“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."
The original question the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign was to answer was a simple one: Did Donald Trump, or officials with his knowledge, collude with Vladimir Putin’s Russia to hack the emails of John Podesta and the DNC, and leak the contents to damage Hillary Clinton and elect Trump?
A year and a half into the investigation, and, still, no “collusion” has been found. Yet the investigation goes on, at the demand of the never-Trump media and Beltway establishment.
Hence, and understandably, suspicions have arisen. Are the investigators after the truth, or are they after Trump?
Set aside the Trump-Putin conspiracy theory momentarily, and consider a rival explanation for what is going down here: That, from the outset, Director James Comey and an FBI camarilla were determined to stop Trump and elect Hillary. Having failed, they conspired to break Trump’s presidency, overturn his mandate and bring him down.
Essential to any such project was first to block any indictment of Hillary for transmitting national security secrets over her private email server. That first objective was achieved 18 months ago.
On July 5, 2016, Comey stepped before a stunned press corps to declare that, given the evidence gathered by the FBI, “no reasonable prosecutor” would indict Clinton. Therefore, that was the course he, Comey, was recommending.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch, compromised by her infamous 35-minute tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton -- to discuss golf and grandkids -- seconded Comey’s decision.
And so Hillary walked. Why is this suspicious?
First, whether or not to indict was a decision that belonged to the Department of Justice, not Comey or the FBI. His preemption of Justice Department authority was astonishing.
Second, while Comey said in his statement that Hillary had been “extremely careless” with security secrets, in his first draft, Clinton was declared guilty of “gross negligence” -- the precise language in the statute to justify indictment.
Who talked Comey into softening the language to look less than criminal? One man was FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whose wife, Jill, a Virginia state Senate candidate, received a munificent PAC contribution of $474,000 from Clinton family friend and big bundler Terry McAuliffe.
Also urging Comey to soften the fatal phrase “gross negligence” was key FBI agent Peter Strzok. In text messages to his FBI lover Lisa Page, Strzok repeatedly vented his detestation of the “idiot” Trump.
After one meeting with “Andy” (McCabe), Strzok told Page an “insurance policy” was needed to keep Trump out of the White House.
Also, it appears Comey began drafting his exoneration statement of Hillary before the FBI had even interviewed her. And when the FBI did, Hillary was permitted to have her lawyers present.
One need not be a conspiracy nut to conclude the fix was in, and a pass for Hillary wired from the get-go. Comey, McCabe, Strzok were not going to recommend an indictment that would blow Hillary out of the water and let the Trump Tower crowd waltz into the White House.
Yet, if Special Counsel Robert Mueller cannot find any Trump collusion with the Kremlin to tilt the outcome of the 2016 election, his investigators might have another look at the Clinton campaign.
For there a Russian connection has been established.
Kremlin agents fabricated, faked, forged, or found the dirt on Trump that was passed to ex-British MI6 spy Christopher Steele, and wound up in his “dirty dossier” that was distributed to the mainstream media and the FBI to torpedo Trump.
And who hired Steele to tie Trump to Russia?
Fusion GPS, the oppo research outfit into which the DNC and Clinton campaign pumped millions through law firm Perkins Coie.
The “dirty dossier,” a mixture of fabrications, falsehoods and half-truths, created to destroy Trump and make Hillary president, was the product of a British spy’s collusion with Kremlin agents.
In Dec. 26′s Washington Times, Rowan Scarborough writes that the FBI relied on this Kremlin-Steele dossier of allegations and lies to base their decision “to open a counterintelligence investigation (of Trump).” And press reports “cite the document’s disinformation in requests for court-approved wiretaps.”
If this is true, a critical questions arises: Has the Mueller probe been so contaminated by anti-Trump bias and reliance on Kremlin fabrications that any indictment it brings will be suspect in the eyes of the American people?
Director Comey has been fired. FBI No. 2 McCabe is now being retired under a cloud. Mueller’s top FBI investigator, Peter Strzok, and lover Lisa, have been discharged. And Mueller is left to rely upon a passel of prosecutors whose common denominator appears to be that they loathe Trump and made contributions to Hillary.
Attorney General Bobby Kennedy had his “Get Hoffa Squad” to take down Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. J. Edgar Hoover had his vendetta against Dr. Martin Luther King.
Is history repeating itself -- with the designated target of an elite FBI cabal being the president of the United States?
Pat Buchanan (contact: LindaMuller@Buchanan.org) is an author and former presidential adviser and candidate. He writes for Creators Syndicate.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is looking out for his own interests, not those of President Donald Trump, when it comes to special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian tampering with the 2016 presidential election, Larry Klayman told Newsmax TV on Friday.
"Jeff Sessions has his own back," Klayman, founder of the government watchdog Freedom Watch and a former federal prosecutor, said to Newsmax's John Bachman on "America Talks Live."
"Jeff Sessions, No.1, should fire Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to get somebody who will really supervise what [special counsel Robert] Mueller is doing, because Mueller, in effect, works for the Justice Department.
"This guy, Rosenstein, he's a Democrat, he's a holdover U.S. attorney from Maryland under [President Barack] Obama. He's rubber-stamping everything Mueller is doing and someone needs to rein Mueller in."
Klayman said he believes Mueller has pushed the boundaries of his investigation too far.
"He's supposed to be investigating so-called Russian collusion, not alleged financial crimes by the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, not dealing with [former Trump campaign manager] Paul Manafort and his partner Rick Gates [who] had nothing to do with the Trump campaign," Klayman said. "[Mueller is] trying to squeeze them to say things that aren't true."
That said, Klayman believes Mueller, who once ran the FBI, is "a man of integrity."
"But I do believe that we need to rein him in and the person to do that is the No. 2 at the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein. But he's not doing it so Sessions should have somebody else put in that place so it is done," Klayman told Bachman.
But "Mueller is off in Never Never Land, like Tinker Bell at this point . . . [He] is going to drag it out to the congressional elections in 2018 hoping the Democrats take control of Congress and therefore that the president is impeached. I mean you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure all this out."
Newt Gingrich said Thursday that Democrats are headed for a major political upset in 2018, mostly due to the mainstream media’s dishonesty and the party’s inability to learn from its own mistakes.
“The great political surprise of 2018 will be the size of the Republican victory,” the former Republican House Speaker wrote in a column for Fox News. “After members of the elite media have spent two years savaging President Trump, lying about Republican legislation, and reassuring themselves that Republican defeat was inevitable, the size of the GOP victory in 2018 will be an enormous shock.”
Mr. Gingrich said the most glaring example of “fake news” is the media’s handling of the GOP’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which he said will be “the 2018 proving ground of media liberal bias and dishonesty.”
“First, the media lied about the tax bill in an effort to convince most Americans their taxes would go up,” he wrote. “Then, the media took surveys of people who opposed the GOP bill based on the false information supplied by the media. Then, the media talked again and again about how unpopular the Republican plan was and how it was going to weaken Republican candidates in 2018. Then, the bill passed, and unsurprisingly, it turned out to be dramatically better for Americans than the elite media had described.”
Mr. Gingrich cited a recent CBS News report that interviewed three different families about their initial impressions of the GOP tax bill, which Mr. Trump signed into law last week. All three families believed they either wouldn’t be affected or would have to pay more under the tax plan, only to be told that they would actually be paying significantly less. In fact, CBS News reported that “most Americans” will get a tax cut next year under the plan. Mr. Gingrich said the report is just one example of how the media’s attempts to paint the tax bill as a tax hike on the middle class have negatively shaped public opinion.
“The gap between the news media falsehoods and the dramatically better reality of the GOP tax cuts will have three huge effects on the 2018 campaign,” Mr. Gingrich wrote.
First, he said the American people will be swayed by the Republican Party’s ability to follow through on its promises. Second, an increasing number of people will come to distrust the media after they compare their personal experiences with its “fake reporting and endless bias.” And lastly, the Democrats who voted against the bill “will live to regret it” and face major political upsets in the states that Mr. Trump won in 2016, Mr. Gingrich wrote.
“The stage is being set for a definitive election,” he said.
“Do you want higher taxes, bigger bureaucracy, more power in Washington, and a smaller economy with lower take-home pay and fewer jobs? If yes, vote Democrat, because that is what they stand for and will continue to vote for next year,” he continued. “If you want a bigger economy, more jobs, more take-home pay, less power with Washington bureaucrats, and lower taxes with more money in your pocket, then vote Republican.”
“If Republicans can learn to tell the truth better than the elite media and Democrats lie, the GOP will win an astonishing victory in 2018,” Mr. Gingrich concluded.
The Democrats and the MSM are congenital, institutional contra-constitutional liars
The cabal of political parrots has been screeching about the end of the world as we know it, all caused by the tax cut proposed by Trump, supported and passed by the Republicans without the support of one honest Democrat ( a five star oxymoron).
The Democrats scraped bottom looking for a talking point and settled for the real big lie that this legislation is really a tax increase for the middle class because it will expire in ten years and taxes will go up.
Allow me to help.
At the return of Congress, The GOP in the House and Senate should introduce simple legislation extending the tax benefits beyond ten years. A simple up and down voice vote will do just fine. This will give the Democrats an opportunity to ensure their constituents will not get a future tax increase.
Please use excellent camera crews and sound recordings on each of the Democrat's vote.
Network of 40 Salafist sisters preach hate and indoctrination online – German intel
Germany’s intelligence services have identified an Islamist terrorist network made up of 40 women. Female extremists with hundreds of Facebook followers are increasingly filling the gap left by their imprisoned husbands.
Burkhard Freier, the head of the North Rhine-Westphalian Office for the Protection of the Constitution, told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that the local female extremist network of “40 sisters” followed a strict Salafist doctrine —informing their advice on everything from raising children to interpreting the religious rules of Islam and stirring up hatred against so-called “non-believers.” The network was active on the internet, determined to proselytize their Salafist ideology (an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam) aggressively to other would-be members.
“The women are now ideology promoters," Freier said.
Additionally, the women indoctrinate their own children from an early age. “This makes Salafism a family affair,” and the result, Freier said, could be something “much more difficult to dissolve, namely Salafist pockets within society.”
What’s worse is that these female extremist leaders, some of whom have several hundred Facebook followers, now have a new role in society, feeling accepted and included. “The men have realized that women can network much better and are therefore more capable of expanding the scene and keeping it active,” Freier said.
Although not every Salafist is a terrorist, “every jihadist terrorist we’ve seen in Europe in recent years came from the Salafist scene,” Focus Online reported, citing the official. “There is an increasing number of minor Salafists fantasizing about violence,” he added.
While there has been a drop in the number of jihadists leaving for Syria and Iraq, the number of returnees was on the rise – an increasing number of women among them, Freier said.
German intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen said earlier this month that the security services are facing a record number of Islamists.
According to Maassen, the president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the number of Islamist sympathizers is at an “an all-time high”.It has gone up from 9,700 to 10,800 over the past year, with the fundamentalists increasingly abandoning radicalization in mosques in favor of “small conspiratorial circles, primarily on the internet,” which is proving a “particular challenge” for the security services. The splitting up of Islamist groups into smaller factions has also made them harder to monitor, Maassen noted.
Salafists follow an ultra-conservative, fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, and Salafist organizations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir are seeking to live under Sharia law, perceiving Western-style democracy as incompatible with obeying God. Their beliefs provide the spiritual basis for groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS). The BfV head added that women returning to Germany from Islamist strongholds “had become so radicalized and identify so deeply with IS-ideology that, by all accounts, they must also be identified as jihadis… we have to keep them in our sights.”
The FBI is declining to repudiate the Russia dossier on which it partially relied to start an investigation into the Trump campaign, but it concedes the document’s major core charges of election collusion remain unsubstantiated.
Sources familiar with House and Senate investigations say this is the FBI’s dossier talking point 17 months after agents were first briefed in July 2016 as Donald Trump battled Hillary Clinton for the White House.
The most recent FBI witness was Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who spent nearly eight hours last week in a closed session before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Republicans believe they have unearthed a scandal inside the bureau’s top echelons over its determination to target Trump associates based on flimsy evidence and improper Justice Department contacts.
Republican committee members pressed Mr. McCabe about a dossier that was financed by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign based on gossip-tinged information from paid, unidentified Kremlin operatives.
Mr. McCabe declined to criticize the dossier’s 35 pages of salacious and criminal charges against Donald Trump and his aides, but he said it remains largely unverified, according to a source familiar with ongoing congressional inquiries.
Sources speculated to The Washington Times that it would be embarrassing for Mr. McCabe to condemn a political opposition research paper on which his agents based decisions to open a counterintelligence investigation and interview witnesses. Some press reports said the FBI cited the dossier’s information in requests for court-approved wiretaps.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that Mr. McCabe plans to retire early next year.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz is investigating whether Mr. McCabe should have recused himself from the Clinton email investigation in 2015 and 2016. Mr. McCabe’s wife, an unsuccessful 2015 Democratic candidate for Virginia state Senate, received more than $700,000 in campaign donations from two PACs, one of which was controlled by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally.
Mr. Horowitz announced the investigation shortly before Mr. Trump took office. Since then, his probe has widened into whether the FBI investigation into suspected Trump-Russia collusion is rigged.
It centers on the FBI’s Peter Strzok, the lead agent in the Trump case until special counsel Robert Mueller fired him in July. The reason: He sent a number of text messages ridiculing Mr. Trump to Lisa Page, his FBI lover. He texted about a meeting with “Andy” — apparently Mr. McCabe — in which it was discussed that Mr. Trump had no chance of winning, but there was a risk he might.
“I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” Mr. Strzok said in August 2016. “It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”
The dossier’s author, former British spy Christopher Steele, bragged to Mother Jones magazine in October 2016 that he successfully urged the FBI to begin investigating the Trump team based on his memos. Republicans have ridiculed the bureau for trusting a paid agent of the Clinton campaign.
Fox News and the Washington Examiner reported that Republicans asked what parts of the dossier the FBI had confirmed. Mr. McCabe said the only substantiated collusion-related incident was that Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016.
The answer surprised Republicans: Mr. Page’s trip to deliver a speech at a university was widely publicized at the time.
An FBI spokesman declined to comment on Mr. McCabe’s testimony because it was given during a closed hearing.
What is unfolding for the House intelligence committee is an investigation that has broadened from supposed collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Driven by Chairman Devin Nunes, California Republican, the committee is examining the following:
⦁ Who funded the dossier and how its information was spread by paymaster Fusion GPS and then used by the FBI.
⦁ The Obama administration’s “unmasking” of the identities of private citizens caught up in surveillance of foreigners.
For months, Mr. Nunes repeatedly pressed the Justice Department to explain why Mr. Mueller fired his top FBI agent, Mr. Strzok. Eventually, Justice turned over text messages showing Mr. Strzok’s deep biases toward the man he was investigating, Mr. Trump.
The committee also unearthed the fact that senior Justice attorney Bruce Ohr made contact with Mr. Steele during the presidential campaign and that Mr. Ohr’s wife was employed by Fusion GPS at the time it was investigating the Trump campaign’s Russia ties. The Justice Department stripped Mr. Ohr of one of his two portfolios.
Most recently, The Washington Post reported that James Baker, the FBI’s general counsel and a close associate of fired FBI Director James B. Comey, was being transferred. Politico reported that Mr. Baker during the election had contact with the Mother Jones reporter who interviewed Mr. Steele via Skype and gave much credence to his dossier.
“This is really problematic for the FBI and DOJ right now,” said the source familiar with the congressional investigations. “They realize stonewalling is not going to work anymore, but they haven’t decided on a new strategy to manage the deluge of information spilling out about top officials’ conflicts of interest, their use of the Steele dossier and their own connections to Fusion GPS.”
Mr. Comey took to his Twitter account Friday night to lament Mr. Baker’s fate.
“Sadly, we are now at a point in our political life when anyone can be attacked for partisan gain,” Mr. Comey tweeted. “James Baker, who is stepping down as FBI General Counsel, served our country incredibly well for 25 years & deserves better. He is what we should all want our public servants to be.”
Far away and cold beyond cold. The words do not do the reality justice in describing the state of the Voyager 1 spacecraft hurtling outward into the galaxy. The furthest man-made object from our warm, watery world, its now antique instrumentation peers back to its origin, and in the lens of its camera, that origin is merely a speck. Forward, into the great void beyond the planets, the little probe hurtles, an infinity awaiting it.
Voyager 1 is mankind’s first interstellar spacecraft, something that, when stated in such terms, seems a matter only of science fiction, rather than science fact. Yet, the truth remains: In 1977, the United States, the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nation in history, built and launched the very first interstellar spacecraft. In fact, it launched a pair of them. Like Voyager 1,Voyager 2 is exiting the solar system. In 300,000 years, it will pass the great star Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.
For the Voyagers, eternity is the future, and for that eternity they will represent the greatest achievement, to this point in any case, of a great civilization of epochal importance. The Voyagers were created by technological means derived from the epistemological practice of science, a means of interrogating the material world and increasing our understanding of it. But science itself is predicated on a whole host of other civilizational characteristics, all of which coalesced in what was once known as “Christendom” and has, more recently, come to be known as Western Civilization.
Today, that civilization is under increasing pressure. It is derided, even hated, in some quarters. The derision is unjustified, and even dangerous, for Western Civilization has almost single-handedly made the modern world; given us our technology; elevated mankind from intellectual darkness and slavery of body, mind, and soul; and provided a platform for a future of limitless hopes and possibilities.
Unique to Creation
Unique in its achievements as compared to other mere human-scale activity, the greatness of Western Civilization is only truly appreciated when its inconceivable rarity is understood. That rarity has to be set against the entire background of creation. Not only within the vast extent of our own solar system, but of the entire cosmos, there is no other sign of life, let alone any evidence of some other, alien, civilization.
This is despite the fervent desires of many, who, perhaps fearful of a terrifying existential loneliness, hope for the discovery of some shred of life anywhere. Modern hope for this discovery reaches back to the mid-20th century and famed astronomer Frank Drake. While working at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, in 1961, Drake first presented what has come to be known as the “Drake Equation,” which has been used ever since to estimate the likely number of advanced civilizations in the galaxy.
The Drake Equation takes into account a number of factors, including how often stars suitable for life are formed, the fraction of those stars that actually have planets, the number of planets per such solar system that might have life-sustaining environments, the fraction of those on which life actually appears, a further fraction on which civilizations exist with the ability to develop technology that can be detected from space, and the length of time over which those civilizations release signs of their existence into space.
The most famous solution for the Drake Equation has long been that offered by astronomer Carl Sagan.
“When we do the arithmetic,” an optimistic Sagan wrote, “the number that my colleagues and I come up with is around a million technical civilizations in our Galaxy alone. That is a breathtakingly large number, and it is exhilarating to imagine the diversity, lifestyles and commerce of those million worlds.”
The fly in the ointment of this optimistic conclusion is something known as the Fermi Paradox. About a decade before Drake came up with his equation, commonly accepted lore has it, famed physicist Enrico Fermi realized that a sufficiently advanced civilization would be able to colonize the galaxy, and would thus be detectable. As explained by the SETI Institute:
Fermi realized that any civilization with a modest amount of rocket technology and an immodest amount of imperial incentive could rapidly colonize the entire Galaxy. Within ten million years, every star system could be brought under the wing of empire. Ten million years may sound long, but in fact it’s quite short compared with the age of the Galaxy, which is roughly ten thousand million years. Colonization of the Milky Way should be a quick exercise.
So what Fermi immediately realized was that the aliens have had more than enough time to pepper the Galaxy with their presence. But looking around, he didn’t see any clear indication that they’re out and about. This prompted Fermi to ask what was (to him) an obvious question: “where is everybody?”
Now, Fermi never really formulated his eponymous paradox quite that thoroughly. As Robert H. Gray pointed out for Scientific American, it’s much more accurate to attribute the thinking behind the Fermi Paradox to astronomer Michael Hart and physicist Frank Tipler. Still, despite finding significant numbers of exoplanets orbiting stars outside our own solar system, we seem to be confirming not Sagan’s optimism, but the pessimism of the Fermi Paradox realization that there is no other civilization out there. Moreover, there might not even be other, simpler forms of life.
Our own remarkable little planet might be the only redoubt of life anywhere in the universe. On that point, Peter D. Ward, professor of geological sciences at the University of Washington and his colleague, University of Washington, Astronomy Professor David Brownlee, penned the book Rare Earth in 2000, pointing out the many startlingly rare factors that had to coalesce in order to make our small planet capable of hosting complex forms of life. They concluded that “it appears that Earth indeed may be extraordinarily rare.”
Just how rare, exactly, is difficult to know. We can’t see everything in the galaxy, much less the universe. But what we can see hasn’t provided any reason to lean toward Sagan-like optimism in a profusion of alien life. Just the opposite, in fact. It seems that the conditions required for life, and especially for intelligent life of the human sort, are astronomically rare. Commenting on this conclusion for the Washington Post in 2016, Harvard University astrophysicist Howard A. Smith noted:
The bottom line for extraterrestrial intelligence is that it is probably rarer than previously imagined, a conclusion called the misanthropic principle. For all intents and purposes, we could be alone in our cosmic neighborhood, and if we expand the volume of our search we will have to wait even longer to find out. Life might be common in the very distant universe — or it might not be — and we are unlikely to know. We are probably rare — and it seems likely we will be alone for eons. This is the second piece of new evidence that we are not ordinary.
Smith concludes with the exhortation that we “acknowledge the compelling evidence to date that humanity and our home planet, Earth, are rare and cosmically precious.”
“And may we act accordingly,” he advises. Indeed, as far as our current scientific capabilities inform us, there is nothing like human intelligence anywhere else in the universe. The greatest outcome of that intelligence has been Western Civilization.
From Family to Civilization
Alone on our planet among the cosmic wilderness, the individual human can never live alone, and is never fully self-reliant. From birth, the child, alone, faces a near certainty of a quick death. An infant has no physical defense against the myriad terrors it faces. The helpless child has no ability to eat or drink on its own, cannot provide for itself shelter from the heat or the cold, from the rain, wind, or snow.
Family, the mother and father, provide for the needs of the child. Yet for the most robust health, growth, and success, this core family benefits from the extended help and care offered by grandparents, aunts, and uncles. More, cousins add to the increasingly rich and varied life and experience of the family. And each of these has outward connections, friendships, and ultimately marriages with others beyond the core family, creating a community. In this community grows a commonality of thought, practice, and belief, a rising of modes of living, codes of conduct, and a sharing of knowledge. Tastes and preferences are formed. Writ large, a village arises, then a town, a city, a nation. And over this aggregate a culture. As this culture carries itself forward, from one generation to the next, it becomes something more: a civilization. Finally, said the great historians Will and Ariel Durant, “It is the civilization that makes the people: circumstances geographical, economic, and political create a culture, and the culture creates a human type.”
But culture can change as circumstances change. Historically, war and conquest have laid waste, ruining civilizations. Famines and diseases have erased whole cities and cultures. Sometimes, the end remains a mystery. We see today the remains of civilizations and know not what led to their downfall. What happened to the Indus Valley civilization? What happened to the Anasazi? Or, perhaps most intriguing of all given its incredible antiquity, what transpired with the Old Copper Complex people, who flourished in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan nearly 8,000 years ago, mining and working copper long millennia before the pyramids of Egypt were conceived?
Heretofore, civilization has been an ephemeral thing, waxing and waning, but Western Civilization is different. Though numerous authors and respected authorities have repeatedly predicted its demise, it continues to grow in scope and influence. In his tremendous work From Dawn to Decadence, the great historian Jacques Barzun argued that “in the West the culture of the last 500 years is ending,” in a conclusion that followed Oswald Spengler. In his Decline of the West, Spengler argued that culture lived, then transitioned to civilization, which was then moribund and ultimately dead. “Civilizations are the most external and artificial states of which a species of developed humanity is capable,” Spengler wrote. “They are a conclusion, the thing-become succeeding the thing-becoming, death following life, rigidity following expansion.”
This was true for civilizations of the past, but it is not now true of the Western. The civilization that we now inherit has at its core certain facets that make it different than all others. They are the same facets that enabled the development of the advanced science and technology of the Voyagers and beyond, and they are the same facets that make Western Civilization more robust and enduring.
Roots of Resilience
Unlike the ossified civilizations of Spengler’s description, what we today call Western Civilization has unique characteristics. Where other civilizations had changeable, human-centered foundations that, once they failed to function, led to downfall and discord, the core of Western Civilization is based on the Decalogue (i.e., the Ten Commandments). Whether one is religious in the Judeo-Christian faith tradition or not, these remain both legal and moral truisms and the essential means of ordering and limiting authority in society.
Consider the first four commandments. These not only provide a framework for the proper orientation of mankind to God, but also set the framework for the proper power relationship within human society. “Thou shalt not have strange gods before me,” God proclaims in the First Commandment, and this is normally taken as a prohibition against worshipping the pantheon of innumerable pagan gods and goddesses that haunted the mind of the ancient world. Yet, it is similarly a prohibition against worshipping the false gods that mankind would raise, most notably and commonly the false god of government as represented in the era of the Roman Empire by whichever Caesar had donned the purple.
So we find that the early Christian martyrs would not worship Caesar, even on pain of torture and death. The earliest account of such a martyrdom to reach us is that of Saint Polycarp, martyred, most agree, in 155 A.D. In the letter from the church in Smyrna where Polycarp was bishop that recounts his death, we learn that the Roman authorities met him after his arrest “and taking him up into the chariot, they seated themselves beside him, and endeavoured to persuade him, saying, ‘What harm is there in saying, Lord Caesar, and in sacrificing, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, and so make sure of safety?’” Refusing, Polycarp was led to the stadium, where a crowd had assembled to watch his death. Again, the Roman authorities demanded he renounce Christ in favor of Caesar. To this Polycarp refused, replying: “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” After this, he was to be bound and burned alive, but when he was not consumed by the flames, he was stabbed to death. This, his reward for adhering to Christ and the First Commandment against the false god of government.
In Saint Polycarp’s martyrdom, we see devotion to Christ and Scripture, and an indictment of government as a totalitarian institution. Within the heart of Western Civilization is the legal truism that totalitarian government is illegitimate, a recognition that is carried down to the very foundation of the American Republic. When Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal ... with certain unalienable rights,” he was acknowledging that no government could usurp the role of God and abridge those rights. This is the First Commandment in action.
Similarly, the other commandments order the good relation of person to person in a complex society. Thou shalt not kill is a protection of the inviolable personal right to live. Thou shalt not steal is a protection for private property. Though shalt not bear false witness is the moral foundation of contract. That such truisms have a solid universality is evident in that, so many millennia after they were delivered to Moses, they continue to be so obviously relevant and practical.
Extended, emphasized, and refined by Christ through His salvific mission and His establishment of the Christian church that carried the Word of God to the European world, and then worldwide, the Judeo-Christian ethical and theological tradition protected and nurtured the revolutionary ideal of individual value, and of the possibility and desirability of individual rights and actions.
Emerging and arising from this was the modern economic foundation of Western civilization. If individuals could have a legitimate ability to maintain their own lives even against the state and to keep the product of their labor, in the sense of owning property, to the point that it could be stolen from them by neither taxmen nor highwaymen, then could arise an impetus for creative initiative and voluntary exchange. “The experience of the past leaves little doubt that every economic system must sooner or later rely upon some form of the profit motive to stir individuals and groups to productivity,” noted Will and Ariel Durant in their little text on The Lessons of History. “Substitutes like slavery, police supervision, or ideological enthusiasm prove too unproductive, too expensive, or too transient.”
This played no small part in the rising prosperity of the 12th and 13th centuries in Europe that saw the end of what is often incorrectly referred to as a Dark Age. Importantly, as historian David Hackett Fisher points out in The Great Wave, his 1996 study of economic and monetary history from the 12th century to the present, 800 years ago Europe experienced an age of diffuse political power and rising industry and commercial exchange.
Politically, Fisher notes, “The twelfth century in Europe was marked by the simultaneous development of monarchy, aristocracy and popular government in open and pluralistic systems that were unique to the Western world. Power was broadly distributed among kings, clergy, nobles and commons.” A greater dispersion of power necessarily makes it likewise more diffuse and less of a threat to individual liberties.
Not surprisingly, then, during an era of more diffuse power, coupled with a decrease in war and violence, peaceful trade and commerce expanded, as did the population. “Families, cities, markets, gilds, and fairs multiplied everywhere in Europe,” Fisher points out. “Centers of commerce and industry grew at a great rate.... The economy of medieval Europe rapidly developed from a comparatively primitive system of barter exchange toward a more complex system of market relationships.”
The great symbols of what was then an opulence and wealth that hadn’t been experienced since the height of Rome’s power some thousand years earlier were the magnificent cathedrals erected during the age. These include Chartres, Reims, Strasbourg, Sienna, and Lincoln Cathedral in England, among many other examples.
The 12th-century Renaissance, the commercial practices it fostered, and the renewed impetus it gave to science through the intellectual efforts added to the immense labor and artistry that brought the great cathedrals into being laid the groundwork for the even greater Renaissance to come in 14th- and 15th-century Italy.
This came about under the most improbable circumstances. In the early 14th century, the great plague swept through Europe, killing by some estimates a third of the population. On the back of this catastrophe, the economy faltered and political instability grew. Amazingly, even against this backdrop, the growth of Western Civilization continued and flowered brilliantly in the fiercely independent city-states of the Italian peninsula.
Chief among these were the city-states of Venice and Florence. Here commerce and trade expanded, experiments with republican forms of government flourished, and the first brilliant stirrings of science, art, literature, and historical inquiry set Western Civilization on an arrow-straight course to our modern world. From this period we have such luminaries as Michelangelo, Leonardo, Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Raphael, to name but a few in art. In literature and historical inquiry, we find Francesco Petrarch bursting onto the scene, following Dante, and accompanied by Machiavelli and Giovanni Boccaccio, again to name but a few. Significantly, in terms of future developments of considerable importance, Fisher points out, during the early decades of the 15th century, leading thinkers “such as Leonardo Bruni, Coluccio Salutati and Poggio Bracciolini produced a literature which celebrated republican virtue, the rule of law, and the power of reason.” Connected to this, in science, we have a growing understanding of matters in optics, symmetry, and perspective that informed the magnificent art of the period; developments in pigments used in painting that presaged, along with the striving of the alchemists, the coming of the science of chemistry; and, in the overlap of art with science, the unequaled genius of Leonardo and the engineering brilliance of Brunelleschi, whose great dome over Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore astonishes now as it did then as the largest brick dome ever constructed.
It is in commerce that we find the most direct evidence that individual freedom and property rights spur creativity and prosperity. In his study of the age entitled Renaissance Florence, historian Gene A. Brucker observed:
The tempo and direction of the business activity of the Florentine mercantile community was constantly changing, according to inclination, opportunity, and circumstance. A merchant might temporarily abandon his moneychanging table in the Mercato Vecchio to invest his capital in foreign trade. Or he might decide to withdraw from the manufacture of woolen cloth to concentrate on the more profitable production of silk.... Rarely were the economic interests of Florentine merchants ... fixed irrevocably. The business world was in constant flux.
All of these developments — commercial, scientific, cultural, and many more — were direct outgrowths of the essential core of Western Civilization that recognized the value of the individual and encouraged individual creative activity in concert and partnership with others. In no other civilization had this been explicitly acknowledged, protected, and revered.
Vitality and Flexibility
Again and again, crisis follows periods of expansion and growth. But Western Civilization, by virtue of its theological and moral insistence on the innate value of the individual as a creation of the Divine, has, through that insistence, an ability to learn, adapt, and absorb. As a result, unlike Spengler’s other civilizations that were stultified endpoints, Western Civilization endures and grows.
Following immediately on the heels of the Renaissance, European civilization embarked on the age of exploration, when the Atlantic nations superseded those that had thrived along the coast of the Mediterranean. A steady stream of bold mariners followed the path of Columbus into the trackless, watery wastes.
Broadly, there were two results of the new age of exploration, if viewed from the wide-angle perspective of civilization.First, the smaller, less sophisticated civilizations of the new world were largely unable to cope with the challenges presented by the incandescent vitality of Western Civilization.While they withered over the succeeding centuries, Western Civilization prospered.
This article appears in the December 18, 2017, issue of The New American. To download the issue and continue reading this story, or to subscribe, click here.
The Presidential challenge coin has always been a bit tacky for my taste. The first dates back to Bill Clinton, a classless act on a good day. Obama handed them out to rappers. The President is not a monarch. He is a political animal at the top of the food chain. The challenge coin is an overpriced business card at the taxpayer's expense. Trump's design is not the worst ever, but his penchant for poor political timing is.
For years, a clandestine U.S. intelligence team had tracked a man they knew was high in the leadership of al Qaeda — an operative some believed had a hand in plotting the gruesome 2009 suicide attack in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA officers.
Their pursuit was personal, and by early 2014, according to a source directly involved in the operation, the agency had the target under tight drone surveillance. “We literally had a bead on this guy’s head and just needed authorization from Washington to pull the trigger,” said the source.
Then something unexpected happened. While agents waited for the green light, the al Qaeda operative’s name, as well as information about the CIA’s classified surveillance and plan to kill him in Pakistan, suddenly appeared in the U.S. press.
Abdullah al-Shami, it turned out, was an American citizen, and President Obama and his national security advisers were torn over whether the benefits of killing him would outweigh the political and civil liberties backlash that was sure to follow.
In interviews with several current and former officials, the al-Shami case was cited as an example of what critics say was the Obama White House’s troublesome tendency to mishandle some of the nation’s most delicate intelligence — especially regarding the Middle East — by leaking classified information in an attempt to sway public opinion on sensitive matters.
By the end of Mr. Obama’s second term, according to sources who spoke anonymously with The Washington Times, the practices of leaking, ignoring and twisting intelligence for political gain were ingrained in how the administration conducted national security policy.
Those criticisms have resurfaced in the debate over whether overall intelligence fumbling by the Obama White House in its final months may have amplified the damage wrought by suspected Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election last year.
On repeated occasions during the Obama era, high-level sources and some lawmakers lamented to The Washington Times, the president’s inner circle ignored classified briefings and twisted intelligence to fit political goals. Long before Donald Trump appeared on the White House campaign scene, many pointed to an incident during the 2012 election cycle as the most dramatic evidence of how that approach affected the handling of national security threats.
‘Understating the threat’
On the campaign trail in 2012, Mr. Obama declared that al Qaeda was “on the run,” despite a flow of intelligence showing that the terrorist group was metastasizing — a circumstance that led to the rise of the Islamic State.
Many Americans believed the president was justifiably touting a major success of his first term with the U.S. Special Forces killing of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in 2011. But the gulf between Mr. Obama’s campaign pronouncements and classified briefings provided to Congress touched off a heated debate in intelligence circles over whether the president was twisting the facts for political gain.
“Candidate Obama was understating the threat,” then-House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers told The Times in an interview after the 2012 election. “To say the core [was] decimated and therefore we [had] al Qaeda on the run was not consistent with the overall intelligence assessment at the time.”
Reflecting back this month, Mr. Rogers suggested that Mr. Obama — like many presidents before him — had a propensity for pushing certain politically advantageous narratives even if they contradicted classified intelligence.
Indeed, controversy has long swirled around politicized intelligence and leaks. The George W. Bush administration was accused of “stovepiping” intelligence it needed for its case to invade Iraq in 2003 while ignoring bits that may have undercut the rationale for war.
That case blossomed into a major scandal known as the “Plame affair.” White Housestaffer Scooter Libby was convicted of lying to investigators about the leak of the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose husband had challenged the administration’s claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. President Bush later commuted Mr. Libby’s sentence.
With regard to the Obama White House, Mr. Rogers told The Times, the circumstances were different but no less disturbing. “Over the course of their time in office, the Obama administration’s world got smaller and smaller,” said the Michigan Republican, who retired from Congress in 2015. “They listened to fewer and fewer different opinions. When you do that, that is how you miss things.”
‘Heart was never in it’
Chaos and instability in the Middle East factored into one Obama-era intelligence leak that officials now say badly undermined national security.
The CIA’s covert “Train and Equip” program was crafted to aid forces seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad after the 2011 Arab Spring protests exploded into a civil war in Syria.
Train and Equip began with a flow of “nonlethal aid” to certain Syrian rebel groups, but as its budget ballooned to some $1 billion, the program morphed into an unwieldy and ineffective effort to assist an unconventional military campaign.
One former senior intelligence official said the program was badly undermined because the White House was constantly leaking details of efforts to build a Free Syrian Army with cash, weapons and intelligence.
“Obama had drawn a red line on Syria over chemical weapons, but then he didn’t do [expletive],” the former official told The Times. “The White House was facing a lot of political pressure to show they had policy for Syria, so they leaked the CIA’s covert action plan. They leaked it for purely political reasons, so they could say, ‘Look, look, we have a Syria strategy.’”
Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst now with the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, said other factors also undermined any chance for the program to succeed. Mr. Obama and his top aides were openly wary of being dragged deeper into the Syrian fight while the administration was trying to execute a strategic “pivot to Asia” — away from the heavy U.S. foreign policy focus on the Middle East.
“Obama’s heart was never in it, and the administration wanted nothing to do with it,” Mr. Pollack told The Times. “He mostly did it to avoid domestic political blowback. We could have done so much more, but the way it was run, it killed itself.”
Mr. Pollack, who once worked in the Clinton White House, said the program’s recruitment vetting was ridiculous. “The [Obama] administration more or less insisted, ‘We will only accept applicants … who had never met a jihadist.’ The vetting standards were absurd and excluded almost everyone who had any contact with the opposition in Syria,” Mr. Pollack said.
“It was like they thought we were going to wage a civil war against the Assad government with members of the social pages of The New York Times,” he said. “The Harvard crew team was not going to show up.”
In the long run, the policy’s failure provided a clear window for Iran and Russia to expand their military presence and political influence into the power vacuum created by Syria’s war.
And then there was unmasking.
Controversy has swirled for the past year around the Obama administration’s use of a process that allowed high-level White House officials to learn the redacted identities of Americans swept up in classified surveillance against suspected foreign operatives during the months surrounding the presidential election.
For decades, national security officials at the highest level have used their security clearances to engage in the process known as “unmasking” while reading raw intercepts from around the world for better understanding of relationships that might impact America’s safety.
President Carter’s hawkish national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was known by America’s spies as one who “loved raw intelligence,” according to Bob Woodward’s book “Veil, The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987.”
“Unmasking itself is not nefarious or conspiratorial; it’s done all the time around the world by ambassadors and CIA station chiefs,” said one former CIA clandestine service officer who spoke with The Times. “It’s a standard procedure and involves a rigorous and bureaucratic process … to ensure whoever’s seeking the unmasking of names has a legitimate reason.”
But Republicans believe the process — and the safeguards against abuse — went terribly awry in the final months of the bitter campaign between Mr. Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton and through the transition period between Mr. Trump’s unexpected victory and inauguration.
Remarks by former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, as well as Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former top White House strategist Steve Bannon, were all captured in surveillance of a Trump Tower meeting in December 2016. Susan E. Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, has since acknowledged she asked that the identities of the Americans in the surveillance be revealed, citing what she said were legitimate concerns about the purpose of the group’s meeting with foreigners.
Although the unmasking itself may have been justified, the former CIA clandestine service officer said, what came next was dangerous.
“The issue is when any names that have been unmasked end up getting leaked to the press,” the former officer said. “And that is certainly what looks like happened vis-a-vis the Obama administration’s unmasking of Trump officials who were in meetings with Russians or Turks that were under American intelligence surveillance.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and chairman of the House intelligence committee, has gone further, suggesting that Obama administration officials strategically leaked the names to smear Mr. Trump and fuel a narrative that the Trump campaign was secretly working with foreign forces.
‘Come on, Mr. President’
Suspicion that the Obama White House intentionally leaked the unmasked names has been fueled by what intelligence sources say was the administration track record of other sensitive leaks — which stretched back to the Abdullah al-Shami case in Afghanistan.
CIA agents were shocked when their classified drone surveillance against al-Shami suddenly appeared in 2014 reports by The Associated Press and The New York Times, one intelligence source told The Washington Times. “There’s no question this guy got wind of the reports,” said the source. “The leak gave him a heads-up, and he suddenly disappeared. We lost our bead on him.”
Some at the CIA were outraged. Agents had been tracking the al Qaeda operative since early 2009, believing he had been directly involved in a bomb attack that injured several officials at U.S. Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan. Al-Shami’s fingerprints turned up on packing tape around a second bomb that didn’t explode.
Roughly a year later, there was another attack on Chapman, a key clandestine operations center in Afghanistan, in which seven CIA officers were killed. Some suspected al-Shami played a role in that attack as well.
But as badly as the CIA wanted al-Shami dead, the case carried controversial legal questions.
Abdullah al-Shami — Arabic for “Abdullah the Syrian” — was the nom de guerre of a young man named Muhanad Mahmoud al-Farekh. Although raised in Dubai, al-Farekh was an American citizen because he was born in Texas.
By the time the CIA had him in its crosshairs in 2014, Mr. Obama was reeling from the furor sparked by his authorization of a drone strike in 2011 that killed another American citizen: al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned the al-Awlaki strike as a violation of U.S. law because al-Awlaki had “never been charged with any crime” in an American court.
Fearful of a similar reaction, the Obama administration decided the best course of action would be to leak information about the al-Shami case to stir up public awareness of the conundrum facing the president, the former intelligence officials said.
“Look,” said the source, “I actually appreciate that Obama didn’t like the idea of killing another American without due process. But was leaking this stuff really the right way to handle this?
“I mean, come on Mr. President, it’s your finger on the trigger. You’re the one who decides. All we do is aim the gun,” said the source, who said it was fortunate that al-Shami was later captured alive and secretly flown to the United States for trial.
The al Qaeda operative was convicted in September in U.S. federal court in New York on terrorism charges under his birth name, Muhanad Mahmoud al-Farekh.
The 31-year-old is slated to be sentenced next month.