Friday, September 28, 2012

Confusion Reigns

In the good old days of the Cold War things were simpler. There were two superpowers each had enough nukes to wipe out each other, allies and the non-aligned fakers included, several times over. Noone doubted the reality of  MAD, a mutually assured destruction.  Everyone understood and was prepared to tolerate bad jokes, such as when Ronald Reagan in 1984 publicly announced he "outlawed Russia forever", or when Brezhnev told the visiting president Pompidou of France that he had "just destroyed Paris" after pressing a button on a panel at a space centre in Baikonur.   In neither case were there large demonstrations, and attacks on embassies with cries for the statesmen to be tried for crimes against humanity, or killed outright. Everyone understood they had the power to destroy the life on the planet. In that context everyone was relieved they were only kidding.  You might say that the context of a nuclear threat gave us a sense of reality which sorted out the substantive ideas in political speech from bad jokes. Even if the posturing was sometimes hostile, the politics of both sides were deeply rooted in the common interest of survival. 

     No such luck today. When ayatollah Khamenei or president Ahmanidejad threaten Israel with annihilation, it cannot be taken as a tasteless joke.  They are religious fanatics believing themselves to be have been appointed in a God-ordained commission to usher in the reign of the Mahdi. They live in the end of times and read the political events of the day as unravelling to fulfil prophecies of the Twelfth Imam's return. Their spat with Israel is not a regional rivalry like that of India and Pakistan. Since the revolution of 1979, Iran does not recognize Israel as a state.  Its leaders refer to a sitting member of the United Nations as a Zionist entity which must be destroyed.  Iran denies Israel the right to exist. The rhetoric duplicates Nasser's threats of 1963 which immediately preceded hostilities.  None of the bloggers scoffing at Netanyahu's UN address yesterday lives in Tel Aviv or Haifa. They can afford the luxury of waxing philosophic over the cartoonish shape of the bomb used by the Israeli PM to drive home his point. It's not their bacon that is going to get fried.  They are not within the range of the Shahab 3 missiles paraded through Tehran promising to wipe them off from history.

     In the blogosphere and the western MSM, the hostility towards Israel has never been greater.  It is now generally believed that if not for this shitty little country, we would live in a paradise on Earth. To such mindset,  it naturally appears that it is Bibi Netanyahu is a nuke-mongering maniac who wants to restore greater Israel from the Pyrenees to the Himalayas.  It is he who is crazy or wacky.  Justin Raimondo has convinced himself that Israel is just as medieval in its political system and world outlook as the ayatollahs.  In his idiocy, he thinks that the belief of some religious Jews in the imminent coming of the Messiah directs Israeli politics the same way that the theocratic regime manages the return of the Mahdi.  Somehow, the fact that in hundred-fifteen seat Knesset, the messianists seem to be terribly absent, doesn't seem to faze Raimondo. Shas, the strongest of Israel's religious parties (currently fifteen seats) and member of the Likud-led coalition in fact does not base its programme and politics in any way on religious speculations about the future. As for a Jewish state right to be where it is, Raimondo only needs to pickup a 101-history of the region, to grasp that there has been a Jewish presence there well before any other modern national entity such as the Palestinians.

Failure of US Foreign Policy in the Region 

    That Israel is a lynchpin of US foreign policy in the region cannot be a point of contention, if  the United States are to retain any influence in the Middle East. Israel as America most trusted ally must not be deprecated in the plain view of the fact that the existence of the Jewish state does not threaten anyone. The carefully staged laments over the mistreatment of the Palestinians, are in reality a smokescreen for the intent to annihilate Israel.  The Israelis know that they are not negotiating with an entity (or two) who are on the level and who have accepted the existence of Israel as a bona-fide state.  It is because of this that a political solution eludes the region.  One cannot accept to make deals with people who feel justified in double-dealing. There is no other reason that I can see for the failure of the peace process.  I am sure the Israelis would have found a solution to the offending settlements (as they had done in Sinai) and come to a reasonable terms on East Jerusalem (see eg here).   The Palestinians would have to waive the right of return (perhaps for compensation) which ought to be no problem for a party sincere about its intentions vis-a-vis its one-time adversary.  Problem is that currently is that any Palestinian politician sincerely wishing peace with Israel and open to realistic, mutually acceptable terms, is thereby signing his or her political death warrant.  

    The shift in the US standing in the conflict from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama could be succintly described as the upgrade from chicken salad to chicken shit.  After Camp David and Carter managing to convince Egypt to normalize its relations with Israel only debacles followed. Khomeini was allowed to get away with humiliating the US internationally in 1979, and - unbelievably - in a brazen attack on the US peacekeepers in 1983 Beirut via Hezbollah.  That the US could not find a way to smash dead the vile bare-assed Tehran proxy in Lebanon and assert itself in the region via its democratic ally Israel (nota bene : at a time that the Soviet decay became manifest) will be the stuff of nightmares for true Americans in ages to come.  Over the circa thirty years the US foerign policy in the Middle East has become so aimless and incoherent and plain dumb that it will take a miracle to put it back together again.  I am saying that in the view that the political prostitutes in Washington who used to do the bidding of US Steel or General Motors might these day work for clients in the Chinese Politburo and the members of the Saudi royal family who are not overtly hostile. I may not be the greatest fan of Michael Moore but I found his account of Bush and prince Bandar dining two nights after September 11, 2001 a good summary of the morass and plutocratic corruption the US has become. 

   It has also become obvious over the last presidential term that Barack Obama is just as clueless as his predecessors.  Not only the rhetoric with leftist shibboleths of peace-loving, gay-loving, Netanyahu-noise-ignoring, anti-Islamophobic America solve nothing, they only further exarcebate the problem.  As the Australian historian Keith Windschuttle observed in mid-nineties,

[The cultural relativists] endorse as legitimate other cultures that do not return the compliment. ...Islam will have no truck with relativism of any kind. The devout are totally confident of the universalism of their own beliefs which derive from dictates of God, an absolute authority who is external to the world and its cultures.  They regard a position such as the post-modern cultural relativism as profoundly mistaken and , moreover, debasing. Relativism devalues their faith because it reduces it to merely one of many equally valid systems of meaning. So, entailed within cultural relativism is first, an endorsement of absolutisms that deny it, and, second, a demeaning attitude to cultures it claims to respect.   (in Killing History, Free Press, Toronto, p 272)

President Obama does not know this. This is why he tries to placate the Muslim angry mobs all over the world, and the politics that feed off them.  It will not work. Appeals to logic assume that the addressees understand, or that at any rate, are willing to underwrite, the sentiments of the U.S. Constitution which places "We the people" above any authority, secular or religious. Muslims will not do that. They will not do that because ~80% of mosques in the United States are preaching a seditious, radical version of Islam which denies the very liberty under which American Muslims are allowed to practice alongside other religions. It will not work because the radical Islamists the world over sense a fatal weakness in the foreign policies of the United States, above all an intelligent articulation of self-interest in a way that is understandable to them.

If Obama is serious about what he said in the UN the other day, he will get together with Congress on a legislation prohibiting the preaching of doctrines on US soil which advocate a single ideology or religious schemas replacing traditional American governance .  There are strong constitutional grounds for such a bill.  Muslims understand well the term "sedition".  It also needs to be made clear - crystally clear - Israel is the closest ally in the Middle East !  If a Turkey ship runs a Gaza blockade, US will have to make nasty noise to make sure Erdogan gets the message.  Forget about harrassing Putin; he is not a disguised Soviet imperialist. Take off the ABM-shield from Eastern Europe in exchange for his agreement on containing the Tehran lunatics. The Russians are more worried about them than they let on.   But nothing that the next prez does abroad will resonate unless he and the Congress shows willingness to deal with the problem on the home front first ! 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cui Bono ?

        Two nights ago, CNN published the picture of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, which I presume was out of a deeply-felt sense of public duty, in order to prevent an indiscriminate massacre at the filmmaker's house.  It is obviously necessary to publish the pictures of those who are under multiple fatwas, threats and summons by foreign jurisdictions lest innocent people and American diplomats get hurt by the Muslim multitudes and its legally appointed leaders. Evidently  CNN doesn't want Americans who did not have anything to do with DaVideo to suffer through a case of mistaken identity.  By publishing the pictures of the culprits, and disclosong the hideouts of the miscreants who dare to mock Islam and its prpphet they ensure that in the righteous indignation of one and a half billion offended, the wrong people do not get beheaded. Makes sense, right ?

       No it does not make sense to someone who understands the word civilized.  The media (not sure it was CNN first) did reveal the identity of  Nakoula as the producer and director of The Innocence of Muslims. Fine, so far so good. Not so fine was the outing of his address. It added nothing to the story.  But the CNN's self-advertized caper removing Nakoula's burqa for all to see his face is nothing if not bad and incivil.  Surely, the news network's people know full well that this news increases the probabibility of a lethal assault on him. In view of this knowledge, the publishing of the picture was motivated by malice.

      There is very little that I agree with in the commentaries on the video, its intents and effects.  Both the President of the United States and the Secretary of State denounced the film as an attempt to "denigrate religious beliefs of others",  a phrase which more or less describes an offence under the present Turkish criminal code.  In view of this to say in the next breath that nothing justifies the attacks on US diplomats and our sovereign territory, is like saying 'but we protest being beaten too much !'   The Left generally sees the incident as a loony conspiracy of the Right to unseat Obama in  the upcoming election by stirring up trouble with Muslims.  Max Blumenthal writing in the Guardian professes to belief in a mystical connection of Nakoula to Anders Breivik, via the known "Islamophobes"  of the ultra-conservative strand of the American Copts, and the omnipresent spectre of the two-headed avenger of the Twin Towers, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.  Alas, Blumenthal thesis of a American Coptic conspiracy to destabilize "post-Mubarak Egypt" is now in tatters as the chief logistical support in the melodrama, Joseph Nasrallah, revealed he was deceived by Nakoula about the project and pointed to the clean record of his org, Media for Christ, in respecting Islam's religious symbols.
   
     For its part, most of the commentary on the Right is stuck on the image of Nakoula as a martyr for free speech unjustly harrassed by authorities.  Pamela Geller expressed the opinion that if Nakoula is sent to prison for violating terms of his parole he will be a political prisoner.  The ever-clever Mark Steyn noted that Nakoula was rushed to a midnight interview mere 72 hours after Morsi demanded the arrest of the film principals, he was 'rounded up at midnight by brownshirted men [spare me !] for making a movie that embarrasses El Presidente'.   Hell no ! Mr. Nakoula is a convicted meth manufacturer and fraudster, who is on parole. His parole contract prohibits him, among other things, to use false identities. He used a new identity of Sam Bacile and claimed to be an Israeli Jew for the purposes of this movie. If I understand correctly he still denies he is Bacile, even though this moniker resembles half a dozen other aliases he used and even a portion of his real name (Basseley). So if this guy violated his parole he should be in jail, irrespective what Mohammed Morsi wants or David Horowitz does not want done.  Mr. Nakoula has the right to free speech, true. His rights however do not free him from his legal obligations just because someone thinks he is a hero.

     It is interesting to observe that because of the opposing partisan obsessions the real story of Nakoula is not getting out.  The single most important factual item about his project is that he is the only one known to be responsible for the content of the video (purporting to be a trailer of a movie). None of the other named actors, and promoters of the drama had any input into writing or editing or creating Arabic subtitles or posting the trailer on Youtube.  On what we know, the movie appears to be Nakoula's own idea and product. He is the architect, editor, and production manager.  He obtained the logistical support of Nasrallah's organization under false pretenses, and sought support for his earth-shattering portrait of Mohammed from bumbling bugs like Terry Jones only when the deed was done.   To this advanced date of  demolition of US diplomatic facilities around the world, no-one has yet had the idea to inquire into the financing of his pathetic amateur movie.  How strange !  How strange no-one has yet asked (or at any rate, informed us) if it is true that imaginary Jew Bacile had a hundred Jewish sponsors doling out five million dollars as Nakoula apparently told Steve Klein.  Huh !  Surely there would be some records for revenue sharing in the anticipated world-wide distribution of the smash hit. No ?

      You see, what gets me about this is not as much that there are no hundred Jewish investors in the film. (I'll bet you my life savings on that.) What gets me is that no-one sees that the fictional Sam Bacile and his hundred Zionist mischiefmakers look suspiciously like a clumsy conspiracy ripoff of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion which we know enjoys undying popularity in the Muslim world, especially in Egypt.  Now the question of all questions here is : cui bono ?  Who would find political comfort in an incendiary anti-Mohammed collection of skits which obligingly identifies Jews, Copts and Terry Jones as a stand-in for all Catholics and Protestants as perpetrators of a heinous crime against Islam on the territory of the U.S.A. ? Any ideas ?  

       I don't say that I know the answer to that question. I simply want the media asking it.  Maybe, Mr. Nakoula is just a lone straggler, whose idiocies are innocent of a design and unconnected to anyone. But maybe, just maybe, he is touch too dumb to be so clever that he or his handlers can play everyone for fool in his latest fraud.

      Now if you thinking what I am thinking: i.e. that The Innocence of Muslims is a nasty provocation by the Muslim Brotherhood, do not be scared off by their love for the prophet. It would not be an impediment to a devout Muslim to orchestrate hatefests of Jews, Copts and Americans any more than for the Nazis to use Van der Lubbe to accuse his fellow communists of burning down the Reichstag.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Befuddling Bazookas in Benghazi

Hillary Rodham Clinton has a special talent. She makes people angry without necessarily intending to. She manages to sound arrogant and incompetent at the same time and that more than anything in her politics excites all sorts of people. It could be the hijab-clad young women in Cairo who dissed her with the cries of "Monica". It could be Russia's foreign ministry officionados who relish in telling stories of her naivete. It could be Putin who in 2008 retorted to her gratuitous insult of him as a man "without a soul" that one would expect someone aspiring to be a leader of a state to have at least "brains in the head".   In her superior-but-dumb view of the world a former KGB man could not have soul, and that's that. Where that leaves the first Bush who became president after serving as a director of the CIA, would be an impertinent question. Quod licet jovi non licet bovi, as they used to say in one former super-power. But does Hillary actually understand what she is saying ? 

video
 

       I have a lot of sympathy for the Russian view of Hillary as a self-righteous twit out of her depths, someone who just does not get it.  It is not just the lack of diligence that leads her astray. In one underreported gaffe, she presented her counterpart Sergei Lavrov a button intending to say in Russian "reset" but in reality said "overload".  How could that happen ?  Isn't there anyone in the US State Department who speaks Russian well enough to point out such an embarrassing mistake?  But it is her utter lack of finesse or ability to present a compelling argument which really jars the diplomats the most. In February, speaking in Bulgaria, she described the blocked vote on Syria in the UN Security Council as "travesty".  Both Russia and China presented crisp analysis of the situation, refusing to be bullied into accepting one-sided, and in their mind simple-minded, solutioning of the Syrian crisis.  The country was on the brink of civil war.  The world would be ill-served if the UN, contrary to its charter, were to take up one-sided point of view, demanding the unconditional surrender of one side (ie. the one the US does not like)  to the other.  Whether the affected neutrality of the dissenters is real or not:  the position that Russia an China have taken up demands an intelligent, reasoned response, not characterizations.  One will not win friends and influence people if one cannot deal with a dissenting point of view except by denouncing it and suppressing it.  The former Soviets know this better than anyone.
  
   The Russians have been droning on about the short-sightedness of the US policies in the Near and Middle East since the air strikes of last year. It is unwise, they say to use force to topple ugly, but in the bigger picture, harmless dictatorships. Ghaddafi, for all his domestic nastiness and bizzare clowning, was long past running terrorist hotels and fitness centres. Americans knew that and kept sending him captured Libyan al-Qaeda operators.  So what would be the motivations of the US State Department to have his corpse dragged through the streets by fighters led by one of the terrorists they sent to Libya  just a few years earlier to be kept under lock ?  A befuddling mystery ?  Probably not to the Moscow analysts who note the uncanny loss of memory in American foreign policy which basically operates with a world-view that last followed the Russians at the time when Brezhnev was still somewhat lucid. Will they wake up and start operating in the century which started with a most dramatic declaration that the Islamist supremacists mean business and are determined to destroy the once proud people with the most advanced civilization on the planet ? 

Tales told by the State Department in the times of Huma Abedin

The official US view is that the assault in Benghazi was the work of  "a small, savage group".  There is of course an eleven-year tradition at the State Department to view gross assaults on the people and territory of the United States as the work of extremists abusing the great peaceable religion of Islam.  This "denial" mindset planted immediately after 9/11 is unwilling to come to practical terms with the new challenge and find an effective policy capable of controling it. Instead, it will deny radical Islam exists. It will deny it presents today the greatest peril to the traditional values of the Republic ! It will chastise as "islamophobes" all those who say it does ! 

       But reality comes pinching, my friends. The president or the State Department do not know who is behind the Benghazi attack or wehther it was coordinated with the raising of the shehada (the black flag of jihad) over the US embassy in Cairo.  They have no way of knowing what is brewing under the surface in those two countries.  Yet, the tale of Lybians and Americans fighting side by side is told even as the dispatches agree that most of the Libyan security guards fled soon after the assault began. The scope of the assault on the Americans in Benghazi is reduced to a single location even though most of the major media outlets record two assaults against the Americans, the second coming at a "safe house".   It does not take much brain power to figure why this piece of information is withheld by Hillary and Huma. It directly contradicts the "small" in description of the attacking groups. At minimum, the security of the diplomatic facility was compromised beforehand by the hostile fighters or their handlers.    

      Then there is the soap about the friendly Libyans carrying the dying ambassador to the hospital. Oh, puh....leeze !  First, the body was not carried but delivered at the facility by a vehicle. The pictures that surfaced on the Web show Mr Stevens was dragged or carried by a single person and his distress (if he indeed was still alive) the object of necrophiliac curiosity by the crowd.  Certainly, the images are not consistent with a show of concern for the ambassador's well being:



 A disinterested analyst would conclude that in all probability the people who abducted the ambassador and later delivered him at a hospital were the attackers. To assume friendly strangers  awoke in the night, and rushed selflessly in the direction of  the gunfire and flames to help the besieged Amerians seems more like a bad Hollywood script than anything resembling reality.  Most likely, the captors were ordered by their command to deposit the body at the hospital and a story was concocted (perhaps via threats to the hospital personnel) that he was still alive on arrival. 

Defending Free Speech and Rejecting Free Speech in one Breath

   The administration initial response to the attack is a study in double-think.  I am sure the media would have a heyday with a judge who would begin his sentencing speech of a rapist by saying : "this court rejects all efforts to denigrate the moral sensibilities of the pious, by women who wear short skirts and appear in public unescorted and with uncovered head.  But there is no justification in this type of senseless violence....". Wolf Blitzer or Christiane Amanpour would see right away where such rhetoric contradicts itself.  If there is no justification for senseless violence, why name the pretext under which this outrage is being perpetrated ? No civilized person of whatever confession would agree to an assailant's point of view in justifying sexual assault.  Why then would we agree to link some obscure video and vicious mayhem ? If there is no justification (none!) for the gratuitous violence against the US (and now the West generally !), one cannot preface it with a "but".   It immediately sends the wrong signals !

How then do I think Obama and Clinton should have worded their anger ?  Maybe by saying something like this: 

This administration and the American people condemn without reservation the unprovoked outrage against our diplomats and the symbols of our sovereignity.  There is no justication for the barbarous violence we have been subjected to in Libya and Egypt yesterday.  None !  We categorically reject the attempts of those who fuel hatred against the United States to justify it by pointing to some obscure video on the Internet.   Those who who stir the cauldron of hate against America know full well this is not the view of the Administration or the American people.   They know the great majority of us do not hate Muslims or seek to to harm them.  They use this pretext in their desire to deny us the right to hear all points of view, even those with which most of us disagree, and some of us find morally reprehensible.  Do not be misled ! America will never accept to be dominated by a single religious belief in place of its Constitution which separates matters of one's faith from those of the state.  I beseech you do not be misled about the resolve of the American people to protect its way of life and its interests in the world !

Surely, something like this would stand a better chance to calm the hotheads, and assure those who are the true friends of the US that there are still some brains at work in the US foreign policy.   But this would assume that the State Department advising the president knows what shat she is doing.  And there of course is the problem, considering the current intellectual capacity of the State Department and its self-admitted confusion over the effect of policies which she herself put in place.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

To Quebec, With Love

    I had tons of debates with Quebec souveranistes in the eighties and nineties. What I remember most is their exasperated reaction to my theory that  sovereignity in their rendition was not a political goal but a way to express resentment over their state of dependency.  They went bonkers over that. They called me names.  In one case it nearly came to blows, mind you, not between myself and a proud Quebecois, but between two of them, over the merit of my insight.  Not that either of my interlocutors agreed with me.  It was clearly over a fault line in the Quebec political consensus.

    To an outsider, Parti Quebecois are separatists, but this can be very misleading. Most pĂ©quistes want some sort of continued association with Canada, at minimum common currency and defense. Commonly, they envision a trade and tariff union, and a free passage of goods between the two future countries. They do not see issues arising from people in Quebec wanting to retain Canadian Citizenship and vice versa.  This sort of associationist dreamer's paradise goes as far as imagining that where there are federal public services presently, these would continue to be provided out of Quebec as sort of an outsource.  This idea actually has a wide currency in the Outaouais region adjoining Ottawa, and doubtless played out in the federal Public Service union's support of Parti Quebecois in the last election. 

    There is of course a much harsher version of the Quebec separation from Canada.  Unlike the souveranistes, the minority independentistes don't care much about the future of the bilateral relations with Canada; they will take care of themselves. To the hard core separatists, the independence of Quebec is the equivalent of the second coming.  Achieving it guarantees love and better chances of winning a lottery for everyone. It is not necessary to plan for something that by definition provides solution for everything. Jacques Parizeau, the Quebec premier who almost delivered on the dream in the second referendum in 1995, had a plan which he described Quebers in the advent of a "Yes" vote as lobsters thrown in hot water.  A few days before the referendum Parizeau boasted on a radio show that after the win in the referendum he will appropriate 30% of Canadian federal assets outside Quebec. That by the same logic Canada would have a right to 70% of its assets in Quebec, was passed in silence.  It is that kind of a crazy mindset that almost broke up the country. But as I said, the independence maniacs are rare these days and recruit chiefly in the bucolic verdure of Quebec among those who will never learn English even though they have watched American TV channels daily since childhood.

   Stephane Dion's Clarity Act removed much of the base legal uncertainty about Quebec's right to secede from Canada but the issue is evidently not closed.  The Parliament of Canada recognizing Quebec formally as a nation within Canada in 2006, did not do it either. The newly-elected PQ premier Mme Marois has already made it clear that she wants more powers under Quebec jurisdiction.  Her party remains committed to sovereignity in the long run.  

Nip PSAC bosses in the bud

    In view of the obvious surge in popularity for the PQ, its agressive tone and some of its projects (a petition by 15% of Quebec voters will obligate the government to hold a referendum on any subject - including sovereignity), the Harper's government needs to be vigilant. It cannot afford to pass over political provocations or allow free ride to the naysayers to Canada.  It needs to take initiative and show it is in control of what it has the mandate to control. 

    Public Service Union leaders cannot be engaged in provincial electoral process on behalf of their membership who are federal employees.  If there is no bill to that effect on the books, there needs to be one, pdq.  The calls for busting the union seem disproportionate but we need a firm response to the kind of PSAC activities seen during the recent election in Quebec.  One would expect Rona Ambrose's office to issue a memorandum to inform PWGSC employees of the perils of Quebec going independent.  There would be enormous pressure on the Government of Canada to relocate all its offices from Quebec and remove all Quebec residents from Canada's federal public service.  Anyone offering assurances to PSAC members in the Outaouais region that their jobs and careers would continue as before, is irresponsible and clearly has special agenda.  The breakup of Canada would almost certainly lead to losses of tens of thousands federal jobs in Montreal and Western Quebec.