Syrian refugee crisis points to need to confront ISIS

September 13, 2015

The Syrian refugee crisis presents a conundrum.

On the one hand, human decency demands that the millions of refugees, men and women and little children, be accommodated. They are fleeing war, and terror from an enemy as savage as the world has ever known (not more if we look back into history but as bad).

On the other hand, at some point the people of the Middle East have to fight back against terrorism unless they just want to cede their homeland (and eventually much of the world) to the barbarians.

(One has to wonder if those men among the refugees of proper age and fitness for military service should not be asked to join in the fight against ISIS, but that is problematic.)

One could argue that the West in its dealings in the Middle East and its move for hegemony or complete control there over the last century is somewhat responsible for the chaos there now.

But we cannot go back in time. This is now and what do we do?

And that’s the problem. There just is not an easy or sure answer.

The Assad regime in Syria murdering its own people on a grand scale and the ISIS terrorists also engaged in murder not only of a people but a whole cultural history (destroying ancient artifacts), together beg for some force to come in and deal with them.

ISIS of course controls portions of Iraq, a nation we invested so heavily in with blood and treasure in a nation-building effort only to be kicked out of (that is our leadership let them kick us out).

Recent efforts (over the past decade that is) to bring peace and democratic government to the region have brought nothing but failure to the U.S. and the West.

I personally think the U.S. just does not have the resolve to win anymore. It may be because the public does not see a direct connection to its own well-being. We talk the game, but don’t really believe it in our hearts. But meanwhile we sacrifice blood of our military and trillions of dollars from our treasury – and all borrowed money (much of it owned to China).

But when ISIS really does take over we will see the error of our ways. But it may be too late by then.

ISIS is not going to stop in the Middle East.

And probably part of the  problem in our military interventions is that the public assumes those in charge are taking care of things and will do what is necessary and no need for any sacrifice on its part — don’t bother us, handle it. And then when it all falls apart due to half measures and timidity on the part of our leadership everyone wonders what happened. But the leadership is afraid to suggest some sacrifice on the part of the public. Leaders don’t want to be thrown out of office.

In addition, some in the military have been looking too much toward their retirement or the next book or love affair and not the problem at hand.

(But those who do the actual fighting do sacrifice, along with their families.)

I was against the Iraq intervention or invasion both times. But I was mystified why we held back in Desert Storm and did not push on into Baghdad – I mean Saddam’s vaunted forces were surrendering to television cameramen.

So we wound up years later going back at much cost but got bogged down in a civil war that resulted from the ousting and eventual execution of the strongman. Yes, and I know, that is supposedly among the reasons or an excuse ex post facto for not going all the way the first time. But I don’t buy it.

I’m going off on a tangent here I know. But the problem is that since the Viet Nam fiasco we don’t fight wars to win.

We have to pick our battles for sure. But once we do, sending men and women into harm’s way and committing our citizen’s dollars to a cause in which we are afraid to win is a moral outrage.

That is not to say that every time we are involved in some type of conflict we have to throw everything in our arsenal at it. Situations differ, but we must at some point have resolve.

Oh, and I was against the Viet Nam War (and yet I served at the time in the army, albeit not in Viet Nam by fortunate chance), but like so many people I could not figure out why our leaders did not seem to be willing to commit the necessary resources and use the necessary tactics to win.

But back to today, to Syria and the fight against ISIS:

Perhaps we need to lean on our Saudi Arabian allies for help in putting together a stronger regional force to combat ISIS.

President Obama should have honored his own threat against the Assad regime for continuing to use gas and other weapons against its own people. He should have ordered attacks on the regime when he had the excuse fresh in mind, but he wobbled.

Putin of Russia and the Iranian regime support Assad, but they cannot be comfortable about ISIS.

With the new Iran nuclear agreement under which Iran should have many or most of its economic sanctions lifted, maybe the U.S. could have some leverage there (although the agreement is pretty weak and may not be of much help).

And as far as Putin of Russia goes – we just need to stand up to him. He’ll blink.

The U.S. has much invested in the region. We need to negotiate with the powerful players there (well not ISIS).

It is a complicated civil war in Syria, with forces we support fighting against the Assad regime but joined by terrorist forces who are also fighting the Assad regime. And both the U.S. and Iran see ISIS as an enemy but find themselves at odds with each other.

And just like the Soviet Union before it, Russia wants to have influence in the region and vies for it with the U.S.

All very complex.

But being the world’s super power carries responsibilities.

And first we need to be responsible to ourselves.

Shock and awe did not prevent a ground war in Iraq, why would it in Syria?

September 11, 2013

Before I digest everything from President Obama’s speech on Syria last night and the reaction to it, I want to put this out:

Remember? We tried “shock and awe” at the beginning of the Iraq War and then it took us ten years with mucho boots on the ground and thousands of our people (and of course others) getting killed or gravely wounded to get out of there and in the end even though we helped set up a government or supported it, that government dismissed us — and I always have to add, we didn’t even get a lock on the oil , and I don’t care what anyone suggests, oil was our primary concern or reason for the whole thing.

Also I heard an interesting interview (and I did not get the name of the author) about a biography of Woodrow Wilson. He’s of course the president who served one term and then won a second on the slogan: “he kept us out of war”, and then upon taking his second term he got us into World War I on the principle (his) of “making the world safe for democracy”. And it was noted that Obama seems to be mirroring Wilson in this. Obama campaigned on ending wars of choice in the Middle East  and now he seems hell bent on getting us militarily involved in something in Syria in order to essentially make the world safe for democracy or at least safe from dictator who lobs chemical weapons at his people — there is not much democracy in the Middle East, save for Israel and the attempts at it elsewhere.

I came away from Obama’s speech last night thinking it would have been a good idea for him to have worked things out with congress behind the scenes before he committed himself and to have gotten his message out to the American people earlier. And if he saw it was not playing well, to have dropped the plan and moved on. It is a war of choice (I know he does not call it war but it is). Even the isolationists leading up to World War II shut up and went along after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. And 9/11, the 12th anniversary of which we are observing today, came at the right time for the interventionists who influenced George W. Bush (pardon me for being cynical). And isn’t it tragically ironic that on the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the U.S. we have a president ready to plunge us into yet another military action in the Middle East? So much for the apology tour he made at the beginning of his presidency.

We just are not directly threatened here. Of course that does not mean we don’t face some future threat from all of this. Yes, we should be working ever so discreetly, clandestinely perhaps, to shape things the way we need them.

Oh, and one more thing, the Russian plan to let Syria give up its chemical weapons is no doubt a stalling tactic, but if it defuses things for the moment or gets us out of a tough spot maybe that is good.

The threat of force by Obama most likely did move things along. But again, Obama should have gotten support first. Now he is in the uncomfortable position of saying: I’m going to attack you, if I can get permission.

But let us all hope and pray it all works out to the good.

Obama right in going to congress over Syria situation, but perhaps wrong in delcaring he has the power to act unilaterally

September 1, 2013

Surprising as it was I think U.S. President Obama made the correct decision in deciding to go to congress to ask permission to make a military strike on Syria after initially indicating that he just might order it on his own.

I don’t agree with his contention, though, that he nonetheless has the authority to act on his own in the matter. I mean I thought the president only has such authority in emergency situations, such as an ongoing or possibly imminent attack on the nation. Of course, I’m not a constitutional scholar, and the issue is one that has been debated all my life so far. Strong presidents just kind of do what they want.

An attack on Syria, no matter what the purpose, would be an act of war. And only congress can declare war under our constitution, even if that provision has not always been strictly followed in the past.

And I just want to get this out there too. There is the War Powers Act, that was passed by congress many long years ago, that authorizes the president to act militarily on his own for a limited amount of time but then requires him to go to congress. I can’t recall if that act has ever been tested in the courts. I really question its constitutionality. I don’t see how one branch of government, in this case the legislative, can create new powers for another branch, the executive, and I don’t see how congress thought it could abrogate its own responsibility on deciding on wars.

As everyone knows, the present Syria situation in question is that the Syrian government has purportedly (and the evidence seems to be overwhelming) used chemical weapons on its own people, more than once and at least once on an large scale. These weapons are banned by international law. And anyone can see how dangerous it is to let this go by, not to mention the moral imperative here in putting a stop to it somehow. Nonetheless the question is does all this pose an immediate threat to the U.S.? Unless it does, I don’t see how the president has the authority to act on his own. And now that he has said he is willing to go to congress and not even call for a special session — the congress being out on recess — and that furthermore no action has to be taken immediately, then is seems the nation must not be under any imminent threat.

The UN should act on this possibly, but that institution is feckless. It can’t act anyway because of an almost assured Russian veto in its Security Council.

In my last blog post I had said something about this being a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia (Syria being an ally of Russia). More accurately it is a proxy for showing Iran that we (the U.S.) won’t tolerate its own development of nuclear weapons.

It is a dicey situation. On the one hand we certainly don’t want to get bogged down in another war over there. On the other hand letting these dastardly people use such terrible weapons ultimately threatens the whole world.

And I don’t think there is such an animal as “limited war”. I mean if we were lucky we might be able to take limited action and be successful. But one never knows what will happen and one thing leads to another. Our past experience has shown that when we declare from the onset that our military actions will be limited, we limit our chances of winning. War itself is a moral outrage. But fighting a war and sacrificing blood and treasure without a resolve to win is worse in my books.

While transparency is good for democracy, I think in reality the president should have gone behind the scenes and worked out a deal with the lawmakers so they would approve his actions and if that failed then he could forget about it and save the embarrassment and the weakening of his powers if he loses a vote in congress. The British prime minister got egg on his face when he went to parliament over the issue. They turned him down.

We really need to figure out how much of a threat the Syria situation poses to us and then act accordingly. It is a prelude to what one day may happen if Iran gets or gets too close to having its own nuclear weapons. We just can’t afford to let that happen.