Tag Archives: Russia

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: 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