GREECE AND THE PROBLEM WITH DEMOCRACY

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As any properly educated school child knows, democracy began in ancient Greece. In Athens, specifically; from whence it spread throughout the Greek world. It is therefore particularly ironic and yet historically appropriate that the Geeks show us the inherent problem with democracy.

Which problem is both democracy’s greatest strength and its Achilles heal: that everyone gets a vote.

The governing principles in democracy is that the citizens govern themselves, voting on the issues of the day and thereby guiding the lives and deciding their own future. All of which sound very good in principle. However, allowing every citizen equal say in the affairs of state is not without consequences.

Human beings, while perhaps created equal, are not endowed with equal gifts. Some are stronger, some weaker. Some people are born with grace and beauty, others quite bereft of these blessings. And some are wiser and more naturally selfless than their fellow citizens, while others are… well, not so much.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but many voters in any democracy are fools, villains, or venal, selfish parasites.

Today they are counting the votes in Greece, the cradle of democracy. The issue on the table is this: will Greece, strapped with crippling debt and unable to pay its creditors (the IMF and its fellow EU partners, particularly Germany) vote “Yes” to the bailout offer from the EU which comes with the austerity measures demanded by these creditors; or to vote “No” and reject financial solvency, and risk expulsion from the Eurozone.

For years, Greece has played a game of “extend and pretend”: extend talks with its creditors while pretending it will one day pay back the money it borrows. Greeks, who live well beyond the means of their country’s productivity do so at the expense of the much harder working Germans; and the Germans are tired of footing the bill or pretending they will be paid back. In their socialist-light paradise the Greeks forgot that socialism only works so long as their is other, harder-working people’s money to steal (or borrow). The Greek voter signaled their intransigence and desire to continue this transparently false game, when earlier this year they elected a socialist government.

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This vote has ramifications that could rock the Eurozone and perhaps begin the end of the fiction of European unity. Should the Greeks vote “No”, their creditors have two options. They can make good their warnings, and Greece could be kicked out of the Eurozone, with no credit extended. Or, like the wealthy parents of spoiled, spendthrift children, bail the Greeks out once again.

But to do the latter will send a signal to other debtor nations in southern Europe, sucking off the socialist tit, that one can thumb their nose at financial sanity and default on their debt with impunity. Cracking the irresponsible Greeks across their collective knuckles is not itself without peril: Russia’s Putin waits in the wings, hinting that he will come to Greece’s aid should they be cast out of the Eurozone. Putin, whose imperial ambitions require a weakened Europe and NATO, sees this as an opportunity to lever a NATO member out of the alliance and into a reformed eastern block under his dominance; a stepping stone to recreating the Soviet Empire of old. Greece and its ports would give the Russian Navy further access to the Mediterranean; in a position to threaten NATO’s soft underbelly should war break out between east and west.

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All this reveals the problem with democracy. The Greek voter, who on the average are no more or less wise than their counterparts anywhere else, is given a chance to rise above their own petty self-interest and consider the long-term consequences of their decision. It remains to be seen as the votes are being counted, but exit polls seem to indicate that the nay sayers will carry the measure by some 61%. If so, the voters will have shown once again that the problem with democracy is that voters soon learn they can vote other people’s money into their pockets; and then vote not to pay it back.

It will likely mean a collapse of the Greek economy. Greeks are already finding their ATMs empty, their banks closed, their savings evaporating. What could follow might be reminiscent of what we saw in Germany’s Weimar Republic, the last time Europe saw a democratic country in complete economic collapse. In that example, citizens had to load wheelbarrows full of worthless paper money just to purchase a loaf of bread.  WEIMAR_ECONOMY

It is illustrative to remember that the original Athenian democracy, who when put to the vote decided to execute Socrates, lasted a mere century before collapsing into the dictatorship of The Thirty Tyrants. While democracy was periodically restored thereafter, the excesses and irresponsibility of the average voter always made oligarchic rule an attractive alternative. It was in this spirit that Plato penned his “Republic”, extolling the virtue of dictatorial rule by a wise elite, in place of the idiocracy that democracy so often devolves into.

Should today’s Greek voter once again display the manifest foolishness that their ancestors displayed in the days of Socrates and Plato, and by voting “No” drink political and financial hemlock, Greece may have cause to look upon the Thirty Tyrants with fond nostalgia.

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A NEW RAMESES PREPARES TO SMITE THE LIBYANS

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In defiance of the wishes of the Obama Administration, Egyptian President  Abdel Fattah Saeed el-Sisi seems prepared to follow in the footsteps of Rameses the GreatLike that ancient warrior-Pharaoh, el-Sisi is preparing to smite the Libyans; or at least the DAESH (ISIS) elements controlling parts of Libya.

Egyptian land and naval forces seem to be preparing to strike into Libya; their target likely DAESH forces in eastern Libya; and at Derna (pop: 100,000), which ISIS has made its provincial capital. In response, DAESH is reportedly rushing fighters from as far away as Iraq to counter any Egyptian moves.

It is in Libya that DAESH has been carrying out the gruesome seaside beheadings of Christians seen over the last months.

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Such barbarism is the hallmark of DAESH, part of their campaign to attract and recruit the worst-of-the-worst of Islamic crazies. It is from their stronghold in Libya that DAESH plans to flood Italy with fifth-columnist “refugees”; and carry their terror campaign into Europe. DAESH has promised to attack the Vatican, and murder the Pope. 

Not since Rameses has an Egyptian ruler conducted military operations in Libya. Long ruled by outsiders (Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Arabs, Mamelukes, Turks, and even the French and British) Egypt has not been a self-governing nation until modern times. El-Sisi, a professional military officer who rose to the rank of Colonel General (the equivalent of a Four-Star General in the American Armed Forces), was instrumental in the coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood  government of President Mohamed Morsi.

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The Egyptian military is the best trained and equipped in the Arab World

An Egyptian for the Egyptians, he is perhaps the Middle East’s best hope for stemming the tide of extremism spreading throughout the region. Egypt is the most populous Arab country in the world, and possesses the strongest military. With DAESH on the march from Iraq to North Africa, extremists groups in control of Somalia, northern Nigeria, and parts of Yemen; and Iran’s mad Mullahs controlling five Arab capitals; a Muslim champion willing to counter these dangerous forces is deeply needed.

El-Sisi may be just such a champion; the man our time requires.

President Obama’s CIA Director, John Brennan, met with el-Sisi in Cairo. Brennan imparted Obama’s displeasure regarding Egyptian intervention against DAESH into neighboring Libya; suggesting instead that el-Sisi provide indirect support for anti-DAESH Libyan militias within that country. But the Egyptian President has little faith that either the Libyan government in Tobruk or any number of local Libyan militias can get the job done. Unlike either Brennan or Obama, el-Sisi is a professional military man, a graduate of our own Joint Services Command and Staff College. When it comes to war and how to wage it, he knows of what he speaks.

The battle ground in the upcoming operations has been in the eye of history before.

This is the “Western Desert”, where German General Erwin Rommel‘s storied Africa Korps battled British forces under General Bernard Law Montgomery; where the “Desert Fox” hunted the “Desert Rats”. Places with names like Mersa Matruh, Gazala, and Tobruk were the scene of storied battles of the Second World War.

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Derna is famous in American history as well: here the US Marines fought on the “shores of Tripoli”; when America struck back at the Tripolitanian pirates in 1805.

It is here that Ramses the Great smote the Libyans.

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We will watch with anticipation as Egypt’s new pharaoh rises to the greatest challenge of our age, the threat of Islamic extremism; and assumes the mantle of leadership in the war our own President does not want to fight.

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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.

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.