Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
They Said It:
Certain it is that while men are gathering knowledge and power with ever-increasing and measureless speed, their virtues and their wisdom have not shown any notable improvements as the centuries have rolled. The brain of a modern man does not differ in essentials from that of the human beings who fought and loved here millions of years ago. The nature of man has remained hitherto practically unchanged. Under sufficient stress–starvation, terror, warlike passion, or even cold intellectual frenzy, the modern man we know so well will do the most terrible deeds . . . We have the spectacle of the powers and weapons of man far outstripping the march of his intelligence; we have the march of his intelligence proceeding far more rapidly than the development of his nobility. We may find ourselves in the presence of the strength of civilization without its mercy.
Winston Churchill, “Fifty Years Hence,” Strand Magazine, December, 1931.
LEADERSHIP AND CIVIC MORALITY.
As you may have heard, last week, President Donald Trump destroyed the world.
This time, of course, Trump destroyed the world by withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was designed to force some of the nations on earth to abide by carbon dioxide emissions cuts. The United States, for its part, is already making drastic emissions cuts, which means that its participation in the Paris business was purely symbolic, even by the standard of the already purely symbolic climate-change regime. The environmentalists don’t want you to know that, though, since the Americans are cutting emissions without economy-killing “green” reforms. Instead, they have harnessed the power of fracking, which drives the Enviro-whackos whacko-er. There’s an old saying that if you scratch a Green, you’ll find he’s actually Red underneath. And the great climate-change game is proof of the truism. The reforms most likely to achieve emissions success – heavier reliance on fracking-derived natural gas and nuclear power – are unacceptable to the Greens, since neither can be guaranteed to wreck economies or compel large transfers of wealth. Oh well.
In any case, the domestic media, the foreign press, foreign leaders of all political persuasions, and the American Democrats all spent last week – and the weekend, and the beginning of this week – shrieking about how Donald Trump is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad person who has shocked their sensibilities and horrified all decent people all because he kept a campaign promise. Business leaders stomped their feet, rent their garments, and quit their symbolic positions on symbolic economic councils, and even religious officials (sigh) expressed their displeasure with the great orange demon who had, in one fell swoop, undone all of God’s creation. Or . . . well . . . something.
For our part, though, the most interesting critique of Trump’s rejection of Paris came from a handful of past government officials, the majority of whom accused Trump of destroying or undermining American “leadership,” which they thought was a terrible thing to do. Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser and the woman who told the world that the Benghazi attacks were caused by a movie, offered the following comments – typical of the genre – in an op-ed for the New York Times:
Four and a half months is not long, but President Trump has accomplished an extraordinary amount in a short time. With shocking speed, he has wreaked havoc: hobbling our core alliances, jettisoning American values and abdicating United States leadership of the world. That’s a whole lot of winning — for Russia and China . . . .
And now the president has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, putting us at odds with virtually the entire world. Europe and China stand together on the Paris accord, while the United States is isolated.
This last, disastrous decision is the coup de grâce for America’s postwar global leadership for the foreseeable future. It was not taken from us by any adversary, nor lost as a result of economic crisis or collapse of empire. America voluntarily gave up that leadership — because we quit the field . . . .
We can all contribute to showing other nations that we hold dear America’s place at the forefront of moral and political leadership in the world. And we must remain steadfast until, once again, we have a president willing to lead in accordance with American interests, traditions and values.
Now, if you’re like most politically aware people – ourselves included – your instinctive reaction to all of this might have been to question the poor woman’s sanity, or at least her self-awareness. After all, Susan Rice served as one of the foreign-policy architects for an administration that actually seemed to pride itself on insulting and alienating America’s allies while aiding and abetting its enemies. You don’t have to take our word for that, of course. You could ask the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about the Obama administration’s “leadership” with respect to its allies, or the current Iranian headhonchomullah Ali Khamenei about its leadership with respect to enemies. Either way, once they stopped laughing, we doubt that either man would concur exactly with Ms. Rice’s appraisal of her and her boss’s leadership.
Given this, the reaction of the conservative press to Rice’s comments understandably focused largely on her hypocrisy. How could she, of all people, having served Barack Obama, of all presidents, possibly think that she has any authority whatsoever to lecture anyone about American leadership? As Syria crumbles in America’s absence; as Iraq continues to totter on the edge of civil war with America’s soldiers gone; as North Africa continues to play a greater and greater role in the jihad, in part because of American action and inaction; as the nutty little half-wit in North Korea continues to build nuclear weapons and test ballistic missiles, after nearly a decade of American neglect; the lack of American leadership over the course of the Obama-Rice regime is front-and-center in many of the world’s greatest crises. Susan Rice is not just a loudmouth, partisan hack trying to defend her indefensible legacy, she’s a hypocrite as well, the worst of all political creatures.
Or so they say.
For the record, we’re not denying that Susan Rice is a hypocrite. She is. And she’s a liar. And she’s a partisan hack. She’s everything her detractors accuse her of being and probably worse. It’s just that we don’t think that this particular kerfuffle over American “leadership” proves any of those charges especially well. Indeed, we think, rather, that it proves something bigger, something more substantive in the grand scheme of our dysfunctional political culture. Let us explain.
Throughout the Obama presidency, the waffler-in-chief was described by countless observers as a feckless and timid leader. He didn’t appreciate the role of America as power-broker and he didn’t agree with the idea of American exceptionalism. He spent much of his first year in office explaining and apologizing for past American policy. He neither focused on international affairs nor gave them much serious consideration. He treated his counterparts in other countries absentmindedly. He gave the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown a bunch of DVDs that the latter couldn’t use, even if he wanted to. He gave the Queen of England an ipod preloaded with his greatest speeches. He saw engagement with the broader world as a distraction from his primary goal, remaking the United States in his own image. Or at least that’s the way he started his presidency.
By middle of his first term, however, conditions had changed, as they are wont to do, and Obama was both forced and cajoled into taking a more active part in foreign policy. The defining moment for him came with the so-called “Arab Spring.” Obama saw an opportunity to make a difference in the most troubled part of the world and he hoped that it would take very little effort to do so. He immediately took action by saying mean things about an American ally of some thirty years (the aforementioned Hosni Mubarak) and encouraging the election of a Muslim Brotherhood government to replace him. The Muslim Brotherhood, of course, is both an aggressive anti-Israeli, anti-Western Islamist movement and the intellectual progenitor of al-Qaeda and ISIS.
In addition to his bold moves in Egypt, Obama belatedly and reluctantly agreed to follow the lead of the French in providing air cover for the Libyan rebels who were attempting to overthrow longtime dictator and desert drag queen Muammar Gaddafi. As the rebels – already endorsed by the Arab League and supported by the rest of NATO – closed in on Gaddafi, Obama claimed that his actions in that conflict would form the backbone of future American foreign policy. Ryan Lizza, a left-leaning journalist and an Obama fanboy, penned a long and creative piece about the new Obama foreign policy doctrine, citing the comments of an unnamed Obama aide in his description. He put it this way:
In 2009 and early 2010, Obama was sometimes criticized for not acting at all. He was cautious during Iran’s Green Revolution and deferential to his generals during the review of Afghanistan strategy. But his response to the Arab Spring has been bolder. He broke with Mubarak at a point when some of the older establishment advised against it. In Libya, he overruled Gates and his military advisers and pushed our allies to adopt a broad and risky intervention. It is too early to know the consequences of these decisions. Libya appears to be entering a protracted civil war; American policy toward Mubarak frightened—and irritated—Saudi Arabia, where instability could send oil prices soaring. The U.S. keeps getting stuck in the Middle East.
Nonetheless, Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for [sic], and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. “It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,” the adviser said. “But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.”
Obama et al. were justifiably pilloried for this formulation. “Leading from behind” was so perfectly Obaman; it so perfectly encapsulated everything the man is and believes. Charles Krauthammer lamented that “Leading from behind is not leading. It is abdicating. It is also an oxymoron.” He was right, of course, but that’s beside the point. Leading from behind was precisely what Obama intended and precisely what he did.
Contrast this with the way Trump has behaved in office and specifically with the action that prompted the Left to shriek about his lack of leadership. During the campaign, Trump promised that he would never, ever agree to be a party to the Paris Climate accords. He swore up and down that such globalist social engineering was not only counter-productive, in terms of job creation, but was also legally dubious in that it forfeited American sovereignty without the application of the relevant constitutional principles – i.e. ratification of a treaty by the Senate.
Once he became president, he was told over and over – by progressives as well as alleged conservatives, by businessmen, members of the media, and pontiffs of universal churches – that he absolutely HAD to betray his voters and absolutely HAD to stay in the accord, lest he condemn the planet and its inhabitants to premature death. In the face of all of this criticism and pressure, he nevertheless decided that he had to do what he believes to be in the best interests of his nation and its people. And though the Left howled in derision and insisted that he had shown the United States to be an unreliable negotiating partner, in truth what he did was remind the rest of the world that the President of the United States may be the most powerful man in the world, but he is not a sovereign unto himself. His unilateral decisions do NOT carry the imprimatur of the American government or of the American people. Unless and until the American people and their constitutional representatives consent to the President’s actions, they carry no force of law.
Obviously, we’re a little biased, but we think that the question of “leadership” is pretty clear in this case. One man wanted to do nothing but was wheedled and guilted into doing so, and even then, did his damnedest to make the least amount of effort possible. The other one stood up to hectoring from nearly every member of the global ruling classes and chose to do what he believed was best and most consistent with the promises he’d made. We suppose it depends on your definition of “leadership,” but we don’t think the contest here is even close.
More to the point, the actions taken in pursuit of “leadership” had or will have much different consequences. In the case of Obama’s leadership in Libya, the results included the toppling of the Gaddafi regime, the murder of the man and his family, the rapid abandonment of that country to its own devices, and then, inevitably, the descent of the country into “failed nation” and Islamist training-ground status.
On September 11, 2012, several Islamist groups that had made Libya their new home conducted coordinated attacks on two American facilities, including the American consulate in Benghazi, the failed-state’s second-largest city. The American Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens and three other Americans were killed by Islamists that evening. The following weekend, the aforementioned Susan Rice demonstrated the Obama administration’s ongoing commitment to global leadership by appearing on all four networks’ Sunday-morning politics programs, taking full responsibility for the failure of American security and intelligence and thus for the deaths of four innocent men . . . Nah. We’re just kidding. Rice actually went on the four shows and knowingly repeated the same lie four times: that the violence was the result of riots protesting an anti-Muslim Youtube film and that no one could have foreseen the riots or done anything stop them.
Sadly, Chris Stephens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty were hardly the only Westerners to fall victim to the Obama administration’s impressive record of “leadership” in Libya. As you may have heard, two weeks ago, after a concert in Manchester, England, a young British Islamist named Salman Abedi blew himself up, killing 22 innocents and injuring more than 100 more. As it turns out, young Mr. Abedi had spent a great deal of time of late out of the United Kingdom, presumably training for this jihadist mission. And where, pray tell, did he go to train? Care to take a guess? The inimitable Mark Steyn provides the all too predictable answer:
Shortly before the bombing, Salman Abedi returned from the jihad-riddled failed state of Libya to his “home” town of Manchester via the immigration officers of three Nato members – Turkey, Germany, and finally the United Kingdom. He sailed through all of them, unimpeded. In January, the FBI fingered him to MI5. The spooks did nothing. France’s Interior Minister said that, according to his intelligence services, Mr Abedi had been in Syria. But a lot of Brits fall into that category, don’t they? The Didsbury Mosque reported him to the Government’s “Prevent” program for tackling “extremism”. The chaps at “Prevent” declined to prevent him. Four acquaintances of Mr Abedi alerted the authorities. It could have been 40, or 400 . . . .
Ramadan Abedi, Salman’s father, is 48, born in Tripoli and a “security guard” in the Gaddafi regime until he came under suspicion for his ties to “extremists”. He scrammed to Saudi Arabia, but that’s a tough slog for refugees, so within a year he was in London. He’s been resident in Britain since he was more or less Salman’s age, but his new land doesn’t seem to have made much impression upon him. In Manchester, he worked as a muezzin (the fellow who gives out the Islamic call to prayer five times a day) at the Didsbury Mosque, formerly the Albert Park Methodist Chapel, in the days before Manchester traded Methodists for Muslims. As Lancashire muezzin go, he was apparently crackerjack, way better than George Formby or Morrissey would have been. But he threw it all in to go back to post-Gaddafi Libya and resume his old Islamic nom de guerre ”Abu Ismail”, which is the name he went under when he was soldiering in the Nineties with the LIFG.
If you don’t know your jihadist acronyms, that’s the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an al-Qa’eda affiliate overseen by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Lader’s successor. We’re told that there’s nothing British Immigration can do to scrutinize incomers, but asking whether your “Islamic Fighting Group” has given you a nom de guerre commencing with “Abu” might be a start . . . .
Samia Tabbal Abedi, Salman’s mother, is 50, also born in Tripoli and said to be a “nuclear scientist” who “graduated top of her class from Tripoli University“. I wasn’t aware Colonel Gaddafi offered courses in nuclear science, but since coming to Britain Mrs Abedi has worked in less fissile areas. Farazana Kosur, who lives around the corner from the Abedis in Manchester, says Samia was a kindly lady who taught her friend’s daughter to read the Koran.
What of Salman’s brothers? Presumably, Abu Ismail’s other sons also have nary an “extremist thought” in their heads. Nevertheless:
Ismail Abedi, 23, born in London, was arrested in Manchester on the morning after the slaughter.
Hashim Abedi, 20, born in Manchester, was arrested that same day in Libya for ties to ISIS.
Jomana Abedi, Salman’s sister, is 18 and was also born in Manchester but says on Facebook that she’s “from“ Tripoli, although the banner on her page shows the Eiffel Tower on one of its rare non-darkened days. As the only un-arrested sibling of Salman, she posted on Facebook an Arabic prayer celebrating her brother’s entry into Paradise.
Pops was an Islamist who returned to post-“leadership” Libya to carry on the jihad. He took at least two of his boys along with him and the third likely went as well, although we can’t say for sure. And they all trained to kill Westerners. In the crown jewel of the Obama administration’s “leading from behind” portfolio.
Is it fair, exactly, to blame Obama for every bad thing that happens in Libya? Of course not, but it’s undoubtedly a great deal fairer than blaming Donald Trump for the weather in the Himalayas eight decades from now – which is precisely what Leftists like Susan Rice are intent on doing.
By way of comparison, however, the consequences of Trump’s alleged lack of leadership are pretty non-substantive. Even if you believe that scientists have enough of a handle on the mechanisms that affect climate change to be able to forecast these changes several decades into the future – despite the fact that ALL of the models thus far have proven wildly inaccurate – there is no reason to assume that Trump’s actions will have any tangible consequences whatsoever. As we noted above, the United States is already ahead of the game with respect to reducing its emissions. Additionally, and just as importantly, the Paris Agreement never had any chance of doing what its supporters claimed. It is, was, and ever shall be a purely symbolic document, as climatologist (and climate heretic!) Bjorn Lomborg recently explained:
Even if every nation fulfilled everything promised — including Obama’s undertakings — it would get us nowhere near achieving the treaty’s much-hyped, unrealistic promise to keep temperature rises under 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The U.N. itself has estimated that even if every country lived up to every single promised carbon cut between 2016 and 2030, emissions would be cut by just one-hundredth of what is needed to keep temperature rises below 2 C.
My analysis, similar to findings by scientists at MIT, shows that even if these promises were extended for 70 more years, then they’d only reduce temperature rises about 0.3 degrees F by 2100.
Moreover, many poor nations signed up to the treaty largely because of a promise of $100 billion a year of “climate aid” from rich nations, starting from 2020. Over the past five years, rich countries have managed to come up with only a 10th of one year’s promise.
This last bit is probably the most important: the nations responsible for the greatest percentage of emissions, now and in the near and long-term future, are nation’s that have pledged to cut nothing and signed the agreement for purposes other than reducing emissions. Together, China and India – the first and the third largest producers of CO2 emissions – plan to bring more than 1600 new coal-fired power plants online in the next decade. The idea that Trump’s exit from the agreement is anything more than a symbolic counteraction to a symbolic action is absurd. Leftist hysterics notwithstanding, no one will die because of Trump and no one would have been saved if he had chosen otherwise.
Here’s the thing. We know that Paris is a joke. You know that Paris is a joke. The people who signed the agreement know that Paris is a joke. So why, then, do so many of them – from Frau Merkel to Mr. Obama to Ms. Rice – act as if Trump has done something truly outrageous and truly destructive by deciding that the United States will not be a party to the accord? Why do they behave as if they think that Trump’s decision about Paris is definitive proof of his wickedness?
The answer to this last question is, we think, quite simple: they behave that way because they DO believe that Paris is proof of Trump’s wickedness. More to the point, they believe this not in spite of the pure symbolism involved in the accord, but because of it.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins suggested that Donald Trump is in trouble largely because he decided to “skip Climate Church.” By this, he meant that the Paris agreement was pure virtue signaling. “Like saluting the flag or bowing your head in church, there is no cost to being insincere, but there is a cost to not going along.” We disagree, at least where the politicians and activists are concerned. Sure, there’s a “churchy” aspect to all of this, but we believe that it’s sincere, if entirely misguided and destructive.
Two weeks ago, we noted that when Bill Clinton was elected a quarter century ago, “he embodied the victory of the new, post-modern ethic in American life.” We continued:
No longer would morality be defined by one’s behavior, but rather by one’s intentions. As Bill himself told Tom Brokaw during his reelection campaign, “character,” is demonstrated “most effectively” not by what you do in your personal life but by “what you fight for and for whom you fight.” One’s actions are irrelevant. Character, as traditionally understood, matters not one whit. The morality of an act is not pre-determined, but is situational, defined and mitigated by the actor’s motives.
Susan Rice isn’t a hypocrite. She’s a believer. She thinks that she and Obama did the right thing in Libya because their intentions were good. She thinks that she and Obama did the right thing in Paris because their intentions were good. Conversely, she thinks that Donald Trump is evil because his intentions are, in her mind, evil. His actions are irrelevant. The negligible impact of those actions is irrelevant. All that matters are intentions, and his are not wholesome. Therefore, he is an evildoer.
For nearly two decades now, we have been writing about the clash of moral codes and about the integral and often overlooked role it plays in American politics. The current fight over “leadership” provides yet another example of just how right we were and how central this theme has become. Barack Obama had good intentions. He is a saint. Donald Trump has malign intentions – which is to say that he doesn’t agree with the Left on matters such as immigration and the environment – therefore he is a sinner. The actual impact of any of the decisions these leaders have made, much less their own personal behavior, has no relevance with respect to their moral “character.”
Last month, just after President Trump fired the FBI Director James Comey, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse appeared CBS News’s “Face the Nation” to discuss the matter. He declared that there was too much confusion in Washington to make much a judgment about it. Moreover, he noted, this confusion is endemic to American politics and is part of a larger problem. “We need to have a shared civic understanding of America, before we get to partisan and policy differences,” the Senator said. “There are important fights to be had in policy. But we first need a civic sense of what America is.” Not coincidentally, Senator Sasse has a new book out, making essentially the same argument: In order to get to policy, we have to agree on First Principles; and chief among those is virtue.
Sasse is absolutely right. But he’s nuts if he thinks such a “shared” understanding, much less a shared sense of virtue is possible in this day and age.
As we argued last week, the Western shared sense of virtue has been under attack for at least three hundred years now. Moreover, nearly all of the institutions for the transmission of culture have been coopted by new morality, the post-modern ethic that posits that the goodness of an action is determined not by established moral standards but by situational calculations. It is ironic, we suppose, that Ben Sasse and Donald Trump would find themselves on the same side of this divide, given that Sasse abhors Trump and Trump largely personifies the post-modern ethic in his personal behavior. Still, this shows just how divided and irreconcilable American politics has become.
Trump isn’t a politician. He’s a sinner. And Susan Rice isn’t a hypocrite. She’s a religious fanatic. Good luck with that shared civic understanding thing.
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