Assad and ISIS are 2014′s biggest winners, thanks in part to Obama

During the next few days, pundits will be designating their “winners and losers” of 2014. There can be little doubt about the year’s two biggest winners. Clearly, they are Bashar al-Assad and ISIS. Third place goes to Iran, which finds itself in greatly improved economic shape and within striking distance of becoming a nuclear power.

But that’s nothing compared to Assad’s remarkable, turnaround year. As Seth Mandel, quoting NPR, reminds us:

At the beginning of 2014, Syrian President Bashar Assad had agreed to send his ministers to take part in negotiations in Switzerland, and his future as Syria’s ruler was not looking very bright.

He was accused of killing tens of thousands of his own people in a civil war that was nearly three years old. The opposition was demanding Assad’s ouster. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Switzerland and called loudly for a political transition in Syria. He was clear about who would not be involved.

“Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way — no way possible in the imagination — that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern,” he said.

Fast-forward to the present. Those talks were abandoned. Assad is still in the presidential palace in Damascus. And although the United States is bombing Syria, it’s not targeting Assad’s army but the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS.

Most astonishingly, as Middle East expert Joshua Landis told NPR, Assad “has the United States as a strategic ally.”

ISIS also had a phenomenal 2014. At the beginning of the year, President Obama proclaimed it al Qaeda’s “jayvee.” Even discounting for Obama’s shocking ignorance of world affairs, one must marvel at ISIS’s romp through Iraq, coupled with its successes in Syria. Now installed on the outskirts of Baghdad as well as on the Turkish-Syrian border, “the jayvee” controls, to one degree or another, an area that Landis says is the size of Britain.

There are common denominators in these two success stories. One is the cluelessness of the Obama administration. A year ago, John Kerry found it beyond the imagination that Assad could remain a legitimate head of state. Now Assad the United States is a “strategic ally.”

A year ago, Obama ridiculed ISIS as the jayvee. Now, against every instinct he possesses, Obama is sending U.S. military personnel to help fight it.

A second common denominator is the Obama administration’s role in the successes of Assad and ISIS. If, early on, the U.S. had established a no-fly zone in Syria, as many advocated, Assad almost surely would not have made his stunning comeback.

If in addition to establishing a no-fly zone, Obama early on had provided robust support to Assad’s non-jihadist opposition, Assad might have been overthrown. In the same scenario, with the U.S. and the non-jihadist opposition an effective force, ISIS would not likely have risen in Syria.

Finally, if Obama had not pulled all of our troops out of Iraq, it’s far less likely that ISIS could have pulled off its blitzkrieg there. Even if Obama had merely recognized the threat posed by ISIS a year ago and acted accordingly back then, the situation in Iraq would be significantly less parlous.

The final common denominator is the relationship between the success of Assad and of ISIS. As Hassan Hassan, an analyst at the Delma Institute, a research center in Abu Dhabi, put it:

Assad has been key to [ISIS's] rise in Syria and beyond. When Islamic radicals took over Raqqa, the first province to fall under rebels’ control in its entirety, it was remarkable that the regime did not follow the same policy it had consistently employed elsewhere, which is to shower liberated territories with bombs, day and night.

Raqqa was saved the fate of Deir Ezzor, Aleppo, Homs and Deraa. ISIS soon controlled the province, painted government buildings in black and turned them into bases. The group’s bases were easy to spot, for about a year and a half. Elsewhere, too, Assad allowed ISIS to grow and fester. The regime has been buying oil from it and other extremist groups after it lost control of most of the country’s oilfields and gas plants.

By the same token, ISIS has contributed to Assad’s comeback. Initially, fear of Islamist groups helped cause the U.S. to back off supporting Assad’s overthrow. Now, it is pushing us into a “strategic alliance” with the butcher.

Who, then, is the biggest loser of 2014? Not Barack Obama. From all that appears, he cares practically nothing about the successes of Assad and Iran (a close ally, by the way, of the Syrian dictator), and little about the rise of ISIS. His interest is in the radical transformation of the United States. In 2014 he doubled-down on advancing that interest through administrative fiat.

The losers are ordinary Iraqis and Syrians, and also U.S. strategic interests. As Mandel concludes:

ISIS is undermining our attempts to leave behind a stable Iraq and splitting territory next door in Syria with Assad, Iran’s proxy. It’s true that Assad had a pretty good year considering where he was heading into 2014. But that’s another way of saying America’s enemies had a pretty good year.

Green Weenie of the Year: Andrew Cuomo

Green Weenie Wide copy

There is fierce competition for Power Line’s coveted Green Weenie of the Year Award. Up until just a few days ago I’d have said that the Westboro Environmentalists (better known by their trade name “Greenpeace”) had our annual supreme Weenie award locked up for their appalling stunt in Peru earlier this month, where the Westboro Environmental narcissists defaced a millennia-old Inca archeological site.

There’s been some late entries in the sweepstakes, including squirrels, who are now said to be contributing to global warming, which makes perfect sense for a movement that says, “Look, squirrel!” at every opportunity. Seriously:

First it was beavers. Now climate scientists are criticizing squirrels for their contribution to global warming. Researchers presented findings to the American Geophysical Union at a fall meeting in San Francisco, Calif., that squirrels are causing vast greenhouse gas reserves in permafrost to be released, which is contributing to global warming. . .

Vast amounts of carbon dioxide accumulates in the Arctic permafrost and remains frozen in the soil year-round. That is, until squirrels dig it up and release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, driving temperature rises, according to scientists.

Also, beavers:

What the world has been doing to prevent beavers’ extinction may actually be accelerating their demise, according to a study from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.

Apparently, beaver ponds cause more methane to be released into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming and leaving scientists with an interesting question: how do we stop beaver methane?

Beaver methane? Great: another thing to worry about. Forget the butterfly beating its wings: A beaver builds a dam in Siberia, and next think you know Hurricane Sandy prompts a thousand stupid op-eds halfway around the world. Worse if that beaver somehow drowns the butterfly before it can beat its wings.

I’m starting to think this article, “Scientists Are Not That Smart,” may be on to something.

Green Weenie Mug copyBut despite these gallant efforts to make the final round for Green Weenie of the Year, we have to give it to New York governor Andrew Cuomo, for his decision to issue a total ban on hydraulic fracturing in New York state. About 40 percent of upstate New York sits on the Marcellus shale, which is producing prodigious amounts of natural gas (and prodigious amounts of income growth) in Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. It is also a region that has been suffering economic decline for decades. Cuomo has just said to this region: we Manhattanites don’t care about you.

Cuomo is making this decision for the most craven of reasons: it is a non-negotiable demand of the far left, which is well organized in New York, and not just to advocate shooting cops, either. They also want to shoot dead any chance of renewed prosperity for rural New York.

The amazing thing is that Cuomo is so ham-fisted that he managed to annoy environmentalists in his announcement by not sticking exactly to the climatista script. Hence this hilarious complaint from Grist.com:

The only troubling part of Wednesday’s meeting came at the end when Cuomo took questions from the press. One reporter noted that Cuomo had focused entirely on the local health and environmental impacts of fracking, not on the global warming implications of natural gas production. (Natural gas produces half as much CO2 as coal when burned, but with methane leakage it may be just as bad for climate change as any other fossil fuel.) Cuomo reiterated his recent bizarre assertion that discussion of the causes of climate change is “political.” In response to a climate question, Cuomo said, “What I want to keep the focus on is extreme weather because that’s inarguable; it’s non-political.” He went on to echo his earlier comments about not being a scientist. “As a lawyer, my personal opinion is that [climate change] is partially caused by humans,” said Cuomo. But he hastened to add that he doesn’t know what proportion of climate change is anthropogenic or whether it’s “disproportionate.”

Everything about Cuomo’s take on climate science is inexplicably weaselly and nonsensical. . .

Even politically, it makes no sense. Cuomo is mimicking cowardly Republicans who dodge questions about climate science by noting they aren’t scientists so as to avoid either angering their base by accepting it or sounding like an idiot by rejecting it. Cuomo is a Democrat, and unless he plans on switching parties, he has nothing to fear from accepting the scientific consensus.

How’s that for gratitude? But at least he has a handsome Green Weenie Award to go on his mantle.

What a receding tide reveals

Ukraine’s parliament voted yesterday to remove a legal impediment to joining the NATO defense alliance. The vote ends Ukraine’s “non-aligned” status which it had adopted to assure Russia it would not join NATO. 303 members out of a possible 450 voted for the change.

They did so knowing that NATO will not accept Ukraine as a member in the foreseeable future. Membership would carry with it security guarantees. And, as the Washington Post observes, “many Western leaders have been cautious about extending security guarantees to Ukraine if that could mean a war with Russia.”

Meanwhile, also yesterday, four leaders of other former Soviet states met in Moscow to discuss arrangements for an economic alliance. Putin described the discussions as “stormy.”

According to the Washington Post, the alliance “was to have been Vladimir Putin’s top foreign policy triumph: A grand alliance to rival the European Union, stretching from Ukraine to the Pacific.”

However, without Ukraine, which was to have been “its jewel,” the pact — which will include Belarus, Kazakhstan, and probably Kyrgyzstan — is looking like a dud. Indeed, according to the Post, Russia’s partners in the pact are balking at giving up sovereignty to the extent Putin would like. Moreover, the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan have visited Kiev in recent days, and have announced programs to support Ukraine, which is in economic crisis.

In sum, Ukraine has made a strong symbolic stand against Russia at great military and economic risk. Belarus and Kazakhstan are offering some support to Ukraine and pushing back against Russian demands. But NATO, to again quote the Post, has “offered little support for Ukraine.” And President Obama offers pre-packaged meals, rather than arms, to Ukrainian troops.

Writing recently about Putin, Thomas Friedman applied Warren Buffett’s quote that “only when the tide goes out do you find out who is not wearing a bathing suit.” His point? Now that oil prices have plunged, Putin has been exposed.

By the same token, though, when the tide goes out you find out who has balls. Ukraine has them. So does Putin. NATO does not. Without them, what purpose can it serve?

A word from Jason Riley

Jason Riley is a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board and author of Please Stop Helping Us. He has powerfully condemned the disgusting currents of disgrace and dishonesty running through the Obama administration’s war on law enforcement. The video below (transcript here) captures him in outstanding form on the FOX News Special Report panel this week. Will somebody say amen?

Via Jason Riley’s Twitter feed.

Teenager Shot In Missouri: So What?

One of this morning’s big news stories is the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Antonio Martin by a policeman in Berkeley, Missouri–a place that, the Associated Press tells us helpfully, is “just a few miles from Ferguson.” The Antonio Martin shooting is currently the top story on Google News, and it is being headlined on pretty much every newspaper’s website.

But why? What makes this a major news story? The Michael Brown and Eric Garner stories that preceded it, obviously. But what made them worldwide news? Or, to go back in time, what made the Trayvon Martin case a cause célèbre, commented on by the President of the United States and followed breathlessly by millions?

The Antonio Martin case won’t be as big a story as Brown’s and Garner’s deaths. Rather than being your typical “unarmed” 300-pounder, Martin apparently pulled a 9 mm. pistol on the policeman who responded by shooting him. But every shooting of a civilian by a police officer is now deemed an important news story–with the critical qualification that the civilian, but not the officer, be black.

Are these shootings worldwide news because of an epidemic of racist murders being carried out by American policemen? That is what Eric Holder, Bill DeBlasio and Al Sharpton would have us believe. But it obviously isn’t true. Heather Mac Donald writes:

Police killings of blacks are an extremely rare feature of black life and are a minute fraction of black homicide deaths. The police could end all killings of civilians tomorrow and it would have no effect on the black homicide risk, which comes overwhelmingly from other blacks. In 2013, there were 6,261 black homicide victims in the U.S.—almost all killed by black civilians—resulting in a death risk in inner cities that is ten times higher for blacks than for whites. None of those killings triggered mass protests; they are deemed normal and beneath notice. The police, by contrast, according to published reports, kill roughly 200 blacks a year, most of them armed and dangerous, out of about 40 million police-civilian contacts a year. Blacks are in fact killed by police at a lower rate than their threat to officers would predict. In 2013, blacks made up 42 percent of all cop killers whose race was known, even though blacks are only 13 percent of the nation’s population. The percentage of black suspects killed by the police nationally is 29 percent lower than the percentage of blacks mortally threatening them.

These stories about the killings of African-American men by police officers (or by a “neighborhood watch captain,” in Trayvon Martin’s case) are all what my long-time radio and podcast partner Brian Ward calls “stories of choice.” They are plucked from a nearly endless supply of sad events that occur daily in a nation of 315 million, and are promoted because they further a political narrative. An unholy alliance of activists and newspaper reporters and editors tries to distort our perception of reality by giving undue emphasis to them. Then, of course, reality begins to catch up with perception, and we have riots, murders of police officers, and so on. But understand that the decision to promote these stories, in preference to others that are equally or more newsworthy, is a choice that is consciously made by people with a political agenda.

To stand with the police

President Obama is dispatching Vice President Biden to attend the funeral of murdered NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos this weekend. Officer Ramos leaves a wife and teenage sons behind. Jaden Ramos is the younger of the two sons. On Sunday he took to Facebook to post a distraught message declaring it the worst day of his life. He subsequently added:

Today I had to say bye to my father. He was their for me everyday of my life, he was the best father I could ask for. It’s horrible that someone gets shot dead just for being a police officer. Everyone says they hate cops but they are the people that they call for help. I will always love you and I will never forget you. RIP Dad.

Obama is on vacation; he has the Do Not Disturb sign out. And attending funerals is a traditional part of the vice president’s job description. Most recently, for example, Biden attended the funeral of the late Boston Mayor Thomas Menino along with other worthies such as Bill Clinton. Biden was the perfect man for the job.

And, sorry to say, Obama could easily have done worse than Biden. He could have sent Eric Holder, or Al Sharpton. Still, Biden is a farceur. He represents something of an indignity.

Those of us who are sickened by the Obama administration’s war on law enforcement must ask what we can do to stand with the police. In Sanford, North Carolina, several hundred residents lined up to show support for their local law enforcement on Tuesday evening. It should be happening all over the country.

At the least, we should do everything we can to amplify the voice of Heather Mac Donald in opposition to the big lie of the anti-cop left, now including the president of the United States. Maybe it’s best that he stay in Hawaii during Officer Ramos’s funeral after all.

In Minnesota, John and I have been fighting against “the big lie” for a long time. See, e.g., my Federalist Society talk “Bias in the air.” But the big lie prevails. It permeates our public discourse. And there is so much more to be done.

For Your Holiday Listening/Viewing Pleasure

If you’re tired of watching the umpteeth rerun of Burl Ives narrating the obvious Communist parable about the red-nosed reindeer, then here are two new electronic distractions worth taking in.

First, our friends at Liberty Fund have done a terrific podcast with William Voegeli, author of The Pity Party.  (And as I’ve been saying for weeks, you can’t have a good party without inviting the author of The Pity Party.  By the way, those of you who have taken our advice and read the book should do Bill the favor of putting up a five-star review on Amazon.com. These reviews are actually quite important for sales, etc., and the left sometimes floods the Amazon reviews to suppress a book.)  One thing Liberty Fund podcast impresario Richard Reinsch draws out in this conversation is how liberals resolutely refuse to do any serious evaluation of their policies, or avert their gaze when the evidence piles up (such as with Head Start) that their policies don’t work.

Which brings us to the latest “Conversations with Kristol,” featuring one of the smartest persons I’ve ever met—tech entrepreneur and author Jim Manzi.  Manzi, author of Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial and Error for Business, Politics, and Society, makes his living as founder and chairman of Applied Predictive Technologies, which measures real-world impact of business marketing strategies.  Jim has long been an advocate of policy evaluation in exactly the way Voegeli suggests, but understands government is not very good at this.  One excerpt from his conversation with Bill Kristol shows you what I mean:

“I remember seeing these economists confidently saying…these will be the effects of this amount of stimulus spending. I thought: you can’t possibly know that. I just spent ten years figuring out how many Snickers bars ought to go on a shelf at the local convenience store. Predicting what effect that was going to have was really hard. I don’t believe you really know this.”

Here’s the entire interview, but you can find individual segments at the link above: