Thursday, March 17, 2016

Russians withdraw from Syria

Why Putin's decision to pull Russian forces from Syria makes sense.  This BBC article makes a great case as to why the pullback of Russian air and land forces from Syria is consistent with Putin's goal focused decisionmaking in committing resources outside of Mother Russia.   

I'm no expert, but I think there's an additional layer of theater--something I think Putin uses as a weapon, particularly on the home front.   The Russian view for the past three centuries has been that Russia is a world power and has just not been acknowledged as such--despite their deep deep sacrifices in WWII against the Germans for example.   They are the Rodney Dangerfield of nations--no respect.   The grim toll of Russian involvement in Afghanistan has been a somber dirge in the background anytime the Russian leadership wants to extend its reach in the international realm.  The accession of Crimea did not go smoothly nor is it settled.  And the continuing search for the upper hand with the Ukraine is also not a clean vindication of Russian principles.   Using airpower and missiles from many platforms to project Russian force into the Middle East in support of a Russian ally for six months is a way to say "see, we are a power on the world stage" and the cost has been minimal to the home audience.  The Russians lost a fighter in an exchange with Turkey--accident.  And the evil terrorists blew up a Russian airliner out of Egypt--more reason to continue to fight the evil terrorists.   By pulling out after having imposed a shift in power in Syria,  Putin can say to his home constituents "See, we must sacrifice so Russia can be great again.  Look what we have wrought in forcing a change in this Syrian tragedy.  The parties are negotiating."   

We should not underestimate this fox.  He is clever.  

Friday, January 01, 2016

New Years Eve 2015

I don't make new year's resolutions.   I try very hard to spread my resolve throughout the year--to challenge myself regularly and to trim my course in better directions.   Sometimes I feel I'm going in circles,  sometimes on a long straight line with nothing to mark the passage of time.   

Tonight is a quiet night at our house.  Mary made a lovely baked chicken breast dish I'd never seen before with sweet potato and a garnish of peppers from our garden.  We watched a movie together,  laughing happily.  Mar is very very tired with the schedule she's been running and so she was snuggled up in bed by 10:30.  

I watched Sky News for a bit- New Year's celebrations across the globe all colored by an awareness that there could be terrorist attacks from ISIL or similar folks.  Security heavy everywhere and some scares as in Germany where Munich shut down the hautbahnhof and another station because of intelligence that suggested threats.   The most devestating images, though, were those of the 60 plus story hotel in Dubai burning fiercely while the official fireworks display went off.  Odd juxtaposition of imagery.

I'm looking ahead to this coming year.  I'm very hopeful that it will be a grand year for me and for my family and friends.  Not without challenges but with many opportunities to focus in more closely on the things that are most important to us.  The things we hold close to our hearts.  

In that mode,  I have been mulling statements that I think express important truths for me, and I think for most everyone I know.

1) I could not do what I do successfully without the support of my family.  I am sad for folks who aren't able to say this.  My family---very broad tent of inclusion--anchor and revive me.

2) I have had challenges, know people who have challenges, and see people I don't know who have almost insurmountable challenges in their lives.  We all share that reality---and we all are better able to face the reality when people around us show compassion because they know that they too need, deserve compassion.   I remind myself that one of the most influential people to ever walk this planet urged everyone to be compassionate.  always. 

3) There are evil people in the world.  This is not a new thing.  The horrific images of ISIL beheading prisoners on camera aren't by far the worst tragedies that befell people around the world in this past year.  Beheading isn't a new thing in the Middle East and Central Asia. It's also not a local thing.  In the past couple of centuries,  beheading was a way that Europeans made sure they were getting their money's worth in paying bounties.  The change is that no one has made beheading a video staple anyone can watch or be horrified that people can watch.  No matter what the government does or who is in charge,  we will not rid the world of evil people nor become immune to their acts.

4) I've read headlines online and heard people say on the news that Americans are 'anxious' about the possibility of attacks against our people here in our country.  I'm sure that some people worry about this.  However,  I think the truth for most Americans is that we go about our daily business with very little concern that a terrorist attack might intrude.  I don't think that there might be a terrorist incident when I go shopping  or cross a bridge or get on a train.  I know it's possible, but also know that the likelihood I'd be affected in a population of nearly 400 million people is infinitesimally small.  I'm not worried, but I really resent the people who try to fan that fear and anxiety to improve their media ratings or appear to have a magic formula to 'protect' everyone.   That's a lie.  Americans are more resolute than that.

5) I've also heard related assertions that there are 'terrorist cells' already in the US and planning to harm us.   I'd say that's true.  I'd say that's always been true and so it's not new news nor is it a reason to be panicked.   Go back to point 4.   There is no person aspiring to lead this country who can change that reality--if they say they can they're lying.  We will be attacked by terrorists--domestic as well as foreign-- and there isn't anything that can change that reality.  We can minimize the risk, but at some point I'm not willing to spend my life walking around with a flak jacket and helmet to avoid the risk.  Refer to #4

6) What qualities and characteristics are likely to lead to a long and happy life?  Generosity of spirit--giving and helping others even if they haven't earned it--is a way to make our own lives happier and healthier.   Anyone who's a grandparent knows about giving and helping others who haven't earned it.  No mystery here.  It applies to all sorts of people if we refer to #1.  Curiosity is a good trait; life never gets dull and boring if you are enchanted to figure out something you don't understand.  Flexibility, physical and mental, is a wonderful characteristic.   If you can drink tea instead of coffee sometimes, play cards instead of watching tv,  go for a long walk instead of running on the treadmill,  you are likely to be happier.   Recognize pleasure and beauty in small things around you.  Finding that sense of wonder, savoring that taste, listening to that sound, humming that tune--small things can bring great satisfaction if we recognize their value.   I don't know that I'd have lasting pleasure if someone gave me a Mercedes but I do have lasting pleasure when I pull out the shoeshine box that belonged to my dad and buff my shoes--a rare occurrence--but one I treasure.  

I keep these things close at hand as I go through life.  And I welcome 2016.

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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.

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