Sunday, October 19, 2014

Beheading and US foreign policy.

Since the Internet trumpeting of the beheading of James Foley, American journalist in August at the hands of the terrorist group ISIL, our government has responded with a broad range of responses,  from condemnation to air strikes to accelerated alliances with potential allies like Syrian rebels and to actual allies such as the Arabic nations.  In part these responses seem to have been driven by the horrific, grisly murder of Foley,  and not too much later, of Steve Sotloff, another captive journalist.    Because video of the events was so broadly viewed,  bringing the brutality to vast numbers of Americans,  our government response was intense and appropriately grave.   

However,  I find myself puzzled by where the steps unfolding take us.  For starters,  the beheading of Americans in this dizzying conflict isn't a new phenomenon.  Nick Berg , an American working in Iraq,  was graphically beheaded in 2004 and the video of the killing was used by jihadists as propaganda since.  The difference, perhaps,  was that the Berg murder didn't get as much airplay as ISIS has garnered.  Most of the channel of transmission seemed to be jihadist recruitment videos, not mainstream online news and media channels.

More puzzling to me, is that we've responded to public horror at the beheading of westerners with military actions--but only using air assets.  In particular,  our government has touted the assembly of a coalition of support.   The irony to me is that the coalition of support includes Saudi Arabia whose Wahabi version of Islam  is a source for the ISIL ideology.   And the horrific scenes of beheading the West was presented with are not unusual in Saudi Arabia where death by beheading is the standard even as our air forces fly missions against ISIL.

Admittedly, the executions in Saudi Arabia are not performed by sawing off the head with a knife. The offenses which can lead to the swing of a scimitar and subsequent crucifixion include such things as adultery, sorcery, drug trafficking, and apostasy.   I'm not sure how that's different than ISIL's list of deadly sins.  

The heart of my concern is that we're signing on with these folks as opposed to their opponents based on what?  Not clear here.   Not at all clear.  The real life geopolitik says that the tribal kingdoms of the gigantic oil resource in the Arabian world are going to be taken down and overrun one of these days by people who think that tribally based governments are an anachronism in the Twenty-First Century.   And there is a choice about what kind of people succeed in taking control in those countries.   They could be moderates looking for a modern government allied with with the West.   They could be ISIL or its descendants.   

At some point we have a chance to help choose which direction things unfold in that future.  This is that point. 

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Friday, March 14, 2014

The Mystery of the Missing Plane

As a man who does not love flying even though I know the statistics say it is very very safe.   Three billion air miles and a minuscule number of deaths speaks volumes.
And yet, on the other wall,  we post the disappearance of  a very expensive aircraft and more than two hundred humans--not passengers--humans. 
Mix in the presence on the flight of young men flying with stolen passports.  Add the sudden silence of the instruments mid-flight and draw a line with radar showing a plane in the same area going off in another direction.
Rumors, assertions and recriminations.  Everywhere.
Malaysian flight MH370 on its way to Beijing disappeared earlier this week.   And no one seemed to have a convincing explanation.   There seemed to be flaws in every hypothesis.  Families whose loved ones were on the plane assembled with pain and outrage and numbness,  hoping that something, anything would break loose and change the story from a mystery to something the mind could grapple with.

I have been thinking about the event and I posit a novel explanation.  It is possible that the plane was taken over,  not to fly it somewhere and crash it,  but to land it and to use the captive passengers and the plane itself to some unknown end.  Could the Uygher separatists in western China want a bargaining chip in their search for independence?  Many of the passengers were Chinese nationals.  Could a criminal cartel want to arrange to ransom the passengers and plane? 

Whatever the explanation,  I hope, for the families of those on the plane,  that an answer is found soon.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Ukraine in March 2014

I don't know where else to write this.  I am no expert,  so my opinion is not important and may not even be close to correct.  However,  I watch what is happening in Ukraine with a sense that the course of events does not require great skill.   The posturing and exclamations in the press about the issue may not reflect reality at all.

A little over a week ago,  the Russian-friendly President of Ukraine,  a despot, though elected,  was 'forced' to flee according to what was in our press--and a Western-friendly government took power after months of protests and disorder.   Yanukovitch disappeared from the stage for the moment,  but was not too much later to reappear claiming he had not 'fled' but had been forced out. 
Russia makes clear that they do not recognize the newly-installed government in Kiev.  The fact that Yanukovitch is waiting in the wings to be reinstalled as the 'legitimate' leader is an option no one in the press seems to be discussing. 
The Russians and Ukraine have existing treaty agreements which already compromise Ukraine's ability to respond with integrity in the Crimea--armed forces of Russia are legitimately stationed in Ukraine by agreement.   While the claim that activating those forces to 'protect' Russian ethnic populations in the Crimea provided a very thin veneer for the military movements,  there was enough of a gloss that it wasn't a pure 'military invasion'.  
YouTube immediately showed videos at checkpoints guarded by paramilitary 'friends of Russian nationals' and in one case, "Cossacks" who all swore they were there to protect the 'peace'.
The Ukrainian army,  lacking allies who would bring to bear military force on their behalf,  is ill-equipped to stop whatever action backed by force that Russia might take.   If the Russians say that they are stepping in to support the restoration of Yanukovitch,  there may be little validity to the action but it has enough of a cloak to keep their action from being laughed out of the court of world opinion.   Other countries have used thin arguments to take strong actions.   Iraq? WMDs?
Underlying this tense chess match is an imponderable.  Ukraine has a shadowy nationalist movement that bears all the trappings of National Socialism, unabashedly.   Part of the Russian rationale for intervention is to stop the resurgent Nazi tide,  a theme not to be taken lightly knowing the price the Russians paid in the war to halt Hitler's ambitions.   And those same insurgent nationalists could easily be the spark that sets a dangerous set of actions rolling down the track.  
Ukrainian military leaders today spoke about possible staged provocations leading to more aggressive Russian moves.   What seems even more likely is that nationalist Ukrainians could provide the motive without the Russians needing to fake an incident.   
At the end of all this evaluation and discourse is the reality that the situation in Ukraine is volatile in ways that we might not easily anticipate.   And could devolve into a crisis,  despite everyone's best intentions,  with deadly consequences.   
The Great War was triggered at the beginning of the 20th century when Europe, wound up to hair trigger sensitivity over possible conflict, suffered the assassination of the leader of one of the rival parties.   As they say,  "All hell broke loose."   Many constraints to that kind of unraveling exist today,  but they are not foolproof.    Missteps can march us to unexpected places.

I hope for the best.

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Sunday, June 02, 2013

Goodbye...until another day.

Without much nostalgia,  I've stopped posting to Davidrites.  I have so little free time these days and I have to be choosy about how it gets used.   I enjoyed writing the blog---not many people read it or commented-- but I felt better at having tried to express something I genuinely thought or felt.   But Davidrites was too global and unfocused.   My posts about soccer have migrated over to mysoddenpitch.blogspot.com.   That has been rewarding in that I know I've had a fair number of readers  and even some commentators.  I've been able to write about things that wouldn't have found voice otherwise like the rediscovery of the Cameron Cup.  I also have been posting for my mother on the blog I created for her,  a place to give outlet to her creativity and talent in writing.   I had hoped she might gain enough dexterity with computers that she would take it in hand herself but that hasn't happened so far.   Regardless,  it's been a worthwhile effort.

There may be a new blog in my blood....I do feel compelled to write.   I wake up in the morning with the shape of stories or articles unfolding in my brain.   And at other times as well. Driving to work and realizing I have not bee minding the traffic as I mull over the voice of a characer who's just wandered in.  I am not sure I am obsessed with being read.   I perhaps mostly need to just say what is in my mind.   

If you have been a reader.  Thanks.   And a special shout out to Dustbury in Oklahoma. Perhaps the only other blogger to ever comment on something I posted.   I appreciated reading your blogposts and their humorous take on the surrounding absurdities.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How little debate means

I hate the debate...no ifs buts or ands, I don't find the debates valuable.   On the one hand,  my candidate is going to make statements that cause me to grit my teeth, something I can ill afford as an old person,  and on the other side, the opponent is going to make assertions that are flagrantly untrue,  distorted, or deserve much more scrutiny,  none of which the debate format allows to happen.   As a result,  I can listen to snippets of debates but not an entire session.   Too distressing.

Out of this past week's debate ostensibly on Foreign Affairs,  an arena Americans reportedly don't care about,  I followed my usual pattern.  Listened a little and then turned it off in disgust.  

Two things jumped out at me though.   The first one was President Obama's assertion that we need to be wary of putting weapons into the Syrian morass, no matter how tempting that might be.  He made the statement that we wouldn't want such weapons to fall into the hands of hostile forces.   What was glaringly missing in my view was an historical reference that would provide an object example.   Presidents are supposed to have these things down, I think.   Back when the Soviet puppet state ruled and ruined Afghanistan,  we provided Stinger missiles to the mujahadeen war lords and tipped the balance of power against the Soviets by making their heli transport totally vulnerable.  It didn't happen overnight but that changed the calculation in a cruel and bloody fashion.   The consequence?  We are now in the process of extracating our own forces from an Afghan landscape that evolved in large part because the existing horrors were made worse by our intervention.  Ultimately, our internvention has cost American lives and will continue to do so, not only in combat but in the consequences of disorder, lawlessness,  and opium poppy production.  Which have led to a time and place in which religious fanatics and drug lords rule.

The second statement that smacked me sideways in the debate was Governor Romney's statement that "Syria was an important nation in the Middle East, particularly now.  Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea."  I did a physical double take when I heard that.   The press has been full of news about how Iran is harassing our forces in the Straits of Hormuz and threatening to block them, if need be, with a sunken tanker or some similar ploy.   That kind of posturing would be very hard to achieve if you had to haul your boats overland and launch them at Latakia,  Syria's only major port.   Iran may not have great deep water ports for international shipping or naval facilities.  But they do have maritime access on both the Straits in the south and the Caspian Sea in the north.  The country which is most landlocked is Iraq, and perhaps that's what Governor Romney was channeling.   But of course,  Iraq is unlikely to be helped to maritime access by Syria so it's still a non-starter.   

More than anything else,  I'd expect a credible candidate for President to have a fair grasp of regional geography and to not make assertions about a country deemed by that candidate to be very dangerous that show the candidate is really ignorant about basic facts about the country.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Minimizing Behghazi" the accusation

Ever since the attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya took place opponents of the administration have implied or asserted that the President minimized or hid the possibility that the attack was intentional and not part of a demonstration by outraged local Muslims triggered by the stupid movie trailer insulting Islam on YouTube.  
And I find myself thinking, " hmmmm.  Why would the President do that?".   After all,  one of the strongest rallying points incumbents can claim is the need for the country to 'rally around' because we're under attack.   Instead,  the State Department and the Obama administration made conditional, rational comments coupled with a strong message that whomever was at fault would be chased down and served justice.   The best thing for them to have done in election terms would have been to inflame  public sentiment.   And that's not what happened. They acted like folks who didn't have all the information at their fingertips immediately, folks who aren't on a CSI show where everything is resolved in 42 minutes.   Truly strange.  Their response was pretty darned professional,  acknowledging that they didn't know everything.

Not long after the attack,  a congressional Intelligence Committee hearing was convened.  And that is probably reasonable because the matter was serious and there were concerns being expressed about the security configuration at the Benghazi site.   It is not unusual for congressional hearings on Intelligence matters to be 'closed' hearings in order to allow candor from those summoned to testify and to avoid giving information about our security services away.   Not in this case.   The hearing was public and without too much ado aerial photograghs and testimony revealed top secret security service facilities.   The hearing ended up with many people flustered and did nothing to aid the protection of our diplomatic personnel.

Did President Obama and the inner circle in the White House get calls for more security at the station in Benghazi and heartlessly turn it down?  That's the assertion that's being fronted by many Republicans.    I return to my first question.  Why would a crazed president willing to do anything to be reelected not play the 'we're under attack card'?    And is it credible to think that the President has regular daily knowledge of the status of hundreds of State Dept postings across the world?   How about all the NOAA weather facilities?  Or maybe what's going on in each USAID site?   It's a crazy assertion.   

We got badly burned in Benghazi.  Good men died.   And it was on 9/11 which is not to be discounted.  For me I can't fault the President's response and I think it's a long dry stretch to make the case that he somehow 'conspired' about something related to it.   

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The bad seed: GMO appears to be...a problem.

Corporately engineered seed begins to create frankenweeds and insects. as this Reuters article recaps.  The issue isn't a small one because there are places in the world where whole populations of agrarian people are suffering from kidney failure after years of chemical 'problem-solving' in their fields.   The 'grail' of 'Roundup (c) resistant' plants and their cousins has continuously raised concerns from local communities---genetic hybridization between genetically treated plants and other plants and animals is not farfetched.  In Oregon, organic and other farmers in the Valley have tried, with little success,  to block approval of similar GMO crops such as GMO canola.  

The issue isn't small, simple, or easy to solve.

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