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CHEERING ON OUR ENEMIES: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on February 11, 2016 at 12:01 am

Sometimes your worst enemies aid you unintentionally–and in ways you could never help yourself. That’s what America’s Islamic enemies are now doing throughout the Middle East.

Contrary to the propaganda of Republican militarists and Democratic do-gooders, Americans should be thrilled at the mutual destruction of their most dedicated enemies.

In the first installment of this series, three reasons were given for why the United States should not intervene in the Syrian conflict. This will offer the remaining seven.

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

Among the terrorist groups it supports: Hizbollah and Hamas. For many years, Syria provided a safe-house in Damascus for Illich Ramirez Sanchez–the notorious international terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal.

Ilich Ramírez Sánchez–“Carlos the Jackal” 

Fifth: The United States had no part in creating or supporting the decades-long dictatorship of the Assad regime–which has long been hostile to America.

After a long series of political maneuverings, Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970 and was proclaimed “president” next year. With aid from the Soviet Union, he built up the Syrian army. Using arrest, torture and execution, he ruled Syria as a dictator until he died in 2000.    

His son, Bashar, then took command of Syria. Like his father, he has supported Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups. And, like his father, he continues to receive financial and military support from the successor to the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation.

Thus, America has no moral obligation of any kind to Syria–or Syrians. 

Sixth: Intervening in Syria could lead to Syrian attacks against Israel.  

An American military strike on Syrian government forces could lead the country’s 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 Israelis even more than “apostate” Muslims–would rally to Syria against the United States, Israel’s chief ally.  

Seventh: Committing American ground forces to Syria or just continuing to bomb targets there could lead to Islamic terrorism against the United States–at home or abroad.

This has already happened with Russia, which, on September 30, 2015, began bombing airstrikes on forces trying to overthrow Assad.

On October 31, Airbus A321, a Russian airliner, broke up in mid-air, then crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. 

In Egypt, a militant group affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed it had brought down the plane “in response to Russian airstrikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land.”  

The same fate could well befall American civilians and/or soldiers.  

Eighth: China and Russia are supporting the Assad dictatorship–and the brutalities it commits against its own citizens.  

This reflects badly on them–not the United States. And any move by the United States to directly attack the Assad regime could ignite an all-out war with Russia and/or China.  

What happens if Russian and American forces start trading salvos? Or if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an attack on America’s ally, 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 I.  

Ninth: The United States cannot defeat ISIS through air power alone–thus making commitment of ground troops inevitable.

President Barack Obama authorized airstrikes against ISIS in September, 2014. The United States Air Force has since dropped thousands of bombs on ISIS convoys.

This has not destroyed ISIS. And its failure to do so has only led to demands by hawkish Republicans and Democrats for “boots on the ground.”  

Tenth–and most importantly: While Islamic nations like Syria, Iraq and Egypt wage war within their own borders, they will lack the resources–and incentive–to attack the United States.

Every dead Hizbollah and Al-Qaeda and ISIS member makes the United States that much safer. So does the death of every sympathizer of Hizbollah, Al-Qaeda and ISIS.  

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, their relatives will urge Hizbollah to take brutal revenge. And Hizbollah will do so. Similarly, when Hizbollah does, those who support Al-Qaeda will demand even more brutal reprisals against Hizbollah.  

Al-Qaeda terrorists–now taking aim at Hezbollah terrorists

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

In fact, 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 S. Truman said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis–and vice versa.”

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

CHEERING ON OUR ENEMIES: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on February 10, 2016 at 12:01 am

The headline in the February 6, 2016 edition of The World Post said it all: “Geneva III: The Stillborn Conference and the Endemic Failure of the International Community.”

And just what was it that the international community had failed to achieve?  

“While approaching the fifth anniversary of the Syrian civil war on March 15 — which claimed more than 300,000 lives, approximately 700,000 wounded, 4 million fled the country, and another 6 million displaced within Syria — the international community has failed to put an end to bloodshed in this war-torn country.”  

Put another way: More than 300,000 potential or actual Islamic terrorists will never pose a threat to the United States or Western Europe.

The Syrian conflict began on March 15, 2011, triggered by protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights–which is safely located in Great Britain–the total number of dead is now more than 310,000.

And who does the Observatory–and The World Post–blame for this Islamic self-slaughter?  

Why, the West, of course.  

According to the Observatory:

“The silence of the International community for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria encourages the criminals to kill more and more Syrian people because they have not found anyone that deter them from continuing their crimes that cause to wound more than 1500000 people; some of them with permanent disabilities, make hundreds of thousands children without parents, displace more than half of Syrian people and destroy infrastructure, private and public properties.”

And according to the Post:

“It is disgraceful that the international community has successfully concluded an agreement with the regime in a very short period of time to remove its chemical weapons while completely failed to save the lives of millions of innocent children, women, and elderly people throughout Syria in the past five years!”  

Got that? It’s the duty of non-Muslims to bring civilized behavior to Islamics.

And why are all these murderers eagerly slaughtering one another?

Because of a Muslim religious dispute that traces back to the fourth century.  

Yes, it’s Sunni Muslims, who make up a majority of Islamics, versus Shiite Muslims, who comprise a minority. Each group considers the other takfirs–that is, “apostates.”  

And, in Islam, being labeled an apostate can easily get you murdered.

There is, however, an optimistic way to view this conflict:

  • At least 310,000 actual or potential enemies of Western civilization–and especially the United States–have chosen to slaughter one another.  
  • Additional thousands are certain to follow their example.
  • And the United States cannot be held in any way responsible for it. 

Yet, Left-wing do-gooders and Right-wing militarists demand that the United States thrust itself into a conflict that doesn’t threaten America in any way.

In fact, it’s in America’s best interests that this conflict last as long as possible and spread as widely as possible throughout the Islamic community. 

Here’s why:

First: In Syria, two of America’s most deadly enemies are waging war on each other.  

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

Hizbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims. 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. It is intolerant of Shiites and has instigated violence against them. It denounces them as takfirs–“apostates”–and thus worthy of extermination.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

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

On one side of this conflict is the Ba’ath regime of Bashar al-Assad, whose allies include Russia, Iran, Hizbollah and elements of the Iraqi government.  

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

Second: The United States has been at war in the Middle East for 14 years–since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.  

In October, 2011, America first committed its forces to Afghanistan, in pursuit of Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 mastermind. Failing to find him, its forces nevertheless stayed on in that country, hoping–and failing–to bring civilization to its barbaric population.

Then, in March, 2003, President George W. Bush invaded Iraq to settle a personal score with its dictator, Saddam Hussein.

After Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, launched the 1991 Gulf War, Hussein had had the bad grace to not topple from power. When the elder Bush lost a second term as President to Bill Clinton in 1992, his son blamed Hussein.  

Third, the United States is still fighting a brutal war in Afghanistan.

America originally intended to withdraw all but a small embassy-based force of 1,000 troops by the end of 2016.  

But as the Taliban re-emerged as a threat, President Barack Obama announced he would maintain 9,800 troops there for most of 2016. About 5,500 troops will still be in Afghanistan by 2017.  

CHARLES GORDON DIED FOR YOUR SINS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military on January 28, 2016 at 10:05 pm

January 26, 2016, marked the 131st anniversary of the fall of Khartoum, the Sudanese city that sits on the banks of the White and Blue Nile Rivers.

The siege and fall of Khartoum is one of the truly epic stories of military history.

From March 18, 1884, to January 26, 1885, the charisma and military genius of one man–British General Charles George Gordon–held at bay an army of thousands of fanatical Islamics intent on slaughtering everyone in the city. 

Khartoum in the 1800s

At stake were the lives of Khartoum’s 30,000 residents.

By comparison: The defenders of the Alamo–a far better-known battle, in 1836–numbered no more than 250.  And the siege of the San Antonio mission lasted only 13 days against an army of about 2,000 Mexicans.

The Alamo

Gordon’s story may seem antiquated.  But it bears close inspection as Republicans press the Obama administration to commit ground forces to “freeing” Syria of its longtime dictator, “President” Bashir al-Assad.

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.

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

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

On one side is the Ba’ath regime of Bashir al-Assad, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbollah and elements in the Iraqi government.  Hizbollah is comprised of Chiite 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 Hizbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.

It is intolerant of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

In short, it’s a Muslim-vs.Muslim “holy war.

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

Charlton Heston (left); Charles George Gordon (right)

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.

Laurence Oliver (left); Mohammed Achmed (“The Madhi”)

The Madhi (played by Lawrence Olivier) intends to drive all foreigners (of which the English are the largest group) out of Sudan and exterminate all those Muslims who do not practice his “pure” version of 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 finds he has underestimated 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 has sent Gordon there as a cop to British public opinion 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 relief expedition to save him.

Prime Minister Willilam 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.

George W. Joy’s famous–and romanticized–painting of “The Death of Gordon”

(Actually, the best historical evidence  indicates that Gordon fought to the last with pistol and sword before being overwhelmed by his dervish enemies.)  

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, military 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.”  

There is a blunt lesson for Americans to learn from this episode–and from the 1966 movie Khartoum itself.  

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.

 

SOLDIERING IN AFGHANISTAN: THEN AND NOW

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 25, 2015 at 3:26 pm

In “Excalibur,” director John Boorman’s brilliant 1981 telling of the King Arthur legends, Merlin warns Arthur’s knights–and us: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Not so Steven Pressfield, who repeatedly holds up the past as a mirror to our present.  Case in point: His 2006 novel, The Afghan Campaign.

By 2006, Americans had been fighting in Afghanistan for five years.  And today, almost ten years into the same war, there remains no clear end in sight–to our victory or withdrawal.

Pressfield’s novel, although set 2,000 years into the past, has much to teach us about what are soldiers are facing today in that same alien, unforgiving land.

Matthias, a young Greek seeking  glory and opportunity, joins the army of Alexander the Great. But the Persian Empire has fallen, and the days of conventional, set-piece battles–where you can easily tell friend from foe–are over.

Alexander next plans to conquer India, but first he must pacify its gateway–Afghanistan. Here that the Macedonians meet a new–and deadly–kind of enemy.

“Here the foe does not meet us in pitched battle,” warns Alexander. “Even when we defeat him, he will no accept our dominion. He comes back again and again. He hates us with a passion whose depth is exceeded only by his patience and his capacity for suffering.”

Related image

Alexander the Great

Matthias learns this early.  In his first raid on an Afghan village, he’s ordered to execute a helpless prisoner.  When he hesitates, he’s brutalized until he strikes out with his sword–and botches the job.

But, soon, exposed to an unending series of atrocities–committed by himself and his comrades, as  well as the enemy–he finds himself transformed.

And he hates it.  He agonizes over the gap between the ideals he embraced when he became a soldier–and the brutalities that have drained him of everything but a grim determination to survive at any cost.

Pressfield, a former Marine himself, repeatedly contrasts how civilians see war as a kind of “glorious” child’s-play with how soldiers actually experience it.

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Steven Pressfield

He creates an extraordinary exchange between Costas, an ancient-world version of a CNN war correspondent, and Lucas, a soldier whose morality is outraged at how Costas and his ilk routinely prettify  the indescribable.

And we know the truth of this exchange immediately. For we know there are doubtless brutalities  inflicted by our troops on the enemy–and atrocities inflicted by the enemy upon them–that never make  the headlines, let alone the TV cameras.

We also know that, decades  from now, thousands of our former soldiers will carry horrific memories to their graves. These memories will remain sealed from public view, allowing their fellow but unblooded Americans to sleep peacefully, unaware of  the terrible price that others have paid on their behalf.

Like the Macedonians (who call themselves “Macks”), our own soldiers find themselves serving in an all-but-forgotten land among a populace whose values could not be more alien from our own if they came from Mars.

Instincitvely, they turn to one another–not only for physical security but to preserve their last vestiges of humanity. As the war-weary veteran, Lucas, advises:

“Never tell anyone except your mates. Only you don’t need to tell them. They know. They know you.  Better than a man knows his wife, better than he knows himself. They’re bound to you and you to them, like wolves  in  a  pack. It’s not you and them. You are them. The unit is indivisible. One dies, we all die.”

Put conversely: One lives, we all live.

Pressfield has reached into the past to reveal fundamental truths about the present that most of us could probably not accept if contained in a modern-day memoir.

These truths take on an immediate poignancy owing to our own current war in Afghanistan.  But they will remain just as relevant decades from now, when our now-young soldiers are old and retired.

This book has been described as a sequel to Pressfield’s The Virtues of War: A  Novel  of Alexander the Great, which appeared in 2004. But it isn’t.

Virtues showcased the brilliant and luminous (if increasingly dark and explosive) personality of Alexander the Great, whose Bush-like, good-vs.-evil rhetoric inspired men to hurl themselves into countless battles on his behalf.

But Afghan thrusts us directly into the flesh-and-blood realities created by that rhetoric: The horrors of men traumatized by an often unseen but always menacing enemy, and the horrors they must inflict in return if they are to survive in a hostile and alien world.

DECLARE VICTORY–AND LEAVE

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 8, 2015 at 12:02 am

President Barack Obama wants to attack the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with bombing–supported by Special Forces and ground troops from “friendly” Islamic regimes.

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans want to wage full-scale war against ISIS with massive numbers of regular forces.

But the United States has a third alternative to attain peace–for itself–in the Middle East.  It is one that will demand radical changes in its approach to both Islamic regimes and Israel.

First, embark on a crash program to develop alternatives to oil.  

The Islamic world offers only one reason for American concern: oil.

Yet its consumption threatens the future of the world through global warming. And it keeps America tethered to regimes that are fundamentally unstable and hostile to the West.

Second, with alternatives to fossil fuels, America can end its relationship with Islamic regimes.

That means putting an end to spending billions of dollars every year to prop up dictatorial, unpopular regimes like those in Iraq and Egypt.  And it also means stopping the supply of big-ticket military hardware (like fighter planes and missiles) to such Islamic regimes.

Third, end the “permanent bodyguard” relationship with Israel.

Every nation--including Israel–has the absolute right to defend itself from aggression. But no nation–including Israel–should have the right to expect another nation to act as its permanent bodyguard.

Millions of Americans believe they are morally obligated to defend Israel owing to the barbarism of the Holocaust.  But America was never a party to this, and has nothing to atone for.Flag of Israel.svg

Flag of Israel

But there is another reason many Americans feel committed to Israel.  And it has nothing to do with concern for the fates of Israelis.

It lies in the mythology of the Christian Right: Many fundamentalist Christians believe that, for Jesus Christ to awaken from his 2,000-year slumber, Israel must first re-conquer every inch of territory it supposedly held during the reign of Kings David and Solomon.

Related image

Right-wing Christian fantasy: Dead man hovering

This is the view of many Right-wing members of the House of Representatives and Senate.  It should be obvious that people who hold such totally irrational views shouldn’t be allowed to hold public office.

Unfortunately, such unbalanced views are shared by millions of equally irrational evangelical Christians.

Fourth, accept that America faces a no-win situation with Israelis and Islamics.

Since the Arabs and Israelis hate each other, each side constantly tries to sway American support in its direction.

Every step the United States takes to defend Israel–diplomatically or militarily–ignites hatred of Americans among Islamics.

And every step–diplomatically or militarily–the United States takes to improve its relations with Islamic countries convinces Israelis that they’re being “sold out.”

In short: The United States is like a giant who has one foot stuck in Israel and the other stuck in any Islamic country–leaving his private parts fully exposed to whichever side wants to take a shot at them.

Fifth, erect a “Sand Curtain” around the Middle East.

For 44 years–1947 to 1991–the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a Cold War. Essentially, the United States drew a ring around the Soviet Union–including those nations its armies had seized following the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

The United States said, in effect: “We can’t liberate the countries you’re now occupying”–because trying to do so would have triggered a nuclear World War III. “But we won’t allow you to occupy and enslave any other countries.  And if you try to do so, it will mean total war.”

That’s why the United States did nothing to aid Hungarians when they rose up against their Soviet occupiers in 1956.  That rebellion was quickly and brutally crushed.

And that’s why America stood by when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague in 1968 when Czechoslovakia dared to relax controls over its citizens.

Sixth, stop fretting–and intervening–every time a new outbreak of barbarism occurs in the Middle East.

America would withdraw all of its forces from the Middle East–but keep a good portion stationed in Europe.

It would then publicly announce: “From now on, you are the masters of your own destinies–so long as what you do affects only those of you living in the Middle East.

“We recognize that barbarism and violence have always been a part of life in the Middle East. And we don’t expect this to change.

“So go ahead and destroy as many of your own citizens as you wish–either because they’re Jewish or Christians, or because Sunni Muslims hate Shiite Muslims and Shiite Muslims hate Sunni Muslims.

“Just don’t do anything that poses a threat to those living outside your barbaric lands.  In short: Europe and the United States are strictly off-limits to you.

“And if you aim your aggression at either, we will consider this an act of war and use all the weapons at our disposal–including nuclear ones–to wipe you from the face of the Earth.

The United States cannot enforce peace between Islamics and Israelis.

Nor between Christians and Islamics.

Nor between Islamics and Islamics.

But it can impose an embargo to confine such barbarism to only the Middle East.

A FADING GLORY

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on December 4, 2015 at 12:05 am

Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg’s 1998 World War II epic, opens with a scene of an American flag snapping in the wind.

Except that the vivid red, white and blue we’ve come to expect in Old Glory have been washed out, leaving only black-and-white stripes.

And then the movie opens–not during World War II but the present day.

It makes you wonder: Did Spielberg know something–such as that the United States, for all its military power, has become a pale shadow of its former glory?

Consider the following:

May, 30, 1945, marked the first Memorial Day after World War II ended in Europe.

On that day, the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery became the site of just such a ceremony. The cemetery lies near the modern Italian town of Nettuno.

In 1945, it held about  20,000 graves. Most were soldiers who died in Sicily, at Salerno, or at Anzio.

One of the speakers at the ceremony was Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., the U.S. Fifth Army Commander.

Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.

Unlike many other generals, Truscott had shared in the dangers of combat, often pouring over maps on the hood of his jeep with company commanders as bullets or shells zipped close by.

When it came his turn to speak, Truscott moved to the podium–and then did something truly unexpected.

Looking at the assembled visitors–which included a number of Congressmen–Truscott turned his back on the living to face the graves of his fellow soldiers.

Among Truscott’s audience was Bill Mauldin, the famous cartoonist for the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Mauldin had created Willie and Joe, the unshaved, slovenly-looking “dogfaces” who came to symbolize the GI.

Bill Mauldin and “Willie and Joe,” the characters he made famous

It is from Mauldin that we have the fullest account of Truscott’s speech that day.

“He apologized to the dead men for their presence there.  He said that everybody tells leaders that it is not their fault that men get killed in war, but that every leader knows in his heart that this is not altogether true.

“He said he hoped anybody here through any mistake of his would forgive him, but he realized that was asking a hell of a lot under the circumstances….

“Truscott said he would not speak of the ‘glorious’ dead because he didn’t see much glory in getting killed in your late teens or early twenties.

“He promised that if in the future he ran into anybody, especially old men, who thought death in battle was glorious, he would straighten them out.  He said he thought it was the least he could do.

“It was the most moving gesture I ever saw,” said Mauldin.

Then Truscott walked away, without acknowledging his audience.

Fast forward 61 years–to March 24, 2004.

At a White House Correspondents dinner in Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush joked publicly about the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq.

One year earlier, he had invaded Iraq on the premise that its dictator, Saddam Hussein, possessed WMDs he intended to use against the United States.

To Bush, the non-existent WMDs were nothing more than the butt of a joke that night.

While an overhead projector displayed photos of a puzzled-looking Bush searching around the Oval Office, Bush recited a comedy routine.

“Those weapons of mass destruction have gotta be somewhere,” Bush laughed, while a photo showed him poking around the corners in the Oval Office.

“Nope-–no weapons over there!  Maybe they’re under here,” he said, as a photo showed him looking under a desk.

In a scene that could have occurred under the Roman emperor Nero, an assembly of wealthy, pampered men and women–-the elite of America’s media and political classes–-laughed heartily during Bush’s performance.

Only later did the criticism come, from Democrats and Iraqi war veterans–especially those veterans who had lost comrades or suffered grievous wounds to protect America from non-existent WMDs.

Click here: Bush laughs at no WMD in Iraq – YouTube 

Then fast forward another 11 years–to February 27, 2015.

The Republican Party’s leading presidential contenders for 2016 gathered at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

Although each candidate tried to stake his own claim to the Oval Office, all of them agreed on two points:

First, President Barack Obama had been dangerously timid in his conduct of foreign policy.

Second, they would pursue aggressive military action in the Middle East.

“Our position needs to be to re-engage with a strong military and a strong presence,” said Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida.

And Bush added that he would consider sending ground forces to fight ISIS.

Scott Walker, the current governor of Florida, equated opposing labor unions to terrorists, and said: “If I could take on 100,000 protesters (in Wisconsin), I can do the same across the world.”

Neither Bush nor Walker saw fit to enter the ranks of the military he wishes to plunge into further combat.

And Bush and Walker are typical of those who make up the United States Congress:

Of those members elected or re-elected to the House and Senate in November, 2014, 97–less than 18%–have served in the U.S. military.

Small wonder that, for many people, Old Glory has taken on a darker, washed-out appearance.

GAMES NATIONS PLAY

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on November 25, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin is no admirer of President John F. Kennedy.

Yet he would no doubt agree with the spirit of the poem that Robert Frost intended to read at Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural.

Entitled “Dedication,” the poem went unread because the sunlight reflecting off snow blinded the elderly poet.  So Frost relied on memory to recite an earlier creation: “The Gift Outright.”

“Dedication,” however, was far more in keeping with the upcoming aggressive hubris of the Kennedy years:

It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay
In any game the nations want to play.

On September 30, Putin embarked on a game of big-power politics. He started launching airstrikes against Syria.

The objective: To bolster the dictatorship of Russia’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is now caught up in civil war.

This began on March 15, 2011, triggered by protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of al-Assad.  More than 310,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

The Obama administration is worried about Russian intentions. And Republicans are furious, demanding that American military forces directly confront those of Russia.

Yet despite Right-wing fears about Russia, there is no reason for alarm–by Americans.

Putin’s intervention in Syria’s civil war offers three possible outcomes for the United States. And they’re all positive.

Putin with flag of Russia.jpg

Vladimir Putin

First, the Russians will kill thousands of America’s sworn enemies.

Russians are well-known for their disregard for human life. During their invasion of Germany in 1945, Russian soldiers literally nailed civilians to barn doors, squashed them under their tanks, and raped countless women of all ages.

In Syria, they will slaughter everyone who gets in their way. Thus, they will kill far more of America’s Islamic enemies than even our own military–hamstrung by do-gooder “rules of engagement”–could possibly eliminate.

Second, Russia will replace the United States as “The Great Satan” in the eyes of most Islamics.  

The Soviet Union waged a ruthless war against Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. Out of that war grew Al-Qaeda.  Millions of Islamics still hate Russians for their brutalities.

From 1999 to 2009, Russia fought a brutal war against Islamics in Chechnya. Chechens responded with terrorism across Russia.

Russia’s intervention in Syria will only harden its image as an enemy of Islam–even if it’s supporting one group of Islamics (the Assad regime) against others.

If Islamic terrorism starts raging throughout Russia, Putin may be forced to back down from his military moves against Syria and Ukraine.

Third, if Russian planes get shot down or Russian soldiers killed, Russia will suffer the casualties–not the United States.

The Soviet Union never fully recovered from its losses in Afghanistan–13,310 soldiers killed, 35,478 wounded.

If Russia starts taking heavy losses in Syria or at home through terrorism, this could lead to widespread unrest.  Even Vladimir Putin could find himself in danger of being replaced.

And for Russia, the chicken Kiev has already come home to roost.

On October 31, Airbus A321, a Russian airliner, broke up in mid-air, then crashed in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.

The plane was carrying holidaymakers from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg when it crashed into a mountainous area of central Sinai.

In Egypt, a militant group affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed that it had brought down the plane “in response to Russian airstrikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land.”

On November 19, ISIS published an online photo of a soft drink can and two components–a detonator and a switch–that it claimed brought down the plane.

The crash has proved emotionally wrenching for Russians.

Flags across Russia flew at half-staff and Russian Orthodox priests conducted services to pray for the victims.

President Putin declared a nationwide day of mourning.  In St. Petersburg, home to most of the victims, authorities ordered the mourning to last for three days.

AQMI Flag.svg

 Flag of ISIS

And, on November 24, another such loss occurred: A Russian fighter was shot down on the Turkish-Syrian border by two Turkish F-16s.

Turkish officials claimed that it had violated Turkish airspace 10 times within a five-minute period.

This marked the first time in a half-century that a member of NATO–in this case, Turkey–has downed a Russian plane.

Vladimir Putin quickly called the shootdown a “stab in the back committed by accomplices of terrorists.”

And he warned: “The tragic event will have serious consequences for Russian-Turkish relations.”

With the armed forces of so many Great Powers–France, Russia, Britain and America–now crowding into Syria, such an outcome was probably inevitable.

It was exactly that scenario–Great Powers going to war over conflicts involving their small-state allies/clients–that triggered World War I.

A conflict between Russia and Turkey–a member of NATO–could easily trigger World War III.

A WARNING FROM HISTORY

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on November 24, 2015 at 12:05 am

January 26, 2015, marked the 130th anniversary of the fall of Khartoum, the Sudanese city that sits on the banks of the White Nile and the Blue Nile.

The siege and fall of Khartoum is one of the truly epic stories of military history.

Khartoum in the 1800s

From March 18, 1884 to January 26, 1885, the charisma and military genius of one man–British General Charles George Gordon–held at bay an army of thousands of fanatical Islamics intent on slaughtering everyone in the city.

At stake were the lives of Khartoum’s 30,000 residents.

By comparison:The defenders of the Alamo–a far better-known battle, in 1836–numbered no more than 250.  And the siege of the San Antonio mission lasted only 13 days against an army of about 2,000 Mexicans.

The Alamo

Gordon’s story may seem antiquated.  But it bears close inspection as Republicans press the Obama Administration to commit ground forces to “freeing” Syria of its longtime dicator, “President” Bashar al Assad.

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.

Suddenly, American soldiers found themselves waging 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 Muslims.

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

Consider the combatants:

On the one side, is the Ba’ath regime of Bashir al-Assad, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government. Hizbollah 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 Hizbollah

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.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

In short, it’s a Muslim-vs.-Muslim “holy war.”

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

Charlton Heston (left); Charles George Gordon (right)

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.

Laurence Oliver (left); Mohammed Achmed (“The Madhi”)

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 of 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.

George W. Joy’s famous–and romanticized–painting of “The Death of Gordon”

(Actually, the best historical evidence indicates that Gordon fought to the last with pistol and sword before being overwhelmed by his dervish enemies.)

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.”

There is a blunt lesson for Americans to learn from this episode–and from the 1966 movie, “Khartoum” itself.

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 Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 23, 2015 at 12:04 am

Americans had a good reason to welcome the coming of 2014: Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah had 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 for this were outlined.  Here are the remaining eight:

Third, the United States is still fighting a brutal war in Afghanistan.

Following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., the Taliban was ousted in Afghanistan by American and Afghan forces in 2001.

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.

The United States originally intended to withdraw all but a small embassy-based force of 1,000 troops by the end of 2016.

But as the Taliban re-emerged as a threat, President Barack Obama announced he would maintain 9,800 troops there for most of 2016.  About 5,500 troops will still be in Afghanistan by 2017.

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.

Ilich Ramírez Sánchez–“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.

Moreover, Syria has never been an American ally–and has, in fact, directed terrorism against American forces stationed in Beirut, Lebanon.

On October 23, 1983, Syrian suicide bombers drove trucks into two buildings housing American and French military forces.  Total killed: 299.

In short, the United States owes Syria nothing.

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 brutal 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?

U.S. warship firing Tomahawk Cruise missile

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 Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 20, 2015 at 1:00 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, 2014, 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 only 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 vacuum. Into this–eagerly–stepped the Iranian mullahs.

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