Monday, July 27, 2015


The map above (click here for a larger version) depicts the French-speaking nations of the world. While French is the mother tongue of 66 million in France, 11 million more throughout Europe, 6.8 million Canadians, and another 250,000 in South America's French Guiana (an overseas department of France), another 140 million people speak French as a second language. French is an official language in 29 nations. The areas where French has dominated roughly corresponds to French imperial domains across the world: French Indochina (what is today Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam), parts of the Caribbean (e.g. Haiti), and large parts of Africa. Although today more people speak some form of Hindi or Chinese, the historic spread of French makes the language an important worldwide medium of communication.

July 27, 2015 Update: With President Obama visiting the Horn of Africa, consider reading our recent post on the region.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, July 25

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


The Salafist Sunnis of Saudi Arabia link with Al Qaeda in Yemen. More proof, that in Yemen, the Saudis are on the other side -- the rise of the Islamic State in Yemen.


Could the Saudis build a nuclear weapon? A short history of nuclear states with emphasis on Asia. Particularly interesting is the not-so-hidden history of nuclear weapons in Israel.


Why Saudi Arabia, American neocons, and Israel oppose the deal.
Minnesota ex-Senator Norm Coleman embodies the strange intersection of Israeli and Saudi interests to demonize Iran. Mr. Coleman lets the Saudis foot the bill. It is going to be an all-out money blitz trying to convince Democrats, especially, not to support the President.
When the Iranian accord was announced, Michael Oren averred that all political factions in Israel were opposed to it... But, au contraire, a powerful set of men in Jerusalem is voicing support for the agreement.


Our first black President has squandered the moral capital of the civil rights movement by embracing the most gruesome acts of male and female degradation in the name of equality for all. And, yet, in foreign policy he may actually have saved us from the Hillary Clinton-John McCain confusion in a multipolar world. Neither of those warrior candidates could have imagined turning Iran from its pariah status to some new role not yet determined.


The Pope praises the popular movements that seek these goods. Let us seek them too. Hear him speak in Bolivia.


Maybe it takes a good Jewish thinker like Yuval Levin to explain the real relationship of Pope Francis to the environmental movement.


Japan's latest Defense White Paper includes criticism of Chinese maritime expansion of influence, as well as rationale for Prime Minister Abe policy to change laws to allow the use of Japanese military beyond the defense of the homeland. This change in security laws has not made him more popular in Japan.


It seems peculiar as Republican candidates say the top issues facing America are jobs and the economy when our departure from God and love of neighbor has led to increasing convoluted defenses of sodomy and infanticide. Does it get any more gruesome?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday BookReview: Mr. McCullough on the pivotal year for General Washington's soldiers

The Grand Union Flag

"Also known as the Continental flag, it is the first true U.S. Flag

"It combined the British King's Colours and the thirteen stripes signifying Colonial unity. George Washington liked this design so well that he chose it to be flown to celebrate the formation of the Continental Army on New Years Day, 1776. On that day the Grand Union Flag was proudly raised on Prospect Hill, near his headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts."

Here is a six-minute radio interview with Mr. McCullough when the book came out a decade ago.

The 'Guardian' newspaper in England published this review:

Might the Americans have lost the War of Independence? They very nearly did. This book is the story of how close George Washington, as commander of the American army, came to defeat in the terrible year of 1776 which also saw the Declaration of Independence. At the end of that year, he assumed that the British, who had chased him all the way from New York, were about to cross the Delaware river and capture Philadelphia, capital of the revolution. He wrote that all the enemy were waiting for was 'ice for a passage, and the dissolution of the poor remains of our debilitated army'.

But Washington was wrong, as he frequently was about military things. David McCullough's account bears out the saying that this war was lost by the British rather than won by the Americans; the book could have been subtitled 'Failures to Pursue'. When Washington wrote those words, he did not know that General Howe, the British commander, had already decided that it was getting too cold to carry on fighting. The war season was over. He would go back to New York and mop up Philadelphia and the Yankee army the following spring.

Howe had thrown away victory before. In August, he had let the defeated American army escape after the battle of Brooklyn (or Long Island). But his failure to take Philadelphia when he could was worse. The British never grasped that it was good publicity which kept Washington's small army in the field, by producing fresh flows of volunteer reinforcements. As soon as Howe's incredible decision was known, Washington snatched the opportunity for a 'brilliant stroke'; he came back across the Delaware and won two small but dazzling victories over Hessian and British forces at Trenton [Dec 26, 1776] and Princeton [about a week later]. They were anything but decisive in military terms. The war dragged on until the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781. But after Trenton, the American public realised that they could win and must win. The corner had been turned.

A British reader has to know a bit of history before starting this book. McCullough is not trying to tell the story of the American Revolution or even of the whole War of Independence. The battle of Bunker Hill (1775) is over when the book begins, with the British locked up in Boston by a cheerful, disorderly little army with almost no gunpowder.

Fortunately for 'His Excellency', as George Washington was known, the British had not got round to occupying the Dorchester Heights above the city. The Americans, showing true inventive genius, went 300 miles to the abandoned Fort Ticonderoga, extracted its enormous guns and towed them back over snowy hills and frozen lakes [arriving toward the end of Jan 1776]. When they opened fire from the heights, Howe at once conceded checkmate and abandoned Boston.

Next came Washington's defence of New York. An enormous British force of warships and troop transports assembled offshore meant that Washington had no long-term hope of defending Manhattan. He hesitated and made bad mistakes. In their only stroke of first-class generalship, the British landed on Long Island and pulverised his army. But Howe's 'failure to pursue' allowed Washington to get the survivors back across the East River in small boats: 'America's Dunkirk'.

There followed long and complicated campaigning in what is now New York's outer suburbia, as the Americans evacuated New York and were driven slowly back, losing battle after battle, until they crossed the Hudson into New Jersey. From there, Washington and his dwindling, exhausted army retreated southwards to Newark and then across the Delaware. Congress had already fled from Philadelphia to Baltimore. Washington thought the army game was up; it would have to be guerrilla warfare in the Alleghenies. But then Howe stopped and blew a whistle for half-time.

This is a well written, conventional war history, illustrated with quotations from the letters and diaries of men and some women on both sides. The American witnesses are wonderfully observant and articulate; they were mostly well-educated volunteers who already 'enjoyed a higher standard of living than any people in the world', as McCullough reminds us. But narrowing the subject to one year has drawbacks as well as advantages.

The plus is that McCullough is offering one more irresistible narrative of a fabled Long March, from hope through despair to hope again... The minus is the lack of political background, which is perfunctory. So New York and Long Island were full of 'loyalists'? What were their own dreams for America and what happened to them in the end? So Washington was a slave-owner and a friend of liberty? Plenty has been written about that elsewhere, but at least a sample should have entered this book.

McCullough inserts profiles of his leading actors. Some work better than others. George Washington, a man of marble famously hard to penetrate, remains opaque. There's any amount of secondary evidence that his men adored him, that he had the gift of transmitting confidence. But why and how?

What McCullough does show is that Washington had the incredibly rare gift of learning from the criticism of subordinates. After Long Island, he discovered that some of his commanders thought he was hopelessly indecisive. He considered this, apparently agreed, and simply made himself more decisive.

In contrast to 'His Excellency', other leaders emerge in sharp relief. None is more appealing than the fat young Boston bookseller, Henry Knox, an Ulster Scot with a booming voice who already weighed nearly 18 stone [252 pounds] at the age of 25. Only in a revolution, and especially a can-do American revolution, could this [porker] turn into a wonderful general who began by thinking up and carrying through the mad feat of towing the guns from Ticonderoga and ended up as one of the victors at Yorktown.
General Knox

McCullough doesn't ask himself what would have happened if Washington had been crushed in 1776. But Knox gives the answer. America was already independent. What mattered was that Americans should realise it. The British could be dealt with, if not now, then later. Even if they still won battles, they were becoming history.

UPDATE: I have driven the highway route from the Albany area through the entire length of Massachusetts. Even though I was cocooned with plush comforts, it still seemed as if Beantown would never come into view.

What Knox and his men accomplished is simply astounding.

What was their toughest stretch? Traversing the Berkshire Mountains once New York was behind them.


Let's close this out with an appropriate colonial fiddle tune.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Map on Monday: ARGENTINA

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing Argentina.

With a population of about 43 million people, Argentina is South America's third largest nation behind Columbia (48 million) and Brazil (204.5 million). The vast majority of Argentina's population are of European descent with roughly one half of all Argentinians (including Pope Francis) of Italian ancestry. Argentina derives its name from the Latin word for silver - the natural resource colonizers had (wrongly) expected to find. Argentina is, however, rich in zinc, copper, lead and is the world's third largest Boron supplier.

Argentina's substantial coast is oriented towards the Atlantic, but it also shares land borders with Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile. With its neighbors, Argentina shares a colonial history in the Spanish Empire. Like central America, Spain's South American holdings began to emerge as independent nations following Napoleon's sacking of Spanish King Ferdinand VII and replacing him with a Bonaparte. In 1810, areas of what would become Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay declared independence and formed a republic known as the United Provinces of South America or the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata (River Plate) with Buenos Aires as its capital. The republic, however, soon fell into civil war and broke into several nations by 1831.

By the early twentieth century, Argentina had become the seventh wealthiest nation in the world - but a military coup in 1930 was the beginning of economic decline for Argentina. While the rule of Juan Perón brought about a brief return to economic prosperity, an ensuing "Dirty War" left thousands dead (or "disappeared") as the military ruled the nation and cracked down on dissidents. With the reestablishment of democracy, Argentina's leaders have taken the nation in a decidedly liberal direction. In 2010, it became the first nation in Latin America to legalize gay marriage. Néstor and Cristina Kirchner - Argentina's own Bill and Hilary - have run the nation since 2002 with Néstor in power for one term and his wife in her second. In 2014, Argentina defaulted on its international debts and remains today a mid-level world power.

For a very informative video on Argentina, see this video from the series Geography Now!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, July 18

                                            by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch

                                                           IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

The most heavily armed nuclear power in the Mideast is Israel. The most dangerous and volatile nuclear power is Pakistan. They are both enemies of Iran. The most destabilizing regime in the Mideast is Saudi Arabia which continues to harbor the Wahhabi salafist Sunni movement that threatens to redefine Sunni Islam, destroy Shiite Islam, and then war with Christians and Jews around the world. The most important element of this agreement, and the saving legacy of the Obama presidency is that we may learn to understand that in the religious war against salafist Sunnis, Iran must be our ally. The nuclear weapons of Pakistan and the chance that salafist Sunnis could dominate that country is a strangely neglected truth in our confused national narrative on the Mideast, and weapons of mass destruction. The Islamic Bomb is not a Shiite notion. This agreement is not between "Obama and Iran".
It has been signed by Russia, China, Germany, Britain, and France, as well as Iran and the U.S. The significance of this agreement will not be about curbing nuclear technology but about initiating a more fundamental realignment of U.S. strategy in the Mideast.


In Kenya, officials ask that President Obama during his visit to his father's homeland not push homosexuality as a human right.

In Kenya, it was their Parliament. In Nigeria the bishops as a group were unequivocal in denouncing the globalization of homosexuality.

                                       THE POPE CONFUSES THE SEXUAL LEFT 

The gender-confused 'National Catholic Reporter' is not happy about this, but they report accurately that Pope Francis has a deep affinity with the charismatic Christian movement and sees them as allies in building a Christian culture.

                                           WHO FIGHTS THE RUSSIANS 

The US effort to train Ukrainians against the Russians has made a strange bedfellow in Muslim Chechyans who want to fight the Russians.

                                     DEBT IS A DEFINING ISSUE OF OUR TIME 

Both Argentina and Greece have large debts to pay. The Pope has spoken often of the structure of world debt as a major injustice. Greece and Argentina differ, in that Greece owes some large international institutions. Argentina's restructuring is being thwarted by "vulture loan companies." This article at a Jewish website, 'Forward', protests against the mention of Shakespeare's Jewish money-lender, Shylock, by the Argentine president. The author then goes on to expose the role of Jewish investor Peter Singer in 'Commentary' magazine, LGBT causes, Republican funding, and high-risk high-interest loans to countries such as Argentina.

One argument why conservatives should cheer on the crazy Greek leftists who maybe aren't so crazy.


Why are corporations always on the gay side in the culture wars?

                                                          THE REAL BATTLE 

The world against the monastery from Dostoevsky.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday BookReview: Ambassador Oren on US/Israel relations

President Obama with Mr. Oren (L) and Prime Minister Netanyahu --
2013 at Ben Gurion Airport

The historian Michael Oren was Israel's ambassador to America from 2009-13, and now is a member of their legislature, the Knesset. 

[He reminds me in assorted ways of Jim Webb, who recently announced he will challenge Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination.]

Here are excerpts from a review of his new book, "ALLY: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide." This appeared in the 'Jewish Journal':

A plate of cheese and crackers served to hungry Israeli officials at the White House is one of the many images that lingered after I read Michael Oren’s riveting new book... [I]t would be a mistake to overlook the first part of the book, a condensed autobiography that plants the seeds for a crucial theme that hovers above the entire book.

That theme is dual loyalty.

In modern parlance, “dual loyalty” is usually used as a pejorative, an accusation that an American Jew may feel more loyalty to Israel than to the United States.

The astonishing thing about Oren’s book is that he has, to a certain extent, redeemed the term. The “dual loyalty” the reader feels in ALLY is not tinged by the poison of betrayal. Rather, it is imbued with a sense of generosity, a sense that an American with an Israeli passport can genuinely love both countries deeply, even when those countries quarrel.

Loyalty is a charged term, because it implies one must choose, and Oren certainly “chooses” Israel the minute he gives up his U.S. passport, as is required by law to become a foreign envoy. But it is a wrenching moment for him...

His love for America is filled with gratitude. “From the time that all four of my grandparents arrived on Ellis Island, through the Great Depression, in which they raised my parents, and the farm-bound community in which I grew up, America held out the chance to excel..."

Oren’s gratitude is deepened by his own personal struggles: “Overweight and so pigeon-toed that I had to wear an excruciating leg brace at night, I was hopeless at sports. And severe learning disabilities consigned me to the ‘dumb’ classes at school, where I failed to grasp elementary math and learn to write legibly.”

Driven to succeed, Oren fought to overcome these obstacles...

His love for Israel sprouted as his success in America grew. As early as age 12, he had a keen sense of history, “an awareness that I was not just a lone Jew living in late 1960s America, but part of a global Jewish collective stretching back millennia.”

If America made him strong, the thought of Israel made him stronger. When he made aliyah [immigrated to the Holy Land] in 1979, Oren drew upon the inner fortitude he had developed in America to overcome the enormous physical challenge of becoming a paratrooper in the Israeli military.

There was no contradiction between his two loves. In meetings of the Zionist youth movement, he often heard the famous words of Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish U.S. Supreme Court Justice: “Every American Jew who supported Zionism was a better American for doing so”...


This is the real drama of Oren’s book: watching him navigate the innumerable conflicts between the country he loves and represents and the country he loves but cannot represent. At the outset, Oren acknowledges that “the two countries had changed markedly and were in danger of drifting apart,” but he believed he could “help prevent that by representing Jerusalem to Washington as well as Israel to the United States”...

While always respectful when speaking about Mr. Obama, Oren is also too honest and too knowledgeable to let the president off the hook whenever he thinks he is mistaken, which is often. The tension builds when these mistakes are seen as hurting the country Oren is sworn to protect. Oren is relentless and crafty in making Israel’s case, but he’s up against an indomitable force: The most powerful man in the world has decided to put distance, or “daylight,” between America and Israel.
Oren’s problem is not with America, but with Obama — and he proceeds to show us how Obama’s distancing policy has come to hurt Israel.

Oren recounts, for example, the infamous “daylight meeting” with Jewish leaders at the White House, when Obama disagreed with Malcolm Hoenlein’s contention that “Israelis took risks only when they were convinced that the United States stood with them.”

Oren explains how Obama “recalled the eight years when Bush backed Israel unequivocally but never produced peace,” and then he delivers the president’s knockout punch: “When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines and that erodes our credibility with the Arabs.”

This view has always appeared reasonable to a large segment of American Jews, especially those who favor Obama and disliked Bush. But Oren punches back.

First, he corrects Obama’s assertion that Israel just sits on the sidelines when there’s no daylight: “Bush’s support for Israel had, in fact, emboldened [Ehud] Olmert to propose establishing a Palestinian state — an offer ignored by Mahmoud Abbas.”

Then, he delivers a knockout punch of his own. He’s grateful for Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security, but in the Middle East, Oren writes, security is largely a product of impressions. Seen in that context, Obama’s approach of “no daylight on security but daylight on diplomacy” leaves Israel vulnerable and reduces its power of deterrence. “A friend who stands by his friends on some issues but not others is, in Middle Eastern eyes, not really a friend. In a region famous for its unforgiving sun, any daylight is searing.”

The daylight was certainly blinding on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Emboldened by his soaring popularity at the beginning of his first term, Obama laid down the law and set up conditions to peace talks that even the Palestinians had never insisted upon: a complete freeze of all Jewish construction in the West Bank, including even Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and all natural growth, something no Israeli leader could accept...

That draconian demand essentially paralyzed the peace process and set the Obama-Netanyahu relationship on a collision course from which it never recovered. Oh, sure, there were the occasional charm offensives and make-up sessions, but they were mostly a front. As Oren’s narrative makes clear, Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu were fundamentally at odds over how to approach the Palestinian conflict...

Things got so tenuous that when Abbas called Obama’s bluff and sought a Security Council condemnation of Israeli settlements, Obama, desperate not to exercise his veto power, offered to endorse the Palestinian position on the 1967 lines, altering more than 40 years of American policy. The book’s revelation of this sneaky maneuver is getting a lot of media attention, but everyone seems to be missing an essential fact: Abbas still said no.

A vexing low point in the ongoing saga with Obama is the night Israeli officials were left alone and hungry at the White House while Obama and Netanyahu were off in a private meeting. No food was served until someone asked, and then a White House employee brought a plate of cheese and crackers, which Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak proceeded to devour...

In any event, all the battling and squabbling between Obama and Netanyahu were small potatoes compared to their division on the existential issue of Iran's nuclear program. “Rarely in modern history have nations faced genuine existential threats,” Oren writes. “Israel uniquely confronted many potential cataclysms on a daily basis..."

If the Palestinian issue had a farcical and cynical sheen, the Iranian issue had a tragic one that tested Oren unlike any other: “It wedged me between a prime minister who believed it his historic duty to defend Israel against an imminent mortal threat and a president who saw that same danger as less lethal, less pressing, and still addressable through diplomacy.”

Oren diligently chronicles the tortured, interminable dance between Obama and Netanyahu on the Iranian issue, one that still awaits a final act. But there is also a fascinating dance between Oren and his boss, Netanyahu, flowing through the book.

“Ever mindful of the opportunity he gave me to achieve a lifelong dream,” Oren writes, “I liked Netanyahu, but I never became his friend. Rendered suspicious by years of political treacheries, he appeared not to cultivate or even need friendships. … And yet, I still empathized with his loneliness, a leader of a country that had little respect for rank and often less for those who wore it … [who] presided over unremitting crises, domestic and foreign, that would break most normal men.”

Oren says he gave his boss loyalty and honesty, including “advice he did not always relish hearing.” Oren’s approach, which was more conciliatory, especially toward Washington, “ran counter to Netanyahu’s personality — part commando, part politico, and thoroughly predatory.”

In one of the most telling passages of the book, Oren writes about a “most difficult” truth he could never bring himself to tell his boss: “He had much in common with Obama. Both men were left-handed, both believed in the power of oratory and that they were the smartest men in the room. Both were loners... And both saw themselves in transformative historical roles”...

Oren is sharply critical of some Jewish journalists in America, many of whom he feels hold Israel to a double standard and overdose on criticism of the Jewish state...

As a historian... Oren understands that leaders come and go; that no leader, however powerful, is bigger than a country or its ideals.  Leaders may damage relationships and interests, but they don’t damage values. Oren was deeply loyal to his beloved Israel, but he was also deeply loyal to the enduring values of his beloved America.

That is how he gave dual loyalty a good name.


UPDATE: A short clip of Ambassador Oren explaining why he had to give up his U.S. citizenship.

One more take on the book -- from the opening paragraphs of a review by Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute:
"More than [about] policy…, Barack Obama was about ideology and a worldview often at variance with Israel’s.” These words constitute the thesis statement of ALLY... Given the grave urgency of the regional and international challenges facing the Jewish state, and given what is widely perceived today as a severe crisis in America-Israel relations, the book couldn’t be timelier—as the instantaneous media ruckus attending its publication amply testifies... 
In general, Oren writes, President Obama sought to downplay the military dimension of American foreign policy, to distance the United States from traditional allies, and to work through international organizations. Taken together, all of these inclinations, the ambassador understood, spelled trouble for Israel: “a traditional ally, heavily dependent on American might, and at odds with . . . international organizations.”

And this from a recent radio appearance on Hugh Hewitt's show, discussing the Iranian accord:

"[T]here are a lot of parties in Israel. You’re part of a new party. Does anyone say okay, maybe it’s a decent deal? Or what, is Israel united?"

OREN: "No. No, the amazing thing, you know, I’m in Knesset, Hugh, and we agree on absolutely nothing. It’s very different than the Congress. You know, we scream and yell at each other. If the seats weren’t screwed down, we’d probably throw them at each other. Nobody agrees on anything. Everybody, everybody agrees that this is a bad deal. And I’m talking about left wing, right wing, religious, secular, even an Arab and Jew. And we have a lot of Arabs in the Knesset. And they cannot be feeling secure tonight, either, because an Iranian nuclear device or even a missile from Hezbollah is not going to distinguish between an Arab house and a Jewish house in the state of Israel."