Archive for the On War and Peace in the Mid East! Category

Kerry’s Axis of Evil

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on September 4, 2013 by playthell
John Kerry
Watch the Hands

 Pleading the Case for War

As I listened to Secretary of State John Kerry argue the case for launching yet another war in the Muslim world, I thought of the old axiom “truth is the first casualty of war,” which once more demonstrates its veracity.  To listen to his impassioned plea for an attack on Syria, an action they have cloaked in noble rhetoric and infused with high minded purpose, and to take it seriously, it is fairly easy to conclude that going to war in Syria is a benefaction for mankind.  And to do nothing imperils the fate of our republic…which we are assured is “the last best hope of mankind,” even with all our faults.

The fact that 60% of the American people want no part of yet another war in the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter, poses a problem for the members of Congress, who must vote on questions of war and peace.  Under the US Constitution the nation’s war-making powers are invested in the Congress.  Since President Obama is not only a lawyer but a former professor of Constitutional Law, who has written thoughtfully about that hallowed foundational document, it will be fascinating to watch how he handles it should the Congress fail to co-sign his plan for a military intervention in Syria.  For as we know all too well, past Presidents have found ways to bypass Congress and deployed American military forces abroad.

The most disturbing aspect of the hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,  is that few Senators offered stiff opposition to the Administration’s plan.  More often than not their questions concentrated on operational matters, such as types of forces and possible casualities, and what plans are we making to support the Syrian opposition after the initial military assault.  This kind of talk takes on a dangerous urgency when it is bolstered with talk about Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria posing a grave danger to the national security of the United States.

Even more disturbing is the line of questioning pursued by Senator Flake, a Republican from Arizona, who argues that the Administration already has the authority to act if the situation in Syria is as bad as they say it is.  Hence he questioned the motives of the administration in bringing the issue to the Congress for a vote.  His response put Secretary Kerry in the bizarre position of pointing out that the Constitution mandates that the President consult the Congress before going to war.

Senator Udall’s questions to the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense were a refreshing departure from the mealy mouthed acquiescence to Administration policy from both sides of the aisle.  Among other things Mr. Udall raised sharp questions as to how he can be sure that American military action will not enable the Jihadist forces to take power.  And his point-blank question as to whether the US should continue to assume the role of global cop, especially in light of our spectacular failures in Iraq or Afghanistan, went straight to the heart of the matter at hand.

I was delighted to witness the Senator standing his ground in face of the huffing and puffing from an unusually animated Secretary of State in defense of his historic military adventure.  At the end of Kerry’s impassioned monologue, in which the Secretary painted his proposed military adventure as the last chance to save the world from barbarism, Senator Udall remained unconvinced that a military intervention in Syria was either a good thing in general, or that our national security was dependent upon it. Alas, his Republican colleague, John McCain, wants an even wider American commitment to war.

However the most probing questions came from Senator Rand Paul, a man with whom I usually disagree with about everything including the weather. It is a sign of the impoverishment of the discourse that Paul, who generally plays the charlatan in shameless fashion, should emerge as a voice of wisdom and truth.  But his unflinching challenge to the Secretary, about both the reliability of his predictions regarding the behavior of Syrian president Assad and the constitutionality of the President’s deployment of military forces on foreign soil if the Congress votes down the his request for a pro-war resolution, went straight to the heart of the matter,

For the Senator the matter was clear, and he cited a compelling passage from James Madison’s writing in the Federalist Papers.  Here Madison argues that the Constitution specifically invested the war making power in the Congress because the great expanse of history demonstrates that it is the executive branch of government that is most promiscuous in its pursuit of war.

Rand Paul, a libertarian Republican, was followed by the newly elected Democratic Senator from Massachusetts Ed Markey, who ironically holds the Senate seat recently abandoned by John  Kerry when he became Secretary of State.  The Senator reminded his colleagues and the representatives of the Obama Administration how we blundered into the Iraq war, and expressed doubt about the certainty of the Administration’s claims regarding the situation in Syria, and the outcome of the proposed military action there.  I share their skepticism.

As I listened to the Secretary of State paint a frightening scenario of the disaster that will befall the world, with grave consequences for the US, should we fail to attack Syria, I became uneasy.    He is certain to include all the bad actors that are routinely vilified in the American media, from the Islamic Caliphate of Iran to the insular communist nation of North Korea.  It reminds me far too much of Colin Powell’s performance before the United Nations, when he argued the case for the invasion of Iraq, and it also evoked the image of Mr. Kerry’s impassioned denunciation of American military actions in Vietnam as a recently returned veteran.

Hence witnessing his performance as a passionate advocate for an attack on Syria had the feeling of dwelling in a Barney and Bailey world, a strange new world where everything had become its opposite.   Mr. Kerry unfolded a list of America’s enemies that bore an uncanny resemblance to George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” and predicted a chain of events to follow in the wake of an American failure to intervene in Syria that resembled a global  “Domino Theory.”   It was as if I had stumbled into a time warp.  This was bad enough, but when I heard Senator Robert Menendez referring to his standing up to the neighborhood bully in New Jersey, as a model from which the US government should fashion our policy toward embattled Syria, it scared the shit outta me!  Hence I am more convinced than ever that my position is right on: NO ATTACK ON SYRIA!!!!!

 Power Corrupts or the Motion of History?
AP A DC USA IRAQ THROUGH VIETNAM
 John Kerry testifying Against war 42 years ago

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Playthell G. Benjamin

San Francisco, Ca.

September 3, 2013

A Memo to President Obama…

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East!, Uncategorized on August 29, 2013 by playthell

A devestated Syria

A country already devastated by internecine conflict

 …No Unilateral Strike on Syria!!

Once again the saber rattlers in Washington are seriously considering a military action in an Islamic country in order to “liberate” the people from an oppressive government.  As the Obama Administration reviews evidence that the Syrian government has used poison  gas  against opponents of the embattled Assad regime, talk of an air strike  in Syria is growing louder even as the polls show that a majority of Americans want no part of it, this writer included.

This growing opposition to American intervention is fueled by a combination of war weariness and the belief that American treasure can be put to better use rebuilding our country and rescuing millions of Americans from economic desperation. There is also widespread skepticism about the so-called “evidence,” for it evokes bitter memories of the Bush Administrations “evidence” regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Even in a nation famous for historical amnesia, this four trillion dollar debacle has not been forgotten – especially when the American Society of Civil Engineers have calculated that we could have completely rebuilt the entire infrastructure of the US, laying the basis for a new economic takeoff, for half that price.

While I cannot be counted as a fellow isolationist in lockstep with the Libertarians who believe  the US should never intervene in the affairs of a sovereign country no matter what, and even oppose the granting of foreign aid – i.e. Ron and Rand Paul – I am nonetheless cautious about American intervention in other countries.  Needless to say, as a humanitarian and one who cares deeply about the future of our country, I believe we cannot ignore genuine cases of genocide in the world, and the idea of cutting off all foreign aid from the richest country in on earth is irresponsible and dangerous nonsense!

Like the Chinese, I think our foreign policy should be largely oriented toward aid, trade and technical assistance and less toward military actions.  But I also believe that Chinese indifference to questions of human rights in their foreign policy is amoral, such as in the Sudan,  and here they can learn something from us. 

If morality is to play any role in foreign policy, and I believe the world will be a more dangerous place without it, there are situations where the deployment of military force in a foreign country can be a heroic and benevolent act.  The invasion of Nazi Germany to liberate the Jews, and a proposed invasion of Rwanda to prevent genocide are obvious situations where US intervention would be justified.

However more often than not, American military intervention has been a disaster, both for the US and the people in the countries under attack.  Iran, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, et al are excellent cases in point.  Not to mention the countless US interventions in Latin American counties, often subverting the democratic will of the people if it didn’t compliment American interests in the region – such as the overthrow of Dr. Salvador Allende in Chile.  

In every instance these interventions were justified with high minded rhetoric about promoting freedom and democracy…despite abundant evidence to the contrary.  At one point cynics about the real aims of American foreign policy began to refer to the CIA the “Community Interventionist Agency,” and the American claim as “freedom fighters” was met with the retort: “Yes, they fight freedom everywhere!”

Obviously, international relations being the complicated mess that it is there is no easy or simple answer to the question of military intervention in foreign countries.  While the strict Chinese policy of non-intervention into the internal affairs of other nations serves the interest of China well, since rapid domestic development and modernization is their paramount objective at this juncture in their history, if the rest of the world adopted a similar position every variety of evil tyrant and murderous mad man could use national sovereignty as a shield behind which to commit all manner of evil against their people, including genocide.

The way in which the US has treated Afro-Americans and Native Americans for most of its history is a strong case in point.  And although American military power made intervention unthinkable by other countries – even if they had the inclination to do so – the arrival of the Cold War in the mid-twentieth century and the coincidental rise of anti-colonial national liberation movements that resulted in the emergence of a host of newly independent non-white nations exerted tremendous pressure on the US to scrap its racist policies.

For the ruling elites in the US this dramatic about face was not a question of morality, as it is so often represented, but was dictated by the need to win the hearts and minds of the millions who lived in the “Bandung World” in order to prevent them from aligning with the Communist block led by the increasingly powerful, nuclear armed, Soviet Union.

This political reality was far more powerful than moral preachment in convincing many in the US government to dismantle racial apartheid.  Hence as a member of a powerless minority that has suffered great oppression from our government and witnessed genocide against Native Americans, I could never be persuaded to adopt a position of non-intervention no matter what that is the mantra of the Libertarian fringe of the Republican Party.

Having said this however, I feel that the US cannot continue to pursue go it alone policies, as if America has been appointed the moral arbiter of the world by some divine power – as some of my fellow citizens appear to believe.  For we have neither the wisdom nor the wealth to carry out such a task.  Hence the Obama Administration must heed the warning of the United Nations not to launch a unilateral strike, or an attack by an American made “coalition of the willing” such as we witnessed in Iraq.  Instead the US government must follow the norms of international law, and submit their findings before the UN and allow the international community of nations to act on it.

It is no secret that I believe that in messy matters of foreign policy President Obama has acted with Solomonic wisdom.  Yet because his actions must be governed by the imperatives of defending American interests in the world, while protecting the homeland against terrorist assault from the Islamic Jihadists, he will never satisfy the committed pacifist or the self-righteous ideologues on the left.  

 The President is about to make what I believe will prove to be a foreign policy blunder of historic proportions if he plunges headlong into the Syrian conflict without a genuine debate in the UN, and awaiting the unbiased conclusion of the international team of UN weapons inspectors who are assessing the situation on the ground in Syria.

Are more bombs the answer here?
A devastated Syria
A country in desperate need of peace

If we have learned anything from the colossal blunder in Iraq it is the folly of launching a military assault based on inadequate or inaccurate information.  The fact that there may have been toxic gas used in Syria, as the intelligence seems to suggest, does not tell us who used it.   And of this we must be sure before we commit American blood and treasure in that conflict. 

Furthermore, even if the Obama Administration is convinced that their intelligence proves it was the Syrian government – who controls one of the largest stock piles of chemical weapons on earth – that gave the order, they must still submit that evidence and allow the UN to adjudicate the matter.

We should also have learned by now that it is far easier to start a war than to end one, as the present attempts to disengage from a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan makes all too clear.  And that sometimes the “cure” turns out to be worse than the disease…especially in the Islamic world, a region of unfathomable complexities and contradictions.  The Syrian situation has the warning “beware of quagmires!” emblazoned all over it like a flashing neon sign.  For all these reasons, and possibly more, the US must not launch a unilateral attack on Syria!

 

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Playthell  G. Benjamin

San Francisco, California

August 28, 2013

In Egypt its a Fight to the Finish!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on August 21, 2013 by playthell
Islamic militants take to the streets
egypt-coup-morsi-us
Fear of death has not deterred them

But What Should the US Do?

The widening conflict in Egypt and the rising body count contains the fundamental feature of classical tragedy, magnificent mortals pitted against cosmic forces whose heroic efforts are doomed to failure.  For some time now I have been writing about the situation in Egypt and the possibility of an armed conflict between the Islamic theocrats and secular military strong men, as they contend for power in that oldest and most populous of the Arab nations.

One can simply enter “On Egypt” in the search engine on this blog to review the paper trail, and it will reveal why I am not surprised that it has come to this tragic state of affairs in that ancient country.  The record will show that I have always believed it would come to something like this i.e. open armed conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Armed forces that will result in one side vanquishing the other.

Let me hasten to confess that I have no crystal ball and do not claim supernatural powers.  Nor do I have vast intelligence agencies briefing me.  Instead I rely on the lessons of history and take the Islamist at their word.  Hence at the onset of the so called Arab Spring, an impromptu movement for popular democracy in the Arab world characterized by disruptive mass demonstrations directed from Facebook, I have always been skeptical that the movement would result in anything like the western democratic societies as many had vainly hoped.

In fact I have consistently argued that we were far more likely to wind up with a “Tyranny of the Majority,” as Alexis de Tocqueville, that prescient 19th century tribune and incisive analyst of American democracy called it.  Even in the US, this has been the case when the racial caste system is taken into account.  Hence in this land of ancient grievances, the most potent of which in the modern era being based in religious disputes and secularist vs. theocrats, democracy is a synonym for tyranny.  In such a scenario the common place bromides about the virtues of popular democracy do not apply; ideology is contradicted by reality and thus things fall apart.

We have been assured of this result by no less an authority than the official ideologist of the Andropov regime in Soviet Russia, who confessed that the powerful Communist Party of the Soviet Union collapsed mainly because “when reality disagreed with our ideology we dismissed reality.”  That’s what some “experts” who now talk about restoring “democratic government” in Egypt are doing.  As history has repeatedly demonstrated: In the Muslim world, when unfettered popular elections allow the majority of the populace to express their political will, they often elect Islamic parties to power.

It has even happened in Turkey, a nation founded on the principle of separation of church and state.  Indeed, the key to understanding the present conflict in Egypt is to grasp the significance of the Turkish experiment with constructing a secular democracy in an Islamic country.  Kamal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, had figured out that there was a correlation between the modernization of western societies and the separation of church and state that had occurred there.

He saw that in a modern secular society science is given primacy over religion, physics over metaphysics, and merit over tribalism.  Ataturk recognized that these changes were the essential  building blocks of modernity.  And he understood that if the Islamic countries were going to ever catch up to the West they would have to undergo a similar religious reformation as that in the west, and he put measures in place to insure the development and preservation of secularism in Turkish politics and public policy.

But the secular character of Turkish society in now threatened by the success of the Justice and Development Party, which is an Islamic Party. One female Turkish journalist that I recently interviewed – and who wishes to remain anonymous – is horrified by the rise of this Islamic Party to power. She is hoping that the military will intervene to stop them from passing repressive laws against women and curtailing other civil liberties.  And she is very worried about the fact that some top military men have been removed from their positions, since Ataturk had envisioned the military as the guardian of Turkey’s secular democracy.

Islamic Demonstrators in Turkey
turkey_demonstrators001_16x9
A frightening sight to secular democrats

The Egyptian government has been able to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood only by employing the heavy hand of the military since the middle of the twentieth century; which is why Muhammad Morsi is the first elected civilian leader in Egypt’s history.  The entire history of the modern Egyptian state is marked by the rule of military strongmen: Abdel Gamal Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Honsi Mubarak, all army officers. And for most of this period the country was governed under martial law, a system which gave extraordinary powers to the government.

When criticized on this policy by the US and other western governments the Egyptian strong men said martial law was necessary in order to keep the Islamic militants in check, preventing them from wreaking havoc. They were convinced that if the Muslim Brotherhood ever took over the country they would establish Sharia i.e. Islamic law. As modern secular men the military has been consistently opposed to the Islamicization of Egypt.   That’s why the Egyptian activist, who led the pro-democracy movement that toppled the Mubarak regime and forced the military out of politics, were begging them to overthrow the Muhamad Morsi government before he was halfway through his first term as President.

The reason millions of Egyptians who had cursed the military establishment just a year or two ago now enthusiastically sing their praises, is because after giving them a taste of power they now recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood, like all Islamic parties, is fundamentally opposed to a secular democratic society.

Hence no matter what they say, they are committed to establishing an Islamic Caliphate. Yet to the careful and informed observer all of this was predictable, as you can see from reading my essays on Egypt.  To grasp what has happened here one need only remember that the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt was the incubator in which the theology of Sayyid Guthb, the theologian whose writings inspired the modern Jihad, was hatched. And they have not repudiated these beliefs.

Thus in order to understand the Muslim Brotherhoods political behavior, understanding their view of politics is essential.  The most important thing to understand about their attitude toward democratic politics is that Sayyid Guthb preached that all the troubles of the contemporary world are rooted in the separation of church and state.  To them all the world should be living under Sharia Law, which they believe was handed down from God/Allah and is therefore the perfect plan for a fulfilling and righteous human community.

Allah’s Army

Uprising

They will not be easily deterred

They also believe that all leaders of predominately Muslim countries that are not governed by Sharia law are apostates worthy of death.  They are referred to as “Jahlili,” which means a barbarian or savage who is living in contradiction of God’s Plan.  Sayyid divided the world into “Dat El Islam” and “Dar El Harb,”  the difference between the two is one is governed by Sharia Law and the other by laws of man.  In his view these societies are natural enemies and  the latter must be subordinated to the former by any means nescissary,  Hence they view it as their duty to eradicate secular democracy in Muslim countries because they are sacrilegious abominations that interfere with God’s perfect plan.  There’s is a totalitarian doctrine; Just like the Communists who believe that Marxism is a socio-political version of what physicist call “Unified Field theory,” a theory that explains everything.

However since the standards of physics is far more exacting than Marxism physicist readily admit that they have no such theory; yet the Marxist are certain that they have.  Hence in any coalition with communist their objective is to eventually take it over and impose their worldview.  If you add to the certainty of the Marxist that they have the “science” that explains every aspect of human society, to the Islamic theocrat’s view that their plan was handed down to man by God almighty himself, even a blind man can see that there is no compromise to be found with them.  Hence they must be defeated!

It is this understanding on the part of secular military men, supported by Egyptians who have witnessed enough of the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach to governence to know that they cannot be trusted to safeguard democracy and religious pluralism.   This has led to the present violent conflict between the supporters on the Muslim Brotherhood and those who support the ideal of secular democracy.  Since Americans would not wish to live under religious dictators, and it is not in the interests of the US to have an Islamic fundamentalist government in Egypt, it would be both hypocritical and self-destructive for President Obama to follow the advice of those who are calling for him to cut off aid to the Egyptian military.

Although the scenes of carnage we see on our television screens are troubling, the consequences of an Islamic fundamentalist government would be far worse – remember the mass executions in Iran after the Ayatollahs came to power in an Islamic revolution spurred by American meddling?   This is a situation where all of the choices are bad.  Hence while moralist look for a perfect solution, politicians must choose the lesser evil.  In the present instance this means supporting the Egyptian military.  Anyone who is not capable of making this kind of old blooded decision based on realpolitik should choose another profession – such as a preacher or philosopher.

The Carnage in Syria

download

Slaughtered innocents are everywhere

Alas, the most critical lesson of the Egyptian crisis – and other upheavals in the Middle Easy – is that the US is not the world’s policeman and thus cannot control the behavior of other nations.  That is a lesson we should also remember when our political leaders talk about wading into the Syrian Quagmire, where thousands of people are being slaughtered as I write.  The region is on fire and the danger zone is everywhere!  We will continue to monitor this developing situation in the Arab world with great interests.

The Middle East is Being Reduced to Rubble
 Free Syrian Army fighters are seen as a fire burns after what activists said was a shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad in Homs
 And America has no solution to this.
 

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 21, 2013

Secularists vs. Theocrats in Egypt!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , , on July 12, 2013 by playthell

fl26egypt

                       A Muslim Imam and Colonel Nasser

 Can Egyptians Avoid Civil War?

The present Egyptian crisis, in which 51 people have been killed in the last few days and threatens to rip the nation apart, was sparked by events growing out of the last election a year ago, yet it has deep roots in the nation’s modern history, harkening back to the founding of Egypt as an independent nation in the middle of the last century.  At best it is old wine in new bottles. Hence the issues that have moved the nation to the brink of what increasingly looks like a brewing Civil War represent a persistent theme in the political history of Egypt over the last 61 years: The struggle between the secularists, represented by military strong men, and the Theocrats in the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is only when viewed from this perspective that the present conflict can be understood. Since the middle of the 20th century the Egyptians have gone through three major struggles in an attempt to forge an independent modern nation state.  First there was the movement for national independence from British protectorate status, secondly there was the struggle for a more equitable society, and finally there was the struggle against a takeover of the country by Islamic extremist, who were represented by the Muslim Brotherhood.

During the anti-colonial struggle to overthrow the government of King Forouk, Colonel Abdel Gamel Nasser, a secular nationalist soldier trained in the art of war at Sandhurst, England’s elite military academy, enlisted the Muslim Brotherhood in the fight.  In 1952 he led a group of military men called the “Free Officers” that overthrew the Farouk regime and set up the Revolutionary Command Council, which was headed by Major General Muhammad Naguib.  But Nasser removed him from office two years later and declared himself Prime Minister.  In 1956 he was elected President of a new single party socialist government, whose constitution was also approved in the election, both by 98% of the vote

At first all was well, as both the secular nationalists and the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to put an end to foreign domination, however when Egypt emerged as an independent nation the radical differences in their vision of the ideal society came to the fore and would eventually lead to open conflict.  Things got so bad the Muslim Brotherhood tried to assassinate Colonel Nasser, and he in return imprisoned their leading theologian Sayeed Guthb, author of the massive thirty volume theological exegesis “In the Shade of the Koran,” which along with Sayeed’s single volume treatise Milestones underpins the theology of the modern Jihad.

In 1966, Sayeed’s opposition to the secular Egyptian government, which inspired Islamic fanatics to attempt another assassination of Colonel Nasser, resulted in Nasser’s decision to send the militant Muslims an unmistakable message and hung Sayeed Guthb – who remained an unrepentant fanatic to the end, kissing the scaffold just before the put the noose around his neck.  This initiated a protracted struggle between the Secularist government and fanatical theocrats who want to establish Islamic Sharia law in Egypt that persists as I write.

This is why Egypt has been governed by a succession of secular military strong men over the last fifty years, and they kept the Muslim Brotherhood in check.  However it was not an easy task.  Colonel Anwar Sadat, who succeeded Colonel Nasser, was the first Arab leader to sign a peace treaty with Israel.  He was assassinated by an Islamic fundamentalist as he sat on a reviewing stand during a military parade and he was followed by Colonel Honsi Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for the next 30 years, until he was driven from office by the recent uprisings and put on trial for crimes against the Egyptian people.  The first multi-party elections in Egyptian history were held last year and Mohammad Morsi, who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected.  A year later he was deposed and placed under house arrest by the by the military…to many observers it looks like de ja vu.

Sayeed Guthb

Saayd Guthb

Militant Theologian Hung by Nasser

Anwar Sadat

Anwar Sadat

Assassinated by a Muslim fundamentalist

However a closer look will reveal some important differences.  In 1952 the military overthrew a universally hated regime and held power, until the military leader was confirmed by a vote in a one party election four years later. In 2012 the military forced one of its own to step down as a result of a mass uprising of the Egyptian people.

The present takeover occurred after Mohamad Morsi was elected in a multi-party election in which many of the people who voted for Morsi vehemently disagreed with the decision of the military to depose Morsi.  Their massive demonstrations, vows of further resistance and the violence that followed Morsi’s removal make it clear that the situation in Egypt is far from resolved.

However while Morsi’s die hard supporters took to the streets in a fit of rage, some even fired on the police, many millions more cheered his removal by the army.  They cheered, and sang, and even set off fireworks while chanting “God is great!”  This is what distinguished the action of the military in this instance from a traditional coup, although some American politicians, like Senator John McCain, argue that it is.

The truth is that the military was carrying out the popular will, many on the scene observers who were there during the demonstrations that brought the authoritarian Mubarak regime down, say the demonstrations demanding the ouster of Morsi were larger.  This is because many Egyptians, who hoped the new government would bring a wider arena of freedom and democratic practice, felt that the actions of the Morsi government were a betrayal.  Before the army intervened the country was on the verge of anarchy and religious conflict, hence I think Dr. Ziebneiw Brzezinsky is right when he calls the military’s actions “a coup against anarchy.”

The People Return to the Streets in outrage

Egyptian Revolution 2013

Demanding an end to the Islamist Government!
Then the Army Stepped In
_Egypt_2013
And Restores Order

The fundamental problem with the new Egyptian “democracy” is that it was in reality a “tyranny of the majority,” a term coined by the French social theorist Alex de Tocqueville in his two volume masterwork “Democracy in America,” the pioneering study on the American style of governance published in 1830, in order to distinguish a true democracy in which the opposition and unpopular minorities are protected in the law, and a system in which the majority simply imposes it’s will without regard for dissenting opinions.

The latter approach is how the Morsi government went about its business as they cobbled together a constitution that was laying the groundwork for the establishment of an Islamic state; which has been a longtime objective of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Furthermore the constitution had no mechanism such as impeachment or recall procedures for the lawful removal of a president who misused his office.

It was clear that, like all Islamic parties when they come to power, these people believed their actions were ordained by God, so who cares about the wishes of men.  This kind of thinking leads to a system where you have one person one vote once!  Hence the Egyptian people, who sought a true democracy where political decisions are based on the will of the electorate, not the word of God whispered into the ears of some Islamic zealot, wouldn’t stand for it and took to the streets en mass.

Only the intervention of the army could prevent chaos.  That’s why in the eyes of the majority of Egyptians the soldiers are heroes who rescued the nation from catastrophe; and those Americans who oppose the wisdom of the Egyptian people – like the Arizona bully John McCain – remind me of the suspicious characters an old Ibo proverb warns us about:” Beware of the stranger who comes to the funeral and cries louder than the bereaved family! “

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NOTE: This is the first of a multi-part series on the Egyptian crisis.

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 11, 2013

On The Perils of Arab Democracy

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on July 3, 2013 by playthell
_Egypt_2013
Police and Protesters Clash

 The Troubling Case of Egypt

 The brief reign of the Muhammad Morsi’s government in Egypt confirms verifies some critical points that I have argued for some time about the pitfalls of democracy in the Arab world.  Two things in particular: If allowed to express their will the masses in most Islamic countries will elect Islamic parties to power – they even did this in Turkey, a country founded as a secular state by Kamal Ataturk.  The only force in the Muslim world that prevents the Mullahs from taking over is the secular military strong men.

This is precisely the reason why modern Egypt has been ruled by a succession of military for over half a century.  They went from Colonel Abdel Nasser, to Colonel Anwar Sadat, to Colonel Honsi Mubarik, and they ruled under a constant state of emergency.  Their greatest fear was that that the Muslim brotherhood would take over the country if given the opportunity.  Rule by marshal law allowed the Egyptian government to outlaw the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and keep track of all radical religious trends.

Although it was not always the subject of news coverage, the struggle between the Islamic and the secularist forces in the Muslim world has been ongoing since the last century.  I first made this point in my essay opposing the decision of the Bush administration to invade Iraq on the premise that Sadam Hussein was secretly in league with Osama Bin Laden see: The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq.  I pointed out that Sadam and Osama were direct opposites and there was no way they were collaborating in a plot complex enough the massive attack of 9/11.

The other point that I have argued is that there is no institutional or ideological foundation on which to build a functional democratic government in most Islamic countries.  Hence when a popular vote is finally held what will emerge is a tyranny of the majority, not a liberal democracy in which the rights of unpopular minorities and opposing political parties are protected by law.  Such a system is a perversion of the ideal of democracy which is incapable of transferring power from one party to another, we often get one man one vote one time.

This is clearly at the root of the present uprising that has resulted in the military overthrow of the first elected government in modern Egyptian history after only a year in office.  What is most fascinating about this sudden turn in the political fate of Egypt is the military removed the recently elected President by popular demand.  The mass demonstrations that brought down the 30 year reign of Honsi Mubarik a year ago are out in the streets raising hell again, and by several estimates they are even bigger than before.

The ouster of the Egyptian President in order to restore law and order has set a bad precedent.  If a democratically elected president can be overthrown by the military acting on the demands of the mob in the largest and most advanced Arab country, what does that portend for the future of democratic governance in the Arab world?  Although President Obama stood aside and let the Egyptian people work their will – even while taking severe criticism from the Republican right, who felt we should have supported Honsi Mubarik a reliable supporter of US policy – some of the protesters are unfurling banners blaming President Obama for his support for what they are now calling Islamic “Fascist!”

It is a totally unfair charge: President Obama supported the government they elected.  In fact, he persuaded Honsi Mubarik to step aside and allow the people to express themselves at the ballot box.  The attempt to blame him for the government they chose demonstrates how little these people understands about the working of the democratic process.

This banner announces the high level of confusion among the Egyptian opposition.  From the beginning of the first uprising I pointed out that the opposition didn’t have a coherent ideology, or commonly agreed upon principles about governance, and thus anything could happen.  Early on I predicted that the Muslim brotherhood would emerge as the ruling faction when the smoke cleared, because of their superior and coherent world view compared to the other factions.  I also said that no matter what kind of smiley faces the Muslim Brothers adopted, nor how much lip service they paid to “democracy,” once they took power religious tyranny will be the inevitable result.

 The Revolt is fueled by Hatred for the President
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi speaks during a news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul after their meeting at Presidential Palace "Qasr Al Quba" in Cairo
The Odd Man Out: The hated face of the Islamist

This is exactly what happened.  The reason for the mass uprising today is that the opposition saw the Brotherhood dominated government rapidly taking steps to Islamize the country and felt they must be stopped now, before they could put their ideas into law.  They were not reassured that this would not happen even after President Morisi publicly resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood, whose party had  elected him President  with great fanfare.  Hence they are calling the role played by the military a “democratic” coup.”  The army has announced that it is acting in defense of the people, declaring itself an instrument of the popular will.

What is clear about the first uprising is that the various factions that came together to overthrow Honsi Mubarik were sleeping in the same bed but dreaming different dreams.  Now the country has been thrown into a world of confusion that could result in Civil War unless the army swiftly cracks down on any resistance by militant Islamists.  The US has no role in this, it is a purely Egyptian affair and they must resolve it.  And it could take a civil war to decide who shall rule Egypt.  It is a sad end to Egypt’s first democratically elected government…and we may yet see the same fate befall the democratically elected Islamist government in Turkey if the military is forced to step in.

There is a strong cautionary tale in all this regarding US policy in Syria, under no circumstance should Barack allow the Republican and Democratic hawks to force him into getting militarily involved…even to the extent of arming rebel factions, who are more mysterious than the various forces that comprise the Egyptian opposition.  We will be watching the situation closely: Stay tuned!

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 3, 2013

For further reading: Look under the section titled War and Peace in the Middle East

Behind the Eight Ball!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on May 6, 2013 by playthell

 Barack behind the eight ball

                     President Obama in Israel

 Barack Looks for a Way out of Syrian Quagmire

As the Israeli’s escalate their attacks on Syria, offering the most spurious justifications for military aggression, we see the lingering effects of the Bush policy regarding preemptive strikes; which means attacking a potential adversary on the belief that they may someday strike you. President Obama should call for an immediate halt to Israeli aggression; it would be the wise and just thing to do.

But he dare not; lest he be sure to attract a hail of criticism from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and suffer a merciless skewering in the press.  This would complicate everything else he is trying to get through a recalcitrant congress.  That’s why he is attempting to justify it in a public statement of support, arguing that Israel is acting in their national security interests against the machinations of Hezbollah, an Iranian armed proxy.   President Obama has evidently decided that choosing the wise and just decision would prove politically disastrous.

The President is trapped in his own rhetoric. In a moment of bravado designed to intimidate Syrian President Bashir Assad, an attempt to persuade him not to even think of deploying chemical weapons against his adversaries in the Syrian Civil War, President Obama drew a symbolic “red line” that, if crossed, would be Assad’s undoing.  The impression given by that statement was that should the Syrian president cross the red line, Barack Obama would make him pay big time.

Now that there are claims such chemical weapons have been detected, the war hawks on the right, who are unceasing in their efforts to besmirch Barack Obama’s foreign policy record – which I regard as a demonstration of diplomatic virtuosity just like his orchestration of domestic policy – are calling for military intervention.  In their ceaseless attempts to discredit the President, the Republican opposition has come very close to being not only disloyal…but a menace to our national security.

It used to be understood that in matters of war and peace, playing partisan politics is not only obscene but dangerous.  It should be taboo for people who are entrusted with guarding the national interests to act as if they were shooting crap with the fate of the nation.   How is it possible that intelligent men such as Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham could so cavalierly speak of the US getting involved militarily by arming the rebels and even establishing a no-fly zone over Syria?  These are acts of war.

Five years ago, when Barack was running against McCain for the presidency, I wrote an essay supporting the position of General Wesley Clarke that McCain was no better qualified to be commander-In-Chief than Barack Obama; despite McCain’s experience as a military officer.  However I went even further. I argued that McCain was in fact unqualified to be Commander-In-Chief.  My argument must have appeared ridiculous to many Americans in light of the Senator’s much vaunted military record.

However I thought his deep psychological need to “prove himself” by winning another war, after the debacle in Vietnam, meant that McCain would be prone to go to war at the first opportunity. The reasons are complex and since I have elucidated them elsewhere I shall simply refer the reader to the essay “General Clarke was Right: John McCain is unqualified to be commander-In-Chief!” on this blog.

Although the charge of sarin gas use is disputed by some experts, who told the Guardian- Observer of London that the evidence was highly suspect.  After considering the testimony of eyewitnesses to the explosion they concluded that there wasn’t sufficient reason to believe that what they described was indeed a Sarin gas attack.  The evidence, such as it is, is based on the analysis of soil samples.

Yet even if traces of Sarin gas have been detected it raises more questions than it answers. Where did it originate?  Who gave the order to use it?  Was the president talking about small traces of gas that are barely detectable when he drew the red line; or a large scale gas attack clearly ordered by the government that inflicted mass casualties?  The last question is the most crucial.

Given the chicanery we have witnessed in the past by people who wanted to start a war based on bogus events, the President is displaying Solomonic wisdom in waiting for a thorough investigation by disinterested scientist before taking any action; the consequences of which are unclear since an American intervention might well make a bad situation worse.  This would compound the problem of finding a peaceful settlement in Syria.

That’s why the Israeli attacks are so dangerous.  US commitments to Israel in the matter of defense are very complex, but it is enough to know that our entanglements are such that any war Israel starts in the Mid-East will eventually involve the United States.  Already their aggressions are being applauded by the usual suspects on the right, but President Obama has also given his approval while admitting that the US helped supply the intelligence that guided the Israeli attack.

We can be sure that hysterical cries for Barack to follow the lead of Bibi with no-fly zones, arming factions identified as being friendly to Israel and the US, and even airstrikes of our own.  Yet given the confusing nature of the opposition it is hard to predict what the outcome of such actions will be.

After an Israeli Attack

Israeli bombing of weapons research center in Syria The Syrians say this is a declaration of war

 And that’s how it looks….

israel-attacks-syria-golan-heights

…..Down on the Ground

The forces clamoring for the US to become involved in the Syrian civil war base their demands on President Obama’s loose talk about ill defined “red lines” that would trigger an American intervention. Senator John McCain has already snidely remarked that President Obama’s red lines “must have been written with disappearing ink.” This guy can hardly wait to start another war; chomping at the bit like a race horse at the starting gate.

Perhaps all of the morons on the left and Black Nationalist ideologues will finally understand why the President is wise not to adopt their rhetoric.  Intellectuals like Cornel West and Boyce Watkins can say anything they please, just like  whacko Republican elected officials who say crazy things; it is just hot air, “all sound and fury signifying nothing” as Shakespeare said.

But when the President of the United States makes a statement it has real consequences. Alas, it may even result in the US being pushed into a war that neither the President nor the American people want because of Israeli actions.  The Israeli’s justify their aggressions with the argument that their actions are surgical strikes aimed at preventing the Lebanon based pro-Palestinian group Hezbollah from receiving missile shipments from Iran, who is the ultimate target of the Israeli government, because they will eventually be used against Israel.

The problem with this argument is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy given Israeli actions.  And the President must resist all attempts by the Israelis to draw us into their war plans because we just can’t stand another war in the Mid-East in terms of blood, treasure or the long term prospects for peace.  It ought to be clear that the President of the United States needs to be level-headed and thoughtful about the consequences of military action.

The military might at a President’s disposal as Commander-In-Chief of the greatest fighting forces in the history of the world, can create feelings of omnipotence. Especially when military power is augmented by vast intelligence networks, funded with billions of dollars annually, and is capable of conducting spy operations all over the world. It could even make a US President believe that he has the power to determine the course of history through the use of covert actions and the outright projection of military power.

One need only look at the history of contrived events that have justified the US going to war based on bogus claims in order to find adequate reasons for skepticism in the present charges of chemical warfare in Syria.  Looking back to the war that many historians feel marked the beginning of America’s foray into empire building, the Spanish American War; it was the suspicious sinking of the Maine in a Cuban harbor that supplied the justification for a war with Spain that resulted in far flung Spanish colonial possessions in the Atlantic and Pacific coming under US control: Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

Americans were persuaded to support a war in Vietnam because of a purported attack on an American vessel in the Gulf of Tonkin off the course of North Vietnam.  We have subsequently learned that it was a bogus charge.  And the invasion of Iraq was justified by the claim that Iraqi leader Sadam Hussein was hording “weapons of mass destruction” such as weaponized germs, poison gasses, and most of all nuclear weapons.  That claim also proved to be untrue, but it will still cost us trillions of dollars, nearly 5000 thousand American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.

This sordid history is reason enough for us to view the increasingly hysterical calls for an aggressive American policy in Syria with a jaundiced eye, especially based on such spurious evidence. For instance one distinguished member of the independent commission investigating the charges, Carla Del Ponte, says she has evidence that it was the opposition who used Sarin gas.  As a former Swiss Attorney General and prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, Ms. Del Ponte is eminently qualified to conduct this type of investigation.

Given this possibility, along with the Russian and Chinese denunciation of the Israeli attacks on Syria and the US justification and support for them, it’s a safe bet that the US will not get UN backing for sanctions against the Syrian government.  Although John Kerry is planning a mission to Moscow, the Russians have already made their position clear.  Without specifically naming the America government, although it is pretty clear at whom Alexander Lukashevich’s remarks were intended.

Speaking on behalf of the Russian foreign ministry regarding Syria, he noted “signs that world public opinion is being prepared for possible military intervention. “ I think he is right, because I see the same signs; their frequency and vehemence are growing as I write.  Now Democrats are joining Republicans in calling for direct American military intervention in Syria, and they are citing the Sarin gas claim as the raison d’etre.  Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, is calling for the US taking out the Syrian air force while it is on the ground with surface to air missiles.

And longtime diplomat and New Mexico Governor Richardson appeared somewhat trance like as he repeated the growing mantra for American military intervention in the Syrian crisis. And all of them join in religiously, almost speaking in unison, chanting “but no boots on the ground!”  In the minds of these mighty whiteys it’s all going to be a neat sanitized affair waged from the air.

Although I was in the Air Force, I agree with that old army man Colin Powell, who says the fly boys always promise more than they deliver in these kinds of civil wars.  And the situation could get very messy.  If these jokers manage to push Barack into yet another war we’ll see.  In the meantime it is incumbent for all thoughtful Americans to let the President know, by letter, telegram and phone that we wish to study war no more!

 The Ravages of War in Syria

8453_S_alqaeda-L

Will Giving These Guys More Guns Make Things Better?

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 4, 2013

No War with Syria or Arms to Rebels!!!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on April 28, 2013 by playthell

       untitled

Who are the good guys here?

 Barack Must resist Israeli and  Republican War Hawks

If ever there was an opportunity for the USA to reassess its role in the world it is now!  Listening to Republican Senators talk on CBS Face the Nation on Sunday Morning it is clear that if they had their druthers we would be bombing the Syrian air force right now and declaring a “no fly” zone over their country.  These guys are itching to start another war in the Islamic world.  And,  as the thoughtful reader might suspect,  they are casting themselves as liberators of the Syrian people; just like before they invaded Iraq.

Well, we all know how that turned out and there is every reason to believe that a military intervention in Syria will result in an even bigger disaster.  Despite the increasingly hysterical exhortations of the war hawks such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham for the president to take military action, it is imperative that our government decide what our policy goals are in the Mid-East region and shape our foreign policy accordingly.

Frankly I am at a lost to understand just what the objectives of the interventionist are.  It is my understanding that our paramount objectives in the region is to keep the oil flowing as cheaply as possible, defeat the Jihadist and defend the state of Israel against their Islamic adversaries…who seem to be everywhere.  Whether or not one agrees with all of these objectives, it is clear that they are quite enough for any nation to achieve.  We could even be “biting off more than we can chew” as my Grandmother Claudia would say.  But adding the grandiose agenda of bringing democracy to the Islamic world may well be inviting disaster.

The example of Iraq should serve as a cautionary tale.  After three trillion dollars, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths, tens of thousands of Americans who are deeply wounded in body and mind, thousands of young Americans killed, and a wrecked American economy, we should have abandoned this impossible dream of planting an American style democracy in the Arab world.  But democratizing the Islamic world is a fairly recent ideal.

The most persistent American posture in the Islamic world is one of duplicity and Hypocrisy; our allegiances have been dictated by expediencies. The best example of this is Iran.  When the US calls for a secular democratic society in Iran the words should stick in the exhorter’s throat!

Iran had achieved exactly that sixty years ago, when they were governed by a western educated secular democrat who was elected by the Iranian people.  But since the Iranian President, Muhammad Mossedek, demanded a fair price for Iranian oil the CIA went in engineered his overthrow in 1953, replacing him with a militaristic tyrant who ruled with police state tactics.  The Islamic revolution in Iran was a direct result of that historic crime against the Iranian people.

The fact of the matter is that  US policy in the Middle East in the post-World War II era has been one disaster after another; hence we find ourselves in the mess we are in today.  American Mid-East policy at present resembles nothing so much as a game of whackamole.  Every time a crisis flares up one place and we rush to suppress it, another crisis pops up somewhere else.  That’s because the sad truth is the Middle East is a powder keg, filled to the brim with explosive antagonisms and unfathomable contradictions that we barely understand.

Based on the comments coming from the State Department, American intelligence agencies can’t tell friend from foe among the opposition; which tells me that the US should not rush into this confusing and murderous civil war in Syria.  At best we should lead an effort in the UN for the international community to take concerted action to find a solution to this catastrophe.

Although I am not a part of the crowd of Nervous Nellies who say we should never intervene in any situation, and I have warned against a paralysis from over analysis when taking action is the obvious course to address a problem.  As a member of a historically oppressed minority group in a nation where the majority group has demonstrated its willingness to resort to genocide in order to achieve its objectives – just consider the plight of indigenous Americans – I have repeatedly rejected the argument that governments should be free to treat their populations as they please without outside interference – to commit massive crimes against humanity behind the shield of “national soverignty.”

We have seen what that can lead to with the German Nazis, and most recently in Rwanda, despite the ignorant and racist statements of Republican Senators that the US has never stood by while as many as seventy thousand people were killed.  But chilling out and calling for the world community to act seems to be the wisest course of action in the present crisis.

The mere  claim that chemical weapons have been deployed by the Assad government is certainly no reason to rush into this conflict.  There are too many questions that remain unanswered.  And beyond the lack of clarity as to who done what, the last thing the US needs to do is initiate a military conflict in yet another Arab country spending billions that we desperately need to deal with the protracted economic crisis here on the home front….where we may yet face the moral equivilent of food riots.

No matter what the Israeli government, the Israel Lobby, or their Republican neo-con shills in the Congress say,  President Obama must not allow them to push us into a war with Syria, nor convince him to arm a mysterious opposition which appear to be riddled with Al Quaeda operatives.  Alas, in this case an ill informed American intervention could well prove to be a cure that’s worse than the disease!

Who are these Guys?

images

Is it really a good idea to give them advanced US weapons?

 

 Will Arming the Syrian Opposition End the Destruction?

1-syria-4_3_r536_c534 

Or will it just make it worse?

 

 

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

April 28, 2013

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