Category Archives: International news

Iraq has 'Vietnam' feel to it

Iraq is beginning to look a little like Vietnam to me.

Why? It’s the performance of the Iraqi army in the face of a relentless enemy that brings about the comparison.

It’s making me more than a tad uncomfortable.

Iraq’s army, the one trained and equipped by the United States of America under two presidential administrations, isn’t performing worth a damn on the battlefield against the Islamic State. Sound familiar? It should.

Nearly 40 years ago the United States ended its war in Vietnam, leaving the defense of South Vietnam to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. ARVN then had to face the invaders from North Vietnam, who in early 1975 launched a massive offensive against the south. By April of that year it all ended when North Vietnamese army troops rolled into Saigon, stormed the presidential palace, hoisted the communist flag and renamed Saigon after the late Uncle Ho, Ho Chi Minh City.

Fast forward to the current day and we’re seeing the Iraqi army performing badly against ISIL.

U.S.-led airstrikes reportedly are slowing ISIL’s advance a bit, but so far it hasn’t stopped taking the fight to the Iraqi forces.

Now we hear from U.S. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno say he is “somewhat confident” the Iraqi government will beat back ISIL. Somewhat satisfied? How confident can we be in that prediction? Not very.

I’m having a flashback at this moment and it’s making me very uneasy as this desert fight continues to play itself out.

Children become Nobel focus

Children have risen to the top of the world’s attention in this quite troubling time.

Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in furthering the rights of children around the world.

Every so often, the Nobel committee’s Peace Prize selections draw some criticism. I dare anyone to be critical of the choice made this year — not just regarding the honorees, but regarding the cause they have taken up.

Of the two, most of us know already about Malala. She’s now 17. Two years ago she was shot in the head by a Taliban terrorist simply for insisting that girls have the right to an education in her native Pakistan.

Malala has recovered — mostly — from that terrible wound. She’s written a best-selling book, “I Am Malala,” and has gone on with her life, promoting the cause of education for young girls who had been denied an education by the Taliban.

Malala is the youngest ever Peace Prize recipient.

Kids today … indeed.

Satyarthi is a 60-year-old Indian who for years has  been a champion for children’s rights. Since 1960 he has been fighting against sex slavery and child labor exploitation. He gave up a career as a mechanical engineer and is believed to have saved thousands of children from the horrors of slavery and exploitation.

The Associated Press noted the selection creates an interesting juxtaposition as well. The Peace Prize honorees are from neighboring countries that long have had tense relations, often doing battle across their common border on the Asian sub-continent.

As AP reported: “The Nobel Committee said it was an important point to reward both an Indian Hindu and a Pakistani Muslim for joining ‘in a common struggle for education and against extremism.’ The two will split the Nobel award of $1.1 million.”

The Nobel Committee has made an inspired choice.

Ebola patient dies; now, let's stay calm

Thomas Eric Duncan has died of Ebola.

He came to Dallas from Liberia carrying the virus that causes the disease. He checked into a hospital and was given the best treatment possible anywhere in the world. Still, the disease killed him.

It’s a sad end to a man’s life.

Now what? Do we panic? Do we quarantine the entire hospital staff? Or those who came into this man’s room?

Not at all.

Yes, I blogged recently about the difficulty of maintaining my composure when Duncan arrived in Dallas, given that I have immediate family members living in the Metroplex. My head has cleared since then.

I hope we start listening to the medical experts who are saying the same thing — over and over, repeatedly. The only way one can catch the killer disease is to come in direct contact with someone who’s infected.

CNN’s coverage of this “crisis,” as usual, has been a bit overblown — in my humble view. The network’s reporters and anchors keep harping on the crisis aspect of the disease in West Africa — and it’s real. However, I am concerned about what it’s doing to the American psyche as it relates to this disease.

Yet the network is trotting out infectious disease experts from all over creation to tell us that a single case of Ebola in one American city should not be cause to push panic buttons, or to sound sirens, or send people into undisclosed secure locations.

If this situation is going to produce any positive outcome, it might be this: We’ve got a lot of brilliant medical researchers right here in the U.S. of A. who are quite capable of finding it. If the Ebola scare has done anything at all, I am hopeful it has scared researchers into redoubling their efforts at finding a cure.

ISIL threat: real or imagined?

Here’s my fervent hope for the moment: it is for otherwise responsible members of Congress to quit saying things they cannot prove beyond any doubt — not just reasonable doubt.

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., says at least 10 Islamic State fighters have been captured on our southern border.

Not so, says Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Who’s telling the truth?

My relative lack of cynicism leads me to believe the guy in charge of protecting the homeland. That would be Secretary Johnson.

“Let’s not unduly create fear and anxiety in the American public by passing on speculation and rumor,” Johnson told CNN.

Rep. Hunter is feeding the national anxiety over the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Does he have proof that these individuals were apprehended and they, indeed, are members of the monstrous terrorist organization? No. Johnson replies that his agency has seen no “credible intelligence” that ISIL is at our southern doorstep, ready to cross into the U.S. territory and begin its reign of terror on unsuspecting and innocent Americans.

There is, though, another way to look at this matter.

It is that Border Patrol, Immigration and Naturalization Service, the FBI and local police authorities are on their toes. Suppose they are capturing individuals linked to ISIL. Wouldn’t that mean they’re doing their job?

I’ll stick with Secretary Johnson’s assessment that the situation lacks “credible intelligence” to suggest ISIL is on the march in North America.

We need physical proof, folks, that this is happening. And I’m not talking about fuzzy photos that Bigfoot believers produce to “prove” the existence of a mythical creature.

Let’s deal in reality and forgo the fiction.

Name's the same: It's called 'war'

The “fair and balanced” network that keeps proclaiming its journalistic integrity is at it again.

The Fox News Channel is trotting out a military expert to gripe that the war against the Islamic State doesn’t have a name, as in Operation Destroy ISIL or Operation Kill the Bad Guys.

The expert, whose name escapes me at the moment, was complaining that the Obama administration’s campaign to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State needs a catchy name to rally the nation, to give the mission a sense of purpose, to send a message to the Middle East terrorist monsters that, by God, we mean business.

Then he went on to suggest that absent a name President Obama is engaging in some form of denial about the severity of the heinous organization with which we’re dealing in Syria and Iraq.

Sigh …

Someone has to tell me in language I understand precisely why we need to call this campaign something catchy.

I heard the Fox expert prattle on about national purpose and unity. However, if memory serves, Operation Iraqi Freedom — which is what the Bush administration called its March 2003 invasion of Iraq — didn’t exactly gin up a whole lot of national unity simply because we hung a label on it.

The only thing that produces such unity is battlefield success. Yes, the United States succeeded on the battlefield. Our forces defeated Saddam Hussein’s overhyped army with ease — just as we did in 1991 when we liberated Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm.

However, we weren’t greeted as “liberators,” as then-Vice President Cheney predicted would happen. Then that unity thing kind of fell apart as public opinion began to sour on our continued occupation of Iraq.

Did the name chosen produce the sense of mission and national esprit de corps envisioned at the time?


Let’s get back to debating the merits of the air campaign against ISIL. I hasten to note, incidentally, that more nations are taking part. We aren’t alone in this fight.

Thus, it would be helpful if critics here at home — such as the Fox News “experts” — would cease carping on these side issues.

They serve only as a distraction from the bigger fight.

Waiting to hear from chairman-to-be Thornberry

Lame-duck House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., has weighed in on President Obama’s strategy to destroy the Islamic State.

He says the president needs to rethink the bombing strategy and possibly bring in ground troops to fight ISIL terrorists face to face.

That’s fine, Chairman McKeon.

However, he’s leaving office in January. The new Armed Services Committee chairman is going to be Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, Texas. He’s my congressman. He represents the sprawling 13th Congressional District, which includes the Texas Panhandle.

What does the chairman-in-waiting think ought to happen?

Thornberry’s been fairly quiet while the Middle East has been erupting in flames. As head of one-half of Congress’s key committee on military matters — the other half does business in the Senate — he’s going to be a critical player in this on-going discussion.

Thus, Rep.Thornberry is likely to be stepping outside of his comfort zone, as I have come to understand it. He’s going to be asked regularly to appear on those Sunday news talk shows. He’ll be grilled intently by journalists who’ll want to know where he stands on this critical question of the U.S. response to the ISIL threat.

Until now, Thornberry has been content to serve as a back-bench member of the House. He doesn’t act particularly starved for attention by the news networks, although he does acquit himself well on those occasions he has appeared. (I recall one interview he had on MSNBC with Chris Matthews. I reminded Thornberry that I once met Matthews “before he was ‘Chris Matthews.'”)

I appreciate where Chairman McKeon is coming from on this issue of ISIL and our response to it. Sadly, he’s rapidly become “old news.” I’m waiting for the new guy — Mac Thornberry — to step up.

Politics is the roughest of them all

Yes sir. Politics and to an extent public service can be the roughest of the rough jobs on Earth.

You bring someone on board to carry out your policies, they do your bidding and then they return to private life, write a book and then blast those policies to smithereens.

Leon Panetta is the latest former public official to turn on the man who hired him. His criticism of President Obama is drawing praise from Republicans (no surprise, there) and condemnation from Democrats (again, no surprise).

It’s the norm, I suppose.

Panetta, whose dossier is sparkling — former leading member of Congress from California, former White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, former CIA director, former defense secretary — now says Obama disregarded his advice about leaving a “residual force” of personnel in Iraq. He also says the president misunderstood the threat posed by the Islamic State. He says the president is reluctant to engage his critics.

Yes, he’s written a book.

Is he the first former presidential insider to trash his boss? Hardly. Hillary Clinton has done so. Ditto for Robert Gates. They both are former Obama hands who’ve said unkind thing about him.

George W. Bush got the treatment from former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill; Bill Clinton got ripped by one-time political aide George Stephanopoulos.

Frankly, none of this serves any president well.

Still, there’s something quite unsettling about the latest trashing of Obama by his former defense chiefs and his one-time secretary of state. They come at a time of intense international crisis.

Panetta’s critique is particularly unnerving as the president looks for answers to dealing with ISIL, fighting a deadly disease in West Africa, trying to find peace between Israel and the Palestinians, seeking a solution to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine … and God knows what else is going on around the world.

Why not make these people pledge — in writing — to keep their thoughts to themselves until after the president leaves office? Is that too much to ask?

Here's your judicial activism, Sen. Cruz

Ted Cruz brought it up, so I’ll continue running with it.

The freshman U.S. senator from Texas accused the U.S. Supreme Court of engaging in “judicial activism” when it refused to review state cases relating to same-sex marriage. Activism? Hardly. Restraint? That’s more like it.

The Republican’s silly assertion brought to mind a conversation I had in 2009 with a true-blue judicial activist, who was damn proud of his role in correcting mistakes the legislative body in his country makes on occasion.

Meet Salim Joubran, a member of the Israeli supreme court. I made his acquaintance in June 2009 while traveling through Israel with four other West Texans as part of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange. Our group met him in Jerusalem.

Judge Joubran was unapologetic about his activist nature.

His take on the court’s role in Israel is that judges have to correct mistakes that the Knesset — the Israeli parliament — makes in enacting certain laws. “We are respectful of the Knesset,” he said, “but the court’s activism is necessary.”

Joubran said that Israel doesn’t have a constitution. National law, therefore, makes it “virtually imperative that judges correct mistakes in laws approved by the Knesset,” I wrote after visiting with Joubran.

We’re proud in this country of our judicial system. I know I am. It works well most of the time. I’m not going to advocate for the form of judicial activism that Salim Joubran practices while interpreting Israeli law.

But I’m going to draw a conclusion about how some American politicians define the term “judicial activism.” It’s usually used as a pejorative by conservative pols who take issue with what they see as “liberal” court rulings.

Fine. However, conservative judges can be activists, too. I’ve already cited the Citizens United ruling in 2010 as an example of conservative judicial activism.

I cannot recall five years after meeting with Judge Joubran whether he’d be considered a liberal or conservative judge. He’s an activist — and proud of it.

I found it refreshing and, frankly, courageous.

If only more judges in this country stood up for their own activism and were willing to defend it in front of anyone who challenged them.

Barack and Bibi: Are they actually friends?

OK, so now it turns out that President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have a better relationship than what’s been reported.

Is that the case?

It is, according to Netanyahu.

That’s good to know, given that the United States has so few dependable Middle East allies.

None of them compares with Israel, which has been at our side — and vice versa — since the founding of Israel more than six decades ago.

The supposed tension between the leaders has been the subject of much discussion over the years. Indeed, they’ve appeared to be at odds on occasion as it relates to U.S. views on Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank region and on how to achieve a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Netanyahu said Sunday on “Face the Nation” that the relationship is like that of an “old married couple.” He declared that he and the president have a “relationship of mutual respect and mutual appreciation.”

Can we expect them to be BFF’s — best friends, forever? Hardly. Mutual respect and appreciation, though, is pretty darn good in this troubling time in the region of the world where Netanyahu lives and works.

For his part, Obama has made it abundantly clear time and again: The United States stands solidly behind Israel and that alliance is unshakable and unbreakable.

There you have it.

VP says he's sorry to Turkish leader

Vice President Joe Biden has apologized to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for remarks he made that supposedly implied that Turkey intentionally let weapons slip into Syria and into the hands of Islamic State terrorists.

I am dubious of the need for the vice president to say he’s sorry. I’m mostly dubious that what he said actually implied any intent on the Turks’ inability to stop the flow of arms from their country into Syria.

He had said that Turkey had let fighters migrate from Turkey into Syria carrying arms and munitions. Erdogan took the vice president’s remarks as suggesting the Turks did so intentionally.

Biden said that wasn’t what he meant and he has “clarified” his statement to Erdogan. I am hoping we’ve made peace with our critical ally.

Therein lies the reason for the apology in the first place.

Turkey is allowing use of its air space to launch strikes against ISIL targets in Syria. The Turks also are planning to provide actual military support as well. Indeed, the Turks arguably are the strongest military power (excluding Israel) in the entire Middle East. Turkey has demonstrated over many, many years to be a fierce, resilient and capable military force in any conflict in which it has been engaged.

The U.S.-led coalition now fighting ISIL in Syria and Iraq will need the Turks’ know-how and ferocity if it intends to destroy the heinous terror organization.

Thus, the apology.