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On Catcalling, Three Contrarian Observations


At some level, a man who catcalls wants the woman to reciprocate. “Guys, I see attractive men all the time,” Christine Sisto remarks, “but I don’t feel an urge to loudly request to see their genitalia.” But they might be psyched if she did. Male brains and female brains are different. I say this not to justify the behavior but to try to explain it.

Social rank and mating-market value are a consideration. A man who catcalls loudly in public declasses himself. In the very act, he announces that his social class and social intelligence are probably low. If he merely compliments a woman on her appearance though with detectable enthusiasm, it’s still inappropriate, even offensive, if she thinks she’s out of his league. He has just implied that she isn’t. It’s an insult. If she likes him, though, then it’s okay.

Molly Powell’s comment about her elderly mother is a poignant reminder that this topic lends itself to a kind of angerbrag: The burdens of belonging to the aristocracy of youth are an injustice and I won’t stand for it! Like the 1 percent, youth is an elite club of which a surprising number of people are members temporarily — all of us, if we live long enough. The length of the season that we enjoy there varies from person to person, and much of life amounts to the struggle to postpone the day when we find ourselves locked out of it.

Senate Dem: The West Is Afraid to ‘Provoke Putin’


President Obama needs to rethink his unwillingness to provide Ukrainian military forces with lethal weapons to fight Russia, according to a Senate Democrat who scoffed at political leaders who fear “provok[ing] Putin.”

“I think that was his initial assessment,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) said on CNN’s State of the Union when asked whether Obama was right to withhold weaponry. “And there are those in Europe and elsewhere who says, you know, we don’t want to provoke Putin. Well, Putin doesn’t need provocation. In this case weakness is a greater provocation for Putin act than strike.”

Menendez was clear that some of the fearful political leaders are in Europe — where is “elsewhere?”

He sharpened the point during an MSNBC interview Sunday. “The West has constantly held back because we didn’t want to ‘provoke Putin,’” he said. “The European Union’s reticence to vigorously pursue sanctions and our reticence to provide the Ukrainians with the ability to defend themselves so that the cost to Russia would be so significant that they’d have to think twice about continuing this aggression has, I think, invited Putin to pursue the actions that he has done to date.”

Menendez then offered a peace-through-strength sort of rationale for arming the Ukrainians.

“Putin only understands two things and that’s strength either because of the economic consequences that we can levy upon Russia and hopefully the European Union will move with us into more significant sectoral sanctions,” he said. “And also the costs to Russians as they send their sons and daughters back in body bags to Russia and Russian mothers say, What is happening here?”

Tags: Barack Obama , Vladimir Putin , Ukraine , Bob Menendez


See Clacton


So how is Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP who defected to UKIP, going to do in the special election now being scheduled for Clacton?

The first poll (and it is only the first poll, and it’s a small one too) makes very grim reading for the Conservatives.

The Guardian reports:

Ukip could deliver a humiliating blow to David Cameron in the runup to next year’s general election following the defection of former Conservative MP Douglas Carswell, according to an opinion poll. Carswell’s decision to join Nigel Farage’s party and trigger a byelection in Clacton shocked Westminster and the poll of voters in the constituency predicting a massive 44-point lead for Ukip will add to the prime minister’s discomfort.

The Survation study for the Mail on Sunday put Ukip on 64% of the vote, with the Tories on 20%, Labour on 13% and the Liberal Democrats 2%. More than half of those polled (54%) favoured Britain leaving the European Union, while 26%were opposed to cutting ties to Brussels. In a sign of Carswell’s popularity in the seat, more than a third (34%) of those indicating they would vote Ukip said it was because they liked their former Conservative MP, while 57% said it was because they liked Ukip and 9% said it would be a protest vote. Among Tory voters, almost half (49%) said Carswell was a hero despite his defection, with 17% saying he was a traitor….

Clacton is natural UKIP territory and matters are distorted by the drama that Carswell has unleashed, but the implications of these numbers concern more than just Clacton. The Tories ought to be terrified. There will, I suspect, be other Conservative MPs, particularly in UKIP’s Eastern heartland, wondering whether to make the Carswell leap.

Over at The Spectator, James Forsyth frets:

So, Ukip are going to get their first MP. This means that the fracture on the right of British politics is a lot closer to becoming permanent, handing Labour the kind of inherent electoral advantage that the Tories enjoyed in the 1980s. This morning, the next election is Ed Miliband’s to lose.

“This morning”? Well, yesterday morning too, and many mornings before that. A Conservative defeat has been on the cards for a long time now. I’m always somewhat taken aback by Tories who tell me that while Cameron may not be an ideologue (not necessarily a terrible thing, incidentally), he does at least have a nose for power. If only that were true. Enclosed within the prejudices of his own circle and a crippling lack of political imagination, Cameron managed to (1) throw away the chance for a clean election win in 2010; (2) create and sustain a space on the right that UKIP has exploited to the full; (3) alienate his own activists; (4) (I am told) neglect his parliamentary rank and file; and (5) make a mess of “Europe” both at home and in Brussels, Frankfurt, and elsewhere.

These errors are many things, but they are not the actions of a politician skilled in the ways of power. They are those of a prime minister who will lose office in 2015.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph (before the poll results), here’s Charles Moore, one of the leading figures in British Conservative journalism. The article is overstated in parts (not least in the claim that Cameron and Milliband are “not far off” being interchangeable), but this is spot on:

The lack of anger among Conservative-minded people [about Carswell’s defection] is striking. Traditionally, MPs who switch parties are accused of treachery. Parties have had strong collective identities. Those who leave the tribe have therefore been scorned. Mr Carswell has pre-empted some of this by his decision – virtually unprecedented – to submit his switch of allegiance to a by-election rather than clinging on without asking the voters.

But he also taps into something that is happening anyway. The loyalty and cohesion of political parties depend much more upon their mass memberships than on their elites. For many years now, these have dwindled. Since Tony Blair became Labour leader in 1994, party leaderships have made it a point of honour to ignore or despise their supporters. The natural consequence is that activists become inactive, or change party. Many grassroots Conservatives have already formally gone to Ukip; many more vote for Ukip in council or European elections. They do not see this as disloyal to their beliefs. I predict they will vote for Mr Carswell in his by-election and he will win.

And on Europe?

The Cameron modernisers made a . . .mistake about Europe. They said they did not want to “bang on” about it. Of course they were right that people were heartily sick of internal party squabbles, but they ignored the fact that the European Union affects all our lives in countless ways – whom we let in, whom we can throw out, who can make decisions on our behalf, whether we have to deface our country with wind farms, even (this week) how powerful our vacuum cleaners are allowed to be. The Conservatives fought shy of the subject. Now they promise a referendum if they win next year, while intimating that they will settle for minimal demands in the negotiations running up to it. Yesterday – too late – the high command organised a ring-round trying to persuade prominent Eurosceptics to talk the referendum up. Why are they surprised if people do not trust their good faith?

This last is crucial. Cameron thought that his promise of an in/out referendum (a promise, incidentally, that had to be forced out of him) would be enough to bring euroskeptics back into the fold, but he has undermined that promise by the way he has talked (and not talked) about trying to “renegotiate” Britain’s position in the EU first. Promising an attempt at renegotiation was, politically, astute enough as euroskeptics need to recognize. Most Brits would rather stay in an “EU lite.” But the reality is that that option is not on offer and never will be. “Renegotiations” carried out in good faith will make that all too clear, and thus (hopefully) point the way to a popular vote for Brexit. The problem, as Moore recognizes, is that few euroskeptics believe that Cameron will renegotiate in good faith. They are right to be suspicious.

The general election is in May.

Web Briefing: August 31, 2014

Feinstein: Obama ‘Too Cautious’ About Stopping ISIS


President Obama has been “too cautious” in his response to the threat of the Islamic State terror group, Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein suggested Sunday morning.

Feinstein made the comment when asked whether Obama’s announcement that he doesn’t have a strategy for the terrorists in Iraq and Syria projected weakness.

“I’ve learned one thing about this president and that is he’s very cautious — maybe, in this instance, too cautious,” Feinstein told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Meet the Press. “I do know that the military, I know that the State Department, I know that others have been putting plans together. And so, hopefully, those plans will coalesce into a strategy that can encourage that coalition. . . . There is good reason for people to come together now and begin to approach this as the very real threat that it, in fact, is.”

Feinstein’s comment about Obama’s caution comes on the heels of reports that an attempt to rescue American photojournalist James Foley, whom the Islamic State eventually beheaded, failed because the president hesitated to approve the mission.

“Senior Pentagon official just confirmed to me that ‘hesitation’ by President Obama delayed July 4th #Foley hostage rescue mission,” Toby Harnden tweeted Friday. “Not known if launched earlier Foley cld’ve been saved. But top Pentagon officials think maybe,” he added.

Tags: Sunday Shows August 31 2014


Appalling APUSH: Read It Yourself


More historians and commentators are speaking out against the College Board’s long, constraining, and egregiously left-biased Framework for the study of AP U.S. History (APUSH).

Ron Radosh, a historian of modern America, offers a powerful critique of the new AP U.S. History Framework from 1890 to the present.  In an important addendum to that post, University of Maryland historian Jeffrey Herf expands on Radosh’s criticism of the Framework’s treatment of Ronald Reagan.

Over at Powerline, Paul Mirengoff has been reading the Framework’s presentation of early American history and is appalled at what he finds.

Why not try reading the College Board’s new U.S. History Framework for yourself?  If you don’t have time to take in the whole thing, you can easily concentrate on a few key periods, skipping the long conceptual introduction and the lengthy concluding sections about the exam.

One option is to read Radosh’s post on modern American history and then look over pages 60–80 of the Framework to see if you agree. You might pay special attention to the Framework’s contrasting treatment of liberalism and conservatism.

Another option is to read Mirengoff’s take on the Framework’s treatment of early American history and then look over pages 31–47 of the Framework.  This is where some of the strongest reactions will come, I suspect.

The more people who read the new AP U.S. History Framework, the more trouble the College Board will be in.

— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and can be reached at [email protected]

Will: Is Any Politics Local Anymore?


“The old axiom is, ‘All politics is local.’ The question now,” says columnist George Will, “is, how much of any politics is local anymore, now that it becomes a referendum on the president and on great national issues like foreign policy and immigration?”

“There are local ingredients” in the 2014 elections, Will qualified, speaking on Fox News Sunday, pointing to states such as North Carolina, Arkansas, and Kansas, where voters will almost certainly be weighing state-specific issues into their ballot-box decisions. But “the stark fact is that every Democrat running for the Senate has to run 10, 12, 13, 14, sometimes more, points ahead of the president’s job approval in their states. . . . There are lots of local variables, but the primary driver of this is the president’s job approval.”

Tags: Sunday Shows August 31 2014

King: ISIS ‘Doesn’t Need Excuse’ to Attack U.S.


“Al-Qaeda didn’t need a grievance to attack us on 9/11, and these groups don’t need any excuse,” said New York congressman Peter King, responding to the suggestion that attacking the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, would prompt it try attacking the U.S. “They will attack us whenever they can.”

Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, King said: “I believe strongly that ISIS does plan on attacking the United States. Even three years ago their predecessor organization attempted to attack Fort Knox, and two people were arrested and convicted in Kentucky for that attempted attack.”

“How long do we wait” for the president to put together his “coalition,” King asked. “The more we wait, the more dangerous ISIS becomes. And my main criticism of last year [is that] the president lined up these allies for the bombing attacks [in Syria], he drew the red line, and then he pulled the rug out without telling the allies, and now they don’t trust the president.”

Tags: Sunday Shows August 31 2014

McCain: ‘For God’s Sake,’ Can’t the U.S. Help the Ukrainians Defend Themselves?


White House sources have indicated that the introduction of American arms into the conflict between Ukraine and Russia could exacerbate tensions, but Arizona senator John McCain thinks it’s necessary regardless. “For God’s sake,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation, “can’t we help these people defend themselves? This is not an incursion, it’s an invasion.”

To host Major Garrett’s question whether Ukraine and Russia are in a war, McCain answered: “I think from the Ukrainian standpoint you would say that. [Putin] is accomplishing a land bridge all the way to Crimea, and he may threaten Moldova and the Baltics if he continues to succeed.”

“[This] is a conflict that requires our participation, not through American ground troops, but our participation and our help and our leadership, and that is what seems to be missing,” the senator said.

Tags: Sunday Shows August 31 2014

Will’s Take: If Arab ‘Neighborhood’ Can’t Take Out ISIS, ‘We Shouldn’t’


“I think what the president is trying to do,” said columnist George Will on Fox News Sunday, “and I sympathize with this, is to get the neighborhood [of the Islamic State] to rally.”

There’s plenty of military power in the Middle East to confront the threat of the jihadist group, Will argued:

Look what’s in the neighborhood: Saudi Arabia has 250 highly competent aircraft and an AWAC system [Airborne Warning and Control System] to control it. You’ve got Iran and Iraq, [who] are enemies of ISIS, so [are] Syria, Jordan, and the Kurds, who are, for all intents and purposes, a nation right now. So you’ve got six nations in the neighborhood.

“If they can’t do it,” Will concluded, “we shouldn’t.”

Tags: Sunday Shows August 31 2014

House Intel Chair: ‘Hundreds’ of Americans Have Fought with ISIS; Some Have Returned to U.S


How many Americans are fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria? “It’s in the hundreds,” says Representative Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

There are “hundreds” of Americans “that have at least one time traveled, participated, and trained with them. Some of them have drifted back [to the U.S.], some of them have gone to Europe,” Rogers says.

About the threat the Islamic State poses to Western nations directly, Rogers noted that the group appears to have carried out attacks on Europe already: “You saw the Brussels event, the attack on the Jewish Museum. That was, we believe, an ISIL-led or inspired event. So that was the first time that they had attacked, we believe, outside their borders.”

Tags: Sunday Shows August 31 2014

Former Jihadist: Young Extremists Are Often Suffering from an ‘Identity Crisis’


Before offering his help to Western intelligence services, Mubin Shaikh was a Canadian citizen who went to Pakistan to join the jihad. On ABC’s This Week, he explained his own radicalization as the result of an “identity crisis” — a predicament he believes many young Muslims in the West experience, and which may help to explain why so many Muslims from Europe, and even from the United States, are joining up with the Islamic State: “You don’t know, you’re trying to navigate the space in the West: How Muslim am I supposed to be, and how Western am I supposed to be, and how much do those conflict with and contradict one another?”

Says Shaikh, these young men “may not even be discriminated against . . . but they’ll feel that ‘my people’ are under attack. You have vicarious suffering. You start to feel that their suffering is my suffering.”

Tags: Sunday Shows August 31 2014

If Reagan Had Picked Rumsfeld as His Vice President, Would We Never Have Had President Clinton?


My wife is a little under the weather, so we had an early night last night and consequently I had an early morning this morning. I used my man-time — before she wakes up and the television is taken over by Raising Asia — to watch Errol Morris’s documentary on Donald Rumsfeld. The documentary is fascinating, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the Rumsfeld years.

Of course, the 21st century being what it is, after finishing the documentary I proceeded to study Mr. Rumsfeld’s Wikipedia page, wherein I discovered — at least according to whoever wrote this part of the Wikipedia page — that the great economist Milton Friedman believed if Ronald Reagan had selected Mr. Rumsfeld as his vice president then Bill Clinton would never have been president.

Economist Milton Friedman later noted that he, Friedman, regarded Reagan’s pick of Bush as “the worst decision not only of his campaign but of his presidency,” and that Rumsfeld was instead his preference. “Had he been chosen,” Friedman said, “I believe he would have succeeded Reagan as president and the sorry Bush-Clinton period would never have occurred.”

I’ve heard it said many times that Milton Friedman never lost an argument in his life. This, of course, is not an argument, but a forecast — and not only that, a forecast done by an economist. Not exactly our forte. So, of course, one can never know. But an interesting thought experiment for an unusually early Sunday morning.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at

UPDATE: Based on some of your tweets — and why are you up so early on the Sunday of a holiday weekend?! — I should clarify that (1) I am not saying I agree with Friedman’s forecast, (2) I am not saying that I agree that the Bush-Clinton period was “sorry,” (3) I am not saying that I agree that Reagan should have selected Mr. Rumsfeld, (4) etc. It’s just interesting to ponder the multiverse, and to imagine what life is like in the other universe where we had two terms of Reagan followed by two terms of Rumsfeld.

Coolness 101


Turner Classic Movies is about to play a movie starring Victor Mature, who was famous for playing beefcake roles, especially in Biblical and sword-and-sandal movies. The way I first heard my favorite story about him was, he was rejected for a country-club membership because he was an actor, and he responded: “They think I’m an actor? They obviously haven’t seen any of my movies!” (The best confirmation of this story I can find on the Internet is from IMDB, which quotes his response as follows: “I’m not an actor — and I’ve got 64 films to prove it!”)

I can’t claim that Victor Mature was a great actor, but he did have talent — and, as this story indicates, his attitude toward life was impressive.


Did Wall Street Know About the Housing Bubble?


My AEI colleague Stan Veuger cables from Holland to alert me to a fascinating academic economics paper. Here’s how the authors open the paper:

Did Wall Street foresee the recent crash of the US housing bubble? Given the role played by Wall Street in facilitating the credit expansion that precipitated the housing market boom, understanding this question is important for systematically understanding the causes of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. With the benefit of hindsight, many find it hard to imagine that Wall Street missed seeing large-scale problems in housing markets before others. For example, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission wrote in its report that, in the years preceding the collapse, “Alarm bells were clanging inside financial institutions” (Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission 2011). If Wall Street was aware that the process of securitization was generating a national housing bubble that would lead to a deep financial crisis yet proceeded to securitize mortgage loans of dubious quality, this would reveal far more severe incentive problems on Wall Street than many have recognized—and confirm many of the worst fears underlying outrage from the public and policymakers. On the other hand, if Wall Street employees involved in securitization systematically missed seeing the housing bubble, despite having better information than others, this raises fundamental questions regarding how Wall Street employees process information and form their beliefs.

The authors attempt to answer this fundamentally important question — “Did Wall Street foresee the recent crash of the US housing bubble?” — by looking to see whether Wall Street employees avoided financial losses on their own real estate transactions. As the authors put it:

Because a home typically exposes its owner to substantial house price risk, midlevel employees in the financial industry, even with relatively high incomes, should have maximum incentives to make informed home-transaction decisions on their own accounts. Individual home transactions thus reveal beliefs regarding their own housing markets in isolation of any distortions arising from job incentives.

Their conclusion?

We find little systematic evidence that the average securitization agent exhibited awareness through their home transactions of problems in overall house markets and anticipated a broad-based crash earlier than others.

In fact:

Securitization agents neither managed to time the market nor exhibited cautiousness in their home transactions. They increased, rather than decreased, their housing exposure during the boom period, particularly through second home purchases and swaps of existing homes into more expensive homes. This difference is not explained by differences in financing terms such as interest rates or financing, and is more pronounced in the relatively bubblier Southern California region compared to the New York metro region. Our securitization agents’ overall home portfolio performance was significantly worse than that of control groups. Agents working on the sell side and for firms which had poor stock price performance through the crisis did particularly poorly themselves.

The paper, by economists Ing-Haw Cheng, Sahil Raina, and Wei Xiong, can be found here.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at

Ted Cruz Brings Anti-Washington Shtick to Dallas


Ted Cruz brought his anti-Washington crusade to Americans for Prosperity’s Defending the Dream summit in Dallas on Saturday. 

“I spent last week in Washington, D.C,” he said. “It’s great to be back in America.” Barry Goldwater, the late Arizona senator who upended the Republican establishment, and to whom Cruz has often been compared, couldn’t have said it better.

The Texas senator threw the sharpest elbows, however, at President Obama. Six months ago, Obamacare was the dominant issue shaping key Senate races, but in a sign of how the political ground has shifted, Cruz predicted they would be a “national referendum on amnesty.” Though many have speculated about the brewing rivalry between Cruz and his fellow Texan, Governor Rick Perry, with both eyeing a presidential bid in 2016, Cruz offered praise for Perry’s decision to deploy National Guard troops to the secure the border.

And he invited the president to the Texas border — to play golf. Addressing reporters after his speech, he dwelled further on the theme. “It almost seems like the PGA oughta put him on retainer,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve never known anyone who plays that much golf. It’s almost like he doesn’t have a job, like he’s retired or something.”

The Cruz who showed up in Dallas played to the right flank of the Republican party that rocketed him to national fame, continuing to defend his push last year to shut down the federal government. “As a result of that fight,” he said, the president’s “popularity has plummeted,” and he told reporters he still believes Obamacare will be repealed. That’s a reversal for Cruz, who argued the government shutdown was necessary because once an entitlement program took root, people would become addicted to it. Now, he is singing a different tune. “Any student of military history knows wars are not typically won in the first skirmish,” he said Saturday.

Asked about the Republican governors who have agreed to the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, including some of his potential 2016 rivals like Indiana governor Mike Pence, he said he would “urge any governor not to be complicit in the disaster.”

Cruz also made clear he’ll position himself on the hawkish end of the party’s foreign-policy spectrum which, in a potential 2016 matchup, will put him at odds with his fellow tea-party superstar Rand Paul. He told the crowd on Saturday that the U.S. should bomb the Islamic State “back to the Stone Age” and mused that the “Obama diet” is simply letting Russian president Vladimir Putin “eat your lunch every day.”

What I’m Doing This Labor Day Weekend


Being encouraged at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N,D. For anyone broadly interested in the future of Catholic education and renewal, I’ve been and will continue to be livetweeting some, @KathrynLopez

Considering Catcalls


No one is catcalling Rosie O’Donnell, Barbara Bush, or Janet Napolitano. No one is catcalling my plump elderly mother as I wheel her down the sidewalk in her wheelchair. Marilyn Monroe once observed that she could walk down the sidewalk without drawing attention — without anyone recognizing her, let alone ogling or whistling. She could turn her sex appeal on and off at will. Clearly the question of whether or not a woman is treated as a sex object by strangers on the street does indeed turn upon her physical appearance. To state otherwise is to ignore reality — which is not a conservative position.

Most women who are young or halfway attractive will at some point experience rude and occasionally frightening behavior from men. So what? I’ve had some of the same kinds of unhappy experiences that Christine Sisto describes. Once, at the age of 18, while on a train in France, a derelict man — the only other passenger in the car — pleasured himself to the point of satisfaction while leering and grunting at me. Gross and scary. But you know what? I’m fine. I felt sorry for him. What a sad, lonely wreck of a man. He didn’t hurt me, though, except by giving me an unpleasant window into human nature.

Despite this disgusting experience (and a few others like it, including when I was much younger than 18), I’ll second the views of the lovely ladies of Fox News’s Outnumbered: Catcalls can be flattering, so long as they don’t cross the line into physical groping, intimidation, or assault. When I wear a tight skirt and heels down the street, and some guy catcalls, I think, Okay, I guess this does look rather good on me. And when I wear baggy jeans and a loose-fitting T-shirt and no lipstick, no one gives me a second look. As women we can choose how we present ourselves. And if we are treated as mere pieces of meat, we bear at least some of the responsibility. This is not to say that we deserve to be harassed if we are naturally alluring or if we wear sexy clothing. And, yes, “attractiveness” is not the reason that hard-core sexual predators assault girls and women.

But I have some advice that might comfort my colleague Christine Sisto: Be patient. Time heals. When you are fat and gray-haired and have three chins and cankles, I wager that no one you will catcall you. In fact, if you end up like some of the Alzheimer’s patients I have known, hungry for human connection and sexual vitality, being catcalled might even make your day. Not to make light  — and no woman should feel she needs a bodyguard to protect her from harassment, as Sisto wrote — but: Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. There are far worse sorrows on this earth than being considered sexually appetizing.

But They Were Really Moderate Beheadings . . .


My weekend column asks whether Obama’s “no strategy” regarding the Islamic State terror group is really worse than the delusional strategy – popular throughout our bipartisan foreign policy clerisy – of arming and training the purported “moderate opposition” in Syria.

Those repeating the “moderate opposition” refrain – in Washington it is virtually one word now, moderateopposition – hope you won’t notice that the anti-Assad factions are dominated by Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, which is still regarded by Beltway oxymorons as a “moderate Islamist” group (indeed, a “largely secular” group) despite the recent demonstrations of their unique brand of moderation in Egypt and Gaza – and despite the fact that the moderateopposition routinely colludes with al-Qaeda jihadists.

Case in point: After American citizen Douglas McAuthur McCain was killed while fighting for the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria, Obama spokesman Josh Earnest was quick to credit the moderateopposition with having done him in, an exhibition of its commitment to fight these “dangerous” jihadists:

Even the reports of the death of the American who was fighting in Syria on behalf of ISIL, he was reportedly killed by elements of the moderate opposition as they were fighting ISIS [ACM: same as ISIL] elements in their country. So it’s no secret that the moderate opposition is fighting not just the Assad regime but also the dangerous elements of ISIL as well.

But alas, there is this eye-opening passage – overlooked by most, but not all commentators – from the New York Timesreport about “Mr. McCain”:

Mr. McCain moved back and forth from Minneapolis to San Diego and then abroad. Officials now know he ended up in Syria, where three days ago, Mr. McCain became the first American to die while fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He was 33. The rebels who killed him were fighting for the Free Syrian Army, a rival group backed by the United States, and they went on to behead six ISIS fighters — but not Mr. McCain — and then posted the photographs on Facebook.

Doesn’t seem very moderate to me.

The Guns of August


With the Russian invasion of Ukraine having been taken — how shall I put this — to the next level, what next?

Writing in Slate, Anne Applebaum:

In the past few days, Russian troops bearing the flag of a previously unknown country, Novorossiya, have marched across the border of southeastern Ukraine. The Russian Academy of Sciences recently announced it will publish a history of Novorossiya this autumn, presumably tracing its origins back to Catherine the Great. Various maps of Novorossiya are said to be circulating in Moscow. Some include Kharkov and Dnipropetrovsk, cities that are still hundreds of miles away from the fighting. Some place Novorossiya along the coast, so that it connects Russia to Crimea and eventually to Transnistria, the Russian-occupied province of Moldova. Even if it starts out as an unrecognized rump state—Abkhazia and South Ossetia, “states” that Russia carved out of Georgia, are the models here—Novorossiya can grow larger over time….

Novorossiya will also be hard to sustain if it has opponents in the West. Possible solutions to that problem are also under discussion. Not long ago, Vladimir Zhirinovsky—the Russian member of parliament and court jester, who sometimes says things that those in power cannot—argued on television that Russia should use nuclear weapons to bomb Poland and the Baltic countries—“dwarf states,” he called them—and show the West who really holds power in Europe: “Nothing threatens America, it’s far away. But Eastern European countries will place themselves under the threat of total annihilation,” he declared. Vladimir Putin indulges these comments: Zhirinovsky’s statements are not official policy, the Russian president says, but he always “gets the party going.”

A far more serious person, the dissident Russian analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, has recently published an article arguing, along lines that echo Zhirinovsky’s threats, that Putin really is weighing the possibility of limited nuclear strikes—perhaps against one of the Baltic capitals, perhaps a Polish city—to prove that NATO is a hollow, meaningless entity that won’t dare strike back for fear of a greater catastrophe. Indeed, in military exercises in 2009 and 2013, the Russian army openly “practiced” a nuclear attack on Warsaw….

Applebaum (who is married to Poland’s foreign minister) is clearly writing from the perspective of those too close to the Russian border for comfort. She concedes that she may sound “hysterical, and foolishly apocalyptic, to American or Western European readers.” Well, let’s hope she turns out to be very wrong in her worst fears. That said, her belief that “Novorossiya” is not going away anytime soon and her suspicion that Putin may well be looking to test NATO run all too true. Such testing will not (I am as sure as I can be) run to a nuclear strike on a Baltic or Polish city (how appalling it is to even contemplate such a thing), but some more, say, exploratory nibbling on the edges of Baltic self-determination cannot be ruled out.

That Putin is running the risks that he is reflects his sense that, as risks go, they aren’t too bad. And that, at least in part, is a result of his perception of weakness in the only NATO member that truly counts, the U.S. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, in an article that begins with the assertion that “Barack Obama is the worst president in the history of the Atlantic alliance,” Edward Lucas, a journalist who has been reporting for decades on Eastern Europe with erudition, sympathy, and perception, noted:

It is no excuse to say that Europe is divided and weak. That is deplorable but not new. Washington could have used its clout as a superpower to deter Moscow with serious sanctions, to support Kiev with serious military and other aid, and to bolster the front-line states—Poland and its Baltic neighbors—by moving serious numbers of troops and equipment there, backed by a full-scale standing defense plan. It didn’t. Vladimir Putin and his friends have drawn a dangerous conclusion from that.

Indeed they have.

Over at the XX Committee John Schindler sketches out what is a (to me) persuasive scenario:

The next few days will be decisive in determining if Russia’s war against Ukraine remains limited or expands significantly into a major conflict that will imperil European security in a manner not witnessed in decades. The course that Putin has plotted is described ably in an article today in Novaya Gazeta, the last Kremlin-unfriendly serious newspaper in Russia, by Pavel Felgenhauer, a noted Russian defense commentator. “We are still a half step from full-scale war,” he states, explaining why:

“War will happen if the current alignment does not achieve the strategic goals that Moscow is setting itself. The strategic goal, as Putin has been saying since April, is a stable ceasefire. In order to achieve it, it is necessary to achieve a military balance on the battlefield: To rout the Ukrainian forces, throw them back from Donetsk and Luhansk, and consolidate the territory that the insurgents are controlling. Donetsk People’s Republic representatives have repeatedly stated that they want the complete withdrawal of the Ukrainian troops from the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk.”

To date, Moscow has shown restraint, Felgenhauer notes, committing only a few thousand Russian troops to battle in Ukraine, rather than the tens of thousands it could deploy. But that may not last:

The main battle now will obviously take place around and within Mariupol. Unless the Ukrainians are driven back, a real war will begin….

The observant will note that this leaves Ukraine with no attractive options.

Meanwhile the Financial Times reporrs:

Britain and six other states are to create a new joint expeditionary force of at least 10,000 personnel to bolster Nato’s power in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The force will be one of the boldest steps taken by any group of Nato members in response to the crisis. The aim is to create a fully functioning, division-sized force for rapid deployment and regular, frequent exercises. Officials involved in the planning say it will have the capacity to increase significantly in size.

The force will incorporate air and naval units as well as ground troops and will be led by British commanders, with other participating nations contributing a range of specialist troops and units. Countries involved at present include Denmark, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Norway and the Netherlands. Canada has also expressed an interest in taking part.

So this this expeditionary force is made up of the Baltic trio, acting out of understandable self-interest, together with the Netherlands, euroskeptic Denmark, non-EU Norway, and the loathed, europariah Britain. Non-EU Canada may join in. But as for those EU machers, Germany, France, ah well . . .

That may change, but for now there looks to be a lesson in the composition of that force which Eastern Europe would do well to remember.   

British Superiority


In one of the greatest comedies ever made, A Fish Called Wanda, Otto (played by Kevin Kline) sneers “You British are so superior!” On “Need to Know” this week, Jay and I agree that it’s pretty much true. I’ve been listening to Desert Island Discs (they’re all on iTunes, though with abbreviated music selections) and we recall listening to “My Word” (great, says Jay) and “My Music” (not quite as good Jay says — and he knows). The actors, musicians, astronomers, comedians, politicians, and others who appeared on DID over the years are so interesting. They don’t produce the sort of stale, predictable pabulum that American celebrities tend toward. 

But there’s another side to Britain and we spend some time on the disgrace and outrage perpetrated in Rotherham. John O’Sullivan’s excellent summary about the guilt of officialdom is here. It’s a story of misplaced guilt driving gross malfeasance.

No “Need to Know” would be complete without reflections on Barack “I Have No Strategy” Obama’s leadership. But we also make time for Russia, the Pauls (father and son), Castro’s daughters, a bit of gossip about UNRWA’s man in Gaza (he lives in Tel Aviv), and some music, closing with Christoph Eschenbach playing the last of Mozart’s Twelve Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman” (a.k.a. “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”). Join us!


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