Archives for category: war
It’s a strange and dangerous time we’re living in. The article indicates that those killed  in this missile attack in Iraq were members of the MEK, an Iranian opposition group welcomed into Iraq by Saddam Hussein in the early 80s. No source in the article blames Iran, save for a member of the same group based in Paris. She’s adamant that all concerned know  it was Iran who made the strike.
Now that there’s a power vacuum in Iraq, those opposed to the government of Iran there are sitting ducks. (Much like the Kurds in Turkey and Syria now that Russia has joined the fighting there.) With the Revolutionary Iranian government a welcome party at talks about the future of Syria, and with a newly negotiated agreement between Iran and the US a done deal, it seems they have taken a free hand with regards their opponents. And as the MEK are right next door, they were an easy target. The situation reminds me of how Stalin got rid of Trotsky, but while Trotsky was easy to find and relatively easy to off, his murder was committed at close range with a small tool. The MEK was hit with missiles – they weren’t even given the benefit of looking their attackers in the eye. 

While I’ve been a reluctant supporter of the agreement to bring Iran in from the cold, I have a friend who has recently moved from Los Angeles to Jerusalem and she’s been adamant that this agreement is bad for the region and gives tacit support to the mullahs who have spent the 35 years since the revolution calling for the annihilation of Israel. This seems to be the first strike against foes outside Iran’s borders in a very long time. 

And, yeah, as noted above, the Russians are providing air support for Assad in his war against his own people. Dan Carlin recently noted that Putin is at least being forthright about wading in. (If you don’t listen yet to Dan Carlin’s Common Sense, I can’t recommend it highly enough.) He’s making a case for Russian legitimacy as a player in the region and in the current conflict. The US hasn’t been able to train a dozen fighters in the battle against Assad. We don’t even know what that means. Assad’s foes include long time opponents of the regime and new players like ISIS. The West doesn’t know how to distinguish these and hasn’t really made an effort to do so. Carlin makes the case that this is what accounts for the power vacuum in most of the places associated with the Arab Spring including Libya, Egypt, and, yeah, Syria.

And, as I’ve noted, none of this is new. Some of the issues date back to before World War I, others are closely related to other civil wars in the region – Lebanon’s for example. This is gonna sound like a hard left turn into one of my music posts, but bear with me for a minute. In 1984 (when Lebanon fell into chaos), The Human League released a single called The Lebanon. It was the first US single off Hysteria, and their first US flop in about 3 years. Part of the problem was the guitars, and part was the title. In England, that country nestled between Syria, Israel, and the Mediterranean Sea has an article. In the US, it’s simply called Lebanon. The lyrics are fairly simplistic, offering a verse each to a man who joins the army and a woman who simply recalls when life was easier, and a chorus that asked ‘Who will have won when the soldiers have gone / From the Lebanon’. I was in high school at the time working at an independent record store.  My boss asked me if I thought it would be a hit. I thought perhaps it would be top 30, as it didn’t have the bounce of Mirror Man or Don’t You Want Me. It peaked at 62.  Looking as deeply as Wikipedia offers into the history of Lebanon’s civil war (which lasted 15 years), it’s a surprise Syria didn’t sink into chaos a long time ago, but the factions in Lebanon were far more diverse and featured only a supporting cast from Syria.

I think brinigng Lebanon into my discussion is simply a way of saying the madness of Iran striking opponents in Iraq, and Russia taking out Syria’s opponents in Syria (not to mention of few of Turkey’s in Turkey who just happen also to be opponents of ISIS as well) is merely an extension of hte madness that region has experienced for decades.

That phrase is displayed over a beautiful Danse Macabre in Fuessen, Germany. Spoken by Death, it means ‘Say Yes, Say No, Dance We Must. In the context of Medieval morality, it makes perfect sense. The rich, the poor, the virtuous, and the vicious all die eventually, and as such were taught what might lay beyond. 
I recently wrote about the town of Mittenwald in which a museum display indicated that the museum used to be on Jew’s Lane, but that in 1938, the name was changed. Walking through Rothenburg, Germany was a little bit different than walking through Mittenwald. At various places, one could see evidence of the former Jewish community there. Judengasse still exists – or exists again – with a plaque indicating the lane as the site of the community that was first expelled in 1520. A plaque in the garden that had once been the Jewish cemetery ‘commemorate[s] our fellow Jews who were expelled between 1933 to 1938 from Rothenburg’. Only since 1990, according to a few such plaques, has excavation of the town’s Jewish past been addressed in earnest. 
Note that Rothenburg is an ancient, well-kept town on the Romantic Road. It attracts a large number of tourists from around the world. For some reason, the region is very popular with the Japanese – enough so that signs indicating places or events of interest are posted in German, English, and Japanese. 

As Rachel and I wandered through this medieval town’s historical re-enactment weekend (commemorating since 1974 a victory that occurred in 1274), and relieved the Kathe Wohlfart shoppe of about 150 euros worth of Christmas tree decorations, and heard tourists speaking English, German, French and Japanese, I asked her ‘Why here and not Mittenwald? Why does this town pay more than lip service to its historic Jewish community (and that community’s destruction – at least twice)? Her answer was short and to the point: ‘American tourists.’ [Note: I’m a secular Jew from the US married to a secular Christian from England.]

She had a good point. Mittenwald hosts a lot of tourists – any established town in the Tyrol region will do well with tourists from Germany, Italy, and Austria, but not necessarily beyond, except for the participants in the annual nordic sports competitions. Attendants at those won’t have much time for sightseeing, is my guess.
But we’re at it again. At the moment it’s the damning of refugees from the Middle East and Africa in the press and social media, not those fleeing the Nazis. Perhaps Rev. Niemoller’s cry about speaking out for the ones everyone is speaking against before there’s no one left to speak out for you will make itself heard through the din. Now the Germans are calling for the EU to divide up the refugees teeming (and dying) on its shores somehow equally, and take care of them. [Note: NOT migrants – they haven’t left their home countries by choice – nor are they likely to be able to return any time soon. They’re seeking refuge. The hint’s in the name.] 
Now there are a lot of reasons Germany is better equipped economically and otherwise to absorb a large number of refugees than Greece or some of the other member states. [An argument might be made that supporting large-scale refugee intake programmes in Greece in exchange for – I dunno – debt relief maybe, makes a lot of sense. It’s for another blog, however.] The quartet that gets on my nerves right now are the so-called Visegrad states: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. These countries are fighting both against the tide of refugees, but against EU efforts to address the issue. The former US ambassador to Hungary, Eleni Kounalakis, wrote an interesting NY Times editorial on the matter this week  in which she asserts that the Hungarian authorities have been stirring up anti-refugee sentiment since this crisis was in its infancy. The thing is, these countries have had native populations of Roma (aka ‘gypsies’ – a derogatory term) for centuries. When one speaks of the 11 million victims of the Holocaust, Jews made up the majority at six million, but the number of Romani victims is variously estimated at between 220,000 to 1,500,000. Since WWII, the Visegrad countries have made little or no effort to integrate this group into society, regularly demonising them and occasionally going so far as to engage in forced sterilisation. [Oddly similar to how the US has treated poor African Americans at various times and how Australia has treated its aboriginal population. Homework: Compare and contrast.] The main issue is that parties in these countries already have a history of demagoguing an underclass to cover for their various stances and policies. Or simply to whip up hate and drum up votes. We’re doing it in the US right now, and my adopted home of the Netherlands has its own bastards in this regard. They’re all playing the same game that’s epitomised in a joke making the rounds: A billionaire, six white unemployed white people, a black person stand at a table with a dozen donuts. The billionaire takes eleven donuts and tells the white people, ‘Look out – the black guy’s gonna take your donut.’
  Many Hungarians and people all over the world who are addressing refugee crises [we haven’t seen much of the US border with Mexico in the press lately, but trust me, that situation hasn’t changed] know what needs to be done now – normal people are offering up their homes and resources to help people in need. Of course these aren’t the ones in the news. While we have to hear from the Viktor Orbans, Donald Trumps, Nigel Farages, Petra Laszlos, and Rita Verdonks of the world first, we’ve danced this dance before and really don’t need to dance it again.

(Title nicked from a 70s-era compilation of Beatles covers.)

Last year the band Einsturzende Neubauten released Lament, an album commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I. In interviews, frontman Blixa Bargeld advanced the argument that the first world war never actually ended – the parties that marched across Belgium and France in 1914 continued to battle in other forms in other locations. All the results of the Sykes-Picot Agreement could be said to be further battles in that war. (My favourite track on that album is The Willy-Nicky Telegrams, in which Bargeld and Alexander Hacke recite the texts of communiques between Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas that led up to the war. The two were cousins.)

Side note: This week marks the 100th anniversary of the first recorded chemical weapon attack on soldiers in Ypres and seems a good place to share the Green Fields of France.

Disclosure: I am neither a political scientist nor an historian.

That said, I have recently stated to whomever will listen; and possibly here, that I’ll be quite surprised if we get out of this decade without a world war. I think now that it’s too late for that if. I’m pretty certain it’s already begun; we just haven’t declared it yet. Peace has been on life support since we took down the World Trade Centre and I think it’s time, as they say on the hospital dramas, to call it.

KMFDM: World War III

On Rachel Maddow’s 20 April 2015 show, she discussed a variety of the conflicts in the middle east including Yemen and Libya. Iran is currently supporting Yemen against the Saudi forces there. (Note: The BBC now reportbattleships that the Saudis have concluded their air campaign in Yemen.) On that front, the US supported Saudi. In the fight against ISIL, a Sunni force, the US supports Shiite Iran.

ETA: NYT now reports that Saudi air strikes in Yemen have resumed.

Moving east, we have the smoldering war in Ukraine. Between that (admittedly large) country and the very hot war in Syria, there’s only Turkey, another front in ISIL’s advance.

In addition, recent reports of Russian ships cruising near Britain add credence to arguments that Putin’s hostility isn’t limited to former Soviet republics.

And trade wars – the sanctions against Russia over its recent hostile actions may be yet be enough to push us all into a much hotter war.

I’m not without hope in these matters, but the decisions lie with very wealthy corporations that don’t look kindly on efforts to slow the continued accumulation of wealth. This is why we defend oil fields to the death, but care little for those who try to live their lives farther from those natural resources or who fight the conglomerates whose extraction efforts also make such places unliveable.

I don’t have numbers but the worldwide refugee crisis is only getting worse. Syria is one hotspot. (Israel could have taken the moral high ground at the start of the civil war, but unsurprisingly, Bibi didn’t.) Libya currently has the headlines because of the horrific tragedies occurring almost daily in the waters between Libya and Italy. These aren’t new, but Berlusconi had an agreement with the Gaddafi regime to keep a lid on those trying to escape. With Gaddafi dead (and Libya on the verge of being a failed state) and Berlusconi no longer Italy’s autocrat, it’s no longer in force.

My friend Craig, a journalist, world traveller, and scholar, made two interesting points in a recent FB post about Middle East terrorism. The first: While there is “no philosophical connection between Islam and terrorism…there is a very strong connection between Saudi Arabian Wahabist Islam and terrorism.”
Wikipedia offers that Wahhabism is a fundamentalist sect of Sunni Islam. Adherents consider the term Wahhabi derogatory and prefer Salafi. Its 18th century founder, Mohammad bin Abd Al-Wahhab allied himself with Muhammad bin Saud whose name might recall to you the current ruling house of Saudi Arabia. Today Al-Wahhab’s teachings are state-sponsored and the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia.
oil-rigToday Wahhabism is considered an ultra-conservative Saudi brand of Salafism whose adherents brand non-Wahhabi Muslims apostates. One of the main things to note, however is that while Wahhabis are only about 23% of the Saudi population, they control the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Craig’s second point: That Wahabist extremism and the rise of western Islamaphobia share a root cause: “the utter cowardice of Western powers when it comes to challenging Saudi’s policy of exporting religious extremism.”
As purchasers of Saudi oil, and sellers of Saudi-bought arms (a trade in which France has a disturbingly long history), we are complicit.
Of course this whole discussion is on Facebook and I’m not necessarily privileged to copy it here in full, but in the comments Craig answers a question put to him on the matter: Does religion trump economics? with a resounding Yes. “The codification of a culture’s most cherished values – whether expressed as a concept of God or as a doctrine  of Human rights – does, and indeed must, trump economics…If we acknowledge economics as being the repository of our culture’s most important guiding principles, then we have already lost.”
Precisely. There are several directions one could go with this discussion including how our society’s wealth of all kinds is distributed, but this clash of religion and economics raises an interesting question: Is the current state of Saudi oil pricing an attempt to destabilise western economies? From my very non-expert point of view, this could be almost as, if not more, effective than our wars that destabilise Middle East regimes.
Mind you, one of the more seriously affected regimes is that of Mr. Putin in Russia. The governing elites derive most of their power from oil revenue and Putin very early on made the case that Russia would not be sharing the benefits and risks of its natural resources when it blocked attempts by to sell industries to the west. In December, The Independent asserted that this change in fortune might mean that Russia “may not be able to afford to wage her little wars.” (Falling oil price benefits consumers in the West but comes at a  high cost to global stability, 20 December 2014) I fear this is not the case – Russia’s resources, ambitions, and economic instability make the country one of many fine starting points for the next big war.


I suppose if my thoughts had tended that way, I would have noticed that things were finally moving forward on the Cuban front. (The last front of the Cold War?)

Cuba!At 47, the embargo’s lasted longer than I’ve been alive, fuelled primarily by ageing Florida refugees whose assets in Cuba were seized in Castro’s revolution. This rather small community has held Florida’s electoral votes hostage since 1964, but finally, it seems, their influence has waned and very soon all those meticulously maintained ’59 Chryslers will find themselves crowded out by new imports.

Rachel Maddow made an interesting point on the subject last night (17 Dec.): The US is the only country to have held to the embargo. When the rest of the world enabled travel there, the US stood still. I had a number of American friends in Prague who traveled there. (One brought me a Cuban cigar – alas in the period between my requesting it and Dan returning from his travels, I gave up smoking. Another friend found it very tasty, though.)

In my youth, we had Ronald Reagan creating bogeymen out of the entire Communist world (while he himself engineered an invasion of another Caribbean island, Grenada. Even as the Cold War ended, and Russia no longer afforded to prop up Cuba with economic subsidies, we couldn’t see through to making some peace. Those refugees who had gotten rich off Bautista’s corruption (and whose class as a whole gave Guevara and Castro their raison d’être) were still relatively young 25 years ago.

The Democrats were still so beholden to this group seven years later that Clinton enshrined the embargo (which had for 35 years been maintained by executive order (from what I gather) into law. I’d need to do some research, but I’m pretty sure congress (by that time Republican in both houses) passed the bill in the wake of the Elian Gonzales fiasco. This leaves President Obama in the weird place, again, of doing a bunch of work by executive order that the new double Republican majority may undo. It’s interesting that many of the negotiations wrapped around these new changes were conducted with the Vatican. I have a guess that the erstwhile majority Catholic island of Cuba is reaping a certain benefit from the first Latin American pope.

The spy exchanges, I suppose, are an interesting aspect to this story, but I’m really curious as to how the status of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility will play out, especially in the wake of the torture report.

And, yeah, there’s the torture report. We knew this shit was going down ten years ago. John Woo defended the CIA’s use of torture before congress at the time. The New Yorker wrote about it. The extent of what we did might be surprising. The details of the techniques might be new. We might even be amazed that Dick Cheney is still defending it. But the report is not news. Putting the bastards on trial: That’d be news. A presidential pardon, which at least acknowledges the heinous criminality of the thing – that’d be news too.