"Restore(s) a little sanity into current political debate" - Kenneth Minogue, TLS "Projects a more expansive and optimistic future for Americans than (the analysis of) Huntington" - James R. Kurth, National Interest "One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years" - Lexington Green
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The White House is also exploring what could be a diplomatic blockbuster: possible new limits and controls on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Such an accord might eventually open a path toward a Pakistani version of the civil nuclear deal that was done with India in 2005….
Pakistan prizes its nuclear program, so negotiations would be slow and difficult, and it’s not clear that Islamabad would be willing to accept the limitations that would be required. But the issue is being discussed quietly in the run-up to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington Oct. 22. Any progress would break a stalemate that has existed since the U.S. detected Pakistan’s nuclear program in the mid-1980s, and especially after Pakistan exploded its first weapon in 1998.
This is behind our negotiations with the Taliban, which seems just as intent on upsetting Obama’s applecart as they ever were. No matter. Obama will keep negotiating. As Woody Allan once said of stockbrokers, “They invest your money and keep investing it until it is all gone.”
The U.S. recognized more than four years ago that the best way out of the Afghanistan conflict would be a diplomatic settlement that involved the Taliban and its sometime sponsors in Pakistan. State Department officials have been conducting secret peace talks, on and off, since 2011. That effort hasn’t borne fruit yet, as the Taliban’s recent offensive in Kunduz shows.
But the pace of negotiations has quickened this year, thanks to an unlikely U.S. diplomatic partnership with China. A senior administration official said Monday that “we’re hopeful that there will be a willingness on the part of the Taliban to resume negotiations,” despite the intense fighting in Kunduz and elsewhere. Beijing’s involvement is a “new dynamic” and shows an instance where “U.S. interests overlap with those of China.”
Chicago Boyz community member Robert Schwartz has some thoughts about the Obama administration’s Iran deal:
By now I think everybody, who is not sunk into Obama idolatry, agrees that Obama’s deal with the Iranian Regime fails in numerous dimensions. Some day it will be used in business school classes as an object lesson in poor negotiating technique.
Be that as it may, The Deal has been set, and the only remaining issue is whether the Congress of the United States will vote to disapprove it, and be able to override a veto of that resolution. The announcement of opposition by three prominent Congressmen, Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), and the very negative polling results for the Deal, show that this is a possibility.
In each case, the country’s top official decided to reverse a long-standing policy, taking significant risk to open space for negotiations. In gambling that the time had come to seek a deal, President Obama and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei broke a stalemate that had made the years of on-and-off negotiations an exercise in frustration.
Yes, Iran has agreed to all our concessions.
It begins when Obama came to office in 2009 and signaled his interest in reviving negotiations, sending a letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Khamenei, and Nowruz holiday greetings to the Iranian public. Although Obama insisted that he did not trust Iran’s mullahs, the first principle of his foreign policy was that contact — “engagement,” as he refers to it — was better than past administrations’ efforts to isolate adversary governments.
That might have been because they considered them adversaries. “Death to America” is not exactly the expression of friendship.
Hugh Hewitt interviewed General Stanley McCrystal on his radio show yesterday and the interview is pretty interesting. McCrystal has a memoir out called My Share of the Task and a new book on leadership called, Team of Teams.
In a statement expressing praise for McChrystal yet certainty he had to go, Obama said he did not make the decision over any disagreement in policy or “out of any sense of personal insult.” Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the Rose Garden, he said: “War is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general, or a president.”
Of course, it was Obama’s petulance and sense of outrage that anyone would think him less than competent.
In the magazine article, McChrystal called the period last fall when the president was deciding whether to approve more troops “painful” and said the president appeared ready to hand him an “unsellable” position. McChrystal also said he was “betrayed” by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, the man the White House chose to be his diplomatic partner in Afghanistan.
He accused Eikenberry of raising doubts about Karzai only to give himself cover in case the U.S. effort failed. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so,'” McChrystal told the magazine. And he was quoted mocking Vice President Joe Biden.
McCrystal has emerged looking better and better and is obviously a great leader and general. Some of the interview’s insights into his leadership are worth repeating. I plan to read both books.
The question is whether the Saudis will fall to their own Shiite population and whether the capture of Aden will allow Iran to block Saudi oil shipments.
“Once hailed by President Barack Obama as a model for fighting extremism, the U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Yemen has all but collapsed as the country descends into chaos, according to U.S. and Yemeni officials.”
As for Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom is waging the first war in its history. Yet with its small, weak and inexperienced army, it cannot commit ground troops to fight both the Shiite Houthis or the Sunni Jihadists, and is relying mainly on its air power that has, thus far, caused the death of many innocent civilians.
The Saudi-led coalition that’s fighting against Shiite rebels in Yemen said it completed a blockade of the country’s ports and is ready to step up airstrikes.
Bombing missions are seeking to stop the Shiite Houthis from moving forces between Yemen’s cities, Ahmed Asseri, a Saudi military officer, told reporters in Riyadh on Monday. Coalition aircraft and warships targeted the rebels as they advanced toward Aden, the southern port that’s the last stronghold of Saudi Arabia’s ally in Yemen, President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi. Shipping routes to and from the ports are under the coalition’s control, Asseri said.
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 11th April 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
Does Barack Obama know what he is doing ? There is room for doubt. In foreign affairs he seems to be over his head. In domestic policy, he seems to be accomplishing what he wants to do. Hugh Hewitt asked former Vice President Dick Cheney his opinion.
Cheney said, “I vacillate between the various theories I’ve heard. If you had somebody who, as president — who wanted to take America down. Who wanted to fundamentally weaken our position in the world, reduce our capacity to influence events. Turn our back on our allies and encourage our enemies, it would look exactly like what Barack Obama is doing. I think his actions are constituted in my mind are those of the worst president we’ve ever had.”
Cheney has been involved in American government since Ford was president and knows a thing or two. What to make of Obama ?
I noted, Bush, with his love of Zion, had been a disaster, inadvertently empowering Iran. Obama, with his cool detachment, was just what we needed.
Lastly, I encouraged her [his sister] to vote Democrat, now, before her Alex P. Keaton-like eldest got the right to vote and cancelled her out.
And she did (I think, maybe). She even wrote to me about the beauty of that cold January day in 2009 when he was sworn into office.
He was encouraging his sister to vote for Obama with the usual arguments made by intelligent people who believed Obama would be a good president. I never bought that argument. I knew the story of where he came from.
I swear I am not trying to be the Cassandra of this blog but some things just jump out at me. A Richard Fernandez column today did that as it agreed with a post of mine on my own blog from several days ago.
ISIS has been luring thousands of Westerners to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. The number of Americans who have traveled to Syria is still relatively small — in the neighborhood of 150 people — and a thin slice of that group, perhaps as many as two dozen Americans, are thought to have joined ISIS.
In the discussions at the White House this week, one city has focused minds: Minneapolis-St Paul. It had been ground zero for terrorist recruiters in the past, and is fast becoming the center of ISIS’ recruitment effort in the United States.
The young man pictured above is one of many young black men, many recruited in prison, who have committed these actions.
Over the weekend, the FBI announced that it would treat Islamist Alton Nolan’s alleged beheading of Colleen Hufford, 54, as a case of workplace violence. That despite the fact that Nolan’s Facebook page contains a picture of Nolan giving the ISIS salute, multiple pictures of Osama Bin Laden, a screenshot of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, and a quote reading, “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smile ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them.”
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled Yemen by sea Wednesday as Shiite rebels and their allies moved on his last refuge in the south, captured its airport and put a bounty on his head, officials said.
The departure of the close U.S. ally and the imminent fall of the southern port of Aden pushed Yemen further toward a violent collapse. It also threatened to turn the impoverished but strategic country into another proxy battle between the Middle East’s Sunni powers and Shiite-led Iran.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies believe the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, are tools for Iran to seize control of Yemen and say they intend to stop the takeover. The Houthis deny they are backed by Iran.
Never before has a country repeatedly declared its goal was “death to America,” taken clear actions to achieve that aim, and suffered no serious consequences for its actions. The reason for this is Iran’s diplomatic brilliance. They have conditioned successive administrations as easily as Pavlov: They hint at diplomacy, and get a free pass for abusing and murdering Americans.
Rubin is spot-on, and his critique applies to US administrations of both parties, from Carter’s to Obama’s. The Iranian regime has never paid a significant price for its numerous attacks against Americans and American interests. We may pay a high price for this failure.
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 21st March 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
The Obama Administration is close to announcing a deal with the government of Iran on their nuclear program. The deal will include some weak language on delay in the acquisition of a nuclear weapon by Iran and the dropping of all sanctions against the regime by the US and its European allies. This will be a disaster, in my opinion. The New York Times has another editorial today which includes delighted anticipation of the deal and more invective against Prime Minister Netanyahu who opposes the deal.
“In a way, the administration has already won,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to Democratic and Republican administrations. “If you get agreement by the end of March, it will be historic in nature, it will have demonstrated that the administration is prepared to willfully stand up to Republican opposition in Congress and to deal with members of its own party who have doubts, and has withstood Israeli pressure.”
This is an excellent long discussion of the historical background of today’s struggle for Iraq between ISIS and the modern Persian empire:
The eschatology of revolution and Western decline
All of this history is recent, in Persian terms. The ancient Persian Empire was old by the time Herodotus the Greek, father of Western history, walked the earth, 2,400 years ago. There are much older ghosts in the plain of Zahab – but the Islamic conquest of the 630s is the “break” that counts: the one that set Persia and modern Iran on course for their rendezvous with 2015.
Three and a half centuries after the Treaty of Zahab, a revolutionary Iran, sensitized to eschatological signs, found herself facing serious danger from an independent and radical Iraq. The pathway to Baghdad suddenly had geo-military significance again. Read the rest of this entry »
This essay was originally posted at The Scholar’s Stage on 27 February 2015. It has been re-posted here without alteration.
Perhaps the most predictable fall-out of GraemeWood’s influential cover article for The Atlantic, “What the Islamic State Really Wants,” is another round of debate over whether or not the atrocities committed by ISIS and other armed fundamentalist terrorist outfits are sanctioned by the Qur’an, Hadith, and other Islamic texts, and if not, whether these groups and the evils they inflict upon the world should be called “Islamic” at all. Michael Lotus, co-author of the excellent America 3.0 and a generally sharp political observer all around, suggests that American policy makers shouldn’t bother themselves with the question:
Fortunately for non-Muslims, who have neither the time nor the inclination nor the scholarly competence to get into intra-Muslim theological disputes, we do not need to figure out whether ISIS or [their theological opponents] more properly interpret these passages. We just need to know that ISIS reads the texts the way it does, believe them to be divine commands, and acts accordingly. Knowing this, we are better able to plan whatever military response is necessary to defeat them, and hopefully destroy them entirely. This is both theoretically and practically an easier task than debating them.
There are two separate issues at play here that need to be clearly distinguished from each other before the United States crafts any strategy to defeat ISIS. The first is what, if anything, the United States should do over the short term to stop and then reverse ISIS’s advance. The second is how the United States should approach the long term threat posed by Salafi-Jihadist terrorism and the ideology that inspires it. Inasmuch as the goal of American policy is grounding ISIS into the dust, then Michael is entirely correct. Conquerors the world over have shown that one does not need a nuanced understanding of an enemy’s belief system in order to obliterate him. But ISIS is only one head of the hydra. If the goal of American policy is to permanently defeat “global extremism” or “global terror” or whatever the folks in Washington have decided to call Salafi-Jihadist barbarism this month, then this view is insufficient. I should be clear here. I am not advocating a perpetual, open-ended war declared against some nebulous concept like “poverty,” or “drugs,” or “terror.” James Madison once declared that war is the “most dreadful” of “all public enemies to liberty,“ and I take his warning seriously. We cannot continue on an indefinite war footing without permanently damaging the integrity of the America’s republican institutions. But there is more to this conflict than America’s internal politics. It is worth it to step back and remind ourselves of exactly what is at stake in the global contest against Jihadist extremism.
At the turn of the twentieth century, China, Japan, and Korea saw vast changes in the shape of their society because the old Neo-Confucian world view that had upheld the old order had been discredited. In Europe both communism and fascism rose to horrific heights because the old ideology of classical liberalism that had hitherto held sway was discredited. As a global revolutionary force communism itself withered away because the events that closed the 20th century left it discredited. If Americans do not worry about communist revolutionaries anymore it is because communism was so thoroughly discredited that there is no one left in the world who is willing to pick up arms in its name. 
We cannot “win” this fight, in the long term, unless we can discredit the ideology that gives this fight teeth. Luckily for us, this does not require discrediting a fourteen hundred year old religion held by one fifth of the world’s population. It is worth reminding ourselves that the ideology we seek to discredit is a comparatively new one. It was born in the sands of Najd shortly before Arabia became “Saudi,” crystallized in its present form only in the 1960s, and was not exported abroad until the late 1980s. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict excepted, almost all “Islamist” terrorist attacks can be linked directly to this new Salafi-Jihadist ideology and the madrassas and proselytizing media used to spread it. It is an ideology that directly threatens the sovereign rulers of every country in the Near East, and one whose interpretations are not only opposed by the majority of Islamic theologians, but have little relation to the way Islam was practiced in most places a mere 30 years ago. That an ideology is new or rebels against established world views does not make it less dangerous. Novelty also says little about a movement’s future success–once upon a time Protestantism was a novel ideology. I encourage people to use this analogy. Think of these Salafi reformers as you do the first wave of Protestant reformers back in the 16th century. The comparison is apt not only because the goal of the Salafi-Jihadists is, like the original Protestants, to bring religious practice back to a pure and original form, or because the savagery displayed by many of the Protestant reformers was quite comparable to ISIS at its worst, but because this comparison gives you a sense of the stakes that are at play. This is a game where the shape of entire civilizations are on the table. The Salafi-Jihadists want to change the way billions of people worship, think, and live out their daily lives. ISIS’s success in the Near East gives us a clear picture of exactly what kind of society the Salafi-Jihadists envision for the Ummah.
I will not mince words: humankind faces few catastrophes more terrible than allowing Salafi-Jihadist reformers to hijack Islamic civilization. Theirs is an ideology utterly hostile to human progress and prosperity, and their victory, if attained, will come at great human cost. The Protestants secured their Reformation with one of the most destructive wars of European history; there is little reason to think Salafi-Jihadist victories will be any less disastrous. Not every ‘great game’ of international power politics is played for civilization-level stakes. But that is exactly what is at stake here. We must plan accordingly. Read the rest of this entry »
I have just posted a guest post from Dr Tim Furnish on Zenpundit.
Dr Furnish holds a doctorate in Islamic history, and “wrote the book” — Holiest Wars — on the history of Mahdist movements. In this powerful and timely post he tackles the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.
Immediately following the German attack on Poland, on September 1 of 1939, Neville Chamberlain’s government temporized. A message to was sent to Germany proposing a ceasefire and an immediate conference, promising that “If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty’s Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier.”
According to General Edward Spears, who was then a member of Parliament, the assembly had been expecting a declaration of war. Few were happy with this temporizing by the Chamberlain government. Spears describes the scene:
Arthur Greenwood got up, tall, lanky, his dank, fair hair hanging to either side of his forehead. He swayed a little as he clutched at the box in front of him and gazed through his glasses at Chamberlain sitting opposite him, bolt-upright as usual. There was a moment’s silence, then something very astonishing happened.
Leo Amery, sitting in the corner seat of the third bench below the gangway on the government side, voiced in three words his own pent-up anguish and fury, as well as the repudiation by the whole House of a policy of surrender. Standing up he shouted across to Greenwood: “Speak for England!” It was clear that this great patriot sought at this crucial moment to proclaim that no loyalty had any meaning if it was in conflict with the country’s honour. What in effect he said was: “The Prime Minister has not spoken for Britain, then let the socialists do so. Let the lead go to anyone who will.” That shout was a cry of defiance. It meant that the house and the country would neither surrender nor accept a leader who might be prepared to trifle with the nation’s pledged word.
Greenwood then made a speech which I noted that night as certain to be the greatest of his life; a speech that would illuminate a career and justify a whole existence. It was remarkable neither for eloquence nor for dramatic effect, but the drama was there, we were all living it, we and millions more whose fate depended on the decisions taken in that small Chamber.
I was reminded of this occasion by the upcoming Bibi Netanyahu speech to Congress and the hostile political reactions to it. The reality is that Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons represents a severe threat not only to Israel but to the entire world, and by speaking to this point, he is serving not only his own country, but all of us.
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 4th February 2015 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
There has been considerable curiosity about Obama’s foreign policy goals in the middle east. He has picked a major fight with Israel and the PM, Netanyahu. It has been known for years that Obama and Netanyahu loathe each other. Obama withdrew US forces from Iraq while American military leaders kept silent but were disapproving. The CIA Director, General Petraeus, was removed after a scandal that had administration fingerprints all over it. Senior generals who opposed Obama’s plans and let it be known, were relieved like like General McChrystal, who had permitted other officers in his commend to talk disrespectfully about the administration in front of a reporter.
As for McChrystal: In a press conference on June 24 of this year, Adm. Mike Mullen said, succinctly, “It was clear that … in its totality, it challenged civilian control … .”
Mullen’s “it” refers to the disrespect for civilian authority by now-former U.S. Afghanistan commander McChrystal’s staff, as portrayed in an article in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine. President Obama, whose wife until his candidacy was never proud of her country, relieved McChrystal for this disrespect — not so much for what McChrystal had said, but for his staff’s biting criticism of other members of the administration, including Vice President Joe Biden.
“All of us who know him and are close to him are mystified by the fact there is still this investigation into him,” Jack Keane, a retired four-star U.S. Army General said in an interview. Keane has been both an adviser to and mentor of Petraeus since he saved Petraeus’s life during a live-fire training exercise in 1991.
How eager is the president to see Iran break through its isolation and become a very successful regional power? Very eager. A year ago, Benjamin Rhodes, deputy national-security adviser for strategic communication and a key member of the president’s inner circle, shared some good news with a friendly group of Democratic-party activists. The November 2013 nuclear agreement between Tehran and the “P5+1”—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany—represented, he said, not only “the best opportunity we’ve had to resolve the Iranian [nuclear] issue,” but “probably the biggest thing President Obama will do in his second term on foreign policy.”
Still, many thought that globalization made war between the great powers impossible. In 1909, the British journalist Norman Angell wrote an internationally best-selling book, “The Great Illusion,” that argued that financial interdependence and the great growth in credit made war self-defeating, since it would result in financial ruin for both victor and vanquished.
Angell was dead wrong. (Oddly, it didn’t prevent him from winning the 1933 Nobel Peace Prize.) Extensive trade and financial relations did not stop Germany from declaring war on both Britain and Russia, its two largest trading partners, in 1914.
Among other things, Sisi said that the “corpus of [Islamic] texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the years” are “antagonizing the entire world”; that it is not “possible that 1.6 billion people [reference to the world’s Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live”; and that Egypt (or the Islamic world in its entirety) “is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.”
The Brotherhood’s stated goal is to instill the Qur’an and Sunnah as the “sole reference point for … ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community … and state.” The movement officially renounced political violence in 1949, after a period of considerable political tension which ended in the assassination of Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud an-Nukrashi Pasha by a young veterinary student who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The renunciation obviously did not apply to Sadat who was assassinated in 1981.
Posted by Helen on 18th November 2014 (All posts by Helen)
The lunchtime meeting today had been organized by the Henry Jackson Society, the Left’s particular bugbear, in the House of Commons (luckily in one of the committee rooms where the acoustics were good and the mikes worked). The guest was the eminent academic and commentator, Professor Walter Russell Mead and his topic was an obvious riff on a once highly influential book by Professor Francis Fukuyama: The Crisis in Europe: the Return of History and what to do about it.
As one would expect, Professor Mead gave a very cogent and exhilarating analysis of the many problems the world is facing today but, as a journalist from Die Welt pointed out, we have all heard a great many depressing talks and read a great many even more depressing articles of that kind recently. What did Professor Mead think were some of the answers?
Professor Mead’s main solution was (and, to be fair, we were coming to the end of the session but, to be equally fair, that was supposed to be part of the presentation) that the US should restore its interest in Europe and re-engage in a dialogue with its European partners. Or, in other words, as he said the Lone Ranger, having ridden away, should now return (no word of how Tonto might feel about that).
The European Union, Professor Mead explained, was American foreign policy’s greatest accomplishment; it had been one of the aims of the Marshall Plan (some stretching of history here), had been supported diplomatically and politically throughout its history but has, to some extent been left to its own devices in the last few years. The US underestimated the difficulties European weakness and lack of cohesion will cause to it. Having, as it thought, defeated the bad guys (twice, presumably), knocked all the European heads together, the US announced that it will do what the European had always said they wanted and that is leave them all alone. Apparently, that is not what the Europeans wanted deep down and it is time to recognize this fact.
We’ll be over, we’re coming over
And we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.
Well, that’s fine, except that it would appear that it is never going to be over, over here. We saw that when Yugoslavia disintegrated into a series of wars in the nineties, the EU though the egregious Jacques Poos announced that “this was Europe’s hour” only to plead with the Americans to come back and sort the mess out after all. It seems that they will have to come back again in the sense of taking greater interest in this pesky little continent and its pesky problems.
Is that really the answer? Obviously, as an Atlanticist and an Anglospherist I want to see a continuation of the existing links between certain European countries and the United States, adding Canada, Australia and New Zealand into that network. But would a greater involvement by the US in the EU’s problems really help anyone? Somehow, I doubt it.
I got a little carried away with my blogging and had to put up two posts on Your Freedom and Ours on the subject of Professor Mead’s presentation, the discussion and my own opinions. So here they are: Post 1 and Post 2.
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 24th September 2014 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
The growth of the terrorist state ISIS has taken all the attention lately. This is just a resurgence of al Qeada in the vacuum left by Obama’s withdrawal of all US troops. Maybe, if we had kept a significant force in Iraq, something could be saved of all we bought at such terrible cost. Now, it is too late.
We do have allies worth helping but they are not in the Iraqi government. It is Shia dominated and dependent on Iran for support. They have alienated the Sunnis and the growth of ISIS is the result. We still have the Kurds as allies and they know we were their only hope in 1993. Jay Garner did a great job working with them once we decided to protect them after the First Gulf War. I have never understood why he was dismissed by George W Bush.
The Kurds have been an embarrassment for us for decades in the middle east because they occupy parts of three nations, two of which were at one time our allies.
Kurdistan includes parts of Iraq, Turkey and Iran. They have never had a modern nation and the neighbors are enemies. Only the mountains have protected them. Now, it is time we did something. Iran is certainly no friend. Iraq has dissolved and it is time to allow it to be broken up into the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish provinces it should be. Turkey is increasingly Islamist and has not been an ally at least since 2003 when they blocked our 4th Infantry Division from invading Iraq from the north.
The 4th was initially ordered to deploy in January 2003 before the war began, but did not arrive in Kuwait until late March. The delay was caused by the inability of the United States and Turkey to reach an agreement over using Turkish military bases to gain access to northern Iraq, where the division was originally planned to be located. Units from the division began crossing into Iraq on April 12, 2003.
The incursion of ISIS presents the Kurds with both opportunity and risk. In June, the ISIS army swept out of the Syrian desert and into Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. As the Islamist forces took control, Iraqi Army soldiers fled, setting off a military collapse through the region. The Kurds, taking advantage of the chaos, seized huge tracts of territory that had been claimed by both Kurdistan and the government in Baghdad. With the newly acquired land, the political climate for independence seemed promising. The region was also finding new economic strength; vast reserves of oil have been discovered there in the past decade. In July, President Barzani asked the Kurdish parliament to begin preparations for a vote on self-rule. “The time has come to decide our fate, and we should not wait for other people to decide it for us,” Barzani said.
The Kurds were surprised and routed by ISIS mostly due to limited weapons and ammunition. We could supply the deficit but Obama seems to be oblivious to the true situation. The Iraqi Army will not fight, a characteristic of all Arab armies. To the degree that the Iraqi army is Shia led, the Sunni Arabs will not cooperate or will join the enemy.
Erbil has changed a lot since I was there last. In early 2013, on my way into Syrian Kurdistan, I had stopped off in the city for a few days to make preparations. Then, the city had the feel of a boom town – shopping malls springing up across the skyline, brand new SUVs on the road, Exxon Mobil and Total were coming to town. It was the safest part of Iraq, an official of the Kurdish Regional Government had told me proudly over dinner in a garden restaurant.
A new kind of Middle East city.
What a difference a year makes. Now, Erbil is a city under siege. The closest lines of the Islamic State (IS) forces are 45 kilometers away. At the distant frontlines, IS (formerly ISIS) is dug in, its vehicles visible, waiting and glowering in the desert heat. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces are a few hundred meters away in positions hastily cut out of the sand to face the advancing jihadi fighters.
The problem and a solution are both clear. Obama is not serious about doing anything in Iraq or Syria and the Kurds may have to fend for themselves. Interesting enough, there are Jewish Kurds. Israel may have more at stake here than we do.
The phrase “Kurds have no friends but the mountains” was coined by Mullah Mustafa Barzani, the great and undisputed leader of the Kurdish people who fought all his life for Kurdish independence, and who was the first leader of the Kurdish autonomous region. His son, Massoud Barzani, is the current president of Iraqi Kurdistan. Other family members hold key positions in the government.
Perhaps the Israelis and Kurds can work out an alliance. The US, under Obama, is untrustworthy. We will see what happens.
The Yazidi minority we hear about in the news is not the only Kurdish minority. The Jews of Kurdistan, for example, maintained the traditions of ancient Judaism from the days of the Babylonian exile and the First Temple: they carried on the tradition of teaching the Oral Torah, and Aramaic remained the principal tongue of some in the Jewish Kurdish community since the Talmudic period. They preserved the legacy of the last prophets — whose grave markers constituted a significant part of community life — including the tomb of the prophet Jonah in Mosul, the prophet Nahum in Elkosh and the prophet Daniel in Kirkuk. When the vast majority of Kurdish Jews immigrated to Israel and adopted Hebrew as their first language, Aramaic ceased to exist as a living, spoken language. Although our grandparents’ generation still speaks it, along with a few Christian communities in Kurdistan, Aramaic has been declared a dead language by the academic world.
Israel might be an answer to the Kurds’ dilemma. I don’t think we are, except for supplying materials which we should have been doing all along.
That is what civilizational decline looks like in real time. The roots of the crisis were visible four years ago before the so-called Arab Spring beguiled the foreign policy wonks. Hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrian farmers already were living in tent camps around Syrian cities before the Syrian civil war began in April 2011. Israeli analysts knew this. In March 2011 Paul Rivlin of Tel Aviv University released a study of the collapse of Syrian agriculture, widely cited in Arab media but unmentioned in the English language press (except my essay on the topic).
In response to the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, President Assad reduced taxes on oil and sugar, and cut import tariffs on basic foodstuffs. This action had unintended consequences. A blogger on the Syrian website sy-weather.com reports, “I spent fifteen days on formalities to reduce customs duties on some basic food items, but I have not seen a glimmer of hope on the horizon. This was supposed to reduce the prices of the targeted goods. On the contrary, a liter of oil that sold for 65 Syrian pounds [US$1.38] now sells for 85 pounds.” That’s an increase of 30% over the month. Other bloggers report that the prices of basic foodstuffs have risen by 25% to 30%.
This has resulted in the presence of 14 million refugees with no hope of relief.
When I wrote in 2011 that Islam was dying, this was precisely what I forecast. You can’t unscramble this egg. The international organizations, Bill Clinton, George Soros and other people of that ilk will draw up plans, propose funding, hold conferences and publish studies, to no avail. The raw despair of millions of people ripped out of the cocoon of traditional society, bereft of ties of kinship and custom, will feed the meatgrinder. Terrorist organizations that were hitherto less flamboyant (“moderate” is a misdesignation), e.g. the Muslim Brotherhood (and its Palestine branch Hamas), will compete with the caliphate for the loyalties of enraged young people. The delusion about Muslim democracy that afflicted utopians of both parties is now inoperative. War will end when the pool of prospective fighters has been exhausted.
Strategy Page has a very interesting discussion of how Israel’s military has learned and adapted from its failures in the 2006 Lebanon war:
After the 2006 war Israel realized two things; its military was still superior to Arab forces and its military was not as superior as Israel believed it was. The major Israeli deficiency was communications. What the Arabs, or at least Iran-backed Hezbollah, had done was learned to move faster and more resourcefully than the Israelis expected. What really shocked the Israelis was that although they could spot and track these Hezbollah moves they could not get artillery, aircraft or ground troops moved quickly enough to take out a lot of identified targets before the enemy managed to change position. All the different levels of Israeli headquarters and combat units could actually communicate with each other, but not fast enough to hit a target that had been identified and located but was not staying put long enough for the completion of all the procedures and paperwork required to get the strike order sent to the unit best able to carry it out.
The solution was new technology and procedures. Since 2006 Israel has built a new communications system that is faster and able, according to Israeli claims, to hit a lot more targets than the 2006 era forces could manage. Much of the solution had nothing to do with radical new hardware but to simply standardizing the procedures everyone had long used to call for fire, or to deliver it. Now commanders at all levels can see the same data and call for and receive fire support quickly. Thus when a target is identified the bombs, shells or ground attack follows quickly. Everyone was shown how easy, and damaging it was to underestimate the enemy. In training exercises the “enemy” is controlled by Israeli troops with ordered to be imaginative and try real hard to not get spotted and hit. It’s been amazing what these “enemy” troops come up, and necessary to keep this secret so that the real enemy does not find out.
While we withdraw from the world in the face of external threats, downsizing our military, slow-walking R&D and firing thousands of experienced NCOs and mid-level officers, other countries are learning and adapting. Not all of those countries are our allies.
Hamas has attacked Israel, first with the kidnapping of three teenagers, now with rockets aimed, for example, at Tel Aviv and its airport.
GAZA: Islamist Hamas’ armed wing has warned airlines that it intends to target Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport with its rockets from Gaza and has told them not to fly there, a statement by the group said Friday.
Israel’s astonishingly effective Iron Dome air defense has prevented Hamas from killing Israeli Jews and spreading terror in the civilian population. Ironically, though, the better Iron Dome works, the less sympathy the rest of the world has for a nation that remains under rocket attack.
That sentiment is to be expected as even the Presbyterian Church is anti-Israel.
the thumbnail version is that Hamas is making a demonstration out of weakness. Money is tight, 44,000 Gaza civil servants haven’t been paid for weeks, and the IDF did significant damage to its infrastructure on the West Bank after the kidnapping-murder of the three yeshiva boys. Netanyahu will look indecisive and confused, because he has to deal with an openly hostile U.S. administration on one side and his nationalist camp on the other. Time, though, is on Israel’s side: economically, demographically, strategically. The proportion of Jewish births continues to soar. The fruits of a decade of venture capital investing are ripening into high-valuation companies. And the Arab world is disintegrating all around Israel’s borders.
Israel has been in mortal danger for 50 years. They have survived and thrived. The Arab countries are collapsing into chaos. Iran is still a threat but its demographic future is grim.
There will be no Intifada on the West Bank: the Palestinian Arabs are older, more resigned and less inclined to destroy their livelihoods than in 2000. Syria and Iraq continue to disintegrate, Lebanon is inundated with Syrian Sunni refugees (weakening Hezbollah’s relative position), and Jordan is looking to Israel to protect it against ISIS. Egypt is busy trying to survive economically.
Israel is becoming a huge economic success under Netanyahu. Just think of our future had we elected his friend, Mitt Romney.
Obama promised a “pivot to Asia” but Israel may in fact be the one doing the pivot, leaving us in the dreary Socialist past.
What self-described realists misunderstand when they pursue their cost-benefit analysis without emotion or regard for principle is that friendship and trust have value. In one chapter of Dancing with the Devil, I explore the history of intelligence politicization. Iraq may now be the marquee example upon which many progressives seize, but intelligence politicization occurred under every president dating back at least to Lyndon Johnson, if not before (the scope of my book was just the past half-century or so). Iraq intelligence was flawed, but the world will get over it, especially since it was consistent with the intelligence gathered by almost every other country and the United Nations. The betrayal of allies, however, is a permanent wound on America’s reputation that will not be easy to overcome.
This is a chronic problem. We were able to get away with being a fickle ally when we acted like a superpower. Our allies had no choice but to deal with us; our adversaries had to be cautious lest they provoke us. We betrayed Kurds, Iraqi Shiites and other groups without paying much of a long-term price. It was easy to be casual about our alliances. We could afford to see one-dimensional cynical calculations of national interest as realism.
But now that we behave like just another country we are beginning to pay more of a cost for our unreliability. Our design margin, in Wretchard’s phrase, has eroded. It is increasingly difficult for us to protect our remaining interests. The Obama foreign policy is an inverse force-multiplier.
Our geopolitical situation is going to deteriorate faster than most Americans expect.
Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina are languishing in differing shades of turmoil, steadily losing ground to regional underdogs. The Pacific Alliance, an historic trade agreement between Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Colombia (and coming soon: Costa Rica), has the potential to recolor Latin America’s economic map and introduce some new regional powerhouses to the world stage.
Four nations are developing an initiative that could add new dynamism to Latin America, redraw the economic map of the region, and boost its connections with the rest of the world—especially Asia. It could also offer neighboring countries a pragmatic alternative to the more political groupings dominated by Brazil, Cuba, and Venezuela.
Belmont Club has a good post today on the collapse of Venezuela. The car manufacturers have announced they are closing their plants.
Toyota Motor Co. said it would shut down its assembly operations in Venezuela due to the government’s foreign exchange controls that have crippled imports and made it impossible to bring in parts needed to build its vehicles.
The country’s other car manufacturers, including General Motors and Ford, haven’t even started operations this year, while waiting for needed parts to arrive.