Tag Archives: Gaza

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—Politics At Home and Chaos Abroad

We are living in the most unsettling and frightening times in my memory, and I am a senior-senior. Politics in the United States is much more disturbing than I remember, and I remember the McCarthy era all too well.

Today, politics and its vulgarity cut across an uglier path than our traditional concept prescribes. This blog focuses on security, terrorism and counter-terrorism, often brushing the shores of civil rights. The present political scene has a direct negative bearing on our security—national and international. And although I am loath to enter that mine-field, I must.

On the right , never before in my lifetime have I heard and read such vitriolic language to describe long standing economic and security partners, against friends and non-friends in the diplomatic world or more pathetically—each other. Clearly, you do not conduct foreign relations in this century behind a wall or encourage others to build nuclear bombs.

On the other side of the political spectrum we find Bernie Sanders—like Mr. Trump, hides his federal tax returns, decided he was a Democrat only 4 months ago, and his surrogates harass super-delegates. He seeks to be president and commander-in-chief while ignoring that at one time he filed as a “conscientious objector’. How that squares with our national security and control of the black box is beyond my comprehension. When or where does our national security (and frankly, I am thinking about my family’s security) come into play if the Senator believes in non-violence in a very violent world, and most surely he will be required from time-to-time to engage our military in violent confrontation if elected. As our present occupier of the White House, will he draw a line in the sand and then go on to ignore his own threats? How will he handle drones and their use against ISIS, it leaders and those who plot against our military? How does he criticize Israel’s response to Hamas’s attacks and blatantly ignore the thousands of rockets fired by Hamas including their use of civilians as shields? How does a conscientious objector morph into a Commander-in-Chief?

At home we fear ISIS and its allies. Not when but where will they strike. ISIS is losing ground on their home turf but is more than making up for that loss with their savagery abroad. Think Brussels and Paris.

The migrants and their wholescale deportation across the Turkey boarders have deleted the word “humanitarian” from our dictionary. Looking at the rest of the world I see only violent chaos, massive displacement of whole groups of people, killings as random as walking across the street. It appears to me that the world’s governments are paralyzed to stop this brutality although they talk in boasting terms.

In India, nearly 100,000 farmers have committed suicide in 2014. Why and why is India silent?

In Gaza, there is no news from whichever government pretends to be in control, the international press is silent as the Israeli government quietly announced it has expanded the Palestinian fishing zone from six to nine nautical miles. A spokesperson for the Palestinian fishing industry said this would increase their income by at least one hundred thousand dollars annually. President Abbas has been silent, and there have been no comment from London.

Nearly a week after recapturing Palmyra from ISIS, Syrian forces say they have uncovered horrendous evidence of the workings of the terrorist group. Mass graves, some holding 40 bodies—many were women and children, and some show signs of beheading and torture. As Iran remains a steadfast ally of those criminally minded people it has told the American government in a posting today that their missile power is a non-negotiable issue. Warning that they “don’t get permission from anybody” especially from the “imprudence” of the U.S. regarding their own security.

From Steve Emmerson’s group, we are asked to “imagine more of the African continent engulfed in Islamist savagery of Libya and Nigeria. Imagine Jordan and Saudi Arabia undergoing the same turmoil as Iraq and Syria. Imagine a Europe that begins to resemble Lebanon more than its American cousin.” These events could occur in the next few years, and NATO seems blind to this story.

A television clip released by MEMRI shows a Leader of Islamic Movement in Israel preaching: “This land (‘Palestine’) will vomit Israeli occupation like the sea vomits its filth”. I wonder if any person could preach that same gospel in Gaza about Hamas.

Turkey is awash in political upheaval. This once proud democratic nation has fallen victim to not some strong mana’s rule but a neo-Islamist dictator. His crushing of civil rights and the opposition press is not subtle but violent and public, and yet the people vote for him. All this internal power has provided him the upper hand internationally, as Greece with its dire financial conditions and swamping of migrants seeks help. In return for 6 billion euros and some vague promises of free travel, Turkey will take back anyone currently attempting to enter Greece. This week we saw the first boat load of migrants starting the painful route home. And as I write this blog, Turkey has been placed on high alert as our own government warms about credible threats and reports of controlled explosions conducted in Istanbul’s popular square.

And last on my agenda today is the South China Sea where international relations have becomes tenser and potentially moving beyond mere political hostility. Although the New York Times attempts to portray the Unite States as neutral in the area, it is just the opposite. America sails its warships close to the Chinese created military island and compound in defiance of China’s extension of its territorial and nautical rights in that part of the world. All, as the other nations of the area try to forge stronger political and military ties that we have not seen in decades.

I remember sitting in my office when JFK was assassinated, and I fearfully thought what was going to happen to the country. I thought of my very young family waiting for me at home. Obviously, the country has more than merely survived. But today’s political climate is more endemic. The hatreds long contained are being encouraged to be expressed and acted upon. The most base thoughts and actions are encouraged to be displayed and executed freely. Disregard for reality, one note songs repeated over and over in disregard of others; to dismiss what you don’t have merely because you do not possess it. I loathe placing Donald’s name in the same sentence with Bernie, but each in his very own distinct way have a blind eye to international reality and would make us a more isolationist nation. And that would damage our national and international security. Yesterday, a very close relative said to me: I am voting my brain not my heart. And I thought that is a good rule to follow when determining issues involving security.

Richard Allan

The Editor

It’s an ugly world

First let me apologize for not writing for the longest time. I had to deal with a health issue, but that is now history. More important is today’s history. What I am assuming you would want, if there is an international holiday on your agenda during the upcoming fall season, is a place you could travel to and feel secure. You want to find yourself ultimately in a safety zone; also, a zone that does not appear to be seething with trouble. A place that you can enjoy without thought of anything other than the sight in your line of vision. And a plane ride without anxiety.

If you are a Francophile and thought: Paris, there you should worry about those sections of Paris that are truly off limits to a Caucasians. In general, I am not worried about the common pickpocket, and there are plenty of them abound wherever you go (and I have been a victim more than once when I thought I was being careful). I am not worried that my luggage may go “intentionally” astray, and that has happened to me in Germany.

What I worry about is bombs, kidnapping and bedbugs. Without the insight of a local resident, I am worried about the simmering rages that seem to be lingering in the streets of a particular section of a city. I am worried about peaceful protests when the fuse of the initial impetus for the protest can unexpectedly, for a stranger, turn ugly and violent.

I am worried about cities with a shocking financially depressed population and the frustration that must be brewing in their homes. I am worried about visiting a country where you dare not ask a political question of a local due to the fear of putting that person in danger of arrest by the authorities. In Singapore, I was told by an art gallery owner that a question I had posed to him was “inappropriate”. Later he volunteer to answer that same question when we met by accident in a transit air terminal in Japan.

I was appalled when a friend said in passing that the world was ugly. He was not referring to its visual characteristic, but the ugliness of the behavior of its population. And I do not mean politeness or courtesy or even grace. We live in a world whose atmosphere is littered with overhanging hostility at every turn. An Egyptian cartoonist poked fun at the United States during the riots in Ferguson after the death of a young man by an overzealous local police officer. The American press had been critical of the continuing political turmoil in Egypt and, how dare we be so critical when the political and social upheaval in the United States are no panacea.

The National Geographic Channel has taught me that animals only attack other animals for the purpose of food. Many years ago a Russian diplomat told a group of us that a town in Poland, which had been removed from the Soviet orbit several hundred years ago, still “belonged” to the “mother country” and could be “retaken” legitimately . When I responded in amazement, his sharp retort was: “that’s the trouble with you Americans; you have no sense of history.”

Could “our lack of a sense of history” be the cause of our international paralysis or some knee jerk reaction to the political and sectarian genocide across so much of the globe? Where are we as a nation when scores are being slaughtered? It appears we either simply ignore that particular “ugliness” or we send in troops because of our alleged feelings for the “humanitarian claim”.

Or is the real truth that we view all foreign incidents thru a political prism. It seems that our first consideration circles around the question: Is the area engulfed in violence a place that is “necessary” to our wellbeing? Our wellbeing–not the pain of those suffering. And wellbeing is defined for us as either or both the safekeeping of the nation’s financial health or our national security.

We are being faced by those who are certifiable egomaniacs with massive persona who control all those within the sound of their voice. These individuals appear to have a control of human behavior that is by all reasonable standards beyond the pale of decent human conduct. How do you behead a person for world-wide viewing? How do you have people, seemingly rational people, line up asking for the next assignment to assassinate a stranger; and what possesses an individual to volunteer to end their own life, not because of some internal pain, but to kill as many other people as possible in the process. Who are these people? They are barbaric. Why do we tolerate this ugliness?

If you take your eye off the news from Washington for a moment, you will become confused when our supposed allies change sides. Are we really talking to the Syrian government for a “fly-over” so that we may bomb the ISIS troops at the same moment the UAE and Egypt carry out airstrikes against that very same Government? And then in the morning news you read that more than 260 migrants died in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Africa to Italy seeking what or more important escaping what? While Germany is outraged that the United States has spied upon it, we learn that Germany has spied on Turkey its ally for decades.

And last, at this writing, reports from all the major news sources –our nations and the world press—herald the news that Hamas and Israel have agreed to an extended Gaza cease-fire. That’s the “Good” news; but we also learn from an exhaustive investigative report by Forbes Magazine how that same universal press and electronic media, especially the NY Times ––the sources we all rely upon each day for all our information –has been terribly and intentionally distorting the facts in favor of the Palestinians.

Whom can we trust in this ugly, not very safe world? Some of us turn to isolation and attempt to ignore the world, and believe we will be safe. During a recent police investigation of police brutality an alleged witness said he was fearfully of the hail of bullets being fired by the police and hid behind a car. Yet in minute detail, with his head hidden, he was able to describe the shooting. How?

A friend once said, and this must have been said countless times by others: “You deal with the hand you have been dealt. “ It’s an ugly world; but let’s deal with it all. And what that entails is that this nation, with our without consultation with its allies, evolves contingency plans for future events well before the need for their implementation. That is what responsible governments do. The potential for horrific events must be anticipated and met head on. That’s what top executives do. We must stop the slaughtering of innocent individuals; the victims cannot wait for endless consultations by the responsible world governments. How can a world leader, with untold resources, publicly admit that his government has no strategic plan in this very violent world?

Richard Allan, The Editor

Imposition of Democracy

How quickly history may change. The exchange of rockets between Hamas and Israel was documented in great detail especially if you watched the somewhat one sided, minute- to- minute exchange on CNN. Forgetting their then poor attempt to correct their bias, the events of the various parties reaching out to the fairly newly anointed President of Egypt was an impressive showing of international politics in action.

Played out on international television, the proceedings unfolded but were subject to events beyond the battle field and not shared with the viewing public in print or television. A bit over three weeks prior to the Hamas rocket attack, Israeli jets raced to the south west and the far side of the Red Sea to the skies over Khartoum, the second largest city of the Sudan. If you are attempting to visualize its location, it is just to the west of Ethiopia. There, the Israeli jets bombed the Yarmouk weapons factory, which belongs to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They are the manufactures of those long range missiles with heavy warheads that were propelled toward Israel. They were considered by some as the “game change” weapons. Iran had paid for the rockets and had them smuggled to Gaza for Hama’ use against Israel. For days, those particular rockets, were launched at major cities and intercepted by the defense shield Dome (a product of US and Israeli knowhow and money). When it was clear to intelligence sources that most, if not all, of those rockets in Gaza had been spent and none could be produced because of the destroyed factory, the United States entered the scene.

The United States’ Secretary of State appeared alongside the Egyptian President and the Hamas/Israeli hostilities then halted. The game changing rockets were no longer in Gaza, and the factory that built them was destroyed. There were some sputtering moments of peace which were followed by quiet and international praise for the Egyptian government and its leaders. And that seemed to be the end of the story.

Two days later, it was announced that the cease fire was holding. Then the commentators weighed in on who was the winner of the conflict, and where we were to foresee the future of any new alliances that could be spawned by cession of conflict. With the media focus on the various wings of the anti-Israeli world, a vitriolic campaign erupted over if and when Israeli should “start” any action, “they” would send Israeli back to dust. Considering what had just transpired, one wondered why this verbal barrage suddenly erupted upon the world stage. But those were only bellicose words, and the rattling of swords remained in their sheath.

When the dust finally appeared to be settling down-–the rocket launching had stopped, the verbal threats lost their voice, and regional forces moved toward the negotiation table there was no one who could have anticipated that the newly minted hero of the moment, the president of Egypt, would attempt a clear political misstep and look to seize governing power away from the recently shaped democratic country. By attempting to seize the prevailing power in Egypt, clouded by the Hamas/Israeli crises, the President, one could assume, thought that his enhanced international standing and the emotional heat of the rocket and verbal exchanges would shroud what was clearly an attempted at the grab of power during a domestic constitutional crises.

Once taking that step it was difficult for him to back down (this is sometimes referred to as: loosing face), and his intransigence not only intensified the domestic political crises at a critical moment in Egyptian development, but rallied the people in the street and also those officials within the government. Especially vocal were the Judges. Egypt was once again in turmoil with the familiar rioting and tenting in its most famous square. A constitutional crisis of immense proportions grew, and that does not bode well however the issues are settled for a new country and its attempts at democracy. “Snap” votes cannot determine the breath of a new constitution to protect all the people within one nation.
It was said to me (and I believe I must have written about it) that history over hundreds of years plays an enormous role in how a democracy maybe created. The life and generational history of a people within a particular geographic area play a large role in the creation of a democracy. Under what form of governance have they lived for generations after generations. What has been ingrained, generations after generations, in their understanding and acceptance of governance? The mid-East has never known democracy as we in the West understand it. The question then becomes can there be a sudden and complete upheaval and reordering of life from non-self governance to immediately allowing a population—the individual– the self-governance of democratic choices? What has happened to the DNA of democratic choices within each individual that has never been allowed expression? We are seeing that played out in Egypt. The fear for some is that one form of dictatorship is being replaced by another form of suppression.

Richard Allan, The Editor