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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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Pouring Gasoline on the Fire: The True Believers and Unending War

The Consulate in Benghazi Burns

“Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.” Eric Hoffer, The True Believer

September 11th 2012 was a day that initially was marked by somber reflection on the attacks that killed nearly 3000 people 11 years before. However as the night settled over the Continental United States Americans were again attacked. This time two events, one in Egypt and one in Libya brought about the loss of American lives including Ambassador Chris Stevens and ignited a political firestorm.

It is no secret that extremist Moslems, Christians and Jews, each for their own particular theological and political reasons have been trying with all their might to bring about a global conflagration between the the Islamic world and the West, especially the United States and Israel.  Hatred of the other, power and the desire for vengeance against crimes real and imagined motivate all of them. The desire for the ultimate judgement of God being poured out on their enemies is a motivating force because their enemies are by necessity the enemies of their God.

The latest violence appears to have its genus in the release of a a film produced by someone named Sam Bacile who claims to be real estate broker and Israeli citizen. The Israelis say there is no such Israeli and some wonder if the name is actually a pseudonym and the AP reported that the cell phone led to a man named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula a man convicted of financial crimes who admitted a role in the film today.  Nakoula is neither an Israeli or a Jew and has used the the name as a pseudonym.

Koran Burning Pastor Terry Jones

The film, called alternately “The Innocence of Moslems” or “Mohammed: Prophet of Moslems” is being promoted extensively by Egyptian Coptic Christian expatriate and anti-Moslem zealot Morris Sadek and Koran burning “pastor” Terry Jones. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal the man who calls himself Sam Bacile claimed that the film was “a political movie” and that “Islam is a cancer, period.” One of his collaborators an Evangelical Christian named Steve Klein told Fox News that “we went into this knowing that this was probably going to happen.”

Bacile or Nakoula, whoever he happens to be released a 13 minute long trailer for the film on You-Tube in English and it was translated into Egyptian Arabic. It has gone viral in the Islamic world. The Islamic preachers of hate and the cottage industry that thrives on finding reasons to hate Americans used the film to launch demonstrations at the US Embassy in Cairo and the Consulate in Libya.

Egyptian Protestors desecrate the American flag after breaching the Embassy Wall

Warned of upcoming demonstrations the Press Officer of the US Embassy in Cairo published the following statement six hours before the protest. Please note it is not an apology, it is diplomats in danger trying to calm the situation:

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

In Egypt the new government headed by Moslem Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi did little to break up the demonstration yesterday and the crowds entered the compound, pulled down and desecrated the American flag and raised the black Islamic banner. However, they did no more. Today more demonstrations have occurred but Egyptian security forces interposed themselves between the demonstrators but the Egyptian government did nothing to condemn the demonstrators.

However during the initial phases of the crisis Republican Presidential Candidate condemned the Obama administration and the Embassy for “apologizing” for the “right of freedom of speech” in response to the attack on the Cairo embassy. Romney was criticized for the statement by many Republicans for appearing to use the attacks for partisan political gain. After doubling down on the comments this morning many analysts believe that Romney has come out of the day worse off on how he is viewed than before.

Romney’s remarks were contrasted with those of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in 1980 when the military operation ordered by President Jimmy Carter to free the US hostages during the Iranian hostage crisis. Reagan made this statement: “This is the time for us as a nation and a people to stand united and to pray” while Bush said “I unequivocally support the president of the United States — no ifs, ands or buts — and it certainly is not a time to try to go one-up politically. He made a difficult, courageous decision.” Both Reagan and Bush would campaign using the “weakness” of Jimmy Carter as one of their key points of attack but on the day of the disaster both had the decency not to use it for their political gain.

Ambassador Chris Stevens

In Libya there was a small demonstration at the consulate. However that demonstration appears to have been pushed aside by an armed group of 20-30 men wielding RPGs, machine guns and other automatic weapons. The assault by the group lasted between 4-5 hours and during it Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans including two Marines were killed.

The Libya attack appears to be a planned and premeditated attack, possibly to avenge of Al-Qaeda’s Libyan born second in command Abu Yahya al-Libi on June 4th, which Libyan Al Qaeda allies have promised to retribution. The fact that the attack occurred when a Ambassador Stevens was on a visit to promote the opening of a new cultural center. Stevens was respected by many Libyans for his role during the Libyan revolution and the Libyan government has apologized and Libyans have marched to apologize for his death.

Libyans protest in Sympathy with the US

President Obama has order a Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team (FAST) platoon  to Tripoli to bolster the embassy defenses and ordered two Guided Missile Destroyers to Libya. He has promised that “justice” will be served on Ambassador Stevens’ killers. Osama Bin Laden and many other Al Qaeda leaders have faced that justice during Obama’s term and I expect that these brutal killers will not live long. He also made a telling comment about how he and the administration now view the situation in Egypt:

“I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy…I think it’s still a work in progress, but certainly in this situation, what we’re going to expect is that they are responsive to our insistence that our embassy is protected, our personnel is protected.”

The operative words in his remarks about Egypt are that “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally.” It appears that the President fully recognizes that despite hopes that pro-western modernists would gain power after the revolution that the newly elected government of Moslem Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi is not our friend.

Tonight the demonstrations in Cairo continue, others are breaking out in other countries and many Arab leaders recognize the danger and are trying to defuse the situations.

The problem is that no matter who is President that the instigators of the attacks on the embassy and the consulate as well as those that egg them on and those that intentionally try to provoke them will not stop. They will continue to do all that the can to bring about the war that they think will bring the fulfillment of their apocalyptic visions, be they Islamic, Christian or Jewish.  The fire is burning and these fools are doing all that they can to spread the flames around the world.

I wish I could say that it was going to get better but it looks like we are being pulled even deeper into this war without end.

Pray for peace but know that those that want war do more than pray for it, they are willing to do anything for it, even kill.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Gaddafi is Dead so what happens Now?

“We announce to the world that Qaddafi has been killed at the hands of the revolution. It is a historic moment. It is the end of tyranny and dictatorship. Qaddafi has met his fate.” Abdel Hafez Ghoga, spokesman for the National Transitional Council

Note: This article contains graphic images of Gaddafi’s body. They may not be suitable for all readers.

The Arab Spring gained new momentum today with the killing of Moammar Gaddafi by forces loyal to the National Transitional Council. The NTC had captured Tripoli in August and the former dictator had been on the run attempting to rally loyalists to help him regain power.  His efforts were in vain. The NTC forces which are best described as a collection of irregular forces rather than a real army continued to gain territory and liberate cities which had been terrorized by Gaddafi’s forces.

Gaddafi was killed today while he and close advisors were attempting to flee Sirte his hometown which was in the process of  falling to NTC forces.  Reports are sketchy but his convoy appeared to be hit by French Jets and American Predator drones  killing many of his loyalists.  Gaddafi reportedly was wounded but escaped to hide in a drainage ditch tunnel.  He was later captured by pursuing NTC forces, captured and reportedly died of his wounds after his capture.  The circumstances of his death are unclear some say that the vehicle that he was being transported in was caught in a crossfire and other reports indicate that he may have been summarily executed by his captors.  Pictures of his body seem to show a bullet wound in his forehead, one in his left arm and several just below his sternum.

Along those killed with Gaddafi was his Defense Minister Abu Bakr Yunis Jabr, head of Intelligence Services Abdullah al-Senussi and his son Muatassim and other loyalists who were killed during or following a firefight with NTC forces.  Another report by Al Arabya News says that one of their reporters in Sirte has confirmed that Saif-Al Islam Gaddafi is also dead.

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/10/20111020111520869621.html

Gaddafi wounded and still alive (above) after his capture and his corpse below

 

The death of Gaddafi ends a 42 year reign of terror in Libyaand of Gaddafi’s support for terrorism and terrorist organizations. Among those terrorist acts included the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland on December 21st 1988 killing all 270 souls aboard and the April 5th 1986 bombing of the West Berlin nightclub La Belle which killed 3 people and wounded 230. The latter was directed at US Army soldiers that frequented the club.  He trained and supported tyrants in Sierra Leone and Liberia who killed hundreds of thousands of people.  Tens of thousands of Libyans died at his hand.

Despite this Libya faces difficulties.  Tribal, ideological, economic and political rivalries long contained and suppressed are showing. The Misrata Council in the West does not recognize the NTC despite the latter group’s recognition by governments around the world.  There are tensions between those of a more secular democratic view and Islamists so it remains to be seen what Libya will evolve or devolve into over the coming weeks, months and years.

The killing of Gaddafi is likely to have broad repercussions throughout the Middle East and may further encourage the now months long revolts against Yemen’s long term dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad.  Other regimes could face uprising and there is potential for the Arab Spring to inspire those in other nations who feel oppressed or that have real or imagined grievances against their governments or those that they see as the real power brokers in their lands.

Bashar Al Assad and Ali Abdullah Saleh…are they next?

Since war, economic crisis and perceived inequities between the rich and the poor are fertile ground for such movements it is my belief that the Arab Spring is helping to usher in a new era of revolution around the world such as not been seen since 1918 and the overthrow of long established governments and the collapse of empires which lasted until the 1960s.  The world is still shaped by those events.

As Alexis de Tocqueville said “In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.”

As I said a few days ago this is a time of promise and peril. But for now we can rejoice for the people of Libya as they begin a new chapter in their history.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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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Strike on Libya: The Unknown outcome of Operation Odyssey Dawn

Libyan Rebels among tanks and vehicles destroyed by coalition air strikes outside Benghazi (AFP photo)

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Field Marshal Helmuth Von Molkte the Elder

“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

Under the authority of a United Nations Security Council resolution the military forces of a number of NATO nations began air and missile strikes against Libyan air defenses command a control facilities and ground forces.  While the United States and British Royal Navies lobbed salvoes of Tomahawk cruise missiles aircraft from France, Britain, the United States launched the initial air strikes. They have been joined by or soon will be joined by aircraft from Italy, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Canada and Qatar, the first Arab nation to participate. A number of other Arab countries may join the force as operations move from air strikes to the enforcement of the no-fly zone itself. The French Navy has deployed the nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle from Toulon and it will join the naval forces in conducting air strikes and enforce the no-fly zone.

Air strikes have significantly degraded Libya’s air defenses and blasted Libyan forces arrayed against the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. The attacks on the ground forces stopped the Libyan attack in its tracks and the rebels have returned to the advance after appearing to be on the verge of a last stand against Gaddafi’s forces. In the past few days Gaddafi and his son Saif Al Islam Gaddafi have said that they would destroy the revolt and show “no mercy” in doing so. It is my belief that Libyan military officers and forces which have been “on the fence” will join the revolt in short order as the rebel forces renew their advance to the west as their loyalty to the regime is tenuous at best.

The strikes though extensive seem to have avoided doing to the Libyan people what was done to the Iraqi people and not targeted power plants or other infrastructure needed by the Libyan people. In other words NATO is trying to make sure that the Libyan people do not suffer for Gaddafi’s crimes. Gaddafi is trying to play up the attack as an attack against Libya by the “Crusader or Colonial enemy.”

Gaddafi has said that he will wage a “long war” and that he would arm a “million civilians” as loyalists gathered in his compound to act as a human shield to protect Gaddafi.  Gaddafi is known for his propaganda and his ruthlessness so we have to believe that he will at least attempt to resist but arming a million civilians is likely beyond his logistical capabilities while under heavy bombardment. The United States and NATO have said that they have not targeted Gaddafi but of course as everyone knows no one would object if Gaddafi happened to be in the neighborhood of a military target.

As the operation is in its early stages it is unknown how it will turn out. Morally and under the United Nations charter it is the right thing to do as Gaddafi was killing civilians and on the verge of killing many more and making the humanitarian crisis even worse. Unfortunately when any military operation is undertaken the consequences are and outcomes are never pre-determined. One hopes that the strikes will keep Gaddafi from killing more of his own people and causing greater chaos in the region. One also hopes that it will encourage the pro-democracy and secular movements that began in Iran but was crushed but which has taken root in Tunisia and Egypt to continue to spread across the Middle East. One hopes that other Arab nations will help Libya recover from Gaddafi and do what is right for the Libyans and for their own people. One also hopes that the strikes will level the playing field enough for the rebels to overthrow Gaddafi and bring him to justice.  So analysts in the Middle East believe that this will be the case. Al Jazeera reports that “Faysal Itani, deputy head of Middle East and North Africa forecasting at Exclusive Analysis tells Reuters that Gaddafi’s use of heavy weaponry against civilians has narrows his options considerably. He says: The doors are really shut for negotiation …  We think Gaddafi will be killed, or commit suicide or simply run away. It’s over.”

Of course one never knows. Gaddafi has stated that he has issued a cease fire but witnesses in Misrata which has been under heavy attack for the past week state that Gaddafi’s forces are still waging a campaign against civilians in that city. Likewise as Nicholas Burns a former United States Undersecretary of State notes that “one of the gambles that Britain, France and the United States, and indeed the Arab League, have taken is not having an agreement on what the mission is. Is the coalition trying to protect civilians in harm’s way, or in essence trying to overthrow Gaddafi? The coalition has intervened in a civil war on behalf of one of the protagonists. They have got to straighten out exactly what they are trying to accomplish.”

That is a big question mark. The real danger in this kind of unscripted intervention is the unforeseen consequences of each action taken. Even an action undertaken with the noblest of reasons can run afoul of unforeseen and undesirable outcomes. Thus only time will tell and we can only hope that freedom comes to Libya and that the bloodshed will end, hopefully with the Gaddafi regime thrown upon the ash heap of history by the Libyan people.

The die has been cast….

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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A Visit from My Dad

Is there a heaven? Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?

Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.

John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.

[John starts to walk away]

Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?

John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.

[Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]

Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven

Dialogue from Field of Dreams

I went to bed as usual on Sunday night with my usual trepidation of the night but unlike many nights I actually fell asleep after two consecutive nights where I had almost none. Since returning from Iraq I don’t sleep well and most of the time when I dream, or remember dreams they are seldom good and often quite disturbing. When I see massive trauma and destruction as has been covered on the news of late be it the triple disasters in Japan as well as the situation in Libya where Muammar Gaddafi’s forces are grinding the rebels that we encouraged to dust. For me after seeing the destruction of Iraqi cities and the effects of war the images of destruction and human tragedy in Japan and Libya are upsetting and I have slept even less well than normal.

My dad died last June after a seven year battle with Alzheimer’s disease which by the sixth year had taken away almost everything that he was.  The last time that I saw him alive he did not know me and for me that was hard. He died the day after I found out that I had been selected for promotion to the Rank of Commander and I know that he was proud of my career in the military and would have been elated to share that joy.

I love the movie Field of Dreams where Ray Kinsella played by Kevin Costner ends up helping the ghosts of the 1919 Chicago White Sox including Shoeless Joe Jackson who were banned from baseball during the “Black Sox” scandal find peace on a baseball field in Iowa. In the process he also makes peace with himself and his father. I feel a lot of connection to the movie because of the father son relationship portrayed in it. Baseball was always a big part of our lives and my dad planted the love of the game deep in me. In my early adulthood my dad and I suffered some rocky times in our relationship many of which were due to my headstrong independence.  However later in life we had become close again, he was still high strung and opinionated and I was still opinionated and independent but it was a good relationship.  The only thing that we were unable to do was get together and “have a catch” during the latter years because of his deteriorating physical condition.

So after his death I had a lack of closure a feeling that we had never been able to say goodbye to each other. On Sunday night or rather early Monday morning I had a dream where he visited me. It was the dad that I remembered.  He came to me and we talked about baseball, the weather, and my mom as well as funny stories about his mother, world affairs, the Navy and even the earthquake in Japan since we had both served there at different times.  It was a natural conversation like one might have with their father after not seeing him in person for a year or more. He was really happy that the Giants had won the World Series and we talked about the possibilities of them repeating. The conversation went on for what felt like hours. He told me how proud he was of me and how he loved me and I was able to express the same to him. When he said that he had to leave I went to my desk, somehow he was visiting me in my office at the Naval Hospital to get him my business card so he would have my phone numbers. At that point the alarm clock went off and he disappeared.

I woke from sleep feeling like I had just been with him and that the visit was real. I was still tired but my spirit was refreshed. I told Judy about it Monday night and she thought that it was pretty cool and said that he may have visited me.  Whether it was a visit or a dream I don’t know. All I know is that I had my dad back for a while and finally was able to say that last I love you and hear the same from him. I’m okay with that and hope that maybe he will come back to “have a catch” with me or take in a ball game or just talk some more.

Is there a heaven? Yes, it’s the place where dreams come true.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Gaddafi Taunts the West and Kills his People: Our inaction speaks so loud he can’t hear a Word that we are Saying

Back when I was a sophomore in high school I played my one and one season of organized tackle football. I wasn’t very good and after seven weeks of not getting to play in a game, the last of which was a blowout where everyone got into the game but me I went to the coaches’ office in a rage. I confronted Coach Duke Pasquini demanding to know why I didn’t get in the game and he simply said “I can’t hear you.” So I complained louder and he repeated what he had said. That angered me so I was screaming and he finally said “your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word you are saying.” I was dumbfounded as he told me that the reason that I wasn’t playing was that I my words didn’t match my play during practice.  It wasn’t until I took my anger out on the practice field and pushed harder than I ever thought possible that I got to play. Coach Pasquini taught me a valuable lesson with a lot of application for Western Leaders including President Obama.

That lesson is not to make pronouncements that you are not willing to back up with force. Unfortunately over the past two weeks statements by Western leaders as well as their actions of freezing assets and investigating the Gaddafi’s for war crime charges has emboldened the rebels and hardened the resolve of Gaddafi and his family.  In a nearly euphoric advance the rebels advanced to areas that they could not control if Gaddafi offered real resistance. Likewise when Gaddafi realized that the West was divided and unlikely to take action be it a no-fly zone or any assistance to the rebels he began an offensive that has devastated cities that the rebels had controlled and caused grievous casualties to civilians.  Gaddafi’s son Saif al Islam Gaddafi promised that the regime was coming after the rebels even the eastern part of the country using ground forces and air power.  He knows that he has a free hand until NATO and the Arab League or African Union decide to act even without a UN mandate as NATO did in Bosnia and Kosovo or the United States did in Iraq. He is openly taunting the United States, NATO and the international community and reveling in it. He has called our bluff.

The tide has turned against the rebels and in a war of attrition they cannot win unless the Libyan military switches sides, which does not seem likely in the light of international dithering.  The Libyan military after a period of wavering and defections appear to have fallen in line with Gaddafi even if they despise him.  Since that is the case Gaddafi now has the upper hand and unless Western Leaders, including President Obama back up their words the rebellion will be crushed a humanitarian catastrophe unleashed and a brutal dictator validated.

Now it is true that the United States above all nations must act with prudence because of our Iraq and Afghanistan adventures which have made the Administration shy away from any more military actions in the Muslim World. In fact we are overcommitted everywhere and there is a good reason militarily and politically not to go in.  That reason is simply that many radicals in the Islamic World will use it against us in a propaganda campaign and that is exactly how Gaddafi is already portraying the situation. Of course an air campaign which would begin with a no-fly zone should one be authorized would likely end up in bombing Libyan air defense installations and bring about what Gaddafi rightly calls a war. As a result the administration has for now decided not to act and to wait for the Europeans and the United Nations to take the lead. That inaction has emboldened Gaddafi and that inaction will turn Libya into a more important conflict than we ever wanted it to be.

If we do nothing after making a big show of calling Gaddafi a war criminal, freezing his assets and boldly stating that he has to go and the revolt fails then we will be seen by the same people that would condemn military action as weak.  This result would embolden tyrants and give our real enemies, Al Qaeda and Iran new life. Al Qaeda had been frozen out of the revolutions to this point but when those dying for freedom realize that we are all talk they will turn to the radical side to overthrow despotic regimes and when those regimes fall those that take power will not be our friends.

While doing something is fraught with peril the cost of inaction is worse and we could lose every Arab Ally that we have had for decades in a very short time. It will mean astronomical oil prices and collapse economies already weakened by the world wide banking and real estate crises. Israel will then be in the middle of a potential regional war because anti-western zealots will certainly carry their crusade against the Jewish state. There will be no more cold peace between the Arabs and Israel.

At least in the absence of US or NATO action French President Nicholas Sarkozy has recognized the provisional rebel government and is setting up an embassy in Benghazi and suggesting air strikes. British Prime Minister David Cameron is also pushing for action. The possibility is that some parts of the international community will take action but that is not certain. There are reports that the Libyan Provisional council is in clandestine talks with the United States.  If so that would be a start.

The reality is that this situation will not end well no matter what course of action is taken. The fact is that no matter which course the situation in Libya takes is that it is likely to spiral into a regional war with terrible consequences for everyone.  Americans will feel the pain of this in a big way when the oil prices go through the roof and the economy tanks.

Yes, our actions speak so loud that Gaddafi and the world can’t hear a word that we are saying.

God help us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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