Monday, February 08, 2016

A Super Bowl Sunset

In the twilight of his career, Peyton Manning wasn't the man in Denver’s Super Bowl 50 win, but he didn't need to be. The defense dismantled the Panthers, which left the Broncos QB ‘at peace’ as he weighs retirement. 

by Peter King
February 8, 2016

Manning is the first starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.

Manning is the first starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — On Thursday, three days before the winningest quarterback in NFL history would play The Last Game (or at least the game we’re sure is the last one), he lined up his offense around the defensive 20-yard line and barked out signals. This would be the last full series of plays in the Super Bowl 50 practice week for Denver at Stanford Stadium, their home for the week … and maybe the last full series of practice plays in Peyton Manning’s life.
The sun was nearly touching the top of the west stands of the stadium on this beautiful California winter afternoon, creating an image of a sunset and lengthening shadows on the field as Manning directed traffic.
“Be alert! Be alert!” he called out, motioning Emmanuel Sanders across the formation. And Manning shouted out the play, which began with “Z Motion!” And then the snap, and then … nothing. No one open.
“One more time!” Manning yelled, annoyed. “Do it again!”
And the offense did, Sanders trolling the back of the end zone and Manning hitting him for a touchdown.
Manning completed 24 of 28 passes against the scout team defense on this temperate afternoon, and his coach, Gary Kubiak, said afterward that this was as good as the 39-year-old Manning had looked all season. Around the Broncos as the week aged, there was growing confidence that Manning could once more have a Manning-of-2013 game.
And then he didn’t.
And then the Broncos won the Super Bowl. By 14.
And then Manning, in the bowels of Levi’s Stadium on Sunday night, was fine with being along for the ride, almost a 2000 Dilfer, on a team with the best defense in the league that absolutely pummeled Cam Newton.
“I’ve just had a real peace this year,” Manning told me 90 minutes after the 24-10 win over the Panthers. “I didn’t know how it was going to work out. I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I’m at the point … I’m okay with that.”
It must be daunting, and it must be a relief, to go from winning like Clayton Kershaw to winning like Mark Buehrle. To be utterly dominant, and then to be along for the ride on a team that hits four home runs every night. The way the Blue Jays pummeled the ball late last season is the way the Broncos’ defense pummeled Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Cam Newton in their great playoff run. Denver has a great defense. Holding Big Ben to 16 points, Brady to 18 and MVP Newton to 10? Holding the Steelers, Patriots and Panthers to four touchdowns in 12 quarters? Carolina, New England and Pittsburgh were 1-3-4 in the league in scoring, yet managed all of seven third-down conversions in three games.
Von Miller is the star of this team. He and DeMarcus Ware and two young defensive linemen (Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe), and a couple of swift linebackers and a strong and physical secondary. Manning can complete 13 of 23 for 141 yards, with two turnovers and a 56.6 rating, and the Broncos can still be the ’85 Bears.
“This is a game Peyton never would have dreamed of playing 10, 12 years ago,” his old coach, Tony Dungy, said Sunday night. “But when you win the Super Bowl, you’re fine with it.”
My theory is Manning, while rehabbing his heel and lifting and getting stronger in the 48 days he was out of the Denver lineup, looked around and realized he didn’t have to throw for 250 anymore for his team to have a chance to win. That was most of the time in Indianapolis, and much of his first two years in Denver. Just don’t make the big mistake, he must be thinking. Punts can be your friends. “I’m buying your theory,” father Archie Manning said Saturday. “I really think he’s fine with it. Look at him. He’s happy. He’s peaceful. I think you have to put this in some perspective. He had four neck surgeries [in 2010 and 2011]. He might never have played again. But playing again, and playing well when he came back—what a blessing.”
But in December, when the rehab was slow and the Broncos were struggling on offense, losing to Oakland and Pittsburgh in succession, Kubiak still was convinced the team was good enough to overcome not knowing if or when Manning would play. “There can still be a fairy-tale ending to this season,” he confided to a friend in December.
And there was, of course. Manning returned to play the second half of the final game, then as a complementary player in both the Pittsburgh and New England wins, all the while having the free world think he was retiring at the end of the year. Which he likely will do. But after talking to Dungy nine days ago, Manning felt convinced he needed to let this moment live without infecting it with the so-called Disease of Me.
“I called him,” said Dungy, “and I said, ‘I don’t know what you’re going to do, but if you haven’t decided yet, don’t decide now. Don’t decide at halftime of the last game, or five minutes after the last game. Don’t do it in the moment.’ I think Dick Vermeil made that decision in the moment, and he regretted it. I said, ‘Let the adrenalin wear off and then decide.’”
As Manning said Sunday night, “I thought that was some good advice, to take some time and get away. Coach said, ‘Promise me you’ll do that. It felt like I was back in Indy and he was telling me, ‘Hey, be smart with this ball on third down.’ So it was good advice and I’m going to take some time. But like I said, I have a peace about it either way.”
On Saturday night, Kubiak asked captains Manning and Ware to speak to the team. Ware took a religious tone. “When you walk into the valley of the shadow of death,” Ware said, “you’re not alone.” And he showed images of the offense, the defense and the special teams on the big screen, to emphasize the team aspect of the coming day. Manning did it differently. He talked about the people in the organization, the unsung people they wouldn’t know, or know well. He quoted a favorite pastime of Kubiak’s, the coach’s preference to use “Wise Words” through the year to pass along a lesson. “One of my favorites,” Manning said, “is, ‘Life is fair. Keep working.’” Quarterback coach Greg Knapp said it was the best team-unifying speech he’s heard from a player in his years in football.
“We were ready to play last night,” tight end Owen Daniels said Sunday.
During the day Sunday, when Kubiak saw Manning at the team hotel, he said: “How’d you sleep?”
Manning said, “Like a baby. Ten-and-a-half hours.” Much longer than usual.
Whoa. Maybe the man really was at peace. The game was, in many ways, 1966 football. Quarterbacks playing inefficiently, at least in part because of the ceaseless pressure from both defenses. And it came down to, at the end of the game, Denver trying to play keepaway in a six-point game (Denver, 16-10) the same way the Broncos tried to play keepaway in an eight-point game (Denver, 20-12) in the AFC title game against New England.
Third-and-nine, Denver 26, 5:42 left. Surely Manning would try to convert through the air. No sir. “I thought I saw him change the play to a run,” said Dungy. And Manning did. C.J. Anderson, gain of two. Punt. An incompletion would have taken maybe seven seconds off the clock here. The two-yard run took 43 seconds off. Britton Colquitt punted.
Manning was playing four-corners. He didn’t care. He had Von Miller to strip-sack Newton for the second time moments later, and Anderson scored the clinching touchdown, and Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl without throwing a touchdown pass. He went 3-0 in the postseason and didn’t throw for a touchdown in two of the three wins.
But he has his second Super Bowl title now. And in a day or two, he’ll get away, somewhere no one will find him and his family, and he’ll figure out what to do with his life. At least for now.
“I haven’t decided yet,” Manning said—and he has to know a nation eye-rolls at that. Everyone thinks he’s riding off into the sunset the way Bettis and Strahan and, yes, Elway, have done in the past two decades.
“Ashley and I, we’ll have that talk at some point, but we are going to enjoy this tonight and celebrate. Our kids are four and they are in Pre-K and the teachers say, you really shouldn’t pull them out of school. We are pulling them out! We are going somewhere and we are going to get the heck out of town.
“I have one thing I’ll say, I’ve had good experience with making some decisions, choosing where to go to college, staying for my senior year in college and deciding which NFL team to play for in free agency four years ago. I’ve taken time on all those, I’ve prayed about it, I’ve talked to some people about it and I think I will do that with this. But I have a peace about it whichever way it goes. I’m glad I have been able to get through these two weeks with the focus staying on the team, because that is what it has been about this year. I’ve been a part of it.
“Do you know deep down inside what you are going to do?” I said.
“I don’t,” he said.
But if this is it, and assuming it is, this has been the kind of year Manning has never come close to experiencing as one of the best players ever. Yanked from the lineup. Hurt in midseason. A backup when he returned. Coming back to win a Super Bowl.
“Somebody could say, this year, you really did everything as a QB,” Manning said, sounding wistful. The bus was waiting on him, and he could feel the world waiting for him. For once, he didn’t seem to care.
“I hadn’t been a backup, hadn’t really been injured. I played a long time, but I’d only seen it from one way. I know there are a couple scenarios that I haven’t been in, but I covered a lot of bases this year. Like I said, there is a real perspective to that. And it was really sort of educational for me. You know nobody loves the quarterback position more than me. Today, with the 50th Super Bowl and the league bringing back all the MVPs, I saw Phil Simms and I saw Joe Montana and Steve Young out there on the field before the game. I wanted so badly to find a way to be out there for that MVP picture out there with Eli [his brother] and Tom Brady and Joe Namath. Impossible. There was no way I could do it. But nobody loves quarterbacks more than me and I think I have an even greater perspective and appreciation for the position after this year and I’ve stuck with it. You find out a lot. And it certainly ended up in a real good way today, didn’t it?”
It did. For 53 Broncos and a coaching staff and an organization. An egalitarian Super Bowl, with the quarterback in twilight a part. And the smile on his face, the wide, wide smile, told the story. He was fine with being one of 53, winning a different way. It felt as good.

Denver Defense: ‘We Read Them Like a Book’

by Andy Benoit
February 8, 2016
Denver Broncos’ Von Miller (58) strips the ball from Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton (1) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — All week long the question was, How would the Broncos react to Cam Newton. Sunday’s answer: they’d make Newton react to them.
“He really doesn’t scramble a whole lot,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said, holding the Lombardi Trophy. “He tries to throw from the pocket.”
The Broncos at times dedicated a spy on Newton in situations where he would be more inclined to scramble, but mostly they went into attack mode, blitzing Newton out of their man-to-man packages.
Phillips’ biggest decision heading into this game was what to do with his extra defenders. He knew that in man coverage he’d often have at least one, and maybe two. The Panthers, after all, like to keep a tight end and/or fullback in to help their athletically average offensive line in pass protection. So what do you do with the man-to-man defenders who are assigned to the tight end or fullback?
Phillips’ solution was to have them blitz. This tactic, known as green-dog blitzing, is an aggressive yet relatively safe way to combat a dual threat quarterback like Newton. As long as the green-dog blitzers are patient and sure that their man is not just chip-blocking but actually staying in all the way, and as long as they’re disciplined in their rush lanes so as not to disrupt the four rushing defensive lineman, it can be a lethal approach.
Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who has been a key green-dog blitzer for Denver all season, said this was the plan every time they saw extra men stay in to help pass protect. “In a lot of games we saw on film, Newton was just sitting back, patting the ball,” Marshall said. “We’d see two [free defenders] in the middle of the field just not doing anything.”
Another crucial benefit of green-dog blitzing is it prevents those extra blockers from doing what they’re employed specifically to do, which is help the offensive line. Tight end Ed Dickson can’t help heavy-legged right tackle Mike Remmers with a double team on Von Miller if Dickson has to react to a safety coming after his quarterback. Fullback Mike Tolbert can’t lend a hand to slower-footed Michael Oher against DeMarcus Ware if a linebacker has suddenly pinned his ears back and is rushing.
And often, the Panthers like to have Dickson and Tolbert blocking on the same side so that the entire O-line can slide the other way. By green dog blitzing, that O-line slide gets nullified because the green-dog blitzers become the edge rushers, allowing the D-lineman to run twists and stunts just a few slots over against the sliding blockers.
With this proactive approach, the Broncos turned in one of the most dominant Super Bowl performances in history. The Panthers offense scored a season-low in points (10) and gave up season-highs in turnovers (four) and sacks (seven).
Adding players to the pass rush “flustered them a lot,” said safety T.J. Ward. “They didn’t expect that.”
Ward was asked if the Panthers showed them anything that they didn’t expect. “No. We read them like a book.”
“They did everything we watched on film,” said fellow safety Darian Stewart.
The safeties weren’t the only ones saying this. Marshall, when asked the question, laughed. (Causing linebacker Todd Davis, one locker over, to also laugh.) “They did everything that we saw on film,” Marshall said. “That’s the crazy thing. You’d think with two weeks to prepare for the Super Bowl, they would do a new wrinkle. They did everything the same. Nothing new.”
The only man who could think of any unexpected play from Carolina was, of course, Coach Phillips. He cited the Ted Ginn throwback attempt to Newton (which the Broncos took away) and the misdirection third-and-short throw to Greg Olsen (which got the Broncos).
Besides green-dog blitzing, Phillips’ other big focus was taking away Carolina’s running game. The Panthers, with all of their heavy two-tight end and two-back sets, present a lot of moving pieces on the ground. But they’ll also run the ball out of what’s become the default formation leaguewide: three wide receivers. Phillips noticed something here. “They can’t run against a seven man front with three wide receivers.”
Few teams had exploited Carolina here because defenses often play a six-man front against three-receiver sets if it’s a passing situation. The Panthers are willing to still run in those situations, which concerned Phillips. So, to put an extra body in the front—which was crucial given that Newton must be treated as a ballcarrier—Phillips in certain scenarios replaced one of his nickel safeties with a fifth defensive lineman. That gave the Broncos five men along the line of scrimmage but still three corners in coverage. It’s a brilliant ploy because corners Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Bradley Roby can easily cover Carolina’s mediocre wide receivers one-on-one. An extra safety wasn’t necessary.
Taking away the run was critical for two reasons: (1) It’s what the Panthers do best; and (2) Stopping it creates the third-and-long situations that allow guys like Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to tee off on iffy offensive tackles.
Not to mention, Denver felt that Carolina in obvious passing situations was schematically limited. “You can tell they spend more time on their run game than their passing game,” said Ward. “Their run game is intricate, with the hand-offs and the option runs, and guys pulling. Their passing game is pretty much what they show you in their previous weeks.”
And so the team that John Elway built to win via defense has claimed the franchise’s third Super Bowl thanks to a destructive defense. Talent was key, as it always is. But just as important is identifying the most advantageous ways to use the talent. The Broncos did this with tactical aggressiveness in all phases.

Broncos' dominant defense officially superb with Super Bowl win

Broncos defense had held three high-scoring offense ineffective during playoffs

February 7, 2016

Von Miller sacked Cam Newton and ripped the ball free to set up a defensive touchdown for the Broncos. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Super Crush 50!
The Broncos became the supreme defensive team in NFL postseason history by orange-squeezing three of the league's paramount offensive units — the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots and, ultimately, the Carolina Panthers — and constraining Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Cam Newton to only three touchdowns, with just one passing.
The trio of offenses that scored a combined 86.8 points per game in the regular season averaged just 11.3 points against the Broncos' Tour de Force.
Super Bowl 50 was the magnum opus for the Broncos, who prevailed over the Panthers 24-10 on Sunday at Levi's Stadium and won their third world championship and first in this millennium.
From Orange Crush in 1977 to, as Super Bowl MVP Von Miller said afterward, "we just wanted to be the Orange Rush."
Miller, who had two strip sacks and an extraordinary performance vs. the Panthers after an astonishing game against the Patriots, led the way as the dynamic, dynamo defense dominated again.
"I'm so proud of my buddies," Miller said. "It feels great. Peyton (Manning) and DeMarcus (Ware) and coach (Wade) Phillips have been deserving their whole careers. I did this for them. I put my neck on the line for those guys."
With Peyton Manning holding on for dear life in his final game (although he would not announce his retirement publicly yet), the offense managed a meager 194 total yards (and one touchdown), but the defense, as it has done all season in 15 victories, took command by scoring its own touchdown, setting up the final touchdown, causing four turnovers (three fumbles and an interception), sacking Newton six times (and Ted Ginn Jr. on a thwarted trick play) and incessantly harassing the Panthers' quarterback, who felt like he was trapped in a waffle maker, just as it did Brady two weeks before.
The Broncos produced one of the 10 best defensive performances in Super Bowls, and analytical experts proclaim this modern-day, updated Orange Crush as one of the top five ever. Their run through the postseason has to be No. 1, according to this guy, who has seen the Seahawks and the Ravens and 41 others.
It is interesting to note that the second overall selection in the 2011 draft, Miller, ran rampant against the No. 1 pick that year, Newton.
Manning has won two of four Super Bowls. His boss, John Elway, won two of five and finished with back-to-back victories. Now, Elway has become one of the pre-eminent NFL general managers with two Super Bowls in five years. He picked Miller; he assembled the game's most proficient offense in 2013 and football's premier defense in the 2015 season. Most valuable player to most valuable executive.
Miller finished with 2½ sacks, two forced fumbles, six tackles and a pass defense way down field.
The league's two superlative defensive teams gave the world a defensive game. The Panthers were able to convert third downs into first downs only 3-of-15 occasions (20 percent), and the Broncos were just 1-of-14 (7 percent). The Panthers had 18 first downs by pass and rush, the Broncos nine. There were barely 500 yards total offensive yards by both. Newton was the Panthers' only rusher to surpass 30 yards.
C.J. Anderson toughed out 90 yards — one for 34 — on 23 carries, punctuated by the one 2-yard touchdown with 3:08 remaining that finally determined that the Broncos would win.
Until then, the outcome certainly was indefinite.
The two offenses were juggernauts.
Denver did little; Carolina did less. At halftime the Broncos were up 13-7 on two field goals and a fumble recovery in the end zone by Malik Jackson, the other Broncos fellow from the University of Tennessee. The Panthers had their only touchdown drive 4:35 into the second quarter.
They had squadoosh from then until a field goal with 10:21 was left in the fourth quarter, but still were only six points away (16-10).
The Broncos seemed to be playing "four corners" offense for four quarters, and the Panthers obviously were afraid of the Broncos' body-hugging, unyielding defense. Cam couldn't throw or run or hide from the Miller-Ware attack and the blitzing, swarming, crushing defense.
The Panthers' suffered six presnap penalties, as if they didn't want to start any play.
Anderson praised his teammates on the other side of the ball.
"Man, we've got the greatest defense on the planet," he said.
Linebacker Brandon Marshall was more effusive.
"In my opinion, we're the greatest defense to ever play the game. Greatest," he said. "It's a bold statement, but from top to bottom, we have the greatest talent — from (pass) rushers to safeties to linebackers. Better than anybody who's ever done it.
"All we really need is 17 points."
The Broncos got 24.
The Panthers had only 10.
The Broncos have been crushed in Super Bowls by Dallas, the New York Giants, Washington, San Francisco and, two years, ago Seattle.
But the Broncos were the Orange crushers on Super Sunday.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Film Review - 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

By Mark Steyn
February 6, 2016

Paramount Pictures

Michael (Transformers) Bay has now made two feature films about real-life military attacks on US sovereign territory - in 2001 Pearl Harbor, which was enough to have you rooting for the Japs, and now 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Happily, the latter does not have much in common with the former, save for a reprise of what evidently Mr Bay regards as his signature - a rocket falling from the skies to its target, but shot from the rocket's point of view. If you object that a rocket is an inanimate object and can't have a point of view, well, it's all comparative: in Pearl Harbor, the rocket was a lot less inanimate than Ben Affleck. Here the director has a grittier and hairier cast, and makes a good-faith if not wholly successful effort to dial back the prettifying devices of blockbuster film-making.

As for the point of view, the rocket has one. But Bay doesn't. This is a visceral, sensory, pulverizing, you-are-there slab of action - all twitchy cameras, sudden edits, jerky cross-cuts - in which the context of the fireballs all around is left for another day. The director describes 13 Hours as "my most real movie", but it doesn't have to be that real to be more real than the official version. Film-making and storytelling have been part of the Benghazi fiasco since the evening of September 11th 2012, when the US Government decided to tell its own story about a film-maker whose all but unseen video had, they insisted, led to the death of a US ambassador. In the Hillary Clinton version, four Americans died at the hands of (as I put it at the time) "a spontaneous class-action movie review". Three days later, when the President, the Secretary of State and the US Ambassador to the United Nations were all still lying to the American people about what happened and why, my characterization of that night holds up better than the Government's:
As Secretary Clinton and General Dempsey well know, the film has even less to do with anything than did the Danish cartoons or the schoolteacher's teddy bear or any of the other innumerable grievances of Islam. The 400-strong assault force in Benghazi showed up with RPGs and mortars: That's not a spontaneous movie protest; that's an act of war, and better planned and executed than the dying superpower's response to it. Secretary Clinton and General Dempsey are, to put it mildly, misleading the American people when they suggest otherwise. 
One can understand why they might do this, given the fiasco in Libya. The men who organized this attack knew the ambassador would be at the consulate in Benghazi rather than at the embassy in Tripoli. How did that happen? They knew when he had been moved from the consulate to a "safe house," and switched their attentions accordingly. How did that happen? The United States government lost track of its ambassador for ten hours. How did that happen? Perhaps, when they've investigated Mitt Romney's press release for another three or four weeks, the court eunuchs of the American media might like to look into some of these fascinating questions, instead of leaving the only interesting reporting on an American story to the foreign press.
In the end, the court eunuchs chose to continue fanning Sultan Barack. Three years later, based on a book by five of the survivors, Bay's film belatedly provides answers to some of the basic questions the media never asked. It's not a political film at all: Hillary is never mentioned by name, and for the whole 13 hours the Government of the United States - indeed, in a more basic sense, the entire global hyperpower - is an unseen character confined to the end of a telephone that no one ever picks up. There are occasional glimpses of nearby assets - a US air base across the Med in Italy - but in this western the cavalry never come. Three years ago we were told that they couldn't have got there "in time" - so, in Hillary's words, what difference would it have made? But as I wrote:
It's easy, afterwards, to say that nothing would have made any difference. But, at the time Deputy Chief Hicks was calling 9-1-1 and getting executive-branch voicemail, nobody in Washington knew how long it would last. A terrorist attack isn't like a soccer game, over in 90 minutes. If it is a sport, it's more like a tennis match: Whether it's all over in three sets or goes to five depends on how hard the other guy pushes back. The government of the United States took the extremely strange decision to lose in straight sets. Not only did they not deploy out-of-area assets, they ordered even those in Libya to stand down.
That's the story as Bay tells it: For two-plus hours, you feel only the absence of the global superpower - as, indeed, many beleaguered Americans and American allies around the planet have felt these last years. The background is sketched efficiently enough. John Krasinski, the nice bloke from the US version of "The Office", lands in Libya hirsute and bulked up. He's playing Jack Silva, a private security contractor for whom this is just another gig in just another Krappistan. He's met at the terminal by his old Navy Seal buddy Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale) and even on the drive back from the airport it's clear that Benghazi is a town where the Libyan government's writ doesn't run and turning left instead of right can have serious consequences for your life expectancy. When they run into trouble at an ad-hoc militia checkpoint, Woods has a well-rehearsed line to hand, pointing to the sky and telling the dimestore jihadist that every aspect of the encounter is currently being watched by the all-seeing drone. As we'll discover, the world's first drone superpower sees everything ...but doesn't do anything.

Woods and Silva work for GRS - the Global Response Staff - whose job is to provide security for the CIA operatives in the city. There are six of them, with monosyllabic nicknames - Rone, Tig, Oz, Boon - and a trait apiece: One of them is a bookish type partial to Joseph Campbell, which provides Bay with some voiceovered philosophical musings in the final moments. Otherwise, this is where the director descends to his traditional caricatures: in contrast to the hairy muscular tattooed GRS guys, the CIA types are clean-cut pocket-pen pansy-assed snooty desk-jockeys with Ivy League Master's in Nation-building Studies, all under the command of a Head of Station jobsworth called "Bob" (David Costabile) on his last posting before retirement. Because there are no girls in this story, one of the CIA agents is female, a thankless role well-played by Alexia Barlier.

The pointyheads don't want these dumb lummoxes causing any trouble. When the CIA occasionally ventures out from its crusader fort to meet with local bigwigs, Jack goes along as protection, posing as Mlle Barlier's hubby, but sneeringly instructed not to say a word. In the course of the film, Mlle Barlier's character comes to see that, when the chips are down, you need these hard men. Whereas the dweebiest of the desk-jockeys, on being instructed to grab a gun and head to the roof, responds, "He's joking, right?"

This is the CIA we're talking about, remember. They can't really be that effete and disconnected, can they? They surely can't have that little sense of their vulnerability - of their precarious toehold on a disintegrating landscape. Next door to their compound itinerant herders graze sheep and doe-eyed boys skim stones, but there seems to be a method in their comings-and-goings, as if it's the intelligence agency that's under surveillance. A mile away, inside the diplomatic compound, things are even more surreal. There's a pool, and the lobby looks like the Benghazi Hyatt, but the State Department security are rank amateurs and their local guards are unarmed and the foreigners lack the language skills ever to be entirely sure about the natives they've hired. As one American marvels, after watching his militia comrade on his cellphone, the so-called good guys mysteriously have the bad guys on speed-dial.

The "friendlies" fade into the shadows, the "hostiles" metastasize: As the night unfolds, you get the sense that everyone - the goatherds, the grease-monkeys watching TV soccer, their shrouded womenfolk - knows what's going on. Except the Americans. The CIA are tourists in the heart of darkness. The world over the wall has a lazy sensuality, confident that, when the infidels with the guns and the money depart, it will be as if they were never there.

And so on September 11th US Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher), described as a "true believer" in the new Libya, arrives for a private meeting with the mayor - at which half the town shows up. Instead of being upset by the security breach, "Bob" is more irked at a GRS guy dozing off during Stevens' happy-sappy remarks. When it all goes pear-shaped back at the compound, Bay is unsparing in showing Stevens' panic and fear at the disintegration of his illusions: He and Sean Smith are hastily shuffled into a "safe room", which, of course, thanks to the attention to detail of the money-no-object State Department, is entirely unsafe. Unable to force their way in, the invading army simply lights up the adjoining room, and the smoke under the door does the rest.

The decision to let their ambassador die appears to have been taken early on. Was it just "Bob" back at the CIA annex rushing into the yard and ordering GRS to stand down? Or did it come from higher up? Half-a-dozen brave men plus a goofy Libyan interpreter decide that, unlike the CIA, they're going to do what's right, and off they set.

The GRS guys are well-cast by Bay. The one misstep is Toby Stephens, playing Glen Doherty. The son of Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens, Toby is best known as the baddie in Die Another Day, a very overripe performance even by Bond-villain standards. He enters the picture back at the embassy in Tripoli, when the diplomats are fretting that they have no assets in country. Oh yes you do, says Stephens, stepping forward and fixing his gimlet eye on the camera: "I need a bagful of money and a flight to Benghazi." His face is too strong and his presence too actorly and the line too portentous, and just for a moment the entire enterprise trembles on the brink of Robert Stack in Airplane!

Glen Doherty was a singularly brave man. He was the guy who didn't shrug "What difference does it make?" And so he made a difference: He got his flight, and he landed in Benghazi in the early hours, and made it to the roof of the compound to save American lives, and sacrifice his own. While the commander-in-chief went off to party in Vegas, and the Secretary of State put her phone on voicemail, and the UN Ambassador hit the TV circuit to peddle the official lie, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods chose to act in defiance of the government that abandoned them. Bay does not eschew the conventions of the genre, but Lorne Balfe's hitherto percussive score finds an appropriate dignity for these final scenes.

We all know how the story ends, as perhaps they did, too, in the last of those 13 hours. It was a thankless task, a charge of the Light Brigade necessitated by the absence of all the heavy power. But they did it, and their sacrifice deserves to be honored. There are other stories to tell about Benghazi - of self-serving duplicity by shameless hollow nothings unfit for public office - but Michael Bay has chosen to focus on heroism and sacrifice by men whom too many Americans have forgotten. I hope his film makes a difference.

Friday, February 05, 2016

A (much) better year

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque in Catonsville
US President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque in Catonsville, Maryland February 3, 2016.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

By Caroline Glick
4 February 2016

On Wednesday the US media interrupted its saturation coverage of the presidential primaries to report on President Barack Obama’s visit to a mosque in Maryland. The visit was Obama’s first public one to a mosque in the US since entering the White House seven years ago. The mosque Obama chose to visit demonstrated once again that his views of radical Islam are deeply problematic.

Obama visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore, a mosque with longstanding ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. During Operation Protective Edge, the leaders of the mosque accused Israel of genocide and demanded that the administration end US support for the Jewish state.

According to The Daily Caller, the mosque’s former imam Mohammad Adam el-Sheikh was active in the Islamic American Relief Agency, a charity deemed a terror group in 2004 after the US Treasury Department determined it had transferred funds to Osama bin Laden, Hamas, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

El-Sheikh left the Baltimore mosque to take over the Dar el-Hijra mosque in northern Virginia. He replaced Anwar al-Awlaki as imam after Awlaki moved to Yemen in 2003. In Yemen Awlaki rose to become a senior al-Qaida commander.

Awlaki radicalized many American jihadists both through direct contact and online. He radicalized US Army major Nidal Malik Hasan, and inspired him to carry out the 2009 massacre of 13 US soldiers and civilians at Fort Hood in Texas. Awlaki was killed by a US drone strike in 2011.

In 2010, a member of the Islamic Society of Baltimore was arrested for planning to attack an army recruiting office. According to the Mediaite news portail, the mosque reportedly refused to cooperate with the FBI in its investigation.

Obama’s visit to the radical mosque now is a clear signal of how he intends to spend his last year in office. It tells us that during this period, Obama will adopt ever more extreme positions regarding radical Islam.

Obama’s apologetics for radical Islamists is the flipside of his hostility for Israel. This too is escalating and will continue to rise through the end of his tenure in office.

The US Customs authority’s announcement last week that it will begin enforcing a 20-yearold decision to require goods imported from Judea and Samaria to be labeled “Made in the West Bank,” rather than “Made in Israel,” signals Obama’s intentions. So, too, it is abundantly clear that France’s plan to use the UN Security Council to dictate Israel’s borders was coordinated in advance with the Obama administration.

Part of the reason Obama is acting with such urgency and intensity is that he knows that regardless of who is elected to replace him, the next president will not be as viscerally hostile to Israel or as emotionally attached to Islam as he is.

On the Democratic side, neither candidate is a particularly energetic supporter of Israel or counter- jihad warrior. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s recently released email discussions of Israel with her closest advisers indicate that all of Clinton’s closest counselors are hostile to Israel.

For his part, Vermont’s socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders harbors the far Left’s now standard anti-Israel attitudes. Not only did Sanders – like Clinton – support Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. He boycotted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the Joint Houses of Congress where Netanyahu laid out Israel’s reasons for opposing the deal. Sanders gave television interviews condemning Netanyahu for making the speech, accusing him of electioneering on the back of the US Congress. Sanders criticized Israel during Operation Protective Edge and supports decreasing US military aid to Israel.

For all their anti-Israel sensibilities, though, neither Clinton nor Sanders gives the impression that they are driven by them as Obama is.

Unlike Obama, neither appear to be animated by their hostility toward Israel. Neither seem to be passionate in their support for Muslim Brotherhood- affiliated groups or in their desire to realign the US away from Israel, from its traditional Arab allies and toward Iran. This lack of passion makes it safe to assume that if elected president, while they will adopt anti-Israel policies, they will not seek out ways to weaken Israel or strengthen its sworn enemies.

On the Republican side, the situation is entirely different. All of the Republican presidential candidates are pro-Israel. To be sure, some are more pro-Israel than others. Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance, is more supportive than his competitors. But all of the Republicans candidates are significantly more supportive of Israel than the Democratic candidates. So it is simply an objective fact that Israel will be better off if a Republican is elected in November no matter who he is and no matter who the Democratic candidate is.

It hasn’t always been this way. And it doesn’t have to remain this way.

Back in 1992 when Bill Clinton was running against George H.W. Bush, if Israel was your issue, you voted for Clinton because he was rightly viewed as more pro-Israel than Bush.

Twenty-four years ago, supporting Israel carried no cost for Clinton. According to Gallup, in 1992, 52 percent of Democrats were pro-Israel.

On the other hand, Bush was probably harmed somewhat for the widespread perception that he was anti-Israel. In 1992, 62% of Republicans were pro-Israel.

Over the past 15 years, the situation has altered considerably.

Today, Republicans are near unanimous in their support for Israel. According to a Gallup poll from February 2015, 83% of Republicans support Israel.

Only 48% of Democrats do. From 2014 to 2015, Democratic support for Israel plunged 10 points.

The cleavage on Israel is particularly acute among partisan elites.

Last summer, pollster Frank Luntz conducted a survey of US elite partisan opinion on Israel. His data were devastating. According to Luntz’s data, 76% of Democratic elite believe that Israel has too much influence over US foreign policy. Only 20% of Republicans do.

Nearly half (47%) of highly educated, wealthy and politically active Democrats think that Israel is a racist country. Thirteen percent of their Republican counterparts agree.

And whereas only 48% of Democrats believe that Israel wants peace, 88% of Republicans believe that Israel wants peace with its neighbors.

These trends affect voting habits. According to Luntz, while only 18% of Democrats say they would be more likely to vote for a politician who supports Israel, 31% said they are less likely to vote for a pro-Israel candidate. In contrast, 76% of Republicans say they want their representatives to support Israel.

Forty-five percent of Democrats said they would be more likely to vote for a politician who is critical of Israel and 75% of Republicans said they would be less likely to vote for an anti-Israel candidate.

These data tell us two important things. Today Democratic candidates will gain nothing and may lose significant support if they support Israel.

In contrast, a Republican who opposes Israel will have a hard time getting elected, much less winning a primary.

Partisan sensibilities aren’t the only reason that Israel is will be better off if a Republican wins in November. There is also the issue of policy continuity.

Even though neither Clinton nor Sanders share Obama’s anti-Israel passion, their default position will be to maintain his policies. Traditionally, when an outgoing president is replaced by a successor from his own party, many of his foreign policy advisers stay on to serve his successor.

Moreover, if American voters elect a Democrat to succeed Obama, their decision will rightly be viewed as a vote of confidence in his policies.

Obama has radicalized the Democratic Party in his seven years in office. When Obama was inaugurated, the Blue Dog caucus of conservative Democratic members of the House of Representatives had 54 members. Today only 14 remain.

Obama’s Democratic Party is not Bill Clinton’s party.

A party that isn’t forced to pay a price for its policies isn’t likely to change them. If the Democrats are not defeated in the run for the White House in November, their party will not reassess its shift to radicalism and reconsider its increasingly hostile stance on Israel.

That then brings us to the state of the presidential race following the Iowa caucuses and ahead of next Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire. The Iowa caucuses showed a significant gap in enthusiasm among partisan voters. Participation rates in the Republican caucuses were unprecedented.

Cruz shattered the record for vote getting in the state that saw participation rates up 30% from 2012. On the Democratic side, participation rates were below the 2008 level.

On the Republican side, the three top candidates – Cruz, businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio – are all backed by committed, fervent supporters. On the Democratic side, Clinton’s supporters are reportedly diffident about her. And while Sanders enjoys enthusiastic support from voters under 45, he can’t seem to convince people who actually know what socialism is to support him.

If Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, on the face of it, it is difficult to see his path to victory in the general election. Whereas Obama was elected by hiding his radical positions, Sanders is running openly as a socialist and attacks Obama from the Left. Whether America is a center-right or center-left country, the undisputed truth is that it is a centrist country.

As for Clinton, the likelihood grows by the day that by the general election, her inability to inspire her base will be the least of her problems.

The FBI’s ongoing probe of her use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state is devastating her chances of getting elected.

The State Department’s revelation last week that 22 of Clinton’s emails were too classified to be released, even with parts blacked out, makes it impossible to dismiss the prospect that she will be indicted for serious felony offenses. Yet, as Jonah Goldberg argued Wednesday in National Review, with her narrow victory in Iowa, Clinton blocked the opening for a less damaged candidate – like Vice President Joe Biden or former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg – to step into the race.

In other words, the Republican nominee will have an energized base and will face either a legally challenged or openly socialist Democratic opponent.

According to terrorism expert Steven Emerson, before Obama visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore, he asked the FBI for its opinion of the mosque. FBI investigators informed Obama of the mosque’s ties to terrorism. They urged him not to confer it with the legitimacy that comes with a presidential visit.

Obama ignored the FBI’s advice.

The next 11 months will be miserable for Israel.

But we should take heart. By all accounts, next year will be better. And judging by the way the presidential race is shaping up, next year may be a much, much better year.