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Injustice in Syria and the Impotence of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bertold Brecht wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Guns of September: Beginnings, Endings and Beginnings

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“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.”  T. E. Lawrence

In September 1939 Adolf Hitler led his Nazi regime into the bloodiest war in human history. In September 1945 that war ended when representatives of Germany’s ally Imperial Japan signed the instruments of surrender on the deck of the Battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. In those 5 years  over 60 million people died and the world changed.

Twenty five years before Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht into Poland the former leaders of the imperial dynasties of Europe as well as France  had led their world into the abyss of the First World War. In that war close to 37 million people, both military and civilian died.

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In both conflicts leaders schemed to ensure that their nations would come out on top and the human costs were simply counted as immaterial so long as the overall goals of conquest and domination were achieved.

Since the Second World War ended the world has not become a safer place. In fact because the United Nations which was in essence created to prevent war and mitigate its effects has been so politicized where just five nations on the Security Council hold the key to it being able to act forcibly to stop genocide and the used of weapons of mass destruction. More often than not at least one of those five nations, the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France have ensured that whichever despot they they support is protected from any action by the world body through the use of their veto in the UN Security Council.

No we stand at the precipice of war again. This time in Syria. The United States, France and a number of other countries have concluded that the regime of Bashir Assad has employed the nerve agent Sarin against its own people in their bloody civil war.  This is disputed by the Russians as well as the Syrians but backed up by the Israelis and Saudi Arabians.

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As for the United States leading any strike on Syria to either degrade or weaken the Assad regime’s ability to use chemical weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction that they might have it finds itself on the horns of a dilemma. If it does nothing then the Assad regime can claim hat it forced the United States to back down and continue to slaughter its own people. If the United States attacks there is some chance of the strikes having some effect on the Syria ability to make war on their own people but opens the possibility of a wider and more bloody conflict, a conflict that may solve nothing but actually make matters worse.

The United State is also hindered on the world stage and at home by the Iraq debacle brought on by the Bush Administration. Despite the fact that less than one percent of the population has served in the military since the attacks of 9-11-2001 and even fewer have served in combat zones the political leaders, talking heads, pundits, preachers and media in general referrer to the country as “war weary.” The retired former Chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay made the comment on Twitter that they must be tired of shopping since so few have actually served. If there is war weariness it is in the military which has been in continuous action since 9-11-2001 and if we want to be honest almost ever since the First Gulf War with stops in the Balkans and Somalia along the way. I have been in the military 32 years and I have lost count of the number of places that we have deployed forces to and the amount of time that I have spent away from home. I think I have been away from my wife 10 of the last 17 years due to deployments and assignments that took me away from home. But I digress…

The fact of the matter that there are a number of layers to the situation in Syria that all need to be addressed but will not be. Instead they will be spun by those in favor or those opposed to war and mostly for for a very fleeting political advantage. An advantage only as good as today’s polls.

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In the past couple of days the Obama Administration has been taking its case for action against Syria to the American people and Congress and also to other nations. The reasons for intervention have been primarily moral as well as citing the precedent of international law regarding chemical weapons. Real politic has not played much of a role, at least yet but it should.

The reality is that the Obama Administration as well as the UN, the Arab League, NATO, the EU and other nations with an interest in what happens in Syria have to deal with the moral and ethical level of the arguments for or against intervention. They also have to look at the legal justification which depending on which part of international law you examine could be used to argue for or against the legality of intervention. Finally there is the real politic of the situation, not only the chances of a successful intervention but the consequences of action versus inaction, action versus delay in the hopes of finding another solution and the results of whatever course of action is taken. After all, there are always results and even the most well intended and executed plans result in unintended consequences.

As I have said a number of times I think that President Obama is damned no matter what he decides to do and that this war no matter what we do in the next week will most likely spill over the borders of Syria into adjoining countries. That is already happening in the form of refugees going into Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, further instability in Lebanon and occasional skirmishes along the Syria and Lebanon borders with Israel. The question is not “if” but rather when and how the military conflict and sectarian violence spreads to other countries surrounding Syria. That has t be weighed with the consequences of and consideration of the “branches and sequels” to any intervention or non-intervention strategy employed by the United States and whatever allies choose to go along for the ride.

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I am not in favor of war. That being said I do not know if there is a way to avoid it yet still enforce the norms of moral behavior in terms of the use of chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons.

There are times that I wonder about those who believe that they can orchestrate policy that only benefits their country or political-economic interests. The fact is that the “war genie” is out of the bottle and where the situation in Syria ends is anybody’s best guess. What we do have to remember is that those rebelling against the Assad regime are not doing so for our benefit or for that matter any other nation’s benefit. What T. E. Lawrence said of the Arabs who revolted against the Ottoman Empire in the First World War is as true now as it was then:

“The Arabs rebelled against the Turks during the war not because the Turk Government was notably bad, but because they wanted independence. They did not risk their lives in battle to change masters, to become British subjects or French citizens, but to win a show of their own.”

There are nations and groups attempting to use this for their own interests and ultimately it will blow back on them. The region is perched on the abyss of war, possibly without end. What happens now will be less decided by what happens in Washington or the capitals or Europe or the United Nations but with the people actually fighting the war, their active supporters and their proxies.

As far as the United States political scene if a single leader votes for or against war based purely on their individual or political party’s gain in either the 2014 or 2016 elections or to undermine the current President a pox on them. I want an honest debate about the real world consequences, ethical, legal, moral, economic, military and geopolitical of any intervention or non-intervention in Syria. We owe it to the Syrians, those people in the region as well as our own people, especially those who will certainly bear the burden of whatever war ensues.

Honestly, we really need to think this through before so much as one missile is launched.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Inconvenient Truth About Iraq and Benghazi

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“The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based. And if you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform!” Captain Jean Luc Picard to Wesley Crusher Star Trek the Next Generation “The First Duty” 

I was talking with a conservative friend the other day and he ended up bring up the subject of Benghazi and the tragic loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and 3 other State Department personnel at the consulate last September 11th. He was talking about the scandal of this and the political impact that he hoped it would have on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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I was actually shocked that he said this so for once I decided to actually say something and mention the 4486 official US military deaths in Iraq. My friend who I really do like and respect commented that they were “the result of what happened in war.”

It stunned me when he said that because he is a military brat, but then I realized that he had bought the lie about Iraq and was so solidly partisan that he could not see the moral, ethical and even legal discrepancy in what he was saying. For me the question was far less about whatever impact it might have on Hillary’s campaign should she decide to run but about the truth.

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When I confronted him about it I was stunned by how easily he dismissed all of the dead and wounded and other casualties of Iraq but was so insistent on some kind of conspiracy to cover up Benghazi. But this is how so many people think today thanks to the constant bombardment of ignorance on Fox News and other partisan outlets. It is not about the truth, it is about the nastiest kind of politics.

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I too am upset about Benghazi, but likewise I am upset about the 241 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers killed at Beirut in October 1983 when the Reagan Administration ignored warnings about putting US troops into Lebanon while taking sizes in that county’s civil war. I am upset about the nearly 3000 killed on 9-11-2001. I am upset about dozens of other terrorist attacks that occurred under both Republican and Democratic administrations in which DOD, the State Department and other agencies made mistakes that cost lives.

Some attacks could have been prevented and others probably not. However they were terrorist attacks committed by our enemies, not an illegal undeclared war of preemptive choice conducted by a United States administration against the will and recommendations of many of our closest allies. That is the inconvenient truth.

What has happened over the past decade is that many on the political right cannot admit that they were wrong about Iraq. This despite the fact that President Bush, Karl Rove and almost every senior member of the the Bush administration have admitted that the reasons that they took us into war with Iraq were wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear program was a shambles and Iraq was not working with Al Qaida, which like most secular military dictatorships in the Middle East loathed. That is the inconvenient truth.

The fact that so many people on the political right go into a nearly toxic lather about four people lost in Benghazi while shucking off the deaths of nearly 5000 Americans who died in a war that was not only a mistake but violated the very laws that we helped establish at Nuremberg infuriates me. This is no longer about national security to them, it is about politics. This is not about ethics for those that led us into Iraq have none. It is not about justice for if there was justice those who made the decision to attack Iraq would be tried for war crimes.

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I served in Iraq and was fortunate that I served with our advisors and the Iraqis in Al Anbar during the time of the Anbar Awakening. I saw a different war than many people observed and for that I am glad because it busted my illusions about what we did in Iraq forever. I needed that. I may have come back thoroughly goofed up with PTSD and at times I am sure certifiably crazy, but I needed it to see the truth.

The fact is that unlike Benghazi the war in Iraq has crippled this country. Nearly 5000 dead, 30,000 wounded and trillions of dollars of national treasure dumped into the abyss. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, wounded or driven into exile, many who greeted us as liberators.  Of course that was before the Bush Administration put the kleptocrats of the Chalabi group rape and pillage the country.

Likewise it was after the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer, a man who had never in his career served in the Middle East threw out ever carefully orchestrated plan of DOD and CENTCOM for a peaceful transition in the country thus bringing misery to Iraq and triggering the anti US-Coalition insurgency and Iraqi Civil War. The great military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz said: “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” The fact is that the Bush Administration was not only not clear, but they were inept and lawless in invading Iraq.

Additionally the invasion cost the United States the goodwill and trust of many allies and friends. No one will ever see us in the same light again. Instead of being a liberating power and “light to the nations” we are seen in much of the world as a rogue, lawless and imperialist state. Otto Von Bismarck put it so well when he said “preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”

I don’t know about you but I am sure that is not the vision of our founders. I was told on my first day in the Army back in 1981 that “there are attaboys and aww shits and it takes 2000 attaboys to make up for one aww shit.” The Bush Administration’s lawless invasion of Iraq and incredibly inept occupation was a disaster for the United States, Iraq and most of the region, except maybe for Al Qaida and Iran. By the way let us not forget the crippling effects of the Iraq invasion on the campaign in Afghanistan which allowed both the Taliban and Al Qaida time to regroup, consolidate and regain the advantage in that God forsaken land.To the 4486 we can add a couple of thousand more deaths in Afghanistan thanks to the decision to invade Iraq. That is the inconvenient truth.

For people to ignore a war that defies American and International Law as well as common sense which cost us and the world so much while making cheap political points by exploiting the deaths of four men is a disgrace. Had the men who started the invasion of Iraq been tried for by Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg they would have been convicted as war criminals and sent to the gallows. That is the inconvenient truth.

Justice Jackson said at those trials:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

My closing thought is that those that want to make political hay out of Benghazi need to take a serious look at Iraq. What’s fair is fair. 4486 dead and over 30,000 wounded not counting another 100,000 or so with PTSD or TBI versus 4 dead and no wounded. I don’t make light of any of the deaths of Americans serving this country at any time or in any place.  I would not dishonor their memory by playing politics with their deaths. But the truth is indeed terribly inconvenient and those who do this must be called out regardless of their political orientation.

If there were mistakes or cover ups by Obama administration officials regarding Benghazi, so be it let them be investigated fairly an impartially not with an eye to political advantage and those that partake of this cup must be willing to drink of the cup of crimes committed by the Bush Administration in Iraq. The same is true when Democrats do the same to Republicans.

Truth matters too much to be sacrificed on the altar of politics even while those doing it ignore far greater crimes of far more epic dimensions committed by members of their political party.

Truth is terribly inconvenient and even when painful should never be sacrificed on the altar of political advantage by partisans of any party.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Questions in Light of the NSA Leaks and More Answers from Star Trek Deep Space Nine

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Doctor Bashir: What does Section 31 do, apart from kidnapping Starfleet officers?

Sloan: We search out and identify potential dangers to the Federation.

Doctor Bashir: And once identified?

Sloan: We deal with them.

Doctor Bashir: How?

Sloan: Quietly.

As I mentioned briefly last night I am finding interesting corollaries in the current NSA leak story and what we are facing in our Global War on Terror in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. I went back and watched again the season four episodes entitled Homefront and Paradise Lost. Tonight I also watched an episode called Inquisition in which Dr Bashir, the Chief Medical Officer of Deep Space Nine is abducted by the representative of a secretive entity of Starfleet Intelligence authorized in the original Federation Charter and accused of being a spy for the Dominion. It is a chilling episode because it shows the power of lawfully constituted organizations that are granted nearly unlimited powers and operate under the utmost secrecy.

What do we know? We know far less than what we think that we know, that much is clear.

So what do we know?

We know that a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, a 29 year high school dropout named Edward Snowden leaked Top Secret FISA Court orders and other information to writer Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian newspaper. Something that he did evidently after offering them to others including the Washington Post.

We know that Snowden had worked for the CIA and NSA contractors in various capacities for a number of years. We know that he worked for the Booz Allen Hamilton contract with the NSA less than 4 months with a Top Secret Clearance and had lied to both his employer and girlfriend about his whereabouts when he left his home in Hawaii.

We know that he was unable to complete Army Special Forces entry training in 2003 after some kind of training accident.

We know that he supported the Ron Paul campaign with a financial contribution of $500 and that Paul has praised Snowden’s actions.

We know that some of the documents that Snowden leaked have been released by the Guardian and the Post. Likewise we know that Greenwald promises the release of more leaked information this week.

We know that this Snowden fled to Hong Kong in early May and then authorized the release of his identity and actions after the release of them by Greenwald.

We know that the documents leaked show that the FISA court authorize the sweeping collection of phone and internet data from American citizens as well as others overseas.

We know that Snowden is claiming that he is acting in the best interests of the country and the Constitution.

We know that the revelation of the FISA documents shows that National Intelligence Director James Clapper may have lied to Congress about those activities.

What don’t we know? Simply put we don’t know the truth. Likewise there is a good chance that no matter what happens in this case, no matter what is revealed and no matter what happens to Snowden or anyone implicated in the documents already released or to be released that we may never know the whole truth. Yes we may learn aspects of these operations and some activities, but believe me the real truth will remain classified and covered. And frankly that may not be a bad thing.

There have been some who are lionizing or demonizing the young Snowden. People are rapidly forming their opinions as to him being a “hero” or a “traitor.” I don’t think that we know enough yet to render judgement. He may be one or the other. He could be both and he could be neither. I do think the question goes beyond him. The fact that he fled to Hong Kong, a territory controlled by Communist China which has been engaged in much espionage against the United States is troubling. It makes it look like he may not quite be the hero after all.

The fact is that Snowden’s release of Top Secret classified documents is illegal. That is a fact whatever his motives. No matter if his motives were pure and patriotic as he claims, or were done for other reasons that we do not know including the possibility that he is working with Chinese agents. The unauthorized release of classified data has been a crime for decades, even before we devised our classification system. Even before the Patriot Act and the Global War on Terror.

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During the Inquisition episode, at the point that the Section 31 personnel determine that Bashir is innocent of possible cooperation with the Dominion and try to recruit him that the following exchange takes place.

Sloan: We’re on the same team. We believe in the same principles that every other Federation citizen holds dear.

Doctor Bashir: And yet you violate those principles as a matter of course.

Sloan: In order to protect them.

Doctor Bashir: Well, I’m sorry, but the ends don’t always justify the means.

Sloan: Really? – How many lives do you suppose you’ve saved in your medical career?

Doctor Bashir: What has that got to do with anything?

Sloan: Hundreds, thousands? Do you suppose those people give a damn that you lied to get into Starfleet Medical? I doubt it. We deal with threats to the Federation that jeopardize its very survival. If you knew how many lives we’ve saved, I think you’d agree that the ends do justify the means. I’m not afraid of bending the rules every once in a while if the situation warrants it. And I don’t think you are either.

The action of Snowden in releasing these classified documents appears to be criminal in that it broke long established law. However, criminality does not necessarily mean that he is a traitor. Could he be? The answer could be yes depending on his motive and what else may be released but quite possibly the answer could be no. For those that want to live in a world where everything is black and white that may be uncomfortable. But this messy world is the world that we live in, a world of infinite shades of gray, especially when it comes to intelligence and state secrets.

Now I can say that while I agree that Snowden broke the law I do not yet know if I can call him a traitor, nor do I know enough to call him a hero. One thing his actions have done is to spark a debate on the nature of the laws that our Congress enacted in the aftermath of the 9-11-2001 terrorist attacks. The Patriot Act vastly expanded previous laws regarding surveillance, intelligence, economic, military and law enforcement measures including the work of the FISA courts. I do think that the authors meant well, but the law that they passed has great potential as a platform for totalitarianism.

Those laws were rushed to completion and passed with strong bi-partisan majorities in both the House and Senate. Those powers were renewed by both the Bush and Obama administration and Congress. One can make good arguments for security as well as the dangers inherent in these laws and the expanded powers of the intelligence community which not only can be used for good, but can be used for evil.

I think it is time that we had a real debate over these laws as a society. We may not like what we see, but we may decide to keep some laws and restrict other powers granted. That is something that we must do as a society if we are to retain any form of our republic. We cannot afford the bumper sticker and Facebook meme type of debate in this that appeals to raw emotion and political certitude and bypasses the real issues involved.

At the end of the episode when Bashir is back on DS9 talking with Captain Sisko and the other senior staff of the station the questions asked are so pertinent to what we are doing today.

Doctor Bashir: I can’t believe the Federation condones this kind of activity.

Odo: Personally I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t. Every other great power has a unit like Section 31 – the Romulans have the Tal Shiar, the Cardassians had the Obsidian Order…

Doctor Bashir: But what does that say about us? When push comes to shove, are we willing to sacrifice our principles in order to survive?

Captain Sisko: I wish I had an answer for you, Doctor.

Likewise, I wish I had an answer…

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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Padre Steve Reviews “The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity” by Michael O’Hanlon

The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity (An eSpecial from The Penguin Press)

• Format: Kindle Edition
• File Size: 1685 KB
• Publisher: The Penguin Press (November 15, 2011)

I was recently asked to do a review of Michael O’Hanlon’s new book The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity by the folks at TLC Book Tours http://tlcbooktours.com/ I am a historian and have served 30 years in the United States Army and United States Navy. As such I try to look at the nuances of Defense policy from a historical as well as current point of view.

O’Hanlon’s book deals with a topic that is receiving much attention and debate in the wake of the 2011 Congressional Budget impasse and deal and the recently release of the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance and the FY 2013 Department of Defense Budget request. O’Halon’s book was published in the midst of the budget impasse in which could bind Congress into cuts well in the excess of the proposed $500 Billion in cuts proposed by the Pentagon and the Obama Administration. Cuts that could total over a trillion dollars over the next decade.

O’Hanlon deals with the economic necessity of Defense budget cuts laying out his thesis in the first two chapters dealing with the history of US military budgets since the Second World War with particular attention to the post-Cold War cuts under the Bush and Clinton administrations. In the following chapters O’Hanlon argues for what I would call a strategy of calculated risk in which Defense budgets and the necessary force cuts are balanced with the economic realities of our present time. He does not argue for massive cuts and disengagement from the world that some argue for, at the same time he realizes that defense cuts are necessary but cannot be too great.

He then goes on to discuss the potential reductions for ground forces as well as air and naval forces within the context of potential threats, especially those posed by Iran as well as the potential threat from China.  He argues for a leaner military but also acknowledges the danger of cutting too much.

His conclusions regarding force size and composition will be attacked by some and defended by others.  I think that his arguments regarding ground forces which support going back to the approximate numbers in the Army and Marine Corps in 2001 are reasonable presuming that there is a substantial reduction of US forces in Afghanistan and no other major ground campaigns arise.  The current personnel authorizations were only made reluctantly after years of war by the Bush administration whose first Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was no advocate of large ground forces.

O’Hanlon also discusses the possibility of savings through some base closure as well as reductions in some Air Force and Naval capabilities while attempting to minimize the effects of the reductions by crew rotations of forward based warships and more use of drone aircraft. He also discusses the US capabilities in intelligence and Homeland Security in the context of the overall defense structure.

One thing that I find lacking in O’Hanlon’s treatment of the defense strategy and budget is the lack of attention paid to the overall industrial base required to support the replacement or modernization of our current forces. He argues in favor of keeping production lines open but neglects the fact that most of the US defense industrial base is now the property of about five major corporations. At one time we had more shipyards  and other facilities that made the rapid production of war materials in times of national emergency which at the end of hostilities could revert to civilian industrial production. Much of that capability is now gone, outsourced to China and South Korea.

O’Hanlon has some good proposals and his numbers are not much different than those proposed by the Pentagon. His analysis does included what is called the DIME, the diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic aspects of national security strategy. He describes his vision for a military that despite cuts can still be mission capable. One may argue with his overall strategic thinking and his detailed proposals and many will. I have issues with some of the proposals.  Likewise anyone attempting to project a vision of a national security strategy and military force structure is always fraught with the ever present reality that no one can predict the future. However history tells us time and time again that we seldom are right and that threats yet unimagined can shred the most well thought out and detailed plans.  Making such decisions in an election year makes them all the more prone to being wrong because the political establishments of both parties

It is a good read for anyone seriously interested in national security strategy.It is not perfect by any means but worth the read.  It it is published in paperback as well as the Amazon Kindle edition.

The Author: Dr. Michael O’Hanlon is is director of research and a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in U.S. defense strategy, the use of military force, homeland security and American foreign policy. He is a visiting lecturer at Princeton University and adjunct professor at John Hopkins University. O’Hanlon is the author of several books, most recently A Skeptic’s Case for Nuclear Disarmament. His writing has been published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, among other publications, and he has appeared on TV or radio almost 2,000 times since 9/11. Before joining Brookings, O’Hanlon worked as a national security analyst at the Congressional Budget Office and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Congo/Kinshasa (the former Zaire). He received his bachelor, masters, and doctoral degrees from Princeton, where he studied public and international affairs.

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