Saturday, August 30, 2014

Obama Scurries to Put Together a Middle East Coalition

In a rather surprising speech to foreign ambassadors in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has warned the US and Europe that they will be attacked if there is not a strong international response to terrorism. The King's remarks come after ISIS has seized a wide area across Iraq and Syria. While not mentioning any terrorist groups by name, King Abdullah's statement seemed to be aimed at drawing Washington and NATO forces into a wider fight against ISIS and its supporters in the region. Saudi Arabia openly backs rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but is concerned that the breakaway al-Qaida group, ISIS, could also turn those very same weapons on the Kingdom. "They could be in Europe in one month, America in two months," he said, urging the ambassadors to relay his message directly to their heads of state. “Terrorism knows no border and its danger could affect several countries outside the Middle East,” according to the king. The Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group has prompted widespread concern as it advances in both Syria and Iraq. Inaction would be “unacceptable” in the face of the phenomenon, King Abdullah said. "These terrorists do not know the name of humanity and you have witnessed them severing heads and giving them to children to walk with in the street," the king said. ~~~~~ Saudi Arabia, a major US ally in the region, has taken an increasingly active role in criticizing ISIS. Earlier in August, the country's top cleric described the Islamic State group [ISIS] and al-Qaida as Islam's No. 1 enemy and said that Moslems have been their first victims. State-backed Saudi clerics who once called on citizens to fight in Syria can now face steep punishment for doing this, and the Kingdom has threatened to imprison Saudi citizens who fight in Syria and Iraq. A decade ago, al-Qaida launched a series of attacks in the Kingdom aimed at toppling the monarchy. Saudi officials responded with a massive crackdown that saw many flee to neighboring Yemen. Since then, the Kingdom has not seen any massive attacks, though it has imprisoned suspected militants and sentenced others to death. ~~~~~ Great Britain raised its terror threat level Friday to "severe," its second-highest level, because of the situation in Iraq and Syria, even though there is no information showing the likelihood of an imminent attack. The Obama White House has said it does not expect the US to raise its terrorism threat warning level. ~~~~~ Dear readers, President Obama has yet to decide whether the United States should launch raids against ISIS positions in Syria,as urged by American military leaders in order to secure the progress made by US air strikes on ISIS activities in Iraq. US Secretary of State John Kerry called Friday for a global coalition to combat the ISIS “genocidal agenda.” Writing in the New York Times, Kerry said he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet European counterparts at a NATO summit in Wales next week, to enlist their assistance. They will then go to the Middle East to build support “among the countries that are most directly threatened. With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries,” Kerry said in the op-ed piece. But, the fundamental problem in all of these efforts -- the meetings with allies of Kerry and Hagel, the airstrikes in Iraq, the warnings of Saudi King Abdullah -- is the lack of a cohesive Obama strategy for the Middle East. Until the President spells out his plans for eliminating ISIS, Kerry and Hagel and King Abdullah have nothing to talk about with possible coalition partners. Who will join a last-minute coalition called for by Obama because his "lead from behind" tactic has finally blown up in his face. And why would ISIS believe that Obama, the reluctant warrior, will stay the course even if a coalition is formed.

Friday, August 29, 2014

In Hushed Voices, Europeans Are Whispering : "He has no plan "

The Associated Press reports there is only one shiite community in northern Iraq that has decided to stay and fight ISIS as they drive across the region, seizing vast swaths of territory and driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. The Shiite Turkmens living in the town of Amirli have decided to stay and fight. They have dug trenches, placed armed watchers on roofs and have actually held off the ISIS unit trting to take their town of 15,000 and undoubtedly slaughter them. The Turkmens have held out for more than six weeks under siege they don't know how much longer they can hold out. Residents say militants with the Islamic State group first attacked the town in late June. When the townsmen fought them off, the militants retaliated by blowing up the main power station to the north, according to Ali al-Bayati, head of the Turkmen Saving Foundation, a local NGO. The insurgents also destroyed several water wells on the outskirts of town, he said. Earlier this week, the UN special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, called for immediate action in Amirli "to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens." Iraqi shiite forces are trying to relieve the town by breaking the blockade with an incursion from the west. Their US-made Apache helicopters have targeted militant positions with airstrikes, but ground troops faced fierce resistance from the insurgents, who have also slowed their progress with booby-trapped homes and roadside bombs. Amirli is the last symbol of resistance for the shiites in Iraq," according to Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute who made numerous visits to the town before the latest fighting began. "It is the last non-sunni community that is totally exposed to ISIS right now, and it is fully encircled." The Obama administration has already engaged to protect the Kurdish autonomous region and religious minorities elsewhere in northern Iraq and Obama is now weighing whether to begin an aid operation for Amirli, according to unnamed US defense officials. ~~~~~ The UN reports that as of today three million Syrian refugees will have registered in neighboring countries, but many remain trapped by the advance of Islamist militants or are having difficulty in reaching open border crossings, according to the UN. Syrians desperate to leave their war-engulfed homeland are forced to pay large bribes at armed checkpoints proliferating along Syria's borders, or to smugglers, the UN refugee agency said. The record figure is one million refugees more than a year ago, while a further 6.5 million are displaced within Syria, meaning that "almost half of all Syrians have now been forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives. The Syrian crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them," Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. There are 1.17 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, 830,000 in Tuekry and 613,000 in Jordan. ~~~~~ President Barack Obama's acknowledgement the US still lacks a strategy for defeating the growing extremist threat emanating from Syria is, in part, an admission that he has either not tried or has not been able to form an international coalition to engage in the Middle East. The US is faced with the need to root out the ISIS group that has seized large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, as a matter of American and European security and to protect people from inhumane conditions in Syria and Iraq. The President is meeting with his top advisers and consulting members of Congress to prepare US military options. At the same time, he is looking for allies around the world to help the US root out the ISIS group that has seized large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. They've beat back al-Assad forces in Syria while co-opting and then practically eliminating the original mainstream Syrian freedom fighters. They have clashed with al-Qaida's local affiliate, routed Iraq's army and pushed back Kurdish peshmerga fighters. American airstrikes in Iraq have recently caused some ISIS pause and backtracking. But US military leaders say the terrorists can't be crushed unless their sanctuaries in Syria are targeted. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the most complete condemnation comes from his own lips -- that as US President, Barack Obama has no strategy for Syria. His advisors are quick to add that he was referring to ISIS in Syria, but that there is an Obama Iraq strategy, although we have yet to be made privy to it. Perhaps airstrikes at targets of opportunity and urging Iraq to unite to save itself constitutes a strategy. Perhaps it is the Obama Middle East policy. Perhaps the President would add to that his continuing complaints that Congress is hampering him - how, he doesn't say - and that Americans are weary of war, notwithstanding that they disapprove of his anemic Iraq actions by a whopping 58%. But, America and the world are supposed to take comfort from the White House announcement that he is huddling with his advisors this weekend to try to figure out what to do in Syria. I cannot fully express my shock and fear at such antics coming from an American President. Words do not do justice to the gaping absence of prior planning, prepared white papers, doomsday analysis, or even the most ordinary common sense that comes from reading newspapers and watching TV news. In Europe, newscasters are whispering in hushed tones : "He has no plan." It begins to sound like Hans Christian Anderson's tale of pride and gullibility and the little boy who said : "But, the Emperor has no clothes."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

After Obama's Unsuccessful On-the-Job Training, America Needs a Real President - Mitt Romney

A day after Mitt Romney made comments that didn't completely shut the door on another run for president in 2016, a new poll suggests he'd dominate the Republican field in Iowa if he decides to enter the race. The poll, from Suffolk University and USA Today, finds Romney with a more than 25-point advantage over his closest Republican competitor, Mike Huckabee, in the crucial primary state. More than 35% of Iowa Republicans say he'd be their first choice if he entered the field in Iowa, which holds the first-in-the- nation presidential caucuses. Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, took about 8.8% of the vote. Next on the list was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (6.5%), former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (5.9%). Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, who got 5.29% each, rounded out the top six candidates. Without Romney in the field in Iowa, a plurality of Republicans (17%) there are undecided. Huckabee would take more than 13% of the vote, while Christie gets almost 11%. Texas Governor Rick Perry appears to benefit most from Romney not being in the field. Without Romney's name in the Iowa list, Perry has 8.5% of the Iowa vote, just behind frontrunners Huckabee and Christie. The Iowa poll isn't the first to show Romney far ahead of other GOP candidates in an early caucus or primary state. Last month, a poll of New Hampshire Republicans found that Romney would have a 22-point lead over any theoretical Republican challengers. ~~~~~ The buzz about Mitt Romney possibly being available for a 2016 presidential run was fed by an interview he gave to Hugh Hewitt. Romney has repeatedly ruled out another White House run, but he added in a radio interview the proviso, "circumstances can change." When he was interviewed on The Hugh Hewitt Show, Romney said, "Circumstances can change but I'm just not going to let my head go there. I had the chance of running. I didn't win. Someone else has a better chance than I do. And that's what we believe, and that's why I'm not running. Had I believed I would actually be best positioned to beat Hillary Clinton, then I would be running." He also raised a hypothetical : "Let's say all the guys that were running all came together and said, 'Hey, we've decided we can't do it, you must do it.' That's the one of a million we're thinking about." Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, his 2012 vice presidential running mate, seemed to encourage another 2016 Romney run. "I sure wish he would," he said on the CBS Sunday program "Face the Nation." "I think he'd make a phenomenal president. He has the intellect, the honor, the character, and the temperament to be a fantastic president....But he keeps saying that he's not going to run." When asked by Hewitt if he would consider becoming the vice presidential candidate, Romney replied, "I would always be happy to serve my country in any way that I was called upon to do. But that's not a job I would seek. I was seeking the presidency, not the vice presidency," Romney also spoke highly of Ryan, describing him as both "brilliant" and "down to earth." Romney said that Ryan "is one of the rare people who knows how to work across the aisle. He's also one of the rare people who works on our side of the aisle effectively." Among the other Republicans he mentioned as "people who I think have the potential to really ignite interest in our party and potentially win the general" were Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, as well as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. (A transcript of the interview is available on Hewitt's website.) ~~~~~ In my May 3rd blog, I wrote : 'The clustering of the top GOP presidential hopefuls at around 20% in Iowa is troubling. It represents an important and continuing split in Republican sentiment about who the candidate should be. Ryan represents fiscal conservatism. Huckabee represents social conservatism. Bush is the more moderate, perhaps "conservatism with a heart" candidate, if he chooses to run. It makes last week's rumors that former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may take another run at the White House even more interesting. Veteran newscaster Bob Schieffer has said that despite Romney’s repeated claims that he’s not interested in joining the GOP race for 2016, the ex-Massachusetts governor could run if former Florida Governor Jeb Bush opts out : "I have a source that told me that if Jeb Bush decides not to run, that Mitt Romney may actually try it again," Schieffer said during a panel discussion on a Sunday morning news show. After his loss to President Barack Obama in 2012, Romney left the spotlight for more than a year. But in recent weeks, he’s re-emerged on the political scene, becoming a speaker at GOP fundraisers. The Washington Post reported that Romney and Bush have similar moderate positions on foreign and domestic policy, both have the approval of the GOP establishment, but neither is seen as conservative enough for right-wing tea party supporters. However, Romney has taken Obama to task on his handling of the crisis in Ukraine while criticizing him for Obamacare and saying that the president has been "groping" for an agenda in his second term. Romney has also endorsed 16 candidates in the 2014 elections, most of whom are long-term supporters who backed his losing campaign against Obama, the Post reported. Bush, the son of President George H.W. Bush and brother of President George W. Bush, had been seen in March as the GOP candidate most likely to beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in a race for the White House. But he angered many conservatives recently by declaring that it’s "an act of love" when immigrants slip into the United States illegally to help their struggling families. It may be that when the November congressional elections are over - and if the GOP has gained control of both the House and Senate - that Mitt Romney will emerge as the de facto leader of a Party that finally will have won the ability to coalesce around a unified legislative program. That program will inevitably be very much like Romney's 2012 presidential platform -- strong foreign policy, tax reform, lower business taxes and fewer meaningless regulations to stimulate economic growth and job creation, energy independence with an emphasis on using all America's fuel capabilities, and budget control tied to a reduction in the national debt. Romney was right in 2012. The GOP should seriously consider letting him finish the job. He is better prepared to lead the country than anyone - whether left or right, Democrat or Republican." ~~~~~ Dear readers, there is no doubt that Mitt Romney is the best possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate. He has spent much of 2014 pointing out the serious flaws and errors in President Obama's leadership. He has shown that in foreign policy analysis and strategies, he was right and Obama was wrong about Russia and the Middle East. Romney has also taken on the Obamacare problem -- which has gotten worse while American attention has been focused on the Middle East (see my blog of November 7, 2013). America is in an unprecedented leadership crisis. There is no time for the luxury of a President who has to go through on-the-job training. We have seen how bad that can be with Barack Obama. Mitt Romney is ready. He has been tested in the Massachusetts governorship, in business, in public service, and in presidential politics. If any American doubted that President Obama is in over his head as President, just consider that today - after more than a year of consulting and considering - Obama announced in a public televised press briefing picked up worldwide that "we don't have a strategy yet" for ISIS. That staggering admission sent his advisors scurrying to tell the world "what the President really meant." Can you even begin to imagine a President Romney making such an admission. No. Because his strategy would long since have been in place. The White House is no place for amateurs. But America is extremely lucky to have a professional who has the qualities needed to be a truly great President. His name is Mitt Romney.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

If Obama Takes on ISIS, He Will Have Help

The Obama administration is undecided about the size and immediacy of the threat to Americans by the extremist group ISIS, so it is not surprising that the President has not decided how to handle it. According to The Hill, the White House believes there is a meaningful difference between the threat of a terrorist attack on American soil, which the administration feels is unlikely, and an attack on US personnel in Iraq, which the administration says is a clear and present danger. President Obama has not authorized airstrikes on ISIS in eastern Syria, where they are based, to match the continuing attacks on ISIS in northern Iraq. Airstrikes in Syria would mark a major escalation in US military action in the region, but would also give aid to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the same time the United States would like to see him removed from power. Last year, Obama received permission from Congress to bomb al-Assad's forces as they fought back against rebel fighters. He never used it. But Obama will face tough questions when he asks congressional backing for airstrikes on the ISIS sunni militants in Syria, The Hill says. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, who's close to Obama, issued a convoluted statement on Monday : "I do not believe that our expanded military operations against [ISIS] are covered under existing authorizations from Congress." But Kaine added that he was "encouraged by reports that indicate administration officials have signaled that seeking congressional authorization for US military action against [ISIS] is being considered." White House press secretary Josh Earnest added to the difficulties Obama faces by saying that the President believes "military might is not the only tool in the tool box here." Earnest was asked whether Obama agreed with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's statement last week that ISIS is "an imminent threat to every interest we have" and "beyond anything that we've seen." Earnest responded, "What is true is that there is a serious threat that's posed by" ISIS. And when he was pressed on whether there was "an imminent threat to America," he replied, "Well, it certainly is an imminent … [threat to] American interests." ~~~~~ While many in Congress are demanding a strong response to ISIS’ brutal beheading of American journalist James Foley, when lawmakers return from a five-week recess after Labor Day, they will have to decide just how much authority to grant Obama and how to pay for the expanded operations, estimated to be in the $15 billion range, still a guess because the White House and Pentagon are still considering major options. The new administration request is thought to include asking for authorization from Congress for escalated military action against the sunni Moslem terror group “across Iraq and Syria,” the Washington Post reported over the weekend, and will include options ranging from beefing up the training and equipping of allied government forces and rebels, to extending a limited air campaign in northern Iraq to parts of Syria. The overall goal appears to be driving ISIS out of Iraq and containing the group in its Syrian stronghold. “Rooting out a cancer like [ISIS] won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” President Obama told the American Legion National Convention on Tuesday, as reported by NBC News and others. Obama said : “But tyrants and murderers before them should recognize that kind of hateful vision ultimately is no match for the strength and hopes of people who stand together.” Congress is still on vacation, and there’s no way of accurately gauging what support the President can expect from rank-and-file Republicans for the $15 billion, which would be on top of the administration’s defense budget request for fiscal 2015, which begins October 1, including $496 billion for personnel and general DOD operating costs, as well as $58 billion for “Overseas Contingency Operations,” which covers the actual cost of wars. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, both Republicans, have urged the President to prepare a tough, comprehensive plan to combat or defeat ISIS. Even before Foley’s murder last week, 54% of Americans said they supported the current limited US airstrikes against ISIS, while 39% opposed them, according to a poll by The Washington Post-ABC News. But, despite the position of defense hawks like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, rank-and-file lawmakers and members of appropriations committees may be more careful about granting the President expanded war powers and additional funding. ~~~~~ Whether to take military action against Syria now is a decision much like the decision point when Obama drew the famous red line over al-Assad's use of chemical weapons but said he’d only step across if Congress agreed -- the same dramatic escalation in the violence of operations tactics and a President Obama whose political instincts are not to engage the US in the Middle East. But, White House press secretary Josh Earnest says, “The situation a year later is markedly different.” Perhaps it is. Now, the question is whether the US should expand into Syria its Iraq operations against ISIS, which Pentagon and other leaders warn is a growing threat to the US. Military surveillance flights over Syria have begun, enabling commanders to get a real-time picture of what’s happening on the ground and select potential targets. There are congressional complaints that Obama has done nothing to sell his plan to Congress or even to some of his own allies. The worry is that he will put in a bland and indecisive effort in the attemot to please himself and his national security advisors. ~~~~~ But, now there is another compelling factor. There are at least two Americans being held by ISIS or other jihadist groups in Syria. In the video showing the beheading of James Foley, another writer, Steven Sotloff, was seen alive but threatened. There is also a young woman being held in Syria, and ISIS is demanding $6.6 million for her release, and, in addition, the US release of Aafia Siddiqui, an MIT-trained neuroscientist who was convicted by the US in 2010 of trying to kill US officials. This must weigh on any Obama decision, because however he comes down on entering Syria, the lives of American hostages are in play. ~~~~~ Dear readers, as we saw in yesterday's blog, Obama cannot operate independently in the Middle East. Qatar is trying to help America. The Kurds are trying to help. Iraq is trying to help. Turkey and Egypt and Saudi Arabia are trying to help. Israel is trying to help. Britain and France are trying to help. One is even tempted to say that Syria's al-Assad is trying to help. What is required now is that President Obama step up and take the proffered hands. If politics makes strange bedfellows -- then politics and war in the Middle East make for absolutely bizarre bedfellows. Take the step, Mr. President. Engage and trust that a strong and committed America can lead these various conflicting and converging regional interests to a better place. If you have any remaining hope of a place in history, it lies in the Middle East.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Is Qatar Obama's Best Friend Forever in the Middle East?

The US has begun surveillance flights over Syria after President Barack Obama gave the authorization, US officials said, a move that could lead to airstrikes against ISIS militant targets there. Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, but additional intelligence on ISIS would be required before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the President, including airstrikes. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Army General Michael Dempsey, in Kabul for the changing of the US military command in Afghanistan, told reporters that the US wants more clarity on the militants in Syria, but declined to comment on the surveillance flights. "Clearly the picture we have of ISIS on the Iraqi side is a more refined picture. The existence and activities of ISIS on the Syrian side, we have...some insights into that but we certainly want to have more insights into that as we craft a way forward." Top Pentagon officials have said the only way the threat from the militants can be fully eliminated is to go after the group inside neighboring Syria as well as in Iraq, somethlng that was pushed to the front following the ISIS video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley, who was held hostage in Syria. Dempsey earlier said he would recommend the military move against ISIS if there is a threat to the homeland. He didn't rule out strikes for any other critical reasons, but listed the homeland threat as the key. Dempsey also said the US has been meeting with allies in the region to help develop a better understanding of the ISIS threat. He said he believes those talks are now beginning to "set the conditions for some kind of coalition to form." He said they are "trying to better understand the threat that ISIS poses, not just in Iraq and Syria but regionally." Dempsey has said he believes key allies in the region - including Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia - will join the US in quashing ISIS. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that Obama has demonstrated his willingness to order military action when necessary to protect American citizens."That is true without regard to international boundaries," he said. ~~~~~ Obama administration officials have suggested the President is concerned that seeking to take out ISIS inside Syria could unintentionally help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said today, "We are not interested in trying to help the Assad regime," while acknowledging that "there are a lot of cross pressures here." A top Syrian official said Monday that Syria will welcome assistance in eliminating the terrorists, but that any US airstrikes without consent from Syria would be considered an aggression. ~~~~~ ISIS, after beheading James Foley, is now threatening to kill other US citizens being held in Syria. Family members and US officials today confirmed that ISIS has been holding hostage since last year a young American woman engaged in humanitarian efforts in Syria. Her family asked that her name be withheld out of concern for her safety. Peter Theo Curtis was released by the al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusrah Front earlier this week. Curtis, 45, was abducted in Antakya, Turkey, in October 2012. He was held by the al-Nusrah Front in Syria, which has broken with the more radical ISIS. ~~~~~ Qatar has announced that it arranged the release of Curtis. A statement of Qatar's Foreign Ministry Sunday said that it had made "relentless efforts" to secure Curtis's release "out of Qatar’s belief in the principles of humanity and its keenness on the lives of individuals and their right to freedom and dignity." The Washington Post reported that White House officials and Qatar's Persian Gulf neighbors believe the Emirate is also motivated by its desire to garner status as a regional power. The Post reported that while US Treasury Department officials say that Qatar's government no longer funds groups like the al-Nusrah Front, they believe that a number of wealthy Qatari private citizens continue to raise funds for groups that are attempting to overthrow al-Assad. The sudden unexplained release of Curtis days after the beheading of Foley has raised many questions about Qatar's role in funding terrorism and brokering the payment of multi-million dollar ransoms for western hostages held by Islamist terror groups in the Middle East. The US government and the Curtis family have denied paying any ransom for Curtis, 45, who was released on Sunday after 22 months in captivity. But, David Weinberg, a senior fellow specialising in Gulf affairs at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies who testified recently before the US Congress on Qatar's role in funding terrorism, said the release of Curtis had raised many unanswered questions. "If you see a group like al-Nusrah releasing hostages, they're getting something out of it," said Mr Weinberg, adding that Qatar had emerged in the last two years as a "central figure" in the payment of ransoms to Middle East terror groups. ~~~~~ Dear readers, Qatar seems to be playing an interesting game -- funding al-Nusrah to fight al-Assad, supporting Hamas so it can attack Israel, being on the black list of Egypt's el-Sisi for supporting the Moslem Brotherhood, and all the while trying to be America's Best Friend Forever in the Middle East. For Qatar, it's about putting your money on the possibly preferred side while putting your diplomatic-cum-terrorist reach on the side you wish to be seen to be on. This strategy can work if you have enough money. Qatar does. It also appears to have the ear of, and a set of bank deposit slips for, the al-Nusrah Front in Syria, an al-Qaida affiliate that has thus far successfully held off ISIS. Maybe Qatar is paying al-Nusrah to fight ISIS in Syria as a friendly gesture toward al-Assad and America, while at the same time helping calm Arab fears about an ISIS ascendancy. So, when we ask if Qatar paid a ransom to al-Nusrah for the release of Peter Theo Curtis, that is not the right question. What we should be asking is when is a ransom not a ransom. The answer is - when you are supporting al-Nusrah so completely that demanding the non-ransom release of one American to cement your Emirate as America's BFF cannot be refused. So, President Obama can ponder the bombing of ISIS targets in Syria and his love-hate relationship with al-Assad in tranquility -- because he knows that his BFF Qatar will smoothe the way with al-Assad so that American planes can help him in his war against ISIS, thereby helping the US in Iraq. And Obama knows that as long as Qatar continues to fund al-Nusrah and Hamas, the stand-off dynamics in the Middle East will make it a public relations slam dunk for him to say that America will stay in the air with no boots on the ground because it's up to the region to get their act together and solve their problems themselves. And Qatar will keep paying - for humanitarian and prestige and political reasons. That's what Middle East BFFs are for.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Beware of Eric Holder

Beware of Eric HolderThere is a story going viral today about Attorney General Eric Holder. Is it true or false? Mediaite says it's a hoax. That's likely because the story first appeared on National Report, a site known for satire. The respected Conservative Speaker published the story as posted by National Report -- that a Ferguson gang leader has admitted to police and a judge that “Eric Holder paid us to start riots.” National Report states :"Evidence has been uncovered showing that Eric Holder contributed funds to Ferguson’s gang population as an incentive to loot and spread civil unrest in the area. These angry, government-sponsored terrorists have systematically infiltrated peaceful protests with the intention of escalating the situation and inciting riots. A local gang leader came forward with the allegations last week after being arrested during a night of mass looting. The unnamed criminal is using his information to bargain for a reduced sentence. Allegedly, Holder’s goal behind pouring the proverbial gasoline on an already volatile scene is to test militarized police response in a martial law scenario....Officials have not as yet publicly identified either the damaging evidence submitted by the gang member or the person involved, and they are still in the process of verifying the legitimacy of his claims. Judge Rineheart of the 22nd Circuit Court in St. Louis is presiding over the case, and has reviewed the materials. During a phone interview with National Report, Judge Rineheart (non-existent) stated : “The evidence I have seen is incredibly convincing.” Holder is not yet officially charged with a crime, but it’s expected that a warrant could be issued for him within the coming days. Obama’s spokespeople have declined to comment." ~~~~~ Well, that would certainly be front page news if true. And, it would also fit neatly into the pattern of Eric Holder's past activities and political positions. Here are a few examples of Holder actions and statements, as reviewed by Redstate, also a respected conservative website. (1). Discriminatory Hiring Practices -- On August 8, 2011 documents were released by the DOJ, subsequent to a court battle, which revealed the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division had been engaging in politicized hiring in the career civil service ranks. In June 2008, Holder admitted to the liberal American Constitution Society that the Justice Department was “going to be looking for people who share our values.” (2). Fort Hood -- Following the Fort Hood attack on November 5, 2009, not one of the post-attack reports issued by the DOJ mentioned Nidal Hasan’s Islamist ideology. And, the Department of Homeland Security refused to call the attack an act of terrorism on its report on the attack. Instead it was labeled as “workplace violence.” (3). AP Surveillance -- The Holder Justice Department secretly obtained two months of the telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press (AP). President and CEO Gary Pruitt has described the DOJ’s actions as a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news. AP’s lawyers have commented that, “there can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.” (4). Weather Underground Pardon -- Holder, as Deputy Attorney General, “was the gatekeeper for presidential pardons.” Two of the recipients of Holder’s pardons were former Weather Underground members Susan Rosenberg and Linda Evans. The Weather Underground was a far-left organization, founded in the late 1960′s, whose main objective was to overthrow the American government. Several bombing attacks were initiated by the group, mostly against government buildings and banks. There were also exhortations for white radicals to join with black radicals in the overthrow of the government. The Weather Underground opposed what they described as “American imperialism.” (5). Hostility Towards Conservatives -- At an American Constitution Society gathering in 2004, Holder made the following comments : “Conservatives have been defenders of the status quo, afraid of the future, and content to allow to continue to exist all but the most blatant inequalities....made a mockery of the rule of law....put the environment at risk for the sake of unproven economic theories, to play to the fears of our citizens, and not to their hopes, and to return the nation to a time that in fact never existed.” Holder said conservatives are “breathtaking” in their “arrogance,” which manifests itself in such things as “attacks on abortion rights,” “energy policies that are as shortsighted as they are ineffective,” and “tax cuts that disproportionately favor those who are well off and perpetuate many of the inequities in our nation.” The hallmarks of the “conservative agenda” include “social division, mindless tax cutting, and a defense posture that does not really make us safer....With the mainstream media somewhat cowered by conservative critics, and the conservative media disseminating the news in anything but a fair and balanced manner, and you know what I mean there, the means to reach the greatest number of people is not easily accessible.” (6). Opposition to Second Amendent Rights -- In 2008, Eric Holder claimed that the Second Amendment does not protect an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, but only applied to government militias. Political commentator and scholar, John Lott, was unable to “find even one gun control law that Holder has opposed.” Lott remarked that, “on every gun control regulation [Holder] has discussed, he has been supportive, including : bans, raising the age that someone can possess a gun, registration and licensing, one-gun-a-month limit on purchases, and mandatory waiting periods.” On top of that, in a 1995 address to the Woman’s National Democratic Club, Holder apprised the crowd of the launch of a public campaign to “really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way.” (7). Treatment of Terrorists as Criminal Defendants Instead of Enemy Combatants -- In 2004, Holder filed an amicus brief on behalf of al Qaida terrorist Jose Padilla, who had been commissioned by Osama bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to carry out a post-9/11, second wave of terrorist attacks in the US. In the brief, Holder held that President Bush lacked the constitutional authority to determine the parameters of the battlefield in the war on terror. Padilla was arrested in the US upon his return from Pakistan where he met with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to make plans for the attack on US interests. In Holder’s opinion, Islamic terrorists had a right to be treated as criminal defendants and not enemy combatants. The only exception, according to Holder is if the capture of the terrorist occurs on a traditional battlefield. (8). Opposition to Voter ID Laws -- Eric Holder has consistently opposed efforts to pass voter ID laws, which are designed to minimize voter fraud. He believes these laws have the effect of disenfranchising nonwhite minorities. In a May 2012 meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus and black church leaders, Holder said that during the preceding two years, the DoJ had challenged “two dozen state laws and executive orders from more than a dozen states that could make it significantly harder for many eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.″ (9). Fast & Furious -- The Heritage Foundation provides a summary of the Fast and Furious scandal : “A US government gun-trafficking investigation gone horribly wrong when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) office in Phoenix, Arizona, began selling weapons to small-time gun buyers in the hopes of tracing them to major weapons traffickers along the southwestern border and into Mexico. Their efforts failed, the number of arms unaccounted for numbers around 1,500 and about two-thirds of those guns ended up in Mexico, according to congressional testimony. Fast & Furious has resulted in the death of a US Border Patrol officer, some 2,000 firearms in the hands of criminals, and the dismissal of a 24-year veteran law enforcement official. ~~~~~ So, dear readers, let's not rush to the defense of Eric Holder as being a poor innocent put upon by a nasty satirist. He has followed a path counter to many of the constitutional underpinnings of American government, while under sworn oath to uphold the Constitution. But, Holder, like the National Report writer, is protected by that same Constitution. Courts have reined him in when he has overstepped, but he has not changed. Don't be fooled by Eric Holder. Beware, i

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Backed into a Corner by Events, Obama Must Produce a Middle East Policy

This week, Republican Senator John McCain called for a dramatic increase in US airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and said the attacks should also extend into Syria. McCain told Reuters that the beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS militants should serve as a turning point for President Obama's deliberations on how to deal with the group. "First of all, you've got to dramatically increase the airstrikes. And those airstrikes have to be devoted to Syria as well," McCain said, adding : "I don't think there's any doubt that this horrible video [of James Foley's beheading] on the Internet is bound to have an impact on the American people. The nature of the brutality of this organization has been brought home by this." McCain said hitting ISIS targets in Syria is necessary because the militants have captured military equipment in Mosul, the Iraqi city they seized in June, and moved it into enclaves inside Syria. "We have to defeat them, not stop them," he said. The Arizona Senator also said the United States should arm Iraqi Kurds and help arrange a reconciliation between shiites and sunnis in Iraq. ~~~~~ Senator McCain isn't the only American political leader urging more robust action from President Obama in dealing with ISIS. Many lawmakers and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have urged Obama to arm Syrian rebels to push back at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and ISIS militants. Others are urging the White House to engage with its partners and those moderate Syrians who are fighting ISIS and to directly target ISIS leadership and networks in Iraq and Syria. "If this doesn't happen," Senator Marco Rubio said : "I fear that James Foley will not be the only American to die at their hands." In another indication of opposition to Obama's Syria-Iraq position, the Daily Beast reported on August 12th that Obama, in a White House foreign policy meeting on July 31 with House and Senate leaders, was pressed over his administration’s handling of requests made by Syrian opposition groups for arms and other support. A lawmaker said the President got visibly angry after both Democrats and Republicans questioned his policy. Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked a long question in which he sharply criticized a series of US foreign policies, a lawmaker said. Obama responded by defending the administration’s approach in Syria, arguing that the idea that arming the rebels earlier would have produced a better outcome was “horse ****,” the lawmaker told the Daily Beast. White House officials confirmed the tense exchange, but did not confirm the President's use of the expletive, the report said. ~~~~~ Pressure is also coming from his own military leaders to go after ISIS inside Syria. Army General Michael Dempsey characterized ISIS as an apocalyptic organization that cannot be merely halted, but must be defeated not only in Iraq but in Syria as well. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said : "Can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border." At the Pentagon press conference with Dempsey, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said ISIS "is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They're beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. Oh, this is beyond anything that we've seen. So we must prepare for everything." He said the only way to do that is take a "cold, steely hard look" and "get ready." ~~~~~ With this heavy bi-partisan criticism swirling around it, the Obama White House must create a response to its growing number of critics. Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said on Friday that Syria proposals have not yet been presented to the President, but Rhodes said : "We've shown time and again that if there's a counterterrorism threat, we'll take direct action against that threat, if necessary." For three years, President Obama has resisted committing US military in Syria. He refused to engage when the Syrian government used chemical weapons against civilians, and when ISIS militants used the chaos to strengthened their position, and when the civil war death toll climbed to 180,000. But, now Obama must decide whether the ISIS murder of American journalist James Foley, and the broader threat the group could pose to US and Western interests, should change his cautious approach. He must weigh the dangers of doing very little against his aversion to the risks possible from plunging the United States back into a region torn apart by intractable secular conflict. Even before Foley's murder, Obama found himself on far different footing in the Middle East than he expected, or signaled, early in his presidency. After running for president by promising to end the Iraq war and making good on that promise in late 2011, Obama was forced to thrust the US military back into Iraq this summer with a limited airstrike campaign against ISIS targets. President Obama has said that he will not commit the US military to another ground war in the Middle East, but he has increased the US military presence in Iraq in the air and as advisors, putting himself in a situation that could consume much of his last two years in office. ~~~~~ And Syria? Mainstream rebels and al-Assad forces have been engaged in a civil war for more than three years. Unlike Iraq, the Syria battle lines are clearer. Syria has many different military players, including ISIS, the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, mainstream 'Western-backed' rebels and al-Assad government forces. Obama's critics say he gave extremists an opening in Iraq by not doing more to reach an agreement with the Iraqi government to leave US forces in the country after 2011. They say his decision to not provide heavy weaponry to more moderate rebel groups in Syria also helped facilitate the ISIS rise there. Recently, the White House has been imploring sunni states in the region - Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates in particular - to wield their influence with tribal leaders in Iraq and get them to push ISIS out of areas they have occupied. The White House is also pursuing ways for traditional allies such as Great Britain, Europe, Canada and Australia to become involved through intelligence sharing, military assistance for Kurdish forces in Iraq and moderate opposition forces in Syria, and if necessary, joining the US in military action. Without a course correction, Obama's critics argue, the US will be at greater risk. ~~~~~ Dear readers, if, as his critics are urging, Obama decides to expand US airstrikes into Syria, he will be helping al-Assad, whom he has long sought to replace as president. But, if Obama decides to use the opportunity presented by US aircraft flying missions in Syria to attack al-Assad sites as well, he could be engaging America to make a long-term commitment to rebuilding Syria, something he has tried to avoid. In the alternative, if Obama refuses to go after ISIS in Syria, he is giving it an undisturbed safe haven in which to strengthen and become a threat not just to US interests in the region, but also to the US at home. And politically, it would support his critics' argument that he is overseeing an American retreat on the world stage. There are no easy answers. But it is essential that President Obama, in consultation with Congress, create a clear strategic Middle East policy. If that policy, as it should, includes searching out ISIS in Syria as well as in Iraq, then Obama must explain to America and to the people and governments of the Middle East, as well as to Europe and other allies, whether and why the US is or is not supporting al-Assad. He must fit this into a cohesive Middle East policy whose goals are support for US allies, including Israel, and a declared intention to work with them to stabilize the region with the least possible regime change in allied countries, but with a determination to build the economic, educational and political infrastructures that will lead to a middle class that prospers and understands for itself the dangers of kowtowing to terrorists like ISIS, who use their deranged idea of Islam as a weapon for war and suppression.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Geneva Convention Is 150 Years Old Today

On 22 August 1864, many European states congregated in Geneva, Switzerland, and signed the First Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field. ~~~~~ The 1864 Geneva Convention was signed at a critical period in European political and military history. There had been peace in western Europe between the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the rise of his nephew, Emperor Napoleon III, in the Italian campaign for unification of 1859. Yet, with the 1856 conflict in the Crimea, war had returned to Europe, and while those troubles were "in a distant and inaccessible region," the 1859 campaign on northern Italy was "so accessible from all parts of western Europe that it instantly filled with curious observers," and the sight of war was unfamiliar and shocking. ~~~~~ Despite its intent of ameliorating the ravages of war, the 1864 Geneva Convention came at the beginning of "a renewal of military activity on a large scale, to which the people of western Europe…had not been accustomed since Napoleon [Bonaparte] had been eliminated." The movement for an international set of laws governing the treatment and care for the wounded and prisoners of war began when the Swiss relief activist Henri Dunant witnessed the Battle of Solferino in 1859, fought between French-Piedmontese and Austrian armies in Northern Italy. The Battle of Solferino, 24 June 1859, resulted in the victory of the allied French Army under Napoleon III and the Sardinian Army under Victor Emmanuel II (together known as the Franco-Sardinian Alliance) against the Austrian Army under Emperor Franz Joseph I. It was the last major battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs. An estimated 300,000 soldiers fought in this important battle, the largest since the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. There were about 130,000 Austrian troops and a combined total of 140,000 French and allied Piedmontese troops. The Battle ked to 4,000 deaths, 20,000 to 40,000 wounded (depending on which account one accepts), and as many as 10,000 missing in action. The suffering of the wounded soldiers left on the field due to lack of facilities, personnel, and truces to give them medical aid moved Dunant to action. Upon his return to Geneva, Dunant published his account, "Un Souvenir de Solferino," and, through his membership in the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, he urged the convening of an international conference, which led to the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863 and the First Geneva Convention in 1864. ~~~~~ The International Committee of the Red Cross, while stating that it is "primarily the duty and responsibility of a nation to safeguard the health and physical well-being of its own people," knew there would always, especially in times of war, be a "need for voluntary agencies to supplement…the official agencies charged with these responsibilities in every country." Thus was born the idea of an international convention to regulate the care of wounded soldiers and noncombatant personnel during wars. The 1864 Geneva Convention was the first modern effort to make the treatment of military personnel and noncombatants subject to agreed international humanitarian rules. To ensure that its mission was widely accepted, the 1864 Geneva Convention required a body of rules to govern its own activities and those of the involved belligerent parties. It was signed by many of the major European powers - Italy, France, states that are now Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and Norway-Sweden. Not only was it the first such accord, it was also the most basic of rules and "derived its obligatory force from the implied consent of the states which accepted and applied them in the conduct of their military operations." ~~~~~ The 1864 Geneva Convention provided only for : *immunity from capture and from the destruction of all establishments for the treatment of wounded and sick soldiers, *impartial reception and treatment of all combatants, *protection of all noncombatants giving aid to the wounded, and *the use of the Red Cross as a symbol as a means of identifying persons and equipment covered by the agreement. Despite its basic mandates, it was successful in effecting significant and rapid reforms on the European continent which had experienced war for a thousand years. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the Geneva Convention has been updated many times to try to keep up with the changing nature of warfare. Today, there are signatory countries worldwide. But, as we watch the barbaric fighting sweeping across Syria and Iraq, we can appreciate more fully that the Geneva Convention works only when its signatories honor their humanitarian commitments. And it does not work at all with groups that specialize in barbaric combat and have no regard for humanitarian concepts. But, Henri Dunant was right to try to insert humane treatment of the wounded and noncombatants into the rules of warfare. War is not humane. It is not easy to regulate. But those who are caught up in war and injured or captured by hostile forces, as well as those who care for the injured on battlefields and in field hospitals, deserve compassion and the assurance that the warring factions will not disturb their humanitarian work.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What Really Happened When US Forces Entered Syria in July?

One story with multiple versions. (1). Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby confirmed Wednesday night that US Special Forces attempted to free James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by ISIS, earlier this summer, but Foley and other American hostages believed to be at the location inside Syria were not there. Several dozen Special Forces members landed inside Syria at a location where intelligence had indicated the Americans were being held. The elite group went in by helicopter, backed up by combat, surveillance, and intelligence aircraft, CNN reported. When they got to the facility, they engaged ISIS fighters on the ground and killed several of them. Though one of the Special Forces members was wounded, none was killed. The Pentagon would not say how its intelligence was obtained. "That is about as dangerous as it gets," CNN's Barbara Starr said of the operation, noting that had the Special Forces troops been discovered, they risked attack by the Bashar al-Assad regime or by ISIS itself. A White House statement said President Obama authorized the action because the national security team thought the hostages were in increasing danger. Pentagon spokesman Kirby explained : "As we have said repeatedly, the United States government is committed to the safety and well-being of its citizens, particularly those suffering in captivity. In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harm's way to try and bring our citizens home. The United States government uses the full breadth of our military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring people home whenever we can. The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will work tirelessly to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable." It is unclear from Kirby's report how many Americans the special forces attempted to rescue in Syria because the officials would not provide an exact number, but other unnamed US officials said Foley was one of at least four Americans held in Syria. Like Foley, two others are thought to have been kidnapped by ISIS. The fourth, freelance journalist Austin Tice, disappeared in Syria in August 2012 and is thought to be held by al-Assad forces. Administration officials would not say specifically when or where the operation took place, citing the need to protect operational details in order to preserve the ability to carry out future rescue missions. They did say that nearly every branch of the military was involved and that the Special Forces on the ground were supported from the air by fixed wing, rotary, and surveillance aircraft. General Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, told Newsmax that it is impossible to dissuade or deter ISIS from brutally executing hostages : "We really did get a chance yesterday to look at absolute evil in its face. It's a reminder of what it is we're dealing with here in the Middle East." ~~~~~ (2). If the above explanation of the raid seems vague, a new version was released several hours ago by the New York Times, whose reporters are on Martha's Vineyard, where President Obama is vacationing. Here is the latest official account of the Special Forces raid into Syria to rescue American hostages, as told by the NYT : "A secret nighttime military mission authorized by President Obama to rescue Americans held captive in Syria failed early this summer when a team of two dozen Delta Force commandos raided an oil refinery in the northern part of the country but found after a firefight with Islamic militants that there were no hostages to be saved....The officials - speaking a day after the ISIS posted a video showing the American journalist James Foley being beheaded - described what they called a “complicated operation” in which the commandos were dropped by helicopter into Syrian territory....The Army commandos fought their way to the spot where they believed that ISIS was hiding the hostages. But when the team swooped in, the hostages were gone. “We’re not sure why they were moved,” a Defense Department official said. “By the time we got there, it was too late.” The official said it may have been “a matter of hours, perhaps a day or two” since the hostages had been there. One of the American commandos was slightly wounded in the skirmish, which lasted several minutes before American aircraft flew the soldiers to safety. At least one of the aircraft came under fire, but all members of the team were evacuated successfully. The administration officials said they believed a number of the terrorists were killed. The officials revealed the mission in a conference call with reporters, in which they spoke on the condition of anonymity....It was the first time that the United States government had acknowledged that American forces had operated inside Syria since the civil war there began. Officials declined to say exactly how many hostages the commandos were trying to rescue or to provide the names of the people who they believed were being held captive by the militants. United States intelligence agencies had been collecting information on the suspected location of the hostages, a Defense Department official said. The goal was to rescue Mr. Foley, officials said, although there was no specific intelligence that he was being held where the raid took place. It was a developing operation. They would move them periodically. But we decided to act then because we believed we had fidelity on their location, and we were well aware of the severity of the threats.” Officials said the breadth of the intelligence gave them confidence to go ahead with the rescue. The mission was conducted by a joint force, officials said, which included members from all of the military services. The Delta Force commandos were supported overhead by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. "We put the best of the United States military in harm’s way to try and bring our citizens home,” said Rear Admiral John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. Intelligence is not “an exact science,” the officials in the conference call said, describing a “layered procedure” in which the agencies built a picture of where they thought the hostages might be. “It builds over time,” one senior administration official said. “We never lost sight of the plight of these hostages.” Families have been informed of the latest rescue attempt, the officials said, but did not say when they were told. ~~~~~ (3). The UK Daily Telegraph added more detail in its coverage, saying the secret US mission targeted a jihadist base known as the 'Osama bin Laden Camp,' according to Telegraph local Syrian sources. The Telegraph reported that the Pentagon revealed Wednesday that two dozen special operations troops had launched the rescue attempt in early July, but that they had failed to find the hostages, and were forced to pull out after a firefight with ISIS militants. Messages posted on Facebook and Twitter around the time that the raid would have taken place, by Syrians living in the area, have revealed further details about the dramatic rescue effort, according to the Telegraph, which said it cannot independently verify this information, although many of the details appear similar to the information later revealed by the Pentagon. The Facebook message was posted at 3 a.m. on July 4, by one activist who reported an attack on a military base belonging to Daesh - the Syrian derogatory term for ISIS - in the town of al-Kirshi : "Unknown jets have destroyed all of Daesh's anti-aircraft systems. They destroyed all the MAN-PADS at their Osama bin Laden camp." The two Delta Force teams landed specially modified Black Hawk helicopters at an oil refinery near the site of the raid just south of the Euphrates river, where they came under heavy fire, according to a former intelligence official. The Facebook message said: "Commandos dropped from silent helicopters. They cut the supply road to the Daesh base, the al-Kirshi road." On Wednesday, the Pentagon said that a number of militants, but no Americans, were killed. One American sustained a minor injury when an aircraft was hit. The Facebook post claims that five ISIS militants were killed. ~~~~~ Dear readers, there are discrepancies -- silent action or heavy arms fighting / a mission to rescue hostages or to destroy ISIS armaments and take back an oil refinery / with or without the agreement of al-Assad. Has Obama agreed with US military to cross into Syria? Has he cut a deal with al-Assad? Has the Obama White House spun a story, with Pentagon help at a high-eschelon PR level, based on facts unrelated to James Foley, in order to try to bolster Obama's image in light of the horrific ISIS beheading video? Nothing is clear in this jumbled report -- except that, Admiral Kirby notwithstanding, US Delta Forces operate as close to "exact science" as military forces can get.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

James Foley. American. Journalist.

James Foley, 40, died a horrible death. But he showed extreme courage in his last moments. It is one of those times when we are reminded that being an American contains the possibility of great pain to be mixed with the great determination to be vessels of liberty." ~~~~~~ "How little we know of what there is to know. I wish I were going to live a long time instead of going to die today because I have learned much about life in these four days; more, I think than in all other time. I'd like to be an old man to really know. I wonder if you keep on learning or if there is only a certain amount each man can understand. I thought I knew so many things that I know nothing of. I wish there was more time." ___Ernest Hemingway, For Whom The Bell Tolls. ~~~~~ "Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." ___John Donne.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Obama and al-Assad May Meet in Iraq

As the US airstrikes targeted ISIS in Iraq, and the al-Assad regime has turned on ISIS, which it finally sees as its enemy, pounding its strongholds with airstrikes, a new report by a respected international research group, Small Arms Survey, a Switzerland-based research organization that analyzes the global flow of weapons, says armed groups in Syria have an estimated several hundred portable anti-aircraft missiles that could easily be smuggled out of Syria and diverted to extremists for use in destroying low-flying commercial planes. The report came just hours after the FAA issued a notice Monday to US airlines banning all flights in Syrian airspace. The FAA, which had previously warned against flying over Syrian airspace but had not banned it, said armed extremists in Syria are "known to be equipped with a variety of anti-aircraft weapons which have the capability to threaten civilian aircraft," and that the presence of anti-aircraft weapons creates a "continuing significant potential threat to civil aviation operating in Syrian airspace." The Small Arms Survey report focuses on launchers and missiles known as "man-portable air defense systems," or MANPADS, which are dangerous to planes flying at lower altitudes or taking off or landing. The new report estimated that several hundred anti-aircraft missile systems, mostly Chinese and Russian, are already in rebel hands. According to the report, the weapons have been seized by Syrian opposition militias from government forces -- US officials have estimated the Syrian government amassed as many as 20,000 MANPADS before the civil war began in 2011 -- and smuggled in from nations sympathetic to the insurgents. The emergence in the Middle East of groups affiliated with al-Qaida and other extremists heightens the danger that anti-aircraft weapons could spread to trouble spots outside Syria. MANPADS in the hands of jihadist extremist groups is a potentially catastrophic threat to commercial aviation," wrote Matthew Schroeder, the report's author. The analysis is based on government and media reports and video footage of anti-aircraft weapons posted online from inside Syria. ~~~~~ ISIS has overrun much of northern Syria, and it recently posted an online propaganda video showing one fighter appearing to fire an older-model, Russian-made SA-7 missile system. Rebels, presumably ISIS-backed, have in the past shot down Syrian military aircraft. Russia earlier halted all its civilian flights to Syria in April after Moscow officials said a Russian charter plane flying from Egypt into Syrian air space was targeted by two surface-to-air missiles but escaped damage. The Flight MH17 shootdown was a clear signal that civilian aircraft can be exposed to anti-aircraft missiles at both high and low altitudes, Schroeder said. The Malaysian jet was struck at 33,000 feet, beyond the range of MANPADS. American officials said Flight MH17 was struck by a long-range surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia has denied any role in the attack. Unlike the larger vehicle-mounted systems used in Ukraine, compact MANPADS and tube launchers are difficult to track, once beyond government control, and easy to dismantle and hide. Eight different MANPADS models have turned up in Syria. At least two varieties, the Chinese-made FN-6 and the Russian SA-24 Grinch, are newer and more sophisticated models with longer ranges - up to 20,000 feet altitude - are harder to repel by aircraft electronic jamming systems. A third new model spotted inside Syria has yet to be identified, Schroeder said. The report names Sudan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia as possible sources of MANPADS systems smuggled to insurgents inside Syria but says there still is no certainty about their origins. Rebel groups have also claimed seizing anti-aircraft launchers and missiles from Syrian forces as they took al-Assad military bases in northern Syria. ~~~~~ MANPADS may pose a real threat to commercial aircraft, but they must also be a worry for lower-altitude US and Iraqi military aircaft, especially helicopters, flying over ISIS targets or performing humanitarian missions. Airstrikes against ISIS targets are succeedlng, so we must assume that ISIS is planning a response to stop them. Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said Monday that during the Kurdish peshmerga take-back of the Mosul dam : "The US military used fighters, bomber attack and unmanned aircraft to conduct 35 strikes. We destroyed over 90 targets including a range of vehicles, equipment and fighting positions." Sunday’s strikes were the first time that bombers as well as fighter jets and drones were involved in the current US air campaign. Now that the dam is cleared of ISIS militants, Iraqi forces are moving to expand their area of control, according to the Pentagon. President Obama said yesterday : "This operation demonstrates that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are capable of working together and taking the fight to ISIS. If they continue to do so, they will have the strong support of the United States of America." But for ridding Iraq of ISIS, US airstrikes may not be enough, said retired Colonel Cedric Leighton, a former Air Force intelligence officer. "At the core of the mission is to get rid of ISIS," he said, adding, "The US cannot have a Middle East in which ISIS exists." ~~~~~ It is increasingly clear that if there is an Obama strategy in Iraq - not at all defined or confirmed by the President, and far more likely to be a US military strategy based on Obama's airstrike authorization - it is the use of airstrikes to immobilize ISIS units, destroy their equipment, and soften them up for Kurdish ground attack. This is all Obama has authozized, and the latest Mosul effort shows its effectiveness when combined with professional ground forces. ~~~~~ President Obama wrote to Congress this weekend, outlining the rationale and justification for the strikes, saying the integrity of the Mosul dam was crucial to the security of the US embassy in Baghdad. The US has consistently cited the security of US personnel in Baghdad and Irbil to explain its military operation to support the Kurds. In his letter to Congress, Obama said the strikes had been authorised in order to “recapture the Mosul dam,” adding : “These military operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to support the Iraqi forces in their efforts to retake and establish control of this critical infrastructure site, as part of their ongoing campaign against the terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIS]. The failure of the Mosul dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger US personnel and facilities, including the US Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace.” ~~~~~ Dear readers, with airstrikes a key component of the war in Iraq, MANPADS and other ground-to-air anti-aircraft weaponry are crucial. When ISIS supplies them to its militants in Iraq, that war will even more resemble the war in Syria -- two partisan governments whose military is/was used to subdue sectarian opponents, an opposition to those governments organizing, but co-opted by jihadists who use the sectarian split to capture large swaths of each country while hiding behind the disenfranchized until they no longer need them. And US President Obama slow to comprehend, form a strategy or act in either Syria or Iraq. The consequence is that Syria's al-Assad and Barack Obama now have a common enemy - ISIS. What camp does this put Obama in? - the camp of ISIS jihadists, al-Assad, Iran, Russia and China? Not a comfortable place for a US President to be. And while Iraq airstrikes may be an initial success, President Obama will have much harder decision points when those MANPADS kick in and al-Assad fighter jets cross the Syria-Iraq border looking for ISIS -- especially if Saudi Arabia decides definitively that its real interests lie not in being the Godfather of Islam but with Egypt and the Emirates, and Israel, and so calls on Mr. Obama to help stop Iran and Syria by taking them on in Iraq.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Perry Case : In America It's People, not Courts, Who Vote on Election Day

On Friday, the District Attorney’s office in Travis County, Texas, filed an indictment against Republican Governor Perry, charging he misused his powers by threatening to veto and then vetoing $7.5 million in funding for the office’s Public Integrity Unit after District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refused to step down after her conviction for drunken driving. In a Saturday news conference, Perry said he stands by his veto, and called the indictment against him outrageous : “We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country. It is nothing more than an abuse of power - and I cannot and will not allow that to happen.” ~~~~~ It's one of the occasions when all Americans - left and right, Democrat and Republican - agree. Senator Ted Cruz, also a Texan Republican, quickly backed Rick Perry, saying he was "proud to stand with the Texas governor in the wake of his indictment Friday. In a Facebook post Saturday morning, Cruz said Perry is "a friend, he's a man of integrity." But, perhaps the voice that carries the most weight is that of Alan Dershowitz, Harvard law professor and constitutional and criminal law scholar, who excoriated the indictment. Dershowitz told Newsmax he is “outraged” over the Perry’s indictment, saying the charges are politically motivated and an example of a “dangerous” trend of courts being used to affect the ballot box and politics. “Everybody, liberal or conservative, should stand against this indictment,” Dershowitz said. “If you don’t like how Rick Perry uses his office, don’t vote for him. This is another example of the criminalization of party differences....This idea of an indictment is an extremely dangerous trend in America. Dershowitz said such indictments are "something that’s done in totalitarian countries and should not be done in the United States." In such countries, “if you don’t like them, you indict,” Dershowitz said. “In America, you vote against them…this should be up to the voters. There is no room in America for abuse of office charges, and this has to stop once and for all." Dershowitz also told Newsmax Perry was well within his rights when he vetoed the money for Lehmberg’s office, as he “saw a drunk serving as DA” who “shouldn’t be enforcing criminal law.” Dershowitz said that he believes Perry will be acquitted, and the indictment will become an embarrassment to those involved. ~~~~~ In his interview, Dershowitz said he would never vote for Perry, but he’s not alone among liberals questioning the indictment. Democratic pollster and analyst Doug Schoen told Newsmax : "I've never seen anything like this in politics. It looked to me like what Perry was doing was right, reasonable and responsible." Schoen cautioned that the Democrats need to be very careful of using the indictment to dash Perry's chances should he choose to run for the White House in 2016 : "It is one of the worst things that the Democrats could do: to try to go after a partisan Republican with a partisan criminal indictment. It is a further sign of really the destruction of our nonpartisan - seemingly nonpartisan - criminal justice system. It is very depressing, sad and just plain wrong." Liberals opposed to the indictment include former Obama campaign strategist and insider advisor David Axelrod, Clinton and Obama administration alumnus Jonathan Prince, Vox’s Matt Yglesias, and New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait - all tweeting that they do not agree with the DA’s decision to indict Perry. Axelrod called the indictment “sketchy.” Prince tweeted that the indictment “seems nuts.” ThinkProgress, a liberal-oriented news site, questioned the indictment, saying : "Though the state legislature probably could limit this veto power in extreme cases - if a state governor literally sold his veto to wealthy interest groups, for example, the legislature could almost certainly make that a crime - a law that cuts too deep into the governor’s veto power raises serious separation of powers concerns.” ~~~~~ What are the facts behind the indictment? Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum, based in San Antonio, spent months presenting evidence and calling witness while investigating whether Perry broke the law when he publicly promised to deny $7.5 million over two years to the public integrity unit of the office of Travis County Democratic District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. Why did Governor Perry act? Because Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunken driving in April 2013 - with a blood alcohol content of nearly three times the legal limit for driving - but refused Perry's calls to resign. She served about half of a 45-day jail term while remaining in office. Perry contended that Lehmberg's behavior was inappropriate. A video recording made at the jail showed her shouting at staffers to call the sheriff, kicking the door of her cell, and sticking her tongue out. Democrat pollster Schoen said : "The Travis County District Attorney appears to me to be way out of line, especially given her own conviction for drunken driving." Other top Republicans also called for Lehmberg to resign. The unit she oversees spearheaded the politically motivated investigation against former GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Several top Perry aides appeared before grand jurors in Austin, including his deputy chief of staff, legislative director and general counsel. The governor did not testify because he was not subpoenaed to appear, something rather unusual that was explained away by McCrum, who said : "That's prosecutorial discretion that I had." ~~~~~ Perry's indictment is just another of the many "witch hunts" by the county district attorney's office, according to former Houston-area broadcaster and GOP philanthropist Fran Fawcett, who told Newsmax : "The Travis County District Attorney's Office has long been trying to ensnare Republican officeholders." Fawcett cited Ronnie Earle, Lehmberg's Democratic predecessor who brought charges against DeLay. He also sought indictments against former GOP US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson when she was state treasurer, as well as singling out other Republicans. Earle first elected in 1976, was replaced in January 2009 by Lehmberg. Fawcett said that Earle was "unrelenting in using extreme tactics of personal destruction to try and smear Republicans. That his successors would indict the governor for exercising his legitimate power is simply more of the same. The real crime here is the amount of taxpayer dollars the Travis County D.A.'s office uses in its witch hunts," she said. ~~~~ Perry can legally veto measures approved by the Texas Legislature, including part or all of the state budget. But Texans for Public Justice, a liberal government watchdog group that filed the ethics complaint leading to the inquiry, accused Perry of coercion because he threatened to use his veto before actually doing so, and thereby was trying to pressure Lehmberg to quit. TPJ executive director Craig McDonald said of the indictment : "We're pleased that the grand jury determined that the governor's bullying crossed the line into illegal behavior. The complaint had merit, serious laws were potentially broken." In responses echoing what Schoen told Newsmax, other strategists warned that Perry's indictment could very likely bolster any presidential bid. "GOP state-level activists love nothing more right now than a leader with the guts to stand up against a system they believe is failing the people and protecting the elites," Republican strategist Bruce Haynes of Purple Strategies told Politico. He urged Democrats eyeing the indictment as a weapon against the hard-driving Republican Rick Perry to "beware." "Ultimately, this may not be a threat to Perry as much as it is a gift," Haynes said. Some Texas Democrats, meanwhile, called on Perry to quit. "For the sake of Texas, Governor Perry should resign following his indictment on two criminal felony counts involving abuse of office," said Representative Joaquin Castro, the Austin American-Statesman reports. Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told the newspaper, "Governor Rick Perry has brought dishonor to his office, his family and the state of Texas." ~~~~~ Dear readers, dishonor? It is on the head of Texans for Public Justice and its executive director, Craig McDonald, for twisting the common sense of the law deliberately in order to gerry-rig a complaint against Governor Perry. Dishonor? It also rests on the head of Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum for taking rhe TPJ complaint seriously and pursuing it with a grand jury. In the United States, political arguments are settled at the ballot box. Courts are not political decisionmakers. Americans make political decisions by voting, but their decisions are being erased by ballot box losers. This unconstitutional use of the courts to "get" political opponents will bring down the American political system if it is not halted. Rick Perry's case may finally highlight and end this insidious attack on America's Constitution.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Obama's Hellfire Missile Decision Is on the Wrong Side of History

The Wall Street Journal wrote a long report Thursday about how US State Department officials who were leading Obama administration efforts to rein in Israel's military campaign in the Gaza Strip were caught off guard last month when they learned that the Israeli military had been quietly securing supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon without Department approval. Following the revelation, the Obama administration has tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel. Some characterize the response as Obama's answer to what he perceives as “heavy-handed battlefield tactics” by Israel, including the use of artillery instead of precision-guided munitions. The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) has abruptly halted the imminent delivery of Hellfire missiles requested by Israel, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The White House instructed DSCA and other agencies, including the US military’s European Command, to consult with them before approving any other weapons requests from Israel. Israeli and US officials say Israel had also requested tank shells and other munitions. But Israeli and US officials also say privately that the bureaucratic maneuvering made it plain that both sides know how little influence the White House and State Department have with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The munitions surprise and previously unreported Obama response added to a history of behind-the-scene arguments and minor insults that have marked the Gaza conflict, the WSJ wrote, citing events related by senior American, Palestinian and Israeli officials involved. The battles have pushed US-Israeli relations to the lowest point since President Obama took office. One result is that Egypt has become the 'honest broker' in negotiations between Israel and Hamas, trying to find a long-term deal to end the fighting, American officials are bystanders instead of mediators. US officials told the WSJ that Obama had a particularly combative phone call on Wednesday with Netanyahu, who they say has pushed the administration aside but wants it to provide Israel with security assurances in exchange for signing onto a long-term Hamas deal. The current 5-day cease-fire is holding. But, the weakened Israel-US relations raise questions about whether Obama and Netanyahu can effectively work together. Relations between them have long been strained over other issues, including Obama's outreach to Iran. Administration officials say the Gaza conflict - the third between Israel and Hamas in under six years - has persuaded them that Netanyahu and his national security team are both reckless and untrustworthy. Israeli officials, in turn, describe the Obama administration as weak and naive, and are doing as much as they can to bypass the White House in favor of allies in Congress and elsewhere in the administration. While Israeli officials have privately told their US counterparts that poor relations isn't in Israel's interest long term, they also said they believed Netanyahu wasn't too worried about the tensions because he can rely on the firmness of Israeli support in Congress, even if he doesn't have the White House's full approval for his policies. The prime minister thinks he can simply wait out the current Obama administration, something Israeli sources close to Netanyahu deny. ~~~~~ Dear readers, the Hellfire missile situation does not sit well with friends and allies of Israeli in Washington. While Prime Minister Netanyahu lashed out at the Obama administration Thursday for halting the Hellfire missile shipment to Israel, Representative Peter King told the New York Post : “The Obama people came into office with almost a chip on their shoulder against Netanyahu. He was treated worse than most enemies are treated. They were almost looking for a fight with Netanyahu and they got it.” The WSJ revelation Thursday that Israel has been sneaking stockpiles of ammunition behind Obama’s back through the Pentagon was proof of the non-existent working relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. But, when Obama ordered the Pentagon to halt the transfer of Hellfire missiles to Israel, he turned a sparring contest into a main event. And, given the extremely low popularity of Obama and the high esteem in which Israel is held, and especially the bi-partisan support for Israel in Congress, it is hard to see how Obama can win this fight of his own choosing. Obama is sending a message, yet again, about how much he dislikes Israel. In this, as in so many other battlegrounds this President has chosen, he stands virtually alone, with only his senior White House advisors for support. But, we should not forget that President Obama had no problem writing a check to Gaza for $47 million in financial aid. On July 21, the Associated Press reported that the US is sending the $47 million in humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip to help Palestinians there who have been forced from their homes since war broke out on July 8. A State Department breakdown of the aid showed that nearly a third of the money - $15 million - will go to the United Nations’ refugee mission in Gaza. But, Gaza gets billions of dollars already from the US, the UN, and the EU. It is the world’s biggest welfare case. Its open air food markets are overflowing and visiting jihadists can stay in five-star hotels. Gaza doesn’t need this money, which will certainly wind up in the hands of Hamas so it can buy more rockets and build more tunnels. Is Obama, with his US taxpayer money and the halting of Hellfire missile shipments, trying help Hamas while he slows down Israel? If so, he has chosen the wrong side in a long-term political and philosophical struggle that Hamas cannot win.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Has Mr. Obama Abandoned His Presidency?

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, a left-leaning TV host, shared some insights on President Obama with Hugh Hewitt in an interview on Hewitt's radio show on Friday, saying that President Barack Obama has "checked out" of his job and "doesn't want to be there anymore," Scarborough, the host of the "Morning Joe" TV show, added that some of the President's closest political allies say he's ready to be an "ex-president." Scarborough said : "I tend to believe based on everything I've heard from people who work inside the White House, and we've got a lot of friends there, and based on my friends who are senior Democratic Senators, this President has checked out. This man wants to be an ex-president." Scarborough noted that Obama was on vacation while there were riots in Ferguson, Missouri, after an unarmed teenager was fatally shot by a police officer and while, at the same time,the ISIS insurgency in Iraq is widening. Scarborough added : "We’re all big supporters of Presidents going on vacation. It’s another thing to be in Martha’s Vineyard while you’ve got tanks rolling in Middle America, and all the Middle East melts down. This is a President that does go out of his way to show that he’s not paying attention to what anybody says. He’s going to do exactly what he wants to do, and he’s going to be stubborn about it. He is either politically tone deaf or he just doesn’t give a damn." Hewitt said he thinks Obama wants to get to his "Carter Center phase," referring to the diplomatic role former President Jimmy Carter took on after leaving the White House. Scarborough also said that the Obama administration's decision not to expand its inner circle was "one of the biggest mistakes that any President can make. This President wants 'yes' men around him....If anybody steps out of line, they're immediately insulated and pushed out." Scarborough's take on Obama's legacy : "The books are going to come [when the administration is over], and this President is going to have to deal with 20-30 years of disparagement from his own side, calling him one of the least effective Presidents, because he's one of the most insulated Presidents." ~~~~~ Dear readers, there are some, not many, but some jobs that the holder cannot simply choose not to do. The job of US President is surely at the top of this list. While some Presidents are more energetic than others - compare Clinton to Carter, for example - all Presidents sign on for a 24/7 presence when they choose to run for and are elected President. What is disconcerting about President Obama is that he is sometimes there and sometimes absent. And it has little to do with his vacations. Obama - indifferent and hostile to the GOP House - has been absent from dealing with Congress to enact tax reform or to develop programs to create badly needed jobs for Americans. But he has been present - alone and defiant - when it comes to using executive orders to implement his unpopular views anout the illegal immigration problem. Barack Obama has not only abandoned his job as President, he has somehow concluded that his only role as leader of his Democratic Party is as fundraiset. But, in his last foray through San Francisco even Democrats were less enthusiastic about coughing up $32,000 to see Obama up close. It is a new and troubling reality that both Congress and the Demicratic Party are facing -- an absentee President who refuses to engage as a President should to make the federal government function smoothly, but who can suddenly appear on the political scene and act in isolation, without consultation, when something interests him. It makes the election of a veto-proof GOP House and Senate essential in November -- for the safety of America until a new President is elected in 2016.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Obama Left Iraq Voluntarily in 2011, but Now He Says He Was Tossed Out

The Barack Obama quote of the day, August 14, 2014 : "We broke the mountain siege of Sinjar and all Americans should be proud of the military's efforts." Good so far, but it was followed by Obama's statement that the humanitarian effort for the Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar would soon be over and that the US military responsible for the Yazidis' rescue will soon be withdrawn from Iraq. He said that airstrikes would continue in order to protect US personnel and others in northern Iraq. ~~~~~ But USA Today reported the most astonishing of Obama's comments today : "The situation in Iraq has greatly improved," Obama said. One is hard pressed to connect this remark with anything but a presidential withdrawal from reality. What are the "improvements" in Iraq?...50,000 Yazidi refuges in tents on an Iraqi desert where temperatures are topping 100°F daily / renewed fighting in Falluga, the first Iraq city taken by ISIS, with movement apparently toward Baghdad, 40 miles away / Baghdad itself being boarded up by hundreds of thousands of residents who expect an ISIS attack soon / an ISIS advance toward Kirkuk where taking the oil fields would significantly increase ISIS income and begin an onslaught in the Kurdish region / a central Iraqi government with the former prime minister refusing to leave office even though the president has appointed a new one. Oh yes, things are greatly improved in Iraq. ~~~~~ This Obama disconnect with Iraq reality is reminiscent of his confusion about whether it was he who removed all US troops from Iraq or whether he was driven out by the Iraqi govenment. Earlier this year, on June 19, President Obama tossed a surprise at the White House press corps during a news conference - by claiming that the 2011 decision to withdraw all US forces from Iraq, a politically popular move on the eve of his re-election in 2012, was made entirely by Iraq. On June 19, a reporter asked the President, "Do you wish you had left a residual force in Iraq? Any regrets about that decision in 2011?” Obama answered : “Well, keep in mind that wasn’t a decision made by me. That was a decision made by the Iraqi government." The comment seems to have been his latest effort to quiet critics who say his ill-thought out Iraq retreat led to its violent near-collapse to ISIS. Obama now claims he left reluctantly, forced out by Baghdad. The President was asked the same question again last Saturday on the South Lawn as he was leaving for his vacation. Any "second thoughts" about pulling all ground troops from Iraq? The President shot back, "What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps coming up, as if this was my decision. Let's just be clear, the reason we did not have a follow-on force in Iraq was because the Iraqis were - a majority of Iraqis did not want US troops there, and politically they could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to protect our troops. So, Obama was suggesting, any effort to make him responsible for the spiraling violence in Iraq is "bogus" and "wrong." ~~~~~ However, in fact, the record is clear that Obama came into office promising to withdraw all troops within 16 months, a vow that his campaign chief called "rock solid." He didn't pull them out to "protect" them in the absence of a status of forces agreement or for any other imaginary reason, but simply "to end this war" and appease his liberal base. Here is what he said about ending the war. ... "(It would be) a strategic error for us to maintain a long-term occupation in Iraq." That was in the summer of 2010. In December 2008 he said : "I said that I would remove our combat troops from Iraq in 16 months. I believe that 16 months is the right time frame." And in October 2011 : "A few hours ago, I spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. We are in full agreement about how to move forward. So today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year." Campaigning in Ohio in September 2012 : “Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq, We did.” ~~~~~ And most notably, in October 2012 during the last presidential debate with GOP candidate Mitt Romney, Obama actually denied wanting a force protection agreement from the Iraqi government. Romney said, "With regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should be a status of forces agreement," Obama answered sharply : "That’s not true," Romney responded, “Oh, you didn't want a status of forces agreement?” Obama said : “No. What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.” ~~~~~ Dear readers, it is clear why there is no Obama Iraq policy...or any other Obama foreign policy. He has several policies on any given issue - to fit his immediate needs, whether it's votes or poll results. Now that we see how important those troops in Iraq were, the President refuses to admit that he made a bad decision. Instead, he is making a scapegoat of the beleaguered and struggling Iraqi government, under siege by ISIS because of Obama's premature withdrawal. In that same October 2012 debate, Obama scolded Romney, in one of the most embarrassing presidential displays ever, for failing to state his position in a way voters could understand. “Here’s one thing I’ve learned as commander in chief,” Obama said. “You’ve got to be clear, both to our allies and our enemies, about where you stand and what you mean." Oh my dear Mr. Obama, you condemn yourself with your own words. And it shows just how weak you are as a leader.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Iraq Endgame Obama Tried to Avoid

"US airstrikes against ISIL ordered by President Barack Obama last week will not weaken the group's overall terrorist capabilities, despite slowing its advance," a senior US military official said. "We assess that US airstrikes in northern Iraq have slowed ISIL's operational tempo and temporarily disrupted their advances toward the province of Erbil," said Army Lieutenant General William Mayville, Joint Chiefs of Staff director of operations, according to The Hill. "What I expect [ISIS] to do is look for other things to do, to pick up and move elsewhere. So I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of the threat posed by [the group]," he said. He added that the mission is helping Kurdish security forces by giving them time to fortify their positions as they receive additional reinforcements and US arms. Mayville said the military had no plans to expand its operations beyond the current mission of protecting US citizens and rescuing refugees, stressing that the effect of the airstrikes was "temporary," The Hill reported. It should be noted that military officers responsible for US airstrikes in Iraq are reporting that ISIS units are digging in and also dispersing among civilian enclaves, making airstrikes less feasible. ~~~~~ Senator John McCain has led the chorus of US lawmakers saying Obama's limited airstrikes in Iraq do not constitute an aggressive and effective strategy to combat ISIS. "I would be rushing equipment to Erbil. I would be launching airstrikes not only in Iraq, but in Syria against ISIS," McCain said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." McCain added, "I would be providing as much training and equipment as I can to ... the Kurds and I would do a lot of things that we can [and] not have to wait for Maliki to leave there. And I would be giving assistance to the Syrian - the Free Syrian Army, which is on the ropes right now because we failed to help them.” The UK's Daily Mail reports that ISIS' reputation in the Middle East is that of a ruthless force, too radical even for Osama bin Laden. According to The Daily Mail, the 9/11 mastermind wrote a letter disavowing ISIS and saying the group was so vicious it could damage al-Qaida's reputation. The Daily Mail says the 21-page letter was found among papers in bin Laden's hideout. ~~~~~ While the debate and handwringing go on, ISIS has subdued a huge swath of Syria and Iraq, blurring the frontier between the two countries in the process. ISIS has staged mass executions and displayed the heads of victims in village squares. Thousands of Syrian and Iraqi Christians have been forced from their homes by ISIS during their march across the region. In some villages, ISIS has forced residents to convert, pay burdensome taxes, or be executed. Some who have chosen conversion were executed anyway. And the Yazidis have been driven to Iraq's Mount Sinjar, stranded there for days before relief efforts began to supply food or water. The US, France and the UK have airlifted supplies to them, but the suffering continues, even though an evacuation is well underway. The question is where to send them that will put them beyond the reach of ISIS. And, ISIS has armed itself with American-made heavy artillery supplied to the Iraq Army and stolen after Iraqi soldiers either fled or were executed. They are also is making millions in black-market oil sales from seized oil fields in the region. And in each captured city, ISIS raids banks and hauls away gold and currency. Private Arabs have supported ISIS financially, and the world should be demanding that, to the extent banks are used, such payments be tracked, halted and prosecuted under antiterrorism laws. Experts are warning that the threat ISIS poses to the United States should not be underestimated, and that the group may be capable of launching attacks on the US mainland, as well as in Europe. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said Friday that ISIS had been focused on recruiting fighters to send to the West to "attack us in our backyard." The intent [to attack the United States] is there and we are concerned the capability is growing, according to a senior US official quoted by The Hill but not identified by name. ~~~~~ Dear readers, as President Obama scurries to stay ahead of his plummeting favorability ratings, he is facing the dark endgame he created by his own desire to do things his way, and only his way, in Iraq. His goal was to show that he was better, smarter, more sophisticated than George W. Bush. But he has fallen into a trap of his own making. And it is not only Congress and the media that are calling him out. It is also the American military. While nobody is urging the US to rush ground forces to Baghdad, there are now more than 600 US military special operations personnel in Iraq -- in what the White House describes as short term fact-finding and US diplomatic personnel protection missions. They are clearly also helping the Kurdish peshmerga military regroup, while they undoubtedly are trying to breathe life back into the Iraqi army. Vietnam ghosts die hard and many Americans must now be hearing the echoes of White House statements from the 1960s, announcing that American military advisors were being deployed to Saigon. Barack Obama finds himself in the worst of all corners -- he must do something to save the Middle East from being devoured by ISIS, and to prevent its stealth warfare creeping into Europe and America with ISIS recruits returning home -- and whatever he does must necessarily include US troop deployment. There are no other possibilities. The brutal truth is that if Obama had done what was required to keep troops in Iraq in 2011 and if he had led the region to maintain an allied front to control jihadist terrorists, he would not now be staring Vietnam II square in the face.