John F. Kennedy supporters, and who were not dazzled by the glitter and glamour of the Kennedy aura, nevertheless felt that the president of the United States was someone who knew much more than we did about the realities on which all our lives depended.Whatever happened to that feeling? Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon happened — and both were shameless liars. They destroyed not only their own credibility, but the credibility of the office.Even when Lyndon Johnson told us the truth at a crucial juncture during the Vietnam War — that the Communist offensive of 1968 was a defeat for them, even as the media depicted it as a defeat for us — we didn’t believe him.In later years, Communist leaders themselves admitted that they had been devastated on the battlefield. But by then it was too late. What the Communists lost militarily on the ground in Vietnam they won politically in the American media and in American public opinion.More than 50,000 Americans lost their lives winning battles on the ground in Vietnam, only to have the war lost politically back home. We seem to be having a similar scenario unfolding today in Iraq, where soldiers won the war, only to have politicians lose the peace, as Iraq now increasingly aligns itself with Iran.When Barack Obama squanders his own credibility with his glib lies, he is not just injuring himself during his time in office. He is inflicting a lasting wound on the country as a whole.But we the voters are not blameless. Having chosen an untested man to be president, on the basis of rhetoric, style, and symbolism, we have ourselves to blame if we now have only a choice between two potentially tragic fates — the loss of American lives to terrorism, or a further dismantling of our freedoms that has already led many people to ask, “Is this still America?”— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, IncJuly 23, 2013
Words of Wisdom
Thoughts from some attentive thinkers, relevant and timeless.“We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish.”— F. A. Hayek“Many respectable writers agree that if a man reasonably believes that he is in immediate danger of death or grievous bodily harm from his assailant, he may stand his ground, and that, if he kills him, he has not exceeded the bounds of lawful self-defense. That has been the decision of this court.”— Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Brown v. United States, 1921“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”— John Adams“A human group transforms itself into a crowd when it suddenly responds to a suggestion rather than to reasoning, to an image rather than an idea, to an affirmation rather than to proof, to the repetition of a phrase rather than to arguments, to prestige rather than to competence.”— Jean-François Revel“The first thing a man will do for his ideals is lie.”— J. A. Schumpeter“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”— T. S. Eliot“The study of human institutions is always a search for the most tolerable imperfections.”— Richard A. Epstein“There is no safety for honest men, but by believing all possible evil of evil men, and by acting with promptitude, decision, and steadiness on that belief.”— Edmund Burke“We do not live in the past, but the past in us.”— U. B. Phillips“It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be to-morrow.”— James Madison“A society that puts equality — in the sense of equality of outcome — ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.”— Milton Friedman“ . . . leniency toward criminals contrasted starkly with severity toward the law-abiding citizen’s right to defend himself or herself.”— Joyce Lee Malcolm“A government with all this mass of favours to give or to withhold, however free in name, wields a power of bribery scarcely surpassed by an avowed autocracy, rendering it master of the elections in almost any circumstances but those of rare and extraordinary public excitement.”— John Stuart Mill“Criticism is easy; achievement is more difficult.”— Winston Churchill“Everybody has asked the question . . . ‘What shall we do with the Negro?’ I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!”— Frederick Douglass“The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.”— Paul Johnson“It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers. They are constantly, and for the most part sincerely, assured of their greatness. They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exaltation which sooner or later impairs their judgment. They are in grave danger of becoming careless and arrogant.”— Calvin Coolidge— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc.May 1, 2013
Academia’s Unexamined Assumptions
There should be more debate and less denunciation.While it is not possible to answer all the e-mails and letters from readers, many are thought-provoking, whether those thoughts are positive or negative.An e-mail from one young man simply asked for the sources of some facts about gun control that I mentioned in a recent column. It is good to check out the facts — especially if you check out the facts on both sides of an issue.By contrast, another man simply denounced me because of what I said in that column. He did not ask for my sources but simply made contrary assertions, as if his assertions must be correct and therefore mine must be wrong.A moral monopoly is the antithesis of a marketplace of ideas. One sign of this sense of moral monopoly among the left intelligentsia is that the institutions most under their control — the schools, colleges, and universities — have far less freedom of speech than the rest of American society.While advocacy of homosexuality, for example, is common on college campuses, and listening to this advocacy is often obligatory during freshman orientation, criticism of homosexuality is called “hate speech” and is subject to punishment.While spokesmen for various racial or ethnic groups are free to vehemently denounce whites as a group for their past or present sins, real or otherwise, any white student who similarly denounces the sins or shortcomings of non-white groups can be virtually guaranteed to be punished, if not expelled.Even students who do not advocate anything may have to pay a price if they do not go along with classroom brainwashing. The student at Florida Atlantic University who recently declined to stomp on a paper with the word “Jesus” on it, as ordered by the professor, was scheduled for punishment by the university until the story became public and provoked an outcry from outside of academia.This professor’s action might be dismissed as an isolated extreme, but the university establishment’s initial solid backing for him, and its coming down hard on the student, shows that the moral dry rot goes far deeper than one brainwashing professor.The failure of our educational system goes beyond what they fail to teach. It includes what they do teach, or rather indoctrinate, and the graduates they send out into the world who are incapable of seriously weighing alternatives for themselves or for American society.— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
George F. Will
August 14, 2013
President Obama’s increasingly grandiose claims for presidential power are inversely proportional to his shriveling presidency. Desperation fuels arrogance as, barely 200 days into the 1,462 days of his second term, his pantry of excuses for failure is bare, his domestic agenda is nonexistent and his foreign policy of empty rhetorical deadlines and red lines is floundering. And at last week’s news conference he offered inconvenience as a justification for illegality.
Explaining his decision to unilaterally rewrite the Affordable Care Act (ACA), he said: “I didn’t simply choose to” ignore the statutory requirement for beginning in 2014 the employer mandate to provide employees with health care. No, “this was in consultation with businesses.”
He continued: “In a normal political environment, it would have been easier for me to simply call up the speaker and say, you know what, this is a tweak that doesn’t go to the essence of the law. . . . It looks like there may be some better ways to do this, let’s make a technical change to the law. That would be the normal thing that I would prefer to do. But we’re not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to Obamacare. We did have the executive authority to do so, and we did so.”
Serving as props in the scripted charade of White House news conferences, journalists did not ask the pertinent question: “Where does the Constitution confer upon presidents the ‘executive authority’ to ignore the separation of powers by revising laws?” The question could have elicited an Obama rarity: brevity. Because there is no such authority.
Obama’s explanation began with an irrelevancy. He consulted with businesses before disregarding his constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” That duty does not lapse when a president decides Washington’s “political environment” is not “normal.”
When was it “normal”? The 1850s? The 1950s? Washington has been the nation’s capital for 213 years; Obama has been here less than nine. Even if he understood “normal” political environments here, the Constitution is not suspended when a president decides the “environment” is abnormal.
Neither does the Constitution confer on presidents the power to rewrite laws if they decide the change is a “tweak” not involving the law’s “essence.” Anyway, the employer mandate is essential to the ACA.
Twenty-three days before his news conference, the House voted 264 to 161, with 35 Democrats in the majority, for the rule of law — for, that is, the Authority for Mandate Delay Act. It would have done lawfully what Obama did by ukase. He threatened to veto this use of legislation to alter a law. The White House called it “unnecessary,” presumably because he has an uncircumscribed “executive authority” to alter laws.
In a 1977 interview with Richard Nixon, David Frost asked: “Would you say that there are certain situations . . . where the president can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation . . . and do something illegal?”
Nixon: “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
Frost: “By definition.”
Nixon: “Exactly, exactly.”
Nixon’s claim, although constitutionally grotesque, was less so than the claim implicit in Obama’s actions regarding the ACA. Nixon’s claim was confined to matters of national security or (he said to Frost) “a threat to internal peace and order of significant magnitude.” Obama’s audacity is more spacious; it encompasses a right to disregard any portion of any law pertaining to any subject at any time when the political “environment” is difficult.
Obama should be embarrassed that, by ignoring the legal requirement concerning the employer mandate, he has validated critics who say the ACA cannot be implemented as written. What does not embarrass him is his complicity in effectively rewriting the ACA for the financial advantage of self-dealing members of Congress and their staffs.
The ACA says members of Congress (annual salaries: $174,000) and their staffs (thousands making more than $100,000) must participate in the law’s insurance exchanges. It does not say that when this change goes into effect, the current federal subsidy for this affluent cohort — up to 75 percent of the premium’s cost, perhaps $10,000 for families — should be unchanged.
When Congress awakened to what it enacted, it panicked: This could cause a flight of talent, making Congress less wonderful. So Obama directed the Office of Personnel Management, which has no power to do this, to authorize for the political class special subsidies unavailable for less privileged and less affluent citizens.
If the president does it, it’s legal? “Exactly, exactly.”
WASHINGTON: Many a mother has warned roughhousing children that “it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.” On Monday, four cybersecurity experts (two Americans and two Brits) agreed that the online attacks we’ve seen so far are all either espionage or sabotage: It doesn’t count as war until somebody dies.
We have not yet seen a real cyberwar, they agreed, and tossing the word around can misguide billion-dollar decisions and warp cybersecurity policy. Where they disagreed, however, was how likely we are to see a lethal cyberwar in the future.
“We’re going to look back at the days when no one had died from this stuff [as] the halcyon days, when all you had to worry about was credit card theft or somebody putting a picture of their butt on your website,” said Jason Healey, a former Air Force officer and White House cybersecurity aide now at the Atlantic Council, speaking yesterday at the Brookings Institution.
“We’re going to have ‘cyberwar’ when there’s dead people,” Healey told me afterward. “Of course we’re not at cyber war [today]. We’ve never had anyone that’s died from this and you can’t go around using terms like ‘war’.” But, he warned, as we rely more and more on networks to remote-control real, physical machines — from power generators to unmanned aircraft to, eventually, our cars and houses — the greater the risk of a cyber attack causing real, physical destruction and death.
The future’s not so dark, retorted the guest of honor at Brookings, Thomas Rid, whose new book is boldly titled Cyber War Will Not Take Place. Not only has no cyber attack to date risen to the level of lethal violence, the King’s College London scholar said, but online conflict seems increasingly to be replacing and displacing physical violence, not increasing it.
“Using cyber capabilities is not producing more violence,” Rid told the audience at Brookings. “In fact, it often takes violence and physical risk out of the question.”
Political movements that once might have resorted to acts of terrorism to get attention for their cause instead can organize a flash mob, use viral video, or deface highly trafficked websites. Spy agencies that once had to infiltrate human agents to insert a physical bug can now hack into enemy data from the safety of Langley or Fort Meade. Militaries that once had to drop bombs or launch missiles can now insert a program to make the target damage itself, as the US-Israeli Stuxnet virus did to Iranian centrifuges.
“We have to respect violence, we have to respect war,” Rid said, or we dishonor its victims. “Exfiltrating data, even crashing an entire company’s network… is different from hurting, killing, and injuring human beings, even a single one.”
“I think the experts agree there has been a fair amount of hype and hysteria in this space,” said Peter Singer, Brooking’s host and moderator at the event, when I asked him to sum up afterward. “If someone steals my jet fighter design or clogs my bank lobby for a few hours, I may not like it, but it doesn’t make it war.”
That said, Singer went on, “where I would disagree with Thomas [Rid] is the notion that it forever ‘will not take place.’” The military, business, and individuals are all becoming increasing dependent on computers and networks to get through the day. Malware that cuts this electronic lifeline can have severe, even violent consequences. “[Rid] describes Stuxnet as a one-off,” Singer said, “whereas I see it as the first of breed.”
While other observers find Stuxnet deeply disturbing, Rid held it up as an example of just how hard it is for a cyber attack to do physical damage. Stuxnet’s programmers needed a huge amount of intelligence about their target. It then took a great deal of expertise and effort to develop code that could exploit the weaknesses that the intelligence found. Finally, after all that work, the result was malware specifically tailored to damage one part of one Iranian facility, not a general purpose cyber weapon. By contrast, Rid noted, a cruise missile can destroy all sorts of targets and a dirt-cheap AK-47 can kill all sorts of people, whenever you want to.
With cyber attacks, added Healey, “It’s very easy to take a target down; it’s very hard to make it stay down.” Stuxnet was only a temporary, if significant, setback to the Iranian nuclear program. In a future conflict in, say, Syria, the US probably has cyber attack capabilities that can scramble enemy air defenses temporarily, he said, but “I don’t think we’re going to be able to keep the air defenses down, command down, power down, for more than a day or two for the most.” Those 24-48 hours, of course, would be enough to open a window of opportunity for conventional airstrikes.
So the military value of cyber attacks, at least for now, is to enable and supplement physical strikes, not to substitute for them. “You’re unlikely to get a, quote, ‘war’ that happens between two states purely in cyberspace,” said the fourth panelist, former British Ministry of Defense official Ian Wallace, when I called him after the Brookings event. “That doesn’t mean we don’t need to pay attention to cyber capabilities in relation to wars that are fought in cyberspace as well as other domains,” such as the land, air, sea, and space. “Just because cyber capabilities may be best classified as sabotage, subversion, espionage, that doesn’t mean that those instruments aren’t going to be useful in fighting a war.”
Cyber needs to considered alongside traditional military operations, Healey agreed, but “I’m doubtful it ever gets too fully integrated,” he told me. “It can be used more like special operations,” for clandestine strikes on specific, high-value targets, he said. With large-scale cyber attacks, however, “the effects are far too uncertain.”
It’s hard enough to ensure a physical bomb lands in the right place, even with precision guidance — ask the staff of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade if you doubt it — and to determine afterwards whether the explosion destroyed, damaged, or just shook up the actual target. But at least commanders, their legal counsels and their political masters have decades of experience to draw on with physical attacks. Not so in cyberspace. Since cyber weapons attack networks, however, and networks are by definition interconnected in complex ways, it’s hard to predict how attacking one element will affect the whole system especially if the weapon is a computer virus that can self-replicate across the web. “You can’t be sure it’s going to cascade or not,” Healey told me.
Western militaries swore off biological and chemical weapons not only for ethical reasons but because their military effects were so difficult to control. (In one case in the eighties, for example, an Iraqi chemical attack on an Iranian position drifted back downhill onto the Iraqis). The same concerns may inhibit military use of cyber, at least in the West: “Non-western militaries — Iranians, Russians, Chinese — that don’t necessarily care about that stuff that much, they might make different decisions,” Healey said.
Healey doesn’t think much of some of the ethical and strategic choices the US has made, either. “I’m so against things like Stuxnet [and] how aggressive the NSA has been,” he said at Brookings. “We’ve got glass infrastructure and we shouldn’t be throwing stones.” Indeed, Healey argued that the military has grown too dominant in cybersecurity policy, which has been “militarized” in large part because of over-hyped fears of cyberwar.
Having the military play too large a role isn’t good for the military itself, either, added Wallace: “While we have defense secretaries and organizations like NATO focusing on defending the homeland, they’re arguably not focusing on how they fight.”
For example, Wallace told me, Senate Armed Services Committee hearings with Gen. Keith Alexander, the chief of Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, tend to be dominated by questions about protecting domestic infrastructure and privacy rights, not about the military’s own vulnerabilities. Likewise, NATO meetings about cybersecurity tend to fixate on how the alliance’s militaries can protect civilian networks, he said, “despite the fact that their own networks are not fully protected.”
US defenses on both military and civilian networks, Healey said, are “atrocious and wide-open.” But the military has gotten fixated on protecting US civilian networks and hacking foreign military ones, rather than getting its own house in order first. “When I first got involved in the business in 1998,” he recalled, “defense was the most important.” The Clinton-era thinking was that “we’re probably not going to win the next war with information warfare” — as the term was at the time — “but we could certainly lose it.”
Today, the Defense Department is still vulnerable, but “we’ve lost all that humility, we’ve lost all that focus on defense,” Healey lamented. “We’re a long ways into this debate with very, very little progress.”
|BUNGLING CHAOTIC INCOMPETENCE!|
It’s hard to imagine how much more badly President Obama’s push for war in Syria could have been bungled. The most amazing thing about the past week is how chaotic and divided the Administration itself appears to be. Every spokesman and spokeswoman – from President Obama through Secretary of State John Kerry to U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power – has been winging it, saying whatever they think any given audience wants to hear. The prospective battle plan changes by the hour.
Right after we heard stories of a dramatically expanding mission plan and blossoming target list, Kerry popped up in a joint appearance with UK Foreign Minister William Hague to assure us the Obama Administration wants an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.” That one’s going right into the history books. You can smell America’s “credibility” burning from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Kerry also emphasized the importance of striking Syria to teach dictator Bashar Assad that he can’t “rub out countless numbers of his own citizens with impunity using chemicals that have been banned for a hundred years.” But Assad’s been wiping out citizens with good old-fashioned guns and bombs for years. Less than one percent of the casualties in Syria’s civil war come from chemical weapons.
Meanwhile, Bashar Asad – who is, make no mistake, a villain of the worst order – appears calm, reasonable, focused, and well-informed by comparison. The Administration races across the national and world stages in a war frenzy, saying whatever pops into its head at any given moment to drum up support for an attack… and failing, to judge from both Congressional whip counts and opinion polls.The bad guys have a much more polished act.
Kerry’s remarks on Monday morning also included a gaffe where he suggested the Assad regime could avoid conflict with the U.S. by handing over its chemical weapons stockpiles… an offer the Russians immediately took seriously, and the Syrians made a great show of endorsing. You can almost hear little plastic clown horns tooting as the Obama Administration recoils in shock and tries to walk Kerry’s comments back, just like they’ve been walking Obama’s “red line” comments back. This is not a conflict that will be won by the side that walks backwards.
As the new diplomatic push developed throughout the day — possibly a revival of a previous U.S.-Russian diplomatic initiative — Sen. Harry Reid delayed a vote in the Senate on Syria scheduled for Wednesday. By the end of Monday, President Obama seemed receptive to the Russian proposal, calling it a “potentially positive development” and saying that a diplomatic resolution to the current crisis is “overwhelmingly my preference.” The U.S. government (and the Israeli government, for that matter) have nonetheless expressed skepticism about the plan’s viability.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced this morning that he would press the issue by presenting a resolution at the U.N. Security Council calling on the Syrian government to cede its chemical weapons to international control.
“Virtuous motives, trammeled by inertia and timidity, are no match for armed and resolute wickedness. A sincere love of peace is no excuse for muddling hundreds of millions of humble folk into total war. The cheers of weak, well-meaning assemblies soon cease to echo, and their votes soon cease to count. Doom marches on.”
What is Assad hiding in his backyard?
Satellite photos of secret Syrian site depict at least five guarded installations whose purpose is unclear.
The company received more orders for photographs over the past year, including two in January. All the photos, the dates they were taken and their precise locations are available online via Google Earth.
The 200-square-kilometer area in question is 30 kilometers north of Syria’s northernmost border with Lebanon. The nearest town is Masyaf, which has 35,000 residents and is in the Hama district. Official Syrian government websites say the town and its environs are an agricultural and tourist region.
The images depict at least five guarded installations whose purpose is unclear. In the center is a new residential complex with at least 40 multistory buildings whose shape and structure are distinct from the architecture in the rest of the town.
A number of Google Earth users said they saw passageways to bunkers leading to installations underneath the mountains surrounding Masyaf.
Other users noted that Syrian journalist and human rights activist Nizar Nayouf told the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf in 2004 that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein smuggled his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons into Syria just prior to the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In the interview, Nayouf claimed that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were stashed in three separate sites in Syria, including an underground military base beneath the village of AlBaida, one kilometer south of Masyaf. Nayouf was imprisoned by Syrian authorities for 10 years. In 2001, he was granted political asylum in France.
Similar accusations of Iraqi weapons smuggling into Syria were made by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon during an interview with Channel 2 news. Former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon made similar claims in an interview with the now-defunct New York Sun.
The latest photographs of the area were taken in January, when tensions between Israel and Syria reached a fever pitch. Syrian President Bashar Assad, his foreign minister Walid Moallem and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, exchanged warnings over a possible war in the absence of progress toward a peace treaty.
Last month, media reports indicated that the transfer of Scud missiles and advanced M-600 rockets from Syria to Hezbollah led to the latest round of accusations between Jerusalem and Damascus. The news of the weapons delivery prompted the United States to delay the assignment of its ambassador to the diplomatic post in Syria.
In light of the escalating tensions, the IDF cancelled a comprehensive military enlistment drill so that Syria would not interpret the exercise as a preparation for war.
DigitalGlobe refused to say who requested the satellite photos. Two weeks before the September 2007 destruction of the nuclear reactor in northeast Syria, the company placed an order for numerous photographs of the installation.
Yedioth Ahronoth reported that the photos were ordered by Israel so that it could show them to the press after the bombing. According to the newspaper, Israel sought to demonstrate its military capabilities without revealing its sources.
Why Support Our Enemies?
al-Qaeda vows to slaughter Christians after U.S. ‘liberates’ Syria
9/5/2013 09:40 AM
While U.S. leaders continue pushing for war against the Syrian government, today “Al-Qaeda-linked rebels,”reports AP, “launched an assault on a regime-held Christian mountain village in the densely populated west of Syria and new clashes erupted near the capital, Damascus, on Wednesday… In the attack on the village of Maaloula, rebels commandeered a mountaintop hotel and nearby caves and shelled the community below, said a nun, speaking by phone from a convent in the village. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.”
Arabic news agency Al Hadath gives more information concerning this latest terror attack on Syria’s Christians, specifically how the al-Qaeda linked rebels “terrorized the Christians, threatening to be avenged on them after the triumph of the revolution.”
Thus al-Qaeda terrorists eagerly await U.S. assistance against the Syrian government, so they can subjugate if not slaughter Syria’s Christians, secularists, and non-Muslims — even as the Obama administration tries to justify war on Syria by absurdly evoking the “human rights” of Syrians on the one hand, and lying about al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria on the other.
One would think the answers to those questions are vital before the United States commits to war, but they seem to be the last thing on the Obama Administration’s mind.
It’s not encouraging that the Administration, and congressional Syria hawks like Senator John McCain (R-AZ), can’t bring themselves to be honest about the nature of the Syrian rebellion. It’s portrayed as a host of democracy-loving secular “moderates” with a few terrorist skirmishers, but the truth is brutal and ugly. There is no reason to think Syria would escape falling into the hands of Islamists and terrorists after the fall of the Assad regime… not unless American intervention involves all those “boots on the ground” Secretary of State Kerry briefly mentioned in hearings, before frantically walking his comments back.
What’s the objective in Syria? No one can say for certain, other than to offer assurances that we will not be seeking regime change. There are vague proposals that we would somehow degrade the Assad regime’s ability to use chemical weapons, but that would likely require a far more extensive commitment than the day or two of limited air strikes described by President Obama. Among other obstacles, we can’t just blow up nerve gas stockpiles in the middle of populated areas.
What’s the exit strategy? What do we do if a defiant Assad weathers a handful of pinpoint missile strikes and uses chemical weapons again, or if the nastier elements of the rebellion release some gas and blame it on Assad? Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) says he won’t “send young men and women to sacrifice life and limb for stalemate.” No one from the Administration seems to be offering a more worthy objective.
How Did Syria Get Chemical Weapons? Did They Come From Our Old Friend Saddam?
However, even back then, there were accusations from several sources that Hussein had smuggled his WMDs over the border into Syria long before coalition forces began the Iraqi invasion. Today, there is now video evidence of chemical and biological weapons having been used in Syria to kill countless victims. While the blame game rages on as to who actually used said weapons, Assad forces or rebel fighters, many seem to have forgotten to ask a very important question: Where did these chemical weapons come from?
Was the Bush administration right all along? Could these indeed be the very same WMDs that intelligence agencies from around the world claimed were in Hussein’s possession which he then transferred over to Syria?
The earliest account of Hussein having hidden his WMDs in Syria came in January of 2004. Nizar Nayouf, an award-winning Syrian journalist who was granted political asylum in France, said in a letter to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf not only that he knew Iraq’s WMDs were being hidden inside Syria, but that he could pinpoint precisely where they were being kept. According to Nayouf’s witness, described as a senior source inside Syrian military intelligence he had known for two years, Iraq’s WMDs were in tunnels dug under the town of al-Baida near the city of Hama in northern Syria, in the village of Tal Snan, north of the town of Salamija, and in the city of Sjinsjar on the Syrian border with the Lebanon, south of the city of Homs. Nayouf claimed that the transfer of Iraqi WMDs to Syria was organized by the commanders of Hussein’s Iraqi Republican Guard with the help of General Dhu al-Himma Shalish and Assef Shawkat, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s cousin and brother-in-law, respectively.
We know for a fact that Shalish had a working relationship with Hussein long before the war in Iraq. The Syrian government awarded Shalish and his company, SES International Corporation, exclusive rights on contracts to supply the Iraqi market with goods from construction materials to detergent. According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Shalish and SES helped the former Ba’athist regime access weapons systems by issuing false end-user certificates to foreign suppliers that listed Syria as the final country of destination. SES International then transshipped the goods to Iraq, and Shalish was subsequently sanctioned by the U.S. for procuring defense-related goods for Hussein in violation of sanctions against Iraq.
When two sources from the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) — a 1,400-member team organized by the Pentagon and CIA — spoke with the Washington Times in August 2004, they reported that Hussein periodically removed guards on the Syrian border and replaced them with his own intelligence agents who supervised the movement of banned materials between the two countries. The shift was followed by the movement of trucks in and out of Syria suspected of carrying materials banned by UN sanctions. Once the shipments were made, the agents would leave and the regular border guards would resume their posts.
A similar claim was made by Lieutenant General Moshe Ya’alon in December of 2005, a former Israeli military officer who served as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces from July 2002 to June 2005. “(Hussein) transferred the chemical agents from Iraq to Syria” six weeks before Operation Iraqi Freedom started, according to Ya’alon. “No one went to Syria to find it.”
Just a month later in January 2006, the Iraqi general who served as the No. 2 official in Hussein’s air force, Georges Sada, claimed Iraq moved WMDs into Syria before the war by loading the weapons into two civilian aircrafts in which the passenger seats were removed, as well as in multiple ground convoys of trucks.
“There are weapons of mass destruction gone out from Iraq to Syria, and they must be found and returned to safe hands,” Sada stated. “I am confident they were taken over [to Syria].”
Sada said he even knew the two pilots who transported the material: “I know them very well. They are very good friends of mine.” He claimed that the pilots told him Special Republican Guard brigades loaded materials onto the planes, including “yellow barrels with skull and crossbones on each barrel.” The flights, 56 in total, attracted little notice because they were thought to be civilian flights providing relief from Iraq to Syria, which had suffered a flood after a dam collapse in June of 2002.
“Saddam realized, this time, the Americans are coming,” Sada said. “They handed over the weapons of mass destruction to the Syrians.” He claimed that the Iraqi official responsible for transferring the weapons was a cousin of Hussein named Ali Hussein al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali.”
One month after that in February of 2006, Ali Ibrahim al-Tikriti, a former Iraqi general and “personal friend” of Hussein’s who defected shortly before the Gulf War of 1991, also claimed as much in an interview: “I know Saddam’s weapons are in Syria due to certain military deals that were made going as far back as the late 1980s that dealt with the event that either capitals were threatened with being overrun by an enemy nation.
“At this point Saddam knew that the United States were eventually going to come for his weapons and the United States wasn’t going to just let this go like they did in the original Gulf War,” al-Tikriti said. “He knew that he had lied for this many years and wanted to maintain legitimacy with the pan-Arab nationalists. He also has wanted since he took power to embarrass the West and this was the perfect opportunity to do so. After Saddam denied he had such weapons why would he use them or leave them readily available to be found?”
Finally, current Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper, who formerly headed the U.S. agency that processes and analyzes satellite imagery (the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency), claimed in an interview with the New York Times in October of 2003 that “satellite imagery showing a heavy flow of traffic from Iraq into Syria just before the American invasion in March” led him to believe that illegal weapons material had “unquestionably” been moved out of Iraq.
“I think personally that those below the senior leadership saw what was coming, and I think they went to some extraordinary lengths to dispose of the evidence,” said Clapper. “I’ll call it an ‘educated hunch.’ Based on what we saw prior to the onset of hostilities, we certainly felt there were indications of WMD activity. … There is no question that there was a lot of traffic, increase in traffic up to the immediate onset of combat and certainly during Iraqi Freedom.”
It’s not like Hussein didn’t have any time to carry out such a large transfer. To the contrary, the Bush administration had been trying to make a case for military intervention in Iraq almost a year before the invasion finally occurred in March 2003.