Sunday, December 27, 2015

What is the meaning of “make America great again”? , the Trump campaign slogan.  How do you measure whether America is less great than it was before and then the question becomes what would a President Trump do to our greatness?

 But  polls and metrics are not what is driving Donald Trump’s strength among 40% of GOP voters, no matter what outrageous  statements  he makes. Certainly media coverage of Muslim mass shootings in San Bernardino and Paris and lack of coverage of US and allies’ progress in  taking back ISIS held land  are proof to those who support him that the US is in decline and we need to be strong again. 

 How? . Pumping up military muscle? Repeating failed invasions?  Reviving verbal power slinging ugly Americans so we generate fear but  not respect? Banning Muslims visitors and immigrants, putting Muslims on enemies lists, and  his anti-Hispanic immigrant policies no doubt comfort  and reassure the angry and the fearful in the US.

How can we measure of how great the US is in the eyes of the world? .A June 24, 2015 poll conducted by Pew Research of attitudes in 40 countries concluded “Globally, Obama’s image is mostly positive. Across the 40 countries polled, a median of 65% say they have confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs.  Overall, Obama remains much more popular globally than his predecessor,   but opinions vary significantly across nations and regions.”  So whose greatness is Trump trying to restore and in whose eyes? Certainly not Obama’s predecessors or in the eyes of  world opinion

 The two areas where Obama’s popularity has declined are Russia and Israel (poll was taken in the midst of the Iran nuclear deal negotiations).   Only President Putin of Russia came to Trump’s defense recently and Trump returned the compliment.  However,  most understand  that Putin’s  total control of the press and the reins of governmental power  and his aggression in the Ukraine are not in American traditions or our Constitution.  There is an old saying: “by his friends, we will know him”.  

What about our closest allies in Europe? Pew concludes “Western Europeans are still big Obama fans... When Obama entered the White House, his ratings were extremely high, and they’ve only slipped a little since then. At least a majority has confidence in him in each Western European country surveyed…” Still, there is disappointment with Obama in the region on certain issues, such as climate change.  The poll was taken before the Paris global warming summit.  High on the list , per Pew, is admiration of the US for personal freedoms.  This poll does not reflect the recent “ban Muslims” or anti-immigrant proposals put forth by some GOP candidates, including Trump.

How would a Trump presidency restore this metric of greatness ?  The foreign backlash, expressing disappointment in Trump’s willingness to discriminate on the basis of religion with  his ban Muslim rhetoric  has been so severe that he had to cancel trips to Jordan and Israel and petitions banning him from the UK also received a quick and impressive response.

We can only imagine what a Pew Poll taken a year into a Trump presidency would look like. It would not be very great.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Kudos to Lindsey Graham and Jeb Bush on the Trump "Muslim ban" issue.

Listening to the GOP CNN candidate debate last night, the proposals on fighting terrorism were all over the board, but what deserves my praise is the moving spontaenous combusting of Lindsey Graham who pasionately said: "We are not at war against a religion, Islam, we are at war with the terrorists".  While I question creeping increase of boots on the ground by 10,000 he advocates, I do not oppose it if they are the right boots on the ground...special forces, and there are to support our Arab allies.  However, that is the problem, too,  Until the other day, when Saudi Arabia announced a large military coaltion of other Sunnis in the world to fight terrorists, the Arab allies have been MIA when it came to fighting ISIS.  Whether we need to increase military spending is another issue that deserves scrutiny.  Is a shortage or funding of personnel and equipment the reason we have not gone after ISIS with boots on the ground  or is that just a way  for him to make his case for more defense spending?

Jeb Bush on MSNBC this morning  on Morning Joe put the connection together that we cannot look like we are denying all Musims entry to the US because it looks like we are at war with Islam...and makes it very difficult to lead a coaltion of Arab boots on the ground.  Can we ask the Turks or Arabs or Jordanians or Gulf States to contribute troops but deny their visitors and those seeking medical aid to come to the US because they are Muslim?  I would put it even more harshly:  Trump has virtually been considered persona non grata by our European allies and Jordan, not to mention Israel.  How could he have any credibility leading such a coalition.

Rarely do I ever agree with Dick Cheney, but he, too, recently said that banning Muslims from entry to the US was harmful to our national security.  This was a direct aim at Trump.

A note to a reader of the blog, asking that I do not use the term ISIS.  It is a point well taken, but ISIL or daaesh  has never caught on with the general public.  In fact, spokespersons for US Muslim interests use ISIS as well.  I write for the public and I use ISIS so I do not have the bulk of my readers ask "who??"  The admimnistration makes it a point to use ISIS.  Our Arab supporters use daaesh.  If I had my druthers, I would use daaesh, too, but until ISIL is more accepted, or daaesh becomes accepted in the popular vocabulary.  My words are limited to 530 in my column and to always define the various names of ISIS means it is even harder to fit my words into the restrictive space.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Saudi awakening?

The Saudis awakening?

One of the key components Pres. Obama says we need to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere is for Muslims themselves to take care of their terroristm problem.  In his recent address to the nation, Obama asked the Muslim world to do more within their own countries and mosques to do that.  Key to US policy is for the US Arab allies to provide the boots on the ground in our war against ISIS.

 ISIS had pledged to wipe out the gulf Arab leaders and the Saudi regime, but until recently, the Saudis had seen the fight against the Shia in Iraq and Iran as their number one concern and had only focused  military action in Yemen against a Shia insurgency.  ISIS in Syria and Iraq had kept the Shias at bay north of them, so in a way, ISIS had a positive value to the Saudis. Besides both Saudis and ISIS are Sunnis.

The irony is that the theology of ISIS, permitting killing innocents and resulting in a virtual dealth cult that gave killing of apostates (both those who did not subscribe to their theology and all non Muslims)  and death in carrying that out a shortcut to paradise, has its roots in the madras schools in Saudi Arabia.  The majority Islamic interpretation of jihad is a fight to better oneself, not to be violent. The Salafists who advocated violent jihad ran those schools inspired Al Qaeda as well as ISIS and other franchises and fellow travelers.   A broad assumption was that the Saudis gave free rein to the Salafists to preach their version of violent  jihad as a Faustian bargain that permitted the Saudi royals to stay in power.  The ISIS and terrorist action had caused the death of far more Muslims than westerners. In the meantime, since ISIS and Saudi's are fellow Sunnis and for the Saudi's to take them on is a shift from the past.  However, ISIS' success may have given them pause that they are indeed a serious threat.

That has led to an announcement from the Saudis to create an alliance of Islamic nations to take on "terorists" .The reason the Saudis gave to begin gearing up against ISIS and the terrorist ilk is that it was giving Islam a bad name.

Whatever was motivating them: pressure from Obama, ISIS becoming a threat to their security,  realizaiton that fellow Sunis were victims of ISIS aggression, or bad PR resulted in an announcement that they would lead an alliance of Islamic nations to join together to launch a coordinated military  effort to fight terrorism.  Shia, Syrians and Iraqis and Iranians were not invited to join in.

What this means is not yet known.  The fight is to be coordinated by the Saudis in Saudi Arabia, but whether it means stepping up to the plate to provide military support to the opponents of ISIS is not known. Key to defeating ISIS is putting Arab boots on the ground and whether those boots come from this new alliance is not at all clear.  At least the alliance the Saudi's announced is a hopeful step.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

So we want Muslim phobic guys like these to be the leader of the free world?

The primrose path to homeland security advocated by Donald Trump and fellow travelers is simple: keep out Muslims, all of them, or even carpet bomb them. Fear is like a blindfold on a runner.  It keeps those driven by fear from seeing the ruts and roots that will trip them up.

 Here are some of the obstacles on the path to greater security. Key to reaching the goal of greater homeland security is to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Nearly all  of both political parties agree to succeed  we need  to form a coalition of regional Arabs, Turks, and Shia Iraqis to do the ground fighting in Syria and to bring along our European allies in a support role. The president we elect must also be the leader in creating that coalition, already difficult when those we want to join have conflicting goals. Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and his ilk have made coalition building a mission impossible. So we want Muslim phobic guys like these to be the leader of the free world to fight ISIS?

Trump has already alienated the allies he professes he needs to lead in a coalition. He would be a leader with few followers.  Ted Cruz’s proposal “ bomb ISIS to oblivion” and the resulting death to civilians would lead to world- wide outrage . Imagine what that would look like on CNN.

To put together that kind of coalition requires strong leadership from the US and Trump has become a persona non grata to those we need most to form a coalition. His anti- Muslim rhetoric has already made him unwelcome in Israel and Jordan and he had to cancel both trips to those countries.  His ban also received negative reactions from China to our Middle East allies to Europe. His proposal to keep Muslims out of the US created such a backlash in Britain, half a million Brits in a few days signed a petition to ban him from setting foot on the United Kingdom.

Religious tests for admission to the US  to determine who is not a Muslim would  dim the lights of the shining city on the hill that that makes us exceptional and admired for our secular laws protecting  civil rights, regardless of race or religion. It would require verification of non- Muslim identity that by necessity is based on someone’s word to the immigration officer.  Chiming in were other candidates, even reasonable Jeb Bush, who wanted to admit only Christian Syrians, making it necessary to subject them to the same religious tests.

Those are public relations nightmares that would  increase anger on the Muslim streets and their leaders veritying  that the US is officially  against the billions of Muslims around the world when only a fraction of Muslims world-wide subscribe to that death cult of violent jihadism. It would destroy the trust and credibility of the US when diplomacy and coalition building are key to our national security.
For more on who are Muslim  jihadists and who are not, see the post March 11,2015, Why a World View Matters.

Also, see post on 2/23/15 New winds blowing in the Middle East in our fight against ISIS

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Our struggle with ISIS is about twenty-somethings taking years to play out

 Many familiar with ISIS and international terrorism call the battle with the rest of the Muslim world and modern civilization a generational one, taking years to play out.  Others claim the Obama foreign policy is a failure because it has been unable to stop ISIS or terrorism within his term in office or he has no strategy. His critics do not have a strategy either that differs much from what the White House is already executing. Instead, they argue over the President’s definition of terms. Semantics will not defeat terrorists. Actions which take into account the long term nature, the cause, and communication methods of this generational movement will.  A new President that does not understand this could even increase threats to our national security.

 What both the San Bernardino and the Paris attacks had in common is that they were carried out by twenty something year olds from a certain generation, Some  will have those violent values in their psyches for years to come. They use special means of communication that can inspire and instruct lone wolves, sleeper cells, and coordinate attacks. Terrorists do not communicate by phone so metadata collection has intelligence gathering limitations in preventing attacks. They use encrypted internet sites and social media. So far the purveyors of those services have taken little action against these hidden methods.

There is a force against ISIS that is also generational. They are uneasy bedfellows over which no government has control. The battle of the 20 something nerds has begun with a group of secret, controversial skilled hackers who work outside the law world- wide like modern Robin Hoods. They call themselves Anonymous and the Paris attacks that victimized mostly 20 somethings mobilized them to focus their weapons on ISIS. They claim they have the ability to crack encrypted messages, and sabotage social media and websites. Unlike Silicon Valley, they have the will to do it.

Some GOP candidates for president try to exude personal power, telling us they will stop the spread of terrorism with domestic policies that make hash of the principles and values of the Constitution.  This is as much of a war against ideologies requiring tactical finesse as it is a physical one.

Lowering ourselves to ISIS’ method of torture and fear or trampling civil rights of Muslims in the US is fighting fire with gasoline.  It puts us in greater danger of turning more young domestic Muslims against us in anger and resentment, increasing self -radicalization and loan wolf attacks.

 We may have the firepower to stamp out the Caliphate within their land borders if we choose to do an Iraq style invasion, but we will not stamp out the spread of their ideology and copycat tactics to other countries. As the President noted, we cannot bomb ideas from these young peoples’ heads.
What we also know is that Western boots alone on the ground only gave rise and continuing fuel to ISIS. . We must undertake a delicate dance of balancing multinational military and police force with ideological appeal to those who just want to get on with their day to day lives and find our values give them that opportunity.

A version of this ran in the on Dec. 23, 2015