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Musing on Potential War With Iran

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am a veteran of Iraq, and have participated in maritime operations in the Arabian/Persian Gulf.

I am not comfortable with the steps the administration is taking with Iran, not that I am any fan of the Ayatollahs and their aggressive theocratic-religious-military-dictatorship. While I had always dreamed of a military career it was the failure of the attempt to rescue the hostages taken by the Iranians in April 1980, Operation Eagle Claw that was the tipping point for me to explore my options about joining the military. 1980 was the year I transferred to California State University, albeit to study history, but mostly because Judy, my girlfriend was going there. Once I got there I started checking out the various ROTC programs and enlisted as a simultaneous membership program between Army ROTC and the California Army National Guard in 1981.

I thought back then at sometime we would go to war with Iran but as years passed I thought that maybe both sides would find a way to peacefully co-exist, at least within limits, especially after my experiences in the Gulf where the regular Iranian Navy chased Iraqi Oil Smugglers into our hands. Of course there was the time some Revolutionary Guard patrol boats harassed our squadron Flagship, an Australian Special Forces Support ship and we sped to her assistance at full speed with guns and missiles armed and ready to go to war. They withdrew and nothing came out of it, but for about an hour it appeared that we would be the first U.S. Navy ship to engage the Iranians since the Tanker Wars Of the late 1980s. The fact is that the Revolutionary Guard Naval Corps operates in a different world from the regular Iranian Navy.

If we go to war, now I know two things about the Arabian/Persian Gulf and the Iranians have built up a formidable asymmetric naval and capability. A large number small submarines, not high tech, but in large numbers hard to kill. Likewise, would deploy large numbers of fast attack boats and craft armed with a variety of missiles and guns for swarm attacks on otherwise better armed and more capable warships. We prepared for those back in 2002, but the lethality of the Iranians has increased, as has their number of anti-ship missile batteries his increased exponentially, as has their number of short and medium range ballistic missiles. While their AirPower is antiquated by American standards they have better and more advanced air defense systems, supplied by Russia. They are also supported by Shia Muslim militants in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and even in Bahrain, headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet.

The Iranians have the capability of shutting down the Straits of Hormuz, and their allies in Yemen have showed the capability to attack shipping in the Bab El Mendeb, the Southern entrance to the Red Sea and a vital shipping lane in its own right.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has severely weakened our ties with key allies that routinely contribute Naval and air forces to the security of the Gulf.

Over the past few weeks an otherwise routine deployment to the region by the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, was sped up, B-52 bombers were deployed, and a proposal to send 120,000 troops to the Gulf was revealed. Four merchant ships were allegedly damaged by saboteurs, but no hard evidence points to Iran, and the damage to all the ships was minimal. The embassy staff in Baghdad was reduced over alleged threat increases that the American Commander in Iraq denies. The threats were reported by Israeli sources, much like the evidence that led us into war with Iraq in 2003.

I cannot put my finger finger on it, but something is not right about this situation. We are in no way ready for a major war with Iran, not with the possibility a potential war with North Korea, a trade war with China, and Russian threats to NATO allies or friendly nations in Eastern Europe.

This does not feel right to me. I’ve been around and seen and know too much. Maybe it’s my education military history, and high level Joint Operations education. Maybe it is my nearly 38 years serving in both the Army and Navy, including about 7 years with the Marines. Maybe it’s my long experience working with allies. I don’t know. All I know is that when domestic troubles embroil a national leader, the solution is often found in war. War allows leaders to do things impossible under peacetime constraints.

I can only speculate what is going on, but my hermeneutic os suspicion says to ask “why this administration, why Iran, why now?”

I wish I had the answer, but something doesn’t seem right, and I am worried for the many friends I have serving in the Gulf.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” The Writing is On the Wall: Trump and Iran

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the aftermath of President Trump’s decision to break the word of the United States in regard to the Iran Nuclear deal I have done a lot of reading and reflecting. His decision seems to be bereft of any real strategy or strengthening of the overall United States position not just concerning Iran but which will have repercussions around the world; perhaps most importantly with the coming summit with North Korea. The President  made his decision to withdraw from the accord despite opposition from the Pentagon, the CIA, and the State Department and it appears that there is no real plan for what happens next.

The deal was a flawed instrument but it was the only thing keeping Iran from moving forward on its nuclear program. Inspectors on the ground and the constant monitoring of Iranian nuclear facilities were the best way of ensuring that Iran could not restart its nuclear program. Did the deal keep Iran from playing a part in Syria or Yemen? Of course not, but absent it the Iranians might already be nuclear capable.

The President went against are oldest and most reliable allies and gave the Iranians, as well as the Russians an edge to exploit. The Iranians have already moved to exploit this by pledging to remain in compliance. Whether they meant it or not it gave them the rare opportunity to make themselves look more reasonable than the United States. Likewise it inserted the United States directly into the Iranian – Saudi/ Shia – Sunni divide and emboldened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to launch attacks on Syria military and Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions in Syria under the premise of preventive strike by the Iranians on Israel.

The players in this deadly game of brinksmanship are so numerous that you can’t keep track of them without a scorecard. There are the major players; the Iranians, Saudis, the United States, Russia, Israel, the EU, and NATO, as well as the lesser but also important players; Oman, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the war ravaged Yemen, the fragile Iraqi state, the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Hezbollah, the Palestinians, various Syrian rebel groups, ISIL, Al Qaida, Afghanistan, the Taliban, and possibly even Egypt, Pakistan and India.

All of these players have their own agenda and capabilities to throw a monkey wrench into anything that the President is attempting to do and both the Pakistanis and Israelis have nukes that they can deliver. Many of these nations or groups have well tested short and intermediate ballistic missile systems as well as well as vast asymmetrical warfare capabilities.

As far as new sanctions the Iranians who have the support of both the Russians and Chinese have many ways to circumvent them.  The President’s strategy, if you can call it that appears to be more about reinforcing his base in American domestic politics by playing fast and loose with the truth while moving towards war.

Let me be fair, I hope against hope that whatever the President is trying to do actually works to deescalate the tensions in the region and maybe even free the people of Iran from the Mullahs. But I really do not think that peace is his intention, not that I trust the Iranians as far as I can throw one, and I certainly believe that Vladimir Putin is doing his damnedest to split the Western alliance and NATO and that President Trump is playing right into his hand.

Do I know what is going to happen in the coming weeks and months? Not really, but I can read the writing on the wall. “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.” It is something that I think that the President should take seriously because he is steering the nation and the world towards a disaster. I don’t want that but I can see it coming with the Four Horsemen, and the President will be the man most responsible when everything comes crashing down. The President lives in a world of self-deception and fantasy and as much as I hope that he gets this right I know in my heart that he will not because he is unwilling to have his beliefs checked by facts. Facts are his enemy.

Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly: 

“Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

Free Syrian Army soldiers in Idlib

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Miscalculations of July

The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand 

“War is the unfolding of miscalculations.” Barbara Tuchman

Sometimes I miss the Cold War and the ever constant threat of Nuclear annihilation.  Not that I looked forward to getting nuked and having the world blown out from under us, but back in those days it was pretty much for sure that the United States and Soviets would keep their missiles in their silos no matter how much they jibber-jabbered. Things did get awfully sporting during the Cuban Missile Crisis and during the 1973 Yom Kippur War but cooler heads prevailed. Yes there were incidents but we survived. We fought proxy wars and helped despots that we liked while the Soviets did the same. There was an air of predicability as both sides restrained their client states. Those were the days, we only really had to worry about two sides keeping things under control. Yes, those were the days… not really but compared to now I wonder.

Now, it seems that the shit is really starting to hit the fan all over the world, especially in the Middle East, Southwestern and Central Asia and even Europe. As day does into day it is hard to keep track of all the boiling cauldrons of hatred and misery and the vast numbers of political, religious, military, economic and ideological “leaders” that pour gasoline on the fires that stoke them. While I cannot definitively predict exactly where the disaster of war will begin or what the reasons that men will justify it; I do know that whenever, wherever and for whatever reasons it will be because of a failure of political, religious, military and economic leaders to prevent it. Abba Eban said “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”

*Iran continues to threaten to close the Straits of Hormuz and unleash missiles on neighboring countries and Israel. 

*Israel is making plans for pre-emptive wars in Iran and Lebanon.

*The EU Oil Embargo on Iran has gone into effect.

*In Lebanon Hezbollah, the proxy army of Iran has made major strides in its ability to strike Israel and border skirmishes are now occurring between Israeli forces, Hezbollah fighters and even the Lebanese Army. 

*Syria’s Assad dictatorship is killing vast numbers of its own people and violence from its civil war is spreading to Lebanon. 

*Turkey has reinforced its borders with Syria after one of its aircraft was shot down by Syrian forces. 

*The United States sends additional naval and air forces to the Persian Gulf while maintaining a strong ground force in Kuwait. 

*Iraq, still beset by sectarian violence and undermined by Iranian agents is unable to maintain its traditional role as a balance to the Persians. 

*In Egypt a government led by the Muslim Brotherhood has taken power and threatens to end the peace with Israel even as they contend with the still powerful Egyptian military, and more secularist Egyptians for control of the country. 

*The United States and NATO are bogged down in a war in Afghanistan that cannot be won and works with a government that cannot be trusted and a military whose members are killing more NATO troops than actual “enemy” forces.

*Pakistan teeters on the brink and supports Taliban and Al Qaida forces even as the United States wages a clandestine war against those forces ensconced in their Pakistan bases. 

*The United States fights a drone war in Yemen as that country’s military fights Al Qaida Yemen forces, forces that are now more capable of harming the United States and its interests than those based in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. 

*Violence in the Horn of Africa spread by the Al Shabaab terrorist network threatens to spill over into neighboring countries. 

*In Nigeria Moslem extremists burn Christian churches and threaten that country’s oil production and economy. 

*European nations stand on the brink of disorder and anarchy should nations begin to default on their debts and abandon the Euro. 

*Simmering long term disputes in the Balkans continue to cause worry about more war and instability.

*Fascist political parties and movements are gaining momentum throughout Europe, especially in Eastern Europe.

*Leaders of all of nations make bellicose statements meant to stoke the passions of their most zealous political supporters often invoking apocalyptic visions of the future.

*Other leaders attempt to maintain a precarious balance in order to ride out the wave of change, hatred and discontent sweeping the Middle East and Europe.

*Religious and political leaders do their best to demonize anyone that does not agree with them or their version of “the truth.” 

*The war profiteers sell arms in abundance to every side to maximize their profits by legal and illegal sales and transfers.

I could keep going but the point is that eventually someone is going to miscalculate in one or more of these conflicts or situations and events will take on a life of their own. Leaders will commit themselves to wars that they think that they will be able to manage and like 1914 things will go horribly wrong. The hatreds of peoples, many which go back hundreds of years will spill out against their neighbors.  Martin Luther said “War is the greatest plague that can affect humanity; it destroys religion, it destroys states, it destroys families. Any scourge is preferable to it.”  Unfortunately it seems that we are heading down a path that will bring great suffering and misfortune all because of all types of leaders who are willing to take a chance on war rather than to do the hard work of peace. Confederate General Robert E Lee wrote about the American Civil War “The war…was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” 

I wonder if any of the leaders now waging war or preparing for war will say the same when the coming wars are over, or if they will find words to justify the suffering that they have inflicted on millions of people. I imagine that it will be the latter.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Year in Review and Predictions for 2012: The Best Jibber-Jabber on the Web

Once again it is that time of the year when I look back at the events of the last 12 months and say “that was some year.” And what a year it was.  So many things happened at home and around the world that it makes one’s head do the Linda Blair 360.  Yes the year was crammed full of events too numerous to mention and full of the jibber-jabber of “expert” analysis of news commentators, pundits, politicians and preachers.

Every major news agency and many writers publish what they believe to be the major stories of the year about this time and sometimes prognosticate about the coming year. Mostly these articles are so much jibber jabber and I don’t claim this to be inclusive of everything that happened but these are what I think are some of the highlights of the events that occurred in 2011.  Call it my end of year jibber-jabber.

The Environment: Yes there is an environment and whether one wants to assign credit or blame to God, the Devil, Mother Nature or the theory that “shit happens” it has been a year full of natural disasters.  We begin with the 9.1 earthquake and Tsunami in Japan which triggered a nuclear disaster when the Fukishima nuclear plant melted down. There was Hurricane Irene which though only a category one storm was so big and slow moving that it that caused massive damage to the East Coast, especially North Carolina. I got to experience Irene.  Even more frightening was the massive F5 Tornado that pretty much wiped the city of Joplin Missouri off the map. There was a series of wildfires in Texas that burned nearly 4 million acres of land and one fire around Bastrop Texas that destroyed over 1600 homes.  Over in Asia there was flooding that put Bangkok underwater for an extended period of time.

Prediction for 2012: Cable News networks will continue to rake in the bucks covering human misery in all parts of the nation and the world as natural disasters occur.  I predict that there will be major earthquakes, fires, famine and flood, hurricanes  and that many will be really bad.  Sure that’s rather generic but I can be surge that I am not wrong in making this prediction.

World Events: Overseas there was the Arab Spring revolts that brought about the fall of dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and quite probably Yemen. Syria appears to be on the brink of civil war and Bahrain with the help of Saudi Arabia put down its own Arab Spring revolt.  Jordan and other Arab states are quite nervous and the situation in Egypt which began with so much hope has deteriorated as the military faces off against demonstrators as Islamic parties make headway in elections.

Who would have thought that in 2011 that Moammar Ghadaffi would be overthrow and killed by his own people, that Osama Bin Laden would meet his end at the hands of US Navy SEALS and that Kim Jong Il, the nutty leader of North Korea would die.  The European Union looks like its days could well be numbered as the contagion of economic crisis which began in Greece has spread to much of the EU.  The United States withdrew its forces from Iraq just in time for the Iraqis to start to undo everything that their soldiers and ours had fought to achieve since 2005, Iran continues to build nukes and attempt to provoke the United States, Western Europe and Israel while the Israelis prepare to whack Iran. The war in Afghanistan grinds on and Pakistan is more of a pain in the ass than it ever has been.

Padre Steve’s Prediction: You thought things were bad in 2011… they will really be sporty in 2012.

United States Domestic Politics: The United States has had its own political and economic problems as the government seems pretty much to have become a parody of itself.  The President has had an approval rating below 50% for almost the whole year and the Congress God bless them has an approval rating of just 11% a new record which will undoubtedly be broken in 2012.  President Obama is unchallenged in the Democratic primaries and the Republican candidates seem to be doing all that they can to ensure that whoever wins the nomination will lose the general election next year as each takes his or her turn to give their followers hope and then implode.  I mean really, despite all of our economic problems the United States would, if our politicians could get their collective shit together have a bright future compared to the EU and the “new” economies in China, India and Brazil which despite all their success are dependent on us to buy their stuff.

Meanwhile the Tea Party movement has become the kingmaker in conservative politics and the Occupy Wall Street movement gathered steam before going into winter hibernation.

Padre Steve’s Predictions: Expect that both the Tea Party and OWS movements despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum to continue to influence both major political parties. In 2012 the Congress will sink to even lower lows and for President, Congress and Presidential candidates to do even more stupid things to get just enough of the vote to be elected in November. You thought that 2011 was bad…well it was just the warm up for 2012.

Sports: The sporting world produced its share of excitement and agony as great team and individual accomplishments were overshadowed by scandals. Baseball had a most amazing end to its season in which the St Louis Cardinals defied all odds in winning the World Series after being written off as dead in late August. The Red Sox went from the sure thing to win the World Series to greatest regular season collapse ever seen which resulted in manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein leaving the team.  A potential scandal has come up with the alleged positive test for some kind of performance enhancing drug by National League MVP Ryan Braun. The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for Bankruptcy amid the McCourt family feud and Albert Pujols collected his halo as well as about 260 million dollars for the next 10 years from the Angels.

The NFL endured a strike and player lockout by the owners which threatened the beginning of the season but the NFL’s stupidity was totally blown away by the actions of NBA players and owners in their strike and lockout. There were scandals in college sports outside the SEC the most notable being the sexual abuse scandal that shook the nation at Penn State University which brought about the inglorious end to the career of the legendary coach Joe Paterno. The BCS Bowl system appears to have gone from controversial to nearly pathetic in the selection of teams for the BCS bowls.

Padre Steve’s Prediction: The Chicago Cubs will not win the World Series and thereby prove that those that believe that the world will end in 2012 wrong. So as bad as everything seems it could be worse.

So with all that said there was so much more that I could mention but I have to stop somewhere.  I won’t go into the lives and scandals of celebrities because frankly though sometimes titillating they really don’t matter a hill of beans, unless it is your hill and they are your beans.  Likewise the year isn’t over yet and who knows maybe something will happen that will cause me to have to revise this article.

Until then and until tomorrow…

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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Fighting a World Wide Insurgency Part Two: The changing nature of War and the Justified Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki

This is a belated follow up to my article Fighting a World Wide Insurgency: The Problem Fighting Revolutionary Terrorists and Insurgents- Part One . It deals with the killing of American born Al Qaeda cleric and propagandists Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan by U.S. Forces in Yemen.  There is controversy in the American media, body politic and among U.S. based civil rights groups such as the ACLU.  My premise is that the killing of Awlaki and Khan was justified because of their actions and because the nature of warfare itself has changed radically since the current “Law of War” contained in the Geneva and Hague conventions the U.N. Charter and other international law standards were laid down.  The were all written with the nation state in mind, not apocalyptic terrorists that recognize no borders do not differentiate between civilians and military targets and have not regard for citizenship either their own or that of others.  Alan Dershowitz the noted jurist, legal scholar and civil libertarian wrote “The great American justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr once remarked that “it is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.”

Awlaki and Khan were not mere criminals they were enemy combatants and the fact that they were not on a recognizable battlefield when targeted is irrelevant.  They played games with their citizenship, never officially renouncing it even as they did everything that they could from a propaganda point of view to wage war against their country and incite others including members of the U.S. Military to kill Americans. Yes, they were combatants waging war and not “victims” of an “assassination” ordered by the President.  They knew they were at war and said so quite openly.  The provided aid and encouragement to those that killed American soldiers at FortHoodand attempted to bring down a Delta Air Lines jet on Christmas Day 2009.  Derschowitz commented on the kind of strike used to kill Awlaki and contrasted it with terrorism saying “A targeted assassination is exactly the opposite of terrorism. Terrorism is untargeted assassination — you just throw a bomb in a cafeteria and you get everybody. Targeted assassination is designed to be very precise and very specific.”

Awlaki, Khan and their fellow Al Qaeda travelers fight a different kind of war than we in the West are comfortable waging. They fight a war where they make no distinction between soldiers and civilians and do not recognize the borders of sovereign nations.  Al Qaeda has defined the battlefield and it is not confined to Iraq or Afghanistan.  Using secure bases of operations in nations that are officially our “allies,” they have been able to place themselves safely out of harm’s way until the past year while planning, training and propagandizing new recruits into their terrorist cause.

Awlaki stated his opinion succinctly about the kind of war he was waging in an interview in early 2010:

“Yes. With regard to the issue of ‘civilians,’ this term has become prevalent these days, but I prefer to use the terms employed by our jurisprudents. They classify people as either combatants or non-combatants. A combatant is someone who bears arms – even if this is a woman. Non-combatants are people who do not take part in the war. The American people in its entirety takes part in the war, because they elected this administration, and they finance this war. In the recent elections, and in the previous ones, the American people had other options, and could have elected people who did not want war. Nevertheless, these candidates got nothing but a handful of votes. We should examine this issue from the perspective of Islamic law, and this settles the issue – is it permitted or forbidden? If the heroic mujahid brother Umar Farouk could have targeted hundreds of soldiers, that would have been wonderful. But we are talking about the realities of war.” Anwar a-Awlaki comments in interview supporting attempted downing of Delta Air Lines flight on Christmas Day 2009 http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/4202.htm

The United States killed two men who though technically a “citizens” were declared enemies of theUnited States. By his own words and actions Awlaki declared war against the land of his birth and the land that blessed him with an education that he used for years to encourage other Muslims, especially American Muslims to kill Americans wherever they are found.

The method of his killing appears to be by a targeted drone strike on his hide out in Yemen.  His killing has been condemned and it’s legality questioned by a good number of people including Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul.  On the surface I can see their concerns.  Any reader of this site knows that I am on the whole with very few exceptions very much a civil libertarian and some will call me a hypocrite but I am okay with that.  The fact is that I do not want our government to be engaged in activities that violate the constitutional rights of Americans anywhere in the world.  Nor do I want to see Awlaki’s killing used as precedent in killing American citizens not engaged in acts of war against the United States. Critics have contended that Awlaki had not broken the law and that his killing in a country that we are not at war with made the act an illegal assassination under the 5th Amendment while ignoring his goal of mobilizing Muslims worldwide, but especially American Muslims to kill Americans at home and abroad. However even criminal courts in the United States recognize that a person that encourages murder can be charged as an accomplice or even co-conspirator as Awlaki was to the mass murderer of Fort Hood Major Nidal Hussein.

However those that decry Awlaki’s killing ignore his words that “we have to establish an important principle: Jihad is global. It is not a local phenomenon. Jihad is not stopped by borders or barriers; they cannot stand in the way of Jihad. Jihad does not recognize the colonial borders that were made in the countries in the past that were drawn by a ruler on the map; Jihad doesn’t recognize those superficial borders.” (Chapter 3: Constants on the Path of Jihad)  The critics of Awlaki’s killing as well as that of Osama Bin Laden and other men that describe themselves as combatants in a war against the United States all encourage the killing of every American because “all Americans are guilty.”   Awlaki’s fellow “American” terrorist companion Samir Khan who was killed with him in the attack wrote “I am a traitor to America because my religion requires me to be. We pledge to wage jihad for the rest of our lives until either we implant Islam all over the world or meet our Lord as bearers of Islam.”

Dershowitz noted that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of suicide terrorists with no fear of death and no home address have rendered useless the deterrent threat of massive retaliation. This threat has been the staple of military policy since the days of the Bible. Because suicide terrorists cannot be deterred, they must be pre-empted and prevented from carrying out their threats against civilians before they occur. This change in tactics requires significant changes in the laws of war – laws that have long been premised on the deterrent model.”

Yes by law Awlaki was still an American citizen at the time of his death. Despite his many calls for the destruction of this country and the killing of its citizens he never went to an Embassy or Consulate to officially renounce his citizenship and thus was still a citizen.  The fact that Awlaki was a leader and propagandist for Al Qaeda on the order of what Josef Goebbels was to the Nazis is lost in the debate.  The uncomfortable truth is that an “American” citizen Awlaki had for all recognizable purposes renounced his citizenship, and under most historical and legal precedents in the United Statesand Europe Awlaki forfeited his rights as such.

This country has revoked the citizenship of citizens for taking up arms against this country to include all officers who left the U.S. military and former government officials that took up prominent positions in the Confederate armed services and government.  They lost their citizenship rights and all had to reaffirm their allegiance to the Union to receive pardons.  Some did not and some such as the commandant of the Andersonville prisoner of war camp were executed for their crimes against other U.S. citizens.

The fact that he hid among his family’s tribal homeland inYemenis also held out as a reason that Awliki’s killing was illegal.  However Awlaki did not recognize the borders that some say should offer him protection and in my view it is unreasonable for theUnited Statesto be bound by conditions that our adversaries do not acknowledge.

The fact is that Al Qaeda and other terror groups have redefined warfare and that many of our long held notions about the nature of war are obsolete.  Al Qaeda and other militant groups understand the concept of revolutionary warfare in ways that are distinctly uncomfortable for us in the West. We talk about counterinsurgency in Afghanistanand Iraq without realizing that the actual insurgency is worldwide and not bound by our constraints.  One of the key components of revolutionary warfare is propaganda which is exactly what Awlaki and Khan were doing.  They betrayed their country, inspired who knows how many radicals to kill Americans around the world including the infamous Major Nidal Hasan who Awlaki described as a hero. He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people…My support to the operation was because the operation brother Nidal carried out was a courageous one.”

Roger Trinquier a French officer who served in both Indo-China and Algeria recognized this method of operation in his book Modern Warfare: http://www.cgsc.edu/carl/resources/csi/trinquier/trinquier.asp:

“Warfare is now an interlocking system of actions political, economic, psychological; military that aims at the overthrow of the established authority in a country and its replacement by another regime.  To achieve this end, the aggressor tries to exploit the internal tensions of the country attacked ideological, social, religious, economic, any conflict liable to have a profound influence on the population to be conquered.”

Unfortunately many in political and media elite as well as some civil libertarians like the ACLU are still acting if it was 1944 and there are clear lines that divide nations as well as military personal from civilians.  But for the terrorist this is not the case, Trinquier states the matter very well:

“But the case of the terrorist is quite otherwise. Not only does he carry on warfare without uniform, but he attacks, far from a field of battle, only unarmed civilians who are incapable of defending themselves and who are normally protected under the rules of warfare. Surrounded by a vast organization, which prepares his task and assists him in its execution, which assures his withdrawal and his protection, he runs practically no risks-neither that of retaliation by his victims nor that of having to appear before a court of justice. When it has been decided to kill someone sometime somewhere, with the sole purpose of terrorizing the populace and strewing a certain number of bodies along the streets of a city or on country roads, it is quite easy under existing laws to escape the police.”

Likewise the critics seem to assume that the people plotting and waging war against the United Statesand the West are poor conscripts that do not have a choice in what they are doing but they are not. Most of the leaders including Awlaki, Khan and Osama Bin Laden were the educated children of privilege as is Adam Yahiye Gadahn an American convert to Islam who like Awlaki and Khan has devoted himself to jihad against his native land. Gadahn who has been indicted on the charge of treason makes no bones about his hatred for the United Statesin a 2004 video saying “Fighting and defeating America is our first priority….” In 2009 he praised Nidal Hassan as “a pioneer, a trailblazer and a role-model who has opened a door, lit a path and shown the way forward for every Muslim who finds himself among the unbelievers.”

Yes this is an ugly conflict and it is far different than any war we have every faced. It will mean having to come to terms with methods and tactics that are effective in carrying the war to the enemy, even enemies that we have allowed to retain their citizenship even as they wage war against us.  Critics that think this war will be won or lost on the battlefields of Iraqor Afghanistanand those who condemn the killing of Awalki and Khan misunderstand the shape of warfare in the 21st century.

Trinquier and others understood this and we have to adapt if we are to defeat this world wide insurgency.  On so vast a field of action, traditional armed forces no longer enjoy their accustomed decisive role. Victory no longer depends on one battle over a given terrain. Military operations, as combat actions carried out against opposing armed forces, are of only limited importance and are never the total conflict.”

Awlaki and Khan understood what they were doing and were prepared to die to achieve their goals which they did.  I suppose that we could have risked the lives of more American troops on the ground to track them down and attempt to capture or kill them deep inside hostile territory as we did with Bin Laden.  However, such operations are so risky that they cannot be allowed to become commonplace.

Likewise even as we step up the use of drones and special operations forces and scale back in the manpower intensive theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan we must embrace the role of the media propagandizing the truth. We must define the message and not allow future Awlaki’s and Khan’s to set the narrative of the war. We must use all available media and communications technology to our advantage and not surrender that realm of operations to whomever Al Qaeda appoints to replace Alwaki and Kahn in their propaganda minister role.

It is clear that  Geneva and Hague conventions, the U.N. Charter and aspects of the U.S. Code including citizenship provisions need to be revised in light of the changing nature of war.  If they are not we will always be constrained by those rules even as terrorists use those protections as part of their overall strategy.  To counter such actions we cannot be bound by common law written at the time of Henry IV or laws that never envisioned the kind of war being waged by our enemies.  Dershowitz wrote:

“Laws must change with the times. They must adapt to new challenges. That has been the genius of the common law. Ironically, it is generally the left that seeks change in the laws, while the right is satisfied with Henry IV. Today it is many on the left who resist any changes in the law of war or human rights. They deny the reality that the war against terrorism is any way different from conventional wars of the past, or that the old laws must be adapted to the new threats. The result is often an unreasonable debate of extremes: the hard left insists that the old laws should not be tampered with in the least; the hard right insists that the old laws are entirely inapplicable to the new threats, and that democratic governments should be entirely free to do whatever it takes to combat terrorism, without regard to anachronistic laws. Both extremes are dangerous. What is needed is a new set of laws, based on the principles of the old laws of war and human rights – the protection of civilians – but adapted to the new threats against civilian victims of terrorism.” Article in “The Independent” 3 May 2006

From a more military standpoint Trinquier noted:

“In seeking a solution, it is essential to realize that in modern warfare we are not up against just a few armed bands spread across a given territory, but rather against an armed clandestine organization whose essential role is to impose its will upon the population. Victory will be obtained only through the complete destruction of that organization.

That complete destruction of such an organization begins with its leaders including its propagandists, even those that are American citizens.  Some will disagree with me on this but this war has been going on over 10 years and will not end when we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. The killing of Osama Bin Laden and the intelligence garnered in the raid on his Pakistani compound was a watershed moment and has shifted momentum to the United States and its allies.  Al Qaeda’s senior leaders are being killed in ever increasing numbers with substantially fewer civilian casualties.  But we can lose it all if we fail recognize that the very nature of war has changed and that if we remain tied to law and policy written when the world in no way resembled what it is today.

Padre Steve+

P.S.  For those wondering what a Priest knows about this I hold a Masters degree in Military History and a graduate of the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College. I have also studied revolutionary war and insurgency extensively since 2001.  I served with our advisers to the Iraqi Army, Police and Border and Port of Entry Police in 2007-2008. 

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