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Exceptional Times with Unexceptional Leaders

“[O]ur feckless President, … 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.” AS Haley

Tuesday’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.) Image provided by the Belgian Federal Police

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.


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