29 August 2014

AN ISLAMIC STATE STRATEGY NOW!

Even as the Islamic State continues to expand, threatening not only the region but the West, the President of the United States has said we don’t have a strategy yet for dealing with them. Meanwhile they leave a trail of carnage, murdering countless innocent people by the most brutal means. These people are possessed by a blood lust we have seldom seen before. When religion condones murder there is no limit to what men will do. In fact they will do it with enthusiasm, based on the delusion of serving a just cause and the will of God. They may be misinterpreting or even distorting Islam, but that is academic as the killing continues. 

We are tired of war and do not want to become embroiled in another Middle East conflict. However, ISIS is leaving us no choice as they state unequivocally their intention to destroy the US and its European allies. Thus, whether we like it or not we must have a strategy to deal with this threat. Towards that end we should consider the following options:

1. Build a coalition of the Islamic states to go after them. They are the ones most threatened by this movement. Until now they have shrewdly sat back and left us to take the heat. This must stop. This is their back yard, and in reality is their problem. We can never extricate ourselves from this region until this occurs.

2.  In addition to, or failing this, call for action by the United Nations. There is not a single country in the world supporting these terrorists, so where could opposition to such a mission possibly come from? In this instance unanimity ought to be possible. Instead we are going to the Security Council about the Russians invading Ukraine, which does not affect our vital interests, and at this point only divides major partners and potential allies. 

3. The first two options takes the world as it presently exists. However, to the extent that this spreads as an attack on the West, the West must respond forcefully. That means NATO, which should be engaged to crush this evil if we are to avoid major attacks on our homelands. They have stated clearly what they intend to do to us, so it is foolish to wait until something happens and then respond. We should have a strategy in place to annihilate ISIS now. 

This requires governments that believe in the West and its values, and sees them as a force for good as well as progress in the world. It means having an abiding faith in our principles, which is sorely lacking in this administration. Unmotivated by a belief in the justness of our cause means vacillation, indecision, short-term action devoid of long-term context, and worst of all informs our enemies of weakness that they need not fear. 


They do not fear us, they do not respect us, and are contemptuous of our leadership. We cannot approach this problem with half-measures and abide by rules that are totally ignored by the enemy. We must do nothing less than terrorize the terrorists. Instead of reacting to the carnage they will unleash we must act forcefully now. Western intelligence sources suspect an imminent attack. Must we wait until that happens before doing anything? The time to act is now and we should have a clear objective- eliminating ISIS from the face of the earth. 

18 August 2014

STOP THE GENOCIDE IN IRAQ

The extent of the evil perpetrated by the “Islamic State” in Iraq against religious minorities is mind-boggling. It is the sort of thing the world has not seen in many centuries. ISIS has buried Christian children alive, cut a child in two, and crucified others. They have beheaded innocent people and then displayed their heads on pikes. They have killed all the men who refused to convert to Islam and then raping the women before selling the girls into slavery. Others have been forced to convert to ISIS’ brand of Islam or to otherwise  leave their homes and all their possessions behind. Christians have been forced from territory they have occupied continuously for two thousand years. It is not just Christians receiving this treatment, but the ancient Yazidi sect that is being massacred along with all other religious minorities, as well as Muslims who refuse to follow ISIS. 

That such things are happening in the 21st century indicates how fragile the veneer of civilization is. For here we have an instance of pure evil, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Paradoxically, the area has been ruled for many centuries by Islamic regimes which tolerated the religious minorities within their realm. Christians and Jews have been persecuted before, but the cruelty of this genocide is something new. This, for the moment trumps the case I recently made for getting out of the line of fire. The U.S., Canada, U.K., France and Australia are providing some aid, but not enough to tip the balance. Blame certainly falls on the inept regime in Baghdad that is unable to control its territory, although that will hopefully now change as the government is reconstituted to become more representative. We certainly don’t want to get involved in another Middle East conflict, but we also cannot tolerate genocide. 

If ever there was a mission for the United Nations this is it, if the UN is to be at all relevant. There should not be great difficulty in reaching a consensus. No country supports these murderers so it is hard to see how there could be any opposition to action. ISIS must be completely annihilated, and anyone surviving must pay for their crimes. It is true that a UN force would largely be supported by the US, and although I don’t place a lot of faith in the UN, based on past actions, it would at least indicate complete international solidarity against this evil. In the absence of that we need another  “coalition of the willing,” although the UN would then be missing another opportunity to legitimize itself. 


Americans are tired of such conflicts, but the extraordinary cruelty of these maniacs cannot be ignored. We also have some responsibility for stirring the pot in the first place, but I’m not interested in blaming Bush for starting it, or Obama for precipitously pulling out. A tenuous argument for ignoring them could be made if they did not directly threaten us, but they have clearly stated they intend to attack us and the rest of the west. If they are allowed to gain ground unimpeded in pursuit of establishing their “caliphate” there is no telling how far they could go, and what they subsequently might do from conquered territory. This menace must be completely wiped out before it spreads any further if there is to be peace and security in the world. This should be followed by a strategy that will insure that such things do not happen again. 

31 July 2014

FUTILE MONUMENTS

In Brooklyn’s Prospect Park there stands a monument to those who died in World War 1. The names of locals who perished are displayed on three great bronze tablets, one of which has fallen off, leaving that set of names to oblivion.  The edifice is generally in disrepair and no one seems to care. Very few people stop even for a moment  to look at it, and obviously no one is maintaining it. For no one remembers anyone on the list now, so there is a total absence of anyone feeling a direct connection and a need to keep up the monument. They might as well have died at the battle of Marathon as far as contemporaries are concerned, and so they are consigned to the distant past and barely a century later. There are probably similar examples in other places in the same condition as in Brooklyn where the demographics have changed so much that relatives and descendants have virtually disappeared. 

When this memorial was constructed the war monuments were largely local, commemorating the sacrifice of people from the area. Communities everywhere felt the loss at the time, for even though the USA did not enter the war until near the end, over 112,000 died in a few months, tipping the balance towards victory. That war changed everything. Without it people would not have suffered under the communism of the Soviet Union, there would have been no World War II in Europe, and the US would not have been entangled in subsequent wars in Korea and Viet Nam.  The map of Europe would be very different, and the existing regimes might have continued forward instead of collapsing. There would have been no Hitler and Stalin, and millions upon millions of lives might have been spared. 

The Great War is remembered more in Europe, especially in the U.K., where commemorations continue to this day, due to the magnitude of their losses. There were 16 million deaths and 20 million casualties in the war. The British Empire lost 908,371, France 1,357,800, Russia 1,700,000, Italy 650,000, Romania 335,706, as well as losses in several smaller countries, including Serbia, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, and Montenegro. On the other side Germany lost 1,773,700, Austria-Hungary 1,200,000, Turkey 325,000, and Bulgaria 87,500. 

Many if not most of these deaths resulted from commanders treating troops as cannon fodder by sending them into battle with the certain expectation of heavy losses in lines close to the enemy in a futile attempt to gain some ground. The hopeless slaughter of men dug in in trenches went on four years. Due to the horrendous waste of lives, no one today could send large masses of troops to knowingly be slaughtered. Today every death is felt, and commanders are more apt to avoid casualties to the extent possible, keeping losses low. 

The Great War originated what is now Veterans Day. An armistice commenced on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month ending the conflict.  As a result, a national holiday  called Armistice Day was declared, to be celebrated on November 11 of every year. However, since the “war to end all wars” failed and subsequent conflicts arose, it was changed to Veterans Day in 1954. 


There is no excuse for allowing such monuments to deteriorate, considering that others once put their lives, hearts, and souls into them. There is no excuse for being so oblivious to the past that much of the public is completely ignorant as to what happened during those years. As the philosopher George Santayana wrote "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." For a country without a past does not have a future. A country which cannot honor its past does not deserve a future. Let not that be the case in America. 

29 July 2014

A DIMINISHING ADMINISTRATION

It seems increasingly apparent, even to the most sympathetic observers, that Barack Obama has lost interest in his presidency. He’d rather play golf and continue campaigning at fundraisers with celebrities than deal with several simmering issues, some of which are serious enough to threaten the integrity of the United States. This sort of post-presidential attitude while still an incumbent is unprecedented in the modern history of the office. Meanwhile so many scandals and crises are simmering, their number is numbing to the point where the seriousness with which each one ought to be considered is degraded. 

The president, at the very least, sets the tone, so we find subordinates as well in an obfuscatory haze, when they are not simply inept. In this atmosphere administration officials are not taken seriously, most disturbing when it comes to dealing with the rest of the world, particularly in the case of the pompous Secretary of State John Kerry.  The US has been so diminished that if someone deliberately set out to ruin the country they could not have done much worse. 

That anything is functioning is more a tribute to a semi-permanent bureaucracy composed of officials of former administrations. There is a limited pool of qualified people an administration can call upon, so swaths of this government are Clinton era retreads, just as Republican administrations have drawn upon personnel from earlier administrations. As a result some departments continue to function, notwithstanding the incompetence at the Veterans Administration, among others. 

However, the people in the White House, closest to the president, are more like Obama; inexperienced, committed to being “transitional” and true believers in his cause. But a community organizer who has never run anything, and who is a believer in Rules for Radicals, proves yet again that radicals are incapable of running a government. They can agitate, campaign and advocate causes, but they are totally inept in attempting to implement anything. Thus we have witnessed failure after failure across a staggering array of issues, including the health care rollout, the VA, the IRS, Benghazi, spying on reporters, the invasion of our borders by “children” from Central America, the dubious release of Guantanamo prisoners, the Russian “reset,” Iraq, Syria, and the rest of the Middle East, etc., etc. They have been amazingly consistent in being wrong about virtually everything. 

Then there are the might-have-beens. The economy continues to sputter along, in large measure due to the policies of this administration, where it could have been growing briskly at this point under a different regime. All the elements for an economic boom are in place except for the government. With a different set of policies America and the rest of the world could be experiencing rapid growth. The only upside to all of this is that hopefully more damage can be avoided, given how rudderless the government is currently. Not just the public, but the administration seems to have lost confidence in itself as well. The best we can hope for at this point is to get through the next two years without a truly major disaster, given the colossal ineptitude of this administration in managing just about everything. It simply proves once again that radicals cannot govern. 


18 June 2014

GET OUT OF THE LINE OF FIRE

The USA has not been blessed with leaders with a clear-eyed, long-term geopolitical view of the interests of the country for decades, and that record, along with the consistent ineptitude of the present administration, makes inaction preferable to action on a number of fronts. Iraq is descending into a chaotic civil war, due to the precipitous disengagement of the Obama administration and a total lack of strategic vision. There is no question that the blunders of the Bush administration are responsible for instigating these problems, but in that case at least half the blame belongs to Saddam Hussein himself for so successfully faking WMD capabilities in order to be perceived as a more formidable force in the region. That posture backfired, as did his removal. Sadaam was an awful dictator, but he counterbalanced the equally odious Iranian regime, which became the principal beneficiary of his demise. Broader strategic thinking would have made that outcome obvious. 

More importantly, Sadaam was a secular leader who checked religious extremism as long as he was in power. The same dynamic is at work in Syria now, where the US currently has zero credibility or respect, having drawn a  “line in the sand,” which it then ignored.  A wiser, long-term geopolitical understanding would have informed us of the saliency of the religious extremism in the two branches of Islam, and guided our strategic thinking accordingly. This is a long term, historic conflict that could still last centuries. Do we want to be part of that? At this stage, given the bumbling proclivities of our leaders, I think the best course for the US is to use this as an opportunity to get out of the line of fire. By that I mean ceasing to be enemy number one to extremists on both sides of the Islamic rift.  We have managed to fumble our way into that position, and it is now time to extricate ourselves. 

There are many countries in the world with an “Islamic problem,” meaning either a restive minority population or conflict with an aggressive neighbor. The US is not one of them, and a cursory examination of global borders makes that obvious. There is no inherent reason for the US to be at odds with any of these players, but for inserting ourselves into their affairs. Contrary to the beliefs of some on the left, it’s not about oil. We are more self-sufficient in this hemisphere than most other countries, and would be even more so but for the anti-energy policies of this administration, which sooner or later will be undone. The people who depend on mideast oil are the Japanese, the Europeans, and increasingly, the Chinese. Consequently what happens in the area is of far more consequence for them than it is for us. 

As for cultural conflict, Europe has a large, unassimilated Muslim population. Russia, and even China have restive Muslim minorities. Thus, the problems are far more acute for them, so why should the US wind up being the Great Satan? Bin Laden (who primarily targeted the US for stationing forces in Saudi Arabia, which are now gone) is dead and most of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack are accounted for. The Muslims are not our problem, and the more we disengage from conflict with them the less we would be targeted. Their main goal is obtaining power within the Islamic world. They are basically a headache for the existing regimes, who until now have managed to deflect such hostility onto the west. We are not sufficiently ruthless for this kind of conflict.

This does not mean cutting and running, but making a realistic policy that in essence says you don’t bother us and we won’t bother you, for if you do you will be annihilated with overwhelming force.  We would basically make an offer they couldn’t refuse. Let the CIA do its job for a change and come up with accurate information on these movements. Given the nature of the present administration I do not see a better path. 


We have paid dearly for all of this, not just in lives and treasure, but in terms of our own liberties. We now have a massive security state that is adept primarily at inconveniencing us at airports. Yet the end result is a situation no better than it was before, and given the instability in the area, arguably worse. We need to focus on rebuilding strength at home, where our way of life has deteriorated significantly. I am not suggesting isolationism here, but realism, as per Theodore Roosevelt’s axiom, speak softly but carry a big stick. 

15 June 2014

BEING OUT OF IT

I’ve been down with Lyme disease for the past several days and haven’t been up for much of anything as a result. This is the second time I’ve had it, and the seventh year in a row that I’ve been bitten by the ticks that cause it. This is due in large measure to the pathway that tick-bearing deer have made for themselves across my property. They start out at a preserve east of here, cross the beach, and then somehow manage to scale a two hundred foot sandy cliff from the shore in front of my house.  From there they linger in a patches of brush and copse, while helping themselves to plants in the garden. Then they continue on, past a dune to the west and probably somehow make it to the next woodland preserve. The nuisance is still superseded by the wonder of it, and in any case other creatures, like raccoons can also carry the ticks,  which are thus hard to eliminate.

If recognized soon enough antibiotics will get rid of the disease, but this is the sort of malady with which you don’t feel up to doing much of anything, at least until drugs  kick in. It isn’t so serious as long as it’s being treated, but a kind of ennui sets in and things you usually spend time become onerous, such as being constantly online, so I’ve been unplugged over this period, not just from computers, but most television as well. It is amazing how much time you suddenly have to do things you thought you’d never find time for, even while not being well. Other things that previously seemed urgent are less compelling. You become much more attuned to the ebb and flow of life around you, and the most important thing you want to find out is the weather report.


The biggest deterrent to tuning out is that you might miss something. But with sufficient detachment you realize that in the larger scheme of things, life goes on without you, as it did before, and as it surely will when you are gone. You see that your time is truly limited, and really think about what you are spending it on. You can get a slight sense of this when traveling, but everywhere you go the world is wired, and as long as you remain connected you are never completely detached. You don’t get a true sense of life apart from electronics, or of life that is not  socially networked to everyone all of the time. 

Yet no one will go to their grave wishing they had spent more time on the Internet. I am in no way suggesting that everyone should drop out, but rather consider how much time you are spending with electronic media, especially while other things remain unattended, and try to place some limits on it accordingly. I try to limit social media to fifteen minutes a day now, because otherwise you can get drawn in for hours, and miss the larger truth that life is what is happening while you’re on the Internet. 

02 May 2014

NASHVILLE

I’ve just returned from spending some time in Nashville, and I liked it a lot. The city is pristine and pleasant, and as I often say, returning to New York City is an embarrassment in these categories. What is perhaps most striking about Nashville is how new so many things are, the way Long Island or California was in the 1950s and 1960s.

The the downtown area on Broadway was really jumping with live entertainment and mostly young people jamming the bars and restaurants. That may be why we had a curious experience at the upscale “upstairs” of one of them, when a waiter asked us for identification. I haven’t been asked for proof since I was a teenager and the drinking age was still 18 in New York, but anyway we incredulously handed it over. He studied it with more scrutiny than a TSA agent, and when I asked what that was about he explained that  they’ve been getting harassed or busted for underage customers so they decided to ask everyone without exception for I.D. That was pretty lame and makes about as much sense as everyone having to take off their shoes when boarding a flight, and the food wasn’t that good either. 

We went to the Grand Ole Opry twice; once at the old Ryman auditorium and again at the “new” Opry (which is forty years old) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Contemporary country singers tend to all sound the same to me so I was pleased to hear some older stuff as well as bluegrass and cowboy singers. However, if you lack  much meat on your behind, as I do, you will find sitting in the Ryman auditorium sheer torture, since the seating consists of extended hard wooden pews. At the new Opry at least the seats are padded. The excellent, varied, and relatively inexpensive  programs make up for any inconvenience. 

For a change of pace we also went to a concert by the Nashville Symphony at the Schermerhorn concert hall, which is a very impressive facility with fine acoustics. It is reminiscent of the kind of design you see in concert halls across Europe, but with more modern details. The Mozart program they played sounded as good as anything I’ve ever heard in New York. The downtown contains some architecturally interesting skyscrapers that don’t have the cookie cutter steel and glass look of so many other cities. The reproduction of the Athens Parthenon in centennial park is very impressive, and if you haven’t been there since the statue of Athena was added, filling the space from floor to ceiling, it will blow you away. There are also many interesting places in the vicinity of the city, such as plantations, gardens, the Hermitage, etc. that are well-preserved reminders of the past. 

This is a place with a vibrant pulse and the “music city” name is very appropriate, although there is a lot more to it than that. The musical base is very broad. If you doubt that just watch an episode of the television show Nashville just for the music. It seems to be a very livable city. This is the kind of place that, along with vast sections of the country, people on the coasts are just oblivious to, or view with  a misplaced contempt. That is essentially a kind of reverse-prejudice against  a largely Anglo-American culture that is far more pronounced than anything emanating back. As much as I like the “diversity” (to use a purloined phrase) back home in New York, I also appreciate places where things are just basically American. It is well worth a trip for the entertainment venues alone and I look forward to returning on business as well.