Israel and the Palestinians: Waiting For Godot

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsJerusalem, Israel – November 16th 2014 – Traveling once again through this land, we are reminded of David Ben Gurion’s famous musing, “In this land, anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”

Then again, miracles can take a long time coming, and waiting for another miracle in this region can be like, well, waiting for Godot. Eerily similar to Samuel Beckett’s 1953 brilliant (though often misunderstood) masterpiece, Waiting for Godot, there does, indeed, seem to be a certain futility about this intractable and dangerous Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

And so the parties to the stalemate go about their business. The Palestinians, it seems, devote the totality of their energy to undoing a reality that was born two-thirds of a century ago, a reality they call the Nakbah, or the Catastrophe. They are strongly motivated by a sense of injustice — an injustice that has become their obsession.   The Israelis, on the other hand, have been propelled by their unbridled freedom — freedom to discover, to create, to invent, to innovate and the freedom to grow.

The Palestinian sense of ire was (and is) not without cause. There were certain to be winners and losers on both sides, when this swath of land that had no true national identification for nearly half a millennia was partitioned by the United Nations sixty-six years ago. And even today the greater Middle East is in turmoil largely as a result of the disarray created when the Ottoman Empire (Caliphate) collapsed nearly 100 years ago, and the land was then sliced and diced at the whims of the victors of the Great War.

A coterie of nations in the immediate region was created during the 20th Century. In fact, all of the nations in what we think of as the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq) are creations of England and France. Only Israel, of course, was created by the United Nations.

Today, there is no meaningful dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and the resulting vacuum best serves the interests of the rejectionists on both sides. The second Intifada, which began in 2000 and lasted for five years, effectively ended nearly all routine contact between Israelis and Palestinians. Prior to the second Intifada more than 200,000 Palestinians entered into Israel everyday and worked among Israelis. There was contact between the two peoples. Now, there is virtually none, except among the Palestinian Authority security forces and their Israeli counterparts. They do work together to try to keep a lid on what is boiling beneath the surface. Formal peace talks are moribund. No one is talking, and almost no one seems interested in talking. Israelis and Palestinians are, today, living in parallel universes.

I am reminded of a meeting I had on the West Bank during the first Intifada with the late Elias Freij, the Palestinian Mayor of Bethlehem. I was doing research for my novel, Heirs of Eden, and he agreed to meet with me in his office during a very trying and tense time. Mayor Freij, a man of peace, described what he called the two great tragedies of the Israeli-Arab conflict. He described the first tragedy as an Arab tragedy — the Arab refusal to accept the UN partition plan that would have created an Arab and Jewish State living side by side. The second tragedy, he believed, was an Israeli tragedy – the decision in ‘67 to hold onto essentially all the land Israel possessed following the six-day war, and Israel’s concurrent total lack of interest in pursuing negotiations with Palestinian leaders to establish a meaningful and (Freij believed) achievable and constructive peace between the two peoples. Ironically, two of the three Arab belligerents in the ’67 War have established peace with Israel (Egypt and Jordan) and the third (Syria) is rapidly disintegrating into who knows what. Violent extremism over the issue of Palestine has, over the intervening years, coalesced into a variety of violent and well-armed factions, most notably Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

The Palestinians seem locked in a tragic time warp. Israel, meanwhile, has evolved, during its nearly seven decades of independence, into a success story of historic proportions. The young country excels in just about everything. It’s people and institutions are among the world’s leaders in science, basic research, agriculture, high-tech innovation, medicine, economics, literature, every aspect of art and even aerospace. Prominent military analysts in America rate the Israeli Air Force as the best in the world, and its Army as one of the best in the world and the best in the Middle East.

With few exceptions, every high school graduate (men and women) is required to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) – three years for the men and two years for women. It is a rite of passage in Israel and the IDF is uniformly viewed as one of Israel’s most important and uniformly respected institutions. The young men and women of the IDF are the pride of the nation and they, in turn, take great pride in their country.   Their sense of duty is palpable.

Sad narratives fill the air in this part of the world. Israel is referred to as an occupying nation. The notion is widely accepted here and, indeed, throughout much of the world, even though the circumstances of Israel’s presence in the territory in which it maintains a presence do not conform to the definition of “occupation” as defined by the 1949 Geneva Convention. The UN and its constituent affiliates have simply redefined “occupation” (after the fact) to encompass Israel’s presence on the West Bank (and previously in Gaza). When Jordan controlled the West Bank following the end of the British Mandate period and up until the ’67 War, no one thought of that territory as being “occupied” by Jordan, nor did anyone ever think of Egypt as “occupying” the Gaza Strip. And, indeed, neither Jordan nor Egypt was an occupying power as defined by the Geneva Convention.

And, of course, there are even more toxic narratives. There is the narrative Arafat promoted that Israeli’s (Jews) have no historical or cultural ties to the Middle East, or that the Holocaust that annihilated so much of European Jewry was a Zionist fiction. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Kahmenei, has weighed in on the conflict with his version of a final solution to the conflict. Israel he has written must be annihilated. Its fate should be decided by referendum including all of the people involved — with the exception, of course, of the Israelis.

The timing of the Ayatollah’s tweeted message is curious and, perhaps, revealing having been released precisely two weeks before the deadline for agreement between the so-called P5 + 1 and Iran on limiting Iran’s nuclear development to non-military purposes. It seems, to us, very likely that he chose this incredibly delicate time to issue such an inflammatory and unwelcome statement to send a message. If so, it was a very troubling message indeed.

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians continues to be elusive. And just as there are those on both sides who are dedicated to keeping peace elusive, there are those who will keep searching for a way. Meanwhile, like Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, we wait.

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Republican Midterm Rout: Historic Opportunity or Passing Footnote.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIt was quite an evening. Republicans won every winable seat and a few that were considered unwinable. As the evening drew to a close last night, Republicans held 52 Senate seats with two more (Alaska and Louisiana) likely to fall into the fold, and even the Democrats presumed-safe Virginia seat tottering on the brink of going Republican. To add insult to injury, Republicans added at least 10 more house seats to their already substantial majority in the US House of Representatives, giving the GOP their biggest House majority since 1946.

Republicans bagged governorships in one key state after another including Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and even Maryland where Real Clear Politics declared the State a “Strong Democrat Hold” in their last pre-election forecast. Nate Silver, the nation’s most vaunted prognosticator gave Maryland Democrat Anthony Brown a 94% likelihood of trouncing Republican Larry Hogan, predicting Brown would win by nearly 10 points. Instead Hogan with what the press called “a shoestring budget” scored the most stunning upset in the nation in taking 54% of the Maryland vote. Forty-six years earlier (1968) Hogan’s father (also Larry Hogan) scored the nation’s biggest Congressional upset defeating Democrat Hervey Machen in Maryland’s 5th congressional district. Hogan, we believe, is one of a new crop of young, energetic Republicans that, hopefully, will help rebrand the GOP. In the interest of full disclosure, this essayist and Hogan’s father were business partners, close friends and I had the privilege of being a senior member of the campaign team that produced that stunning 1968 upset.

Given the low voter turn out (about 35%) the dollars spent per vote in this election was, well, ludicrous. The top ten Senate races cost an estimated $700 million – just for the top ten races! Nearly $500 million was spent on the top Senate races and just under $300 million was spent on the top House races, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Contrary to popular perception, the Democratic Senate and House Majority PACs, run by allies of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, have spent more than any other outside groups — $47.4 million and $29.5 million, respectively. The Karl Rove-led group American Crossroads spent the most on the GOP side — $21.7 million, followed by the conservative Freedom Partners Action Fund and the Ending Spending Action Fund, which have spent $21.5 billion and $21.3 million.

The depth and width of the Republican sweep was breathtaking. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback survived a race in which he was thought to be very vulnerable. Every race that could have gone the Republican’s way simply did. Republican Sen. Pat Roberts beat back a strong challenge from Independent Greg Orman, and Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito pocketed the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, “It’s the first time in 60 years we have sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate,” Capito said. In fact it’s the first time West Virginia has ever sent a women to the US Senate.

In Arkansas, former President Bill Clinton’s six trips to campaign for Democrat Mark Pryor came to naught with Republican Tom Cotton taking the Razorback State. In Colorado, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner trounced Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, and in North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis unseated incumbent Kay Hagan. Even powerful Tom Harken’s seat was lost to a Republican newcomer, Joni Ernst. Democratic hopes were dashed almost everywhere, with Republican David Perdue besting Democrat Michelle Nunn in Georgia, and Charlie Baker sending Democrat Martha Coakley packing in Massachusetts of all places.

But just what does it all mean? Possibly quite a lot…and possibly not much at all. It all depends on how the Republicans use their new-found mandate, or whether they use it at all. Do the Republicans really even have a mandate? That’s an easy question with an easy answer. They most certainly do. And if there was any doubt about that, President Obama put that to rest in a curious, carefully scripted statement on the eve of the election. “I’m not on the ballot,” the President said, “But make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them.” Well, fair enough. If that is, indeed, the case, those policies, “every single one of them” are subject to a huge second thought.

Actually, we believe the election was mostly a huge protest about a government that isn’t working as much as it was about a President (or his policies) that isn’t working.  Exit polls conducted by the Gallop Organization suggest that “fixing itself” is what most voters expect Congress to do. Only about 20% of voters claimed that the economy was their primary concern. While President Obama was an albatross around the necks of nearly every Democratic candidate, mostly it seemed to be his lack of leadership more than his policies that were driving voters to distraction. Voters want the machinery of government to start working again.

The country wants to see Washington act to create robust economic growth once again. They are unimpressed that the unemployment rate is going down, while earnings fail to go up. They know that that just means that more people are working, but earning less for their labor. They don’t like the drift toward America becoming a part-time work economy. They don’t like immigration policy being all talk and no action. And they want decisions on energy policy including some resolution of the Keystone pipeline spectacle. They want healthcare policies that create manageable costs without requiring families to juggle higher deductibles to produce affordable costs. And most of all they are desperate to see an end to gridlock in Washington.

Voters will largely look to the new Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell to unclog Washington. McConnell trounced Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes by a whopping 15 points. He has a mandate as he begins his sixth term in the Senate. McConnell understands what voters expect of him.

“We do have an obligation to work together on issues on which we agree,” he told supporters in Louisville. “I think I’ve shown that to be true in critical times in the past. I hope the president gives me the chance to show it again.”

He added: “Just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict.”

Make no mistake about it — more than anything, the electorate feels we have a terribly dysfunctional government, and two years from now if they still feel that way, the wave of 2014 will turn into the riptide of 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

Midterm Election 2014: We Have A Republic…If We Can Keep It.

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors We, of course, are paraphrasing Franklin.

When asked by a Mrs. Powell, a woman in the gathered crowd following the Constitutional Convention in 1787 whether we had a Republic or a Monarchy, Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” This bit of historical banter is not apocryphal. It was actually recorded by Constitution signer James McHenry in his diary that very moment on that very day.

Oh, how we wish Ben Franklin or any of those other incredible thinkers were around today to shake us from our self-destructive complacency.

We leave partisanship at the proverbial door as we pen this essay. Our republic, more than anything else, is what is at stake in this, and every other midterm election. And that is what we will address today.

Our Founders really had three choices when they convened to construct a new order from the ashes of British colonialism on this continent. They could have constructed an American monarchy, a democracy or a republic. They wisely chose a republican form of government (not to be confused with the political party of the same name) because they understood that it was the only construct that had a chance of serving the new nation well into the future.

A monarchy, they knew, would be of no redeeming value in America (although there were those who supported such a notion). After all, we had just suffered at least 25,000 dead or wounded in the revolution (a toll that to this day is second only to the American Civil War relative to population). We hadn’t thrown off the shackles of British monarchy to create an American monarchy.

Democracies had been tried and had never succeeded. Indeed, pure democracies have had horribly unintended consequences. The Federalist papers, especially Federalist 10, strongly warn against the tyranny to which pure democracies are almost certain to evolve. Indeed, a lynch mob is a pretty good example of pure democracy.

What emerged at Philadelphia in 1787 was a fledging republican form of government that changed the world, as they knew it, and bequeathed to us a nation full of challenge and promise, as we know it.

But there is one catch. It was what Franklin was alluding to when he told Mrs. Powell that we had a republic if we could keep it. Under this new republic the people would not vote for or against a single law at the national level. Instead, they would vote for people who would do that for them. The quality of our republic, he was telling Mrs. Powell, would be no better than the quality of the people the nation sent to represent them. That’s the very essence of a republic.

Power in America was to reside in a body of citizens (us) who elect others to exercise that power, according to law, on our behalf. Indeed, our most fundamental law, our constitution, guarantees numerous individual rights (liberties, if you will) that cannot be taken away or abridged — not even by our elected representatives. Our individual States are also republican in nature as Article IV of the federal constitution “guarantees to every State in this union, a republican form of government.”

James Madison wrote in Federalist10: “… democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they are violent in their deaths.” Fisher Ames who served in Congress during both of the Washington Administrations termed democracy “a government by the passions of the multitude, or, no less correctly, according to the vices and ambitions of their leaders.”

So our founders very wisely constructed a brilliant republican form of government that rested on a foundation of law embodied in the new and incredible Constitution of this very new nation. School children should probably be reminded of Franklin’s admonition to Mrs. Powell each and every day – “you have a republic, if you can keep it.”

So just what was Franklin’s point, or more succinctly, what is our point. Well, here’s the thing.   There is nothing magic about our Constitution or its ability to protect our republic. It is just a piece of paper if we, as a people, are not devoted to, indeed insistent upon, caring fiercely about the quality of the thinking and the intelligence of the people we send to Washington every two years.

As American citizens we have only begun to discharge our responsibility when we vote. And if we don’t vote, we deserve the government we get. The health of this republic is largely dependent upon the people being both informed about, and involved in, the issues of the day.

The issues of the day, this day, are all but overwhelming. Statistically, the economy looks better than it did a year ago, but few people are breathing a sigh of relief. Americans, according to the Gallop Organization, are showing little confidence in the future. There seems to be an almost pervasive dissatisfaction, if not dislike, of our elected representatives by the people.

According to a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and NPR, Americans want more effective government but a quarter of us believe that the federal government is a major threat to our personal rights and freedoms, half of us believe it is at least some threat and six out of 10 of us believe that the federal government does what is right only some of the time, and another 10 percent of us say it never does what is right.  Indeed, we Americans give our elected representatives in Washington a meager 9% approval rating.  Wow. Even Muammar Gaddafi, the butcher of Libya, did better with a 14% approval rating the last time we checked.

John Boehner, Speaker of House of Representatives seems unable to control the far right of his Party, which has resulted in the far right, in effect, controlling the House of Representatives. This is ironic, given that more moderate Republicans have pummeled Tea Party candidates in primary after primary this year. Republican voters turned their backs on Tea Party challengers in Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi, Kansas and Tennessee.

On the Senate side, Majority Leader Harry Reid, does, indeed, control his party, but has used his power recklessly; refusing to allow the Senate to be the more deliberative body the Founders intended it to be — especially when those who wish to deliberate are Republicans. Reid has quashed open debate and deep-sixed the Senate’s long-standing amendment process to an extent that makes a joke of the Senate’s role as America’s essential deliberative body.

Even Democratic challenger Rick Weiland from South Dakota vowed to vote against Reid if he (Weiland) makes it to the Senate. “Harry Reid (and Mitch McConnell) have given us the most dysfunctional government in a generation and they need to step aside,” Weiland said during a recent debate. “They have both failed the American people and it’s time for new leadership,” the gutsy Democrat said.

Absolute control over the Congress of the United States will be determined in just a few days. Think about that. All 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives will be selected Tuesday as will 36 out of 100 Senators. If the last midterm election (2010) is prologue to what will happen Tuesday, less than 40% of us will show up to determine who in Washington will exercise power on our behalf. What in the world is wrong with us?

Such widespread and pervasive complacency – such failure to exercise our right and our responsibility to vote is, if we might borrow from President Obama’s lexicon, just doing stupid stuff.

HEIRS OF EDEN available at Amazon.com,  on Kindle, Nook, Apple e-books and Ingram Books.

 

Ebola Ban – Let’s Look Before We Leap.

 Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsPerhaps, the fastest growing meme since the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins first coined the term in his 1976 best seller, “The Selfish Gene,” is the cable-news mantra – Stop Ebola, Quarantine West Africa. A solid majority (58%) of Americans recently polled now embrace the idea of a quarantine of West Africa. At best, it is a poorly thought-out idea. At worst, it is a disastrous idea.

It is a tantalizing coincidence that Dawkins’ notion of a meme (an idea that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing or speech in a manner that imitates the way genes self-replicate), was introduced to the world at almost the identical time that Mabalo Lokela, a school headmaster, came down with a mysterious illness along the banks of the Ebola River in Northern Zaire.

There is an intuitive appeal to the idea of isolating the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea where the disease is rampant. But the fact that such a notion is appealing doesn’t make it wise, or effective. The disease, while highly infectious (it spreads rapidly throughout the body of its victim), is actually not very contagious.

Let’s turn off the noise (especially cable news) for just a moment of reflection. Approximately 140 people a day were arriving, indirectly, in America last year from these affected West African nations. The first Ebola case of the current outbreak was reported in March of this year, about 200 days ago. So, let’s assume the same daily rate of travel into the United States this year of about 28,000 (140 X 200) travelers from the affected areas (actually, it is certain to be much less). To date, there have been only two cases of Ebola contracted in the United States, both by health-care workers who came in direct physical contact with the same dying Liberian victim of the disease. Now, admittedly, the longer the disease spreads in the three West African countries, the greater the risk of infected people from those countries showing up among those 145 visitors to the US each day. But so far, only one single case has emerged from among those travelers, which suggests that careful screening of incoming travelers, while not a perfect solution is better than quarantining all of West Africa, which would be just as imperfect.

Also consider this, no one who was in the home and living in close quarters with the victim (now deceased) before he was admitted to the hospital has contracted the disease, and no one has been reported with the disease in any of the other countries of the world where daily travel has been on-going for the last 200 days since the first case was reported.

In reviewing data for this essay we came across a paper delivered at the 35th Interscience conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy which was held in San Fransicso in 1995. The researchers studied the surviving members of 27 different households in which someone had been infected with Ebola. There were 173 household contacts within those 27 households, 28 of whom (16%) developed Ebola. Every one of those 28 cases had direct physical, hands on contact with the Ebola victim or the victim’s body fluids. None, we’ll repeat that, none of the 78 household members who had no physical contact with the victim during the clinical illness were infected…none!

The vast majority of Americans, it seems, would either approve or simply not object to a quarantine of West Africa. It would have been an easy call for President Obama, who is currently contending with a multitude of crises, to impose severe restrictions on travel to and from West Africa. Even Bill O’reilly, Shawn Hannity and Rush Limbaugh would have joined the more mainstream media in applauding. Instead, he listened to the experts at the world’s best disease control center, our own Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and they, unfortunately, let him down. They so emphasized the low level of contagion with Ebola that they severely downplayed the potential for infection among those who would be involved in physical contact with an Ebola patient, or his or her bodily waste, blood, swabs, urine, etc. So when two nurses who were in direct contact with the patient developed Ebola, it was, understandably, treated as an “outbreak” of Ebola in the United States, suggesting that as many of 800 people who were subsequently in some proximity to the two nurses were now at risk for coming down with Ebola. That is, in our judgment, simply an unrealistic projection of health risk.

The idea of imposing travel restrictions when communicable diseases erupt is not new. Mike Leavitt who was responsible for managing the 2005-2006 threat of the deadly H5N1 so-called bird flu when he was at Health and Human Services considered a travel ban. A travel ban “is intuitively attractive, and seems so simple,” Leavitt said. “We studied it intensely in preparation for H5N1, and I became persuaded that there are lots of problems with it.”

We have not imposed a quarantine on other areas of the world to stop a disease outbreak in recent memory. This is not the time to start given how thoroughly the disease is contained here.

“If we know anything in global health it’s that you can’t wrap a whole region in cellophane and expect to keep out a rapidly moving infectious disease. It doesn’t work that way,” according to Lawrence Gostin, a professor and global health expert at Georgetown University Law Center. “Ultimately people will flee one way or another, and the more infection there is and the more people there are, the more they flee and the more unsafe we are.”

People, who can escape from a disease ravaged area will. They will make their way to safety as far from the quarantined area as they can. If they are, indeed, highly contagious, they will infect others wherever they wind up, others who are not subject to travel bans. So it makes far more sense to concentrate our efforts on stopping the disease where it is active rather than trying to contain it, which in today’s world may turn out to be a fool’s errand that merely exacerbates the problem.

A quarantine of West Africa would simply increase illegal travel, which, in turn, would make it harder to effectively contain the disease. America’s Ebola “outbreak” is a fiction. Two people, who had close direct physical contact with an Ebola patient or the physical fluids or wastes attendant to his treatment have contracted the disease. No one else has.

Nearly all of the calls for quarantining West Africa have come from politicians and media talking heads. Almost none have come from medical experts or others who have studied past attempts to quarantine large geographical areas.

CDC has stumbled badly in its efforts to manage the Ebola narrative in America, and it certainly underestimated (or failed to communicate) the extreme demands required to protect the healthcare workers treating an Ebola patient. But, it seems to us, CDC understands quite well the communicable aspect of the disease as it relates to the general public.

Let’s cool the “Quarantine West Africa” rhetoric. We will disastrously further impoverish these countries while achieving no quantifiable additional protection for our own people.

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“Heirs of Eden” available at Amazon.com, Kindle, Nook, Apple e-books and Ingram Books

A New 30-Years’ War: Panetta’s Sobering Prediction

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsPredictions of a new 30-Years’ War between the West and radical Islam should send shivers down any sane person’s spine, especially when that prediction is made by someone of Leon Panetta’s stature.

Former Secretary of Defense Panetta has taken strong exception to the Obama notion that the threat of war has been receding. Quite the contrary, Panetta warns that Americans should prepare themselves for the country to be at war with the Islamic State and other terrorist groups for decades to come (emphasis added).

No one would (or should) ever accuse Leon Panetta of being self-serving, or of playing politics when it comes to our national interest or welfare, even if he has just published his memoires. Democrat Panetta is, by any standard, a great American patriot and an honorable public servant who has served his country with incredible distinction. President Obama appointed Panetta to serve as Director of the CIA where he oversaw the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden before tapping him to be Secretary of Defense in 2011. Panetta, who is now 76 years old, had served in Congress for 16 years before being asked to serve as Director of the Office of Management and Budget by President Bill Clinton and then as Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff. If anyone’s perspective on radical Islam or the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) should be taken very seriously, Panetta would be the perfect “go-to” guy.

Already, members of the Obama Administration are calling him disloyal, as have a few talking heads and some Administration sycophants in the press. But as Panetta replied in responding to such criticism, “you can’t put history on hold.” His point is a valid one. There are but a few truly qualified Americans who can provide meaningful perspective to an America desperate for such perspective as it faces threats on many fronts from Radical Islam. Leon Panetta has done so in his newly released memoire, “Worthy Fights.”

“I think we’re looking at kind of a 30-year war,” he says, one that will have to extend beyond Islamic State to include emerging threats in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere. Panetta blames President Obama for decisions he made over the past three years that have made that battle more difficult.

Panetta writes (as have we) that threats from other terrorist networks in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya as well as other countries will engage U.S. military for the foreseeable future. “The fight will not end when the U.S. defeats ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”

This corresponds with statements of other US officials including James Comey, Director of the FBI who believes the al-Qaeda offshoot Khorosan Group will, in fact, strike the United States very soon.

Panetta’s use of the conflict that history describes as the 30-years’war as analogous to where America finds itself today is, we think, quite significant. The Thirty Years’ War was an awful series of wars in Central Europe between 1618–1648. It was largely a religious war between Protestants and Catholics, and one of the most destructive conflicts in European history, and one of the longest. Radical Islam is at war with Christians, Jews, Hindus Shiites and even Sunni Muslims who are not Muslim enough for them. The current conflict with Radical Islam is every bit as gruesome as the historical 30-years’ War. Beheadings, crucifixions, firing squads, rape, kidnapping, forced conversions to an extent not seen since the inquisition, and pillage are all acceptable tactics.

The Thirty Years’ War, like the war the Islamic State is waging, saw the devastation of entire regions, with famine and disease significantly decreasing the populations of the conquered territories. And just as the forces of the Islamic State steal treasure, food and property, warriors in the armies during the historical 30-years’ war were expected to fund themselves by looting or extorting tribute at great cost to the inhabitants of occupied territories.

In an interview with USA TODAY’s video newsmaker series, Panetta says Obama erred:

– by not pushing the Iraqi government harder to allow a residual U.S. force to remain when troops withdrew in 2011, a deal he says could have been negotiated with more effort. That “created a vacuum in terms of the ability of that country to better protect itself, and it’s out of that vacuum that ISIS began to breed.”

– by rejecting the advice of top aides — including Panetta and then-secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — to begin arming Syrian rebels in 2012. If the U.S. had done so, “I do think we would be in a better position to know whether or not there is some moderate element in the rebel forces that are confronting (Syrian President Bashar) Assad.”

– by warning Assad not to use chemical weapons against his own people, then failing to act when that “red line” was crossed in 2013. Before ordering airstrikes, Obama said he wanted to seek congressional authorization, which predictably didn’t happen.

The reversal cost the United States credibility then and is complicating efforts to enlist international allies now to join a coalition against the Islamic State, Panetta says. “There’s a little question mark as to whether, the United States is going to stick this out? Is the United States going to be there when we need them?”

Showing leadership in the fight against ISIS is an opportunity “to repair the damage,” he says. It’s also a chance for Obama to get a fresh start after having “lost his way.”

Somewhat telling is the extent to which Panetta’s criticism parallels that of others who have left the Obama Administration including Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton and others who have no further aspirations for public office or lucrative book deals. Gates, who was generally complimentary of Obama, especially in his pursuit of Osama bin Laden, lamented, nonetheless, that “getting anything of consequence done (within the Administration) was so damnably difficult.”

Gates, was also critical of Obama’s handling of Afghanistan, feeling that Obama made military decisions based on political considerations, a criticism shared by other former White House officials.

As we have written in a recent essay, America cannot simply declare peace when our enemies are bent on war. Budgeting for our defense as though the threat of war has been receding, as the President has opined, is dangerous. The world has rarely been a tranquil place. Only 8 percent of recorded history (268 years out of 3400 years) has been free of war (NY Times, July 6, 2003). We do not seem to be living in a time characterized by those tranquil 268 non-consecutive years. The sooner we understand that the better.

Heirs of Eden now available at Amazon.com, Kindle, Nook, Apple e-books and Ingram Books.

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“We” Obama said, “Underestimated The Islamic State.” –But Who, Exactly, Is “We” ?

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsDuh! — as the kids like to say.

Or, as Shakespeare wrote over 400 years ago, “Something is rotten in the State of Denmark” (our apologies to the Danes). The reader may recall those words spoken by Marcellus to Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet while awaiting battle, to suggest that something was terribly wrong. Even more poignantly, Horatio responds, “Heaven will direct it.” Or, as we suggest, Obama may have reasoned, maybe it (ISIS) will just go away.

 Actually, we don’t know what the President was thinking. And while National Intelligence Director James Clapper may have taken the obligatory fall on the proverbial sword when he offered his mea culpa surprise at ISIS’s strength and the Iraqi army’s weakness, virtually no one else in the nation’s intelligence establishment is buying it.

One former senior Pentagon official who worked closely on the threat posed by Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq was flabbergasted. He told the award-winning news site, Daily Beast, “Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bullshitting.”

It has been widely reported that President Obama is not a big fan of the daily face-to-face intelligence briefings that have been a part of the daily routine at the White House for decades. He apparently prefers to read his Intel on his I-pad, and not waste time in a daily intelligence question and answer session. We have no problem with that, assuming the briefings are really given the time they deserve on the President’s I-pad. If we failed to detect so obvious a threat as ISIS, how are we expected to believe that our intelligence reporting will let us know when, for instance, Iran has cheated on whatever promises they make when the, now deadlocked, nuclear negotiations are completed.

The reality, it seems, isn’t so much that the White House didn’t have good intelligence about ISIS, but rather that the White House didn’t really place that high a priority on the information that was readily available. According to the Obama-friendly New York Times, “By late last year, classified American intelligence reports painted an increasingly ominous picture of a growing threat from Sunni extremists in Syria. Just as worrisome, they said, were reports of deteriorating readiness and morale among troops next door in Iraq. But the reports, they said, generated little attention in a White House consumed with multiple brush fires and reluctant to be drawn back into Iraq. “Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” said a senior American intelligence official. “They were preoccupied with other crises,” the official added. “This just wasn’t a big priority.”

Even the liberal leaning Brookings Institution weighed in on the controversy. “To anyone watching developments in Iraq from mid-2010 and Syria from early 2011, the recovery and rise of ISIS should have been starkly clear,” said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. “The organization (ISIS) itself was also carrying out an explicitly clear step-by-step strategy aimed at engendering the conditions that would feed its accelerated rise.”

It’s true. Remember, it was way back in January that ISIS rolled, unimpeded, into Fallujah and Ramadi in long, easy-to-detect convoys, some reported to be 100 trucks long, openly flying the ominous black al-Qaeda flags. These were cities in which al-Qaeda had been thoroughly routed during the surge of the Bush years. Last February the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, General Michael Flynn, warned in his annual threat assessment, “ISIL probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah.”

In that very same meeting, Clapper himself testified that ISIS was one of the three most effective radical Islamist groups operating in Syria. He predicted that ISIS could well become a magnet for attracting foreign fighters, which is, of course, exactly what has happened. CIA Director, Brennen, also testified back then that he thought both ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra, were a threat to launch jihad against the West. Even Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, testified back in February that Syria could become a launching point or way station for terrorists seeking to attack the United States or other nations.”

Over a year ago, CNN quoted a top intelligence official who said ISIS has “ruthlessly grown in effectiveness.” Last October a senior administration official said the terror group represented “a major and increasing threat” — to the region and to the United States.

Eight months ago, the military’s top intelligence official warned ISIS “will attempt to take territory…They will not go home when it is over. They will fight for that space. They are there for the long haul.”

Since then, officials have warned that ISIS wasn’t going anywhere — including in October, when a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call that the danger from ISIS was intensifying.

“This is really a major and increasing threat to Iraq’s stability … and it’s an increasing threat to us,” These were not random comments from the usual cast of talking heads. These observations and rather dire warnings were all very public assessments of ISIS coming from President Barack Obama’s own administration.

So, what in the world is going on here? It is evident to us, as it must be to everyone, that President Obama, understandably, did not want to see the country dragged back into a war that he had always opposed and that he had promised to end…forever. His confidantes are quick to tell us that the President believed America turned to the military option too fast and too often, and he may very well have been right. But that doesn’t absolve President Obama or any other President from acting when action is so obviously called for. His antipathy for President Bush’s policies, and his determination not to make what he considers to have been Bush’s excesses may have caused a sort of paralysis when it came to taking action that seemed too Bushesque, even when the threat had become so obvious.

ISIS took total control of Raqqa, Syria nine months ago. They also took Fallujah and moved into Ramada in Iraq back in January. By June they had taken Mosul which is to Iraq as Chicago is to the United States, its second largest city.

We were bemused by the recent statement of Frederic Hof, who was the State Department’s point man for Syria policy when he said, “I’m not suggesting anyone was asleep at the switch necessarily,” before going on to say that “ISIS definitely achieved strategic surprise when it rolled into Iraq,” which is, of course, saying that someone was, in fact, sleeping at the switch.

Something is very wrong, or as Shakespeare would say, rotten in Denmark, when the President blames our intelligence community for underestimating ISIS, when one intelligence report after another was clearly warning over and over again that we had a big problem brewing in Iraq and Syria.

The problem isn’t really ISIS either. ISIS is merely a current manifestation (one of many) of radical Islam. The radical Islamists have been cutting off heads, shooting people in mass, forcing conversions, seizing and taking women and girls, firing rockets at Israeli cities, pulling travelers off of buses and killing them (if they weren’t like them) for a long time now, and they will continue to do so for a long time to come. That’s the real problem facing the world today. That’s the defining issue of our day. And if we refuse to recognize that and fail to do whatever we can to stop it, then something really is rotten in Denmark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing The Threat of Radical Islam: Obama Takes Charge.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsPresident Obama has, at last, taken a strong stand against radical Islam, and, as far as it goes, he has done so impressively. Unfortunately, his otherwise strong and unambiguous address to the United Nations following dramatic strikes against IS, al-Nusra and the newest al-Qaeda offshoot, Khorasan, was disappointing (and perhaps telling) in the short shrift it gave to the recent war in Gaza and his failure to condemn Hamas for initiating a war that entirely was directed at Israeli civilians. He lamented that rockets were being fired at Israeli civilians and that children were among the casualties caused by return fire in Gaza — strong condemnation of radical Islamists elsewhere, but an almost moral equivalence with respect to the fight between Israelis and the Hamas terrorists. Specifically, President Obama told the delegates…

and the violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace. But let’s be clear: the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable. We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza. So long as I am President, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region, and the world will be more just with two states living side by side, in peace and security.”

Not a word about Hamas, its culture of death, its senseless murder of the three Israeli teenagers, its foiled attempt to kidnap and kill other Israeli civilians, nor its admonition for Muslims to kill Jews wherever they find them.

President Obama chose to separate Hamas from the rest of radical Islam when he said, “No God condones this terror.” Apparently, he has not read the Hamas charter, which condones and, in fact, demands in the name of Allah exactly this type of terror. “No grievance justifies these actions, “he said,” There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. But not apparently, when this brand of evil is practiced by Hamas. “So,” the President continued, “the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.” But, apparently, not the Hamas network of death – the network that brags that it loves death more than its enemy’s love life.

Now, we understand that identifying any Palestinian terror group, such as Hamas, with the “the brand of evil” the President finds beyond the pale might have compromised our objective of getting several Arab nations into the impressive coalition the President has successfully organized. The reality is, however, that the Arab nations that have joined with us have absolutely no love for Hamas, and were quite happy to see the group severely diminished in the recent Gaza war.

The President’s disappointing pass to Hamas aside, his action against IS, al-Nusra , the Khorasan Group in Syria and Iraq and al-Shabaab in Somalia has shown an impressive display of resolve, grit and global leadership. The debate over whether the President was being indecisive or deliberative since the Islamic State (ISIS) emerged with such fury this summer has, in our mind, been largely resolved.

Just today Turkey has moved to join Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain in the American organized and led coalition that also includes Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Albania, Croatia, New Zealand, Romania, South Korea and Iraqi Kurdistan with a number of other countries lining up to join the American led campaign against these new Islamic barbarians.

The current campaign in Syria and Iraq represents, by far, the most muscular response President Obama has demonstrated against radical Islam. Particularly impressive was the President’s decision to go after the leadership of the al-Qaeda affiliate, Khorasan, about which we apparently had very credible evidence of advanced plans to unleash 9/11 type mayhem on American soil. From early reports, it appears we decimated their leadership during the very first wave of attacks.

None other than Ayman al-Zawahiri, who assumed the leadership of al-Qaeda following Ben Laden’s death, apparently organized the Khorasan group. Zawahiri is reported to have dispatched an estimated 50 or more battle-hardened fighters to Syria to recruit from among the passport-holding foreign fighters, a cadre of killers to return home to execute major terrorist attacks against America and Great Britain. Apparently, the group has been concentrating on the development of difficult-to-detect and highly explosive materials that can be loaded into common toiletries to be used to bring down western airliners. American or other western intelligence agencies apparently learned where these terrorists were concentrated and successfully targeted them during the first wave of attacks in Syria.

We now know that the leader of Khorasan is (or was) a Kuwaiti named Muhsin al-Fadhli who is (was) considered an expert in launching attacks against mass transportation such as trains and airplanes. He very well may have been killed in the American-led attacks. Al-Fadhli has been of particular concern to American intelligence operatives because of his association with a heralded Yemini bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri who, in 2009 outfitted Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the ill-fated underwear bomber.

James Clapper, U.S. Director of National Intelligence has elevated his assessment of Khorasan as now being a real threat to people and facilities in the United States, and it may very well be this latest development that moved President Obama to, at last, be all in regarding the need to confront these groups. Khorasan’s successful recruiting of restive Muslims in the U.S. and Europe is cause for alarm and may be what has brought President Obama to a better understanding of the threat we face. Our guess is that the President is not apt to talk about the threat of war receding or greater tranquility taking hold in the world anytime soon. Sadly, such rhetoric simply bears no relationship to present day reality.

Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore says “Syria is a very rich recruiting ground for the Khorasan Group,” which targets primarily first-and second-generation European immigrants because “it’s much easier to train them, motivate them, give them a network and send them back to the west.” The problem, Gunaratna says, is that it will be difficult for Western governments to know who they are. That reality has apparently been a strong wake-up call for US intelligence personnel and the White House.

We, as a nation and President Obama as our President, will have to come to grips with the reality that this struggle is not about this or that terrorist group. It is about radical Islam and the absolute incompatibility of radical Islam and the modern nation state. It is, in our judgment, extremely important that America grasps the implications of this threat to world order. Vicious and bloody religious war reigned throughout much of history until the emergence, in 1648, of the nation state as the paradigm for world order. Radical Islam, at its heart, seeks to eliminate that world order, replacing it with a universal caliphate. While it is unthinkable that such a day could come to pass, it is, nonetheless, what radical Islam is all about, and its adherents will pursue that end to the detriment of western culture.

When al-Qaeda and Islamic State and Khorasan and Boko Haram and al-Shabaab have all been vanquished, the struggle is apt to continue as new organizations with equally strange names pick up the banner of conquest in the name of Islam.

As we have written in prior essays, only westward leaning forces within Islam can, ultimately, end this new incarnation of religious war. Until then, we must resolve to confront these retrograde forces that threaten us or any of our democratic allies. President Obama has, at last, responded forcefully and skillfully to radical Islam in Iraq and Syria. Hopefully, he will continue to confront those who are sworn enemies of western culture wherever and whenever they attack American interests or those of our allies.

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US Decision To Arm The Free Syrian Army: A Classic Hobson’s Choice.

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors

But it is the right choice.

Actually, 400 years ago, Thomas Hobson ran his livery business on a take it or leave it basis. You rode the horse Hobson offered you (from the stall nearest the entrance) or you didn’t ride at all. That reality became history’s famous Hobson’s Choice. That’s sort of where President Obama found himself as he contemplated what to do in the Syrian Civil War. He rides with (arms and trains) the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or he doesn’t ride at all.

With the just-passed 78-22 Senate vote approving aid to the rebels in Syria, the authorizing legislation should be on the President’s desk for signature right away. The House approved the bill on Wednesday.

The vote has created new fault lines within both parties. We even have Republicans and Democrats joining together to criticize the President’s decision to aid the Rebels. “Intervention that destabilizes the Middle East is a mistake. And yet, here we are again, wading into a civil war,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Sen. Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat in a difficult re-election campaign, echoed Rand’s sentiments saying, “I disagree with my president” on the wisdom of having the U.S. military become involved. “It is time for the Arab countries to step up and get over their regional differences” and be more aggressive in the fight against terrorists.”
Well, we think Senator’s Rand and Begich are both wrong.
Someone is, sooner or later, going to overthrow the brutal Bahsar al- Assad regime. It is going to be the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which we are now officially aiding, the marauding and murderous, fanatical Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), or the equally odious al Qaeda offshoot, Al Nusra Front (which is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the US State Department). Like the Islamic state, Al Nusra is also determined to establish its own Islamic State in Syria.

A little history. Remember, it was three years ago this past spring that protests broke out throughout Syria, not unlike the protests that broke out throughout much of the Arab world in what has been called the Arab Spring. The Syrian protests were, initially, not the product of Islamic agitation. The protests consisted of mostly young, secular protestors who wanted to stop the abuses of the Assad regime and bring democratic reform to Syria. Bashar Al-Assad ruthlessly cracked down on the protestors, killing and gassing many of them. It was at this point that a number of officers in Assad’s army, led by Colonel Riad al-Asaad, balked, refusing to fire on the protestors. They formed the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), and were followed by thousands of other members of the regular Syrian Army who defected over to Riad al-Asaad.

No doubt, many of the defectors simply hated Assad’s ruling Alawite regime, a minority Shiite offshoot, simply because they (the defectors) were Sunnis. Many defectors were certainly not white knights in shining armor. As the fighting has unfolded there have been isolated but grizzly incidents documenting very serious human rights abuses among troops of the FSA.

The FSA has, however, evolved into somewhat more of a unified and disciplined organization, and its leadership has pledged to recognize the Geneva Convention and follow the basic rules of war. The FSA clearly desires Western support and has made it clear that its only enemy is Bashar al-Assad and his ruthless Alawite regime. The FSA’s earlier cooperation with ISIS against Assad ruptured when ISIS began instituting Sharia law in areas it controlled.

We now know that FSA representatives had been meeting with Israeli army officers in Israel, and that Israel has provided medical aid, clothing and light weapons to FSA. We’ve even screened a YouTube video posted by Al-Nusra, in which Sharif As-Safouri, the commander of the Free Syrian Army’s Al-Haramein Battalion (who was captured by Al-Nusra) admitted to having entered Israel five times to meet with Israeli officers who later provided him with Soviet anti-tank weapons and light arms. “The (FSA) would receive support and send the injured to Israel on condition that the Israeli fence area is secured. No person was allowed to come near the fence without prior coordination with Israel authorities,” Safouri said in the video.

General Salem Idris, who chairs the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army and other FSA leaders have been calling on the United States to increase support to the FSA by providing heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is very active in Syria (along with Iran) on behalf of the Assad regime.
“What we want from the U.S. government is to support the Syrian revolution with weapons and ammunition, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft weapons,” Idris said. “Of course we want a no-fly zone and we ask for strategic strikes against Hezbollah both inside Lebanon and inside Syria.”
General Idris said his group would go to Geneva to discuss ending the fighting “if Syrian President Bashar al Assad would resign and leave the country, and the military officials of the regime brought to justice.” That seems very consistent with what the United States has said it wants to see as well.

There is no way we are going to ally ourselves with either Islamic State, with whom we are at war, or Al Nusra, whose parent al-Qaeda has already killed more Americans than the Japanese killed at Pearl Harbor. And tolerating Assad, which is the only other alternative, would be shameful, and it would play into the hands of both Iran and Hezbollah.

So, all of the hyperventilating by those who oppose aiding the rebels really is about being all in to help or not help the Free Syrian Army (FSA). We come down on the side of arming and training FSA, and we believe we should have been doing that a long time ago.

The choices we have seem quite clear.

The FSA says it is running low on ammunition and they don’t have effective weapons to counter Assad’s use of airpower. They also claim that there’s a growing presence of Russian military advisers in Damascus as well as growing numbers of Iranian and Iraqi fighters.

We also know that Hezbollah is leading the fight for Assad in Homs, which is Syria’s third largest city after Aleppo to the north and Damascus to the south. According to the FSA, estimates of Hezbollah’s presence in Homs are four to seven thousand fighters while the FSA has only two thousand fighters in the area.

President Obama’s decision to support the more moderate Syrian insurgents while fighting ISIS was a difficult call for him. He now understands there is no quick fix, and that we are locking horns with radical Islam for the long haul. It is the antithesis of the role he envisioned for America. Yet, it is the right call. It is recognition that we simply can’t declare a safer world or unilaterally reset our relationships with those whose worldview is antithetical to our own.

Our choice has come down to confronting deadly enemies now or later. Our radical Islamic adversaries, be they Hezbollah or Iran supporting Assad, or the Islamic State have been unambiguous about their intent. We are their big Satan. We, the West and Israel are their ultimate targets. We can confront them now on our terms, or later on their terms. The President and Congress have made the right call.

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Face It. It’s War. It’s War Like No Other.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsLet’s stop calling it “sustained anti-terrorism” as Susan Rice, the President’s National Security Advisor refers to it, and let’s stop saying silly stuff like “War is the wrong terminology” as Secretary of State John Kerry recently opined. War is the right terminology, so let’s stop issuing advisories about whether there will be, or will not be, “boots on the ground.” Let’s just say we’re all in to meet the challenge of the Islamic State and every other radical Islamic movement that seeks the destruction of the United States or any of its allies. We’ll do it with or without others, but we’ll do it.

This is a war like no other. Our enemy has no Commander-in-Chief, as we understand the term. Radical and fanatical tribal commanders and Caliphs will, from time to time, emerge, but the Commander-in-Chief is, and will always be, Allah and to the radical Islamist no Islamist on earth has the right to unilaterally give up the struggle. That is, no one in Islam can unilaterally end the fight to extend the reign of Islam to every continent, every country and every nook and cranny on the face of the earth. The Geneva Convention and the Rules of War are meaningless to the radical Islamists. They have no rules and they take few prisoners.

None of this is new. It has been true for approximately 1400 years, but today this archaic, triumphal, enduring and primitive belligerency has metastasized and evolved and found itself in a milieu rich in advanced weaponry, hyper communication capability, left-behind misfits and zealous fanatics who can be (and are) readily recruited into the world of mayhem, sadism, power and murder.

Defeating ISIS (or the Islamic State) will not solve the problem any more than defeating an enemy brigade ends a war. The emergence of ISIS is but a chapter in a much longer and challenging book of horrors.

Our concern is that we still don’t get it. Islam is the one Abrahamic religion in which a very substantial number of adherents (but by no means a majority) are still committed to the most literal commandments to smite the infidels (all who are not them), and to project their faith, by force if necessary, throughout the world until there is no other faith to confront.

Last year, the PEW research organization completed a four-year study in which they interviewed tens of thousands of Muslims in 39 different countries. Thankfully, and not surprisingly, the vast majority of Muslims (78%) are opposed to violence in the name of Islam. It would be, and is, a great injustice to assume that the world’s Muslims are the enemy. They are not. It is, however, among the 28% who do condone and support violence in the name of Islam that there exists a clear and present danger to our way of life.

Given that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, that 28% represents over 400 million Muslims who do condone violent war in the name of Islam, which is a pool from which the radicals can, and are, recruiting their killers (Pew also found that 84% of Egyptian Muslims support the death penalty for anyone leaving Islam as do 
86% of Jordanian Muslims, 30% of Indonesian Muslims, 76% of Pakistanis, 51% of Nigerian Muslims and 76% of South Asian Muslims).

If we fail to understand the nature of violent, radical Islam and its ability today to coalesce into a surprisingly cohesive fighting force, we will face years of misery, and we will not be victorious against an enemy that has declared war against us. As the Chinese warrior Sun Tzu wrote over 2400 years ago in the world’s oldest military treatise, The Art of War, know your enemy. And as Dennis Ross, wrote just this week in a New York Times op-ed, “Islamists are not our Friends,” “…The Obama administration worries about the consequences of excluding all Islamists. It worries, too, about appearing to give a blank check to authoritarian regimes, when it believes there need to be limits and that these regimes are likely to prove unstable over time. But as Egypt and the U.A.E. showed with the airstrikes on Islamists in Libya, some of America’s traditional partners are ready to act without us, convinced that the administration does not see all Islamists as a threat — and that America sees its interests as different from theirs. That is a problem…”

 This, again, raises the question — do we get it?

 Following the most recent beheading by ISIS, President Obama went on national television and proclaimed, “…There has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of the kind of a nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is group like (ISIS) has no place in the 21st century. Friends and allies around the world, we share a common security a set of values opposite of what we saw yesterday. We will continue to confront this hateful terrorism and replace it with a sense of hope and stability.”

The President’s remarks were all about ISIS and (other) “nihilistic ideologies.” The problem we face is not simply about “nihilistic ideologies.” It is about radical Islam. It is about Bako Haram, and Hamas and every one of the dozens of other radical terrorist organizations that the United States has identified and those that will emerge, as those we know about are defeated. The United States has to be part of a worldwide effort to isolate and defeat them all, or they will continue to metastasize in a never-ending cycle of violence and war against the West and western values.

Despite what President Obama believes, the threat of war is not receding. Not in any meaningful way. Sadly, the threat of war never really recedes. It merely pauses and, then, only briefly. War, again very sadly, has been part and parcel of the human condition for all of time. According to the New York Times, during all of record history (3,400 years), man has been entirely at peace (defined as an absence of conflict claiming at least 1,000 lives) for only 268 years, or just 8 percent of recorded history. For many of the last 1400 years, war and radial Islam have been synonymous. We like to think that the centuries of religious war are long past. Well, religious war appears to be a re-energized companion of the twenty-first century. War by radical Islam may well be one of the defining issues of our time.

We have to understand the threat of radical Islam and we have to carefully contemplate our own resolve. Sun Tzu also taught, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of battle…If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

In other words, we need to have an overriding strategy to confront, with our allies, radical Islam wherever it threatens civil order. Anything less will be to engage in a never-ending war of attrition, and our way of life could suffer the death of a thousand cuts.

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Netanyahu And The Hamas War Of Attrition

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to refuse to accommodate Hamas’s war of attrition strategy.  Attrition is derived from the Latin atterere, to rub against (or to grind down). Hamas wants to wage a war of attrition against Israel.  That is, to win by wearing down the Jewish nation to the point of collapse.  The Israelis, however, aren’t accommodating the Hamas strategy…nor should they.

Netanyahu, no doubt, has a strong historical memory of, and a bitter taste for, wars of attrition, having been on the front lines during the 1969-1970 war of attrition waged against Israel by Egypt. Netanyahu has no illusions about terrorism either. He fought terrorists for years, even participating in the successful rescue of highjacked passengers on Sabena flight 571 in 1972.  He still carries the scars of the gun shot wound he suffered in that successful rescue mission forty-two years ago.  Four years later his brother was killed leading the remarkable rescue of over 100 Israeli and other Jewish Air France passengers at Entebbe, 2500 miles from Israel.  Western leaders who have never seen a day of combat in their lives or ever served in the armed forces of their respective countries will not easily intimidate him. Nor should they.

Those who protest and demonstrate against Israel’s strong retaliation following weeks (actually years) of Hamas firing rockets at Israeli civilian population centers are, wittingly or unwittingly, playing the role Hamas has written for them.  Hamas wanted a war of attrition – sort of a tit for tat exercise in which Hamas and Israel traded rounds of fire with Israel constrained by the imprecise, unwritten rules of proportionality.  Not a bad strategy for an enemy that celebrates death and whose slogan brags that “we love death more than you love life.

Hamas’s war plans were largely predicated on the assumption that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) policy of avoiding civilian casualties to the extent possible could be used tactically against the Israelis.  Indeed, a Hamas battle manual captured by the IDF is instructive on this point.  It reads in part:

The soldiers and commanders of the IDF must limit (emphasis added) their use of weapons and tactics that lead to the harm and unnecessary loss of people and [destruction of] civilian facilities. It is difficult for them to get the most use out of their firearms, especially of supporting fire [e.g. artillery].

The manual continues, (the) “presence of civilians cause three major problems for advancing troops:

(1) Problems with opening fire
(2) Problems in controlling the civilian population during operations and afterward
(3) Assurance of supplying medical care to civilians who need it.”

Finally, the manual discusses the benefits for Hamas when civilian homes are destroyed:

The destruction of civilian homes: This increases the hatred of the citizens towards the attackers [the IDF] and increases their gathering [support] around the city defenders.”

Civilian Gazan casualties are an integral part of Hamas’s strategy, probably as important to Hamas as Israeli casualties, according to the Hamas combat manual.

 This manual was captured during a bloody battle in Shijaiyah a Gazan neighborhood that also served as a Hamas stronghold. Hamas fired many rockets from Shijaiyah, even during the many ceasefires that Hamas routinely violated. Israeli planes took out a warehouse in which rockets were stored or from which rockets were being fired.  There were many casualties, but credible evidence has been aired that suggests the casualties were the result of exploding rockets in the warehouse and not from Israeli fire. Whether the casualties were from exploding Hamas rockets or Israeli ordinance, many civilians, unfortunately, paid the price.

Israel has been vilified for not fighting by the Hamas rulebook, i.e. we (Hamas) fire at your civilian population centers from our civilian population centers and you can’t fire back.  Israel had a different rulebook. It was to strike at Hamas wherever Hamas launched or stored rockets, and to utterly destroy the vast network of tunnels that were being readied to unleash an immense and unprecedented massacre of Israeli civilians.  Simply stated, Israel refused to play by the Hamas playbook. The widespread condemnation of Israel for responding, as any nation (worthy of the word “nation”) would, in the face of such unrelenting and irresponsible attacks on its civilian population is, in a word, absurd.

Ironically, it is clear that Israel went to great lengths to warn civilians of impending attacks. Hamas was right about that.  Israel would go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties. Has any nation ever telephoned civilians to warn them that the building or neighborhood in which they lived was about to be attacked, or fired duds as a warning before firing live rounds?

Even Pernille Ironside, the Chief of the UNICEF Gaza Field Office, admitted (somewhat reluctantly) during a press conference at UN headquarters in New York that it was the Israelis that sought the UN’s help in clearing civilian neighborhoods of civilians in advance of imminent Israeli military operations directed at military targets imbedded in those civilian neighborhoods.  She explained that the Israelis had informed them through “text messages, phone calls, and leaflets from Israel,” with “notice of some hours.”

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, testified before the UN Commission that investigated the last Israel-Gaza War.  He told the Commission that Hamas is “adept at staging and distorting incidents” and asserted that during that conflict the Israel Defense Forces “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare” and that “Palestinian civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas’ way of fighting, which involved using human shields as a matter of policy, and deliberate attempts to sacrifice their own civilians.” He added that Israel took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, aborted potentially effective missions in order to prevent civilian casualties, and took “unthinkable” risks by allowing huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza during the fighting.

Scour the news to document the record of international protests against the beheadings, crucifixions, shootings and kidnappings by the Islamic State Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, or the mass kidnappings of teenage girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria or the massacres in that country that have claimed the lives of an estimated 20,000 Nigerians in a generation.  Find the mass protests against the massacres in Somalia or the Congo.  Even the Islamic Janjaweed massacre of over 480,000 innocent and defenseless Darfurians hasn’t matched the anti-Israel protests that erupted as soon as Israel began attacking the sites in Gaza from which Hamas’ war was being waged.

Many of the protests are simply peopled by Hamas sycophants.  Some are the reaction of misguided legions of people who, understandably, are appalled by watching the horrors of war in real time, but who have little interest in how the current war started or who fired the first hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians.  Many of the protests, especially in Europe, are little more than indignation that the Israelis have the temerity to strike back and strike back hard when they are attacked.

Netanyahu’s first job is to protect his people, and to do so forcefully and without reservation. Hopefully, the other leaders of the Western world have the same resolve.  Their people will, sooner or later, pay a terrible price if they don’t.

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Ideas and commentary with allegiance to neither the left nor the right, but only to this sweet land of liberty.