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The President’s Speech

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

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President Obama addressed the nation in the wake of the ISIS-inspired terrorism San Bernardino that killed 14 people. You can read a transcript of his speech here. A few quick comments:

It is a positive, albeit small, step toward realism in the White House that the President managed to connect an act with terrorism with radical Islam as a causal factor in public. Furthermore, the recognition that our policies on immigration from states with extremely problematic connections with Islamist extremism and terrorism (i.e. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) contributed to the massacre is a welcome change. Recall that the administration’s initial reaction was to call the murders “gun violence” -as if the culprits here were some kind of mystery – and for the Attorney-General to make disturbing noises about criminalizing free speech critical of Islam she found objectionable.

The President’s reluctance to get into a large ground war with ISIS in Iraq and Syria is laudable. That does not mean our current actions against ISIS are effective or vigorous. They have been up until Russia’s intervention in Syria, remarkably tepid. It is laudable because at present the administration lacks a strategy for a major ground campaign; would be diplomatically unable, or find unpalatable, coordinating such a campaign with Russia, Iran, the Kurds, the Iraqi government, France and Turkey; and because the Congress and public would not wish to pay for a war of that magnitude. The President’s current strategy of air power, special forces, advice and aid is not bad in principle, but will not likely be effective in crippling ISIS unless ramped up by many orders of magnitude. Even then it would be a process of grinding ISIS down over time. Will this POTUS do that?

The President’s plea for gun control on semi-automatic rifles is a pet partisan issue for liberal Democrats irrelevant to stopping terrorism. It has no chance of passing either House of Congress. He will have no luck either with barring people on the No-Fly list from buying guns until he proposes legislation that specifically accommodates the due process rights of the accused. Nor should he until this happens, given the number of people who have ended up on the unaccountable, secret, No-Fly list out of error, capricious bureaucrats, mistaken identity and for being critical in print or online of the performance of government agencies.

The fact is the POTUS is by this time, a lame duck while 2016 campaigning is well under way. The president has never liked compromise with Republicans or advice from fellow Democrats and has kept counsel with a very small group of advisers in his second term. We are unlikely see much change in policy without a broadening of his inner circle.

What did you think of this speech?

21 Responses to “The President’s Speech”

  1. Dave Schuler Says:

    The president has exhibited no capacity for growing or learning in office. It was a squandered opportunity.

  2. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Excellent speech. With the Republican candidates running around with their hair on fire and threatening to nuke whomever, we need calm. I noticed that my Twitter feed, which includes conservatives, calmed down after the speech. Not a scientific observation, but somewhat surprising to me.

    I think we’d all like for terrorism and bad stuff to end RIGHT NOW, but the world hasn’t ever been like that. An op-ed in the NYT by terrorism expert Jessica Stern ended with the admonition that we have to manage our own personal feelings of terror.

    As for the proposals on guns, seems to me to be a good idea to keep them from the terrorists. Is it more important that some people, including terrorists, have arsenals of dozens of assault weapons, or that we think out sensible alternatives to absolutely unlimited access to any weapon for anyone? I’m not pleased with the no-fly list either. Suggest an alternative that comports with other Constitutional protections that keeps those very destructive weapons from terrorists. The American Association of Police Chiefs have some suggestions.

  3. Nathaniel T. Lauterbach Says:

    Mark-
    I didn’t watch the speech but I have followed up on the reaction to it.
    .
    I generally agree with you, except for “The President’s current strategy of air power, special forces, advice and aid is not bad in principle, but will not likely be effective in crippling ISIS unless ramped up by many orders of magnitude.” That is precisely what makes it a bad strategy.
    .
    Wars should not be fought over time and incrementally. That is folly, dangerous, and wasteful.
    .
    Daesh is a known enemy with a known way of doing business. They can be fought and destroyed. There have been numerous articles on this. The only things lacking are political leadership and political will. Political will can be developed among the people (Clausewitizian People) if the political leadership will build a case for it and persuade. But the political leadership seems bent on misunderstanding the problem. Hence the lack of will.
    .
    .
    .
    Cheryl-
    I wouldn’t characterize “arsenals” in the US, nor the nature of American right to bear arms, as “absolutely unlimited.” There are numerous limits in place, particularly in California and in several other states–some of which probably are of dubious legality in the Post-Heller world. This talk of unlimited firearms ownership is a straw man argument often made by those who have little understanding about the reality of gun ownership in the US, or, less charitably, is an argument made by the knowing for peddling among the unknowing.
    .
    Indeed, ignorance of guns is rampant–especially on the left. It’s a bit sad to see poor congresscretins get on TV and lament “multiautomatic” weapons and “rapid firing” semiautos. They don’t know what those words mean, but are perfectly willing to have very strong opinions on the matters at hand.

  4. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Hi Nate –
    .
    The argument about words is a bit of a strawman too. I don’t need to know every gun law in the US, nor do I need to know every detail of the capability of every weapon. The point is that it’s important to have enough safety that we know we’re not going to be randomly shot down as we go about our business.
    .
    Although you object to my “absolutely unlimited,” you then go on to say that the limits are “of dubious legality in the Post-Heller world.” So not too far from “absolutely,” eh?
    .
    The point is that we need to be minimally safe (and don’t go strawmanning that!) in order to have civil society. Guns are encroaching on that. What do we do about it?

  5. Nathaniel T. Lauterbach Says:

    Cheryl-
    .
    Thanks for responding.
    .
    A bit of a point I’ll concede–that many gun control laws are of dubious legality, but that doesn’t mean I’ll concede that gun owners of America wish to have “absolutely unlimited” arsenals. I’m a military man. I know what absolutely unlimited means. Gun owners, as a group, aren’t looking to remove all impediments to own any weapon. The great majority wish to be able to maintain the types of weapons that are currently allowed. Some do wish to increase the ability to carry concealed weapons, but this isn’t a change in the arsenal.
    .
    “Minimally safe” implies a positive right to safety, not a negative right to be free from harm. As such, I oppose it in all its forms–nobody has a right to “minimum safety”. You DO have a right to be free from harm. There is a great difference in how you go about securing each, and I submit that a liberal society really only allows for the negative right, not the positive. Positive rights have a way of encroaching on individual liberties, and that is incompatible with Constitutional precedent.
    .
    In any case, words mean things. And if words are thrown about (What is an “assault weapon”) without much bearing on what they mean, we will continue to have an imperial executive. That is bad for liberty.

  6. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Nate –
    .
    I suspect that you are right about the great majority of gun owners, although neither of us are providing references, and that’s okay with me.
    .
    If you look at the numbers, though, some gun owners own an awful lot of weapons. For what purpose? I recall a time when violent overthrow of the government was thought to be a bad thing, but that was when the Communists were the ones advocating it. I’m not implying that that is the purpose of owning dozens or hundreds of guns, but I just have a hard time thinking that these are the equivalent of stamp collections.
    .
    I’m not trying to draw up a legal document right now, so bear with my perhaps imperfect use of words. How do you have a democratic government when people are shooting each other in the streets? Yes, we’re not there now, although Mark might argue otherwise about parts of Chicago. What happens when the government no longer has a monopoly on the use of force?
    .
    If I have a right to be free from harm, that just might have something to do with the availability of firearms, just as it has to do with the availability of, say, mortars and RPGs. And even Antonin Scalia has said that some restrictions are consistent with the Second Amendment.

  7. Grurray Says:

    I’m certainly no fan of Obama, but this is a complicated mess with few good options.
    Previously we were fighting with two hands tied behind our backs
    http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htlead/articles/20151201.aspx
    “The French soon discovered that since 2008 American aerial bombing efforts had been continually ordered to reduce civilian casualties more and more. The French discovered that over Syria about 75 percent of American warplanes sent out to attack ISIL targets returned without attacking anything because there had been some risk of civilian casualties. American staff officers told their French counterparts, off-the-record, that there were plenty of critical (to ISIL) targets the U.S. could hit but have not been able to because ISIL keeps civilians in the vicinity. The Russians, who do not coordinate attacks on ISIL with the Americans, had found many of the same key targets the Americans knew about and bombed them. This caused more damage to ISIL in a few weeks than the Americans had in over a year”
    .
    This is a big reason why ISIS continues to make money selling oil. We could end their oil operations from the air but have refused to do it. Also ISIS sells their oil, through middlemen, to the local population, so disruption would have negative impact on civilians and friendly forces.
    .
    The next best option would then obviously be to seize the oil fields. It looked like that might be the idea with the Syrian Democratic Forces, newly formed in northwest Syria two months ago out of a combined force consisting of Kurds, Assyrians, a few Bedouins, and some token FSA rebels who were only there to accept a big airdrop of weapons and assuage Turkish concerns.
    .
    We just completed a large airstrip in NW Syrian Kurdistan with an 8000ft runway.
    Reports are now trickling in about US airstrikes yesterday – both against ISIS and Assad troops – in the areas around the oil fields. Everyone was wondering why Turkey suddenly sent troops into northern Iraq on Friday. I think it was probably that we gave them the heads up about our weekend targets, and they then got a little antsy about showing the Kurds who is really boss.
    .
    Where this juggling act takes us isn’t so clear. It looks like we’re pressing the bet on the Kurds, but will we give Turkey a veto at the same time?
    The Russians would like get in on some of this action in the Eastern Theater as evidenced by their cruise missile flight paths. The Rus notified Iraqi Kurdistan yesterday to ground their commercial flights, and the Kurds complied. How much have we told the Russians about our operations, and what’s our plan to shut the door if need be?
    Our carrier Harry S. Truman is now touring the eastern Mediterranean, ostensibly in support of France’s de Gaulle carrier. Is it really there to stand next to France or remind them after a long period of quiet who still drives the NATO bus? After all it was French imperialism and Sykes-Picot that sort of kicked off this whole disaster that’s the modern Middle East a century ago.
    .
    It’s clear Obama is in way over his head. You get the feeling he wishes it would all go way so he could hit the golf course or the next show at the Kennedy Center. He probably bought himself some time with last night’s reassurances and political football tosses, but the clock is going to run out on him soon. I have a bad feeling that unless he somehow asserts some semblance of real command of the situation (not likely), events are going to blow up in his face, further weakening his position (and ours) even more than it already is.

  8. david ronfeldt Says:

    Regarding gun matters: My theoetical interests in people’s space-time-action orientations has led me to observe that sensitivities about boundaries — about identifying, respecting, and protecting them — characterizes conservative more than liberal / progressive mentalities.
    .
    For example, it is far more likely a sign of conservatism to tell someone they should not marry (nor even make friends) outside their clan, tribe, race, nationality, religion, or culture, not to mention gender. Conservatives often seem more intent on marking differences between sexes, races, religions, and nations, etc. And these sensitivities often extend to sectorial differences: e.g., boundaries between church and state, government and market, public and private, foreign and domestic, legal and illegal, right and wrong — and even between life and death (not to mention between liberal and conservative).
    .
    It’s easy to find instances: Conservative Republicans criticizing President Obama for drawing a “red line” about Syria’s use of chemical weapons, then not enforcing it. Social conservatives upset about same-sex marriage. Conservative politicians advocating walls to halt immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border. Exclusionary conservatives who want to limit who can vote. Conservative “warriors” who claim that conservatives are for individualism, progressives for collectivism — as though a dichotomous separation exists (it doesn’t). Plus, conservatives who constantly carp about government exceeding its boundaries.
    .
    This cogni-cultural sensitivity to boundaries appears to reinforce (or at least be associated with) some key conservative philosophical values and political strategies. It may help explain why conservatives value order and tradition so highly, compared to liberals who value progress and innovation more highly (particularly if it’s a disruptive innovation that crosses and redefines prior boundaries). A predilection for boundaries also seems to undergird the high value that conservatives place on individualism, and perhaps related to that, their tendencies to be exclusive rather than inclusive, and to be less in favor of social diversity and multiculturalism — again, compared to the predilections of liberals / progressives (though I can think of important exceptions, especially among libertarians).
    .
    Yet, there are a few issue areas — e.g., gun ownership, free trade, campaign financing — where my observation may seem at odds with the fact that, in those areas, conservatives today pursue more unbounded policies than do liberals. These may look like exceptions or contradictions that weaken my observation. But there is another possibility: that Republican policies in those area are not truly conservative — they’re liberal, even libertine.
    .
    Republicans seem to lack a sense of boundaries particularly regarding gun ownership — the fewer the boundaries in this area, the better. So, I suggest, that means their views and policies in this area are not truly conservative. Indeed, on this issue, their disposition is more than liberal; it is libertine. True conservatives always have a sense of boundaries.

  9. larrydunbar Says:

    To me guns and ammo are similar to the F35, i.e. a jobs program. High volume ownership of both guns and ammo is compelled by some very foolish people and a few terrorists. The problem is separating the few terrorist from those who are foolish, without destroying the market. If the market is destroyed it will mean the end of the jobs for those in Congress who let it happen. The 3%’ers are right. It takes an army, or in this case a militia. To think otherwise is a little foolish, but hey, it’s their money. One rifle, one shotgun, one side arm and a box a shells for each should be plenty, unless you join a militia.

  10. Grurray Says:

    David,

    I think you can make a good case that gun ownership used to be liberal, especially during the founding of the country and the settling of the frontier. Guns were definitely used to break down boundaries then.
    .
    This could just be a product of where I’m coming from, but nowadays I find that most people want to possess firearms to help preserve their boundaries. They also want a connection with traditions of the past such as hunting, which looks to me like the ultimate exercise of sensitivity to boundaries.
    .
    Full disclosure: personally, I’d rather be fishing in deep water. Maybe that makes me a boundary breaker, not sure. I’ll gladly eat venison this Christmas, however, so I could be duplicitously straddling the boundaries.
    .
    I agree that free trade is a liberal position, and I can tell you that most traditional conservatives are highly suspicious of it. It makes sense that the official Republican party platform includes support of free trade because, as you allude to, real conservatives have had no influence in the party at least for the past decade (and probably longer). The party was taken over by Washington aristocratic elites with little connection to their constituencies.
    The conservative bedrock of this issue was stated by G.K. Chesterton when he said, “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists; and so aristocracy sins, not in planting a family tree, but in not planting a family forest.”

  11. larrydunbar Says:

    ” but nowadays I find that most people want to possess firearms to help preserve their boundaries.” I think this sounds true, but they are under a false economy. I say this as a hunter who has killed both large and small mammals with both good and bad results. I remember hunting coyotes with my brother-in-law. He was calling in coyotes with a call that sounded like a rabbit in stress, and I was scoping an opening on a trial that seemed to me like a spot that a coyote would use as an expressway to the bait. When I fired my weapon, my brother in law’s first shout was: “Which way did he go?” I yelled back: “no where”, but the point is: these people defending their property are only going to have one or two shots, and most likely, unless they train for the event, they will miss. If we can believe the assumption that most people are buying a gun to defend their boundaries, and also assume that the count of rifles and ammunition per Americans means most Americans like me are armed, then those crossing the boundaries believe the odds are in their favor. To me, this means the strategy of arming yourself to preserve your boundaries is a losing strategy.
    So don’t tell those people it is a false economy, because it might cause stress, but then arm them according to some realistic expectations. The latest killers had 6,000 + rounds of ammunition stored at their house! What the heck is that all about? I mean my 9mm holds 6 shots and I plan to have an empty clip, if I am attacked, but what do I need the other 5,994 for? I’ve got two clips for the side-arm, but I don’t believe, realistically speaking, I will have the need of the second, if you get what I mean.

  12. larrydunbar Says:

    So, if you exclude the militia, the Second Amendment is basically a job’s bill. Maybe that is good, who know?

  13. David Ronfeldt Says:

    Interesting points, gents. I can’t add much right now, but they help expand my understanding of how boundaries may be perceived when it comes to gun matters. My thanks and appreciation to you both.
    .
    More broadly, while conservatives seem more sensitive than progressives about boundaries, the flip-side is that progressives seem to talk more in terms of horizons. I’d like to do a post someday about boundaries and horizons as different kinds of space-time-action sensitivities.

  14. morgan Says:

    David, your post sounds interesting and I will look forward to reading i.

  15. larrydunbar Says:

    Boundaries and horizons. Is that similar to edges and nodes in network terminology?

  16. david ronfeldt Says:

    Thanks, Morgan. But it will be a while. Meanwhile, I made a start about “boundaries” in a post months ago at my blog. The only two posts I’ve seen about “horizons” are at David Brin’s blog. Here are urls:
    http://twotheories.blogspot.com/2015/09/boundaries-part-1-spatial-predilection.html
    http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2006/06/altruistic-horizons-our-tribal-natures.html
    http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2015/07/altruistic-horizons-our-tribal-natures.html
    .
    Larry, that is a curiously interesting notion. Boundaries and horizons would seem to have some relation to nodes and edges — but rather loosely. Are conservatives more sensitive about one, progressives the other, too. I don’t see that right now. But maybe I am missing something.

  17. david ronfeldt Says:

    Thanks, Morgan. But it will be a while. Meanwhile, I made a start about “boundaries” in a post in September at my blog. The only two posts I’ve seen specifically about “horizons” are at David Brin’s blog, one in 2006/06 and the other in 2015/07, both with same title about altruistic horizons. I’d list the locations for you, but the blogging system here routes my comment away.
    .
    Larry, that is a curiously interesting notion. Boundaries and horizons would seem to have some relation to nodes and edges — but rather loosely. Are conservatives more sensitive about one, progressives the other, too. I don’t see that right now. But maybe I am missing something.

  18. Charles Cameron Says:

    David:
    .
    I haven’t read them, so I don’t know whether they’re totally different, variants on a theme, or two iterations of the same basic post, but..
    .
    Brin 1
    Brin 2
    .
    Both are titled Altruistic Horizons: Our tribal natures, the ‘fear effect’ and the end of ideologies.

  19. larrydunbar Says:

    “Are conservatives more sensitive about one, progressives the other, too. I don’t see that right now. But maybe I am missing something.”

    *

    The Conservative author George Will once said, to paraphrase, Conservatives are people of change, only they want to change from how it is today to how it was originally. So Conservatism is going back to a point or location in time of great advantage.

    *
    Which, on the other hand, a Progressive is someone who wants to move from one point in time to another.

    *
    So, loosely speaking, a node is one point (a Conservative orientation), and a edge is a line between two points (a Progressive orientation). In a network, Conservatives (in my way of thinking, and it could be faulty) are the nodes to the Progressive edges.

    *

    Which makes Liberals and Conservative both of the same beasts, but in degree only.

    *
    I should also note that Right and Left (again in only my possibly warped mind) only denotes the structure of the network, with the Right being of the decentralized network and the Left a distributive network.

    *

    I know it is weird, but it seems to work, when trying to understand how systems works.

    *

    Speaking of how something works: in a decentralized network all of the nodes have the same potential (Potential Energy), while in a distributive network, all of the edges carry the same currant (Kinetic Energy).

    *
    The thing is: a network needs both edges and nodes (legs and roots, Howard Bloom’s book Global Brain) to survive.

    *

    The survival question then might be, what does a network need to survive on their own terms, the quickest legs or a point with the greatest advantage in the environment observed?

  20. david ronfeldt Says:

    yes, if pressed, i too would have associated nodes with conservatism, edges/links with progressivism. but i still think boundaries and horizons fit better.
    .
    a blogger i follow — clay spinuzzi — has written a book titled “All Edge” that looks apropos, for it is about “all-edge adhocracies”:
    http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/A/bo19722830.html
    .
    onward.

  21. larrydunbar Says:

    David, boundaries and horizons work for me also. After reading the link you provided, I can see where Conservative (like Liberal) ideas are more placeholders within an environment, and similar to what I believe nodes are, while Progressive ideas are supposed to connect, in this case, from the past to the future.So a node of the same unit of energy would have different mass and density considering if they are Conservative or Liberal.

    *
    When the energy of the node (either Liberal or Conservative) “progresses”, the amount of power would depend on distance. The distance of the area the Progressive movement covers, and the distance between the nodes the Progressive movements are trying to connect. Both distances would affect the time it takes for the energy to distribute from one node to the other.

    *
    And the fact that the node distributes at all, means the network is alive. Which after watching this video http://slightlyeastofnew.com/2015/12/01/all-by-ourselves-now-a-major-motion-picture/ I can understand how they function, but would like to learn more about how they thrive. I mean it does seem to me that you would need to re-set your orientation after every project, and how would that affect your home life, as your position would be one that is similar to starting over every time?


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