Monthly Archives: August 2013

Syria: The History and the Really Hard Questions for All of Us

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Today President Obama called on the U.S. Congress to take up and debate an authorization for the use of military force in Syria. From any moral viewpoint his words on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government his words were correct. Likewise his calling to account of the international community, 98% of whom are signatories to treaties outlawing the use of these weapons against anyone to support this action was correct. The fact that he also demanded that Congress come into session and do its job was correct.

In spite of all of that the use of military force to attempt to force a change in the way that the government of Bashir Assad is problematic and fraught with danger. The chances of escalation and the involvement of other nations and non-state actors are great and even a “successful” operation could lead to subsequent events detrimental to the United States, the West, the region and even to Syria and its people.

A big part of this is due to the complexity of Syria itself and its history. Syria is a complicated mosaic of cultures, peoples and religions often at odds with one another. The fact that the Assad regime has remained in power is because of its brutality and willingness to play off the various factions against each other. The Assad family is of the minority Alawite sect of Shi’a Moslems from the western region of the country. One needs to read T. E. Lawrence’s 1915 report on Syria to get a glimpse of the complexity of Syria and to understand that one has to proceed carefully when dealing with any faction. http://www.telstudies.org/writings/works/articles_essays/1915_syria_the_raw_material.shtml

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The fact is that the best chance for a stable Syria disappeared in 1920 when the French, emulating the British in Mesopotamia (Iraq) overthrew the government of Emir Faisal Hussein. Lawrence wrote a powerful essay about this http://www.telstudies.org/writings/works/articles_essays/1920_france_britain_and_the_arabs.shtml and when one examines the actions of the British and the French in Syria and Iraq one has to look at history. The British were willing to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq because of history, the same is true of why the French are willing to stand with the United States in Syria. The Germans for their own part frustrated by imperial ambitions in the Middle East in the First World War and a failed attempt to support an Iraqi uprising against the British in 1941 have no interest in a war that might bring disorder and terrorism among the many Moslems that reside in their country. The Turks of course have no love for the Arabs and once counted Syria as a valuable part of the Ottoman Empire. Disorder in Syria is dangerous to them but ultimately they could benefit since they have been shouldering much of the humanitarian burden.

The Jordanian royal family has no love for Syria being the descendants of Faisal Hussein while the Israelis see Syria as a mortal enemy. Lebanon which was carved out of Syria after the First World War is hopelessly divided and with Hezbollah, the erstwhile ally of Iran in de-facto control of the country in danger of becoming a front in the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Iran being the close ally of Syria has great opportunity to expand its power and should a military strike occur might become directly involved although the more likely scenario is that they would allow their Hezbollah allies to shoulder the burden of strikes against Israel and United States or other Western interests in the region. One cannot leave out the Russians who are behaving much as the Tsarist Regime did regarding the region in the First World War when they signed on to the Sykes-Picot agreement.

If the United States does nothing Assad wins. He shows that he and anyone like him who conduct themselves outside the norms of international law and human rights can get away it it. If we intervene it might strengthen his grip, likewise if our strikes were successful enough to weaken his grip and allow the rebels to take power the results could be even worse since the Al Qaeda ally Al Nursa is the strongest and most militarily effective part of the rebel forces.

In a sense the Obama administration is damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t and damned if it does no matter what the outcome. It sucks for him because he is the President and it is his job he will get the blame. This despite the fact that his freedom of action in large part is undermined by the actions of the Bush Administration in the Iraq lead up and invasion. There are always results in foreign policy decisions. The invasion of Iraq has harmed our interests in more ways than its architects ever imagined, it was a foreign policy disaster of the first order that impacts everything that we do today in the Middle East.

That is why before a single cruise missile is launched the United States Congress must debate the action and go all in or stay out. The fact is that if we do this, and I hope, we don’t we have to do it right. We have to understand the consequences and do what we can under our system of government to debate the issue, look at the ramifications, not just in the region but to our own economy and national power.

If we do it the Sequester has to be repealed in all parts, you cannot wage war on the cheap and expect a military that is worn out by 12 years of war to keep taking on more war without funding it. The Tea Party Republicans who are attempting to hold the government hostage through the Sequester and a possible government shutdown cannot have it both ways. It is irresponsible of them to continue this madness until we can get out of Afghanistan and avoid involvement in Syria or other conflicts.

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That my friends is the hard truth about Syria. So before you get too caught up in the opening of the College and NFL football seasons forgetting that a dangerous world exists take some time to ponder and if you have the civic decency to write your Congressman and Senator on the subject. Pro or con tell them what you think and demand accountability. If you don’t do that don’t blame President Obama for what happens because you have failed your country as citizens.

Sorry I guess that might hurt. But we didn’t do that in Iraq. Today the 4486 dead American military personnel as well as all the other dead and wounded, American, Allied and Iraqi alike and those like me afflicted with chronic PTSD demand that you do it now. It is a moral responsibility of the first order of much greater importance than your fantasy football league.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Fighting for the Dream at 50: Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Faith and All that Is, Can and Will Be True About America

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“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

Note: The complete text and video of Dr. King’s speech can be found here:http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm 

It is hard to believe that it has been 50 years since Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and other pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement marched in Washington. I am always inspired when I see the films of Doctor King speaking or read the text of that speech and so many other of his speeches and writings. He was a prophet who was not welcome by many, but his words and actions have reverberated through the decades. Though martyred, cut down by the bullets of James Earl Ray in Memphis his spirit lives on and is part of our country.

Now there are many today as there were then who want not only to keep blacks in thier place but other minorities, racial, ethnic, religious and even on the basis of gender or sexuality. Some may want to argue that point but the actions of some people and groups who vociferously fight against the rights of anyone that they disagree with to have the same rights as they have, be they political, religious, economic or legal demonstrate that this is the case every day.

Yesterday tens of thousands gathered in Washington on the anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr King’s I Have a Dream speech. I caught bits and pieces on the news, radio or Twitter as I made my way across country. I was inspired by the words of speakers, President Obama, Representative John Lewis, and former Presidents Carter and Clinton.  In my hotel room tonight have had some more time to reflect on this day the remarkable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other remarkable leaders of the Civil Rights Movement including all of the martyrs who gave their lives not just for blacks but for all Americans, the great and the small alike who gave their lives and offered up themselves that this country might have yet another new birth of freedom.

The struggle is not over until every American and those who want to be Americans have a place at the table. How can we fear the collective good of seeing freedom reign in this land that we sing as the sweet land of liberty? What do we have to fear of individual Americans of every race, creed, color, male and female, straight or gay, rich or poor enjoying the same legal rights and protections under the law as well as the same opportunity to succeed? What do we have to fear?

I actually think that what many of us fear is that if others that we think less of succeed that we will lose our place of privilege or even worse that maybe our political, religious or economic philosophy that undergirds our beliefs about others might be proven wrong.

But faith is the opposite of fear and Dr. King knew this. In that speech which still echoes today he said:

“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

The dream that Dr. King espoused is that of the prophets of old. It is the dream of those that championed liberty at the cost of their lives and freedom in dictatorships. It is the dream of those who struggled in every place and clime where injustice reigned knowing that the dream would not be accomplished in their lifetimes but had faith to labor so that others one day would enjoy the fruit of their life’s labors. As Dr. King said 50 years ago:

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And now since I am coming up on almost 24 hours of travel with little sleep I bid you a good night hoping that one morning we will awake to a new dawn. A dawn where people are judged by the content of their character and where we all can at last exclaim with the spirit of Dr King and so many others who died without seeing this come to pass: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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It Never Rains in Southern California: Padre Steve Heads Home to Visit Family and Attend His 35th High School Reunion

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Got on board a westbound seven forty-seven

Didn’t think before deciding what to do

Ooh, that talk of opportunities, TV breaks and movies

Rang true, sure rang true …

It Never Rains in Southern California, Albert Hammond EMI Music

I am heading off to California in morning. It is Northern California and not Southern California but like the classic Albert Hammond Song says “it never rains in California” so I hope this will be the case this week. The weather channel says so maybe it won’t be too bad.

As far as the trip I have to be up pretty early since I have an early flight. So tonight after doing another full day of work around the house I went out with Judy for dinner. Since then I have been getting packed and ready to go.

It has been since my dad died in June of 2010 that I have been home. My last few trips out in 2008 and 2009 happened after Iraq when my dad was dying and I was to put it mildly bat shit crazy in the midst of my post-Iraq PTSD meltdown. Thankfully I am doing a lot better than I was back then.

The costs of the three year geographic bachelor assignment at Camp LeJeune and the need to use leave to go home to Virginia made a heck of an impact on normal travel and vacation plans. We haven’t done much traveling at all the past three years. Apart from a couple of official travel trips to Washington DC or Houston and another to testify at a Court Martial in Germany I have not been out of Virginia and North Carolina. It will be good to see my mom, my brother and his family while I am there as well as my classmates whom I have maintained contact with over all of these years. Our class was special and I really do look forward to seeing my friends again.

My trip is now set except for checking in at the airport in the morning. I have my flight, car and hotel reservations. Thankfully the flight was all but free thanks to a the need of United Airlines to get a flight crew to Washington Dulles on my last trip, netting me a $500 flight voucher which I applied to this trip meaning that my rental car and hotel were the only up front expenses. Since Judy had foot surgery Monday and is on crutches for a few days I will be taking a cab to save her the hassle of trying to get me to the airport so early.

Now I have to admit ever since Iraq I am not a fan of air travel or airports. So once I get to the airport I will probably have breakfast with a cup of black coffee and a pint of Sam Adams at the Sports Bar in the terminal. Flying the friendly skies with a heft case of PTSD requires some adjustments. Since my flight is basically free I will probably try to upgrade my seating for at least the Chicago to San Francisco portion of my trip to avoid being stuck in steerage.

I can’t help but think that while I am on leave between assignments and traveling to California that the United States and much of the world sits on the precipice of war in Syria which could very well have regional and possibly world wide effects. I check in to my new assignment at the Joint Forces Staff College on Tuesday of next week, the morning following my return. I wonder if as Barbara Tuchman wrote about in The Guns of August that the world that I return to on Monday evening or Tuesday morning will be quite different than it is today.

“The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, music, PTSD

All In or Stay the Hell Out: Syria, the United States NATO and the Middle East, the Guns of August All Over Again

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The Balkans aren’t worth the life of a single Pomeranian grenadier.”  Otto Von Bismarck

The terrible civil war in Syria appears to be reaching its crescendo as someone, probably the Assad Regime or its allies, or possibly the Syrian rebels are using Chemical weapons to kill non-combatants and rebel combatants. The evidence that the weapons have been used is apparently convincing enough for the UN to send in inspectors and for the US Secretary of State John Kerry to state that it is certain that they have been used.

Now NATO allies as well as representatives of Jordan and the Gulf States are meeting to decide what to do in response. Since most experts believe that the Assad regime is culpable for these attacks the belief is that the United Sates, NATO and the Arab Allies could be preparing for some kind of attack Syria. The Russians, long time supporters of Syria are pushing back against this and the Syrians are promising that any attack will result in a war that envelopes the region.

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What is happening in Syria is a tragedy and must be stopped. War crimes have certainly been committed by all sides in Syria and the direct involvement of Hezbollah and Iran on the side of the Assad regime and Al Qaeda affiliates on the side of the rebels complicate any response. However, that being said the question must be asked “just whose responsibility is to stop it?”

Some say the United States and NATO, others the Arab League while others the various factions of Syrians themselves.

My heart cries out for intervention in Syria if for nothing else but on humanitarian grounds. But the fact is intervention in Syria has to be much more thought out and organized than intervention that we have conducted since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It will not be a cake walk and quite likely will lead to consequences far worse than the average citizen or boneheaded Congressman has never given a cogent thought.

Syria is an incredibly complicated country. It is multi-ethnic and multi-religion. Arabs, Kurds, Druze and others live in patchwork communities and regions even as various sects of Sunni, Shia, Sufi and Salafist Moslems vie for power while the divided Christian minority , Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and others hope to live and remain in their own country.

As far as others in the Region besides Iran and Hezbollah, various Sunni and Shia Iraqi insurgents have crossed over into Syria, while Israel teeters on the bring of being drawn in to the conflagration.

No matter what happens there will be no winners in what is happening in Syria. There is a high probability that the Syrian civil war will overflow the borders of that unfortunate country and drag the region and possibly major world powers into the war. If that happens there are no winners, only losers. The biggest question is who will be the biggest loser?

That being said even tonight there are reports of military movements in the region even as NATO and Arab coalition partners gather to discuss a response. I am resigned to the fact that the Syrian Civil war will overflow Syria’s borders and draw in the powers of many countries. Just who I am not exactly sure at this time. In the US there is a marked tepid feeling among voters about getting involved. That may be a good thing. It may temper our response and make us deliberate the consequences of military action or inaction.

Bertrand Russell once said that “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” I wonder if anyone in any of the nations currently involved or possibly that might be engaged in the war actually things about what Russell said.

The fact is that what is going on in Syria is the proverbial “Tar Baby.” There is no clean easy solution to the situation. Lobbing in a few hundred cruise missiles and launching airstrikes in support of the rebels is unlikely to have a profound strategic affect. Instead, unless NATO and its allies are willing to risk an actual ground war after the missile and air strikes then the fact of the matter is that those strikes will have little long term effect. If a ground invasion happens it will be bloody and not the cake walk that so many in Western Governments, media and populations that rely on a very small number of military professionals to fight their wars think it will be.

If by some chance the United States and its allies get drawn into the Syrian Civil War than all of them had better think of what the consequences of that involvement will be, for the region, the world and our own countries. The fact is that a major war in Syria will drag the rest of the region into it. This is not 2003 Iraq or 2011 Libya. The fact is that Syria is heavily splintered into various regional, ethnic and religious groups, most who have lived among each other for millennia and most of whom hate each other.

I cannot speak for other governments around the region and the world, allied to the United States or not. However I do know that our Constitution has in it the formula of who should committed the country to war and that, despite our recent history is not the President by his executive authority Commander in Chief but by Congress after due deliberation and a vote to declare war.

My thoughts are that if we in the United States are serious about this, that we believe that Syria and Assad need to be taken down then fine. Let us call Congress back to Washington now and have them debate the issue. If they vote for war then they need to do two things, the first is that Congress needs to be called away from its vacation and get to work debating the issue. If the President backed by a declaration of war from Congress and a repeal of the sequester that is gutting the country and the military.

If they cannot do this then let’s stop the bullshit and tell the work that the situation in Syria is terrible but the consequences of going to war without either an end in mind or analysis of the costs involved is criminal. Bismarck said it well in regard to the Balkans and his comments should be taken to heart by the United States and its allies.

The situation in Syria cries out for action, but that action must be action that helps the people of Syria, the region and the world and is not just an action to salve our collective consciousness and say that we did something. Simply throwing some cruise missiles at Syria accomplishes nothing unless there is a plan of what we intend to see happen. William Tecumseh Sherman said: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

My thoughts on this are to make going to war difficult. If the President and his cabinet determines that they believe in consultations with our allies that war is the last and best of the worst case options, the Congress needs to cut short its vacation. Republican and Democrat leaders need to gather and a decision has to be made. If we go to war it can no longer be done under the very loose and terribly vague rules of the War Powers Act because any attack on Syria will certainly escalate beyond a short term military strike done “on the cheap.”

There is no cheap or easy to Syria. If military action is the only way to solve the problem then Congress must convene, make a formal declaration of war and also repeal sequestration. A war in Syria will be costly in blood and treasure and will likely pull in many other countries. The human costs in the region, not just Syria will be beyond imagination while the costs to the world economy will be severe and quite possibly push the world into another recession or possibly depression.

The military power alone of the United States has been used far too many times as our governments under successive Republican and Democrat leadership have opted not to use the full measure of our diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic power to solve problems. Instead we fall back to the easiest and most ready means to satiate our need for a quick solution to complex problems, the military option. Military power alone, especially if it is incapable of ending the conflict and bringing a just peace is not an answer in Syria.

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The fact is that we Americans do not know the world nor do we understand it. Americans have become simple and lazy when it comes to dealing with complex issues. We deal in sound bites and tweets, the more fiery the better even as we stick our heads in the sand as to what is happening in the world. Ask how many people are more interested in the beginning of the College and Pro-Football seasons in the next couple of weeks versus those interested in really important issues of war and peace and you will get your answer on our priorities as Americans. We have no sense of history and are quite ignorant of the world around us and the political, cultural, religious, philosophical, ideological and economic factors that make up our world so our first response is almost always the sword.

If the President and Congress feel that it is absolutely necessary to go to war over the atrocities being committed in Syria let them make that decision, but only after considerable debate, consultations with allies, the United Nations and the Arab League followed by a vote on an actual declaration of war, the repeal of sequestration and a major stimulus to prevent the economy from tanking when the cost of oil goes through the roof and cripples the world economy.

Winston Churchill cautioned leaders “Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.” 

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To paraphrase Bismarck, Syria is not worth the life of one American or Allied Soldier unless our governments are willing to do it right. All in or stay the hell out and don’t go in without counting the real and the potential costs.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s First Shout Out Sunday

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As anyone who reads this site on a regular basis knows I am a fan of other writers and bloggers. Most like me are pretty provocative and even I do not always agree with them I appreciate their writing, thoughts and ideas enough to comment on their posts on on their blogs, Facebook or re-tweet their Twitter posts. Likewise I have included links to their websites or blogs on this site.

So tonight instead of discussing any actual topics or even talking about me I agave decided to talk about them.

If you take a look to slightly to the left of this article you will see a list of links to websites that I like or frequent. Some are so heavily used that they don’t get a shout out but some not only deserve the shout out but tonight I want to mention several that I find to be outstanding. They span the spectrum of thought and are about different subjects.

I want to start on the faith, religion and life side of the house. There are a number to mention here. There is no particular order except that they kind of go from top to bottom on the links section. The first I want to mention is Michelle Sommerville’s New York Poet “Syllabifactor” blog. Michelle is a poet and also has some very astute writings on faith, religion and public life.

In the same category I need to mention Joel Watts’ Unsettled Christianity. Joel is a former Independent Baptist now United Methodist who is a very sharp theologian and thinker with a good sense of humor. Likewise I want to mention Rachel Held Evanswhose blog is simply outstanding. Red Letter Christians- What if Jesus Meant What He Actually Saidis a site hosted by Tony Campolo and features a number of great authors.

Frank Schafer is the son of the late Francis Schafer and with his father was a leader of the religious right in its early days. However he abandoned what would have been a lucrative career on the religious political right media complex. His writings including his book Crazy For God are prolific and his blog The Official Frank Schafer Website is outstanding. Many of his posts end up on other websites including The Huffington Post.

San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Jeremy Affeldt is an Evangelical Christian as well as social activist. His blog To Stir a Movement is a site that is solid in its theology as well as practical applications of living the Christian life.

Warren Throckmorton is a,leading debunker of men like David Barton, the pseudo historian and compulsive liar. Throckmorton, a college Psychology professor’s site Warren Throckmorton is one of the best sites when it comes to unmasking frauds who claim to be something that they are not like Barton, and in setting the record straight. As a historian I appreciate his attention to detail and the accuracy of what he writes and as a Christian I appreciate his integrity and courage in exposing Barton and others who make their living deceiving Conservative Christians while raking in tons of cash from people like Glenn Beck.

Miguel Rosada is a friend, medical doctor and now Episcopal Priest. Both of us served in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. He left that denomination of his own volition about a year before I was asked to leave. While I don’t always agree with him I find his blog Seraph Saysto be an outstanding place for great ideas, thoughts and Christian decency.

There are others that I have not yet added to my links section and when I do I will give the a Sunday Shout Out. I expect to do more of this because after all it’s really not all about me, despite my name being on the title page on this site and the fact that so much is about me. Scary, kind of like Denny Crane, “name on the door” scary, but then that might be the Mad Cow talking.

That being said take a look at these great websites and writers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, philosophy

The Inconvenient Truth About Iraq and Benghazi

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“The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based. And if you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform!” Captain Jean Luc Picard to Wesley Crusher Star Trek the Next Generation “The First Duty” 

I was talking with a conservative friend the other day and he ended up bring up the subject of Benghazi and the tragic loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and 3 other State Department personnel at the consulate last September 11th. He was talking about the scandal of this and the political impact that he hoped it would have on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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I was actually shocked that he said this so for once I decided to actually say something and mention the 4486 official US military deaths in Iraq. My friend who I really do like and respect commented that they were “the result of what happened in war.”

It stunned me when he said that because he is a military brat, but then I realized that he had bought the lie about Iraq and was so solidly partisan that he could not see the moral, ethical and even legal discrepancy in what he was saying. For me the question was far less about whatever impact it might have on Hillary’s campaign should she decide to run but about the truth.

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When I confronted him about it I was stunned by how easily he dismissed all of the dead and wounded and other casualties of Iraq but was so insistent on some kind of conspiracy to cover up Benghazi. But this is how so many people think today thanks to the constant bombardment of ignorance on Fox News and other partisan outlets. It is not about the truth, it is about the nastiest kind of politics.

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I too am upset about Benghazi, but likewise I am upset about the 241 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers killed at Beirut in October 1983 when the Reagan Administration ignored warnings about putting US troops into Lebanon while taking sizes in that county’s civil war. I am upset about the nearly 3000 killed on 9-11-2001. I am upset about dozens of other terrorist attacks that occurred under both Republican and Democratic administrations in which DOD, the State Department and other agencies made mistakes that cost lives.

Some attacks could have been prevented and others probably not. However they were terrorist attacks committed by our enemies, not an illegal undeclared war of preemptive choice conducted by a United States administration against the will and recommendations of many of our closest allies. That is the inconvenient truth.

What has happened over the past decade is that many on the political right cannot admit that they were wrong about Iraq. This despite the fact that President Bush, Karl Rove and almost every senior member of the the Bush administration have admitted that the reasons that they took us into war with Iraq were wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear program was a shambles and Iraq was not working with Al Qaida, which like most secular military dictatorships in the Middle East loathed. That is the inconvenient truth.

The fact that so many people on the political right go into a nearly toxic lather about four people lost in Benghazi while shucking off the deaths of nearly 5000 Americans who died in a war that was not only a mistake but violated the very laws that we helped establish at Nuremberg infuriates me. This is no longer about national security to them, it is about politics. This is not about ethics for those that led us into Iraq have none. It is not about justice for if there was justice those who made the decision to attack Iraq would be tried for war crimes.

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I served in Iraq and was fortunate that I served with our advisors and the Iraqis in Al Anbar during the time of the Anbar Awakening. I saw a different war than many people observed and for that I am glad because it busted my illusions about what we did in Iraq forever. I needed that. I may have come back thoroughly goofed up with PTSD and at times I am sure certifiably crazy, but I needed it to see the truth.

The fact is that unlike Benghazi the war in Iraq has crippled this country. Nearly 5000 dead, 30,000 wounded and trillions of dollars of national treasure dumped into the abyss. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, wounded or driven into exile, many who greeted us as liberators.  Of course that was before the Bush Administration put the kleptocrats of the Chalabi group rape and pillage the country.

Likewise it was after the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer, a man who had never in his career served in the Middle East threw out ever carefully orchestrated plan of DOD and CENTCOM for a peaceful transition in the country thus bringing misery to Iraq and triggering the anti US-Coalition insurgency and Iraqi Civil War. The great military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz said: “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” The fact is that the Bush Administration was not only not clear, but they were inept and lawless in invading Iraq.

Additionally the invasion cost the United States the goodwill and trust of many allies and friends. No one will ever see us in the same light again. Instead of being a liberating power and “light to the nations” we are seen in much of the world as a rogue, lawless and imperialist state. Otto Von Bismarck put it so well when he said “preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”

I don’t know about you but I am sure that is not the vision of our founders. I was told on my first day in the Army back in 1981 that “there are attaboys and aww shits and it takes 2000 attaboys to make up for one aww shit.” The Bush Administration’s lawless invasion of Iraq and incredibly inept occupation was a disaster for the United States, Iraq and most of the region, except maybe for Al Qaida and Iran. By the way let us not forget the crippling effects of the Iraq invasion on the campaign in Afghanistan which allowed both the Taliban and Al Qaida time to regroup, consolidate and regain the advantage in that God forsaken land.To the 4486 we can add a couple of thousand more deaths in Afghanistan thanks to the decision to invade Iraq. That is the inconvenient truth.

For people to ignore a war that defies American and International Law as well as common sense which cost us and the world so much while making cheap political points by exploiting the deaths of four men is a disgrace. Had the men who started the invasion of Iraq been tried for by Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg they would have been convicted as war criminals and sent to the gallows. That is the inconvenient truth.

Justice Jackson said at those trials:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

My closing thought is that those that want to make political hay out of Benghazi need to take a serious look at Iraq. What’s fair is fair. 4486 dead and over 30,000 wounded not counting another 100,000 or so with PTSD or TBI versus 4 dead and no wounded. I don’t make light of any of the deaths of Americans serving this country at any time or in any place.  I would not dishonor their memory by playing politics with their deaths. But the truth is indeed terribly inconvenient and those who do this must be called out regardless of their political orientation.

If there were mistakes or cover ups by Obama administration officials regarding Benghazi, so be it let them be investigated fairly an impartially not with an eye to political advantage and those that partake of this cup must be willing to drink of the cup of crimes committed by the Bush Administration in Iraq. The same is true when Democrats do the same to Republicans.

Truth matters too much to be sacrificed on the altar of politics even while those doing it ignore far greater crimes of far more epic dimensions committed by members of their political party.

Truth is terribly inconvenient and even when painful should never be sacrificed on the altar of political advantage by partisans of any party.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Red Lines… Syria and Sarin and United States Military Intervention: A Warning from History

padresteve:

Updated August 23rd 2013: Since this article was written back in April of this year the situation in Syria, not to mention the rest of the region has continued to get worse. This past week there appear to be credible new reports of the Syrian government using chemical weapons against their own people. It appears that the US and other powers are cautiously moving military forces into the region closer to Syria and that Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Israel could be drawing closer to involvement in the war. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians of all ethnic groups and faiths are fleeing the country, primarily to Iraq, Jordan and Turkey. Lebanon is beginning to collapse and Israel launched air strikes into Lebanon after being hit by rockets fired by the Assad regime’s ally Hezbollah. This is all taking place as Egypt is perched at the abyss of civil war, and much of North Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula is in the throws of war, civil war or the collapse of any governmental order.

Needless to say it is not a good situation and the United States as well as many other governments and international bodies are trying to find a way through the eye of the needle to keep the multitude of problems from coalescing into a truly disastrous regional conflict which could effect the political, economic and military security of countries in the region and yes, like us on the far side of the globe.

Carl von Clausewitz wrote: “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.”

Personally I don’t think that there is anyone who has a clear understanding of what they think their country should do or accomplish in Syria of the Middle East.

That being said here is what I wrote in April.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Originally posted on Padresteve's World...Musings of a Passionate Moderate:

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Updated August 23rd 2013: Since this article was written back in April of this year the situation in Syria, not to mention the rest of the region has continued to get worse. This past week there appear to be credible new reports of the Syrian government using chemical weapons against their own people. It appears that the US and other powers are cautiously moving military forces into the region closer to Syria and that Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Israel could be drawing closer to involvement in the war. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians of all ethnic groups and faiths are fleeing the country, primarily to Iraq, Jordan and Turkey. Lebanon is beginning to collapse and Israel launched air strikes into Lebanon after being hit by rockets fired by the Assad regime’s ally Hezbollah. This is all taking place as Egypt is perched at the abyss of civil war, and…

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Home Behind Home Plate

I am finally home. Yesterday I went back to North Carolina in order to officially sign out of Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune. It was a nice visit. I spent yesterday evening with my friends at Rucker John’s and the Emerald Club and my friend Eddie was gracious enough to let me crash at his place.

This morning I headed over to the Naval Hospital officially signed out, picked up my FITREP and was able to visit a couple of friends who I will dearly miss, Duke Quarles who serves as a Pastoral Counselor and for the first two years of my tour was a great right hand man and sanity checker. I also was able to spend time with Command Master Chief Ed Moreno. There are a lot of Chaplains who are not as fortunate as I have been with some of the Senior Enlisted Leaders who I have had the honor of serving alongside.

Ed is a colleague and friend and we relied on each other. He and I turned out to be peas in a pod and he and our last Director of Mental Health Services Captain Suzy Ghurrani and Public Affairs Officer Raymond Applewhite helped make the last year of my time at the hospital a time of personal healing as well as service to others. Master Chief Hospital Corpsman Joe Burds was another leader who I will miss. he was not available this morning but I do stay in contact with him. As a Chaplain one needs people like them, especially if one has suffered trauma. Too many Chaplains isolate themselves and while they may deal with command issues with members of the command triad seldom develop the close personal relationships with other leaders that I was able to do and at this point in my life and career am comfortable enough to do.

After doing what I needed I got underway and drove back home to Judy and our dogs Molly and Minnie. This evening I was able to go to Harbor Park in Norfolk to sit in my old section, 102 and hang out watching the game and taking pictures while visiting with my old friends at the ballpark. This is a place of peace and refuge to me. It was hard this year not having a local team in the LeJeune area. I missed my time with my friends in Kinston at Grainger Stadium since the Indians moved away.

Tonight I was able to visit with my friends Elliot, Chip, Art and Tom while watching the game. The Tides won the game 3-2 on a walk off single by Zealous Wheeler, Zach Britton pitched 7 strong innings in the win. It was the final part of knowing that I was really home. Next year I plan on having my season tickets again. Tomorrow begins more of the heavy lifting in the house. I’ll visit California to go to my 35th high school reunion and see my mom, brother and his family before checking in to the Joint Forces Staff College where I will be the Ethics faculty and chaplain.

So anyway, enough about me for the night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Confederate Army Strong? I Think Not

fort-sumter-bombardmentAttack on Ft Sumpter 

“THE CAUSE of the great War of the Rebellion against the United Status will have to be attributed to slavery. For some years before the war began it was a trite saying among some politicians that “A state half slave and half free cannot exist.” All must become slave or all free, or the state will go down. I took no part myself in any such view of the case at the time, but since the war is over, reviewing the whole question, I have come to the conclusion that the saying is quite true.” ― Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs, Vol. 2

I have served my country, not just Red or Blue States or members of either major political party, or minor political party for 32 years. I have served and as a Chaplain have guarded the religious and free speech rights of Christians, Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, Atheists and Agnostics as a Chaplain for 21 of those years.

My family on my mother’s side came to the British Colonies in North America in  the 1680s or 1690s from England and France. My father’s family came in the 1740s from Scotland. During the War for Independence much of my family fought for the colonies or was neutral and some were Tories. One of my direct relatives lived in Philadelphia and worked as a supply officer for the Colonial Army throughout the war. He is buried not far from Benjamin Franklin and other heroes of the Revolution in the Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia, something that get’s me free admittance to the historic site anytime that I am in the city.

Those that were Tories ended up in  what is not Canada after the war. I even had distant relatives who were British Redcoats, one a Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Dundas, later Major General Sir Thomas Dundas commanded one of Lord Cornwallis’ brigades at Yorktown and was one of two British Officers who arranged the surrender at Yorktown.

Thus said my family has a long pedigree in this country and when the war of the Souther Slaveholder Rebellion broke out in 1861 I had family on both sides of the conflict. Most served in the Confederacy, though the part of Virginia they lived in seceded from the Commonwealth because Virginia seceded from the Union.

All this being said I can claim my heritage as a Son of the American Revolution or a Son of the Confederacy.

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Today I saw something that made my blood boil. As I said I have served this country for 32 years in both the Army and the Navy. Part of my service has included time in both the Virginia and Texas Army National Guard. In my time in Virginia or Texas the units that I served traced their linage to either the 1st or 5 Texas Regiments of Hood’s Brigade or the 2nd or 17th Virginia Regiments which fought under Jackson or Pickett during that war.

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As I was saying I saw something today that made my blood boil. I saw a bumper sticker on a pickup truck at the local Home Depot that looked a bit like the US Army “Army Strong” complete with the star featured on the Army bumper sticker. However this one was different. It said “Confederate Army Strong.” To be fair I have seen this sticker on a number of vehicles in Virginia over the past few years but this one got me. The man also has numerous other Confederate or neo-Confederate stickers as well as partisan political comments and conspiracy theory comments about 9-11 being an “inside job” as well as a sticker for the conspiracy theory nutcase Alex Jones’ “Info Wars” website.

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What I find offensive about the “Confederate Army Strong” sticker is that it is a slap in the face to all who died to preserve the Union. Likewise it is the symbol of a political movement designed to promote, defend and expand an economic system built on slavery using the language of “States Rights.” That being said those states and their political leaders who claimed “States Rights” only cared about their own rights and in the decade leading up to the War of the Slaveholders Rebellion, now known as the Civil War used Federal statutes against non-slave States whenever they needed to and fought for tougher Federal laws to keep their “freedom” to maintain slavery.

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Freed Union Prisoner at Andersonville

The fact is that the Confederate Army was responsible for the more deaths and other casualties than all other enemies of the United States before or after the War of the Slaveholders Rebellion. The real fact is that those “noble Confederates” like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and others that by the way included men from my family who owned slaves were rebels who when they did not like the result of an elected seceded from the Union and declared war on their fellow citizens in order to maintain their racist economic and political power. They were not about due process or the will of the people, but their will.

These were the same men who condoned the atrocities committed at places like Andersonville and Belle Isle and when they invaded non-slave states had no qualms about taking any black men, women and children from their homes and sending them to the South, even if the were Free Men and not escaped slaves.

However it is now impolitic to say this. But that is the case and whenever I see such displays of hatred against the country, constitution and citizens who I have sworn an oath to support and defend “against all enemies foreign and domestic” for 32 years I get angry.

I saw the man get into his vehicle and almost confronted him, but in the current climate had I done so I would have been the person condemned in the hate filled right wing media and blogosphere which wants nothing more than to have anyone connected to the Federal Government look like they are being intolerant. Such is the victim culture of many on the political right.

So I held back, took a picture of his stickers and went on my way. I have been far too busy trying to catch up on things left unattended by the past 7 years of service to this nation which has cost me much of my mind, my health and finances being away from home, deployed to Iraq or serving as a geographic bachelor, the latter alone which has cost me over $50,000 that I will never get back. Likewise I figured out that the last 17 years of my military career I have been away from home for 10 years. Since I returned from Iraq I have had to deal with the “Mad Cow” of PTSD.

Thus when I see some old fat codger running around spouting hate who probably has not served a day in uniform, or if he did served an enlistment and then got out I get pissed off. To tell the truth I think that I have good reason. There are times that I think that maybe William Tecumseh Sherman was too gentle on the South and that maybe the Radical Reconstructionists like Thaddeus Stevens were right about the South and what needed to be done to eradicate slavery and restore the Union.

Now that is not me, I am more of a Lincoln “with malice toward none and with charity toward all” kind of person. As a soldier I can be gracious toward a defeated enemy.  But when I see that thrown back in my face by the neo-Confederates of my day I wonder if maybe I and men like Sherman, Grant, Hancock and Chamberlain were wrong. Maybe the rebels should have been tried, executed, exiled or imprisoned for their crimes against the Constitution and their fellow citizens.

That being said Grant noticed how the landed elites of the South not only enslaved the blacks but used poor whites who had nothing to gain from their economics or slavery. The sad thing is the descendants of those who enslaved blacks and used poor whites as their political and later military fodder are at it again. Grant noted:

“The great bulk of the legal voters of the South were men who owned no slaves; their homes were generally in the hills and poor country; their facilities for educating their children, even up to the point of reading and writing, were very limited; their interest in the contest was very meagre–what there was, if they had been capable of seeing it, was with the North; they too needed emancipation. Under the old regime they were looked down upon by those who controlled all the affairs in the interest of slave-owners, as poor white trash who were allowed the ballot so long as they cast it according to direction.”

It really is a sad state of affairs and I grieve for the United States. To think I swear on my life an honor to ensure that all citizens have their right to freedom of speech including the man with his message of hate. However I don’t think that he or others like him would  do the same for me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Moving Back in the Second Time and doing it Right

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I am enjoying a number of Gordon Biersch Czech Pilsners tonight as we complete yet another long day of my move back home.

Military moves are always an adventure. This is the first one where after being away from home three years I have had to move back in to my own home. Most of my stuff, except my dinning room table made it back undamaged. Since I don’t want to toss it out and have the military buy me a new one I need to have it repaired myself or go through the excruciating process of filing a claim and having someone repair it weeks from now.

I thought I had purged a lot of my stuff, and I had. But then when I started unpacking I found that just like The Price is Right there is indeed more. Today between what came off the truck and what was in closers I took a full load in my trusty Ford Escape to the local thrift store. A lot of it was stuff I have bought at a deep discount to sell on E-Bay but later realized that I wasn’t going to make enough to make it worth my time to sell. Thus the thrift shop gets the benefit of a lot of new sportswear and memorabilia to sell, while I get the tax write off.

Last night both Judy and I were exhausted and exasperated. The stress of moving, gutting the crap that has built up over the years and trying to make your home the way you wanted it to be 10 years ago is a real pain in the ass. I have been working hard to get things back in shape, and for those that think a spouse by themselves can read your mind and be able to do everything needed in your absence you are full of shit. A home is a team effort and since there is a “Me” in team I have had a big part in this team effort. Judy did a heck of a lot in my absence but a lot was more than she could do on account of the fact that either she needed me to be there to make a decision as to what to do with something or needed my gargantuan physical abilities to make it happen.

Yes and for those that do not already know this I am a physical beast despite my age and small stature. Ask my buddy and former body guard in Iraq Nelson “the Tyrant” Lebron.

This morning when the movers came Judy kept Molly and Minnie at bay while I worked with the movers to get my stuff in the house and unload it. Of course a fair amount of what I have is stuff for my former and future office so some things will have to wait to be unpacked. However, that being said there is still much work to do and lots of stuff to either be put away or gotten rid of before we are done.

I have also gotten rid of things that I kept for nothing more than sentimental reason. I do value sentiment but now I need to move on. If for nothing else the sake of my sanity. Thus I will spend a lot of time during the next week or so getting rid of things. The future demands it. Besides it would be a pain in the ass to try to take it with me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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