Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Obama's Bad Trade

Contrary to the demagoguery of some irresponsible commentators on the right, I don't think Bergdahl's release has anything to do with Obama's relationship with Islam. I think the primary motivations for the exchange were, in order:

1. It is an election year and he needs some good news to help the country forget about the Benghazi and Obamacare fiascos. Everything I have seen indicates that Obama believed that the country would be thrilled that we were releasing the last POW from Afghanistan, and he evidently thought no one would dig too deeply into the background of Bergdahl. If they did, he could always blame it on right-wing political rhetoric. This is actually a reasonable expectation given the normal tendency of the press to ignore anything that would embarrass a Democratic politician.
2. He has been under pressure from the Left to close Guantanamo as he promised to do in his 2008 campaign. We don't normally follow the far-left and of course the press will not cover their criticisms, but they have been furious with Obama for five years over this. Since it is a really bad idea on several levels, the country would never go for it, but he seems to think that he can appease both sides with a prisoner exchange. He gets to look like a patriot for bringing back our soldier and he gets to look like a champion of justice for closing down Bushitler's torture chamber. Win, win.
3. If you don't look too closely, he gets to prove that negotiation with the Taliban can work. His whole foreign policy is based on the idea that we don't need a strong military if we take the time to understand foreign cultures and show them that we can be reasonable. This is important because he just got completely outclassed by Putin over the Ukraine, and also because of his failures with Syria and the whole Arab Spring fiasco. So he needs to look like a shrewd negotiator, even if the deal wasn't a very good one. Again he is relying on the press to paint everything he does in the best possible light.

Here is a good analysis by Allahpundit from HotAir which largely agrees with me, though he puts some of the factors in a different order. Look especially at the last paragraph:

The media’s assuming that the White House wanted an American POW back so badly that they’d reluctantly agree to release five very dangerous Taliban to make it happen. In reality, maybe the reasoning went the other way. Maybe, in the name of finally closing Gitmo, they were eager to get rid of the five Taliban but realized that they couldn’t free them without paying a heavy political price. If, however, they could get the last American prisoner in Afghanistan back as part of a trade, that might give them enough cover to make it happen. It wasn’t Bergdahl who drove the deal, in other words, it was springing these guys from Gitmo. Bergdahl was just a bit of political sugar for the White House that’s now suddenly turned sour on them.

The rest of the article has some good analysis of how and why this all went wrong for Obama.

For some further relevant information look at these stories:

Desertion note

Feinstein's reaction

Here is an early report from CNN before the trouble started. This is how the story was supposed to play out. Note that there is no suggestion that Bergdahl deserted (even though he was publicly investigated in 2010):
Bergdahl was deployed to Afghanistan in May 2009. He was 23 when he was captured by the Taliban after finishing a guard shift at a combat outpost on June 30, 2009, in Paktika province.

Note also, this paragraph (near the end of the article):
A senior administration official told CNN, "With regard to whether or not we're negotiating with terrorists: Sergeant Bergdahl is a member of the military who was detained during the course of an armed conflict. The transfer of these individuals is not a concession -- it is fully in line with the President's goal of closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay."

Thursday, May 08, 2014

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

I just stumbled across this while looking up the history of the CIA in Wikipedia.  According to the 2013 budget, one of the top goals of the Agency is Counterintelligence, which they define thus:

Counterintelligence (CI). To further safeguard our classified networks, we continue to strengthen insider threat detection capabilities across the Community. In addition, we are investing in target surveillance and offensive CI against key targets, such as China, Russia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and Cuba.

I recognize that the Israelis spy on us just as we spy on them. That is just the way the world works. And I also recognize that one of the jobs of the CIA is to try to minimize the leakage as much as possible, no matter who is doing the spying. But is Israel really a "Key Target"? Lumping Israel in with that rogue's gallery of bad players just doesn't sound like a properly ordered set of priorities.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Trampling on the Grapes of Wrath

Charlotte Allen, guest blogging at the LA Times claims Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath is "bad fiction and bad history".  Here is her case, in a nutshell:

Bad Fiction:

...the insufferable Ma Joad (she's symbolic, so she doesn't have a first name) -- who oscillates between threatening to bash her menfolk with blunt instruments ("knock you belly-up with a bucket," "slap ya with a stick a stove wood") when they don't do what she wants and serving as a mouthpiece for Steinbeck's hick-collectivist platitudes: "Maybe if we was all mad in the same way."


The nearly nonexistent story line is a chronicle of lugubrious misery, as the massive Joad family in its overloaded, "Beverly Hillbillies"-style car lurches from one tragic mishap to another on a trek to California that reads as though it takes weeks, if not months -- even though Route 66 was a state-of-the-art highway for its time and the journey could be easily accomplished in from three to six days. 

The main reason people think that "The Grapes of Wrath" is a good novel is that in 1940, director John Ford managed to turn it into a first-rate movie, with the help of stellar acting (Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, Steinbeck's jailbird hero-on-the-lam), haunting chiaroscuro cinematography and the ditching of the novel's bizarre ending, which features "Rosasharn" breastfeeding a starving man in the spirit of proletarian solidarity.
Bad History:
Furthermore, Steinbeck got the Okies historically wrong, probably because he himself hailed from an upper-middle-class family in Salinas and his experience with Okies consisted of interviewing a few of them for some newspaper articles. Just for starters, he had the Joads hailing from Sallisaw, in the far eastern part of Oklahoma, even though the Dust Bowl was confined to the state's western panhandle.

Second, as University of Washington historian James N. Gregory pointed out in "American Exodus," his magisterial 1989 book about Okie culture in California, many Okies were far from the barely literate rural victims that Steinbeck made them out to be. They were actually part of the huge demographic migration of people from the Southwestern United States to California during the first half of the 20th century in search of better jobs and a better life. Only about half of the Depression-era Okies hailed from rural areas, Gregory pointed out, with the rest coming from towns and cities. Many were white-collar and industrial workers. About half of the Okies, "Arkies" and other Southwesterners settled in Los Angeles, the Bay Area and San Diego and never picked a single crop.

And although there was genuine misery in some of the migrant camps, conditions "were not uniformly horrible," Gregory wrote. Most Okies found a better standard of living. Many of them also quickly moved out of farm work into better-paying jobs in the oil industry and, when World War II broke out, in the burgeoning Southern California defense plants. By 1950, most Okies had secured comfortable working-class and lower-middle-class lifestyles, and some had downright prospered.

Furthermore -- and here the last laugh is on Steinbeck -- the Okies turned out to be the exact opposite of progressive collectivists, becoming the backbone of California's political and social conservatism. Instead of fomenting a workers revolution, they led the Reagan Revolution. In "The Grapes of Wrath," Steinbeck relentlessly mocks the Okies' Pentecostal Christianity. In fact, their Pentecostal and Baptist churches were a source of moral cohesion. Gregory counted more churches in Bakersfield, where Okie culture influenced everything from spirituality to music, than in San Francisco. To this day, the Okie culture-saturated San Joaquin Valley remains California's only red-state region.
I only vaguely remember reading Grapes of Wrath, which, while I was in High School, shared the distinction with Moby Dick of being one of only two books that I started but never finished. I have sadly since learned that some books are not worthy of my time, but then I considered it a stain on my honor as an avid reader. So I feel somewhat vindicated to learn that the sense of hopelessness that Grapes conveyed was unjustified by the facts.

Still, while I will never be a Steinbeck fan, I feel the need to cut him a little slack for his touching and eminently chivalrous dedication to The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights:
When I was nine, I took siege with King Arthur's fellowship of knights most proud and worshipful as any alive.  

In those days there was a great lack of hardy and noble-hearted squires to bear shield and sword, to buckle harness, and to succor wounded knights.  

Then it chanced that squire-like duties fell to my sister of six years, who for gentle prowess had no peer living.  

It sometimes happens in sadness and pity that faithful service is not appreciated, so my fair and loyal sister remained unrecognized as squire.

Wherefore this day I make amends within my power and raise her to knighthood and give her praise.  And from this hour she shall be called Sir Marie Steinbeck of Salinas Valley  

God give her worship without peril.

John Steinbeck of Monterey