Saturday, January 23, 2016

Witless Ape: The Director's Cut

By Mark Steyn
January 22, 2016

If you're in the New York-Washington corridor this weekend, Miss Jessica Martin and I havethe perfect musical accompaniment.
~This is a droll line from Professor Glenn Reynolds:
If Obama had 2 more terms, he'd have to build a wall to keep Americans in.
~National Review's initial reaction to Donald Trump's entry into the presidential race appeared a few hours after he launched his campaign under the headline "Witless Ape Rides Escalator". Their condescension has got a little subtler since then, and it's now gone long-form with an entire issue dedicated to the singular proposition: "Against Trump".

I've received a ton of emails today asking me what I make of the National Review hit. I used to contribute to NR, and I generally make it a rule not to comment on publications for which I once wrote. Just move on with your life, that's my advice. In this case, we parted on not terribly pleasant terms, and we remain co-defendants on the unending Mann vs Steyn et al law suit, which means I have to get on well enough with Rich Lowry so that he doesn't want to punch my lights out when we're sitting in the dock together - or, if things go really badly, sharing a cell.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding some contributors I admire, the whole feels like a rather obvious trolling exercise. As I explained yesterday, I don't think Trump supporters care that he's not a fully paid-up member in good standing of "the conservative movement" - in part because, as they see it, the conservative movement barely moves anything. If you want the gist of NR's argument, here it is:
I think we can say that this is a Republican campaign that would have appalled Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan...
A real conservative walks with us. Ronald Reagan read National Review and Human Events for intellectual sustenance...
My old boss, Ronald Reagan, once said...
Ronald Reagan was famous for...
When Reagan first ran for governor of California...
Reagan showed respect for...
Reagan kept the Eleventh Commandment...
Far cry from Ronald Reagan's "I am paying for this microphone" line...
Trump is Dan Quayle, and everyone and his auntie are Lloyd Bentsen: "I knew Ronald Reagan, I worked for Ronald Reagan, I filled in Ronald Reagan's subscription-renewal form for National Review. And you, sir, are no Ronald Reagan."

You have to be over 50 to have voted for Reagan, and a supposed "movement" can't dine out on one guy forever, can it? What else you got?

Well, there are two references to Bush, both of them following the words "Reagan and". But no mention of Dole, one psephological citation of Romney, and one passing sneer at McCain as a "cynical charlatan" - and that's it for the last three decades of presidential candidates approved by National Review, at least to the extent that they never ran entire issues trashing them.

Will the more or less official disdain of "the conservative movement" make any difference to Trump's supporters? Matt Welch in Reason:
Many or even most of the people who make a living working in politics and political commentary—even those who think of themselves as outsiders, such as nonpartisan libertarians—inevitably begin to view their field as one dedicated primarily to ideas, ideology, philosophy, policy, and so forth, and NOT to the emotional, ideologically unmoored cultural passions of a given (and perhaps fleeting) moment.
I'd put that contrast slightly differently. The movement conservatives at National Review make a pretty nice living out of "ideas, ideology, philosophy, policy, and so forth". The voters can't afford that luxury: They live in a world where, in large part due to the incompetence of the national Republican Party post-Reagan, Democrat ideas are in the ascendant. And they feel that this is maybe the last chance to change that.

Go back to that line "When Reagan first ran for governor of California..." Gosh, those were the days, weren't they? But Reagan couldn't get elected Governor of California now, could he? Because the Golden State has been demographically transformed. From my book The [Un]documented Mark Steyn:
According to the Census, in 1970 the 'Non-Hispanic White' population of California was 78 per cent. By the 2010 Census, it was 40 per cent. Over the same period, the 10-per cent Hispanic population quadrupled and caught up with whites. 
That doesn't sound terribly 'natural', does it? If one were informed that, say, the population of Nigeria had gone from 80 per cent black in 1970 to 40 per cent black today, one would suspect something rather odd and profoundly unnatural had been going on.
The past is another country, and the Chamber of Commerce Republicans gave it away. Reagan's California no longer exists. And, if America as a whole takes on the demographics of California, then "the conservative movement" will no longer exist. That's why, for many voters, re-asserting America's borders is the first, necessary condition for anything else - and it took Trump to put that on the table.

~My Australian tour kicks off on Valentine's Day in the wild west. I always love my forays Down Under, and I'm looking forward to this trip immensely. I understand the Perth, Brisbane and Canberra gigs are already sold out, but there are still a few tickets left for other dates such as, er, Cloncurry. Don't leave it too late, though. Full details of the schedule and availability can be found here..

13 Hours Benghazi Film Nails Clinton, Obama Betrayal Without Saying a Word

Joy Overbeck Jan 22, 2016

In the last moments of this incandescently tragic but brilliant film, the camera lingers on an American flag, torn and blackened by fire, weighed down by chunks of the once-lavish consulate, sinking in the trash-strewn pool of the Benghazi residence where just a few hours earlier Ambassador Chris Stevens was dipping his toes.
A gut-rending symbol of how our rodent-hearted “leaders” have sunk our once-great nation; the noble flag drowned literally in the rocket’s red glare of Islamic terrorist bombs bursting in air.
Thirteen Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a war movie about the Libyan terrorist attacks on September 11, 2012 that will take its place among the iconic war movies of all time.  
I sat open-mouthed, clutching the arms of my seat and spilling my popcorn as the screen illuminated in  flashes from massive explosions the breath-taking heroism of the former Marines and Navy Seals defending the U.S. Benghazi assets. Their names are Tanto (Kris Paronto), Oz (Mark Geist), Tig (John Tiegen), Rone (Tyrone Woods) and Glen Doherty.     
The film also illuminates with night vision goggle precision the treachery of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama who did nothing to save them. Never are the secretary of state or the commander in chief (uh, Obama) even mentioned, which in itself screams volumes. Just as they were absent from duty the night of the attacks, they are AWOL in the movie itself.
We now know that Hillary Clinton spent a little time in the Situation Room that night, presumably watching the live feed from the drone that captured the life-and-death siege of first the ambassador’s residence and a few hours later, the second attack on the CIA annex a mile or so away. We know that the president wasn’t there, likely busy picking out the suit he would wear for his campaign fund-raiser in Nevada next day.
We know now that the night of September 11 Secretary of State Clinton told her daughter and the Egyptian prime minister that this was a coordinated planned attack by Islamic terrorists marking the September 11 anniversary and had nothing to do with any video. So we know that she and Mr. Obama deliberately lied when they told the grieving relatives as their loved ones’ flag-draped coffins were being unloaded on the tarmac that a video was to blame for their deaths. We know that the security for which Ambassador Chris Stevens repeatedly begged was denied, and actually down-scaled in one of the world’s most dangerous posts that most nations’ embassies and even the Red Cross had already fled.
As they saw the consulate burning in the distance, the small former special forces team assigned to protect the CIA Annex (purportedly to secure weapons from the deposed Quadaffi regime) disobeyed several stand-down orders from the on-scene CIA station chief and ran to help. They said in the film and later in TV interviews (on Fox News; the mainstream media won’t touch this) that if the CIA bureaucrat would not have delayed their leaving, they are sure they could have saved two lives. But despite furious attacks, they did succeed in rescuing  many at the consulate.    
After the embassy was demolished and Sean Smith and Ambassador Stevens were dead, the five-man team returned to combat positions on the roofs of the CIA buildings, defending the 25 or so CIA personnel inside against the fierce onslaught of incoming rocket propelled grenades and mortar fire from the Islamic terrorists.
In one scene, Rone (Tyrone Wood)  face bloodied and streaked black with machine gun soot, climbs down to the office complex and asks one of the CIA operatives if there’s anyone she can call to get some air support – not bombs, but just a low fly-over “to put the fear of God and the USA into them.” She says she has some contacts and gets on the phone.
In fact, according to a CBS news report by investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson:
“The Pentagon says it did move a team of special operators from central Europe to the large Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy, but gave no other details. Sigonella is just an hour's flight from Libya. Other nearby bases include Aviano and Souda Bay. Military sources tell CBS News that resources at the three bases include fighter jets and Specter AC-130 gunships, which the sources say can be extremely effective in flying in and buzzing a crowd to disperse it.”
So a fear-of-God airborne testosterone display could have been mounted yet for unknown reasons was not. The film has a short scene captioned “AFRICOM” showing a gaggle of military brass talking about a possible air mission, and then we briefly see rows of American soldiers sitting on airplane benches in full readiness combat gear. They never took off .  
Not long after the debacle, then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Pentagon reporters it wasn’t clear enough what was occurring on the ground in Benghazi to send help. 
“(The) basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on; without having some real-time information about what’s taking place,” Panetta told Pentagon reporters. “And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, Gen. Ham (head of AFRICOM, the crisis-responding combat command for Libya and other African nations), Gen. Dempsey (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.”
So the on-site drone giving them real-time eyes-on plus the Benghazi CIA calling desperately for help with the deafening soundtrack of bombs and machine gun fire in the background simply didn’t provide enough info about what was going on? These men are in charge of the “no man left behind” ethic of the U.S. armed services. Panetta’s excuse is simply preposterous. .
Panetta also serves up a banquet of red herring by claiming those pinned down in Benghazi demanded a rescue force. They would be grateful for a bone-rattling, cockroach-scattering fly-by. But even that was too much for the Defense Secretary. 
Later in the battle, Rone Woods returns to the CIA office complex to ask the woman who called her contacts for help if she’d had any response.  Negative. Nobody would be coming.  
That no-go decision had to be deliberate. AFRICOM’s General Ham told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on June 26, 2013, that he learned about the terrorist attack on the consulate only 15 minutes after it started. He headed down the hall to General Dempsey’s office and informed him about the onslaught. The two immediately went to meet with Panetta and the three “headed across for the meeting at the White House” according to Ham.
Their meeting with the president started at 5:00, about an hour and 18 minutes into the terrorist siege so the president knew about the attack at that time. The meeting lasted a mere half hour. Now things get blurry. According to then White House press secretary Jay Carney, Obama didn’t phone Clinton until 10 p.m. that night, more than six hours after the attack began. But Carney’s statement didn’t line up with a letter released by the White House to Congress stating that Obama made no phone calls the night of the attack. And it turns out a month earlier Clinton had testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she learned of the attack on Benghazi at 4 p.m., not 10:00.
Clinton told the Senators that “we were in continuous meetings and conversations, both within the department, with our team in Tripoli, with the interagency and internationally. ..I spoke with President Obama later in the evening to, you know, bring him up to date, to hear his perspective,” she testified.
Internet sources including The Gateway Pundit and RedState have reported that both General Hamm and Rear Admiral Charles M. Gaouette, who commanded the Carrier Strike Group Three (CSG-3), then deployed in Middle Eastern waters during the attack on Benghazi, disobeyed stand-down orders from higher up and readied rescue plans.  These stories are supported by the president suddenly removing Ham from duty (firing) just about a month after Benghazi, followed by Ham’s premature retirement.
Also in October 2012 after the Benghazi disaster, Admiral Gaouette was fired as the Navy announced it was “replacing the admiral in command of an aircraft carrier strike group in the Middle East, pending the outcome of an internal investigation into undisclosed allegations of inappropriate judgment.” Could Gaouette’s “inappropriate judgment” be choosing to do the honorable thing by rescuing the Benghazi warriors?
Back to the movie, the CIA roof and a hail of hell as ex-Navy Seal Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods die in a savage mortar attack. Finally the CIA survivors are saved, not by American military but by the Libyan Army’s phalanx of military trucks. 
And now the woman who shrilled, “what difference does it make”, who lied to the parents of the dead, who abandoned our Americans in order to support the president’s faux hawkish re-election slogan, “G.M. is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead,” is running for president.  Memo to America: be sure you have your life insurance paid up if you think Hillary Clinton will “fight for you” as her good friend Ambassador Stevens believed.  And don’t you dare vote for her. 

Now, What About the 13 Hours of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

Charlotte Hays Jan 22, 2016

President Obama takes the hand of Secretary of State Clinton as the bodies of the four Americans killed at the consulate in Benghazi are returned to the U.S.

Benghazi and its aftermath in some ways exemplifies foreign policy during the Obama years: the public never get a straight answer.
That is why the new movie, "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi," is so important. It answers the question the administration refuses to: What happened that night in Benghazi, Libya as Americans fought for their lives for thirteen hours against a well-coordinated attack on September 11, 2012?
Yes, it's a movie and undoubtedly includes inaccuracies and exaggeration, but I'll gladly put it up for an accuracy contest against the bogus Benghazi talking points delivered on September 15, 2012, on the Sunday morning shows by then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
The movie is based on "13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Happened," by former Boston Globe reporter Mitchell Zuckoff, who worked with five CIA security contractors who survived the attacks. Four men died that night, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, the first American ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979. Kris “Tanto” Paronto, one of the surviving contractors, has vouched for the accuracy of the movie.
Directed and co-produced by action filmmaker Michael Bay of "Transformers" fame, "13 Hours" is riveting and at times almost unbearably scary. "I feel like I am in a f------ horror movie," a soldier says. I'd say it was a macho movie, given the culture of the contractors, but I went with a girlfriend and we were both entirely absorbed. The Benghazi soldiers compare themselves to the men at the Alamo, another place where help never arrived.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are never mentioned, though Obama's words about the U.S. helping to topple Libyan strongman Muammar Gadaffi, and thus giving the Libyans a chance to establish democracy, are superimposed with devastating effect over footage of a country that has disintegrated into one big arms bazaar ruled by competing militias. Apparently, Colin Powell's Pottery Barn Rule (if you break it, you own it) doesn't apply to Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton.
One of the most effective aspects of "13 Hours" is that it does not deal with what the contractors did not know. We know from subsequent testimony before Congress that Gregory Hicks, back at the embassy in Tripoli, who became the top U.S. diplomat in Libya upon the death of Stevens, talked to the State Department that night. But we never know what kind of conversations the CIA station chief--identified in the movie only as "Bob"--might have been having with Washington. When Bob orders the contractors not to go to the diplomatic installation to try to rescue the ambassador, we don't know on whose authority he was acting. What we do know is that the soldiers were left to fight alone for thirteen long hours, with no help from their government. Some have said that a flyover by U.S. planes might have dispersed the militants and prevented the mortar attack on the CIA Annex that came late in the action and killed two men.
The action, as you probably already know, takes place at and between a diplomatic installation and a CIA Annex a few miles away. One of the most frightening scenes is when two contractors drive through the violent streets of Benghazi between the two compounds. Why would they even have tried to save Stevens with the cards so stacked against them? "You can put a price on being able to live with yourself," says one of them. That in a nutshell is the theme of the movie.
Apparently, Washington officials, one of whom wants to be our next president, suffer from fewer moral scruples. Now that we have a compelling account of the harrowing thirteen hours on the ground at Benghazi, we deserve to know about the thirteen hours of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Will somebody just ask at a press conference, “What did you do that night? What time did you go to bed when Americans were fighting for their lives in a country we had supposedly liberated?”
At the end of the movie, one of the contractors notices that, even while being rescued, he will fly out in a Libyan plane. The Americans have still not come. This too says much about the true Obama foreign policy legacy, where so much of the world is wondering when, if ever, American leadership will show up. They’ll have to wait another year, at least.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Film Review: '13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi'

January 15, 2016
John Krasinski and James Dale in '13 Hours'

In the opening sequence of “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” a security contractor bluffs his way out of a sticky situation on the streets of a violent city far, far from America, a city in which warring factions means the man facing him down could be an ally or could, just as easily, put a bullet in his head. “Look up,” the American says, “See the drone?”
There is no drone. But the threat of a drone is enough, barely enough.
This is the recurring theme of the film. A fading superpower trades on its still-existing military power while trying to figure out its purpose.
Whatever movie audiences expected to emerge from Transformers director Michael Bay’s examination of the Benghazi debacle, it probably wasn’t this insightful war story about astonishing hubris on every level except the men who actually carry the guns. In action and depth, this film rivals recent greats such as “Black Hawk Down” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”

What Happened in Benghazi

On September 11, 2012, Libyan militia overwhelmed the American diplomatic compound in a small, violent city few in America could place on a map. Over the course of a single, long night, a small contingent of American contractors held off hordes of Libyan attackers. When the smoke cleared, four Americans were dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, and the bodies of Libyan fighters littered the countryside.
The movie tells the story from the vantage point of the American fighters: former military now hired as contractors to protect a Central Intelligence Agency base in Benghazi that, officially, does not exist. Jack (John Krasinski) arrives in Benghazi for his twelfth tour in a war zone. He joins his buddy Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Dale) and strong men Tanto (Pablo Schreiber), Boon (David Denman), Tig (Dominic Fumusa), and Oz (Max Martini). A mile or so down the road from the secret CIA base, the Benghazi diplomatic compound represents the official face of America.
The CIA is in Libya to monitor and do what it can to prevent the massive arms market that has exploded since the downfall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Powerful military weapons are auctioned to the highest bidder, which does not help the handful of men charged with protecting the base sleep at night.

Chaotic, Middle Eastern Battle Scenes

The action in the film, and most of it is battleground action, is fantastic. Very different in feel than the bombastic “Transformers,” it paces well and makes sense. The battle scenes are tense, dark, smoky, confusing, and realistic. Soldiers act like soldiers. The intense violence and language earn the film an R rating. There is no sexual content.
The battles capture the chaos of the Middle East. In one scene, the Americans travel down a Benghazi street, passing militia with massive guns who may be allies, Libyan teenagers drawn toward gunfire for excitement, Libyan men watching a soccer match as the battle rages, and groups of men holding no visible weapons but the anger in their eyes.
It is impossible to tell who is friendly, indifferent, or enemy. No one wears uniforms, few can be trusted. Some join the fight on the side of the Americans, others run away, some open fire. Bay makes sure in a touching scene that the audience realizes Libyan woman mourn their dead as much as any American.
More than external confusion, though, the film captures the contractors’ internal confusion. Why are they there? Even as they chafe at institutional lethargy, conflicting mission values, and even indifference from the home front, they cannot seem to leave the battle to which they have given so many years of their lives.
They talk about this during lulls in the fighting, marveling at how surreal it is that they should be fighting for their very lives in a place so irrelevant to so many of their countrymen. When they were younger, they say, it was about being part of something bigger. Now they worry that something bigger is gone.
Yet what can be bigger than keeping weapons out of the hands of thugs and terrorists? Bigger than the hope on the face of Libyans who see in Ambassador Stevens a dream of the free, prosperous, secure country they have desired for so long? Bigger than saving American lives?

America No Longer Protects Its Own

They have not left the battle, but their superiors have. As they beg for air support and wait for the support that will never come, a U.S. drone circles overhead, watching, only watching. It streams real-time information to military brass on ships, to command centers at home, even to the terrified agents monitoring from inside the compound.
It shows hundreds of hostiles converging on the few brave men defending the base. It counts them, takes their heat signature, and analyzes their positions. But it never takes action, just watches. It is not clear in the movie whether the drone is even armed, which is exactly the point. It is never intended to aid, only to watch.
The movie does not aim to score obvious political points. The president is referenced once in passing. Hillary Clinton is never mentioned, neither by name nor by office. In some ways, this makes a more powerful indictment, as their inaction and disinterest is reflected in every stand-down order given, every refusal to send a plane, every officer who denies authority to act. People are dying, and the United States government is, simply, MIA. The film leaves it to you to draw conclusions.
In the film, the evacuation of Benghazi grows to symbolize America’s retreat from the world stage. Scarred and scared, shocked at failure despite constant warnings of the dangers facing them, traumatized by the battle they should have seen coming, America leaves Benghazi to its own devices.
The children on the street wave goodbye, those who worked with the Americans return to their own homes, hundreds of thousands join a vigil to honor Ambassador Stevens, but it does not matter. America has gone home.

Rebecca Cusey is a movie critic based in Washington DC. She is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Society and a voting Tomatomer Critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey.

El Chapo’s Capture Puts ‘Operation Fast and Furious’ Back in the Headlines

By Ian Tuttle — January 21, 2016

Photo: Olivier Douliery/UPPA/Zuma

Obama-administration scandals never resolve. They just vanish — usually, under a new scandal.
So it was with one of this president’s earliest embarrassments, “Operation Fast and Furious,” designed to help the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) dismantle drug cartels operating inside the United States and disrupt drug-trafficking routes. Instead, it put into the hands of criminals south of the border some 2,000 weapons, which have been used to kill hundreds of Mexicans and at least one American, U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Now, Fast and Furious is back in the news. Earlier this month, a raid on the hidey-hole of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman recovered not only the notorious drug lord, but a (“massive”) .50-caliber rifle, capable of stopping a car or shooting down a helicopter, that originated with the ATF program. Rest easy, though: Only 34 such rifles were sold through the program.

The news comes just days after a federal judge rejected President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege to deny Congress access to Fast and Furious–related records it requested back in 2012 as part of an investigation into the gun-walking operation. Despite the IRS scandal, Benghazi, and a host of other accusations of malfeasance against this White House, it remains this president’s sole assertion of executive privilege.

Three-and-a-half years later, the question is still: Why?

In November 2009, the ATF’s Phoenix field office launched an operation in which guns bought by drug-cartel straw purchasers in the U.S. were allowed to “walk” across the border into Mexico. ATF agents would then track the guns as they made their way through the ranks of the cartel.

At least, that was the theory. In reality, once the guns walked across the border, they were gone. Whistleblowers reported, and investigators later confirmed, that the ATF made no effort to trace the guns.

In March 2010, a few ATF agents voiced an obvious concern: Couldn’t the guns end up being used in crimes? Seven months later, that’s exactly what happened. The brother of the former attorney general of the state of Chihuahua was murdered, and Fast and Furious weapons were found at the scene.

In December, the scheme’s ramifications crossed back over the border. On December 14, four Border Patrol agents were staked out near Rio Rico, Ariz., eleven miles north of the Mexican border. A five-man “rip crew,” a group looking to rob drug smugglers crossing the border, opened fire when the agents attempted to apprehend. Agent Terry was struck in the back and bled to death. Two of the guns involved in the shootout were traced back to Fast and Furious, which continued for another six weeks.

The operation was finally shut down with the help of Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), then ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who promptly opened an investigation. Two months later, Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), then chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, opened his own investigation in the House.

Operation Fast and Furious would have been bad enough. But the investigation made clear a widespread cover-up. In February, in response to a request from Grassley, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich submitted for the record a letter declaring that any claim “that ATF ‘sanctioned’ or otherwise knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser who then transported them to Mexico — is false. ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico.” In November, Attorney General Eric Holder admitted that gun-walking was, in fact, used, and in December the Obama administration formally withdrew Weich’s letter from the congressional record — because it was, in Holder’s words, “inaccurate.”

By that time, Holder had become a figure of particular interest. What did the attorney general know about the operation, and when did he know it? In May 2011, he claimed to have known about gun-walking tactics for only a few weeks. But by October, new documents showed that Holder had been briefed about Operation Fast and Furious as early as July 2010. And in January 2010, just months after the ATF had launched Operation Fast and Furious, personnel from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a multi-agency network run by the Department of Justice, had been brought in to provide additional manpower.

Furthermore, the operation may have had an explicitly political angle. E-mails obtained by CBS News in late 2011 showed ATF officials corresponding about the possibility of using Fast and Furious to push through a regulation requiring gun shops to report the sale of multiple rifles or “long guns.” In other words, the ATF permitted certain gun shops to conduct certain, inadvisable sales to dangerous people and then planned to point to those sales to justify the need for new reporting requirements.

By the summer of 2012, Holder and the House Oversight Committee were at a standoff, the attorney general claiming he had been fully responsive to the committee’s request for documents, Issa claiming that the DOJ had withheld 1,300 key pages. President Obama, intervening, declared that the documents were protected under executive privilege — a risible claim, legally, and a suggestive one, given the White House’s denial of involvement. In late June, at the recommendation of the committee, Holder became the first sitting member of a presidential cabinet to be held in contempt by the House of Representatives.

In September, the administration declared victory. The Department of Justice’s inspector general released a report recommending disciplinary action against 14 federal officials and absolving Holder — seemingly. In fact, the report noted a series of extraordinary coincidences in which, several times in 2010 and 2011, information about the program made it all the way to Holder’s desk — but without the attorney general’s ever managing to pass his eyes over it. Odd, that.

Since then, the investigation into Fast and Furious has been tied up in the courts, where the House challenged the president’s executive-privilege claim.

But the ATF & Co.’s horrendous judgment continues to take a toll. By the time of the House’s contempt vote, some 300 Mexicans had been killed or wounded by Fast and Furious firearms, and that number has surely risen. In December 2013, a walked gun was found at the site of a gunfight at a Mexican resort that left five cartel members dead.

The guns have found their way north, too. A weapon owned by Nadir Soofi, one of the two Muslim terrorists who tried to shoot up Pamela Geller’s “Draw Muhammad” contest in Texas last May, was acquired through Fast and Furious.

It is difficult to overstate both how stupid and how incompetent were the whole host of federal officials involved in this fiasco, who first thought it was a swell idea to traffic thousands of guns to Mexican criminals, then blithely forgot about them. It is difficult, too, to overstate the contempt of this administration for transparency, given that, having made those fatal mistakes, its response was to hide them from a congressional inquiry, going so far as to invoke executive privilege to do so. At best, the operation and its aftermath were an exercise in astonishing malpractice; at worst, the administration knowingly exhibited a reckless disregard for human life — then covered it up.
Under “Operation Fast & Furious,” the U.S. government became a de facto arms dealer to Mexican drug cartels and Islamist criminals.

But this administration still wants to lecture Americans about gun control . . .

— Ian Tuttle is a National Review Institute Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism.

The GOP gets the Iran prisoner swap wrong

By Charles Krauthammer
January 21, 2016

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani gestures at the conclusion of a news conference in Tehran on Jan. 17. (Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press)

Give President Obama credit. His Iran nuclear deal may be disastrous but the packaging was brilliant. The near-simultaneous prisoner exchange was meant to distract from last Saturday’s official implementation of the sanctions-lifting deal. And it did. The Republicans concentrated almost all their fire on the swap sideshow.
And in denouncing the swap, they were wrong. True, we should have made the prisoner release a precondition for negotiations. But that preemptive concession was made long ago (among many others, such as granting Iran in advance the right to enrich uranium). The remaining question was getting our prisoners released before we gave away all our leverage upon implementation of the nuclear accord. We did.
Republicans say: We shouldn’t negotiate with terror states. But we do and we should. How else do you get hostages back? And yes, of course negotiating encourages further hostage taking. But there is always something to be gained by kidnapping Americans. This swap does not affect that truth one way or the other.
And here, we didn’t give away much. The seven released Iranians, none of whom has blood on his hands, were sanctions busters (and a hacker), and sanctions are essentially over now. The slate is clean.
But how unfair, say the critics. We released prisoners duly convicted in a court of law. Iran released perfectly innocent, unjustly jailed hostages.
Yes, and so what? That’s just another way of saying we have the rule of law, they don’t. It doesn’t mean we abandon our hostages. Natan Sharansky was a prisoner of conscience who spent eight years in the gulag on totally phony charges. He was exchanged for two real Soviet spies. Does anyone think we should have said no?
The one valid criticism of the Iranian swap is that we left one, perhaps two, Americans behind and unaccounted for. True. But the swap itself was perfectly reasonable. And cleverly used by the administration to create a heartwarming human interest story to overshadow a rotten diplomatic deal, just as the Alan Gross release sweetened a Cuba deal that gave the store away to the Castro brothers.
The real story of Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016 — “Implementation Day” of the Iran deal — was that it marked a historic inflection point in the geopolitics of the Middle East. In a stroke, Iran shed almost four decades of rogue-state status and was declared a citizen of good standing of the international community, open to trade, investment and diplomacy. This, without giving up, or even promising to change, its policy of subversion and aggression. This, without having forfeited its status as the world’s greatest purveyor of terrorism.
Overnight, it went not just from pariah to player but from pariah to dominant regional power, flush with $100 billion in unfrozen assets and virtually free of international sanctions. The oil trade alone will pump tens of billions of dollars into its economy. The day after Implementation Day, President Hassan Rouhani predicted 5 percent growth — versus the contracting, indeed hemorrhaging, economy in pre-negotiation 2012 and 2013.
On Saturday, the Iranian transport minister announced the purchase of 114 Airbuses from Europe. This inaugurates a rush of deals binding European companies to Iran, thoroughly undermining Obama’s pipe dream of “snapback sanctions” if Iran cheats.
Cash-rich, reconnected with global banking and commerce, and facing an Arab world collapsed into a miasma of raging civil wars, Iran has instantly become the dominant power of the Middle East. Not to worry, argued the administration. The nuclear opening will temper Iranian adventurism and empower Iranian moderates.
The opposite is happening. And it’s not just the ostentatious, illegal ballistic missile launches; not just Iran’s president reacting to the most puny retaliatory sanctions by ordering his military to accelerate the missile program; not just the videotaped and broadcast humiliation of seized U.S. sailors.
Look at what the mullahs are doing at home. Within hours of “implementation,” the regime disqualified 2,967 of roughly 3,000 moderate candidates from even running in parliamentary elections next month. And just to make sure we got the point, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reiterated that Iranian policy — aggressively interventionist and immutably anti-American — continues unchanged.
In 1938, the morning after Munich, Europe woke up to Germany as the continent’s dominant power. Last Sunday, the Middle East woke up to Iran as the regional hegemon, with a hand — often predominant — in the future of Syria, Yemen, Iraq, the Gulf Arab states and, in time, in the very survival of Israel.
And we’re arguing over an asymmetric hostage swap.
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