Sorry. I just don't see a world of good guys and bad guys. Robert McNamara famously said that you have to empathize with other nations to better understand what lies behind their words and their actions.
Governing Russia's large geography - 11 time zones - requires strong central authority. Putin understands this. While the West characterizes Putin the Great as some kind of dictator; it insults the Russian people as being homogeneous. They are not. Rather Putin is accountable and must maintain a balancing act. The Russian people want social, economic and security stability. They also are proud of their country - they lost 25 million people in World War II and were the real winners of the war - and they want to be respected around the world.
There is thus a chicken and egg paradox when thinking about Russia. Is Putin a strong leader and the Russian people recognize that and have loyalty to him. Or is Putin simply the latest Russian leader who panders to Russian people's needs?
I believe it emphatically is the latter. Energy drives Russia's economics. The drop in the price of oil and gas has inexorably made their economic lives worse. Thus Putin has to overcompensate on social, security and national pride. Incursions into the Ukraine were part of that overcompensation. Unfortunately this further burdened Russian's economic needs by Western sanctions. Now Putin has had to double down by getting involved in Syria.
The West sees Putin's Syrian incursion as a threat; while I see it as logical and something that Putin would like to take back. While the Russian people are proud of their military playing on a larger stage; they can't be happy about the commuter plane crash of Russian citizens over the Sinai and Egypt and Turkey being closed to tourism. Also the Russian people are concerned about terrorism security. While the rest of the world debates Islamic refugees, Russia already has a large Islamic population. Any blowback will hurt Putin.
Such is the lot of Putin. I wouldn't want the job. And Putin probably has days where he doesn't want it either. He has to balance an almost impossible tight rope. And it gets more impossible as time goes on.
Finally, if the West had a military jet shot down by another country, you can be sure they would strike back. Well, Putin didn't strike back. So to call him "evil" is a gross and incorrect characterization. Throughout history and with Putin, Russia has never been one to directly confront other nations. Instead it has mainly fought proxy wars.
The West is quick to demonize Putin. What the West doesn't understand, is that Putin, is just the latest strong Russian leader. If Putin fails, another stronger leader will replace him.
Trump has gone from the Donald to a version of Hitler. First it's the Mexicans that need to be exterminated. Now it is Muslims that need to be tracked as if they were wearing the Star of David. He doesn't respect women. How long will it be when his vitriol turns on African Americans?
This week, Trump made fun of a disabled newspaper reporter. It made me stick to my stomach.
But the real threatened people of Trump is the GOP. If he were to win the nomination, their political aspirations for the White House are absolutely doomed.
The GOP always can be counted on to vote. It's a fact that this vote is not enough to win the presidency. Independents have to vote for a Republican candidate in order for them to win.
Trump might have 25% of the minority GOP party. But clearly 75% don't support him. As long as the GOP field is large, the better the chances that Trump succeeds at winning the nomination.
Iowa is right around the corner. It's imperative for the National Republican Committee implore most of the other candidates to drop out. The sooner the better. The other 75% won't vote for Trump. And a more reasonable candidate can win the nomination and have a chance at the White House.
In closing, I am infinitely more afraid of Donald Trump than I am of Vladimir Putin.
November 26, 2015
Although Turkey was an obvious asset to NATO during the early Cold War; they have now been for years at cross purposes with NATO when it suits them.
NATO was involved in the no fly zone in Iraq after the Gulf War. The northern no fly zone was to protect the Kurds. But Turkey has been deathly afraid that Iraq's Kurds and Turkish Kurds will combine to form "Kurdistan". This has hampered NATO/US from letting the Kurds fight ISIS and letting the Kurds use the safety of the Turkish border
Now after a Russian fighter jet was in their airspace for about 10 seconds, they shot it down?
Forget all of the crap that NATO is supporting Turkish action. Behind the scenes European-American NATO (Except for Istanbul, Turkey isn't in Europe) have to be furious with the Turks.
Perhaps as furious as they have been with Turkey aiding and abetting ISIS.
Turkey wants two things. Along with their Sunni nations, they want Sunni ISIS, to help defeat Shia Iran. And they want Assad gone.
There was the potential of a coalition forming with NATO and Russia to destroy ISIS after Paris. More likely than not, the coalition would have had to compromise on Assad.
Well, that deal is now off the table with Turkey shooting down the Russian jet.
And it could hardly have been a coincidence!
November 25, 2015
The US Federal Government itemizes spending by mandatory, discretionary and interest on debt.
Discretionary spending is dominated by military spending. There are some other discretionary spending cuts that seem viable to question, like education, environment and science, for example. But there isn't a lot meaningful discretionary spending to cut to make a difference except for military spending.
Mandatory spending? That's the meat of the coconut. Theoretically "fiscal conservative" voters should want entitlement reform to cut back on New Deal (FDR) and Great Society (LBJ) programs. But many "fiscally conservative" voters are referential voters (they don't vote based on their own economics but by their particular reference group - think successful older white guys). Many such voters want their guns and they will turn their guns on people that stop "their federal checks". Or they are the elderly and the elderly vote in the greatest percentages.
Interest on the debt. Are we so xenophobic that $ data doesn't count? The interest on the debt - when viewed as a % of federal spending or when viewed through the laws of supply and demand of Zero Risk US Treasuries - is a rather small percentage of the federal budget and will continue to be.
But it really comes down to a single question - who are we?
Are we beholden to having a military - one that is larger than the next nine largest militaries combined? What multiple makes us feel safe enough? Is the military budget - troops, veterans, tanks, ships and cool stealth aircraft - as important as terrorist intelligence and immigration control?
Are we committed to social capitalism? Or should everyone be left to their own devices in a new economic, social and intelligence darwinism? How does the continuing wealth disparity impact this question? Will the forces of the have-nots fight for maintaining social capitalism? Or is it more likely that the 1% fight to maintain social capitalism due to a need for social stability and the $'s for the have-nots to buy their stuff?
I don't pretend to understand today's national zeitgeist. Nor even if there is one. Nor if such a thing has been well thought out.
But I do recognize that the art of politics has nothing to do with end results. Voters vote more by emotion. Today's surviving candidates are serving up left-wing or right-wing red meat in volume. And this blog, although read more than I could ever had hoped, exists in a small vacuum of logic, data and a lack of emotion today.
So the question - who we are - a year before the 2016 election - isn't pretty. But it speaks to who we are in November of 2015. Armed with logic, more data and less emotion; will the majority of Americans still believe in platforms that are referential and against their own economic interests?
Will the answer of who are we, be the same in 2016 as it is today?
November 23, 2015
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill Thursday to pause the relatively small number of Syrian refugees the United States is willing to admit --10,000 in 2016 — and adding a provision that the FBI director and other top government officials must certify that any refugee entering the States from Syria is not a threat.
Constituent xenophobia apparently, trumps logic.
Congress surely understands the refugee process. Constituents? Less likely.
Here is what an ISIS terrorist would have to do to get into the US and harm us through the existing Syrian refugee process -
First of all the ISIS terrorist would have to travel to a refugee camp in a country like Jordan or Lebanon or Turkey, joining the 4 million other Syrian refugees outside Syria.
Then he or she would have to be among those selected from the relatively tiny number of 23,000 refugees that the United Nations agency for refugees has flagged to the United States to be worthy for consideration to be admitted. Then he would have to be among the only 10,000 Syrian refugees the States is planning to admit next year.
The whole process of going to a refugee camp and then getting selected by the United Nations and then passing the battery of checks the U.S. government will put you through takes at least two years.
Then a Syrian refugee trying to get into the States is scrutinized and/or interviewed by officials from the National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, State Department and the Pentagon.
Syrian refugees must also give up their biometric data, submit their detailed biographic histories and are also interviewed at length. These refugees are also queried against a number of government databases to see if they might pose a threat.
If you were trying to conduct jihad on the US, the odds and time of going through the US's refugee process, would be a complete waste of time if you wanted to enter the unearthly kingdom with the virgins on a timely basis.
The real problem is Europe doesn't conduct as rigorous of a refugee process as the US.
The risk to the US is not the refugee process; but the risk is from student visa waivers (Western countries to the US). Some last up to three years. I am not saying that student visa waivers should be discouraged. What I am saying is that the student waiver process is the real security hole. And the hole someone from ISIS would use.
So why did Congress pause the Syrian refugee process? Because voters wanted it.
One mass killing in Paris tipped the voter's scales. The mass killings that occur in the US every year from deranged nuts? That's just a week of news, prayers and reflection.
Congress? Not exactly "profiles in courage".
November 22, 2015
It's not just Bush 43 that didn't pay attention to the Shia and Sunni divide in Iraq.
The mainstream media is missing an entire Shia and Sunni divide in the Middle East.
Syria is ruled by Alawites (branch of Shia) who only constitute 12% of their population and where 74% are Sunni.
Iraq - after the US invasion - is ruled by the Shia majority (Hussein and his Baath Party were Sunni and a minority).
The Southern Gulf countries - Qatar, UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait - are run by Sunni majorities.
Turkey is run by a Sunni majority.
Lebanon is roughly half Shia and Sunni
I have written before, that to understand the Middle East, is to understand one of the most bitter rivalries in the world: Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran.
Until ISIS, Lebanon was the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran financed Hezbollah (Shia) and Saudi Arabia financed the Sunni's. The Western media paid limited attention to this proxy war.
Then came the Arab Spring. Assad's Shia minority was threatened by a Sunni majority revolt. Saudi Arabia and the Southern Gulf countries financed ISIS to help remove Assad. Turkey may or may not have financed ISIS; but they allowed a porous border for ISIS recruits and a free flow of oil distribution through Turkey.
In the meantime, the Shia majority ruling party in Iraq, turned into nothing more than a money racketeering failed regime. Saudi Arabia/Southern Gulf countries financed ISIS knowing that the ruling Bagdad regime and its army couldn't defend land that was remote from Baghdad.
This is all to say, that the who of ISIS, are Middle East Sunni's.
People ask why other Middle East countries are not stepping up and fighting ISIS. Well, it's because they finance them as a proxy war against Iran. And they are not stopping.
Neocons demanding the US going large against ISIS? That's not the answer.
The inconvenient truth is the US is loath to call out Saudi Arabia, its Southern Gulf allies and Nato's Turkey.
Until the US takes the gloves off and cuts off Sunni financing, ISIS can't be defeated. No matter how many troops and how many fighter jet bombings.
November 20, 2015
At first blush - myself included - ISIS attacking France, Russia, Turkey and Lebanon (now the Chinese) didn't seem rational. Why would the caliphate - with land in Syria and Iraq - unite the world against 25,000 "guy's" driving Toyota pick up trucks?
I have read that there is an opinion that ISIS's goal is apocalyptic. Muslims fighting non-Muslims until Armageddon. But that doesn't make much sense. Muslims are hardly united. Shia vs Sunni. Radical vs mainstream. And a national divide between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
I think the reason for the rash of force by ISIS, is to cutoff refugee safe havens. Most people think the refugees are potential terrorists. Perhaps a few, but they can be tracked. But most of the refugees are fleeing ISIS territory, either due to being victims or disillusioned fighters.
I don't see their attacks as them winning. Rather I see the attacks as a stopgap measure due to a perception they know they are on the decline.
November 19, 2015
I think the first place to start is by defining what is terrorism.
Terrorism is as old as history itself. It is a small force that uses random fear with the hope of drawing a larger force to wage battle on the smaller force on their terms. Namely the ability to fight asymmetrically against conventional warfare.
Random fear isn't the same as rational fear. Getting murdered in the US by another American is a rational fear. There were over 15,000 homicides last year. Dying of cancer is a rational fear. 1.7 million Americans died of cancer last year. Suicide is a rational fear. 40,000 Americans died of suicide last year. Being killed by texting while driving is a rational fear. 3,000 Americans died from car accidents while texting last year. Dying from obesity - cancer or hear disease - is a rational fear. 600,000 Americans died from obesity last year.
Only 17 US private citizens died from terrorism last year.
Throughout history, all terrorist causes, have a limited shelf life. It's like civil wars. Foreign intervention doesn't work. Terrorism and civil wars end by exhaustion.
France has enough money to field a massive airfare. But it has admitted it doesn't have the money to track all known potential terrorists.
The right formula for dealing with ISIS is (a) don't take the bait by reacting to irrational threat, (b) spend more money to identify and track would be terrorists, and (c) sit on the couch and grab some pop corn and watch the Middle East drama. History is clear. The current drama/movie isn't an infinite watch.
November 18, 2015
I am not sure - although I have mentioned Lebanon as a part of the recent rash of ISIS attacks - why the mainstream press has ignored Lebanon and a whole bunch of other ISIS news that doesn't quite add up.
How about Russia's downed passenger plane in Egypt in route to St. Petersburg. The most telling thing missing from Russia? Putin hadn't said a word until today. And it wasn't his usual bluster.
How about the attack in Turkey back in October? And Turkey foiling another attack the same night as Paris? How many people even know about this?
No doubt the Paris attacks are a tragedy. But why is it being treated as the next 9/11?
The answer to most of these questions is less conspiratorial. Rather it's largely due to a widespread politicalization of ISIS and terrorism out of political self-interest.
Going backwards to the Paris attack, the more centrist French government, has politically been taking heat from France's far right party. France's bombing of ISIS on Sunday isn't going to make a bit of strategic difference. But it was a way for the current French government to curb France's far right from exploiting the terrorist attack.
Turkey and politics? A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Turkey is playing a dangerous balancing game. It is the main port of call, between the Middle East and Europe. It's the main transit line of incoming and outgoing ISIS recruits. Least known, Turkey is a main facilitator of ISIS exporting oil to Europe. And a member of NATO - with all of its benefits - and the site of the G20. Turkey's relative silence is their only political option.
Russia and politics? Putin not talking about the downed passenger jet has to be viewed through his own political lens. He is the one that risked intervention into Syria. Unlike Ukraine, the Russian people, are scared of the risks of this strategy. They know there are thousands of potential terrorists in Russia right now capable of attack. Putin knows his Syrian move is now probably overreach. Hence there was no good reason for him to publicly blame ISIS for the downed passenger jet, until the G20 meeting.
Even the US has a political convenient angle on the Paris terrorist attack. It gives the neocons fresh ammo to blast Obama's policies and a fresh "nail" for their "hammer".
Certainly ISIS has to be dealt with. There are no clean options (per my last post). But a lot of what is being said and done, has more of a political agenda than a national security agenda for the affected countries.
Next post: The right formula for dealing with ISIS
November 17, 2015
The current simplistic narrative - ISIS is an organized terrorist organization - is rooted in 20th century nationalism and military strategy. The narrative is wrong. Rather ISIS has established a brand, uses social media and individuals/groups vie for being a new ISIS franchise. If ISIS was as monolithic as the current narrative, why would they not focus on maintaining and growing their caliphate in Syria/Iraq, instead of poking Russia, France and Lebanon?
The real decision - when fighting an idea vs a territory - is a choice of two non-optimal strategies. The military option, which has been tried and has always failed. Or a crackdown on civil liberties, risking privacy laws, to limit the risk of individual/group terrorism, which can be successful.
Status quo is not possible anymore. But reactionist jingoistic policies - ones that have repeatedly failed - is an idea trap that would lead to disaster. It didn't work in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and ISIS/Al Qaeda. And it will not work now.
Rather the idea has to be destroyed by time, enhanced internal security and sitting back with some popcorn and watching the ME/Islam movie play itself out.
November 15, 2015
France has called a state of emergency after a night of terrorism. France's president has called it an "act of war".
World leaders, the Vatican and even Syria's Assad have condemned the attacks.
It is too early to know who was responsible for the attacks.
But something is happening.
First Russia enters Syria to prop up Assad and to fight ISIS. Then a Russian flight - Metrojet Airbus - was downed shortly after taking off from Egypt to St. Petersburg. Now a night of terror in Paris.
Again, it's too early to assign the blame for Paris; but if it is blamed on ISIS, there are only two things that could be happening.
1. The established narrative - ISIS is growing at an exponential rate - and the whole world is under the potential of attack.
2. Or an alternative narrative, that wouldn't be unprecedented in history: realpolitik between Russia, Europe, Assad, Iran and the US have galvanized into a call to arms against ISIS.
Why would ISIS potentially attack Russia and France? How does that help build a caliphate in Syria and Iraq? Because they are trying to scare Russia and Europe to not intervene in Syria and Iraq? Help recruit new members?
Or could it be that that Russia, Europe, Assad, Iran and the US, have determined that a coalition of convenience is required to destroy ISIS? And if this has been determined, how best to go about galvanizing world opinion for such an unlikely alliance?
Russia's entry into Syria, the US/Russia/Europe deal with Iran, Russia's plane being brought down by a bomb and now the attacks in Paris have occurred over a short period of time. Is it just happenstance and coincidence?
I don't know the answer. But I do know that things are starting to get out of control fast. And it's either is a sign of ISIS's strength or a sign that an unlikely coalition is shaping public opinion to destroy ISIS.
Or is it both?
November 14, 2015