Trump and Russia

Originally published in RURAL RUMINATIONS

On Sunday, July 23rd on CBS’ “Face the Nation”, Congressman  Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that the most important issue facing the country in the Russian matter was whether or not the President had some as yet unearthed vulnerability that might make him susceptible to political control from Moscow.

In this crazy world, the President is his own worst enemy.  Despite his virtually endless statements about “fake news” and this “witch hunt”, all he has managed to do with his constant tweets is keep the matter alive and on the front pages, to the detriment of his own and the Republicans’ agendas.

In what clearly was a rash initiative on the President’s part, he said recently of those states that refuse to participate in the work of his “Election Integrity Committee”, “If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about.”  Did it not occur to him that the exact same question could be asked about his dogged refusal to release any information on his tax returns?  What then would be his reason to worry of those returns became public.  Parenthetically, it is beginning to look as if the Mueller investigation may go after that information.

There is a wealth of factual information available that reveals much of what motivates the President.  Just look at the Mueller investigation and the events that led up to it.  Start with the firing off FBI Director Comey whom he has ever since done his very best to vilify.  Move on to Attorney General Sessions who is now be castigated for having recused himself from the investigation of the Russian matter, despite the fact that that recusion was dictated by Justice Department rules.  Just now we see the President attacking the acting Director of the FBI for not vigorously pursuing Mrs. Clinton and her “wrongdoings”.

The President clearly will do or say anything to get the Russian investigation off his back.

One must ask if the vilification of Sessions is a precursor to his firing, to the appointment of a new Attorney General and to the ultimate firing of Mr. Mueller.  In the meantime, it has been widely reported that the Trump White House has ordered that Mueller and his investigators be thoroughly vetted with the goal of impugning their integrity and impartiality.  That sounds like the good old Nixon days!

It would appear that, irrespective of his success in denigrating the Mueller group, the President will have to deal with increasingly bipartisan motivated investigations in the House and Senate Committees.  And in the midst of all this, some of his closest advisors and family members are being asked to appear before those committees.

That apparently has persuaded the President to ask about his ability to pardon people, even including himself.  In this specific case, the President has reacted to outside stimuli in a way totally consistent with someone who is guilty of something.  It is certainly not the reaction of a person who has nothing relevant to hide.

Finally, and in the same context of the issue put by Congressman Schiff, we need to look at the President’s policies as reflected in his actions and statements, to see if they are  consistent with the goals of any foreign power.

Examine the moves made by President Trump during his short time in office.  Under hostile influence, every move would have to undermine American strength.  He would have to undercut NATO, weaken the European Union, causing dissention within the former East European countries, damage US foreign policy goals, weaken the international influence of the US, encourage the destabilizing flow of refugees from the Middle East to Europe.  He would move us out of international agreements (Climate, NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership). Trump’s recent move to cease support for anti-Assad rebels in Syria is a specific Russian goal, now achieved.

He would get an A+ from any hostile country on all of these issues.

Putin’s underlying goal is to return Russia to the kind of “glory” and “power” that it had during the Cold War. To do that, he would have to somehow reduce the vast world-wide influence of the United States.  It really doesn’t matter whether, as suspected by Rep Schiff, the President is under Russian influence.  The President could see Russia as a power base and consider his close support of their policies to be his exploitation of the Russians, rather than their exploitation of him..

What really does matter is that Trump’s policies are clearly closely aligned with and supportive of Russian goals for the world, making our current policies a real cause for worry for Americans who recognize that Russia is not our best friend.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in East and West Europe, and the Middle East working primarily against Soviet and East European targets.  He was also Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff and Executive Assistant to the Deputy Director of the CIA. 

The author’s other writings can be seen on https://rural-ruminations.com

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Originally published in RURAL RUMINATIONS


The National Rifle Association’s basic policy on the issues of gun ownership and control is to relentlessly fight any and every proposal for change that comes to the surface, irrespective of its relevance and importance to the issue of the Second Amendment. This view is not shared by the vast majority of Americans.


Those issues which have been successfully fought and defeated by the NRA at the national level, include all efforts to control guns and ammunition, the use of Saturday night specials, cop-killer bullets, plastic weapons, machine guns and a waiting period for the purchase of weapons (the Brady Bill).


The problem with this policy is that at some point in the future, perhaps in the aftermath of some particularly egregious “mass shooting”, the Congress, under nation-wide pressure, might turn on the NRA and enact some laws that would, for the first time ever, actually threaten the Second Amendment and thus make legitimate gun ownership far more difficult to enjoy.


If the definition of “mass shooting” is restricted to four or more dead, we have seen 146 of them between 1967 and 2017 with an average of 8 deaths per incident, or a total of over a thousand killed.


The 10 deadliest single day mass shootings since 1966 alone have produced 287 deaths or an average of 28.7 per incident.


So, the numbers are going up and recent events in Fair Haven have shown us clearly that Vermont is not immune to this ongoing madness.


Sadly, during the periods under examination, virtually nothing has been done in the Congress or the Vermont legislature to help law enforcement authorities deal with mass shootings.


There are a number of steps that would not threaten our Second Amendment rights, but which would almost certainly make mass shootings far more difficult to carry out.  In this context it is critical to remember the comments of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia  who shepherded the 2008 decision on the Second Amendment through the Supreme Court.  The majority opinion ruled that the Second Amendment does create an individual right of gun ownership.  However, the opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, makes it clear that federal, state and local governments can act in their own interests.


Justice Scalia wrote, “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”


One can only speculate on the impact that our most recent mass shooting in Florida is likely to have on the ownership and use of weapons in America.  Of course, the main question is how powerful the upcoming country-wide demonstrations by American students is likely to be with a Congress that has clearly been more oriented toward the perceived needs of the NRA than those of its youth.  If it is truly nation-wide and manages to persist, it could be quite powerful.  It might even persuade some of our congressmen who cleave so strongly to the NRA that they also have some level of responsibility for the security of our youth.


No Vermont hunter seeks protective measures that would seriously threaten his Second Amendment rights.  However, if one can step back from the “all or nothing” approach of the NRA, there are a number of steps that could be taken which would maintain those rights and at the same time provided us all, not just our children, with increased security.


These include background checks on all gun purchasers, waiting periods for handgun purchases, no sales to those with violent criminal backgrounds or those on terrorist watch lists, and the banning of all automatic rifle sales.


Slightly more intrusive and threatening for the NRA would be the banning of large capacity magazines, assault rifles and weapons that could be converted to automatic from semi-automatic using bump stocks.


The issue here is to find which of those measures will accomplished the desired goals.  Perhaps the best way to go about that in Vermont would be to have Governor Scott, who, unlike he NRA. does not seem generically opposed to constructive change, appoint a qualified panel to sit down and work through the problem and its potential solutions.


Haviland Smith learned about guns and hunting in NRA programs in the l930sand 40s.  A life-long hunter, he has been a Life Member of the NRA since 1968 and was a member of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board from 1989-1995.


Trump the Negotiator

Originally published in RURAL RUMINATIONS

President Trump says constantly that he is an extraordinary negotiator (The Art of the Deal).  That may be true, but in considering the relevance of his self-centered praise, one has to understand that his experience as a negotiator was established in the dangerous canyons of New York City,  and the way he discusses his negotiating style makes it clear that he does not feel he has to abide by many rules. That may work in New York and the USA and maybe even in the international commercial world.  The real question is whether it is likely to work in the far more complicated world of foreign policy.


The world is a frightfully complex place.  It is beset by regional, political, tribal, economic, military, and confessional issues.


Take the issue of Syria.  Mr. Trump would like to depose the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.  In pursuit of that goal, he has enlisted the military assistance of the Kurds.  The Turks despise the Kurds, constantly referring to them as “terrorists”.  In fact, the Kurds, who live in a number of countries in the Middle East as well as Turkey, are the largest ethnic population in the world that does not have a country of its own.  All told, they total 35-45 million souls.  The Turks are members of NATO and at least until we brought the Kurds on board on the volatile Syrian issue, were among our best friends in the Middle East.  The Turks are infuriated with this new Trump policy and are rapidly turning against us on many other issues that are important to us.


Or look at Palestine/Israel.  In recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Mr. Trump has created a firestorm of anger, not only in the Islamic world which favors a mutually negotiated solution to that issue, but also in thoughtful countries, most prominently in Europe and in many other countries around the rest of the world. This Trump position on Palestine/Israel, a radical American departure from the past seventy years, is clearly a move to court ideological Americans who strongly support Israel.  It is certainly not the first time US foreign policy has been designed purely to woo American voters, but it has been focused on a region that does not need further foreign meddling causing further tensions.  And that is precisely what it has done.  It may please some of Mr. Trump’s political base, but it has further destabilized an area that desperately needs stability.


Despite the fact that Mr. Trump calls himself a “stable genius” on many issues, most emphatically including foreign policy, he presents as the exact opposite.  He doesn’t like to read and says that for him it is not necessary. So, he insists that all policy papers submitted to him be limited to one page in length. Issues like Israel/Palestine and Syria simply cannot be appropriately covered on one page.  Policy decisions based on insufficient information are always dangerous.


Mr. Trump acknowledges that, rather than reading, he gets his critical information from watching a lot of TV. Apparently his choice of stations is highly focused on the most politically partisan.  In this case, only the word “partisan” is important.  It makes absolutely no difference if it is far right or far left.  Either way, he is not getting the impartial information that is critical to, first, understanding this complicated word and, second, formulating foreign policy.  And this is true both for a “stable genius” and for a blithering idiot!


Assuming that he really is an extraordinary negotiator, he got his expertise in the commercial world.   Clearly that world thrives on uncertainty and instability, the kinds of things that make  businessmen and commercial companies say yes to avoid financial chaos.  That is the exact opposite of what is needed in the world of international relations.   What is needed there is stability and predictability.  Those were the elements that got the world through the Cold War.  Both sides understood that and followed policies that were predictable and stable.  We survived.


So far, Mr. Trump has followed policies that have been unstable and unpredictable.  That’s OK if you are buying a new hotel, or talking about an irrelevant country like Monaco, but it is not the case for places like North Korea, China, Russia and now, additions like Pakistan, which he has recently offended – all of which have atomic weapons.


It would be nice and almost certainly potentially productive to see and hear some more dignified and less inflammatory verbiage both within and emanating from the White House.  It might even make us some international friends, the exact opposite of what our current modus operandi is bringing us.


Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served during the Cold War in East and West Europe, and the Middle East, focused on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.  He also served as Executive Assistant in the Director’s office and as the first Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff.

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Agents of influence

First Published in Vermont Digger

The Soviet Intelligence Officer’s Handbook defines an “agent of influence” as “an agent operating under intelligence instructions who uses his or her officialdom or public position, and other means, to exert influence on policy, public opinion, the course of particular events, the activity of political organizations and state agencies in target countries.” Thus, the concept of an agent of influence was well known in the USSR and remains so in today’s Russia.

During the Cold War, it was generally accepted at the CIA that coercive recruitments involving some sort of blackmail more often than not did not work at all, or if they initially appeared to work, they often fell rapidly apart. The reason for this is clear. People who are coerced into recruitment find themselves in a subservient position to the recruiter (case officer). They are constantly worried that the secret on which the coercion was based will become public and are continually concerned that the secret will ultimately be used to force them into increasingly dangerous situations. All of which is a shaky basis on which to start an inherently dangerous clandestine relationship.

We learned that good recruitments are based on mutual interest. Recruitment is a successful nonsexual seduction. If the potential agent can be found to have needs or desires that can be satisfied by the case officer, that is precisely where we wanted to be. We wanted the potential agent to understand that we supported him or her in many possible ways. Money? Perks? No problem! Some of our targets wanted revenge on their bosses. One particularly fascinating agent wanted revenge on the KGB because during collectivization in the 1930s, they had taken and later killed his grandfather’s cow! That was his sole motivation for cooperating with us. He never took a penny while he totally raped the KGB and the USSR.

In fact, some “successful recruitments” never involved acknowledgement on the part of the agent that he or she was an agent at all. Normally in such cases, some fig leaf of a noble motive for mutual cooperation was concocted to make such an admission unnecessary – support of world peace, avoiding conflict, etc.

This could be particularly important when dealing with a potential agent of influence, many if not most of whom were important people in their own environments. If they had not been, how could they be of assistance? The only important characteristic in an agent of influence, is that he be motivated to carry through on the goals important to the case officer. Even if he was recruited in a “honey pot operation” (sexual seduction), a critical staple of the Russians, or was motivated by his need for money, power, recognition, revenge or anything else, that agent could often be enticed into full cooperation on the basis of the premise that he was cooperating for reasons that were morally acceptable to him, that he was saving world peace or improving relations between the two countries involved. It mattered not one whit whether or not this was objectively true.

What mattered was that he support the goals of his case officer and take direction from him.

In this context, it is fascinating to look at the positions taken by President Donald Trump on U.S. national and international issues, as those positions clearly support the goals of today’s Russian government.

Putin would do everything possible to weaken the United States. He would love to see ethnic and religious divisions in the United States grow. He clearly revels in the dissent that now exists in our political system between Republicans and Democrats. Ditto our relations abroad, particularly those with European countries. He applauds our disengagement from economic cooperation around the world, seeing us therefore weakened.

Additional Russian goals include: The weakening or destruction of NATO and the European Union; the encouragement of authoritarian governments in countries like Austria, Italy, Sweden, France, the Netherlands and Denmark in the context that European dissent would weaken Europe and increase Russian chances of reestablishing hegemony over the USSR’s former Warsaw Pact allies. They support Brexit as it weakens European cooperation. These goals are supported by most Trump policies.

And through it all, Trump defends Putin in the context of Russian meddling in our elections over the judgments of his intelligence community!

Despite the fact that there are clearly jointly held goals and policies, this does not mean that any sort of formal relationship exists between Russia and Trump. If he falls into any convenient category, it may well be that of unacknowledged cooperation as described above.



First published in VERMONT DIGGER

 In 1953, America participated in the overthrow of the only democratically elected government Iran has ever had by removing Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh from office and installing the shah in his place. Iranians of all political persuasions have never forgotten that fact and the act itself has since played a critical role in souring bilateral relations between our two countries.

Viewed against the realities of official Iran’s hatred for all things American, it is not surprising that any number of Iran’s regional sectarian surrogates have run paramilitary operations, now labeled “terrorist operations,” against regional American interests. The bombing of the U.S. embassy and the Marine barracks in Lebanon come immediately to mind.

President Donald Trump has decided to decertify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. This will transfer to the American Congress the right to reinstall sanctions on Iran. Ultimately, if the agreement is killed, the Iranians will be able to resume their currently suspended nuclear weapons programs.

Many Americans, including many of today’s senior military advisers and professional foreign policy specialists, think that the suspension of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the concomitant reinstallation of sanctions is a really bad idea. Along with virtually all the European countries, even Russia and China think the suspension could preface a disaster, putting the potential for the unfettered development of nuclear weapons back in the hands of the Iranians.

It appears that Trump, believes the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was poorly negotiated. He believes that we should have gone after other activities in which Iran is involved, even though Iran made it crystal clear during the original negotiations that they were prepared to discuss and negotiate only the nuclear weapons issue. To have done otherwise would have been to renounce their perceived sectarian responsibilities to regional Shia minorities.

What seems perfectly clear is that Trump believes that the plan is essentially worthless without the inclusion of provisions banning what he sees as unacceptable behavior on the part of the Iranians. First and foremost in this behavioral arena is the involvement of Iran in supporting its Shia co-religionists in their centuries-old struggle with Sunni Islam. Ongoing since 632 AD, this activity is now often labeled “terrorism.” America condemns Iranian behavior simply because we, along with most of the West, have traditionally supported Sunni Islam, probably because that is where we have traditionally found critical supplies of petroleum.

Islam split into Sunni and Shia with the 632 AD death of the prophet Muhammad and the question of who was going to succeed him. That rift continues to this day. The most influential Sunni state is Saudi Arabia. Iran is clearly the most influential Shia state. As self-appointed leaders, and like their opponents on the Sunni side, they feel an overwhelming motivation to protect Shia interests in the Muslim world — and thus their own.

Shia majority countries are Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrain. They are also the largest group in Lebanon. Shias constitute 36.3 percent of the entire local population and 38.6 percent of the Muslim population of the Middle East. In addition there are many countries in the Muslim world where Shias are in the minority but still have significant populations. Where that is the case, those Shia minorities are almost always under the Sunni gun and thus worthy of Shia (read Iranian) protection. Such situations exist and are currently critical in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

In Syria, the Shia, known there as Alawites, are less than 20 percent of the total population, but run the country. They are under the gun from the large Sunni majority of the population (supported by America) and, as a result are supported in every way by Iran.

In Yemen, Shia Houthis comprise about 35-40 percent of the population and are involved in a civil war against the Sunni majority. Here we see the perfect international sectarian struggle with Saudi Arabia (supported by America) openly supporting the Sunnis and Iran supporting the Shia.

In the uneasy situation in Lebanon, Iran gives material and political support to the Shia Hezbollah in their ongoing political and military struggles with the Sunni and the Christians (supported by America).

In addition to the fact of Iranian support to Shia minorities in the Muslim world, Iran is virtually always condemned here in America as “supporting terrorism.” This is not to say that Shia minorities do not use terrorist tactics. They clearly do. What it does say is that many American political leaders, most emphatically including Trump and his “alternative facts,” indiscriminately use the words “terror and terrorist” to marshal public opinion in support of their policies.

It may not change your opinion of Iran and its activities in the region, but what they are doing is what any nation or group might do. They are trying to protect their fellow believers who are under the guns of traditional enemies in other countries.

We have been known to do the same.



First Published in VERMONT DIGGER


President Trump’s stated goal during his Aug. 21 speech in Arlington, Virginia, was “winning in Afghanistan.” The unfortunate fact is that between U.S. and Middle East realities, “winning in Afghanistan” is highly unlikely – probably impossible.

Part of the problem is the extraordinarily complicated nature of Afghanistan and the Middle East region that has existed for centuries, complications that have been exacerbated in recent times. In the past two centuries, England, the Soviet Union and the U.S. have all invaded Afghanistan, yet none of those invasions has been a “winner.”

If we start with an examination of the physical characteristics of the region itself, it will immediately become apparent that the years of colonial rule did nothing to help today’s situation. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, European colonial powers drew and redrew national boundaries in ways that were in their own interests and for their own profit, but had no connection with demographic realities. A fine example of this is the Durand line of 1893, established by the British, which created the boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but divided a homogeneous Pashtun people into two groups in two countries.

The DNA of the region is based on tribalism, ethnicity and sectarianism. Those three things are the primary causes of most of the frictions that exist both within and between the countries of the region. The fragmented nature of these countries, Afghanistan most emphatically included, where primary allegiance is to some grouping below the nation level, makes national primacy difficult to impossible to achieve. National cohesion does not exist sufficiently within national boundaries to permit the establishment of nationwide democratic governments, encouraging the implementation of repression as the only feasible route to stability.

The Afghan constitution lists 14 separate ethnic groups and there are probably another six that are too small to be included. Ethnic Pashtuns alone divide into roughly 400 subtribes. Those subtribes can be cooperative, competitive or confrontational, depending on the situation.

And then we have the sectarian issue. Sunni Muslims comprise about 90 percent of the population of 30 million. Shia Muslims make up most of the remaining 10 percent with smatterings of another six to eight religious groups. These two branches of Islam are always at odds and often in conflict.

In addition, there is the two-edged sword of the Quran, the Hadith and the Sunnah. On the positive side, those foundations of Islam provide complete instructions for living a true Islamic life. There is almost nothing that is not covered. The downside of Islam’s religious teachings is that, from a non-Muslim perspective, many of Islam’s edicts are unacceptable – like the treatment of women. In many respects and from many non-Muslim points of view, Islam has suffered from not having gone through its own Enlightenment. It has never had to reconcile religious beliefs with ongoing scientific realities.

All of this stacks up poorly against U.S. policies in the post-World War II era. During that time we have attempted regime change to our own detriment (in Iran). We have denigrated Islam and promoted democracy for a region that is almost totally unsuited for it. We have invaded the region with uniformed military forces and seen regional attitudes toward us change from highly favorable, to the negative attitudes that exist today.

And in the midst of all this chaos, we have discovered shale oil in the U.S., moved to the point where we now produce more oil than Saudi Arabia and realized quietly that the reason that got us so involved historically in the region – our need for energy – was probably no longer valid.

We are told over and over that terrorism is the main problem we face as a nation. We invaded Afghanistan to wipe out al-Qaida. The problem is that in the course of doing that with our uniformed troops and later in our military invasion of Iraq, we changed our struggle from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency.

We know from every country that has dealt with terrorism that the last thing you want to do is fight it with military might. It simply doesn’t work very well because the presence of those troops forces local residents who may not like the terrorists, to choose between them and, often, a repressive government they do not support. When the military-based counterterrorist efforts are in the form of a foreign invader like the U.S. troops, they normally choose to support, or at least not to oppose, their own folks. The result is that we are no longer fighting a small group of terrorists, we are fighting a nation. Whether or not we like it, we are involved in a counterinsurgency.

U.S. Pentagon counterinsurgency policy requires a force commitment of 20 soldiers for every 1,000 in the local population. In Afghanistan with a population of about 30 million, that would require a force of 600,000 U.S. troops on the ground, which clearly exceeds our capabilities and intentions. Whether we like it or not, ISIL, however much it commits terrorist acts, is not a terrorist organization. It is an insurgency trying to establish hegemony over much of Iraq and Syria. America will not beat ISIL with U.S. forces.

The other important note here is that today’s terrorism does not require the establishment of bases inside the Middle East. The last, most visible terrorist operations have been planned in West European towns and cities. This kind of terrorism does not require military response. Quite the opposite, it is best handled with police, intelligence and special operations assets, as we now see in Europe.

Our continued military presence in the Middle East is counterproductive and should be terminated. On the downside, our departure will unleash the hostile tribal, ethnic and sectarian forces that exist in virtually every Islamic country. The only way that conflict will end will be that peace will be imposed in existing countries by strongmen. It will be repressive and autocratic, as it was under Saddam Hussein in Iraq before our 2003 invasion, but it will be familiar to the people of the region and it will bring local stability, something that is beyond our capabilities. Our involvement should be limited to diplomatic, political and economic measures.

Most important, it is long past time that we adopted a more realistic basis for our foreign policies. Americans, including many elected officials, tend to see the world as they would like it to be rather that as it really is. That approach does not produce good policy.



Originally published in RURAL RUMINATIONS

The development and implementation of the Trump administration’s current Afghan policy appears to have been deferred to the Pentagon. All we know about Trump policy toward that region is that he vowed during the presidential campaign to completely destroy ISIS, Al Qaida and any other threatening terrorist organization.

Estimates coming out of the Pentagon indicate the likelihood of an additional commitment of several thousand troops to Afghanistan. Before we make any moves in Afghanistan, it is important to look critically at the past and at our motivation for what to do now and in the future.

We got to Afghanistan based on two realities. The immediate catalyst was 9/11. Second, we saw it as a key element in our oil interests in the region, a way to get our foot in the door. The outgrowth of that was our fabricated rationale for the invasion of Iraq. which morphed into our current array of difficult dilemmas in Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

In short, that momentous decision in 2001 launched us into a region which our government studiously never chose to understand and which was so incredibly complicated that it flummoxed one US administration after another.

So, what do we want or expect from our continued military involvement in Afghanistan and the Middle East? Apparently, we would like to see a stable region under democratic rule. We never hear US officials talking about self-determination, only about regime change and democracy.

In fact, it makes no ultimate difference what the US wants for Afghanistan and the Middle East. It only matters what they want for themselves and as long as we are pushing values and ideas that are alien to them, we will never see the end of chaos.

Afghanistan’s geographic location has made it an important cog in the Middle East. It has been fought over and occupied for millennia by big powers seeking regional hegemony. That has relatively recently included England, Russia and the United States and none of those powers has succeeded in changing the country or the minds of its peoples. Over many centuries, those and other struggles have caused hundreds of thousands of Afghan deaths and significant resentment.

Given recent developments in the world, oil no longer plays the role that it did 25 years ago.   That alters one of our reasons for remaining militarily engaged in the region.

Terrorism is our other worry. We were hard hit on 9/11, but that sort of operation against us seems to be far better controlled now than it was in 2001. The fact is that the nature of terrorism has changed. It no longer requires hideaways in the mountains or deserts of the Middle East where terrorists can be given rigorous military training. Terrorism today involves self-motivated, highly disaffected individuals who volunteer to ISIS or any other terrorist organization to carry out suicide attacks. They work with automatic weapons and murderous vehicles. Even bombs are within their reach and recent operations have shown that those weapons can be developed undetected in apartments in major western cities.

Terrorists have no need for “bases” like those previously operated in the Middle East. All they need are volunteers and central direction and that can be found, as is now the case, in countries that are not in the reach of US troops assigned to Afghanistan or the Middle East, making them no longer critical to our counterterrorism needs.

What, therefore, could possibly motivate US policy makers to continue and even augment a decades-long war that is today virtually irrelevant to the realities and motivations that got us there in the first place? It would seem that the only rationale that stems logically from that is that we are interested in regime change and the subsequent maintenance of a democracy imposed on them by us. And yet, we know that doesn’t work.

Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that Middle Eastern nations have values that differ from ours. In doing that, we would also have to acknowledge that there are major, conflicting differences between some of the states in that region and that to leave them to the resolution of their own conflicts would likely be a violent process.

Yet, the only real peace and stability that can ultimately exist in the region is that engineered by the people involved. Perhaps we should give them the opportunity to work that out in the absence of on-site US military power while limiting ourselves to diplomatic, political and economic involvements.