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Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

 

With so many political posts lately I had thought to make this one about religion.  After all, a blog titled Bad Atheist should be discussing religion every now and again.  However, instead, I wrote another political post.   Why?  Because, as the saying goes, shit happens.   And that shit is Trump.

This week Trump started confirming my worst fears about him.  While it is hard to pick and choose which of his executive actions was the worse, since he has provided us with a full, rich smorgasbord  of terrible decisions and actions to choose from, I am going to talk about his latest one.  The one where he stopped and banned all migrants and refugees from seven countries from entering the United States, even those who hold permanent resident status.   These countries were supposedly picked due to their failed nature, terrorist activity, and violence.

This sudden and drastic action reeks of so many things – fear, hatred, ignorance.   This action, and Trump’s and his supporters justification for it make it seem as if there is no vetting of these travelers, as if we just say “yep, come on in” without doing any sort of check.   Trump and crew seem to believe that we have avoided a terrorist attack from the citizens of these countries due solely to the grace of God.

The reality is that we do check them, each and every one.   Some more than others.  But none are given a free pass to just come and go without any scrutiny.  And you know what?  It seems to work.

Consider this fact – a true fact and not an alternate one that Trump and his followers are so fond of – none of the attacks carried out in the United States were done by a citizen of these seven countries.  Not one.

Consider this fact too, none of the attacks carried out in the United States were done by Syrian refugees.

Finally, consider this fact, and it is one that Trump’s defenders are making a big to do about; all of these seven countries were identified by the Obama administration as posing special risks for visa status.  In other words, the situation within those countries are dire and rife with terrorism and violence.

And yet, with just the procedures we have now, none of its citizens who have traveled here, go to school here, work here, and live here have committed any attacks against the hnan_and_lian_fadi_kassar_5758bdbd2e3fc99559b93f42d7bf4d69-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000United States here.    Despite being from high risk countries.

Seems like pretty good evidence that we are doing something right.  And that sudden, drastic measures such as those Trump engaged in, are not necessary or needed.  Examining those procedures and tweaking them, possibly so.  Full out stop – no.

An analogy from my own background might be useful here.  If I have a productive piece of equipment that, although not giving me zero defects, does do well and whose defects are well below our goals, I am not going to shut it down to examine it in order to find ways to improve it.  Instead I will let it run while I look at improvements, or even replacement.

Now, if the same machine were to malfunction and we had more defects than good product, or, even worse, someone were injured or killed, then yes, shut it down and fix it.

Our immigration system from these seven countries was working well, as evidenced by the fact that we had no terrorist attacks from anyone from these countries on our soil.  Agreed, some from those countries have engaged in terrorist acts in Europe, but Europe is not the United States and the dynamics and situations are different.  The situation in Europe is a cause to examine our system by using what is happening in Europe to see how it could be improved.  However, it is not cause to shut it all down to do so.  As I said, our immigration system for these seven countries so far has had zero defects.

Moving on, let me point out one other fact of interest.  Refugees are going to come from high risk countries with high levels of violence and terrorists.  If it were all nice and peaceful they would not have uprooted themselves from home and family and fled their country.  What this means it that in using the criteria of not allowing people in from high risk countries Trump effectively blocks entry to this country to those who need its safety the most.

So, what does this tell us about Trump and his administration?

That they are, tactfully speaking, not deep thinkers.   In fact, they are not thinkers at all – they do not analyze and try to understand the situation and system before making changes.  Instead, they are reactors.  They react and then try to justify, often with alternative facts and denial of actual facts.  Think of them as being the proverbial bull in a china shop, only with the ability to speak.

Next, they don’t care.  They do not care about the hardship that this imposes on people and families – on their livelihood, on their jobs, on their goals and plans.  They  don’t care that many of these people are in productive jobs in the United Sates and that their absence impacts American businesses. They don’t care that some of these people are engaging in important research that could have a potential impact on our medicines and healthcare.  They don’t care that their actions may even cost people their lives.  They don’t care.  They x_lon_syriaboy_170129-nbcnews-ux-1080-600reacted and damn , that felt good.  The rest – they don’t care.

Moving down the list of things we learned from Trump and his administration.  They don’t like to communicate. Nor do they like to coordinate.  A small group wrote this up without input from anyone.  The normal vetting of this executive order to ensure it does not violate laws and the Constitution, that it does what they want it to without unwanted complications and consequences, was not done.  But of course, Trump knows it all anyway and so doesn’t need to worry about that.  Which, come to think of it, is why he so often seems to live in a fantasy world.

This last trait, not vetting it (and isn’t that rather ironic), along with not communicating it in advance and planning on how to best implement it with those who are charged with actually implementing it contributed greatly to the chaos and uncertainty that followed.  That with, of course, the fact that this was a bad, very bad, hugely and bigly bad executive order.

A bad executive order done badly .    Trump and friends managed to get nothing right about this.

All for what?  National security?  To make out country safer?

This does not do that.  Not even a little bit.  In fact, it does the opposite.  It provides evidence for the radicals claim that the US is waging war on Islam and Muslims.  That our words about freedom of religion are nothing more than hollow hypocrisy.  Trump and company’s actions have the potential to increase the effectiveness of the terrorist’s recruitments efforts.

I know, I know.  Many of those supporters of Trump would pooh pooh my claims that Trump’s actions here actually help the terrorists and radicals rather than hurt them.  This despite the fact that the reasoning is sound and is supported by actual events.

There are currently several  Jihadist groups who are hailing Trump’s piece of ant-terrorist action.  One even said that Trump was “the best caller to Islam”. Why?  Because it shows that what the terrorists and radicals have been saying about the United States, that it is at war with Islam and has no true freedom of religion, are true.  It turns what had been their lies into truth.

Or consider the citizens in Iraq.  We, the United States, are working with them to defeat ISIS.  But we won’t let them in?  What message does that send – hello, we think you make fine cannon fodder but don’t really want to have anything else to do with you. Other than help you become good cannon fodder.

Even worse, the message this executive order sends to the American Muslim community is that the United States does not care about the ideals of religious freedom.  That Muslims are second class at best.  Especially when they consider that now Christians will get preferential treatment over all other refugees.

Which brings us to another question being asked – is this a ban on Muslims?  Trump did call for such a ban during his campaign.  Add to that former New York City mayor Giuliani stating during a Fox interview on Saturday that Trump had tasked him with finding some legal way to make a ban on Muslims happen.  Then add to the pot Trump’s order giving Christians priority.

While this is not conclusive, there is enough here to cause extremely justified suspicion that it is indeed a ban based on religious belief.  A ban on Muslims disguised… rather like how laws to discourage black voting back in the good old days were disguised as literacy tests.  And if somehow it is not, then it gives every appearance of being such with all the accompanying issues and problems that such a ban would create.  Including providing aid and comfort to the terrorists.

Not good

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Moving to another one of the interesting questions being asked – why these seven countries?  Yes, President Obama had them on a list.  But, it was not for the sort of actions Trump is engaging in.   Since Trump is busily doing everything he can to undo what President Obama has done, then why not add countries who have actually had some of their citizens attack us on our own soil?   Why not add Egypt and Saudi Arabia to the list?  Or Turkey?

Hmmm, let’s see.  Trump has significant business interests in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey.  He has none in Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

While not conclusive, it is suspicious.  Add to that the fact that he continues to refuse to release his tax returns and divest himself of his business holdings, or even put them in a blind trust, and I think we have a grand cause to investigate.  Is Trump trying to benefit, or at the very least, trying to protect, his business interests through the office of the Presidency without consideration on whether that is good for the United States or not.

Finally, despite all of this, the facts and the reasons, the protests and the pain it is causing to good people, I see many of his supporters still trying to justify this order and support these actions.  In reading some of the articles and in my discussions with them, some do it out of hatred of Muslims and Islam.  To those people I can only say go to hell cause we are not going to let you create one here in the United States.

Others though are doing so out of fear and ignorance.  To them I say, heal yourselves.  While your intentions may be good, ignorance and fear turn even the best of intentions into terrible actions.  They are the bricks used to line that road to hell.

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Daesh, al Qaeda, and other Islamic terrorist groups claim that the United States is waging a war with Islam. That we hate Muslims and that our religious liberties are for Jews and Christians only, not Muslims. That Muslims are a hated and second class citizens, at best, within our borders. These claims are part of how they manage to gain recruits, highlighting our supposed intolerance of Islam and Muslims and casting this as a religious war of self-defense on their part.

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For the most part, we have avoided playing into that scenario of theirs internally. American Muslims are among the most integrated of any countries. However, now we are letting our fears and biases provide an element of truth to the terrorist claims, making their propaganda and recruitment efforts even more effective.

With the rise of hate crimes against Muslims in America, talk of internment camps, registries, and such what do you think would happen to those Muslims who truly do love the US and are proud to be citizens? Imagine if this were to happen to Christians here, what would happen to your loyalty to the US? What if your religion were demonized and reviled, you and your family and friends viewed with suspicion and often outright hatred? What if friends and family who are Christian living outside the United States could no longer visit you?

I know that these proposals are not in place…..yet. But they are being talked about and too many Americans are thinking them a good idea. Along with the fact that too often when mosques are being built they are being protested, that even Islamic cemeteries face an uphill fight to get city government approval to be created, when protesters armed with guns march outside your mosque – how safe would you feel in your own country? American Muslims make up the single largest group providing tips to the FBI on possible terrorist activities. What do you think would happen if that should cease?

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And in foreign affairs, this sort of rhetoric and these actions would be devastating. Our Muslim allies such as Jordan would cease to be allies. Our European allies would, justifiably, revile us. If a small percentage of Muslims based largely in the Middle East and Africa can create this much harm to us, imagine if the percentage were larger – or even to become the majority worldwide?

Carpet bombing Daesh with the huge loss of civilian and innocent life would indeed destroy the military capability of Daesh. But it would also give Daesh a huge propaganda win, feeding life into its Frankenstein creature of an American war on all of Islam. Our allies in the region would turn into our enemies. Muslims worldwide would decry the loss of innocent lives. And, if we made the sands glow, to paraphrase Ted Cruz, even our European allies would denounce us.

The short term destruction of Daesh’s military capability would be hugely offset by the fact that they would have won the propaganda war and would gain millions of new adherents and sympathizers. And take a good look at Paris – does that sort of action really require a country to support it? They can work underground and with the sympathy and help of millions of other Muslims, Muslims that had opposed them before, they can create even greater havoc and chaos more frequently.

This language, these proposals, these possible actions are just what Daesh and the other Islamic terrorist groups want. They want us to act out of fear, to violate our own supposed morals and principles, and create a reality in which more Muslims than ever would flock to their banner. There are many signs that Daesh is having a harder time recruiting Muslims. These actions and this rhetoric can turn that trend around for them. Trump, Cruz, and others as doing exactly what the terrorists want. Far from fighting terrorism, they are helping it.

And the above is just the practical reasons why all of this rhetoric from Trump, Cruz and too many conservatives is harmful. Just as important, in fact even more important, are the moral considerations.

We are holding people accountable for the actions of others due solely to the fact that they belong to the same religion. Not because they helped those responsible for their terrorist acts (the great majority denounce and condemn them). Not because they shared the same exact religion – like Christianity there are many forms of Islam, some good and some evil. Not because they even shared the same nationality or origin. Just because they share the same religion.

This violates all of our principles and morality. Our constitution requires that there be no religious test for office. The same principle should hold true here too – no religious test should be used to condemn a person. Especially not an American citizen.

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This is not the only supposedly American principle this hateful rhetoric and proposed actions violate – innocent until proven guilty comes to mind too. Extreme gun rights people argue, correctly, that law abiding gun owners should not be blamed for the actions of those who use guns to kill (note: I do not intend and will not be drawn into a gun control debate here as that would take attention away from the central message). Yet, they seem to, as a group, to be one of the groups who have a hard time applying this to other situations – law abiding Muslims should not be held accountable for the actions of those who are not.

Our current political climate and the rhetoric and proposals coming mainly from the conservative and Republican side are helping the terrorists. Ironic that. And scary too.

 

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I am both saddened and enraged at the cowardice and lack of humanity being shown by too many Americans today, many of them Republican politicians.

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So much for being the home of the brave when we are too cowardly to provide shelter and protection to those coming to us for help from horror and abuse.

So much for being the land that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” when we turn away those in need.

And why are we so willing to give up our shared humanity, our ideals, our empathy and what had been considered deep seated beliefs? Two reasons.

First, Paris was attacked by Muslims, and the refugees are Muslim. Never mind that the vast, vast majority of Muslims condemn these terrorists. Never mind that these refugees are also victims of the same people who attacked Paris.

You would think that the victim of our enemies would be considered sympathetically and efforts made to help them. But too many Americans are refusing them, vilifying them and even comparing them to rabid dogs. They want to kick out any Syrian refugees already here and refuse any more. Men, women, and children. No matter that they have nowhere to go and that returning to Syria would result in their deaths.

Second: a Syrian passport found near what remained of a dead terrorist. From that many have made a leap to concluding the terrorists are coming in with the refugees. Never mind that all the other terrorists were French and Belgium, many of them being born and raised in those countries. Never mind that the mastermind was not a refugee and was instead a Belgium, being both born and raised there.

And never mind that the passport was likely faked, and the possible terrorist was not a Syrian refugee, as discussed in this Wall Street Journal article.

And why, one might ask, would a terrorist organization wish to plant a passport to stir up fear and animosity against the refugees. The reason is simple, it is because the vast majority of Muslims are against them and their terrorist tactics. It is because they know that most Muslims do not believe as they do. And so they set it up where we, in our fear and ignorance, will act in such a way so as to push the moderate Muslims into their arms. They want us to do the work of radicalizing the majority of Muslims, and in so doing grow their ranks for them.

And we, cowardly, ignorant, fools that we are, gladly do so. Governors are refusing to house the refugees. Republican Presidential candidates, supposedly bright and moral people of courageous convictions talk of not only not taking more refugees in but sending those we do have away. Others wish to use this as a pretext to take away the rights of some Americans, those who are Muslim. Warrantless searches, making them wear a special ID, refusing to build new mosques or tearing down ones already built. When it comes to Muslims and refugees our fears are turning us into Nazi’s

And in our fear of the terrorist, we wind up helping them recruit new followers. We make their lies about us true.

Religious liberty! Hah! Only for the Jew and Christians. They can live by their laws as they wish. But not the Muslim. The U.S. wants to ban them from doing so.

Religious liberty! Hah! Only for the Jews and Christians. They can build churches and synagogues where they wish. But Muslims trying to build a mosque face protests and refusals. Even the attempt to create a Muslim cemetery resulted in protests and a massive effort to deny them.

A land of hope and opportunity, a haven for those in need. Hah, they turn away hurt and crippled children. Unless they are Christian.

Some talk of the risk that a terrorist may sneak in among the refugees. They say that we need to ensure that the US has a proper vetting process to keep the terrorists out. This includes all manner of politicians and presidential candidates.

Ignorant fools.

Our vetting process already takes 18 to 24 months. As this Atlantic Monthly article discusses, this includes background checks by the UN Commission for Refugees as well as background checks by every intelligence and security agency the U.S. has – Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Defense Department and others. In addition to these background checks these refugees face multiple interviews as well as a physical exam. This is the most secure and thorough vetting process we have.

The result of this vetting? Of the 784,000 refugees that the U.S. has accepted since September 11, 2001 only three people have been arrested for terrorist activities. “None of them were close to executing an attack inside the U.S., and two of the men were caught trying to leave the country to join terrorist groups overseas.”

So I call bullshit on all of those governors and Republican presidential candidates who say we need to examine and modify our vetting process, that we don’t have one. They are in the position to know better and should. They are using the politics of fear to gain power.

As for those who are buying into that fear and hatred – get informed. Don’t stay so ignorant – it is a disease that can be cured. Do not let your fears and bias keep you blind.

People such as the Syrian refugees are why we have a refugee program, so that we can live up to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Words that we have a dismal history of failing to live up to, but one that I hope we will someday.

So despite our ideals, despite our extensive and successful vetting, despite the desperate need we say, “No, never mind all of that. We reject you, we deny our shared common humanity, we deny our own stated ideals and values. We are instead afraid of you, of refugees such as the family whose five year old daughter lost a leg in the violence in Syria and whose 11 year old son lost two fingers. No, we quiver in fear and turn a blind eye to you and with a cold and hardened heart turn you away, reject you. Just as we have done other refugees in the past.”

And in so doing, in so saying, we provide immeasurable help to the enemy, the violent Islamic extremists.

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Unlike France which has announced that even after the attacks they are not only still committed to taking in 20,000 refugees but will now take in 30,000 Americans seemingly have no moral courage and empathy for those in need.

Fools. Cowardly fools.

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Most of us like and seek to simplify a complex world. We look for a THE CAUSE and focus on that, interpreting all of what we see about this and that through the lens of THE CAUSE. And that is where most of us get it wrong most of the time.

The great majority of world, societal, and cultural problems – the Islamic State, Israel/Palestine, Russia/Ukraine, Ferguson, police shootings, illegal immigrants, etc. etc .etc .- are not the result of a THE CAUSE, but instead, are more like a falling leaf.

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To determine how a leaf will fall and where it will land it is not enough to know that gravity will pull it to the ground. Using that alone to determine where a leaf will land will result in far more mistakes than correct answers. The reason for this is tha5 many other factors play a role equally as important as gravity in determine a leaf’s final resting place.

Things such as wind strength, direction, and variability; the shape of the leaf; whether it is a fresh leaf or a dried one; altitude (air pressure). In fact, as the leaf tumbles through the air how it presents itself to the air and wind changes and in doing so change how fast it is falling and its direction in complex ways that cannot be simply modeled. Indeed, for a time, the leaf may even rise instead of fall due to these factors. It can even, eventually, wind up on higher ground than where it started.

To-the-Promised-LandHuman affairs are most often like a leaf.image

Too often I see a one word or sentence cause for an issue: US created ISIS, Israeli aggression, Palestinian aggression and terrorism, racism, lawlessness, personal responsibility, economic inequities, etc. Most of the time such answers are, at best, misleading and simplistic or, at worst, wrong. And even in those cases where they may indeed correctly identify a primary cause, it is not sufficient in and of itself to really understand what has/is happening and most definitely not enough to come up with good answers.

While researching and seeking to understand these individual parts and their role in causing whatever the current issue is – racism and Ferguson, Israeli policy and actions, etc. – taken by themselves they only create misleading illusions that, when taken for reality, leads to wrong and usually harmful actions.

Just as a scientist may study how the wind effects a falling leaf, how its shape matters, and all the other factors involved in its falling, when it comes time to actually predict the leaf’s fall all of these have to be combined with our understanding of gravity in order to at least have a chance at making an accurate prediction.
Bottom line – beware of the limits of simple answers. Resist their lure. Keep in mind that due to the fact that as the leaf falls it changes how gravity, air resistance, and wind affect it so that it can become almost impossible to accurately predict where it will land, so too do human affairs change and morph and change making accurate predictions difficult even when all factors are considered. The challenge quickly escalates beyond difficult to impossible when those factors are not considered.

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Back in January I wrote a blog titled The Forgotten Protectors of Freedom. In it, while not taking anything away from our military men and women, I pointed out that the real protectors of our freedoms are not the soldiers who guard our borders and protect our overseas national interests, but, instead, those who fight for our freedoms and exercise our freedoms in order to keep them strong. Today, I would like to point out some of these defenders who have given up liberty and life in the defense of our rights.

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First and foremost is James Foley, a journalist who was captured by the Islamic State and was cruelly executed by them on Tuesday, August 19th. It is his willingness to put his life in danger in order to inform us about the world and our role within it that makes him a protector of freedom. Without knowledge, without accurate and timely information, freedom cannot exist. At best, it is a sham. At worst, shackles. Foley worked and risked to ensure that our freedom is not a sham.

I also want to mention those journalists in Ferguson who were arrested for covering the protests and unfolding events in this city. They too are protectors of our freedom, pushing against authority and willing to risk the consequences of doing so in order to inform the nation. Without a free and active press willing to do such, there can be no freedom.

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For that matter, the protestors in Ferguson, protesting over the fact that Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot six times by a white policemen. While it is too soon to provide a fully informed opinion on whether the shooting was justified or not yet, they perceived a real and grievous flaw in not only Ferguson, but our nation as a whole – the racial discrimination that still occurs within our legal system. Their willingness to be visible and to protest, to create a scene and situation, forces this issue to be discussed. Hopefully, it will help to ensure that Brown’s death is not in vain and that he receives true justice. And, more, that we as a nation continue to be forced to deal with and correct the racism that still exists within this country.

More examples of those who protect our freedoms abound in our nation. Let me mention just one more, or rather three more, from my local area, Fort Worth. Three police officers filed an official complaint alleging “race-based discriminatory harassment and treatment” by the Fort Worth Police Department Traffic Division. Although the independent investigation found no hard evidence of a racial motive, they did find “hostile, harassing behavior”. Policies and training are in the works to correct this now.
It is these people and the many more like them who are the true protectors of our freedoms, who truly move us to become a better society.

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James Foley

Steven Sotloff
Other journalists who have also been captured but whose names have yet to be released.

Ferguson

The Journalists

Coulter Loeb, Lukas Hermsmeier, Ryan Devereaux, Bilgin Şaşmaz, Tom Walters, Ansgar Graw, Frank Hermann, Scott Olson, Kerry Picket, Rob Crilly, Matthew Giles, Robert Klemko, Neil Munshi, Wesley Lowery, Ryan J. Reilly

The Community, Organizational, Political Leaders

Antonio French, Maria Chappelle-Nadal, Malik Zulu Shabazz, Paul Muhammad, Alfred Long Jr., Anthony Shahid

Fort Worth Police

Sgt. Delbert Johnson, Lt. E. G. Edney, Sgt. Swayne Dalco
And all the others involved whose names I do not know and/or did not have the space to list. Well done. And may we all join them in protecting our freedoms.

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I get several newsletters from organizations that I normally disagree with.  I do so in order to make sure  that I have not missed anything in regards to evidence or reasonings that would change my mind.   Most of the time they don’t, but they do provide interesting, entertaining, frustrating, and annoying readings at times – often at the same time.   Not to mention the feeling of smug superiority that I often in reading their material (plan to work on that little fault of mine someday) 

This particular one that I am about to go over was sent to me by the Middle East Forum – a conservative American think tank founded by Daniel Pipes that “promotes American interests in the Middle East and protects Western values from Middle Eastern threats”.

A week ago they sent me an article by Raymond Ibrahim that was published in FrontPageMagazine.com titled “The Pentagon’s Bow to Islamic Extremism’.   In reading it I saw plenty of red flags that this article may not be totally reliable.  It presented only a few facts that were then skewered for all they were worth.   And instead of my usual sigh of annoyance and resignation I, instead, thought – Wow, what a wonderful exercise in skeptical thought this would make.

And so here it is, an exercise in skeptical thought.   I will be posting the complete article as it was sent to me, with breaks in it for me to comment on specific passages.

The Pentagon’s Bow to Islamic Extremism

by Raymond Ibrahim
FrontPageMagazine.com
February 12, 2014

“Caving to pressure from Muslim groups, the Pentagon has relaxed uniform rules to allow Islamic beards, turbans and hijabs. It’s a major win for political correctness and a big loss for military unit cohesion,” said a recent report.

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First paragraph and already so many issues.  The first one that struck me was the sentence – “Islamic beards, turbans, and hijabs”.  

Religions that require men to have beards – Many varieties of Orthodox Judaism, Sikhism, Rastafarians.   So, it is not just Muslims who will benefit from this, although you would not know it from the wording.  

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muslims3Turbans – Sikhs also are required to wear turbans.  Many Rastafarians do too.  For that matter, many Muslims do not wear turbans; just look at photos of Palestinians, Egyptians, Afghans, and so forth.   But, again, from the wording you would think that only the Muslims wear turbans and that all of them wear this headgear. 

Hijabs – this is the one item that is correct, and it is feminine attire.  However, what was overlooked here is how many Muslim women do not wear the hijab.  

Of course, I was now interested in actually reading the Pentagon report on this topic.   And I thought it was good of them to provide a link to it.   However, that link was not to a report but to another article in the Investors.com about this same topic that also decried McDonald’s changing standards in caving to Shariah Law too.   Not sure how a site meant for investments can be considered a reliable or authoritative source – but it sure does look good having a link in nice colored letters spelling out “recent report”.   Makes it look all think tanky and such. 

First two learnings from this:

1)      Beware of articles that overly generalize and yet at the same time focus on only part of the story.

2)      Beware of articles with links that look good, but only look good.  

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Of course, now I was interested in what the Pentagon had actually done and said.  So, I looked into it and quickly found these two articles from Military Times – a much more relevant source than an investment site – “Wide Variety of Faiths Led to New Policy to Accommodate Them” and “Religious Exemptions for Troops Easier to Request Under New Rules”.  

Some interesting facts here that are not mentioned in the article; 

news singhFirst, this change was brought about because of a Sikh request to be allowed to wear his turban.  Not a Muslim, a Sikh. 

Second, until now, there was no military wide policy for determing exemptions to uniform and grooming regulations due to religious reasons.  This has now set one. 

Third, religious exemptions are not automatic.  They are considered on a case by case basis and, if they run counter to that service’s regulations, have to be approved by that service’s three star personnel chief.  If they do not run counter to established regulations then they can be approved by unit commanders. Further, a soldier’s exemption is not for always.  Anytime a soldier moves to a different job or deploys, they have to re-apply for the exemption.  

Fourth, several factors are considered in making a decision to allow a religious exemption or not.   I think the “Wide Variety…” article stated it nicely. 

“The new policy states that military departments will accommodate religious requests of service members unless they have an adverse effect on military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline,” says Navy Lt. Cdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman.

Rules can be bent, but they can’t be broken. The bottom line, Christensen said, is that accomplishing the mission at hand comes first. Always.

That means a shave if facial hair prevents the proper fit of a gas mask, leaving behind a religious garment interferes with a flak jacket, or delaying prayer when a patrol must be run.”

So, one paragraph in and already this article is totally discredited.   The change was not prompted by “pressure from Muslim groups” but from a wide variety of different religious groups and people, with the proximate cause being a request from a Sikh.  

Also, from the first paragraph, and indeed the rest of the article, you would not know that this is an exemption process and one that is not automatically given.  Nor would you know that the unit mission takes priority.  In fact, from this paragraph, and the rest of the words that follow in this article, you would think the exact opposite.  I am guessing that they realized this since they provided a worthless link instead of one leading to a site providing good specific information on what had changed and why.  This was no accidental error. islamophobia1

So, since this article has already been discredited as being based on incomplete, misleading, and very biased information, then why read the rest of it?  For myself, it is interesting to see where they go with it; which is, as you might already have expected, in a totally Islam bashing and basically Islamophobic direction.  

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This new relaxation of rules for Muslims comes at a time when the FBI is tracking more than 100 suspected jihadi-infiltrators of the U.S. military. Just last month, Craig Benedict Baxam, a former Army soldier and convert to Islam, was sentenced to seven years in prison due to his al-Qaeda/jihadi activities. Also last month, Mozaffar Khazaee, an Iranian-American working for the Defense Department, was arrested for sending secret documents to America’s enemy, Iran.

———————————————————————————————————————–It would be nice if they would cite sources for their claims.  However, I did find a NPR report on this. 

The reason the FBI is investigating is due the Fort Hood murders by Major Hasan that took the military by surprise even though there were warning signs.  Now, of these 100 suspects, only about 12 are serious enough to continue investigating.   Something this article neglects to mention. 

It also fails to mention is that these investigations involve not just military members but their family and also military contractors.   You are talking about a huge number of people being investigated in which only 12 warrant more serious follow ups.   A problem, yes.  But not an out of control and huge one.  

Further, the FBI also investigates for white supremacist and neo-nazi groups links.   Yet I see nothing here about the dangers of these groups despite the fact that most of the incidents of American domestic terrorism have been by militias and other such groups. They mention Braxton’s military service, although his crime was committed after leaving the military.  From the wording you would think he had “infiltrated” the military and was working from inside.  He was not.  

In order to continue avoiding providing a proper context for this story, they also do not mention the military members who join domestic militia groups that have been known to engage in domestic terrorism.  Nor do they mention the anarchist group in Georgia with not only ex members of the military but active duty soldiers.  Here is a CBS newstory about this.  

(AP) LUDOWICI, Ga.- Four Army soldiers based in southeast Georgia killed a former comrade and his girlfriend to protect an anarchist militia group they formed that stockpiled assault weapons and plotted a range of anti-government attacks, prosecutors told a judge Monday.

Prosecutors in rural Long County, near the sprawling Army post Fort Stewart, said the militia group composed of active duty and former U.S. military members spent at least $87,000 buying guns and bomb components and was serious enough to kill two people – former soldier Michael Roark and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York – by shooting them in the woods last December in order to keep its plans secret.

“This domestic terrorist organization did not simply plan and talk,” prosecutor Isabel Pauley told a Superior Court judge. “Prior to the murders in this case, the group took action. Evidence shows the group possessed the knowledge, means and motive to carry out their plans.”

In other words, this article is being very selective in what information it presents.   It does not give you all the information nor the context needed for an honest understanding of what is happening.  

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According to a Pentagon spokesperson, the new religious accommodations—to allow Islamic beards, turbans, and hijabs—which took effect very recently, would “reduce both the instances and perception of discrimination among those whose religious expressions are less familiar to the command.”

The report concludes that, “Making special accommodations for Islam will only attract more Muslims into the military at a time when two recent terror cases highlight the ongoing danger of Muslims in uniform.”

But it’s worse than that; for not only will it attract “more Muslims,” it will attract precisely the wrong kinds of Muslims, AKA, “Islamists,” “radicals,” etc.

This is easily demonstrated by connecting the dots and understanding that Muslims who adhere to visible, non-problematic aspects of Islam—growing beards and donning hijabs—often indicate their adherence to non-visible, problematic aspects of Islam.

Consider it this way: Why do some Muslim men wear the prescribed beard and why do some Muslim women wear the prescribed hijab? Most Muslims would say they do so because Islam’s prophet Muhammad commanded them to (whether via the Koran or Hadith).

Regarding the Muslim beard, Muhammad wanted his followers to look different from “infidels,” namely Christians and Jews, so he ordered his followers to “trim closely the moustache and grow the beard.” Accordingly, all Sunni schools of law maintain that it is forbidden—a “major sin“—for men to shave their beards (unless, of course, it is part of a stratagem against the infidel, in which case it is permissible).

The question begs itself: If such Muslims meticulously follow the minor, “outer” things of Islam simply because their prophet made some utterances concerning them in the Hadith, logically speaking, does that not indicate that they also follow, or at the very least accept as legitimate, the major, “inner” themes Muhammad constantly emphasized in both the Koran and Hadith—such as enmity for and deceit of the infidel, and, when capable, perpetual jihad?

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My, such concerns for allowing Muslims to serve in their military (they are American citizens and thus it is their military, just as it is mine and any other American’s).   And for not allowing the wrong sort of Muslim into the Military, as if judging by their beards or lack of them is a way to figuring this out. 

To show the grave flaws in this sort of thinking consider the following.  Major Nidal Hasan.  No beard.   The Boston bombers, neither of them had a beard.     In fact, if you look at the 2013 FBI Most Wanted Terrorists List, of the nine men listed, three did not have beards. None of them are wearing turbans.   

 In fact, none of them are American, which means that they would be very unlikely to be able to enlist in the military.    

Looking at Wikipedia for the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list gives a longer one, a listing of 22, of which most are not wearing turbans and nine have no beards.  There is only one American on this list, making the 21 others unlikely to be able to enlist in the US military.  

I mentioned earlier that the FBI also investigates for ties to white supremacist groups and neo-nazi groups.  The FBI has discovered and stopped many more attacks on Americans by these groups than by Muslim citizens.   Does this mean that we should now be concerned about attracting whites to the military?   Perhaps we need to go to an all black, Hispanic, and Asian military.

dt6

domestic terroist 1I thought it might be interesting to look at the FBI’s list of Most Wanted dt2Domestic Terrorists.   None of them were Muslim.  All of their terrorist acts were done in the name or anarchy or ecology.  Seems that most of the terrorist acts committed by Muslims were committed by non-Americans.  Muslims who are American citizens, by the evidence, are not very likely to engage in terrorist acts.     Which means dt3that this whole article is doing them a grave disservice, insulting their dt4patriotism, their honor, their morals.  

dt5

As for the verses and themes emphasized in the Koran and Hadith, since they did not provide any specific verses or references for this, let me just say that these are often taken out of context and ignores other verses within those works.   Here is a blog I did on this “Response to a Faulty Document About Islam” – my apologies for some formatting issues on this blog, I was having some issues with wordpress that day and decided what I had was readable enough (by the way, I am much better at this now – thank goodness!).

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Even in the Islamic world this connection between visible indicators of Islamic piety and jihadi tendencies are well known. Back in 2011, when Islamists were dominating Egypt’s politics, secularist talk show host Amr Adib of Cairo Today mocked the then calls for a “million man beard” march with his trademark sarcasm: “This is a great endeavor! After all, a man with a beard can never be a thug, can never rape a woman in the street, can never set a church on fire, can never fight and quarrel, can never steal, and can never be dishonest!”

His sarcasm was not missed on his Egyptian viewership which knew quite well that it is precisely those Muslims who most closely follow the minutia of Muhammad—for example, by growing a beard—that are most prone to violence, deceit, and anti-infidel sentiments, all of which were also advocated by Islam’s prophet.

Speaking more seriously, Adib had added that this issue is not about growing a beard, but rather, “once you grow your beard, you give proof of your commitment and fealty to everything in Islam.”

Similarly, after Egypt’s June 30 Revolution ousted the Muslim Brotherhood, “overt signs of piety [beards and hijabs] have become all it takes to attract suspicion from security forces at Cairo checkpoints and vigilantes looking to attack Islamists.” Clubs and restaurants banned entrance to those wearing precisely these two “overt signs of piety.”

While Egyptians instinctively understand how fealty to the Muslim beard evinces fealty, or at least acceptance, to all those other problematic things Muhammad commanded, even in fuzzy Western op-eds, the connection sometimes peeks out. Consider the following excerpt from a New York Times piece titled “Behold the Mighty Beard, a Badge of Piety and Religious Belonging”:

[A]ll over the Muslim world, the full beard has come to connote piety and spiritual fervor…. Of course, the beard is only a sign of righteousness. It is no guarantor, as Mr. Zulfiqar [a Muslim interviewee] reminds us: “I recall one gentleman who came back from a trip to Pakistan and remarked to me, ‘I learned one thing: the longer the beard, the bigger the crook.’ His anticipation was people with big beards would be really honest, but he kept meeting people lying to him.”

The italicized portion speaks for itself. Whereas the Muslim beard ostensibly represents religious piety, some people, mostly Westerners, are shocked to find that those who wear it are often “crooks” and “liars.”

In Islam, however, outer signs of religiosity on the one hand, and corruption and deceit on the other, are quite compatible. After all, the same source—Islam’s prophet Muhammad, as recorded in the Hadith—that tells Muslims to grow a beard also advocates deception, the plundering of infidels, the keeping of sex slaves, adult “breast feeding,” and all sorts of other practices antithetical to Western notions of piety if not decency.

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There are so many over generalizations and falsehoods about Islam and Muslims within this article that, since my main focus is the Pentagon policy, I am not taking the time to show them all wrong.   But, as a representative example, lets just do one – the adult breast feeding.   This article claims that “Muhammad, as recorded in the Hadith” tells Muslims breast feed adults.   The link provided goes to another article by the same author as this one.  Amazingly though, this article actually provided a link to a BBC article on this subject. 

Yes, there was one cleric who issued a fatwa saying women should breastfeed men- as a way of breaking down the segregation of the sexes.   However, his fatwa was immediate denounced by most other Muslims and clerics and he later retracted it as an error in judgment and reasoning on his part.   I wonder, if this author and this think tank take the proclamations of the Westboro Church pastor as being definitive for all of Christianity.  

The other statements and claims made about Islam are similarly flawed.   They are the product of a mind more concerned with casting Muslims and Islam in the worst light possible, even if misleading statements and lies have to be used to do so. 

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Incidentally, it’s the same with the hijab, or cloak that some Muslim women wear, also on Muhammad’s command. One reformed Islamic jihadi from Egypt accurately observes that “the proliferation of the hijab is strongly correlated with increased terrorism…. Terrorism became much more frequent in such societies as Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, and the U.K. after the hijab became prevalent among Muslim women living in those communities.”

And so, at a time when the U.S. should at the very least be wary of those who openly wear their Islamic radicalism around their face and head—beards for males, hijabs for females—the U.S. Pentagon (of all places) is embracing them in “celebration of multiculturalism.” Wear loyalty to the U.S. is most needed, the Pentagon embraces those who show that their loyalty is elsewhere (among other things, the beard and hijab are meant to separate “pure believers” from “impure infidels”).

Of course, none of this is surprising considering that the Pentagon also considers Evangelical Christians and Catholics as “extremists” on a par with al-Qaeda.

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This skeptical exercise has gone on long enough and that last claim is deserving of a blog in and of itself – one which I have no plans for doing currently.  

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Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (Regnery, April, 2013) is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum

 

So, what does my skeptical analysis of this piece show?  As I wrote earlier – this article is nothing but a smear on the morals and patriotism of Americans who are Muslim.  It is a smear and attack on good Muslims of all nationalities.  It is slanted, bigoted, and biased.  It seemingly deliberately ignores many facts about what the Pentagon is doing, about Islam, about terrorism, and about Muslims.  In addition, it presents what few accurate facts it has in a biased and prejudiced way, an alarmist way that creates unnecessary and immoral turmoil and division.  It is nothing more than a bigoted hate piece. It is a dangerous shame that it has cloaked itself with the reputation of a “Think Tank” status so as to wear a respectability it does not in any way deserve.   And that is why skeptical thinking is so valuable – it is not the obvious hate groups that are the main problem, but rather, those who wear a disguise.

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In reading and considering the crisis in Syria my first thought is that many people are confusing questions here.   Many see this as a decision on whether to take military action against Assad and for the rebels.   It is not.  Nor would I support such a decision.  The war in Syria has too many players, too many entanglements with other groups and countries, and is its reality too murky and cloudy for us to even have a chance of determining whether our actions would do more good or harm.   And this is not even considering the cost in human lives of our soldiers as well as money that such an action would cost.  So, not only no, but hell no on getting involved militarily in Syria as we did in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Fortunately, President Obama is not considering getting involved this way in Syria.

What is being seriously considered is whether to take military action (most likely a round or two of cruise missiles) against Syria due to its use of chemical weapons.  Many seem to think this another example of the U.S. setting its own moral policy as it wishes and for its own convenience.  However, the use of such weapons was banned by the international community after WW 1.  This ban was formalized in the Geneva Convention in 1925.   This Convention has been expanded over the years to more fully cover chemical weapons and to also include biological weapons.   So, rather than being enforcing a United States policy this action would be done in order to enforce this international Convention.

The agency responsible for implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW); consisting of 189 member countries and based in the Netherlands.

While there have been some lapses and failures, overall this Convention has been successful.   For example, one of the primary tasks of the OPCW is the monitoring of chemical stockpiles and verifying their elimination.   As of 2/28/2013 78.57%, of the world’s declared stockpile of 71,196 metric tons of chemical agent and 45.56%, of the 8.67 million chemical munitions and containers covered by the CWC have been verifiably destroyed.

The United States is among those 189 member states of this organisation.   One thing about being a member is that all member states have pledged to “provide assistance and protection to fellow Member States threatened by the use of chemical weapons or attacked with chemical weapons.”

This is the basis for President Obama’s proposed military action; humanitarian concerns due to the breaking of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Now that the real question has, hopefully, been clarified here, let’s look at some of the arguments being made against carrying out a military strike on Syria.

First up is that bullets, bombs, and other such weapons kill a person just as dead.  Given this, then why the big concern over chemical weapons?   This argument against action really does not hold up very well when examined closely.

–          Chemical weapons disperses and spreads.  It covers a much wider area than bullets do.

–          Of course, bombs also cover wider areas than bullets too.   However, bombs, like bullets, can be aimed, often surprisingly accurately nowadays.   This is not so true of chemical weapons.  As said earlier, it disperses and spreads.   It can go into areas not targeted very easily.   Winds can carry it far beyond its target area.

–          Chemical weapons can and do contaminate the ground.  If it reaches a water supply – rivers and streams, underground sources – it will continue to kill people in areas that were not even close to the target area.

All of the above is why they are considered weapons of mass destruction, along with nuclear and biological weapons.   It is why they were banned.   Consider this too, they were widely used during WW 1 and despite the horrors of WW1 with its trench warfare, the first use of tanks and aerial bombardments gas warfare was the only weapon that was immediately agreed upon to be banned.   It seems that those with first hand knowledge of the types of death that bullets and bombs can deal out found the use of chemical weapons even more horrific.  “They inflict excruciating and long term suffering on a mass scale.”

Also, for myself, someday in the possibly never to be future, I would like to see bullets and bombs along with all weapons of war outlawed.   We have in place limits to nuclear weapons, to biological weapons, and to chemical weapons.   Why in the world would we want to allow one to come back into play?    Isn’t it a good thing that we do have limits, imperfect as they are, on some types of weapons and warfares?    I think it is and I believe it to be worth maintaining and enforcing.  To not do so is to take a step backwards from the goal of a world without war.

Another argument made against the use of military force against Syria for its use of chemical weapons is that we did nothing when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iran during the Iraq/Iran war.  In fact, the U.S. provided satellite imagery to help guide Hussein’s use of chemical weapons.   And both the international community and the U.S. knew that Hussein had used gas on his own people.   And nothing was done.

However, this argument also fails.  Just because we failed to do the right thing one time is no justification for failing to do so again.   Those who use this argument justifiably condemn the U.S.’s actions and the international community’s inactions during Iraq’s use of chemical weapons.  To then try to use this inaction as an argument to again not take action is taking hypocrisy to new heights.   Just as a side note, Iraq became a member state of the OPCW in 2009.

It has also been brought up that the United States (as well as other countries) use such chemicals as napalm, white phosphorous, and the use of depleted uranium in munitions and that therefore the use of military force in Syria for their use of chemical weapons is not justified.

Short answer to this – those materials are not covered by the CWC.   Should they be?  Possibly, although their range and spread is not as dangerous as that of chemical gas.   But I would not object.  Indeed, I would argue that they should be either added to the Chemical Weapons Convention or banned in another agreement (for example, there is work to come to an agreement to ban depleted uranium munitions – although it is slow going at this point).   However, just because they are not included is no reason to not enforce the ban on those that are included.

Another criticism is that the United States should wait for the UN, or at the very least create an international coalition.   Now, I agree that the vast majority of the time we should work through international agencies such as the UN and NATO, or within an international coalition.   However, I also believe that there can be times when doing it alone might be necessary.   Our international organizations are imperfect and flawed.   While much better than not having any such organizations, they are limited.   For example, needed actions by the UN can be indefinitely blocked by just one country.   Because of this, I can see that there might arise cases where unilateral actions might be necessary.

Having said this let me also state that the vast majority of the times when we have done so were not justified.   My point in bringing this up is to show that because we may have to act unilaterally does not automatically mean that what we are doing is wrong.  It may be, but again it could also be the right thing to do.

In regards to the UN investigation team, they were tasked only with determining whether chemical weapons had been used or not; not with who used them.   Unless they find that no chemical attack occurred their report is going to be of limited to no use in determining who used them.

I would also point out that there is some limited international support for U.S. action.   France, Canada, Turkey, and several other countries have given their verbal support for US action.

 

Syria 1Syria 3

 

 

 

 

To this point it must sound as if I approve of a military strike against Syria for its use of chemical weapons.

Syria 5However, I do not.  Why?

The evidence that Syria used chemical weapons has not been shown in detail to the public and examined.   When Secretary of State Kerry laid out the evidence for Syria using chemical weapons there was a decided lack of specific information.   Security concerns were, as usual, the cited reasons for this.

Personally I tend to believe that the Obama administration does have good evidence that the Syrian government did use chemical weapons against the rebels.  First off, there was the chemical weapon attack back in May of this year.   If President Obama had wanted to take action in Syria and was just looking for an excuse to do so then he could have done this then.   However he did not, and suffered a lot of criticism for not doing so after having drawn the red line in the sand.   So, the fact that he is urging it this time seems to me to indicate that this time they do have good evidence.

Also, is it really that hard to believe that after all that Assad has done to his own people that he would not use the chemical weapons that we know he has if he felt them needed?  For myself, I find it very easy to believe.

However since Iraq and the total failure to find the WMD they were supposed to have the public has, justifiably, become skeptical of our government’s claims.  My personal feelings on this are really not relevant here since had this occurred during another President’s watch these feelings might be different.   The public deserves to know the evidence, especially if we are going to go it alone again.   The volatile nature of the Middle East in general, the reputation of the United States in that region, the political alliances involved and the chaotic blood soaked chaos that is Syria requires clear cut and undeniable evidence before we act.  This is not only necessary for the American public but for the international community too.

We did not get that though.   We were given the results of the intelligence gathering, but not the intelligence itself, not the details of how it was gathered and the raw data.  If President Obama was wanting to do this right then he should have pulled any human assets that might be compromised by revealing the evidence (and take the hit on having even less information in this region), and be willing to endure the consequences of letting those who do wish us harm to know what we are capable of doing in terms of intercepting communications and presented the evidence for the world to see.

However, he did not.   Nor did he lay out a case for why we shouldn’t wait and see what happens in the UN with its report on whether there was a chemical attack.

Just a couple of hours ago President Obama again strongly urged military action against Syria for its use of chemical weapons.  This time though he stated that he would try to get congressional approval for any military action against Syria.   I think this the prudent thing for him to do.   It avoids a domestic dispute on whether his actions are Constitutional or not, and allows more time for the UN report and to see which way the international dust settles.

In fact, I wonder if Obama had this in mind all along.   Having made the red line remark, President Obama was taking flak for not doing anything when Syria did (or at least appears they did) use chemical weapons.  By taking a hard stand based on (I assume) stronger evidence of Syria’s guilt he made his opponents argue against this action.   This gets him out of the doing nothing charge since now his opponents were arguing for him to do exactly that.   And now he gets to dump this in the lap of Congress, where, unless new developments come to light, nothing will happen.

If so, then this was a good political move on his part.  And if it caused Assad to sweat a bit waiting for some sort of military action, then so much the better.   Especially since this is probably going to be the only consequence of his use of chemical weapons, despite international conventions.

However, taking a look at the larger picture this is shaping up to be a failure not only for the U.S., but also for the international community.   We keep saying never again, never again.   No more chemical weapons being used on the battlefield or on unruly civilians.   We have a wonderful Convention signed by 189 nations against the use of chemical weapons.  And while much good work and progress has been made under this Convention, when it looks likely that chemical weapons were used again – on both the battlefield and bothersome civilians, a twofer – we are, again, not going to take action.

Instead of never again it is again and again and again.

The UN report may (I think it will) find that chemical weapons were used.   But they had no mandate to find out who used it and so no responsibility will be assigned to whoever committed this internationally agreed upon atrocity.   And in the unlikely event that some action will be taken, it will not be military.   After all, what would be the use?  With the amount of time that has elapsed any chemical munitions will have been moved and hidden again.   All we would do would be to hit where they used to be.  At best.   As for economic sanctions, given the status of Syria’s economy right now such sanctions would be a joke.

As for Congress, given the public opinion against a military strike and the lack of strong international support, I would be very surprised if they approved the use of military force.   Very surprised.

beirut.jpg.size.xxxlarge.letterboxSo again, what we said would never happened again has happened again.  Despite the conventions, despite the international organizations, despite the rhetoric.  And many will proclaim it good that we took no action.   Not just the US, but the international community.

It seems we have a ways to go before we are anything more than a group of barbarians with delusions of being civilized.

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