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Commentary— Turkey: Our Morality and National Security

 

In 2005, as I was flying into Istanbul, a dear friend, Joe Serio, was leaving after attending an international security conference. I remember his comment at the time: “I think things might change here.” How perceptive of today’s Turkey, as we are sitting in the viewing stands witnessing the slide into moral cowardice by a United States’ administration on two security fronts– internationally and at home. Both affect our national security. I will address the first.

This blog and its commentaries are concerned with our national security. Not to promote the idea of isolation as a means of self-protection from the violence surrounding us, but as part of our interaction with the rest of the world — from North Korea to ISIS to Afghanistan and onto any unrest that might have an impact on our lives. Today, Turkey is on the opposite end of a very long national strategic fence of international partners. The history of Turkey has turned increasingly and dramatically ugly within the last decade.

In 2005, when I arrived in Istanbul, this was a beautiful city of charm, great food, exciting architecture and artifices with a different sight and smell at every turn, and notwithstanding my friend’s comment, one felt no sensation of what was to become of this country. Today a geographic anomaly, Turkey is a mass of land that has one-half of this nation sitting in Asia and the other in Europe. The Bosporus, with its amazing bridge spanning both worlds, cuts the nation in half but does not affect its culture or intensity of daily life. Every day brought a different sense of this country from the phony rug salesmen to the kids running thru the streets delivering tiny cups of coffee to the stunning mosques. We slept in a monastery turned hotel, walked the spice markets, and could easily have extended our stay beyond that week but for a boat we had to catch on our way, eventually, to Athens.

Politically, Turkey was a secular country in the midst of a Muslim world. In 2001, the country’s Constitutional Court had the power to ban and to declare that a pro-Islamic political party was far too anti-secular. A stunning move, when we think of our own democratic process. Parenthetically, the following year Turkish men were no longer to be regarded, under the law, as head of the family. But at year’s end, the population went to the polls and gave the PK (Justice and Development Party) — an Islamic based political group — a sweeping victory. A stunning political change. Only to be followed by the newly elected pro-Islamic government ramming through a constitutional amendment that allowed the now infamous president, Eayyip Erdogan, to become its prime minister– although he had been barred from any public positon due to having a previous criminal record. We must remember that all through this period there is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighting for an autonomous, self-governing Kurdish state within Turkey, and at the same moment the country was seeking future EU membership. The seeking of EU membership is to be a long rocky road with EU concerns regarding Turkey’s human rights stance that have only worsened.

Between 2006 and 2007, Parliament rushes through anti-terror legislation that raises the EU’s concerns regarding civil rights issues, and EU then freezes Turkey’s membership application. At the same moment, toward the end of 2007, Turkey launches a number of air strikes against the Kurdish PKK movement, not in Turkey but inside Iraq. The political issues spiral down. By 2010 there is a poorly organized and executed coup, with hundreds of army officers arrested by Erdogan, that severely cripples the army’s internal power. By June of the following year Erdogan moves into his third year in office and takes control of the army. By 2013, mass anti-government protests are felt around the country because of the nature of the government’s non-democratic rigid and dictatorial methods of governance. The police respond to the protests with violence, and the Prime Minister, Erdogan, responds with dismissive distain. And protestors die. By the end of the year, the future can almost be predicted: The pro-Islamic Erdogan government fires police officials who seek to protect the population from government corruption. This, was followed by Erdogan being elected President of Turkey. The election is declared valid. The Islamic population has turned its back on secularism and in turn democracy.

Then, slowly, one can see the movement toward what can now be truly described as a dictatorship, with democracy to be hurriedly buried. Last year, the government placed Turkey’s largest opposition newspaper under state control, the prime minister was forced out by Erdogan in his continued grab of dictatorial power, thousands of soldiers (!) and judges (!) are imprisoned on mere suspicion of their possible involvement in the failed coup, and the government in order to prevent the dissemination of hard news, closed dozens of media channels and 16 TV channels. In July 2016, the President of Turkey accused two United States military commanders of siding with the coup plotter or being the masterminds behind the coup. In April of this year Erdogan has extended his powers.

Where the United States is today: A survey was conducted between mid-February and early May of this year and found that 72 percent of the Turkish citizens who participated in the survey see us –the United States– as a threat to their security, greater than that of Russia and China. That conclusion is obvious and reasonable because of the total eclipse and suppression of an open and free press in Turkey. The population is only permitted to read what the government selects. Our Secretary of State, under the moral leadership of our President, see tensions “in tone” between the two countries being reduced. How can we accept the notion that the negative tone between these two nations has been ratchetted down, and not upward, notwithstanding the arrest of thousands upon thousands of civilians on the pretext of their alleged involvement or support of the failed coup?

Turkey is a member of NATO—its military bases and air space of operation are utilized by US-Allied forces. Our alliance with them in NATO requires the United States to come to their aid if they are attacked. In addition, and this is a crucial point: Turkey is an “autocratic” government, and its recent passage of a constitutional referendum all but destroyed the remaining vestiges of their civil rights. This has made it mandatory for the EU to stop—and stop they did of all further considerations of Turkey’s admittance to EU.

Let’s be clear with regard to the EU; we are talking of “civil rights”, and an “autocratic” is despotic and tyrannical. Yet we look to Turkey as an NATO “ally”. The prevailing excuse for this relationship can only be the “expediency of war”. Why are we committed to the protection of a nation that violates the civil rights of its citizens and operates a repulsive, tyrannical administration?

Our nation can conduct whatever warfare necessary in the mid-East without the help or assistance of Turkey. We are large enough, strong enough and imaginative enough to undertake whatever is necessary to protect our national security interests anywhere in the world. Will it be more difficult without a Turkey in the equation: yes, but neither will it be impossible nor improbable.

Where are our commitments to international morality?

Shame on us.

Richard Allan,

The Editor

 

 

 

Commentary: Addendum-Afghanistan Why Are We Still There?

 

How the scene can change when different eyes exam the landscape. When politicians view a military operation, not only are expectations altered but wins and losses on the battlefield are measured by different criteria—often not at the cost of lives. Military personal access the cost of battle not thru the periscope of headlines but in the number of causalities, Most often “Politicians” never participate in the wars they have voted for nor the sending of their kin into battle.

The Afghanistan war is the longest war we have ever participated in, and as I have written just one month ago (Afghanistan—The Exit Door, July 6th 2017), at a tremendous cost to human lives and a trillion dollars of our taxes. We have succeeded at the goals initially set out for our military commanders, and yet we move forward—more troops more material. Why today: What United States’ national security is at risk in Afghanistan? Why today: What do we risk at home if we withdraw from this particular battlefield?

If the answer is withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan and not committing an additional 4000 military personal, Iran will fill the political and military vacuum we have created. If the answer is upon withdrawing our troops we will have encouraged, empowered and enabled the terrorist to regroup, strengthen and take their acts of horror abroad to our shore and those of our allies. If those are our reasons, then first we should engage more directly and forcefully with Iran’s duplicitous leaders. Second, if we are fearful of those who are hostile to us and are planning or engaged in undermining siting governments then we should be engaged in many more venues than Afghanistan.

Since July 6 of this year, when I proposed that it was time for us to withdraw from that field of battle, the following has and is transpiring—all “not good”.

What is Afghanistan—it is neither a secure nor stable nation but one run with an openly corrupt political system, and as noted by the Washington Post, the Taliban’s “return from the dead.” Afghanistan is not a pretty country, extremely poor, landlocked, highly dependent on farming and livestock, and the country flows in and out of severe droughts. Their population has now lived thru 10 years of Soviet military occupation and presently, a 16 year war involving the US and NATO. The question is why we are there and the answer is clear and it is not the threat of its exportation of terrorism. Second, if it is because of the threat of Iran’s intentions to fill the vacuum created by our departure and its support for the Taliban siege, then we should plan to be there for decades of boots on the ground and that is untenable.

Besides oil and gas, Afghanistan is estimated to have significant coal reserves (probable reserves of 400 million tons), and more important, and as President Trump keeps referring to, there are important non-identified mineral deposits “he would like to get his hands on”. Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential and important transfer route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes proposed multi-billion-dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan; clearly, these plans have now been thrown into serious question with the present level of violence. Trump’s predecessors also struggled with the mission of attempting to stabilizing that country and bringing U.S. troops home. Bringing the troops home were the operative words.

Bringing the troops home is NOT the present administrations’ goal. Nor do we have a political goal that has been articulated. To the contrary, at this moment, more troops are poised to be poured into that country and this administration, and the president has clearly indicated the desire to declare a “victory” to the Trump brand, and political base support. A political message is not in our national security interests. But there is more. At what cost?

A U.S. plan to improve Afghan intelligence operations was found to be a $457m failure, as was the Afghan’s ability to maintain its own security and stability. Although the President gave the Pentagon complete authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan (after his defense secretary, James Mattis, suggested the war was being lost) his complaints of a failure of military success are belied by his own failure to set a strategic and political ground plan. After the July, meeting there has been no declared policy or military strategy.

Then a NATO convoy was attacked in Kandahar. The attack caused serious casualties. It came as Afghan authorities in western Herat province tightened security, ahead of a mass funeral for the victims there of an attack the previous evening that killed 29. A suicide attacker opened fire inside a mosque packed with worshippers at evening prayers, before detonating his explosives. And American troops were killed either by Afghan soldiers or Taliban fighters.

In July, at a meeting in the White House, the President’s frustration was expressed–he voiced his negative attitude and hostility toward “experts” and his own military advisors. You might remember during one point in his campaign for the White House, he expressed his dismay with military commanders and our intelligence community: “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me!” The July White House meeting was a two hour top level meeting in the situation room in which these thoughts and others were expressed:

  • The President continued his complaint that our NATO allies have “not been helpful”.
  • How could the United States “get a piece” of Afghan’s mineral wealth.
  • He repeatedly insisted that our top commander in the region be fired.
  • The President also fumed that a decade ago China had purchased mineral rights in Afghanistan, which this country had supported, and has since been vigorously mining copper outside of Kabul. Why weren’t we in there “grabbing” the natural mineral resources —as China is earning trillions of dollars in rare minerals, while we fight their wars against the Taliban?
  • This is the mindset of the President’s remarks shortly after being inaugurated, when he complained that the U.S. “didn’t grab” Iraq’ oil when our military forces left that country in 2011.

The July the meeting over, the President, as our commander-in-chief, left without making any decision regarding our nation’s political or military strategy. At this moment the United States has no policy plan for our place in Afghanistan. It left those that had participated in the meeting “unnerved”.

The fact is that you cannot win every confrontation that faces our nation, even if you are the United States. That is reality. We were forced out of Vietnam and our national security has not been affected. Then there is the reality that some nation states are not at this moment capable of entering into the 21 century, and the United States cannot force their democratic development in an arbitrary timetable. There is the reality that “grabbing” the natural resources of counties incapable of maintaining their own security is a form of colonialism—not national security.

There are realities and there are hopes. The reality is that Afghanistan is not crucial to our national security; the reality is that Iran is crucial to our national security; the reality is that there is an unacceptable conflict between what is necessary for the United States national security and a public relations tweet of “victory” or the “grabbing” of the natural resources of others.

Being in Afghanistan is not in the United States security interest. Confronting Iran is.

Richard Allan

The Editor

 

Commentary – Wanda: “And Fade Out”

It is always interesting, after writing one of my commentaries to see the follow up within weeks and months as the landscape is changing.

Dalian Wanda, a privately held corporation, has gone under an enormous change after I wrote (China’s Trojan Horse in Your Neighborhood—11/14/16) of its massive financial invasion and attempted takeover of American cinema facilities. Wanda’s goal was the morphing from a real estate developer to an entertainment and tourism major world player. His aim was to become the dominant world player with his acquisitions of American cinema chains and production companies. It is that goal that drove his overseas spending binge.

First, there was an outcry from Congress, but that seemed to go nowhere. Then, as one commentator said, the rug was pulled out from beneath Wanda by the Chinese government itself. The question is why? Wanda is headed by the second richest man in China, Mr.Wang. Why would his own government react as they did?

Mr. Wang, who owns Wanda, is held to be one of China’s wealthiest individuals, with a fortune that sits close to $31.4 billion. He is also ranked 18th in the world by Forbes. In China that is a singular achievement. All this achieved in what can be characterized as a country with an enormous bureaucratic government and intense social and economic control — it is China. So what happened? Did Congressional outcry set up a second look by the Chinese government? I doubt it. Was it extraterritorial spending too much of Chinese wealth being utilized outside his own country instead of internal investments? Or simply in the vernacular — was he getting too big for his britches for a very controlling government. He was clearly violating his nation’s investment law, but, none-the-less, he was permitted to continue his overseas investments without interference by his own government.

Then it all seemed to fall apart. His real estate empire is a mere fraction of what it was. You might remember last year, when he visited Hollywood and bragged that Wanda would soon beat Hollywood at its own game, and with the carrot and stick promised generous rewards to those who would work with him. At this moment, at least four of the entertainment deals, including the $3.5 billion purchase of Legendary Entertainment, have already closed. But, and that is a big “but”, the Chinese government’s ban appears to prohibit loans even to those units for day-to-day operations or for restructuring.

At his point, the Chinese Government has played a very open hand, and it was a long time in coming—all to the benefit of the United States. The Chinese government has directed its banks to loan him no more money, even if it means he will default on his overextended investments. As in the movies, in time, he will “fade from the scene” and I predict he will sell off his stakes in Hollywood. From a security point of view: that is very good news.

Richard Allan,

Editor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary—Afghanistan—The Exit Door?

 Every once in while it is a good idea to stop for a moment and look at a world map. I found myself away from my daily anchor — home and my desk top computer, and the volume control on the television set in the home I was visiting was broken. For a long moment, this all produced a senior moment seizure– I lost my internal vision of a world map. In particular, I lost those counties in the world where there is the constant drone of violence. It was a very uncomfortable senior blank page.

What I was trying to do, because of a three sentence news spike I had overheard, was to have a clear, arm’s length view of Afghanistan, and its unending cascade of violence. It is there that American boots have been mired in its mud for far too long. What triggered my thinking was I had just learned that an Afghan had infiltrated an army camp and opened deadly fire on American troops.

Over the years, our government has attached different –supposedly catchy phase names — to the various groups of our soldiers sent to that and other countries. I immediately ignore them as being inane, mindless and really not inspiring. They are not and do not change the real facts on the ground. U. S. soldiers have just been killed by enemy fire within a supposed safe military compound.

By taking command of an I-pad, I was able to look back at our long history in Afghanistan. What became vivid was last 320 months of our presence there. That number – 320 months translates into 15 years — stood out in bold letters. I was stunned. To put that number in perspective: a child of 10 at the start of that war would now be an adult of 25.

Forty plus years before our 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, this then not very know nation, began its slide into chaos beginning initially with civil wars, then a political vacuum filled by our Cold War enemy the Soviet Union (who was then defeated on the battlefield), along with our own international indecisiveness and political nativity and finally our headlong rush into a black-pit-no-exit war. A war that now enters its 16th year.

“War” by definition means death.

Our present administration has abdicated its decision making process to the generals and admirals with regard to the scope and dimensions of our involvement in this war, and not our civilian leaders who have always been the historical-constitutional designated leaders of this nation, As with all our military decisions today, the Commander-in-Chief has delegated this responsibility.

In 2001, on the front page of every newspaper and magazine, was pictured a recognizable thin, bearded man in white flowing garb, always holding an assault rifle.  Osama bin Laden. It was in April of 2001 that our then president spoke to the nation and told us that we had demanded that the Taliban, in Afghanistan, extradite Osama bin Laden and oust the al-Qaeda from their nation. All the requests were denied, and the US then launched, on October 7, 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom with the UK at our side. We went to war to save the Afghan people.

Ten years later Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Three years later (2012), NATO finally devised an exit “strategy” (not withdrawal) from Afghanistan with the Americans announcing, in 2014, that its major combat involvement would cease at that year’s end. But! In early 2017, we have 8,400 American troops that remain in that war torn nation as “military advisors” for counterterrorism operations. Unofficially, the number of our troops stationed there is closer to 10,000. And, as I write this commentary, the US has announced deployment of 1,500 troops from Fort Brag this week, with an additional 3 to 5 thousand troops sent in the months ahead to shore up our military position. The Pentagon announcement also indicated that the troops deployed will be stationed closer to the fighting zones, as the fourth combat fatality this years was confirmed by the Pentagon. Reason, more boots on the ground forces are needed to carry out more strike missions. This new turn of events comes on the heels that ISIS has declared war on the Taliban. All this without any “formal plan” for the US to leave Afghanistan.

 Operation Enduring Freedom has cost America 2,346 lives on the battle field and 20,092 with injuries that will not fade with time. The cost in dollars in relationship to lives is a meaningless calculation. General Nicholson, the commander of the “Resolute Support and US Forces”, views the battle field, at this moment, a “stalemate”. Why do we remain there?

According to the US commander of our forces in Afghanistan, there are about 800 ISIS solders holding out in the southern part of the country that are waging “a barbaric campaign of death, torture and violence” against the Afghan people.

Let us be very clear, our being in Afghanistan is not in any sense similar to our assisting the governments of France or England in their fight against the terrorism of ISIS in those countries. Afghanistan can best be described as a largely illiterate, feudal nation of competing tribes with pockets of Islamist militants and no real central government as we understand that concept. The reality on the ground is with ben Laden dead, Al-Qaeda has moved to other countries for its safe haven, and it is the Taliban who now controls more territory, as I look at the map, than it had before our invasion.

The American people have spent 800 billion dollars on that—the longest war in American history. And we have been unable, because we are incapable of building a central government from a country of competing tribes. Around the world there are ISIS strongholds of men and women willing and capable of committing themselves and their bodies to their cause. Does that mean, with our generals in Washington now in command, we are to engage in an armed struggle with each of those separately staged ISIS groups? I think not. If we leave now the terrorist will regroup and attack? This argument is true around the world, and that cannot be a reason for us to say in that unstable nation.

Our initial thrust for the 2001 invasion was to be rid of ben Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and that was accomplished.

So why are we still there? We “won”. Didn’t we?

Richard Allan,

The Editor

Commentary: Cultural Correctness and National Security

    Outside of the law school, where I taught for many decades, each morning there was one of those short aluminum food carts that sold the right type of softy bagels and large containers of great tasting coffee. I would buy my fix as I entered the building early each day of my work life.  Now, today in retrospect, I should not have bought my bagel from him. Nor the coffee.

Why, you ask? My reasoning today is that I should have mounted a protest and picketed his stand until I drove him into oblivion.  How dare he sell bagels, let alone good Columbian roasted coffee?  Was he welcoming each morning? Was he polite to my sleepy mumblings? Were his prices appropriate? Did I get the right change each morning? Yes, yes and yes.

So why my seemingly incoherent and inappropriate rant?  My tongue-in-cheek answer is: “He was from Egypt!—Look at him– He is an Arab.  Racist! “– you say! Me? A racist? And why these thoughts in a Commentary devoted to security and counterterrorism issues. Obviously, how we view and treat our neighbor is part of our national security, and we presently are witnessing the rise of what I view is a dangerous “Portland” syndrome: a clash between cultural correctness and National security. Let me explain.

We live in a dangerous world. And that danger grows exponentially. “Manchesters” are akin to wildfires. Where next? How to respond? How do I protect my family? Must I point a finger of blame? Should I point a finger of blame? There is a group of American billionaires who have purchased tracts of deserted land and abandoned military missile silos only to spend millions of dollars more to transform them into homes—self-contained shelters—so that when disaster strikes this country, they will be safe and secure.   I live in a high rise apartment building, and periodically our children council us to have gallon jugs of water on hand– “just in case”. Just in case of what? And all they do is roll their eyes at me.

Now, in Portland they understand what diversity means. Portland would like you to revert to segregation. Maybe that’s an overstatement. What a group of socially misguided so called activists believe and have been able to enforce (pathetic) is that white people should cook white food and only those with an appropriate cultural-DNA attachment can be allowed to cook food of their “ own culture”. Two white women set out to learn how to cook the best Mexican food possible. They picked the brains of as many Mexican women who would talk to them. And in time they assembled what they believed to be the best of the best of Mexican cooking. Then the cultural food Gestapo stepped in and closed them down. They were co-opting the culture of others and for profit, no less! They were white; white people do not cook Mexican food for public consumption.

Both sides of my ancestral chain come from the Ukraine and both sides cook an eastern European “Jewish” pot-roast. Trust me, they don’t cook it the same way in Naples. My wife can trace her linage to the 1400s, and they never made pot-roast from the Ukraine. My wife’s pot roast, learned at my Ukraine mother’s side, leaves my mother’s version in the dust. Why—my wife took the recipe (and I am keeping that secret) one step further.

I fear now that the Portland food segregators will descend upon our New York City apartment and demand my wife stop cooking her pot roast. I fear now that what MLK fought for, what all civil rights activists died for, is being buried in regression. We condemn white police for shooting black people. We demand more integration in our local law enforcement, greater education, greater understanding of the culture of others so that we can understand and accept the norms of others. Understand: This is all part of national security. Nothing less. The further away we push our neighbor, the less secure we are.

I spend most of my waking day reading and researching issue that I believe is necessary for us to understand the world we inhabit. The word “world” has different definitions for me depending upon the context of their use. “World” could be the apartment house where I live, or a city, or even the globe we spin on our desk. “World” can also be a neighborhood and, this is where I return to my “bagel guy”.

Trump doesn’t want to let the “bad dudes” in, ICE wants to throw everybody out, sanctuary cities want to let everyone hide– and then there is me.

The thing I love about my country is I don’t have to travel too far to see and feel and –most important – eat all things that are found in some faraway-distant land. It’s all here; we can all participate; we can even try to make some of these foreign “things” ourselves.

Think about it~~ these opportunities strengthen our security not diminish it. How marvelous it is that we can have at one moment both the commingled and separated segments of the lives’ of others absorbed in all aspects of our own daily life. This cultural embrace not only enriches us but binds us together, providing not only a perceived ‘sense’ of secure but real fact-based security. It is called–National Security.

Richard Allan,

The Editor

 

 

 

Commentary: Coming To Your Neighborhood — ISIS

Today it is hard to keep up with the headlines and to form rational responses. Though neither you nor I are making decisions that will affect our government; we are seeking information to regulate our emotions and intellectual responses to events as they unfold. Do we moan, do we cheer; do we reach out to text? Do we rant on Facebook? And in the midst of the United States’ political-constitutional-tornado there is international violence. ISIS is high on that list.

As you turn to any map of the turmoil created by ISIS, the very first thing you will notice is that on the ground their control has diminished and continues to do so drastically. Yet their attacks and battles rage on—on two fronts, as I will later discuss. A year ago it was reported that ISIS had lost at least three Syrian cities and towns within a short six weeks. That trend has escalated. On the ground, nearly three years after the resurrection of its caliphate, the Islamic state is on the cusp of complete dislodgment from Iraq, and in Syria its remaining centers are faced with imminent destruction. But, please, do not stand and cheer. The dangers they pose are not over, not by “a long shot”.

It is important to remember how ISIS morphed into the power it exerts. It did not merely create itself one day when a couple of jihadists decided they needed a vehicle to attack all non-believers. History teaches us (if we listen) that with the demise of one terrorist group, there is so often a small number within the embattled group that decides it must fight on. Or within a movement there is a divergence of views, and one segment decides it must go “its own way”. Their “cause is too important”, the dying group was “mismanaged”, or their focus was “misdirected”. Find a reason and you will find the creation of a terrorist group in a different form and, in many instances, more deadly.

For ISIS it began in late 1999, and became more deadly than al-Qaeda. In an excellent 2014 article written by Aaron Y. Zelin for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: “The war between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement”, we are introduced in great detail to the social, economic and educational backgrounds of both groups. Although they ultimately become fierce competitors in their war of terrorism, my conclusion is that they are really two ends of the same stick: Destroy those who do not “believe”. Who is ISIS– initially they were called the J Amaat al-Tawhid WA-i-Jihad (JTWT) who in late 1999 were the forerunners who command today’s headlines.

We have all seen the words: Caliphate and Caliph. In Arabic Caliphate means “succession” and, as an institution, it came into being upon the death of the prophet Muhammad. The “succession”, or who was to succeed the prophet Muhammad was the issue that split the Arab world between the Sunni and Shias. The nasty politics of control. One writer has said that ISIS is a “charter member of al Qaeda in Iraq”. Another writer has called ISIS a franchise of al-Qaeda. Not quite true. Two very different men, with very different social and educational backgrounds, were pressed to create groups propelled by violence and vision with the same goal: destruction of the non-believers. The caliph embodies both a political and religious leader and, it is he who becomes the successor (caliph) to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Once appointed, his power and authority is absolute.

Although I am sure that President Trump in the months ahead will claim credit for the demise of ISIS, it was military operations planned and placed into execution during the Obama era that started its destruction. And while ISIS may be described as terminally ill in Iraq and Syria, please let us not celebrate too soon.

Visualize this: the antlers of deer have the amazing ability to grow back, and this is one of the most extreme examples of regeneration. With ISIS, although they may be in the process of defeat on the ground, they will and have already regrown their “antlers” (far beyond Iraq and Syria), and evidence of that has been its attacks in Europe. Think of an octopus whose bulbous body has been killed but whose severed tentacles live on as separate deadly arms. Think last night in Manchester, England

John Esposito, a professor of religion and international affairs, correctly noted that the caliph, as the successor to the prophet, is the head of the early transnational Islamic empire. The word “transnational” has important significance– it reflects that the Caliphate and Caliph transcend national boundaries and are supreme throughout the world—they govern by erasing national boundaries. Do not doubt for a moment that ISIS does not have exit plans in either Iraq or Syria and will carry their movement through its franchises and believers in Europe and, at some moment in the not distant future, here in the United States. They have already demonstrated that ability and their terror. Manchester, England. To conclude otherwise is sheer folly.

As I was about to review my initial draft of this Commentary, two things occurred. First, I came across a must read article  posted on- line in Politico magazine written by Bayan Bender ( Letter from Israel –5.22.17) and, second, as I finished rereading Mr. Bender’s conclusions, my screen flashed the initial reports of the Manchester bombing . I felt as if I was reliving the horrors of the Paris attacks in 2015.  I became more convinced of my initial thoughts and expanded my conclusions.

The “transnational” component of ISIS and the Caliphate in particular is not understood by most: the extent of its mission. Its mission reaches far beyond the Mideast. Each attack outside the Mid East is not a mere thrust to test either its own capabilities far from home or our resolve or our ability to resist its movement. Second, understanding the transnational aspect of ISIS and its caliphate is fundamental to our combating its force and presence. ISIS, notwithstanding its loss on the battlefield, is in the process of weaving is presence into the very frabric of our daily life and is doing so with the force of each explosion. Do you go or allow your child to go to that concert? Do you spend an afternoon in Trafalgar Square? Do you walk the Boulevard St. Germaine in Paris? And at the very same moment how do we plan our next moves? Fear, it is claimed, allows ISIS to win. But bombings and death are real.

Upon rereading Mr. Bender’s article in Politico, my focus has shifted a bit. Both the Trump and Obama administrations have been myopic and appear to be able to focus on one threat-object at a time and fail to understand the entire peril we, as individuals and nation, face. Iran is a formidable enemy—nothing less. Its capabilities and influence overshadow that of North Korea. Iran should be more than in our vocal condemnation of its action but also in our gun sights. Iran’s present and future plans clearly evidence their ever present involvement in the violence in the Mid East. They are a major player in the chaos in that part of the world. At the very same moment, we should be planning our engagement in Syria and Iraq with a greater understating of the combination of fighting forces in those war-torn countries. Mr. Bender writes: “the United States has failed to understand the competing interests and constantly shifting alliances among what the IDF estimates are between 400 and 500 different groups fighting in the Syrian civil war—including underestimating the level of local support ISIS actually has. Take Mosul, for example. Mosul is a million-citizen city and the largest estimate said [there were] 8,000 militants. You can’t control a million-people city with 8,000 people if you don’t have some support within the population.”

This is a powerful indictment of what we do not understand in the terrorist we face today. Which threat is the more potentially deadly for us as a nation and individuals? Mr. Bender writes that the Israelis believe it to be Iran. We should allow, they claim, ISIS and al-Qaeda to destroy each other in their fierce competition for domination. But then we must recognize that Israel has more to fear from Iran than ISIS or al-Qaida. We, though, live thousands of miles away from Iran’s weapons, and we do not have the internal security systems in place as does Jerusalem. We need to stop both the bombastic, uncontrollable language pouring out of the White House and the escalation of forces and, stop for a moment and to reassess what is actually happening and the interplay of the various tribes on the ground in Syria and Iraq. Could we be competing with ourselves?

There are some 12,000 ISIS foot soldiers that remain in the Mid-East. How many of them have made their way to the European continent? How many of them have crossed the boarders from rural areas in Canada and live quietly in the United States? How many of them are men and women who were born and raised in the United States but who have an affinity to their cause? How many have become motivated to carry that belief, to wear vests of bombs or fill their pickup truck with bombs and drive through Times Square, or deliver saran gas to the subway lines of New York or attend a concert at Madison Square Garden or any other city with a congested area of “just people” ? And the answer is not how many of these persons do in fact exist, because it does not take too many to create deadly havoc. One man, some help and with one vest, Manchester, England. Where Tomorrow?

So by the end of this year, when it is announced, by whoever is president of the United Sates, that ISIS has been defeated, keep two things in mind: However defeated they may be on the battle field now raging in the Mid-East, they are far from defeated in the death and destruction they are capable of inflicting here at home. And, second, please let us not ever forget in the 21st Century: terrorism is and will be a fact of life for us and generations to come.

Richard Allan,

The Editor

 

 

 

 

Commentary–A Moral Response to Violence

Arab Spring: In December 2010 it all began. But the scenes that remain vivid in my mind begin in January 2011 and Tahir Square, Egypt when the wave of Arab Spring came into my home via CNN on an hourly basis. As the Arab Spring movement grew across northern Africa and Middle East, the Syrians rose up on March 15th against their minority masters– one of the many in the Middle East. The man at the center in Syria had the right DNA as a dictator-president. Medically trained Bashar Hafez al-Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad before him have ruled Syria with an iron fist and cold heart.

Politics in the Middle East had finally exploded. The political will of the majority across northern Africa and the Middle East was grabbing for its part of the political pot. Arab Spring protesters were met in many cases by a violent governmental response. In Syria it became a “civil war”, in Egypt there was a “coup”, then there was the Libyan and Yemen “crisis”. In these movements there was a call for a new form of government and recognition of rights. And that power struggle continues.   In Syria, as I write this commentary, the fighting has gone on for more than six years with over four hundred thousand dead and counting and untold numbers in the millions seeking shelter however and wherever it may be found. Some found floating dead at sea.

In Syria, the dictator Assad emulates his father’s core philosophy: you meet a demand for a voice at the ballot box by the force of a bullet. Clearly, Assad could not win at the ballot box if he had been open to the idea of a referendum, and so he would try to murder his way to control and his sense of “victory”. His simple plan to victory became politically and strategically complex for the United States.

It started in July 2011; defectors from Assad’s regime formed an organized militia called the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to protect protesters and strike back at Assad. By January 2012, the Syrian “uprising” had disintegrated and fragmented into a full-blown civil war pitting the FSA and other assorted rebel groups against Assad and his supporters. It is the “assorted rebel groups” and Assad’s supporters that make this war both a humanitarian blood bath and an international nightmare. Today, The United States is in the middle of this conflict facing its modern historical enemy: Russia. How we got here starts much earlier than the Arab Spring.

In 1980, Iran was using its deep financial resources to further not only its regional control and power but also to destroy Israel. To accomplish its objective it needed to supply its proxies Hezbollah (in Lebanon to control that troubled government and gain control of its common border with Israel in the south) and Hamas (in Gaza bordering in the southwest corner of Israel) with its military and financial needs. To further accomplish this object Iran needed a transfer point for all of this aid. Syria would be that transfer vehicle for conveying whatever military needs and supplies its proxy militias/allies –Hezbollah and Hamas –might require. Assad, in return for his help, would receive enormous military and political largess from Iran. Iran became the Assad’s regime benefactor. Then things changed; the minority population in Syria began their demands. A revolt in Syria is a revolt against Assad, and that clearly would upend Iran’s grand plans for the region. The logical result was that Iran sent Hezbollah to fight alongside of Assad against the rebels. Thus, the beginning of a maze of interventions on both sides.

In early 2013, the Arab League gave its member organizations permission to arm the Syrian rebels; in May of 2013, Qatar alone provided 3 billion dollars in aid to the rebel forces. The rebel pushback against Assad then became a “proxy war” between Iran and Assad on one side against those Gulf states that sided with the United States’ interests. By simple extension, the   “proxy war” morphed into a conflict between Russia, who had financed and in fact built the Syrian army in the 1960s, and the United States.

We have witnessed thousands of airstrikes with American pilots along with United States Special Forces on the ground to accomplish cutting the supply lines to ISIS and to assist the Kurdish army in its fight with ISIS. Notwithstanding the disabling politics (the number of assorted supporters fighting for each side requires a complex chart to understand the dynamics of the situation) and the airstrikes, the on-the- ground reality is that the rebels are far from toppling Assad’s regime. In truth, the rebels could be in crises mode. A major rebel stronghold fell to Assad, and although they are not at the precipice of defeat, they are a long way from any victory against the dictator’s hold on his country.

Then there was a sarin gas attack and a United States’ response– April 4th gas attack by Assad and Trump’s one-shot Tomahawk response against a Syrian military airport. Has anything changed? The short answer is: No. Don’t forget Assad has used Sarin gas in the past against his people. Has it changed Trump’s tweeting tone regarding Moscow? Yes. Does it really matter in the scheme of things, and remember Trump’s reasons for authorizing the air strike are totally irrelevant.   The pressing question is – Was the strike permissible under our laws and morally responsible?

I will leave the constitutional questions of a single air strike to others more qualified than I to discuss that issue. I am more concerned with those who now condemn the strike as involving us in a battle not on our own lawn. And these very vocal people are on both the left and right of the political spectrum.

Many years ago, I was visiting a friend in a high-rise in Manhattan, and in looking out his window across a one block construction site I noticed what appeared to be a Christmas tree on fire in an apartment two blocks away. I called the fire department, and within seconds I could hear the sirens of the fire engines. It took another three seconds to realize that what I was seeing was a reflection in the apartment window of a Christmas tree on fire in the construction site. The fire department told me that I had done the right thing. The “right thing”. Not what was legally right but what was morally right. It was the responsible thing to do, even though it was not my apartment on fire, not the building I was in at the moment, not my life in danger. I thought there was a fire.

I have never been to Syria, I know no one from that country, and I buy no items made in Syria. I can argue either way that what happens in Syria has no effect on my life in Manhattan. It is not a fire on the next block in New York. The issues are more complex, but the logic remains. One person—a stranger to me — is using an illegal weapon causing horrendous death and injury against another—also a person I do not know. The question is: do I, should I, must I intervene in some manner, or do I just “mind my own business”, and walk away. Animals kill for food. Human beings kill for territory and hate. Neither reason is acceptable. Nor is it acceptable to walk away.

In the late 1930s, the world walked away, and in doing so millions of people died that need not have. The world was a moral coward. American, until it was attacked, did little if anything. Had it acted morally, and when Hitler’s message was clear and unambiguous, cities would not have been left in ruins, millions of people would not have been displaced across the globe, and millions whose lives were destroyed would have lived. The question is not how you could possibly permit Assad to gas his own people. The question is how do you allow anyone to gas anyone else, anywhere in the world? The answer is: You don’t. Period.

Richard Allan

The Editor

 

 

 

 

Commentary—When Enough is Enough—Our Military Needs in Combat

We need more funding for education in the United States, not less. The arts are at the foundation of our soul and need financial support from our Government, not less. There are diseases that will only be conquered with more financial support from our Government, not less. And diplomacy is the string that connects the world. And you can, at this point, add your own items of concern to the list that need the government’s financial attention. The President wants to slash all non-military expenditures in favor of building up an armed America. Part of that is wrong; the other part needs examination.

Notwithstanding Trumps attempt to set a new tone with Russia, history has taught us that men like Putin are not on the same wavelength as democratic philosophies, ideas and values. Putin will wait for the most opportune moment to strike a blow to our wellbeing both domestically and internationally. To think otherwise is to be naïve. Russia is not our friend; has never been. Russia is not our partner on the world stage. And I am not a hawk.

I do believe in being prepared to meet all challenges both domestically and abroad. Whether that challenge is an unknown disease from Africa or a military strike from a potential adversary.

This bring me to a security issue without a political agenda…namely without embracing President Trumps’ unhinged military and world view. How prepared is the United States’ military to defend (notice I used the word: defend—not the grabbing of oil fields that do not belong to the U.S.) American interests domestically and abroad? “I’m signing an executive action to begin a great rebuilding of the armed services of the United States, developing a plan for new planes, new ships, new resources and new tools for our men and women in uniform, and I’m very proud to be doing that,”

The scrutiny must lie in the assessment of each branch of our military, separately. This examination is not how well there is integration of our military services but to examine each component of the whole. My thought is: you are as strong as your weakest link. The same is true of our military.

The “U.S. Armed Forces” consists of the five armed service branches: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy. There are two general categories of military people: active duty (full-time soldiers and sailors) and reserve & guard forces (usually work a civilian job, but can be called to full-time military duty), The President of the United States is the Commander in Chief, who is responsible for all final decisions concerning our armed services. The Secretary of the Department of Defense (DoD) has control, subject to the President’s approval, over each branch of the military – except the Coast Guard, which is under the helm of the Department of Homeland Security. And, what I never realized until writing this piece, is that with over 2 million civilian and military employees, the DoD is the world’s largest “company.”

The Navy: The Navy measures its strength or capacity to undertake a mission interestingly enough not by the number of sailors but by counting the number of ships—“the fleet”. On reflection it is clear and most importantly, in assessing the necessities for the Navy we just do not merely count ships because the obvious is that “not all ships are counted equally”. The Navy focuses mainly on the size of its “battle force,” which is composed of ships considered to be directly related to its combat missions. Fascinating is the reality that when you examine “where the fleet is normally stationed at any given moment”, the majority of our ships (not sailors) are at anchor in the continental U.S. (CONUS) to undergo routine maintenance. This time at home also provides the navy time for training and to provide for time at home for their crews.

However, given the reality of our present needs and that of our national security, there requires our core naval power to be at their stations in regions around the world. This requires that the navy have as many ships forward at sea/deployed as possible, and creates a delicate balance in its operational demands (getting the ships in fighting readiness and sailor with “shore leave”) and the necessity of forward command posts.

The Navy, not the President, presently assess its readiness as it pertains to providing global presence as “strong. Namely, to maintain its ability to forward deploy a third of its fleet and “stave off immediate readiness challenges”. And there is the crux of the dilemma— without further recapitalization and without more hulls entering the fleet, this level of readiness cannot be sustained.

We do not need a Navy to take on the world at the expense of all else. But we do need a Navy, when we view what appears to be an ongoing upward trend of military engagement around the world, to have an increase in a “capacity or readiness funding”. If not, the Navy’s overall score could degrade in the near future. Trump told an audience that our Navy is now “the smallest it’s been since World War I.” This is a misleading statement. The U.S. Navy may be smaller than it has been for 100 years, but its power — relative to the navies of the rest of the world — is still enormous, even after being worn down by the past decade and a half of constant engagement in conflicts.

The Army: In March of 2016, top U.S. military leaders warned Congress that years of combat combined with budget cuts and personnel reductions have left the Services stretched so thin that they may not be able to adequately respond to an unexpected crisis.  The admissions take place amidst growing uncertainty about a constrained defense budget and increasing global instability. That was a year ago.

The Marines–The Marines have informed a congressional committee that if they were called upon today to respond to an unexpected crisis, they might not be ready to deter a potential major conflict and could incur more casualties because of their short fall in preparedness. “I worry about the capability and the capacity to win in a major fight somewhere else right now,” the marines reported, citing a lack of training and equipment. To further complicate their preparedness, the Marines are most risk because of fewer training opportunities with their best equipment which has been deployed with their forces overseas. The picture doesn’t get better when it was revealed, in their report to Congress, that their communication, intelligence and aviation units are the hardest hit at the same moment that roughly 80 percent of Marine aviation units lack the amount of ready aircraft that they need for training and to respond to an emergency.

The Airforce has a different spin on its readiness: They do not discount the need for additional funds—“money is helpful for readiness”, but it is the number of men and women who fill their ranks that provides the “worrisome” issue in their equation. And because the Airforce personal is stretched so thin that Air Force describes itself as “so small”, caused by the extended deployment of troops and the lack of material to execute the necessary training. This is especially true as new equipment is placed on the flight line. The Secretary of the Airforce said just one year ago “if you go into a high-end conflict with a great power and you’re not sufficiently ready, history teaches me, you lose more lives and it’s a prolonged conflict. And it’s very worrisome.”

When you look at the armed services as a whole, it is the Navy that has a more unique role in our national defense. The peace-time Army and Marines have a much smaller contained role in peacetime. We do not need either the Army or the Marines to be stationed or present—a show of force– in many parts of the world. The Navy’s role in peacetime is to be “present” around the globe, and that is the driving force behind the idea of “ship counting”. But during conflict, the navy must be—the expectation—is to be able to fight and win. In this sense, ship counting is not the benchmark. What is necessary is strike groups of carriers, amphibious ships, submarines and support ships that are necessary to ensure success.

What is a given in any discussion, at a time when entities come with hat-in-hand looking for funds to satisfy their own budget demands, is some puffing and hand-wringing in an attempt to increase the urgency of their burdens. Taking the previous sentence as true and reviewing the demands of our armed forces, the picture that they paint does not require or demand that we discount their needs with a slashing sword. Their requests are modest when placed against the framework proposed by President Trump.

No President within my memory or research, who sought funds for massive military expenditure, did so at the expense of our non-military, national or international commitments. The framework of Trumps budget envisions massive cuts across the government’s civilian spending while increasing spending on the military by an additional 10 percent or 54 billion additional dollars. What is hard fact at this moment is that this country spends more on its military then the next seven largest military complexes combined.

Trumps budgetary demands make no sense. They make no sense militarily. They make no sense when reviewing the protection necessary for all of the other needs of our society. This makes no sense in defining the position of the United States as a leading world power. And by itself, his military budget demands will not “Make America Great Again”. To contrary, they will weaken our internal social structure and fracture our international relations.

We must have enough troops of all description. We must have enough equipment of all description to support the military at war. We must have enough ships to permit us to win any conflict–anywhere. We are not and should not be a military empire.

Richard Allan

The Editor

 

 

 

Commentary: Freedom of the Press, National Security and the Right to Know

Although the great Barnum and Bailey Circus is folding its tents, American politics under our new President is opening its and I fear for our society—at least the lions at the circus were in cages. Please, let me explain.

The press, and I am referring to both the newsprint and electronic mode of expression, in the United States is under attack, and at the same moment we are all aware that our national security has been and is under attack. There is an additional impediment to our daily living and there is developing disconnect in our daily language between truth, lies and distortion. There is a distinction unless, of course, you are George Costanza who aptly told Jerry Seinfeld: “it’s not a lie if you believe it.” The issue today is the press, its place in our daily lives and its impact on national security.

The press has a twofold mission; to inform us of the facts and to have a place where people may discuss their opinions. Nothing new in that thought but it bears repetition.

The press has always been a vital instrument in American history and its development as a strong and lasting democratic society. As a matter of law, the press cannot be censored by the government. And yet the press is subject to libel laws for infringement upon individual truth. All else is fair game “but for” the rules of common decency.

For myself and my education and to find insight and overview in the thinking process, I read the foreign press, and foreign opinion magazines such as Prospect from the UK and the newspapers of record in the United States.

With the presidential election, I find we have we have three types of politically oriented people in the U.S.: the Democrat and two types of Republican. The first type of Republican who in any conversation listens, discuss and doesn’t call either you or the press liars when they disagree. The other type of Republican, doesn’t know or care how to enter into a civil conversation, and finds his or her facts in an alternative means of information gathering and employs an alternative use of the English language. I have one such Republican friend and relative on each side of that equation. Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief White House strategist, has just told the press “to shut up”. And Kellyann Conway said that calling out President Trump’s lies is –“Dangerous to the democracy.”

Actually, there is a fourth type of person in this country: the person who believes that he or she is above it all, who disdains all, who thinks they have no choices worthy of their most vaulted vote. So they sit back, do not vote and then complain when their secret choice is not victorious. A Republican member of Congress has informed us that it is probably “better to get your news directly from the President. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” And, the silencing of the press continues with the Trump administration mandating that any studies or data from scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency undergo review by political appointees before they can be released to the public. Political review of data from scientists, not scientific review, and not objective review before any data is shared with the public. Why?

My charge today is not to argue a brief on the historic heritage of freedom of the press. I never taught a constitutional law class, and only litigated one major constitutional issue in all my years of practice. My fear…not concern…my fear is for our security and that our national security is in jeopardy when the press cannot report to us what they see, what they learned, who is manipulating our lives and facts so that our physical well-being is placed on a dangerous path.

Because we are a nation in jeopardy—the terrorist cares less of our democratic process– it is crucial that the press has the access that makes news gathering and reporting transparent so that we – the people who ride the subway—are fully informed. There is a trite saying: if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. That is true when it comes to whom we trust with our security, how they function and what are their motives. In the end it is our lives. The secret service does not protect me, nor does it protect you.

Today our security is being placed in jeopardy in more than one area of our lives. Not merely the potential bomb on the truck or subway. The NATO Secretary General warns of a sharp increase in cyber-attacks against our military alliances that will have profound effect if fully effective and that will breach into our daily lives. It doesn’t end at the military front. He announced that in ” the latest evaluations, there was a monthly average of 500 threatening cyber-attacks last year against NATO infrastructure that required intensive intervention … That’s an increase of 60 percent compared to 2015. “

Our newly elected president calls NATO obsolete. They, he alleges, are “not paying their fair share” of the cost for defense. BUT can we, as a country, go it alone in a very dangerous world. The answer clearly is: no. The answer historically has been no.

The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans have not been our walls of national defense for decades. A wall along the Mexican border will not protect us from the terrorist only the Mexican day laborer. ISIS employs other paths. It is not a question of NATO and its financial support (a profit and loss statement of who pays what) it is about lives, yours and mine and not the cost for us and our children to “live” to tomorrow. NATO is a real, not imaginary line of defense to an historical enemy of the United States who is not a supporter of democratic action. Russia has a present history of “internationally destabilizing” activities. That is reality. A collapse of NATO because of our failure of financial support would be a security disaster for the people of the US.

 

A second reality that must be kept under national press vigilance is that it is almost certain that this Administration will ultimately have to turn the spotlight away from a serious domestic issue and will, given its history, do so with a grand gesture or as the commentator Edward Lucas said—a “grand bargain with Putin”. An announcement of a “deal” with Putin only to be revealed and unveiled to the press by the President at the time of a self-congratulating signing ceremony and, not during any period of discussion or negations. Lucas has suggested that President Trump will enter into a “grand bargain” – a deal– to distract the American people from a domestic failure and agreeing to “a Russian troop removal from its western military district in return for America pulling its forces out of a strategic European frontline of defense.” “I think” he wrote “that would be absolutely catastrophic.” The “Art of the Deal” does not work with a known dictator who has no sense of international integrity. Only an open and free press is our hope of protecting the American people from the misadventures of any administration. A press that is unafraid of an Administration, who is unafraid of asking questions, is unafraid of stepping on bureaucratic toes including that of the President of the United States. And who will not “keep its mouth shut and just listen”.

With a management style that has been describe by one GOP strategist as “deliberate chaos”, one can only wonder what tomorrow will bring. Therefore, once again, it is the press that will bring us “the facts”, and must do so at a time the President has said he was in a ‘running war” with the media calling journalist “among the most dishonest people on earth”.

A final thought: I have intentionally stayed politically neutral when discussing security issues in my commentaries, whether they be domestic or international. With the election of Mr. Trump as president, security issues take a 180 degree turn. The security question is: To what direction will the President ultimately turn when viewing the rest of the world. “History” appears to make no difference in his equations and he appears to approach life on an ad hoc basis. The fear then becomes in the “not knowing” and the further fear is does he himself know which way he will turn and, last, the fear of our partners not knowing what he will do or say and that will impact our and their national relations and security.

Will he bail on NATO, will he stop talking to China and merely employ our naval guns, and will he allow his new friend and our historical enemy Putin to move in any direction he chose in the hope of getting some sort of deal that will appeal to his base supporters?

The ultimate issue is: what strategy is The President of the Untied States taking to the White House, and how do we, the people, know without a press reporting?

             Richard Allan,

                          The Editor

 

 

 

 

Commentary: A Look Back With a Bleak Future

Although we are in a New Year, I would like to look back. The reason seems so clear to me. The facts we face today are so stark that they portends what the future holds. Life will undoubtedly be more difficult on all fronts in the many months to come.

Trumping up a nuclear rivalry with Russia’s Putin, our new president is being goaded by a dictator who is cash poor but more than anxious to anti-up the stakes in a nuclear armament race. This bravado will create greater chances for a deadly error, and clearly the cost of this fatal game is better spent on other issues. This is especially true with a president-elect who evidences more respects WikiLeaks then our own national intelligence capability.

With a trade war on the horizon, not with Putin who does not have the stakes to come to the financial table, but with a much more powerful financial giant who has enormous assets and investment in our country — China. In the past I have written of China’s control of a segment of the U.S. economy. It would be best to partner with this foe than the one that controls Siberia. Turkey deploys more weaponry to its border with Syria to face the innocent young, old and injured that flee from its dictator. Turkey a lynch-pin in that region of a hostile world is not our friend and certainly an enemy of democracy. Today it partners more with Russia then the U.S. The mid-East and North Africa is home to 22 countries all but one is a democracy. We have just finished a year with horrific attacks on humanity in Syria and beyond. The world merely looked on. “Looking on” in unacceptable silence or, worse still, with empty words is deplorable. No animal in the wild kills with the same velocity and scope as the human. It has been said a million times fold, an animal kills to feed itself and its family. Humans kill, at times, for reasons anchored in ancient history and not present reality. How much more barbaric can we become.

I have been reading about the Reformation period in England and I am horrified not by the poverty, inequity and base cruelty that existed and was then reinforced, but that we have not come very far in man’s-inhumanity-to-man in over five hundred years. Cruelty committed beyond any definition — thru nonfeasance and malfeasance, by inaction and by action.   All committed by the hand of man.

We draw lines in the sand and then ignore our own threats. We permit others to act barbaric, as we respond with bravado rhetoric, sit on our own hands, and then shake our heads in disbelief. Tantrums (both Democratic and Republican) with no long-range thinking prevail at the highest levels of our government. And I predict, because of what I will describe below, the situation will only be worse in 2017.

The threat of violence today has escalated by waves of mass migration—uncontrolled mass migration that cumulated in 2015 and is an intensifying brewing-pot of viciousness. The number of illegal migrants reaching Europe’s border jumped sharply in the first four months of 2014, suggesting then that year’s total could be on track to overtake the 140,000 refugees who arrived during the 2011 Arab Spring. The story became far worse and more critical with time. A quick look at the past 20 years of illegal immigration have confirmed to many that unknown numbers will and are attempting to reach Britain by crossing the continent and using Calais as a staging post. This, as French authorities continue to demolish squatter camps near the Channel, as immigrants attempt to cross to the UK.

Since the American intervention in Somalia in 1992, the more developed nations have had the ability to quickly organize and put into place sufficient ground forces to overrun territory in chaos. As reported widely, the problem more than often was there was no credible group to replace the faulting government, and what ensued were frustration and anger that led to the rise of splinter groups of the defeated terrorist forces.

Europe today is experiencing its worst refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. In 2016, hundreds of the continent’s overtaxed, overextended border guards (of whose work we read very little) travelled to Warsaw for their yearly review. The issues—today– how do EU border guards and they management forces face its biggest challenge in two decades– with hundreds of thousands of refugees that pour over weak boarders into France, Greece, Germany, Italy and Hungary. All at the same moment, these countries are more than inept in their negligent attempts to deal with those with violence and terrorism agendas. Those who have already arrived are integrating deeper into the population and executing their deadly plan: Bastille Day in Nice and Christmas in Berlin. In December, the Islamic State claimed that it had carried out 1,034 suicide attacks in 2016. That number, as reviewed by experts, is impossible to verify, but they did agree that the total has been climbing for several years now. The number of people willing — even eager — to sacrifice for the “cause” is staggering. Mass integrated planning by the EU is now beyond merely necessary but vital across Europe.

ISIS has learned to accomplish what al Qaeda could never develop—a simple terrorism act to capture a bold print international headline: a truck, a willing driver, a mass of un-expecting citizens brought together violently can produce a killing of countless persons within seconds and without a single explosive or shot fired. To digress for a moment, as noted by Kakov Lapin in a special report to IPT News: “Hamas launched a public relations campaign in recent days, aimed at capitalizing on a deadly truck attack in Jerusalem. The campaign sheds a light on Hamas’s plans to encourage and launch jihadist atrocities, but also on its vulnerability to the arrival of ISIS as an ideology and movement.” A “movement” that is engulfing all of Western Europe, as I write this sentence.

In December, the WSJ published a magnificent in-depth analysis written by Matthew Dalton, describing the critical situation across Europe. He writes, and supports with hard facts, that the latest attacks “has laid bare multiple failings in Europe’s security apparatus, including poor cooperation between national governments, porous borders and lack of biometric data to identify people who use false identities.” This monumental indictment cannot be misconstrued to fit any positive conclusion. In early January, the WSJ again published a devastating article detailing “Belgium’s Botched Hunt for ISSI”. It can read almost as a parody of the famous film “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight”. The authors of this article describe the botching, by the Belgium police, when they had multiple chances to catch the ISIS terror cell that carried out the Paris and Brussels attacks –“and muffed every one”. Their source: a confidential report prepared for the Belgium Parliament.

Compounding these problems is the rise of Islamic State ability to strike almost at will in Europe although being beaten on the traditional battle field. At year’s end, we find security services, across Europe, overwhelmed in their ability to follow and track not merely the jihadist presence but the potential threats among the newly arrivals. Islamist groups employed, as was the general published belief, the surge of refugees to smuggle their operatives into Europe. It has been described in countless articles that most of the terrorists traveled from Syria through the Balkans and then Central Europe, moving with the hordes of refugees in the summer and fall of 2015.

To understand a crucial part of the migration and terrorism issues in Europe, one must understand the border controls in Europe and in turn to be aware of the Schengen Zone. This part of Europe is composed of 26 European states that have officially abolished passport and any other type of border control at their mutual borders. This large geographic zone functions as a single country for international travel purposes and is named after the Schengen Agreement, which for a time eliminated border controls with the other Schengen members and strengthened border controls with non-Schengen countries. With the terrorist attacks and migration crisis in late 2016, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Poland and Sweden temporarily imposed controls on some or all of their borders with other Schengen states. Previously, in 2015, after the Paris attack, France declared a state of emergency which stepped up its boarder control measure with other Schengen states.

A quick review of the history of the Berlin attack suspect Anis Amri, who arrived in Europe in 2011, will underline the depth of the failure of European intelligence at this moment. The authorities in Italy and Germany have tried multiple times to send Amri back to Tunisia. They failed. Around the same time, he was released after four years in an Italian prison for starting a fire at a refugee shelter; he was allowed to leave Italy (with a criminal record). Nonetheless, he applied for asylum again in Germany. This “underscores the disorder of Europe’s refugee system.” Although the authorities ordered him to return to Tunisia, he headed to Germany, where he roamed freely, using a series of false identities, and sought asylum. Since the authorities don’t routinely fingerprint migrants or check their fingerprints against national criminal databases (freely discussed in the press and with what little facilities there are) he was able to travel as he desired. Evidence, however sketchy, has established that the Islamic State has sent dozens of operatives to Europe, over the past two years, and to Germany in particular. And, is simple to deduce, is that with the unraveling of ISIS strangleholds of Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, the obvious will occur–that many potential terrorists will disappear from the scene and attempt, one way or another, to enter Europe.

Aside from the security issues the humanitarian questions such as in Greece, wintry conditions have imperiled thousands of refugees in overcrowded camps, as described in the New York Times, prompting the E.U. to declare the situation “untenable.” While thousands displaced person from Mosul are in desperate need of life-saving aid, the security concerns and gloom are layer upon the humanitarian apprehensions and present a desperate picture ahead.

European security services race against time to detect the terrorist threats among the millions of refugees who arrived in recent years. But that is like closing the barn doors after the cows have fled. What is clear is that the Schengen border restraints remain sparse; the creation of “hot spots,” where officials conduct security checks of migrants, using high-speed internet connections to security databases, do not cover the porous country-side where both the migrant and terrorist can move freely and without detection. How many have arrived in the United States?

We live in a time with Western Europe in disarray both politically and socially. Their population is living in the shadows of constant and increasing terrorism. We live in a world struggling with the rise of an increasingly dark populist cloud, both at home and abroad, as we witness the plummeting of civility, diversity acceptance and truth.

For me, a defining moment was the day after the United States presidential election and one month before the first WSJ laid bare the state of the European deplorable security apparatus— helplessness to cope with its crisis of terrorism and immigration, we cancelled our trip to London and Paris.

Richard Allan,

The Editor