Assembly or Retreat

Caption: A Russian national flag (L) and partly seen flag of Russian airborne forces (R) fly above a former Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, near the Crimean capital Simferopol, on March 27, 2014. Ukraine asked today the UN General Assembly to deter the risk of any future Russian aggression by adopting a resolution denouncing its annexation of Crimea. AFP PHOTO/ DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV (Photo credit should read DMITRY SEREBRYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Well, have you noticed we live in interesting times. Yep, I live out here where the US Cavalry used to prowl. You remember them, right. The guys who ran away from Sitting Bull died with their boots on at the Little Big Horn. Wasn’t the smartest fight we ever got in, but they did their best and the general was right there with them.

Lke Tom Clancy said, “If you’ve ever seen a classic John Ford western, you know who the cavalry are. They are the ones who hold the line on the lawless frontier. They are the soldiers who come to the rescue.”


 

Times have changed, Bill Kristol writing in Time put it this way, as his indictment

The message is clear. The problem is its content. Obama certainly isn’t sending the message that Colin Powell, after the Cold War, wanted America to send: “Superpower lives here.” Obama’s message, by contrast, is: “Superpower once lived here. No forwarding address.”

Putin understands Obama’s message. He knows he’s won Crimea. The question is whether he’ll win Ukraine.

He thinks he will. He’s dealing with the Obama administration, after all. He looks at the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, he witnesses the failure to enforce the red line in Syria and the subsequent successes of his friend Assad, he chortles at the relaxation of the sanctions on Iran and the desperate desire to cut a nuclear deal, and he sees Obama’s defense cuts. And he reads the New York Times, where David Sanger reports, “Mr. Obama acknowledges, at least in private, that he is managing an era of American retrenchment.”

So Putin sees retrenchment. Putin sees retreat. And Putin sees that Obama is unlikely to reverse course.

Pretty much what I see as well. And it doesn’t make for a peaceful forecast. To be fair, Obama is correct, Russia is a regional power. The problem is, that region is Europe, and that’s where the game is being played. Russia isn’t trying to invade Canada.

The other day, I defined a superpower, here. The definition of a regional power is one that can exert great power over a short distance. Russia, perhaps alone in Europe, qualifies. The only other contender is the United Kingdom. And they, like we, run into the rule that nuclear powers can’t fight each other, simply because it can get out of hand too easily. That’s what won the cold war, it’s also why Cuba is still communist, everybody recognized the rule.

Given that, Poland, and the Balts are likely safe, although it’s a thin cover. In military terms I’d call it concealment, not cover. But it’s worked before, at least for a while.

Bill Kristol continues

In late 1979, with the seizure of American hostages by Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter was mugged by reality. Carter then tried, however haplessly, to change direction. But Barack Obama is no Jimmy Carter. Will Obama increase defense spending, as Carter did? Is he likely to launch a military excursion, as Carter did, over the objection—and then resignation—of his dovish secretary of state?

Carter, whatever his problems, was more hawkish than most in his party. In this he followed in the footsteps of every other Democratic president in the past century. Until Barack Obama.

It’s been a bit bewildering, even disorienting, to watch Obama get mugged by reality and refuse to press charges. But of course he doesn’t want to press charges. He doesn’t believe in an international system in which the American role is to lead. Former Saudi intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal was asked by the Financial Times recently about Putin and Obama. He explained: “While the wolf is eating the sheep, there is no shepherd to come to the rescue of the pack. This is where we find ourselves today.”

[Emphasis mine]

And that’s all true as well.

Russia is hardly a juggernaut. It’s troops are conscripts, not the combat veteran volunteers we in America and Britain are accustomed to. But in the bad old days, NATO had a saying “Quantity has a quality of its own”. It’s still true. And that calculus, ain’t on our side. Great Satan’s girlfriend reminds us:

European powers in recent years have shelved entire divisions and weapons systems. The British Royal Navy doesn’t operate a proper aircraft carrier. The Netherlands in 2012 disbanded its heavy-armor division, and France and the U.K. each now field a mere 200 main battle tanks. France has cut its orders of Rafale combat jets to six a year from 11. This isn’t even a Maginot Line.

Most alliance members are also dangerously demobilized: Germany last year announced plans to cut its troops to no more than 180,000 from 545,000 at the end of the Cold War. The French military has shrunk to 213,000 from 548,000 in 1990. The U.K. now has 174,000 armed forces, down from 308,000 in 1990.

NATO countries have also been deferring maintenance of major equipment and cutting back weapons inventories. Such neglect, normally hidden, became apparent in 2011 when Britain and France ran out of precision-guided munitions during NATO’s Libya campaign.

Remember, we don’t have much of a committment to Ukraine, just an agreement to consult. Which is just as well, cause we’d have a devil of a time getting much there, and our supply line to Afghanistan goes through Russia. And Europe buys most of its natural gas from Russia as well.

But, supposedly we are leaving AFPAK, and a sensible energy policy would let us make up most of Europe’s shortfall in energy, but we have to decide. We know what the President believes but, the people of America are sovereign.

Should the bugler sound ‘assembly’ or ‘retreat’?

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Running around in circles

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You could not make it up. In the middle of a major international crisis, Obama and Biden are running round the White House like Batman and aged Robin because Mishy wants them to; I watched that on the British news and heard the sound of Mrs Thatcher whirring in her grave. It has come to this. Obama’s speech was the wettest, most pathetic, least convincing warning since ever; ‘red lines’? Don’t make me laugh. America and the ‘West’ have zero credibility in Moscow. Putin knows what he wants and is getting it; Obama can, literally, jog on.

The one person in all of this who can feel happy is Jimmy Carter. Hithertofore the most useless American President of modern times in the international sphere, he rises to second to bottom, with the great Chicago social organiser now firmly anchored in the bottom position; not even Clinton would have been this bad.

You might, rightly, ask what could the US and the West do? But that misses the point of deterrence. Whilst the Russians respected us, they feared us, and even if there was a limit to what we could do, the Russians weren’t eager to see what that was; now they laugh at the USA and really don’t care. Obama will make another speech – like the one he did about ‘red lines’ and Syria – and Putin will need help to stop laughing.

Once you lose respect, you don’t get it back. As long as Obama is in the white House, Putin knows he can do what he likes. Unlike the great Chicago social organiser, Putin is a man of power, not rhetoric. He knows what he wants, he knows how to get it, and he knows that America poses zero danger to that. The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power(less) can say to Putin that ‘actions speak louder than words’, but that one cuts both ways – the US does not act, and that says everything.

Throughout the Cold War one could have said that it was unlikely that the USA and NATO would have been able to wage a real war against the Soviets; would they really have nuked the Russians? That, in a way, is the point – no one, including the Soviets, knew. What they did know was that Harry Truman had nuked the Japanese, and that was all they needed to know; who is going to run the risk that the other side is not bluffing?

Obama has made the classic liberal mistake; he has assumed that words without swords mean something; Hobbes was right – covenants without swords are mere words. Putin is afraid of power, not words. If words were actions, Obama would be the best President ever; as they aren’t, he’s just the best President the liberals have – a legend in his own lunch-hour. But does he then have to put on a stunt running round the White House?

Can anyone imagine Thatcher and Reagan being filmed running round the White House at the behest of their spouses in this sort of situation? If there ever was an image which summed up the sheer useless, media-focussed, let’s everyone feel pink, warm and fuzzy ‘cos that’s cool, tone of the Obama White House, this is it.

In early 1943 Stalin is said to have commented, when Churchill and Roosevelt refused to go for a second front in Europe, that he would send some Polish women to invade Italy, as they, at least knew how to fight. But for all his scorn, he didn’t, because he knew he needed the fire-power America packed. How the mighty have fallen.

From now until the next Presidential election, the rulers of the Axis of Evil can relax – Obama is on watch, so whatever they want to do, they can.

Ukraine and America

In many ways it is difficult for an American to conflate the European Union with freedom, but in some ways we do the EU a disservice. They are far from perfect (so are we) but they are far better than, oh say, Putin’s Russia (soon to be Empire). Watch.

Honestly, even without the disadvantage of our (non)leadership, there is little we could do. The analogy that come to my mind is Hungary in 1956. But now, like then, we can hope and pray for brave souls who are willing to pledge “their Lives, their Fortunes, and their Sacred Honor”. If they truly hunger for freedom they, like the Hungarians, like the Czechs, and like the Poles before them, they are the heirs, like us, of the man who said this.

Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.

Patrick Henry

And so, my question is, “How fares that City upon the Hill, does its light still reach out to the world?”

My answer is , “Yes, yes, it does, but the guardians of the fire have become lax and it is beginning to gutter and flare. They need to be recalled to their duty, still another time.” For we know the light to be far better than darkness.

He’s right, you know. The reason that Lenin had to count on us to sell them the rope to hang us with is because they weren’t aren’t competent enough to make it, let alone design it. What can you say about a superpower whose ruling elite always imported their kitchen ranges from the enemy?

But on another not unconnected story we have some problems of our own that we need to solve.

Erick Erickson had some thoughts yesterday on the Democratic, Demopublican, Republican party. I think and have for a while, that he is exactly correct. The party of Leviathan is in charge whether they claim to be blue or red, and that is not the American way, that we have worked, fought, and yes, died for for over 200 years. Here’s Erick

800px-Texas_Flag_Come_and_Take_It.svg

I was once an elected Republican. I started the College Republicans at my school. I served as the state chair of the College Republicans in Georgia. I have worked for more than two decades to get Republicans elected. But more and more I cannot tell you what it means to be a Republican other than opposition to Barack Obama. I want to be for something, not just against someone. And I surely do not want to be for a party that thinks the problem is Democrats in charge of government and not government itself.

As a former political consultant I know most people want to vote for something or someone, not against something or someone. That, frankly, is one reason why Mitt Romney lost in 2012. He did not really give people something to vote for. He just assumed people would vote against Barack Obama. But a majority liked Barack Obama even if they disagreed with him. New polling shows a majority of people who voted for Barack Obama regret doing so, but they don’t regret not voting for Romney.

What does the GOP stand for?

I know what conservatives stand for — limiting government, local control, free markets, and life. But what of the GOP?

Continue reading Why This Fight

My key takeaway for myself from Erick’s article is this, “I want my government to leave me the Hell alone”. That’s the essence of America, right there.

But does it really matter? Sure I like being free and I’d like my kids to be but it’s a lot of work, and I’d rather drink a beer and watch the ball game.

Well, so would I, but you know something? So would that Ukrainian girl who led this column. And she knows, even if we’ve forgotten that freedom has happened only when a strong people made it so. And she knows that where that “Candy Striped Banner” flies, freedom reigns, as she has for 200 years. That is where the “City on the Hill” is. She doesn’t expect the US Army to do it for her but, she expects us to watch and pray and support how we can. It is our duty, and we are the guardians of the flame. If we don’t support freedom we will lose freedom.

That speech I quoted from above, it was in the Virginia House of Burgesses and it ended this way:

Give me Liberty of Give me Death

 

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Optimism in America?

America optimism

One thing which has always struck me about America, and it is one of the reasons that FDR and President Reagan stand so pre-eminent, is that it is built on optimism. When you think of the situation of the Founding Fathers, goodness, what a leap of faith! They literally laid their lives on the line in a fight for independence against the great British Empire with its huge military might; but they triumphed. Their Republic consisted of twelve States on the eastern edge of a great, and largely unexplored Continent, with French and Spanish territory to the south and south-west; Louisiana essentially barred the route westward; Spanish Mexico barred the route to the south. Yet, within fifty years of the founding of the Republic, these barriers had vanished.

West of the Missouri, however, despite Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition, was more or less terra incognita, and even within the United States, tension was growing between the slave-holding States and the Free, so much so that by the 1860s, the Republic was tearing itself apart in one of the bloodiest of civil wars. Until the end of World War II there was hardly a decade when Bruce Springsteen’s lines about having ‘no work, because of the economy’ were not true; forty-odd years of exceptional prosperity in a material sense may have inculcated the belief that somehow the Republic’s people would always live on easy street – but that, whilst being part of the American hope, was never necessarily something most people actually achieved; you only have to look at the history of the Irish and Italian immigrants to see how it was for many first generation ‘Americans’; and of the suffering of the slaves, well, that is indeed a scar on the conscience.

But, despite of these things, America got on with it. Shady politicians? Crooked businessmen and bankers with their hold over the politicians? Politicians who were in it for themselves? Pork-barrelling? Faction fighting? Bitter insults hurled by political opponents at each other?  These are not new, these are American history; and you know what? America is bigger than them all. Sure, there are worrying developments – that FDR and his attempts to use SCOTUS to put in place that socialistic ‘New Deal’, with that Communist Wallace and Harry Hopkins, that really worries me! What’s that, that happened in the 1930s? Oh well, I mean Obama and Pelosi – except they don’t have an ounce of the talent and drive of FDR and his ‘Brains Trust’. The Great Republic remains standing. Does that mean that the fears of FDR’s opponents were wrong? Or does it mean that their vigilance stopped the worst happening? Or does it mean that the realities of America proved too great even for FDR’s ambitions? I confess I don’t know.

But what I do know is that at his first election Obama spotted something important – he knew that the American people are optimists, ‘can do’ people; after all, how many of their ancestors would have been there had they not been so?  So when he ran on a rhetoric of ‘hope’ he struck an authentic chord in the American people. It was one his opponents did not catch and still show insufficient sign of catching. It is all very well to call Obama out for being pretty useless, and to prophesy that the skies will darken and the waters rise and doom will fall upon the land; but is it a political programme to put before a People founded on the optimistic dreams of a bunch of guys who, if they’d calculated, would have paid the tax on tea and gotten on with feathering their nests?

I am an outsider who loves America. But I can’t help thinking that unless President Obama’s opponents get away from negativity (after all, if people feel, as they do, negative about him, they don’t need to be told to feel it) and offer a vision of the America its people recognise as optimistic, then for all her many faults, it will be Hillary in ’16. At which point, even my capacity to be Sunny will vanish :)

America: Decline & Fall?

A US flag

If, as yesterday’s post argued, America is in many ways modelled on the best of the Roman Republic, the question naturally arises as to whether it will suffer its fate?  There is certainly much about which to be pessimistic, and oddly, for an outsider (as I am) one of those is actually the tone of political debate. This may be one of those things no non-American can understand (a bit like the rules of cricket if you aren’t English, or the ‘off-side’ rule in soccer if you aren’t a British man), but to me it seems at times as though each side thinks no virtue at all attached to the other Party; and quite how one runs a democracy when both sides slag each other off in the vilest terms, I can’t quite imagine. I found, for example, much of the language used by the Left about Sarah Palin (whom I rather like) vile and sexist, and, had it been directed at a Democrat woman, those using it would have been the first to criticise it. As for President Obama, he seems a fair bet to make Jimmy Carter safe from being the worst President since World War II by some margin, but to portray him as the anti-Christ and un-American seems to me a bit un-American. However poor he is as a leader, he did get elected by the American people, and they might be more willing to think seriously about what lies behind the rhetoric next time.

The economy, well, that gives cause for concern, and I am with those who think that since Governments don’t create jobs, they should get out of the way of those who do, and create, as far as they can, conditions in which those people can do so. But one would have to be several sorts of fool to ignore the elephant in the room. As long ago as 1960, ‘Ike’ was warning of the dangers of the ‘industrial-military complex’ – and he was no pinko commie. Ike was in many ways a figure the Romans would have recognised; the soldier turned politician/public servant. As a good republican, he recognised the dangers of foreign intervention and high spending on war; that was the beginning of the downfall of Rome.

America, although one would hardly know it in Europe, deserves well of the free world; without it there would be no free world. But America paid, and still pays, a huge price. Those cost of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has been colossal, and no one can really think it has been worth it. But if, as may be the case, it has made Congress and the People think again about such interventions (think Syria here) then it may well be a lesson almost worth the cost.

The republican virtues include a willingness to serve in the military, and (as the ex-wife of a serving soldier I know this only too well) to pay the price this demands; a free people has to be prepared to defend itself. But it is not a virtue to go abroad to seek new beasts to slay. American needs to remain strong to defend itself and its interests, but too many ill-judged wars like the last two serve only to weaken the economy and the State.

But America has not succumbed to the imperial delusion, even if at times it has been a close-run thing. It remains what it has always been, republican to its heart and mistrustful of imperial ambitions and men on white horses promising utopia. Whatever the shortcomings of its political system, it has not succumbed to the temptations of imperial power, and it has preferred even the messiness of the pork-barrel to the clean lines of imperial autocracy; even if some Presidents have found this inconvenient.

America is the only country in the world founded on a dream. It remains the only country in the world where, if they had the chance, most people would say they would live if they did not live where they do. So, for all its problems, I do not see that America will go into some decline & fall – it has within its democracy tough roots, deeply planted in fertile soil; and its people remain, despite the worst attempts of some of its politicians, the most enterprising, entrepreneurial and energetic resource any great country could wish to have. Sure, the skies get dark at times – but westward ho, the sky is bright.

America & Rome

founding-fathers

 

The United States of America was the world’s earliest real democracy. For all the classical myths about Athenian democracy, the vote was possessed by a small fraction of the people who live there; in the USA that was not so. The blot there, as with Athens, was that there was a system of slavery, where slaves got no votes, but as the 1860s showed decisively, slavery could not long co-exist with democracy

No one wandering around Washington DC can miss the references back to the one successful example of a Republic in the ancient world – Rome. The parallels are striking. Like the Roman Republic, America was a state where the citizens served under arms when needed, and where men of quality served the State as part of what a good citizen did, before going back to cultivate their estates; Washington, Jefferson and Adams would have been at home on ancient Rome. These were men for whom the concept of the ‘res-publica’ – that is the public good, was a reality; it was something they were willing to put before their own personal interests. They had a concept of proportion and restraint; they built for the longer term, not the shorter, able to do so because of the unique genius of the American Constitution.

America is not an unmediated democracy; it is a constitutional one, built on the notion of checks and balances; the founders of the Republic learnt from the British experience. They had their own version of a king, but this king was elected, and his powers were checked and balanced by a bi-cameral legislature. Back then the Senate was not directly elected, it was a model of the House of Lords which worked, where, again, men of quality (who would not have stood for election) could be selected by their State to serve; the purely popular part of the constitution, the House, was subject to short terms so that its members could not long ignore the interests of their constituents. This was, and remains, even with an elected Senate, a very clever system.

For all the attention paid to President’s Obama’s words about acting where he could on his own initiative, he knows, as do those critics using the words for partisan purposes, that there is actually very little he can do. He certainly knows it, and the words are more a tribute to the effectiveness of the work of some dead white men than he may realise (although being half-white himself, he might want to pat himself on the back for the work of his mother’s ancestors).

The Founders knew all about Kings and their ambitions – such men were part of their history as British subjects. They knew, before Lord Acton enunciated the dictum, that power tended to corrupt, and that absolute power tended to do so absolutely; they did their best to ensure that no King George, no King John and no Henry VIII would emerge on the shores of the Republic. This has often been a source of grief to Presidents: from Woodrow Wilson, through FDR, Nixon and Obama, inhabitants of the White House have grumbled. The answer to this is ‘good, that means the constitution is working’.

The ‘imperial presidency’ model that has been in fashion since FDR has brought with it the risks which imperial ambitions did to the Roman Republic. States with a large military need a lot of tax revenue; they are also apt to plead the necessities of war as excuses for suspending normal democratic procedures.From Vietnam through the revelations of Edward Snowden, two things are clear: that this temptation has been given in to by many Presidents; and that built into the American DNA is the refusal to let this happen without protest.

I see the arguments against what Snowden did and think him foolish in the extreme in the way he wet about doing what he did; but I think he was right to protest, and that had he shown more faith in the justice system of his own country, he would have been more effective, and right. Democracy is not owned by either of the American political parties, although they both act, at times, as though that were the case. It is the common property of the people of the Republic. In the end, it is best to acknowledge that no Party has a monopoly on wisdom, and that compromise is of the essence of democracy. And for those who forget that, there is the Constitution to remind them of it. No President, and no party, can govern without the consent of all Americans, and that consent is mediated through the messiness of Congress.

However frustrating that might be at times, it is something in which all Americans should glory, and of which they should be rightly proud. The Founding Fathers built well, and built for all time. In this, Rome and America were not alike – thank God.

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