Posted tagged ‘isis’

ISIS’ Last Stand?

June 9, 2017

The long awaited attack on Raqqa, seat of the ISIS provisional government, is about to, or has just begun. After months of pondering, “do we arm the Syrian Kurds or not”, the US has done so and the battle which will ultimately oust ISIS leaders, is at hand. Will ISIS collapse or move to another spot is unclear. Whether the ousting will put an end to terrorist activity, however, is problematic. Why is that and does it matter?

Before there was ISIS, there was al Qaeda. And while ISIS and al Qaeda did their thing, there was also al Shabaab, Boko Haram, and the Taliban. All these organizations have applied extreme Islamic fundamentalists thinking to the secular world. All of these organizations have tried to carve out a more comfortable life for themselves at the expense of someone else. Sound like thugs or common criminals?

A few days ago, a terrorist attack took place in Iran, a country run by religious extremists. ISIS claimed responsibility thereby pleading guilty to these senseless killings.

Do you think this operation was the dying gasps of a defeated organization?

The Iranian attack served a useful, but unintended, consequence. The attack pointed to a source predating al Qaeda, ISIS and all the rest. Wahhabism.

Wahhabism lives in a symbiotic relationship with the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia. In a “give to Caesar what is due” type of arrangement, the royal Saudi family supports, to the exclusion of others, the Wahhabi version of Islam. In return, the Wahhabi clerics support the royal family and look the other way should a royal sheik go over the line with cigarettes or alcohol or whatever.

So, no matter what happens with ISIS, the beacon of ultra conservative Islam, and any ridiculous or anti-social behavior one associates with ISIS or Saudi Arabia (like women’s covering and societal restrictions) will have a sponsor, who from time to time, will think god wants them to enforce such beliefs on the “infidels”. A nuisance for sure, but not an existential threat, to be sure.

Consider that last week a single armed person went into a Florida business and shot four innocent people before taking his own life. In another shooting this week in Pennsylvania, a single armed person went to a grocery store after-hours. This person barricaded the exits and then began shooting, killing three people, before taking his own life. Both of these mass killings had the markings of terrorist inspiration but alas, both turned out to be just home grown insanity.

London, Manchester, and Paris have experienced “ISIS inspired” despicably violent acts recently. Despite large sums of money and hard work by anti-terror professionals, tragic incidents have still occurred. These tragedies are red meat for clever politicians who only too gladly paint the world filled with terrorists, like they are behind every tree. Regrettably, it appears the world is also filled with gullible people only to ready and willing to swallow this populist bait and accept shallow recommendations from these dangerous, self serving politicians.

Candidate Trump and his many right wing supporters were only too ready to talk tough towards ISIS while campaigning. Now as President, Trump continues to talk tough but has little to show for it. For the rest of us, former President Obama less inspirational tones that required one to think about the real nature of terrorism, resonate as wise and informed.

  • Extreme Islam is a problem for everyone including non-extreme Muslims.
  • Extreme Islam’s threat to America pales in comparison to tragedies of everyday American life.

The Case For Afghanistan

November 24, 2014

President Obama has announced the complete withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan by 2016. Unfortunately it appears that one of the phased withdrawal steps due by January 2015 will not be met. The President has agreed to allow US troops to conduct further operations in coordination with Afghan forces. Hmmm.

The decision to withdraw completely almost assuredly will set up an analogous situation in Afghan as we have just seen in Iraq. The Taliban will gain ground and continually threaten major Afghan cities. If the US has withdrawn, its capability to confront Taliban forces will severely strained.

A bigger risk, however, will not be on the battle field but at home in the political world of the 2016 Presidential election. Once again, the GOP will label Democrats as soft on defense and ineffective as leaders. Hmmm.

Afghanistan represents a difficult piece of culture and geography. From the days of Alexander the Great, each successive invader has had difficulty deciding when to leave.  What’s in it for the US to remain?

One advantage, some say, if the US keeps a sustainable Afghan force, is this presence would require an overall military size helpful in responding to flare ups other places in the world. The support infrastructure to maintain an Army in Afghanistan could also support a more rapid deployment of US troops to other locations in Asia or the Middle East, for example. And with a growing Chinese presence and a rejuvenated Russia, maintaining US military strength is a strong argument.

We must be careful, however, if any of our political or military leaders suggests that staying in Afghanistan is necessary to complete the Afghan transition to democracy. While Afghanistan does not present the Middle East “Sunni-Shiite conflict”, Afghanistan presents its own set of obstacles.

Afghanistan is a relatively recent State which has been cobbled together from dozens of ethnically different groups. The idea that modern Afghanistan can be anything other than a loose confederation of tribes for the foreseeable future is just dreaming. Poverty, corruption, and tribal jealousies will rule the day. The reason to remain in Afghanistan does not include helping to birth a democracy.

The rub in the “being ready for other contingencies” argument is an statement the US cannot make publicly.  More to the point, it will not sell well on the Sunday talk shows.

Another damaging aspect will be the budgetary considerations. How can the US support a continued war while cutting domestic spending?

Former President Johnson once said he would not be the first US President to lose a war when referring to a Vietnam withdrawal. President Obama may see that same writing on his history wall.  While leaving Afghanistan is inevitable since connecting it to US national interests any longer is too much of a stretch, President Obama may be thinking, “not on my watch”.

The case for Afghanistan is for the Afghanis to decide. We went there in hot pursuit of al Qaeda and removed the Taliban government because they tolerated al Qaeda presence. It is not our position to tell the Afghan people what type of leaders they should have. If religious conservatives like the Taliban, so be it.

The risk, of course, will remain that ISIS or al Qaeda or some other look alike will return. But frankly, a residual force of 14,000 will not be much of a deterrent anyways.

What say Chuck Hagel?

Something More To Worry About

November 23, 2014

There is no doubt that ISIS represents one the worst movements in the world today.  The only question is whether ISIS is more or less diabolical than Muarmar Kadaffi or Saddam Hussein were? Or, are the people who have died at the hands of ISIS any more dead than those who died as a consequence of some stupid Sunni or Shiite blowing up themselves (and anyone nearby)?

Is the pursuit of martyrdom the catalyst for all this inhumanity?  Maybe but there is a more basic cause.

Poor and uneducated people all over the world (and throughout history) are the pawns of those seeking power and wealth. In the Middle East and through out the Muslim world, the common person is the potential target of others who seek to improve their personal position.

  • First rule, blame everything that is wrong on someone or something else.
  • Second rule, emphasize that a supernatural being (god or allah) is on their side and will reward the loyal follower.

Simple rules and universally applicable.

Al Qaeda stressed the Paradise awaiting its warriors, especially the 7 virgins due each suicide bomber. Now ISIS has moved up scale. They are operating more similarly to a normal government (not out of some cave) with a traditional military branch and field fighting.

ISIS has also found that marketing (symbols like their black flag) can extend their reach. Most experts, however, predict ISIS will be defeated if they choose to engage in traditional armed conflicts. Hmmm.

So why is there something more to worry about.

There are reports that the ISIS black flags (like the Under Armor logo) are showing up in Pakistan. Why is this a worry?

Pakistan has most of the ingredients an insurgency needs,like wide differences between the rich and the poor. Most Pakistanis are dirt poor and uneducated. Government officials, on top of that, are prone to graft and corruption and seem to be indifferent to providing basic public services. Hmmm.

So what is the worry?

Pakistan also has the bomb. Were a ISIS like insurgency take hold, the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could be put in jeopardy. From an ISIS perspective, their efforts toward power and wealth could take a big jump forward. With the bomb, the West could no longer kick sand in their eyes and lesser powers like Afghanistan or Iraq would be hard pressed to defend themselves from Pakistani inspired uprisings.

What does this mean?

Currently the focus is upon defeating and dismantling a group that calls itself ISIS. The playground is Syria and Iraq. The rhetoric captures ISIS as a group of people as opposed to a business model. The West would do well to see ISIS is fundamentally a business model and not a collection of people.  A business model could suddenly jump to another land like Pakistan.

What if the Taliban rebranded themselves as ISIS?

Framing ISIS as a group of people, however, makes it easier to explain and convince other Americans that their government is protecting the homeland. Regrettably, ISIS is much more than a group of people. It is a business model which at its core seeks to change who is wealthy and powerful.    And, best of all, a business model is far more portable.

Business models can be beaten with other models which work better. The West’s efforts towards defeating ISIS with guns needs to augmented. When ISIS or any other look alike group’s approach can be shown as more costly to the people it is trying to win over, then progress can be made on eliminating the extremist groups to seek to pray upon dirt poor and uneducated.   Hmmm.

From Simply “No” To “What”?

November 20, 2014

President Obama will spell out his intended “executive actions” today in a speech in Las Vegas. Many GOP members, especially those potential 2016 candidates, are frothing at the mouth with statements equating Presidential executive orders as “sticking a figure in Americans’ eyes”. Hmmm.

When many of these same GOP leaders are not redefining Constitutional powers, they are, in addition to immigration, critiquing the President’s Middle East policies. Have you heard? “The President did not act soon enough in Syria and now US options are limited.” Or, how about, “ISIS cannot be eliminated with airstrikes alone”.  Or, “the US should never have left Iraq”.

The GOP has other subject such as creating jobs and growing the economy.  How about, “approving the XL pipeline will create jobs”.  Hmmm.

Let’s think about these positions.

Clearly on any path to reforming the immigration mess will be documenting all those who are here now and ensuring they are paying their taxes.  (If we can’t secure the borders now, why does anyone think we could deport 11 million residents?

Suppose the President recommends tonight such an documentation approach by executive order, could not the GOP controlled Congress pass a more comprehensive bill defining by law which undocumented could be given papers? Could not the GOP controlled Congress pass legislations with appropriate funding (supported by new funding) which would “seal the borders”?

on other issues, could not GOP leaders spell out their recommendations for the Middle East? Could not these leaders defend any accusations that reentering the Gulf States was akin to Vietnam? Could not the GOP explain why America was better suited to solving a centuries old schism between Shiites and Sunnis?

Interestingly, the one issue where the decision is basically immaterial with respect to all the popular arguments, that is building the XL or not.  The XL will neither create new jobs nor will it destroy the environment.

The GOP has chosen a populous, short sighted reasoning to justify their XL position. The GOP’s emphasis upon creating new jobs overlooks what a glutted oil market will do to the booming new jobs in the Dakotas or in many of the other fracking States. A glut of oil has already lowered the price of oil/gasoline and at some point near $70 per barrel, many of the current US oil producers become unprofitable and certainly at that point no wise investor will risk spending more of his money.

The GOP is caught in the transition from the party out of power where just saying no is enough to the party in power where their actions will have consequences. Not much to cheer about yet.

Smooth Words, Not Necessarily Sincere Words

November 17, 2014

Former General Michael Hayden and former Director of the NSA is making the rounds of talk shows. He’s articulate and comes across as a considered voice in the midst of strong hawk and dove messages. It pays, however, to listen closely for he tends to slip in hawkish opinions like sliding a knife between another persons ribs. Hmmm.

General Hayden is now a favorite for talk shows featuring ISIS commentary.  He delighted in discussing the situation the US finds itself in Syria.   US perspective sees ISIS is the greatest enemy. Next would be the pursuit of forces loyal to Assad. The most preferred fight group is the Kurdish insurgents. Interestingly, General Hayden points out that Turkey sees this preference in the opposite order.

Hayden sighs and says if the US had acted sooner, it could have had more options. Hmmm. What does he mean?

Hayden has just taken a swipe at President Obama’s decision to not arm Syrian insurgents. The President maintained that the overall situation was so volatile it was difficult to separate insurgents who might be viewed reasonable from the likes of ISIS.

Hayden muttered the disclaimer “if there were any insurgents we could have worked with” after having boldly intimated the President should have acted sooner.

Life is full of those situations where if X had happened, our strategy Y would have been perfect. In reality, X could have happened but did not happen, and it turns out that in that case Y is a very poor option.

Consider the plan to train and equip the Iraqi military. After years of training and billions of dollars in equipment, when ISIS advanced on their Western positions, the otherwise disgruntle Army units deserted and fled… leaving the expensive US supplied equipment behind. ISIS, in their own way I’m sure is thanking the US for leaving them so much useful equipment. Hmmm.

Senator John McCain has also long been a proponent of picking the insurgent factions “we can work with”. McCain never loses an opportunity to criticize President Obama for not following McCain’s recommendations. How did McCain get so smart?

Hayden and McCain represent one approach to foreign policy. Punch the other guy in the nose first and teach him whose boss. President Obama favors a quite different approach which emphasizes the lack of clarity most foreign situations possess. As events develop, much more is learned. As learning increases, foreign policy tactics can be refined.

The Iraq invasion and occupation should be proof enough that act first, think later does not produce the best results.

Pass The Bullets

November 16, 2014

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Martin Dempsey, candidly testified before Congress that he would look favorably upon a request to send ground (read combat) troops into Iraq. Their purpose, to take back ground already taken by ISIS. So is General Dempsey just being honest or is he trying to goad his superiors or subordinates to make the request?

It would appear that General Dempsey knows his role. The military is suppose to carry out civilian orders.  The military’s role includes recommending the most appropriate strategy and executing it to accomplish these civilian goals. Anyone who has been in the business as long as General Dempsey also knows that in a political world, he can influence sometimes both the goal and the strategy. Maybe that what’s behind the General’s comments.

Whether the US should pursue ISIS is not a trivial decision. Pursuit requires resources and attention that could have been placed elsewhere. Were there to be more important uses for the military, for example confronting other situations which actually represent threats to vital national interests, America’s response might not be as good as necessary.

The current “pro-fight ISIS” cohort sound similar to those who argued for invading Iraq or doubling down with the “surge”. Behind every tree could be a terrorist and if we want to prevent that, the US must take the fight to them. Hmmm.

This argument raises skepticism. There seems to be no end of these groups who hate the West (especially the US) and love Allah (their way). Today the concentration of these Muslim extremists lies from Afghanistan to Libya. Less publicized groups, however, lie scattered across Africa and South East Asia including the Philippines. Are we to look forward to decades of “crusades” to strike down each of these religious zealots once they figure out how to hold others hostage for ransom?

America has traditional been an isolationist country. WWI and WWII shook the nation out of this way and since then, America has accepted the role of world policeman.

The fundamental business model being used by the likes of ISIS, the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Boko Harum do not need religion to thrive. In the past we have label similar groups as insurgents, pirates, or renegades. There seems to always be one of these groups active someplace in the world. Should the US prepare to fight them all?

With the inevitable rise of China and the apparent resurgence of Russia, America needs to lead with diplomacy rather than the military in order to secure its commercial ambitions. To that end, there is also no better time than now to focus on North America and South America to foster civil relationships. In this way, America can focus upon how to deal with opposing economic philosophies so that the American economy can continue to grow.

Recognition that dealing with the ISIS crowd is irrelevant in the pursuit of American economic growth might be a good place to start.

Bush, ISIS, Paranoia

November 12, 2014

Former President George W Bush has written a book about his father, former President George H W Bush. The elder Bush was a war hero, public servant in numbers capacities, and the 41st President with a term marked by bold, long sighted decisions. “W”, on the other hand, has been tarred by the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina response, and the near melt down of the world’s banking system with the near depression which followed. Hmmm, some comparison.

In an interview with NPR (as part of hawking his new book), “W” offered a series of explanations over decisions Bush 41 made intimating these were roughly the same decision “W” would have made. Who can prove that statement wrong?

When it came to explaining “W” decision to invade and occupy Iraq, “W” got out his stock speech which asserts that Hussein was a bad person, capable of doing the unspeakable, and the Iraqi people are better off with him gone. As these words came out of the radio, I was struck by what did he just say? Thinking more, I thought, why did he just say that?

Shortly after “W” defense of invading and occupying Iraq, he was asked about ISIS. “W” responded that nothing should stand in the US’ way of defeating ISIS. Hmmm. Did he mean another invasion? Then Bush said, “remember the Bush (meaning “W”) doctrine, if a country harbors terrorists, then the US will fight the host country to “preemptively” defeat terrorists before they can carry out their attacks on the US”. Hmmm.

So again, why is “W” saying these statements?

The surface reasons should be clear. “W” is attempting to rehabilitate his name and that of the brand “Bush”.

Rewriting history is not a new phenomena and “W’s” attempt won’t be the last. Sometimes, however, there is simply no way to change the outcomes and rewriting history becomes impossible. All that is left is to change people’s perception of why foolish or failed policies were undertaken. Hence, ISIS front and center.

“W’s” years were marked by the wholesale use of fear to justify all sorts of government and political aims. Al Qaeda was a gift despite the tragic World Trade Center loses. Al Qaeda spawned the “War on Terror” and let the NSA, Patriot Act, and Homeland Security genies out of the bottle. In a short period of time, 300+ million Americans were told to worry about terrorists who might be behind every tree.

ISIS is now conveniently a new paranoia that can be used to re-stoke the fear factor.

This paranoia accounts for why many members of Congress prefer President Obama to send American troops back into Iraq (and probably Syria) with the mission of destroying ISIS. Many of these members reason that this a conflict American military can win, and should there be another terrorist event on US soil, they would be politically safer having supported an attack on ISIS first.

While this reasoning is probably true, it begs the question of will any new group follow ISIS?

Our Country, IMO, is better off seeing the Iraq invasion and occupation for what it was, an error in foreign policy of the first magnitude. Remember at the time of the invasion there was no ISIS nor was there any al Qaeda in Iraq.

More importantly the US has much bigger fish to worry about. Strategic relations with Russia, Iran, China, and the fragile African continent present far more environmental, health, and military risks than radical Muslims like ISIS.

The recommendation is not to overlook ISIS (or whomever follows), but to put the response to ISIS in proportion to all the risks on the table.

Had “W” done that with Iraq, there would not have been an invasion and occupation.