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Archive for August, 2015

Originally published in the Rutland Herald and the Barre Times-Argus

August 1, 2015

Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States — plus Germany) have now agreed on a document that severely limits Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon. In return for that limitation and the ability of the Western signatories to inspect existing Iranian nuclear facilities as well as suspected military/nuclear facilities, the Iranians will see the end of most of the sanctions that have plagued them since 1979.

It is important here to note that Iran’s primary foreign policy goal is to reestablish its “rightful place” within the region.

In that context, who stands to profit from this deal? Certainly Iran, for they will get access to the $100+ billion funds that have been frozen in western banks since the Iranian revolution in 1979, as well as the end to many of the non-financial sanctions imposed on them since then, including oil exports, trade, asset freezes, travel bans and weapons development.

The P5+1 will benefit primarily from seeing the end for at least 10 years of the Iranian nuclear weapons program and from increased trade possibilities. The most important benefits will come as a result of the US not having to move to a military confrontation with Iran, which would almost certainly be the result of the failure of this agreement.

Who loses? Israel loses, primarily because it will not be able to goad the US government into a preemptive strike against Iran and because Iran’s influence in the region will grow. AIPAC loses because they are totally aligned with Israel and Saudi Arabia loses because Iran, with all that new money, is likely to severely challenge Saudi hegemony in the Gulf.

The only thing missing here is the possibility that Iran has not been developing nuclear weapons since a 2003 US National Intelligence Estimate said they had stopped that program. Could they later have deluded us into believing they had restarted it if only to force protracted, believable negotiations, just now concluded, solely to get their hands on the $100+ billion and the end of sanctions? These are, after all, critical considerations in their drive to reach their historic regional goals. And all this by giving up something that never really existed? They are certainly that smart!

There are those who denigrate the agreement and harp on the notion that Iran will restart its nuclear weapons program covertly or at the conclusion of the agreement and use the bomb, probably against Israel. Of course, what they are saying is that the Iranians are a bunch of know-nothing rag heads, intent on self-destruction.

How far from the truth can that be? The ancient Persians (Iranians) were in the process of working out a viable alphabet when our European forbears were scuttling about in their caves dressed in bearskins. Organized communities first existed in Iran around 8,000 BC. The first Persian kingdom began around 2800 and in the 6th century BC, those Persians ruled from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River. It was the first great kingdom to exist in the world and was certainly the greatest Empire of its time.

The Persian cultural contribution to the world has ranged from art through architecture, music, technology and science to literature.

The Iranians are educated (77 percent literate), thoughtful, smart, clever and nationalistic. They are anything but stupid. Despite the stupidly ugly rhetoric employed by some of their political leaders since 1979, they are anything but the wild-eyed ragheads that some in the west portray them to be. They are in no way suicidal.

Even the Iranians realize that nuclear weapons are a powerful tool only as long as they are not used. For, once they are used, deterrence is irrelevant and the aggressors are literally consumed by their own stupidity. Iran is smart enough to avoid that fate.

With a land mass of over 630,000 square miles, a military establishment over 500,000, an educated population of over 75 million, two-thirds of the world’s crude oil reserve and potential control over the Arabian Gulf, it is time we recognized that Iran has a role to play in its region and that we can help that role to be either positive or negative.

Our European partners will ratify the agreement. If we do, we will get to see how Iran responds, with unlimited future options open to us. If we do not ratify this agreement, our hawks in both parties will lead us to inevitable military action against Iran, completely unsupported in the West outside Israel, which will be a disaster for the entire world.

In many ways, Iran’s future is really up to us.

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Originally published in the Rutland Herald and the Barre Times-Argus
July 26, 2015

The City of Burlington has recently hired a new chief of police, Brandon Del Pozo, who was previously a New York Police Department beat patrolman, precinct commander and NYPD representative in Jordan, where he investigated terrorist events in an attempt to broaden the NYPD’s knowledge of such activities.   

 During the course of his approval process, he was sharply questioned on a paper he had written 15 years ago that examined profiling in police work. Fortunately for Burlington, this highly qualified and thoughtful individual ultimately passed muster and was unanimously hired by the City Council.    

The threat of terrorism in this country is very real. While al-Qaida could conceivably mount another operation like 9/11, it is more likely that ISIS or one of its affiliates will manage to radicalize one or more Americans and encourage them to commit less dramatic but highly effective acts of terrorism.    

What we are facing are self-motivated individuals who, through their own initiative, independently join the ranks of radical Islamists. The result is that U.S. law enforcement, whether national, state or local, is faced with the extraordinarily difficult job of somehow finding and disrupting self-motivated individuals bent on terrorist acts, before those acts are carried out.    

The process of self-motivation is largely passive. Those who go that route simply log onto jihadi websites and learn what they want to know without necessarily having any direct, traceable contact with other radical lslamists. A perfect example of this is the self-radicalization of the Tsarnayev brothers and their attack on the Boston Marathon. Moreover, in the wake of the Snowden revelations, finding these highly random apprentice terrorists through legal technical intercept operations is likely to be a daunting task.    

Radical Islamists, or those like al-Qaida and ISIS, represent only a tiny fraction of Muslims worldwide. We tend to think of Muslims mostly as Arabs, but, in fact, totaling around l.6 billion souls, they are also in the old Yugoslavia and Albania, Africans throughout that continent, Chechens in Russia, central Asians across the southern edge of the old Soviet Union, Iranians, Indonesians, Malaysians, Turks, Kurds, Pakistanis and Indians as well as Bangladeshis. And they have minority groupings in many other countries around the world, including the United States and Israel.    

So when it comes to counterterrorist operations, there really isn’t any such thing as racial profiling. Radical Islamic terrorists can be just about any color, any race. The only thing they have in common is their religion. So, to be honest, if you see radical Islamic terrorism as a real problem, you have to look closely at Muslims.    

And the truth is that the vast majority of Muslims have reason to be more terrified by radical Islam than do non-Muslim Americans. In fact, most of the people murdered by ISIS in the Middle East have been Muslims of one sort or another who, most importantly, are not sufficiently pure in the eyes of ISIS. Moderates understand this and are our natural allies.   

So, when we look carefully at Muslim populations in America in the hope that we can find members of those communities who recognize the unity of interest that they have with non-Muslim Americans, are we profiling? Is what we are doing wrong?    

America has had this problem over and over in the past. When that has been the case, we have not hesitated to profile our logical targets. We have asked sympathetic members of hostile groups to help us in the difficult task of overcoming these threats. Why should it be any different today?    

It is through relationships with American law enforcement organizations that American Muslims ultimately can best protect themselves against radical Islam. They are the people in America most likely to be able to assist in the extremely difficult process of trying to identify self-radicalized Muslims who are intent on committing terrorist acts. They are the strongest potential allies we have in this struggle.    

As long as they see the U.S. government as opposed to radical Islam and not opposed to moderates, they will be able to find ways to help us. As we continue to withdraw our military personnel from the Middle East where they are, unfortunately, viewed even by moderate Muslims as enemies of a broader Islam, we will find American and other moderate Muslims more and more willing to help is in the struggle with fundamentalist Islam. 

 

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Originally published in the Rutland Herald and the Barre Times-Argus

May 17, 2015

As a result of unspecified warnings from the radical Islamic State (ISIS), the U.S. has just increased the security level at domestic military bases. The upgrade came shortly after the FBI director spoke out on the increasing threat of jihadi attacks here in America against U.S. military and police elements by home-grown terrorists.

This announcement may make some Americans feel a bit safer, but how many of us understand that this is precisely what ISIS would like to see happen? It is in their interest to see the U.S. government do anything that creates fear in the U.S. population, particularly when they don’t have to mount an actual operation to get it done. All they have to do is make us think something is up, and they can raise our fear level literally without risk.

Anything the jihadis can do that will create fear is fair game if it impacts the willingness of Americans to support the continuation of our activities, particularly military, in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the two administrations we have had since 9/11 have done little to calm the population and a great deal to make us fearful.

Further, it is an unfortunate fact that both administrations have been driven by a CYA (cover your posterior) mentality. The thought process involved here is that it is better to make public frightening information and have nothing happen, than to do nothing and have something bad happen. That has added to our level of fear since 9/11.

ISIS, like al-Qaida, has the primary goal of forcing the United States out of the Middle East so they can establish their own rules without our interference. To do that, both organizations realized that they had to realize major dramatic, terrorist accomplishments in order to pressure us into leaving.

For al-Qaida the major impact operation was 9/11. But, given who they were, al-Qaida was pretty much limited to operations originating outside the United States. As a result, the pace and extent of their post-9/11 operations dropped off sharply. In addition, we mounted a program of drone and other attacks on al-Qaida, which destroyed much of their leadership and, even more importantly, forced them to look almost constantly over their shoulders, seriously diminishing their effectiveness.

For ISIS, it has been a far different situation. They have benefited from the fact that the United States has been fighting on Arab lands for 15 years and that, in the process, we have thoroughly alienated much of the region’s population and worldwide supporters. This has given them a flexibility not enjoyed by al-Qaida, and they have taken advantage of it in many ways, perhaps most importantly in the area of propaganda.

They have very astutely gone about the recruitment of thousands of sympathizers from abroad. This number has included Europeans and North Americans and in our case, has given them access to a number of sympathizers here in America, a new and potentially effective Fifth Column. Now ISIS can remotely direct operations here in America against their favorite targets. And think how much easier that will become when American sympathizers who have gone to Syria to fight for ISIS start to come back to the States. Not only will they be easy to direct, but they will be hardened fighters already trained to the teeth through their Syrian activities.

ISIS will undertake any operation that will create fear. Whether the targets are malls, police or the military, whatever terrorist activity weakens the resolve of Americans to continue Middle East operations will be favorably considered.

Worldwide experience tells us that terrorism is best countered by a combination of police and intelligence work and that military confrontation is highly counterproductive. Given that reality, there is a potentially viable course of action for us on this issue.

What America could most profitably use, and probably for political reasons will never get, would be an internal security service without arrest powers, built along the lines of Britain’s MI5. It would provide a unified combination of intelligence and law enforcement now lacking here.

Short of that, or of military withdrawal from the Middle East, we can and should materially beef up our counterterrorism law enforcement operations under the FBI against ISIS sympathizers here at home. Second, and more critically important, we need to find a way to keep Americans who have gone to Syria to fight for ISIS from returning to the United States, for if they are somehow allowed to come back unimpeded, they will present us with unimaginable problems.

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Originally published in The Rutland Herald and the Barre Times-Argus

February 22, 2015

What is going on in Ukraine today and why it is happening goes back to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent disintegration of Soviet control over the buffer states that surrounded and “protected” the old Soviet Union.

Throughout its existence, the Soviet Union assiduously asserted or consolidated control over the states in Eastern Europe that separated it from the Western Europe countries that had invaded and plagued Russia for centuries. During that period, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, Albania, Bulgaria, the Karelian peninsula and Eastern Germany became part of the Soviet sphere of influence in Europe.

This Russian sensitivity extended to Central Asia where Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan fell or remained under effective Russian control. When the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, all of those previous Soviet appendages reverted to various sorts of local, non-Soviet control.

We, the United States, then proceeded to reward Russia for forsaking communism by arranging to invite, for no apparent objective reason, Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, all formerly under Soviet hegemony, to join NATO, which they promptly did.

The Russians, understanding clearly that NATO had originally been formed to oppose the Soviet Union, could not understand why, since the Soviet Union was finished, these former appendages of the Soviet Union, now independent, needed to join NATO. The message was absolutely clear. They were incorporated into NATO to oppose Russia. What else could a good Russian understand? And how else could we have expected them to take it?

Apparently, the NATO recruitment operation wasn’t sufficiently provocative for the Bush administration, so they launched a new approach, which was designed to set up a European missile shield to intercept long range missiles, ostensibly coming from Iran! It seemed to the Russians that it was Russia, not Iran that was the target of this plan!

The sites for this shield were in Poland and Romania, old Soviet satellites. Planning discussions began in 2002 and did not end until 2009 when the newly elected Obama administration terminated the plan altogether, much to the relief of the Russians.

Additional evidence of the Russian compulsion to reconstitute its old perimeter “buffer zones” can be seen in its handling of Georgian nationalism and independence. As the Soviet Union began to fail in 1989, Georgia was clearly heading toward independence. This was apparently sufficiently threatening to the failing Russian regime that they began to encourage South Ossetian nationalism against the Georgians. This came to a head in 1991 when Georgia declared its independence from the Soviet Union and conflict broke out with the South Ossetians. Conflict between Russia and Georgia was ended in 1992.

This same kind of scenario broke out between Georgia and Abkhazia in 1992. In both the Ossetian and Abkhazian cases, Russia’s goal was the reestablishment of influence in Georgia and even its reintegration into Russia.

It is highly significant that at a Bucharest NATO summit in 2008, President Bush offered a path to NATO membership to both Georgia and Ukraine. President Putin said (not unexpectedly, given Russia’s well-known paranoia) that expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders “would be taken in Russia as a direct threat to the security of our country”.

Russian relations with and policies toward the former Soviet countries now surrounding Russia have been tense since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This has provided the West with graphic evidence of Russian concern about its borders and its ongoing vulnerability to foreign attack. And yet, US policy has continued to be aggressive ever since. It’s almost as if the US has found it morally necessary to stick its thumb in the eye of the former Soviets whenever possible.

Think how we felt when Russian missiles were installed in Cuba. Think how we would feel if a potentially hostile foreign country installed missiles in Mexico or Canada.

So, when you see the Russians running roughshod in Ukraine, don’t forgive them or make excuses for them. What you must do and what American policy needs to do in the future is recognize that we are dealing with what the Russians see, whether rightly or wrongly, as an existential threat that concerns their national interest. That fact puts Ukraine in a totally different and, for us, dangerous ball game.

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