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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Who lost Iraq?

Link: Politico magazine's take on "Who Lost Iraq"?

(Update: Before tackling today's unwieldy subject matter, it's time for a quick update, for any of our readers who have an interest.  The book that actually spawned this blog, Mukhabarat, Baby!, has been available at all the usual places (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booklocker, etc.) for roughly three months.  While the blog has proven to be quite popular and continues to grow in viewership, the book has not done well.  The reviews have been tremendous; in fact, we have yet to receive a negative review.  But at the end of the day, the success of a book is measured in how much it is appreciated by readers, especially readers of its particular genre.  Its safe to say that MB has been unsuccessful with every particular genre.  Since the book has received great reviews, and does provide insight into a world that many seem to hold in fascination, what seems to be the problem?  We even have a comedy out this week with Melissa McCarthy playing a spy.  I have to be honest; it does look funny, and she always seems to make me laugh.  As for MB, the problem is simple to diagnose.  I have been unable to gain traction with regards to exposure.  People aren't buying my book because they don't know it exists.  I haven't been reviewed in the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, or Washington Post, and I haven't been invited onto any news programs to discuss my career and the book.  If an author is fortunate enough to have a good agent and publisher, they run a strong likelihood of being successful, like the Housewives from Beverly Hills and the Duck Dynasty folks (both of whom are or were on the Non-Fiction Best Seller List), while self-published authors like me, even if they follow all of the good advice out there, end up with beautiful blogs and amazing internet book sites, and spend their week nights introducing their book to a virtually deserted VFW somewhere in the middle of the desert in Arizona.  But I won't throw in the towel.  I'm still out there, setting up speaking engagements and talking up my book.  Why not hop on to Amazon and buy it?  Better yet, hop on to Amazon and buy a copy for yourself and separate copies for your friends.  Cheers, friends.)

When someone forwarded me a link to the Politico article which attempts to address the question, "Who lost Iraq?", I had no idea what to expect.  Occasionally Politico will throw a curve, and this has been a rather popular subject in recent weeks.  I read the article through twice, and I can't say that they did a bad job.  Politico assembled a group of persons that it has decided are experts on Iraq, and asked them particular questions regarding the insurgency, the surge, the draw-down, and the current conflict involving ISIS.  After taking a look at the lineup assembled to give us our answers, I couldn't help but wonder, how did they decide which questions to ask what person?  And who chose the "experts" to begin with?  For the sake of the argument, lets give Politico the benefit of the doubt, and move on with the conversation.

Let's start with two basic facts.  First, in 2009, Iraq was making great strides in its recovery from three wars and almost five decades of Saddam Hussein.  The economy was growing, the refineries were functioning, the job market was growing, and construction projects were going on everywhere.  The school were open, including a number of new institutions that were built and paid for by the United States.  In fact, we paid for just about everything, including the infrastructure repair.  The roads and bridges were usable, traffic flowed with working signals and traffic cops were around to assist with accidents and back-ups.  International flights were landing at Baghdad International and, most importantly, the job market was growing. Iraq was on its feet and nearly ready to run its own show.  The past remaining piece of the puzzle?  Iraq was in serious need of a reliable police force and a dependable, well-trained and well-supplied army.  The U.S. military can be given all the credit for the positive changes in Iraq, and should have been left alone to complete the training of the Iraqi Security apparati (police, military, border control, customs, etc.) on their own schedule.

The second point that we can all agree on is that Iraq is now in a state of war with the "Islamic State for the creation of a Caliphate in the Levant", or ISIS, as it is commonly known.  ISIS is a terrorist organization that has developed a powerful, mobile, well-armed conventional army, and it is determined to gain effective control of both Syria and Iraq (and eventually the rest of the Levant).  In 2012 and 2013, ISIS, which until then had been content to raise hell with Bashir al-Assad and his forces in Syria, decided to expand its religious war into northern Iraq.  Mosul fell, and Kirkuk and Arbil were threatened.  The Kurds were put on the defensive and had to military repel ISIS with very little assistance from the outside.  Each new bit of territory that ISIS occupied brought with it new victims; Christians or the wrong kind of Muslims, who were lined up and executed by the hundreds.  At present, ISIS controls much of northwest Iraq, including the border crossings into Syria.  ISIS also controls parts of Anbar Province, including both Ramadi and Fallujah.  Although Tikrit was recently retaken by the Iraqi Security Forces, ISIS continues to put pressure on Baiji and its valuable oil refinery, and recently has stepped up suicide attacks in Diyala Province to the east of Baghdad.  Control of Anbar and Diyala Provinces will allow ISIS to pay siege to Baghdad itself.

So given those two points, what happened to turn situation number one into situation number two?  I will save everyone a little time and answer this myself, because its really not very complicated.  The U.S. military had a timetable for all operations dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan.  Because of the success of the surge and the positive involvement of the Sunni community in defeating Al-Qaeda in Iraq, it was imperative that the United States not lose that goodwill by abandoning the Iraqi people before their government and its functions were in place to work effectively.  This is exactly the action that was taken by President Obama.  Ignoring the advice of the Pentagon, Obama ordered an increase in the U.S. military departure schedule.  President Obama was bound and determined that our troops would be out of Iraq by such-and-such date.  Soldiers, including Generals, will only object for so long before they will just shut-up and carry out their orders.  We left Iraq before any of their Security forces were prepared.  In fact, we left before the police were prepared to issue speeding tickets, let alone stand up to ISIS.  In response to the growing alarm in the civilian community, the Iraqi government ordered its army to confront ISIS on the battlefield outside Tikrit.  I don't have to remind everyone about the mass desertions, the equipment left on the battlefield for ISIS to steal, and the prisoners captured for more video of mass executions.  Iraq has fallen to shit because we left before our military had sufficiently trained the Iraqis to successfully defend their country in what is obviously an evolving and very dangerous environment.  Why?  Where was the fire, as my grandma used to say?  Why was it so damn necessary to leave Iraq so quickly, instead of a few years down the road when the Iraqis were in a better position to stand up to ISIS?  Our policy not only let down the Iraqi people, it also played into the hands of Iran, who is now seen as the hero in this unfolding nightmare, because the Shi'a militias they train and advise have come to the aid of the Iraqi Security Forces, and with some success.

Let me leave you with the biggest irony of all: how is the Obama Administration dealing with the collapse of the Iraqi Security Forces?  Why, we are sending in Army trainers and instructors....the same folks who should have been left to do their jobs in the first place.  Que loco.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Letter from a reader commenting on the gay marriage issue....

My blog post regarding the issue of gay marriage did not receive many views.  It has become very apparent to me that my readers prefer commentary relating to current events, especially Ukraine and Syria/Iraq.  That being said, I did receive more feedback than usual, most of it angry and hostile to my perspective.  But I did get one email reply that I have decided to share (with the permission of the writer).  I have made this decision because the person in question is a happily married woman with a wonderful child, who has always been very supportive of gay issues.  Her message was just another indication that this issue is not about equal rights for gay community.  It is about taking one step too far.  Some things that exist in the United States and pre-date the struggle for gay equality, must be left in place.  Not in an effort to discriminate, but just because its the right thing to do.  The gay community can have their own unions, their own ceremonies, and call it what they like.  The government should pass federal legislation to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination regarding their unions.  But marriage consists of a certain definition, and has certain boundaries, that should not be broken.  Why?  Because it is unfair to the millions of persons who entered into that agreement, under the impression that it would stay sacrosanct and unaltered for all time.  This is what the gay community just doesn't understand.  Marriage as it existed for so many centuries was not discriminatory; it just had particular boundaries.  And the idea that opening up old-fashioned marriage to gay couples is going to somehow further the cause of equality is a specious argument, because in its normal state, it doesn't represent inequality.  Please take note of the following letter:

I woke up this morning having the strangest thoughts about the whole gay marriage thing (or as the PC police are now pushing for it to be called: "just marriage" - puke).
At first I didn't really "get it" when you've been saying that it "changes what married people already have"… but now I've begun hearing arguments about whether or not this ruling makes things better for ALL those in the LGBTIQ community. Ok, let me first admit that I have no idea what the "I" stands for and that I don't know how or why the "queers" get their own designation… but I digress. Let me focus on just one letter in this culturally invented alphabet soup: B.  How in the world is marriage suppose to "fit" with "Bisexual"… and that's when I began to worry that marriage, as I know it, is over. It didn't worry me previously that there could and probably would be "other types" of marriage from mine (i.e. "Gay marriage"), but I was so limited in my thinking: Marriage, I assumed, is between two people. Okay, I'll be honest, actually polygamy doesn't even bother me… like on the television show Sister Wives… I'm fairly open minded, and that seems to be working for them, so I'm for "live and let live".  But what now with this alphabet soup of LGBTIQ? If there is a "Bi" person that wants to be married, but "fully live as a Bisexual"… does that mean that they'll demand to be married to both a man and a woman? And will that man and woman be married to each other? Maybe some Triangle-Marriages will want all combinations of partners married and some won't … so that's a whole other option now.  And what about the "Caitlyn's" out there who want to be "Gender-Fluid" and therefore have one straight marriage as their birth sex and one Trans-Marriage?  If Bi's can be married to two people why can't the Trans/Fluid? Facebook has over fifty categories of gender now, how in the world can there now be any finite number of "types" of marriage? So the PC crowd is saying: "it doesn't matter! It's all just marriage!" But then what is marriage anymore? Moving in with someone? Wanting to share benefits? Hospital Visitation rights? Wanting the right to have a say when they are unconscious? Inheritance? I thought it was something more than this. I thought it was something special. But now exactly "what" it is, is being changed radically and uncontrollably by those intent on making the loudest and most dramatic point they can, and it makes me a little sad.   And I'm sure that I'm in the minority for having all this bother me.  But it does erode away something I thought that I had.
So maybe I'll stop saying "Gay Marriage" to avoid conflict,  but I'll go ahead and preserve my right to proudly call mine a "Traditional, Straight marriage" not "just marriage".
P.S. (I wasn't that thrilled with the rainbow lit White House and Capital building, And if I see one more Facebook profile picture tinted Rainbow, I'm vomiting.) 


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court....

Links: A. U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage.
           B. U.S. Supreme Court rescues Obamacare.

What a week to be a Conservative in the United States of America.  The Supreme Court of the land, in back-to-back decisions this past week, obliterated the Constitution that is supposed to guarantee how rights are protected in our Republic.  The first decision (6-3 in favor), which upheld each individual state's obligation to utilize and fund Obamacare, totally ignored the right of each state to govern its own commerce, a right which has been delegated to the states since the birth of our nation.  The second decision, which at 5-4 was much closer, was even more perplexing.  We live in the end of times for our own American Empire; I believe most people are coming to grips with that reality.  We are collecting debt at such a rate that within the next decade or so, our ability to borrow on the international markets will be decimated.  Ninety percent of this debt has been accrued during the last six years (and cannot been blamed on the military buildup and subsequent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan).  Simply put, the debt that is strangling the life out of our children and grandchildren's future, is because our of government's unwillingness to address and reign in entitlement spending.  That includes the need for Social Security reform; a new, simpler tax code would be welcome as well, but all we get from this administration is lip service.  Our media and politicians spent the week lecturing use about the issue of gay marriage.  Why does ten percent (at most) of the population get to monopolize the attention of our nation in this manner?  We have become the Republic that is truly led by the minorities.  If I hear another sob story about a transgender person I'm likely to lose my mind.  What did all of these trans genders do a century ago, or two centuries ago?  Would General George S. Patton have been able to tell the Nazis, "hold off on your Bastogne Offensive; I'm having my wiener removed in the morning."  And the pioneer family trying to homestead in Kansas in the 1870's, could the wife have woken up one morning and declared, "Cecil, I'm really a man.  I'm leaving you and the six children to go live my true identity."  Be that as it may, it has become the latest bizarre subject that the media and reality television are trying to force down our throats.  Personally, I want all of these people to find happiness.  Their body is theirs to do with as they please.  Messing with the institution act of Marriage, though, impacts American couples back to 1776.

My mother and father were married in 1962.  They entered into a union which had particular boundaries and guidelines.  It excluded NO ONE.  Every American had the choice to marry someone of the opposite sex, as long as consanguinity wasn't an issue.  When people argue that this is an issue of inequality, it makes no sense.  In fact, they want to CHANGE something that has existed in its present form for centuries.  At least be honest about the effort!  But its the truth of the matter that really burns my ass.  Same-sex couples can enter into civil partnerships that give them the same rights as married folks, including those reasonable and sensitive rights relating to medical issues and inheritance.  But no, they want to force everyone to recognize them as being in the same type of relationship as the millions and millions of Americans who have been married up to this point.  Its about FORCING people to accept something.  This week's Supreme Court ruling is supposed to protect individual churches from the obligation of marrying same sex couples if it is against the teachings of that particular faith.  So explain this to me: if a baker in Colorado doesn't want to make a wedding cake for two lesbians because it conflicts with their religious beliefs, how is that different from the exclusion given the churches?  It doesn't.  That's the intention.  It gives these groups another battle to fight, and I can guarantee you its coming.  This won't end until every American has been forced to sign a letter of declaration that gay people are wonderful and that there is nothing wrong with their lifestyle.  I for one believe that (most) gay people are wonderful, and I don't have a problem with their lifestyle.  But I do have a problem with being forced to accept something that is against the teachings of my faith.  What is it with the gay community anyway?  If you want to be accepted as part of our culture and community, why not GIVE BACK for a change instead of always demanding things? 

For those of us who call ourselves Conservatives, the funeral bells are tolling.  And its our fault.  We had a chance once, with the advent of the Tea Party movement.  But we allowed the leftist media to create a false image of Tea Party members as Jim Crow Racists and Bigots.  I have been to countless Tea Party meetings and I have yet to meet "a racist".  What have I seen?  A group of mostly older, middle-income folks who are worried about the economy and what will happen when they retire.  I have NEVER heard a discussion about race or sexuality.  But accordingly to the media (and even Howard Stern, who usually makes up his own mind but who has never taken the time to actually research the movement himself), the Tea Party is one step to the right of the Nazi Party.  The next time you hear a lefty besmirching the Tea Party, ask them which Tea Party meeting they attended, and when?  I guarantee you they will have never even met a Tea Party member.  Again, we have lost the agenda and the bully pulpit.  It is the left who are demonizing the issues and leaving people to consider their "guilt".  And for whom?  Where is their sacrifice?  Sure they had a struggle, and just like all of us at one time or another in our lives, were treated like shit.  It happens.  But no one owes you anything.  If you want to be part of the country and our history/traditions/culture, JOIN us, don't try and change things.  Here is an important question:  Has anyone seen even one study done on the marriage statistics of nations that have legalized same-sex marriage?  Try Canada for example...want to guess the rise in the number of divorces?  Or Holland?  Or maybe the argument is, since straight people have already started divorcing at a fifty percent clip, why not just put a nail in that coffin?

Obama and the radical left continue to set the Agenda and run this country like a dictatorship.  He has executive action and the Supreme Court, what else does he need to finish putting the last few holes in the hull of the U.S.S. Liberty?  Again, our fault.  I knew that electing Obama guaranteed that the Supreme Court would become rife with leftist activists, and what do you know?  He has the court he wants, and we have the court we deserve.  Just because we sent a message in the last election and chased just about every Democrat up for re-election from office obviously MEANS NOTHING.  I have yet to see anything from this Congress except whispers about getting a Republican in the White House in 2016.

By the way, did you see the White House bathed in the lights of the Rainbow Flag?  Those of you who oppose gay marriage, did you feel as if this government represented YOU at that moment?  There are more German-Americans in this country than gay Americans....will the White House change the color to Black, Red and Yellow during German National Day?  What about Mexican Americans?  I can only assume that there are more Mexican Americans in the United States that gay Americans....when will the Green, White and Red of Mexico light up the Oval Office?  Just curious.  Time for me to get off of my pedestal; my sister and I are headed to the City Hall to get a marriage license.  Why not?  How exactly are they going to refuse us, in this "anything goes" society?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Islamic State focuses on Diyala Province

Link: Suicide bomber kills 14 in Iraq

Operative from the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization continue to utilize suicide bombings in their efforts to take control of strategic areas of Iraq.  In recent weeks, the IS has increased its activity in Diyala Province, just east of Baghdad.  Normally, the media focuses on events on Baiji, Anbar (Ramadi) and Salah ad-Din (Samarrah) Provinces, although the IS has been active in Diyala for many months.  This week, an IS suicide bomber killed fourteen people at a gathering of Sunni tribal leaders in Baqubah.  Analysts might be tempted to assume that this event will drive the Sunni community further away from the IS and its mission.  But to predict the actions of the various different Iraqi groups is dangerous business.  During my career, I learned to never forget that different cultures respond in different ways to particular stimuli.  Its very possible that the IS is using violence to portray strength, which in turn might (ideally) frighten the Sunni community into joining their cause.  One thing is certain - if the Sunnis of Iraq sense that an IS victory is inevitable, you can guarantee that they will start setting up their tents under a different flag.

Diyala Province presents a strategic target for the IS for a number of reasons.  The people of Iraq are already aware of IS aggression in Anbar and Salah ad-Din Provinces, not to mention the initial incursion into northern Iraq, which resulted in the occupation of Mosul and Tikrit (since retaken), and the apparently never-ending struggle for Baiji and its oil refinery.  Adding Diyala Province to the mix, effectively surrounds Baghdad, and provides a visual impression of IS domination.  Also, the IS would like nothing better than to see the Iranians decide that Iraq isn't worth the sacrifice, and stop its support for the government in Baghdad and the various Shi'a militias that have actually had some battlefield success against IS forces.  Since Diyala Province shares a lengthy border with Iran, no doubt the Iranians will feel a bit of pressure, as the boundaries of Iran have not been legitimately threatened since the 1980 to 1988 Iraq-Iran War.  You can be sure that the IS will turn up the heat in just the right way, so that the Iranians will be forced to consider just how much their involvement in Iraq is worth.  Its actually a bit of a gamble; the IS military campaign in Diyala might also force Iran to recognize how much its national security equities are inexorably tied to a peaceful Iraq.  We've always considered the possibly that Iran might tip over the entire table by launching a full invasion of Iraq.  We believe that the Iranian military has the capability of destroying IS' conventional military capability, as long as the Syrian border does not present a problem.  Chasing the IS into Syria will only grant them a reprieve.  If the Iranians were to invade Iraq with their regular Armed Forces, they should be prepared to finish the job, which may require an incursion into Syria, all the way to the doorsteps of Aleppo and Damascus.  You would be hard pressed to find someone as opposed to the current Iranian regime as we are, but it would be nice to see someone with a pair of balls, no matter from what corner of the ring the emerge.  And the Iranians have been known to pull a few surprises.  Its probably unlikely that the Iranians would commit their regular Armed Forces in this manner, but its getting more and more difficult everyday to handicap this conflict.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Should Iraq be partitioned?

Links: A. Considerations on partitioning Iraq.
           B. The U.S. contemplates partitioning Iraq.

In 2006, then-Senator Joe Biden suggested that consideration be given to the partition of Iraq.  I believe at the time, that the idea was to allow the Kurds a homeland in the north, the Sunni would stay put in the central belt region, and the Shi'a would have an independent state in the south.  For some reason, I couldn't buy into this argument, although for the life of me I can't recall why.  I know that Turkey would have had a proverbial herd of cows if the Kurds had been given a homeland, and the Sunni, who as a minority have always ruled Iraq, would've been forced to accept a smaller and less-wealthy nation, but something else kept me from joining the "pro-partition" partisans.  I think it was probably just an example of the traditionalist in me not wanted to change the maps again.  But we've reached that point again, when folks in position of authority are whispering about partitioning Iraq.  It does piss me off a bit, because this discussion wasn't really necessary.  We could have avoided this position if we hadn't been in such a hurry to get out of Iraq.

Our rapid departure from Iraq was not necessary.  The Iraqis were not requesting it, and our military leaders were strongly advising otherwise.  Everyone seemed to be in agreement that the Iraqi military needed to be responsible for Iraq's external security, but only after sufficient training had taken place.  Its my understanding that the training program that had been approved by the administration hadn't even started before Obama changed his mind and pulled the rug out from under everyone.  So we left Iraq in the hands of an untrained, unprofessional army, with a huge invitation to ISIS to "come on in, folks!"  And they didn't need to be asked twice.  The real tragedy is that Iraq was beginning to settle into existence as a unitary state, with an economy that connected all the various regions and ethnicities.  As its traditional boundaries are drawn, Iraq is fortunate to have natural resources distributed in all parts of the nation.  This fact contributed to the successful re-establishment of an internationally-focused economy.  The presence of the U.S. military allowed for consecutive years of peace, something foreign to many Iraqis.  Markets were open and full of produce, schools were full, traffic lights worked, the electoral process was improving with each election, Iraq's airports were using the designation "international" again, the national soccer team was winning (occasionally), and an Olympic team existed to represent all Iraqis.  Compare those few facts with the situation in Iraq today.  You can lay all of this at the feet of Barrack Obama.  He felt the political pressure from his base to follow through on his irresponsible pledge to rid Iraq of U.S. military forces at the earliest possible opportunity.  And lets face it: the ultimate sacrifice of all those American young men and women....does it mean nothing to Obama?  Peace was achieved and prosperity was at hand, and for politics' sake, he turned success into failure.  His actions did everything possible to encourage sectarian movement amongst the various ethnicities of Iraq. Without the U.S. Army, the only security is with your own kind.  That is the perspective of the various groups trying to survive in Iraq today.

Back to the idea of partitioning Iraq.  First and foremost, its really absurd of the United States to be considering the limits of the national boundaries of a sovereign nation which is diplomatically accredited in the United States and a member in good standing of the United Nations (what the hell is that, anyway?).  Be that as it may, I have always supported the Kurdish independence movement.  The Kurds have played the game so long, and been such good team players, that they deserve the opportunity to govern themselves.  The truth is, Kurdistan would probably exist today as a separate and legitimate nation-state if it weren't for issues regarding oil.  How much oil are the Kurds sitting on, and should it belong to all the people of Iraq, and not just the Kurds?  A specious argument, considering that the Kurds have never benefitted from any of the other oil deposits in Iraq.  Most Iraqis don't consider the Kurds to be Iraqi, even though most Kurds are Muslim.  If Iraq were at peace, it might not be a bad idea to consider three separate nations, one for each ethnicity.  But given the current conflict raging against the Islamic State, its really a moot point.  The good guys are hoping to find a way to keep Iraq from becoming one united nation under the Islamic State, and don't have much time to sit around discussing the viability of a Kurdish, Sunni and Shia separation.

A quick review of the excellent links that I've provided will remind everyone that efforts to create multiple nations based on ethnicity, from the remains of a failed, much larger state (Yugoslavia, for example), have usually not been successful.  I don't know if those examples are applicable in this instance, though.  If Iraq were divided into three nations, the two voices that would be screeching the loudest would be Turkey and the Iraqi Sunnis.  The Turks are paranoid that the establishment of a Kurdish state will eventually lead to an attempt to annex parts of eastern Asia Minor (Turkey), where the Turks constitute a majority of the population.  As long as Erdogan is in office, I'm all for anything that will piss off the Turks, so no problem there.  The Iraqi Sunnis will also threaten to hold their breath until they turn blue and pass out, because they've always been the chosen ones.  The Kurds, the Assyrians, the Shi'a, the Jews, have always had to sit way in the back of the Iraqi bus, so to speak.  Even though Saddam rarely spent money on infrastructure or social projects, when he did, it was for the benefit of a Sunni community.  That explains the abject poverty that exists in the Iraqi Shi'a communities located in the south-central and southern parts of Iraq.  The Kurds, God love 'em, didn't wait around for a handout from Saddam's Baghdad; they created their own economy, and also benefitted greatly from the Kurdish diaspora.  For all practical purposes, Kurdistan has been a self-sufficient nation-state for some time now.  Its just not recognized outside of Sulimaniyah.  The Kurds even have their own military, and as I've commented before, you don't want to pick a fit with the Pesh Merga.  As for the Iraqi Sunni, I don't think they will have much luck finding a sympathetic ear anytime soon.

Under ideal circumstances, It might just be time for serious consideration to be given to the partition of Iraq.  But given the current state of affairs, it just doesn't make sense.  We might be re-writing the boundaries of a nation that won't exist in 2016.  Lets focus on winning this war first.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Lets take a break from bad news, and talk about my favorite places to visit Stateside.....

Links: A.Welcome to Savannah, Georgia.
           B. Welcome to Big Bend Country, Texas.
           C. Highway to America's past...the Colonial Parkway.

I have to ask my regular visitors for a bit of patience.  Occasionally, more or less to keep me from burning out on current events, I enjoy writing about pleasant subjects.  I have traveled a great deal in my life, a fact for much I am very fortunate.  I have written in this blog about some of the places I've visited internationally, but I don't recall discussing my favorite locations in the United States.  I've never been to Hawaii or Alaska, and I'm very anxious to visit both.  In fact, I've probably covered more of the African continent than I have my own country.  But I have experienced some marvelous places stateside, and I would like to share my memories with you.

I first visited Savannah, Georgia in the mid 90's, just prior to the explosion of the best-selling book by John Berendt, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil".  The book is billed as non-fiction, but a quick investigation of some of the vents and persons described within make it apparent that the events in "Midnight" fall somewhere in that cloudy area between literary truth and fantasy.  The book tells the story of Jim Williams, a wealthy Savannah art and antique collector, and historic home restorer.  Williams is responsible for saving many of Savannah's most historic and treasured homes from the wrecking ball.  In 1981, when Williams was in his mid 50's, he shot and killed a young male hustler names Danny Hansford inside his restored priceless Mansion, Mercer House.  Williams, who was one of Hansford's more regular and prolific customers, claimed self-defense, but the District Attorney of Chatham County was determined to convict Williams of first degree murder.  The case took on a life of its own because of three hung-juries.  Finally, in 1990, Williams was acquitted.  He died a few months later of a heart attack, in the same room in which Hansford was shot.  Berendt, and author from New York, recreated the event and decorated the story with a cast of real-life Savannah characters, who act as a perfect introduction to the unique, charming and yet absurd nature of the town of Savannah.  I discovered Savannah before the book took the country by storm, and I was quick to notice that folks in Savannah really do follow their own road map, so to speak.  The community is much smaller than the population figures let on, and everyone's business is anyone's business.  And Savannah is forgiving of just about anything, except bad manners.  The town is absolutely lovely, especially the older section that hugs the river bank and the handful of Spanish Moss-covered cemeteries that edge Savannah in the east.  You will experience town square (sometimes referred to as "parks") after town square, filled with fountains and flowers and guarded by the most stunning, gorgeous collection of southern mansions that you can imagine.  You will find museums and art galleries galore in the older residential area, and for tourists, the riverside is the perfect place for shopping, sea food, or just enjoying the sights of the river.  Being a history fanatic, I enjoyed visited Civil War-era Fort Jackson and Fort Pulaski.  For anyone looking for a unique tourist destination, I can't recommend Savannah more highly.  Tybee Island, with beautiful beaches and wildlife in abundance, is just down the road, and you will have no trouble finding a hotel in your price range.  I do advise you to read the book first, though.  And don't be surprised if you run into a ghost or two or three while in Savannah...they're everywhere.

I'm a proud Texan, and I can say with complete sincerity that there is no part of the great Lone Star State that I don't love.  But I'm allowed to love some places more than others, and I'm head over heels for west Texas.  This includes the Big Bend National Park, but I'm going to focus on what can be found outside the Park's boundaries.  First and foremost, west Texas is desolate.  It can be lonely at times, and you will have countless opportunities to look as far as the eye can see and find no sign of people.  West Texas has its chair of scenery, including range after range of hills, buffeted by open valleys full of tumbleweeds and cactus. Other parts of west Texas are covered in grassland, which allows for the success of a number of large ranches in the area.  Aside from cotton and hay (and maybe onions), I can't imagine what can grow for human consumption, but livestock on the plans are a very familiar sight.  Where is west Texas?  Folks will certainly argue this with me, but for my purposes, it begins at Ozona (down to Del Rio) and stretches as far as Marfa (and Ojinaga). For me, west Texas is the Marfa lights and the stories of "Giant", and Marathon and the famous, haunted Gage Hotel.  My favorite town is Alpine (there's a story somewhere but I can't quite recall it, besides, you can Wiki just as easy as I can), and when I'm in the area I make my home at the Holland Hotel, across the street from the train depot (the management thoughtfully provides earplugs for the guests).  I like Alpine because regardless of its moniker, to me it feels like a real Texas town.  People are friendly, and they usually aren't transplants.  Also, Alpine is perfectly situated to visit the McDonald Observatory and the U.S. Cavalry Barracks and Museum at Ft. Davis.  Let me tell you, the views around Ft. Davis are second only to the views in the Big Bend State Park.  Marfa is a fun little town, home to the famous "Marfa Lights" (actually, you have to drive a ways east, towards Alpine, before you reach the comfortable, well-thought Marfa Lights Viewing Area).  What are the Lights?  Who knows.  Documented since the 1870's, the Lights will pop up out of nowhere just after sunset.  Sometimes they stay in one place and flicker out, and other times they race from one side of the horizon to the other.  Many researchers, including a funded project from Texas Tech University, have been unable to provide a satisfactory explanation.  And there is no guarantee that they will appear on any given night, that's why its best to plan for a two-night stay in Marfa.  I prefer to stay in Alpine, home of Sul Ross University, and drive the thirty minutes to the viewing area, than staying in Marfa, which has become a bit too commercial and "California" for my tastes.  But if you do find yourself in this neck of the woods, don't forget to spend at least one night in the Gage Hotel in Marathon.  its a wonderful place, comfortable and staffed by the friendliest folks you can imagine.  One thing the Holland and the Gage Hotels have in common is a bar that is usually visited in the evenings by a variety of local cowmen and cowboys.  The stories that they tell........

I don't have as much to say about the Colonial National Historic Parkway, because basically its just a stretch of highway in far eastern Virginia.  The location that I find the most bewitching is between Williamsburg and Yorktown.  If you happen to be there at just the right time of year (Spring and early Fall), you will be amazed at the beauty of the trees that decorate the sides of the highway.  They reach as far as you can see, as you are sitting in your car, and it reminds one a bit of old New England.  As you leave Williamsburg and get closer to Yorktown, the road begins to turn a bit here and there, and you start to feel like you are entering tunnels made up of the actual trees themselves.  Just before you arrive at Yorktown, the road pops out and hugs the bank of the York river for a mile or so.  Its a wonderful place to truly appreciate nature.  Also, I highly recommend a visit to both Williamsburg and Yorktown.  I especially enjoy Yorktown, because I never see any tourists!  A stroll down to the town from the battlefield, with a view across the York River to Gloucester Point, will remind you of what it must have been like in 1789.  The Yorktown Battlefield Military Park is a quiet, relaxing place to contemplate a time when the hill overlooking Yorktown and the York River wasn't so peaceful.  Its been over twenty years since I've driven the Colonial National Historic Parkway from Williamsburg to Yorktown, but it sits in my mind, as clear as yesterday.

Friday, June 19, 2015

So many Republican candidates, so little time........

Links: A. Jeb Bush running for President.
           B. Donald Trump running for President.

Recently a well-publicized political cartoon highlighted a clown car, with one Republican presidential candidate after another stepping out of the car door.  I thought it was a clever cartoon, and I had no problem understanding the intended point: that the field of candidates on the GOP side has become so large, that its beginning to resemble a circus.  And who am I too argue?  Just a quick review of some of the occupants of the clown car explains why the media has no intention of taking the Republican Primary Election seriously, at this not until convention-time.  The first funny-face we recognize in the back seat is businessman and entrepreneur Donald Trump.  I have no idea why Trump us running for president.  He must realize that even if he were to somehow win the GOP nomination, he would never win a national contest.  So what is Trump's game?  Is it all about publicity, and hawking some new casino or television program? Obviously publicity is part and parcel of Trump's campaign; the guy can't have a bowel movement without a camera running in the bathroom.  Maybe I'm being a bit unfair, but I have listened the few times that I've heard Trump actually discuss policy.  He comes across as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate.  I see nothing new here, and certainly nothing very deep.  He claims to be worth nine billion dollars.  I assume, when you have that much money, that you don't need to fund raise, right?  If Trump announces that he will use only his own personal funds to run his campaign, then he just might win me over.  He is a very hard-working man, who doesn't like to fail.  I have a great deal of respect for his accomplishments as a man and a businessman.  But I want Trump to pay for his own election, and I'm not holding my breath.

And in this corner of the crazy clown car we have a member of America's most esteemed conservative (?) political family, former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush.  Jeb Bush is a nice man.  I've never met anyone who would say otherwise.  He is considerate, polite and generous.  I'm sure he was raised well.  He was a fine Governor of Florida, and at the right time, would probably make a decent president.  I hate to join the chorus, Jeb, but I'm just not ready for another Bush (or Clinton, for that matter). I have to believe that our nation is deeper than that.  When I look at the line-up standing outside of the clown-car, I am astonished by some of the familiar faces that I see.  And Jeb Bush is the most recognizable.  For me personally, I am a bit insulted that certain politicians keep coming around for another shot.  Do they really believe that the United States can't survive without them?  Are they so important, that we can't find someone with less baggage and a newer perspective to be our nominee?  I won't vote for Jeb Bush unless he is the nominee.  Same rule applies for Mike Huckabee. I want new ideas, new visions and fewer reminders about the past.  I remember it well enough on my own, thank you.  For the same reasons, if I were a Democrat I wouldn't be voting for Hillary Clinton.

Another look into the clown car takes us to Rick Santorum, whose been sitting on the jump seat.  Just like Jeb and Mike Huckabee, I really like Rick Santorum.  Of the three, he is the one most likely to get my attention.  I supported Rick in vain during the last few primaries in 2012, but if I'm not mistaken, Santorum was around in 2008 as well.  And this following an unsuccessful effort to hold on to his Senate seat in Pennsylvania.  This is a perfect example of the issue that I find so frustrating.  Rick, I know you love public service and you feel strongly about your ideas for our country, but it would do you well to find something else to do for a while.  I am not alone when I say I'm not looking for anymore politicians-for-life, regardless of their honesty, integrity and generosity, all of which Rick Santorum has in abundance.  If Santorum had taken a break in 2012, and spent a few years driving his own car, writing his own checks, and living the life of a middle class American, I would be much more predisposed to his candidacy.  But Santorum has basically been running for the GOP nomination since 2012, even though he hasn't had a whole lot of resources.  I have tremendous admiration for Santorum; I would have appreciated a Catholic nominee, and I agree with Rick on every issue.  But I made up my mind that in 2016, I would vote for the candidate that I believe our founding fathers would have supported.

Although I would be very comfortable with a Rand Paul nomination, or Ted Cruz, I am sticking with my original choice and voting for Dr. Ben Carson.  I am determined to support a non-politician, regardless of the comments I hear on Fox and CNN that Dr. Carson does not debate well or speak smoothly enough to win the presidency.  Bullshit.  I am really excited about the opportunity to vote for someone who has spent their life saving lives and bringing new life into this world.  I understand his ideas regarding the economy and our tax code because he takes a simple approach and like most Americans, I'm a simple man.  Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are not the only other candidates that I respect; under different circumstances I would vote for Rick Perry and Marco Rubio (a few more years, Marco).  And Carly Fiorino would make a tremendous Vice Presidential nominee; I would love to see her in a debate!  I'm leaving off a few of the other announced candidates.  I really don't know what to make of Lindsay Graham.  Half the time I love him and half the time I'm convinced he's a closet Democrat.  Scott Walker is a solid Republican who has stood up to the best that the Unions and the left have to offer.  My issue with Walker has nothing to do with him, per se.  I can't support someone as the Republican nominee for president, who is the governor of a state that will never vote Republican.  It an important factor.  Carson will finally help the GOP make inroads into the African American electorate; Rand Paul is strong in Ohio and Rubio and Bush can deliver Florida.  From the perspective of the electoral map, what does Walker deliver?  Not even his own state of Wisconsin.  It unfortunate, but true.

So we've had our peak into the clown car, and the circus is getting ready to start.  The media is having a field day with the number and variety of GOP candidates, and I'm all for letting them have their fun.  When the Republican convention rolls around, the party will be united and our one candidate will be battle-tested and sharp.  I'm optimistic that those of us hoping for a more conservative administration in 2016 will see a GOP making fewer mistakes this time around.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sure, the Islamic State has its share of Ex-Ba'athists; but its still a religiously motivated organization at heart.

Links: A. ISIS fighters in Ramadi are ex-Ba'ath Party members.
           B. Ex-Ba'athists helping organize ISIS.

In the past few weeks, I have repeatedly heard a bit of information that is taking on a life of its own.  I have been told by persons I respect and persons whose news sources are dubious at best, that the Islamic State/ISIS, is being controlled and run by ethnic Iraqi former Saddam loyalists and Ba'ath Party members.  Last year I had a long conversation with a good friend who happens to be a retired Iraqi General and a former Ba'ath Party member (his brother and father, now deceased, were both party representatives from Baghdad).  He informed me, almost off-handedly, that some of his former colleagues were involved with ISIS.  He elaborated that these individuals were assisting in the creation and expansion of different departments within the organization, including intelligence and recruitment.  He laughed as he pointed out that like many Iraqis, they were desperate to bring home a paycheck, and at least someone was willing to compensate them for their skills.  So the demographic that is the Islamic State now includes a number of former Ba'ath Party hacks, I thought.  It only strengthened my existing opinion that the Islamic State is determined to develop the characteristics of a conventional military force.  When George Bush (and more importantly Donald Rumsfeld) was considering the best way to defeat Al-Qaeda, the decision was made to force the terrorist organization to fight a conventional war, something it was not designed to do.  Although the insurgency and the Abu Ghraib fiasco dragged things out way longer than should have been necessary, the strategy actually worked, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Al-Qaida and the Taliban just did not have the personnel, the equipment, the resources, or the infrastructure to combat the U.S. military.  Interestingly enough, the Islamic State has been successful since it started behaving more as a legitimate armed forces, which requires a plan for resupply and reinforcements, and also must include a transportation and communication network.  When Al-Qaeda works in small units, transportation and communication are much simpler.  But the Islamic State now commands tens of thousands of personnel, and it can be no surprise that former regime elements, Sunni no doubt, have joined the cause, and that ISIS, which had a definite need for that expertise, welcomed them with open arms.

But this development can be easily misunderstood.  In no way does the motivation expressed by the Islamic State dovetail with the Socialist manifesto of the Arab Ba'ath Party that at one time controlled both Iraq and Syria.  Do not read too much into the fact that the intelligence branch of the Islamic State is run in the same manner as the intelligence branch of the Iraqi Army.  Certainly Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, is ethnic Iraqi.  But he was not a supporter of Saddam Hussein.  Because the roots of the ISIS movement can be traced to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's "Al-Qaeda in Iraq", it should be no surprise that a number of Iraqis are prominent in the organization.  But I am beginning to see this perspective take root that the ghost of Saddam and Ba'ath Party adherents are dictating policy for the Islamic State.  Do not be distracted by this red herring.  Do not forget what the Islamic State represents and exactly what methods it has used to achieve its ends. No doubt Saddam did some heinous things, but is always attempted to cover-up or deny the existence of such government-sanctioned activity.  The Islamic State WANTS you as a first-row witness to its execution of persons because of religious persuasion.  More importantly, don't forget that the Ba'ath Party and Saddam Hussein were interested in political motivation as opposed to religious.  Saddam (and his buddy Bashir al-Assad) were in fear of the Islamic Extremist movement, and directed their security forces to deal with it harshly.  In its inception and at the height of its popularity, the Ba'ath movement was inherently political.  It sought to enfranchise the Arab worker in all nations and create a political movement with Socialist leanings that would sweep the party into power in places like Egypt and Turkey.  The Islamic State exists for the purpose of the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, a nation ruled by a Caliph (religious leader) with the Quran as the law of the land. 

The former Iraqi Ba'ath Party members who are active in the Islamic State are the ones being co-opted, not vice versa.  And that should have been expected.  When the U.S. arrived in Iraq in 2003 and the Iraqi military has ceased to exist, everyone wanted to become a part of the U.S. military force that now appeared to hold the reigns of power.  In reality, its just a circumstance of survival.  People have families to provide for, and they  will do what is necessary to reach that goal.  What would I do to feed my family?  Just about anything.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The United States has the finest Armed Forces in the world, and it has nothing to do with equipment or size.

Link: Wikipedia entry on United States Armed Forces.

I come from a military family.  My father was enlisted career U.S. Army, and his choice of occupations took him to France in 1962, where he met and married my mother.  For this reason I was raised in a bicultural household, and I am very proud of my heritage.  Almost every country on the globe has a military of some sort, although a few of the more smaller states rely on larger and more prosperous neighbors for defensive purposes.  Unless a war starts, most armies stay within their own national borders.  For example, although Mexico declared itself at war with the bad guys in World War Two, the Mexican Armed Forces haven't been outside the borders of Mexico since 1846.  Because the United States is a superpower and has been one since the advent of the 20th century, the U.S. military has found itself involved in numerous conflicts far from its own national boundaries.  Just like my father, there were many young soldiers who met local girls while overseas and fell in love.  This fact only added to the unique demographics of the United States of America.

I consider myself so fortunate to part of a military family.  When members of the U.S. Armed Forces serve overseas, their families must live in foreign countries and adjust to languages and customs that are unfamiliar.  The U.S. military community quickly turned this circumstance into an advantage.  As a child, I spoke French before I spoke English, and before entering Middle School, I had a decent
comprehension of German.  Even though we lived in our own neighborhood, we were surrounded by a larger city and had no choice but to become friends with our hosts.  The American military schools were/are exceptional, and our community was always taking field trips to castles and historic sites, the likes of which don't exist in the United States because of Uncle Sam's relative youth.  During the holidays, the military families would become one extended family, with so much generosity, compassion, and joy.  At Christmastime, all the families joined together to decorate the community.  Leagues were organized that allowed kids from the different communities to compete against each other in American football, softball, baseball and basketball.  And we never forgot that the reason we were in Europe was because my father had a responsibility as a U.S. soldier to defend Europe from communism.

Since the end of the Civil War, the United States has rarely had its territorial integrity threatened.
From my perspective, only twice has our national survival been at stake; the Second World War and September 11, 2001.  We have fought many wars because we believed that the cause was just and the sacrifice necessary.  On two occasions, Vietnam and the second Iraq War, the decision to get involved was not universally supported by the American people.  But our soldiers have been so well-trained and raised in good families, that they have always understood the absolute necessity to leave the politics back home.  On two occasions during my career in the CIA, I was able to work with the U.S. Armed Forces.  I am unable to provide details, but I will say that I was left with a tremendously positive impression.  The United States continues to produce the world's FINEST young men and women, and my blog is not a U.S. Armed Forces recruitment site.  My comment is simply the truth.  Time and time again, our military proves that courage has a permanent home in the uniform of the United States Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard.  Once I was fortunate enough to hear a presentation given by a survivor of the Bataan Death March in World War II.  He challenged everyone to buy a world map, and draw a cross in every foreign location that has become the permanent home of a U.S. soldier.  I still have my world map with all its crosses, and I still find myself making updates.  Even though I like to consider myself a bit of a history buff, I continue to learn about young American soldiers making the ultimate sacrifice in unheard of places.  I am convinced that as the ultimate melting pot of humanity, for a time we were welcoming the best, the brightest, and the bravest to our shores.  So it should be no surprise that our troops have the intellect to recognize the importance of freedom, and the courage to fight to defend it.    

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Some thoughts on writing a book about the CIA -

Since my memoir, "Mukhabarat, Baby!" was published early last month, I have made an effort to accept every opportunity to speak about the book and my experiences while a part of the CIA.  Actually, I have had to "rustle up" speaking engagements, as we say down here in Texas.  This is my first, and probably only foray into the world of book writing, literary agents and publishers, and I have received quite an education in the last year.  It hasn't been easy, and much of the heavy lifting did not come as a surprise.  I self-published because I was determined to keep my voice, and avoid as much political bullshit as possible.  If you read my book, you will notice that I never discuss my private life.  I made that choice because outside of the understood difficulty with long-distance relationships, my personal life was not impacted by my career.  I know plenty of very successful Operations Officers who met that special someone, got married, and had children, all in the middle of their career.  At times, life is about compromises and adjustments, and the idea that it is almost impossible to have a fulfilling personal life and a successful career working undercover, overseas for the CIA, is just false.  In my particular case, the details of my private life would have detracted from my intended message.  Most of the stories in my book introduced other characters; real people, with unique personalities and fascinating experiences to share.  My career was a tremendous experience that I wouldn't trade for anything, because of my brothers and sisters in the CIA.  Using my book, I wanted to be the conduit between real people and true, sometimes funny, other times sobering, stories about life - from inside the world's greatest vault: the CIA.

I was very fortunate.  I had the tremendous support of a number of very special people, and I had a general idea what I needed to do in order to turn a self-published, non-fiction CIA memoir into a success.  My friend Jennifer created an amazing blog page, which has been a great success, and the site that she built for the book is as professional, attractive, and user-friendly as any you will find on the net.  We showered the world of Twitter from one end to the other, with hourly tweets about the book and its subject matter, and we used our book Facebook page to drum up interest as well.  But I couldn't sit back and wait for speaking invitations to show up in my email; I had to do all the legwork necessary with that effort.  So I emailed and called everyone, and in lost instances received no reply.  But when I did, I was not picky.  I think I spoke at the opening of a Korean manicure and pedicure salon in Von Ormy, Texas.  Here is a bit of free advice: don't waste money on any of the frequently advertised "twitter campaigns".  Some claim that they will tweet your book title to "350,000" twitter addresses every hour, every day for a month.  It won't make a difference.  In order to break into the ranks of "successful" books, the media needs to pick it up.  The book needs to be mentioned on Shawn Hannity (an interview on his radio program would be a dream come true) or a CNN program.  If MSNBC came calling, they would be the first refusal I would give.  Its nothing personal, I just wouldn't be able to participate in a program that would attempt to use my book to damage people I admire and support.  Not that I expect an email from them anytime soon.

If someone is considering purchasing my book because they believe that I have an ax to grind,  I would have to respectfully inform them otherwise.  I have my complaints, mostly dealing with the process of compensation.  I started accruing medical bills in 2001; following the advice of both my personal physicians and the Agency Office of Medical Services, I went to see a number of specialists from the Baylor Hospital in Houston, Texas, to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  By 2007 I had collected a hefty debt, even with my Blue Cross/Blue Shield Federal Employee Coverage.  I was told numerous times that my request for assistance was acceptable, but the end of the process was nowhere in sight.  I took some steps I which could have been avoided, but in the end, I received enough financial assistance to cover all my outstanding medical bills, and to assist with future therapy.  The decision to retire with full disability was made at a time when my prognosis was not positive.  This fact was acknowledged by my private physicians and OMS.  But it was always my goal to regain my health at least to the level that would allow me to return to work.  I believe I have reached that point, and I hope I am able to return to the Agency in some capacity.  In truth, the organization is my family.  I belong to a group of Agency officers who chose to make the Agency not only their career, but a permanent part of their lives.  I wrote the book as both therapy and to counter the negative information that I had been reading for years.  The Agency has a successful, proven hiring process, and the most accountable, useful training program imaginable.  As with any large organization, I met officers with whom I did not get along personally, but never once in my career did it interfere with the job at hand.  Before I joined the Agency, I had already spent time overseas, and had met a wide variety of people.  But the CIA managed to bring together the most dedicated, disciplined, honest, capable group of officers possible.  From my first day on the job, to the last, it never ceased to amaze me- the level of dedication, attention to detail, and thoughtfulness that was part of every operation.  It was such a pleasure working in an environment that remained focused on the people and the mission, and didn't get bogged down in the bureaucracy and obstacles.  And in my book (literally and figuratively), both bureaucracy and obstacles were made to be overcome.

Every time a person picks up my book to read the jacket cover, it fills me with gratitude and humility.  My memoir is not about "James Bond" exploits during the day and shacking up with the beautiful Russian spy at night.  Its about the real job being done by honest-to-goodness patriots in places like Katmandu and Monrovia.  I lived the life, and I'm very fortunate to be able to discuss it on the flipside (nothing confidential, of course).  I do consider myself a bit of an expert....not on James Bond, but on the people I describe in my book.  I tried to bring their experiences and perspectives to life.  its up to you to decide if I succeeded.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Back to the Sunni versus Shi'a, a bit of historical perspective.

Links: A. Wikipedia definition of Sunni Islam.
           B. Wikipedia definition of Shi'a Islam.
           C. Wikipedia's take on the all-deciding Battle of Karbala.

When I first arrived in Iraq, I had little background knowledge on the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'a Muslim.  I assumed it would be similar to Roman Catholics and Protestants, and Heaven knows that those two Christian denominations have had a go at each other a few times.  But receiving an education regarding the Sunni and the Shi'a in Iraq is just as much about observation as it is having a thick book open in front of you.  Throughout Islam (and I'm generalizing; where billions of people are involved, there will always be exceptions), the Sunni have traditionally been perceived as well-mannered and better-educated, which leads to the next logical assumption, that the Sunni are better off financially.  The Shi'a have traditionally been closer to nature; the farmers, the less-educated, less erudite.  I had Shi'a friends in Iraq tell me that regardless of the Muslim country, the discrimination is waiting for you when you arrive, and it will hang around after you leave.  Unlike the historic nastiness between Roman Catholics and Protestants, the schism in Islam has seldom led to large scale violence, at least not until Saddam Hussein decided to gas the Iraqi Shi'a after the first Gulf War in 1991.  As a reminder, the Shi'a of Iraq were under the impression that the U.S. Army was going to finish the job and see that Saddam was retrenched for good.  For some reason, they believed that if they participated in the fighting against Saddam's Army, that George Bush and the Americans would support their effort.  The reality is, they received no support and Saddam used what air power he had available, followed up by T-72s, to gas and crush the Shi'a rebellion.  It was never a fair fight, and as much as it pains me to say this, I can't help but believe that we let those people down.

But the cleft in Islam that leaves the Sunni on one side and the Shi'a on the other, is something much more ingrained than political differences.  Many Sunni believe that they are intellectually superior to the Shi'a.  This idea has been regurgitated for years, and resulted in Sunni communities being built in nicer locations, with nicer homes, better schools, and a better social support network.  In Iraq prior to Saddam, the House of Hashim was Sunni, and it was business as usual.  Saddam Hussein was very much a Sunni, being from Tikrit, and most of the development that occurred during his reign went into the Sunni community, Baghdad and Anbar Province in particular.  This attitude has existed for a long time, with some scholars claiming that its genesis was  the Battle of Karbala, between the small group of supporters of Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet and the son of Ali, and the army sent by the ruling Ummayid Caliph Yazid I.  The Shi'a of 2015 consider the date of this battle, the 10th Muharram in the year 61 AH (Anno Hijra, meaning after the departure of the Prophet and his followers from Mecca to Medina) in the Arabic calendar, and October 680 AD in the west, to be a day of mourning and sadness.  If you've ever seen video of large groups of shirtless Muslim men beating themselves bloody with whips and chains, all while slowly marching in step, then you were probably watching an observance of the Battle of Karbala.

We've been speaking about Iraq, but the issue transcends national boundaries.  The Shi'a Houthi in Yemen were so frustrated with years of discrimination that they violently removed the Sunni government.  For centuries the Houthi of Yemen were subjected to discrimination, which manifested itself in 2015 as lack of access to good jobs, entrance into secondary education, and promotion in the civil service and the military.  This glass ceiling exists for Shi'a in most if not all Muslim countries with a Sunni majority (and a few with a Shi'a majority).  The point being, the Shi'a Muslims of the world have a chip on their shoulder, and they have reason to be pissed.  On the other side of the coin, the Sunni have to be concerned, especially after events in Yemen and Iraq.  Everyone is quick to blame Iran, but I think this has as much to do with indigenous frustration than any agitation provided by Tehran.  In fact, I think the Iranians have really dropped the ball when it comes to supporting their fellow Shi'a.  Iraq is a prime example.  The current Iraqi government is pro-Shi'a, the Badr Corps and other Shi'a militias are fighting alongside the Iraqi Army, and the Americans, who have always been a last resort of friendship for the Sunni, are nowhere to be found (at least not in a military sense).  The Sunni of Anbar, Diyala, and Salah al-Din Provinces, along with the Sunni of Baghdad, have no savior at the moment.

For all its nastiness, Daesh is a Sunni movement.  As they continue to occupy Sunni communities in Iraq, I can assure you that they are telling horror stories about what will happen if the Shi'a take over.  What little bit of deference that the Sunnis enjoyed over the Shi'a in the hell hole known as Iraq, will be ever.  In fact, Daesh will tell the residents of Fallujah, Ramadi and Habaniyah that the Shi'a will expect a bit of payback.  With the Iraqi Army currently co-opted by the Shi'a militias and laying siege to Ramadi, the Sunnis would be out of character not to consider the advantages of joining Daesh.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Iraq threatening to descend into all-out war, mirroring Syria.

Link: ISIS threatens water supply to Iraqi civilians.

Last year, the Islamic State (IS) used its control of certain dams to impact the Iraqi civilian population's access to water.  In the end, their actions led to the flooding of Ramadi and other smaller, nearby communities.  The IS is again threatening to use its control of dams to further its military objectives.  The IS has already closed the Warrar Dam, north of Ramadi, jeopardizing water supplies to Habaniya and Khalidiya, two towns east of Ramadi.  There is concern that the IS as also closed the Fallujah Dam, south of Fallujah.  These developments can only increase the pressure on the civilian population, and bring Iraq that much closer to a humanitarian crisis.  In the big picture, these events demonstrate the rapid break-down in civil authority throughout Iraq.  The central government in is control of maybe fifty percent of the country.  In fact, the Shi'a south, from Hillah and Najaf down to Basra (and east to the Iranian border), appears to be the only part of the country that has not been infiltrated by the IS.  Anbar and Salah al-Din Provinces are war zones, as is Diyala Province, which borders Iran.  Dohuk, Arbil, Kirkuk, and Nineveh Province in the west have been scenes of sporadic fighting and numerous SVBIED (suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) for the past year.  Basically, whatever authority exists in the north is attributed to Kurdish forces.  As long as the IS occupies large parts of Anbar and continues to pressure the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in Diyala, Salah al-Din, Baiji, and numerous other strategic areas, the authority of the Iraqi central government is diminished.

The operational execution of the IS forces continues to impress.  There is an obvious long-term focus on all offensive maneuvers, and every opportunity to exploit the lack of training and discipline of the ISF is exploited to the furthest degree.  The maturity exhibited by the strategic planning and decision making conflicts with the unnecessary civilian executions, although some will argue that the brutalization of the civilian population is intended to create a pliable and easy to govern people.  The IS is not a typical terrorist organization by any stretch.  With the exception of the Taliban (and this claim is open for discussion), the IS is the first terrorist organization with a true conventional military capability.  This fact is one of the reasons that we suspect a much more cordial relationship exists with Al-Qaeda than what has been demonstrated for the media.  President George Bush was determined to force Al-Qaeda into a conventional military confrontation in Afghanistan and (eventually) Iraq.  Once Saddam was defeated, it was imperative that Al-Qaeda not sit idly by as an infidel army occupied an Islamic nation.  Al-Qaeda took the bait, and from 2005 to 2008, was surprisingly resilient.  But in the end, George Bush was able to expose a flaw in the Al-Qaeda structure: it was not built for conventional combat.  By 2010 (thanks to the Sunni "Great Awakening" and the ultimate sacrifice of over 3,000 American heroes), Iraq was well on its way to building a middle class and reviving from decades of totalitarianism.  The one development which could torpedo all the progress, would be the rash and speedy withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq.  You see, the ISF was not yet prepared to defend Iraq.  The U.S. military was following a timetable that they had been led to believe, was "in stone".  The plan was to train the Iraqi security forces, police and special ops folks included, until they showed the capacity to protect their own people.  Instead, we announced to the world (and the IS, who were sitting in Syria, licking their chops, so to speak) that the U.S. military was leaving the security of Iraq to the ISF and departing Iraq on a fast timetable.

Even before the IS moved into Iraq, the organization had shown its ability to conduct conventional military operations. Syria was the ideal location to try out the world's first conventional terrorist army.  The most important factor for the IS is discipline.  Second is resources.  The IS does not seem to have any problem attracting volunteers, but, like any army, they can't be useful until they are trained and equipped.  The IS trains its recruits, and uses them where they are most useful.  Language is considered a valuable tool, especially in the media war.  The IS enjoys nothing more than shocking the folks sitting down to tea in London, with the image of a beheading carried out by a young man with a striking Cockney accent.  One of the factors that continues to impress us is the IS' ability to access and deliver resources to its units stretched out all over Syria and Iraq, and in the middle of an Allied Air Campaign, no less.    At least the IS has lost the element of surprise; they won't be sneaking up on anyone anymore, with "ISIS" being a dirty word in just about every language.  As it exists, the IS really is nothing but an army, fighting a conflict in Syria and Iraq.  The IS does not occupy the Executive Mansion of any particular country, nor does it have a representative political party that dominates a parliament somewhere.  Aside from sycophants and recruiters, ISIS is whatever we have before us in Iraq and Syria.  Which begs the question, with the dastardly and evil deeds they have committed, why haven't they been destroyed?  With the entire U.N. condemning their actions, and their every move likened to "terrorism", why are they still hanging around?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Can Erdogan recreate the Ottoman Empire from the existing Turkey?

Links: A. Turkey goes to the polls on 7 July.
           B. Turkey's Prime Minister Davutoglu caught between a rock and a hard space.
           C. Turkish President Erdogan revives the ghosts of Ottoman glory.

If there is one thing that I really appreciate about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it is his taste for history.  Erdogan enjoys reminding the Turkish people of the long history of Turkish military conquest, when the Ottoman Empire stretched from Algeria to Oman and up to the gates of Vienna in Europe.  Oddly enough, when I hear the Islamic State ramble on about the creation of an Islamic Caliphate, I can't help but think of the Ottomans.  In reality, the Ottoman Empire was an Islamic Caliphate.  The Sultan wasn't only the head of state for the Empire, he was also the Caliph, or leader of the faithful, with the authority to issue fatwas and declare war not just for the Empire, but for all Muslims.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this appear to be very similar to what the Islamic State is demanding?  In reality, the Ottomans were nothing like today's terrorist bad-boy of the moment, the Islamic State (IS).  Millions of practicing Christians lived within the Ottoman Empire, and with very few exceptions, enjoyed the protection of the state.  Jews were also welcome in the Empire, as the Ottomans recognized the importance of international trade and banking.  The Ottoman Empire also had close, personal diplomatic relationships with France, England, Austria and the United States.  If it weren't for European banks, the Ottoman Empire would have lived up to its nickname as "the sick man of Europe" and expired long before the actual end came in 1923.  What happened to the Ottomans, that they went from world power to an impoverished state, rife with revolutionaries and anarchists?  In a word, corruption.  And interestingly enough, the word continues to be in vogue a century later.

Turkey's Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, is a member of President Recep Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) and considered a close ally of the President.  Davutoglu had an auspicious start as Prime Minister when he publicly proclaimed that fighting corruption would be a top priority.  Davutoglu hinted that he would support the nation's Supreme Court if it chose to put on trial the four government ministers who were forced to quit in 2013 after a large-scale corruption probe produced evidence of their involvement in bribery and influence peddling.  Davutoglu was even quoted as saying that he "would break off the arm of anyone who gets involved in corruption, even if its my brother."  But timing got in the way, and Davutoglu was forced to eat his words, so to speak.  Erdogan had no intention of allowing the Supreme Court to air the AKP's dirty laundry, and the motion to call for a trial by the Supreme Court was voted down in Parliament by the AKP.  This incident is not the only example of Erdogan's opposition to Davutoglu's stated goal of combatting Turkish political corruption.  Erdogan has no intention of fighting corruption.  It has become the military wing of his political ambitions.  Erdogan can no longer play the game successfully without the use of some phalange of corruption, whether it be bribery or intimidation (a favorite of his).  Davutoglu has been given the crash course in Erdogan politics 101, highlighted by the Jan. 19 meeting of Davutoglu's cabinet.  Erdogan called the meeting, chaired the meeting, and ended the meeting, with Davutoglu having not a word to say.  It was an obvious reminder to Davutoglu that Erdogan was the real Prime Minister.  More importantly, it sent a message that from Erdogan's optic, the actual position of Prime Minister itself was on borrowed time.  Erdogan has been discussing the possibility of Turkey adopting a Presidential system of government that does not include a Prime Minister.  It would consist of an Executive Branch (President and Cabinet), a Legislative Branch (Parliament), and a Judicial Branch (Supreme Court of Turkey).  For someone who is so critical of the United States, he certainly seems to appreciate our style of government.  Be that as it may, Erdogan's idea of a presidential system does not include our checks-and-balances.  Erdogan sees the Executive as having full authority over the other two, which would leave the office of president with increased powers.  And who would be the president in this system?  Why, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  For more than just a couple reasons, it was in Davutoglu's best interest to sit still and keep quiet.

There are times when I see similarities between Erdogan and Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.  Erdogan, like Berlusconi, never gives up; he realizes that in most instances all you have to do is show more staying power than your opponent.  Erdogan uses national ideals to stir up the people, especially near election time, another useful habit of Berlusconi.  The exist some obvious differences between the two, though.  Italy's electoral system is not as easy to manipulate as Turkey's, and its very difficult to bribe or unfairly influence the Italian judiciary.  Also, everywhere Berlusconi goes, his businesses follow like a heavy shadow.  Most of the offenses of which he has been accused have to do with manipulation for the benefit of his companies.  Erdogan has no business obligations to weight him down, at least none that are known to us.  He is a political animal, through and through.  When his political party originally burst onto the scene, I was concerned that he was an Islamic extremist, or at least an ideologue.  I was worried that Turkey, such an important part of NATO, with a large, well-trained and equipped military, would lose its identification as a secular state.  In reality, the AKP and Erdogan approached power with a much more pragmatic, long-term perspective.  Then I became concerned that he was playing up to the nationalist element in Turkish politics (in Turkey, there is a fine-line between the Islamist parties and the Nationalist parties, although they wouldn't agree).  Now, after more than a decade of Erdogan, I think I finally have an accurate assessment.  Erdogan isn't about Islamic domination, nor is he about Turkish nationalism.  Erdogan is about Erdogan.  He is determined to create a new niche in Turkish politics that allows him to govern as a king, but with the title of president.  And he wants his Turkey to be militarily and economically powerful and dominant in the region, a 21st century Ottoman Empire, more or less.  I'm not convinced that he will succeed; a growing number of very brave Turks have become vociferously opposed to Erdogan, led by a few independent journalists.  And I've always wondered if he was completely successful in excising all the military brass who were dedicated to keeping Turkey secular and free.  Maybe the Turkish Military has one coup still left in the pipeline.  Now would be a good time.........

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Sunnis of Iraq..what does the future hold? (Part II)

In 2009 and 2010, the future was really looking brighter for the people of Iraq.  The country now boasted of three international airports at Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, and the ex-pat community which was spread out all over the globe, began to make its way back home, with an eye to investing in the new Iraq.  Schools were overflowing and Iraq was refining oil again.  The Iraqi people, Shi'a Kurd and Sunni, celebrated the success of Iraq's international sports teams, and that all-necessary middle class began to make an appearance.  No doubt, a smoother political transition would have been welcome, but it seemed par for the course in this part of the world.  The Shi'a/Sunni political split should have been seen as a hugely negative but predictable development.  In hindsight, the CIA should have created and financially supported a political party that included both well-known and respected Shi'a and Sunni.  But no one was really complaining because Iraq was on the move in the right direction.  So what happened?  Its 2015, and the country is under siege, and the nascent economy that had begun to grow is now in tatters.  The oil refining capability of Iraq, which is its lifeline, is in shambles.  And all this happened because of our rapid withdrawal from Iraq. Is it unfair for me to lay all the blame at the feet of the Administration?  Lets take a look at the evidence:

How can I blame the Administration for ISIS, a terrorist group that originated in Syria?  Wrong -  ISIS originated in Iraq.  After the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the "Great Awakening" (the Sunni movement to oppose Zarqawi and the insurgency), his organization went into hibernation. It eventually found its way into Syria, and took advantage of that conflict to rebuild and rebrand.  This was the creation of ISIS.  No doubt that there aren't many left over from the Zarqawi days, but can it be only a coincidence that the leader of ISIS is Abu Bakr al-BAGHDADI?  Regardless, ISIS found the perfect environment for reconstituting itself and created a new, sexier manifesto.  Since the bad guy in Syria wasn't the United States, a more flexible statement of motivation was necessary.  ISIS identified itself with an effort to unite various nations in the Levant under the flag of a Sunni extremist Caliphate (with Baghdadi as the first Caliph, I assume).  This declaration allowed ISIS to claim all sorts of enemies (the U.S., Europe, Israel, moderate Arab States, etc.), and at the same time, all sorts of support, including money and volunteers.  By the time the United States had just about completed its military departure from Iraq, ISIS was healthy and in a prime position to extend its operations outside of Syria.  Iraq, with all of its internal squabbles and still trying to train and equip a legitimate national army, was a juicy target.  And I'm sure the irony was not lost in the minds of Baghdadi and Ayman al-Zawahiri, post-Bin Laden leader of Al-Qaeda.  The American people can provide Iraq with freedom at the cost of thousands of young U.S. soldiers lives, and everything can be turned to shit with one selfish, stupid, political decision.  We understand that a promise was made during the election to remove U.S. military from Iraq, but why didn't the Administration follow the recommended plan put forth by the Pentagon?  The greatest flaw of this Administration has been its determination to fill every high-level USG job with a political appointee, regardless of experience or qualification.  When you choose this course of action, then it should be no surprise that people with the wrong background are making bad military decisions.  What sense does it make to put Bill Clinton's former Chief of State and a career numbers guy, in charge of the CIA?  Wouldn't you think that the person chosen would have at least a smidgeon of experience with the intelligence community?  Not according to President Obama.  This problem, which will take years to correct, has manifested itself everywhere, especially at the State Department, where under first Hillary Clinton and now John Kerry, Foggy Bottom has now become reactive to world events as opposed to proactive.  We seem to always be about five minutes behind.  It sucks when you arrive on the scene even after Portugal, for goodness sake.

My biggest concern regarding the Sunni of Iraq, is the continued presence of the Shi'a militias and their Iranian advisors.  The Sunni no longer see the U.S. military, unless they just happen to have some business at al-Asad Air Base out in the middle of nowhere, Anbar Province.  Its true that a number of U.S. non-military personnel continue to function in Iraq in support of the central government (and the U.S. government as well, of course), but to the Sunni in Anbar and Salah ad-Din Provinces, this means nothing.  Those Sunni tribal leaders who were so instrumental in 2007 and 2008, well, they are still around, and they are keeping a close eye which way the wind is blowing. Fortunately, His Eminence Grand Ayatollah Ali-al-Sistani is still alive, and seems as determined as ever to thwart any Iranian attempt to use the Iraqi Shi'a to deliver their own country into the hands of Tehran.  The Shi'a of Iraq listen to Sistani, as do the Sunni; as long as he continues to preach a moderate message of peace and unity, I believe that the Sunni will stay loyal to the government in Baghdad.  But once Sistani dies, and reactionary Shi'a cleric Muqtadah al-Sadr becomes the titular head of Iraq's Shi'a, then all bets are off.  Sadr is poised to take over after Sistani (there really is no one else), and he has been cultivating the poor, young and angry Shi'a for years.  Most importantly, Sadr is in the front AND back pocket of the Iranian Ayatollahs in Qom, and this fact is no secret.  If Sistani were to expire, we would have to seriously consider the possibility that the Sunni tribal leaders abandon the Shi'a dominated Iraqi government in Baghdad and throw in with ISIS.  For them, it may be a matter of survival.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Sunnis of Iraq..what does the future hold? (Part I)

Link: The Sunni of Iraq - caught in the middle again.

Although plenty of Iraqi Shi'a and Kurds would disagree with me, I'm beginning to develop a real sense of sympathy for the Sunni of Iraq.  For half of century, they had one of their own running the show in Baghdad, but Saddam Hussein showed just as much disdain for his fellow Sunni as he did for the Shi'a, Kurds, Christians, Jews and Assyrians in his country.  Sadly, though, the non-Sunni Iraqis will forever associate Saddam Hussein and his rule with the Sunni community.  Its the name of the game in Mesopotamia this century.  While Europeans and Americans many times are never even aware of the particular religious affiliation of their neighbors, in this part of the world, it means everything.  Although the Sunni suffered under Saddam Hussein, it is true that a semblance of a middle class developed in Iraq.....and it was mostly Sunni.  Those who were lucky enough to belong to this small middle class had the opportunity to attend university in Baghdad, and following graduation, join the ranks of physicians, architects, engineers, teachers, and businessmen who kept the country from following any further into chaos.  It was no surprise that by the arrival of the U.S. Army in 2003, the Sunni reputation as being the educated and "established" demographic in Iraq, was well established.  It was an easy assumption to make; the Shi'a seemed to prefer living in the south, and engaging in small-scale agriculture for sustenance (with the exception of the half-million or so living in the squalid slums of Sadr City, in northeast Baghdad).  As for the Kurds, well, they preferred to keep to themselves in the north of the country.  In fact, a large percentage of northern Iraq actually functioned for some time as a separate political entity, run by and representing the Kurdish people.  With a "de-facto" capital city at Sulimaniyah, a functioning economic system and large urban centers in Erbil and Mosul, the Kurds were able to demonstrate to the world, just how ready they were an independent state.  But Turkey absolutely refused to sign-off on the idea, as they always had and probably always will.

The Sunni are spread out in Iraq, as are all the different ethnicities.  There is a substantial Sunni community in Basra in the south and in Mosul in the far north.  But the Sunnis are the dominant ethnic group in central Iraq, west of Baghdad in Anbar Province, and just north of Baghdad in Salah al-Din Province, including the cities of Samarrah and Tikrit.  With the end of the Ba'ath Party, a great deal of influence was returned to the Sunni tribal leaders and the "Shaykh" system of authority.  The United States was well aware of this development following the ouster of Saddam and the emergence of the Sunni insurgency.  The United States military and CIA (and to a lesser extent, Dept. of State) were able to co-opt the Sunni tribal leaders and bring the Sunni community onto the side of the good guys.  It took a great deal of influence and suggestion (read: money), but in the end, the Sunni rose up against Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and helped bring peace and stability to their nation.  But for a few years following the U.S. entry into Baghdad, the Sunni were connected to the violence caused by Zarqawi just because of their shared religious affiliation.  And Zarqawi played this to the hilt by sending suicide bombers into Shi'a religious gatherings, and then repeating the heinous act at the funeral for the victims.  For a time, the U.S. had to be concerned that open hostilities were going to break put between the Sunni and the Shi'a.  And all the while, the U.S. is trying to help Iraq stand back up on its feet, by rebuilding the transportation network, repairing the electrical grid, refurbishing the international airport, building schools, repairing refineries, and most important, organizing national elections.  These efforts were confounded by Zarqawi because of his daily use of suicide vehicles.  But Zarqawi went to far.  He was killing just as many Sunni as he was anyone else, and the Sunni were tired of the destabilization and the bloodshed.  This fact was a large factor in convincing the Sunni tribes to support the U.S. effort and defeat the insurgency for good.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Iran patiently winning battle of influence in Iraq.

Link: U.S. losing battle of influence in Iraq to Iran.

For some time, analysts, were trying to understand the Iranian strategy regarding the current conflict in Iraq.  The Iranians, with so much to win or lose, appeared content to allow the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) tackle ISIS, with the only assistance from Iran coming in the form of the Badr Corps and a few other Shi'a militias.  For roughly the last decade, the Shi'a militias have existed solely (or so they claim) for the purpose of protecting holy Shi'a sites in Iraq and for the personal safety of His Eminence Al-Sayyid Ali Al-Husseini Al-Sistani, who holds a tremendous amount of influence among the Shi's community of Iraq.  In fact, Sistani is an important figure to the United States and Europe as well.  He has always been a pragmatic, moderating presence and manages to keep the popular and dangerous Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in a bit of a box.  Sadr is very dangerous; he is tied to the most anti-U.S. elements in the Qom-based Iranian religious leadership, and appears to be waiting for Sistani to expire, when he will take his place as a real trouble-maker in the region.  During the current conflict, Sadr has been conspicuous in his good behavior, although some could argue that he hasn't done enough to support the Iraqi government and military.  We expected much more involvement from Iran, given the Shi'a make-up of the present government in Baghdad.  From our optic, serious Iranian military intervention would have pushed ISIS out of western Iraq, but its possible that we are overestimating the strength of the Iranian military or even underestimating the staying power of ISIS.  Either way, it now appears that the Iranians made the smart choice by utilizing the militias in both a diplomatic and military manner.  The militias voiced opposition to the U.S.-led air campaign (which was reciprocated), and laid low while ISIS retook Ramadi.  Then, when it became necessary for the ISF to organize a multi-pronged offensive operation, which required the assistance of ground support more than air cover, the militias made themselves available, and have been performing admirably in both Anbar and Salah al- Din provinces.  The current successful military operations have had more to do with the militias than the air coalition, which continues to be hampered by not only weather anomalies, but by political constraints (it is our understanding that all the members of the coalition reserve the right to beg-off any operation after learning its intended target, a circumstance that speaks volumes).

U.S. Secretary of Defense served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy under President Clinton from 1993-96, and as Deputy Secretary of Defense from Oct 2011 to Dec 2013 under President Obama.  Carter (no relation to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter) studied Physics and Medieval History, and was a research associate in Theoretical Physics at Rockefeller University from 1979-80.  Although he has accumulated an admirable amount of experience working in the Department of Defense over the past three decades, he has never been in uniform and has never held a command.  He has become more visible in the public eye since becoming Secretary of Defense, and appears to be sincerely engaged to fully implement U.S. policy regarding the conflict in Iraq.  The problem is, the United States doesn't seem to have much of a policy.  We have sponsored a hit-and miss air coalition that has proven to be ineffective against ISIS use of complex Suicide Vehicle attacks.  Certainly the recent ISIS offensive in Anbar and Salah al-Din were in no way impacted by air coalition activity.  Carter has been given very little to work with, while the Iranians continue to use the militias like chess pieces on a game board.  The Iranians can easily resupply the militias and continue to supply strategic advisors to assist the militia leadership.  They work closely with the ISF, while the U.S. is limited to a host of intel folks and diplomats in the big cities, and a contingent of instructors sitting out at al-Asad Airbase in central Anbar Province.  The Iraqi people see he Iranians as being much more engaged in the struggle, and the U.S. as sniffing around, waiting for the orders to leave (again).