Twitter and email info

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why should the West be concerned with the intentions of the Islamic State in Africa? (Part II)

Links: A. ISIS supporting Al-Shabaab in Africa?
           B. ISIS eager to recruit South Africans.

In Part II we will focus on the Islamic State (IS) in Sub-Saharan Africa.  The Muslim states of West Africa are vitally important, because they will discreetly provide financial and material support to Islamic extremist groups, while publicly disavowing any involvement or knowledge of these organizations.

Mauritania.  To start, Mauritania is a bit of a mystery.  The government gives the appearance of being deeply observant of all Islamic Laws and traditions.  At the same time, Mauritania has steered a very moderate course diplomatically, snuggling up to France in particular.  In truth, Mauritania is a lightly-populated country that consists almost exclusively of SAND.  Eventually, the engineers and researchers will find oil in Mauritania, mark my word.

Al-Qaeda in the Magreb.   Al-Qaeda remains active in West Africa, in Mali and Niger in particular.  In 2013, Al-Qaeda more-or-less surprised everyone by hopping the coat tails of a Tuareg insurrection in northern Mali.  The Tuaregs, who had made repeated complaints to the government in Bamako, were suffering from private French companies occupying oases and disturbing traditional Tuareg trading patterns.  The Tuaregs felt that they had no choice but to take up arms, at least long enough to attract the European press.  But before you can say, "Camel Fart", Al-Qaeda had hijacked the Tuaregs little rebellion.  The Tuaregs quickly faded away, but Al-Qaeda in the Magreb (AQM) meant business, attacking Malian military and government installations as far south as Timbuktu.  In steps the French, who roll up AQM in record time (not many prisoners taken, from what I understand).  In the Fall of 2014, AQM, taking advantage of a government focused exclusively on combating Ebola, popped back up in northern Mali.  And this time, they were better armed and willing to involve others.  AQM repeatedly crossed the border into Niger and conducted raids against simple villages, along with the usual attacks against government and civilian targets in Mali.  Again, the French military has arrived on the scene, and I expect and even more thorough accounting of AQM.  I can hear you now, asking, "why all this AQM bullshit when the post is supposed to be about the IS"?  The answer is simple; the post is about the IS.  Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are, for all practical purposes, the same organization.  They are both Sunni-based, violent, terrorist groups dedicated to the removal of infidels from their "Holy Land".  They communicate with each other, they assist one another, and they play-up the western media's insistence on separating the two. As always, this is only my opinion.  Come see me in a year and remind me how wrong I was.

Al-Shabaab.  One fact that is not debatable is that the IS was born into the Al-Qaeda family.  In its former life, it was known as "Al-Qaeda in Iraq".  After the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed as the leader of the organization, and a new name, "the Islamic State in the Sham" (ISIS) was chosen.  Folks, I'm leaving out all sorts of important background to the genesis of IS, but this post has to stay within reasonable limits.  Al-Baghdadi really began to make the IS about himself, and let it be known to Al-Qaeda head Ayman Al-Zawahiri, that IS was able to function on its own.  Now this is as close to a complete rift with Al-Qaeda as ever occurred.  Zawahiri didn't have much to bitch about because the IS was kicking ass and taking names all over Iraq and Syria.  More recently, as the organization stretches its legs a bit, relationships have been established with like-minded Sunni extremist groups around the world, including Africa.  Al-Shabaab, that nasty bunch of turds that tried to turn Somalia into an Islamic State ruled by Islamic Courts (sounds wonderful, doesn't it?), have established themselves in the townships of Kenya, which are ripe recruitment areas.  Social Media is the master at bringing people together, and the IS and Al-Shabaab have been expressing support for one another for some time.  These two groups need each other.  Al-Shabaab needs the organizational skills, the discipline, and the funding of the IS, and the IS needs the geographic reach, and the potential recruitment opportunities available to Al-Shabaab.  They are both Sunni based, therefore there will be no trouble finding ideological (read: idiot-logical) common ground.  Al-Shabaab has established a presence as far south as South Africa and as far west as Namibia.

Boko Haram.  Ehen the Nigerian based terrorist organization, "Boko Haram", announced its support for the IS, the news was treated as a truly important development.  During the same week, the combined military forces of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Benin inflicted defeat after defeat on Boko Haram, who was now only in control of four northern communities (from twenty just the week before).  It was no surprise that Boko Haram (BH) wanted to change the headline, and the press obliged.  The poor Nigerian Army; after months of getting raked over the coals by the domestic and international press, they finally have a very successful strong of victories, and they get upstaged by BH's announcement of love for the IS.  The truth is, even though BH has very recently received a black eye and a bloody nose, this organization is built similar to the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, and it is more than able to retreat into the jungle and reconstitute itself.  I find BH to be the most dangerous terrorist group on the continent, and that includes north Africa.  Anyone engaged against BH needs to be familiar with its history, as BH is very loyal to its founding principles and the accompanying religious ideology.  The organization was originally established in support of providing Islamic education in northern Nigerian schools.  At the time, there was a need for a bit of a "siege mentality", as the Islamic community in Nigeria had many opponents.  Through concentration of resources and discipline, the Islamic community in northern Nigeria was able to effectively establish a network of Islamic schools.  As is often the case, this well-meaning effort got out of hand.  BH quickly morphed into a organization that allowed no disagreement and enforced the strictest of Islamic codes.  Instead of living peacefully with the Christian community, BH made every effort to either drive them off or convert their children.  When it became apparent that the Nigerian authorities were either unwilling or unable to respond, BH began large-scale forced conversions.  Instead of focusing on education, BH became a para-military organization, bent on proselytizing extremist Islam.  At the zenith of its reach, BH was smart enough to reach out to other like-minded organizations, which will provide a lifeline, if the Nigerian military is successful in forcing BH out of Nigeria.  BH is present in Ghana, in Cote d'Ivoire, and in the Cameroon.  Many of his soldiers are "brainwashed" teens, some not much older than ten, eleven years of age.  In many cases, these young fighters are the most dedicated.  I won't mention the fate of the young girls that are randomly kidnapped.  Suffice to say that the lucky ones are forced into sometimes plural marriages with men usually many years older.

Because of the growing population rate in sub-Saharan Africa, the pressure on the various national economies will only increase.  At the moment, even the most optimistic economies like South Africa, Nigeria, Namibia, Botswana, Gabon and Ghana, have unemployment rates for post-high school males as high as forty percent.  This group of unemployed, bored, many times hungry, unable to afford university fees, young men are the perfect targets for the IS.  Since the Islamic faith has done such an outstanding job introducing Islam to poorer African communities, many of these young men are already halfway home.        

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why should the West be concerned with the intentions of the Islamic State in Africa? (Part I)

Links: A. The Islamic State in Africa
           B. So this is the latest version of the Caliphate.....

We've already addressed the presence of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group in Africa in a number of posts. FYI, I'm one of those bloggers who analyzes statistics, and I'm well-aware, that for my core audience, anything having to do with the continent of Africa is about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.  Its vital to me that my blog remain relevant; unfortunately, that requires continued efforts to increase my audience, but it also obligates me to discuss all theaters of conflict.  No doubt this includes both North and Sub-Saharan Africa.  North Africa is rather simple to break down, and I usually include it with the Middle East anyway.

Egypt.  This particular piece of Mediterranean-bordered geography is important because Egypt shares a border with Israel, and has a huge, well-equipped and well-trained army.  And in spite of the best efforts of the current government, Egyptian society is inundated with extremists.  The Muslim Brotherhood, which commands a shockingly impressive number of supporters, is lurking around every corner.  Egypt also borders Libya.

Lybia.  When Libya started to crack at the edges, Muammar Gaddafi looked to the West, particularly to the United States, for assistance in creating some level of order.  Gaddafi had recently taken the first step and reached out to the West and the United States.  But the Department of State under Hillary Clinton never seemed prepared for any contingency.  When she accepted the position of Secretary of State, the Department itself was meant to be a vehicle for her star-studded arrival at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 2016.  A review of foreign affairs during the Clinton tenure at Foggy Bottom makes it clear that the only events, issues or summits that were worth our attention were the ones that allowed Hillary to shine.  It's as if the entire State Department morphed into her make-up closet.  As for developments in the real world, our entire diplomatic posture was reactive.  Again, except for the New Start Treaty, and a handful of other expertly-crafted engagements, the State Department just waited for things to happen, and then looked to the White House for direction.  Gaddafi was left out in the cold, and the opportunity to create something positive for the Libyan people, from the people of the United States, never materialized.  We sat back and watched Gaddafi get butchered, and a flock of nasty extremists move in to fight over what's left of Libya.  The night of the Benghazi incident, the State Department claims that efforts were made to contact the Libyan government.  WHICH ONE?

Tunisia.  Tunisia is very important.  The people of Tunisia fought and sacrificed to keep their nation from falling into the talons of extremists.  The removal of the ruling family, which had become so corrupt that certain members of the ruling family actually considered the Gross National Product (GNP) of Tunisia to be their own personal ATM account, was absolutely essential.  Since independence from France, the governments of Tunisia have always been at least a little corrupt, but they also exhibited a love of country that allowed for most of the GNP to be used for the good of the state.  Because Tunisia had good roads, nice resorts, and well-maintained historic sites, revenue from tourism continued to support economic growth and job creation. But recently, things had begun to get a bit out of hand.  Tunisia deserves an honest, Democratic government, and their relatively low population removes a major stress faced by many of Tunisia's neighbors.  But one threat that won't go away without a fight, is the presence of Islamic extremists.  Last week they shot up the Bardo Museum in Tunis and killed a bunch of European tourists.  The government of Tunisia, fresh off free and fair elections, needs the support of the United States and the international community now more than ever.

Morocco & Algeria.  At present, both Morocco and Algeria enjoy the security of effective, no-nonsense security forces.  The military in both countries, which traditionally seconds the security forces, are both disciplined, well-equipped, well-trained, and loyal to the government.  Hell, for all practical purposes, the military IS the government in Algeria.  But don't quote me, please.  I'm a huge fan of King Mohammed VI of Morocco.  Like his father, he has a keen sense of politics in the Islamic world, and manages to avoid really pissing off anyone.  Mohammed VI is as progressive as it gets for a Muslim regent, and he considers his inherited position to be a full-time job which he takes with the utmost seriousness. Algeria's economy can rely on oil for the foreseeable future, but Morocco imports $38.7 billion worth or goods every year, and exports only $16.8 billion.  Thank goodness for the relatively low population growth rate and high revenues from tourism.  But the pseudo-fascist government in Algiers and the monarchy in Rabat must look at the same map I have provided (link B).  Both Morocco and Algeria are part of the Caliphate, baby.  Realistically, the armies of either Morocco or Algeria could defeat the IS in a conventional war.  But the trick is, the IS won't limit itself to a conventional war.  The IS will engage in every type of warfare at its disposal.  The tourists will stop coming to the beaches of Morocco after a few well-placed incendiary devices and blown people to pieces.  And the Algerian government will lose its cash cow if the IS can successfully capture or blow up a refinery here and there.  And if this conflict grows to the point of endangering Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, then the IS will have grown into a military force to be feared.

North Africa is very important to the conflict that currently is being waged in Iraq and Syria. The IS is in Egypt, it is in Libya, and it is in Tunisia.  I guarantee you that operatives are in place in Algeria and Morocco, recruiting, reminding poor, jobless young men about the lifestyles of the rich diplomats and generals in Algiers, and the sinful lifestyle of the monarch in Rabat (it has long been suspected, and in fact, discreetly accepted that King Mohammed VI lived a homosexual lifestyle in Europe before the death of his father.  He has since married and fathered and heir, which at this point is all anyone seems to care about).

Click here to continue to Part II of this post. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Perfect Example Of Petty Political Corruption In 2015.

Link: Mayorkas and Rodham Deny Wrongdoing

There are times that I glance over the domestic news and giggle, and then there are times that I'm left feeling discouraged.  Today is one of those days in which I'm red-ass pissed off.  I'm not so much angry that another flock of Democrats have been caught abusing their office for political or personal gain, I'm angry because there never seems to be any recourse.  This particular scenario, involving Department of Homeland Security No. 2 Alejandro Mayorkas, is so obvious in its abuse that Politico, never known to be an enemy to the left side of the aisle, provided my link today.  As the link details, Mayorkas was busted because of an internal investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Investigator-General.  Actually, the issue here involves two individuals.  Mayorkas, who involved himself in Virginia Governor's efforts to win federal funding for a fledgling electric car company called GreenTech Automotive.  When Mayorkas was Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (he has since been promoted to Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security), his department controlled the investment-based program known as EB-5.  Initially, officials working in Citizenship and Immigration Services, denied a regional center's application to receive EB-5 funding to manufacture electric cars.  Mayorkas intervened, reversing the original denial.  Now we discover that Virginia Governor and Democrat bigwig Terry McAuliffe had invested in GreenTech's little electric cars.  To cut to the chase, Mayorkas abused his authority as Director of the EB-5 program to reverse a decision made by his staff, in order to protect the financial investment of a fellow Democrat.  Since Barrack Obama was elected in 2008, how many abuses of this nature have been exposed?  We can start with the IRS, which was politicized in a manner not seen in a century in the federal government.  "Anyone that gives money to Conservative Groups, especially the Tea Parties, can expect an audit".  I wasn't there to hear it, but I'm fairly confident that the previous statement was made by Lois Lerner.

I'm not going to waste this post on revisiting all the shenanigans of the Obama Administration.  I won't close this commentary, though, until I've had the chance to introduce you to Tony Rodham, Hillary Rodham Clinton's brother.  You see, Tony ran an EB-5 visa investment known as Gulf Coast Funds Management, which, coincidentally, directed funds to the above-mentioned GreenTech.  Hillary Clinton just happened to be Secretary of State during the time that Gulf Coast Funds Management and GreenTech were pressing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (and Director Alejandro Mayorkas) for approvals to accept investments that could lead to green cards for foreigners willing to pay more than $550,000 in principal and fees.  When Tony Rodham decided to get involved in this venture, what was he thinking?  Was he pondering how nice it is to support research into alternative energy?  Or was he thinking, I am make an investment that can't lose, because the funds are guaranteed by the U.S. taxpayer, thanks to my connections.  Well, if he was thinking the latter, he was correct.  The folks who are the veterans at U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, who know the job better than anyone, recognized that GreenTech was a loser and did the right thing by denying their application for funding.  Here comes well-placed Alejandro Mayorkas to smooth everything over for both McAuliffe and Rodham.  This particular favor probably had a lot to do with his subsequent promotion to Deputy Secretary.

Now lets get to what really pisses me off.  During the Obama Administration, the federal government was purposely seeded with political appointees who have no business being where they are.  they don't have the knowledge or the experience to be sitting in their offices.  They received positions based upon their loyalty to the Democratic Party and nothing else.  Now passing out political favors is nothing new, and Republicans have done it as well.  But until 2008, both parties limited this type of largess to the occasional Ambassadorship.  Washington DC in 2015 reminds me of South Africa.  In South Africa, it is virtually impossible to find a government ministry that is not flooded at the managerial level by ANC members.  And its very frustrating for the political opposition because so many important investigations into government fraud and corruption get whitewashed.  Sound familiar, folks?  When was the last time you heard anyone resigning from this Administration? The Modus Operandi of the Obama Administration is to deny, defend your fellow Democrats, don't give an inch, wait for the smoke to clear, and get your promotion.  One of the more entertaining examples of this type of behavior involves New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez.  Senator Menendez has deflected accusations of an interesting variety in the last decade, including reports that he "partied with" underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, and that he wasn't disclosing private gifts as required by law.  While Senator Menendez was behaving like a good Democrat (from a powerful state), and voting the right way, the Obama Administration kept Menendez safe.  But once Menendez expressed his disagreement with Obama over Cuba and also over these "cloak and dagger" negotiations with Iran over the Nuclear issue, he has been thrown to the dogs.  Poor Bob can expect all sorts of FBI inquiries, because that's how business is done.  Its one of the traditions Obama transplanted from Chicago.  Once you have the authority, do everything you can to make sure you never lose that power.  Step one is to fill every vacancy with a political selection, regardless of qualifications.  And the recent promotion of Alejandro Mayorkas to the second-highest job at Homeland Security, even while he was being accused by his own Investigator General of unethical behavior and abuse of authority, is a perfect example of petty political corruption in 2015.    

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When Did Christianity Become So Unfashionable?

Link: Wikipedia on Religion in the United States.

(Before reading the post today, please keep in mind that what I write is solely my opinion.  It is not my intention to inflame, or aggravate, any person who holds opposing viewpoints.  If you have difficulty with the idea of a pluralistic society and freedom of expression for all, then maybe you should stop reading this and go pick up last month's issue of Mother Jones.  Cheers.)

I have always been fascinated by the need to portray every U.S. presidential candidate as a "devout church-going Christian".  When I was just a boy, I decided (a bit prematurely, it turns out) that as soon as I was an adult, I would quit going to church because it was so "boring".  Then I see these guys, fighting tooth and nail to be president, making a show of their absolute thrill of being in church, at least as long as the camera was rolling.  I have to give credit where its due: President Barrack Obama doesn't pretend to be a churchgoer.  He is our first president to not attend church (except on those annoying important days, like Christmas and Easter).  If there is one thing that really pisses me off, its affectation.  I don't believe that people should do things just for appearances sake.  If Obama doesn't agree or appreciate what is being expressed on the pulpit, then he should just head to a Golf Course somewhere (no reason to waste the day).  I do have a bone to pick with the president when it comes to religion, though.  As much as I appreciate his candidness today, where was that candor for the past twenty years?  The Obamas were regular attendees at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and they had the unique opportunity of hearing Reverend Jeremiah Wright speak every Sunday.  In fact, Reverend Wright baptized both of Obama's daughters.  I'm sure everyone remembers the controversy regarding Reverend Wright and his sermons, which regularly included hateful lectures directed at white people.  And we're not referencing just a few sermons.  Reverend Wright believes that white people purposely enslave blacks in America, and he considers the USA to be rotten at the core.  President Obama claimed that during the almost two decades that he attended Rev. Wright's church, he couldn't recall ever hearing that kind of message.  Interestingly enough, others who attended during the same time period, couldn't recall ever NOT hearing that kind of message.  So this is my observation: President Obama does not feel the need to attend church regularly now that he's in the oval office.  We can assume his daughters will receive whatever religious instruction the Obamas, as parents, believe is appropriate.  Obama attended church in Chicago.  He doesn't attend anymore, now that he lives in the White House.  Let me explain the difference between Chicago and DC.

President Obama is not a closest Muslim, although many Red-Staters chose to believe otherwise.  If Obama is a Muslim in hiding, he's in trouble.  Remember, Muslims have five obligations that stick around for life.  I have yet to see Obama pull out the prayer rug, and say a prayer in the direction of Mecca five times a day (Salat), and I think any diet choices because of Ramadan would have been detected.  In fact, I don't believe that Obama is a Christian, either.  He might be.  Most self-identified Christians no longer attend services on Sunday, so its possible that the Obamas fit into that group.   Personally, I don't buy it.  If anything, Barrack Obama is religious about his politics.  He wants badly to affect change in our society, because he views our country as terribly flawed.  He continued to attend Rev. Wright's sermons because the good Rev. Wright wasn't actually preaching about religion.  He was demagoguing about social justice and political action.  Obama has no problem attending religious events and ceremonies as a speaker, because he can control the message he is delivering.  And the line between religion and social justice is fine indeed......if it exists at all.

I have a number of great friends who are Mormon.  I also have friends who are Methodists and others who are Lutheran.  I recently met an amazing young man named Kevin who I'm convinced will one day be President himself, and Kevin is a regular, church-going Baptist.  Just in regular conversation, I learned that each of these Christian denominations are active overseas, working to feed people, build homes and vaccinate children.  And I don't believe for one second that their assistance is contingent upon a Baptism Ceremony.  I am referring to people who have accepted the truly rewarding obligation of helping others.  As a Roman Catholic who has spent a bit of time researching the Holy See, I am aware of the countless outreach efforts that the Catholic Church sponsors.  You will find Priests feeding the hungry and treating the wounded in Syria, and you will find Nuns burying the deceased and treating the sick in Ebola-ravaged Sierra Leone.  No one has a monopoly on philanthropy.  But I find the approach from the U.S. government to be confusing.  When George W. Bush was in office, the government went out of its way to assist private charities and aid organizations, regardless of religious affiliation (if any).  Bush made it a hallmark of his presidency to encourage young people to return to volunteer work.  I'm curious if Peace Corps numbers increased during the Bush years;  I'll check and get back to you.  In 2015, the Obama Administration continues to encourage people to volunteer resources and time, but anything with a religious tag needs to be avoided.  I understand that it can be a slippery slope.  If the US government works with one religious charity but choses not to work with another (possibly because it presented fraudulent documents, etc.), then Uncle Sam can be accused of playing "religious favorites".  But the avoidance of all things religious goes way beyond charity or the First Amendment.  I used to live in DC, and recently I returned to visit a friend.  We set aside two days to visit the White House and the Capital Building.  In fact, we did the loop; we started at the White House, walked to the Lincoln Memorial, around to the Washington Monument, hopped across 15th Street, up past the Smithsonian and on to the reflecting pool and the Capital Building.  I love DC so much and I recommend it for tourists unreservedly.  But something has changed about the Capital.  Religion has disappeared completely.  You won't see a mention anywhere.  It was a Sunday, and I couldn't find anyone who appeared to be either on their way, or returning from, church services.  I heard no bells ringing, and no historic tours with a religious theme at any of the museums.

I can't say, in good conscience, that religion has become unfashionable.  Au Contraire.  Its cool to pop into a Hindu Temple and educate yourself a bit, and Buddhism can be fascinating as well.  Linguists teaching Arabic are a valuable commodity in DC, as young diplomats at Foggy Bottom and young diplomats in-training at Georgetown University buy up all the Barnes & Noble copies of "The Idiot's Guide to Islam".  But Christianity is, like, yesterday's religion: a bit stale, old-fashioned, and boring.  Please don't quote me.  This is what I assume is going on in the minds of twenty-somethings nowadays.  And our president manages to be the most uber-cool of all.  he goes on Jimmy Kimmel, he makes out a NCAA basketball bracket, and he no longer goes to church.  The truth is, America is changing, and its not Barrack Obama's fault  In fact, if you're a Christian, you have to have faith that all of this scary, bad news fits into His plan somehow.  Before 2008, the United States still seemed determined to find its own way, and let others follow.  Now its 2015, and we are right in step behind Europe, which is exactly where the Progressives like Obama believe we should be -BEHIND Europe, not leading, but following.  When I think of the fundamental changes that have occurred in the United States over the past six years, I almost lose my breath.  The number of folks who are dependent on Washington DC for everything, from food to wiping their ass, has skyrocketed.  And if you try and motivate people to do for themselves, you are a cruel, racist, hater.  Our military is shrinking, and veterans continue to have trouble finding appropriate medical care.  I have to say that the disappearance of Christianity from everyday life has coincided with a host of bad news.  Its high-time we embrace the simple message in that statement, and turn this ship around.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Just A Sign Of The Times......

Link: Did Obama Threaten To Shoot Down Israeli Warplanes?

Its so hard to believe, but 2016 is almost upon us.  For me, the years pass so quickly, now that time has become so valuable.  When I was younger, the term "middle age" was always confusing to me.  It was meant to describe people in their 50s and early 60s (if my memory serves me correctly), but I found myself doing the math each and every time, and coming away perplexed.  When I was fourteen, my middle-aged Grandmother was fifty-nine years old.  Since she was considered middle-aged, shouldn't she expect to live to be somewhere near one-hundred twenty?  She departed for her just rewards at around seventy-three years old.  So "middle age" will just remain one of those quaint American terms that are impossible to translate.  But my age is immaterial to this post.  Hillary Clinton's age is a more apropos topic.  How old is Hillary nowadays, anyway?  Wikipedia says she's sixty-seven.  Wow; the years have been rough on Hillary, and I mean no disrespect.  Washington DC is a stressful town, and the cost of doing the nation's business can always be seen on the faces of the veterans like Hillary.  Poor Mitch McConnell; his turkey neck will on occasion catch a gust of wind and blow him backwards five feet.  I was going to say that Barbara Mikulski has been in DC so long that you can't really determine her gender, but actually, she arrived that way.  Not too many pretty faces in Congress nowadays, and some of it is self-inflicted.  I'm still totally confused about John Boehner's merry-go-round of tans. Sometimes he's Bahamas brown as a coconut, and the next day he will be lightly bronzed like a peanut.  What a circus. 

Circus or not, 2016 is almost upon us.  I am so appalled at the state of affairs in the United States that I try to avoid addressing the long-term.  My view is, that from an integrity perspective, its never to late to start doing the right thing.  If the 2016 President-elect, with a compliant Congress, decides to tackle the national debt, how exactly do you get your hands around twenty trillion dollars?  Don't forget, all of those outstretched hands aren't going anywhere, and the first elected leader who realistically attempts to attack Entitlements had better have thick skin.  The only way to effectively attack the national debt is with targeted, substantial cuts to Entitlements.  The current Administration has presided over the most massive growth in Entitlements that this country has ever seen.  Commercials are produced by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that encourage people to examine themselves to look for evidence of partial disability.  There can be no doubt that the Obama Administration is determined to create a population that is solely dependent on the government from cradle to grave.  I can't think of anything more un-American.  But President Obama can't run for re-election, and currently he's singularly focused on trying to salvage his legacy by sponsoring a Nuclear Power Treaty with Tehran.  Is there an American in this country who actually believes that the government of Iran will abide by a Treaty it signs with the U.S.?  Since they've been so quick to remind us of our "Great Satan" reputation, why would we expect them to feel bound to any agreement they might sign?  But you can rest assured that a Treaty will be signed.  President Obama likes to pretend before the cameras that his tough-as-nails negotiators won't accept a weak or unverifiable Treaty, but you know just as well as I do, that their marching orders were to conclude a Treaty first, apply window dressing second.  Welcome to Operation Salvaging the Legacy.

Out here in the Texas Hill Country, I rarely hear rumors.  But believe it or not, we do get the internet down here deep in Red State territory, and so close to the Cradle of Texas Liberty, the Alamo.  Per the link that I have provided above, a few weeks back a Kuwaiti newspaper (with a respected Editor) published a report, claiming that sometime in 2014, the Israelis were considering a pre-emptive strike against the Iranian nuclear research facilities, and that U.S. President Barrack Obama threatened to intercept and shoot down any Israeli planes who attempted such unilateral military action.  We have learned only recently that negotiations with the Iranians were ongoing in 2014 as well.  What have we become?  And how was it accomplished in such a short period of time?  I have no choice but to assume that the approval numbers for Obama, which currently reside near fifty percent, are accurate.  Is it possible that fifty percent of the American public believe that Obama has done a good job with the economy, and has made the United States a safer place to raise our children?  I'm old enough to remember when Jimmy Carter was elected President in 1976; it was the year of the bicentennial, and the year my beloved Guinea Pig, Snowball, died of heat stroke.  I remember my father supported President Gerald Ford for re-election, but many people, especially in the younger subgroups, were visibly excited about a Carter Presidency.  Many folks associated the Republicans with two negative issues: the Vietnam War and the Nixon scandal.  Governor (of Georgia) Jimmy Carter promised an entire new direction. 

Carter was victorious is one of the most astonishingly close elections in our nation's history, and his was true to his convictions.  His policies were implemented at the earliest opportunity. And before you could say "oops", the country began to come apart at the seams.  The economy was stagnant and refuse to grow.  Our foreign policy appeared to be crafted as the day went on, with a public opposition to all terrorism but a behind-the-scenes willingness to talk to anyone.  By the time an attempt to rescue the American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran had failed, even Carter seemed to understand that his ideas just weren't in sync with the American people.  he did run for re-election, beating Senator Ted Kennedy for the Democratic nomination, but he was thoroughly trounced by the former Republican Governor of California, Ronald Reagan.  The reason we have taken this little trip down memory lane, is because I can recall that many people who originally voted for Carter in 1976, had not trouble admitting that they had made a mistake.  Just as many Republicans were quick to acknowledge their support of Richard Nixon as an error.  In fact, being big enough to own up to a bad political decision seems very American to me.  But we have undergone a tremendous Sea Change in the last twenty years.   The country could be burning to the ground around us, with Al-Qaeda chopping of heads for lunch at the local Dollar General, and folks would still vote for Barrack Obama.  This explains why, with a twenty trillion dollar deficit, a confused and bumbling foreign policy, a military that can't provide basic health care to its veterans, and a small group of elite politicians who continue to live above the law (Hello, Hillary).  I guess its all just a sign of the times......  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Bit Off-Topic.......

Link: Anastacia's Blog

Normally, this blog focuses on international current events, but occasionally I stumble across something that demands commentary.  Most days, this blog can be found in the deserts of Iraq and Syria, or the forests of northern Nigeria.  On rare days I will discuss the many places I have been fortunate to visit across the globe, and even more rarely I will make an exclusively political post.  Recently I've been talking to my friend and fellow blogger (see link) Anastacia, about creating new blog posts.  You see, Stacy's blog has been growing in viewers everyday, and she want's to keep the trend going by having a new post as often as possible.  I explained to Stacy that she should never forget that the blog is uniquely hers, and if she doesn't feel like writing about kittens and cats day-in and day-out, she can write about the Blanco Panthers tradition of great high school football, or about driving from New York to central Texas on a motorcycle.  I recommend not straying for too long, but a change in subject can be a welcome variation, like opening a window in Spring, after having had it closed all Winter.  For example, my posts usually have some terrorism or diplomatic nexus, but today will be a bit different.  You see, today I had an experience which is, truly, hard to believe.  I was visiting my local H.E.B., a huge Texas grocery store chain which is similar in appearance and product to the Giant and Food Lion chains of the northeast (I think the southeast might still have Piggly Wiggly, but I have no idea what grocery stores can be found on the west coast).  It was just before lunchtime, and the H.E.B., which is located in a nice, middle to upper income bedroom community of San Antonio, was moderately busy.  Unfortunately for me, the "15 items and under" aisle was already long, but with my bag of Cheetos and a six-pack of Evian, I got in line.  I reasoned that even if the line was long, everyone would have less than 15 items and I would be on my way in no time.  When will I learn not to assume.

You see, about three people in front of me, someone had gotten into the "15 and under" line with a cart full of groceries.  And we aren't talking about someone who made a mistake.  This was one of those people who lives their life believing that rules are for the rest of us.  But the cashier was bustin' ass and taking no prisoners, so I decided to stick it out, reading the headlines of the checkout magazines to kill the time.  It was at this point that I noticed an older white lady standing directly behind me.  She was very well put-together, with a friendly face and a nice smile; I would guess that she was roughly 75 years old.  I noticed that she had started up a conversation with a young Asian lady directly behind her in line.  The Asian lady reminded me either of a college student, or a young wife and mother picking up some groceries on her lunch break from work.  I decided to listen in on their conversation, a choice I would quickly regret.  I did not hear the initial part of the conversation, but I arrived for the good stuff. "You know, I've never understood how you people can see properly, with your eyes so slanted.  I can't imagine you get a very full picture".  The older woman actually said this.  And she had no clue that she had said something even the slightest bit offensive, because she kept on.  "Is it difficult for you to see?  I wonder if they have more car accidents in China, or Viet Cong, or whatever those places over there are called."  And then she did it.  She couldn't leave well enough alone.  She had to add a coup de grace.  She placed her basket on the back edge of the conveyor belt, and lifted her hands to her face, and pulled at the far end of her eyes to create the unfortunate image of "slanted eyes".  "When I do this, I can't see anything.  I ask my husband, and he just laughs at me.  I just don't know how you folks can see anything".  By now, the young Asian girl no longer had slanted eyes.  Like the rest of us who were within hearing range, her eyes were stretched to the limit, trying to determine if this episode in life was part of a television program, or this woman had stepped out of a time machine.  Then the older woman put her hand on the arm of the younger lady and said, "but you sure are beautiful".  Seconds later, my Cheetos and Evian had been rung up and paid for, and the older lady started conversing with the cashier.  I discreetly stood to the side, watching the older woman leave the store and waiting for the young lady to finish her purchase.  As she headed to the exit, I approached her.  "I was in line with you just now.  I'm in shock.  I am so sorry for what just happened.  Sometimes I forget that people like that are still around".  She was obviously pissed off.  She looked at me for a few seconds before responding.  "You were surprised by what just happened?  Do you know how often I will be shopping or be with my husband and daughter at Sea World and hear some teenagers make a comment about Pearl Harbor when I walk by?  Whatever".

That was the end of my attempt to apologize on behalf of all of the world's non-Asians.  I failed miserably, and shuffled out to my car, kinda like a kid that had just completed ten minutes in "time out".  This incident did serve a positive purpose.  It reminded me that in a society that is fixated on "white on black" racism, the truth is, bigots are everywhere.  And in some instances, it just takes a bit of education.  Now this older woman might have been ill, but she was healthy enough to drive to the H.E.B. and pick up a bag of potatoes and some hair color.  Then again, she may have led a very structured, protected life, and just had no clue what some people might find to be offensive.  As much as this may piss some folks off, I must say that I don't believe the old woman had any intention of hurting anyone.  I think she was just trying to pass the time in neighborly conversation.  As for anyone who will assume that this occurred in Texas because the Lone Star State is full of "backwards, old racist country morons", be careful not to drop this mirror.  I've lived all over the United States, and Texas has the same type of racial issues as the rest of the country, and probably less than most states. At least that would be by opinion.  And opinions are like assholes.  Everyone has one, and everyone's stinks.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Just How Much Separation Really Exists Between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State? (Part II)

Links: A. Conflict Between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
           B. Are Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State at War?

I believe that Yemen and Iraq, and possibly locations in Pakistan and Africa, are currently being utilized as training locations for the IS foot soldier.  Intelligence services have already located a number of locations in Iraq which are suspected of being training centers of IS, but I believe that Yemen should be added to the list.  Those who disagree with me with point out that AQ already uses Yemen as a "breaking-in" location for its members.  No doubt AQ continues to conduct certain types of training in Yemen, alongside the IS.  In fact, I believe that they are one and the same.  We will know soon enough.  Eventually a few IS prisoners of war from the Iraq and Syria conflict will, during interrogation, mention travel to Yemen for training purposes.  If I'm correct, hopefully this will be the catalyst for the west to stop the damaging and wasteful routine of differentiating between these Sunni Muslim extremist groups.  I do not buy into the narrative that the leader of Khorasan is angry at al-Baghdadi, so the IS and Khorasan can't be friends, or that AQ is embarrassed by the number of young men who were decapitated by IS this week, so AQ can't be tainted by association.  Believe me, at the end of the day, that AK47 will be pointed at you and I and our children, it will not be pointed at another extremist.  I might be a bit more sympathetic to the argument that major rifts exist between various Sunni Muslim extremist groups, if I could be presented with hard evidence.  Social media captures aren't worth a bucket of shit, and neither are rumors that someone from one group shot up a few people from another group.

Islamic extremism is a giant of a beast, but at present, it has only one head, and that is Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Beneath that head, a number of phalanges are jockeying, positioning themselves to move into the void once the sixty-three year old Zawahiri finally floats off to meet his virgins (we might just find him as well).  For anyone who argues that these groups are not fighting together with a unique, singular goal in mind, I would ask them to please have look at the state of affairs in the world today.  I cannot recall a time in my life when terrorism was so rampant and so conventional.  Our military is handicapped by an Administration made up of political appointees and outright amateurs, and every move we make is reactive.  Not surprisingly, the same can be said for our efforts and strategy in the Ukraine.  When IS originally became aggressive in Iraq, our attempt at being an ally resulted in an entire Iraqi Army Corps deserting the field of battle, and people scurrying out of Baghdad as if it were Atlanta before Sherman came to town.  The Iranians step in, and IS appears to be in retreat.  The case is different in Syria, which is almost impossible to evaluate effectively.  The IS (and AQ) are active in Tunisia, Libya, and various other countries in Africa.  Its interesting to note that the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram recently declared its allegiance to the IS.  Well guess what folks; Boko Haram has already declared its loyalty to AQ.  Really, what is the difference?  Both groups are working in the same arena towards the same goal: the destruction of the west and Israel.  You can put all that Caliphate bullshit into the backseat.  No doubt Mr. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi envisions himself as the Caliph in such a manifestation, but Zawahiri sees it for what it is: just another story in a sea of distractions, that keep the infidels from unifying their aim at the singular target.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Just How Much Separation Really Exists Between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State? (Part I)

Links: A. Conflict Between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
           B. Are Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State at War?

If I get something wrong, I can rely upon my readers to send enough emails to ensure that I am corrected.  I get so little correspondence (the email address is provided below), that I welcome a polite scolding, just for the opportunity to interact with someone who has given consideration to my perspective.  And that, basically, is what the blog means to me.  It provides an opportunity for me to share my perspective with an unlimited number of people around the world.  Now my perspective is biased by definition.  I do my best to present a balanced viewpoint, supported by my personal life experiences.  But I am a citizen of the United States, and I fully believe in the exceptional nature of our Constitution and the American people; let there be no doubt that I would lay down my life for my country.  But I am half-French, and I cherish every part of me that is France.  That being said, I have been a world traveler, and I make a supreme effort to give full consideration to all viewpoints.  One issue that seems to draw sharp dividing lines is the relationship between the two terrorist groups Al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS).  I have included two links that present opinions which are contrary to my own, in an effort to jump-start a conversation which is truly very important.  The sources for the links I have provided, continually use information obtained from Social Media as evidence of a rift between the two organizations.  We have also heard vague rumors of actual violence between the groups, and also conflict with some of the other players on the ground in Iraq, including Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) and the Khorasan Group (K).  Both links are well-written and ideally sourced.  I found both commentaries to be full of well-intended, useful information.  But in the end, I disagree with their basic premise.  I believe that AQ and IS are closely linked and work within a loose, coordinated Confederation of sorts.  And the sooner we recognize this fact, the better.

Its no secret that the IS has evolved from the remnants of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).  I see many similarities.  The first link above continues to highlight the atrocities committed by IS and its obvious propensity towards violence, as if AQ plays the game differently.  The history of the AQ movement begs to differ.  AQ brought us televised beheadings from Afghanistan when such demonstrations were still good for a bit of shock value.  AQ has ordered the slaughter of entire villages in Afghanistan and whole families in Pakistan.  I assume that I don't have to remind anyone about the amount of blood shed on September 11, 2001, or the desecration of the bodies of three U.S. contractors in Fallujah/Ramadi during Operation Enduring Freedom.  Osama bin-Laden fully understood the power of violence as a tool in both warfare and perception.  Bin-Laden frequently used violence to create fear in his enemies and the public in general, who would in turn acquiesce to his will.  Its not a new approach, nor is it Rocket Science (damn to hell all those clich├ęs!).  I believe the attacks of September 11 carried a different message, a declaration of war against Christianity, Judaism and the west, as represented by the United States.  President George W. Bush recognized the determination in his enemy, and decided upon a course of action that will be debated until the end of time.  Bush decided to force AQ into a conventional conflict, in AQ's own backyard.  He used the issue of "Weapons of Mass Destruction" as a platform (excuse? justification?) from which to force AQ into battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He correctly deduced that AQ could not avoid the confrontation with the U.S. Army in the heart of Islam, or risk losing legitimacy with the Muslim community internationally.  He was also correct in assuming that AQ would suffer logistics and funding crises, which would hamper its ability to stay active elsewhere.  I don't believe Bush, Rumsfeld or the Pentagon anticipated Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or the depth of the Iraqi insurgency, but before leaving office in 2008, he could be satisfied with the status quo in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bin-Laden and his elderly Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Physician-turned sidekick Ayman al-Zawahiri (now that was a mouthful) obviously assessed the situation and realized early on that Bush was attempting to paint them into a corner.  But for the time being, they were obliged to play the game.  But Bin-Laden considered our Democratic habits to be our Achilles tendon, and in this instance he may have been correct.  in 2008, the American people voted for a new direction, and a new direction is what we received.  Although it didn't begin immediately, you might as well circle President Obama's first day in office as the start of the U.S. military's draw-down and eventual departure from Iraq.  Bin-Laden and Zawahiri anticipated this, and focused on rebuilding their movement from the ground-up (I'm frequently including Zawahiri because he now runs the show, and we need to get accustomed to his brand of terrorism.  He is methodical, detail-oriented, brilliant and probably a sociopath, and he is the enemy).  If the west wanted a conventional war, then the movement was happy to oblige.  First and foremost, I believe that sometime in between 2007 and 2009, AQ reviewed and rebuilt its internal security network.  Bin-Laden realized that many parts of his network had been compromised and a simpler, more effective plan was put in place.  The key to this plan was to limit the amount of time members engaged in face to face contact outside of the battlefield, and to severely limit all contact with Bin-Laden and Zawahiri.  Steps were taken to eliminate the need for direct contact.  As long as the brain could communicate with the limbs, everything else was almost superfluous.  Also, a designation must exist between highly-trained, professional operatives and the continued stream of unskilled volunteers that make there way into the organization.  I believe the root of the original AQ, based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which trains highly skilled and motivated operatives for complex operations, still functions as it always has.  What has changed is the growth of another type of operative, the foot soldier who will give the movement a resource which was sorely lacking in Afghanistan and Iraq: a conventional offensive capability.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Islamic State Weakesses Exposed In Iraq; Netanyahu Struggling To Get Electoral Traction

Links: A. Islamic State Losses Mount In Iraq
           B. Netanyahu Facing Difficult Election

The Obama Administration and the governments in Tehran and Baghdad have reason to breathe a long sigh of relief.  It seems as if only yesterday, the Islamic State (IS) was aggressively expanding its military presence, to include Diyala Province and the Shi'a holy cities in central and southern Iraq.  The allied air campaign appeared to have little impact against an enemy that was comfortable using the weather forecast in its operational planning, and the Iranian government was faced with increased international attention because of intended diplomatic discussions with the Obama Administration regarding its Nuclear Program.  The IS was threatening Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) positions in the west, and U.S. instructors and advisors at the al-Asad Air Base, after overrunning the nearby town of al-Baghdadi.  Roughly four weeks later, the ISF has successfully conducted a multi-faceted operation to retake Saddam Hussein's home of Tikrit, The Peshmerga are consolidating their control over important communities in northwest Iraq, and operations outside of Kirkuk might demonstrate a level of cooperation between the Peshmerga, the ISF, and local militia that has yet to be noted.  Last year, the Kirkuk government had expressed opposition to federal forces (ISF) operating in the province.  If the hardline position taken by authorities in Kirkuk has been reversed, it would be significant, as the IS would be forced to defend against a united enemy, as opposed to three separate, smaller opponents, each with their own focus and agenda.

The string of recent IS losses point to an opponent that has become better funded, equipped and motivated.  There was some concern that regular Iranian forces would be obliged to enter the conflict, especially if the IS had been able to consolidate its operations in Diyala Province.  But the IS has adopted a defensive posture in much of Iraq, as its units were over-extended in numerous locations, and unable to find adequate supplies or food.  It should be noted, however, that the structure of the IS allows it to continue aggressive offensive operations in Ramadi and Fallujah, while pulling back in Tikrit and Kirkuk.  It took some time and a few desperate engagements, but the ISF and its surrogate Shi'a militia partners have started to function much more like a single unit, which increases the impact of offensive operations.  If you include the Peshmerga and local anti-IS Sunni militia in the mix, and the IS is in real danger of being swept up in north central Iraq.  The existence of an effective support network has proven invaluable for the ISF and the Peshmerga, and the lack of has been crippling for IS forces.  If the ISF and Peshmerga successfully continue their campaign to push the IS out of the areas of Erbil, Mosul, Baiji and Kirkuk, then we will be returning almost exclusively to the still-familiar battlefields of 2007-2008: Ramadi and Fallujah.  It will be interesting to observe what lessons the IS has learned from the battle of Fallujah between insurgents and the U.S. military, and also if the ISF will follow the same strategy that eventually won the day for U.S. and Iraqi government forces.

Iranian Diplomacy and the Issue of Iraq: recent positive developments on the battlefields of Iraq have given the Iranian government a bit more breathing room.  The announcement last month by the Obama Administration of an effort to engage the Iranian government directly and address the nuclear issue, increased the pressure on the government in Tehran to avoid the appearance of aggressive, unwelcome military operations in Iraq.  Tehran has been able to support the Iraqi government (and military) with advisors and military aid, but the real benefit from Iran comes from the involvement of the Shi'a militias.  These militias, who follow the guidance of religious leaders as opposed to the orders of politicians or generals, act as a surrogate military presence in lieu of regular Iranian units.  They are not necessarily well-trained, but are usually well-equipped and highly motivated to die for their religion (they consider the IS to be the worst kind of Sunni movement, one that directly threatens the very existence of the Shi'a community).  Even with the presence of the militias, there was a period when analysts were considering the probability of direct Iranian military intervention.  By avoiding this development, Tehran can keep the international focus on its apparent "forward-leaning" attitude vis-a-vis meeting with the Obama Administration to discuss a possible resolution to the nuclear issue.  Such an agreement would not only help to reform the Iranian image worldwide, it would more than likely include a return to normal diplomatic relations with the United States (first Cuba, then Iran....whose next, North Korea?).

On March 17, the people of Israel will elect a new Knesset.  This election was not mandatory; when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the decision to conduct early elections, analysts anticipated a strong Likud victory, and possibly a bit of a mandate for Netanyahu to continue his hardline policies.  What has transpired has been nothing short of astounding, and I'm sure will result in an interesting documentary ort film one day.  Forces opposed to Netanyahu coalesced, and using lessons learned from the last two U.S. presidential elections, have created an electoral juggernaut that could very well put a center-left government in office, when over seventy percent of Israelis still identify themselves as either conservatives or supporters of Likud.  The strategy relies on a number of factors: first, all voters who support or lean towards the center-left must be identified, located and registered to vote.  Next, a full-proof transportation network must be put in place, to ensure that voters reach the correct voting station before it closes (Israeli electoral law has no absentee voting provision, and voting locations are instructed to close exactly on a pre-designated time; if you arrived late, too bad).  As is usually the case, this election will be decided by turnout.  The Israeli press, much of it hostile to Netanyahu, has been aggressively attacking the Prime Minister on every aspect of his leadership, and Netanyahu's allegation that foreign money has entered the Israeli political system is correct.  A great deal of money from outside Israel has found its way into this election, especially with regards to anti-Netanyahu advertisements.  On the other hand, Netanyahu is wildly popular in the United States, and Likud has certainly benefited from the financial support of Americans.  I'm not prepared to write-off Netanyahu.  He has worked tirelessly to galvanize Likud voters against a threat to the party, and no doubt on election day, a certain percentage of other rightist and religious parties will cross lines and vote Likud, just to show opposition to The Zionist Union.        

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tikrit Falls To The ISF

Link: A. Iraqi Forces Retake Saddam's Home Of Tikrit

On Wednesday, March 11, units of the Iraqi Army had taken control of most of Tikrit, raising the Iraqi flag over many landmarks in the birthplace of former President Saddam Hussein.  A Shi'a Militia fought alongside the Iraqi Army, which was also advised by roughly one hundred Iranian military officers.  While Iraqi soldiers celebrated their apparent victory, news from Ramadi indicates that the Islamic State (IS) forces have launched another focused attack on this strategic Sunni city. But the campaign to oust the IS from Tikrit can only be considered a victory for the Iraqi government.  The intention to conduct a full-scale operation to recover Tikrit had been leaked to the press days before the operation was to begin.  Once the operation commenced, it was apparent that a great deal of planning was involved in the pre-engagement efforts.  The Iraqi forces moved deliberately, never losing the initiative or the advantage to the IS forces.  The IS for their part, did not appear to consider Tikrit worth too much sacrifice, as the defenders appeared to give up ground without much of a struggle.  It is anticipated that the ISF will consolidate its position and resupply before commencing its next operation.

Last year after occupying Tikrit, forces from the IS were accused of massacring 1,700 mostly young men from the local area.  There has been some concern that Iraqi forces make seek retribution over any IS members that have been detained during the current operation, although Iraqi government officials stress that steps have been taken to ensure that all human rights are respected and that no "revenge killings" will occur.  If the Iraqi Army can strengthen its hold on Tikrit, it will provide an opportunity to resupply beleaguered Iraqi government forces in the north, and possibly consolidate the tenuous Iraqi control over the Baiji oil refinery and the town of Baiji itself.  While occupying
Tikrit, the IS was in an ideal position to threaten any attempt to relieve or resupply Iraqi forces in the areas around Baiji, Erbil, Kirkuk and Mosul.  There can be no doubt that the Iranian military has stepped up its "advisory" efforts, and are having a much more profound impact than the oddly nebulous "allied air campaign" is having on the ground game in Iraq.  Events in Iraq are hitting close to home in Tehran, as the government continues its diplomatic discourse with the United States over its nuclear program, and IS guerillas are within a days march of Iranian territory.  Given the success of the Tikrit operation, expect to see the Iranian presence increase over the next few weeks, and if the result is continued victories over the IS, there will be no reason to question Iranian involvement. 

The current Iraqi government is considered sympathetic to the Shi'a cause, which has facilitated Iranian military assistance to the ISF.  Normally, the Iranian advisors would be found embedded with the Shi'a militia, but during the Tikrit campaign, the Iranians were much more conspicuous in their direct advisement to the Iraqi Army.  The deepening crisis in Ramadi and Fallujah, along with an IS presence in Diyala province, led many analysts to expect direct military Iranian intervention.  The resurgence of the ISF (albeit aided by Shi'a militia and Iranian advisors) has given the Iranian government some breathing room.  The last thing that Tehran needs at the moment, is a full-scale military mobilization into a foreign country.  It would certainly confuse the impending negotiations with the Obama Administration over the Nuclear issue.  If the ISF can follow up their success by consolidating their positions in Baiji, Erbil and other strategic points in the north, and react swiftly to any new IS operations in Ramadi and Fallujah, then the momentum may be changing sides. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mexico is in Need of a Revolution.

Links A. Wikipedia definition of Mexico
          B. Corruption in Mexico

We have a few political issues in the United States that always appear to be on the front-burner.  Immigration reform is one of those issues.  For some reason, the laws that are in place are not sufficient or appropriate anymore, therefore reform is in order.  Actually, its not the laws which have lost their efficacy, its our willingness to enforce those laws.  If you are a citizen of a foreign country and you wish to become a U.S. citizen, then you have the option of entering into the United States Immigration Lottery (Yes, that is the name).  Every few years, a certain number of persons from every country that participates in the program are selected (after Interpol, FBI and related checks, I assume) to become Resident Aliens.  The U.S. government has other avenues for potential immigrants as well, including applying for asylum or for refugee status.  I don't believe that we should increase the numbers of immigrant visas being issued, but if someone believes differently, we have a system by which the figures may be adjusted.  The problem of illegal immigration that we face in the United States has nothing to do with the number of foreign nationals that are allowed to immigrate each year.  If we increased the number, it wouldn't impact the number of persons attempting illegal entry one iota.  As is almost always the case, the best place to fix a problem is at the source.  For all serious and practical purposes, the source of illegal immigration to the United States is Mexico.  Its true that in the past three decades, the numbers from Central America have increased dramatically, but these individuals travel through Mexico and cross into the United States in the same manner and at the same location, as Mexican illegal immigrants.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates that roughly 700,000 illegal immigrants cross into the United States from Mexico every year, and that the great majority of these persons are nationals of Mexico.  My goodness, Mexico must be a barren land of no resources and no opportunity.  While else would so many Mexican nationals risk everything to come to the United States?  The truth is, Mexico is a fat and healthy country, resource-wise.  At one time, Mexico was sitting on the fourth largest oil deposits (Gulf of Mexico) in the world.  Because the Mexican government and its state-owned company Pemex focused exclusively on the deposits that were easily extractable, Mexico isn't the player on the oil market that it once was.  But Pemex has belatedly started looking for new sites and investing in ways to continue exploiting the deposits that aren't so easy to get at anymore.  Mexico can still rely on oil revenue to bring in a substantial amount of revenue to the government.  Also, Mexico is agriculturally blessed, and is a leader in the international livestock industry.  Tourists continue to flock to the beaches of coastal Mexico and to the historic Catholic cathedrals of the interior.  Tremendous potential exists for Mexico to access hydroelectric energy, and the country is well-placed to compete with Asia in certain markets, including car manufacturing.  I am determined to keep this post from becoming a "two-parter", so I can't get down in the weeds, but Mexico creates plenty of jobs every year.  The economy appears to be healthy, but so many people live in abject poverty, regardless of which political party runs the show.  Mexico's problem is one as old as the hills.  Mexico suffers from endemic corruption, a corruption that runs so deep it has become the normal way to conduct business to most people.

A very small percentage of extremely wealthy individuals and families enjoy the largesse from Mexico's many resources.  They control Pemex, Telmex, the Unions, both houses of Congress, and both political parties.  This percentage has agreed to a "laissez-faire" arrangement with the narco-traffickers.  They know that the drugs companies aren't going away, so they just agree to stay out of each other's way.  The narco-traffickers are mostly interested in moving their product through Mexico and into the United States; they don't have much other interest in Mexico, as most Mexicans can't afford drugs like the Yanquis can.  The majority of the elite Mexican families of which I speak, can trace their roots all the way back to Spain.  They drive up from the interior and cross into the United States to visit Sea World or go shopping.  They drive SUVs (sometimes Mercedes or Lexus) with Monterrey or D.F. plates, and give off a distinctly European attitude.  The kids either go to private school in the U.S. or in Europe, and many time have blonde hair.  When they drive through Nuevo Laredo to enter the United States, they make good use of their tinted-windows and Chanel sunglasses, so their view is not disturbed by the children begging on the side of the streets, or the cripples, or the construction workers breaking their backs during 16-hr shifts, making one-tenth what they would make in the United States.  This group has a unique ability to ignore the people from whom they steal.

You see, this small group shares in the majority of Mexico's wealth, and lets enough trickle-down to keep a modest middle-class functioning.  Analysts can point to Mexico's middle class as a sign of progress.  Bullshit.  Its just a distraction.  There is no excuse for a country as wealthy as Mexico to replicate the same theft year after year, benefiting the same people, and keeping the majority of Mexicans poor. I realize that the type of corruption that infects Mexico runs deep and wide, but it can be eradicated the first time someone stands up and says, NO MORE EXCUSES.  Mexico exports much of its labor to the United States.  It has become a problem for us because of the impact on our social welfare apparatus and, frankly, the unwillingness of many Mexican immigrants to embrace the traditions and history of the United States over the language and culture of Mexico.  Its absolutely true that the United States has always been a country of immigrants.  But those immigrants from Ireland, and Russia, and Germany, and various parts of Africa, are now Americans.  The United States must also enforce some rule of law on its borders.  We are a separate country from Mexico.

Mexico needs a revolution.  The young men and women of Mexico need to decide that "enough is enough".  Frankly speaking, they need to stand up to the government.  They must stand up a political party whose entire manifesto focuses on ending corruption and returning as much ill-gotten gains as possible to the Mexican treasury.  They must spread an infectious message of fairness and opportunity, that will resonate with the young men and women in the police and military.  The resources from Pemex can be directed to finding new forms of energy.  It would be nice to imagine that the ones in power would relinquish their control without a struggle, but a struggle there will be.  Mexico will have to follow the footsteps of its northern sibling who in 1776, decided that freedom and fair representation were worth dying for.  Mexico needs an open, inclusive economy that stays targeted on the future.  The Mexican people are accustomed to hard work, and have had their share of brilliant scientists and researchers.  The Revolution will unlock all the potential that has been dormant for a century.  The economy will flourish, and Mexicans living in the United States will return HOME.

None of this will happen without sacrifice, and group sacrifice does not occur spontaneously.  Someone will have to be the hero, or possibly the martyr, who takes the first step.  Mexico can take care of her own.  But her shackles must be the first to be removed.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

How effective are the Armed Forces of the Persian Gulf? (Part II)

Links A. Global Firepower Ranks the Armed Forces of the World
          B. World's Largest Armies, According to Global Security
          C. Business Insider's 35 Most Powerful Armies

I am fascinated by the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces.  This is a lean, mean, fighting machine, and most people outside of the business of war, don't seem to have a clue.  Since getting involved in two ill-advised wars against Israel, the Saudis have kept a very low military profile.  The Saudi military was content to follow the U.S. lead in the first Gulf War, although Saudi units were in the thick of the fighting and acquitted themselves well (especially armor).  The Royal Family, closely associated with every aspect of the military take full advantage of the situation to create a sense of patriotism that the Kingdom had never previously experienced.  Saudi soldiers were welcomed home with parades and children waving that confusing green flag with the sword and all the spaghetti.  The Saudi's have 315 front line M-1A2 Abrams heavy battle tanks ready at the drop of a pin, and 200 more in storage.  If necessary (however unlikely), they have 290 French-made AMX-30s ready to go, which have been re-conditioned for desert warfare and is a tight little tank in its own right.  The Saudi forces are more than adequate when it comes to artillery, both mobile and stationary, and if you recall, during the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein started tossing some Scud missiles in the direction of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.  Since then, the Saudis have been determined to find a system similar to the Israeli "Dome", which blocks any incoming missiles.  Until that technology becomes available to the Kingdom, they are more than sufficient with anti-missile and missile intercept systems.  The Saudi ground forces are hardy and pride themselves on their regimen and training.  The Air Force continues to fly U.S.-made F-15S bombers and F-15C fighters, but the mainstay of the Saudi fighter squadrons is the Typhoon Eurofighter.  The purchase of the Eurofighter came as a bit of a surprise and involved some controversy with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who somehow was involved with negotiations.  The U.S. had been hoping that the Saudi Air Force would upgrade to F-16s, F-18s, or possibly even F-35s.  The Saudis can mobilize 250,000 troops in a matter of days.  I read a news report recently which hypothesized that the Houthi issue in Yemen exposed a weakness in the Saudi military.  In a way, the comment is accurate.  If the Saudis wanted to military intervene in Yemen, I have no idea how they would pull that off.  All of their armor is pointed in another direction, and PCS'd on the other side of the country.  Fortunately, a handful of elderly Eastern European women with gas could wipe out the Houthis, so I don't think the Saudis really have much to worry about.  I do think its a bit of a waste, the Saudi military being all shined up, trained, and ready to go, with the world's most modern equipment, but not having a war to fight. By the way, its important to remember that the stature of the military in the Kingdom has very little to do with any perceived threat from the outside.  The impressiveness of the military is a direct reflection of the Royal family.

The military of the United Arab Emirates is similar in many ways to that of Saudi Arabia.  Just to show off, lets name all seven of the Emirates: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Umm al-Quwain, Sharjah, Ajman, and Ras al-Khaimah.  The UAE is an amazing country and I highly recommend it to everyone except couples who like to kiss in public, and Gay folks. (Gay and like to kiss in public but want to stay in the Gulf?  Try Oman.)  The beaches are magnificent, the hotels and modern developments are awe-inspiring, the de-salinization plants are state-of-the-art, and the Russian prostitutes are least at night, in the lobbies of hotels.  If you think you have seen wealth in Beverly Hills or the Hamptons, you haven't seen anything until you've visited Dubai.  The Emiratis spend a great deal of money on the military and on the intelligence services.  The UAE Air Force is exceptional.  The government has approached this branch of the Armed Forces with a sense of import.  Currently, the UAE flies roughly 60 recently refitted F-16S and 50 French Mirage 2000-9, which have also been refitted with the latest hardware.  The Air Force has a superior support network and a budding Helicopter capability.  The training is also exceptional, and the pilots have been receiving some valuable experience over the skies of Iraq and Syria, as part of the U.S. coalition of allies.  In the late 1990s, the Emiratis chose a heavy battle tank other than the U.S.-offered Abrams.  The UAE purchased 388 French-built Leclerc heavy battle tanks, which are, next to the Abrams, arguably the best heavy tank on the battlefield (I respect French military shoot me).  The Navy has 11 corvettes of three separate makes, all very fast and capable of offensive operations.  The Navy lacks even one Frigate, which is probably a good thing...I can't imagine its use, in a coastline like the UAE's.  Recently, the UAE has been focusing on fast attack craft and support vessels for naval operations.  Overall, the navy meets all the requirements without really excelling in any particular area.  The UAE does not expect to get invaded anytime soon, but the need to keep its heavy tanks in good performance order is essential.  If Saudi Arabia suffers a border incursion of any kind (IS), the UAE will be determined to aid the Saudis as much as possible.  Aside from the armor, the superior UAE Air Force will be welcome.

Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar shouldn't mind being thrown together into one paragraph.  I'm sure its not the first time.  Of the three smaller Gulf nations, Kuwait has the more prolific military.  Following the first Gulf War, the Royal family was determined to put up a bit more of a resistance, should Saddam come knocking again.  Even though the official statistics list the Kuwaiti army as having 11,000 soldiers, somehow they have managed to purchase over 200 U.S. 1-A2 Abrams tanks.  to supplement the Abrams, Kuwait purchased 400 Humvees, roughly 100 self-propelled howitzers, over 200 anti-tank guided weapons, and, the cherry on the cake, 27 Russian-made BM-30 Smerch multiple launch rocket systems.  Can they even fit all this shit into Kuwait?  More reasonably, the Kuwaitis purchased 35 F-18 Hornets, along with multiple support aircraft, 18 Apache Attack Helicopters, and about 100 separate air defense system units (including SAM and the UK Starburst).  Neither Qatar nor Bahrain pretend to have use for a major Armed Forces.  Qatar does have 62 German-made Leopard tanks, which given the source are bound to be bad ass (and their reviews agree).  Qatar relies on less than 20 French-made Mirages and a handful of older helicopters to round-out its Air Force.  The standing army is somewhere near 13,000.  Bahrain also has a small army, with no tanks (they used to have less than 100 M60s; current location, unknown).  The Air Force is respectable, with 17 active and modern F-16s, and 4 squadrons (36 in total) of older attack helicopters.  Both Qatar and Bahrain have sizeable and well-trained security services.  If the U.S. or Saudi Arabia requested military assistance from Qatar and Bahrain, I see some useful Mirages and F-16s, possibly some attack helicopters, and 62 German Leopard heavy battle tanks.  Both navies are negligible, although Bahrain is in possession of an older former U.S. Frigate and a handful of guided missile patrol craft. 

Yemen is in a state of flux....the mechanism that controls the functions of state has yet to be determined for more than a few days at a time.  The Yemeni military has collapsed and will have to be rebuilt.  The Houthis are in hardly better shape.  The last video I recall of Houthis celebrating in the streets included a man on a camel, carrying a musket that George Washington wouldn't have been seen with.  I'm at a loss as to how these Houthi folks won out, although I suspect that they just waited longer.  The real concern is for the well-being of the U.S. military (and clandestine/civilian) personnel still in country.  Al-Qaeda is primed to take over, given that the U.S. military is exclusively limited to the use of Drones for offensive actions, and the Houthis don't seem to have much in the way of equipment.  I thought the Iranians were trying to make some statement here?  I say we take our young men and women out, and let Al-Qaeda or the Houthis have it.  The Saudis will be forced to deal with the situation, and something tells me that they will make short-work of both the Houthis and Al-Qaeda.  the Omani Air Force is a bit of a surprise, with 12 F/16C/D and 12 Eurofighter Typhoons on the way.  11 BAe 203 Hawks for ground attack, and lots of useful support elements.  The Omani Army is built to suit its environment.  The Royal Army still keeps 38 older Challenger British-made heavy tanks, but is focused more on a rapid-reply offensive capability.  Somehow the Omanis came into possession of one (1) B1 Italian Centauro Monster with 120 mm weapon.  More useful are the 175 Swiss-built Mowag Piranha armored fighting vehicles.  The Royal Omani Navy is impressive, with five new Corvettes (2 built in 1994), 3 more ordered from BAe, 4 fast attack craft, 3 additional Al-Bushra French-made patrol craft, and an amphibious transport vessel.  The Royal Omani Armed Forces have a very close relationship with both the United States and the United Kingdom, so security in Muscat is not an over-riding concern. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

How effective are the Armed Forces of the Persian Gulf? (Part I)

Links A. Global Firepower Ranks the Armed Forces of the World
          B. World's Largest Armies, According to Global Security
          C. Business Insider's 35 Most Powerful Militaries

Now this is the kind of post I love to write.  I've been an armchair General since I could stand on my own two feet.  I grew up in a U.S. Army family stationed in Bad Hersfeld, Germany, and a number of other lovely towns.  My older brother (and sister, on occasion) were always playing soldier.  By the time I reached eight years old, my brother and I had accumulated a truly unbelievable collection of soldiers and tanks.  In those days, you could mail-order military figures from the last page of Sgt. Rock, the Haunted Tank, The Unknown Soldier, or my favorite, Weird Wars comic books.  We had Romans, Greeks and Persians, fully equipped with Trebuchets, Ballistas and Catapults (usually hand-carved by my father), and we had Red Coats and Blue Coats from the American Revolution.  Because we were in Europe, it was difficult to obtain soldiers from the war for Texas Independence or the Civil Wart, but we more than made up for it with Napoleon's Imperial Guard and Wellington's Cavalry.  But my brother and I spent most of our time re-living the battles of World War II.  My father (a bit of an occasional participant, when the adults weren't looking) built a huge battlefield for us to use.  It must have been six foot by six foot.  I started life as a pine wood crate, but all we needed was one complete side (for the bottom) and about six inches (high) of pine barrier all along the edge.  My father filled this with dirt and then added trees and rocks.  The villages and rivers could be easily added as required.  To complete this young boy's dream, I must have had one hundred same-scale little German tanks, and my brother, of course, had the same number of American (being older, he was always the good guys).  Christmas and Birthdays weren't that difficult for my folks.  Just go to the German toy store downtown, and buy Second World War-era soldiers and tanks. I had Tiger I and Tiger II tanks, Panthers, mobile artillery, half tracks, regular artillery, bridge-building Engineers, EVERYTHING! My father spent years, and my parents probably a fortune, turning our basement into the most amazing, easy-to-convert, battlefield.  Needless to say, the neighborhood boys flocked to our basement.  We fought Rommel vs. Montgomery in North Africa, the Battle of the Bulge, Stalingrad, Kursk, Anzio, you name it.  Today, kids still fight the same battles, but everything is done with computer graphics.  Blah.  Give me my die-cast armor and by rubber bands as weapons any day over "Call of Duty".  My siblings and I were very fortunate children.  My folks worked diligently at perfecting the balance between discipline and responsibility, and they sacrificed to give us every opportunity in life.  I still consider the important decisions of my life using the same variables that I was taught as a child.  Any success that I've had is a direct reflection of my parents.

By now you've grown used accustomed to my minor digressions, so lets move forward.  I'm fascinated by the subject of military strength, especially as it relates to the hot spots of today's world.  Over the next week, utilizing all the data I can access through the web and my personal library, I hope to provide a clear perception of the state of military affairs in the Middle East, in Africa, in Europe, the Indian sub-continent, and the Far East.  The war gaming of my youth was without air and naval elements, which are a necessity in today's conflicts.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Middle East.  For the sake of our discussion, we will include in our "Middle East", the nations of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman.  As for the Gulf States, which will be the (eventual) subjects of this post, I have selected Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Iran, Yemen and Iraq.  The world's major suppliers of weapons have offices in every large city.  The United States has traditionally supplied weapons to and assisted training of the Saudi Royal Armed Forces (all branches), Kuwait Royal Armed Forces (all branches), and Bahrain.  The French provide Qatar with a handful of tanks, a few naval craft, and Mirage fighters.  The UAE, Iraq, Iran and Yemen have been more flexible with weapons purchases, and therefore field an interesting variety.  Oman continues to cultivate close military links to the United Kingdom, and by convenience, the United States.  Iraq and Iran are caught in a similar predicament.  Iraq has a veritable butt-load of old Russian tanks, from T-55s to T-72s.  Some of Iraq's armor has been rebuilt , not by the Russians, but by American and Iraqi techs. God Bless the USA.  The Iraqi Air Force is flying Apache Helicopters, and its my understanding that some of the ancient MIGS have been cleaned up.  During both Gulf Wars, the Iraqi Air Force attempted to save its own ass by flying to various airbases in the region and asking for asylum.  Most of those fighter jets never returned, although its my understanding that Jordan has recently returned a few.  I can't help but be entertained by the Iranians, who IMMEDIATELY painted the Iraqi MIGS that sought refuge in Tehran, in Iranian Air Force livery and started training pilots.  The Iraqi Army carries both AK-47s and M-16s, and has been vigorously re-trained by the U.S.  It has had a handful of high profile victories, but way too many defeats.  The Shi'a militia has helped, but Iraqi Society itself lives everyday in the midst of a schism.  The Sunni and The Shi'a not only lack trust in one another, they despise each other.  This issue has always crippled the Iraqi military and times haven't changed.  The tiny Iraqi Navy consists of a few craft donated by the United States, to allow the Iraqi's to conduct customs inspections. 

Iran has a very large military, with the Army alone consisting of various different elements.  It reminds me of National Socialist Germany before 1939, when Hitler could rely on the SA, the SD, the Gestapo, and the regular army.  You see, the religious leaders who sit in Qom and pray all day, don't trust the secular traditions of the regular Iranian Army.  So alongside the regular army, Iran has the massive Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (IRGC), and numerous smaller groups, including the Badr Corps, that have been active in Iraq and are tasked with protecting sacred Shi'a sites.  The Iranian regular army is well-trained, equipped, and disciplined.  I can't speak for the IRGC, but if the Iraq/Iran War is any indication, they will have no problem sacrificing their lives for the Islamic Revolution.  The problem faced by the Iranian army is one of armor.  The Iranians are obliged to continue using T-55s and T-72s, and even a few ancient British Chieftains.  Iran has the capacity and the know-how to create an indigenous heavy battle tank, and the fact that this weakness has not been addressed is hard to understand.  The Iranian Air Force is in the same predicament.  The most modern and effective elements of the Iranian Air Force are the Iraqi fighters that fled to Iranian airports to avoid contact with U.S. fighters.  This includes a number of Russian Sukhois and MIGS. The Iranians are also still flying U.S.-made F-4s.  Why haven't the Iranians gone shopping in Russia for a new Air Force?  Iran has an active, noisy, but relatively weak navy.  In fact, the Iranian army is the only factor that allows Iran to remain an active participant in the current mess that is Iraq.  Recently, the Iranian Air Force attempted to support offensive actions being taken by Shi'a militia in Iraq.  The results were less than stellar.  The Iranian government (both of them...the one in Qom and the one in Tehran) has been horrified by the advances made by the Islamic State (IS) in the Iraq/Iran border province of Diyala.  If the United States had an effective diplomatic corps, they would have recognized this fact, and used it to pressure the Iranians to join the fight against the IS and to negotiate the nuclear issue in good faith.  Instead, the United States had no reaction whatsoever.  I would bet my last Dinar that John Kerry couldn't find Diyala Province on a map for a million bucks.  But I digress...again.  If the Iranian government felt sufficiently threatened, they could effect 100% mobilization, invade Iraq, and crush the IS in a month or less.  The United States, Turkey, and possibly even Saudi Arabia have the capacity to destroy the IS in a ground campaign.  But a military campaign of that size and commitment would also expose Iran's military weaknesses to the world, so it must be avoided.  Perception is everything, the man said.