Archive for the ‘Syria’ category

Metamorphous?

April 12, 2017

When the US sent Tomahawk missiles streaking towards a Syrian airbase, the impact on the American media was startling. “OMG, President Trump had reversed himself, maybe he was not an isolationist after all”. Like one rose does not make a summer, the same can be said of the Trump presidency.

There appears to be several seismic forces at work (behind the scenes) in the White House. Unlike the irresponsible (eg Bannon, Miller, and Flynn) early influencers, a much more seasoned and predictable group has been gaining control and access to President Trump’s ear. Appointments such as Secretary of State Tillerson, Defense Secretary Mattis, and Director of National Security McMaster along with Vice President Pense have brought a certain amount of deliberateness to policy.

Of course, one bombing raid does not make a sustainable foreign policy either.

It would be easy to ascribe the early White House disarray to what is euphemistically called a “populist” perspective and the feeding of those views to the President. It is just as likely, however, to consider President Trump as a person without any specific world strategy and flying by the seat of his pants, so to speak.  In other words, President Trump can be swayed in any direction if the public reaction is favorable. With the President’s current advisors, the White House is on an asymptotic path toward George W Bush’s world view.  Hmmm.

Many might think this change is a huge slap down for President Trump. Unlikely.

President Trump wants to be a two term President and in doing so validate his narrow 2018 election. Mrs Trump may have had some dumb children but Donald J was not one of them. He sees the more conventional foreign policy as conducive to enacting more of his domestic priorities. Hmmm, President Trump has a domestic agenda?

As with foreign policy, there is a perennial conservative strategy for domestic policy too. Lower tax (for the wealthy), smaller government/less regulations (for wealthy businesses), and all sorts of perks for the evangelicals (to gain the votes needed to reward the wealthy with less government and lower taxes).  Gutting the EPA, FDA, and the Justice Department are distractions.  Why the lack of clarity on a plan for the perennial favorites in favor of the slash and burn items?

President Trump will be 100% in favor of any domestic policy unless the public opinion runs strongly against him (like with Obamacare). Remember President Trump wants two terms and if the votes aren’t there, neither will be Trump.

IMO, the change the media has highlighted with the Syrian raids is not a metamorphous at all. Rather it is a group of competent statesman shouldering out populous agitators. In time, the infamous rules specifically designed to block Muslims from America will go silently into the night. These rules are impractical and represent a lot of effort and unfavorable blow back with no measurable gains to be seen. A similar fate most likely awaits the Mexican border fence too.

Sooner or later, the Trump Administration will get to domestic policies.  The enormity of the task of tax cuts coupled with large infrastructure spending can not be overstated.  Tax cuts (or as it will be pitched) are about the greedy taking more and the average American paying the bill.  Infrastructure spending could be very positive for employment and overall productivity but it will be expensive.  Republicans will almost assuredly be unable to agree upon how to finance the tax cut and infrastructure policies. Hmmm.

So, one last question. Does the apparent resoluteness exhibited in the Syrian strike capture the Trump we should expect next week, or next month, or next year? Unlikely, because Donald Trump is a on-off, transactional person who won the election on an unachievable platform.  President Trump will not take predictable set backs lightly and will try with other domestic policy subordinates.

But at least with the foreign policy team, he should make far fewer bozo policy moves.

The Fog Of Syria

April 8, 2017

President Trump ordered a military strike against a Syrian airbase in response to horrific pictures of a Syrian Government suspected Sarin gas attack on defenseless Syrian civilians. Initially most members of Congress welcomed the action and those who did not, kept quiet because the tide of public opinion was demanding some US response. Now as the dust is settling, other voices are being raised. Hmmm.

Supporters of President Trump’s actions (actually the specific plans are the product of the Defense Department, not the President) describe the airbase attack as proportional and an appropriate first step. Supporters are also quick to say they hope this action was not be lost on the North Koreans or the Chinese. No more President Obama – Mr Nice Guy – foreign policy, they say. Hmmm.

Other observers point out that the Sarin gas may have come from stock piles held by terrorists and were released when an errant bomb hit the stash. Possible, and an extremely important point if true. But, rebel held chemical weapons seems highly unlikely while Syria has already admitted to possessing chemical weapons in the past.

What’s next?

Bashar Assad’s opponents point out that innocent civilians are dying everyday when Syrian forces drop conventional barrel bombs. What is the difference (gas or bombs) for defenseless people?

This line of reasoning supports the US taking further steps, like disabling other airbases, establishing no fly zones, or even partitioning Syria thereby liberating areas for Assad opponents to set up government. Sound reasonable?

No sooner have such proposals been made than others point out that ISIS, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other similar groups make up some of those who think one of the partitioned Syrian areas would be just fine for their control. Is that what President Trump is thinking?

Yesterday, about 150 protesters blocked traffic in Philadelphia as a protest against President Trump’s Syrian airstrike. The protesters were against the use of force. I wonder what these people think about the nature of the Syrian civil war?

Former President Obama assessed the Syrian situation as one not amenable to western, non-Muslim intervention. Peace would return to the Middle East only when local leaders agreed to live together in harmony. Obama was willing to supply training and coordinating help but severely limited the direct US fighting involvement.

Under Obama, the US policy was still pregnant, but much less than obvious than a full fledged occupation.

Some foreign policy wonks describe the Syrian conflict as a proxy war for the Iranian-Saudi relationship. With Russia’s involvement, there is the possibility of a resumption of the old East-West proxy wars. And some only see the Syrian mess as a conflict between Sunni and Shiite or a battle waged by a greedy authoritarian family against a poor population. Hmmm.

Former President Obama’s strategy may have been wise but it did not “feel” good, it was not decisive in nature. President Trump’s quick and timely response feels better. Only time will reveal whether President Trump has acted wisely or whether his actions will help or hinder a resolution to the Syrian civil war.

Not much is clear in the Syrian fog of war.

Trump’s Syria

April 5, 2017

How many people do you know, besides yourself, who wished they could take back something they may have said in haste? Plenty I bet. Former President Obama is surely one of them too. His unfortunate “red line” warning is a good example.

Former President Obama was quite on the mark when he expressed outrage that anyone, and in particular, the Syrian Government would use chemical warfare, and use these outlawed weapons on its own people. Obama’s issuing of a warning he could not enforce was at its best like pulling for an inside straight. There was no way the treat would alter the behavior of a regime fighting for its life. At it worst, Obama’s red line reinforced the impression that the US would not act in any decisive manner to end the Syrian insurrection.

A lot has happened since the former President’s ill fated words. Russia’s entry into the conflict seems to have tilted power back into the Syrian Government’s hands. While needless deaths have continued, there seems to have been every indication that the civil war was heading to a conclusion. And then yesterday, Syria used chemical weapons again.

Pictures of the aftermath are horrific. Shown are defenseless civilians, including children, reacting to the painful and life threatening effects of these weapons (believed to be sarin gas). In what had already been documented as a war against humanity, a new outrageous chapter was opened.

President Trump now has the spotlight on him. What will the President do?

President Trump, in a pattern which seems genuinely him, immediately blamed someone else, this time President Obama. If President Trump really believes these words, America and Americans are really in trouble.

Lest we not forget, in another place on the globe, North Korea has continued to act provocatively on President Trump’s watch and other than words, the President has done nothing. Now President Trump has two failed States acting up and both apparently uninterested in making any deal with the great deal maker.

Syria sits in the middle of the Middle East. The invasion and occupation of Iraq opened Pandora’s Box, destabilizing the entire region. Thinking that an outside force, especial a non-Muslim force, can put Humpty Dumpty together again is wishful thinking.

North Korea, which lies snuggly against China’s northeast border, represents a different but equally dangerous challenge. Like President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Kim Jung Un is all about how to keep himself in power, and like Syria, North Korea cares little about the well being of its citizens. President Trump has said “all options are on the table” in response to North Korean provocations (striking the US west coast with a nuclear weapon). Does that sound like a red line?

Whether President Trump likes it or not, his Administration now owns North Korea and Syria. What ever goes right or wrong in either regime will be like fly paper. The great deal maker will not be able to get it off his hands.

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.

Vetting A Presidential Nominee

November 24, 2015

Watching the Republican Presidential nominating process unfold has been a lesson in fund raising, possessing the “right stuff”, and standing up to public vetting.  The GOP hopefuls list which began at nearly two dozen is slowly dwindling but the serious list (those with a chance) still remains close to 10.

Who will prevail and how long will it take?

Most everyone has been amazed at the success to date of non-politicians Donald Trump and Ben Carson. For a few weeks these two “outsiders” garnered over 50% of the polls. Trump still is hanging in at around 30% while Carson has fallen back to the high teens.

Carson’s recent drop in the polls highlights the amazing aspect of his prior success. Carson has no idea about foreign policy or current events. The Paris attack, ISIS and Syrian refugee issue, when vetted in the public forum, has shown he is not ready for prime time.  He would be a dangerous choice for Vice President since he appears to lack even the remotest background in diplomacy and world events.

Donald Trump is a quite different story. He has offered some of the most outlandish proposals on immigration, 9/11, taxes, and refugees and still is standing tall in the polls.  Trump seems to have offered a segment of voters someone who “says it as it is”, at least in their minds.

Anti-immigration, xenophobia, and gigantic tax cut promises have boosted Trump’s support even though his specific claims or proposals are patently unfounded. But 30% of the maybe 30% card carrying GOP base in a national election is not enough to win. Hmmm.

While Trump and Carson occupy the top positions, gradually Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and John Kasick are rising. This trio still are not a numeric challenge to Trump but are making life pretty rough on Jeb Bush and Carli Fiorina. The rest, Chris Christy, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, and Lindsay Graham have absolutely no chance and must be staying in hoping to get a VP nod.

The Primary race has been marked by pledges and promises which cannot reasonably be believed. No candidate is immune to the urge to say things which in hours are shown unfounded or unattainable. With the exception of Donald Trump, each candidate who has put forward some policy position crafted to appeal to the right, has lost a point or two in the polling standings. If things continue on the same path, by February or March, it should be clear that none of the current candidates has enough support to win in the general election even if they can secure the GOP nomination.

There is one unannounced candidate, however, who does poll well and would make a formidable candidate. That person is Mitt Romney.

Recent national polls show Mitt as by far and away the choice of Republican voters and a solid candidate against Hillary Clinton. If Mitt can stay patient, he could get the nomination without having to announce he is “severely conservative” again.

As time passes, the GOP should recognize in an election where less than a third of voters are true GOP believers (same percent holds for Democrats),  that unless the GOP offers a sane, responsible alternative, the mass of independent voters will side with Democrats and again keep the GOP out of the White House.

For my money, Mitt is by far the best choice if there must be a GOP President.

A Suspension Of Common Sense

November 19, 2015

The blood bath that took place in Paris last Friday truly would qualify for the moniker of “a suspension of common sense”. What possibly could the terrorists have thought was achievable by their suicidal acts?

There is no way the Western world will walk away from Iraq-Syria-Lebanon and cede the land to a radical Islamic regime bent on using theology to accumulate personal wealth for its leaders. They will not be satisfied with a little, they will want it all.

There is no way “Shiite” Iran will allow it either. And even “Sunni” Saudi Arabia cannot condone ISIS behavior. In short, sooner or later, ISIS and its current group of leaders, just like Osama ben Laden or Mullah Mohamed will cease to lead and in all likelihood be followed by other opportunists.

Money has a funny way of bending the minds of otherwise sane people.

But Paris isn’t the only place where there appears to be a suspension of common sense. Look no further than Washington DC and the GOP Presidential primary candidates.

The GOP has seized upon the vanishingly small risk associated with accepting Syrian refugees and in just days have build it into a do or die issue with President Obama. Governors (all but one Republican) have pompously announced they will not accept any Syrian refugees. House Republicans are now rushing new legislation through Congress to codify what would qualify as a fully “vetted” refugee. A procedure which no requires 18-24 months would become prohibitively long. Hmmm.

These are the same people who claim while beating their breasts that America is an exceptional country. Hmmm.

Occasionally, there will be a documentary about the internment of American citizens of Japanese decent during World War II. The move, which was clearly unconstitutional, stands as a stain on America and separates the US from Nazi Germany only in that the Government never intended to exterminate Japanese citizens.

By labeling Syrian refugees potential terrorists, the GOP is reaching back to the World War II xenophobia which took hold of the American spirit. Instead of exceptional, American now looks vulnerable and frightened.

Apparently the GOP doesn’t care and sees fanning these flames as a sure way to garner votes. Hmmm.

Shameful and Dangerously Misleading

November 17, 2015

Was it a shameful and dangerously misleading interpretation of the current Syrian refugee crisis or just plain old politics? Some two dozen plus Republican Governors lock stepped declared they would not allow any Syrian refugees into their States… in order to protect their State residents. Governor Cris Christie added that this prohibition would apply to even a 5 year old. It simply was too dangerous. Hmmm.

The almost simultaneous announcements dripped of a Republican plan aimed at discrediting Democrats, in particular President Obama and by inference Hillary Clinton. Republican spin masters did not even care that current law specifically place control of refugees in the hands of the Federal Government and Governors are powerless to interfere.

Hopefully these Governors know this and have issued their statements simply as a bluff. Otherwise, they risk a confrontation with the Federal Government and who knows what unexpected consequences that might bring.

The Governors rationale overlooks commonsense facts. The US has signed up for 6,000+ Syrian refugees now living in camps in Jordan. This is a pitiful small number compared to the magnitude of the refugee problem. Probably most obvious is that there are more than an estimated 200,000 Middle East immigrants already living in and around Detroit.

And, 7 of the 8 Paris attackers were French or Belgium citizens indicating terrorists come normally from residents who are converts to terrorist thinking.

Consider also that the 9/11 terrorists all entered the country legally and operated openly. Even more to the point, Major Nidal Hasan (Fort Hood shooter) who went to the dark side while on active duty. Hmmm.

America, as every history book will tell, is a country built on immigrants. Xenophobia, however, is not a fear America has been immune to. Over the years immigration has been widely accepted and widely feared. The GOP has grabbed this xenophobic fear and converted it to a political strategy.

This is a desperate and relatively shortsighted move, and is unlikely to stand up well with the test of time.