Point of View Columns

Slip Sliding into Syria

One definition of insanity describes recurrent behavior that always has negative results but persisting in that behavior anyway. Modern history has shown that American military intervention rarely yields positive results but we still hear the calls to battle from armchair hawks resting safely in their ergonomically designed chairs. And now the call for war involves Syria.

The current situation in Syria is certainly dire and horrific. It is estimated that in the past two years over 90,000 Syrians have died in the constant clashes between insurgent forces and the Syrian government. Indeed the Syrian government has unleashed everything from chemical weapons to jet and missile attacks on its own people.

By any definition the Assad regime in Syria has lost all legitimacy and should not continue to maintain power. And that, of course, is what the civil war in that country is all about. And where the bad guys are so impossibly bad it is easy to see how the opposition can be seen as the good guys, the noble warriors for peace and liberty – freedom fighters if you will.

But, as Marvin Gaye once said, “Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear”. It turns out that some of the Syrian “freedom fighters” have serious and credible links to al Qaeda. Certainly a significant number of the insurgents hold a vision of radical Islamic Syria, ruled by Sharia law and certainly not inclined to be friendly to the United States and very likely to be inclined to be friendly with stated enemies of this country.

Syria is very complicated and we now see the Obama Administration traveling down the same slippery road that resulted in bloody quagmires in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The goal of regime change that removes the Assad regime seems like a good one but only if one has a clear picture of what the successor regime is going to be like.

The Bush-Cheney cabal told the American people that the regime of Saddam Hussein was evil and that regime change was the only answer. In point of the fact, the only answer that the American people received was soaked in the blood of thousands of killed and wounded American troops and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis. The only answer the American people received came at a price of close to one trillion dollars and this answer has reduced a major country in the Middle East into a chaotic black hole.

A quarter of a century ago the Reagan Administration of Iran-Contra infamy told the American people that the opposition to the Russian occupation in Afghanistan were freedom fighters and deserved the military support of the United States. Yet one of those “freedom fighters” turned out to be none other than Osama bin Laden who personally orchestrated the murder of thousands of Americans.

Now we are seeing increasing pressure being put upon President Obama to “do something” even though “something” might end up being yet another disastrous misadventure for this country. Even a “no-fly” zone requires more than jet planes, it also requires pilots and at some point American military personnel will be in harm’s way resulting in a sadly familiar automatic escalation of violence and further military involvement.

And all along there is no clear vision as to what the desired outcome in Syria would be, only that there is some kind of humanitarian mandate that the United States must follow because innocent people are being killed. But innocent people are also being killed in Southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chechnya to name just a few killing fields around the world.

The notion that the United States should take the leadership role in ridding this planet of the violent impulses that are as old as humanity itself can only lead to disastrous results. The supporters of armed intervention in Syria will not be making any personal sacrifices but the soldiers that will be killed, and their families will certainly pay the price.

And the American people will certainly pay the price for yet another war of choice with no exit strategy – yet another war without end.

 

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – October 21, 2011

The death of Muammar Qaddafi was bloody and brutal. Somewhere in presidential palaces in Yemen and Syria and Zimbabwe getaway plans are being plotted. And somewhere members of the G.O.Tea Party are trying to find a way to make the obviously successful strategy pursued by President Obama seem like a mistake. Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh proved once again that you can be stupid and be on the radio at the same time. And it seems that, with his 9-9-9 mumbo jumbo tax plan, Herman Cain may have proved that Michele Bachmann can be right even when the moon isn’t blue.

Was Obama Right After All?

The gory death of Muammar Qaddafi was a lesson to the leaders of nations that seek to impose their will on their people with a sense of entitlement that they seem to believe is divinely inspired. One year ago the notion of Colonel Qaddafi being dragged through the streets of his hometown and slain with a bullet through the head would have been the stuff of fiction. Now it is on CNN.

Leaders in countries like Zimbabwe and Yemen and Syria and elsewhere have seen the decline and fall of their fellow leaders for life. There are some important lessons to be learned. The quick learners will find a way to go to London or Geneva for “health reasons” (which will be true). The slow learners will join the ranks of Qaddafi, Mubarak and Ceausescu and all the others who couldn’t read the writing on the wall.

Meanwhile, the G.O.Tea Party must be searching high and low to figure out how to make President Obama’s successful Libyan strategy look like a mistake. By being smart and leading with his brains instead of his chin he was able to avoid American casualties or turning a genuine Libyan revolution into yet another American misadventure.

And, speaking of misadventures, President Obama announced today that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of 2011. Seeing this country finally extricate itself from this neo-con-inspired morass will do little for the families of all of the dead American troops or for the millions of Iraqis who are struggling to rebuild shattered lives in their shattered country.

We can be sure that the G.O.Tea Party zealots will find some rationale for criticizing Barack Obama for ending this modern American nightmare. I guess that on the Planet G.O.Tea saving American lives and money as well as repairing the prestige of this country is wrong if it is done by anyone named Obama.

Radio Head

Just when you think that Rush Limbaugh can’t get any more stupid, he sets the bar lower.

This past week President Obama dispatched 100 Special Forces troops to Uganda to assist that country in combating the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA, which has been around for over a decade, is a particularly wretched and squalid thug horde which has specialized in torture, rape, murder and gratuitous pillaging through central Africa. Any effort to eliminate the LRA scourge from the lives of the people of Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere should be greeted with approval.

However, Rush Limbaugh, seizing upon the word “Lord” in the title of the LRA assumed that it was some kind of gathering of Christian soldiers waging holy war against murderous Muslims. Limbaugh would be funny if he weren’t so stupid. What isn’t funny is that there are millions of Americans who will actually believe what he says.

The Devil is in the Details

During one of the recent Republican presidential debates – seemingly produced by Comedy Central – Michele Bachmann, commenting on Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” tax “plan” opined that if 9-9-9 was turned upside down it would be 6-6-6 which is, of course, the sign of the Devil. It was a fair to middling laugh line except many observers thought that Ms. Bachmann was serious.

It turns out she was right – and the moon wasn’t blue. Upon further analysis it turns out that the pizza baron’s tax plan, if implemented would raise the taxes on a mind boggling 84% of Americans. Not surprisingly for a Koch brother’s sock puppet, Mr. Cain’s plan would reduce taxes for 26% of the highest earning Americans. A truly devilish outcome that would only increase the structural inequities that already exist.

Mr. Cain asked Americans to “do the math”. The math has been done and it doesn’t look good for him.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Is Cain Able?

Sarah “Lock and Load” Palin wants to call him “Herb”, but lots of people are getting to know who Herman Cain is. This is great news for Herman Cain Enterprises as he has skillfully used the platform of his presidential campaign to sell his books (his latest is appropriately titled “This is Herman Cain!”) and to hike his average speaking engagement fee when his campaign ends. This would be a riff on the Alan Keyes routine of getting rich by running for president. Indeed, Herman Cain reminds me of Alan Keyes, but with a better resume.

Mr. Cain continues to make mini-headlines by telling an unemployed worker to “get a job and get rich” because clearly, on the Planet Cain, that’s all one has to do. The combination of hard work, good fortune and opportunity don’t have a thing to do with financial success.

Mr. Cain repeatedly points out that he has no experience in government as if that is a qualification for being President of the United States. If he really believed that lack of experience is an asset one wonders what the hiring policies at Godfather’s Pizza were like when he was chairman. It also has to be noted that, like so many of the other G.O.Tea Party denizens, Herman Cain has a rocky relationship with the truth.

Mr. Cain served as a board member and then chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. That is not an honorary sinecure and it certainly is a very serious part of government. Mr. Cain was also a senior advisor to the Dole-Kemp presidential campaign which tells us that he is not exactly the pure political virgin that he pretends to be.

When questioned about his knowledge of foreign policy Herman Cain proudly proclaims his ignorance. He stated that he doesn’t need to know about “small, insignificant countries” and that he would have advisors who would tell him what he needs to know in that regard.

Cain is wrong in so many ways on this. First, Afghanistan used to be a “small, insignificant country” until thousands of Americans were killed through attacks that were plotted there. Yemen, Somalia, Serbia, Rwanda and the not so small Democratic Republic of the Congo might be insignificant on the Planet Cain, but on the planet Earth worldly knowledge and international awareness are critical.

As for “advisors”, we have in recent history the example of President George W. Bush being famously lazy when it came to the details of foreign policy. “Advisors like Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rice and Rumsfeld plunged this country into the bloody maw of unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan pursuing a flawed neo-con foreign policy that never had a chance of succeeding. One can only shudder at the thought of a simplistic President Cain being led by foreign policy “advisors” who have agendas that are of no interest to him but could wreck the world.

Herman Cain gets plenty of support from the G.O.Tea Party for saying that there is no racism in the dens and klaverns where the tea partiers gather. When reminded of the clearly racists signage that accompanied the rise of the Tea Party (President Obama with a bone through his nose, for example), he dismisses these occurrences by announcing that those signs don’t appear anymore.

Even Pollyanna would know that the signs have been put away but not thrown away. And even if they have been thrown away for reasons of “political correctness” the hearts of those sign makers and sign carriers are still stained with racism.
And someone should advise Mr. Cain while he sits in his post-racial bubble of delusion that the G.O.Tea Party is not opposing the first black president in order to elect another black president.

The Cain phenomenon is indicative of a truly frightening aspect of the G.O.Tea Party presidential candidacy clown show. There is truly a race to the bottom being played out when it comes to information, awareness and knowledge. Not knowing has become a badge of honor. Not caring about facts and accuracy are surefire applause lines. Denying climate change, believing that Adam and Eve walking with dinosaurs should be taught in public schools, deriding the importance of “small and insignificant countries” is all very dangerous. Knowledge takes hard work. Ignorance is easy.

It has been said that no one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public. I only hope that this doesn’t also hold true for presidential elections.

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Point of View Columns

Beware of the Slippery Slope

President Obama was absolutely correct in resisting being hurried into committing American military forces to what is rapidly becoming a cauldron of combat and unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

I am hoping that he is in some way correct in ordering U.S. forces to bomb and strafe Libya as part of a coalition of countries that was formed to protect the insurgents who are battling Muammar Gaddafi.
Military geniuses like Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman flailed away at President Obama for “standing by” while Gaddafi “attacked his own people”. Senator John Kerry and others implored him to “do something”. And now he has done something.

American missiles and bombers are now raining death and destruction upon the forces of Colonel Gaddafi. And there have been “unavoidable civilian casualties”. We are told to blame Gaddafi for interspersing his military assets in civilian areas but you can be certain that many people will see Americans killing Muslim men, women and children in Libya, just as this country has done in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen have acknowledged that regime change is not the goal of this mission. We are asked to see the natural justice in protecting the Libyan insurgents in Benghazi and Misrata who Gaddafi had virtually promised to massacre. And there is no doubt that preventing slaughter is a noble cause. But where does it stop?

As this column is being written over fifty people, killed over the weekend by Yemeni government troops, are being buried. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered the bloody crackdown against “his own people”. His people were, it should be noted, demanding his ouster.

It gets even more complicated, of course. President Saleh has been supported by the United States and Yemen is a strategically positioned country. Is it time to unleash some more Tomahawk and Cruise missiles on Yemen to prevent fratricide from becoming genocide?

In Damascus, Syria, President Bashar Assad ordered his police to fire on thousands of “his own people” who were protesting the multiple decades of rule by the Assad family. Several Syrians have already died and it would seem to be virtually guaranteed that there will be more bloodshed unless President Assad decides to leave for Geneva to audit his Swiss bank accounts.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain ordered his troops to fire on “his own people”, wounding and killing scores of protestors. While much is murky, it is very clear that this story is far from over and much more blood will be spilled in the very near future in Bahrain.

If the standard for American military intervention is going to involve preventing governments from punishing and killing its own people we are moving towards a very slippery slope from which there is no turning back.

In addition to Yemen and Syria, which are very much in the news, there are indigenous government forces abusing and torturing and killing citizens in Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe. The military rulers of Myanmar are infamous for their cruelty and violence in maintaining their power and the list goes on.

The United States simply cannot be the policeman for the planet. Aside from the questionable commitment of the lives of men and women of the U.S. military one has to wonder about the long term impact of these incursions, even in the name of truth, justice and the American way.

As in Egypt and Tunisia, no one knows the philosophy, ideology or allegiance of the insurgents in Libya. We certainly don’t know what the insurgents and protestors in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria are looking for in the future. We simply don’t know if we are trading the devil we know for the demon that we will come to fear. And all the while we are creating recruitment photo ops and propaganda videos for Al Qaeda and other real enemies of this country.

The lessons of Vietnam, if they are not remembered, will be relearned at a terrible cost. Many should remember that, from the American perspective, the Vietnam War began with a few troops with the limited mission of providing training and technical assistance to the South Vietnamese so that they could fight the communists. Then it was necessary to protect the trainers. And then those troops started getting killed and there was a need for more troops. And then Vietnam became a charnel house for American troops and the Vietnamese people.

We are all familiar with the George Santayana quote, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Perhaps we should recall another of his less famous quotes, “Habit is stronger than reason”.

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