Category: International relations

A real impeachable offense

National Review:

 

Joe Biden has been abusing his authority as president to aid his party in the midterm elections. We know, we know — we need to be more specific. This time, it’s the abuse of his powers as commander in chief in negotiating with Saudi Arabia and in drawing down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Democrats have a gas-price problem. High gas prices are the most visible sign of inflation, as well as a driver of inflation in the prices of many goods. The average price of a gallon of regular gas is $3.87, and while that is down from the historic high of $5.02 in June, it is still noticeably higher than the $3.33 price of a year ago or the $3.68 price of a month ago. Biden bet heavily on the decline after June’s high as proof that inflation was over, so the recent spike has driven the White House into a panic with only three weeks until Election Day. Moreover, the obvious solution to high gas prices — increasing domestic production — is ideologically anathema to the people around the president.

What Biden is pursuing instead is any avenue to temporarily increase supply just until Election Day. The one domestic lever he has is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which was designed in 1975 to ensure adequate fuel supply for the military and essential industries in case of a foreign conflict that interrupts the flow of oil — say, a conflict with Russia. Presidents have too often treated the SPR as a piggy bank to soften gas-price spikes at politically inconvenient times, but never at the scale that Biden is doing now.

Biden is set to announce this week more releases of oil from the SPR, following similar announcements in early October, and nobody has the slightest illusion as to why. Reuters, breaking the news based on administration sources, described it as “a bid to dampen fuel prices before next month’s congressional elections.” Bloomberg said the “efforts come as gasoline prices set off alarms before election.” CNN said that “officials have closely eyed Biden’s ability to trigger new releases within the bounds of the initial program as Election Day looms.”

Biden has already released more than a third of the SPR, dropping it to the lowest level in four decades, and would take it down further to around half of its capacity. This does nothing to encourage more production or less consumption; Biden is just buying time. He will have to start buying oil again at some point, quite likely at higher prices — but after the election. The cynicism of his calculation is obvious, and serves no interest but that of his party. Also, as with many of Biden’s election-year gambits, it is politically short-sighted, because there will be another election in two years, and Biden’s hat will be out of rabbits.

The SPR releases can put downward pressure on oil prices, but there is a limit to what they can accomplish, especially given that world oil-futures markets understand that these are short-term supplies only. In order to pump more gas supply without increasing domestic production, therefore, Biden needs to turn to foreign suppliers. The big one, with major influence in the OPEC+ cartel, is Saudi Arabia.

When Biden went hat in hand to beg the Saudi regime in mid-October to delay OPEC+ oil supply cuts for a month into mid-November, the Saudis saw the timing for what it was. The Wall Street Journal reported that “U.S. officials warned Saudi leaders that a cut . . . would weaken already-waning support in Washington for the kingdom” and that Saudi officials “viewed [the requests] as a political gambit by the Biden administration to avoid bad news ahead of the U.S. midterm elections.” While the administration angrily denied the motivation, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby admitted to both the request and the timeline: “We presented Saudi Arabia with analysis to show that . . . they could easily wait for the next OPEC meeting to see how things developed.”

This blew up in Biden’s face when the Saudis instead chose the moment to humiliate Biden by lobbying for the cuts. Biden’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has been fraught from the start for two reasons. One, the kingdom’s most serious enemy is Iran, so the efforts of the Biden administration to renew the Obama-era push for a reorientation of U.S. policy in the region around a rapprochement with Tehran is rightly seen by the Saudis as a grave threat to their security and to their longstanding alignment with the United States. Two, Biden pledged to make Saudi Arabia a pariah over its murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi. While Khashoggi’s brutal slaying was indefensible, it was foolhardy to pivot the entire multifaceted U.S. relationship on it — with the result that Biden needs to curry favor with other brutal regimes such as Venezuela. In either event, Biden gave the Saudis ample incentive to leverage his naked political desperation against him.

In all of this, Biden has played self-interested party politics with the nation’s foreign policy, and violated the sacred trust placed in him by his countrymen. Some on the right have argued that, in subordinating American foreign policy to electoral strategy, Biden has committed the same offense as Donald Trump did in 2019. At the time, we denounced Trump’s improper attempt to leverage aid to Ukraine in order to get Volodymyr Zelensky to give him information about Biden family influence-peddling in Ukraine and about Biden’s alleged interference to protect his son. Biden’s misconduct today is more conventional: He did not send campaign officials through unofficial channels to foreign governments, and he tried to influence the election not by gathering dirt but by offering some short-term benefits to American voters, albeit at a cost to the national interest that will come back to bite those voters’ pocketbooks later. That said, this is very much within the same family of abuses of power as what got Trump impeached the first time. It is yet another reminder that Biden and his party believe in principles so long as they don’t interfere with their partisan interests.

More to the point, this is bad without any reference to Donald Trump, and we should resist the temptation to excuse any presidential behavior that is not precisely identical to Trump’s. The American president’s first job is the security of the nation. That Joe Biden sees this as secondary to winning some congressional elections testifies to the smallness and shabbiness of the man in comparison to the office he occupies.

Democrats have a history of asking for aid and comfort from America’s enemies. Before the 1984 presidential election U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D–Massachusetts) offered to Soviet premier Yuri Andropov that “Kennedy would lend Andropov a hand in dealing with President Reagan. In return, the Soviet leader would lend the Democratic Party a hand in challenging Reagan in the 1984 presidential election.”

Four years earlier, Jimmy Carter asked Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin for reelection help, first through American businessman Armand Hammer and then through national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, “dangling the promise of several key concessions to the Soviets on Afghanistan, arms control, and Central America — concessions they would never get from Reagan — if Carter was reelected. … Dobrynin concluded, ‘his message was clear: Moscow should not do anything to diminish Carter’s chances in the election race and might even help a bit.'”

That’s the sort of thing that used to be called treason.

 

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Iran is not our friend, the latest example

Diana Glebova:

An Iranian government official blamed Salman Rushdie and “his supporters” on Monday after the author was stabbed repeatedly in an attack, claiming Iran does not bare any responsibility.

“We, in the incident of the attack on Salman Rushdie in the U.S., do not consider that anyone deserves blame and accusations except him and his supporters,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said in a briefing, marking the first government response to the attack, the Associated Press reported.

“In this regard, no one can blame the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he added. “We believe that the insults made and the support he received was an insult against followers of all religions.”

Rushdie, 75, was stabbed Friday after a suspect rushed on stage while he was preparing to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. He was stabbed in the neck and abdomen, suffered damage to his liver and arm, and is likely to lose his eye, according to his agent, Andrew Wylie.

He has been taken off the ventilator, is able to speak again, and is on the road to recovery, Wylie said Sunday.

The author was under threat for years after publishing his book, The Satanic Verses, in 1988. The book included what the former and first supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, thought to be a blasphemous depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the author to be killed in 1989 and an Iranian religious foundation issued a reward of over $3 million for the death of Rushdie.

Twenty-four-year-old Hadi Matar, the suspect, was charged with attempted murder in the second degree and assault in the second degree. A review of his social media account found that he “is sympathetic to Shia extremism and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGS) causes,” but there are no definitive links between Matar and the IRGS, and he has [pleaded]  not guilty.

Was this trip necessary?

Jim Geraghty:

We all knew that President Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia was going to be, at best, a deeply frustrating and humiliating exercise in kissing the ring — or in Biden’s case, bumping the fist. Biden left Riyadh with no deal on oil production beyond some vague pledges, sending the world’s oil prices rising again. Members of the Washington Post editorial board were always going to hate this trip, but when it was over, their anger over their slain colleague, Jamal Khashoggi, enabled them to declare that the emperor had no clothes, and that Biden had been taken to the cleaners:

For the most part, though, Mr. Biden gave more than he got. He made no wider critique of Saudi Arabia’s repressive policies in public; there were no releases of political prisoners or clemency for other regime opponents — including dual U.S. citizens — who have been denied freedom to travel. Instead, Mr. Biden touted an already existing truce in Yemen and modest steps toward better relations with Israel. He seemed to invite deeper U.S.-Saudi ties by announcing a new project to test U.S. 5G technology in the kingdom.

And when it was all over, MBS had made no public commitment to pump more oil. The Saudis are being counted on to influence an OPEC cartel meeting next month to get a few hundred thousand more barrels onto the market, likely with only modest impact on U.S. gas prices. . . .

This was a low moment for Mr. Biden, and one that he won’t soon live down.

Adding to the humiliation, the Saudis publicly contended that behind closed doors, Biden had not confronted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the murder of Khashoggi. We’ll just have to take Biden’s word that he was an in-your-face tough guy when no one was watching.

Unsurprisingly, Biden was in an irritable mood when he returned to the White House:

Q: Is the Saudi foreign minister lying, President Biden? The Saudi foreign minister says he didn’t hear you accuse the Crown Prince of Khashoggi’s murder. Is he telling the truth?

THE PRESIDENT: No.

Q: Do you regret the fist bump, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: Why don’t you guys talk about something that matters?  I’m happy to answer a question that matters.

Q: Will inflation go down from here, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: I’m hoping. We’ll know in the next few weeks.

While Biden was returning from his overseas trip, First Lady Jill Biden was speaking to Democratic donors, shifting to full excuse-making mode:

“[The President] had so many hopes and plans for things he wanted to do, but every time you turned around, he had to address the problems of the moment,” Biden told a crowd at a private Democratic National Committee fundraiser, according to CNN.

“He’s just had so many things thrown his way,” she said. “Who would have ever thought about what happened [with the Supreme Court overturning] Roe v. Wade? Well, maybe we saw it coming, but still we didn’t believe it. The gun violence in this country is absolutely appalling. We didn’t see the war in Ukraine coming.”

Pause briefly and contemplate what Jill Biden — excuse me, Dr. Jill Biden — contends was unforeseeable:

  • A concerted, longtime effort by conservative legal scholars and Republican lawmakers to overturn Roe v. Wade.
  • A continued pattern of angry, disturbed young men obtaining firearms and committing mass shootings.
  • Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Eastern Europe.

Not only were all of those factors in American or global life foreseeable, all of them were problems that candidate Biden pledged he could resolve.

  • On October 5, 2019, Biden pledged that, “Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, and we must fight any and all attempts to overturn it. As president, I will codify Roe into law and ensure this choice remains between a woman and her doctor.”
  • As a candidate, Biden pledged to enact a national gun-buyback program, an assault-weapons ban, universal background checks, a push for the development of “smart guns,” and red-flag laws. His campaign platform declared that, “It’s within our grasp to end our gun violence epidemic and respect the Second Amendment, which is limited.” Much of that agenda remains unfulfilled.
  • Also in October 2019, Biden pledged, “Putin knows, if I am President of the United States, his days of tyranny and trying to intimidate the United States and those in Eastern Europe are over.”

Jill Biden’s insistence that all of these problems were unforeseeable is reminiscent of Biden’s snapping that he and his team would have had to be “mind-readers” to notice the baby-formula shortage before May, even though the story was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in January.

You can be a steadfast, right-of-center critic of Joe Biden and simultaneously cringe at the sight of the president of the United States getting sand kicked in his face by a murderous Saudi prince, and the president’s wife insisting that long-simmering national and international problems sprung up out of nowhere. It’s embarrassing for us as Americans to watch our president going hat in hand to a regime he previously pledged to make a “pariah,” see him give MBS a giant geopolitical public-relations win in exchange for vague promises, and then watch the Saudis call our president a liar after the visit ends. We’re not respected. No one fears crossing Joe Biden. It’s a dangerous world, and a lot of other countries think that we’re led by a geriatric pushover.

The Resolute desk appears ill-named during these years.

Besides the problems of the president’s age and longstanding flaws, the solutions to most of these problems don’t align well with the progressive agenda.

If you want gas prices to come down and to be less dependent upon Saudi goodwill, you need to increase supply through more domestic production and domestic refinery capacity. Someday, electric vehicles will reduce the demand for refined gasoline, but electric vehicles are just four percent of new cars sold in the U.S. right now. Biden loves to talk about infrastructure projects, but he rarely mentions that in the construction sector, 98 percent of all energy use comes from diesel. America can’t have the things Biden wants without cheap, or at least reasonably priced, diesel and unleaded gasoline. Everything else is just pushing a rope.

With nearly 400 million guns in Americans’ hands, it will rarely be difficult for disturbed, angry young men to obtain a firearm; stopping the bloody trend requires effective mental-health treatment for all those disturbed, angry young men. (It would also help if parents could be clear-eyed about their sons’ glaringly obvious mental-health problems and not sponsor their sons’ applications for gun-owner licenses, as in the case of the Highland Park shooter.) Red-flag laws can help, but as my friend Cam observes, in almost all cases, there’s no follow-up mental-health assessment or treatment after the seizure of the firearms. The state removes the firearms from the person who may have intent to harm themselves or others, and then wipes its hands and concludes its work is done. But the suicidal or murderous intent is still there, unaddressed and untreated.

If you want to beat Vladimir Putin, arms transfers to Ukraine help, but they’re unlikely to be enough by themselves, particularly when it’s clear that Russia wants to use energy exports as leverage against our NATO allies in Europe. As our Andrew Stuttaford warns, “If the war in Ukraine is still dragging on into the winter months — as seems reasonably likely — it would make sense for Putin to use a brutal energy squeeze to spur the EU to force Ukraine to cut some grubby deal with Moscow.”

To avoid that, the U.S. (and Canada) would have to move to replace Russia’s role as energy supplier of Europe. That would require exporting more natural gas and fossil fuels, which would antagonize Biden’s environmentalist allies.

Over in the magazine, Dan McLaughlin has an excellent piece about how the seemingly quiet mid-Obama years, and the 2012 presidential election in particular, represented a turning point in our political life. You should read the whole thing, but one of the key points is that, “In short, where prior campaigns won the center, Obama appeared to move the center in his direction by using superior base turnout as a substitute for swing voters. Before 2012, this was the progressive dream; after 2012, it became Democratic dogma.”

A lot of campaigns since then have concluded that, “We may be losing those mushy independents and milquetoast center voters, but we’ll make up for it by driving up turnout in our base.” Right now, the Democrats think they can mitigate the expected Republican wave in the midterms by pleasing their progressive base as much as possible: relentless messaging on abortion, gun control, the January 6 committee’s findings, perhaps forgiving large portions of student-loan debt, and likely a futile push for some version of Build Back Better.

Biden is trying to run the Obama playbook in dramatically different circumstances. It’s not likely to work.

The thing is, those allegedly mushy independents and milquetoast center voters usually have some common sense, and they know what they want: They want the government to just do its job and make life manageable. That means getting inflation under control, particularly gas prices and food prices. They’d like to see their 401(k) and retirement savings growing instead of shrinking. They want to see more cops on the streets and less crime, a secure border, and good public schools that prepare their kids for college and the working world.

Oh, and as of this writing, President Biden has no public events on his schedule.

More from the mouth in the White House

On Friday James Freeman wrote:

Some issues are just too important to be left to an unscripted Joe Biden. This is not CNN and your humble correspondent is not a doctor so this column will not be offering a long-distance diagnosis of the president’s mental health or an assessment of how his cognition compares to that of other world leaders. But these are dangerous times and we would all be much safer if Mr. Biden would make greater use of prepared statements on subjects such as, for example, weapons of mass destruction.

Two months after a bumbling press conference in which Mr. Biden implied that a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine might be tolerable to the U.S. and its allies, the President flew to Europe this week and somehow ended up taking questions from reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Yes, it’s important for all of us to be able to hear from our elected officials and to assess the content of their remarks as well as the skill and conviction with which they advocate for their policies. But this particular elected official does not appear to be up to the task. While we consider the implications, Mr. Biden should try to say as little as possible in public during an international crisis.

This presents a unique challenge since he happens to be the sitting president of the United States. But there is no constitutional requirement for the president to make off-the-cuff remarks, or to deliver speeches of any kind. If necessary he can email messages to Congress rather than speaking to legislators.

Before this week’s trip to Europe and the latest presidential adventure in media relations, Mr. Biden’s policy response to the Russian invasion had been fairly clear: aid the Ukrainians, sanction the Russians, and seek to avoid scenarios in which NATO forces could be drawn into the conflict. Then came the Thursday press conference. Here’s an excerpt from the White House transcript:

Q Hi. Thank you, Mr. President. So you’ve warned about the real threat of chemical weapons being used. Have you gathered specific intelligence that suggests that President Putin is deploying these weapons, moving them to position, or considering their use?
And would the U.S. or NATO respond with military action if he did use chemical weapons?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, on the first question, I can’t answer that. I’m not going to give you intelligence data, number one.

Number two, we would respond. We would respond if he uses it. The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.So whether America enters a war is ultimately up to Vladimir Putin and which weapons he chooses to use and in which circumstances? The subject came up again a few minutes later:

Q … And to clarify, on chemical weapons: Could — if chemical weapons were used in Ukraine, would that trigger a military response from NATO?

THE PRESIDENT: It would re- — it would trigger a response in kind, whether or not — you’re asking whether NATO would cross; we’d make that decision at the time.

A response in kind? A common definition of the phrase could lead one to think Mr. Biden was contemplating a scenario in which he too went beyond the pale. Appearing this weekend on the Fox Business Network’s “WSJ at Large” program, columnist Tammy Bruce helpfully notes: “Using chemical weapons is against international law. It is certainly a moral abomination.” She adds that the president has been a politician for half a century. This is not a mistake resulting from lack of experience in foreign affairs. It’s something worse.

Thank goodness the White House was ready with a communications cleanup effort. Aboard Air Force One on Friday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan responded to a press inquiry:

Q Jake, President Biden, at the press conference yesterday, said that if Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine, the United States and NATO will respond in kind, which would seem to imply using chemical weapons back. Is that what he meant by “in kind”? Or what was he trying to say there?
[MR. SULLIVAN]: No. No. And you heard him in another answer say we’ll respond accordingly — meaning, you know, we will select the form and nature of our response based on the nature of the action Russia takes, and we’ll do so in coordination with our Allies. And we’ve communicated to the Russians, as the President said publicly a couple of weeks ago, that there will be a severe price if Russia uses chemical weapons.
And I won’t go beyond that other than to say the United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstances.A good number of us will cling to the belief that the president was confused and didn’t understand what he was saying, which is all the more reason for him to avoid deviating from a prepared text in this perilous time.

Of course presidential silence is not a long-term strategy but right now the world doesn’t need more Biden misstatements on issues as consequential as weapons of mass destruction.

That was before Biden either reinserted his foot in his mouth or, to use the definition of “gaffe” by Washington journalist Michael Kinsley, revealed something Biden didn’t intend to admit. Freeman again:

On Friday this column advised President Joe Biden to avoid public speaking. Then over the weekend Mr. Biden made another ill-considered remark with potentially grave consequences. After he and his staff walked back the remarks, now he seems to be affirming the walk-back while also defending the original comment.

If the president still doesn’t wish to accept this column’s advice, perhaps he’d like to ask someone to sit in the front row at his public events to discourage him from making inappropriate remarks. Who might be best for this role?

Did Donald Trump ever say something that could have escalated a war?

 

Two positions in one

National Review:

President Biden said Russian president Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” in a speech on the invasion of Ukraine on Saturday.

“Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. For free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness,” Biden said at the end of a speech at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland. They “have a different future, a brighter future, rooted in democracy and principle, hope and light, of decency and dignity and freedom and possibilities.”

Then Biden added, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

A White House official issued a comment minutes later saying that Biden was not calling for regime change.

“The President’s point was Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change,” the official said.

The ineptitude of our so-called leaders

Matt Taibbi:

The White House issued a statement Friday, after Joe Biden chatted with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

The two leaders agreed that the actions of the individuals who are obstructing travel and commerce between our two countries are having significant direct impacts on citizens’ lives and livelihoods… The Prime Minister promised quick action in enforcing the law, and the President thanked him for the steps he and other Canadian authorities are taking to restore the open passage of bridges to the United States.

Translation: Biden told Trudeau his testicles will be crushed under a Bradley Fighting Vehicle if this trucker thing is allowed to screw up the Super Bowl, or Biden’s State of the Union address. Trudeau’s own statement that day came off like the recorded video message of a downed pilot:

I’ve been absolutely clear that using military forces against civilian populations, in Canada, or in any other democracy, is something to avoid having to do at all costs.

An anxious Trudeau promised to deploy law enforcement in a “predictable, progressive approach” that would emphasize fines and other punishments. Because demonstrators will see that the “consequences” for those continuing to engage in “illegal protests” are “going to be more and more extensive,” he said, “we are very hopeful” that “people will choose to leave these protests peacefully.”

Switching gears just a bit, he then added, “We are a long way from ever having to call in the military.”

Such a move, he said, would only be a “last resort.”

And, er: “We have to be ready for any eventuality”:

Trudeau’s speech was clearly designed to convey to protesters that he was under heavy pressure to call in the air strike, making the New York Times headline covering all this — “Trudeau Rejects Calls to Use Military to End Protests” — particularly humorous in its disingenuousness.

Now that the “Freedom Convoy” is inspiring similar protests not just in the United States but in France, BelgiumAustraliaNew Zealand, and other places, it’s clear every Western leader from Biden to Emmanuel Macron on down wants Trudeau, rather than any of them, to take the political hit that would ensue from any use-of-force resolution to this crisis. All of these leaders seem equally to be laboring under the delusion that a decisive enough ass-kicking in the Great White North will make this all go away. Until then, there seems to be no plan in any country that doesn’t involve tear gas, truncheons, or getting Facebook to blame troll farms in Bangladesh for stirring up the “discord” …

As for talking to protesters, that’s out of the question. As Politico recently put it, the “conspiratorial mindset” of the demonstrators means “sitting down with them could legitimize their concerns.” Since we can’t under any circumstances have that, the only option left is the military “eventuality.” Or, as former Obama Deputy Homeland Security Secretary and CNN analyst Juliette Kayyem (the same person who went nanny-bonkers over the Southwest Air “Let’s Go Brandon” incident) put it, “Slash the tires, empty gas tanks, arrest the drivers, and move the trucks.”

Any sane person should be able to see where any of these ideas would lead. The problem is, we’re heading into our third decade of Western leaders embracing not thinking ahead as a core national security concept. It’s like these people went to anti-governing school.

Amanda Prestigiacomo:

Canadian protesters defied a court deadline, remaining at the Ambassador Bridge Friday night and into Saturday morning in protest of COVID vaccination mandates within the nation.

“Canadian truckers protesting vaccine mandates remained at the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit to Windsor, Ottawa, Canada, early Saturday after both a 7 p.m. court and midnight deadline from Ottawa police where a state of emergency was declared,” Fox News reported. “The ‘Freedom Convoy’ has remained at the bridge for five days, causing shortages of auto parts that have forced General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Honda to close plants or cancel shifts.”

“Do you think I care? Do you think I care about a fine?” one remaining protester reportedly said. “I’m going to pay a fine? No. You think I care about their mandates? No. This needs to end.”

Authorities moved into the area to break up the blockade early Saturday morning, reports said.

“Dozens of police moved in” “to clear the demonstration,” according to Fox News. “Police, wearing yellow safety vests, moved into place around 8:45 a.m. local time, according to CBC News, directing protesters to clear the bridge. CBC reporters also noted that police brought several armored vehicles and that law enforcement had formed a blockade.”

“The Windsor Police & its policing partners have commenced enforcement at and near the Ambassador Bridge,” the department said via social media. “We urge all demonstrators to act lawfully & peacefully. Commuters are still being asked to avoid the areas affected by the demonstrations at this time.” …

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that he will do “whatever it takes” to crack down on protesters blocking passages along the U.S.-Canada border, The Daily Wire reported.

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened the Incident Response Group on the ongoing illegal blockades taking place across the country that are threatening trade, jobs, the economy, and our communities,” a statement from the PM’s office said. “He was joined by ministers and senior officials who are actively engaged and working closely with provincial and municipal governments, and who are assessing the requirements and deploying all federal resources necessary to help them get the situation under control.”

“The group committed to continue providing federal resources to support enforcement efforts in Ottawa where the occupation has significantly disrupted local residents’ lives, impacting businesses and families with harassment, threats of violence, and vandalism,” Trudeau’s office continued. “They reiterated that the federal government has and will continue to respond to all requests for appropriate support and resources.”

“The Prime Minister and ministers will continue to work closely with all orders of government and local authorities to respond with whatever it takes to help provinces and municipalities end the blockades and bring the situation under control,” the statement closed. “The government’s top priority remains keeping people and communities safe, and defending jobs, trade, and our economy.”

About Trudeau, the Daily Wire reports:

HBO host Bill Maher tore into Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday over remarks that Trudeau has made in recent days about trucker protests that have been taking place in his country.

Maher’s criticism of Trudeau comes after Trudeau has called the truckers that are protesting a “fringe minority” that holds “unacceptable views.” …

“Justin Trudeau, I mean I thought he was kind of a cool guy, then I started to read what he said,” Maher said. “This is a couple of weeks ago, he was, or maybe this is September, but he was talking about people who are not vaccinated. He said they don’t believe in science. They’re often misogynistic, often racist.”

“No, they’re not,” Maher said, “he said, but they take up space. And with that, we have to make a choice in terms of the leader as a country, do we tolerate these people?”

“It’s like, tolerate them?” Maher added. “Now you do sound like Hitler. And recently, he talked about them holding unacceptable views.”

Who’s a threat?

James Freeman:

Pundits have widely interpreted former President George W. Bush’s Saturday remarks to be a condemnation of participants in last January’s Capitol Riot. But recent news brings other possibilities. Last weekend Mr. Bush said at a 9/11 memorial service for the heroes of Flight 93:

And we have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within. There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.

Monday’s column noted that Byron York is among those interpreting the remarks as an endorsement of the idea “that an equivalence exists between the plane-hijacking, murderous terrorists of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Capitol rioters of Jan. 6, 2021 — a comparison that has no basis in fact but has done much to sour the national debate.”

Reader Paul Goldbeck responds:

It struck me that those Bush noted as destroying things in his speech could have included Antifa and others as well as the Capitol rioters. What did I miss?

This column asked Bush spokesman Freddy Ford to whom President Bush was referring when he talked about “violent extremists at home” on Saturday. Mr. Ford responds via email:

9/11

Sept. 11, 2001 started out as a beautiful day, in Wisconsin, New York City and Washington, D.C.

I remember almost everything about the entire day. Sept. 11, 2001 is to my generation what Nov. 22, 1963 was to my parents and Dec. 7, 1941 was to my grandparents.

I had dropped off our oldest son at Ripon Children’s Learning Center. As I was coming out, the mother of one of his group told me to find a good radio station; she had heard as she was getting out with her son that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

I got in my car and turned it on in time to hear, seemingly live, a plane hit the WTC. But it wasn’t the first plane, it was the second plane hitting the other tower.

As you can imagine, my drive to Fond du Lac took unusually long that day. I tried to call Mrs. Presteblog, who was working at Ripon College, but she didn’t answer because she was in a meeting. I had been at Marian University as their PR director for just a couple months, so I didn’t know for sure who the media might want to talk to, but once I got there I found a couple professors and called KFIZ and WFDL in Fond du Lac and set up live interviews.

The entire day was like reading a novel, except that there was no novel to put down and no nightmare from which to wake up. A third plane hit the Pentagon? A fourth plane crashed somewhere else? The government was grounding every plane in the country and closing every airport?

I had a TV in my office, and later that morning I heard that one of the towers had collapsed. So as I was talking to my wife on the phone, NBC showed a tower collapsing, and I assumed that was video of the first tower collapse. But it wasn’t; it was the second tower collapse, and that was the second time that replay-but-it’s-not thing had happened that day.

Marian’s president and my boss (a native of a Queens neighborhood who grew up with many firefighter and police officer families, and who by the way had a personality similar to Rudy Giuliani) had a brief discussion about whether or not to cancel afternoon or evening classes, but they decided (correctly) to hold classes as scheduled. The obvious reasons were (1) that we had more than 1,000 students on campus, and what were they going to do if they didn’t have classes, and (2) it was certainly more appropriate to have our professors leading a discussion over what had happened than anything else that could have been done.

I was at Marian until after 7 p.m. I’m sure Marian had a memorial service, but I don’t remember it. While I was in Fond du Lac, our church was having a memorial service with our new rector (who hadn’t officially started yet) and our interim priest. I was in a long line at a gas station, getting gas because the yellow low fuel light on my car was on, not because of panic over gas prices, although I recall that one Fond du Lac gas station had increased their prices that day to the ridiculous $2.299 per gallon. (I think my gas was around $1.50 a gallon that day.)

Two things I remember about that specific day: It was an absolutely spectacular day. But when the sun set, it seemed really, really dark, as if there was no light at all outside, from stars, streetlights or anything else.

For the next few days, since our son was at the TV-watching age, we would watch the ongoing 9/11 coverage in our kitchen while Michael was watching the 1-year-old-appropriate stuff or videos in our living room. That Sunday, one of the people who was at church was Adrian Karsten of ESPN. He was supposed to be at a football game working for ESPN, of course, but there was no college football Saturday (though high school football was played that Friday night), and there was no NFL football Sunday. Our organist played “God Bless America” after Mass, and I recall Adrian clapping with tears down his face; I believe he knew some people who had died or been injured.

Later that day was Marian’s Heritage Festival of the Arts. We had record attendance since there was nothing going on, it was another beautiful day, and I’m guessing after five consecutive days of nonstop 9/11 coverage, people wanted to get out of their houses.

In the 20 years since then, a comment of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has stuck in my head. He was asked a year or so later whether the U.S. was more or less safe since 9/11, and I believe his answer was that we were more safe because we knew more than on Sept. 10, 2001. That and the fact that we haven’t been subject to another major terrorist attack since then is the good news.

Osama bin Laden (who I hope is enjoying Na’ar, Islam’s hell) and others in Al Qaeda apparently thought that the U.S. (despite the fact that citizens from more than 90 countries died on 9/11) would be intimidated by the 9/11 attacks and cower on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, allowing Al Qaeda to operate with impunity in the Middle East and elsewhere. (Bin Laden is no longer available for comment.) If you asked an American who paid even the slightest attention to world affairs where a terrorist attack would be most likely before 9/11, that American would have replied either “New York,” the world’s financial capital, or “Washington,” the center of the government that dominates the free world. A terrorist attack farther into the U.S., even in a much smaller area than New York or Washington, would have delivered a more chilling message, that nowhere in the U.S. was safe. Al Qaeda didn’t think  to do that, or couldn’t do that. The rest of the Middle East also did not turn on the U.S. or on Israel (more so than already is the case with Israel), as bin Laden apparently expected.

The bad news is all of the other changes that have taken place that are not for the better. Bloomberg Businessweek asks:

So was it worth it? Has the money spent by the U.S. to protect itself from terrorism been a sound investment? If the benchmark is the absence of another attack on the American homeland, then the answer is indisputably yes. For the first few years after Sept. 11, there was political near-unanimity that this was all that mattered. In 2005, after the bombings of the London subway system, President Bush sought to reassure Americans by declaring that “we’re spending unprecedented resources to protect our nation.” Any expenditure in the name of fighting terrorism was justified.

A decade later, though, it’s clear this approach is no longer sustainable. Even if the U.S. is a safer nation than it was on Sept. 11, it’s a stretch to say that it’s a stronger one. And in retrospect, the threat posed by terrorism may have been significantly less daunting than Western publics and policymakers imagined it to be. …

Politicians and pundits frequently said that al Qaeda posed an “existential threat” to the U.S. But governments can’t defend against existential threats—they can only overspend against them. And national intelligence was very late in understanding al Qaeda’s true capabilities. At its peak, al Qaeda’s ranks of hardened operatives numbered in the low hundreds—and that was before the U.S. and its allies launched a global military campaign to dismantle the network. “We made some bad assumptions right after Sept. 11 that shaped how we approached the war on terror,” says Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation. “We thought al Qaeda would run over the Middle East—they were going to take over governments and control armies. In hindsight, it’s clear that was never going to be the case. Al Qaeda was not as good as we gave them credit for.”

Yet for a decade, the government’s approach to counterterrorism has been premised in part on the idea that not only would al Qaeda attack inside the U.S. again, but its next strike would be even bigger—possibly involving unconventional weapons or even a nuclear bomb. Washington has appropriated tens of billions trying to protect against every conceivable kind of attack, no matter the scale or likelihood. To cite one example, the U.S. spends $1 billion a year to defend against domestic attacks involving improvised-explosive devices, the makeshift bombs favored by insurgents in Afghanistan. “In hindsight, the idea that post-Sept. 11 terrorism was different from pre-9/11 terrorism was wrong,” says Brian A. Jackson, a senior physical scientist at RAND. “If you honestly believed the followup to 9/11 would be a nuclear weapon, then for intellectual consistency you had to say, ‘We’ve got to prevent everything.’ We pushed for perfection, and in counterterrorism, that runs up the tab pretty fast.”

Nowhere has that profligacy been more evident than in the area of homeland security. “Things done in haste are not done particularly well,” says Jackson. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross writes in his new book, Bin Laden’s Legacy, the creation of a homeland security apparatus has been marked by waste, bureaucracy, and cost overruns. Gartenstein-Ross cites the Transportation Security Agency’s rush to hire 60,000 airport screeners after Sept. 11, which was originally budgeted at $104 million; in the end it cost the government $867 million. The homeland security budget has also proved to be a pork barrel bonanza: In perhaps the most egregious example, the Kentucky Charitable Gaming Dept. received $36,000 to prevent terrorists from raising money at bingo halls. “If you look at the past decade and what it’s cost us, I’d say the rate of return on investment has been poor,” Gartenstein-Ross says.

Of course, much of that analysis has the 20/20 vision of hindsight. It is interesting to note as well that, for all the campaign rhetoric from candidate Barack Obama that we needed to change our foreign policy approach, president Obama changed almost nothing, including our Afghanistan and Iraq involvements. It is also interesting to note that the supposed change away from President George W. Bush’s us-or-them foreign policy approach hasn’t changed the world’s view, including particularly the Middle East’s view, of the U.S. Someone years from now will have to determine whether homeland security, military and intelligence improvements prevented Al Qaeda from another 9/11 attack, or if Al Qaeda wasn’t capable of more than just one 9/11-style U.S. attack.

Hindsight makes one realize how much of the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented or at least their worst effects lessened. One year after 9/11, the New York Times book 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers points out that eight years after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, New York City firefighters and police officers still could not communicate with each other, which led to most of the police and fire deaths in the WTC collapses. Even worse, the book revealed that the buildings did not meet New York City fire codes when they were designed because they didn’t have to, since they were under the jurisdiction of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. And more than one account shows that, had certain people at the FBI and elsewhere been listened to by their bosses, the 9/11 attacks wouldn’t have caught our intelligence community dumbfounded. (It does not speak well of our government to note that no one appears to have paid any kind of political price for the 9/11 attacks.)

I think, as Bloomberg BusinessWeek argued, our approach to homeland security (a term I loathe) has overdone much and missed other threats. Our approach to airline security — which really seems like the old error of generals’ fighting the previous war — has made air travel worse but not safer. (Unless you truly believe that 84-year-old women and babies are terrorist threats.) The incontrovertible fact is that every 9/11 hijacker fit into one gender, one ethnic group and a similar age range. Only two reasons exist to not profile airline travelers — political correctness and the assumption that anyone is capable of hijacking an airplane, killing the pilots and flying it into a skyscraper or important national building. Meanwhile, while the U.S. spends about $1 billion each year trying to prevent Improvised Explosive Device attacks, what is this country doing about something that would be even more disruptive, yet potentially easier to do — an Electromagnetic Pulse attack, which would fry every computer within the range of the device?

We have at least started to take steps like drilling our own continent’s oil and developing every potential source of electric power, ecofriendly or not, to make us less dependent on Middle East oil. (The Middle East, by the way, supplies only one-fourth of our imported oil. We can become less dependent on Middle East oil; we cannot become less dependent on energy.) But the government’s response to 9/11 has followed like B follows A the approach our culture has taken to risk of any sort, as if covering ourselves in bubblewrap, or even better cowering in our homes, will make the bogeyman go away. Are we really safer because of the Patriot Act?

American politics was quite nasty in the 1990s. For a brief while after 9/11, we had impossible-to-imagine moments like this:

And then within the following year, the political beatings resumed. Bush’s statement, “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy,” was deliberately misconstrued as Bush saying that Americans should go out and shop. Americans were exhorted to sacrifice for a war unlike any war we’ve ever faced by those who wouldn’t have to deal with the sacrifices of, for instance, gas prices far beyond $5 per gallon, or mandatory national service (a bad idea that rears its ugly head in times of anything approaching national crisis), or substantially higher taxes.

Then again, none of this should be a surprise. Other parts of the world hate Americans because we are more economically and politically free than most of the world. We have graduated from using those of different skin color from the majority as slaves, and we have progressed beyond assigning different societal rights to each gender. We tolerate different political views and religions. To the extent the 9/11 masterminds could be considered Muslims at all, they supported — and radical Muslims support — none of the values that are based on our certain inalienable rights. The war between our world, flawed though it is, and a world based on sharia law is a war we had better win.

And winning that war does not include withdrawal. Whether or not Donald Trump was right about leaving Afghanistan, Joe Biden screwed up the withdrawal so badly that everyone with memory compared it to our withdrawing from South Vietnam. The obviously incomplete vetting of Afghan refugees, who are now at Fort McCoy, and our leaving billions of dollars of our military equipment in Afghanistan, guarantees will be back, and more American soldiers, and perhaps non-soldiers, will die.

In one important sense, 9/11 changed us less than it revealed us. America can be both deeply flawed and a special place, because human beings are both deeply flawed and nonetheless special in God’s eyes. Jesus Christ is quoted in Luke 12:48 as saying that “to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” As much as Americans don’t want to be the policeman of the world, or the nation most responsible for protecting freedom worldwide, there it is.

The return of Blame America First

Charles C.W. Cooke:

You can tell a Democrat is president, because we’re starting to see pieces blaming “us” for his mistakes. In The Atlantic a couple of weeks ago, Tom Nichols wrote that “Afghanistan Is Your Fault.” “American citizens,” Nichols suggested, “will separate into their usual camps and identify all of the obvious causes and culprits except for one: themselves.” Today, Max Boot makes the same argument in the Post. “Who’s to blame for the deaths of 13 service members in Kabul?” he asks. Answer: “We all are.”

This is of a piece with the tendency of journalists and historians to start muttering about how the presidency is “too big for one man” when the bad president in question is a Democrat. Under these terms, Republicans just aren’t up to the job, while Democrats are the victims of design or modernity or of the public being feckless. Last year, coronavirus was Trump’s fault. Now, it’s the fault of Republican governors and the unvaccinated (well, only some of the unvaccinated).

Still, this has happened pretty quickly with Joe Biden. Usually, it takes a couple of years before the press starts to sound like a bunch of hippies sitting around a fire saying, “you know, in a sense, you’re me and I’m you, and all of us are we — and so when the president makes a mistake, it’s really, like, the universe making a mistake, isn’t it? And, y’know, we’re in the universe, so we are the presidency. That’s democracy, man.”

Something Biden knows nothing about

Rich Lowry:

Honor has always had an enormous influence on human affairs and the conduct of governments — until, evidently, the advent of President Joe Biden in the year 2021.

There’s no perspective from which his exit from Afghanistan looks good. But abstracting it from any considerations of honor at least takes some of the sting out of a deeply humiliating episode that would have been considered intolerable throughout most of our nation’s history.

It is dishonorable — even if you believe we had to get out — to throw away what we had sacrificed for in Afghanistan in this grotesquely reckless manner.

It is dishonorable to criticize our erstwhile Afghan friends, especially after we pulled the rug out from under them, and kowtow to our current Afghan enemies.

It is dishonorable to do things we told people repeatedly that we wouldn’t.

It is dishonorable to abandon Afghan allies who put it all on the line for us and believed that, if the worst came, we would get them out.

It is especially dishonorable, unfathomably so, to leave Americans behind enemy lines, a potentiality that the administration has been trying to prepare the American public for in recent days (and hopefully somehow won’t come to pass).

A counterexample that reflects a more traditional American approach is President Teddy Roosevelt’s famous handling of the Perdicaris Affair in 1904, which involved the massive deployment of naval firepower over the kidnapping of one American in a faraway land of which we knew nothing.

Roosevelt’s reflexive bellicosity can seem atavistic at a time when national honor has lost a lot of its purchase.

James Bowman, who wrote a book years ago called Honor: A History, argued that the declining influence of honor in our time is a function of the enormous destructiveness of modern warfare and the feminist and psychotherapeutic reactions to it.

But it hasn’t disappeared, and never will. “Honor is the name of one category of concerns and motives that has dominated relations among peoples and states since antiquity,” the great historian and classicist Donald Kagan once noted. “Although concepts of what is honorable and dishonorable can vary over time and place, sometimes superficially and sometimes deeply, and although other people’s ideas of honor, especially those of an earlier time, can seem silly or outmoded, such surface variations often conceal a fundamental similarity or even identity.”

As for TR, his response to the Perdicaris kidnapping combined a sense of outraged honor at the mistreatment of one American with a prudent view of what military force really could achieve. It added up to a successful foray in coercive diplomacy.

Both Jerry Hendrix in his book Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy and Edmund Morris in his biography of TR have good accounts of the episode. Ion Perdicaris was a 64-year-old expat who lived in Tangier. He was a prominent figure in the English-speaking community in the Moroccan town.

The sultan of Morocco had limited control over the country, with bandits running loose in outlying areas, especially the charismatic Moulay Ahmed el Raisuli.

Raisuli had been jailed for several years and emerged from imprisonment bent on revenge against his personal and political enemies. He also ran a robust business in kidnapping Westerners.

The brigand showed up at the villa of Perdicaris on an evening in May 1904, and made off with him and his son-in-law, who was a British subject.

Samuel Rene Gummeré, our consul general in Tangier, learned of the kidnapping immediately and wired Washington about what he believed was the “immense importance to have a war vessel here” to show that the U.S. understood the “gravity” of the situation.

TR didn’t need persuading — he sent a squadron as fast as it could arrive, and then more firepower on top of that. The ships began to show up at Tangier about two weeks later, firing salutes in the harbor as they arrived.

The idea was to pressure the sultan to give Raisuli what he wanted to cough up Perdicaris. A rescue attempt was thought too likely to result in the murder of the captives. Raisuli had killed before and in fact the bandits slit the throat of one messenger from the sultan bearing an unwelcome message during the course of negotiations.

Raisuli welcomed the arrival of the American ships. He told Perdicaris that he thought they would put pressure on the sultan to play ball: “The presence of these vessels may result in his acceding to my demands, and then you will be able to return to your friends.”

Secretary of State John Hay cabled Gummeré: “President wishes everything possible done to secure the release of Perdicaris. He wishes it clearly understood that if Perdicaris is murdered, this government will demand the life of the murderer….You are to avoid in all your official action anything which may be regarded as an encouragement to brigandage or blackmail.”

Raisuli made extravagant demands of the government, including $70,000 for himself, control of the territory where he was operating, and a prisoner release.

He got most of what he wanted, and then increased his demands.

Gummeré fumed that the hot-and-cold negotiations were putting the U.S. in an “undignified and humiliating” position. He wanted to give the Moroccans an ultimatum demanding an indemnity for every day the negotiations dragged and to threaten to send Marines ashore to seize the customs house in Tangier.

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