America’s PTSD

America has been in a defensive crouch since 9/11. The mere mention of domestic terrorists or a terrorist attack inside the US causes many of us to suspend rational thought, and beg our politicians to protect us, even though the risk of dying from a terrorist attack is very small.

How small? In 2014, there were four terrorism-related incidents in the US involving Muslim-Americans that killed seven people. The total number of fatalities in the US from terrorism by Muslim-Americans since 9/11 is 50 souls. Meanwhile, we have had more than 200,000 murders in the US since 9/11.

The ethical question we face is: Do Americans deserve peace of mind more than Syrians refugees deserve safety?

We look to our leaders to help answer that question, but they can be cowards. They should do everything they can to help the rest of us be brave, and do the right thing, even if it entails some measure of risk. That’s true if we’re talking about restrictions on how much privacy we’ll cede to the government, or if we’re thinking about allowing Syrian refugees on our soil.

But, it seems most politicians prefer to play to our PTSD, fanning our fears.

The Paris terrorist attacks were a tactical loss in the war against ISIS. But the only way it leads to a strategic defeat, as the blog Political Violence @ A Glance writes, is if we let this attack divide us along religious lines, provoking non-Muslims vs. Muslims.

ISIS is geographically contained. To the east, Iran and the weak but stable Iraqi government are not going anywhere. To the north, the Syrian Kurds, and behind them Turkey, block ISIS. To the west, the Assad regime plus Syrian rebels block ISIS progress, particularly with the support of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. To the south, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are supported by the US and are not likely to fall. Lebanon is the weak link, but it is supported by Iran.

Here is a view of the current state of play in Syria:

Syrian Kurd Control

Source: New York Review of Books

The purple area is controlled by the Syrian Kurds. The remaining open border with Turkey shown above is the primary route that ISIS uses for trade, to add jihadists and deliver war supplies. Sealing it seems to be among Russia’s top priorities, and it is also a priority for the Syrian Kurdish YPG. However, it is not a priority of the US, or Turkey.

Given these facts on the ground, the Paris attacks are militarily insignificant. However, they could be significant if we make bad decisions.

America’s post 9/11 PTSD affliction makes us happily willing to abrogate parts of the US Constitution, like the damage already done to the 4th Amendment. Consider this week’s hand-wringing about our surveillance capabilities by CIA Director John Brennan, who wants to force companies to give the government encryption keys for their new applications.

He wants better domestic spying, and fewer domestic rights, to help fight ISIS.

It appears that the House will vote Thursday to change the screening process for refugees from Syria and Iraq. The bill requires the government to create a new process that “certifies” that refugees aren’t a security threat. Since the bill has no recommendations about the certification process, it acts to “pause” immigration while the bureaucrats work something out.

Or, consider the religious test that some Republicans want to impose on Syrian immigrants. If we allow Syrian Christians to migrate here while banning Muslims, we have created an unconstitutional religious test that violates part of the First Amendment.

And, the backlash against Syrian immigrants by US state governors sets up a possible Muslim vs. non-Muslim confrontation. It abrogates even more of the Constitution. It is a short step from saying no Muslims in a state, to saying that only Christians can live in a particular state.

But, Chris Cillizza at the WaPo says that Democrats need to be very careful about demonizing Republicans over Syrian immigration:

The political upside for Republican politicians pushing an immigration ban on Syrians and/or Muslims as a broader response to the threat posed by the Islamic State sure looks like a political winner.

This is backed up by Pew Research Center’s 2014 survey examining Americans’ view on Islamic extremism:

Pew Islam Concerns












So to most Americans, it doesn’t seem xenophobic, or crazy to call for an end to accepting Syrian refugees.

OTOH, Republicans say that Second Amendment still needs more protection. There are people all across America that are willing to weaken many Amendments, but not the one that lets them walk the streets with AR-15’s.

Yet, what the electorate will remember in 2016 is that Democrats wanted more foreigners to come here, while Republicans wanted to protect them from terrorists. Fear sells and motivates. Reasoned, nuanced discussion bores us, and is ignored.

So, don’t expect leadership to be brave.

At this point, while we may have some responsibility to help protect political refugees, it is probably not worth losing an election over.

See you on Sunday


Bed-wetting vs. Leadership, Part Deux

We shouldn’t minimize the seriousness of the Paris attack. But we should realize that the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire.

Consider Marco Rubio: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

This is not a geopolitical issue where they want to conquer territory and it’s two countries fighting against each other…They literally want to overthrow our society and replace it with their radical, Sunni Islamic view of the future. This is not a grievance-based conflict. This is a clash of civilizations.

America is not going to become a Caliphate, Mr. Rubio.

Or Trump on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe“, saying we might have to close Mosques:

I would hate to do it, but it’s something you’re going to have to strongly consider, because some of the ideas and some of the hatred is coming from these areas…

Or consider that 25 Republican governors vowed to block the entry of Syrian refugees into their states, arguing that the safety of Americans was at stake after the Paris attacks. Or, the recent poll by PPP in North Carolina, showing that 40% of Republicans thought Islam should be illegal in the US.

In Congress, the GOP is taking a stand against Syrian immigration, linking it to the current budget discussions with the White House on the omnibus spending bill that appropriates funding for the next 10 months. It, or some other measure, must pass by December 11th. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has sent the WH a letter calling for restrictions on Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US over the next year. Sessions called for a separate vote by Congress on funding Syrian immigration, which is highly unlikely to pass in the current political climate.

Sessions is saying he is for a government shut-down if Obama vetoes the Syrian immigration funding bill.

Preventing Syrian immigration polls very well. Instead of “Immigrants, eek!!!” it’s “Syrian refugees, eek!!!” But there is a legitimate concern among both Democrats and Republicans that we not let terrorists into our kitchen.

The Democrat’s problem is that one terrorist among 10,000 Syrian immigrants will be considered a failure of policy and execution of the policy. We shouldn’t scapegoat Syrian refugees, and reasonable, logical people won’t do that. The issue is our electorate is seldom reasonable or logical. That means that Democrats are going to be on the wrong side of the electorate when it comes to this issue UNLESS they can somehow address those fears.

This all started in the Democratic debate. CBS Host John Dickerson asked each candidate to respond to a Republican talking-point about whether or not they were prepared to call ISIS “radical Islamists.” But he got push-back from both Sanders and Clinton. So, Dickerson attempted to make the argument about why what words you use matters:

The critique is that the softness of language betrays a softness of approach. So if this language – if you don’t call it by what it is, how can your approach be effective to the cause?

You should focus on Dickerson’s usage of “softness of approach”. Here is Nancy LeTourneau about Dickerson’s point:

Once again, the Republicans are attempting to fear-monger us into making stupid moves in order to avoid being labeled “soft on terrorism.” So it’s time for Democrats to get out ahead of this kind of fear-mongering…When it comes to terrorism, we’d don’t need the bellicose chest-thumping we’re hearing from Republicans, we need leadership that is smart on terrorism.

It would be useful to remember what President Obama said to Matt Yglesias about this in February:

…this is going to be a generational challenge in the Muslim world and the Middle East that not only the United States but everybody’s going to have to deal with. And we’re going to have to have some humility in recognizing that we don’t have the option of simply invading every country where disorder breaks out. And that to some degree, the people of these countries are going to have to, you know, find their own way. And we can help them but we can’t do it for them…

Obama went on: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The real challenge for the country not just during my presidency but in future presidencies is recognizing that leading does not always mean occupying. That the temptation to think that there’s a quick fix to these problems is usually a temptation to be resisted.

The American right’s unwillingness to distinguish between victim and perpetrator, or between ally and enemy, does not bode well for our struggle against extremism. Our threat is not just terrorism, but also a reactionary political backlash that could create nationalistic, xenophobic governments both here and in Europe.

Let’s hope cooler heads prevail.


Why the Hysteria about Russia and Syria?

Tom Friedman gets it right:

Today’s reigning cliché is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart.

The hysterical neocon viewpoint was amply represented by who else but John McCain, who told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he could confirm that Russia’s initial strikes were:

Against our Free Syrian Army (FSA) or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA, because we have communications with people there.

There was no similar howl of angst when NATO member Turkey started bombing the West’s friends the Kurds, instead of ISIS. So, no hypocrisy here.

And McCain calls them our FSA? We have no FSA, although the CIA trains a few groups. The prevailing neocon fantasy, that we could have prevented the Syrian mess by training and arming a bigger, badder “Free Syrian Army”, continues to pollute the Syrian issue, preventing honest debate. We trained and armed a million soldiers in Vietnam, 300,000+ in Iraq, and tens of thousands in Afghanistan. How did those efforts work out?

And our training of Syrian “moderate rebels” has been a total bust.

But, the Russians’ first foray didn’t hit ISIS, they hit other groups. Word is they hit targets north and west of Homs (al-Rastan, Talbisah and al-Zafaraaneh). This is an area controlled not by ISIS, but other rebel groups. And right on cue, we heard that they hit the Syrian “moderates”.

Imagine, the US couldn’t find “moderate” rebels for 3 years, but the Russians found them in 24 hours!

McCain characterized the Russian air strikes as:

An incredible flouting of any kind of cooperation or effort to conceal what their first — Putin’s priority is. And that is of course to prop up Bashar al-Assad.

It’s time for the US to move on. We need to accept the reality that Assad won’t be dealt with until the Islamist threat in Syria and Iraq is contained. It’s also time to let the Russians have a shot at containing the Islamist threat. Whatever Russia’s entry into Syria does for the confrontation with ISIS, it has clarified our thinking. Our strategy says we can’t work with Assad and Iran to attack ISIS. Putin’s strategy says work with Assad and Iran to attack Assad’s enemies and ISIS simultaneously:

• Putin’s first priority will be to secure the Russian base at Tartus and its air base at Latakia. That is what he has done with his initial strikes, as some insurgents have already tried to hit the Russian air base with rockets.
• After securing western and central Syria, Russia will work to take out ISIS, starting with eliminating a few ISIS groups that threaten Russian territory.

So, what should we be doing? Col. Pat Lang has a few ideas:

1. Obama should act as if Russia and Iran are more than just rivals and adversaries. This will take courage and leadership on his part to explain to the American people.
2. Obama must fully coordinate operations, intelligence analysis sharing and logistics with Russian and Iran.
3. We should forget about positive contributions to the ISIS fight from Turkey. Turkey is a major part of the problem.
4. We should ignore Saudi Arabia’s wishes with regard to Syria, since they support the jihadis.

Friedman describes the big advantage to letting Putin take the lead in Syria:

Let’s say the US did nothing right now, and just let Putin start bombing ISIS and bolstering Assad. How long before every Sunni Muslim in the Middle East, not to mention every jihadist, has Putin’s picture in a bull’s eye on his cellphone?

No one is arguing that Bashar al-Assad is a benevolent leader, but when US media and analysts at some think tanks start describing al-Qaeda as “moderate”, we need to rethink our strategy. Again.

You can’t go into Syria under the pretext of fighting ISIS and simultaneously try to depose Assad, only to gripe when Russia also goes into Syria under the pretext of fighting ISIS and props up Assad.

That sword cuts both ways.

The bottom line is that the US, and its ME and European allies are going to have to admit that getting rid of Assad is a secondary priority to our absolute requirement to contain and ultimately eliminate the threat from ISIS. They also must admit that none of the groups that the CIA and our ME allies have trained and supported represent a viable alternative to the Assad regime.

The sooner we do, the sooner Syria will cease to be the jihadi chessboard du jour, on which ISIS and a civil war in Syria have left hundreds of thousands of innocent people dead.

We need to turn a corner. Our current thinking has failed.


The Middle East Migrant Crisis

Thousands of migrants–some refugees, some not–are making their way from Islamic countries in the Middle East and Asia to Turkey, then to Greece, Macedonia, Austria and finally, for many, Germany. The largest number come from Syria, but other Islamic countries are represented from as far away as Afghanistan.

The Atlantic reported on the numbers: The number of migrants who have crossed the EU’s borders this year: 340,000. The European Union’s population: 508.2 million. Thus, currently, incoming migrants are 0.067% of the total population. Syria—which is in the midst of a civil war—is the largest source for these migrants. That conflict has created 4 million refugees.

• Of these, 1.9 million are in Turkey (population 75 million),
• 1.1 million are in Lebanon (population 4.4 million),
• 629,245 in Jordan (population 6.459 million).

The US has about 1,500—though that number could increase. There are zero in the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia.

Today’s Afghans and Pakistani refugees are economic refugees. But the Syrians are not economic refugees, they are refugees from war and chaos. They are seeking refuge from a civil war which has been exacerbated by ISIS. That the US, Turkey and the Gulf Countries are actively waging war on Syrian soil vs. ISIS adds to the plight of the Syrians.

And it is about to get worse for the Syrians. From the NYT:

Russia has sent a military advance team to Syria and is taking other steps the United States fears may signal that President Vladimir V. Putin is planning to vastly expand his military support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, administration officials said Friday.

The Russian moves include transport of prefabricated housing units to Latakia, Syria’s principal port city, and the delivery of a portable air traffic control station there.

All this occurs on top of the US, Turkey and Arab forces implementing new plans to enter Syria in order to fight ISIS, primarily using more air attacks. That may explain Russia’s actions, since, from the start of the civil war in Syria, Russia has made it clear that they would not tolerate a “no fly zone” over Syria. In 2013, Russian officials, including a strongly worded statement by Putin,  formally objected to a Syrian “no fly zone”, which may now be precisely a goal of the US.

So, Syrians should expect more instability in the name of creating stability. More will leave town.

This means that the situation is utterly intractable. An intractable situation is not a “problem” that can be “solved”: It is a fact which must be reckoned with.

Over time, it is likely that there will be a huge internal backlash against European politicians, like Germany’s Ms. Merkel, if more migrants are allowed into the EU. Wages are stagnant or falling in Europe and unemployment is still high. The last thing people in Europe want right now is more competition in the labor market. Parties on the extreme right will profit from this while the center right will lose support.

Why are Ms. Merkel and other leaders in the EU willing to pay this price? Theories abound regarding what to do about this tsunami of refugees/migrants. Here is Jim Kunstler: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

So, the idea that the nations currently [believing] themselves “rich” can take in, shelter, and employ the masses fleeing MENA (and elsewhere) is absurd. Somehow the people in charge, plus the intellectual classes who shape opinion and consensus, are going to have to arrive at some clear notion of limits and boundaries.

There have been irresistible human migrations throughout time, and Western nations are witnessing the beginning of another one. But in this case, the current migratory problem is a self-inflicted wound brought about by the Assad regime, and America’s and its allies’ policies of regime change.

The desire to help is human, and universal. Many global organizations embrace the concept of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), which says states forfeit aspects of their sovereignty when they fail to protect their populations from mass atrocities or human rights violations. In that case, it falls on all countries to enforce the R2P. Yet, in this situation, the R2P concept has already failed the Syrian people.

And it shows no sign of improving.

The only solution is to end the perpetual ME war. Western intervention in the region has been a disaster, as far back as the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s. That started this mess with the drawing of arbitrary borders in the ME.

It is now time for locals to take up the R2P.

This means Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt − all ME economic powerhouses with huge armies, have to ally to stamp out the ME hostilities. And to create enforceable ME borders, so that eventually, it will be possible to return today’s refugees to safe areas within their homelands.

Otherwise, the big ME powers will be the ultimate losers in the current ME debacle.