Category Archives: Assad

The Obama Legacy


Historians will debate the importance of the Obama Administration and its role in American history for decades to come, of course. The legacy which presidents leave behind them is always a concern of our chief executives, and it has been of even more importance to Barack Obama. As he marked a milestone in his tour of duty. leaving on a foreign tour, with a successor he opposed now chosen, he publicly drew his own optimistic record. He carefully picked, of course, in a press conference, what he considered the best interpretation of events over the last eight years. But at least for the time being, when his policies and their repercussions are still relatively fresh, it is hard to draw a balance sheet which is less than disastrous.
Obama, of course, perhaps more than any other recent president, is an ideologue – and he insisted in his political campaigns that he aimed at a “transformation” of American society. His framework for events is a combination of his studies of history but overlaid by the socialist and pro-Communist views of the little social-political group around the University of Chicago who launched his career.
There is no doubt that he has effected changes, whether they are indeed transformations, and whether any have been beneficiary, only time will tell.
But any honest examination of the effects of his strategies is a record of miscalculation and failures. Perhaps the most dramatic ones have been in foreign policy. His campaign to withdraw American power and decision-making from the international scene has demonstrated what had always been apparent to serious students of foreign affairs: the enormous power of the U.S., economic, political and military, has a role in any international confrontation even when Washington chooses to remain neutral or withdraw its influence. A world order without U.S. participation is not only unimaginable to our allies but something our adversaries always question as a possibility.
The Middle East is the most dramatic example of the failure of Obama’s effort to remove American leadership and power in the interelated conflicts there. First, his effort to weaken the U.S.-Israel alliance encouraged the Moslem terrorists in the area. Then, Sec. Hillary Clinton’s courted the brief Moslem Brotherhood regime in Egypt – overthrown by the military through popular demand. Obama and Hillary attempted to boycott the new military rulers thus providing an opportunity for Russian arms sales and influence where it had been expelled a half century ago by pro-Western Egtptians. In Syria, Obama’s initial declaration of opposition to the Basher al Assad regime was followed by withdrawal. Washington’s retreat assured the descent into a bloody, irresolute civil war sending a flood of millions of refugees into neighboring countries and Europe. The threat of force followed by its withdrawal has returned Moscow to a base in the eastern Mediterranean and helped extend Tehran mullahs’ state terrorisn excesses across the Fertile Crescent, even into Latin America. A treaty to curb Tehran’s nuclear weapons, never submitted to the Senate as the Constitution fdemands, is rapidly disintegrating
In East and South Asia, Obama’s ambivalent policies toward Chinese aggression have encouraged Beijing to aggressive territorial claims against its neighbors, discouraged unity among the Southeast Asians against Chinese Communist threats. Again Hillary’s much publicized pivot to the Western Pacific has failed to materialize. Slowly, the rape of the American economy by the Chinese through export subsides and currency manipulation – begun in the Bush Administrations — has become so clear that the Trump Administration qill have no option but a dangerous crackdown.
Obama’s role as the first American Afro-American president was, whether admitted in public discussion, seen as an important opportunity to continue to heal the historic American race problem. But whether in part because his own exotic background linked him neither to the rising black middle class nor the poor of the ghetto, he either took nondefensible positions on individual race incidents or neglected completely the mayhem of his own Chicago hometown. One has to assume that the American black leadership can only see these past eight years as a failure by a president, whatever his color, to contribute to solution of the race problem which appears to most observers to be in an even worse condition than at his entry into office.
Obama’s claim for his Affordable Care solution to long-term U.S. medical care is nearing collapse with skyrocketing costs and failure of the insurance framework which was to support it. His steady stream of executive directives for additional regulation and environmental restraints has contributed toward the slowest and most erratic economic recovery since World War II.
Despite his rhetorical skills and personal popularity as the first black president, Obama’s legacy will be a negative one. As the anti-Obama vote for Donald Trump has demonstrated, it will also cast a shadow on many of the techniques and political forms his very talented political team gave the nation.
sws-11-14-16

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Obama’s Syrian legacy


It would be hard to exaggerate the mess in the Middle East that Pres. Barack Obama is leaving his successor.
While the five-year Syrian civil war continues unabated, pitting a number of different armed groups against each other with their foreign sponsors, Washington is caught in its own contradictions. In August American special forces assistance and bombing was given a Turkish incursion into northern Syria even though Ankara’s target was the American Kurdish Syrian ethnic ally most effective in the contest, and Washington’s target the Islamicist rebels now involved in the anti-regime movement.
Ankara fears Syrian Kurdish ethnics are attempting to set up a ministate, perhaps aiming to link up with its own Kurdish armed guerillas it has been fighting for three decades, often with Soviet assistance. The Turks fear America’s autonomous ally, the Syrian Kurds, the Kurdish region in Iraq, and ultimately, Iranian ethnic Kurds may try to form a new secessionist state with their own huge Turkish Kurdish minority.
Meanwhile, Turkey accuses Americans of having been involved in the recent failed coup against an elected Turkish government, one that under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is steadily headed toward an authoritarian Islamicist regime. Erdogan blames Fethullah Gulen. Muslim cleric and politician, once his closest infiltrating the state judicial and security system, for leading the coup and has formally asked for his extradition from the U.S.
Turkish airmen at the NATO-Turkish-U.S. base at Incirlik air base near the Syrian border were accused by Erdogan of implication in the failed coup, and U.S. operations there aimed at the Daesh [ISIS or ISIL Islamic terrorists] were halted temporarily. Not a comforting thought for Washington planners with nuclear weapons deployed there.
Erdogan’s leaky southern border has seen Islamicist support move south from Ankara and hundreds of thousands of migrants — some refugees from violence, others economic immigrants – moving on to Europe. His effort to blackmail German Chancellor Angela Merkel for additional aid and free movement of Turks inside the European Union in exchange for blockin the migrants has collapsed. Germany is hiccupping violently from the more than a million “refugees” it admitted last year with Merkel’s welcome.
Meanwhile, Obama courts Tehran’s mullahs. He signed what many believe was a no enforceable pact to halt Iran’s nuclear weapon, even though within weeks they publicly bragged of their firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile for carrying such a weapon. The American president went through secret contortions to pay $400 million – originally part of earlier arms purchases by the government of Reza Shah Palevi which Washington helped unseat – to free hostages. Billions more apparentlyis on its way.
The mystery is, of course, what Obama [and supporters of his Persian policy] think they are buying: Iran is already the world’s leasing sponsor of state terrorism and has lined up Mediterranean satellites in Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Both, of course, threaten Israel. One of the troubled aspects between Jerusalem and Ankara, once close military allies, is Turkish support of Hamas, a common enemy now of Egypt and the Israelis.
Obama didn’t create the bitter and explosive Mideast animosities, of course. But he has built on that inheritance, antagonizing America’s tradition Sunni and Israeli allies in the region. In Syria, the crux of the conflict, Turkey is ostensibly an ally of the U.S. is seeking to oust the Damascus regime under Basher al Assad, supported in turn by the Russians as well as the Persians. Moscow, despite its still a crippled relic of Soviet power, is creating naval and air bases in Syria – culpable in mass bombing of civilian populations – aiming at the old Soviet influence.
Whether Obama’s original threat to intervene in Syria, then withdrawn, would have made the difference in controlling the Mideast chaos, is an unanswerable question. But there is no doubt that his policies have helped create the current chaotic situation, increasingly involving the major powers, that could be the beginning of a regional conflict spreading beyond its current confines.
sws-08-30-16

Aleppo’s appeal


An epic continuing battle continues for control of Syria’ largest city, historically one of the most famous centers of urban civilization in the world. Before its demise in the post-World War I Franco-British partition of the Levant it ranked with Cairo and Istanbul [Constantinople] as a major cosmopolis, the Western end of the famous Silk Road from China to the West.
A call by 15 physicians in a letter personally directed to Pres. Barack Obama has dramatized the dilemma facing Washington. Obama’s history of “drawing red lines” in the Syrian conflict only to be forfeited has confused foreign participants in the struggle and the American people. His statements led finally only to America abandoning Syria to the tender mercies of the ruthless Basher al Assad regime which allied with the Russians wages war on an unprecedented scale on its civilian population, matched by the incredible brutality of Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] and its terrorist allies in the opposition.
Government and rebels in the past few days have clashed in southern Aleppo, voiding a truce promised by the Russians to enter the city. Moscow had earlier promised “humanitarian windows” to permit humanitarian convoys of food and medicines to transit. Mosocw now refuses to comment on the current situation including the use of Russian planes against the rebels and civilian populations. Human Rights Watch listed six deliberate strikes in the past two weeks by al Assad regime or Russian warplanes on health facilities in the north that killed 17 people.
Obama’s determination not to involve the U.S. in another irresolute Mideast war is certainly understood by a war-weary American public and justifiable to many of his supporters among the foreign policy experts. But now that has to be balanced with the possibility of another one of those catastrophic destructions of human life which the U.S. and the world have promised “never again”.
The doctors point out that hospitals and medical facilities have become not accidentally but deliberate targets in the warfare. This small group of health providers remaining in the city is dealing with an impossible situation as their letter dramatizes, including a shortage of medicines and supplies which often culminates in triage among wounded children. Furthermore, the rebels accuse government forces of carrying out an attack Wednesday using chlorine gas on rebel-held residential neighborhoods.
It seems unlikely that Obama can openly reverse his Mideast and particularl Syrian policy in the last few months of his administration, He has made American withdrawal the essence of his foreign policy and with serious and obvious U.S. failures on all fronts, its ideological goal is about all that is left of his tattered effort for “transformation” of U.S. foreign policy. Whether he has the courage to do so with a good deal of obscurantist rhetoric remains to be seen.
But we believe it is incumbent on the Congress immediately to take the lead in this human crisis. The physicians have pointed out that Americans earlier had promised to set up “corridors” into the embattled areas. These would carry drugs and foodstuffs to the estimated more than 1.2 million living in the government-held zone as well as some 250,000 now in the rebel-held areas of the city.
Also additional public pressure must be placed on the al Assad regime through Moscow and its allies in Tehran to end what have been reported as recent chemical warfare attacks on the rebels by government forces, apparently with the tacit cooperation of Russian air. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Thursday he was “concerned by reports of a new chemical attack… that is said to have claimed four lives people and left dozens injured.”
A United Nations framework is in place to handle humanitarian aid to both those in the rebel and government areas. It is incumbent now that the U.S. tale the lead in utilizing it to prevent a monumental human disaster.
sws-08-11-16

The Obama Doctrine


Jeffrey Goldberg has made a valiant effort in a lengthy [and often repetitious] article in The Atlantic [striving desperately to become high-brown] to present a comprehensive explanation of Pres. Obama’s foreign policy. Goldberg is both exhaustive and sympathetic, giving us extended references to intimacies with the President over many years – dating, as he tells us, to Obama’s days as an unknown Illinois state senator.
Goldberg fails, however, for one simple reason: he trifles with the facts as well as the interpretations.
Many of my readers will abandon us here, for what we will have to do is to burrow into the article. Nor can we do more than skim the surface of our differences with Goldberg’s misstatements and interpretations.
• “xxx Obama believes that the Manichaeanism, and eloquently rendered bellicosity, commonly associated with Churchill were justified by Hitler’s rise, and were at times defensible in the struggle against the Soviet Union.xxx” The New Oxford tells us “bellicosity:” means “Demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight”. Does that really describe a Churchill as leader of a lonely Britain holding out against the most criminal tyranny the world had ever seen? Or later against Communism which had taken tens of millions of lives of innocent citizens in Both the Soviet Union and China?
• “xxx Bush and Scowcroft removed Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1991, and they deftly managed the disintegration of the Soviet Union xxx” That’s a very interesting if wholly bogus interpretation of the implosion of the Soviet Union in the face of a relatively passive foreign policy of Bush I and an even more passive policy advocated by Scowcroft.
• “xxx Obama would say privately that the first task of an American president in the post-Bush international arena was ‘Don’t do stupid shit.’ xxx” Goldberg repeatedly quotes this Obama axiom as a guideline to making foreign policy. Enough said.
• “xxx Four years earlier, the president believed, the Pentagon had ‘jammed’ him on a troop surge for Afghanistan. Now, on Syria, he was beginning to feel jammed again.xxx” Goldberg neglects to remind readers that at the same time Obama injected new troops into Afghanistan, he announced a deadline for withdrawal – hardly a great strategic concept.
• “xxx Within weeks, Kerry, working with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, would engineer the removal of most of Syria’s chemical-weapons arsenal—a program whose existence Assad until then had refused to even acknowledge.xxx” The operative word is “most”; Assad has continued to use chemical weapons against his own people; only days ago there was another instance in Aleppo.
• “xxx A widely held sentiment inside the White House is that many of the most prominent foreign-policy think tanks in Washington are doing the bidding of their Arab and pro-Israel funders. I’ve heard one administration official refer to Massachusetts Avenue, the home of many of these think tanks, as “Arab-occupied territory xxx” One of Goldberg [or Obama’s] more curious statements given the fact that the more often heard accusation [obviously false given their vast differences] is that Washington think tanks are enthralled by Jews/Zionists/Israelis.
• “xxx Over the course of our conversations, I came to see Obama as a president who has grown steadily more fatalistic about the constraints on America’s ability to direct global events, even as he has, late in his presidency, accumulated a set of potentially historic foreign-policy achievements—controversial, provisional achievements, to be sure, but achievements nonetheless: the opening to Cuba, the Paris climate-change accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and, of course, the Iran nuclear deal. xxx” “xxx But achievements nevertheless xxx” Oh? The Cuban dictatorship remains in place having made no concessions, arresting new political dissidents even as the Obama-Castro agreement was announced. The Paris climate-change accord binds no one to anything, is based on scientific assumptions under fire, and does nothing to clear up the controversial claims of the Obama supporters that human activity is the critical issue. The Trans-Pacific Parntership trade pact is yet to be accepted in any of the constituent partners and is now under attack from both right [Trumpites] and left [Obama’s trade union supporters]. The Administration itself admits that the Iran nuclear “deal” is yet to be proved, that Tehran continues to pour billions [now augmented by the dropping of sanctions] into a worldwide state terrorist network, and is demonstrably proceeding with the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
We won’t bore our readers with additional examples. But the Goldberg presentation of what he ceremoniously calls The Obama Doctrine is a tissue of false information and prejudiced interpretation. There is no Obama Doctrine except a general withdrawal of American power in critical areas of the world with the traditionally anticipated results.

sws-03-16-16

Dancing with Putin


There is a wild Russian folkdance, like so many Russian cultural artifacts linked to the Tartar Occupation, called the kasatka [ka-zatch-ka]. In one of its many forms, it tests the dancer’s calisthenics by having him crouch but fling out each leg and foot alternately, testing his balance and the nerves of those aroumd him.

Vladimir Putin, old secret service operator that he is with some inherited talents of the Soviet regime but steeped in Russian folkways, has been dancing a katsatka around Pres. Barack Obama. And the effect is as usual unnerving to the encircled and annihilates whatever more formal and customary dance routine the imprisoned spectator might have pursued.

When Obama first suggested an aggressive American role in Syria, but then quickly reneged, Putin saw his chance. After his aggression in George, Crimea and Ukraine, and continuing threats elsewhere, he had unnerved the European Union and the U.S. It was to the point that they, however reluctantly, threatened formal resistance. And they did go as far as sanctions against the Russian leading lights around Putin.

But Putin has enough sense of history to know that bluff can often be successful, especially if like lies – as Hitler’s propagandist Josef Goebbels said – they are ambitious enough. So Putin plunged into Syria, set up the beginning of bases on the coast, and backed his would-be host, the collapsing regime of Basher Al Assad. The effort had great psychological and propaganda value, for Syria had once been the Soviet Union’s Mediterranean anchor, and a return there hinted at a return of Moscow to world leadership.

So the kasatka began. Putin’s oncoming disaster at home with the West’s sanctions and the collapsing oil price for Russia’s only export certainly left Putin in a precarious crouching position. But he flung his military, however much its technological stars and nuclear armory, still the decrepit carcass of the once grand Soviet war machine, far overcommitted into the Syrian row. His aircraft indiscriminately committing atrocities against a highly vulnerable civilian population, and his highly trained special forces encadred al Assad’s old professional French-styled Syrian army, were able to turn the tide against the multi-head opposition. That was especially true since neither Washington nor its allies could pull together demoralized Syrian democrats, and all were trying to keep their distance from al Assad’s main jidhadist opposition.

But then with a new kasatka thrust, Putin grabbed Obama’s gallivanting Secretary of State’s effort to set up an armistice and peace conference. The armistice gave Putin some respite from his overtaxed kasatka thrusts. His dance had so wearied Kerry & Co. that the conferees agreed to gather in Vienna, even though they clearly had totally opposite positions: Washington was demanding that al Assad go, the Kremlin had staked its successful dance on his remaining in office. With the long and ugly history of such conferences throughout the post-World War II history, between the West and the Communists, it was clear Putin’s kasatka meant he would whittle down the American/EU position. With successful negotiations always Washington’s primary target, negotiating with an opponent who does not give ground, ultimately always means the U.S. makes the concessions.

So Putin’s kasatka continues. The latest fling of the limbs is to “order” the Russian military out of Syria. Crouched as he is, he dearly needs to end his commitment before it collapses. But his kasatka presents this as great concession of a noble and enlightened opponent, and, of course, he has made no firm commitment on date nor which and what he will withdraw. In fact, as so often happened with Soviet promises of cooperation, the withdrawal might not take place at all, were he not in an overextended position that he needs to withdraw.

The kasatka never quite ends with any final tour de force. Usually the dancer is so exhausted he just leaves off. That may well be the case with Putin’s dance around the bemused Obama, trying desperately to make something of historical moment of the few months of his last tenure in the presidency. After all, the kasatka has achieved its purpose – it’s rescued Putin from economic collapse, at least for the moment, and has bolstered his flagging domestic support by a feint at the old Soviet international glory.

sws-03-14-16

 

Mideast peace threat accelerating


 

The chaotic Middle East is taking on convolutions which bring it ever closer to a clash among the major powers.

  • Despite his rapidly deteriorating economy, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is taking an increasingly aggressive role in supporting the Basher Al Assad Syrian regime and its Iranian partners. His efforts to strengthen the Damascus regime have kept it alive but show no signs of a significant victory against its opponents, some of whom represent jihadist goals with liaison to international Islamic terrorism.
  • Israel’s security on its northern border is deteriorating as its traditional Lebanese enemy, Hezbollah – with a long record of terrorism against the U.S. – becomes increasingly embroiled as an Iranian ally in Syria. Hezbollah’s operations beyond the Middle East, especially in Latin America in league with local guerrillas and drug traffickers, are a growing challenge to American influence and stability there.
  • A seemingly leaderless explosion of individual terrorist acts against Israeli civilian and military targets has assumed new significance with an attack by a U.S.-trained Palestinian Liberation Organization security official on Israeli military. The knifing attacks are generally by teenagers schooled by UN-supported Palestinian educational institutions where anti-Semitism is standard curriculum. They are an expression of the collapse of secular Palestinian leadership which is hanging on Israeli security support. The growing strength of the Muslim terrorists Hamas, again being rearmed by Iran, are now infiltrating the West Bank from Gaza.
  • Saudi Arabians are persuaded of their abandonment by the Obama Administration in its pursuit of agreements with Tehran. In the face of an Iranian attempt at Mideast hegemony, Jeddah is lashing out militarily with the support of its traditional Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. But explosions of Sunni-Shia violence, including in the Saudi’s southeastern oilfields, and its see-saw battle in Yemen against Iranian-back rebels is inconclusive at best.
  • Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] continues to recruit young Muslims, even in the West and the U. S. Those who remain in their homelands present the prospect of “lone wolf” terrorist massacres resembling the almost daily occurrences in the Mideast. Despite effective continued FBI surveillance and discovery of terrorist plots, it seems only a question of time until new episodes such as San Bernardino and Ft. Hood will erupt in the Homeland.

The Obama Administration’s strategic response to this growing catastrophe is an incremental injection of small special forces teams in the Mideast conflicts. Sec. of State John Kerry has carried on frenzied whirlwind diplomatic activity. [Are secretaries of state now being judged by how many flight miles they put in?] And he has persuaded all parties to attend a Syria peace conference. But no one believes in its success with parties – including the U.S. and the Russians — pursuing directly contradictory goals.

Not even the other Republican candidates for president appear prepared to adopt Jeb Bush’s formula for a massive all-out military effort to destroy Daesh as a threat to U.S. national security. Meanwhile,Yeltsin pretends to have a common enemy with Washington in the Daesh terrorists, but Russian initiatives in Syria have been largely limited to direct support of the al Assad regime. Israeli, and American interventions in pursuit of their own direct security – for example, transfer of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah in Syria by Iran – run the risk of confrontation despite intense communications to control the traffic. The continued violation of Turkish sovereignty by Russian fighter-bombers and Ankara’s past winking at jihadist communications through its territory pose a growing problem for NATO and Washington.

Despite its continued professions of loyalty to the U.S.-Israeli alliance, the Obama Administration moves closer to the growing antagonism and pro-Palestinian policies of the Europeans. Paris, for example, now threatens to recognize a non-existing Palestinian state if bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians do not go forward, an exceedingly unlikely phenomenon given the lack of a viable Palestinian negotiating partner.

The latest sign that the Obama Administration is moving away from Israel is its adopting the Europeans’ designation [and implied boycott] of Israeli manufactures from the Jewish Settlements on the West Bank which employ tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs. Indeed, the “Palestine” cause has united old European anti-Semites with the traditional left for the creation of a Palestinian state which would be a direct threat to Israeli security.

Whether this turmoil will await a new approach, at least one generally anticipated, by a new U.S.  president in another year before some unintended action ignites a larger explosion, remains problematical.

sws-01-02-16.

 

 

 

The new old sick man of Europe


For a century European politics was dogged with “the sick man of Europe”: the collapsing Ottoman Empire and its implications for the major powers. That’s not the case now, of course. Multi-ethnic empires are a thing of the past, their death rattle came with the Soviet Union’s implosion. But policies of the Ottomans’ successors, the Turkish Republic, are sucking the Europeans further into the Middle East’s swamp.

The recent downing of a Russian aircraft darting in and out of Turkish territory has dramatized a situation everyone knew but few – most of all the Obama Administration – wanted to face. After a spectacular leap forward with liberalization of its economy, Turkey now faces both external and internal threats including economic stagnation. Ankara’s woes pose additional problems for the European Union, wrestling with obstacles in what was thought to be the inevitable economic and hence political continental integration.

From its outset the Obama Administration had courted Turkish Pres.Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, believing him the model for a modernizing Muslim world. As a popular mayor of cosmopolitan Istambul, he supposedly represented “moderate Islam”. Obama had reached out, apologizing for what he perceived as a history of American foreign misadventure, making him one of his principle foreign contacts.

But oncein national leadership Erdoğan has moved toward authoritarianism, flirted with Islamicists, and in lost control of his southeast border with chaotic Syria. He has looked away as body traffickers have used Turkey as a base for flooding Greece and Europe with destitute migrants, alternately moving recruits to Daesh and other Islamic terrorists, and fed them by permitting black market oil trafficking, some of it apparently close to his family.

With his hold on majority parliamentary power in jeopardy, Erdoğan deliberately created an atmosphere of insecurity. He abandoned peace efforts with his huge Kurdish minority, further complicating the the U.S. and the Persian Gulf Arabs’ efforts to use the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds as their most effective local force against Daesh [ISIS or ISUIL]. The Europeans have just forked over $3.2 billion to finance Turkish refugee camps. But neither party believes this will staunch the migrant flow, much less as promised, be a new beginning for negotiations for Turkey’s European Union membership. The latter seems now increasingly unlikely, not the least with concern growing over Muslim minorities in Europe growing.

Erdoğan has restarted the Turks’ centuries-old feud with Moscow, ignoring a growing and extremely profitable bilateral commerce. As the plane incident proved, the Russian presence in Syria — supporting Erdoğan’s one-time friend but now bitter enemy Damascus’ Basher al-Assad – adds to the threat to peace.

Obama, meanwhile, has new promises that Turkey will close its Syrian border with the help of American forces. That commitment, too, seems less than realistic with Washington only reluctantly dribbling ground forces into the region to support an anemic bombing campaign. If Erdoğan uses his victory in the November 1 election to continue to pursue recent policies, it will add to the deteriorating Mideast situation.

It’s incumbent now for the Obama Administration using Turkey’s NATO alliance membership – seen as it ultimate defense against Russia – to pull up its socks. Ankara’s fulfillment of promises to police its Syrian border are essential to any American effort which Sec. John Kerry has been leading in Vienna talks to find a political solution to the Syrian catastrophe. Cooling the Syrian confrontation, in turn, is essential in avoiding a general breakdown and an even more general war. We can only hope that the Obama Administration will move more quickly out of its posture of “leading from behind” to get a handle on the situation.

sws-12-03-15  

 

 

The incremental road to hell


 

If there were one lesson from America’s tragic Vietnam encounter – and as some dead white man has said, all historical analogies are odious — it is that incremental approaches to war inevitably result in disaster.

News reports suggest that Pres. Barak Obama is reversing his strategy of limited engagement in the war on Daesh [ISIS or ISIL]. [It is significant that we can’t get the label straight for this enemy!] After the death of a celebrated hero attached as advisory personnel to Iraqi forces, we learn the lesson that the very presence of American forces of whatever size in an area exposed to conflict will inevitably attract U.S. power.

We have long argued that a vacuum, by its very nature, encourages other forces to fill it if the primary strength is removed. That is precisely what is happening all over the world in contested areas where for more than half a century, the U.S. has been the dominant force.

According to informeds, Obama is coming around to deciding that we must increase our effort against Daesh. That seems logical given three grim facts:

  • Daesh represents a new kind of barbarity unleashed on the world and if it is to grow, it will be not only be an increasing menace to the troubled Middle East but to the whole world.
  • Daesh’s claim that it is the legendary Isalmic caliphate, that is the unitary expression of the political intent of traditional Islam to dominate the world politically as well as religiously, is gaining at least nominal adherence in other parts of the world.
  • Russian’s relatively massive intervention in Syria, while announced as an effort to collaborate with the S. and its allies against Daesh, is instead an effort to sustain the almost equally barbarous regime in Damascus by attacking its enemies in a tactic alliance with Iran.

We learn that in July when the President made one of his rare visits to The Pentagon or to consult his military advisers, he asked for additional options in the current bombing campaign against Daesh. [Again, it is significant that Russian bombing has exceeded in volume the American campaign against Daesh.]

Earlier this month, the President had to publicly announce that his goal of removing all troops from Afghanistan before the end of his Administrations could not be met. With no public statement to confirm the fact, it becomes increasingly clear that more than a year of desultory bombing has not only not destroyed Daesh, but it has strengthened its hold on its area and is expanding. Local observers point out that the bombing runs – often returning to base without jettisoning their weapons – does not have the kind of intelligence which boots on the ground would provide.

Again, reports from the White House and The Pentagon have suggested that Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter has already provided the President with his options, and, indeed, backed by the military, Carter is said to be pushing for a more aggressive stance in the whole campaign.

But what must be feared most is that the President, whose underlying strategy in all his foreign policy decision for the past seven years has been to reduce the American commitment to the use of force abroad, will choose only to take an incremental approach to any increases in ground and air forces in the region. While the logic of such an approach has always been apparent – you apply the force as needed as it is needed – it ignores as it did throughout the Vietnam conflict, that such an approach permits a dedicated if less powerful enemy to grow his own forces to meet the incremental demand on his abilities.

In war, perhaps the most inefficient of all human activities, unpredictability is the norm. A measured but untested approach often leads to disaster. The incremental route is the road to another irresolute ending.

sws-10-28-15

Turkey: another “Syria”?


Turkey is rapidly catching the Syrian disease – that is, a Mideastern country not only torn apart by internal factions but a playground for contending international forces.
But as an important member of the NATO alliance, Turkey plays a much more critical role in relations between the European Union, the U.S. and Vladimir Putin’s increasingly aggressive Russia.
The analogies with Syria grow stronger even as the outcome is still as murky as the outcome appears there.
In Turkey, too, the “original sin” appears that from his once overwhelmingly popularity, Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan developed egomania.
As the very successful mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan once allegedly said “Democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off.” His stop seems to be creating an authoritarian state. But his streetcar’s trolley has jumped the wire with the loss of his parliamentary majority in June 2015 elections. And polls indicate he won’t get new majority in elections he has now called for November. With increasing domestic violence, it has become problematical whether they can even be held.
Like Syria’s Basher al Assad, Erdogan has refused to meet his considerable opposition with compromises. The economic boom is staggering. He has virtually abandoned an attempt to join the European Union after his potential Western partners dragged their heels earlier with doubts about whether Turkey met the requirements of free governments.
Meanwhile, Erdogan’s foreign policy which was to have only friends in all directions has turned into the exact reverse: he has growing disputes with all his neighbors and the major powers, including the U.S. That’s despite the fact that Pres. Barack Obama once called Erdogan one of a handful of leaders with whom he was on intimate terms.
Proof of the U.S. rift came with the announcement Washington [along with Germany] is withdrawing its Patriot missiles which Erdogan requested when his once highly advertised relations with Syria’s al Assad fell apart. The Pentagon’s official explanation is they need modification. But given Obama’s policies, there is a suggestion it is because Obama didn’t want to be dragged into Turkey’s increasing difficulties on its Syrian border, despite NATO assurances of support.
Washington’s relations with Ankara are also trapped in the Kurdish problem. Erdogan abandoned his efforts to bring the decades-old bloody Kurdish PKK insurgency to an end, in part because of the success of a Kurdish-led party. [The Kurds are at least 20%, maybe a third of Turkey’s 75 million]. But the Kurds inside Syria, whom Erdogan says are linked to his own internal enemies, are Washington’s only effective internal force against Daesh [the purported ISIS or ISIL caliphate]..
When Russian aircraft penetrated Turkey’s space in support of Assad [whose own airforce earlier had wandered in too], Erdogan threatened to cancel a growing economic exchange with Moscow including a giant nuclear power plant and cooperation to transmit Russian gas to Europe through a new pipeline across the Black Sea [which would eliminate Ukraine].
Erdogan abandoned his very profitable military alliance with Israel in a flurry of insults to Israel leaders and sponsorship of Hamas in Gaza whom the rest of the world calls terrorists. His strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood put him at odds with Egypt whose President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is trying to root out after overthrowing a Brotherhood regime.
Heavily dependent on Iran for gas, Erdogan has tiptoed around his growing differences with Tehran. But while he has lined up against the mullahs’ ally in Damascus, there are accusations – that certainly have alarmed Washington and the EU – of less than maximum efforts to cut off aid and recruits flow to Daesh,.
The question now is whether Erdogan will make a radical turn toward reconciliation. If not, there’s growing concern among Turkey’s friends that the country is moving toward growing chaos. A murderous bomb explosion this past week in the capital Ankara could signal that new level internal violence.
sws-10-10-15

Putin’s domestic “Syria”


Hovering over Vladimir Putin’s reckless adventurism in Syria is the Moslem demographic shadow threatening his Russian Federation.
The Russians’ mushrooming Moslem population is part and parcel of the Russian leader’s whirling-dervish act to try to resurrect Moscow’s status as a superpower. It explains, in some measure, Putin’s desperate attempts to bring back under Moscow control the Slavs of Ukraine, Byelorussia, and ewven Russian-speakers in the Baltic States.
When Putin recently opened one of the world’s largest mosques in Moscow, it was a tacit acknowledgement of the power of his growing Muslim population. It was also an effort to forge a compact between a Moslem state organization and the Russian regime, modeled after that which ties the Kremlin – and Putin – to the Russian Orthodox Church.
The official 2002 census reckons Putin has 14.5 million Moslems [out of a total population of 144 million]. Ravil Gaynutdin, head of the Council of Muftis [Putin’s official Moslem religious hierarchy] claimed in August 2005 that Russia’s population included 23 million ethnic Moslems. The latter figure seems closer to reality with some estimates, for example, counting more than 3 million Moslems in Moscow alone, out of a total of some 13 million. Russian Federation population figures got a slight boost when, after the implosion of the Soviet Union, there was an immediate influx of Russian Slav ethnics from the former non-Slav majority “Soviet Republics” in Central Asia.
But the Moslem factor takes on additional significance because the overall Russian population is in sharp and unprecedented historical decline. It reached a tipping point at 148.6 million in 1991, somewhere around 140-145 million now, but declining toward a projected less than 130 million by 2025 While the Russian Federation’s Muslim population is also not reproducing at a rate to sustain it, it is considerably higher than for the Slavs.
That means that when Putin plunged into Syria to fight Moslems and called up an additional 150,000 conscripts, he had to wish away a Russian general staff estimate that by 2025, most of his new soldiers would come principally from Moslem non-Slav ethnic groups.. Contradictorily, his growing jingoistic domestic appeal – and in part the basis of his popularity — to traditional Russian Orthodox Christian loyalties is bound to clash, sooner or later, with the growing body of increasingly Islamicized Moslems on which his armed forces will be dependent.
The Russian leader’s highly unreliable puppet, Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman “president” of Chechnya, called on Putin to expand his operations in Syria, “using Moslem ground troops”. Kadyrov was slyly reminding Putin, with whom he has had a stormy relationship, that increasingly the Russian regime is dependent on good relations with its Moslem minority. Even with Kadyrov’s gangster regime, with its long history of Russian wars of domination going back to the 18th century, Chechnya is a virtually occupied region. And its violence has spilled over to the neighboring North Caucus states, the route of traditional Russian imperialism toward Georgia and Armenia, and the dream for an opening one day to the Indian Ocean.
But whether or not Putin is taking the Chechen leader’s advice, on his way to a wider conflict with Daesh [ISIS, ISIL], he took time out to smack the shaky anti-Assad rebels backed by CIA. It was growing Russian air activity over Syria that took Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu, not as traditionally waiting on his American ally, to Moscow a week ago, ostensibly to set up traffic controls. For the Israelis, the transfers of Iranian weaponry for Hezbollah’s participation on the Russian-Iran-Damascus side in the bloody civil war, is an important strategic and tactical issue. Did that mean that Israeli intelligence, unlike Washington, was prepared for the spurt in Putin’s Syrian intervention?
By bombing the CIA-supported relatively ineffectual anti-regime forces in Syria, especially those on the edge of Syrian leader Basher al-Assad’s Allawite base on the Mediterranean, Putin taunted Obama and his continued call for Basher to step down before a provisional end of the war can be found. It was also a way at thumbing his nose at Obama, answering the American and EU sanctions against Moscow for his flagrant aggression in Ukraine. Whether Putin can maintain a longer term commitment in Syria given the generally sorry state of the Russian military remains to be seen.
But with what the White House acknowledges is no U.S. strategy on Syria and almost total disarray among the Western allies, Putin comes across as a skilled strategist. The old Greek proverb, “In the kingdom of the blind, a one-eye man is king”, is well known to the Russians too.
Putin’s appeal to live with the worst of the Arab dictatorships in Damascus, hoping it will eventually keep a peace of the dead, flies in some circles even outside Russia, some European rightwingers and American isolationists. But it frightens America’s traditional regional allies, ironically Israel in tacit alliance with the Arabs led now again by Egypt, who see Obama’s “deal” with Iran as enhancing Tehran’s hand as it, and Putin, go all out to support the nominally secular Damascus tyranny.
sws-10-01-15

Russians facing up to a Syrian climax?


With Pres. Obama’s self admission that the U.S. has no Syria strategy and a destabilizing flood of millions of refugees piling into neighboring countries and now Europe, Vladimir Putin who usually plays it by ear seems to be betting on a climax to the barbarous five-year civil war.
U.S. sources report that Moscow is expanding its base at Latakia, Syria’s chief port and the traditional home of Pres. Basher al-Assad’s Alawite minority. The Alawites, a Shia offspring and therefore culturally linked to Iran’s mullahs, despite their inferior numbers have dominated recent Syrian regimes. Their hold on the Syrian Air Force, long time client of the Soviets/Russians, was a fulcrum to power in the multi-ethnic, always unstable caricature of a state the French created in the post –World War Ottoman empire implosion.
But when peaceful demands for reform of the Syrian regime were brutally repressed by al-Assad and loosed the whole gamut of conflicting religious and ethnic forces, al-Basher reacted with unrestrained violence. That hasn’t been enough, despite the fragmentation of the opposition and no help from the U.S. – after an initial Obama statement of support and then withdrawal – to restore his rule. The Damascus regime, despite the conflict among its opponents, appears to be on its last legs.
Furthermore, Obama’s flirtation with the Tehran mullahs, ostensibly to end their immediate pursuit of nuclear weapons, has realigned Mideast forces. Fear and opposition to Tehran’s bid to become the hegemonic power in the region – now seemingly with U.S. acquiescence — has created a new and tacit alliance among the Gulf states, Egypt, and even Israel, against the American-Iranian modus operandi – if indeed one has been successfully negotiated.
In order to reassure America’s traditional allies in the region that his deal with Iran would not jeopardize their security, Obama has made repeated promises to increase U.S. assistance. This past week in Washington, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz publicly accepted Obama’s assurances – even though Saudi spokesman privately leaked their unassuaged andd growing concern with the U.S.-Iran deal.
Encouraged by their beating off, at least temporarily, a takeover by pro-Iranian forces in neighboring Yemen which the Saudis consider vital to their security, the Saudis are privately announcing their continued effort to topple al-Basher in Syria. The aggressive nature of what is traditionally accommodating Saudi policy obviously has to do with al-Basher’s Iranian alliance, anathema to Jeddah and its Sunni Arab following.
The Saudis are buying billions worth of arms, from the U.S. and Western Europeans, in what their friends in the Western media call their attempt to turn themselves into a major military power. Ironically, Obama has had to go along with what now is the seemingly inevitable unstable arms race in the region between Iran and its allies and the Gulf states and Egypt, which critics of his Iranian deal promised would be its dangerous outcome.
Although it has been trumpeted as Putin’s renewed effort to bolster the besieged al-Assad regime – with its main support coming from Iran and the mullahs’ Levantine ally, the Lebanese Hezbollah – something else may be afoot.
Putin just told a Vladivostok audience – at the other end of a Russian empire suffering economic devastation with a halving of the oil and gas price and U.S. and European sanctions over his Ukraine aggression – that al-Assad was ready for a compromise. But what the reinforcement of the Russian installations in Latakia may mean is that Putin anticipates a Syrian breakup and he is grabbing onto a piece of the carcass dominated by his Alawite allies. That would give even Moscow’s sagging international stature a continuing spoon in the continuing boiling Mideast pot.
But it puts the catch-up incremental U.S. strategy for peace and stability in the area in that much more jeopardy.
sws-09-05-15

Palestinian Radicalization


The growing disintegration of Palestinian secular forces promises a new Mideast threat as difficult as Daesh [ISIL]
Luckily for the U.S., Israel and the Western allies generally, so far the growing Islamicist Palestinians have not merged with Daesh, even confronting it in several areas. This is, of course, part of the internal chaotic Muslim wrangle which so far has benefited their secular opponents.
But the daily individual terrorist attacks by individual Palestinians against Israelis, both inside the Green Line and in the West Bank [traditional Judea and Samaria where Jewish claims on the ancient Hebrew states reside] are evidence of a fracturing leadership. The attacks, almost unremarked in the Western media, range from stabbings of Israeli military and civilians, to automobiles used to mow down passengers waiting at bus stops. They have been answered in kind, to a much lesser degree, by Israeli rightwing terrorists’ attacks on Arab paramilitary and civilians.
The 80-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, who extended his Palestinian presidency officially ending in 2009, now suddenly, has dissolved its executive committee without naming a successor. His call for a new executive from the Palestine parliament – which has not met in 20 years – may not be enough to stop the erosion among secularist forces under siege from the growing Islamicist Palestinian Hamas leadership in Gaza. Most observers believe free elections among West Bank Palestinians could bring them to power there, as it did in Gaza where they now use every means to hang on against internal opposition from both secularists and even more radical Islamicists.
Hamas is the offspring of the Sunni Moslem Brotherhood, much appreciated by then Sec. of State Hillary Clinton – her chief assistant Huma Abedin has family ties to the Brotherhood – and the Obama Administration But it has jumped the Sunni-Shia divide and is now empowered by money and arms from Tehran’s mullahs. Hamas’ “military wing” is rearming with Iran’s help, apparently for another go with the Israelis, the third only last year. Meanwhile, Egyptian Pres. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has joined Israel; in trying to shut off dual-use imports to the Gaza strip because Hamas actively supports a growing insurgency in Sinai against the Cairo government.
The usual Western suspects – those Paul Hollander called “political pilgrims”, “activists” and intellectuals who fall in and out of love with insurrectionary regimes, first the Guatemala Communists, then the Castros, then the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, etc. – have transferred their affection to the “Palestinians”. They ignore the lack of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s accountability and its successor Fatah, and the massive corruption financed by the U.S., the EU and the UN. That’s gone into Swiss bank accounts and such projects as Abbas’ new palace in Rammalah.
The Palestinians, taking their cues from their Israeli opponents, have become a group of powerful if vulnerable professionals throughout the region. Unlike Israel which absorbed some 800,000 Jews either expelled or in flight from Arab and Moslem countries, the Arab regimes refused the 650,000 Palestinians absorption, now to a second and third generation. The Palestinian “cause” until recently when the new threat from an increasingly powerful and aggressive Tehran regime became the overwhelming menace, was used against the Israelis. But now — despite the Obama Administration’s effort to appease Tehran with an increasingly controversial nuclear weapons deal – the Persian Gulf Arab states and the Egyptians have become tacit allies with the Israelis against the growing Iranian menace, particularly manifested in its support of the embattled Basher al Assad regime in Syria.
This virtual abandonment of the Palestinians by the other Arabs is certain to increase their radicalization. It will make them more susceptible to Islamist terrorist seduction and a growing menace not only to Israel and its controversial occupation of the West Bank, but to U.S. interests. Hopefully, Pres. Barack Obama will not see them too as another “varsity” team which led the U.S. to ignore Daesh in its early days.
sws-09-01-15
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Turkey’s growing instability


Once NATO’s formidable eastern anchor, Turkey is increasingly becoming a major problem for Washington policymakers and a contributor to the Mideast chaos.
The change is all the remarkable since at the outset of the Obama Administration, the President saw then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as one of his closest international friends. And, indeed, in 2009 Obama went to Turkey to make the first of two Mideast seminal speeches offering apologies to the Muslim world for what he saw as past U.S. mistakes with an invitation for cooperation.
But in late August Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter publicly was calling on now President Erdogan “…to control the border, the long border that they have with both Syria and Iraq …. It’s overdue, because it’s a year into the campaign [against Daesh, or ISIL], but they’re indicating some considerable effort now, including some — allowing us to use their airfields. That’s important, but it’s not enough.”
If truth be told, it took nine months of torturous negotiations to get Erdogan’s permission to the use NATO bases in Turkey for the relatively feeble American bombing campaign against Daesh, now considered a threat to stability in the region and rapidly becoming a coordinating body for worldwide Islamic terrorism.
Traffic through that border has included volunteers for the Daesh [ISIL] forces and a flood of Muslim refugees crossing into Greece and the EU. There are even suggestions that elements in Turkish intelligence aided Muslim groups fighting the shaky government of Syria’s Basher al Assad, sabotaging the faltering Obama’s so far unsuccessful effort to create an anti-Assad Syrian force to counter the growing strength of Daesh and other Muslim groups.
Since Obama’s visit, however, Erdogan has taken Turkey down a divisivepath breaking off Ankara’s longstsanding military alliance with the Israelis. Erdogan has permitted Hamas, the Palestinian group controlling Gaza which Washington calls terrorists, to operate out of Turkey, and Erdogan has made an outrageous anti-Semitic remarks picked up by sympathetic media.
Erdogan – who once said democracy is a train that you get off once you reach your destination – has pushed a creeping Islamization eroding the mandatory secularist heritage of modern Turkey’s founder, Kemal Attaturk. He moved to the presidency, hoping to create an authoritarian presidential system. But in June elections, his Justice and Development Party [AKP] failed to get the necessary majority to change the constitution, and he has now called new snap elections for November – after refusing to negotiate in good faith for a coalition.
Whipping up war hysteria, by abandoning the effort to reach an agreement with Turkey’s huge Kurdish minority – a radical part of which fought a bloody three decades war with the government – he apparently thought to get a new mandate. But the polls indicate he may again fall short. A sagging economy whose liberalization had bolstered Erdogan’s rule won’t help.
His whirling dervish foreign policy – which once saw itself as Neo-Ottoman, restoring the old Turkish empire in the region – is in tatters. And he has become a major deterrent for American goals in the area; not least, since the most effective fighters against Daesh have been the Kurdish minority inside Syria and the Peshmergah, hardened veterans of Iraq’s regional Kurdish government.
Erdogan – and the other countries which split the Kurdish peoples in the region – fear Kurdish military successes could eventually produce an united independent Kurdistan. The Iraqi Kurdish regional government, pumping oil out through Turkey [including to Israel], is already a relatively prosperous and semi-independent. And so long as Obama does not commit more American ground forces against Daesh, is probably the only hope of Washington to contain if not “degrading and eventually destroying” Daesh [ISIL], what he once dubbed “the varsity” team in the area.
Meanwhile, despite optimistic statements out of the Obama Administration, the military situation in the area is deteriorating, almost as rapidly as Turkey’s home front, with Obama’s critics predicting his Iranian negoaitions will produce a nuclear armed Persia, Turkey’s traditional enemy.
sws-08-27-15

The Syrian Crisis Exploding


The Obama Administration’s ambivalences toward the Syrian inferno could be leading to a regional explosion.
Turkey’s Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening to intervene directly along his southeastern border with Syria to prevent the consolidation of a Kurdish entity inside the northern part of that country. A Kurdish militia, The Peoples’ Defence Units [YPG), supported by relatively low level American air bombardment, has wrested control of two-thirds of Syria’s 560-miles border with Turkey. That’s largely an area populated by ethnic Kurds, who are showing signs of setting up an autonomous regime. Such an entity could ally itself with their fellow Kurds in neighboring Iraq who are bearing the weigh of the ground engagement against Daesh or ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
All this has jeopardized Erdogan’s effort, finally after years of refusal by Turkish governments, to negotiate a settlement with his own Kurdish minority, perhaps 20% of the country’s 80 millions. Most of them live in southeast Turkey near the Syrian border, now in a chaotic state with refugees and serving as a trampoline for Arab. It’s also the pathway for Muslim volunteers – including some from Europe and the U.S. and Canada –to join the war against the al Basher regime in Damascus. Erdogan’s critics have charged Turkish connivance with Daesh, even though Ankara is part of the American coalition to “degrade and destroy” ISIL which Obama promised a year ago.
Turkey’s own Kurds, once supported by the Soviet Union, waged a bloody 30-year guerrilla campaign against Ankara’s central government. Erdogan had been moving to defuse the Kurdish issue by making concessions on language and other issues. In the recent election, however, it was a Kurdish party which broke into parliament becoming the principal opposition in blocking Erdogan’s majority. That halted his efforts to remold Turkey’s constitution to a strong, perhaps even authoritarian, presidential system along with his growing flirtation with Islamism.
Turkish media say Erdogan is thinking about setting up a 20-mile “security” zone inside Syria to boost the tiny Free Syrian Army, which with U.S. backing is trying to take over opposition from ISIL and other Islamic terrorists to the increasingly fragile al Basher Damascus regime supported by Iran and Russia. Informed observers warn Turkish direct intervention could easily get out of hand given the chaotic nature of the Syrian war.
It may already be too late, but it is increasingly self evident that Washington not only doesn’t have a strategy – as the President has admitted – but its patchwork of fixes is contributing to a possible regional war.
sws-07-01-15

Girding for the long haul of terror


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Girding for the long haul of terror

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Girding for the long haul of terror

America needs a new security strategy to deal with evil-doers in the homeland

Illustration on strategies to spread Western culture to the Islamic world by Linas Garsys/The Washington Times more >
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1.
By Sol Sanders – – Monday, May 11, 2015

Two seemingly unconnected recent events but in reality intimately connected are sure signs that the war on terrorism is being lost.

Of course, we must begin with that old Chinese adage: When a fish starts rotting, it stinks first from the head. President Obama has undeclared the war on terrorism, refusing even to name the enemy. But it takes two to tango — and the Islamic terrorists cling to their effort to inflict hurt on the United States whenever and now, alas, wherever, they can.

The recent attack in Garland, Texas, revealed what the general public only had guessed: There are resident terrorists — some U.S. born, others naturalized citizens, some of Muslim descent, others converts to Islam — ready to spring into action. Whether, indeed, the Garland two were under the discipline of Daesh, the Islamic State, claimed or “lone wolves” operating on their own may be irrelevant. FBI Director James Comey confirms our worst fears: There are hundreds if not thousands of American Daesh sympathizers.

The second event was the shift of Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, to become the State Department’s voice. However unprecedented and humiliating for State’s cadre, one guesses Foreign Service officers long have cringed as a duo of political hacks made a farce of the daily briefings. There was a bitter joke making the rounds: They might just start World War III with their ineptitude.

Whatever Mr. Obama’s reluctance to engage Daesh in Iraq and Syria with more than a token military force — e.g., aerial bombardment, a fraction of previous Mideast campaigns, a so-called 30-member coalition that doesn’t seem to have a central command — there is an even greater failing of intellectual engagement.

An analogy with The Cold War is all too obvious. Not only did the United States and its allies rise to the Soviet military threat with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the most successful alliance in history. But an American cultural offensive was constant through the official U.S. Information Service and semi-official organizations such as Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe and the Congress for Cultural Freedom. The role of the U.S. Information Service libraries, for example, while difficult to quantify, was enormous as a rallying point for factual information and propaganda to answer the onslaught of Soviet lies and their repetition by followers in the West. Nor are semi-hysterical cries of Islamophobia so different from shouts of McCarthyism, which too often excused covert members of the vast Communist conspiracy.

Today the United States not only faces the Islamic terrorists’ military threat, but propaganda waged so successfully on the social networks that it has enlisted thousands of recruits inside and outside the Middle East. That this has been accomplished despite their flagrant display of atrocities against American and foreign innocent civilians is remarkable. Just as during the Cold War, when U.S. policymakers had to cope with Europe’s neutralism, today it faces mobilizing the bulk of Muslims to stamp out terrorism in their ranks. Nor, with a traditional Islamic concept of taqiyya — the religious lie — is there all that much difference from Western Communists who kept their beliefs and activities secret.

With the Soviet implosion, American activities to sell its story of freedom and prosperity dimmed. The State Department takeover of the U.S. Information Service has been a disaster. Just as immigration problems arose in part from an earlier takeover of the Consular Service, the professional diplomat appears unable to cope with the detailed special knowledge that goes with propaganda.

The time has come to resurrect an independent American propaganda agency, and to encourage the Ford and Gates foundations and others with their vast financial resources to undertake private initiatives as well. There are going to be new problems, of course. It appears unlikely that the Obama administration would endorse such an initiative, so congressional leadership must move. The old fear, that government propaganda would have a blowback effect on domestic media, is even greater today with an Internet that hardly distinguishes national borders. Still, the Internet, with the help of those who know it best, must be a principle instrument of the new campaign.

An America whose popular culture penetrates every corner of the globe no matter how isolated — unfortunately sometimes with negative effect — certainly has the capacity to wage a worldwide campaign to expose Islamic terrorist horror, not least to their 1.3-billion fellow Muslims. Thinking about the problem needs to begin in congressional, academic and nonprofit circles for an early implementation in a war against Islamic terrorism that shows every sign of growing with no quick victory in sight.

• Sol Sanders is a veteran international correspondent.

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/may/11/sol-sanders-lone-wolf-terrorists-mean-america-need/#ixzz3ZyVV73hA
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Iran: Why?


Why is one of the world’s poorest countries [40% living in poverty, halfway down on list of countries in per capita GDP]] building capital-intensive nuclear power facilities?
Iran has the third largest oil and the second largest gas reserves in the world [without recourse to new shale gas potential]. 2006 oil production level was enough for 88 years if no new oil were found. But only in the last weeks a whole new huge reserve was located offshore in the Caspian Sea. Iran’s fossil fuel export potential is so great that were current sanctions ended suddenly, the world price of oil might well drop $10. That’s despite Tehran’s official rationale that nuclear plants for desalinization are necessary to halt diversion of oil and gas exports.
Why do the Tehran mullahs insist on construction of high cost nuclear power facilities when Iran produced 254 billion kWh gross in 2012 from fossil fuels and hydro, with consumption only 200 TWh?
Demand – before the sanctions — was growing at about 4% per year, according to the World Nuclear Association, London. But although Iran trades electricity with Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Turkmenistan and Turkey, it had small net surplus. Tehran plans to boost generating capacity by 2022 would have produced additional substantial exports.
Why did Tehran keep details of its nuclear program secret after signing a safeguards agreement with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency [1958] and other additional weapons of mass destruction limiting treaties since?
Iran’s experimental nuclear program was initiated by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi [1967] under the U.S Atoms for Peace Program. But in November 2003 the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] announced Tehran systematically had violated its internastional agreements over 22 years, concealing nuclear weapons capability. Iran confirmed the IAEA’s accusations but denied their importance.
Why has Iran violated its agreement with Russia for a fuel supply including the return of used fuel?
Adherence to the agreement would have removed any necessity for uranium enrichment which Tehran now admits after dissident Iranian expatriates revealed the details of a secret enrichment plant in 2002. Furthermore, some 20 countries have nuclear power facilities which do not depend on locally sourced enriched nuclear fuel.
Why is Iran enriching nuclear fuel at at least three plants with the IAEA in March 2015 questioning whether another undisclosed facility may also exist?
In about 2000 Iran started building a sophisticated enrichment plant, which it declared to IAEA only after it was identified in 2002 by exiled dissidents. A second and and third plans for uranium conversion are under international safeguards, though IAEA says its monitoring is limited.
Why has the subject of Iran’s role as the world’s No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism been excluded from present negotiations?
Diplomacy to end Iran’s nuclear arms program by the 5+1 [United States, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom and Germany] with Tehran began in the spring of 2003 with continual extensions deadlines. During that period, Tehran has successful extended it aid to the Syrian regime of Basher al-Assad that has killed some 200,000 of its own people, been suspect in the murder of an investigator in the two 992 bombings of Israeli diplomatic and Jewish 1community centers in Buenos Aires, set up a new Latin American infiltration and subversion center in Bolivia, armed and now rearms the Hamas terrorist in Gaza, attempted [but was thwarted by the Israelis killing a prominent Irnian general] to extend its puppet Lebanese Hezbollah to a new anti-Israeli installation on the Golan Heights, expanded a drug smuggling and intelligence network with sympathetic Venezuelan [and Cuban] officials throughout Latin America and in the U.S., among other worldwide subversion activities targeted against the U.S. and its allies.
In November 2014, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said, “In order to avoid a bad deal, the P5+1 must hold strong on achieving an agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program to a reasonable civilian capability, significantly increases the timelines for breakout to nuclear weapons, and introduces enhanced verification that goes beyond the IAEA’s Additional Protocol. A sound deal will also require Iran to verifiably address the IAEA’s concerns about its past and possibly on-going work on nuclear weapons, which means Iran must address those concerns in a concrete manner before a deal is finalized or any relief of economic or financial sanctions occurs.”
The Obama Administration and its supporters have presented a dire dilemma: either accept an increasingly watered-down agreement now being negotiated which would ostensibly limit Tehran’s nuclear weapons program with [what can only be described as a highly suspect] monitoring, or go to military action to end or degrade Iran’s program with the possibility of an ensuing regional conflict in the chaotic Mideast.
This formulation ignores several counterarguments:
1] With the current dramatic drop in world fuel prices – likely to continue even in the notoriously unpredictable oil and regional gas markets because or rising production in Iraq and Libya [and by Iran’s own black-markets operations]. That forecast is despite local violence because of new entries of shale gas in the U.S. and abroad, Saudi Arabia’s current low price regime to retain share in a dwindling market, and increasing fuel economies in a depressed world economy.
2] Continued sanctions or elevated sanctions could well bring about a capitulation of the mullahs or regime change in Tehran. [The Obama Administration not only refused to publicly endorse Iran’s Green Revolution after stolen elections in 2009 but ignored demonstrators’ signs in English calling on Obama’s intervention. Instead the Obama Administration moved for negotiations which strengthened an endangered regime.] .
3] As Washington [in 2006] proved in its successful efforts against North Korea counterfeiting of dollars, threatened or actual sanctions against third parties by the U.S. can be enormously effective. [Chinese banks temporarily withdrew their support from North Korea in the face of American pressure until it ended its most flagrant counterfeiting and distribution of $100 bills.]
. 4] If military action were to be taken even against parts of the Iranian program, it does not have the capacity quickly to restore the weapons program since it does not have the domestic industrial backup which has produced the current level of activity. It has relied on imported machinery and technology. It would produce an extended period of a halt to nuclear [and perhaps missile] development, and would critically impact a regime with growing serious economic difficulties.
So, the ultimate question:
Why has the Obama Administration continually given ground in its negotiations with Tehran, now permitting not only continued enrichment, but in effect, reducing the “breakout” time for conversion of enriched fuel to weapons?
sws-03-21-15

Obama is cool


No, I do not wake up in the morning with that question foremost on my mind. But rarely does a day pass without my putting the question to myself: Why does President Barak Hussein Obama still command the support of half the electorate?
Of course, one immediate response could be that the polls – given that they are largely in the hands of the Liberal Establishment who form the base of his support – may just not be accurate. But they are so consistent, sometimes reflecting a little downward movement in moments of particular crisis, that one pretty much has to accept that is the judgment to half the population which thinks at all politically, that is, that he is doing an adequate job after six years in training.
One might well ask in riposte: Why is it important given that the President is now a lame duck with only two years to go in office and facing Republican majorities in both houses of the Congress? Theoretically, his ability to govern is going to be limited.
The answer is, of course, were his popular following not so large, one might hope that he would be forced into taking a more conciliatory approach to opposition leaders – including some in his own party. That, rather than his confrontational style in full display in the state of the union message – how many times does he have to remind us he has veto power? – is further evidence that legislative progress will be negligible in finding solutions to the nation’s woes [in the narrow sense that is at all possible].
The state of the union message, while delivered with his usual rhetorical brilliance, was a tissue of half truths at best. [On domestic issues and the headlines on foreign crises obfuscation is the least one can use in describing them.] And one has to assume that many if not most of his audience outside the Congress, however apolitical, knows that from personal experience.
For example, his claim of lower unemployment is a statistical anomaly since in fact so many disappointed job seekers have withdrawn from the labor market, that participation has been trending down and is now at only 62.7%. I doubt that most people have to be told of that state of affair, especially the working poor, hit hard not only by the cyclical unemployment – the slowest recovery since World War II – but also by growing structural unemployment brought on the digital revolution.
The President’s claim that the war on terror and the advance of Islamic terrorism – both of which he refuses to name — has been blunted is equally and obviously absurd. He was lucky in that the victory he touted in Yemen only in September was overtured hours after his speech by pro-Iranian forces.
Now, apparently, we have to hope that a tussle between them and their ostensible Sunni opponents, al Qaida of the Arabian Peninsular – also Yemen based – will fight it out in near chaos. [Don’t bet on it! Sunni Hamas, offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood, has nevertheless taken Iranian weapons on the Israeli and Egyptian doorstep.]
It’s no secret to military observers that whether or not the airwar against ISIL [the Islamic State]which has taken over huge tracts of Syria [their headquarters where we do not bomb] and Iraq has been feeble compared to any such campaign historically. [Perhaps the Administration’s decision to now refer to the Islamic Sate as Daesh, its Arabic acronym will help?]
In any case, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a member of NATO, is being forced to admit that reinforcements – including candidates for training for a return to their native countries as “lone wolf” terrorists – are passing through its border with Syria along with logistics for, uh, Daesh. It was only months ago that Obama was in constant communication with Erdoğan as his announced favorite among all foreign leaders.
Almost as the President spoke, Russia’s Vladimir Putin was flaunting additional aid to the rebels trying to tear off another chunk of Ukraine. Russian propaganda aimed at the Russian ethnic populations of the Baltic states hints at a showdown there. As members of NATO, they already face Moscow’s provocations. It could put NATO’s “one for one and all for one” essence on the table as it has not been since.our allies joined us [f hardly enthusiastically] in Afghanistan after 0/11 to root out al Qaida.
Again, the average American voter – however sophisticated – can not be expected to know these details, or indeed, given the current economic situation be intent on studying them. Besides, he reads or listens to a kept media which, by and large, ignores them or muddies the waters as well. [Although one has to note that even Tom Friedman, one of the Administration’s favorites as spokesmen for the always apologetic New York Times got off the reservation, at least temporarily, to criticize the Administration’s continued refusal to associate “Islam” with the terrorists.]
But that would be to deny the common sense of the American audience. The financial records being broken by the Hollywood film, “American Sniper”, despite vicious attacks on it by the usual leftwing and anti-military suspects in Hollywood itself and beyond, suggests that public still has its bearings. A film [I haven’t seen it] which apparently illustrates the horrors of war as much as the bravery and dedication of one soldier as an example of the incredibly overtaxed and professional American military is getting a vote of confidence.
So back to our question? Where does the President’s support come from?
I am afraid I have a hypothesis which suggests some very ugly things about the current American scene, not the least of our self-appointed political, academic and artistic elite.
My old friend, Mike Macht [where are you now, Mike?] had only a half joking hypothesis about the growing chaos and discrepancies of the post-World War II world, especially after the halcyon 1950s. Mike argued that since the Victorian Era, there had been a worldwide deterioration of style. And that explained more than many more dialectical analysis what was going wrong in the world. Hitler, was, indeed, among so many other things, uncouth.
The joke has come back to me as I have watched the chief executive of the United States chewing gum at a meeting of Asian leaders. Or there was – posed? – the photograph of the leg and foot on the hallowed Oval Office desk. Or there was the video of a giggling selfie production at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, a worldwide honored figure.
An absence of style?
Yes, for us old fuddy-duddies, perhaps. But much of this, apparently, is considered not only appropriate but welcomed to a generation of younger Americans who look like they are at the beach when shopping at Walmart’s. Carefully contrived crude “throw away” lines in a prepared speech which ignore the November elections seem to fold into the pattern. And so does conversation – in the rarer and rarer instances when it replaces “texting” – in which “like” or “you know” in every other sentence has replaced articulation of arguments.
The New Oxford Dictionary tells me that the adjective that describes such people and such action is now “cool”. An example? According to the OED: “if people want to freak out at our clubs, that’s cool”.
I suspect that the same people who voted for the first Afro-American president twice, in no small part to assuage their hidden racism or their guilt for living in all-white upper class suburban neighborhoods, are attracted by a president who is, whatever else, “cool”.
sws-01-25-15

The “New” Middle East


As usual, there are more questions than answers about the current Middle East situation. And, for that matter, there is difficulty following the gyrations of Obama Administration policy.

But there is growing evidence a defiant Israel, stoic in the face of Hamas’ ability to exploit the misery of its own making for Gaza’s 1.8 million and growing pressure from the Obama Administration for an indecisive ceasefire. Jerusalem appears dedicated to the destruction of the most dynamic terrorist organization in the Mideast. Successful demilitarization of Gaza would not only remake the Israel-Palestine relationship but could be the world’s first conclusive victory in the war on Islamic terrorism. In a rapidly evolving situation, not only changing conditions but loyalties and alliances is breathtaking.

Here are some basic considerations:

Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is beset with the typical domestic Israeli ideological in-fighting, from peace advocates on the left to proponents of reoccupation of Gaza on the right. But he rides a wellspring of domestic support, despite heavy casualties, for refusing a temporary compromise with Hamas such as those in 2008, 2009 and 20012 . Furthermore, what is seen now as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s 2004-5 unilateral Gaza withdrawal and destruction of its four Israeli Settlements has further discredited “land for peace” – that is abandoning 1967 conquests of the locales of the historic Hebrew kingdoms for a “two state solution”. But the Israeli public is still absorbing the evidence of a major intelligence failure in underestimating Hamas’ capacities with its sophisticated tunneling operations. That surge of suicide bombing, mayhem and kidnapping was planned for September 2014 Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year]—to take advantage of a Jewish holiday, an echo of the Arab surprise of the 1973 Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] War. It remains to be seen, of course, whether Jerusalem with the tacit concurrence of Cairo, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Mohammed Abbas’ Fatah movement, will have the stomach for completing of Hamas decimation.

Iran

Destruction of Hamas would be a severe blow to Tehran’s mullahs, who have used it as a further diversion from demands by the U.S., Israel and other American allies to halt the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. It was not only that Hamas represents part of the strategic pincers in the south with Iranian supported Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the north against any Israeli attempt to take out Iranian nuclear weapon potential. But the ability of Shia Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to jump the deadly 1600-year-old sectarian divide to support Hamas as a product of the ultra-anti-Shia Sunni Moslem Brotherhood. The Tehran-Gaza alliance unites Islamic terror in a way not seen before. Even Iran’s traditional enemy, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, now reaching for ultimate power in the Turkish presidential elections this fall as he moves closer to the Brotherhood, had also become one of Hamas’ patrons. Will the Tehran mullahs watch this asset fall apart, or would they, for example, finally unleash Hezbollah and its missiles on Israel’s north in order to try to rescue the Hamas remnant?

Egypt

Contrary to the 2012 Gaza ‘truce” when Mohammed Morsi rode the wave of a Moslem Brotherhood electoral victory, Pres. Gen Abdel Fattah el-Sisi sees Hamas as an enemy. The ruling Egyptian military is in a brutal campaign to wipe out the Brotherhood’s domestic political and paramilitary following. Furthermore, Hamas’ Iranian connection on Egypt’s doorstep imperils Cairo’s traditional political and cultural leadership of the Arab and Muslim world. Tacit military cooperation with the Israelis is restoring Egypt’s control over Sinai and presumably would close the smuggling routes for longer-range Iranian missiles and other weaponry reaching Hamas through the Red Sea and Sudan. It remains to be seen if al Sisi can maneuver a ceasefire/truce in tacit cooperation with the Israelis which will dismantle Hamas’ military as a minimum while all the while paying enough homage to Gazan victims to quiet the Arab Street’s overall sympathies for the Palestinian cause.

Qatar

This tiny little Gulf sheikhdom with only 2 million people – if the highest per capita income in the world from its enormous gas reserves – has taken a hit. That’s because Qatar’s al Thani family’s high stakes game of playing all sides included being the principal backer of Hamas. It was not only Qatar’s financing but IT controls which permitted Hamas to launch thousands of missiles at Israel from its sophisticated tunnels, protecting them from air power and preparing a growing terrorist plot against Israel. While Qatar played a principal role in the Obama Administration’s “lead from behind” in toppling Muamar Qadaffi in Libya, it is the principal funder for the jihadists against Washington-backed moderates seeking overturn of the al Basher regime in Damascus. Qatar also was middleman in swapping of five Taliban commanders imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held for five years by the Taliban/ Although it has the smallest military force in the region – 11,800 conscripts – Washington sold it $11 billion in weapons earlier this year including anti-aircraft missiles and looking forward to a major fighter purchase later. This was the price for use of a major air base where Washington strategists attempt to coordinate defense for all the Gulf states against an increasingly menacing Iran. Washington reached agreement to continue to operate and maintain troops at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base at least through 2024, having moved there when Saudi Arabia reversed course after originally hosting U.S. forces during the Gulf Wars. Qatar’s bitter feud with Saudi Arabia, restrictions on the use of the base and meddling in its Gulf neighbor’s domestic politics limit that cooperation. A collapse of Hamas could prejudice the whole shaky network of Qatar’s activities, perhaps demanding a new American strategy to oppose Tehran in the Gulf rather the dawdling talks extended for four months which are neither inhibiting Tehran’s weapons progress, and now lightened sanctions, are restoring its economy.

UN

Admission that three UN Gaza schools stored Hamas armaments [then returned to Hamas] is finally giving currency to the region’s greatest “secret”, the 70-year-old effort of the UNRWA, a highly paid international secretariat [including Hamas members], with the collaboration of neighboring Arab states, to cultivate a “refugee” status for Palestinians. UN operated schools have preached anti-Semitic hatred and jihad against the Israeli state. Simultaneously while Israel absorbed 800,000 Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, shorn of all their possessions, the oil-rich Gulf states imported millions of labor from South and Southeast Asia, largely refusing Palestinian Arabs emigration or naturalization. Recent events have forced UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon into condemnation of Hamas violation of repeated attempts at cease fire in contradiction to the UNWRA. Slowly the barbarity of Hamas’ strategy of deliberately exposing Gazans to additional jeopardy from Israeli aerial and ground bombardment in order to exploit world sympathy is seeping through a media unable to report actual conditions in Gaza for fear of their reporters’ lives. For example, CNN interviews with spokesmen for Hamas have without identification taken place in one of the area’s largest hospitals. Some UN officials – for example, from the head of the UN Human Rights organization condemning the U.S. for its participation in developing Israel’s Iron Dome defense and suggesting Washington should aid Hamas in a parallel effort – may finally be bringing some semblance of balance into mass media reporting in the area. It remains to be seen whether Washington, as the disproportionate bankroller of UN activities and massive direct payments to the Palestinians, will use its leverage to reform the aid-giving process. U.S. .Sec. of State John Kerry’s proposal – apparently “demanded” in a bitter conversation by Obama with Netanyahu – to use Qatar and Turkey as mediators in a Gaza ceasefire outraged the Israelis and their American supporters. The effort to cut out Egypt, the traditional mentor for the Gazan Arabs, appeared to be a continuation of the Obama Administration’s flirtation with the Moslem Brotherhood and its cool relations with the Egyptian military. But, almost immediately, including public statements, Washington flipped back to endorsing Cairo as the mediator, including a role for Mohammed Abbas and his West Bank Palestinians. Cairo’s backing by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Arab League has not only strengthened what had been seen as Abbas’ fading role but that of the Palestinian “moderates” despite their public caterwauling in defense of Hamas.

Washington, momentarily, has few options but to wring its hands over the civilian carnage in Gaza and to hope that others will find the basis for ending the crisis successfully, that is, with the demilitarization of Gaza.

Sws-08-02-14

Islam: getting it right


by Sol Sanders

“Intelligence failures” – fundamental mistakes in evaluating a geopolitical situation – are not rare among state intelligence organizations. They are unfortunately common enough and have cost the lives of millions.

They are a reflection of what after all is a human endeavor with all its frailties. A technician’s intercept of a Japanese naval signal, in the infancy of radar, is ignored with disastrous consequences on Dec. 7. Failing to check a driver’s license more carefully when he is stopped for speeding fails to nab a 9/11 plotter. Placing the briefcase loaded with a bomb a few feet too far fails to kill Hitler costing more thousands of lives.

Such failures are only marginally reduced by the introduction of all the new techniques of the digital revolution since the opportunity for error is so great in these complex situations involving individual peculiarities as well as the presumed overriding political considerations.

Yet there are larger intelligence “failures”, those that result from a fundamental misunderstanding of a much larger cultural environment, whether it be the whole frame of reference of an opponent or constructing a seemingly logical scenario without all the facts. A case of the latter, for example: in 1937 Washington almost went to war with Japan over “The Panay Incident”, sinking of an American ship of the Yangtze Patrol thought to be an expression of Tokyo’s militarist aggression but actually the result of the smuggling activities of a corrupt Japanese admiral. That, of course, did not preclude the outbreak of that war a few years later.

Washington’s surprise and shock at the most recent events in Iraq are the quintessential example of the former, in this instance an inability to judge events in the context of the Muslim world.

For whatever reason, Pres. Barrack Obama and his national security team – despite the extraordinary credentials in Arabic studies of CIA Director John O. Brennan – are bent on misinterpreting the Islamic world. On that basis, Obama’s attempt to reach out for a new relationship with Arab and Islamic countries, expressed in his 2009 Istanbul and Cairo speeches, has come to naught. Instead, that simplistic outreach has further confused issues.

Neither Obama’s flattery nor efforts at appreciation of another culture have been successful. That is in no small part because his premises fundamentally distort or ignore history. Yes, Thomas Jefferson had a Koran in what was probably the most diverse and perhaps the largest library in colonial North America. But after years of trying to persuade the West Europeans to join the infant AmericanRepublic in suppressing piracy and abduction on the Barbary Coast, he ordered the U.S. infant navy and Marines [a standing army he had opposed] into action against Muslim warlords he could not understand but refused to knuckle under to.

Islam has not, as the President insists, played a role in the ideological formation of the American ethos. The Judeo-Christian ethic of The Founders and the founding documents owed no allegiance to Islam. It was an alien culture with which Americans have had only minimal contact until relatively recent decades.

Furthermore, all of this false rationalization is part and parcel of an attempt to equate Islam with “the other Abrahamic religions”. That, again, is a complete distortion of reality. For even where it is practiced in moderation, Islam’s fundamentals cannot be equated with contemporary Christianity and Judaism. Both of these beliefs have evolved through centuries of accomodation to Hellenism and modernization in their European existence. Islam has not, for example, given up its right to a fierce monopoly where its adherents hold political power – something now rejected by various Christian confessions after a painfully long history of bloody religious war.

Furthermore, in an excess of tolerance, any attempt to examine and relate Islam to current events is denounced as “Islamophobia”. Often the denunciations come from organizations with pretensions to representing Muslims residing in Western democracies but with hidden connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and other intolerant Islamic organizations and concepts.

Perhaps more than anything else, this misapprehension of Islam and its relation to the West explains the latest monumental failure of Washington “intelligence”. Despite entreaties from the al-Maliki government in Baghdad for months for help against a foe it recognized, Washington appears befuddled with the sudden blossoming of a crisis of the regime The threat is further magnified by the enormous commitment of blood and resources by the U.S. during its war against Sadam Hussein and the suppression of a sectarian civil war. That war was, too, initially based on the assumption that having fiddled with weapons of mass destruction earlier, Sadam was at it again – a belief shared if mistakenly by all the major allied intelligence organizations.

That is why the now seemingly sudden emergence of a barbaric terrorist force threatening to take over Iraq, one of the most important of the Arab states with its vast petroleum resources, has come as such a surprise for the Administration. All this is a repetition of the Administration’s attempt to minimize the importance of Muslim terrorism riding on the coattails of one of the world’s major religions. And that misperception has resulted in its inability to anticipate or to cope with political events, whether in Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and now Iraq.

The President’s attempt to end the conflict with Muslim terrorism by unilaterally announcing its demise will fail of course. Unfortunately, Muslim terrorism is alive and well in half a dozen countries with every expectation that it will continue to make the U.S. and Americans one of its principal targets. The current advance of a terrorist group in Iraq with a significant number of international participants, many recruited from America and Europe and Australia, is only a manifestation of that general continuing problem for U.S. policymakers.

Probably even more damaging, by failing to acknowledge the traditional role of violence and conflict in the history of Islam, the Administration has further handicapped those forces in the West and in the Muslim countries seeking modernization. The fogging of issues has permitted essentially antidemocratic organizations like The Muslim Brotherhood to mask their real intent. It blinded the Administration to the growth of what was intended as another religion-based tyranny under former Pres. Mohammed Morsi, then its reluctance to accept his popular overthrow by the military reduced Washington’s ability to influence the new Egyptian regime. In Syria, Washington was unable to see that the popular resistance to the Assad dictatorship was coming under the domination of international Muslim fanatics which has now spread to Iraq, not only threatening that government and its neighbor Jordan, but with the possibility of providing the kind of sanctuary for attacks on the U.S. as took place in the Taliban’s Afghanistan on 9/11.

To quote the old cliché, ideas have consequences. Failure to deal with the relationship between Islam and the Muslim terrorists which threaten American interests in the region – and even the U.S. homeland as in 9/11 – is likely to cost dearly.

sws-06-15-14

 

Foreign Policy 101


In a revolutionary world environment, foreign policy of a great power – and especially the lone superpower – is bound to be full of inconsistencies. Interests are far-flung and constantly demanding new priorities. But one does not have to refer to Machiavelli to recognize rules of the road which when violated are costly and in the case of the U.S., destabilizing for the entire world.

Again, those guidelines are often internally contradictory in the nature of generalizations.  But a knowledge of and adherence to them is essential to pursue a foreign policy, and, in this instance, of the superpower, the United States, and world peace and stability..

That we living through cataclysmic times does not have to be extensively argued. Suffice it to say that the digital revolution alone has made it harder than ever to distinguish between reality and perception by exaggerating – to quote Sec. Donald Rumsfeld – unknown unknowns. A recent former CIA operative hired by a Swiss bank to prevent fraud put it to me succinctly: the ability to reproduce almost any document [or signature] has led to almost unlimited financial hoax.

In the world of international relations something similar is equally true. But, again, there are basic dictum which are as old, at least, as the European nation-state and apply today as they always have. Many are commonsensical. To be unacquainted with them is to introduce new and additional volatility in an uncertain world.

America’s role Because of its size, its population and continental breadth, and its economy, the U.S. under any conditions would play a major world role — disengaged as well as engaged. But there are important additional nonphysical aspects. The Founders, however conservative their personal backgrounds [with the unresolved problem of black slavery], constructed a new nation on ideology rather than ethnicity, race or language. They believed that they were creating a new and unique beacon of liberty and justice harking back to Greek and Roman institutions as well as a Judeo-Christian ethic.

That, in essence, is “American exceptionalism”. To associate it with such more precise policies as “interventionism” or “isolationism” is to misunderstand completely. All one has to do is hark back to the 1930s debate of America’s world role in which both poles invoked U.S. singularity, whether Midwest agrarian populist isolationists, or East Coast industrial and financial bureaucratic interventionists.

Furthermore, it might not make much difference whether the concept is valid.the fact that it has been accepted as a part of American foreign policy for more than 200 years – however much hypocrisy one might charge – makes it is an important part of any discussion. Perhaps that is why Pres. Barrack Obama had to make the sharpest possible break with his earlier [presumably] offhanded remark in Europe denigrating the whole concept. But he did so now “with every fiber of my being. ” – indeed a turnabout!

America’s tools The most important if the most nebulous of tools in making foreign policy is the prestige of the United States abroad.[So-called opinion surveys, especially those in countries with widespread illiteracy are ridiculous.] More than half a century of overwhelming domination of the world scene, especially the two decades since the implosion of the Soviet Union, have contributed to an overestimate, if anything, of the U.S.’ power and ability to solve problems.

But there is a general talking heads consensus that belief has eroded significantly for whatever reason – policies of the current Administration or the accumulation of debris from two indecisive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a welter of unidentified “mistakes” to which Obama has continually referred. That may be true, but that also depends on the strength of American prestige at its zenith, if, indeed, that point is behind us. My own reading from conversations with informed foreign friends at home and abroad is that the belief in American omnipotence, for better or for worse, is alive and well.

If I am correct, then American power arises in no small part from Harvard University’s political scientist and former government official Joseph Nye has called “soft power”. Americans who have not traveled abroad or those who have accepted internationalization of U.S. fashions as the norm are often unaware of how that influence permeates foreign cultures. However, some of the clichéd ideas concerning American influence are equally irrelevant; e.g., the idea that a U.S. education automatically makes a returned foreigner sympathetic to Washington policy. [Some of the most virulently anti-American politicians abroad have been – and continue to be – products of at least a partial American education, a tribute perhaps to our tolerant institutions.]

In the best of all worlds formal U.S. diplomacy would exploit these cultural levers. That is rarely the case. The massive efforts of American propaganda, for example, that accompanied The Cold War have been largely abandoned. Just as it demoralized a more efficient consular service, incorporation of United States Information Service by State has been a disaster. Libraries which once were the most important U.S. cultural activity [aside from American movies] in backward countries have disappeared without an organized digital replacement.

Less difficult to define, of course, are four other major instruments in the conduct of U.S. foreign relations: formal diplomacy, economic warfare, the U.S. military and clandestine espionage and “special” operations.

Unfortunately, over the years, U.S. diplomacy has taken on more and more the attributes of its traditional European model. As it has done so, for the most part, American embassies abroad deal with their counterparts in a bubble to the exclusion of any attempt to cultivate a wider public. [In many countries, with authoritarian governments, of course, this may not be a choice.]

Worse still, U.S. diplomats suffer from what the French call déformation professionelle – if you are a lawyer, your first instinct is to litigate, if you are a surgeon, you instinctively want to cut, etc. And if you ae a diplomat, you first seek to negotiate. But since a successful diplomatic outcome requires compromise, what do you do when your opponent refuses to budge? You  extend unilateral  concessions  to achieve “success”, including abandoning prematurely “the military option”.

Much is made of the fact that U.S. military expenditures are more than the sum of most other major military powers. The argument is fallacious. Unfortunately, our European NATO allies have cut back their military expenditures, too often already eaten away by non-fighting bureaucracies. Or, for example, the French in their desperate pursuit of a policing francophone Africa have had to rely on U.S. transport.

In a sense that the one and only time NATO’s famous Article 5 has been invoked in Afghanistan is unfotunate– answering the 9/11 attack on the U.S. that required all partners to come to a member’s aid.  For the intervention in an siolated pre-industrial soceity was always destined to be inconclusive otherthan t eliminate the immediate source of violence against America’s heartland.

Ironically, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine may have restored some relevance of that concept, for the Europeans if not for a war weary American public.

All that notwithstanding, the mere threat to use U.S. military in a given crisis – what the geopoliticians call “strategic ambiguity” – is perhaps American policymakers’ most potent weapon. A generally quiet if dramatic example has been the guarantees to Taiwan which permitted development of the first democratic and prosperous society in Chinese history. [However, recent Washington foot-dragging on arms and accomodation of the current Taipei government for economic collaboration with the Mainland may have put it in jeopardy.] Were the Chinese Communist to have bases on Taiwan, it would be a game-changer in the increasingly delicate Northeast Asian powder keg with a rapidly accelerating North Korean drive for WSM and an. aggressive Beijing posture.

To name specific conditions and dates when American military power is to be used [or withdrawn] is perhaps the greatest weakness of the current Administration’s foreign strategies. It prepares the ground for the opponent’s counterstrategy. Even worse is to rattle the cage of a potential opponent – whether Pres. Obama with an announced on-and-off “limited blow”, as against the bloody Syrian regime or Defense Sec. Chuck:Hagel’s latest provocative public denunciation of Chinese adventurism while at the same time cutting back military budgets.

Waging the U.S.’ economic weapon is also a mixed bag. International trade has increasingly become a larger part of the U.S. gross national product, producing jobs as well as profits. And because since 1985 there is more foreign investment in America than U.S. equity abroad, the Treasury has had to trim its use as an instrument of foreign policy. A tax structure which has U.S.-based multinationals holdings in the tens of billions in profits stashed overseas also weighs heavily.

Still, Americaneconomic sanctions – especially when they are applied to third parties – can be crippling as Tehran found out before the Obama Administration loosen the bolts as incentive for a hoped for negotiated settlement..

Clandestine American operations abroad are part and parcel of any effective foreign policy. But certain conventions, however false, have to be adhered to. Yes, everyone knows Washington is listening to their mail but to tell the world as Edward Snowden and his pal Glenn Greenwald did is not only to prejudice important sources of information but to raise doubts for those who would want secretly to collaborate with the U.S., including foreign intelligence organizations. It is no secret that because of its superior facilities, Washington quietly has sometimes done “favors” for those allies.

For the White House [it says] to accidentally reveal the name of a station chief is inconceivable; not that in virtually any country there has always been unacknowledged cognizance generally of who he was. [Our old joke was that he could always be identified because he collected “art”, had a wife named “Magda”, and stacked all Praeger’s books in his shelves – and wore U.S. Navy officer shoes.]

Perhaps the most important and incalculable element in the search for an effective foreign policy is political will. When presidential candidate Barrack Obama — whose team showed incredible smarts at manipulating the media so it seems hardly an accident — prominently carried a copy of Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World so it could be photographed, friends and enemies got an unmistakable  signal.

Defensive backpedaling, even in front of an audience as important as West Point’s graduation class, will not be enough to avoid new crises through miscalculations, the kind which have brought on most wars. Nor must a policymaker wallow in what used to be called “mirror imaging” – assuming your opponent’s motivations are yours.

After the longest war in U.S. history, Obama is unilaterally calling an end to violence in Afghanistan – and, in fact, to “the war on terror”. Is he so certain a sprinkling of Al Qaeda splinters of increasing sophistication in a half dozen other countries – including their recruiting some of our native-bred — will do the same?

sws-06-01-14