Global cooling 1

With the facts on the ground now established in Crimea — several thousand facts in the form of Russian troops — the question now becomes: Will sustained economic, political and military isolation of Russia work? Will it reverse Vladimir Putin’s adventurism and deter future aggression?

Michael Gerson asks these questions at the Washington Post – as if there would be any sustained economic, political and military isolation of Russia.

In any case, his answer is no.

He writes at the Washington Post:

One of [Putin’s] primary foreign policy goals is to relitigate the end of the Cold War. His intervention in Ukraine will press toward that objective until serious resistance is met. Like international aggressors before him, Putin would prefer the fruits of war without its costs.

Does he have reason to believe the resulting isolation of Russia will be sustained? The history of the “reset” says no. The weariness of Congress and the American public with conflict — which Obama emphasizes and encourages in his own rhetoric — says no. America’s humiliating dependence on Russian influence in the Syrian crisis says no. The desire for Russian help in the Iranian nuclear negotiations says no. The dependence of Europe on Russian natural gas says no. European Union vacillation and disunity say no.

It is, perhaps, this confidence that has led Putin not only to intimidate but also to humiliate. To sponsor Edward Snowden. To follow a 90-minute telephone conversation with Obama with troop movements. Many Russian goals in Crimea might have been achieved by intelligence assets and paramilitary forces. The use of Russian troops was intended as a broader message to Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East: Don’t waste your hopes on the West.

Criticisms of the Obama administration’s foreign policy are now coming in waves. Its policy is improvised and feckless. Or it consists of cliches (“an interdependent world”) and condescension (“19th-century behavior”).

But Obama deserves more credit for good intentions and intellectual consistency.

Or no credit because of naivety and ignorance? Or – as we read him – an actual desire for America to lose, decline, and fall?

His foreign policy does have a theory. He believes that as U.S. power retreats from the world, a variety of good things will fill the vacuum. Allies and international institutions will take more responsibility. The United States will be better able to promote liberal norms, unburdened by discrediting military power.

If he believes that, then naivety and ignorance is right.

Gerson continues to give him the benefit of the doubt. He puts the best possibly interpretation on Obama’s actions: they may be mistaken but they’re benign.

This vision gives permission for drastic defense cuts, abandoned “red lines,” a scramble for the exits in Afghanistan and the ceding of leadership in crises such as Syria. It dovetails with domestic political imperatives — for Obama to be the ender of wars, focused on nation-building at home. …

The columnist himself has a better grasp of geopolitical realities:

The problem is this: When enlightened liberal norms are divorced from U.S. power, liberal norms do not win out. The vacuum is filled by:

●Radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, which prosper in chaos. In an atmosphere like Syria, the most brutal are the most successful, and eventually become regional and global threats.

●Despots such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who still believe in military solutions — such as using chemical weapons and “barrel bombs,” filled with oil and metal shards, on civilians — because these solutions are working for them.

●Nationalist powers such as Russia and China, which is now throwing its military weight around East Asia. Japan is experiencing an upsurge in nationalism.

In the 20th century, the United States was both unique and irreplaceable because it exercised great power without the blood-and-soil nationalism of Russia, Germany or Japan. It stood for universal, liberal, democratic ideals. We should not expect those humane ideals to thrive in the vacuum left by a retreating America.

He would seem to be using “liberal” in the real meaning of the word, and not as a euphemism for anti-Americanism, statism, and collectivism.  In which case, his liberalism isn’t Obama’s liberalism. But he seems to think it is. Which is why, we suspect, he takes so mild a view of the president’s motives and intentions.


Charles Karuthammer, also writing at the Washington Post,  is more scathing: 

Vladimir Putin is a lucky man. And he’s got three more years of luck to come.

He takes Crimea, and President Obama says it’s not in Russia’s interest, not even strategically clever. Indeed, it’s a sign of weakness.

Really? Crimea belonged to Moscow for 200 years. Russia annexed it 20 years before Jefferson acquired Louisiana. Lost it in the humiliation of the 1990s. Putin got it back in about three days without firing a shot.

Now Russia looms over the rest of eastern and southern Ukraine. Putin can take that anytime he wants — if he wants. He has already destabilized the nationalist government in Kiev. Ukraine is now truncated and on the life support of U.S. and European money (much of which — cash for gas — will end up in Putin’s treasury anyway).

Obama says Putin is on the wrong side of history, and Secretary of State John Kerry says Putin’s is “really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.”

This must mean that seeking national power, territory, dominion — the driving impulse of nations since Thucydides — is obsolete. As if a calendar change caused a revolution in human nature that transformed the international arena from a Hobbesian struggle for power into a gentleman’s club where violations of territorial integrity just don’t happen.

“That is not 21st-century, G-8, major-nation behavior,” says Kerry. Makes invasion sound like a breach of etiquette — like using the wrong fork at a Beacon Hill dinner party.

How to figure out Obama’s foreign policy? In his first U.N. speech, he says: “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.” On what planet? Followed by the assertion that “alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War” — like NATO? — “make no sense in an interconnected world.”

Putin’s more cynical advisers might have thought such adolescent universalism to be a ruse. But Obama coupled these amazing words with even more amazing actions.

(1) Upon coming into office, he initiated the famous “reset” to undo the “drift” in relations that had occurred during the George W. Bush years. But that drift was largely due to the freezing of relations Bush imposed after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Obama undid that pushback and wiped the slate clean — demanding nothing in return.

(2) Canceled missile-defense agreementswith Poland and the Czech Republic. Without even consulting them. A huge concession to Putin’s threats — while again asking nothing in return. And sending a message that, while Eastern Europe may think it achieved post-Cold War independence, in reality it remains in play, subject to Russian influence and interests.

(3) In 2012, Obama assured Dmitry Medvedev that he would be even more flexible with Putin on missile defense as soon as he got past the election.

(4) The Syria debacle. Obama painted himself into a corner on chemical weapons — threatening to bomb and then backing down — and allowed Putin to rescue him with a promise to get rid of Syria’s stockpiles. Obama hailed this as a great win-win, when both knew — or did Obama really not know? — that he had just conferred priceless legitimacy on Bashar al-Assad and made Russia the major regional arbiter for the first time in 40 years.

(5) Obama keeps cutting defense spending. His latest budget will reduce it to 3 percent of GDP by 2016 and cut the army to pre-Pearl Harbor size — just as Russia is rebuilding, as Iran is going nuclear and as China announces yet another 12-plus percent increase in military spending.

Puzzling. There is no U.S. financial emergency, no budgetary collapse. Obama declares an end to austerity — for every government department except the military.

Can Putin be faulted for believing that if he bites off Crimea and threatens Kiev, Obama’s response will be minimal and his ability to lead the Europeans even less so?

Would Putin have lunged for Ukraine if he didn’t have such a clueless adversary? No one can say for sure. But it certainly made Putin’s decision easier. …

Next weekend’s Crimean referendum will ask if it should be returned to Mother Russia. Can Putin refuse? He can already see the history textbooks: Catherine the Great took Crimea, Vlad (the Great?) won it back. Not bad for a 19th-century man.

Posted under Commentary, communism, Russia, Soviet Union, United States, War by Jillian Becker on Friday, March 7, 2014

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Chickens and carrots in blood-soaked Sudan 2

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.]

A conservative stands up for sharia 6

Michael Gerson, in an article at Townhall – a conservative website! – objects to Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment preventing the introduction of Islam’s sharia law into the state.

He claims that the measure was introduced to “to taunt a religious minority”, and dubs it “faith-baiting”, warning that other states could follow the example and introduce measures to “bait” Christians, for instance, or Hindus.

He tries to defend sharia:

Anti-Shariah activists argue that Shariah law controls every area of a Muslim’s life … and thus that Islam itself is incompatible with American democracy. Radical Islamists would nod in agreement to each of these claims…

Not surprising really, since the claims are true. But he has a different understanding:

Both are wrong. The proper interpretation of Shariah law is a subject of vigorous debate within Islam. There are some who would freeze societies in the cultural practices of seventh-century Arabia. But there are others who identify a core of Islamic teaching that is separable from the cultural assumptions of the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad. Predominantly Muslim nations take a variety of approaches to the application of Islamic law, from theocracy to official secularism.

Wherever did he get this idea of a “vigorous debate within Islam” over sharia or anything else? Where is “Islamic teaching separable from the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad”? What taqqiya (religiously sanctioned lies) has he been swallowing? He gives no sources, no references.

Most if not all states that have a majority Muslim population and a constitution  – and we have found only one exception  – claim that the basis of their  law is sharia. The exception was Turkey, but that is changing. Turkey is now governed by a religious party. The genuinely secular state  that Kemal Ataturk created is being dismantled and the Turks are returning to Islamic darkness.

Does Gerson actually know anything about sharia law? He goes on:

So is Shariah law compatible with democracy? In the totalitarian version of the Taliban, it cannot be reconciled with pluralism. But if Shariah is interpreted as a set of transcendent principles of fairness and justice

If it is so interpreted? It would be interesting to see how a system of law that has a woman’s testimony valued at half that of a man’s, and prescribes death for apostasy, to take just two examples, can be interpreted as “a set of transcendent principles of fairness and justice”.

He really seems not to know what he’s talking about. It is precisely this sort of deliberate blindness to what Islam is and intends that helps it towards its objective of domination.

He also seems to be unaware that sharia is creeping into Western countries and creating a great deal of justified anger and anxiety by the sort of “justice” the sharia courts are doling out. Muslim women in Britain, for instance, who had hoped for protection from sharia under British law, are now subjected to the “justice and fairness” of one or another of 85 sharia courts, whose rulings are enforced by the British state. They feel bitterly betrayed by the country in which they sought refuge from the subjugation that the law of Islam prescribes for them. (See our post Sharia in Britain, November 5, 2010.)

The state of Oklahoma, in our opinion, is foresightful and wise to bar sharia out. What is deplorable is that it has become necessary to take legislative action against it in the United States of America.

Posted under Britain, Commentary, Islam, jihad, Law, United Kingdom, United States by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, November 16, 2010

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