Archive for the ‘terrorism’ Category

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.


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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.


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President Trump addressed our NATO allies in Brussels today, giving a speech that perfectly well could have been written by Vladimir Putin. Why Putin? Because it was brazenly inappropriate for the NATO venue and almost certainly was badly received by those allies and their constituents.Forget his boorish, egocentric behavior in abruptly and rudely shoving a fellow NATO member out of the way so he could move to the front of the assembling pack of dignitaries. Focus instead on what he actually said and did not say during his speech and on the likely effect that those words, or lack of words, would have on his fellow NATO presidents and their people.

The president hit hard on his view of the need for NATO members to tighten their immigration procedures. That is one of his ongoing complaints and one on which most Europeans disagree with him. It is an issue on which he has minor support around the world or even at home. It was hardly appropriate for that particular meeting of NATO heads of state.

In addition, he used the occasion to complain bitterly about the ongoing disinclination of many NATO member countries to pay their way, thus saddling the American taxpayer with expenses that should have been borne elsewhere. All of that is true and it is a theme that has been addressed by every American president since Harry Truman. This was a message well known to NATO and one which, under two of Trump’s predecessors, was beginning to have a positive impact resulting in rising contributions. His harping is not likely to help his cause.

In short, it was very much along the lines of ongoing Russian policy on Europe, NATO and the West.

What would have been appropriate for Trump to cover was a reiteration of America’s support to its fellow NATO members to accept and support the provisions of Article 5. That NATO provision commits every member to support any and all attacks against any of its fellow members. It was Article 5 that prompted the entire NATO membership to sign on with America after 9/11.

We are now at a moment in time when Russia is behaving very aggressively with most of the Western world, most emphatically including NATO’s European members. We have seen it in Ukraine and in Crimea. Additionally, the Russians have clearly been meddling in European elections. Here at home we have seen it in their covert meddling in our primary election process.

Under present circumstances, what our fellow NATO members wanted from the United States president was a clear, unequivocal statement that we still support NATO and adhere to the provisions of Article 5. They got neither.

What they got was a speech that never seemed to contradict Trump’ previous negative statements on NATO or the European Community. It never stated this new American administration’s commitment to NATO and the provisions of Article 5.

In short, it was very much along the lines of ongoing Russian policy on Europe, NATO and the West. It was almost entirely negative and non-supportive on those issues on which the NATO members wanted, needed and expected to hear — a strong reiteration of America’s past supportive policy.

America will find diminishing support for its leading role in NATO and the world, including in the counterterrorism arena, one of great importance and one of Trump’s favorites.

Just what Putin would have wanted if he had written the speech himself.

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Originally published in Vermont Digger

President Donald Trump has taken the position that Americans have a great deal to fear from terrorism. Fear is the backbone of all his statements. Every time there is a terrorist event anywhere in the world, we get tweets and other White House media coverage that constantly remind us how vulnerable we are to this so-called “terrorist threat,” even though the event in question may have had nothing to do with America. Additionally, the “terrorist threat” is the basis for incredible amounts of “alternative facts” being circulated out of the White House and its employees. Some “true facts” are in order here.According to Life Insurance Quotes, a business that focuses on educating consumers on the various aspects of life insurance, the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are about one in 20 million. A person is as likely to be killed by his or her own furniture, and more likely to die in a car accident, or in a building fire, or drown in a bathtub than from a terrorist attack.

The libertarian Cato Institute has arrived at its own finding: Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump in his travel ban have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015. Zero. Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis and one Yemeni have been convicted of attempting or executing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during that time period. Zero Libyans and zero Syrians. “Foreign-born terrorism is a hazard,” the Cato Institute argues, “but it is manageable given the huge economic benefits of immigration and the small costs of terrorism.” The study concludes that “the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year.”

Business Insider states that Americans are six times more likely to die from a shark attack (one of the rarest forms of death on Earth), 29 times more likely to die from an asteroid strike, 260 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning, 4,700 times more likely to die in an airplane or spaceship accident, 129,000 times more likely to die in a gun assault, 407,000 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle incident and 6.9 million times more likely to die from cancer or heart disease than they are to die in a terrorist incident.

Heightened fear in populations has often led to the end of existing forms of government, largely because a fearful population is relatively easy to manipulate.

Finally, the National Safety Council states simply that the odds of Americans dying at the hands of refugee tourists are one in 46,192,893 and at the hands of immigrant tourists, one in 138,324,873.

There is no reputable source in this country that says anything different about the terrorist threat. It is anything but real. In fact, the threat is so miniscule that we are forced to wonder precisely what motivates the administration to tout it so forcefully. What are their goals in distorting the truth so ceaselessly? Why are they trying, so obviously, to turn America into a land of “terrorist paranoia”?

People who succumb to the “alternative facts” on the “threat of terrorism” that are now being put out by the Trump administration are creating a new and different world for themselves. It will become more important to them that they be “safe” than that they be “free.” Benjamin Franklin said appropriately in 1755, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” That could not be more true today.

It seems therefore likely that the administration is trying to create and then expand an environment of fear and terrorist paranoia. Why they would be doing that is a far more difficult question. Do they seek additional power or wealth? It is difficult to construct any theory that is benign toward our people or our democracy. It does seem however, that the promotion of “terrorist paranoia” is likely designed to create a situation in which the population will be prepared to give up freedoms to the central government in return for “safety” provided by that same government.

Heightened fear in populations has often led to the end of existing forms of government, largely because a fearful population is relatively easy to manipulate. Fear is a vehicle that despots often try to ride into far more restrictive models of government. History is rife with examples of this and whatever the motivation, there is absolutely no reason to think that American democracy is immune.

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Originally published in the Rutland Herald


America’s success in domestic counterterrorism depends on two critical elements: The extent to which the American people descend into “terrorist paranoia” and the extent to which we alienate our Muslim citizens and residents.

Fifty years ago terrorism was seen primarily in dissident national groups working against the nations in which they lived.

Today the world of terrorism has changed. The primary authors of 21st Century terrorism are found in radical Islam.

The dominant radical Muslim terrorist modus operandi used to be operations mounted from abroad against enemy countries in which terrorists were recruited, trained, equipped and directed on trips from their homelands to radical Muslim centers abroad.

Now, those operations are conceived and run autonomously from abroad, mostly from Syria and Iraq. The recruited terrorist may never leave his home country. The recruitment, training, provisioning and execution of the operation are likely to be run entirely remotely via encrypted internet from abroad. All of this complicates our efforts to counter terrorism at home.

These realities have reinforced the decades-old international conclusion that the only truly effective counter-terrorist measures are intelligence and law enforcement operations.

The best allies that law enforcement and intelligence organizations have in the conduct of current counterterrorist operations are moderate Muslims. In a perfect world, one in which they are living undisturbed lives, moderate Muslims are the most likely people to be able to provide critical information on the potential terrorist activities of radical Muslims living in the same country with them.

It should be stated clearly here that there is no coercion involved. Moderate Muslims are appalled by the activities of their radical cousins and see them as a threat to their own peace and well-being. They are natural enemies of the radicals and see the national law enforcement and intelligence personnel and organizations of the countries in which they live as their natural allies – the only organizations that can protect them from the radicals.

All of this requires a relatively benign environment in which moderate Muslims feel comfortable and unthreatened. In a hostile environment, if American personnel are involved, the moderate is faced with a dilemma. Does he support the American who he sees as part of the group creating the hostile environment, or does he support the fellow national and Muslim, regardless of his radical positions? US experience in the Middle East indicates that, as often as not, under these conditions, the radical will be supported over the American.

As long as the moderate Muslim feels comfortable and unthreatened, he will be anti-radical. When that changes, all bets are off. He may be drawn to the radical side simply because they are former co-nationals or co-religionists. At that point even moderates can become dangerous to our country.

How then do we alienate or threaten these moderates? We can indiscriminately single them out as somehow dangerous.We can denigrate them and their religion. We can identify them and expel them from our country. We can refuse them entry, even when they have endangered their own lives by supporting our troops in the Middle East as translators and interpreters. We can refuse entry to all Muslims, including those whom we have already vetted exhaustively and judged not to be threats to America. In short, through executive order and popular harassment, we can make their lives almost unbearable.

In addition, some in America are clearly interested in causing a high level of anxiety in our population when it comes to terrorism. Every act of terrorism carried out anywhere in the world is tweeted and reported extensively in the media. It seems to be working. Even though the likelihood of being injured or killed by a terrorist is miniscule, particularly when compared to automobile, gun or virtually any other kind of death, we hear constantly about vigilance and terrorism. We are being converted to terrorist paranoia.

It would seem safe to say that a combination of terrorist paranoia and the disaffection and alienation of our own Muslim population will have a profound affect on our country. We are already beginning to see indiscriminate anti-Muslim acts taking place around the country, fed by administration actions and negative statements.

The current administration’s stressing of the “growing terrorist threat” and the increasing discomfort of moderate Muslims in America will likely prove important factors in our ability, or lack thereof, to control the level of radical Muslim terrorism here at home. We desperately need those moderates on our side.

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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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Originally published in The Herald of Randolph

How many readers remember the old saw that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”? And isn’t that the truth! Well, a senior United States Government official has recently reported that Iran is the greatest supporter of terrorism in the world.


As difficult as it is for any American to stomach, that can be viewed in a number of different ways. Ask yourself, “How would I label an American Christian missionary caught in a fight for his life in a country wildly hostile to his Christian beliefs. If he took up the sword and smote someone, would he be a terrorist?”


Now take a look at Iran, the leading Shiite nation in a world of Sunnis who clearly would like to eliminate all Shias. In fact, the Pew Center, in a comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries, finds that there are 1.57 billion Muslims living in the world today. Of that number, 10-13% or 1.57-2.04 million are Shia and 87-90%, or 1.37 – 1.41 billion are Sunni. There are 9 Sunnis for every Shia on the face of the earth and these are people who are happy to kill each other. Not very good odds if you are a Shia.


The Shia are like a gigantic tribe in Islam, but one wildly outnumbered by their main competitor, the Sunnis. Add to that the fact that the Shia are spread out all over Islam, existing in countries that are majority Sunni, and the picture becomes more clear. In the Middle East, the only Shia majority countries are Iran 90-95%, Iraq 65-67%, Azerbaijan 65-75% and Bahrain 65-70%.


In Syria, the ruling Shia represent only 17% of the total Syrian Muslim population, in Lebanon they are 30-35%, Yemen 35-40%, India 25-30%, Kuwait 30-35%, Saudi Arabia 10-20%, Turkey 10-15%, Pakistan 10-20%, Afghanistan 10-15%, Qatar 10% Oman, 5-10% and the UAE, 10%.


As the country with the largest Shia population, Iran can be viewed as self-appointed protector of the world’s Shia. When the Shia come under Sunni attack as they have in Syria, the Iranians commit whatever is necessary to their defense. There is nothing covert about this support. In fact, Iran has set up an entire governmental structure designed to support any and all Shia groups in the Middle East. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC) plays a preeminent role in the defense of Shia Islam. The IGRC is designed to protect the country’s Shia Islamic system by preventing foreign interference as well as hostile coups. The IGRC is comprised of about 125,00 military personnel which includes ground, naval and air capabilities and in addition, controls roughly 100,000 troops in the Basij paramilitary militia and an additional 2-5000 members of the Quds force, the successor organization to the Shah’s Imperial Guard.


Over the past decades, Iranian military and paramilitary assets have been involved, either directly or indirectly in just about every Middle East conflict that involved Shias. The Iraq war, the Lebanese civil war and unrest, the Syrian war, Hizbullah operations against Israel, and support for the Shia Houthi rebels in the Yemen conflict are all concrete examples of Iran assisting fellow Shia Arabs in their conflict with Sunni Arabs.


It probably seems convenient for American administrations to refer to these operations as “terrorism” or “terrorist operations”. The term “terrorist” carries with it a connotation that simply would not obtain if American officials were referring to these operations as military or as sectarian, either of which would be far more accurate. But of course, this will not happen because it does not meet the needs of any of our recent administrations, Republican or Democrat. No, on an emotional level and to keep the American populace on the “right track”, we need to label our enemies as “terrorists”.


If you are one of those Americans who wants to try to understand what is really happening around the world, you mlght consider the strong possibility that the Shia Iranians see themselves locked into a death struggle with Islam’s Sunnis and that in order to preserve their beliefs, they have to confront the Sunnis any time they or any of their Shia brethren feel threatened. Further, add in the fact that the Iranians, probably rightly, see American involvement in their region as anti-Shia and pro-Sunni and you will probably begin to see the depth of distrust that has existed between Iran and America since we engineered the 1953 Coup.


The Sunni-Shia schism has existed since the 7th Century. It doesn’t have much to do with Terrorism, but far more with regional power politics.   Since it is not going away, it’s important that Americans understand the nuances of this divisive situation.



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Originally published in The Rutland Herald


May 27, 2015

Much of Northwestern Iraq is now under ISIS control. Shia Iraq is losing its war with Sunni ISIS. Hawkish American conservatives and neocons demand that we re-invade that country and solve its problems. Others less bellicose tell us that we must increase our military presence there to the tune of about 1000 troops, concentrating on advising the Iraqis on how to beat ISIS. Moderates generally are not eager to see any US military involvement in the region, preferring to let the antagonists work out their own problems.

Today’s Iraq was the creation of colonial British occupation in the period 1918-1958, when they captured and then governed that region. For over 600 years, Iraq has been a part of some other state, so the agglomeration of Shia, Sunni and Kurds into one state was new to the region. It was a purely British decision and was made solely for the advantage and profit of that nation. It had nothing to do with the difficult national, sectarian and tribal realities that have always existed in the region.

After a more than a decade of the 2003 American invasion and occupation of the so-called “state of Iraq”, there are few sentient Americans who are not aware of the deep-seated, historical animosities that exist between Shia, Sunni and Kurd. Modern Iraq has existed as a unified political entity only under repressive governance. Once we removed Saddam Hussein, the genie was truly out of the bottle. Since that moment in 2003, the inevitable, unimpeded slide of Iraq into civil conflict has reflected the national, sectarian and tribal forces in conflict in that “country”. It is difficult to think of Iraq as a modern state. It is more like three states in perpetual conflict.

Historical reality started to rule Iraq immediately after our invasion. The Sunnis, from whom the ruling, pre-invasion Baath Party had sprung, were stunned to learn and refused to believe that they were not the majority and not in charge. With US backing, the Shia, who had always been the numerical majority, were delighted to take over and even things up with the Sunnis who had repressed them for so long. The Kurds, the largest national grouping in the world without a country, decided it was time that they governed themselves and have been quietly doing so ever since.

In May 2003, the Bush administration implemented a program of de-Baathification during which they stripped the Iraqi army of most of its Sunni leadership, turning it into a Shia-dominated organization. This was one of the major causes of the Sunni-led insurgency that was conducted against the American military and the Shia Iraqi government after 2003. Ultimately, it has provided many of the Iraqi Sunni members of ISIS.

Americans, including the Obama Administration, who now search for further and deeper involvement in Iraq are now seeking a way for us to overcome the odds and wrest from hostile control that part of Iraq lost to ISIS. The consensus within our government is that we will have to work through the Shia government of Iraq to accomplish our goals there.

The problems here are endless. Much of ISIS is made up of the Iraqi Sunnis who lost their “country” to the Shia after 2003. Their hatred of the Shia is historical, deep and recently exacerbated. The jihadi volunteers they are welcoming from the Maghreb, from elsewhere in Islam and from the West, are all Sunnis.

The Shia Iraqi government has two choices available to take on ISIS: First, use their army, which is Shia-dominated and despised by virtually all the Sunnis in the North and West and, second, use the Shia militias which for the past decade have been killing Sunnis throughout Iraq. If anything, they are even more despised than the Shia in the Iraqi army.

Sunni ISIS has invaded Iraq and Shia-run Syria. There are virtually no Sunnis in the region who will fight alongside the Shia Iraqis against ISIS. Saudi Arabia, for example, is the philosophical home and strongest supporter of fundamentalist views like those of ISIS. So, where is the regional Sunni entity that will vanquish ISIS? It’s not in evidence. Only Shia are apparently willing to take them on.

These realities in Iraq are not new. True to historical form, only Shia Syria, Hizbollah and Iran want to take on Sunni ISIS. Are they to be our new and probably only allies if we once again put US boots on the ground? Is that not ironic? How will regional Sunni neighbors, our longtime allies, take that?

Do we have any idea what we are doing?




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


If one looks back carefully at the post-9/11 period here in America, all related governmental activities are claimed to have been undertaken in the name of increasing the safety of the American people.

For its part, the press, probably because of the ceaseless demands of a 24 hour service, has been on top of any story that smacked of danger, terrorism or counterterrorism, to the point where terrorism was clearly their priority topic.

After 9/11, our lives were touched, not necessarily positively, by legislation on immigration, deportations, tourism and border security. Then, think of the NSA, warrantless wiretaps and covert intrusions into our lives. In addition, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act has turned air travel into a nightmare for passengers and cost us additional billions of dollars.

And consider the Patriot Act, which many believe has unnecessarily complicated the Federal response to terrorism and created counterproductive duplications and levels of authority.

In 15 years, over 250 governmental agencies were created or reorganized. Over 1200 government agencies and just under 2,000 private companies are now involved in counterterrorism.

And on the military side, estimates are that our military invasions in the Middle East have cost us multiple trillions of dollars. Apparently any money spent on counterterrorism is well-spent!

But then we are continually reminded that these post-9/11 defenses have prevented all serious terrorist attacks against us.

Yet, we have paid heavily in other ways. We have lived in an ongoing climate of fear and concern about future terrorism attacks here at home. If you don’t believe this, just look at the US press coverage of the terrorist attack on the publication “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris. It is, to say the least, pervasive.

On CNN, Wolf Blitzer exclaimed excitedly, “What a story this is”! For its part, just about every conceivable element of the Federal government is exhorting us to “be vigilant!”

A charitable soul would say that all the legislation passed, all the money spent, all the press coverage has been designed to somehow make us more safe. But it has also made us more afraid and more malleable, which is the goal of the terrorists. Nothing could possibly have made them more happy!

There is an alternate theory available that also fits all the facts of the past 15 years. That is that it has been a conscious aim of US Government, an aim augmented almost inadvertently by the US press, to keep Americans on edge about the imminent threat of terrorism.

When fear is a dominant factor in peoples’ lives, people change. They are more tolerant of policies they would normally never accept. They will put up with the loss of basic Constitutional and human rights for any sort of increased sense of personal security. In a “fearful” society, the people are more docile, more ready to accept a diminution of their rights.

What makes it all the more worrisome is that the Paris attack has brought a chorus of voices from our legislators which, if nothing else, have energized our press and their fellow politicians into fits of coverage.

In this context, it might be well for Americans to remember the judicious advice of Benjamin Franklin who admonished pre-revolutionary Americans that “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” (Franklin for the Pennsylvania Assembly in its Reply to the Governor -11 Nov. 1755)

So, there is a move afoot, either spontaneous or, more likely, quietly encouraged by government and energetically pursued by the press, to persuade us that terrorist disaster is just around the corner. One of our august Senators just suggested that attacks like Paris could come as often as weekly!

Just what does our government mean when it encourages our “vigilance?” Are we to profile people we take to be Muslims? If so, what do they really look like? Are we to report to the authorities activities that we as uninformed and inexpert individuals decide are dangerous or suspicious by people we think might be Muslims? Should we keep an eye on the Mosques?

But then, if we are truly interested in the whys and wherefores of Middle East terrorism, and if we do not fear the truth, we might even take the time to ask ourselves honestly why the situation exists as it does.   What roles have our Middle East polices and our military invasions played in the Muslim view of and policies toward America? If we can’t do that as a nation, we will forever be vulnerable to the kind of fear that now grips the West.




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Originally published in  SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS

With its meteoric military rise, its leadership, management and financing, the newest terrorist scourge facing the world is ISIS.  Operating in what is clearly a political vacuum in northeast Syria and western Iraq and benefitting from the studied indifference of most of the Muslim world, Isis is clearly on a roll.

The chaos in the Middle East and the broader Muslim world is largely the result of a combination of incredibly bad United States military/foreign policy decisions and the concomitant disintegration or destruction of all those elements, both good and bad, that were in place and maintaining order in the region before we invaded Iraq in 2003.

And in the midst of all of this chaos, Americans are coming slowly to the realization that ISIS presents us with real, long run, existential problems and that we probably have absolutely no idea how to deal with this situation at the moment.

Our problem in policy formulation on this issue is also of our own making.  It comes as a result of the same horrendous decision to invade Iraq, for that invasion created two new realities for us.

First, it has made more than half of the U.S. population extremely wary about any further military involvement in the Islam.  We are war-weary to the extent that virtually no policy proposal for dealing with ISIS has failed to mention the guarantee that there will be no U.S. boots on the ground.

Secondly, that Iraq invasion, coupled with our endless stay in Afghanistan, has virtually guarantees that the re-commitment of American troops in uniform will have a unifying anti-American effect on Muslim populations, even though the radical ISIS is viewed with horror by most of those local populations.

If you doubt that, look first at the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan after 2003 which was driven largely by the fact that when the locals were faced with a choice between foreigners (Americans) and locals, they decided to back their own.  Or, look at the way Sunnis in Syria and Iraq, heavily influenced by hostile, unaccepting Shia governments in Baghdad and Tehran, have tolerated, even joined with ISIS in its fight for power.   The fact is that, particularly in Islam, given any need to choose between foreigners and locals, it is a rare thing that the foreigners will be favored.  All one has to do to understand that is read the history of the region.

So, what are our policy options?  The attitudes of both American and Muslim citizens toward the American military establishment, basically rule out the effective reintroduction of U.S. troops into the area, even if we had the necessary resources to do it.  Yet, if ISIS is to be neutralized, it will not be done without ground forces.  It’s not just the ISIS soldiers, it is the larger question of denying them control of the territory over which they now preside in Iraq and Syria.

Then we have Kurdish and Iraqi troops.  The problem there, accepting that they are ill-equipped, ill-trained and relatively ineffective, is that there are historical political reasons to worry about such confrontations.  We have ages old Kurdish/Turk frictions.  Additionally, any Iraqi army of the future is going to be Shia dominated in a struggle with Sunni ISIS.  That scenario bears the strong possibility that a Shia-Sunni conflict ultimately could easily embroil the entire region.

Needing foot soldiers and ruling out all non-Muslims, we are left with the rest of the Muslim world.  Note that none of them have so far rushed into the fray against ISIS, either because they are frightened to be seen to do so, because they prefer them to the alternative, or might even actually support them.  Why else would the Iraqi Sunnis, who are among the more secular Muslims, support a bloodthirsty bunch of zealots who want to install the most conservatively radical sectarian government imaginable? Perhaps as a counterbalance to Iraqi Shia forces?

We need to keep trying to find Muslims who disagree enough with ISIS to fight against them.  Barring such an unlikely find, we need to arm anyone – Kurdish, Iraqi or Shia – who wants to fight against them.  We need to keep US military uniforms completely out of the fray, but we might be well-advised to get ready for a protracted, completely covert or clandestine struggle against ISIS which would involve our intelligence resources as well as our black, paramilitary operational capabilities.

Or we can pretend there is not a real threat and wait until they hit us, which, absent meaningful U.S. involvement, they most certainly will do at some point in the future.

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