Clueless Harming the U.S.: Without & Within
By Rachel Ehrenfeld
Monday, June 17th, 2013 @ 11:25AM
Imagine, the White House and Iran’s president-elect agree. Both congratulated the Iranian people on their determination to participate in the “political process” of the purported election.
President Bashar al-Assad also voiced his approval, congratulating Hasan Rohani for gaining “the trust of millions of the brotherly Iranian people.” In a televised address following his victory, Rohani “thanked the Iranian people for their huge turnout” in the election, and called on the West to respect Iran.
It didn’t take long for the White House to assure Rohani that “we respect the vote of the Iranian people,” praising their “determination to act to shape their future.”
Iran’s official voters turnout of 72.7% is still smaller than the 100% turnout in North Korea, or 90% in Cuba. But like them, the “political process” and “election” that the White House praised was staged. Each “candidate” played the role scripted by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was quoted saying, “Recently I have heard that a U.S. security official has said they do not accept this election. OK, the hell with you.” Nevertheless, the administration announced, yet again, it was “ready to engage the Iranian government.” Administration officials on Sunday talk shows described Rohani as a “moderate” and a “reformer.” Yet, he has never claimed to be either.
You would think our experience with Iran since 1979 would have taught us something. Still, we go on believing such things as that sanctions will moderate Iranian behavior and that negotiations with the Islamic Republic can bring the same results as negotiations with Western-style democratic countries.
The 237-year-old U.S. is a country made of immigrants from all corners of the world and different cultures, religions, historical experiences, and national identities, yet we do not understand the historical, national, and religious influences on the political decision-making processes of places like Russia, China, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, and even Europe.
Being American is to have a political identity based on Enlightenment values that are not shared by much of the world. Such values as individual human rights and freedoms seem to us universal, recognizable by anyone anywhere as part of their own traditions, as is our enthusiasm for group rights over the past several decades. This sort of thinking is not shared by a good part of the world.
Not surprising therefore is U.S. failure at the “mission” to spread American-style freedom, justice, and democracy the resentment it has generated. In fact, these seem even more out-of place, considering that the U.S. current president and his administration have been methodically tarnishing whatever efforts were made in the past to develop and ingrain a national identity and patriotic pride and reluctance to pursue America’s national interests. The failure to project power coupled with resentment are pushing the degradation of American influence in the world toward completion.
To make decisions that will not come back to bite us and would better serve U.S. interest, it’s essential to understand the different long-term outlook of other nations. Where a confluence of political cultures is possible, it may and should be pursued. Stalwart U.S. backing for other democracies is hardly an “old saw” past its time.
Yes, Americans are tired of foreign wars after Iraq and Afghanistan and there is reluctance to get involved in Syria’s Sushi (Sunni/Shiite) war that has no “good guys” to empathize with. However, the will to project power where the interests of the U.S. and other Western-style democracies are clearly at stake needs to be found again. They are surely not with totalitarian regimes that use the Orwellian meaning of democracy.
Sol Sanders vividly describes the administration’s missteps that cause the dimming of the “Shining City on Hill.”
The Real Scandal*
By Sol Sanders
One of the more bizarre aspects of the current deluge of Washington scandals is that their very numbers permit President Barack Obama to finesse and continue to play a role as No. 1 Observer and chief political fundraiser.
The almost weekly additions to news of the Administration’s dereliction of duty and corruption diffuse public concern and deflect the critics including the Republicans (with what appears poor staff work). There is no zeroing in on one of the particular substantial targets to maximize the political effect.
It would take, indeed, a Solomon to distinguish which one scandal is of more serious concern for the wellbeing and adequate functioning of The Republic. All threaten the trust and confidence in a limited government once inherent in the traditional and unique American constitutional system.
Would it be the incompetence of the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco – the name no more anachronistic than its operations apparently – which so bungled an effort to track Mexican drug cartel weaponry that it ended up supplying guns for the murderer of American agents?
Or would it be a State Department security apparatus so politicized by the (maybe) 2016 candidate for president that it neglected to prepare in chaotic Libya for an attack on the anniversary of 9/11? Or worse still, who gave a still unaccounted “stand down” order in the military chain of command (is it not headed by the president-commander-in-chef?) dishonoring the U.S. warrior code requiring that no man be left behind? Instead, four brave Americans, an ambassador and three of his defenders, were left to die at the hands of especially barbaric opponents.
Or is the use of the world’s most efficient tax-collecting system, and therefore its most powerful bureaucracy, to harass and inhibit political opponents? Examining charges of pedophilia and prostitution and an assortment of other “minor” offenses among American diplomats will, presumably, continue to be swept under the diplomatic red carpet.
Betwixt the repeated denials of knowledge of the workings of their own bureaucracy and admissions of guilt, so-called “acceptance of responsibility” has become a meaningless cliché. No one gets fired, some get promoted, and others are put on “administrative leave” continuing to pull down inflated salaries and bonuses. And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who told us “what difference does it make” that she and others lied to the public about the origins of this major disaster, ended her tenure at one of our most important government bureaucracies apparently unscathed.
The Obama Administration has even shot itself in the foot–and created a serious constitutional issue–by its illegal pursuit of a largely docile media. Conspiracy to injure U.S. national interest is not, of course, outside the bounds of investigation of the media, especially when such an old paranoid anti-American voice as The Guardian is involved. The footnote is critical that the attorney-general of the U.S.– after being turned down by two judges–charged in his search warrant for a Fox reporter’s personal papers and communications that he was in pursuit of a criminal charge under the espionage law. His claim now that he never had any intention to pursue it but simply committed a ruse to get the judge’s permission is a cardinal offense for our major executive law-enforcer. How many more violations of the law, from contempt of Congress to charges of perjury, must there be before he goes?
The latest “scandal” to sweep Washington is, indeed, of a different character, although critics and some analysts have largely confounded it with the others in the public discussion of the generally rising tide of incompetence. A scalawag with a largely manufactured if elaborate résumé has somehow been able to loose publicly details of highly guarded national security secrets. Ironically, there may be a benefit from his shenanigans by forcing a reexamination of the never-ending problem of government secrecy for national security as against the right of citizens in a free republic to know how and why their government is spying on them.
But it is abundantly clear that the authorities, in order to prevent more 9/11s and, hopefully, the even more demanding prevention of Boston Marathon bombings, must cast a wide net. In a digital age when terrorists use the Internet to evangelize, to recruit, to offer weapons for lone wolf operators, and to plan their atrocities, vast worldwide data compilation including from the domestic scene is required. However difficult, one has to assume that this is a method to avoid even more and larger incidents. The episode also has brought into question the growing reliance of the government on “Beltway bandits” with their contractual access to government secrets but what appears to be an inability to protect them.
The scandals, covered in its own inimitable way by a mainstream media as a willing culprit through its outrageous partisanship for the president, have had a devastating role on public opinion. They have increased cynicism about political life, further discrediting the Congress. But they have even inevitably eaten into the rockstar adoration the U.S.’ self-anointed media, bureaucratic, and Hollywood elites have lavished on Mr. Obama. With details of each of these violations of the public trust being obscured as the next one comes tumbling out, the difficult job of periodically reexamining governance in any democratic society and making reforms is being taxed to its fullest.
What is certainly happening, however, is that important domestic and foreign policy issues are being ignored or manhandled. Mr. Obama’s continuing war against American business is further aggravating the incredibly difficult job of restoring maximum employment as the economy tries to adjust to the ever-expanding ramifications of the digital revolution. Abroad, the President’s team continues to disparage the accomplishments of U.S. leadership in the post-World War II era, seeking to substitute corrupt and incapable international organizations for American leadership. In the Mideast, Mr. Obama is hoisted on his own petard, having denounced the interventionism of the previous Bush administrations and precipitously ended commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan assuring minimum continued U.S. regional influence. He is now forced to confront the perilous decision-making of intervention in Syria.
He neglected possible opportunities earlier on to take advantage of the opposition to the Assad Syrian regime–as with his earlier refusal to exploit growing popular antagonism to the mullahs in Iran in 2009. Now Mr. Obama is forced to try to affect the outcome of events in Damascus with jihadists and their allies playing a larger and larger role in the opposition to Assad. Not to do so is to risk an explosive regional war in the area involving one of his (announced) most trusted colleagues, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, as well as Israel and the Arab states. Or worse still, a failure to turn the Assad regime out would install the long arm of Iran on the Mediterranean in Syria, and through Hezbollah in Lebanon, and crown it the region’s hegemonic power over much of the world’s oil supply.
Meanwhile, Washington for the first time since 1945 is not playing its traditional role as conciliator in the Europeans’ greatest economic crisis since postwar reconstruction. That’s despite the fact the U.S. sells three times more to the Europeans than to China. This absenteeism is, granted, largely because of the debilitated situation in Washington’s own economy, but it is also part of the Obama leading from behind, which gives scant priority to a proposed trans-Atlantic free trade agreement. In East Asia, the Obama administration has neglected its principal ally at a time when the Japanese for their own reasons (namely aggressive Chinese and North Korean neighbors and an effort to energize its economy) are now poised to play as equal partners. The absurdity of repeated formulaic pronouncements on North Korea have now permitted that failed state to go on the offensive diplomatically as it continues its massive weapons buildup.
Wishful thinking about China’s beneficial role in taming Pyongyang is only part of a passive and unrealistic attitude toward a half-dozen major outstanding issues with an unfair trading partner and rapidly arming and aggressive Beijing.
All this poses the question as to how much the U.S.–and the world– will pay for another three years of its all-powerful chief executive as an observer above the fray substituting for leadership.
*A version of this column is scheduled for publication Monday, June 17, 2013, on World Tribune.