Monday, March 21, 2011

Qaddafi Soup

Muammar Qaddafi is a terrorist and he has been one from the day his regime began 40 years ago. He had his hands all over the Lockerbie Pam Am Flight 103 bombing in 1988, and we should have taken him out as soon as it occurred to us that he had a role in it.

When Qaddafi started clamping down on insurrectionists in his country, we attempted to strong-arm him into stepping aside by suggesting we might re-open the Lockerbie investigation and bring charges of crimes against humanity against him. The idea was that we had the goods on Qaddafi and if he didn't back away from defending his regime against the rebels, we would go after him in international court. That not only made us look weak, it showed us to be hypocrites in our outrage over the atrocity on Pan Am 103. How in the world do we withhold our vengeance over the murders of Americans over Lockerbie until - and only until - Qaddafi compounds the crime by killing his own people? That made us look so obviously unprincipled. I don't get it.

If we were going to re-open the Lockerbie investigation, we should have done it LONG before this latest unrest in Libya. Qaddafi read our weakness correctly. He didn't buy the not-so-veiled threat, and he didn't cave in. In fact, he ramped up his operations against his opponents until they were nearly on the ropes.

We continue to say he MUST step aside, but he hasn't. We put strong words out there, but everyone knows we're not going to commit the resources to seeing it through. Finally, when Qaddafi put aircraft in the air against his opponents, the Europeans took the initiative to limit his ability to do that. That's where the no-fly zone came from.

So finally, the President went to the UN to get a resolution for military action, but didn't go to our own Congress. We feel better about bombing Libya because the Arab League called for action, but we didn't check to see what our own Congress thought about it. To be clear, I think the War Powers Act might not survive a Constitutional challenge and I'd support a President testing those waters sometime. However, I will NEVER support the idea of a President consulting with everyone BUT our Congress. There's something wrong with that. Why is he playing the populist with the Europeans and the Arab League, but can't bring himself to take the issue to the people's House in his own country?

So, before the first Tomahawk missile took flight, Qaddafi took cover. He'll stay under cover until the bombings stop. In the meantime, his forces will continue to fight the rebels and he'll survive unless we get lucky and happen to drop a bomb in his pocket. If he lays low, he'll probably outlive our interest in the bombing campaign.

The reason we found Saddam Hussein in his hidie hole was because we had people on the ground blanketing the area. Still, they were lucky to find him. The reason we haven't found Osama bin Laden is because it doesn't matter how many people we put on the ground, there are endless places for him to hide. The reason Qaddafi will probably survive is that we won't go in after him. I don't want to put troops on the ground in Libya, but I think I'd like Qaddafi to wonder if we might. Why do we feel so compelled to tell him how far we're willing to go?

If we want to go after someone, I would rather we just did it rather than think up a reason to do it that we might never be willing to use again in a similar scenario. We have plenty of reason to go after him without it. If the reason we're bombing Libya is that Qaddafi is taking brutal military action against Libyan citizens, would we take the same action against Iran, the Sudan, Somalia, China, or North Korea?

I also think we need ask ourselves how far we would be willing to go in our own country if we were besieged by a highly effective, well-armed and organized insurrection here. Wouldn't we put our jets in the air and bomb our domestic enemies if that's what it took? I think - and hope - we would. Every federal political and military official in our country has sworn an oath "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." What do we think that really means? Qaddafi's war with a mortal enemy is not the reason I would have used to go after him. We should remember it's been only 140 years since the Battle of Gettysburg in the Pennsylvania countryside.

We are now participating in a massive bombing campaign, but we say we're not doing it because we want regime change. Ironically, we're bombing him so he'll stop bombing his enemies. That logic doesn't sound entirely congruent. We want regime change, but we say we're not going to try to get regime change by bombing him. What?! That doesn't sound very congruent either. We can't seem to consistently define our principles, mission, or objectives.

Again, I don't have a problem with going after Qaddafi, but I don't agree with how and why we say we're doing it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Final Exam

In December of 2008, George W. Bush was President, Barack Obama had just been elected President, and I was a high school Honors American Government teacher. I stumbled across the final examination I gave them just before Christmas break that year and thought I'd share it here. It seems relevant today in light of today's volatile international political and economic climate, and a national economic climate that includes a national debt that is 34% higher than it was in 2008.

My students did very well on the exam, but I wonder how their elected officials today would do on it.

Here it is:

Looking back to the collapse of the Roman Empire, Rome's economy had been declining for centuries. Rome had grown wealthy on the proceeds of its territorial expansion, but when expansion ended after Rome succeeded in bringing stability to its frontiers, this source of new wealth and economic growth also ended. Lacking new sources of income from expansion, manufacturing, expanding exports, and so on, Rome's capitalist economy contracted. In order to pay their armies and other costs of government, the emperors debased its coinage (diminished its true value by diluting its inherent value while maintaining that the coinage held the same value in the marketplace). To escape the resulting inflation, those who still had money invested in real estate, which, unlike the money at the time (because of debasing), held its value. Inflation and an overreaching tax burden ruined much of the middle class.

The Cato Institute (a free-market think tank) says that the emperors later "deliberately overtaxed the senatorial (or ruling) class in order to render it powerless. To do this, the emperors needed a powerful set of enforcers -- the imperial guard. Once the wealthy and powerful were no longer either rich or powerful, the poor had to pay the bills of the state. These bills included the payment of the imperial guard and the military troops at the empire's borders. Since the military and the imperial guard were absolutely essential, taxpayers had to be compelled to produce their pay. Workers had to be tied to their land. To escape the burden of tax, some small landowners sold themselves into slavery, since slaves didn't have to pay tax and freedom from taxes was more desirable than personal liberty. Since the Empire wasn't making money from the slaves, the Emperor Valens (368) declared it illegal to sell oneself into slavery."

Ultimately, Rome collapsed fully and Europe fell into the Dark Ages.

Roll the calendar forward 1,500 years to today. Times are difficult. As of December 3, the national debt was $10.6 trillion with $412 billion spent in 2008 on interest on the national debt. In 2008, we spent $700 billion on health and human services, $660 billion on social security, $640 billion on national defense, $61 billion on education, $60 billion on the Office of (Government) Personnel Management, $56 billion on transportation, and billions more on other items. Congress has a reputation for misspending the public's money on "pork barrel" items. Congressmen contend that since they represent their districts in Congress they need to send the budget money home to help their part of the country (which they would equate to doing their part to help the country).

The Brookings Institute (an independent research and policy institute) reports that fifty different governmental units share in the responsibility for planning and delivering aid to foreign countries with dozens of often overlapping broad objectives ranging from narcotics eradication to biodiversity preservation. The United States currently sends more than $100 billion overseas to the developing world in government and individual contributions. Major cornerstone industries in the U.S. are in jeopardy of collapse. The government is considering additional massive bailouts of these industries and businesses which will create a financial burden on your children and grandchildren, but they might also relieve pressure on the economy today. Everyday Americans and new businesses are having difficulty borrowing money because of faulty credit policies of the past. Fuel prices are unpredictable and we are at war to defeat terrorism and stabilize the world's largest oil producing region.

We haven't yet begun to sell ourselves into slavery, but there are undoubtedly difficult times ahead. The speed and complexity of communications and technology not only produce great things quickly, they also accelerate calamities and cause government action to ripple rapidly through the country (and the world), and not always with the desired effect. Events that once took centuries to occur in Ancient Roman times transpire in mere months and years today.

We need leadership now. We need it today. We need a leader who will be bold and will seize the initiative. We need a leader who can and will make difficult and maybe unpopular principled decisions. We need a leader who will break the mold of contemporary politics and establish a new benchmark in American history while holding onto this country's founding principles and the visionary values of the framers of our Constitution. We need a leader who realizes that these times require a standard bearer who possesses astounding moral courage: the willingness - the eagerness - to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. That leader is YOU.

In my capacity as your instructor, I have vested in you the power to fix it all and I have appointed the great Roman philosopher, orator, and statesman Cicero to be your chief of staff. His advice to you is the same as the advice he gave Roman leaders in 55 BC, "The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome (the U.S.) becomes bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."

Your Assignment:

Write an essay reacting to Cicero's counsel in the context of current political and economic events in the United States using your knowledge of at least THREE of the Six Principles of the U.S. Constitution:

(1) Popular Sovereignty
(2) Limited Government
(3) Separation of Powers
(4) Checks and Balances
(5) Judicial Review
(6) Federalism

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Caliphates - 9. From the Ashes of Corruption

Muhammad Leads Early Muslim Warriors in Battle
Beginning with the war and turmoil that surrounded the Prophet Muhammad's rise to the leadership of the Muslim faith, Islam has proven itself anything but benign, anything but placid for a significant part of its history.  The final dozen years of the Prophet's life were spent at war, and the caliphates that followed stayed true to that example.

With the ascendency of the First Rightly Guided Caliph Abu Bakr, Islam won over conversions by force throughout Arabia. The Second Rightly Guided Caliph Umar, however, took Islamic expansionism to a new level as he spread the young Islamic caliphate to include Jerusalem, Egypt, Algeria, Syria, and Persia. The caliphate retracted somewhat under the Third Rightly Guided Caliph Uthman ibn Affan as he tried to harness the multitude of cultures that fell within the Islamic caliphate. The Fourth Rightly Guided Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib had struggled with the fact he believed he should have been caliph all along; then, when he finally assumed the mantle, his brief reign was plagued by civil war against the eventual leader of the Umayyad Caliphate, Mu'awiyah.

The fact that Ali wasn't named the first caliph after Muhammad's death, in spite of being a blood relative and son-in-law of the Prophet, stung him and his followers and formed the basis of the split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that has persisted ever since. That rift has characterized every significant interaction between Muslims in the 1,500 years since Muhammad's death.

Ali and his clan have reclaimed some of that lost prestige, however, by the fact that Shiites revere him today as the First Imam and they also regard eleven of his descendants as exalted Imams as well. His two sons were the Second and Third Imams, but they were also the second and third Imams to be assassinated. It turns out the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Imams were also assassinated while the Twelfth Imam is believed to be hiding either in caves or in a well awaiting the chaos that will usher his return to preside over the Worldwide Caliphate with Jesus at his side. Ali's sons, Hasan and Husayn, are the two Imams to whom modern-day "Sayyids" - like Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr and Ayatollah Sayyed Ruhollah Khomeini - trace their ancestry.

The Umayyad Caliphate
The Umayyad Caliphate made Caliph Umar's territorial expansion look miniscule by comparison as it spread from the near side of China in the east and as far west as modern-day Spain and Portugal. The rise of the rival Abbasid Caliphate forced the Umayyads westward until they finally melted into the scenery. Finally, the Ottomans arose in Turkey and reclaimed much of the former glory of preceding caliphates and added a new dimension, sea power. It was the presence and power of the Ottomans that motivated the King of Spain to send Christopher Columbus into the Atlantic to find an alternate route to Asia. The Ottomans collapsed in the early 1900s under the weight of atrophy, stagnation, and strife from within the Muslim ranks.

The radical Wahabbists arose in Arabia and expanded northward as the Ottomans declined into "corruption." The Muslim Brotherhood emerged in the 1920s out of aggravation over the - well - corruption of Islam under the Ottomans and others who sought to reform Islam in Egypt. Muslim leaders in the Middle East sided with the Germans in World Wars I and II and it cost them. Their ill-chosen sympathies re-labeled the map of the Middle East and set back the efforts of the more fundamental Muslim elements to establish a foothold. It also led to the establishment of the State of Israel and the repatriation of Jews to the region in 1948. Islamic states have been in a state of war with Israel in some degree or another ever since.

In spite of their claim to the bloodline of the Prophet Muhammad, the Shiites have struggled to convert the majority Sunnis or to assert themselves as the leaders of the Ummah in a significant way. They have been outspoken and assertive, they have fought their enemies to the death - often the enemy's and their own - and they have endured in spite of never having really run the show in any of the caliphates for any significant amount of time, compared to the Sunnis. They have always been there though, never rising to significant regional power, but never really letting anyone else have all of it either. The Sunnis, on the other hand, have often risen to great power but have always seemed to lose it through some level of complacency - military, political, and religious. They have shown the world vivid examples of meteoric expansion and of unfathomable free fall.

The Uprising in Egypt
But there is a relatively new movement, now forty years old, underway today led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) as it attempts to unify the Islamic faith by insisting the age-old differences between Sunnis and Shiites are "merely differences of opinion and interpretation and not essential differences of faith." Clearly, Muslims have felt otherwise for a long time. Differences in the Hadiths the two groups have written and used to interpret the Koran give divergent views of Islam that tend to indicate the divisions aren't so superficial. How monumental is the task to have the two groups set aside the points of faith and politics that have kept them at each other's throats for centuries? If that effort is successful, how consequential will it be?

In Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
While those in the West have looked at the rebellions in the Middle East and North Africa and chalked them up to economic strife and overbearing governments, examples involving the more moderate governments in Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates give us a reason to look twice. The one thing the governments of Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Tunisia all have in common is they have not exactly been the darlings of the Islamic movement because they've tended more toward secular government than the Islamic ideal would have it. Some of these governments are no-kidding corrupt, but if corruption and tyranny were all spontaneous triggers, we'd see more radical Islamic governments fall with them. Ironically - but perhaps understandably - protests against the most tyrannical of the Islamic governments are getting very little press.

Just Doin' Some Editing
Meanwhile, the media celebrates the rebellions in Egypt, Bahrain, and elsewhere as purely democratic movements. The lead on TIME's special "The Middle East in Revolt" proudly proclaimed, "After decades of living under oppressive dictatorships, the people of the Arab world are rising up to stake their claim to democracy." Popular voices in America suggest we should hope the people of nations like Egypt have the opportunity to live in democracies, and live in them whatever their imperfections. No less than the personage of Muqtada al-Sadr prefers a democratic Iraq, in a manner of speaking. But he is a dedicated advocate of Islamic democracy. Again, democracy whatever its imperfections, even if it's an Islamic democracy...

Of course, the good people in America and elsewhere might not be so eager to embrace these movements if they realized that an Islamic democracy is another term for Islamic theocracy where Islam is the state religion with Islam in varying degrees as the only basis for the law. Many waiting in the wings to take over in these troubled nations favor strict Islamic law - Sharia law - an Islamic democracy in the extreme. It would replace the oppression of the dictatorships TIME refers to with the oppression of a democracy of a kind the West is not very familiar with.

The OIC Flag with the Words
"Allahu Akbar" written in Arabic Script
The OIC, with its call for Islamic unity appears to be leading the way among the new Islamic thinkers; it's apparent it enjoys a growing influence in the Muslim world. In spite of its moderate-sounding goals and apparently innocuous principles, it also advocates an Islamic democracy and Sharia law. It seems to have mastered the art of equivocation when it comes to speaking of democracy, human rights, and corruption as well.

We remember from the history of the Umayyad and Ottoman Caliphates that the chief criticism of them from dissident Muslims was that they were "corrupt." The critics considered them corrupt because they believed they weren't pure and true to the faith. The Mubarak government in Egypt was corrupt in the same way. It was corrupt in the Western sense of the word too, but the corruption that gave fundamentalist Muslims the most concern was the corruption of the faith in the Mubarak government, the same corruption shared by all of the Egyptian kings and presidents since the fall of the Ottomans. But the Ottomans before them had become "corrupt" as well.

The fact is any Islam-centered government that does not institute Sharia or make Islamic law a significant part of governance is corrupt as is any democratic government that is not an Islamic democracy. Christianity and Judaism are corruptions of God's law and are corrupt Abrahamic religions in their eyes. It must amuse them when Westerners say things like "Muslim extremists have tried to corrupt a peaceful religion" because we clearly don't understand "corruption" as they do.

Secretary-General of the OIC
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu
The OIC's equivocation extends to its position on human rights as well. While it establishes one of its principles in its charter, "to adhere to [its] commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter," it has also adopted in its Cairo Declaration on Human Rights a purely Islamic perspective on human rights as being guided solely by Islamic Sharia law. So, when it speaks of human rights, it does so within the context of Sharia law. Many in the West see relatively little emphasis on comprehensive human rights in Sharia Law.

But the OIC presses on without blinking an eye as it uses its seat in the UN delegation to advance its agenda. While the eyebrows of some are raised in curiosity and skepticism, others seem painfully indifferent. Muslim leaders waiting to carry the torch are paying attention though. Muqtada al-Sadr is paying attention and clerics who've recently made a home in Cairo's Tahrir Square like Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi are paying attention, and the Muslim Brotherhood is paying attention as well.

We hear a lot about the Worldwide Caliphate these days, but you know, a worldwide caliphate is a tall order unless a regional caliphate is already in place in the Middle East from which to establish a base. So, if one was interested in heeding the lessons of the past caliphates, how one would go about establishing a regional caliphate today? Surely, any successful strategy would have to include Muslim unity to preclude the persistent undermining of the caliphate. One might also remember the difficulty of assimilating diverse populations under nuanced rules of society and government by maybe allowing for self-government but under common plan or a charter. In planning a strategy for a broader caliphate that all Muslims envision, shouldn't one begin with existing Muslim majorities that are ripe for political reform and "democratization?"

If one were to construct a regional caliphate, one might proceed as I've described here while winning a free pass from the West through an incremental strategy designed to weaken Western resolve and light the fires of appeasement. Keying on the notoriously short and self-indulgent attention span of Westerners and their recent affection for multiculturalism, perhaps a regular drumbeat of calls for tolerance of Muslims in the West, punctuated by persistent and violent attacks designed to soften the resolve of the people would be effective. Is it possible to wage a campaign to have a culture essentially assimilate into its immigrant population rather than the other way around? It depends on the culture's ability and willingness to make key distinctions and understand the basis for its own exceptionalism.

But the OIC is counting on the world not to make those distinctions as it unhesitatingly brings its campaign to combat "Islamophobia" to the United Nations floor. The OIC doesn't address the catalog of actions and events in recent history that have precipitated negative feelings toward Islam; instead, it approaches the negative sentiments toward Islam as though they are unilaterally in need of reorientation and re-education. It's as if the perceptions are what need correction. That's easy to understand, however, when one remembers they also frame definitions of human rights in the context of Sharia law. When opposition to the OIC and organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, and concern over the democratization - Islamic democratization - of the Middle East become tantamount to Islamophobia, we'll know the campaign is doing well. When that happens, opposition to the idea of an Islamic theocracy in the place of a democracy or a representative republic will probably amount to nothing less than hate speech.

Organization of the Islamic Conference Member States
It might well be that a regional caliphate is already under construction. A map of the OIC's member states would make for a pretty good caliphate, particularly if the less desirable leaders of some member nations were replaced by new "democratic-minded" leaders. Following a model that considers the errors of the past, it wouldn't take much imagination to see a caliphate in the form of an Islamic confederation suddenly emerge one day. It happens that the OIC map includes every nation formerly included in previous caliphates except three - Israel, Spain, and Portugal - and adds a dozen more.

While it is in America's interest for Americans to study the past and pay attention to current and future events, that hasn't quite proven to be our strong suit. Even if we won't do that though, let's not ignore the observations of those from the past who knew Islamic radicalism isn't a passing anomaly of an otherwise benign religion. While certainly not all of its adherents are radicals and fundamentalists, it is the radicals and fundamentalists who are and have been defining the faith and developing its global strategy. The fact is moderate Muslims have more friends among the people on the streets of America than they have in the fiery centers of the Middle East. Again, though, the moderates aren't charting the course and they're not changing it either.

While many try to explain that dichotomy by claiming the radicals are a recent aberration and that the history of the Islamic movement has been truer to the moderate form, we should look back to the observations Winston Churchill made during a military campaign in the Sudan. He recorded them in his book, "The River War": "Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science - the science against which it had vainly struggled - the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome."

He wrote those words in 1899, long before 9/11.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Caliphates - 8. The Pan-Islamic Mandate

Al-Safa Palace and the Kaaba, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Three-and-a-half years after Imam Khoei's assassination in Najaf, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) met at Al-Safa Palace in Mecca (Makkah). The OIC, with its 57 member nations, has positioned itself as the voice of the Ummah - the Muslim world - and is second only to the UN as the largest international organization in the world. Its main office is located in Tehran, Iran.

The OIC drafted and approved The Makkah Pact at that 2006 conference, aimed at making a compelling call for Sunni and Shiite unity throughout the Islamic community, but particularly in Iraq, where bombings of mosques, assassinations, and attacks by one sect against the other were rampant. The Pact forbade Shiites and Sunnis from killing each other, and issued what amounted to a universal proclamation that, "The Muslim is he who professes his faith by proclaiming 'Lailaha Illallah Muhammad Rasulullah' (There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet). By this statement, the Muslim embraces and accepts the five pillars of Islam and the central tenets of its faith, thus rendering his blood and property inviolable."

The Pact was equally applicable to Sunnis and Shiites without exception because, according to the Conference, "the differences between the two schools of thought are merely differences of opinion and interpretation and not essential differences of faith." The question was to what extent radical Islamic leaders would heed the call. The fact that the Pact was endorsed by key Muslim clerics and leaders from both sects certainly went a long way toward assuring widespread Muslim acceptance.

Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army
Muqtada Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, the militia named in honor of the coming Twelfth Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi, had harassed Coalition forces and terrorized Iraqis since 2003. They were at least as guilty of Muslim-on-Muslim violence as any. The violence began in earnest with the assassination of Imam Khoei and continued violently and persistently for five years until it finally changed somewhat in mid-2007. Would this highly radical group that seemed as inspired by a lust for violence and mayhem as by faith, respond to the OIC's call for unity?

A January 19, 2008 Newsweek article, "The Great Moqtada Makeover," proclaimed that while General David Petraeus' surge was instrumental in settling down the violence in Iraq, some credit should have gone to "an unlikely character," Muqtada al-Sadr. The article observed that five months earlier, he had ordered his Mahdi Army to quiet its violence in Iraq. In its cheerleading, either for Sadr or for a peaceful transition to Iraqi self-governance, the Newsweek article failed to note the influence the Makkah Pact might have had on Sadr's game plan. The Makkah Pact called for unity in Iraq "in order to put an end to the (foreign) occupation and restore and reinstate Iraq's Arab-Islamic role." That has become Sadr's line since the middle of 2007, "To our Iraqi Sunni brothers, I say that the occupation sows dissension among us and that strength is unity and division is weakness," he said. "I'm ready to cooperate with them in all fields."

Muqtada al-Sadr Returns to Iraq
On January 5, 2011, Al-Jazeera reported that Sadr had returned to Iraq after years of self-imposed exile in Iran. He had left Iraq in late 2008 and traveled to the Muslim holy city Qom in Iran to participate in religious studies. His first stop upon returning to Iraq was the Imam Ali Holy Shrine in his hometown Najaf.  Three days later, he gave a speech in which he called the United States, Britain, and Israel "common enemies" against Iraq.

Today, the U.S.-led Coalition forces are reducing numbers and more and more functions of government are being handled by the Iraqi government. With the U.S. largely out of the security picture in Iraq in the next couple of years, Sadr needs to be patient now. In order for the OIC to expect to see the kind of Middle East it envisions, it needs Iraq to be a template for Muslim unity, at least for now, and it needs Muqtada al-Sadr - maybe one day Ayatollah Muqtada al-Sadr - to lead the way. If the OIC wins, Sadr wins (and so does Ahmedinejad in Iran). The question is, "what do they win?"

Tomorrow, the final installment: From the Ashes of Corruption