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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 on December 10,2015

There is one basic reality in the Middle East. The region contains a number of “countries” that were created out of whole cloth during the 19th and early 20th centuries by European colonial powers to suit their own purposes. The artificiality of those “countries” makes for a very unstable region.

Those “countries” are not in any sense internally cohesive, and many contain the seeds of their own disintegration. Historically, those “countries” have been governed repressively simply because the tribal, sectarian and national mixtures of residents are sufficiently volatile to require relatively strict repression for the maintenance of cohesion and public order.

The divisions that exist within those “countries” go back decades, centuries and millennia. Internal conflicts now exist where central, often repressive control has disappeared, as in Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Where open conflict has not broken out, some form of repression continues in force, as in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt (for the moment) and the Gulf States.

The American compulsion to export democracy and concomitant peace to that world has been proven incredibly naïve, largely because the only elements in the region that matter — tribal, sectarian and national — have no experience with democracy and are largely unprepared for and do not seek its introduction.

And in the midst of this instability, we find ourselves required to deal with ISIS. Some Americans believe that we are capable of “beating” ISIS and its allies and support boots on the ground. That may or may not be, but that is not the real issue. The real issue is, what comes after the defeat of that enemy?

An examination of Iraq shows that tribally, Iraq has approximately 150 groups; Nationally, 72-75 percent Arabs (Palestinians, marsh Arabs, Bedouins), 20-22 percent Kurds (Feylis, Yazidis, Shabaks and Kakais), 2 percent Assyrians, 2 percent Turkmen and 1 percent Armenians, Circassians, Persians, Sabians, Baha’is, Afro-Iraqis and Doms; and most important, the sectarian split between Sunni (35 percent) and Shia Muslims (65 percent).

An absence of conflict between all these groups has existed only when Iraq has been governed repressively, and that most emphatically includes the period, 2003-2011, when American troops supplied the muscle. Now that we have largely left, Iraq is settling into a period of internal conflicts between inimical groups.

Let’s assume that we send American troops into Syria and that those troops ultimately “beat” ISIS. What happens then? Syria is not populated by a cohesive or happy bunch. Nationalities present in Syria include Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Circassians, Greeks, Kurds, Mandeans, Turkmen and Turks. Religions include Alawite, Christian, Druze, Mandean, Salafi, Shia, Sunni and Yazidi. There are tribes aplenty, particularly Bedouin.

On the issue of religion, it is worth noting that the Alawites, a branch of Shia Islam, who have repressively governed Syria for decades, represent about 12 percent of the population, while their rivals, the Sunnis, comprise around 75 percent. This situation is opposite to the one in Iraq where a minority of Sunnis governed repressively over a majority of Shia. The ongoing result in Iraq has been internecine warfare featuring the Shia who clearly seek retribution for decades of mistreatment by the Sunnis. It is not at all unlikely that the same would happen in Syria if the minority Alawites were to lose power to the majority Sunnis.

The way things now stand, with a majority of our 2016 presidential candidates favoring military intervention in Syria, it would seem that American boots on the ground in a struggle against ISIS, even if successful, could have some very unpleasant long-term results.

First, If we destroy ISIS, many of those “volunteers” now fighting with ISIS will more than likely go home and become self-motivated terrorists. The only likely difference between them and folks like the San Bernardino pair is that the new ones will be better trained and motivated and far harder to neutralize.

Then, assuming we are successful, who will govern? Russia, Hezbollah and Iran want Assad. We seem to want anyone but Assad. If we decide to impose a solution, it will be up to us to police it in a hostile and highly unsettled environment, which our boots on the ground will have created. The tribal, sectarian and national frictions that exist in Syria have been there and may remain forever. In short, the success of an American invasion, if we hope to change anything, will depend on our willingness to accept that there will be no predictable end to our occupation.

American boots on the ground is insanity. It’s simple: We can’t afford it. Let it be carried out by the neighbors, with our direct support, but without our direct involvement.


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Originally published in the Rutland Herald on October 07, 2015

Our military involvement in the Middle East began with Operation Desert Shield in 1990. At the end of that invasion, we did the only intelligent thing we have done in that area, we withdrew without ending Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq.

In the 15 years since then, we have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. We have been militarily involved in Syria, Yemen and Libya. The purpose of this involvement clearly was a desire to bring democracy to the Middle East, based on our idea of American exceptionalism.

Thus, we effectively ended the reign of the existing governments as the first step in establishing democracy. However hard it was pushed by the neoconservatives as part of a “regime change” policy during the administration of President George W. Bush, democracy was a goal we never reached. It never took because the countries and people in question had never had any exposure to democracy and had none of the prerequisites for reaching it successfully.

What we did was remove or try to remove the repressive governments in question. We succeeded in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and essentially, brought chaos to those countries, which previously had enjoyed stability brought on by repressive governance. We created that chaos by militarily removing those regimes and then not being able to install the kind of benevolent democratic governance we wanted to see in place.

Our current administration has been severely criticized by its political opponents for not having stayed on and maintained order in Afghanistan and Iraq. Theoretically, we could have done that. The problem is that there would have been no end to those occupations because the countries in question have inherent internal religious, tribal and ethnic conflicts that have never been fixed and that may never be resolved.

These are problems that have been contained over the past 14 centuries through repressive governance. Any continued successful occupation of those countries by U.S. forces would have had to have been repressive as well as open-ended. Under those circumstances, the result of our ultimate withdrawal would most likely have ended in instability as it has today.

Essentially, what we have done is destroy existing, repressive order expecting to install democracy. Democracy doesn’t take, and we end up, inevitably, with chaos.

Consider Egypt. The Arab Spring brought a revolution to Egypt. A military dictator was deposed and a new, allegedly fundamentalist government was installed. That terrified the military establishment, which engineered a coup and reinstalled a military dictatorship which in turn, reestablished stability on their own terms. Egypt went full circle from military dictatorship through free elections back to military dictatorship and imposed order.

It seemed to many that the Obama administration would have a different attitude toward the cycles described above. They would get us out of the convoluted messes that neoconservative policies had created in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the Obama administration swapped their very own “liberal interventionists” for the Bush era neoconservatives. We began hands-off wars with drones and “clean” air power. No troops on the ground. We got involved in Libya, Yemen and Syria, adding to our declining popularity in the Middle East and to the mass exodus to Europe now under way.

Where are we heading in Syria? Our government opposes both Syrian President Assad and all the fundamentalist groups aligned against him. We have supported some of the groups opposed to the government and trained a pathetically small number of others, but we have frequently said that it is too difficult to identify those who are really sympathetic to our democratic goals.

To further complicate an already complicated scene, Libya and Saudi Arabia support the rebels (most of whom are Sunni) against the Assad government, which is Alawite (a branch of Shia Islam). On the other side of the issue, Shia Iran and Russia support the Assad government. Russia’s President Putin has said, somewhat cynically, that he is interested only in stability for Syria. It is difficult to say precisely what we seek for that same country, but let’s arbitrarily stipulate that it’s some form of democracy.

You can’t get there from here. If we depose Assad, whom do we support when he is gone? What we might consider, since our real enemy is ISIS and the other fundamentalist groups, is simply turning a blind eye, for the moment, to Assad and joining in a fight, which others are now conducting against those real enemies without moaning about Assad.

What we stand to gain from this is imposed, repressive stability, an end to the killing and to the terribly dangerous migration of hundreds of thousands toward our friends in Europe. Politically, Syria will have to evolve on its own through self-determination, not imposed democracy.


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Originally published in the Rutland Herald

September 24,2015

It is impossible for any sentient human being to look at the flow of refugees and migrants out of the Middle East toward Europe and not be appalled by the entire situation. Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans and Syrians, who are Shia, Sunni, both moderate and radical, as well as Christians, are heading toward Europe in rapidly mounting numbers, creating unprecedented pressures on European governments.


Clearly the original cause of this migration is the Syrian civil war, which has now been underway for more than four years. As of January 2015, this conflict had caused somewhere between 220,000 and 310,000 deaths, enough to make any sane Syrian nervous for his and his family’s well-being. In addition to this very real fear, it is now being reported that many Syrians have left because others of their tribe, religion, neighborhood, social or professional group have left, setting an example.


The size of this migration is unprecedented, making the trip additionally dangerous. By now, most of the Europe-bound migrants have learned from those who preceded them that the trip is exceedingly dangerous, thanks largely to the unprincipled human smugglers into whose hands they entrust their lives. Thousands are said to have died during the journey.


Much of the problem, as we see it today, rests in the minds of the migrants. They expect to be welcomed by Europe with open arms and to be treated like human beings. The growing notion that this is not always true has been a shock to them.


And why is that not true? Europe is not used to migrants. The European countries involved are generally politically stable, having worked through ethnic, national, religious and tribal issues over the past centuries. However, they are essentially closed societies. Unlike America, Europe was not built through migration, and the result is likely to be that migrants will be horribly disappointed at what they find in Europe.


The European countries are not built to deal with the speed of arrival and the volume of today’s incoming migrants. In many countries, migrants will be barred from legally working, some for years, while their petitions for asylum are processed. Language problems will add to their difficulties.


Migrants will find themselves in marginal, squalid camps and settlements. Many will find themselves in the continent’s growing migrant ghettos. They will find few jobs in countries that have little need for cheap labor and will live on the fringes of societies that are likely to increasingly resent their presence.


Worst of all, despite many well-wishing welcomers, the migrants will find growing hostility, often from the radical, Muslim-hating right. Germany, for example, has been talking of taking in 800,000 migrants this year. Last year, 47 percent of all racist attacks in Germany took place in the former East Germany, where many if not most of the refugees are being settled, although it is home to only 17 percent of Germany’s population. Germany’s interior ministry has counted 202 attacks on refugee shelters in the first half of 2015, as many as in all of 2014 and there have been reports of dozens more such attacks in July and August.


The long and short of it is that Europe is ill-prepared to take in migrants. The result of this contemporary influx is likely to precipitate a hostile reaction across Europe, ranging from the border fences we have already seen in Hungary and elsewhere to restrictive laws, protracted delays in documenting the migrants, horrible living conditions, even physical attacks and, most sadly, hopelessness.


In fact, in the face of ever-rising numbers, many European countries, responding to pressures from their people, have begun the process of limiting their involvement with the migrants. Germany has reinstated border controls with Austria. Reports from Syrian migrants have been negative about the reception they have received in Belgium, Sweden and France, where one migrant said his asylum application had taken months and in the meantime he was living in misery, homeless and without the right to work.


The solution to the migrant problem does not lie in Europe or the Western Hemisphere. It lies in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and any other Middle Eastern country that is adding to the migrant flow. The only way to stop the flow and the misery and unhappiness that inevitably come with it is to stop the migration by fixing the problems that are forcing it. That means, quite simply, creating the conditions that lead to the end of the conflicts.


If we do not succeed in this, we will inevitably see the radicalization of migrants who have lost all hope and wish to strike out against the Europeans they unjustly blame for having caused it. A perfect hunting ground for ISIS.



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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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Originally published in The Rutland Herald




‍By Haviland ‍SMITH


The United States Government has now committed military and intelligence assets to the search for the Nigerian children kidnapped by Boko Haram, a group of Muslim fundamentalist militants affiliated with al-Qaida.



For a wide variety of reasons, it would seem that the U.S. government has learned virtually nothing from its experiences throughout the past 14 years in the Middle East.



There seems, appropriately, to be a general consensus here that when we decide to get involved in what are essentially military or counterterrorist affairs abroad, it will be only because we are able to establish a direct connection to our own national interests.



In this regard, there are two points of view on the meaning of the term “national interests,” one of which goes far beyond the universally accepted notion that in any given event, nations should act only in ways that accrue to their own advantage. Today, we deal with the regular “realists,” who wish to implement only foreign policies that strengthen their state, but we also must deal with the “idealists,” who seek to inject morality into foreign policy or to promote multilateral solutions, which, many “realists” believe, given “foreign input,” would weaken the state.



And these are differences well worth considering. But they are not the only issues to consider.



If the U.S. government thinks it got in over its head in the Middle East (which it certainly appears to have done), then wait till it figures out how much easier it is to do the same in Africa.



The Middle East was and always has been a morass of competing national, tribal and sectarian interests. Given the policies of our government after 9/11 and the abject failures created by those policies , it is really difficult to understand how we could possibly have gone in the chosen direction we took there. But unfortunately for us and our national interests, we chose a course that ended up as complete disaster for us, despite the fact that there was expertise in U.S. governmental, academic and educational worlds that knew exactly what the situation was in the Middle East and that we should not under any circumstances, react as we eventually did. They lost. America lost.



Unfortunately for us, there is a far more pressing reality that affects our “national interest.” It is snugly vested in the fact that our unfinanced involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus our subsequent economic breakdown, have put is us in a uniquely negative position.



We are the unilateral world power that is going broke. We do not have the resources to continue to be the free world’s unilateral policeman. We have an entire nation that needs fixing: Our roads and bridges are falling apart, our electrical grid desperately needs attention, our schools continue to fail us in that they do not produce a product that is well suited for this new world we now occupy. In short, there isn’t much of anything here in America that does not require major financial input.



The Bush administration paid for its adventures in the Middle East with a national credit card. The Obama administration has continued that practice. Our Congress is not willing to spend one penny on our infrastructure unless the needed finances are taken out of some other national program. Infrastructure repairs will be financed only at the cost of social programs. Yet those who give our infrastructure short shrift are, in many cases, the same congressmen who chose to finance Afghanistan and Iraq with credit. Will they do the same as we move more deeply and broadly into involvement in Africa?



Quite frankly, any involvement in Nigeria is insane. If we are to use moral imperative as our rationale for intervention, there will be no end to our involvement in matters that have nothing to do with our real national interests. The net result of such policy will be the further impoverishment of our truest contemporary national interests, which are largely connected with our decaying infrastructure.



And what do we hope to accomplish with such involvements? What help can we give? We can only pray that our intelligence organizations have not been spending a great deal of time and money on Nigeria when there are any number of countries and issues that are far more important to us. In addition, a dozen of our military personnel are not likely to materially alter facts on the ground in Nigeria. The best we can hope for is that Boko Haram will swap those girls for prisoners held by the Nigerian government and that is likely to happen whether we load our guns or not.




   ‍Haviland ‍Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in eastern and western Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston.

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First Published in the Valley News
Foreign Affairs Magazine has recently published an article arguing
that Iran should get the bomb. This is, to say the least, a
revolutionary and provocative statement. Nevertheless, it is worth
serious examination.
No one really knows Iran’s nuclear intentions. For the sake of the
discussion, however, let’s assume a worst-case scenario — that it really
is intent on getting the bomb.
Figuring out the best way the U.S. should respond is quite a challenge.
For starters, the country is now sharply divided on virtually every
contentious foreign policy issue, at least at the political fringes of
right and left. On the left, we have a vast array of Democrats who
simply are unprepared to consider that additional military action in the
Middle East makes any sense under any conditions. The right appears to
favor military action in Syria and Iran.
Further, AIPAC, the dominant pro-Israel lobbying organization, has
proudly reported that 32 senators from both parties have said that they
would reject “any United States policy that would rely on efforts to
contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran.” This underlines the Israeli
position that it will not accept Iranian possession of nuclear weapons.
It also supports the assessment that Israel really wants to attack
Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Yet, aggressive military action by us or Israel, which our experts say
can at best only briefly slow down an Iranian quest for these weapons,
is the only thing that will unite a viscerally pro-Western Iranian
population against us and create massive problems for us in the Middle East.
Are there any good foreign policy options regarding Iran?
During the Cold War, we managed a highly competitive, tense,
nuclear-armed world with a policy called “nuclear deterrence.” Nuclear
deterrence was the doctrine that assumed that an enemy would be deterred
from using nuclear weapons as long as it recognized that it would be
destroyed as a consequence. In other words, the threat of nuclear
annihilation as a response to the use of nuclear weapons was sufficient
to keep all parties from using those weapons. Everyone with nuclear
weapons in the Cold War knew the facts. Those weapons were never used.
There are two critical issues involved in this doctrine of nuclear
deterrence. First, all concerned have to 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 combatants are literally consumed
by their own stupidity.
And that brings the second critical point. Despite their incredibly
contrasting sets of values and interests, the Soviet Union and its
allies and the U.S. and its allies were not stupid enough to use the
bomb. If they had, most of us would not be here today.
And there’s the hooker. Those who cannot abide the notion of nuclear
deterrence as the foundation of our Iran policy say that the Iranians
would use the bomb, probably against Israel. Of course, what they are
implying is that the Iranians are a bunch of know-nothing rag heads,
prone to self-destruction.
How far from the truth can that be? The ancient Persians — the forbears
of modern-day Iranians — were in the process of working out a viable
alphabet when Europe’s ancestors were scuttling about in their caves
dressed in bearskins. Organized communities first existed in Iran around
8,000 B.C. The first Persian kingdom began around 2800 BC. Those
Persians ruled from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River until about
the sixth century B.C. 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 (underground aqueducts; some
close to 3,000 years old, some 1,000 feet deep and some dozens of miles
long) and science to literature.
Modern-day Persians are educated (77 percent literate), nationalistic
and anything but stupid. Despite the stupidly ugly rhetoric employed by
some of their political leaders since 1979, they are anything but the
wild-eyed fanatics that some in the West portray them to be. They are in
no way suicidal. They have the requisite characteristics to participate
successfully in “nuclear deterrence.”
Purely objectively, Persia is smart enough to avoid self-destruction and
enough aware of its history to believe it has a major role to play in
the Middle East. With Iran possessing 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.
There is no reason to believe that Iran will not respond positively to
respectful negotiations. They are worthy candidates for “nuclear
In many ways, Iran’s future is really up to us.

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