The story-teller who threw the world into turmoil 143

Has there ever been a president of the United States – or of a middle school debating club – who knew as little, and cared as little to know anything, as President Barack Hussein Obama?

He employed an immature would-be novelist to make up stories about the world and international affairs, then acted on the fiction.

The result is that the Middle East is in flames, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, millions have been displaced, Europe is being overrun by Muslim “refugees”, and the savagely belligerent regime that rules the Islamic state of Iran is freely developing nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them – and getting more than a billion dollars from the United States to help them do it

We quote from an article at PJ Media by the excellent Claudia Rosett (who has revealed much about Evil’s HQ, the United Nations):

It’s a good bet that by now the entire foreign policy cosmos … has read the York Times Magazineprofile of Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes, “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru”. The reporter, David Samuels, had extraordinary access to the White House, multiple well-placed sources and in his 9,500 word piece he provides plenty of attribution, including quotes from Rhodes himself. We get a detailed look, behind the White House facade, at Rhodes, “master shaper and retailer of Obama’s foreign policy narratives,” complete with his contempt for Congress, the press and the public; his manipulation of the media; and a case study of his “narrative” of liesconcocted to grease a path for Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement – the unpopular, murky, amorphous and deeply dangerous Iran nuclear deal.

Freighted with the far-reaching effects of a major treaty, the Iran deal was never submitted by Obama to the Senate for ratification as a treaty. Framed as an agreement with Iran, it was never signed by Iran. Sold by the administration as a transparent deal, it is turning out to be a slush heap of secrets. The real blob in this drama is the rolling sludge of presidential over-reach, White House fictions and raw abuse of public trust that has brought us everything from the indigestible “Affordable Care Act” to the Benghazi “video” narrative, to the Iran deal.

Leading members of Congress are calling on President Obama to fire Rhodes “over accusations the White House intentionally misled lawmakers and the American public about the contents of last summer’s comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran”.

In a letter to Obama, Senators Mark Kirk, John Cornyn and John Barrasso cite Rhodes’s statement to the New York Times that the White House peddled a phony narrative to sell the Iran deal because he considered it “impossible” for elected lawmakers to have “a sober, reasoned public debate, after which the members of Congress reflect and take a vote’. They note, if Rhodes “had conducted himself this way in a typical place of business outside Washington, where American taxpayers work, he surely would have been already fired or asked to resign”.

So, why does Ben Rhodes still have his job?

The broad answer involves the moral vertigo of modern Washington, the Instagram attention span of too many members of a Twitter-driven press corps, and the self-abasements of a culture in which the old American spirit of individual responsibility and free enterprise has been devolving — with many a prompt from President You-Didn’t-Build-That —  into a selfie-snapping contest for “safe spaces” and “free stuff”.

In that context, dude, what difference does it make if Boy Wonder Ben Rhodes, speechwriter and “strategic communicator”, mind-melded with the president, carries on manufacturing and marketing the “narrative” that passes these days for foreign policy? Once you dispense with the baggage of reality, and its knock-on effects for those multitudes of lesser mortals who have never flown on Air Force One, what’s left is former White House staffer Tommy Vietor (“Dude, this was like two years ago”), buddy of Ben Rhodes, techno-chatting to one of Washington’s best reporters, Eli Lake (who knows plenty), that he’s sure most folks outside of Washington think the Rhodes profile was just a “fascinating profile of a brilliant guy with a really cool job”.

All these things matter. But there’s a far more direct answer to the question of why Rhodes still has his job.

Under the old rules of American politics, a top White House staffer getting caught betraying the public trust (and then gloating over it) would have been a firing offense. Not anymore. For this president, with his pen, phone and proclivity for executive diktat, the priority is not the rights of the American people, or their elected lawmakers in Congress, or fidelity to the truth. What matters is loyalty to Obama and his agenda – however radical that becomes, and whatever it might require in terms of lies, manipulation and disregard for democratic process.

The real story here is not Rhodes. It’s his boss. Rhodes is no rogue element on Obama’s staff. We’ve heard no protest from the White House over Rhodes’s statement in the Samuels profile that “I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends”. 

What’s come out of the White House instead is an article by Rhodes on “How We Advocated for the Iran Deal”; now coupled with a rejection by the White House of an invitation from Congress for Rhodes to come testify on that very topic, at a hearing held earlier today. A prime distinction between these two poles is that Rhodes, when writing an article, controls the narrative from his keyboard (dispensing with assorted inconvenient truths on grounds that “I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunities to respond to those topics in the weeks and months to come”). In front of the likes of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, there’s the awkward chance that Rhodes might lose control of his narrative.

The White House argued that the invitation for Rhodes to testify “raises significant constitutional concerns rooted in the separation of powers”. That would be more persuasive had the president shown any such concern for the Constitution while ramming through the Iran deal. That was not solely a matter of peddling the Rhodes-Obama narrative. Obama also raced to get United Nations Security Council approval for the deal before Congress had a chance to delve into it. Recall Obama’s lead negotiator, Wendy Sherman, ridiculing the idea that the administration should take the position “Well, excuse me, the world, you should wait for the United States Congress”.  (Yes, Wendy, this being America, that is exactly how it should have worked).

The White House further argues that “the appearance of a senior presidential adviser before Congress threatens the independence and autonomy of the President, as well as his ability to receive candid advice and counsel in the discharge of his constitutional duties”. Fine, if the White House is dealing with Congress and the public in good faith. But when the candid advice and counsel consists of concocting and packaging lies – excuse me, “narratives” – designed to neuter Congress and mislead the public, where does that take us? …

When an administration is caught deliberately spinning lies, when a White House official paid to uphold the public trust is exposed as deriding and manipulating that same public, the response needed for the healthy working of democracy is apology, contrition and a real remedy. If the official does not have conscience enough to resign, the president should do the honors, by firing him. Or her.

But nothing can undo the harm that the Rhodes-Obama twin-headed monster has done.

Under Obama, it has become standard procedure that such firings do not take place. Obama shrugs off the news, doubles down on the narrative and bulldozes ahead. Once the scandal is consigned to last week’s news cycle, for purposes of this administration it is down the Memory Hole. Obamacare, with its partisan vote, indecipherable text, soaring costs and disastrous web site rollout; an American economy choking under regulations; the disintegration of Libya, the vanishing red line in Syria, the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, the rise of ISIS, North Korea’s nuclear tests, Iran’s ballistic missile tests, China’s military buildup, Russia’s turf grabs  – the Obama narrative says it is all under control. Nothing much to see here, move along. Or, to quote Obama’s first secretary of State, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

In the resulting vacuum, absent ethical or responsible leadership at the very top, we’re left to amuse ourselves with the chatter of the echo chamber – home to the infinitely malleable narratives of Rhodes and his boss. Last Wednesday, seeking to mollify the reporters so roundly insulted by Rhodes, White House spokesman Josh Earnest and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough brought a box of donuts to the White House press corps, calling their visit “press appreciation day”. Earnest assured reporters that Rhodes would revise the contemptuous statements about the press, “given a chance”. Does that mean Rhodes will now disavow, in the White House inner chambers, that “candid advice and counsel” so prized by the president? …

We wouldn’t be at all surprised if the White House press corps was bought off with a box of donuts.

Why would Obama fire Rhodes? If nothing else comes clear from this saga, it is that Rhodes has served for years as one of the chief ideological bag men of Obama’s presidency. If, under their ministrations the possibilities of free and open discourse are vanishing in Washington, replaced by bully pulpit narratives bouncing around the echo chamber, wasn’t that the reason Obama gave Rhodes all that power in the first place?

Posted under Commentary, Iran, jihad, middle east, United States, War by Jillian Becker on Monday, May 23, 2016

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Chickens and carrots in blood-soaked Sudan 190

Michael Gerson, a conservative writer, fulsomely praises the Obama administration and the State Department for what he considers a triumph of US foreign policy, a referendum to be held in southern Sudan on its secession.

The Obama administration … is on the verge of a major diplomatic achievement in Sudan. Barring technical failures that delay the vote, or unexpected violence, South Sudan will approve an independence referendum on Jan. 9. Six months later, a new flag will rise, a new anthem will be played. It is a rare, risky, deeply American enterprise: midwifing the birth of a new nation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been pushing to elevate the issue to the presidential level, demanding, according to one official, “one team, one fight.” In August, President Obama declared that Denis McDonough, then the chief of staff on the National Security Council and now deputy national security adviser, would coordinate a unified government response. The administration’s common approach, dubbed “the road map,” publicly promised the regime in Khartoum a series of carrots — reviewing its status on the state sponsors of terrorism list, beginning the lifting of sanctions and starting discussions on debt relief — in exchange for allowing the south to go quietly. …

Elements of the regime in Khartoum seem prepared for sullen acceptance of southern independence

Every diplomatic achievement is rewarded by new complexities. Between the independence referendum in January and full independence on July 9, 2011, a variety of issues — concerning borders, citizenship, security and the distribution of oil revenues — will need to be resolved. …  South Sudan will require considerable help to avoid the fate of a failed state — particularly to build its capacity to govern and fight corruption. … 

But even partial diplomatic successes are worth celebrating — and this is less partial than most. Assuming the last lap of a long race is completed, southern independence will allow these long-suffering people to govern and defend themselves … And southern sovereignty will permanently limit the ability of Khartoum to do harm in a vast region it has harmed for too long.

The most timely message sent by this achievement concerns the nature of the diplomatic task. It was the intention of recent WikiLeaks disclosures to reveal the names of American diplomats and expose their malign influence in the world. Well, here is a leak of my own. People such as McDonough, Michelle Gavin and Samantha Power [see here and here]  in the White House, along with Johnnie Carson, Scott Gration [see here] and Princeton Lyman at the State Department, are employing American power to noble purpose. I mention their names (none of them secret) because they represent how skilled, effective government officials can shape history, improve the lives of millions and bring honor to the country they serve.

This is not only counting chickens before they’re hatched, but celebrating their surpassing excellence before the eggs are even laid.

True, Gerson touches on possible problems and set-backs, some of them potentially disastrous, but his delight overcomes all doubt.

It would be highly desirable for the Christian and animist south to separate from the Muslim north, but will it really be achieved bloodlessly? We should wait to see. And if the south’s independence is achieved, will it be safe from the terrible persecution by the north that it has suffered from for centuries? Will “southern sovereignty  … permanently limit the ability of Khartoum to do harm in a vast region it has harmed for too long”, as Gerson so confidently asserts?

And the question should be asked, is it just – or sound policy – for Sudan, ruled by the blood-soaked tyrant President Omar Bashir, to be taken off the list of countries that sponsor terrorism when he himself is one of the most monstrous and persistent terrorists, persecutors, and mass murderers in the world?

One might say that it is worth doing, even if unjust, if it is the price that must be paid for the safety of the southern Sudanese. But will Bashir stick to the deal?  The answer is bound up with the question of whether or not the International Criminal Court’s warrant for his arrest, for crimes against humanity and war crimes, will be cancelled. A cancellation is not one of the carrots he’s been offered, and it may not be in the power of the US administration to offer it. But it is what Bashir wants more than anything else.

It’s worth listening to an opinion very different from Gerson’s. Here’s a regional Islamic view, from the current internet issue of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram:

The ICC arrest warrant on Al-Bashir is taking its toll on Sudan on more than one level. It has …  impeded a possible solution of the Darfur crisis, for the Darfur insurgents are in no mood to negotiate with a president who’s been indicted as a war criminal. Even before the warrant was issued, Khartoum was having trouble reaching a deal on Darfur. Now the prospects are indeed dire.

As for the self-determination referendum, slated for 9 January 2011, no happy ending is likely to develop. Incensed by the warrant, Al-Bashir’s government may try to disrupt the referendum. Why? Because if they allowed the south to secede, the international community may be emboldened and press harder for the implementation of ICC rulings, or try to coerce the Sudanese government into resolving the problems in Darfur

The hardliners with Al-Bashir’s party, the National Congress, believe that the secession of the south would be the thin end of the wedge.

Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha, who took part recently in discussions concerning Sudan’s future in New York, says that the ICC warrant on Al-Bashir should be rescinded. He also calls for sanctions to be removed and Sudanese debts to be written off.

The international community has so far declined to make such sweeping concessions, but it has offered smaller gestures. … Sudan was told that it may be removed from the terror list within months. But, for now at least, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for the ICC warrant to be cancelled.

There is always the possibility that Sudan may offer concessions on the south in the hope of getting the warrant removed. …

What makes the warrant such a delicate issue is not just that Al-Bashir’s future is at stake. Two other Sudanese have been indicted by the court: Humanitarian Affairs [sic] Minister Ahmed Haroun and Janjaweed leader Ali Abdel-Rahman. … Many other Sudanese officials fear that they would be next. If they allow Al-Bashir to fall, the chances are more heads are going to roll.

Sudanese presidential advisor Ghazi Salaheddin is dismissive of what the international community has so far offered Sudan. …

Sudan is being asked to hold the elections on time without much regard to the referendum’s crucial repercussions or the fact that it may lead to secession and war simultaneously

In return (for helping with the referendum), Sudan was promised “six export licences for American companies working in agriculture and health,” Salaheddin noted. Then, once the country is divided, the president will still have to turn himself in to the ICC. Not exactly the arrangement Sudan was hoping for.

Salaheddin said that such offers debase the referendum, for they turn it from a matter of principle into a business proposition or worse, a bargaining chip in US foreign policy. …

Sudanese writer Tharwat Qassem maintains that the abrogation of the warrant on Al-Bashir is the sole concern for Sudan’s National Congress. Removing Sudan from the terror list doesn’t mean much. And the lifting of sanctions for Khartoum is beside the point. Also, allowing Khartoum to import agricultural equipment and computers, as Washington did recently, is a joke.

The cancellation of the warrant is the “only carrot the National Congress craves,” Qassem said. But the price for revoking the warrant would be high. For starters, Khartoum will have to promise to facilitate the birth of a new state in south Sudan.

Al-Bashir may be willing to do just that, according to Qassem. “The statements in which Al-Bashir says that the loss of the south is not the end of the world is a step in this direction.”

It is true that the loss of the south may not be the end of the world. But it may mean that Al-Bashir would tighten his hold on power indefinitely. This is something that many lobbyists in the West, including human rights groups, don’t want to see happen. …

So nothing is cut and dried, not even the carrots. The referendum may well go ahead in January, and – just as in Afghan and Iraqi elections – there may be a huge and excited turn-out for it; but what then results is not predictable. There’s too much ominous doubt in Khartoum to allow bragging confidence in Washington, D.C., and Gerson’s applause is premature.

[See also this article at PajamasMedia: the iniquitous rulers of Sudan are already reacting by intensifying the jihad.]