The to-be-released Senate report on CIA interrogation techniques, and possible violations of al-qaeda suspects’ rights under said interrogations is angering many in Washington, including those in the intelligence community. Charles Krauthammer asks the obvious question “what is to be gained here?” and those critical warn of risks to both allies, intelligence agents and military personnel abroad. While one can speculate on the exact motives of the White House for insisting on the report’s release, the question underlying the fuss is simple: do suspected terrorists enjoy ample human rights protection? Especially when being interrogated? Those who insist on an absolute yes have no place in any debate. They are the same who suggested we look carefully into our own hearts in the days after 9/11, and generously apportioned blame for the attacks on America itself and not on the crazed, medieval fanaticism of islamic extremists. Those who insists on an absolute no risk alienating local allies in the Middle East and elsewhere and isolate America in its efforts to contain and, God willing, bring an end to this type of terrorism.

So the question becomes one of balance, a seemingly impossible balance at times, between the intelligence community’s legislated duty to defend the nation, and a minimum acceptable guarantee of some form of due process and rights for those who may have life-saving information and are unwilling to share it with the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The techniques involved may not be very comfortable, even rather painful both physically and psychologically, and they are designed to be so. But they must be effective at the same time, and not produce confessions that lack credibility, and are given by desperate witnesses who have endured extreme pain. That this balance has been endlessly studied and quantified by the intelligence communities is beyond any doubt. That the balance should be up to the intelligence community itself is not a good idea, however. That means Congressional and even judicial oversight of some form. But with that oversight comes the responsibility to not endanger the very purpose of these interrogations. The release of a sensitive report by a lame duck Senate does precisely that; endanger future intelligence gathering efforts, as well as lives of intelligence agents, military personnel and others overseas. When all countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America enjoy stable representative democratic governments with an independent judiciary that pursues and punishes terrorism, the intelligence community will have to provide the commensurate degree of transparency. That time is a ways off. America’s intelligence agencies already operate under judicial and congressional constraints, constraints that may have played a part in 9/11. A flexible system of oversight that allows them to operate but holds them accountable is a good idea. An unwarranted release of potentially dangerous information is not.

Representative Peter King, R-N.Y. got it partly wrong when he stated, “You get radical chaplains who then radicalize them and turn them toward terrorism or turn them toward violence.” He was referring to how prisons in America, in imitation of a trend in the UK for example, are becoming breeding grounds for radical islamic terrorists. The part he got wrong of course is the that they get “turned toward violence.” It might seem like nitpicking on a topic that Peter King is clearly informed on and very much involved with, but it bears reminding of the simple fact that prisoners are targeted by radical islamic clerics and other crazed militants precisely because they have proven to be violent. From the world of closed cells of terrorists, radical islam, like ISIS, now are trying to go viral by using social media to convert and incite lone wolves or anyone they can to their bloodthirsty cause. And prisons are one place they seem to be targeting.

This brings us to the case of Alton Nolen, an ex-con who had converted to Islam, and the horrifying attack he perpetrated at Vaughn Foods in Oklahoma. Shortly after being fired from his job at the company, Nolen returned with a knife and beheaded one of his co-workers – attacking her from behind – and fatally stabbed another. It was only when company owner Mark Vaughn shot him in the arm and abdomen that the attack ended. He reportedly shouted Koranic verses as he carried out the attack. Was this a planned act of terrorism or a violent revenge, another case of a fired worker going postal? Wrong question according to Patrick Dunleavy, former inspector general of NY State Police’s Criminal Intelligence Unit, and author of a book on radical islam and prisoners. It can be both things he argues. The need for violent revenge is framed within the context of a call to violence by islamic groups who are even calling for a caliphate in America. It is a case of using social media – Nolen apparently viewed the beheadings carried out by ISIS, perhaps repeatedly – to produce human time bombs that are targeted to go off and perpetrate horrifying crimes like the one at Vaughn Foods. It may be that to fight this emerging phenomenon, islamic clerics should be carefully screened before gaining access to any prison, and be denied that access if any reasonable suspicion arises as to whether they sponsor radical violence. As to social media and ex-cons already out of jail who risk being converted to violent causes like that of ISIS, it’s a problem of whose dimensions little is still known, but much needs to be found out. We need to listen to people like Patrick Dunleavy. Right now.

If Rep Tim Bishop (D, NY) is right, there are about 40 ISIS, (or ISIL), fighters who are back in the US after having left the country to fight for the terrorist group in the Middle East. According to Bishop, the FBI has them under surveillance so the threat is not quite imminent. That is scant comfort, given the arrests in Australia this week. While all the information regarding their plans is not public, it appears that ISIL supporters in that country were planning random kidnappings in order to then behead the Australians kidnapped right off the sidewalk and film the execution. All this at the behest of an ISIL member who has Australian citizenship and ordered the terror campaign to be carried out on the streets of Australia. Clearly, similar campaigns will be attempted – if they are not already being planned, in the US. Better to alert the public about possible dangers than have the horrifying outcome of a victim of ISIL on home soil.

The odds of something like this being attempted have just shot up. With ISIL there is no limit, it seems, to their savagery and as much intelligence as possible must be accumulated and sifted through continually. Profiling potential ISIL terrorists – young angry men with roots in the Middle East who have recently returned from there might be a good place to start – but unfortunately the profiling will have to much broader than that. The medieval delusion of a revived Caliphate in the Middle East has not died with Bin Laden, it remains a motivating factor for those whose fanaticism leads to this sort of evil. One of the lessons learned from 9/11 is the vital. life-saving importance of coordinated intelligence between all levels of law enforcement and security. That cooperation is now needed even more than it has been in this last decade and a half. ISIL has to be fought on every front and thwarting their evil at home means everyone from the head of the NSA to your hometown police officer needs to be, in some way, part of the effort. Let the ACLU fret and fuss all they want. For the intelligence and police forces, to not profile and assemble the data and, you bet, eavesdrop, means to shirk their duty to defend the nation. We don’t need crazed conspiracy theories about drones attacking innocent americans. We need full utilization of all intelligence assets to safeguard citizens from a possible attempt, even a lone deranged attempt. That does not mean an overbearing apparatus that monitors every move anyone makes. It means getting to the right information as quickly as possible, and letting government lawyers worry afterwards about future lawsuits filed by the usual suspects, like the ACLU.

It appears that President Obama now has a plan of sorts to deal with IS in Iraq and Syria. On the eve of the 13th anniversary of 9/11, Obama delivered an address on IS and what actions the U.S. will take to counter it. I had low hopes for the speech and as anticipated, I was let down by it. In presenting his plan he prioritized rhetoric over details and answers to questions while doing little to instill confidence that he truly believed in what he was suggesting. Now it would appear that we are engaging in a half-hearted attempt to “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS, a campaign that might extend into the next presidency. The plan is unrealistic, simplistic, and is a poorly crafted attempt to rectify the failure of this administration to generate a strategy against dealing with a group we’ve been fully aware for over a year.

I find the strategy put forth by the president as completely lacking. There are too many questions that remain unanswered while the plan itself seems simplistic and poorly conceived. One of my biggest problems is the military strategy. There is an absolute reluctance and opposition on the part of the president and many of the American people for the use of ground forces regardless if they are in combat or not. Obama insists that the eventual 1,000 troops we are sending will only advise and train the Iraqi military. Various analysts though have suggested that the troops sent are too few and upwards of 10,000 troops will be needed for such activities to be successful. To that end, our campaign against IS depends on using the forces of Iraq, militia groups, and Syrian rebel groups as our ground troops, all of whom have already proven to be less than capable of meeting this threat.

Our primary military contribution to the operation will be airpower. Airstrikes as they are being conducted now against IS in what is a piecemeal manner will not bring about the groups destruction. Airpower would have made a major difference when then ISIS was on the offensive and convoys were travelling in the open desert between cities. Now we are forced to engage a group no longer in the open but that is blending in with civilians in cities and towns. Our intelligence estimates on IS are sorely lacking and this will further hamper destroying them; just recently the CIA revealed that it had grossly underestimated the number of IS fighters in Iraq and Syria. When you are conducting an aerial campaign it tends to help when you can identify targets and know critical information about your enemy. It seems though that we know little about IS and as a result airstrikes will continue to be against targets as they present themselves rather than being truly focused. Prepare to be awed by videos of $60,000+ missiles being used to destroy random pickup trucks and tents while the administration insists that we have the upper hand.

Then there is the problem with arming and providing more assistance to moderate Syrian opposition groups which is part of Obamas plan. Just weeks ago Obama considered such a move as “fantasy” arguing that arming who are essentially “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth” would make little difference in the fight against Assad. Well now that’s no longer the case; never mind that the moderate rebels also have to contend with fanatical IS fighters in addition to government forces. Then there is difficulty in choosing who to provide assistance as there is a history of groups we supported later turning on us. Also weapons we provide to supposedly moderate groups have a habit of falling into the hands of the enemy. Lastly there is the complexity of the situation itself in Syria; a conflict between the government, moderate opposition, and IS fanatics all of whom are backed by different actors internationally. Are we arming moderates to fight just IS or also Assad? What if IS is defeated and Assad is still in power, do we abandon the moderates or do we become militarily engaged against him as well?

Finally there is the issue of time and what will happen if IS is ultimately destroyed. Already the White House has said the campaign against IS might take three years, mind you a three year military campaign against a group the president earlier this year termed a “JV” basketball team. Now the situation might play out radically different. Sunni groups that had allied themselves with ISIS in a move that was seen by some to have been meant as a political message to the government, are now ready to fight against IS. The Iraqi military and the Kurds might successfully rally and go on a full offensive against IS. There is that chance that IS might be defeated by mid-2015, anything is possible. Regardless, if this administration is serious about defeating IS don’t say it can take three years because it looks like we aren’t serious. Furthermore how far have we planned this because I highly doubt that we will be able to just extract ourselves from this easily. Upon defeating IS we might be setting ourselves up for a military confrontation with Syria or the Kurds might push for greater independence from Baghdad; in either case we will remain heavily involved.

I want to see IS absolutely liquidated but that doesn’t mean I will support a plan that I don’t believe in. What has been proposed is a military strategy that is watered down to be politically acceptable and to reduce the footprint of U.S. involvement. Remember, Obama ended the war in Iraq and it is no doubt hurting him that we are returning to Iraq. If you engage in military conflict you do it to win, not a partial but an absolute victory; this plan speaks of an absolute victory but it doesn’t portray the realistic ways and means to achieve it. Furthermore I feel it is too open-ended and leaves us open to a military confrontation with Assad in Syria. I firmly believe IS must be dealt with though I would rather take the time now to create an effective strategy rather than rushing in with one that is so lacking.

On Tuesday, July 1st, Russian President Vladimir delivered a boisterous foreign policy speech to assembled Russian diplomats in Moscow. In it he addressed the situation in the Ukraine and the issue of western interference in the near abroad (the independent republics that emerged out of the Soviet Union upon its disintegration). Among his arguments were numerous scathing criticisms of Washington and its foreign policy. Putin came off as highly hypocritical on numerous points in his speech but one must also admit that some of his views are not without merit.

For starters Putin spoke of the issue in the Ukraine, a situation which has largely receded from U.S. news outlets. Putin blames increasing violence squarely on the shoulders of Ukrainian President Poroshenko. Poroshenko has the Ukrainian military engaged in a large offensive against pro-Russian separatist forces across the entire Eastern part of the Ukraine. Blaming the Ukrainians solely for the situation is absurd; then again Putin claimed that the pro-Russian forces in the Crimea prior to its annexation were most certainly not Russian forces so the veracity of his claims are questionable. Never mind that those “separatists” were equipped with the newest Russian body armor and in pristine new vehicles.

On the other hand he spoke of the non-interference principle regarding the West and the Ukraine and the potential for disastrous consequences. Truth be told, there is little doubt in my mind that western nations had a hand in Euromaiden, the riots which eventually brought about the collapse of the pro-Russian Ukrainian government. True, the Ukraine is part of Russia’s near abroad and Putin is keen on preventing further encroachment by the West in the forms of the EU and NATO in bordering countries. Though the interference of the west is minuscule next to that of Russia, a Russia which mind you immediately swept into a sovereign Ukraine and annexed and incorporated the Crimea. Do Putin’s ideas of non-interference extend to also arming groups engaged in internal struggles in foreign nations? Last time I looked it’s Putin arming pro-Russian rebels in the Ukraine. If Putin is sincere also regarding his stand that Russia won’t interfere in Ukrainian internal affairs, then perhaps he should make good on his statement.

Putin also spoke of how the West should stop turning the world into a “global barracks.” He claimed that we should push our agendas and political ambitions aside in the interest of building better relations with the rest of the world. Since when did Russia become the friend of the world? Furthermore, since when did Putin decide to ditch his agenda and become the standard-bearer of world peace? Russia, along with China routinely overlook human rights violations in the world when votes come up to the UN Security Council while both nations sell weapons to whoever will buy them. Indeed Putin points to the Russia-China relationship as one which the West should seek to emulate as it is built not on a military alliance but cooperation.

Putin is a blatant hypocrite though this isn’t to say that the west, particularly the U.S. pursue an ideal foreign policy. We scream about Russia breaking international law by invading the sovereign states of Georgia and the Ukraine over the past several years. The truth is we do it as well, be it in Iraq or with our repeated drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere. We rail about Russia interfering in the affairs of countries along its borders while we interfere in the affairs of countries across the world. We demand that Russia take a more active interest in the conflicts of nations it sells its weapons to while we actively support rebel groups with aid and weapons.

Ultimately speeches of the type that Putin gave are meant to excite audiences and to provide strength to a leader on the world stage. Rarely are they translated into direct policy or for that matter even reflect existing policy. Was Putin’s speech hypocritical? Yes. Did he know it? Most certainly yes. It’s no different from foreign policy speeches of other world leaders who rail about one thing yet a cursory examination of their policy reveals them to be liars as well. Ultimately, these speeches typically tend to have tucked in them messages that represent reality. In this speech it was Putin recognizing the need for continued U.S.-Russia relations and that any calls to end them are essentially foolish.

Foreign policy, a collection of lies, innuendos, obfuscation, and agendas.

The ISIS forces are not just Al Qaeda affiliated terrorist forces, they are also an army with a goal: establishing a caliphate, or islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader, in Syria, Iraq and adjacent lands as well. Bin Laden himself apparently mourned the collapse of the Ottaman Empire a century ago. Their crazed, fanatical intentions are abundantly clear whether they in fact have the military organization or not to achieve and maintain some sort of caliphate in the region. Putin is a little more indirect, if not quite subtle. Crimea is back in Mother Russia’s fold and Eastern Ukraine is still up for grabs at this point. While Russia – and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan – has suffered it’s share of terrorism, Putin also seems to harbor a little nostalgia for that evil empire, if you will, that crumbled around him as he worked as a KGB officer in East Germany from 1985 to 1990.

Western Representative Democracies have had to face numerous threats over the odd two centuries that they have been in existence: Monarchy, Bonapartism, Fascism, Communism, and Islamic Extremism come to mind for example. Monarchism has long since been folded into Representative Democracy, despite an unfortunate hiccup, to put it mildly, with Kaiser Wilhelm II. Napoleon met his Waterloo, a cliche nowadays, but a pivotal event at the time. Fascism was defeated in WW II despite local outbreaks in South America and elsewhere. Communism seems to have all but collapsed in the last two decades, and perhaps what is happening in Russia and Ukraine has more to do with Nationalism. The war with Islamic Extremism continues meanwhile. The problem becomes choosing your allies, even if temporarily, in a situation like Syria for example which seems to boil down to either siding with a Putin ally Bashar al-Assad, or sunni extremists with links to al Qaeda. Since the Soviet war in Afghanistan, balancing between Soviet or Russian forces and Islamic extremists has been a dangerous but perhaps necessary strategy. Who can be trusted between these two choices? Perversely, sunni terrorists can be trusted to be absolute enemies of America and Western Democracy. Putin, the elected President – again – of Russia is less trustworthy precisely because he is an elected official who harbors ambitions that threaten neighboring states. That does not mean you side with ISIS, it means you can trust them to be terrorists from start to finish. With Putin, the matter is far less clear.

The situations in Iraq and Syria are tense and horrific to say the least. Bad enough we have an administration that is more concerned with its own poll numbers than securing American security and foreign stability but now we have Senator Rand Paul railing against any possible action in Iraq. Paul believes as he has stated recently in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that we should essentially dismiss ISIS in Iraq. Paul cites the 2003 Iraq War as a massive policy failure which in many ways it is and believes we shouldn’t commit ourselves to taking sides in Iraq today. At the same time though he completely dismisses the destabilizing effect of ISIS on the region and ultimately its threat to the United States and our interests. This view I can’t agree with.

Granted I understand the position of libertarians which Sen. Paul believes he is in that we should mind our own business overseas. There is some truth to that; our under thought actions over the decades have produced some extremely negative repercussions such as in Iraq which Paul focuses on as an example. In this case though and with Sen. Paul in particular I find fault. Paul is a far cry from his father, a man who I disagreed with heavily but still hold enormous respect for because I feel that he spoke of what he truly believed in. His son though is a political opportunist, detached from reality and bent on securing a future political position regardless of what he believes in. In the case of ISIS in Iraq, Sen. Paul is dead wrong and unrealistic.

Sen. Paul claims that ISIS has been emboldened to move into Iraq because we are arming Syrian rebels and their allies such as al Qaeda. Oh really? I’m sorry I didn’t get the memo but last I heard ISIS and al Qaeda aren’t exactly on friendly terms and are in fact in open opposition to each other. Indeed ISIS is fighting both the Assad government and most other rebel groups in Syria. Paul needs to get his facts straight before offering his assessments. Additionally, where are we arming ISIS? The CIA has been arming groups such as the FSA but not ISIS and in very limited ways that are a far cry from U.S. lethal aid provided to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Perhaps some weaponry has fallen into the hands of ISIS but to say we are directly arming them is an outright lie.

Now I understand Paul is a proponent of isolationism and non-interventionism. There is a difference though between ignoring something that isn’t a threat and something that is. Argue whichever position you have on dealing with ISIS in Iraq, boots on the ground, airstrikes, arming the Iraqis, and training the Iraqis, whatever. Taking the position to sit this out and watch though is not a viable option. A massive power vacuum in Syria and Iraq in the Middle East that can spread into Jordan and other states is something that has the ability to impact the U.S. in a very real way.

It’s thinking such as this that foreign policy is conducted and occurs in closed environments which ultimately lead to trouble. The idea that if it doesn’t directly affect us on American soil we should ignore it fails to take into account the complexities and interconnectedness of the world today. An ISIS state would be disastrous to regional stability, security, and the global economy. Worrying about it down the road as Paul suggests is careless and just plain wrong and reveals a man whose foreign policy opinions are more rooted in following a strict philosophy than dealing with them realistically.

Suspected terrorist Ahmed Abul Khattala is under US custody aboard a Navy ship and on his way to America. After a swift US military and law enforcement operation in Libya, he will now face prosecution for his role in organizing the Benghazi attacks. The Obama administration along with the military have confirmed the capture this Tuesday. Unfortunately, the news from Iraq is less positive. ISIS continues to gain ground and it even appears that Iraq army personnel were told to abandon their posts in Mosul which has now been overrun by the former Al-Qaeda linked sunni extreemists. What do the experts tell us to do? Fahad Nazer, terrorism analyst and former political analyst at the Saudi embassy in Washington, warns America to proceed with caution in Iraq as they supposedly have in Syria. The reason? Don’t get the Sunni’s mad. He excoriates al-Assad’s brutality towards the opposition rebels in Syria and Prime Minister Maliki’s marginalization of sunni Iraqui’s is seen as a root cause of ISIS rise to military prominence. Al Qaeda are sunni – as are almost 90% of muslims worldwide – while Iran and Hezbollah are shia. Do people like Fahad Nazer have the Obama Administration’s ear?

A controversial but fascinating view is put forth by Joe Hoft at The Gateway Pundit’s website. It suggests that one can organize this Administrations actions around a very clear axis: support for sunni muslim organizations against shia organizations. What sect controls how much oil that ends up in the US seems not to be the driving factor, given the enormous boost of domestic production due to shale oil and gas as well as surging oil sands production in Canada. This seems to be ideological instead. To say Obama has deep sunni sympathies after spending part of his youth in Indonesia, (sunni of course), living with his stepfather and mother is probably a stretch, but it seems he has been well aware of the divide between the two sects of Islam from a much earlier age than most of us. Has this influenced his outlook? Barack Obama Sr. was born into a muslim family and converted back after a time in his youth as a Roman Catholic. Throughout his childhood, the President seems to have been surrounded – if at a distance – by Islam. Has this meant that he has consciously decided to back the majority sunni sect as part of his worldview? It is suspected that shiite Iran has made a deal with Al-Qaeda. Do the Administrations actions suggest that they as well are on the same side as Al-Qaeda in the civil wars now raging in the Middle East? One hopes that the nations interests are not being filtered in such a manner.

 

What Does Mexico Want?

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Filed Under Foreign Affairs on Jun 18 

Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi sits shackled in a Mexican prison since March 31, when the veteran took a wrong turn and crossed the border on his way to visit a fellow vet. Four Mexican soldiers did the same a while back and were released within 48 hours. Two very different countries, two very different legal systems. In a country where corruption is much more than a suspicion, one has to ask: what does Mexico want in return for the release of Sgt. Tahmooressi? And of course, what is the White House doing to bring him home? This wouldn’t be about the millions of illegals from Mexico, and other Central and South American countries, who crossed that same border to enter the USA? Does Obama’s White House understand that Sgt. Tahmooressi’s wrong turn is not a chip that Mexico can cash in to gain assurances that immigration reform, with some type of amnesty attached, is on the way?

House Judiciary Chairman (R-VA) Bob Goodlatte admits that any chance of the House passing a bill on immigration reform before the August recess is just about nil since Cantor’s defeat. He would like some sort of Republican position te be defined but, as even a moderate like him admits, border security has to be improved beofre anything else gets done. And any true border security requires trustworthy cooperation between the two or more nations that define a border. With Mexico that is just not possible for several reasons: Mexico does not want to curtail the flow of illegals as it solves unemployment problems and increases the remittance flows back into the country as illegal workers send part of their paychecks to their families in Mexico. As well, the flow of narcotics across the frontier has been a problem for as long, or longer, than the flow of illegal immigrants has. Who is involved in that illegal drug trade on the Mexican side of the border is a troubling question. Because of this, border security is a one way solution, with the American taxpayer funding the costs and American border and security officers putting themselves at risk to ensure those resources are well spent defending the border.

In other words, it is a matter of law, in the most fundamental sense. The legal framework and the Constitution which gave it life, and the courts which update and define the laws are the foundation of the country and the prime mover behind its success. Eroding that foundation to solve the problem of illegal immigration is a dangerous excercise with unforetold consequences. Mexico has to understand that and has to understand that the White House will – make that should – do everything to bring Sgt. Tahmooressi home, except grant amnesty to those who broke the law.

In the past several days, the Sunni militia group ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has made massive gains in its campaign against the Iraqi government by taking Tikrit and Mosul. While some Iraqi military units have fought valiantly against these fundamentalists, many have just evaporated before the group. At no time in the past several years has Iraq faced a crisis as grave as this and if not dealt with soon, the government is in danger of falling. The Iraq of today which has cost the U.S. and our allies so heavily in blood and treasure since 2003 is coming undone and the President is dithering.

ISIS was formed shortly after the 2003 invasion in Iraq by Sunni extremists bent on creating a new Islamic caliphate. It has been responsible for numerous attacks in the past against Coalition forces and has had a strong presence in Syria. For numerous reasons, ISIS is hostile with many groups, some contradictory like the forces of Syria’s Assad and its opponent the FSA (Free Syrian Army). This is primarily due to their brutal tactics, inability to have sustainable working relationships with other groups and their ultimate goal which is incompatible with other groups. Al Qaeda has even viewed ISIS as too extreme. Regardless, ISIS has formed itself into a well-organized fighting force and its recent success in Iraq prove as much.

While ISIS has been a known threat for some time in Iraq, the most recent events are predated by the capture of Fallujah by ISIS this January. Fallujah is a mere 43 miles west of the capital Baghdad and since January, the Iraqi government has not been able to wrest control of it back. Now ISIS is preparing to advance further south into Shia regions (regarded by ISIS as infidels) and into Baghdad itself. I get the distinct impression that this was a threat that we should have been far more aware of and should’ve taken a much closer look at.

So why should the U.S. care? As I already said, we’ve spilt too much blood and spent too much treasure to have Iraq fall into flames. To allow such a situation to happen is a slap in the face to all the sacrifices made by the U.S., our allies, and the 100,000 plus Iraqis who have died over the past decade. Now I know the President is happy because in his mind he ended the war in Iraq as ending a war is something as simple as pulling out troops. Initially the administration offered limited response to this crisis, mainly typical ineffectual White House calls to end the violence and that we’re watching the situation closely with great interest. Now though the administration is considering the possibility of military action.

What I don’t understand is that in Iraq, a country we invested so heavily in that the preparation for the assault of Mosul and Tikrit by thousands of armed militiamen in an organized operation went apparently unnoticed. Is our intelligence in Iraq that bad that we failed to foresee this? Furthermore, the Iraqi government has requested U.S. airstrikes against ISIS, requests we immediately rebuffed. Only now is Obama saying that airstrikes are on the table but given the actions of this president in other situations I’ve learned to place a very small value on his words.

Iraq is falling. The government of Maliki is losing its support while the Iraqi military is running from fighting this tyrannical group. The Kurds seeing that the government can’t protect its citizens have called up the Peshmerga (Kurdish fighters) to occupy cities that the Iraqi military has withdrawn from while Shia groups are preparing to do defend themselves and do battle against ISIS. The government is teetering while the threat of full blown sectarian violence is real. This isn’t Syria or the Ukraine, this is Iraq, a country that for many Americans is much closer to home.

We have no problem launching drone strikes all over the Middle East to kill some bomb maker in this country or a propaganda chief in another. But when an ally is collapsing, we sit back. Now I’m not saying we need troops on the ground and I wouldn’t support that. This doesn’t mean we don’t have other options. We can provide intelligence that the Iraqi government seeks, the airstrikes which the Iraqi military isn’t capable of performing, and the public support that can show our resolve is real. In this situation, I just can’t fathom the indecisiveness and indifference by my president.

Now after well over a week since the prisoner swap story over Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl story broke, the Obama administration has decided to shift responsibility for it to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. After Hagel stated that the decision had been made by a group, the White House is now claiming that he “signed off” on the deal to hand the Sgt. over in exchange for the five Taliban prisoners. Now by law, Secretary of Defense Hagel is required to sign off on such a deal but I get the distinct impression that the administration is using Hagel as a scapegoat in light of the backlash it has received concerning the swap from all political corners. Regardless of how people might feel about Hagel and his policies and views, it is downright disrespectful and shameful for the administration to throw him under the bus this way.

I still have many questions over the story of Sgt. Bergdahl but I will reserve judgment on them until more information is released to the public and an investigation is conducted. I refuse to condemn the man and his plight over the past 5 years until the truth is revealed. What I will not stand for though is a man such as Secretary of Defense Hagel receiving the full brunt of criticism for this exchange before a full investigation is carried out. Fault Hagel for multiple defense-related issues that one might not agree with but to have him take the fall for this administration to save President Obama’s approval ratings from further falling is disgusting.

Secretary of Defense Hagel was brought into this administration under many questions from the right. For starters, he was a Republican who during his Senate tenure was very outspoken against the war in Iraq during the Bush administration, a position which failed to earn him any points in the heart of conservatives or those Americans interested in an active foreign policy. During his confirmation hearings in the Senate last year though, he for the most part faced criticism over his failure to adopt a highly supportive position on Israel and a hawkish stance on Iran; it was perhaps this issue that drew the most criticism of him and not issues that truly affect the U.S. military such as the dangerous increase in suicides or our declining technological advantage against certain possible future opponents.

Whatever the case, Hagel was confirmed as Secretary of Defense. Since then, Hagel has been accused of directly downsizing the U.S. military to dangerous levels, reducing the security of Israel, and caving into the Russians and Chinese to the detriment of U.S. security among other things. Now, while it may be true that SoD Hagel has supported positions that have played into these negatives, he isn’t the executive who signs off on them. While the SoD is “the principal assistant to the President in all matters relating to Department of Defense” large issues are not handled independently of the president. Don’t think for a second that the SoD operates in a closed environment.

Now to believe that the POTUS wasn’t highly involved in the Bergdahl exchange as this was the first time in how long that the U.S. has conducted a prisoner swap is absurd. Regardless, despite however you feel about the swap, one must accept the fact that it wasn’t solely the result of a decision made by the SoD but of multiple administration officials and at the top, the POTUS himself. Ever since the swap though, public approval of it has rapidly deteriorated as more negative information has emerged. Unfortunately for SoD Hagel, as public disapproval has mounted, so has the blame by the administration for the prisoner swap transitioned from the POTUS to Hagel.

Now I accept the fact that as a member of the public I’m not privy to all the information that is available and the absolute truth might never be known. Regardless whatever the situation concerning Bergdahl may be, it’s the approval granted by the POTUS and not SoD Hagel that secured his release. I for one am sick and tired of this administration and president deflecting blame for every action it takes and placing it on a subordinate. When will this administration adopt the policy of the “buck stops here” rather than always conveniently seeking out a scapegoat.

Ever since the Russian annexation and incorporation of the Crimea earlier this year, news in the United States concerning the situation in the Ukraine has slowly dropped to a trickle. Americans like others have news fatigue and it’s inevitable that interest in stories will wane as time goes on. Unfortunately, the situation in the Ukraine, particularly in the East has vastly deteriorated and the region is now inching towards a civil war.

In recent weeks, the Ukrainian military has gone from being easily disarmed by unarmed pro-Russian protesters to actively engaging armed pro-Russian militants. While some may take comfort in the fact that sizable Russian military forces that had been amassed on the Ukraine-Russia border have since been withdrawn, a potentially more dangerous situation has emerged. A conflict between Russia and the Ukraine would be awful, disastrous for the Ukraine but would draw enough international attention and condemnation that it would be relatively short. The same can’t be said of an expanded conflict between a pro-Russian insurgency and the Ukrainian military which would be a long, drawn-out fight that would ultimately see increased civilian casualties.

While the Russian takeover of the Crimea was done with little blood, the fight to retake revolting portions of Eastern Ukraine hasn’t been, far from it. In recent weeks multiple ambushes and attacks have occurred with loss of life on both sides to the tune of over 200 and it is only getting worse. What’s more unnerving is that the pro-Russian insurgent’s aren’t solely using small arms such as pistols and sub-machine guns and improvised weapons such as Molotov cocktails. They’ve also been using RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and other more deadly weaponry that can only have been obtained by raiding Ukrainian military munition dumps or which are being provided to them by external entities such as Russia.

On May 29th, a Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopter was shot down by militants resulting in the loss of life of 14 Ukrainian servicemen including a Ukrainian general. This by no means is the first nor will it be the last shoot down of a Ukrainian helicopter by pro-Russian forces. The shooting down of helicopters is not a hallmark of low-level domestic crises. This is a dangerous situation and unfortunately one that is now being too under reported. What’s worse, if the Russians feel that the Ukrainians are going too far, President Putin will have in his mind and under Russian law his mandate to intervene militarily in Eastern Ukraine to protect Russian citizens. Though I’d be hard pressed to find a person not from the Kremlin who believes that Putin doesn’t have a direct hand in this already.

The Anti-Defamation League’s recent survey on antisemitism around the globe throws up some interesting and disturbing data; over a billion people display a clear antisemitic bias in their responses. And the survey was unable to include Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan for understandable reasons. In the Americas some countries surprise by the percentge of hostile views: 52% of Panamanians display antisemitic views for example. Argentina and Mexico come in at 24% and Chile is a disturbing 37%. Brazil is better, 16% are hostile, worse than peace loving Norway by … 1%. That’s right, 15 out of every 100 Norwegians display antisemitic views, far more than their neighbours in Sweden, at 4% one of the lowest in the world. The U.S. comes in at 9% while Canada — Australia and New Zealand display identical results — disappoints at 14%.

Why is Norway four times as anti-semitic as Sweden? It wouldn’t have to do with their status as dispensers of the coveted Nobel Peace Prize? Alfred Nobel, who died in 1896 after amassing a fortune in Oil and Armaments — dynamite and ballistite were his inventions, decreed in his will that a peace prize be part of his legacy and be awarded by a commitee of 5 individuals chosen by the Norwegian Parliament. Over its 100 year plus history, the award has been decided by the Norwegian Parliament, the Oslo University Faculty of Law and the Norwegian Nobel Institue. Since 1990, the Parliament has again taken control of the selection process. Why did Nobel choose Norway? It seems to have been political; the union between Sweden and Norway was being dissolved at the time and Sweden was seen to have a more militaristic tradition.

The prize has remained political, to say the least. So perhaps Norway feels it can cast a critical eye at the State of Israel for actually defending themselves in one the world’s most explicitly and ideologically hostile regions. Would Norwegians consider themselvs anti semitic? As prosperous, peaceful, well educated citizens of the world, they couldn’t possibly feel that they are biased or prejudiced, could they? Maybe Norwegians should spend more time in Sweden or Holland, (5%), and understand why Israel’s defence is a daily matter of survival.

On Friday, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) routed the ruling Indian National Congress (INC) to gain an outright majority, the first time a single party has won a majority in 30 years and the greatest electoral defeat ever experienced by the INC. This is seen as a response to increasing corruption scandals in India as well as anemic economic growth and with this victory, opposition leader Narendra Modi will soon become the new Indian prime minister. This presents an opportunity for both the U.S. and India. The relationship between the U.S. and India can best be described as at times ambiguous and at others an afterthought. Now though, with the growing importance of Asia, our “Asian Pivot” and with a new government in India, Washington must take advantage of this situation and approach the world’s most populous democracy with arms open.

Historically, Indias relations with other countries have been all over the map. During the Cold War India was a founding member of the Non-Alignment Pact but developed a close relationship with the Soviet Union, a relationship that continues with Russia today. Yet India maintained relationships with the U.S., European states and others; it can be said India is a prime example of a country that eschews the idea of entering into entangling alliances. In recent years, India has sought greater connections with disparate nations owing to a changing regional environment. The rise of China has led India to seek a balancing coalition against it, while the deterioration of U.S. -Pakistan relations over the years has created an open window for greater engagement with the U.S.

The Bush administration made several advances towards India including reversing the U.S. opposition to India’s nuclear program, assisting in tsunami search and rescue efforts, and promoting easier trade. A variety of factors helped to further this relationship and many felt positive by President Obamas trip to India in late 2010 when he backed India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. But little has been done since then to bolster the relationship. Despite the numerous shared concerns held by both nations, and the “Asian Pivot,” India has been practically ignored while certain events have served to set back the relationship. Furthermore, PM-elect Modi has been essentially blacklisted by the U.S. since the early 2000s due to charges of his involvement, or lack of in violent sectarian riots that killed more than 1,000.

Regardless of these problems, the U.S. must act now and embrace India. We can’t ignore its leadership which has been provided an overwhelming mandate by the people. India is the second-most populous country in the world, the most populous of any democracy; it is an emerging power with an economy that is currently eleventh in the world by nominal GDP. There is no reason why the U.S. shouldn’t make enhanced engagement with India a top priority. In a time when the Asia-Pacific region is growing in importance and what some may say has already overshadowed Europe in economic importance, it is vital that the U.S. engage countries such as India. To fail to do so will only serve to set this country back.

Boko Haram may be our fault according to Richard Dowden, Executive Director of the Royal African Society and a British journalist with years of experience covering the continent. He doesn’t say it outright, but in his opinion piece at CNN’s site he lists the inequality and pitiful lack of development as vital factors in radicalizing what was, according to him, a relatively peaceful Islamic movement a decade or so ago. After pointing fingers at the Nigerian government for it’s corruption and lack of interest in the north of the country, one can feel the very visible hand of liberal guilt waving an angry finger in our general direction. His thesis that development needs to accompany any military mission to impoverished corners of the world is more than reasonable, taking into account the purely advisory role of U.S. officials in this case. One must ask, however, what are the possibilities of sustained, orderly development when armed Islamic groups are roaming the land imposing sharia law by terrorism? If previous Nigerian governments had only invested more, much more, of their oil wealth in hospitals, schools and other infrastructure, would a group that emerged in 1995 and seemed dedicated from the get go to jihad have melted away in the glow of social entitlements? Had Nigeria constructed schools and hospitals and more on a scale similar to say, Saudi Arabia, would Christian girls now be studying peacefully and happily at schools across the north?

Nigeria is now Africa’s largest economy and with a population north of 170 million, also its largest. “Sixty percent live in poverty” in Dowden’s words. That’s about 100 million people living in poverty. Let’s assume that Boko Haram have several thousand active members. Double up and suppose it’s 10 thousand. That would mean that 99.99& of those who struggle on a daily basis to survive and dream of advancing do not engage in radical Islamic terrorism. And Christian charities who operate on the ground in Nigeria providing everything from clean drinking water to schools, where young Nigerians can better themselves, and yes build their faith, sometimes seem like the only bulwark against the rampaging thugs of Boko Haram. Pope Francis, in a recent meeting with UN officials, called for ” the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state.” Does the former Peronista, perhaps a bout of youthful enthusiasm, have a fondness for large, state run programs funded by your tax dollars? Pope Francis has shown a certain sympathy for the hard left who he seems to want to guide rather than confront the way John Paul II did. Would Francis have the UN solve Nigeria’s problems and pacify Boko Haram? Imagine your tax dollars flowing from Washington to the UN’s maze of fiefdoms and then overseas and into the waiting coffers of Nigeria’s government. Is that the way to stop Boko Haram? Where would you put your money? That is, aside from those tax dollars paying for U.S. officials and security forces already over there, desperately trying to help find the missing girls.

The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad, more commonly known as Boko Haram has thrust itself into the media spotlight as of late with its kidnapping of over 230 schoolgirls. This group seeks to end Westernization (while using weapons that are products of the west) in a region encompassing parts of Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger while working towards installing a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia. I’m the type that believes in respecting the ideals of any group, even those that I’m opposed to because who am I to judge the beliefs of others; in this case though, I see this as a particularly despicable group of animals. As a sign of solidarity with the girls, First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted a photo of her holding a sign saying “#BringBackOurGirls.” You tell them First Lady!

So why were these girls captured by this ever so noble group? Well its leader, Abubakar Shekau believes that girls should be denied an education and should instead be married even as young as nine. Since these poor girls defied that, they should now be sold into slavery as Shekau states “slavery is allowed in my religion.” Even sadder, most of these girls are not Muslim but Christian and one must fear ultimately what their fate will be. And this violence isn’t new for them. Driven by fanatics, they’ve killed over 10,000 Muslims and Christians in the past decade in their quest to create a state that contributes nothing to society as a whole.

What should be done? The options at least for the United States are limited. We are providing assistance in finding the abducted girls while military assistance is off the table unless requested by the Nigerian government, a government which mind you had advanced warning of the attack but was unable to respond. Furthermore, morale in the Nigerian army is low; just recently, Nigerian troops fired on a Major General who was blamed for a Boko Haram ambush that killed several Nigerian soldiers. The international community, in the west has been increasing its support against Boko Haram while several high profile Muslim groups and leaders have condemned the group as misguided and acting in contradiction to Islam. Indeed, it has been reported that this group operates with relatively little external support or connections to other Islamic terrorist groups.

So what we have are a group of absolutely crazed fanatics, operating in contradiction to Islam who are either driven by blood lust or borderline intelligence or both. Absolutely disgusting. Now as for the First Lady, her tweet is part of a global campaign for the group to let these girls go. I’m sorry, but a tweet doesn’t cut it in this case. Despite our options being limited, I believe the First Lady can do far more than a simple tweet. Bear in mind, she is the mother of two young girls who are currently in school. I’m tired of this Administration screaming about how we must be respectful to others and that we must be more diplomatic; what we need to do is stop mincing our words. This is a group that deserves neither; what it deserves is to be liquidated. A tweet more along those lines I believe is what this situation calls for.

My thoughts and prayers are with these poor girls and their families. A truly heinous event.

Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan…and (as of May 1st) Brunei, a small country in Southeast Asia–These countries are all dominated by sharia law, a legal system based on the Quran and scholarly interpretations of Muslim leaders. For Westerners, this system of laws can seem harsh if not downright barbaric. Now sharia law is being established in Brunei. For those not in the know, its oil fields make Brunei the fifth-richest nation in the world and the only country other than Libya to have no national debt. In this particular case, size really doesn’t matter.

Delving into sharia law could take a college semester, so I’ll run through an example of ‘due process’ under this Draconian law, which is most often enforced by religious policemen, or mutaween. First, a crime is reported by two to four eyewitnesses or by a confession. The eyewitnesses, of course, can only be adult Muslim men. Even if these criteria aren’t met, a judge can still impose sentencing without enough evidence. The range of crimes range from adultery to theft, but the crimes most shocking to Westerners are the subtle ones. For example, a male doctor cannot examine a female patient, under any circumstances, without a family member present. In 2013, a Afghan doctor forgot this law, and both he and his female patient were brutally stoned by a mob. The fate of two is unknown, but many suspect the doctor either died or fled the country after recovering.

To be fair, there are many levels of sharia law, and countries don’t adopt ALL aspects of it. Some allow citizens to choose sharia law’s application, and some only use it in regard to civil instances.

However, the question is how far should the U.S. go to understand and appreciate a foreign country’s religious customs, even when those customs are downright barbaric? We’re not talking a different idol or different language. We’re talking actions that are so distasteful to Americans that, if committed in the U.S., would result in a life sentence or even death for the instigator. How can we tolerate a country that holds these same individuals up as models of righteousness?

Simple. We can’t.

Christian missionaries have never had an easy time in China.┬áSince the first Christians arrived around 635 AD, they have been occasionally tolerated and mostly persecuted by various emperors who feared their effect on the general population. So perhaps the destruction of a Christian church in Wenzhou is not just a Communist government crackdown on freedom of worship. Sanjiang church was a government approved project, a state sponsored Protestant place of worship under the so-called “Three Self Patriotic Movement.” It seems, however, after a tour by Zhejiang Party Secretary Xia Baolong, who declared the temples “too conspicuous”, a campaign to demolish them is underway. The method, as a spokesman for the proganda department of the relevant county stated, is of course to accuse them of code violations. And what better way to assure that they comply with building standards regarding size and height than to bring out the bulldozers?

Why should we care as long as China keeps producing cheap manufactured goods for the rest of the world? Beyond the fact that there are estimated to be over 60 million Christians in the country — this should not be about numbers but the fact they could easily populate a country in Europe shows the dimension of the repression — this is clearly about freedom. The freedom to worship is at the heart of American society, in the absurd case that anyone needed reminding, and what is happening in China is symptomatic of the controls the communist government in Beijing uses to keep itself firmly in charge of the population. When America opened up it’s economy to the Chinese several decades ago it did so in the hope that it would lead to greater freedom in the Asian giant, as well as providing, (let’s be honest), the opportunity for enormous profits for American firms. Not everyone has profited in their dealings with the Chinese regime but a lot of wealth has been created, some of it even in the West. Let us hope, and pray, that a signal of clear support for the beleaguered Christian community in Wenzhou comes not just from Christians but from the government as well. Would that put some short term profits at risk? Likely, but over the longer term, freedom of worship is the only way forward for China – morally and economically by the way. Let’s help them understand that.

Last week, Vice President Biden was talking tough in the Ukraine. He called on Russia to get the pro-Russian militias in East Ukraine to leave the buildings that they are occupying. Otherwise, Russia might find itself “isolated”. Is Putin shaking in his KGB boots? Hardly. When not making harsh statements about possible military action in the neighboring state, where Russian forces are already at work by all indications, he’s on the phone with President Obama. So as the VP gets as blunt as a European diplomat during the Balkans War, the President negotiates with Putin, or at least chats on the phone with him. In this political theatre — There are real deaths occurring in Donetsk as this theatre plays out — does anyone believe that Russia will adhere to the frayed, if not collapsed, Geneva Accord?

One is sorely tempted to ask: what would President Reagan have done? But perhaps we need to turn to another leader that Reagan surely admired. What would Churchill have done? What is happening in East Ukraine seems to resemble the late forties and the Soviet occupation of Europe, all over again. Donetsk is not Berlin or Prague, but it is a sovereign state under siege if not yet invasion by Russia, where Putin’s ambition to recreate some form of the Soviet Union if not the Warsaw Pact is fairly clear. By the late forties Churchill was out of power and had lost the battle with Roosevelt over whether to confront their former wartime ally. The Iron Curtain had fallen and Operation Unthinkable, the British code name for a planned war with the Soviets, had been shelved. It would have been costly in life and treasure and would have prolonged the war, but might have freed Eastern Europe from Soviet occupation. Does 2014 resemble 1946? That would be dramatic, but Europe’s willingness to stand up to Putin seems to depend on how much gas flows from East to West. In other words, no one wants to confront Putin. There is no Churchill, or Pope John Paul II, or Thatcher, and the best we can hope for is that the ties of commerce and trade that bind Russia with her neighbors to the West will ultimately force Putin and his wealthy backers to show some restraint. And for that, we have President Reagan to thank, who turned the world back towards freedom and achieved what most at the time had believed impossible: he took on the Soviets and won.

North Korea is what Stalin and Mao Zedong dreamed of creating, only in the case of the “Hermit Nation”, it worked. Millions of people working only for the good of the state, and the state boiling down to a single despotic ruler. No Roman ruler ever exerted such autonomous control. The rule of Kim il-Sung’s dynasty is so absolute, it’s almost a living cartoon. And, of course, it’s a living cartoon that is now preparing for yet another nuclear test, according to recent reports from South Korea.

It’s amazing to me that we have allowed North Korea to exist as long as it has, considering it is a country bent on the destruction of the U.S. That is not opinion; that is North Korea’s national policy. Just take a look at the country’s website. Equally amazing is the fact that we allow this brainwashed mass of Marxist zombies to reside within a literal stone’s throw from one of our closest allies, South Korea. I appreciate the technological products of South Korea, especially since I am using one of their intuitive products right now: a Samsung Chromebook. Our best opportunity to topple the nation, after the death of Kim Jong-il, came and went (with no move by President Obama) and with each passing day, his baby-faced son, Kim Jong-un, grows more dug in.

This is not like Russia or China, where the attraction and prosperity of capitalism eventually eclipsed the rhetoric of capitalism. North Korea’s leaders created such intense isolation with the Juche philosophy that there will never be a flood of capitalism, only a trickle.

With improved technology and a young leader that needs to prove himself to his obedient masses, the next few years with North Korea should be filled with more than rhetoric, and unless the U.S. steps in to silence the constant threats and lies of the nation, the cost may be our greatest Asian ally, South Korea.