The Quicksand of War

We have been trapped in the quicksand of war, and we need someone to help us escape.

War is a tricky thing. Unless one side wins with overwhelming force, the defeated must be reintegrated into society with some sort of dignity intact. Unless this occurs, a conflict may go underground, subterranean, until something reinvigorates the battle. That’s why generals talk about “mission creep” and inclusion. For example, the humiliation of the German people after World War I, and the exorbitant reparations, inevitably contributed to World War II. That’s why a non-inclusive Shiite government in Iraq led to the rise of Isis.

When wars reinforce long-standing splits in society, the process can become even more intractable. In fact, the complete withdrawal of American troops in Iraq may not have been so foolhardy after all. Only by getting out completely could we ensure our removal from the splits in that country; schisms started centuries ago will last centuries into the future.

Today, the New York Times reported about increased American involvement in reinforcing Afghan troops against the Taliban. Supposedly limited to force protection and counter-terrorism operations, the residual American army has started to actively fight against the Taliban again. The Taliban have been making steady gains in the territory under their control and are on the verge of taking over a provincial capital in the country.

Afghanistan has become famous as the place where empires go to die. And we will not be able to stand there as spectators as the Taliban increases its control. We have been trapped in the quicksand of war, and we need someone to help us escape.

Structural Unemployment

We really do better when a rising tide lifts all boats, not just the yachts.

The persistence of structural employment lies at the heart of so much of the tragedy in places like Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, yet the news media neglects to cover and analyze it because that would involve a more in-depth discussion of what ails us as a society, and it is not amenable to a 30-second or even 15-minute sound byte.

Many of the advantaged people in our society persist in believing their own efforts, and those efforts alone, contribute to their success. And because many of the “movers and shakers” in our society made it through hard work, they believe if others just acted similarly, the results would be the same.

Structural unemployment, not a difficult concept to master, means some people are trapped by our changing society and are unable to climb out of poverty. Without any money coming in, households become stressed, and the men feel unable to fulfill their most elemental responsibilities: looking after their families. This reality decimates the African-American family structure at the best, and at the worst leads to a life in prison and habitual recidivism.

When people are trapped, they lash out in despair, and incidents similar to the rioting in Baltimore, as counterproductive as it seems, occur with increasing regularity. The effects may seem indirect, but the increasing inequality of wealth distribution in today’s economy, impacts the bottom third of our society with devastating force.

We really do better when a rising tide lifts all boats, not just the yachts.

Catholic Church and Climate Change

When even the Pope is speaking out against your policy, it can get very lonely out there.

It’s hard for a Catholic to go up against the Pope, and that’s why conservatives in the U.S. Congress are so upset about Pope Francis and his support of a climate change treaty during the upcoming negotiations in Paris. These conservatives are probably the last governmental group in the world to reject the wisdom of scientific measurements, not to mention the disappearing glaciers in our polar regions. And even these conservatives feel obliged to admit that “they are not scientists” when prefacing remarks on this subject.

Now, however, Pope Francis will be preparing an encyclical about stewardship of the environment, and he has met with key climate change experts in advance. And, in a particularly ironic twist, he has been invited by John Boehner to address the Congress when he will certainly address the subject.

The Pope’s leadership on this topic will have even more influence in Latin American countries, now expressing a willingness to join with the rest of the world with their own sacrifices. U.S. conservatives will find themselves completely isolated from the rest of the world in their denial of climate change science. They are already starting to say that the Pope has been “misled” by climate change scientists.

At this point, it’s hard to say what could possibly make conservatives change their mind. When even the Pope is speaking out against your policy, it can get very lonely out there.

One Act of Nature Away?

Each day suddenly becomes a struggle for sheer survival, to the extent where the next glass of water becomes an all-consuming search.

The fury and destructive power of earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires and hurricanes easily dwarf any man-made disasters, and they should humble us as a species even while we make every effort to help the afflicted. The recent earthquake in Nepal represents a prime example.

The tragedy of this event involves its geographical impact as well as the scope of its devastation. Nepal is one of the poorest nations on Earth, and many of its dwellings are built out of little more than straw and bricks. To watch these edifices come tumbling down on top of their inhabitants leaves one with a helpless empathy for these victims.

Of course, the international community is providing assistance as quickly as possible, and protocols have been developed to assist in organizing the initial steps such as the search for people still alive among the rubble. In a matter of days, however, the mission will shift from search-and-rescue to a focus on keeping the survivors alive.

Just think for a moment if this happened to you. Your house crumbled, so you have none of your possessions. Each day suddenly becomes a struggle for sheer survival, to the extent where the next glass of water becomes an all-consuming search. You have no medicine nor do the people all around you. It quickly becomes survival of the fittest.

And we are all just one act of nature away from being in the same circumstances.

Black and White

… when we grew up, the typical policeman appeared like a guest at Mr. Rogers Neighborhood: a well-meaning neighbor deserving of respect for a very difficult job.

We are all the product of our upbringing and our environment. And the experiences of the African-American community differ markedly from the rest of us in both respects.

Most of us whites are unable to comprehend why many blacks cheered at the exoneration of O.J. Simpson for what seemed to be blatant murder. Or for the current uproar in the African-American community at violent police actions in their midst.

That’s because when we grew up, the typical policeman appeared to be like a guest at “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood:” a well-meaning neighbor deserving of respect for a very difficult job. We typically say “Good morning, Officer,” when we pass the police on the street as well as considering their honesty and uprightness a suitable model for our children.

Blacks experience the police in a very different way. They watch their friends get picked up or harassed for no apparent reason, frequently ending up in jail for extended terms compared to their white counterparts who may just receive probation for the same offense.

In defense of the police, patrolling black neighborhoods often involves extensive risks and increased confrontation that has killed many of their fellow officers. That doesn’t excuse the police actions, and hopefully they can be resolved by steps such as sensitivity training and dashboard cameras.

But as our fellow black citizens take to the streets in protest, we must also realize the legitimacy of their complaints and the weariness they feel in what has become a much too frequent storyline: members of their community dying before their rightful time for no apparent reason.

An Apology from the Commander-in-Chief

Drone attacks save us from more costly ground operations, both in terms of financing and loss of life.

It’s unusual to hear the President apologize for anything, and even more so to see a display of actual remorse, but that’s what happened yesterday, and it says something good about this President and our exceptional government.

The killing of two hostages in a Pakistani terrorist safe house may have been inevitable; surveillance is not an exact science, and our drone program even more so. But the elimination of top Al Qaeda operatives represents a national security priority, and these individuals were an unavoidable casualty of war. There was nothing wrong with our intelligence; it was a safe harbor for our enemies; in fact, they kept hostages there primarily as a human shield from drone attacks.

Nevertheless, the honesty of President Obama is refreshing, and after all this time as Commander-in-Chief, he has not lost his sense of humanity and concern. The President deserves nothing but praise for his counter-terrorism operations, and he may have prevented another 9/11 through his constant pressure, and yes, even decimation of core Al Qaeda.

Drone attacks save us from more costly ground operations, both in terms of financing and loss of life. We may not get it 100 percent right all the time, but unlike many other nations, we admit our errors and even publicize them as the President did yesterday. We may need additional protocols to prevent this kind of situation from happening again, but that doesn’t mean the whole drone program should be constrained in any major way.

Saudi Air Strikes and Public Opinion

As Yemen swirls into a humanitarian disaster, Saudi Arabia seems ambivalent about how to proceed. Earlier this week, they declared an end to their air strikes and seemed to yield to the Obama administration’s stated preference for a negotiated solution. Yesterday, they gave their operation a new name and seemed to endorse the idea of air strikes again.

The problem, of course, for any air battle involves the limited number of stationery targets for the planes to strike. In a dirt poor country like Yemen, the infrastructure is creaky at best and, in most cases, non-existent. So without any ground forces to mop up after air operations, the insurgent forces can simply stay indoors or otherwise limit the ability of fast flying jets to find anything worthwhile.

The United States is facing similar limitations against ISIS, and the majority of its sorties come back without having dropped their bombs.

The United States is facing similar limitations against ISIS, and the majority of its sorties come back without having dropped their bombs.

Moreover, a sense of pan-Arab nationalism remains in the region, and the pain Saudis are inflicting on innocent Arab civilians may have played into the short-lived ceasefire. Arabs fighting Arabs is more difficult to justify than Arabs against Iran. And the limited effectiveness of the strikes in any case must be factored into the public relations war.

How the turmoil in Yemen plays out remains to be seen, but this inconsequential country may cause the entire region to explode, not the intended result for the Saudis or the United States.

The Commonality of Immigration

Immigrants everywhere have one thing in common. They are making a bold move to change their lives and are risking everything for the sake of future generations.

There’s not so much difference between the hundreds who drowned trying to reach Europe and those filtering through our southern border. They are both trying to get to a better place and are often taken advantage of by those in relative positions of power.

We have been blessed with a more secure life thanks to people who were immigrants themselves many years ago.

Of course, the citizens of the targeted country often resist the immigrants, try to ship them back and/or engage in all kinds of vitriol at their efforts. While such an attitude is commonplace, we must resist the urge to target the immigrants with our anger.

We have been blessed with a more secure life thanks to people who were immigrants themselves many years ago. And nations such as the United States have the economic capacity to give immigrants the jobs no one else wants to do.

Of course, we should make some effort to control the movement of people across borders. But when the problem becomes endemic, there are other solutions to stop the flow. Inevitably, we should focus on the nations they are fleeing from to try and stem the tide. These nations offer so little hope, they are encouraging immigrants to risk all for a better life.

No one wants to be an immigrant. But, hey, let’s show a little Christian compassion for those who are.

Zarif Editorial in New York Times

The New York Times continues to be the newspaper of record for the international community, and I think its readers were shocked this morning to see a letter from Mohammad Zarif, the chief Iranian negotiator, in the op-ed page. The letter takes the form of a plea as well as a defense of the Iranian position.

Zarif writes about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program and calls the situation a “manufactured” crisis. By doing so, he tries to absolve Iran of any complicity in its push for nuclear weapons, made evident by the use of a greater number and sophistication of centrifuges than ever needed for a power plant.

Zarif tries to frame the negotiations as a choice between “agreement and coercion” and addresses the turmoil afflicting the entire Persian Gulf region. His proposal for a United Nations summit to deal with the conflicts belies the number of troops inserted by Iran in other nations, most notably Iraq and Yemen. Zarif tries to frame the negotiations as a choice between “agreement and coercion.”

Zarif tries to frame the negotiations as a choice between “agreement and coercion” …

So what are we to make of this missive in The New York Times? How much does Zarif really believe what he writes?

It’s easy to dismiss these types of letters as propaganda, but I think some valid Iranian beliefs do peek through. It’s always a useful enterprise to try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and one does see an Iranian concern for security amid the affliction of sanctions. And a desire to re-enter the international community.

One hopes U.S. policymakers will read between the lines of this editorial and find useful leverage to conclude an agreement.

Iran Workaround and Dysfunctional Senate

As Iran continues to insist all the sanctions must be lifted immediately if it complies with a new framework for a deal, the President and his negotiating team are scrambling to incorporate this requirement into the final negotiations. They are taking a logical approach by asking themselves the reason for a phased lifting of sanctions and whether it can be achieved in some other way.

The idea of a snap-back of sanctions should Iran be caught cheating on the deal seems to be the most promising approach. Easy re-imposition of the sanctions could take the place of a phased lifting while still giving Iran the possibility of asserting they made a good deal. Whether Iran or Secretary Kerry was misinterpreting the framework is irrelevant provided a deal is reached.

The new need for Congressional approval looms over the negotiations like a sword of Damocles. Whether the Senate has the gumption to reject an executive agreement with another

The new need for Congressional approval looms over the negotiations like a sword of Damocles.

nation remains to be seen, but there are certain prerogatives for the President that are still honored. For example, the Senate will eventually confirm Loretta Lynch as the new Attorney General despite all the unnecessary fuss about immigration and unrelated legislation.

Despite all the ado, I think the President will persist and achieve an agreement with Iran, including the lifting of sanctions by the Congress. Because the alternative is war, and the Republican Party desperately wishes to avoid that.