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Meltdown, No Mouth Must Scream

Friday, August 12th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — two powerful graphic images, one simple truth ]

Tablet DQ Meltdown Scream


From a purely graphic angle, the two images mirror one another quite nicely, and arguably the meltdown is the cause for the need to scream.

I generally try to avoid politics, but when it leaks over into the same religious issues I’ve been studying and writing about here for a few years now, I’m liable to voice my opinions.

I’m a loser in Trunp‘s terms by vocation, whether I follow the dictum “go and sit down in the lowest room” (Luke 14.19) or am “content with the low places that people disdain” (Lao Tzu 8), so it won’t bother him when I point out that contrary to his recent statement that President Obama was the founder of ISIS, which he’s doubled down on —

I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award. I give her, too, by the way, Hillary Clinton.

— he’s just plain wrong, as John Schindler — far from an admirer of Hillary Clinton — reminds us in today’s detailed and thorough Observer piece mildly titled No, Obama Is Not the Founder of ISIS. Some choice paras:

It’s not every day the presidential nominee of the Republican Party calls our commander-in-chief a “founder”—that is a terrorist, a traitor, and “MVP”—of the global Salafist caliphate, an organization that commits mass murder and even genocide. Not to mention that ISIS seeks to kill Americans with gusto at home and abroad.

Trump’s claim is so absurd as to render terror experts speechless. In the first place, ISIS was born in a practical sense in 2006, when elements of Al-Qa’ida in Iraq fused with bitter-enders from the Saddam Hussein regime that the United States overthrew in its invasion of Iraq three years before. Back then George W. Bush was president and Barack Obama was a junior U.S. Senator from Illinois.

None of this is to defend Obama’s track record against ISIS, which in column after column here I’ve lambasted as incompetent and lackadaisical. His pseudo-war on that murder gang and its imaginary caliphate has been a train-wreck of quarter-measures, muddled strategy, and outright lies. Obama ought to never live down his dismissal of ISIS as the “JV team,” but that’s a far cry from “founding” the Islamic State.

There’s no doubt that Obama’s withdrawal of American forces from Iraq in 2011, hailed as a great victory at the time, was strategically harmful and enabled ISIS’s meteoric growth in the Middle East. However, the president had little choice there, since the democratically elected Iraqi government in Baghdad demanded that the U.S. military leave their country. Not to mention that withdrawing our troops from Iraq was supported by Donald Trump.

Saying Obama and Hillary “founded” ISIS therefore is a ridiculous claim that deserves to be taken no more seriously than related tinfoilisms like “Jews did 9/11” or “My cat is the Illuminati.” It’s therefore deeply alarming to see the GOP nominee say it—repeatedly.

It’s not difficult to see where Trump gets such wacky ideas. Mike Flynn, his national security guru, has repeatedly come close to saying the same, hinting that Obama wanted ISIS to succeed. Flynn is a retired Army three-star general whom Obama fired as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency with ample cause.

Since then, Flynn’s gotten cuddly with the Russians, regularly appearing on their propaganda network RT, even admitting he’s taken Kremlin money for a photo op with Vladimir Putin. This is where things get really interesting. “Obama created ISIS” has been a Kremlin trope for a couple years now and it’s frequently trotted out by Putin’s mouthpieces and online trolls. When your campaign is riddled with people on the Kremlin payroll, with deep ties to Moscow, it’s not surprising that the candidate starts mouthing their disinformation.


Or, to make it very simple, in the words and images of ABC News:

these guys

Hope as slogan, hope as navigation

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a visual DoubleQuote on the difference between artist and politician ]

As you may have gathered, I’m an admirer of the artist Alyce Santoro‘s work, and yesterday I came across her Existential Navigational Chart, with its little note in the bottom left corner:

Soundings in the Unfathomable at Mean Low Water (MLW)

In any case, it reminded me of the enormous difference between a political slogan and an artist’s insight.

Obama‘s HOPE (upper panel, below) was a lure, an appeal to an ideal in the sea of practical politics — and opinions are divided as to how well he managed to fulfill that one-word promise:

Tablet DQ 600 hope and hope islands

Alyce‘s navigational mapping of area surrounding the the Hope Islands (lower panel, above) on the other hand, is both more fanciful and more realistic — a wonderful combination if you think about it. Notice the nuance she manages to pack into her map, with Inner Hope Island, Little Hope Island, Hope Island, and on southwards to Lost Hope Island, False Hope Island, and Hope Ledge — and all so close to both Little Despair Island, and Love Rocks —

Who, truly alive, has not been stranded on one or more of those islands, nor dashed against Love Rocks?


You can download a print quality, high resolution file of Alyce’s chart without cost, or click through to her Philosoprop shop to purchase a signed copy.

Trump 1, Theology 0

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — politics wearing religion as a glove and vice versa, mostly re Trump but MB too ]

This is a sort of anti-post for me, because it reports on a situation where theology is considered unimportant by pastor and Governor Mike Huckabee.

First, a DoubleTweet from Michelle Boorstein of WaPo:

Trump is speaking today at Trump Towers, it appears, and Boorstein has been tweeting excerpts of what he’s been telling 900 top evangelical and social conservative leaders behind closed doors — she has, it would appear, an ear to a leaky keyhole.

I’m not interested in the DoubleTweet-ishness here, Boorstein is simply dividing a comment that exceeds twitter’s 140 character rule into two parts to post it. But her message does indicate that the theological equivalent of “dress casual” is the tone of the meeting.


Which is surely what caused Michael Farris, Founder and now Chancellor of Patrick Henry College, to post a FaceBook comment today picked up as an op ed in Christian Post under the stunning title, Trump’s Meeting With Evangelical Leaders Marks the End of the Christian Right.

Excerpts [I’ve collapsed the one-sentence-per-paragraph format here for ease of reading]:

I attended the very first meeting of the Moral Majority held in Indianapolis in February of 1980. I was the Washington state director of the MM and have been a leader of the “Christian right” ever since.

[ .. ]

The premise of the meeting in 1980 was that only candidates that reflected a biblical worldview and good character would gain our support. Today, a candidate whose worldview is greed and whose god is his appetites (Philippians 3) is being tacitly endorsed by this throng. They are saying we are Republicans no matter what the candidate believes and no matter how vile and unrepentant his character. They are not a phalanx of God’s prophets confronting a wicked leader, this is a parade of elephants.

In 1980 I believed that Christians could dramatically influence politics. Today, we see politics fully influencing a thousand Christian leaders.

This is a day of mourning.


Farris was politely dis-invited from the meeting on account of his known anti-Trump sentiments, but for my purposes, what’s interesting here is what the incident shows us about the vexed business of disentangling religion and politics. In dealing with religiously-related terrorism, the question often arises as to whether a given text or act is political, wearing religion as “cover” — or essentially religious, albeit with political implications.

In this case, it’s instructive (for me at least) to see that for Huckabee, politics is dominant, and wears religion as a glove or mask, whereas for Farris, it is religion that is dominant, albeit in the context of a presidential campaign which is by definition political.

Whether as Farris asserts, today’s meeting at Trump Towers “marks the end of the Christian Right” presumably depends on which of those two words one chooses to emphasize.


FWIW, here’s the same “which is the hand, which is the glove” issue in Egypt:

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faces a dilemma: Religion or politics?

Orlando Tweets Two

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on a variety of other perspectives ]

Once again, my point is that there’s a whole lot of going on going on, and it’s worth getting a wide-angle view.. which means multiple perspectives, including those not your own:



Joshua Green, Trump seems to regard Omar Mateen as “Afghan” in the same way Judge Curiel was “Mexican”: foreign/un-American, even though both born in US
Charlene Deveraturda, The Atlantic’s ISIS Expert Graeme Wood Slams Trump For “Hurt[ing] The Fight Against ISIS” With Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

Both Al-Jazeera‘s and Joshua Green‘s tweets offer us examples of DoubleQuotes thinking.



Program on extremism, ‘Orlando Shooter Legally Bought Guns Despite Previous Flags by FBI’
Rob Crilly, Orlando shows arc again. Hate-filled young man with access to guns picks his victims and then selects poisonous ideology to add “meaning”
Bill Maher, #Orlando Conservatives:”Don’t say it has anything to do with guns!” Liberals:”Don’t say it has anything to do with Islam!”
Maajid Nawaz, Saying this has nothing to do with Islam (libs) is as ignorant as saying this has nothing to do with guns (cons).Both need reform
Piers Morgan, Obama’s about to make the same speech he’s made about guns 20 times in his presidency. Just more pointless rhetoric, sadly.
Steven Crowder, Orlando timeline: Anti-Gay Muslim commits mass terrorism. American gun-owners condemn it. Liberals try to take their guns


Islamic responses:

Shadi Hamid, Muslim organizations in the United States unequivocally condemned the Orlando assault
Usama Hasan, Does #Islam condemn #gays to death?

and in ISIS perspective:

Cole Bunzel, ISIS’s A’maq news agency claims Florida attack was “carried out by a soldier of the Islamic State”
Will McCants, ISIS uses term “fighter” for Orlando attacker rather than “soldier” (Paris/Brussels) or “supporter” (San Bernardino) for whatever it’s worth


And finally, barely mentioned in the welter of opinions about Orlando — the other shoe:

JM Berger, We may have narrowly escaped having two very similar massacres on the same day, apparently unconnected
JM Berger, The fact that one was prevented and one was not is largely a trick of fate. We need robust reporting on LA incident as well

Not China’s Choice but Ours

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen”]

China’s Blue Water “Coast Guard”

T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage has an outstanding post on the strategic reality of China and American foreign policy. It is a must read:

“China Does Not Want Your Rules Based Order”

…..McCain’s words echo those spoken by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter last week to the graduating midshipman at Annapolis. Read them both. Compare what they say. Behold the quickly crystallizing American narrative on China. This is a bipartisan message. It will be the starting point of a President Clinton’s policy. Whether a President Trump will endorse it is hard to say. In either case, it is a narrative whose momentum is building.

There is much that is good in this narrative. McCain proclaims that “no nation has done as much to contribute to what China calls its “peaceful rise” as the United States of America.” He is right to do so. No nation has done more to enable China’s rise than America has. No country’s citizens have done more for the general prosperity of the Chinese people than the Americans have. This is true in ways that are not widely known or immediately obvious. For example, the role American financiers and investment banks played in creating the architecture of modern Chinese financial markets and corporate structures is little realized, despite the size and importance of their interventions. Behind every great titan of Chinese industryChina Mobile, the world’s largest mobile phone operator, China State Construction Engineering, whose IPO was valued at $7.3 billion, PetroChina, the most profitable company in Asia (well, before last year), to name a few of hundreds–lies an American investment banker. I do not exaggerate when I say Goldman Sachs created modern China. [2] China has much to thank America for.

However, I cannot endorse all that is included in this emerging narrative, for part of it is deeply flawed. The flaw may be by design; if the purpose is to stir cold hearts and gain moral admiration of others, such flaws can be excused–that is how politics works. But this sort of things can only be excused if those delivering the speeches do not take the implications of their own words seriously when it is time to make policy. 

I speak of  China’s “choice.” The thread that runs through all of these talks is that the Chinese have yet to choose whether they aim for order or disruption, the existing regime or the chaos beyond it. The truth is that the Chinese have already chosen their path and no number of speeches on our part will convince them to abandon it. They do not want our rules based order. They have rejected it. They will continue to reject it unless compelled by overwhelming crisis to sleep on sticks and swallow gall and accept the rules we force upon them. 

China has made its choice. The real decision that will determine the contours of the 21st century will not be made in Beijing, but in Washington.

T. Greer, in my opinion is correct but this is not a message Beltway insiders are wont to harken – making strategic choices is for lesser nations. America is so rich, powerful, unipolar, indispensable, exceptional that we can pursue all objectives, in every corner of the globe, without choosing between the vital and the trivial. We can do this even if our goals are contradictory and ill-considered or serve manly as a prop for domestic political disputes, the business interests of political donors or career advancement of apparatchiks and politicians. We can safely delay and indulge in fantasy.

If this was true once, it is less so today and will be still less twenty years hence.

Greer sharpens his argument:

….Last spring it finally sunk in. Chinese illiberalism not only can endure, it is enduring. The old consensus cracked apart. No new consensus on how to deal with China has yet formed to take its place.

But old habits die hard. We see this at the highest levels of policy, as in the McCain speech, where American policy is justified in terms of giving China a chance to choose the right. The same spirit is invoked further down the line. Ash Carter, for example, recently described American tactics in the South China Sea as a “long campaign of firmness, and gentle but strong pushback… [until] The internal logic of China and its society will eventually dictate a change.” [3] In other words, American policy is a holding action until China sees the light.

What if they never do?

The Chinese believe that our international order is a rigged system set up by the imperial victors of the last round of bloodshed to perpetuate the power of its winners. They use the system, quite cynically, but at its base they find it and its symbols hypocritical, embarrassing, outrageous, and (according to the most strident among them), evil. In their minds it is a system of lies and half-truths. In some cases they have a point. Most of their actions in the East or South China Seas are designed to show just how large a gap exists between the grim realities of great power politics and soaring rhetoric Americans use to describe our role in the region

….In simpler terms, the Chinese equate “rising within a rules based order” with “halting China’s rise to power.” To live by Washington’s rules is to live under its power, and the Chinese have been telling themselves for three decades now that—after two centuries of hardship—they will not live by the dictates of outsiders ever again.

The Chinese will never choose our rules based order. That does not necessarily mean they want to dethrone America and throw down all that she has built. The Chinese do not have global ambitions. What they want is a seat at the table—and they want this seat to be recognized, not earned. That’s the gist of it. Beijing is not willing to accept an order it did not have a hand in creating. Thus all that G-2 talk we heard a few years back. The Chinese would love to found a new order balancing their honor and their interests with the Americans. It is a flattering idea. What they do not want is for the Americans to give them a list of hoops to jump through to gain entry into some pre-determined good-boys club. They feel like their power, wealth, and heritage should be more than enough to qualify for  automatic entrance to any club.

Read the rest here.

Richard Nixon, who was the external strategic architect of China’s rise in order to use China as a counterweight against an increasingly aggressive Soviet Union, faced a similar situation that Greer described above with the Soviets. Nixon’s détente summits with the Russians were diplomatic triumphs where LBJ’s summit at Glassboro with Kosygin had been a failure because Nixon shrewdly understood Soviet psychological insecurity, a deep sense of paranoid inferiority and the hunger for respect as a superpower equal of the United States. Leonid Brezhnev, Kosygin’s ascendant rival was desperate for this American political recognition and Nixon and Kissinger played this card (along with the geostrategic shock of the China opening) to wrest concessions in arms control and restraint (for a time) in Soviet behavior from Brezhnev.

Playing this card is not possible with China.

While there seems some emergent rivalry between China’s prime minister Li Keqiang and China’s President Xi Jinping that loosely mirrors the Kosygin-Brezhnev dynamic, the analogy is otherwise a poor one. Despite sharing Marxist-Leninist DNA in their institutional structure, China is not at all like the Soviet Union in terms of culture, history or ambitions. The Chinese not only lack the national inferiority complex that drives the Russian psyche, they suffer from the opposite condition of a superiority complex that outstrips their actual capacity to project military or even economic power. This has given rise to popular frustration and manic nationalism in China, with bitter recriminations about “small countries” and “hegemonic powers”. It also has created a strategic lacunae where China has in a short span of time gone from enjoying good relations with most of the world to a state of habitually irritating almost all of its neighbors and periodically threatening two great powers – rising India and Japan – and one superpower, the United States.

In short, China already is as T. Greer argued, a committed revisionist power.

We cannot buy off or bribe China. Unlike Brezhnev who needed American credits for his domestic economic program to cement his place as supreme leader, Xi Jinping has carried out a ruthless purge of the party and government under the pretext of an anti-corruption drive. Xi does not need or want our help in his domestic squabbles. Nor would he or another Chinese leader be content with symbolic gestures of Beijing’s “parity” with Washington. “Parity” will not satisfy Chinese leaders unless it comes with attendant symbolic humiliations for America and an American retreat from Asia. Forever.

If American leaders do not wake up to this reality and do so quickly then it is time for a new leadership class with less sentimentality and clearer vision.

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