A STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH STRANGELY DETACHED FROM REALITY.

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A psychiatrist once told me that the difference between a neurotic and a psychotic is that while the neurotic merely “makes castles in the sky”, the psychotic lives in them!
By that definition our President might be psychotic; or at the least deeply delusional. He painted a verbal picture of a world security situation that exists only in his mind; in which he has solved every problem, and only global warming and the Republican Congress are a threat on the horizon.

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Oddly, President Obama failed to say a word about Al Qaeda or Islamic fundamentalism. Nor the collapse today of the friendly government in Yemen to Shia rebels loyal to the Ayatollahs in Iran. Yemen was a country he touted in last year’s State of the Union Address as a model for his anti-terrorist strategy of “soft power”. (This is an Administration that has forgotten that “soft power” only works when backed by the credible threat of “hard power”.) He declared Russia as defeated in its ambitions to dominate its neighbors, ignoring both the Crimean annexation and the ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine. He calls the economy strong, while work-force participation is at an all-time low (meaning less able-bodied adults have jobs than ever before). He said unemployment is low, but if you figure in the work-force participation numbers the real unemployment is at about 11%.

“The state of our Union is strong”, he claims; at a time when we have a deeper racial and political divide than I have ever seen since the 1960s.

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Obama takes credit for reducing the deficit more than any previous President. He fails to point out that the reduction was largely because of sequestration; and process he has vilified the Republicans for frequently in the past. Nor did he mention that he will, by the time he leaves office, have increased the national debt by more than every other President in history, combined.

You would think, listening to his speech and demeanor, that he had just won a landslide, mandate election. Instead of being wholly repudiated at the polls just a few months ago. No mention was made of the seminal domestic event of the year just passed: the most sweeping Republican victory since 1948. As he looked out over that joint-session of House and Senate, I wonder if the President understood the irony, that there were 80 more Republicans staring back at him than on his first State of the Union; and as many less Democrats. Since taking office and attempting to implement these very policies he continues to herald, there are fewer Democrats in Washington or in the various State Houses and governorships than at ANY time since the 1920s.

Obama has been a gift to the Republicans that just keeps on giving; and a disaster for both his party and our country.

The President will continue to live in a world of his own imagination; and for two more years we will all have to live in that world as well.

HYPOCRISY DOES NOT NEGATE HISTORICALITY OF PARIS MARCH

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While some 40 world leaders came together Monday in Paris to lead a massive march through the streets, in solidarity against terrorism and for the freedom of the press, a London School of Economics student named Daniel Wickham watched with scorn and amusement; all too aware of the hypocrisy on display. Here were leaders or representatives of governments whose policies towards the press have not been without blemish, to say the least. Deciding to “shame them” (how sweetly naïve are the young: we old folk know politicians know no shame!) he tweeted the records of many of these nation’s records regarding freedom of the press; perhaps attempting to turn this moment of tragedy into one of farce.

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The kid is right, of course: the world is full of hypocrisy. That’s why the UN Human Rights Commission is Chaired from time-to-time by such notable champions of HR as North Korea, Iran, and Sudan. Hypocrisy in politics (and the world in general) is old as history itself.

But so what?

This was still a historical occasion, when 40 world leaders marched arm-in-arm in solidarity with some 1.6 million more behind them, against terrorism (in total, some 4 million marched Monday through the streets of various French cities). Included in the Paris march was a descendent of “The Prophet”, the King Abdullah II of Jordan; as well as the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. When the lion lays down with the lamb, that is time for history to take note.

Will it make a difference in the long run? Only time will tell. At worst the world will move on as before. But this could be the moment when the world as a whole really does act as a community, and collectively says, “ENOUGH”! When the tipping point was reached and the civilized nations of the world decided that Islamic fascism must be combated, not ignored.

But even if nothing comes of this, that makes this moment no less historical.
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Where was the leader of the “Free World”? Where was President Obama?
Kicking back at home, watching Football games.
Lame Duck presidencies are nothing new; but this may be the lamest on modern record. With half of his second term just beginning, President Obama seems disinterested in most aspects of his job. Like the part where he is supposed to lead the world.
He should have been leading that parade of leaders. At the least, he could have sent Joe Biden (what else does a Vice President do when he isn’t chewing on his foot?); or Secretary of State John Kerry, already in Europe. Even Attorney General Eric Holder, who was in Paris Monday, was not dispatched to represent this Administration.
Could it be that the President doesn’t want to focus any more attention on terrorism than he can help? After all, his narrative for the last two years is that the War on Terror is over. So, as other world leaders are declaring war on terrorism (as France did yesterday), Obama is pointedly ignoring them instead of embracing and leading them.
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If this does prove to be a turning point in the tides of history, historians will record that America missed the boat; a rudderless ship whose captain was asleep at the helm.
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Jon Stewart’s satirical take on this event, the hypocrisy and Obama’s absence.

LYNDON BAINES OBAMA: HOW NOT TO WIN A WAR

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It is trite but true, that those how fail to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. This is why we study history: to find clues as to what will or likely will not work in the future.

It is therefore disconcerting that President Obama, as he prepares to wage war against the Islamic State seems bent on repeating the two worst mistakes made by President Lyndon Johnson in his conduct of the Vietnam War.

Wars need to be waged to win, or not be engaged in at all. When a President wills the outcome, he must will the means. Which is to say, if he want to defeat an enemy he must give his generals the tools and the latitude to get the job done. However, too often civilian leaders fail in this simple recipe, and keep their military leaders on too-short a leash to accomplish the task.

The impulse for civilian political leaders to keep a tight-rein on their military is a common one; in war and in peace. In a democracy like ours, it is critical that the military subordinate itself to the President and their civilian leaders. The alternative is what is seen in many developing countries, where the military officer corps feels responsible to “oversee” the political leadership; removing those they deem unfit to lead.

This impulse in war, however, must be tempered with humility: the President must know what he doesn’t know; and be willing to admit that when it comes to war, despite being the “Commander-in-Chief”, he is a dilettante at best. In our history, the best “War Presidents” trusted their generals and allowed them to conduct the war. When they found themselves saddled with commanders they couldn’t work with or didn’t trust (Lincoln with McClellan, Truman with MacArthur) they fired those generals and chose ones they could work with. What they didn’t do is to try and run the war from the White House themselves. That negative impulse must be resisted; for history has shown that it will lead to defeat and even disaster.

At the heart of this negative impulse to micromanage ones commanders during a war is often a distrust for the military in general, or the officer corps in particular. The most striking example of this was Hitler directing the German war effort in WW-II from his bunker. Having served as a corporal in WW-I, he had developed a deep and abiding dislike and distrust for the German “Junker” class that made-up the bulk of the German General Staff. As the war rolled-on Hitler took more and more direct control of his war machine; ignoring, over-ruling, and removing any general who tried to reason with him. By the mid-war he was directing company-level operations of infantry units in the Caucuses from his bunker in East Prussia, three thousand miles away; moving pins around a map and transmitting orders by radio to lieutenants and sergeant in the field.

This, of course, led to utter disaster; and most experts agree that Germany’s greatest mistakes were bi-products of Hitler’s interference of his general’s running the war effort.

When military historians and experts start numbering off the mistakes made by American leaders during the Vietnam War, two of the most often cited are:

  1. Allowing the enemy “sanctuaries” where we refrained from attacking them in neighboring countries (Laos and Cambodia). And..
  2. President Johnson micromanaging the war from the basement of the White House; in particular personally selecting and/signing off on strategic air targets.

Like Hitler in his bunker, President Lyndon Baines Johnson often micro-managed the Vietnam War from the basemen of the White House; moving pins on a map and demanding targets be okayed by him before commanders on the other side of the globe could execute an attack. Like Hitler, L.B.J. didn’t really trust his generals, and by keeping too tight a control prevented them from doing what was needed to win.

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So when it is reported that President Obama “Plans to Tightly Control Air Strikes” in this war against ISIS he is preparing to undertake, I see shades of Vietnam all over again.

Effective air strikes against viable targets require real-time intelligence; and timely execution once that target is identified. Such intelligence has a very short shelf-life: targets don’t just stay-put in one place and wait to be shot at. In war, the enemy is moving and operating against our forces, just as we are against him. Especially when we are talking about close-air support of ground forces, every minute counts.

To expect commanders (or American advisors embedded with allied local forces) on the ground during a shooting war to wait for a green-light from this White House is a plan filled with fail. This is an Administration and a President noted for their excessively slow decision-making processes. “Deliberative” is the best face one can put on Obama’s seeming inability to make timely decisions.

In the 13 hours those Operators were under siege in their Benghazi compound by Islamic militants in 2012, no decision to send in support or rescue was made by the President or his National Security team. Instead, the President went to bed; then flew off the next morning to a fund-raiser in Las Vegas.

Can you imagine yourself an Operator in Iraq or Syria, embedded with the Free Syrian Army or the Kurdish Peshmerga; pinned down by intense enemy fire and waiting on an air strike that has to be “okayed” by the White House? I can, and it’s not a pleasant or comforting scenario.

The other LBJ mistake Obama seems to be poised to repeat is to allow ISIS a sanctuary in Syria. Yes, he has floated the idea of air-strikes in Syria. But at the same time, his spokesperson is discounting the idea of crossing the now erased border between Syria and Iraq when it comes to ground conflict against ISIS.

To defeat the Islamic State will take a ground-air campaign as large as the Surge that crushed Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007. To drive them out of the towns and cities that they have captured takes ground forces supported by air assets. It took 10,000 Marines, supported by artillery and another 3,000 other troops to capture Fallujah in 2004 from Al Qaeda; and the enemy then had only light weapons. ISIS fighters now have a full arsenal of capture American heavy weapons, including tanks. Does anyone imagine that they can be driven out of these same towns with anything less than the forces available in 2004?

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So in willing the outcome, President Obama (who, like LBJ, distrusts the military and his Generals) is not willing anything approximating the means; and he is placing a leash upon our commanders, leading back to the basement of the White House, that will ultimately strangle both them and any chance of victory.

REMEMBERING 9/11, THIRTEEN YEARS AFTER

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(I wrote this on last year’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It seems just as timely today, on the 13th anniversary.)

It seems a long time since the attacks on 9/11/2001; and it seems like yesterday. That’s a trick your mind plays on you with traumatic memories: putting a healing distance between then and now, all the while indelibly imprinting the memory so it always seems fresh; easily recalled as clearly today as when it occurred.

In 2001 I was living in Michigan, a business man who worked out of his home office. That morning, I got my coffee and walked down to my office. It was just a few minutes before 9am on a crystal clear autumn morning. My office had a large window, and as I sipped my coffee I looked out at squirrels playing on my lawn.

As always, I turned on my computer. Back then, Yahoo was my Homepage. As it booted-up, I glanced over and saw the “breaking news” banner: A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

I walked over to the living room and turned on the news. Against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, the live feed from New York City showed the North Tower of the World Trade Center, a huge bloom of smoke pouring from a gigantic rent high on the side of the building.

The commentators in the news studio were speculating as to what could have caused a plane to somehow drift off its flight path and into the World Trade Center. They weren’t sure at that point if it was a small private plane, or a commercial aircraft. At that moment (it was now 9:03am) the second airliner came into view on the screen. A nano-second later, it crashed into the side of the South Tower.

I think I said something trite, like “OMFG!”; and sat my coffee down with a shaking hand.

One female commentator asked if something could be badly wrong with the local Air Traffic Control computers; perhaps erroneously vectoring planes into Mid-Town Manhattan. That question was just as quickly quelled by her partner, who stated (correctly) that this must be a deliberate act of terrorism.

At some point after that, people started jumping out of the burning buildings.

I called my wife, who was working at a local hospital; leaving her a message to call me.

At 9:39, the third plane struck the Pentagon.

I think at that point, I must have gone into a altered state of consciousness; a sort of state of shock. I grew weirdly calm, detached, emotionally uninvolved with the disasters unfolding on the television.

Leaving the television on in the background, I decided this was a good day to paint my house.

Now, for those who know me, that is proof enough that I was in shock. I am not the home-fixer-upper type. But that morning, as the Towers collapsed (“Huh, you don’t see that every day!”) and Jet fighters were scrambled as there were reports of a fourth plane heading toward the Capital, I think my subconscious needed something exceedingly mundane to ground itself in a reality it could process.

I am a veteran of Special Forces, and someone who has faced very difficult and deadly situations before. I don’t normally “lose it”.

But on that otherwise beautiful September day, Barry had “checked out of the net” (as we used to say on the Teams). Elvis had left the building.

That afternoon and early evening, first my wife and children; then my friends and neighbors gathered at my home. I was relatively calm and still detached, discussing somberly the events unfolding when something happened that broke through my detachment; shattering the barrier my mind was busily erecting to protect me: My wife’s father, a happy alcoholic, decided that so many people in one place constituted a party. He put on music, people began to relax and laugh, talking about other things.

For me, it seemed almost sacrilegious to be partying when so many people were dead or dying, when our country had just suffered the greatest attack since Pearl Harbor.

I exploded. I don’t lose it very often, but I did that evening. I upbraided my father-in-law and those sharing his merriment: Didn’t they understand how inappropriate this was, I scolded?

Before making a complete fool of myself, I walked away. Stepping outside onto my lawn, I stood there in the Michigan evening twilight, and allowed myself to cry.

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Here is a compilation of news coverage that morning, after the first plane struck but before the second; as they occurred that day.

Here is Bryan Gumbel reporting that morning just after the Pentagon was hit:

ALL THEY ARE SAYING… IS GIVE WAR A CHANCE!

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It is often said that war is the last resort; that when all other means are exhausted, and diplomacy has failed then-and-only-then is war an acceptable option. Today we are seeing an example in Gaza.

Is there any place in the world where a given conflict is more intractable than here?

The argument over land and legitimacy dates back to the end of the 19th century, when the first Zionists purchased swampy, unoccupied land in Palestine from the Ottoman Turkish authorities. As the Jewish settlers reclaimed the land, their settlements were soon prospering; attracting an influx of neighboring Arabs. Soon the Arabs outnumbered the Jews, and friction led to conflict.

After fighting and winning 4 wars in as many decades (wars which were all started by the Arab nations around her), Israel came to control the Jordanian lands west of the Jordan River (the West Bank), as well as Jerusalem. From Egypt, Israel won the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Sinai was given back to Egypt as part of the Camp David Accords in 1978; purchasing peace between the two nations that has lasted to this day. But Israel retained (was stuck with) both Gaza and the West Bank; and the problem of controlling a hostile Palestinian Arab population.

President Clinton was able to make a deal (Oslo Accords) in which a Palestinian Authority was created, and Israel agreed tacitly to a two-state solution. In 2005 Israel pulled out of Gaza, giving the Palestinian Authority complete autonomy. Gaza was to be an experiment in Palestinian governance; a chance to show that a two-state, “Land-for-Peace” solution (in which land was given by Israel to the Palestinians in return for peace), was viable.

However, the 2006 takeover of Gaza by the Hamas terrorist organization dashed any hopes of a peaceful solution; as Hamas soon turned Gaza into a base for incessant attacks upon Israel. Even the children of Gaza are trained by Hamas to hate Israel and plan to kill Jews.

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In response, Israel closed the border and implemented a blockade, to prevent Hamas from rearming (from Iran) with ever more rockets to rain down on their Jewish neighbors.

All efforts to mediate a peaceful solution have failed. We have an intractable situation; in which Israel feels it cannot allow a state to be created on its doorstep which is run by an organization vowed to destroy it. Hamas, whose charter commits it to Israel’s destruction, has said it will not live side-by-side with a Jewish State.

We are left with  a situation which has, definitionally, exhausted all peaceful means to solve it. Now may be the time to give war a chance to settle this dispute.

It has become an almost knee-jerk reaction to immediately attempt to arrange a ceasefire , anytime war breaks out between Israel and its neighbors. Time-and-again the unsatisfying result has been wars unfinished, issues left unsettled, and both sides ready to resume hostilities at the first provocation.

We often here the statement, “there is no military solution” to this problem, passed off as self-evident wisdom. But, in this case, the opposite may be true.

Throughout history, there have been intractable disputes where two groups or nations hated each other with a passion equal to that felt by the Palestinians for the Jews. These disputes were ultimately solved by war.

In the 1930s the Germans, smarting from the Versailles Treaty’s punitive treatment and the loss of border regions after WWI, had intractable disputes with Czechoslovakia and Poland. Germans had also elected one of the most evil regimes in history, the Nazi; a problem for all Europeans and humanity in general.

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Germany solved its first territorial dispute through forceful diplomacy (aided by the  pusillanimous appeasement policies of the French and British); the second through armed force. The result was WWII; a terrible conflict that destroyed much of Europe. But it solved the issues that diplomacy could not. Today, there are no seething hatreds or simmering territorial disputes between Germany and its neighbors; and the Nazis are gone as a political force.

Japan once had aspirations to expand its influence throughout Asia and the Pacific. The Japanese Imperial Government deeply resented efforts by the United States to rein-in Japanese ambitions though trade sanctions. Talks were underway in Washington right up till December, 1941, when the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor; starting our involvement in WW-II and electing to decide the issue through force-of-arms. After nearly 4 bloody years of conflict, the issues in dispute were decided. As General Douglas MacArthur so eloquently stated it at the Japanese surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri:

“The issues involving divergent ideals and ideologies, have been determined on the battlefields of the world and hence are not for our discussion or debate.”

The argument was settled on the field of battle. Case closed. Ever since, Japan has been a peaceful and productive member of the World Community and ally of the United States; its pre-war ambitions and disputes with America (and the other Allied Powers) resolved by that most final of arbiters, war.

One can look throughout history for similar examples: From the Peloponnesian War to the Franco-Prussian War a military solution has solved otherwise intractable political disputes.

Instead of trying to put a Band-Aid over this bleeding wound, and trying to shoehorn another ceasefire, why not let the two sides fight it out? Neither wants peace, both have rejected attempts to arbitrate a ceasefire; so why not step back and let them settle this once-and-for all?

Remember in the 60s, when the Hippies would sing, “Give Peace a Chance”?

Perhaps we need a new version of this song.

Perhaps it is time to give war a chance.

 

REMEMBERING 9/11, THIRTEEN YEARS AFTER

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It seems a long time since the attacks on 9/11/2001; and it seems like yesterday. That’s a trick your mind plays on you with traumatic memories: putting a healing distance between then and now, all the while indelibly imprinting the memory so it always seems fresh; easily recalled as clearly today as when it occurred.

In 2001 I was living in Michigan, a business man who worked out of his home office. That morning, I got my coffee and walked down to my office. It was just a few minutes before 9am on a crystal clear autumn morning. My office had a large window, and as I sipped my coffee I looked out at squirrels playing on my lawn.

As always, I turned on my computer. Back then, Yahoo was my Homepage. As it booted-up, I glanced over and saw the “breaking news” banner: A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

I walked over to the living room and turned on the news. Against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, the live feed from New York City showed the North Tower of the World Trade Center, a huge bloom of smoke pouring from a gigantic rent high on the side of the building.

The commentators in the news studio were speculating as to what could have caused a plane to somehow drift off its flight path and into the World Trade Center. They weren’t sure at that point if it was a small private plane, or a commercial aircraft. At that moment (it was now 9:03am) the second airliner came into view on the screen. A nano-second later, it crashed into the side of the South Tower.

I think I said something trite, like “OMFG!”; and sat my coffee down with a shaking hand.

One female commentator asked if something could be badly wrong with the local Air Traffic Control computers; perhaps erroneously vectoring planes into Mid-Town Manhattan. That question was just as quickly quelled by her partner, who stated (correctly) that this must be a deliberate act of terrorism.

At some point after that, people started jumping out of the burning buildings.

I called my wife, who was working at a local hospital; leaving her a message to call me.

At 9:39, the third plane struck the Pentagon.

I think at that point, I must have gone into a altered state of consciousness; a sort of state of shock. I grew weirdly calm, detached, emotionally uninvolved with the disasters unfolding on the television.

Leaving the television on in the background, I decided this was a good day to paint my house.

Now, for those who know me, that is proof enough that I was in shock. I am not the home-fixer-upper type. But that morning, as the Towers collapsed (“Huh, you don’t see that every day!”) and Jet fighters were scrambled as there were reports of a fourth plane heading toward the Capital, I think my subconscious needed something exceedingly mundane to ground itself in a reality it could process.

I am a veteran of Special Forces, and someone who has faced very difficult and deadly situations before. I don’t normally “lose it”.

But on that otherwise beautiful September day, Barry had “checked out of the net” (as we used to say on the Teams). Elvis had left the building.

That afternoon and early evening, first my wife and children; then my friends and neighbors gathered at my home. I was relatively calm and still detached, discussing somberly the events unfolding when something happened that broke through my detachment; shattering the barrier my mind was busily erecting to protect me: My wife’s father, a happy alcoholic, decided that so many people in one place constituted a party. He put on music, people began to relax and laugh, talking about other things.

For me, it seemed almost sacrilegious to be partying when so many people were dead or dying, when our country had just suffered the greatest attack since Pearl Harbor.

I exploded. I don’t lose it very often, but I did that evening. I upbraided my father-in-law and those sharing his merriment: Didn’t they understand how inappropriate this was, I scolded?

Before making a complete fool of myself, I walked away. Stepping outside onto my lawn, I stood there in the Michigan evening twilight, and allowed myself to cry.

_______________________________________________________________________

Here is a compilation of news coverage that morning, after the first plane struck but before the second; as they occurred that day.

Here is Bryan Gumbel reporting that morning just after the Pentagon was hit: