The path of most resistance

Back in September, President Barack Obama called for the USA to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year. Since then, there have been cries from all levels of government to not permit this immigration from Syria. Not surprisingly, those cries have increased and gotten louder since ISIS perpetrated the terrorist attack on Paris earlier this month.

I sympathize with most of the people voicing those sentiments. While some criticize the plan simply to oppose the president, most sincerely feel that their security would be threatened by Syrian refugees in the USA. They are concerned for the safety of their loved ones. The problem with this sentiment is that it’s based on faulty logic—it would not help prevent a terrorist attack in the USA.

Yes, as the name Islamic State of Iraq & Syria implies, ISIS occupies portions of Syria. And yes, ISIS uses terrorism to control Syrians and terrorize people like the French and Russian. But if an ISIS terrorist wanted to attack inside the USA, posing as a Syrian refugee would be the last method he would use to enter the USA. Just about any other way in would be more suitable for a terrorist. That’s why the odds of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack are about 1 in more than 3.6-billion, according to a Cato Institute study (PDF).

The process for a Syrian refugee to resettle in the USA is long and arduous, involving numerous federal agencies and intense background checks. It must begin in a refugee camp run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) somewhere outside of but neighboring Syria. After registering with them, not only does the UNHCR decide whether it will resettle the refugee at all, it also decides to which country it refers the refugees who get resettled. Well over 95% of Syrian refugees resettle in five Muslim countries around Syria. Only about 0.05% of the 4.3-million Syrian refugees have arrived in the USA.

For the small number of Syrian refugees the UNHCR refers to the USA, the U. S. Department of State takes over the admissions process. But they do so in the refugee camp—it will be about two years before the refugee makes it to the USA. In the meantime, they undergo the most rigorous screening of any traveler to the USA and only about half of them will be accepted. They have an adjudication interview then, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, they conduct an enhanced security screening on refugees from Syria. If the refugee passes all this, they undergo a health screening and those with a contagious disease, such as tuberculosis, do not enter the USA. A U.S.-based resettlement agency provides a “sponsorship assurance” before those that can clear all these hurdles steps foot on American soil.

It’s far faster and easier for someone to enter the USA as a tourist, a student, or a businessman—and with less scrutiny—than it is as a refugee. Any Syrian wanting to commit an act of terrorism inside the USA would follow the path of least resistance to get here, which would be just about any method other than as a refugee. A terrorist could easily get a counterfeit Syrian passport in just a few days for less than $1,000 in places like Istanbul. The only people who would take all the time and deal with all the difficulties of the refugee process to get to the USA are Syrians desperate to escape the terrorists in their homeland.

Doonesbury comic strip about Jihadis entering the USA as a refugee
Doonesbury

The right way for USA to deal with ISIS aggression

The Islamic State of Iraq & Syria, more commonly known by its acronym ISIS, has recently begun attacking western targets. It bombed a Russian passenger airliner flying over Egypt last month, killing everyone on board, then staged a multi-point attack in Paris, killing well over a hundred civilians last week. How should the USA respond now that ISIS is expanding its attacks outside the territory it currently occupies? It should end all military activity against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

That is neither a retreat nor a defeat. It’s the smart move to stop throwing good money after bad. The USA has been leading a costly aerial bombing campaign against ISIS for over a year but has not significantly impacted the situation on the ground. There’s no evidence that a continued or even a stepped-up air campaign would substantially degrade ISIS’s power but every indication that it would result in the deaths of non-ISIS residents in the region via collateral damage.

ISIS does not pose an impending threat in America, so the USA should definitely not deploy any American troops on the ground in Iraq or Syria. If we learned anything from the Vietnam War, it should be that putting small numbers of special forces on the ground in another country’s civil war is likely to escalate to a large presence. In that case, ISIS could simply blend into the community, requiring the USA to occupy the territory indefinitely to maintain security, just as occurred during the Iraq War. It’s often said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

ISIS will only be defeated when people on the ground rise up against them. The people under occupation by ISIS are more likely to rise up if they believe that the USA will not get involved in the conflict. The USA should even leave the air campaign because there are already Muslim nations in the region with sufficient air strike capability to support a ground campaign. The neighboring Muslim countries should also put boots on the ground fighting ISIS.

I’m not confident that ISIS would be more effectively defeated without the USA involved but I don’t think the situation would get substantially worse, either, without the USA in the war. And there’s no indication that ISIS would be defeated if the USA were to continue its air campaign as it has been the past year. Pulling out of the war on ISIS would be neither a victory by nor a defeat of the USA but sometimes a victory is not the best alternative. A victory of the USA over ISIS is well within the capacity of the American military but it would result in substantial negative and costly consequences, including the loss of many American lives and another protracted occupation in the Middle East.

The conflict with ISIS is not the USA’s fight. The USA does not always have to be the world’s police. To be the caliph, Sunni law requires Abu Musa’b al Zarqawi (ISIS’s leader) to have ’amr, or authority. This requires that the caliph have territory in which he can enforce sharia. However, the first amendment of the constitution prevents the USA from qualifying as a territory of the caliphate. That’s why ISIS is attempting to establish the caliphate among Muslim population and that’s why Muslim people need to be the ones to put a stop to ISIS. If Muslims resist al Zarqawi’s authority, he would not think it would be easier to establish his authority in secular lands.

ISIS explicitly stated that the reason for bombing the airliner and attacking Paris is because Russia and France are currently bombing them in the Middle East. If the USA left the fight, ISIS would not have any more justification or motivation to attack it on American soil, thereby making Americans safer from ISIS.

Obama bombs humanitarian aid workers

An airstrike by the US military against a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan yesterday killed twelve Doctors Without Borders staff and seven patients, including three children. Thirty-seven others—nineteen staff members and eighteen patients and caretakers—were injured.

A spokesman for the coalition forces in Afghanistan, Col. Brian Tribus, said the bombing was targeting “individuals threatening the force” but that they “may have caused collateral damage to a nearby health facility.” That does not give you a pass, president Obama. You are the commander in chief and these bombings are made with your authorization. According to the Doctors Without Borders operations chief Bart Janssesns, the coalition forces had known well the location of the hospital for five years. Yet officials said they “frantically phoned” NATO and Washington D.C. as the bombing of the hospital continued for “nearly an hour.”

There’s no excuse for US military forces to be dropping any bombs in Afghanistan. You promised us over a year ago, Mr. President, that US combat operations in Afghanistan would end in December 2014. The Taliban does not pose an imminent threat to the USA. We are not at war against Afghanistan. What legitimate justification can you give us for the slaughter of these humanitarian aid workers?

Perfect is the enemy of a good deal with Iran

The USA and five other world powers (the P5+1) have finally reached a deal with Iran regarding its use of nuclear power. Before the ink was even dry on the agreement, politicians here in the US began decrying it as a bad deal. Their complaints are consistently about the terms of the agreement not being strict enough.

For example, Iran agreed to limit enrichment of uranium to 3.5% but critics of the agreement do not want Iran to enrich uranium at all. Another example is Iran’s agreement to allow international inspectors to inspect a suspect site with 24 days’ notice. Critics want inspectors to have unfettered access with no advance notice. Essentially, critics of the agreement are saying that the terms of the agreement should be terms that would be perfect to them.

The problem with that position is that the critics of the agreement are not taking into account how negotiation works. Each side begins negotiating for their perfect terms knowing full well that the other side won’t agree to them. Then both sides begin making concessions on some terms to get concessions on other terms that are more important to the negotiating party. Eventually through this process of give and take, both parties reach an agreement with terms that are not perfect for either party but are somewhere in the middle of what both sides would consider perfect. Negotiations require compromise to be successful.

Critics of the Iran deal think that the deal should be evaluated as a choice between the terms that were agreed to and the perfect terms. But that’s unreasonable because Iran would never have agreed to the terms that would be perfect for the US. Instead, the deal should be evaluated as a choice between the terms that were agreed to and the status quo. The status quo is no deal at all.

Absent the agreement, Iran has no limits on the amount of enriched uranium it can possess and the degree to which it can enrich the uranium. Absent the agreement, Iran does not permit international inspectors to inspect any of its facilities, ever, regardless of how much notice is given. Critics of the agreement voice concerns about Iran being able to produce an atomic bomb in ten to fifteen years. Yet before the agreement was reached, Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Iran was just about a year away from having an atomic bomb.

Evaluated from this perspective, the agreement with Iran is a good deal because the terms reached are far more restrictive on Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon than no deal at all. Considering that seven countries were involved in negotiations, the international community is lucky that any deal could be reached. To borrow an adage from Voltaire, we should not allow a perfect deal to be the enemy of a good deal with Iran.

Libyan civil war

Last month, I blogged about the Egyptian “revolution.” The big news this month is the struggle for liberation from totalitarianism in Libya, which bears many resemblances to what preceded it in Egypt. So why am I not referring to it as a “revolution”? The conflict in Libya bears one fundamental difference from that in Egypt.

In Egypt, the revolutionaries were entirely peaceful—no one raised arms against Mubarak. In fact, that’s what made it so interesting to me. In Libya, on the other hand, an armed rebel force is leading the charge against Moammar Gadhafi. The Libyan rebels are inexperienced but they are anything but peaceful.

This makes the recent events in Libya essentially a civil war. For that reason, I have grave concerns for the United States’ involvement in it under the authority of the UN Security Council resolution. While I am empathetic for the Libyan peoples’ fight for freedom from Gadhafi, it in no way is a national security issue. Gadhafi poses no imminent threat to the US…as long as we take no military action in Libya. The conflict in Libya is just one of a number of civil wars around the world and the US should no more be involved in it than it should be involved in any of the others.

All I can see in the future for this is a quagmire. The UN has not laid out an end game for their resolution. Without UN occupation forces on the ground in Libya, victory is far from certain for the rebels. Pro-Gadhafi forces could make themselves very difficult to target from the air and sea yet still exact damage on the rebels. Gadhafi could conceivably retain power for a long time under a no-fly zone.

And what if Gadhafi is killed or driven out of power? The rebel forces are barely a cohesive unit. In the power vacuum that would result from the defeat of their common enemy, they would most likely splinter into fractious tribal alliances battling each other for power. The UN could potentially be creating another Somalia-like region in Africa. It’s arguable that the Libyan people would be any better off without Gadhafi than it is with him.

Granted: Gadhafi would likely kill many of his own civilian people absent UN intervention. But Omar al-Bashir has been doing the same in Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur have been killed by the Janjaweed, yet the US never intervened. These are tragic states of affair that all decent people wish would never occur. But it’s not grounds for the US to get involved in a foreign country’s civil war.

Egyptian revolution

This will be interesting to watch unfold. First of all, how many other revolutions have we seen where the revolutionaries are not in large part members of some structured organization that could present potential leadership? It seems the Egyptians have not yet coalesced en masse behind any significant potential chief executive, political party, or existing government structure (other than their respect of their army).

Secondly, how many other revolutions have we seen where the revolutionaries overthrew a stable government using entirely peaceful methods? Not a single weapon was used by revolutionaries to force Mubarak from office. They used nothing more than the sheer collective will of the people—the truest form of democratic revolution. I think this revolution is now in uncharted waters, so it could end up just about anywhere.

Lastly, few would disagree that Web 2.0 technologies played a critical role in facilitating this revolution. Now that we have a successful proof of concept for a telecommunications-based revolution, it makes me wonder what we will see happen in other oppressive states in the Middle East these next few months. I’ve read that the youth in Iran—a substantial segment of the population—aspire to a more Western-style society…

The best defense is a good offense

The buzzword regarding Israel’s response to Hezbollah capturing two Israeli soldiers and launching artillery into Israel’s civilian population centers is “disproportionate.” The claim by not only the EU but also many in the media is that Israel’s retaliation against Hezbollah is disproportionate. However, although it’s an accurate claim, the idea that Israel’s response should be measured is simply not grounded in rationality.

Hezbollah is the aggressor in this situation, initiating an attack against Israel. Israel is simply defending itself. You will never hear a military strategist, whether he be an instructor in a military academy or a general in the battlefield, say to use minimal force when defending yourself against attack. To defend yourself from attack by being certain that the response is proportionate to the force of the attacker is a recipe for defeat. In fact, the recommended defense when the attacker is weaker than the defender is for the defender to respond with immediate and overwhelming force, thereby shutting down the aggression before the attacker has the opportunity to build up power or effect substantial damage.

For example, Mexico has a less powerful military than the USA (and this is obviously a hypothetical used only to make a point). However, if Mexico were to kidnap American soldiers then begin bombing the USA, no one would dispute that America’s response would be swift and furious, even though Mexico is weaker. If Mexico were to continue shelling the USA after the defense was mounted, there’s no question that the USA would continue defending itself without letting up. Furthermore, if Mexico did not release the American captives after being subject to a ferocious defense, the American people would certainly demand that the military give no quarter and take whatever means necessary to prevail against Mexico until the soldiers were released.

It’s easy to say Israel is being disproportionate when you’re not Israel. However, when you put yourself in Israel’s boots, their defensive response no longer seems unreasonable. Yes, Israel’s response is disproportionate but that’s the exact response that is warranted. After all, the best defense is a good offense.

The if-Bush-were-a-CEO test

No board of directors would praise his incoherent management of Iraq war

I wrote the following article about a year after the invasion of Iraq. It was published in The Orange County Register on May 26, 2004. Although much has transpired since then—most notably, a re-election—much remains the same. Therefore, the principles this article speaks to are as applicable today as they were back when I wrote it.

No reputable organization would embark on a major project without taking some basic steps. First, there would be a clearly defined goal and the objectives that lead to accomplishing it. There would also be a project plan complete with a specific timeline. The plan would establish milestones that identify the completion of interim steps. Each milestone would have a projected date of completion, as well as a finish date for the project. The project would have objective metrics of success. Finally, the project would have unambiguous criteria defining completion and a strategy for ending the project.

What happens when an organization attempts a major project without taking these steps? The project goes way over budget and well beyond the deadline. The final product will be poor quality and will not meet the original objectives and goal for the project. Ultimately, the board of directors will likely terminate the chief executive officer for allowing an important project to go forward without a project management process.

What is the largest, most powerful, and most respected organization on the planet? The United States of America. What is the most important and risky project that organization can undertake? The hostile deposition of a head of state followed by the forced occupation of the country and the subsequent implementation of a new government—a project referred to as war. Let’s look at what happens when this organization undertakes a war project without a project management process.

Before the war, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said Iraq could finance its own war reconstruction from funds realized by selling its oil. Nonetheless, President Bush asked for $1.7-billion to support the resolution allowing him to depose Saddam Hussein for possession of vast stockpiles of WMDs. This was to be all that was required to finance the war. After the war started, the White House changed its story, saying the cost of the war would be $50-billion, but would not require sustained aid. Nonetheless, President Bush recently requested $87-billion more. Budget director Joshua Bolton claimed he would make no further requests for funding the war in 2004. Now President Bush is requesting another $25-billion, having made no progress restoring the peace in Iraq, if not actually being further behind.

Experts are now speculating that the U.S. will be in Iraq for years to come. The commander-in-chief and chief executive officer of the U.S. has no clear plan to win the peace in Iraq other than to “stay the course.” Nor has he presented an exit strategy from this war. He has not even established objective criteria that constitute having accomplished his mission in Iraq. In other words, the project is way over budget and well beyond the deadline. Continuing on this course, this chief executive’s board of directors—the voters that put him in office—will terminate him this November.

It’s not too late to apply project management principles in the war in Iraq. Fortunately, Bush’s request for another $25-billion is a perfect opportunity to apply pressure. Congress should refuse the president’s request until he first meets a number of conditions:

  1. He provides an unambiguous plan for winning the peace in Iraq.
  2. He provides milestones and objective metrics of success with each milestone.
  3. He provides an exit strategy from the war with a projected timeline for achieving it.
  4. He provides unambiguous criteria as to what constitutes the completion of the mission in Iraq.

Any responsible CEO of any major corporation would provide no less to his board of directors for any major project. Would President Bush have to make estimates and projections to meet these conditions? Of course he would, but that’s part and parcel of planning for the future. To meet these conditions, will the president have to create an environment where his performance would be much easier to assess than it is now? Of course, but isn’t that the least we should expect from the president of the greatest nation on this planet half a year before the next board of directors meeting?

Connecting the dots

Most Americans believe that the Bush administration thought military force against Iraq was necessary. However, it’s only because of the whitewash perpetrated on America by the Bush administration and its co-opted mainstream media. To find out the truth of the misuse and shaping of the intelligence on WMDs in Iraq requires research that few have done. No one source alone illuminates the grand deception: you need to connect quite a few dots.

The best place to start is by reading the Kent Papers on Intelligence Analysis. Written by Sherman Kent, the founding father of intelligence analysis and the preeminent expert at the CIA, they establish the practices that CIA analysts have applied for decades. To truly understand the manner in which the cover-up occurred, you must be familiar with the right way to perform intelligence analysis.

Although it’s complicit in the cover-up, the next source you need to read is the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq. Even though it’s a whitewash, it provides a lot of excellent information on the intelligence activities going on during the time in question. Considering the Senate report in juxtaposition to the Kent Papers, then applying critical thinking to the contrast, is where the enlightenment begins.

You see, the Senate report shows that the way intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs was analyzed was in direct contradiction to all the best practices the analysts were trained on. We learn in the Senate report that the CIA is steeped in an organizational culture that is not easily abandoned. So why would analysts suddenly throw out all the safeguards they applied in all intelligence they ever analyzed other than the intelligence on the threat Iraq posed?

It’s clear that the reason the analysts did so is because of the tried-and-true “carrot and stick” approach. The Bush administration created a shadow intelligence network that would tell the story about Saddam Hussein that Bush wanted told. Additionally, it pressured analysts in the traditional intelligence agencies. Intelligence officials have said that it’s unusual for a sitting Vice President to visit the CIA, yet Dick Cheny made numerous visits there in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. CIA officials said that the visits created an environment in which some analysts felt they were being pressured to make their assessments on Iraq fit with Bush Administration policy objectives. Subsequently, in spite of unprecedented professional failures, the analysts behind the faulty Iraq intelligence have since received numerous job performance awards.

Now your homework is almost done. The dots are leading to an inevitable conclusion: that Bush knew existing intelligence indicated Iraq was not a threat to the US. However, you need to also understand why Bush would want to invade Iraq to lay the foundation of his motive for deceiving the American people into fearing nonexistent WMDs. The final assignment is to read the policies established by the Project for the New American Century. You will find that the Project was already promulgating an invasion of Iraq long before George Bush was President.

Why is the Project relevant? Just look at who the signatories to the Project’s policies are. You will find that it includes all of the major players in Bush’s presidential administration. The policies were formed by Bush’s handlers and all of the most outspoken Neo-Cons: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Armitage, Kristol, Woolsey, Abrams…and the list goes on and on.

Finally, you need to validate your findings. To do so, you need look no further than the recently exposed “Downing Street memo.” The memo documents a top-secret meeting gathered by British prime minister Tony Blair with top members of his administration eight months before the US invaded Iraq. Their discussions in that meeting included the following:

“Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy…

It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran…”

That’s it—you’ve connected all the dots. You now know more about the truth behind Bush’s justification to the Iraq War than most Americans. That should come as no surprise; you’ve now done more research on it that they have.