Tuesday, December 8, 2015

And The Absurd Meets The Real

DDGD December 8, 2015

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Today’s Post is brought to you by…  The Absurdist Society: We raise hell and dull your senses, until that which seemed absurd become normal. Then we do it again.

The Delirica  

Sifting through my Twitter and Facebook news feeds, I cannot help but notice that all my colleagues who defend the Iran Deal have been busy ever since its signing sharing articles heavily critical of Saudi Arabia, noting its barbaric executions, crackdown on dissent, support of terrorist groups and its role in increasing regional instability. In addition to sharing these articles, they also add their own comments advocating a review of current U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia and other members of the GCC.

By doing this, these colleagues are, in fact, proving that Saudi officials were right all along about the significance of the deal, that it is indeed about taking sides, and it’s about the adoption of a radically different approach to the region, one that favors the rise of Iran and the fall of Saudi Arabia, and other Sunnis powers in the region including Turkey and Egypt, considering that sharing articles critical of Erdogan and Al-Sisi is also common these days.

Naturally, humanitarian concerns are not the real issue here, nor is it support for terrorism or even regional stability, because on all of these issues, Iran is no less guilty or brazen than Saudi Arabia, not to mention Turley and Egypt.

So, whose interests are being served by advocating such a course of action? And what are these interests? We are taking here about a “who” that operates in the U.S. and Europe. The benefits accrued to Iran, Russia, and China as a result of this course “correction” seem to be incidental. There must exist in the U.S. and Europe a group, or a collection of groups, no matter how haphazardly put together, that sees such a change in policy to be beneficial, if not to the U.S. and Europe as a whole, than to its own particular interests. Who are these people? What new order do they want to see emerge in the Middle East the Gulf and the world? And can they keep their countries safe? Or, are they reconciled to having terrorism become part of daily life, just like drug-smuggling and human trafficking?

Personally, I think that, no matter who these people happen to be, and irrespective of their intentions and interests, they are busy turning our worst collective fears into self-fulfilling prophecies, because, like so many intelligent people before them, by preparing themselves for the worst they ended up setting the course for it. Because to have forgotten how the process of preparedness and vigilance works: you hope and fight for the better while preparing for the worst. In their case, they only heeded the second part.

Note: The “chilling comment” allegedly made by Bandar Bin Sultan before the tragic developments of 9/11 and which has now surfaced and is being quoted by all and sundry is a case in point. For while the comment predicts a dire future for the Shia in the Middle East, the reality that has been unfolding in Syria since the beginning of the Revolution, and even during its peaceful protest phase, is one of mass killing conducted by Alawite ad Shia militias supported by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah against the majority Sunni population – an absurd and macabre development, but all too real and documentable. Is someone trying to justify the murderous actions by the Assad regime and his allies by ascribing a preemptive quality to them? Perhaps. Whatever the case maybe, an agenda is clearly being served here, and it has nothing to do with humanitarian concerns, or any lofty goals and ideals. Saudi and Iranian support for terrorism and their commitment to a variety of barbaric practices at home in the name of their faith is equally repugnant, documented, and known. By advocating rapprochement with one side while targeting the other underscores the existence of a hidden agenda.

To keep speaking about Islamic radicalism as the main security challenge facing us misses the point entirely, as it consecrates an “Us. Vs. Them” mentality. Islamic extremism is a more visible manifestation of the larger phenomenon of a resurgent identity politics often manifesting itself in the form of fascist movements mixing religion, nationalism and politics, glorifying militarism and security and seeking the destruction of a perceived external enemy working in cahoots with fifth columnist inside the holy homeland. Since the weakest have to shout the loudest to be noticed, the phenomenon assumes a more violent form among the less empowered.

As a result we have Buddhist monks killing Muslims in Myanmar, Hindus going on occasional rampages against Muslims in India, Christians killing their Muslim neighbors in the Central African Republic, and a variety of intra-ethnic violence all over the world.

The case of Islamist extremism, however, is far more visible, not because it is more violent, the numbers involved simply don’t back the claim, but because it is more widespread, and because its advocates and perpetrators want it to be seen. Muslims can be found everywhere in this world, and so do the discontented in their midst. But long before doctrine has any role in the formation of their worldview, the political and socioeconomic conditions shaping their lives tend to shape their minds as well. In other words, people are radicalized long before they are indoctrinated. Had they not already had a radical mindset, extremist would have treated the more controversial elements in their holy texts in the same way other followers of the faith do: by ignoring them. Moreover, by choosing to put these controversial elements at the front and center of their worldview, the extremists are, in effect, rejecting the traditional faith system, and the efforts of the modernizers, and are reinventing the faith in a manner that suits their own agenda and their narrow self-interests. For this reason, it makes no sense to treat them as representatives of the very system they reject.

The Daily Delirynth

UmReeka: And the Absurd meets the Real: Trump: Ban all Muslim travel to U.S. Yes, in America today, someone is saying things like that in full light of day, and while leading the pack of presidential candidates affiliated with one of America’s two main political parties. While the other contenders might criticize him, they, too, are guilty of making statements with a no less fascist ring to them. We keep asking ourselves what’s happening with “those Muslims,” when we should be asking ourselves what’s happening with us?

First, we had a president who abdicated the responsibility of leadership (see what Fred Hoff, Obama’s former point man on Syria, has to say about this), then, did a deal with the devil he knew all too well, yet, he seems to be so genuinely surprised by the resulting implosion and all those little contained crises that came back to bite him in the ass. Now, he is even considering changes to the visa regime that will, in effect, target Muslims.

Then we had this reactionary reaction by his opponents: a return to an old ethos that has always promised that which it could not, by its very nature deliver: security. Because as always end up discovering: there could be no real and lasting security without liberty.

But fascism is not the answer, and yes, it is fascism that we ae dealing with here, and it’s a global phenomenon (just note the rise of Marie Le Pen’s national Front in France) and the culprits are extremists from all different religious and national backgro0unds. 

It’s for this reason that we should insist on Assad’s departure as well as the destruction of IS/Daesh. We need to re-impose certain red lines and we need to make them real before it’s too late. Because things can get worse, and will get much worse, so long as we keep deluding ourselves that we’ve already seen the worst. If we are not willing to invest as much capital and force now to stop the scourge of mass murder, whether conducted by the state or a terrorist group, we end up re-legitimating them again. At a time when fascism is making a strong comeback all over the world, this is definitely the wrong message to send.

Some will say it’s already too late to prevent the implosion, but no, it isn’t. Considering that we haven’t even tried, really tried, we cannot make such a claim. We need to re-anchor the world; otherwise, we won’t just drift: we will drown.

White House: Donald Trump Has Disqualified Himself From Presidency: “Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Trump's campaign had a "dustbin of history" quality to it.” I am not really sure about that. One hopes that this would prove to be the case, but there is definitely a major grassroots ethos that is being tapped here (Trump Supporters Stand by Their Man Amid Onslaught, Saying We 'Must Be Vigilant'), and it won’t go away even if Trump’s candidacy ended up failing. There is a resilient quality to the Trump Phenomenon that calls for deeper investigation, and stronger responses. Still, Paul Ryan’s denunciation of Trump as Speaker of the House acting in the name of the Republican Party as well is significant because it’s being done in the name to the establishment and the Conservative Brand. But, seeing that Trump’s appeal stems from his anti-establishment credentials, this may not even hurt him at this stage. The fact that global leaders are now chiming in on the matter, though morally justified and politically necessary, might backfire as well considering the prevalent xenophobic sentiments at this stage.

But the bravest and most powerful stand of all, and one that might have an actual impact on the grassroots level, albeit not among Trump’s most ardent supporters, is the one taken today by Richard Engels: Why Richard Engel’s condemnation of Donald Trump is a big moment. Engle’s argument is simple and powerful:

This is not small ball, actually. This matters. It would be interesting to say, "Oh, this is just fun. This is just more, you know, he's trying to score a few points." But the world watches this. The world sees the leading political candidate from one party making these kind of statements and still doing well and having these rallies. ... Those are going around the world right now, and people realize this person is leading in the polls. That must be what Americans think. I was today with an ambassador from the Middle East. Today. And we were talking exactly about this subject. And he said, "Well, people in our country watch what is going on, and it makes us very concerned." So from the world perspective, it is absolutely an image, an impression, a black spot on our collective foreign policy and our conscience. And it also just feeds into the ISIS [Islamic State] narrative.

U.S. Seeks to Avoid Ground War Welcomed by Islamic State. Avoiding a ground war at all costs is not as wise as it seems. True, war is not something that could be breached casually, and it is, indeed, comforting to see our politicians putting such a high value on the lives of our soldiers, that they are doing everything they can to avoid sending them into harm’s way. But soldiers are soldiers, and they are recruited with the specifics purpose of risking their lives if and when the need arises in order to protect us from the kind of threats posed by IS/Daesh, and to protect our values and sense of humanity from the effect of watching mass slaughters unfold in places like Syria and Yemen by doing what it takes to them, including risking military intervention. This is what the Responsibility to Protect, proposed and signed by leaders from around the world, is meant to achieve. If NATO cannot be called upon to do what it takes to defeat an entity like IS/Daesh, what is it good for? Has is become an alliance of the steadfastly reluctant and whimsically committed? Writing for the Washington post, Michael Gerson gets it right: In fighting terrorism, patience is not a virtue.

But in fighting against the terrorists, we should not allow ourselves to forget how they came into existence to begin with and who is actually enabled them and continue to do so, not only through direct funding in some cases (Saudi and other GCC states), and shady business deals (Turkey and the Assad regime), but by releasing its leaders from its prisons and allowing them to expand in order to become a threat to the West (the Assad regime, and Iran – after all the late leader of the Khorasan group was in Iranian jail before he magically appeared in Syria in 2012).

For this reason, statements like these: Bashar al-Assad's Departure Not Necessary Before Political Transition: France's Foreign Minister, are really idiotic. And if Josh Rogin is right in noting that Obama seems to be moving in this direction as well, then, things are getting truly ridiculous ad macabre: Obama No Longer Seems Sure Assad Must Go, because the message that will be broadcasted all around the world through this new policy is that one a dictator can kill his way, and a massive scale if need be, out of any trouble. This is definitely not the right message to send at these turbulent times. It is indeed the failure to send the right message in connection to mass slaughter that ended up making these times so turbulent, and will continue to do so.

How Obama Thinks About TerrorismThe president and his Republican opponents view threats like ISIS in fundamentally different ways.” The following paragraph might indeed capture how Obama thinks about the issue, but it also highlights the underlying problem:

Obama is a kind of Fukuyamian. Like Francis Fukuyama, the author of the famed 1989 essay “The End of History,” he believes that powerful, structural forces will lead liberal democracies to triumph over their foes—so long as these democracies don’t do stupid things like persecuting Muslims at home or invading Muslim lands abroad. His Republican opponents, by contrast, believe that powerful and sinister enemies are overwhelming America, either overseas (the Rubio version) or domestically (the Trump version).

The challenge actually facing us is not about refraining from persecuting people or invading their lands, it’s about upholding certain international norms on human rights and humanitarian interventions, norms to which that most world leaders agreed, at least in principle, when they signed the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, the more recently adopted, Responsibility to Protect. If military action is needed to uphold these norms, then military action should be undertaken, be it under the auspices of the UN, or through a coalition of the willing acting under the authority of the General Assembly, or NATO. President Obama’s complaint that Russians have blocked his way in the UN Security Council is facetious and disingenuous, because he never really undertook a major push to get them on board, or to find other solutions, such as referring the matter to NATO. He apparently thought of intervention as a whole as a “stupid thing.” Now, we have to deal with the consequences of that, and with the fact that inaction or reluctant halfhearted minimalist actions have proven to be the stupidest thing of all.

Return to the Mandate System? The UN taking charge of Syria? There’s one big problemEven if Syrians agreed it was a way to keep their country whole, an awkward question remains: why create a new mandate when previous attempts failed.” No one is seriously advocating such a step yet, but I would. For despite the inherent difficulties involved in this matter, the fact that failed states often create unprecedented humanitarian crises and security problems far beyond their borders, and that they often provide grounds for proxy wars that could easily devolve into larger regional confrontations makes it necessary to tackle the problem on an international level through such devices as the reintroduction of the mandate system. It’s a thankless task, but a necessary one nonetheless in our hyper-connected world.

Hard Merger: Trafficking in Terror: How closely entwined are the drug trade and global terrorism? This unholy alliance of organized crime syndicates, terrorist networks and authoritarian regimes is not a fad, and is bound to assume a more formalized structure in time. In fact, in the case of the Assad regime, Hezbollah and some European and South American drugs cartels, relations have been semi-formalized for years. This is a dangerous trend indeed, and could soon lead to the emergence of the phenomenon of Jihadism-by-Proxy, with drug traffickers conducting terrorist activities on behalf of their partners in the Middle East. And the parties that have laid the groundwork for this development, as we noted earlier, are none other than Iran, Syria (the Assad regime) and Hezbollah. IS and Al-Qaeda are latecomers into the game, but they might be first to exploit it to carry out operations in the U.S. because they are not hampered by considerations of raison d’état. This makes them a more visible and immediate threat. But, on the longer term, Iran will emerge as a far greater threat, with the ability to retaliate against nay threatening actions by the U.S. or Israel right on U.S. territory acting through sleeper cells and proxies.

The Pumaga: Russia appears to have 'gone ballistic' in Syria — and it may be helping ISIS. But in Vladdie the Ballistic’s defense, almost everything everyone is doing in Syria right now seems to be helping IS. People get unreasonably radicalized when their children are killed, and their killers are embraced by the all and sundry.

And what Vladdie wants for now is Aleppo.

"Putin's larger immediate goal is to shut down Turkey's link to Aleppo, thereby preparing the way for Assad (perhaps even in coordination with the PKK-affiliated Kurds) to besiege and eventually recapture the city," Middle East expert Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote last week in Tablet.


Additionally, Gurcan wrote, the bombing campaign helps the Assad regime "secure more defensible, expanded territory before an eventual cease-fire, as recommended in the Vienna meetings, goes into effect."

Meanwhile, Vladdie will continue to up the ante: Russian submarine with cruise missiles off Syria coast – reports.

The Faqihnameh:  Iranian jets poised to join Russian bombing campaign in Syria. Why not? How else can secure your newly acquired territory? Iranian might have to play second fiddle to Russia, but, at least, they can still push for a better position in the orchestral arrangement. But the Mullahs better heed Israel’s threats and keep their jets at a safe distance from its borders. Israel has a good track record of delivering on its threats.

Refugenics: Flesh-eating skin disease grips ISIS-controlled areas in Syria (GRAPHIC). This signals the return of a disease that has been well-nigh eradicated before the revolution. The fact that it’s the Kremlin’s propaganda machine that’s running the story adds insult to injury.

Mandy Patinkin: What I saw in the faces of Syrian refugees. “Standing with them, I did not see strangers to be feared but the faces and stories of my own family. I saw Grandpa Max, who left Poland to escape the Nazis, and Grandma Masha, who was forced from Russia during the pogroms. And now I could help this family reach the safety of Germany — a place my ancestors had fled — in search of welcoming arms.

The Qalifate: With the eyes of the world turned elsewhere, as usual, IS/Daesh’ subsidiary, Boko Haram, is busy waging its own terror campaign: Triple suicide bombings in Chad kill at least 27 people, police say. And though the organization has been suffered some setbacks in recent days, it’s still quite capable of launching deadly attacks: Boko Haram kill 350 teachers, destroys 512 schools in Borno.

Quote of the Day

“We consider ourselves a mainstream Sunni Islamic group that is led by Syrians and fights for Syrians.” --Labib Al Nahhas, Ahrar al-Sham’s head of foreign political relations.

Tweets of the Day
Video(s) of the Day

Actor and activist, Mandy Patinkin witnesses first-hand the situation in Greece, where many thousands of refugees have been arriving. Escaping life from war-torn countries, refugees hope to have a better life: 


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