Archive for the On Foreign Affairs Category

On the “Deconfliction” Policy in Syria

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on October 3, 2015 by playthell
Kerry and Larov at deconfliction meeting
 Kerry and Foreign and Sergi Lavrov trying to avoid disaster

A Clear and Present Danger!

The gravity of the situation in Syria – where the US and Russia both have armed forces operating, with drones and planes flying around dropping bombs all over the place – was clearly reflected in the faces of John Kerry and Sergei Lovrov as they announced their policy of “deconfliction” in Syria at the United Nations.  Tasked with devising a policy designed to prevent an accidental clash between the US and Russian military forces deployed in Syria – the consequences of which are too frightening to contemplate, except for those religious fanatics who believe they are going to ascend to heaven when the earth goes up in the flames of nuclear holocaust – the American Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister have given us “deconfliction,” a new word coinage of uncertain intent conjured up to explain a hastily drafted policy.

However what is all too clear is that the two top foreign policy officials of the world’s greatest military powers felt the situation in Syria is so serious that taking measures to prevent an accidental conflict between their countries cannot be postponed or confused by employing provocative language, or inciting tensions with jingoistic posturing.  Hence when they called for an immediate meeting of Russian and American military commanders in Syria, to work out the details of a strategy to implement the newly minted policy of “deconfliction,” I let out a sigh of relief.   I view this move as evidence that the Obama Administration has finally accepted reality in Syria.

However anyone who watched President Vladimir Putin of Russia on CBS’ Sixty Minutes last Sunday heard him present a coherent policy on Syria that recognizes the political and religious conflicts in the region – which are often the same thing – and explicate the dire consequences of following the ill-conceived, unrealistic, policy of the American government.  Putin correctly recognized that the very existence of ISIS is the result of the epic failures of past US decisions in the Middle East – like the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Sadam Hussein.  And he astutely warns that present US policy based on the overthrow of the Assad regime will lead to an even worse disaster.

Vladimir Putin interviewed by Charlie Rose

Putin’s policy is to support the existing Syrian government against the insurgent forces because they are controlled by Islamic Jihadists, many of whom support ISIS, the dreaded enemy that both the US and Russia have vowed to wipe out. And while he exempts the “Free Syrian Army” from the “terrorist” list he does not know how many Jihadist are within their ranks ut would support negotiations between them and the Syrian government once the Jihadist have been defeated. The Russian President’s analysis on Sixty Minutes was cogent and fully takes the facts on the ground into consideration.  The most important fact is that everywhere strong secular leaders have been overthrown the Islamic forces come to power because there is no countervailing force to resist them.   Arming these anti-government insurgents is clearly folly because the arms inevitably end up in the hands of the Jihadists.  Hence this cure is demonstrably worse than the disease.

The most striking revelation provided by Putin’s interview is that the Russians have clearly defined objectives in Syria: shoring up the Assad government while assisting in the fight against the anti-government insurgents.  By comparison the US has no clear policy and thus our strategy is in disarray.  The US is committed to the overthrow of the Assad government but has no idea who will replace it.  Calls from the Republican right to arm some factions demonstrates that they have learned nothing from our recent history in the region.

Virtually all of the arms that were used against American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq were manufactured and delivered to the region by the US government.  That is the plain fact of the matter.  It goes without saying – but I must say it so that my remarks will not be seized upon by conspiracy theorist and add to the confusion – when the US armed these insurgent groups they considered them allies against Communist influence in the region.  Some clueless policy wonks came up with the silly idea that because Americans were Christians, “People of the Book” and “Children of Abraham” like them this gave us a leg up over the communists with the Islamic fundamentalist.

They took our weapons, killed the Marxists, then turned them against us, our clients like the Saudi Royal family, the Egyptian government and their religious rivals like the Shia..  The result is the Taliban, al Qaeda, Al Nusra, ISIS, and only Allah seems to know what’s next.  Hence to arm ANY faction in Syria would be criminal folly that will only add to the tragic waste of American blood and treasure in the region.  And unless the US and Russian governments can coordinate their military efforts in Syria the result could be make the conflict with ISIS look like a play pen fight.  And as of this writing the principle of “deconfliction” appears to be the best way out of this perilous imbroglio.

Joining forces with Russia and Iran is without a doubt the best approach to defeating ISIS. Alas, when we hear the howls rising from Congress, driven by the demands of the Israel Lobby, the major influence in shaping US policy in the region, there is little likelihood that such a sensible policy will be pursued.   If the Republican right considers cutting deals with President Obama to govern the US as a betrayal of their constituents, they will surely view any alliance the President makes with Russia and Iran an act of treason! And it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they attempted to impeach him for it!  After all, some have called for his impeachment for exercising his executive authority to foil Republican attempts to prevent him from governing effectively.

In this sense President Putin is far better positioned to play an effective role in the war against ISIS than President Obama, who is reduced by a Congress controlled by the Grand Obstructionist Party to spouting pious platitudes about the oppressiveness of the Assad regime even as we remain close allies with the Saudi Royal family – a murderous desert monarchy that promotes medieval religious practices enforced by modern police state tactics, again employing weapons supplied by the US.

I know this analysis will sound distasteful to many Americans – especially the avowed “American Exceptionalists” in the Republican Party.  But these are grave matters that involve the survival of modern civilization and even life itself on this planet. Hence it is both a sin and a shame to sacrifice honest analysis for self-serving fables; to reject truth in favor of national pride.  It is axiomatic that the first casualty of war is truth.  However we are not at war yet…at least not a hot one that involves the use of armed forces. And all parties must do everything in their power to keep the peace….because any military conflict between tihe US and Russia will involve NATO and the Russians will be forced to go on  nuclear alert and that could lead to doomsday!

With American and Russian War Planes firing Missiles
World War III could accidently break out in Syria!

It is precisely because the present situation in Syrian, where American and Russian forces are operating in a theater of war, is so dangerous that a policy of de-confliction is imperative.  We need to emphasize the objectives we hold in common and compromise where we disagree.  This is no picayune task, but failure to resolve the antagonisms between the US, Russia and Iran in Syria represents a clear and present danger to all mankind.


Watch President Putin on Sixty Minutes 
Watch Secretary Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov

US Employing Wrong Strategy Against ISIS

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East!, Uncategorized with tags , , on September 6, 2015 by playthell
ISIS Leader Caliph Ibrahim: The Sword of Allah

On Repeating the Mistakes of History

American foreign policy and diplomacy seems to have lost its way. While we spend thousands of hours in league with other nations negotiating a treaty to prevent Iran from acquiring a single primitive atomic bomb – which the US Senate is threatening to reject – a US led NATO is engaging in activities in Eastern Europe that could accidently lead to a nuclear war that would destroy all life on this planet in an hour!  And our search for an effective strategy against ISIS, a clear and present menace to much of the world, has proved an exercise in futility characterized by a series of fool’s errands alas.  In fact, all the evidence suggests that US policy makers have learned nothing from the disastrous adventure in Iraq under George Bush.

While there are myriad lessons to be learned from that catastrophe, I believe the most important is to understand that the US invasion of Iraq as a response to Al Qaeda, the perpetrator of the 9/11 attack on the US, was a cold and cynical deception.   It was clear to all serious students of politics in the Islamic world that Iraq had no relationship to al Qaeda; yet Dirty Dick Cheney, Donny Rumsfeld and their henchmen among the policy wonks like Dr. Paul Wolfowitz argued that their objective was to prevent Al Qaeda from obtaining weapons of mass destruction.  Hence these incompetent ideologues invaded Iraq, when subsequent events have shown that the wisest course of action for US policy would have been to form a military alliance with Sadam Hussein against Osama bin Ladin.  This would have been a piece of cake!

In Sadam we would have found a wise, willing and ruthless ally; exactly what we needed to defeat the Jihadists in al Qaeda.  He was wise because no one had been more effective in suppressing Muslim fundamentalist militants i.e. “Jihadists” than the secular military strongmen of the Islamic world.   Abdel Gamel Nasser of Egypt, and his successors Anwar Sadat (who was assassinated by a Muslim fanatic) and Honsi  Mubarak.  Mummar Quadafi of Lybia; General Musharif in Pakistan, and Sadam Hussein in Iraq were all cut from the same mold as anti-Jihadist strongmen.

Sadam and al Qaeda were natural enemies because according to the theology of al Qaeda all Arab heads of secular states are apostates.  And the penalty for apostasy is death!    The only legitimate governments are those based on Sharia Law in their view.  Hence if al Qaeda came to power in Iraq Sadam was a dead man. Thus it was either madness, or a grand deception, guided by the advice of right-wing Republican policy wonks in The Project for a New American Century, that led George Bush to invade Iraq in response to an attack by Jihadists from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, America’s closest allies in the Middle-East.  (See: “How the Iraq War was Hatched in a Think Tank” on this blog)  It would be like us getting attacked by Canadian terrorists and invading Mexico in retaliation.  As silly as it sounds, the decision to invade Iraq was not a jot or tittle smarter.

Now we are facing a far more deadly Jihadist enemy that al Qaeda, The Islamic State of Iraq, Syria and the Levant aka ISIL or ISIS.  Whereas al Qaeda is a stateless organization consisting of loosely coordinated cells spread around the world that can be activated to carry out clandestine surprise attacks, ISIL is an actual 21st century Islamic Caliphate with a government structure that is divided into civilian and military departments, a tax collection system and a sizable territorial base that is divided into provinces.  But most of all it is a base for revolutionary Islamic forces who ae pledged to cleanse the Islamic world of apostates and then spread the law of Muhammad to the entire world.

Ready to die for Islam…..
ISIS Militants II
And Kill Too!

ISIS Burns Pilot

Even Committ Mass Murders….

ISIS Mass Killings

In the Name of God!

As with al Qaeda, ISIS is first of all concerned with its enemies in the Muslim world, those who refuse to accept their version of Islam as the one true doctrine.  The question of what sacred edicts and scripture actually mean in the real world has been the cause of much bloodshed throughout history – especially among the Semitic monotheists i.e. Christians, Muslims and Jews – but with ISIS it has become a matter of life and death as it was in the medieval world.  And to make matters even more horrifying they have greatly expanded the definition as to which acts qualify as apostasy.

Originally apostasy had to do with denying the divine mission of the Prophet Muhammad or rejecting his teachings, but under ISIS’s theology it can range from selling alcohol and shaving your beard, to voting for a Muslim candidate in an election and being s Shite.  All Shiites are considered Apostates because they innovated on the original teachings of the prophets such as praying at the gravesides of departed Imams, and the public self-flagellation rituals that are central to Shiite religious practice.  For these eighteen hundred year old theological disputes Caliph Ibrahim, the absolute ruler of ISIS who holds a PhD in Sharia Law, thinks all Shiites should be put to the sword.  Hence it is perfectly acceptable to blow up their Mosques and murder them where the practice their apostasy!

Who could make better allies against ISIS than Iran: the greatest nation of Shiites in the world?  Try as I might I can conjure no rival to the Shiite Persians as allies against the Sunni Jihadists.   An August 27 article by Rick Francona – a former air-force intelligence officer and CIA operative stationed in Iraq during the Iraqi invasion of Iran, who now works as a military analyst for CNN – titled “Is your Government lying to you about ISIS?” supplies further evidence in support of my position.  After questioning “the rosy portrayal” of American successes against ISIS forces “coming out of the pentagon,” assuring us that ISIS forces are on the defensive, Col Francona tells us:

I remember the reports of the “success” of the Iraqi Army in ejecting ISIS from the city of Tikrit, when most of the actual fighting was done by Iranian-trained and led Shi’a militias. As the Pentagon assured us that ISIS was now contained, the Islamists mounted a successful assault on the city of al-Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar province, located on the Euphrates River just 65 miles from Baghdad – all the while under attack from the air. This hardly fits the definition of ‘on the defensive’”

From all observable signs and measurable activities the US is not winning the war against ISIS; they are growing more powerful as I write alas.  And the Republicans are sure to attempt to block any workable strategy.  They are to blinded by ideology, racism and Iranophobia that they propose absurd self-defeating policies and oppose strategies that could lead to success.  It would be crazy to arm the so-called “Free Syrian Army” because if we employ history as our guide it is easy to predict that those arms will end up in the hands of ISIS.

However if victory is the goal of US policy against ISIS an alliance with Iran will insure it!  President Obama’s looming success on the nuclear treaty with Iran will avert the probability of war just now,  but the Republican’s show no signs of concede defeat on Iran policy; the Coker-Cardin bill , which attempts to bar President Obama from waiving the sanctions that were imposed by Congress is their latest effort.  But because this legislation, pretentiously titled “the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015,” would violate the terms of the treaty, it has no real chance of becoming law unless the Republicans hold the Congress and elect a Republican president in 2016.

However, I believe that running on a platform of repealing the treaty and starting a war with Iran may help win the Republican primary, it will prove a milestone around the necks of Republican candidates that could well sink the Grand Obstructionist Party in the general election.  And that would be a good thing for America….and the world.


Playthell G. Benjamin

On the Road in Cali

September 6, 2015

A Pompous, Duplicitous, Souless, SCHMUCK!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On Israel, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on August 13, 2015 by playthell
A Phony Windbag for Sale
 Chucky C shows his True Colors

Oy Vey!  How could I have been so wrong about a politician; especially one from New York City that I have been watching for years?  However in my defense I should point out that “watching” a public figure is not the same thing as covering them.  I have never covered Schumer during the years when I was an active member of the New York media.  There just always seemed to be more interesting subjects that commanded my time and attention.

However he is such a ubiquitous figure on the Big Apple political scene you can’t miss noticing him….kinda like the Empire State Building or the Brooklyn Bridge.  But I have always considered him to be a progressive New York Democrat, a champion of liberal policies cut from the same mold as Congressman Andrew Weiner – whose brilliant career as an uncompromising liberal progressive voice was abruptly ended because he couldn’t keep his pecker in his pants; alas Weiner flashed his weenie on the internet and Shazaam damn he was gone!

Although given the stranglehold pro-Israeli Jews have on New york politics, there is no guarantee that Weiner would have behaved any differently were he in the Senate.  Yet as things stand Schmuck Schumer’s sin is far worse than Weiner’s – who only engaged in “safe sex” from a distance, as I argued in my feeble defense of the flasher Congressman from Brooklyn – for Chucky has royally screwed us all.

When he rejected the arduously and creatively negotiated Iran nuclear deal, a great model of diplomatic acumen, he callously broke his dick off in us and we will suffer from this dastardly deed for many moons.  Furthermore, pompous Putz that he is, he had the unmitigated gall to try and play us for fools….to pile insult upon injury, when he tells us that his position on the deal is “a matter of conscience.”

What does he take us for anyway?  We are not the clueless untutored mob that call themselves the “Republican base” and dominate the presidential electoral process in the Grand Obstructionist Party; forcing even reasonably intelligent pretenders to the presidency to say embarrassingly stupid things.  We are New Yorkers Dog!  We are a different breed of animal from those “low information” churls.

The plain truth is that Schumer’s rejection of the Iran treaty is one of the most brazen, unprincipled and shameful acts of political opportunism I have ever witnessed in all my years of observing serious political actors on the stage of history.  What Schumer has tried to camouflage as an “act of conscience,” is in reality a shameless surrender to the demands of the Israel Lobby and its activist arm AIPAC: American Israel Political Action Committee, who is waging a relentless struggle to kill the deal.

Hence the question that begs to be asked of Senator Schumer is just what is he agonizing over, what are the issues at stake that has so deeply touched his moral core?  To listen to the Senator’s public expressions of angst one is not certain as to the source of his suffering.  Is it fear for the security of Israel, the USA? Or is there nothing more important at stake than salvaging his political career….a courser commentator indifferent to the imperatives good manners and unencumbered by the niceties of language, might just say that old Schmucky Chucky is just covering his ass!

Yet, as is characteristic of pompous poseurs driven by vanity, blind ambition and addiction to power, the Senator attempts to disguise his malignant motives with pious self-serving rhetoric.  However we are fortunate to be living in a nation with a free press, which means that reporters and pundits can say what they want.

Thus even in a city where it is dangerous to disagree with the aims of AIPAC, risking a possible career ending censure from Abe The Inquisitor over at the ADL, ala the great Helen Thomas, we sometimes get pearls of wisdom from thoughtful observers that can be employed in the service of an elusive truth that blind supporters of Israel wish to obfuscate.  They have often tried,  been often denied, but they are certainly willing to be tried again!   However Tom Freedman, the Three times Pulitzer Prize winning Foreign Affairs columnist for the New York Times wrote a very revealing column titled “If I Were An Israeli…”

Freedman poses his argument by viewing the deal through the eyes of three Israeli’s of different status and responsibility: a grocer, a general and the Prime Minister.  “If I were a grocer just following the deal on the radio,” says Freedman, “I’d hate it for enshrining Iran’s right to enrich uranium…If I were an Israeli general, I’d share my grocer’s skepticism, but end up somewhere else (as many Israeli military officers have).  I’d start by recalling what the Israeli statesman Abba Eban used to say when Israeli hawks would argue against taking risks for peace with the Palestinians, that Israel is not ‘a disarmed Costa Rica.’”  Freedman candidly points out a reality that the US and Israeli governments have gone to uncanny lengths to deny in order to maintain the dangerous fiction that the Middle East is a nuclear free zone, arguing that Israel “not only possesses some 100 to 200 nuclear weapons, it also can deliver them to Iran by plane, submarine and long range rocket.”  Even if we take the lowest estimate of 100 the Israeli arsenal would have 40 more nuclear weapons than Great Britain!

Freedman makes yet another point that Israel’s Islamic enemies understand well but is ignored by its all powerful ally the USA.  “Israel plays, when it has to, by what I’ve called ‘Hama rules’ –war without mercy.  The Israeli army tries to avoid hitting civilian targets, but it has demonstrated in both Lebanon and Gaza that it will not be deterred by the threat of civilian Arab casualties when Hezbollah and or Hamas launches its rockets from civilian areas.”

Freedman makes no attempt to disguise the ugly realities of this policy: “It is not pretty, but this is not Scandinavia.  The Jewish state has survived in an Arab Muslim sea because its neighbors know that for all its western mores it will not be out-crazied.  It will play by local rules.  Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah know this, which is why Israel’s generals know they possess significant deterrence against an Iranian bomb.” Given the great superiority of Israeli military might, and its demonstrated willingness to deploy it without restraint, it would take a collective fit of madness among Iran’s political and military leaders in order for them to attack Israel…a death wish.

Thus those who, like Senator Schumer, posit an Iranian attack on Israel as a real threat that should determine America’s posture toward the nuclear treaty negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry at the behest of President Obama, are either ignoramuses or charlatans cavalierly playing Russian roulette with the fate of Middle East peoples.

As I have argued repeatedly: There is no evidence that the leaders of Iran are any more willing to commit national suicide than any other nation on earth.  Deterrence works, as is demonstrated by the fact that nation’s with huge nuclear arsenals have been restrained from using them by the knowledge that it would result in the nuclear obliteration of their nation.

This has held true for Russia, China, North Korea and even Pakistan, whose nuclear weapon was developed under the reign of General Muhammad Zia, who called it “the Islamic Bomb” and whose nuclear scientists have more than a few Muslim fanatics in its ranks.  Tom Freedman shares my view of the Iranian leadership’s disinclination to commit national suicide. “Iran’s ayatollahs have long demonstrated they are not suicidal. As the Israeli strategists Shai Feldman and Ariel Levite wrote recently in National Interests : It is noteworthy that during its noteworthy that during its thirty six year history the Islamic Public of Iran never gambled its survival as Iraq Saddam Hussein did three times.”

As for of Bibi Netanyahu’s attempts to kill the deal by getting the US Senate to vote against ratification-  an incredibly hubristic act – thereby checking the power of President Obama to carry out his constitutional responsibility to conduct US foreign policy, Freedman suggests an alternative strategy.    “I’d recognize that that if my lobbyist in Washington actually succeeded in getting Congress to scrap this deal, the result wouldn’t be a better deal. It would be no deal, so Iran would remain three months from a bomb – and with no intrusive inspectors, with collapsing sanctions and Israel, not Iran, diplomatically isolated. So rather than fighting with President Obama, as prime minister I’d be telling him Israel will support this deal but it wants the US to increase what really matters – its deterrence capability….”  Freedman goes on to suggest measures to accomplish this that strikes this writer as silly and redundant.

First of all, I consider the entire fuss about the consequences of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon much ado about nothing.  Should the Iranians get such a weapon they will pose no great danger to anyone because it will become part of Iran’s defensive arsenal not a weapon of aggression which, as we have already established, would be an act of national suicide. Secondly this charade around Iran is taking our attention away from dealing with the real nuclear threat to our existence – indeed the existence of all life on earth – is the creeping threat of an outbreak of war between NATO forces in Eastern Europe and Russia!

In my view the only real explanation for American hysteria about an Iranian bomb is the desire of Israel to maintain its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East, and to a lesser degree the fears of the medieval, corrupt, anti—democratic, Sunni monarchy Saudi Arabia.  Neither objective even comes close to justifying the war that will inevitably result from the scrapping of this nuclear deal with Iran should the Senate reject it, a war that will make the Iraq invasion look like a dress rehearsal for the real drama.

In view of the facts revealed in Mr. Freedman’s erudite and insightful commentary, and the additional points I have elaborated on, the thoughtful observer is forced to ask:” How is it that Mr. Freedman, a mere newspaper columnist, or an independent public intellectual like this writer, can understand these critical questions so much better than Senator Schumer; especially when we can only commentate while the Senator will deliberate…casting a vote that will affect the course of these historic events.

Since Schumer is not, by any objective measure, a fool or ignoramus, his actions suggest that he is a callous charlatan who places his political survival above any sense of a greater duty to support what is best for the people of Israel and America.  Are we to believe that Senator Schumer, a Harvard Law graduate with a well trained staff to brief him on important matters, does not understand the critical points Freedman so adroitly argues in this  Commentary.

Despite the denigration of a Harvard Law education by the brazen buffoonery of Senator Ted Cruz – who sometimes reminds me of the insane in the brain 20th century Democratic Senator Joseph McCarthy, and at other times Daffy Duck alas –we still have a right to expect Harvard Law grads to be armed with basic information about critical issues – not present us with transparently bogus moralizing cynically contrived to confuse the issue…issues of life and death.

I find this kind of cold blooded amoral political calculous beyond despicable!   It is so odious that I could find no words of invective, even employing the language of Chaucer and Shakespeare, powerful enough to fully express my contempt for his scurrilous decision!  This is why I have expended no effort in addressing Schumer’s specific complaints against the deal; I regard them as nothing more than a transparent attempt to justify a foregone conclusion that he knows in his heart and mind to be false.

Many progressive who have supported  Senator Schumer in the past are now running away from him as if he was diagnosed with Ebola.  People who have raised millions of dollars for him such as, whose 8 million members have pledged not to give him another nickel!   And I shall enthusiastically follow their lead!  Schmuck Schumer has permanently torn his ass with me…I wouldn’t vote for Chucky again even if the office up for grabs was village dog catcher!  It is high time that we support real progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders, and bid the homo sapien invertebrates that would try and confuse us by advertising cowardice as virtue,  adieu.

 Sneaky Rascal: Trying to hide his real motives!
Chuck Schumer
But we see you for what you really are!


  Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York 
August 13, 2015


Blundering Toward Doomsday!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , on July 5, 2015 by playthell
Putin-Missile-Test 1210
President Putin Observes Russian Missile Tests
Russia Expands Nuclear Arsenal for first time since End of Cold War

There are a lot of smart and reasonable people who cannot conceive of a nuclear war between Russia and NATO as a real possibility. The reasoning of my learned friend Bill Meissner is typical of this group; he is convinced that no rational leader would initiate a nuclear war.  And thus, as in the past, the MAD doctrine – Mutual Assured Destruction – will continue to restrain political leaders from taking actions that will also result in the destruction of their own nation.  Hence, they reason, there is no real danger of nuclear war with Russia despite the increasing decibel level of the saber rattling. They are wrong.  What they fail to understand is that both things can be true: No leader will give a command to launch a first strike but a nuclear war breaks out anyway.

This is why the obsession with whether the Iranians acquire a nuclear weapon is a fool’s errand that takes us down the road to nowhere in terms of dealing with the real issue concerning  nuclear weapons: the nuclear arsenals of the Russia, the US and NATO.  First of all, I am not convinced that the Iranian leaders are any more willing to commit national suicide than the leaders of any other country; although the fact that Iran is ruled by Islamic clerics that often behave like Mad Mullahs might suggest otherwise.  However even if some religious fanatic were to decide that it was the will of allah to initiate an act of national suicide, the weapons are under the control of military who are unlikely to launch an nuclear strike.  And even if they did, it would be a regional affair.

On the other hand, if the US and Russia fire their nuclear weapons it will spell the end of modern civilization for sure and probably the end of all life on this planet….depending on the extent of the exchange.  In my view, as one who has a solid knowledge of the destructive capability of the US nuclear arsenal by virtue of having served in our nuclear forces with a Top Secret security clearance, once a nuclear exchange commences between NATO – the USA and our nuclear armed allies Germany, France and England – all of the weapons on both sides will be fired.

Hence we are literally talking about snuffing out life forms that may well be unique in a universe composed of billions of galaxies.  It is more than a crime against humanity – which is already achieved by the mere possession of nuclear weapons – it would be a sin against all creation.

The authors of this narrative of nuclear terror that hangs over the people of the world are the leaders of the USA during the mid-twentieth century.  While no thoughtful observer can condemn the US government for initially building an atomic bomb, considering that they were in a war with Nazi Germany who was known to be working on an atomic weapon.   This is what attracted great scientist and humanitarians like Albert Einstein, Edward Teller and the swing dancing jazz loving George Kitakowski, et al to the Manhattan Project that created the bomb.  However it is what the US government decided to do with these weapons after ending World War II by the atomic bombing of Japan.

The leading scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project wanted knowledge of nuclear fission placed under the control of an international commission for safe guarding, otherwise, they predicted, if this technology remained the possession of the USA it would spark an international arms race.  Failure to heed this advice has led to the nuclear quagmire we are in today, when the threat of nuclear war is growing and nobody knows the way out.

I have repeatedly written treatises warning about the drift toward nuclear war, fueled by NATO expansion in Eastern Europe; which is a clear violation of the agreements that ended the Cold War as Stephen Cohen and other leading US Russian experts have repeatedly pointed out.  This danger now centers on the Ukraine Crisis, where the Russians have drawn a line much like the US did when Soviet Russia put missile silos in Cuba.  The world is lucky to have survived that crisis without a nuclear war between the US and Russia; we may not be so lucky this time; especially if any of the  candidates for President gain control of the White House and becomes Commander-In-Chief.                                                                                                                                       To those who think that I am being alarmist should consult the opinion of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the world’s leading authority on nuclear War.   They are constantly monitoring relations between nuclear armed nations and the set the hands on their atomic clock in order to dramatize how close the world is to nuclear holocaust.  At present the hands stand at 3 minutes to Midnight!  While most people go about their business without giving a thought to the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist tells us:

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have embarked on massive programs to modernize their nuclear triads—thereby undermining existing nuclear weapons treaties. “The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty—ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization.”

The extent to which their fears are based on real developments in the relations between Russia and NATO can be seen in events of the last few days.   First there was the near collision between a Russian Fighter plane that came within ten feet of a US Air Force spy plane attached to NATO over the Black Sea. Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, called the Russian maneuver an “unsafe intercept…unprofessional and inapproiate.”  Then he tried to play down the incident as possibly the result of “a lack of training” by the pilot.

The Black Sea is closer to Russia than the Caribbean Sea is to the US, yet the Caribbean Sea has been called an “American Lake” and defined by the Monroe Doctrine of 1830 as an inviolate US Sphere of Influence.  The fact that the US seeks to deny Russia, another great power, her natural Sphere of Influence in the Black Sea through the eastward expansion of NATO onto Russia’s door steps (see my writings on the Ukraine”)  when the US is located thousands of miles away, is the crux of the present conflict in US Russian relations.

Hence the Russians view the Americans as armed intruders, while the Americans intoxicated by the dazzling myth of “American Exceptionalism” as the protector of Eastern Europe from the ravages of the Russian Bear.   This vision led the United States to recruit former Republics of the Soviet Union into the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance…a western military alliance formed to prevent communist Russia’s expansion into the West.

The Black Sea
 Black Sea
 Hugging the Russian Shoreline
A Dangerous Encounter! The Russian and American Air Force planes

Russian fighter jet

The Russian Fighter Jet
The American Spy Plane
Airforce Spy Plane
Harassed  by Russian Jets

The admission of the Baltic States that were formerly a part of the Soviet Union is the most dangerous development in US/Russian relations since the Soviet Alliance with Cuba.  This is because a military conflict with Russia and any of these little Baltic States will plunge the US into a military confrontation with Russia.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently declared that anybody who thinks Russia would launch an unprovoked attack on NATO is “irrational” but he has also declared “We will be forced to aim our armed forces … at those territories from where the threat comes.”  If that perceived threat is from the USA then the forces he is referring to are intercontinental ballistic missiles.

This is the raison d’etre for Putin’s moves to expand the Russian nuclear missile arsenal, an effort fueled by the unilateral US abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, which expressly forbade building missile defense systems which NATO has been working to deploy.  Putin was unambiguous about the fact that his decision to expand Russia’s nuclear missile arsenal is a response to NATO’s actions:  “It is NATO that is moving towards our border and we aren’t moving anywhere.”  This comment was buttressed by a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry:

The United States is inciting tensions and carefully nurturing their European allies’ anti-Russian phobias in order to use the current difficult situation for further expanding its military presence and influence in Europe. We hope that reason will prevail and it will be possible to save the situation in Europe from sliding toward a military standoff, which could entail dangerous consequences.”

Incredibly, both the US Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg appeared to be surprised at the Russian reaction to their meddling in Eastern Europe. “We’re trying to move in the opposite direction,” said Kerry. “We have had enormous cooperation from the 1990s forward with respect to the structure of nuclear weapons in the former territories of the Soviet Union. And no one wants to see us step backwards.” 

Russian Intercontinental Missiles…..

Russian Missiles

Can  launched from Land

Russian Missles launched at Sea

…….or sea!

Jens Stoltenberg, speaking for the European allies in NATO responded with this comment:

“This nuclear saber-rattling of Russia is unjustified. “It’s destabilizing and it’s dangerous. This is something which we are addressing, and it’s also one of the reasons we are now increasing the readiness and preparedness of our forces. We are responding by making sure that NATO also in the future is an alliance which provides deterrence and protection for all allies against any threat.”

When this heated rhetoric is considered in the context of the rancid political relations and widening armed conflict in the Ukraine, it does not require a mental giant to conclude that we are stumbling into a war with Russia, and one need not be a military strategist in order to foresee that any war between Russia and NATO has the potential to go nuclear despite the initial intentions of our leaders.    That’s why the peoples of the NATO countries must insist that our leaders cease all efforts to develop a military relationship of ANY KIND with the Ukraine against Russia and allow these Slavic cousins to settle their own problems…the fate of our planet may well depend upon it!



Republican Warmongers take over the Senate!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , , on May 27, 2015 by playthell
Senator Graham from the backward state of South Carolina

 Beware of the Mad Men who want to start a War with Iran

`             Watching a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, now controlled by Republicans and chaired by the pugnacious militarist John McCain, the danger of having Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress becomes immediately clear.  It is also clear that if John McCain was President just now, and Lindsay Graham in charge of this Committee, we would be in full preparation for an invasion of Iran that would resemble a repeat of the invasion of Iraq over a decade ago.  This would be an unmitigated disaster!  We should thank the gods that Barack Obama is in the Oval office, although the forces pushing him into increasingly belligerent stances are numerous, powerful and ubiquitous. The Republicans in Congress are developing a justification for a scenario that calls for permanent war.

One is forced to wonder whether the Republican warmongers actually believe all of the things they say, or they are using foreign conflicts – especially the struggle against the Islamic Jihadists – in order to build political support for a Republican takeover of the White House in 2016.   What makes this situation so dangerous is that the struggle against the Islamic Jihadists – an armed radical movement that is reshaping the map of the Middle-East that has no connection to national states – is a real and present danger to the national security of the United States.  Hence what we need is a cold objective analysis of events that is not colored by partisan ideological concerns.  And that is not what I am hearing in Republican rhetoric or witnessing in their actions.

What I am hearing is an attempt to politicize intelligence in order to manufacture a justification to invade Iran, whom they have convinced themselves pose as great a danger to the US, if not greater, than ISIS.  Every time an administration politicizes intelligence it has gone badly; the Vietnam War, the overthrow of the popularly elected President of Iran, Muhammad Mossedech in 1953, and the misbegotten invasion of Iraq are three poignant examples. We are still dealing with the consequences of our interventions in Iran and Iraq and there is no end in sight. Listening to Lindsay Graham lead his right-wing “expert” witnesses, who rather timidly agreed with the twisted view of political reality in the Islamic world he was presenting, I can see this nation slouching toward war with Iran – which I am convinced would be a tragic mistake.

It seems that a distorted Republican view of events in the Middle-East that serves to disguise the realities in the region has also gripped some Democrats.  For instance we find Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a former military man, calling ISIS “the most evil organization in history.”   This is a bizarre statement coming from a Jew who probably had family that was killed in the Nazi holocaust, since we can tell by his name that his family is of German origin.  It is a measure of the extent to which many Senators have substituted hyperbole for objective analysis.

What is clear is that nobody knows what to do about ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shebob i.e the radical jihadist Islamic movement.  Some of the suggested strategies are laughable and as misguided as the assumptions Republican strategist held about how easy it would be to prevail in Iraq before the invasion of that small Muslim country.  For instance, the idea of arming various factions in the Islamic world, whether they are governmental or non-governmental armed forces, as the key to victory is extreme folly.

The other major delusion is that we can counter their commitment to radical Islamic theology by introducing them to the “American way of life;” which the Jihadists view as the values of a decadent, anti-Islamic, morally bankrupt, hypocritical, racist, Zionist outpost.  Proponents of this conversion thesis forget the fact that the father of the modern Jihad, Sayeed Guthb, studied for a graduate degree in the US heartland and was horrified and repulsed by American society!

Hence there is no reason to believe that any sizable number of militant Jihadist are going to lay down their weapons on the belief that American society can offer them something better, especially when every time they turnaround they are witnessing mass demonstrations against white policemen for murdering unarmed black men on Al Jazeera!  Many of the Jihadists look just like the murdered Afro-Americans; hence they identify with them and wonder “There but for the grace of God go I!”

Considering that the US has just been condemned for violating the Human rights of its citizens in a recent UN Resolution, for white Americans to think that they can win the young Jihadists over by painting rosy word pictures about the superiority of the American society is dangerous hubris.  The Republicans appear to be especially vulnerable to these fantasies as they search for a road to war with Iran.  But even more dangerous is their delusions about how the US can “win” the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a recent commentary in Al Jazeera America, Vietnam veteran Scott Beauchamp warns that we about to fall into the trap of believing the hype from Vietnam war revisionists.  The chief spokesman for the revisionist view was that old B movie actor and corporate TV pitchman Ronnie Reagan, who convinced the post-Vietnam generation that the war could have been “won” except for a failure of will.  Beauchamp tells us:

“The shifting goals and strategies not only betrayed the soldiers fighting in Vietnam, but also left a festering wound in the American psyche. By the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Hollywood were all too eager to address this lingering cynicism, what had come to be called “Vietnam Syndrome,” with a medicine that was equal parts mindless optimism and willful misremembering.

How Reagan went about recasting Vietnam as a ‘winnable’ war that was lost because of a lack of will, even a lack of faith in America itself, stands as a warning about how we remember our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…Haunting the pretense for Vietnam was a conflation of American ideals and American security interests. The two are not the same. For some, that was one of the lessons of the war in Vietnam — without popular support and strategic clarity, foreign adventurism is doomed to failure. And if that was the lesson, then Vietnam was unwinnable. Imposing our own desired political structure on a sovereign nation of people whose culture was completely alien to policy makers didn’t offer the chance of victory.”

One need only listen to the leading questions and conclusions proffered by the reactionary Republican warmongering Senator Lindsay Graham to the “expert” witnesses testifying before the Senate committee, a procedure that as a lawyer Graham knows would not be permitted in a courtroom, to see that the Republicans are going down that same road.

From the arguments they make one gets the impression that their knowledge of history is so twisted by wishful thinking they don’t recognize that both the Islamic revolution in Iran and the birth of ISIS are direct results of misguided American interventions!   They have obviously learned nothing from these disasters and are restrained in their self-destructive militaristic aims only by the presence of Barack Obama in the White House.  Had any of his Republican challengers won, we would be in wars all over the Middle-East with no end in sight…and we would be on the verge of nuclear war with Russia.

It is in this light that President Obama must be judged, and he walks away with flying colors when the alternatives are considered.   Anyone who is listening carefully to Republican rhetoric can harbor no doubt about the veracity of my prediction of permanent war everywhere if the GOP wins the Whitehouse and maintains control of both Houses of Congress.  The war drums they are beating for Iran sounds supiciously like an echo of the drums they beat for Iraq.  And with no pretense at originality, they are singing the same tune: Iran is on the verge of acquiring a nuclear bomb and that poses an existential threat to the USA, so we must strike them first!

Never mind the fact that the best possible ally in the fight against ISIS is Iran, just as the best ally against Osama bin Laden after 9/11 was Sadam Hussein and the Iranian Ayatollahs, both of whom had their own reasons for wanting al Qaeda wiped out.  The Republican warmongers have obviously refused to learn the lessons of these historical blunders and seems intent on repeating all of the mistakes of the Bushmen!

This is why those who suggest that we should sit out the 2016 election and let the chips fall where they may because the democrats have been unable to make all our dreams come true is either a fool, a charlatan, a paid agent provocateur of the reactionary right, or all three!


Click on link To View Lindsay Graham’s leading questions
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 27, 2012

What to Do About ISIS?

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on February 5, 2015 by playthell
 ISIS murder of JapaneseAdvertising the murder of Japanese Citizens

 They Must be No Longer at Ease

These days I find myself of one heart with the ancient Roman Senator Cato the Elder, who ended every speech with the declaration: “Carthage must be Destroyed!”   The rational for the Senator’s demand was that the North African nation’s very existence posed a danger to Rome.  After all, Carthage had been the staging ground for the invasion of Rome by the great general Hannibal, who surprised and amazed the Romans by crossing the Alps with elephants. Today a rag tag group of armed Islamic zealots pose a clear and present danger to the international order by carving out a fanatical Islamic Caliphate in the sands of Syria and Iraq that refuse to recognize the legitimacy of international law, or man-made laws of any kind, especially if they are the product of a democratic process.

In their view only Sharia is valid, the laws dictated by God/Allah to the Islamic prophet Muhammad.  If God has given you the law it is perfect, they argue, how can man improve upon it? They see blasphemy in the thought.  Calling their desert stronghold the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq aka ISIS, their supreme leader Caliph Ibrahim, an Islamic theologian with a PhD in Sharia Law, is so convinced that he is carrying out the will of God/Allah he routinely orders gruesome murders of captives – citizens of sovereign states big and small – and films them for display on the internet.  These shocking crimes have provoked a howl across the globe, with multinational voices chanting: “Isis Must Be Destroyed!”

Indeed ISIS has left the citizens of the world little choice.  The pacifist may cry out for negotiation but their pleas are destined to fall on deaf ears.  It is clear to anyone who have been paying attention to the murderous antics of ISIS that negotiating with them is a fool’s errand…a pipe dream induced by ideological opiates.

Alas, one cannot negotiate with people who are led by a religious potentate with a doctorate in Islamic Law, and is convinced that he alone holds the blueprint for constructing the perfect world.  When this belief is accompanied by the idea that the end justifies the means and mass murder is an acceptable process for bringing about the new world order, plus they are recruiting Jihadists from among your populace and training them for attacks on their home land, the international community is left no choice but to destroy the aggressive state or movement.

The belief that ISIS must be destroyed has been declared by no less an Islamic authority than the theologians at the University of Al Azhar in Egypt, the land that gave birth to the modern Jihad. (see: *Of All the Places in the Islamic World, Why Egypt?)  After watching the video of Jordanian pilot Mouath al-Kasaesbeh being burned alive by ISIS militants, Muslim Scholars at the 1000 year old University of al Azhar, the most revered authority on Islamic doctrine in the Sunni world, denounced the Sunni militants in ISIS.

Their statement expressed deep anger over the lowly terrorist act” and called ISIS “a Satanic terrorist group.”  And the Qatar based International Association of Muslim Scholars, led by the widely respected theologian Youssef al-Qaradawi, called the burning a crime and issued this statement: The Association asserts that this extremist organization does not represent Islam in any way and its actions always harm Islam.”

Upon first hearing of these statements I was surprised that the Scholors at al Azhad finally spoke out on the theology of ISIS, as they have repeatedly refused to comment on the authenticity of ISIS’ interpretation of Islam.  Hence I naturally assumed that the issuing of collective statements on behalf of institutions provided a smokescreen by which the scholars could mask their individual identities….and for good reason given the murderous proclivities of ISIS.  However many scholars have courageously stepped forward and issued critical statements in defense of their religion under their own name and authority which amount to scathing denunciations of ISIS; declaring their beliefs and actions “un-Islamic.

First among these is Ahmed al-Tayeb, The grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, who said the ISIS militants ought to be “killed, crucified or to have their limbs amputated.”  Salman al-Odah, a prominent Saudi Imam, called the incineration an abomination and declared: It is rejected whether it falls on an individual or a group or a people, only God tortures by fire.” Most compelling of the condemnations is that of Abu Sayaf, a Salafist Imam from Jordan whose nom de plume among the Jihadists in al Qaeda is Mohamed al Shalabi.

Sayaf is no stranger to militant Islamic activity, having served ten years in a Jordanian prison for organizing an attack on US soldiers, but he views the actions of ISIS as a misrepresentation of Islamic teaching that is destructive to the Islamist movement. Sayaf argues:

“This weakens the popularity of Islamic State because we look at Islam as a religion of mercy and tolerance, even in the heat of battle, a prisoner of war is given good treatment.  Even if the Islamic State says Muath had bombed, and burnt and killed us and we punished him in the way he did to us, we say, ok. But why film the video in this shocking way, the method has turned society against them,’’

The principle theme in all of the condemnations of this type is the vindication of Islam through the rejection of ISIS’ atrocities, which the militants justify through the application of Islamic law.  However they have a big problem: Since there is no central authority that the billion Muslims in the world can look to as the final authority on Islamic doctrine – like the Catholic Pope or the Mormon Prophets – the matter of doctrine is open to various interpretations.  Which allows Caliph Ibrahim, who is an authority on Islamic law, to dismiss his critics as ignoramuses and charlatans, even worse they can be declared apostates and have their heads lopped off with a scimitar.

Apparently anticipating a theological dustup about their public torching of a Sunni Muslim pilot, ISIS issued a Fatwa; a religiously inspired death penalty that can be ordered by a high ranking religious leader against anyone deemed to have profaned the Islamic faith.  The Fatwa placed on the Indian Muslim novelist Salman Rushdie by the Ayatollah Homeni, leader of the Islamic revolution in Iran, is the most poignant case of a condemned man under Fatwa; he is still in hiding and running for his life after two decades!

In the Fatwa issue by ISIS, the theological justification for burning the Jordanian pilot is argued with a scholarly rigor that sets forth chapter and verse.   In a February 2, 2015 analysis titled, Fatwa: How Islamic State Justifies Burning Pilot Alive, written by Raymond Ibrahim, a widely respected expert on militant Islam, we are told:

 “The brief fatwa argues that “the Hanafis and Shafi‘is [two of Sunni Islam’s four orthodox schools of jurisprudence] permit burning’ people.  Next the fatwa quotes the eminent Hafiz ibn al-Hajar (d. 1449) who comments that ‘the deeds of the companions [of Muhammad] evince the permissibility of burning, and the prophet put out the eyes of the men of Urayna with a heated iron [he also cut their hands and feet off], and Khalid bin al-Walid burned some of the people who apostatized’… None of this is surprising…every atrocity IS has committed—whether beheading, crucifying, raping, enslaving, or now immolating humans—has precedents in Islam, whether in the deeds of Muhammad, that most “perfect” and “moral” man (Koran 33:21, 68:4) or his revered companions.”

 No Shame in his Game: Caliph Ibrahim believes ISIS is following Sharia
ISIS Burns Pilot 
The fire this time!

 As we can see by comparing this exegesis on the theological foundation of ISIS’s Fatwa, which justifies the burning of the Jordanian pilot, with the denunciations of the Islamic scholars cited above, there is no agreement on what the correct teaching of Islam is on the critical issue of human immolation.  The obvious consequence of this ambiguity of interpretation is that the preachments of those scholars who oppose ISIS will fall on deaf ears.  And I suspect that after some of these are deemed apostates and murdered it will be harder to find oppositional theologians who are willing to go on record.  All of this leads to one conclusion: ISIS must be destroyed with military might…and the sooner the better!

But how is this to be accomplished when the US President has promised the American people that he will never, ever, ever, send American ground troops to fight ISIS? Whatever solution President Obama decides on it cannot involve American “boots on the ground!”  But even if he were willing to order troops to the area right now victory would not be easily won.

This is because fighting ISIS requires getting involved in a quagmire of conflicting religious and ethnic grievances whose roots lay deep in centuries of tortured Islamic history.  Tom Friedman, the three time Pulitzer Prize winning Foreign Affairs columnist for the New York Times, provides an insightful summation of the problem in a September 2, 2014 essay titled “Ready, Aim, Fire. Not Fire, Ready, Aim.

 To defeat ISIS you have to address the context out of which it emerged. And that is the three civil wars raging in the Arab world today: the civil war within Sunni Islam between radical jihadists and moderate mainstream Sunni Muslims and regimes; the civil war across the region between Sunnis funded by Saudi Arabia and Shiites funded by Iran; and the civil war between Sunni jihadists and all other minorities in the region — Yezidism, Turkmen, Kurds, Christians, Jews and Alawites. When you have a region beset by that many civil wars at once, it means there is no center, only sides. And when you intervene in the middle of a region with no center, you very quickly become a side.”

Yet, even so,  given the increasing dangers posed by ISIS to everybody that disagrees with them, American intelligence agencies should be tasked with finding the factions that will work in a coalition with the limited objective of defeating ISIS.  And since bitter experience has demonstrated that giving weapons to any “side” in this complicated conflict usually results in them ending up in the arsenals of the Jidadist, prudence dictates that we seek another strategy. Here is the ideal opportunity to finally take the historic step of removing the restrictions placed on Japan in the aftermath of World War II, which prohibits them from deploying armed forces beyond their borders to resolve international disputes.

Many members of the US Congress have called for the lifting of this prohibition – which was written into their post-war constitution under American direction as part of their “unconditional surrender” after being devastated by American atomic bombs during World War II. And regional Pacific powers such as Australia, feeling threatened by the growing might of China, are also calling for Japan to play a larger military role in international affairs.  It is no secret that this would be to the liking of the Japanese Prime Minister Abbo, who has made no secret of his desire to strengthen Japan’s military posture…even  acquiring nuclear weapons.  The Prime Minister has openly questioned the reliability of the American “Nuclear Umbrella” by raising the critical question of whether Americans whould risk nuclear war with China to defend Japan.  However in my view, any deal that would allow Japan to become a nuclear armed nation would be a dangerous Faustian Bargain and the Devil will one day claim our bodies and souls….it would be just a matter of time.

Hence what I have in mind is a far less grandiose plan.  Although if other nations that are less developed and technically competent than Japan such as India, Pakistan, Israel, South Korea, et al are allowed to build nuclear arsenals it is just a matter of time before Japan joins the Nuclear club….to think otherwise is self-deceptive folly.  But for the time being Japan could supply an affective armed force to confront ISIS on the ground. The brazen public murders of Japanese citizens on the internet while the Japanese government pleaded for their lives as they tried to work out a deal, has created public support for a Japanese invasion force to take the field against ISIS.

They have all he means to do the job and I think this could be their moment to renter the international arena as a military power.  No nation in the world has a longer history of military distinction than Japan, and some of their most influential thought leaders have made it plain that they do not like being known as  “a nation that produces beautiful flower arrangements.”   And they are anxious to remind the world that they are a great warrior nation.  I say let the remind us by taking the field against ISIS and removing them from the face of the earth….with the full backing of the rest of the world!  What to do about ISIS?  Therein lies your answer.



Playthell The Elder
On the Road
February 4, 2014










Reaping What You Sow

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags on January 25, 2015 by playthell
Terrorists shootout in Paris
Islamic Jihadists firing assault rifles on Parisian Street

 Darkness in the City of Lights

If the terrorists attacks that struck Paris recently were not such tragic events, listening to the attempts by western journalists to explain the causes of the random slaughter of innocent patrons in a Kosher butcher shop and the planned assassinations of twelve workers at the Parisian magazine Charlie Hebdo that repeatedly published cartoons of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, the founding prophet of Islam – which millions of devout Muslims consider blasphemous – their vapid prattle would be funny.  More often than not their explanations boil down to the conclusion that it’s just some crazy Muslim terrorists who fell under the spell of mad mullahs that are jealous of the wealth and progress of western civilization, lost souls wilding on the streets of Paris with machine guns.

According to this narrative the shooters – native born French Muslims of Arab/African origin – are a murderous, misguided lot who are ungrateful to the French nation and people for graciously allowing their parents to settle in the affluent enlightened realm of French Civilization, rescuing them from the backwardness and poverty of their Arab homelands. Even Barack Hussein Obama, the son of an African Muslim, offered a paean to the superiority of French civilization and their “shared values” with American civilization – cherry picking the admirable ideals while conveniently forgetting the values that produced a history of oppression, slavery and genocide against people of color spanning centuries – helping to create the backward conditions in these countries. Viewed from the perspective of western commentators the terrorist actions are inexplicable; there is just no way to explain it logically.  This accounts for the endless stream of confusing prattle that masquerades as serious analysis from government officials and media talking heads.

However it is not ignorance alone that accounts for the low level of commentary, self-censorship is also at play.  For instance, President Obama is a brilliant man who is an astute observer of world affairs and knows this is self-serving BS, but he dare not admit that the Jihadists are motivated by any complaints that reasonable people can understand.  For to admit even the possibility of a rational motive would amount to challenging the master narrative that these terrorists are not inspired by any real grievance against western civilization but are driven to madness by a poisonous irrational Islamic theology.

The news anchors well understand that to admit the Jihadists have any legitimate complaint against domestic conditions in France, or the aggressive foreign policy of western nations against the Islamic world, could quickly end their careers.  Hence self-censorship is the rule…mum’s the word.  If it were not for the independent experts featured on these news shows we would have no understanding at all of what motivates the Paris assassins.

As I listen to the conversation I find myself reflecting on an encounter I had while strolling about the grounds of Notre Dame on a clear February morning during a visit to Paris in 1996, when the city was on high alert for terrorist attacks.  I had come to deliver a lecture on Wynton Marsalis at the Sorbonne.

The Gardens of Notre Dame
Notre Dame cover_image_492
Overlooking the Siene it is one of Paris’ grandest landmarks

As on previous trips I noticed the tentative somewhat downtrodden posture of black Parisians as they went about their business.  There was a kind of “hang dog” attitude that seemed to hover about them which was so different from the bold posture projected by black Americans as they strode about the streets of New York, exuding an attitude of confidence that the streets belonged to them as much as anyone. So when I happened upon a black man in the gardens of Notre Dame, and discovered that he had lived in the city for over twenty years, I pounced upon him with a barrage of questions about black life in Gay Paree.

Having been nurtured on tales about the French fascination with Black American music and dance; their racial tolerance, and the open cosmopolitan milieu of Paris that provided a safe haven for Afro-American artists and intellectuals – Josephine Baker, Sydney Bechet, Richard Wright, Chester Himes, et al. and produced the first black military aviator in the Ace fighter pilot Eugene Bulliard.  A people who cared so little about racial etiquette that the First lady of France had caused a major scandal in the US when she kissed the great Afro-American pugilist and elegant bon vivant “Sugar Ray” Robinson in the 1950’s.  I wondered how much of that racial good will remained.  It was hard to tell in the circles I was moving in because the only blacks I met were academics who dwelled in the rarified atmosphere of the academy.  So I put my questions about how the folk were faring to the brother in the garden.

Like Othello, he told “a round unvarnished tale.”  As it turned out his name was Trevor and he was of Jamaican origin.   He had migrated to Paris from London to pursue his profession as a thespian.  A triple threat actor, singer and dancer he initially found success and had a royal ball.  But then an anti-immigrant sentiment began to grow in France; the more that black Africans from Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Afro-Arabs from Algeria, Libya and Morocco poured into France the more intense anti-immigrant racism became.  He told me that the atmosphere had become so poisoned that he was moving to Berlin.  On the morning that I met him he was just walking about the city conjuring up fond memories before bidding the City of Lights adieu.

Trevor went on to explain that Paris was still a tale of two cities, only now it would have been more accurate to call it a “tale of three cities” because Charles Dickens’ reference in his classic novel was to the class divide; now the city was divided on the basis of class, race and religion.  He explained that you don’t see many blacks on the streets of Paris at night because they lived in the suburbs where the bulk of poor blacks and Arabs lived. They were out of sight and definitely out of mind.  Most had but little contact with the swells, the creme de la crème who dwelled in the city.  And what is worse, even Arabs and blacks who had acquired advanced university degrees in business and the professions often could not find employment commensurate with their training.  The situation sounded a lot what I had observed in London in 1981 (see: “On Being Black in London, ” posted on this blog, which is why Trevor had quit London for paris in the first place.

That same morning I noticed for the first time platoons of Africans in overalls and rubber boots washing down the streets and the monuments that adorn this sparkling squeaky clean city.  In such a social environment, where the life’s chances of young people are circumscribed by race and religion, there is bound to be a critical mass of alienated dispossessed youths seething with anger i.e. social dynamite.  Just nine years later, on October 27th 2005 these suburbs exploded and it took French authorities three weeks to quell the riots/rebellions.

The rioters, who were described as largely unemployed youths from the projects located over two hundred towns and villages ringing Paris, set fire to almost 10, 000 cars and many buildings of all sorts including daycare centers and schools.  Almost 30,000 people were arrested and over 100 policemen were injured.  A year later on October 1, 2006 in the same suburbs, and there have been violent flare ups as recent as 2013.  It is safe to say there will be more.  The poet Langston Hughes asked the essential question here: “What happens to a dream deferred….does it corrode or does it explode!”

What we are witnessing with the rise of home grown terrorists in France is an explosion of pent up anger and frustration whose causes lay not just in local conditions but in their identification with the wider world of Islam.  Hence their anger has taken on a sense of religious purpose which provided inspirational myths of a glorious past and a triumphant future through the establishment of a global Caliphate based on Sharia Law; which is the vision of Al Qaeda and ISIS.   The vehicle by which the New Islamic empire will be brought into being is the Jihad; it is a vision that limitless legions of young Muslim men are prepared to kill and die for.

 Wall Art in the Suburbs of Paris
Wall art in Paris Suburbs
An accurate reflection of the mood of many alienated Afro-Arab Youths

 Consider the statement of Boubakar al Hakim, a French Jihadists who fought American forces in Iraq, given to a French Radio station from the battle front in 2003 and reprinted in the New York Times on January 12, 2015.   “All of my friends…I tell them to come do the Jihad.  All of my brothers who are over there, come to defend Islam.  They are wimps, wimps and buffoons. The Americans aren’t anything.  I am ready to fight on the front line.  I am even ready to blow myself up, to put dynamite and Boom! Boom!  We will kill all of the Americans.  We are the Mujahedeen.  We want death.  We want paradise.”  We hear echoes of this declaration in the statements of the Kouachi brothers who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo and announced that they sought “Martyrdom.”  It proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In a country with a Muslim population numbering in the millions there is obviously no easy solution to the problem of Jihadists.  The French President Francois Hollande has strongly denounced the terrorists and called for “moderate” Muslim clerics and scholars to repudiate the theology of the Jihadists, and for assimilated Muslims to engage with the youths to show them the error of Jihadist tactics.  Added to the police powers of the state these initiatives represent the core of government involvement with Muslim youths.  Central to their strategy is to vigorously deny that there is a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West; hence they must insist that the Jihadists are misrepresenting Islam.

The problem is that such a strategy has little chance of working with alienated youths fed up with the racism and economic discrimination heaped on them by white French society.  It is a policy that amounts to little more than a public relations offensive but offers no concrete solutions to the real problems faced by Africans and Arabs in France, which are exacerbated by the prolonged stagnation of the French economy and the rising racism expressed as anti-immigrant xenophobia fanned by the far right National Front Party headed by Marine Le Pen.

 Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen, National Front Leader
Is She the Next President of France?

During my 1996 visit to Paris I blundered into a demonstration by the National Front at which its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, called “The Devil of the Republic” by his opponents, was the featured speaker.  It was a raucous affair and the hostility of the stares directed at me and my companion was palpable, because they had no way of distinguishing me from the hated Africans they wanted to drive out of the country.

A former intelligence officer and Paratrooper with battle decorations Le Pen witnessed the collapse of the French empire in Southeast Asia and North Africa symbolized by the French defeats in the battle of Diem Bien Phu and the Algerian War.  He is a ultra-right wing nationalist politician who champions the superiority of French culture and built a loyal political constituency among those who feel threatened by nonwhite immigrants.  Although he fought to preserve the French Colonial Empire he now demonizes their former colonial subjects who have immigrated to France.

 Jean-Marie Le Pen
Purveyor of a racist xenophobic populist politics of rage

Back then they were a fringe party, now they are the largest party in France by some estimates.  Spurred by the Jihadist assault, a resurgent right wing political force is making their agenda crystal clear; there was no shame in their game.  Angered by not being invited to what many are saying was “the largest mass demonstration in French history,” Marine Le Pen sounded like Sarah Palin – the Alaskan Barbarian who almost became Vice President of the United States.

For instance, casting herself as an outsider, and her disparagement of Paris,  sounds quite familiar.  “Ms. Le Pen’s embrace of exclusion perfectly fits her politics.” Reports the New York Times.*  “Using old tropes of the far right in France, she took pride in avoiding the capital, Paris, which she and her supporters view as the center of political corruption an cynicism, for ‘La France Profounde,’ the ‘real France’ of genuine patriots tied to their land and their provinces.”

It is amazing how the right wing everywhere adopts these silly tropes of the virtuous provincials vs. the corrupt cosmopolites; sounds remarkable like the new Republican Senator from the hayfields of Iowa who delivered the Grand Obstructionist Party’s reply to President Obama – Columbia, Harvard, Chicago, the ultimate cosmopolite!  When coupled with her racist rants against the African and Arab population in France, Ms. Le Pen’s arguments echo Hitler’s appeal to the German Volk.  It’s just new wine in old bottles.

Alas this reactionary attitude will not, indeed cannot, bring peace and internal stability to France.  Confronted with clandestine Islamic Jihadist forces composed of soldiers who welcome death and thus are not deterred by the threat of dying, this is essentially a war of ideas….and Ms. Le Pen is propagating the wrong ideas.  It may make her followers feel good, just like Sarah Palin, but it won’t win the hearts and minds of the alienated Muslim youths of France who are joining the Jihad in increasing numbers.  In fact, should they take power in the next election, as many observers are predicting, Marie Le Pen and the National Front will make a powerful recruiting poster for ISIS.  And they shall reap what they sow.


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Janurary 25, 2014

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