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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ISIS Attacks Paris — A Major Mistake

Bayard & Holmes
~ Jay Holmes

On the night of November 13, 2015, cowardly criminals from the ISIS gang carried out coordinated attacks against innocent people in Paris, France. So far, 136 people are confirmed dead, and many more remain wounded.

 

Memorial at Bataclan Image by Annie Harada Viot, public domain.

Memorial at Bataclan
Image by Annie Harada Viot, public domain.

 

Before examining the effects of the attacks beyond the casualties, Piper and I wish to offer our respectful sympathy to all the families that lost loved ones in the attacks. We also wish to assure the people of France that civilized people throughout the world stand in solidarity with them.

It is easy to see why reasonable people might view the Paris Attacks as a “success” by ISIS.

ISIS got attention, and its vainglorious leaders lust for that. They hurt France and, by extension, all French allies and sympathizers. The attacks were a tactical success in that, while they likely killed far fewer people than the ISIS head-monkeys had hoped for, they killed more than enough to justify their efforts in tactical terms.

All this notwithstanding, I view the Paris attacks as a gigantic failure on the part of ISIS.

That’s because the violence in France does not, and will not, support ISIS’s goal of extending its control over more Middle East territory. It certainly doesn’t get the group closer to its stated goal of worldwide Islamic rule.

The Paris attacks have already resulted in increased French air strikes against ISIS assets in the Middle East. As for ISIS assets in Europe, France and other European nations have redoubled their efforts in rounding up the ISIS vermin that have been roaming free across that continent. If you are an agent of ISIS in Europe, your life is more difficult this week than it was last week. Those seventy-two virgins are closer than you think.

This does not mean that ISIS is incapable of carrying out further attacks in the West.

It is never difficult for criminal enterprises to recruit the losers in any society. But since the latest attacks, Europeans will be more willing to tolerate increased police activity and higher military budgets. Those higher military budgets, coupled with increased Western willpower to use military force against ISIS, will equate to a higher rate of vaporization of ISIS thugs across the Middle East. If anyone disagrees with this theory, please note the ISIS casualties these last few days in Syria and North Africa. It’s not a good time to be waving an ISIS flag.

So then, why would a group that claims to be the rightful rulers of all the people on the planet be so unwise as to carry out the Paris attacks?

One critical element of the answer is stupidity. No sane, intelligent person would join ISIS, let alone try to lead it. Lots of types of individuals might join ISIS, but one of the common traits they share is an inability to reasonably perceive reality. Even those that join because they wish to rise in personal status from unemployed dishwasher to “badass terrorist gun slinger” must be intellectually deficient in order to volunteer for life as an ISIS gofer. Being the lead lowlife in a group like ISIS is, at best, a short-term thrill. Being at the bottom of the lowlife heap must be hellish. We are not dealing with a collection of 25,000 brilliant scholars. We are dealing with heartless, bloodthirsty idiots. And they will fail.

When ISIS first came to the forefront of Western media, some analysts predicted that they would be very difficult to defeat. I stated openly that with any real effort by the West, ISIS could be sent back to the caves and sewers that they crawled out of. Some observers viewed the well-publicized parades of black clad jihadists waving ISIS flags as a terrifying new event. I viewed them as an ideal opportunity for target practice for Western and Middle Eastern militaries. A few (very few) experienced military analysts scoffed at the notion that ISIS could be defeated with less than years of major military effort including thousands of US “boots on the ground.”

Thus far, with minimal effort by the US and far less serious efforts by a few of our allies, the ISIS Middle East blitzkrieg has been halted.

Keep in mind that Western efforts have amounted to airstrikes against ISIS targets, pathetically small assistance to the Kurds, a mammoth infusion of cash and arms to that vaguely defined troupe of hapless clowns that we so generously call “the Iraqi Army,” and minimal efforts at helping independent Syrian rebels. We will not at this time delve into any possible covert actions that may have occurred against ISIS.

Thus far, the airstrikes have been partially effective.

Some in the West have called for a more robust bombing campaign against ISIS targets, but that’s a topic for another discussion. The under-armed, outmanned Kurds, now assisted by a few poorly-armed Yazidis, have been very successful in their struggle against their well-armed ISIS opponents. The fact that the Yazidis and Kurds are willing and able to cooperate with each other is further bad news for the despised ISIS. Our wildly expensive efforts with the Iraqi Army have resulted in little more than accidentally supplying ISIS with weapons, ammo, and equipment. Our efforts at assisting Syrian rebels have yet to yield meaningful results. And yet, with such minimal effort by the West, ISIS has been stalled.

What about ISIS’s many friends across the Middle East?

They no longer have any. Thus far, the ISIS Middle East Foreign Policy Initiative has consisted of creating steadfast enemies in Jordan, infuriating the Egyptian government, and declaring war on Hezbollah in Lebanon, thus earning the always generous hatred of the Iranian Shia junta. All of this has been done without them initiating their most important battle – their “coming war” against Israel.

Even by the low standards of ISIS logic, the Paris attacks were a foolish move. ISIS’s future has never been bright. This week, it’s dimmer still.

Vive la France! Vive la liberté!

À la ferme porcine avec ISIS!

Boko Haram–The Nigerian Jihadi Biker Gang

By Jay Holmes

On April 14, 2014, a Boko Haram gang attacked a girls school in Chibok, Nigeria. After killing the armed guards at the school, the gang kidnapped 234 girls and possibly a dozen adult staff members. The attack captured the attention of the Western media, and the kidnapped girls have become something of a cause celeb in the West.

 

Image of kidnapped girls released by Boko Haram.  From Voice of America

Image of kidnapped girls released by Boko Haram.
From Voice of America

 

This is not the first time that Boko Haram has kidnapped children.

For several years, they have been enslaving girls and pressing boys as young as twelve into jihadi service with little notice by the international media. This particular attack generated so much attention because the children’s families were not present at the school to be murdered or kidnapped–something Boko Haram has done in the past. This time, hundreds of distraught community members survived to speak up for the missing girls. Western military and intelligence authorities have had an eye on Boko Haram for about ten years. In the last five years, they have been particularly violent. This latest caper has now made them a household name in the West.

One predictable response to the kidnapping comes from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. According to Mitchell, the male-dominated U.S. government has been slow to respond due to sexism. In an interview with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) on May 14, Mitchell stated, “It really calls into question whether the men in charge of our government, frankly, would have been responding more quickly, . . . despite Goodluck Jonathan, the president of Nigeria’s opposition, whether they would have been responding more rapidly if it had been schoolgirls, if it hadn’t been some other premise.” (This is an actual quote.)

I can rarely find a reason to praise Senator Feinstein, but on this occasion, she remained calm and was significantly more articulate than Mitchell. The Senator managed to state Mitchell’s botched question for her and answered it by responding with, “You mean if it had involved school boys? No.” To no avail, Mitchell feebly continued to press the point. U.S. Senators have more than enough work to do, and they shouldn’t have to conduct both sides of an interview.

So who are these latest media terrorist stars, and how might Western taxpayers  respond to them?

 

image by 2Bdea, public domain

image by 2Bdea, public domain

 

Who the Boko Haram are depends on who you ask. One common trait throughout the group’s members is their tendency to travel on motorcycles through the forests and deserts of northern Nigeria, making them an African Jihadi Biker Gang. A decent motorcycle is a Boko Haram terrorist’s most prized possession.

Generally, most Western media vendors view the Boko Haram as an al-Qaeda affiliate in Nigeria. Actually, the al-Qaeda affiliation is, at most, minimal, and, in my view, there is no clear evidence of any actual material support for Boko Haram from al-Qaeda. Also, the particular version of vaguely Islamic religious dogma that Boko Haram claims to be espousing is not a version of Islam that al-Qaeda would tolerate. Unlike the al-Qaeda Sunni mainstream, Boko Haram terrorists are loosely Salafi Muslims. Their vaguely identifiable founder that rose to prominence in the 1980s, Mohammed Marwa, a.k.a. Maitatsine, even said that Mohammed was not actually a prophet. In fact, if the Boko Haram lived in mainstream al-Qaeda neighborhoods, they would have to quickly convert to al-Qaeda’s brand of Islam or face execution. Calling themselves Islamic and conducting criminal rampages is enough to meet the al-Qaeda international membership standard, but only while they remain out of reach of true al-Qaeda.

 

Boko Haram Terrorist image by Grin160, wikimedia commons

Boko Haram Terrorist
image by Grin160, wikimedia commons

 

 

Not all Western military and intelligence officials share my view. Some folks at the Pentagon and elsewhere feel that Boko Haram is a full-fledged al-Qaeda brand terrorist franchise. I disagree. In any case, though, Boko Haram style mayhem was popular in Nigeria long before al-Qaeda was born. Rebranding that mayhem has little impact on Boko Haram or on their victims.

 

Generic Nigerian Terrorist (note similarity) image by Grin160, wikimedia commons

Pre-Boko Haram Nigerian Terrorist (note similarity)
image by Grin160, wikimedia commons

 

Boko Haram is not a single organization. There are at least three major groupings of them spread across northern Nigeria. Their current maggot-in-chief, Abubakar Shekau, has direct control of perhaps half of the Boko Haram members. Many of the rest are spread out in remote areas and don’t seem to be under any command/control apparatus to a centralized leadership. It’s entirely possible that some of them have never even heard of al-Qaeda.

In spite of their lack of strong organizational skills, the Boko Haram are a significant problem for Nigerians. According to African news sources, they have murdered between ten and fifteen thousand civilians in the last five years and have kidnapped thousands more. They claim they are Islamic and want to institute Sharia law, but they constantly violate basic Sharia precepts themselves with their outright theft from and murder of Islamics, along with non-Islamics.

The Boko Haram’s basic reason for existing is stated as an anti-Western/anti-corruption agenda. Their name translates roughly to “Westernization is forbidden.” The rampant corruption and gross incompetence of the government of Nigeria has provided them with fertile ground in which to grow. However, the recent kidnapping of the 234 girls from the school in Chibok will likely further tarnish their image and further delegitimize them as a religious or anti-corruption group.

 

Boko Haram Maggot-In-Chief Abukakar Shekau Note funny hat pilfered from bottom of Ghadafi's closet. Image from Voice of America

Boko Haram Maggot-In-Chief Abukakar Shekau
Note funny hat pilfered from Ghadafi’s closet.
Image from Voice of America

 

The Nigerian government has not shown itself capable of exercising legitimate authority over the northern half of Nigeria. They haven’t done a great job in southern Nigeria either. In 2010-2013, operations conducted by the Nigerian Army in northern Nigeria succeeded in driving Boko Haram out of their comfortable urban strongholds, but thousands of them remain at large in rural northern areas.

So precisely how “should” the West respond?

Western responses to the kidnapping so far have been understandably minimal. Given the prevalence of mayhem across Africa and the Middle East, and with a rampantly corrupt government in charge of Nigeria, what exactly can the U.S. and other Western nations commit in rescuing the girls?

Earlier this month during a visit to Ethiopia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime, and we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice.” (The emphasis is mine.) Wow. Everything possible? When does the 1st Marine Division arrive in Nigeria, and when do the bombings start? Will we use nukes? Probably not. Those few members of Boko Haram that may have heard about Kerry’s threat are likely not too convinced.

 

Unconvinced Boko Haram Terrorists Image from The Sun Can Our Military Defeat Boko Haram? by Adedoyin Adewumi

Unconvinced Boko Haram Terrorists
Image from The Sun
Can Our Military Defeat Boko Haram?
by Adedoyin Adewumi

 

Thus far, the Organization of African States has condemned the kidnappings. It is possible that they will eventually muster a military force to enter northern Nigeria to assist the Nigerian military in a campaign against the Boko Haram. Thus far, though the move was initially opposed by the Nigerian government, the U.K. has sent a small contingent of Special Forces to Nigeria. Both the U.S. and the U.K. are providing the Nigerian government with intelligence and reconnaissance information. The official position about whether or not there are U.S. Special Forces in Nigeria is not yet clear. The U.S. government thus far states that it is considering sending U.S. Special Forces to Nigeria.

What is completely clear is that any assistance given to the Nigerian government should not take the form of financial aid or military hardware. Nigeria has the natural resources required for the elimination of poverty and unemployment. What it lacks is an effective government. If the U.S. government decides to conduct anti-Boko Haram operations in Nigeria, it should do so directly. The state of the Nigerian national government clearly indicates that any aid in money or goods will be wasted and may possibly end up in the hands of Boko Haram or other similar gangsters. I have suggested to the Pentagon that NBC Chief Foreign Analyst Andrea Mitchell be parachuted into northern Nigeria to straighten things out. The Pentagon has yet to respond to my suggestion.

Without fundamental changes in the culture and government of Nigeria, outsiders have little chance of eradicating mayhem in that country. The U.S. taxpayers would have little stomach for any large-scale involvement there. However, it is possible that, with small-scale covert action backed up by drone operators and good reconnaissance, the kidnapped girls could be rescued. Any covert operation conducted by outsiders in Nigeria will only remain “covert” to the Boko Haram until the first shot is fired or the first drone attack is launched. Hope remains for the kidnapped girls, but for the broader problems in Nigeria, hope is in short supply.

What Do You Remember?

image from US Navy

I woke up to hear a voice on the radio saying that two planes had crashed into the twin towers. I knew instantly it was no accident, but I had no way to compute the information with my pre-9/11 mindset. Then I turned on the TV, and I knew our world was changed forever. And I held my children close and wept.

One of the many things I remember was how all of the hospitals were preparing to take in survivors, but so few came. People either died, or they walked away.

What do you remember?

Never forget.

Piper Bayard

Syrian Sound and Fury–An Update on the Crisis

By Jay Holmes

Things have accelerated in Syria during the last six months—“things” such as the death rate and the refugee crisis, which have increased alarmingly. Putting a number on the death toll is not easy. The various rebel forces and the Syrian government may all at times exaggerate or fail to report deaths. However, it seems likely that approximately 100,000 people have been killed in the civil war in Syria. That is about fifteen times the number of deaths that we in the US have endured in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined.

Bashar Al-Assadimage by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr, Wikimedia Commons

Bashar Al-Assad
image by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr, Wikimedia Commons

In 2011, the conflict was reasonably described as a struggle between the Assad regime and his Shia backers versus anyone else in Syria. The Syrians are a diverse population with a high percentage of post-secondary educated adults. If the Syrians, themselves, had remained the only folks in Syria who were fighting with or against the Assad regime, they might have formed a passable coalition with which to depose and replace Assad by now.

There has always been a core of Islamic radicals in Syria. However, more educated and sophisticated Syrians who are less amenable to primitive agendas such as Islamic fundamentalism or anti-Zionist crusades marginalized the radicals over time. Syrians increasingly wanted something more out of life than anti-Western slogans and a feeble economy.

That’s where Assad’s trouble started. The majority of protesters in January 2011 were not protesting for or against Shia, Sunnis, or other Syrian groups. They simply wanted Assad gone. Having watched news footage of the cruise missile assault and modest air campaign put on by NATO in Libya, they were understandably hopeful that the West would jump on an opportunity to depose an old nemesis like Assad. After all, what Middle East revolutionary or Western observer’s heart didn’t warm by the sight of angry Libyans cornering Gadhafi?

Unfortunately for the people of Syria, the West had strong reasons to avoid investing missiles and men in a Syrian conflict. For one thing, the US and the UK were disentangling themselves from the morass that had festered in Iraq, and both are still involved in propping up the unlovable Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Obama was not willing to invest any significant men or material in Syria while still busy in Afghanistan and wondering how Korea and Iran might soon eat up resources. And all of this was occurring with borrowed money from China. The UK was not about to commit to an operation in Syria or any place more distant than the Channel if the US wasn’t taking the lead in cash and dead troops.

A second major factor in Western reluctance to escalate military aid to the Syrian rebels was the simple fact that we have not quite been able to distinguish who they are. Their identity seems to change on a weekly basis.

The nature of the conflict in Syria has shifted dramatically during the last year. Iran does not want Assad gone. Assad is Iran’s submissive and obedient girlfriend that lives next door to Israel and Lebanon. The relationship between Iran and Assad (any Assad) has always been simple. Assad does what Iran tells him to regarding foreign policy. In return, Iran helps prop up Syria against its Sunni neighbors in Saudi Arabia, its Zionist enemies in Israel, and anyone who might get difficult with them in Lebanon. Previously, Iran helped prop up Syria against the anti-Shia Iraqi regime. That particular Iraqi despot was deposed and has now been replaced by a newer, cleaner, more wonderful Shia despot. That change in Iraq has allowed Iran to more easily ship weapons and people to Syria.

However, a resolution of events in Syria would bring the West one step closer to military action in Iran. Because of this, the Iranians, while pledging their everlasting love and ammunition supplies to Assad, hedge their bets by trying their best to co-opt Shia Jihadi types in Syria.

Unfortunately for Iran, and everyone else on the planet, the Iranians are not the only Islamic radical nut jobs acting out their agenda in Syria. With Iraq now in the “Shia camp,” the Wahhabi-influenced Sunni Saudis and their Gulf State allies have more reason than ever to oppose any Shia influence in Syria. To that end, they are backing a variety of Sunni groups in Syria against the Assad regime. Unfortunately, the Saudis and their gulf pals have never exercised much discretion in choosing anti-Shia friends. Al Qaeda, a group of gangsters who pose as “devout Sunni Islamics,” is now easily obtaining cash and weapons for fighting in Syria.

With refugees streaming into their country every day, the Turks have serious angst over the situation at their southern border. The Obama administration recently hailed Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan, as a new pan-Mideast leader, a lion amongst hyenas, who holds equal footing with top Western leaders. But Erdoğan tripped in the shower. He’s now back to hyena status and has gone from criticizing the US for interventionist policies in the Middle East to begging the US to please, please, please, with sugar on top, do something about Assad.

With so many fish to fry elsewhere, and not very fresh fish at that, and no clear sense of precisely who we would be helping, the White House does not want to escalate US involvement in Syria.

If we observe Western media reports on Syria, the theme of the show is thus: Assad in his convincing performance as a bastardly dictator is losing ground to a rebel coalition led by a Syrian-American citizen named Ghassan Hitto. The show on the ground in Syria is less entertaining and far more complex. While Hitto may have significant support from many Syrians, he does not control the various Jihadi groups ranging from Al Qaeda to the Iraqi and Iranian Shias that are fighting there. If tomorrow Assad were to commit his first kind act to Syria by shooting himself, with or without assistance, it is not apparent that Hitto would be in any position to govern Syria.

The view of the play from Assad’s bedroom balcony is slightly simpler. He sees a lot of different groups fighting against his government forces. He sees many of them committing the sorts of atrocities that he expects his troops to commit, not the other guys. Assad sees an eleven-year-old child from a Sunni faction beheading a Shia man. Assad sees a world beyond Syria that would love for him to drop dead as soon as possible. He might now and then click on a YouTube video showing his old pal, Kaddafi’s, final minutes. What he can’t see is a happy ending if he gives in. Assad crossed the Rubicon while asleep in the back of the boat. He woke up one morning and found himself standing on the wrong shore. What this all means is that Assad and his backers are desperate to maintain the struggle. For him and his well-armed pals, backing down now means stepping backward into a grave.

Some news sources are claiming that an Iranian agent has already assisted Assad to that grave. However, no verification has been forthcoming, and the stories can be traced to a single source, so I can neither confirm nor deny Assad’s reputed death. Meanwhile, various fascinating sub plots are playing out in Lebanon and on the Israeli border as the war continues. Those are a tale for another day.

Today, though, for once, the people of Syria and the West find themselves standing on the same side of a critical question, hoping for the same answers. The question is no longer when or how Assad will move on to the great harem in the sky, but rather, how will Syrians wrestle control of their own country from the hands of the many well-armed hyenas that tear at the body of a dying nation? American cruise missiles and Marines can’t answer that question.

Good Riddance to Qaddafi

By Jay Holmes

On October 20, 2011, the Libyan National Transition Council reported that Libya ended forty-two years of suffering under the heartless, egomaniacal Moammar Qaddafi.

The world was treated to a brief video showing a wounded, captured Qaddafi, pleading for the sort of mercy that he had so consistently denied his people. Fortunately, a young Libyan man in a Yankees cap came to his senses and ended the drama for the mercy of all concerned.

Certain human rights groups are supposedly questioning Qaddafi’s death in captivity. In theory, it’s a legitimate question, but to be relevant, questions have to be prioritized. If my house is on fire, before I worry about getting the drapes wet, I have to answer the question of putting out the fire.

Before I spend any restless nights wondering about the moral implications of Qaddafi being shot while in captivity, I would need first to have other questions answered. I would need explanations about the thousands of innocents who Qaddafi and his henchmen murdered during the last four decades. Also, in the present, I’m concerned with how efficiently we can secure all of the man-portable anti-aircraft missiles that are at large in Libya today, and how quickly can we dispose of Libya’s extensive stores of mustard gas.

Call me a judgmental bastard if you like. Except for the fact that my parents had been married over a decade before I was born, I’d say it’s fairly accurate. The notion that all men are created equal makes good sense to me. The idea that all men and women remain equal, no matter what they do after they are created, strikes me as extremely foolish.

Due to multiple urgent matters, I have not slept much this week. But not all of my sleep was surrendered in vain, and I have only lost a little sleep. How many have lost their lives or watched their children die? I can never know with certainty how many people Qaddafi and his thugs murdered, but two of their young faces came to me in my nap this morning and reminded this old man to get back up and do something besides wasting the world oxygen supply.

The battle with Qaddafi is over. The battle for the future of the people of Libya continues. Old enemies, Al-Qaeda and Iran, find themselves sharing the same fantasy this week. They would love to see an “Islamic” state in Libya led by some criminal posing as a religious leader. For them, the ideal leader in Libya would reject Modernism. Modernism, as in a philosophy or system that incorporates post-8th century thinking and discoveries.

For the comfortable Mullahs in Iran, their Hezbollah messenger boys, and the garden variety “Islamic” terrorist gangs that are all vying for attention today, dangerous new ideas such as religious freedom, universal suffrage, the right to (or even the need for) fair trial, and freedom of speech need to be kept out of Libya and everywhere else. Fortunately for the people of Libya and the rest of the world, not everyone in Libya agrees with that “fundamentalist” view. It appears (at least to me) that most Libyans recognize that the only thing “fundamental” about fundamentalism is that it is fundamentally asinine.

Does that matter? We don’t know yet. For the opinions of the majority to matter in Libya, the Libyans will need to create for themselves some sort of functioning government that takes into account the views of the masses. If they do it (and they may), it will be the first time that the voice of the Libyan people has mattered inside of Libya. I hope they pull it off. I think they have a reasonable chance to get it done.

So other than my very expensive habit of finding idealistic beliefs with which to view the world, why should I think that Libya will do anything other than create a new tyranny for itself? My hope is not based solely on my wide-eyed idealism.

The people of Libya are far more educated than they were when Qaddafi shoved a weak king out of the throne. There is much that we can blame Qaddafi for, and little that we can give him credit for, but we can, in fact, credit him with building a better education system in Libya. Reading broadly is good for kids, but it’s bad for the tyrants that rule the kids who read. Good education and tyranny just don’t play well together. In a sense, Qaddafi killed himself by buying too many books for children and teens.

The concept of death by book purchase appeals to me. The next time you’re at a school book sale, don’t think of it as cash lost, think of it as happy kids and dead dictators. Of course, the trick is that the books can’t just be bought, they have to be read. Those enterprising young Libyan kids read them.

Libya is a cosmopolitan place. The majority of Libyans have an idea of what the world outside of Libya looks like. They know enough about the world outside of the mid-east to know that life need not be all about poverty, oppression, and unending misery.

In a nation of starving masses, building a democracy is more difficult. Fortunately, there are no starving masses in Libya. Libya has already repaired and reopened its natural gas delivery line to Italy. That’s good news for those Italians who were hoping to not spend Christmas Eve sleeping in a goose down sleeping bag. And when Gas flows to Italy and the European Union, euros flow back to Libya.

Gasoline-hungry Europeans are looking toward the post-Qaddafi Libya with hopeful eyes. While I have yet to hear a reliable report on the precise measure of damage done to Libya’s petroleum production and export infrastructure, it is not as bad as what many had feared. Given the price of petroleum around the world, and the willingness of oil companies to show up and make a profit, I anticipate that Libya’s oil production infrastructure will be repaired in record-breaking time.

Naturally, oil companies will pretend that they are fighting a terrible but noble engineering war when faced with the challenge of extracting and marketing petroleum from Libya. I’m looking forward to those cutesy, heart warming, pro ecology ads that they will produce to explain to us why we should demand that they receive Presidential Medals of Freedom, lots of tax breaks, and sainthood for selling us oil. The ads will, no doubt, lovingly explain why we should all be so grateful for the gasoline price increases that will accompany the increased gasoline production.

The good news about the “petro-corporate” invasion taking place this week in Libya (thanks to your car and my car) is that it will leave Libya with cash to spend. If it goes to support a filthy rich oligarchy or another family of jackals like the Qaddafi slime, then it won’t do much to help found a working government in Libya. If, on the other hand, enough of it is used to buy off all the major and minor Libyan tribes with agreements for reasonable development projects in irrigation, agriculture, transportation, housing, health care and education, then that black gold could help buy Libya a decent government. Oil money need not always do Satan’s work. Sometimes, it can help a nation, and the amount of oil in Libyan oil fields can translate to lots of help.

Time will tell. Now, support Libya by buying yourself a bumper sticker that reads, “Drive your car for peace.”

Any questions about Qaddafi or the present situation in Libya?

Ok. I’ll Do It. I’ll Run for President.

 Okay. I’ll Do It. I’ll Run for President.

MyPhotos Piper Signing FIRELANDS at TFOB

By Your Next Commander in Chief, Piper Bayard

I don’t know about you folks, but I’m pretty disappointed in the self-serving, corporate-driven hairballs our political parties are coughing up for us these days. It’s always been my contention that, if you’re going to complain about how someone does their job, then you’d better be ready to get off your duff and do it yourself. So I will. Yes. I’m running for president.

Know up front that I refuse to affiliate with any political party. Ultimately, they are all more loyal to themselves than to the American people. The only party I will be a part of as your president is the Inaugural Ball. And since I am a dancer, I would be happy to provide the entertainment for that event in order to save you, the taxpayers, money.

MyPhotos 2014 Piper close up Bolder Boulder

As for my campaign, I am not asking for your money. I’m guessing in this economy, you need it. So how will I run? Social media. If Facebook and Twitter can make Betty White an icon among today’s teenagers, it can get me to the White House.

Know that as your president, I would not expect any remuneration beyond actual college expenses for my two children. . . .  Oh, wait. The annual $180k that the president makes would be less than that. NVM. I will happily accept the lesser amount.

Also, as your president I won’t spend your millions on my family vacations, and I will continue to shop the sales at Eddie Bauer and Dillard’s. I won’t even take the silver and furniture from the White House with me when I leave. That’s been done.

Along those lines, I will also not redecorate the White House with your money. (Unless I find some gaudy animal print lurking in an obscure corner. That will have to go.) However, I will certainly fumigate all locations where our current president smokes while tacitly approving schemes to ban the asthma inhalers people need to stay in the same room with him.

The pillars of my platform are encouragement of personal responsibility, the rooting out of corruption, and a good smack upside the head for all whiners who won’t shut up and get busy making this world a better place.

So let’s get the touchy stuff out of the way, shall we?

My race:

One branch of my family ran another branch of my family down the Trail of Tears, and a third branch married them when they got to the end. That makes my race American. Check my census form. You’ll find it written there.

My gender:

. . . Really?

My religion:

Baseball. Baseball is a forward-looking religion with no dogma and lots of hope. We adherents know that, with the last swing of the bat at the end of the season, spring training is just around the corner. People of all faiths are welcome at baseball games, as long as they behave and treat their neighbors with respect. If they don’t behave, they will be relocated near the bullpen to be used as targets for pitcher warmups.

The Cathedral of My Religion, image from Wikimedia Commons by “The Silent Wind of Doom.”

My past:

Yes. I have one. It is extensive and colorful. I learned a great deal because the person who is the same at 50 as they are at 20 has wasted 30 years. I’ve made exceptional use of my time. So you media folks just come to me. I’ll give it to you straight. And remember, great things grow in dirt and manure.

As an added bonus, unlike the current leading candidates, I am happy to release all of my tax returns, my school records, and my legal birth certificate, along with all of my fake ID’s from my youth.

My education:

Yes. I have one of those, too. It ranges from small towns to urban centers, and from the bread and cheese line to law school. In other words, I’ve got both papers and street cred. I’d say “I feel your pain,” but that one’s been done, too.

My qualifications:

I am not for sale to banks. I do not borrow money from the Chinese to give to my enemies. My retirement plan is not a Ponzi scheme, and to the best of my knowledge, I have successfully prevented trespassers from living in my home. That puts me ahead of our collective government right there. And no. I have never been president of my local PTA. However, I do manage a successful kingdom on a virtual reality game.

My stand on abortion:

I fully support retroactive abortion for all jihadis and skumbag phone solicitors. (I favor rehabilitation for any honest phone solicitors who are just trying to make a living like the rest of us.)

My stand on gun control:

I am 100% in favor of controlling guns. Aim and make every shot count.

Cabinet appointments:

As for my cabinet appointments, I don’t give a rat’s touchas about anyone’s race, religion, species, etc. I only care if they are best qualified for the job. I will not sell out my country by pandering to special snowflake organizations and appointing their love children to positions of influence.

I will appoint my writing partner, Intelligence Operative Holmes, Secretary of Defense. He has the experience and the moxie for the job, and he, like me, loves America more than he loves corporations, power, or money.

George Stephanopoulos, image from Wikimedia Commons by Tulane Public Relations

Since Holmes can’t be identified, I will recruit George Stephanopoulos to sit in his chair at all meetings. That’s because George has experience, and he’s hot. Seriously. It makes no sense to me, either, he just is. And if Stephanopoulos is not available, I will simply stand up a cardboard cutout of George Washington. Never hurts to have a little Founding Father action in the government process. Holmes will still be in the meetings, but no one will know if he is the guy in the general’s chair or the guy serving the sandwiches.

Yes. Sandwiches. Refer back to my stand on expenses. They can be paninis, but no steak and lobster bisque at the taxpayers’ expense unless we are hosting foreign dignitaries.

All internal disputes will be settled with dancing competitions so if you’re interested in applying to be my vice president, start practicing your moves. Carrie Ann Inaba will screen all applicants. But please understand, my first choice for vice president is General Colin Powell. Do not take that as an evaluation of either your dancing skills or his.

While I am president, Congress shall make no law that it does not, itself, live by. “Leaders” who are not subject to the laws they make are not leaders, they are rulers. There is no place for rulers in America. Any Representative or Senator who demonstrates behavioral issues will be sent to The Slapping Medicine Man.

As your president, my first and only loyalty will be to you, my fellow Americans. I have no other mission or interest but to strengthen this country and her people. So let’s all come together and prove that America really is still a country by the people, and for the people, and that our presidency does not simply go to the highest bidder. Tweet, blog, Facebook. Hey. It happened for Betty White. :)

You will find my stand on the issues below. I now open the floor to your comments and questions. One at a time, please. No pushing or name calling, and don’t say anything you can’t say in front of your mother. (My policy for press conferences.)

To join in the discussion, see Okay. I’ll Do It. I’ll Run for President over at Bayard & Holmes.

Piper for President — Doesn’t Take Crap. Doesn’t Dish it Out.

My Stand on the Issues

Foreign Policy

For decades, America has been Simba the Lion masquerading as Pumbaa the Warthog in an effort to “win hearts and minds.” No one respects a lion pretending to be a warthog. I say we’re in it to win it, or we stay home. The hearts and minds will follow. America is a lion with claws and teeth and courage. It is not a dancing, singing, farting warthog.

Middle East Policy

I have excellent reason to believe that the majority of the problems in the Middle East are caused by gender disparity. Since the Middle East has a dearth of women and an overabundance of men, and Latin American countries have more women than men, I would recruit Latinas to relocate. They would have an excellent mellowing influence, and they would foster some fantastic fusion restaurants. See How Latinas Can End Jihad.

Economy

As much as is possible, I will replace welfare programs with work programs, because imitating a kennel dog waiting for its dinner develops bad habits and is damaging to the soul. I have been unemployed, and I have received government cheese. While it’s the tastiest cheese ever, handouts are far more depressing and demoralizing than honest work of any kind.

Tax cuts and cookies for corporations that keep their jobs in America. No tax cuts or cookies for corporations that only keep their paperwork in America.

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Thamizhpparithi Maari.

Education

I will dismantle the Department of Education. Instead, I will use the nearly $100 billion it wastes every year to build more schools, hire more teachers, and provide an Educational Exchange program for troubled youths. In this exchange program, any “troubled youth” who would rather be a thug gangbanger than take advantage of the privilege of going to school would be sent to a third world country in exchange for a disadvantaged child who only dreams of getting an education instead of walking five miles every day for a bucket of water.

Immigration

America is our home. I will show the utmost hospitality to those who ring our bell and are willing to wipe the dirt off their feet before they enter.  Trespassers will not be welcomed with open arms and open wallets. However, they are welcome and encouraged to apply for the Educational Exchange program.

Health Care

I will rewrite Obamacare in a way that serves the public rather than special interest groups and insurance and pharmaceutical giants. I will also set up a hotline for reporting each and every fraud that is perpetuated by a medical culture that thinks it has won the lottery every time someone with insurance walks through the doors of an Emergency Room.

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