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Thursday, October 30, 2014

What Is The Difference Between Sunni And Shia and Why Is It Important In The Struggle With ISIS?

Links: A. Difference Between Shia and Sunni
           B. Islamic State Version of Hearts and Minds

I have always been a strong advocate of educating soldiers beyond the skills necessary to kill.  I have had the good fortune to meet young men who are new to the service, and many have asked for advice.  I have never been a soldier, at least not in uniform, but I have been in enough zones of conflict in my CIA career, and I have had the distinction to have worked with Navy Seals, Special Forces, Airborne Units, and Humint Collection Teams.  My father was career army; he served in both Korea and Vietnam, earning three Purple Hearts.  My cousin Lonnie is a decorated R.O.T.C. instructor at an inner-city school in Dallas and someone truly worthy of admiration.  I am honored when members of the U.S. military
T. E. Lawrence
ask me for advice.  If you have the opportunity beforehand, learn everything you can about the enemy and the location to which you are being deployed; combat-zones don't normally come with fully stocked libraries.  Events in the last twenty years certainly suggest that the United States will be at war with Islamic Extremism for the indefinite future.  My suggestions are to learn about Islam; read the Quran if possible.  Chances are, sooner or later you will end up in a country full of Muslims.  They will respect you if you show that you have made an attempt to learn about their traditions and religion. Also, learn about your environment.  If I had a dime for every time I have  recommended "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" by T.E. Lawrence, I could buy myself a new camel.

For someone wanting to expand their knowledge of Islam without becoming a full-on scholar, let's start with the important stuff: the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims.  Shia Muslims constitute a majority only in Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain, with a sizable minority in Lebanon.  The difference between Sunni and Shia arose from the question of who should inherit the mantle of the Prophet following his death in 632.  The group who supported the claim of Abu Bakr, friend of the Prophet and father of the Prophet's wife Aisha, became the Sunni's choice.  The opposition believed the authority of the Prophet should belong to the nearest relation.  They argued that the Prophet had actually anointed Ali, his son-in-law and cousin, as his successor.  They became known as the "Shia", a contraction of "shiaat Ali" (the partisans of Ali).  The supporters of Abu Bakr won out, although Ali did rule for a short time as the fourth Caliph, the title given to Muhammed's successors.  The split became more or less permanent in 680, when Ali's son Hussein was killed by the ruling Sunni Caliph's troops in the Battle of Karbala.  From that point on, the Sunni became the more political of the two groups and believe their leader should be elected from those most capable, while the Shia look to their Imams for guidance and believe the Imam is appointed by the Prophet or God Himself.  It is estimated that eighty percent of Muslims are Sunni, and twenty percent are Shia.

Shia Muslims re-enact the Battle of Karbala [AP]
The issue of the inheritance of the Prophet's authority has never really faded away.  The date of the death of Hussein and his infant son at the hands of Sunnis in the Battle of Karbala is observed every year.  Sunnis consider the event to be a very tragic occurrence, while the Shia observe a period of mourning, which includes episodes of self-flagellation by the extremely pious.  It is a remarkable scene to behold.  Over the centuries, Sunni and Shia have fought side-by-side against Christian Crusaders and other enemies of the faith; but in the end, the split always reappears.  In Iraq, the Sunni have traditionally considered the Shia to be ignorant, farmer-types.  Central Iraq is home to Karbala, Hillah and Najaf, three cities considered Holy by the Shia.  During the first Gulf War, the Shia rose up in rebellion against Saddam Hussein.  To this day, U.S. President George Bush is criticized for not coming to the aid of the Shia, who were mercilessly butchered by Saddam (in reality, the Shia expected assistance from the Americans, given the invasion that had just occurred; they didn't consider the possibility that Bush wanted to keep Saddam in place in order to avoid a power vacuum).

The Islamic State of the Levant (ISIS, ISIL, or IS) was originally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda in Iraq.  This group raised havoc with U.S. forces for some time during Operation Enduring Freedom.  Zarqawi operated in mostly Sunni areas of Iraq, taking advantage of sympathy from fellow Sunnis.  In an effort to cause problems between Sunni and Shia and therefore destabilize the situation more, Zarqawi began targeting Shia political rallies.  He would then bomb the funeral ceremonies for the victims. The Sunni community of Iraq turned their back on Zarqawi and aided the U.S. efforts to destroy his organization.  Zarqawi himself was on the receiving end of a five hundred-pound bunker buster bomb, and the remnants of his organization fled to greener pastures in Syria.  Once it became apparent that the U.S. military would be leaving Iraq, they returned, only this time sporting a new name and mission.  The Islamic State of the Levant is dedicated to the creation of a Caliphate: a Sunni-religious State created from pieces of Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon (I think; I haven't seen the latest incarnation).  The IS has been in a state of war with Shia Muslims since the days of Zarqawi, which explains why the Shia militias continue to accept hordes of volunteers (so many that the Iraqi Army is having trouble arming them).  I predicted that the IS would make Baghdad an important target because I can imagine how incensed its leadership must be to see a Shia-led government in office.  Also, Iraq is home to so many sensitive religious sites, it's not possible for the IS to focus exclusively on Syria.  One fact is certain: the Shia and the IS despise each other.  The United States and its allies should take full advantage of this reality.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

U.S. Troops Head To Africa To Fight Ebola

Links:  A. 3,000 U.S. Troops To Deploy To West Africa
            B. U.S. Troops To Africa For Ebola Mission
            C. U.S. Military Quarantined After Ebola Trip

I have been finding reasons to avoid writing this post because I'm not very clear on my own
emotions regarding this mission.  In September, when the Ebola virus was tearing a hole through Liberia and Guinea, President Obama anticipated the need for U.S. assistance and ordered the military to respond (I'm assuming that the military and not the President's staff, developed the deployment agenda).  A plan was created which would eventually call for three thousand troops from the 101st Airborne Division to deploy to locations in West Africa (see Links A and B).  The first group of U.S. military personnel, Army Major General Darryl A. Williams and his staff of ten, just completed a tour of Liberia.  During the tour Major General Williams and his crew observed the screening procedures and medical assistance measures in place in all areas of the country.  Its safe to say that they reached some level of exposure to the virus.  As is explained in link C, they will be isolated and monitored for twenty-one days, which is understandable.

As the first link points out, the military will be tasked with building a 25-bed portable hospital in Liberia.  It is expected that 17 treatment centers will eventually be built in the area.  Along with building facilities to treat patients with Ebola, the U.S. military will train up to 500 health-care workers a week to combat the disease.  My friends in the region tell me that currently "you can't throw a stone without hitting a white person".  I assume that many of the white people in question are Americans, as my cousin in Bamako tells me that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has commandeered the nicest hotel in town.  My close friend, who owns a luxury car business in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, is very impressed with the medical facilities that seem to be popping up all over the country.  Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is there, and the World Health Organization is too.  The International Red Cross (IRC), which has permanent offices in all the capital cities of the region, has been active from the beginning, and are probably responsible for keeping the number of Ebola cases as low as they are.  In the Spring, with the first confirmed cases, the IRC began sending volunteers out into the rural areas of Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Cote d'Ivoire, to stress the need for sanitation and education.  Most importantly, the IRC took note of the local health facilities and what was needed to set-up screening centers and isolation units.  I am impressed with the response to date of the United States and European health communities.  So far the procedures put in place appear to be working.

I have heard it said that the true reason behind President Obama ordering troops to deploy to Africa is to assist in evacuations and crowd control.  I assume "crowd control" would include "riot control".  Orderly crowds being moved by authorities have a tendency to get out of hand in Africa (my comment is not racist; it is the product of my years of living in Africa).  Actually, orderly crowds can become quite "disorderly" anywhere, not just in Africa.  I believe the initial projections by the experts in Atlanta (CDC) forecast that the outbreak would have spread to Mali and Cote d'Ivoire by now.  Given the impossibility of adequately controlling border crossings (sound familiar?), the CDC probably assumed that infected persons who had not yet begun to show symptoms would be traveling as usual.  Keep in mind that many folks see the borders in African as more of a suggestion than anything else.  The valuable gold and diamond mines in
Diamond Mine in Sierra Lione
Mali, and other countries, traditionally employ workers from bordering states.  I believe that the CDC was correct in assuming that the situation would be much more serious than it is, hence the in-depth planning for mandatory evacuations and (if needed) crowd control.  This is in addition to the fact that some people will not voluntarily leave their homes, and in the instance of a deadly virus like Ebola, they cannot be left behind. The issue is not just the health of the resident; anyone who stays in the contamination zone becomes a potential carrier, who may find a way to rejoin healthy people and start the contagion all over.  At this point I haven't bought into the argument that the troops are really here to control people.  I'm not that cynical.  But then see me again next week.   

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

More Suicide Car Bombs In Iraq

Links: A. Car Bomb in Jurf al-Sakhar
           B. Iraqi Army, Peshmerga Claim Successes

Just yesterday, we examined claims by the Iraqi Army that the strategic Sunni town of Jurf al-Sakhar had been retaken from forces of the Islamic State in the Levant (IS).  Occupation of this town has swung back and forth over the past few months, which makes it difficult to gauge the stability of the current situation and therefore importance of this most recent event.  Now we are greeted with the news that just one day after claiming victory, the Iraqi Army and Shi'ite militiamen suffered two disastrous suicide car bombings, killing at least thirty-eight (link A).  The Shi'ite militiamen who are fighting alongside the Iraqi Army (which is heavily Sunni) keep a very low profile.  Many critics contend that the U.S. hesitates to fully utilize air elements in coordination with the Iraqi Army because the U.S. does not want to fight alongside the various Shia militias and the Shia-controlled Iraqi government.  I have no idea if this accusation carries any accuracy, but I can say that for weeks I have been writing about the lack of air support for Iraqi Army efforts in Anbar Province.  I have received a number of emails requesting details on the handful of Shia militias, so I will attempt to bring a bit of clarity to these groups.

The Shia militias active in Iraq have connections to either Iran's Al-Quds organization (Iran's Revolutionary Guard), the Shia-led Iraqi government, or to Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtadah al-Sadr.  The few successes that the Iraqi Army has claimed in the war against the IS have come with the assistance of Shia militias, who have more experience on the battlefield and tend to fight with religious zeal.  Some see a connection between the Shia groups, Iran, and Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, who is an Alawite (Muslim followers of a particular, secretive branch of Shia Islam).  So it should be no surprise that the militias would fight in opposition to the Sunni-led IS.  In fact, for a while, several Shia militias were fighting in Syria alongside the regular Syrian Army (they have since returned to Iraq).  You know the powerful Lebanese-based terrorist organization, Hizbollah?  Well, Hizbollah (also Shia) has long been a client organization of the Iranians and has also been involved in supporting the Assad regime, especially in battles around Damascus.

As clear as mud, I know.  While the Iraqi Army around Baghdad, and the Peshmerga in the north celebrate the recapture of a few towns (link B), let's try and create a mental flow chart.  Let's start with:

Bad Guys


  • Islamic State (IS):  Originally "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the IS stirred up shit in Syria while U.S. troops were in Iraq. Once the U.S. pulled out of Iraq in 2011, the IS started stirring up Iraqi shit as well.  
  • Al-Nusra Front,  Khorasan:  Same folks as IS; don't let anyone tell you different.  They are all ideologically allied to Al-Qaeda.  Everyday we get more propaganda highlighting some imagined "rift" between these players.  They want you to believe that they march to their own drummer; Their shared detestation of Freedom is enough for me to keep them in the same pot.

Good Guys


  • Kurds:  The Kurdish people have been waiting very patiently for centuries to be left alone with just enough land to call their own.  One day the Peshmerga is gonna get the red-ass at all of us, then there will be hell to pay. The Kurds are currently doing our job fighting a ground war against the IS in both Iraq and Syria.
  • Iraqi Army:  The Iraqi Army is a combination of three groups: (1) the original elements trained by the U.S., most of whom deserted at the first hint of gunfire; (2) the Sunni who rushed to join at the first threat to Baghdad by the IS; and (3) recent recruits who are again being trained by U.S. military instructors. Mostly Sunni, the Iraqi Army is still obliged to fight against the Sunni-affiliated IS, and to do this alongside Shia militias who may or may not have participated in slaughtering innocent Sunni villagers at one time or another.  Oh, and the Iraqi Army takes its orders from a Shia-led Iraqi government. 
  • The U.S. and Allies:  The French have proven to be useful and obliging allies in this conflict.  The Qataris and the Emiratis, however, don't want to bomb certain groups affiliated with the IS because of loyalty and personal sympathies with these groups (Al-Nusra front is a great example).  If General George S. Patton were running the show, he would kick the Qataris and Emiratis out of the allied club, and put a boot in their ass on their way out the door.

Unknowns


  • Shia Militias and Iran:  No doubt these guys hate the IS, and they have been conspicuously present at all of Bashir al-Assad's BBQs in recent years, so we know where their loyalties are.  The militias have been invaluable in fending off the IS in Anbar Province, and will be counted on to continue shoring up the Iraqi Army.  I have no clue what to expect from these players once the IS is defeated, but I can guarantee one thing, they won't sit idly by and watch Assad be removed.
  • The New Syrian Army :  What can I say?  They won't be allowed to attack, only to defend.  They want Assad out of power, but the militias want him in power (and Assad wants to stay, I assume).
  • Putin:  Believe me, its tough not putting this sociopathic pig in the "Bad Guy" column, but I really don't know what he has planned.  One thing you can count on, he still wants that military port on the Syrian coast, so he won't give up his boy Assad without a fight.
  • President Obama:  It is not difficult for me to imagine the Apologist-in-Chief caving in and letting "Bashir the butcher" stay in power.  But how can Barrack appease Iran, Putin, and the Shia militias on one hand, and his Sunni allies, his surrogate New Syrian Army, and the Kurds on the other?  This is the very type of precarious diplomatic position that Obama will have trouble negotiating.  This leaves him in the "Unknown" column.

I don't enjoy writing posts that leave more questions than answers, but in this instance, I hope some of the players have come into better focus.  The current conflict includes everything and the kitchen sink, and for the life of me I can't imagine how President Obama got us stuck in the middle of it all.  I really believe that a U.S. military presence in Iraq would have squashed the IS before it grew so powerful, but we were much too busy leaving town.  It's more than a little ironic to name the current U.S. Operation "Inherent Resolve" when a bit more "resolve" in 2011 (to stay the course) could have prevented so much of the chaos in the region today.  I can't recall from history a conflict as messy and tangled as this (maybe back in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries when all the European monarchies were slapping each other around).  But this mess is something to behold.  And deserved or not, it has Obama's name all over it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Updates From The Ground War In Iraq

Links: A.  Iraqi Troops Retake Three Tents And A Camel Repair Shop
           B.  Women Warriors Not New To Kurdistan

I woke up late this morning and missed Mass.  When I finally got my wits about me I remembered that the Dallas Cowboys game against the Washington Foreskins was on Monday night, so I was a bit grumpy when I turned on the computer and saw the headline, "Iraqi Troops Retake Town". Allegedly the Iraqi Army already controls most of Ramadi, so if the Iraqi Army could dislodge the Islamic State (IS) from Fallujah, it would clearly disrupt the IS efforts to methodically destabilize Baghdad.  Unfortunately, the town that was retaken was not Fallujah, but Jurf al-Sakhar, a Sunni town with roughly 80,000 inhabitants.
For most folks, Jurf al-Sakhar is just another hard-to-pronounce Iraqi village in the middle of nothing.  As a former CIA Case Officer, I recall Jurf al-Sakhar as being home to Saddam Hussein's most important biological weapons research facility.  The town is part of a ribbon of Sunni communities that hug the Euphrates and are buffered to the east and west by Shia villages.  It is strategically located, with Karbala to the west and Hillah to the south.  I made light of the fact that Jurf al-Sakhar is unfamiliar to most people reading this post, but in reality the retaking of Jurf al-Sakhar disrupts any attempt by the IS to encircle Baghdad.  All in all, the deliverance of Jurf al-Sakhar from the IS is good news.  What would truly justify a celebration would be the removal of all IS operatives from Ramadi, and the retaking of Fallujah.  If the Iraqi Army could accomplish these two goals, then my readers would get a respite from daily postings about Baghdad.

I do not purposely neglect discussing the Iraqi northern front.  The truth is, I have some trouble locating dependable reporting from this area.  The Iraqi Army is active not only in and around Tikrit, but also in Baiji, Baqubah, and Kirkuk.
It can be difficult determining exactly where the Iraqi Army leaves off the front line and the Kurdish forces pick it up.  The Iraqi Army and the various Kurdish military elements recognize the need to work together against a common enemy, in this case the IS.  Interestingly enough, I haven't seen much information online regarding the actual authority that Kurdish leaders bequeath to the Peshmerga.  The Peshmerga is the largest, best equipped, best trained, and most respected of all the various military forces that have represented Kurdish interests.  I spent some time with the Peshmerga in 2003, and as I see it, they are the true representative Army of the Kurdish people.  No doubt other groups representing particular political interests will make themselves useful in the war against the IS (these include PUK, PDK, etc. who will always have their own large cadre of bodyguards). But at the end of the day, there is only one Peshmerga.  If it were possible to triple the number of Peshmerga fighters, the IS would be swept away in a month or so.  I have tremendous confidence in these Kurdish soldiers because I have watched them in action both nearby and from afar.  The Peshmerga has never been accused of "too much discipline" during down-time, and the  subject of hygiene seems to escape Peshmerga training programs, but these guys and gals know how to fight.  When the bullets start to fly, the Peshmerga seems to maneuver as one unit with one mind.  They are just as effective in small units as they are in groups of twenty or fifty, and they can transport an amazing amount of heavy weaponry over great distances in no time at all.  In reality, I believe that the IS has stolen its tactics from the Peshmerga.  When I worked with the Peshmerga, there was no consistency to the weaponry.  Some preferred to carry the M16, and others (most) were comfortable with the ubiquitous AK-47.  Any more commentary regarding the Peshmerga will require me to share parts of my book.  Suffice to say that I have great faith in the Peshmerga and only wish we had more.  The many times that I observed Peshmerga during down time made me realize that the cohesiveness that is so apparent during battle, seems to melt away during personal time. Each Peshmerga is responsible for their own personal issues such as health, hygiene, entertainment, and comfort.  In fact, the only time I saw an administrative angle was during meals (not always) and during issues related to ammunition and supply.

Link B is an important article for anyone who requires an accurate vision of the ground war in Syria and Iraq.  Women have always been militarily active in Kurdish history.  The only militaries that use women as effectively as the Peshmerga are the Israelis and the United States, of course.  Kurdish women fighters carry their own equipment and show the same level of personal independence that is such a big part of the Peshmerga way.  The Iraqi Army has a respectable number of female troops, and it is my understanding that they have shown promise on the battlefield.  Any current female troops in the Iraqi Army are part of the new structure implemented after the fall of Saddam Hussein.  This structure is very focused on military instruction and weapons training, so it shouldn't be surprising that so many female troops have achieved success early in their careers.  But at the end of the day, all soldiers must fight and fight well to be successful.  In warfare, the soldier who is unsuccessful at his or her job, never leaves the battlefield.  The IS has made a bit of a public show over the number of female recruits that have arrived from the United States and Europe.  Its one thing to display photos and videos on social media of American and European females sporting the latest in Burkha-wear and waving little Islamic State flags for the camera.  Here in Mookie World we are all about the truth, and I want to hear from these same young ladies a month after their arrival in camp.  I understand that the IS has a few (formerly English) female fighters who have taken to the life of being an Islamic Warrior.  My question is, what would The Prophet say?  Isn't "soldiering" an occupation reserved for men in the world of the "Caliphate"? 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Battle Of Baghdad.....The End Of the Beginning

Links:  A. Iraqi Army Struggles On In Anbar
            B. Suicide Attack In Baiji

I'm hoping to eventually stumble onto a blog that is exclusively devoted to disseminating articles about Iraqi military engagements.  I am fascinated with the Iraqi Defense Force and its attempt to combat the Islamic Front in Anbar Province.  The conflict in Syria is ugly, disorganized, and hidden most of the time.  But for us armchair generals, Iraq presents the opportunity to watch at least one army as it pursues strategic goals.  The Iraqi Army is attempting to engage and destroy elements of the Islamic State in The Levant (IS) in Anbar Province.  Over the past month we have taken a close look at the strategies of both parties as the Iraqis seek to defend greater Baghdad.  Since its initial military movements in northern Iraq, the IS has presented a difficult target.  I had fallen into the trap of expecting IS forces engaged in Iraq to resemble the IS elements that had been engaged in Syria since 2012.  I was taken by surprise with the IS and its use of heavy weaponry (artillery in particular).  I had grown accustomed to groups of men riding around in Toyota pick-ups that had been rigged with an anti-aircraft or large caliber machine-gun in the bed.  From the beginning, the IS has shown a military sophistication in Iraq that includes the ability to effectively use artillery, strategically move large numbers of fighters from one area to another, and to control extensive resupply lines.  Most importantly, the IS has demonstrated the ability to adapt.  The IS appears just as comfortable using guerilla tactics as they do utilizing heavy weaponry and fighting in larger units.

The IS rarely makes a public statement without barking something or other about the creation of an Islamic Fundamentalist Nation.  They seem to prefer the word, "Caliphate", but who gives a shit.  This beast, which rose like a phoenix from the ashes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, has a true organizational structure.  If we were in a boardroom and I had a flip chart, I could probably draw a nice diagram (and one of the numerous people sleeping would fart in appreciation).  We have the political IS and the military IS; the talented folks in CTC at Langley have the complete political picture, no doubt.  At the moment we here at MB are solely concerned with the military wing of the IS.  Link A seems to be a carbon copy of a situational update that I read last week in the NY Times.  Who controls Fallujah, the IS or the Iraqi Army?  And Ramadi?  The truth is that the only time the Iraqi Army makes any headway in Anbar is when they participate in a U.S.- planned ground attack (with armor) coordinated with allied air attacks.  The current state of the Iraqi Air Force seems to be a complete mystery.  They were supposed to receive 18 F16s over a period of two years.  The pilots are currently training in the United States, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in a typical show of Iraqi ingratitude, complained about the F16 and purchased five second-hand Sukhoi (Su) 25's to counter the IS threat.  (Entertaining side note: Iran generously "gave" Iraq a handful of Su-25's as well, as a show of solidarity against the IS.  And by the way, the majority of the Su-25's that arrived from Iran were ex-Iraqi Air Force planes that had fled Iraq at the start of the Gulf War, rather than face sure death in combat with U.S. Air Force F16s.)  So we know that the Iraqi Air Force has a few Migs and Su-25s, not to mention a handful of Russian Helicopters.  Does anyone know if the Iraqi Air Force is participating in the allied air campaign?

Link B is a reminder that the IS is very familiar with urban-warfare tactics.  The suicide car bombs were a specialty of Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the Iraqis are experiencing them all over again.  Even though the heavier elements of the IS forces are engaged with the Iraqi Army in Anbar (and with allied air attacks in Syria), the plan to seed the poorer Sunni neighborhoods of greater Baghdad is in full swing.  From today onward, You can be sure that any mortars launched toward government buildings, military targets, or foreign diplomatic property in Baghdad, will originate from the poor Sunni bedroom communities of Baghdad.  And the car bombs will be built in the same neighborhoods.  The IS is conducting this war in a very sophisticated manner, successfully engaging in what is a three-front war (In September Secretary of Defense Hagel was quoted as saying that the goal was to force the IS to fight a three-front war).  The current areas of conflict include Syria, Anbar Province in eastern Iraq, and Kurdistan/northern Iraq.  I am surprised at the IS's ability to function so effectively.  I had anticipated that IS fortunes would suffer somewhere, but it hasn't happened.  They are hanging tough in Kobani, staying on the offensive against regular Syrian forces, threatening again in northern Iraq, and giving the Iraqi Army fits in Anbar.  Just this morning I learned that the IS had restarted the "Great Yezidi Roundup of 2014".  Yee Ha.  You would think that after a while they would run out of Yezidis. 

I'm going out on a limb and predicting that as the days go by, the focus of this conflict will become less on Syria and more on Iraq.  The IS is determined to capture Baghdad.  It hasn't always been a target, but once it became apparent that Baghdad could be captured, the IS created a plan.  Seed the poorer neighborhoods with operatives, play-up the Sunni/Shia conflict, conduct daily car bombings and mortar attacks, and destabilize the city.  With no U.S. ground forces, the IS will have little trouble taking Baghdad one street at a time, the same MO presently in use in Ramadi and Fallujah.  I think we can call the last week of October 2014, the end of the beginning of The Battle of Baghdad.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Forgive Me For A Bit Of Politics

Links: A. Real Clear Politics Senate Polling
           B. The National Debt In Dollars

As the Fall of 2014 wraps itself around me, and Halloween is just around the corner, I find myself anticipating some trick or treating a few days after October 31. . . at least in Washington DC.  The mid-term elections are almost upon us, and one would expect the Republicans to be excited.  Normally mid-term elections favor the party who does not occupy the White House.  At first, this particular mid-term election seemed like a no-brainer: a president who at the moment appears to be unpopular; an economy that can't seem to get out of second gear; and more Democratic seats up for grabs than GOP seats.  In fact, I recall watching a few CNN politico-talking heads predicting that the Republicans would wake up November 5th 2014 with somewhere between 53 and 55 seats in the U.S. Senate!  I had to admit, when I examined the Senate seats in contention, I was convinced the GOP might hit the 55 mark as well.  But hey, through most of October 2012, I was convinced that Mitt Romney was going to be president.  What do I know?

Taking Control of the Perception as well as the Congress
Lets get one thing out in the open up front.  Yes, I am hoping that the Republicans take control of the Senate and keep control of the House of Representatives.  I'm not a rabid conservative who waxes poetically about the good ol' days of Ronald Reagan.  On some issues I'm conservative, on others I'm not.  The reason I am supporting the GOP in the mid-terms has to do with two issues: immigration and the national debt.  In a post earlier this week I laid bare the immigration issue for all to consider.  If Harry Reid continues on as Senate Majority Leader, we can expect to hear the Democrats and the Obama Administration persist in their claims that: "the Republican Congress has no ideas" and "the Republican Congress does nothing".  These claims continue to be made even as Harry sits on a very large pile of House Republican-sponsored Bills that will never see the light of day.  I'm not saying that the answer to our problems will be found in Harry's pile of Bills, but I would like the process to proceed as The Founders intended.  What we have now is Obama preparing to rule by decree, using the "lazy" and "do-nothing" Republican Congress as justification.  C'mon, folks on the other side, you can't think that this is healthy for our political system.  If the shoe were on the other foot, and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell were sitting on a huge pile of Democratic-sponsored Bills so President Romney could rule through Executive Action, people would be screaming in the aisles.  I believe that if the GOP takes control of the Senate, President Obama will think twice about using Executive Action to reform the immigration system.  Everyone will be asking, why doesn't he just wait until the New Year and see if the new Congress is willing to work together?

Seven Trillion Dollars in New Debt
The issue of the National Debt usually makes temperatures rise.  I remember in the late 80s and 90s, it was fashionable to say, "accruing national debt is good for the country".  I never did get an explanation, but I went along with it like all the other shlubs.  As for recent figures, I'm using the numbers provided in Link B because they seem to be a bit conservative, and I want to be optimistic.  On January 20, 2009, the National Debt was 10.6 trillion dollars.  Today, the National Debt is 17.6 trillion dollars.  In six years alone, we have added seven trillion dollars to the National Debt.  Prior to that George Bush was able to fight a two-front war for five years and the price tag, including National Guard, military equipment et al, did not come close to seven trillion. So what did be get for our seven trillion "extra" dollars in these recent six years?  This money disappeared into that empty hole labeled, "Entitlements".  To put it plainly, the number of people in the United States who suddenly were deserving of a U.S. Treasury Check once a month, just exploded.  That seven trillion dollars was spent creating an entirely new generation of people who are dependent on Uncle Sam.  Why does this bother me?  I have no kids.  By the time the bill collector shows up, I will be dust.  But I do have grandnieces and nephews, and friends with grandchildren, and President Obama has been taking THEIR credit card out of his wallet whenever budget time comes around.  He is spending your grandchildren's money.  What is so hard for some people to understand?  Its not racial, its not ethnic, its not about rich or poor, and its not really even political.  You know what it is?  Its unforgivable, that's what it is.

Those are the two reasons why this year I'm hoping the GOP takes control of the Senate.  What really fascinates me is that the trends in national elections are beginning to repeat themselves.  The Republicans start looking strong, and then a few weeks before the actual election, polls start to change and the media detects "something in the air".  By November 4, the Republicans will have managed to screw-up another election that was "in-the-bag" just a few weeks previously.  I don't buy it.  The media creates this narrative and supports it by disseminating selective polling results (Foxnews does it too, folks).  But all of the conversation is just window dressing; what matters are the actual votes that are cast on November 4.
  • Georgia.  As I look at the polls (both those that lean left and those that lean right), Georgia is very close to electing a young white female Democrat to the Senate.  Huh?  For all purposes, Georgia is one of the reddest of red states.  Just take a look at their General Assembly.  The young lady happens to be the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, but is that enough to get Republicans in Georgia to vote Democrat?  "Hey down there in Georgia! Do you have any clue how important this election is?"  Let's talk about Kansas and North Carolina.
  • Kansas.  Most Kansans have historically been proud of being known as the most conservative state in the nation.  Don't look now, but the intelligent people of Kansas are about to be hoodwinked.  A liberal Democrat is running as an Independent.  A Tea Party candidate may also be in the mix, and the people of Kansas do seem to be in the mood for changing incumbents.  When they had the chance to retire Pat Roberts in the Republican Primary (he probably had no opposition), they didn't.  Mr. "Independent" Greg Orman probably kisses a framed photograph of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz before he goes to bed at night.  And the good people of Kansas are falling for it, hook, line and sinker.
  • North Carolina.  I won't spend much time on North Carolina.  The race is close, but Republicans always seem to lose close races here, at least lately.  I know North Carolina.  I was born in North Carolina, for goodness sake.  I can't imagine the Tarheel State sending a liberal Democrat back to the Senate for six years.  Come to your senses, North Carolina!
You too, Louisiana.  If you vote for Orman, or Nunn, or Kay Hagan, you are voting to keep Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader.  I have some concerns about Kentucky as well, but I reckon I've made my point.  Republicans will not take control of the Senate at the November 4 mid-term elections.  If the Republicans are having trouble in states like Kansas and South Dakota, I can only pity the poor souls who are running in Michigan and Minnesota.  The Democrats will keep control of the Senate, and the Republicans will retain control the House of Representatives.  And if I'm correct, and Obama is allowed to paint the "Republican" Congress as ineffective and inept, he will feel justified to swing that Executive Action hammer in all sorts of directions.  Addressing the immigration issue will be his most important use of Executive Action (for now).  Then, once Amnesty is in place, the stage is set for the death of two-party politics in the United States (and in my lifetime, no less).  Granted, the undocumented individuals have to meet the requirements and follow through with certain obligations, and that may take a few years.  But regardless of whether its 2014 or 2018, adding even ten million votes to the Democratic ticket will be enough to end competitive politics in the USA.

Friday, October 24, 2014

U.S. Will Train New Syrian Army For Defense, No Offense

Links: A. U.S. To Train Syrians To Defend Territory


           B.  Lots Of Terrorist Training Camps In Iraq And Syria


           C. Al-Qaeda Reborn On The Indian Subcontinent


As I've said before, the first thing I do in the morning when I wake up is read the Long War Journal.  Previously I couldn't leave the house without a quick look at the Drudgereport.  Now I have doubled my morning reading selection.  To put it bluntly, the Long War Journal (LWJ) is in a class by itself.  I am so impressed with the real-time nature of the reporting, not to mention the amazing breadth of coverage.  Let me step away from brown-nosing the LWJ just long enough to get angry all over again.  According to the Stars and Stripes (see ref A), the surrogate New Syrian Army that was going to represent the good guys in the ground war against the Islamic Front (IS), will only be trained to defend territory.  They will not be trained or ordered to take any territory.  The first problem that jumped out at me is that we are still talking in "future" terms.  The New Syrian Army "WILL" only be trained to defend.  Are we to believe that the training of our surrogate saviors hasn't even started?  Aren't we already over a month into the air campaign?  The second, and much more disturbing bit of news from Stars and Stripes, is that when we finally get started with the training, it will consist exclusively of defensive warfare.  And what if, by the time our New Syrian Army is ready for battle, the IS has already occupied ninety percent of Syria.  I assume they will be content to just IGNORE the "defense only" New Syrian Army, who won't be able to attack unless someone attacks them?  If this development weren't so desperate and dangerous, it would be hilarious.  How can the military brass just accept these kind of "political" intrusions into military strategy?  Is there anyone at the Pentagon who is old enough to remember Vietnam?  DEFEND ONLY doesn't work in warfare, especially against an enemy like this.  Why would the Obama Administration adopt this approach?  Are they concerned about killing IS operatives?  After the last week of bombing at Kobani it would seem as if they don't mind killing the bad guys one bit.  So why are we going to spend billions of dollars training an Army for the sole purpose of "defense"?

Ref B should also come as no surprise.  The IS has occupied huge swaths of territory in eastern Syria and Western Iraq.  I'm a bit surprised that with at least five coalition Air Forces in the area (maybe only four; I keep adding the Brits out of habit), anything is able to move in the desert without getting blown to bits.  Even with a daily dose of Stars and Stripes and LWJ, I'm still totally confused about the organization of the air campaign.  What I do know is that the U.S. and France are willing and able to deploy over both Syria and Iraq.  Now here is where things get cloudy.  The Qatari and Emirati Air Forces, flying the shiniest and newest F16s, seem to pick and chose when they get involved.  They are willing to bomb some folks, but not bomb others.  Something smells rotten here (which is no surprise, since deodorant is definitely optional in this part of the world).  Since when does a military coalition partner turn in  a list of "folks we will bomb", and "folks we won't"?  Being the brilliantly suspicious asshole that I am, something tells me that both the Qataris and Emiratis are sympathetic to certain terrorist groups active in Syria.  Qatar's thinly-veiled support for Islamic Extremist groups is not a news flash (I'm sure glad we didn't deliver those five Guantanamo residents we traded for Bergdahl to a place like Qatar), but the Emiratis are usually much more discrete.  Either way, it may explain why the bad guys are able to open numerous training camps right under the eyes of our spy satellites.

Ref C is the least interesting of Thursday's "multiple Links" night.  It probably comes as no surprise to my well-read readers that Al-Qaeda (AQ) has found ripe fruit to pick amongst the one hundred thirty-three million mostly poor, Muslims of India.  Regardless of which party is in power in India, religious tension always seems to be boiling just below the surface.  I thought that the Congress Party, under the direction of Sonia Ghandi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, would make a sincere effort to address some of the many legitimate grievances of the Muslim community, but it didn't happen.  Excuse the clichĂ©, but India truly is like an Onion.  Once you peel it, you have another layer, and then another, and another....India is a nation built upon one set of hierarchies after another.  Addressing the grievances of the Muslim community will probably result in the continuation of bigotry in another part of Indian society.  Be that at is may, Osama bin-Laden recognized the opportunity to recruit and cause trouble here, and AQ has been a stealth presence in Muslim India for years.  The attention focused on AQ on the Indian subcontinent comes as AQ releases its newest online magazine, the English-language "Resurgence".  I've seen photos of the cover of the magazine and the insides, and it has an appealing, colorful modern look to it.  Then you read the articles.  Most of the magazine focuses on the Indian subcontinent, with writers offering explanation for the AQ plan to hijack Pakistani naval vessels.  The hijacked vessels were supposed to attack the U.S. Navy warships, but the plan never got off of the ground.  I don't understand why AQ has always persisted in offering explanations for its actions.  AQ despises the United States and the way Americans live their lives.  AQ also resents the influence and the presence of the United States around the world, financially, militarily and diplomatically.  I think that covers it.  "Resurgence" does include a very interesting article (with a nice graphic) on what targets would cause the most damage to American interests.  They conclude that disrupting the flow of oil would be the most effective way to hurt the U.S.  Obviously they have some real deep thinkers over there at AQ University.  Back on the subcontinent, the potential is great for an escalation of AQ-sponsored violence.  In fact, its inevitable. India has an effective, well-run internal law enforcement agency (the Central Bureau of Investigation - CBI), and I would not envy any Indian AQ members who get picked up by the CBI.  If AQ orchestrates a large-scale attack, the Indian police will lock-up first and ask questions later.  India has a relatively new government and it will be very interesting to observe how the New Democratic Alliance (NDA) (basically the BJP and a handful of like-minded parties) approaches this issue, and how they respond to the inevitable AQ attack. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Immigration....The Most Important issue Facing Americans in 2014

Links: DC Prepares For A Flood Of Resident Aliens
            Thousands Of Undocumented Felons Released

Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
    -From William Shakespeare's "The Tempest"

Any issue regarding the safety of U.S. citizens belongs in the realm of national security.  Immigration is and always has been part of the national security discussion.  I could also argue that the stampeding herd of elephants that is our national debt is an issue of national security, but today we will focus on immigration.  When Barrack Obama ran for President in 2008, he did not disguise his determination to reform the immigration system.  I assume other priorities, including Obamacare, took precedence during his first term, and so Obama has decided to fight the immigration battle in 2014 (following the Nov 2 midterm elections, mind you).  Actually, we won't get to observe a battle, or a debate, or even a vote in Congress.  President Obama has openly declared his intention to use Executive Action to address immigration reform.  Obama's intended Executive Action will be primarily focused on the thirty million undocumented persons living in the U.S. (there are many guesses as to how many people live in the United States illegally. . .thirty million seems a bit conservative, but let's give the benefit of the doubt).  We've had this conversation before.  During the Bush Administration, the decision was made to build a fence along the southern land border.  Not a white-washed picket fence like the one Tom Sawyer was supposed to paint, but an electrified fence that was intended to be part of a broader monitoring system.  Although a few stretches of fence were constructed, the effort never got close to completion.  From the get-go, the fence was opposed by Democrats in Congress, and a variety of legal challenges really killed the effort.  If you've read my blog more than a few times, you should know that I always appreciate keeping things simple, so this is my simple question:
 If the United States has an international border with Mexico, why is it wrong to demarcate that border with a fence?

We never got the fence.  But Congress has paid for a steady increase in Border Patrol, Customs and Inspections personnel.  I understand this issue because in a former life I was a Federal Agent working on the International Ports of Entry in Laredo, Texas.  Any honest Border Patrol or Homeland Security Officer will tell you that we probably only interdict five to ten percent of those who are trying to enter the U.S. illegally from Mexico.  The percentage of drugs that we stop is probably close to five percent as well.  Should the average American be concerned about undocumented persons living in the United States?  The answer is yes.  No hospital emergency room is going to refuse service to a sick person because of lack of identification or documentation.   When the bill does not get paid, the physician/hospital system has to absorb the loss and the difference is passed on to the taxpayer.  And it happens all the time.  I'm not saying that emergency rooms should deny treatment, I'm only dissecting the issue.  Every public school system in the United States is required by law to teach the children of undocumented persons.  This has become a tremendous liability for the respective school districts.  Undocumented persons don't pay school or property taxes, so the district has to come up with the additional funds (not just to teach undocumented children, but to pay for bilingual teachers, create bilingual education programs, books, etc.) by raising the school tax rate.  Our prison systems have become heavily burdened with gang members from Mexico, Central and South America.   Gangs like Mara Salvatrucha 13 and the 18th Street Gang originated in Central America and are deeply involved in drug smuggling both inside prisons and on the outside.  We can only guess at the depth of the involvement that various Central and South American gangs have in the importation and distribution of drugs on the streets of America.  The smuggling of both people and narcotics used to be exclusively controlled on the south side of the border in Mexico.  That has changed: the gangs that run the coyotes (a smuggler of people) and the mules (an undocumented person smuggling narcotics) have established themselves in U.S. locations like El Paso, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Tijuana, Yuma, Douglas, Nogales, McAllen, Laredo, and Brownsville.  A Border Patrol Chief who has been a close friend for decades told me that he believes at least five of the homes purchased and built in the exclusive, gated community in which is lives, belong to narco-traffickers.

These are only a few of the reasons why immigration is a national security issue.  We haven't even touched on the issue of terrorists sneaking across the porous border pretending to be Latino.  Special Interest Aliens (persons from countries with known terrorist connections, for instance Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan) having been pulling the "just pretend to be Mexican" trick for years.  Now that we no longer deport undocumented Mexican nationals, you can bet that a few bad guys are presently holed up in cheap hotels in Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros, practicing a few words in Spanish.  No doubt at least a few readers have decided that I harbor some racist tendencies, a charge that often seems a futile effort to continue to refute.  Except to state the obvious; nothing in the above paragraph can be construed as applying to solely to one particular ethnicity.  More importantly, nothing I have stated applies to every person of a particular ethnic group.  I love Mexico, I love the Hispanic culture, and I speak fluent Spanish.  Whenever I return home from a long trip abroad, I never feel "at home" until I hear someone speaking Spanish.  So lets cut the crap and leave all that "racist" bullshit at the door.  We have a problem, and I'm beginning to fear that it may be out of control.  On top of everything that we have previously discussed, we must consider the fact that President Obama intends to issue an Executive Order that provides a path to citizenship for most of the nation's undocumented persons.  It's true that many of these people have been living in the United States for decades and certainly in their own way have contributed to the growth of the nation.  While it's been argued that providing a Social Security number for persons who were previously undocumented will increase the tax base, hold your horses, folks: it won't make that much difference.  Filthy rich Americans still constitute the great majority of the nation's tax base.

The piece of this issue which really gives me the red-ass has nothing to do with taxes or narco-trafficking.  What really pisses me off is that EVERYONE realizes that this fast-lane to citizenship is meant to create as many as twenty million additional Democratic voters.  Even Democratic talking heads on television admit this shameful fact.  The vast majority of persons affected by the impending Executive Action (forgive me for making assumptions, but see me in November and call me a liar) will be persons of Hispanic heritage (this proportion may possibly even as high as ninety-nine percent as not very many Austrians or Sri Lankans are hiding out from La Migra).  When this is taken together with the fact that in 2012, seventy-five percent of Hispanic voters cast their vote for Barrack Obama (stated in National Review magazine) the impact becomes clear. Every statistic I found echoed this kind of political dominance not just for Obama, but for Democratic candidates in general.  So, no "rocket science" here:  if President Obama signs an Executive Order fast-tracking citizenship for millions and millions of undocumented Hispanics in the United States, we will be staring a "one-party state" right in the face.  Why don't Hispanic Americans (documented or not) vote Republican?  On occasion, it happens.  The Cuban-American community in the Miami area have been staunch Republicans, mostly because of the Castro issue.  And a Hispanic Republican Governor (Martinez in New Mexico) and Republican Senator (Cruz in Texas) have been  recently elected, which seems to give some conservatives hope. I don't buy it.  Hispanic Americans have been loyal Democrats since the days of John F. Kennedy, and I do see a Sea-Change on the horizon (I love the phrase Sea Change; it comes from a song Shakespeare wrote as part of "The Tempest").

I don't have a problem with providing rights to persons who have been part of the fabric of our nation for decades.  I believe that, instead of creating a fast-track to citizenship, it would be preferable to provide an avenue for persons to obtain Resident Alien status (Green Card), and require that they utilize the system in place for adjusting to U.S. citizen.  Its terribly unfair for individuals who have followed the existing law and been waiting for years to become Americans, to be pushed to the back of the line by persons who entered illegally.  As tough as it may be for some people, we must remember that we are dealing with persons whose entire presence in this country is predicated on an illegal act.  I realize that Mexico can be a difficult country for young people with hopes and aspirations, and I don't judge anyone who is trying to provide for their family, but this issue is beginning to impact OUR families, especially those with children and grandchildren.  I had hoped for some form of political compromise, something that did not include a fast-track to citizenship.  I just can't see why that part of the equation is so important.  If someone entered the United States illegally in 1989, they should have the opportunity to apply for a Green Card.  Once that process is complete, if they are interested in becoming citizens, they can follow the law that is already in place.  IMPORTANT: Don't believe the Democrat narrative that Congress has been AWOL on this issue.  The House of Representatives has approved a number of Immigration Reform Bills that were not allowed to even reach committee.  Sometime in 2012, Harry Reid decided that President Obama should rule by decree. So for all practical purposes, he ended the functions of the U.S. Senate as of October 21. At that time, three hundred fifty-two Bills that had passed the House were languishing in Harry Reid's personal purgatory.  With Congress unable to act, Obama can say (without the hint of a smile) that the do-nothing Republicans won't act on immigration, and he is therefore obliged by his responsibilities as President of the United States to utilize Executive Authority.  Once he signs the Executive Order, no one knows how many formerly undocumented people will follow through with the process, but if they do, they get to be the latest addition to a rapidly expanding Democratic voter roll.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Whats Up with Syrian President Assad And His Moscow Handlers?

Links: Russia And The Syrian Civil War
           What Are Assad And Putin Up To?

Since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, it seems that the Soviet Union/Russia has always sided with the Arabs while the United States sides with the Jewish nation.  To be
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli–Palestinian_conflict
fair, the Soviet Union voted in favor of the UN resolution that partitioned Palestine and created two separate states (the Palestinian state never really got off the ground; the Jewish half became Israel).  Given its strong support of a Jewish state following World War II, it's no surprise that the United States supported Israel from the beginning (I'm not saying a word about the politically influential Jewish lobby). However once Cold War tensions elevated, the Soviets sided with the Arab regimes in the Arab-Israeli conflicts in order to maintain thier position in opposition to the United States, Israel's strongest ally.  Conflict between Israel and the Palestinians/Arab states brings to mind three separate military engagements: the War of Independence (1947-1949), the Six Day War (June 1967), and the Yom Kippur War (October 1973).  In truth, my earliest memory as a child was my father celebrating President Richard Nixon's re-election in 1972; my family lived on U.S. Army Bases in Germany (Bad Kreuznach,  Kaiserslautern, and Bad Hersfeld). But I can still recall the attack on the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.  I was barely out of diapers but I remember being so confused at how easy it was for some people to hurt others.  As I sit here in 2014, it seems as if Israel and the Palestinians have never really taken a break in their conflict.

The Soviet Union seldom went in for "half-measures".  They supported the Arab states both diplomatically and militarily.  Egypt's Presidents Nasser and then Sadat were dependent upon the Soviets for a never-ending stream of tanks and jet fighters.  The Soviets kept flying the tanks in, the Egyptians and Syrians kept rushing them into battle, and the Israelis kept creating bombed-out crematoriums for their crews.  I'm sure that Egypt, Syria and Iraq paid what they could, but there is not doubt in my mind that most of the military equipment that the Arabs lost came gratis from Moscow.  To the Soviets it was a necessary expenditure: Syria and Egypt gave the Reds access to the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal.  I don't think that the Russians had a particular dislike for Israel; more than anything else it was a strategic issue (the enemy of my enemy is my friend).  Its been some years since Syria, Egypt and Israel actually met on the battlefield.  The Egyptians are now equipped with modern U.S. military hardware (and training), but the Syrians have stayed loyal to Mother Russia. A number of times in the last two decades there was some concern that Turkey and Syria might duke it out (once over a territorial dispute, and once over the flow of a river).  The Turkish military would have humiliated old man Hafez al-Assad and his outdated weaponry. 

Syria has had great difficulty keeping its Soviet-era equipment up-to-specs.  Before the start
Syrian T-55 ARV armored recovery vehicle
(http://www.armyrecognition.com/News)
of the Syrian Civil War, the army still laid claim to 2,000 T-55 tanks, for goodness sake.  The only way to keep a few of those old junks running would be to cannibalize some of the others.  At one time Syria had a healthy number of T-62S, T-72S, and T-72Ms in its arsenal.  I have no clue how many have been destroyed in the war, how many have been captured, or how many just don't run anymore; the Soviets were not known for their weapons craftmanship (ever fired an AK-47?).  As for the Syrian Air Force, the great majority of its jet fighters were aged Mig 21s, 23s, and 25s.  They also have a handful of Sukhois and Mig 29s.  It was rumored that Russia has been hesitant to supply Syria with the new model Mig 31 because of pressure from the west.  The truth is, for offensive purposes, the Syrian Air Force no longer exists.  I realize that the media puts out the odd report of Syrian government Helicopter Gunships shooting up civilian areas, but if the Syrian Air Force had any real offensive capability, they would be laying it to the Islamic State (safe to assume?).  Interestingly enough, I have seen more conversation lately regarding the Islamic State and Migs than I have the Syrian Air Force.

Over the past month, the Islamic State has been forced into the dreaded two-front war.  It's fighting the Iraqi Army in Anbar Province and in north central Iraq it's waging war on the
Bashir al-Assad
Kurds in Kurdistan. Additionally the IS is attacking the Kurds full-force in north central Syria (Kobani) all the while under a regular barrage of death from the sky (Carl von Clausewitz is spinning in his grave).  What is most amazing is that the Islamic State continues to have the initiative on all fronts.  Be that as it may, Bashir al-Assad could not be happier, as the Americans and their allies (some are hated enemies of Assad and his Ba'ath Party) degrade the fighting ability of the Islamic State forces (I'm being optimistic).  No doubt Assad has used this respite to reorganize his army, repair and upgrade his armor, train new recruits, and prepare the West for an inevitable diplomatic offensive, sponsored by Putin.  I just hope Bashir has had a few extra minutes to try and locate his missing chin. Seriously.  Never in my life have a seen such a "chinless" person.  Too bad he doesn't live in Beverly Hills; he could've bought a chin and had it installed over lunch.

Speaking of the upcoming charm offensive, I predict that Assad will try to stay in power by reminding the west of what happens in a vacuum in this part of the world.  Can we afford
another Libya?  Assad knows that Obama can't support a coup orchestrated by the U.S.-trained New Syrian Army.  It would be to much meddling for Obama to stomach, and would also infuriate Russia.  If the New Syrian Army defeats the Islamic State, they will probably make a play for control in Damascus.  However, Obama can't let that happen, and Assad is aware of this fact.  I expect that the New Syrian Army and the regular Syrian Army will actually be fighting side-by-side against the Al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State, Khorasan, and all the other baddies.  Assad may offer blanket amnesty to the Syrian military officers who originally deserted to form the New Syrian Army.  When the time comes, Assad will have many Aces up his sleeve, and will have Vladimir Putin to watch his back.  It's not difficult to imagine Assad making amends with the leaders of the New Syrian Army, and presenting a fait accompli to the United States and its allies.  So from my optic, Assad is in the cat bird's seat.  The chair is a bit wobbly, though.  He needs to continue do everything possible to reconstitute his military, especially the Air Force.  I started this post pointing out the historic ties between the Russians and the Arabs, and I want to end it on a similar note.  Why is Putin so intent on keeping Assad in power?  Because Syria has a bit of land that serves as a coastline to the Mediterranean Sea.  Putin has visions of Russian Navy ships and, more importantly, submarines, having a home away from home in the Levant.  How the Obama Administration deals with this evolving situation will be a fascinating piece of the puzzle.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Still Stuck In Africa...Let's Talk About Liberia And Ebola (Part II)

Links: Wikipedia Liberia
           The U.S. Has An Obligation To Liberia
           Mea Culpa To Dallas From The Liberian President

(Part II)
The second and third links I have chosen deal with the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia (and Guinea).  To get right to the point, when a serious outbreak of a hemorrhagic virus strikes a poor country where most of the population ingests less than one thousand calories a day  the body count can become shockingly high in a matter of days.  The truth is, this outbreak has not yet "exploded", for lack of a better term.  Perhaps this is because Ebola actually isn't that easy to catch, or because the Liberian and Guinean governments (and international organizations) have responded to the outbreak so
effectively.  The answer is most likely a combination of both factors.  On Oct. 15, The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 4,546 people have died from the Ebola virus with an additional 8,997 confirmed cases.  My source estimates are a bit different: roughly 18,000 cases (although not officially confirmed), mostly in Guinea and Liberia, but also a few in Mali, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, and Senegal.  I'm told that efforts to isolate the illness in Guinea and Liberia have been outstanding.  The International Red Cross, the WHO, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), and Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) have been working closely together and with the local Ministries of Health to provide isolation equipment, protective clothing, detection equipment, and a variety of other essential medical tools.  Even though the number of new cases appear to have plateaued, and wealthy nations are sending specialists and even troops to the region, many experts are concerned that we are only at the beginning of this outbreak.


Five hundred troops of the U.S. 101st Airborne are headed to West Africa.  The French are
already there, and believe me, when the Elysee Palace in Paris got wind of the U.S. deployment, orders were sent to increase the French presence in what was once part of French West Africa (excluding Liberia and Sierra Leone). I am very familiar with this part of the world, and although independence was granted to Mali, Chad, Niger, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, and Burkina Faso, a Frenchman is never very far away.  France was much more successful than the Brits in keeping relations pleasant with its former colonies.  It probably had something to do with the fact that the French allowed locally-selected political representation for its colonies in the French House of Deputies, and that France spent a fortune (and continues to do so) standing up and supporting the CFA franc as a currency for its former colonies, and get this, folks...the French treasury guarantees the CFA franc!  Can you imagine the Brits using their precious Sterling to guarantee the Kenyan Shilling
or the Nigerian Dollar?  Back at the ranch...I expect to see the French Foreign Legion deployed to Mali and Cote d'Ivoire in its entirety sometime soon, and the British will have to make their military presence known in Sierra Leone.  The U.S. gets Liberia, as it should.  Too many times in the last century and a half, U.S. administrations have refused to get involved in Liberian problems.  What a shame and what a terrible legacy.  This is one of the few occasions in which I will use the word "shame" and the United States in the same sentence.  Liberia was once a child of the U.S., much like Hawaii (which was a separate Kingdom) and Puerto Rico.  I believe that at one time or another we should have intervened and helped to put things in order.  It wouldn't have taken much because Liberia is a country that is rich in natural resources. However, as is frequently the case in many underdeveloped countries, the Liberian people have rarely seen the benefits from any of its national wealth.

Its certainly not too late to make a difference.  Considering that President Reagan's justification for military intervention and temporary occupation of Grenada was accepted, then without a doubt the United States had the bona fides to involve itself in Liberia's various coups and civil wars.  The flag is almost identical to ours, the towns are named Harper, Fishtown and Greenville, and the original settlers, former American slaves, drew up their original Constitution as a mirror of our own.  Why then did we chose to ignore Liberia for so many years?  Because it is in Africa, over there "somewhere", and didn't figure into our strategic national interests.  Fast-forward to 2014, and Liberia doesn't need a strong-arm presence to re-establish order.  Liberia has an honest, determined, brilliant, popular President who has been dealt the shittiest of hands by fate.  As for the French, U.S., and U.K. troops, their presence is intended to help keep order during evacuations, if such need arises.  So far they have not been needed, although the French contingent in Mali may have its hands full fighting a reborn "Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb" flare-up in the north.  My contact in Bamako, Mali is more concerned with the Al-Qaeda threat than she is Ebola.  The French military (and government) normally never hesitate to act where terrorists are concerned, as they demonstrated in Mali in 2012-2013, so I hope this mess doesn't turn into a two-front issue (Ebola in the south, Al-Qaeda Magreb in the north).  As I sit here at my computer, most of the involved parties are eyeing the border areas between Mali and Guinea/Liberia, and Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea/Liberia.  A number of gold mines exist in the border areas, with a number of mine workers coming from the infected countries.  Everyone is sitting on edge, waiting for the first confirmed case in Mali and/or Cote d'Ivoire.  As for the spread of Ebola, I will remain probably the last optimistic person in the U.S.  I expect that the number of cases in Liberia and Guinea will start to decline, so we can put this subject on the back burner, and return to our daily criticism of this administration and how it handles foreign affairs.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Still Stuck In Africa...Let's Talk About Liberia And Ebola (Part I)

Links: Wikipedia Liberia
           The U.S. Has An Obligation To Liberia
           Mea Culpa To Dallas From Liberian President

(Part I)
It's possible that in over two months of writing posts for this blog (I have yet to miss a day), this post may be the most important.
It should be important, especially to Americans.  I'm grateful that Wikipedia is always there to provide a snapshot of Liberian history; most grade school pupils in the United States have never heard of Liberia.  Beginning in 1820, freed slaves from the United States began returning to Africa (Liberia) with the support of various Abolitionist movements, especially the American Colonization Society.  In 1847, with a continual flow of freed slaves from mostly the United States, the Republic of Liberia was created (any slaves who were fortunate enough to be freed en route to the Americas also became Liberians).  The capital city was named Monrovia, in honor of U.S. President James Monroe, a strong advocate of the colonization of Liberia.  By 1867, roughly 13,000 citizens of the Republic of Liberia were former slaves.  Obviously this territory, located in west central Africa on the Gold Coast, was already inhabited in 1820.  Numerous indigenous tribes dotted the Liberian landscape before the arrival of the first settlers from the United States.  The former slaves and their descendants never accounted for more than five percent of the entire population of Liberia, but they immediately assumed the mantle of superiority.  The indigenous population were treated as savages and for almost a century were not considered actual citizens of Liberia.

In truth, the American Colonization Society (ACS), which was supported by both President Abraham Lincoln and Orator/Senator Henry Clay, believed that repatriation of former slaves to Africa was preferable to emancipation (freedom) within the United States.  Some in the organization were concerned about the difficulties former slaves would encounter after emancipation, while others felt it was in the best interest of both whites and blacks that they be returned to Africa.  However, it's important to keep in mind that by 1860 a large portion, if not the majority, of slaves had been born in the United States, or the Caribbean, rather than in Africa.
Life Membership Certificate ACS
Either way, on July 26, 1847, the settlers in Liberia issued a Declaration of Independence and promulgated a Constitution.  Not surprisingly, the Liberian Constitution bore a close resemblance to the Constitution of the United States.  The new nation suffered tremendous growing pains, as a small population of western-minded and Christian former slaves attempted to establish their authority over the indigenous inland tribes.  The government of Liberia (elected solely by male settlers) outlawed commerce between foreign nations and inland tribes.  A serious attempt was made to funnel all economic activity of Liberia to the capital city of Monrovia and through its port (a few other towns had sprung up, including Buchanan).  Development was very slow, and towards the turn of the century, France and England started exerting their authority over areas once claimed by Liberia.  In fact, The European nations were responsible for the boußndaries that today constitute the border of the Republic of Liberia.  With no army and no real diplomatic authority, Liberia had no choice but to except the demarcations as determined by France and England, which left Liberia with an English colony on its northwest border and a huge French-controlled territory on its northeast and east.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Liberia had very little to show for is fifty years of existence.  It was believed by most that the end of the Civil War would result in a huge wave of immigrants from the former slave population in the southern United States. 
For various reasons, that flood of new settler blood never really occurred.  In 1904 the Liberian government finally granted citizenship to all Liberians, but many indigenous tribes continued to oppose efforts at development.  In the mid-twentieth century, the United States became more involved in Liberia, with the construction of Roberts International Airport and new port facilities for Monrovia.  In 1945, Liberia became one of the original members of the United Nations, and was one of the first countries to openly oppose the Apartheid policies of the South African government.  Growth was slow and incremental, but progress was being made.  Rubber and Timber were being exported, and diamonds along with other precious metals and gems were discovered.  The soil appeared to be perfect for creating a fruit-based export avenue, and Liberia's history and the coastal areas seemed ideal for establishing a tourist industry.  In 1979, the economy was healthy and jobs were being created.  Unfortunately, a military coup was staged, led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe of the Krahn ethnic group.  Doe and his supporters accused then-President William R. Tolbert, Jr. of corruption and of giving preferential treatment to particular tribes to the detriment of others.  Tolbert and most of his cabinet were executed, along with many members of his political party; his family barely escaped Monrovia with their lives.

From 1980 until internationally-monitored elections in 2005, Liberia was literally hell-on earth.  Liberia suffered one coup after another, with each new government more despotic and violent than the previous one.  (If someone is interested in the details of the coups and the attempts at new governments, then Google is your answer.)  In fact, after 2000, it seemed the entire region was engulfed in war.  A horrendous Civil War swallowed Sierra Leone whole and created an entire generation of victims with missing limbs (instead of killing the enemy, it became habitual to just hack off a limb).  And the various mines planted everywhere rang up a high limb-count as well.  And to my surprise, even traditionally stable Cote d'Ivoire, with its French patisseries and tree-lined boulevards, fell victim to civil strife.  I'm so pleased to say that since 2005, a sea-change has occurred.  Peace in Sierra Leone, a new government and peace in Cote d'Ivoire, and a brilliant, no-nonsense President in Liberia.
  Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist with a sparking reputation, took office with a tremendous display of energy and confidence.  The Liberian people immediately responded, and since then growth has been the word for a new generation of Liberians.  The western banks and governments love Sirleaf, and she has done wonders battling that eternal, always-present beast of African governance: corruption.  She has surrounded herself with gifted individuals and everyday makes a point to go into the street and communicate with the people.
Johnson was re-elected in 2011 and is, in my opinion, personally responsible for convincing international banks and governments to write-off billions and billions of dollars of Liberian debt.  This has allowed the Liberian government more freedom of movement regarding development projects and education.  I'm sure that Sirleaf has political opposition in Liberia and that some may accuse me of being a Sirleaf sycophant (I like the way that sounds).  Well, guilty as charged.  I love what this woman has done to strengthen and give hope to the faultering country, and I pray that the Ebola crisis doesn't destroy all that she has worked to build.

Where In The Hell Is Timbuktu?

Links: UNESCO Link Provides Great Info On Timbuktu
           Goundam Mosque

Although this post does not directly relate to any of the hot spots we have been discussing lately, I've been thinking about Mali and decided to share the story of my first trip to Timbuktu (the correct spelling is Tombouctou, but this is one of the rare occasions when I will stick with what is most familiar).  When I was twenty-three years old and working in Southern Africa (1990), my employer instructed me to travel to Mali for a weekend-long African Union seminar.  I had read a book or two about Mali, and I assumed that French was the most common language.  I'd been anticipating a trip to Timbuktu since my eighth birthday when I had asked for and received a globe.  Between the globe and a well-used Rand McNally atlas, I spent many hours on a flying carpet in my mind's eye, traveling from one exotic location to the next.  Mali was a routine stop for me, only because it is home to Timbuktu.  I don't know how the town of Timbuktu became a part of the English language lexicon, but as a child I remember referring to anything that was very remote and/or unknown as "Timbuktu".  Also, at the age of nine, I read a story about the French Foreign Legion that included a description of Timbuktu.  It may have been remote, and it may have been mysterious, but it was real enough to end up on my globe.  So before I'd even hit puberty, a trip to Timbuktu was in my destiny.

I flew Air France into Bamako, and as we approached the runway, I had a view of the most amazing panorama.  It was a cloudless early afternoon, and the brown crease of the horizon separated the brilliant blue sky from the ground, which was made up of thousands of different shades of beige and brown.  It was my first real view of a desert, although Bamako itself hugs the Niger River, which allows for splashes of green around every corner.  it was early Spring, and although the temperature was consistently in triple digits, I did not find the heat overly oppressive.  Mali is one of many African countries that introduces itself when you first depart the plane with both a smell and a taste.  When the cabin door opened and I took my first full breath of "L'air Du Mali", I was immediately taken by the freshness and clear quality of the air (it reminded me of El Paso, Texas).  Senou International Airport did not have gangway service at that time, so the passengers departed the plane on the tarmac and walked the short distance to the terminal.  I took a taxi from the airport to the Sofitel Hotel, and after a boring seminar, I decided to take my rented Land Rover on a trek.  It wasn't a flying carpet, but the Land Rover would do just fine as I started my 1,000 kilometer (600mi) trek to Timbuktu.

The drive seemed interminably long, and the roads were abysmal. 
I saw many small cars negotiating potholes twice their size and three times as deep.  The one fortunate aspect of the drive, is I discovered the historic and ancient town of Goundam.  I actually stayed the first night in Goundam before driving on to Timbuktu, and I was lucky enough to find a small hotel which catered to French government and NGO types.  It was run by an older French couple from Limoges and the food and company were terrific (for the life of me I can't remember the name). Like Timbuktu, the buildings of Goundam all appear to be made of brown mud and brick. Goundam is home to the most breathtaking brown mud and brick mosque: Goundam-Tokossel Mosque.  Its similar to other structures of the same material in Mali, but the mosque is special.  It rises above all others that I've seen in craftsmanship and engineering.

When I arrived in Timbuktu I was a bit disappointed.  I saw plenty of evidence of what the French would call "pauvrete deluxe": lots of poor folks.  The town itself was comprised of very small corridors to walk through, and few larger roads for the odd SUV.  Visitors to Timbuktu are greeted at the entrance by a statue of two kissing camels whose necks stretch across the road.  I was surprised with the number of trees, especially compared to Goundam.  I had hoped to see structures and other evidence that would remind me of the French Foreign Legion visions of my youth, and on that note I wasn't disappointed.  Most of the buildings in Timbuktu are made of the same brown mud-brick composite, and it blends in quite naturally with the desert environment that almost surrounds the city.  Timbuktu is roughly 20 kilometers (12mi) north of the Niger River, which still directly impacts the economy of the locals.  What I discovered on my trip is the origin behind the European cultural use of "Timbuktu" as a synonym for any far-away, mysterious, and isolated destination. Sadly, I did not find enough in the actual Timbuktu to warrant staying a second day. In truth, I had found a clean hotel with running water and flushing toilets in Goundam, and it came with French cooking as well.  When you have spent as much time in Africa as I have, you never look a gift horse in the mouth. So I stayed the day in Timbuktu, drove back to Goundam for the night, and was back in Bamako late the next day.  I enjoyed Bamako very much;  the city had a reasonably sized French ex-pat community and for some reason at the time was full of French soldiers.  I got drunk and made some new friends, and nursed a hangover on my flight home, content that I had fulfilled a curiosity sparked over a decade before.