The Problem With ISIS

The President of the United States has addressed the nation regarding his intention to respond militarily and diplomatically to the threat represented by a group known, among other names, as ISIS. ISIS is an armed faction in the Middle East fighting in both Syria and Iraq which has amassed a record for brutality which stands out sharply in an area where brutality is a commonplace. They have slaughtered Christians, Yazidis and Shi’a Muslims, men, women and children. They have raped and enslaved women and girls. They have imposed a harsh, joyless rule in whatever unfortunate area that has fallen under their control. And as a final straw, they have mercilessly beheaded two American journalists who posed no threat of any kind to them and released videos of the acts to the world. The American people and the President had seen enough, and now an action plan has been announced.

The President says that he is going to hit ISIS from the air wherever they are, whether in Iraq or in Syria. Air power will be used in concert with ground actions and also when targets of opportunity present themselves. Fundraising activities for ISIS will be sought out and interrupted and efforts will increase to prevent would-be jihadis from reaching the Middle East or returning home after having once having gotten there. There are other parts of the plan I’m sure, but that is the broad outline and I am generally supportive of it. If there is one thing that we have learned in the past decade or two however, it’s that we should take a hard look at any proposal of foreign military activity in order to be as certain as possible that we will not be caught off guard by real time developments as that policy is being implemented. This post is my view of the dangers lurking behind the President’s stated policy.

One of the biggest obstacles to victory will be the need for a ground army for our air power to support. The Kurds have shown themselves to be capable and courageous fighters and with U.S. air support and shipments of weapons have pushed back the ISIS advance in the areas near Kurdistan. But there lies the problem; the Kurds have little incentive to leave their homes to go fight ISIS for an Iraqi government that has never been all that supportive of Kurdish ambitions for autonomy. Outside of some contested territory such as the city and environs of Kirkuk, there is small likelihood of Kurdish military projection much further afield. Why would a Kurd be willing to fight and possibly die to liberate Tikrit, Fallujah, or Ramadi when the people of those cities and areas have certainly shown no great love for the Kurds and their dreams? Short of a promise by the new Iraqi government of real Kurdish autonomy and retention of Kirkuk in exchange for Kurdish military cooperation far from Kurdish lands, I see little likelihood of significant ground military help against ISIS in the West and North of Iraq from that quarter.

Iraq does have an army, but it is an army that dissolved in the face of rag-tag ISIS fighters who were on foot and in a few pick up trucks, and left tanks, military vehicles, artillery and the like and fled in disarray. Any reorganizing and training of this force will take time and a new leadership will have to rise up which will command the respect of their troops, which is essential for success on the battlefield. Americans are leery of open-ended military operations which take a long time, so something more cohesive than the Iraqi army as it is currently constituted will be needed in order to begin effective ground operations for U.S. air power to support.

The most efficient auxiliaries to the Iraqi army are the Shi’ite militias. These armed groups remain after the sectarian violence of the middle of the last decade, and many Shi’ite men are under arms and with decent leadership. Also, Qassem Suleimani of the Iranian Quds Force has been in Iraq training and advising Shi’ite militias, and it is rumored that some Iranian soldiers may be within their ranks as well. These militias present a more effective military force than the army but they will be useless in Anbar Province or much of Northern Iraq because the Sunni tribal leaders in those areas are not at all likely to welcome a Shi’ite military force into their lands. Such a scenario is far more certain to drive the Sunni’s further into alliance with ISIS than wean them away. A truly integrated Sunni/Shi’ite force with sufficient air and logistical support could possibly accomplish such a feat, but no purely Shi’ite military force can be used for such a purpose.

An option for initiating quick military pressure against ISIS lies in convincing Jordan, Saudi Arabia, possibly Egypt and Turkey that they have an interest in participating in the destruction of ISIS. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with regional leaders in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as I am writing this post, to try to wring assistance and support from those countries in the struggle against ISIS. Sunni combat troops would be the ideal commitment by these leaders, but I see very little likelihood of that. Use of their airspace or provision of military and humanitarian supplies is more like what Sec. Kerry will leave Jeddah with, but we can always hope for more. I would love to be surprised by Arab and Turkish military action. Sunni combat troops from Arab countries would be the most likely to receive acceptance from the Sunni tribal leaders in the areas currently under ISIS control, and the most likely to treat people there with respect and, most important, most likely to go home when the job is done and leave the people there alone.

The final fly in the ointment, and it is a big fly, comes from Syria. The political center of ISIS’s phony “caliphate” lies in Syria, and to effectively strike at the heart of ISIS requires that we strike them there. Striking ISIS in Syria will not necessarily be an easy task however. Syria sort of has a government, led by a man only slightly less ruthless than ISIS. This man, Bashar al-Assad, has an army and potent allies in Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran and, more important to the issue at hand, a fairly effective air force. Mr. Assad, through the brutality which he has displayed against his own people, has forfeited any claim to the leadership of Syria. Assad therefore thirsts for the U.S. to treat with him in hopes that such an action would confer upon him at least an aura of legitimacy. President Obama thankfully will not do that, but that in turn sets the stage for the Syrian Air force to engage American jet fighters over Syrian territory.

The implications of such an engagement are troubling. American pilots are no doubt more than a match for their potential Syrian opponents, but as one very wet and disgruntled Japanese naval officer once said after he was pulled out of the water following a successful B-17 attack on his destroyer, “Even a B-17 will get lucky sometimes.” Even a Syrian pilot might get lucky sometimes too, and the repercussions of that would complicate matters to no good end. In an effort to insure the safety of other U.S. and perhaps allied pilots we would now have to render the Syrian Air Force and anti aircraft facilities impotent, and that would represent a huge escalation of the President’s announced plan.

And then there’s Russia. Syria is and has for forty years been a client of first the Soviet Union and now Russia. The connection between the Syrians and the Soviets/Russians runs deep, even to the point that the U.S. and Soviet Union nearly stumbled into a nuclear war in 1973. The Syrian and Egyptian armies had been pushed out back by the Israelis in the Yom Kippur war and were being soundly thrashed and in danger of total collapse. The Soviets intended to intervene to prevent the destruction of those armies and only decided against it after President Nixon, in the midst of his Watergate nightmare, told Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev that to go forward with that project would lead to war between the superpowers. Nixon meant it and Brezhnev figured it out, and war was averted.

The Russians today are still wedded to the Assad regime, and have stated that any violation of Syrian air space or attacks upon Syrian soil without the consent of the Assad regime would be illigitimate unless sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council, a body in which the Russians have a veto. American incursions into Syrian air space, bombing of Syrian targets, downing of Syrian jets or disabling of the Syrian Air Force and air defense systems would give Russia cover to gobble up more of Eastern Europe and then be able to say “what’s the difference?” Further complicating things is the statement by the main Western-backed coalition of anti-Assad forces that they would be happy to coordinate with American power against ISIS, but only if the campaign is extended to include strikes against Assad’s forces, and on and on it goes.

In the long run this is going to be a nasty and dangerous business. ISIS will fight to retain what it has and the ground combat forces needed to engage them are currently weak and unconnected. The military, diplomatic and law enforcement assets needed to successfully engage our enemy will have to be deft, persistent, and daring in equal parts, and willing to pursue this policy to a successful end however long it takes. That could get messy, friends might prove to be fleeting, and politics domestic and foreign could (and probably will) rear their ugly heads. No matter. It’s a dirty job that has to be done, and the sooner we start the better.

The Stolen Girls of Nigeria

It has now been 25 days as I sit and write this post since over 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from a school in that country and carried off into the forest.  No real word was heard of their whereabouts until recently, when the terrorist group Boko Haram admitted that they had committed this act.  Boko Haram is a radical islamist group which fears Western education, and it justifies its actions by saying that the girls should be married instead of going to school.  Subsequent announcements by Boko Haram now make clear their intention to ‘marry’ the girls or sell them.  A few things must be said about this.

This crime has been perpetrated before, and in this very region of the world.  A couple of centuries ago it was Africans kidnapping and selling Africans to Europeans.  Now it is African men kidnapping and selling African girls, but at the heart of the matter it is the same thing.  The terrorists counter that the sale price is the ‘bride price’ which is customary when a girl is married in that part of the world anyway, but this is a hideous perversion of the Nigerian process of marriage and family life.  Boko Haram is not facilitating marriage.  They are engaging in slave trading and rape.

And where is the appropriate world outrage for this act?  Curiously it is for the most part absent.  There are many people, women and men alike, disgusted by this crime.  I know this because Twitter and Facebook are humming with condemnations of the cowards of Nigeria.  Where are the denunciations by heads of state?  Where is the African Union?  More importantly, where are the denunciations by the Muslim world?  Boko Haram calls itself a Muslim organization, and if any outside group has any chance of making them see the horror of what they are doing it would be fellow Muslims.

The most effective moral push-back to this outrage should come from Muslim religious leaders.  Prominent and respected imams should issue a moral judgement called a ‘fetwa’ declaring that this crime is not the act of a true Muslim.  Such pronouncements carry great weight in the Islamic world.  A concurrent fetwa declaring that no true Muslim could buy one of the girls would be of considerable value as well.  Unfortunately no such pronouncement has been made by any Muslim religious leader to my knowledge. An implication could be made that this practice is consistent with Muslim values.  I am not saying that it is so, only that the absence of comment on such a monstrous event can only bring shame upon the religion of the perpetrators who do what they do in the name of their religion.  The silence speaks volumes.

One final comment is in reality an exercise in fantasy.  The terrorists are in fact cowards.  They crawl around in shadows, plant bombs, attack schools and churches and kidnap teenage girls.  They haven’t the courage to fight soldiers face to face, but I think that such an engagement should be arranged.  I would love to see the intelligence capabilities of the Western nations combined to fine the ratholes where these cowards are hiding, and then infiltrate the area with specially trained American service women.  It would be a fitting touch to see Boko Haram get its ass kicked by female soldiers, and to have the Nigerian girls rescued by butt-whipping American women soldiers.

I know, it’ll never happen.  Not because it couldn’t be done, but because our leaders would never pull that trigger.  We all know however that those Boko Haram clowns would never show their cowardly faces again after limping their wounded and bleeding selves back into the bush, knowing that they cannot stand up to a good woman.

Disturbing News from Europe

The news which is lately coming out of Eastern Europe is anything but encouraging.  Old nationalisms and hatreds which more properly belong to past centuries are popping up as if the blood soaked tragedy that was the twentieth century never happened.  A person with no sense of history will find the events occurring in Ukraine unfortunate and confusing but will most likely decide that it is none of the West’s, and especially none of America’s, business.  We should keep our focus on domestic problems and leave Ukraine for somebody else to worry about.  Such a position would be understandable, and regrettable.

A person who is more familiar with the history of that region will instantly recognize patterns which played a prominent part in the horrors of the previous century.  Adolph Hitler claimed that his aggression in Czechoslovakia and Poland was aimed at protecting the rights of ethnic Germans.  The claim by Vladimir Putin that Russia just gobbled up the Crimean peninsula, which was sovereign Ukrainian territory, for the purpose of protecting the rights of ethnic Russians is virtually identical to the tactics of Der Fuehrer which unleashed the dogs of war in Europe and around the world seventy five years ago.  Five years before the war began Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland with no response from the Allies.  Three years later the ‘rights’ of the Austrians and Sudeten Germans provided the pretext for German annexation of Austria and western Czechoslovakia with only impotent acquiescence from the British and French.  A year and a half after that the war was unleashed on humanity with all of its hideous cruelty.

Equally disturbing is the recent distribution of pamphlets in eastern Ukraine demanding that Jews register their names and property with the rebel ethnic Russian “government” there.  Somebody may know who it really was that distributed these pamphlets, but the general public is not being told who that might be, nor the reason why.  The import of the event is not lost on the Jewish population in Ukraine and everywhere else in central and eastern Europe however, as the intimidation and murder of Jews and the theft of their property is a European tradition that dates back to the ninth century, and there are Jews yet alive who remember the orgy of anti-Semitism that occurred in Europe just seventy five years ago.  This pamphlet, which seems crass and perhaps a little silly to a modern American who is ignorant of history, is loaded with centuries of meaning to a Ukrainian Jew.

The saddest part of this to me is that the pamphlet could have come from either side, Russian or Ukrainian.  Both countries have a sordid history of violence against their Jewish citizens, and in one essay in the book “Shatterzone of Empires” the author relates the story of a captain in the retreating German Army in WW II rescuing a group of Ukrainian Jews from an imminent and cruel death at the hands of a mob of “Christian” Ukrainians.  The adjective merits quotation marks because these actions speak nothing of Christ and, in fact, are quite the work of Christ’s opposite.  The point of this is that the anti-Semitism which drove Jews out of England and France in the thirteenth century and Spain in the fifteenth, which murdered and robbed Jews throughout Europe for a thousand years, and sought to exterminate them in the twentieth century is still alive and well in Russia, Ukraine, and anywhere else where such an event as the pamphlets is met with silence and inaction.  Does anyone wonder why Jews in Israel will not budge one inch in defending the only place on the planet where a Jew need not feel threatened because of his or her ethnicity?

In summary, the actions in russia and Ukraine of the last month or two are carbon copies of the events which led to total destructive war and mass murder less than a hundred years ago.  People with a sense of history and a determination to not let it happen again could stop it now if forceful measures were taken.  Forceful measures, however, are not popular on college campuses, in hipster coffee shops, and wherever fun-worshiping Westerners gather.  Nor are they popular with politicians who deny their own resemblance to English Prime Minister Chamberlain and his French counterpart Daladier, who gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler, while in fact their actions are identical.  Bullies and dictators notice weakness and act accordingly.  the world in the twenty first century looks as if it could be in for one hell of a ride.

Megyn Kelly, John Stewart, and a White Jesus

I have been disappointed and saddened by a news event that has been circulating lately.  Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly has apparently said that Jesus of Nazareth and Santa Claus were white.  It was reported in a related bit of news that John Steward “layed into Kelly” for making such a comment.  I did not hear the comment nor do I know the context.  The comment is being used nevertheless to make the point that Ms Kelly is stupid and, by extension, so is her employer Fox News, and by further extension all conservatives and conservatism itself.  This really does make me sad.

The reason for my sadness is as follows.  Ms Kelly is not stupid.  I would not dare to engage her in a debate, just as I would not debate Mr. Stewart.  Both of these individuals are extremely bright and intelligent people.  The statement by Ms. Kelly that Jesus and Santa Claus are/were White could easily be defended, if one felt that the issue was important enough to need defending.  Jesus, born in what is now Palestine, probably looked a great deal like Palestinians look today according to most scholars who deal with that area.  While one could hardly call Jesus and Palestinians Nordic, the fact is that they are, by and large, White.  If a Palestinian walked up to a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Arkansas in the 1950’s and ordered a burger and fries he would have been served.  Of course there are nuances, and “White” has come to mean a great many things other than simply skin color.  Still the fact remains that within the broad, merely physiologic sense of the word, Jesus was White.

As to Santa Claus, this character was based upon an extremely generous person named Nicholas who lived in what is now Turkey in the fourth century and was probably ethnically Greek.  This ethnicity also falls into the category of “White” by physiologic criteria.  The mythical character with the unhealthy body mass index who somehow wriggles down chimneys, even in houses which do not have chimneys, has mostly been white too.  I don’t know how many hundreds of years that the Santa Claus myth has persisted but I would say that for at least 99.99% of that time Santa has been White.

If Ms. Kelly was saying that it is wrong to depict Santa as being other than White, or that there is some theological harm in portraying Jesus as being Black or Asian or Hispanic or Eskimo or anything else, I would disagree with her.  My Christian view is that all on Earth are made in the image of God, and Jesus is God, so any human on the planet is in the image of God.  Therefore, if Jesus appears to be Black to a Black person, Asian to an Asian person, etc., etc., that would be fine with me (and it doesn’t actually have to be fine with me, and I know that).  In the case that Ms. Kelly or anyone else was arguing the contrary  I would be willing to debate them, regardless of their intelligence or accomplishments.

The main problem for me is how very easy and natural it is to label those with whom we disagree stupid or worse.  That makes it much easier to dehumanize and then hate them.  We disagree with George W. Bush so we label him stupid.  Now we can hate him and no insult or injury to him can bother us in the least.  Or we may disagree with Barrack H. Obama and, since it is hard to call him stupid, we call him evil.  Now we can more easily hate him and no insult or injury to him will bother us as well.  The news media with journalists like Kelly, the quasi news media with commentators like Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews, and pseudo news media starring entertainers like Stewart, live on this division.  And when Congress shows itself bitterly divided with one side unable to work with the morons and dunderheads on the other side of the aisle, how are they different from all of the rest of us?

My summary position would be this:  We cannot as a nation hope to ever lift our society up while we call each other evil, stupid, racist, greedy, etc., and then go on about our own evil, stupid, racist and greedy business.  Labeling as stupid those with whom we merely disagree places them in the status of “the Other” whom we hate or exclude almost as a duty while feeling comfortably superior in the process.  I doubt that our nation will ever heal until it tires of such labeling and chooses to agree or disagree with each other in a more agreeable fashion.  As Jesus, whatever color he was or anyone would like for Him to have been said, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”  Reconciliation and peace were important to my Jesus, whom I would worship if He was a Martian.

I cannot change the actions of a single person in this nation, although I hope that at least one person will read this and consider if a more charitable opinion towards their opponents might be worth trying.  In the meantime I suppose that I will begin my campaign to change discourse in America on the only field where I have any leverage at all:  myself.

The Day the President came Calling

A great many of us can boast of having seen a celebrity at one time or another.  This is not surprising as our society is very good at generating celebrities.  Actors, politicians, business people, athletes, entertainers and multiple other areas of endeavor produce faces which we are all able to recognize in a crowd.  Just get together with a group of people and get the conversation going; soon you will be putting together a list of famous people who have passed before the collective eyes of the assembled throng.

In my sixty five years I can boast of seeing a small horde of people who could be googled and found to be of some significance.  President Dwight Eisenhauer,  the Beatles, the Rolling Stones (back when Jagger could move like Jagger), Gypsy Rose Lee, Joey Bishop, Bob Hope, Diana Ross and many others have fallen within my range of vision.  None of these, however, had anything like the impact which I received from seeing President John F. Kennedy.

An event such as this was not likely to be all that noteworthy to me, given the staunchly Republican nature of the home in which I grew up.  My father was actually more or less Republican and loved to annoy my mother with his luke-warmness.  He would also do the lukewarm thing with me in order to make me think about what I believed rather than simply receive it from my Mom.  My mother, on the other hand, lent a new richness to the term “staunch”.  The woman was so conservative that she would only fly in airplanes with two right wings.  As a consequence of this she travelled a lot on the bus.

When the presidential election of 1960 was approaching, our household was all about Richard Nixon.  Nixon had served two terms as vice president under Eisenhauer whom we revered, being a military family.  Nixon had gone toe-to-toe with Nikita Khrushchev in the ‘Kitchen Debates’ and not only skunked the Russian Premier but even earned his respect.  Khrushchev later stated that he instructed the Communist Party of the United States to do what little it could to get Kennedy elected, believing that he would have an easier time dealing with him than with Nixon.  Leonid Brezhnev was later to discover how accurate Mr. Khrushchev’s impression of Nixon was.

It was therefore inconceivable in my household that Kennedy could win the election.  Besides the fear that a Catholic president would take orders from the Pope there were other negatives in the eyes of my parents.  From my Dad’s point of view nobody who commanded a PT boat and allowed it to be sliced in half by a Japanese destroyer deserved anything other than a court martial.  This was like allowing a Corvette to be outmaneuvered and T-boned by a pick up truck.  Dad put it down to Kennedy getting off because he was a son of the Eastern royalty with all of it’s connections in the halls of the powerful.  There may be some truth to that, but it is also fair to point out that the Kennedys and the Bushes and a great many other sons of the notables stepped up then and placed themselves in harm’s way.  You don’t see much of that anymore.

My mother hated all Democrats on principle.  She wasn’t quite sure exactly what that principle was, but she used it to hate Democrats anyway.  Mom was fiercely independent and did not like to see the government take care of people who, in her opinion, were perfectly able to look after themselves.  Mom grew up in Hazard Kentucky during the Great Depression, and my grandfather worked in the mines or on the railroad, or repaired washing machines or sold men’s suits or generally did whatever he could do to keep the family fed and clothed.  My grandmother, according to Mom, was a wizard at making a little stretch far enough to keep the family out of the grip of extreme hunger.  Because my mother’s family eked their way through the Depression in this manner with nobody to help them, she reasoned that everybody else could do the same.  John F. Kennedy and the Democrats represented a different point of view, and that Mom could never forgive.

As the elections approached a great dread fell over the house.  Kennedy and Nixon were virtually tied in the polls.  Kennedy did well in the first ever presidential debate and his youth and beautiful wife and young family appealed to an America which had endured the depression and four years of hellish war in Europe and the Pacific.  We waited in nervous anticipation for the day when we would know if the nation was in good hands (Nixon) or on the road to perdition (Kennedy).

The day came, and went.  The election was virtually tied and day after day we waited as paper ballots were counted across the country.  Finally, when the dead voters of Chicago cast their ballots for the second and third times, Kennedy was declared the winner.  On an interesting side note, I have read that a few months later a reporter uncovered the extent of the ballot box stuffing in Cook County and elsewhere and proposed to go public with it.  Richard Nixon asked him not to do so.  Nixon and Kennedy personally liked each other and Nixon told the reporter that it would harm America to drag the thing out in that manner.  “For the good of the country” Nixon said, “let the thing stand as it is”.  Can you imagine such a thing happening today?

So Kennedy was elected President and the reign of Camelot began.  It was indeed a magical time.  We all fell in love with the elegant and beautiful First Lady and we also adopted Caroline and ‘John John’ as children of our own.  In spite of the President’s debilitating back pain that was a result of his war injuries he conveyed a sense of vigor that appealed to the new generation of citizens who were deciding to run the post-war country their own way.  We loved him so much that we forgave him for traveling all the way to the city of Berlin to declare to the world that he was ‘a jelly doughnut’.  He meant to say that he and everyone who identified with and stood with the citizens of Berlin during a particularly tense period in the cold war was in fact a citizen of that city.  Trying to say that in German, however, resulted in it being somewhat lost in translation.  In those days we allowed a President to commit a faux pas and not hound him to the grave with it.  The people of Berlin knew what he meant and so did we.

Because of all of this I was very excited when we heard that President Kennedy was scheduled to give the commencement address to the graduating class of San Diego State University.  I had seen President Eisenhauer years earlier,  when I had to climb up onto a rooftop in downtown San Diego in order to see over the crowd.  Now, the new President was coming and even my Mom showed a little interest in what he would have to say.  That was how it stood until the President’s itinerary was announced, and it was at that point that our interest in the event went through the roof.  The President would be riding in a motorcade up El Cajon Blvd. from some point downtown all the way to the college, a couple of miles in all.  My junior high school was located on the motorcade route, and I would be in class when he came by.

My school was not about to miss this opportunity to expose the student body to an event like a presidential visit.  For me however it just got better.  I was in the Boy’s Chorus that year, initially as a piano accompanist.  My disappointing musical aptitude and general laziness soon resulted in me  singing in the bass section where I performed reasonably well.  That year we were singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in the city competition and it was a perfect match to be singing this patriotic song for the President.

Accordingly on June 6, 1963, the day of the presidential visit, risers were put into place on the lawn of our school within spitting distance of the sidewalk.  We had rehearsed this song a gazillion times for the competition, but today we approached it with a fervor yet unheard from our Chorus.  We would only be singing the last stanza of the song and the refrain because the President would only be in front of us momentarily as he rolled slowly down the street towards the speech that he was here to deliver.

As the hour approached the student body was turned out onto the lawn and lined up in orderly ranks.  We of the Chorus filed out and took our places on the risers and the interminable wait began.  The wait, as it turned out, was indeed terminable and we could tell by the excited buzz which began to circulate among the students off to our left, and also by the divided actions of the teachers who were trying both to keep order and to contain their own excitement, that the President was getting close.  Our director, Mr. Julian, got our attention focused on the job at hand and we hummed our notes and prepared to sing.  Little did we know that we were preparing for an event that would impact our lives for as long as those lives would persist.  When the hood of the presidential convertible appeared in the street to our left we began to sing the familiar lines, and our voices swelled as HE came closer to our position.

Then the course of history changed.  The sun stood still in the sky.  The ‘O’ turned upside down.  The President of the United States of America; the most powerful person in the world, reached forward to tap his driver on the shoulder and said something to him.  The driver, in response, stopped the car.  President John Fitzgerald Kennedy then stood up in the back of that convertible and faced us while we sang that song and would not leave until we had completed it.

Some of us choked up but enough kept it together well enough that we sang that song better than we ever had before.  Mr. Julian, concerned that the performance of his career be perfect, was focused on us and not the street.  He was aware that something extraordinary was happening however and when we had held the last “amen” to a point of richness and power which he had not been able to wring out of us all semester he gave us the sign to cut.  Mr. Julian then turned and his jaw dropped.  President Kennedy couldn’t have been more than 30 feet away from him applauding his Boy’s Chorus.  At that point one of the secret service agents motioned for the motorcade to get underway and we saw the convertible begin to roll once again eastward down El Cajon Blvd.  Less than a mile in that direction is Hoover High School and we felt proud to learn that the President did not accord Hoover the same honor.  I am guessing that the secret service escorts suggested that he never pull that stunt again!

Six months later President John F. Kennedy would be lying in his grave in Arlington National Cemetery and shocked and unbelieving Americans would be mourning the loss of him as if he was a son of their own.  My Republican household cried that day and we comforted each other and looked for someone to hit back at because we felt individually attacked by that event.  A pathetic little loser who survived the assassination by only a couple of days was all we were given, although I am certain that the real story has never been and will never be told.

Still, to this day I cannot tell this story with dry eyes.  Something bigger than myself and my individual wants and issues happened that day.  The leader of much of the developed world and a good deal of that which was not developed stopped to hear some teenage boys sing a song of fire and death and struggle for the purpose of freedom.  It is one of my great satisfactions that I was able to be a little part of that.

Iraq is Back

I have just read a most interesting bit of news on the computer.  The Associated Press reports that the Iraqi government is interested in getting some American assistance it it’s struggle with al Qaeda in Iraq.  Violence in Iraq has been escalating since the American military left in 2011 and has returned to the levels of the bad old days at the height of the U.S. military era in Iraq.  The government realizes that their resources are not adequate to squash the al Qaeda insurgency and that the last time that violence in Iraq was under control was when the American forces and their intelligence and advisor resources were available to help the Iraqi military and police.  This request, if it is truly as it was reported in the newspaper, represents a domestic and foreign policy nightmare for President Obama.

Barack Obama ran his first presidential campaign on promises to be the opposite of George W. Bush in every way.  Departing Iraq, closing Guantanamo Bay, and focusing on victory in Afghanistan were prominent features of that campaign.  Shortly after the election President Obama made a speech in Cairo in which he reached out to Muslims, which in itself is not a bad thing, and he embraced the “Arab Spring” early in the game.  We now see a new dynamic all across that region.  U.N. (read ‘mostly American’) troops are set to begin leaving Afghanistan and everyone on the planet knows that it will return to the status of a Taliban-run haven for international terrorists and a place of oppression of women on a scale that makes my skin crawl.  Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, is now governed by islamists, and moderate politicians there tend to get shot.  Libya is a nightmare, and the most inept leadership and bureaucratic non-cooperation since Jimmy Carter resulted in a murdered ambassador and several other dead embassy employees.  Egypt is in near meltdown, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula projects terror from Yemen in multiple directions, and the civil war in Syria now features prominently al Qaeda who are jockeying for primacy in that movement and are cooperating with Iraqi al Qaeda to foment terror and unrest throughout both countries.

The President has a horrible mess to deal with.  He is not stupid, and knows that a Middle East in flames is not good for the U.S. or the rest of the world.  President Obama also knows that his own support base would go ballistic if he even considered reintroducing military personnel into Iraq, and that would distract and possibly derail his agenda for the rest of his presidency.  At the same time it would not look well in the president’s presidential history to see Iraq dissolve with the Kurds breaking free, the largely Shi’a east and south joining Iran, and the Sunni areas becoming a lawless zone much like Somalia or what Afghanistan is poised to return to.

I wonder if President Obama is up to this challenge?  I would wonder this about any president.  If there is one clear, safe policy path here I don’t see it.  A reintroduction of advisors and intelligence services would be the lowest impact with the highest reward from the American perspective, but when advisors begin to get killed by al Qaeda moles how long will the support base of the president keep silent?  And when the whole Middle East goes up in flames the President will eventually be graded poorly for it’s having happened on his watch regardless of what he could or could not do about it.

I am glad that I do not hold that position, and I feel for the man who does.  As the new presidential cycle begins after the fall elections I encourage everyone to evaluate carefully the candidates.  Anyone who really, really wants that job is probably, by definition, unfit for it.