Category Archives: International news

ISIL is a cult, period

Let’s quit trying to suggest that the Islamic State has anything at all to do with religion.

As in Islam, from which it draws its filthy name.

I’ve made a pact that I’m now going to refer to ISIL as a “cult.” I’ll conceded it’s not an original thought. I’m appropriating it from someone who said it on a news-talk show the other day. If I could remember who said it, I’d credit him specifically.

ISIL doesn’t represent anything about Islam.

I shall concede that I am not a Muslim scholar. I have enough trouble trying to understand my own Presbyterian faith, so I cannot pretend to know much at all about Islam.

However, I am quite comfortable lumping ISIL with other infamous cults.

The worst of them in recent times, for me at least, is the Jonestown cult that committed mass suicide in its Guyana jungle compound in 1978 after gunmen murdered Congressman Leo Ryan and others who had gone there to investigate what was going on with the cult gathering organized by the late Jim Jones.

I would rank ISIL as worse than the Jonestown cult, given the nature of the beheadings they’ve shown the world and the manner in which they treat Muslims, Jews and Christians.

As I have noted already, one group victimized by the ISIL cult has been women in general. Thus, it gladdens my heart to hear about the young major in the United Arab Emirates leading a recent air strike against ISIL in Syria. The major, I hasten to add, is a woman. (See the previous post on this blog.)

President Obama has noted already that “no god” condones the kind of violence that ISIL has brought to others. Indeed, the term “Islamic State” is an insult to a great religion.

Do these monsters represent “religious extremism”? No. They represent something far worse.

ISIS's 'worst nightmare' answers the call

This story absolutely, positively knocks me out.

Major Mariam Al Mansouri has flown a combat mission striking Islamic State targets in Syria.

Al Mansouri is a major in the United Arab Emirates air force.

The major is a woman!

Al Mansouri might be, in the words of, the Islamic State’s “worst nightmare.”

The Islamic State — aka ISIS or ISIL — is at this moment the world’s No. 1 terrorist organization. It is a Sunni extremist cult that beheads prisoners and brutalizes women, denying them any semblance of respect.

These terrorists are animals. President Obama has declared his intention to “degrade and destroy” the terrorist organization.

Accordingly, he and Secretary of State John Kerry have enlisted several nations to join in a coalition to fight ISIL/ISIS. The United Arab Emirates is one of them. Among the service personnel ordered to fly combat sorties against the Islamic State is the aforementioned Major Al Mansouri.

“She is (a) fully qualified, highly trained, combat ready pilot, and she led the mission,” Yousef Al Otaiba told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” according to

This is fantastic. A female UAE air force officer has led a combat mission to destroy military targets manned and operated by sworn enemies of women all around the world.

The delicious irony is way beyond measure.

Obama deserves unified nation

The late great Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan had it right.

Partisanship, he said, should “stop at the water’s edge.”

Put another way: When a president takes a nation to war then it becomes imperative for a nation to rally behind the effort.

President Barack Obama went before the United Nations today to tell the world body that it’s time for the world to step up in the fight against the Islamic State. He didn’t sugar-coat it. He said the fight well could take years. He said ISIL is a tough and resilient foe. He also said that dozens of nations have lined up as part of a growing coalition to fight the terrorists.

But can the commander in chief perform his duty to protect Americans without much of the partisan carping that has plagued him to date? If his Republican foes choose to heed the words of one of their predecessors — the late Sen. Vandenberg — then there might be a unified nation rallying to fight a determined enemy.

Unity, of course, isn’t always the norm.

President Bush was able to rally the nation initially when he took us to war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Much of the support evaporated when he expanded that fight into Iraq in March 2003.

President Clinton had his critics when he started bombing fighters in Bosnia and Kosovo.

President Truman heard the critics when the Korean War dragged on.

And Vietnam? Well, we know what happened there.

Barack Obama received congressional authorization to arm and train Syrian rebels. He’s consulted with political friends and foes in advance of launching the air strikes. Some critics will continue to say the strikes are too little too late.

Let us not undermine this necessary effort to destroy the Islamic State, however, with partisan carping.

Not the U.S. fight alone

President Obama said it correctly.

The fight against the Islamic State does not mean the United States wages this battle alone. ISIL presents a worldwide threat and therefore the world — or at least those nations closest to the threat — must step up.

Five of them have done so as air strikes have begun in Syria.

It is to the great credit of Secretary of State John Kerry that he was able to cobble together a coalition of Arab states to take part in this fight alongside American service personnel. French fighter aircraft already have joined U.S. pilots in hitting ISIL targets in neighboring Iraq.

Obama said, “America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations. This is not America’s fight alone.”

So the fight has been joined with the Islamic State in Syria. Does this mean we’re now cozying up to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator who remains an enemy of the United States? Not in the least, although U.S. commanders did alert Assad in advance that the air strikes against ISIL targets would commence.

The pressure must remain on the Arab states to stay in the fight for as long as it takes to put down these terrorist monsters, who have made it clear they intend to target Americans for future heinous acts.

Yes, the fight will take some time to complete. It must be done.

Air strikes in Syria begin … with help

American pilots are now doing what the commander in chief said was likely: launching air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria.

With that news, the war against the terrorists has expanded.

My view from many thousands of miles away is this: We’d better hit them hard and keep hitting them hard for as long as it takes to render them “degraded” significantly.

I do not want U.S. “boots on the ground.” Those “boots” would be carrying Americans, which is why I have grown weary of that cliché. I remain cautiously optimistic that air strikes can do what President Obama wants them to do, which is to degrade and ultimately defeat the Islamic State.

No, we cannot do this alone. The Pentagon has said that partner nations are involved in the air strikes, which began with Tomahawk missiles and fighter aircraft launched from the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush.

There can be no doubt that any military operation requires friendly nations to take part. The Pentagon hasn’t been very specific on which nations are contributing to this cause, but reports indicate that Sunni Arab states have been involved. That’s an encouraging sign.

What’s the biggest worry, other than ISIL responding with some hideous execution? My guess is that it would Syria reacting badly to U.S. aircraft entering Syrian airspace. If the Syrians are smart — and I believe they are — they’ll be quietly applauding the air strikes, as the ISIL targets represent the biggest threat to that government’s survival.

Oh, boy. This fight has just gotten a whole lot more complicated.

BHO 'ignores' military advice at some risk

Lawrence Korb is far more qualified than I am to discuss the ins and outs of military advice given to presidents of the United States.

He did so during the Reagan administration and he’s now suggesting something quite interesting to the current commander in chief, Barack Obama.

It’s that it’s all right to “ignore” the advice of military leaders at times of international crisis.

Korb understands a fundamental truth about U.S. government. Civilians run the military. It’s written into the Constitution and that’s the way it should be.

It’s interesting to me, though, that Korb cites several examples of presidents ignoring the advice of top military leaders:

* Harry Truman dismissed Gen. Douglas MacArthur after the U.S. military commander popped off and said U.N. forces should take the fight to China.

* Dwight Eisenhower ignored the advice of commanders who wanted the United States to get involved in Vietnam while the French were fighting for their lives at Dien Bien Phu.

* John F. Kennedy said “no” to calls to strike at Cuba during the missile crisis.

What do these presidents have in common? They all were combat veterans.

Barack Obama doesn’t have that kind of background on which to rely. I’m not saying it’s a requirement for the office, but it serves as a cautionary tale for a president who chooses to ignore the advice of individuals who’ve worn their country’s uniform, let alone been to battle.

Sometimes presidents ignore advice at their own risk. Korb writes: “Certainly, there have been instances where presidents had overruled the advice of military leaders, with dire consequences. The most recent examples occurred under President George W. Bush. He not only ignored Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki’s advice that several hundred thousand ground troops would be needed to remove Saddam Hussein and restore order in Iraq after his removal. Not only was Gen. Shinseki ignored, he was publicly derided and undermined by the president and the secretary of defense when they appointed his successor early, even though Shineski still had a year left in his term. Ironically some of the same people now calling on Obama to listen to his generals and keep the door open to having combat ground troops in Iraq did not speak up for Shinseki. Bush also ignored the advice of his military commanders by diverting attention and resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, before the mission of restoring stability in Afghanistan and capturing Osama bin Laden and destroying al-Qaeda was completed.”

The Constitution grants the president the final say in all military matters. That’s as it should be.

Still, the commander in chief should listen carefully to what the brass has to say. They’ve been there. They understand the consequences of war better than most.

Scots show the way

Well done, Scotland! 85-percent turnout, 10-percentage points won the voting question, a solid, unquestionable majority. Scotland won either way. It will now wield more sway in the UK. Democracy works. I hope we would take a lesson from it and regard ours as lovingly.

The above message comes from my friend Dan Wallach, who posted it on Facebook today.

His comment comes in the wake of Scotland’s landmark election in which the Scots decided to remain a part of the United Kingdom.

Dan isn’t making any judgment here on the correctness of the Scots’ vote, but he is saying something profound about Americans’ own lack of civic involvement in matters of vital national importance.

Eighty-five percent of Scotland’s eligible voters turned out. Americans are facing a mid-term election in a few weeks that likely will draw less than 40 percent of those who are eligible to vote.

What’s at stake in the U.S. of A.? Oh, just the control of Congress, one-third of that thing we call “co-equal government.” We elect our presidents usually with less than 60 percent of eligible voters taking part. That’s a big deal, too, given that presidents get to select judges to sit on our federal court benches, giving them lifetime jobs in which they interpret whether laws are constitutional.

The Nov. 4 election turnout in Texas, I’m sorry to predict, will be less than the national average. I fear it’s going to be significantly less.

Americans don’t quite care enough to vote for lawmakers or for their president. At least they don’t care the way the Scots showed they cared about whether to declare their independence or stay attached to England as part of the UK.

Dan is right. “Democracy works.” It always works better the more people get involved in that exercise we call voting.

Ho, hum; Texas executes a woman

How times have changed since the late 1990s.

Texas has just executed a female inmate, Lisa Coleman, 38, in the death of a 9-year-old boy she starved to death.

I didn’t even know she was scheduled to die, only learning of her death after the fact.

Yep, just another day at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice death chamber.

I couldn’t help but think of the international uproar that arose when Texas put down Karla Faye Tucker back in 1998. Do you remember when then-Gov. George W. Bush mocked Tucker just days before she died when he said, using a pitiful voice, that Tucker likely said, “Pleease don’t kill me.” Oh, that Dubya, .. what a card.

A South Africa TV station called to interview little ol’ me — yours truly — about Tucker’s impending death. They must have run out of more suitable subjects to interview, but there I was — on the air, live, with some reporter in Cape Town, South Africa, offering my own perspective on what it meant to execute a woman.

I’ve kept my feelings about capital punishment pretty much quiet. Only my family and closest friends had known how I feel about it. I more or less had to keep quiet about it, given that I worked for newspapers that supported the use of the death penalty as punishment for capital crimes. Now that I can speak for myself, I have declared my opposition to capital punishment.

It doesn’t upset any more when we execute women. I detest the punishment for men and women equally.

What’s more detestable, though, is that the death of a young woman on a TDCJ execution chamber gurney came and went and so few of us seemed to care.

Why so many speeches at these hearings?

This is not exactly a scoop, but I thought I’d ask it anyway: Why do members of Congress have to make speeches when they’re assembled to seek answers to questions from key government officials?

It’s happening as I write this brief blog post.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is quizzing Secretary of State John Kerry about the U.S. plan to defeat and destroy the Islamic State. But without fail, from senators on both sides — Democrats and Republicans — are embarking on long-winded soliloquies before getting to whatever question they want answered from the nation’s top diplomat.

Kerry, of course, knows the score. He served in the Senate for nearly three decades and engaged in some tiresome speechmaking while grilling witnesses before the very committee he once chaired.

Many of out here in the Heartland know what gives, too. Politicians by definition usually are in love with the sound of their own voices. So they want to hear themselves being heard, yes?

I’m reminded of the time during Senate confirmation hearings to decide whether Samuel Alito should join the U.S. Supreme Court. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee gave each senator 30 minutes to “ask questions” of the nominee. Then it came to Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. CNN put a clock on Biden, who then pontificated for more than 28 minutes.

Biden eventually asked the question and Alito had less than two minutes to respond. Time ran out and the chairman called on the next senator.

I’d much rather hear what a witness has to say hear for the umpteenth time what a senator of House member thinks about this or that issue.

Benghazi hearings actually can be constructive

Here we go.

A congressional select committee of House members has convened a series of hearings on Benghazi, which has become shorthand for “How do we derail Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations?”

The committee chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., is going to replow some ground that’s been tossed, turned and examined to the hilt on what happened on Sept. 11, 2012 when terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

The event occurred when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. It’s been a talking point ever since among right-wing critics of the Obama administration — and that includes conservative mainstream media.

What will the committee learn that it doesn’t already know about what happened? Probably not a damn thing.

Here, though, is where the hearings can prove constructive.

They can ascertain whether we’ve done enough to improve embassy and consulate security in the two years since that horrible attack.

I hope that’s the goal. I hope that we can determine if we’ve learned from the mistakes committed during that horrible fire fight.

Gowdy opened the hearings with this statement: “We do not suffer from a lack of recommendations. We do not suffer from a lack of boards, commissions and blue ribbon panels. We suffer from a lack of implementing and enacting those recommendations. That must end.”

OK. Then find out what needs to be implemented, make a recommendation, file a report and put it on the record.

The longer this matter remains a political talking point, the more it will take on the appearance of what some of us believe already: a witch hunt.