Tag Archives: al qaeda

“So it Goes” Remembering the Day Before 9-11-2001 and the Beginning Of War Without End

The twin Towers, September 10th 2001 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After 18 years of unending war, terrorism, and the paranoia that come with it, I almost find it hard to remember what things were like on September 10th 2001.

I had been in the military over 20 years by then, but having resigned my commission as a Major in the Army Reserve in order to return to active duty as a Navy Chaplain serving with the 2nd Marine Division at a lower rank, I try to think about Monday, September 10th once in a while.

Despite coming close to a ground war in Kosovo in 1999, we had settled into the norms of peacetime training and preparation for whatever the next crisis might be. I had participated in the preparations for the Kosovo campaign, which thankfully we were prevented from going into a ground war over due to Serbian President Slobodan Miloševićat blinking at the last minute and agreeing to a ceasefire and withdraw from Kosovo, which could have led to a wider war in the Balkans and with Russia.

On the night of September 10th 2001 my mind was as far from war and terror as it could be. I was much more interested in the MLB Pennant Race than I was anything going on in the world, after all the only issues we faced were occasional, if deadly terrorist attacks on foreign installations and deployed ships like the USS Cole.  But as to the security of the Continental United States, or as it has been referred to by some since 9-11 as “the Homeland” I wasn’t concerned. Somehow, despite my knowledge, understanding and study of terrorist groups I just never thought anyone could pull off an attack of this magnitude.  The next morning I discovered just how wrong I was as the first reports came in while I was on my way to a late PT session at Camp LeJeune North Carolina where I was serving with the Second Marine Division, but that is a story for tomorrow night.

September 10th was a normal and pretty much a typical September day in America. The Denver Broncos beat the New York Giants in Denver that night. The Seattle Mariners won their 104th game of the season, defeating the Anaheim Angels 5-1.

But the next morning changed all of our lives and ushered in what is now 18 years of war which has cost the United States military almost 80,000 casualties including over 7,000 dead or died of wounds. Of course that does not count non-DOD agency casualties, or those of the contractors who have been a big part of the war effort, nor does it count the number of friendly Afghans, Iraqis, and others who have to use the antiseptic and dehumanizing term collateral damage, who have been killed, maimed, or displaced by nearly two decades of war.

Eighteen years after 9-11-2001 we are not only still at war, but it is becoming a war without end. President Trump tried and failed using ham handed tactics to make a deal with the Taliban, including a meeting that was to occur yesterday at Camp David to allegedly secure a peace deal that would net him the Nobel Peace Prize. That didn’t happen after Taliban fighters killed yet another American soldier in combat last week. Of course the deaths of over a dozen other Americans since January, not to mention hundreds of Afghan soldiers, police and civilians who have died at the hands of the Taliban and the descendants of the original Al Qaida. Those lives didn’t matter as long as the President thought he could get a deal to end the war, then with Taliban representatives at his doorstep he called the talks off. Personally I don’t think the President really cared about any of those lives, he hasn’t mentioned any of them over the past year, nor gone to their funerals, or met their remains at Andrews Air Force Base, so what happened had to be about him, otherwise why invite Taliban leaders to meet with him of the week of the anniversary of the 9-11-2001? If not to get a deal.

Eighteen years ago, I figured that after a few months Al Qaeda would be no more, and the war that they had unleashed upon us would be over. however I was wrong. Now now, many of the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen I deal with were just children or not even born when the attacks happened.

In just over six months I will be retired from the military, and as Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Slaughterhouse Five: “So it goes…” 

Have a good night, until tomorrow,

Peace

2 Comments

Filed under crime, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, terrorism, War on Terrorism

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes…” Reflections on the Invasion of Iraq in Light of Nuremberg

saddam0978

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am continuing to write about the invasion of Iraq in 2003, an invasion that by any standard of measure fit the definition of War Crimes as defined by the American who headed the prosecution of the major Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg. Justice Robert Jackson stated in his opening:

“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.

In March 2003 I like many of us on active duty at the time saw the nation embark on a crusade to overthrow an admittedly thuggish criminal head of state, Saddam Hussein. The images of the hijacked airliners crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were still relatively fresh in our minds. The “evidence” that most of us had “seen,” the same that most Americans and people around the world were shown led many of us to believe that Saddam was involved in those attacks in some manner and that he posed a threat to us.

Now it wasn’t that we didn’t have doubts about it or even the wisdom of invading Iraq. It didn’t matter that there was also credible evidence that maybe what we were being told was not correct, and it didn’t matter that some of our closest allies voted against a mandate to invade Iraq in the United Nations Security Council. We were emotionally charged by the events of 9-11 and “we knew” that Saddam was a “bad guy.” We also believed that we could not be defeated. We had defeated the Iraqis in 1991 and we were stronger and they weaker than that time.

We really didn’t know much about Iraq, its history, people, culture and certainly we paid little attention to the history of countries that had invaded and occupied Iraq in the past. T.E. Lawrence, the legendary Lawrence of Arabia wrote in August of 1920 about his own country’s misbegotten invasion and occupation of Iraq, or as it was known then Mesopotamia.

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

The sad thing is that the same could have been written of the United States occupation by 2004.

But even more troubling than the words of Lawrence are the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. Somehow as a historian who has spent a great deal of time studying the Nazi period and its aftermath I cannot help but look back in retrospect and wonder what Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson and the other Nuremberg prosecutors would have done had they had some of our leaders in the dock instead of the Nazis.

In his opening statement before the tribunal Jackson spoke words about the the Nazi plan for war that could apply equally to that to the United States in 2002 and 2003:

“This war did not just happen-it was planned and prepared for over a long period of time and with no small skill and cunning.”

776px-Nuremberg-1-

The indictments against the Nazis at Nuremberg are chilling if we were to be held to the same standard that we held the Nazis leaders at Nuremberg. True, we did not have massive death camps or exterminate millions of defenseless people, nor did we run slave labor factories, but we did like they launched a war of aggression under false pretense against a country that had not attacked us.

At Nuremberg we charged twenty top Nazi political officials, as well as police and high ranking military officers with war crimes. The indictments included:

Count One: Conspiracy to Wage Aggressive War: This count addressed crimes committed before the war began, showing a plan by leaders to commit crimes during the war.

Count Two: Waging Aggressive War, or “Crimes Against Peace” which included “the planning, preparation, initiation, and waging of wars of aggression, which were also wars in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances.”

Count Three: War Crimes. This count encompassed the more traditional violations of the law of war already codified in the Geneva and Hague Conventions including treatment of prisoners of war, slave labor, and use of outlawed weapons.

Count Four: Crimes Against Humanity, which covered the actions in concentration camps and other death rampages.

While count four, Crimes Against Humanity would be difficult if not impossible to bring to trial because there was nothing in the US and Coalition war in Iraq that remotely compares to that of what the Nazis were tried, some US and British leaders could probably have been successful prosecuted by Jackson and the other prosecutors under counts one through three.

The fact is that none of the reasons given for the war by the Bush Administration were demonstrated to be true. Senior US and British officials knowing this could be tried and very probably convicted on counts one and two. We also know that some military and intelligence personnel have been convicted of crimes that would fall under count three.

r-SADDAM-HUSSEIN-large570

Saddam Hussein was a war criminal. He was also a brutal dictator who terrorized and murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people. But we went to war over his alleged ties to Al Qaeda and WMDs and he had not attacked us. Looking back at history and using the criteria that we established at Nuremberg I have no doubt that had Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld been in the dock that Justice Jackson would have destroyed them and the court would have convicted them.

So 15 years later we need to ask hard questions. The war cost nearly 5000 US military personnel dead, 32,000 wounded, over 100,000 afflicted with PTSD, and other spiritual and psychological injuries; an estimated 22 veterans committing suicide every day.  Somewhere between 1 and 2 trillion dollars were spent, helping to bankrupt the nation. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, wounded and displaced from their homes; their country was destroyed and they have not recovered. Yet somehow those that decided to take us to war roam free. They write books defending their actions and appear on “news” programs hosted by their media allies who 15 years ago helped manipulate the American public, still traumatized by the events of 9-11-2001 to support the war.

Despite all of this and the passage of 15 years with which to reflect a new poll revealed that some 43% of Americans still believe that the war was worth it.

nuremberg-jackson-10400

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=No06Lwk_TAg

Saddam and many of his henchmen are dead or rotting in Iraqi prisons for their crimes against the Iraqi people. However good this may be one has to ask if how it happened was legal or justified under US or International Law, if it was worth the cost in blood, treasure or international credibility. Likewise why have none of the men and women who plotted, planned and launched the war been held the standard that we as a nation helped establish and have used against Nazi leaders and others?

If we cannot ask that and wrestle with this then we as a nation become no better than the Germans who sought to minimize their responsibility for the actions of their leaders.  If we downplay, minimize, or deny our responsibility regarding Iraq we will most certainly enable future leaders to feel that they can do the same with impunity. That is a terrible precedent and one that may very well lead us into disaster.

Today we have a President who may very well act on his worst instincts and thrust the nation into even worse wars.  To ensure that war occurs Trump fired General H.R. McMaster yesterday as his National Security Advisor and replaced him with John Bolton. Bolton is one of the most responsible and unapologetic of the Iraq War planners and he has made multiple attacks on the International Criminal Court, a court established in light of Nuremberg. He should be rotting as a war criminal rather than be appointed as National Security Advisor. This is truly a lawless and reprehensible regime that will destroy the United States and bring disaster upon the world.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under ethics, History, iraq, middle east, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Remembering the Eve of 9-11-2001 and War Without End

twin-towers-june01

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have been quite busy but despite that I have not been able to take my mind off of the events of September 11th 2001. As I was walking my dogs around the lake near our house tonight I was struck by the calm, except when they went chasing the ducks, the geese, and a lone Crane. Papillons with a Napoleon complex are fare too funny not to enjoy, but I digress…

I cannot get that day out of my mind, it changed millions of lives including my own.

On the night of September 10th 2001 my mind was as far from war and terror as it could be. I was much more interested in the MLB Pennant Race than I was anything going on in the world, after all the only issues we faced were occasional, if deadly terrorist attacks on foreign installations and deployed ships like the USS Cole. But as to the security of the Continental United States, or as it has been referred to since 9-11 as “the Homeland” I wasn’t concerned. Somehow, despite my knowledge, understanding and study of terrorist groups I just never thought anyone could pull off an attack of this magnitude. The next morning I discovered just how wrong I was as the first reports came in while I was on my way to a late PT session at Camp LeJeune North Carolina where I was serving with the Second Marine Division.

That day changed all of our lives and ushered in years of war which has cost the United States military almost 60,000 casualties including nearly 7,000 dead or died of wounds including a number of friends and others who I served alongside at various points in my career. Of course that does not count non-DOD agency casualties, or those of the contractors who have been a big part of the war effort. Nor does it count hundreds of thousands of other lives in the Middle East that were a result of our response to 9-11, and the unending attacks by terrorists who trace their inspiration to the attacks of September 11th 2001 in so many places; France, Germany, Britain, Spain, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon, Australia, Belgium, Africa, Asia, and so many other places that I have a hard time naming them all.

Whether we wanted it to or not the war which began on 9-11, which was so stupidly expanded into Iraq by the Bush Administration, opening the door to Al Qaeda Iraq and now the Islamic State, and which greatly strengthened Iran by eliminating their worst enemy, Saddam Hussein have made our task most difficult.

Fifteen years after 9-11-2001 we are not only still at war, but it is becoming a war without end. Fifteen years ago I figured that after a few months Al Qaeda would be no more, and the war that they had unleashed upon us would be over. however I was wrong. I do not know what September 11th 2016 will bring, but there is one thing that I know it will not bring… peace.

Have a good night, until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under History

The Straw that Stirs the Drink: The Implications of Resurgent Religion for Strategists and Policy Makers

isis-terrorists

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am being published in the most recent issue of Campaigning: The Journal of the Joint Forces Staff College. The article will be available along with the rest of the journal at the website of the college, but I am posting it here. It is an interesting topic since religion is raising its head in numerous conflicts around the world, and is a very real part of the contemporary American political climate. Note, the pictures are not included in the Campaigning issue.

I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

One can never separate war and the means by which it is fought from its political ends. There are, however, many societies whose language and religious ideology shape the leader’s political ends. To borrow the immortal words of legendary baseball slugger Reggie Jackson, religion is often “the straw that stirs the drink.” The fact that religious ideologies influence societies and international relations is not new, but after almost three centuries of decline the twenty-first century promises to begin a new age of religious influence. Samuel Huntington notes, “Western secular models of the state are being challenged and replaced”[1] in many nations as religious influence grows. The indicators of this shift, religious, cultural, and racial, are glaringly obvious in the Middle East but clearly present in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Balkans, India, Latin America, and the United States, and threaten to subvert Western secular models of the state.

According to Clausewitz, war is an extension or continuation of politics. Clausewitz, a product of classic German Liberalism, understood the term politics in light of the German concept Weltanschauung, which translates as “World View.” The term is not limited to a particular doctrine or the ideology of party politics, but it encompasses the worldview of a people or culture and includes religion. Religious leaders, as well as media outlets and politicians, use a world view to influence their populatio. In fact, the world view is often crucial in the decision by a people to go to war, their rationale for going to war, whom they war against, the means for conducting war, and the end state they envision from warring.

image.adapt.960.high

Because Weltanschauung includes all elements of culture, to include race, religion, and economy, as well as sociological and historical factors; religious leaders, as well as media outlets and politicians, use it to manipulate their people. Radical proponents of religious fundamentalism around the world, who reject the pluralities of modernism and science, skillfully “use each new method of communication” [2] to spread their message of fear in a dualistic manner  to influence those most vulnerable to the threat of change.

Modern Americans and Western European policy makers tend to look at the world, and issues of politics and policy in isolation from each other, and especially in isolation from religion. Such an atomistic method ensures that many policy makers cannot see the forest for the trees. This is particularly true when religion is a motivating factor and an ideological component of conflict. Religiously based ideology is a powerful and “often intractable force that can be quite unresponsive to all the instrumentalities of state power, let alone the instrumentalities of foreign policy,” [3] and has been so from the advent of civilization to the present day. Samuel Huntington observed, “To a very large degree, the major civilizations in human history have been closely identified with the world’s great religions; and people who share ethnicity and language but differ in religion may slaughter each other….” [4]

Even among religions that claim to worship the same god beliefs may differ, and that fact underscores Colin Gray’s all important, “contexts of war.” Gray makes the case for seven essential contexts policy makers and military leaders must understand regarding war that “can have strong negative consequences,” [5] if ignored or misunderstood.

Each of the contexts is associated with the manner of social development, and define the essential characteristics of a particular armed conflict. In many areas of the world religion functions as the “central political pillar maintaining the power of [the] ruler—a major pole in determining people’s loyalty—and as a key ingredient in determining a nation’s stability or instability.” [6] Religion and religious values remain instrumental to the ethics and the social norms of a society and dictate how it deals with other nations and peoples, as well as how it conducts war.

Over the course of the last three centuries the emphasis on rational and empirical thought predisposed western strategists and policy makers to exclude religion as a component of analysis. Furthermore, the scientific methodology used by many analysts dictates that they asses individual components of issues in isolation from each other, and often without connection to their opponent’s world view. Experts dissect economic factors, military capabilities, existing political systems, diplomatic considerations, and the ways societies gather information and exhaustively examine and evaluate each individual component. But the problem comes when policymakers fail to understand how world view, ideological factors, history, and religious belief impact how a given opponent will conduct war.

ISIS-MAP

In part, policy makers tend to interpret information through their own worldview. As Gray notes, “Policy and strategy will be influenced by the cultural preferences bequeathed by a community’s unique interpretation of its history as well as by its geopolitical-geostrategic context.” [7] As such, both military and civilian policy makers fail to address the criticality of religion to developing effective strategy. Barbara Tuchman wrote, “When information is relayed to policy-makers, they respond in terms of what is already inside their heads and consequently make policy less to fit the facts than to fit the notions and intentions formed out of the mental baggage that has accumulated in their minds since childhood.” [8] A world view imposes cultural prejudices and blinders on western policy makers and strategists, that predispose them to look for shortcuts, or the most convenient explanations selected from the information they can see. Edward Luttwak wrote:

Enlightenment prejudice has remained amply manifest in the contemporary professional analysis of foreign affairs. Policymakers, diplomats, journalists, and scholars who are ready to overinterpret economic causality, who are apt to dissect social differentiations most finely, and who will minutely categorize political affiliations are still in the habit of disregarding the role of religion, religious institutions, and religious motivations in explaining politics and conflict, and even in reporting their concrete modalities. Equally the role of religious leaders, religious institutions, and religiously motivated lay figures in conflict resolution has also been disregarded – or treated as a marginal phenomenon hardly worth noting. [9]

Unbeknownst to policy makers, their prejudices, the world view blinders they wear, inhibit them from seeing how interconnected the most primal elements of the human experience are to others’ worldviews, even their own. As such, both military and civilian policy makers fail to address the criticality of religion to developing effective strategy.

Many people believed that modern ideas, “such as science, technology, secularism, and humanism would overcome the religious concept of the universe that dominated premodern society.” [10] Contemporary Western strategists and policy makers came to adulthood in a culture that supplanted the importance of religious ideas and need. A global, four-decade resurgence of religious ideals makes adaptation for strategists and planners difficult because of the dramatic shift in essential, unquestioned views. [11] Others’ worldviews, including religious beliefs, often influence the application of economic, political, diplomatic, military power, and the use and dissemination of information. That fact remains true despite the religion or sect involved, and especially in a decidedly secular, or at least outwardly non-religious, nation. Perhaps, by ignorance or a refusal to admit the importance of religious motivations in conflict, strategists and planners fail to realize the western culture arose from primal religious beliefs that informed politics, philosophy, ethics, law, economics, art, racial constructs, and science for nearly 1500 years. Perhaps, that refusal fueled a justified appall or embarrassment of the religious justifications their forbearers used to incite war that subjugated or exterminated peoples.

The United States Military made a belated attempt to address ideology, culture, and religion in terms of counter-insurgency doctrine when it published the U.S. Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Manual. The discussion of these issues is limited to two pages that specifically deal with various extreme Moslem groups that use religion as a pillar of their ideology, strategy, and operations. But the analysis in the counterinsurgency manual is limited because its focus is very general and at a tactical level. While the manual encourages leaders to attempt to understand the cultural differences it contains little to help leaders understand the importance of religion and ideology at the strategic and operational levels.

Commendably, the manual discusses how terrorist and insurgent groups use ideology, which is frequently based on religion to create a narrative. The narrative often involves a significant amount of myth presented as history, such as how Al Qaida and ISIL use the Caliphate as a religious and political ideal that for many Moslems, “produces a positive image of the golden age of Islamic civilization.” [12]

A purely intellectual understanding of how Al Qaida and ISIL use symbolism and imagery limits how strategists and planners can develop methods to counter it. Rather, strategists and planners would benefit from a historical introspection that leads to a personal reflection, aimed at understanding how the theological tools of the Christian religion subjugated peoples and the ramifications today. Protestant Christianity, particularly the Puritan concept of “a city set on a hill” undergirded the American belief in the nation’s Manifest Destiny, which in large part led to the extermination of the Native Americans, the War with Mexico, the romanticism of the ante-bellum American South, the belief that African Americans were sub-human, and that God ordained slavery. The concept persisted after the Civil War in the myth of the Lost Cause, and was exported abroad as the United States belatedly entered the race for overseas colonies.

Manife4

The concept of Manifest Destiny is still an essential element of the idea of American Exceptionalism, which often justifies much of American foreign policy. Former President George W. Bush alluded to this idea in his 2003 State of the Union Address where he said, “that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.” [13] Throughout the Bush presidency, the President’s idea that God undergirded the policy of the United States led to a mismatch of policy ends and the means to accomplish them. Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and historian Michael Oren wrote:

Not inadvertently did Bush describe the struggle against Islamic terror as a ‘crusade to rid the world of evildoers.’ Along with this religious zeal, however, the president espoused the secular fervor of the neoconservatives…who preached the Middle East’s redemption through democracy. The merging of the sacred and the civic missions in Bush’s mind placed him firmly in the Wilsonian tradition. But the same faith that deflected Wilson from entering hostilities in the Middle East spurred Bush in favor of war. [14]

Only when policy makers and strategists understand that the use of religious ideology to conquer, subjugate, and terrorize in the name of God is universal, does it become easier to defeat those who employ it.

American Presidents often invoke the name of God to justify the compulsion to conquer, such as McKinley did when he decided to annex the Philippines in 1899 following the defeat of the Spanish. The war against the Filipinos used some of the most bloodthirsty tactics employed to fight the Filipino insurgents, who only wanted independence, and stained our own national honor. Mark Twain wrote: “There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . . .” [15]

A doubtlessly sincere McKinley sought counsel from God about whether he should annex the Philippines or not. Barbara Tuchman wrote: “He went down on his knees, according to his own account, and ‘prayed to Almighty God for light and guidance’. He was accordingly guided to conclude “that there was nothing left to do for us but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos. And uplift and civilize and Christianize them, by God’s grace to do the very best we could by them, as our fellowmen for whom Christ died.” [16]

The counterinsurgency manual does mention how “Ideology provides a prism, including a vocabulary and analytical categories, through which followers perceive their situation.” [17] But again, it does this at a micro-level and the lessons are not applied at the higher levels of strategic thinking and policy. This is often due to the fact that American and other western strategists and policy makers view religion “as a set of theological issues rather than as a profoundly political influence in public life.”[18] Even after nearly a decade and a half of unremitting war against enemies for whom religion is at the center of their politics, policy makers still misread or neglect the importance of religion and religiously based ideology in the political motivations of their opponents. In many cases, the religion of a people is a stronger part of their identity than that of the state. Nations created during the post-colonial era “continue to see religion, clan, ethnicity, and other such factors as the markers of community identity” [19] Despite the advances in communications and technology and the globalization of so many western concepts, the political and religious leaders of Islamic nations view modern western political and social concepts as unwanted intrusions on their ancient cultures, and more importantly, insults to their religion.

kim davis pastor

But, lest American policy makers and strategists see this rise as something completely foreign, a similar phenomenon is occurring in the United States. Despite the fact that a growing number of Americans espouse no-religious preference and, according to multiple studies conducted over a period of two decades, are leaving organized Christianity, adherents of two highly motivated and militant branches of Christianity have grown in strength and political power over the last forty years. The group known as Christian Dominionism advocates Christian domination of all parts of society and culture, and Pre-Millennial Dispensationalists believe in the imminent return of Christ to earth, including the belief that most of the earth’s population will be killed during the Apocalypse. A Pew Research Center survey found that by the year 2050, that 41% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth. [20] Leaders, politicians (including major conservative presidential hopefuls), pundits, and preachers often weigh in on public policy, to include military strategy, and claim that God’s law supersedes that of the state. They simultaneously reject secularism while legislating against those they deem enemies, and advocate for a “holy war” against Islam without distinction to Islam’s own divisions and distinctive denominational differences.

may appear irrational American strategists and policy makers, but it is completely rational to those who subscribe to it. The study of history, particularly how the deep roots of religion and faith shape cultural worldviews, as well as the actions of various peoples and nations, helps the policy maker and strategist adapt policy, strategy, and ultimately operational and tactical methods to the context of the conflict at hand. To do this effectively it is important that American strategists not be afraid to examine our own past to see how our ancestors used religion for good as well as for evil. However, the often dark mirror of history can be disconcerting to peer into. People tend to be uncomfortable when the face that they see in the mirror is all too similar to their current enemies, to the point that one might turn away in fear of what they see. The inability to look into the dark mirror of our own history is especially perilous when enemies are perfectly willing to wage war without end unto the destruction of the world in the name of their God, because when you belatedly look back in the mirror, failure will be staring you right in the face.

Notes

[1] Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? America’s Great Debate The Free Press, Simon and Schuster Europe, London 2004 p.360

[2] Jacoby, Susan. The Age of American Unreason Revised and Updated Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, New York 2008 p.18

[3] Luttwak, Edward. The Missing Dimension  in Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft  Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1994 p.13  

[4] Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order Touchstone Books, New York 1997 p.42

[5] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.5

[6] Rubin, Barry Religion in International Affairs in Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft  Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1994 pp.20-21

[7] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.25

[8] Tuchman, Barbara W. Practicing History Alfred A. Knopf, New Your 1981 p.289

[9] Ibid Luttwak The Missing Dimension pp.9-10

[10] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs p.21

[11] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs p.21

[12] ___________ U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual FM 3-24 MCWP 3-33.5 15 December 2006 with and forward by General David A Petraeus and General James Amos, Konecky and Konecky, Old Saybrook CT 2007 p.26

[13] Bush, George W. State of the Union Address Washington D.C. January 28th 2003 retrieved from Presidential Rhetoric.com http://www.presidentialrhetoric.com/speeches/01.28.03.html 10 June 2015

[14] Oren, Michael Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2007 p.584

[15] Twain, Mark To the Person Sitting in Darkness February 1901 Retrieved from The World of 1898: The Spanish American War The Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/twain.html 12 December 2014

[16] Ibid. Tuchman Practicing History p.289

[17] Ibid. U.S. Army/ Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual p.27

[18] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs in Religion p.20

[19] Ibid. Rubin Religion in International Affairs p.22

[20] Pew Research Center, U.S. Politics and Policy, http://www.people-press.org/2010/06/22/public-sees-a-future-full-of-promise-and-peril/

8 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, national security, News and current events, Religion

Hard Truth, War, & ISIL

ISIS-MAP

The Imagined Caliphate of ISIL 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Please know this is a difficult article to write. I have been to war, I have seen its devastation and heartache and I came back changed from the experience. I hate it. That being said, despite being a progressive who hates war I am also a realist. I am not one that finds any romance or glory in war, but I know that sometimes it becomes unavoidable and sometimes necessary. I have written about the nature of war, the kind of war we are now engaged in with ISIL and some of the ethical and moral compromises that could easily be made in such a war. Thus what I write here is a continuation of those thoughts and I encourage you to look at those articles. That being said, I do intend on adding some more thoughts to this in the coming days.

I do not expect that all of my readers will agree with me. In fact I had a reader who took exception to yesterday’s article because he could not agree with the fact that the Bush administration’s criminal war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a major cause of today’s problem. He proceeded to lecture me that I was wrong, despite all of the evidence from Congressional hearings, the CIA, and other analysts that disproved his point. That is disheartening, but I expect that now.

That being said I know that there are people on the political right and the political left who will disagree with what I write today. All I ask is that people, regardless of their ideology actually read and take the time to think about what I write before they write me off.

I will be writing more on this subject in the coming days, including about the moral and ethical dangers, as well as the potential threat to our own civil liberties. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Over the past two weeks elements of ISIL have brutally slaughtered nearly 400 civilians outside of areas that they control. The attacks on the Russian airliner, Beirut, and Paris were committed against innocent civilians going about their daily lives. In the areas that they control in Iraq and Syria, where their brutality is unmatched in modern times. This is disconcerting for those of us that would prefer a peaceful solution to the current conflict. But it is the truth.

Despite having served in the military for over thirty-four years, I am not a warmonger, and I am not enamored with the supposed glory of war, or American military superiority. I hate war, but I am a realist. I am a historian with a considerable background in ethics, philosophy, sociology, and political science. I have experience serving with American advisers in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.

Since 2012 ISIL has invoked a reign of terror in the areas of Syria and Iraq that they control. Massacres of opponents, videotaped executions of captives, including humanitarian aid workers and journalists, ethnic and religious cleansing, the forced conversion of female captives with the added element of rape, before and after their capture and enslavement, the execution of homosexuals, and the destruction or religious, cultural, and historic treasures. ISIL is not seeking peace, but rather to destroy everything that they find abhorrent. They are no different than Christians, Jews, Hindus, and even Buddhists that use the police and military power of the state to persecute those who do not believe just like they do.

We must recognize the significance of the attacks of the Islamic State in the past two weeks. These attacks have killed nearly 400 civilians and wounded close to 400 more. ISIL is not targeting military targets, but innocent people; as such their actions are nothing short of criminal. If they were a real nation state, their leaders would be war criminals.

Islamic scholar Reza Aslan understands ISIL better than many people. Aslan told CNN last year:

“Number one, you do have to respond militarily to ISIS soldiers and fighters. These guys are fighting a war of the imagination, a war that they think is happening between the forces of good and evil. There is no negotiation. There’s no diplomacy. There’s nothing to talk about with these guys. They have to be destroyed.”

Let that set in for a moment.

That is not the opinion of an American or Eurocentric scholar; it is not the ranting of an Islamophobic pundit or preacher, but it is the opinion of a learned, moderate, Moslem scholar. As such it needs to be given a lot of credibility. Aslan’s comment takes me back to the words of General William Tecumseh Sherman during the American Civil War. Sherman, who had to deal with insurgents and other Confederate sympathizers who attacked his supply lines and isolated garrisons noted, “This war differs from other wars, in this particular: We are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.”

President Obama came into office as a President determined to end the wars that the United States was engaged in and usher in an era of peace. That did not happen. The genie of war and chaos that was unleashed when President Bush stopped pursuing Al Qaeda and attacked Saddam Hussein’s Iraq refused to go back into its bottle. Obama, dealt with the situation with quiet diplomacy and soft power. One cannot blame him. He was hamstrung by the financial crisis of 2008 which blew up just as he became President, as well as the consequences of the Bush foreign policy, and the deal that the Bush administration made with the Shia Moslem regime of Maliki in Iraq for the withdraw of U.S. troops. Since Obama took office, new and more violent terrorist groups have been spawned from the loins of Al Qaeda Iraq. Now, the dogs of war that have been unleashed on the region, which threaten all of the peoples who live there, and now have reached out to other regions.

I know that many of my readers are liberals, and progressives who lean toward pacifism. I am okay with that, because at my heart I am a pacifist, I have been to war, and I hate it. Even the must just war, waged for the best of reasons, and with right motives, still can bring about evil. The well-respected ethicist and philosopher Michael Walzer understands the moral, ethical, and legal aspects of war. He wrote in his book Just and Unjust Wars:

“We don’t call war hell because it is fought without restraint. It is more nearly right to say that, when certain restraints are passed, the hellishness of war drives us to break with every remaining restraint in order to win. Here is the ultimate tyranny: those who resist aggression are forced to imitate, and perhaps even to exceed, the brutality of the aggressor.”

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is different than Al Qaeda. It is a hybrid that will not be defeated by traditional means. ISIL is a terrorist group to be sure, but it is also an embryonic state, which is conquering territory, subduing people, butchering its enemies and murdering innocents in cold blood. The leaders of ISIL boast in their atrocities and honestly believe what they are doing is blessed by their God. They have grown up and been nurtured by a culture of victimhood which they believe that past or present oppression justifies their actions. Eric Hoffer wrote something that is quite poignant if we are to understand the mindset of ISIL:

“It is doubtful if the oppressed ever fight for freedom. They fight for pride and power — power to oppress others. The oppressed want above all to imitate their oppressors; they want to retaliate.”

The leaders and fighters of ISIL are 12th Century people living in the 21st Century. They make use of 21st Century communications technology to further their crusade against all opponents. As Reza Aslan noted, they are incapable of negotiation, seeing it as only weakness and a way to impose their will on those unable to, or unwilling to resist them. Hoffer described their mindset well in his book The True Believer:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Thus this war will be something different, something that we in the west do not want to comprehend. We want war to be neat, fast and comparatively bloodless, but this will not be the case in the war against ISIL. Such wars may be possible against traditional nation states with weak militaries. But to believe that war with ISIL will be neat, fast, and bloodless is wrong headed and dangerous because it ignores the nature of that group. Carl Von Clausewitz noted that:

“Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat the enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst.”

Ultimately, despite the fact that I almost always counsel that war should be avoided and peaceful solutions found to resolve conflict, there are times that wars must be fought. If ISIL were a true nation-state with a conventional understanding of diplomacy and the relationship between nations it would be conceivable that the United Nations or perhaps the Arab League could help broker a deal. But ISIL is neither your father’s terrorist organization, nor a real nation-state. It is a hybrid that is not driven by realpolitik but rather a fanatical religious belief in their cause.  This allows them to dispense with diplomatic niceties and allows them no compromise with those they believe are the enemies of their God; including other Moslems.

Their war has been raging for some time in both Syria and Iraq. What they are doing is further destroying the mosaic of peoples who are part of the Arab heritage in both countries. The atrocities committed by ISIL against Shi’ite Moslems, secular Sunnis, Yidazi and Christians have been displayed around the world. Mass executions, beheadings and the destruction of historic sites, which are important parts of the Christian, Moslem, and Jewish heritage, are only part of their crimes.

The only condition for peace given by ISIL to those it considers the enemy is “convert or die.”  Whether we like it or not, war is now unavoidable, the attacks on the Russian airliner, the citizens of Beirut, and the people of Paris show that.

Some politicians and pundits seem to think that this will be easy, simply destroy ISIL where they stand. But that belief is illusory. ISIL and its sympathizers may seem to be concentrated in Iraq and Syria, which is enough of a problem for us, but their supporters, financial supporters and sympathizers are worldwide. Interestingly Pope Francis noted: “Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction….”

That being said there is a warning that all must remember about this war. It is at its heart ideological and for ISIL is driven by a perversion of religion. The war will be long, brutal and most importantly, the Islamic State believes that it can and will win it.

Winston Churchill said:

“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…. Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance.”

Thus in this war we cannot waver, and we must believe in our ideals of freedom, justice, equality and the value of a single human life. We must do this even though our own practice often makes a mockery of them. But they are still ideals that are worth fighting for, because without them we lose something of our already flawed humanity. Carl Clausewitz recognized this and wrote:

“If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.”

Barbara Tuchman said, “War is the unfolding of miscalculations.” For over a century the leaders of the West as well as Arab leaders throughout the region have miscalculated far too many times, and what is going on now is the tragic and bloody result of all of those miscalculations. The suffering and the human cost will be great. It was General William Tecumseh Sherman who wrote:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out…

The young Union hero of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, Colonel Strong Vincent wrote his wife about how he believed the Union had to defeat the Confederacy. His words were much like Sherman’s and in dealing with ISIL I would hope that the American, Iraqi and coalition forces will take them to heart in combating ISIL: Vincent wrote:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest…” 

Sherman and Vincent’s words may sound unduly harsh, but ISIL knows no other kind of war.

Pray my friends for peace, but remember reality, peace is not possible when the kind of religious extremism that motivates ISIL is the driving force. That kind of ideology cannot be negotiated with it has to be defeated.

It has been a long time since we in the west have had to wage that kind of war and it will come at some cost to our psyche, and it will take some getting used to, if you can ever get used to the evil, the carnage, the suffering and the devastation that is the essence of war. As William Tecumseh Sherman said “War is Hell.”

To be continued…

 

7 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary, terrorism, War on Terrorism

The Lamps are Going Out: Paris & the End of the Illusion of Peace

Lamplighter

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is barely a day and a half after the massacre committed by Islamic terrorists in Paris, and the shock is still being felt around the world. In watching the images and listening to the words of various leaders I feel that something has changed; that the illusion of peace that we have lived under, has been shattered.

sKLhhPT

In two weeks the self-proclaimed Islamic State has claimed credit for the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula, an attack in Beirut Lebanon, and, on Friday night the horrific series of attacks in Paris. The combined death toll for the three attacks is close to 400, almost all of who were innocent civilians doing nothing more than going about their daily lives. Hundreds more were wounded in Beirut and Paris. ISIL has promised to conduct more attacks on all nations that oppose them in Syria and Iraq. The attacks have awakened people to the fact that ISIL is not just a threat to the Middle East, but around the world.

Some are now calling this war, and in fact it is, a war that most of us have ignored though it has been going on for over two decades. But in just two weeks, the hybrid terrorist state known as ISIL has changed the course of that war. The war as we know it began in the years after the First Gulf War as young Saudis returning from Afghanistan, led by Osama Bin Laden took up arms against the “infidel” Americans based in Saudi Arabia. In the 1990s the terrorism was confined to Al Qaeda attacks throughout the Middle East, and included attacks on American military personnel, installations, and ships. Then on September 11th 2001 Al Qaeda changed the narrative by attacking the United States, killing nearly 3000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and aboard four airliners. The United States responded by going after Al Qaeda and its supporters in Afghanistan.

Had the American response been contained to that action, the war might have taken a different course, and we might not be here today. But within months of 9-11 the Bush Administration began planning to attack Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and propagandizing the American people to support it, with or without allied or United Nations sanction. The operation to topple Saddam opened Pandora’s box, and who knows when we will ever live in peace again. Twelve years after President Bush announced the end operations in Iraq aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln with a banner that boldly proclaimed, “Mission Accomplished” behind him, the war that he unleashed in Iraq has spread in ways that even the most pessimistic critics of Bush did not predict.

With the war now entering an even more troubling and dangerous phase we should remind ourselves of the words of Winston Churchill, “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…. Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance.”

As I observe events on I am reminded of Barbara Tuchman’s description of Sir Edward Gray on the eve of the First World War, “Watching with his failing eyes, the lamps being lit in St. James Park, Grey was heard to remark that “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them again in our lifetime.”

Sadly, I do believe that the last lamps of peace are going out around the world in the fight against the Islamic State. I have no idea when, how, or even if this conflict will end.

Praying for peace,

Padre Steve+

7 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, News and current events, Political Commentary, terrorism

You Can’t go Back: The Aftermath of 9-11-2001

World-Trade-Center-9-11-cross-1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I wrote a reflection yesterday on some of my reflections on the 9-11-2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, today a continuation of those thoughts.

I can still remember the day like it was yesterday. I was getting out of my office at Camp LeJeune after an early morning counseling case and some administrative duties I was getting ready to head to the French Creek gym.  I was about to close out my browser when I saw a little note on the Yahoo.com homepage: “Airplane crashes into World Trade Center.” It was about 0900 that tragic morning.  I thought to myself, “Some dumb ass just crashed his Cessna into the building.

The day was clear and absolutely gorgeous, a slight north wind and low humidity, a well-deserved break from what had been a hot and humid summer.  Not that I had seen much of the Carolina summer having returned from a deployment to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and Korea in late July. When I got to my car the local talk radio station was broadcasting a second or third tier national talk radio host and he was screaming “oh my God another plane just flew into the towers!”

I drove over to the gym where I joined a large crowd of Marines and Sailors transfixed as we watched the towers burn.  I went back to my office showered and went over to my battalion headquarters and was there when the South Tower went down at 0959.

Since then a lot has changed.  I have made two deployments and traveled to the Middle East many more times.  I came back from my deployment to Iraq with a serious case of PTSD and a health distrust of the media, politicians, preachers and especially the talk radio hosts that I used to listen to as often as I could.  I remember being in Iraq in between missions to the far reaches of Al Anbar Province and watching the news on the televisions at the dining facility and wondering just what war that they were covering.

Before Iraq I could be considered a pretty solid “conservative” but eight years after going to war I am decidedly liberal.  However, despite many allegedly conservative  talk pundits, politicians  and right wing preachers say just because a person is “liberal” does not mean that they are unpatriotic or do not care about our country or freedom.  After serving in Iraq and seeing how certain people have equated patriotism with adherence to their political agenda I wholeheartedly believe that a person’s patriotism has nothing to do with their politics or their religious beliefs.

Before Iraq I was jaded by what happened to my dad’s generation after Vietnam when liberals called returning Veterans “baby killers” or “Nazis.”  In fact I had a Sunday school teacher tell me that my dad was a “baby killer” in 1972 and in 1981 had some ass at UCLA call me a “ROTC Nazi.”  As a result I had little love for the Left.  After September 11th I followed the “conservative” talk radio crowd and Fox News more than I had ever before.  The emotions that they stirred up were primal.  But experience and reflection caused me to get beyond the pain of my past and the emotion of the present.  Just as I detest those that characterized my dad’s service or my service as being criminal I also detest those that say one cannot be critical of those that advocate for war regardless of the human and economic cost or actual strategic benefit.

I rejoiced when our SEALS killed Osama Bin Laden and every Al Qaeda leader that we have ushered into the arms of Allah.  They have caused unmitigated suffering around the world, not just to us but to their own Islamic neighbors and deserve no pity and since they refuse to give quarter should be shown none. I feel the same way about ISIS and ISIL who are killing the Iraqis that I served alongside and their families, and if that sounds harsh I can’t help it. The attacks of 9-11 and the wars that have followed are all too personal.

At the same time I question the strategic purpose and value of the campaign in we conducted in Iraq which seems to me has opened the gates of hell. I still think that the words that T.E. Lawrence wrote in 1920 about the British in Iraq are as applicable today as when he penned them; only the empires are different:

“The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Bagdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.”

The British who Lawrence wrote about, gave their people reasons for going into Mesopotamia which were similar to those of the Bush administration over 80 years later. They cloaked their intentions in the words of liberation and protection, the British from the Turks, and the Americans from Saddam. Lawrence noted in words that are hauntingly familiar to those that paid attention to the American war in Iraq:

“Yet our published policy has not changed, and does not need changing. It is that there has been a deplorable contrast between our profession and our practice. We said we went to Mesopotamia to defeat Turkey. We said we stayed to deliver the Arabs from the oppression of the Turkish Government, and to make available for the world its resources of corn and oil. We spent nearly a million men and nearly a thousand million of money to these ends. This year we are spending ninety-two thousand men and fifty millions of money on the same objects.”

At the fourteen year mark I grieve for those that have lost their lives as well as loved ones in the attacks or in the wars that have followed.  On September 11th 2001 2977 people were killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or on United Flight 93 which went down in Pennsylvania.  One of those killed at the Pentagon was Lieutenant Colonel Karen Wagner who I had served with at the Academy of Health Sciences Brigade in 1987-1988.

Since then 4492 American military personnel have given their lives in Iraq and 2363 in Afghanistan.  NATO or coalition allies, excluding the Iraqi and Afghani military or police forces have lost another 1270 military personnel. Another 45,170 Americans have been wounded.  I know a decent number of those wounded and some of those that have died.  The losses are intensely personal and to think that we have lost well over twice the number killed on September 11th 2001 in two wars; many of whom were children aged 8-12 years old on that tragic September day. Of course the numbers do not count those that died by their own hand after they returned from the war, a number that grows daily. I have known too many of them as well, heroes who could not make the adjustment coming home. Likewise I cannot forget the devastation that I saw in Iraq, the deaths of so many, some estimates of over a million civilian casualties, not county what has happening during the current ISIS/ISIL era.

I have been changed by that tragic event. I still shudder when I see the video of United Air Lines Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower or see the videos of the towers crashing down.  They are hard to watch and while I will observe the anniversary with prayers and a lot of reflection as I do not know how much of the continuous media coverage of the anniversary that I will be able to watch.

The events of that tragic day changed me, and changed countless numbers of other Americans as well as others around the world.  While we yearn to return to the day’s before9-11-2001 that is impossible, there is too much water and too much blood that has passed under the bridge.   I know I can’t go back, but I wish that I could, so as I have for the last fourteen years I will continue to learn to live with it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under afghanistan, Foreign Policy, History, iraq, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary