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A Light Fickers

Posted by Bob Kohm on September 20, 2013

This has been a week of hopeful words from unexpected sources, words that give succor to the soul but arouse unease in the intellect.

From Pope Francis I we hear words of hope, words that say that the Church has buried itself for far too long in doctrinal small sightedness which has made cynical the flock. A religion founded on the principles so well expounded in the tale of the Samaritan– tolerance for difference, kindness in the face of prejudice, the universality of the human condition and the amelioration of its woes– has submerged itself in fights over the denial of earthly rights and heavenly rewards to people over matters pertaining to their love and its physical expressions. From John Boehner we hear rumblings that the nihilistic campaign being waged by the Tea Party isn’t what is right for America, that being elected to govern does not equate with mothballing the government. From as unlikely a source as the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, we hear words of conciliation and mutual respect in a call to welcome Iran back into the community of nations as a full fledged partner, and end to, as he refers to it, an age of blood feuds.

Three disparate sources, one overarching theme– reconciliation. It is impossible for people of hope not to be at least momentarily inspired by words such as these coming in a time as divisive as the one we now populate. Our minds, those cynicized organs so conditioned by the events of the past quarter century to ignore hope in favor of a darker coalescence of possibilities, for a moment lighten as we glimpse that flickering ember and wonder if it can be kindled into a generator not necessarily of heat but still of  tactile reality. The possibility can’t be denied, if even out of sheer desire for it to be real.

The reasons to think it is not real are, sadly, easy to enumerate. Francis is at the helm of a vast doctrinal bureaucracy heavily invested in the teachings of the previous Pontiff, Benedict, whose march to undo the moderatel influence on the Church of John Paul II and John XXIII became the hallmark of his pontificate.

Like the legendary grey men of the permanent British Civil Service, those doctrinally orthodox Cardinals, Bishops and functionaries understand that they will outlast the temporary leadership of their nominative leader; Benedict’s labors to restock the Curia and its various functional apparatuses with younger men are rewarded in that way. They know that they must publicly toe the line drawn by their Pope, but will they rush to enact his decrees or let them linger under study, under “timely” implementations and half hearted directives to the pastoral network, playing the waiting game in hopes of a new, older direction from the next Pope?

Francis and “His” Curia

I discussed yesterday with an old friend, a man of faith, character and intellect, whether the Pope’s words were actually aimed at the doctrinal staff or rather lower, at the grassroots network of parish priests and the faithful. Upon reflection I believe my friend to be correct, that Francis is trying to do an end run around his governing structure and enact change from the bottom by seeing his message preached from the myriad pulpits, thus forcing the Bishops into acceptance and then the structure all the way back to those supposedly closest to the Pope’s direct control in Rome. It strikes me as a desperate play by Francis, although not a hopeless one– my main hope in it is that he acknowledges that the system is broken and that he cannot fix the damage by decree, but must invest his power in the organizationally powerless and ask them, through faith and numbers, to right what is wrong with the Church.

Mr. Boehner faces a problem similar in theme if different in mechanics. Boehner finds himself the nominal leader of a Republican caucus not only badly divided but acting in a manner that is nearly unprecedented in the leadership structure history of his party, While the Democrats have always been a somewhat fractious coalition, earlier of Northern liberals and Dixiecrat conservatives and later of Blue Dogs, liberals, moderates, fiscal conservative/social liberals and various and sundry other ideologues practicing vaious and sundry different ideologies, the GOP has been a much more rigid, lockstep caucus. In the years since the Eisenhower Administration, with the slight aberration of the Gingrich speakership, the GOP in Congress has existed under the tight control of their Speakers and Minority Leaders with strong and able whipping by the lower leadership. It has reliably supported their core themes (at least in the way they’ve been somewhat misleadingly packaged)– lower taxes, smaller government, fiscal responsibility measures, the curtailment of the social safety net, opposition to abortion and the extension of civil rights, sometimes with the abetment of the fractious Democrats and sometimes without. The “Hastert Rule”, which stated that no bill be brought to the floor unless it met with the approval of the majority of the Caucus, seemed absolute.

The brashness of that lockstep record emboldened the Boehner/Cantor leadership to overplay their hand at the close of the first decade of the new century, legitimizing and deploying the proverbial war elephant of the Tea Party Republicans as a force they hubristically thought they could control and whose dynamism they never fully understood. War elephants, as I’ve written in the past, are funny things from a historic perspective– massive, intimidating juggernauts that can scare the enemy off of the battlefield, yes, but more often than not they proved to be unreliable forces of nature as apt to trample their own lines into dust as they were to scatter an opposing army. The elephantine presence of the Tea Party electees of 2010 has done precisely that to Mr. Boehner and Mr. Cantor’s leadership in the House and to a slightly lesser extent Mr. McConnell’s leadership in the Senate.

That leads us to the horns of Mr. Boehner’s dilemma this week– a caucus so out of control as to be characterized by its own members as being on a legislative kamikaze mission to hole the hull of our government. Mr Boehner has made a very poor secret of his attempts to rein in the caucus and to get them to focus on governance rather than on the destruction of the same– his sometimes tiresomely bellicose verbiage has moderated to calls for governmental foresight and moderation. Even speaking as someone who shares very little governing philosophy with Mr. Boehner, I respect his desire for moderation and sanity displayed this past week despite the typhoon of immoderation his previous actions have unleashed. I hope that he can somehow restore the genie to the bottle by force of will and backroom deals among the more pragmatic members of his party, but that hope is again, as is the case with Pope Francis’ hope, limited by the empirical evidence before us to the contrary. It is hard to undo a system that is behaving in a manner so optimally that it has subsumed the governors placed to control it.

Last is the letter delivered to the American people and to the world by newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. In a world set reeling by actions coming from the Middle East since the mid 1960s, what words could be more welcome than those calling for a legitimate peace from one of the nations that have so greatly fostered that reeling instability? Rather than suing for peace, President Rouhani asks for something even more intellectually appealing– and end to the “zero sum game” of lingering Cold War thinking, a new compact founded on a return to (or perhaps, truthfully, a novel) respect for the needs of other nations in the pursuit of the “win-win” scenarios that we all know are possible if the principals would moderate their definition of “wins” away from the absolutism of Berlin or the deck of the USS Missouri. An eminently rational appeal from a nation reputed in the West to be the home of irrationality, a land who sacrificed its children in the 1980s as human minesweepers and who has suckled nascent terrorist movements until they were ready to leave the house and wreak havoc internationally has a seductiveness of the mind almost too tantalizing to ignore.

Is this a deliverable promise–  or even premise– from an Iranian President, however? Is it a simple ruse to take advantage of American war weariness to further complicate our effort to deny Iran nuclear weaponry? Is it a truthful statement of Rouhani’s personal desires but ultimately a meaningless gesture as it is the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, in whom all power is really vested by his control of the theocratic infrastructure, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and, especially, the nuclear apparatus?

In Rouhani, again we see the problem of a putative ruler who may have no control over his supposed domain– a rump ruler, a ruler in name only. In the cases of Boehner and Francis I, the issue is those whom they supposedly represent and speak for; in the case of Iran, it is those whom exist on a plane above the public face of the ruler. Same problem, different ladders. Can the conciliatory words of Rouhani, even if they are delivered with sincerity in the man’s heart (an open question), really amount to anything when Khameini’s IRGC and its al-Quds terrorist network are openly waging war in Syria in support of the Assad regime? Is it possible that, like Francis, Rouhani is trying to inspire the Iranian people to see a better path and institute change from below, perchance by a reinstitution of the Green Revolution that we saw in 2009-2010, a revolution that the US didn’t materially support despite our clear interest in doing so? Could Rouhani be seeking US support for its resurgence? A possibility.

We live in a world where institutions are breaking down and a trend towards anarchy is emerging, a problem illustrated, I believe, by this week’s hopeful words. The superficially unifying theme behind them is reconciliation, yes, but perhaps another darker unification emerges upon consideration of them as an interlocked whole rather than as discrete conversations– the recognition by our leaders that their leadership is in jeopardy and with it so too are our societal institutions. Are the leaders calling on the led to, in effect, dispose of the middlemen– the power of the institutions that have gone rogue, the power of the Curia and its apparatus, the Tea Party, the Iranian Supreme Leadership– in an effort to save not only themselves but their societies as they are currently defined? If so, what are the ramifications of these grasps at newly ethereal power?

I’m tempted to see these as the penultimate gestures from leadership– a rational, constructive and coalition based approach to restoration of the societal norms we’ve become accustomed to over the past centuries. Should they fail, the tumult of the ultimate gestures to retain power– gestures we’ve seen throughout history’s darkest times– seem to be likely as the leaders of our institutions all retain executive powers that they will surely try to use to maintain their power.

Are our societies so flawed that we should allow them to go through a period of painful redefinition at the hands of middle men, or should we hope for an enlightened leadership emerging from those who were perhaps responsible for those middle men attaining so much power in the first place? We’ve seen “middle men” take power so many times in so many nations in the personage of the ambitious Colonels, but this is a different scenario; this time it’s not a jumped up military officer looking to take power but maintain the institution, it’s a fundamental dismantling of the institution by the “Colonels” that is sought, perhaps not unlike the tumult of the move from Feudalism to Limited Constitutional Monarchy or Imperialism to Mercantile Democracy.

The world contemplates change subconsciously this week in the guise of hopeful words that hide situations redolent of the loss of faith. A flickering light burns, but whether or not to nourish the ember to fire– and what we feed that fire with– is becoming the central question of our time.

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Posted in American Politics, Christianity, CongressCritters, Cultural Phenomena, Economy, Foreign Affairs, History, Iran, Middle East, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Saudi Intervention in Bahrain Presages Widespread Economic and Security Disruptions

Posted by Bob Kohm on March 14, 2011

Reports have emerged already from reliable sources (such as Stratfor) that Saudi forces may have already entered Bahrain in support of the besieged government and that Omani forces will enter today as well.

I cannot emphasize enough how important this development could be for America and the world– please do not discount this development because the media is not reporting on it adequately due to the news overload from Japan and Libya; frankly I suspect that this is happening right now in part because of the saturation of the news cycle as Saudi intervention has been rumoured to be ready to go for three weeks now.

Why is this so important? There are two major reasons. First, Saudi and GCC military intervention tells us that there is the real possibility of the Shi’a rebellion succeeding, a major problem as it is being financially and politically backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and representing the long feared first action of Iran on the Western side of the Gulf. As Stratfor points out, Saudi and Omani intervention becomes a very apparent threat to an Iran that is feeling particularly belligerent these days. I would add to that that while Iran cannot really project any land power across the Gulf, it is not without reason to suspect that they might try overt air or naval action or, much more likely, might wage a large scale, thinly covert terrorist wave campaign sponsored by the IRGC and targeted at Saudi and Omani ol targets as well as against the US 5th Fleet which is based in Bahrian. America is economically vulnerable right now and a crippling strike on oil distribution or production facilities or even the renewal of something like the “Tanker War” of the 1980s, the mining of the Straits or even the announced “closing” of the Straits would be a direct attack on our economy; if gas is already heading to $4 based on Libya, what would it go to if the Persian Gulf oil flow was interdicted, and what would $7-10 gas do to our economy? It’s got to be a seductive idea to the Ayatollahs– flexing Iranian muscle against the Saudis to possibly establish an Iranian puppet connected to the Kingdom by a causeway while damaging the Americans and making a long term rise in oil prices inevitable. America’s options will be limited– we can’t afford a general war with Iran and doing anything meaningful to Iran will further exacerbate the oil crisis, we’d be limited to tactical actions like going after Iranian naval assets.

Second, Saudi intervention to put down one of the “popular” revolts sweeping the region makes the possibility of internal instability in the Kingdom much more possible than it appears to be right now. I don’t really need to go into the huge global repercussions of internal strife in the Kingdom which threatens or limits production and distribution.

Should either of these situations come to pass– and one happening makes the other much more likely to happen as well in a cascade– other actors will come into play, notably Venezuela. Chavez will be unable to resist the chance to further screw the US by messing with his own oil production to exacerbate our difficulties at a time when his fortunes are starting to fade. Japan is totally reliant on the Gulf for its oil and is obviously already in a chaotic state and in a little reported (in the West) but very active confrontation with China over the Spratly Islands, which has flared badly over the last six weeks– what impact could there be on that situation, even moreso because of the petroleum/natural gas reserves suspected to exist there?

If I’m right, this intervention could be the start of a bad spiral extending globally over the coming months. It might present dramatically over the next few days or it could unfold slowly over the next few weeks, but be assured that there will be very negative ramifications of a Saudi/GCC intervention in Bahrain.

Posted in American Politics, Events, Foreign Affairs, Iran, Islamists, Middle East, Warfare | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Iranian Protests Re-Emerge, With a Difference

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 10, 2009

During the dramatic June protests that rocked Tehran and other Iranian cities, one thing became obvious from the Twitter feeds and new reports coming out of that nation– everything was being fueled by passion without organization. Massive protests would break out in Tehran, but Kerman would be quiet. Esfahan would be in the streets, but Shiraz would be silent.

One of the primary features of  warfare in the Seventeenth through Nineteenth Centuries was the perpetual quest not to get caught on a narrow front with many of your formations still in column. Think of an army of those days as a “T”– formations would get fed down the vertical column of the “T” while they marched and then deployed wide along the horizontal line at the top of the “T” so that they could attack or defend all along a broad front; to have to weather an attack while still in column would almost inevitably lead to being defeated “in detail”, as one unit after another falls because they couldn’t coordinate their actions and receive the attack as a whole rather than as individuals. So, too, was this the major problem with the Iranian protests; lacking coordination borne of the lack of communication, individual protests never coalesced into a cohesive movement, allowing Revolutionary Guard and other security forces to deal with the protests one by one, limit and handle them, and then redeploy to handle another outburst. In essence, the protest movement was caught marching in column and its units were dispatched in detail by a deployed force.

How did this happen, with so many people across the nation energized and seeking change? The presumed demise of the “Twitter Revolution” lay in its most noted feature– the reliance upon overt and easily monitored social networking and communication sources for coordination. During the first days of protest in Tehran, flash mob style protests were effectively organized via Twitter and Facebook with the more technologically savvy of the Iranian security services trying in vain to convince the command structure that the regime was actually being endangered by these foreign doodads. Once that message got through, about 48 hours into the uprising, things started to change dramatically– Twitter users were being rounded up, the Basij, IRGC, and other security forces were deploying in advance of protests and more importantly were deploying along the lines of advance of protesters, defeating the smaller protests as they marched to designated squares or other meeting points to coalesce into larger mass protests. It was easy to do in the end– they turned off cell and text service to ensure an end to any semi-covert communication and coordination between protest leaders in Tehran and in other cities, then they simply logged on to the Twitter Feeds and Facebook conversations so that they, too, knew exactly what was going to happen where and when.

Twitter is a great way to recruit your army due to its overt and self-disseminating nature , not a way to give it marching orders for those self-same reasons. The Mousavi forces were not able to overcome that obvious fact during the initial outbreak of uprisings; they were not prepared for the scope and nature of the wave that the electoral outcome set off and had no national, or indeed even Tehranian, covert communications net. Nearly all successful uprisings need at their base a cell-based C3I (Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence) that can not only organize and give orders to the field forces but also withstand assault by security forces without compromising the entire enterprise. From the 19th Century Russian Narodnya Volya , the modern progenitor of the cell structure, to the Bolsheviks to the French Resistance to the Viet Minh to the 1970s PLO to al Qaeda and indeed the Iranian Revolution that brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to the fore, the concept of the cell structure has been proven time and again to be integral to major operations against a state security apparatus.

Today, in his Informed Comment Blog, Juan Cole notes that the re-ignition of protests today in Iran shows a major difference from the earlier protest wave– it broke out simultaneously in several cities, hinting at the emergence of a national structure underlying the movement.

If this is the case– and I strongly suspect it is– then the “Green Revolution” may indeed have legs to carry it beyond the spasm of activity we saw last month. While the real possibility existed that the relative quiet of the past two weeks signalled the ultimate victory of the Khameini-Ahmahinejad Regime over the Mousavi faction, it now seems that the Mousavites have constructively used this lull to organize a cell structured, covert C3I network and have trotted it out today in an obviously successful trial run. On what the exact mechanism of this structure is I won’t speculate, but Cole did report that the Iranian security structure disabled the cell texting network today but that did nothing to stop the coordinated civil disobedience. Moreover, the regime has allegedly responded quickly with deadly force, perhaps signaling their surprise at the developments of the day and unpreparedness to deal with it.

It will be interesting to see if the Mousavi faction will use this new structure in a very public and showy wave of new protests in an attempt to effect the quick collapse of the regime or if they will go to ground  and use it in a long, strategic campaign to destabilize and ultimately depose the Iranian theocratic structure by using popular unrest and the weight of the regime against itself. I view this in the same light as the “Daily Kos” vs. Obama fight that we saw in the Democratic Party in 2007 & 2008– there will be a strong will amongst the younger, more passion driven foot soldiers to get back in the streets and stay there, while the deceivingly conservative Mousavi and his leadership circle will likely look more to the mid-term and a campaign of destabilization that will ultimately lead to a more gradual change.

The coming days, months and year will be very interesting to watch.

Posted in History, Iran, Islamists, Middle East | Leave a Comment »

The Folly of a Denuclearized Iran

Posted by Bob Kohm on July 6, 2009

I have, in the past, been an advocate for taking extreme measures to prevent Iran’s ascension to the ranks of nuclear armed nations. Clearly a nuclear-armed Iran presents problems for many nations in the Middle East and, of course, remains an unfavorable outcome. The question is just how unfavorable that outcome is and how much of our national prestige, treasure, influence and ultimately blood we should expend in the effort to prevent it.

Atomic weaponry is at its base a 1940s technology, nuclear weaponry a 1950s one. The major hindrance to producing these weapons is not exotic technologies, amazing leaps of knowledge in physics or even access to raw uranium , it is access to centrifuges to refine and enrich the uranium or, if one wishes to build plutonium weapons, the construction of breeder reactors. This is not to say that building the cascade of high-speed centrifuges needed to produce sufficient quantities of enriched uranium isn’t a major undertaking– it surely is, requiring a bit of underhanded dealing and a whole lot of cash. Therein lies the problem– building centrifuges is merely very difficult, and merely difficult is not all that much of an impediment to even less developed nations. It wasn’t to South Africa, a pariah nation at the height of the Apartheid Era which constructed a nuclear arsenal and even tested a nuke in conjunction with Israel. It certainly hasn’t been to the North Koreans, who field an arsenal that might already include 15-20 weapons. Pakistan has had no trouble not only developing but distributing nuclear technology and, perhaps, weaponry. Argentina and Brazil abandoned weapons programs under superpower pressure at the final stages of construction. Basically, this is “rocket science”, not light speed technology. My five year old builds rockets. He doesn’t have to design a rocket, formulate and synthesize the fuel, do the aerodynamic testing on the stabilizers or engineer the best nozzle. It’s already been done for him, just as all the hard parts of building a nuclear weapon have been done for Tehran. It’s just a matter of collecting the parts and established technologies and then following the steps to turn them into something. My son is a bright kid, but as yet he hasn’t proven himself to be Oppenheimer, much less Einstein.

If we posit that stopping any determined nation from building an atomic or nuclear weapon over sixty years after the engineering work was done is not a matter of technologic secrecy, then we have to ask just what it is that will prevent a nation from building their own nukes. Even during the Cold War era of dual superpower pressure to limit the expansion of nuclear leverage South Africa pulled it off despite the clear application of US-USSR pressure; in a era of unipolar power, then, how do we presume that expansion can be absolutely stopped?

Clearly, we cannot. With the technology out there, any nation that can scrape together the money, technicians and political will can and will develop nuclear weapons in the next two decades. Nobody wanted North Korea to have nuclear weapons; they now have them. Nobody– nobody– wants Iran to have nuclear weapons. An Iranian weapon is a passing threat to the Untied States and Europe, a very slightly more real threat to Israel, but a huge threat to the national interests of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Iraq. It is a direct challenge to the Arab leadership engendered in the Egypt-Saudi system, and a confirmation of the fealty of Syria & Lebanon to Tehran. It is the avenue by which Iran sees itself returning to the prestige of Darian Persia, being the hegemon not only of the Persian Gulf but asserting its alpha presence into the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey. In Tehe\ran’s mind, fielding nuclear weapons undoes the millenia of humiliation that followed Alexander’s defeat of Darius III. A nuclear armed Iran in domination of the Gulf also promotes another of Shi’a Iran’s major goals– the refutation of the Sunni Islam in favor of an ascendant Shi’a Caliphate, with unfettered Shi’a access to Mecca and Shi’a philosophy and beliefs making clear inroads into the presently Sunni/Wahabbi dominated Islamic culture. Given these prizes, this is not an aspiration that Iran is going to negotiate away– what could be offered them that would trump regional hegemony and the justification of their religious beliefs?

If technology is not a barrier and diplomacy not an option, we are left with a military solution to preventing Iran from deploying nuclear weapons. Israel is seen as a primary actor in that supposed drama, but I have great difficulty in finding the mode by which they could accomplish anything meaningful with their current force structure. Operations against Iran would presumably be carried out by the IDF’s principal strike systems, the F-15 & F-16 attack planes. Those planes face tremendous hurdles in operating against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, not the least of which is raw distance. While the F-15I, Israel’s primary strike aircraft, has a maximum range that would enable it to strike Iranian targets that presumes an aircraft lightly loaded, operating at optimal altitude and at a steady, moderate speed with external fuel tanks replacing weaponry. Changing the assumptions to include a more realistic combat profile– heavy weaponry, long periods of low altitude flying, periods of high speed flight– and the F-15I would, at minimum, need refueling over the Persian Gulf itself going in and coming out of Iran. It would also necessitate violating the airspace of either Iraq and Syria, Turkey, or Jordan & Saudi Arabia not only by the high speed strike aircraft but also by the slow, easy to shoot down tankers… who would also have to linger in hostile territory waiting to refuel the exiting strike. To further complicate the matter, defense suppression aircraft would also need to get in as the Iranian nuclear sites are highly defended by the latest Russian SAMs. All of this presumes that the Israelis have some weapon that even the Americans have not been able to produce– an effective, very lightweight munition capable of being carried over extreme distances and then penetrating the deepest, most reinforced bunkers in the world. Given that there are at least 30 sites spread throughout Iran, many of them literally built in caverns under mountains, the ability of Israel to stop the Iranian program via airstrikes is likely nil.Given that outcome, we can also dispose of the concept put forward by some that the Saudis or Turks would grant an air corridor for the strike; nobody wants to kick a nuclear armed hornets nest if they can’t be assured of its destruction.

The only path open to Israel for actually destroying Iran’s nuclear program is via its own nuclear weapons. Good luck with the politics on that one, Mr. Netanyahu.

America, similarly, has limited options here. We could fight our way through Iranian air defenses at some cost to put bombs on the surface above Iranian facilities, but we could not destroy those facilities with any level of confidence and would have to absorb incredible political damage to do even that in addition to seeing greatly expanded Iranian deviltry in Iraq and across the globe. A general invasion of Iran is, of course, not an option and even establishing and defending temporary airheads at the sites of their nuclear facilities to effect their destruction would seem to be a nearly impossible task.

With no diplomatic, technological, or workable military options, we must soberly reasses our goals and abilities vis-a-vis Iran. A nuclear armed Iran does not pose a threat in the sense of their threatening or actually carrying out strategic nuclear strikes against Western cities or military targets– clearly doing so would result in the total destruction of Iran. While many have stated that Iran is somehow divorced from physical reality by their alleged desire to become martyrs for Allah and thus are not subject to the threat of death, isn’t it clear from the events of the past three weeks that even the Ayatollahs are firmly invested in the power, rewards and goals of “this” life?

Where Iran poses a threat is in the limitation of America’s ability to project power in the Gulf and the end of Egyptian-Saudi leadership of the Islamic world. Israel listens to the words of Ahmahinejad and hears the voice of doom, but in reality Iran as a nuclear power is of little enhanced threat to Israel as compared to Iran of today. At worst Israel and Iran would exist under the very stable MAD regime that the US & USSR existed under for decades.

Iran as a nuclear power complicates the world, but doesn’t pose much of a real threat to the West. We should react accordingly.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Iran, Israel, Middle East, Nuclear Weapons | 2 Comments »

Obama to Islam: We Are Not Your Enemy

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 27, 2009

President Obama (and doesn’t it feel good to read that instead of “President-elect Obama”?) gave an interview to al-Arabiya satellite TV and in the process declared to the Muslim world that the United States is not it’s enemy.

While from our perspective Obama is correct, this will obviously be a tough sell to many in the Islamic nations. The reality is that we must and will be continuing combat operations against or at least within Islamic nations for the foreseeable future– the devolution of Pakistan is going to be one of the major foreign policy story of the next two years along with the fall and Islamification of Mubarak’s Egypt, we are likely going to be seeing a lot more about major coordinated operations in Afghanistan, sooner or later the Special Ops types conducting operations in Indonesia and the Philippines are going to get picked up on by the main stream media, etc.

Is it unreasonable to ask the Islamic people to see us as anything other than an enemy? To put it closer to our own cultural experience, let’s ignore our strategic treaty alliance with the Aussies and suppose that China or India attacked Australia. Even though they wouldn’t be attacking the US, would we feel an enmity towards the Chinese? Does anyone recall a wave of Argentinian sympathy when the Falklands war was going on? Me either. Perhaps even more on point is the reaction of the Russians to the NATO operations against their Slavic brethren in Serbia. There was no compelling strategic linkage between Belgrade and Moscow, but that became the very identifiable pivot upon which the emotions of the Russian people turned on the West, facilitating the emergence of Putin’s dictatorial powers.

As an American, I do not view Islam as an enemy although I do see it as being the facilitator for the emergence of our enemies. It’s a fairly nuanced view and one that I realize many of our countrymen don’t share for a number of reasons, from positions that posit that Islam is indeed the enemy to the neo-Buddhist views of the far left that hold we have no enemy except ourself. In the Islamic nations, especially in the ones that are lacking in affluence and education, it is so much easier to simply hear the Pat Robertsons and Dick Cheneys of our nation who make noises about Islam being the enemy than it is to convey nuance just as in our nation, despite its affluence and education, it is so much easier to simply see binLaden as the face of Islam.

President Obama is making the right choices and broadcasting the right message; I am concerned, however, that any message, no matter how  correct, can not penetrate the cloud of static that has been fostered byt he previous administration. Now more than last month the United States is not the enemy of Islam; the question is if the often mentioned “Muslim Street” is even tuned in anymore.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Islamists, Middle East, Obama Positions | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Israel: Preparing for General War?

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 13, 2009

idfA fascinating bit of news from the always interesting Information Dissemination this morning– we’re shipping massive amounts of ammunition to Israel via Greece, or at least attempting to. As reported by Reuters, the US Military Sealift Command is seeking to hire a ship to make two runs from Greece to the Israeli port of Ashdod in the next two weeks, with each run carrying about 160 twenty foot shipping containers of ammunition, explosives and detonators. We’re talking about more than six million pounds of things that go “Boom”. To put that in perspective, there are about 40 rounds of M-16 ammunition to the pound.

What makes this even more interesting is that MSC let a similar contract in December for an emergency shipment of ammunition to Israel, part of which, speculates Information Dissemination, was the bunker buster and small diameter bombs used by Israel to hit the Gaza tunnels and targets in Gaza City where collateral damage needed to be minimized. That shipment consisted of roughly six million pounds of net explosives– which means that we aren’t even counting the significant weight of all the metal around the explosives.

So, six million pounds of explosives before the war began, and now six million pounds of emergency ammo supplies after most of the heavy lifting is already done in Gaza? Interesting. If Israel were just seeking to replenish stocks of ammo spent already, this could’ve been handled much more quietly at a time where this transfer wouldn’t have raised quite so many eyebrows– these are extraordinarily large shipments of ammunition, and I think it’s safe to assume that we are talking about something well outside the bounds of normal arms transfers. It makes you wonder what, exactly, the rush is.

One school of thought might be that Israel wants to get this taken care of before Obama comes to office under the notion that he might tighten the supply of US munitions to Israel, but that is easily dismissed. While Obama may curtail transfers of high tech offensive systems to Israel (which I doubt, but let’s entertain the possibility), nobody is going to deny Israel tank rounds, bullets, explosives, artillery shells and bombs– there’s no point in doing that as, for the most part, they’re easily obtainable from other sources. No, Israel was not under the gun to replenish peacetime stocks.

Was Israel rearming for continued operations in Gaza? At some point you have to stop simply making the rubble bounce. Unless Israel intends to literally flatten Gaza City, they didn’t need this much ammo under an emergency purchase agreement to continue the current pace of operations– which, let’s face it, they wouldn’t even be able to two weeks from now for a lack of targets.

Last week saw the first rockets fired out of Lebanon at Northern Israel, the rerun of the impetus for Israel’s disastrous war against Hizbullah. If we assume, as seems almost certainly the case, that Iran is calling the shots at this point for both Hamas & Hizbullah then a more interesting scenario starts to coalesce. Iran may be trying to hold Israel’s attention at its own borders rather than focusing on hitting the Iranian nukes while generally destabilizing the Middle East and driving up oil prices. They may have miscalculated.

We’ve seen that Israel has adopted a true wartime footing in dealing with Hamas in Gaza– they have moved forward in the air and on the ground with brutal efficiency, paying less attention to civilian casualties and collateral damage than they did in Lebanon ’06.

We’ve also had the disclosure last week that the Bush Adimn turned down an Israeli request for an air corridor across Iraq, bunker busters, and refueling support for a strike on Iran last year; with a new Admin coming in, Israel suspects that its window may be closing to hit the Iranian nuclear operation before it starts to deploy weapons. Israel must acknowledge the chance that if they violate Iraqi and/or Syrian airspace to hit Iran, they may face a wider war involving Syrian ground forces and Hizbullah supported directly by Iranian Revolutionary Guards units.

Now Israel is taking delivery of six million pounds of munitions as an emergency delivery– an extraordinarily rare situation in US-Israeli history. Start to connect the dots and one possible picture becomes clear.

It is possible, and increasingly becoming more likely, that Israel is preparing for a general war in the Middle East, and Iran is misplaying its hand and giving Israel political cover for doing so. None of the western powers has slapped Israel around for the Gaza incursion– everyone recognizes that Israel has a right to retaliate for the Hamas rocket fire. That retaliation could have been handled solely from the air, but instead Israel went in on the ground as well… could that be because they are trying to secure their western frontier and prevent Iran from hitting them with irregular forces out of Gaza? It makes sense if they’re worried about a larger war.

Now we add the dot that I wrote about last week– we handed Iraq control of their air space when we handed back the Green Zone… despite the fact that Iraq cannot control its air space. America and the West has deniability on anything that Israel does over Iraq, including using it as an air corridor to Iran. That’s twice we have the West turning a blind eye to Israel… in a way that facilitates drastic Israeli action.

Two blind eyes and a renunciation of Israel hitting Iran to give America further diplomatic cover, an Israeli action that seems unnecessarily strong in Gaza, a huge and extremely unusual ammo shipment, Iran caught making mistakes and the West about to be headed by an American President who may favor peace more than the current Admin, and Israel securing its weakest frontier. Those are a lot of dots.

I think that most of us have seen the Godfather movies, in which, at the end, the Corleone Family settles all debts in an orgy of violence to secure the empire for years to come. With potentially eight years of Obama at the helm of America, is Israel preparing  to settle all debts, to hit Iran’s nuclear facilities while de-balling Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas in a related action?

It’s within the realm of possibility. This may be an interesting week.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Israel, Middle East, Warfare | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Look Over Here, Not Over Here

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 5, 2009

With Russia supplying imagery intelligence to Iran, you have to wonder if this strategically odd war that Israel is fighting with Hamas isn’t actually an elaborate cover for their possible strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. While the Russian recon satellites are busy watching IDF bases running at high capacity to support the war in Gaza, is it possible that they just might miss the preparations for a strike against Iran? It would be audacious of Israel to do something so extreme as a cover operation, but audacity has been Israel’s calling card for many years. There’s some sense to the idea– Israel wanted to break things and kill people in Gaza anyway and they’re doing it before the new, less friendly US Admin comes in. It’s two birds with one stone in the end– a “free shot” at Hamas to the West while they take care of a major strategic problem to the East.

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Who, Us? We Didn’t See a Thing.

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 2, 2009

middle-east-mapA curious little tidbit was nestled within the stories earlier this week about the United States returning “control” of the Green Zone to the Iraqis. As it turns out, this was a two-for-one deal with Iraq not only getting back the Green Zone tar baby but also taking responsibility for controlling their own airspace.

That might not seem like too big a deal– after all, who is possibly going to be attacking Iraq from the air with so large a percentage of the US military sitting on the ground there? What makes this interesting, however, is the fact that Iraq literally can not control its airspace; their Air Force currently consists of a gaggle of Cessna 172s (the ever popular “Cessna” of US private aviation), some Beech & Cessna 8 seat transport planes, a few helicopters and a couple of C-130s. What’s missing from that mix that might help in controlling one’s airspace? If you said, “Fighters and radar warning aircraft” promote yourself to Junior Wing Commander.

It is true that in the 21st Century controlling your airspace is a cornerstone of sovereignty, so even a symbolic turning over of the airspace has some meaning. An alternate and somewhat more interesting meaning, however, comes into better focus when you look at a map of the Middle East.

As we’ve all been told a few hundred times, Iran is embarked on a program to build nuclear weapons and the Israelis… well, let’s just say they aren’t terribly pleased with this development. One of Israel’s larger problems in doing something about the Iranian nuclear program is proximity– as in Iran is a “You Can’t Get There From Here” locale if you’re flying an IDF strike fighter.

To reach Iran, the enterprising Israeli air commander is left with a very few options. The first but most remote possibility is a flight north up the Med to Turkey, then across Turkey and Southwest through Iran. I consider this to be a highly unlikely option; the Turks are unlikely to want to antagonize the Iranians with whom they share a border, and an Israeli strike that crosses Turkey would either mean landing and refueling at Turkish bases (diplomatically untenable) or the Turks allowing Israeli refueling aircraft not only to refuel the strike package on the way in but then to loiter over Turkish territory and refuel on the way out– it’s not something I can see the Turks condoning, especially when you recall how they got cold feet about allowing the US to use Turkish bases as jumping off points for the 2003 Iraqi invasion. Turkey and Iran aren’t openly belligerent towards one another right now; why would Turkey wish to change that when they have enough problems with the Kurds to keep them occupied?

Taking out the Turkish option, Israel’s planes are almost certainly going to overfly Jordanian airspace, which isn’t going to make anyone particularly happy… on the surface, a point we’ll get back to. The only viable non-Jordanian flight path is through very hostile and very well defended Syrian airspace, and hey, who needs a two front-war, right? So, assuming a transit of Jordan, Israeli planes can either go southeast over northern Saudi Arabia (not going to happen as if it did the King’s head would be a on a pike by nightfall) or, and here’s the interesting bit, head due east across Iraq and refuel over the Western Persian Gulf before going on attack runs at Iranian nuclear hot spots like Esfahan/Natanz, Bushehr, Arak, and even perhaps as far as Karaj & Tabriz.

From my perspective, a major stumbling block to Israel taking that route has been that they would need to seek permission from the Americans to overfly Iraqi airspace, which we were responsible for up until this week. America, of course, would be put in an interesting diplomatic spot if we did that for allowing the “hated” Zionisits to overfly Islamic (if Sunni) lands to strike at Iran. At that point we may as well conduct the raid ourselves as we’d be getting all of the love notes at the UN anyway.

It sure is a good thing that in the waning days of the Bush-Cheney Admin, however, that we handed the responsibility for protecting that airspace to the one group that couldn’t do it– the Iraqis themselves. By the time they realized the Israelis were over their country the planes would be heading out over the Gulf and the Iraqis won’t be able to do a thing to stop them on the way back even if they do know they’re coming. The Americans can put a diplomatic “Huh?” face on as we aren’t the ones controlling the airspace so we can’t be legally blamed for the incursion. The Israelis aren’t going to give much of a damn what the EU countries think about the move, the Russians will be thrilled because this means they can sell the Iranians more reactor components and a freshly updated integrated air defense system and the Jordanians– remember them, the guys who first had their airspace violated?– are just as happy that the Iranians are dealt a huge blow in their quest to become the regional hegemon. Iran holding nuclear control in the Gulf would put enormous pressure on Saudi Arabia, who hold in trust the Holy Cities of Mecca & Medina. Jordan’s King Abdullah, being the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, is much happier with his brother Sunnis holding those cities unmolested by Shi’a power, which would undoubtedly be brought to bear should Iran gain nuclear weapons.

Will this all come to pass? Good question. If it does it will likely happen within the next 10 days so as not to overlap the American Inaugural.

Keep your eyes on those Iraqi skies.

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