From Via Media-Obama’s Syria Play A Failure

Walter Russell Mead: ‘Obama’s Syria Play A Failure:’

‘Remember the good old days when all the Obama acolytes gloated that the hapless Putin had fallen into Obama’s trap in Syria, that poor pitiful Putin would be caught in a quagmire in Syria just like Brezhnev in Afghanistan, while America’s moral standing and world influence would grow?’


As previously posted:

Samantha, Powerless: Obama’s Problem From Hell In Syria

Totten applies Power’s logic to Syria:

‘No ideology in the world right now is more inherently genocidal than that of ISIS.

It began its life as Al Qaeda in Iraq under the Jordanian jihadi Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also known as the Sheikh of the Slaughterers. He hated no one on his planet—not Christians, not Jews, not atheists—as much as he despised Shia Muslims. The Shia, he wrote, are “the insurmountable obstacle, the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy, and the penetrating venom.”

Food for thought: Not only did the current administration pull-back from Hilary Clinton’s more hawkish interventionist logic that helped get ‘kinetic military action’ approved in Libya, but even the humanitarian-cum-policy maker Samantha Power’s logic could reasonably be applied, a person who made a case for the use of force only once the genocide starts, as it has in Syria (who still recognizes her ideals depend on men willing to fight).

A very important conversation needs to be had about the Islamic State meaning what they say:  Bombing the Russian airliner in Egypt, planning and carrying-out the massacre in Paris, and potentially having involvement (inspiration) in the San Bernardino murders here at home.

Instead, as I see it, American citizens got a speech trying to leverage the nation into another tired debate about gun control; dragging us all into the same ideological box, while offering no real new information, ideas, nor leadership.

So, is there more peace in the world now?

As previously posted:  Richard Epstein ‘Barack vs. Bibi:’ takes the classical liberal, non anti-war libertarian position:

‘In the end, it is critical to understand that the current weaknesses in American foreign policy stem from the President’s adamant reluctance to commit to the use of American force in international relations, whether with Israel, Iran or with ISIS. Starting from that position, the President has to make huge unilateral concessions, and force his allies to do the same thing. Right now his only expertise is leading from behind.  The President has to learn to be tough in negotiations with his enemies. Right now, sadly, he has demonstrated that toughness only in his relationships with America’s friends and allies.’


A quote from this piece over at the Atlantic: From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

“Although the professional soldier accepts the reality of never-ending and limited conflict, “the liberal tendency,” Huntington explained, is “to absolutize and dichotomize war and peace.” Liberals will most readily support a war if they can turn it into a crusade for advancing humanistic ideals. That is why, he wrote, liberals seek to reduce the defense budget even as they periodically demand an adventurous foreign policy.”

What happens when you try and go ‘full peace’?

My two cents: We should figure out a good way to destabilize and destroy IS, depriving them of territory, revenue, clout and murdering capacity.  Then, we should go forward; enacting and reacting to events (by proxy if necessary).

Let me know if you disagree, and why.

Another Addition: Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-SemitismSome Saturday Links On Iran-Skepticism, To Say The Least George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’ So what are our interests and how do we secure them as the fires in the Middle-East rage?  Michael Totten makes a case here in Why We Can’t Leave The Middle-East.’  He gets push-back in the comments

Democracy as we envision it requires people to constrain themselves within laws and institutions that maintain democracy…through Mill’s utilitarianism?: Thursday Quotation: Jeane Kirkpatrick – J.S. Mill  Is Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’

Some Wednesday Links-Esteem And Prestige

The De Blasio Files-From Via Media: ‘Cuomo-1 De Blasio-0

‘De Blasio and Cuomo are still on good terms in public, and the Mayor has taken pains to say that these new developments will not derail his plans. But this is a major blow to his education agenda. Less than six months after winning on an anti-charter platform, de Blasio’s New York City will be even more hospitable to charter schools than it was under Bloomberg.’

Bad news for the unions and their coalitions, better news for charter students.

From The NY Times:

“Giuliani was a prosecutor, Bloomberg was a C.E.O., and so far, Bill’s a political labor activist.”

Don’t forget the children.

Timothy Larsen at The Chronicle Of Higher Ed ‘For the Persistent Ph.D. Impulse, Gentle Persuasion

‘Artists and athletes, like academics in the humanities, have chosen identity-based professions. Unlike those who do a job simply because it is a way to earn money, these careers are also splendid forms of self-expression and prestige. For a pool of aspirants much larger than the profession itself, they hold a romance that is not usually evoked by, say, retail sales or database administration. Being a professor is, in this sense, literally a dream job for many people’

Too few spots, too many people.

On This Site:…Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’,,,Natalie Angier In The NY Times: Curriculum Designed To Unite Art And Science.

What Will De Blasio’s New York Look Like?-Some LinksSandinistas At The NY Times: ‘A Mayoral Hopeful Now, de Blasio Was Once a Young Leftist’Two Links On Diane Ravitch & School Reform

From Via Media: ‘California’s Centrist Dems Overwhelmed By The Left’

Full post here.

Promises, promises.

‘San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s promising ballot initiative to fix California’s municipal pension problems went down in flames this weekend, before it even had a chance to come up for a vote. The initiative would have amended the state constitution to allow cash-strapped municipalities to restructure pension promises.’

Check on Robert Anton on Tom Wolfe’s journey to California during the 60’s:

‘And without Wolfe, we would not understand California-or the California-ized modern world.  At the time of his most frequent visits the state was undergoing a profound change, one that affects it to this day and whose every aspect has been exported throughout the country and the globe.  Both have become much more like California over the last 40 years, even as California has drifted away from its old self, and Wolfe has chronicled and explained it all.’

See Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic: That Party At Lenny’s for a rich account of the 60′s.  A New Yorker review of Wolfe’s new book Back To Blood, with Miami as its subject, here.

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California’s anti-union and anti-immigration democrat-Full video and background on Mickey Kaus here.

A good post on Robinson Jeffers from Malcolm Greenhill, which highlights how the rugged and vast beauty of California makes it easier to imagine what culture is, and what it ought to be on this outpost of Western Civilization.

Hearst Castle 4 by Bill Kuffrey

Hearst Castle 4 by Bill Kuffrey

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-A link for Michael Lewis’ article about California politics, public pensions and Schwarzenegger’s time in office.

Related On This Site:  Victor Davis Hanson Via Youtube Via Uncommon Knowledge: ‘The New Old World Order’Victor Davis Hanson At The City Journal: ‘California, Here We Stay’

Dream big: Via Reason: ‘California’s Public Transportation Sinkhole’ A great city deserves great art extravaganzas…: L.A.’s New Public Art Piece ‘The Levitated Mass,’ Or As The American Interest Puts It: ‘A Moving Rock’

Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas: ‘California’s Kafkaesque Rent Control Laws’

California Dreamers From The Atlantic-A Brief Review Of Kevin Starr’s History Of California

The people who promise solutions to poverty and homelessness seem to be engaged in a utopian cost-shifting exercise which favors their interests and overlooks crime, violence and personal responsbility…hardly a way to balance the budget: Repost-Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘The Sidewalks Of San Francisco’

Some concentrated wealth on top, a stalled legislature with members who know how to play the game…and a service sector beneath…that probably can’t go on forever: …From The WSJ: ‘Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus’

How About That Russian Reset? Two Friday Links From The American Interest

From Via Media: ‘Russia Turns Gaze To Latin Autocrats:

At first, a friend pointed-out the return of the old Moscow-Tehran-Damascus alliance: Russia may be only a shade of its former Soviet self, but Putin is still running the old Cold-War playbook for leverage to recover his empire.  The Syria redline debacle simply allowed him to dust-off some old plays.

Now there’s a Meridian Class intelligence ship docked in Havana and possible negotiations for Russian bases in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Mead:

‘That Russia is building ties with the least democratic and most anti-American governments in the hemisphere should help us as we gaze into his eyes and try to see his soul. He doesn’t actually like us very much, and doesn’t wish us well. This kind of stuff is particularly problematic for the two flexibility experts in DC—Kerry and Obama—who have consistently reached out to Russia in hopes of a better or at least more pragmatic understanding.

It’s hard to think of many goals that the Obama administration has pursued so consistently as the reset with Russia. News like this reminds us that it may have all been in vain.’

As of now, we’re putting human rights ideals and peace-dealing before many of our other interests, using this dragnet to try and include even bad-actors into an international framework.

The actual consequences of this approach are not reassuring, with Syria and Russia currently standing-out.  We’re creating something of a power vacuum and conducting an experiment to see which kind of people fill the void.

If I’m not mistaken, Mead is calling for a more Huntingtonian approach, or rounding-up our interests and allies first and proceeding from there (less Western far-Left, human-rights focused and liberal internationalist).

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Thomas Graham, a former Security Advisor to Russia, suggests we still aren’t in a zero-sum game against Russia.

So, what do we actually do next?:

‘What requires more thought is Mead’s conclusion. He sees a major zero-sum geopolitical contestunfolding, pitting Russia against the United States. Washington, he argues, should abandon its policy of seeking better relations and push back against Russia. Most urgently, in his view, the administration needs to rethink its policies on Ukraine and Syria to take into account Russia’s unrelenting opposition—and Mead would surely argue that the dramatic events in Kiev and the collapse of the Syrian negotiations only reinforce the urgency. But he has not yet suggested what the pushback would entail in detail and what it should aim to achieve. What, in other words, should the United States do, to what ends, at what cost, and with what chances of success?’

We may be getting to that point shortly under the current leadership.

How’s that Russian reset going?:

From Via Media: ‘Kiev Is Burning’

Full piece here.

Check out these WaPo maps for some information on Ukraine.

At least 50 people dead in Kiev so far.  The U.S. has very little leverage here, but the matter is of vital interest to Putin, and potentially to the West:

‘Ukraine today suffers from most of the maladies of post-Soviet life. The old system broke down, and a stable and prosperous new system has been unable to emerge. Unprincipled oligarchs dominate political life and state institutions are weak. Divided between a Russian-speaking eastern half and a Ukrainian-speaking (and often westward looking) western half, Ukraine isn’t sure what it’s identity is going to be.

Meanwhile, most Russian nationalists consider Ukrainian independence an absurdity, and one of President Putin’s central goals is to reunite Ukraine with Russia. This is a battle he cannot afford to lose, and he is playing every card in his hand for all it is worth — at best to bring Ukraine back to the embrace of mother Russia or at least to prevent it from joining with the West.

The EU and the United States have failed to develop a coherent strategy for Ukraine. As the situation in Kiev escalates, the question now is how bad things would have to get to prompt a serious Ukrainian policy from the West, which thus far has been mostly content to utter beautiful phrases.’

It’s not hard to see why there’s been such a conflicted Western response, in looking at the conflicted aims of the EU member states, the Eurocracy, and a recalibrating America drifting further Leftward towards international institutions, redlines and missed deadlines under the current leadership.

So what can we actually do?

Some Friday Links-How Will The West Hang Together?

A podcast from Via Media on the importance of Ukraine: ‘Sochi, Putin and Russia’s Ambitions

A brief summary:  Ukraine is caught between a domineering old lover and the warmth of his embrace, and a somewhat feckless new EU dating-circuit offering great membership benefits and opportunities.  Perhaps content to play both sides off one another, and deeply divided herself, Ukraine could use some U.S. diplomacy to help her lock-in longer-term commitments to the West while keeping her pride intact.

The game is afoot.

From Foreign Affairs: ‘After Disowning ISIS, al Qaeda is Back On Top:

‘In early February, al Qaeda’s central leadership announced that it had severed ties with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an affiliate in Iraq and Syria. This step came at some cost of reputation for al Qaeda, but it will serve al Qaeda’s interests far better than maintaining a relationship with an affiliate that subverted al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and damaged the terrorist group’s image. Now that ISIS is disowned, its own reputation is in peril, with potentially devastating consequences. In the weeks and months to come, the United States would be wise to use the rift between al Qaeda and ISIS to promote its own interests in Syria and Iraq.’

And are we undergoing a serious recalibration of American public sentiment towards its political leaders and institutions, including the military?

Is the military sacrosanct, and/or will there always be a kind of moderate liberal-Left suspicion of all things military even when it’s discharged to fulfill moderate liberal-Left goals like human-rights and democracy promotion above all else?

Tom Ricks at Foreign Policy: ‘Where Is The Tipping Point For America’s Trust In The Military, And Are We Near It?’

The implication appears to be that no one blames the military for failing to achieve distinct victory. It leads one to wonder just what the American people will blame the military for. 

There’s a lot of ‘greatness’ bloat all throughout our government, and which we all have a hand in.

From Via Media: ‘Turkey Signs Three Trade Deals with Iran’

Full post here.

‘Is this the product of an ongoing drift in U.S.-Turkey relations? Or are these the wages of what is widely perceived as a rudderless U.S. policy in the Middle East? Probably a healthy dose of both.’

That’s putting our current ruddering mildly.

-Dexter Filkins on Iran here.

-Scowcroft and Brzezinski may be offering plans: ‘George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’ What About Foreign Policy (R)ealism?-From The Center For Islamic Pluralism: ‘Turkey Rises Against Islamist Rule’

Two Wednesday Obamacare Links

Reasonable people can agree that health-care and education are among the most vital interests in our society, and to individuals within it. But reasonable people can also agree that some folks seeking to control health-care and education are guided by unsustainable ideals.  They bring with them political coalitions and interests that often end-up free-riding on the public good, and make promises to individuals which can’t be kept.  They often succeed by directing as much public money as possible towards their own coalitions while keeping political power close, punishing political enemies, and bending as much public sentiment as possible toward their ideals.

We now have an enormous, hastily-passed, partisan bill seeking to further entrench many of the unsustainable portions of our health-delivery system, while adding many layers of interests, bureaucrats, and politics atop that.

At what price inclusion of some previous groups and peoples into the ‘greatness’ vision of America and its institutions?

Yes, it’s an anecdote-Walter Russell Mead: ‘I’m Calling It Kafkacare: One Reader’s Obamacare Experience

‘Short version: We met with our broker the second week in October. It’s nearly February. We still don’t have our coverage figured out. From now on, I’m calling it Kafkacare.’

Mead publishes a pro-Obamacare reader response.

You’ve got to get the incentives right. From The Apothecary: ‘Surprise, Massachusetts is Home To America’s Worst Performing Obamacare Exchange:’

‘Connector staff members have admitted privately that the generous flow of federal dollars was the primary motivation to rebuild the entire website. The federal government was requiring additional functionality of the site under the ACA, but it is unclear if the Connector could have saved taxpayers millions by simply building off the foundation they already had in place.’

Politically and ideologically, money and career-wise. some folks will keep pushing until it sticks.

Still Looking For Alternatives-Charlie Martin At PJ Media: ‘Obamacare vs. Arithmetic’

Avik Roy At Forbes: ‘Democrats’ New Argument: It’s A Good Thing That Obamacare Doubles Individual Health Insurance Premiums’Megan McArdle At Bloomberg: ‘Health-Care Costs Are Driven By Technology, Not Presidents’

The West And Beyond-Three Tuesday Links

Anne Applebaum At The Washington Post: ‘Ukraine Shows The ‘Color Revolution’ Model Is Dead:

It’s getting quite serious:

In fact, corrupt oligarchs, backed by Russian money and Russian political technology, are a lot stronger than anyone ever expected them to be. They have the cash to bribe a parliament’s worth of elected officials. They have the cynicism to revive the old Soviet technique of selective violence: One or two murders are enough to scare off many thousands of demonstrators; one or two arrests will suffice to remind businessmen who is boss.’

With an anemic European Union, and a recalibrating, withdrawing U.S. at the moment, the presumed universality of Western secular humanist ideas looks a little more doubtful.  Or at least, secular humanists and idealists perhaps need to be reminded that military power is a crucial component to the presumed universality of Western secular humanist ideals.

It’s rough out there.

Over to Iraq: From Via Media: ‘What You Need To Know About Kurdish Oil Ambitions:

‘For more than a month, Iraqi Kurdistan has been piping oil across its northern border to Turkey, against the wishes of the central Iraqi government.’

See previous posts on this site: Independent Kurdistan?-Ofra Bengio At The American Interest: ‘The Elephant In The Room’ Longer odds, lots of risk: Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest’s Via Media: “The Rise Of Independent Kurdistan?”From Reuters: ‘Analysis: Syrian Kurds Sense Freedom, Power Struggle Awaits’

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And further beyond, to the Far East, there is a hothouse of history to keep in mind, and greater conflict potentially arising:

From Business Insider: ‘Someone Just Said Something About The Japan-China Conflict That Scared The Crap Out Of Everyone:’

‘The Chinese professional acknowledged that if China asserted control over the disputed islands by attacking Japan, America would have to stand with Japan. And he acknowledged that China did not want to provoke America.

But then he said that many in China believe that China can accomplish its goals — smacking down Japan, demonstrating its military superiority in the region, and establishing full control over the symbolic islands — with a surgical invasion’

We need to attach our power and interests to new currents, and sail ahead with a larger strategy.

From Via Media: ‘Foundations Pledge Millions to Save Detroit’s Art’

Full post here.

‘It also shows that if politicians hadn’t been busy robbing the city blind and milking it for patronage, the city’s problems probably could have been dealt with outside of bankruptcy court. The disaster in Detroit was caused by bad governance, by the corrupt response of the city’s Democratic machine to a series of economic challenges brought on in large part by the intransigence of the UAW, with an assist from the mismanagement of the U.S. car industry. If the city had been proactive about addressing its problems years ago, it could have avoided relying on the extraordinary charity of foundations to save its art. At this point, however, this is probably as good as it’s going to get.’

Visit the DIA and see what they have.

Over five years ago, when GM stock was selling at $2 a share and the debt-holders had been wiped out, this blog put up the video below.  Here’s a brief 2:00 min explanation by Bill Ackman of Pershing Square on why the GM bailout was likely a bad idea.

Politicians reward their friends, and some of the same Detroit ideas we’ve taken national.  Americans in general are likely not going to think well of their politics for awhile, but we could first stop the bleeding, create less incentive for those looking to oversee the spoils, laws, and regulations, and figure out how to grow the economy at a faster rate:

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You Can Have It

My brother comes home from work
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop
one by one. You can have it, he says.

The moonlight streams in the window
and his unshaven face is whitened
like the face of the moon. He will sleep
long after noon and waken to find me gone.

Thirty years will pass before I remember
that moment when suddenly I knew each man
has one brother who dies when he sleeps
and sleeps when he rises to face this life,

and that together they are only one man
sharing a heart that always labours, hands
yellowed and cracked, a mouth that gasps
for breath and asks, Am I gonna make it?

All night at the ice plant he had fed
the chute its silvery blocks, and then I
stacked cases of orange soda for the children
of Kentucky, one gray boxcar at a time

with always two more waiting. We were twenty
for such a short time and always in
the wrong clothes, crusted with dirt
and sweat. I think now we were never twenty.

In 1948 the city of Detroit, founded
by de la Mothe Cadillac for the distant purposes
of Henry Ford, no one wakened or died,
no one walked the streets or stoked a furnace,

for there was no such year, and now
that year has fallen off all the old newspapers,
calendars, doctors’ appointments, bonds
wedding certificates, drivers licenses.

The city slept. The snow turned to ice.
The ice to standing pools or rivers
racing in the gutters. Then the bright grass rose
between the thousands of cracked squares,

and that grass died. I give you back 1948.
I give you all the years from then
to the coming one. Give me back the moon
with its frail light falling across a face.

Give me back my young brother, hard
and furious, with wide shoulders and a curse
for God and burning eyes that look upon
all creation and say, You can have it.

Philip Levine

There’s definitely some Spanish influence here, by way of Antonio Machado.  Perhaps there’s also some labor/alienation sentiment for the working man on the factory floor, but hey, it’s Detroit and it’s a well-crafted poem.

Just because I love to highlight the generally Left-Of-Center political philosophy over at PBS and NPR, there’s a link to this PBS piece about life on the factory floor and Levine’s poem.  Here’s a Paris Review interview with Levine.

How did Detroit get here?

Very comprehensive and easy to navigate.

More from Megan McArdle on the behavior that comes with pension bonuses.

Some links on this site: Charlie LeDuff, Detroit’s populist, citizen journalist’s youtube channel here.  At least he’s sticking around.

Are you looking at beautiful photos and feeling sorry for Detroit, and yourself?  See Time Magazine’s photo essay by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre (less porn-like, more thoughtful).

Hipster hope, artists, collectivists and small business types can’t save it either:  A Short Culture Wars Essay-Two Links On Detroit & ‘Ruin Porn’

GM is not a municipality, but good money got put in, probably after bad and it reeks of politics: From The Detroit News: ‘How The Treasury, GM Stock Deal Got Done’

What about the popular arts and culture?:Update And Repost-From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’…A Few Thoughts And A Tuesday Poem By Philip Levine

A garage sale for the city’s art? Virginia Postrel At Bloomberg: ‘Detroit’s Van Gogh Would Be Better Off in L.A.’From The Detroit Free Press: ‘DIA’s Art Collection Could Face Sell-Off To Satisfy Detroit’s Creditors’

Walter Russell Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working.  Check out his series at The American Interest

From Bloomberg: ‘Detroit Recovery Plan Threatens Muni-Market Underpinnings’