Happy Veterans Day


Just a quick post to wish John, Soonergrunt, and all the other veterans who read and/or comment here at Ballon Juice, and those who don’t, a Happy and Healthy Veteran’s Day!

It is, however, also important to remember as Shakezula at Laywers, Guns, and Money points out, that there are over 25 homeless veterans in the US per every 10,000 US veterans! I would argue that this is both a national political and a national moral disgrace. I leave you all with Five Finger Death Punch’s take on this:

* Veterans Day image was found here.

Syria, Policy, and Strategy


Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Carter indicated that additional troops might be deployed to Syria in the future. Secretary Carter’s remarks were highly nuanced. He made it clear that any additional US Forces going to Syria would be contingent on identifying legitimate host country partners to partner with. This discussion of potential deployment of troops, however, misses something important: what is the strategic objective we are trying to achieve?

Unless or until someone can clearly articulate what the objective is for Syria, then everything else being suggested is simply tactical whack a mole! I have yet to see anyone, American elected or appointed official, European elected or appointed official, pundits, commentators, the Syrians themselves, explain just what the goal is: beyond removing Assad. And removing Assad is not the objective, it is a way to the end. Until someone can delineate what happens once the fighting stops, we do not have a coherent policy. The same goes for dealing with the related mess in Iraq.

And without a coherent policy we cannot have a successful strategy. As a close friend and colleague likes to say: “policy cannot ask of strategy what policy will not provide.” These issues go to an important question that is all too often not asked: what does it take to win the peace? Winning on the battlefield is, comparatively, easy: find the enemy, fix them in place, and reduce their capacity/capability to continue to fight. This is easier, provided you have the numbers, the will, and the logistics in a conventional interstate war. It is far harder in an irregular conflict where war is being made among the people. But in both of these the ultimate issue is what happens once the fighting stops. Managing the post conflict reality is really the hard part.

We had a highly developed understanding of the need to answer this question during World War II. After watching what happened with how World War I was resolved, and the inability of the victors to secure the peace, we developed the Marshal Plan for Europe and a similar plan for Japan and other parts of the Pacific theater. The result is that, unlike WW I, the allies not only won the war, but they won the peace. This was partially by enabling the losers of WW II to also prosper and to seemingly become the long term winners of the peace.

Until or unless we develop an actual set of objectives for conflict prosecution, termination, and post conflict redevelopment and stability there is little point in doing anything other than providing support for refugees and trying to contain the situation. This includes supporting our allies and partners in the region in dealing with the refugee and extremism/terrorism situations that they are facing. Without a coherent description of what Syria and Iraq ultimately should become, and without actual, reliable host country partners to provide that vision to us and to work with us to achieve it, there will be no resolution to the Syrian Civil War and the Iraqi conflict.

Netanyahu’s Historical Revisionism: There is More Here than Meets the Eye

Earlier this week Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu delivered a speech at the 37th World Zionist Congress. His remarks, which included a discussion of contested religious sites such as the Harem al Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem, as well as settlements also included some very interesting content about the Holocaust. Specifically PM Netanyahu alleged/asserted that the idea behind the Final Solution to eliminate all Jews was not the creation of Hitler and his senior aides and associates, but rather was thought up and pitched to Hitler buy Haj Amin al Husseini. Haj Amin al Husseini was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and a member of one of the two most powerful Palestinian families/clans at the time. Haj Amin, who was involved with both the Palestinian resistance to the Jewish settlement of Mandatory Palestine (the Yishuv) and the British Mandatory Authorities, made common cause with Hitler and the NAZIs. However, the idea that Haj Amin came up with the idea for the Final Solution and convinced Hitler it was a better idea than mass deportation is simply fantasy.

And it is the fantastic elements of Netanyahu’s remarks that have received the attention. The Chief Historian at Yad Vashem has made it clear that this was not how the Final Solution was conceived of or decided upon based on the transcripts of Hitler’s meeting with al Husseini. Other’s have pointed out that the meeting actually happened after the Final Solution had begun. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also come out and made it very clear who was responsible. And while Chancellor Merkel’s, all of the actual historians, as well as some Holocaust survivors remarks are a welcome antidote to PM Netanyahu’s revisionist history, I think there is something else going on here.

Netanyahu has always been known as someone that code switches. When he’s speaking in front of one audience he’ll describe an event or his actions or a proposed course of action one way and when he’s speaking before a different group he will switch his language up and address these matters another way. Or, in the same remarks, he’ll go back and forth. In fact he was caught doing this just this week where in the speech to the World Zionist Congress he claimed to have had the fewest settlements created under his prime ministership (largely by splitting this up by his terms of office) and to another group asserting that the most settlements have been built while he’s been prime minister – one of these things can not be true.

Now its not surprising that politicians or other leaders tailor their remarks to their audiences. In the case of Netanhayu, however, it is clearly more deeply purposeful. As the Haaretz reporting linked to above relates, PM Netanyahu is a stickler for writing his own speeches and remarks – he feel’s they are part of history and the historical record. So this is not the case of a hired word smith tailoring an argument to a specific constituency or audience. Rather, I think what happened here is that the “Hajj Amin al Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem developed the plan to kill all of world Jewry and convinced Hitler to implement it” portion of the speech was not intended for anyone at the World Zionist Congress. It was intended for an American audience of those who seek to equate Islam with genocidal aggression against Jews and Christians.

There are several reasons for this, not least among them is that the position of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, at the time that Haj Amin held the position, was an administrative one. Despite attempts to argue otherwise, Haj Amin was not an Islamic cleric or jurisprudential scholar from among the ulamah. He had very little Islamic education – a year at al Azhar in Cairo, but was mentored throughout his life by Rashid Rida. Moreover, after going from being a pan-Arabist to a Palestine Arab nationalist, the British exiled him from Mandatory Palestine in 1937. It was during his exile that he linked up with the NAZIs – the enemy of my enemy is my friend… While it is true that Haj Amin was not a member of the Muslim clergy and had only a limited amount of formal, Islamic religious training, he did become a promoter of Islam in his role as Grand Mufti, which is, itself, a title with religious connotations.

Netanyahu’s remarks make a lot more sense if they were directed at an American audience that has been primed by graphic images and reports of the evils that ISIS is perpetrating in Syria and Iraq, Especially as many Americans still have not established a new normal/reached a new equilibrium fourteen years after the al Qaeda attacks on 9-11-01. Politicians and special interest group leaders still routinely demagogue over issues pertaining to Islam and Muslims – everything from whether new mosques or cemeteries can be built/established to comparative historical/comparative religion material in social studies curriculums. Combine this with the fact that most Americans, including the most devout, tend to know very little factual material about their own, let alone other’s religions, and referring to an Arab and Palestinian nationalist leader by the Islamic religious title that came with his administrative office and asserting that he was the creator of the genocidal plan to kill all the Jews was a political-linguistic dogwhistle.

To most people who actually know the history of Haj Amin al Husseini, which is precious few in the US, it was immediately clear that PM Netanyahu made an incorrect statement. To the vast majority that have heard that ISIS, which claims to represent all of Islam through its new caliphate of the Islamic State, has specifically targeted non-Muslims for death, Netanyahu’s remarks will ring true. It is this latter group, and especially American elected officials, special interest group leaders, and commentators that PM Netanyahu’s remarks were aimed. Those of us who know better heard a serious error made by a hyperbolic politician with serious issues. The majority who don’t heard that in the 1940s an Islamic leader devised the plan for genocide, which reinforces the message that Islam is inherently evil and inherently in opposition, perhaps genocidally so, to all non-Muslims. PM Netanyahu is not a stupid man and he knows and understands Americans and American politicians better, perhaps, than any other foreign leader and some American ones as well. His remarks were not an accident, nor were they a mistake. They were not intended for the ears of those at the World Zionist Congress. They were intended for the ears of those in the US who have been primed since 9-11-01 to think the worst of Islam, Muslims, and Muslim-Americans. PM Netanyahu was providing cover for some of the most toxic ideas currently bounding around American politics and society and he was doing so for his own parochial purposes.

P5+1 Second Order Effects

Last Sunday Iranian President Rouhani suggested that the Iran would be open to a prisoner exchange with the US (warning: autoplay of CNN’s interview at the link). President Rouhani’s suggestion was not quite straightforward. He stated that should the US release Iranians in US custody (Iranian prisoners), then Iran would consider releasing the three Americans currently being held in Iran. President Rouhani’s statement is interesting because shortly after the conclusion of the P5+1 negotiations, Supreme Religious Authority Ayatullah Khameini stated there would be no further diplomacy/no opening to the US and the West.

There appear to be two dynamics at work here. The first is that Ayatullah Khameini is playing bad cop and President Rouhani is playing good cop. Not only does this make sense as an external diplomatic posture, but it has the advantage of Ayatullah Khameini publicly saying what needs to be said to keep the hardliners in line. Given the way that Iran is structured, with all the real power going on behind the opaque facade of representative government in the presidency and majlis (parliament), all the real power and authority is with Ayatullah Khameini and not with President Rouhani. The bottom line is that President Rouhani would not make the overture, no matter how nuanced, without some measure of support from the Supreme Religious Authority.

The second dynamic, which is the real follow on, second order effect is that Iranian leadership is signaling that it is interested, even if its in a limited way, for follow on diplomatic efforts. One of the more under remarked on realities in regards to Iran is that it really wants out of its pariah status and the ability to exist within the global system just like every other nation-state. This desire stems from several sources. Not least of which is national pride. The desire to get out from under the debilitating sanctions regime helped to get Iran to the table for the P5+1 negotiations. The related desire to be accepted back into the community of nations will continue to drive the Iranian government to seek opportunities for engagement.

The real question is will US leadership, both current and future, recognize the opportunities that they are being presented with and seize them. Or, as was the case during the Bush 43 Administration, rebuff them out of hand due to ideological intransigence and mind numbingly, moronically stupid historical analogies.* The fastest way to get Iran to change is to actually bring it in from the cold. The ability for social, cultural, professional, scientific, and economic exchanges to transform not just the US-Iranian relationship, but also Iranian expectations of their own government and society has a lot of potential. And this is true at both the state to state and individual to individual level. Failure to recognize the challenge that the US has been presented with and the potential to turn it into a series of opportunities would be strategic malpractice. Of course we have seen that movie before in Anbar in 2004 and 2005 with the Anbar tribes, as well as in 2003 and 2005-2006 with Iranian diplomatic overtures through both the Swiss diplomatic cut out and Major General Suleimani in Afghanistan.

* As was the case with the initial offers from the Anbari sheikhs, the deep thinkers of the Bush 43 Administration believed that the Iraqi sheikhs were NAZIs as are the Iranians. And, of course, everything is always Munich in even though Munich in 1939 1938 was a decent deal because it bought the British time to rearm and rebuild their military, as well as prepare itself for interstate war.

18 U.S. Code § 2331: The US Definition of Terrorism

In his post earlier today about the exciting new (potential) developments in Rowan County, KY Zandar asked when we could start calling these types of events or statements of intent domestic terrorism. The US definition of terrorism can be found in the criminal code. Specifically, 18 U.S. Code § 2331. The section that defines domestic terrorism is Part 5 (A) through (C(. I think Part 5 (B) i and i are likely the answer to Zandar’s quite appropriate question.

18 USC § 2331 states:

(1) the term “international terrorism” means activities that—
(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended—
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum;

(2) the term “national of the United States” has the meaning given such term in section 101(a)(22) of the Immigration and Nationality Act;

(3) the term “person” means any individual or entity capable of holding a legal or beneficial interest in property;

(4) the term “act of war” means any act occurring in the course of—
(A) declared war;
(B) armed conflict, whether or not war has been declared, between two or more nations; or
(C) armed conflict between military forces of any origin; and

(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—
(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended—
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

Read more