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‘Report card’ on Syria, Iraq and the Islamic State

Rescue of victim of Assad regime bombing, Aleppo, Syria, April 11, 2016

Rescue of victim of Assad regime bombing, Aleppo, Syria, April 11, 2016. Source: yahoo.com.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria spoke at the Pensacola Tiger Bay Club Friday, April 15, 2016. The author and Florida State Rep. Mike Hill, a good friend of Israel, were among the attentive audience while he gave his ‘report card’ on the sectarian impasse in the civil war in Syria with an estimated 300,000 deaths and the failed reconciliation in Iraq among majority Shia, minority Sunni and Kurds. A Pensacola News Journal report of his Syria-Iraq ‘report card’ covered the major points of his presentation, “9 Things to know about Syria and Iraq.”

Not included in this PNJ report were his responses to questions that we posed on whether he supported the alleged covert CIA plan to overthrow Assad in 2012 as depicted in the new book, Left Boom by ex CIA operative Doug Laux. See our Iconoclast April 5, 2016 post on this issue. The other question from an audience member was directed at whether the Obama failure to implement the 2012 red line over alleged chemical weapons release that killed hundreds in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta was a lost opportunity.

As regards the question about the covert plan to overthrow Assad, Ford demurred answering that directly. However, it was evident in his response that the US had lost credibility by not undertaking pinpoint operations as push back against the Assad regime. A regime who he suggested helped to foster the rise of the Islamic State by attacks on major Sunni centers in Syria and release of fundamentalists. He did allow that the al Maliki regime torpedoed the Sunni Awakening, at the core of the Surge Plan by not continuing payments to Sunni workers and targeting leaders of the Sunni Awakening with reprisals. That he suggested drove them into the ranks of the Islamic State. Meanwhile Shia Militias fomented sectarian razzias against Sunni centers under current Iraqi PM Haidar al- Abadi. The sectarian impasse was graphically portrayed in pictures this week of fights inside the Baghdad parliament among the Shia, Kurdish and Sunni members. The drop in world oil prices hasn’t helped the situation.

LiveLeak-dot-com-a80_1460114240-3_1460114328

Liveleak.com screen grab of Kurdish PYD-YPG victim of Jaysh al-Islam chemical attack on April 7, 2016 in Sheikh Maqsud district of Aleppo, Syria.

On the matter of Obama’s failure to follow through with his 2012 red line threat against Assad he noted that Obama was not concerned about the complete removal of prohibited chemical weapons indicating less concern about chlorine and more about Sarin gas. The irony of the President’s response is reflected in confirmation from multiple sources of the use of Chlorine gas mortars by the Jaysh al-Islam militia in the April 7, 2016 attacks against Kurdish PYD-YPG forces in the Kurdish enclave of Sheik Maqsud district of Aleppo province. Ambassador Ford tends to rely on reports from both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch attesting to Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces pushing tens of thousands of Sunnis fleeing not to the North but South into the Islamic State.

Watch this LiveLeak report on the Jaysh al-Islam chemical mortar attack on the Kurdish enclave of Sheikh Maqsud district in Aleppo Province.

A Syrian Observatory for Human Rights report indicated that Jaysh al-Islam has claimed responsibility for the use of alleged Chlorine gas and investigating the field commander’s use of “unauthorized weapons.” We note that Jaysh, a Salafist rebel force backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, is a terrorist organization designated by Russia, Iran and Egypt had a representative at Friday’s Syrian peace talks, while the PYD-YPG was barred from attending.

His former Iraqi period colleague, Bret McGurk, Obama’s special envoy on the war against ISIS would probably disagree as he has made common cause with the PYD-YPG as the only effective boots on the ground in Syria fighting the Islamic State.

He also expressed the view that Israel’s government is speaking increasingly of the necessity of removing Assad via some political deal.

With fighting raging in Syria’s north between rebel forces, the regime, and ISIS forces, Syrian refugees caught on the frontier with Turkey are being prevented from sanctuary there.

On the matter of Syrian refugees, Ambassador Ford was not able to respond to that publicly, although we understand that he views US admissions of Syrian Refugees as a humanitarian gesture with those brought in, largely women and children.

Here were the key points in Ambassador Ford’s Syria-Iraq report card:”And it has a way of looking at things which is very frightening,” he said.

  1. ISIS started as al-Qaida in Iraq. Eventually, its leader cut off ties to the main al-Qaida organization and declared a caliphate in spring 2014.
  2. ISIS has a literalist interpretation of early Islamic jurisprudence dating back to the 7th Century, along with a large bureaucracy. Ford showed photos of tax receipts, as Christians must pay a tax if they choose to continue to follow Christianity.
  3. ISIS controls oil wells that fund its activities. Before some were recaptured, the group was estimated to earn up to $70 million per month on the black market. The loss of those assets has caused it to cut in half the salary it pays its soldiers.
  4. The Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, is a group of Syrian Kurds the U.S. has supported to fight ISIS. The PYD, however, is allied with Turkish Kurds who commit acts of terrorism in Turkey. “The Turks are saying, ‘Why are you helping one group of terrorists against another group of terrorists?'” Ford said.
  5. When the Kurds have taken back land from ISIS, Ford said, they have committed war crimes against Syrian Arabs in the area. ISIS is then able to recruit displaced people who flee.
  6. There is a vacuum left after the conquest of an ISIS-controlled area and there has not been a good nonmilitary follow-up. “If we don’t have people to take this over and make sure the electricity is running, get the hospitals going and make sure the schools are running,” Ford said. “If there is a vacuum, you know the extremists will fill it.”
  7. The Syrian military will lay siege to cities to starve out the population, cut off water, electricity and medical supplies and personnel. As a result of one such siege, a famous Syrian goalie joined ISIS. Ford said this would be the equivalent of a major league baseball star joining a terrorist organization. “What I want you to understand is, the Syrian Civil War is driving people, even prominent people, into the Islamic State,” he said.
  8. Shia militias in Iraq who fight ISIS will go door-to-door, pull people out of their homes and shoot them. In the city of Diyala, ISIS detonated three car bombs in January. Militias responded by killing between 50 and 100 people and bombing seven Sunni mosques.
    Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime would facilitate the flow of jihadists across Syria to attack U.S. troops fighting al-Qaida in Iraq. “The people who want us to support Assad don’t understand what kind of a snake he is,” Ford said.
  9. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime would facilitate the flow of jihadists across Syria to attack U.S. troops fighting al-Qaida in Iraq. “The people who want us to support Assad don’t understand what kind of a snake he is,” Ford said.

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

FLORIDA: Pensacola’s 101 Year Old Opera Maven and Holocaust Sleuth

A few weeks ago I received a phone call from a venerable Pensacola friend and B’nai Israel Synagogue member.  She is an independent 101 year old vibrant and well read woman. Last year, there was a wonderful celebration on her attainment of a hallmark as one of the community’s centenarians. She is revered by our congregation and the general community because of her leadership in helping to found a regional feeding program as well as enthusiastic supporter of the construction of a much needed new Public Library. She is also an opera maven and as we will shortly see, a holocaust sleuth. All of which figure in the premiere of a  holocaust theme opera, Out of Darkness by the Pensacola Opera to be performed at the Opera Center March 31st, April 1st to 3rd. A special performance of Out of Darkness is scheduled at Temple Beth El in Pensacola on April 17th.

The message she left bubbled over with compliments for the beautiful performance of a recent production of the Merry Widow by the Pensacola Opera that her visiting daughter and son in law took her to watch. They brought her the following  day to the Pensacola Library to listen to the Pensacola Opera Artists in Residence (AIRs) perform Jack and the Beanstalk before an audience of over 100 children. When one of the Opera staff found out that was her 101st birthday, the AIRs and the children saluted her with a rousing rendition of happy birthday.

There is a fascinating story relayed to me by the wife of a fellow Opera trustee who volunteers as head of the Library bookstore. It concerns the discovery in September 2008 of a Holocaust era onionskin Nazi era German Army telephone directory from occupied Paris in 1942.  My Opera colleague’s wife, then President of the West Florida Library Board, and library volunteers were sorting donations of books and magazines in September 2008 when a hand-bound 96 page booklet Nazi relic was discovered in a brown paper bag of women’s magazines contributed anonymously.  The original onionskin telephone directory was sent by the Friends of the Pensacola Library to the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) were it was authenticated.  The title to the Wehrmacht  directory in wartime Paris was officially transferred  by the Friends of the Pensacola Public Library to the SWC’s Archives at the Museum of Tolerance in January 2009 as a gift and given the Archives accession number #2008-065.  Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the SWC commented:

The Nazis occupied Europe through force of arms and there were many incidents of the Wehrmacht’s direct involvement in atrocities. The directory reflects how meticulously everything related to the Nazi Third Reich was organized and recorded.

Pictures of Cover and Sample page from 1942 Wehrmacht Paris Directory

Pictures of Cover and Sample page from 1942 Wehrmacht Paris Directory. Source: Friends of the Pensacola Public Library.

There was a Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Ha Shoah) special event held on April 21, 2009 at the Pensacola Library. The event was held to celebrate finding the Nazi era relic and remembering the more than 72,500 French Jews, out of a pre-war population of 350,000, who were deported and murdered in Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.  Copies of the German Army 1942 Paris telephone directory were displayed at the reception.

There was a missing page in the display copy. Enter my venerable friend then in her 90’s. She told the volunteer head of the Library bookstore that years earlier there was a article about a German family living in the vicinity. My venerable friend who had kept the article presented it to the library bookstore volunteer.

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Source: Andy Marlette Pensacola News Journal 2009.

In commemoration of the discovery of the Nazi relic on Holocaust Memorial Day in 2009, Andy Marlette, editorial cartoonist at the Pensacola News Journal drew a cartoon depicting the Nazi relic against the backdrop of former Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei. They sponsored annual holocaust denial conferences in Tehran espousing “wiping the Zionist enterprise, meaning the Jewish nation of Israel, off the map of the world.”

The Pensacola Opera premiere of Out of Darkness is a work by acclaimed American contemporary composer Jake Heggie. The opera was composed in three separate movements; “Another Sunrise,” “Farewell Auschwitz” and “For a Look or a Touch.”

The first two movements are based on the poetry and writings of a remarkable Jewish woman survivor of both the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and Auschwitz, Sonia Landau, who took the nom de guerre Krystyna Zywulska as a member of Polish resistance. Landau/Zywulska was captured by the Nazis, imprisoned in Warsaw and then sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  She wrote about her experiences in two books, I Survived Auschwitz (1946) and Empty Water (1966), the later about her experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto. She and her family were displaced from Lodz to Warsaw in 1941, spending two years in the Ghetto before her escape to the ‘Aryan side’.   She remained in post war Poland, continued writing poetry and children stories. With the rise of anti-Semitism during the Communist Gomulka regime, post- the 1967 June War in Israel, she and other Jewish intellectuals found themselves deprived of state auspices.  Her writings were expunged from official bibliographies. She left for West Germany where she died in 1992 in Dusseldorf.

The premiere of Out of Darkness will be performed by the talented AIRs of the Pensacola Opera; soprano Allison Nicholas as “Krystyna”, mezzo soprano Amanda Fink, baritone Thaddeus Ennen, and tenor Nicholas DeMeo.

We hope that  our venerable  centenarian  opera maven and holocaust  sleuth will attend  Out of Darkness , as we know the Pensacola library volunteer and her husband, a fellow Opera trustee , and perhaps Andy Marlette the PNJ  cartoonist, will as well.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally  appeared in the New English Review. The author is a Member of B’nai Israel Synagogue and a Trustee of the Pensacola Opera.

Administration Fails to Recognize the Threat of Global Jihad?

As a Former Army Intelligence officer, we were trained to evaluate the credibility of sources and then delve into the Intel they were providing. We were also trained that if you didn’t identify the threat doctrine of your enemies then you couldn’t formulate a winning strategy, let alone protect your forces. The Obama Administration has been evading the capabilities of military intelligence echelons to assist it  in fashioning a winning strategy in the war against Global Jihad. One would have thought that when the members of Seal Team Six killed  the late Osama Bin Laden and scooped up disk drives and documents that the West Wing would have considered it a treasure trove. The vital raw intelligence would have determined the aims and global strategy of so-called “core Al Qaeda” and its burgeoning affiliates across the Muslim Ummah and the West. (Groups like AQAP, AQIM, al Nusrah, Al Shabaab and Boko Haram.)  Unfortunately, as this Weekly Standard article by Fox News ‘Special Report’ panelist, Stephen F. Hayes illustrates, President Obama  may have evaded  his oath of office as Commander in Chief, Former Defense Intel Chief Blasts Obama.

Former DIA head Gen. Flynn’s cautionary tale.

Gen Michael Flynn

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.) former DIA Head.

Hayes uses a speech by former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) chief, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to fellow intelligence professionals to illustrate why the Administration cannot be trusted.  Flynn retired after being brushed off by the National Security team in the West Wing and the politicized CIA. He was seeking to deploy his resources at the DIA to evaluate and derive meaningful intelligence on Al Qaeda its aims and strategies from the treasure trove of Obama bin laden computer files captured during the Seal Team Six assault. This would have enabled the Commander in Chief and his national security team to articulate the threat of global radical Islam and fashion a strategy that would protect our forces engaged in a war against Islamic Jihad. Instead the Administration myopically evaded its responsibilities opting to promote the meaningless and opaque threat as “violent extremism.” Instead Flynn and his team of military intelligence analysts were brushed off after having unearthed the goals of “core Al Qaeda” and its network of empowered affiliates

Here are excerpts from the Hayes Weekly Standard article that illustrates these points:

Lt. General Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, [said], “The dangers to the U.S. do not arise from the arrogance of American power, but from unpreparedness or an excessive unwillingness to fight when fighting is necessary.” The Obama Administration doesn’t understand the threat, Flynn said, noting that the Administration refuses to use “Islamic militants” to describe the enemy.

“You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists,” he said.

The administration, he continued, wants “us to think that our challenge is dealing with an undefined set of violent extremists or merely lone-wolf actors with no ideology or network. But that’s just not the straight truth.”

[…]

The failure to exploit the captured Bin Laden file.

The CIA was responsible for the first scrub of the collection of more than 1 million documents and retained “executive authority” over the cache when it was completed. But the CIA stopped analyzing or “exploiting” the documents after that first quick and incomplete assessment and the Agency made no attempt to systematically examine and codify all of the intelligence included in the intelligence haul.

Flynn assembled a team at the DIA to do exactly that, but the CIA initially refused to share the documents. After a lengthy bureaucratic battle, DIA analysts were given limited access to the bin Laden documents and undertook an exhaustive exploitation. The documents provided the U.S. government with its best look at al Qaeda and its operations and challenges—from the inside. There were letters between Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders, plans for future attacks, details about fundraising successes and failures, descriptions of relationships between al Qaeda and governments in the region. The documents remain unexploited to this day.

Derek Harvey, a senior DIA official and former director of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Center of Excellence at CENTCOM, led the DIA team that exploited the documents. He recently told TWS that the U.S. government hasn’t “done anything close to a full exploitation.”

And what was Flynn’s overall assessment?

In classified analyses based heavily on the documents, the DIA directly challenged the Obama administration’s claims that the threat from al Qaeda was diminished or fading. Flynn hinted at this in an interview he gave to James Kitfield of Breaking Defense shortly after he left government. “When asked if the terrorists were on the run, we couldn’t respond with any answer but ‘no.’ When asked if the terrorists were defeated, we had to say ‘no.’ Anyone who answers ‘yes’ to either of those questions either doesn’t know what they are talking about, they are misinformed, or they are flat-out lying,” Flynn said.

Enter former CENTCOM Commander Marine General Zinni on the lack of a Strategy.

Gen Anthony Zinni

Gen. Anthony Zinni, former CENTCOMM commander. Source: Pensacola News Journal.

Recently, we heard former CENTCOMM Commander, Four Star Marine Gen. (ret.) Anthony Zinni talk about the lack of a meaningful Obama Strategy in the war against the Islamic state.  See; Pensacola News Journal article, “General discusses ‘Situation in the Middle East.

Among those gathered to hear him were former colleagues at CENTCOMM. He was introduced by Marine Lt. Gen. Duane Thiesen, president and CEO of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. Zinni shared his insights gained from long experience serving in the Middle East and his engagement in strategic defense studies about terrorism and stability or the lack thereof in the Arab World. He opened up his speech with an anecdote about a conversation with two Arab leaders in the UAE on the day when the US-led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003. His two interlocutors said this was a disaster, because” it would unleash the Persian threat and ignite a religious war between Sunni and Shia.” Zinni had disagreed with the Bush strategy that without overwhelming force to seal the borders of  Iraq, that sectarian fissures and conflicts would arise and that victory would not be achieved. In his remarks referring to the current situation he said, “Obviously, it’s the rise of the extremists – their ability to recruit now and reach out globally having bases from which they can operate.” He was dismissive of regional and bi-lateral initiatives saying that “the nation’s leaders need to take a strategic look at the world. “This globalization is connected by a network” A network according to Zinni including space, cyberspace, sea, air, land communications and trade resulting in global impact.

Before his talk I chatted with him briefly and gave him my question for the Q+A:

We are now several months into Operation Inherent Resolve – a US led coalition “to degrade and destroy”, the Islamic State, formerly ISIS. What is your current assessment of the conduct of this Operation and what in your view could be done to achieve the ultimate objective?

He smiled and said,  “The short answer is we should not be afraid to put boots on the ground.”

When the question was posed to him by the Tiger Bay moderator, Zinni differentiated between, a strategy for Iraq versus one for Syria. He suggested that perhaps two US brigades, coupled with Kurdish Peshmerga and both Iraqi Special Forces and Sunni militias with meaningful air support would enable the recovery of Mosul and Anbar province. He cautioned that the US now finds itself in the odd situation where Iran’s Quds Force is on the same side in Iraq. He noted this is part of a strategy by the Islamic Regime in Tehran to surround the Arabian Peninsula.That is illustrated by the US failure in Yemen, with the Houthi Shia rebels toppling the central government, the Shia majority in Bahrain, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Assad clinging to control in Syria. A Shia crescent cutting across the Gulf stretching as far as the Mediterranean coast. It is a hegemonic strategy that includes state sponsored terrorism and achievement of nuclear breakout, further destabilizing the region and threatening the Saudi Kingdom. As regards the Houthi uprising in Yemen, despite the death of King Abdullah and succession of King Salman, Zinni contended that the Saudis might move troops into Yemen. He suggested that US drone campaign against Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula  would not aid in saving the failed state. He was dismissive of direct involvement in Syria as there are too many disparate sectarian forces both within the Sunni majority and among the minority Alawites, Christians, Druze and Kurds. As illustrated by the US coalition strategy in the four months struggle that succeeded in freeing  the embattled city of Kobani on the Turkish border, the Kurdish YPG and Peshmerga Forces were the”boots on the ground.” His assessment  is reflected in a recent Wall Street Journal article depicting the failure of CIA training of opposition Sunni militias in Syria. He believes that the map of the modern Middle East, created in the wake of the fall of the Ottoman Empire and by the WWI Sykes Picot Agreement, may not survive.

Both Gens. Flynn and Zinni decry the failure of strategic thinking by the Administration frozen in the headlights of an oncoming Global Jihad that it refuses to acknowledge as a threat to the West.

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