The U.S. Killed a Marginalized Osama bin Laden before they Rebuilt the World Trade Center Site

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 7th, 2011

Despite losing the Hearts and Minds, the Violence will go On

Osama bin Laden is dead and gone.  So what is his legacy?  A great Martyr?  Or just a silly old man who lost touch with the Muslim world who did not quite want as an austere life as he thought they should have (see The Osama drama: Is the play over? by Michael Hudson posted 5/7/2011 on Al Jazeera)?

But it was not only the denial of a media platform that marginalised him. It was also his script: to most Arabs and Muslims the idea of a new caliphate enforcing an austere – and not widely accepted – form of Islamic rule was a bloodless abstraction and not very appealing at that. So, while he drew strength by articulating violent resistance against deeply held grievances, he failed to offer, as it were, a “happy ending”.

How galling it must have been for him, isolated in his Pakistani villa, to watch huge audiences across the Arab world following a new and different script. Nowhere in the wave of mass protests that began last December were there banners for bin Laden or calls for a salafi order; nowhere were there chants for violence – even when unarmed protesters were brutally attacked by regime security forces. Osama was upstaged by new actors with a new script and an audience that chose not to sit as passive observers of the political scene – but actually insisted on participation in governance and public affairs.

You can almost hear his lament.  “These kids today.  When I was out there killing people it meant something.  Today they don’t care.  It’s just a little fun for young people who love to whine about the great problems in their lives.  She doesn’t love me.  My parents won’t buy me an iPhone.  While I was trying to establish a new caliphate they just wanted to ‘friend’ others on Facebook.  Whatever that means.  *sigh*  Jihad isn’t what it used to be…Get off of my lawn you snot-nose kids!  Don’t make me come out there.”

It was a battle for the heart and minds of real Muslims.  And apparently, he lost (see Al-Qaeda is its own worst enemy by Alia Brahimi posted 5/7/2011 on Al Jazeera).

Though al-Qaeda will be temporarily re-energised by the killing of bin Laden, it will not be enough to build up the sort of momentum and broad-based sympathy that they enjoyed at the height of the US-led occupation of Iraq. Between 2003-2006 in particular, bin Laden’s poetic narrative of resistance resonated even beyond the Muslim world. A German student in my halls at Oxford once returned from a trip home sporting a bin Laden t-shirt. George W Bush’s “war on terror” did not win the struggle for hearts and minds – fortunately, however, al-Qaeda lost it.

Yes, al Qaeda lost their way.  They became ideologically soft in their brutal acts of terrorism.  Violence for violence sake.  Missing the big picture.  Like Uncle Osama preached.  To make everyone live under the most harsh and austere Sharia Law possible.  That’s why the Americans lost the Vietnam War.  They lost the hearts and minds.  The North Vietnamese never lost their faith.  Or their belief in Uncle Ho.  Of course, victory for them included a happy ending.  Which makes it easier to follow someone to the bitter end.  Because the end won’t necessarily be so bitter.

So the violence will go on.  It just won’t serve some higher purpose.

What a Terrible way to Spend a Decade

It took about 10 years to kill Osama bin Laden.  That’s a long time.  A lot can happen in 10 years.  You can build buildings.  A lot of them.  For example, they built the Empire State Building in only 410 days.  That’s about a month longer than one year.  And this during the Great Depression.  Not to mention the fact that it was the tallest building in the world at the time.  Says a lot about New Yorkers.  Even in the worst of times, they’re tough and strong and can do anything you ask of them.  So I imagine the new World Trade Center site should be showing great progress in almost 10 years.  Because some of the best people in the world were there to rebuild that site (see A World Trade Center Progress Report by Bill Marsh posted 5/7/2011 on The New York Times).

It will take much longer than that to heal the gaping wound in the Lower Manhattan cityscape. Blame politics, finances, legalities and the challenge of making the many compromises necessary for such an enormous reconstruction effort. But after spending much time on cleanup and foundation work, progress is ever more visible: The soaring 1 World Trade Center and another skyscraper are rising by about one floor per week; a spacious memorial is to open on the 10th anniversary of the attack this fall.

You know what you call an empty World Trade Center site?  A memorial to al Qaeda.  Rebuilding this site faster would have meant a lot more than a dead bin Laden.  I can’t imagine the frustration of the New York building trades this past decade.  What a terrible way to spend a decade.

A Better way to Spend a Decade

I can think of a far better way to put a decade to good use (see Whiskey is all about the waiting by Jason Wilson posted 5/6/2011 on The Washington Post).

Barrel aging is one of the most noteworthy aspects of whiskey making. It endlessly fascinates me that producers will take a clear “white dog” whiskey off the still at eyebrow-singeing proof, pour it into a barrel and let the liquid sit and mellow inside the wood — sometimes for decades.

Magical things happen inside that barrel in terms of flavor, texture and aroma. Beyond what sort of wood is used, the location of where the barrel sits in the warehouse matters greatly — a barrel sitting at ground level ages differently than one resting on a higher floor. In this way, the warehouse becomes a man-made terroir — similar to a winery, in which grapes from different geographic locations will take on different characteristics.

I’ve previously discussed the importance of aging and blending in the process of making whiskey. The craft of distillation is certainly of utmost importance — if mediocre whiskey comes off the still, it’s not going to get better after 10 years in a barrel. But how whiskey ages in a barrel is just as critical.

I’m sipping a bourbon right now as I write.  It’s not a ten-year bourbon.  But it’s okay.  There’s some texture to it.  And it warms the belly.  But I know what I’ll be buying tomorrow.

In this week’s column, I discuss Buffalo Trace’s new Single Oak Project, which is part of the distillery’s larger two-decade search for the Holy Grail of bourbon…

This happened with the bourbons I wrote about this week. The man who went into the Ozarks to choose the white oaks for the Single Oak Project was named Ronnie Eddins, Buffalo Trace’s long-time warehouse manager. If you go to the Single Oak Project Web site, you actually can see videos of Eddins chatting with the loggers of those trees. Throughout the aging process, he was instrumental in creating these bourbons. Sadly, Eddins died earlier this year. He did not live to see the Single Oak Project bottled and sent to market.

Poor Ronnie Eddins.  He didn’t live to see the day Osama bin Laden paid for his crimes.  To see new buildings rising triumphantly on the World Trade Center site.  Or taste what he so lovingly brought to market.  Rest in peace, Ronnie.  Know that you brought enjoyment to others.  And that we smile as we raise a glass in your honor.

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Obama’s Incoherent Policy on Egypt, Libya and Syria

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 23rd, 2011

Syrians not as worthy to Save as Libyans?

President Assad is killing innocent Syrians in the streets.  In an effort to squelch their yearning for liberty.  A contagion spreading through the Arab world.  TunisiaEgyptBahrainYemen.  Libya.  And now Syria.  The international community is shocked at Assad’s brutality.  And they issued a stern ‘you better stop doing that or we may tell you to stop a second time’.  Whereas we demanded Mubarak to step down in Egypt.  And bombed Libya.  But in Syria all we got is a wag of the finger (see Obama’s Middle East Head Spin by Christopher Dickey posted 4/22/2011 on The Daily Beast).

From Washington’s vantage, every Friday is becoming Black Friday in the Middle East… This Friday, the shock came in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad runs one of the Middle East’s most repressive regimes. Across the country, protesters have grown ever more emboldened in recent weeks, and on Friday they poured into the streets by the tens of thousands to face the deadly fusillades of Assad’s security forces. More than 70 died. What did the White House have to say? From Air Force One: “We call on all sides to cease and desist from the use of violence.”

Pity the president didn’t add, “Don’t make me turn this car around.”  For children know it’s serious when Dad threatens to turn that car around.  Of course, Obama isn’t their dad.  But he expects everyone to listen to him as if he were.  And if that’s all we got going for our foreign policy, I say use it.  Can’t hurt.

Then again, perhaps the president just doesn’t know what to do.  He had no governing experience before running for president.  He never had a real job.  It’s rather baffling why so many championed the guy when he was in fact so utterly unqualified.  But they did.  And here he is.  What was it that Rush Limbaugh called him?  Man child?  Pretty strong criticism.  But is it true?

The drama—the tragedy—increasingly apparent at the White House is of a brilliant intellect who is nonetheless confounded by events, a strategist whose strategies are thwarted and who is left with almost no strategy at all, a persuasive politician and diplomat who gets others to crawl out on limbs, has them take big risks to break through to a new future, and then turns around and walks away from them when the political winds in the United States threaten to shift. It’s not enough to say the Cabinet is divided about what to do. Maybe the simplest and in many ways the most disturbing explanation for all the flailing is offered by veteran journalist and diplomat Leslie H. Gelb: “There is one man in this administration who debates himself.” President Obama.

A brilliant intellect who is not allowed to think brilliantly.  Because of all this stuff going on in the world.  This isn’t what he signed on for.  He wanted to pontificate great things.  Not govern.  It’s not fair.  He wanted to provide a laser-like focus on job creation.  Build a stronger economy.  Lower the sea levels.  Instead he failed.  Everywhere.  As he is failing in his foreign policy.  Or, rather, flailing.  With a policy that is utterly incoherent.

At the Pentagon, which bears the brunt of much of this hesitation and vacillation, the mood is one of not-so-quiet desperation. Said one longtime friend of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “They think it [the Libyan operation] is just nuts. We are destroying our credibility with this situation, and there is really no answer to it.”

This is what happens when you have people who hate the military (i.e., liberals) use the military.  The military has a constitutional role.  To defend the United States.  And protect vital national security interests.  There is no constitutional clause that says, oh, and by the way, if a sovereign nation is being mean to her people we should commit U.S. military force without a clear objective or exit strategy.  Just to feel good.  But we can’t do that.  For feeling good is a poor national strategy. 

So Vice President Joe Biden has been left to handle the file, and he’s seemed none too happy about it. In an interview with the Financial Times, he argued that America’s real strategic interests were elsewhere, notably in helping to stabilize Egypt, while continuing to try to deal with Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Korea. “We can’t do it all,” said Biden. NATO and the Europeans should do more, he insisted. But NATO is run by consensus, and when its most powerful member refuses to lead, hard decisions are hard to come by. France and Britain, for their part, have taken the initiative in Libya from the beginning and crossed a new threshold last week by announcing publicly that they would send military advisers into Libya to help the rebels organize. (One firm decision by the U.S.: It will not put its troops on the ground in Libya under any circumstances.)

Of course when we say ‘by consensus’ we mean ‘by the United States’.  For any international effort is weak and ineffective without the full weight and force of the United States.  It goes with being a superpower.  But we have to pick and choose our fights.  For even a superpower’s might is finite.  There are national security interests (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Korea, for example).  And there are non-national security interests.  Such as Libya.  And look where we are.  The non-national security interest.  Why? 

The United States got involved “because of the worry that Gaddafi could destabilize the fledgling revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt, with Egypt being central to the future of the region; and, second, to prevent a humanitarian disaster.” Then the clincher: “A third reason was that, while it was not a vital interest for us, our allies considered it a vital interest. And just as they have helped us in Afghanistan, we thought it was important, the president thought it was important, to help them in Libya.”

All right, let me see if I understand this right.  Our allies joined us in the fight against international terrorism.  Because international terrorism is international.  It’s not only America at risk.  Everyone is.  So they helped us in Afghanistan.  Where we’ve taken the lead role.  Because it was in our national security interest.  As it was in theirs.  So, to thank them for joining the fight against international terrorism, we joined their fight to keep their supply of oil cheap and plentiful.  Got it.

There is no question, for instance, that what happens in Syria is of vital interest to Israel, which is America’s strategic partner; nor is there any question that Assad is watching Gaddafi’s brutal tactics for precedents that will serve the Syrian’s own savage regime…

The fundamentally important American alliance with Saudi Arabia, which holds the keys to the global oil market, was shaken badly by what King Abdullah saw as Obama’s betrayal of Hosni Mubarak. Add to that the king’s bitter disappointment with American course corrections, and reversals, on the Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. A European envoy who met with Abdullah in early March described him as “incandescent” with rage at Obama. Yet the Saudis backed the intervention in Libya—only to see the Americans fumble their leadership once again.

As for Iran, ever since the regime there confronted and crushed huge pro-democracy protests in 2009, nothing threatens it more than successful revolutions in the Arab world. And nothing gratifies Iran’s leaders more than to see the United States dithering about whether Arab democracy is in American interests. The ripple effects are felt even in East Asia, where a former U.S. ambassador says he’s heard that the North Koreans are telling the Chinese “if this is the best the Americans can do in Libya, we’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Well, if Obama’s foreign policy strategy is to placate our enemies and infuriate our allies, he’s succeeded.  If that wasn’t the strategy you’d then have to say those in charge of foreign policy are in over their heads.  Or just incompetent.

Israel Looks at Syria and sees Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran

The world’s superpower can suffer bouts of incompetence.  Because it takes time to bring down a superpower.  We have the world’s largest economy.  And the most powerful military.  It takes a lot to disrupt our daily lives.  So people don’t really fear the outside world.  Except the occasional terrorist attack.  And when something like that happens, people rally around the grownups.  George W. BushRudy Giuliani.  But can you imagine if it was that way all of the time?  To be under attack all the time?  To be in a perpetual state of war?  The Israelis can.  They can’t afford the luxury of incompetence.  There, the grownups are in charge.  And they’re looking at all the developments in the Middle East a little differently than the Obama Administration (see Israel in a quandary over turmoil in Syria by Joel Greenberg posted 4/22/2011 on The Washington Post).

Syria has long been a bitter enemy of Israel’s, a key player in a regional alliance with Iran, a backer of the militant Hezbollah group in Lebanon and host to the political leadership of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Yet it has also been a reliable foe, keeping its cease-fire lines with Israel quiet for decades through periods of war and confrontation in Lebanon and Gaza, and it has participated in U.S.-mediated peace talks.

A power shift in Damascus could alter those dynamics. But there is no clear sense in Israel of where that might lead, and there are a range of views here on the most preferable scenario. Experts speculate that Syria could dissolve into anarchy and civil war, Libya-style, or that a new authoritarian leadership could emerge, backed by the army and security forces, or a government dominated by the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

So Syria is a lot like Egypt in a sense.  Peaceful and secular.  The only difference is that they’re in tight with Iran.  And Hezbollah and Hamas.  Who have a penchant for killing Jews in Israel.  And share a common objective with Iran.  The destruction of Israel.  But it could be worse.  They’re not Islamist.  They may be the client of an Islamist state (Iran).  But they’re not Islamist.

“We prefer the devil we know,” said Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister, referring to Assad. “Although the Islamist forces are not the majority in the opposition, they are better organized and politically competent. And if we fantasize today that one day we’ll be able to take the secular regime in Syria outside the Iranian orbit, it may be more difficult, if not impossible, if the regime is an Islamist one.”

Dore Gold, a former foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu who heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, also emphasized the importance to Israel of monitoring “who the opposition is” in Syria to see whether “what looks like a sincere desire for freedom ends up being hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“Israel views a lot of the current developments through the prism of the Iranian threat,” Gold added. “It would be unfortunate if Iran becomes the beneficiary of the developments across the Middle East. Iran could face a tremendous strategic loss if the Syrian regime falls and is replaced by a more Western-oriented leadership.”

How wise.  If only Obama viewed developments through the prism of the Iranian threat.  Perhaps he would have moved slower on Egypt.  Until we knew who the opposition was.  And whether the Muslim Brotherhood would hijack their democracy movement.  Maybe we could have persuaded Mubarak to implement reforms.  Like the Israelis are willing to do with Assad.  Because sometimes the known devil is easier to deal with than the unknown one. 

Still, a change of leadership in Syria or a weakened Assad regime could present opportunities that the United States and Israel should explore when the dust settles, according to Uri Sagi, a former chief of military intelligence who headed the Israeli negotiating team in talks with the Syrians from 1999 to 2000.

“I would suggest that the Americans take advantage of this crisis in order to change the balance here, namely to get the Syrians out of their intimate relationship with Hezbollah on the one hand and the Iranians on the other,” Sagi said.

The Syrian policy would probably be a little less complicated had it not followed the collapse of our ally in Egypt.  Had the Syrian uprising happened first, there would have been more room for risk taking in Syria.  We would have had the opportunity to shut down Hezbollah and Hamas.  By severing the link to Iran via Syria.  But Egypt happened first.  And the great unknown now is the Muslim Brotherhood.  They’re there.  Lurking in the background.  In Egypt.  And in Syria. 

Egypt is our ally.  Syria is not.  If we’re hesitating to act in Syria, then we should have hesitated in Egypt.  This may prove to have been a big mistake.  Forcing Mubarak out.  We’re sending mixed messages to our allies and enemies.  And losing all credibility by flailing about in Libya sure doesn’t help matters either.

Obama Looks at Syria and sees the 2012 Election

Yes, American foreign policy has not been President Obama’s shining moment.  But I’m sure there’s a good reason for that.  After all, he’s president.  He must have a lot of things to worry about.  Important things.  More important than turmoil in the Middle East.  I mean, how can that compare to his reelection campaign (see Obama’s 2012 Campaign: What’s the Strategy? by Daniel Stone posted 4/22/2011 on The Daily Beast)?

Staffers declined to disclose how many people are currently working for Obama in Chicago, and how fast the operation has been taking in money. But so far, campaign events hosted by the president himself have had high yields. At several fundraisers this week in San Francisco and Los Angeles, some supporters donated up $35,800 per couple, the maximum allowed by federal election laws.

Sure they’re shooting Syrians down in the street.  But it’s not all bad news for Obama.  His fund raising is doing very well.

Despite the clear advantage of having all the trappings of the presidency—Air Force One, a support staff of hundreds, guaranteed press coverage—Obama’s challenges may be new and unique. “Last time he was an underdog and outsider and really led a movement,” says Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Al Gore’s 2000 and John Kerry’s 2004 campaigns. “This time is different. He’s the president. His campaign will have to take advantage of all the things they did last time, coordinating and using technology. It’s hard not to be institutional.”

You can say many things about Obama.  Criticize him for his disastrous economic policies.  The lack of transparency in his administration.  His abysmal foreign policy.  But one thing for sure.  He’s a man that his priorities in order.  Reelection first.  Everything else is a distant second.

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Peace in the Middle East Depends on Egypt once Again

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 22nd, 2011

Roman Barbarism begets Christian Charity

This is Good Friday.  The day Jesus Christ, a Jew, was crucified by the Romans.  In the land of the Jews.  Palestine.  Then occupied by the Romans.  Which came after the Egyptian occupation.  But before the Byzantine occupation.  Yes, there was always a power struggle there.  And Jesus was a part of it.  Though His struggle against the powers that be was not to gain their earthly powers.  But to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Despite their earthly powers.  Starting in Judea

Things went from bad to worse on the temporal side.  On the spiritual side, though, things went pretty much according to plan.  Jesus endured great suffering.  For death by crucifixion is about as bad as it gets.  Which is quite the testament of the man Jesus was.  For He suffered as a man.  Not a god.  His pain was real.  And it lasted a long time.  Then He died.  Ascended to heaven.  And ushered in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  Where His words and deeds became the greatest force for peace the civilized world has ever known.

Now this is the Christian view of history.  Not everyone agrees with it.  But it is impossible to refute the role of Christianity in civilizing the barbaric lands of Europe during the Middle Ages.  It was a civilizing force that transcended the warring tribes.  And ultimately brought peace, the rule of law and civil society to Europe.  And the Western world.  It was the one force in the world that restrained the arbitrary power of kings.  And the phrase ‘Christian charity’ entered the lexicon as people chose to live in peace and love their neighbor.  To live by the Golden Rule.  And this all goes back to southern Palestine.  To Judea.  Where one man once walked among us.

Assad worse than Mubarak but gets better U.S. Treatment

The Arab world is ablaze.  Tunisia and Egypt saw regime change.  Libya is embroiled in civil war.  The UN passed a resolution to help Libya.  So we started bombing Libya.  There’s been further unrest in the Arab world.  But nothing rising to the level of a Libya, though.  Not serious enough for the international community to step in (see Shameful U.S. inaction on Syria’s massacres posted 4/22/2011 on The Washington Post).

FOR THE PAST five weeks, growing numbers of Syrians have been gathering in cities and towns across the country to demand political freedom — and the security forces of dictator Bashar al-Assad have been responding by opening fire on them…

Massacres on this scale usually prompt a strong response from Western democracies, as they should. Ambassadors are withdrawn; resolutions are introduced at the U.N. Security Council; international investigations are mounted and sanctions applied. In Syria’s case, none of this has happened. The Obama administration has denounced the violence — the White House said it “deplored” Friday’s slaughter — but otherwise remained passive. Even the ambassador it dispatched to Damascus during a congressional recess last year remains on post.

This is very interesting.  For Colonel Qaddafi was killing his people, too.  And we bombed him for that.  In Egypt, Mubarak wasn’t killing his protestors but the Obama administration said he had to go.  Even though he was a strong U.S. ally.  And a strong force for peace in the Middle East.  Egypt has recognized Israel.  And remained at peace with them.   Allowing free transit of the Sinai for Jew and Arab alike.  But he had to go.  As does Qaddafi.  But Syria can kill their own people.  Why?  Is Syria a better force for peace than Egypt?

The administration has sat on its hands despite the fact that the Assad regime is one of the most implacable U.S. adversaries in the Middle East. It is Iran’s closest ally; it supplies Iranian weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip for use against Israel. Since 2003 it has helped thousands of jihadists from across the Arab world travel to Iraq to attack American soldiers. It sought to build a secret nuclear reactor with the help of North Korea and destabilized the pro-Western government of neighboring Lebanon by sponsoring a series of assassinations.

No.  They are not a better force for peace in the Middle East.  In fact, they’re the exact opposite of that.  You couldn’t find a bigger enemy to peace.  Or the United States.  Well, except for Iran, of course.  Who we’ve handled in the same way when their people protest their totalitarian rule.

Yet the Obama administration has effectively sided with the regime against the protesters. Rather than repudiate Mr. Assad, it has proposed that his government introduce reforms. As The Post’s Karen DeYoung and Scott Wilson reported Friday, the administration, which made the “engagement” of Syria a key part of its Middle East policy, still clings to the belief that Mr. Assad could be part of a Middle East peace process; and it would rather not trade “a known quantity in Assad for an unknown future.”

An unknown future?  Syria and Iran are at the top of our enemies list.  We worry about radical Islam taking hold in Egypt as that democracy movement looks less and less democratic and more theocratic.  But it’s already there in Iran and Syria.  What ‘unknown’ are we worried about?  That the Syrians may convert to Christianity?  To Judaism?  That they may stop killing Jews and Christians?  That they may stop killing Americans?

If we were going to practice restraint anywhere, it should have been in Egypt.  We probably should have considered long and hard what may happen in Egypt before throwing Mubarak under the bus.  We should have asked him to introduce reforms.  We were already engaged with him.  And he wasn’t killing Americans.  As far as peace partners go, that’s a pretty big plus in my book.

The Sinai Peninsula – A Great Crossroads of the Middle East

Do you know where the Sinai Peninsula is?  It’s between Israel and Egypt.  On the other side of Israel is Jordan.  Above Jordan is Syria.  Above Israel is Lebanon.  Also bordering Israel and Egypt on the Mediterranean is the Gaza Strip.  And who is the ruling power in the Gaza Strip?  Hamas.  And who do they hate?  Israel.  Who else hates Israel?  Hezbollah.  In southern Lebanon. 

Israel has fought a lot of wars to stabilize their borders where they currently are.  They still deal with the occasional rocket attacks.  But there has been an uneasy peace along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.  They still hate each other.  And they’re still trying to kill each other.  But it hasn’t blown up into a full scale war.  Partly because of the stabilizing force of Egypt.  Under the steady rule of Hosni Mubarak. 

Of course, the Obama administration threw Mubarak under the bus.  And the future of Egypt is unsure.  If it falls to the Iran-friendly Muslim Brotherhood, that will empower Hamas to make a whole lot of mischief in the Gaza Strip.  Which may encourage a little mischief from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.  Which Syria no doubt will exploit.  And if all of this happens, Iran will swoop in and be the major power in the eastern Mediterranean.  Putting Israel in a very difficult position.  Fighting for her existence.  Which could plunge the region into war.  And the world into war.  And the flashpoint for all of this may be in the Sinai Peninsula.  A great crossroads of the Middle East. 

U.S. Boots on the Ground in…the Sinai Peninsula

President Obama promised the American people that there would be no ‘boots on the ground’ in Libya.  That we would only use air power to protect civilians from Colonel Qaddafi.  And maybe advisors.  Because the rebel forces, though filled with the spirit of liberty, lacked a certain military discipline.  But no combat troops on the ground in Libya.  Of course, that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be boots on the ground elsewhere (see Md. National Guard Members Prep For Egypt Deployment posted 4/22/2011 on WBAL TV).

More than 400 soldiers from the Maryland National Guard will spend the next 10 month in Egypt. 11 News reporter Sheldon Dutes looks at how they’re preparing.

And guess where in Egypt these troops will deploy?  Here’s a hint.  Think of the worst possible place.  Are you thinking the Sinai Peninsula?  The potential tinder box for World War Three?  If so, you thought right.

If Egypt goes Iran’s way, there will be a lot of traffic through the Sinai.  And not the good kind.  People with guns.  And bombs.  Going into the Gaza Strip.  To kill Jews.  And anyone that supports the Jews.  Like Americans.  Who are now about to deploy to the Sinai Peninsula.

Palestine’s Elusive Peace

Egypt and Israel go a long way back.  Two of the world’s oldest kingdoms.  Three, if you count the Kingdom of Judah.  And they haven’t always been the best of friends.  But they made their peace.  Thanks to Jimmy Carter‘s diplomacy.  And billions of dollars of U.S. aid.  The Camp David Accords brought some peace to the Middle East.  Despite hostile feelings that simmered throughout the region.  So hostile that they did boil over in Egypt.  When those unhappy with the Israeli peace assassinated the Egyptian president who made that peace.  Anwar Sadat.  The world held its breath.  Would Egypt collapse into anarchy.  And break the Israeli peace?  No.  Because of one man.  Hosni Mubarak.  Who we just recently threw under the bus.

Some in the world hold their breath again.  Mostly grownups who remember what happened in Iran in 1979.  What will happen in Egypt this time?  Will it continue to honor its peace with Israel?  Or will there be world war?  Hard to say now.  It could go either way.

Some things never change in the Middle East.  Especially in Palestine.  Where happiness is as elusive there as it was during the Roman occupation.

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Barack Obama Attacks a Muslim Country with Oil. Just Like George W. Bush.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 20th, 2011

Bombs for Humanity

So we’re bombing Libya.  Why?  What’s the mission?  And our exit strategy?  Vietnam protester, John Kerry, explains on Meet the Press (see Kerry, Levin Defend Timing and Scope of Libya Response by David M. Drucker posted 3/20/2011 on Roll Call).

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” from Cairo, described the activities of U.S. military forces in Libya as a “humanitarian initiative” that was wholly unconcerned with removing Gaddafi from power…

 “The goal of this mission is not to get rid of Gaddafi,” Kerry added. “That’s not what the United Nations licensed, and I would not call it going to war. This is a very limited operation that is geared to save lives. … It is not geared to try to get rid of Gaddafi, he has not been targeted.”

So the mission is NOT to get rid of the guy that’s doing all the killing.  Yet we want the killing to stop.  Interesting.  And we’re making this information public.  So Gaddafi knows this.  That we’re not targeting him.  Or trying to remove him from power.  So his choices are surrender and die.  Or keep fighting and live.  Seems to me like he has an incentive to keep on doing what he’s doing.  And not to stop killing his own people.  Like I said, interesting.

As far as plans go, this sounds like a pretty bad plan to me.  In fact, it sounds pretty FUBAR.  Because it ignores how dictators stay in power and do the horrible things they do.  Dictators are protected by an inner circle.  Each has a vested interest in the other.  The inner circle keeps the dictator in power.  And the dictator keeps the inner circle living well.  As long as the dictator lives, the inner circle lives.  So if they are fairly certain he will live, they know their best future is with him.  And there’s only one way to make that happen.  By crushing the rebellion.

 “We’re not policing Libya,” Kerry said. “We are engaged in a humanitarian initiative to prevent the slaughter of innocent people, to prevent a dictator from dragging people out of hospital beds and they disappear.”

“What you’re missing here,” [Karl] Levin added, “is this is the world that has made a decision. … It is not just we the United States. The president has taken the time to put the world community together.”

The president put the world community together?  Hillary Clinton was talking to the French president (Nicolas Sarkozy) and the British prime minister (David Cameron).  Obama was doing his NCAA brackets.  And planning his vacation to Brazil.  Even Clinton was growing frustrated with Obama’s inaction.  It’s almost as if he wants plausible denial when this war, his war, fails.

Obama was for Removing Qaddafi from Power before he was Against It

So what if the plans go as planned?  We blow up a lot of stuff.  Kill a lot of people.  But leave Gaddafi in power.  What then?  What is the endgame?  What will it be like after our military involvement is complete.  If our military involvement ends (see U.S. stresses limits to military role in Libya by David Morgan posted 3/20/2011 on Reuters)?

Gates spoke amid growing concern among U.S. politicians over the scope and nature of the Libya mission and after an acknowledgement from the top U.S. military officer that the assault on Gaddafi’s forces could lead to an impasse…

President Barack Obama has called in recent weeks for Gaddafi to step down but U.S. officials have emphasized that is not the goal of the United Nations authorized attacks on Libya. The United States is eager to avoid similarities to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and ouster of President Saddam Hussein.

An impasse?  Hell, we can have that without the mission.  So why bother?  And what about the mixed message?  Obama said Gaddafi had to go.  But U.S. officials say he doesn’t?  Is anyone driving this bus?  Does anyone know what we’re doing?  And why?  An astute military man would sense all this indecision.  And see opportunities.  Even a lowly colonel.  Who hasn’t been promoted in decades.

The Qaddafis call Obama Hitler, Brutus

And what about Colonel Gaddafi?  How’s he taking this?  Is he ready to surrender?  To hand over power to the opposition forces?  To go forward in peace because he saw the error of his ways?  Not quite (see A Call from the Colonel: Gaddafi and His Bunker by Howard Chua-Eoan posted 3/20/2011 on Time).

“We defeated Italy when it was a superpower like you,” he said comparing Washington to Rome, Libya’s former colonizer. “You will be defeated like Hitler and Mussolini… You are the new Hitler.” He brought up America’s defeats in Vietnam and its self-debilitating invasion of Iraq. He raised the image of Osama bin Laden “that weak man” who he said defeated the U.S. “We will be victorious. You will die…”

“We have been wronged,” he declared. “Those who have been wronged will always win. There is no justification for this attack. It’s a colonial crusade. Islam will win. Libyans will win.” “We will not let these Christian nations take our oil… We are now giving Libyans weapons, machine guns. Every citizen will be armed…You will not be able to land here… We will destroy those who support you in Benghazi…. We will defend our own country, inch by inch… We will be victorious. The coalition of the devil will be defeated.”

And there is the perfunctory Western criticism.  We’re Christian Crusaders trying to take and colonize Muslim land so we can have their oil.  You know, the usual shtick.  Of course, this carries a lot of weight in the Muslim Middle East.  It will resonate with the masses.  Well played, Colonel.  Perhaps his son will be more reasonable (see Qaddafi’s son: Airstrikes are “big mistake” by CBS/AP posted 3/20/2011 on CBS News).

“One day you’ll wake up and you will find out that you were supporting the wrong people,” Saif al-Islam Qaddafi told ABC’s “This Week…”

Saif said if the U.S. wanted to help the Libyan people, they should “liberate Benghazi from the militia and the terrorists.”

“It was a big surprise that, finally, President Obama – we thought he’s a good man and friend of the Arab world – is bombing Libya,” Saif told “This Week” host Christiane Amanpour.

When asked whether Libya would retaliate against the strikes by attacking civilian airliners, Saif said this was not their “target.”

“Our target is how to help our people in Libya, especially in Benghazi,” he said.

So we’re supporting the wrong people.  Gee, I hope not.  That would be embarrassing.  Of course, if the Muslim Brotherhood rises from the ashes to lead Qaddafi-free Libya into the Iranian camp, we’ll know that we did.  Time will tell. 

And how about that personal dig?  At Obama?  That good man and friend of the Arab world.  Et tu, Barack?  Et tu?  I guess that Apology Tour really resonated with the anti-American elements of the Middle East.  At least they’re not going to target civilian airlines in retaliation.  This time.  Unlike that other time.  When they blew up Pan Am Flight 103.  Over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The Arab Coalition Faltering because Obama is just another George W. Bush

Not having Gaddafi be more open to surrendering and dying may complicate things a bit.  He seems willing to sustain the bombing damage until we grow tired of the war and go home.  Or until the coalition falls apart (see Arab League condemns broad bombing campaign in Libya by Edward Cody posted 3/20/2011 on The Washington Post).

The Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, deplored the broad scope of the U.S.-European bombing campaign in Libya and said Sunday that he would call a league meeting to reconsider Arab approval of the Western military intervention…

Moussa’s declaration suggested that some of the 22 Arab League members were taken aback by what they have seen and wanted to modify their approval lest they be perceived as accepting outright Western military intervention in Libya. Although the eccentric Gaddafi is widely looked down on in the Arab world, the leaders and people of the Middle East traditionally have risen up in emotional protest at the first sign of Western intervention.

A shift away from the Arab League endorsement, even partial, would be an important setback to the U.S.-European campaign. Western leaders brandished the Arab League decision as a justification for their decision to move militarily and as a weapon in the debate to win approval for a U.N. Security Council resolution two days before the bombing began.

It’s a delicate line our friends in the Middle East must walk.  They may want to help the West.  But they cannot really look like they are.  Or, if they are, they can’ t look overly enthusiastic about it.  Because many of our friends have populations they have to appease to prevent civil war.  And if you think it’s hard for us in the Middle East, try to walk a mile in their shoes. 

So this could be a little posturing on their side to save face in the Arab world.  Or, perhaps, they just didn’t know establishing a no-fly zone requires gaining air supremacy.  Meaning we can fly wherever we want.  But they cannot.  And to do that we have to take out all of their air defenses.  So Qaddafi may pick off a member or two of the Arab coalition disturbed by the intensity of the bombing.  And he always has his friends.  Those darlings of the liberal left.

As U.S. and European military operations entered their second day, however, most Arab governments maintained public silence, and the strongest expressions of opposition came from the greatest distance. Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Evo Morales of Bolivia and former Cuban president Fidel Castro condemned the intervention and suggested that Western powers were seeking to get their hands on Libya’s oil reserves rather than limit the bloodshed in the country.

You gotta love this.  The liberal left’s guy, President Obama, gets us into another war.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, their idols in Latin America have to stick up for the bad guy in this war.  It’s like the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact all over again.  When the Left had to stop loving their idol, Joseph Stalin, because he made a deal with Adolf Hitler.  The Left just must be beside themselves.  Because even their idols are saying Obama is going into Libya for the oil.  Just like George W. Bush in Iraq.

Islam Lutfi, a lawyer and Muslim Brotherhood leader in Egypt, said he opposed the military intervention because the real intention of the United States and its European allies was to get into position to benefit from Libya’s oil supplies. “The countries aligned against Libya are there not for humanitarian reasons but to further their own interests,” he added.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood says Obama is after Libya’s oil.  Just like George W. Bush in Iraq.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry, which previously criticized Gaddafi’s crackdown, on Sunday expressed “doubts” about U.S. and European intentions. Like the Latin American critics, it suggested that the claims of wanting to protect civilians were just a cover for a desire to install a more malleable leadership in Tripoli and make it easier to exploit Libya’s oil.

Even Iran says Obama is after Libya’s oil.  Just like George W. Bush in Iraq.

Christians Attacking Muslims on Land with Oil

So much for the Apology Tour.  If they treat a guy that has bent over backwards to the Muslim community like this, it’s obvious that the Obama approach in the Middle East was wrong.  And naive.  Not only has he damaged relations with our friends and allies, but he got zero goodwill for the effort.

And here we are.  Another ‘Christian’ coalition attacking another Muslim country with oil.  Already the Muslim anger is building.  And the question that begs to be asked is this.  How did we not see this coming?

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Political Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa: Democracy in Action or an Extension of the Iranian Revolution?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 26th, 2011

Democracy Movements Sow the Seeds of Shariah Law

The Arab world is ablaze with democracy movements.  Which is creating disorder and chaos.  A most fertile ground for Shariah law to take root and grow (see AP’s Al-Qaida calls for revolt against Arab rulers posted 2/26/2011 on myway).

Al-Qaida’s offshoot in Yemen urged Muslims to revolt against Arab rulers and establish governments based on Islamic law, according to an audio tape posted Saturday on militant websites…

He also said toppling longtime rulers is not enough and that new governments must be established based on Islamic religious law, or Shariah.

“One tyrant goes, only to be replaced another who may fix for the people some of their worldly issues by offering job opportunities and increasing their income, but the greater problem remains,” al-Rubeish said, according to a translation provided by SITE.

This is how the Iranian Revolution ended in a rigid theocracy.  Nothing at all what those female college students wanted when protesting against the Shah.  But this is the danger of revolution.  Disorder and chaos tend to favor the less savory types.  People with ulterior motives.  Who never let a good crisis go to waste.

Big Trouble in Little Bahrain

Bahrain is ripe for chaos.  A majority Shiite population ruled by a Sunni minority.  Home to an American naval fleet.  Supported by Saudi Arabia who is seen as too friendly to the United States.  And now an exile returns home (see Key Shi’ite opposition leader returns to Bahrain by Adam Schreck, Associated Press, posted 2/26/2011 on The Washington Times).

A prominent Bahraini opposition leader returned home from exile Saturday and urged the Gulf kingdom’s rulers to back up promises of political reform with action.

The return of Hassan Mushaima, a senior Shi’ite figure, could mark a new phase for an anti-government movement in the tiny nation which is strategically important for the U.S. because it hosts the U.S. Navy‘s 5th Fleet.

Mr. Mushaima heads a Shi’ite group known as Haq, which is considered more hard-line than the main Shi’ite political bloc that has led two weeks of protests. Mr. Mushaima returned Saturday from several months of voluntary exile in London, with a stop in Lebanon.

A more hard-line Shiite?  Sort of like in Iran?  This reminds me of someone.  I seem to recall another opposition leader in exile who returned to Iran following that democratic revolution.  What was his name?  It’s on the tip of my tongue.  Who was that?  Oh, yes.  Now I remember.  Ayatollah Khomeini.  In exile he wanted but one thing.  For the Shah of Iran and his government to be overthrown.  (And he wanted to impose Shariah law but he didn’t tell the people about that.  He would surprise them with that one later.  After he seized power.)  Surely Mr. Mushaima wasn’t in exile for anything like this.

Mr. Mushaima had been among a group of Shi’ite activists accused of plotting to overthrow Bahrain‘s rulers.

Then again he could have been in exile for exactly the same thing.  But is this any cause for concern?

Bahrain is the first Gulf state to be thrown into turmoil by the Arab world’s wave of change. The unrest is highly significant for Washington because Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy‘s 5th Fleet, which is the Pentagon’s main counterweight against Iran’s widening military ambitions.

Well, as long as we have nothing to fear from Iran, there should be no problem.  And what has Iran been doing lately that should worry us?

Iran Working on the Ingredients to Build an Atomic Bomb

Iran has been trying to build an atomic bomb.  They deny this but they have begun enriching uranium.  And enriched uranium is an ingredient of an atomic bomb.  But we can take Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for his word, can’t we?  Sure, he denies the Holocaust.  And he wants to wipe Israel from the face of the planet.  And he oppresses his people.  Locks up dissidents.  But despite all that, then candidate Barack Obama said he would sit down with this man and talk with him.  So that must mean he’s a reasonable man.

Well, that.  Or Obama is woefully naive and ignorant of Middle East history.  Ahmadinejad is a threat and a loose cannon in the Middle East.  Everyone should be worried about him.  And not trust a single word he says (he supported the democracy movement in Egypt while cracking down on dissidents in Iran).  He’s up to something.  And a bad something, no doubt.  Others know this.  And have taken action to delay his atomic bomb making ability.  Many believe that these people launched the Stuxnet computer virus with the objective of interrupting the Iranian nuclear program.  This malware spun some of their uranium-enrichment centrifuges out of control, damaging them.  It would appear they are unloading the uranium fuel to make repairs, further delaying their ability to make an atomic bomb.

Some will object to this interference into a sovereign nation.  And some have criticized those in the West.  Who are we to say who can and cannot have a nuclear program?  Well, the West has never started a nuclear war.  It would appear that we can’t get the same kind of assurance out of Iran (see Iran nuclear plans: Bushehr fuel to be unloaded posted 2/26/2011 on BBC News Middle East).

The IAEA report – obtained by the BBC and made available online by the Institute for Science and International Security (Isis) – says Iran is “not implementing a number of its obligations.”

These include “clarification of the remaining outstanding issues which give rise to concerns about possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme”.

Six world powers are negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme, and the country is subject to United Nations Security Council sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

Enriched uranium can be used for civilian nuclear purposes, but also to build atomic bombs.

The United States has been a nuclear power since 1945.  Who in the world today is worried about a U.S. nuclear first strike?  No one.  It’s not who we are.  And our history of being a nuclear power proves it.  Now who thinks Iran can be trusted with nuclear weapons like the U.S.?  Only those who see the world through the same prism as Iran.  Those people who want to see Israel and the United States destroyed.  Other, rational people know the world will be a more dangerous place with a nuclear Iran.

Saudi Arabia on the Right Side of Soviet Communism and Iranian Hegemony

And we come back to Bahrain.  Which can be the fuse to the tinderbox growing in the Middle East and North Africa (see Could the next Mideast uprising happen in Saudi Arabia? by Rachel Bronson posted 2/25/2011 on The Washington Post).

The unrest in Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen (to the kingdom’s west, east and south) plays on the Saudis’ greatest fear: encirclement. The Saudis aligned with the United States instead of colonial Britain in the early 20th century in part to defend against creeping British hegemony. During the Cold War the monarchy hunkered down against its Soviet-backed neighbors out of fear of being surrounded by communist regimes. And since the end of the Cold War, the overarching goal of Saudi foreign policy has been countering the spread of Iranian influence in all directions – Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Yemen…

Sunni-ruled Bahrain, less than 20 miles from Saudi Arabia’s oil- and Shiite-rich Eastern Province, has been a longtime recipient of Saudi aid. It has also been a focus of Iranian interests.

The Saudis are “concerned about the events unfolding in Bahrain and throughout the region.”  And they weren’t too happy with President Obama on Egypt.  They were “reportedly furious that the Obama administration ultimately supported regime change in Egypt, because of the precedent it could set.”  And for good reason.  The Saudis have always been on our side.  I mean, they’re not perfect, but it doesn’t get much better in the Muslim Middle East.

The United States has a great deal at stake in Saudi Arabia, though Americans often look at the Saudis with distaste. As one senior Saudi government official once asked me: “What does the United States share with a country where women can’t drive, the Koran is the constitution and beheadings are commonplace?” It’s a tough question, but the answer, quite simply, is geopolitics – and that we know and like Saudi’s U.S.-educated liberal elites.

The Saudis have been helpful to us. They are reasonably peaceful stalwarts. They don’t attack their neighbors, although they do try to influence them, often by funding allies in local competitions for power. They are generally committed to reasonable oil prices. For example, although their oil is not a direct substitute for Libyan sweet crude, the Saudis have offered to increase their supply to offset any reduction in Libyan production due to the violence there. We work closely with them on counterterrorism operations. And the Saudis are a counterbalance to Iran. We disagree on the Israel-Palestinian issue, but we don’t let it get in the way of other key interests.

Saudi Arabia is not in as bad economic conditions as the other nations falling into unrest.  It may not fall.  But if Bahrain falls under hard-line Shiite control, that’s not going to help the Saudis.  The Middle East.  The United States.  Or world peace.  Before that happens, we should consider treating our friends better than our enemies.

Will Democracy Win the Day for Oppressive, Authoritarian Rule?

As volatile regions go, they don’t come much more volatile than the Middle East.  And, like it or not, many of the world’s economies are dependent on their oil.  We know this.  They know it.  And our enemies know it.

As chaos spreads opportunity knocks.  And it’s clear who is knocking.  Iran.  We have kept this oppressive, authoritarian regime’s ambitions in check so far.  It’s rather ironic, then, that it’s greatest enemy may be the key for her success.  Democracy.  In other countries.  That will cause chaos that Iran can exploit.  Much like they did during the Iranian Revolution. 

History does have a funny way of repeating itself, doesn’t it?

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LESSONS LEARNED #25: “War is costly. Peace, too.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 5th, 2010

AT THE HEIGHT of the Roman Empire, the empire reached from North Africa to Britannia (England), from Hispania (Spain) to Mesopotamia (approximately modern day Iraq).  When Roman power ruled the civilized world, there was peace.  The Pax Romana (Roman Peace).  The Romans built empire through conquest.  And Rome grew rich with the spoils of conquest.  For awhile, peace was only those quiet intervals between growth and conquest.  But with secure borders, a uniform government, a rule of law, a stable currency, bustling trade & markets and a military to be the world’s policeman, peace broke out.  For some 200 years.

Life was good for the Roman citizen.  As well as for those living in the empire.  The Romans modernized the provinces they conquered.  Made life better.  Even for the conquered people.  Although there were those who hated being subjugated by a foreign power.

Reg: They bled us white, the bastards. They’ve taken everything we had. And not just from us! From our fathers, and from our father’s fathers.

Loretta: And from our father’s father’s fathers.

Reg: Yeah.

Loretta: And from our father’s father’s father’s fathers.

Reg: Yeah, all right Stan, don’t belabor the point. And what have they ever given us in return?

Revolutionary I: The aqueduct?

Reg: What?

Revolutionary I: The aqueduct.

Reg: Oh. Yeah, yeah, they did give us that, ah, that’s true, yeah.

Revolutionary II: And the sanitation.

Loretta: Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like.

Reg: Yeah, all right, I’ll grant you the aqueduct and sanitation, the two things the Romans have done.

Matthias: And the roads.

Reg: Oh, yeah, obviously the roads. I mean the roads go without saying, don’t they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads…

Revolutionary III: Irrigation.

Revolutionary I: Medicine.

Revolutionary IV: Education.

Reg: Yeah, yeah, all right, fair enough.

Revolutionary V: And the wine.

All revolutionaries except Reg: Oh, yeah! Right!

Rogers: Yeah! Yeah, that’s something we’d really miss Reg, if the Romans left. Huh.

Revolutionary VI: Public bathes.

Loretta: And it’s safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg.

Rogers: Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let’s face it; they’re the only ones who could in a place like this.

All revolutionaries except Reg: Hahaha…all right…

Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

Revolutionary I: Brought peace?

Reg: Oh, peace! Shut up!

(From Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, 1979.)

Maintaining a peaceful empire is costly.  As people got more accustomed to peace and plenty, they began to complain about taxes.  Citizens refused to volunteer to serve in the Roman Legions maintaining that peace.  Barbarians began to serve in the Legions.  Some rose to command them.  Some Roman commanders came from the very people they were fighting in the border regions.  Soon Rome would rely on mercenaries (hired soldiers) to defend their borders.  All of this cost the empire.  It had to pay more and more to maintain the loyalty of the military.  Ditto for the huge bureaucracy administrating the empire.  And they lost control.  Trouble on the borders and economic collapse ended the peace.  And, ultimately, the empire.  The civilized world broke down and collapsed.  And barbarian leaders on the borders, hungry for conquest, attacked.  Plunging the former Roman provinces into war and instability.

RISING FROM THE ashes of the Roman Empire were the seeds of new empires.  And the ground that proved most fertile was the northern limit of the old empire.  England.

England started to assert herself with the growth of her navy.  With her borders secured, a uniform government, a rule of law, a stable currency, bustling trade & markets and a military to be the world’s policeman, peace broke out.  Again.  For about a hundred years.  During the Industrial Revolution.  After the defeat of Napoleon. 

Imperial Britain stretched across the globe.  The sun never set on the British Empire.  And wherever she went, she brought the rule of law, modernity, a sound economy and political stability.  Her old colonial possessions went on to be some of the richest, most prosperous and peaceful nations in the world.  India.  Australia.  New Zealand.  South Africa.  Canada.  And, of course, the United States of America.  She achieved her century of peace (Pax Britannia) by a balance of power.  She maintained peace by intervening in disputes, often on the side of the weaker nation.  She prevented stronger, aggressive nations from threatening her weaker neighbors.   And she provided a safe environment for the weaker nation to live peacefully in the shadows of stronger, more aggressive neighbors.

For a hundred years Britannia kept the peace.  In large part due to her Royal Navy, the most powerful and potent navy at the time.  If you ate any imported food or used any imported goods, it was thanks to the Royal Navy that kept the world’s sea lanes safe.  But this peace came with a price.  The rise of nationalism, the quest of new empires to establish their own overseas colonies and a change in the balance of power in Europe with the rise of Germany added to that price.  And then a shot fired in Sarajevo by a Serbian terrorist ignited a tinderbox.  The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip started World War I.  The most bloody and expensive war at the time, it bankrupted Great Britain and ended her empire.  And left the world a less safe place. 

From the ashes of World War I rose new leaders with aspirations of world conquest.  Fascist Italy led by Benito Mussolini.  Nazi Germany led by Adolf Hitler.  Communist Russia led by Joseph Stalin.  Imperial Japan led by Hideki Tojo.  And the nation that led the victors in World War II would, by default, become the new world power.  The new world policeman.  The United States of America.

SO WHAT HAPPENED during the inter-war years that led to World War II?  War exhausted Britain and France.  Neither had the stomach for another war.  Britain continued to rely on the Royal Navy for protection (as an island nation, sea power is indispensable).  France built fixed fortifications (the Maginot Line).  Both were primarily defensive strategies. 

In America, General Billy Mitchell demonstrated the vulnerability of battleships to air power by sinking a battleship with an airplane (greatly flustering the naval high command).  Colonel George S. Patton developed an armored doctrine for an unenthused army and eventually transferred back to the horse cavalry.  Meanwhile, Imperial Japan was building aircraft carriers.  And Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Communist Russia developed air and armored doctrine while fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

Fascist Italy attacked Ethiopia in 1935 to rebuild the Roman Empire and make the Mediterranean Sea a Roman lake once again.  Nazi Germany launched World War II in 1939 by an armored assault on Poland with tactical air support.  Poland resisted with horse cavalry.  And lost.  Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 to destroy American naval power in the Pacific.  They did a lot of damage.  But the American carriers, their prime objective, were at sea.  They would eventually meet those carriers later at the Battle of Midway.  Where they would lose four of their best carriers and many of their best aviators.  This tipped the balance of power in the Pacific to the Americans.

America was ill-prepared for war.  But American industry, the Arsenal of Democracy, ramped up and built the planes, tanks, guns, rifles and ships that would win the war.   It would come with a heavy price tag.  Global wars typically do.  Had there been a balance of power that would have checked the territorial ambitions of the aggressor nations, it would have been a different story.  Of course, having the power is one thing.  How you use it is another. 

France had more tanks than Germany before the outbreak of hostilities.  But the Nazis quickly overran France.  Why?  Doctrine.  France’s doctrine was to hide behind the security of the Maginot Line.  It was a defensive-only strategy.  She developed no armored doctrine.  The lesson they learned from World War I was that armies killed themselves attacking fixed defenses.  Germany, too, learned that lesson.  So their doctrine called for going around fixed defenses with fast-moving armor spearheads with tactical air support (i.e., blitzkrieg).  Formidable though the Maginot Line was, it could not attack.  And if the Nazis didn’t attack it, it did nothing but concentrate men and firepower away from the battle.

WHEN WE PULLED out of South Vietnam, we agreed to use American air power if North Vietnam violated the terms of the treaty ending that war.  Watergate changed all of that.  Even though JFK got us into Vietnam, it became Nixon’s war.  And a vindictive Congress wouldn’t have anything more to do with it.  The North tested the American will.  Saw that there was none.   Attacked.  And overran South Vietnam.  The message was clear to tyrants.  America will quit in the long run.  Especially after a large loss of life.

Other ‘retreats’ would reinforce this perception.  Especially in the Arab world.  The withdrawal from Lebanon after the bombing of the Marines’ barracks.  The withdrawal from Somalia after the Somalis dragged dead American troops through the streets of Mogadishu.  The Arab world even saw the victory in Desert Storm as a retreat.  The anti-American Arab world said that our invasion was about oil.  That what we really wanted was to topple Saddam Hussein and take his oil.  It was just another Christian Crusade into holy Islamic lands.  When we didn’t do that, the Arab world saw it as another American retreat.  That America didn’t have the will to endure a bloody battle to conquer Iraq. 

So some in the Arab world would test America.  Al Qaeda.  Headed by Osama bin Laden.  They started small and became more daring.  World Trade Center bombing.  Tanzanian Embassy bombing.  Kenyan Embassy bombing.  Khobar Towers bombing.  The USS Cole attack.  And they paid little for these attacks.  America didn’t fight back.  But their luck ran out on September 11, 2001.  Because America finally fought back.

PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER one, Osama bin Laden, belonged to the conservative Sunni sect of Islam called Wahhabi.  They have a large following in Saudi Arabia.  The Wahhabi have a delicate relationship with the Saudi Royal family.  They disapprove of the Western displays of wealth in the House of Saud. 

Al-Qaeda was a shadowy enemy.  We confronted them in the mountains of Afghanistan where the Taliban gave them a safe sanctuary.  We attacked.  Knocked the Taliban from power.  Drove al-Qaeda underground.  But we could not stop their funding.

Wahhabi money from Saudi Arabia financed 9/11.  And the money continued to flow.  The Saudis would not intervene on behalf of America.  They feared any crackdown on the Wahhabi could unleash a civil war.  So America needed leverage to get Saudi cooperation.  And they found it in an old nemesis, Saddam Hussein. 

A Sunni minority ruled Iraq.  The Saudis did not like Saddam Hussein.  However, they liked the balance of power he offered to Iran.  Iran was Shiite.  As much as the Saudis did not like Saddam, they disliked Shiite Iran more.  This was the American lever.

After some diplomatic gymnastics, the invasion of Iraq was set.  The Saudis thought we were bluffing.  They didn’t believe we would invade Iraq.  Never in a million years.  If we didn’t do it in Desert Storm when we had the force in place to do it and didn’t, there was no way the Americans would amass another coalition and redeploy forces to the region again.  Especially because America doesn’t like long, drawn out, bloody wars.  Which an invasion of Iraq would surely be.

They asked us to remove our forces from the Saudi bases.  We did.  Now they were getting nervous.  That was the political game.  Make some noise to show the Arab world you weren’t an American toady.  But, secretly, you want those American forces to remain.  That American presence did provide security.  And stability.  After the invasion of Kuwait, it sure looked like Saudi Arabia would be next.  It was only that large American force in the desert that changed that inevitability. 

The Americans invaded.  And conquered.  Now the Saudis had a vested interest in helping the Americans.  They needed them to be successful in Iraq.  To contain Iran.  The lever worked.  The Saudis stemmed the flow of Wahhabi money to al-Qaeda.  The invasion of Iraq proved to be one of the most effective battles in the war on terrorism.  

HISTORY HAS SHOWN that a balance of power can lead to peace.  It has also shown that a superpower can enforce a larger peace.  But it also has shown that there is good and bad when it comes to power.  The Romans could be cruel, but so were most in that time.  The road to empire, after all, started out simply as a quest to provide a buffer between Rome and the hostile barbarians on her borders.  Rome, then, expanded in pursuit of peace.  (Initially, at least.)  And then used her power to maintain peace.

Many view Great Britain as the successor to the Roman Empire.  And many view America as the successor to the British Empire.  These powers share many things (rule of law, an advanced civilization, political stability, etc.).  Perhaps the greatest, though, is a powerful military.  And how it was/is used.  As a powerful deterrent to an aggressor nation.  To protect trade routes.  To maintain peace.  Malign these empires/nations all you will, but the greatest periods of world peace were due to their military power.  And their will to use that military power.  Expensive as that was.  Is.

So, yes, wars are costly.  Peace, too.  Sometimes, though, we must fight wars.  But we can avoid a lot of them.  By a peace-time military force that acts as a deterrent.  Because there are bad guys out there.  Who only respect one thing.  And it isn’t diplomacy.  Often the only thing preventing them from waging a cruel war of conquest is a potent military and a willing leader to use it.  If a tyrant knows he will face a military consequence for acting, he may not act.  When he knows that consequence will be devastating, he will not act.  But if he knows a nation hasn’t the military power or the will to use military power, he will act.  Just as Hitler did.  As Mussolini did.  As Tojo did.  And as Osama bin Laden did.

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