Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

The Thinker

Occam’s razor makes Trump’s treason look obvious

Back in 2002, when I started this blog, I was looking for a theme. Occam’s Razor obviously came to mind since I thought it would have a largely intellectual bent. It best explained where my head was at, since the principle that the simplest solution was the most likely one is borne out in so many aspects of life. There wouldn’t be many posts on this blog though if I only discussed Occam’s Razor. Today though I return to my original theme to state what looks painfully obvious to me: Occam’s Razor plainly tells us that our president is a traitor.

There are other explanations out there but even for Donald Trump these other explanations look ridiculous. For example, I could go with the solution that he is a reflexive narcissist and such a complete dunderhead that even he has no idea that he is a traitor. I can’t discount this altogether but while Trump is pretty dumb and incredibly self absorbed, he’s not that dumb. If he is, well his narcissistic personality disorder is one for the textbooks.

Yesterday’s widely panned press conference after his two-hour “summit” with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki though should have made even the most partisan Trump supporter reel. Even for them, it should have been one of those “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” moments. Trump is so eager to please Vladimir Putin that he will take his word that the Russians had nothing to do with trying to influence the 2016 elections and throw the entire U.S. intelligence community under the bus if necessary.

Just late last week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted twelve Russians for hacking into our election systems and political party websites at the behest of the Russian Federation, which is to say at the behest of Vladimir Putin. He identified them by name. A federal grand jury confirmed these indictments. This means in the unlikely event these people come to trial the evidence against them is solid. This evidence was accumulated by our intelligence agencies. Rest assured they have the goods on them and could prove their guilt in a court of law. This is because we have a vast (though at times imperfect) intelligence system that collected voluminous data on them. It’s so voluminous that Putin is likely astonished by its breadth and specificity and is wondering what spies he has in his government.

While these twelve are likely beyond the reach of our government, the same can’t be said about Mariia Butina, a Russian who arrived here a few years ago on a supposedly student visa and who was arrested yesterday for attempting to set up back channels between the Russian Federation and the Trump campaign. It’s not like there is any question about her guilt. She did a great job. Ask Donald Trump Jr. Ask the NRA, which met with her and apparently illegally channeled Russian money into its election fund to elect Trump. At least we have custody of Butina. It’s unlikely she will be a free woman again, at least not for many decades.

When following a trail, sometimes you only have a few breadcrumbs to go on. In the case of Trump’s collusion and treason there are large turds (and scattered Chicken McNugget containers) every ten feet along this trail.

It’s all in plain sight. (“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Later that very day, the hacking began.) Doubtless Robert Mueller is piecing it all together and I doubt he is breaking a sweat finding the evidence. But also ask yourself: what would you want from a U.S. president if you were Vladimir Putin? Would you want a president that would try to break up NATO as well as the G7? Someone that would start trade wars and call our closest neighbor Canada an enemy? That would okay Russia’s annexation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine? That tacitly supports Russia’s support for Syria? Can you name one thing that Trump has done that Putin would find offensive?

It’s not hard to see how Trump was compromised. We know for a fact at Russian oligarchs kept him in wealth through the Great Recession through loans via Deutsche Bank, facilitated by soon to be former Justice Kennedy’s son. (Curious that he resigned after he had appointed his law clerks for next year.) Trump looks up to his hips in money laundering, mostly by Russian oligarchs paying inflated prices for his condos, likely at the insistence of Putin. No Russian agent had to break a sweat trying to compromise him; the only thing he smells is money and like a bloodhound he follows it with single-minded focus.

Whether explicitly or implicitly, Trump has been compromised and has been used by the Russians for a long time. They simply could not have picked a better Manchurian president. Russian intelligence plays a long game. They baited him decades ago, fed his vanity and ego and played his family like a fiddle. They also played the Republican Party by feeding its obsessions and vanities. We saw this when they changed the party’s platform on Russia and Ukraine. No other explanation comes even close to being plausible.

Republicans are in denial but I’m betting that the astute ones know they are supporting a traitor. Many of them don’t care. They are democratic in name only; and freedom is a principle that only applies to people in their socioeconomic class. Like Trump, most of them love the idea of an authoritarian government, as long as they are in charge and thus feel some kinship with a dictatorial regime. Trump sees Putin and a Russian alliance as part of a great white hope strategy. By aligning with other bigots he can perhaps make America white again and use Russian resources to do it.

The only problem is that he swore to uphold the constitution of the United States and its derived laws. He’s obviously doing the exact opposite. Because of this, he should be impeached and convicted, but this depends on a Republican Party with a spine it no longer possesses. It’s quite possible though (yet still unlikely) that after a disastrous midterm they will finally inhale the smelling salts and throw this bloated orange bastard overboard. After impeachment and removal, he should be tried for being the traitor that he is and has been.

 
The Thinker

Chemical weapons: bad. Barrel bombs: okay

Of course it was only a matter of time before Trump decided to flex our nation’s military might. Predictably his actions turned out to be both scary and counterproductive and predictably it happened as his poll numbers were dropping like a stone. Thursday’s launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles against an airbase in Syria got most of the press. The attack was a response to a chemical weapons attack Tuesday on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun, which killed dozens of people, including children. It was these images of dead children that reportedly drove Trump to order an attack on the Syrian air base. The base is believed to have been used as a launching point by the Syrian air force for that chemical weapons attack.

What got less press but was an earlier and far more deadly U.S.-led airstrike in Mosul, Iraq that reportedly killed 272 people, an attack in magnitude far greater than Syrian president Assad inflicted on his own people in this latest chemical attack. The Mosul attack killed mostly innocent civilians. At least some of the deaths were blamed on booby-trapped houses created by the Islamic State. This attack turned out to be the deadliest one inflicted by U.S.-led forces since the Iraq War.

The attack on the air base appears to be largely for show. We sensibly informed the Russians of the impending attack so we didn’t hit any of their aircraft or kill or wound any of their personnel. The Russians unsurprisingly informed Assad and apparently it was enough time for the Syrians to get most of its aircraft out of the base. 58 of the missiles hit their targets. Despite the expenditure of a reported $100M on this attack, it must not have done much damage. The Syrian government used the base for more attacks the next day.

The Syrian government denies it of course, but it instigated this chemical weapons attack. We can infer this since only Syria has chemical weapons and the aircraft to deliver them in the area. These rare chemical weapons attack caused an almost visceral reaction. Perhaps they trigger memories of World War One, which the U.S. entered a hundred years ago last week. Chemical weapons though have limited use. They rarely kill that many people, at least outside of Nazi concentration camps. Winds can quickly mitigate their damage. In short, you can’t win a war with chemical weapons alone, as the Germans discovered in World War One. Oddly, if you have to be a casualty of war, it’s one of the quicker and more humane ways to go.

The United States doesn’t seem to have a problem with more lethal conventional and unconventional weapons. At least the use of these weapons (which kill the vast majority of civilians and combatants) hasn’t been enough to wholly engage us in these conflicts. The Trump Administration though seems willing to engage our armed forces much more than the Obama Administration. It has sent thousands of U.S. forces into Syria ostensibly to keep sets of fighters apart. Those of us with longer memories recall how actions like these led us into wider unwinnable wars, with the Vietnam War being the most prominent example. More recent news reports suggest that the Trump Administration wants to move nuclear weapons into South Korea again, to counter North Korea’s recent firings of test missiles. We have an aircraft carrier off North Korea and we are talking ominously about rekindling that conflict again, in frustration perhaps to sixty years of truce but no peace between these nations.

In the short term the press seems to be cheering this missile attack. It appears to be done mostly for show, since it did little to hobble the Syrian air force. It demonstrates that compared to the so-called “feckless” Obama Administration that we are willing to engage when bad things happen. Of course like in the aftermath of the Iraq War the question then becomes: “and then what?” Are we saying we are going to solve the Syrian conflict and end the Islamic State by putting our forces onto the ground there in serious numbers? Are we going to neuter the other forces in this endeavor? How? More importantly, how through the use of force can we change hearts and minds in that region, when it proved so ineffectual in the past? That’s the only way to create a real and lasting peace.

It’s exactly these sorts of questions that kept President Obama from getting our country more engaged in these conflicts. It’s a messy business. Perhaps if we had gotten more engaged in the collapse of Libya, Islamic radicals would not be making a mess of that country. But we’ve never been very good at nation building, especially in Muslim countries. Fifteen years later we still struggle with it in Afghanistan. Doing nothing introduces problems. Doing something does the same. Most of these conflicts if they can be solved at all can only be solved through multilateral efforts, and those rarely work out well as these interests have different objectives and criteria for success.

Trump’s actions though don’t look like they are thought out at all. Apparently the attack did almost nothing to degrade Assad’s air force and his army is intact. A few days before the attack he was praising Assad and Russia for their engagement against the Islamic State. Now some pictures of children dead from Sarin gas seem to have changed his mind, at least for the moment. Curious that the pictures of starving and dead Syrian children in places like Aleppo never had this effect. Much crueler and horrific ways to die, like the barrel bomb frequently dropped by the Syrian air force that shred through people with high speed shrapnel, don’t seem to have bothered him either. In fact, social media is full of tweets from The Donald from 2013 warning Obama not to take the very actions against Syria he is now taking.

All this shows a new administration trying to live up to an image of toughness without the requisite plan to make the changes they want. In fact they are embroiled in this mess just as much as the Obama Administration was. There is no quick way to victory in this mess. In fact, no victory in the conventional sense is even possible. It’s not that these conflicts will continue forever but they are likely to rise and ebb depending on narrow advantages on the battlefield.

It’s mostly hypocrisy. A true response to these crises might be to admit more of these war-torn refugees rather than implementing the “total and complete” ban on anyone moving from these countries that he campaigned for in his campaign. Trying to save children from Sarin gas attacks so they can spend the bulk of their lives in refugee camps living in misery and squalor is to extend suffering, not end it. Look at Palestine where sixty years of occupation has turned refugee camps into de facto cities.

Progress, such as it is, will be marginal: slowly recapturing territories with Allied forces which experience suggests will be fragile unless we can inculcate civilization and rule of law in these areas again. No fly zones in Syria would do a lot to improve things there, if we can get Russia to go along. These offer little short-term payoff and don’t get us waving our flags cheering on Team USA. It’s the latter that the Trump Administration is looking for, even though it is meaningless and ineffective at solving the actual problems. The illusion of victory through ineffectual action is apparently all that can be expected these days.

 
The Thinker

The roots of terrorism

Ever get this strange feeling of déjà vu? Last Friday’s horrific terrorist events in Paris are being called France’s 9/11. Last I checked there were 129 mostly French citizens murdered in six separate but obviously well coordinated terrorist incidents in Paris, and more than three hundred wounded. I don’t think it’s coincidental that these incidents occurred on a Friday the Thirteenth. The date may not have the same unlucky connotation in France that it has here in the United States, but ISIS (which admitted to sponsoring the acts) and al Qaeda know the power of marketing and symbolism. Anything that they can do to make such events more memorable will be done, and tying events like this to memorable dates is one.

Shortly after 9/11 here in the United States, our military did the expected things. We sent our air force into Afghanistan. In our case it worked reasonably well, at least at first, because we destroyed the Taliban government there that hosted al Qaeda. We installed our own more secular and western government in its place; a form of government that was not natural to the region and which unsurprisingly caused a strong insurgency.

Fourteen years later al Qaeda is a diminished presence in Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is hardly stable, secular or particularly democratic. The Taliban are resurgent and it looks like more civil war is ahead there; in fact it has already begun. Our leadership took being caught with its pants down as a sign that America had to be proactive to address these threats, so we unwisely toppled Saddam Hussein. The state of ISIS, such as it is, is a direct result of that unwise action. Indirectly, the U.S. has contributed to last Friday’s events.

The French government of course quickly decided that their own 9/11 could not go unanswered, so it sent its considerable air force to bomb targets in Syria controlled by ISIS in coordination with our own. This was done to presumably degrade and destroy ISIS that just last week President Obama unwisely asserted was contained. ISIS proudly admitted that it had planned and coordinated these attacks. It was done for the same reason that Osama bin Laden planned and coordinated 9/11. His goal was not so much to destroy the United States, as it was to use the U.S. as a proxy to further his cause. And it worked amazingly well for him, actually better than he imagined as our invasion of Iraq introduced anarchy that eventually allowed ISIS to rise.

Presumably France won’t go the extra mile the way the United States did in Iraq, but it does not have our vast military resources anyhow. Presumably its leadership is a bit clearer-headed than ours was after 9/11 and realizes these military strikes are more to satisfy their citizens’ cry for a counterpunch rather than to meaningful affect a particular outcome.

Fires remain fires only as long as they have a combination of fuel and oxygen. Understood in this context, ISIS’s actions were predictable. The neophyte state is rather amorphous but it certainly needs energy to continue. The oxygen comes from more people committed to their ideology, and the fuel comes from its funders. ISIS exists in a resource poor part of the Middle East, so most of its money actually comes from outside the state, i.e. those with money that support its radical version of Sunni Islam. To get the money it needs to continue to demonstrate it has power and can draw recruits. So going for soft targets like innocent civilians in Paris is logical. It’s relatively easy to demonstrate that it can execute power over a free society like France. Such acts will inspire many and it will impress its creditors. It allows the state to continue because its military has been significantly degraded by allied airstrikes and by the many forces engaged on the ground in the region.

Fourteen years after 9/11 it’s obvious from these incidents that if there were easy ways to contain terrorism they would have worked by now. In fact, if there were hard ways of containing terrorism, they would have shown affect by now as well. Invading Iraq and trying to stand up a secular government there is a hard thing to do. Actually there has been a lot of progress, but it’s mostly unseen. While intelligence within ISIS is poor, our intelligence capability has improved remarkably during this time. It’s just not enough in a free society to stop periodic incidents like these, although many do get deterred and prevented. A state cannot know everything and call itself free.

It’s possible that with time ISIS will be degraded and destroyed as President Obama hopes. However, even if this victory happens, it doesn’t solve the problem. Ideology in general is the real problem. If ISIS goes and the dynamics of radical Islam are not addressed as well, it will simply spring up elsewhere in other forms in the Middle East. Wiping out ISIS in other words is merely winning a battle. The real war is to change hearts and minds.

In 1995 the United States endured the Oklahoma City Bombing, an act of domestic terrorism. This act was similar in size and scale to last Friday’s incidents in Paris. Its perpetrator Timothy McVeigh was not particularly religious, but he was dogmatic. He was deeply conservative in the sense that he was upset about changes happening in America. He believed that changes disenfranchised white people, and that these changes were being achieved through the federal government through what he perceived as its pro-liberal policies. At its root, McVeigh’s complaint was that he was against democracy when it did not favor his interests. He believed enlightened ones like him had the duty to change things through acts like terrorism when this happened.

Basically McVeigh was an authoritarian, something that resonates strongly with many Americans, most of who align with the Republican Party. Stripped of its religious façade, that’s what the War on Terrorism is really about: it’s a struggle between those powerfully pulled to an authoritarian framework versus those who believe government should be run democratically come what may. The roots of this conflict might very well be genetic, as there is convincing research that shows that liberals and conservatives are wired differently right down to their DNA. Conservatives believe in authoritarianism and feel in their bones that they must follow the leader like a sheep providing they can trust their leader and conversely to wholly distrust the leader when they don’t (hence their utter contempt for President Obama.) You can see this in Donald Trump’s appeal. Conversely, liberals are comfortable with ambiguity and want to empower all the people.

This conflict is probably not going to go away with ISIS or even al Qaeda. However, it’s clear that within the last hundred years or so liberals have been winning promoting a more secular, humane and tolerant world. Regardless of the rationalization that impels terrorists (God, Islam, racism, communism) the common threat is liberalism (i.e. progressive social change), which is manifested through secularism, representative democracy, freedom and tolerance for those unlike us. If more intolerance in France can be created then France begins to model ISIS in spirit. Islam is more likely to take hold in a country where the culture favors authoritarianism.

ISIS isn’t explicitly aware of this, but in this mindset requires intolerant and authoritarian governments. It fights for a world where government enforces its own radical brand of Islam worldwide, but this is a fight that can never be won. However, it can inadvertently be a proxy in a larger and more nebulous cause to put in power those whose DNA makes them comfortable with the leader-and-follower model, and that reviles tolerance and ambiguity.

France must do what is pragmatic to lessen the likelihood of future incidents. However if in response it discards its values of freedom, secularism and tolerance then whether ISIS thrives or dies does not really matter: the uber-cause of authoritarianism wins, and France loses.

 
The Thinker

Anarchy at our doorsteps

The refugees keep pouring into Europe. Who can blame them for leaving? What sensible person would not want to escape war and poverty? It’s heartbreaking just to read about the hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East and Northern Africa trying to find sanctuary in Europe. They take trips on overloaded ships out of Libya, Morocco, Syria and other countries. Many of these ships are deliberately sunk near shore. Thousands of refugees and migrants have likely drowned at sea this year. Others try to escape over land — a difficult journey at best. After being holed up in Hungary, about 20,000 refugees won passage through Austria and arrived last week in Munich, Germany. They were the lucky ones. They made it and even luckier they were greeted warmly upon their arrival with food and shelter.

But Germany is already warning that these refugees are straining their services. England plans to take 20,000 migrants. France is preparing for 24,000. Germany expects that it might host nearly a million refugees this year. Other European countries are turning refugees away. The United States is largely looking the other way and will only accommodate a few thousand. In spite of Pope Francis’s call for kindness and sanctuary for refugees in its churches, it is likely that the world’s goodwill will quickly run out.

I have a feeling of foreboding, but it’s not paranoia. It’s a matter of simply looking at world trends and projecting them forward. There have always been refugees, but what we are likely to see in the first half of the 21st century is mass migration on a scale we simply have not experienced in modern times. This will have a profound effect on us, calling us toward our better selves, but it’s likely that we’ll move in just the opposite direction. Here in the United States, Donald Trump is its clarion. He’s calling for the United States to build a wall on our Mexican border not to mention somehow deport 11 million people already living here, but he’s hardly alone. All nations can help mitigate this crisis to some extent, but at some point it becomes too much. The drawbridges are raised and each nation declares, “Sorry, we can’t help anymore.”

Walls or not, it’s not going to stop. Desperate people do desperate things. We have much more coastline than we have borders with Mexico. If a wall works, which I doubt (tunnels will simply be dug under them), other tactics will be used to get into our country. Like Cubans did fifteen years ago, and Haitians still do sporadically, we can expect boats full of refugees on our doorstep too, washing up on our Gulf, Pacific and Atlantic shores. The wealthier ones will simply arrive on a tourist visa and overstay their welcomes. They will keep coming to Europe as well. Many will perish in the process. They want what all reasonable people want: freedom, prosperity and a better life for themselves and their children.

We will try to keep things the way they were, but it will increasingly become impossible. The numbers coming will make cultural conflict inevitable, likely fueling race and religious divides. Most of those streaming into Europe are Muslim, and Muslims frequently feel unwelcome in Europe. In France, the National Front Party’s rise has been linked to the discomfort many French are feeling to the Muslims in their communities. Arguably Donald Trump is feeding the same paranoia here in the United States, but this discomfort is what is driving the Tea Party. Trump has simply become its ringmaster.

The immediate cause of the crisis is political instability, particularly in Syria. Larger macro forces, particularly climate change, are feeding political instability. It’s made worse by overpopulation. We keep adding people but the size of the earth doesn’t change. It creates a downwardly vicious cycle. We consume more resources and deforest more of our planet, making problems that much harder to solve. Sea level rise will force people to move, including many here in the United States. If you look at the areas of the world that will be most affected by sea level rise, you are also looking at some of the most populated areas of the world, which also happen to be among the poorest parts of the world, places like Bangladesh. Sufficiently large numbers of poor and desperate people will overwhelm local governments. In fact, they will be able to change national boundaries and start their own states. This conflict will inevitably breed many wars where the competition will simply be to see who survives and gets to control the remaining resources. It may look a lot like a Mad Max movie.

The tendency will be to close our gates and protect what we have. Real solutions though require international cooperation that has so far eluded us. Addressing climate change is a big part of the solution but this must be done while knowing temperatures will still increase over the next century no matter what we do. Outside of China, no serious attempt has been made to address population control but it will have to be done and it fill feed religious outrage. Industrializing countries are likely to not be interested in ways to industrialize cleanly. We must do all this while trying to act humanely toward the living and while coping with the increasing presence of the other in our midst.

It’s pretty clear to me that government as we have known it so far is not up to this challenge. To address it, you have to give up the idea of having autonomous countries. Decisions need to be made collectively and worldwide. Survival of the species becomes a unified struggle or it devolves into widespread war, poverty and anarchy. Which one is more likely based on our history?

So the gates will go up instead and this will feed the problem rather than solve it. Those that have will effectively push more misery on those that don’t, which will feed the drive of those that don’t. There are many more of those that don’t have than those that do. In their quest to have what the rest of us have, we that have will compromise our values and fundamentally change society. We will become a meaner, harsher and more class-divided society.

I pray for sensibility in the decades ahead, but I sense anarchy at our doorsteps. I sense it will arise within us as we tighten the screws. Pray that our better half wins, but it is likely to be in vain.

 
The Thinker

Obama’s strategy is a pretty poor strategy

Dear President Obama,

Can we go back to a lack of strategy regarding the Islamic State? Of course you were ridiculed by much of the media (and naturally Republicans) when the Islamic State started beheading American (and now a British) journalists and you confessed the United States did not have a strategy. Now apparently we have one. I realize I am in a significant minority of Americans, most of whom overwhelmingly support us going to war with the Islamic State. But I’d really prefer a lack of a strategy compared with your current strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State.

It’s not that I object to the idea of getting rid of the Islamic State. It’s the methods that you are using that are unworkable. For the moment it involves a lot of American air power. Presumably dropping all these munitions is part of a “degrade” strategy. All I see is the tail wagging the dog. We are doing just what the Islamic State wants us to do.

It’s the same thing that Osama bin Laden wanted us to do after 9/11. He succeeded. It got our dander all up and before long we were invading Afghanistan and we compounded our mistake by also invading Iraq. Have we destroyed al Qaeda? Obviously not. Have we degraded it? Perhaps. Most obviously though we have not so much degraded it as fractured it. To cope, al Qaeda became a series of snakes rather than one snake. With no central leadership, it is now harder to kill. We’ve lobbed hundreds of cruise missiles at al Qaeda encampments in Yemen, Sudan, Pakistan and elsewhere. We even took out Osama bin Laden, an accomplishment for which you deserve praise. And yet despite hundreds of billions spent, and trillions in eventual costs, al Qaeda is very much alive. The Islamic State is basically an offshoot of al Qaeda. As far as al Qaeda is concerned, the Islamic State is too radical.

So apparently firepower alone, and even the presence of more than a hundred thousand U.S. troops in Iraq was not nearly enough to stop terrorism and sectarian violence. What our muscle does though is make us look like an Axis of Evil, fueling the recruitment of terrorists ready to fight and die for a holy mission, which is exactly what the Islamic State wants. Munitions can be replaced. They have the means to replace anything we blow up, and much of their money is actually coming from so-called friendly states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. To grow and keep growing they need more recruits for the cause, and all the fighting is certainly doing that. Muslims across Europe and even here in the United States are going to join the mayhem, and plenty more in the immediate area are also anxious to wreak holy war. Had we not invaded Iraq it’s unlikely the Islamic State would even exist.

We invaded Iraq in order to stop non-existent collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. By turning it into a lawless country, we allowed al Qaeda to establish a real foothold in the place. Ten years later it resulted in the Islamic State, which we now want to beat into submission using the same tactics that failed to work in the past. This is an effective strategy? No, it’s the failure to learn from past mistakes. It is folly.

Mr. President, I understand the pressure you are getting. Americans are seeing these grisly videos on YouTube, so cleverly produced by the Islamic state. They are carefully designed to outrage us and push our buttons. It worked. Americans want action. I was certainly revolted by the beheading of two American journalists. My instinctive reaction was the same as most Americans: let’s show them who’s boss by dropping some bombs. An eye for an eye. When I thought about it logically though, I looked at how great it is working out for Israel. That nation does not have peace. It has indefinite and increasingly painful warfare punctured by months or perhaps years of a pseudo-peace. Degrading and destroying the Islamic State the way we plan to do it is simply setting us up for future complex and increasingly worsening games of whack-a-mole. In the long term this does not make us safer, or make the world a more peaceful place. It worsens, not helps, our national security.

Any civilized person is going to think that beheading anyone is beyond outrageous and should not be tolerated. It is, of course, evil. And two Americans so far have suffered this grisly fate. What really bugs us though is that it happened to Americans. We were far less concerned about when Saddam Hussein’s police were doing it. If I had my option, I’d much rather be beheaded than suffer the fate Iraqis routinely experienced under Saddam Hussein. His torturers routinely cut off limbs, made people endure acid baths and even boiled people alive in acid baths. Sometimes this was done in front of their families. We’re not talking about a couple of people; we are talking tens of thousands, and likely a lot more. Only they were Iraqis, not Americans. At least with a beheading, death comes quickly.

While we find such punishments abhorrent (well, except for the Dick Cheney’s of the world, who are quite comfortable with waterboarding), this is par for the course in the Middle East. Beheadings happen regularly in Saudi Arabia. Syria tortures. Iran tortures. The new government of Iraq tortures, mostly Sunnis because the Shi’ites are now in charge. What’s unusual is finding a government in that region that does not torture. Like Americans venturing into North Korea, Americans who travel to these countries in the Middle East have to have some reasonable expectation that they will suffer fates like these too.

We cannot install civilization in this area. We cannot put sufficient forces on the ground to control this region, as we proved in Iraq. For all the current calls for retribution from Americans today, they won’t support a long-term occupation of this area and we can’t afford it.

I realize you are under pressure to show some results. Americans want instant results. We cannot win this fight, at least not like this. This is not a problem that can be controlled. America must give up the fantasy that we can order the world to suit our prejudices and predispositions. Trying to wage this war on the ground through proxies, which is how you want to proceed, is a strategy with virtually no chance of success. It’s a hopelessly tangled mess that we cannot and should not sort out.

Mr. President, part of the art of leadership is to candidly acknowledge what is possible and what is not possible. This is not possible. You should tell us American this bluntly. Let’s do what we can do to make things less miserable for those affected. Let’s make life better for the refugees. But please don’t think that we can solve this problem. We can’t and attempting to do so will only make things worse for us in the long term.

You of all people should understand this.

Stop it. Change course now. Tell America you have rethought your strategy. Let it be.

 

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