Saturday, August 31, 2013



Editor's note: This was first posted as the U.S. was debating the proper reaction to Syria's use of weapons of mass destruction against her own people.  ISIS hadn't yet made its first headline. But still we think the Great Catfish hits the nail on the head about the root cause and duration of the troubles in the Middle East. Updated 2/24/2016


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Greetings Bipeds!  As most of you know by now, I'm 3,000 years old so when shore side events begin to impinge on naval/maritime activity, I often get the assignment to analyze what is going on because Og, Sog, and Johnas are basically sailors and don't pay much attention to whats going on inshore much past the first block of water front dives. SM who heads up the surfing section is out of the question for such assignments, those of you who frequent the surf shop know why. Vic Socotra (as opposed to Vic the warehouse man that you met last Christmas)  sometimes gets these assignments but because he is a free lancer he only gets what he either solicits or accepts. If you visit Vic's blog lately    you'll notice he has been absorbed with his move to the Virginia countryside of late. So being a salaried fish I'm here to answer the question, what is going ashore that is driving all of the violence that seems to be coming out of the Middle East. 

 In a nut shell folks the entire region is locked in a sectarian civil war that has spilled out into every nation with any sizable Muslim population, and occasionally results in violence against any nation seen as in the way of either side of the sectarian controversy. Iran and its program to get nuclear weapons, Pakistan's existing nuclear weapons, Iran's attempts at disrupting shipping in Arabian Sea, the events of 9/11, bombing of Spanish subways, etc., etc. are all part of one global conflict which is basically not a clash of civilizations, but a clash within a civilization that has engulfed the rest of the world, or least a great part of it. If you live in Iceland you may be out of harm's way for a while. Japan avoids trouble by simply refusing to recognize Islam as a religion and banning it from their nation.

 We don't often quote mainstream media but here is a quote worth considering :

    It has become clear over the last year that the upheavals in the Islamic and Arab world have become a clash within a civilization rather than a clash between civilizations,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote recently. “The Sunni versus Alawite civil war in Syria is increasingly interacting with the Sunni versus Shiite tensions in the Gulf that are edging Iraq back toward civil war. They also interact with the Sunni-Shiite, Maronite and other confessional struggles in Lebanon.”

Some experts even say that we are seeing the emergence of a single big conflict that could be part of a generation-long devolution, which could end up toppling regimes and redrawing the national borders that were established after World War I. The forces ripping people into polarized groups seem stronger than the forces bringing them together."
Source:  David Brooks in the New York Times:

 Basically as a 3,000 year old observer of history I agree. But I disagree on the duration estimate. This won't be over in a single generation. We have seen this before, yes even here in the west, but not during your puny biped lifetimes. The West called it "the Reformation" but it started out with a lot of sectarian violence with Catholics burning Protestants at the stake. Then Protestants returned the favor where they had influence on civil authorities, or threw Catholics out of upper story windows where limited to their own devices, and each calling the other servants of Satan. That phase of the so called mild sounding "Reformation", including numerous Protestant on Protestant battles some of which influenced patterns of colonization along what would become the American East Coast went on for hundreds of years. The American Revolution put a bit of a speed bump in the conflict since the colonists were a religiously diverse group, at least for Christians, and they had to unite against the British, so religion was officially privatized in America. From there the idea seemed to spread, if not religious freedom, at least religious tolerance.  As majorities on one side or the other gained control of civil governments national boundaries kept the conflict to a low roar in Europe by the 1700s. But the real Christian Ecumenical movement didn't get any real traction until the second half of the 20th century, though most of the blood letting (except in Northern Ireland) had died down more than a century before the Ecumenical movement. Today Johnas tells me that when he attends Catholic mass at the Naval Academy Chapel there are bibles in the pews that bear approval notations from both a Protestant Federation of Churches and Catholic teaching authorities. So at least all the naval Christians have one bible.

 One of the early bones of contention in the early period of the reformation was the translation of the Bible from Latin into the common languages as literacy was spreading. The Catholic Church took a go slow approach which the "reformers" took as a sign of clerical clinging to power. For more than a hundred years Protestants clung to the "King James" translation, which the Catholic Church pointed out had a number of important translation errors. Top Protestant scholars now admit that the King James version does have translation errors but point out that its publication literally blasted the Catholic Church into the scholarly translation business. Today jointly acceptable "Christian Bibles" exist. One of the things that made this possible was the continuance of formal Catholic teaching and doctrinal authority down through the ages, and the more recently developed federated doctrinal authorities now visible among the otherwise diverse Protestant congregations. In short the Christians have authoritative delegates to drive what are now more discussions than bitter deadly arguments. Their conflict started out with one side having a theological hierarchy of scholarship and other would need a few hundred years to get one started. The bad news for the Muslims is that neither side has any such central group that can dialogue with the other side. They both just issue fatwas calling for the death of all opponents.  Except for Northern Ireland, the war between the Christians now seems over. Pope Francis seems to embody the new ecumenical spirit of dialogue in an atmosphere where the Christians can agree to disagree and keep talking. My Christian biped friends took about 500 years to emerge out of Christian sectarian strife, though the period of wide spread blood shed was shorter. Why oh bipeds, would you of the West think that Muslim sectarian conflict will be resolved in any shorter time frame?    It ain't gonna happen, so as my sailor buddies say "stand by for heavy rolls." 

 The Syrian civil war that the West, led by France, and soon to be powered by the United States, is both a proxy war and a religious war. The war started for non sectarian reasons but the religious protagonist soon became involved. Both Sunni and Shiite protagonist use religious symbols and sectarian propaganda to motivate their men under arms. Saudi and Iranian sources help fund the opposing sides both in the anti Assad rebellion and within rival rebel forces. Both want to come out on top in the post Assad era. As the sheer number of deaths rise more sectarian warriors join the battles. One side or the other gets overwhelmed and there is resort to weapons of mass destruction, more bitterness and the cycle of violence is reinforced. The theaters of war keeps over lapping and the battle spills into the streets or subways of the West at times. The Sunni vs Alawite conflict interlaced in the Syrian violence is affecting the Sunni vs Shiite tensions in the Arabian Gulf region. Those Sunni / Shiite tensions are edging Iraq towards a civil war. The Syrian unrest also influences the sectarian conflicts and violence in Lebanon where local Christians are also targets of violence.Now ISIS is trying to be the unification party, by torturing and killing all opposition and eliminating those pesky Christians, Jews, Kurds, basically all non Muslim by their definition humans.

 What has brought the French to the pulpit to urge Western action against the ASSAD regime? It certainly can't be an expectation that Western intervention can stop the violence or that we can cause a regime change to our liking. We think the French are more realistic than that. With one side of the Muslim conflict equipped with nuclear weapons and the other rapidly trying to achieve nuclear weapons, the French advocate that the West punish severely any leader on either side that resorts to the use of any WMD. Since once the WMDs are loosed there will be no keeping them out of occasional use on Western Targets, and historical precedents including the West's own history of Christian sectarian violence suggest that this sectarian civil war among the Muslims may go on for hundreds of years; there seems to be a sort of wisdom to the idea of containment, one aspect of which is to discourage escalation to the use of WMDs.  I agree that containment in a broad sense is a good idea. The problem with the specific containment idea on the table at the moment is one of unintended and uncontrolled negative consequences. "Punishing" Assad for use of WMD will more probably than not result in attacks on Israel, and ultimately the fall of Assad and the rise of what? The West won't be able to control a post Assad Syria and there is nothing on the horizon that looks good there from the Western point of view. Yet the sheer massive size of this human upheaval and the wide spread, truly global nature of the conflict makes some sort of long term containment vital to the rest of the world. Letting hundreds of thousands of Muslim "refugees" ( now mostly young men of military age) into our borders is not the answer.

 So how would a giant catfish contain this issue if I ruled the world? First the entire West must unify on eliminating oil from its central place as the fuel of Western Civilization. We must get our oil appetites within the bounds of our own production which in fact has increased dramatically recently.   The Middle East has little of economic interest to the West besides oil. Reduce our dependence and we reduce our stake in one side or the other being "reasonable"', a development that the history of sectarian / religious driven violence tells us may be hundreds of years away. Eliminating oil dependency will reduce contact between the two civilizations and the temptation on the Western part to intervene, which no matter the humanitarian impulse, is usually seen as interference by both sides after a while. Of course reducing Western dependency on Middle Eastern Oil will drive more poverty into the equation but war is driving poverty faster than a Western phased elimination of Middle Eastern Oil from its energy and lubrication diets can. In the end there will be resentment of this very sensible Western action. There will be resentment of just about everything the West does, no matter what it does.

 The West needs to realize that as long as it stands against unlimited violence, against having weapons of mass destruction in the hands of mad men, and against the spread of this madness to the non Muslim majority world; it will be resented by both sides in alternating fashion depending on which side, if any, momentarily benefits from Western actions. The best way to reduce the effect of this resentment and to assure there are points of potential contact and discussion between the two civilizations is to not always make reactions to the madness look like a united anti Muslim Western Front. The footprint of the United States must be reduced on the conflict. In Syria the southern members of the EU have real stakes in the upheaval of the nations just a few hundred miles across the water from them. Among the Southern EU members the only nation spending adequately on naval power is Italy. All of the EU nations took their peace dividends as the United States did when the Soviet Union fell. But the "new world order" requires more conventional and flexible forces than the Cold War. Yet the EU nations are still down sizing their naval forces as the United States is being forced to down size its own due to budget deficits, incredible national debt, and a grid locked federal government. If either side of the US political gridlock finally attains complete control that nation will be led by the people who have demonstrated an inability to govern or even exercise common sense.

 So we advocate much higher levels of conventional military readiness for all Western nations. Only then can there be more direct and swift reactions by the most immediately affected parties acting in their own best national interest. If you have to bring the fire power of the United States in you bring to the dispute the most singularly hated individual nation in the West from the Middle East point of view. This raises the level of resentment, and presents the appearance of a U.S. led united front; when the leader may well be the one of the closer affected parties, such as France. Such actions raise the probability of terrorists revenge attacks in allied nations. The fewer Western nations involved in any particular armed police action to contain the feud to the majority Muslim World, the fewer the reprisals by irregular forces against the West. But first, the Western nations must fund adequate defense forces and depend less on a shrinking American umbrella.

 Who speaks for the EU is important, the Muslim world even while locked in a bloody sectarian war, hates being lectured to by Western leaders, even when they need a reminder to keep the conflict out of the realm of crimes against humanity. The EU should be putting Turkey to the podium as the least offensive speaker in the camp. Turkey,unfortunately is having difficulty avoiding  being engulfed. Before it started sinking into the Islamic quicksand Turkey appeared to demonstrate that a Muslim state can adhere to global international law and retain a basically Islamic culture. Turkey looked like proof that an Islamic culture (vice theocratic state) can thrive in contact with the West and not lose its identity. Unfortunately the problem is Islam itself. All the crimes against humanity committed by all sides in this conflict come directly from admonitions to violence in the Qumran. Radical sectarian violence need not be a permanent part of Islamic culture any more than it had to be or was a permanent part of Christian culture, though it is ingrained as doctrinal. The West can't change the fact that the Islamic world is undergoing the kind of upheaval the West endured in the early days of the Reformation. We can't stop it , we can only contain it. This will cause the liberals apoplexy but part of containment has to be control of our own borders and limitations on Muslim migration to the West. If Muslim populations in presently non Muslim nations reach a certain critical mass, the sectarian violence spills over in big ways and the more the civil authorities try and quell it, the more the violence is turned on the majority population. It goes against the liberal grain but it has to be done. If you seek to contain a war you can't let the combatants constantly enlarge the battle field.

 If something can't be done soon to reduce the conflict Pakistan, a nuclear power; Bahrain a nation largely cooperative with the West, Kuwait, and even Turkey could become engulfed. Ultimately the West must accept that the national boundaries between Middle Eastern nations drawn by Western powers long ago are going to have to change and that is the exclusive business of the populations involved. From a Western view point all of the policy considerations that might limit the conflict are too little too late. Containment over a very long term is all that is left. The Zealots will have to kill each other off or die out before the more reasonable people dig out from their shelters in the Middle East and rebuild their civilization.  All that the rest of the world can do is dig in and defend ourselves from becoming collateral damage. But as I have so often said that requires that all Western nations spend more on conventional defense, and stop asking an increasingly anti Western UN "may I" before defending themselves, or depending on widespread regional agreement on a course of action and then insisting on a highly visible U.S. military contribution to the regional effort. Every faction among the non governmental Islamic organizations conducting this war need to understand that if they cross the line outside the Islamic states they will be slapped down, without a "by your leave" sir to anyone. It will not matter which brand of Islam their NGO represents, bring the violence into our camp and your back gets broken then and there regardless of the consequences in your actual struggle. The same must go for state sponsors of terror. Bringing the West grief must mean regime change, regardless of who replaces the regime struck. eventually the region will be ruled by people who understand that they must stay out of the Western vegetable patch.

Wake Up Bipeds!

Your Friend NAMAZU


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