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Serpent logics: the marathon

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — oh, the sheer delightful drudgery of finding patterns everywhere ]
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I’ll start this post, as I did the previous one to which this is a sort of appendix, with a (deeply strange, tell me about it) example of the…

Matrioshka pattern:


That’s a piece of jewelry made out of disembodied pieces of Barbies from the extraordinary designer’s mind of Margaux Lange, FWIW.

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This post is the hard core follow up to my earlier piece today, Serpent logics: a ramble, and offers you the chance to laugh and groan your way through all the other “patterns” I’ve been collecting over the last few months. My hope is that repeated (over)exposure to these patterns will make the same patterns leap out at you when you encounter them in “real life”.

Most of the examples you run across may prove humorous — but if you’re monitoring news feeds for serious matters, my hunch is that you’ll find some of them helpful in grasping “big pictures” or gestalts, noting analomalies and seeing parallels you might otherwise have missed.

Have at it!

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Here’s another Matrioshka, from the structural end of lit crit that my friend Wm. Benzon attacks with gusto over at New Savannah:

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Enantiodromia:

You’ll recall this is the pattern where something turns into its opposite… as described in this quote from the movie Prozac Nation:

I dream about all the things I wish I’d said.
The opposite of what came out of my mouth.
I wish I’d said
“Please forgive me. Please help me.
I know I have no right to behave this way?”

Here are a few examples…

Ahmed Akkari Repents Violent Opposition to Danish Cartoons Lampooning Islam:

After a Danish newspaper published cartoons satirizing the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, Ahmed Akkari spearheaded protests that ultimately cost the lives of 200 people. Now he says he’s sorry. Michael Moynihan on what changed Akkari’s mind.

That’s impressive!

That one’s run of the media mill…

And this one’s from my delightful, delicious boss, Danielle LaPorte:

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A friend sent me this:

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Let’s just plough ahead…

Nominalism:

Nominalism is the category where the distinction between a word and what it represents gets blurry — a very significant distinction in some cases —

How’s this for naming your donkey after your President?

Consider this one, another instance of nominalism in action, from the French justice system:

A mother who sent her three-year-old son Jihad to school wearing a sweater with the words “I am a bomb” on the front, along with his name and ‘Born on September 11th’ on the back, was handed a suspended jail sentence on Friday for “glorifying a crime”. A court of appeal in the city of Nimes, southern France, convicted Jihad’s mother Bouchra Bagour and his uncle Zeyad for “glorifying a crime” in relation to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th 2001.

The classic nominalist image — with which I’d compare and contrast the French three-year-old with the unfortunate name and tsee-shirt — is Magritte’s cdelebrated “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”:

And here’s one final nominalist example:

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The spiral:

Here’s a potential downwards spiral, for those watching India:

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Straight parallelism:

This one’s from Jonathan Franzen:

And meanwhile the overheating of the atmosphere, meanwhile the calamitous overuse of antibiotics by agribusiness, meanwhile the widespread tinkering with cell nucleii, which may well prove to be as disastrous as tinkering with atomic nucleii. And, yes, the thermonuclear warheads are still in their silos and subs.

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Simple Opposition:

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Some of these categories seem pretty fluid — or to put that another way, some of these examples might fit with equal ease into several doifferent categories. Here’s another oppositional class:

Arms crossed:

From Ezra Klein and Evan Solta blogging at WaPo’s Wonkbook: The Republican Party’s problem, in two sentences:

It would be a disaster for the party to shut down the government over Obamacare. But it’s good for every individual Republican politician to support shutting down the government over Obamacare.

A great “values” juxtaposition:

And hey, nice phrasing:

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Here’s an example of one of the central patterns of violence and justice:

Tit for Tat:

[ the account this tweet came from, which was a media outlet for Shabaab, has since been closed — hence the less than euqal graphical appearance of this particular tweet… ]

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And here, without too much further ado, is a whole concatenation of…

Serpents biting their tails:

[ … and that last one of Nein‘s appears to have been withdrawn from circulation ]

This one I love for its lesson on biblical pick-and-choose:

This one is also a DoubleQuote:

when closely followed by:

And this one really bites:

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To close the series out with more of a bang than a whimper, here’s Serpent bites Tail with apocalypse & gameplay for additional spice:

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Reprehending Ignorance about Syria

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

I’ve had the pleasure of introducing Timothy R. Furnish, PhD, as a guest blogger here before. Today he offers us his timely commentary on factors which should influence US decision-making regarding Syria. Here I would invite you to note especially his comments on the religious factors involved, which he characterizes as “the most salient issue at hand” and details in the long paragraph which begins “Finally…”

Charles Cameron
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Ottoman Asia (partial map, 1893)

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American intervention in Syria, most likely in the form of air- or cruise missile-strikes against select targets, now seems a certainty, considering that not just the Obama Administration but a whole host of politicians and commentators — ranging across the political spectrum, from Bill O’Reilly to Senator John McCain and to “The New York Times” editorial board — stridently supports military action. The reasons adduced are primarily these:

1) The usage of chemical weapons is an atrocity and violation of international law and must be punished accordingly
2) Syria being Iran’s “pawn,” any strike at the Damascus regime is tantamount to one at the Islamic Republic and, thus, ipso facto a good thing
3) al-Asad is a Hitleresque “monster” — no further discussion required
4) President Obama’s credibility is at stake, his having previously deemed usage of chemical weapons to be an uncrossable “red line” that would trigger retaliation.

Those opposed to the US attacking the al-Asad regime invoke, rather, points such as:

1) Realpolitick-wise, the US has no national security interest in Syria
2) Any action that degrades the al-Asad regime actually helps the jihadist elements of the Syrian opposition, especially the al-Qa`ida-affiliated, pro-caliphate Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham min Mujahidin al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad (“The Front of Support to the Family of Syria from the Holy Warriors of Syria in the Battlefields of Jihad”). As LTC Ralph Peters put it on “The O’Reilly Factor” (8.27.13), “do we really want to help the jihadists who perpetrated 9/11?”
3) US bombing — even if attempted “surgically” — will result in collateral damage to Syrian civilians and motivate Syria and its allies (especially Iran and Hizbullah) to activate terrorist cells against Americans, certainly in the larger Middle East, probably in Europe and possibly even in the US homeland.

Three major areas of ignorance are manifested in these two Manichaean positions (albeit moreso in the pro-bombing camp).

First, it is not (yet) certain that it was indeed the al-Asad regime that employed chemical weapons. According to a source with whom I am in contact — a former intelligence operative who worked in Syria for a number of years — it is quite possible that Jabhat al-Nusra, or one of the other jihadist opposition groups (Syrian Islamic Front, Ahrar al-Sham, Ansar al-Islam, Ahfad al-Rasul, etc.) pilfered a government chemical weapons stockpile and wielded the lethal bounty in a false flag operation. It is also possible that such jihadist groups were supplied chemical weapons directly by* North Korea.

Second, it is simply not the case in modern times that use of chemical or nerve agents automatically provokes the international community’s wrath. Libya used such weapons in Chad in 1986, and (more infamously) Saddam Husayn did likewise against Iraqi Kurds in 1987. Neither of those events engendered US or NATO retaliation. Furthermore, Syria is not a signatory to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention prohibiting utilization of chemical or nerve agents; and Damascus signed the similar 1925 Geneva Protocol when it was under the French Mandate—thus having no choice in the matter. This in no wise lessens the horror of chemical weapons, but an American administration headed by a self-styled former law professor would do well to get its international legal ducks in a row before launching the first cruise missile.

Finally, and most importantly, neither the pro- nor anti-bombing faction seems aware of the most salient issue at hand: that the ruling regime is composed of Alawis, a heretical Shi`i offshoot sect the adherents of which have long been condemned as murtaddun, “apostates,” in Sunni Islam — first by the (in)famous Sunni cleric Ibn Taymiyah in his early-14th c. AD fatwas, then again just last year by the al-Qa`ida cleric Abd Allah Khalid al-Adm, who said “don’t consult with anyone before killing Alawites.” Alawis have existed for about a millennium, mostly in the mountains of coastal Lebanon and Syria, and have always been persecuted by Sunni rulers, going back to the first days of Ottoman Turkish control of the Levant in the 16th century. Under the French Mandate, post-World War I, and afterwards they insinuated themselves into the military and intelligence service such that, eventually, one of their own, Hafiz al-Asad, took control in 1970. Spurned by Sunni Arab countries, the elder al-Asad cleverly got his Alawi sect officially declared Shi`i by the influential Lebanese Twelver Shi`i cleric Musa al-Sadr (before the latter disappeared in Libya in 1976); and when the ayatollahs took control of Iran in 1979, Damascus and Tehran began, if not a beautiful, certainly a mutually beneficial, friendship — which has existed ever since. Hafiz and his son Bashar al-Asad both ruled largely as secularists — due to their sectarian affiliation, and to their official ideology of Arab socialism, articulated as the Ba`ath Party. (So to be fair to Hillary Clinton — who, in March 2011, referred to Bashar al-Asad as a “reformer” — he was much more modernizing and tolerant than many Sunni leaders of the region, if only out of political necessity.) That meant that the 10% of the Syrian population that is Christian largely supported the leader of the strange Islamic sect (also comprising about 10% of Syrians) over against the 3/4 of the population that is Sunni, fearing what a Muslim Brotherhood/Salafi takoever would portend for them. Such fears have skyrocketed since the “Arab Spring” came to Syria over two years ago — especially as groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and its ilk have trumpeted their hatred of Alawis and their burning desire for a Sunni caliphate that would relegate Christians (and Jews) to their historical, second-class dhimmi status. Thus, it is not totally beyond comprehension why a beleaguered, religiously-heterodox regime might feel it necessary to deploy, and perhaps even use, chemical weapons — as a means of staving off probable extermination at the hands of jihadists.

All in all, it appears that the pro-bombing position is much weaker than the anti-attack one. As noted previously, chemical weapons’ usage has not automatically resulted in international action in punishment; Syria is not, legally, bound by relevant conventions; and we are not certain which side actually used these arms. The idea that “any strike against the Damascus regime is a blow to Iran” is dubious at best: Iraq is at least as solicitous of the Islamic Republic as is Syria, but no calls for bombing Baghdad have been proffered. Some advance the thesis that striking al-Asad’s forces helps Israel’s geopoliticial position — but one can equally well argue that cutting off Tehran’s access to Lebanese Hizbullah would undercut the ayatollahs’ main conventional warfare outlet, and thus make it more likely they would want to use the nuclear weapons they will very soon possess. Furthermore, why should the Alawi, Druze and Christian minorities of Syria pay the price for US cowardice about attacking Iran directly? As for the “al-Asad = Hitler” trope — how many years will it take before the West, particularly the US, can wage war without “Hitlerizing” the opposition? That’s not a rational argument; it’s an emotional one. And regarding the allegation that President Obama needs to attack Syria in order to resurrect his political credibility, at home and abroad — let us hope that he is not, still, that callow after over five years in the White House. At least Richard III only needed his ignorance, not his political cunning, reprehended.

On the other side of the equation: the US does have security interests in the region, but not specifically in Syria; it is certainly true that vitiating al-Asad’s military will simultaneously empower the opposition — and not just the ostensibly-Westernized Free Syrian Army but also the jihadists like Jabhat al-Nusra; and it’s very likely that extant Iranian-trained terrorist cells will activate in Europe and the US if we intervene in Syria.

As Gandalf advised in The Fellowship of the Ring: “Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. Even the very Wise cannot see all ends.” The Obama Administration, and its supporters advocating attacking the Syrian regime, may not be able to see all ends; but they could certainly strive to be a bit wiser and consider some relevant data that might just be inconvenient to their position — before meting out yet more American death in the Middle East.

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To view the Ottoman Empire map at the head of the post at full size, see here and click for high resolution.

FTR, this post was received from Dr Furnish dated, and posted here, 8.28.2013. * indicates an edit made at Dr Furnish’s request upon rereading after publication.

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Bomb Syria?

Thursday, August 29th, 2013


[by Mark Safranski a.k.a. “zen“]

There is much ado about a prospective Western (i.e. American) aerial campaign to bomb the Iranian allied Alawite-Baathist dictatorship Syria over use of chemical weapons against primarily al Qaida allied Sunni Islamist extremist rebels.

To what end or how that end will be brought about by a surgical use of American air power, aided by token French and British contributions, well, no one is quite sure.

The driving insider force behind this astrategic call to arms are Susan Rice, Samantha Power and Anne-Marie Slaughter, the three Furies of R2P.  Slaughter writes on military intervention in Syria with her usual combination of moral certainty and operational magical thinking here. Rice angrily pontificates here while an unusually muted UN Ambassador Samantha Power just tweeted about it while on vacation from the emergency UN Security Council meeting on, uh, Syria.

The strategic argument about Syria is not about the normative qualities of the Assad regime, which is anti-American, brutal, terrorist supporting and fascistic. Or that the regime is committing atrocities. It is. It is about what political objective, if any, the use of military force against Syria can accomplish at what cost and with what probable outcomes. At a grand strategic level, there are also questions about how military intervention in Syria will impact great power relations and the shaping of international law.

I suspect many R2P advocates like Slaughter, Rice and Power are attracted to the idea of bombing Syria partly to garner a precedent to support doing similar things in the future, whether or not it has any positive effect on the Syrian civil war. That however, if true, is an extremely poor reason for military intervention anywhere. If bombing had some hope of changing the behavior of the Syrian regime or replacing it with something better, I would warm to the prospect but where is the evidence that is a likely outcome? Consider:

The Syrian rebels include armed groups as violent, lawless and squalid as the Assad regime. You know, the Beheading community of the third jihad international, with fringe support from the occasional cannibal commandos. If these Islamist lunatics come to power in Damascus they will cheerfully engage in ghastly pogroms of mass murder and torture that will make Assad’s goons look like the British Raj at tea time.

The Assad regime and the Alawite minority from whence it originates have their backs to the wall in a conflict that determines if they continue to rule Syria or are exterminated. Having no margin for maneuver or concession, America bombing them is irrelevant to whether in their calculus they can stop fighting their local enemies. The whole point of combining the threat of force with diplomacy – allegedly the reason given for bombing Syria – is to be able to make Assad an offer that he can’t refuse and not a threat that the Alawites can’t accept. Then, while blustering loudly and ominously we undercut our own bellicose posturing and announce that regime change was off the table. WTF?  Really?

The President should fire this unholy crew of incompetents and intellectual poseurs and hire some real foreign policy advisers with at least an undergraduate level grasp of how diplomacy, strategy and war have worked for the past 2000 years.

Failing that, a few poker players who can bluff without showing the entire table their cards.

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First impressions

Monday, August 5th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — how “first impressions count” applies to print media, an egregious case ]
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Both panels (above) are screenshots from the same WaPo post, at the same magnitude. FYI.

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A Brief Note on the Benghazi Hearings

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

There is legitimate room for debate if there could have been an effective military reaction to the attack in Libya by al Qaida terrorists that killed Ambassador Stevens and other US personnel.  One was apparently never seriously entertained  by senior White House, State Department and Pentagon officials. I think there ought to have been an effort to move heaven and earth and far, far greater willingness to inflict massive casualties on an attacking Libyan mob than existed, but in fairness to the Obama administration, a seat-of-the-pants, unsupported, undermanned response could also have been a replay of Blackhawk Down or Desert One. It’s a tough judgment call for any President.

That’s not why the Obama administration is in trouble today.

Poorly supported security and inept decision making by the State Department in Libya was likewise, disappointing but politically survivable and sadly, unsurprising.. We have seen similar bungling before and after 9/11 by most of our major national security departments and agencies at one time or another. It is a bipartisan phenomenon, albeit one we take far too lightly.

No, as damning testimony today made clear, the Obama administration is in trouble because their poor but not remarkably so handling of Benghazi was shielded by a ridiculous lie told entirely for partisan gain and to protect the overrated reputations and overweening egos of various administration bigwigs, most notably the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Is there anyone today – anyone at all – who still believes that Benghazi occurred because of an obscure crackpot’s video on youtube?

Had the administration manfully said “This attack is a terrible tragedy and we dropped the ball but you can believe we won’t make a similar mistake tracking down the people who did this and make them pay” most Americans would have accepted that. No, not rabid partisan Republicans, but most Americans would have wanted to back the President, any President, in the wake of such terrorism which is directed, in the last analysis, at all of us.

They did not – and much of the rest of their reaction indicates that the real concern at State and the White House was and still is with the temerity of their political opponents in daring to demand they account for their actions as if we lived in a Republic or something.

In American politics, it is the self-inflicted wounds that fester and turn gangrenous

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