Archive for the ‘Saudi Arabia’ category

ISIS – Are They Behind Every Tree?

March 27, 2016

Hyperbolism is a friend of most politicians. And during a Presidential campaign season, the use of hyperbole is a must tool for most candidates. Hyperbole is particularly useful in misdirecting voters from one party’s failures to the mistaken belief that these failures are the result of the other party. For example, the GOP standard line touches on some aspect “of President Obama’s failed foreign policy”. Their litany goes… President Obama withdrew our troops too quickly and enabled the conditions leading to ISIS formation. Hmmm.

This revisionist history overlooks much.

For starters, Osama bin Laden’s “al Qaeda” movement began its brand of terrorism from safe bases in Afghanistan in the 1990’s. Al Qaeda became a household word following 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center (twin towers). With this spectacular terrorist act, Al Qaeda became enemy number one, a threat to America “because they do not like our way of life” our politicians and news media told us.

In a few months, the US went to war against the Taliban Afghan government and in the process drove al Qaeda underground and unable to further operate in the open. Future al Qaeda terrorist operations would have to be conducted by affiliates located in other countries.

These affiliates, however, were not to be found in Syria or Iraq since both countries were under the authoritarian control. Then for reasons which historians will debate for years to come, the US decided to invade and occupy Iraq. Saddam Hussein was toppled quickly and again for uncertain reasons, the US settled in for a period of regime change and “democratization”.

Soon the roots of “al Qaeda in Iraq” arose. Sunni based militias including Al Qaeda in Iraq raised havoc with Shiites and presented opposition to the newly formed Iraqi Government. Then came the “surge” where the US committed more troops and without much fanfare, began giving money to various local Sunni militias. The results were stunning and al Qaeda activities ceased.

When the US handed daily government control over to the “democratically” elected and Shiite lead government, surprise, surprise, the payments stop flowing to the Sunnis. In a short period, AQII had reappeared and during the Arab Spring morphed into ISIS.

It is problematic whether the US troop removal had anything to do with ISIS’ growth. Neoconservatives favor the story line that US military presence would have confronted ISIS and rendered them un-functional. Does this imply that the US would remain indefinitely in Iraq?

Al Qaeda and ISIS have been the faces of radical Islam. Behind these faces, however, are the raw unabashed thirst for power and a greater share of oil profits. Acts of terrorism are simply tools used in an attempt to shape world behavior and screams “leave us alone”.

The ISIS fear hyperbole can be easily seen if one wants to look. More people die each year from gun related mass shootings than terrorism world wide. More people die in traffic accidents each year than from acts of terrorism worldwide. More people die in home accidents than from terrorism worldwide. Hmmm.

President Obama’s decision to withdraw US military from Iraq, of course, was consistent with signed agreements executed during the Bush years. President Obama’s decision not to over turn these agreements, however, was thoughtful and not a result of weakness or fear. The nonsense of Sunni versus Shiite, Iran versus Saudi Arabia, and the general ambivalence of the Muslim world towards moving into modernity are social problems the US or any other country cannot solve. Only the Middle East populations can bring sense to their lives.

The troubling aspect of this non-involvement position is the region has only known leadership by power, the strongest kid on the block gets the oil and the money. What will make things different in the future?

The answer is unknowable but so what?

Suppose ISIS were to establish itself in Iraq and much of Syria. What would Egypt, Iran, or Saudi Arabia do? Take the worst case, ISIS somehow found a way to overthrow these regimes and gained greater territory. Would ISIS withhold oil from world commerce?

Unlikely, ISIS would need oil revenues (as it does today) to finance its government administration.

Would ISIS send an army of terrorists overseas (say to Brooklyn or Orlando or Salt Lake City) to create mayhem and bring foreign governments to their knees? Even more unlikely.

Hyperbole might be forgivable if one sees it as an essential part of politics. Hyperbole, however, must be constantly challenged by the responsible media so that average Americans do not drink the Kool-aid and believe these clearly unsubstantiated claims.

There will not be terrorists behind every tree but there could be an hyperbole spewing politicians.

GOP Claims About Middle East – Bring It On

May 21, 2015

GOP Presidential hopefuls are now singing to a not so unfamiliar song, “President Obama has lost Iraq and Syria”. The chorus of this song assures listeners “the GOP is strong on security and will destroy the enemies overseas”. Hmmm.

For the GOP, there are many ways to lose the 2016 election and only a few ways to win it.  Keeping away from extremes and demonstrably incorrect proposals provides the highway to victory.   The GOP hopefuls, however, see only their current competitors (all GOP members) and have constructed their sound bites with an eye to one upping their colleagues. Come November 2016, these claims will almost certainly come how to haunt them.

For foreign policy. the Middle East and ISIS seems to GOP candidates the most attractive target. President Obama “should have” done this or that, and the President “shouldn’t have done this or that”.  No doubt the Middle East is a mess but here is why the GOP had better tip toe quietly on this subject if they want to win in 2016.

  • There was no reason to have invaded Iraq in the first place. GOP President George W Bush under pressure from his GOP Vice President Dick Cheney rammed the invasion through on what have been shown to be trumped up and erroneous grounds.
  • The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was bungled and unleashed a host of predictable sectarian problems which are playing out today.
  • The surge, which seemed to stabilize Iraq, in fact was not based upon US troop strength as many GOP members allege. Rather, the “surge” was about “buying the loyalty of Sunni militias and taking them off the battle field. Once the Shiite led government took charge, the payments were cut off and hell returned.
  • The Iraq War was fought with a volunteer military and borrowed money. Why in the world is it just to go to war with only those who need a job and to fund this activity with money our children and grandchildren must pay back? If the GOP wants to advocate a new draft based military and a special war tax to pay for it, they will have at least gain some credibility. (not likely to happen)
  • Syria and Iraq are not the worst or most dangerous place in the world today. Arguably they are also not the most strategic. What about North Korea or China’s South China Sea aspirations? What about Russia and its desire to regain the Soviet Union greatness?
  • And just what could the US do to put the genie back in the bottle? Help the Shiites and de facto help the Iranians? Or help the Sunnis and make the Saudis happy and the Iranians upset. How long do you think peace would last?

The Middle East future is still immersed in a cloud. While Sunni versus Shiite is real, even more real is Saudi oil against Iranian oil, or said differently, it is a groups possessing oil and power against all those who might want to take it from them, especially those without oil.   In short, the Middle East does not appear today as a great place to move the family.

On one level, simple partisan politics could explain the GOP argument that President Obama lacks a Middle East strategy.   On another level, and a far more important insight, the GOP’s view is dangerously naive. As a Presidential campaign plank, the GOP argument would rival “into the valley of death rode the 600”.

What Will He Say Next?

May 19, 2008

America’s “speaker in chief”, George W Bush, spoke again, this time in Egypt at the end of his 5 day Middle East trip.  Once again, George the sage showed the world why he was only a C+ student at Yale and why Yale is considering rescinding his diploma.  George, who has made being an honest broker in the Middle East his by-line, told his Arab State audience that “too many countries in the Middle East have one party in power and the opposition party in jail”.  Smooth, real smooth.

If you allow that what Bush said is about correct and that it is not a recent observation, you have to wonder why he said it and what was his intended audience.  Two days before George had been on his knees asking the Saudis to pump more oil which they briskly refused to do.  Was he speaking to them or was he even ruder and speaking to Egypt, one of the few stable governments that is trying to help in the Israeli-Palestinian mess?  Or could it be a deep trap for the Democrats in the upcoming election?

In any case Bush’s comments show that he has learned nothing from Iraq about democracy.  He must think democracy is like all the jobs he has had and never had to earn them.  Bush champions women’s rights in the Middle East while at home he is happy to deny women their inalienable rights.  Fortunately George has two sides to his mouth so it is no problem for him to speak this way.

The Middle East is a troubled spot for sure.  Israel is arguably a democracy but it is one with many political parties and forming a consensus is very difficult.  Look at their position about Jerusalem and not sharing or returning a portion to the Palestinians.  The rest of the Middle East are dictatorships in one form or another.  Without these authoritarian governments, religious factions would take over and install even more barbaric forms of government.  This is a mess where stability, economic growth, and time are the only ingrediants that will bring modernity to this region.  Modernity is too big a word for George.

So, What’s Next II

April 11, 2008

Let’s revisit the NEW policy that any of the Presidential candidates will need to adopt if there is to be an end to the mess called Iraq.  In my recent posting “So, What’s Next”, I listed 6 elements of a new policy and in this post, I would like to elaborate why each is important.   My elaboration is in italics.

        1. International support based upon a new and more cooperative, non-unilateralist view of the world.

The strongest link to the rationale for invading Iraq (without sanction from the UN) is found in the unilateralist declaration of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) issued in 1998.  Such household names as Richard Pearl, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, and good old boy Dick Cheney were signatories.  This document blatantly proposes that America has the power and it should use it to make the world the way it sees proper.  Without assigning other potential reasons for the invasion (like Israeli lobbying or the simple greed for oil), the NPAC idea of promoting democracy through pre-emptive wars is not a doctrine endorsed by the UN or for that matter a majority of other countries.

If we want to begin to take the finances and wealth (form munitions sales) out of the conflict, we will need an International agreement to curtail these activities.  Without a repudiation of NPAC by the next President and a call for International cooperation, there will be no sensible path forward.

2. A recognized “honest broker” approach to the entire Middle East.

From day one with the Bush Administration, the US policy in the Middle East was Israel – yes, Arabs – no.  The Saudis were ok since they had oil.  The Palestinians were forgotten and when convenient, were blamed.  The Israelis were allowed to build walls, erect barriers and check points, and to possess of land well within the Palestinian lands.  There was little or no effort by the State Department in finding a peaceful solution and the President’s heavy schedule of mountain biking and jogging simply did not permit him to become personally involved.

The continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict allows all Arabs to play the victim role and enables the more radical elements to do what any other policitical faction does… seek the remaining wealth of the land.  A settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian question will isolate the other conflicts (between Arabs) and enable a broader settlement.

3. A serious national policy to develop alternative energy sources that will reduce green house gases and cut our dependence on foreign oil by 50%.

I believe the fundamental drivers behind PNAC (or at least the White House gang) was oil.  There were two strategic purposes, first to obtain sufficient supplies that gasoline for the US could be plentiful and stable in price, and second, to deny or limit the access to oil for China and India so that the US could influence both their foreign and domestic policies.  Just doing the numbers tells you that the Chinese and Indians with a combined 2 1/2 billion people will sop up all the oil in short order.

The US must acknowledge this and rapidly move onto an economy that is not strapped down by foreign oil.  Eliminating this strangle hold will open wide our foreign policy options.  The Middle East is a big zero in our worldly needs and will be a threat only to those that remain fossil fuel bound.

4. Closure of Guantanamo and the return of all prisoners to their home countries unless they are transfered to US courts and tried under US law.  There can be no secret evidence or witnesses.

Guantanamo is a very sad chapter in American history when the President and his Adminstration should how cowardly they really were.  These are men who sought “deferments” or cushy (and protected) National Guard assignments rather than serve in the Vietnam War.  These “chicken hawks” freely sent other citizens children off to Iraq but did not do the same for either themselves or their children.  From these unpatriotic heros has come the disgraces of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and enhanced interrogation.  American history and values have been based upon due process and respect for human dignity.

Until Guantanamo is closed and the prisoners are either freed or processed in American courts, and there is a full return to the principles of the Geneva Convention, America will always be suspect in any negotiations to settle differences in the Middle East.

5. The mission of US troops in Iraq must be changed with a eventual withdrawal in mind.  Whether it is training or simply peace keeping, the scope of the mission must be reduced.

In parallel with points 1-4, the President must announce a new mission for American troops.  We must renounce any “occupation” status and adopt a training or ready stand by posture.  We must signal that our combat role is finished and will fire only if fired upon.

6. Careful thought must be given to separating the country into three parts (Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite) with an imposed split of oil revenues.  (The idea is that these groups will fight for their oil anyways but if they are already assured some split (plus foreign investment incentives), they might not fight so hard for more.

The final exit strategy is unknowable at this point.  The main Shiite and Sunni factions could decide to live side by side, or they could decide the spoils were still unevenly divided.  In the path where fighting continues and political compromise is not forthcoming, the US should look to a “soft divide” into three states within a state concept.  The Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Shiites would each control about a third.  Oil revenues, however would be shared on some basis (probably a third each).  It is possible that in setting up this 3 State approach, Iran and Saudi Arabia might conclude that they should encourage more compromise ahead of this type of step.  In any case, no movement, then 3 States.

These 6 points are all necessary to cleanse outselves of the stench created by Bush and Cheney, and to convince the other parties that the new US foreign policy is NEW.  If the next President rejects such an approach, we will be discussing this again during the 2012 election campaign.

Circular Argument

April 10, 2008

It was a sorry sight at the Congressional hearings on Iraq.  General Patraeas and Ambassador Crocker sat before both the House and the Senate and answered the same questions in the same evasive manner as we have come to appreciate.

1. Question:  How are things in Iraq now one year after the surge?

    Answer: Conditions in Iraq have significantly improved thanks to the surge.

2. Question: Can we begin bringing home the troops?

    Answer: The current situation is “fragile” and we strongly recommend holding the level flat for several months (like through the fall’s election).

3. Question:  So,it hasbeen a year, you say the surge was a big success but we can’t bring the troops home?

     Answer:  That’s correct.

4. Question: When do you think we can bring the troops home?

    Answer:  We can not say.  We will have to evaluate that in the future.

The American public must wake up to the fact that this set of question and answers is endless.  The next time Patraeas visits, he can use the same speech and same answers.  The deaf mute “Crocker” did represent the case well for the State Department.  No ideas, no action, and no results.

It is past time for a new strategy for both the Middle East and Iraq.  This new approach goes straight through Syria and Iran, both of whom the US does not talk with, and involves the Saudis and the Israelis.  There needs to be a new approach and that approach should require far less troops and far less money.

So What’s Next?

April 7, 2008

There seems to be plenty of expectations about the nature of General Patraeas’ Congressional testimony this week.  It has already been leaked that Patraeas will recommend a “pause” in troop withdrawal, and the shocker of a news report is that Presidents Cheney and Bush will approve this recommendation.  John McCain has also already said that the surge has been and continues to be a success and to pull out now wold be a defeat.  So what is the expectation about?

It is inconceivable that General Patraeas will report anything that is not already known.  US troops, if they pull out, will only leave a vacuum to suck in all the civil war forces in the region.  Oil and the wealth that can come from it is quite a target.  But how is that different from before the “Sadr cease fire” a year ago?

The current mess simply underscores the foolishness of the Cheney pushed plan to invade Iraq.  Every business man knows that when you embark on a new venture (like an acquisition or a joint venture, or most all contracts), the termination or exit clauses are as important as the opening terms.  That reality was totally lost on our Chicken Hawks in 2002 and today we are stuck with the mess.

The next President, especially if by some strange chance it is John McCain, must have a NEW POLICY, not a new war plan.  The Iraqi Government is a house of cards built around US troop presence.  The US is trapped until it faces up to the real facts and accepts the consequences of its failed policy.  The new policy must include:

1. International support based upon a new and more cooperative, non-unilateralist view of the world.

2. A recognized “honest broker” approach to the entire Middle East.

3. A serious national policy to develop alternative energy sources that will reduce green house gases and cut our dependence on foreign oil by 50%.

4. Closure of Guantanamo and the return of all prisoners to their home countries unless they are transfered to US courts and tried under US law.  There can be no secret evidence or witnesses.

5. The mission of US troops in Iraq must be changed with a eventual withdrawal in mind.  Whether it is training or simply peace keeping, the scope of the mission must be reduced.

6. Careful thought must be given to separating the country into three parts (Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite) with an imposed split of oil revenues.  (The idea is that these groups will fight for their oil anyways but if they are already assured some split (plus foreign investment incentives), they might not fight so hard for more.

It is unlikely that any of the candidates are thinking this definitively with campaign financing and for the democrats, simply the nomination is still in question.  It is to their supporting “brain” trust that must be charged with these details.  What we can expect, however, is that John, Barack, and Hillary recognize that it is not the troop withdrawal that counts, it is what the new policy turns out to be.

A Pointless Occupation

March 30, 2008

This weekend we have seen in Basra the previews of what Iraq will be when the occupation ends.  There will be militias fighting each other for revenge and for the spoils…  There will be not a hint of Democracy not moderation.  With respect to moderation, that will come when the various factions have reached their limits on how much of Iraq they can control.  If you fast forward, you will see Iran supporting the Shiites, Syria and Saudi Arabia supporting the Sunnis, and just maybe, the US supporting the Kurds (although it will be tempting for the US to sell out the Kurds for some concessions from the other two factions).

All this under scores the pointlessness of the current occupation.  For sure the US had a duty to help put Iraq back on its feet after the US stupidly deconstructed the country under “regime change”.  This duty, however, has limits, and those limits have arrived.  We need a total make over of our Middle East policy and a new focus on where the world will be in 25 years.  If we do not, very soon we will be bankrupt as a country and we will be working for Indian and Chinese companies.

The candidates should transition from messages about the troops and keeping them or taking them home, to a message about the future US Middle East policy.  Our troops will come home with sensible policy. 

Why Troop Withdrawal is not #1 Priority

March 28, 2008

As the campaign grinds on, the issue of bringing the troops home gets center stage billing.  There are some who say that Iraq is not the most pressing issue and point to the failing economy, or to our failing healthcare system as more pressing.  I also do not think bringing the troops home is the number one issue and instead believe changing our Middle East and our “War on Terror” policies are together the most broken of our foreign policies.  If the next President fixes them, then the troops will come home quickly.  Here’s why:

1. Under co-Presidents Bush and Cheney, the US Middle East policy has been based upon a greedy grab for oil and a “biased broker” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The interests who are served well by big energy, are being aided by Bush and Cheney through their failed Iraq War disgrace.  Bush and Cheney could not care less about peace in the Middle East and only sought to stir up confusion so that their friends could get a disproportionate share of the oil.  The current mess in Iraq simply reflects the incompetence of Bush and Cheney as leaders and thinkers.  

The Israeli situation is a little more complicated in that the current stalemate is minimally acceptable to the Israelis.  While outright peace would be better, the necessary negotiations and compromises to bring about peace would not satisfy all the radical and fundamentalist groups in Israel and as a result, it is difficult to imagine a fair agreement coming from the Israelis.  Conversely, the Hamas faction (and before the Fattah group) are pawns for other nations such as Syria and Iran who prefer to have disorder in the region.   Disorder helps them control their own countries better.

The route to a quieter Iraq and a more peaceful Palestinian situation is the same road and it runs through Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.  The US must concentrate attention on these countries and bringing them to realize they are better off with a more moderate Middle East.  The Israeli Government must learn that our financial support will sharply decrease if they are not willing to abandon the settlements on the occupied lands and make some compromise on returning Palestinian refugees.  Both of these events will not happen overnight but should be put in play on day 1 of the next Administration.

2. The term “War on Terror” should be thrown in the garbage can on day 1.  It is a term without a proper definition and has served to bring fear and less critical thinking to the American people.  You can not have a “war” on “terror” anymore than you could have one on sunsets.  In a free and open society, there will always be the chance of someone acting violently.  Consider the many tragic shootings in our high schools and universities.  Is that not terror?  Should we institute check points at each intersection and search those on foot or in cars for weapons or other WMD?

When we invaded Afghanistan in “hot pursuit” of Al Qaeda, we acted against a State that was haboring these extremists.  This is a rationale foreign policy.  When we invaded Iraq, which had no connection with 9/11, US policy went off track.  The “War on Terror” was simply “spin” to dress up a shameful decision and confuse the American public.

Radicals and extremists are as much of a concern to Russia, China, Great Britain, France, and Germany as they are to the US.  Common sense would tell us that there needs to be a coordinated action to control these elements.  This change in policy could be announced day 1 also.

The problem in Iraq is a US policy problem, not a terrorist issue.  We may owe some continuing aid to Iraq, including military support, since we destroyed Iraq’s ability to govern itself with our regime change.  Be assured that this continuing support can be done at far less cost than the war today.

So, on Day 1 following the innaugeration, the next President needs to announce these policy changes.  Then on day 2, he or she can announce that the troops are coming home.