Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Reading

Treating Benghazi Like Bain — Amy Davidson in The New Yorker looks at Mitt Romney’s reaction to the turmoil in the Middle East as if it’s a business deal.

It was striking to see a man who presents “apologizing for America” as the ultimate crime turning on Americans—the President, but also low-level embassy workers—at a moment of crisis. He said that a statement issued by the embassy in Cairo “apologized” to the people attacking it, and called this a “disgraceful” response; faced with the puzzle of how it could be any such thing, given that the statement in question was issued before the violence began, he said that the Embassy had been wrong to “stand by” it. Perhaps they should have apologized for it? One might call that saying sorry for saying sorry, if not for one problem: Romney wasn’t right about what the Embassy said, either. (“We have looked in vain for an ‘apology’ in the Cairo statement,” the Washington Post’s Fact Checker said.)

The incident is also a problem for Romney for some of the same reasons that the stories about Bain Capital are—and, indeed, it reprises some of the same themes. Trouble at the Embassy? Go after those you’ve decided are the employees who aren’t performing; put aside questions of loyalty, or about the difficult times they may be going through. Act as though all that’s needed for a transformation is a little managerial sleight of hand. Don’t be distracted by suffering, not even by the knowledge that some of the people doing the same jobs as the ones you’re attacking, in another branch office, are dead—that the next of kin for a couple of the victims haven’t even be informed. He wasn’t reckless and premature in his judgments, just efficient: “It’s never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values”—suggesting either that Mitt doesn’t care that he got the chronology wrong, or that he has more control over the space-time continuum than anyone suspected.

[…]

Romney has managed, in a couple of short vignettes, to showcase so many of the qualities that make people doubt him: the eager opportunism; the indifference to the truth; a certain arrogance; his clumsiness and near-incompetence as a diplomat; the sense that he doesn’t understand what it means for a person to be in hard circumstances, or even danger. The stakes here though, unlike with Bain, are not just people who are losing their pensions—though that is bad enough—but wars that could start, governments that could fall. What compass would he have if he had to manage a major crisis? In addition to Yemen, there were reports of demonstrations in Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco (where Ambassdor Chris Stevens, who died in Benghazi, taught English thirty years ago), and Iraq. And as Romney was babbling about apologies, two navy ships based in Norfolk, armed with Tomahawk missiles, had sailed for the Libyan coast.

Military SuccessThe New York Times editorial board notes the anniversary of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

As the country approaches the first anniversary of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” on Sept. 20, politicians and others who warned of disastrous consequences if gay people were allowed to serve openly in the military are looking pretty foolish.

The inaccuracy of their gloomy predictions was underscored last Monday with the publication of a detailed study of the repeal’s impact by the Palm Center, a branch of the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law. The center’s research team, which included professors at West Point, the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the Marine Corps War College, concluded that ending don’t ask, don’t tell — and its policy of dishonesty and concealment — has had “no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale.”

This finding is consistent with the forecast contained in the Defense Department’s comprehensive assessment of the policy before its repeal, and with subsequent public statements by various military leaders, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and the defense secretary, Leon Panetta.

Harassment of gays in the military and discrimination against them have not disappeared, but the study’s authors found no evidence of any pattern of hostility as a consequence of repeal. A small minority of service members are unhappy with the new policy of openness, but the morale of some gay and straight service members appears to have improved significantly. The study largely and correctly credits the smooth transition to the Pentagon’s “carefully designed implementation and training process.”

Leonard Pitts, Jr. on the film that set off the riots.

Not to trivialize a deadly situation, but in considering these would-be defenders of Islam, one is struck above all else by their childishness. I am thinking of a specific scenario familiar to any parent of two children or more:

The kids are in the back seat, and suddenly you hear the dreaded words: “He’s touching me!” It is whined at a pitch of such fevered urgency that if you didn’t know better, you’d swear one child was killing the other. But no, it’s only that child number two has discovered she can, with little effort, drive child number one into spasms of apoplexy. So she keeps doing it till you hear yourself yelling, “Don’t make me turn this car around!”

Yes, the second child has gone out of her way to needlessly provoke her sibling. But you are also irked at the sibling for being so easily provoked, for not understanding that if he simply stopped giving his sister the reaction she craves, she’d stop doing the stupid thing.

It is that dynamic we see play out repeatedly among Muslim extremists. We saw it in 2005 when riots erupted over a cartoon depicting Mohammed. (“He’s touching me!”) We saw it in 2011 when riots erupted after a Florida “preacher” burned a Koran. (“He’s looking at me!”) Now we see it in the uproar over this stupid film. (“Don’t make me turn this planet around!”)

What’s next? Riots because some provocateur sculpts a face on a cucumber and calls it Mohammed? Murder because some moron draws a stick figure having sex and says it’s Mohammed?

There are seven billion people on this planet and roughly six billion of them are not Muslims. Do these geniuses propose to throw a tantrum every time one of those six billion goes online to insult Islam? Would you give that many people power and permission to make you crazy?

Children, at least, have the excuse of being children when they fail to understand how an over-the-top reaction only ensures further provocation. The hotbloods of Islamic fundamentalism are old enough to know better. They ought to grow up.

Doonesbury — Creative thinking.

One bark on “Sunday Reading

  1. “Romney has managed, in a couple of short vignettes, to showcase so many of the qualities that make people doubt him: the eager opportunism; the indifference to the truth; a certain arrogance; his clumsiness and near-incompetence as a diplomat; the sense that he doesn’t understand what it means for a person to be in hard circumstances, or even danger. The stakes here though, unlike with Bain, are not just people who are losing their pensions—though that is bad enough—but wars that could start, governments that could fall. What compass would he have if he had to manage a major crisis?”

    Davidson nails it here. Even if I weren’t a BHO supporter, this alone would have made me never vote for Romney even for a school board spot. The man has nothing: he redefines entitled solipsism. pResident Romney = “l’etat c’est moi.” It’s sadly humorous given that he’s unlikely to be able to present a single policy plank as his own; Cantor, McConnell and DeMint would own his entire agenda, and all he could do would be sign the bills.

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