Archive for the ‘Europe’ category

Belgium – How Could You Have Been So Unprepared?

April 6, 2016

To listen to US Congress members, the GOP Presidential primary leaders, and talk show talking heads, one would think that Europe in general and Belgium in specific, know diddli-squat about national security. Do you know that someone can travel from Germany to France to Spain and then to Portugal and no one needs to verify his “papers”. Hmmm. I wonder whether that like traveling from Boston to Houston and then onto Los Angeles?

Those pointing a finger at Belgium believe that Europe’s lack of border checks between European countries is paramount to an abdication of police duties. Once a terrorist gains entry to any European country, the terrorist has free movement across borders to any other European country. Now that I think about it, it is the same in the US.

Another complaint involves European security services not talking to each other. Hmmm. Does that remind one of 9/11? And critics suggest the number of police jurisdictions found in Belgium and Brussels are too many. But how does that compare to the DEA, DHS, FBI, AFT combined with State, County, and local police units. Life is complicated.

Most Americans hearing these self-serving critique of the European and Belgium security services think these foreigners have something to learn… and none better than the US to teach them. Hmmm.

As in most of life, things are the way they are for reasons. If one thinks things should be different, one must begin by understanding why things are the way they are.

Europeans and Belgians are not mentally challenged nor are they lazy. Rather they carry memories of authoritarianism common through out the histories of these countries and most recently dramatically demonstrated when the NAZIs occupied other countries during World War II. The Nazis were simply good at knowing who you were and where you were suppose to be, and if that wasn’t what they thought best, one paid a heavy price.

The recent rise of muslim terrorists, not withstanding previous colonial bouts with the IRA, Algerians, Moroccans, and Turkish extremists, has undoubtably raised the stakes in keeping track of residents who wish to act on a different agenda. The world has seen a steady increase in criminal, bordering on terrorist, activities for the last 50+ years. Plane hijackings, suitcase bombs, ransom demands, and now suicide bombers have become more frequent and more sophisticated each year.

The socialization of weapons know-how coupled with the availability of physical weapons of all types (if one has the money to afford them) has changed the balance of power. Do it yourself, buy them pre-made, or inherit them from a friend, with guns, explosives, or dare I say, poisons plentiful, is a wonder that anyone who wants to be a killer or a terrorist can obtain the tools of the trade easily.

So, the terrorism threat is not really about ISIS (as fear mongering candidates would like us to think). Separatists, anarchists, and religious zealots have all offered the disconnected a cause to give their lives meaning. And for sure ISIS does attempt to provide that type of meaning but ISIS is just another group in a long list.

We must not overlook, that it takes money, methods (training, communications), and means (guns, explosives, lethal materials) to carry out terrorist activities. Someone is providing money (even if it is someone else’s money), someone is providing weapons and lethal materials. And, of course, someone must be the person willing to give up their life to carry out the terrorist act.

The GOP political spin attempts to assign causality to ISIS (and Europe and Belgium are just too dumb to know this). Get rid of ISIS and the problem vanishes, we are told. Wrong.

The world is awash in weapons and lethal materials. Money seems also to be no obstacle, either to be available or to be delivered to feed, house and cloth terrorist and to pay on-going businesses which manufacture weapons or lethal materials. Why don’t these politicians focus on the tools of the terrorist trade and seek to shut down these operations?

The most likely answer is that the real world is far too complicated for a five second sound bite and not nearly enough of a message to rouse fear in voters. In other words, those criticizing Europe and Belgium appear unable to understand the breath and depth of terrorism and far more interested in leveraging fear to their political advantage.

I suspect Europe and Belgium could teach the US (and certainly the GOP candidates) a thing or two about how the world really operates.

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Foreign Policy

April 2, 2016

This year’s GOP Presidential primary campaigns have begrudgingly included discussion of America’s foreign policy. Republicans, long advertised as “strong on defense”, claim foreign policy as their strong suit. In this year’s Presidential race, you could have fooled me.

Think about the world around us.

  • China, which has grown at an almost unimaginable double digit pace for over ten years, still clings to the notion that Asia belongs to China regardless of what international law may say. Fully nuclear capable, China remembers Japan’s war atrocities, coverts Taiwan’s return to China, and does not forget the years of colonial occupation at the hands of the West.
  • Japan has a split personality, part imperial and partial to the Samaria way of life, the other part worried about the devastation of WWII and not wanting a repeat, both of these personalities comfortable with isolationism.
  • Russia remains much the same country as depicted in “Katherine the Great” always worried about clandestine thoughts supposedly held by neighboring countries. Fully nuclear capable, Russia and its authoritative leaders simply do not think like Americans.
  • Europe is not one country but a composition of many. The big players are Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain and all are focused on increasing material wealth without giving up any cultural riches regardless of what hazards loom outside Europe’s borders. Europeans have known war like no one else.Advertised as America’s ally (under NATO), European Countries prefer focusing on their own country’s social problems than global conditions.
  • India, Pakistan, and most of Southeast Asia possess heavy loads to carry just to feed their people and, if possible keep up with their third world development. From time to time, these countries become victim of religious intolerance and in the case of India and Pakistan look at each other as the worst of enemies.
  • Africa and South America are lands of the rich and very poor. At this point, the countries making up Africa and South America are only capable of civil or regional wars. These countries posses abundant mineral resources and the potential for attractive trading alliances, yet somehow seem unable to reach the modern world.
  • Middle East and Israel are geographically commingled. Both struggle with the allure of modernity and both cling to views based upon ancient history. While Israel appears as modern as any country in the world to a traveler, its views that certain lands belong to Israel because “god” said so is not much different than China’s claim to Southeast Asia or Russia to Eastern Europe. Muslim Middle East countries have varying degrees of modern world attributes but are internally at war with a paralyzing view based upon life as it were 1000 years ago.

So tell me again me again why nuclear proliferation is a good idea, why a religious test is applicable to refugee resettlement, why trade tariffs and embargo are helpful, and why any direct military involvement in foreign lands can unilaterally reduce world tensions?

Tell me why the red meat of political speeches make any sense at all?

Tell me why the 7/24 news media not only tolerates but at times encourages politicians to make unsubstantiated policy proposal and not call them on it? Tell me, given the GOP 2016  monopoly of simplistic foreign policy views why it is ok to block Supreme Court nominations, revert to health care coverage which covers less people, or seek religious freedom protections which promulgates discrimination and unequal treatment under the law?

There is assuredly no way any candidate can get it right on all the issues, domestically or in foreign affairs. The world is too complicated and nuanced. On the other hand, naive and half baked ideas, populous based, send the wrong message to other countries and to voters.

This complex world we live in has traded world wars for regional wars for the past 60 years. Americans need to recognize that the appeal of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders are based upon disenfranchised segments of our population whose wants and needs reflect domestic conditions only. Satisfying these domestic wants, however, could upset world order without anyone suspecting it happening. Such an outcome could be devastating.

Electing a President is more than a beauty contest, a fancy slogan, or the person with the most money. Electing a President might begin with selecting someone as thoughtful, as sincere, and as inquisitive as Barack Obama

Brussels’ Message

March 23, 2016

Terrorists have performed once more the unthinkable. Suicide bombings were carried out at the Brussels International Airport and at one stop in the Brussels Subway system. Reports list as many as 35 fatalities. Innocent people with no known argument with the attackers. Why do people do this, and what can be done to stop this happening again?

I know Brussels. I never lived in Brussels (unless Sofitel rooms count). I did live nearby in Germany and traveled many times through out Belgium and in particular Brussels for business and for pleasure. By American standards, Brussels and most of Belgium are easy places to visit. Almost everyone speaks english as a second language. The pace of life is very pleasant. Brussels and the Grand Place district are full of tourists, shops, and wonderful places to eat.

The airport is smallish (compared to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, or Charle DeGaulle. It was formerly the home of Sebena Airlines (Belgium National Carrier). Sebena offered some of the poorest customer service in Europe and Belgians never seemed to mind. Maybe that was due to a quirk in the population’s personality. Belgians don’t make trouble for others.

Belgium’s official language is not one but two. Roughly, the north speaks Flemish (Dutch) and the south (Walloons) speak french. Belgium has a split political make up too. National budget expenditures are split roughly 50-50 so if new road is built in the south, then one is also built in the north whether they are needed or not.

The Belgians are outwardly hospitable people. With its central location, Brussels has been selected as the seat of the European Parliament and home for many of the European Commission agencies. Symbolically, Brussels could be seen as the capital of Europe.

Again, why do people do this?

The perpetrators of the recent Paris attacks and the prime suspects in these bombings are Muslims of North African ancestry. One might see this incident as unintended by-product of European colonial days. The civil wars in North Africa generated a lot of refugees, some who held dual citizenship resulted in a lot of North African muslims relocating to Europe. Now their children, a second generation, call Belgium home but have not assimilated very much at all. They stand on the outside while living inside.

What goes on inside their heads is a bit of a mystery. Rationally committing mass murder makes no sense and makes even less sense if it requires someone to lose their own life in the process.  And making this sacrifice based upon the fairy tale that life will be much better in “paradise” is total lunacy. So we must conclude that these acts are not rational ones.

If history is good for anything, it must remind us that these Muslim terrorists do not have an exclusive hold on irrational acts. You can read that just about all other religions, races, and ethnic groups have committed one atrocity after another, on yes, some outside group. Outrageous acts against others is not the exclusive domain of Islam.

My guess is that these Brussels terrorists decided to explode their bombs so that “others” were killed or maimed. “Others” were people whom they did not know. “Others” were everyone not part of their close circle of friends and associates. “Others” were people who did not count.

There remains plenty of future terrorist living in European countries, who live there but are not part of the national social fabric. For them, everyone else looks like “others”. These latent terrorists just sit there waiting for something or someone to turn them loose in order to kill the “others”

Brussels’ message reminds us of the power of assimilation and the dangers that lurk in the hands of those “outsiders”.

When One Cannot Preach To Others

September 17, 2015

The horrific immigrant mess that is unfolding currently in Europe seems to defy explanation and resolution. Boat loads of desperate people are trying in anyway possible to gain entry to any European country. North Africa is only about 100 miles from location in Italy and Syrian refugees can be as little as 10 miles from Greece when they reach the Turkish west coast. With a boat and strong will, Europe is just a short distance away from the destitution they are leaving behind.

Economic migrants have always been a touchy problem with which to deal. How can wealthy countries turn away fellow human beings who have little more than the clothes on their backs? But in general, economic migration does meet fairly strict limits, if only to persuade millions of others not to attempt entry and to cash in on generous social services. Destination countries almost always have generous welfare programs which the immigrants seek. The current flood of refuges is difficult to categorize because so many, while traveling with limited or no funding, are also fleeing war zones and/or political oppression.

In war times, “displaced persons” are not unusual. Neighboring countries often set up camps where these displaced persons wait out the war and quickly return to their original homes as soon as hostilities cease. (Palestinian refugees are one exception and many still live in squalid camps in Lebanon.)

Europe is the preferred destination for the current crop of Syrian refugees. There simply are too many for the limited camps in Turkey and Lebanon. Traveling south through Syria to the Jordanian border is too dangerous and east to Iraq is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. So, the Syrian people who have given up on any reasonable government (Assad or any of the rebels) have decided in mass to flee. Hmmm.

Europe is not one country, however. Italians speak their own language and value customs, food, and everyday way of life that has been handed down for centuries. In their own way, the same can be said for Spain, France, Germany, the UK, and all the other countries that make up Europe. Immigrants from Africa don’t look the same as most Europeans and those from Syria don’t have the same religions (and often food preferences). In essence, these immigrants are not the same as Europeans, separately or collectively.  But given this tough choice, Europeans seems to favor hard working Syrians.

Consequently, as each European country deals with Syrian refugees who land on their doorstep, the reception these refugees receive varies based upon the wealth of the country. Overall, however, it seems Europe would prefer there were not so many immigrants. Europe, however, appears paralyzed and unable to act except as individual countries.

We are now learning from the GOP Presidential hopefuls that the entire Syrian refugee mess is attributable to President Obama, and dare I say, “his failed policies”. How these candidates can muster the audacity to say such things is amazing. If they would say such things now, just imagine what they might say if elected? (How about Iraq has WMD and we must remove them?)

Following these candidates logic, I assume they would have preferred the US to either (1) invaded Syria with US troops and toppled the Assad regime, or (2) heavily armed and financially supported rebel forces (loyal to the west) against Syrian government troops. Hmmm.

The first case involving US intervention would have created its own set of refugees and almost certainly would have generated new opposition groups even if the US were successful in over throwing Assad. Another Vietnam? How about another Iraq?

The second case of using a surrogate presumes the US had the ability to pick correctly the least evil or least corrupt insurgent group. Hmmm. In addition, the second case would lead to a protracted civil war where the flow of refugees would rival what we are seeing now.

Hmmm. What are these candidates smoking?

The US is no position to advise Europe on how to deal with large scale immigration given its handling of Mexican undocumented residents. The GOP is in an even worse position to advise upon what should have been done in Syria’s Arab Spring, especially given the Iraq invasion and occupation debacle.

Maybe the candidates are too busy talking and have too little time to think about what they are saying.

The Greek Tragedy, Version 2.1?

January 26, 2015

Over the weekend Greek voters elected the “radical leftist” party, Syriza, to try and lead Greece out of the austerity induced deep economic rut Greece has been stuck in. Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s leader began immediately to form a government by agreeing to form a coalition with Anel, a populous right wing party. Hmmm.

Greece has been laboring under austerity economic measures which it was forced to accept as conditions for the EU to bail out. With 25% unemployment, austerity coupled with vanishing hope that the economy would suddenly get better, Greek voters decided they had waited long enough. It was time for a new approach.

The options open to Syriza are not many. Tsipras campaigned on the promise to “renegotiate” the terms of the EU bailout. Without more government spending on jobs, there is little hope on seeing the unemployment figure drop. And without the ability to borrow more or pay out less in repayments there is no money for Greece to spend.

The EU might now be more sympathetic to less austerity since it finds EU’s own economy stagnating and has found it necessary to pursue quantitative easing via new ECB policies. But these are the Greeks Germany is reminding the EU.

Greece got into this hole by years of wholesale tax dogging and wasteful government spending. These foolish policies seemed necessary at the time to placate the Greek society (we won’t complain about taxes if the government does not prosecute when we don’t pay them). Wasteful government spending was spread around (somewhat like the US defense budget) so why would anyone complain?

Pundits have predicted that Greece will exit the “Euro” and begin printing their own currency again. Simply printing money, however, will do nothing to solve Greece’s underlying economic realities long term. While there may be a return to the “drachma”, there must be increased tax revenue and wiser government expenditures.

EU officials will be viewing this abrupt change in Greece with a wider lenses. Spain also sports high unemployment and is bound to similar austerity EU conditions. And Italy can’t be far behind. Allowing Greece to withdraw from the Euro, without serious negotiations, would only encourage other countries to follow.

This new left-right government should offer a novel way to reform the underlying Greek tendencies to wait until tomorrow. We shall see.