Monday, June 16, 2014

Where is Gore?

I remember, during the depths of Watergate, a remark made by the novelist Gore Vidal. Commenting on the fact that some people were still defending Richard Nixon despite all the evidence of his paranoia and perfidy, Vidal said: Richard Nixon could go on national television and strangle his wife Pat to death, and there would be some people who would say, 'No, no... he didn't strangle her; she fainted and he was holding her up by her neck.'

I mention this because I find myself wondering why there is still anyone who will defend Barack Obama at this point in his presidency. And yet, despite all the evidence of his incompetence and the corruption and ineptitude of his administration, there are still those, especially in the mainstream media, who leap to his defense with each unfolding crisis and scandal. A commentator yesterday was talking about how feckless, weak, ineffectual and corrupt is the prime minister of Iraq. He might as well have been talking about the President of the United States.

Just consider the events of the past few weeks. The Veterans Administration has erupted in a scandal exposed by whistle-blowers whose consciences no longer permitted them to watch veterans die while VA hospital bureaucrats lied, falsified reports and collected performance bonuses. Now, cleaning up the mess at the VA was an issue on which Mr. Obama ran in his first campaign, and, five and a half years later, nothing has been done. Five leading Taliban commanders have been released in exchange for one American soldier, which the president trumpeted in a Rose Garden ceremony, and then, when the facts began to emerge about both the soldier and the terrorists, he attempted a whole series of lies to try to cover up the blunder. We are now witnessing the collapse of the country of Iraq, after 4500 American deaths and a trillion dollars of expense, and there are currently some 60,000 illegal immigrant children being warehoused on the border in a humanitarian crisis of our own making, and what did the president do? He went to California to raise funds and play golf (yes, yet another golfing vacation in the face of crises).

(On the question of the media response to Obama's blunders, I should point out that while the ISIS terror group had occupied about a third of Iraq, had taken its second largest city (population two million) and was driving on Baghdad, and while every other news source, reporter and expert was predicting the collapse of Iraq, MSNBC characterized the situation as "an outburst of insurgency" in which "a few towns had been taken" by the terrorists. Why this marginalizing and minimizing of the situation? Because MSNBC is nothing but a mouthpiece for the Obama Administration, and the facts messily contradicted the president's recent statements to the effect that terrorism was in decline, Al Quaeda had been defeated and the world has never been safer or more free from violence. This is shameful behavior on the part of NBC, the exact opposite of the principle enshrined by the Founders in the idea of a free press.)

And now what has happened? In the Congress's attempt to get, finally, to the bottom of the IRS scandal, that agency has reported that critical emails of Lois Lerner, whose continued silence stands at the center of the scandal, have been lost. Two years worth of emails! Richard Nixon "lost" eighteen minutes of tape and was impeached for it, but Obama's agents lose two years worth of documents, and the mainstream media registers barely a burp.

I am reminded of the fact that the filmmaker Michael Moore literally counted down the minutes that President Bush hesitated after being informed of the 9/11 attack. Yet Barack Obama was absent for eight hours during the Benghazi attack, and to this day we do not know where he was and what he was doing while four Americans were fighting and dying at their posts. Not deserting their posts, mind you, but manning them and defending them to their deaths. That is why it struck me as nothing less than blasphemy when Mr. Obama tried to explain the exchange of five mass murderers for Sgt. Bergdahl on the solemn grounds that we leave no man behind. Well, he damn well left Ambassador Stephens and his men behind in Benghazi. And what did the president do when at last he surfaced the next morning? He went to Las Vegas for a fundraiser and, no doubt, a round of golf. I am reminded of Governor Christie's question: What are we paying him for? Mr. Obama has yet to grasp the fact that he was elected as commander-in-chief, not fund raiser-in-chief or duffer-in-chief.

I lived through the depths of Watergate and remember those times vividly. The night of the Saturday Night Massacre, when the U.S. reached its gravest Constitutional crisis since the Civil War, we were all gathered around the television in a state of disbelief and fear. Yes, fear, since we knew that Richard Nixon, at that moment, was capable of anything. I am reaching that same state of fear now as I watch these scandals and crises unfold, and observe the implacable unwillingness of the mainstream media to acknowledge them for what they are: Irrefutable proof of the dishonesty, hypocrisy and dangerous ineptitude of this administration. The only difference between this time and Watergate is that Richard Nixon was capable of anything, while Barack Obama seems capable of nothing. That fact alone may yet save us.

I have written before that I have never in my lifetime seen such a leadership vacuum at the top of the American government as I am witnessing now. And that vacuum, like some horrible black hole of incompetence and scandal, seems to be growing every day, becoming denser and sucking more and more of our liberty and security into its gravitational maw. Not long ago, the Belgian people could not gather themselves sufficiently to choose a prime minister, and for some months the country carried on without one. At that time, I wondered aloud how long the United States could function without a president. We now have the answer: five and a half years. But the time has run out, and even as we watch the collapse of the Iraqi regime which we sacrificed so much to establish, we are also witnessing the collapse of the Obama Administration, which will also cost us, and the rest of the world, dearly before it is complete.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Bowe Perplex

I am watching the unfolding of the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with some interest. We all welcome his liberation from captivity with the Taliban; however, there are three rather thorny aspects to the story, two of which, at least, have yet to be played out.

One is, of course, the testimony of his fellow soldiers that the sergeant willingly walked away from his guard post and delivered himself to the Taliban, having become disillusioned, or as he put it, disgusted, with America's role in Afghanistan. These fellow soldiers go on to point out that at least six of the sergeant's colleagues were killed in the attempt to rescue him. However, every combat situation is liable to be confused, and sometimes it is impossible to determine exactly what happened. The truth of all this remains to be seen, though I note that the mainstream media has been careful to distance itself from claims that the sergeant is a hero, pending, I suppose, the determination of whether he was, in fact, a deserter. It would be embarrassing, to say the least, if they trumpeted his heroism, only to see him eventually court-martialed for desertion or worse. (It is interesting to note that on this point, Secretary of Defense Hagel has refused comment.) But on these questions, all of us must wait for answers, and hope that they are forthcoming from the administration, which probably saw the sergeant's release as a no-lose situation, especially in light of the current VA scandal.

The second aspect to this story, however, is not in doubt: The president broke the law in negotiating for the sergeant's release in exchange for terrorist leaders held at Guantanamo, without first notifying Congress. Whatever may prove true of Sgt. Bergdahl's capture by the Taliban, the fact seems clear that, once again, this administration has shown its willingness to break the law when it sees fit to do so, and when it believes it can get away with it under cover from the media. I do not know how many times I have had to write on this blog about Mr. Obama violating the law and his oath of office, as he did, for example, when he unilaterally assumed the authority to condemn American citizens to death because of alleged terrorist associations, or as he continues to rewrite the health care law every few weeks to try to stave off its worst effects and failures. When he assumed office, he laid his hand on the Bible and swore to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. He apparently added under his breath: Unless I disagree with them.

Now, Abraham Lincoln, whom I regard as the greatest of all American presidents, often intervened to grant pardons to young Union soldiers who had been condemned to death for desertion or falling asleep at their posts. Usually, he freed them with the understanding that they would return to their regiments and serve honorably for the duration of the war. He did this for two reasons: first, because he was a compassionate man, and second, because he had the authority to do so, given the power of the pardon. But even if you assume that President Obama shares Lincoln's compassion for soldiers, you cannot claim that he also has the power to do what he has done. The law is clear: He was required to notify Congress thirty days in advance of any such negotiation requiring the release of known terrorists. (If you want to argue that notifying Congress might have resulted in a leak that would have thwarted the affair, then you are simply echoing Obama's own logic; namely, that I will break the law on the grounds that obeying it might interfere with what I am doing. That Nixonian logic would be a slick defense for any criminal to offer in court.)

And here is the third aspect of this matter, which also remains unresolved: Will the release of five dangerous international terrorists, who have already shown their eagerness to murder Americans, have the consequence that we might well suspect it will? Will these men, once freed, resume their fanatical jihad against the people of this nation? I think the answer is clear: They will, the instant they have the ability to do so. And so we must ask ourselves: Has the Obama Administration purchased the life of one man, who may have voluntarily defected to the Taliban, at the cost of the lives of other Americans in the future? I fear that the answer may be Yes.

(Of course, if Sgt. Bergdahl's colleagues are correct, and he did desert to the enemy, then the irony of all this may be that we will see him freed from the Taliban only to be sentenced to prison in this country. That, however, I cannot imagine the administration will allow: To borrow a line from the novel Catch 22: He can either be a black eye or a feather in our cap. And to that end, it seems that several members of the sergeant's platoon have already been required to sign oaths not to discuss the matter.)

Whatever proves to be the case, the release of Sgt. Bergdahl thus presents us with a difficult perplex: Is it wise to trade the lives of captured soldiers for the freedom of captured terrorists? But more importantly: Should we excuse lawbreaking by the President of the United States in the name of a purported compassion?

Again, Lincoln provides the answer. In 1864, he acceded to General Grant's request to suspend the prisoner of war exchange with the Confederacy, which had been ongoing since the start of the war. Grant pointed out that Union prisoners, once freed, were released from the service, while Confederates were immediately returned to the fighting. This, Grant argued, only served to prolong the war, providing the Rebels with troops to make up for those they had lost, and whose loss they could not afford. Suspending the exchange was a difficult decision for Lincoln, but he bowed to Grant's logic and did so. The result was that over 50,000 men died in the camps as the result of starvation, disease, abuse and neglect. Thus, Lincoln made the decision that it was not justifiable to exchange our soldiers for those of the enemy, since that would only enable and encourage them to continue the fight.

Of course, Mr. Obama, who once was mystifyingly compared to Lincoln, does not see this. If it is true that Sgt. Bergdahl defected to the Taliban, for whatever reasons, and that six of his fellow soldiers died trying to recover him, and that more Americans will be murdered by the terrorist lunatics he has freed, then he and the rest of us may have cause to regret this release. But the overriding question remains that of presidential lawlessness, for that precedent will come back to haunt us in future. A commentator observed recently that Barack Obama is the kind of president that Richard Nixon dreamed of being. I am afraid he may be right.