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Archive for June, 2016

It has become abundantly clear that the deployment of US military might to the Middle East has not served our national interests. In fact, as we increased our commitment from Afghanistan to Iraq, we saw our fight morphing from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency which brought with it problems we had not envisaged and which some of our leaders and politicians still refuse to acknowledge

 

This change came about largely as a result of our commitment of troops to the region. What the presence of those troops ultimately did was not so subtly persuade local citizens that we were not the savior that we had told them we were, but that we represented a threat to their own Islamic way of life. As soon as they made that mental adjustment, our problems with terrorism shifted into high gear.

 

Many of our politicians. having seen the horror of recent terrorist attacks here in America, say they want to fight ISIS and al Qaida overseas. How thoughtful of them! If we look at our own counterterrorism policy in the region right now, that means the commitment of US Special Forces, the continued deployment of drones and our openly acknowledged, heavy support of local military establishments in the battle against terrorism.

 

But it won’t work! We can commit limitless resources to counterterrorism in the Middle East and it will have no positive effect whatsoever. In fact, it will have a double negative effect. It will keep regional citizens and governments stirred up and angry about our activities on their turf and it will motivate terrorist organizations to take the fight to us here at home. And that doesn’t touch on the effect on self-motivated residents of America.

 

In comparison to Europe, we have one major counterterrorist advantage here in the US. That is the Atlantic Ocean. Since 9/11, the US has spent a fortune setting up a system which has enabled us to protect ourselves pretty well against terrorist operations that originate on the other side of that ocean.

 

What we have not been able to do is protect ourselves against self-starting, internet-radicalized citizens and residents of our own country. The lone wolf terrorist can, pretty much on his own, pick a target, assemble the necessary hardware and implement an attack. The Boston Marathon, Orlando, The World Trade Center, Fort Hood – The list goes on and on. In each case, there have been no readily interceptable communications between the perpetrator and terrorist organizations abroad. The perpetrators have been motivated at least partially by US military activities in the Middle East. Everything they need to know, from howto get weapons, to how to case a prospective site, to the construction of a bomb, is available in our stores or on the internet.

 

As long as we are actively involved militarily against these terrorist organizations in the Middle East, Americans will self-radicalize, get internet-educated and commit terrorist acts against American targets. Where we are pretty good at detecting and preventing plots that originate abroad, the lone wolf US resident is difficult if not impossible to detect and intercept. Our military counterterrorist activities in the Middle East, even if we were to get incredibly lucky and eliminate ISIS from its holdings in Syria and Iraq, will be feeding lone wolf motivation.

 

It’s time we took a really hard look at our present policy and figured out some other way to take on the terrorist problem. In the past, the one thing that has worked for nations suffering from terrorism has been a combination of Intelligence and Police work. Maybe we could start there, particularly with our home-grown problem.

 

 

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Originally published in the Rutland Herald           

If you believe that the Orlando attack was the last one we will experience, you are horribly wrong.

As a result of the nature and magnitude of that attack, we are faced here in America with a complicated choice. That attack and the subsequent endless media evaluations of what “really happened” and what it “really means” will simply hasten the inevitable compulsion that our government will feel to take charge of the situation, driven as it is by public opinion.  How it reacts will color the future of this country for decades to come.

In 1775, Benjamin Franklin correctly said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”.

These words appear in a letter written by Franklin on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly to the colonial governor. That letter was part of a power struggle between the governor and the assembly over funding for security on the frontier.  It has made its way into today’s vocabulary and taken on a far more significant meaning.

In reality, “safe” countries are not free and “free” countries are not safe.  The more permissive (free, democratic, etc.), as our country is, the less safe it will be.  Only through undemocratic, draconian measures, can terrorism be controlled and safety maintained.  It is up to us to decide whether or not we are better off in the aggregate for the loss of our liberties, remembering that once surrendered, they are difficult to reacquire.  Will a sense of safety, however illusory, be worth that loss?  Or are we better off maintaining our constitutional freedoms, recognizing that they will be accompanied by at least partially manageable uncertainties about our safety?

Our choice is stark because, if we truly want to try to be safe, many of our constitutional freedoms will go by the wayside.  An active, competent and aggressive internal security organization like the FBI, if charged with reestablishing real safety in this vast country will have to seek powers and authorities that it now does not have.  Those powers and authorities will severely limit if not demolish many of the constitutional freedoms to which we are now accustomed.

Finally, given the reality of internet self-radicalization programs designed to appeal to any and all Americans who are thinking of becoming terrorists, there is no guarantee that we can succeed at this endeavor.

To do this difficult job correctly any internal security service like the FBI will have to have freedom to institute and use phone, mail and internet intercepts.  They will need to reintroduce profiling, or the detention, questioning, arrest, and/or search of people solely on the basis of the person’s race or ethnicity.  They will have to be able to hold people in custody in ways that are not compatible with today’s individual liberties.  We will see surveillance, provocation and entrapment operations run against any and all targets presumed to be hostile. Restrictions on “probable cause” will disappear.  The list goes on and on.

These and other similar activities will be necessary as long as hostile terrorist organizations exist here and abroad.  Even if we had the financial and military ability and the will to wipe out ISIS, which we certainly do not, the remnants will remain and they surely will be targeted against America.  As long as there are disaffected Americans, whether native or immigrant, we will be at risk.

Military action against terrorism abroad is unlikely to succeed.  Terrorism is mostly a law enforcement and intelligence problem. Military activity against it results, as we have already seen in the Middle East, in increased hostility toward the United States.

So, we are faced with a choice.  Do we want to surrender many of our basic personal liberties and change this country into something it has never before been in the hope that in doing so we will somehow increase our security?  Or do we want to work within our existing laws, customs and constitutional guarantees in the knowledge that where we may very well be able to inhibit terrorist activity here at home, Orlando will not be the last  attack we suffer?

The tragedy of picking safety over liberty is that it provides no guarantees.  In addition, once relinquished, liberty is difficult to reestablish.

In 2013 in America, 505 people were killed accidentally by firearms and another 11,208 were killed intentionally by another person.  In 2013, 32,719 people were killed in vehicle crashes.  In that same year, 21 people were killed by terrorists in the USA.

It would appear that we have for more compelling issues here than terrorism.

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Fifty-one State Department officials have just signed an internal memo protesting U.S. policy in Syria, calling for targeted U.S. military strikes against the regime of Bashar al Assad and urging regime change as the only way to defeat ISIS.

 

The internal memo was sent throughout the “dissent channel” which is defined as “a serious policy channel reserved only for consideration of responsible dissenting and alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues that cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels and procedures” and “which will not be subjected to reprisal, discipline action or unauthorized disclosure of its use”. It was established in the 1960s during the Vietnam War to ensure that senior leadership in the department would have access to alternative policy views on the war.

 

The views expressed by the U.S. officials in the cable amount to a scalding internal critique of a longstanding U.S. policy against taking sides in the Syrian war.

 

It is safe to say that our incredibly counterproductive military involvement in the Middle East during the past dozen years was a outgrowth of the powerful influence held by neoconservatives in the Bush administration.

 

It is equally safe to say that “liberal interventionist” ideology has played a role in foreign policy under the Obama administration.  Obama’s first Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton is widely described as “hawkish” in her foreign policy views and her administration has always contained liberal interventionists, many of whom have remained there after her departure from State and the arrival of Secretary Kerry.  They still play important roles in the formulation and conduct of foreign policy.

 

However different the origins of liberal interventionism may be from those of neoconservatism, the net result in foreign policy is not that different.  Both ideologies believe in the export of democracy and regime change, policies that have rightly come under attack here and abroad, given the negative results of our recent military activities in the Middle East.

 

So, the question is, are the State department “51” simply a continuation of our old notions of the export of democracy and regime change?

 

In all of this and regardless of the motivation behind the “dissent channel” memorandum, the only important question to be asked is, what would be the result?  That assumes we become more heavily involved militarily against the Assad regime which would be an act of war in itself.  What do we do about al Qaida’s Al Nusra front?  With Iran?  With the Russians? With the Chinese?  With the Saudis?  With the Iraqis?  Who is on our side?  Who is against us?

 

Assuming we can successfully engineer this regime change, whom do we then pick to run the country?  Do we pick the remaining Alawites with their Shia allies in Iraq and Iran?  Do we pick Sunni Syrians with their confessional ties to ISIS and Iraqi Sunnis?  Do we install the military?

 

Irrespective of what we do, how will the competing confessional groups in the broader region react?  How have they already reacted in Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Syria?  Does America really have a dog in this fight?

 

Whomever we pick under these circumstances, we will own the responsibility for the Syria of the future, a Syria that will always be contested by the ethnic and confessional forces that rule and roil the Middle East.

 

It is difficult to determine the precise motivation of these 51 co-signees in favor of military intervention.   However, regardless of that motivation, given our recent history in the region, it seems like a crazy, no-win thing for America to want to do.

 

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From this perch in Vermont, it is fascinating to watch the mainstream Democratic Party try to deal with Bernie Sanders and his candidacy.  Clearly, those Democrats don’t know who Bernie is, how he functions or what his real goals are.   Perhaps they are not about to make public any such knowledge, fearful that such admissions might irreparably damage their already damaged candidate of choice, Hilary Clinton.

 

Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat, is contemptuous of Democratic Party ideals and has an agenda. He is, by his own claim, a Social Democrat, presumably in the European mode.  As mayor of Burlington, Vt. he pushed for the election of members of his own Progressive Party to the City Council.   He has just contributed to the election campaign of a current Progressive candidate for election to that Council.  It is Progressive Party candidates he supports, not a Democratic Party candidates, despite the fact that he is running on the national stage to be Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party.

 

What does all this mean?  It means, quite simply, that Bernie Sanders has little interest in the Democratic Party other than to use it to accomplish his own Progressive political goals.  In the beginning of his campaign, he probably saw his candidacy as a wedge he could use to move the Clinton candidacy to the left, and he certainly has already accomplished much in that regard.  Further, his stated campaign goals are to create a single-payer healthcare system and increase Social Security benefits.  According to  the non-partisan, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center that could double the national debt.

 

More recently, Sanders’ success in the State Primaries and caucuses seems to have convinced him that he has a real shot at becoming the Democratic Party candidate and may have resulted in his recent inclination to go after Clinton in a more Trump-like fashion.

 

Trump’s rude, ugly and tough approach to his rivalry with Clinton could represent an important message for Sanders.  If we believe what has already been written about Mr. Sanders, such an approach would seem to be in character for him.  In an August 25, 2015 article on him by Paul Heinz in Seven Days, a widely read Burlington weekly publication, he is described as follows:  ”According to some who have worked closely with Sanders over the years, “grumpy grandpa” doesn’t even begin to describe it. They characterize the senator as rude, short-tempered and, occasionally, downright hostile. Though Sanders has spent much of his life fighting for working Vermonters, they say he mistreats the people working for him”.

“As a supervisor, he was unbelievably abusive,” says one former campaign staffer, who claims to have endured frequent verbal assaults. The double standard was clear: “He did things that, if he found out that another supervisor was doing in a workplace, he would go after them. You can’t treat employees that way.”

Sanders’ strategy shows that he believes he has a reasonable shot at beating Clinton at the Democratic Convention.  He has done well in recent primaries and has focused a great deal of energy in recent days on convincing Democratic Superdelegates currently pledged to Clinton that they should switch their votes to him at the Convention. Clinton has recently been slipping in polls measuring a future presidential race with Donald Trump.  That fact may prove to be a powerful ally in Sanders’ ongoing attempt to recruit those Superdelegates, particularly as polls have Sanders doing better than Clinton against Trump.

The Clinton Camp must be concerned about the Sanders candidacy.  The issue of the Superdelegates has to be unsettling for them.  Even if the Sanders’ ploy doesn’t work, the aftermath of a possible Sanders defeat at the convention has already gotten their attention.  It is fascinating to listen to national leaders of the Democratic Party reflect on his competition with Clinton, saying that in the end, Sanders will convince his supporters to support Clinton.  And they say this in the face of poll results that indicate that something in the neighborhood of 40% of Sanders supporters say they will not support Clinton if she becomes the candidate.  Can she win without them?

There is no valid reason for mainline Democrats to believe that Sanders will avidly support Clinton, or, for that matter, much of anything that those Democrats would like to see supported.  Sanders is not a Democrat, never has been.  His goal, if he cannot win the candidacy, appears to be to force radical change in the existing Democratic Party, moving it as far toward “Social Democracy” as possible.  That is not a goal that is compatible with mainstream Democratic philosophy.

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