The Changing Face of US — Mid-East Relations, Part One

By Jay Holmes

The cancerous growth of ISIS across Syria and Iraq since 2014 both exacerbates and illuminates a series of changes in US-Middle East relations. The most crucial and obvious of these changes is to the relationships between the US and Iraq, Iran, Israel, Egypt, and Turkey.

 

Kurdish YPG fighting in Kobane, Feb. 4, 2015. Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

Kurdish YPG fighters in Kobane, Feb. 4, 2015.
Image by Voice of America, wikimedia commons.

 

The simplest case to review from the whirlwind of US foreign policy transformations is the relationship between the US and Iraq.

When ISIS rolled into Iraq, the US-financed and Iraqi-led Iraqi Army collapsed anywhere ISIS appeared or threatened to appear. Only the lightly armed, poorly supplied Kurds halted the tide of ISIS terror. The much better armed, well-financed Iraqi Army proved to be an embarrassment to themselves and to the US administration that had overseen their creation.

The US had, until then, pursued a policy of pretending that their extravagantly well-financed “friend,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, was capable of leading a democratic government in Iraq. He never was. Many observers had long felt that Maliki was not capable of leading anything other than a self-promotion campaign. Perhaps it was that particular resemblance to Western politicians that caused some in the US government to mistake Maliki as a functioning politician as opposed to a common circus clown.

 

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki Image by US government, public domain.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki
Image by US government, public domain.

 

The collapse of the Iraqi Army leadership in response to the ISIS invasion forced the US to stop pretending that Maliki was anything like a “leader.” At the urging of the US, Iraq formed a new government with the less laughable and more pragmatic Haider al-Abadi taking the lead as Prime Minister.

Students of world history will undoubtedly wonder what “US urging” looked like in this case. Was it something dark, complex, and difficult? Did it involve secret assassinations or long propaganda campaigns? No, and no. The US simply explained that without changes, next month’s check would not be arriving.

Rather than expose himself to the justifiable wrath that would soon be unleashed on him by the people of Iraq, Maliki took the pro-Maliki option and stepped down. Under new leadership, the Iraqi military is beginning to resemble a real military, and it appears that, with the assistance of the Kurds and US air support, it will begin to push ISIS out of Iraq. Whether or not this or any future US administration will have learned any long term lessons from the fantastically expensive Maliki debacle remains to be seen.

 

President Barack Obama Re: Nuclear talks with Iran ". . . according to their Supreme Leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon, if that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal." Obama quote, Feb 9, 2015, joint news conference with German PM Angela Merkel. Image by Gage Skidmore, wikimedia commons.

President Barack Obama
Re: Nuclear talks with Iran
“. . . according to their Supreme Leader, it would be contrary to their faith to obtain a nuclear weapon, if that is true, there should be the possibility of getting a deal.”
Obama quote, Feb 9, 2015, joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Image by Gage Skidmore, wikimedia commons.

 

A less straightforward and more mystifying case can be seen in changing relations between the US and Iran.

As near as rational observers can determine, based on the information thus far available, the change has been minimal. Previously, US-Iran relations were a case of the US completely distrusting Iran and worrying about its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, but not doing much about it. In return, Iran responded by pretending to not want nuclear weapons while continuing to pretend to love or hate the rest of the world depending on the time of day.

In particular, Iran vacillates between claiming that it is no threat to Israel and claiming that it will annihilate Israel, Zionists, and those that sympathize with Zionists. Iran has not budged an inch from its decades of anti-Western/anti-Israel policies, yet the US is now oddly pretending to trust Iran. Iranian Shia Revolutionary Guards are now operating openly in Iraq with US acquiescence, and the White House now seems convinced that Iran isn’t really developing nuclear weapons after all. This one-sided rapprochement with Iran seems to be an unwise change in US foreign policy.

That leads us to another simple case: US-Israel relations.

The US government’s increasing friendliness toward Iran and the Israeli perception that the US has gone soft on terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah has complicated relations between the two allies. To understand the US alliance with Israel, one must pragmatically ignore personal sympathies and admit that the relationship has been rather one-sided for over half a century.

 

Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menahem Begin at Camp David Accords Image from US National Archives, public domain.

Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menahem Begin
at Camp David Accords
Image from US National Archives, public domain.

 

Confident of continued US financial and military support, Israel has never made much effort to consider US interests in the region when making foreign policy decisions. Israel has only been able to do this because successive US administrations consistently allowed it. The one major instance of Israel acceding to US pressure was the Camp David Accords. The result of the Accords has been of mixed value from Israel’s point of view. Israel now enjoys better relations with Egypt and Jordan, but Syria, the Palestinians, and Iranian-controlled Hezbollah remain at war with it.

From the US point of view, it often seems like we should expect more cooperation from Israel. From the Israeli point of view, it often seems like trusting in US idealism will lead to the death of Israel. In practical terms, the current tension in US-Israel relations changes almost nothing. It likely will require a change of US administration before US-Israel relations improve, and there is no guarantee that the next administration will seek closer relations with Israel. In the meantime, the US will continue to send the checks.

One if the more complex foreign policy cases in the Middle East is that of US-Egypt relations.

 

Egyptian Protestors, Tahrir Square, November, 2011. Image by Lilian Wagdy, wikimedia commons.

Egyptian Protestors, Tahrir Square, November, 2011.
Image by Lilian Wagdy, wikimedia commons.

 

 

The US relationship with Egypt since the Camp David Accords in 1978 has been fairly stable. The Mubarak dynasty did what it wanted, left Israel alone, and received lots of cash from the US. After the Mubarak dynasty collapsed in 2011, the Egyptian military took control of the country until elections were held in 2011. Some Middle Eastern potentates wondered why the US had so quickly abandoned “their guy” in Egypt. In any event, the US had little influence in the Egyptian version of the “Arab Spring” that lead to the “Mubarak Winter.”

In 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood won elections in Egypt, and Mohammed Morsi became the president. Morsi then quickly forgot his centrist moderate views and proceeded to try to consolidate power in his office while moving Egypt toward an Islamic theocracy. Many believed the elections were rigged, and As Morsi became more theocratic, many of his own supporters felt betrayed.

In 2013, Morsi was removed from office by the Egyptian military. Although he and his radical supporters had clearly lost the support of much of the membership of the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of Egypt, the US reacted negatively to what they considered a coup. As required by US law, coups prevent any US aid from continuing. The rule is often ignored. In the case of Egypt, the administration wavered, and most of the military and other financial aid to Egypt continued. Nonetheless, the US response to the Egyptian military’s removal of Morsi aggravated the Egyptian military and many civilians. From their point of view, they had saved Egypt from becoming the “next Iran.” Morsi had been positioning himself as increasingly anti-West, anti-US, and anti-Saudi, so most Egyptians expected the US to be glad for Morsi’s removal.

 

Egyptians Celebrate Morsi's Ouster Image from Voice of America, July 7, 2013, public domain.

Egyptians Celebrate Morsi’s Ouster
Image from Voice of America, July 7, 2013, public domain.

 

In 2014, military leader Abdul al-Sisi won the presidential election. In theory, US-Egypt relations became simpler again with democracy appearing to be functioning in Egypt. The US was happy to have the sticking points gone from US foreign aid, but al-Sisi now has little confidence in his friendship with the US.

One obvious and interesting symptom of the cooling of US-Egypt relations is that Egypt has signed an agreement with France for the purchaser of French-made fighters. Anyone in the US government that happens to be awake this week might ask why, at a time when US unemployment is so high, US tax dollars are going to purchase French-made fighters for the Egyptian Air Force.

At the same time, Egypt has now joined in in the fight against ISIS, though they have been clear that they are operating on their own and not as a part of a US coalition. As in the case of Israel, it will likely require a new US administration for US-Egypt relations to improve. Whether or not the next US administration will develop better relations with Egypt or wish to continue foreign aid to Egypt remains to be seen.

Next week in Part Two, we will look at the changing relationship of the US and Turkey.

Russia’s Ukraine Invasion–The Cost

By Jay Holmes

Precisely who is fighting in Ukraine depends upon whom you ask. When Russian Dictator Vladimir Putin speaks to non-Russians, he claims the Russian-speaking Ukrainian rebels are valiantly fighting to save Russian-speaking orphans, Jews, and senior citizens from the vicious onslaught of the Ukrainian government. When Putin speaks at home, he says the Jews are plotting with Americans to overthrow Ukraine. The Ukrainian government, along with most of the rest of the planet, takes a different view. According to Kiev, the violence in eastern Ukraine is instigated by, funded by, and in part fought by Russian security forces.

 

 

Base image for Putin meme  from Agencia Brasil, wikimedia commons.

Base image for Putin meme
from Agencia Brasil, wikimedia commons.

 

From Putin’s office in Moscow, the Russian invasion must seem like a great idea. His entire campaign platform—for the next campaign, last campaign, or any campaign—is his vision of returning Russia to the former glory that, in his view, it enjoyed during the Soviet era. Many Russians don’t have the same memory of enjoying that glory, or much of anything else during that time. Unfortunately, their memories and opinions no longer count for much since Putin has consolidated his power as a New Age Stalin.

A year ago, NATO-aligned nations warned Putin that the costs to Russia for invading Ukraine would far outweigh any nationalist glory that he might obtain.

In response, Putin confidently explained to Western journalists that Europe would suffer more than Russia would from any Western-imposed economic sanctions. At that time and to this day, Putin is denying that any such invasion has taken place, or that the economic sanctions are hurting Russia. They are.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s currency and its stock market have plummeted, and energy prices have dropped like a rock. Between that and the damaging economic sanctions that Putin had so confidently laughed off, the economic outlook for Russia is much less favorable today than it was a year ago.

Given Putin’s plans for increased military spending, the Russian taxpayers can expect decreased standards of living, accompanied by decreased civil rights.

The Russian people are already experiencing a decline in the standard of living in economic terms. Along with this, Putin is intolerant of dissent, the state controls the media, and political opponents are being jailed. Apparently, Putin’s visions of former Soviet glory come down to more centralized authority, fewer human rights, and the same economic hopelessness that made life so miserable in the old regime. Welcome to the “good old days.”

 

Euro to Russian Ruble Exchange Rate Image by Gorgo, wikimedia commons.

Euro to Russian Ruble Exchange Rate
Image by Gorgo, wikimedia commons.

 

For the most part, we in the West have measured the consequences of Putin’s folly in Ukraine in terms of damage to his economy, but there are deeper and less obvious consequences that will affect Russia for decades to come.

For starters, Putin grossly overstated his support at home for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The lack of real democracy in Russia means that Putin can pretend to ignore the unpopularity of his Ukrainian adventure, but even for a skillful, self- promoting dictator, there are limits to his power. I don’t know what those limits are. Unfortunately for Putin, he doesn’t know either. He would not like to discover them, as his increasing ruthlessness could mean that if he is toppled, he could end up with a retirement plan similar to that of his old pal Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.

Another price Russia is paying is that a substantial percentage of its young professionals are immigrating to the West in the wake of Russians allowing Putin to install himself as a modern czar.

That brain drain is hurting Russia. In fact, if so many Russian engineers and scientists had not left their country during the last fifteen years, Russia might not have needed to pay France to build new amphibious assault carriers for them. And now, with the sanctions, Russia doesn’t get the carriers from France. Putin wants desperately to modernize and enlarge his military, but that modernization depends on Russian engineering and scientific capacity, which has has been badly damaged by the intellectual exodus resulting from his repressive policies at home.

Russia is also paying in the form of deteriorating relations with Scandinavian countries.

Last week, Sweden suggested to its partners in the Nordic Defense Cooperation that they do two things. First, that they raise the status of cooperation from the current minimal form by establishing an actual Nordic standing task force to deal with growing aggression from Russia. Second, that deeper military coordination and cooperation be extended beyond Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark to include Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

 

Nordic Defense Cooperation Countries Image by S. Solberg J., wikimedia commons.

Nordic Defense Cooperation Countries
Image by S. Solberg J., wikimedia commons.

 

The bad news for Russia is that it didn’t take more than a few hours for the Nordic members to enthusiastically agree to Sweden’s suggestions. But that’s not all. Sweden has suggested that the combined force that they create should be available to integrate in NATO operations. So in effect, Putin has achieved what Western diplomats could not achieve with half a century of their best efforts–he has managed to get Sweden to join a Western alliance against Russia.

These developments are all consequences of Putin’s adventurism in the Ukraine, and they are all precisely the sorts of developments that Putin was hoping to avoid.

In an alternative scenario, Putin would be capable of seeing beyond 1986.

It is a view that would leave Russia without enemies in Europe. It would be a country where the aspirations of so many of its brightest young people would not include relocation to London or Paris. In that alternative paradigm, Russia could pick up a phone and ask Sweden if it could send a submarine to Swedish waters, and Sweden would say “yes,” because Russia would be a modern nation with a modern foreign policy and friendly relations with its neighbors.

That Russia would experience a better standard of living, greater scientific and cultural achievements, and far better national security. The NATO nations would be happier for it and would enjoy all the advantages of real cooperation between Russia and the West. But that’s the alternative paradigm and a view that Vladimir Putin will not entertain, because such a view would place the interests of the Russian people above his own desire for absolute political power.

The scope of Russia’s lost opportunities is spectacular to behold, but until new leadership arrives, Putin’s dingy Stalinist Cold War reality is all that we can expect for that country and its unfortunate neighbors. Proof that you can take the boy out of the Cold War, but you can’t always take the Cold War out of the boy.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Related Posts

France–At the Crossroads of Russia and NATO

How Putin is Having His Way with the West

Dances with Bears–The Putin/West Waltz

Ukraine in Crisis:  Vladimir Putin and the Power of Gas

Timeline of Ukrainian Turmoil–Part Two, 2001 – Present

It Didn’t Start Last Week–Timeline of Ukrainian Invasions

 

 

Personal History Improvement Service — Don’t Settle for a Mundane Past!

By Jay Holmes

The hot media story has been the NBC anchor Brian Williams debacle. In an apparent attempt to burnish his personal image, Brian claimed to have been in a helicopter that was hit by an Iraqi RPG, when in fact he had been in a different helicopter.

 

Brian Williams Misremembers Iraq meme.

Brian Williams Misremembers Iraq meme.

 

My personal reaction was wonderment that anyone would be surprised that a TV reporter lied. Given the fantastic liberties that news outlets take with basic facts on important news stories, Williams’s helicopter fantasies don’t quite stir my passions. Not even when he compounded his dilemma with an apology that amounted to another obvious lie, claiming that his memories were confused. If lying disqualified news reporters, would the networks have any reporters left? What network really wants to hire people that will ignore their corporate agenda and simply tell the truth?

Of course, after shrugging my shoulders, I quickly realized that the Brian Williams problem was yet another wonderful opportunity for the Bayard & Holmes Business Conglomerate. Brian Williams’s real mistake was not that he fabricated what was, by his standards, a heroic tale, but that he did such a sloppy job of it. Clearly, he could have used professional help, and that’s where we come in.

We are proud to announce yet another fantastic product from our highly successful Bayard & Holmes Personal Services Division – the Bayard & Holmes Personal History Improvement Service.

Why should veterans hog all the attention when war stories are being swapped at the neighborhood barbeque? Why should selfish CIA field operatives be the only ones to access professionally constructed legends? Tired of hearing other peoples’ stories about wartime memories while you’ve never been closer to real combat than Black Friday at Walmart?

Don’t be a forgotten victim of your own mundane past.

As an American, or as an illegal alien with a valid credit card or cash, you have a right to not be marginalized when others become the center of attention. Have your credit card handy and contact our Personal History Specialists to receive your very own PTSD-inducing combat history that will have your friends marveling!

 

Brian Williams Misremembers Viet Nam meme.

Brian Williams Misremembers Viet Nam meme.

 

Our best selling Back In Nam product is growing in popularity, even as you read this news release. This gem provides you with heroic tales of jungle combat as a member of the Special Forces group of your choosing.

You say you want to tell everyone about your great times with Delta Force in Nam? Why not? So what if Delta forces didn’t form until well after the Viet Nam War ended? When uncooperative listeners point out this historical inconsistency, you’ll be prepared to fire back details about how your Special Forces were so special that only you and a few other super heroes were aware of their existence.

What about when people wonder how you survived receiving nine Purple Heart commendations before your eighteenth birthday? No problem. We’ve contracted with brilliant medical consultants to provide you with the convincing battle scars that you’ll need to back up those fantastic combat stories. After a brief vacation at the Cholo Loco Discount Upholstery Shop in the popular resort town of Tijuana, Mexico, you’ll look like you’ve crashed and burned in half a dozen thrilling helicopter missions.

For added evidence of your exciting past, our CGI team will provide you with convincing combat footage of you personally strangling Ho Chi Min with the gauze from your first aid kit while simultaneously roundhouse kicking General Nguyen Giap in the head.

What’s that you say? Your grandfather served in Nam, and you need something more recent? No problem. This month only, we are selling When I Was In Iraq packages with no payments due until April! These packages include pictures of real vets wrapped up in so much modern combat gear that you can’t tell who the hell they are anyway.

 

US Army Spc. Joshua Rachal in Baghdad Image by US Army, public domain.

US Army Spc. Joshua Rachal in Baghdad
Image by US Army, public domain.

 

Since the Iraqi Army has no desire to use the billions of dollars in combat gear that we give them every year, they’ve agreed to a generous pricing structure for cool-looking, authentic personal gear from the Iraq War. These like-new items have suffered no wear and tear other than being stored in vast warehouses in Iraq and Kuwait. Our equipment specialists will add a respectable amount of scratches, tears, and scuff marks before shipping you your boots, uniform, pack and other gear to make it look as though this equipment was actually worn by a soldier in Iraq!

You find Iraq war stories too cliché and need something more original? No problem. For a small fee, our exclusive Frequent Lier card holders can obtain the Bayard & Holmes When I Stabbed Gadhafi to Death Package.

This package comes complete with authentic Bedouin clothing, sand-encrusted sandals, and a bloodstained Marine Corps Issue OKC-3s bayonet. After practicing with the Bayard & Holmes Libyan Militia Histrionics Language Kit, you will be able to re-enact that exciting day for your friends and neighbors. Our CGI team will even insert you into the famous “Gadhafi’s Last Moments” video, and no one will be the wiser that you were actually at home drinking beer that day.

What if heroic military service isn’t your fantasy? No problem. We even have a package that allows you to beat Brian Williams at his own game.

The US government sometimes loses a helicopter at a time and location where a US helicopter supposedly should not be present. We’re offering Uncle Sam help with these often embarrassing Whoops-We-Lost-Another-%&$@-Helicopter moments. We’ll fly you to the scene of the wreckage and film you in blood-stained clothes as you explain to the audience how you are the lone survivor from your foreign aid team, and how the rebels du jour shot you down while you were rescuing local orphans from the latest and most fashionable third world epidemic.

At no extra cost, we’ll include a screaming toddler to add to the dramatic impact. With a little effort on your part, you might even convince NBC to hire you as Brian Williams’s replacement.

 

Brian Williams Osama Bin Laden meme

It’s an exciting world, and you, too, can be a part of it without leaving the safety of your home. Stop wasting your money investing in your future. Improve your life now by investing in your past!

Remember. Your future is yours to create, but your past is best purchased from us.

Bayard & Holmes . . . Bringing the world a better past.

Charlie Hebdo and the State of “Free Press”

By Jay Holmes

The recent terror attacks in Paris have been a central theme in Western news outlets for the last couple of weeks. The outrage at these cowardly attacks is understandable, and responses from Western European leaders have shared some common themes. Condemnation for the murder of innocents, the assault against “free speech” and the “free press,” and vows to do more to fight terror were repeated across Europe. But precisely what can we expect in the way of increased defense of freedom of expression? The details are a bit less clear-cut than the rallying cries.

 

Paris rally in support of Charlie Hebdo victims Image by Olivier Ortelpa, wikimedia commons.

Paris rally in support of Charlie Hebdo victims
Image by Olivier Ortelpa, wikimedia commons.

 

Many Westerners quickly noticed that, while chiming in to support Charlie Hebdo’s right to free speech, numerous US television news networks carefully blocked out the now famous cartoon that Charlie Hebdo published. Apparently, “free speech,” as practiced by many of the US news giants, means something like “free as long as we agree with it, and it doesn’t violate our cowardly pathology for political correctness.” Perhaps it’s simply a case of “free to agree with us.”

In his condemnation of the attacks, US President Obama—that same fellow who claimed he would build the most “transparent” US government in US history— wisely did not specifically address the “free speech” or “free press” aspects of the attacks in his response. It simply would have been too ironic right now, considering the “transparency” we have enjoyed from the White House about matters like Afghanistan.

Remember that war in Afghanistan that ended last year? The one that is no longer a war, but that we are still funding and fighting? That war is part of the US global war on terror. The basic reason for conducting the global war on terror is to defend the freedom of the people of the US and, by extension, the freedom of our allies. Freedom is an important thing, and a “free press” is an important aspect of it.

Unfortunately, right about now, “free press” doesn’t apply to our conduct of the not-really-a-war in Afghanistan.

Every quarter the US military delivers vital statistics concerning the Afghan not-war to the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, John Sopko. These statistics include evaluations of the progress of the fledgling Afghan Army, police forces, and national government at large. The reports also include information about bribery and corruption in the Afghan government. In his previous evaluations, Sopko has been critical of the cost and lack of results in Afghanistan. His evaluations were shared with the people of the US. This quarter’s statistics were declared “classified” by the US Army.

John Sopko and his staff will receive the information, but they will not be able to share it with us.

We don’t get to know who specifically made that decision. My suspicion is that the decision to classify the data came from the White House. The rationale is the old “we don’t want this vital information to get into the hands of the enemy” ploy. However, by “enemy,” we can’t be sure if the Army is referring to the Taliban or the US taxpayers that are starting to wonder where the hell all the money went in Afghanistan.

If the data is, in fact, valuable information for the Taliban and their assorted competing warlords, then who shall we court martial for allowing the information to be released to the public for the last six years? But remember, talking less about what we are doing in Afghanistan is an important part of defending “free press” and “free speech” in the US. It’s a rather curious example of “transparent government.” Are you feeling warmer and freer yet? I’m not. As they say in the more fashionable taverns in Georgetown, “Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo.”

About now, our French readers are enjoying a good laugh at those politically and culturally less sophisticated Americans. Go ahead and laugh. You should. But then take a closer look at things in France.

While addressing members of the French Navy on board the French carrier Charles de Gaulle, French President Hollande said, “I continue to regret the fact that the international community did not act in the required time to stop massacres in Syria and prevent extremists from gaining even more ground.” Indeed. There is much room for regret.

Hollande forgot to mention that of all the major European nations, France has been the most reluctant to get involved in Syria. Hollande has thus far declined to conduct air strikes in Syria. He was probably counting on French voters to forget that he only authorized the French military to conduct strikes against ISIS in Iraq and not in Syria.

So other than photo ops on an aircraft carrier, what has the French government done in response to the terror attacks?

They have, for the short term, increased police presence backed up by military forces to patrol French cities. As far as cracking down on terrorists that threaten free speech, they have made it clear that too much free speech will not be tolerated in that they have been arresting people who say anything in support of Islamic terrorists. This included the police questioning of an eight-year-old boy when his teacher reported that he was sympathetic to the attackers. The boy’s lawyer has since claimed that the boy does not know what a terrorist is. It’s never too early to teach children about “free speech.”

But let’s not pick on Hollande. There is plenty of French hypocrisy to go around. Angry at Fox news for referring to Islamic enclaves in Paris as No-Go Zones, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo stated that Paris will sue Fox news. I think the statement was made between passionate cries of “Je suis Charlie Hebdo” and “Vive la presse libre!” Clearly, France is not going to tolerate Fox news having an opinion about Paris neighborhoods. Since they are not busy in Syria, will Hollande authorize a carrier strike against Fox News?

UK Prime Minister Cameron was, of course, quick to denounce the attacks in Paris, and he made clear the importance of free speech and a free press. That’s a nice sentiment, but how far does it go? Does it apply to his government? Perhaps not.

The UK government has joined other European governments in wanting to require “back door access” to be built into social media products so that European governments can more easily spy on its citizens without a warrant. The government of the nation that invented the concept of the warrant doesn’t think it needs one to routinely listen to private citizens on social media.

As for “free press,” time will tell how free the UK Ministry of Defense has been with information about their planned reductions in the UK military. There are currently allegations making the rounds on Fleet Street that the Ministry of Defense is planning much larger cuts than what they are currently admitting to the public.

If this all sounds too sinister and depressing, don’t worry.

By comparison, people in Western Europe, Canada, the US, Australia, NZ, and Japan still enjoy a higher degree of freedom than the rest of the world. The fact that I can write this article without expecting to get arrested is proof of that. As long as we can remember to frequently and publicly laugh at our politicians, there is hope that freedom will survive.

 

 

 

Frozen Bitch Face — What You Need To Know

By Piper Bayard

Everyone’s face freezes at forty-five.

Seriously. At forty-five, give or take a year or two, Frosty the Face Freezer breathes on us at an unpredictable instant, and the expression we are wearing on our face at that moment is frozen there. Forever.

This is great for people who laugh and smile on a regular basis no matter how Life has tried to eat them alive. Frosty catches them mid-mirth and leaves them with Frozen Happy Face. They are blessed with a reputation for kindness and wisdom throughout their old age. They get to be the Cool Old Farts that everyone goes to for advice and humor and fights to sit next to at the Thanksgiving table.

I can hear your question now. What happens if Frosty comes in to freeze my face when I’m frowning?

I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but that will result in the dreaded . . .

Frozen Bitch Face.

Frozen Bitch Face is that grumpy look that some people have etched on their faces in the form of permanent frowns and/or butt-shaped wrinkles between their eyebrows.

 

Note the ass between his brows. You see it, don't you? Image from CanstockPhoto.

Note the ass between his brows.
You see it, don’t you?
Image from CanstockPhoto.

 

You’ve seen Frosty’s victims. The Grumpy Old Farts who glare from their porches at children playing ball. The aging women in the grocery stores who pick up each perfect apple and frown before complaining to the produce stockers. And—ugh!—the people on Facebook who can’t stop beating us around the head and shoulders with bad news and warnings about everything from political conspiracies to the zombie apocalypse.

I hear your next question, too. We all have bad days. So what if I’m having a random bad day when Frosty comes?

Fear not! There are mitigating factors to minimize bad days and their long term effects on our faces.

The Effit Fairy

The first mitigating factor is called the Effit Fairy. The Effit Fairy can be Peter Pan or a seven-year-old girl with wings, whichever you choose, or both. I won’t judge.

 

My Effit Fairy Image from CanstockPhoto.

My Effit Fairy
Image from CanstockPhoto.

 

She visits on our fortieth birthday—well ahead of Frosty’s ambush—to remind us that life is short, and no one else is living it for us. She reawakens the child inside each of us who is too young to give a damn what other people think. She enlightens us to the fact that yoga pants in public are actually a classy fashion statement. And best of all, she encourages us to stop giving a crap if other people are “disappointed” in us. Instead, she teaches us to say EFFIT! Because no one else is paying our mortgage, or dealing with our boss, or feeling the pain of that ski injury on our behalf.

So listening to your Effit Fairy is the first and most important thing you can do to avoid Frozen Bitch Face.

Other things that mitigate your chance of having Frozen Bitch Face:

  1. Seek out laughter. Every time you laugh, you increase your chances that Frosty will freeze you with Happy Face.
  2. Find something to like about the people you don’t like, even if it’s only liking the fact that they live in another state.
  3. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all—also known as the Thumper Rule, since the rabbit in Bambi said it first. If Frosty catches you when you’re bitching about people, you will definitely get stuck with Frozen Bitch Face.
  4. Take time for romance. Let’s face it. People who enjoy the hunka-hunka as often as they can are far more likely to be smiling and relaxed when they get frozen.
  5. Find something to be grateful for every day. A grateful heart is a happy heart, and a happy heart makes for eventual Frozen Happy Face.

But what if I’m not approaching forty?

Easy. It’s never too early to practice. Trust me. You’ll need the practice. This positive outlook crap gets harder once arthritis sets in.

 

She got stuck. Image from CanstockPhoto.

She got stuck.
Image from CanstockPhoto.

 

But what if I’m over forty, and I’m already stuck with Frozen Bitch Face?

Take heart. All is not lost. Another Fairy comes to visit at fifty. She’s the Effoff Fairy. She makes it easy for you to tell anyone who doesn’t like your Frozen Bitch Face to Effoff, and that will make you smile. :)

So what are you doing to prevent or mitigate Frozen Bitch Face? Have you learned to say Effit yet, or are you already to the Effoff stage? I’d love to hear about your journey.

 

UK Ueber Alles! — Reporting Terrorist Toddlers

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Every now and then, we here at Bayard & Holmes are reassured that not all of the political crack heads in the democratic world reside in the US Congress or the White House.

As part of its counter-terrorism and security efforts, the UK has already enacted its “Prevent” program. Under the dictates of Prevent, 44,000 UK health care workers underwent one day of training to teach them to recognize potential terrorists. Now, patients from cradle to grave who enter UK health care facilities are having their terrorist potential evaluated. Fortunately for the Western world, a 9-yr-old extremist has already been identified and “deprogrammed,” thanks to this new human intelligence branch.

 

Armed and dangerous potential terrorist. Note the glee on this future terrorist's face as he contemplates his innocent target.

Armed and dangerous potential terrorist. Note the glee on this future terrorist’s face as he contemplates his innocent target.

 

In a follow up to this, the UK is currently considering a bill that would require all teachers to report children as young as toddlers as “potential terrorists.” One assumes the teachers would also be given one day of training to enable them to distinguish child terrors from child terrorists. (See UK Could Require Teachers to Report Would-Be Terrorists.)

Since both of us raised kids who periodically terrorized us during their adolescence years, we have a few suggestions for the UK to beef up their Counter-Toddler-Terrorist initiative:

 

  • Install CCTVs in each nursery school disposable diaper bin to monitor the true down and dirty activity of the UK’s Most Dangerous Babies. This is a critical task, which should only be trusted to the UK’s most prominent statesmen. Therefore, the top thousand Home Ministry officials will be vested with the duty of monitoring these CCTVs from their laptops 24/7.

 

  • Each toddler will be given an iPad and taught to Google search. GCHQ, the UK’s equivalent of the US’s NSA, will monitor the children and detain any of them who search on “Winnie the Pooh-Bomber” or “Blow Up Paddington Station Bear.”

 

  • All baby monitors will be tuned to the same channel and will be monitored at GCHQ 24/7. Any children babbling “Allahu Akbar” when they should be napping will be immediately detained.

 

  • Some suspiciously unpatriotic individuals in the UK are not taking the Home Office plans seriously, making comments like, “I knew those bastards were daffy!” To inspire those wafflers into the right attitude to maintain the UK’s safety from those who would overrun her and destroy her principles, “God save the Queen” will be replaced by the inspiring Nazi war hymn “Horst Wessel.” A few words of the lyrics will be changed to lend a uniquely British flavor to the song. Heil Home Minister! UK Ueber Alles!

 

 

 

Why Over is NOT Over — Afghanistan

By Jay Holmes

With the “ISIS crisis” occupying the headlines in Europe and North America, the US and NATO military operations in Afghanistan have been all but forgotten in the media.

 

US Marines patrolling poppy fields in Helmand Province Image by Dept. of Defense.

US Marines patrolling poppy fields in Helmand Province
Image by Dept. of Defense.

 

On December 28, 2014, US President Obama announced that after thirteen years of combat, the longest war in US history, the war in Afghanistan, was ending. However, the president pointed out in the same speech that US forces would, in fact, remain in combat in Afghanistan.

The war that is “over” is not over.

To most accurately represent the President’s words from his December 28 speech, it is best that we offer a direct quote. The following is the entire fourth paragraph of President Obama’s speech:

“Afghanistan remains a dangerous place, and the Afghan people and their security forces continue to make tremendous sacrifices in defense of their country. At the invitation of the Afghan government, and to preserve the gains we have made together, the United States—along with our allies and partners—will maintain a limited military presence in Afghanistan to train, advise, and assist Afghan forces and to conduct counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al-Qaeda. Our personnel will continue to face risks, but this reflects the enduring commitment of the United States to the Afghan people and to a united, secure, and sovereign Afghanistan that is never again used as a source of attacks against our nation.” [emphasis added]

In attempting to interpret and understand the President’s intent in Afghanistan, I am left in the precarious position of trying to extract facts from a political speech.

In the above paragraph, we see the source of the “war is over, but not over” dilemma that the president and our troops at risk face in Afghanistan.

Clearly, the president and most Americans would love for peace to reign in Afghanistan, or at the very least, for Americans to no longer suffer the consequences of the complete lack of anything like peace in Afghanistan. While President Obama mentioned the sticky detail of the “remnants of al-Qaeda,” he failed to mention the larger obstacle to peace—namely, the Taliban and its dozens of local “taliclones” opposing peace and civilization in Afghanistan.

President Obama’s commitment to a “united, secure, and sovereign Afghanistan” is in keeping with US political opinion, but is, unfortunately, not at all descriptive of the reality in Afghanistan as it was on December 28, 2014, nor as it is today.

We in the US find ourselves again in a dilemma that resembles President Lyndon Johnson’s view of the Viet Nam war. The war that Johnson saw, understood, and valiantly attempted to manage was not terribly similar to the war that actually occurred in Viet Nam. My guess is that in reality, President Obama understands Afghanistan better than his speech would indicate, so I assume that the speech was a political exercise rather than an expression of the president’s real view of Afghanistan.

He knows it’s not over.

While most of us in the US were glad to see the Afghan people conduct their first democratic election, that election, unfortunately, has not led to any sign of unity in the Afghan political system. Being ever the incurable optimist, I hasten to point out an interesting, though less noticed, phenomenon in Afghanistan. The young people of Afghanistan are learning to use social media, and judging from their correspondence, they are more practical, more civilized, more intelligent, and far more united than their elders. They have clearly expressed that they want a functioning democracy and won’t let tribal loyalties and factionalism get in their way.

In practical terms, it seems that we will have about 11,000 US forces in Afghanistan instead of the previously estimated 10,000. NATO will continue in its feeble efforts by maintaining 2,000 troops in Afghanistan to back up the usual idealistic and vague European political agenda.

Political speeches and media trends aside, what might we reasonably expect from Afghanistan?

My best guess is that any hope for civilization in Afghanistan resides with its not-yet-empowered youth. Too many of Afghanistan’s most educated people reside outside of Afghanistan, and most of them have no intention of returning home.

We have to consider that the ongoing national political schizophrenia in neighboring Pakistan will continue to allow various tali-brand bandits to wage war against the Afghan people.

The American public’s dwindling enthusiasm for paying the Afghan bills in blood and treasure, combined with the fact that most European nations have never been willing to contribute much more than rhetoric to the Afghan war, means that the US will remain in combat in Afghanistan as quietly as possible for another ten years. As the next generation of Afghan leaders gradually replaces the current gang of intellectually arthritic old men that currently fail to run their country, hope for a “united, secure, and sovereign Afghanistan” will finally become more than political dogma.