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Posts Tagged ‘HEZBOLLAH’

SPHERES OF INFLUENCE: OURS AND THEIRS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on August 21, 2014 at 10:27 pm

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.

SEVERED HEADS IN SYRIA: LET ALLAH SORT IT OUT

In History, Military, Politics on August 14, 2014 at 10:57 am

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has some advice on Syria.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Faith and Freedom Coalition on June 15, 2013, Palin said the United States should not intervene in Syria while Barack Obama holds the Presidency:

“Until we have a commander in chief who knows what he is doing… let Allah sort it out!”

Actually, she got it half-right: “Let Allah sort it out”–regardless of who is President.

Anyone who doubts the wisdom of this should look at a photo now making the rounds on the Internet.

Taken in Syria, it shows a seven-year-old boy, wearing a baseball cap and, with both hands, holding aloft a severed head.  “That’s my boy,” reads a caption underneath.

It may been written by Khaled Sharrouf, a wanted terrorist who fled Australia to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

It is ISIS that now threatens to overwhelm Iraq and re-establish an Islamic Caliphate.

Click here: Seven-Year-Old Jihadi Poses with Severed Head

That photo is the real face of Syria.  It’s worth remembering as Democratic and Republican politicians seek to prove their toughness to voters.

One of the Democrats is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who blames President Obama for not sending military forces to Syria.

“I know that the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad—there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle—the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton recently said.

There’s an old saying: When your enemy is digging himself into a hole, let him keep digging.  And that is exactly the case with those groups now waging all-out war against each other in Syria.

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

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 241 Marines.

Flag of Hezbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of Islamics.  Intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims, it 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

In a June 1, 2013 column entitled, “Stop the Madness,” Dr. James J. Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, warned:

“What began as a popular revolt against a brutal and ossified dictatorship, Syria has now degenerated into a bloody battlefield pitting sects and their regional allies against each other in a ‘dance unto death.’

“On the one side, is the Ba’ath regime, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

“Arrayed against them are a host of Syrians (some of whom have defected from the armed forces and others who have formed militias receiving arms and support from a number of Arab states and Turkey) and a cast of thousands of foreign Sunni fighters (some of whom have affiliated with al Qaeda) who have entered Syria to wage war on behalf of their brethren.”  [Emphasis added.]

But Hillary Clinton isn’t the only one urging Obama to waste American lives in a cause that only Islamic terror groups and right-wing Americans find compelling.

Republican U.S. Senator from Arizona John McCain has repeatedly urged the Obama administration to wage war on Syria.

He has demanded that the United States create a “no-fly” zone over Syria to deny Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad the use of his air force against his rebellious subjects.

McCain, unlike Clinton, served in Vietnam as a U.S. Navy pilot.  In October 1967, while on a bombing mission over Hanoi, he was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese.  He remained a prisoner of war until his release in 1973.

Now McCain wants today’s young servicemen to have the same opportunities he did–to be blown out of the sky and taken prisoner for another worthless cause.

President Obama is reportedly weighing his options for intervention in Syria.  But it’s not too late for him to draw back from the brink.

He can establish an all-volunteer brigade for those Americans willing to fight and possibly die in yet another pointless war.  And he can especially offer the same opportunity to tough-talking politicians eager to put others’ lives in harm’s way.

Finally, Obama can offer to fly them to the border of Syria so they can carry out their self-appointed “conquer or die” mission.

If these armchair strategists refuse to put their own lives on the line in defense of a “cause” they claim to believe in, Obama should have the courage to brutally–and repeatedly–point this out.

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: Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Columbia, Panama and 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

LET ALLAH SORT IT OUT

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on August 30, 2013 at 12:00 am

Even confirmed imbeciles can sometimes get it right.

Or, in the case of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, partially right.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Faith and Freedom Coalition on June 15, Palin said the United States should not intervene in Syria while Barack Obama holds the Presidency:

“Until we have a commander in chief who knows what he is doing… let Allah sort it out!”

Actually, she got it half-right: “Let Allah sort it out”–regardless of who is President.

Recently, noted draft-dodger and former President Bill Clinton had different advice for President Obama.

Clinton urged Obama to intervene in Syria:

“Suppose I had let a million people, two million people be refugees out of Kosovo, a couple hundred thousand people die, and they say, ‘You could have stopped this by dropping a few bombs. Why didn’t you do it?’ And I say, ‘Because the House of Representatives voted 75% against it’”?

“You look like a total wuss, and you would be.”

This is truly heady stuff, coming from a man who has proudly boasted how he outwitted his draft board and thus escaped military service in Vietnam.

Apparently, it’s OK for other Americans to put on a military uniform and risk their lives in pointless missions on behalf of foreigners who hate us.

It’s just not OK for bullet-shy chicken-hawks like Bill Clinton to do it.

Clinton doesn’t seem aware, or concerned, that, 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).

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

In a June 1 column entitled, “Stop the Madness,” Dr. James J. Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, warns:

“What began as a popular revolt against a brutal and ossified dictatorship, Syria has now degenerated into a bloody battlefield pitting sects and their regional allies against each other in a ‘dance unto death.’

“On the one side, is the Ba’ath regime, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

“Arrayed against them are a host of Syrians (some of whom have defected from the armed forces and others who have formed militias receiving arms and support from a number of Arab states and Turkey) and a cast of thousands of foreign Sunni fighters (some of whom have affiliated with al Qaeda) who have entered Syria to wage war on behalf of their brethren.”  [Emphasis added.]

But Clinton isn’t the only one urging Obama to waste American lives in a cause that only Islamic terror groups and right-wing Americans find compelling.

Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain has repeatedly urged the Obama administration to militarily intervene in Syria.

He has demanded that the United States create a “no-fly” zone over Syria to deny Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad the use of his air force against his rebellious subjects.

McCain, unlike Clinton, did serve in Vietnam–as a U.S. Navy pilot.  In October 1967, while on a bombing mission over Hanoi, he was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese.  He remained a prisoner of war until his release in 1973.

Now McCain wants today’s young servicemen to have the same opportunities he did–to be blown out of the sky and taken prisoner for another worthless cause.

Just as Sarah Palin was partially correct in urging “let Allah sort it out,” so, too, was Clinton partially correct in his “total wuss” remarks.

President Obama can rightly be called a “total wuss”–but not for keeping Americans out of harm’s way in a war they have no stake in.

He can legitimately be called a “total wuss”–for surrendering to the demands of the same neocons who lied America into a needless 10-year war in Iraq. 

But it’s not too late for Obama to recover from his mistake.

He can establish an all-volunteer brigade for those Americans willing to fight and possibly die in yet another pointless war.  And he can offer to fly them to the border of Syria so they can carry out their self-appointed “conquer or die” mission.

If these armchair strategists refuse to put their own lives on the line in defense of a “cause” they claim to believe in, Obama should have the courage to brutally–and repeatedly–point this out.

LET ALLAH SORT IT OUT

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 18, 2013 at 12:05 am

Even confirmed imbeciles can sometimes get it right.

Or, in the case of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, partially right.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Faith and Freedom Coalition on June 15, Palin said the United States should not intervene in Syria while Barack Obama holds the Presidency:

“Until we have a commander in chief who knows what he is doing… let Allah sort it out!”

Actually, she got it half-right: “Let Allah sort it out”–regardless of who is President.

Recently, noted draft-dodger and former President Bill Clinton had different advice for President Obama.

Clinton urged Obama to intervene in Syria:

“Suppose I had let a million people, two million people be refugees out of Kosovo, a couple hundred thousand people die, and they say, ‘You could have stopped this by dropping a few bombs. Why didn’t you do it?’ And I say, ‘because the House of Representatives voted 75% against it?’

“You look like a total wuss, and you would be.”

This is truly heady stuff, coming from a man who has proudly boasted how he outwitted his draft board and thus escaped military service in Vietnam.

Apparently, it’s OK for other Americans to put on a military uniform and risk their lives in pointless missions on behalf of foreigners who hate us.  It’s just not OK for bullet-shy types like Bill Clinton to do it.

Clinton doesn’t seem aware, or concerned, that, 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).

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, which killed 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 Ashoura massacre and the April, 2007 Baghdad bombings.

Flag of Al Qaeda

In a June 1 column entitled, “Stop the Madness,” Dr. James J. Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, warns:

“What began as a popular revolt against a brutal and ossified dictatorship, Syria has now degenerated into a bloody battlefield pitting sects and their regional allies against each other in a ‘dance unto death.’

“On the one side, is the Ba’ath regime, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

“Arrayed against them are a host of Syrians (some of whom have defected from the armed forces and others who have formed militias receiving arms and support from a number of Arab states and Turkey) and a cast of thousands of foreign Sunni fighters (some of whom have affiliated with al Qaeda) who have entered Syria to wage war on behalf of their brethren.”

Clinton, of course, isn’t the only one urging Obama to put American lives on the line for a cause that only Islamic terror groups and right-wing Americans find compelling.

Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain has repeatedly urged the Obama administration to militarily intervene in Syria.  He has demanded that the United States create a “no-fly” zone over Syria to deny Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad the use of his air force against his rebellious subjects.

McCain, unlike Clinton, did serve in Vietnam–as a U.S. Navy pilot.  In October 1967, while on a bombing mission over Hanoi, he was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese.  He remained a prisoner of war until his release in 1973.

Now McCain apparently wants today’s young servicemen to have the same opportunities he did–to be blown out of the sky and taken prisoner for another worthless cause.

Just as Sarah Palin was partially correct in urging “let Allah sort it out,” so, too, was Clinton partially correct in his “total wuss” remarks.

President Obama can rightly be called a “total wuss”–but not for keeping Americans out of harm’s way in a war they have no stake in.

He can legitimately be called a “total wuss”–for surrendering to the demands of the same neocons who lied America into a needless 10-year war in Iraq. 

But it’s not too late for Obama to recover from his mistake.

He can establish an all-volunteer brigade for those Americans willing to fight and possibly die in yet another pointless war.  And he can offer to fly them to the border of Syria so they can carry out their self-appointed “conquer or die” mission.

If these armchair strategists refuse to put their own lives on the line in defense of a “cause” they claim to believe in, Obama should have the courage to brutally–and repeatedly–point this out.

SYRIA: A WARNING FROM HISTORY

In Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 1, 2013 at 4:48 pm

On May 27, Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain secretly entered Syria and met with commanders of the Free Syrian Army, who are fighting forces loyal to “President” Bashar al Assad for control of the country.

He was the first U.S. senator to travel to Syria since civil war erupted there in 2011.  And after he left, he told CNN that he was more convinced that the United States must become more involved in the country’s conflict.

Earlier this year, on March 21, House Foreign Affairs ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) introduced the “Free Syria Act of 2013,” calling on the Obama administration to arm the Syrian rebels.

Not so fast, says Dr. James J. Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute.  A Washington, D.C.-based organization, it serves as the political and policy research arm of the Arab American community.

In a June 1 column entitled, “Stop the Madness,” Zogby lays out the essential truths about this increasingly confusing self-slaughter:

“What began as a popular revolt against a brutal and ossified dictatorship, Syria has now degenerated into a bloody battlefield pitting sects and their regional allies against each other in a ‘dance unto death.’

“On the one side, is the Ba’ath regime, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

“Arrayed against them are a host of Syrians (some of whom have defected from the armed forces and others who have formed militias receiving arms and support from a number of Arab states and Turkey) and a cast of thousands of foreign Sunni fighters (some of whom have affiliated with al Qaeda) who have entered Syria to wage war on behalf of their brethren.”

And then Zogby warns:

“This deadly zero-sum game is both dangerous and fatally flawed, because in reality this is a war that no one can win, and the consequences of continuing it will only make the situation worse.”

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.

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

It’s all very reminiscent of events in the 1966 epic film, “Khartoum,” starring Charlton Heston as British General Charles George Gordon.

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.

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