Saturday, August 30, 2014

Has America lost its voice?

Obama's decision to postpone military action in Syria against the Islamic State might not be a terrible idea, but it seems to be a product of indecision and lack of vision rather than an expression of international leadership. If he has a world view that he is intending to implement, he needs to be able to clearly and inspiringly give voice to his vision and strategy rather than just be the pawn of his own advisors' internal battles and inability to come to a consensus. Is that what leadership is, to wait until everyone agrees and then do what they recommend?

And what of Putin's invasion of Ukraine?  Obama says that Putin shouldn't do such nasty things, but is he really voicing a clear and powerfully led western opposition to Putin? Some people attack just because there is no one there to stop them. Looks like that describes Putin. Where is the leadership in the pushback?  I understand that Obama is coordinating sanctions, but it all seems to be behind the scenes, on the quiet, some rhetoric but without a sense of command.

I am noticing that for this coming off-year election there doesn't seem to be a leader of the Democratic Party. No Democratic politicians are asking the president to come campaign with them. This is not unusual because presidents are often unpopular enough that they are not seen as a valuable campaign asset during off-year elections. But this year it seems like nobody is speaks for the Democratic Party in this election, and the country doesn't seem to have a real voice on the world stage either. 

It's the same for the Republicans, of course, there is no national spokesman that the Republicans rally around, but that is the normal state of the party that doesn't hold the Whitehouse. Unless there is an unusually charismatic and articulate opposing party spokesperson various wannabes offer different paths and visions and there is no real center to the opposition. 

So, there seems to be a vacuum in the world, and that vacuum is being filled by an opportunistically warlike Russian Putin, and by the fanatically savage Islamic State. Europe is almost completely missing on the world stage, in part I think because of their decision after the ravages of WWI and WWII to almost totally disarm. They were able to focus on social issues and leave defense to their muscular and willing military ally, America. But now America is much less willing to be the western world's military, and is trying to find a more subtle role.  And at least for the interim it seems like America is just backing away and taking as small a role as possible. 

I am all for an American leadership that is not overly reliant on military interventions. It would just be a little reassuring to me, and perhaps to a muddled world, if America would have a clearer voice with a firmer sense of leadership in a comprehensive, worldwide, collaborative approach. 

The world needs a powerful voice to lead it in its grappling with the savage aggressions happening today, to lead it in ways that give the opposition to the barbarity a vision, method, and purpose - a vision that is much more than just troops on the ground.

I think it would help calm the world down a bit.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dealing with today's Nazis

The Islamic State (I.S.I.S/I.S.I.L) has to be dealt with.  The worst way to deal with it, it seems to me, is to try to find someone in the West to blame for its emergence.  Conservatives want to blame Obama, liberals want to blame W.  But, it's the extremist jihadists who are Islamic State.  No one forced them to saw off the heads of those they despise.  No one forced them to wage a religious war in the Middle East and declare an Islamist caliphate.  They are who they are because of who they are, not because someone else is to blame for who they are.

Roger Cohen did a good job of summarizing the mistakes of the U.S.:

"The list of American errors is long: Bush’s ill-conceived and bungled war in Iraq; a failure to deal with the fact that two allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, have been major sources and funders of violent Sunni extremism; an inability to seize opportunity in Egypt, home to nearly a quarter of the world’s Arabs, and so demonstrate that Arab societies can evolve out of the radicalizing confrontation of dictatorship and Islamism; a prolonged spate of dithering over the Syrian war during which Obama declared three years ago that “the time has come for President Assad to step aside” without having any plan to achieve that; a lack of resolve in Syria that saw Obama set a red line on the use of chemical weapons only to back away from military force when chemical weapons were used; an inability to see that no one loves an Arab vacuum like jihadi extremists, and a bloody vacuum was precisely what Obama allowed Syria to become; and inattention, until it was too late, to festering sectarian conflict in a broken Iraqi society left to its fate by a complete American withdrawal."

So what?  It is the religious fanatics who are acting fanatically.  They are simply taking advantage of a situation where they think that there centuries long grandiose dreams can be made real, world domination for their religion and for themselves to be Great Rulers of the world.  Ego coupled with pious rhetoric.

I believe Richard Cohen makes a key point as well when he says that any attempt to explain who else is to blame is a way of making their savagery and evil acceptable.  They are no more acceptable in today's world than the Nazi's were acceptable in the 20th century.  His summary:

"The Islamic State, in whose name Foley was beheaded, murders with abandon. It seems to love death the way the fascists once did. It is Sunni, so it massacres Shiites. It is radical Sunni, so it eliminates apostates. It is Muslim, so it kills Yazidis, a minority with a religion of its own, and takes as plunder their women as concubines. Men are shot in graves of their own making.
The Nazis are back — differently dressed, speaking a different language and murdering ostensibly for different reasons but actually for the same: intolerance, hatred, excitement and just because they can."
So, what do we do with today's Nazis? I really hate the idea of getting the U.S. involved in the Religious and Civil Wars of the Middle East, but we have to apply U.S. power to the region.  I hope Obama, and Europe, use as much financial, diplomatic, economic, military training and weapons for the least radical Muslims on the ground, maybe some air power support, intelligence support, selected special forces missions, etc etc.  And I hope we don't put ground troops into that briar patch.  
But I don't see how we can remain aloof and removed as we watch this al Qaeda offshoot, more vicious, better organized, better funded jihadist savages continue to rampage.  We are definitely on their target list.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Maliki steps down in Iraq

The good news is that Maliki has resigned as Prime Minister of Iraq. I believe the biggest culprit in the emergence of the Islamic State has been Maliki and his backers - Iran. He ruled as a tyrant who was becoming a Shiite version of the previous Sunni tyrant, Saddam Hussein. He suppressed and tyrannized the Sunnis in Iraq, and joined with the Iranians in sending Shiite jihadists into Syria.

The result was a Sunni revolt in both Syria and Iraq. Unfortunately, that Sunni revolt grew into I.S.I.S. which later named itself the Islamic State. 

Now, the Islamic State has to be stopped, both for the sake of a livable Middle East and for the sake of safety in the West and the United States.  Fortunately, a lot of the Arab world agrees that they must be stopped and, if I understand it correctly, they are against them. 

The U.S. is slowly and reluctantly using force against them, but Obama's hope all along seems to have been that Iraq would oust Maliki and move to win over the more moderate Sunnis to join in the opposition to the Islamic State.  My most desired outcome is that this is what happens, and that with U.S. assistance (and little if any American boots on the ground), Iraq can pull together more moderate Shia and Sunni forces to strengthen Iraq and drive out the Islamic State. 

I want the Muslim world to reject and renounce the Islamic State. Perhaps Maliki's resignation is a step in that direction. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The "Muddle East"explodes

The Islamic State, formerly known as I.S.I.L., is truly terrifying and dangerous. They are so bad that what is happening in Israel and Ukraine pale by comparison. These men are religious fanatics in the worst possible sense. They literally are killing people for not being Muslims. And to say that they are killing them is to understate their treatment of their victims. 


First, we can look to the man in charge of Iraq, Maliki. He was chosen by Bush and supported by Obama as the one Shiite who could reach out to Shia, Sunni, and Kurds alike and govern over a more or less unified Iraq. Instead, he became a Shiite dictator aligned with the Shiite Iran, suppressing and terrorizing the Sunnis.  Not surprisingly, the Sunnis are rising up against this oppression. 

Second, we can look at Maliki again, and the force behind him, Iran. They sent radical Islamist Shia into Syria and the outcome was an even larger Sunnu uprising, the battle hardened al Qaeda offshoot Islamic State of the Levant, I.S.I.L, declared itself the new caliphate to fight in Syria and, oh by the way, take over northern Iraq. 

We now have a legitimate threat of genocidal slaughter of a small religious group in Iraq, the Yazidi, and an assault on the Kurds, who have been our allies in Iraq since our invasion. 

So what?  Why do we care?

Certainly there are very legitimate humanitarian reasons to stop the Islamic State. But, perhaps more to the point, our national interests are at stake. Islamic State is in the process of taking over vast oil fields and thus becoming enormously wealthy.  And with that wealth their abilities to attach the West and America multiply exponentially. We tried to walk away from the religious Middle Eastern wars, but it looks like we can't. Imagine Osama bin Laden in charge of billions of dollars and millions of Islamist fanatics, and that is the potential future of the Islamic State.  Except the Islamic state is so extreme that even al Qaeda can't stand them. 

So, air strikes against the Islamic State on the march in order to protect the Yazidis seems necessary to me. I don't know how we stop these zealots with drones and aircraft. I think the key to it is probably in Iran and Saudi Arabia, which I think are the centers of the Shia and Sunni movements. 

Which takes us back to the start of it all, in the modern age at least, the Ayatollah Khomeini Islamist revolution in Iran. If some key Shia and Sunni religious leaders could reach out to each other and call off the dogs, things might settle down and the "Muddle East" might become less of a nightmarish muddle and be able to move toward civilization and peace. 

This is the resolution that I envision and pray for.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Syrian atrocities revealed

I have wanted the U.S. to stay out of the Religious and Civil wars in the Middle East because I have thought that all we would do was add American blood to the conflicts and we would have no way of resolving them. 

But, more and more I am appalled by the atrocities happening in the Middle East.  A defector from the Syrian military police has brought with him 55,000 photos of 11,000 corpses from Syria.  They are apparently horrendous atrocities.  The pictures were taken at the direction of the Syrian government which wanted to make sure that its orders to carry out the torture, starvation, and killing of its population were being carried out, including elderly, women, and children.  Just appalling.

Michael Gerson points out what is perhaps the worst part of it all, that the Assad and the Syrian government are keeping such meticulous records, including photos of the corpses and bureaucratic numbers identifying reports of these barbaric killings, because they are confident that they will win.  The Nazis kept meticulous records as well, assuming they were to be victorious.  They are not afraid of losing this war and being brought to trial for war crimes. 

Obama is facing some pretty tough criticism for his lack of action in Syria.  Nobody wanted or wants American blood to be added to this nightmare in the Middle East. But backing, what we can identify to the best of our ability, the responsible opposition was needed long ago, and is just now being done, as I understand it.  Too late?

The problem is not just a moral one, although the morality of standing by while mass atrocities are being carried out could be an act of immorality in itself, but rather it eventually turns into a national security issue as well.  If the slaughters in the Middle East are allowed to expand by the U.S. and the West, it is not hard to imagine that slaughters in the U.S. and the West are coming. 

So, I am torn as to what the U.S. should do.  I hate the idea of sticking our toe back into the insanity in the Middle East, but it is hard to avoid thinking that we need to get rid of Assad, and stop ISIS as well.  The nightmares are just growing.  To what degree are they accelerated by U.S. passivity?