Sunday, October 12, 2014

ISIS: Obama's Vietnam?

Better than anything else I have come across, the two quotes below sum up, in just a few words, the enormous clusterfuck into which the USA is entering in its mission to "degrade and destroy" the ISIS.
I wouldn't want my country to help the defendants of Kobani because Kobani is held by the PKK, and Turkey has been at war with the PKK for 30 years. Why should we stand in the way of Isis on this particular occasion? After all, Isis has already carried out untold massacres in just about every other Syrian and Iraqi town that it has invaded to date. Why extend a degree of mercy to Kurdish terrorists that has been denied to the Christians of Maloula or Shiite Turkomans of Iraq? Let Isis carry on with its grizzly work. Our soldiers cannot be placed in the line of fire to rescue the same Kurds who were exploding land mines under their feet. Ahmet T. (comment) -  Financial Times

The Sunni states are unable to defend the region from the disciplined, aggressive, but relatively small, lightly equipped forces of IS. Despite lavish expenditures, extensive training programs, and impressive numbers of battalions and squadrons, Gulf armies are deeply flawed by corruption, tribal and sectarian fissures, and poor leadership. There is no reason to expect reform, especially when outside forces are available to provide security. Regional security is also limited by sectarian hostility, which has reached new highs with the demise of Sunni control in Iraq and the rise of Iran's nuclear program. Shia troops from Iran are unable to act decisively in Iraq without triggering fears and reactions from Sunni states. Sunni troops cannot intervene without triggering the same responses in Iran. Brian M Downing - Asia Times
If this war goes much further and it certainly looks like going much, much, further, it could turn out to be infinitely more dangerous and destructive, for all concerned: humanly, economically and politically, than the war in Vietnam ever was. 

The ways that this could all spin out of control are too uncountable for any amateur Cassandra like me to number. Conventional wisdom is that after the demise of the USSR, World War Three is unthinkable, but I think that if anyone in Hollywood were trying to dream up a way of starting it, America's entering this whirlpool would make for quite a believable scenario. DS

Sunday, September 28, 2014

America has taken the Islamic State's bait

It may be hard to believe, but in the end Obama may end up looking even dumber than George W. Bush, the fool who opened this whole Pandora's box in the first place.

The Islamic State, more than war, is engaged in political theater, whose primary audience is not the West, but rather the Middle East's enormous population of literate, unmarried, unemployed, thus frustrated and angry young men, who live under corrupt, autocratic rulers, seen by their peoples to be American puppets and portrayed by Islamists as degenerate apostates. As these frustrated young men watch their rulers accompany the United States and the former colonial powers, Britain and France, in bombing the Islamist fighters in Syria and Iraq all their worst conspiracy theories play out before them.

By pressuring these Arab regimes to bomb the ISIS, the United States may very well be playing straight into the Islamist's hands. It is significant that the generals of Egypt, ruling over a restless population, where the only free election in Egypt's history brought an Islamist government, want no part of this operation.
In the Arab countries’ populations, young people are the fastest growing segment, some 60% of the population is under 25 years old, making this one of the most youthful regions in the world, with a median age of 22 years compared to a global average of 28.(...) In the Middle East, educational enrollment rates are high, with nearly universal access at the primary level and nearly 70% enrollment at the secondary level.(...) Further, youth currently constitute an estimated 51% of total unemployed in the region(...) In the region today, nearly 50% of men between the ages of 25 and 29 are unmarried. Financial costs associated with marriage (housing, furniture, wedding ceremonies, etc.) and a lack of economic means contribute to the postponement of family formation. Youthpolicy.Org

Isis is trying to spark underclass animosity among – and give identity to – the untenably high proportion of (mainly young) Arabs who have been excluded by closed and corrupt systems. The heart of its narrative is that the Arab world is a collection of failed and rotting states. David Gardner - Financial Times

(...) there is concern that sympathy for the jihadis among the general public in the region could galvanise opposition to Gulf governments.(...) The reaction highlights concerns about a backlash against the conservative Sunni Gulf states for launching attacks on their coreligionists at a time when sectarian divisions plague the Middle East. “I hope the Americans appreciate the risk the Saudis are taking,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a Dubai-based political scientist. “There is latent sympathy to Isis there.” Air strikes on Isis launch battle for Gulf hearts and minds -Financial Times
The primary goal of the Islamists is a revolution in the Arab monarchies of the Middle East. The young fighters of the ISIS are just the tip of a demographic iceberg... we are in the process of stirring up a hornet's nest, one whose blowback in the Muslim world, may be worse than any of our previous, murderous, bumbling. DS

Monday, September 22, 2014

Caliphate vs Caliphate... Obama's wild goose chase

"Globalization is the caliphate of the financial markets"
Andrés Rábago's quote is rather perfect.  Here is Wikipedia's definition of the Muslim Caliphate:
Conceptually, a caliphate represents a sovereign state of the entire Muslim faithful, (the Ummah), ruled by a caliph under Islamic law (sharia).
Globalization being the universal rule of the financial markets under the laws of liberal economics, with the bankers being a collegiate "caliph" and "god" being written as "$".

A fundamentalist reading of our system would go something like this: "there is no $ but the $ and the NYSE is its witness" to which its devotees would add, "peace be upon it".

However, our system is bleeding charisma.
Charisma is a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader. Max Weber
What is the heart of our system's charisma? It's symbol might be the Cornucopia or Horn of Plenty: our faith is based on our system's heretofore eternal ability to create endless wealth and spread it around widely enough so its glaring inequalities were accepted painlessly.  This version of the economy has been in the tank since Lehman Brothers went down and the middle class of the developed countries, not having had the darshan of  "$" for quite a while are losing the faith.

Our economy's inability without end to cut the mustard for the middle class is a gross betrayal of faith which might be compared to some future pope saying ex-catedra that God didn't exist and that he had sold the Vatican to the Holiday Inn chain and was taking the proceeds and moving with his husband to the Bahamas. The tragic chaos and desolation of betrayed faith would shatter the lives of millions.

Thus under the rule of the global caliphate, the natives are restless: Scotland, Catalonia, even in the USA, where according to Reuters, one out of four Americans would like to "secede", all this while thousands march worldwide to "save the planet".  However, with Karl Marx on the "ash heap of history", sitting there in the penalty box, waiting to get back in the game, it seems to me that, for the moment, the only revolution in town is Islamic...

Am I the only one to see a resemblance between Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Pol Pot... between the Islamic State and the Khmer Rouge? With the difference that the Khmer Rouge were a relatively small group of whacked out Maoists in a tiny out of the way place like Cambodia and the IS (according to the CIA) consists of 31,000 well armed, well trained, fanatical, young men (and women) who come from all over the world, bankrolled by some of the most pious of Arab billionaires, armed with one of history's most powerful ideologies, smack dab in the middle of the world's most strategic real estate. "Bring 'em on" said George W. Bush.... well now here they are.

What impresses me most is not all the beheading. We think this brutality is a message directed to us... it isn't; it is a message for everybody except "us". Americans might be shocked and disappointed to discover that after several centuries of  colonial oppression a great part of the world's population can see a white man get his throat cut with total equanimity if not a certain schadenfreude.

What truly does impress me is that the CIA puts IS's numbers at 31,000. This certainly is no a small group of terrorists. 

Anyone with even a superficial knowledge of statistical sampling should shudder at that number. With only 30,624 Muslims randomly polled you would have a reliable indicator of the Ummah's opinion on any subject, so it would be safe to say that for every young man (or woman) with enough courage and initiative to travel so far at so much risk of death, there must be thousands on thousands of young men (and women) who wish they had the guts to do so too. 

Certainly these numbers tell us that even the most moderate Muslims could imagine a young family member involved, very much in the same way that moderate Irish or Basques could easily have a family member in the IRA or ETA and while they disapprove of what they do, they don't stop loving them... As a friend of mine from a very rich family once told me, "blood is thicker than toothpaste". 

This means that our success in running down and exterminating the young men (and women) of the Islamic State may bring us much more trouble down the road than we have today.

A very reliable leading indicator of how wrong this could all go is the recent statement by Tony Blair advocating sending in ground troops... I'm waiting to hear what Bush thinks. DS

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Why I'm blogging so little these days

Regular readers of my blog posts may wonder why I am posting so infrequently these days. There are several reasons, but the most important one, is that I am rethinking what I want to write about... I am trying to find an underlying pattern in all of this and write about that as I notice that the "day to day" of world affairs is getting very repetitive and I find myself often cannibalizing my earlier posts, as I have said (to my satisfaction, at least) what I think about these subjects already.

So please bear with me as I recycle my take on what is going on.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Nobody knows you when you're down and out

First it was the 2007 financial crisis. Then it became the 2008 financial crisis. Next it was the downturn of 2008-2009. Finally, in mid-2009, it was dubbed the “Great Recession.” And, with the business cycle’s shift onto an upward trajectory in late 2009, the world breathed a collective a sigh of relief. We would not, it was believed, have to move on to the next label, which would inevitably contain the dreaded D-word.(...) By 2011, it was clear – at least to me – that the Great Recession was no longer an accurate moniker. It was time to begin calling this episode “the Lesser Depression.”(...) A year and a half ago, those who expected a return by 2017 to the path of potential output – whatever that would be – estimated that the Great Recession would ultimately cost the North Atlantic economy about 80% of one year’s GDP, or $13 trillion, in lost production. If such a five-year recovery began now – a highly optimistic scenario – it would mean losses of about $20 trillion. If, as seems more likely, the economy performs over the next five years as it has for the last two, then takes another five years to recover, a massive $35 trillion worth of wealth would be lost. When do we admit that it is time to call what is happening by its true name? J. Bradford DeLong - Project Syndicate 

Once I lived the life of a millionaire,
Spent all my money, I didn’t care.
Took all my friends out for a mighty good time,
Buying high priced liquor , champagne and wine.

Then I began to fall so low,
Lost all my friends, had no nowhere to go.
If I ever get my hands on a dollar again,
I’ll hang on to it till that big eagle grins.

Because, nobody knows you
When you're down and out.
In your pocket, not one penny,
And as for friends, you don't have any.
"Nobody Knows You" - Traditional Blues
I wonder how much our economic stagnation is a major factor in the instability we are seeing in the Middle East and the Ukraine, etc, and not just our military "indecisiveness" and "war weariness"?  

Certainly the miserable performance of the economy is having a very destabilizing effect on the European Union with the emergence of parties on both the left and the right that want to leave the euro or even the EU itself, and I even wonder how much of a role it might play in America's political deadlock/paralysis?

No kidding, could things is far apart as Marine Le Pen, Podemos, Scottish independence, the Tea Party, UKIP and even the ISIS owe some of their success to the western world's, dead in the water, economy?

Certainly the principal charisma of our western societies since WWII has been their capacity to produce enormous wealth and to distribute it widely among our populations, who spen(d-t) it freely... Let's not kid ourselves, even the idea of "freedom" is directly connected to having enough money to exercise that freedom.

If our economy can't cut the mustard, what exactly are we selling? Where exactly are we intent on leading the rest of humanity?

I don't have the answer but I would like to hear more people asking the question.  DS

Friday, August 29, 2014

All the king's horses and all the king's men etc....

Douglas McCain
Mr. McCain’s death provides new insight for the authorities as they try to learn more about ISIS and identify the Americans who have joined a group (...) And it is a sign that ISIS, at least in this case, is willing to use Americans on the battlefield in the Middle East rather than sending them back to the United States to launch attacks, as Western officials have feared. “His death is further evidence that Americans are going there to fight for ISIS rather than to train as terrorists to attack at home.” New York Times

(Timely quote from - 2011) “The foreseeable future is Islamist – this much we know. It’s just a reality that people have to come to terms with,” says Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center. “People want to see Islam play a larger role in political life and liberals are going to have to learn to speak the language of religion and stop being the anti-Islamist choice.” Financial Times
(ISIS) has recruited marginalized, disaffected Sunni youths in Syria and Iraq who believe they are being ruled by apostate regimes. This appeal to Sunni pride has worked largely because of the sectarian policies of the Baghdad and Damascus governments. But the Islamic State has also grown because of the larger collapse of moderate, secular and even Islamist institutions and groups — such as the Muslim Brotherhood — throughout the Middle East. Fareed Zakaria - Washington Post
If ISIS were at all interested in attacking soft targets in the USA, Douglas McCain would have been perfect for the task... imagine if one of the homies in Ferguson Missouri walked over to a group of policeman there and blew himself up... American boots would be back on Iraqi ground in days. Obviously ISIS is not interested in that at all, they are intent on doing just exactly what they are doing now: building an Islamic state in the vacuum the United States created when they invaded Iraq. And this is an idea that is inspiring thousands of young Muslims all over the  world, including, it appears, the USA as well.

ISIS say they want to restore the "caliphate". What is this really all about?

Here I hope my readers would pardon me quoting chosen bits of something I wrote all the way back in 2011.

Just substitute "ISIS" for "Al Qaeda" (don't bother, I'll do it for you).

Now this caliphate business may sound like something right out of the "1001 Arabian Nights", redolent of Sindbad the Sailor and Aladdin and his magic lamp, or a world empire,  but here it might be useful to recall that the last Islamic caliphate ended as recently March 3, 1924, when Kemal Ataturk closed it down, threw out the Sultan (Caliph) and officially ended the Ottoman empire and westernized Turkey.  Basically then, what al Qaeda and ISIS are trying to achieve is the Islamic restoration of what was the Arab part of the Ottoman empire, but run by Arabs not by Turks...That's what Lawrence of Arabia (Peter O' Toole)  was promising the Arabs (Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn)... remember? 
Is this really that weird?
If you stop and think for a bit and you know your world history since WWI, you will recall that every attempt to mobilize the Arabs in order for them break from the grip of the colonial powers and the USA: pan-Arab nationalism, local nationalism, Arab varieties of socialism, military dictators or a mixture of all of these, has proved ineffectual in advancing the agenda of unity and full sovereignty. Naturally Britain, France and, of course, the USA were pleased by this failure and have always done everything in their power, from bribes to coups, to assassinations, to make that outcome inevitable. Oil or Israel, its all the same from the pan-Arab nationalist point of view, keeping the Arabs down was always the bottom line.
By a process of elimination pan-Arab nationalism has hit on the most reductive version of Islam as the only movement, ideology and source of political energy that is so decocted and fibrous and emotionally satisfying to it adherents that it cannot be co-opted, re-engineered, de-contented and manipulated by the economic/cultural power of the USA.(...) What many Muslims, violent and non-violent alike seem to have hit on is that their ancestral religion is indigestible by globalization. It is a music that globalization, in its American version, simply cannot play. 

Today (...) even moderate Muslims, people that don't plan on putting a bomb in anybody's jockey shorts, are wearing beards and hijabs and chorusing, "Islam is the answer": They see it as a vaccine against being digested and assimilated and then excreted by the dynamics of globalization.
Are Muslims just being insanely paranoiac when they accuse the United States of trying to "destroy" Islam?
In my opinion, yes and no. "Yes", from the American point of view, where we think it jolly nice if some people go to church on Sunday, others go to temple on Saturday and, what the heck, others can go to mosque on Friday if they want to... but for the rest of what is left of the week, it is business as usual or else.
"No", from the point of view of many Muslims, if by "to destroy" means "to trivialize" their religion, which, in their view, is a seven day, 24 hour a day project, which is the arbiter of all human affairs. This is contrary to the rules of our economic system: within globalization the "market" has taken on the role that Islam assigns to God. Therefore Islam being indigestible in its present form must be reshaped or "Disneyfied" if you will. Except it can't be and still be Islam.
More than confronting the American people themselves, it seems to me that Muslim fundamentalists are confronting history's most powerful exponent of a system that was once described as turning "all that is solid into air" and profaning everything sacred; leaving commerce as the fundamental activity of all human beings. If we consider in what shape our economic system has left the teachings of Jesus Christ, perhaps the Muslims aren't as far off target as they appear at first glance.
If you stop and think about it, every traditional relationship between human beings that ever existed anywhere, clan, tribe, nationality, religion, family authority, has been either dissolved or degraded by our economic system: this is what we have lost in exchange for our standard of living. We happen to be cool with that, but not everybody else is.
Be that as it may, the principal objective of Muslim fundamentalists, in my opinion, is to eject an alien civilization (us), and all those who empower it (ME regimes), from the spiritual-emotional center of Islam. At heart this is just an continuation of the dismantling of the Euro-American (white) domination of the world that began at the end of WWII, a domination which globalization has given a new breath of life.
So basically on a transnational scale similar to what Marxism/Leninism once was, this is yet another "national liberation struggle". 
If we look at the cost-effectiveness of everything Al Qaeda/ISIS have done since the attack on the USS Cole and the African embassies and compare it with the sacrifices made by the Vietnamese people to finally gain their independence, I imagine that sooner or later the Muslim fundamentalists are going to succeed in driving us out of the Middle East.
What happens then?
Obviously if there is a general Islamist revolution in the Middle East followed by the Magreb, with America's client regimes falling like dominoes, it would have the immediate effect of pushing the price of oil through the roof and that alone would bring on a major economic crisis. It would be every man for himself as Europe, Japan and China scrambled to assure their energy supplies. This might bring protectionism roaring in, if it didn't start a series of wars. Israel, of course, might always do something crazy, but I think that in such a situation, observers might be amazed at how "prudent" the Israelis could be, if Egypt, Jordan and Syria, for example, fell to the Islamists in short succession.
Whatever finally happened, the period of transformation would be a harrowing, violent roller coaster ride, however, when the transformation had been completed, we would find the resulting situation:
  1. The new rulers would immediately have to find some way of feeding their populations
  2. The only thing they would have to sell to feed them would be oil
  3. The thirst of the developed and developing nations for oil would be as great as ever.
In those three points we have the makings of a workable peace.
What would that peace look like?
The best model I can think of would be some Muslim/Judeo/post-Christian version of the Treaty of Westphalia, a miracle of diplomacy whereby Protestants and Catholics managed to end the "Thirty Years War", religious conflict in Europe, and perhaps most importantly enshrined the idea of state's non-meddling in the internal affairs of other states. This idea of inviolable sovereignty had managed to limp along for hundreds of years until Clinton, Bush, Blair and now Obama, under aegis of the neocons and liberal interventionists trashed it... with the results we are living with today

In some perfect neo-Westphalian world, the Muslim minority of Europe would be allowed to practice their religion in peace and the Christian and Jewish minorities in the Middle East practice theirs. Too good to be true? Well, the part about Christians and Jews being able to practice their religions in peace in the Middle East is a workmanlike description of how the Ottoman empire worked, otherwise how do you think that 19th century Zionist settlers under the patronage of the Rothschilds were allowed to settle in Palestine in the first place? And not just the Ottomans, many westerners don't realize that until Israel's appearance on the scene in 1948 that there had been a vibrant Jewish community in Mesopotamia for over 4,000 years!
The bit about the Ottoman empire being a place where the three religions "of the book" lived in peace is why, contrary to many commentators, I view very favorably Turkey's moves to cool their relations with Israel and reclaim a prominent place in the world of Islam. Turkey's moderating role on orthodox Islam in the post-American-hegemony, multipolar world of compartmentalized and case by case globalization is a key one.
"Yihye tov" as the Israelis say, which more or less means, "things will get better," but more accurately, "it will be alright on the night," meaning: "with optimism plus improvisation things will probably turn out OK".  We live in hope. DS

Friday, August 01, 2014

Hamas presents its "price tag"

The US has said the shelling of a UN shelter in Gaza is "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible". In its strongest criticism yet of Israel's offensive in the Palestinian territory, the US - Israel's closest ally - also said the civilian casualties were "too high". It urged Israel to do more to protect civilian life. BBC News

The European Union on Thursday condemned the shelling of a United Nations school and crowded Gaza market the previous day, urging an immediate probe into the "unacceptable" deaths of civilians. "It is unacceptable that innocent displaced civilians, who were taking shelter in designated UN areas after being called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes, have been killed," the EU's diplomatic service said in a statement. Agence France-Presse

I’m no fan of Hamas, quite the contrary. But Israel’s attempt to put all the blame on Hamas is outrageous. The international community will soon judge this war’s atrocities. Hamas may be reprimanded, deservedly, but Israel will be condemned and ostracized far more. And then Israelis will say, ‘It’s Hamas’ fault. And the world will laugh. Haaretz

AIPAC rules. It's the Jewish community's National Rifle Association, which also uses its clout against children. To be fair, it is not the Jewish community that AIPAC represents but the organized Jewish community, a small minority of Jews. I still believe that most American Jews, always progressive and humanitarian, have not abandoned 3000 years of Jewish history and tradition to support this barbarism. M. J. Rosenberg
The story here is not the condemnations themselves, but how long they took in coming and how little space they initially receive in the American media and how that was organized... That is the real story of the Gaza "war" (massacre).

I am about to turn 70, and when I was a boy Jewish people were, for me, Albert Einstein, Arthur Rubinstein, Sandy Koufax and Sid Caesar... Today, I'm sorry to say, they are: Binyamin Netanyahu, AIPAC and Sheldon Adelson... way to go Israel, Mazel tov. DS