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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Obama's speech on the crisis in Ukraine and the threat posed by ISIS/ISIL

Link: Obama's Sept. 3, 2014 speech on Ukraine and ISIS/ISIL

(In the Spring of 2010 I had a conversation with my dear friend Lindsay Moran regarding my impending retirement and ongoing medical challenges.  Lindsay suggested that as a form of therapy I should write a book.  She correctly surmised that it would be both cathartic and possibly of interest to other folks.  Lindsay is an author herself and had tremendous success with her 2002 publication Blowing My Cover.  After I realized that the book I was writing was evolving into something more than therapy, we discussed the difficulties in getting books published.  Not to mention, a review of the genre shows no lack of "CIA memoirs" available on Amazon.  We decided that because of the original focus, my book would be very different from the numerous espionage-related non-fiction books that can be found at Barnes & Noble.  For me personally it was important that my book be as non-political as possible.  I wrote about people, and it takes quite a few personalities to fill up a room full of Case Officers, Analysts and Linguists.  I saw no point in excluding anyone just because I didn't agree with their politics.  I have tried to mirror my blog with the same effort in mind.  That being said, I have some critical observations to make about President Obama's speech today.  It's the nature of the business he is in and I will not tip-toe around in an attempt to not offend someone.  I would approach any speech by President Bush with the same perspective.)

President Obama began his first term with a whirlwind visit to Europe, Mexico and the Near East.  In particular, I recall visits to Cairo, Egypt and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  It was the speech he gave in Cairo that appealed to many Americans who had hopes of building a
2009 Speech at Cairo Univesity
better relationship with the Islamic world.  My recollection of the speech is that it was an apology, which should not have been surprising given the disagreement within the United States and in the International Community regarding the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Many Americans, I'm sure President Obama included, believed that U.S. diplomacy must move in a different direction in order to build peaceful, long-lasting relationships with the Arab world.  I would have been thrilled to see this Administration succeed in their efforts.  It would be nice if 6 years of Obama foreign policy would have resulted in no more beheadings of innocent Americans or conflict in Iraq.  But this has not been the case.  The Obama Administration has failed in its efforts to build a successful policy in the Near East (I say Near East vs. Middle East).  Libya is a political quagmire with the future leaders of that country almost guaranteed to be Islamic fundamentalists, Egypt teeters on the edge of a civil war, Jordan is overrun with terrorist groups, Syria is a complete battleground between repressive fascist Bashir al-Assad and Islamic terrorists, Iraq has split into spheres of Kurdish, Sunni, Shia, and ISIS/ISIL control, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hasn't been this bloody since the Intifada

Speech at Nordea Concert Hall in
Tallin, Estonia Sept. 3, 2014
During the speech he gave on September 3, President Obama stated that the United States must "organize" the Arab nations in an effort to combat terrorism, defeat ISIS/ISIL, and bring peace to the region.  He continues to avoid any implication that the United States might be obliged to intervene military (excluding the bombing raids in Iraq).  According to Obama, peace can be achieved in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, and Gaza, through diplomacy and through the use of sanctions.  You cannot convince me that he sincerely still believes this argument.  In both Ukraine and in the various Near East hot spots, none of the players involved seem predisposed to a peaceful resolution.  How do you force the kids fighting on the playground to put down their sticks, especially when your own stick is not nearly as big as it used to be?  In a previous blog, I made the argument that the sanctions regime enacted by the United States and the European Union against Russia, was going to hurt two groups that Vladimir Putin appeared to have under his complete control: the super-rich and the poor.  I'm sure the sanctions have impacted all members of Russian society to some extent, but I don't see even a hint of demonstrations in Red Square, how about you? (Except for the demonstrations in support of Putin's policy.)  Providing direct military assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces is long overdue.  I'm not sure that we have decided to take that step.  Time will tell.  I'm still convinced that the Russian Army is not prepared for a full invasion of Ukraine, or that Putin wants to re-attach the entire country to Mother Russia.  I believe Putin is hoping for the pieces to fall together that will allow him to annex Crimea and he is willing to give up eastern Ukraine in the bargain.  This development has given the Poles (and Byelorus, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) the opportunity to review military planning and policy, which in this case is a good thing.

Back to the organizing of Arab states to fight Islamic-based terrorism:  Luckily I'm not afraid to say "ISLAMIC-BASED TERRORISM" or "ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM".  The misuse and misinterpretation of the Quran is at the heart of the problem.  It's true that the huge majority of Muslims in the world just want to live their lives in peace and at peace with their neighbors.  But the bad guys have become an international crisis not because they willed it, but because they have found plenty of wealthy donors who secretly agree with their misuse and misinterpretation of the Quran.  The first thing these groups need are sponsors.  Secondly they need recruits.  You can't have the second without the first because someone has to pay the bills.  President Obama will not be successful in his effort to organize Arab states against terrorism because it is elements within these same Arab states that are supporting terrorism.  In Saudi Arabia, the Wahabi movement has long been a source of conservative and anti-western dogma.  The size of the royal family and its wealthy acolytes makes it impossible to accurately follow the money that flows out of the Kingdom.  The same can be said for Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.  I'm giving Oman and Jordan's King Abdallah, who seems to be a truly decent man, the benefit of the doubt.  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) are a true mystery.  At one time the UAE were known as the Trucial States and did most of their diplomacy through Great Britain.  Once oil became a huge commodity and the Brits granted independence, the seven separate emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Um al-Quwain, Fujairah, Ajman, Sharjah, and Ras al-Khaimah) smartly banded together and formed the UAE.  Europeans see the UAE as a great holiday destination and the place to see the latest monumental skyscraper.  The Emiratis have some amazing accomplishments to their credit.  They have turned desert into shiny cities and have pioneered desalinization research.  Wealthy Emiratis love horse (and camel) racing and enjoy the ancient sport of falconry. Each of the seven families controls tremendous wealth, created by the oil they sit upon.  Again, we have no real idea whether any of that money finds its way into the hands of terrorists.  The point is, while agreeing to tow the line diplomatically, the Arab states have no obligation to open their books to us or anyone else, and it is tremendously difficult determining if any particular player is funding terrorist activities.  Some evidence does exist that money from the various royal families of the Gulf region has found its way to Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and the like.  In fact, various humanitarian organizations active throughout the Near East have been discovered laundering money on behalf of terrorist groups, and that money certainly must originate somewhere.

President Obama finds himself in a difficult position.  For continuity's sake, he must stress the need for diplomatic solutions to the various problems in Ukraine and the Near East.  But the reality is, the United States does not have the diplomatic influence to impact any of the current crises.  Once it was obvious to ISIS/ISIL that the United States military would be out of Iraq by such and such date, they began to re-establish themselves in the rural communities and stepped up attacks on Iraqi government targets.  Considering the cost paid for what was achieved in Iraq (establishment of an electoral process, rebuilt refining capacity, new schools, rebuilt transportation infrastructure, rebuilt economy, etc.), I don't think it would have been too much to ask for the United States to have an Army base and an Air Force base in Iraq.  It would have made a huge difference to the folks around Mosul, Arbil, and Tikrit, I can assure you.  I do understand that the Administration is pressed to continue searching for diplomatic solutions to the conflicts we are discussing, but I for one can't help but focus on the real opportunities we have (which are not necessarily diplomatic in nature).  We need to give the Ukrainian Armed Forces full military support (short of feet on the ground).  The current exercises in Ukraine involving elements of the U.S. Army is a very smart move.  As for ISIS/ISIL, we must combat the recruitment efforts in the United States and Europe, and we must disrupt their supply/resources network, which includes tracking and cutting off financial support.  But sooner or later, I believe the U.S. military will have to engage ISIS/ISIL.  And when that day comes, ISIS/ISIL will pay the bill in full.

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