Tag Archives: ISIS

Nymphaea Tetragona in the White House

I am coming to the conclusion that the occupant of the Oval Office is the Great Orange Marshmallow.  Talks “tough.” Acts like a dainty and fragile Purple Water Lily.  The Nymphaea Tetragona with a smart phone reacts to the UK’s three terrorist attacks in a short span of time with his cringing call for a “travel ban” to add a “layer of safety.”  Don’t let the facts get in the way. Facts like noting the Manchester Bomber was born in the UK.

Every time Nymphaea Tetragona tweets his insecurities into the public domain some thugs around the world take comfort.  He’s playing straight into their narrative.  ISIS, or whatever name they are giving themselves these days, would love for the western nations to bestow legitimacy on their criminal activities by calling for a “War on Terror,” or a Clash of Civilizations — as if Daesh were even remotely civilized.

What’s needed is a realistic view of Daesh — they are losing control of their territory in the Middle East and lashing out, calling for their affiliates to Take Action.  They are little more than a well armed street gang.  They are not “Islamic” any more than the Ku Klux Klan is Christian.  They are, again, a well armed criminal enterprise.  They would love to be romanticized into a Force recognized by great powers.  They aren’t. They are cowardly bombers and thugs.  Any self-disrespecting cowardly thug would be pleased to see their “cause” in the headlines, their actions elevated to the category of military operations.  However, bombing kids and their parents at a concert, or driving a van into pedestrians isn’t remotely a military operation — it is cowardly, it is criminal.

Instead of travel bans and other dysfunctional responses we need to operate as a national anti-gang operation.  No, joining a street gang is NOT a venture into “belonging” and “affiliation;” it is to brand oneself as a criminal.  No, seeking self fulfillment by accepting criminal behavior as a lifestyle choice isn’t a productive route; it merely serves to degrade the person adopting it.   It would be helpful if politicians would stop playing into the romanticized version of what is, as presented, simply a matter of criminal behavior on the part of some very dysfunctional people.

We know what doesn’t work.  Demonizing and marginalizing members of specific religious or ethnic groups doesn’t work — it plays into the criminal narrative; it gives credence to the criminal slogans and propaganda.  Failure to acknowledge the sources of criminal behavior is counter-productive — it allows dictatorial governments which support radical ideologies to operate with impunity.  (Even if such governments offer our delicate Purple Water Lily a welcome worthy of four repetitions of Pomp and Circumstance. )

What might be much more productive would be developing better working relationships with communities in which there are youth at risk.  Improving the economic situations for those youth — better education, better job training, better visions of what their lives can be like in this society.  This is not to be accomplished by encouraging the outrageous ranting of white supremacists spewing hate and rattling their 2nd Amendment equipage.

It certainly won’t be accomplished by following the lead of the Purple Water Lily, Great Orange Marshmallow, cringing with his smartphone, tweeting out misinformed and much mistaken whines about “keeping safe,” protected from threats real and imagined, comforted by a “strong Dear Leader” whose tweets are substitutes for information, analysis, and reflection.

We don’t need to accept substitutes. We don’t need to accept the overinflated self importance of the criminal elements.  We don’t need to play follow the leader with a person who leads from a position of weakness and fear.  We DO need to redouble our efforts to be that City on A Hill, a beacon of enlightenment and reason.

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Trump: Even Truthiness Doesn’t Matter

Al ZarqawiThe man in the photo above is the founder of ISIS (Daesh).  And then there’s this from the latest round of Trump0matic Rhetoric:

“In the wide-ranging phone interview (with CNBC), Trump insisted that President Barack Obama “absolutely” founded ISIS. He also discussed economic issues, including regulation and infrastructure spending.

Asked about them, he doubled down and said “[Obama] was the founder of ISIS absolutely, the way he removed our troops. … I call them co-founders,” he added, referring to his Democratic presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton.”

I know full well that correcting Trumpisms is like shoveling sand up hill, but at least we don’t have to reside in the land of utter stupidity and ignorance.  Let’s focus on “the way he removed our troops.” Obama removed our forces based on the SOFA agreed to by George W. Bush.

December 14, 2008:

“It is true that Bush signed an agreement, known as the Status of Forces Agreement, on Dec. 14, 2008, that said: “All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.”

Condoleezza Rice, who served as Bush’s secretary of state, wrote in her 2011 book, “No Higher Honor,” that Bush did not want to set a deadline “in order to allow conditions on the ground to dictate our decisions.” She wrote that she met with Maliki in August 2008 and secured what she thought was an agreement for a residual force of 40,000 U.S. troops. But she said Maliki soon “reneged” and insisted on “the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2011.” She said Bush “swallowed hard” and agreed to what she called “suitable language” to do just that.” [FactCheck.org]  (emphasis added)

The remainder of the argument depends on a subjective opinion as to how “hard the Obama Administration tried to renegotiate the SOFA.”  Critics of the withdrawal of combat forces charge that the Administration “didn’t try hard enough.”  However, the insistence of the Maliki government that any agreement would have to be put to the Iraqi Parliament didn’t help matters.  This also leaves open the argument that perhaps the Bush Administration didn’t press the Maliki government hard enough either.

Critics of the US policy in regard to Iraq, and the deployment of troops to that country, are caught arguing “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda,” when there are altogether too many variables in a complex situation to make blanket charges of any kind.

And, while Trump says he will continue to say Obama and Clinton are the “co-founders of ISIS” (I prefer Daesh) the timeline rebuts this presumption.  A brief trip down memory land —

2004: Abu Musab Al Zarqawi establishes Al Qaeda in Iraq.

2006: Zarqawi, killed in a US air strike, is replaced by Abu Ayyub Amasri at the head of AQI. October 15, 2006: Al Masri announces the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq; Sunni tribes begin a campaign to kill AQI members, and AQI is rebranded the Islamic State in Iraq.

In reality, the formation of Daesh goes back a bit further, as is explained here:

“ISIS/IS has its origins in an obscure militant group, Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (JTJ), that was stood up in 2000 by a Jordanian one-time criminal-turned-Islamist named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (AMZ).1 His intent was to fight the Jordanian government, but he failed to gain traction.2 Zarqawi then traveled to Afghanistan to fight on the side of the mujahidin (resistance) in the jihad against the Soviets. Having arrived after their departure, he soon returned to his homeland to fight the well-entrenched Jordanian monarchy. His efforts came to naught, and he eventually returned to Afghanistan, where he ran an Islamic militant training camp near Herat.” [MEPC.org]

And now the plot thickens and becomes more nuanced:

“Following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, al-Zarqawi moved into Iraq. There he developed extensive ties with Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam), a Kurdish Islamist group. In March 2003, the United States invaded and occupied Iraq. A brilliant conventional campaign led to the erroneous belief on the part of the George W. Bush administration that Iraq would stabilize and progress towards democracy. By summer 2003, the disgruntled Sunni minority — toppled from power with the downfall of Saddam Hussein — launched a deadly insurgency. It consisted of five distinct groups, four composed largely of Iraqis from the former regime, nationalists, tribal elements and various Islamist fighters. The fifth group was AMZ’s JTJ, consisting of a smattering of Iraqis and many foreign fighters.”  [MEPC.org]

Not that any of this matters to Donald J. Trump.  However, what we do know is that the Trump pronouncements on foreign policy are as vapid and ill informed as his sloganeering on any other topic.  ISIS (Daesh) morphed from a fifth element in the Iraqi insurgency into a major and deadly part of the conflict in the region, but they certainly didn’t find their origin in the Obama Administration.

Those wishing to get a longer, more historical look at the issues surrounding the current conflict in the Middle East may want to start with David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, and Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World.  Also recommended is Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. These are three notable books which will give a person something to do besides listen to Trump’s simplistic sloganeering and sloppy irrationality.

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Get Serious or Get Lost? GOP lack of focus on ISIS

ISIS I’ll take the Republicans, especially the ones in Congress, seriously when they speak of ISIS threats to national security when they take up the bill sent to Congress during the week of February 11, 2015 which authorizes U.S. action against the Islamic State.  The joint resolution had a bit of something for everyone:

“The proposed legislation limits Obama from the use of “enduring offensive ground combat operations,” deliberately vague language intended to win over those on the left wary of mission creep and those on the right who don’t want to restrict possible military action against ISIS.” [TheHill]

As of the moment it merely looks as if the GOP wants to turn foreign and defense policy into a semantic game for the purpose of giving Democrats headaches in an election many months away.  Witness the whinging from Senator Lindsay Graham:

“One by one, nearly a dozen GOP presidential hopefuls took the stage here last weekend for a Lincoln Dinner, each different in style and stature but all joining a rising Republican chorus that lays blame for the Islamic State terrorist group squarely at the feet of President Obama. “If you fought in Iraq, it worked. It’s not your fault it’s going to hell. It’s Obama’s fault,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said to cheers.” [WaPo] …

“This deterioration of our physical and ideological strength has led to a world far more dangerous than when President Obama entered office,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a speech this month. “We’ve seen [the Islamic State] sweep across multiple states, commit brutal atrocities and attempt to establish a caliphate.” [WaPo]

If the Republicans want more U.S. involvement in Iraq, then why not authorize the administration to apply more force in the region – as in bring the joint resolution to the floor for a debate and vote?

Perhaps the delay is because the Republicans don’t want to address key issues, and would rather launch verbal flames than real ones.  Consider the flap over the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government.

If the Obama Administration had been serious about winning in Iraq it would have negotiated a status of forces agreement,” wail the right wingers. Not. So. Fast. It takes two parties to negotiate such an agreement and the al Maliki government wasn’t playing the game:

“But ending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq was an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending it. While he was inclined to see a small number of American soldiers stay behind to continue mentoring Iraqi forces, the likes of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, on whose support Maliki’s ruling coalition depends, were having none of it. Even the Obama Administration’s plan to keep some 3,000 trainers behind failed because the Iraqis were unwilling to grant them the legal immunity from local prosecution that is common to SOF agreements in most countries where U.S. forces are based.” [Time 2011]

The Iraqi government under al-Maliki, once touted as the harbinger of democracy, proved to be a colossal failure.

The Iraqis wanted stable government, less corruption, economic reconstruction, and all the other things modern governments can provide. However, rather than moving forward from the gains made during the last months of U.S. occupation, the al-Maliki government swung away. The situation fell apart almost immediately.

Maliki’s government used “de-Baathification” laws, introduced to keep members of Saddam Hussein’s regime out of government, to target his opponents — but not his many allies, who also had been senior members of the Baath Party. The 2010 government formation process turned out to be yet another opportunity for politicians of all stripes to grant themselves senior positions which they could use to plunder the state. When tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in February 2011 to protest corruption, they were branded terroristsand were attacked and beaten by security forces and hired thugs. Dozens were killed and thousands arrested and tortured until the protests fizzled. Meanwhile, though terrorist groups were not operating as openly as before, hundreds of civilians continued to be killed every month, particularly in Baghdad, denying Iraqis in many parts of the country even a brief period of normalcy. [ForeignPolicy]

This is not exactly a recipe for popular government, or even a respected one. However, the situation with the Iraqi security forces was even dimmer.

“The security sector, which had an annual budget greater than the budgets for education, health, and the environment combined, was subject to minimal oversight. Soldiers were enrolled and paid monthly salaries without reporting for duty. Overpriced and faulty equipment was procured using the laxest standards. Training sessions were financed on paper but never took place in practice. Appointments were politicized. Officers close to the prime minister’s office who failed to investigate leads on terrorist attacks were almost never held accountable for their actions. Even the most grotesque failures, including the military’s passivity in the face of regular attacks against Christians in Nineveh over a period of years, went unpunished. Morale among the rank and file was low, and there was very little desire to take risks on behalf of political elites who were viewed as wildly corrupt.” [ForeignPolicy]

And we wonder why the Iraqi forces couldn’t hold Mosul, and  can’t hold Ramadi?   By 2006 the political atmosphere was getting obvious, only the willfully blind could avoid seeing the implications of the Sunni-Shia split, and al-Maliki’s role in that disintegration:

“By the time Maliki took office, the police and the Army were overwhelmingly Shiite, packed with former militiamen bent on cleansing Baghdad of Sunni Arabs. In the summer of 2006, each morning brought new reports of sectarian atrocities. Maliki did very little to stop them, according to Matthew Sherman, the civilian adviser to the U.S. Army. “We’d go into his office, we’d tell him about a massacre that had been carried out by his men,” Sherman told me. “And Maliki would just sit there and say, ‘I’m sure they were terrorists.’ We could never get him to act against the death squads.” (Maliki says that he never received any evidence that his soldiers or police had acted improperly.)” [NYorker 2014]

The eggs laid by the parliamentary elections of December 2005 were fully hatched by 2014.   By 2015 the eggs were completely scrambled, and not in a good omelet sort of way.

al-Maliki’s resignation in 2014 didn’t alleviate the situation. As of August 12, 2014 the Iranian government pulled its support for al-Maliki, offered him asylum, and backed his successor Hiadar al-Abadi. [Guardian] The disaffected Sunnis, the former criminal gangs, the death squads and the local militias were now a fact of life in Iraq’s daily existence.  Nor has U.S. policy been all that helpful.  The Iranians, who are positioned to assist the current Iraqi government in its fight with ISIS, are the subject of saber rattling by members of the U.S. Congress who want to do everything from bolster current embargo terms to engage in outright military action against Tehran.

In other, less elegant terms. if we weaken the Iranian government then we risk undermining the Iraqi government’s efforts to retain or retake territory seized by ISIS.

It is very difficult to have a consistent and rational foreign policy when the requirements are (1) opposition to the Iranian government, and to all forms of Iranian involvement in Iraqi military operations against ISIS; (2) opposition to ISIS which doesn’t incorporate Shia interests in Iraq; and (3) support for Sunni participation in Iraqi governance, when the Sunnis could be convinced that their interests would be better served by ISIS than by the governing Shia groups in Baghdad. Perhaps these contradictions help explain why the Republicans don’t want a full blown discussion of U.S. foreign policy vis a vis Iraq, and seem content to snipe from the sidelines?

If the GOP is serious about discussing our policy toward Iraq, then it’s time to bring the joint resolution to the floor, debate the ramifications seriously, recognize the historical and political implications of the policy, and to take a stand on those issues.  The rest is simply political noise making, the equivalent of slide whistles and noise-makers.

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3 Reasons to Ignore Beltway Blather about ISIL

White House Press Room Senator Lindsey Graham (R-Fainting Couch) wants a muscular U.S. policy against ISIL before we’re all murdered in our beds.  However, before we get all pumped up from watching cable news and beltway media blathering it might be a nice exercise to know more pesky details about the situation, especially with regard to ISIL held territory in Syria and Iraq.

#1.  Beltway blathering demonstrates little understanding of the situation inside the area under consideration.  The White House Press corps, which is evidently so shallow they can’t concentrate on major policy statements if the President or speaker is wearing a suit made of any fabric not dark gray or dark blue, persists in analyzing the “optics” or “atmospherics” surrounding such statements without listening to what is being said.  Were they better informed about the political and military situation their opinion pieces would be significantly improved.  Here’s an example:

During the White House press briefing on September 12, the Press Secretary fielded two questions concerning the relatively quiet response from NATO ally Turkey on joining the alliance against ISIS (L).  After Mr. Earnest offered a very diplomatic explanation the second questions was:

But any disappointment that particularly Turkey, a NATO member, would not sign on to something like this?” As if the explanation required more explication.  It did, but had the questioner a bit more background it would have been understood why the Turks are reticent and the White House Press Secretary more diplomatic.  Here’s what the press missed —

On June 11 ISIS (L) captured Mosul, and in the process of doing so attacked the Turkish consulate in that city, taking 79-80 hostages. [WSJ] As of September 1, 2014 the Foreign Ministry of Turkey sought to alleviate concerns about the health and well being of the hostages expressed by some of their family members and sources in the Turkish press. “Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc talked on the latest developments regarding the Turkish hostages held by ISIS militants, claiming they were alive, their location was known and that contact with them was being maintained.”  The Ministry went one step further — “The accuracy and reliability of information in respect to the source is necessary,” Bilgic said. “Since the first day our staff were taken hostage, our government has been conducting extremely sensitive work through all relevant institutions.”

It doesn’t take too much analysis to translate that statement as “We are working really hard with anyone who will cooperate to insure that our people from the Mosul Consulate are where we’ve been told they are, and are being treated humanely.”  After the grisly scenes of what has happened thus far to two American citizens and one British citizen, it is no wonder the Turks are less than enthusiastic about wanting to discuss their contributions to the “war on ISIS(L).”

So, the ill-informed member of the Press Corps asked a redundant and undiplomatic question, inferring that the Turks are not enthusiastic about defeating the ISIS(L) forces – perhaps a better question would have been something like – What are the allied nations doing to assist the Turks retrieve their consulate personnel?

#2The U.S. beltway media too often characterizes elements in complicated situations in simplistic terms.  Nothing illustrates this quite so well as in the case of the Syrian opposition.  There must be good guys and bad guys, and the U.S. should team up with the good guys!  However, what do we do when the coalitions and networks aren’t so conveniently classified? The Free Syrian Army, which some think we should arm, is actually a network of about eight large battalions and many smaller independent groups which are united in their opposition to the Assad Regime. [LATimes]

Consider for a moment the complications of arming the FSA, as described by the GulfNews organization:

“…equipment was in short supply and could not possibly match what the Syrian army had, or received from Iran and Russia. Moreover, Washington demurred when Riyadh readied shoulder-fired missiles and anti-tank launchers, and vetoed such transfers. The FSA’s fighting hands were thus tied allegedly because Western powers were not sure if some of these lethal weapons would fall under extremist control. In time, sophisticated American-made anti-tank missiles reached the FSA, though Al Nusra and, more recently, Isil boasted more advanced weapons. Timidity towards the FSA, ostensibly because its leaders maintained correct ties with moderate Islamist factions, translated in an entirely different outlook for Syria.”

Notice the policy of the Iranian government in this brief description, it is aligned with the Assad Regime (Alawite)  against the rebels in Syria – but aligned with the anti-ISIS(L) (Shia)  forces in Iraq.  Also, remember that the U.S. is trying to negotiate an agreement with Iran concerning its capacity to manufacture nuclear weaponry [Reuters] and actions which align with Iran’s interests in Iraq may promote this project, but those not aligned with Iran’s interests in Syria could derail the negotiating process.  In this instance it’s not so easy to shuffle groups into the Good Guys, Bad Guys categories.

#3The D.C. media are seemingly eager to critique policy without much background, especially as it pertains to the Arab states.  Witness this question from the September 12th briefing:

“One is on the Arab states.  They said that they would be prepared to do their share, and they talk about “as appropriate, joining in many aspects.”  But this language is a little amorphous.  It’s hard to get your hands around it.  What are they actually saying that they would do, besides Saudi Arabia hosting the Syrian rebels for training?  Will they provide troops, for example?”

The Saudis have a problem.  In August 2014 they donated $100 million to the United Nations to fund a counter terrorism agency, but they rejected a rotating seat on the UN Security Council.  Why the half in, half out posture? “Amorphous” is simply another way of saying we have a really sticky issue here and we aren’t ready to crawl out on a branch.  Ed Husain, writing for the New York Times explains:

“This half-in, half-out posture of the Saudi kingdom is a reflection of its inner paralysis in dealing with Sunni Islamist radicalism: It wants to stop violence, but will not address the Salafism that helps justify it.

Let’s be clear: Al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, the Shabab and others are all violent Sunni Salafi groupings. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has been the official sponsor of Sunni Salafism across the globe.”

While the reporter might have wanted the Press Secretary to answer for the Saudi government, or explain its position, the question would be better addressed directly to the Saudi government itself.   The issue has profound implications for the Saudi government – and has tentacles reaching back to the 1744 treaty or Holy Alliance:

“Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, founder of “Wahhabism,” an austere form of Islam, arrives in the central Arabian state of Najd in 1744 preaching a return to “pure” Islam. He seeks protection from the local emir, Muhammad ibn Saud, head of the Al Saud tribal family, and they cut a deal. The Al Saud will endorse al-Wahhab’s austere form of Islam and in return, the Al Saud will get political legitimacy and regular tithes from al-Wahhab’s followers. The religious-political alliance that al-Wahhab and Saud forge endures to this day in Saudi Arabia.” [Frontline]

Thus the Saudis have a 270 year old agreement with ultra-conservative elements in Islam, who represent perhaps 3% of the total number of Muslims world wide, and which produces an ultra-conservative government with the means and intent to spread the ultra-conservative message – to ISIS(L) and other religious fanatics.  And we wonder why the response from the Saudis is “amorphous?

Drafting this post took approximately one hour and forty minutes, during which reporting from the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, one D.C. press briefing, and an article from the Gulf News were perused.   Unfortunately, the White House press corps seems not to have taken the time to accumulate background information, or if some members did, they weren’t the ones who were called upon.  And thus we get the Parsing Game, in which sentences are analyzed for political meaning without much attention paid to the underlying policy; followed by endless speculation about the meaning of utterances without context. 

Instead of enhancing our understanding of intricate issues with a myriad of policy options, the press corps is trying to offer us the perfect news story, one with drama (preferably bloody), a hint of mystery, and the capacity for endless speculation.  Sometimes the WH Press Room might as well be empty.

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