Friday, February 13, 2015

Obama On Brutality and ISIS

In asking Congress to officially approve his war against the Islamic State or Caliphate (aka I.S.I.L.) President Barack Obama recently said of I.S.I.S.:
"Its barbaric murders of so many people, including American hostages, are a desperate and revolting attempt to strike fear in the hearts of people it can never possibly win over by its ideas or its ideology -- because it offers nothing but misery and death and destruction." [full text]
I don't like I.S.I.S. or violent fundamentalists of any sort. However, the American people should be aware they are being sold a bill of goods. They should know something about the record of the salespeople.

George Washington, the first President of the United States, when he was young had the men under his command scalp a French soldier during the French and Indian War. The Virginia legislature was paying for Indian scalps; George thought he should get paid for the French scalp too. Later, there was the Revolutionary War, which was not a tea party. It involved appalling acts of cruelty towards those who remained loyal to the English king. Nor was our Civil War a picnic in the park.

Fast forward through the near-extermination of native American Indian tribes and the grabbing of northern Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines, and you came to the fundamental event of my childhood, the U.S. War Against Vietnam. In that war tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Vietnamese, including civilians, women, and children, were burned to death by U.S. napalm bombings. But no one responsible was ever brought to justice for this.

President Obama himself regularly executes people he believes are his enemies, without bothering to arrest them, to avoid putting them on trial. He refuses to get the U.S. to join the International Criminal Court, which would then be able to charge U.S. citizens with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is just a clever thug, but so are Putin, Obama, Merkel and, as far as I know, many of the world's leaders. Baghdadi is certainly no more barbaric than the Saudi royal family.

I don't want to excuse brutality by pointing to its near universal use by political (and often religious and business) leaders. I believe if the U.S. and other "great powers" would stop interfering, eventually the people of the Middle East would work out states with boundaries that suite them, including a sovereign or autonomous Kurdish state.

Barack Obama proves that going to prep school and Harvard is no insurance against brutality. What should the U.S. government do if we really want peace, democracy, and religious tolerance in the Syria-Iraq region, or anywhere in the world? [Note that I am switching from critical of all violent thugs mode to maneuvering thugs against each other to allow people to get rid of them mode.]

First, we should assist the lesser of the evil brutal thugs in the region, Bashar al-Assad, and his regime. Doing that would win the U.S. a great deal of good will. If Bashar can kick Al Qaeda and ISIS out of Syria, that would perhaps allow the more modern, less religiously orthodox people in Iraq to reduce ISIS back to being a small terrorist group.

Second, we should recognize the Arab state of Palestine. Not only would that win us goodwill in the region, it would tend to dampen the most extreme Islamic elements in Palestine.

Third, we should make peace with Iran. They have done nothing to warrant their ill treatment at our hands.

In fact, we should behave only in the most friendly and ethical way in every region of the world. People have a right to national self-determination. They have a right to not like U.S. policy, or our (admittedly decadent, but fun) culture.

Fourth, we should use our resources to fix our own problems, which are legion. We have brutal drug gang members killing each other daily basis here. We need to offer real hope to all Americans that they can get a fair economic deal without having to turn to crime or subscribe to the hopelessness of permanently working for less than a living wage. We really do need to fix our crumbling infrastructure, help our industries become more globally competitive (and not be cutting wages), and make a much more serious effort to protect the environment and the health of all Americans.

I'd be happy to meet to advise President Obama if he wants to make a turn for the better in his last two years in office. I'd be happy to serve as an emissary to President Bashar if the U.S. wants to make amends. I'd be happy to serve constructively. But in this system, while they may not shoot you just for having peaceful opinions, they certainly are not going to let anyone who is not basically a war criminal anywhere near the ear of any President.

Monday, February 2, 2015

ISIS and Saudi Arabia are Evil Twins

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS [the U.S. government prefers "so called" Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL] is almost exactly like the early Saud family proto-state that eventually became Saudi Arabia.

So it could be argued that the U.S. should stay out of the mess. If we are okay with Saudi Arabia, we should be okay with ISIS.

U.S. governments have long pandered to the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia. Barack Obama is just the last of a long line of Presidents who have no problems shaking hands and forming coalitions with the Saudis. It does not matter that they are undemocratic, oppressive, women-hating, religious fanatical thugs who finance terrorism. They are strangely pro-American undemocratic, oppressive, women-hating, religious fanatical thugs who finance terrorism and help America in many ways, like being friendly with Israel.

The Saud's emerged from the mess the British Empire made in the Middle East. You'll recall that the British Empire was built by undemocratic, oppressive, women-hating, capitalist fanatical thugs who were not satisfied with conquering Wales and Ireland. No, they were clearly not going to be satisfied until every nation in the world was enslaved. After they grabbed much of Africa, including Egypt, they turned their greedy blue eyes to the Middle East, which until World War I was ruled, more or less, by the Ottoman Empire (an Islamic empire with its capital in Turkey).

The Brits promised the Arabs that if they would just fight against the Ottomans, they would be allowed to set up a Arab state that included the entire Arabian peninsula as well as the Arab majority parts of Palestine and (what are today) Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. They also promised Palestine to the Jews and Lebanon and Syria to their French ally. The Faisal family, who ruled around Mecca and Medina on the west side of the peninsula, took the bait.

The Saud family, putting themselves at the head of Islamic religious fanatics known as Wahabbi [who make the ISIS guys look like Quakers], decided that they would smile at the British, take their offer of arms, and use the war to extend the area of their tribal rule in the central peninsula

When World War I ended the British took Iraq and Palestine for themselves, set up puppet governments [including the Saud area of control] here and there, and gave Lebanon and Syria to the French imperialists. This discredited the Faisal family. By 1932 the Saud's army of religious fanatics (remember, this is to show they are like ISIS) had murdered pretty much everyone who opposed them. The Faisal family got British protection in Jordan as a booby prize.

You have to admire the Sauds, though, in the same way you would admire any highly-effective predator. When oil was discovered in 1937, Ibn Saud double-crossed the British and gave the development rights to American oil companies.

The pro-American nature of the Saud family has always been practical. America has always been the Christian imperialist predator most removed from the Saud terrain and most willing to provide arms to a totalitarian Islamic regime.

It does not seem likely that ISIS will be able to repeat the Saudi feat of establishing a "permanent" radical Islamic state, but then again they might. You can see why the Saudi fear ISIS as much as they fear Iran, Shia in general, and anything that might stir their 30 million or so people to revolt against them.

The problem for ISIS is they are not duplicitous enough. They could get further by using the same strategy of combining diplomacy with militancy that the Saud used. They could also have been more forgiving of their Islamic neighbors, encouraging people to convert to their own particular brand of craziness, rather executing people just for being Shia or whatever.

There is something known as survival bias. We know about the Saud and Wahabbism because they survived. We have forgotten the many Arabic tribes that once rivaled or even dominated them. Perhaps ISIS will soon be bludgeoned back to hiding in caves and basements.

But I would not bet on that,either, not yet. There is a slim chance that the Sauds, not ISIS, will be history in a few years. Trying to appear to be the leaders of the Islamic world while actually breaking bread with the Israelites and Americans is quite a balancing. The Sauds have grown fat, and the entire country knows how corrupt and un-Islamic they are behind closed doors. On the other hand, being fat and un-Islamic probably appeals to quite a few people.

However much the current leaders of ISIS may pontificate, they will go through the usual curve if they survive and prosper. They will maintain a radical Islamic front, and grow a fat un-Islamic rear end.