Why Obama slept

Add Michael Morrell to the growing list of Obama administration officials and former officials who consider ISIS a clear and immediate threat to the United States. Morrell, who served two shifts as Obama’s acting CIA director, said on Face the Nation that ISIS’s rise presents “the most complex terrorism problem that I have ever seen.”

What should the U.S. do in response? First, says Morrell, the United States must help push ISIS out of the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria. Second its leaders must be captured of killed.

Morrell acknowledged that these objectives cannot easily be achieved. But according to Mike Rogers, head of the House Intelligence Committee, it’s actually worse than that.

Appearing on Meet the Press, Rogers said that, with ISIS “one plane ticket away from U.S. shores,” the U.S. intelligence and military services and administration policy are “just not configured in a way to continue a tempo that allows disruption” of ISIS.

Note that Rogers is talking about “disruption” of ISIS, not the kind of rollback Morrell says is required. If we we’re not “configured” even to seriously disrupt ISIS, we face the very real threat of many plane tickets for its terrorists to our shores.

But how can it be that we are not “configured” to disrupt what Chuck Hagel, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and now Mike Morrell agree is a force that presents a massive threat to homeland security? These folks have, after all, been five of the very most important figures in the national security policy arena under President Obama. Collectively, they helped configure our intelligence and military policies and the administration’s national security policy.

Moreover, they inherited instruments and policies well-designed for the express purpose of enabling the U.S. not only to disrupt terrorist organizations, but to expel them from territory and kill or capture their leaders. And these policies had worked, pushing al Qaeda into the mountains of Afghanistan, defeating al Qaeda in Iraq, and imprisoning many hundreds of leading terrorists.

How did we fall so far, so fast?

The answer is straightforward. President Obama found our successful anti-terrorist instruments and policies distasteful. He also perceived political advantage in telling Americans that terrorism was no longer much of a threat, and therefore that we had no further use for the offending instruments and policies.

Not only could we dispense with harsh interrogation techniques and U.S. “boots on the ground” to oppose terrorists, we could actually “pivot” away from the entire subcontinent infected with jihadists and slash our military budget.

As we pointed out several times, Obama could make these claims only by defining the terrorist threat as limited to something he called “core al Qaeda.” It was a bit like the joke about the guy who looks for his car keys under a street lamp, not because he lost them there but because the light is better.

In this instance, Obama focused on terrorists as they were configured circa 2002 not because that’s where the threat was coming from but for precisely the opposite reason — because it’s where the threat had largely been quelled. They keys weren’t under that lamp, but Obama looked good in that light.

Now that ISIS has shined its light in Syria and Iraq, Obama doesn’t look so good. And Americans who have been paying attention don’t feel so safe.

Sharpton’s shape

Al Sharpton has survived and overcome disgraces and scandals galore, without accounting and without apology. As polite liberal society turns a blind eye, Sharpton keeps moving. In case you have missed it, Sharpton now holds down his own show on MSNBC. He remains an unsurpassed racial hustler.

With the troubles in Ferguson, Sharpton has reemerged to peddle his usual goods. The AP’s Adam Geller takes a look back and declares that Sharpton “seizes the moment.” Doesn’t he always?

Howard Kurtz is pained to find Sharpton “working both sides of the street” as a participant and commentator. Kurtz notes Sharpton’s rising to his current status:

Reporter Glenn Thrush says that “the White House, as the crisis following Brown’s death seemed to flare out of control, worked extensively behind the scenes to maximize The Rev’s doing what he does, using him as both a source of information and a go-between. After huddling with Brown’s family and local community leaders, Sharpton connected directly with White House adviser and First Friend Valerie Jarrett, vacationing in her condo in the exclusive Oak Bluffs section of Martha’s Vineyard, not far from where President Obama and his family were staying.”

So Sharpton is working the back channels on the administration’s behalf. That means MSNBC, through one of its most prominent hosts, is in cahoots with the White House. Plenty of pundits at the liberal-leaning network defend Obama, but when Sharpton does it, viewers may not realize that they’ve forged a political partnership.

The source of much of this, not surprisingly, is Sharpton, who spoke to Politico on the record.

Kurtz is dismayed by Sharpton’s multiple roles, implying there is a conflict of interest among them:

When a racial controversy erupts, Sharpton is there. He has a vested interest in keeping it alive, which keeps him in the spotlight.

In the Trayvon [Martin] case, he met with the family and its attorney, Ben Crump (who is also representing Michael Brown’s family). One minute, he was speaking as their advocate. The next, he was interviewing them on his show. This isn’t blurring the lines, it’s obliterating them.

Now we see the same syndrome in the Ferguson tragedy. Sharpton with the family. Sharpton leading rallies. Sharpton quietly working with Obama. Sharpton denouncing the police on MSNBC. How is this allowed?

It’s a good question, but it applies to Sharpton’s continuing career in its entirety. The apparent conflicts in Sharpton’s multiple roles are the least of it. Despite his multiple roles, Sharpton is always a the racial demagogue promoting Al Sharpton. So who is Al Sharpton?

Although Sharpton is accorded an absurdly respected role in the Democratic Party, he is easily one of the most vile men active in American public life. Jay Nordlinger reviewed Sharpton’s record as of early 2000 in his brilliant National Review feature article “Power Dem.” Jay updated his take on Sharpton in his Impromptus column “Words from Pope Al.”

From his promotion of Tawana Brawley’s hoax and his defamation of Steven Pagones and Robert Abrams, to his defense of the Central Park “wilding” rapists, to his role in the pogroms leading to the murders of Yankel Rosenbaum in Crown Heights and eight victims in Freddy’s Fashion Mart in Harlem, Sharpton has compiled a record that should result in his excommunication by decent people from civil society.

Here is Sharpton on the accidental death of Gavin Cato in Crown Heights in August 1991:

The world will tell us that [Gavin Cato] was killed by accident….What type of city do we have that would allow politics to rise above the blood of innocent babies?…Talk about how Oppenheimer in South Africa sends diamonds straight to Tel Aviv and deals with the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights….All we want to say is what Jesus said: If you offend one of these little ones, you got to pay for it. No compromise. Pay for your deeds….It’s no accident that we know we should not be run over. We are the royal family on the planet. We are the original man. We gazed into the stars and wrote astrology. We had a conversation and that became philosophy….We will win because we are right. God is on our side.

Writing in the Village Voice in December 2004, Wayne Barrett proclaimed Sharpton to have hit “a new low.” And Sharpton of course contributed to the miscarriage of justice represented by the dismissed rape charges brought against the three Duke lacrosse players. In an April 2006 interview with Bill O’Reilly, Sharpton said (among other things): “This case parallels Abner Louima, who was raped and sodomized in a bathroom like this girl has alleged she was. That’s the case and just like the Louima case, you have people saying she fabricated it. They said he fabricated it — two guys in jail right now for that.”

In 2010, Sharpton appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show peddling the Democratic Party’s line tarring opponents of Obamacare and Obama’s program of national socialism as racists. Sharpton told O’Reilly that he had seen the (non-existent) tape showing Tea Party protesters abusing black congressmen with racial epithets. In the video above, O’Reilly called Sharpton on his bald-faced lie.

In the 2011 New York Daily News column “What Crown Heights taught me,” Sharpton reflected on the events in Crown Heights 20-plus years ago. Sharpton found that that he had grown. “Growing” is of course an essential part of the Sharpton hustle.

Sharpton presented his contribution to the events in Crown Heights through a gauzy filter. He alluded to rather than quoted his remarks on Gavin Cato’s death. And he omitted any reference to his taunt: “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.”

One wonders. Has Sharpton grown since the Tawana Brawley hoax? Since the rape hoax perpetrated against the Duke lacrosse players? Since the false imputation of racism to th Tea Party opponents of Obamcare? Even as he has shed hundreds of pounds, he must have grown to become one of the largest men of our times.

Nevertheless, the evidence that this particular tiger has changed his stripes is, shall we say, lacking.

NOTE: Having written about Sharpton here many times previously, I have borrowed from previous posts for this one.

The Syria Coalition’s frustration with Obama boils over

The Syria Coalition — the non-jihadist Syrian rebels whose requests for help President Obama has largely blown off for years — has issued a statement ascribing “much of the responsibility” for James Foley’s execution to the United States for “not react[ing] to the Assad regime’s repeated crossing of the red lines it had drawn and warned against crossing.” You can read the reasoning here.

How fair is the Syria Coalition’s charge? As I understand it, Foley initially fell into the hands of forces loyal to the Assad regime. This occurred in November 2012.

How did Foley wind up with ISIS? Either ISIS captured him from Assad’s military or Assad’s military handed him over to ISIS. Given the extent of cooperation between Assad and ISIS, I would probably bet on the latter scenario.

To the extent the Syria Coalition’s charge focuses on “red lines,” the question is, had Obama taken military action in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, would Foley not have been executed. Given the facts surrounding Foley’s abduction and chain of custody, the answer, I think, is that Obama’s response, or lack thereof, probably had no effect on Foley’s fate.

The more interesting question is whether Obama’s refusal to attack Assad’s assets even after he used chemical weapons contributed to the rise of ISIS. Superficially, the answer would seem to be no. Presumably, weakening Assad would not have weakened ISIS. (Some have argued that it would have strengthened ISIS, though given the odd symbiotic relationship between the two, that argument is questionable).

But I contend that when Obama backed down, he delivered a victory not just to Assad, but to ISIS and all other jihadist rebel groups. Why? Because with that decision, Obama undercut the non-jihadist rebels.

The warring factions in Syria all rely on foreign support. Assad relies on Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah. The various jihadist rebel groups rely on various Arab countries (though ISIS now seems well on the road to self-sufficiency).

The non-jihadist Syria Coalition has tried to rely on the United States. When Obama backed down after threatening military action against Assad, he confirmed what the players in Syria had long suspected — that the U.S. was not a reliable supporter and that the Syria Coalition was thus a marginal player.

Accordingly, as I said at the time, Obama dealt a serious blow to the non-jihadist opposition to Assad. And by doing so, Obama advanced the interests of jihadist groups like ISIS.

The bitter words of the Syria Coalition reflect the extent of the blow Obama dealt by not following through on his “red line” related threats. They also reflect years of frustration with the administration’s overall lack of support.

As Noah Rothman points out, it isn’t exactly in the interests of the Syria Coalition to seize upon the Foley execution as a basis for lambasting Obama when it’s still hoping (perhaps realistically, for the first time) that the U.S. will finally take military action inside Syria.

But Obama has let these people down too many times for them to pull any punches now. The Foley connection they attempt to draw is attenuated. But Obama’s contribution to the rise of ISIS is direct and, in my view, indisputable.

Propping Up Obama

The left-liberal establishment is in crisis at the moment.  They can’t make up their mind between desperately trying to prop up Obama, and giving up on him and increasing their distance.  Maureen Dowd has given up, judging from her brutal column “The Golf Address.” Up at Princeton, Cornel West, always an Obama skeptic (around 2012 he called Obama “Nelson Rockefeller in blackface”), is calling Obama a “counterfeit” Progressive:

[T]he thing is he posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency. The torturers go free. The Wall Street executives go free. The war crimes in the Middle East, especially now in Gaza, the war criminals go free. And yet, you know, he acted as if he was both a progressive and as if he was concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality and it turned out that he’s just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair.

Oh-kaaay.  (Memo to Robbie George: Just how is it that you team-teach a class with this guy?)  I love it: Obama just isn’t left enough.  (Memo to Cornel: This is a good as it’s ever going to get for you. You can put away your fantasy of Lizzie Warren going all Lizzie Borden on capitalism.  Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.)

On the other hand, it is curious to take in Progressive historian Michael Kazin in The New Republic, who really wants to like and defend Obama.  But he says that Obama suffers from a case of political ADD.  He just can’t focus without his meds?

Why has Barack Obama—one of the most eloquent and thoughtful of recent presidents—become such a terrible politician?

Michael, I can think of some reasons. But please continue, I’m enjoying this.

Midway through his sixth year in office, his ineptitude is pretty clear. He frustrated and demobilized the huge base he built during his campaigns and, unless the polls turn around quickly, will be watching from the White House as the GOP takes full control of Congress this fall. . . the president has become a rather boring and insignificant figure.

The problem, Kazin thinks, is that Obama is just too darn pragmatic.  But I’m confused here; I always thought being pragmatic was the highest form of praise from liberals.  Maybe my mentor M. Stanton Evans was right when he said years ago that “The trouble with pragmatism is that it doesn’t work.”  According to Kazin, it isn’t working for Obama:

In 2011, the intellectual historian James Kloppenberg wrote a widely reviewed book in which he praised Obama for being, in the philosophical sense, a brilliant and authentic pragmatist—one whose mistrust of ideological certainties would make him an effective leader. But while every sane politician needs a dose of skepticism, he or she also needs a strong sense of mission—or else their only appeal will be as a somewhat lesser evil. Instead of helping him navigate the political rapids, Obama’s sober mistrust of ideology and partisanship has left him without the ability to change the course of the nation or the thinking of its citizens in any significant way. . .  if he truly cares about his legacy, he ought to realize, right now, that pragmatism is never enough.

Behold, among Obama’s hidden talents is his ability to make liberals even more foolish and incoherent than usual.  Actually what Kazin’s lament makes clear is that the usual liberal cant about pragmatism is utterly insincere.  It is a way for liberals to deny they are being ideological.  (Jonah Goldberg beats down on this trope masterfully in The Tyranny of Cliches.)  So what Kazin is really saying is that Obama is incompetent at the liberal straddle: he’s no good as an ideologue, and he’s lousy at pragmatism.  His golf handicap is his only handicap that is improving in office.

Together with the Amartya Sen article I noted here yesterday, The New Republic is 0 for 2 this week in its attempt to produce iconoclastic thinking like they used to that might make the left reflect seriously on its troubles.

The Ferguson Mystery

There are plenty of unanswered questions about the death of Michael Brown, but there is only one real mystery: why won’t the authorities tell us Officer Darren Wilson’s side of the story?

Charles Ogletree is a goofball left-wing professor at Harvard Law School and, no surprise, a mentor to Barack Obama. But Ogletree inadvertently stumbled over the truth in a television interview:

NBC talked to Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree, who had this to say:

“I think the first thing that needs to happen, you need to arrest Officer Wilson. He shot and killed a man, shot him multiple times. … No one knows anything about him, no one knows why he did it.”

Good point! “No one knows why he did it.” The physical evidence, the autopsy, and other known facts strongly suggest that officer Wilson acted in self-defense. Brown and his accomplice (now the witness who claims that Brown was trying to surrender when shot) had robbed a convenience store just ten minutes earlier, and were escaping when Wilson came across them a few blocks away. Initially, Wilson told them to stop blocking traffic by walking in the road. A confrontation followed.

The details are unknown, but it seems highly probable that Brown attacked Wilson. Wilson apparently felt sufficiently threatened by the 6′ 4″, 300 pound Brown that he shot him six times, a typical number when defending oneself against an assailant. All of the bullets were in the front, suggesting that Brown continued to charge, and only the last, which struck Brown on the top of the head, likely because he was charging or grappling with Wilson with his head down, would have stopped him.

The Ferguson police department has reported that Wilson was treated at a local hospital after the incident. Contradictory reports have circulated as to whether Wilson suffered a broken bone in his face as a result of Brown’s attack, but this is immaterial. If Brown charged him, Wilson was entitled to defend himself. One would think that the entire controversy could have been defused long ago if Wilson had publicly explained what happened, and, ideally, answered questions from reporters.

Why hasn’t this happened? Why does Wilson’s side of the story remain a mystery? Presumably because of calls for criminal prosecution of Wilson by Professor Ogletree and many other left-wing activists. It is reasonable to assume that a combination of the Ferguson police department, Wilson himself, and Wilson’s presumed criminal defense lawyer have concluded that for now, silence is Wilson’s best course. That is understandable, and perhaps correct if the objective is protecting Wilson from ultimate criminal liability.

But in the meantime, riots have taken place, the Ferguson controversy has been prolonged, outrageous claims have been made, racial polarization has been aggravated by the Left. By the time Darren Wilson finally speaks, it will be too late, for most purposes. And whatever he says, no matter how thoroughly it may be supported by physical evidence, Brown’s autopsy and eyewitness testimony, will be denounced by demagogues like Al Sharpton, Charles Ogletree and Eric Holder. Thus do the imperatives of the criminal law play into the hands of those who seek to profit by dividing Americans against one another.

Fundraising, Or Hate Speech?

It is remarkable that calls for bipartisanship in Washington generally come from Democrats and Democrat-leaning pundits. The implication always is that Republicans–the “extreme” ones, anyway–are the barrier to cooperation across party lines. But recall 2012–not exactly ancient history–when Harry Reid repeatedly claimed that Mitt Romney had gone for a decade without paying any taxes. And was, therefore, presumably a felon, since no one says that Romney has gone without income. This was not just a lie, but an insane lie. The idea that a person can earn millions of dollars and just choose not to pay taxes on his income–as though the tax system were entirely optional, and we get to select our own tax bracket–is absurd. It is, nevertheless, commonly implied when Democrats talk about taxes.

The insane slander that Harry Reid launched against Mitt Romney is typical of how Democrats talk about Republicans. Yesterday, the Democratic Party sent out this email to its members. It was addressed to me as a “Founding Member.” Click to enlarge:

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 8.08.09 PM

Note the heading: “Project Shut Down the Tea Party.” The Tea Party is the daily object of hatred from the Democratic Party. Curiously, however, the Democrats’ communications never contain a single reference to who the Tea Party is, why it arose, or what its members believe. Not one. It would serve just as well to say “bogeyman” rather than Tea Party.

Next we have the observation that “Boehner’s lieutenants” have raised $10 million. I am glad to hear it, but, as I wrote here, the Democrats are vastly out-raising the Republicans, as they do every election cycle. Money is the Democrats’ chief advantage.

Next comes the assertion that “Republicans in Congress hand out tax breaks to millionaires, pick up massive checks from corporate interests…and then use all that cash to buy control of Congress.” This is the exact opposite of the truth. As happens so often, the Democrats are projecting. The conservative approach to taxation for the last forty years, at least, has been “broad base, low rates.” Get rid of loopholes, subsidies and tax favoritism, tax economic activity equally, and keep the rates low–which you can do, once you have gotten rid of the loopholes. It is the Democrats who insist on giving tax breaks and subsidies to their millionaire cronies.

What is the point of being in power if you can’t help your friends and screw your enemies? That is the Democratic philosophy. Thus, the Democrats hand out massive tax breaks, subsidies and mandates to their “green energy” supporters like Tom Steyer, who in turn pledge tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions to help the Democrats maintain control of Congress. So they can continue to subsidize the businesses that make Steyer a billionaire. Same thing with Wall Street, which supports the Democratic Party almost monolithically.

And, of course, while both parties use cash to “buy control of Congress”–i.e., try to persuade voters by putting ads on television–the Democrats always have more money to “buy control of Congress” than the Republicans. Finally, this:

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 8.32.25 PM

I am not one of the Democrats’ “strongest supporters,” nor do I live in the 66106 zip code. And I won’t become a “founding member.” But note that, as always, contributions are triple-matched–by ActBlue, if I am not mistaken. ActBlue is a group of rich liberals, many of whose businesses benefit from federal government favoritism. Most of them aren’t dumb enough to fall for the Democrats’ lies, but they don’t care. For every dollar contributed by the ill-informed, three dollars will be kicked in by the self-interested. That pretty much sums up the Democratic Party.

But when the Democrats’ only mode of fundraising is the Big Lie, its calls for bipartisanship ring hollow, to say the least.

Last week in baseball history — harmonics

In August 1964, the New York Yankees’ bid to win five straight pennants (and nine in ten years) was foundering. On August 20, the Chicago White Sox shut out the Bombers to complete a four game series sweep. The loss pushed the Yankees 4.5 games behind Chicago. New York also trailed Baltimore by 4 games.

After the game, on the bus to the airport, infielder Phil Linz broke out his newly purchased harmonica and began playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” According to Jim Bouton, Linz didn’t play it with gaiety; as he recalls, it sounded more like a dirge. If so, this may have been because Linz was just learning to play the instrument.

With the Yankees nearly dead and buried, Yogi Berra, their beleaguered first-year manager, was in the mood for neither gaiety nor funeral music. He called out to the back of the bus, “Shove that harmonica.”

Linz heard his manager yell, but didn’t hear what he said. When he asked his teammates, the always helpful Mickey Mantle replied, “He said play it louder.”

Linz thus continued with his song, only louder, and Berra stormed to the back of the bus. The two exchanged words, and Berra slapped the harmonica out of Linz’s hands. It smacked against Joe Pepitone’s knee, and he winced in imaginary pain.

Berra reportedly had been a source of amusement for the players throughout the season. The harmonica probably added to the sense that he was sometimes a little bit ridiculous in his role as novice manager.

The next day, Berra accepted Linz’s apology but fined him $250. However, Linz received a $10,000 contract from a harmonica manufacturer to endorse its product (accounts vary as to the actual amount, but apparently it was sizable for that time).

Berra never brought the incident up again, and Linz says their relations were always excellent thereafter. In 1967, according to Linz, Berra, now a Mets coach, recommended the deal that brought Linz to Shea Stadium.

After the harmonica incident, the Yankees lost three out their next five games, including the two immediately following. But then, they went on one of their patented late season runs, closing out the year with a record of 27-9. In the end, they edged out the White Sox by one game and the Orioles by two.

Following a World Series lose to the St. Louis Cardinals, however, the Yankees fired Berra. It has been said that the harmonica incident convinced management that Berra had lost control of the team and couldn’t command the players’ respect. But I doubt that this incident caused Berra’s dismissal. Management had time and grounds before the incident to decide to sack Yogi and time and grounds afterwards to decide to retain him.

Ironically, the Yankees replaced Berra with Johnny Keane, who had managed St. Louis to the World Championship. Keane quit St. Louis because they had reportedly been on the verge of firing him in August when his team, like the Yankees, had struggled.

Under Keane, the Yankees finished sixth in 1965, winning 22 fewer games than the previous year under Berra. The Yankees would not return to the World Series for 12 years.

Berra went on to win a pennant in 1973 as manager of the New York Mets. I was working in New York that summer and followed the Mets closely. Berra received heavy press criticism throughout the summer, but it seemed to me that he did a good job guiding the club to first place over a Cardinals team that was arguably superior and a Pirates team that was arguably just as good.

As for Phil Linz, his very name (as Howard Cosell might say) suggests utility player. But in 1964, Linz was more. That season, he played 112 games and had 368 at-bats, both career highs. He batted a credible .250 and played decently at shortstop (so the stats suggest) when filling-in for the injured Tony Kubek.

Unfortunately, Linz never reached .250 again. In fact, .211 was his high-water mark for the period from 1965 through 1968, his last season the Major Leagues.

Linz was one of a number of Yankees, albeit the least of them, on whom management pinned its hopes of staying on top as its core players went over the hill, but who, after promising career starts, came up well short of expectations for various reasons. The list includes Pepitone, Bouton, Tom Tresh, Bill Stafford, Rollie Sheldon, and Al Downing.

These days, Linz says he still regrets the incident and hopes it didn’t cost Berra his job. The two appear together occasionally, and when they do, Linz plays the song and Yogi covers his ears.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned Berra’s return as Yankees’ manager in 1984. That year, they finished 86-76, good for third place.

The next year, George Steinbrenner fired Berra 16 games into the season. The Yanks were 6-10 at the time. After that, they caught fire under Billy Martin, going 91-54 the rest of the way.

Berra was so bitter about the firing that he shunned the Yankees for 14 years, and only after Steinbrenner visited him to apologize.

Replacing Berra with Martin, a great manager, was nothing to apologize for. However, Berra apparently stayed on for the 1985 season only after receiving assurances that we would not be fired. In addition, Steinbrenner didn’t fire Berra in person. He gutlessly dispatched Clyde King to do the deed.

Thus, Berra had good reason to feel aggrieved and Steinbrenner had good reason to apologize.