Clearing the inbox and Open Thread

Victorian posy of pansiesWhew!  I was quite productive today.  I think those iron pills I’ve been taking because of mild anemia have helped.  I felt much less sluggish.  I still have a lot of stuff in my inbox, but these articles are a good start:

The always-astute Lee Smith has a surprising take on Obama’s coziness with Mahmoud Abbas.  I don’t believe that Obama has thought the issue through as carefully as Smith, but I think that the outcome is the same whether Obama acted deliberately or accidentally.

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Oy voy vey!  It’s not just that Obama is giving away the Free Speech internet, which is disastrous enough.  It’s that, back in 2010, when he wasn’t even in full flexibility mode, Obama handed something very valuable over to Putin.  And Putin, being no fool, will play this card as he reinstates the former Soviet Unions geopolitical reach.

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The pro-Iranian faction has always argued that sanctions hurt the poor the most. In Iran’s case, they said, sanctions deprived the poor of medicine. But what if it turns out that sanctions are just depriving the rich of luxury articles? Will that information change Obama’s calculus? No. At a fundamental level, he thinks it’s wrong that Israel has the bombs and Iran doesn’t. He’s working to redress that inequity.

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If you like creative literature with a libertarian/conservative bent, a new site called Liberty Island is the place for you. Here’s a snippet of its mission statement, explaining that conservatives are the new counterculture:

Once upon a time the mainstream culture was conservative and the so-called counterculture was left wing. Today the situation is reversed and a new counterculture has arisen, one that boldly challenges the cynicism, nihilism, and stifling political correctness of popular culture today.

Our mission is to support this raw and untamed counterculture by gathering its creators in one place and providing the tools and resources they need to succeed. Here they can present their latest works, interact with colleagues, and connect with a likeminded audience. At Liberty Island, readers of a conservative or libertarian bent can find fiction, music, video and graphics that reflect their social values and political beliefs — and readers of all persuasions can find new voices and undiscovered talent. Writers and creators you’ve never heard of, and won’t find anywhere else, because their views have been excluded from the mainstream popular culture.

One of my favorite writers, Ray Zacek, already has a story online at Liberty Island.

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Rogue government? Well, yes.  The ATF ignores a court order and raids a gun store to get its customer lists. Let me quote Elmer: Be afwaid. Be vewy afwaid.

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Let me reiterate a point I’ve made repeatedly before: Women do not belong in combat units.

Wednesday evening round-up (and Open Thread)

Victorian posy of pansiesThis has been a crazily chaotic day.  I got thrown off my stride by my morning swim (phase 2 in physical therapy for my knee, now that I’m off the perpetual motion machine), and just couldn’t catch up anymore.  Throw in a few unexpected demands on my time and — voila! — I’m doing my round-up early in the evening instead of first thing in the morning.  Still, proving that there’s always room for a cliched phrase, better late than never.  So, here goes:

A friend sent me the following link in the mail and it was so eerily close to the way real events are playing out, that it took me a second to realize that it’s satire (and pretty damn funny satire at that): On Defense Cuts, Obama Just Comes Right Out And Says He Wants The Terrorists To Win

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Perhaps we’ve reached a stage where the best we can hope for is that Israel will have our back, rather than vice versa.  At least today, Israel had its own back (can I say that and still make sense?), capturing a massive arms haul — Syrian missiles, shipped out from Iran, and headed to Gaza. Thank God the Israelis still have the sechel to watch out for their own interests.

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And speaking of Israel’s interests, if the last twenty-two years have shown us anything, it’s that participating in peace talks isn’t working. The reason, of course, is that the peace talks are all directed at a “two-state solution,” but the Palestinians, as well as the surrounding Arab and Muslim states, have no interest in a two-state solution. Yoav Sorek says that it’s time to stop chasing this chimera and create a new paradigm: a one-state solution — Israel — that the Palestinians have to learn to live with.

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If you’re girding your loins against the possibility of a Hillary victory in 2016, maybe it’s time to stop girding and start working incredibly hard for a good conservative candidate, instead of the usual lousy conservative candidates. I say this because Hillary is also a lousy candidate and the only way in which Republicans can lose if she’s the Democrat candidate is if they put up another McCain.  (What do you bet that the Republicans put up another John McCain?)

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Here’s a scary thought: I already suggested that Obama has gone round the bend. What if Putin has done the same? The world is scary enough with one madman in power. What’s it going to be like with the last two great powers of the 20th century both headed by malignant narcissists whose already tenuous grip on reality has been destroyed by the bubbles in which they surrounded themselves?

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Maybe none of it matters anyway, at least when it comes to Russia. I’ve noted before that Russia is in serious decline and this article provides the facts behind my conclusions. Whether Putin’s move on the Crimea is crazed or calculated, it can only buy a small amount of time for a country that will be eaten by China in the next few decades. (And considering its population, China will have a credible “lebensraum” argument, won’t it?) Ultimately, Putin will have gained nothing for his own country, although he will have succeeded in providing more evidence that Obama is feckless and unreliable, and may have caused several thousand, or even several hundred thousand, deaths along the way. Given the two delusional men at the helm of two declining nations, the last thing we want is a fast-walk to military confrontation.

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If Snowden had merely shown how the U.S. government routinely collects very scrap of data it can about American citizens, he would have deserved the “hero” title that the far Left and far Right placed on him. But considering that he mostly stole 1.7 million sensitive files touching upon national security, and then headed for the Chinese and, after that, the Russians, it’s clear that he’s the biggest traitor in American history. I’m putting more and more credence in the theory that he was a massive traitor all along, and that he stole the “spying on American” stuff only to provide himself with cover.

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Walt Disney Co. is free to demand that everyone and everything with which it deals support gay marriage. And people who disagree with that position are free to stop dealing with the Walt Disney Co. I really like Disneyland and Disney World, but it won’t be the end of the world for me if I never go to either place again. I bet the same is true for a lot of Americans. I’m not suggesting a formal boycott. I am pointing out, however, that in this information-rich world, we no longer have to deal with companies that spend our money in ways we dislike.

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Jonah Goldberg supports Obama’s initiative to help black youth, even if it’s manifestly discriminatory for the federal government to extend aid to one racial group while ignoring others (not that this has ever stopped the feds before). Jonah is right that America’s black youth are in desperate straits and need all the help they can get. My only concern is that it was the federal government that got America’s black youth in this situation in the first place, thanks to Leftists’ belief that blacks cannot manage without government support. It seems to me that the federal government is the last entity that should be trusted to get blacks out of this miserable cycle of violence, drugs, and poverty. Remember Frederick Douglass’s words (emphasis mine):

In regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us…. I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! … And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! … Your interference is doing him positive injury.

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Not only did I enjoy Ace’s take on Obama’s manifestly unconstitutional decision to amend Obamacare again, but I loved the Photoshop you’ll find at that link. (BTW, Obama’s action is unconstitutional because only Congress can amend a law. This is banana republic stuff.)

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Did I say “banana republic stuff”? I did, and I meant it. Michael Ramirez has his own comment on what Barack Obama has managed to do in five short (although they seemed very long) years.

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The NAACP says “stand your ground” laws are part of “institutional racism.” Think about that for a moment. The laws simply say that, if your choices when faced by an assailant are to cut and run or to stand and fight, you can stand and fight (especially when cutting and running carries risks). They are facially neutral laws that apply to anyone facing a threat, black or white. What the NAACP is implicitly conceding is that the only/primary threatening parties in America — the ones who will be on the wrong side of “stand your ground” — are black. Wow! Is that racist or what? It seems to me that the NAACP is guilty of a bit of institutional racism itself.

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There are two writers out there who make just about everything interesting . . . and when the subject matter is inherently interesting, they’re off into the stratospheres of wonder for their readers. Enjoy the Diplomad’s Cage Fighter vs. Pajama Boy; Putin Confronts the West and Sultan Knish’s A Maddow in MSNBCland.

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Boehner’s bad: He freely concedes that all he cares about is opening up America’s borders. Who cares that the voters don’t want that? Remember, our elected officials are no longer our servants; they are our masters.

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Muslims bomb the Boston Marathon and Boston, home to the American Revolution, does what the Left does best: it backs down. That’s the word from Runner’s world:

A decade long tradition will be missing from this year’s Boston Marathon. Due to the new, stricter security guidelines released by the Boston Athletic Association last Wednesday, ruck marchers will not be allowed to make the 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton to Boylston because they are considered “unauthorized participants.”

Active members of the military have participated in ruck marches at the Boston Marathon for years. Donning full fatigues and carrying 40-pound rucksacks on their backs, ruckers march the length of the course in support of families of fallen soldiers.

Muslims don’t have to defeat America on the battlefield. If they scare us enough, we’ll unilaterally declare defeat and turn ourselves over to the enemy.

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And finally, Danny Lemieux posted the following quotation on his real-me Facebook:

“In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.”

– Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
(publ. 1776-1789)

It’s funny how we spend our adolescent years desperately trying to shake off our parents’ care, which we feel comes with too many strings attached, and then spend the rest of our lives trying to get someone to care for us, strings or not.

Kerry’s negotiating desperation re Putin would be funny if it wasn’t so scary

John Kerry's Right To Be StupidAs I was driving home from the swimming pool today, I heard that Russia’s representative was refusing to accede to John Kerry’s request that the Russians sit down for face-to-face negotiations with the Ukrainians. My first thought was that the report was way too polite. Kerry’s not requesting, he’s begging.

My second thought was that this is what happens when the President of the United States spends five years making it plain that America will not use its power and, worse, that the president’s word cannot be relied upon. Kerry has no leverage.

As for my third thought, I didn’t actually have a third thought.  Instead, I’m borrowing from a friend, who forwarded his thoughts on the matter to me:

Obama and Kerry attempting to use diplomacy with Putin is like trying to use reason with robbers during a home invasion. As they are talking, he’s filling his pockets and getting the tactical advantage. If he gets away with this who’s next? Further, why would anyone choose to negotiate over something they can simply take?

All of the above would be amusing if it was written into a lunatic novel.  (By the way, if you’re looking for a wonderful, clever, laugh-out-loud funny lunatic novel, I highly recommend Akhmed and the Atomic Matzo Balls: A Novel of International Intrigue, Pork-Crazed Termites, and Motherhood.)  But this is isn’t a lunatic novel.  It’s real life, and Obama has managed to destroy in five years almost 70 years of American influence.

A Ukraine round-up

Russian Ukraine invasionI’ve read so many excellent articles about the Ukraine, I wanted to pass them along:

Every time a Leftist media rag has a momentary epiphany that Obama isn’t the messiah, all I can think is “Too little too late.”  Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that those epiphanies don’t make a point.  Such is the case with the WaPo’s observation that Obama’s foreign policy is built upon a fantasy of the world as it should be, rather than the world as it is.

The fact that Putin may also be living out a fantasy, as Angela Merkel surmises, is irrelevant.  Putin is living out his fantasy with guns and tanks, which makes him an extremely dangerous fantasist.

In any event, it’s not clear to me that there’s anything fantastic about Putin’s plan.  As every Russian leader has wanted since at least Catherine the Great’s time, Putin needs a warm water port, this time to export Russia’s energy reserves.  He also knows that, while his nation is in demographic and economic decline (a) selling reserves will at least offset the economic losses and (b) aiming a gun at people unwilling to fight back is a good way to offset a demographic drop.

Apropos that warm water port, a liberal asked me “Why is Putin doing this?”  My response aside from the obvious “because he can,” was “because he wants a warm water port.”  The liberal sneered at me that this isn’t the 19th century anymore.  I suspect that he hadn’t read that Lurch er . . . Kerry said exactly the same thing.  Instead, this is just a default Leftist sneer.  In fact, as I noted above, a warm water port is an excellent thing for the Russians and Putin knows it.  He is therefore following State Craft Rule 101:  act in your own self-interest.  As Tom Rogan explains, no airy-fairy theory in the world will override this number one rule of governance.

(I can’t resist an aside here, which is that Obama’s policies have not been to America’s self-interest, unless our nation’s self-interest demands bankruptcy, security weakness, and cultural collapse.  This means that because he’s clearly following a game plan, his self-interests are at odds with America’s.  He sure is some president.)

Everyone acknowledges that nobody is going to run for their guns to defend Ukraine.  David Goldman astutely points out that Ukraine has never had a history of true independence, that it lurched from one oligarchy to the next, that it’s completely bankrupt, and that no one has a real interest in engaging with Russia over it (as Putin knows).

Still, the U.S. and the world are not entirely helpless.  While it’s unlikely that America or the EU can pry Putin away from his warm water port, they can constrain him.  Timothy Snyder, who wrote the devastating Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, thinks that Europe has a lot of soft power that it can bring to bear on a nation whose leisure class loves to travel to and spend money in Europe.

I wonder, though. What Europe wants above all is cheap energy — and Putin’s Crimean takeover promises them that. I think the EU will huff and puff for a while, and then wallow in the black gold flowing its way.

That’s my two cents. Drew, at Ace of Spades, didn’t futz around with two cents worth of links and thoughts. He goes all out in an excellent post that I see, after reading it, heads in much the same direction as mine, only with much more data and analysis.

The Diplomad ties everything up in a neat package with a very important observation:  our foreign policy will continue to fail unless we, at home, create a true commitment to liberty.  As long as the weak, America-hating, internationalist, Islamophilic, socialist Obama controls the government, that’s not going to happen.  We therefore have to hope that we can weather a few more years of Obama at the helm and then hope even more that a true leader runs for the White House and that the American people have the sechel to elect him.

One more thing.  Remember the young Kerry who included in his Congressional testimony during the Vietnam War a reference to “Jen-gis Khan”?  Jen-gis Khan!  Huh!  It took  a moment for most people to realize that Kerry was speaking about a historical figure everyone else in America called (and calls) “Gen-gis Khan”?

That snotty reference to a commonly named figure warned us long ago that Kerry is a self-involved, arrogant, elitist poseur.  Knowing what we know about him, are we surprised that, while the rest of American is focused on Kiev, Kerry is focused on Kyiv?

 

America’s lousy media and lousy sense of proportion

A couple of days ago, I wrote a lengthy post in which I argued that, during Democrat presidencies, the media constantly elevates non-essential information to top status, thereby keeping America’s attention away from the fact that things are going badly wrong.  During Republican administrations, the press focuses exclusively on hard news, always reported to the administration’s detriment.

Today’s Drudge Report perfectly exemplifies what’s roiling the world (Putin) and what’s roiling the media and the Left (a proposed Arizona law that would allow people who practice traditional religions to refuse to provide their services to gay weddings, which they see as a direct affront to their faith):

Drudge 2-26-14

The bizarre juxtaposition is even more apparent if you look at the Drudge Report on a smart phone:
photo

They’re rattling sabres in a way that presages another Cold War or, worse, a hot war, while our chattering class is incensed that traditional religionists don’t want to be driven into bankruptcy because, while they do not want to be active participants in what is to them a deeply offensive event.

The American media has found its fiddle, even as the world burns down around our ears.

Andrew Sullivan’s marvelously misguided theory about how Obama played Putin when it came to Syria

If you’re a true believer, it’s very hard to admit that your idol has feet of clay. For some, it may be impossible. Andrew Sullivan currently falls into the latter category. He has written an almost pathetic post assuring his followers that Obama cleverly baited a trap for Putin and Putin, that preening fool, fell into it.

According to Sullivan, everything we think we know about Obama’s apparently feckless Syria policy is wrong. Sullivan is willing to concede that Obama was careless when, a year ago, he mentioned a “red line” about Syria. Once Obama had done that, however, Sullivan assures us that Obama instantly knew that he had the perfect bait with which to hook his fish.

In Sullivan’s world, Obama wasn’t flailing when he said that he intended, on his own executive initiative, to bomb Syria. He wasn’t being a rank amateur when he announced the intended date, time, and location of his “muscular,” yet delicate, attack.

Obama wasn’t backtracking when he abruptly announced that, despite the urgent need to bomb Syria, he would wait until Congress convened, deliberated, and voted on an attack. Obama also wasn’t prevaricating (some might say “lying”) when he explained that he hadn’t drawn a red line; the world had drawn a red line, and he was simply helping the world enforce it.

Likewise, Obama wasn’t guilty of rank hiring malpractice when he put before the world a Secretary of State who announced that any US attack against Syria would be so infinitesimally small that a toddler could withstand its impact. That same potential malpractice was inapplicable when that same Secretary of State remarked, to the administration’s explicitly expressed surprise, that Bashar al Assad could make everything good by turning over his weapons which, said Secretary of State hastened to add, could never actually be done.

And of course, no one in the administration was made to look like a fool when Russian President Vladimir Putin instantly announced that he had brokered an agreement with Assad by which Assad agreed that he’d be pleased to turn over all his nasty weapons, at a date, time, and location of his and Putin’s determining. In the same vein, Obama didn’t look like a fool when he went before the American people on Tuesday night and said that war was the only answer, except that he’d be happy to wait on Putin’s proposed peace plan.

Finally, says Sullivan, there was no humiliating slap in Obama’s face when Putin hired a PR firm that wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in which Putin threw all of Obama’s words back into his face, including Obama’s 2009 statement that there was nothing exceptional about America.

Instead, according to Sullivan, everything went according to Obama’s carefully laid scheme. America hasn’t bowed out of being the top power broker in the Middle East, and Putin hasn’t leveraged his Third World nuclear power into being the Big Dog in a region that responds well to loud barks. Obama won! We’re just too stupid to recognize victory when it’s clothed in such subtle garb.

Here’s what Sullivan says really happened: Obama engaged in a strategic game that would have made Machiavelli proud. He’d cleverly figured out that Syria is unsalvageable, so he’s now foisted responsibility for it onto Putin. You heard me. That’s what Sullivan says:

If the end-result is that Putin effectively gains responsibility and control over the civil war in Syria, then we should be willing to praise him to the skies. Praise him, just as the far right praises him, for his mastery of power politics – compared with that ninny weakling Obama. Encourage him to think this is a personal and national triumph even more than he does today. Don’t just allow him to seize the limelight – keep that light focused directly on him. If that also requires dumping all over the American president, calling him weak and useless and incapable of matching the chess master from Russia, so be it. Obama can take it. He’s gotten used to being a pinata.

All this apparent national humiliation is worth it. The price Russia will pay for this triumph is ownership of the problem. At some point, it may dawn on him that he hasn’t played Obama. Obama has played him.

It’s now all so clear. The Great and Powerful Obama willingly put his credibility and America’s stature on the line in order to lure Putin closer and closer to the Middle Eastern tar baby. Obama understood that it was never in America’s interest to go in. Being wise beyond all mortal recognition, however, he also understood that America, because she’s got the best military in the world, was always expected to go in. The only way Obama could avoid that horrible fate (a fate, incidentally, that the vast majority of American people think is a lousy idea), was to appear like a bumbling, incompetent idiot, thereby inveigling Putin to step in. Well played, Obama! Well played!

Sullivan’s theory about Obama’s wonderfulness is really quite perfect, until one realizes that he’s wrong about a central fact: Putin’s and America’s goals are different. Unlike Obama, with his anti-American “responsibility 2 protect” doctrine (America can only step into another nation’s war if it’s not in America’s interest to do so), and unlike the American people, who have soft hearts, and hate to see innocents massacred, Putin doesn’t care at all if Syrians engage in a slaughter that leads every man, woman, and child to the grave.

What Putin cares about is (a) humiliating Obama, which he did magnificently; (b) humiliating America, which I’m sorry to say he also did magnificently; (c) becoming a player in the Middle East for the first time since the Cold War, another magnificent accomplishment; and (d) finally, having access to Syria’s chemical weapons, while keeping Russia’s arms market afloat by selling to Syria and Iran.

Put another way, Obama was no Machiavelli. He was one of those dumb dogs playing poker with a master strategist and tactician. As for Sullivan, he’s got his head so far up . . . well, you know, that he’s blinded by the light shining through Obama’s tonsils every time the President opens his mouth to spout another lie or prevarication.

Mark Steyn on Obama’s limited thought processes

Mark Steyn looks at what was going on in Obama’s brain‘ when he drew the “red line” and at the fall out from that moment:

Charles Crawford, Britain’s former ambassador in Serbia and Poland, called last Monday “the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began.” Obama set it in motion at a press conference last year by drawing his famous “red line.” Unlike, say, the undignified scrums around the Canadian and Australian prime ministers, Obama doesn’t interact enough with the press for it to become normal or real. So at this rare press conference he was, as usual, playing a leader who’s giving a press conference. The “red line” line sounds like the sort of thing a guy playing a president in a movie would say — maybe Harrison Ford in Air Force One or Michael Douglas in The American President. It never occurred to him that out there in the world beyond the Republic of Cool he’d set an actual red line and some dime-store dictator would cross it with impunity. So, for most of the last month, the bipartisan foreign-policy establishment has assured us that, regardless of whether it will accomplish anything, we now have to fire missiles at a sovereign nation because “America’s credibility is at stake.”

One of the things that the Left loved to do during the Reagan presidency was to say that he was a senile old coot who couldn’t distinguish the real world from a Hollywood script.  In fact, Reagan was completely in touch with reality, and the reality of politics.  It’s Obama who has entered a little cocoon in which he’s pretty sure an enterprising scriptwriter will enter stage left and save him.

And indeed, that’s exactly what happened, except that the script writer was Vladimir Putin who, rather than being a creative genius, is a former KGB agent with an agenda antithetical to American interests and world stability.

If you doubt me, the New York Post managed to get its hands on a first (ahem) draft of Putin’s ultimate editorial:

MOSCOW — Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and your leaders. After the president’s speech Tuesday night, let me say what you all know to be true:

Barack, I own you. Or as we say in Russia, the wolf felt pity for the lamb, so he left the skin and bones.

Mr. President, we have much in common. People fear what we might do. We each have a media eating out of our hands. We both hate George W. Bush.

I also share with you the outrage at President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons on women and children. And I have made Russia’s displeasure clear to him. Bashar, I said, if you have to murder women and children, conventional arms like the ones I used at Grozny or the rescue at Beslan are just as deadly. Lord knows I have supplied Syria with more than enough weaponry.

Be sure to read it all.

 

Vladimir Putin bitch slaps Obama in the pages of the New York Times

Some people are gracious winners. Russian President Vladimir Putin is not one of those people. After humiliating President Obama before the world when he pulled Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire regarding Syria (a move, incidentally, that turned a leader of a third-world nuclear nation into a Middle Eastern power broker), Putin took to the pages of the New York Times to rub Obama’s face in his embarrassing failures.

In stilted, but still effective language, Putin chastised Obama for his bullying and his ignorance, and even managed to throw Obama’s own words back in his face.

First, Putin gave the United Nations’ loving Obama a little history lesson:

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

G20 SUMMIT IN THE MEXICAN CITY OF LOS CABOS

Next came a veiled threat about the imminent collapse of world stability should Obama continue to ignore the United Nations (something, incidentally, that George Bush never did):

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. [Paving the way, Putin implies, for World War II.]

Putin takes Obama’s “humanitarian plea” (e.g., we’ve got to do it to save the children of Syria) and turns it upside down, by reminding him that escalating a war ends up with more deaths rather than less:

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism.

(Incidentally, while Putin is correct, sometimes a nation, fighting in its own defense, needs to inflict punishing damage against its enemy in order to save itself. Here, of course, Obama only half-heartedly and belatedly made the argument that America has a dog in the Syrian fight.)

After giving a rundown on the Syrian war, Putin puts himself and Russia on the moral high ground, without bothering to mention that he’s pouring money into Russia’s empty coffers by selling weapons to Assad’s government:

Obama and Putin 3

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not.

Having established to his own satisfaction Russia’s subordination to the rule of law, Putin goes in for the kill, castigating Obama’s American policies in the harshest terms. There can be no mistake but that Putin is saying that Obama is simply a repeat of George Bush, the man against whom Obama is still running, five years after the 2008 election:

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

Obama and Putin 4

I think the expression that applies here is “bitch slap.” President Putin just bitch slapped the president of the United States of America.

Putin wraps up his peroration about both international law and order and about Obama’s failure to meet those norms by throwing Obama’s own insulting language about American exceptionalism right back in Obama’s face.

Back in 2009, while speaking at a NATO summit, Barack Obama completely trashed the notion of American exceptionalism:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

In his schizophrenic speech on Tuesday night, which was part war mongering and part pathetic gratitude to Russia, Obama sang a different tune:

America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

Obama and Putin 2Putin sneers at Obama’s reference to American exceptionalism, and does so in words that must deliberately echo Obama’s earlier snide and dismissive take on America’s unique devotion to the cause of freedom:

I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too.

And that’s a KO in the final round, folks. Putin’s practical and rhetorical victory over Obama is complete. For an pathologically egotistical American president who has long believed that he has only to speak magic words to make things happen, to have Russia’s leader (and, increasingly, its dictator) run rings around him on the ground and in the war of words must come as a horrifying shock.

That the White House doesn’t know how to deal with this reality is reflected in its tepid official response to the opinion piece: “That’s all irrelevant.” Right, because it never matters when the American President demeans himself and the nation before an opponent delighted to glory in his victory.

(This piece originally appeared in slightly different form at Mr. Conservative.)

St. Petersburg impressions

If you were looking for a break from the Zimmerman trial (verdict good; race riots bad) here are my notes from St. Petersburg, Russia.  Please forgive any typos. It’s hard to write essays on an iPad.

It’s been 24 hours since we left St. Petersburg, and I’m still struggling to decide how to describe it. It’s a city that one sees on so many levels: the sprawling (yet surprisingly well-organized) layout; the wealth of history; the wealth of wealth, as seen in all those palaces that history left behind; or the bizarre spectacle of overwhelming capitalism in a city that was, for so many decades, including a significant part of my own life, Communist.

St. Petersburg is HUGE. Not only is it home to 6 million people, it covers a vast expanse of 600 square kilometers. Everything is built on a gargantuan scale. This is not some cozy European town. It is as sprawling as Russia itself. It has more straight vistas than any place I’ve ever seen. When you look down the the Nevsky Prospect, your view seems endless. It reminded me of Washington DC, with planned streets that stretch out forever — except that it makes DC look small.

There’s also water everywhere. In addition to the Neva River, there are canals (long, perfectly straight canals) all over the place. It’s no surprise that St. Petersburg is called “the Venice of the north.” However, just as its layout dwarfs Washington’s, its canals dwarf Venice’s. These canals are so vast that motor boats can speed along them.

St. Petersburg is a planned city — and it was Peter the Great who planned it. His monarchy spanned the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. It was Peter who yanked Russia out of her medieval Russian ways and bullied her into being an 18th century, European-style player. As part of that modernizing, he moved the capital from Moscow (too old, too Russian) to St. Petersburg, which was just a swamp when he picked it.

Peter wanted the world to know his new capital’s greatness. In addition to mandatory buildings along Swedish lines (even though Sweden was a perpetual enemy), he built the overwhelming Peterhof, the official palace, with its vast gardens. We never even saw the inside of the Peterhof. Instead, after taking a hydrofoil there, we simply wandered the grounds. Some of the fountains were so large they were bigger than the average urban swimming pool. As was the case with all the royal palaces we saw, the exterior was blue, with white trim — exxept that the Peterhof also had golden statues.

It was, frankly, gaudy, but it was also very impressive, which was the whole point. Peter himself had a small house on the grounds where he could live without the burden of a palace so vast it couldn’t possibly be a home.

While Peter planned the city, it was his daughter, Elizabeth who gave it its distinctive Russian baroque look as well as its overall ostentation. We toured the Catherine Palace in the Tsar’s Village (the same village in which Nicholas, Alexandra, and their children were assassinated), and it was overwhelming. Huge, of course, and covered with so much gold it was blinding. Versailles looks shabby in comparison. There were a few rooms that Catherine designed, and she preferred a more classical style, but most of it is a testament to Elizabeth’s penchant for gold and curlicues.

Here’s the amazing secret about both the Peterhof and Catherine Palaces — they are meticulous re-creations. During WWII, the Germans blew up the Peterhof on the very day they first reached it as they headed to St. Petersburg (or Leningrad as it was then known). This was pure spite. There was no strategic reason to do so.

The Nazis then occupied the Catherine palace all during the long and terrible siege of Leningrad. (If you’re unfamiliar with the siege, it was the most destructive in history. A third of the city’s citizens were evacuated, a third — about one million, I believe) died, and only a third survived. When the Germans were finally routed, they blew up the Catherine Palace for the same reason they blew up Peterhof — sheer spite. They also stole all the inlays from the beautiful amber room.

Working for decades, first the Soviets and then the Russians returned both palaces to their former exquisite glory. They did an amazing job, relying for guidance on what remained after the bombing, on photographs, on paintings, and on written descriptions.

Within the city limits, the damage came, not from German bombs (because the Germans contended themselves with starving out a city they thought they’d own), but from intentional Communist neglect. Palaces were stripped or used as schools, while churches were turned into swimming pools, ice skating rinks, storage areas, “museums of atheism,” etc. (With regard to that last, the Communists also turned one of Tallinn, Estonia’s ancient churches into a “museum of atheism.” That didn’t last long, though. As our charming guide in Tallinn said, there’s not much you can put in a museum dedicated to atheism.)

The church that suffered the worst destruction because of the Communist disdain for religion was the Church on the Spilled Blood. Yes, that’s really its name. In 1881 (or was it 1882?), revolutionaries, or reactionaries, or anarchists (I’m not sure which) assassinated Tsar Alexander II. He was a genuine reformer, who reformed too much for some and too little for others. Of course, that made him a target. There were seven assassination attempts against him, with the eighth finally being successful.

Immediately after he was killed, the spot at which he died became a shrine, and it was a short step to consecrate it as a church. Construction on the church began in 1882 or 1883 and continued through 1907. Both inside and outside, the church rejects St. Petersburg’s western-style architecture and, instead, is built in the neo-Russian style popular at the time. Outside, it has those marvelous turnip-shaped towers lacquered in beautiful blue and green colors. Inside, every square inch is covered with gorgeous mosaics. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

We were also so fortunate to see it. The Communists used the Church of the Spilled Blood as a storage area. They never heated it. It was also hit by a bomb during WWII, but fortunately the bomb was a dud, which lodged in the ceiling over the altar. They didn’t fix that either, allowing water damage on top of the general neglect. By the early 1960s, those exquisite mosaics were so ruined, they looked like they’d been buried under sand for a thousand years.

In 1960, when Khrushchev had eased off a bit on the extreme communism, historians, and museum archivists and archeologists petitioned the government for the right to restore this architectural gem. They got that right and began work. Our guide told us that the church vanished under scaffolding and remained that way for decades. It was re-opened only in 1997 — in other words, it took longer to repair than to build originally. In its current state, it represents a triumph of restoration.

We also went to the Hermitage, of course, which is one of the world’s great museums — as well as being the former Winter Palace. In my humble and snotty estimation, large parts of the collection are garbage. As I tell my kids, just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s good. What was good, though, was wonderful. The Hermitage has an especially impressive Impressionist exhibit, because Russian merchants liked this modern art and brought it back to Russia before the rest of the world caught on.

Our final destination was the Yusopov Palace, which was a rich family’s home, rather than a royal palace. It reminded me of Hatfield House in England, in that it managed to be both magnificent and cozy. It also had the distinction of being the place in which Rasputin was killed. (Poisoned, shot, and beaten, only to die from drowning after his body was dumped in a canal.)

One of the most bizarre things about St. Petersburg as far as I was concerned was the rampant capitalism. Even though the Soviet Union has been gone roughly 20 years, I just couldn’t get over seeing American movies advertised everywhere, HP printers touted on subway ads, and designer labels on billboards and storefronts (Amani, Prada, Gucci, etc.). The kids couldn’t understand the adult sense of wonderment about this sea change to a former Communist country.

The people to whom we spoke don’t miss Communism, they hate Stalin, and they fear Putin. They’re worried that the freedoms they’re enjoying will vanish again. One young man told us that elections are completely corrupt. It sounded like Tammany Hall days as described a friend of his who was paid to cast seven votes for Putin. Everyone who spoke of the Putin threat mentioned his KGB past as a sign that he will stop at nothing to retain power.

I’ve now exhausted my St. Petersburg reminiscences and probably exhausted you as well. More later, but for me right now, a much needed rest.