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Ramblings in May

This is more of the same type of all-over-the-place stuff I posted earlier.

Wed., May 1


Yesterday I scanned through the newest items at Josh Landis’ Syria Comment.  With McCain and Grassley and their ilk shouting for war, reading through it made me realize how stupid that pressure is (as usual).  I got a picture of splintered groups of fighters, some true Freedom Fighters, some Salafi al-Nusra types, and some just thugs out to make money stripping factories and offices of equipment and other things to sell in Turkey.  There was even a video of people who have learned to “refine” Syrian oil for resale inside the country – gasoline, kerosene for cooking etc.  It sounds more like Somalia and Iraq than anything else, and it is certainly not a place for the US military.

(I’m sitting in the computer lab, baby-sitting kids who aren’t being tested, or who are late getting to school as well as those who finish before the rest of their class is done.  There are 2 “velcro” IA’s in the room plus the gym teacher, me and 6 kids.  Overkill.)

Richard Falk from his blog of April 19 on the Boston bombing and America’s place in  the world- the last paragraph:


     “Aside from the tensions of the moment, self-scrutiny and mid-course reflections on America’s global role is long overdue. Such a process is crucial both for the sake of the country’s own future security and also in consideration of the wellbeing of others. Such adjustments will eventually come about either as a result of a voluntary process of self-reflection or through the force of unpleasant events. How and when this process of reassessment occurs remains a mystery. Until it does, America’s military prowess and the abiding confidence of its leaders in hard power diplomacy makes the United States a menace to the world and to itself. Such an observation is as true if the more avowedly belligerent Mitt Romney rather than the seemingly dovish Barack Obama was in the White House. Such bipartisan support for maintaining the globe-girdling geopolitics runs deep in the body politic, and is accompanied by the refusal to admit the evidence of national decline. The signature irony is that the more American decline is met by a politics of denial, the more rapid and steep will be the decline, and the more abrupt and risky will be the necessary shrinking of the global leadership role so long played by the United States. We should be asking ourselves at this moment, “how many canaries will have to die before we awaken from our geopolitical fantasy of global domination?” “


Ok.  Ok.  So the hawks finally drag Obama into arming rebels, a no-fly zone and bombing raids.  Then what?  The FSA is not a coherent group, and doesn’t seem to have the capacity for governing.  It has set up no councils in its areas, nor has it seemed to hand out much in the way of relief to battered civilians.  Al-Nusra seems to be better at all that, and it is allied with Al-Qaeda.  Even if our help would bring down Assad, there is nothing but a vacuum to replace him, and there won’t be any Occupation as in Iraq to force unappetizing solutions down the throats of the locals.  What then?  And why is McCain so determined to get us into another war?  What’s in it for him?

Our own government seems to be falling apart.  1. The IRS over does going after TeaParty claims for 501(c)(4) status.  Really?  It’s too bad they weren’t smart enough to pepper “progressive” groups the same way, if only to cover themselves. (Only, as it turned out later, they did)

2.  The Justice department has gone after the phone records and other data of AP reporters who reported on an operation in Yemen that was supposed to be secret.  Part of the drone assassination plans?

3.  Then there’s the hoopla in Congress about the supposed cover up of the real “facts” about the tragedy in Bangazi.


On the first two.  The trend began in the Bush administration driven by Cheney’s fear of the “enemy”, but the administration under Obama seems to have taken it to a huge extreme charging people with violating the “Espionage” Act which has been used over time since 1917 as a government tool to punish people it didn’t like – “reds”, “Communists”, government employed leakers of information, reporters, and others.  Few of these seem to have posed any real dire threat to the US. Much of the time, the government simply wants to avoid being embarrassed as in the WikiLeaks affair.  If private Manning remains in jail for years, or gets the death penalty because he had a moral perception of right and wrong would be a gross miscarriage of justice.  Embarrassment musn’t produce that kind of an ending.


The President doesn’t have a magic wand.  He sits atop of the government, but he doesn’t have control over all of it.  These days, he can’t even put his own nominees in charge of the various departments.  Looking in from the outside, some of us Americans seem naively to think that the President personally directs every department of government.  He’d never get anything done if that were true.  His appointees must carry out the policies he lays down, and when such people turn out to be less than adequate managers, disagreements and scandals can happen.  Obama does not have a machiavellian prince like Cheney with hands on all the threads to make people push the same policies.  Congress also has itself to blame for stalling even the most mundane appointments, and basically crippling the State Department by denying it funds.  All the “leadership” in the world is not going to change that.  Bush sent  the military on diplomatic missions for this reason, but generals, no matter how intelligent and well trained, are not diplomats and that caused other problems, mostly in places like Pakistan where they don’t take kindly to being ordered around by America.  Lastly, we as voters need to take responsibility for our own government.  We put these people in office so we must share the blame for whatever goes wrong, and we have elected some pretty stupid people over the past 12 years.


May 22: Wonderful quote:

“You want another great president, pray for another great crisis. Only nation-encumbering calamity tames our political system, making elites and the public receptive to allowing a president to lead America the Unruly.”  Aaron David Miller in Foreign Policy

(Maureen Dowd should read this article.  Maybe then she wouldn’t keep harping on the lack of presidential “leadership”.  The office of the President doesn’t give the man a magic wand to make to world perfect in her eyes.)

Reflecting on the impossibilities of the job, Mr. Miller sums it up this way:

“What to do? Just get over it. Lower expectations. Don’t give up the search for quality leaders, but be honest about what a president can and cannot do. Don’t wait around to be rescued by The One — that’s not the American way. Maybe by controlling our presidential fantasies, we can stop expecting our presidents to be great, and allow them to start being good.”

Seriously, one of the most thoughtful pieces I’ve read in a long, long time.


Stephen Walt has a wonderful blog post in the same issue of FP titled “Top 10 warning signs of ‘liberal imperialism'”


As cure, he recommends the following:


…reading Alexander Downes and Jonathan Monten’s “Forced to Be Free?: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Rarely Leads to Democratization” (International Security, 2013), along with Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan and Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.


I’ll have to look for the first 2.


May 28:


McCain has turned up in Syria for an obviously well-planned meeting with leaders of the Opposition.  They undoubtedly have told him exactly what he’s been wanting to hear, so he will come back to the Senate and demand that the US provide a no-fly zone, heavy arms and ammunition, and more to the rebels.  Trouble is that McCain’s credibility on these trips reeks of all the mistakes he made in Iraq, including the fraudulent walk in the market without a flak vest to prove how “safe” it was, ignoring all the hundreds of soldiers who had been detailed to protect him.  He wants to support the rebels in Syria hoping that “democracy” will emerge if they win, but there’s no guarantee of that, and it’s far more likely that the country will fall apart into fighting factions of warlords, spreading even more unrest in that part of the world than there is already.  He’s also undermining Obama’s efforts to gather a peace meeting between all the parties, which might have a chance of starting some negotiations between Assad and those fighting against him.   Some rebels have refused to meet with the dictator which may make that angle fruitless.

New Year’s thoughts

I can’t say the usual New Year greeting. I just don’t see that much to be happy about when looking around the world right now. Neither at home, nor overseas. There was a lot of upbeat talk this morning about the “deal” made between Biden and the Senate. The problem is, there is no way that deal is going to be swallowed by the House radicals. The media were selling relief, but I don’t see it. The fateful line will be crossed, and the country will probably suffer another “recession”.

Maybe some good will come of Israel’s relaxation of restrictions on Gazans, but I suspect the gesture is a sop to the more liberal parts of Israeli society ahead of the election coming up this month. However, the ability to bring in more food, building materials, etc. for awhile could improve the lives of the Gazans a bit, without changing any of the major land issues.

Syria is still taking itself apart thanks to the stubbornness of its ruling elite. Hundreds of people are being killed daily; more are fleeing or trying to.

In Iraq more are being killed pretty much on a daily basis by bombs and bullets – an example of America’s inability to remake any country in what we fantasize as our image. Afghanistan will go the same way. All we do is create failed states.

Now, it is another day, and the House of Representatives surprised me. Even though the Deal puts off the serious questions people are asking about debts and taxes, we learned that Republicans can be scared enough to agree to a deal they hate.

Afghanistan will probably get left in the lurch, regardless of all the Obama talk of staying to help train. Some in the military seem finally to be getting the message that we aren’t wanted there and don’t know how to help.

The only place I see hope is in some musicians around the world like these:

They cheer the heart and remind us all that there can be spontaneous beauty and joy in the world. Just looking at the faces in the square with the children conducting and others participating in the singing remind me that Beethoven’s music is for everyone forever, and that maybe there’s hope afterall.