Bully Like a Flea – Sting Like a Butterfly

 

OBAMA AT WAR:

Bully Like a Flea – Sting Like a Butterfly[1]

 

A Brutally Honest Analysis by Jay B Gaskill

This needs to be put bluntly: For Mr. Obama, national security is theater.  

Mr. Obama is playing a game.  In this game, the President of the United States gets to use the giant defense arsenal of the US security and military apparatus as a prop for the “grand gesture” on the world stage.  Mr. Obama seems to lack the insight to realize that he is playing that game. Nor does he appear to realize that his national security posture is a self-serving story, a tale being made up as he goes along, part of the book about himself he is writing in his head (“Dreams of my Exploits”).

Our president is clueless about his own decision processes. Our president is addicted to the politics of gesture.  His foreign policy is gesture politics, writ large.

Consider is how the Middle East looked before the disastrous Arab “Spring.”

The long-standing peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (negotiated with Anwar Sadat, who was later assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood) was secure.  For the first time in memory, Iraq was enjoying a stable democratic government at peace with its neighbors. The Turkish government was still secular and tolerant, enjoying the legacy of Ataturk, the father of the Turkish Republic. Of course, Iran was engaged in a duplicitous jihad strategy, building an atomic bomb capability, lying about it, supporting terror through its client state, Syria, and the jihadi Hezbollah forces supported there, and lying about that.  Syria was run by Assad, a terrorist-supporting dictator operating under the false colors of a moderate dictator.

All that was before the Arab “Springtime for Jihad” emerged, full blown, a bitter parody of hope and change. Now consider the present moment.

  • The fragile optimism of the Arab Spring has evaporated.
  • The liberal-secular elements in the Syrian rebel forces have lost control of the revolution there.  Now the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamist elements are in charge.
  • In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood swamped the first national election and installed one of its own as president of Egypt. In an Emperor’s New Clothes moment, Morsi was evicted. Of course, the Brotherhood is rioting; and our president is wringing his (metaphorical) hands.
  • The Iranian nuclear bomb program is approaching the point of no return (amid more presidential hand-wringing).
  • Hezbollah is now a renewed regional threat.

Let’s leave all the gestures, the spin and the blame game-aside: We face a grave threat. Wishful thinking has failed.

The US national interest does not change just because the security situation deteriorates or because POTUS chooses to ignore the facts on the ground. Consider:

  • The USA, the region and the world, still need a Middle East that is no longer a terrorist incubator.
  • This requires a stable and peaceful Iraq and a secure, productive Israel, at peace with the US and its neighbors.
  • The bloody-minded jihadists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, remain an existential threat to our security interests, and must be marginalized.
  • Iran must not be allowed to destabilize the region, and cannot be allowed to become a nuclear power.
  • Syria’s role as the terror-client-of-Iran must be ended, and Hezbollah needs to be crushed.
  • The pre-911 isolationism prevalent in the US is just as toxic now as it ever was.

None of our major security objectives can be attained, nor can our security situation be improved, by a few, pre-announced missile strikes on selected targets in Syria.  Hezbollah will not be crushed.  The Jihad will not be tamed.

The time to fruitfully intervene in the Syrian rebellion was before the Muslim Brotherhood took control of the rebels. That opportunity was squandered months ago while Mr. Obama so was absorbed in his “analytic calculations” that he failed to lead.

Either Assad will win or the radicalized rebels will.  There will be hell to pay in either scenario. But going forward, we cannot allow the hostile, terror-supporting regime poised to emerge in Syria to acquire the resources to support and export terror. 

History’s authentic leaders are remembered because they led.  History’s temporizers and appeasers are remembered because they did not. The good leaders took the stage when the moment was ripe, and boldly implemented the measures needed to protect their country’s vital interests in a time of peril. The non-leaders punted.

Leading from behind is not leadership at all.  It is a pretense.

There is one secret to coping successfully with the thuggish regimes that populate world politics.  Be tougher than they are, and never bluff. Thugs can tell the difference between the feather display of an angry peacock and the warning growl of an angry lion.

Is it too late to salvage this mess? …Not at all.

No other country in history has enjoyed the ability to project massive destructive power at the distances and to the extent that US forces still can.  Even in our weakened circumstances, America still has the raw military capability to bring down the regimes in Iran and Syria without deploying massive ground troops.  By using air power relentlessly and without concern for the opinions of others, American military assets can readily destroy the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, most of Hezbollah’s forces, the navy and air defenses of Iran, and its major economic assets.  Syria can be dealt with at the same time.  The USA is still that powerful.

When American military and national security resources are credibly unleashed, ready and willing to do real damage, they are far less likely to be used.

But is it too late for this president to salvage something from this mess?  That poses a question of character, judgment and courage.  Can you imagine this American president seizing the moment and saving the day?

I can’t.  Our president is handicapped by his own prior decisions and non-decisions, and by some innate character flaws.  In a word, Mr. Obama is decision-challenged.  Our adversaries – and they are legion – have Figured This Out.

No one is afraid of the United States under this president; Mr. Obama’s threats are likely to be dismissed as political posturing.  Perhaps they should not be, but perceptions govern actions; and thugs are goaded on by the perception of weakness.  This is one reason that the Russians did not hesitate to deploy major naval assets into the Middle East conflict region.

And it is the chief reason that weak presidents are more dangerous to the peace than strong ones.

JBG

First Published on the Policy Think Site, Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Permission to forward this article is granted by the author.

For comments and other permissions, contact the author via email: outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com



[1] Apologies to the legendary American boxer, Mohammed Ali (Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., January 17, 1942-), who famously said, “I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

CONSERVATISM’s MISSING COMPASS

Without its moral code, conservatism will fade away;

BUT WITH IT,

Conservatism can lead a 21st century American renaissance

 

Political Analysis

By

Jay B Gaskill

 

 

The alcohol prohibition era of the last century was a failed experiment in liberal social engineering. Political correctness is the new puritanism; this overreach by progressive liberalism is an opening for the resurgence of a practical, reasonable, morally anchored conservatism, presented with clarity and humor.                

Any long-term conservative recovery must grow from a well-understood and easily explained moral core.  Otherwise, conservatives will be pissing into the progressive headwinds, mouths open, eyes unprotected and compasses gone wild.

CAUTION: The conservative moral core is not centered on the feel-good therapeutic values of the left – nor is it one more version of the harsh, overly judgmental values attributed the “vast right wing conspiracy.”

By necessary implication, the conservative moral code contains the core features of our common morality, the principles and precepts that undergird any healthy civilization (as in no stealing, cheating, lying, raping, pillaging, assaulting or trespassing on/against innocent men, women and children).

People still assume that these common moral precepts are equally shared by modern liberals, but that is not always the case.  If you doubt this, study the positions of t progressive left activists on law and criminal justice, on terrorism and national security.

A robust adherence to traditional moral values among the loudest voices of the progressive left? Not so much. The Democratic Party attempts to compensate for this embarrassment by going for the images we associate with America’s moral comfort zone. Think of the liberal in Southern or Midwestern clothing, like candidates Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The current leader of the Democratic Party, our president, is an outlier.  This is true both in policy terms and style. Most Americans, and a large plurality of Democrats, are disenchanted, but criticism is muted because Mr. Obama is protected by a politically-correct force field.  That free pass is revoked in 2016.

CORE ELEMENTS OF THE CONSERVATIVE MORAL CODE

The conservative moral code inspires and drives five distinctly conservative projects:

Protect all innocent American men, women and children, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, conventional or unconventional, from criminals, terrorists, invaders and other predators, including government itself.

Protect all law-abiding productive, creative and striving Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, whether conventional or unconventional, from the cadres of invasive, bureaucratic, puritanical officials bent on punishing success, hindering accomplishment and achievement, and meddling with creative initiative and freedom, in all its manifold forms.

v  Promote upward mobility for all Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, whether conventional or unconventional.

v  Ensure individual personal accountability for failures and misdeeds, while protecting the fruits of success for all Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, conventional or unconventional.

v  Commit to practical, commonsense policies that work in the real world; and relentlessly expose the opposite ones promoted by the progressive left.

These are the five touchstones of big-picture, morally-anchored, forward-aimed conservatism.  All the rest – the bickering, the honest the policy differences, the rhetoric, all of it – is small change.

Why are these five goals both conservative and morally grounded? How can this be explained in simple, commonsense terms?

Nineteenth and twentieth century conservatives like Edmund Burke and Winston Churchill in the UK, and eighteenth and nineteenth century conservatives like Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln in the USA were considered liberals in an entirely different context and sense than in the present usage.  They, like the shopkeepers, artisans and professionals who rose up in the 18th and 19th centuries against royal privilege and control, were not levelers, driven by resentment of the hard-won achievements of others. They were achievers and aspiring achievers in their own right, those who opposed the dead hand of the titled classes, challenging the ersatz achievement of inherited status of the complacent royals who would suppress the aspirations of the real achievers.  This was classical liberalism, and it is part of the modern conservative heritage.  It is rooted in two morally anchored ideas, a belief in the innate dignity-status of every human being, and in the concomitant right to earn and own property, including land.

There once was a rock solid moral consensus among Americans, both liberal and conservative, that went something like this:

We believe in the dignity of the individual, in her or his absolute right to earn and keep property, to defend self, family and home against predators; and we believe in a country that takes as its first responsibility the duty to protect its individual citizens from such invasions; and undertakes to refrain, itself, from becoming another invader. 

And, by virtue of our country’s essential legitimacy as a guarantor of the personal dignity of its citizens, we believe that the USA is and should remain a mighty nation worthy of defense from all enemies domestic and foreign, a defense to which we, as Americans, are firmly bound.

Somehow in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, progressive liberals “evolved”.  Now they are no longer “comfortable” with this consensus. And they have quietly discarded the classic liberalism of the Founders.

Instead, modern, movement-progressives tend to misappropriate the common language, twisting and obfuscating the old terms – for example – subordinating individual rights to collective “claims” that are deliberately mislabeled “rights”.

In manifold, subtle ways, over the better part of a century, through curriculum changes in schools and academy, through conversions of a critical mass of the chattering classes, a takeover of the media, progressives have been busy with the “mind-change project”: to overwrite the older (read outmoded) moral code with a vaguely therapeutic morality.

In place of criminal justice they propose “treatment”.  In place of individual, restorative justice, they propose collective “social justice”.  In place of the right to own property they propose “social responsibility”.  But without the right to property, we become the de facto property of the governing elites.

The key principle conservatives need to fiercely defend here is that justice and morality are part of one in the same determination: An individual accounting based on individual responsibility.

Because (to paraphrase Acton) politics corrupts, and absolute politics corrupts absolutely, the power of the “people” (read the power of political classes) to control how and where we individuals live, work, earn, keep and spend – and with whom, for whom, presents a grave moral issue.  Conservatives need to respond to all this in a way that incorporates common sense morality at every turn. Human freedom, as a value, springs from the respect for individual human dignity in the context of the moral obligation to respect the individual human dignity of those who do the same.

Beware the utilitarian argument.  Allowing a free market may be more “efficient” and may over time generate more “income”, but those very terms invite the end of freedom when its exercise is less “efficient”.  Substitute the phrase “allowing me to live my own life” for “allowing a free market”. Now spend a minute reflecting how, in an interest-group-driven political regime, being “allowed to live my own life” might become inconvenient to the political classes.

There are utilitarian arguments for protecting the “productive, creative and striving” among us from petty officials.  And there are utilitarian arguments for assessing accountability for “failures and misdeeds, while protecting the fruits of success”. But suppose these are restated as a moral principle, applicable to all Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, whether conventional or unconventional. Do you sense the change?  The utilitarian arguments are suddenly ennobled and acquire potency – when the arguments are explained and added – words have the power to stop the progressive juggernaut in its tracks.

And the practice of soft-balling values in favor of utilitarian arguments can lose elections. In an astute analysis of the GOP defeat in 2008, Values Voters Prevail Again by Christopher Caldwell[1], pointed out that the republicans allowed the democrats to dominate the values debate “Where two candidates argue over values, the public may prefer one to the other. But where only one candidate has values, he wins, whatever those values happen to be.”

You may notice that I included, as a specifically conservative principle, the obligation to “promote upward mobility for all Americans, whether of high or low status and power, whether rich or poor, whether conventional or unconventional.”

America is the product of upward mobility; it is in our DNA.  The ideal of upward mobility is a statement of moral principle for Americans.

Conservatives support this ideal without using therapeutic language or proposing an open ended entitlement model.  This is a statement of conservative principle, of the core moral belief in human dignity, and of conservative support for the American Dream as a primary moral value.

Conservatives are about practical, commonsense policies that work in the real world. Upward mobility does not apply to invaders.  Nor does it entail downward mobility through welfare addiction.  But it does apply to all those “huddled masses, yearning to be free” once they are legitimately and legally present as our neighbors. It is a sign of deep respect.

As an illustration, only (this is not about personalities), I suggest that Marco Rubio, the Florida Senator, has not placed himself outside the intra-conservative dialogue by leading out on “immigration reform.”

Conservatives will disagree on aspects of the policy merits. But while doing so, every conservative in the conversation needs to explain the core moral commitment to upward mobility, and to outline workable conservative policies that are consistent with that principle.

THE OBLIGATION TO EXPLAIN AND PERSUADE

“Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
Ronald Reagan, White House Conference on Small Business (August 15, 1986)

President Reagan was particularly good at this because of the confluence of unique circumstances in his life. He lived and worked among Hollywood liberals; he spent years as a patriotic spokesman for General Electric; he honed his policy and rhetorical skills as a two term California governor; he was continually underestimated by his opponents; and he achieved moral clarity in part because he was a privately religious man, and in part because the Cold War demanded and facilitated moral clarity.

Almost all Beltway politicians – and most others, tend to repeat rote phrases as a shorthand for arguments never made; or when pressed, they repeat standard arguments with little explanation and less conviction.  This leaves us with the conservative cause in the less-than-capable hands of men and women content to piss into the progressive headwinds, unaware that their mouths are open, eyes unprotected and compasses gone wild. These are the would-be leaders who are content only to “stir up the base” while persuading almost no one among the un-persuaded.

For all the reasons indicated, and more, the forward-aiming conservative case will be a compelling reason for a majority of voters in 2016 to actually elect the conservative alternative over a liberal-progressive, the virtually inevitable Democratic candidate.

But that case cannot be made just then; and only belatedly incorporated into the run up to the coming presidential election. The case needs to be made now and by hundreds of different public voices.

To paraphrase Mr. Reagan, a conservative should not speak ill of another conservative in times like these.

Every single public figure, every woman or man in the public square with a legitimate place in the conservative dialogue, everyone who begins to personify the resurgence of a practical, reasonable, morally anchored conservatism presented with clarity and humor, is hereby deemed an ally of the conservative movement and, by extension, an ally of the American Renaissance.

 

Government is like a baby – an alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.

►Ronald Reagan

 

In times like these, all allies are to be cultivated and respected. We might as well be living in the Cold War, because the stakes for the survival of this remarkable, beloved country of ours could not be higher.

The hope of hundreds of millions of people around the globe, looking at us from a remove, are captured in the phrase, “God save America”.

But, we are the Americans. And as the Bard wrote[2], our fate is not in our stars, but ourselves….

JBG

Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Forwards are welcome & encouraged. For other permissions & comments: outlawyer.gaskill@gmail.com.

Our Martian President –

Our Martian President

By

Jay B Gaskill

Attorney at Law

 

Q: How will remember this president?

A: By Mr. Obama’s ever-fluctuating images…

 

Barack Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, born in Kansas, first met Barack Obama Senior in 1960, where he was a Kenyan student taking a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii. They married on Maui in 1961, but separated around the time of young Obama’s birth. This was also the occasion when Obama Senior left Hawaii to attend Harvard, and Ann temporarily moved to Washington State. In 1963, she returned to Hawaii where she met an Indonesian graduate student, Lolo Soetoro. In 1965, Dunham and Soetoro were married. The next year, Lolo returned to Indonesia, and his new wife and young Barry followed in 1967. Barack, Barry Obama was then adopted by Mr. Soetoro.

For most of young Obama’s life as a child and teenager, he was known as Barry Soetoro. By the time Dunham and Soetoro were divorced in 1980, young “Barry” had been living with his grandparents and/or mother, moving back to Hawaii where he attended Punahou School in Honolulu, as Barry Obama. By 1979, he had started studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles, having registered either as Barry Obama (or Barry Soetoro on a foreign student scholarship as some reports suggest). He later transferred to Columbia University in New York. After Graduating from Harvard Law School, Barack became a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School on the topics of dues process/discrimination, equal treatment, racism and election law. These were not core law school courses and he was never on a tenure track as an academic.

Much has been written about Mr. Obama’s life and formative experiences, most of it influenced by his autobiography revealing his early “slacker” period and drug abuse.  What will stand out to later historians, I believe, is the singular absence of gripping personal trials and struggles, the kinds of events that shape character.  Instead we are left with a narrative that centers around how this young man went about finding himself.

The curious thing is that, deep into his presidency, Barack Obama is still trying to find himself.

 

 

Early on in Mr. Obama’s self-promotion campaign, I tended to think of him as the quintessential political chameleon, the Chameleon Politicus.

But the chameleon metaphor failed to capture the fluctuating Obama phenomenon because the color-changing lizard retains its essential form as its body alters skin color to blend in.

On further reflection, I concluded that the fluctuating Obama persona is something fundamentally different: the constant attempt to change one’s essential nature in order to stand out, to advance one’s agenda of personal celebrity by becoming the person that is expected and hoped for by others.

I believe that this is how Obama was able to temporarily convince a number of moderate liberals and conservatives – who were vehemently through with Bush II – that candidate Obama was one of them, the long hoped-for post-partisan, post-racial president, the Great Uniter.

In his quest for self-definition through image-projection, Mr. Obama tried on that persona, but he found the actual decisions and actions that such a course entailed were too difficult, and would impair his larger quest for adulation.

It seems that Mr. Obama’s self-styled evolutions on “issues” are reinventions, a series of attempts to cast new spells, to become the new persona that everyone will love.

Until recently, hopeful leftists were still caught up in the spell, captivated by the vision that, at core, Obama was one of them, that he is just now showing his true colors.  But then the NAS surveillance scandal and the deadly drones program shattered that spell, too.

My assessment is that Mr. Obama has been far too infatuated with adulation to develop character.  At core he is a creature of the “new left” of the 1970’s, but only as an inherited inclination, not as a matter of core moral conviction.

History will reveal that our president hesitated for two months on the Bin Laden operation under the influence of leftist advisor Valerie Jarrett (a Chicago leftwing activist who, among other things, is soft on the Muslim Brotherhood and hard on Israel). Finally, under political pressure (i.e., “How will it look if you let Bin Laden slip away?) conveyed by cabinet Secretaries Clinton, and Panetta, Obama pulled the trigger. That decision appears from all the evidence I have seen, to have been driven by an adulation-calculation. It was a profile in timidity and procrastination, not of courage. For a moment, Mr. Obama wanted to bask in the persona of a tough guy.

But who is he, really?

The problem with this sort of thing is that, to paraphrase Lincoln, you can “become someone” for some of the people some of the time, but you can’t keep it up for all of the people all of the time.

The quintessentially American literary giant, the late Ray Bradbury, addressed this problem in a compelling short story, part of his brilliant and poetic work, The Martian Chronicles.

In Bradbury’s timeless book, earth colonists – men, women and children – lived in tiny communities that evoked small-town 1950’s LA.  They settled on the great red deserts of Mars near the ruins of the mysterious, extinct Martians.

In the story, “The Martian”, one lonely surviving Martian wanders among the colonists, having the ability to appear as a loved one that someone has lost. In the story, the lone Martian attaches to a bereft couple by morphing into their missing child and showing up on the doorstep.  The Martian-as-hoped-for child is taken in and loved, no questions asked. Eventually the Martian wanders away, only to attach to someone else.

At the end of the story, we learn that the lonely Martian has wandered into and out of the lives of many other people, driven by his own loneliness and exile. The Martian can’t help trying to be that special someone for everyone.

At the end, the Martian finds itself surrounded by a crowd of people, each of whom has lost someone; each is calling out a different name. In agony, the creature tries to morph into these conflicting expectations, first a lost boy, then a lost girl, then a missing spouse. Of course it can’t be done. You can’t “be” the person every other person is looking for.

Leading from behind is really another way of describing following. The Martian’s fatal flaw was that it wanted to follow the expectations of others, by becoming the person someone was longing for. It could not be true to itself without sacrificing adulation.

It was a poignant, elegiac, even tragic story.

In Mr. Obama, early version, Americans were looking for a new, post-partisan, post-racial leader, the embodiment of hope and change.  As the policy failures and scandals multiply, they/we are left with a different picture: The frame we see reveals little coherent character, a man of several faces, who seeks adulation, if not here, then perhaps elsewhere, …say, in Africa.

The man the crowd wanted to see in Mr. Obama was a blur of faces, fading in and out of view, in a shifting montage that eerily reminds me of Bradbury’s lost Martian.

I fear we are witnessing the collapse of trust, the specter of fading gravitas and a gnawing undercurrent, the foreboding of serious failure. But, so far, this president has been lucky. But for the timing of the 2008 credit and banking crash, he probably would not have been elected.  But for Bill Clinton’s clever supporting speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, and the complete crash of the “state of the art” get-out-the-vote computer technology that Mr. Romney relied on to his detriment in swing states, Mr. Obama would probably not have been reelected.

So, I am reminded of the story of a heated discussion in Lincoln’s cabinet over whether to move a certain untried general into the fray during the Civil War. In frustration, Lincoln said, “Grant, I don’t give a God damn what you think about his experience, just tell me one thing: Is he lucky?”

I fear that’s where most Americans are with this president. There seems to be little prospect of personal growth, of the sudden emergence of sturdy character.  We are left hoping that Mr. Obama (and by extension, this beloved country) will be lucky.

Surely, Americans are entitled to much more than that in a leader, especially in a time of grave economic and geopolitical crises, very serious troubles that were only partly inherited, and as of now, are mostly self-inflicted.

The pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, reminded us that character is destiny.  I believe that this will prove true of the Obama presidency.

Leadership springs from character…and its absence from the absence of character.

There is no easy fix.  Character is acquired, refined and hardened by the decisions, actions, and inner compass that reveal it.

Character is not magically conjured by ambition, nor is it installed like a computer program, nor is it imaged by a CAG effect. Character is forged by real trials, not by gestures.

We are witnessing a growing consensus that, for this administration’s remaining days, hope is been replaced by disillusionment.

Character is the gold standard of trust.  Character is missing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Trust, ever fragile, is in eclipse.

All America has left is luck.

God save the United States of America

JBG

 

Copyright © 2012, 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

 

First Published on The Policy Think Site and linked blogs.

As always, links, forwards and attributed quotations are welcome and encouraged.

For everything else, please contact the author by email – outlawywer.gaskill@gmail.com.