Category Archives: national security

Putin’s Crimean “Anschluss”

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Vladimir Putin has successfully annexed the Crimea and reincorporated it into Mother Russia. It was masterfully done but it was not the first time that something like it has been accomplished. The last time was in March 1938 when Hitler with the assistance of Austrian Nazis and Pan-Germanists brought Austria into the Third Reich over the objections of its democratically elected leaders.

The pretext was the same. Ethnic Germans in Austria who wanted to be part of Germany ere being persecuted, just as was claimed about ethnic Russians in Crimea and the eastern Ukraine. The larger power, backed by military force moved to support the their allegedly persecuted brothers and sisters.

Like in the Crimea, the Nazi conquest of Austria was aided by Austrians. Austrians who with the assistance of the SS ensured that Jews, Socialists and others had their votes suppressed. According to official Russian news sources over 95% of Crimeans voted to become part of Russia. That number is lower than the 99.7% of Austrians who “voted” for incorporation in the German Reich, but numbers such as this are suspect.

The elections in both places were aided by the presence of a large military contingent from each major power. The Germans of course were more overt, their forces openly crossed the border with Hitler accompanying them. The German SS supported the moves of their Austrian counterparts as well as the Austrian SA in bludgeoning all opposition.

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The Russians acting under the same pretext in 2014 denied that their troops had entered the Crimea, despite massive evidence to the contrary. In less than two weeks an “election” was held backed by Russian military forces and local police forces and political groups. Ethnic Ukrainians and Tartars who make up close to 40% of the population of Crimea were kept from the polls.

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The parallels are startling. I expect that by tomorrow the Russian Duma will recognize the results of the Crimean election, and that with days Russian forces will move to annex other potions of the eastern Ukraine. These areas are gripped by Russian nationalist forces that are agitating against the Ukrainian government. The situation is so bad that many ethnic Russians in the region are objecting to the methods and propaganda.

But that will not stop Putin. For whatever reason he has decided that now is the time to begin to restore Russian dominance in the areas nearest to Mother Russia. It is a dangerous move.

Putin is moving more military forces into Crimea. There are credible reports that Russian military units, including the elite Spetsnaz commandos have entered the Ukraine and are attempting to create “false flag” incidents in order to justify Russian military intervention in the Ukraine.

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This is dangerous. The Ukraine is not Austria of 1938, nor is it Czechoslovakia of the same year where a similar drama was playing out in the Sudetenland where Hitler again taking advantage of the supposed oppression of ethnic Germans was used as pretext to threaten war. Then it forced the west to back down, and a Munich the leaders of Britain, France and Italy forced the Czechs to surrender that territory. But now, with the exception of Russia, the world is condemning the Russian aggression in Crimea and the Ukraine.  The UN Security Council voted 13-1 with one abstention to condemn the Russian adventure in Crimea.

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The next week promises to be eventful. A military “truce” has been agreed to by the Ukraine and Russia. That truce is set to expire Friday the 21st of March. Meanwhile the rhetoric in Ukraine and Russia is becoming more elevated even as military forces of Russia, the Ukraine and NATO move into positions around the region. The military situation could easily escalate beyond the best efforts of diplomats and a real disaster could ensue.

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It is a dangerous and potentially volatile situation. Much blame can be laid at leaders of various Ukrainian political factions, the European Union, Russia and the United States for allowing the situation to get to this point. However, that being said the overwhelming responsibility for the increasing rise in tensions and potential for violence has to be laid at the feet of Russian President Putin. It is Putin who has not taken the path of conciliation and negotiation regarding what is happening in Ukraine. He has instead opted for confrontation. That course is is dangerous and is not in the interest of anyone, especially the citizens of the Ukraine.

Let it be clear that I am not a fan of some of the Ukrainian nationalists involved, who are neo-Nazis and fascists. That being said if cooler heads prevail, that negotiations taken in good faith followed by elections that are free, fair and not held under the threat of military intervention take place that the situation might resolve itself. However, if that does not happen I hate to see what happens.

I would hope that some kind of solution, maybe of the order of of a non-aligned Ukraine such as Cold War Finland would be negotiated. Such a course has been recommended by no less than Henry Kissinger. Unfortunately I do not think that will happen. The politicians, pundits and preachers, the Trinity of Evil in Russia, the Ukraine and the West are stoking the fires of passion with results that at best will make the world a less stable and more dangerous place, and at worst could lead to a disastrous war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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My Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-370 Conspiracy Theory

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There are a lot of theories of what happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Since no one really knows anything of substance about actually happened to the flight we are left to speculate. Today the Malaysian government went on record to announce that they believe that terrorism or highjacking by an expert is a likely scenario.

The only problem is that we don’t know who did it, how they did it, why they did it nor to we know where the aircraft went after last contact.

I have believed from the beginning that foul play was involved. However, until the latest release of information about the aircraft’s movements and the apparently deliberate shutdown of the aircraft’s ACARS system did I begin to imagine what might have occurred.

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I suspect that one of the pilots, possibly both, but more than likely one acted to seize the aircraft. My guess is that the whichever pilot did this was acting as part of a broader plot involving a Central Asian separatist group, possibly the Moslem Uighur’s of China. Since approximately two thirds of the passengers were Chinese this makes some sense. Various Uighur groups have committed violent terrorist attacks in China so they should be suspected.

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If not the Uighur’s there are numerous other separatist groups and terrorist organizations in Central Asia with motivation and ability to conduct such an operation. The pilot, involved could have become radicalized in his Moslem beliefs, or have some other basis for cooperating with such a group.

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My theory is that a pilot smuggled a small amount of a form of hydrogen cyanide, which the Germans used in the Second World War in the gas chambers of Auschwitz under the name Zyklon-B. That formula is still produced in the Czech Republic under the trade name Uragan D2, which is used in many countries to eradicate insects and small animals. In a confined space such as an airliner a small canister of these crystals could kill everyone on board in under 10 minutes. Once the hijacker reaches his destination the aircraft can be ventilated and safely used again.

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The scenario goes like this. The pilot with the canister kills or incapacitates his fellow pilot after the aircraft reaches cruising altitude. He then dons a protective mask (gas mask) and gloves opens the door to the cabin and releases the toxin. He then rapidly closes and locks the door to the flight deck while the poison does its job. Within three minutes all passengers and crew are incapacitated and with 10 minutes all are dead. The pilot remains in the cockpit disables the ACARS system and flies the aircraft to a remote airfield in Central Asia, or other remote location where the aircraft is hidden. The terrorists the ventilate the aircraft and remove the bodies. The aircraft is then, with the help of the pilot readied for future use.

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In such a case no terrorist group would claim credit for the seizure of the aircraft. It would be their hope that authorities would finally assume that the aircraft crashed in the Indian Ocean. The aircraft could then be outfitted for whatever use the terrorists desire, including as suicide aircraft.

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This is a very dark and macabre scenario, but it does answer the who, why and how questions that plague us now. As more facts come out, information about both pilots, other passengers on the aircraft as well as the flight path we will find out more.

Again, this is just my conspiracy theory. I have no proof of anything. But do believe that this is a possible scenario that can be supported by the technology involved as well as the situation surrounding the flight. It explains while cell phones continued to operate but no contact was made. It provides some motive particularly if it is a Uighur group with anti-Chinese views.

Of course I would like to be wrong on every count. Maybe I have read too many Tom Clancy novels and watched too many crime shows. The thought of anyone doing such a thing is too frightening to contemplate, but those who can do such evil are incapable of empathy for their victims.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Nothing is as Clear and Certain as it Appears to Be: The Ukraine Crisis

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“in the midst of war and crisis nothing is as clear or as certain as it appears in hindsight” Barbara Tuchman The Guns of August

There is nothing more uncertain than how leaders and people will react in crisis. We would like to think that we can be certain in our predilections, but we cannot because the reality is that human nature is always at play, and human beings have a penchant for doing things that are not expected.

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It did not take long after the showcase of the Sochi Olympic Games for Vladimir Putin to move against the Ukraine and for all practical purposes annex the Crimea. But now after a few weeks it seems that the West is beginning to galvanize in its opposition to the Russian action. Germany is leading the charge from the side of the European Union, with Chancellor Merkel taking the lead. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been taking a hard diplomatic line while military forces gather.

It appears that targeted economic sanctions are in the offing while the European Union prepares to help supply the Ukraine’s energy needs.

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The Russians have blockaded the small Ukrainian Navy in its Crimean ports, it has an estimated 30,000 soldiers in the Crimea and other forces are conducting “exercises” near the Ukrainian border. The Provisional Government of the Ukraine has called up its reserve forces, the United States is deploying naval and air force units to the Black Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean as well as Poland and the Baltic States.

But at the same time this is not the Cold War where two ideological blocks wrestled for domination. Instead the motivations, geopolitical and economic factors that connect the West and Russia make this much more complicated. Money is a big factor and it is of interest to note that a good amount of the resupply of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan is conducted over what is called the Northern Route, which goes through Russia and the Ukraine.

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The situation in the Crimea and the Ukraine is potentially volatile. Any situation that costs the lives of Ukrainians of either Ukrainian or Russian background could spiral out of control. Passions on both sides are running high. We in the West also need to remember that many Russians and men like Putin still feel the humiliation of the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and end of the Soviet Union. Many Russians who even now are not fans of the Soviet system long for the days of empire and Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe.

In 1914 France was motivated by the humiliation that she suffered in 1871 at the hands of Prussia and the loss of Alsace Lorraine. The Russians have a similar attachment to areas where sizable ethnic Russian populations live, including the Eastern Ukraine and the Baltic. One has to remember the words of Otto Von Bismarck who said: “A generation that has taken a beating is always followed by a generation that deals one.”

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When looking at why this is happening we have to remember history.  Likewise we have to also remember the historic Russian paranoia when it comes to the influence of Europe and the West on areas that they believe are still part of Greater Russia. Their memory is long and past wounds are still fresh. Thus the blundering of the EU during the Fall of 2013 in its dealings with Ukraine, dealings which looked to the Russians like an attempt to draw Ukraine further away from them helped cause this situation. Likewise the Eastward expansion of NATO in the 1990s and early 2000s following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact is considered both an insult and threat. The same is true of the presence of the American Anti-Ballistic Missile system in Poland, which is considered by many Russians to be directed at them, not Iran.

The situation is complex and influenced by many factors, and unlike some American politicians and pundits say, it has nothing to do with Benghazi or even what they claim is the “weakness” of President Obama. The roots of this crisis are long standing and diverse and have almost everything to do Russia’s relationship with Europe and very little to do with the United States. Thus for American politicians and pundits to demonstrate their woeful ignorance of history by blaming this all on President Obama is so self serving and transparent that it is embarrassing. But then American politics is almost always a demonstration of ignorance and arrogance.

The problem for the United States is that we have little credibility when it comes criticizing nations like Russia when they do the same as we do. Our actions to invade Iraq in 2003, actions which under the criteria that we laid down at Nuremberg violated international law make it hard for any American leader to criticize another power. This is true even when Putin’s actions, also illegal under international law are no worse and certainly by the historic ties of Crimea to Russia are more justifiable than what we did in Iraq.

Thus the outright hypocrisy of the architects of that invasion like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld shamelessly attack President Obama for his “weak” response to Putin’s actions are in large part to blame for them. They squandered our international standing and credibility, broke the military and bankrupted the country. They then lay the blame on Obama. By the decisions that they made and the subsequent consequences they tied Obama’s hands.

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Sometimes these crisis blow over. Sometimes they stabilize but cause problems that continue for some time after the initial crisis. But there are some times that they take on a life of their own and that the people who think they are directing events end up being caught up in them, often with tragic results. While I do not think this will end in war, the possibility of such cannot be dismissed.

Tuchman in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam wrote:

“A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Policies Contrary to Their Own Interests: Putin’s New Cold War

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“A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by government of policies contrary to their own interests.” Barbara Tuchman

Today Russian forces continued their occupation of Crimea in spite of international outrage. Not only did they continue to build up their forces in Ukraine to the point that they operationally control the peninsula, they upped the ante demanding that Ukrainian army and navy units to surrender by Wednesday or face a “military storm.”

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It is something that Europe has not seen since the Cold War when the Soviet Union used military force and violence to put down revolts in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

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However, I think in political terms it is much closer to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 after Britain France and Italy stripped that country of its power by forcing the Czechs to surrender the Sudetenland to Hitler in October of 1938. Up to that moment the European powers bet on the appeasement of the Hitler regime. In a sense over the past decade the West has given Putin free reign to exercise his power over former territories, coercing them and occasionally using economic and even military power to bring them into line.

But now it is Ukraine. a complex region where Asiatic Russia meets Europe. The Ukraine is not Georgia or Chechnya. It is a region that has been a battlefield between Russia, the indigenous peoples as well as Germany, Poland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Turkey. It is the dividing line between western Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy. In the 1850s even England and France found themselves intervening in the Crimea.

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I believe that Putin under the flimsiest of pretensions has elected to use military force to attempt to coerce the Ukraine back under the thumb of a Russian Hegemon and to frighten the West into not intervening. It is a mistake. Just as in 1938 when Hitler believed that he could continue to steamroll the through Europe without war. In betting on the weakness of the West, Putin is playing the same game. Contrary to the speculation that Putin is doing this as a show of strength it is actually a display of Putin’s domestic insecurity.

Russia is not nearly as economically or militarily strong as Putin acts. There are serious ethnic and social divisions in the country and despite its assertions the Russian economy is much more dependent on the good graces of other nations as it is not. Already following Putin’s move into the Crimea the Russian currency and stock markets are tanking. I suspect that the West will soon impose sanctions that hit Russian economic and banking oligarchs where it hurts which will undercut support for Putin where he needs it most. Likewise I expect that Russia will be expelled from the G-8 and possibly cut off from other international banking and economic organizations.Likewise both the U.S. and the United Kingdom are bound by treaty to protect the territorial integrity of the Ukraine.

140302073009-03-ukraine-0203-horizontal-galleryPutin has had a run of success until now. However his crackdown against dissidents, campaigns against homosexuals and the state supported Russian Orthodox Church assault against other Christian denominations have already undermined his credibility as a world leader.

The invasion of the Ukraine will solidify opposition to Russia abroad, and increase anti-Putin sentiment in Russia. Should the Russian military attempt to invade other parts of Ukraine as they are threatening, Putin will find that he has bit off more than he can chew. His forces are certainly more than a match for the Ukrainian military, but he will not be able to hold or occupy the vast areas of the Ukraine in the face of opposition that will rapidly move toward a protracted insurgency. This insurgency will be supported by nations such as Chechnya which will take the war to the heart of Russia. It will turn out worse for Russia than the invasion of Afghanistan for the Soviet Union.

A new Cold War has already begun, Putin has made sure of that. The world that existed just three weeks ago when athletes from around the world gathered in Sochi for the Winter Olympics no longer exists. The only thing that we can hope is that the new Cold War does not become a hot war.

I am reminded of Barbara Tuchman’s words in The Guns of August: “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.” 

The world that we knew is now changed.

Let us pray for peace.

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Putin’s Mistake: Creating an Afghanistan in the Ukraine

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It appears that  it is 1980 all over again. From  all accounts Vladimir Putin will succeed in chopping off the heavily Russian region of Crimea from the Ukraine. His troops accomplished the task in short order. The weak and isolated Ukrainian border guard and military units stood no chance against an invasion which had obviously been planned for month. This was not a knee-jerk response by Putin. Though events moved rapidly,  the alacrity with which the Russian troops moved in, aided by ethnic Russians, and the rubber stamp action of the upper house of the Russian legislature to approve it demonstrates that it was not simply a move to “protect Russian citizens.”

The response of the new provisional government in Ukraine is that the invasion, and it is an invasion no-matter what Putin and his allies claim, is an act of war. The Ukrainian President has mobilized all reserves, however conventional Ukrainian military force is insignificant compared to what Russia can deploy against it. That being said if Putin elects to continue his aggressive and short sighted overreach by moving troops into other parts of the Ukraine it will trigger a massive insurgency against his forces and it may cause other now independent regions of the old Soviet empire to offer support to Ukraine. The President of Chechnya has already made the offer and its hardy and brutal soldiers are quite good at conducting insurgency and terrorist campaigns.

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The West’s response is limited by geography. Any U.N. response against it will be vetoed in the Security Council by Russia. The United States, the European Union and NATO will protest. They will probably enact sanctions on Russia’s financial oligarchs on which Putin’s power rests and will possibly move troops to the western areas of the Ukraine and maybe limited naval forces into the Black Sea.

For those like Representative Mike Rogers of the House Intelligence Committee and others who said the Obama “missed the opportunity to deploy military forces to Ukraine,” I have to ask what forces and for what purpose?  U.S. military options are quite limited after 13 years of fighting costly wars, including the preemptive invasion of Iraq. Those wars, fought on borrowed money because the Bush administration refused to raise any taxes of any kind to support them harmed the country. Our forces, both the troops and equipment are worn out by war. The ability of the nation to rebuild and sustain them has been compromised by the economic costs of the 2008 banking and real estate crisis.  Likewise the Republican actions to force sequestration and other cuts on the military in order to get President Obama to cave to their domestic agenda has been detrimental to our overall national security.

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Those efforts themselves will not immediately accomplish much. However, when combined with an insurgency that has the ability to strike Moscow and St. Petersburg, the costs of maintain an occupying army in hostile territory are factored in they become more important. Likewise the ambivalence of the Russian people, who despite the imperialistic Russian media blitz has not risen to support war will eventually bring Putin problems at home.

The invasion of Crimea is not good for anyone. Ukraine needs time to sort out what it will become and a war is not in the interests of anyone.

The situation is intense and fraught with danger. Passions in many parts of the Ukraine are riding high and Putin’s move is more risky than he may realize. This is not the Republic of Georgia which Putin successfully invaded in 2008, abetted by the incompetence of that country’s leaders. If Putin continues down this course he will open the door to a real life Pandora’s Box, one that may take him and his government down just as Afghanistan helped end the Soviet empire.

Of course it is too early to say what will happen. The geopolitics, and economic realities, the internal politics of Russia, the Ukraine and the West will all influence what happens. In the past Putin has conducted a skillful game of realpolitik, however this time he may have overplayed what was a strong diplomatic, economic and political hand by launching this invasion. Those that think that simply because the EU depends on Russia for much of its natural gas and oil forget that Russia cannot cut off the supply without financial repercussions that directly affect Putin’s allies in the Russian financial oligarchy.

So now we watch as all the actors make their moves. It is a dangerous game that Putin has embarked upon.

We can only pray that it does not turn into disaster for all concerned.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Shutdown Showdown is Over But the Damage is Done: Respected Military and Economic Leaders Speak Out

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“The example that America knows how to govern itself is one of the compelling aspects of our national security, and right now, we are not demonstrating that.” General James Mattis USMC (Retired) 

The shutdown of the Federal Government and the near default on our debt payments led by Senator Ted Cruz and members of the Tea Party Faction of the Republican Party has severely damaged the United States. It was an action that they knew could not succeed, but they went ahead and did it anyway.

The short term costs were significant. Standard and Poor’s estimates that the 16 day shutdown cost over 24 billion dollars. But ultimately that is not the worst of the problem. The same faction led us into the sequestration and the Democrats assuming that the Tea Party faction would act responsibly agreed to it. However, that act is also hurting us. Retired Admiral John Harvey commented:

“The method we’re going to, the sequestration and the [continuing resolution], ties their hands as to where you go and make your choices. You don’t get to make choices, and that’s the danger. It’s not that we have tough circumstances. It’s that we don’t get to make the choices necessary to deal with those circumstances.”

General Mattis, the former Commander of Central Command also said:

“The economy’s always been the engine for our national security. There’s no way that that our military power will not erode if a robust American economic revival is not part of the cards. And the dysfunction in Washington right now shows a country unable to govern itself — and that is worth more than 10 battleships to us.”

Senior Military leaders regardless of their political leanings are general very pragmatic. We are well educated and unlike the stereotypes often have more education and experience that our counterparts in either the private sector or other part of government, especially many members of the House of Representatives.

We read history, are engaged in foreign policy, economics, political science, ethics and other subjects that most people, especially the pundits and special interests only pretend to study for partisan gain. We do not get our history from barley educated hacks like David Barton, Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly.

The remarks of General Mattis and Admiral Harvey are shared by many in the military, even officers who are very conservative and not in favor of some of President Obama’s policies.

I mentioned the other night that the foundations of national power are often referred to as the DIME. That is the Diplomatic, the Informational, the Military and the Economic power of the nation. These components are dependent on each other. One only has to look to history to see this.

As General Mattis said “our economy has always been the engine of our national security.” However much of that economic power has been squandered and because we have chosen to ignore it we have seen our infrastructure rot away. Without a thriving economy our military might suffers, you do not win wars with military power alone, nor do you deter enemies.

Likewise our diplomatic power, linked to our economic and military might leverages our favorable image in the world to get other powers to go along with policies that benefit both us and them. The story that we tell about ourselves, the informational power of the nation also is part of our national power and security.

What the 2011 threat to trigger the debt limit crisis by a newly empowered and recently victorious Tea Party led Republican Party was bad in the short term as well as the long term. That deal from a national security point of view alone, not counting the cost to the poor and to important scientific, medical, economic, energy and education aspects of our economy was devastating. The sequester cuts if they are allowed to continue will endanger the country in many ways. As Admiral Harvey noted they “tie our hands.”

The damage to our international reputation over the past couple of years, but especially the self-inflicted wound of the past few weeks is devastating. Countries that are our economic and military rivals like China are hammering us and suggesting a new world order, a “de-Americanized” world order. If you think that the economy is bad now, see what happens of the dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency. The cost of oil and everything else that we depend on from other nations will rise in a big way. Borrowing costs, just try to get a loan for a house or a car should that happen.

That is just the tip of the iceberg because once our key allies and trading partners lose confidence in our ability of govern ourselves our influence will decline and I believe in a major way. People around the world are now wondering if they can trust us. Our political system, as cantankerous as it can be worked for over 200 years, not perfectly, but well enough because our leaders understood the necessity of compromise and working across party lines for the benefit of the country. My example for this is how President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill in spite of there major policy differences remained personal friends and when appeared to be going bad worked together.

John Chambers the head of S&P’s Sovereign Ratings committee noted just how close that the actions of Congress had come to sending our national debt rating crashing. http://www.newsweek.com/exclusive-sp-was-minutes-marking-down-americas-debt-396 Chambers noted:

“It is simply not a characteristic of the most highly rated sovereigns that you have to worry about them not paying their debts,” Chambers said, noting that no nation has ever defaulted for such a ridiculous reason – political games of mutually assured destruction. “It is unheard of in a cohesive civil society, making it all the more puzzling and lamentable that we have these shenanigans over spending that has already been approved by Congress.”

It is time for political leaders to wake up and realize that what they are doing will destroy this country. Unfortunately there are some out there like Senator Cruz who are willing to do this all over again. That is unfortunate, unwise and just plain stupid.

God help us all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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To the Brink…An Unnecessary Condition of Affairs

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I have resisted writing much about the shutdown that has beset our nation the past two weeks and the looming debt default. Truthfully I don’t know what to say. I am amazed that we have reached this point, but then at the same time I am not. I saw it coming in 2011 when the I wrote a couple of articles while nursing a broken leg. One The Deal is Done and are We? There are Always Results was written the day the deal was done, the other Be Careful…there is a point of no return and we may have crossed it was written the day prior to the deal.

Both articles lamented the state of the body politic of the nation and recognized that the actions of our political leaders, men and women elected by us were much less about the budget than a cultural war elicited by the unbridled hatred of our fellow citizens.

Back then I wrote:

“The attitudes that we have formed and angry words which we now use so ubiquitously are reflective of a deep hatred that now is becoming what defines us as a people.  In fact the deep and abiding hatred which now permeates our society is now threatening the international standing and I would say the national security of the United States.  We have only ourselves to blame because through our actions and inactions of the past decade we have made our choice to be what we have become and there is no one group especially in our political, media and business elites that have served us well.  In fact we have as voters chosen this toxic mix of elected officials often more influenced by hate spewing pundits and our own self interests rather than that of the nation and future generations much as we would like to claim that we are looking out for the future.”

I am an American. I serve my country regardless of who the President is. I have served under five Presidents now. In each case there have been things that I have liked and disliked about each of them as well as policies with which I have disagreed. But for me the fundamental principle was always the good of the country. That is something that I cannot say exists, especially in the Jacobins of the Tea Party who have driven the country to the point of default for no good reason.

People can say that their opposition to the Affordable Health Care Act is a matter of principle. But it is law and has been deemed Constitutional by the Supreme Court. Shutting down the government and bringing about default is not the means to change a law, even one that some despise.

The government shutdown, the default and the Sequester brought about by the Budget  Control Act of 2011 are dangerous. I see them from a national security point of view. In national security parlance our national power is not merely based on military power. It is what we call the DIME. The Diplomatic, Informational, Military and Economic power of the nation. These factors all have been weakened by the shutdown, the threatened default and the sequester. Our status as a world power is directly affected by these actions, and like it or not in our globalized interconnected world all these factors matter. The actions of Congress, particularly the members of the House precipitating these actions are dangerous, irresponsible and stupid.

It doesn’t take much to figure out that the Chinese in particular are attempting to use this to their advantage. The are lobbying for a new world economic order which would replace the Dollar as the world wide reserve currency. The loss of this would harm us immeasurably as many of our advantages in trade, finance and other economic matters are directly related to our economic and political stability and trust of other nations believing that we will act in a responsible matter.

Likewise there are people that have become unhinged. Today I had a comment on the site which I did not allow from a man in Louisiana (IP address lookup is a cool tool) who was more extreme than many of the more extreme Tea Party extremists I have encountered. By labeling these particular people extreme I am not making a blanket statement about people in the Tea Party because I know many good people who I count as friends in the Tea Party movement who are rational, reasonable and non-violent.

That being said I have gotten past the point of needing to engage unhinged internet trolls or giving them room to spout their hatred on this site. The man was spouting the most insane babble, a mixture of Alex Jones paranoia and simple hate devoid of any real real arguments. I went to his site and saw that this was his normal writing style. It was scary because his answer was violence.

I am reminded of what Robert E Lee testified before a Senate hearing after the defeat of the Confederacy.

“I may have said and I may have believed that the position of the two sections which they held to each other was brought about by the politicians of the country; that if the great mass of the people, if they had understood the real questions would have avoided it. I did believe at the time that it (the war) was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.”

That is what we face today. There is a hard core of idealist who will not compromise, who see compromise as weakness and defeat. They lack the understanding that the very narrow latitude prescribed in our governmental structure and Constitution prescribed by our founders demands compromise. Otherwise the system cannot work. It is not perfect by a long shot. There will always be things about the country that one faction or another does not like and attempts to change through the normal legislative process. That is what is supposed to happen in order to form “a more perfect union.” However that is not what is happening in this case. The radicals appear to want to destroy the country allegedly to save it.

I know not what tomorrow holds. I hope and pray that the shutdown will be ended, a continuing resolution passed and default averted. However I do not know if it will happen, and that should cause all of us regardless of our political views to ask just what the hell are we doing?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Real Conflict: Ethics and American Values Versus Realpolitik

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“A country that demands moral perfection in its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security” Henry Kissinger

There are a times in a nation’s life that its leaders are confronted with situations that present conflicts between a nation’s values and realpolitik.

The fact is that there are “tribes” in foreign policy and national security debates. Some are the idealists, others pragmatists and some realists. There are gradients between the levels and sometimes depending on the situation an idealist might gravitate toward pragmatism or even realpolitik and visa versa. Sometimes it is a matter of politics, sometimes ideology and sometimes even  and no leader of no political is immune from these tensions.

The situation in Syria is one of those times where the conflicting agendas of the different foreign policy tribes conflict and where no matter what happens in Syria the conflicts between the tribes will remain and perhaps even grow more pronounced. The fact is that I often can find myself on several sides of the same argument. It might be the PTSD “Mad Cow” is causing these conflicts but it could also be that there are good arguments to be made on all sides of the argument. What is ultimately the right course or the wrong course is actually hard to say.

If we argue for the idealist position, which would argue that American values of stopping human rights violations and the use of chemical weapons, something prohibited under the Hague convention and the more recent Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992 against the realpolitik of what are the actual National Security interests of the United States, the vital interests which involve the survival of the nation itself, major interests which could impact national security or tertiary interests which might have some importance but do not threaten the survival of the nation, even of they are terrible crimes against humanity.

Whether one likes it or not these are legitimate ethical and policy conflicts. On one hand there is the position that the United States has taken following World War Two and the Nuremberg trials as well as its participation in the International Criminal Courts has a moral obligation to confront the use of chemical weapons even if other nations or international bodies stand aside. On the other hand the argument that what happens in Syria is not in the vital interests of the United States and that the United States should not take military action to stop the use of those weapons. The fact is that those that advocate military action in Syria be they politicians, pundits, preachers or profiteers need to remember the words of Carl Von Clausewitz that “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.” I really don’t think that we have thought this through as a nation.

Of course these two positions are not exclusive. There are also ranges of action which span the full spectrum of action between the either or situation that most Americans seem to find themselves caught between. The fact is that the National Security Strategy of the United States is not based on military might alone, no matter how much it has been used as the first choice by American leaders. The reality is that military force is only one element, and perhaps the weakest element of the elements of national security police known as the “DIME.” That is the Diplomatic, the Informational, the Military and the Economic power of the nation. What we seem to have forgotten is that the other elements of the DIME other than the gut level military response have value and are perhaps even more important.

I think that a large part of this conundrum is found in the reflexive use of military force as the preferred means of action since the attacks of September 11th 2001. On that day the United States was attacked by the terrorist attacks of Al Qaeda militants and while the victims of those attacks were overwhelmingly American the citizens of over 60 other nations we killed in the attacks.

Those attacks demonstrated the vulnerabilities of this nation. When one looks at our actual national security policy it is clear that those vulnerabilities are not always fixed by military action in other countries. In fact they sometimes can become even more glaring as resources required for Homeland Defense and economic recovery are spent on military operations of dubious strategic value and which at times undermine efforts to build trust with other nations, build coalitions based on shared values and to undercut the efforts of extremists using diplomacy, information and economic power.

What we have to answer now is how we address a situation in Syria that is both a violation of international law but which military force alone cannot solve. Of course there is a conflict between our ideals and what are vital national security concerns. I would suggest that the real threat of military action can be a part of the answer if it helps the United States and the world make the case through diplomacy, information and economic pressure not only to stop the slaughter but to hold those responsible for it accountable in International Criminal Courts for the commission of war crimes. At the same time the reality is that the United States and the world cannot allow an Al Qaeda dominated organization such as the Al Nursa Front gain control of Syria.

The fact is that despite how clear cut we want things to be as Americans that much of what happens in the world takes place in a world of more than 50 shades of gray. Unfortunately American conservatives and liberals alike prefer to see foreign policy in the “either or” world of using pure military force or doing nothing, neither of which of themselves are the answer. The full continuum of national and international power must be brought to bear in these kind of situations, recognizing that not everyone shares our values or has the same strategic interests.

It may not be comfortable for anyone but it is reality. How we navigate it is key, maintaining our values while ensuring that our nation survives. If military action is decided on one has to remember what Clausewitz said: “The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes.”

To make a decision without understanding this or as we did in Iraq ignoring it is to risk disaster. Such are the stakes. I personally would rather see more negotiation in the hopes that the Syrian chemical and biological weapons are secured and those responsible for using them, be they Assad, his government or even the rebels attempting to frame the Syrians and deceive the United States against the Syrian people are brought to justice.

This is a messy business and not for the faint of heart. Lives of thousands of people in Syria, the region and potentially around the world are at stake and a military strike that fails to accomplish the political object would be worse than none at all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Timing is Everything: Learning at the Pivotal Points of Life and History

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“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Earl Weaver

Timing is everything, especially when it comes to learning. Tomorrow I begin my in processing and introductions to my class classes at the Joint Forces Staff College a student at the Joint Advanced Warfighting School. I have already began my studies refreshing myself on some of the basic National Security Strategy documents that form the basis of our nation’s Military and National Security strategy.

I have always sought to learn and even more importantly to be able to understand. I think that all of us need to have our beliefs and ideologies challenged. In my study of the great men and women of history I have found that those that it is those that learned in times of crisis. Thus when I look at history I find that many of the best learners did so at the pivotal points of their lives and the times that they lived. I have learned in formal and informal study but also in life and experience.

I have read all of them before but it was good to browse through them again after I downloaded them on my Kindle IPad App. I have to admit I like the ability to download, save and read documents so easily.

As I said this is not my first foray into these subjects on National Security policy and the Joint, Multinational and Interagency world. They were part of my study in the Marine Corps Command and Staff College back in 2003 to 2005. That too was a matter of perfect timing as far as learning was concerned. The National Security and Military Strategy documents that we studied in those courses were the ones hammered out in the years after the Cold War and to a large extent ignored by the Bush Administration as we went into Iraq. To remember the debates and discussions that we had in those courses is to remember that there were men and women who could honestly debate the gross mistakes that were unfolding in the wake of the invasion of that unfortunate country.

Now after 12 years of war I am back in class and there is a national and international debate about the use of chemical weapons in Syria and a possible military strike against the Assad regime. What I find amazing is that so few of the people debating the issue have the slightest idea about National Security Strategy, past or present and I would dare say that most pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil have little idea of what any of the baseline documents say, nor do most care. The issue for them is either the advancement of their particular party or ideological point of view or in the case of the politicians their re-election chances. Lay people for the most part just get what they are fed by media outlets and are often even less informed or knowledgeable about these critical issues.

In the past two days I have re-read The 2010 National Security Strategy http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/national_security_strategy.pdf

the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review  http://www.defense.gov/qdr/images/QDR_as_of_12Feb10_1000.pdf  The 2011 National Military Strategy of the United States of America http://www.jcs.mil/content/files 2011-02/020811084800_2011_NMS_-_08_FEB_2011.pdf and the 2012 Strategic Guidance entitled “Sustaining Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense http://www.defense.gov/news/Defense_Strategic_Guidance.pdf 

The documents are the most recent guidance on these policies provided by the Defense Department and the White House. As far as they go for the time they were written they were fairly good. However like all such policy documents they are products of their time and in a fast changing world while many aspects still work they are limited. All except the 2012 Guidance none discuss the events of the Arab Spring because it had not yet occurred and few people anticipated it. Thus the continued strife in Egypt and Syria is something that will have to be addressed.

Likewise one deal with the budgetary realities that are currently crippling the military force and will impact any future military operations as well as force structure. Thus in the next year or so all will be updated. It will be good to be in the course because we will have our regular instruction plus guest speakers who have been involved in these debates and those working on policy for the coming years.

Despite their limitations I would recommend that anyone commenting on National Security matters at least take the time to familiarize themselves with these documents as well as those dating back to the mid-1990s. It is irresponsible for the chatty classes to make uniformed or half-informed pronouncements about what should be done in any of the many challenges confronting the nation without understanding the policies of the the past 20 years and more that got us to this point in time. Confucius said “Study the past if you would define the future.” His words are as pertinent now as they were when he penned them.

Since I have discussed some of the issues of the situation in Syria in previous posts recently it will suffice to say that going to this school at this time is going to expose me to a lot of different perspectives and I imagine will bring about some close friendships with the students in my seminar group.

I do expect to learn a lot over the coming months and as I said at the beginning of this article, when it comes to learning timing is everything. But as Albert Einstein said “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

I do not know how much time I will have to write but I will try to attempt to keep writing here over the next few months on a regular basis. I might not get as many articles up but I will keep writing and in mid November I will be able to resume a normal amount of writing.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Injustice in Syria and the Impotence of the World

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“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”  Ellie Wiesel 

I do not think that any surgical strike against Syrian military forces and chemical weapons facilities by a handful of US Navy ships and submarines will stop the unrelenting bloodbath that is the Syrian Civil War. It would be nice if it would but realistically it will not.

What is going on in that country fits every definition of war crimes and crimes against humanity as defined by Nuremberg, the Hague and Geneva Conventions, the Geneva protocols of 1925 which Syria is a signatory to specifically state that “the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world.” This message was strengthened in the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992, a document that 98% of the nations of the world are signatories to, although Syria  is not one of them.

There are strong moral and legal arguments to be made for intervention in Syria. Unfortunately morality and legal arguments against crimes against humanity seem to have very little weight in the world. But then they never have. It is only when nations decide that the threat extends beyond the deaths of unfortunate people that they really could not care less who lived or died, but directly threaten the economic and security interests of the great powers then the vast majority of people and nations would rather not get involved.

This is especially true after the American led coalition invaded Iraq on the basis of the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The intelligence about the threat has been widely discredited, Iraq remains devastated, Iran empowered and the United States military hamstrung by 12 years of war. The Iraq War and its aftermath, the casualties, the costs and the loss of credibility of the United States as a result of it haunt the actions of the Obama Administration and will haunt future presidencies. As Harry Callahan noted “there are always results.” 

As Barbara Tuchman so well put it: “An event of great agony is bearable only in the belief that it will bring about a better world. When it does not, as in the aftermath of another vast calamity in 1914-18, disillusion is deep and moves on to self-doubt and self-disgust.” 

That was the result of the Iraq war. Though the vast majority of Americans had no direct link to the war that was fought by a small minority of military personnel the effects linger. Our politicians, pundits and preachers talk about us being “war weary” but that really can only be applied to the tiny number of men and women who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan and in numerous other places that no one knows or cares about. I think that people are less war weary than they are apathetic to anything that they do not believe directly effects them.

Bertold Brecht wrote:

“The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread. 

When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!”

When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.”

That being said the consequences of a military action that not only does not destroy the Assad regime’s military capacity to kill innocents could make matters even worse than they are now, a thought that is hard to imagine. Likewise the possibilities of the action going awry  and the situation escalating and even expanding outside the borders of Syria bringing are quite high.

The arguments against intervention as far as military consequences and the low probabilities of success of surgical strikes is a strong argument for non-intervention. Realistically unless there is the participation of major military forces from many nations back by the UN, the Arab League and NATO with boots on the ground to find, secure and destroy the chemical weapons a military strike may achieve a modicum of success but most likely fail in its ultimate goal. The result would be that the situation would continue to escalate and a broader intervention ensue.

I am not happy with the way this has played out. The moral thing would have been for the UN Security Council take strong action against the Syrian regime and the world join in. However that will not happen, too many nations see this as an opportunity to advance their own agendas in the region using both the Syrian government and the rebel forces, some of which are allied with the Al Qaida organization. Some of the Syrian Rebels are as bad as Assad when it comes to indiscriminate killing of innocents and the commission of war crimes.

This week there will be votes in the Senate and House of Representatives regarding a Senate resolution for limited military action against the Assad regime requested by the Obama White House. The political posturing of many opponents as well as supporters of intervention has been nothing but shameful. In many cases it is not about actual foreign policy but on politics dictated by gerrymandered districts and the politics of mutual assured destruction. There is a good chance that the resolutions will not pass and one or both houses of Congress. However there is a strong chance that even without Congressional approval that the Obama administration will most likely attempt to do the morally right thing with inadequate means.

I am torn on this. I do think that as Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that we are at a “Munich moment.” The consequences of inaction and limited action alike are potentially disastrous. The hope of many for the Arab Spring has turned into a nightmare. The question is how bad the nightmare will get.

Honestly I cannot say what is I think should be done. I can make the case for intervention based on moral, legal and ethical grounds and I can make the case against based on realpolitik.

All that being said, for the sake of humanity echo the words of Ellie Wiesel“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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