Tag Archives: Foreign Policy

A Time to Love and a Time to Hate

“You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5: 43-45.

Jesus tells us in pretty plain language that we are to love those who persecute us and whom we would consider to be our enemies.  That is a fine principle to live by, and I admire those who are able to comply with it.  If we would do more enemy loving and a lot less enemy hating the world would be a much better place, in theory.  And this is where faith comes into the picture, for me at least, because I do not see how such a thing could possibly work in “real life”.  Here is where it is really hard to listen to Jesus Christ, and not do what is right in my own eyes.  Here, as they say, is where the rubber meets the road.

Because I hate my enemies.  Oh, I live in a small city that is virtually a bedroom community for the big city across the river.  I get along well enough with my neighbors; the few with whom I interact at all.  And at work there are a few people who covet my lead position, and therefore are inclined to say things about me behind my back that they would never say to my face.  I don’t really care about that though; the world’s not perfect and I know it, and don’t expect it to be.  I will retire soon and then those people can have my position with my blessing, if our employer agrees to appoint one of them or the other.  These people are a far cry from being my enemies, and I do pray for them regularly.

So I have a pretty well-cushioned life.  Nobody wants my life or property badly enough to do anything drastic to take them.  Nobody is sufficiently annoyed by my politics to want to eliminate my voice and my vote.  And nobody is offended by my unashamed acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior.  I have Muslim and Buddhist acquaintances, and others who do not care about religion enough to even think about it, with whom I have warm relations and who I am always happy to chat with and with whom I would even share a glass of wine or two, if it is permissible in their religion to do so.  We are people who think differently, but who are far from hating each other.

But I do have enemies, and I hate them.  You have probably heard of some of these enemies, and some you probably have not.  ISIS, al-Qaeda, Janjaweed, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Pakistanis who use that nation’s anti blasphemy laws to torture, rob and kill Christians, the Sinaloa Cartel, Gente Nueva, Gulf Cartel and the Zetas.  The Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Brotherhood, Westboro Baptist; the list could go on and on.

Why do I consider them enemies?  There is very little chance that a member of any one of these groups will ever intersect with my life.  I might someday be on a plane that some underwear bomber brings down, or be in a restaurant where some brain-dead jihadi detonates a suicide vest.  And maybe I will be robbed and killed by a junkie seeking money to support his habit, a habit fueled by drugs funneled north by some Mexican cartel.  But the odds of this are probably a good deal less than that I will be struck by a car while out walking or have a second heart attack that will finish the job left undone by the first.  So why do I hate these people?

I hate the violence and evil that they perpetrate in what was intended to be God’s perfect world.  I hate that Christians are tortured and killed in Pakistan for personal gain or the settling of a grudge by relying on its anti blasphemy law.  I hate those people who crucify, shoot or behead Christians in Iraq and Syria.  These same people capture and sell women and girls of the Christian, Yazidi and Shi’a communities to be ‘married’ to violent men or used as sexual slaves.

I hate the Janjaweed for riding in from the desert and killing and raping darker-skinned African farmers and herdsmen and burning their villages.  I hate Boko Haram for kidnapping women and children and killing an burning everybody and everything else.  I hate the LRA for kidnapping children to make soldiers for its  pathetic “army”, and kidnapping girls to give pleasure to these young “soldiers”.  I hate the people who manufacture, transport and sell meth, cocaine and heroin in their various forms; drugs which destroy lives by the hundreds of thousands or more every year.  And I hate people who hate other people because of the color of their skin no matter what that color might be, or to whom other people  might be attracted sexually.  These very real people inflict very real pain and loss and death and oppression on other very real people.  I read the news.  I try to be aware of my world.  I know these things happen, and God help me, I hate the people who are responsible.

So I go to the Bible and history and seek the answer to my dilemma which I would state as “How do I love the people who viciously and mercilessly murder and oppress others”?  I don’t find a lot that helps me.  Jesus took Peter’s sword away when he tried to prevent Jesus’ arrest.  Jesus later walked meekly to the flogging post and then to the cross.  Peter, Paul, Stephen, and a multitude of Christ followers in the first three hundred years after Christ were martyred for their faith.  Of course, Christianity eventually ‘won’ that contest when Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire, although some theologians and scholars debate whether that event marked a win or a loss for the faith.  But still I find little there that helps me with my problem.

I find that I must ultimately rely on faith to temper the hostility that I feel for these enemies.  I must believe that God is in control of His creation and that nothing happening on earth takes Him by surprise.  When God says through Paul “If God is for us, who is against us?—Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”  I have to believe that He means it.  God loves us, and nothing that the evil in the world can do to us will separate us from that love, and that when the final curtain comes down we whom the Lord has chosen (whoever that might be, and that’s another big topic) will be in glory with Him, and all tears will be dried and all hurts healed and all loss restored.

So fine.  I believe that.  All will be as it should be then.  But what about now?  Try as I might to be more merciful, I am glad when a drone strike takes out an ISIS or Taliban commander.  I mourn the Jewish victims of the recent terror attack in Paris but I do not care about the life of the Muslim attacker.  I read about a turf war between Mexican drug cartels, with headless victims showing up everywhere, and I think ‘good riddance’.  How do I get away from that hate?  I don’t want to feel it.  I want instead to be a sincere follower of Jesus.  He said to love my enemies, and then He showed us how to do it, and what it could cost.

Somehow I must arrive at a position which many in the Yoder/Hauerwas?Volf camp of nonviolent Christians would say is a contradiction and impossible to support, and that is to support relentless resistance to the evil perpetrated by these people, which would take the  form of military action or aggressive law enforcement.  While wrestling with my own heart to cease hating the perpetrators of these hideous crimes, I will support resistance, even to the point of killing the perpetrators before they can kill more victims and incarcerating those captured alive, so that they will never work their evil on innocent victims again.

This is not a perfect resolution to my dilemma.  I shall probably wrestle with this until the day that I die.  I take no joy in hating anybody; joy and hate make for a poor partnership.  With God’s help I will slowly become more conformed to His will, and perhaps I will be given wisdom to see the issue more clearly.  God help me, this is where I stand right now.

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What To Do About Hostages

I have recently read that an American hostage held by al-Qaeda somewhere in Yemen was killed during the attempted military strike that, it was hoped, would free him.  A subsequent story in the news suggested that al-Qaeda intended to kill that hostage on the same day as the raid anyway.  Whether or not that story is true or simply an attempt to cover for a rescue mission that failed I don’t know.  I contend that it really doesn’t matter; that when an American citizen becomes a hostage of al-Qaeda or any organization like it, that person should from that moment on be considered to be dead.

This is a harsh proposal, I know.  We always prefer to hope for the best all the way to the end of the line, whether it is a hostage held by ISIS or a patient fighting cancer or any other lost cause that can only find a happy ending if a miracle occurs.  One has to face reality however.  Once an American becomes a hostage of al-Qaeda or ISIS or any other such organization there is almost no chance that they will be returned alive to their families and their former lives.  At lease it hasn’t happened yet.  On many occasions I have seen the parents of hostages make televised appeals for mercy, only to have their son or husband murdered horribly within a few weeks or days of that plea.

The problem is that these groups who kidnap and murder American and other hostages do not exhibit the quality of mercy.  I don’t know if this is a result of al-Qaeda and ISIS, et. al., being or claiming to be Islamic or not.  I do not know what the Koran or any other authoritative writings or traditions of Islam say about the treatment of enemies.  I have read that some important Islamic clerics have very publicly taught that the actions of ISIS in particular are un-Islamic from the standpoint of prisoners and civilians in captured territories.  Whatever the reality is in that matter, these militant organizations have nothing resembling “love your enemy” in their theological or ideological worldview, and so televised appeals for mercy by tearful wives and mothers are not only wasted on these groups but probably give them some kind of sadistic pleasure.

With all of that in mind I propose that the following policy be adopted by the government of the United States.  From the moment that an American is taken hostage anywhere in the world, all of the intelligence and unconventional assets of the U.S. military which are available will be bent towards the rescue of that person at the earliest possible moment.  Technical and human intelligence assets will fly over, intercept communications of, buy or otherwise sniff out all available information on where the hostages might be, and then any rescue which offers a reasonable chance of success will be attempted at the earliest practical moment.

“But wait,” you might say.  “Won’t that result in the bad guys killing the hostage sooner or at the first hint of a rescue attempt, even if it turns out not to be the real thing?”  Maybe so, but as I already have written, the hostages are as good as dead at the moment that they are taken, and I would personally prefer to be cut down by a hail of bullets rather than have my head sawn off on video so that the civilized world can watch the act.  “And what about the advantage to the bad guys of knowing that the rescue attempt is coming?” you might add.  It is true that American military forces would have to know with crystal clarity that they could be lured with false intelligence into an ambush.  This sort of vigilance would be a factor in all such operations and every imaginable precaution would have to be observed to minimize the risk of ambush and failure.  Still, the possibility of things going wrong can never be erased and military personnel are aware of this like nobody else.

I think that it would do the bad guys some good to lose a little sleep, wondering if the ‘snap’ that they hear outside at night is Seal Team Six.  Also, even if the hostages are not in a particular location which has been identified as a likely place of imprisonment, other bad guys probably are. With as much care as can possibly be taken to not inflict casualties upon the innocent civilians that this set of militants loves to hide behind, pinprick damage should be inflicted in order to make the kidnapping and murder of Americans a dangerous and costly proposition.

And then there is the possibility of success.  Imagine the joy of a family to whom a former hostage is returned, alive and well, and imagine the chagrin and blow to the morale of the bad guys as the nation rejoices while they bury a few more of their dead.  Of course, they will still thirst for American blood, but they’re doing that anyway and are not likely to change in any way, any time soon.

Finally I would encourage any U.S. citizen to not make themselves easy targets.  We are all hungry for news and most of us wish to see people who are suffering comforted, but Americans should step back and let other news and aid agencies do the front line work where the risk is highest.  And tourists should simply find other corners of the world in which to vacation.  I would like to see the Sphinx and the Ziggurat of Ur as much as the next person, but common sense says that the risk is simply not worth the reward.

The problem of hostages is a small one for America as a whole, but a huge one for American hostages.  When all reasonable expedients have been followed by Americans and yet some continue to find themselves enjoying the hospitality of al-Qaeda, et. al., the iron hammer should fall hard and with a certainty that hostages and captors alike can count on.

A Modest Proposal

It has been many months since the American people saw a wave of youthful illegal immigrants break upon our southern border.  Thousands upon thousands of children were swept up in the near vicinity of our borders and were warehoused in whatever large buildings were available to lay down a steel bed, a cot, or a pad on the floor.  There they passed their time, with virtually nothing to do as they sat idly biding their time while politicians fought over why they were here and what to do with them.  These children may still be in those soulless warehouses but we have moved our national attention on to weightier issues; ISIS, the midterm elections, the four-team NCAA football playoffs to name a few, so I don’t really know.

This status somewhere between life and death comes after a nearly two thousand mile trek in which rape is guaranteed, exploitation in all conceivable ways is assured, hunger, thirst, physical abuse and sometimes death are common.  The level of despair endured by parents that would induce them to entrust their precious children to the tender mercies of demonic ‘coyotes’ who run the immigrant railway from Central and South America through Mexico, and who then throw their children at the border like shooting a shotgun, figuring that a few might get through to burnish their coyote credibility, is a level of despair which I cannot even begin to assess.  I would do anything I could to alleviate this level of suffering, and I believe that there is a way that I can suggest to at least try to help some of the sufferers.  I can do that by making the following proposal.

The nation which consistently holds second place for sending immigrants towards ‘El Norte’ is El Salvador.  The reason is easy to see.  Crime and violence and hopelessness are the very bread that Salvadorans eat.  The power of violent street gangs, known as ‘Maras’, is far greater than that of the police and other government agencies which are tasked with ensuring tranquility and an environment in which a parent might raise his or her children and hope to enjoy their children’s families in their old age.  Sudden and purposeless death are regular visitors to Salvadoran households and cleaver and creative ways of dealing out public and painful deaths are common and even recreational activities for the Maras.  The government treats with the gangs in the same manner in which governments normally treat with other governments, and the police and law enforcement establishment are thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by the Maras.

This is couples with a government which discourages any foreign investors who might be foolish enough to try to engage in honest business (if there is such a thing) in El Salvador.  International business has virtually ceased trying to invest there, and take their business and their money elsewhere.  If I lived in El Salvador, I would try to make it to El Norte too.

My proposal is to examine whether or not it would make sense to offer to the people of El Salvador the opportunity to become an unincorporated territory of the United States in the same manner as Puerto Rico.  Under the U.S. legal system, even with it’s flaws, crime would be challenged head-on and an effective counter to the power of the Maras would at last be visible on the streets.  Realizing that the Maras are attractive to young people because opportunities for advancement are not available in other areas, a revamp of openness to foreign investment, plus investment from a Unites States which would no longer be foreign, would expand job opportunities and give young people jobs which do not include the possibility, nay probability, of dying a violent and premature death.  The infusion of input into the education system to train young people to fill the new jobs would also result in the production of Salvadoran jurists, educators, writers and scientists; people who would use their skills to benefit their people and, beyond them the world.

Is my idea sheer madness?  Possibly.  It is the result however of my revulsion that I feel when I consider the pain which Salvadoran parents must feel when they kiss their children goodbye and send them to hell in order to escape the even greater hell of remaining in El Salvador.  If I have the ability to help somebody and do not help them, I bring judgement upon my own head and richly deserve it.  What do you think?

What To Do About ISIS

The United States is leading a solid coalition in a war of air power against ISIS in the Middle East.  Our nation, which is often slandered by people around the world, is nevertheless the one taking the lead there.  China is absent, as is Russia.  India also is nowhere to be seen.  Brazil?  Not present.  Germany and Japan are restrained by post WW II constitutions which limit their overseas military activities.  Other Western and, importantly, some Arab states are adding small contingents of jets and pilots but it is America which is doing the heavy lifting.  Again.  But as troublesome as air power can be, there will be no ultimate victory unless an effective ground force takes the battle into the teeth of ISIS.

Therein lies the rub.  The Kurds, who field an effective and cohesive ground military force, have a limited scope.  They are not going to extend their military reach far outside of traditional Kurdish lands.  The Turks have given no indication that they intend to have anything to do with the chaos below their southern border; to the contrary, they have gone so far as to prevent Kurds from crossing that border into Syria to defend Kurdish territory in that fractured state.  The Syrian government’s military forces have been inadequate to wrest control of territory away from ISIS and Iraq has no functioning military to speak of.  No other Arab state seems at all willing to commit ground forces into the fray, and so ISIS will absorb the punishment delivered from the sky but will not be defeated.

The upshot of all of this is that the defeat of ISIS will require the insertion of ground forces from somewhere outside of Syria or Iraq and probably outside of anywhere else in the Middle East as well, and I see no likelihood that such a ground force could come from anywhere other than the United States of America.  Cobbling together a ground force including countries other than only the U.S. would require the coalition-building capabilities of a George H. W. Bush, and it would be to the credit of President Obama if he could accomplish such a feat.  Whether the President has the skill or the stomach for such a policy is not at all certain.  ISIS will be calculating that he does not.

Over the years I have grown weary of the criticism that my country has endured over it’s various foreign policy initiatives.   I accept that we are not perfect and that policy, tactical and strategic mistakes have occurred, but the thrust has always been to right a wrong, in my opinion.  As a result of that constant criticism, from within this country as well as without, I have been tempted to say “To heck with it.  Let’s return all American military personnel to American soil and let the world do what the world wants to do, and when the next earthquake or genocide or gobbling up of a weak state by a strong one comes along say “Go ask the Russians for help.”

But I can’t do that.  Russia and China and India don’t care if Yazidi men are slaughtered and the women are made sexual slaves (the real war on women).  No skin off of their nose.  Maybe there is no skin off of my nose either, but I know that we have the ability to stop it, and if we do not use than ability then I believe that we are complicit in the wrong itself.  That makes me a reluctant interventionist.  What about you?  Do you care about the victims of ISIS?  Do you care enough to do anything about it?  Am I wrong to care?  We should have a conversation about this.  We are talking not about abstractions but the lives of very real people.  That should mean something to us.

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.