After Paris, What Next?

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, the Republican presidential candidates and others are calling for President Obama to deploy a large force of troops in Iraq and Syria. There are those who want to prohibit Syrian refugees from entering our country…unless they are Christian. And, as with every terrorist attack, there are those who blame all of Islam. Donald Trump even called for the closure of all mosques in the US!

As awful as the attacks were, we all need to take a collective deep breath. Let’s not over-react by trying to punish all Muslims and excluding refugees from western countries. Let’s not allow ourselves to be caught in between the angry religious crusaders on the right and the naïve apologists on the left.

It’s important to understand that most Muslims have condemned the attacks and oppose terrorism. The extremists who carried out the attacks on behalf of ISIS do not represent the vast majority of Muslims any more than Westboro Baptist Church represents all Christians. Yet it’s undeniable that the attacks and jihadist extremism are associated with radical Islamic fundamentalists.

Before we act, we should understand that the problem began in Saudi Arabia with a narrow ideology called Wahhabi (aka Salafi) fundamentalism. It divides all people into two groups – the Wahhabis (who will go to heaven) and infidels (Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc. who will not). This divisive belief system is still popular in Saudi Arabia today and it was exported to western Pakistan during the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion. It is still taught in Pakistani madrassas with the help of textbooks created by the University of Nebraska at Omaha and paid for by USAid that portrayed the invaders as western infidels. (Not surprisingly, many of the children taught in these madrassas later became the Taliban.) It is still nourished and funded by some Saudi billionaires. And it was used to justify the attacks on 9/11 as payback for the US military presence in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War (15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens).

This form of Islam (based on 7th century beliefs and laws) became even more virulent following the US invasion of Iraq which led to the disenfranchisement of thousands of Sunnis and the appearance of the US waging war against Islam. Ultimately, this led many Sunnis and desperate youth (who have grown of age in a war zone) to coalesce into what we now know as ISIS.

All of this has been made worse by years of turmoil in the Middle East which has caused Muslim refugees to relocate throughout the region, Europe and the US. While the first generation of these refugees embraced their new countries, their children have too often found themselves feeling isolated, unemployed and the victims of racism and repression. Now in their twenties, some of these second generation refugees are easy marks for extremist recruiters.

What can be done to prevent more terror attacks, such as those that were carried out in Paris?

First, we must be careful not to over-react. As Maajid Nawaz, founder of the counter-terrorist organization, Quillium, said during an interview on Global Public Square with Fareed Zakaria, “Now is not the time to think like ISIS along religious lines.” We must not allow ourselves to follow those who want to attack and isolate Islam. Second, we need to militarily destroy ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Third, we must root out the extremist mullahs and recruiters. But, in doing so, we cannot allow our actions to be seen as a war on Islam. That will only make matters worse.

We must recognize that militarily defeating the ISIS will not, by itself, end terrorism.

More than anything else, we must focus on preventing the next generation of terrorists. We must deal with the conditions and issues that allowed Islamic terrorism to flourish. We must include young Muslim youth in our culture. We must replace their frustration and isolation with opportunity and hope. (The countries that have best succeeded in doing that, such as Germany and the US, have experienced fewer problems with home-grown terrorism than France and others.) And we must starve the extremists of funding.

As Nawaz said, “…this is an ideas problem in a civil society less so than a physical military problem.”

Time To Extinguish Liberty’s Torch?

The European response – especially that of the Germans – to mass migration from the Middle East and Southwest Asia stands in stark contrast to the immigration policies of the US. What makes this all the more remarkable is that Germany had relatively little to do with events that led to the crisis. On the other hand, the refugee crisis is almost certainly a direct result of US misadventures in the Middle East – most notably the Bush-led invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the US has steadfastly refused to help those who were dislocated as a result of our meddling. Likewise, many of our so-called allies in the region have refused to help.

This is not the first time we have turned our backs on those fleeing violence and poverty caused by our actions.

Just last summer, we saw thousands of women and children flood our southern border seeking refuge from the violence and poverty in Honduras and El Salvador – violence for which we bear much of the responsibility. And how did we greet the dispossessed? We herded them into makeshift prisons. Conservatives confronted their buses screaming obscenities and making it abundantly clear that they were not welcome here. If they had no families or relatives in the US, we sent them home to certain poverty and almost certain death.

This is how America welcomes immigrants today.

Where we once welcomed the tired, the poor, the streaming masses yearning to breathe free, we now turn them away. We vilify them and blame them for all of our nation’s ills. We treat them as something less than human. We call them names, order them to speak American, then hire them for all the jobs we consider too distasteful to do ourselves. We underpay them and cheat them. And we applaud people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio for arresting them.

This is America today. A political atmosphere driven by the “We’ve got ours. You can’t have yours” crowd; by the Trumps, the Palins, the McCains and the Cheneys. An America dominated by the loudest, most angry and most heavily armed; where a feeble and compliant press reports only the most sensational statements made by a group of boorish loud-mouths who have little compassion for the poor and disadvantaged. They may claim to be religious, but their only religion is money. And they refuse to share it.

Instead of seeing those who have suffered only because they were born in the wrong place and time, these arrogant buffoons see only “takers” – people they believe only come here to suckle off of the government teats.

Based on all of this, maybe it’s time to send Lady Liberty packing. Maybe we should send her back to Europe where she came from; a place where she will likely feel more at home.

The Real Threat From Ebola.

Fox Noise Channel and other right wing media pundits have cranked up the scare-o-meter, and it has nothing to do with Halloween. In fact, it has more to do with the upcoming mid-term elections. They want us to believe that we’re all going to die from Ebola-carrying terrorists from ISIS, aka ISIL. And, of course, they’d like you to believe that it’s all Obama’s fault.

Never mind that the only things that ISIS and Ebola, thus far, have in common is that they both originated halfway around the world and that President Obama has ordered the US military to help combat them. Aside from that, they’re worlds apart. ISIS is in Syria and Iraq in the Middle East. Ebola is infecting Liberia and Sierra Leone in Africa.

Infectious disease experts continue to reassure us that Ebola is not easily communicable; that protective garb, alcohol, soap and access to health care can stop it in its tracks; that other viruses, such as some types of influenza pose a far greater threat. However, the experts have pointed out that other countries like Canada and the United Kingdom are far better-equipped to deal with the spread of Ebola. Why? Because they have universal health care.

Some say that, if Ebola was able to gain a foothold in the US, it’s likely that the approximately 40 million Americans who still lack affordable access to health care would ignore the early symptoms, afraid to spend the money to seek medical care. The same is true for another 20 million or so who have low-paying jobs and insurance with high deductibles and large co-payments and can’t afford to lose time at work.

And where do most of these people work?

In restaurants where they prepare and serve your food. In retail stores where they take your payments and dispense change and/or receipts. In schools where they are surrounded by children.

I trust the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) when they say that they will stop Ebola in its tracks. But, in the unlikely event that they are wrong (and the scaremongers at Fox are right), we will have the best case yet for what the president and Democrats really wanted instead of Obamacare…nationalized health care.

Obama Again Forced To Clean Up One Of Bush’s Messes.

It has taken most of 5 years for President Obama to clean up the economic mess left by the Bush administration…an economic disaster that former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke labeled as worse than the 1929 crash that led to the Great Depression.

Now the Obama administration is determined to clean up the mess created by the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq…a country that posed no real threat to the US. ISIS, aka ISIL and IS, began as al-Qaeda in Iraq in the vacuum created by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. When Paul Bremer decided to “de-Ba’athify” Iraq following the invasion, Saddam’s former military officers were left with no jobs, no income and no future. The situation was further complicated when the US military following the directions of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld left the Iraqi ammo dumps unguarded allowing the guerilla fighters to turn artillery shells into IEDs that kept US forces bogged down in Iraq for more than 9 years.

The Ba’athists and former Iraqi military officers became further alienated by the new Iraqi leadership who gave power to Shiites and marginalized Sunnis.

So here we go again. Round three in Iraq.

Only this time, we are doing it right. Although the Obama administration has been criticized for not committing ground troops, that is because they are being careful not to make the war on ISIS seem like another Christian crusade against the Muslim world. Instead, we have put together a coalition that includes the Arab nations of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Jordan and the Kurdish Peshmerga.

It’s not perfect. No war is. But it’s unlikely to be another disaster on the scale of what Bush-Cheney gave us.

The Home Of Radical Islam.

ISIS (aka ISIL and the Islamic State), al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the radical Islamic madrassas in Pakistan all have something in common aside from Islam. They have all been funded by Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Arabia that is sitting on an ocean of oil which has turned a family of desert tribesmen into billionaires; the Saudi Arabia whose ruling family consists of nearly 15,000 members; the Saudi Arabia that is home to Mecca and radical Wahhabi Islam; the Saudi Arabia that has a dismal record for women’s rights and human rights; the Saudi Arabia that has a government based on nepotism and corruption; the Saudi Arabia that still beheads criminals and dissidents; the Saudi Arabia that has close ties with both former Presidents Bush; the Saudi Arabia that was held harmless for 9/11 even though the plot was mostly financed and carried out by Saudis.

Yes, that Saudi Arabia!

Considering all of this, you may wonder why we continue to treat Saudi Arabia as a close ally. The answer can be summed up in a single word. It begins with “o”, ends with “l” and has an “i” in the middle.

If we are ever to bring peace to the Middle East, we can’t do it militarily. Our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have proven that. Radical Islamists must be defeated from within…by moderate Muslims. We can only remove the Saudi’s sources of arms and funding. Of course, that means ending the sale of arms from our defense industries. It means ending our reliance on Saudi Arabian oil. It means committing to sustainable forms of energy. It means developing alternative sources for plastic, such as the process that makes plastics by drawing carbon from the atmosphere.

It means ending support for Saudi Arabia as long as it continues to fund extremist groups.

Ugly Voices From The Past.

Since the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) jihadists invaded Iraq, the media outlets who failed to ask the tough questions in 2002 and 2003 have paraded Bush administration neocons and their apologists from one “news” program to another. In recent days, we’ve heard the warmongering duo of Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. John McCain, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Iraq Administrator Paul Bremer, chicken hawk Bill Kristol, former Secretary of State Condosleezza Rice, and GOP presidential wannabe Mitt Romney all tell us that President Obama has frittered away all of our hard fought gains in Iraq…that Iraq will soon become a testing ground for more 9/11s.

The obvious question is why on Earth would we ever want to listen to these nitwits again?

If you were paying attention in 2003, you may remember that Graham and McCain told us that there was no history of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites (Wrong). You may remember that Blair was little more than an obedient lapdog hoping to capitalize by pandering to the Bush administration. And you may remember that Rumsfeld said that we would be welcomed as liberators (Wrong) and the war would be over within a matter of days (Wrong again). Rumsfeld ignored the warnings of Gen. Eric Shinseki that we would need many times the number of troops to secure Iraq and pushed his “shock and awe” race to Baghdad without stopping to secure ammunition depots. (That ammunition was then used to create the lethal IEDs that haunted us for the remainder of our occupation.) Wolfowitz was the one who told us that a war in Iraq would pay for itself in oil. (Wrong!) Bush, Richard “The Dick” Cheney, Condosleezza, and Colin Powell assured us that Saddam was sitting on thousands of WMD. (Completely, provably wrong!) Bush announced “Mission Accomplished” more than four years before our combat role ended. Meanwhile, Kristol and his cronies cheered the war from the safety of their offices.

All of these people showed a knack for making impossibly stupid decisions that cost tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. Yet no one’s decisions led to more disaster than Bremer’s.

Bremer was the genius who, upon the conquest of Iraq, ordered the cleansing of all Baathists from their government positions. In other words, he fired all of the Iraqi military, administrators, government workers…even teachers…leaving a catastrophic void of expertise and creating an angry, displaced population set on payback. That decision alone led to the sustained chaos in Iraq that exists today. Moreover, Bremer’s stupidity gave the majority Shiites an opportunity to oppress the Sunnis and pushed the Iraqi government toward increased cooperation with Iran.

Now that ISIS is rolling through Iraqi cities, our incompetent media are once again turning to these people for more jewels of wisdom. Of course, the neocons have been quick to claim that the failures of Iraq were not their fault. The fault, they claim, lies at the feet of President Obama. “If only Obama hadn’t withdrawn our troops from Iraq, everything in the Middle East would be peachy keen,” they say. Yet it was Bush who destroyed Iraq. It was Bush who wasted hundreds of billions of dollars by awarding no-bid contracts to Cheney’s Halliburton and others to re-build Iraqi cities that are once again being destroyed. And it was Bush who agreed in 2008 to withdraw all of our troops. Not Obama.

McCain and Graham were livid that Obama refused to support the Syrian rebels. Yet, from the beginning, those Syrian rebels have included ISIS, an al Qaeda offshoot formed as a response to our invasion of Iraq. ISIS is now financed by the Saudis and armed with American weapons that were provided by Congress and the CIA or captured from fleeing Iraqi troops – weapons that may eventually be aimed at us.

In other words, we are witnessing a sh*t storm that is the sole responsibility of the Bush administration. And there are no easy solutions to this mess. Our taxpayers have no appetite for placing troops on the ground or replaying the shock and awe bombing campaign. The ill-advised Iraq War has destabilized the entire Middle East and made it possible for the Islamic world to continue an ancient civil war. About all we can hope to do is to somehow minimize its effects on ourselves and others.

Listening to the neocons can only make matters worse.