Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Underestimating Ted Cruz

It seems that what passes for conventional wisdom has pretty much written off the stormy, incandescent career of the junior senator from Texas, “Tailgunner” Ted Cruz. The “tactical error” of bringing the country to the brink of default earned him the disapprobation of his party and enough condemnation by our collective thought leaders that we seem to have dismissed him from further consideration as a figure of national significance and appeal. And the sigh of relief and hopeful finality attending this dismissal is notably one of the few truly bipartisan undertakings of our otherwise sharply polarised politics and conflicted media commentary.

But let’s set aside, for the moment, the convenient notion that we have survived this political asteroid. His meteoric career impacted squarely on the fault line dividing the modern Republican party at a crucial moment. Is this accidental?

Just as the leadership prepared to abandon the single, defining policy issue which had been used to demonise the administration and whip support for almost four years, Cruz weighs in and makes a perfect riot out of what the party was hoping to quietly concede.  In the process he wins a Gungam style volume of earned media, unimpeachable ‘outsider’ status in spite of having trod the corridors of power in Washington for a decade and a distant fourth in the history of filibusters.

He has also captured the unswerving loyalty of a significant cohort of disgruntled, activist Republicans who were the true believers. Sorry, folks, but this is no accident, it is the calculated, if somewhat volatile, opening gambit of a presidential nomination campaign.

The Putin Doctrine

A number of attempts have been made to discern and describe a ‘Putin doctrine’ during the years of his influence on Russian and world affairs, including some recently as a consequence of his reaction to the Syria chemical weapons crisis. Most suggest a doctrine of ‘reasserting Russia’s power‘ or ‘building Russia up by tearing the US down,’ an aspiration and strategy which, while arguably correct, seem to miss Putin’s underlying and unmistakeable political philosophy.

Here we propose an argument for a ‘Putin doctrine’ as follows:

No nation, group of nations or international organisation has the right to interfere or intervene without consent in the internal affairs of any sovereign state under any circumstances short of the proven violation of existing conventions governing the use of weapons of mass destruction.

In other words a sovereign state has the right to deal with dissent, insurgency and secession by whatever means it otherwise sees fit. That this might include conventional warfare against civilians, mass arrests and detentions, summary executions, massacres, genocide and authoritarian terrorism is left to the discretion of the state’s leadership. And if the state is an ally, Russia will actively disable the Security Council from taking action against it on behalf of any majority of the larger international community whom might find such activity objectionable. As Russian ‘hard power’ inevitably increases we need to think this through carefully.

Vlad the Implorer

Well, now we’ve seen it all. Vladimir Putin has an op-ed in the 11 September edition of the New York Times imploring Americans to undermine their own security by doubting the motives, credibility and policies of the US government:

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.

A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Vladimir Putin – A Plea for Caution From Russia NYT 11 September 13

There you have it. It’s Obama versus the world and the Pope. With Vladimir Vladimirovich as the humble arbiter of peace and voice of sweet reason. Oh, brother! Pity “those still finding their way to democracy” if they wander into his neighbourhood.

Ironically, the powerful effect of this agitation and propaganda on the weak-minded comes at a time when many in the United States, especially among certain factions of the Left and the Right, are as vulnerable as mice; since domestic spying revelations have undermined the faith of Americans in their own government. You know, that Snowden guy who sought asylum recently in… uh, Russia… Hey, hang on a minute. Vladimir, it seems you are a very naughty boy.

Off to the Races

The first round of activity has already been undertaken in the UN Security Council with the submission of a French resolution:

Russia, the main backer of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, opposed the French-drafted resolution and had been expected to propose a weaker Security Council statement, which are largely symbolic statements on the chemical arms crisis.

The main sticking point was that France wanted to invoke Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, making any resolution legally binding and enforceable by military action.

France was backed by the UK and the US in proposing the statement that Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said would threaten “extremely serious” consequences if Syria failed to hand over its banned weapons.

The US administration has said it would not fall victim to stalling tactics, and France’s proposal reportedly outlined a rapid timetable for disarmament.

Divisions emerge over UN statement on Syria Al Jazeera 10 Sep 13

The distinction between a Chapter VI and Chapter VII resolution is vitally important and it is disingenuous of Russia to pretend that the lesser would satisfy under the circumstances. Vladimir Putin himself, dabbling in diplomacy, has further entrenched Russia behind this obstacle:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that a plan for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile will only work if the United States agrees not to use force.

Putin told reporters on Tuesday that the plan “can work, only in the event that we hear that the American side and those who support the USA, in this sense, reject the use of force.”

Syria plan will work if US rejects force: Vladimir Putin AP via NDTV 10 Sep 13

This seems an overreach on Putin’s part; perhaps revealing a weakness of strategy or personality. Whichever is the case it seems vital that Congress and the American public give the Obama administration the support they need to meet this important challenge and help reassert diplomacy as an effective, viable alternative to military conflict.

The Lavrov Gambit

Interesting developments overnight have again changed the course of the Syrian chemical weapons crisis:

President Obama on Monday called a Russian proposal for Syria to turn over control of its chemical weapons to international monitors in order to avoid a military strike a “potentially positive development,” that could represent a “significant breakthrough,” but he said he remains skeptical the Syrian government would follow through on its obligations based on its recent track record.

Anne Gearan, Karen DeYoung and and Will Englund – Obama sees potential ‘breakthrough’ in Russia’s Syria proposal Washington Post 10 Sep 13

Clearly a positive development and a significant shift in the Syrian and Russian position. A vindication for Obama’s tough policy on the use of chemical weapons one would suppose? One might think it ridiculous to use this development to justify a vote against authorising Obama’s free hand to apply the military pressure which brought it about in the first instance.  

Be Careful What You Wish For…

About an hour after the vote which defeats the proposed Authorisation for Use of Military Force in response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria we will probably begin to realise that the world as we know it has been irrevocably changed; and probably not for the better.

The inevitable decline of American power precipitated by the disastrous Bush administration will enter its terminal phase as the American public withdraws into an insular shell of isolationism and denial of collective responsibility in spite of having enjoyed for decades the relative security and prosperity that engaged American power has provided.

The performance of the American Left since 21 August has been an utter embarrassment; exposing the vaunted activist Internet as little more than a breeding place for fatuous conspiracy theories, misdirection, unreasonable and stubborn scepticism, selfishness, wilful ignorance and misplaced moral outrage. A complete and utter shambles. Shameful.

Courageous activists and diplomats campaigned for decades to implement the hard-won provisions of an almost unanimous prohibition of chemical weapons only to have it thoughtlessly repudiated with the ridiculous argument that ‘people are just as dead’ by other means. Or compared incessantly, in ignorance of what nerve agents are capable of or intended to do, to the use of white phosphorous at Fallujah. All in support of a knee-jerk response to a proposed military action in the face of a truly inhumane war crime.

Least Untruthful

It seems that back in March Senator Wyden (D-Ore) asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper a direct question about NSA surveillence (h/t emptywheel🙂

“Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Wyden asked Clapper at the March 12 hearing.

“No, sir,” Clapper answered.

“It does not?” Wyden pressed.

Clapper quickly and haltingly softened his answer. “Not wittingly,” he said. “There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect – but not wittingly.”

Lara Jakes – Wyden cites contradiction in eavesdropping answer AP via Independent Mail 11 Jun 13

One suspects that in this exchange Senator Wyden already has a pretty good idea of the correct answer so the question to the administration’s most senior intelligence director is purposeful and significant.

Known Knowns: Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi

The terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia was immediately associated with the Benghazi tragedy and reliable reports of their involvement were confirmed within days; this is often cited in accusations that the administration was remiss in their early appraisals presented to the media. How is this not compelling evidence of a terrorist plot? And how could this same militia gravitate back to Benghazi and assume their previous security role after such a blatant act?

The answer may provide some insight into the conditions in Benghazi at the time of the attack and help further our understanding of what actually happened that resulted in the death of our US ambassador and the apparent abandonment of CIA operations in Benghazi. There seems no question that Ansar al-Sharia militiamen, and their motor pool, were involved:

The trucks bore the logo of Ansar al-Shariah, a powerful local group of Islamist militants who worked with the municipal government to manage security in Benghazi…

Paul Schemm and Maggie Michael – Libyan witnesses recount organized Benghazi attack AP 27 Oct 13

So we have ample evidence of their involvement, and reports they took credit for the attack on 12 September 2012, yet their leadership lived freely in Benghazi and even gave interviews with Western media in the aftermath. What gives?

Known Knowns: A Benghazi Hypothetical

For a controversy which has played in so many committee rooms the factual narrative of events in Benghazi seems pretty hard to follow and has been largely subsumed in partisan assumptions. The State Department Accountability Review Board report gives an impressively coherent blow-by-blow of the tragic events at the Special Mission compound; though it fails to mention, by name, the CIA operation it is publicly alleged that the ‘mission’ was largely established to conceal and protect:

The U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation, according to officials briefed on the intelligence. Of the more than 30 American officials evacuated from Benghazi following the deadly assault, only seven worked for the State Department. […]

The CIA worked from a compound publicly referred to as the “annex,” which was given a State Department office name to disguise its purpose. The agency focused on countering proliferation and terrorist threats, said an American security contractor who has worked closely with CIA, the Pentagon and State. A main concern was the spread of weapons and militant influences throughout the region, including in Mali, Somalia and Syria, this person said.

Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman and Margaret Coker – CIA Takes Heat for Role in Libya WSJ 1 Nov 12

The Petraeus Puzzle

It’s interesting to note the subtext in the Petraeus resignation controversy, that the FBI investigation was the result of his paramour “blowing” the affair:

The F.B.I. investigation that led to the sudden resignation of David H. Petraeus as C.I.A. director on Friday began with a complaint several months ago about “harassing” e-mails sent by Paula Broadwell, Mr. Petraeus’s biographer, to another woman who knows both of them, two government officials briefed on the case said Saturday.

When F.B.I. agents following up on the complaint began to examine Ms. Broadwell’s e-mails, they discovered exchanges between her and Mr. Petraeus that revealed that they were having an affair, said several officials who spoke of the investigation on the condition of anonymity. They also discovered that Ms. Broadwell possessed certain classified information, one official said, but apparently concluded that it was probably not Mr. Petraeus who had given it to her and that there had been no major breach of security.

Scott Shane and Eric Schmitt – Biographer’s E-Mails to Woman Led F.B.I. to Petraeus NYT 10 Nov 12

Given Paula Broadwell’s biography, “…she specialized in military intelligence, spending time at the U.S. Special Operations Command and the FBI Counterterrorism Task Forces before pursuing an academic career…” according to her publisher, one assumes she knew an email containing classified information would lead to an analysis of her on-line activity and the exposure of her relationship.  Her motivations are further confounded by the unnamed officials’ suggestion that “the two women seemed be competing for Mr. Petraeus’s loyalty, if not his affection.”  Needless to say her book “jumped from a ranking on Amazon of 76,792 on Friday to 111 by mid-Saturday.