The Vision of the Anointed, Epitomized

From Bret Stephens:

David Petraeus testified last month to the Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. policy in the Middle East. Regarding Syria, the former general and CIA director urged a credible threat to destroy Bashar Assad’s air force if it continues to bomb its own people. He also recommended “the establishment of enclaves in Syria protected by coalition air power, where a moderate Sunni force could be supported and where additional forces could be trained, internally displaced persons could find refuge, and the Syrian opposition could organize.”

But Barack Obama does not agree. At his Friday press conference, the president described such views as “mumbo-jumbo,” “half-baked ideas,” “as-if” solutions, a willful effort to “downplay the challenges involved in the situation.” He says the critics have no answers to the questions of “what exactly would you do and how would you fund it and how would you sustain it.”

America’s greatest living general might as well have been testifying to his shower drain for all the difference his views are going to make in this administration.

So it is with this president. It’s not enough for him to stake and defend his positions. He wants you to know that he thinks deeper, sees further, knows better, operates from a purer motive. His preferred method for dealing with disagreement is denigration. If Republicans want a tougher line in Syria, they’re warmongers. If Hillary Clinton thinks a no-fly zone is a good idea, she’s playing politics: “There is obviously a difference,” the president tut-tutted about his former secretary of state’s position, “between running for president and being president.”

You can interpret that jab as a sign Mr. Obama is urging Joe Biden to run. It’s also a reminder that Mr. Obama believes his Syria policy—the one that did nothing as 250,000 people were murdered; the one that did nothing as his own red lines were crossed; the one that allowed ISIS to flourish; the one that has created the greatest refugee crisis of the 21st century; the one currently being exploited by Russia and Iran for geopolitical advantage—is a success.

That’s because the president’s fundamental conviction about American foreign policy is that we need less of it—less commitment, less expense, less responsibility. Winston Churchill once said that the U.S. could not be “the leading community in the civilized world without being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes.” Mr. Obama sees it differently. He is the president who would prefer not to. He is the Bartleby of 21st century geopolitics.

As for what a serious Syria policy might look like, the U.S. proved it was capable of creating safe havens and enforcing no-fly zones in 1991 with Operation Provide Comfort, which stopped Saddam Hussein from massacring Kurds in northern Iraq the way he had butchered Shiites in southern Iraq.

This is how we wound up preventing what might otherwise have been a refugee crisis that would have rivaled the current exodus from Syria. It’s how we got an Iraqi Kurdistan—the one undisputed U.S. achievement in the Middle East in the past 25 years. It’s how we were later able to stop ISIS from swallowing northern Iraq and eastern Syria whole.

Reprising that formula in Syria won’t be simple, but what’s the alternative? John Kerry wants another grand conference in Geneva so the warring parties can settle their differences in a civilized way. Will ISIS be invited to the table? Donald Trump says that if the Russians “want to hit ISIS, that’s OK with me”—except the Russians are hitting U.S.-backed rebels instead of ISIS. There’s a view that staying out of Syria is the best way to get bad guys on all sides to fight their way to mutual extinction. But the lesson of the Syrian war is that chaos does not annihilate the forces of jihad. It turbocharges them.

“It is frequently said that there is no ‘military solution’ to Syria,” Gen. Petraeus said in his testimony. “This may be true, but it is also misleading. For, in every case, if there is to be hope of a political settlement, a certain military and security context is required—and that context will not materialize on its own.” Is this, too, mumbo-jumbo?

In the meantime, note what Vladimir Putin, lectured by Mr. Obama for getting Russia “stuck in a quagmire,” is achieving in Syria.

For a relatively trivial investment of some jet fighters and a brigade-sized support force, Moscow extends its influence in the eastern Mediterranean, deepens a commercially and strategically productive alliance with Iran, humiliates the U.S., boosts Mr. Putin’s popularity at home, and earns a geopolitical card he can play in any number of negotiations—Ukraine, gas contracts, Mr. Assad’s political future, you name it. If things don’t work out, he can pull up stakes within a week without much loss of money, lives or prestige. It’s a perfect play.

I spent some time staring at press pool photos of Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin at their recent encounter at the United Nations. The Russian seems to gaze at the president the way a good chess player approaches an inferior opponent—somewhere between delighted and bored by the intellectual mismatch. We’ve got 16 more months of this to go.


Quote of the Day

“Actually, one of my favorite moments at Saturday’s event came as I was leaving Parliament in the company of a Danish MP. She said she’d see me at the restaurant but she had to pick up her bicycle and pedal there. That’s right: Danish legislators bicycle to work. I don’t know if they have a 40-man entourage furiously pedaling on tandems behind them, but, if so, I didn’t see any. As I’ve sighed to no effect so many times before, in the US the transformation of citizen-legislators into courtier-dependent Gulf emirs is one of the reasons why America’s political class is so disconnected from the rhythms of ordinary life, and why it seems to attract so many psychologically unhealthy types …and why a nation of 300 million people winds up with an inside-the-bubble election contest between the wife of a previous president and the son and brother of two previous presidents. Indeed, I think the main thing people like about Ben Carson is how normal he seems – which is why saying not a thing in the debates only drives his numbers upward.”

Mark Steyn

Act of Pettiness

From Mark Steyn:

The second highest peak in North America is Mount Logan in the Yukon, named after Sir William Logan, founder of the Geological Survey of Canada. When Pierre Trudeau died 15 years ago, his successor, Jean Chrétien, announced airily that Mount Logan would be renamed for the late Prime Minister. Given the number of women who got to mount Trudeau in the course of his life, having an actual Mount Trudeau seemed an oddly superfluous honor. But, in its insult to and obliteration of Sir William Logan, a Canadian of great accomplishments, it was a typically Trudeaupian act of historical vandalism.

So some of us pushed back against Chrétien’s banana-republican name-change, and, unusually for the deranged Dominion, Mount Logan got to keep its name.

The only higher peak in North America was not so fortunate. On Monday, Barack Obama, by executive order, removed the name of his predecessor from Mount McKinley. It is a strange thing to do – the sort of public humiliation that in normal circumstances would accompany the revelation that the man was a pedophile or racist or some such. And it is an especially undeserved fate for William McKinley, who took a bullet for his country – back in the days before American presidents retreated behind the 40-car motorcade and no citizen could be permitted into their presence without a background check. It was a characteristically petty act for Obama, adding insult to injury, to fly to Alaska personally to strip McKinley of his mountain. I don’t altogether rule out him detonating those guys off Mount Rushmore before his term’s up.


Obama’s Common Cause

From Charles Krauthammer:

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows that the American public rejects the president’s Iran deal by more than 2-to-1. This is astonishing. The public generally gives the president deference on major treaties. Just a few weeks ago, a majority supported the deal.

What happened? People learned what’s in it.

And don’t be fooled by polls that present, as fact, the administration’s position in the very question. The Washington Post/ABC poll assures the respondent that, for example, “international inspectors would monitor Iran’s facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement economic sanctions would be imposed again. Do you support or oppose this agreement?”

Well, if you put it that way, sure. But it is precisely because these claims are so tendentious and misleading that public — and congressional — opinion is turning.

Inspections? Everyone now knows that “anytime, anywhere” — indispensable for a clandestine program in a country twice the size of Texas with a long history of hiding and cheating — has been changed to “You’ve got 24 days and then we’re coming in for a surprise visit.” New York restaurants, observed Jackie Mason, get more intrusive inspections than the Iranian nuclear program.

Snapback sanctions? Everyone knows that once the international sanctions are lifted, they are never coming back. Moreover, consider the illogic of President Obama’s argument. The theme of his American University speech Wednesday was that the only alternative to what he brought back from Vienna is war because sanctions — even the more severe sanctions that Congress has been demanding — will never deter the Iranians. But if sanctions don’t work, how can you argue that the Iranians will now be deterred from cheating by the threat of . . . sanctions? Snapback sanctions, mind you, that will inevitably be weaker and more loophole-ridden than the existing ones.

And then came news of the secret side agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. These concern past nuclear activity and inspections of the Parchin military facility where Iran is suspected of having tested nuclear detonation devices.

We don’t know what’s in these side deals. And we will never know, says the administration. It’s “standard practice,” you see, for such IAEA agreements to remain secret.

Well, this treaty is not standard practice. It’s the most important treaty of our time. Yet, Congress is asked to ratify this “historic diplomatic breakthrough” (Obama) while being denied access to the heart of the inspection regime.

Congress doesn’t know what’s in these side agreements, but Iran does. And just this past Monday, Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to the supreme leader, declared that “entry into our military sites is absolutely forbidden.”

One secret side deal could even allow Iran to provide its own soil samples (!) from Parchin. And now satellite imagery shows Iran bulldozing and sanitizing Parchin as we speak. The verification regime has turned comic.

This tragicomedy is now in the hands of Congress or, more accurately, of congressional Democrats. It is only because so many Democrats are defecting that Obama gave the AU speech in the first place. And why he tried so mightily to turn the argument into a partisan issue — those warmongering Republicans attacking a president offering peace in our time. Obama stooped low, accusing the Republican caucus of making “common cause” with the Iranian “hard-liners” who shout “Death to America.”

Forget the gutter ad hominem. This is delusional. Does Obama really believe the Death-to-America hard-liners are some kind of KKK fringe? They are the government, for God’s sake — the entire state apparatus of the Islamic Republic from the Revolutionary Guards to the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei who for decades have propagated, encouraged, and applauded those very same “Death to America” chants.

Common cause with the Iranian hard-liners? Who more than Obama? For years, they conduct a rogue nuclear weapons program in defiance of multiple Security Council declarations of its illegality backed by sanctions and embargoes. Obama rewards them with a treaty that legitimates their entire nuclear program, lifts the embargo on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles, and revives an economy — described by Iran’s president as headed back to “the Stone Age” under sanctions — with an injection of up to $150 billion in unfrozen assets, permission for the unlimited selling of oil, and full access to the international financial system.

With this agreement, this repressive, intolerant, aggressive, supremely anti-American regime — the chief exporter of terror in the world — is stronger and more entrenched than it has ever been.

Common cause, indeed.


Obama Saw His Son in Trayvon Martin, We See Our Daughters in Kate Steinle


[Rep. Trey] Gowdy said, [relevant remarks being around 6:15] “the president said that he saw Trayvon — in Trayvon Martin, he saw his son. Well, I can tell you, those of us who have daughters, saw our daughters in Kate Steinle. And he’s got two of them too, so at a minimum, he ought to pick up the phone and tell the Steinle family that ‘I grieve for you.’”