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Posts Tagged ‘AL QAEDA’

GOOD NEWS IN THE TERROR WARS

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 26, 2014 at 12:25 am

On February 15, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released some encouraging newws for those fighting Islamic terrorism.

More than 140,000 people have been killed in Syria’s uprising-turned-civil war.

Conflict began on March 15, 2011.  The trigger: Protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

According to the Observatory, which is based in Britain:

  • The death toll is now at 140,041.
  • More than 30,000 rebels have been killed and over 50,000 from pro-Assad forces.
  • The true toll on both sides was likely much higher–by perhaps more than 60,000.

And the Observatory’s director, Rami Abdelrahman, had a solution to offer to this constantly escalating violence:

“It is shameful that the international community has done nothing to show that it will defend human rights.  They are just looking on at this tragedy. The Syrian people dying are just statistics to them.”

If those dying in Syria are “just statistics,” then they are statistics of terrorists and potential terrorists who will never pose a threat to the United States.

Think of it:

  • In three years, 140,041 actual or potential enemies of Western Civilization have chosen to kill each other off.
  • Additional thousands are certain to follow their example.
  • And the United States cannot be held in any way responsible for it.

Here are seven excellent reasons why America should not send soldiers to bomb and/or invade Syria.

1. Intervening in Syria could produce unintended consequences for American forces–and make the United States a target for more Islamic terrorism.

American bombs or missiles could land on one or more sites containing stockpiles of chemical weapons.  Imagine the international outrage that will result if the release of those weapons kills hundreds or thousands of Syrians.

Within the Islamic world, the United States will be seen as waging a war against Islam, and not simply another Islamic dictator.

Almost certainly, an American military strike on Syria would lead its dictator, Bashar al-Assad, to attack Israel–perhaps even with chemical weapons.

Assad could do this simply because he hates Jews–or to lure Israel into attacking Syria.

If that happened, the Islamic world–which lusts to destroy Israel more than anything else–would rally to Syria against the United States, Israel’s chief ally.

2.  Since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism.

Among the terrorist groups it supports are Hizbollah and Hamas. For years, Syria provided a safe-house in Damascus to Ilich Ramírez Sánchez–the notorious terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal.

There are no “good Syrians” for the United States to support–only murderers who have long served a tyrant and other murderers who now wish to become the next tyrant.

3.  The United States doesn’t know what it wants to do in Syria, other than “send a message.”

Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist, wrote: “War is the continuation of state policy by other means.”  But President Barack Obama hasn’t stated what he intends gain by attacking Syria.

Obama has said he’s “not after regime-change.”  If true, that would leave Assad in power–and free to go on killing those who resist his rule.

4. The Assad regime is backed by–among others–the Iranian-supported terrorist group, Hezbollah (Party of God).  Its enemies include another terrorist group–Al Qaeda.

Hezbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.  A sworn enemy of Israel, it has  kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hezbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.  It considers Shiite Muslims to be “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Al Qaeda has attacked the mosques and gatherings of liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other non-Sunnis.   Examples of sthese ectarian attacks include the Sadr City bombings, the 2004 Ashoura massacre and the April, 2007 Baghdad bombings.

Flag of Al Qaeda

When your enemies are intent on killing each other, it’s best to stand aside and let them do it.

5.  China and Russia are fully supporting the Assad dictatorship–and the brutalities it commits against its own citizens. This reflects badly on them–not the United States.

6.  The United States could find itself in a shooting war with Russia and/or China.

The Russians have sent two warships to Syria, in direct response to President Obama’s threat to “punish” Assad for using chemical weapons against unsurgents.

What happens if American and Russian warships start trading salvos?  Or if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an attack on Israel, in return for America’s attack on Russia’s ally, Syria?

It was exactly that scenario–Great Powers going to war over conflicts between their small-state allies–that triggered World War l.

7.  While Islamic nations like Syria and Egypt wage war within their own borders, they will lack the resources to launch attacks against the United States.

When Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, then-Senator Harry Truman said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis and vice versa.”

That should be America’s view whenever its sworn enemies start killing themselves off.   Americans should welcome such self-slaughters, not become entrapped in them.

SPHERES OF INFLUENCE: OURS AND THEIRS

In History, Military, Politics on March 25, 2014 at 1:04 am

It didn’t take much for American Right-wingers to start salivating–and celebrating.

All it took was for Russia to move troops into its neighboring territories of Ukraine and Crimea.

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the American Right has felt dejected.  Accusing Democrats of being “terrorist-lovers” just hasn’t been as profitable as accusing them of being “Communists.”

The torch had barely gone out at the much-ballyhooed Sochi Olympics when Russian President Vladimir Putin began menacing the Ukraine.

Even while the Olympics played out on television, Ukrainians had rioted in Kiev and evicted their corrupt, luxury-loving president, Victor Yanukovych.

And this, of course, didn’t sit well with his “sponsor”–Putin.

Yanukovych had rejected a pending European Union association agreement.  He had chosen instead to pursue a Russian loan bailout and closer ties with Russia.

And that had sat well with Putin.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Putin had yearned for a reestablishment of the same.  He had called that breakup “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.”

So it was almost a certainty that, when his chosen puppet, Yanukovych, was sent packing, Putin would find some way to retaliate.

And since late February, he has done so, gradually moving Russian troops into Ukraine and its autonomous republic, Crimea.

By late March, it was clear that Russia had sufficient forces in both Ukraine and Crimea to wreak any amount of destruction Putin may wish to inflict.

And where there is activity by Russians, there are American Rightists eager–in Shakespeare’s words–to “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”

Or at least to use such events to their own political advantage.

Right-wingers such as Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachussetts who lost the 2012 Presidential election by a wide margin to Barack Obama.

“There’s no question but that the president’s naiveté with regards to Russia,” said Romney on March 23.

“And unfortunately, not having anticipated Russia’s intentions, the president wasn’t able to shape the kinds of events that may have been able to prevent the kinds of circumstances that you’re seeing in the Ukraine, as well as the things that you’re seeing in Syria.”

All of which overlooks a number of brutal political truths.

First, all great powers have spheres of interest–and jealously guard them.

For the United States, it’s Latin and Central America, as established by the Monroe Doctrine.

And just what is the Monroe Doctrine?

It’s a statement made by President James Monroe in his 1823 annual message to Congress, which warned European powers not to interfere in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere.

It has no other legitimacy than the willingness of the United States to use armed force to back it up.  When the United States no longer has the will or resources to enforce the Doctrine, it will cease to have meaning.

For the Soviet Union, its spheres of influence include the Ukraine.  Long known as “the breadbasket of Russia,”  in 2011, it was the world’s third-largest grain exporter.

Russia will no more give up access to that breadbasket than the United States would part with the rich farming states of the Midwest.

Second, spheres of influence often prove disastrous to those smaller countries affected.

Throughout Latin and Central America, the United States remains highly unpopular for its brutal use of “gunboat diplomacy” during the 20th century.

Among those countries invaded or controlled by America: Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Columbia, Panama, the Dominican Republic.

The resulting anger has led many Latin and Central Americans to support Communist Cuba, even though its political oppression and economic failure are universally apparent.

Similarly, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) forced many nations–such as Poland, Hungary and Czechoslavakia–to submit to the will of Moscow.

The alternative?  The threat of Soviet invasion–as occurred in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslavakia in 1968.

Third, even “great powers” are not all-powerful.

In 1949, after a long civil war, the forces of Mao Tse-tung defeated the Nationalist armies of Chaing Kai-Shek, who withdrew to Taiwan.

China had never been a territory of the United States.  Nor could the United States have prevented Mao from defeating the corrupt, ineptly-led Nationalist forces.

Even so, Republican Senators and Representatives such as Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy eagerly blamed President Harry S. Truman and the Democrats for “losing China.”

The fear of being accused of “losing” another country led Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon to tragically commit the United States to “roll back” Communism in Cuba and Vietnam.

Now Republicans–who claim the United States can’t afford to provide healthcare for its poorest citizens–want to turn the national budget over to the Pentagon.

They want the United States to “intervene” in Syria–even though this civil war pits Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, two of America’s greatest enemies, against each other.

They want the United States to “intervene” in Ukraine–even though this would mean going to war with the only nuclear power capable of turning America into an atomic graveyard.

Before plunging into conflicts that don’t concern us and where there is absolutely nothing to “win,” Americans would do well to remember the above-stated lessons of history.  And to learn from them.

WHY SO MANY PEOPLE DISTRUST GOVERNMENT

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 13, 2014 at 3:51 pm

In 2005, Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian architect, was placed on the United States Government’s No-Fly list, operated by the Terrorist Screening Center.

It wasn’t because she was a member of Al Qaeda.  It happened because of an FBI screw-up.

The mess started in January 2005, when Ibrahim and her 14-year-old daughter arrived at the San Francisco Airport.  Their destination: Hawaii, to attend a conference trip sponsored by Stanford.

Ibrahim, still recovering from a recent hysterectomy, was in a wheelchair.

When she approached the United Airlines counter to check in, she was seized, handcuffed, thrown in the back of a police car and taken to a holding cell.

There she was interrogated.  During this, paramedics had to be summoned because she hadn’t taken her surgery medication.

Then, to her surprise, she was released–and told that her name had been removed from the No-Fly list.  She boarded a flight to Hawaii and attended the conference.

But in March 2005, the situation suddenly changed.

Having returned to Malasia, she bought a ticket to fly back to California to meet with her Stanford thesis adviser. But at the airport, she was banned from the flight.

She was told that her student visa had been revoked, and that she would longer be let into the United States.  When she asked why, authorities refused to give a reason.

She would not learn the answer for another eight years.

An FBI agent in San Jose, California, had conducted a background check on Ibrahim.  He hadn’t meant to place her on theNo-Fly list.

FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

He had simply checked the wrong boxes on a form.  He didn’t even realize the mistake until nearly a decade later, during his deposition in 2013.

In fact, he filled out the form exactly the opposite way from the instructions provided on the form. He did so even though the form stated, “It is recommended that the subject NOT be entered into the following selected terrorist screening databases.”

Thus, Ibrahim was placed on the No-Fly list.

That was bad enough–but at least understandable. FBI agents are human, and can and do err like anyone else.

What is not understandable or tolerable is this:

After Ibrahim filed a lawsuit against the United States Government in 2006, the Justice Department ordered a coverup–to prevent word from leaking that one of its agents had made a mistake.

Moreover, Ibrahim was ordered by the Justice Department to not divulge to anyone that she was suing the United States Government–or the reason for the lawsuit.

Ibrahim is currently the dean of architecture at University Putra Malaysia.

Because the Justice Department refused to admit its mistake, attorneys working pro bono for Ibrahim incurred a reported $3.8 million in legal fees, as well as $300,000 in litigation costs.

In his recent decision on the case, U.S. District Judge William Alsup, based in San Francisco, called the agent’s error “conceded, proven, undeniable and serious.

Once derogatory information is posted to the Terrorist  Screening Database, it can propagate extensively through the  government’s interlocking complex of databases, like a bad credit  report that will never go away,” he wrote.

If only the Justice Department had readily admitted the mistake and quickly moved to correct it.  But the egos of Federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors effectively ruled out this option.

Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (2006-2011) had a completely different approach to dealing with mistakes.

In his new autobiography, Duty, he writes of his determination to promote good relations between the Pentagon and the reporters who covered it.

In his commencement address at the Anapolis Naval Academy on May 25, 2007, he said:

“…the press, in my view [is] a critically important guarantor of our freedom.

“When it identifies a problem, the response of senior leaders should be to find out if the allegations are true.  And if so, say so, and then act to remedy the problem.

“If [the allegations are] untrue, then be able to document that fact.”

Millions of Americans not only distrust the Federal Government–they believe it is aggressively conspiring against them.

But the vast majority of Federal employees do not come to work intent on destroying the lives of their fellow Americans.

They spend most of their time carrying out routine, often mind-numbing tasks–such as filling out what seem like an endless series of forms.

But even where no malice is involved, their actions can have devastating consequences for innocent men and women.

Especially in cases where “national security” can be invoked to hide error, stupidity, or even criminality.

The refusal of the Justice Department to quickly admit the honest mistake of one of its agents prevented Ibrahim from boarding a commercial flight for seven years.

Federal agencies should follow the advice given by Robert Gates:  Admit your mistakes and act quickly to correct them. 

Unless this happens, the poisonous atmosphere of distrust between the Government and its citizens will only worsen.

HISTORY LESSONS FROM HOLLYWOOD

In History, Military, Politics on January 29, 2014 at 12:30 am

January 26, 2014 marked the 129th anniversary of the fall of the Sudanese city of Khartoum to the dervish hordes of a fanatical Muslim leader.

Mohammed Achmed had proclaimed himself “The Madhi”–the “Expected One.”  He had raised an army and sworn to sweep the Islamic world clean of “unbelievers.”

Standing in his path: The 30,000 citizens of Khartoum, led by the famous British general, Charles George Gordon.

In 1966, this clash of historical personalities was vividly depicted in the movie, “Khartoum,” starring Charlton Heston as Gordon and Laurence Oliver as The Madhi.

It’s a film still loaded with drama and meaning–and lessons for the possible intervention of the United States in the lethal mess that is Syria.

What began as a popular revolt against a brutal and ossified dictatorship, Syria has now degenerated into a bloody civil war.

On the one side, is the Shiite Ba’ath regime, headed by “President” Bashar al Assad and supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

Opposing them Syrians–including defectors from the armed forces and others who have formed private militias–and thousands of foreign Sunni fighters (including elements of al Qaeda).

The neocons of the George W. Bush administration plunged the United States into an unprovoked war against Iraq in 2003.  After Baghdad quickly fell, Americans cheered, thinking the war was over and the troops would soon return home.

They didn’t count on Iraq’s descending into massive inter-religious strife, with Shia Muslims (who comprise 65% of the population) squaring off against Sunni ones (who make up 35%).

Suddenly, American soldiers found themselves fighting a two-front war in the same country: Fighting an Iraqi insurgency to throw them out, while trying to suppress growing sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shia.

Today, American politicians such as U.S. Senator John McCain are urging President Obama to militarily intervene in the Syrian civil war.

Once again, Americans are being urged to plunge headfirst into a conflict they know nothing about–and in which they have absolutely no stake.

Which brings us back to the lessons to be found in “Khartoum.”

In 1884, the British Government sends Gordon, a real-life hero of the Victorian era, to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum.  Mohammed Achmed, a previously anonymous Sudanese, has proclaimed himself “The Madhi”  (The Expected One) and raised the cry of jihad.

The Madhi (played by Laurence Oliver) intends to drive all foreigners (of which the English are the largest group) out of Sudan, and exterminate all those Muslims who did not practice his “pure” version os Islam.

Movie poster for “Khartoum”

Gordon arrives in Khartoum to find he’s not fighting a rag-tag army of peasants.  Instead, the Madhi is a highly intelligent military strategist.

And Gordon, an evangelical Christian, also underestimates the Madhi’s religious fanaticism: “I seem to have suffered from the delusion that I had a monopoly on God.”

A surprised Gordon finds himself and 30,000 Sudanese trapped in Khartoum when the Madhi’s forces suddenly appear.  He sends off messengers and telegrams to the British Government, begging for a military relief force.

But the British Government wants nothing to do with the Sudan.  It had sent Gordon there as a sop to British public opion that “something” had to be done to quell the Madhist uprising.

The siege continues and tightens.

In Britain, the public hails Gordon as a Christian hero and demands that the Government send a relilef expedition to save him.  Prime Minister William Gladstone finally sends a token force–which arrives in Khartoum two days after the city has fallen to the Madhi’s forces.

Gordon, standing at the top of a staircase and coolly facing down his dervish enemies, is speared to death.

When the news reaches England, Britons mourn–and then demand vengeance for the death of their hero.

The Government, which had sought to wash its hands of the poor, militarily unimportant Sudan, suddenly has to send an army to avenge Gordon.

As the narrator of “Khartoum” intones at the close of the film: “For 15 years, the British paid the price with shame and war.”

Americans have been fighting in the Middle East since 2001–first in Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda, and then in Iraq, to pursue George W. Bush’s vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

The United States faces a crumbling infastructure, record high unemployment and trillions of dollars in debt.  It’s time for Americans to clean up their own house before worrying about the messes in other nations–especially those wholly alien to American values.

GETTING HELP FROM YOUR ENEMIES: PART TWO (END)

In History, Military, Politics on January 7, 2014 at 12:15 am

Here’s another reason to welcome the coming of the New Year:

Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah have gone to war–with each other.

Al-Qaeda terrorists–now taking aim at Hezbollah terrorists

This is an event the United States could not have predicted or instigated.  But it is definitely one in which Americans can take hope.

In Part One, two of those reasons were outlined.  Here are the remaining eight:

Third, the United States is still fighting a brutal war in Afghanistan. By early 2012, the United States had about 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by the fall.

There has been no schedule set for the pace of the withdrawal of the 68,000 American troops who will remain, only that all are to be out by the end of 2014.

The initial goal of this war was to quickly destroy Al Qaeda–especially its leader, Osama Bin Laden–and its Taliban protectors.

But, over time, Washington policy-makers embarked on a “nation-building” effort.  And U.S. forces wound up occupying the country for the next ten years.

This increasingly brought them into conflict with primitive, xenophobic Afghans, whose mindset remains that of the sixth century.

On February 21, 2013, protests erupted throughout Afghanistan as reports emerged that NATO personnel at Bagram Air Base had burned copies of the Koran.

The books had been confiscated from suspected insurgents and inadvertently marked for incineration.

The incident sparked rabid anti-American demonstrations. At least 30 people, including four American troops, were killed, and many were wounded.

Two American military officers were murdered by a trusted member of the Afghan military.

As a result, American forces no longer trust their “brothers” in the Afghan army to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them against the Taliban.

One American officer stated that he would no longer meet with his Afghan counterparts unless there were five armed U.S. troops in the same room.

Fourth, intervening in Syria could produce similar unintended consequences for American forces–and make the United States a target for more Islamic terrorism.

Fifth, since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism. Among the terrorist groups it supports are Hezbollah and Hamas.

For many years, Syria provided a safe-house in Damascus to Ilich Ramírez Sánchez–the notorious terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal.

Sixth, according to U.S. defense reports, Syria has weapons of mass destruction–and the ballistic missiles to deliver them. Syria has an active chemical weapons program, including significant reserves of the deadly nerve agent sarin.

The recent destruction of much of Syria’s WMD stockpile–at the demand of President Barack Obama–doesn’t erase its ability to create more.  And this is likely to re-occur as soon as the United States becomes preoccupied with other concerns.

Seventh, the United States had no part in creating the Assad regime. Thus, Americans have no moral obligation to support those Syrians trying to overthrow it.

Eighth, China and Russia are fully supporting the Assad dictatorship–and the brutalities it commits against its own citizens. This reflects badly on them–not the United States.  America should focus world outrage against these longtime Communist dictatorships for propping up another one.

Ninth, the United States could find itself in a shooting war with Russia and/or China.

The Russians sent two warships to Syria in 2013 in response to President Obama’s threat to “punish” Assad for using chemical weapons against insurgents.

What happens if American and Russian warships start trading salvos?  Or if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an attack on Israel, in return for America’s attack on Russia’s ally, Syria?

It was exactly that scenario–Great Powers going to war over conflicts between their small-state allies–that triggered World War l.

Tenth, while Islamic nations like Syria and Egypt wage war within their own borders, they will lack the resources–and incentive–to launch attacks against the United States.

Every dead Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda member makes the United States that much safer.  Every dead supporter of Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda makes the United States that much safer.

The peoples of the Middle East have long memories for those who commit brutalities against them.  In their veins, the cult of the blood feud runs deep.

When Al-Qaeda blows up civilians in Beirut, it’s certain that their relatives will urge Hezbollah to take brutal revenge.  And it’s equally certain that Hezbollah will do so.

Similarly, when Hezbollah does, those who support Al-Qaeda will demand even more brutal reprisals against Hezbollah.

No American could instill such hatred in Al-Qaeda for Hezbollah–or vice versa.  This is entirely a war of religious and sectarian hatred.

This conflict could easily become the Islamic equivalent of “the Hundred Years’ War” that raged from 1337 to 1453 between England and France.

When Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, then-Senator Harry Truman said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis and vice versa.”

That should be America’s view whenever its sworn enemies start killing off each other.  Americans should welcome such self-slaughters, not become entrapped in them.

GETTING HELP FROM YOUR ENEMIES: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Military, Politics on January 6, 2014 at 12:37 am

Sometimes your worst enemies aid you in ways you could never help yourself.

From July 10 to October 31, 1940, hundreds of badly-outnumbered pilots of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) fought off relentless attacks by Germany’s feared Luftwaffe.

For Germany’s Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, it was a major setback.

He was forced to concede that he lacked the strength to destroy the British air force–thus making it possible for his navy to land German troop on English soil.

But Hitler wasn’t prepared to give up.  He believed he could so terrorize Britons that they would demand that their government submit to German surrender demands.

From September 7, 1940 to May 21, 1941, the Luftwaffe subjected England–and especially London–to a ruthless bombing campaign that became known as The Blitz.

St Paul's Cathedral surrounded by smoke after an air raid

The undamaged St. Paul’s Cathredal, December, 1940

More than 100 tons of high explosives were dropped on 16 British cities.  During 267 days (almost 37 weeks):

  • London was attacked 71 times;
  • Birmingham, Plymouth and Liverpool were attacked eight times;
  • Bristol was attacked six times; Glasgow, five; Southampton four; and
  • There was also at least one large raid on another eight cities.

Between 40,000 and 43,000 British civilians were killed.  About 139,000 others were wounded.

“London can take it” went the British slogan.  But, in the United States, Americans–including President Franklin D. Roosevelt–wondered: For how much longer?

Clearly, what Great Britain desperately needed most was a miracle.

Exactly that happened on June 22, 1941.

With 134 Divisions at full fighting strength and 73 more divisions for deployment behind the front, the German Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union.

German tank commander

Joseph Stalin, the longtime Soviet dictator, was stunned.  The invasion had come less than two years after Germany had signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union.

Hitler had turned on his partner-in-crime.  The two dictators had greedily split Poland between them when Hitler launched his invasion on September 1, 1939.

Now they were locked in a fight to the death.

People in England were also surprised–but also suddenly hopeful.   Britain now had an ally whose resources might tip the balance against Hitler.

In the United States, then-Senator Harry S. Truman spoke for many Americans when he said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis and vice versa.”

Today the United States faces just such an opportunity.

In Syria, two of America’s most deadly enemies are now waging war–with each other.

Yes, it’s Hezbollah (Party of God) vs. Al-Qaeda (The Base).

United Nations officials estimate that more than 70,000 people have died in Syria’s civil war since conflict began on March 15, 2011.  The trigger: Protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.  A sworn enemy of Israel, it has  kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hezbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.  It is intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Al-Qaeda has attacked the mosques and gatherings of liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other non-Sunnis.   Examples of sectarian attacks include the Sadr City bombings, the 2004 Ashoura massacre and the April, 2007 Baghdad bombings.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

On one side is the Ba’ath regime of Bashir al-Assad, whose allies include Russia, Iran, Hezbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

On the other side are a host of Syrians and thousands of foreign Sunni fighters some of whom have affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

And now that civil war has spread into neighborhing Lebanon.

On January 2, at least four people were killed and 77 injured when a car bomb exploded in a residential  neighborhood in southern Beirut.

The Shiite-dominated district, Haret Hreik, is known as a Hezbollah stronghold.

Two days later, an Al-Qaeda linked group claimed responsibility for the attack.

At a press conference for President Barack Obama on March 20, 2013, a reporter asked:

“Morally, how is it possible that for the last two years, tens of thousands of innocent civilians [in Syria] are being massacred and no one–the world, the United States and you–are doing anything to stop it immediately?”

That is entirely the wrong way to view this conflict.

There are solidly practical reasons why the United States should avoid this bloodfest–while cheering on each of its mortal enemies to do its worst.

First, the United States recently disengaged from Iraq.  On Dec. 15, 2011, the American military formally ended its mission there. The war–begun in 2003–had cost the lives of 4,487 service members, with another 32,226 wounded.

Second, the war in Iraq fell victim to the law of unintended consequences. The Bush administration invaded Iraq to turn it into a base–from which to intimidate its neighboring states: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

But while Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been a counter-weight to the regional ambitions of Iran, the destruction of the Iraqi military created a power-vacumn.  Into this–eagerly–stepped the Iranian mullahs.

DAMNING WASHINGTON–WHILE LUSTING TO RULE IT: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on October 4, 2013 at 12:01 am

For a half-century, Republicans have been damning the very government they lust to control.

Consider this choice comment from Mitt Romney supporter Ted Nugent:

“I spoke at the NRA and will stand by my speech. It’s 100 percent positive. It’s about we the people taking back our American dream from the corrupt monsters in the federal government under this administration, the communist czars he [President Barack Obama] has appointed.”

Romney, of course, refused to disavow the slander Nugent cast over every man and woman working on behalf of the American people.

Romney and his fellow Republicans salivate at every vile charge they can hurl at the very government they lust to control.

As in the case of Senator Joseph McCarthy, no slander is too great if it advances their path to power.

But there are others–living or at least working in Washington, D.C.–who simply go about their jobs with quiet dedication.  And they leave slanderous, self-glorifying rhetoric to Right-wing politicians.

One of these unsung heroes was Stephen Tyrone Johns, a security guard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

14th Street Entrance of USHMM. Large, rectangular façade with rounded opening.

On June 10, 2009, Johns, 39, was shot and killed by James Wenneker von Brunn, a white supremist and Holocaust denier.  Brunn was himself shot and wounded by two other security guards who returned fire.

While in jail awaiting his trial, von Brunn–who was 88–died on January 6, 2010.

To work in Washington, D.C., is to realize that this city ranks–with New York City–at the top of Al Qaeda’s list of targets.

No one knows this better than the agents of the United States Secret Service, who protect the President, Vice President, their families and the White House itself 24 hours a day.

Prior to 9/11, visiting the White House was assumed to be an American right.  No longer.

Today, if you want to tour the Executive Mansion, you quickly learn there are only two ways to get in:

  1. Through a special pass provided by your Congressman; or
  2. By someone connected with the incumbent administration.

Congressmen, however, have a limited number of passes to give out.  And most of these go to people who have put serious money into the Congressman’s re-election campaigns.

And the odds that you’ll know someone who works in the White House–and who’s willing to offer you an invitation–are even smaller than those of knowing a Congressman.

But even that isn’t enough to get you through the White House door.

You’ll have to undergo a Secret Service background check.  And that requires you to submit the following information in advance of your visit:

  1. Name
  2. Date of birth
  3. Birthplace
  4. Social Security Number

And be prepared to leave a great many items at your hotel room.  Among these:

  • Cameras or video recorders
  • Handbags, book bags, backpacks or purses
  • Food or beverages, tobacco products, personal grooming items (i.e. makeup, lotion, etc.)
  • Strollers
  • Cell phones
  • Any pointed objects
  • Aerosol containers
  • Guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size

Visitors enter the White House–after showing a government-issued ID card such as a driver’s license–from the south side of East Executive Avenue.

After passing through the security screening room, they walk upstairs to the first door and through the East, Green, Blue, Red and State Dining rooms.

Secret Service agents quietly stand post in every room–unless they’re tasked with explaining the illustrious history of each section of the White House.

Like everyone else who lives/works there, the Secret Service fully appreciates the incredible sense of history that radiates throughout the building.

This is where

  • Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclomation;
  • Franklin Roosevelt directed the United States to victory in World War II;
  • John F. Kennedy stared down the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But even the generally unsmiling Secret Service agents have their human side.

While touring the East Wing of the White House, I asked an agent: “Is the East Room where President Nixon gave his farewell speech?” on August 9, 1974.

“I haven’t been programmed for that information,” the agent joked, inviting me to ask a question he could answer.

Another guest asked the same agent if he enjoyed being a Secret Serviceman.

To my surprise, he said that this was simply what he did for a living.  His real passion, he said, was counseling youths.

“If you love something,” he advised, “get a job where you can do it.  And if you can’t get a job you’re passionate about, get a job so you can pursue your passion.”

Of the more than 2.65 million civilian employees of the executive branch, more than 800,000 have been sent home without pay.

These men and women aren’t faceless “bureaucrats,” as Right-wingers would have people believe.  They  are hustands and wives, fathers and mothers.  They have bills to pay, just like everyone else.

Many of them, such as agents of the FBI and Secret Service, have taken an oath to defend the United States Constitution–with their lives if necessary.

And they now face the dread of going for weeks or even months without a paycheck–as pawns in another Right-wing case of: “My way or no way.”

They deserve a better break–and so do all those who cherish liberty.

DAMNING WASHINGTON–WHILE LUSTING TO RULE IT: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on October 3, 2013 at 12:06 am

Listen to almost any Republican and you’re almost certain to hear how much he hates and despises “Washington.”

To hear Right-wingers tell it, you might believe that “Washington” is:

  • The capitol of an enemy nation;
  • A cesspool of corrupt, power-hungry men and women slavering to gain dictatorial control over the life of every American;
  • A center of lethal contagion which, like ancient Carthage, should be burned to the ground and its inhabitants destroyed or scattered.

All that prevents “Washington” from gaining absolute power–so claim Republicans–is the Republican Party.

But others who live or work in Washington, D.C. take a far different view of their city and the duties they perform.

These men and women will never call a press conference or rake in millions in “political contributions” (i.e., legalized bribes) for promising special privileges to special interests.

Many of them work for the National Park Service.  Every national monument–and Washington is speckled with monuments–has several of these employees assigned to it.

Their duties are to protect the monuments and offer historical commentary to the public.

One such employee regularly addresses visitors to Ford’s Theater–known worldwide as the scene of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

George (a pseudonym) opens his lecture by raising the question every member of the audience wants answered: How much of Ford’s Theater remains intact from the night of Lincoln’s murder–April 14, 1865?

And the answer is: Only the exterior of the building.

After Lincoln’s assassination, enraged Union soldiers converted the interior of the building into a military command center.  That meant ripping out all the seats for spectators and the stage for actors.

The stage and seats–even the “Presidential Box” where Lincoln sat–have all been reproduced for a modern audience.

As George talks, you can tell that, for him, this is no typical day job.  He realizes that, renovated or not, Ford’s Theater remains saturated with history.  And he clearly feels privileged to share that history with others.

George explains that Presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth did not sneak into the theater.  He didn’t have to–as a celebrity actor, he received the sort of favored treatment now accorded Lindsay Lohan.

Another monument where you will find Park Ranger guides is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Completed in 1982, it receives about 3 million visitors a year.  Adorning the Wall, in columns that seem to reach endlessly to the sky, are the names of the 58,195 soldiers who gave their lives during the Vietnam War.

That struggle–from 1961 to 1975–proved the most divisive American conflict since the Civil War.

On the day I visited the memorial, groups of elementary schoolchildren passed by.  They were jabbering loudly, seemingly oblivious to the terrible sacrifice the Wall was meant to commemorate.

But their adult chaperones realized its significance, and ordered the children to quiet down.

I asked a nearby Park Ranger: “Do you feel people now respond differently to the Wall, as we get further away from the Vietnam war?”

“No,” he answered.  He felt that today’s visitors showed the same reverence for the monument and for the losses it had been created to honor as those who had first come in the early 1980s.

And it may well be true: I saw many tiny American flags and wreaths of flowers left at various points along the Wall, which stretches  across 250 feet of land on the Mall.

When thinking about “Washington,” it’s essential to remember that this city–along with New York City–remains at the top of Al Qaeda’s target list.

Those who choose to live and/or work here do so in the potential shadow of violent death.

Anytime you enter a Federal building, be prepared to undergo a security check.

In most agencies–such as the Department of Agriculture–you simply place your bags or purses into an X-ray machine similar to those found at airports, and walk through a magnetometer.  If no alarms sound, you collect your valuables and pass on through.

Such machines are, of course, nammed by armed security guards.  And they stand sentinel at every conceivable Federal building–such as the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, the Smithsonian Museum, the Pentagon and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

These men and women must daily inspect the bodies and handbags of the 15 million people who visit Washington, D.C. annually, generating $5.24 billion dollar in revenues.

This means repeating the same screening gestures countless times–looking through X-ray machines at bags or coats, and running an electronic “wand” up and down those people whose clothing gives off signs of metallic objects.

It also means projecting a smiling, friendly demeanor towards those same people–many of whom are in a rush and/or resent being electronically sniffed over.

And every security guard knows this: It’s only a matter of time before the next terrorist shows up.

On June 10, 2009, just that happened at the United States Holocaust Memorial.

DAMING WASHINGTON–WHILE LUSTING TO RULE IT: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics on October 2, 2013 at 2:45 am

To hear many political pundits tell it,  the shutdown of the Federal Government is the result of “political dysfunction,” as if everybody in Congress were tripping on LSD.

This is not only untrue but misleading.

The truth is that the shutdown is the result of yet another ruthless attempt by Right-wing Republicans to obtain absolute power.

When they can obtain it at the ballot box, they rule as though by divine right.  When they can’t obtain it at election time, they try to obtain it through intimidation.

Thus, in 1992 and 1996, their Presidential candidates–President George H.W. Bush and Senator Bob Dole, respectively–couldn’t defeat Bill Clinton.

So Republicans mounted an inquisition into a failed land deal that occurred before Clinton was first elected President.  This investigation spanned the length of the Clinton Presidency and produced no evidence or indictments of criminal activity.

It did, however, turn up the salacious news that Clinton had actually enjoyed several instances of oral sex courtesy of a libidinous White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.

Unable to defeat Clinton at election time, and unable to find any actual criminal wrongdoing on his part, Right-wing Republicans tried to drive him out of office by impeachment.

The effort failed, and Clinton stayed in the White House until his term expired in 2001.

Then, as now, it was members of the House of Representatives who were the driving force.

Now, fast forward to the present: Republicans have made it their mission to deprive millions of Americans of health care.  They have voted 42 times to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

And they have made its elimination the focus of their threats to shut down the government unless they get their way.

Yet, consider this: Whether they like it or not, the Affordable Care Act is now a law that was legally passed by both houses of Congress.  It has been certified as Constitutional by no less than a Republican Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Under our system of government, that’s as legal as it gets.

But Republicans don’t care about legality when they’re pursuing absolute power over the lives of their fellow Americans.

Thus, they have carried out their threat to shut down the Federal Government since they couldn’t coerce Senate Democrats into de-funding “Obamacare.”

As a result:

  • More than 800,000 federal workers have been sent home without pay;
  • National parks and monuments have been closed;
  • Some programs have been temporarily crippled–such as WIC, which provides nutritional food to poor mothers with infants; and
  • Some members of “essential services” are still required to be on duty–such as the military and Federal law enforcement agencies–but without receiving paychecks.

Of course, this disgrace didn’t have to happen.

President Obama didn’t have to cave in to the latest Republican extortion demands to prevent such a shutdown.

He could have ordered his Attorney General, Eric Holder, to launch an FBI invesdtigation into terroristic threats made by Right-wingers to shut down the government.

Both the 1970 Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and the USA Patriot Act provide remedies for punishing the sort of behavior engaged in by House Republicans.

RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys.  Among those crimes: Extortion.

Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.”

And if President Obama believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he could have relied on the Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.

In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism.  Among the behavior that is defined as criminal:

“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

Demanding that the President de-fund Obamacare or face a potentially disastrous government shutdown clearly falls within the legal definition of “activities…intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”

If the FBI had determined that Federal laws against extortion and terrorism had been broken, the Justice Department could have convened criminal grand juries to indict those Republicans found as violators.

President Obama should have authorized this investigation as soon as Republicans started making terroristic threats.  Thus, he would have served notice on his sworn enemies that he was no one to take lightly.

Knowing that they might well face indictment and prosecution for engaging in domestic terrorism would have frightened many Republicans into backing away from such behavior.

Those who persisted would have found themselves fighting desperately to stay out of prison.  They would have had to pay huge fees to top-flight criminal attorneys.

They would have lived with, first, the threat of indictments hanging over their heads, and, once those indictments were returned, with the threat of conviction and imprisonment.

As a result, they would not have had time to make destroying the Presidency of Barack Obama their Number One priority.

But Obama forfeited all those advantages when he accused Republicans of “blackmail” and then refused to legally punish them for it.

OBAMA LOSES, MACHIAVELLI RULES

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on September 19, 2013 at 12:00 am

I was thoroughly glad to see the era of George W. Bush come to an end.  He had, I believed, become a terrible liability for America–in both foreign and domestic policy.

In foreign affairs, America had become entrapped in a totally needless war in Iraq.  And by authorizing the use of torture, he had turned the United States into a pariah nation in the eyes of much of the civilized world.

Domestically, he had allowed the sheer greed and arrogance of America’s most powerful corporations to push the nation to the brink of bankruptcy.

So during the early weeks of President Barack Obama’s first term, I sent him a gift: My favorite selections from the two major works of Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince and The Discourses.

Niccolo Machiavelli

I hoped that, on at least some occasions, the new President would find useful advice in the wisdom of the father of political science.

Unfortunately, such has not been the case.

For example:

United Nations officials estimate that more than 6,000 people have died in Syria since fighting erupted in 2011 against the regime of dictator Bashir al-Assad.

During that time, the world made no move to intervene–for a series of excellent reasons.  Among these:

  • Since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism.
  • There are no “good Syrians” for the United States to support.  There is a civil war between rival terrorist groups.
  • Among these: Hezbollah and Hamas (pro-Assad); and Al Qaeda (anti-Assad).

This was the position of the United States as well.

Meanwhile, President Obama said on several occasions that if Assad used chemical weapons against his enemies, that would be “a red line in the sand.”

Then, on August 21, the Assad regime was accused of using chemical weapons in Damascus suburbs to kill more than 1,400 civilians.

On August 30, the Obama administration said it had “high confidence” that Syria’s government carried out the chemical weapons attack.

Having boxed himself in, Obama felt he had to make good on his threat–even if it risked the lives of those flying combat missions over Syria’s formidable air defenses.

He sent Secretary of State John Kerry before TV cameras to express America’s moral outrage at Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

And he positioned six American warships close to the Syrian coast.

On August 31, Obama announced that he would seek Congressional authorization before attacking Syria.  Obama said he was “prepared to give that order” to strike Syria because:

  • Syria’s use of chemical weapons “risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemicals weapons,” and
  • It put U.S. regional allies that share a border with Syria in danger.

It looked as though the United States was about to plunge into its third Middle East war in 12 years.

Then Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his own suggestion for averting war: Syria would agree to put its stocks of chemical weapons under United Nations control.

On September 14, the United States and Russia announced in Geneva that they reached a deal that provided a path for Obama to avoid the air strikes he had promised to launch against Syria.

Suddenly, Obama asked congressional leaders to delay votes on authorizing military action in Syria while the diplomatic process worked itself out.

As “Tonight” show host Jay Leno put it: Obama gave a speech calling for war–and then the rebuttal.

So what does Niccolo Machiavelli have to do with any of this?

In Chapter 19 of The Prince, his guide to successful rulership, he outlines “That We Must Avoid Being Despised and Hated.”

“The prince must…avoid those things which will make him hated or despised.  And whenever he succeeds in this, he will have done his part, and will find no danger in other vices….

“He is rendered despicable by being thought changeable, frivolous, effeminate, timid and irresolute—which a prince must guard against as a rock of danger….

“[He] must contrive that his actions show grandeur, spirit, gravity and fortitude.  As to the government of his subjects, let his sentence be irrevocable, and let him adhere to his decisions so that no one may think of deceiving or cozening him.”

By making a vigorous case for going to war with Syria, and then suddenly reversing himself, Obama has managed to offend everyone:

  • Right-wingers–who hoped to see America plunge into another Middle East war.
  • Liberals–who didn’t want to repeat the 2003 Iraqi war disaster.
  • Syrian rebels–who expected a full-scale American intervention to bring them to power.
  • The Assad regime–which no doubt believes Obama was bluffing.

Unfortunately, history is not a VHS tape that can be rewound.  No one–including Obama–gets a second chance to make a first impression.

By repeatedly showing timidity toward Republicans, Obama had forfeited credibility as a leader to be feared by his domestic Right-wing enemies.

President Theodore Roosevelt famously said: “I have always lived by a South African proverb: Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”

By speaking loudly and then putting his big stick aside, Obama forfeited credibility among his foreign enemies.

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