Posts Tagged ‘Bashar al Assad’

WHAT PUTIN TOLD TRUMP

A week ago, at an economic conference in Da Nang, Vietnam, Donald Trump met with Vladimir Putin to discuss vital issues concerning the United States and Russia. According to President Trump—again—Russia did not attempt to sway America’s 2016 presidential election. At least, that’s what Putin said and, according to Trump, Putin’s a stand-up guy. And if you haven’t heard, Putin also cleared the air with Trump on several other important matters.

— The “little green men” who fought in Eastern Ukrainian for Russian-speakers’ separation from Kiev were Martians. Russia long has been a global leader in astronomy and space exploration, and communicated with Martian visitors well before “The X Files” became a hit on American television. Russia and the Martians kept the matter quiet to avoid panicking our planet.

Trump’s response: “Who knew that Martians spoke Russian? But it makes sense since Martian and Russian end in the same three English letters.”

— The gas purportedly used by Syria’s Assad regime on its own people—with Russia’s knowledge and guidance—was not Sarin or anything else poisonous. Instead, Assad sprinkled war zones with laughing gas to raise the spirits of people whose neighborhoods had been shattered, those suffering grievous injuries from purported barrel bombs (“no wine casks were damaged in the bombings”) and refugees. The gas was purchased from the Russian Institute of Advanced Dentistry over a decade earlier, and the Kremlin has all the receipts. Humanely, the gas did not prompt belly laughs which injure internal organs but produced only small chuckles as revealed by the grimaces grins on the faces of motionless Syrians photographed while napping.

Trump’s response: “I bet you and Assad also mixed in some pixie dust like I brought with me on Air Force One. I hear it’s a hell of an aphrodisiac.”

— Accusations by international sports doping bodies that Russian athletes take banned drugs reveals fake news at its most fake and un-newsiness. Russian athletes do test new types of vitamins, which Russian scientists continually refine for the betterment of health worldwide. This further proves Russia’s advanced research and production capabilities. History has long acknowledged that Russians invented baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet along with rhythm and blues, the button-down shirt and Buffalo chicken wings.

Trump’s response: “Can you invent something that makes Robert Mueller disappear?”

— Like George Washington, Vladimir Putin has never told a lie. Honor and integrity represented key values in his training and career with the KGB, the Soviet Union’s intelligence agency responsible for keeping foreign powers—aka the United States—from soiling the spirit and legacy of Communism. Such admirable traits—and the occasional doing away with journalists and political opponents opposed by 99.9 percent of the people—impelled Russians to keep Putin in power since 1999 with no end in sight.

Trump’s response: “If I tell only the truth, do you think my fantastically high approval ratings of 38 percent will go even higher? And can you make Robert Mueller disappear?”

This straight talk should enable you and people across the globe—including Kim Jong-un—to sleep better. Or, as Mr. Trump tweeted on his “personal” account: “Nothing wrong with a man-crush as long as you still try 2 grab women by the pussy.”

With a snafu patched, my novel THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT again is available for the Kindle at Amazon as well as in softcover.

The blog will take off for Thanksgiving and return on Friday, December 1.

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CHEMICAL ATTACKS AND CRUISE MISSILES

Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad’s April 4 Sarin gas attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun drew a quick response from President Trump. U.S. naval forces rained down 59 cruise missiles on Shayrat air base, destroying or damaging 23 Syrian planes. Many Republicans—far-right conservatives were opposed—Democrats and allied governments found the action intoxicating. It’s time to sober up.

I neither support nor condemn Mr. Trump’s decision. But I caution that the matter is far from simple—and far from over. Mr. Trump’s response certainly stands in contrast to Barack Obama’s setting a red line regarding chemical attacks, looking to Congress for approval to take military action, finding none then accepting an offer by Russia’s Vladimir Putin to negotiate the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Some of which apparently were held back.

Mr. Obama’s mistake was not withholding American force, which may or may not have accomplished much while possibly igniting a political firestorm at home. It was declaring a red line publicly rather than privately notifying Assad, Putin and Iran that using chemical weapons could provoke a U.S. military response.

Mr. Trump chose to make a “statement.” Despite the initial chest-thumping, it likely will prove meaningless. After our cruise missile delivery, several of Assad’s planes took off from Shayrat—whose runways were left untouched—to again bomb Khan Sheikhoun. Assad made his own statement. While feeble, it was backed by Russia’s military presence in Syria.

Frederic C. Hof, a Syria policy maven at the State Department under Mr. Obama, who later became an Obama administration critic, stated that Assad “now counts on the West again to leave him free to kill as long as he does so without chemicals” (The New York Times, 4-9-17). The Pentagon later suggested that barrel bombs may cross another “line.” So what?

Take Mr. Trump’s mention that “many lines had been crossed” by Assad’s latest chemical attack. Apparently, no lines were crossed when Mr. Trump assumed the presidency ten weeks earlier. Syrian helicopters continued dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods. Syrian and Russian artillery, mortars and conventional bombs maintained the slaughter. The mass killing of civilians seemingly crossed no lines for Mr. Obama, as well. The Syrian death toll reportedly stands at or near 500,000.

Are we going to war? Despite the brutality, many Americans, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, exhibit no desire for the U.S. to get deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, particularly given the risk of a miscalculation with Russian forces. This represents not cynicism but pragmatism (see Iraq: Invasion of).

Referencing Frederic Hof, is it wrong to kill 87 civilians with Sarin gas but okay to kill 150 with run-of-the-mill ordnance? If half-a-million deaths doesn’t cross a line spurring concerted United Nations action—impossible with a Russian veto—is a line demarcated at 600,000 deaths? A million?

I’ve written that violence in the Middle East will continue for years and probably decades until the people of the region—not America—have had enough or totally exhausted themselves. While that position jeers at our humanitarian values, it remains valid lacking a truly global will to intervene and the ability to restore not only order to the Middle East but also civility. Honesty, no matter how gut-wrenching, will guide us more wisely than political showmanship.

Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t attend? Contact me or go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

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ALEPPO REVISITED

Two months ago, I wrote about the battle of Aleppo pitting Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, Iran and Russia against a hodgepodge of rebels, from secular to Islamist. Despite the horrific violence, I thought major U.S. involvement unwise: “Only the peoples of the Middle East can create lasting peace for themselves.” The battle’s over. I haven’t changed my mind.

The Syrian bloodbath didn’t occur because President Obama foolishly drew a red line in the blood-soaked sand then backed off when Assad used chemical weapons. (True, he did.) It started well before and increased in ferocity when Russia and Iran tilted the battlefield towards Assad.

Are Americans aghast at the slaughter and destruction in Aleppo? Yes, and rightly so. But using American military power to halt the ghastly actions of appalling political leaders sometimes runs deep risks.

Would Russia and Iran have withdrawn so we could roll over Syria’s military and depose Assad? I doubt it. If they did? We’d have won a short-term victory then been saddled with overseeing the formation of a new government.

Once again, American troops would have to protect a government lacking widespread support. We’d also have to build a trusted Syrian security force while American troops faced insurgency and terrorism from many quarters. We’d suffer casualties. And all with no guaranty of Syrian stability once—whenever that might be—we left.

Some Americans might say, “We have to project American power in the face of inhumanity. Freedom isn’t free.” They can afford that stance. I agree that freedom’s not free, but they don’t pay the price. Ours is a military of courageous volunteers. Many Americans encouraging the nation to throw its weight around have no skin in the game. Their children don’t serve. They never served.

Is America toothless? Hardly. Should we withdraw to Fortress America? No. The U.S. plays a special role in helping keep peace—where strategic considerations are most critical. An evolving geopolitical climate demands that we understand military power’s limits.

Reality is, we’ve never ruled the world. That’s why I was taken aback when the New York Times’ Roger Cohen wrote that the Pax Americana—the global peace guaranteed by the United States—is over (12-16-16). Pax Americana represents a semi-myth.

Yes, we kept the former Soviet Union from overrunning Western Europe. We prevented China from expanding in Asia, although China never sought to invade other countries; it seeks to co-opt them economically. We helped protect South Korea but at the cost of over 50,000 U.S. lives. North Korea eventually developed nuclear weapons. Vietnam proved a debacle with 58,000 American lives lost. Genocide ravaged Rwanda, Darfur and the Balkans on “our watch.” Our 2003 invasion of Iraq didn’t remake the Middle East in our image. It destabilized it. Witness Syria and Libya. (Yemen had been fractured earlier.)

We court disaster when our hubris exposes our troops to the physical and emotional hazards in lands whose cultures we don’t understand and whose people reject us. The folly grows when many of our most enthusiastic proponents of using force talk the talk but fail to walk the walk. American power takes many forms. Military force is one but not always the wisest choice. That’s a hard lesson to learn. We’re best off learning it.

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TRUMP IN 2020

Following George W. Bush’s election in 2000—I voted for Al Gore—I hoped to vote for President Bush in 2004. For the nation’s good, I wanted “W” to prove me wrong. He didn’t. Now, I want to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. That’s a long way off. So let’s look at possible scenarios for 2017.

Russia puts more pressure on Eastern Ukraine and Eastern Europe. With President Trump seeing no American interest at play, Vladimir Putin effectively splits Ukraine and brings the Baltic states back into Russia’s orbit. Disclosure: I’ve long believed that bringing Eastern Europe into NATO instead of guaranteeing its neutrality was a mistake, ignoring Moscow’s long-standing concerns about its “near abroad.”

Marine LePen, head of France’s right-wing National Front party, rides the Brexit/Trump wave to the presidency this spring. France seeks independence within NATO or abandons it. With American approval, Ms. Le Pen leads France out of the European Union and away from the Euro, reasserts France’s control of its borders and strengthens secularism in the face of Muslim public religious/cultural practices. This imposes burdens on business people and vacationers but makes transiting Europe more challenging to Islamist terrorists. Recent attempts at unifying European Union intelligence gathering unravel. President Trump doesn’t care; he doesn’t want to share intelligence.

ISIS collapses as a “caliphate”—this already underway—but Islamist terrorism increases on the Continent. In Syria, Trump lets Russia reestablish Bashar al-Assad’s nationwide rule.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickens the pace of settlement building in the West Bank. President Trump talks about recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Rumors loom of a Third Intifada. Trump amends or terminates the nuclear deal with Iran. In response, Iran backs limited hostilities against Israel emanating from Lebanon, encourages greater Shiite control of Iraq and increases tensions with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis express interest in acquiring or developing nuclear weapons.

A tentative trade war tests the waters with China. Beijing more boldly asserts sovereignty in the South China Sea. President Trump orders the U.S. Navy to stand down. Jitters rack Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, who move closer to China. President Trump broaches removing all U.S. troops from South Korea.

Existing walls along the Mexican border undergo symbolic lengthening—at U.S. expense. Relations chill with Mexico City. Anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. grows more fervent. Washington increases deportations but modestly.

The wealthy enjoy major tax cuts while federal programs are slashed, including environmental protections. America burns more coal. (I was in Delhi, India three weeks ago. The air was awful. Last week it became unlivable.)

Job growth in the Upper Midwest and Southeast remains meager since automation cannot be undone. Obamacare is gutted. Private insurers compete to lower premiums for healthy millennials, raise them for everyone else. Millions lose coverage.

Trump proposes a major infrastructure program. Democrats support it. Republican fiscal conservatives oppose it. Trump supporters take solace in a conservative Supreme Court pick, efforts to ban abortion and overturn LGBTQ rights, and the first draft of a new immigration policy. The stock market rises as does volatility.

I hope most of these scenarios don’t take place—infrastructure projects and an intelligent discussion of immigration being exceptions. Really, I’d love to eat crow so I can support President Trump in 2020. What are the odds?

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ALEPPO

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson infamously responded to a question about the tragic war in Syria with “What is Aleppo?” I’ll answer. You won’t be comforted.

Aleppo—not the capital Damascus—was Syria’s largest city and business hub with 2.1 million inhabitants (2004 census). Since the Syrian civil war started in 2011, nearly 500,000 have been killed nationwide. Aleppo’s population has dropped. What is it? No one knows.

What we do know is that Aleppo, the Syrian civil war and widespread violence in the Middle East present a conundrum. The United States is damned if we do get more involved, damned if we don’t.

Start with refugees. Turkey hosts 2.6 million, Lebanon one million and impoverished Jordan over 628,000 (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees). Eastern Europe hasn’t the resources, ability or will to accept many—if any. Germany takes the lead in the West. It accepted over one million asylum seekers in 2015. That’s dropped to 220,000 in 2016 (Deutsche Welle). Germans said, “No more.”

Regrettably, Western Europe long has done a poor job assimilating Muslims. In counterpoint, many Muslims have resisted integrating into Europe’s secular culture. America does much better, but no matter how many refugees we accept, we won’t come close to meeting existing needs.

Militarily—despite Donald Trump’s assertions—we also face limits. In Syria, U.S. weapons, training and airpower have failed to oust President Bashar al-Assad. (ISIS will soon be driven underground.) Diplomatic efforts face intransigence by Vladimir Putin. Inserting traditional American ground forces into Syria risks a violent clash with Russia. No one will win.

In Iraq, we see progress. The crucial battle for Mosul is underway. It will be long and bloody. Clearing Mosul of booby traps and rebuilding will take decades. Estimates place 5,000-6,000 American trainers, advisors, forward air controllers and special operations personnel on the ground. The U.S. could send in 25,000 or more traditional combat troops. But Washington probably would face massive protests at home, particularly with many Americans embittered after a nasty presidential campaign. We’d also see protests throughout the Middle East.

What if we send in combat troops anyway? Following victory, Iraqis will demand we leave. If we stay, we’ll face a new insurrection featuring improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and sniper attacks. After we go, Iraq will descend into renewed chaos with no dominant indigenous force controlling the fragmented nation.

Feeling conflicted? Who isn’t? Recently on TV, a Syrian man asked how the West could let such brutality continue. Another Syrian man interviewed some months earlier presented another perspective: “Nothing good ever comes from the West.”

We are witnessing a war within Islam between those who accept the twenty-first century and those who long for the seventh. Throw in nationalist/sectarian (Sunni-Shia) and tribal conflicts, as well as political thuggery, and we’re left with a witches brew too toxic to consume.

Limiting our response seems inhumane but reflects reality. Only the peoples of the Middle East can create lasting peace for themselves. This may not happen until the middle or later stages of this century when they’ve been exhausted by death and destruction. It may not happen at all.

What is Aleppo then? A final two words: frustration, angst. I suspect you can come up with many more.

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ISLE OF TYRANTS

Posted Oct 2 2015 by in OUR WORLD with 2 Comments

Official photographs reveal picture-postcard images: blue skies, azure waters, white beaches, green hills dotted with expansive estates. A golf course, naturally. A red-tile-roofed village hugs the sea. Yachts bob in the harbor. A pristine airstrip barely intrudes. Not that residents ever leave. This is the Isle of Tyrants.

The island’s core residents live in enviable luxury. Every spacious villa includes a swimming pool, tennis court, putting green and indoor bowling alley along with leading-edge satellite TV. Security personnel discretely patrol manicured grounds. All are vetted by the Global Commission on Retired World Leaders (GCRWL). So are the cooks, maids, chauffeurs and other residence staff—as well as the townspeople who work in the gourmet supermarket, connoisseur wine store, Michelin-starred restaurant, health club and elegant shops. Residents shop a lot.

Vladimir Putin calls the Isle of Tyrants home. So does Bashar al-Assad. Their compatriots are former presidents, kings, rogue generals, drug lords and an ayatollah. Even a former caliph. Some live with family members. Others host thoroughly screened guests—young women of striking beauty and worldliness. A few young gentlemen as well. Nothing is too good for the island’s residents. They, after all, have been good to the world.

Of course, no one celebrates the crimes for which they are responsible—murder, kidnapping, torture and looting national treasuries among them. Rather, they are recognized for voluntarily exiting their countries. Putin speaks frankly. “Before the Isle of Tyrants, I could never consider leaving the Kremlin. I was virtually president of Russia for life… not by choice but by necessity.”

Each resident faced the same quandary. With so much blood on his hands and so much purloined wealth—the average portfolio reaches well into the billions—ordinary retirement seemed impossible. A tyrant’s leaving office and staying in his home country risked prosecution by the new government followed inevitably by life in a cell or, more likely, a gruesome death. Fleeing to someplace like Switzerland or Luxembourg posed the specter of a one-way journey to the International Criminal Court or a revenge-seeker’s bullet.

The world community developed a win-win solution. Tyrants could respond to a time-sensitive invitation and retire “standing up.” Requirements were relatively modest. Prospective residents would return fifty percent of their assets to their home nations and shelter the remainder until their deaths. In the unlikely event of murder, those assets would go to the GCRWL; no nation could profit from a capital crime. Residents then would pay a $100 million initiation fee (nonrefundable; villa included) and a $1 million monthly maintenance fee indexed to inflation. (The formula is complex.)

Residents may leave the island only in the unlikely event that the village’s state-of-the-art clinic and world-class visiting specialists cannot solve a medical problem. Yachts may sail anywhere within three miles of the island’s coastline. Armed vessels and aircraft escort them.

A number of tyrants have taken advantage of the island’s hospitality. In turn, war and terrorism have subsided measurably. At first the price for peace seems steep. Wealthy nations still underwrite shortfalls for expenses, including an anti-missile missile system, helicopter gunships and naval patrols above and below the sea. Yet net national-defense expenditures across the globe have decreased. The Isle of Tyrants appears to be the biggest bargain the world has ever known.

A second island is under construction.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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MR. MORSI

Egypt as a nation predates the United States by millennia. But when Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi lectures the U.S., he conveniently forgets that Egypt as a democracy is an infant.

A week ago, Morsi told The New York Times that the U.S. should show greater respect for Arab values. “If you want to judge the performance of the Egyptian people by the standards of German or Chinese or American culture, then there is no room for judgment,” he said. “When the Egyptians decide something, probably it is not appropriate for the U.S. When the Americans decide something, this, of course, is not appropriate for Egypt.”

Morsi seconded what I wrote in “A Misleading Question” (September 14). A cultural gap exists. Take the matter of women. Morsi told The Times, “I will not prevent a woman from being nominated as a candidate for the presidential campaign. This is not in the Constitution. This is not in the law. But if you want to ask me if I will vote for her or not, that is something else, that is different.”

That Mr. Morsi believes women should not play a major role in affairs of state—what message does that deliver to Hillary Clinton?—is his business. That he believes that America and the West are filled with licentiousness also is his business. And to a great degree he’s right. But Morsi’s claims to moral superiority don’t hold water.

A September 20 article in The Jerusalem Post reported on Egyptian women calling on President Morsi to halt increasing incidents of sexual harassment. “According to a 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, street harassment is shockingly commonplace, with 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women reporting incidents.” In February 2011, CBS TV news reporter Lara Logan was sexually attacked by a Cairo mob as other Egyptians protested for freedom in Tahrir Square. The abuse of women in the Greater Middle East is well documented.

When Morsi laments the inability of world organizations to stop the violence in Syria—he agrees that Bashar al Assad must go—he again makes a valid point. But he overlooks the inability of the Arab world—and Egypt—to police itself. Christian Copts are now fleeing Rafah, which borders Gaza, in the face of Islamist threats. Similarly, when Morsi suggests that Washington accept Egyptian values, he offers a pragmatic approach to two-party relations. But when he denies the validity of Western approaches to free speech, as he did at the UN on Wednesday, he plays to Islamists and places obstacles between Egypt and the West. I hope he read Tom Friedman’s column, “Backlash to the Backlash”. Friedman offers Arab voices calling for a major reality check—on the part of Arab leaders.

A healthy U.S.–Egypt relationship will take time. And humility. And a realization that ultimately, this isn’t about us. As Tunisian president Mocef Marzouki writes in today’s Times, “The Arab revolutions have not turned anti-Western. Nor are they pro-Western. They are simply not about the West.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Morsi would be well advised to acknowledge that when it comes to making democracy work, ancient Egypt is the new kid on the block—and barely at the toddler stage.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.