Tag Archives: Riyadh

Syria’s “black hole” threatens the universe

Syria, like one of those mysterious black holes in space, is irrevocably sucking its neighbors and the major powers into an unknown vortex that could lead to regional war – or more. Historical analogies are rarely valid but one has to recall a royal assassination at Sarajevo, the Nazi Luftwaffe bombardment of Guernica during Spain’s Civil War, the question of the Sudentenland’s German minority, the U.S. oil embargo on Japan. All were relatively minor tripwires which led to much larger unpleasant events.

In Syria all the regional powers already have a critical stake in the outcome of what started out as a peaceful protest against a long-time demagogic, tribal and corrupt dictatorship but turned into a civil war. That, in turn, is leading to the entanglement of all the major powers. Some – certainly the Obama Administration – are trying desperately, but increasingly unsuccessfully, to resist the pull of a political morass they cannot decipher or resolve.

My metaphor can be extended: the astrophysicists tell us that black holes form when stars collapse at the end of their life cycle. Nothing could be closer to this historical parallel: the 1920s creation by the Allied powers of a group of artificial Arab states with lines drawn in the sands of the old Ottoman Empire is now imploding for a variety of reasons. Around a spatial black hole, there is a surface called an event horizon that marks the point of no return for those nearby and so the black hole grows. That also correlates with the Syrian conflict’s increasing seduction of co-religionists and co-ethnicities with its neighbors across its borders, not the least the regime of the mullahs in Tehran which is its principal financial and military support.

It’s no wonder that high Iranian officials are adamant that Tehran will never abandon its “51st province”, the Basher al Assad Syrian regime. The mullahs supply not only oil, finance and weaponry but increasingly they organize local militia directed by its notoriously brutal and effective Iranian Revolutionary Guard. For that price Iran reaches into the Arab world and to the Mediterranean. As important, Syria provides the trampoline for aiding Lebanon’s Hezbollah in its growing role as a worldwide surrogate for Tehran. That includes alliances and infiltration in Latin American with the Lebanes’ ongtime background of drug-running out of the Bekka Valley now allied with the Mexican cartels extending their tentacles into the U.S.

This spillover into Lebanon which has always faced a Syrian claim against its very existence, has initiated a mew bitter sectarian struggle there, a reflection of the struggle inside Syria. And it suggests the frightening possibility of another internecine struggle like the bloody Lebanese civil war [1975-90] which took more than 120,000 casualties and destroyed Beirut’s roaring prosperity as the Mideast’s outstanding commercial capital.

It’s these Lebanese connections that bring continued Israeli air and  naval strikes to destroy Soviet, Chinese and Iranian weaponry arriving in Syria destined for Hezbollah. Although unacknowledged by either side, they dramatize the growing “non-Syrian” aspects of the conflict. It was Hezbollah’s antecedents who inaugurated the current era of international Islamic terrorism when a Persian suicide bomber killed 300 U.S. Marines, soldiers, civilians and French military in Beirut in 1983. Now heavily armed, they constitute a state within a state in Lebanon, threatening its fragile multiethnic, multi-religious structure. Hezbollah’s growing missile arsenal if used again as in the past to bombard northern Israel becomes a weapon for Tehran in any regional conflict. Syrian interventions could be a prelude to an Israeli strike to slow Iran’s development of weapons of mass destruction. With memories of The Holocaust always present, Israeli leadership cannot ignore Tehran’s repeated official threats to destroy “the Zionist entity” as a minimal part of its effort to dominate the region and thereby world oil.

That growing Tehran presence and in Syria and other Arab Shia areas, of course, puts the wind up for the Saudis and their friends among the other Sunni-dominated regimes in the Persian Gulf.  Riyadh, unusual for a regime that plays its cards close to its chest, has publicly excoriated the Obama Administration for its failure of promised aid to the Syrian rebels. Washington, of course, whatever the current state of its wildly gyrating Syrian policy, fears those weapons could fall into the hands of the jihadists with al Qaeda connections among the rebels. And, in fact, that ties into the resurrected scandal of the American deaths at Bengazhi where the CIA was collecting the downed Libyan dictator Mohammad Qadaffi’s untended weapons for shipment through Turkey to the Syrian opposition. Meanwhile, ineffectual American and French efforts to bolster the opposition has helped put the Basher regime back on track to a continuing bloody war of attrition against the squabbling, divided anti-regime forces.

Turkey, Syria’s northern neighbor and the channel for Saudi — and the trickle of U.S. — aid to the anti-regime rebels is increasingly entwined. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with his more and more blatant Muslim-revivalist agenda, has pointed the aid at jihadist elements that are rapidly coming to dominate the Syrian opposition. At home Turkey’s politically vanquished but still powerful secular and Alevi minorities are under pressure to conform to Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule as the country, after a period of unrivaled prosperity, heads into an international payments and economic crisis. In this process, a promised accomodation has virtually collapsed with Turkey’s Kurdish minority, perhaps a quarter of its population, heavily concentrated near Syria with a long history of border disputes. At any moment, a three-decades long armed Kurd insurrection could reignite. The Syrian flood of refugees produces both a humanitarian crisis and sanctuary for the opposition darting back and forth across the border and occasioning clashes between Turkish and Damascus forces.

Damascus’ own Kurd minority, disaffected from the regime, lends weight to the independence ambitions of adjoining Iraqi Kurdistan, emboldened by its growing oil production – some of it with U.S. companies’ new finds. The federal Iraqi government in Baghdad, with a Shia-dominated government, virtually bereft of American influence by the precipitous flight of the Obama Administration, faces a growing Sunni/al Qaeda revolt, increasingly linked to the most radical elements of the Syrian opposition forces. Whether, indeed, because of its lack of fighter aircraft which is the proffered reason, Baghdad acquiesces in the continuing Iranian overflights of materiel and cadre from Tehran to Damascus on my enemy’s enemy is my friend basis.

Iraq’s neighbor, Jordan, an Arab state carved out of the old British League of Nations Palestine Mandate, is threatened by a flood of some 600,000 Syrian refugees. King Abdullah II, always carefully balancing his own volatile “Palestinian” majority with his largely Bedouin army which keeps the regime afloat, has threatened unspecified action if the refugee flood continues, crippling his economy. Always dependent on U.S. and other international aid, as well as tacit Israeli military protection, Abdullah has expressed ambivalence about his own role at the outset of this crisis. So he looks frantically to Washington for additional support.

But U.S. policy has foundered in the face of all these conflicts.

Pres. Obama fist threatened to play the world policeman when Damascus used chemical weapons against its own people – a catastrophe avoided in World War II and succeeding wars in Korea and Vietnam and the Balkans [although not in Sadam Hussein’s Iraq]. In fact, Basher’s use threatened the relatively successful worldwide dismantling — including the Russians and the Americans — of old stockpiles. But Obama welshed on that threat, and fell into a trap laid by Pres. Vladimir Putin and Damascus, when they swapped the issue of eliminating his chemical weapons for Washington’s earlier dictum Basher’s regime had to go. Now Secretary John Kerry – his State Department media claque calls it a great diplomatic coup – is scrounging up a United Nations conference which would “settle” the Syrian question. With both the opposition and Basher initially adamant they are not going to participate, Putin’s veto, and the long dreary history of such unrequited efforts on Laos, Vietnam, Korea, and the Balkan civil conflicts, it hardly seems a winner.

Furthermore, there’s China, ominous with its veto at the UN Security Council, continuing to maintain its hypocritical position of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other countries. Recent frictions with African raw materials sellers has given the lie to that claim, unnoticed by the world media in the welter of dramatic events elsewhere. Beijing hardly looks more a Putin ally in any attempt of the Obama Administration in its search for “comprehensive solutions”, notorious whether in U.S. domestic health care or in international relations.

Finally, our metaphor dims. Can we be approaching a point the scientists tell us radiation from a black hole reaches a level at which it disappears? Alas! unlike the theories about space’s black holes, our earthbound example is certain to leave – even if it disappears – ugly debris. That, for example, would be a new body of jihadist terrorists recruited and trained as opposition to Basher al Assad’s crumbling dictatorship. They destabilize their own and other countries — a repeat of what happened when the U.S. and its allies successfully mobilized Islamicists to topple the Soviets in Afghanistan leading to the collapse of Communism. But that enormous victory left behind embittered veterans who followed the likes of Osama Bin Laden — and in some instances still fight on — for other goals.

By their very nature, spatial black holes do not directly emit any signals, or at least enough to know what is really going on inside them, the scientists tell us. That’s true of the Damascus regime, probably in deep disarray internally, perhaps as some have speculated entirely in the hands of its Persian aid-givers. So this geopolitical black hole is one we can only watch, hoping – or praying if you are of a mind – for the best.



The War on Terrorism goes on

If the Boston Massacre and the growing Syrian Civil War jihadist outrages had not made it self-evident, the bloody attack on innocents at the Nairobi, Kenya, mall provide new evidence that the international terrorist conspiracy continues virtually unabated. The perpetrators were Islamic jihadists, apparently members of the al Shahid thugs in neighboring Somalia who call themselves adherents of al Qaeda. So, despite all the obfuscation of the Obama Administration and its adherents, The War On Terrorism goes on and Washington will be forced to fight it under whatever name and probably with growing resources.

Just as in the more than four decades of The Cold War, the outcome is not assured, no more than its length. The fanatics who wage a campaign to gain world dominance in the name of Islam are if anything even more single-minded of purpose and willing to sacrifice themselves than the utopians turned state terrorists of the earlier 20th century totalitarianism. That they tend to fall into internecine feuds and mutual self-destruction will not spare the world of their violence even if, luckily, it is likely to rule out  any new and coordinated central command such as Osama Bin Ladin once attempted.

But the continued upsurge of this violence means that despite the other myriad overwhelming problems which bedevil policymakers in Washington and the other capitals of the civilized world, carrying on a complex and difficult program to meet the terrorists’ challenge will not go away. The significance of the Nairobi episode, which is still not resolved and analyzed at this writing, is that it does show that the terrorist infection is not only alive but that it is continuing to spread. Like the Muslim extremist  threat in Mali and Nigeria, the terrorists have now shown their tentacles reach beyond the Middle East and Central and South Asia into Black Africa. And almost simultaneously with the Nairobi explosion, there was an attempted jihadist takeover of Zamboanga in the southern Philippines and a bloody attack on a Pakistani Christian church, both virtually blacked out in the mainstream media. These episodes show that the network of Islamic extremists stretches from one end of the umma [the worldwide Moslem community] to the other, and even when not directly linked, draw their intellectual vigor and sometimes material resources from one another.

The Syrian crisis has complicated the already confused strategies to effectively combat the jihadists. Unfortunately, a relatively spontaneous uprising against decades of unrestrained brutality of the al Assad family dictatorship has fallen under the shadow of international jihadist volunteers who are flooding in from all directions to fight it – not excluding second and third generation Muslims from all over the democratic West including the U.S and Australia. Their growing presence among the opponents of the regime and the Obama Administration’s fumbling of the issue of the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction by Basher Assad has further muddied the waters.

But whatever the outcome of the Syrian struggle, these new volunteer jihadists will provide a new reservoir of terrorists, as did a similar liberation war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a new cadre of bloodied fanatics to return to their own countries or to the next terrorist front for new violence. Willy-nilly, al Assad’s support by Iran’s state terrorists in their effort to dominate the region and Pres.Vladimir Putin’s desperate ploy to reassert Soviet grandeur by supporting Damscus is further aggravating the terrorist picture. Both Moscow and Tehran believe they have a stake in exploiting the centuries-old bitter feud between the two principal wings of Islam, Sunni and Shia. In addition to attacks on non-Muslims and Islamic innocents, the result is likely to be a welter of explosive intra-Muslim conflicts, vitiating the possibility of one central command, but contributing to the general bloodshed of noncombatants.

There will not be any easy answers to the problem of combating this growing international menace to peace and stability, which could reach across continents as it did on 9/11 to the American homeland. But an effective campaign relies on three general categories of government activity:

Somehow the open societies of the West, inherently vulnerable to terrorism, will have to learn to take more protective measures, short of limiting the freedom which is their essence. The bumbling bureaucracy of air travel security, for example, needs a surgical overhaul. Too much effort and money is being expended on unnecessary gateway inspection procedures. New technologies will provide more inspection efficiency. But the introduction of common sense at the highest administrative levels appears a necessity. The airlines, themselves, should assume an increasing role in filtering out possible saboteurs. Without such programs, the terrorists are going to continue to be a jump ahead of security measures.

There are economic measures the American government needs to take to enhance any effort at defeating the terrorists. The sanctions against Iran, much too long coming in their current growing intensity, point to the enormous impact U.S. Treasury controls can have directly and indirectly on an adversary. The shale revolution with the enormous increases in domestic gas and oil production have now made it possible for the U.S. to do more than try to persuade those in the Persian Gulf states, including individual Saudis as well as officials in Riyadh, and the outrageous troublemakers in Qatar, to end their direct and indirectly financial support to the terrorist networks. What is require simultaneously, of course, but hardly likely, is an about face in the Obama Administration’s war on  fossil fuels, which nevertheless has ironically not haled new record production and possible exports.

Any attempt at taking security measures, of course, must ultimately rely on enhanced intelligence. Repeated efforts to reform the American intelligence community have only added additional layers of bureaucracy without, it seems, increasing actual benefits. If “stove-piping” – excluding necessary interchange among the various  intelligence bodies – has been somewhat eliminated, the Snowden treason episode and the Washington Navyyard Massacre are evidence that the whole system of “need to know” security precautions which once dominated government operations has fallen afoul of the digital revolution  Furthermore, it is clear that many of those who are entrusted with the war on Islamic intelligence have an inadequate knowledge of the history of the religion and its adherents. Unlike the British who in their imperial heyday could depend heavily on their academy for such resources, the U.S. faces a generally unrealistic, antagonistic and disloyal professorate with its hangers on from the parlor Marxist politics of the 1960s.

This leads to the a general failure reaching to the highest echelons of the Obama Administration which in its effort to reduce international tension has taken an idealistic and unrealistic attitude toward the problem of Islam and its radical appendages. Islam is not and never has been “a religion of peace”, from its earliest conquests in the Arabian desert to the subjugation of former Christian, Zoroastrian, Hindu and pagan societies of the Middle East, North Africa and India. There are hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims, of course. But the idealization of an officially tolerant Islam, for example, in Berber-ruled kingdoms in Spain in the 14th and 15th centuries, is pure fiction. Islamic regimes have always condemned non-believing citizens, at best, to an inferior status with onerous tax burdens. Islam has never had its Reformation or Counter-reformation, nor its haskalah, having largely rejected Greek learning in monumental debates almost a thousand years ago. Unless and until the majority of Muslim intellectuals and spokesmen for Islam parse the indivisibility of their religion with the implanting of a sharia state, the seeds of jihadism and accompanying terrorism are planted wherever the religion prevails.

Therefore, an important element – perhaps the most important — in an effective and continuing defense against Islamic terrorism is a more realistic understanding of this relationship of the Muslim faithful and the jihadists. It is incumbent on American Muslims, for example, to halt their wailing about a nonexistent victimization. Since 9/11 – contrary to what might have been expected in another society less tolerant than the U.S. – they have seen little “Islamphobia”. Rather, such highly placed individuals as Ms. Huma Abedin, principal assistant to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have an obligation publicly to explain and renounce their family relationships with the Muslim Brotherhood, an original source of inspiration for much of the current jihadist leadership.

It is in the nature of the American system of government, unfortunately, that none of this is to be accomplished rapidly, even given the growing urgency for an effective reform of the efforts for dealing with terrorism. The wake-up call of 9/11 has been hushed, ironically, in the enormous vitalilty of U.S. society and pursuit of happiness which is the ultimate American goal. But unfortunately the problem of terrorism, even in the homeland, is not going to go away.