Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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A Song for Barbarian Refugees

“‘I am not going to be a slave or a wife. Even if I am stupid and talk funny and get sick, I won’t let you turn me into a slave or a wife. I’m getting out of here. I can’t stand living here anymore’… They reached again and again for a high note, yearning toward a high note, which they found at last and held—an icicle in the desert.” –Maxine Hong Kingston

Syrian refugees - UNHCR

Hat tip to Google for this clever bid for awareness: http://betagoogle.com/refugees.html

I didn’t really understand anything about “Islam” or “Mohammed” as a child, but I knew the Muslim family down the block in our sleepy Virginia neighborhood was lovely. The father was a soldier like mine, and like mine, he was away a lot, going about the difficult business of serving his country during the turbulent Clinton years. The mother wore the hijab and took care that their daughter did, too. She was best friends with my mother, a devoutly evangelical Christian, and would often babysit us in her home, with her young son and daughter.

This friendly Muslim neighbor woman introduced my younger siblings and me to the saporific wonders of curry and taught us some basic awareness of Islamic culture, like that they did not celebrate Christmas like we Christians (i.e., everybody else). And if memory serves, the first time I visited Philadelphia (and crossed the Mason-Dixon Line) was on a trip where we met some of her kin. In that quaint Virginia town, our families most often came together, frequently with other neighbors, for the holy rituals we all could celebrate together as American patriots: watching football. For the bigger games, like the Super Bowl, the father might even throw a party and play host to a full living room of rowdy soldiers, spouses, and kids.

Like so many others, I never saw that family again after the Army moved us elsewhere. But I remember them fondly, and it is perhaps for having known them—and others I would eventually meet, like my Pakistani best friend in high school—that I never developed a generalized fear of Muslims or idle suspicion of Islamic paraphernalia after the trauma of 9/11 and all that came later. Call it one of the many prejudices from which my multicultural Army upbringing shielded me.

I often think of those Muslims I knew growing up amid the ongoing debate about whether America should accept a small sliver—and 10,000 is but a drop in a restless ocean—of Syrian refugees. It’s not so much that I think those ghosts of my past and these modern victims of Islamism have much in common besides the Quran. Rather, it amazes me how many politicians have rushed to posture overmuch about how the Islamists and their victims also have in common the Quran. The sober, responsible leaders we elected these politicians to be ought to meet panic and anxiety with calm and reason—like focusing on the vital task of how to integrate refugees from the brutal reach of Daesh (an appropriately derogatory term for ISIL) into the norms and values of Western civilization—rather than grandstand about means (imagined in the case of governors) to block or expel them. But instead, we see the politics of fear and the exploitation of fear that, to his credit, George W. Bush nobly resisted in his presidency.

The first failing, of course, comes at the top. President Obama failed so spectacularly to make a compelling case for his administration’s ability to vet incoming refugees that the House of Representatives just passed a bill to implement its own preferred security regime over the administration’s objections with veto-proof, bipartisan support. Strangely, taking immature partisan swipes at how the more-than-just-GOP skepticism of his refugee plan is “scared of 3-year-old orphans” did not help.

Rather than churlishly mocking reasonably concerned Americans who look to the President for critical, life-or-death assurances, Obama and top security officials should have focused all along on painstakingly educating the public about the contours and reliability of the security apparatus that will vet all refugees and keep us safe. If the administration needs advice on how to do this, they could look to the empathetic, conciliatory way sometime Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the concerns of refugee-skeptic Gov. Robert Bentley, among other governors, at conference in their native Alabama. In fact, he might have been wise to reach out to her and other leaders, like devout Christian churches, in that sagely humanitarian effort as he dutifully balances compassion and security. But we have learned not to expect such perspicacity from this White House.

Still, there is failure all around. The callous dismissal of the plight of refugee children, as we see from the likes of Chris Christie, is part and parcel of the disconnect between Christian governors attempting to pause or block refugees and Christian leaders—evangelical, Catholic, and mainline Protestant—actively preaching for a more humanitarian response as the Christian duty of believers. Likewise, various politicians’ apparent disinterest in a perceived surge of anti-Muslim hostility hews too closely to a climate of fear and fearmongering than to the kind of mindsets our leaders should encourage.

Sober leaders should remind us of facts and critical nuance as we face tough, complicated decisions. This would include explaining why it matters that the Tsarnaev brothers were not refugees but recipients of asylum who entered the country on a tourist visa. To be resettled in the United States, refugees must undergo extensive evaluation after an initial referral from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

From the State Department:

The [Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs)] collect biographic and other information from the applicants to prepare for the adjudication interview and for security screening. Enhanced security screening is a joint responsibility of the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security and includes the participation of multiple U.S. Government security agencies.

Officers from the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) review all the information that the RSC has collected and also conduct an in-person interview with each refugee applicant before deciding whether to approve him or her for resettlement in the United States.

All USCIS-approved refugees undergo a health screening to identify medical needs and to ensure that those with a contagious disease, such as tuberculosis, do not enter the United States. Finally, the RSC requests a “sponsorship assurance” from a U.S.-based resettlement agency that is experienced in providing assistance to newly arrived refugees. Most refugees undergo a brief U.S. cultural orientation course prior to departure for the United States.

[…]

United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is comprised of:

  • The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the U.S. Department of State.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Five international or nongovernmental organizations operating Resettlement Support Centers around the world under the supervision and funding of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) of the U.S. Department of State
  • Nine domestic nongovernmental organizations with a total of about 350 affiliated offices across the United States.
  • Thousands of private citizens who volunteer their time and skills to help refugees resettle in the United States.

The total processing time varies depending on an applicant’s location and other circumstances, but the average time from the initial UNHCR referral to arrival as a refugee in the United States is about 18-24 months.

In contrast to the intensive refugee process, tourists, including those who eventually seek asylum, face much lower barriers of entry. That asylees, unlike refugees, are already in the country when they seek asylum status (in addition to international legal requirements) to stay may explain much of the difference in screening. But in any case, terrorists have a variety of other ways to get into the U.S. (if they are not already here), and each of those ways is quicker and easier than going through the refugee process. Attempting to block refugees to fight terrorism would be even worse security theater—providing the illusion of security with none of the substance—than the useless TSA. Whereas the TSA is mostly just inconvenient (on a good day), the anti-refugee campaign actively puts and keeps lives in danger without doing anything whatsoever to prevent terrorist attacks.

This is not to say there is no risk that a terrorist may slip in among refugees—the possibility certainly exists, but in truth, the refugees do not pose a serious security threat. Moreover, any terrorists who could make it through the refugee screening process, which is the most strenuous we have, could easily arrive through other means, which remain available if refugee status is denied them. The only reason a terrorist would deliberately seek the difficult and unnecessary refugee route would be to poison the well between the vast majority of resettled Muslims looking to be peaceful, hardworking contributors to society and the broader Christian public. But, again, they do not need to go that route and can still come if it is denied them.

It is also worth driving home the point that 10,000 is basically a rounding error compared to the numbers of refugees and what other countries are taking. Neighboring Muslim-majority countries are hosting the lion’s share, and there is doubtlessly more we could do to help them there:

Syrian Refugee numbers map - Vox

 

In light of the paltry American numbers, the rise of comparisons to the Holocaust and Japanese internment, common among as disparate groups as liberal activists and the Southern Baptist Convention, are as poignant as they are compelling for many of us who believe on some level we are, when the blood cries out, our brother’s keeper. But it would be uncharitable not to acknowledge that one can sympathize with the Holocaust Museum and still hold, as many do, that the specific threat of Islamic terrorism makes the Syrian situation different from our deplorable indifferent to the earlier plight of German Jewry.

It would be absurd to pretend, as the Obama administration and allied progressives often do, that the tactics, goals, and other evils of Daesh and other Islamists have nothing to do with their Islamic faith. Critics of the administration are right and fair to point this out. But it is one thing to demand an honest reckoning of how sincere Islamic belief forms a cornerstone of systemic violence and illiberal terror. It is quite another to consign the predominately Muslim victims of Islamic extremism to the cruelty of a neo-Inquisition because they happen to believe in the same prophet. It would be even worse to double down, like Donald Trump, on the crescendoing echoes to the crisis of World War II by entertaining the (unconstitutional) identity politicking tactics of the thwarted fascists of yesteryear. No, Donald Trump and fans, we will not be closing down mosques, instituting religious segregation, or devising a national database of religious minorities. It is bizarre that such things may need to be said, but we live in interesting times.

In a recent study, the Pew Research Center found, unsurprisingly, that the great majority of Muslims closest to Daesh regard the organization with fear and loathing. Israelis and Palestinians seem rarely to see eye-to-eye politically, and tensions remain high with Palestinian radicals repeatedly attacking and murdering innocent Jews. But even amid all that mutual hostility, the Jews and Muslims of the Holy Land hold overwhelmingly negative views of Daesh. It turns out, the Quran and ties to the desert are just about all the Islamists and their Muslims victims have in common.

The Syrian refugees are fleeing a scourge so evil it has managed to align the disparate interests of the United States and Russia, Israel and Iran. If America is to be the beacon, that shining city on a hill President Reagan envisioned, we must prove equal to our values. We must, as patriots of a civilized nation, take in these refugees and turn them into loyal, hardworking Americans whose living well among us will represent the clarity of our moral and civilizational superiority to everything the barbarians promote.

In the end, welcoming these tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free is in our own national self-interest. We are at war with barbarian hordes, as vicious as they are shrewd, for the very nature of the human condition. We need every ally of every faith to repel the darkness of Daesh with the triumph of the human resilience that reflects in us the unyielding image of God. To take in the refugees from the barbarian advance is to win converts to the Western principles of freedom which America must always exemplify. And, as with resettled Afghans from an earlier conflict, today’s refugees may make tomorrow’s American soldiers who will continue the cycle of life and heroism.

As the Gipper once said, soon after taking office in the house Jimmy Carter left:

We shall continue America’s tradition as a land that welcomes peoples from other countries. We shall also, with other countries, continue to share in the responsibility of welcoming and resettling those who flee oppression.

Let us be true to our traditions.


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The Prisoner of War Games

“And when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”  –Somebody in the Media

"And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down." –Nathan Bradley Bethea

“And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.” –Nathan Bradley Bethea

As I’ve noted before, I periodically watch MSNBC to keep up with the rote dissembling of our friends across the political aisle. Although I know I shouldn’t be surprised by the predictably biased inanity of cable news (by no means limited to the “Lean Forward” crowd), it still astounds me to be wandering in an alternate universe, where grounded perspective—let alone a reasonably honest presentation of the facts—is more like a demon to be exorcised than a standard to be pursued.

So it was in last night’s performances of Rachel Maddow and Ari Melber (filling in for Lawrence O’Donnell) on the supposed right-wing partisanship surrounding the criticism of Bowe Bergdahl.

Maddow kicked off, in her usual smugly protracted historicism, with a surreal attempt to compare Bergdahl to, of all people, Iraq War veteran (and former POW) Jessica Lynch. She concluded with the not-really-subtle suggestion that critics of Bergdahl had so poisoned the well that the military might be incapable of giving him a fair trial—a claim that Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, an Iraq War veteran, seemed compelled to awkwardly rebuff. Not an hour later, Melber doubled down on the notion that Republicans were seeking any means they could find to attack President Obama and politicize what should be a noble and celebrated occasion—the return of an American POW.

Contrary to this chicanery, one might expect most reasonable people to see an obvious difference between the capture of a dutiful soldier whose convoy was ambushed after a few wrong turns (Lynch) and the apprehension of a negligent soldier who, by the Army’s own reckoning, voluntarily and deliberately abandoned his post in the dead of night (Bergdahl). Did I mention that the Pentagon did not even classify Bergdahl as a POW for the bulk of his captivity?

Reasonable people might also distinguish easily between Lynch admirably correcting the media-fabricated account of her Rambo-style heroics and Bergdahl contributing to the deaths of at least half a dozen Americans in the vain attempt to retrieve him from a fate he indisputably brought upon himself. But Rachel Maddow and Ari Melber are evidently not aiming to engage with or fairly convey the motives of reasonable people.

There is no halfway decent argument that Jessica Lynch did not deserve to be honorably discharged after her service in Iraq. Thus her service was noted, even if it turned out not to be as flashy and Hollywood-ready as the media (against her will) had led us to believe. By contrast, the notion that Bergdahl should be so honored offends a great many of the warriors who wear the uniform and keep their sacred oaths to our country. Suffering does not confer righteousness, any more than falling victim to one’s own iniquity makes one a hero—especially when it gets heroes killed.

In truth, and this bears repeating, the loudly disgruntled voices criticizing the alleged deserter are not right-wing hacks but the very soldiers who served alongside Bergdahl and risked their lives searching for him in a place where older maps would warn, “Here be dragons.” The original critics are the soldiers who watched their brothers-in-arms die preventable deaths in ambushes made possible by the adjustments required to search for a man who voluntarily abandoned his post, his country, and the lives of his unit.

In fact, the notion that Bergdahl might be some sort of “Manchurian Candidate” if he ever returned home was raised in the furthest of the far Left Think Progress back before liberals predictably closed ranks, once again, around something associated with Obama:

“I’m also curious about how audiences will respond to a Manchurian Candidate-style story about a prisoner in our current wars… I’d be curious to see what the reception would be for Bowe Bergdahl, who has been a Taliban prisoner of war since 2009, if he ever makes it home.

[…]

Would the high regard in which the country holds the military mean that we aren’t willing to consider the possibility of a brainwashed prisoner of war? Or would our security concerns make us more likely to consider it?”

All that said, it is certainly reasonable to note and defend the unyielding American dedication to returning all those who wear the uniform to American soil. There were and are people on the Right—and in the military—who (understandably) questioned the discernment of releasing almost as many dangerous terrorists as were killed looking for the potentially treacherous Bergdahl in the first place. It is worthwhile to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to dutifully returning all soldiers home, as General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointedly did on his Facebook account. But that is not what the chattering armchair patriots of MSNBC were doing last night.

Instead, the talking heads impugned the motives of those with the gall to give voice to indignant troops and dissimulated even on the blatantly false notion that nobody had questioned the wisdom of exchanging high-level Taliban for Bergdahl or the policy of expending resources to chase deserters—which supposed hypocrisy and political opportunism was particularly hyped by Melber and the similarly tendentious Think Progress—the liberals get it wrong. The New York Times noted that the idea of a prisoner swap drew bipartisan criticism back in 2012:

“Until now, the administration has said publicly only that the negotiations included talks about releasing the five prisoners from Guantánamo to the custody of the government in Qatar — which some Democrats and Republicans in Congress have opposed — and not that the five might be exchanged for Sergeant Bergdahl.”

The Republican officials, like John McCain, that Melber and Think Progress (along with Media Matters) specifically single out never questioned the principle of retrieving a captured U.S. solider, they merely continued this years-old bipartisan skepticism of trading high-level Taliban prisoners to achieve that goal. McCain, for example, made clear back in February—in that very Anderson Cooper interview the hacks find inexplicably damning—that the details of any potential prisoner exchange would be critical to determining his support (my emphasis):

“COOPER: Would you oppose the idea of some form of negotiations or prisoner exchange? I know back in 2012 you called the idea of even negotiating with the Taliban bizarre, highly questionable.

MCCAIN: Well, at that time the proposal was that they would release — Taliban, some of them really hard-core, particularly five really hard-core Taliban leaders, as a confidence- building measure. Now this idea is for an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man. I would be inclined to support such a thing depending on a lot of the details.”

Note the Senator’s (and former POW) consistent opposition to the release of five “hardest of the hardcore” high-level Taliban leaders. It takes a certain kind of meretricious reasoning to twist a position so straightforward, whether one agrees with it or not, into something else entirely—all for political gain. But on the subject of inconsistency on this prisoner swap, it is curious that these righteous liberals neglected to mention the sudden backpedaling of support from Senate Democrats like Claire McCaskill. Even progressive stalwarts like Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Chris Coons refused to call the swap a good deal. Not that the pundits of the Left feel you need to know such things.

Of course, the duplicity did not stop there; Melber’s segment further included The Atlantic’s Washington editor Steve Clemons making the priceless claim that Congress was adequately consulted on the prisoner swaps before they occurred. Those of us in the real world know that such consultation—or even a polite briefing—never happened. This fact is verified by such arch-conservative knaves as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and former Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller. Instead, when the matter was discussed between lawmakers and the administration years ago, Politico notes that “Republicans objected to any such deal for Bergdahl, fearing it could lead to more kidnappings of U.S. soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan.”

But what of all that? There are Republicans to bash! (For an idea of what a profoundly less warped telling of the Bergdahl saga might look like, the U.K.’s Telegraph offers a helpful example.)

I will not sink to the level of these Acela pundits by impugning the motives or wondering aloud about the aggressive ideological agenda of Maddow, Melber, or likeminded hacks. But I will note that they do their countrymen and the military they claim to honor a disservice by the deranged partisanship with which they contrive to weave a tale of malice and slander with the threads of legitimate objections.

To the extent that there are liberals (and some conservatives) behaving so deplorably, we should be thankful, perhaps, that not so many Americans trust the media all that much anyway.


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War, Peace, & Rockets

“They blame the irresponsible dolts who started the war for all the consequences of the war and they admire Israel’s strength and its resolve for dealing with the appalling blood lust of the unhinged loons who start a war they can’t win, and then cower behind the corpses of the children their foolishness has killed.” –Walter Russell Mead

Terrorism has consequences.

Hamas had launched nearly 1,600 missiles into Israel this year and already over a thousand in the last week. It is largely thanks to Israel’s American-funded Iron Dome that hundreds of these deathly probes were prevented from striking civilians. Unfortunately, this small solace is somewhat mitigated by an expanded target range that now puts densely-populated Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in sight of rockets.

Given that Hamas hasn’t yet figured out how to direct the missiles, you might think the Palestinian leaders in Gaza would avoid the possibility of striking Palestinian children or Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. You would be mistaken. The Israel Defense Forces indicate that roughly a hundred Hamas rockets have already exploded in Gaza, for which casualties Hamas conveniently blames Israel. Moreover, the ongoing belligerence is preventing Israel from delivering humanitarian aid to the strip. There is also, of course, the matter of Hamas hiding behind the civilians they claim to protect. It’s almost like they’re ideological fanatics or something.

It would seem a question-begging exercise to argue over the origins of the chicken-and-egg cycle of violence at this point, so it might be more useful to focus on more pragmatic concerns. Shockingly (to nobody), Hamas instantiates its violence through the largesse of Iran. Put another way, a government that dreams of wiping Israel from the map is arming a terrorist regime that denies the Israeli right to exist. It would be arguably suicidal for the only stably liberal democracy in the Middle East to appease a genocidal neighbor seeking freedom to arm, especially at a time when Iran aggressively pursues nuclear power and Islamists have replaced erstwhile partners in Egypt and Turkey.

The majority of Americans believe, as President Obama argued, that Israel is in the right to defend herself against the rain (and reign) of terror. It should perhaps be expected that most civilized people would agree that perennial rocket-fire makes for rather unsavory ambient conditions. As it happens, however, the numbers tell another interesting story: conservatives, moderates, Republicans, and Independents overwhelmingly support Israel’s measures of self-defense. Among liberals and Democrats, however, the yes-no split on whether military action is justified falls within the margin of error.

The finding is consistent with posts from my left-of-center Facebook feed (four years at Yale will have that effect, and I should add that some who disagree with me have already accused me of calling them anti-Semites). Opinions range from deranged dismissal of rigorous self-defense to predictably tendentious “fact checks” in favor of a terrorist organization to more well-intentioned if impractical paeans for “proportionality”. To the first two sentiments, I have neither interest nor patience. To the last, it is worth remembering that war is not an old gentleman’s game but an elemental struggle between peoples:

“Certainly if some kind of terrorist organization were to set up missile factories across the frontier in Canada and Mexico and start attacking targets in the United States, the American people would demand that their President use all necessary force without stint or limit until the resistance had been completely, utterly and pitilessly crushed. Those Americans who share this view of war might feel sorrow at the loss of innocent life, of the children and non-combatants killed when overwhelming American power was used to take the terrorists out, but they would feel no moral guilt. The guilt would be on the shoulders of those who started the whole thing by launching the missiles.”

At the crux of it, calls for Israeli proportionality privilege a willingness to succumb to slow but constant bleeding over attempts, however imperfectly aggressive, to heal the wound. This is not to say Israel has committed no atrocities or is otherwise free of blame. Such a situation is rarely the case for any side in any hostility. As a certain American general once famously observed and argued, “War is hell.” But there are worse hells than a flawed defense of the liberal democratic union of liberty and security.

Pacifism—the “principled” refusal to prosecute a worthwhile cause—is a beast from the pit, and its advocacy is a false prophecy inscribed with malice or idle nihilism in the blood of innocents seen and unseen. In the first place, it reifies concepts like “justice”, “freedom”, and “peace”, while denuding the moral universe of the resources to maintain such lofty ideals. In the second place, appeasement—or idly negligent “humanitarianism”—is the apotheosis of the Last Man, breeding contempt for the resolve to reckon with a dark and vicious world that will never care either for intentions or proportions.

This is not a game. A constitutional republic of the Free World is at war with a terrorist regime abetted by a den of Islamists on the one hand and clerical autocrats on the other. Every drop of blood spilt in eliminating senseless violence is upon the hands from which that evil came.

My sympathy is with the Palestinians. I hope their leaders will think of them, too.


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The Drones of Fall

“War is not nice.” –Barbara Bush

Drones don’t kill people; we have people for that!

There’s been much ado about the purported moral hazards of drones. Much of it has come from the Left, but there have been some conservative reservations. As you may recall, I addressed liberal compunctions on this topic not too long ago, reminding the Left of its moral and political complicity in the Obama status quo. But on this occasion, we’re going to discuss the practical validity of drones in our defense strategy.

For this second discussion we thank my friend Leah Libresco over at Unequally Yoked. In detailing her key political qualms with this election, Libresco described the morality of the use of drones as follows:

“We are endorsing an indiscriminate, terrifying way to prosecute a war that is above all inhumane because it leaves the humans in each side of it in isolation.  Death from above robs the killer and their target of the mutual recognition and love that is their natural relationship.  It’s not only murder, it’s murder that fosters a lie.”

The crux of this argument—an essentially Catholic rendering of familiar secular reservations—is the conviction that deploying troops into the path of harm is a moral requirement of war. In other words, it is wrong to deny an enemy combatant the opportunity—which Libresco calls love and other liberals deem “due process”—to face down his would-be killer. To put it more charitably, opponents of drones seem to believe that such remote targeting results, perhaps inevitably, in greater civilian casualties than conventional troop deployment would cause, and these greater casualties are exacerbating ill will toward the U.S. and our allies.

To clarify something up front, this issue is not about whether you’re for or against the war in Afghanistan or what you think about the 2014 withdrawal date favored by both President Obama and Governor Romney. This discussion is about the moral and practical realities of war. The primary question here is how to minimize collateral damage and protect our allies while successfully fulfilling goals and eliminating enemies.

In the last several years, the Taliban and their terror networks have aggressively increased killing sprees throughout the country. For the sake of undermining the civilian government & attacking NATO troops—to the end of repressively commandeering the country—terrorists are willfully injuring and killing thousands of innocent people. For NATO, a shift in strategy from troop deployment to drones allows for, among other things, less danger to civilians who would be harmed through the kind of broad targeting of troops that produces heavy civilian casualties. In short and against the reigning criticisms, drones allow for less—not “no”—combat among innocents.

According to the United Nations, civilian death from terrorist attacks has sharply increased since 2006, whereas casualties from coalition forces declined. Any nonzero number of innocent dead is a vicious tragedy, and many would argue that the current numbers could and should be lower. I’m not disagreeing with that analysis. But as it stands, civilian deaths from pro-government forces are believed—by the U.N.—to be at their lowest levels in half a decade. By contrast, terrorists murdered more civilians in 2011—nearly six times as many killed by American allies—than in the last six years. This comes even as casualties from aerial attacks, which do account for the bulk of deaths, are down.

Are there problems with U.S. drone policy? Absolutely. But given the numerical trends in casualties and the reality of a protracted war, drone critics must do more than enumerate flaws. The opposition ought to promote and defend a better way to defeat our enemies and keep our allies safe.

I commend our military leaders for continuing to defend us from enemies we may never see, even as the chattering classes drone.


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Right in the Main

“And the suggestion that anybody in my team…would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander-in-chief.” –Barack Obama

“Be obscure clearly.” –E.B. White

I can’t be biased. I’m from CNN!

It must be nice to have the media so comfortably on your side that a debate moderator can authoritatively throw you a disingenuous lifeline and the supposedly undecided room around you erupts in inappropriate applause. But what do I know? I’m just a guy who thinks that our leaders should have a basic level of integrity when dealing with matters of life and death and that the media should serve as a check on power rather than the twelfth man on a certain candidate’s home turf.

It’s certainly true that the President used the word “terror” in his initial remarks in the Rose Garden, following the murder of Ambassador Stevens and his staff. What is odd is that neither he nor his administration was subsequently willing to label the attack as such for well over a week afterward. And even after several top officials had referred to the operation as terrorism, the president was still hedging on the term with talk show hosts—the same ones that trumped meeting with key allies—and going on about a YouTube video. The salient issue here isn’t terminology or devious political posturing, but that the Obama Administration actively misled the American people about a terrorist attack. For this reason, CNN debate moderator Candy Crowley called Romney’s criticism to that effect, “right in the main”.

The administration realized early on that YouTube protests had nothing to do with the “meticulously executed” attack. Yet despite knowing there weren’t even protests at the consulate, the White House clung to the story of the video triggering the assault. What a flustered Mitt Romney aimed to convey at Hofstra is that the President of the United States failed to protect American lives and then pretended that somebody else made that failure happen. From the U.N. remarks to the taxpayer-financed ads on a different continent, the administration put on a grand tour of deception to occlude any public reckoning with the reality of a disaster. Now that his chickens have come home to roost, Obama purports to be even “more concerned about [the] safety and security” of our diplomats than their own families, with the cool expectation that we will forgive the demonstrable want of a record to that effect.

President Obama is by no means a bad person; I genuinely believe he means all those anodyne reassurances he offers so eloquently. But when the chips were down, and that 3 a.m. call demanded leadership, this Commander-in-Chief was weighed in the balance and found wanting—in Vegas. Thus the U.S. has lost its first ambassador in the line of duty since the grim days of Jimmy Carter.

Remember that the next time this president declares, “We can’t afford to go back to failed policies.”


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A Song of Drones and Values

“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” –Harvey Dent

When you play the game of drones, you win or you die. Or your president stabs you in the heart and twists. There is no middle ground.

Life and death can make for compelling deal breakers in politics. More often than not, we face this reality in the ongoing disputes over abortion law and single-issue voters. But there’s nothing quite like the games of war in a wearily introspective superpower afflicted by enduring frustration and quixotic performance art of leadership. Over the past decade, so many thousands of lives have been lost to terror and the fight against it. Even as the Iraq War has finally ended—for the United States, anyway—American-led campaigns across the Middle East continue the Sisyphean task of eradicating violent extremism.

Enter the drones. As though by miraculum ex machina, the U.S. can target and eliminate enemy combatants without deploying a single boot to a warzone of the whole. But as with all developments in war, there are costs. Some induce nightmares. For liberals who cannot reconcile the costs with the values, the totality of these issues constitutes a moral event horizon for Obama. Many of these disaffected are understandably wary of jumping on the Gary Johnson bandwagon. But I’ll go out on an olive branch and suggest a Romney presidency has more to offer the progressively malcontent than meets the gag reflex.

The persistent criticism about the current administration’s approach to war, which is only partly about drones, is that Obama is the same or worse than “the neo-conservative policy” of George W. Bush. It demands the question, if Obama is already so terrible—even while he promised to be otherwise—what exactly is so frightening about a potential Romney administration? Last I checked, it was Barack Obama who established a framework for killing American children without due process and formalized indefinite detention. And these new bureaucratic tools will be, in the words of the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, “available to every future president against every future enemy or purported enemy.”

Love or hate him, Mitt Romney is upfront about his foreign policy ideas and concerns, from confronting our enemies to defending human rights. At most, he will do what he says. Otherwise, he will pleasantly surprise you. Compare this to the promise of a big game to earn a premature Nobel Peace Prize. President Obama has reduced you, his liberal base, to enabling the legitimacy of policies you fought so hard to destroy, from waiving sanctions on countries that use child soldiers to waging another war abroad—ignoring congressional oversight for either—to codifying military commissions and extraordinary rendition to escalating warrantless surveillance of Americans. (For the record, even “prominent neoconservative” Charles Krauthammer is arguing for limits on drones and surveillance of Americans.)

We all know that war is neither painless nor clean, and collateral damage is as heartbreaking as it is inevitable. But which would you prefer, the rhetorical embrace of a friend who stabs you in the back—from the safety of a remote machine—as you shield his treachery from criticism, or the political opponent who, at the very least, will put his cards on the table and allow you the opportunity to defend your values, such as they are?

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my devils where I can see them. It makes for an easier kill peacekeeping.


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Freedom & Terror

“For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb; and in lands far from their own, where the column with its epitaph declares it, there is enshrined in every breast a record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except that of the heart. These take as your model…judging happiness to be the fruit of freedom, and freedom of valor…” –Thucydides

Maybe the Arab Fall will be warmer than we thought.

The Libyan revolt against the terrorists in their midst is a glorious tale of triumph and justice. There’s something about freedom and personal responsibility that inspire renewed conviction in the blood of Americana. We believe everybody should have the opportunity to govern their own destiny. Our natural resentment for those who prosper at the expense of good people pales only before our visceral disgust at those who squander the faith and hard-earned resources of their benefactors.

For this reason, we wonder whether our billions in aid to hostile powers might be better spent elsewhere. It’s not that we disdain foreign aid, charity, or those in need. To the contrary, Americans are among the most charitable people on Earth. Rather, we are outraged by the wanton irresponsibility that manifests in criminal incompetence, and we abhor the murderous ingratitude that ensures the wages of kindness in the Near East are death. Ambassador Stevens and his aides were brave servants and excellent diplomats. They did not deserve so early and violent a rendezvous with Azrael.

And for this reason, we wince at statements by our leaders that appear, rightly or wrongly, to apologize for our values. There is certainly a need for better understanding between the West and the Arab world. But how is it that we lose cherished public servants to a mob they helped liberate and yet feel compelled to reaffirm what should be our obvious commitment to religious tolerance for everyone? How is it that, just a week ago, we were bracing for fresh rounds of anti-American animus across the Muslim world?

But in light of the storming of the Ansar al-Sharia Brigade and other militia headquarters in Benghazi, the world appears to be changing. And it is a strange, new world indeed when a Muslim crowd in North Africa unilaterally deposes Islamist networks to avenge murdered Americans. But as we cautiously celebrate these exciting developments, the militias are predictably crying foul. What they will do next is unclear. Going forward, our foreign policy should encourage greater comity with the Arab street while pressuring new governments and would-be allies in Libya and elsewhere to defend the rights of their citizens and safeguard the security of their guests.

The tepid repudiation of violence by Egypt’s new president is a start. But our next president must make clear that how our “friends” define their “allies” will determine how we define ours. They are as perfectly free to ignore our concerns as they are to forego our support. At this critical juncture, our leaders must promote human rights as essential to both American interests and the vital project of democracy. Our focus should never shift from eliminating the obdurate evils of violence and repression that reek of innocent blood.

J. Christopher Stevens and his fellow diplomats died in the service of freedom. The Libyan people have moved to honor that legacy. But we all have battles to fight and promises to keep—and miles to go before we sleep.