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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Dont be surprised if Russia's current strategy in Syria looks familiar.....

Of all the things I can say about Vladimir Putin, you'll never hear me accuse him of abandoning a winning strategy.  Russia has no hesitation whatsoever in repeating tactics in Syria that have proven effective elsewhere, as on this occasion, Ukraine.  Putin understands his opponent well, and can predict his next move.  Unfortunately for us (the good guys/gals), Putin's opponent at present is Barack Obama and his State Department, under Secretary of State John Kerry.  During the current conflict in Ukraine, Putin has used the tool of diplomacy to win engagement after engagement, without ever firing a shot.  The entire situation in Ukraine would be a farce, if it weren't so tragic.  Let's be frank, shall we?  Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, a province of the Republic of Ukraine.  To confuse the issue and distract, Putin created a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.  Even Putin was caught by suprise by how quickly the European powers and the United States (which calls the shots for NATO), immediately backed down to Russian aggression and begged for Russia and the separatists to  negotiate.  Why did Europe and the West fold so quickly?  The answer lies with the Oval Office of the United States of America.  After winning the 2008 presidential election, the European leaders fought over who was going to fete the first African-American President of the United States.  It was a huge occasion in Paris, Berlin and London.  Not only could Obama do no wrong socially, but he was given carte blanche with foreign policy as well.  Since his inauguration, Obama has controled the foreign policy decisions of just about every European nation.  Under normal circumstances, I would consider this development to be prudent, but not under President Obama, who will negotiate himself out of his own underwear, if he gets a chance.  Obama seems to believe that showing any strength and momentum in foreign policy is somehow an embarrassment, or an innapropriate expression of aggression.  Today is April 30, 2016- after almost eight years of Obama's foreign policy (including a first-term with the worst Secretary of State in memory, Hillary Clinton), terrorism is present on almost every continent, the number of nations either researching nuclear weapons or actually building them has doubled, and right-wing political movements are threatening to take over European governments in the next elections.  The Obama Administration has had no proactive policy regarding ANY foreign policy issue.  The war in Syria has been raging for over five years; why wasn't the U.S. State Department advising our allies in Europe (especially Turkey and Greece) about the likelihood of refugees?  Not to mention the Arab Spring...why were our diplomats so woefully unprepared for the explosion of this political movement, Madame Secretary of State Clinton?

So we return to Syria, where Russian President Putin and his stoolies in Damascus and Teheran are able to implement their plan to use the ISIS emergency to further their efforts at political expansion.  Iran has long dreamed of two, apparently impossible dreams: to be the strongest nation in the Persian Gulf region, and to possess atomic weapons.  Thanks to two terms of Barack Obama, and both dreams are soon to be reality.  Because Obama pulled troops out of Iraq before the Iraqi army was prepared to defend itself, ISIS marched in, swallowed up Mosul, Arbil and Tikrit, and threatened Baghdad.  In come the Iranians, playing the role of "advisors" and "instructors", and several Shi'a militias take the field of battle and fight ISIS to a stalemate, until the Iraqi army is prepared to fight its own battles.  The Iranians were given the opportunity to be the heroes, the brave soldiers who defeated ISIS.  Currently, Iran has more resources at play in Iraq than the United States.  Iran has also taken to the battlefield against ISIS in Syria.  Iran has traditionally supported the quasi-political religious movement "Hezbollah" in Lebanon.  Iranian volunteers are fighting ISIS in Syria as part of Hezbollah's military support for de facto Syrian President and Putin puppet Bashar al-Assad.  Obama's unwillingness to get anywhere near U.S. troops on the ground is well-known to Putin and his Syrian and Iranian pigeons.  Russia and Iran have moved into the vacuum created when the Obama Adminstration telegraphed its unwillingness to use the military for diplomatic obligations.  And our enemies have taken full advantage.

Whenever new negotiations are announced regarding either Syria or Ukraine, you can rest assured the Russians are planning large-scale military operational activity, either by Russian proxies or by the Russian military itself.  If a Republican president is elected this November, it will be interesting to see how much of the Obama approach to foreign policy is adopted, or left behind.  As for the Democrats, lets not even consider the nightmare of a President Hillary or President Sanders.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Iraqi Armed Forces, alongside Shi'a militia, making progress in retaking territory from ISIS.

Since the recovery of Ramadi, the Iraqi Armed Forces have continued to put pressure on ISIS elements by clearing ISIS from the Hit District, and moving to isolate ISIS forces in Fallujah.  The Shi'a militias, still fighting under the banner of "Popular Mobilization Units", have also been successful, as ISIS seems to be unable to conduct the daily terror attacks and suicide bombings that were conducted last summer with such frequency.  In particular, Baghdad and Diyala Province are no longer suffering from the terrorist attacks that had become so familiar.  The Iraqi military is determined to consolidate its position in Baiji and to end ISIS operations against Hadithah, but efforts to retake Mosul remain a priority.  ISIS has had the opportunity to consolidate its hold on Mosul and to fortify the city in typical ISIS fashion, which includes booby traps and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  The Iraqi Army currently in the field is not the Iraqi Army that faced off against ISIS outside of Tikrit in 2014.  The Iraqi military of today has become familiar with the strategy and tactics of ISIS, including the use of human hostages and hidden explosive devices, and has turned the table on ISIS attempts to utilize fear and intimidation as a weapon.  The Iraqi military has benefitted greatly from the training providing by U.S. Special Forces.  ISIS was using the same strategies employed by the Iraqi insurgents in 2006-7, which included targeting civilians and taking hostages; the Iraqi Army is using tactics employed by the U.S. Army against the insurgency, which included using superior manpower, weaponry and air elements to constantly harass the enemy into retreating.  The Iranian-supported and Shi'a led Popular Mobilization Forces have been acting in concert with the Iraqi military, and has succeeded in pushing ISIS out of Sammarah.

It is obvious that ISIS has suffered some serious setbacks in Iraq during the first months of 2016.  ISIS has had difficulty resupplying its forces in Iraq, and continued Russian pressure in Syria is forcing ISIS leaders to make difficult decisions regarding reinforcements.  Although ISIS has not been forced to retreat in Syria as it has been obliged to do in Iraq, the issue of supply has become a priority.  ISIS continues to successfully recruit outside of the Middle East, and funding has not diminished.  But the United States and its European partners have had success intercepting and disrupting some of ISIS' funding mechanisms, which has impacted the organization's ability to pay its operatives.  Also, resupplying has been very difficult, and almost always conducted under the cover of night. The overall situation on the ground in Syria and Iraq and moved decidedly in favor of the U.S., Russia, Iran, and Bashar al-Assad.  With the involvement of Russia in Syria, very attempt to degrade ISIS will be an effort in support of al-Assad and his Syrian Ba'ath party.  This conclusion is unavoidable.  Given the nuclear treaty drafted last year and signed by the U.S., major European nations, and Iran, it appears as if the U.S. is interested in furthering the influence and military presence of Iran.  For the moment, the Iranians appear content to meddle with  Iraqi internal political affairs, and will let the Popular Mobilization Units do its fighting.  It will be interesting to see what policy is adopted by the United States, provided a Republican wins the presidency in 2016.  Obviously, its traditional to oppose the Iranians, but if events continue to favor al-Assad, Russia and Iran, it will prove very difficult to revert to previous policy.    

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Current political situation in Iraq may result in the fall of Prime Minister al-Albadi

The current Iraqi political mess appears to be more focused and organized than in the past.  A rump parallel paliament, determined to increase Iranian influence in Baghdad, continues to challenge the authority of the Council of Representatives.  The Iraqi Constitution is written to provide a checks and balances system that is similar to the U.S. Constitution, but Iraqi politics really is about who has the most supporters and authority with the militias.  Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has managed to fight off a number of efforts to remove him from office.  When the war against ISIS goes badly, the various political groups lay-off the anti-Abadi campaign, for fear that if Abadi falls and ISIS takes comtrol of Baghdad, then the Iranians may not be so willing to interfere in Iraqi politics.  But when the military situation is positive, as appears to be the case currently, the effort to remove Abadi and install an Iranian puppet regime.  As long as ISIS constitues a real threat to Iraq, the Iranians will not commit themselves militarily.  Currently the Iranians are content to have operatives on the ground in every province, and to to keep advisors in place with the various Shia militias.  The recent successes on the battlefield have emboldened the pro-Iranian elements to attempt a coup and install a pro-Iranian government while the military situation is positive.  Teheran is a bit more pragmatic than its Shia supporters in Iraq, and will no doubt wait for what it considers to be an ideal environment before commiting regular forces to the conflict in Iraq.

Given the equities involved, why haven't the Iranians moved into Iraqi full-force and push ISIS out of Iraq?  Such an effort would certainly increase the public support for Iran and embarrass the United States, which has been supporting the Abadi Administration with military aid and U.S. Special Forces.  No doubt Iran is determined to control Iraq, and the Iranians would welcome the opportunity to play the role of "liberators", but the Iranian military is not up to the task of providing military support and troops to the Hezbollah-supported effort in Syria.  Iran has a long history of supporting Hezbollah and the de facto president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.  The situation could change dramatically within the next month.  If the Russian effort to prop-up Bashar al-Assad is successful, and the Iranian troops who have been fighting on the Syrian front are welcomed home as victors, the pressure would be on Teheran to follow up the victory in Syria with a successful campaign against ISIS in Iraq.  As things stand, Teheran does not appear to be ready to commit regular military elements into Iraq, especially when Iran has ongoing commitments in Syria and Yemen.  Don't expect to see an increase in Iranian military activity while the conflict in Syria continues.  Teheran loves a military parade, but when it comes to commiting resources in a foreign conflict, the Iranians will be patient and wait until the situation either deteriorates further, or an armistace or ceasefire manages to take hold.  Another variable in the mix is the U.S. political season.  The Iranians will want to know who sits in the Oval Office before embarking on a full-scale military effort in Iraq.  The Iranians do not want a confrontation with the United States, especially given the freedom they have to basically act unilaterally in the region.  The Iranians will be content to continue its efforts in supporting Hezbollah in Syria, and by providing advisors and military specialists to the Shia militias in Iraq.  So much will depend on who sits in the White House in 2017.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A priceless Easter reminder.....

Normally I avoid discussing highly personal issues on this blog.  My original intention was to provide my insight into current events,  filtered through the prism of a retired CIA Intelligence Officer.  Since then, I have been reminded more than once that maybe I could use a few refresher courses regarding "intelligence". The idea that I could provide commentary on anything remotely involving culture and social interaction without getting "personal" was very short-sided.  Today I don't hide the fact that I'm a Christian, as I may have been tempted to do in the past.  The Liberal battering rams of the media and the ACLU have done their level-best to convince decent, God-fearing Americans to hesitate self-identifying as Christian.  As I wrote in this blog last week, 83 percent of the United States continues to be Christian, and it's time we came in from the cold.  Rejoice in your faith, and pray that others may be as fortunate as you.

Last week I was blessed to have Easter dinner with dear friends who I have known for more than three decades.  I had such an amazing time visiting with the children and the granchildren, all of whom seem to have such a confident, encouraging attitude regarding the future.  Just after dinner, when I was sitting with Beverly and Harry Jr. and Samuel and Harry III were educating me on the intricacies of economics, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  I turned to my left, and there stood eleven year-old Cate, whose eyes are the type of all-knowing. brilliant blue that you only see on a child.  "Mr. Eric, did you go to Church today?", Cate asked.  "Why yes, I did", I replied.  Her response was a broad grin and a definitive "good!", and we all returned to our previous conversations.

I can't adequately express what a blessing it is to be reminded that no matter where I am in the world, God has someone watching out for me.  God bless you, Cate!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The media is driving this election season right off a cliff.

The media in the United States has found it difficult to cultivate a reputation of non-bias. The political right accuses the media of actively promoting liberal candidates and causes, and the left either points out the conservative sympathies of the dominant Fox News Network, or scoffs at hearing the same complaint once again.  I was raised in Europe in a multi-cultural household (meaning French-American), and my brother and sister and I developed an international perspective to life at an early age.  I have always attempted to stay abreast of political developments in far-off places, and chose an occupation that would ensure a healthy dose of unique environments to live in and absorb.  In particular, I have enjoyed international politics.  That being said, I rarely commented about politics in other countries unless I had accrued some living time in said location.  I may devour the statistical results of Burkina Faso's last Congressional election, but I will keep my comments to myself.  Why?  Because the political events in most foreign countries do not directly impact me (I said most, not all), and frankly put, it's none of my business.  I have spend two decades of my life battling against the specter of "The Ugly Anerican", who continues to expect everyone in Paris to speak English and to have a McDonald's on every street corner of Tbilisi.  I refuse to add to the problem by telling people how they should run their own country.  In fact, except for providing basic information, I rarely notice U.S. media editorializing about foreign elections (the unavoidable exception being any French election which includes Marine Le Pen and the National Front political party).

That being said, we certainly are not given the same courtesy.  Yesterday, while vainly training to reach "Radio Classics-148" on my Sirius Satellite radio without getting distracted on the way (I failed), I caught a BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) commentary on the current U.S. political scene.  The announcer was forgettable, and his material shockingly predictable, but it still managed to infuriate me, which I'm sure would please Mr. BBC if he knew.  The first "fact" regarding the 2016 election that I managed to get from the commentary was that "ignorant, racist" (my quotation marks) people were voting in droves, hence the success that Donald Trump has enjoyed to date.  On the left, Bernie Sanders has also enjoyed a surprising level of popularity, but his voters were "young, thoughtful college students determined to have their say".  The BBC, picking up where NBC, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and CBS left off, has no problem expressing its own opinion regarding U.S. politics.  I'm so ancient, I remember a time when the media at least made an effort to appear unbiased.  The commentary continued to insult, repeatedly referring to Donald Trump's political ideology as "racist and bigoted".  I don't recall Ted Cruz being mentioned much, but I belief Kasich was introduced as the only moderate in the Republican field, so therefore obviously having no chance whatsoever.  The commentator mentioned Hillary Clinton, barely disguising his sadness regarding her high negative ratings and continued problems with "server-gate".

I should have anticipated what the BBC had to offer beforehand and kept that dial moving until I reached "Dragnet" or "Johnny Dollar, Insurance Investigator".  Instead, I listened to the entire commentary and was reminded of just how stupid the British people must think we are, as they ponder how in the heck we managed to defeat them in two wars.  If I had been delivering a commentary instead of Mr. BBC, my perspective wouldn't have taken long to share.  Donald Trump, who I DO NOT support, is on the receiving end of a angry and frightened electorate's attempt to change the direction in which our country is headed.  Contrary to the smart folks at the BBC, I do not believe that the "bigot and racist" voting bloc has finally showed its strenth in 2016.  The simple truth is that changes are taking place in the United States that are subtlety impacting the way our children are raised and the way in which we represent ourselves internationally.  The current administration has been determined to steadily increase the number of Americans who are dependent upon Washington DC for a paycheck, for programs regarding elementary education, and to make moral decisions without really taking into account the perspective of the majority of Americans.  The Obama Administration has purposely politicized the government to the point that career civil service employees either jump on board the entitlement express, or retire.  The Justice Department and the FBI have been told what and who to investigate, just as the IRS, with a brand-new politically appointed Director, starts harassing Conservative political organizations and lining up their supporters for audits.  President Obama has decided that he is just too intelligent to be burdened with the Constitution, so instead of working with Congress, Executive Action is used to handle controversial issues.  As for our international standing, the free world has been effectively without a leader since 2008.  Actually, the Obama Administration did decide to impact one particular foreign environment: Iraq.  Because we unexpectedly removed our troops (and military instructors) in 2010, ISIS took full advantage, crossed back into Iraq from Syria, forced military engagement with the Iraqi Army outside Tikrit, and when the scared, untrained 17-year old Iraqi soldiers dropped their weapons and ran back towards Baghdad, ISIS was on the receiving end of a military weapons and supplies haul like has never before been seen.

These are just some of the reasons that the American people are voting for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.  Both men are considered to be outside the GOP establishment, which has avoided standing up to this Administration at almost every opportunity (there is no shame in being called a "racist", Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker of the House Ryan, if the accusation is FALSE).  The American Conservative voter is demanding change, and will not relax until steps are taken to address the obscene national debt.  Jeb Bush never got off the schneid because conservatives want change.  The Democrats are flirting with "Chairman Mao" Bernie Sanders but will eventually rally behind Hillary.  Seems to me they are only interested in turning back the clock, some of them to the days of Marx and Engels.

I began this long post with a complaint regarding the media, and I will try and end on that note.  We can't control what decisions are made by the press and media, and they would ignore our advice regardless.  They are the ultimate elite and understand economics, foreign policy, and the human heart so much better than the Unwashed Masses.  What I dream of is a media that presents the news, full stop.  Who decided that we needed editorials anyways?  When did some network corporate genius come along and decide that we were too stupid to understand the events taking place in our world, so they needed to EXPLAIN it too us.  In 2008, the European media fell in love with Barack Obama, and instructed Europeans (including political leaders) to love him as well.  Nothing else can explain the blind loyalty with which the EU has supported a president who took office with no military experience, unable to understand any language but English, and having never really had a job.  So BBC, following in line behind most U.S. media, has discovered that the voters who have chosen Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to fight it out for the nomination, are crusty, angry, ignorant racist bigots.  Let's see how far this gets them as the election heats up.

PS (WANTED: A non-political news service that gives me the news, and has enough faith in me to assume that I can figure out the details on my own.)