Cynical Synapse

Wed, 21 Sep 2011

Obama Photobombs President of Mongolia

Filed under: Behavior, Diplomacy, Good job, President — cynicalsynapse @ 7:51 pm

Obama photobombs the President of Mongolia

Way to go, Barack! This was just too amazing—and funny—to pass up! Why would US Pres. Obama wave in a picture like this in the first place?

Mongolia might not be a major player on the world political stage. Still, any bets on political fallout, nonetheless?


Two-Faced, Schizophrenic Nature of US Foreign Policy

Filed under: Allies, Arab states, Diplomacy, Hypocrits, Israel, Libyan War, Middle East, Oil, Palestine, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 1:50 am


No wonder allies and enemies alike are confused by US foreign policy. We talk a good game, but we often fail to follow through. It seems we’re not very good at walking the talk; we don’t do as we say. Sometimes, in our arrogance, US motives are misperceived.

Consider the similarities and differences between Libya, where the US supported intervention, and Syria, where the US simply huffed and puffed, doing nothing. Syria is largely Arabic and Muslim; Libya is even more so. Syria is in the Middle East while Libya is in Africa. France and England have considerable interests in Libyan oil, but not in Syria. When the rebellion began in Libya, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—mostly France and Britain—decided civilians needed protection from the regime’s heavy-handed response to the uprising. I wonder at what point did Libya cease being a sovereign state so such foreign military intervention became legitimate. Not that I’m a Qaddafi supporter, but the rule and application of law is not supposed to be just a matter of convenience.

Syrian police beat protestors

With Syria, the regime also responded with military force against rebelling civilians. The result has been at least 2,700 Syrians killed and probably double that as refugees. From NATO? Sanctions and finger-wagging.

The US praised the Arab Spring, the regime change it brought in Egypt and Libya, and the freedom and democracy it harkens. Why doesn’t this apply to the Palestinians? The US has long supported a two state solution between Israel and Palestine. I’m a slow learner, but recently it dawned on me, why do the Palestinians need Israel’s permission to become a sovereign state? Maybe the Palestinians realized the same thing and that’s why they’re going to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and Security Council.

West Bank settlements

As for Israel’s opposition to Palestine’s bid for statehood, it should be obvious. A sovereign Palestinian state means Israel can’t invade at any whim or fancy, it can’t build settlements wherever, and it the Israeli state has to treat a Palestinian state as an equal. Even if Palestinian statehood is in Israel’s long term interests, it is happy being the dominant party in the ongoing feud.

If When they make their case before the UN Security Council, the Obama Administration intends to veto Palestinian statehood. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks about a two-state solution, I have to agree the US official position is on a collision course for disaster.

We are set to squander whatever remaining goodwill we have in the region at a crucial time, while demonstrating at the same time that we are incapable of being even-handed mediators in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As one European diplomat put it the other day “it’s almost as though the U.S. wants to be seen as being isolated with Israel.”

Israeli security check

When you consider Israeli raids, security checks, and property usurpation, it seems to me Israel took its lessons from Nazi Germany. Only paranoid states take national security to totalitarian and arbitrary extremes. And, we wonder why Muslims distrust us.

Previously on Israel and Palestine:

Sat, 06 Aug 2011

Seriously? North Korea Heads Non-proliferation Effort

fox done guarding the henhouse

Talk about the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse. North Korea assumed the presidency of the Conference on Disarmament today. The presidency rotates alphabetically among the 65 participating countries for 4-week terms. Ri Jang Gon—deputy to North Korean Ambassador to the UN in Geneva So Se Pyong, now chairing the Conference—had this to say to the body:

The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] remains consistent in its support for total and complete elimination of nuclear weapons in the world and is fully committed to this goal.

Really? North Korea has proven that it’s not trustworthy. They are, obviously, actively pursuing nuclear weapons capabilities, to include missile delivery systems.

Conference on Disarmament

As the Council on Disarmament plenary session opened, Canada boycotted the session and no less than 28 groups protested. Not surprisingly, the North Koreans criticized Canada’s boycott. But, as U.N. Watch’s director Hillel Neuer said:

Allowing an international outlaw to oversee international arms control efforts is just plain wrong. North Korea is a ruthless regime that menaces its neighbors and starves its own people, and should not be granted the propaganda coup of heading a world body dedicated to peace.

While the propaganda point certainly has merit, this is really mostly meaningless. You see, it seems it’s time to recognize North Korea is part of the nuclear club.

sign not in use

It’s apparent the Conference on Disarmament hasn’t done anything substantive for years, maybe even a decade. Perhaps, as the UN considers budget cuts, they UN should consider eliminating the Conference on Disarmament.

Mon, 18 Jul 2011

Hugo Chavez Dissess His Own Healthcare System

Filed under: Diplomacy, Hugo Chavez, Hypocrits, Medicine — cynicalsynapse @ 5:09 am

chavez feeling ill

Apparently, Venezuelan Dictator—er, President—Hugo Chavez doesn’t trust healthcare in his own country. Who can blame him after the wreck Chavez made of the Venezuelan economy. So, perhaps at Castro’s behest, Hugo’s gone to Cuba for chemotherapy. On top of admitting his own country’s healthcare is anadequate, Chavez essentially gave Brazil the bird, turning down treatment in Sao Paolo.

For what may be the first time, Chavez delegated some of his presidential powers to the Vice President Elias Jaua and Planning and Finance Minister Jorge Giordani. Jaua will handle budget transfers to government ministries, presidential commissions, any approved expropriations of businesses, and other budget-related responsibilities. Obviously the pace of socialist co-option of private property must continue unabated during Hugo’s absence. Budget shortfalls and certain tax exemptions will get Giordini’s attention.

Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Raul Castro

Chavez, who has held power in Venezuela for 12 years, abruptly flew to Cuba for surgery in late June. The mysterious illness was confirmed as cancer, most likely colon cancer. In an effort to allay concerns about not yielding all power to Jaua, Chavez gave these upbeat remarks on state TV Saturday:

It’s not time to die. It’s time to live. I’m saying goodbye for some days, but in a deeper sense I’m not saying goodbye. … I’ll be attentive every day, every hour, every minute to internal events and I’ll be in permanent contact.

I despise Hugo Chavez and denounce his politics. I refuse to buy gasoline from Citgo because it’s Venezuelan- (read Chavez-) owned. Still, I hope his treatment goes well. Nonetheless, it’s time for the US to consider what they can do to shape what will likely be a chaotic power vacuum in Venezuela if Chavez dies suddenly. I don’t think Hillary Clinton even has her eye on that ball.

Previously on Hugo Chavez:

Mon, 14 Feb 2011

US Position on Egyptian Events Dorked Up

Filed under: Allies, Diplomacy, Government, Indecision, Middle East, National security, Politics, President — cynicalsynapse @ 7:49 pm

IHOP pancake revolution

Official US reactions to events in Egypt have been adolescent and inconsistent at best. During the campaign, I was on my way to the airport after a conference in DC. A talk show was on the radio in the cab and the remark was made Barack “Obama’s foreign policy experience comes from eating at an International House of Pancakes.” My main issue with candidate Obama was experience. He was a first term US Senator; that doesn’t make you presidential candidate material in my book. According to Niall Ferguson:

President Obama is one of the least experienced men, in terms of foreign policy, ever to occupy the White House. And, yet, he has advisors around him who are, frankly, second, if not third, rate.

On top of that, after winning the election, Obama chose the equally inexperienced Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. As for events in Egypt, the two have not been in synch and it becomes evident the US has no clear policy or objective concerning governance in Egypt.

Praying to Mecca

Some argue Mubarek’s abdication and the Army’s sole rule for the next six months, including disolving the Parliament and suspending Egypt’s Constitution, represent submission to the will of the people. Really? Military rule means victory for democracy? At the opposite end of the spectrum, Egypt could become an Islamic state.

The US enjoyed special privileges with Egypt, including priority use of the Suez Canal. Those are all at risk now, and the implications for our national security cannot be overstated. Lack of a focused, informed, long range Middle East policy could now have significant, long-term negative consequences.

Sun, 13 Feb 2011

What’s Next for Egypt?

Filed under: Allies, Business, Diplomacy, Government, Middle East, National security, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 10:20 pm

Egyptian protests

While hundreds of thousands of Egyptians celebrated Hosni Mubarek’s ouster as president, others were more skeptical. Numbering a few hundred, they stay in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of demonstrations that forced Mubarek’s resignation. They want a civilian-led interim government and an end to emergency laws. Amr Shalkami said:

The rest of the revolution is not complete. Since the beginning of the revolution we have trusted our army but if we leave the square our revolution will die. We must keep the revolution alive so that we get the 100% freedom we are asking for.

Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces promised democracy, saying the military will:

guarantee the peaceful transition of power in the framework of a free, democratic system which allows an elected, civilian power to govern the country to build a democratic, free state…The Arab Republic of Egypt is committed to all regional and international obligations and treaties.

Egyptian military near Tahrir Square

It’s ambiguous what the Egyptian populace wants. It becomes clear, however, the Egyptian military is pro-Western and wants to honor the Camp David Accords. A democratic Egypt that honors existing agreements is an ideal situation.

Apparently, Defense Minister and head of the military Supreme Council, Field Marshal Muhammed Hussein Tantawi, said “The army is not an alternative to the authority of the demands of the people.”

Field Marshal Muhammed Hussein Tantawi

Nonetheless, Field Marshal Tantawi leads the interim government in Egypt. The Egyptian military confirmed this in Communique 5. The document dismisses the parliament and suspends the civil government and parliament (with the Military Supreme Coucil in charge) until new elections.

Egyptian Ambassador to the US, Sameh Shoukry, said Egypt foresees maintaining close ties with the US.

These issues are driven by mutual interest, by Egyptian interest and the interest remains a close association to the United States.

Previously on Egypt:

Thu, 03 Feb 2011

Armagedden in Egypt?

Protests in Cairo

I usually prefer to post my own opinions on contemporary topics. Sometimes, however, a fellow blogger’s post is so thorough or recommendable that it bears repeating rather than just referencing. From Dewey from Detroit:

As Woody Allen put it: “More than at any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Egypt is like that: an enigma, wrapped in a conundrum, inside a problem. Even if you don’t subscribe to the “everything is gray” school of moral relativity, life often presents complex dilemmas with no ideal choice.

Choosing between the lesser of two evils makes us decidedly uncomfortable, especially if by so choosing we shut off access to the other option. It’s arrogant to assume that we can always determine the optimal solution in tricky situations like Cairo’s current uprising. Although generally we come down on the side of our allies, if they have disregarded our demand for reforms – first made and ignored in the Bush administration – despite the injection of huge sums of foreign aid to support their economy, it renders the relationship precarious. But throwing them overboard doesn’t exactly sent the right message to our other allies, current and potential, either.

The primary reason there is no optimal solution in this political crisis is because the entire Middle East – minus Israel – operates with its right foot planted in the 21st century and its left mired in the 13th. When the majority of your population adheres to a religion that still believes women are chattel, Jews are dogs and jihad is the directive of your supreme commander, Jeffersonian democracy is not really an option.

It’s always tricky for the U.S. when the citizens revolt against a totalitarian regime. Our moral compass tells us we should support such uprisings and do what we can to ensure their success (unless they belong to a subversive organization like the Tea Party). But when all of the governments in the region – including Iraq – are totalitarian and likely to remain that way, the question we must ask ourselves is, which form of totalitarianism do we care to support?

We’re not a fan on any form of authoritarian state, including Mubarak’s, where poverty and corruption are simply a given outcome of the power structure. Yet history tells us that Islamic Extremism loves a power vacuum, and more likely than not will be swept in to fill it in the event of the collapse of the Mubarak government. Good conscience dictates we search long and hard before facilitating that outcome.

So far it appears that our foreign policy, at least officially, is to stand and watch while the Egyptians make their own choice. That’s what we did last summer when the Green Revolution rose up against the theocracy of Iran. Unfortunately, in Tehran, the choice was far more clear cut, as they were already ruled by an Islamic fascist government that’s been in place pretty much since we allowed the last totalitarian regime of the Shah to fall in 1979. But at least we’re consistent.

It’s certainly hard not to sympathize with the Egyptians who are revolting. Their country is socially, economically and politically closer to the 13th century than the 21st, and with the advent of the internet, they now know that. The ruling class is wealthy and everyone else is poor. Poor beyond our comprehension and in ways that would simply not be tolerated in this country. That’s unlikely to improve under the control of another Islamic theocracy.

If the military government in Egypt is overthrown or co-opted by the Muslim Brotherhood, there will be a social transformation. along the same lines as the transformation that took place in Iran after the fall of the Shah and Lebanon after the fall of Beirut.

Poverty will not be eradicated, disease will not be eradicated, joblessness will not be eradicated and corruption will not be eradicated. But I can tell you for certain what will be eradicated: homosexuals. Just as they have been in Iran, as Ahmadinejad famously told his otherwise rapt audience at Columbia: “In Iran we don’t have that phenomenon.”

The Obama Administration has, by not insisting on changes in Mubarak’s government in the past 2 years, allowed itself to be placed in a catch 22 position: on one path stands our major Middle East ally with all his despair and utter hopelessness, on the other, the Muslim Brotherhood – and total extinction.

Choose wisely, weedhoppers.

Parting thoughts for your consideration from my Michigan Representative, Thaddeus McCotter:

America must stand with her ally Egypt to preserve an imperfect government capable of reform; and prevent a tyrannical government capable of harm.

For if Egypt is radicalized, all of the reforms sought by the Egyptian people and supported by the United States with them – including consensual and constitutional government; free elections; open and unbridled media; and Egyptian control of their natural resources – will be lost. Nascent democratic movements in the region will be co-opted and radicalized. The world’s free and open access to the Suez Canal’s vital commercial shipping lanes will be choked. And the Sinai Accord between Egypt and Israel – which must be protected as the foundation and principal example for Mideast peace – will be shredded.

Though many will be tempted to superficially interpret the Egyptian demonstrations as an uprising for populist democracy, they must recall how such similar initial views of the 1979 Iranian Revolution were belied by the mullahs’ radical jackbooted murderers, who remain bent upon grasping regional hegemony and nuclear weaponry…

This is not a nostalgic “anti-colonial uprising” from within, of all places, the land of Nassar. Right now, freedom’s radicalized enemies are subverting Egypt and other our allies.

I confess, if it were up to me to decide, I would have to come down on McCotter’s side.

Fri, 26 Nov 2010

Each North Korean Leader Gets Nuttier than the Last

Kim Jong-un with his generals

North Korea’s heir apparent hasn’t risen to power yet, but some believe Kim Jung-un behind recent North Korean saber rattling. If so, Jung-un is an even looser cannon than Kim Jong-il, his father. In any case, Pyongyang is not lieing very well. Per usual, they’re blaming South Korea and the US.

Pyongyang is certainly ratcheting up the tensions in the region. The North fired artillery at South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island twice in the last week. The first attack killed two South Korean Marines and two civilians. These events follow, by less than a week, North Korea’s unveiling of gas centrifuges at Yongbyon, their nuclear research facilities. Sanctions are obviously not working.

North Korean centrifuge plant

We know the centrifuge plant exists because Dr. Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University, and two other US scientists, were invited by the North Koreans to see it. According to Heckler, the North Koreans have installed 2,000 centrifuges. They are thumbing their noses at the West and proving they have enrichment capability.

After these latest provocations, a series that began with the North Korean sinking of ROKS Cheonan, killing 46 sailors aboard the South Korean Navy ship. In response to the shellings, the US and South Korea have scheduled military maneuvers. The US dispatched the carrier USS George Washingtion and other warships. In response, North Korea says the region is on the brink of war.

Kim Jong-il doll

Unfortunately, the US lacks a clear North Korean strategy, tending to rely on China to apply pressure on the fruitcake regime. In all likelihood, however, North Korea’s actions have Chinese approval. If not, China would slap it upside the head because of the dangers Pyongyang’s rogue actions represent to the region.

Before the Iraq War, I was more concerned about Kim Jong-il than I ever was about Saddam Hussein. And I still am. Now, with proven nuclear capability, Pyongyang must be shut down. China’s not going to stop North Korea. Sending the carrier task force to the South China Sea is a good starting show of force. The US should build up forces in South Korea and President Obama should call for development of war plans in the event North Korea attacks again.

North Korean missiles

Some have advocated placing tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. While I admit this is appealing, there are more reasons not to deploy nuclear weapons on the Korean penninsula. In any case, the carrier group provides a nuclear-capable response in the region.

As much as anyone may want to avoid the hard choice, it has become apparent North Korea’s nuclear program must be destroyed. That requires military action. Diplomacy has served only to delay the inevitable and allow North Korea to continue development. They have proven they will not adhere to any agreements. And they gave the green light to military strikes when North Korea abrogated the armistice. Reap what you sow, Kim.

Previously on North Korea:

Sun, 04 Jul 2010

Independence Day—What It Really Means

Happy Independence Day from the people of Wal-Mart

We tend to think of the signers of the Declaration of Independence as wise men who had nothing to lose. Rush Limbaugh’s father shows us they had everything to lose. His account also shows the Declaration, eloquent as it was, was the subject debate by the Continental Congress. From that telling:

Continental Congress

Our Lives, Our Fortunes, Our Sacred Honor

—Rush Limbaugh Jr

It was principle, not property, that had brought these men to Philadelphia. Two of them became presidents of the United States. Seven of them became state governors. One died in office as vice president of the United States. Several would go on to be U.S. Senators. One, the richest man in America, in 1828 founded the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. One, a delegate from Philadelphia, was the only real poet, musician and philosopher of the signers. (It was he, Francis Hopkinson not Betsy Ross who designed the United States flag.)

Richard Henry Lee, a delegate from Virginia, had introduced the resolution to adopt the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776. He was prophetic in his concluding remarks: “Why then sir, why do we longer delay? Why still deliberate? Let this happy day give birth to an American Republic. Let her arise not to devastate and to conquer but to reestablish the reign of peace and law.

“The eyes of Europe are fixed upon us. She demands of us a living example of freedom that may exhibit a contrast in the felicity of the citizen to the ever-increasing tyranny which desolates her polluted shores. She invites us to prepare an asylum where the unhappy may find solace, and the persecuted repost.

“If we are not this day wanting in our duty, the names of the American Legislatures of 1776 will be placed by posterity at the side of all of those whose memory has been and ever will be dear to virtuous men and good citizens.”

HT: pamibe

The Declaration of Independence

President Woodrow Wilson said, “The American Revolution was a beginning, not a consummation.” As if to underscore this, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen’s Independence Day message included these words:

This Independence Day we celebrate our Nation’s 234th birthday. As this holiday weekend approaches and we enjoy parades, picnics and fireworks, I hope we also take a moment to remember the generations of Americans who have safeguarded our independence.

Today, there are more than 200,000 uniformed American men and women deployed in harm’s way, protecting us. Their steady lives of dedication remind us that our Nation’s promise must be tended to everyday. I won’t forget the gifts of their service far away from home or the sacrifices of the families who wait for their return.

HT: Michelle Malkin

Remember, the 9/11 attackers were safeguarded and assisted by the Taliban in Afghanistan. We should make no mistake about the criticality of US efforts there. We also need to be mindful there are competing interests in the region. They cannot be taken for granted nor dismissed as irrelevant.

As you enjoy your Independence Day holiday activities, take a moment to remember the men and women of the Armed Forces. Many of them are fighting to protect our way of live and this holiday. Also keep in mind the families of deployed military personnel, as well as those of the fallen. They know, all too well, what’s at stake.

Mon, 26 Apr 2010

Obama Sidesteps Armenian Genocide, Calls it Massacre

Filed under: Behavior, Congress, Diplomacy, History, Hypocrits, Politics, President — cynicalsynapse @ 8:27 am

Armenian genodice

While campaigning for president of the US, candidate Barack Obama promised to label the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide. Yet, once elected, the US President has failed to call Armenian deaths genocide. April 24th was Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. The date marks the first deportations of Armenians from Turkey’s capitol in 1915.

President Ronald Reagan referenced the fate of Armenians in 1981. Although he didn’t use the term genocide, the fate of the Armenians remains uncontested today.

Armenians hanging

So, while Obama campaigned he would be blunt about the Armenian genocide, political expediency keeps him from actually labeling it as such. You see, Turkey—the perpetrator of the genocide—is a member of NATO and a US ally in the Global War on Terror, which we now call Overseas Contingency Operations.

Nonetheless, a US House Subcommittee voted to recognize the genocide, but only by a vote of 23-22. This resulted in Turkey recalling their Ambassador to the US in protest.

As for Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? The latter said:

Both President Obama and I have made clear, both last year and again this year, that we do not believe any action by the Congress is appropriate, and we oppose it.

Pres. Obama did decry the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in a statement. But he stopped short of calling the pogrom genocide.

Henry Morgenthau Sr.

In 1915, US Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau Sr.’s conclusion was succinct: “If America is going to condone these offenses … she is party to the crime.”

What’s different between then and now? Today, we have political expediency. Nowhere is this more evident than between Obama’s campaign promise on the genocide and his lack of follow-through as president. As Paul Greenburg wrote in his April 20th column:

In short, when a single truth must be avoided, falsehoods multiply. And diplomats impose a discreet silence. Why offend?

Over time the Armenian massacres faded from the world’s memory, but at least one statesman remembered, and drew the inevitable conclusion: that the world would scarcely notice a little genocide among friends. Or as he put it, speaking to a group of his confidants:

It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak Western European civilization will say about me. I have issued the command—and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad—that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness—for the present only in the East—with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion men, women and children. … Only thus shall we gain the living space we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the extermination of the Armenians?

—Adolf Hitler

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