THE FINAL DEBATE: THE LAST DISTORTED WORDS OR MORE TO COME?

By Harry C. Blaney III

Photo Credit via ABC News


The last campaign 2016 debate was, as expected by some, was a horrific mess but it exposed again the terrible reality that Donald Trump is a dangerous man if not likely with an unbalanced and offensive mind too. And that leaves aside even much of his reprehensible words and behavior. Much of the debate was silly and often off subject and not very deep. Wallace was probably among the worst moderators I have ever seen in not pressing on the topic and keeping people talking over each other.

Once again Hillary Clinton showed her firm grasp of some of the key issues that we face in our high risk world with all its complexities. But just fifteen minutes were not enough to give time to dig deeper into so many issues that needed better time and more depth. The Fox moderator Chris Wallace did not help matters in keeping on topic and challenging both candidates to not just say what they wanted to accomplish but also just how. He also let Trump go on despite the rules and interrupt Clinton while not stopping Trump’s interference.

Defeating ISIS or Islamic State was an issue that was more assertions than strategy, limited to saying they will be defeated in battle, or asserting who is tougher or more fearsome. The reality is the President Obama strategy of providing help in terms of air strikes, intelligence, logistics, training, and other assistance without putting too many U.S. troops in to do this job and keeping them away from direct combat. With this strategy, in fact, some real progress has been made by relying on local forces who know the “terrain” better than we ever could.

The salient question is not now whether they will take Mosul but when and how and what will be left and how can we put this shattered place back together and get the people to cooperate no mater their ethnic or religious background. The aftermath is key to long term security and stability of the region. The same is true in Syria. But little time was addressed to this topic. Displaced persons and refugees are a horrendous problem and we and our allies including the Gulf states have not done enough to deal with this problem.

Nor did anyone really address the question of the role of Putin’s Russia now and later in the region. This is a major conundrum for not just for America but our allies and the Islamic states of the region. Here Wallace was weak.

Some of the key takeaway points are below in this debate on foreign and national security issues:

IMMIGRATION

Donald Trump: “I mean, these are unbelievable people that I’ve gotten to know over a period of years whose children have been killed, brutally killed by people that came into the country illegally. You have thousands of mothers and fathers and relatives all over the country. They’re coming in illegally…

One of my first acts will be to get all of the drug lords, all of the bad ones — we have some bad, bad people in this country that have to go out. We’re going to get them out; we’re going to secure the border. And once the border is secured, at a later date, we’ll make a determination as to the rest. But we have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out.”

Hillary Clinton: “I don’t want to rip families apart. I don’t want to be sending parents away from children. I don’t want to see the deportation force that Donald has talked about in action in our country…

I think that is an idea that is not in keeping with who we are as a nation. I think it’s an idea that would rip our country apart.

I have been for border security for years. I voted for border security in the United States Senate. And my comprehensive immigration reform plan of course includes border security. But I want to put our resources where I think they’re most needed: Getting rid of any violent person. Anybody who should be deported, we should deport them….

And Donald knows a lot about this. He used undocumented labor to build the Trump Tower. He underpaid undocumented workers, and when they complained, he basically said what a lot of employers do: “You complain, I’ll get you deported.”

I want to get everybody out of the shadows, get the economy working, and not let employers like Donald exploit undocumented workers, which hurts them, but also hurts American workers.”

RUSSIA

Clinton: “It’s pretty clear you won’t admit…that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race.

We have 17 — 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.” 

Trump: She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else.
Clinton: I am not quoting myself.
Trump: She has no idea.
Clinton: I am quoting 17…
Trump: Hillary, you have no idea.
Clinton: … 17 intelligence — do you doubt 17 military and civilian…
Trump: And our country has no idea.
Clinton: … agencies.
Trump: Yeah, I doubt it. I doubt it.
Clinton: Well, he’d rather believe Vladimir Putin than the military and civilian intelligence professionals who are sworn to protect us. I find that just absolutely…
Trump: She doesn’t like Putin because Putin has outsmarted her at every step of the way.

Wallace: You condemn their interference?
Trump: Of course I condemn. Of course I — I don’t know Putin. I have no idea.
Wallace: I’m not asking — I’m asking do you condemn?
Trump: I never met Putin. This is not my best friend. But if the United States got along with Russia, wouldn’t be so bad.

ALLIANCES AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS:

Trump: “We’re in very serious trouble, because we have a country with tremendous numbers of nuclear warheads — 1,800, by the way — where they expanded and we didn’t, 1,800 nuclear warheads. And she’s playing chicken.”

Clinton: “I — I find it ironic that he’s raising nuclear weapons. This is a person who has been very cavalier, even casual about the use of nuclear weapons. He’s…advocated more countries getting them, Japan, Korea, even Saudi Arabia. He said, well, if we have them, why don’t we use them, which I think is terrifying.”

Trump: “As far as Japan and other countries, we are being ripped off by everybody in the — we’re defending other countries. We are spending a fortune doing it. They have the bargain of the century.

All I said is, we have to renegotiate these agreements, because our country cannot afford to defend Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany, South Korea, and many other places. We cannot continue to afford — she took that as saying nuclear weapons.”

Clinton: “The United States has kept the peace — the United States has kept the peace through our alliances. Donald wants to tear up our alliances. I think it makes the world safer and, frankly, it makes the United States safer. I would work with our allies in Asia, in Europe, in the Middle East, and elsewhere. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to keep the peace.”

Trump: “They have to pay up. We’re protecting people, they have to pay up. And I’m a big fan of NATO. But they have to pay up.

She comes out and said, we love our allies, we think our allies are great. Well, it’s awfully hard to get them to pay up when you have somebody saying we think how great they are.

We have to tell Japan in a very nice way, we have to tell Germany, all of these countries, South Korea, we have to say, you have to help us out.”

TRADE DEALS:

Trump: “So my plan — we’re going to renegotiate trade deals. We’re going to have a lot of free trade. We’re going to have free trade, more free trade than we have right now. But we have horrible deals. Our jobs are being taken out by the deal that her husband signed, NAFTA, one of the worst deals ever.

I am going to renegotiate NAFTA. And if I can’t make a great deal — then we’re going to terminate NAFTA and we’re going to create new deals. We’re going to have trade, but we’re going — we’re going to terminate it, we’re going to make a great trade deal…

Now she wants to sign Trans-Pacific Partnership. And she wants it. She lied when she said she didn’t call it the gold standard in one of the debates. She totally lied. She did call it the gold standard.”

Clinton: “Well, first, let me say, number one, when I saw the final agreement for TPP, I said I was against it. It didn’t meet my test. I’ve had the same test. Does it create jobs, raise incomes, and further our national security? I’m against it now. I’ll be against it after the election. I’ll be against it when I’m president.

There’s only one of us on this stage who’s actually shipped jobs to Mexico, because that’s Donald. He’s shipped jobs to 12 countries, including Mexico…

In fact, the Trump Hotel right here in Las Vegas was made with Chinese steel. So he goes around with crocodile tears about how terrible it is, but he has given jobs to Chinese steelworkers, not American steelworkers….

We’re going to have trade agreements that we enforce. That’s why I’m going to have a trade prosecutor for the first time in history. And we’re going to enforce those agreements, and we’re going to look for businesses to help us by buying American products.”

ISIS:

Trump: “Take a look at Syria. Take a look at the migration. Take a look at Libya. Take a look at Iraq. She gave us ISIS, because her and Obama created this huge vacuum, and a small group came out of that huge vacuum because when — we should never have been in Iraq, but once we were there, we should have never got out the way they wanted to get out. She gave us ISIS as sure as you are sitting there. And what happened is now ISIS is in 32 countries. And now I listen how she’s going to get rid of ISIS. She’s going to get rid of nobody.”

Clinton: “Well, I am encouraged that there is an effort led by the Iraqi army, supported by Kurdish forces, and also given the help and advice from the number of special forces and other Americans on the ground.But I will not support putting American soldiers into Iraq as an occupying force…

The goal here is to take back Mosul. It’s going to be a hard fight. I’ve got no illusions about that. And then continue to press into Syria to begin to take back and move on Raqqa, which is the ISIS headquarters.

And I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to, frankly, gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians so that perhaps we can have the kind of serious negotiation necessary to bring the conflict to an end and go forward on a political track.

Trump: “I have been reading about going after Mosul now for about — how long is it, Hillary, three months? These people have all left. They’ve all left.

The element of surprise. Douglas MacArthur, George Patton spinning in their graves when they see the stupidity of our country….

Iran should write us yet another letter saying thank you very much, because Iran, as I said many years ago, Iran is taking over Iraq, something they’ve wanted to do forever, but we’ve made it so easy for them.”

Clinton: “But what’s really important here is to understand all the interplay. Mosul is a Sunni city. Mosul is on the border of Syria. And, yes, we do need to go after Baghdadi, and — just like we went after bin Laden, while you were doing “Celebrity Apprentice,” and we brought him to justice. We need to go after the leadership.”

Trump: “We don’t know who the rebels are. And when and if — and it’s not going to happen, because you have Russia and you have Iran now. But if they ever did overthrow Assad, you might end up with — as bad as Assad is, and he’s a bad guy, but you may very well end up with worse than Assad.”

ACCEPTANCE OF AMERICAN DEMOCRATIC PROCESS

Wallace: “Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely — sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?”
Trump: “I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time….What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”

Clinton: “So that is not the way our democracy works. We’ve been around for 240 years. We’ve had free and fair elections. We’ve accepted the outcomes when we may not have liked them. And that is what must be expected of anyone standing on a debate stage during a general election. You know, President Obama said the other day when you’re whining before the game is even finished…”

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THE 2016 DEMOCRAT PLATFORM’S FOREIGN AND NATIONAL SECURITY POSITIONS: MIDDLE EAST

In this series, we will be looking at positions taken by the Democratic Party in their 2016 Platform on issues pertaining to national security. Next up is the Middle East. A commentary on the platform issue will be found at its end.

THE PLATFORM:

Syria

The Syrian crisis is heartbreaking and dangerous, and its impact is threatening the region, Europe, and beyond. Donald Trump would inflame the conflict by alienating our allies, inexplicably allowing ISIS to expand in Syria, and potentially starting a wider war. This is a reckless approach. Democrats will instead root out ISIS and other terrorist groups and bring together the moderate Syrian opposition, international community, and our regional allies to reach a negotiated political transition that ends Assad’s rule. Given the immense scale of human suffering in Syria, it is also imperative that we lead the international community in providing greater humanitarian assistance to the civilian victims of war in Syria and Iraq, especially displaced refugees.

Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, we will work with the NATO-led coalition of partners to bolster the democratically-elected government as it assumes a primary role in tackling terrorism, forges a more secure future for the country, and safeguards advances, like securing women’s rights. Democrats will continue to push for an Afghan-led peace process and press both Afghanistan and Pakistan to deny terrorists sanctuary on either side of the border. We support President Obama’s decision to maintain a limited troop presence in Afghanistan into 2017 and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a haven for terrorists to plan and launch attacks on our homeland.

Iran

We support the nuclear agreement with Iran because, as it is vigorously enforced and implemented, it verifiably cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb without resorting to war. We reject Donald Trump’s view that we should have walked away from a deal that peacefully dismantles Iran’s nuclear program. We will continue the work of this administration to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon and will not hesitate to take military action if Iran races towards one.

Democrats will also address the detrimental role Iran plays in the region and will robustly enforce and, if necessary, strengthen non-nuclear sanctions. Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. It violates the human rights of its population, denies the Holocaust, vows to eliminate Israel, and has its fingerprints on almost every conflict in the Middle East. Democrats will push back against Iran’s destabilizing activities including its support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, counter Iran’s ballistic missile program, bolster the capabilities of our Gulf partners, and ensure that Israel always has the ability to defend itself. Finally, Democrats recognize that the Iranian people seek a brighter future for their country and greater engagement with the international community. We will embrace opportunities for cultural, academic and other exchanges with the Iranian people.

COMMENTARY:

The Middle East is a region in turmoil with no good or easy answers either for nations in the region or for Western governments. The fundamentals of insecurity remain the Sunni-Shia divide and the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups that thrive on this divide in the Muslim community. There are a lot of issues that are missing in this section of the Democratic platform. Not least is directly the problems of the Gulf Sates like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as a discussion on Libya.

On Syria, the key statement about the country – that the “crisis is heartbreaking and dangerous, and its impact is threatening the region, Europe, and beyond” – is correct. Yet the landscape is so dark and complex that a clear path forward is not only very difficult, it is near impossible without the cooperation of all the major powers in the region. However, this is not currently forthcoming, as Egypt, Turkey, and other players are in internal disarray. Additionally, the Sunni-Shia conflict still badly needs resolution,  which seems out of reach without long-term work to heal. 

What can and should be done more specifically is deal with the real, major, and dire humanitarian situation. We need now to start to look at a humanitarian space which can at last be effectively enforced by multi-lateral peacekeeping/peace-protecting forces that include Muslim, Western, and other nations, along with needed support with major resources to create a cordon of protection and safety.

Supporting “moderate” forces remains a work in progress that must be reinforced.  Yet all of this must, in the end, lead to Assad’s removal in order to create lasting peace.  Russia must recognize the need to change its strategy and re-assess its interests, and see a crisis that is heartbreaking, dangerous, and one that’s impact is threatening the stability of the entire region. Europe, America, Russia, and beyond need to acquiesce to a real compromise that ends with a broad based multi-group governmental coalition based on ensured security of all ethnic groups.  Not least, what is needed is a major rebuilding of society – which will need a large amount of funding – for a region that has been decimated by hate and a brutal regime. The United Nations and other international organizations need to be involved.

The Afghanistan section essentially is a reiteration of the Obama Administration’s existing strategy, which tries to combine a certain limited US military presence with support for the Afghan government’s efforts to do what is necessary to bring security and a measure, at last, of a responsible government to the nation.

Progress, though slow and with many setbacks, have been made against ISIS and other terrorists groups. There is no mention of addressing the major problem of deep corruption that undermines true security and stability and the building of a measure of democracy. Part of the answer must be to restore some common security and economic improvement in the lives of the common citizen. This means Pakistan must act to stop its actions to destabilize Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Iraq stands as another battlefield that needs a comprehensive approach – military action alone will not fix the ills we now see in that nation.

Iran remains a work in progress and the Democratic Platform outlines the right path forward because no honest observer can deny that the Iran nuclear agreement is at the heart of ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapons for a very long time. The platform acknowledges that all of the other problems of Iran must be addressed, likely one-by-one, and we need to find some common ground. An aggressive stance is self-defeating for that country, and some are starting to recognize this, but it is a slow process. We need a long-term strategy to nudge Iran towards peace and help it to take a more cooperative stance in the region.

What is clear is that the Democratic platform is by far more realistic, more likely to result in a better outcome, less risk prone, and less likely to make the region even more unstable than much of Donald Trump’s own views and those of the GOP that unthinking hostility towards diplomacy and conciliation, raw hostility, and mindless use of military threats and bluster are.

We welcome your comments!

See our 2016 Campaign coverage

PART I : 2016 PROSPECTS FOR THE YEAR IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND NATIONAL SECURITY OR AROUND MUCH OF THE GLOBE IN HALF AN HOUR!

 

PART I : 2016 PROSPECTS FOR THE YEAR IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND NATIONAL SECURITY  OR AROUND PART OF THE GLOBE IN HALF AN HOUR!

BY
Harry C. Blaney III

FORWARD

This post will take a quick look at some of the most important global challenges and issues Americans and the rest of humanity will face in this year. This will be a brief look at possible developments in key areas, what risks and dangers lie with the topic and what policies or actions might affect outcomes good or bad. Also indicate what America could, should, or should not do to address the dangers and problems inherent in each issue. In short a quick tour of the most difficult questions our present and likely our next president will likely face.

THE MIDDLE EAST, THE SUNNI-SHIA DIVIDE, AND TERRORISM

There is no region more in disarray and conflict ridden than the Middle East and related regions. Nor is there a more difficult set of forces and issues which makes this region a complex quagmire and yet also more in need of conciliation, diplomacy and outside, yes outside help!

While in the end the Shia and Sunni nations must see that their conflict will destroy them both and make some kind of “pact,” or 2016 could see an escalation of internecine warfare. Here diplomacy from both inside the Islamic community and likely outside. Given the larger consequences we will see in the person of Secretary John Kerry and key Europeans an adding of efforts and pressure for some kind of truce. (See comments on Russia’s role below.)

Sadly the year 2016 started out with a worsening of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia over a stupid if not malicious act of killing a Shia Saudi cleric which seems almost designed to escalate the conflict. It will certainly make putting together a necessary joint Shia-Sunni Iraqi regional governance model harder if not impossible.

Yet it must be halted. The seat of most terrorism lies in this region and least we forget it impacts disastrously, more than anyone Muslims of all sects. We are trying to maintain a close dialogue with the key Shia government of Iran which is difficult at any time and with Saudi Arabia that wants unquestioned US support for its anti-Shia strategy. The latter position would be a disaster for America and our allies, in the end we need to be an “honest broker” and “peacemaker” not an outside protagonist.

ISIS or the so-called Islamic State is now at the heart of violence in the Middle East. But there are also many groups and indeed governments who have given support to these brutal killing machines which we see in North Africa, Africa proper, and in Europe and America in individual attacks. 2016 is likely to see more of these and also more reaction by states to curb these terrorists.

Under Obama’s cautious but directed and increasingly mixed-tools strategy, which curbs the deployment of large combat ground troops, and focus, as it should, on the Muslim states concerned taking the lead in routing out ISIS, seem to, at last, to make some progress. ISIS has lost some 30-40% of its population and/or territory in Syria and Iraq.

We are likely to see “more of the same” but now modified to see what works best and least costly in terms of blood and resources and the key problem of “blowback” and “unintended consequences.” It was and is a wise policy which pleases nobody but is an fine example of “smart power” at work. No guarantee of working but the best option of all the other most bad ones. We are likely to see a tough debate in 2016 over a more militaristic approach verses a more cautious but evolving and multi-tools strategy using cooperation with others as a key component. This conundrum will not be solved in 2016 but the activities and attacks of 2016 will influence future outcomes.

There are a number of Middle East countries which are in a critical state including Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, many African nations and others which need not just American attention but also from other key countries including Europe and Asian nations. In each case 2016 will require added major resources and attention via hard diplomacy and addressing some of the fundamental causes if each is not addressed the result will be the spread of conflict and terrorism.

ISRAELI- PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

An example of a conflict that is getting worse not better largely due to the continued effort of Prime Minister Bebe Nethanhuh to make sure there will not be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I can’t be less blunt about this. He has expanded illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which are all Palestinian lands. He has said outrageous words about Palestinians citizens in Israel and has said there will be no two state solution while he is in power. He has insulted and tried to undermined President Obama in as many ways as possible within the already fractured difficult American politics while getting un-presidented  major military assistance from the same President to help Israel’s security. His recent visit to Washington to “make up” made little progress towards a peace deal.

While the PLO has not been always helpful in the negotiations and remains weak and divided, and angery it was the continued settlements which forced them into desperate acts which is likely to bring the same sad scenario in 2016 unless there is considerable outside pressure to demand a need to solve this situation, which if not resolved is likely to inflame the entire region and threaten peace and produce a catastrophe for Israel itself. There are those who think America should give up on the Middle East. But the question is in 2016 can the West and other Middle East powers see the consequences of this path to mutual destruction and make an offer that can’t be turned down? Most experts are pessimistic, indeed opposed to any further efforts. They are wrong.

RUSSIA: A DISASTER IN WAITING

If it is true that President Putin’s game is enhancing his and Russia’s strategic and geopolitical standing and he wants to be seen as a major international power, he will be seriously disappointed. If his game is to make “mock war” with the West, this path and this goal lies in failure and possibly mutual calamity. The keyis for the West to hold its unity and focus. Russia it is to be a responsible state looking to help peacemaking and constructively dealing with the many global challenges we face, Putin can win that game for Russia’s long term interests.

His problem is really not just the low price of gas and oil, nor his military adventures, it is the tragedy that his policies have made of Russia. The Ukraine/Crimea gambit will prove to be costly on many dimensions and, if seen as it should, to be a cause of the downturn of the Russian economy and the standard of living of the average citizen (not you can be sure of Putin’s friends among the Oligarchy.

Russia is increasingly, as I have written earlier, a “Potemkin Village” is an empty shell and darkness inside and despair growing. Putin is riding high in the opinion polls but much is also due to his harsh repression of any dissent as seen in his “contract killings” at home and abroad. The predictions are for recession, decline of the Ruble, continued low oil and gas prices and not least a continued from the top corrupt society which enfeebles a great nation.

But this realization clearly has not yet happened  among many Russians and may not in 2016. The test will be in Ukraine, Syria, and relations with the former countries of the former Soviet Union. A test will also be if he continues to carry out his provocative military flights and ship/sub/troop exercises near or over NATO nations.

Given the recent past history, President Putin is not likely to let up on his dangerous indeed mad aggression and acts of war in Ukraine and Syria unless forced to do so from inside realities or outside pressure. He has backed time and time again brutal regimes and groups. His backing of Assad – a regime that has carried out now for years mass killings of its citizens in Syria. Assad’s is a terrorist regime itself.

In an odd swing this action has put him on the same side as Iran and Hezbollah a terrorist group, an effort to be a likely costly goal of being a “big” player in the muddy Middle East. It is just the same game as his other aggressive gambits with nefarious “allies” in places like Georgia, etc. He may pay a cost and make enemies with the Sunni nations by his actions.

He has from time to time tried to appear to seek common ground but with outcomes that only favor his prejudices and goals. He supports the Iran nuclear deal, and in theory a UN backed peace settlement and process in Syria. In 2016 we will see if this ends in peace and all will depend if he is willing to see in the near future Assad to go. His military chips are put down in the Syrian coast with added arms in 2016, but the forces at work are those he nor we can fully control.

Look for a very hard road here in 2016 unless Putin changes his calculations. Look also for more allied bombing efforts against ISIS and possibly indirectly Assad’s forces if peace talks fail. And some work to deal with the refugee issues seems necessary.

END OF PART I: COMING SECOND PART COVERS EUROPE, ASIA, NUCLEAR WEAPONS, GLOBAL WARMING, AND OTHER ISSUES.

Comments are welcomed.

PART II : THE YEAR 2015: A LOOK BACKWARD FOR GLOBAL SECURITY AND PEACE

PART II : THE YEAR 2015: A LOOK BACKWARD FOR GLOBAL SECURITY AND PEACE

By

Harry C. Blaney III

Beyond the specifics of our fractured and conflict ridden world covered in Part I of this two part series, are questions about the contributions or the follies of our national and global leaders and of our institutions and in the end concerned and impacted citizens.

We want to add some thoughts about the import of events in 2015 that are in some ways emblematic of the global landscape we live in and provided either new difficult challenges or show hopeful paths for America and the international community.

THE ISSUE OF GLOBAL LEADERS AND OUR SECURITY: FINDING COOPERATION

2015 was a year where there also was a real effort of some global leaders to find areas of agreement, of conciliation, of paths to peace and reduction of nuclear weapons and dealing with terrorism in intelligent ways. The first part of this series saw some very dark events and some acts by leaders that contributed to hatred, conflict, inequality, and bigotry. While others tried to mitigate these catastrophes. The results were indeed mixed.

This balance between peacemakers and authoritarian and malevolent “disrupters” and war-makers has been through all of human history and 2015 was not exception. Examples are below of this on going struggle.

DISINTEGRATION VERSES INTEGRATION, THE MIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION CRISIS, TERRORISM, AND GLOBAL WARMING

THE EUROPEAN CHALLENGE

The key challenges for Europe are immigration, keeping Britain in the EU fold, getting rid of austerity and getting the economy on a growth pattern. It also was addressing terrorism within and abroad, facing inequality which threatens stability, and the growth of fascists and racist and extreme right-wing governments and parties. And also defining the relationship with America, an aggressive Russia and rising China in a constructive way.

Angela Merkel, who I have criticized for her economic austerity policies towards Greece and other weak EU states, came through initially in 2015 as a moral leader in support of refugees feeling death and conflict which seems to have cost her support at home. Her fate in 2016 will hinge not only on gaining some consensus within Germany for helping and accepting the refugees but for leading the EU towards a broader and more effective set of policies and actions which will make for a peaceful settlement and fair sharing of the burden. Immigration in 2015 was truly a challenge almost un-precedented and was largely an event that divided Europe and its reactions engendered more disunity and irresponsible acts and policies.

2015 was a year Britain went down the dangerous path towards possible separation of Scotland which thankfully failed – not thanks to Prime Minister Cameron. Cameron made the decision to hold a referendum to leave the EU and a vote is set for 2016. Merkel will also be key in helping keep the UK in the EU when the forces in Britain of the small minded Tory Euro-skeptics and the British equivalent of our Republican Tea Party bigots want to separate from the EU. Further there was and continues a dangerous move and sentiment within Europe against not only immigration but also the EU and the “FORE Project” which is the keystone for peace and stability and yes democracy in the region. The leaders of Europe did not in 2015 face fully up to these challenges.

FRANCE TO THE FORE?

What was seen as a weak French socialist president Hollande, turned out to be seen by many as strong in dealing with terrorism in Africa, and recently in his stance during the Paris attacks in November and the lead host of the Paris Climate change meeting. France in some ways has come to replace the British as a more reliable partner on a number of key issues. Their decision to contribute planes and resources to the allied bombing efforts in Syria and Iraq was an unexpected act. They were more involved in dealing with Russia on Ukraine, in the Iran nuclear deal, and took on anti-terrorism responsibilities in Africa.

THE BRITISH RETREAT?

Prime Minister David Cameron, on the other hand, did a lot of talking and little real action. While supporting UK continued membership in the EU he mismanaged in 2014 and 2015 the process of the vote on EU membership that is planned to take place in 2016. Should UK leave the EU the consensus of experts is it would be a disaster for Britain (and for Europe also).

He has failed to quiet the separatist tides in Scotland after the vote to stay united by a totally irresponsible handling of promises that were made for increased Scottish home rule. Not least he has move toward anti-immigration moves to mitigate the influence of such parties as the UK Independent Party with its racist, anti-EU, and isolationist tendencies. Wining the election in 2015 with a clear majority in Parliament but not in the nation was a plus for him, but it led to a doubling down on arch-conservative programs to punish the poor and to enhance the very rich. In the end this can’t but reap harm to Britain in the world.

DEPLORING WORLD’S WOES!

Economic growth overall in the developing nations was disappointing and the growth of conflict in places like Africa and Middle East hurt as did growing debts and political disarray. Leadership in the developing world was in too many cases a disaster for these countries with a few making efforts against an overwhelming tide of despair, corruption, and disparity of wealth and power. On a upward note, Castro in Cuba decided to respond to Obama’s outreach, China’s leaders helped at last on climate change/ environment, and India also finally went along when it was a spoiling nation with the Paris accords. Key in 2015 and will be in 2016, is efforts to start a rapprochement between the near warring nuclear weaponed India and Pakistan. A number of countries had mostly democratic elections including Burma, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Burma. And there were game changing elections in Argentina, Venezuela, and the Central African Republic,

AMERICA’S ROLE IN CRISIS MANAGEMENT AND RECONCILIATION

Notable above all, has been President Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry who carried often much of the globe on their shoulders. They got India and China to finally do something constructive on climate change, more than anyone Obama and Kerry got the Iran agreement through in negotiations and in the Congress. Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba was a major breakthrough for both sides. Obama proposed both the Atlantic and Pacific trade packs which still remain controversial, but envisions a more united world economically and has strategic significance. 2016 will see how these two initiatives progress.

A key wise outcome was the administration kepting its promise not to do “stupid things” and kept their caution and steely focus on what could be done effectively and at least cost. It has shown some results. They saw their judgement and policies make some progress in 2015 and into 2016 with notable victories, with little American blood lost, in Iraq with the retaking of Ramadi and other towns. They revised our strategy in Syria with progress by American supported Kurd forces taking key points and pushing the Islamic State back from important towns and sites but some mixed results. But with a little advancement by the Syrian opposition forces. The Syrian quagmire became even more difficult after Putin’s 2015 intervention and Russian bombing of opposition forces.

But the simply fact is that U.S. and allied precise bombing and intelligence has been critical for success, despite being downplayed by the neo-cons and their hawkish Republican followers, who seem blindly want more vulnerable troops on the ground as proof of their on-the-cheep “toughness.” In fact we saw that added allied bombing was taking place.

The key still remains our diplomatic efforts. The UN Security Council with American and allied nations, and even Russia agreement, voted on a path towards possible peace and a new Syrian governance structure. This effort is filled with uncertainties, but promises more hope than would getting mass American combat troops sent to be killed by the Islamic State terrorist on their home turf. I see this as a use of “smart power” while the GOP still seems, as they did in Iraq under Bush II earlier, decide to use “stupid power” and play the terrorist’s game.

AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND THE GLOBAL ORDER

The debates in 2015, especially those of the Republican candidates revealed how dangerous our atrocious politics have become for the security if the rest of the world. 2015 showed how unbalanced our nation could become and how one major party has so gone off the deep end that even the fair right creator of this condition in Republican politics, Charles Koch in a Financial Times interview said that he was “disappointed” by the current crop of Republican presidential candidates and resigned to having to support one with whom he agrees on only some issues. He thinks his issues are not being addressed. He is unhappy with the positions of Trump and Cruz on dealing with Muslims! And perhaps more? There is more irony in this as he has probably been more responsible for the GOP crazies we have today than any other person on this earth! Yet he would support any crazy according to his statement rather than any Democrat.

The other trend in our nation in 2015 and before has been the universal effort by the Republican candidates to beat up on Obama and especially to call him “weak” mostly focusing on his caution about using massive ground forces in Syria and Iraq. Trump started this idea of “No energy” not only against Obama and also his GOP opponents, but it has become a chorus by all the rest of what can be fairly described as the worst group of would-be presidents in American history. Each has done all they could either in their official capacity or on the campaign trail to undermined American power and interests around the world by their irresponsible statements, policies, or votes. They have been indifferent on how they are viewed by other nations. Just their presence in 2015 and the possibility that any one of them might be president sends shudders down most allied leaders and many of their educated citizens.

This is a world of interdependence, globalized as some would have it, and this is the high level information world where people everywhere hear what is said by global leaders and would be leaders via TV and the internet.

So goodby 2015, and we will look at the prospects for 2016 soon.

We welcome you comments!

THE UNTOLD STORY OF YEMEN

By Harron Young 

Yemen
Phot0: al jazeera

Civil war, hundreds of airstrikes a day, multiple players, and religious divide, yes this is Syria, but it is also Yemen, a country where the outcomes are just as devastating. With much of the world’s attention on Syria and Iraq, the lack of media attention to one of the most unfortunate civil wars, or more so proxy war, has failed to bring the news of Yemen to our TV screens and newspapers.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 80% of the population requires some form of humanitarian protection or assistance, 48% of the humanitarian response is unmet, and 95% of the civilians, noncombatants, were killed from explosive weapons. Looking at the most basic issue in Yemen, we have a civil war with the North controlled by the Shi’a Houthi rebels, versus the Sunni majority in the South aligned with the internationally recognized government. Characterizing this as simply a Shi’a versus Sunni issue, or North versus South, barely scratches the surface in Yemen; within those sects of Islam, there is a deeper conflict including the Zaydis, a school of thought within Shi’a Islam, and Islah Islam, an opposition party that falls within Sunni Islam, this along with southern separatists, other militants, and religious extremist all involved in this conflict.

Backing these divided religious groups are Middle Eastern powerhouses such as Iran supporting the Houthis in the North, and a Saudi led coalition of Gulf Cooperation Council States (excluding Oman), further backed by the United States, in the South. As the Houthi rebel group represents a strong population of Shi’as in the North, they support the idea of a two-region state where they would dominate the North, and by January 2015, the Houthis demanded 50% of key ministerial position in the Yemeni government.

  Further conflict ensued when Saudi Arabia saw these demands, and Yemeni President Hadi forced from his palace in Sana’a by Houthi rebels, as Iranian interference in the region. In March of 2015, Saudi Foreign Minister declared that Saudi Arabia would protect the region from aggression, with the only solution being reinstating the internationally recognized government, and eliminating all Houthi rebels from any government institution they occupy. Almost ten months later, and Yemen has turned into a miserable war zone in which the death toll, amount of displaced people, and those facing food and water insecurity has escalated at a much faster rate than the chaos witnessed in Syria.

Although the Houthis have loosely been supported by Iran, they are not operating under its control and have been an independent political group before the outbreak of this civil war. Iran’s intervention in Yemen has only been an attempt to seize more influence in the region. Since Yemen is close to impenetrable, it is difficult to quantify what role Iran is playing in Yemen, with its only support being a supply of weapons to the Houthis; this comes as no surprise as Iran has a history of helping Shi’a minorities in the region.

The GCC countries, specifically Saudi Arabia, have stated their reasoning for intervening in Yemen while also carrying out a hidden agenda. This coalition claims their actions are answering the official request of the legitimate government of Yemen, protecting the Yemeni people, and fighting al-Qaeda and Daesh in the region. The events of the past ten months disprove these claims; so far, the Saudi led coalition has done nothing to stop al-Qaeda in Yemen.  The coalition has only hurt the civilian population in both the North and South from multiple airstrikes a day, and by establishing a blockade on the major ports in Yemen; this blockade has stopped the flow of food and resources in and out of the country. Although this blockade was done to protect the legitimate government from outside militias, this military tactic only cut off the civilian population from the rest of the world and vital resources needed for survival. Such ports are necessary as this country depends on imports for 70% of its fuel, 90% of its food, and 100% of its medicine, all now extremely limited in Yemen.

The number of casualties and injuries caused by explosive weapons in Yemen is the world’s highest, in which the all parties involved in this civil war are responsible for the unprecedented count of civilian suffering. In a September report done by the United Nations OCHA, when explosives are used, 86% of people killed are civilians and this number goes up to 95% in highly populated areas. Airstrikes were the single biggest danger to civilians in Yemen in the first seven months of 2015. Explosive weapons in Yemen have killed or injured more civilians this year than any other country in the world, including Syria. This is a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) by all parties involved in the conflict; through the principles of proportionality, distinction, and precaution, all parties to the conflict are obligated to limit the loss of civilian life.

With the lack of coverage on Yemen, first hand depiction of this state is provided by aid organizations on the ground, all of which have been struggling to provide civilians with the most basic level of support. Reports from Oxfam International, a major organization coordinating relief effort in Yemen, have announced shockingly high numbers; close to 20 million people have no food or water security, about 1.5 million people from Yemen are displaced with about 100,000 refugees in Somaliland or Djibouti, making Yemen one of the worst crisis in the world. Such destruction to the infrastructure and civilian population as a whole may be attributed to ground fighting and airstrikes. Indiscriminate bombings by both opposing parties have targeted all governorates in Yemen and have been happening 100 to 150 times a day for the past nine months. In total, this conflict has killed around 5,800 people since March, including 830 women and children, according to the UN. Not only is Yemen completely underfunded in terms of aid organizations being able to provide support to civilians, but the lack of media coverage on this war has failed to put a face to those suffering in this conflict.

The many states actively playing a role in this civil war have only perpetuated the situation, leaving unprotected civilians at the forefront of the destruction. If human rights violations and war crimes are not enough to bring this situation to the attention of the global community, then U.S. involvement in this war should also be noted. Although the United States does not have ground troops in Yemen, they have provided the Saudi led coalition with funding, weapons, and intelligence. A report done by the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy reported that the U.S. has $49 billion worth of new agreements of arms sales with Saudi Arabia, this along with $60 billion in weapons and intelligence last year. Second to Saudi Arabia in amount of weapons received by the U.S, is the United Arab Emirates, which received 1,600 guided bomb units that were explicitly used in Yemen. Although the National Security Council has called for the defense of the Saudi Arabian border and the Department of State has shared concern of aggressive actions by the Houthis, the helicopters, combat aircrafts, and missiles supplied by the U.S. to the Saudi led coalition have greatly contributed to the humanitarian catastrophe occurring in Yemen. In response to this, the National Security Council stated that, “the United States has no role in targeting decisions made by the coalition in Yemen.” Such actions have been addressed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who accused all parties involved in Yemen, including the U.S, as responsible for the harm civilians in Yemen are facing.

The Obama administration has received backlash from such actions as 13 members of Congress (led by Reps. Dingell, Ellison, and Lieu) sent a letter to President Obama calling on the administration to urge Saudi Arabia to better protect innocent lives. This letter appropriately stated that “when U.S. weapons and intelligence are utilized, the decision to conduct an airstrike should correspond to the standards that would apply to any U.S. military operation.” Regardless, the United States continues to support the actions of the Saudi led coalition in Yemen, when instead the U.S. should be pushing their allies towards peace talks and humanitarian relief efforts. The United States must also be concerned with extremists, such as al-Qaeda, that has already captured much of the southeast province Hadramawt, and now a have a strong hold in Yemen due to the instability in the state and lack of military focus on eliminating the terrorist group by the Saudi led coalition.

This conflict in Yemen has only been getting worse, and looking forward will drive Yemen further into state failure if a ceasefire and resolution are not met. Currently, Yemen is attempting a second round of peace talks taking place in Switzerland, as their first national dialogue failed in 2014. Such peace talks only consist of Yemeni nationals, the Hadi government, the Houthi rebels, and the general People’s Congress, with no foreign states involved. This is a major step in the right direction as a political solution that addresses reunifying the country and preventing further casualties is the only way to end the crisis. For the success of the peace talks, and ultimately relief to the Yemeni people, a ceasefire must be initiated and followed by the Saudi led coalition, something the U.S. should push their allies to do. If and when a political solution happens, what is equally if not more important is a plan for the day after. A “day after” plan must ensure the agreements of such peace talks are met and humanitarian and infrastructure assistance is provided. This plan must build up the civil society, as a stronger and unified Yemeni military and local police force is necessary to eliminate extremist in the region. As the country becomes safer from lack of constant airstrikes, aid organizations and the Yemeni government will have to work endlessly to rebuild demolished infrastructure such as homes, schools, and water and sanitation systems. A political solution and the plans following will not be easy, much closer to impossible if anything, but the well being and safety of the Yemeni people, along with global security, desperately depend on a ceasefire and unified government in Yemen.