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2-9-19 Commentary- ISIS IS Not Defeated

 In the latter part of 1989, when terrorists and suicide bombers from the mid-East were beginning to create consistent headlines, I began to think back, 45 years earlier, to the Japanese kamikaze pilots during WWII. For those who have no memory of this group of young Japanese fighter pilots, with their flowing white silk scarfs and their “Banzai” war chant or battle charge, their mission was to ultimately ram their plane into the largest allied fighting ships in the Pacific. At that time I wasn’t surprised by their suicidal acts, nor in reflection am I now, considering the ancient Japanese culture of an honorable death — seppuku or, as we know it, hara-kiri—to restore honor. I came to understand that this particular action was not terrorism, as we define it, but an act of war…instead of dropping the bomb, the kamikaze pilot flew the bomb into the target.

But in 1989-90 what was motivating this new breed of mid-eastern terrorist? There was no ancient mid-eastern honor code to direct sacrificing one’s life to correct a breach of duty or honor. The terrorists who were hijacking airplanes and detonating vest bomb and forfeiting their life were not an “elder” whose misstep brought dishonor. In 1989-90, I could find no ancient scroll to help me understand this new type of terrorism. What I did learn was that there is a long history in the use of terrorism first domestically then as an offensive weapon. One thing that history teaches us, but invariably we fail to acknowledge, is that history does repeat itself—not necessarily verbatim but in some similar form. The President has claimed that ISIS is defeated, and has decided to withdraw our military forces from Syria without consulting our allies. This is a denial of history clearly indicates that he has absolutely no understanding of the facts on the ground or the history of the last 25 years and is tone deaf to the uproar it created.

During a Senate hearing the highest ranking intelligence officials warned that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, was capable of attacking the United States and painted a picture of a still-formidable terrorist organization notwithstanding its loss of occupied territory. The President repeated the very same inaccurate picture during his State of the Union address. Additionally, a released Pentagon report sets out a stark warning that without US military presence and pressure, ISIS could, in all likelihood, regain the territory it lost in Syria within the next six months to a year. One can accurately forecast that with our withdrawal ISIS will re-establish its caliphate left by our disappearing act and its void. There are three things that are on the top of the list of danger zones we presently face either because of a lack of knowledge or not looking at the history of global attacks by terrorism as follows:

The first is Trump’s latest snap decision proposal for a 20-mile safe zone that Turkey will establish. This plan has been made with no process or analysis. This area would encompass all Kurdish areas of eastern Syria. There is no armed force ready to take over that responsibility, nor time to build one, as American troops prepare to leave. And entry of Turkish-backed opposition forces would likely displace thousands of Kurds, as well as threaten vulnerable Christian communities interspersed in these areas. The strategic consequences of Trump’s decision are already playing out: The more Turkey expands its reach in Syria, the faster our Arab partners in the region appear to lean toward Damascus. In addition, Bloomberg news finally reports what very few media outlets seem to understand about Syria: “US troops aren’t even marginally involved in the fight against the biggest remaining jihadi force there — which is al-Qaeda, not ISIS.”

The second point, as reported in great detail in Smithsonian Magazine, more than 17 years after the Global War on Terrorism was initiated by President George W. Bush, it is now truly global. “We found that, contrary to what most Americans believe, the war on terror is not winding down—it has spread to more than 40 percent of the world’s countries. The war isn’t being waged by the military alone, which has spent $1.9 trillion fighting terrorism since 2001. The State Department has spent $127 billion in the last 17 years to train police, military and border patrol agents in many countries and to develop antiterrorism education programs, among other activities.” This is a damming statement, contradicting the claim that the “world is safe”; ISIS has been defeated. We think of ISIS as mid-east phenomena, but that was only a seed from a previously terrorist group that has been replicated and is now embedded across the globe: as I write this commentary, the WSJ reported that ISIS has made a “surprise” comeback in West Africa. Why the surprise? Which brings me to my third thought.

What any historian studying the incubation and evolving of present day international terrorism will list as number one is that, like the amoeba we looked at thru a microscope in high school, terrorist groups have internal conflicts and wins and losses on the battle field that prompt them to split and reorganize. When one group is “defeated” or there appears to be internal conflict, a splinter group develops and takes on its own mantle with a new or adjusted focus and methodology. ISIS is not dead, and with its loss of territory in the mid-East (which it will fill with Trump’s retreat) it will find, as it has done, a different venue to operate and control.

Trump in a repeating tweet, true to form, that in no uncertain terms, he “knows more and better” than his senior security heads. And he continues to declare ISIS defeated by pushing the envelope to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Imagine for a moment the CPA you retain each year for your tax advice and corporate filing. She is about ready to have brain surgery, and prior to the anesthetist saying “count back from 100” she tells her surgeon, in great detail, how to proceed in performing the operation. You would get a court mandate to do both the operation as planned by the surgeon and instantly commit the person to a psychiatric institution… and find a new accountant.

Richard Allan,

The Editor

Commentary: Japan and World Order

As a child, late on the afternoon of December 7th 1941, I was sitting with my father in the balcony of a movie theatre called the Brooklyn Paramount. It had a large ornate interior much like the Paramount movie theatre then on Broadway. The movie we were watching was “One Foot in Heaven”. It was a period piece set in 1917, and I believe the star was Fredric March, as the head of a happy family. I recall I was thinking that afterward I wanted to go to the Horn and Hardat restaurant for their apple pie when suddenly, the picture on the screen started to flutter and stop. The house lights went on and a man in (to the best of my recollection) an army uniform walked out to the middle of the stage, looked into the audience, and told us that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. He told all the service men that they must return to their base immediately. The lights went off, the movie flickered on, and the characters on the screen were celebrating the end of WW I. I began to cry, thinking that my father, although not in the army, would leave us.

In September of 1945, I saw, I believe in Life Magazine, the historic picture of the signing of the unconditional surrender of Japanese forces. A cloth covered mess table had been placed on the deck of the battle ship the USS Missouri (which then was the last battleship commissioned into the United States Navy), anchored in Tokyo Bay, along with over two hundred other allied warships but no aircraft carriers. There were four or five men in uniform (Japanese and allied) standing on opposite sides of the table, signing. Thus began five and half years of American occupation of Japan.

On 27th September of that year, in a photograph, the towering figure of General Douglas MacArthur (hero of the Pacific war) is shown standing next to the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, for their first meeting. MacArthur has his hands in his pockets and the Emperor, ramrod stiff, in formal attire.

MacArthur’s title was Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, and to the world he was the leading figure in all that took place in the ensuing years, until he was “fired” by President Truman. MacArthur forgot (or ignored the fact) that there was a Commander-in-Chief of American forces who also happened to be the President of the United States. He never diminished the growing impression that whatever flowed from his office in Tokyo had its inception under his direct command. What I learned, only recently, was that there was concentrated planning in Washington for the eventual defeat of Japan and its “rehabilitation” two years prior to its actual defeat and occupation.

By 1946, the Japanese government, under U.S. military occupation, thought it was MacArthur’s intention that they draft a new constitution for the emerging postwar, post occupation nation. Upon review by MacArthur’s team, it was immediately rejected and MacArthur ordered (without consultation with any of the US Allies) a government section of his occupying forces to draft a constitution, to be ready for submission within a matter of weeks.

Two items of the new constitution, adopted in 1947, are of particular importance today. The first is that the Emperor, under the newly proposed constitution, would lose the position of ultimate authority, although remaining as head of state. In essence, what real political power he previously exercised would be abolished, and the rights of peerage would be abolished. In principal, Japan became a constitutional monarchy. The second element, Article 9 of the Constitution, is presently in the forefront of a political challenge for modern day Japan. Historically, not one coma in their Constitution has been changed in over 70 years, and the constitutional challenge for Japan and its people has international implications.

Article 9 of the Japanese constitution is commonly known as the “peace clause”. The clause requires that Japan relinquish and abandon any right to wage war or to maintain a “war potential” military force. Its military might is limited to defensive measures only. As we enter 2019, Japan’s regional neighbors are clearly more hostile than the world order was at the time the constitution was formally adopted in 1947. Today, Japan’s partnership with the U.S. in that region is crucial to the national security of both nations. Russia’s submarines are increasing their patrols in the seas north of Japan. North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and expansion creates a dangerous and hostile environment. China’s military program, its cyberwar, and stealing foreign held trade secrets is producing an unacceptable security setting in that enlarging geographic area.

To modify Article 9, the Emperor, similar to the Queen of England, is a mere bystander. That task falls to the elected members of both houses of the Diet, their legislative branch of government. The Prime Minister views Article 9 as an impediment to Japan enlarging its military forces, so that they have the ability to play a more proactive role in regional security and on the world stage.

In an excellent article by Adam P. Liff and Ko Maeda, they contend that it will be next to impossible for the Prime Minister to effect change for at least two reasons. The first is the procedural process, which is very difficult. It requires a two-thirds majority vote by both houses of the Diet and then a national referendum. Second is the population of Japan, whose position on the issue of modifying their constitution runs from “pacifisms to the fear of being entrapped in a U.S. war far from home” Let me propose a third almost unspoken position. I have met Japanese, who although not born at the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have said they have no desire to bring a child into a world that has the potential for the use of an atomic bomb. That memory gets passed down through generations of Japanese.

American military might is stretched thin. It can no longer effectively fight on more fronts than it is now engaged. We need the military power of the Japanese to be at the ready and to be aggressive, when necessary, if China, North Korea or Russia threatens regional or world order. I think of Kosovo, when there was a genuine humanitarian crisis, and the U.S. led intervention. We need able and willing partners throughout the world, not just in the far Pacific, not just in the mid-East but as unanticipated events occur that demand our moral, political and military attention.

Richard Allan — Editor:     P.S. — As I began my final edit and posting of this Commentary, ISIS supporters threaten attack during the holiday, and the President abruptly announced, against the advice of the military and members of his own party, the withdrawal of 2000 American troops from Syria. David Sanger wrote in a front page article for the NYT that what we have learned through the hard lessons brought home in the post 9/11 years “…that deployed forces are key to stopping terrorists before they reach American shores and vital to maintaining the alliances that keep the world safe.” The Kurds, if abandoned by the U.S., responded that they will release 3200 ISIS in their prisons. And then the resignation of General J. Mattis. President Trump’s tax break has fizzled, his tariffs are pounding Middle America and the stock and bond markets are flashing red lights as the Feds see an economic downturn next year. Mr. Trumps is impeding our ability to maintain our security at home and abroad. RA

Commentary– What Will Be Wrapped For Christmas?

 Thanksgiving is over — both eating and leaning what the early settlers ate—and it wasn’t turkey.

There was little, if any, political discussion before and during dinner, but looking around the very large double dining room table, I quickly realized the majority of those present were age 16 to 24. It was then that my internal worry button was pressed. I have long stopped worrying about the world as it is or will impact upon my children and their spouses, but it is the life of the younger generation that will feel the blunt of today.

The world is turning nationalistic, and although that is worrisome enough, it is just below the radar screen supporting that movement that is unsettling. It is the growth and flourishing of a prime industry: the manufacturing and distribution of military hardware including the proliferation of nuclear bomb making knowledge and material.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute –“After 13 consecutive years of increasing in global military expenditures from 1999 to 2011, and relatively unchanged spending from 2012 to 2016, total global military spending rose again in 2017.” The total amount spent worldwide in 2017 was an astonishing 1.7 trillion dollars. This would represent in 2.2 per cent of the global gross domestic product. Translated it means that worldwide, each person would theoretically have spent $230 towards the purchase of military hardware. The increases in spending are partially due to China, India and Saudi Arabia and their race to dominate their region or world competition.

Not surprising, the US spends more money on military expenditures than any other nation. But surprising to me was learning that we spend more money than the next seven highest spenders—combined! And under President Trump that number is growing, notwithstanding that there are almost 40 million people in the United States living under the poverty level. In addition, not lost in the global picture is that although Russian military complex is the leading edge of its world political posture and aggressiveness (its present naval attack against the Ukraine), its military expenditures have been reined in by its economic stagnation since 2014, and actually fell in 2017. In the 10 countries in the Mideast, Israeli is number 8 in military spending.

Not only are these worldwide spending numbers staggering, one particular item creates the greatest risk–more than guns and tanks, jets and submarines is the amount spent on the nuclear arsenals. And while there is abundant knowledge of what has been spent, there is a wide area that the amount is not known. This presents a far greater global threat than any fighting unit of tanks or squadron of jet fighters.

In 1987, the US entered into a treaty with Russia that prohibited either country from positioning missiles with a firing range from approximately 320 miles to a bit over 3400 miles. Many military strategists believe this treaty eliminated nuclear missiles from the European continent. It is Trump’s position that the Russians have been violating this agreement for years, and with China’s globally strong entry into the political/military equation, US international strategy must change. Thus, this agreement became irrelevant. Trump is in the process of unilaterally cancelled the agreement with Putin.

More than two dozen nations have nuclear power. Only nine possess actual nuclear weapons: Russia, the United States, China, India, Israel, France, North Korea, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Combined, they represents a present day arsenal of 14 plus thousand nuclear warheads, a significant reduction from an earlier high of over 70 thousand.

At least two issue major issues are apparent to me. The first, within the group that possesses an actual nuclear weapon; there are two that I fear have a dangerous political posture in their control and stockpiling of these weapons. They are not being held as deterrents against would-be aggressors but as offensive weapons in their expanding arsenal—North Korea and Pakistan.

Second, recently reported in some of the press, the CIA has raised the question of whether the Saudis are preparing for the building of their own atomic bomb. The Saudis crown prince (the one accused of ordering the killing of a journalist) has been in negotiations with both the United States’ Department of Energy and the State Department for the sale of nuclear “designs”. The deal is worth some allege 80 billion dollars, contingent upon the ultimate number of nuclear plants to be built. One demand by the Saudis has produced flashing red lights. They have demanded that instead of their purchasing nuclear fuel abroad, they produce their own. The New York Times reported that that the Saudis could purchase that fuel in the open market at a cheaper cost than generating it at home. What concerns those familiar with the negotiations is that if they produce their own nuclear fuel, it would be possible for them to covert the end product into an atomic bomb without any UN oversight or limitations. This places Washington and the West in the same dilemma that was presented prior to the conclusion of the Iran nuclear accord in 2015. The open competition for a bomb making between the rival Saudis and Iran would become a reality.

So on this gloomy Monday morning, with the caravan of immigrants being turned away at our boarder, with tear gas in response and the haunting picture of an immigrant mother fleeing from tear gas with her child, what rings hollow and violates my sense of logic and humanity is the world spending 1.7billion dollars for military destruction. What have we become and what are we leaving to our grandchildren?

Richard Allan,

The Editor

 

 

Commentary—Commander-in-Chief

When I was in law school in 1959 and graduated in 1962, all the courses one took the first year and a half were mandatory. Then the tight control loosened, and you were able to pick and choose what appealed to you. In today’s world, some schools have opened the early curriculum to a limited number of choices. One course I took was Constitutional law, taught by a universally known scholar. He arrived and all 150 of us fell silent. He put his briefcase on his desk (which sat on a platform), placed his notebook on top of his briefcase, sat down and in a voice and cadence that came as close to an overdose of some strong opiate droned on for what seemed like an eternity. Most of the time, I think it more likely, I dozed off. I have no recollection of actually reading the entire Constitution and Bill of Rights—neither is a long text. Presently, because of all the talk that we are in or approaching a constitutional crises, I thought it more than wise to read our Constitution in its entirety, along with the Bill of Rights.

These incredible documents are not a jumble of legal terms or convoluted proposals. The language is clear and unambiguous. All but one small section of the Constitution is directed to how our government will be formed and how it is to address the needs and protection of those who reside in the US. The one small paragraph I referred to is addressed to us individually- you and me. That small section describes sedition– the probation of an individual’s attempt at the violent overthrow of our government.

As I was reading the text of the Constitution, one section stood out. Although it is referred to all the time in the press and television, it was the first time that I stopped and thought about its meaning and import. The Constitution states that The President is the nation’s Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces. Commander-in-Chief is a military term. It means that the President, President Trump, is the highest ranking military person in our nation, although he wears no uniform or ranking epilates. There was a clear reason for the architects of the Constitution to insert that section, and there is a treasure trove of writing during its drafting. There was to be civilian control of any armed services. The top generals and admirals were to have a civilian “boss”. While it is true that in recent memory no American president has had military experience (unlike Bush I and I think of the corporal who led the German military tactically and strategically) each prior American president has been engaged in an ongoing, serious learning process to formulate our national military objectives that form the guidepost for our military commanders. Some of them have performed very well, others have squandered the commission.

That role has been clearly abandoned by our present Commander-in-Chief. At the end of his first six months in office (and during the transition period), the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (our longest war, now 17 years old and counting), he ignored these hostilities other than to promise that “he will win” each. He has, in fact, abandoned much of his authority as Commander-in-Chief to the Secretary of Defense and his National Security Advisor.

His hope is transparent, as with all missteps that are clearly attributable to him: to escape any responsibility from any error coming out of the White House, including those strategic military errors that had and will take place on his watch. He had to sign off on a SEAL mission to Yemen, during which one of those on the mission was killed. When questioned by the press as to the events that led up to the SEAL’s death he said that “the buck stopped somewhere else”  “They (the generals) came to see me they explained what they wanted to do, the generals … and they lost…” the SEAL combatant.

In two years he has not visited the troops at any overseas base. Which he said is “not overly necessary” “I’m very busy.” Appearing this weekend on a Fox sunday morning program with Chris Wallace he said that he is putting together a plan to visit the troops. And today he criticized the military for not eliminating bin Laden sooner. To use a military term, he was AWOL from the major memorial services to commemorate the fallen soldiers from WWI. From the NY Times: “ … shortly after becoming commander in chief, President Trump asked so few questions in a briefing at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., that top military commanders cut the number of prepared PowerPoint slides to three from 18, said two officials….”

I am not a hawk. Diplomacy is the road I always prefer to take. Having said that, it is also imperative in a world where all the players, small and large, are not on the same side of peaceful co-existence without the desire to expand its boarders, we must be sufficiently prepared. The military must be prepared, both in personal and hardware to take on any contingency that might occur anywhere in this world.

We should have learned that lesson in 1935, running up to the invasion of Poland in 1939. One of the claims was Poland was very far away, and there was a large uncontrollable ocean between us and the European continent. We as a nation sat on our hands and literally watched the world crumble under the weight of a German blitz, then a Japanese onslaught. Only when we were physically attacked, did we then seek to protect “our national interests”, which had been under attack for years. Today, if need be, the Commander-in-Chief has an airplane– the North American X15 — that travels at 4520mph. The Commander-in-Chief has to understand the implications of using that plane in an offensive strategic manner. Not that it travels so very fast and far and can carry deadly weapons, but if employed, there will be repercussions that follow. Strategic nuances. Every international action, by any nation, motivates a reciprocal response. And to understand those crucial dynamics, a leader (a Commander-in-Chief) must be able to read beyond the headlines, beyond the headnote rules, beyond those who he mimics and beyond simplistic bravado.

Strategy (not logistics) is not learned overnight. To understand the nuances of strategy takes patience and a learning curve. Strategy is not a game of darts but could reasonably be compared to a long, thoughtful game of chess between grand masters. A commandeer-in-chief is a person who should have an understanding of the chess board and its control. Although it is imperative that she calls upon the experts for guidance, it is the President that makes the ultimate decisions and equally important takes responsibility if they should fail. President Carter failed in his dealing with Iran and the American hostages; Clinton understood Bosnia and Kosovo in what was Yugoslavia; Trump belittles those in the military unless he is using them as political props, and President Truman said that the buck stops with him.

President Trump is hiding in the dugout.

Richard Allan,

The Editor

 

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Commentary—Reality Check for National Security

 

The election is over and I can stop looking obsessively at the statistics of who is projected to win. I can, I thought, go to bed without the agitation of a wild election cycle. And then I read – and realized– that all the election noise was drowning out the rest of my life, and we are moving toward what appears to be an armed crises.

I am old enough to remember Pearl Harbor and the heated political discussions in my home prior to the US being drawn into the war with the December 7 bombing. The war in Europe started in 1939, the Maginot Line became a myth and Hitler invaded France in the spring of 1940; the battle in the air over London was on every news reel in every movie theatre, and then Hitler turned somewhat unexpectedly on the Soviet Union. There were mixed feelings in the United States with that turn of events. The two nations Russia and the United States were not on the best political terms and one could describe their relationship as less than friendly and tense. They needed each other though in the fight against German/Italy and to a much lesser degree Japan.

The Russian leader, Joseph Stalin, was an openly oppressive, dictatorial leader who regularly used violence and deadly purges against his own people, the army he commanded and his perceived political opponents. The Russians, for their part had no great liking of America, its leaders and its refusal to accept the Soviet Union into the international community. The United States viewed the Soviet Union and its leaders as an ongoing threat to democracy. In addition, prior to 1941, both the Nazis and communists had a loud and prominent presence on the American scene. I recall one photograph, taken in the late 30s in the old Madison Square Garden. It looked more like a scene of a Hitler rally in Berlin, with the hanging swastika and the hundreds standing with Nazi straight arm salute, than a massive event in mid-town Manhattan.   Pearl Harbor changed the dynamics.

Toward the end of the war in Europe, we witnessed the rush to occupy Berlin by the Allies on one side and the Russian army from the east, both moving as quickly as possible on the German capital. These onetime allies at war were at the same moment political adversaries– that only deepened with time. The Berlin blockade by the Soviets and the American airlift to the besieged city only hastened and deepened the animosity. Words became deeds. What was clear to the least politically motivated person was the Soviet’s intent to place Eastern Europe under its domain and to spread of communism worldwide. Underneath all that was the Soviet anger that simmered for years. They claimed we did not enter the war earlier enough by not creating a second battle front against Hitler, which they attributed to the death of tens of thousands of Russians.

When the physical hostilities ended against Germany ended with the bitterly divided Berlin and Germany, the political hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union began in earnest. As Russia became the Soviet Union (and expanded its political and geographic boarders), the United States responded by being more aggressive internationally. With both side facing off, a natural product was the arms race. We called that long period the “Cold War”. When in 1949 the Soviets developed their own nuclear capability and produced their own atomic bomb, the hostility between the two escalated, impacting the comfort zone of all nations to a new low of fear.

There was another element to the arms race and the cold war and that was its economic drain on national and economic resource. This was especially true in the Soviet Union. In December 1991, after a failed August coup that was featured on the front pages of every newspaper and television news broadcast, Boris Yeltsin (the first “freely” elected president of the USSR) began the task of dissolving the USSR, and later in that month Mikael Gorbachev acknowledged its total economic collapse and the final dissolution of the empire. The Cold War came to an end.

Then two years ago we began to see a significant change in United States policy and tone along with an emboldened ex-KGB Putin, who takes no prisoners. Both countries engaged in threatening, bellicose and confrontational posture. Then words lead to an increase in military spending and expansion of military hardware.

The pentagon has green lighted a new generation of steerable smart tactical nuclear weapons. We have entered into a new arms race with China and Russia. These particular weapons are designed to support naval, land and air forces in areas close to friendly forces, and can penetrate fortified structures many feet below ground. Unlike those weapons that produce mass destruction, these bombs are designed to be carried by high-speed stealth fighter jets to hit targets precisely with limited peripheral damage. Then during the last 8 weeks, the United States Air Force in the European theatre received its largest shipment of military hardware in over 20 years. This followed the President’s 54 Billion dollars request from Congress to be spent by the military establishment, which far exceeds the present Russian spending on weapons. The United States signed off on arms exports worth $192.3 billion over the past year, a full 13 percent increase from the previous year.

Several points are clear and unmistakably strategically and tactically wrong in the President’s approach of saber rattling, arms buildup and an overt desire for a Red Square display of military might. Although the ongoing, decades old, war in the mid-East is with rockets, bombs and street to street fighting, with about the same number of US troops that the President wants on our Mexican border, the main battlefront is far different and more complex. Even though we witness how close and aggressive a Russian fighter jet came to an American surveillance plane in international airspace ; no matter how aggressive the Chinese navy has been in the South China Sea, there will be no on the ground warfare in Europe or in the Pacific.

Neither Russia nor China can match our military spending. And the battlefield has changed. We have moved from more and more bombs and jet fighters to a new and dangerous battlefront. The psychological war perfected by Putin and his hackers, espionage agents, cyber invasions and the propaganda experts of the Russian intelligence corps. Their aim is your mind, your emotional and intellectual responses. One need only look to the Russian interference in our own election of 2016 and their success in control of the mindset of a vast number of Americans.

Counter-intelligence is a cheaper form of warfare, less obvious than a new multi-million dollar plane, and in the short and longtime more effective and with real-time results. Our national dollars would be more prudently utilized in beefing-up not only our own counter-intelligence ability but those of our NATO allies. As one commentator wrote, our defense funds would be more wisely expended in place like “the Czech Republic, where Russian embassies are filled with more spies than they can count”.

We have, with the election of this president, entered into a new era of diplomacy and international confrontation. There is no public launching or fanfare with the advent of a counter-intelligence probe. There is no photograph of a new stealth bomber or aircraft carrier being launched with a counter-intelligence operation. If you want national security against an advisory as committed and proficient as China or Russia, then you meet them on their cyberspace turf and reach for the best possible form of proactive counter-intelligence security and not a paper tiger! There is no medal for second place.

Richard Allan,

The Editor

Commentary: Terrorism – Politics or Reality

In late 1988, there were a very small handful of us in the private sector who took the pragmatic approach to analyze the issues of “terrorism”. It was through present-day events that we attempted to understand the “how” of a successful terrorist attacks and the construct of counterterrorism measures. My approach, then and now, to counterterrorism is simply this: you are not “successful” when there is a terrorist event and, thereafter, you catch the terrorist. The center of the target for law enforcement at all levels of counterterrorism is to prevent the attack before its execution. There were a number of college professor in the 1988 examining terrorism. (I have two in mind who were outstanding, one at UConn and one on the West Coast). The main focus of both of these highly regarded academicians was from a historical prospective not from on-the-ground-present events and their analysis.

At one point in late 1988, I went to the far side of Kennedy Airport – then a quiet industrial area, stood at a metal fence separating the road from the runways, and visualized how many of the landing jets I could destroy with a hand held rocket launcher before I could escape being detected and arrested. My analysis forced me to reassess my then academic research direction. I was fortunate (because David Trager, then Dean of Brooklyn Law School who thought me a bit off the grid in being interested in current terrorism issues) to be able to obtain a sabbatical from my law school and, thru sheer luck I landed at the EastWest Institute. At that time I was the only person at the Institute interested in terrorism, but they afforded me all the help I needed in my research and writing. After being ensconced in a telephone sized office, I met three people who help me move at lightning speed into this new adventure: Yigal Carmon who was then the advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel, Ian Cuthbertson who was the VP at the Institute and Don Lavey who was a FBI agent assigned to lead the counter terrorism unit at INERPOL.

This month I was lucky when I came across Stephen Tankel who has written a long excellent article [https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/10/12/has-trump-read-his-own-counterterrorism-strategy/] that brought back those memories and, especially now, at a crucial time when the professional national security analysts are being all but ignored by a White House and its President. Those that council the President and the President himself do not understand the issues of terrorism and certainly not counterterrorism. They appear to be more inclined on a daily basis to be concerned with political theatre. And they do excel in clouding the real issues. The multi-million dollar Mexican wall and then the threat to send first five thousand then fifteen thousand American troops to the border is pure political scam theatre.

There are far more sophisticated and less costly methods to stop illegal immigration and the wall will certainly not stop the terrorist. The Muslim travel ban is also political theatre. I remember, many years ago, driving from Canada into the United States on a country road and suddenly seeing a sign attached to what appeared to be a large wooden telephone booth. The sign read something along the lines that you are about to enter the United States and asked that you please “call in” before proceeding across the border.

In reading the report of National Strategy for Counter Terrorism [https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/NSCT.pdf], released this month by the White House, one can easily sense that this is not some bold new plan but, as analyzed by Tankel, one built on the work of previous administrations. The present White House strategy adopts the approach beginning with the Bush II administration, of “collaborating so that foreign governments take the lead wherever possible, and working with others so that they can assume responsibility in the fight against terrorists.” That flies in the face of The Trump America First rallies, the bashing of NATO and the isolation approach by the present Administration. Clearly this method does not mesh with the security report. What the present Administration does do is to create a sense of something more than international political uncertainty with those partners in the international community. There are countries that looked to their American partnership for their own “containment” of terrorism. I think in most instances our foreign partners, who laughed at Trump’s declaration at the UN, are hopefully long term planners who look beyond the Trump presidency for rational thought.

When it comes to the increase in domestic initiated terrorism, Tankel writes that Trump’s acknowledgement of the threats posed by “domestic terrorists who are not motivated by a radical Islamist ideology is a welcome surprise.”

Domestic terrorism is a real and growing threat, and requires more government, not less specialized resources. In most cities, in this country, local law enforcement officials do not have the on-the-ground resources to cope with a terrorist attack; they have never developed the background intelligence resources and data necessary to either interdict or solve a terrorist incident. That requires years of development and money. There is a second problem that remains unaddressed and so often happens when legislation is drafted and then thru either oversight or sheer lack of foresight the failure of the legislature to address the penalties to be attached to the crime. A quick view of our federal code (18 U.S. Code § 2331 – Definitions) addressing domestic terrorism clearly illustrates this point…

“As used in this chapter—(5)the term domestic terrorism” means activities that—(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; (B)appear to be intended—(i)to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and  C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

 Nowhere in the statute does the Congress, in its acceptance that domestic terrorism is a distinct and separate criminal act, advise us of the penalties attached to these acts. I doubt that was intentional in its rush toward its enactment; but they have never done the work necessary to clear up that uncertainty and have left it to the various federal law enforcement prosecutors spread across the United States to fashion their own proscription from alleging murder to hate crimes in domestic terrorism litigation.

As I was about to put the final period to this blog and send it on to my editor, I reviewed the following report: The House Committee on Homeland Security and its recently released monthly Terror Threat Snapshot report. As usual, it paints a picture that “should keep every American on his or her guard and vigilant – especially during the holiday season.”

A report, compiled each month by U.S. Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas), is a wide-ranging account of what it perceives is the current threat posed to the United States by ISIS-linked groups and other terrorism organizations. “The snapshot focuses on recent homegrown Jihadist cases in America – showing at least one homegrown case in 30 states – with 159 total cases since 2013.”

What frightens me is my strong belief that domestic terrorism will continue to increase in both tone and scope. The lone wolf or small cabal will be the leading actors. It only takes a truck and determination to decimate a parade. It need not be in New York or Boston or a Timmothy McVeeigh in Oklahoma City to create great personal tragedy, national havoc and pain that will never recede. Then, as I was about ready to post my commentary, my friend of 75+ years died, and I stopped doing most things. In that lull, a political domestic terrorist started delivering explosive devices to those who oppose President Trump. Home grown, domestically built bombs, delivered across the nation. Law enforcement was swift and the bomber was arrested. But the bombs still arrived after his arrest. There were a lot of bombs produced and almost simultaneously distributed, and we know that only 6 percent of terrorists act alone. This defendant lived in a van. How do you make and distribute –“simultaneously”—at least 14 bombs, however small from that environment? Then Saturday morning, a day later, at a Jewish Temple near Carnegie Mellon University, a gunman who owned over twenty weapons, joked during the standoff with police that he liked killing Jews. A horrendous mass killing.

Why am I not surprised? We see the blatant resurgence of anti-Semitism most strikingly by elected officials in the Congressional election and on social media. We have with the advent of the Trump era witnessed the escalating, to crises proportions, of violence fueled by hate speech. We live in a culture where a sitting president, publically announces that he will pay the legal fees of those who employ force to protest on his behalf. Who repeatedly uses ugly derogatory rhetoric to demean those who dare challenge him. Who, without hesitation, openly panders to and embraces the lowest common denominator in our society– the white supremacists as “really nice people”.

Really? Acceptable?

Richard Allan

The Editor

 

 

Commentary—The Bad Seed(s)– Elections and Repression

 

Turkey and Poland are two geographically unrelated countries. The roots of their history and the present state of their governments are unrelated. They do form an emerging political mosaic that allows us to see into the future: an unhealthy nationalistic surge, and a domestic repressive political climate, and a “me” mentality. These conditions have created a danger to the dynamics of any form of democracy not only for the citizens of these two countries but will be the seeds seized upon to impact their neighbors and ultimately our own national security interests.   We see that moment in the rhetoric of our President and the acts of his ministers.

In Poland, during and after the German occupation in WWII, neither the people nor its government were anything but hostile toward minority groups. Some thought that when Lech Walesa came to govern in 1980, the country was on a path to democratic reform. Democracy ebbed and flowed during which the Country became a member of the EU and NATO. In 2015, the picture changed. As in the United States presidential election, Poland moved hard right and, in doing so, turned the Polish democracy on its head. In its latest move, the ruling party –Law and Justice—did the unthinkable in a democracy and ended the Country’s judicial independence. In a decisive move, the governing political party purged an overwhelming number of judges. It is tantamount to the Republican party dismissing those Justices on the Supreme Court they found to be counterproductive to their platform. In Poland, Judges who were not considered loyal to the ruling party were dismissed and replaced by those who were. Sound familiar?

Turkey, Istanbul, was once a beautiful country and city to visit. A country that was known for its marvelous array of spices, food and antiquities of wonder. A country that has moved from a democratic state to what could be defined as a dictatorship wrapped in a democratic election. Notwithstanding its present political stance and leadership, it is embraced by the United States because of geopolitical necessity in a troubled area of the world.

When we visited Turkey, it was a democratic nation-state. Today it is not. How did the country move so dramatically away from its democratic roots? What prompted its people to change their chant from democracy to embracing a man who was permitted to destroy an open, independent press? Turkey became a hard right Muslim nation and experienced a childish, attempted coup that failed. 150 members of the press have been arrested, and the working conditions of the press were best described in a report from Reporters Without Borders. Just three years ago, it ranked Turkey 149 out of 189 countries that support a free press. That ranking placed Turkey between two countries– one a failed state (Congo) and the other where journalists are regularly utilized as targets for murder (Mexico).

Turkey is a country where judges are indiscriminately rounded up and arrested by the Government. Where thousands of high ranking officers in the military either escape to another country or are arrested for alleged treason. Where thousands of police officers and hundreds of academicians were fired from their jobs with their passports confiscated. The Guardian has reported that the Turkish President has dismissed thousands of state employees under a so-called emergency decree for alleged connection to terrorist groups. At last count 130,000 people have been dismissed from their jobs with their passports confiscated during this period

The Associated Press has reported, as I am writing this commentary, that the state of emergency declared by newly reelected President Erdogen, after the failed coup and that has been in place for two years will be lifted. The emergency rule allowed the government to bypass parliament on all key issues. The latest nail in the democratic life of the people of Turkey is that the so-called “democratically” elected president’s role will be transferred to that of an “executive presidency” (no checks and balance in his authoritative control).There will be a completely revamped charter providing him greater authority as its president. In his latest decree the President has abolished the office of the Prime Minister. He will draft the budget and, as noted, chose the judges and have the ability to dismiss the Parliament at will. All this occurring as 12 non-governmental organizations, three newspapers and one television station were shuttered.

Despite the government’s decision to lift the state of emergency, a close look at the proposed statutes that will replace the emergency decree does nothing more than maintain the repressive status quo. The new laws would still allow the government to detain its citizens for an extended period without a criminal charge. The pending legislation would also give the government the power to stop people from leaving the country or traveling freely within the country. And to tighten control further, if you were “considered” a threat, you could be removed from your state job with your passport confiscated. To tighten control even further, if a person’s rights were revoked, the government had the right to penalize one’s spouse.

Clearly, the history in Poland, in the specifics, differs from that in Turkey. That is not the point. The point is that individual rights in both countries are being circumscribed by an elected government. The individual citizen, in both of these countries, has forfeited their rights through an election process. A process that has been cherished for generations, and that has been the method by which we elect a person who will respect and protect all of us. Where their story converges, is the lack of civility and spear point of those running for elected office. The aim of their political campaigns was to target the lowest common denominator—the masses. To demine and ridicule those least able to defend themselves. To promise anything and all things, rational or not for one voting group after another. Civility and truth was not a hallmark, and when a candidate’s approach was lacking in civility and honesty, it became permission for all to act similarly. The elections in Poland and Turkey did not become a debate about values but one of intolerance, bigotry, self-interest and in the end dishonesty. The mob won.

It matters not which way I turn, the sign posted is held high: “Me First”. What does that mean and at what cost to each of us? Why has the vocal majority become so angry and in turn vengeful? Why do we tell people— “go back to where you came from” — based on their language or color of their skin, their tribe or religion? All of us, at one time or another, other than the American Indian (and even they did not somehow materialize out of nowhere on this continent), came from “somewhere” else. Seventy years ago, my father told a black person, who was ill and could not afford to consult with a private physician, that a good alternative would be a doctor in an emergency room of a very fine nearby hospital. He was admonished: “I aint gonna sit on any bench next to a spick!” Why the anger and why the disgust? And that was seventy years ago.

The mob language today is often accompanied by threats of violence. What little civility and tolerance that exits is mocked and ridiculed by our leaders and chanted by the crowd turned mob. We are discarding and crippling the usual barriers that were a natural support of civility. The barriers that held us within permissible conduct are ignored by those in power and that conduct filters down to those who feel empowered, or believing they have been rejected or ignored thru the decades, and its “now their turn”. The crowd then becomes the catalyst for greater unacceptable behavior by the leaders. So, in Poland, the latest attack is against an independent judiciary, and it is destroyed; in Turkey, unless you are likeminded your rights and freedom are evaporated.

One is hard pressed to look at the international scene and find a country that is welcoming without conditions. And as we turn inward and view our own political system, there are those among us who today, and this is difficult to comprehend, openly support the candidacy of an avowed Nazi, a holocaust denier and a white nationalist, each running for elected office under the banner of an American flag and a national political party. How did that happen?

Two countries, Poland and Turkey, two different histories and cultures, and yet the more they are different, the more they seem the same, and the deadly infection they breed is spreading. And it is here.

Richard Allan

The Editor

 

 

Commentary—The Invitation You Don’t Want

Do you know that, if you care to, you can log on to Amazon and, in addition to purchasing your groceries, you can obtain: “The Hacker Playbook—A Practical Guide to Penetration”. Then I stumbled onto an article that described an incredible, worldwide cyber-attack, and realized I know minus zero about cyberspace security or even hacking. I can tell you what hacking causes because almost everyone I know has had their e-mail hacked at one time or another.

How awkward and uncomfortable I felt writing a security-bent Commentary, as I was preparing to purchase a new computer and moving at the same time. My learning curve took a dramatic turn that brought me to a slew of wonderful articles and reports that opened a new world of understanding and, above all else, caution and continuing concern.

In one extensive report, I learned that last year (2017) there was cyberattack on a power grid in the United States, and even though it was horrific in scope and import, it drifted by unnoticed by most of the people I know. It has been claimed that there are those who beyond mere curiosity but with criminal intent, have the ability to shut down all our generated power and throw us into total darkness. And by that I do not mean just the lights in your home but to affect our all aspects of our being from individual and national finance to healthcare and cooking dinner to our basic forms of daily transportation.

The scope of the breach, first reported by the cybersecurity company Symantec in September 2017, revealed much about the way these attacks work. So much was revealed in its report, that the U.S. government turned it into a high valued investigation that produced a 16 page document. A team of cyber specialists from the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation placed the hackers’ tradecraft under its investigatory microscope and then disseminated its findings in the hope that the information would help prevent similar attacks – and keep this one attack from generating further chaos.

Experts say cyberspace communication is at a crucially vulnerable time in an age when hackers, whether motivated by disruption or bent on conducting wide scale cyber warfare, are constantly finding ways to infiltrate, corrupt and weaponize whatever touches the internet – often bit by bit. As I type this page I suddenly wonder is there someone looking-in that I am unaware of and what will they do with the information learned.

“It’s important to raise awareness,” said Mark Orlando, chief technology officer for cyber services at Raytheon. “…. details, if taken by themselves, might not seem that impactful. When presented with the entire story, we can see it was part of a larger, sustained campaign, potentially causing a lot of damage.”

The prospective for that type of damage is sweeping, said Constance Douris, who studies cybersecurity for the Lexington Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank that focuses on defense. She said hacking the power grid is essentially a newer way of attacking a traditional military target. Understand that a power grid is not merely a power vehicle for our individual and business life but constitutes a prime military target by any adversary.

“Everyone understands cyber is important, but they don’t quite understand why it needs to be protected,” she said. “Hospitals, banks, pipelines, military bases – all of these cannot operate without electricity. Protecting the grid from cyberattacks should not be neglected by any means.” Clearly, this is an understatement. Our cyberspace integrity is “crucial” to our national and individual wellbeing. It can be utilized as a silent massive attack against the United States. It is not as dramatic as three planes flying into well-known buildings but clearly and potentially more deadly.

Here’s how the cyber experts broke down the “work” of the hacker – and how businesses and by extension, individuals can protect themselves.

Hackers have the learned that the shortest distance between two points is not necessarily a straight line—thus instead of attacking the largest target (who are, by necessity and self-preservation on the alert) the hacker works his or her way through the “smaller, less secure companies” and networks. Jumping from one network to another and moving to larger networks one at a time. One of the attackers’ main strategies is to divide targets into groups. As one security expert put it: each of us must “manager our own systems and being as vigilant as you can.” And we have read in the press that the hacker can use misleading emails that will deliver malware right into your computer. Be careful of what mail you open, especially if you do not recognize the sender. The hacker knows who they are targeting by collecting as much information and intelligence that is available, so that the email received by the target is both reasonable and believable and therefore more likely to be opened. I recieve emails all the time from institutions with whom I have some business or professional relationship asking me to update information that they should not be requesting. I don’t open those messages. I receive telephone calls from people with far-east accents who tell me that I am having a problem with my computer and they can rectify the issue with a small payment and to allow them access to my computer.

Another method of crawling into your computer with malware is to corrupt a site that you visit often. When you log into that site which has been “altered to contain and reference malicious content,” the government investigation found that you will then be infected with the planted malware. Some refer to these sites as “watering-holes” where the malicious malware codes at planted. Common places are the information sites you generally turn to on a regular basis. As one person said to me: “You can catch a lot of fish that way.” Another method is by stealing the identity of an important member/employee of a target including their usernames and passwords. Here again that is usually accomplished through tricking that person with a false login page of an often utilized site.

The Department of Homeland Security and FBI uncovered yet another method of invading your computer: The hacker sends a document to its target, but it is sent in a manner in which it cannot be downloaded. The bait is to then to inform the target: “if you are having problems downloading this document”, to click “having trouble” — which takes the target to the program that contains the malware. Cleaver and destructive.

If your i-pad and i-phone are connected to your computer they are all invitations to the hacker to invade your world. Cancel those “invitations” with heightened awareness that “anyone” could be a target—anyone. And the results of those invitations can be catastrophic.

Richard Allan

The Editor

 

 

 

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Commentary – Viewing Our Diminishing World Influence, Egypt and Israeli Military Coordination, And Why We Should Focus On Pakistan

From behind a fairly thick curtain of security comes news that at the highest government level, Egypt and Israel have coordinate aerial attacks against ISIS sympathizes within Egypt. This cooperation has been in place for more than two years relying upon unmarked Israeli drones, helicopters and jets— all with the approval of the Egyptian President. There is close and improving cooperation between the high military commands of both nations. At the same moment Egypt is flooding discovered tunnels dug by terrorists to create artificial bodies of water to raise fish.

Much of the remaining news in the world surrounding the Syrian war zones is turning uglier, more deadly and unpredictable each day:   Iran and Hizbullah have taken advantage of the cover of war in Syria to smuggle advanced weapons through Syria to Hizbullah sympathizes and fighters; the Soviet capital can credit itself to have pushed its way to be able to claim an equal footing with the U.S. in wielding both political and military power in that explosive Eastern Mediterranean world.

The news from the world surrounding Syria is not at all encouraging, with no decrease in the extreme violence and devastation inflicted upon civilians of all descriptions and associations, who appear to be fleeing in all directions and continue to be caught in the crossfire of a political war, with its incendiary propaganda and violence rained down in the form of all types of military hardware.

Lost in this loud, violent conflict is our attention to what is properly the most potentially dangerous marker on the table: Pakistan. We generally think of Pakistani/India—both nuclear powers and their seemingly endless conflict. What I suggest is that Pakistan, aside from its conflict with India, is a dangerous powder keg undermining our own interests and security.

Some background to this discussion: Pakistan as a country was created in 1997, and we have had a long diplomatic multi-faceted relationship since then. If you look at a U.S. State Department site, it will show that we have maintained a strong security relationship, which only intensified since a 2014 attack against its Karachi airport and army school. Economically, Pakistan’s largest export destination is the United States, but China is it largest trading partner. What is more important in the equation is the amount of civilian and military aid we supply each year and have for years on end. All, Washington has alleged, so “Pakistan becomes a more secure, prosperous and stable democracy.”

If we reach back 11 years we read the official reports that we are “increasingly concerned that member of Al Qaeda, its Taliban supporters, and other Islamist militants find safe haven in Pakistani cities.” Some of these Islamist forces express “solidarity with anti-United States forces”, along with al Qaeda militants having made alliances with “indigenous Pakistani terrorist groups “that are clearly anti-Western’. In early 2007, the outgoing Director of National Intelligence had the most reliable crystal ball: in two sentences the dilemma facing our national security was articulated: “Pakistan is a frontline partner in the war on terror. Nevertheless, it remains a major source of Islamic extremism and the home for some top terrorist leaders.” Al Qaeda was posing, he said, the single greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its interests. Remember: This is a county that possesses nuclear power. This is a country that allows dangerous anti-American terrorist groups to secure hideouts. This is a country in which “anti-U.S. sentiment is not just a phenomenon within elite Pakistani circles either; it extends to the Pakistani population as well.” “According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. favorability rating among the Pakistani people hasn’t cracked the 30 percent mark in thirteen years of public polling on the subject.” We are not welcomed, we are not accepted. But please send the next check. And we have sent millions upon millions of dollars in both civilian and military aid. To what avail?

Part of the complex relationship that pits us and Pakistan on a dangerous path is Pakistan’s almost emotional reflex reactions to US/India relations. “Pakistan cannot, will not, absolutely will never accept Indian dominance in this region. Even if (the president) tweets that Pakistan is an unfaithful and disloyal ally. It doesn’t matter. Pakistan’s national security posture is defined by how it perceives itself with respect to India.” Not said is how Pakistan views itself to the rest of the world and its own ideas of what constitutes self-preservation. And therein lies part of the crux in its relationship to the United States and our security interests. The other element is the country has shown little if an incentive to crackdown on groups such as the Jamaaat-ud-Dawa (Jud) which had been blamed by the United Nations for the 2008 attack on the Indian city Mumbai that left the city inflames and killed 166 persons.

We must be more rationally engaged—whether it takes “carrot and stick” in preventing Pakistan from doling out its tactical nuclear weapons (which most assuredly could and will fall into terrorists’ hands), discouraging with sufficient support to encourage Pakistan from reviving its nuclear proliferation activities, preventing a major Pakistan-India war (that would in all likelihood land hard on United States interests) , as well as clamping down on Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attacks in India in their ongoing seemingly endless nationalistic conflict and providing sanctuary to Afghan insurgents.

The United States has poured millions of dollars each year into Pakistan in the hope of influencing its mindset, but we must be more rational in our approach to this potentially dangerous nuclear power. We must not act like a street bully, and most important we must stop calling diplomats, heads of state and nations in common derogatory street terms if we hope to be a leader in the free world. It is a worthwhile and important first step that we will withhold two billion dollars in security assistance and have proposed to place Pakistan on a terror financial watch. Will that make a difference?

Richard Allan

The Editor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary- The Escalating Dangerous Conflict Between Turkey and the United States.

In order to appreciate our present, very dangerous relationship with Turkey, it is important to understand its world history however briefly reviewed: The Ottomans Empire lasted a bit over 624 years (ending in 1923). If you were to visualize a map of the Mediterranean Sea with your anchor in present day Turkey and then create a backward letter “C” – moving west on the rim of its northern and southern shores you would begin to visualize its vast control of that part of the world. In essence, the “empire” was an assemblage of voluntary and captured countries. Admittedly, the Empire became one of the most powerful and controlling world powers in all history.

The Empire was very much pro German before the start of WWI. I would suggest you go back to see the marvelous movie: Lawrence of Arabia. It deals with another aspect of the area’s history during the same time-frame as Lawrence led a revolt of the Arab people against the Empire. When the United States entered WWI it declared hostilities against Germany. The Ottoman Empire in April 1917, then severed its diplomatic ties with the United States. It wasn’t until 10 years later, long after the secession of hostilities, that formal diplomatic relations were re-established with the Ottoman Empire’s successor, now the created independent nation state, Turkey. For reasons that are immaterial at his juncture, the United States never declared war against the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey’s place, this very day, is front and center on the United States’ military and political map. The complexities created by the waring parities, local and international, in Iraq, the Syrian civil war, the fight against ISIS and the Kurdish peoples demand for nation status, has created an ongoing volatile conflict worthy of a Shakespeare drama. In this geo-political arena, two long allies– Turkey and the United States– have collided and have escalated their collision on a daily basis as they represent, at the same moment, different, overlapping and in some cases violently competing military goals and parties. In addition, Turkey’s political structure has undergone profound political upheaval that complicates the areas security and our long standing relationship. The future does not present a good picture for our interest in that region of the world as our diplomacy with succeeding administrations has been less than successful. America’s voice in that region is but a feeble croak.

The time line of the United States and its present day confrontation with an ever increasingly anti-American hostile Turkey can start with the Cold War and the West’s confrontation with the swelling political, geographic and aggressive engagements of the Soviet Union. A reasonable marking date is 1974, with the advent of the Truman Doctrine. The United States Congress chose Turkey, among other nations, as the recipient of extraordinary economic and military aid, with the heating of the Cold War. The Truman Doctrine would be the foundation, with its immense financial assistance to help to create a major Turkish military force now attached to NATO and a strong, hardened army in the war against ISIS forces. It would become the basis upon which these two countries would build their relationship for the next four decades. It is also prudent to know that 2.5 billion dollars found its way into Istanbul in just one twenty year period, and help jolted Turkey’s shift toward massive democratic reforms in the election process, political representation and substantial social restructuring, until its recent swift and politically violent flipping of that Muslin nation. Its present stance while not altogether hostile is clearly strongly anti-American.

There were political and military actions that the United States undertook in Iraq that caused increasing strident outrages in Istanbul, but those headlines did not became the reason for its political transformation. Today, Turkey can be defined as a quasi-dictatorship.

Turkey has fought a long, costly insurgent war against the Kurdish people in general and the Kurdistan Worker Party (the PKK) in particular. The PKK is recognized by the EU and the United States as a terrorist group. But, and equally important, there is more than one Kurdistan group seeking its people’s independence. Turkey has been involved in an increasingly hostile war toward the Kurdish people in general and their demands. (Either as an independent Kurdish state within the borders of its destabilizing neighboring state or within its own national boundaries.)

Turkey’s turn away from democracy and its norms began with Erdogan’s grab for political power in mid-2016. He accused the U.S. Military Command of siding with the architects of a failed coup while Istanbul arrested certain Pentagon contacts in Turkey. With the crushing of the coup, there were deep mass arrests ordered by Erdogan not only up and down the ranks within the army but also in the judiciary and civil service. Istanbul then demanded the United States government extradite a Turkish cleric and national living in the States as the coup’s instigator. The United States government, in turn, demanded that Turkey produce the “evidence” that the cleric was in fact connected with the attempted coup. The Turkish controlled press followed, claiming that a United States general was behind the coup which was followed quickly by the American suspension “indefinitely” of all non-immigrant visas from Turkey with the traditional tic-for-tac suspensions by Turkey.

To complicate both the political clash and the war on the ground, during the ongoing Syrian Civil War, the United States forces have been openly allied with the Kurdish YPG fighters and have been supporting them with military and logistic help. Turkey considers these Kurdish fighters in the same light as the PKK, namely as terrorists and has told Washington they will attack those Kurds with the same force as those they employed against the PKK. It has been alleged, in current headlines, that the deadly nanpan has been deployed against civilians in the town of Azaz in northern Syria. This puts the United States and Turkey in direct military conflict.

In addition, in its lurch from a secular democratic nation state, Turkey has joined Qatar as the prime source of funding to speed the spread of extreme Islamism “everywhere from western Africa to Southeast Asia”.

The news reports describing the area’s conflict both politically and on the battlefield is Russia’s physical arrival in the area with its continued support of Syria’s Assad against United States’ interests in the region. This in turn will not only complicate the delicate state of our security interests but complicate the ground hostiles. It will then stall or even more than likely collapse any meaningful democratic move in Syria’s future and will permit yet another tyrant, Assad to remain in office.

Intertwined is the predictable direct military clash between United States and Turkish forces with Russia sitting at Istanbul’s side. Turkey, which looks less each day like a NATO ally, it is claimed consulted Moscow before attacking U.S. Kurdish allies in northern Syria and has obtained surface air-to air missiles from its sponsor the Russians.

The future of the Kurdish people and their lives as a people is in jeopardy. And their outcome can be reliably predicted by examining the United States’ previous behavior– it will leave unconscionably yet another weaker ally in the lurch, as we did with the Iraqi Kurds in Kirkuk, and now to abandon the Syrian Kurds as soon as it is expedient, advantageous, and politic for us. Why do we choose the strongest military ally however faulted and compromised instead of the appropriate one?

Richard Allan

The Editor