Sunday, October 18, 2015

“Et Tu, Kissinger!” & Other Entertaining Stories

From left to right, Heads of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, Armenian President Serge Sarkisian, Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev, pose for a photo during a Commonwealth of Independent States, former Soviet republics, summit in Astana, Kazakhstan  Photo: AP
DDGD – October 17, 2015

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Today’s Post is brought to you by: Futurists Anonymous – a self-help group for those who consistently fail to predict the past while trying vainly to replicate the future.

Editorial Comment

Even Kissinger seems to have lost his acumen, as his recent recommendations on how to chart a “path out of the Middle East collapse,” fall flat and seem more laden with wishful thinking than real insight.

Indeed, by claiming that the “destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad,” Mr. Kissinger shows little understanding of the causal connection between them. By declaring that the United States and Russia have compatible objectives in Syria, and admonishing Russia to limit “its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign” in order to “avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.,” he shows how completely he misunderstands Putin’s motives, a man who, after weeks of aerial strikes, is yet to mount any serious attack on ISIS held territories. Finally, to speak of “an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders, at a time when it is clearly showing that it is quite unwilling to embark on such a path and has in fact been rewarded for its aggressive behavior, is totally delusional.   

But it’s clear that Mr. Kissinger has written this piece of his more out of a desire to be seen at this stage rather than heard. For he is intelligent enough to know that no one in the current administration is willing to act at this stage, and that, as a result, the next administration will have to deal with a radically different and worse scenario.
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Even if we examine things from an amoral realpolitik perspective, we will find that Assad is too mediocre to be the kind of necessary evil for whom we can settle. So argues Amir Taheri is this excellent analysis: No, Bashar Al-Assad is no Joseph Stalin.

The Surreal Adventures of Pu Bear

Ignore at your own peril: In its usual succinct style, the Economist stresses an important point about Obama and his team which I have been making for a while:
Alas, there is a flaw in this doctrine. What happens when Team Obama is sure that a policy is smart, but the rest of the world reads it as weak? Correcting an impression of weakness can also be a national interest. Nobody is asking Mr Obama to embrace Richard Nixon’s “Madman Theory”, feigning craziness to keep foes off-balance. But not every foreign leader shares his definition of rationality. Ignoring that does America, and its allies, no favours.
In another article, the Economist argues another point that I have made repeatedly before, namely that “democracy and markets” are “the route to peace and prosperity.” Indeed, I have always believed that the abandonment of the Freedom Agenda was the biggest mistake made by the Obama Administration.
Mr Obama’s wish that other countries should share responsibility for the system of international law and human rights will work only if his country sets the agenda and takes the initiative—as it did with Iran’s nuclear programme. The new game will involve tough diplomacy and the occasional judicious application of force.
Meanwhile, the powers that are contesting America’s dominant position in the world remain committed to autocratic values. Democracies and autocracies can have détentes but never peace.

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The existence of more sophisticated SAMs in Syria is seen as “extremely dangerous” by Former Navy chief Lord West.
ISIL doesn't have any aircraft that it's using and I'm sure Russia doesn't intend to shoot down Syrian government aircraft so one must wonder: why exactly are they there?
Perhaps it’s about time we faced reality: Russia’s move into Syria is not some short-lived misadventure. One way or another Putin intends to establish a Russian-controlled enclaved on the Mediterranean coast, and the SAMs are there to secure it.

Still, some analysts doesn’t think it likely that Russia and the U.S. will get into an aerial combat in Syrian air, seeing that, even the most advanced Russian fighters, the Su-34 Fullback multirole fighter jet and Su-30 Flankers, are still no match for American fighters, thanks to a certain million dollar spy. But it’s the Russian SU-25 Frogfoots that are seeing more action in Syria at this stage.

However, according to a report produced by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), “Russia’s military reforms have been misunderstood and its capabilities underestimated by the United States and Europe.” Indeed, the report argues that, since the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, “when the U.S.-trained Georgian forces proved a much more agile and motivated adversary than expected,” Moscow
…initiated the most far-reaching military (the “new look”) reforms since the 1930s divided up into three distinct phases…
First, increasing professionalism by overhauling the education of personnel and cutting the number of conscripts; second, improving combat-readiness with a streamlined command structure and additional training exercises; and third, rearming and updating equipment.
The United States and Europe primarily focused on the third and still mostly incomplete aspect of these reforms, neglecting the substantial progress that was made in the first and second phases.
In regard to Putin’s move in Syria, the report notes that it does “not draw on the core strengths of the armed forces, or on Moscow’s military vision.”

But even with its reliance when it comes to ground operations, on Iranian troops, Hezbollah and other Shia militias as well as the remnants of pro-Assad troops and militias, there are those, namely President Obama, who doubt that ground offensive could work in Syria, because Iran and Russia “are trying to support a regime that in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people is not legitimate."

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But Old Vlad’s problems are not limited to Syria and Ukraine these days, as his announcement of a Russia-led Central Asian military force meant “to secure the borders in Central Asia” shows. For the threat he and these states are facing here comes once more from Afghanistan, specifically, from a potential Taliban “spillover.”
…the deployment raises the possibility of Russian and allied troops being deployed along Tajikistan’s 800-mile border with Afghanistan, and Moscow tightening its influence of governments in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Is this another move towards imperial restoration? Or, is Pu Bear biting, yet again, more than he can chew, or swallow? Obama will place his bets on the second possibility, as it will save him from the need to act. But, although this will be the wrong place, again, Obama might be right in assessing that Putin is overreaching. Yet, the problem with overreachers is that the fallouts of their overreaching are seldom limited to themselves and their countries, something to which Obama is oblivious, wittingly or unwittingly, or indifferent, out of his naïve believe that America will be safe no matter what.   

Milk & Honey, with a dash of garlic

Stabbed Israeli Jew mistaken for Arab criticises violence: ‘We are all equal,’ says Uri Rezken, wounded in vigilante attack, and it is a hate crime regardless of whether an Arab or a Jew stabs him.

But, once again, I have to say that this is not the right time for an intifada, especially not at a time when Israelis and Saudis are holding secret talks over combatting Iran’s growing influence in the region. It’s not in the interests of the Palestinians to have their beleaguered territories used as another theater of the ongoing regional proxy war.

Jihadopolis


Islamic State gunman kills five at Shi'ite centre in Saudi Arabia. The Islamic State continues to metastasize in Syria and the wider region spreading with it its brand of mayhem.

According to the Justice Department, the metastasization process involved amounts to “crowdsourcing of terrorism,” which represents “a new phenomenon — and a real threat” to national security.
"Hackers a world away can intrude into our homes with the push of a button, to steal from us, to gather intelligence that can be used against us, and even to try hurt or kill us," John Carlin said at the Roger Williams University Law School in Providence, Rhode Island.
But it’s not all good news for terrorists, as a U.S. drone strike near the town of Dana in northern Syria seems to have killed a top commander of Al-Qaeda’s local affiliate in Syria, Al-Nusra Front.

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UNESCO has said yes to the Cultural Blue Helmets,” Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said in a statement, adding that 53 countries voted in favour after the destruction of sites including Palmyra in Syria by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.
“Faced with ISIS terrorist attacks and the terrible images of Palmyra, the international community cannot stand back and watch,” he said, adding that the permanent members of the Security Council had supported the idea.
So, the UN has finally decided on a limited intervention in Syria, and it’s to protect rocks, not people. Although I am a firm believer in the value of these particular rocks, and have no problem at all with seeing IS leaders, planners and executioners buried deep under some of them, I still cannot but notice the irony and cynicism involved in this development. 

Islam on the Rocks


Ibn Taymiyyah was a puritan, of this there is no doubt. But he was obsessed with ‘adalah: justice. Indeed, in a famous fatwa of his he proclaimed that “God would support even the infidel state if it were just, and would damn the believing state if it were unjust.” To Ibn Taymiyyah, then, there was no correlation between faith and justice, and justice was seen as a superior attribute for states to have.

In its essence, this is actually a very secular position, one that continues to fly in the face of the prevalent belief system among Muslims, Sunnis and Shia alike.   

Ibn Taymaiyyah’s teachings reflected the turmoil of his time, and one of the main problems of Muslim thinkers throughout Islam’s history is their tendency to decontextualize the teachings of everybody, from the Prophet to Ibn Taymiyyah to your average contemporary fatwa-machine and pundit. As a puritan, Ibn Taymiyyah himself was prone to this as well. Still, his anti-Sufi, anti-Shia, anti-Alawite, anti-philosophy stands and fatwas came as a result of his other obsessions: stability and ignorance.

Indeed, his vapid denunciation of Shia and Alawites came at a time when several Shia-led rebellions and uprisings were taking place in Syria, Iraq and the Gulf. His anti-Sufi fatwas came in response to its growing association with a variety of superstitious and esoteric, if not downright farcical, beliefs, even by the standards of that time. This led to a rise of veritable cults where leaders preyed on the credulity of their followers and fleeced the flock. By denouncing Shiism, Sufism and philosophy whole, stock and barrel, and lumping the learned and ignorant, Ibn Taymiyyah was behaving like all puritans, he thought he was attacking the problem at its source.

This does not justify Ibn Taymiyyah’s fatwas. It simply provides a much needed context. If we want to understand our history and learn from it, dogmatic attacks on this or that figure will not do. We need to be far more objective than that. We need to analyze and contextualize.

The Mu’tazilites, the originators of a school of Islamic thought that flourished between the 8th and 10th centuries, were famous contextualizers.  They even examined the Qur’an as a book of its time, and refused to take everything in it as suitable for all times and places. A revival and modernization of their critical methodology might be the key to triggering a modern Islamic enlightenment. At least, this is what some contemporary Muslim scholars, like the late Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid, believe. But such efforts are still in their embryonic phase. As the fate of Abu Zaid himself demonstrates, the inability to have an open public debate on the issues and the rebel-rousing that takes place when an attempt at a debate is made, is definitely not helping. For now, the halls of academe seem to offer the only refuge for those interested in objectively assessing the history of Islam and its teachings.

Refugenics

*** DDGD Glossary ***

Migraint: a new medical condition currently observed in Europe consisting of a particularly acute migraine. Scientists have noted a correlation between the spread of Migraint and the rise of the Migrants and Refugees Crisis. Further studies are needed to confirm this observation. Meanwhile doctors recommend a diet consisting of Cognac and tolerance to alleviate the symptoms of this potentially chronic condition.
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No smoke and mirrors please. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants her European colleagues to help her tackle “the root causes” of the refugee crisis “over the long term.” “We will do our part but we can’t do this alone,” Merkel said on Friday. “The challenge is not to seal ourselves off when we are living in a globalized world.”

Meanwhile the game of dungeons and dragons that refugees have to play continues to unfold in the usual humiliating way, with migrants and refugees streaming into Slovenia on Saturday, “diverted overnight by the closure of Hungary's border with Croatia,” Hungary having appointed itself as the protector of “Christian values” in Europe.

Quote of the Day

“A doubtful friend is worse than a certain enemy. Let a man be one thing or the other, and we then know how to meet him.” Aesop (with special forward to President Obama)

Tweets of the Day
The No-Fly Zone: Comments, statements & policies that just make no sense (i.e. they don’t fly)


Video(s) of the Day

In 5 minutes

The war in Syria explained in five minutes | Guardian Animations (September 18, 2013)
Understanding the Syrian crisis in 5 minutes (April 30, 2014)
Syria’s War: A 5-Minute History (October 16, 2015)

Artistic Delirium

Today, social media was abuzz with news of the passing of the well-known Syrian Kurdish painter Omar Hamdi, better known as Malva. Malva has been living in Vienna, Austria, since 1978.  http://www.omarhamdimalva.com/

Revolutionary by Malva
Cartoons



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