Shifting Sands in the House of Saud

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Since Fahd ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Āl Sa’ūd ascended to the throne of Saudi Arabia in 1982, relations between the West and Saudi Arabia have been fairly stable, if somewhat complicated.

 

Secy of Defense William Cohen (left) and King Fahd ibn 'Abd al-'Azīz Āl Sa'ūd (right) October 13, 1998 Image by Dept of Defense, public domain

Secy of Defense William Cohen (left)
and King Fahd ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Āl Sa’ūd (right)
October 13, 1998
Image by Dept of Defense, public domain

 

The Saudi government has remained consistently willing to maintain close diplomatic, business, and military ties with the US and other Western nations. At the same time, it has supported Wahhabi religious leaders in maintaining extremely conservative Sunni religious dominance over Saudi citizens. While the West enabled technological and business modernizations in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government to a great extent allowed the Wahhabi religious leaders to define culture in their country.

Saudi Arabia’s dichotomy of petroleum-fueled modernization versus conservative Wahhabi cultural control has been somewhat baffling to Westerners from democratic nations.

In spite of these constantly conflicting forces, King Fahd managed to maintain a stable balance. From the US point of view, the Saudi Arabian government was one of two allies in the region, Israel being the other. Yet while relations between Riyadh and Washington remained warm, not all Saudis felt that warmth toward the US or the West. In fact, Saudi Arabia, thanks to Wahhabi influence, remained a breeding ground for violent jihadism.

Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 attackers hailed from Saudi Arabia, and wealthy Saudi Arabians have consistently been a leading source for terrorist funding. Yet the oil flowed to the West while Western cash fueled the extended Royal family’s lavish lifestyle. That oil wealth also fueled vast social programs and a bloated civil government that makes our US government seem almost efficient by comparison.

In 1993, King Fahd sent shockwaves through Saudi society when he instituted a sixty person consultative council.

All the members of the council were picked by him. It was nothing like “elected representation,” but by Saudi standards, but it was a huge step forward for Saudi society. Two years later, twenty women were allowed to attend the consultative council. To Westerners, it might seem like a miniscule token step toward liberalization, but to the Wahhabi religious leaders, it was wild heresy.

King Fahd suffered a major stroke in 1995. His brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, acted as his regent and unofficial prime minister. When Fahd died in 2005, Abdullah ascended the throne and continued the balancing act.

 

King Abdullah bin Abdul al-Saud, January 2007 Image by Cherie A. Thurlby, Dept. of Defense, public domain

King Abdullah bin Abdul al-Saud, January 2007
Image by Cherie A. Thurlby,
Dept. of Defense, public domain

 

Like his predecessors, Abdullah was willing to use the Wahhabi establishment to maintain order and enforce their version of Sharia law in his Kingdom, but like every Saudi King, he was leery of their power. He continued to use oil wealth to further drive modernization and hold up vast social welfare programs while simultaneously struggling with the domestic terror issues caused by the radical Wahhabi influence.

Gradually, King Abdullah implemented small steps toward liberalizing Saudi society.

In 2007, he banned the infamous religious police from making arrests and began to institute major judicial reforms. Two years later, Abdullah pushed ahead with reforms and fired most of the senior judges and leaders of the religious police system.

In 2011 the Arab Spring swept across North Africa and the Mid-East. When it reached Saudi Arabia, it was quickly stifled by police action.

To outsiders, it may have appeared to be simple oppression, but inside the kingdom, there was genuine fear that Al Qaeda and their many clones would hijack any Arab Spring. There was also concern that Iranian-backed Shia minorities in Saudi Arabia would agitate on behalf of the Iranian Ayatollahs. King Abdullah responded by announcing increases in social welfare programs in the hope of appeasing many of the potential “Springers.”

In September of 2011, King Abdullah announced that women would be allowed to vote in municipal elections and run for office. While Saudi women were quietly celebrating their newfound empowerment, the Saudi courts sentenced a woman to ten lashes for driving a car. King Abdullah overturned the verdict.

In 2013, while Saudi Arabia continued to struggle to control domestic terrorism by homegrown jihadists, King Abdullah appointed thirty women to the consultative council.

The following year, fearful of Iranian-backed insurgents in Yemen and the simmering unrest of the Shia-backed majority in Bahrain, King Abdullah did an about face in policy and introduced strict anti-terror laws.

The new laws give the police the power to arrest anyone that protests against or speaks against the Saudi government or the Wahhabi religious establishment. The law even prohibits “thoughts” against the government or Wahhabi Islam.

When King Abdullah died in January of 2015, his brother, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, ascended the throne.

 

Saudi Arabian executions graph Image by Runab, wikimedia commons.

Saudi Arabian executions graph
Image by Runab, wikimedia commons.

 

Though Salman had supported King Abdullah’s reforms he was already eighty years old and in declining health. Instead of appointing one of his aging brothers as his acting regent, he appointed his thirty year old son, Mohammed bin Salman al Saud, as deputy crown prince and defense minister. The choice may prove to be an exceptionally bad one.

Unlike his father and uncles, Mohammed bin Salman was educated in Saudi Arabia rather than in the US, and he is not well travelled. He has a reputation for arrogance and ruthlessness.

Salman and his son face the same challenges that King Abdullah faced, but they lack one important resource that King Abdullah and his predecessors always relied on . . . They lack the cash. Oil prices have been down for the last couple of years, and that has forced the Saudi government to reduce the allowances of the extended royal family and to reverse the increases in social welfare programs that helped calm the attempted Saudi Arabian Spring.

The fear in the house of Saud is showing.

The new anti-terrorism laws are being rigorously enforced. Executions are at a two-decade high. There were 150 public beheadings in 2015. In the first week of 2016 alone, there were 47 executions by beheading or firing squad.

 

Human Rights Activist Samar Badawi Image from Int'l Women of Courage Awards 2012, Dept. of State, public domain

Human Rights Activist Samar Badawi
Image from Int’l Women of Courage Awards 2012,
Dept. of State, public domain

 

In addition, popular blogger, Raif Badawi, who urged Saudi society to be more liberal and secular, was imprisoned in 2013 and sentenced to 10 years and 1000 lashes. His lawyer, Wahleed Abu al-Khair, was imprisoned in 2014. Now, Samar Badawi – Raif Badawi’s sister and al-Khair’s former wife – was arrested on January 12, 2016, along with her 2-year-old daughter. A long time human rights advocate, Samar Badawi’s crime was running a Twitter account to raise awareness of al-Khair’s situation. At this rate, the Saudis might have to use any money left over from their campaign in Yemen and their weapons acquisitions to fund new prison construction.

On top of the domestic strain, on January 2, 2016, the Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric led to an Iranian mob storming the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Iran and Saudi Arabia then severed diplomatic ties.

The current generation of Saudi leaders is under pressure, and it shows.

The growing influence of Iran in the new Shia government in Iraq, the Iranian-backed rebellion in Yemen, the rise of ISIL in Syria, the increased Russian military presence in Syria, all combine to present what the young Saudis likely perceive to be a menace to their rule and their physical survival. When they add to that the American and Western “accord” with Iran, they may see themselves as being isolated while facing unrest at home and increasing threats by Iran.

So where will the young Royals take Saudi Arabia?

Mohammed bin Salman is planning major economic reforms. He will have to implement those reforms while dealing with Saudi Arabia’s expensive support for Sunni (non-ISIL) rebels in Yemen, the war in Yemen, and the brewing opposition at home.

 

King Ibn Saud & President Franklin D. Roosevelt Great Bitter Lake, Egypt, 2-14-1945 Image public domain

King Ibn Saud & President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Great Bitter Lake, Egypt, 2-14-1945
Image public domain

 

In 1928, King Ibn Saud came to power on the back of a fierce Wahhabi tiger. The house of Saud has never been able to completely dismount from that tiger. Since 1928, governing in Saudi Arabia has required an acrobatic balance of Wahhabi interests versus Saudi national interests. The future of Saudi Arabia depends on how well Mohammed bin Salman can ride that tiger.

 

 

 

 

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Muslim Radicals Attack Vienna (Again)

By Jay Holmes

In 1682, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I was facing the nightmare that had haunted Austro-German leaders for centuries—the Hapsburg Empire was threatened by simultaneous wars on two fronts. On the Rhine to the west, his German states were under threat from a broad coalition of protestant nations such as England, Sweden, the protestant German principalities, and Catholic France. To the east, his Hungarian kingdom was in rebellion. Leopold chose to pay minimal attention to the rebellion in Hungary and stationed the majority of his troops and artillery along the Rhine.

 

Battle of Vienna, 1683 Painting by Juliusz Kossak, public domain

Battle of Vienna, 1683
Painting by Juliusz Kossak, public domain

 

Eighteen years earlier, a twenty-year peace treaty had been agreed to by the Ottoman Empire and Leopold’s Holy Roman Empire. Facing simultaneous threats on two fronts, Leopold was anxious to conclude an extension of that peace treaty. From his Ottoman neighbors’ point of view, the time was ripe for an invasion of Europe. Ottoman Emperor Mehmed IV declined to extend the peace treaty and authorized Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa to prepare for an invasion of Leopold’s Holy Roman Empire.

Vienna had been a tempting prize for the Ottomans since they came to power in 1299. Located on a navigable portion of the upper Danube River at the eastern end of the Alps, the city had been a strategic trading hub since around 500 B.C. The Ottomans viewed Vienna as a potential base for the eventual conquest of all of Europe.

In 1529, Suleiman the Magnificent had led an Ottoman army to an expensive defeat at the gates of Vienna. (See Muslim Radicals Attack Vienna.) Kara Mustafa was determined to avoid Suleiman’s mistakes. The idea of succeeding where the great Suleiman had failed became an overriding force in all of Mustafa’s military thinking.

 

Portrait of Kara Mustafa Artist unknown, public domain

Portrait of Kara Mustafa
Artist unknown, public domain

 

A more patient military leader might have advanced toward Vienna by successively conquering less heavily defended territories and eventually massing large forces closer to Vienna to attack that city without moving a large army over long distances. Such a strategy would have left the eventual conquest of Vienna to a future generation of Ottoman leaders. For Kara Mustafa, such a plan held no appeal. For him, the most important thing about capturing Vienna was that he be at the head of the Ottoman army that achieved that victory.

Instead of launching an Army westward as Suleiman had done in 1529, Mustafa invested heavily in improving roads and bridges leading into Europe while he amassed weapons, ammunition, and supplies at advanced bases. Mustafa wanted his Army to arrive well rested at the gates of Vienna in the summer of 1683. The plan made sense, but it had one drawback. The Ottoman preparations for a campaign to the west, along with their refusal to extend the peace treaty, did not go unnoticed by the Emperor Leopold.

 

Portrait of Leopold I of Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor Artist unknown, public domain

Portrait of Leopold I of Hapsburg
Holy Roman Emperor
Artist unknown, public domain

 

Leopold and his military leaders used the time wisely. They did two important things. They reinforced the walls of Vienna and lay in supplies and ammunition for their cannons, and they concluded a treaty for mutual defense with Polish King Jan III Sobieski.

On April 1, 1683, the Ottoman Army began its march toward Vienna. Unlike his predecessor in 1529, Kara Mustafa did not have to fight a significant series of battles to arrive at Vienna. But similarly to Suleiman, Mustafa had used the standard jihadi holy war spiel to whip up support for his campaign.

For Mustafa, his ambition to take Vienna was likely more personal than religious, but convincing thousands of troops to leave their families behind and risk their lives for the sake of their general’s vanity is never a good recruiting plan. On the other hand, the jihadi holy war marketing plan worked like a charm, but it came at a cost that Mustafa did not anticipate.

On the way to Vienna, the jihadi-inspired army raped and pillaged, as did many armies of the day. When they reached Perchtoldsdorf, Austria, on the way to Vienna, Mustafa offered the city the chance to surrender in exchange for the safety of the city’s inhabitants. The city surrendered, and Mustafa’s jihadis immediately sacked it.

Mustafa’s army arrived at the gates of Vienna on July 14, 1683, and demanded immediate surrender in exchange for safe passage for all the soldiers and citizens. However, the Viennese had heard about the slaughter at Perchtoldsdorf, and they had no intentions of surrendering.

 

Map of Vienna, 1683 By Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi, public domain

Map of Vienna, 1683
By Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi, public domain

 

Estimates of the size of Mustafa’s forces vary widely depending on the sources. If we count the Tartar cavalry that joined Mustafa en-route to Vienna, it’s likely that he had approximately 190,000 troops at his disposal. Vienna had a garrison of 15,000 professional soldiers and 8,500 volunteers to defend the city. Also, further west, the Duke of Lorraine’s supporting force of 20,000 troops awaited reinforcements from Germany and Poland.

Based on the numbers of troops each side had on July 14, it seems that the Ottomans should have had an easy victory at hand, but when we consider the artillery that each side had, we discover why the Ottomans didn’t snatch a quick victory as soon as they arrived at Vienna. The Ottomans had 149 cannons ranging from light to medium size. The Viennese garrison had 370 cannons of medium to large size. The Viennese advantage in artillery was multiplied by the fact that they were in well-constructed battlements, whereas the Ottomans had no real defensive cover from which to conduct an artillery duel.

Mustafa was unaware that Poland and Germany were already sending a relief force to Vienna. Supremely confident in his position, he avoided an outright artillery duel and began mining operations to tunnel under the city walls. Mustafa hoped that after undermining and blowing up a significant segment of Vienna’s defensive walls, a portion of his vastly superior forces could rush the city. It was a reasonable plan, but it required time.

 

King Jan III Sobieski Blessing Polish Attack Painting by Juliusz Kossak, public domain

King Jan III Sobieski Blessing Polish Attack
Painting by Juliusz Kossak, public domain

 

Unfortunately for Mustafa, Poland’s King Jan III Sobieski was not altogether reasonable. On September 6, 1683, a force of 37,000 Polish troops crossed the Danube River twenty miles NW of Vienna and joined with a relief force of 47,000 troops of the Holy Roman Empire. After some initial squabbling over who would take overall command of the army, Sobieski was given the job.

On the night of September 11, the combined Holy Roman and Polish army got its artillery up steep terrain to a commanding position on the right flank of Mustafa’s army. On the morning of September 12, as Mustafa was launching a final assault on Vienna, the relief force struck with artillery and infantry assaults against Mustafa’s right flank.

Kara Mustafa calculated that he still vastly outnumbered the combined forces of the Vienna garrison and Sobieski’s army. He continued the final assault on Vienna while ordering a portion of his army to defend against Sobieski’s attack. He also ordered that the thirty thousand Christian prisoners he collected en-route to Vienna be executed.

 

Siege of Vienna, 1683 Painting by Frans Geffels, public domain

Siege of Vienna, 1683
Painting by Frans Geffels, public domain

 

By the late afternoon, Mustafa realized that his assault on Vienna was failing and that Sobieski’s army was not defeated. He tried to realign his forces to deal a heavy blow against Sobieski’s relief force, but before he could get his army into a better disposition for attacking, an 18,000-strong fresh cavalry force swept down the slope against the Ottoman lines. Mustafa’s army broke. When the sun set on the battlefield that day, it was effectively setting on the Ottoman’s ambitions to conquer Europe.

Mustafa’s army lost around 20,000 men in the siege of Vienna. In their battle with the relief force, they lost an additional 40,000 troops. Mustafa retreated with the remains of his army to Belgrade.

On Christmas day in 1683, the Janissaries—Mustafa’s elite troops—received a message from the Ottoman ruler Mehmed IV instructing that Kara Mustafa be executed. The Janissaries used a silk cord to strangle Kara Mustafa. His head was delivered to Mehmed IV in a velvet sack.

 

Return from Vienna Polish-Lithuanians leaving Vienna with their loot after defeating the Ottomans Painting by Jozef Brandt, public domain

Return from Vienna
Polish-Lithuanians leaving Vienna with their loot after defeating the Ottomans
Painting by Jozef Brandt, public domain

 

The Ottoman Empire endured for over two more centuries after their failed attack on Vienna, but it remained in a defensive mode for the rest of its history. In their final great foreign policy miscalculation, the Ottomans sided with the Austro-Hungarian-German powers against the European allies in World War One. In 1923, the Empire was dissolved and the modern state of Turkey came into being.

Muslim Radicals Attack Vienna

By Jay Holmes

If you responded to the above title with thoughts of Al Qaeda or ISIS, it’s understandable. The most noticeable current events tend to occupy our day-to-day consciousness, but the attack that we refer to in this article occurred in 1529. This October marks the four hundred, eighty-fifth anniversary of the first attack by Islamic radicals against Vienna.

 

Suleiman the Magnificent Painting by Titian, public domain wikimedia commons

Suleiman the Magnificent
Painting by Titian, public domain
wikimedia commons

 

In the spring of 1529, the emperor of the Ottoman Empire looked to the west and saw what appeared to be a golden opportunity.

After the death of Hungarian King Vladisalus II, Hungary was left in upheaval due to a crisis of succession. The competing interests of the Hapsburg Empire and a coalition of Hungarian nobility divided the country. Suleiman “the Magnificent” saw an opportunity to achieve his dream of expanding the Ottoman Empire to include all of Europe.

Suleiman’s diplomats obtained an alliance with the Hungarian nobility in exchange for their vassalage if he would drive the Hapsburgs from Hungary and Austria. By May of 1529, Suleiman had assembled a large army in Bulgaria for a campaign against Europe.

Estimates of the size of that army vary wildly depending on which accounts we accept.

Ottoman chroniclers number it at approximately 130,000 troops. Since these troops were paid professionals, the Ottomans would have had a good idea of how many they were paying and supplying.

The Ottoman estimates include personnel that would maintain secure transportation of supplies for the army as it moved toward Europe. We can reasonably presume that, in addition to transportation forces, Suleiman’s army included 10,000 Janissaries. The Janissaries were an elite force. They were not only well-trained in infantry weapons and tactics, but were also highly skilled combat engineers. They used their road building skills to help move Suleiman’s army beyond Ottoman held territory into contested areas of Hungary and into Austria.

 

16th Century Jannisary public domain, wikimedia commons

16th Century Jannisary
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

Even if we accept the Ottoman chroniclers’ estimate of 130,000 troops, imagine what a challenge the Ottomans faced in simply moving their army along a 2,000 kilometer path to the distant scene of the battle.

That army, its mounts, and its draft animals had to eat every day. In 1529, the state of roads and bridges in Eastern Europe was deplorable. The only available “fast food” on their journey would come in the form of fresh grass for the animals, if God provided the necessary rain. Undoubtedly, mass prayers for victory and for rain were a daily occurrence amongst the assembled Ottoman troops. To their delight, God answered their prayers and provided adequate spring rains to Eastern Europe and, hence, fresh grass.

On May 10, Suleiman’s army set forth toward Croatia.

After a few days, their enthusiasm for an adventure-filled jihadi road trip began to dampen. As the rain continued and the route became muddier, they perhaps wondered about the wisdom of having prayed so hard for rain.

Many of the Janissaries fell ill due to their exhausting efforts at road repair and bridge building. On August 18, 1529, after three months of slogging through mud, the Ottoman army reached the Mohacs Plain in Hungary, where they were joined by approximately 10,000 cavalry led by Jan Zápolya, the “anti-Hapsburg” claimant to the Hungarian throne.

We can guess that Suleiman greeted Zápolya with something like: “Glad you could make it. You said it would rain here in the spring, but I didn’t think it would rain this much.”

Zápolya perhaps responded with something like: “It never rains this much. I thought you said you were bringing heavy cannons.”

In turn, Suleiman would have answered: “They’re stuck in the mud. We will have to go on without them. With this many troops we can rely on shock and awe and won’t need the big cannons.”

In the ensuing weeks, although the heavier-than-normal rains continued, Suleiman’s huge army was perhaps encouraged by their rapid victories against lightly garrisoned Hapsburg strongholds. The mud continued to exact a heavy toll on the men and animals alike, but all in all, the shock and awe plan was going swell.

 

Circular Map of Vienna, 1529 public domain, wikimedia commons

Circular Map of Vienna, 1529
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

All that shock and awe did not go unnoticed by the folks in Vienna.

The locals were not looking forward to life under Ottoman rule, so they responded enthusiastically to Vienna’s new “if it walks on two feet, it’s a soldier” draft policy.

The Viennese were short on trained troops, but they had plenty of mud. They used it well. Since word of the Ottoman campaign had reached them in May, they had spent the spring and summer reinforcing both their outer town walls and the inner defenses of the cathedral area. By September, German heavy infantry and elite Spanish musketeers had arrived to reinforce the city. The experienced German general, Count Nicholas of Salm, was in overall command of Vienna’s 20,000+ strong defense forces.

On September 27, Suleiman’s army reached Vienna.

Many of his troops had died of sickness and exhaustion on the trip. We can take an educated guess that he had about 70,000 troops healthy enough for combat and siege operations, and he had no heavy cannon.

Suleiman sent emissaries with an ultimatum. Vienna could surrender and receive mercy, or he would take the city by force and kill every last inhabitant, including the children. Vienna refused to surrender. I’m guessing that about now, Suleiman’s Imams were leading daily prayers for an end to the rain.

Suleiman began bombarding Vienna, but his light artillery did almost no damage to the newly reinforced walls of the city. His troops began mining operations to go underneath the walls, but the rains continued in record fashion. The deluge slowed the mining attempts, and the defensive forces watched the Ottomans carefully from the relative comfort of the well-supplied city. Whenever the jihad mining gangs looked vulnerable, the Viennese conducted quick raids against them with their well-fed well-rested troops. Suleiman’s Jihad Spring Road Trip was turning into an Autumn Disaster.

By October 12, disease, exhaustion, desertion, and dwindling food supplies caused Suleiman to hold a war council.

They decided to make one last ditch attempt at storming the walls of Vienna. Suleiman’s Hail Mary charge against the walls of Vienna failed. The Ottomans began to retreat.

 

The Siege of Vienna, 1529 Painting by Pieter Snayers public domain, wikimedia commons

The Siege of Vienna, 1529
Painting by Pieter Snayers
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

Their prayers for an end to the rain were finally answered. The rain was replaced by unseasonably heavy snows. For the Viennese, the battle was over. The Ottomans now faced a new enemy. They had to conduct a long retreat with a sick army through heavy snows.

The net effect of Suleiman’s campaign of 1529 was similar to the ISIS campaign of 2014. In 1529, the Hapsburgs vowed to never again underestimate the reach of the Ottoman armies. Then, as now, there were long debates on how to fend off Islamic jihadists at the lowest cost. In 1529, the Catholic Church and various European kingdoms followed a strategy of “let’s all encourage the Hapsburgs to save us from the Ottomans.”

Suleiman’s defeat at the gates of Vienna in 1529 was not the last attempt by the Ottomans to take Vienna, but that’s a story for next week.

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ISIS–Who Are the Players, and Where Do They Stand?

By Jay Holmes

This week, ISIS remains a major news item. For the sake of continuity, we will continue referring to them as ISIS, but be aware that, in recent weeks, they have acquired more aliases than the average Brooklyn mob goon.

 

ISIS logo public domain, wikimedia commons

ISIS logo
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

Since their defeat at the hands of the lightly armed but well organized Kurds of northern Iraq, ISIS has focused on training, recruiting, and re-establishing their local dominance in Syria. Even if ISIS were forced to retreat from all of Iraq, that would be of secondary importance to them as compared to maintaining their strongholds in Syria.

Where does Iraq stand?

The success of the Iraqi Kurds, with assistance from U.S. air support, was no surprise to anyone who knows or has studied the Kurds. It remains to be seen how well the Iraqi National Army will capitalize on the U.S. and allied airstrikes to recapture ISIS-held areas in their country. With Maliki no longer in charge in Iraq, and with so many Shia Iraqis rediscovering their long forgotten love of U.S. firepower, the ISIS offensive in Iraq is stalled for the moment.

If the new Iraqi government can deliver a closer approximation of “functioning government” than Maliki did, then Iraq should be able to eventually push ISIS forces out of their country. However, no amount of U.S. or anti-ISIS coalition airstrikes will push ISIS out of Iraq completely unless Iraqis take some responsibility for saving themselves by fielding a credible army and establishing and maintaining a functioning administration.

 

F/A-18E Super Hornet on Deck of U.S.S. George H.W. Bush image by U.S. Navy, public domain

F/A-18E Super Hornet on Deck of U.S.S. George H.W. Bush
image by U.S. Navy, public domain

 

More recently, the U.A.E., Jordon, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar joined in coordinated airstrikes against ISIS bases and assets in their Syrian strongholds. Aircraft from Belgium and Denmark also joined in strikes in Iraq. Simultaneously, the U.S. stepped up aid to non-ISIS anti-Assad rebels in Syria. The trick is—and long has been—to assist the legitimate indigenous freedom fighters of Syria without accidentally funding and equipping ISIS or any “Ali come lately” ISIS wannabes.

What does ISIS mean to the Gulf States?

Fortunately, the Gulf States are now exercising more discretion in how they fund and arm anti-Assad groups in Syria. For most Gulf Sates, enemies of the Shia Iranians are their natural friends. In the case of ISIS, the supposed “friends” have become an even greater danger to their former benefactors in the Gulf than the danger presented by the Shia theocracy in Iran.

Even if all outside financing of ISIS were halted, and it pretty well has been, ISIS would not be bankrupt. For the last few months, they have skillfully built a strong economy based on violent tax collection, bank robbery, and oil sales. Note that the recent coalition airstrikes against ISIS included oil refineries as priority targets. Destroying ISIS oil export operations has the added advantage of making the Gulf States happy to participate in the air campaign. Anything that drives up oil prices is good news for the Gulf States.

 

Map of coalition airstrikes on Syrian oil refineries September 24, 2014 image by Department of Defense, public domain

Map of coalition airstrikes on Syrian oil refineries
September 24, 2014
image by Department of Defense, public domain

 

How do the airstrikes benefit the coalition members?

While ISIS bases are being destroyed, ISIS is less able to plan and conduct effective terrorist strikes against its enemies. In the ISIS reality, its enemies, real or imagined, can be roughly defined as the non-ISIS segment of the human population. If nothing else, we can appreciate that ISIS is consistent and predictable. If it lives, and it is not ISIS, they want it dead.

Where is France in all of this?

During the last week, France made a moderate effort at conducting independent airstrikes against ISIS. It is not in the nature of French politicians to place their troops, ships, or planes under foreign control, so French efforts might remain independent and somewhat uncoordinated with US-led airstrikes. It’s possible that the French Air Force and Navy are quietly receiving refueling support, reconnaissance, and intelligence from U.S. forces. If that is so, it’s best that it happen quietly so that French voters can view French airstrikes as being a strictly French affair. Call it “Operation Les Belles Artes” if you like. As long as the bombs drop on suitable ISIS targets, it doesn’t much matter who dropped them or which national anthem they were humming at the time.

What are our allies in the U.K. doing?

Having settled the critical question of Scottish secession, the U.K. government turned some attention back toward ISIS. David Cameron called for the U.K. to join in airstrikes against the group, and it has done so to a minimal degree.

How is Syria’s largest neighbor, Turkey, reacting to the “ISIS crisis”?

The Turkish position is somewhat complex. Turkish President Recep Erdogan can see both potential opportunities and potential disasters in the ISIS crisis, and Erdogan is highly skilled at envisioning potential disasters.

The potential benefit of ISIS to Turkey comes from the fact that ISIS hates Iran. The group has destabilized the already-pretty-unstable pro-Iranian Iraqi government.

 

Map of U.S. airstrike areas in Iraq image by JhonsJoe, CC3.0

Map of airstrike areas in Iraq
image by JhonsJoe, CC3.0

 

One of the potential disasters is already manifesting itself in the form of hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into Turkey. Some of those refugees are Syrian Kurds, and Erdogan’s secret target number of Kurds in Turkey is zero. Rather than having more Kurds moving into Turkey, Erdogan would prefer to get rid of the independence-minded Kurds that are already there. And yet, these refugees are close cousins of the Iraqi Kurds that are willing to export oil to and through Turkey.

ISIS captured over forty Turkish diplomats during its summer blitzkrieg in Iraq. On most days in the ISIS universe, Turks are “filthy western lapdogs.” Yet, rather than staging the usual “ISIS entertainment hour” publicly broadcasted beheadings of their Turkish prisoners, ISIS released them. Why? Western observers are asking what deal Erdogan might have made with the devil to secure the safe return of his diplomats. My suspicion is that any deal was likely brokered through Erdogan’s friends in Qatar and might have involved oil. However, in truth, Turkey needs ISIS to be defeated nearly as urgently as Iraq and the Assad regime in Syria do.

The view from my kitchen window here in the U.S. is different from the view from Turkey. I cannot see ISIS from my house. Erdogan, on the other hand, sees ISIS standing right past his border crossings with Syria. He needs the Sunni fundamentalists vanquished far more than we do, but when we decide that ISIS has been suppressed enough for our liking, we will stop bombing them, and they will still be across the border from Turkey.

Given the basic ISIS tenet that everyone outside of their direct control is their mortal enemy, it’s likely that any deals that Erdogan might have made with the devil will be null and void once the bombs stop falling on ISIS heads. As he so often does, Erdogan missed the easy play. ISIS will never be a friend to Turkey. In the long run, Erdogan further damaged Turkey’s relationship with its supposed NATO allies without obtaining any long-term benefit for his country.

 

U.S. Marines constructing Kurdish refugee camp image by Department of Defense, public domain

U.S. Marines constructing Kurdish refugee camp
image by Department of Defense, public domain

 

What is the Syrian point of view?

The Assad regime is grateful for the tactical windfall being delivered by its distant enemies against the closer and more immediately threatening ISIS forces in Syria and Lebanon. However, Assad and his gang cannot express any happiness with the U.S. or its allies. From the Syrian point of view, while ISIS is a threat to the Assad regime, once ISIS is substantially defeated, the Assad gang would be the next obvious target.

So what can we see in the crystal ball?

My best guess is that Gulf States will remain willing to cooperate just long enough to save themselves from ISIS. As the casualties mount for ISIS, the ISIS leaders will try to understand why their We Will Kill You All publicity campaign has failed them. If their current gangster-in-chief and/or enough of his closest pals are killed, ISIS might transform itself into a more publicity-friendly criminal enterprise and survive under some new name with a slightly less visible agenda of hate and destruction. When the dust from the bombs settles, the region will still be a hellish mess, but we in the West might succeed in avoiding or blunting major terrorist strikes by ISIS. If we can do so without investing more ground forces in the region, then we can declare a victory before moving on to the next “catastrophe du jour.”

Another Day, Another Battle–The Israeli Counter-Attack on Hamas

By Jay Holmes

In April of 2014, Hamas, which governs the Palestinian Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which governs the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, agreed to make peace and form a unity government. Predictably, Israel reacted negatively to the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Israel viewed it as a victory for radicalism and terrorism within the Palestinian camp.

 

Woman holding Hamas flag. Unaltered image by Kimdime.

Woman holding Hamas flag.
Unaltered image by Kimdime.

 

The governments of China, the EU, India, Turkey, and the USA joined the UN in agreeing to negotiate with the new Hamas-Fatah unity government. These countries and organizations announced their agreement to work with the Hamas-Fatah union in spite of the fact that Hamas has not waivered from its stated central goal of annihilating Israel and converting all of Palestine, including what is now Israel, into a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist state. This was particularly odd on the part of the EU and the USA, since those governments had previously been very clear in declaring Hamas to be a terror organization.

After the EU and the USA announced their acceptance of the new Hamas-Fatah union, Israel became less receptive toward EU/USA brokered peace negotiations. From the Israeli point of view, the EU and the USA could easily afford to trust the new Palestinian unity government because rockets from Gaza and terrorist attacks originating in Gaza and the West Bank would not be targeting either of them. The new Palestinian government took power on June 2, 2014.

On June 12, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped from the West Bank. At the same time, the number of Hamas’s rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel increased sharply. The Israeli Air Force responded to the increased rocket attacks by launching air strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza.

 

Israel Defense Forces searching for kidnapped teens near Hebron. Unaltered image by Israel Defense Forces.

Israel Defense Forces searching for kidnapped teens near Hebron.
Unaltered image by Israel Defense Forces.

 

Hamas did not claim the kidnappings of the three teens. The culpability for that action lies with Hamas’s affiliated terror group, Qawasameh. However, not wanting to miss an opportunity to pursue its favorite pastime of shooting itself in the foot, Hamas loudly applauded the kidnappings of the three Israeli children. Evidence indicates that Hamas had supplied weapons and cash to Qawasameh to conduct these kidnappings and murders.

The kidnappings and Hamas’s gloating about them have served to silence the voices of reconciliation within Israel. On June 30, the dead bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teens were found near Hebron. The Israeli government came under increasing pressure from its citizens to act against the kidnappers. In July, Israel rounded up Hamas leaders and some of their affiliated terrorist pals in the West Bank.

On July 17, Israel and Hamas agreed to a five-hour humanitarian ceasefire for the purpose of delivering food and medicine to Gaza. After the ceasefire ended, the Israeli Army entered Gaza with the stated purpose of destroying tunnels that served Hamas and other terrorist groups as weapons depots and passages for terrorist raids into Israel from Gaza. The Israelis claim that they found evidence indicating plans to use the tunnels for a massive, coordinated terrorist strike against Israel in September of this year.

 

 

On August 1, the EU and the USA announced that they had negotiated a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire to assist the thousands of wounded Palestinians in Gaza. About an hour into the ceasefire, Hamas fighters demonstrated their usual lack of concern for the Palestinians in Gaza by attacking Israeli Army forces and negating the ceasefire.

On August 3, the Israeli Army announced that it had destroyed most of the known Hamas tunnel networks, and that it had withdrawn from most of Gaza. Two days later, the Israeli Army completed its withdrawal from all of Gaza.

As soon as Israel withdrew from Gaza, another 72-hour ceasefire took effect. This time, Hamas did not overtly violate the ceasefire. After the ceasefire ended, Hamas again launched rockets from Gaza into Israel, and the Israelis resumed shelling Gaza.

Thanks to Israel’s “Iron Dome” air defense system, most of the Hamas rockets did not reach targets in inhabited areas of Israel. Thanks to the Iron Dome system and Israel’s well-organized emergency medical facilities, the fatality rate during this summer’s fighting in Gaza have thus far amounted to less than one hundred Israeli deaths, but approximately 1,800 Palestinian deaths. Israel claims that between forty and fifty percent of the Palestinian deaths have been Hamas and affiliated combatants. Hamas claims that nearly all of the Palestinian deaths have been innocent civilians.

In Gaza, at least three UN facilities have been hit. The assumption has been that they were hit by Israel, but Israel points out that they never target UN aid locations or shelters, and Israel says it suspects that Hamas is responsible for at least some of the damage to UN locations. The TV coverage of grief stricken refugees weeping over dead children in UN shelters has been a public relations disaster for Israel, but what actually occurred and who is responsible for the tragedies has not yet been determined. If evidence indicates that Israel is not responsible for the attacks on UN locations, it will still be too late to prevent the public relations damage.

Interestingly, the Arab nations have not loudly condemned Israeli military action. This might be because many of Hamas’s usual allies in Kuwait and Qatar are experiencing second thoughts about instigating radical Islamic movements as they watch ISIS Islamic fundamentalists rape and pillage their way across neighboring Iraq. Most of the condemnation of Israel has come from the UN and from the West.

 

Apartment yard destroyed by Hamas rocket Unaltered image by The Israel Project.

Apartment yard destroyed by Hamas rocket
Unaltered image by The Israel Project.

 

Since Hamas’s consolidation of power in Gaza in 2005, Western nations have almost completely stopped economic aid to Gaza. At the same time, Israel has tried to maintain an effective blockade of Gaza to prevent increased imports of rocket parts and other weapons from Iran. It is at times amusing to listen to various Iranian government spokesmen contradict each other as they brag about giving rockets, improved rocket technology, and other weapons to Hamas, while simultaneously denying sending Hamas rockets and weapons. I imagine that Iranian government foreign policy meetings must resemble a Three Stooges episode or a Marx Brothers movie.

In any event, while the rockets continue to fly into Israel from Gaza, the Israelis aren’t laughing. The exchange of fire between Hamas and their affiliates in Gaza and the Israeli Army continues. Early Sunday morning, August 10, Hamas rejected peace talks in Egypt. Then, around 8 A.M. Washington, D.C. time, Hamas announced that it is willing to participate in peace talks in Egypt. It could well be by the time this article is published that Hamas will have changed their minds three more times.

So what does this all mean for Israel and the Palestinian people in the near future? Sadly, my best guess is that although Hamas might be temporarily motivated to lower the level of fighting, they will still maintain their despotic rule in Gaza while they attempt to improve and replenish their rocket inventory with help from Iran. The Israelis will try to improve their very expensive Iron Dome system while simultaneously trying to improve their intelligence on terrorist activity by Hamas and their affiliate gangs in Gaza. The Israeli people will continue to live with the tension that has always been pervasive in Israel, and the civilians in Gaza will continue to suffer under the miserable administration that Hamas and Fatah have thus far delivered.

For the rest of the world, I would not recommend a vacation to either Gaza or Israel right now. Tragically, millions of children caught in the middle of the conflict don’t have that choice.

When Giants Dance — The Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

When the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict recently flared up, Holmes and I discussed the possibility of a fresh article on the topic. We concluded, however, that there was nothing fresh to say. To verify this, I looked up an article that Holmes wrote in November, 2012, which was the last time the ancient hostilities peaked. This is that same article, word for word. It was true then. It is true now. Generally speaking, it has been true for decades. We hope for the day when it is no longer true.

~ Piper Bayard

Israeli white phosphorous attack on UN school unaltered image by HRW, wikimedia commons

Israeli white phosphorous attack on UN school
unaltered image by HRW, wikimedia commons

When Giants Dance

By Jay Holmes

Today, news watchers in the West are seeing reports about the Israeli bombing of Gaza. Some are wondering if this week’s events in Israel and Gaza are the start World War Three.

My best guess is that this conflict will not escalate to that point, but if you happen to live in Gaza, it might feel like World War Three this week. If you happen to live in southern Israel, where the rockets fall every week, it might feel like that all the time.

Before throwing one more opinion into what will certainly not be the bloodiest war, but likely the most mediated war, let’s take a moment to consider the children on both sides of the border. These children have no control over the relations between Gaza and Israel, but the one constant tragedy in Gaza and southern Israel is that the children always suffer.

Of course, when I use the term “mediated” I am referring to the fact that the world’s “media” will deliver fantastic volumes of information about the current phase of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. It is sad how little of that information will be accurate or fairly presented. However, all of that information will likely generate revenue for the media industry.

To attempt to understand the current events in Gaza, we can help ourselves by considering a few of the less obvious facts.

We in the West think of Hamas as being in control of Gaza. Hamas likes to think that, as well, but it is not altogether accurate. Hamas appears to be one more run-of-the-mill Islamic terror group marching happily in step with all the other Islamic terror groups. But terrorists wreak havoc. This leaves them unskilled at performing anything like government. As a result, Hamas cannot control what goes on in Gaza.

Hamas is not even able to march happily in step with itself, which seriously impairs its ability to influence other Islamic terrorists in the area. The chaotic conditions in Gaza allowed competing terror groups to vacation there, and some of those vacationers decided to stay. Those groups do not obey Hamas. They obey whoever provides them with cash, weapons, hash, hookers, etc. Usually Syria and Iran would be that somebody, but Saudi Arabia and Gulf states are sometimes soft touches for cute young terror groups.

We in the West are not supposed to believe such dastardly things about our Saudi “friends.” However, the New American Reality Dictionary defines “friends” as, “Anyone who ships oil to the US.”

Many Americans find that disgusting. Many of those same Americans drive gasoline-consuming cars every day while they are finding that disgusting. Yes. Even my own car runs on gasoline, not on peaceful thoughts or good will.

Regardless of where the cash and weapons come from, we know where many of them end up—on Israeli roof tops. The current Israeli leader is Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israelis call him something else. I call him Beny Buddy. He calls me nothing at all. He never even calls me. I am not his friend. I’m not sure Beny does the friendship thing much. Living in that region might do that to a man.

In any event, his name hardly matters since this conflict predates him. Netanyahu and Likud, his political party, cannot remain in power if hundreds of rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza continue to land in Israel every month. From the Israeli perspective, the motives for the looming Israeli operations in Gaza are simple. The Israeli people don’t like rockets and bombs falling on their heads, and the current Israeli leadership does not like losing elections. Also, with Iran increasing the potency and quality of its missiles, the Israeli intelligence services might be feeling less patient than usual about the Gaza launch base.

The Hamas motives are a little trickier to define.

It takes a bit of guesswork, and that is because they are still guessing about it themselves. As long as Gaza remains in a state of chaos without any worthwhile government, and as long as start up terror groups are cutting their teeth in “Palestine,” anything can happen. And now it has.

While the Israelis love driving American tanks, they don’t always love American methods. Israel is not living on a giant Chinese credit card like the Pentagon is. If Israel calls up reservists, which it has, and it moves armor toward Gaza, it is NOT because Israelis think it is fun to waste fuel they cannot produce and can barely afford. Those tanks will end up in Gaza.

Hamas fully realizes this, and they are currently doing their best impersonation of innocent victims. They are not great actors, but they play for an easy audience—the Western media and Islamic-financed propaganda outlets. Hamas wants to generate “international outrage” as quickly as it can in order to give Israel as little time as possible to drive around Gaza blowing up rocket supplies with those cool tanks.

The Israeli lobbyists and propaganda outlets will seek the opposite. But Israelis are currently out of fad with a majority of Western voters, so they will be looking rather frustrated if you see them prowling the halls of the capitol or sitting in for some attack journalism by CNN interviewers.

I can just imagine a call from Iran to Hamas . . . “Okay. We’re sending more rockets. Rockets are supposed to blow up on those Jews, NOT in Gaza. Rockets don’t grow on trees, you know. If you can’t learn to take care of the rockets we give you, maybe we need to give them to someone else.”

One can find absurd humor in all of this as long as one does not live in or have relatives living in the region. Then the humor begins to pale. The children of Israel and Gaza have little to laugh at this week. They won’t have much next week, either.

ISIS — The Vultures Come Home to Roost

By Jay Holmes

This week, world governments and the attendant media gaggles are focused on the ISIS militia that has captured much of northern and western Iraq. From popular news reports, we might get the impression that ISIS’s expanding influence is a shocking and sudden surprise event. It isn’t.

 

Iraqi insurgents image by US Dept. of Homeland Security

Iraqi insurgents
image by US Dept. of Homeland Security, public domain

 

In spite of the usual “the CIA has failed us” blather from the major media drones, ISIS has, for the last decade, been well known by the US government and anyone else caring to pay attention to the PR department of the ISIS gang. When we read news reports that claim that the US government was, until this week, left in the dark concerning ISIS, we are reading analysis that is either from a fantastically uninformed source or from someone who simply invents fake news to suit their boss’s political agendas. ISIS has been well known under a variety of names to even the most feeble Western intelligence organizations since at least May of 2004, when the group web-published video of their execution of US contractor Nick Berg.

Even if the CIA wanted to hide the existence of ISIS, it could not have done so, as ISIS has never tried to be particularly secretive. On the contrary, they have always done their best to garner as much media attention as possible, and they have always been clear about their objectives.

So who is this group that seems to be surprising so many oblivious “reporters”?

In the broadest terms, there are three main intransigent political groups in Iraq—the Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds. The Shia Arab group is in power and is ruling with the same lack of skill that we would expect from any other Iraqi political coalition. The Shia block and their grossly incompetent and very corrupt Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have made little effort to protect the interests of the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq or the large Sunni minority scattered around Iraq.

 

Nouri Al-Maliki image by US government, public domain

Nouri Al-Maliki
image by US government, public domain

 

In turn, radical members of the Sunni minority formed ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In their early days, they called themselves Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Qaeda has since decided that ISIS is “too barbaric and too radical” for Al-Qaeda standards. Translation—ISIS has so much funding from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar that we can’t control them.

The Kurds don’t back ISIS, nor do they care for Maliki and the Shias. The Kurds are Sunnis, but they are Kurds first. If they end up with their own country as a result of this conflict, they will be thrilled. Much of the online chatter of an independent Kurdish state originates with Kurdish sources. However, if the US fails to back up the Iraqi government sufficiently to save them from themselves, the Kurds could finally end up with their own country. (See Turkey–America’s Special Frenemy and  Turkey–Giving America the Bird.)

Why would certain Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Qataris back such a radical group so close to home?

Their main reason is that they pose as Sunni Islamists while living as hedonists, whereas the Iranian leadership poses as Shia Islamists while living as hedonists. Iran has, for decades, been exercising power throughout the area via their surrogate Hezbollah militia/terrorist group in Lebanon and their obedient servants, the Syrian mafia Assad family. The Shia-governed Iraqis are their pals.

The uprising in Syria was started by moderate Syrians in a desperate hope to find freedom. Iran quickly moved to help keep their obedient Assad servants in power. In response, Iran’s Shia Hezbollah militia went on a campaign to consolidate their power in Lebanon and Syria. Sunni radicals of various stripes banded together under the ISIS brand to oppose Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon. As a result, most of the Syrian moderates were swept aside or murdered.

As more cash has flowed into ISIS pockets during the Syrian Civil War, the group’s influence has grown. In the meantime, Maliki’s government in Iraq has grown closer to Iran, while being propped up by US taxpayers.

Does your head hurt yet? It certainly should.

So why does the West care about one more war in the Land of Infinite Wars?

The collapse of the Iraqi Army is a frustrating embarrassment to the US government. Under the “you break it, you own it” doctrine first stated by US Army General Colin Powell,* both the Obama and Bush administrations have invested heavily in trying to finance and train something that might look vaguely like a functioning government in Iraq. In exchange for our $50,000,000,000 post-war reconstruction extravaganza, which has been managed by a 5,000-strong diplomatic corps, we ended up with something even more chaotic and violent than our worst inner-city ghettos. We ended up with Iraq. So did the poor Iraqis that live there. We Americans are a sentimental bunch, and many of us hate to think that all that reconstruction money we sent to Iraq was a complete waste.

 

General Colin Powell image by Charles Haynes, wikimedia commons

General Colin Powell
image by Charles Haynes,
wikimedia commons

 

On the dark humor front, we are now being treated to the specter of the Iranian Mullahs offering to cooperate with the US—and anyone else that would like to show up—in bailing out Maliki’s government. Iran does not want ISIS to succeed in gaining control in Iraq. ISIS does not want Iran and the Shia Iraqis to succeed in Iraq, and the Kurds would like them both to go to hell as soon as possible.

What can or should America do?

For the present, the president is considering air strikes to back up the sham Iraqi Army. A US carrier has been ordered to approach Iraq. This will be the first time in history that the Shia radical thugs in charge in Iran will find themselves cheering the sight of a US Navy carrier.

The strategy over the last few months has been to send better weapons, including anti-armor missiles, humvees, and infantry support weapons, to the Iraqi Army. This strategy has backfired badly, as ISIS has captured large stockpiles of US weapons. I suppose that if each of our 5,000 diplomats in Iraq threw a rock at the advancing ISIS forces, that storm of rocks could slow them down. Perhaps ISIS would mistake the flying rocks as a sign from Allah and accept it as a command to stay out of the Shia dominated regions of Iraq. ISIS has had easy going in areas where they have a Sunni majority to back them up, but they will face discernable opposition in Shia areas.

What will the impacts be?

My best guesses are as follows. Neither Iran nor the US will quietly accept a radical Sunni regime in Iraq. If ISIS becomes too powerful, even their Saudi, Kuwaiti, and Qatari backers will grow uncomfortable with their presence and will withhold funding. ISIS will never be able to achieve their dream of consolidating power over all of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. They may be able to keep a hold over Sunni dominated areas of Iraq, but they will face a constant struggle to occupy what they have thus far captured.

On the economic front, oil companies will do what they have been doing for a hundred years. They will raise the price of oil beyond any real escalated costs of obtaining crude.

On the political front at home, loyal Republicans will pretend that Iraq was once a great place to live, and they will blame the current disaster on Obama. Loyal Democrats will pretend that Iraq was once a great place to live, and they will blame the current disaster on George Bush. Loyal Americans will likely notice that both administrations demanded far too little of the Iraqi government that we financed and propped up, while thousands of our military members died or suffered serious wounds.

And for the children of Iraq? It’s another sunny day in the Land Between Two Rivers.

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

*I know that General Powell was the US Secretary of State in addition to being a general. But as events have often proven during the last half century, any third rate political bum can be a Secretary of State. It takes a bit more than that to be a US Army general, so I prefer to think of General Powell in terms of his higher status.