Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Exceptional Times with Unexceptional Leaders

Today's horrific events in Brussels were aimed at the synapses of European society: its airports and train stations, where people are on the move, intent on their destinations, and least wary of crowds and strangers. The responses to the ISIS-claimed terrorism were telling. There were the usual shutdowns and cancellations of trains and flights; the city of Brussels itself was locked down, and normal commerce came to a halt. Political leaders decried the usual perpetrators, called for calm, and ordered out more police and soldiers. And our feckless President, on a wastefully extravagant junket to Cuba and points south, before leaving to watch a baseball game, issued a 52-second statement in which he vowed our support "in bringing to justice whoever is responsible" -- as though threats of future prosecution could ever deter those who blow themselves up to gain ostensible martyrdom.

Note, as well, that all the European leaders, as well as our own, declined to associate the terrorists with "Islam", despite the acknowledgment by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria that its operatives had planned and carried out the attacks. (At least the French prime minister managed to admit that Europe is "at war" with the terrorists, although it is difficult to drum up support for war against an enemy whom you cannot bring yourself to name.) [UPDATE 03/23/2016: Is anyone who has watched Europe devolve over the last twenty-five years surprised to learn that the Belgian security services and other Western intelligence agencies had advance warnings that the Brussels airport was specifically targeted for a bombing attack? I thought so.]

Your Curmudgeon just finished reading Exceptional -- Why the World Needs a Powerful America. Its authors are former Vice President and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz. The message they have could not be more timely in the wake of today's attacks and the insipid responses of those elected to lead us.

Part One of the book describes the recent highlights of America's exceptionalism.  The account begins with Roosevelt's Lend-Lease program at the start of World War II, and continues through D-Day, the Berlin Airlift, NATO, the Marshall Plan, and the Korean War. It is then dispiriting, to say the least, to have to turn from such an inspirational account to the far less inspiring history of vacillations by Americans in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere.

The culmination of the Cheneys' American chronicle comes with their dissection of the last eight years -- the presidency of Barack Obama. They conclude, after marshaling abundant and detailed evidence, that no president has done more to weaken America's defenses while at the same belittling its past achievements and apologizing for its exceptionalism. (Indeed, I was surprised that they omitted one highly telling statistic: Obama's systematic purge of the upper, most experienced echelon of our military forces.)

The Cheneys show that for Obama, it is better to appease than to confront Islamic countries about the terrorism they support with their oil revenues. "Radical Islam" is for him an oxymoron; it couples two incompatible words that contradict each other. To Obama, it seems that America's very strength is its handicap, because he believes it has been used to push people around and bully other countries into submission. Therefore, reducing military forces to levels not seen since before World War II cannot in his view disadvantage us: rather, ensuring that America cannot as effectively project force serves to level the playing field, and makes us more "likeable" to others.

As you can see from his remark quoted above, Obama's view is that terrorism is best dealt with by the criminal law courts.  As for the suicide bombers -- well, fortunately they make it easy for us, since we do not have to waste any money putting  them behind bars. And if they bring their tactics here once more, law enforcement can go after their supporters.

I recognize that there are many who agree with what Obama has done, and is doing. Such people, however, might do well to re-examine their thinking in light of today's incidents -- and bear in mind the following words of an earlier president, Ronald Reagan (with which the Cheneys open their book):
It is up to us in our time to choose, and choose wisely, between the hard but necessary task of preserving peace and freedom, and the temptation to ignore our duty and blindly hope for the best while the enemies of freedom grow stronger day by day.



  1. The emasculation of the high command of the Air, Land, and Sea forces was in full array that particular night when action centre'd upon a place called Benghazi. The Ghosts of the earliest 1800s, and the horrors committed by the Barbary Pirates and Kidnappers was confronted by the roar of broadsides and the push of American Marines.....Tunisians are still celebrating their indirect liberation by the orders of Thomas Jefferson, but Obama forgot to apologise for that particular offense.
    We must remember that the commander of the flattop who had the F-16s spitting tail-fire on deck and the commander in Italy who had the Spooky gunships awaiting clearance for take-off were waved off and essentially arrested during the very hours of the conflagration in Benghazi. Only Huma or Valerie could have given those orders....
    Both commanders were transferred to a Navy hospital in Washington State. Both have been restored to service, but not in a direct line of command position.

    Total Soros - Annenberg - Bill Ayres puppet Obama....total secular humanist socialist (Sir Edmund) Hillary.....Where have they buried the Republic?

  2. Dear Mr. Haley, you write: "many who agree with what Obama has done, and is doing. Such people, however, might do well to re-examine their thinking."
    I would humbly suggest that those who fit your description are not actually engaged in thinking, but rather are engaged in fantasizing, (or more likely in "feeling.") If they fail to awaken to reality, they may find that available options may have become considerably limited.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  3. For years Americans have been hearing that we are not exceptional. Is it any wonder that the unexceptional now represent us?

  4. I agree that Obama has been too risk-averse, but if Dick Cheney still believes it's right to "confront Islamic countries", it shows he may have learnt nothing from his Iraq war disaster, which created a failed state by removing the (secular!) regime that was holding everything together. Because of this type of disastrous decision by the West we are now facing a bigger threat from failed states and terrorism. Further military action may be needed to combat IS, but it's understandable to be cautious about the type of military action, given the result of the Iraq war. The attacks in Brussels, like Paris, also show that freedoms once taken for granted also need to be curtailed (for example, immigration, and free travel throughout Europe). Some of these freedoms and liberal ideals have allowed Belgium to become a 'terrorist-rich' nation.

  5. I would very much appreciate it if someone could explain to me what "American exceptionalism" actually is supposed to mean.

    As a Christian I am under the impression that the Chosen People are the Jews, not the Americans. There is one messiah, and he has already been born elsewhere.

    As a Catholic I adhere to the doctrine of original sin, and understand from that that no people, no nation is exempt from the deep-rootedness of sin, and that no constitution, no form of government, is capable of remedying our fallen nature. (I understand that the Mormons hold that America has some special place above all other nations, but I am obviously not a Mormon).

    As an amateur student of history I have noticed that many peoples and nations have considered themseles exceptional in God's eyes, and that that conviction is often strongest when, in retrospect, they seem most far from the will of God as taught by Jesus. In that respect we are perhaps fortunate that we don't have anyone doing for America what St. Augustine did for Rome in "The City of God." It wouldn't be pleasant, and whoever undertook such a task could hardly be popular with either end of the political spectrum.

    As an American I am proud of my country's achievements, but I am also acutely aware of our shortcomings, and harbor no illusion that at any brief, shining moment in the past this country was free from serious faults. This is because we are human, not angels, not gods.

    We are a remarkably wealthy nation, but Jesus' saying about the camel and the needle makes me wonder how much pride we should take in this. We are a very powerful nation, with out military many times the size of our nearest rivals. But the bible tells us not to put our trust in horses or chariots, and Jesus says that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.

    I don't want to get into politics; I am heartily sick of it at this point. But I will go so far as to express an opinion that our problems haven't stemmed from too few wars, and that I'm glad that my children are getting too old to serve in the military if we are going to get into a torture race with ISIS.

    While I'm rambling on, I think it bears keeping in mind that terrorism is the weapon of the weak. ISIS cannot possibly prevail on the battlefield; neither could Al Qaeda. Neither could the Provisional IRA, or the Red Army Faction, or the various anarchist groups of the nineteenth century that took to throwing bombs when they couldn't prevail by military force. Those who intentionally kill innocent noncombatants are not soldiers, but murderers. I certainly hope that, in the pursuit of "toughness," our own nation doesn't take up the murder of innocents because ISIS has done so. That would probably be the most Unexceptional thing of all.

  6. Rick Allen, thank you very much for laying out your thoughts so well here. I agree with a lot of what you say. I also think you once knew what "American exceptionalism" was, but it has become almost impossible to visualize -- not only for older folk like you and me, but especially for those who were born after the events which the Cheneys' book recapitulates in its first 100 pages.

    Due in part to denigrators like our President, it is certainly no longer in evidence. The question today is whether America is even capable of resilience when the inevitable crisis occurs, as it surely will, due to our government's deliberate weakening of our armed forces in the face of increasing lawlessness and disorder, both here and overseas.

    Rome in the fifth century did not respond to the barbarian invasions with any meaningful force, because its citizens had lost their trust in her government, which could no longer collect sufficient taxes to pay its armies. Its fate was a foregone conclusion as a consequence. America in the twenty-first century appears to be heading down the same path of self-indulgence, corruption and indifference that so weakened Rome's ability to defend herself.

    Like you, I do not think that America should seek out wars abroad; that was never part of her exceptionalism. But the wars that are now abroad will inevitably come here, because (like Willie Sutton's banks) this is where the bulk of the world's wealth is. I for one despair that America will be able to summon up the resolve and the willingness to sacrifice that was so evident in the early 1940s, and which she will surely require again if she is to remain capable of greatness.

    1. 'American exceptionalism' once underscored the brilliance of the US Constitution. With its emphasis upon the checks and balances of power, limits to its power, and its original Amendments protecting the rights of the individual. There are also many depictions in the DC area's landmark buildings showing these ideals. In practice, there are no Kings and Queens and no 'Royal' bloodlines to worry about. (Nowadays we worry about lifetime politicians without honor, and the Hollywood Royalty and their bloodlines!)

      The relative freedom our Constitutional structure encouraged in the land helped to give shape to the many American and immigrant American success stories. However, there are dark forces everywhere in the world.

      There are too many people today who have little to no knowledge of American History (which is so very young relative to World History) and no Biblical knowledge, which might help them understand just how the Catholic & Protestant faiths have influenced our country.

      I have concluded that, if one is Catholic or Protestant, all adult followers of Jesus should've (at least) read the four Gospel books. I also think that all Christian high schoolers should have read the four Gospels before they have graduated from high school.

      Basic knowledge of the Gospel books are as easy as a basic knowledge of the Constituion, but one must take a necessary interest in reading them.

      The Bible's theme is wisdom is the fear of God (it is the fear that we may not get to live with Him after this life is done if we do not truly repent of our sinful natures and behave accordingly: to love Him above all; and love oneself, one's neighbors and one's enemies.) Loving God means doing everything for Him, and loving ourselves, our neighbors and enemies means engaging in Godly activities together (be they economic (as in honest industry) or socially charitable activities) and encouraging others by leading them to do the same.

      Let us follow the examples of Jesus and do not 'throw pearls to swine.' Let us lead, defending our sovereignty against those who hate us. Let us protect innocent life and rely on Divine Protection to do it.

      With Jesus, peace is conviction or resolve not hindsight.

      With God's help we can lead others in an exceptionally 'American=Christian=Godly' way.


  7. But Willie, why do you hold up banks?

    Because that's where Obama told me the millionaires and billionaires kept the money they stole from the poor people.

    I was just thinking that some of the Readers of the Anglican Curmudgeon might not aged well enough to have ever heard of any Willie beyond Kathleen and her Uncle Boxcar.

    Excellent post, by the way!!
    El Gringo Viejo