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Bitcoin and the “Trust Thing”

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

WARNING SIGNS

– Forget not that Trust Thing–

THIS IS OUR NAKED EMPEROR MOMENT

What the Virtual Money trend can tell us about our “Real Money”

 

 

A CAUTION by

Jay B Gaskill

In the beginning, there was barter.  Before Europeans arrived in American, the aboriginal peoples used an informal trading system the scope of which was later detected when anthropologists discovered that crafts and other valuable goods had migrated through exchange trades for hundreds, even thousands of miles across the continent.  When a small tribe of Indians sold Manhattan Island to settlers for beads and trinkets, it was one of the earliest recorded currency frauds, just one in a series of “trust abuses” that would plague Western finance to the present day.

All civilizations depend ultimately on transactional trust.  Without that trust, our basic trading and other exchange relationships quickly fragment; and the general social order devolves into a turbulent stew of thievery, chaos and decline.

Early banking evolved from trusted trade brokers who kept careful books and maintained a reputation for honesty.  Governments followed in their wake, creating currencies anchored (at first) in concrete items of well-established value.

ENTER FIAT MONEY

Fiat – an authoritative or arbitrary order.

Fiat Money – Money that a government has declared that must be accepted as legal payment for any debt, the value of which is not backed up by any actual commodity. Fiat is Latin “it shall be”. Fiat money is faith money as in “full faith and credit”

 

U. S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8:The Congress shall have power to lay and collect Taxes…To coin money, regulate the Value thereof

 

 

 ENTER THE WORLD ECONOMY

 

When the USA was very new on the world stage, our international borrowing was a delicate matter with potentially dire consequences.  The money actually had to be paid back, principally from our export trade-earnings.  For debtor nations like the early post-colonial US, the books had to be kept in rough balance. A deadbeat former colony could quickly find itself crushed by repayment taxes, frozen out of international transactions or both.

Flash forward to the 21st century.  International transactions are so commonplace that they affect every American purchase from beer to hybrid cars.

Decades of irresponsible public borrowing have flourished because there is no large-scale, truly-local economy left in the international system.  Every major nation-state is both producer and customer and is dependent of other producer and consumer nations. Neither the production nor the consumption sectors can long exist without the other.  As a result, improvident borrowing –as subsidized by the device of making more fiat money, is more tolerated and accountability for sovereign debt seems ambiguous.  The specter of governments suffering immediate consequences for large unpaid loans is less common; the repayment issues are handled via adjustments in interest rates, changes over time in the trade balance, debt load and so on.

But the piper must be paid. Eventually there are painful consequences, as the Greek debacle has reminded us.

Many experts still tell us that the USA’s position in the world economy is “safe” because the dollar is still the world’s “reserve currency”.  But they are saying only that US currency has so far remained the most desirable currency in a mix where almost every player is overextended.

This is a weak reassurance, much like saying that, yes the American emperor actually has no clothes, but he is preening in a bath house where all the attendees are stark naked as well.

 

What is missing from this naïve, “no-worries” narrative?  The understanding that the US system is safe only because everyone who now loves the dollar is ignoring the fact that the entire economic system crucially depends on transactional trust.  Whenever that trust collapses, entire economies can go south.  So far, a few bubbles (dot com and real estate mortgages) have collapsed. Among our elites, that damage was considered manageable”.  If that reassurance was true, why are we being told that the current pattern of chronic, low wage underemployment may be the “new normal”?

ENTER BITCOIN AND THE VIRTUAL CURRENCIES

 

“ALL currencies involve some measure of consensual hallucination, but Bitcoin, a virtual monetary system, involves more than most. It is a peer-to-peer currency with no central bank, based on digital tokens with no intrinsic value. Rather than relying on confidence in a central authority, it depends instead on a distributed system of trust, based on a transaction ledger which is cryptographically verified and jointly maintained by the currency’s users.”

From The Economist

http://www.economist.com/news/technology-quarterly/21590766-virtual-currency-it-mathematically-elegant-increasingly-popular-and-highly

In other words, virtual money is a form of barter secured by an electronic bookkeeping system that is inter-convertible into various traditional currencies, as needed, or none of the above if the users end up bartering, say, oil for eggs. Thus, at least potentially, virtual money could become the gold standard of international commerce, provided its system retains sufficient credibility to warrant general trust.  The surge of virtual currencies early in the 21st century is less a measure of how much this “cool”, computer money can be trusted, as much as it is a sign of the declining trust in the various traditional sovereign currencies. 

Other virtual currencies based on the Bitcoin model are proliferating – among them are Litecoin, Namecoin and Peercoin.

Bitcoin is the major crypto currency. The term refers to a peer to peer, decentralized exchange model where cryptology validates the transactions and protects against counterfeiting.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin is an economic pebble compared to the currencies of major governments. But it is a fast growing player.  Recently, a man accidently disposed of his laptop, forgetting that the hard drive contained a Bitcoin “wallet” worth $9 million.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2013/11/30/from-treasure-to-trash-man-tosses-out-bitcoin-wallet-on-hard-drive-worth-9-million/

All governments get in debt, and all government debt affects the value of the government’s currency vis a vis other currencies.  One all-too-easy solution to excessive government debt is chronic deficit spending, eventually leading to rampant inflation, currency devaluation and worse.  Examples include the failed 20th century “Banana” Republics of Latin America, and the pre-Hitler Weimar Republic in Germany.  In spite of these cautionary tales, major governments, notably ours, continue to press the limits of prudence.

At his writing, the US sovereign debt was 17.2 trillion dollars, about $150,000 per person. The overall public debt is running close to 72% of the annual gross domestic product. The annual interest expense for that debt, the service charge, is the one annually appropriated item in every federal budget that must be paid. Currently, the cost of our debt service is about $240 billion dollars, roughly equal to the entire cost of the U. S, Army. After the overall military budget (DOD appropriations, including Army, Air Force, Navy), the federal debt service is the second largest appropriation in the budget. …And just under half of US federal government debt is owed to foreign entities, principally the government of mainland China.

 

THE COMING INVASION OF REALISM

 

Realism is dependable. It always arrives to pierce our fantasy bubbles, whether it rides on the back of a disaster or as a storm-warning that drives a sudden course-correction.  Whether realism will arrive in time to head off a pending monetary/fiscal collapse remains an open question.

The international economic system is based on currency transactions among countries that, for the most part, are pressing the limits of acceptable borrowing and fiat money expansion policies. 

There are consequences: Entrepreneurs must live with the ongoing risk that circumstances in the world economic system can trigger disastrous currency devaluation at any moment.  This fact colors every international transaction.  That risk causes major business players to hesitate to enter into long term projects without securing political guarantees from local governments.

But political guarantees, like hostage negotiations, inevitably lead to the irrational allocation of precious resources. Two features of the entanglement of politics with long term private investments have conspired to hinder the emergence of a truly healthy American economy:   (1) Private investors are discouraged from investing in long term projects at all; (2) … those who do “play ball” with the politicians  more often than not end up seriously compromising otherwise sound business models.

Worries about currency instability result in an overemphasis on short term, quick revenue projects. The few long-term ones inevitably seek political cover, which leads to ill-conceived, and poorly executed business models.  In this way, the potential instability of the world economic system caused by over-reliance on fiat money is primary among the root causes of the “new normal” – chronically underpaid, underemployment.

A case in point: Silicon Valley is a rapid-result oriented economic test bed that produces more one-off millionaires than long term, well-paying jobs. The great majority of Google employees, for example, do not earn enough to own homes in Silicon Valley.

Granted, businesses around the world still prefer to be paid in dollars, but that enthusiasm is dwindling. The trend away from the dollar-as-favored- reserve is bound to accelerate if the US continues to play the “trust us” game to the very edge of incredibility.  At the current rate of dwindling confidence, the dollar’s role as the world’s “reserve currency” has a sell-by date.

This, then, is the main attraction of Bitcoin and the other virtual currencies[1]. Virtual currencies are a rapidly growing finance-model because the world economy’s Emperors are naked – and almost everybody knows it.  The virtual currency pitch is compellingly simple: Why not deal with a smaller, more manageable, “naked” (but well secured by encryption) currency regime, one that is inherently free from excessive political meddling, one where values are tied to the traded commodities themselves.

I have just described something that either looks like a very attractive alternative to the increasingly unreliable world currency system, OR as the single greatest threat to its continuation.

If present trends continue, virtual currencies will inevitably be recognized as a threat to the entire international system. Why?  Because these currencies are the first leaks in a large unstable dam, the edifice of international trade relationships.  At the moment, the aggregate size of virtual currencies is not enough to crack the dam.  But, as anyone who has studied the economic bubble phenomenon knows, that can change on a proverbial dime.

This possible threat leaves the USA and the other world currency players with essentially two choices: [1] Return to more conservative borrowing and monetary policy before one’s national transactional credibility is irrevocably damaged; [2] suppress the virtual currency alternatives.

Fictional Armageddon scenarios portray the survivors turning to barter. Don’t assume that major businesses have not thought this through. Here is the question that some savvy business analysts are already secretly asking themselves: If there is a currency collapse affecting our enterprise, how can a Bitcoin Wallet (or other virtual currency) allow is to continue to function?

To the extent that the question just posed is taken seriously by more and more businesses; and to the extent that the USA and other players fail to reverse the practices that are undermining trust in their own currencies, the political response is easy to predict:  We may see serious government attempts to “regulate” and ultimately suppress the emerging virtual currencies before the USA or the EU (assuming it even survives as an economic player) can recover a sufficient measure of fiscal and monetary sanity to put out the fire.

I do not profess to know the future, but the wise investor keeps one principle in mind: When complacency and reality collide, reality wins.

JBG

 

COPYRIGHT © 2013 BY JAY B GASKILL

FIRST PUBLISHED ON THE POLICY THINK SITE

Readers are invited to forward this article and/or to use pull quotes with full attribution.

For all other permissions and your comments, contact the author via email law@jaygaskill.com .



[1] I know that the crypto currencies are also useful for money laundering. This is an obvious rationale for government regulation (read political management) of virtual money, if not its outright illegalization.

 

SCREWED – OBAMACARE’S SPAWN

Friday, November 8th, 2013

SCREWED – OBAMACARE’S SPAWN

A POLITICAL & POLICY ANALYSIS

BY JAY B GASKILL

… also posted on the Policy Think Site -

http://jaygaskill.com/SCREWED.htm

 

That the Un-Affordable Health Care Act is a fiscal and policy disaster should not have come as a surprise.

When your daughter or niece has unprotected sex with a stranger, pregnancy is a risk.  With the help of the complicit partisan hacks in the 111th Congress, political coitus without protection was accomplished well in advance of the 2012 populist pushback.  The resulting pregnancy was mostly concealed until now. But we the people are late in our third trimester, experiencing belated remorse. An abortion will be ugly, almost as ugly as the monster emerging from the birth canal.

There will be a renewed populist pushback, wider, deeper and even more threatening to the Obama Care train. But it will be late arriving.

TRUTH NOW TOLD: Obama’s DNA is all over this botched attempt at comprehensive health care reform.  Yesterday’s half-acknowledgment of responsibility and carefully crafted “apology” was the most un-Truman act of executive evasion and doubletalk in recent memory.[i]

There were thoughtful voices of caution seeking attention in the months and weeks before this measure’s one-sided partisan passage was secured[ii].  Those voices were mostly ignored.

TRUTH NOW TOLD:  The Obama Care act was social engineering disguised as health care reform, sold as a remedial measure to bring health care insurance to millions of the uninsured.

But a simple attempt to provide health insurance to the poor and otherwise barred subgroups could easily have been done in the way the most successful welfare and safety net measures have been done: Direct assistance through subsidies and/or targeted programs to those in need.  This, of course, would have left the healthcare system intact, not to mention the 80% of US families and individuals who were happy with their current health care payment arrangements.

Obama Care contained a poison pill that was designed to make private health insurance so unprofitable that the industry would collapse, leaving the government, that vaunted “single payer” as the only player still standing.  The ultimate outcome was and is intended by the act’s drafters: To force all Americans into a bureaucratic structure in which health demands are curbed by limited resources and forms of thinly disguised rationing, the model I and others have rightly described as “the HMO from hell.” That poison pill was most likely the handiwork of Anthony Weiner (sorry, the porn metaphor is unavoidable here).

Before resigning from Congress over a sexting scandal in 2011, [Anthony] Weiner raised his national profile by going on cable television, as the White House was battling a unified Republican Party over its universal health care plan, and criticizing the president for not creating a single-payer plan. (Many liberal universal health care advocates liked the idea of single-payer, but it was generally recognized that such a plan had zero chance of becoming law.)

Weiner [said] “I think the efforts of those of us who were trying to get a single-payer system, moved the debate, moved the conversation very far over and made the bill a lot better. And I have heard very few people in Congress say to me that I was anything but helpful in getting that passed.”

 http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/politics/2013/07/8531988/weiner-touts-obamacare-says-hes-different-his-career-politician-opp

Making the bill “a lot better”, as Weiner put it, was accomplished by the insertion of so many bureaucratic controls and demands on the private health care providers that a single payer plan would be inevitable.  Clearly Mr. Weiner shares paternity for the unwanted pregnancy.

The American health care system suffers from too much bureaucracy, far too much top-down, but ineffectual attempts at management, and far too little consumer choice and control.  Real costs are actively concealed by hospitals. Physicians are caught in the middle, forced to cut patient face time, and to substitute approved “codes” for actual, thoughtful diagnoses.  Insurance is a concept meant for occasional catastrophe, based on the idea that such risks can be spread over a large number of buyers, most of whom will never have a house fire or a deadly crash.  Health insurance makes sense only for the highly unusual risk events, not for routine, mostly expected medical events.  What everyone calls “health insurance” is really prepaid medical costs.  Yes the system is ripe for reform, but the social engineers who occupy the executive branch have forgotten the first rule or responsible medicine: “First: do no harm.

A leading democrat involved with the Obama Care project, former Senator Max Baucus, publically called this a train wreck.  That was a bit late[iii], and Mr. Baucus has retired to Montana. What do you do in an impending train wreck? Stop the train. Then – Don’t use that damaged track ever again. Obama Care was ramrodded through congress by shutting down debate, shutting off amendments, ignoring dissent, refusing to have bipartisan hearings on its various hidden and mostly unread components.  This abortion is the bitter legacy of one party rule.

Can this be fixed? Stay tuned.

JBG

 FIRST PUBLISHED ON THE POLICY THINK SITE www.jaygaskill.com

Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Forward this and quote from this as you will, with attribution. For other permissions and your comments, contact the author via email law@jaygaskill.com .

 



[i] “I am sorry that they, you know, are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they got from me.”  http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/president-obama-apologizes-to-americans-who-are-losing-their-health-insurance/2013/11/0

Socialism is Dying

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

THE DISCERNING EYE

ANALYSIS BY

JAY B GASKILL

Also posted at -  http://jaygaskill.com/TheFallOfSocialism.htm

Data is just raw information but gut level knowledge is fundamentally mined from anecdotal evidence.

Sometimes you are able to see the USA with fresh eyes after time spent away from home. Sometimes the experience is illuminating. Our recent return on an 11 hour flight from Normandy, the banks of the Seine, and Paris, was such a moment for me. Having returned from 11 days in France, I bring some anecdotal tidings.

A year ago, the French people fired the conservative and hired a socialist to lead them. They now regret it. The French voting population (birthrate 2.1 – that’s below replacement) got tired of their moderate center-right leader, Nick Sarkozy and dumped him in favor of a milquetoast puritanical socialist, Francois Hollande.

It was a rebound romance. The French people are disenchanted and embarrassed by their most recent choice for President. But this was not some flaky boyfriend– they are locked in an electoral marriage that lasts until 2017.

Hollande’s popular approval is below 30%, the lowest in 32 years. But the more important “tell” for me was the climate of French embarrassment I detected – I believe it reveals a deeper policy/ideological shift in the making.  Most French citizens are fiercely proud of their country and are deeply embarrassed that their movie icon, Gerard Depardieu, had to flee the country for Russia to escape France’s confiscatory tax rates (Holland sought a 70% plus income tax on top on the national value added tax of 20%).

I recall American embarrassment when Vlad Putin bailed Mr. Obama out of the foreign policy thicket he’d got himself into over Syria.  Do you sense a pattern here?

Let’s compare France and Argentina for a moment. Argentina, a less developed country (for now), has a population of 41 million with a GDP of only $ 716.4 million, and has enjoyed double digit growth over several of the last years. France, a late-stage developed Western democracy, has a population of 42 million with a GPD $ 2.3 trillion, but has been experiencing chronic flat growth – both in population and prosperity over the last several years. Argentina’s government is run by the widow of a Peron-style socialist, Cristina Kirchener, who is serving her last term, but faces growing voter unrest.  Growth has slowed, the quality of life has slipped; crime is up; the people are discontent.

“The latest news is the very recent rise of The Renewal Front party, and Sergio Massa. ‘This signals a clear beginning of the end for Kirchner rule,’ said Sergio Berensztein, a pollster and political commentator. … The rise of Mr. Massa and opposition figures in other pivotal provinces represents a ‘jump toward moderation,’ Mr. Berensztein said.” {New York Times 10-29-13}

I just love that phrase, ‘jump toward moderation.’

There are many other recent examples of discontent with socialist rule, but this is what I see in the big picture:

The later 19th and early 20th socialist experiments in centralized planning are failing. This was the Grand Project to remake the human condition by using the power of government. The inevitable results were, are and always will be toxic to non-compliant businesses and sustained economic growth. The fully centralized economies of the old-line communist countries have already cratered.

The “mixed-economy” utopian compromise model is next in line to fail because the egalitarian expectations of the left that a mixed economy can be tweaked deliver all the socialist benefits to everyone are unattainable in the real world. But the attempt to do the undoable inevitably drives the compliant political class to make expensive compromises.  This in turn generates pressure for punitive tax rates and irresponsible public borrowing; and, in the bargain, it elevates an elite regulatory class to power (in the illusion the mere regulations are cost free). The members of the new regulatory class are self-tasked to impose puritanical political correctness on the rest of us.

Rarely has the left been so out of touch with the “common people”.

As a result, the Grand Project has almost run its course in the most of the developed and rapidly developing economies in the world.  The educated populations, thinking now of the French people I just talked with, are becoming less complacent, more aware of the unfair burdens imposed on them, and much more aware of the need to rise up. I heard “if necessary we’ll have another evolution” more than once.

So the natives are starting to grumble. Will the reaction be a jump toward moderation? …Only if it is early enough.  My strong sense is that here in the USA and elsewhere, there is a growing populist backlash, one propelled by members of the threatened and former middle class. It took responsible form in the so called Tea Party movement in the USA, the demonization of which by the left was ludicrous.

In my opinion, the members of the hard left actually fear a responsible aroused population. Only by scaring people sufficiently with a real catastrophe, can the resulting chaos be exploited by the utopian authoritarians – or others. Those who are waiting for a “real” crisis to “wake up the people” are playing  a dangerous game.

There really is a tide in human affairs. The tide is changing. Conservatives cannot save the day alone.  They/we all need the support of the old fashioned, constitutionally grounded liberals, the sane, freedom-living moderates, and the struggling working people who are or aspire to be part of the American middle class.

Only a grand coalition of the “not-leftists” can prevent the collapse of the Grand Project from becoming the pretext for something far, far worse than a jump toward moderation.

The Fabian socialists of England took the better part of 40 years to tip that country into a sclerotic, quasi-socialist failure. And it took Dame Margaret Thatcher, daughter of a grocer, the better part of two decades to begin the turnaround.  It will take determination, humor, work and a little patience, but knowing that the tide is with us, we can spark an American Renaissance of freedom, prosperity and creative accomplishment.  When my wife and I were met by a young, beautiful French speaking African woman maitre d’ who asked would we like to be seated for breakfast, on impulse I answered “Yes we can”.  She grinned and repeated the phrase happily and she escorted us to a table.

The table is set for the friends of freedom and the middle class.  Can we make this happen for America? Yes we can.

JBG

 

First Published on The Policy Think Site www.jaygaskill.com

Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Please link and forward this article as you wish.  For other permissions and comments contact the author via email law@jaygaskill.com.

 

MAD AS HELL

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

HEADLINE: SHUTDOWN AND DEFAULT AVERTED!

REALITY:  NOT

Commentary by Jay B Gaskill

“I’m mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore!”

 

If you are among angry at this point (& who isn’t?), you are probably in sharp disagreement with millions of other Americans who are equally angry at the same events.  This is a clue:

Read the entire post at this link –

http://jaygaskill.com/MadAsHell.htm

HAMLET IN THE WHITE HOUSE

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

THE STOCHASTIC PRESIDENCY OF BARACK OBAMA

As posted on the Policy Think Site – http://jaygaskill.com/StochasticPresidencyExposed.htm

 

Analysis

 

By Jay B Gaskill

 

President Obama has addressed the UN about his Middle East “policy.”  Today’s New York Times calls it an “Evolving Foreign Policy”, commenting that   “Mr. Obama did not describe a long-range strategy”.

No kidding.

In his UN Speech, Tuesday, he made these revealing statements, among others-

  • “I know there are those who have been frustrated by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose Assad, and believe that a failure to do so indicates a weakening of America’s resolve in the region.”
  • “The time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace.”
  • “…the United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries.”
  • “I have made it clear that even when America’s core interests are not directly threatened, we stand ready to do our part to prevent mass atrocities and protect human rights. Yet we cannot and should not bear that burden alone.”
  • “… [W]e need to be modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil, and we need to be mindful that the world is full of unintended consequences….”
  • “…And while we recognize that our influence will at times be limited; although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and will at times be accused of hypocrisy or inconsistency – we will be engaged in the region for the long haul.”

Given the incoherence of Mr. Obama’s policy to date, this was actually a pretty good speech, but even the most adroit spin can only go so far to hide systemic irresolution and pervasive failure of leadership. We did not elect a foreign policy president and we have now arrived at the foreign policy reckoning moment in his tenure. 

When Mr. Obama said “we will be engaged…for the long haul”, he was not talking about himself.  Obama will not be president for the “long haul”. But this country will be living with the effects of his policy lapses for a very long haul indeed.

Obama’s speech eerily reads like the self-serving exit interview of a failed employee who still desperately wants to be liked and respected.

If there is one principle that exposes the Obama presidency, it is captured in one word – stochastic, the Greek-derived term for decision processes that incorporate random elements, in other words, stochastic is a fancy way of describing guesswork. 

 

VOCABULARY.COM

“… stochastic describes something that has a random variable. You like to joke that the city buses follow a stochastic schedule because they arrive at random times at the various bus stops.

 

 

WEBSTER

“RANDOM involving a random variable

“INVOLVING CHANCE or PROBABILITY”

 

WIKI

“Stochastic comes from the Greek word στόχος, which means “aim”. It also denotes a target stick; the pattern of arrows around a target stick stuck in a hillside is representative of what is stochastic.”

 

Mr. Obama’s announced “leading from behind” strategy was a mask designed to conceal the foreign policy wanderings of a chief executive who was working without a map or compass, thinking he was clever enough to feel his way through treacherous territory on guesswork and gut instinct – and who believed himself to be so verbally supple and charming that he could talk himself out of any trouble.

The international community is populated with thuggish leaders who see that pattern as the serial posturings of a weak head of state thoroughly out of his depth. In their minds there is one term that describes such a leader: prey.

This is why weak leaders without a clear, coherent vision tend to get us in wars more often than do the strong leaders who have and declare a coherent vision.

So far, Mr. Obama has been remarkably lucky.  Having already used up his reservoir of public trust and credibility, he will serve this country for another two plus years.

I pray that Mr. Obama’s reservoir of good luck will last longer than his credibility did. 

JBG

Except for the quoted material, this article – first published on The Policy Think Site – is Copyright © 2013.  Forwards of this piece are not only authorized, they are encouraged. For all other permissions, and any comments, please contact the author by email at –outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com.

Having selected the most telling excerpts from Mr. Obama’s UN Speech, I want to be fair. So I am appending the Full Text of Mr. Obama’s speech, appended as a public domain document.

TEXT OF OBAMA’S SPEECH GIVEN AT THE U.N TUESDAY

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: each year we come together to reaffirm the founding vision of this institution. For most of recorded history, individual aspirations were subject to the whims of tyrants and empires. Divisions of race, religion and tribe were settled through the sword and the clash of armies. The idea that nations and peoples could come together in peace to solve their disputes and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable.

It took the awful carnage of two world wars to shift our thinking. The leaders who built the United Nations were not naïve; they did not think this body could eradicate all wars. But in the wake of millions dead and continents in rubble; and with the development of nuclear weapons that could annihilate a planet; they understood that humanity could not survive the course it was on. So they gave us this institution, believing that it could allow us to resolve conflicts, enforce rules of behavior, and build habits of cooperation that would grow stronger over time.

For decades, the U.N. has in fact made a real difference – from helping to eradicate disease, to educating children, to brokering peace. But like every generation of leaders, we face new and profound challenges, and this body continues to be tested. The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.

For much of my time as President, some of our most urgent challenges have revolved around an increasingly integrated global economy, and our efforts to recover from the worst economic crisis of our lifetime. Now, five years after the global economy collapsed, thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized, and people are being lifted out of poverty. But this progress is fragile and unequal, and we still have work to do together to assure that our citizens can access the opportunity they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Together, we have also worked to end a decade of war. Five years ago, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in harm’s way, and the war in Iraq was the dominant issue in our relationship with the rest of the world. Today, all of our troops have left Iraq. Next year, an international coalition will end its war in Afghanistan, having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11.

For the United States, these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war-footing. Beyond bringing our troops home, we have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible, and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties. We are transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law, while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we have begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so as to properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies, with the privacy concerns that all people share.

As a result of this work, and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago. But even a glance at today’s headlines indicates the dangers that remain. In Kenya, we’ve seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall. In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed by suicide bombers outside a church. In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be a horrific part of life. Meanwhile, al Qaeda has splintered into regional networks and militias, which has not carried out an attack like 9/11, but does pose serious threats to governments, diplomats, businesses and civilians across the globe.

Just as significantly, the convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa have laid bare deep divisions within societies, as an old order is upended, and people grapple with what comes next. Peaceful movements have been answered by violence – from those resisting change, and from extremists trying to hijack change. Sectarian conflict has reemerged. And the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction casts a shadow over the pursuit of peace.

Nowhere have we seen these trends converge more powerfully than in Syria. There, peaceful protests against an authoritarian regime were met with repression and slaughter. In the face of carnage, many retreated to their sectarian identity – Alawite and Sunni; Christian and Kurd – and the situation spiraled into civil war. The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge. Aid cannot keep pace with the suffering of the wounded and displaced. A peace process is still-born. America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis. Assad’s traditional allies have propped him up, citing principles of sovereignty to shield his regime. And on August 21st, the regime used chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.

The crisis in Syria, and the destabilization of the region, goes to the heart of broader challenges that the international community must now confront. How should we respond to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa – conflicts between countries, but also conflicts within them? How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war? What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct? What is the role of the United Nations, and international law, in meeting cries for justice?

Today, I want to outline where the United States of America stands on these issues. With respect to Syria, we believe that as a starting point, the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons. When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly. I did so because I believe it is in the security interest of the United States and the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins are older than the U.N. itself. The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity. It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocated in the trenches; Jews slaughtered in gas chambers; and Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.

The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood, and landed in opposition neighborhoods.  It is an insult to human reason – and to the legitimacy of this institution – to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

I know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack, there were those who questioned the legitimacy of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate from the Security Council. But without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all. However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been a diplomatic resolution to this issue, and in the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and then to destroy them.

The Syrian government took a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles. Now, there must be a strong Security Council Resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so. If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the U.N. is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws. On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says.

Agreement on chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria. I do not believe that military action – by those within Syria, or by external powers – can achieve a lasting peace. Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria – that is for the Syrian people to decide. Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country. The notion that Syria can return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy. It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome they fear: an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate. In turn, those of us who continue to support the moderate opposition must persuade them that the Syrian people cannot afford a collapse of state institutions, and that a political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears of Alawites and other minorities.

As we pursue a settlement, let us remember that this is not a zero-sum endeavor. We are no longer in a Cold War. There’s no Great Game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the well-being of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring it does not become a safe-haven for terrorists. I welcome the influence of all nations that can help bring about a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war. And as we move the Geneva process forward, I urge all nations here to step up to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and surrounding countries. America has committed over a billion dollars to this effort, and today, I can announce that we will be providing an additional $340 million. No aid can take the place of a political resolution that gives the Syrian people the chance to begin rebuilding their country – but it can help desperate people survive.

What broader conclusions can be drawn from America’s policy toward Syria? I know there are those who have been frustrated by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose Assad, and believe that a failure to do so indicates a weakening of America’s resolve in the region. Others have suggested that my willingness to direct even limited military strikes to deter the further use of chemical weapons shows that we have learned nothing from Iraq, and that America continues to seek control over the Middle East for our own purposes. In this way, the situation in Syria mirrors a contradiction that has persisted in the region for decades: the United States is chastised for meddling in the region, and accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems, and for showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations.

I realize some of this is inevitable, given America’s role in the world. But these attitudes have a practical impact on the American peoples’ support for our involvement in the region, and allow leaders in the region – and the international community – to avoid addressing difficult problems. So let me take this opportunity to outline what has been U.S. policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, and what will be my policy during the remainder of my presidency.

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region.

We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.

We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends upon the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.

We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when its necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attacks, we will take direct action.

And finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global non-proliferation regime.

Now, to say these are America’s core interests is not to say these are our only interests. We deeply believe it is in our interest to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peaceful and prosperous; and will continue to promote democracy, human rights, and open markets, because we believe these practices achieve peace and prosperity. But I also believe that we can rarely achieve these objectives through unilateral American action – particularly with military action. Iraq shows us that democracy cannot be imposed by force. Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community, and with the countries and people of the region.

What does this mean going forward? In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus  on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.

The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs, and America’s role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy, and directly – or through proxies – taken Americans hostage, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.

I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight – the suspicion runs too deep. But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship – one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

Since I took office, I have made it clear – in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani – that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, but that we are determined to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and UN Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.

These statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable. After all, it is the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place. This isn’t simply an issue between America and Iran – the world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past, and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.

We are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course. Given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government, in close coordination with the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China. The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested. For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential – in commerce and culture; in science and education.

We are also determined to resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran: the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. I have made clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state. Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just, and possible, and I believe there is a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state. But the children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them.

Likewise, the United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state. On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah whose ambition and potential are matched by the pain they feel in having no firm place in the community of nations. They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation. But they recognize that two states is the only real path to peace: because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.

The time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace. Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks. President Abbas has put aside efforts to short-cut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table. Prime Minister Netanyahu has released Palestinian prisoners, and reaffirmed his commitment to a Palestinian state. Current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.

Now the rest of us must also be willing to take risks. Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon the realization of a Palestinian state. Arab states – and those who have supported the Palestinians – must recognize that stability will only be served through a two-state solution with a secure Israel. All of us must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future. Moreover, ties of trade and commerce between Israelis and Arabs could be an engine of growth and opportunity at a time when too many young people in the region are languishing without work. So let us emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice, and support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace.

Real breakthroughs on these two issues – Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli-Palestinian peace – would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa. But the current convulsions arising out of the Arab Spring remind us that a just and lasting peace cannot be measured only by agreements between nations. It must also be measured by our ability to resolve conflict and promote justice within nations. And by that measure, it is clear to all of us that there is much more work to be done.

When peaceful transitions began in Tunisia and Egypt, the entire world was filled with hope. And although the United States – like others – was struck by the speed of transition, and did not – in fact could not – dictate events, we chose to support those who called for change. We did so based on the belief that while these transitions will be hard, and take time, societies based upon democracy and openness and the dignity of the individual will ultimately be more stable, more prosperous, and more peaceful.

Over the last few years, particularly in Egypt, we’ve seen just how hard this transition will be. Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive. The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn, but it too has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy – through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press, civil society, and opposition parties.

Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal from power. In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides. Our over-riding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people, and recognizes true democracy as requiring a respect for minority rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and a strong civil society.

That remains our interest today. And so, going forward, the United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counter-terrorism. We will continue support in areas like education that benefit the Egyptian people. But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a democratic path.

Our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: the United States will at times work with governments that do not meet the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests. But we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We will reject the notion that these principles are simply Western exports, incompatible with Islam or the Arab World — they are the birthright of every person. And while we recognize that our influence will at times be limited; although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and will at times be accused of hypocrisy or inconsistency – we will be engaged in the region for the long haul. For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.

This includes efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface in places like Iraq, Syria and Bahrain. Ultimately, such long-standing issues cannot be solved by outsiders; they must  be addressed by Muslim communities themselves. But we have seen grinding conflicts come to an end before – most recently in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants finally recognized that an endless cycle of conflict was causing both communities to fall behind a fast-moving world.

In sum, the United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries. The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or public opinion. Indeed, as the recent debate within the United States over Syria clearly showed, the danger for the world is not an America that is eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war; rightly concerned about issues back home; and aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim World, may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe that would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security. I believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional – in part because we have shown a willingness, through the sacrifice of blood and treasure, to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest, but for the interests of all. I must be honest, though: we are far more likely to invest our energy in those countries that want to work with us; that invest in their people, instead of a corrupt few; that embrace a vision of society where everyone can contribute – men and women, Shia or Sunni, Muslim, Christian or Jew. Because from Europe to Asia; from Africa to the Americas, nations that persevered on a democratic path have emerged more prosperous, more peaceful, and more invested in upholding our common security and our common humanity. And I believe that the same will hold true for the Arab World.

This leads me to a final point: there will be times when the breakdown of societies is so great, and the violence against civilians so substantial, that the international community will be called upon to act. This will require new thinking and some very tough choices. While the U.N. was designed to prevent wars between states, increasingly we face the challenge of preventing slaughter within states.  And these challenges will grow more pronounced as we are confronted with states that are fragile or failing – places where horrendous violence can put innocent men, women and children at risk, with no hope of protection from national institutions.

I have made it clear that even when America’s core interests are not directly threatened, we stand ready to do our part to prevent mass atrocities and protect human rights. Yet we cannot and should not bear that burden alone. In Mali, we supported both the French intervention that successfully pushed back al Qaeda, and the African forces who are keeping the peace. In Africa, we are working with partners to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army to an end. And in Libya, when the Security Council provided a mandate to protect civilians, America joined a coalition that took action. Because of what we did there, countless lives were saved, and a tyrant could not kill his way back to power.

I know that some now criticize the action in Libya as an object lesson. They point to problems that the country now confronts – a democratically-elected government struggling to provide security; armed groups, in some places extremists, ruling parts of a fractured land – and argue that any intervention to protect civilians is doomed to fail. No one is more mindful of these problems than I am, for they resulted in the death of four outstanding U.S. citizens who were committed to the Libyan people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens – a man whose courageous efforts helped save the city of Benghazi. But does anyone truly believe that the situation in Libya would be better if Qadhafi had been allowed to kill, imprison, or brutalize his people into submission? It is far more likely that without international action, Libya would now be engulfed in civil war and bloodshed.

We live in a world of imperfect choices. Different nations will not agree on the need for action in every instance, and the principle of sovereignty is at the center of our international order. But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye to slaughter. While we need to be modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil, and we need to be mindful that the world is full of unintended consequences, should we really accept the notion that the world is powerless in the face of a Rwanda or Srebrenica? If that’s the world that people want to live in, then they should say so, and reckon with the cold logic of mass graves.

I believe we can embrace a different future. If we don’t want to choose between inaction and war, we must get better – all of us – at the policies that prevent the breakdown of basic order. Through respect for the responsibilities of nations and the rights of individuals. Through meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules. Through dogged diplomacy that resolves the root causes of conflict, and not merely its aftermath. Through development assistance that brings hope to the marginalized.  And yes, sometimes, all this will not be enough – and in such moments, the international community will need to acknowledge that the multilateral use of military force may be required to prevent the very worst from occuring.

Ultimately, this is the international community that America seeks – one where nations do not covet the land or resources of other nations, but one in which we carry out the founding purpose of this institution. A world in which the rules established out of the horrors of war can help us resolve conflicts peacefully, and prevent the kind of wars that our forefathers fought. A world where human beings can live with dignity and meet their basic needs, whether they live in New York or Nairobi; in Peshawar or Damascus.

These are extraordinary times, with extraordinary opportunities. Thanks to human progress, a child born anywhere on Earth can do things today that 60 years ago would have been out of reach for the mass of humanity. I saw this in Africa, where nations moving beyond conflict are now poised to take off. America is with them: partnering to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and to bring power to places off the grid.

I see it across the Pacific, where hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty in a single generation.  I see it in the faces of young people everywhere who can access the entire world with the click of a button, and who are eager to join the cause of eradicating extreme poverty, combating climate change, starting businesses, expanding freedom, and leaving behind the old ideological battles of the past. That’s what’s happening in Asia and Africa; in Europe and the Americas. That’s the future that the people of the Middle East and North Africa deserve – one where they can focus on opportunity, instead of whether they’ll be killed or repressed because of who they are or what they believe.

Time and again, nations and people have shown our capacity to change – to live up to humanity’s highest ideals, to choose our better history. Last month, I stood where fifty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. told America about his dream, at a time when many people of my race could not even vote for President. Earlier this year, I stood in the small cell where Nelson Mandela endured decades cut off from his own people and the world. Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome, when we have seen what changes the human spirit can bring? Who in this hall can argue that the future belongs to those who seek to repress that spirit, rather than those who seek to liberate it?

I know what side of history I want to the United States of America to be on. We are ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges with you – firm in the belief that all men and women are in fact created equal, each individual possessed with a dignity that cannot be denied. That is why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope. That’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world to the next generation.

 

 

 

PUTIN & OBAMA – WOLF & SHEEP?

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

THE WOLF SPEAKS TO THE SHEEP

ENTER STAGE RIGHT:

V. PUTUN, THE CUDDLY HUMANITARIAN

{Published on the Policy Think Site at <http://jaygaskill.com/PutinAsCuddlesTheWolf.htm>.}

By Jay B Gaskill

For The Policy Think Site www.jaygaskill.com

Vlad, the (former) KGB ruler of Russia, has come to President Obama’s aid bearing an olive branch … through clenched teeth.

Today, the New York Times ran Putin’s Op Ed.  {In fairness, I have reproduced it in full below – without advance clearance from the KGB or the NYT.)

Mr. Putin’s Op Ed is skillfully constructed. It is full of humanitarian buzz words and phrases – I call them “gushlets”. – No doubt they were cynically inserted by a Russian expert in “liberal-speak”.  I begin with an early response from key Israeli figures whose beleaguered country has by far the most to lose in this deadly game.

 

PART ONE: THE NOT FOOLED

New York Times 9-11-13

U.S. Backing of Russian Plan Leaves a Wary Israel Focusing on Self-Reliance

By JODI RUDOREN

“JERUSALEM — In tallying winners and losers from the unexpected turn toward a potential diplomatic resolution of the crisis over Syria’s chemical weapons, Israel lands squarely in the question-mark column.

“….many analysts worried that Mr. Assad, his Iranian patrons and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah would emerge strengthened, and that the main upshot of the episode would be a sense of American wavering on involvement in the Middle East.

“When the Iranians see this, they don’t fear a military threat,” Tzachi Hanegbi, an Israeli lawmaker with security expertise who is close to the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told Israel Radio. “To the contrary, they feel the international coalition is weak and stuttering and not enough of a reason to give up their nuclear program.”

Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, said the message to Iran was that “America’s allies cannot rely on it, that its enemies can do what they want and nothing will happen to them.” Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s former foreign minister and Mr. Netanyahu’s political partner, reacted to the developments with what has become practically a mantra here, “We rely only on ourselves.”

 

PART TWO: FAWNS RUNNING WITH WOLVES

 

EXCERPTS

…from Mr. Putin’s Op Ed with JBG’s {running commentary}.

September 11, 2013

A Plea for Caution From Russia

By VLADIMIR V. PUTIN

“MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

‘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 …”

{Omitted in this discussion was any mention of the “innocent” victims killed in Russia’s brutal response to Muslim rebels in Chechnya, or of the potential immolation of Israel via an Iranian nuclear attack. JBG}

“From the outset, Russia  has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future.’

{Somehow I missed that stunning Russian contribution to peace and freedom in Syria.  Was I asleep, or was Putin just making a joke? JBG}

“But force has proved ineffective and pointless. … In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day.’

{Oh dear.  Saddam, the brutal and dangerous dictator was deposed, Iraq has a functioning civil democracy, slightly impaired because Obama has withdrawn support, and “dozens” are killed each day.  Has the Russian President checked Chicago, LA and Oakland lately? JBG}

“…civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.”

“We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”

“We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.”

“If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.”

{No one in the Russian security establishment gives a crap about “civilian casualties”, not “using the language of force”, “keeping hope alive” or “improving the atmosphere.” JBG}

“My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust”

{Translation:I have never trusted this guy, but now I think I can play him’.}

[Putin opposes] “American exceptionalism, [Mr. Obama] 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.”

{Translation: ‘I, Vlad Putin, believe in Russian exceptionalism and there is no room for the American version. JBG}

“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. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

{I can hear the snickers in the Kremlin from thousands of miles away.}

Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.

 

CONCLUSION

We are dealing with international thugs.  The rules for this never change.  Do not show weaknessNever bluff.

An open-ended diplomacy initiative to Assad amounts to permission to dither and game us while continuing to fight a civil war to the death.  It is tantamount to an invitation to ignore us.

And it amounts to a message to the Mullahs-in-Charge who run Iran: Go ahead with your nuclear program, “make your day”.

A tough leader would give Assad a firm deadline then hit him hard when (not if) he fails to meet it.  A really tough leader with strategic vision would use this whole mess as a distraction while we prepare – in secret – to rain down the hounds of hell on Iran, taking out naval, military and suspect nuclear assets as a “got your attention yet?” warning for worse to come.

But if there is such a leader, he is absent from White House.

JBG

 

This piece follows three short articles by Mr. Gaskill posted at –

http://www.jaygaskill.com/OBAMATWAR.htm

http://www.jaygaskill.com/POTUSinTRAINING.htm

http://www.jaygaskill.com/HauntedObama.htm

 

Except for the quoted material, this is Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Author contact – law@jaygaskill.com

 

FULL TEXT – WHAT PRESIDENT OBAMA SAID

My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk to you about Syria, why it matters and where we go from here. Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over a hundred thousand people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition and to shape a political settlement.

But I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening, men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off limits, a crime against humanity and a violation of the laws of war.

This was not always the case. In World War I, American GIs were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe. In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust. Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them. And in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 government that represent 98 percent of humanity.

On August 21st, these basic rules were violated, along with our sense of common humanity.

No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The world saw thousands of videos, cellphone pictures and social media accounts from the attack. And humanitarian organizations told stories of hospitals packed with people who had symptoms of poison gas.

Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible. In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area they where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.

Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded. We know senior figures in Assad’s military machine reviewed the results of the attack. And the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed. We’ve also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin.

When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other day until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied.

The question now is what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do about it, because what happened to those people, to those children, is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.

Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons.

As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them. Over time our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield, and it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and to use them to attack civilians.

If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel.

And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path.

This is not a world we should accept. This is what’s at stake. And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use. That’s my judgment as commander in chief.

But I’m also the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. So even though I possessed the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the president acts with the support of Congress, and I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.

This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president, and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.

Now, I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action, no matter how limited, is not going to be popular. After all, I’ve spent four and a half years working to end wars, not to start them. Our troops are out of Iraq, our troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and I know Americans want all of us in Washington, especially me, to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home, putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class. It’s no wonder, then, that you’re asking hard questions. So let me answer some of the most important questions that I’ve heard from members of Congress and that I’ve read in letters that you’ve sent to me.

First, many of you have asked: Won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are still recovering from our involvement in Iraq. A veteran put it more bluntly: This nation is sick and tired of war.

My answer is simple. I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.

Others have asked whether it’s worth acting if we don’t take out Assad. As some members of Congress have said, there’s no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria.

Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.

Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or any other dictator think twice before using chemical weapons.

Other questions involve the dangers of retaliation. We don’t dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military. Any other — any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day. Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise. And our ally Israel can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America.

Many of you have asked a broader question: Why should we get involved at all in a place that’s so complicated and where, as one person wrote to me, those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights? It’s true that some of Assad’s opponents are extremists. But al-Qaida will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death. The majority of the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition we work with just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.

Finally, many of you have asked, why not leave this to other countries or seek solutions short of force?

And several people wrote to me, we should not be the world’s policeman. I agree. And I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions. Over the last two years my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations. But chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.

However, over the last few days we’ve seen some encouraging signs in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin. The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said they’d join the chemical weapons convention, which prohibits their use.

It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.

I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to met his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closet allies, France and the United Kingdom. And we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.

We’ll also give U.N. inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about what happened on August 21st. And we will continue to rally support from allies, from Europe to the Americas, from Asia to the Middle East who agree on the need for action.

Meanwhile, I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture, to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails. And tonight I give thanks again to our military and their families for their incredible strength and sacrifices.

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements. It has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them.

And so to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.

To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, and then ask: What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way? Franklin Roosevelt once said our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.

Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. 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.

Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

 

 

Mr. Obama’s Haunting Moment

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Also  http://jaygaskill.com/HauntedObama.pdf

SEPTEMBER 11, 2012

Mr. Obama’s Haunting Moment

A Message from

Jay B Gaskill

 

I am haunted by memories today.

On this date in 2001, my wife and I were in Manhattan, smelling the dust, seeing the grief and tears at close range, walking the emptying streets of Mid-town, seeing a ravaged fire truck, crumpled like a run-over toy, people huddled on street corners, jets flying over skyscrapers….

But great evil generates an outpouring of great good. By September 12th, we sensed a surge of greatness and generosity among the people who remained in Manhattan, and who gathered in a nearby park. In the following days, all Americans hoped that President Bush would emerge as the strong leader that history demanded.

Then there he was, standing in the rubble at ground zero three days later, inspired by the rough men around him [You could tell he was comfortable with them – alter all, he ran an oil rig company and a baseball team.] Bob Beckwith, a firefighter was standing next to Mr. Bush in the rubble. As he later told Time Magazine:

“I got home and I told my wife, ‘I’m going down,’ ” he said, referring to the smoldering remains of the Twin Towers.

“At first, his family dissuaded him from going to Ground Zero, but after Beckwith discovered that one of his colleague’s sons was one of the hundreds of firefighters missing, he put on his old uniform, strapped on his helmet and went to join the rescue efforts.

“Beckwith had to finagle his way into Ground Zero when he approached the heavily guarded perimeter.

“I said, ‘Come on, guys. You know I got to get in there.’ I showed them my identification card from the fire department and so a couple of guys let me through,” Beckwith said.

“Once inside the perimeter, Beckwith got a firsthand look at the charred remains of the World Trade Center and immediately began working to find survivors.”

“And the president came and he is shaking hands with all the ironworkers and all the cops and all the firemen that were down there … and I figure he’s going over to the microphones, but he makes a quick right, and he puts his arm up and I said, ‘Oh my God!’ “

After helping the president onto the truck, Beckwith begins to crawl down, but Bush stops him.

“He says, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘Uh, I was told to get down.’ He said, ‘No, no, you stay right here.’ “

A voice called out “We can’t hear you Mr. President!” President George Bush picks up a bull horn:

President Bush: Thank you all. I want you all to know — it [the bullhorn] can’t go any louder –  I want you all to know that American today, American today is on bended knee, in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn. The nation stands with the good people of New York City and New Jersey and Connecticut as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens

Rescue Worker: I can’t hear you!

President Bush: I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!

Rescue Workers: [Chanting] U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

President Bush: The nation — The nation sends its love and compassion –

Rescue Worker: God bless America!

President Bush: — to everybody who is here. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for makin’ the nation proud, and may God bless America.

Rescue Workers: [Chanting] U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

-

Such images and thoughts still haunt me as I watch our latest president wrestle with the consequences of his irresolution and reluctance in the face of America’s enemies.

OUR LEADER IN 2013

[]

Peggy Noonan on her blog in the Wall Street Journal

“The president has backed away from a military strike in Syria. But he can’t acknowledge this or act as if it is true. He is acting and talking as if he’s coolly, analytically, even warily contemplating the Russian proposal and the Syrian response. The proposal, he must know, is absurd. Bashar Assad isn’t going to give up all his hidden weapons in wartime, in the middle of a conflict so bitter and severe that his forces this morning reportedly bombed parts of Damascus, the city in which he lives. In such conditions his weapons could not be fully accounted for, packed up, transported or relinquished, even if he wanted to. But it will take time—weeks, months—for the absurdity to become obvious. And it is time the president wants. Because with time, with a series of statements, negotiations, ultimatums, promises and proposals, the Syria crisis can pass. It can dissipate into the air, like gas.”

[]

Mr. Obama, speaking to the American people last night, while backing down….

“Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or any other dictator, think twice before using chemical weapons.”

…over the last few days we’ve seen some encouraging signs in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin. The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said they’d join the chemical weapons convention, which prohibits their use.

It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed

“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.”

-

Frederick W. Kagan, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, former professor of military history at the West Point Military Academy, writing in The Weekly Standard

“American interests in Syria are clear: preventing terrorists from acquiring chemical weapons; depriving Iran of its most important ally and staging-base in the Middle East; and preventing al Qaeda from establishing an uncontested safe haven in the Levant.

-

“Syria’s use of chemical weapons by itself dramatically increases the risk of those weapons falling into al Qaeda’s hands. Any action the United States and its allies could take to dissuade Assad from continuing that use—thereby persuading him to keep the weapons locked up as securely as he can—is a step toward reducing that risk.

“The best solution, of course, would be to destroy the weapons or remove them from Syria. Simply bombing them from the air poses unacceptable risks, unless they are about to be seized by terrorists. There is a risk of releasing clouds of toxic gas that could kill scores or hundreds of innocent civilians, even when using advanced bombs designed to incinerate chemical weapons. Using such advanced munitions, moreover, would require putting manned aircraft over Syrian airspace, which in turn means attacking the Syrian air defense system in advance. Bombing secured bunkers also makes it impossible to determine with certainty whether all of the weapons were destroyed, while simultaneously exposing the storage facility to plunder by scattering (at the very least) its guard force.”

My PERSONAL take:

CONTEXT:

If you haven’t yet read them, I invite you to take a look at two brief pieces I posted earlier on The Policy Think Site (www.jaygaskill.com),

Obama at War: Bully like a Flea – Sting like a Butterfly

(http://www.jaygaskill.com/OBAMATWAR.htm),

Our President’s Teaching Moment

(http://www.jaygaskill.com/POTUSinTRAINING.htm)

 

My most recent article concluded with the observation that “many of Mr. Obama’s missteps have been less damaging than they could have been because he has been remarkably lucky. We should all wish President Obama good luck this time.

The President’s good luck, on this occasion, came in the form of a “rescue” by Russia’s Thug-In-Chief, V. Putin, who has proposed to “help” us persuade the embattled Assad regime to transfer its nerve gas weapons (some of which may represent the remnants of Saddam’s WMD cache) to the UN.

Peace is at hand? Don’t hold your breath.

Our President was spared the embarrassment of a full back-down or the ignominy of a botched attempt to punish a brutal dictator. He was spared by an authoritarian Russian leader with an agenda.

Over the last 4 years and 8 months, our president has demonstrated only one clear leadership skill.  It is his talent to do smooth, chameleon-like mutations of positions calibrated to advance his personal political advantage in the moment.

It is an act.  The act is wearing thin. 

 

So I am haunted by memories today – and by the “what ifs?” they inspire.

A thought experiment: Setting aside all your political / ideological leanings, ask yourself this-

 Given this President’ bundle of character traits, predispositions and decision-making disabilities, as we now see them revealed, would he be up to the challenge of a 9-11 attack?

JBG

Except for the quoted material from other sources,

Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Please forward this as you see fit.

For all comments and other permissions, contact the author via email at law@jaygaskill.com.

Red Line

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

OUR President’s TEACHING MOMENT

By Jay B Gaskill

Having asked the Congress to validate his Red-Line ultimatum to Syrian President Assad, Mr. Obama flew to Sweden where he said: “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.”

One can’t make this stuff up.

 

I strongly suspect that the pending red-line crisis in Syria represents the very first time that Barack Obama has ever made a serious threat, one with serious consequences for backing down or carrying it out.  We – and the world – are just observers. He is the student.

[As]…”former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin posted on social media”: ‘So we’re bombing Syria because Syria is bombing Syria? And I’m the idiot? … President Obama wants America involved in Syria’s civil war pitting the antagonistic Assad regime against equally antagonistic al-Qaeda affiliated rebels. But he’s not quite sure which side is doing what, what the ultimate end game is, or even whose side we should be on.’”

  • Quoted by Washington Post columnist, Ruben Navarrette Jr.

[President Obama] “…lectures Congress, seeking an accomplice while talking about accountability. Perhaps he deserves Congress’ complicity – if he can convince it that he can achieve a success he can define. If success is a “shot across the bow” of Syria’s regime, he cannot fail: By avoiding the bow, such a shot merely warns of subsequent actions.”

 

[His] “…sanctimony about his moral superiority to a Congress he considers insignificant has matched his hypocrisy regarding his diametrically opposed senatorial and presidential understandings of the proper modalities regarding uses of military force. Now he asks from the Congress he disdains an authorization he considers superfluous. By asking, however reluctantly, he begins the urgent task of lancing the boil of executive presumption. And surely he understands the perils of being denied an authorization he has sought, then treating the denial as irrelevant.”

  • George Will, writing in The Washington Post

“For Mr. Obama, national security is theater.  Mr. Obama is playing a game.  …his national security posture is a self-serving story, a tale being made up as he goes along, part of the book about himself he is writing in his head (“Dreams of my Exploits”).  [Sadly] our president is addicted to the politics of gesture.”

 

This President’s “red line” rhetoric has provided an opportunity for Americans to attain a long neglected measure of moral and policy clarity.  As spectators in a presidential teaching moment, we should watch closely and absorb the lessons.

Therefore we need to face the snake head on.  This is the dangerous creature called by many names, among them, the fanatical, anti-western Jihad.

Mr. Obama’s teaching moment has dragged the Congress, the Democratic Party and the country into a thicket of foreign policy incoherence, exposing US Middle East policy for the ambivalent mess that it is.

Ever since the September 11th, 2001 attacks on American soil, the USA has been caught up in a war declared by bloody-minded jihadist fanatics against Western liberal democracy. This was not a war of our choosing. But doubt not that we are actually at war.

Notwithstanding that reality, it is apparent that the policy gurus in this administration are caught up in the illusion that militant Islam can be tamed by gestures, soft words and diplomacy. In this conceit, they are Austria before the Anschluss. This reality-disconnect frames the context of our president’s teaching moment.  He hopes to authorize a retaliatory gesture utilizing US missiles and bombs against the entrenched Syrian regime. He may even fantasize that Iran will tremble.

Because we are actually at war, our situation requires a much clearer understanding of what we are fighting against. The enemy is militant pan-Islamic nationalism, driven by its followers’ audacious vision of a united Islamist superpower bestriding the Middle East like a colossus, armed with nuclear weapons, able to intimidate the decadent West and reverse the humiliations of the last century. They will not surrender.

Talk of the coming Syrian “gesture” attack takes place in a larger, graver context: We need above all, to prevent militant Islam from getting nuclear weapons, starting with Iran.  Everything else is a subordinate concern.

I suspect that this “teaching moment” is why the congressional hawks are leaning in favor of a force authorization – not because it is sufficient or even makes strategic sense, but in the faint hope that Mr. Obama will learn from the experience to be much tougher, much sooner.  But the notion that Mr. Obama can be toughened by a one-off Syrian missile strike is as unrealistic as is the administration’s delusion that Islam can be tamed by perpetual softness.

RECOVERING COHERENCE,

COURAGE,

AND COMMON SENSE

American foreign policy, whether in peace or at war, should stand on three legs:

  1. American self-interest;
  2. The moral compass that defines and guides us;
  3. A prudent regard for that which is realistically attainable.

The prospect of pursuing the forthcoming symbolic shot-across-the-bow, motivated by moral considerations only, without the realistic prospect of having any lasting real-world consequences for good or ill, teeters for lack of two of three legs of any solid, coherent foreign policy. A political gesture of this sort is neither prudent, nor in America’s self-interest.

In previous articles, I have noted that many of Mr. Obama’s missteps have been less damaging than they could have been because he has been remarkably lucky.

We should all wish President Obama good luck this time.

But I am praying for far better judgment and resolve than he and his team have so far demonstrated.

JBG

First Published on The Policy Think Site and linked Blogs.

Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Author contact for permissions and comments is via email- outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

OBAMA AT WAR

Friday, August 30th, 2013

OBAMA AT WAR:

Bully Like a Flea – Sting Like a Butterfly[1]

 

A Brutally Honest Analysis by Jay B Gaskill

This needs to be put bluntly: For Mr. Obama, national security is theater.  

Mr. Obama is playing a game.  In this game, the President of the United States gets to use the giant defense arsenal of the US security and military apparatus as a prop for the “grand gesture” on the world stage.  Mr. Obama seems to lack the insight to realize that he is playing that game. Nor does he appear to realize that his national security posture is a self-serving story, a tale being made up as he goes along, part of the book about himself he is writing in his head (“Dreams of my Exploits”).

Our president is clueless about his own decision processes. Our president is addicted to the politics of gesture.  His foreign policy is gesture politics, writ large.

Consider is how the Middle East looked before the disastrous Arab “Spring.”

The long-standing peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (negotiated with Anwar Sadat, who was later assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood) was secure.  For the first time in memory, Iraq was enjoying a stable democratic government at peace with its neighbors. The Turkish government was still secular and tolerant, enjoying the legacy of Ataturk, the father of the Turkish Republic. Of course, Iran was engaged in a duplicitous jihad strategy, building an atomic bomb capability, lying about it, supporting terror through its client state, Syria, and the jihadi Hezbollah forces supported there, and lying about that.  Syria was run by Assad, a terrorist-supporting dictator operating under the false colors of a moderate dictator.

All that was before the Arab “Springtime for Jihad” emerged, full blown, a bitter parody of hope and change. Now consider the present moment.

  • The fragile optimism of the Arab Spring has evaporated.
  • The liberal-secular elements in the Syrian rebel forces have lost control of the revolution there.  Now the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamist elements are in charge.
  • In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood swamped the first national election and installed one of its own as president of Egypt. In an Emperor’s New Clothes moment, Morsi was evicted. Of course, the Brotherhood is rioting; and our president is wringing his (metaphorical) hands.
  • The Iranian nuclear bomb program is approaching the point of no return (amid more presidential hand-wringing).
  • Hezbollah is now a renewed regional threat.

Let’s leave all the gestures, the spin and the blame game-aside: We face a grave threat. Wishful thinking has failed.

The US national interest does not change just because the security situation deteriorates or because POTUS chooses to ignore the facts on the ground. Consider:

  • The USA, the region and the world, still need a Middle East that is no longer a terrorist incubator.
  • This requires a stable and peaceful Iraq and a secure, productive Israel, at peace with the US and its neighbors.
  • The bloody-minded jihadists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, remain an existential threat to our security interests, and must be marginalized.
  • Iran must not be allowed to destabilize the region, and cannot be allowed to become a nuclear power.
  • Syria’s role as the terror-client-of-Iran must be ended, and Hezbollah needs to be crushed.
  • The pre-911 isolationism prevalent in the US is just as toxic now as it ever was.

None of our major security objectives can be attained, nor can our security situation be improved, by a few, pre-announced missile strikes on selected targets in Syria.  Hezbollah will not be crushed.  The Jihad will not be tamed.

The time to fruitfully intervene in the Syrian rebellion was before the Muslim Brotherhood took control of the rebels. That opportunity was squandered months ago while Mr. Obama so was absorbed in his “analytic calculations” that he failed to lead.

Either Assad will win or the radicalized rebels will.  There will be hell to pay in either scenario. But going forward, we cannot allow the hostile, terror-supporting regime poised to emerge in Syria to acquire the resources to support and export terror. 

History’s authentic leaders are remembered because they led.  History’s temporizers and appeasers are remembered because they did not. The good leaders took the stage when the moment was ripe, and boldly implemented the measures needed to protect their country’s vital interests in a time of peril. The non-leaders punted.

Leading from behind is not leadership at all.  It is a pretense.

There is one secret to coping successfully with the thuggish regimes that populate world politics.  Be tougher than they are, and never bluff. Thugs can tell the difference between the feather display of an angry peacock and the warning growl of an angry lion.

Is it too late to salvage this mess? …Not at all.

No other country in history has enjoyed the ability to project massive destructive power at the distances and to the extent that US forces still can.  Even in our weakened circumstances, America still has the raw military capability to bring down the regimes in Iran and Syria without deploying massive ground troops.  By using air power relentlessly and without concern for the opinions of others, American military assets can readily destroy the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, most of Hezbollah’s forces, the navy and air defenses of Iran, and its major economic assets.  Syria can be dealt with at the same time.  The USA is still that powerful.

When American military and national security resources are credibly unleashed, ready and willing to do real damage, they are far less likely to be used.

But is it too late for this president to salvage something from this mess?  That poses a question of character, judgment and courage.  Can you imagine this American president seizing the moment and saving the day?

I can’t.  Our president is handicapped by his own prior decisions and non-decisions, and by some innate character flaws.  In a word, Mr. Obama is decision-challenged.  Our adversaries – and they are legion – have Figured This Out.

No one is afraid of the United States under this president; Mr. Obama’s threats are likely to be dismissed as political posturing.  Perhaps they should not be, but perceptions govern actions; and thugs are goaded on by the perception of weakness.  This is one reason that the Russians did not hesitate to deploy major naval assets into the Middle East conflict region.

And it is the chief reason that weak presidents are more dangerous to the peace than strong ones.

JBG

First Published on the Policy Think Site, Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Permission to forward this article is granted by the author.

For comments and other permissions, contact the author via email: outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com



[1] Apologies to the legendary American boxer, Mohammed Ali (Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., January 17, 1942-), who famously said, “I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

CONSERVATISM’s MISSING COMPASS

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Without its moral code, conservatism will fade away;

BUT WITH IT,

Conservatism can lead a 21st century American renaissance

 

Political Analysis

By

Jay B Gaskill

 

 

The alcohol prohibition era of the last century was a failed experiment in liberal social engineering. Political correctness is the new puritanism; this overreach by progressive liberalism is an opening for the resurgence of a practical, reasonable, morally anchored conservatism, presented with clarity and humor.                

Any long-term conservative recovery must grow from a well-understood and easily explained moral core.  Otherwise, conservatives will be pissing into the progressive headwinds, mouths open, eyes unprotected and compasses gone wild.

CAUTION: The conservative moral core is not centered on the feel-good therapeutic values of the left – nor is it one more version of the harsh, overly judgmental values attributed the “vast right wing conspiracy.”

By necessary implication, the conservative moral code contains the core features of our common morality, the principles and precepts that undergird any healthy civilization (as in no stealing, cheating, lying, raping, pillaging, assaulting or trespassing on/against innocent men, women and children).

People still assume that these common moral precepts are equally shared by modern liberals, but that is not always the case.  If you doubt this, study the positions of t progressive left activists on law and criminal justice, on terrorism and national security.

A robust adherence to traditional moral values among the loudest voices of the progressive left? Not so much. The Democratic Party attempts to compensate for this embarrassment by going for the images we associate with America’s moral comfort zone. Think of the liberal in Southern or Midwestern clothing, like candidates Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The current leader of the Democratic Party, our president, is an outlier.  This is true both in policy terms and style. Most Americans, and a large plurality of Democrats, are disenchanted, but criticism is muted because Mr. Obama is protected by a politically-correct force field.  That free pass is revoked in 2016.

CORE ELEMENTS OF THE CONSERVATIVE MORAL CODE

The conservative moral code inspires and drives five distinctly conservative projects:

Protect all innocent American men, women and children, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, conventional or unconventional, from criminals, terrorists, invaders and other predators, including government itself.

Protect all law-abiding productive, creative and striving Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, whether conventional or unconventional, from the cadres of invasive, bureaucratic, puritanical officials bent on punishing success, hindering accomplishment and achievement, and meddling with creative initiative and freedom, in all its manifold forms.

v  Promote upward mobility for all Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, whether conventional or unconventional.

v  Ensure individual personal accountability for failures and misdeeds, while protecting the fruits of success for all Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, conventional or unconventional.

v  Commit to practical, commonsense policies that work in the real world; and relentlessly expose the opposite ones promoted by the progressive left.

These are the five touchstones of big-picture, morally-anchored, forward-aimed conservatism.  All the rest – the bickering, the honest the policy differences, the rhetoric, all of it – is small change.

Why are these five goals both conservative and morally grounded? How can this be explained in simple, commonsense terms?

Nineteenth and twentieth century conservatives like Edmund Burke and Winston Churchill in the UK, and eighteenth and nineteenth century conservatives like Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln in the USA were considered liberals in an entirely different context and sense than in the present usage.  They, like the shopkeepers, artisans and professionals who rose up in the 18th and 19th centuries against royal privilege and control, were not levelers, driven by resentment of the hard-won achievements of others. They were achievers and aspiring achievers in their own right, those who opposed the dead hand of the titled classes, challenging the ersatz achievement of inherited status of the complacent royals who would suppress the aspirations of the real achievers.  This was classical liberalism, and it is part of the modern conservative heritage.  It is rooted in two morally anchored ideas, a belief in the innate dignity-status of every human being, and in the concomitant right to earn and own property, including land.

There once was a rock solid moral consensus among Americans, both liberal and conservative, that went something like this:

We believe in the dignity of the individual, in her or his absolute right to earn and keep property, to defend self, family and home against predators; and we believe in a country that takes as its first responsibility the duty to protect its individual citizens from such invasions; and undertakes to refrain, itself, from becoming another invader. 

And, by virtue of our country’s essential legitimacy as a guarantor of the personal dignity of its citizens, we believe that the USA is and should remain a mighty nation worthy of defense from all enemies domestic and foreign, a defense to which we, as Americans, are firmly bound.

Somehow in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, progressive liberals “evolved”.  Now they are no longer “comfortable” with this consensus. And they have quietly discarded the classic liberalism of the Founders.

Instead, modern, movement-progressives tend to misappropriate the common language, twisting and obfuscating the old terms – for example – subordinating individual rights to collective “claims” that are deliberately mislabeled “rights”.

In manifold, subtle ways, over the better part of a century, through curriculum changes in schools and academy, through conversions of a critical mass of the chattering classes, a takeover of the media, progressives have been busy with the “mind-change project”: to overwrite the older (read outmoded) moral code with a vaguely therapeutic morality.

In place of criminal justice they propose “treatment”.  In place of individual, restorative justice, they propose collective “social justice”.  In place of the right to own property they propose “social responsibility”.  But without the right to property, we become the de facto property of the governing elites.

The key principle conservatives need to fiercely defend here is that justice and morality are part of one in the same determination: An individual accounting based on individual responsibility.

Because (to paraphrase Acton) politics corrupts, and absolute politics corrupts absolutely, the power of the “people” (read the power of political classes) to control how and where we individuals live, work, earn, keep and spend – and with whom, for whom, presents a grave moral issue.  Conservatives need to respond to all this in a way that incorporates common sense morality at every turn. Human freedom, as a value, springs from the respect for individual human dignity in the context of the moral obligation to respect the individual human dignity of those who do the same.

Beware the utilitarian argument.  Allowing a free market may be more “efficient” and may over time generate more “income”, but those very terms invite the end of freedom when its exercise is less “efficient”.  Substitute the phrase “allowing me to live my own life” for “allowing a free market”. Now spend a minute reflecting how, in an interest-group-driven political regime, being “allowed to live my own life” might become inconvenient to the political classes.

There are utilitarian arguments for protecting the “productive, creative and striving” among us from petty officials.  And there are utilitarian arguments for assessing accountability for “failures and misdeeds, while protecting the fruits of success”. But suppose these are restated as a moral principle, applicable to all Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, whether conventional or unconventional. Do you sense the change?  The utilitarian arguments are suddenly ennobled and acquire potency – when the arguments are explained and added – words have the power to stop the progressive juggernaut in its tracks.

And the practice of soft-balling values in favor of utilitarian arguments can lose elections. In an astute analysis of the GOP defeat in 2008, Values Voters Prevail Again by Christopher Caldwell[1], pointed out that the republicans allowed the democrats to dominate the values debate “Where two candidates argue over values, the public may prefer one to the other. But where only one candidate has values, he wins, whatever those values happen to be.”

You may notice that I included, as a specifically conservative principle, the obligation to “promote upward mobility for all Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, whether conventional or unconventional.”

America is the product of upward mobility; it is in our DNA.  The ideal of upward mobility is a statement of moral principle for Americans.

Conservatives support this ideal without using therapeutic language or proposing an open ended entitlement model.  This is a statement of conservative principle, of the core moral belief in human dignity, and of conservative support for the American Dream as a primary moral value.

Conservatives are about practical, commonsense policies that work in the real world. Upward mobility does not apply to invaders.  Nor does it entail downward mobility through welfare addiction.  But it does apply to all those “huddled masses, yearning to be free” once they are legitimately and legally present as our neighbors. It is a sign of deep respect.

As an illustration, only (this is not about personalities), I suggest that Marco Rubio, the Florida Senator, has not placed himself outside the intra-conservative dialogue by leading out on “immigration reform.”

Conservatives will disagree on aspects of the policy merits. But while doing so, every conservative in the conversation needs to explain the core moral commitment to upward mobility, and to outline workable conservative policies that are consistent with that principle.

THE OBLIGATION TO EXPLAIN AND PERSUADE

“Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
Ronald Reagan, White House Conference on Small Business (August 15, 1986)

President Reagan was particularly good at this because of the confluence of unique circumstances in his life. He lived and worked among Hollywood liberals; he spent years as a patriotic spokesman for General Electric; he honed his policy and rhetorical skills as a two term California governor; he was continually underestimated by his opponents; and he achieved moral clarity in part because he was a privately religious man, and in part because the Cold War demanded and facilitated moral clarity.

Almost all Beltway politicians – and most others, tend to repeat rote phrases as a shorthand for arguments never made; or when pressed, they repeat standard arguments with little explanation and less conviction.  This leaves us with the conservative cause in the less-than-capable hands of men and women content to piss into the progressive headwinds, unaware that their mouths are open, eyes unprotected and compasses gone wild. These are the would-be leaders who are content only to “stir up the base” while persuading almost no one among the un-persuaded.

For all the reasons indicated, and more, the forward-aiming conservative case will be a compelling reason for a majority of voters in 2016 to actually elect the conservative alternative over a liberal-progressive, the virtually inevitable Democratic candidate.

But that case cannot be made just then; and only belatedly incorporated into the run up to the coming presidential election. The case needs to be made now and by hundreds of different public voices.

To paraphrase Mr. Reagan, a conservative should not speak ill of another conservative in times like these.

Every single public figure, every woman or man in the public square with a legitimate place in the conservative dialogue, everyone who begins to personify the resurgence of a practical, reasonable, morally anchored conservatism presented with clarity and humor, is hereby deemed an ally of the conservative movement and, by extension, an ally of the American Renaissance.

 

Government is like a baby – an alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.

►Ronald Reagan

 

In times like these, all allies are to be cultivated and respected. We might as well be living in the Cold War, because the stakes for the survival of this remarkable, beloved country of ours could not be higher.

The hope of hundreds of millions of people around the globe, looking at us from a remove, are captured in the phrase, “God save America”.

But, we are the Americans. And as the Bard wrote[2], our fate is not in our stars, but ourselves….

JBG

Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Forwards are welcome & encouraged. For other permissions & comments: outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com.


[1] {http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/values-voters-prevail-again_662229.html }