Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Zelensky and the World v. Putin and Russia

Ukraine’s courage, like David’s defying Russia’s Goliath, has caught the imagination and support of the free world. Everyone expected the country to crumble under overwhelming Russian military might. Six days later, Ukraine is resisting the Russian juggernaut with unforeseen mettle and determination. Putin must be confounded that his projected slam-dunk occupation is not going as planned.

His troubles began with President Volodymyr Zelensky, who refused the evacuation offer from the United States. “I need ammunition, not a ride,” he (now famously) responded. The young, former comedian with no political experience has evolved into a heroic wartime leader. Zelensky is rallying his people every day, exhorting them to fight in any way they are able. And they are responding. Fiercely. Civilians are taking up arms, studying TikTok video instructions for driving captured Russian tanks, gathering bottles to fill with explosives. Girls are making camouflage nets for their soldiers. A brewery in Lviv stopped making beer, producing Molotov cocktails instead.

Conversely, Putin is revealing himself to be not so much a master strategist, but rather an aging autocrat who, after decades of no opposition, has lost his ability to perceive hard-edged reality. Some of his troops are reported to have surrendered and their tanks run out of gas.

Zelensky’s example is inspiring not only his countrymen, but the entire world. Crowds are protesting Russia’s invasion worldwide, even inside Russia, where thousands have been arrested.

NATO and the European Union have imposed devastating banking sanctions. Germany has executed a complete reversal of its decades of nonintervention: it is now sending military equipment to aid Ukraine and canceling the Russian gas pipeline to stymie Russia; historically neutral Switzerland and Sweden are sending arms to Ukraine. Beyond Europe, Taiwan, Australia and Japan are joining forces with the anti-Russia coalition.

International support for Ukraine is symbolic as well as tangible. Landmarks around the globe are sporting the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag: the Empire State Building in New York, the Colosseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, the London Eye, are just a few of the many. And not only in Europe: monuments in Toronto and Sydney and Tokyo are also illuminated in blue and yellow. 

The sports world is joining in. The International Skating Union has barred Russia and Belarus from its competitions. In soccer, some countries threatened to boycott the qualifying games for the World Cup if Russia were a participant. Then the international soccer associations UEFA and FIFA banned Russian teams from competing on the world’s fields for an indefinite period, and St. Petersburg will no longer host the very important Champion League’s final game.

In the entertainment field, Disney is boycotting Russia, and Netflix will no longer carry the propaganda channels required by Russian law, though it means the possible loss of hundreds of thousands of Russian subscribers. Warner Bros. has indefinitely delayed the Russian opening of The Batman, an eagerly anticipated blockbuster film.

Without taking away any appreciation of Ukrainian heroism or the international support it has galvanized, I have to remark that our unhappy world has many conflicts and suffering peoples. Is it right or fair that Ukraine receive so much sympathy and attention while other travails go ignored? African students fleeing the Ukraine to return to their homelands have reported being made to wait at the border for a much longer time than Ukrainians, even being beaten and abused by Ukrainian border guards. Of course, Ukraine and the Slavs are White and European while Africans and Arabs are people of color.

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Here we go— Bombs away!

NavyMissileU.S. warships in the Mediterranean sent about 60 Tomahawk missiles blazing into a Syrian air field, reports the A.P. The bombing was retaliation for the chemical attack launched from that same field that killed dozens of Syrian citizens.

Apparently Trump was moved by the horrible pictures of victims suffocating and writhing in pain. The president’s volatility is notorious; time and again he has been swayed by what he sees on television. Now, clearly afraid of being thought weak or indecisive, he has launched missiles rather than tweets. Is he trying to prove that he is strong where Obama was “weak” for resisting the commitment of even more boots on the ground? Of starting another war we can’t afford?

Throughout his campaign, Trump insisted that we had no business in Syria, that it could take care of itself. But a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, and now Trump’s committed an act of war.

What’s next? That may depend on how many Russian nationals are killed. Syrian rebels are being massacred and the refugees are increasingly finding most roads out of the horror barricaded against them. A response, on humanitarian, if not political, grounds is severely warranted. But what form should it take? Syria is a Gordian knot. Any strategy to disentangle it will reverberate within the middle eastern minefield with unknown but definitely adverse consequences.

The Russians have been supporting Assad against the rebels who want to oust the tyrant. Syria’s weapons defense and warplanes are Russian-built, and Putin has steadfastly resisted multilateral attempts to oust Assad. Will Trump’s palship with Putin weather this military offensive or will Putin take advantage of Trump’s aggression and attack us elsewhere? Trump has opened the proverbial can of worms.

Photo: U.S. Navy

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Major stress

North Korea is rattling its nuclear saber. Trumpcare 2.0 would have cut back essential benefits to placate the far right, but the Republican factions couldn’t reach an agreement. Abetted by the Russians, Assad is waging chemical warfare against his own citizens again. Trump’s travel and Muslim bans are menacing American citizens. A 36-year-old with no foreign policy experience at all is in charge of dealing with most of these issues, as well as negotiating with China and Mexico, resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and more. These are difficult, uncertain times. Many are experiencing heretofore unknown levels of stress.

There is occasional good news. Trump demoted his close buddy, white nationalist Steve Bannon today. He removed Bannon from the principals’ committee of the National Security Council, perhaps an indication that Trump is actually beginning to listen to Gen. McMaster, his national security advisor and one of the few members of his cabinet with relevant experience. He reinstated the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence to the committee. The Times reports that Bannon didn’t go quietly, however, that he threatened to resign. No such luck. He still has the ear of the president and Trump’s son-in-law has the other. Little room for anyone else.

Trump snubbed German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a crucial ally, last week. This week he effused over the authoritarian Egyptian general who has taken control of Egypt, now a minor player in the Islamic world. Can’t wait to see how he handles Xi Jinping, the president of China, a very major player.

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PM Theresa May: Cool, tough and commanding in leopard-skin heels

Theresa_May_-_Home_Secretary_and_minister_for_women_and_equalityThe first female prime minister of Great Britain was called ”The Iron Lady.” What will we be calling Theresa May, who is following Margaret Thatcher as the second woman ever to be PM? May has been likened to Thatcher, but Germany’s Angela Merkel may be a more apt comparison. Both are strong women, competent, stubborn, no–nonsense heads of state.

Not surprisingly, men have called May “A bloody difficult woman” and “Ice Maiden” with “no small talk whatsoever—none.” Yet the former prime minister, David Cameron, grudgingly admitted, “She is instinctively secretive and very rigid, but you can be tough with her and she’ll go away and think it all through again.”

May was the only major candidate in the contest for Conservative leadership who did not support Brexit, the populist push for Britain to exit the European Union. But her advocacy for remaining in the EU was very low key. That was an astute political strategy on May’s part, because though it put her on the losing side when the Stay camp lost, she was able to quietly cross over to the winners. “Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it,” she famously said as the newly minted PM.

Read more . . . Portrait of Theresa May, Britain’s Second Female PM

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Invitation to a beheading


If you have been wondering how a state-sanctioned beheading proceeds in Saudi Arabia, read on, but

Be warned: the following material will make some readers uncomfortable. 

The series of beheadings videotaped by ISIL strikes exceptional fear and revulsion in the West, as it is intended to do. The beheadings and the videos are political: they are meant to terrify and compel action, whether it be retribution for air strikes or the payment of a ransom. Mercy and compassion are absent from ISIL’s vocabulary.

We can look to Saudi Arabia, where beheading is practiced routinely (79 in 2013, 83 in 2014) and often publicly, to find out about the gruesome practice. The Saudis insist that their beheadings are different from the ones executed by ISIS because in Saudi Arabia the criminals are convicted in court. The UN, however, has called the trials “grossly unfair,” because defendants are not allowed legal counsel and death sentences may be imposed after confessions that have been coerced by torture. Westerners are horrified by decapitation, yet its defenders say lethal injection as practiced in the U.S. is no more humane.

The details that follow were reported in Newsweek, based on the 2003 interview with a Saudi executioner and videos provided by a human rights group.  Continue reading


Filed under Foreign Affairs, ISIS, Islam, Libya

ISIS, the Taliban and the Caliphate

At a time when ISIS and Boko Haram commit unspeakable acts of barbarism in the Middle East and Nigeria, passions are running high on all sides and offense is taken when none is intended. I experienced that in the reaction of a reader to my previous post. I said that ISIL aspires to hold sway over the same, vast territory that was under Islamic rule 11 centuries ago. I certainly did not intend to imply that there was any equivalence or similarity between the cult of today’s Islamist assassins and the Islamic civilization of the early Middle Ages, but I wasn’t clear because the inference was made.

I did say that one of ISIL’s objectives is to restore the Caliphate. I should have emphasized that I meant only the geographic territory of the Caliphate, the land ruled by the Caliph, and nothing more. The sadistic brutes of ISIS and the Taliban, with their disdain for education, could never recreate the Islamic civilization that valued and created art, literature and science. It was the medieval Muslims — and also Jews — who illuminated the so-called Dark Ages of Western Europe with their knowledge and culture.


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ISIL and the Caliphate

Umayyad Caliphate at its greatest extent

Umayyad Caliphate at its greatest extent in 750 CE (Wikipedia)

The imperial aspirations of ISIL shouldn’t be underestimated. The jihadists look back at the glory days of the Umayyad Caliphate in the eighth to 11th centuries, when Muslims controlled areas of Asia, Africa and Europe. It was the largest empire the world yet had seen, the fifth largest in history. Even the Roman Empire at its largest in 117 CE did not hold sway over as much real estate as the Umayyads.

A stated objective of ISIL is to restore the caliphate. The map (above) shows the caliphate almost at its largest in 750 CE. It stretched from modern-day Pakistan westward across Iran, Iraq and most of the -stans, a small part of present-day Russia, to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine), the entire Arabian peninsula, across North Africa (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco), and into Europe across the Straits of Gibraltar (Spain and Portugal). Sicily and Sardinia were conquered later.

The Roman Empire at its height, for comparison:

The Roman Empire in 117 BCE (Wikipedia)

The Roman Empire in 117 BCE (Wikipedia)


It began as ISI, the Islamic State of Iraq. Then it annexed Syria, becoming ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIL includes much more than just the original two territories. The “L” is for Levant (the countries on the eastern side of the Mediterranean). The scope of its ambitions continues to grow.


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Do black lives matter?

Why is so much attention being paid to the Paris murders at Charlie Hebdo, and hardly any to the massacre of an estimated 2,000 people in Nigeria, mostly women, children and older people?

Victims of the massacre in Nigeria by Boko Haram

Victims of the massacre in Nigeria by Boko Haram

The terrorist army Boko Haram has been killing people for five years. They abducted 200 school girls last April to use as sex slaves.

Where is the urgency to stop Boko Haram and their murderous raids?

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Most Democratic candidates deserved to lose

Pres. Obama in happier days

Pres. Obama in happier days

Instead of standing up to Republican critics of Obama, Democrats disowned the president. All they had to say is “Are you better off today than you were when Bush left office?”

You betcha.

By hiding Obama, they tacitly confirmed the lies about him being spread by their opponents. Not that we’re not facing serious problems, e.g., immigration.

But Democratic candidates failed even to mention, let alone emphasize, that during Obama’s presidency,

  • the Great Recession receded; GDP is now growing at 3.5% while Europe is saddled with austerity
  • 14 million now have healthcare coverage under Obamacare. Rollout was a disaster, but now, it’s a resounding success. And, sky-rocketing medical costs are going down as predicted.
  • unemployment below 6%; Spain’s rate, for example, has decreased, but it’s still more than 23%
  • stock market posting record highs; it is 218% higher than it was in 2008
  • he saved General Motors and a related 1.2 million jobs. GM is now more profitable than Verizon, AmEx, 3M
  • no major terror attacks
  • Osama Bin Laden killed
  • many fewer troops in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Iran is no longer building nuclear weapons
  • marriage equality in 32 of the 50 states
  • despite crossing his own “red line,” Assad (Syria) no longer has chemical weapons
  • emissions standards at their strictest ever
  • gas averages $3/gal today

The losers could have mentioned at least some of these accomplishments.

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Perpetual war?

Pres. Obama addresses nation with his plan to fight ISIS

Pres. Obama addresses nation with a plan to fight ISIS

The President is in a bind: damned if he reacts militarily to ISIS and damned if he doesn’t, and by the same people who oppose whatever he proposes, simply because he proposes it. ISIS is clearly a threat, but it is a problem without a visible solution. As in Vietnam and Iraq, the danger of escalation is very real.

Obama set forth a limited form of action, one that depends on the locals with vested interests to put their boots on the ground so that we don’t have to put ours there. Maybe. What’s the endpoint, what’s the goal? Will we be satisfied with containing ISIS (and how long will that take?) or must it be eradicated?

Are we setting a precedent? Are we being baited into joining another war of attrition? Those weapons that we will provide when we train Iraqi soldiers— again— in whose hands will they end up? Will they eventually be trained on Americans  as happened in Afghanistan and is happening in Syria? Continue reading

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