July 31, 2014

What Sort of World Do You Want to Live In?

It's always quite a challenge to improve on nearly anything VDH writes so I won't even try. My takeaway from this article continues to be the same conclusion I've drawn from Robert Kagan, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol and others who consistently point out the contributions made by the United States when it is engaged in the world and the dangers that arise when it is not. When the U.S. chooses to use its power, influence, and ideals to further the principles of liberty, free trade, the economic benefits of capitalism, and the empowering elements of forms of governance that encourage education, entrepreneurialism, and innovation the world prospers. When it holds back, the forces of disorder, repression, and authoritarianism try to impose themselves by force leading to collapsed economies, fractured societies, the withering of opportunity, stifling of creativity, and rise of misery. Sometimes we have national leaders that get that; sometimes we don't. But in all cases the American public has the ever-present opportunity to make known what kind of world it wants to live in. And you know what? Elected officials actually respond to public pressure. Hmmm... An informed and involved citizenry really can make a difference. People just have to want to.



Why Is the World Becoming Such a Nasty Place?

by Victor Davis Hanson, July 27th, 2014 - 6:14 pm


Border Disorders

Central American parents send their unescorted children northward in hopes of remittances and eventual anchor amnesty for themselves. Our friend Mexico facilitates the exodus through its own sovereign territory (hoping that no one stops along the transit, and happy that the border is further shredded). Central American governments seem happy too. More money will be sent back home. Fewer mouths will be left to feed. Possible dissidents will emigrate. A new generation of expatriates in the U.S. will grow fonder of and lobby for Central America the longer they don’t have to live there.

We utter “the children,” and discussion about proper culpability, cynical manipulation, and disinformation ends. In such a fantasy world, parents don’t manipulate “the children” as pawns; countries don’t try to export what they see as their surplus population; Mexico doesn’t stir the pot; and liberal activists don’t cynically calculate electoral advantage. There are children in need at the border — but there is a great deal more as well. When the president of the United States renders his nation’s immigration laws irrelevant, people notice. And when he establishes a radical expansion in entitlements, those abroad likewise notice. And when he offers a narrative that “they” are culpable and owe much to the exploited, people arrive.

What If?

Try a thought experiment of extending the logic of the current border disorder. Imagine a growing disequilibrium between Chicago and Canada. (On the other hand, why imagine it since it already exists?) Thousands of the children from the most violent areas of the inner city of Chicago — where shootings are approaching levels in Central America — decide to flee the misery for the chance of something better elsewhere. They head north. Some are preteens; some are teenagers; most are innocents; some gang members; some come with their parents; most do not. Most are poor and without resources and capital. They begin walking or getting on trains to Canada and soon mass there at the border in the thousands, as refugees from horrific conditions of the inner city of Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago. Some gang members have charged them transit fees. Imagine further that U.S. officials, with a wink and a nod, had encouraged them to leave, given the endemic violence, and the social costs of addressing it. Their parents likewise hope that they are adopted by the Canadians, given citizenship and that they soon become anchors for their own emigration out of war-torn Chicago. And imagine what might be the reaction if the children were not welcomed en masse by Canada. Would we then blast and damn Canada as nativist, racist, and uncaring for not openly bringing our “children” into their homes? Would the influx be a moral act on the part of the United States or American parents who willingly facilitated the transit, and would it be a fair charge against Canada for not immediately taking the arrivals in as likely future citizens?

Same Old, Same Old

Vladimir Putin is systematically gobbling up the expanse of the former Soviet Union. He swallows some land, regurgitates a bit, then slowly digests what he gulped down, burps, and then has another slice. Future targeted states, perhaps like Estonia, should understand that they are slated to play the 1939 role of Poland after the earlier Anschluss and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Estonia should consider itself safe because it is a NATO member; but Russia thinks it is most vulnerable precisely because it is a NATO member: what better way to destroy NATO than to champion the Russian minorities of a NATO member as pretext to carving out territory, and to expect nothing at all in response?

The Dutch were outraged that the daughter of Vladimir Putin — whose surrogate thugs just shot down a civilian airliner bound from Holland – was living it up in a penthouse in the Netherlands, but then they quickly apologized for being outraged. It is not like she was Jewish after all. (She finally left.)

Speaking of Jews, mobs of Middle Easterners in the streets of Europe are calling for the destruction of Israel, and at times the completion of the final solution — 70 years after it played out in the streets of Europe. We are told Europeans are worried as these demonstrations become more virulent. But we are confused whether Europeans are worried that their guests are premodern — or instead worried that the world senses their guests are saying things that they would like to say but cannot (yet).

Christians and Jews — So What?
Christians are being exterminated and cleansed from Iraq and Syria. But we seem to think they are equivalent to bible-thumping Texas evangelicals and their killers exotic versions of Che, and so the ethnic cleansing is rarely condemned. If Barack Obama would just close his eyes and envision ISIS, Hamas, or Putin as the Tea Party or Fox News, and then react accordingly, the world would be a safer place.

Israel is trying to figure out an effective policy against Hamas. I say struggling, because Hamas is 7th century: using schools, mosques, and hospitals as missile storehouses, wiring up animals to be suicide bombers, stocking up handcuffs and syringes to capture Israeli soldiers for Aztec-like treatment, urging their civilians to become human shields.

In general, the liberal principle persists that when Arabs on the offense kill lots of Arabs it is normal, but when Jews in defense kill far fewer Arabs it is reprehensible. If Israel were weak, Hamas would do to it what ISIS is now doing to Christians, and the world would react to the rout and slaughter of the Jews with the indifference that it shows to Christians. Wait, it does that anyway.

Yet victory is not an anachronistic ideal; it persists across time and space as long as the human condition remains constant. If the IDF inflicts a great deal of punishment on Hamas, as it did to Hezbollah in 2006, then eventually those whose homes were repositories for missiles and tunnel openings and are now junk will blame (privately) Hamas as much as Israel. Even Hitler lost public opinion once he looked clueless amid the suffering he had caused all those who once cheered him on.

The reputation of Europe, such as it was, is shredded. It weighed Russian commerce and trade versus Russian barbarity, and so far profits have won hands-down. It trashed the interventionism of George W. Bush and now laments the isolationism of Barack Obama — the only constant being whatever America does, it objects to it. What then does Europe want from the U.S.? Apparently a huge American military subject to the dictates of European “soft power,” as an occasional back-up force when European sermons are laughed at abroad (e.g., “If you do not listen to our exalted Athenian logic, then we will turn loose our brutal blood-loving Roman legions on you”). Unfortunately for the Europeans, they got the president they wanted, and now rue that wish. The EU is being exposed as a self-indulgent socialist mess, full of class tensions, increasing racism and anti-Semitism, angry unassimilated immigrants and minorities, and as a proverbial baying lamb with a wolf next door.

United Barbarity
Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-moon is blasting Israel for retaliating against the barrage of Hamas rockets. He seems content that UN schools were hiding Hamas missiles. The UN has become a de facto ally of Hamas, and Ban Ki-moon’s rhetoric reflects that alliance. In terms of missiles, does he believe that his UN also prevents North Korea from gassing or firing on his homeland — or is South Korean safety due to the presence of the Neanderthal forces of the U.S.? Could not Israel lecture Mr. Ki-moon to be more tolerant of the next over flight of North Korea missiles, to worry less about Pyongyang’s bomb, and to please ask the U.S. to leave South Korean soil?

No-Drama Obama

The U.S. looks at the current global violence and then looks away, after a call for a “pivot” or a flash card calling for Boko Haram to give back the girls it has enslaved. Our generation’s version of the bad memories of the 1918 Meuse-Argonne Offensive is Iraq and Afghanistan. Like our grandparents of the 1930s, we feel that the dead lost abroad in the most recent wars were not worth it — and so ignore the gathering war clouds on the present horizon, as if ignoring them means they must disappear.

Glance about — Central America, Venezuela, China, Russia, Ukraine, Crimea, Gaza, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Turkey, etc. — and the world outside the West is mostly a nasty place. The three common denominators in all these catastrophes are the usual demagogic leaders blaming someone else for their people’s own self-inflicted miseries, a comfortable West that shrugs that somehow all these depressing things and mean people will just go away — and a tired global enforcer whose community organizer leader went into retirement and offers “make no mistake about it” warnings between swings on the golf course.

Little Boy, the Enola Gay, and the Men Who Turned the Course of History



Not too many years ago I came across a wonderful article in The New Yorker magazine about Atomic John, a “sixty-one-year-old truck driver from Waukesha, Wisconsin, named John Coster-Mullen, who was once a commercial photographer, and has never received a college degree.” Through his own painstaking research over many years, 'Atomic John' was able to piece together just how the first atomic bombs were made and published his findings in a self-published book entitled “Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of LittleBoy and Fat Man.” The book is spiral bound and contains not only the story of Little Boy and Fat Man, told in intricate detail, but also the story of the bombing missions, and the men who flew those missions, over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is a fascinating read!

The decisions to develop and use atomic weapons were not easy decisions to make. The historical record is clear that all those involved in the process had a very good idea of what they were committing to and even the long-term consequences of their decision. But their overriding concern was to bring an end to the global war and, hopefully, preclude the enormous casualties expected as a result of the intended Allied Powers' invasion of the Japanese home islands. In fact, operational planners has estimated that casualties might run as high as one million.

While one could spend a lifetime pouring through all that has been written about World War II, the nuclear era that dawned from the Manhattan Project, and the extraordinary stories of the men and women involved, every once in a while there comes along a story or two that provides a nice little peak into all of this. Band of Brothers is one such example in the video world as were Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List, among others. Once An Eagle, in the print medium, is a superb fictional work spanning America's experience in war at the personal level, from WWI into Vietnam, in the same way that The Killer Angels or The Red Badge of Courage highlighted the personal perspectives of men engaged in the Civil War.

I'm not claiming that "Atom Bombs" is on such an exalted level but it does provide a peak at the men who were involved with the atomic missions that brought an end to the Second World War, which brings us to this wonderful little story about one of the key crew members of Enola Gay.

There aren't many veterans left from the era that shaped the world we have today. On the one hand the passing of Dutch VanKirk is a simple announcement that there is now one less veteran of that time and one more family that will both mourn the personal loss but also celebrate a life well lived. But on the other, the unique part he played in such an extraordinary story hopefully gives a bit more reason to pause to consider that magnitude of the event, the time, the people, and the issues at stake in that era.

See Last crew member of Enola Gay dies, a brief reporting of the passing of “Dutch” VanKirk, the navigator for the Hiroshima mission and last crew member of the Enola Gay.




July 23, 2014

2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity - Inaugural Edition

The Heritage Foundation has published its inaugural edition of what will be an annual Index on American culture and opportunity intended to track "key social and economic indicators to determine whether important indicators of opportunity in America are on the right track." From the Index:
The 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity tells how social and economic factors relate to the success of individuals, families, opportunity, and freedom. Through charts that track changes, and commentary that explains the trends, the Index shows the current state of some key features of American society and tells whether specific indicators are improving or getting off track.
The Index tracks social and economic factors related to culture, poverty and dependence, and general opportunity in America. In order to monitor trends and measure our country’s progress, this report includes 31 indicators in three categories based on regularly updated national data:
  • Cultural indicators, including data on family, religious practice, and civil society;
  • Poverty and dependence indicators related to marriage and poverty, workforce participation, and welfare spending and participation; and
  • General opportunity indicators, such as measures of education, jobs and wealth, and economic freedom.
 The Overview can be found here.

Short story: America is on the 'wrong track' in 23 of the 31 indicators tracked by the Index across the topical areas of culture, poverty and dependence, and opportunity.

July 20, 2014

The American Idea

"Anyways, it's not a right-left issue, it's a right-wrong issue.
And America's consistently been on the side of what's right.
Because when it comes down to it, this is about keeping faith with the idea of America.
Because America is an idea, isn't it? I mean, Ireland's a great country, but it's not an idea.
Great Britain's a great country, but it's not an idea.
That's how we see you around the world… as one of the greatest ideas in human history.
Right up there with the Renaissance... right up there with crop rotation… The Beatles' White Album...
That idea, the American idea, it's an idea. The idea is that you and me are created equal…
It will ensure that an economic recession need not become an equality recession.
The idea that life is not meant to be endured, but enjoyed.
The idea that if we have dignity… if we have justice… then leave it to us, we can do the rest.
This country was the first to claw its way out of darkness and put that on paper. And God love you for it. Because these aren't just American ideas anymore. There's no copyright on them. You've brought them into the world. It's a wide world now.
I know Americans say they have a bit of the world in them. And you do. The family tree has a lot of branches. But the thing is… the world has a bit of America in it, too. These truths… your truths… they are self-evident in us."
                                                                - Bono, Georgetown University, Nov 12, 2012
My wife and I saw Dinesh D'Souza's "America" this weekend. I wish he had titled it differently, especially the subtitle "Imagine the world without her" since the movie has nothing to do with how the world would have evolved differently without the influence, workings, and contributions of the United States. Rather, in his paean to our country, D'Souza attempts to refute the various 'charges' made against America (as he identifies them) by various 'America haters' from the liberal academic left and extends his warnings from his last movie, 2016, to draw a damning thread from Bill Ayers and Saul Alinsky to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The basic premise is this: the 'haters' believe America stole everything that made its growth possible and has maintained its dominant position by force while D'Souza argues that America's behavior has actually been the opposite of all other great powers throughout history -- defeating enemies but not looting their wealth (in fact, helping them to rebuild); setting into law the foundational principles of equality, justice, the unalienable rights of individuals, and rule of law such that over time they would eventually and consistently trump policies and practices that were antithetical to them (e.g. the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution would eventually work to overturn the practice of slavery and discrimination based on race); and adopting capitalism as the economic foundation for the country such that entrepreneurs, innovators, tradesmen, laborers, and anyone with ambition, a work ethic, and an idea has the opportunity to generate and accumulate wealth unlike any other economic system practiced around the world. 

I think the first part of the movie works as intended in that D'Souza raises facts perhaps not known by the general public while the last part of the movie is a wonderful tribute to the things that America is and what it represents and reminds the viewer of the importance of opposing efforts that would undermine and lessen America. I wasn't too keen on the middle part where he personalizes things too much and for too long but perhaps there just aren't many other ways to point out that there are people in government, academia, and various interest groups who for sundry reasons seek to change America from what it has been to something that would be unrecognizable by those who established her, fought to keep her whole, and who have promoted and protected her for so long. 

Our country is not only an amazing place full of opportunity for anyone with the ambition to 'do something' but the manifestation of an amazing idea that free men and women can 'do anything.' 

The Framers of the Constitution envisioned a system whereby government would be large and powerful enough to do things that private citizens could not, such as defend the country from external threats and establish and enforce a legal framework that protected the rights of citizens and ensured commerce could flow from state to state without undue hindrance but not so large and powerful that it would dominate the people in the very way that the British Crown had to such an extent that the people chose to 'throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Yet people being people, it is common for many to seek an easier path through life, one based on handouts or advantages for which their effort need be minimal if at all, or to fear some other group based on differences in race, ethnicity, religion, or social or economic status. As D'Souza points out, there are those who seek to further their own ambitions by exploiting such tendencies, weaknesses, biases, and prejudices for personal gain whether that is power, influence, profit, and some perverse pleasure in seeing an existing order disrupted just for fun. The challenge, of course, is for the citizenry to see such things for what they are and to have enough awareness, self-discipline, pride, and sense of civic responsibility to reject such charlatans, trouble makers, and selfish opportunists. 

Like any sort of disciplined life--in religion, business, sport, civil society--the fact of the matter is that there are no short-cuts that lead to any sort of sustainable, productive end...at least not one worth having over the long term. The principles woven through the foundational documents of our Nation possess extraordinary power for good, for productivity, for lasting power, and for civic virtue that benefit all of us. But they take time to come to fruition and to have lasting value once in practice. They can withstand numerous abuses as they have within them the mechanisms for correction, but they are not impervious to destruction if the citizenry tolerates too many abuses, too many distortions, and too many false promises for too long a time. 

There are those who are busy turning the various instruments of government against the very people for whom the government is supposed to work. When the IRS is used as a tool for political advantage to intimidate and silence opponents, when the Department of Justice is leveraged to selectively enforce laws based on the preferences of the party in power, or the "bully pulpit" of the presidency or any other elected seat of political power is used to practice the politics of division (race, economic class, social status, ethnicity or country of origin, etc.), when the virtues of our country are used to harm us, exploiting our cultural preferences for altruism, compassion, and an innate desire to help others, Good People should take notice and make clear that our country has served as a beacon for people around the world because of what it is, what it stands for, the IDEA that it manifests. But if that is changed, America can't help but be something else. If those who would change America want America to be like all other countries, then America will be like all other countries. How is that a good thing when the peoples of the world have looked to America precisely because it was different? 

July 18, 2014

Global Crises and the U.S. Defense Budget: Update and Outlook

Given all the reporting about the various crises exploding around the world--Ukraine/Crimea/Russia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Gaza, Libya, China's provocations in the East and South China seas, drug cartels/terrorism/foreign intrusions in Latin America, unsecured borders...you might be curious about our Nation's ability to handle all of it. Well, the picture isn't a pretty one and it gets worse as you look out into the near-future. If you've any interest in why, this video might shed some light. Last week I was asked by the Center for Security Policy to provide an overview of our defense posture and its implications for national security. The presentation is a bit long, about 15 minutes or so, and the Q&A continues from there. I hope it helps illustrate the dangerous consequences of our national budget/spending problem. If it matters to you, contact your representatives in Congress.

 

June 26, 2014

The Will to be a Force for Good


I read an article today in the online version of Britain's The Daily Mail (a tabloid paper, to be sure, but one that still does some interesting reporting on global events, accompanied by some pretty decent graphics) about the spread of "Islamic fundamentalism" across many parts of the world.  I think much of the problem addressed is somewhat akin to the drug cartel problem spanning Latin America. No single criminal or radical, violent Islamist group is able to overthrow a government or present a meaningful threat to the U.S. on its own. But the aggregate effect of their collective actions, unchecked by weak or complicit governments and in some cases actually facilitated by corrupt governments, leads to the breakdown of law, the undermining of otherwise viable economic systems, displacement of populations, drying up of investment, decay of infrastructure, and sapping of the will and hope of impacted populations. This can lead, in turn, to sanctuaries wherein hardened groups recruit, train, gain experience, plan, and from which dispatch their poison to other areas, sometimes even to the United States.

In much of the world, it really is the case that a ‘strongest tribe’ is needed to impose and sustain some type of 'order' such that societies function. Sometimes that 'order' is ruthless and repressive and the societies 'function' in a way that enables survival but not much else. Since the end of WWII, the U.S. has served as the ‘strongest tribe’ in multiple ways: economically, ideologically, diplomatically…all underwritten by a strong military posture and a national political will animated by the importance of remaining engaged in the world in ways that stood against repressive, authoritarian regimes. The 'order' it has sought to promote and sustain has never had the goal of completely eliminating every bad actor in the world or imposing our system on others by force as tyrannical regimes have sought to do in so many places in the world. Rather, the goal has been be to maintain an order in which rule of law, trade, integrity of sovereign borders, and intolerance of repressive regimes (especially those that seek to nurture and export violent extremism and criminality) are valued and central elements.

The U.S. is the only power able to manage and sustain such an order, not by imposing it but through the myriad activities that combine to sustain such – a nudge here, an economic agreement there, the encouragement of positive interactions, facilitation in dispute resolution, helping to address small problems so they don’t become large, and, when occasion demands, sometimes a military strike when it’s the only or best option given the problem to be addressed.

It’s exhausting, it costs us, it’s never ending…but as much as the world benefits from it we gain even more.

That’s the point missed by this Administration and it's the point Americans need to once again recognize, appreciate, and support.

To further illustrate the point, check out the Fragile States Index (also found here), compiled by The Fund for Peace and published by Foreign Policy. Look at the rankings, note the countries that score high and low, consider their context. Then scroll down a bit to the section entitled Postcards from Hell and click the photo which will take you to a photo essay of "life and death in the world's 50 worst places."

Imagine a world without a U.S. willing to promote, underwrite, and sustain a global order that has brought greater prosperity, more opportunity, and brighter hope to more people around the world than any other country in any other period of history.

June 21, 2014

1001 Arabian Nightmares

As literature and legend has it, the ancient Persian king Shahryar was betrayed by his new wife. Upon learning of her infidelity the King had her executed. Having also seen his brother similarly dishonored, he becomes convinced that no woman can be trusted and so begins to marry young virgins only to have them killed the following day before they too can betray him. His chief advisor, the vizier, is charged with finding him new virgins to marry and scours the kingdom for them but eventually no more can be found. Alas, only his daughter, Scheherazade, is left and at her own urging he sends her to the the King. On their wedding night, and knowing her fate, she tells the King a magnificent story but does not finish it by morning. The King, wanting to know how the story ends, spares her life so that she can finished the tale the next night. When evening comes, Scheherazade finishes the first story but quickly begins another, likewise leaving it incomplete when the new day dawns. She continues with the trick for a thousand more nights, the King continuing to spare her life so that he can learn the end of one story only to be drawn into the next. Eventually, he awards her a full pardon and makes her his queen. 

I couldn't help but think about this tale while following all the news of the latest crisis in the Middle East, this time the rapidly evolving conflict in Iraq. It seems that there is always some war breaking out in these ancient lands. No sooner does one stop than another begins. Since the discovery of oil in the region just after the beginning of the 20th Century and certainly from the formation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, the West has been drawn in like Shahryar to the never ending series of 'stories'--desiring the see one end, presuming that some final condition will at last be at hand, only to discover that another one opens that can't help but hold its attention. But there's another way to look at the issue: there is always another story and one cannot presume that the current story will be the last. 

Given this latest spasm of violence in Iraq--coming on the heels of the chaos in Syria and the squandering of America's tremendous investment of blood and treasure by people who seem only to want to remain mired in the 8th Century--one could reasonably conclude that any further involvement by the U.S. would simply be more wasted effort. It certainly is the case that we cannot solve the problems of the Middle East. But like the stories told by Scheherazade, tales unfolding within tales, the larger story in which this current tale is unfolding...ultra-violent jihadis, corrupt and inept rulers, scheming neighboring powers...centers on the strategic interests of our own country. What interests of America's are at stake, threatened by the mayhem of warring factions who refuse to reconcile their differences?

Here is one nightmare scenario to consider:
  • Left unchecked, the assault by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, aka ISIS) serves as a catalyst for the partition of Iraq into Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish zones
    • Iran's support of the Maliki government and its willingness to invest military resources in the battle against ISIL and other Sunni militants enables it to dominate the Shia north
    • Saudi Arabia, rising to aid the disaffected and abused Sunnis of Iraq, similarly dominates the Sunni south
    • The Kurds establish their own autonomous zone in north Iraq, fomenting an increase in separatist activity among their Kurdish brethren in Turkey and western Iran
  • Iraq ceases to serve as a buffer state, effectively creating a shared border between Iran and Saudi Arabia but one not so clearly defined that it precludes proxy battles between the two powers
  • The chaos in Iraq effectively merges with that of Syria, embroiling an ever larger region in conflict and worsening the flow of refugees into the surrounding states of Turkey and Jordan
  • To further burnish their credentials, both sides (Shia and Sunni) start funneling increasing support to militant Islamists of their respective sides who not only export their violence to other theaters (most likely Europe) but also increase attacks against Israel
  • Beset by increasing attacks against its monarchy and unable to cope with the flood of refugees and militant groups, Jordan falls
  • Iran announces (or is finally revealed to have) a nascent nuclear capability akin to North Korea's but more destabilizing given Iran's missile inventory and more ready access to advanced technologies from Europe and Russia
  • In response, Saudi Arabia makes it known that it will also acquire a nuclear capability (most likely purchased from Pakistan) to offset Iran's -- the two in continual competition for dominance within Islam
  • Israel is now surrounded by a more militant Hezbollah (now supported by a nuclear power) to the north, a chaotic if not fully Islamist Jordan to the East, an Egypt still in disarray to the south, better armed and motivated Palestinians to the West, and the imminent threat of a nuclear Iran
  • The next chapter of Arab/Islamist-Israeli wars opens with a rising tide of militant attacks in cities across Israel and increasingly accurate rocket fire from Lebanon, Gaza, portions of Jordan, and the Sinai Peninsula
  • Faced with this existential threat, Israel uses its nuclear arsenal
The consequences of such a scenario on the economic and security interests of the US would be devastating. Energy prices would skyrocket. The European economy would be rocked with ripples spreading outward to the US and Asian markets. Like-minded militants across the northern and trans-Sahel portions of Africa would be motivated to increase their activity. Terrorism would likely reach the shores of America once again. 

Like Scheherazade's stories, we can't know the end until we get there, but not knowing the end also means we can't presume that the crisis in Iraq won't impact us here at home. I think that at the very least there is not only merit but a compelling case for doing what we can to shape the outcome. Will our continued involvement cost us more that we've already paid? Quite probably. But doing nothing won't insulate us from the consequences, and will likely cost us even more in the end.

June 14, 2014

America's Options: Combatting ISIS in Iraq

Well, things are certainly a mess in the Middle East. As bad as Syria continues to be, I think Iraq is even worse especially when one considers the long-term strategic implications. A fractured Iraq that results in separate Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish autonomous areas (if not new countries) will have profound implications for the larger framework of relations and competitions involving Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, the Gulf States, and Israel (as always). If ISIS success results in the fall of the Iraqi government and the establishment of an ISIS-controlled zone within Iraq, other extremist Islamist elements will see it as validation of the brutal measures employed by these jihadis. 

We've seen that the chaos of Syria serves as an incubator for extremism--the most violent groups rising to dominate the battlefield which enhances their prestige, draws others to their cause, and provides the experience they use in other pursuits, the ISIS push into Iraq being a prime example. Emboldened by the perceived favor of Allah, in their minds a clear reward for their hyper-zealous commitment to the most extreme interpretation of the Koran, ruthless imposition of sharia law, and merciless eradication of their enemies (reports from the battle zone tell of streets being lined with the decapitated heads of Iraqi Army and police personnel), such groups will be ever more firmly convicted of their goal to create and expand their dream of a regional, perhaps global, Caliphate -- exporting their brand of rule-by-terror along the way.

Is the immediate problem of one group seizing control of a few towns in some distant land our problem to solve? No. But we do have larger interests that would be threatened by an even more radicalized, violent, and unstable Middle East: increased energy prices; the export of experienced terrorists to Europe, Africa, Latin America, and perhaps even the U.S.; emboldened terror groups in other regions adopting the ISIS model; increased tensions between Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shia) as they compete for dominant influence within Islam; a more energetic push by Iran for a nuclear weapons capability (especially if U.S. reluctance to assist Iraq enables Iran to fill that role (as they are doing now) and thereby gain advantage in related discussions) which would lead to further nuclear proliferation in the greater Middle East...the list goes on. It's not the short game we should be concerned about. It's the larger regional and global condition that would be affected that should draw our interest since we are the chief benefactor of the existing global order -- access to markets for our goods, access to reasonably priced energy to keep our economy going, influence in regional issues that favor (or harm) our economic and security interests, and the overarching interest in promoting rule-of-law and economic stability that serve the interests of all people.

Unfortunately, the current Administration doesn't see this and will make every effort to avoid entangling itself in yet another messy, distant, hard-to-deal-with problem. The consequence, of course, will be even more 'messier' and 'harder to deal with' problems that will move from 'distant' to our own shores.

Thursday morning I was asked to pen a short piece for The National Interest on military options available to the U.S. relevant to the rapidly unfolding crisis in Iraq. We met the late afternoon deadline and they posted it last evening (Friday).

America's Options: Combating ISIS in Iraq



Just what options might be available to Obama if he is forced to act to salvage what can be saved of the elected government—and the hard-won gains that cost America so dearly over a decade?

Dakota Wood
June 13, 2014

Riven by religious extremism and brutal sectarian competition, Iraq is descending again into the madness of civil war. The Maliki government has made a mess of things since taking office, estranging large segments of the Iraqi population along the way. The U.S. contributed to the mess via its hasty withdrawal two years ago, electing to end its security mission based on the Obama Administration’s desired timeline instead of as a response to achieving specific security objectives in Iraq.

Continued military involvement in Iraq would have entailed bitter costs in terms of manpower, treasure and casualties. But it also would have the benefit of giving the U.S. more influence over the behavior of the Iraqi government. A continuing military presence would have enabled the U.S. to intervene where necessary to manage tensions among competing Iraqi elements, mitigate the influence of Iran, assist the government in quelling unrest at its earliest stages, develop high-fidelity intelligence that supported all the preceding items, and maintain options useful in future situations which, inevitably, develop over time.

In short, being there helped to keep a lid on things, and when problems did develop, let us address them more quickly and effectively. With all U.S. forces gone, however, the President has very few options available. And, as the current crisis continues to unfold, the few remaining options are almost uniformly bad.