Scene above: Constitution Island, where Revolutionary War forts still exist, as photographed from Trophy Point, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
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APRIL 17, 2011
AND IN WASHINGTON, THE GENIUSES ARE AT WORK – AT 11:02 P.M. ET: Guess what news organization is now shining at the White House. New York Times? Not quite. NBC? Not really. Washington Post? Not a chance.
No, the hot new fave at Barack Hussein Obama's White House is...Al-Jazeera. You know, my dears, it's the very latest thing.
In the halls of American power, the Arab Spring has brought Al-Jazeera in from the cold.
Seven years after then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the broadcaster’s reporting “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable” and President George W. Bush joked about bombing it, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised it as “real news” in her recent Senate testimony.
Not only that, her staffers, as well as those of the CIA and the Obama White House, were attending the Congressional Correspondents’ Dinner as Al-Jazeera’s guests.
“They are a really important media entity, and we have a really great relationship with them,” said Dana Shell Smith, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for international media engagement, who speaks Arabic and has frequently appeared on the channel. “This administration has empowered those of us who actually do the communicating to be in a close relationship with Al-Jazeera. They understand that the relationship can’t consist of complaining to each other about the differences we have.”
The differences also have shrunk as the big story in the Middle East has shifted from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the democratic movements sweeping the region. In the recent uprisings, U.S. interests tended to line up with Al-Jazeera’s, and President Barack Obama alluded to both the network’s influence and its pro-democracy bent in remarks caught on an open mic during a closed-door fundraiser last week.
COMMENT: Al-Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar, not exactly a democracy. It is fundamentally a propaganda outlet, and some knowledgeable observers believe it's a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. It is hardly pro-American. As far as it being "pro democracy," we'll see. I prefer to say that it has been in favor of the overthrow of some pretty bad regimes, but that's a relatively easy call. What will Al-Jazeera say about the people who replace these regimes?
In Politico's story you'll see the name of Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi and former lobbyist, who had a lobbying contract with Qatar. Barbour's lobbying activities will certainly be a point of major contention should he come anywhere near the Republican nomination, and may very well disqualify him.
The respected American newsman Dave Marash took a job with Al-Jazeera in 2006, but quit in disgust in 2008 over what he alleged was intense anti-American bias at the news outlet. I suspect that Marash came a lot closer to the truth than some of the new Al-Jazeera groupies in the air-headed Obama administration.
DESPERATION – AT 11:14 A.M. ET: Barack Obama isn't the only president acting like an amateur these days. The president of Syria is throwing out some crumbs in the hope of stopping the rebellion in his own country:
(CNN) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Saturday that the country's state of emergency, in effect since 1963, should be lifted by next week at the latest -- but that the final decision is up to the newly sworn-in Cabinet.
Al-Assad made the announcement Saturday hours after the Cabinet was sworn in, and two days after he announced the formation of a new government.
Opposition forces have been demanding the repeal of the emergency law, which allows the government to make preventive arrests and override constitutional and penal code statutes. the law also bars detainees who haven't been charged from filing court complaints or from having a lawyer present during interrogations.
"We (will) lift the state of emergency contrary to the opinion of many others who think this might lead to imbalance in the state of security," al-Assad said as he chaired a meeting of the new government. "I disagree with this, and I think this will consolidate the security of the country."
Al-Assad had already said he was studying whether to end the 48-year-old state of emergency and provide citizenship for stateless people in the Kurdish region as a way to placate the demonstrators.
Activists, however, say the government has cracked down violently on peaceful protesters. That claim is disputed by the Syrian government, which blames armed groups for attacking security forces and citizens.
Human Rights Watch, a prominent humanitarian watchdog group, issued a report Friday detailing "torture and ill-treatment" of protesters over the past month, and U.N. human rights experts released a statement deploring the crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.
Apparently, Assad's sales talk didn't have much effect. The answer came today:
(Reuters) - Thousands of Syrians chanted slogans calling for greater freedom at independence day rallies on Sunday, witnesses said, a day after President Bashar al-Assad promised to lift emergency law.
"The people want freedom," several hundred people shouted at the grave of independence leader Ibrahim Hananu in Syria's second city Aleppo, which has been mostly free of pro-democracy protests that erupted more than a month ago in the south.
Hundreds also turned out in the southern city of Suweida, in the heart of the country's Druze heartland. They chanted "God, Syria, freedom, that's all," before coming under attack from Assad loyalists, a woman at the demonstration said.
"They came at us with sticks and also hit us with the pictures they were carrying of Bashar -- the same president who was talking about freedom yesterday," she said.
COMMENT: Syria is critically important, but the United States, in another policy contradiction, has given Assad only a slap on the wrist, in contrast to its harsh criticism of ally Mubarak of Egypt. Put a community organizer in the White House, you get a community organizer with better accommodations, and that's all.
DEVASTATING – AT 10:52 A.M. ET: The Washington Post proves once again how superior its editorial page is to the fading New York Times. The Post picks up on the Obama-as-amateur theme, giving us a devastating editorial on the Obama Libya policy, or lack of one:
THE CONTRADICTIONS at the heart of U.S. policy in Libya are becoming more acute. On Friday President Obama joined the leaders of Britain and France in declaring that the NATO air campaign, which was launched in the name of protecting civilians, will continue for as long as dictator Moammar Gaddafi remains in power. Yet in an interview he gave to the Associated Press the same day, Mr. Obama acknowledged that the war between rebels and Mr. Gaddafi’s forces is stalemated, 10 days after U.S. ground attack aircraft were pulled from the operation on his orders...
...Let’s see if we can sum this up: Mr. Obama is insisting that NATO’s air operation, already four weeks old, cannot end until Mr. Gaddafi is forced from office — but he refuses to use American forces to break the military stalemate. If his real aim were to plunge NATO into a political crisis, or to exhaust the air forces and military budgets of Britain and France — which are doing most of the bombing — this would be a brilliant strategy. As it is, it is impossible to understand.
That is exactly right, and this is from a liberal newspaper. More than two years into his presidency, Mr. Obama is still not at the professional level. He is confused, no one actually understands what he's doing, and we are a mess as a result. Other than that, he is a great president.
Mr. Obama appears less intent on ousting Mr. Gaddafi or ensuring NATO’s success than in proving an ideological point — that the United States need not take the lead in a military operation that does not involve vital U.S. interests. How else to explain his decision to deny NATO the two most effective ground attack airplanes in the world — the AC-130 and A-10 Warthog — which exist only in the U.S. Air Force and which were attacking Mr. Gaddafi’s tanks and artillery until April 4?
We believed that Mr. Obama was right to support NATO’s intervention in Libya not only because of the risk that Mr. Gaddafi would carry out massacres but because defeating the dictator is crucial to the larger cause of democratic change in the Middle East. Yet having reluctantly joined the fight — and accepted the goal of Mr. Gaddafi’s ouster — Mr. Obama seems determined to limit the American role even if it makes success impossible. If the president is very lucky, Mr. Gaddafi will be betrayed and overthrown by his followers or somehow induced to step down voluntarily. We can only hope that the NATO alliance does not collapse between now and then.
COMMENT: You know a president is in trouble when you can't distinguish the attacks by liberal editorialists from the attacks by conservative writers. This president has hit an iceberg, but, like another captain a century ago, he believes his ship is unsinkable.
MR. AMATEUR DOES IT AGAIN – AT 10:40 A.M. ET: Is there an ally of the United States that this president hasn't insulted? This is almost impossible to believe from an American president. From The Politico:
President Obama told reporters on Thursday that his meeting with Qatar's emir was cordial and useful, complete with banter about tickets for the 2022 World Cup.
But he struck a different tone later that night at a Democratic fundraiser in Chicago, saying Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani isn’t doing enough to promote democracy in his own country, even as the TV news network he sponsors promotes democracy to the entire region.
The diplomatic gaffe was the result of the same “open mic” problem widely reported Friday: Obama thought he was speaking in confidence to Democratic donors, but CBS News’s Mark Knoller was able to record an audio feed of the president’s remarks, which ranged from the brief mention of Qatar to Republican budget-cutting efforts.
Of Qatar’s emir, Obama said: “He is a big booster, big promoter of democracy all throughout the Middle East. Reform, reform, reform — you're seeing it on Al Jazeera." He continued: "Now, he himself is not reforming significantly. There's no big move towards democracy in Qatar.” The president noted that Qataris enjoy a very large per-capita income, which will "dampen a lot of conflict."
His candor was a departure from what he told reporters about the emir of Qatar earlier that day:
"I expressed to him my appreciation of the leadership that the Emir has shown when it comes to democracy in the Middle East and, in particular, the work that they have done in trying to promote a peaceful transition in Libya. ...
"And so, we've had discussions about how we can continue to promote democracy, human rights, increased freedom and reform throughout the Middle East."
COMMENT: You wanna play in the mayor leagues, fella, play major league ball. After showing disrespect for Britain, France, Israel, Australia, Canada, and just about everyone else on our side, the president adds Qatar, an authoritarian but moderate state.
IT'S THE MIDEAST, AFTER ALL – AT 11:23 P.M. ET: It's now well understood that these "democratic revolutions" in the Mideast may not turn out well. There's no democratic tradition, and some of the "countries" are actually legal fictions created by colonial powers. Al Qaeda is taking note, and American counter-intelligence officials are worried. From ABC News:
On the same day reports emerged of a new al Qaeda video that praised the revolutions sweeping the Arab world, one the U.S.'s top counter-terror officials warned the terror organization "thrives" in the political unrest that follows.
"The governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have drastically changed in the last six months," FBI Assistant Director of Counter-Terrorism Mark Giuliano said Thursday. "They are now led by transitional or interim governments, military regimes, or democratic alliances with no established track record on counterterrorism efforts. Al Qaeda thrives in such conditions and countries of weak governance and political instability -- countries in which governments may be sympathetic to their campaign of violence."
Giuliano made the comments at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy just hours before the first reports emerged of the new al Qaeda video, which features separate appearances by al Qaeda's number two commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and American-born key commander in al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula (AQAP), Anwar al-Awlaki, each praising the recent uprisings. In the hour-plus long video, al-Zawahiri orders Muslims in Egypt to create an Islamic state there and calls for the Arab armies of the Middle East to intervene in Libya to oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi before "Western aid... turns into invasions."
If Guiliano is wary of Islamic militant influence in the uprisings, especially in Libya, he's is not alone. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her fears the revolt in Libya would be exploited by terror groups at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting in early March.
COMMENT: We should take this very seriously. There are no Tommy Jeffersons or Benny Franklins over there to keep things in order. So far the situation in Egypt is far from ideal, with the Muslim Brotherhood gaining more and more influence. Some of the Libyan rebel leaders have pasts that John Dillinger might admire.
It would be a tragedy if the legitimate hopes of Arabs for modern, democratic societies were dashed. It wouldn't be the first time either. The Iranians overthrew the Shah in 1979, and look what they got.
OH DEAR, OH DEAR, WHAT CAN THE MATTER BE? – AT 10:58 A.M. ET: National Public Radio has very graciously given us one more example of why it does not deserve to be financed by the American people. This new "report" laments the decline of the anti-war movement. Where have all those good, decent "anti-war activists" gone? The story is written entirely from the political left, making heavy use of quotes from, are you ready, "peace studies" professors. Consider this gem, our painful quote of the day:
And what about the younger generations? With the American anti-war movement of the 1960s came a widespread interest among students in peace, justice and conflict resolution. Today, dozens of colleges and universities offer courses — and some offer majors — in peace studies. There are professional organizations such as the Peace and Justice Studies Association and the International Peace Research Association.
Oh please. You can just imagine what "peace and justice" studies consist of. That term is an old chestnut of the Marxist left, on a par with "the People's Republic of..."
With America mired in a myriad of military pursuits, what do professors of peace studies say in the classroom? "The 'why' does get a bit complicated at times," says Juniata's Celia Cook-Huffman, but the students "seem willing to struggle with that."
She adds, "We also try to talk about war broadly, so the war on the poor and the war on the environment get mixed in there as well."
I'm sure. Very mixed in, as in, "You foolish kids, don't you know what we're doing to your minds?"
And how do students respond? In various ways. "Some are ready to take action and do," she says. And "some feel overwhelmed and aren't sure what to do."
COMMENT: There are a number of reasons for the decline of the "anti-war" movement – the lack of a draft; the fact that we were attacked directly, Pearl Harbor-style, on 9-11; the relatively low level of the conflicts we're engaged in, and the assumption, wrong it turned out, that Barack Obama was some kind of bringer of peace.
But there's another reason: Many Americans, I think are onto the "anti-war" activists who only oppose any war that America has a chance of winning. As Christopher Hitchens has written, the "anti-war" movement really isn't anti-war at all.
Further, from what I've seen, young people today don't appear quite as naive or vulnerable as their predecessors of the 1960s. In fact, I've been heartened by the support given by students to the return of ROTC on many "elite" campuses. That support may not extend to some elements of the faculty, still stuck in the 60s.
The "anti-war" movement of the late 60s was never constructive. It was manipulated by the far left, a fact made clear in North Vietnam's own history of the war. It contributed mightily to our defeat in Vietnam, a defeat that occcurred despite the fact that we never lost a single military battle. The collapse came long after American troops had left 'Nam, when our Congress, in an act of supreme dishonor, cut off funding to our South Vietnamese allies in 1975.
I don't miss the "movement." If you honestly oppose an American military action, there are far more constructive ways to register your feelings than a mass demonstration, run by old red groups, and followed inevitably by pizza parties and hookups at night.
BRUTALITY IN LIBYA – AT 10:41 A.M. ET: Libya has fallen off the front page of American newspapers, and is less and less a story in the broadcast media. It is a weird situation, as the president of the United States was one of the Western leaders who initiated the NATO military campaign against the Libyan government. That campaign has stalled, and people here are losing interest. But the desperation in Libya is growing. From London's Telegraph, which continues to do a good job of covering the conflict:
Reports from the city on Friday said the Libyans had used mortar fired shells to disperse multiple bombs in residential areas.
The Geneva Convention 1949 protocol obliges armies to take all care to ensure civilians are not harmed in attacks on the enemy.
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, condemned Col Gaddafis brutality toward civilians.
She said: "That is worrying information. And it is one of the reasons the fight in Misurata is so difficult, because it's at close quarters, it's in amongst urban areas and it poses a lot of challenges to both Nato and to the opposition."
Witnesses saw the cluster bombs explode in the overnight offensive. On Friday fragments of the Spanish made MAT-120 cargo mortar, which holds 21 smaller sub-munitions, were found. When scattered over a wide area, the bombs kill indiscriminately. Markings on the fragments show the mortars were made in Spain in 2007, which banned the weapon in 2008.
COMMENT: Notice, please, the silence of the international left. Where are the huge demonstrations in Europe that we see whenever the United States is engaged in a military action? Where are the well-known "human rights activists" of Code Pink and other fellow travelers? (In fairness, Human Rights Watch, which has declined badly over the years, has been pretty good on Libya.)
Throughout the Arab world its citizens have been in revolt, and often brutally suppressed. But we await those big demonstrations. Oh, we also await the teach-ins and rallies on American college campuses.
TOURIST NEWS – AT 10:30 A.M. ET: We thought you'd want to know this so you can make last-minute reservations. From ABC News:
Cuba kicks off a crucial Communist Party congress Saturday with a massive military and civilian parade to mark 50 years since the defeat of CIA-backed exiles at the Bay of Pigs, still celebrated here as a landmark triumph over the island's powerful neighbor to the north.
Officials have draped huge Cuban flags from government and other buildings; tanks practicing for the big event have been rumbling down city streets and military planes have roared through the skies. Cannon fire from Havana's seaside ramparts has echoed periodically across the city.
Hundreds of thousands of people — from aging generals to factory workers — are expected to march through the capital. Such shows of nationalism are one of the things Cuba does best, with participants given the day off and a fleet of Soviet-era buses mobilized to ferry them in from across the island.
The festivities on Saturday culminate at Revolution Plaza, a vast concrete expanse where an iconic sculpture of Ernesto "Che" Guevara gazes down from the side of the Interior Ministry building.
COMMENT: For anyone who thought the Castro regime was softening, or was susceptible to Obama's "outreach," think again. This is still a hard-line Communist state, a reactionary throwback to Stalinism, and no friend of ours. It is, of course, a curse on the Cuban people, some of whom have come here and become one of our most spirited and hardest-working communities.
I'm sure the festivities in Cuba will be colorful. If you go, don't criticize too loudly.
"What you see is news. What you know is background. What you feel is opinion."
- Lester Markel, late Sunday editor
of The New York Times.
"Councils of war breed timidity and defeatism."
- Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, to his
THE ANGEL'S CORNER
Part I of The Angel's Corner was sent late Wednesday night.
Part II was sent late last night.
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