Thursday, April 17, 2014

The State Department Responds to Benghazi

The Diplomad underground at State continues to function. It is a small group of FSOs and Civil Servants, ranging in ideology from libertarian to moderate liberal, horrified by the political correctness and Cloud La-la-land thinking that have overtaken State and the USG, and the horrid subsequent effects on America's interests around the world.

One dedicated Diplomadista provided an unclassified memo sent to the Secretary, dated April 17, 2014, from the Director of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) with the subject line, "FSI’s Near Term Objectives – What Could Be Accomplished in 2014."

One key proposal is as follows, and I quote verbatim, in fact I "cut and paste" verbatim. (Note ARB refers to the Accountability Review Board, about which I wrote on December 27, 2012, convened in the wake of the Bengahzi fiasco. The ARB, of course, was a total whitewash, and left no senior official holding the bag.)
§ “ALERT” Language Training: The Benghazi ARB criticized the lack of language skills and situational awareness of personnel deployed to Benghazi. In response, FSI and DS implemented Arabic “ALERT” (Awareness, Language and Emergency Response Training) for DS staff assigned to High Threat Posts (HTPs) in the Arabic-speaking world. This 10-12 week course uses an innovative, task-based experiential approach to learning the Arabic they need on the job. ALERT’s active, realistic, and culturally engaging training format has been an effective training approach for this audience. Based on its success, FSI has developed Urdu ALERT – and is creating a French ALERT course (for HTPs in Francophone Africa) to begin this summer.
Have at it, folks!

There is so much to ridicule in this I don't know where to begin. Let me say, at least, that it shows how the bureaucrats running the FSI are out of touch with the wider reality, and have been captured by their little reality. They see the disaster in Benghazi as a means to advance some little bureaucratic agenda, in this case to get some funding and high-level attention for a silly language program.

The authors of this memo gem seem to assume that our people in Benghazi died because they did not speak Arabic well-enough . . . please heap your scornful comments here . . . I just do not have the energy . . .

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reflections on Graduation and our Mess

There come times when I get too sick of the news to comment, give my use of the internet a rest, and focus on things that might have no great importance to the outside world, but which provide the humble Diplomad some peace of mind, an escape . . . sort of.

I attended the graduation ceremony for my dog, Hartza, at the local obedience school. This happy occasion--that's his picture down there, the cap making him looking a bit like an inebriated Soviet sailor--was joyfully marked by not having to sit through a Valedictorian speech, and not having Joe Biden as the keynote speaker. Hartza got a very nice diploma, an official picture, and a treat. The ceremony for me was marred, however, because I knew Hartza did not deserve that diploma. He, in essence, knows nothing. He could barely execute the "sit" command while other dogs were auditioning for gigs with Cirque du Soleil, doing high-wire acts, juggling three burning soccer balls, jumping backwards through blazing rings, pulling children from sinking boats, and . . . OK, I might have exaggerated a bit . . ..

When I told her that my dog seemed, ahem, not quite up to standards, the very nice trainer told me, "I never fail any dog!" This, of course, led me to think about our abysmal universities, in particular, and our abysmal education system, in general.

Everywhere I seem to see the recent products of our universities. Many of them have jobs as "baristas"--used to call them waiters--at Starbucks, Panera, Peet's, etc. My son has a friend who works serving bitter, burned, overpriced coffee to pompous Prius drivers in Southern California. She feels bitter and burned because on graduating from an overpriced university she found herself with bazillions in student debt (FAFSA Loan, Killer of the Dream) and only can land a close to minimum wage job, serving bitter, burned, overpriced coffee to pompous Prius drivers in Southern California. Her degree? Sounds made-up but . . . "gender studies with a specialization in feminist literature." As I told my son, his friend should feel fortunate that somebody, Starbucks in this case, would hire a person with zero qualifications for anything real, train her, entrust expensive expresso machines to her, AND pay her. She complains, and moans about her lot, but will she consider moving somewhere other than Southern California, somewhere cheaper with more job openings for the unskilled? No. Not clear what she thought she was getting with her degree, and is very vague about the job she would want other than, well, you guessed it, teaching gender studies with a specialization in feminist literature.

Like Hartza whom the trainer did not have the heart to fail, millions of kids emerge from universities all over the West, not just in the US, armed with a sense of superiority and entitlement, and prepared for nothing. One wonders how different things would be if many of those youths had resisted the progressive Siren song on the need to go to university, and taken the advice of one of my favorite public personalities, Mike Rowe, who has tried for years to get kids interested in real work, in learning skilled trades, in doing something that makes something. We, instead, have millions of children aspiring for the life and the status of the intellectual, but finding that universities cannot deliver those anymore. Universities have suffered the fate that all institutions suffer when they surrender to the progressives: quality declines precipitously, and the original mission becomes corrupted into something else.

Back to Hartza. I want to train him to operate a backhoe.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

One More Thing to Blame on England: the Nevada Ranch Stand-off

I have been fascinated by the ongoing stand-off in Nevada between the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and a Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy. As I write this, reports are coming in that the Feds are in retreat, and are abandoning their effort to round up the evil Bundy cows.

I thought of titling this post, "Is it April 19, 1775, yet?" or, "Will Cattle Lead Stampede for Liberty?" but decided to go with one blaming England.

Ostensibly at issue in this stand-off are some $1.3 million in fees the Feds say Bundy owes the BLM for grazing his cattle on Federal land since 1993, when Bundy stopped paying. Bundy replies that he and his family have grazed that land since just after the Civil War, have ancestral rights to it, and that the Feds arbitrarily changed the rules on him when they put 100,000's of acres off limits beginning in 1993 to protect a rare desert tortoise.

The Feds, who for this operation must have had their PR designed and executed by the same idiots who decided that a low-level flyover of Manhattan in 2009 by Air Force One was a good idea, sent in armed agents in a stream of SUV's, bulldozers, and backhoes, with helicopters buzzing overhead, and began rounding up hundreds of cattle, and, reportedly, euthanizing at least some of them. In addition, some genius decided that for crowd control reasons, the Feds would set up an officially sanctioned and fenced in "First Amendment Area," where people who didn't like the BLM's actions could express their opposition--there but nowhere else, since the Feds apparently have determined the where and when of the First Amendment. The tone-deaf Feds also have been highlighting environmentalist "concerns" for a species of desert tortoise, as though that makes them appear on the side of goodness and light. Note to the leftards running our government: the American people are fed up with and do not trust "environmentalists," and the image of agents with guns, tasers, helicopters, and police dogs does not convey a warm and cuddly green enviro-message.

I don't know all the legal ins-and-outs of the case and the media have not (Surprise!) done a good job of presenting the case for both sides: I wait for Legal Insurrection (the best blog on the net) to do that. That aside, I am struck by the arrogance and high-handedness of the Feds. We see a genuinely totalitarian atmosphere, an air of living and operating removed from everyday reality in the way our government now works. We have seen this before, generally under Democratic administrations, e.g., the Clinton-Reno handling of Waco, but not exclusively so, e.g., the 1992 Bush (41) handling of Ruby Ridge, but under this administration that totalitarian impulse has gone on steroids, e.g., the use of the IRS and EPA to suppress dissent; the use of the ATF to build a bogus case against gun ownership with "Fast and Furious"; the ramming through of Obamacare ready or not, wanted or not; the use of the auto bailout to close pro-Repubilican car dealers, etc. Did the Bundy case really rise to this level of Federal action? A dispute over a million dollars in land use fees? Really? What has this operation cost the taxpayers? More important, what has this operation cost the government in the one resource it no longer has in great stock, the public trust?

The popular reaction, as one can see by going to Drudge, has been strong with protestors clashing with BLM and National Park Service agents. Bundy supporters have been driving in from across the country to confront the Feds, and help Bundy retrieve his cattle. The BLM, apparently, has announced that it will abandon its cattle round up, and, as noted above, the Feds seem in retreat, something that could have great significance for the future.

What we have on display is the perennial clash between two English traditions or tenets: the first, respect for the "Crown" and the law; the second, a demand for individual liberty. Where those two rub up against each other the resulting friction produces a lot of heat and, at times, even flame. On another April, this one in 1775, we saw those two English principles also come into conflict when Royal troops went into the Massachusetts countryside to retrieve guns and some powder defiantly stored by English farmers. The resulting clash, which began on April 19, 1775, saw the Royal troops retreat in the face of an armed countryside, and served as the spark for the American Revolution. Angry and armed English farmers should not be your enemy of first choice. That Revolution was a continuation of a great theme in the English Civil War, the battle over the nature of the individual's relationship to the Leviathan. The victors in the American Revolution were those Englishmen who held liberty above loyalty to the crown.

The cow "war" in the Nevada desert, perhaps, could provide the spark that lights a more widespread resistance to the increasing arrogance and stupidity of those who now operate in the name of our "Crown," His Royal Majesty Barack I. If it is true that the Feds have had to back down, this event could well be the watershed in a new struggle to preserve our English liberties.

Blame it on England. I do.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Never-Ending Romance of Nationalism

I am so sick of the daily news that I could give up blogging and become an Xtreme stuntman . . . and except for the fact that pain hurts, I would do it.

But, really, the news? It seems dominated by absurd CNN reporting on MH370, an endless succession of false statistics from the White House (e.g., unemployment, Obamacare, gender pay inequality) and a host of trivial matters of no consequence (e.g., John Kerry's latest MidEast proposal). There is no real MSM coverage about the stagnant economy; Russia's drive for dominance in eastern Europe; China's drive for dominance in Asia; the Iranian drive for a nuclear weapon; the Syrian civil war which went from an imminent threat" to something relegated to the back pages; the involvement of a major San Francisco anti-gun Democrat in gun running; or the melt-down of the Argentine and Venezuelan regimes.

Anyhow, my mind was in a wandering mood, so I began reading up on the Scottish independence referendum due next September. People in Scotland will vote whether Scotland should become an independent nation. It is none of my business, and the British, especially those in Scotland, can tell me to get stuffed and go worry about Detroit and Obama. Since, however, this is a blog of opinion, opine I must, opine I will. Hate me if you must . . . . sniff, sniff . . .

Let me state my bias upfront. I am a huge admirer of England. If I had to pick the one country of greatest consequence to the modern history of mankind, it would be England. No other chunk of real estate in the world comes close to the contribution England has made to the development of the modern world and to our ideas of freedom, liberty, and democracy. It never ceases to amaze how this small country, possessed of relatively few natural resources and living with some of the worst weather in the world, has so influenced the globe's intellectual advancement, be it in science, engineering, exploration, philosophy, politics, literature, theater, or economics. It is a stunning achievement.

OK, back to today's topic. I won't get into the issues involved in the drive for and against Scottish independence. I will note, however, that some of my English friends would vote "yes," seeing it as a step in England's independence from Scotland. Suffice it to say that for some on either side of the border the three hundred-plus-year union of England and Scotland has not been a uniformly happy one. That's too bad. As an outsider and, as noted above, a long-time admirer of things British (pace warm beer, English toast racks, and Benny Hill) I have a nostalgia-tinged view of Albion. Scotland, homeland of the father of the US Navy, was part of that; British troops advancing under fire with bagpipes playing was a staple of my childhood movie-watching, and I would recreate it with my Airfix soldiers. I will get back to the nostalgia part in a second.

Independence? I can't see the big advantage, but that is not my call. I have seen proposals, for example, re whom an independent Scotland would consider Scottish, and those would seem to present problems. Lots of people who don't live in Scotland, and have not been born there could get citizenship if they have one Scottish grandparent or some other vague connection to Scotland. That would mean that if those folks got the vote, Scotland's elections could get decided in Canada, Australia, and the US--some Hollywood types, too, no less. Maybe I am out to lunch on that, I don't know.

I assume the Scots are practical sorts and will make their decision on independence in accord with what's best for them. English and Scots seem handling the matter in a very civilized, even civilised way. No car bombs; no assassinations; no riots; no massacres. Not something to sneeze at in today's world of violent extremists.

Back to what I really wanted to talk about: nostalgia and romance when discussing certain nationalisms. Ireland comes to mind immediately. As a student in the Boston area in the mid-1970s, I was acutely aware of Irish nationalism, and the support for the IRA that came from Boston. I remember going on Friday or Saturday nights to Irish pubs--they always seemed to have a James Joycean sort of name, "The Plough and Stars," "Finnegan's"--where at the last call, the bucket would get passed around for the "widows and orphans" in Northern Ireland. Woe to he who did not kick in a couple of bucks! There would then be some song about green Ireland, belted out with streaming tears by youngsters and fat middle aged men who had never been there, and who at the end of the evening would scream "Down with the British!" For them, it would always be 1916.

I found it weird and off-putting, but the fish and chips were good. In the end, all the death and destruction, some of it facilitated by those passed buckets in Boston, that rained down on Northern Ireland and spilled over to England, what was it all about? Did it bring about some good that was worth the price? Not in my calculus.

Basque nationalism also left me cold. Unlike Ireland and Scotland, the Basque region of Iberia did not have hundreds of years of history as an independent nation. As with any good nationalist movement, there was a lot of chicanery, fraud, and charlatanry: lots of made up history. Basque nationalism, much more so than Catalan or Gallego nationalism, always seemed to have an air of desperation, of time running out. The demographics, after all, were shifting against the Basques, as people from all over Spain moved into the region; the nationalists blatantly racist definition of who was a "real" Basque seemed rather repellent in a eugenics sort of way. They would refer to non-Basques as "coreanos," Koreans. I was also troubled by the fact that some of the most fanatic supporters of ETA, the Basque copy of the IRA, were from places such as Mexico, Cuba, and, alas, Idaho. As with the IRA, the ETA took up partnership with the PLO, as well as the Cuban, East German, and Soviet intel services. Basque nationalism was violent and racist, and founded on a romanticized notion of a Basque land that had never existed. The violence and bullying in the Basque areas succeeded in driving many people out of the region, and led to a fearful political ambiance which exists even to this day. It is the least democratic part of Spain; it is marked by a pronounced intolerance for the rest of Spain, a highly anti-Israeli and even anti-semitic political culture, whacky environmentalism in the extreme, and a strong support for the EU as the power broker rather than Madrid. None of that, however, can hide the fact that they have the best food in the world.

I have seen some other odd little nationalisms that turned into big disasters. The worst I have experienced was the Tamil-Sinhalese warfare in Sri Lanka. Both sides were insane, and fought an exceptionally bloody war aimed largely at non-combatants that in the end was about nothing except the war. That very nasty war eventually came to an end, and, again, one was left wondering what was it all about? Tamil nationalism received lots of support from Tamils in the UK, Canada, Australia, India, and the US; in other words from people who had no intention of living there, and who did not have to put up with the daily horrors of what their money bought.

One wonders about the Muslims in India and the creation of Pakistan (and later Bangladesh). Was all that blood and gore worth it? Are the Muslims who stayed in India living less well than those in Pakistan and Bangladesh? Doubt it very much or they would leave. It can be argued that Muslims in the subcontinent would have been better off staying in democratic India than living in authoritarian Pakistan.

Finished. No more. Just some thoughts. No real conclusion. Just wondering about the different types of nationalisms running fee in the world. Some good; some bad.

Must get back to the dogs.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sorry for the Delay

Sorry I haven't put anything up in a while. Life keeps getting in the way. I'll try to have something interesting up soon . . . or, at least, something up soon.

Friday, April 4, 2014

On Jonathan Pollard

Convicted spy Jonathan Pollard has been in the news lately. There are some odd stories (here, for example) about Pollard being a pawn in the current round of Kerry-brokered Israel-PLO talks. Some accounts mention his being released to the Israelis in exchange for a deal with the PLO. I find this supposed proposal so idiotic, absurd, and irrelevant that, given we have the Obama misadministration, it must be true. It is the kind of nonsense that Kerry would see as creative "outside the box" thinking.

I have stated before that the Palestinian issue is a complete fraud. Why anybody would think that creating ONE MORE corrupt, authoritarian Arab state in the Middle East would solve anything is beyond me. The Middle East "mess" has little to nothing to do with a "Palestinian homeland." There already are AT LEAST two such homelands: one is Jordan and the other is Israel (over 1.6 million Arabs have Israeli ciitzenship). It makes no sense for our Secretary of State to spend the amount of time he does on this, and for his issuing false deadlines for a "deal" (must have borrowed that from the Obamacare geniuses). The problems in the Middle East arise from failed Muslim states, Muslim extremism, and the real possibility that Iran will get a nuclear weapon very soon.

From the US perspective, the Middle East is quite manageable: 1) make sure Israel has a military capability second to none in the region; 2) let Tehran know in no uncertain terms that any use of a nuclear weapon would put into doubt the continued existence of the Islamic Republic of Iran; and 3) Frack! Drill! Frack! Drill!

That said, let's turn to the sorry topic of Jonathan Pollard.

Pollard has sat in the Federal hoosegow nearly three decades for passing classified information to the Israelis. He, apparently, is eligible for parole next year. Various groups seek Pollard's release, and Pollard and his wife have a web site making that case, too. You can read the arguments, most of which revolve around that Pollard passed info to an ally, not an enemy; that this info did not present a danger to US security; that others who have done worse have gotten lesser sentences; and that nearly thirty years in jail and prison are enough punishment. Here, I part company with Netanyahu, a man I admire greatly; I think he's been dead wrong on the Pollard case, and has used it for political points at home to the detriment of the US-Israel alliance.

I vividly remember the Pollard case. I was working in New York at the US Mission to the UN when Pollard was arrested for passing Israel's air force US-gathered intel on Syrian air defenses. For a Reagan-voting, conservative Jewish American diplomat such as myself, the case was horrifying. Pollard had not only betrayed his country, but, in the words of my late grandmother in Morocco, had done something "bad for the Jews." It brought up all the arguments that Jews could not be trusted with America's secrets, and that Jews, as Pollard loudly proclaimed himself, were dual citizens with split loyalties, at best.

Pollard was a lowly analyst in Naval intel. His boss, the late Admiral Sumner Shapiro, also Jewish, considered Pollard a kook, demoted him, and recommended that he lose his security clearances. The bureaucracy, however, did not follow up, and Pollard continued to gain access to classified information. He apparently became enraged that the Reagan administration decided against sharing certain intelligence with Israel. This particular intel involved a topic of great concern to Israel: Syria's air defenses. We, apparently, did not want to share our assessment of those defenses as that could reveal the capabilities we had to collect on those (and other) air defenses. It was a question of protecting means and methods. Valid? Not valid? I don't know, but certainly it wasn't Pollard's call to make.

I have seen no evidence that the Israeli intel services, and apparently there was more than one involved in this case, went looking for Pollard or actively recruited him. He walked in, and gave them a "bunch of stuff." Given the alliance with the USA, the right thing for the Israelis to have done was to report Pollard to the FBI, the DIA, or the CIA, but they didn't. They took the "stuff," and gave Pollard several thousand dollars. Pollard, apparently, also had approached other foreign officials in Washington, including an Australian naval officer, offering classified info--the Aussie reported the approach up his chain of command, and the Aussies told Pollard to get stuffed.

Pollard got snagged and sentenced to life in prison. Several Jewish organizations in the US and Israel launched campaigns--to the chagrin of Admiral Shapiro--arguing that the sentence was unfair, and motivated by anti-semitism. For those of us who were and are strong supporters of the US-Israel alliance, this was a nightmare. I had many arguments with American and Israeli Jews that this was not an issue for people to fall on their swords. Pollard was an unstable creep with a Walter Mitty complex who never should have had access to classified information.

Are twenty-eight years in the slammer enough? Don't know. I hope, however, the decision on whether to give him parole gets taken independently of any nonsense re an Israel-PLO deal, a deal that will never hold, anyhow. I certainly won't shed any tears if the decision is to keep Pollard in the pen.

Pollard committed treason. He should pay for it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ft. Hood: The Rush to Exonerate, and Progressives and Their "Tragedies"

The news, garbled and confused as usual, is coming in re a mass shooting at Ft. Hood. As of this writing many basic facts are unknown. Some outlets are identifying the shooter as an Ivan Lopez, who might or might not have been a soldier. We'll see.

In the press two days ago, there were reports that the FBI and the Army were hunting for an ex-recruit who had been cut because of jihadist tendencies, and was now feared to be a threat to Ft. Hood. Whether that story is connected to the shooting today, we'll just have to wait to see.

While we wait for the facts to come in, there are some legitimate issues we can ponder. Given what happened at Ft Hood five years ago when a wacky jihadi Army psychiatrist opened fire, what had been done to make Ft Hood and other installations safer? Was a double-plus-good policy of "weapon free" zone instituted? Were illegal guns on base made doubly illegal? That would be my guess.

It does not seem that some of the world's most highly trained soldiers are allowed the ability to defend themselves, their colleagues, and their installations from single shooters. In Afghanistan some lone shooter like this would have gotten maybe five feet before he would have been shredded. Our soldiers whom we expect to lay it on the line for us overseas, when home have to cower like scared school children under desks, and behind locked doors, and hope and pray that the cops will come save them.

Something seems terribly wrong with this picture. This administration, let us not forget, was perfectly willing to send thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels, but seems incapable of entrusting sidearms to our soldiers on base.

This shooting has, again, prompted the knee-jerk comment from the FBI and other law enforcement that, "The initial assessment is the incident is not terror-related." Yeah, and it's not related to Martians, either. When will the idiots learn to shut-up re this topic. What initial assessment? A couple of FBI agents peering into the base have decided that it is not terror-related? Who made this assessment and on what basis?

We have heard the same nonsense after nearly every terror attack.  I was in LA, July 4, 2002, when an Arab jihadi tried to shoot-up the El Al counter, and was killed by El Al security. The initial assessment: no terrorism involved. Before that, we saw this same "assessment" in the 1999 Egypt Air crash, and more recently in the Boston Marathon bombing, and the MH370 disappearance. I am sure you can come out with many examples of this rush to exonerate the jihadis among us. I don't know that the shooter today was or was not a jihadi, but I'll bet that neither do the cops, and given what happened at Hood before, it would behoove them to keep silent.

Lastly our ponderous and more than dopey SecDef has come out with the standard line about this being a "tragedy." Really? The original use of the word "tragedy" dealt with players who undertook actions that could be foreseen to lead to death, destruction, downfall, but they undertook those actions regardless. So did our SecDef and his minions know that this shooting would happen but undertook actions that either would not prevent it or, perhaps, facilitate it?

Let's ask our Congress, our high military command, our SecDef, and our exalted President, who could not be bothered to cancel his fund-raising trip, what has been done to protect our troops? Hold those in charge accountable.

Heads had better roll on this one, and not just that of some poor security guard.