U.S. air power finally being used in the battle for Tikrit

Not long ago, it appeared that Shiite militias controlled by Iraq, with some assistance from the Iraqi army and Sunni tribesmen, would expel ISIS from Tikrit. The attacking forces, by all accounts, had significant numerical superiority over the ISIS defenders, and at one point reportedly had captured most of the town. After completing the job in Tikrit, it would be on the Mosul — a more difficult operation.

The U.S. was on the sidelines. The Shiites didn’t want us to be involved; the battle of Tikrit was to be the Iranian-dominated militias’ victory, not a victory shared with America. Nor did the U.S. seem eager to participate. Doing so would make our negotiating partner in Tehran unhappy while also disappointing our Sunni anti-ISIS coalition partners (notably Saudi Arabia), who would hardly relish U.S. cooperation with Iranian dominated militias.

But Tikrit hasn’t fallen. ISIS, though outnumbered, has held its own. It is not a paper tiger.

So now, the U.S. will join the battle. The Washington Post reports:

U.S. warplanes began striking Islamic State forces in and around the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Wednesday, drawing the United States directly into a battle that has pitted the militants against Iraqi forces dominated by Iranian-backed militias.

Pentagon officials said that the Iraqi government had requested the assistance as the fight for Tikrit stalled as it moved into its fourth week. They said initial targeting for the strikes will be aided by U.S.-led coalition surveillance aircraft that recently began flying over the city, 110 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Does this mean that the U.S. will be coordinating with the Iranian-dominated Shiite militias? The U.S. says no:

Lt. Col. Brian Fickel, a spokesman for Gen. Lloyd Austin III, head of the U.S. Central Command, said Iraqi security forces were in command of the Tikrit operation and that the United States and its allies were coordinating with those forces, not ­Iranian-backed paramilitaries.

However, it’s not easy to square this claim with consistent reports that the Shiite militias run the show. According to the Post, U.S. officials have estimated that these Shiite fighters outnumber official Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribal forces by about 5 to 1. Even an Iraqi military commander in the area concedes that “the operation [in Tikrit] was started by the popular mobilizations and has [been] continued by them — they have better weapons and ammunition than us; they have more support.”

The Obama administration is said to have conditioned our involvement on a diminished role for the militias and a larger one for government forces. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who has been advising forces around Tikrit, reportedly has left the area.

Maybe so. But the boots on the ground still are worn, to an overwhelming degree, by Shiite militiamen. Obama’s “conditions” seem like fig leafs.

Given this, is our decision to join the fight a good one? Compared to the alternative, the answer is probably yes.

If we remain on the sidelines, it becomes more likely that ISIS will maintain control over Tikrit. That’s a very unfavorable outcome. ISIS needs to be defeated. It seems absurd that, having committed to taking on ISIS with a focus on taking it on in Iraq, the U.S. would stand by and watch ISIS prevail in the most important current battle in Iraq.

It’s possible that the Shiite forces might eventually take Tikrit even if we don’t help them win. This too is a very bad outcome because it would bolster the prestige and influence of Iran at America’s expense. Haven’t we been marginalized enough without the added spectacle of Iranian backed foreces liberating an important Iraqi town while we limit ourselves to sideshow bombing missions in other parts of Iraq, far from the real action?

A more favorable outcome would be for the U.S. to be the force that turns the tide in Tikrit and helps inflict a major defeat on ISIS. Our participation may not bring this outcome about, but we can’t be the difference maker if we don’t participate.

To be sure, huge questions remain about what would happen after the Iranian-backed Shiite forces, with out help, retake Tikrit. We shouldn’t assume that, because we lent a decisive hand, we will be able to influence the aftermath. Perhaps we should assume the worst.

But the alternatives seem worse still.

Start a Government in Exile This Summer?

Two current controversies combine to suggest . . . a summer vacation idea! The Pacific Research Institute’s indefatigable leader Sally Pipes speculated some time ago that if the government continues to wreck health care with regulation and mandates, perhaps the answer would be offshore health clinics and hospitals—not like “offshore” banks in the Caymans or something, but offshore on ships, beyond the territorial boundaries of the United States, therefore making them more convenient to population centers as well as free from Obamacare mandates.

Then, too, if higher education continues its slow self-destruction at the hands of the ruling nihilists, perhaps real education will have to go offshore, too.

Well, why not become an early adopter for this model (well, not the health clinic part), and join moi on the Pacific Research Institute’s first ever Liberty-At-Sea cruise in the Baltics this August, from the 16th to the 23rd. Other speakers/partiers on the trip will include the aforementioned Ms. Pipes, columnist to the world Jonah Goldberg, Coolidge biographer and FDR scourge Amity Shlaes, Claremont Review editor Charles Kesler, and more.

We’ll be departing from Copenhagen, where I’ll do a madcap recap of the collapse of the UN’s 2009 climate summit there, and en route Amity Shlaes and I have cooked up a debate topic for an evening saloon misadventure: “Who was the greater president: Coolidge or Reagan?” Yes, I know, this sounds like arguing over which Himalayan peak is taller or harder to climb—Everest or K2? But that will be part of the charm of it.

As an added bonus, I’ll figure out some way to do some Power Line reader posts during the cruise, though if you’ve ever done internet on a cruise ship, you’ll know they still send data packets by carrier pigeon and smoke signal. But I’m sure Putin will have this fixed by the time we dock in St. Petersburg. And about that Reset Button. . .

Anyway, click on the link above for further details.  Who knows: we might just start our own government-in-exile.  For certain we’ll handicap the 2016 election cycle.

The Bergdahl deception

Today the Army announced that Bowe Bergdahl will be court-martialed on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Given the public comments of his platoon mates on the deal that resulted in his release, the file that supports the charges brought against him must be staggering.

Who can forget the celebration that President Obama orchestrated with Bergdahl’s parents at the White House to mark his return, or national security adviser Susan Rice’s praise of Bergdahl (“he served with honor and distinction”) in the face of the doubts raised about the celebration by his fellow soldiers in his platoon? The scenario disgraced and disfigured the high offices they hold.

Obama secured Bergdahl’s release in exchange for five of the worst Taliban officials detained at Guantanamo. At least some of them will resume their sinister activities shortly if they have not done so already. Coming as they do in the context of the final stages of the deal in process with Iran, the charges cast a wider illumination.

Congress was cut out of the deal; Obama declined to provide Congress the legally required notification to which it was entitled in connection with the release of the detainees.

As a “deal,” the exchange was pathetic. We gave up five former Taliban commanders and officials for a deserter whose desertion aided the enemy. The trade served as a pretext for otherwise indefensible actions in furtherance of Obama’s misguided mission to close Gitmo.

The war was supposedly over, except it’s not, and we were obligated to do anything necessary to bring Bergdahl home, even if he deserted, except we weren’t. Is there any precedent vindicating the supposed principle cited for the Bergdahl deal? Neither Obama nor Rice cited one. It remains a bad deal wrapped in deceitful rhetoric and a complete humiliation of the United States

Recalling Obama’s and Rice’s praise of the deal, we see that they are willing to say anything in defense of a bad cause. We already knew that, but there is much more to come.

MSNBC, Home of the Incompetent and the Bigoted

MSNBC is in free-fall, with its ratings down more than 40% over the last year. It is no mystery why: MSNBC’s standards are so low that its hosts and guests feel bound by no standards of intelligence or decency. A case in point occurred earlier today, when a guest on the Alex Wagner show, Jamilah Lemieux, said this about Ted Cruz’s statement that he started listening to country music because of the genre’s reaction to the September 11 attacks:

Nothing says “let’s go kill some Muslims” like country music, fresh from Lynchburg, Virginia.

Huh? Lynchburg, Virginia?

I mean, really? That’s absurd.

Yes, it was. Let’s go to the tape, which includes an on-air apology delivered by host Ari Melber not long after Ms. Lemieux’s “let’s go kill some Muslims” riff:

To some extent, of course, this episode reflects the fact that it is open season on Ted Cruz across the media landscape. (His taste in music? Seriously?) But MSNBC is a special case; it is hard to think of another “mainstream” news outlet where ignorance and bigotry are so utterly unrestrained. Well, maybe the New York Times.

Higher Ed Bubblegum?

Glenn Reynolds (among others) likes to write about the “higher education bubble.”  But maybe we’ve all missed higher education bubblegum?  With all of the difficulties law schools are having right now with declining enrollment (applications off overall by more than 50 percent from 10 years ago), it is good to know that at least Touro Law School has it’s priorities straight:

Billy Joel and the Law: A Touro Law Conference

On behalf of Touro Law Center, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the conference on Billy Joel & The Law, and to thank you for your participation. This conference follows in the path of previous conferences exploring connections between the work of a singer-songwriter and the American legal system. In 2005, Widener Law School hosted The Lawyer as Poet Advocate: Bruce Springsteen and the American Lawyer, and in 2011, Fordham Law School hosted Bob Dylan and the Law, co-sponsored by Touro Law Center. Building on the success of these events, we will consider ways in which Billy Joel’s work relates to American law, society, and culture. Sessions will offer a wide range of perspectives, including those of judges, lawyers, law professors, and music scholars. We look forward to a meaningful and entertaining event that will foster thought provoking conversations about the relevance of Billy Joel’s work to our understanding of the American legal system.

Hat tip: Paul Caron/TaxProfBlog, where the following comment appears:

Obligatory reminder that Touro:

- Has a 146 median LSAT, down from a 151 just a few years ago.
- Has lost about a third of its entering class size in the last few years.
- Costs nearly $73,000/year between tuition and living expenses
- Only 122 of 230 grads in the class of 2013 found FT, LT, license-required jobs within nine months of graduation at any salary.
- None were in BigLaw, pretty much the only job that can kinda justify $73,000 tuition & living expenses for the school.

It would seem that Touro would have priorities other than hosting a Billy Joel and the Law conference.

I’ll only go if the audience is made to sing Billy’s “Angry Young Man”:

And there’s always a place for the angry young man
With his fist in the air and his head in the sand
And he’s never been able to learn from mistakes
So he can’t understand why his heart always breaks
And his honor is pure and his courage is well
And he’s fair and he’s true and he’s boring as hell
And he’ll go to the grave as an angry old man

Yes there’s always a place for the angry young man
With his working class ties and his radical plans
He refuses to bend he refuses to crawl
And he’s always at home with his back to the wall
And he’s proud of his scars and the battles he’s lost
And struggles and bleeds as he hangs on his cross
And likes to be known as the angry young man.

Unfortunately, not enough law professors, and still fewer politicized students, hjave taken to heart the indispensable middle stanza of the tune:

I believe I’ve passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage
I found that just surviving was a noble fight
I once believed in causes too
I had my pointless point of view
And life went on no matter who was wrong or right.

Actually, scratch that bit about having the audience sing this.  Im fact, how about scratching the conference altogether, and just watching the original:

Liberals Turn on the First Amendment

It is no surprise that today’s Left has little use for free speech. Its predominant tactic is trying to bully its opponents into silence. Still, this New York Times article, titled “First Amendment, ‘Patron Saint’ of Protesters, Is Embraced by Corporations,” is of interest, if only for the lack of self-knowledge on display.

Liberals used to love the First Amendment. But that was in an era when courts used it mostly to protect powerless people like civil rights activists and war protesters.

The First Amendment protects people who are being told to shut up. These days, those people are mostly conservatives.

Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia, described the shift in First Amendment doctrine in 2013 in The New Republic.

“Once the patron saint of protesters and the disenfranchised, the First Amendment has become the darling of economic libertarians and corporate lawyers who have recognized its power to immunize private enterprise from legal restraint,” Professor Wu wrote.

From legal restraint on speech, yes. That is the purpose of the First Amendment. Corporations like the New York Times Company and the Sierra Club have free speech rights, just like individuals.

In the next two decades, the Supreme Court continued to protect dissent, twice voting to strike down laws banning flag burning. But now, Professor Neuborne wrote, broad coalitions of justices also voted to protect the powerful.

Have you noticed a clause in the First Amendment saying that it doesn’t apply to “the powerful?” No, I haven’t either. Of course, when liberals refer to “the powerful,” they don’t mean journalists, liberal philanthropists, labor unions, government officials and so on. They mean people who have money that the liberals would like to get their hands on.

Before 1976, First Amendment challenges from corporations generally involved companies in the business of free expression, like newspapers, book publishers and film producers. More recently, companies have filed free-speech challenges to laws regulating how ordinary products may be marketed or advertised.

Of course, the First Amendment doesn’t only apply to people who are “in the business of free expression.” It protects you and me, and companies that don’t publish newspapers, too.

Professor Coates also analyzed data from federal appeals courts, finding that “businesses are growing steadily more aggressive in their use of the First Amendment.” Court dockets these days are full of free-speech challenges from pharmaceutical firms, tobacco companies, miners, meat producers and airlines.

Such lawsuits, he wrote, have pernicious consequences for both free enterprise and the rule of law. Corporations are diverting resources from research and innovation to litigation, he wrote.

This is unintentionally hilarious. Litigation distracts companies from research and innovation? Do tell! Liberals have finally found a category of litigation they don’t like.

In a recent essay, Laurence H. Tribe, a law professor at Harvard, offered a cautious partial defense of the Citizens United decision. But he said it was an instance of a larger phenomenon.

“It is part of a trend in First Amendment law that is transforming that body of doctrine into a charter of largely untrammeled libertarianism,” he wrote….

“A charter of largely untrammeled libertarianism” is a pretty good description of the First Amendment, and, for that matter, the Constitution as a whole. Liberals’ hostility toward free speech is merely a function of the fact that their oxen are now, on occasion, being gored.

Behind Obama’s faux outrage at Netanyahu

David Bernstein highlights the astonishing dishonesty behind President Obama’s latest case of “faux outrage” at Benjamin Netanyahu. The premise for Obama’s outrage is Netanyahu’s statement just before the election that, given regional instability and the PA’s collaboration with Hamas, there will be no Palestinian state under his watch.

Netanyahu has since softened this position a bit. But Team Obama harumphs that it doesn’t believe the softened version and that election rhetoric has consequences.

Bernstein shows, however, that Obama knows the election rhetoric in question was a response to his own anti-Netanyahu electioneering — specifically to attempts by the president to alienate Netanyahu from his right-wing supporters:

On March 6, less than two weeks before the election, a major Israeli newspaper published a document showing that Netanyahu’s envoy had agreed on his behalf to an American-proposed framework that offered substantial Israeli concessions that Netanyahu publicly opposed. Let’s put on our thinking caps. Where would this leak have come from? The most logical suspect is the American State Department.

So here’s the dynamic: Netanyahu, while talking tough publicly about terms for an Israeli-Palestinian deal, was much more accommodating privately during actual negotiations. Just before Israeli elections, the U.S. government likely leaks evidence of his flexibility to harm Netanyahu. As a result, Netanyahu starts to lose right-wing voters to smaller parties, and the left-leaning major opposition party takes a lead in the polls, putting Netanyahu’s leadership in question, just as the U.S. wanted.

Netanyahu responds by using increasingly right-wing rhetoric (including denying that he ever agreed to the framework in question), to win back the voters from smaller parties that the leak cost him. He wins, and almost immediately announces that his campaign rhetoric was misunderstood, and that he still supports a two-state solution when conditions allow. The Obama Administration then announces it nevertheless has to reassess relations with Israel, allegedly because Netanayahu is no longer committed to the two-state solution.

In sum, Obama knows that Netanyahu has shown flexibility with the Palestinians during negotiations; tries to use this flexibility against Netanyahu in the election; and now uses Netanyahu’s defense against Obama’s gambit as the basis for attacking the Israeli prime minister in the election’s aftermath. Netanyahu responds that he is, in fact, amenable to negotiating flexibly. Team Obama, having almost surely leaked evidence of Netanyahu’s flexibility, pretends not to believe that Netanyahu is flexible.

In a way, you have to admire the deep cynicism of Obama’s game. If only he played anything approaching this level of hardball with Iran and Russia. Unfortunately, Iran and Russia aren’t his enemies.

What is the purpose of Obama’s dishonest attack on Netanyahu? Ideally, he’d like to pressure Netanyahu into making more concessions to the Palestinians than he previously has. There’s a long pattern of manufacturing outrage at Netanyahu for this purpose.

But Obama probably understands that there isn’t going to be a peace agreement during the relatively short remainder of his administration and that, thereafter, all bets are off. Thus, Obama’s conniving conduct probably has an additional purpose.

Might that purpose be to alienate Israel from America, including American Jews? I suspect so.