Archive for the ‘isis’ category

What Question Are They Answering?

October 15, 2014

Some people just can’t get past a lost opportunity they dearly wanted. Nothing could be more true than John McCain’s views on his own destiny to have been President. McCain cannot contain himself and spits out criticism of President Obama incessantly.  Is he a sore loser or just a little too old?

It is certainly possible that McCain is a little too old and a sore loser. He is, for sure, myopic and is showing why the Country made the better choice in 2008 when they elected Barack Obama and not John McCain. McCain cannot determine the right questions when it comes to foreign affairs.   McCain is answering the wrong question when he continually argues for “boots on the ground”.

Think back to the height of the Iraq War and McCain justifying the “surge”. “If we don’t defeat the insurgents (al Qaeda), they will follow us home”, McCain chanted. When the Iraqis balked at extending US presence in Iraq, McCain complained that the President should pressure Malaki to accept continued US presence. Why? Because al Qaeda would follow our departing troops home.

Now the effort to degrade and destroy ISIS is all wrong according to McCain. The President’s plan must be totally rethought McCain says. McCain’s tone suggests the President cannot find the front door unless the Secret Service guides him there. Hmmm.

While McCain believes the President is mistaken, it is in fact, McCain who is sadly mistaken. There is no short term plan that can eliminate terrorist threats from the likes of ISIS or al Qaeda. Once a single terrorist cell is destroyed, another will pop up to take its place. Sending in US boots to fight ISIS will only accomplish the early deaths of many Americans.

The question President Obama is actually addressing when he called for air strikes and a coalition of the willing (including Middle East countries) is finding a path to bring modernity to the Middle East. Unless Middle East players can reestablish order and put the radical religious leaders under lock and key, there is no hope of breaking the cycle of senseless sectarian violence.

Think again about the utter absurdity of Sunnis killing Shiites (and vice versa) simply because one thinks his brand of Islam is superior to the other. Utter absurdity.

President Obama’s plan has said to the Middle East countries, the root of this problem is within your religion and is in your back yards. The US will help but you must put your shoulder to the wheel too.

That is why President Obama is President and John McCain is not.

What’s Sam Harris About?

October 14, 2014

Sam Harris is build as one of America’s leading atheist. He, like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, argue eloquently about the internal illogic of religious traditions. The “God Illusion” and “God Is Not Great” are two popular books by Dawkins and Hitchen. Now, Harris is in print again with “Waking Up, A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion”.

As a consequence, Harris is on tour making radio and television talk shows appearances.

One of the “hooks” Harris is using to gain attention is a thoughtful position on Islam and in particular, the extremists that are making headlines. Harris makes a convincing point that the extremism the world sees in al Qaeda and ISIS (and many other similar groups) as well as mainstream groups like Muslim Brotherhood or the leading clerics in Iran, Pakistan, and even Indonesia, is baked into Islam through the Koran.

Harris points to the high percent of UK muslims who endorsed punishment for the Danish cartoonist who depicted Allah unfavorably as a sign of wide spread misdirection.  Harris lays the blame on the Koran and those who preach it.

Harris has two points.

First, Islam is far more dangerous as a religious tradition than what we see from ISIS. Psychopaths can be found in any religion and extremist groups like ISIS are predominated with socially unstable people. The greater risks associated with Islam is the belief in Islam is the only true religion, and the systematic subjugation of women and homosexuals. (Hmmm, I think I have heard similar views with Christians in America.)

Second, whatever worldly peacefulness one claims to find by following a devote Islamic life can be found with other non-religious meditative means.

Harris is a main stream progressive so to hear him speak like Archie Bunker about Muslims catches one by surprise. Harris’s arguments, however, are filled with data and references.

One may not buy all of Harris’ argument.  Never the less, one is, minimally, compelled to see the wisdom of separating church and State.

I wonders how our Supreme Court could allow any religious group to claim a “right” which in effect denies someone else a service they might otherwise have been entitled.

Et tu Hobby Lobby.

Conflict Of Interest?

October 9, 2014

President Obama’s announced plans to combat the militant group ISIS presents a potential conflict of interest to top military leaders.  The plans call for “no boots on the ground”.   Should the military manage the “police action” so that ISIS advances slowly? Or, should the military try its best (and most creatively) to both stop and degrade ISIS? Hmmm.

An example worth remembering is the now famous “Iraq surge” where former President Bush opted to increase the US Iraq military presence in order to end the Iraq civil war underway. While Bush Administration officials beat their chest over the gutsy decision to scale up US forces, we subsequently learned that coincident with the troop increases was “buying off” Sunni militias and turning them against the al Qaeda insurgents. That was creative.

The current conflict of interest arises from the question of what determines the size of the Defense Budget. Most Americans are “war weary” and would prefer to see America less involved with global conflicts. And, when Federal budget discussion take place, Americans would overwhelmingly prefer to see less Defense spending than an increase in taxes.

Americans, however, are not that simple. Many fall for the free lunch (we can win this war easily and there is no need for new taxes). Others are influenced by being on the winning team (how can we let ISIS or the Taliban win?). And when these two message do not work, there is always the “ISIS is coming to America” to raise American’s blood pressure (and fears) and make their thought processes a bit cloudy.

There is clearly a disconnect between our politicians who are advocating all sorts of global goals and what they are willing to support with adequate funding. The Joint Chiefs are acutely aware of this and from time to time throw cold water on some Representative or Senator’s proposals. Disregarding human nature, this is a serious issue.

Regarding human nature, however, Defense Spending invites a conflict of interests.

Politicians want to appear relevant and most certainly want to maintain defense jobs in their districts. The military brass are also conflicted with the simple fact that “bigger is better”. The greater the Defense budget, the more resources the military will have and the more ability it will have to achieve military goals, especially when national goals are fuzzy. Oh yes, and the greater the Defense Budget, the more Generals and Admirals can be appointed. That’s just human nature. Hmmm.

President Obama is fighting a lonely battle. Keeping American presence to a minimum is just not crystal clear in the eyes of Congress’ political interest.  This puts the top military leaders in a bind. They know their job is to do what the President asks but with Congressional dysfunction boiling over, it would easy for the military to over commit versus what the Congress will actually do to fund them.

Let’s hope the President can keep his powder dry and give the military enough time to use its creativity in the ISIS mess.

The Grenada Syndrome

September 29, 2014

A little over 30 years ago, the US invaded (put feet on the ground) a tiny Caribbean country and placed a notch on its belt. Grenada, the object this invasion, help restore US military (and government domestic policy) confidence following the humiliating bombing of a Lebanon hotel housing over 200 marines. Sometimes using military force on clearly smaller and less able countries serves a greater purpose. Hmmm.

The US has now begun using air superiority to punish ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria. So far the going has been relatively easy. There have been several missions which our leaders label as “successes”. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Given the Sunday talk shows and the CBS “60 Minutes” interview with President Obama, early successes do not seem to be enough. There is almost a visceral sense that the US needs to put “feet on the ground”. While no one says it, this groundswell for “feet on the ground” is really about putting other Americans’ sons and daughters in harms way. Why?

The most prominent argument is that if the US does not kill ISIS in Iraq and Syria, they will kill Americans here in the US. Hmmm. Pretty scary, wouldn’t you say?

Hand guns kill about 50,000 Americans each year and automobile accidents take another 30,000. Are senior Government officials thinking that the ISIS threat will rival these two controllable cause?

Let’s suppose our leaders are worried about ISIS staging a US land attack with a kill of multiple thousands. Why do we think ISIS would be successful and not one of a dozen other terrorist groups and/or dysfunctional States also out on the world stage?

Said differently, if ISIS is defeated, why shouldn’t we expect some other group to take their place and pose the same type of threat?

With national politics favoring a “Grenada Syndrome” response, its is very important for the President to resist and think clearly. President Obama needs to play the greater game of how the US can best coexist in a world of “haves” and “have nots”, where the “have nots” are willing to act irrationally.

The President, most importantly must remember that the Middle East in not the only game in town, and probably not even the most important.

Is It Time For The Bill?

September 22, 2014

Americans for sure, and maybe most other people around the world, have a peculiar characteristic. Americans can get all excited about some issue and show great indignation. How could this or that condition be? Why have we not fixed it already?

This incredulity comes forward when the bill is presented and payment is due immediately. Hmmm.

The uproar about ISIS provides an illustrative example. The barbaric behavior of ISIS has been amplified by many self interested public officials. The news media, always in search of a “good” story, has piled on, telling and retelling the beheading tales whipping the public into a willing majority. “Destroy ISIS!” Hmmm.

To make the sale for US military intervention, our politicians have concocted a plan which presumably does not entail US ground forces. Somehow we are lead to believe that high tech aircraft will suffice. Hmmm. (I guess these planes do not ever develop mechanical problems.)

Under Congressional questioning, however, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsy, told Congress that under certain circumstances he could foresee the need for “troops on the ground” and under those circumstances he would not hesitate to recommend troops to the President. Hmmm.

The White House reiterated, in response, that troops would not be returning to Iraq.

Last week, Army Chief of Staff, Ray Odierno, said he was concerned about the size of the Army and whether it had not already been shrunk too much. He was concerned whether the Army was large enough to anticipate all the global hot spots. Hmmm.

Both of these men, IMO, spoke both the truth and what there were really thinking.

That is not the point. They were opening a can of worms and exposing the “free lunch” American mentality.

Military actions take lives and cost money.

Telling the American people (or worse remaining silent) that fighting ISIS or preparing for other global conflicts won’t involve American military deaths is one issue, but omitting what Americans should be paying in taxes is quite another.

Currently no Congress members want to go on record as favoring military action and paying for it. Rather, Congress members prefer to put the cost on the credit card (national debt) or, cut spending other places to offset the expense. Hmmm.

So, putting ISIS, or even the Ukraine, in perspective, our leaders are implying that seniors or those requiring Medicaid or other welfare safety net benefits need to foot the military bill. Hmmm.

Whether the US should engage in military action in the Middle East or any other global spot is a question beyond my pay level. Justification for military action (read spending), however, must include what it will cost and how it will be paid for.

Americans can make that type of judgement. Whether the public gets it right or wrong, it is how our government is suppose to work.

Joy In Moscow and Beijing

September 17, 2014

All foreign and domestic policy rest upon an underlying “self interest” economic framework. The elite classes in most powerful countries support governments which follow policies which in turn steer more money towards these individuals. The quid pro quo is that in return for this economic favoritism, the elite class will employ the masses and will support the government. Hmmm.

From this perspective, one must attempt to view the global political world as a complex set of interactions driven by each nation’s economic self interests.

World leaders almost never, however, frame issues in these terms preferring instead to talk about growing their economy, developing other less well off countries, or bringing “freedom” to a repressed nation. When push comes to real fighting, many other causes are summoned, mostly around nationalistic values.

The world stands today at a dangerous fork in the road.  Neither path is glamorous but one of the paths is likely to be more dangerous.

Who would have thought a tired old marketing plan (from the middle ages), delivered by an insurgent Muslim absolutist group, could pose such a threat? ISIS represents the bogeyman and is portrayed as a world terrorist threat. So worrisome is this group, estimated as large ad 30,000 irregulars, that a coalition of Western and Middle East countries have pledged to “destroy” ISIS.

Oh, but there is a catch. None of these countries wants to commit ground forces. Hmmm.

Yesterday, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress that under certain circumstances, he would recommend to the President the use of US ground personnel. This has been widely interpreted as the precursor to a US military return to Iraq and probably an invasion of Syria. Hmmm.

His Congressional testimony has also provoke a range of reactions. Sensing the uncertainty of the American public (in an election year), Congress members are careful in their response. One sane position has been to call for a vote on authorizing military action while repealing the two previous authorizations (2002 and 2003) which provided authority for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The simplest reason for a new authorization is that sooner or later Americans will be killed in action and Congress needs to be held accountable.

Lost in this paranoia about ISIS is that the entire Middle East is economically insignificant and with its religious, educational, and gender handicaps, unlikely to become important for generations. Middle East problems need the help of Middle East countries to resolve.

More important for the US, is the need to be cooly watching and reacting to Moscow and Beijing’s global initiatives and their relationship to our national interests. The US perspective ought be wide enough to comprehend the well being of the Americas as well as for the US alone. Can you imagine the US reaction if one day we woke up to a Chinese military base being welcomed by the Honduran Government?

There is of course no prescription for how to make relations between the US, Russia, and China better. And using military force against these nations should be not even a consideration. This post’s point, rather, lies in the folly which results from over concern about the Middle East and taking ones eye off the real targets.

With the potential that Washington is gradually slipping back into a middle ages fight with inconsequential forces, there must be joy in Moscow and Beijing, at least in the Board rooms of their biggest companies.

End Game, What’s That?

September 13, 2014

President Obama’s speech this week on the US intended actions towards ISIS received generally satisfactory reviews (meaning GOP leadership did not say “no way”). One criticism voiced by many pundits was “what’s the end game”? Hmmm.

When former President George W Bush went into Afghanistan in pursuit of al Qaeda, no one asked the question “what’s the end game”. When almost unbelievably, Bush then invaded Iraq without finishing up in Afghanistan, no one asked “what’s the end game”?

Brief history has now shown that that question was telling in both cases in which the US has wandered and come away with a dim view of our efforts.

Now it is more than fair to ask the same of President Obama, “what’s the end game”?

My guess is that President Obama cannot answer that question in 25 words or less. I am not sure the President see ISIS as part of the “same game” as his critics do.  The President best be careful because there are many in Washington who mistakenly think there is a peace keeper role, not to overlook nation building, for the US in the Middle East.

Post World War II when the world’s economic distribution was so much in the US’ favor, there were sometimes both a humanitarian and self interest reason to meddle in other countries’ affairs. Today the US remains the wealthiest country in the world but the advantages has dramatically narrowed.

The US must be clear when it sets expensive foreign policies in motion.

I have heard pundits say the President never wanted to make this speech in the first place. He made it, they say, due to political reasons… the mid term elections. If that is accurate, then most likely this “war” against ISIS will play itself out in 2015.  We can hope.

Americans should be alert, however. Events can change and before we know it, military actions aimed at ISIS could spread into “feet on the ground” and suddenly a focus on a new “enemy”. Murphy’s law – work expands to fit the resources available.

Americans should also be mindful that while President Obama seems averse to military engagements, he has not been as adamant about protecting individual privacy. There is nothing, through out history, any better a pretext for taking away individual liberties than a foreign threat, real or imagined.

Most of us assume ISIS is a relatively weak opponent, stronger than Grenada but weaker than Hussein’s Iraq. The US should “win” these military engagements with ease. So why should we care?  Hmmm.

What could be next? Would we invade Syria (to ensure we eliminate all other radicals)? Or would Israel convince a US President to use a base in Iraq to attack Iran’s nuclear capability (to rid the world of a menace)? Or, would the US be bound to the Middle East, what about Africa? There are plenty of radicals and outrightly nasty people there. And, and, and.

A simple answer to the question of what’s the end game might be, “Using air power (and other clandestine policies, like supporting Assad), eliminate the top lSIS leaders and render their insurgent forces incapable of occupying or controlling any geography inside or outside Syria… and then disengaging”.

If the US is not careful, it will find out that there are no end games in the Middle East.