US Involvement Against the Threat of ISIL

Americans are war weary.  The nation has been at war since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  We have been involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Libya during its uprising.  For the past couple of years, we have even been “secretly” shipping arms to rebels in Syria.

As we finally see our troops coming home from Afghanistan, in what has become this nation’s longest war, we are now talking about Iraq once again.  This time it isn’t the nation as it is a group that calls itself ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).  It has also been referred to as ISIS.  It comes from Syria and has crossed the border into Iraq taking one town after another in sweeping fashion.

A couple of months ago, the United States began bombing ISIL targets on the ground.  First, it was to protect a minority group of Yazidis who are ancient Mesopotamian.  Then we began to assist the Kurds as they fought for their own survival in northern Iraq.

But where has the rest of the Iraqi army been?  The one that we spent billions training and equipping?  As ISIL swept through the country, they fled… some even without firing a shot.  And to make it even worse, they left behind the equipment that we left for them which includes tanks that ISIL now has and that we now bomb.

isil

President Obama has spoken with congressional leaders and has asked for approval before committing to a larger international mission that he laid out in a speech to the American people on Wednesday night.  But how much support is there from Congress or the American people?  Though we are only a couple of months away from an election, and Congress would like to duck this issue altogether, the stakes are too high and it is likely that they will indeed support such intervention.  The real question is whether the American people support such action.

We don’t tend to have the greatest luck in picking sides in the region.  We have supported authoritarian dictators in the region such as Egypt and Iraq.  In Iraq, we had to overthrow the regime; whereas, the people of Egypt overthrew theirs.  We support the Saudis and the regime in Bahrain though both are authoritarian.  We even overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in the 1950s to install the Shah who would be overthrown in 1979 by the Iranian people.

When civil war broke out in Syria, we didn’t want to get involved.  We didn’t know who the rebels were that we’d be helping.  There were too many factions.  It was only have chemical weapons were used that the world began to take more notice and an active role.

In the US, there were calls from members of Congress (Senator John McCain being one of them) that called for arming the Syrian rebels in their fight against the Assad regime.  Interesting enough that ISIL comes from some of those Syrian factions that we were originally so worried about arming, and they still got American weapons when they invaded a destabilized Iraq and swept from town to town.

Now here we find ourselves again getting involved.  The President claims no actual combat troops on the ground just advisers though that is exactly how our involvement in Vietnam started.  Arming Syrian rebels has also come back into the discussion.  But exactly who would we be arming?  Even Senator McCain has called for helping Syrian President Assad deal with ISIL in Syria.  This sounds like a complete 180 from just last year.  Maybe we should just admit that in Syria, we shouldn’t support either side.

The members of ISIL aren’t just coming from Iraq and Syria or even other nations in the region.  They are also coming from western Europe, the United States, etc.  They are our own citizens with passports that can come and go as they choose making it easier for them to be trained to bring the organization into our own nations.

President Obama mentioned a broad international coalition including Arab nations that also see ISIL as a threat to the region.  It is important to have those nations in this coalition.   Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in the region trying to shore up more support from those nations and work out plans.  This does include Iraq and helping bring the Sunni minority of that country into a government role.

A hundred years ago, World War I broke out across Europe.  Interesting how we are still putting out the fires from that great conflict here in 2014.  ISIL is a threat to the US, and they have already made sure that we get the message loud and clear.  Our involvement is crucial.  However, we must start realizing that we cannot arm people in other countries especially in this particular region.  Somehow we always seem to spend billions of dollars to destroy it all in the end.

Again, as I stated at the beginning, we are a war weary nation.  We have spent trillions of dollars in this region to evoke “change” and here we continue to do so.  We have seen what a well-organized terrorist group can do if we don’t take the necessary precautions.  We don’t need to relive that day again.  The nation is poised to enter the fray with a specific goal.  It will not be quick, and it will not be cheap, and it’s doubtful that in the end we will learn from our mistakes of the past.

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Sequestration: Smoke and Mirrors

Sequestration is due to hit at the beginning of March… pushed back from the beginning of January.  These are automatic across-the-board spending cuts to our national spending.  It was passed in the summer of 2011 as part of the debt ceiling deal.  A group of bipartisan legislators was supposed to come up with $1.2-trillion in budget cuts, and if they couldn’t, then the sequestration was to take effect in its place.  The sequestration, which does include defense cuts, was supposed to be so bad that it would force both sides to work together to find something better.  However, the group of legislators failed to find common ground and the sequestration was set.  It was only pushed back to March from January as part of the fiscal cliff deal reached on January 1… hoping that the new Congress could come up with a better plan.  In these two months, neither party has seemed that focus on the impending cuts.  During the presidential election last year, President Barack Obama, in a debate with Republican-nominee Mitt Romney, emphatically said that the sequestration would not happen. Yet, here we sit.

The total for the sequestration cuts is approximately $1.2-trillion over 10-years.  According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the total of cuts for the current fiscal year under the new amended agreement from the fiscal cliff deal is $85.3-billion… $42.7-billion from defense and $42.7-billion from non-defense.  To put this into some perspective, the overall projected spending (budget) for 2013 is estimated at $3.8-trillion.  The amount of revenue that is projected for the same time period is only $2.9-trillion.  This leaves the country with a debt of $901-billion.  We are talking about $85-billion out of $901-billion.  This is nothing more than a small slice of our debt.  And overall for the total 10-years, it roughly only amounts to a 3% cut.  This is a super tiny sliver of our spending.

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So it’s just a small amount of spending that is being cut.  For those 10-years, how does it stack up piece by piece?  Now this is total for all 10-years combined.  Entitlement spending will roughly be $26.1-trillion.  From that, only $171-billion will be cut.  Non-defense discretionary spending will be $11.3-trillion with $322-billion being cut out of that.  Defense spending will see $492-billion cut from $5.3-trillion.  Net interest will see a $169-billion out of $3.6-trillion.  These numbers have been provided by the Congressional Budget Office.  From these numbers, defense does take the biggest hit at 42.6% of the sequestration cuts.  The net interest takes the smallest at 14.6% and entitlements at 14.8% of the cuts.  Regardless of the percentage of cuts each section is facing, they are still just a small fraction of the overall spending.  In fact, the CBO projects very little difference in our debt with or without the sequester in place.

sequesterSo with the sequestration cuts just around the corner.  Government agencies have begun to take preliminary steps to prepare for them.  This includes notices to workers that might be furloughed to what cuts will come from certain programs.  The heads of these government agencies have called upon Congress and President Obama to come up with a new plan to replace the sequester with other forms of cuts.  President Obama has said he will now veto any legislation that takes away the sequester.  Since the department heads haven’t made any headway with their messages to the politicians, they have now resorted to other tactics… specifically by announcing what they intend to cut which does include some jobs.  The defense department was supposed to deploy the carrier Harry S. Truman and its group to the Persian Gulf, but instead has decided to keep it in port citing the sequestration cuts.   So basically, the defense department is saying that to get to its $42.7-billion in cuts for the year, one of the only ways is to keep a carrier group at home when we have previously committed to keeping two groups in the Persian Gulf because of the situation with Iran.  There are apparently no other places in the department, no wasteful spending at all, that could be cut from its budget so this is what they are going to do.  It’s almost as if they are going to hold Congress hostage until it replaces the sequestration.  Other departments are going to the same lengths to put pressure on Congress, but the defense department has been the most vocal over the cuts it is facing, which, quite frankly, it desperately needs.  Our defense budget is already over-bloated and disproportionate to our own budget and to even the rest of the world.

Conservative columnist George Will stated that Congress should let the sequestration stand, and I wholeheartedly agree with him on that point.  The federal government does have a spending problem.  Though the sequestration cuts are only a small fraction and will hardly make a dent in our spending, it still needs to take place.  The various departments want to whine and spend their time trying to reverse it, but they’ve also had ample time to actually figure out where wasteful spending actually occurs in their departments and eliminate it.  Quite frankly, the cuts needed to be even deeper in order to actually make a sizable dent in our deficit spending.  There was a compromise on raising revenue in the January 1 fiscal cliff deal.  Now the compromise on spending cuts from 2012 needs to stand as well.  We cannot continue down the path we’ve been heading.  Big decisions have to be made… ones that call for increased revenues (and not just income tax increases) and significant across-the-board cuts and elimination of wasteful spending.

LINKS:
US Government Spending
OMG Report on Sequestration

Reactionary Thought

On the 11th of September, while we here in the United States were remembering the attacks from 11-years ago, another situation erupted in two different nations half a world away.  Protests began in Egypt and in Libya.  Both had to do with the same thing… a movie made by someone here in the United States, whom we don’t know the identity as of yet, depicting the prophet Mohammad which is sacrilegious in the Muslim world.  In Cairo, Egypt, they stormed the US Embassy and took down the American flag.  In Benghazi, protesters marched outside the American consulate.  Everything seemed fine there, until a small group of armed militants took over the protest and stormed the consulate and setting fire to it.  This attack would end up killing four people… including the new American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.

As some Americans are now ready to fall back on basic stereotypes on all Muslims, another side this story developed in Libya.  The very next day, the people came out and marched again.  But this time it was a sign of solidarity with the United States… to show us that they stood with us in our grief over Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was someone they liked and admired.  After the attack on the consulate, it was the Libyan people who had carried Ambassador Stevens to the hospital in an effort to save him.  They might be upset over this so-called internet movie, but they also realized that there is a line between a civil protest and an act of terrorism.  As they took to the streets to show their support for us, they held us signs that read that the extremists didn’t speak for the people of Libya and they condemned the violence.  (slideshow)  The people of Libya realize that the United States helped to play a crucial role in their fight for freedom against an authoritarian regime, and they have not forgotten.  And we should not forget that there is a difference between the average citizen and the extremists.

My father and I have often had conversations that have centered around this part of the world.  We don’t tend to see eye-to-eye exactly, but I guess that is a generational difference.  In our discussions though, as we go back and forth between the moderates and the extremists, he usually points out that the moderates need to voice up so that they can be separated from the extremists.  I point out, after watching an open forum with faith and the Muslim community, that when the moderates do raise their voices so that they can be heard over the extremists, we are quick to place the extremist stamp on them, as well.  In this instance, however, the moderates made sure their voices were heard… to make sure that we here in the US knew that the extremists (those that carried out this horrible attack) did not speak for them and that they held our ambassador and our nation in great esteem… that they hadn’t forgotten the help that we had given them.  These were the voices that needed to be heard.  What started out as a protest against us could end up bringing us closer together.

Protests will continue throughout Muslim nations, and our embassies are on high alert.  Even now, Egyptian security forces are clashing with protesters outside the US Embassy in Cairo.  As much as we demonize the people for protesting the United States and even burning the American flag (and even voicing “death to America”), they are practicing a basic right that we tend to take for granted in our country… the right to assemble and the freedom of speech.  It does’t necessarily mean that we will like what they have to say though.  But that also doesn’t mean that they have a right to violence against anyone… including our own people.  We must make sure that we have the right to defend our people when they get in harm’s way.  But their people also need to realize that just because someone in the US makes a movie denouncing their religion, it doesn’t mean that we all do.  The person who made this film is the only person the film represents.  For those of us who are logical, rational Americans, this film comes no where close to representing who we are and what we believe.  And yes, there are those in our own country who would turn to violence if the situation was reversed, so we shouldn’t start acting all high and mighty either.

As the flames continue to burn, let us all stop for a moment and allow logical thought to sink in.  Americans do not hate Muslims.  The people of Libya have shown their true colors by denouncing the terrorism and siding with the US.  A small group of extremists should not allow us to fall back on stereotypes… nor does it give us permission to do so.  This goes for our elected leaders and for us average citizens.  Knee-jerk reactions will get us no where.  Statesmanship is an art form and not a game of chess.

The person who made this movie that sparked this fire had to know what he/she was doing and what the consequences of those actions would be.  We had seen it before  when a Dutch newspaper printed a caricature of the prophet Mohammad.  Though we practice freedom of speech, we need to also think of the ramifications of such speech in today’s technological world.  We must all learn to respect one another… and respect our right to speech and protest.  But we must not allow violence and terrorism to seep into our society.  The people of Libya are making that known to us and the world that the terrorists will not represent them or their nation, and that should be commended.  Events are still unfolding even as I write this, but I hope that with the passage of time that this fire will die away along with this “so-called” film that sparked it all.  If the creator feels the need to remain in secret, then we have no need to remember it.  What we shall do is continue the work in Libya that Ambassador Stevens had started and show that we, too, are better than just reactionary thoughts.

LINKS:
Did the US Embassy in Cairo Make An Apology? – Politifact
Libyans Denounce Acts of Terrorism (slideshow) – Yahoo
Six Things to Know About Attack (Libya) – CNN
Egypt Security Forces Clash With Protesters – Yahoo

Persian Rug

Its the biggest piece of foreign policy this election year, and it’s been in the news a lot lately.  I’m talking about Iran.  And the question comes up… how do we solve a problem like Iran?  Despite rescuing sailors, threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, development of nuclear technology, and even the execution of an American citizens that has been convicted of spying… there is no shortage of headlines.  The United States, in a nutshell, seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place with no easy answers.

The main problem is the threat of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.  They say that they are working nuclear energy… which if they are, I have no quarrels with.  However, I don’t think many of us are buying what they are trying to tell us.  They have stated, repeatedly, that they would hit Israel, Europe, and the US if they did develop a nuclear weapon.  Seems like pretty big talk from a country that knows it would be blown into non-existence by the western industrialized world if it did (with condemnation from the Arab world, as well).  Iran has already had sanctions placed on it by the United Nations… though, at best, it’s only slowing down the progress of their uranium enrichment and is not (and will not) stop it.  With all the latest problems, the US is calling upon the United Nations to place even more sanctions on the country, to which Iran has replied by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz… which connects to the Persian Gulf.  Why is the Strait of Hormuz important?  It’s where a lot of our oil comes through… and oil for the world, as well.  But there is a catch to Iran’s “evil” threat.  Most of the oil from Iran goes through there, too.  If they close it off, how does there oil get out?  I’m pretty sure we’d have our own blockade outside of theirs so that their ships don’t get out either.  It would basically be a showdown reminiscent of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The only difference, only one of us is currently a nuclear power… though we have the knowledge that using a nuclear weapon brings about more harm than good.

So how did this nuclear problem develop with Iran?  Why does it only seem like it’s developed in the last few years?  It actually stems from something that the United States has done.  That’s right, we caused our current situation with Iran.  And how did we do this?  By invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein from power.  Seem like a big leap?  It’s really not.  Iran and Iraq have been bitter enemies of each other.  In the 1980s, they even fought a war against each other.  It was always touchy between the two countries and any spark could set them off.  After the 1979 revolution in Iran, the US and it’s allies propped up and supported Saddam’s regime in Iraq to use him as a regional buffer.  He just got a little too big for his pants by 1991 when he invaded Kuwait… leading to the first Gulf War.  So one must offer the question, if we hadn’t gone to war in Iraq in 2003 and Saddam was still in power, would we be facing the current situation with Iran attempting to develop nuclear weapons.  Though I can’t predict alternate timelines and futures, I would tend to say no.  Saddam would never have allowed Iran to even get this far because it would have been a threat against his own regime and hold on power.  If necessary, he would have gone to war with them to stop them.  With him gone, there is no longer a buffer in the region between Iran’s goals and the rest of the world as there once had been.

So since Saddam would have gone to war with Iran to stop it, why shouldn’t the US and it’s allies do the same… as some Republican Presidential candidates have suggested?  Because it would probably do more harm than good.  If Saddam had invaded, it would have been one Islamic nation invading another.  No big deal overall.  If the US and it’s allies invaded, it would be seen as invading another Islamic country and being, as yet, more proof that we are against Islam (which we are not).  It actually could drive up recruitment for al Qaida and other terrorist organizations… which could come back to get us in the long run.  Our own national security could end up being threatened.

So what started Iran down the road of nuclear technology?  Only lately has been it become top headlines with the threat of the nation developing nuclear weapons.  In terms of the technology for power, that can be traced back to the United States.  That’s right, it was the US that started giving the Iranian government nuclear technology starting all the way back in 1957 by the Eisenhower administration under the name “Atoms for Peace”.  This would be continued until the 1979 revolution.  In the 1970s, France and Germany would also join the US in sending assistance to Iran’s nuclear program.

“After balking initially, President Gerald R. Ford signed a directive in 1976 offering Tehran the chance to buy and operate a U.S.-built reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel. The deal was for a complete “nuclear fuel cycle” — reactors powered by and regenerating fissile materials on a self-sustaining basis.”  Washington Post (March 26, 2005)

I bring up the administration of President Ford for a specific reason.  There are some names from that administration that are tied to the administration of President George W. Bush when the issue with Iran began to unfold.  Richard [Dick] Cheney was the White House Chief of Staff and Donald Rumsfeld was the Secretary of Defense for President Ford.  In the Bush administration, they were Vice-President and Secretary of Defense respectively.  And while Iran, which was then an ally in the 1970s, had close ties to the US government, it also had ties to US businesses such as Westinghouse and GE.  So now we know why the Bush administration didn’t want to talk about this issue very much.  And we basically created our own problem that we have today.  True, we can’t predict the future.  And in the 1950s, there would have been no way to predict what would have happened in 1979 and here in the 21st century.  But I’m pretty sure we should have seen the writing on the wall by the late 1970s… and we should have known what would happen if we removed Saddam from power in Iraq (though he was an evil man and didn’t deserve to be in power).

So how should the US and the United Nations deal with the situation in Iran now?  I think we should call their bluff about closing the Strait of Hormuz if we place more sanctions on them.  Place the sanctions and see what they do.  For them, closing the waterway might anger their own neighboring countries into taking action.  And I also think there would be a huge outcry from the rest of the world (not just the US)… and would end up hurting the Iranian economy more than it would hurt anyone else’s.  It could actually end up causing a bigger crisis among the people in their own country as we witnessed throughout the Arab world in 2011.  The people might revolt and depose of the current regime that has left them isolated in the world.

Though I have doubts sanctions can actually stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, I do feel like it’s the only alternative and suggest that we pursue it.  Going to war… in a nation that is already tired of being at war and has a massive debt problem is just not an option.  In my opinion, the inevitable is going to happen whether we want it to or not.  The best we can do is slow that progress down to a crawl and hope for a regime change that wants to be part of the global community.  The problem with Iran is it’s now the “big-dog” in the neighborhood.  It’s buffer to power is gone and the sky is the limit.  It just wants to fit in with the other big players of the world… the US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Europe, North Korea… that already have nuclear weapons.  The problem is that their country is ruled by something along the lines of a “immature, hormonal teenager” who  have immediate “knee-jerk” reactions when they don’t get their way.  Anything is possible, but we must make sure that we are acting in concert with the international community.  This is not a path that we must go down on our own.  As I said… we are stuck somewhere between a rock and a hard place with this one.

LINKS:
Washington Post — March 25, 2005
Council on Foreign Relations
General Information  (especially the section on the 1970s)

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