Tag Archives: egypt

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

pb130620

“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+

1 Comment

Filed under History, Military, national security

The Coming Egyptian Civil War: Disaster Beckons

Cairo protesters

History has a strange way of playing itself out in the lives of individuals, nations and peoples. I wish that I was wrong bit as I look at the situation in Egypt today I see a situation which is as fluid as the shifting sands of the desert and as dangerous as the legendary Biblical plagues of the time of Moses.

When the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak was overthrow by the military in 2011 it was hoped by many that Egypt would defy he odds of history, not Islamic or Egyptian history, but human history in that a revolution of a people without their own history of freedom and representative democracy seldom in its initial stages produces freedom and representative democracy.

images-49

In Europe alone Britain, France, Spain, Germany and Russia have endured bloody civil wars following the overthrow of autocratic regimes. Likewise the same is true of the history of South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East the history of most successful oppressed peoples who do not have practical experience in democratic government tend to fight things out and even endure more oppressive governments before eventually, often at great cost to themselves and their neighbors achieve peaceful, stable and representative democratic rule.

egypt-coup-morsi-3_2609447b

Egypt has great potential, many of its people have exactly in temperament, education and wisdom what is needed to become a leading democracy in the region. That being said there are many obstacles to this. First is the longstanding tension between the radical Islamists of the Moslem Brotherhood, secularist military leaders, Social Democrats and others. Second the underlying religious and social tensions between rival Islamic denominations as well as Coptic Christians with generations of internecine bloodshed being played against one another by outside powers, the Ottoman Turks, the French, the British and even to a lesser extent the Soviets and Americans.

571825-Abdel_Fattah_alSisiAFP-1372840335-993-640x480

The fact is that Egypt as much as I do not want it to admit is that I believe that there is little that can save Egypt from a bloody civil war with unknown outcomes. The only thing that is sure is that thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of Egyptians will die before the end of it and that Egypt’s instability will exponentially increase the violence and instability of the region.

egypt-morsi_2608190b

I think the best outcome is that a coalition of Social Democrats and militarists will cobble together enough of a government to stabilize the situation, but it will not be without much bloodshed. It will likely be like the early days of Weimar Germany when an unlikely coalition of military leaders and Social Democrats fought a Civil War against the extreme Soviet style Communists and then resisted Right wing extremist putsch attempts. Unfortunately that democracy died as the economies of the world melted down and the cost of reparations levied by Allied Powers at Versailles and radicals of the extreme Right and Left eventually leaving Hitler in power. It took another World War to eventually end that tyranny.

Muslim-Brotherhood-Clash-Getty

I guess that a best prospect is pretty much as bad as the worst prospect.

The ouster of the Moslem Brotherhood’s elected President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian military follow the protests of the vast majority of the Egyptian electorate is as much of a bad thing as it is a good thing. Morsi was to be sure democratically elected but he governed as an autocrat with increasing dictatorial tendencies. The reaction of the people and the Army was a natural reaction, as one Egyptian boy put it we did not overthrow a dictatorship to replace it with a dictatorial theocracy.  In effect both sides killed the democratic process, Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood for the sake of Islamic religious power, the military for the sake of their place in society, stability and control and the protestors and democrats the sake of democracy and freedom.

EGYPT-POLITICS-UNREST-ARMY

The situation is much like the days following the the Army High Command’s forced abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, when in the face of a Communist revolution the German military establishment represented by Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg wrote to the new Socialist Chancellor Friedrich Ebert:

“I am convinced that only the following measures can help us overcome the present difficulties: 

  1. Summoning of the National Assembly in the course of December.
  2. Until then, or until the decision of the National Assembly can be carried out, conduct of the administration solely by the government and legitimate administrative organs. 
  3. So as to fulfill the justified wishes of the working class… qualified people of working class origin should be attached to the administrative authorities in an advisory capacity….
  4. The security service must be solely in the hands of the legal police organs and of the armed forces.
  5. Safeguarding of the orders of government by a reliable police force and, after the restoration of discipline, by the army.   

   In your hands lies the fate of the German nation. It will depend on your decision whether the German nation will rise once more. I am persuaded, and with me the whole army, to support you without any reservation…” (Letter from Field Marshal Hindenburg, likely written by General Groener to Chancellor Ebert December 8th 1918. In The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933 by F.L. Carsten, Oxford University Press, London 1966 pp.13-14)

The unfortunate thing is that no one will be happy until they achieve their goals and that will probably not only mean bloodshed, but a full scale civil war. No matter what the talking heads and experts say this has little chance of ending well. Centuries of injustice, dictatorship, colonialism, religious intolerance and economic inequities argue against other eventualities.

n_50238_4

The fact of the matter is that whether or not advocates of democracy like it at the present time no elected government in Egypt can survive without the support of the military. Like Weimar Germany, the fate of Egypt’s democracy will in large part lie in the hands of a military that at its heart is not democratic. It is a conundrum that we would rather not see, but it is reality.

All that being said there is always hope that things can turn out differently and we had better hope, for the people of Egypt, the region and the world that it does, because an Egyptian Civil War now will be disastrous.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, national security

Padre Steve’s 2013 Down and Dirty Primer on the Muddle East

Free Syrian Army soldiers in Idlib

“When you are up to your arse in alligators it is hard to remember that your mission is to drain the swamp.” Old British Colonial Saying

Note: This is an update to my 2011 Primer on the Muddle East

During the dark days of World War Two when Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was making fools of a series of British commanders in North Africa people including senior British military and government leaders sometimes referred to the theater of operations as “the Muddle East.” Some things never seem to change. The Muddle East today is quite frankly speaking in a real muddled state if there ever was one with world leaders and regional leaders muddling about as if they were the New York Mets.

A large part of the muddle goes back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the close of the First World War when the victorious Allied Powers redrew the map of the Middle East and made alliances with various local tribal sheiks who many times were crowned king over other tribes who didn’t necessarily want them as king. This along with heavy handed European military actions such as the British using poison gas dropped from aircraft in Iraq and a real lack of effort to better the lives of the newly “liberated” peoples of the region was just the start. Add to the cesspool a bunch of oil presided over by major oil companies, the anti-colonial movements that flourished in the years after World War Two when the French, British and Italians had to divest themselves of their Middle Eastern holdings. The French had to fight a real war in Algeria but finally withdrew leaving Algeria’s new rulers to goof up the country and oppress their people for decades to come.  In the coming years many of these newly independent nations found that life still sucked so in a number of countries military officers overthrew the despised monarchs promising reforms but oppressing their people while blaming all their problems on the Israelis.  They got their asses kicked by the Israelis in a series of wars which did a number of things that made the Middle East Muddle even worse.

First it ensured that Palestinian Arabs ended up under Israeli rule and were used with great aplomb by the Middle Eastern despots to prop up support for their regimes while doing nothing to help the Palestinians other than to put them in camps in Lebanon.  Even when the Egyptians made a peace deal with Israel most of the Arab World ostracized them.  Then in 1979 the Shah of Iran was sent packing by a bunch of Mullahs and in 1981 Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacked Iran in one of the bloodier wars of the late 20th Century which finally ended in 1988. Of course the United States was pissed at the Mullahs so Saddam became our favorite Arab despot for a while.  Add to the mix the Soviet Union and the United States arming their favorite Arab dictators who were given carte blanche to continue oppressing their people so long as it didn’t interfere with their support of either party or the oil supply. Finally the Soviets went Tango Uniform in 1989 not long after being forced out of Afghanistan by the U.S. supplied, Pakistani supported and Saudi Arabian fundamentalist financed Mujahideen.

With the Soviets “Tango Uniform” and the Warsaw Pact nations trying to get into NATO the United States was now the uncontested Numero Uno country in the world Saddam presumed upon his late supporters and invaded Kuwait, albeit after thinking that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq said that we wouldn’t mind.

Well he was wrong we did mind and got a lot of countries from NATO and including a bunch of Arab countries like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia to get on board on a mission to get Saddam’s troops out of Kuwait. It was a kick ass mission and since the United Nations didn’t authorize removing Saddam and because President George H.W. Bush was smart enough to not to drive on Baghdad to kick him out preferring the despot we knew to a quagmire Saddam was left in power.

So we stationed ground and air forces around the Gulf to keep Saddam and Iran in check and even put them in Saudi Arabia which a large number of radicals such as Osama Bin Laden equated to letting the Devil play in Allah’s Holy Sandbox.  So Osama went and set up a base with the Medieval bunch of Pashtun known as the Taliban in Afghanistan stirred up a bunch of shit killing Americans and blowing up stuff including the World Trade Center in 1993, the Khobar Towers barracks complex in 1996, the USS Cole in 2000 and then 2001 another attack on the World Trade Center which took down the towers with hijacked aircraft and also struck the Pentagon triggered an American response against Bin Laden and his Taliban hosts.  The United States then invaded in Iraq in 2003 and succeeded in taking out Saddam but also succeeded in alienating a good many Iraqis who greeted us with open arms because we goofed up the occupation and pissed a lot of them off by dissolving the Army, Police and Civil Service and letting thugs and opportunists take over. Unfortunately since we didn’t go in with enough troops to secure all the Iraqi bases, their weapons depots and actually take control of surrendering Iraqi units these newly unemployed and dishonored people launched an insurgency bolstered by Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters even as Sunni and Shi’a Moslems began to settle scores with each other. Insurgency and civil war, two great tastes that go great together, but what the heck right?

Of course it took years to get control of the situation on the ground and thankfully the United States forces in Iraq were helped when the Sunni Moslems in Al Anbar Province realized that these foreign fighters were a worse enemy than the United States and switched sides. This turned the tables in Iraq and the insurgency was brought under control and an elected government managed to start to get their stuff together and allow us to begin withdrawing from Iraq. Of course the focus on Iraq gave the Taliban a chance to regroup as the Afghani Government proved itself corrupt, incompetent and not to give a shit about the Afghani people. So the Taliban who had been hated made a comeback and made our lives much harder so that now almost 10 years into the fight we are having a really hard time.  Well enough about us there was plenty more going on in the Muddle East besides the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Let’s see….there was the law of unintended consequences in that by taking Saddam Down and weakening Iraq we took away Iran’s natural enemy and the key to the balance of power in the region. Iran was strengthened and began a nuclear program that everyone with half a brain knows in intended for military use and expanded its influence in Lebanon where the Iranian backed Hezbollah took power.  Now Hezbollah which actually has an experienced military force and probably owns 40,000 or so rockets and missiles a good number of which can hit deep in Israel seems to be ready for war especially because they fought the Israelis to a stalemate in 2008, the first time an Arab military ever did that. Not only did they take on the Israelis but they are also helping Syrian dictator Bashir Assad turn the tide against the polyglot Syrian rebel forces which are being assisted by Sunni foreign fighters from all over the Middle East and the ever present Al Qaida presence.

Then was the effect that the wars in those countries made things harder for us in many other friendly Arab nations.  Of course there is the problem of a nuclear armed Pakistan which is about as stable as a Japanese nuclear reactor after getting hit by a tsunami and plays both sides of the street in the war on terror.  The Palestinians and Israelis continued their love affair and since Fatah which ran Palestinian Authority was so corrupt and gooned up a more militant group, Hamas took power in the Gaza strip. Hamas is a pretty bloodthirsty lot too but not the same level of threat as Hezbollah to the Israelis.  Of course the Israelis have done little to help the situation by their often heavy handed treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.

The witches’ cauldron of the Muddle East is getting even more muddled on a daily basis as young Arabs throughout the Muddle East are rising up against their despotic rulers and it doesn’t seem that any are safe, those allied with the United States and the West as well as those that have been a thorn in the side of the United States and the West. It just seems that despots and tyrants are no longer in vogue. The uprisings began in Iran after a disputed election where reformers were cheated of power and the revolt crushed by the Revolutionary Guard and other thugs of the Iranian regime. However with the election of “moderate” whatever that means cleric Hasan Rowhani as President hopes are that Iran, despite the machinations of many other clerics and the Revolutionary Guard might be brought to the negotiating table. That being said Iran is reportedly sending about 4000 troops to go help Assad in Syria so go figure.

Elsewhere in the Middle East things continue to boil. In December 2010 the people of Tunisia rose up and overthrew their President for Life Ben Ali in a peaceful uprising followed shortly after by the Egyptians who tossed out long term President and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. In Tunisia a “moderate Islamist” regime has been attempting to maintain control of radicals and keep some semblance of balance in that country while in Egypt the Islamic Brotherhood was able to get majorities elected in the Parliament and elect Mohammed Morsi as President. Needless to say both countries are still in turmoil.

In Iraq the Sunni Shi’a divide is as wide as ever and that country is threatening to become engulfed in yet another civil war as sectarian violence increases and the Kurds make more moves toward independence.

2013-05-31T115012Z_01_IST12_RTRIDSP_3_TURKEY-PROTESTS

Turkey, the heart of the old Ottoman Empire is now beginning to erupt as secularist elements in the society are protesting the policies of Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan leading to repeated clashes over the past two weeks between protestors and police.

054

Afghanistan though technically not part of the Middle East continues to be a problem for US and NATO consuming intelligence, economic diplomatic and military resources that could be put to play with better effect elsewhere.  What T.E. Lawrence said of the British occupation of a restive Mesopotamia  in 1920:

“We realise the burden the army in Mesopotamia is to the Imperial Exchequer, but we do not see as clearly the burden it is to Mesopotamia. It has to be fed, and all its animals have to be fed. The fighting forces are now eighty-three thousand strong, but the ration strength is three hundred thousand. There are three labourers to every soldier, to supply and serve him.” ‘France, Britain, and the Arabs’ by Col. T. E. Lawrence The Observer, 8 August 1920

In Libya the Arab Spring claimed the long time pain in the ass Moammar Gaddafi. That conflict center of the action in 2011 until Gaddafi was overthrown and murdered. Since then Libya has remained in turmoil despite elections, militias run amok and the US Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in an attack on the US Consulate and CIA base in Benghazi on September 11th 2012.

Yemen and Bahrain, Algeria, and Jordan have or are experiencing demonstrations which look to be revolts in the making and even Saudi Arabia is trying to head off a potential popular uprising.

However the real problem now, the problem that threatens to send the region into a regional war is the revolt in Syria which began with peaceful protests by reformers against the Assad regime. However the hard line response of that regime to the protests spawned a civil war which now threatens to overflow the borders of Syria. France, Britain and the US have stated that they believe that there is evidence that the Syria government has used chemical weapons, in particular Sarin nerve agents against the rebels. The conflict has claimed the lives of an estimated 80,000 people with hundreds of thousands more now living as refugees.

The conflict in Syria epitomizes one of the greatest challenges in the Middle East that many in the West are just beginning to recognize, the Sunni Shi’a divide. That divide is becoming more serious with every passing day as Iran continues to lead and assist Shi’a elements in predominantly Sunni Arab countries, as well as in Iraq where the Arab Shi’a are in the majority. The conflict in Syria is predominantly Sunni versus Shi’a though in that patchwork nation of Sunni, Shi’a, Alawite Shi’a tribe of the Assad clan, various Christian and Druse groups. Lebanon which borders Syria is as divided as its larger neighbor and Hezbollah holds tremendous power in that country.

Yes my friends this is a mess and almost everybody that is anybody in the military and economic power houses of the world doesn’t have their handprints all over at least some part of this mess. All of these own some of the blame for what is going on, both the rulers of the nations in the region as well as world powers who all try to influence the nations and peoples for their own diplomatic, intelligence, military or economic gain. Almost no one is unsoiled by their involvement in the Muddle East over the past 90 years or so and so in a way all of great world powers, as well as the despots who ran these countries are to blame.

images-46

The region is more volatile than at any time in recent history and events there could easily ignite a regional war with worldwide implications.  That is why the region has been called the Muddle East for decades.  We all hope and pray for the best and that somehow all of this that the promise of a peaceful and democratic “Arab Spring” will become a reality, but there are better than even odds that things get way worse before they get better. There are just too many wild cards in this deck and the swamp is full of hungry alligators.

With the announcement this week that the US would provide military aid and training to the Syrian rebels and that US forces will remain in Jordan even as US and NATO Patriot missile batteries stand ready in Turkey there is a really good chance that the conflict in Syria will not stay in Syria.

Of course there is always the wild card if what Israel may do in what it perceives to be its security interests against outward foes such as Iran and Syria but also inside its borders and occupied territories, especially if it is attacked or provoked by Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas.

May God help us all and bring about peaceful change, or as my Iraqi friends simply say “Inshallah, God willing.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security

Arab Spring Fever: The Revolution Begins Anew in Egypt as Syria Begins to Melt Down

bouazizi

Tunisian Demonstrators

It began in such an innocuous manner. A Tunisian street vendor named Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself due to what he viewed as harassment and humiliation by a local government official who confiscated his goods when he could not afford to pay bribes to the police. He died a few weeks later. That act set in motion widespread protests that led to the overthrow of long time Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ten days later.

The events in Tunisia sparked revolts throughout the Arab World, including the largest and most influential of the Arab States, Egypt and Syria. The situation in Egypt ended in the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak and free elections where Islamists gained a majority in Parliament and the election of Moslem Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mursi as President. The situation in Syria led to minor reforms before the government of Bashir Al Asad began a series of repressive and violent crackdowns against protestors. This led to a armed revolt that has only continued to gain ground and achieve a modicum of international recognition.

2012-12-07T183045Z_340924292_GM1E8C71U0S01_RTRMADP_3_EGYPT-POLITICS

Egyptian Demonstrators calling for the Ouster of President Mursi

It appears that Egyptian President Mursi and the Islamic Brotherhood may have bit off a bit more than they could chew when they hurriedly wrote a new draft constitution that maximized their power and limited freedoms of non-Islamists including Coptic Christians, Democrats and secularists. Mursi compounded his mistake by issuing an edict that gave him practically unlimited power. The backlash from the Egyptian judiciary, journalists and opposition parties has been dramatic. Protests on the order of the original demonstrations against the Mubarak regime have engulfed Egypt, Mursi has  annulled his decree that granted him those powers and the opposition is calling for his overthrow. The Egyptian military has again become a player in the unfolding drama.

Free Syrian Army soldiers in Idlib

Free Syrian Army Soldiers in Action

In Syria the opposition is nearing complete control of many areas of the country and Bashir Al Asad’s regime is believed by many to be on its last legs, only the endgame remains to be played out. Some believe that Syria’s regime may be willing to use chemical weapons, particularly Sarin nerve gas agents against the opposition. The leaders of Western nations, especially the United States have announced that the use of such weapons would be unacceptable.

There are continued demonstrations, protests and political actions ongoing in several countries including US Allies Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Throughout the Arab World the Arab Spring has had marked repercussions. The long term dictators of Yemen and Libya were both overthrow, with Yemen’s case Ali Abdullah Saleh was able to negotiate his exit from power, while in Libya the regime of Muammar Ghadaffi was overthrown in a bloody manner following a protracted civil war. Ghadaffi himself was brutally murdered following his capture.

The Arab has also has had effects on the foreign policy of nations, particularly the United States, Russia and the European Union and others around the world who have stood to gain by maintaining the status quo in the region, playing off the interests of their Arab “friends” for their own benefit. The fact is that most countries or alliances with military, economic and political, diplomatic and intelligence interests are still trying to make sense of the new Middle East and how it will impact their interests.

The problem is that most people outside the region have little understanding of it or how different the culture, history and social considerations of each part of the Arab world is different than others. We like to take about the “Arab Street” or the “Moslem world” but the fact is that neither the Arab Street or the Moslem world is monolithic and what is the case in one country is not necessarily true in other countries.

054

T.E. Lawrence with members of Arab delegation at Versailles

What we know as countries in many cases are nothing more than disparate Arab peoples of different, Tribal affiliations, cultural traditions, history as well as Islamic and Christian factions. There is no generic Arab country or people and in many Arab countries there is internal conflict based on tribal, ethnic or religious lines. This was something that T.E. Lawrence noted in his works and something that we in our desire to shape events to our liking, need to remember.

britishbaghdad1917www

British Troops Enter Baghdad in 1920

During and after the First World War, European powers, particularly the English and French, but also the Italians used their military, economic and diplomatic power to divide the Arab World, recently free of Ottoman-Turk domination through the Sykes-Picot agreement, agreements made at Versailles and San Remo. In doing so they prevented a natural development of Arab freedom and helped poison relations between the Arabs and the West for generations and in the case of Saudi Arabia led to the domination of the Wahhabi house of Saud.

The Arab world is a mosaic of different peoples, cultures, traditions and histories. As the Arab Spring continues to unfold it is very important that we, who are not Arabs understand the various tensions at play and make vague assumptions about them or what the Arab Spring portends in Egypt or elsewhere.

Yes, we have important interests in the region. However as chaotic as it may seem the Arab Spring is a natural outgrowth of a region and its peoples finding themselves after centuries of foreign domination, be it that of the Roman, the Byzantine, the Turk, the Persian, or various countries of Europe and even the United States. It is important that it play out with as little foreign interference as possible. The lesson from history is that the last century of Western domination, imperialism and interference in Arab affairs have not helped and that these events will have to play themselves out, and that may take at least a generation.

arabspring-640x480

Whether we like it or not, what is happening now, despite the violence, strife and chaos is a necessary part of their story. How can we not understand? How many centuries of ethnic, cultural, religious and political war and strife have the nations of Europe and America endured to come to some semblance of working peacefully together?

The Arab Spring will be with us for a while because Arabs, regardless of their nationality, tribe or religious sect must determine their fate.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

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

The Myth of Decisive Victory in Gaza

“Cure yourself of two commonly fatal delusions: the idea of victory and the idea that war can be limited.” B. H. Liddell Hart

“There is no middle path here – either the Gazans and their infrastructure are made to pay the price, or we reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip. Otherwise there will be no decisive victory.” Gilad Sharon

As one who supports Israel it is hard to watch its leaders falling into the trap of invading Gaza, something that they have done before without success. In the past 5 days the Israelis have blunted the attacks of Hamas militants and others operating in the Gaza Strip, killed some important Hamas military leaders and decimated much of the Hamas missile capability through air, naval and artillery strikes. It is clear that the new Iron Dome missile system has shielded the Israeli population from appreciable harm and that Hamas cannot protect the people of Gaza from Israeli attack. However, the protection of the people of Gaza is not the goal of the leaders of Hamas, their goal is to draw Israel into a war that will sap its strength by drawing its forces into Gaza.

It appears that at least some leaders of Israel may oblige them. The Knesset has authorized the call up of 75,000 reservists for duty and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that the Israelis are to expand the operation. This mobilization is massive by Israeli standards. It is a force that certainly will have the capability of occupying Gaza, and for a time preventing a renewed build up of Hamas’ missile forces, but it will be a force that will be unable to secure a decisive victory as Gilad Sharon believes possible.

Sun Tzu wrote: “Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory.”

If some kind of cease fire is not arranged soon the possibility that the conflict could expand is very real. It is also likely that an expansion of the conflict beyond Gaza could be tremendously harmful to Israel and the region. The real possibility that the emotions of war could draw Egypt into the conflict, regardless of that nation’s need for stability is something that cannot be discounted, especially with the Moslem Brotherhood now in control of the government. The even greater threat is that Iran could use other surrogates in Lebanon and Syria to attack Israel and draw the Israelis into a direct attack on Iran.

The emotions of war and those people who have been humiliated by military defeat after defeat are not rational. Peoples who endure defeat after defeat at the hands of any nation only to want to exact revenge on those that they believe are their oppressors. We in the “Christian” West should understand this, it is the history of Europe.

Israel’s operations in Gaza may be successful in the short term, but should they decide to invade Gaza they will invite even more desire for revenge throughout the region. A ground invasion will also cede Israel’s position as the victim of Hamas attacks in much of the world, especially since any invasion will be accompanied by many civilian deaths in a built up area that is already poverty stricken and war torn.

It is not a good situation. One hopes that the conflict can be curtailed before it spreads and becomes a regional war of incalculable costs in terms of lives and treasure.

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, Military, national security

Looking into the Abyss: The Middle East November 2012

Israeli “Iron Dome” Missile Defense System in Action (Ap Photo: Tasafrir Abayov)

“You don’t have any communication between the Israelis and the Iranians. You have all sorts of local triggers for conflict. Having countries act on a hair trigger – where they can’t afford to be second to strike – the potential for a miscalculation or a nuclear war through inadvertence is simply too high.”  Dennis Ross

 

As I write this the Israeli Army is beginning the mobilization of 30,000 reservists as the IDF continues to respond with great vigor to the missile attacks conducted by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad on Israeli cities including Tel Aviv. On the sidelines are Hezbollah and Iran while Egypt, now governed by leaders of the Islamic Brotherhood attempts to finesse support for the Islamists while not provoking a wider conflict with the Israelis. To the northeast, Israeli forces have exchanged fire with the forces of Bashir Assad’s Syria which are engaged in their own version of an Arabic Götterdämmerung against their own people.

In the past two days nearly 300 rockets launched from Gaza have hit Israel, killing 3 Israelis. The missiles that hit Tel Aviv were the first to hit that city since Saddam Hussein’s Scuds in the 1991 Gulf War. Over 100 more have been successfully intercepted by Israeli “Iron Dome” missiles. In response the IDF has launched numerous sustained attacks against Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups in Gaza, even killing the military chief of Hamas.

The Obama Administration has warned the Hamas forces to cease fire and urged leaders in Egypt and Turkey to help get the Hamas forces to stand down. Representatives of France are attempting to broker a cease fire even as the fighting escalates. The US Senate passed a unanimous declaration of support for Israel and demand for Hamas to cease its missile attacks.

The situation is escalating and could spread, especially in light of the fact that the Arab Spring swept away dictatorships like that of Hosni Mubarak which though they oppressed their own people also used their military and police power to just enough ant-Israel protest to defuse more extreme reactions. The fact that an Islamic Brotherhood government is now in control of Egypt is a wild card that no US administration has had to face since the days before the Camp David accords. Likewise the actions of the IDF two years ago against a Turkish flagged merchant ship attempting to break the Gaza blockade severely damaged Israeli-Turkish relations and crippled a previously strong Israeli-Turkish military alliance.

We are in uncharted waters. The US is tied down in Afghanistan and the burgeoning crisis in the senior leadership of the US military and intelligence services caused by the Petraeus scandal has the potential to cripple senior military and intelligence leadership. Likewise ongoing domestic political crisis brought about by a badly divided electorate and government as well as the Fiscal Cliff the timing could not be worse. Despite a decade of bloody and expensive military campaigns in the region United States now has less influence in the Middle East than it did in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and even the early 2000s.

As bad is the situation is the best case scenario is that it can be localized between the Israelis and Hamas in Gaza. As tragic and as devastating as that will be to both Israelis and Palestinians the possibility that the conflict could spread and become a regional war involving Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Syria and the United States is a distinct possibility. Syria is falling apart and in the middle of a brutal civil war. Lebanon is torn between its own historic divisions and heavily dominated by the Iranian backed Hezbollah terrorist group. Egypt is in the throws of its own revolution and in turmoil. Iran sits on the sidelines stoking the fires while making its own threats against Israel as well as its own Arab neighbors and the US forces in the region.

I am not going to try to predict what will happen next. The situation is developing and dangerous. One hopes for the best, that the conflict can be contained and the suffering of innocents minimized, but possibilities of a larger and more disastrous conflict are all too real not to downplay.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under middle east, national security, News and current events

Senate Joint Resolution 41: The Blank Cheque of 2012

“The Emperor Francis Joseph may, however, rest assured that His Majesty will faithfully stand by Austria-Hungary, as is required by the obligations of his alliance and of his ancient friendship.” Telegram from German Imperial Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg to Austrian Government 

It seems like it is a rare occasion when either the House or Senate combine to pass any sort of bi-partisan measure. One wishes that when they did that it would be something actually that would benefit the people of the United States. However in recent times it seems that the only time that the Senate or House can agree on anything is when they vote to raise their pay or give their blessing to a new war, of course without actually going on record as declaring war.

In July of 1914 the Austro-Hungarian Empire sought German backing to go to war against Serbia for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The Balkans were boiling over. The Austrians felt that the chaos in the Balkans was an existential threat to their already fragile empire and aimed to shore up their position by crushing Serbia. However, since the Russian Empire supported the Serbs and was a direct threat to exposed areas of the Austrian empire in what is now Poland the Austrians sought a guarantee of German support for their action.

The Germans made the decision to support Austria knowing that if they did that it was likely that war with Russia, and probably France and Britain would ensue. Austria despite its limitations was Germany’s only real ally in Europe. By a series of diplomatic blunders Kaiser Wilhelm II managed to undo all of Otto Von Bismarck’s diplomacy following the German unification. He scuttled the treaty of friendship that the Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm I had with Russia and built a Navy that threatened Britain’s interests both against the protests of Bismarck. As Wilhelm’s Germany became more isolated the more it prepared for war and many of its military and political leaders felt that war was not only inevitable but desirable before Germany’s enemies, especially Russia became more powerful.

Now with war threatening Germany was isolated and decided to support the Austrians believing that even if war came that they would emerge victorious. It was a decision that would be fatal for the German Empire as well as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

This week as the situation between Israel and Iran has continued to deteriorate with most experts believing that it is only a matter of time before Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s emerging nuclear weapons capability. Leaders of Iran and Israel have continued to escalate rhetoric as well as conduct clandestine operations against each other. Iran has been isolated by the west and by much of the Sunni Moslem world, particularly Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. It believes that the west and the heretical Sunni’s desire the overthrow of its theocratic regime. Israel sees Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons as an existential threat and also faces local border conflicts with Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel now has to deal with the threat posed by Egypt which is now led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Israel’s leaders, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feel that time is very short before Iran reaches the stage where it can produce nuclear weapons. The United States, the European Union and the United Nations have also opposed the development of such weapons by Iran and instituted ever tougher economic sanctions but those nations and entities feel that more time is needed for sanctions to take effect.

Likewise the leaders of Iran including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards frequently talk of war with Israel which would lead to the destruction of the Jewish State. In light of Iran’s support for Hizbollah and involvement in the Syrian civil war Israel takes Iran’s threats seriously.

The tensions continue to increase and many believe that Israel could strike in the very near future the United States Senate in a rare moment of bi-partisanship the Senate passed what amounts to a “Blank Cheque” to Israel or the President to take action against Iran. In a vote Friday it passed Senate Joint Resolution 41 by a vote of 90-1. Amid all the domestic political jockeying, economic problems and yes the football season most people didn’t even know the vote occurred. The Senate voted it on the Friday that they recessed until after the November elections. The resolution stated that the Senate:

“strongly supports United States policy to prevent the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability;

rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran; and

joins the President in ruling out any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.”  http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c112:2:./temp/~c1126dTHw8::

The lone vote of dissent was cast by Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul who said: “A vote for this resolution is a vote for the concept of preemptive war.”

The resolution in effect rules out and shackles any President using any form of diplomacy to deter Iran. Should Iran gain a nuclear capacity it effectively negates any form of deterrence, diplomacy or containment options other than war to stop Iran. In effect it gives the blessing of the Senate to either Israeli or American preventive war against Iran. The resolution is similar in this instance to the guarantee of Germany to Austria in 1914.

At this point I doubt that there is anything that will stop a war from happening. Too much has been invested by too many governments in ensuring that it will happen to stop it. Regardless of who is President of the United States Iran will continue its course until Israel strikes. When that happens all bets are off.

It will be a war designed to prevent a war but it will trigger events that will go well beyond a conflict between Iran and Israel. Others will be pulled in, the United States, NATO, the Gulf States, possibly Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and even Egypt. American and NATO forces in Afghanistan will be in great danger.

One would hope that we would learn from the mistakes of others. The great Otto Von Bismarck commented said “preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.” Obviously we haven’t learned anything.

Pray for Peace

Padre Steve+

 

2 Comments

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