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.
People often ask me for an estimate of “how many” Islamists there really are in the Arab world. I don’t know if anyone has actually done real detailed research on this subject but there is a way to get an educated guess of the total – at least what we can call a ballpark figure.
Every year the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha, Qatar publishes a pretty extensive poll on Arab attitudes and opinions. It is called the Arab Opinion Index. The latest edition was published in the summer of 2018. The AOI was the product of 18,830 face-to-face interviews in 11 different Arab countries. Since it was a poll of Arabs that was conducted by Arabs, it is one of the most accurate gauges out there of the view from the Arab street.
The latest AOI revealed that while 92% of the Arabs interviewed had a negative, or somewhat negative view of ISIS, about two percent of the respondents had a positive view of the group.
Now the total population of the 22 countries in the Arab League is 406.7 million people. If we extrapolate that two percent from the AOI having a positive view of ISIS to that total population, we come up with around eight million Arabs that see ISIS in a favorable light.
Next if we estimate a total figure of about 100,000 active Islamist fighters aggregated from all the various groups (Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, etc.) and we assess that they represent the hardcore two percent of the total number of sympathizers, that would give us an estimate of around five million sympathizers in the Arab world. Combining those two estimates gives us a range of between five and eight million Islamist/ISIS sympathizers in the Arab world.
Dave’s Take: An Estimate of the Number of Islamist Sympathizers
With props to the old Monty Python Show, “And now for something completely different!” This past weekend gave me a chance to reflect on the rewards of being part of something larger than myself.
Saturday (November 10th) was the 34th Annual Navajo Christmas Airlift. This is an effort where pilots are responsible for collecting a load of non-perishable food items, gently used clothing, or children’s toys for their respective aircraft. On the second Saturday of every November (weather permitting), these pilots load up their planes and fly their donations to Gallup, New Mexico, where they are received by the Thoreau Navajo Outreach. TNO, in turn, sorts and packages those donations and delivers them to those who need them the most.
This is a totally volunteer effort. Pilots are not compensated for aviation gas or their time. The real compensation for all the pilots comes from knowing that they are making a difference in others’ lives. I know because my wife and I have participated in the Airlift for around 20 years. It serves as the kickoff to our Holiday Season and I’ve heard many of the other pilots say the same. This year we had 42 airplanes on the tarmac at Gallup. There wasn’t any television coverage and nobody was writing a story for the paper. We just collectively and quietly did what Airlift pilots have been doing for 34 years because it was a good thing to do and we all had fun doing it!
That same evening, I joined a few other Marine friends at a local pub to celebrate the 243rd birthday of the United States Marines. It was a night of telling stories and reminiscing about our respective experiences serving our Country in the Marine Corps.
Contrary to popular belief, Marines do not really consider themselves a branch of the US Military – they are a Breed Apart. The title of United States Marine has to be earned – it is not given – and the process of earning that title is difficult and challenging. Many don’t make the cut. For those who do, the Marine Corps motto of “Semper Fidelis” (“Always Faithful”) really means something. We always take care of each other, no matter what. Each Marine draws individual strength from the Corps, and the Corps draws its strength from the individual Marine.
That experience of becoming a Marine becomes a turning point in our lives. We have a responsibility to live our lives not just as an average person, but as someone who upholds the ideals and values of the Marine Corps. We believe in serving our Community, Country, and Corps. We draw our reward from being a member of something larger than ourselves.
Yesterday I rode on a Marine Corps League float in the Mesa, AZ Veterans Day Parade. I hate parades, and I really didn’t want to go but we had a large float and needed to muster all hands to make a respectable showing. Somebody shoved a POW/MIA Flag into my hands, and we shoved off.
As the float proceeded down the street, I saw World War II and Korean War vets in wheelchairs sit up a little straighter as Old Glory and the Service Flags went by. Vietnam veterans would hail me from the edges of the parade route because I was holding that POW/MIA Flag.
Sitting on a float for that parade wasn’t about me. It was about honoring those along the parade route whose sacrifice and service is forgotten for most of the other 364 days of the year. It was about showing respect to those Vietnam veterans: a long overdue “Welcome Home.”
Once again, the reward came from being part of something larger than myself. So, I’m gonna go again next year – and I’ll get there early so I can get a Flag!!!
We just marked the passage into our 18th year of the War in Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago yet it was just business as usual inside the Beltway. We’re still fighting the same old Taliban whose government we toppled in 2001 and now the war is going so well that we are also fighting Islamic State in that country (which didn’t even exist on 9/11). In fact, progress is so fantastic in Afghanistan that the US commanding general there narrowly missed being assassinated not long ago. Meanwhile, we have no strategy for victory – we don’t even know what victory in Afghanistan is supposed to look like anymore. Ever see the movie “Groundhog Day?”
There are no new ideas coming out of our nation’s capital. The groupthink in Washington is simply to let the war keep chugging along. Invasions, occupations and drone strikes have taken the place of any cogent US foreign policy in the Middle East. Policy requires a coherent strategy. Endless war only requires warm bodies, bombs and bullets so it’s a much easier substitute. General Smedley Butler wrote an essay on the eve of World War 2 called “War is a Racket” and rings just as true today as it was then. War enhances the careers of government bureaucrats and allows defense contractors to profit obscenely at the expense of the US taxpayers, who have to supply the finances for the endeavor as well as the young men and women who must fight the conflict.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a peacenik. I will be the first one to agree that sometimes fighting a war or a military action is necessary – especially when that falls under the rubric of achieving the strategic goals of US policy. But it is wrong to sacrifice money we don’t have and the noble blood of our best and brightest in a cause we have to strategy to win. Didn’t we learn anything from Vietnam?
Now the media is focusing everybody’s attention (both inside and outside of government) on the mid-term elections. Other news doesn’t exist unless the media can put some political spin on it. The airwaves are flooded with attack ads and negative commercials by candidates whose loyalty to their party transcends their loyalty to our Nation and the interests of its Great People.
No administration since 9/11 – Republican or Democrat – has prosecuted either the War in Afghanistan or the War on Terror with a strategy for victory over the entire phenomenon of Islamist terrorism, not just defeating this or that group. Both parties have become opposite sides of the same coin, more alike than different, distinguished only by the cabal of special interests they serve. And it’s always the taxpayer who gets the short end of the stick.
In revenge for the hosting and protection of Osama bin Laden after 9/11 by the Taliban in Afghanistan, America began a bombing and airstrike campaign against the Taliban on October 7, 2001. That escalated into a ground effort primarily conducted by special forces and the CIA’s paramilitary forces to support the Northern Alliance and push the Taliban out of power. That effort worked better than anyone had ever hoped, and the result was heralded as a very cost-effective and efficient use of American military might that could potentially serve as a model for similar conflicts in the future.
That was 17 years ago and somewhere along the line, that train came off the rails. Here we are in October of 2018, still fighting the Taliban in a war that has no strategy for victory; a war that has become America’s longest nightmare. What we are doing in Afghanistan now bears no resemblance whatsoever to the backslapping glory days of October 2001. It is a horrible Ground Hog Day where we fight without victory, provide aid to people who don’t want our help, and support a central government that cannot provide adequate security (after 17 years!) in its own capital of Kabul. Oh, and did I mention that this central government is largely loathed, hated, and despised for its corruption by its own people in the majority of the country?
Norman Schwarzkopf, Colin Powell, and President George H.W. Bush resurrected the US military and shook off the vestiges of Vietnam in the swift, victorious Desert Storm. It was a true catharsis for the American Warfighter and even the psyche of the American people. But the last three administrations in Washington have well and truly screwed all that up and left us with a war that cannot be won; one that refuses to die, lurching and lumbering along like an undead zombie in a bad horror flick. Eternal war in Afghanistan has now become our de facto policy in that hapless country.
Now we hear from the oracles in Washington that our forces in Syria will remain there until all of Iran’s forces return inside Iran’s borders. Good luck with that. If Iran has become bolder on the Middle Eastern stage it’s because we let the dogs out in Iraq in 2003. The Sunnis had been in charge of Iraq for over 500 years when we threw them out and installed a Shiite-majority government. Along with removing Iraq as a natural barrier to Iranian influence into the Middle East, we also created the circumstances inside Iraq for Islamic State to evolve. Now that we’re apparently going to remain in Syria forever, I’m sure Washington will figure out some way to bollocks that up, too. What’s another trillion to the ones we’ve already wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan? And it’s America’s sons and daughters dying in Afghanistan and Syria (and elsewhere in the world), not the scions of the Washington elite.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that we are getting exactly the kind of behavior out of Washington that we deserve. We, the people, are more interested in somebody’s adolescent hijinks from 30 years ago or the salacious, tawdry gossip emanating out of the halls of power. So, expect the wars and the futile shedding of American blood to continue as long as we’re more interested in Washington’s political porn than its policy. If it smells, it sells.
Questions abound as we mark the 17th anniversary of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. For starters: Does Washington even want to win the War on Terror anymore?
We invaded Afghanistan four weeks after those horrific attacks in New York and Washington, and yet we are still there – still fighting the Taliban and now Islamic State, as well. This, America’s Longest War, seems to be viewed in Washington as just business as usual. While we won World War II in four years, Washington has no strategy for victory in Afghanistan. We don’t even know what victory is supposed to look like there.
Then there was our 2003-2011 military misadventure in Iraq, where we won every battle yet lost the war. Iraq is neither a beacon of democracy nor a stable, friendly ally of America in the Middle East. Worse, we created the environment for Al-Qaeda in Iraq to morph into the Islamic State and Syria, which now just calls itself Islamic State.
Speaking of Islamic State, we see Washington patting itself on the back and taking a victory lap for driving the group out of Iraq and Syria. Politicians crow that the Islamists’ so-called caliphate has lost 98% of its territory as a result of our coalition’s military campaign against them. But what they’re not saying is much more ominous.
The group’s presence in places like Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Indonesia, the Sinai Peninsula, and Tunisia has grown significantly. Islamic State recently claimed credit for a vehicle attack on Western cyclists in Tajikistan that killed two Americans and the suicide bombings of three Christian churches in Indonesia. It’s not dead in Iraq, either, where Islamic State insurgents have begun killing and assassinating village chieftains in provinces like Diyala and Salah-ad-Din. The UN just estimated that the group still has up to 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.
We’ve killed Al-Qaeda icons like Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, yet the group’s franchises in North Africa, Yemen, and even Syria have proven to be very resilient. Bin Laden’s son, Hamza, a very articulate young man, is being groomed as the spokesman for Al-Qaeda 2.0.
According to the Stimson Center, we’ve spent 2.8 trillion dollars on wars and counterterrorism since 9/11 and yet all we seem to have done is squeeze the Islamist balloon. In fact, our constant military activities in the Middle East are actually working against us by creating hatred and resentment against America as an occupying power. The latest Arab Opinion Index by Doha’s respected Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies shows that eight-in-ten Arabs have a negative view of US policy toward them and the Middle East region. We’re losing the most important battle in the War on Terror – the one for hearts and minds.
There is a better way. The War on Terror has never had a military solution. We should be able to see by now that we cannot kill our way to victory in this conflict. The Salafist and Wahhabist ideology of Islamism is the common link of all extremist groups like Al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabaab. It’s time we started fighting that ideology and winning those hearts and minds back. Let’s stop being an occupier and start being a partner.
The atrocities committed by Islamic State and Al-Qaeda have been characterized as “un-Islamic” and “deviant” by all orthodox, mainstream Islamic clerics from the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University on down without exception. Let’s encourage them to continue, and even step up their campaign against Islamism with copious and frequent coverage of such denunciations in the media. We must work with these genuine Muslim scholars to strip Islamism of any religious legitimacy whatsoever.
Let’s counter the narrative that the Islamists have held against us for the past 20 years, that America and the West are responsible for all the pain, suffering, and oppression in the Muslim world. We should be publishing the stories of happy and successful Muslims that live here and elsewhere in the West to show that we really are inclusive and diverse. What about the Muslims in our own armed forces that serve so honorably? We are the country that invented modern advertising; we should absolutely be winning the information and propaganda war.
Let’s be smarter with the use of military force. Invasions and occupations have not brought peace. Doing more of the same will not render a different result. We have to build bridges and partnerships to work with the Arabs and Muslims to create their own solutions for Islamism; we cannot impose an external solution upon them. Sun Tzu said it best: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
Finally, let’s start believing in victory again. The overwhelming majority of this planet’s seven billion people will not accept living under a medieval, oppressive, religious dictatorship. Believe it. Our victory in this war is all but assured.
And my view of that victory is a future where Islamism has been relegated to the trash heap and there are no more Islamist terrorists. As a Marine, that’s what I think victory should look like!
Arizona – and America – lost a hero and an icon in the passing of John McCain. Arizona’s senior senator was scrappy, often irascible, and sometimes just too plain-spoken for his own political good. He was a man who, unfortunately, became something of an anachronism in the hyper-polarized world of Washington politics: a politician who was more concerned with voting with his conscience instead of blindly voting with his party. Imagine that!
His was a life of service, one of trying to reach across party lines and reach a compromise in order to actually get legislation done in the Senate. Several of his seven sons and daughters followed their father’s footsteps and served their Nation in the military.
He endured five-and-a-half years in the Hanoi Hilton and gave up a chance to come home early because of his famous military family name, but McCain steadfastly refused to accept the offer of early release by his captors ahead of his fellow prisoners who had been imprisoned before him. His reward for that loyalty to his comrades was continued torture and solitary confinement from the North Vietnamese. That kind of kinship and support for our Servicemembers was a hallmark of his service throughout the rest of his life and his career. Quite frankly, many of the feckless party hacks and political pundits in Washington who have criticized McCain could never have lasted five minutes in the Hanoi Hilton, let alone five plus years. Many never even had the courage to wear the uniform.
We just don’t see McCain’s brand of honor, loyalty, and commitment among our politicians much anymore. You could disagree with the man on political issues, but there was never any question about the depth of his patriotism or the commitment of his service to this country. Yes, he admitted that he made mistakes during his career – especially early on, but I think those mistakes have largely been eclipsed by decades of strong moral leadership, integrity, and character. Those aren’t the sort of values we often associate with his critics.