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Rex Tillerson is neither a yes man nor will he be boxed in on U.S. foreign policy

In a The Daily Signal article titled “9 Issues Discussed at Rex Tillerson’s Confirmation Hearing to Be Trump’s Secretary of State” Josh Siegel reported on the confirmation hearing of U.S. Secretary of State designate Rex Tillerson.

Reading Siegel’s article I came away with two impressions of Mr. Tillerson, first he will not be boxed in and second he is not a yes man. How refreshing.

First let’s look at Tillerson as a man who will not be boxed in when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. Siegel reported:

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who ran for president against Trump, pressed Tillerson on whether he backs the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies about Russia’s election-year hacking.

“Do you believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that Russian intelligence services directed a campaign of measures involving the hacking of emails, the strategic leak of emails, the use of internet trolls, and dissemination of fake news to denigrate a presidential candidate and undermine faith in our election process?” Rubio asked.

Tillerson described the findings by the intelligence agencies as “clearly troubling,” and called cyber attacks from foreign actors such as Russia “the greatest and most complex threat” facing the country today. He labeled Russia’s annexation of Crimea to be “illegal” and proposed tougher measures to combat the Kremlin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine, vowing that he would advocate providing Ukrainian soldiers with weapons.

But Tillerson expressed hope that he could help improve relations with Russia, potentially seeking to ally with it in areas of common interest even if America “will not likely to be ever friends with the Kremlin.”

“Dialogue is critical so these [issues] don’t spin out of control,” Tillerson said. “We need to move Russia from adversary always to partner at times.”

Read more…

Tillerson clearly understands that Russia, and many other countries, act in their own self interests and against the interests of the United States. His reply was measured in that he understood that cyberwarfare is a national security threat, that invading another country is wrong and both must be punished. However, diplomacy is not just about jumping into a hot or cold war, as Senator’s Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham seem to want. Rather it is about pressuring those who would do us harm using all means available. The above interaction shows the sophistication of Tillerson, a man who thinks outside the box. Tillerson’s statement, “We need to move Russia from adversary always to partner at times” is that of a man who understands Russia more than some members of the U.S. Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike. Again, refreshing.

Tillerson is not a yes man for President-elect Trump either. Siegel noted:

In the presidential campaign, Trump questioned the NATO alliance, and said members need to do more to earn the U.S.’ support.

Tillerson expressed a stronger commitment to NATO, promising to follow Article 5 of the treaty that enshrines the principle that an attack against one member is an attack against all.

“The Article 5 commitment is invaluable and the U.S. will stand by the commitment,” Tillerson said.

He also expressed concern for Baltic states that worry about Russian incursion on their borders.

“Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed about a resurgent Russia,” Tillerson said.

[ … ]

In another contrast with Trump, Tillerson did not say he explicitly opposes the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

“I do not oppose TPP, but I share some of Trump’s concerns that it doesn’t fully support American interests,” Tillerson said.

[ … ]

Echoing Exxon Mobil’s evolving calculus on climate change, Tillerson said he recognized the threat of a warming planet, and that the U.S. should “be at the table” in coming up with solutions to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

If confirmed, he said he and others in the Trump administration would review the 180-country Paris climate change agreement before deciding whether to remain party to it.

“It’s important that the United States maintain its seat at the table with the conversations around how to deal with the threats of climate change,” he said.

As chief of Exxon Mobil, Tillerson publicly backed a tax on carbon in 2009, and expressed support for the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Yet, late in the hearing, he seemed to downplay the threat of climate change.

“I don’t see [climate change] as the imminent national security threat as perhaps other do,” Tillerson said.

Read more…

Tillerson will, on some issues, present a President Trump with differing views. That is healthy. It shows that President-elect Trump is filling his cabinet with quality people who think differently than him and provide opposing views. Once again, refreshing.

Donald Trump’s selection says as much about the President-elect as it does about Mr. Tillerson. There is a new way of thinking about foreign policy and a fresh approach that is pro-U.S. interests.

After reading Mr. Tillerson’s testimony it is clear he will not be foreign a policy rubber stamp as were former Secretaries Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and that he will think outside the foreign policy box of the Obama administration.

Very refreshing indeed.

RELATED ARTICLE: Secretary of State Nominee Tillerson Criticizes U.S. Decision to Abstain from UN Israel Vote

Kurds with Russian Support Cross Turkey’s “red lines” in Syria

The Munich Communique reached by 20 countries last week imposed a cessation of hostilities by the opposing forces in the Syrian civil war with its mounting death toll. It has been breached by Erdogan, Russian backed Assad regime forces and their allies, Iran and proxy Hezbollah. The latter have successfully blocked Syrian opposition forces in both Latakia and Aleppo provinces. There are enough holes in the Agreement to permit freedom of action by Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

This weekend   brought news concerning Turkey’s cross border shelling of Syrian Kurdish YPG/PYD forces with Russian air support violating Erdogan’s “red line” crossing the Euphrates and seizing another strategic  air field.  This occurred despite Obama’s Special Middle East envoy in the war against the Islamic State (IS),  Brett Mc Gurk, meeting with Syrian Kurdish YPG/PYD forces in Syria and Vice President Biden’s meeting with Erdogan and Premier Davutoglu in Ankara last week.  Erdogan considers the YPG/PYD forces as an extension of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) that Turkey, the EU and US consider as a ‘terrorist group”. This despite his breaking a cease fire agreement with PKK head Abdullah Ocalan under house arrest.  Erdogan’s security forces have a real battle on their hands in predominately Kurdish Southeastern Turkey trying to subdue stubborn urban resistance, a change from the 30 year war with Turkey’s Kurds. The advent of a Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, the HDP, in the Ankara parliament, that Erdogan has endeavored to isolate but failed to vanquish. is a reflection of the growing Kurdish minority flexing its political strength.

These developments in both Syria and Turkey underline the Administration’s virtual abdication of the countervailing power vacuum in the Middle East that Putin has seized possibly bolstering the regional Kurdish aspirations for a long sought independent resource rich state.  This might be viewed as further pushback against the Islamist AKP regime of Turkey’s Erdogan.  All of these developments arose following Turkey’s shoot down of a Russian SU -24 bomber in October 2015 and dramatic break off in relations and joint economic projects between Russia and Turkey. Now, there are rumblings from Russian Prime Minister Medvedev in an interview indicated that the rising conflict with Turkey might possibly lead to “new Cold War era.”  Frederica Mogherini, EU Foreign Relations Commissioner downplayed that saying she had seen any evidence of that  in the last few days. Meanwhile both Poland and the Baltic States aren’t so sanguine. Turkey is a NATO member which can invoke an Article in the Charter of the mutual defense group requiring all members to come to its aid should there be an alleged attack by Russia.

Note this background  in a EUobserver report, “Turkey clashes with allies over attack on Syria Kurds:”

France and the US have urged NATO ally Turkey to stop firing on Kurdish groups in Syria, putting at risk a new “cessation of hostilities” accord.

The French foreign ministry appealed on Sunday (14 February) for an “immediate halt to bombardments, by the [Syrian] regime and its allies in the whole country, and by Turkey in Kurdish zones”.

It added that the “absolute priority is the implementation of the Munich communique” – a deal to pause fighting agreed by almost 20 states at a security congress in Munich last week.

The White House said US vice president Joe Biden had made a similar appeal to Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu by phone on Saturday.

“The vice president noted US efforts to discourage Syrian Kurdish forces from exploiting current circumstances to seize additional territory near the Turkish border, and urged Turkey to show reciprocal restraint by ceasing artillery strikes in the area,” it said.

Brett McGurk, a US special envoy on the fight against Islamic State (IS), said on Twitter: “We have … seen reports of artillery fire from the Turkish side of the border and we have urged Turkey to cease such fires.”

Turkey warns Kurds have crossed its red lines in Syria:

The appeals came after Turkish howitzers shelled Kurdish PYD and YPG groups in northern Syria, killing dozens of people, after Kurdish fighters, helped by Russian air strikes, seized territory including the Menagh air base near the Turkish border.

The US and EU powers see the Kurdish militias as allies in the fight against IS. But Turkey says they are a branch of the PKK, a Kurdish group designated by the US and EU as a terrorist entity, which has been fighting a 30-year insurgency against Turkish authorities.

The Turkish leadership has refused to back down.

Davutoglu told German chancellor Angela Merkel over the phone on Sunday that his forces “gave the necessary response and will continue to do so”, according to his office.

He added that the PYD-YPG offensive was aimed “not just at Turkey but also the European Union” and that it would prompt a “new wave of hundreds of thousands of refugees” from Syria.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking in Munich to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily, urged the US and EU to back safe zones for refugees inside Syria if they wanted to stem the flow of people.

Turkey’s deputy PM, Yalcin Akdogan, told the Kanal 7 TV broadcaster:.

“The YPG crossing west of the Euphrates is Turkey’s red line.”

The comments follow strident words by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, who told the US: “Are you together with us, or are you with the PYD and YPG terror groups?

The February NER featured a discussion with Dan Diker and Shoshana Bryen  about what motivated Putin’s entry into Syria,Russian Intervention in Middle East Conflicts .” One is the ability to attack radical Sunni Islamists; the other is achievement of  Russian national  security and economic interests. Further,  as pointed  out the alliance with Iran and proxy Hezbollah is tentative at best.

Obama in his final year in office has abdicated the traditional Sunni alliances creating a power vacuum via the rapprochement with Islamist Iran to achieve a fragile equilibrium in the Middle east.   Putin allegedly has no intentions of threatening Israeli national security on its northern frontier or engaging in support of Palestinian aspirations.

The Russian  aerial assault on Turkmen and rebel Sunni forces supported by Turkey and  Saudi Arabia in Syria’s north sealing off  Sunni rebel opposition groups and supporting  Syrian Kurds is also part of Russian strategic moves in the region.   It threatens Erdogan’s and US aspirations of creating a no fly zone to stem the tide of further Sunni Muslim refugee  flight to Turkey and hence to Europe. It may also enable the closure of the remaining gap in the northern frontier of Syria between the autonomous Kurdish enclaves of Rojava and Afrin. This would cut off the open border through which foreign Sunni jihadis and smuggled oil and other trade with Turkey from ISIS has poured. Erdogan is also under enormous economic pressure given Russian economic sanctions and the suspension of the gas pipeline deal struck in 2014.

Erdogan has euchred baksheesh in billions of Euros from the EU to stop Muslim migration to no avail. Erdogan blusters about invading Syria to block irredentist Kurdish aspirations in Syria while conducting an inflammatory counterterrorism campaign against stubborn Kurdish resistance in the urban centers of the country’s Kurdish dominant Southeast. Putin is poised to support Kurdish autonomy aspirations on both sides of the Syrian/Turkish border as leverage against Erdogan.

That would enable the Syrian Kurdish forces to vanquish Sunni rebel and ISIS forces in Syria’s north blocking the Islamic state. This offensive operation might set the stage for a massive Russian aerial campaign against the Caliphate. That is something the US led coalition has failed to achieve because of the Administration’s rules of engagement and failure to supply both Iraqi Peshmerga and Syrian Kurdish forces with heavy arms. Thus, Putin is using his playbook from the seizure of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in the Middle East. Russia is fast becoming the strong horse that Israel, the Gulf Sunni States and the Saudis must come to some form of accommodation.  Netanyahu’s trip to Moscow in September 2015 enabled the Jewish nation to exercise its sovereign national security interests attacking Iranian supply of strategic arms to proxy Hezbollah. Netanyahu’s security concerns on his northern frontiers are complicated with Russian support of Assad operations aimed at retaking Daraa in the country’s south not far from the Golan frontier with Israel.  That might raise the possibility of Iranian Basij paramilitaries and Quds Force based along the Syrian side of the Golan threatening cross border terrorist actions. That would add to the mix of threats there including al Nusra and ISIS units.

This is the 21st Century version of the classic great game that Czarist Russia played in the 19th Century against imperial Britain in Russia’s march to the Far east and Pacific that failed to achieve warm water ports in the Mediterranean and South Asia.  See:  Peter Hopkirk’s, The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia.

The difference in the 21st Century is that Putin has his warm water bastions in the naval and air bases he has built on the Mediterranean coast of the Alawite Latakia province in Syria.

As to the blustering statements made by Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump during primary debates suggesting a strategic alliance between Russia and the US in the Middle East, that awaits the outcomes of the fractious nomination process for both the Republican and Democratic parties in the run up to the 2016 elections in the US. Suffice to say 2016 exemplifies the ancient Chinese curse. May you live in interesting times.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Kurdish YPG fighters: Seen as allies by the US and EU, but as PKK-linked terrorists by Turkey. Photo: Kurdishstruggle.

Turkey: Why Muslim Nations Shouldn’t be Part of NATO

With NATO member Turkey’s recent downing of a Russian aircraft sparking fears of WWIII, a rather politically incorrect question needs to be asked: should a Muslim nation have NATO membership?

Having a country as part of the NATO alliance is no small matter. Since an attack on one member nation is considered an attack on all, an escalation of the Russian-Turk crisis resulting in military action against Turkey by Russia could, conceivably, lead to a WWIII. This is why it’s imperative that NATO members be rational actors.

As to this, I have a theory about the shoot-down of the Russian plane. It’s just a theory, and admittedly it’s “probably” not the explanation in this case. Yet I think it’s worthy of consideration, especially since it could be a factor — and a profoundly dangerous one — at some point in the future.

When Turkey was admitted to NATO in 1952, the Cold War was ramping up and the nation was relatively secular. Today, however, it’s well known that Turkey has been Islamizing and that its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is an Islamic supremacist. Also note that Turkey was the location of the last great Islamic caliphate, the Ottoman Empire. And some think,that just as Benito Mussolini wanted to resurrect the glories of the Roman Empire, Erdoğan and others want to reclaim the far more recent Ottoman dominance.

Now, let’s say you’re an Islamic supremacist regime leading an Islamizing nation. Let’s say that, as is par for that course, you believe the whole Earth should be conquered for Islam and have an apocalyptic world view. You look at the geopolitical scene and see a decrepit, secularizing West on one side, a place that itself is being Islamized as it slowly descends into irrelevancy. And opposing this you see Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the only remaining major nation unapologetically Christian,a nation that has rejected the West’s destructive leftist agenda (Putin himself, whether it’s principle or posturing, has served notice that Russia is willing to be Christianity’s standard bearer).

Before elaborating further, it must be emphasized that an Islamic apocalyptic world view is so foreign to most Westerners that they can’t even conceive of it. As to this, however, it has been said that if former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had supreme decision-making power in his land, he would “sacrifice half of Iran for the sake of eliminating Israel.” Remember, we’re dealing with adherents who frequently blow themselves up in an effort to take just a few non-believers with them. And with this suicide/homicide-bomber mentality so prevalent, it does follow that, sometime, somewhere, it would have to penetrate into Muslim halls of government.

So let’s say this is your mindset. Is it unfathomable to think you might want to start a war between the Christian and secular “infidels”? Might you not hope that Russia would be destroyed or at least neutered and that the already waning West, in a Pyrrhic victory’s wake, would be left teetering and all the more susceptible to a hot or cold Muslim takeover?

Even if what resulted wasn’t the sudden rise of the final and greatest caliphate, it’s logical to assume that a WWIII could lead to a new world order. Also realize that most of Dar al-Islam (that apart from Turkey) would most probably sit on the sidelines during such an affair; thus, it would likely emerge stronger relative to the West and the rest than it had been before. Turkey, of course, would take it on the chin as part of NATO. But what does that matter to a “half my country for Allah” type?

Also note that it wouldn’t have to be the Turkish regime’s official policy to spark such a war for the action in question to be taken; rogue elements within the government or military could be enough. And regardless of how it all shook out, wouldn’t the prospect of getting the “infidels” to kill each other be very attractive to a suicide-homicide-vest type? All it means for the Muslim “collateral damage” is that a lot of men get their 72 virgins far sooner. And given that jihadists have sacrificed themselves for the sake of killing just a few non-believers, what kind of an appeal do you think wiping out millions of them would hold?

Once again, the aforementioned is just a theory, and an unlikely explanation, insofar as the downing of the Russian plane goes. But how likely or unlikely is it that it could be a factor in the future? All we need is just one apocalyptic jihadist at the right nation’s helm.

There are two Islamic countries in NATO, Turkey and Albania. The latter is only 58 percent Muslim and a quarter irreligious, yet even it spawns some terrorists. And is having Muslim nations in NATO much like having Muslim individuals in the West? Is it just a matter of time before one of them takes up the sword for Allah?

Of course, many will scoff. It’s important here, however, not to fall victim to that common human failing of mirroring, when we project our own values, priorities and mindset onto others. As Michael Caine’s character explained in the film The Dark Knight, “[S]ome men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasonedor negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

And some men want to burn it to buy the promise of Paradise.

Contact Selwyn Duke, follow him on Twitter or log on to SelwinDuke.com.

After Paris, National Security Issues Lead Democratic Debate

The format of the Democratic debate was altered at the last minute to give each candidate time to give a statement about the Paris terror attacks at the beginning of the debate.

Speaking first, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said that, “Together, leading the world, this country will rid our planet of this barbarous organization called ISIS.” However, it remains to be seen how Sanders would lead this fight since he advocates a non-interventionist approach and says that theU.S. should only have a very limited supporting role in the fight in Syria. Sanders believes that the fight against the Islamic State can only be effectively waged by Muslims.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly identified the enemy as jihadists, rejecting the non-descript terminology used by the Obama Administration who calls them “violent extremists.” Clinton made no sweeping promises as Sanders. Rather she said she would be laying out “in detail what I think we need to do to with our friends and allies — in Europe and elsewhere — to do a better job of coordinating efforts against the scourge of terrorisim.” She stressed that “all the other issues we want to deal with depend on us being secure and strong.”

In his opening statement, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said that the events in Paris spoke to the new face of “conflict and warfare” in the 21st century, and as such, required “new thinking, fresh approaches.” O’Malley remarked that “we have a lot of work to do to better prepare out nation and to better lead this world into this new century.”

Polling shows that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dominated last night’s Democratic presidential debate, particularly on national security.

Public Policy Polling came out with the first post-debate poll that showed 67% of Democratic primary voters declaring Clinton the overall winner of the second presidential primary debate and 75% saying they most trust her on national security of the three candidates. The following is a summary of the national security positions taken by each candidate during the debate:

Hillary Clinton

She aligned herself closely with President Obama throughout the debate but presented three areas of difference on Islamist extremism: Identification of the enemy; support for Syrian rebels and an implicit criticism of President Obama for suggesting that “containment” of the Islamic State is a sign of success.

Right off the bat, Clinton repeatedly used Islamic terminology to define the enemy as “jihadist.” She also seemed to understand that the root of violent jihad is in the Islamist ideology, which she emphasized is not subscribed to by most Muslims. She described the adversary as “Islamists who are jihadists,” but she did not discuss whether she believes that “moderate Islamists” like the Muslim Brotherhood should be embraced as allies against “jihadists” like the Islamic State.

The second point of difference came when she was asked about President Obama’s claim that the Islamic State is “contained” shortly before the Paris attacks. While Clinton avoided criticizing the president directly, she rejected containment as a measure of success, saying it is impossible to contain a group like the Islamic State and only its defeat is acceptable.

The third point of difference was on Syria. She explained that she urged President Obama to equip moderate Syrian rebels in the beginning of the civil war to prevent jihadists from creating a safe haven. Clinton believes that developing allies on the ground in Syria would have given us a valuable ally today.

Clinton also suggested a tougher approach towards the Gulf states and Turkey. She said it is time for them to “make up their mind about where they stand” on the fight against jihadism.

On the topic of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq that preceded the rise of the Islamic State and the collapse of Iraqi security forces, Clinton said that the withdrawal was in compliance with a U.S.-Iraqi agreement signed by the Bush Administration. After U.S. forces left, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki decimated the Iraqi security forces with his sectarianism and cronyism. This, combined with the civil war in Syria and other regional variables, enabled the Islamic State to seize large parts of Iraq.

She defended the NATO military intervention in Libya to topple Gaddafi by pointing out the large amount of American blood he had on his hands from supporting terrorism. Clinton also mentioned how the Libyans elected moderate leaders after he fell. She addressed the civil war in Libya by saying the U.S. should provide more support to the current moderate Libyan government.

On the topic of Syrian refugees, Clinton said she agrees in principle with bringing 65,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. (as O’Malley advocates) but only if they are completely vetted. Her tough language on vetting suggested that she envisions overhauling the process to become stricter, but she did not present a specific proposal.

Unlike Sanders, she would not commit to cutting the defense budget but promised to closely review military spending. She cited Chinese moves in the South China Sea and the increased aggressiveness of Russia, such as its broadcasting of a new drone submarine that can be equipped with tactical nuclear weapons.

Clinton is currently the frontrunner by a mile. She leads nationally with 55% in an average of polls; leads Iowa with 54%; is in second behind Sanders in New Hampshire with 43% and leads in South Carolina with 65%. You can read our factsheet on Clinton’s positions related to Islamism here.

Bernie Sanders

As we mentioned in our coverage of the recent Democratic forum, Sanders views the threat as being rooted in an Islamic ideology but—unlike Clinton—advocates a non-interventionist approach. His argument is that the U.S. should only have a very limited supporting role because the fight against the Islamic State can only be effectively waged by Muslims. He again stated that the fight with the Islamic State is part of a “war for the soul of Islam.”

Sanders rejected a strategy of pursuing regime change, apparently referring to the Syrian dictatorship and the removal of the Gaddafi regime in Libya when Clinton was Secretary of State. He cited U.S.-backed regime changes in places like Chile and Guatemala as counterproductive mistakes.

He spoke out in favor of cuts to the defense budget. He argued that U.S. military spending is far too high and that much of the excess costs are not even necessary for fighting terrorism.

Sanders is currently in second place overall. He is the runner-up nationally with 33%; is in second place in Iowa with 30%; leads in New Hampshire with 44% and is in second place in South Carolina with 17%. You can read our factsheet on Sanders’ positions related to Islamism here.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley

At the recent Democratic forum, O’Malley embraced the camp that believes Islamic terrorism is a byproduct of political grievances against the U.S. He did not repeat his ludicrous claim that U.S. troops overseas and the operation of Guantanamo Bay are the chief reasons for the strength of the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.

However, during the Saturday night debate, he acknowledged that the threat comes from an Islamic ideology. Unlike Clinton who defined the enemy as “jihadism,” O’Malley defined it as “radical jihadists”—which begs the question: What is a “non-radical jihadist?”

In describing where the Islamic State threat emerged from, O’Malley pointed to the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and especially the disbanding of the Iraqi army. He said that many of ISIS’ current members used to be a part of the Iraqi military until we fired them. There is truth to that statement, but it seems to suggest that O’Malley remains committed to the belief that the “root cause” of the Islamic State and other Islamist terrorists are mistreatment and political grievances, rather than ideology.

O’Malley continued to embrace a non-interventionist strategy, saying that the U.S. should not be trying to overthrow dictators. He then seemed to contradict himself when he said the U.S. should take the lead in fighting “evil.”  He said his “new” foreign policy would be one of “engagement” and “identifying threats” as they gather.

On several occasions, O’Malley cited the need for human intelligence sources as part of his strategy—but that’s nothing new and it’s not a strategy. Everyone agrees that more human intelligence is needed.

He reiterated his support for bringing 65,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S., up from the current 10,000 that President Obama plans to bring in. He did not address how they would be vetted and taken care of, especially when a poll of Syrian refugees found that 13% feel positively or somewhat positively towards the Islamic State.

O’Malley is in last place among the three remaining candidates. He is in last with 3% nationally; last in Iowa with 5%; last in New Hampshire with 3% and last in South Carolina with 2%. You can read our factsheet on O’Malley’s positions related to Islamism here.

You can read the Clarion Project‘s comprehensive factsheets on each party’s presidential candidates’ positions related to Islamism by clicking here.

ABOUT RYAN MAURO

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.

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Obama’s Dangerous Spin on the Iran Nuclear Deal

There was a spirited panel discussion on  the August 9, 2015 Lisa Benson Radio Show for National Security stemming from President Obama’s  remarks on the Iran nuclear deal  during  his interview on CNN’s Farid Zakaria’s Global Public Square (GPS) Sunday morning program.  Panelists Barry Shaw in Israel, Shoshana Bryen of The Jewish Policy of the Washington, D.C. based Jewish Policy Center and this writer. The interview was recorded last Thursday following the President’s speech at American University and contentious meeting with a select group of American Jewish leaders. It was alleged that he told them that “if they left  off criticizing his deal, he would leave off criticizing them. That was a warning to the major American Jewish lobby group , the American Israel Political Action Committee. (AIPAC) and an affiliate, Concerned Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran have funded a multi-million ad campaign opposing the President’s Iran nuclear deal up for a vote in Congress in  Mid-September.

President Obama  also asserted during the interview that the Republican opposition to the Iran nuclear deal was ideological and political and not dissimilar from so-called hardliners in Iran. In response to a question on this from Zakaria he said:

The reason that Mitch McConnell and the rest of the folks in his caucus who oppose this jumped out and opposed it before they even read it, before it was even posted, is reflective of an ideological commitment not to get a deal done. And in that sense they do have a lot in common with hard- liners who are much more satisfied with the status quo. What I said was that there are those who, if they did not read the bill before they announced their opposition, if they are not able to offer plausible reasons why they wouldn’t support the bill or plausible alternatives in preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon other than potential military strikes, then that would indicate that they’re not interested in the substance of the issue, they’re interested in the politics of the issue.

Zakaria asked, “Is it appropriate for a foreign head of government ( a reference to Israeli Pm Netanyahu] to inject himself into a debate that is taking place in Washington?“  The President  responded:

You know, I’ll let you ask Prime Minister Netanyahu that question if he gives you an interview. I don’t recall a similar example. Obviously the relationship between the United States and Israel is deep, it is profound, and it’s reflected in my policies because I have said repeatedly and, more importantly, acted on the basic notion that our commitment to Israel security is sacrosanct. It’s something that I take very seriously, which is why we provided more assistance, more military cooperation, more intelligence cooperation to Israel than any previous administration.

But as I said in the speech yesterday, on the substance, the prime minister is wrong on this. And I think that I can show that the basic assumptions that he’s made are incorrect. If in fact my argument is right that this is the best way for Iran not to get a nuclear weapon, then that’s not just good for the United States, that is very good for Israel. In fact, historically this has been the argument that has driven Prime Minister Netanyahu and achieved consensus throughout Israel.

So the question has to be, is there in fact a better path to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon than this one? And I’ve repeatedly asked both Prime Minister Netanyahu and others to present me a reasonable, realistic plan that would achieve exactly what this deal achieves, and I have yet to get a response. So, as I said yesterday, I completely understand why both he and the broad Israeli public would be suspicious, cautious about entering into any deal with Iran.

Notwithstanding the President remarks in the CNN Zakaria interview, New York Democratic Senator Charles E. Schumer and Bronx New York House Member, Elliott Engel, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Relations Committee and several other leading Democrat members of both the New York and California delegations have also opted to oppose the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action announced in Vienna on July 14th and unanimously endorsed by the UN Security on July 22nd.  Congress will reconvene after Labor Day for more Hearings and a vote to either approve or reject the Iranian nuclear deal. President Obama has threatened veto it if a majority of both the Houses of Congress vote to reject it.

Watch these CNN Video clips of President Obama interview with Farid Zakaria on August 9, 2015

On Israeli PM Netanyahu

On Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei

On his American University Speech

LBS Soundcloud August 9 correctedThe following were important takeaways from  the August 9th Lisa Benson Radio Show:

Israel’s History of Unilateral Actions against Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs despite US Objections.

Barry Shaw speaking from Israel drew attention to Israeli attacks on the Osirak reactor in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1981 and Syria’s al-Kibar reactor in September 2007. He noted that Israeli PM Menachem Begin suggested that  his order for the so-called Raid on the Sun in Iraqi would set a precedent for future similar actions by his successors.  Shaw noted the objections by the Reagan Administration and even US media  characterizations of Israel’s actions  as state sponsored terrorism . However a decade later in the 1990’s Dick Cheney , then Secretary of Defense expressed  the thanks of the US  for Israel’s action in 1981 during the Gulf War in 1991.  Following, the 2007 Syria reactor raid, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized Israel for not exhausting diplomatic efforts. Shaw noted that following the raid Syria let in the IAEA to inspect the reclaimed site of the former Al-Kibar nuclear bomb factory Shaw also reflected the views of a  significant majority of Israelis backing PM Netanyahu’s intervention criticizing the Iran nuclear pact.

The Dangers of Obama’s Withdrawal of US Assets in the Region.

Shoshana Bryen drew attention to the dangers of withdrawal of US military assets in the Persian Gulf abetting the hegemonic objectives of Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei  and the Islamic Regime IRGC. As of the fall, the US will have no carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf for the first time in decades. She went to note  the President postulated that Saudi Arabia and Iran might find themselves coming closer on certain issues. If the Gulf States see their future with Iran, rather than with the US, we will not have a base in the Persian Gulf. The US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain and US facilities in Kuwait and Oman may not be able to use those facilities to attack Iran if, in fact, their governments see Iran as the key power for the future.

Military Option  may have been  taken Off the Table with Iran Weapons Purchases from Russia and China.

This  writer  drew attention to the Moscow trip of Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani to meet with Russian President Putin and Defense Minister Shogui to speed up deliveries of the S-300 air defense system and the $10 billion oil barter deal with China for delivery of stealth fighters.  He suggested that this was a breach of both UN travel bans on the Quds Force Commander as well as the UN resolution 1929 sanctions against purchase of conventional  weapons and missile technology precluded on both five and eight sunsets under the JCPOA.  It makes any military option harder by orders of magnitude. While both the US and Israel  aren’t without resources of our own, Iran breaches  of  sanctions  makes the decision to use American military power more complicated.

Iran North Korea Nuclear and ICBM Development Cooperation may already have developed a bomb

Host  Lisa Benson drew attention to a recent American Thinker article co-authored by Bryen and her husband,  Stephen, “Does Iran Already Have Nuclear Weapons?”  The Bryens suggest that Iran may already have developed a nuclear weapon in cooperation with North Korea.  This writer interviewed analyst Ilana Freedman regarding the same issue in a March 2014  NER article, “Has Iran Developed Nuclear Weapons in North Korea ?”   The Bryens postulate that Iran may already have a small nuclear bomb that might be used  as a threat in the region to provide a nuclear cover for hegemonic objectives. The motivation on the part of the North Korean, who earn hard currency through illicit transactions is receipt of funds from Iran, a member of the same original A.Q. Khan network that provided techno logy for the North Korean bomb making and Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges.

Plan B –Restoring Military Funding in support of National Security Objectives in the Middle East and NATO Allies in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States Threatened by Putin’s Russia

Notwithstanding , a possible veto of a Congressional  resolution rejecting the Iran nuclear deal, Bryen and Gordon suggested that the Congress has to stop the hollowing out of our military capabilities under sequestration. That should be addressed in September when National Defense Act Appropriation bills come up for approval in both chambers.  Bryen noted Plan B is precisely to end sequestration – which has to happen for American national security reasons including Iran and beyond Iran. The size of the Army has to increase (it is projected to decrease by another 40,000) and the drain of mid-level officers (Captains, Majors and LT Colonels) has to stop. Our Navy has to begin to restore ship building. She noted the fleet size is he smallest since WWI.

Poland and the Baltic States have requested a stronger NATO presence out of fear that Russia will do to them what it did to Ukraine. Ukraine was NOT a member of NATO, so there were mixed ideas about what to do, but Poland and the Baltic States are. If Russia thinks it can intimidate or even occupy parts of those states, simply because it sees the US as a waning power, NATO will be finished. With that, the remnants of American influence will be finished. We have to put troops in those places and do exercises in those places and we should reconsider installing the radars that President Obama declined to place in Poland and the Czech Republic when he first took office.

Listen to the Soundcloud of the August 9, 2015 Lisa Benson Radio Show

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Should Turkey be Forced to Leave NATO?

Jonathan Schanzer of the Washington, DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has written compellingly in a Politico Magazine article suggesting that  NATO should consider expelling Turkey, “Time to kick Turkey Out of NATO?” Schanzer notes:

Membership in NATO still holds significance. The alliance was designed to be an elite group of countries that stood for Western values. The NATO charter, set forth in 1949, holds that member states will protect one and all from attack at the hands of ideological foes. The Turkish Republic, founded and governed as an avowedly secular state, agreed to these terms in 1952, three years after NATO’s founding.

Of course, NATO was initially engineered to fight communism. But over the years, the threats to the international system have changed. The latest challenge is a jihadist ideology that fuels the Islamic State, but also al Qaeda and other terror groups and their state sponsors.

Yet, it has become clear that Turkey, once a bulwark of secularism in the Muslim world, is now ambivalent at best and complicit at worst, about fighting these forces. The fact that the AKP is a splinter of the Muslim Brotherhood provides a good indication of its leanings. More troublingly, it is a champion of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and allows several of its senior figures to operate out of Turkey. It has failed consistently to uphold international standards on fighting terrorism finance, including the designation of al Qaeda figures on its own soil. It has been reluctant to even acknowledge that groups like the Nusra Front—which has pledged fealty to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri—are terrorist organizations. Its dangerously lax border policies have contributed to the rise of the Islamic State. And it has helped Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world; evade sanctions at the height of the international community’s efforts to hinder its illicit nuclear program.

 Schanzer’s  question was spurred on by Turkey’s inaction in the face of the ISIS siege and likely conquest of the Kurdish enclave of Kobani just across the border in Syria. allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, doesn’t want to move against the ISIS jihadists rampaging in Syria and Iraq.  Until recently he tacitly supported their cause fighting to eject the Assad government in Syria and replacing it with a self-proclaimed Caliphate.  This would fill his oil pipelines with smuggled product from captured Syrian and Iraqi oil fields to sell at a good profit. He facilitated the so-called “jihadist highway” filtering foreign Salafist jihadist recruits for ISIS and the Al Qaeda al Nusrah Front opposition to Assad. But Erdogan has to play it cool, as he has a lively trade exchanging gold for much needed gas from neighboring Iran, a Shiite ally of the Assad regime to foster Turkey’s economic growth. The gold received by Iran allowed the Islamic Republic to evade US and international sanctions to finance its nuclear development program. We learned this week that he exchanged 180 jihadists, sequestered in Turkey, on September 20th for release of 49 Turkish diplomats and their families held captive for 101 days following the fall of  Mosul in June  2014.

Those of us old enough to have lived through the so-called Korean Conflict of 1950-53, can recall the tough Turkish military contingents part of the multilateral UN force that endeavored to stave off the North Korean and Chinese PLA hordes in what was euphemistically called, “a police action”.  That was then. Now, Turkey’s U.S. supplied F-16 aircraft are not flying from NATO airbases in his  country. He has yet to permit USAF operations out of those airbases despite authorizing legislation passed by the Turkish parliament.  US supplied Turkish Army tanks are positioned silently on the Turkish Syrian border. All while the world’s media  coveys images of the courageous YPG fighters, women among them, lightly armed, desperately fighting against all odds with ISIS troops equipped with stolen US mortars, tanks and artillery. Most of Kobani’s population, over 180,000, has fled to refugee sanctuary in Turkey.

 The Erdogan regime’s decision not to lift the Kobani siege has roiled Turkey’s Kurdish population. President Erdogan was allegedly concerned about Kurdish irredentism in Syria and Turkey.  He got confirmation of  that with the rising of Kurds throughout the Southeastern region of  his country resulting in more than two dozen dead and counting.  Kurds in Europe have also erupted in protest and fought pitched battles with ISIS supporters in the streets of Hamburg.

These developments have given rise to questions  from  fellow NATO  and US-led Sunni coalition members over  Erdogan’s  ‘conditions’ to enter the fray to provide ‘boots on the ground ‘and permit air assaults from NATO bases in Turkey.

Let’s examine some plausible reasons why Erdogan may not wish to unleash  his army in the US-led coalition conflict with ISIS.  He has publicly stated that his objective is to bring down the Assad government. Less well known is the current round of Turkish negotiations with Cyprus over ‘unification’ of the Republic of Cyprus and the rump Turkish Northern Cypriot ‘Republic’. That was  carved out by a Turkish invasion in 1974. An opportunistic invasion contrived by the secular Turkish government at the time to counter the Greek military coup of the Archbishop Makarios government of Cyprus.   Turkey is pressing for a lucrative share of the gas development offshore Cyprus and transmission to EU markets via his network of pipelines.

Until recently the US was willing to sacrifice the Kurds in Kobani and only resorted to conducting  limited bombing to slow down the inevitable advance of ISIS fighters bent on exterminating remaining YPG fighters and the remnant of the town’s  population. Erdogan may be the equivalent of Stalin who during the August 1944 Polish Resistance Uprising ordered the Red Army to sit on the east bank of the Vistula River watching the German Army decimate the valiant Poles and turn Warsaw to rubble.  Stalin barred USAAF air drops from a base at Poltava in the Western Ukraine, forcing allied air drops to originate in England, many of which fell in the hands of waiting German forces.  Stalin also wanted to ensure that a Communist regime spawned in liberated Lublin would rule post war Poland. Erdogan clearly wants the Syrian Kurds decimated so that they will not have virtual autonomy in the country’s Northeast.

We note Schanzer’s conclusion in his Politico article:

The crisis in Kobani once again brings the challenge of Turkey into sharp relief. Despite the best efforts of Washington and other coalition members to bring Turkey along, it now appears clear: Turkey under the AKP is a lost cause. It is simply not a partner for NATO. Nor is it a partner in the fight against the Islamic State.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Turkey Exchanges Jihadists with ISIS for Release of Diplomats

The veil was lifted on how Turkish President Recep Erdogan was able to get 49 Turkish diplomats captured in Mosul when ISIS conquered Iraq’s second largest city in June. He exchanged more than 180 Jihadists, including two British citizens to obtain the release of Turkish diplomats and their families.  Those jihadists had been caught on the so-called  Turkish Jihadist highway that Erdogan had provided emboldening the foreign fighter contingents for Al Qaeda affiliate  al Nusra and ISIS.

Yesterday, I listened with interest to an NPR  interview with a Syrian ‘guide’ who had  run a profitable business infiltrating those foreign jihadists into Syria to join up with the Al  Nusra and ISIS, until Erdogan’s security forces  were commanded to shut it down. Perhaps, the ability of ISIS to smuggle oil from captured fields in Syria may also have played a role in providing baksheesh to keep the jihadist highway in operation bringing in both recruits and the  cash to pay them.

turkish tanks

Turkish Tanks at Syrian Border. Source IBTimes.

Our friends at Erdogan Failure sent us this Hurriyet Daily report  excerpted from a Times of London  article, on the exchange, “180 jihadists traded by Turkey for hostages: report”:

Some 180 jihadists, including two British citizens, were handed over to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the deal to secure the release of the hostages abducted from Turkey’s consulate in Mosul, The Times has reported.

A total of 49 Turkish Embassy staff were held hostage by ISIL for 101 days before being released on Sept. 20.

The Times reported that 18-year-old Shabazz Suleman and 26-year-old Hisham Folkard are thought to be among the 180 jihadists returned in exchange, and are being investigated by British counter-terrorism officers.

The report said it has gained access to the list of the swapped jihadists, which also includes three French citizens, two Swedish citizens, two Macedonians, one Swiss and one Belgian.

Turkey contacted tribes in the region and other armed groups to achieve the deal, it added.

The world’s media provided a rostrum for President Erdogan, an elected Islamist autocrat,  to exercise ultimate chutzpah at the border town of Suruc teeming with 180,000 Kurdish and other Syrian refugees.  Reported by the UK The Independent, Erdogan predicted the imminent fall of Kobani to ISIS. Further, that he would only put troops on the ground, if he could secure a corridor inside Syria fighting to overthrow the Assad regime. All while US supplied tanks of the Turkish army, the largest land force member of NATO,  were poised on the border capable of firing rounds at US tanks  and mobile artillery captured by  ISIS  battering the lightly armed Kurdish YPG forces.

This is eerily akin to  Stalin’s orders for Russian forces in August of 1944 to remain on the east bank of the Vistula River when the Polish Resistance  Uprising  in Warsaw against Nazi forces, only to be decimated virtually destroying what remained of the city.  As we know from the history of that valiant episode by  Polish resistance, allied air drops to supply Polish contingents landed in the possession of  German forces.  Moreover, Stalin denied use  by  US  air force units  based in Poltava in the western Ukraine to make those  air drops.  Consider the limited  air attacks by the US-led coalition air forces on ISIS in the outer precincts of Kobani to be the contemporary equivalent.

 In Erdogan’s case, his appearance at the Syrian border backfired, as Kurds rose up in anger inside Turkey and throughout emigre communities in Europe. Many in the West were troubled by Erdogan’s stance.  Interviews with Former Pentagon and CIA chef under Obama, Leon Panetta, based on his new book, Worthy Fights,  suggested ineffective leadership by  President Obama .Obama who took  advice from what a Wall Street Journal called the “Mettenich Munchkins” in the West Wing in an editorial,” Who  Really Lost Iraq?”.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured photos is of the freed Turkish hostages being welcomed at the airport in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Sept. 20, 2014. AP Photo