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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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+

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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+

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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+

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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+

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29 Years, Preparing for a Garage Sale and Roger Clemens Strikes out the Prosecution

A Young 1st Lieutenant Padre Steve on the East Side of the Berlin Wall in 1986

It was 29 years ago today that I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army at UCLA.  Time flies. Back then Ronald Reagan was President, the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union were still standing, Iran and Iraq were engaged in a brutal and bloody war, and Hosni Mubarak was just settling in as leader of Egypt. Moammar Ghadaffi was sponsoring terrorist acts against the United States and the Marines were attempting to help stabilize Lebanon.  Speaking of Mubarak it has just been reported that his doctors have declared him clinically dead following more strokes and a heart attack yesterday.  This means that if things keep going as they are in Egypt he very well could be re-elected as President.

It really is hard to believe that it has been so long and so much has transpired in the past 29 years including my own transition from the Army to the Navy some 13 years ago. One thing that I do on such occasions is to re-read my oath as a Commissioned Officer. It reminds me that no matter who the President is or which party controls Congress that my duty is always to the Constitution and the nation, above any party ideology.

In my time I have agreed or disagreed, sometimes most stridently with the various policies and politics of the men who have served as President and I have done the same with those that have served in Congress.  It serves me well to remember that regardless of which side controls the reigns of government that I know who and what I serve.

Taking the Oath again in 2006 as a Lieutenant Commander with the Marines

“I, (state your name), having been appointed a (rank) in the United States (branch of service), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the office upon which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

That obligation that I and every other officer takes is one that should transcend politics even when we have deeply held opinions. Lord knows that I certainly have some deeply held opinions. Anyway, it is always a good thing to think about especially when the country is so deeply divided among political, ideological and even religious lines.

That being said I am taking a few days of leave in order to get rid of a load of stuff that we haven’t touched for years but have been paying rent to keep in a storage space. Early tomorrow before it gets too hot I will be emptying out the storage space and taking the things to our guest room where we will sort through all the stuff which includes more items than I can imagine, and hopefully, Lord willing sell a decent amount before hauling  whatever remains to Goodwill or keep to sell on E-Bay.  With that we won’t have to pay for a storage space again.

Roger Clemens outside the Federal Courthouse in Houston

Finally when I was eating dinner last night it was announced that Roger Clemens was found not guilty of all counts in his perjury trail where he was accused to lying to Congress. The trial, like that of Barry Bonds was a colossal waste of time and taxpayer money. It showed the ineptness of the prosecutors who having the thinnest evidence provided by some of the most disreputable sources decided to take on Clemens. I think that they wanted Clemons to plead but he wouldn’t give them that. He stared them down and like he did some many times as a pitcher struck out the side. One may have their opinions of whether they think Clemens did performance enhancing drugs and lied to Congress about it but the fact of the matter was that the prosecutors bit off more than they could chew in this case. Clemens may have done them but like Bonds there was no positive drug test. The fact is that during the steroid era a good number of players used various performance enhancing drugs. Clemens very well could have been one of them However, he still was an amazing pitcher and in my opinion the fact that his defense team totally shredded the credibility of his chief accuser Brian MacNeemee who by the way was the only person that made actual accusations that got Clemens on the now infamous Mitchell Report and which were the basis for the prosecution. The longer the trials of Bonds and Clemens went I realized that I was not watching a process of justice, I was watching a witch hunt in which Federal Prosecutors and the media feasted on them and others without much in the way of evidence. I tend not to be a fan of witch hunts. I don’t know if Clemens used or didn’t but I am glad that the trial is over and hopefully the prosecutors will find some real criminals to prosecute, maybe the bankers and financiers that about destroyed the economy in 2008. That would be a great place to start, none of them have even been charged with a crime despite their criminal malfeasance that has wreaked havoc here and around the world. But with the prosecutions latest track record maybe we better not go down that road.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Arab Spring Articles: Tahir Square to Sirte

It is hard to believe that Moammar Gaddafi is dead and that the people of Libya have thrown off the shackles of his tyrannical dictatorship which caused them and the world so much grief.  These are links and brief descriptions of the articles of this series.  There have been revolts across the Middle East as oppressed people have risen up peacefully against their repressive governments only to be met with force. Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and now Syria, each is rooted in history and each is different. Taken together they are inspiring others around the world.  I have not written much on Yemen or Syria but expect in the coming weeks and months there will be plenty of opportunities to look at the history, culture and unique aspects of these revolts and their potential impact in the region and around the world.  It is my belief that they are helping usher in a new age of revolution with results that will be as dramatic and important as the fall of Empires at the close of the First World War.  Looking at each article you can see how my thought process has evolved as the situation has developed.

Also a page update. I have updated the Middle East Page found in the top menu.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Walk Like an Egyptian: The Egyptian Revolution and the Radicalization of the Middle East Published31 January 2011. An analysis of the probability of the radicalization of the Middle East as revolution spreads.

The Beginning of Chaos in Egypt: Watching and Waiting as the Situation Deteriorates Published2 February 2011 as the situation began to deteriorate in Egypt as Mubarak loyalists attacked protesters in Tahir Squar.

Egypt: As Mysterious as the Sphinx and as Dangerous as a Cobra….What Next? Posted11 February 2011.  A continuation of my observations of  the revolution in Egypt prior to the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

Danger in the Arabian Gulf: The Fires of Protest Spread to Bahrain Posted18 February 2011. The article deals with the protests in Bahrain and my experiences and observations having traveled there many times.

Damned if you do…Damned if you Don’t: The Middle East Protests and U.S. Foreign Policy Posted 19 February 2011. An examination of the difficulties facing U.S. Foreign policy officials in light of the recent spread of revolution in the Arab World.

To the Shores of Tripoli: The Flames of Revolution Spread to Libya as Gaddafi Fights Back Posted February 21st as the protests in Libya provoked a response from dictator Moammar Gaddafi. Saif Al Islam Gaddafi said We will take up arms… we will fight to the last bullet… We will destroy seditious elements. If everybody is armed, it is civil war, we will kill each other.”

Göttdammerung in Libya: Shades of Hitler as Gaddafi Promises to Die as a Martyr Published 22 February 2011 Moammar Gaddafi promises “I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents … I will die as a martyr at the end… I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired … when i do, everything will burn.”   Moammar Gaddafi accurately predicts his death.

The Guns of March Published 9 March 2011. “War is the unfolding of miscalculations” Barbara Tuchman Libya in the context of the broader Middle East and US Military capabilities.

Gaddafi Taunts the West and Kills his People: Our inaction speaks so loud he can’t hear a Word that we are Saying  Published 11 March 2011.  The cost of inaction and the risks of making threats that you do not back up with force.  When I wrote this I believed that if nothing was done that Gaddafi or terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and others could turn this revolt into a regional war.

Strike on Libya: The Unknown outcome of Operation Odyssey Dawn Published20 March 2011. The beginning of the NATO air campaign in Libya.

Damned if you do and Damned if you Don’t: The Allied Intervention in Libya Published March 21st 2011.  War is the province of chance. In no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. It increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events.”- Karl von Clausewitz The opportunities and peril associated with the NATO intervention in Libya.

Gaddafi’s Götterdämmerung: The End in Tripoli Published 21 August 2011.  The fall of  Tripoli, the Libyan Rebels drive out Gaddafi.

The Promise and Peril of Revolutionary Times: A Warning From History  Published 18 October 2011. Putting revolutions around the world in context.

Gaddafi is Dead so what happens Now? Published 20 October 2011. The death of Moammar Gaddafi and questions of what comes next.

Why the Libyans were able to Overthrow Gaddafi and what We can learn from It: A Lesson from the work of T E Lawrence  Published 21 October 2011 What NATO and theUnited States did right inLibya and a look at Middle East History.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, Military

Padre Steve’s Primer on the Muddle East

“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

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 Mujahedeen.

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 depot we knew to a quagmire despite Saddam’s crimes against his own people who thought we would help them.  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 last year.  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.

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. But then 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.

This brought about spontaneous uprisings all over the Middle East with Libya and the long time pain in the ass Muammar Gaddafi being the current center of the action. However Yemen and Bahrain both are in trouble, Algeria, Jordan and Syria 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.

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 world powers, as well as the despots who ran these countries are to blame.

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 will bring about a peaceful and democratic “Arab Spring” 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.

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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