With all the things that seem to be going wrong, let’s pause for a moment to remind ourselves that this is the best time in history to be alive. Happy Thanksgiving
If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna. Napoleon Bonaparte
First, a disclaimer. I only understand what is happening in Syria in the most fuzzy and incomplete way. That said, it very roughly seems to be a civil war against the Shiite minority government of Syria by that country’s Sunni majority, a war by the Sunni minority against the ruling Shiite majority in Iraq, a war by the Kurds for their own territory, a war by Turkey on the same Kurdish separatists, a war between the Kurds with both the Iraqi Army and Shiite militias against the Sunnis who have captured what they consider their land, and a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In addition, we are backing the Iraqi Shiite government, along with Iran, against the bad Sunni separatists but we are also backing the good SSunni separatists that – theoretically, at least – are against the Iranian supported Shiite government in Syria. In the middle of this is a group of Sunni fanatic thugs, ISIS, and disenfranchised Baathist military.
ISIS, it seems, wants to be fighting with everybody who is not their brand of Sunni extremist. They are killing Shiites, Christians, and random foreigners at home while blowing up Russian airplanes, killing Chinese workers in Africa, and killing people with guns and bombs in France, Mali, Yemen, Libya, and – it seems – any place else they can. Either they have no idea that their actions will result in retaliation and are killing people thinking they will not get hit back or their actions are in an effort to get us to strike out at them.
If ISIS is attacking and terrorising people all over the world for a reaction, it brings up the question, What do they want the reaction to be? When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the purpose was to shock us enough to keep us out of Southeastern Asia. In retrospect, that attack seems suicidal, all it did was enrage us. Seventy five years later, it is naive to think that ISIS is making the same mistake. Much more likely is the scenario that they are trying to get us to strike back. Strike back at Syrian refugees so we make it harder for them to escape ISIS by leaving Syria, getting politicians to attack Muslims living in Europe and the United States so they will become alienated in their own country, and, of course, attack ISIS territory directly to help them solidify their rule. If we are really going to let ISIS suck us into this, how are we going to win? The scenarios range from doing nothing to nuking Mecca. The problem is that all the scenarios are bad and what we are doing now is one of the worst.
ISIS and alot of other people don’t like us because we invaded Iraq and terrorized a big portion of the population. We disenfranchised the Sunnis, especially alienating and pissing off the young Sunni men whose lives were trashed by the invasion. Now we are bombing them again, or, at least, some of them again, just like ISIS wants. This is the worst of all possible worlds, we are not doing enough to win but we are killing, mostly, innocent people and making more people hate us.
Bombing is not an effective way to win a war. During World War II, the Allies dropped more than a million and a half tons of bombs on Germany, killing between 400,000 to 600,000 civilians and we still had to move troops into Germany – or put boots on the ground if you prefer – to win the war. War can only be won, the enemy can only be conquered, by occupying the other’s territory and running the place. The ruler can rule directly or install a puppet regime but, either way, the ruler must be prepared to stay for a while.
The easy way to do this is to provide air support and let some local army put their boots on the ground. But which locals and how many boots on the ground? The Kurds are on our side and are pretty good fighters especially with our air support. However, the biggest reason the Kurds are good fighters is that they are defending their own ground and they are really only interested in regaining and protecting greater Kurdistan.
The Iraqi Army which is, primarily, a Shiite Army, along with Shiite militias and Iranian leadership and support, are pushing back at ISIS both to the north and east of Baghdad but they are not going to move into Syria and take over ISIS’s capital, Raqqa and we don’t want them to. They will have a hard enough time holding on to the Sunni parts of Iraq which, after all, is a major factor in Sunni deflections and ISIS’s ascendency. I doubt Saudi Arabia is going to put a million boots on the ground to kill Sunnis when all they want to do is defeat Iranian backed, Shiite ruler of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
If we are serious that ISIS is an existential threat to our way of life, if we really think they are out to destroy us and our way of life and the only way to stop them is to, in Hillary Clinton’s words, defeat and destroy ISIS, then we are going to have occupy their territory. The French seem game to help but it is doubtful that most of Europe will be offering up troops. That means we will have to make this war the national priority like our war against Japan and Germany. We can’t diddle around like we did in Afghanistan where we spent thirteen years and changed nothing but the price of rental housing in Kabul. The boots on the ground has to be lots of boots on the ground.
It is hard to believe that even Marco Rubio or The Donald really want to do that. What everybody seems to want to do is just poke at the problem hoping – I guess – that ISIS will change their mind and go away. But that is not going to happen.
I think we ought to do the opposite, I think we should withdraw our troops and drones from the region and continue Obama’s approach of blockading ISIS territory, stopping them from selling oil and buying weapons. I think we should contain them. I want to quickly say that I know ISIS is loathsome, closer to the 1930’s Nazis than anybody else that comes to mind. They are great at propaganda and even better at perverting their host civilization. The leaders are thugs. They are killers and rapists and their behavior is attracting other thugs. If we leave, we leave a terrified country to be plundered and brutalized. That is sickening. If we really ran the world, we could wave a wand and have ISIS disappear or order some client state to defeat and destroy them, or cajole some ally, if you prefer, or convince a neighbor that it is their best interest to take them out. The problem is that, while it is in most countries interest to have ISIS gone, it is not in anybody’s self-interest to move the million troops into Syria to make it happen.
We should just get out, the world will not end any more than it did when we pulled out of Vietnam (and, remember, the hawks said that, when we pulled out of Vietnam, the neighboring countries would fall like dominoes, including Thailand and Japan). Will they try to convince alienated Muslim children to attack us, of course, and some will be successful, and that will hurt. It will hurt our country and, especially, the Muslim community, but it will hurt less than putting two million boots on the ground. We should just get out.
PARIS ATTACKS WERE AN ‘ACT OF WAR’ BY ISIS, HOLLANDE SAYS; TOLL IS 127 New York Times headline.
Friday brought the horrendous news from Paris, people with legitimate grievances and nowhere to turn lashing viciously out in the direction of their not exactly well-meaning oppressors, massacring innocents in retaliation for the endless massacring of their own innocents in endless cycles of inhumanity. Mike Moore
ISIS isn’t necessarily evil. It is made up of people doing what they think is best for their community. Violence is not the answer, though. candidate Dan Kimmel’s tweet that resulted in his withdrawal from the campaign.
The other day I parked in a garage that didn’t take credit cards and I didn’t have enough change to rent a parking stall so I went to the restaurant, where I was to meet Michele, to get some change. On the way to the restaurant, I passed a guy, impeccably turned out in a brown suit, giving away The Watchtower. He was standing in the sun, sweating slightly, on a corner and as I was standing next to him, waiting for the light to change. I noticed how everybody looked away and I felt slightly embarrassed for him. On the way back to the parking garage, I ended up waiting across the street watching him again and watching people ignore him, or actively look away, while he offered his magazine with an open smile.
On my trip back to the restaurant, I ended up next to him again and I struck up a short conversation by telling him that, although I did not share his beliefs, I admired his devotion, his willingness to stand there in the sun (although, I didn’t mention being ignored to him even though that was a major reason for my admiration). He gave me the one answer I didn’t expect, he said Oh, I enjoy it, it comforts people and they need comfort with the terrorists and everything. His enjoying it never occurred to me. The whole time I saw him, nobody else even looked in his direction and it seemed like an unenjoyable, thankless job to me, but it wasn’t for him. For the guy with The Watchtower, standing there brought a sense of Mission, of Worthwhileness. It brought Meaning to his life.
About two years ago. I read that over 200,000 people volunteered to go on a one way trip to Mars with a Dutch nonprofit, Mars One – one way! – never to feel the warmth of our earth again. People want meaning in their life and some people are willing to do very difficult, uncomfortable, dangerous, things to feel needed and to feel their life is worthwhile.
Some people hand out The Watchtower, some people volunteer to go to Mars, and some people – more than some really, alot, and I was one of them – join the Army to put meaning into their life. And some people join the other Army for the same reason. Last Friday, some of those people who had joined the other Army, on an informal basis at least, killed 128 innocent people in Paris. It was a loathsome act and senseless in terms of any rational goal. Now France is striking back, like a hurt child, killing more innocent people in an effort to punish ISIS.
We keep trying to make These People Evil and some of them probably are, but most of These People, along with most of the French, and most of eveyone, are as innocent as the French concert goers.
Last weekend – well, weekendish – we drove south through the Salinas Valley to Paso Robles (hereinafter called Paso to sound like a local). Paso’s recorded history goes back to 1795 when it was considered California’s oldest watering place, because of its mudbaths and hot springs, according to Wikipedia. Two years later, in 1797, the first vineyards were started in the area and, by the late 1800s, the area was already known for its Zinfandels. Now there are about 200 wineries in the area and the historic city core is booming.
It was our 22nd anniversary and for our anniversary dinner, we ate at Artisan in the old downtown area. The price was great and the dinner was good and we would have considered it much better if we were from anywhere other than the Bay Area and hadn’t just had a stellar dinner the Friday before. As an aside, there are not many downsides to living in the Bay Area – not counting cost, especially housing – but one of them is being spoiled rotten by the local dining. I remember going to New York, on a food and architecture pilgrimage, about the end of the 70s and being very disappointed. After eating at Chez Panisse, Poulet, and getting food to go from the Cheese Board Collective, old timey restaurants – like New York’s famous Lutece or the Kennedy favorite, La Grenouille – just seemed so old fashioned. End aside. This time, the disappointment – and disappointment is way too strong a word, the dinner was good, excellent really – was the result of just having had a pick up dinner at Mau in Oakland and Mau just seemed so much newer as in more au courant.
The next day, after a super breakfast at Kitchenette, we toured several wineries. In the rain! To me, the Paso wine country feels a little like Napa forty years ago. The 200, or so, wineries are not enough to turn the landscape into a wall to wall monoculture like Napa and most of the area is still open so driving around was more fun for me.As the day went on, I increasingly realized that I don’t particularly like wine tasting. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against drinking wine, it’s just spending the whole day tasting with the expectation that we wouldn’t be there unless we were going to buy some of their wine that I don’t like. What I do enjoy is looking at the buildings and driving around the countryside , however. We ended the day with dinner at The Hatch where Michele had Chicken and Waffles and I had Ramen – with okra, collard greens, maitake, bacon, rotisserie chicken, and a pickled egg according to the menu – made with great local ingredients. As another aside, I had ordered the ramen for the ingredients, but the noodles were gummy and I realized, once again!, that folk food – for lack of a better descriptor, food like coq-au-vin or beef bourguignon or ramen – is not based on great ingredients but great technique to cover up problem ingredients. End aside.
We spent our last day, wandering around town and shopping like any red-blooded ‘merican – I got a new, Sterling Silver, loop earing, for only $2.68 – and then driving home the long way. We drove east on The 46 – when in Rome, blah, blah, when in Southernish California, I am agreeing to use the descriptor The in front of highway numbers – and then north on county roads, roughly following the San Andreas Fault. Whenever I drive around the Bay Area at anytime near Rush Hour I can easily slip into a California’s-too-crowded annoyance but out here, it’s almost empty. It could easily be everybody’s idea of Nebraska. When we turned north, towards Parkfield – famous for having a 6.0 earthquake about every twenty years – we started running with the grain. The valleys are wide and almost flat, bookended by low rounded hills, with nothing but the occasional ranch. As we cross the bridge into Parkfield, we are greeted with a welcome back to the North American Plate. Parkfield itself is a tiny road stop with a population of 18, most of them interested in earthquakes, I would guess.
To be continued.
We are going to Paso Robles for a couple of nights for our anniversary because neither of us has ever been there making it new for both of us. We driven through it on the way to the Carrizo Plain or Ventura or Los Angeles but we’ve never stopped.