In 1796, our first president warned us about becoming too involved in foreign affairs and entanglements in which we had no national interest, especially among the European countries. He recommended staying away from alliances altogether, except during times of extreme or severe danger, and then maintaining them only for the duration of such necessity. Washington worried that allies and alliances would distract us from the good faith and republican values upon which the young United States of America had been founded.
The famous St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V, on the other hand, describes the eternal bond that is established by those in battle: “For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” For those who have fought together, that phrase is more than just a slogan or a bumper sticker.
George Washington could not have envisioned the world of the 21st century on the cusp of his retirement. America’s ascension to superpower status after World War II and as “Leader of the Free World” during the Cold War could never have been predicted in his time. Nuclear weapons, globalism, international terrorism, transnational drug cartels, world commerce, and even cyberwarfare have forced America into various international alliances by virtue of our position in the world. With our ongoing trade wars with China and the European Union, as just one dimension of our contemporary foreign entanglements, would it even be possible to disengage ourselves from the rest of the world and just go back to the simpler times of 1796?
Many of our warfighters and military leaders, who have fought with the Kurds against ISIS, have criticized our sudden abandonment of their “blood brothers” in favor of an invasion by Turkey, which lately has not been acting much like an ally. Others with no first-hand experience in the fight simply take a cold, objective, dispassionate view and believe it is time to cut our losses and heed George Washington’s advice (at least in Syria).
Who’s right and who’s wrong? That will be decided by history.
Yes, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, there really is a Santa Claus! The erstwhile caliph must undoubtedly be gloating over the hasty, disorganized US retreat from Syria and the potential to free thousands of detained ISIS fighters from Kurdish prisons, as Kurdish soldiers are drawn from guarding prisoners to confront the invading Turks. ISIS has already carried out several bombings inside Kurdish territory even as the US had to send F-15E fighter bombers to destroy sensitive munitions abandoned at its former headquarters to prevent them from falling into Russian hands.
In fact, without actual eyes on the ground, we no longer have any idea of how many ISIS prisoners or their family members have already managed to escape. Those fighters in detention had not been rehabilitated. They still are loyal to the ISIS cause and would be ready, willing, and able to carry out a terrorist operation in the Middle East or a Western country if they had the opportunity to do so. It was recently estimated that about 2,000 of the 10,000 ISIS detainees were “foreign fighters,” with an unknown number being of Western origin. Any of those that manage to escape will be bringing their hatred for the West home with them. To avert a terrorist incident, our intelligence and security services have to be lucky every time; to attack us, they only need to be lucky once.
The president has said that he is not concerned about terrorists “7,000 miles away.” It’s worth remembering that Osama Bin Laden planned the 9/11 attack from thousands of miles away. Had we been more concerned about him during his decade of terrorist attacks leading up to September 11th, perhaps we could have prevented the greatest surprise attack on America since Pearl Harbor. Small numbers of ISIS terrorists and sympathizers have managed to carry out devastating terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, Nice, London, Berlin, and elsewhere. Here in America have we forgotten the carnage from the San Bernardino and Pulse Nightclub shootings?
Then there is the potential propaganda boon as ISIS will inevitably show the US retreating from Syria with its tail between its legs, even as the group enjoys a nascent resurgence in Iraq and – now – in northeast Syria. Baghdadi can show that the group has defeated the most powerful Crusader army on the planet. This will be great for the group’s online recruitment efforts. And, of course, we still haven’t lifted a finger to defeat the terrorist, Islamist ideology.
With the release of the US and Kurdish stranglehold on ISIS in Syria, the color has already returned to the caliph’s cheeks as he sits in his own Santa’s workshop planning his next move. It’s gonna be a great Christmas this year!
Anyone who’s read “It’s the Ideology” knows my high regard for the Kurds in the War on Terror. They have been the most reliable and effective ally in our fight against Islamic State. They fought like tigers against the Islamist butchers in places like Kobane and, unlike their Arab counterparts, had no problems integrating women into their frontline units – who quickly developed ferocious fighting reputations of their own. We could NOT have cleared much of northern and eastern Syria of IS fighters without out them and they are the ones holding thousands of IS prisoners while the rest of the world figures out what to do with them. If these prisoners escape, what then? They certainly haven’t been rehabilitated.
The Kurds shed their blood with us and for us. The thanks they have received from Washington is to hear, “You’re fired!” Many of the corpulent, pampered gasbags, pundits, and politicians in our nation’s capital couldn’t survive for ten minutes in the environment the Kurds have endured for the past four years, let alone during their rich but violent history.
The Kurds have managed to survive despite genocidal campaigns against them by Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. They have worn the mantle of oppression and persecution and suffered primarily in silence as the rest of the world ignored their plight. Now we have stabbed the best ally we ever had in the War on Terror squarely in the back all to placate a Turkish president, who has shifted his own government away from democracy toward Islamist authoritarianism. Has the White House forgotten that Erdogan’s Turkey was the primary customer for the Islamic State’s blackmarket oil? Has it forgotten that Erdogan recently thumbed his nose at America to buy Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense system? Is this the behavior of a FRIENDLY ally?
We’ve done stupid crap like this before. The administration of Bush 43 called on the Iraqis to rise up against Saddam after Desert Storm and promised American support. When the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north of Iraq did just that a couple months later, we stood by and did nothing. Our failure to fulfill that promise of support cost the lives of 20,000 Kurds and nearly three times as many Shiites. Why would anyone in the region want to be a US ally?
Benjamin Franklin once said that nothing is certain except death and taxes. Were he alive today, he might add a third certainty: strategic myopia in Washington.
Normally I would stay miles away from any discussion on politics, but lately the political discourse in our nation – from the politicians and the pundits – has become so heated, shrill, and hateful that I worry about what it bodes for the future of our Republic. Pundit after pundit on this or that boutique “news” channel spews a steady stream of vitriol to rev up their respective audiences (and fellow “believers”) and bring them to a fever pitch – as if these are fans at some high school or college football game where their team is facing a hated, traditional rival. These hysterical media shills don the mantle of the guardian of their respective camp’s ideology, where no disagreement or compromise can ever be tolerated.
And much like a Sondergericht during the Third Reich, facts are optional in this tumultuous torrent of tweets, twaddle, and tirades. The object of the vituperation is already guilty. In fact, anybody who doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid of either political camp is seen as suspect. The political atmosphere in our country reminds me of the closing scene of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” where Donald Sutherland has finally become one of the “Pod People” and sounds the alarm when he sees a fugitive, human, former friend.
9/11 brought all Americans together and unified us in a way not seen since December 7, 1941. In the years since, so-called “news” channels and networks that only push opinion and propaganda have polarized us and drawn us apart. Calm, reasoned, objective political discussion has been nearly universally supplanted by partisan bickering and verbal mud-slinging. Meanwhile we have a national debt coming off the rails, infrastructure in a state of near-collapse, real middle class wages that haven’t risen in a decade, endless wars being fought by military members serving tour after tour with no end in sight, healthcare with rising costs and more questions than answers, and my list could go on and on. As America collapses and burns, elitist, professional politicians in Washington shake their fists and cast insults at each other, simply pouring additional fuel on the conflagration. None of them think about actually serving the people anymore, only their own, narrow political self-interests. Their egos have eclipsed whatever empathy they might have had.
Regardless of whether they are from the left or the right, be they Democrat or Republican, we have allowed these shallow trolls and their media mouthpieces to usurp Democracy. We have allowed them to do what Al-Qaeda could not, even in our darkest hour. We have allowed them to tear us apart.
With all the recent news concerning the killing of Hamza bin Laden, the son of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and the heir-apparent of that terrorist group, and the rush to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan, one might suspect that we are on the verge of ending the global war on Islamist terror. Unfortunately, that would be wishful thinking.
There is no doubt that Al-Qaeda is on its back foot in much of the world. The loss of Hamza deprives the group of a fresh, charismatic face with blood ties to Osama. The continued pressure on AQ has kept it from regularly publishing its glitzy online magazine, Inspire that is primarily aimed at recruiting disaffected, Western, would-be jihadists. But it still has a core of hardline supporters in places where it controls territory, like Yemen, who ultimately still seek to reestablish the primacy of the group’s brand over ISIS. It will only take one, successful, terrorist event to put them front-and-center into the news cycle.
As for ISIS, they may also be down but they are definitely not out. Just days ago, American Airlines mechanic Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani was taken into custody for allegedly tampering with an aircraft’s control equipment. Subsequent news of alleged violent content on Alani’s phone has hinted at possible ties to ISIS. And what receives almost no news coverage in our press is that ISIS is reemerging in the Sunni heartland of Iraq even as numerous reports of its leader’s death have proven premature. This group has a very strong network of supporters in Iraq and Syria even as it quietly grows its presence in Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Both ISIS and AQ have a very long history of existing as underground organizations. They have suffered battlefield defeats but have all the tradecraft, operational security, and core supporters to survive – and even thrive – as clandestine terrorist organizations. We have not defeated them, nor have we heard the last of them, either. Moreover, we have done nothing to attack and defeat their Islamist ideology.
Since 2020 is an election year, it’s quite possible that one or the other of these groups will do their best to stage a comeback just to send the message that they still have the capability to harm us.
The Arab Barometer research network based at Princeton University conducted a survey of Arab opinions on seven key issues on behalf of BBC News Arabic. Some 25,000 people were interviewed in ten Arab countries and the Palestinian territories between late 2018 and spring 2019 and the results, published recently by the BBC, indicate some changing attitudes and confirm some disquieting trends for us in the region.
First, the percentage of people who self-identify as “not religious” has increased from 8% in 2013 to 13% today. This increase is greatest in the “under-30” segment of the population and only respondents in Yemen bucked this trend.
A majority of people surveyed believed that a woman had the right to become a prime minister or president (except in Algeria). Nevertheless, most respondents (including women) believed that at the domestic level, the husbands should be the decision-makers in the home. So, a woman may make decisions at the national level, but should still defer to the husband regarding domestic matters.
Social acceptance of homosexuality is quite low throughout the Arab World – often in the single digits. The survey indicated that the proportion of respondents who favored honor killings was higher than that for homosexuality.
The image of the United States and President Trump in the Middle East remains in the toilet. The US president scored an average favorable rating of 12% while President Putin’s favorability rating was more than double that figure at 28%. The real winner was Turkish President Erdogan, who averaged a 51% rating.
A majority still view Israel as the greatest threat to Arabs in Lebanon (79%), the Palestinian territories (63%) and Egypt (54%). Echoing the antipathy toward the United States in the previous finding, the percentage of respondents who viewed America as the greatest threat is a worrying trend: Iraq (30%), Tunisia (24%), Palestinian territories (24%), Sudan (21%), Libya (17%), and Yemen (15%). Several other countries hovered around ten percent.
A significant percentage (around 20% across the board) of respondents expressed a desire to emigrate. In Sudan, the percentage was about half the population. There is an interactive chart for each country that shows desired destinations from Europe to North America, the Gulf countries, and elsewhere.
There are some surprises here (the percentage of young people giving up on religion and the right of a woman to serve as a national leader). Even so, conservatism and traditional values were reflected in a higher favorability rating for honor killings than for homosexuality. In a region so fraught with war and violence, it isn’t surprising that many want to have a better life somewhere else. And, not surprisingly, decades of US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan coupled with an unbiased resurgence in US support for Israel has given the Arabs a deep mistrust and resentment for US policy and American leaders.
In a surprise ceremony at his regular Marine Corps League detachment meeting on Monday night (April 29, 2019), Dave was given the detachment’s “Marine of the Year” Award for 2019. Considering that this award is the result of a vote by all the detachment’s members, it is an incredibly special and humbling honor!!
The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, bears much of the responsibility for the 49 Muslim shooting victims in New Zealand and other victims of anti-Muslim violence in the West.
He has failed to clearly and unequivocally condemn the actions of groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Al-Shabaab and strip these groups and their followers of any Islamic religious legitimacy. It is past time for him to draw a clear distinction between the religious message of Islam and the violent ideology of Islamist extremism. He had a golden opportunity to do so at the interfaith meeting with the pope last month in Abu Dhabi and he failed to do so.
Lone wolf terrorism can work both ways. El-Tayeb is the only one with the religious (and moral) authority in Sunni Islam to clearly condemn the crimes of these groups and unequivocally excommunicate their followers from orthodox Islam. Violence against innocent Muslims will continue until he does exactly that.
Every so often the media pulls back the curtain on our negotiations with the Taliban. We hear rumors about how the Taliban will let girls go to school and how they will allow certain societal reforms because they don’t want us to invade them again. This is all presented in a somewhat positive light, as if somehow this means that we accomplished something in that country in exchange for the thousands of lives and trillions of dollars we expended in that aimless war. But we saw this movie before with North Vietnam in 1972 and we know how that one ended. Afghanistan is destined for the same conclusion.
It’s time for some brutal honesty. If we were winning in Afghanistan, we wouldn’t be negotiating with the ragtag band of fighters that we toppled so quickly there in October 2001. How is it that the world’s mightiest superpower can find itself mired in a 17-year war against little more than an insurgent group? How is it that we find ourselves not only fighting the Taliban, but now also ISIS in that country? One need not be a rocket scientist to see that our train went off the rails pretty quickly in Afghanistan.
Like Vietnam, we never had a strategy for actual victory in Afghanistan. We never understood the cultural dynamics, history, or politics of Southeast Asia and now it’s eminently clear we are equally ignorant of those vital elements in Southwest Asia. Even after 17 years of conflict.
The decades of incompetent leadership in Washington (from both parties) relied on the mirage and hubris of military might without actually having a game plan – a strategy – for victory. They allowed private military contractors and defense companies to endlessly suckle at the Public Treasury under the delusion that better and smarter weapons would somehow bring us victory. But why would any private enterprise even want victory if it put a stop to that government gravy train?
We let Afghan militias do our fighting for us at Tora Bora and we had to wait a whole decade to get Bin Laden, who escaped to Pakistan. In complete ignorance of the country’s history, we tried to set up a central government, military, and police force in the country that has never been effective and is recognized as one of the most corrupt in the world. And even after all this time, the government in Kabul still faces regular terrorist attacks in the capital and has virtually no control over the rest of the country. The country’s army is suffering unsustainable losses and morale that is in the toilet.
Just like in Vietnam, when we do pull out the innocent Afghans who supported and believed in us will become the objects of Taliban revenge. We will look the other way. Frankly, the Taliban won’t have to keep their promises to us anyway because we won’t have the stomach for returning to that country after we leave any more than when North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon in May 1975. President Ashraf Ghani undoubtedly knows this; we prefer to just poke our head into the sand and find a way to get the hell out.
And just like Vietnam, the message to potential allies around the globe will be: Don’t trust Uncle Sam. He’ll leave you to the wolves when he loses interest in you.
At a much-heralded interfaith meeting in Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019, Pope Francis and the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, took a small, symbolic step toward religious tolerance by signing an agreement on “human fraternity” and laying the cornerstones of a mosque and church that are to be built side-by-side in the city. That was the “feel good” moment in an historic meeting where Grand Sheikh El-Tayeb missed a strategic opportunity.
While Francis specifically denounced the ongoing violence and religious warfare (i.e. terrorism) in places like Yemen, Libya, Iraq, and Syria at the forum, the tone of El-Tayeb’s speech was far different. The top scholar of Sunni Islam blamed the Western media for distorting Islam’s peaceful message after the attacks of 9/11 and portraying Muslims “as savage barbarians who pose a danger and threat to modern societies.” He also said that “armed groups,” regardless of what religion they may follow, are “murderers and butchers” when they kill innocent victims of other faiths.
Really? So, Islam’s image problem in the West is really our fault after 19 young men who claimed to be Muslims hijacked passenger aircraft and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and killed 3000 innocent Americans? And just how is the media supposed to portray those calling themselves Muslims when they behead a hostage or assault a hotel in Nairobi?
The Grand Sheikh had a rare and strategic opportunity to specifically and irrevocably denounce groups like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Al-Shabaab – and their followers and sympathizers – as apostates who are not Muslims and have nothing to do with Islam. He had the chance to pull the rug of religious legitimacy right out from under them. Instead, he deflected the blame for Islam’s poor image on the Western media and avoided any responsibility for Islam to clean up its own house. That sort of responsibility is precisely what the West has been waiting for. Instead, his generic, ambiguous comments were an affront to the victims of Islamist terrorism everywhere.
El-Tayeb had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to draw a line in the sand and differentiate between real Islam and the extremism of the Islamist ideology and he didn’t even make the effort. His unwillingness to do so only adds to Islam’s image problem, not only in the West, but around the world.