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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

COALITION OF THE UNDECIDED

“I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn’t make for good theater.”

I don't envy President Obama right now.  In the past he's faced clear and simple decisions and waffled or been confused, chose poorly or tried to avoid choosing at all.  But with IS (Islamic States), there isn't really a good choice.
The group is gaining momentum, money, and arms, and clearly is a threat to the region.  IS plans on returning the Caliphate that it once had in the 14th century, which circled the Mediterranean and encompassed a large area of land.  Further, they plan on expanding Islamic rule beyond that to the entire globe.
Right now, IS is small and mostly in Iraq and Syria.  They are growing but still not very large.  Every opponent they have faced as given way easily but they haven't faced a powerful, modern, determined army yet.  Its possible that they have reached the limits of what zeal and no centralized leadership or discipline can achieve.
On the other hand, the organization might be destined for greater power and continued growth, and could easily gain a powerful, charismatic leader that coalesces the various factions and tribal forces now only allied for the goal of radical Islam conquering enemies.  With a good leader, other Muslim countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even Turkey might choose to join IS or at least ally with it, which would increase its power and influence exponentially.
And if this is the future of the organization, then dealing with it right now when it is isolated, small, and easily found is the best option.  A large and powerful IS would probably be greeted by the UN as a valid state rather than a batch of murderous lunatics, which is what they are.
And murderous is definitely an accurate description.  There is almost no atrocity, no evil that this group has not demonstrated, from rape to murder to decapitation, to attempted genocide, environmental destruction, obliteration of historical sites, and far beyond.  Women are captured for not being Muslim - or even insufficiently Muslim - and turned into a sort of roving harem for the IS soldiers to rape repeatedly.  Villages are murdered for not agreeing with their ideology.  The evil of these men is undeniable.
But is that enough reason to act?  The horror of their behavior and the potential for global reach?  Horrendous evil goes on around the world daily; such ghastly behavior is done right on the southern border of the United States by drug cartels.  North Korea is a nearly incomprehensible nightmare of brutality and evil.  Recently the Sudan was a slaughterfest of Muslims raping and killing off Christians for land and power.
So what is President Obama to do?  Because of news coverage of these evils, the American people want action to be taken - if for no other reason than IS is a thumb in the eye of the American eagle after leaving Iraq quiet and relatively stable.
President Obama in particular does not like the idea of acting in Iraq for several reasons.  First, he stated repeatedly that going into Iraq was a huge mistake and never should have happened.  Second, he declared a huge victory and took credit for it when he announced the troop withdrawals from the country.  So he'd look stupid and hypocritical for doing what he said was wrong and having to fix what he said wasn't broken.  And third, he does not want ever to use ground troops.  For him, like most Democrats, the worst thing in the world is the body bag; they think of Vietnam every single time and want no troops on the ground.
But at the same time, he's facing tremendous pressure worldwide to take action, he has made it very clear that this is the kind of thing he thinks action should be taken over, and the people seem to want something done.
So what is there to do?  Should he take action, and how?  Don Surber suggests the president should truthfully give this speech:
"My fellow Americans, we just completed the bombing of every ISIS target we can identify, we have frozen their assets in this country and we have indicted all their conspirators and supporters in the United States. I want to thank the men and women of the USS George H.W. Bush, the entire Fifth Fleet, the airmen and women al-Udeid air base in Qatar, the Secret Service's treasury operations and U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger of Minnesota and his staff, as well as the FBI special task force who assisted them in apprehending more than 100 militants in the Minneapolis area alone. Initial intelligence reports indicate that we have more than decimated this scourge to humanity, while pocketing $3 billion in assets, which is more than enough to cover the cost of replacing the cruise missiles we deployed, in anticipation of the next group of Islamic nuts who wish to destroy the world. If we have learned any one thing from our dear allies in Israel it is the need for constant vigilance."
Certainly it would be a bold and aggressive response to the evil that IS represents.  Its the kind of speech and the kind of action that President Bush would have taken in his first term - exactly the attitude and actions President Obama and his allies showered with every conceivable negative description and suggestion.
And this sort of action would kick the legs out from under IS (although why you'd focus on Minnesota so heavily eludes me, given places like Dearborn Michigan) by crippling its resources and undermining its recruiting.  It wouldn't require soldiers in Iraq, nor would it involve building a multinational coalition which took President Bush six months to accomplish. Building coalitions is something President Obama has shown absolutely no acumen in whatsoever.
But even this is not what President Obama wants to do.  Because he's not facing the same dilemma I would be and that I list above.  His problem is of an entirely different nature.  We saw a glimpse of this problem in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia, allegedly to help a northern portion form their own country.
The instant the news came out, candidate John McCain issued a strong statement of unwavering condemnation and opposition to a country invading another, particularly on such flimsy pretext, and bombing it without even attempting to explain why or going to the UN.  Russia was wrong, and that was clear.
On the other hand, President Obama took days to come out with a tepid, hand wringing statement of whining equivocation, asking "both sides" to be nice and stop fighting.  Later, seeing his poll numbers plummet, he changed his statement to be more condemning of Russia's actions.  President Obama showed the pattern he would continually follow in every situation of the sort after that: hesitation, indecision, moral equivalence.
A recent article in the New York Times has a quote that sums up the president's approach quite well:
Mr. Haass said attention to nuance was a double-edged attribute. “This is someone who, more than most in the political world, is comfortable in the gray rather than the black and white,” he said. “So many other people in the political world do operate in the black and white and are more quote-unquote decisive, and that’s a mixed blessing. He clearly falls on the side of those who are slow or reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you into a more one-sided position than you’re comfortable with.”
That last sentence really says it all.  The president is reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you in to a more one-sided position than you're comfortable with.
Yes, that's what making a decision does.  It forces you into a position rather than standing off and avoiding a decision so you can keep your options open.  Taking a stand requires you to pick that stand and stay with it until circumstances or information has changed sufficiently to justify altering your position.  Not taking a stand allows you to avoid any sort of decision or position at all, and move around.
The latter option feels more intelligent and "nuanced" and its the sort of position that professors and thinkers like to be in.  It isn't necessarily smarter but it feels smarter, and for academics, looks better because, why, there are no absolutes, and nothing is black and white, and we have to take everything into consideration, even the feelings of our enemies...
The problem is, part of being a leader means that you must take positions, you must be decisive, and you must take a stand.  You cannot waffle, wait, try to hold both sides, and nuance when action must be taken.  The famous quote by Teddy Roosevelt applies here: "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."  
Roosevelt wasn't arguing its a good idea to make bad choices, but that leaders must lead and take positions, and wrong is better than waffling and inaction.  It feels comfortable and superior to sit on the fence and gaze down your nose at everyone, but its not leadership, its not constructive, and it accomplishes nothing.
A few weeks ago I posted a video, a fairly lengthy one, by Evan Sayet which examined why he holds the positions he does on topics and what the left is like inside.  I am hesitant to post videos of that sort without explanation or (even better) a transcript to read, but I was feeling poorly and needed content up.  The video is quite good, and I recommend it highly. I say that as someone who rarely watches videos online, preferring to read.
In it, Sayet argues that the left came to the conclusions they did by examining history.  They decided that in the past, all the best arguments, all the best religious efforts, all the movements and systems failed to accomplish what the left believes they should have.  There still was poverty, oppression, inequality, bigotry, and so on in all of these cultures.
Further, they came to the conclusion that the reason evils such as war, famine, poverty, and so on took place were because of these movements and arguments.  The left argues that because people took these stances and believed in these things, then all the horrors of the world took place.
So they decided the best way to approach the world was to use John Lennon's childish lyrics for the song "Imagine" as a template:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

The left imagined this and thought it was the answer to everything.  If people just stopped believing in, arguing over, and caring about anything, then it would all be wonderful.  We could slip into an eden-like utopian existence of no possessions, nations, beliefs or purpose and everyone would get along in perfection.
This is essentially what men like Rousseau argued centuries ago, believing that native peoples in the third world were living a wonderful happy life of peace and selfless comfort.  That civilization and ideology was what brought evil into the world, and if we could just go back to a time of "savage" life at one with the world around us, all those evils would stop.
Its a position that has a certain charm, when you're too young to understand human nature and have no historical or anthropological comprehension of the brutality, pain, misery, war, and horror that these native peoples lived in, but it is appealing at a certain level.
So the left argues that we should take no hard position on anything.  They argue against everything that people bring up.  If you say Islam is wrong for female genital mutilation, they argue you're bigoted and need to understand their culture, and besides we forced them into it by our white oppression.  If you argue for voter ID, they cry oppression, bigotry, and disenfranchisement.
They want nobody to be for or against anything, because they view that as the source of all horror in the world.
Now there aren't many people who actually and consciously hold to this with deliberate calculation.  Some do - many in the White House right now and in academia - but few on the street.  They've not thought it through to any real degree, they just are holding to positions based on emotion and mostly cheerleading: this is what my side says is right and the other side says is wrong.  My side good, your side bad, who cares why or what it means.
And naturally, no one is consistent in their beliefs, we all are confused and inconsistent to some degree.  But in general, this does describe the exact philosophy - the worldview - that the left follows, if only at an academic level of understanding.
Now, look at what President Obama faces here when he has to make a decision, as he does all day long in his job.  Making a hard statement or decision on any topic violates this basic principle, it is in direct contradiction to his worldview.  Equivocate, nuance, multiculturalize, that's his home and natural thought pattern.  Taking a stance, that's alien to him.  He votes present not out of sloth or inability, but natural inclination: it avoids violating the "Imagine" school of thought.
The rest of the world see this behavior and does not see heroic rising above the usual politics and theater of the presidency, but incompetence, weakness, and inability to do his job.  Which, in fact, it is.  This is why folks like me opposed this man in the presidency, he's not capable of doing it, he's hapless and incompetent.  Its not that he can't learn - the man seems bright enough - but that learning would violate his basic comprehension of the world and inclination.  He doesn't want to change, because he thinks it would be wrong to change.
And the New York Times packs its articles with people who praise and laud this behavior as being smarter and more understanding of the true nature of the world - because it agrees with their worldview.  So we have the leader of the free world unable to lead at a basic, foundational level because he believes leadership is wrong.
And he cannot build any sort of coalition not because he is incapable of being persuasive or making a case, but because he believes he should not make a case.  Some might think that this is out of a fear of being thought wrong or making mistakes, but that's not the origin of his paralysis at all.
Yet as Mark Steyn notes the end result is the same:
The Obama Doctrine - "Don't do stupid sh*t" - has been rendered in non-PG version as "Don't do stupid stuff". But it should be more pithily streamlined yet: Don't do. The Obama "Doctrine" attempts to dignify inertia as strategy. As Noemie Emery writes:
It implies in effect that wisdom is measured in negative energy, that by declining to act one can stay out of trouble, that passivity is the key to a guilt-free existence and a serene and an untroubled world.

Never use force, don't threaten force, and no one will blame you for anything. Pull out of wars and your foes will stop fighting. Don't send men to war and your hands will be clean
When he does take action, such as in Lybia, its not for any particular or specific plan or set of achievable goals, it is to motivate and organize, not achieve.
So if you wondered what on earth was going on with the White House, why this keeps happening, and what on earth the president is thinking, here's your answer.  He's thinking we can't go all inquisition here, we have to be cautious and thoughtful.  He's thinking he can't be a leader, because leaders have fewer options and are taking too strong a position.
And meanwhile, the world burns.

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