Showing posts with label syria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label syria. Show all posts

Thursday, December 3, 2015

America is under terrorist attack but doesn't know it

First posted in Asia Times.

November was an eventful month and may go down as a fateful chapter in the U.S. history.

First was the IS attack on Paris. The calculated, cold-blooded violence shocked and horrified the world. The realization began to sink in that fanatical Islamic acts of terrorism isn’t limited to the Middle East but can strike anywhere. IS even boasted that Washington DC would be next.

Obama finally and grudgingly joined France’s Holland and Russia’s Putin to direct their full attention on IS and defer Syria’s Assad from immediate liquidation—as if merely railing from Washington was going to topple him.

As more information about the terrorists became available, it became known that the attackers of Paris were home grown, either having been native born from France or Belgium.

Their connection with IS in Syria was actually skimpy. Some of the attackers may have visited Syria for training under IS but none were natives originally from the Middle East. This is not quite the same as the threatening impression that IS has been dispatching teams of terrorists to cities in the West.

The homegrown terrorists were typically young, unemployed without any decent prospects of a future. They lived in ghettos, suffered from low self-esteem as they were surrounded by disapproval and disdain. Their suicide vests and AK-47’s represented their last statement to the world.

As a matter of fact, whether the media and politicians deign to label them acts of terror, America is already numb from random acts of violence on a scale far in excess of what took place in Paris.

Hundreds were killed and wounded in Paris whereas in the U.S., there were more than one shooting per day and more than 30,000 died in a year from gun violence.

But according to folks of the gun lobby, Americans were not supposed to be traumatized by the daily acts of terror because these perpetrators were merely exercising their 2nd Amendment rights. Some presidential candidates even suggested that the targets of violence, such as the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, were to blame.

Never are we to blame the NRA and the gun lobby. The latest shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California by a Muslim couple may even shift the focus away from prevalence of guns in America as a problem to fear based on bigotry.

In fact, the shooters in America have a lot in common with the terrorists in Paris. The American terrorists were also disenfranchised in some way but the difference is that they can express their grudge and rage easily with guns and automatics they can buy legally in the open market and then go hunting for innocent lives.

The Obama administration has shown that they are not capable nor willing to resolve the crisis in Syria or root out the cause of IS. Letting Putin take the lead can’t be as bad as not doing anything.

Whether Obama can stop the jihadist from crossing international borders to wreak havoc in America remains to be seen. Even stopping the more urgent matter of domestic terrorism—yes, if the shooter is as terrifying as any terrorist, then he’s a terrorist—is in question.

That’s because a significant part of America is obsessed about the right to bear arms even against the interest of his/her own safety and the safety of the public. America’s fanaticism about guns is just as extreme in religious fervor as the Islamic jihadists.

If the latest incidences of gun rampage won’t convince American public to impose gun control and to deal with the reality of domestic terrorism, it would become another tragic piece missing from Obama’s legacy.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

On Putin, Obama and Syria

This is from Asia Times.

MK Bhadrakumar’s report on Putin and Obama’s meeting at the UN nicely complements your observations on Putin and the Middle East. Again, Asia Times is presenting a perspective not seen in the American mainstream, which is sad because the American public needs to be better informed.

To any objective observer, Putin made a lot more sense than Obama did in their contrasting speech about Syria. IS is a metastasizing cancer that will only get worse unless treated and treatment will take a broad coalition of countries with vested interests in eradicating the tumor. As you indicated such a coalition will include awkward bedfellows, in particular the U.S. along with Russia and China.

Obama seems to be insisting that Assad has to be removed concurrently, maybe even before surgical removal of IS. Perhaps he has to maintain this public posture for the sake of home audience but this position is increasingly not tenable. To continue the metaphor, Assad is a boil that can be lanced, orders of magnitude easier than getting rid of fast spreading tumor cells.

We should have learned from very recent experience in Iraq and Libya that taking out the bad guy we don’t like is relatively easy. Dealing with the aftermath is not easy; IS is just such a direct aftermath.

We apparently did learn a lesson from Iraq but the result in how we dealt with Syria can’t be reassuring. The Obama Administration spent some $500 million to train a fighting force out of Assad’s moderate opposition. We have a platoon of 9 fighters to show for the effort and most the American weapons were “donated” by trained but defecting moderates to IS.

Yes, realism and pragmatism need to trump idealism. So far not enough is happening.

Yes, realism and pragmatism need to trump idealism. So far not enough is happening.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Exploring Jordan and Syria

Sometimes we go on vacation to enjoy nature’s lush scenery, other times to meet the local people and experience their cultures. A visit to the Biblical lands of Jordan and Syria, which we did recently, is to be reminded of the vital importance of water in shaping civilizations.

As we looked over the once mighty River Jordan, now reduced to a modest stream a few meters wide, the crucial role of water in the making and breaking of civilizations really came home to me. Control of access to vast amounts of water was a necessary condition to the creation of great empires such as Petra in Jordan and Palmyra in Syria. Trade was the other necessary condition that assured their greatness. So long as overland caravans needed to pause and replenish, Petra and Palmyra extracted their pound of flesh and accumulated great wealth.

From wealth came power and the luxury to pursue finer things in life such as erecting elaborate temples and memorials to celebrate their accomplishments and to remind future generations of the greatness that once stood. The building material of choice from antiquity until fairly recent times was stone. Stone provided an aura of permanence like nothing else could. In the case of Palmyra, the stone structures and colonnades remained pretty much intact and partially crafted stone blocks could still be seen in the nearby quarry where they laid for well over a thousand years. Being an oasis, Palmyra ruins were free from predations of successive generations harvesting blocks from preexisting edifices rather than quarrying from scratch.

Petra had an even greater staying power since their tombs were carved right into the rocks of the hillside that ringed the town. Today, not much is left that would show how the Nabateans lived in Petra—hardly anything remains of their living quarters--but plenty of tombs showed how they died. A thrill not to be missed is to take the donkey ride up to the highest point to the massive tomb known as the Monastery. The ride would cut the two hour trek by at least half. The ride up was merely hard on one’s bottom. The ride back down was an exercise in terror as the donkey seemed to go out of its way to find the biggest drop for prancing down while the rider held on for dear life. Dismounting after the ride despite wobbly legs felt wonderful for having survived the experience.

Without water, there would be no Fertile Crescent, widely attributed to be one of the birthplaces of civilization. While much of the Crescent is in Iraq, northern Syria is also part of the Crescent thanks to the Euphrates River. Only a small part of one horn of the Crescent makes it down to Jordan which is why Jordan is 70% desert. But all is not well in this Semitic paradise. It is drying up. Even Syria, though much greener than Jordan and obviously more agriculturally bountiful, is now 58% desert.

The towering waterwheels, several stories high, situated near Hama once rotated tirelessly, driven by the fast flowing Orontes River to convey river water upwards and spilling onto a network of Roman aqueducts. When we drove by to see them, the few surviving waterwheels sat motionless in stagnant pools of water waiting for decay to administer the ultimate coup de grace. I could not think of a more appropriate symbol of the dilemma that our over populated world is facing today than these forlorn waterwheels resting on dry river beds. In this part of the world, the Dead Sea is getting saltier; the rivers are dwindling into creeks and dry beds and people having to reach ever deeper to find ground water. Sooner or later, other parts of the world will face the same hurdle.

Special thanks and acknowledgement to:
Ms. Rita Zawaideh, president of Caravan-Serai Tours, who made this trip possible.