Jul 15, 2015

The US - Iran Nuclear Treaty


It's far more involved than the superficial news bytes we see on the television

1-First, it's not just a US-Iran deal. On the US side was the UK, French, Germans, Russians, Chinese; the treaty has worldwide favor. Equally important is that all these countries have been honoring Obama's embargo, which is what forced the Iranians to sign. Had he held out for the harsher terms the GOP is now demanding, the Iranians would not have signed – and our allies indicated they would not continue the embargo if they felt the US was being unreasonable. A key part of the embargo was China refusing to buy Iran's oil; losing their best customer was what caused their economy to collapse.

2-While most of the Middle East is Sunni, Iran and Iraq are Shia; that puts Iran in conflict against the Sunni's, regardless of security or economic issues. While both are Muslim, there's a huge difference between the two; the Shia believe they need to proselytize, while the Sunni's are not so in-your-face.

2A-It's also a Saudi vs Iran fight for military influence in the Middle East. While the Saudi's have money, they and their OPEC allies lack the will to fight. Yes they buy billions of dollars of our weapons, but they lack cojones to use them. Note how the Iranians have troops in Iraq fighting ISIS (which complicates the Sunni-Shia problem, since we, the Saudis, Jordanians, and UAE are fighting ISIS also) while the Sunni's fight by airstrikes. Also, the Saudi's, etc al remember the Iranians marching thru Iraqi minefields during the Iran-Iraq War...that sort of motivation beats technology every time when the fighting is door-to-door.

3-Israel. Not the Israeli Defense Force of the 1950's-70's. The IDF got their ass handed to them in 2006 by Hezbollah,and last year the vaunted Israeli Intelligence missed 200+ tunnels being dug, so they responded by shelling civilians. On the wrong end of a 20-1 population disparity, Israel needs to realize they need to co-exist by more than sheer firepower.

No one is asking Israel to stand-down, but Iranian PM Rouhani has put his life on the line signing this deal, so maybe Bibi needs to take a step back and see if the Iranians perform. Plus 60% of the Iranian population is under age 25; they have ZERO interest in sanctions, war, etc. They – like the Israeli kids who also don't want to fight (and claim the religious exemption so they don't have to serve), want a normal life. Two issues here: if the Israeli's won't defend their own country, why should we defend it for them, and 2-the Arab armies are not ganging up on Israel any longer; Israel's biggest problem is internal, as they debate if they're a Jewish country or a democratic country.

4-Who's the big dog economically? Back to Saudi vs Iran: The Iranian people are proud of being Iranians, they work hard, and built a successful country centuries prior to oil. It's called the Persian Gulf for a reason. The OPEC countries, who hire foreigners to do their work, don't have this mindset. Basically they've wasted the 37 years since Ayatollah Khomeni sent Iran back to the stone age, and now they're scared of what the Iranians want to accomplish economically after all their years of isolation. And they outnumber the Sunni's by 8-10 to 1.

5- The GOP's concerns are more anti-Obama rhetoric than truth. Sanctions don't come off until the centrifuges are decommissioned, and other nuclear equipment is destroyed or turned over. The Iranians need to do a lot of things first...all which the GOP forgets to mention in their continued anti-Obama frenzy,

5A-If Bibi and the GOP want to tackle a real nuclear threat; let them look to Pakistan. A failed state where Nigerian-levels of corruption fuels Taliban and Islamic extremism and their ISI plots against India, the US, and the civilized world...let's not forget they have 60+ nuclear weapons now, along with missile delivery systems that can reach Saudi Arabia, Israel, and most Indian cities. Iranian weapons in 3-5-10 years? The Paks have nucs now.

6-America's role? I'm not sure. Sending troops is not an option (hear that, GOP?), but maybe we beef up our existing Middle Eastern bases and do more joint training. But I do know if the GOP halts this treaty, the EU and China will abandon the embargo, trade with Iran, and doom us to the role of the odd uncle ranting from the sidelines as the game goes on without him.

Oh, it'll be interesting.

Jul 4, 2015

Immigration & America; July 4, 2015






This week's foray by The Donald into the immigration debate made me step back and think "what makes someone an American?" Is it an accident of birth? Having a special skill? Or is it an attitude?

Immigration didn't use to be a political issue; short of leprosy or lunacy, basically everyone was accepted. In the 19th Century's human waves of immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island were my grandparents, who came to the New World for a chance for a better life.

My maternal grandmother was Mary Inez Ryan, a Roman Catholic from Ireland's County Limerick, and we grew up listening to her stories of leprechauns and banshees. She married Joseph Mendell, whose German-Jewish father changed their name from Mendel upon arrival here. My dad's parents were also immigrants, Louis Ljubon from Budapest married Bavaria's Aloysia Woelfl. Both families settled in northern New Jersey, struggled through the Depression, and like so many others after Pearl Harbor, both my mom and dad enlisted in the Marines. Afterwards they were part of the first G.I. Bill class at Montclair State Teachers College and worked hard to give us kids a better life and more opportunities. That makes me a 3rd generation American; the proud grandson of immigrants.

With so many decades of immigrants come so many immigration stories... on one of my Afghan embeds I met Maj Tuan Pham, USMC, a Vietnamese refugee whose grandfather and father were killed by the Viet Cong. His mother and sister fled Vietnam as 'boat people,' and eventually got Pham out...he's a hard-charger who understands the values of sacrifice and hard work. While his family story is certainly  more interesting than mine, it's similar in that it started with folks looking for a better life, making their way to America, working hard, giving back, and helping build that which we call "The American Dream".

Since 9/11 there have been some 60,000 immigrants who became Americans through their service in the Armed Forces. The ranks of the Marine Corps, for example, are filled with young men and women with fascinating accents who are "giving back" to their newly adopted country. Some of them "give back" a lot; Trump would be horrified to learn that Mexican-born Marine Sgt Rafael Peralta's last act was to roll onto a grenade in Fallujah, sacrificing himself in order to save the lives of the Marines behind him. Then there's Sgt Michael Strank, one of the five Marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima. He was born Mychal Strenk, in Jarabenia, Czechoslovakia, and learned English in a tough Pennsylvania steel town.

His fellow flag-raisers included Rene Gagnon, the son of French-Canadians who were working in a New Hampshire textile mill, and Ira Hayes; a Pima Indian born in Arizona. One wonders of Hayes's thoughts on immigration; probably not much; he considered his fellow Marines to be his adopted family.

Strank was killed on Iwo, three days after that famous photograph was taken; Peralta died in Fallujah . Other countries should have immigrants like these two.

They're the strength of this country, this blend of steel workers, farmers, and shopkeepers who arrived here with little more than an ill-fitting suit and a fierce determination to "do better." They helped build America by learning the language, working hard, and in believing America to be a 'melting pot' and not a 'mosaic;' they blended together and gave this country a mind-set that equated hard work with success.

Unlike the faux-patriotism espoused by those who are only seeking publicity; Strenk and Peralta understood that patriotism was something that was to be practiced as opposed to harangued. On the morning after Pearl Harbor, college boys were racing farm boys to enlist, and by 1945 America had 12 million men and women under arms. Everyone volunteered; my ex-wife's father forged his father's name to the paperwork and joined the Army underage -- he grew up quickly as he first fought in Italy and later in the Battle of the Bulge. Young Americans like Peralta did the same, enlisting – like many- after 9/11.

That's real patriotism. Everyone pulled together for the common goal of protecting the American way of life that their parents and grandparents worked to offer them.

That's what makes today's immigration debate so frustrating. Most of the illegals quietly work hard, taking the dirty jobs that most American citizens refuse. Sure many of them arrive not speaking English, but neither did my Grandfather Ljubon or Mychal Strenk. America is still a country of opportunities for those who want to work, and given the opportunity, look at how Sgt's Strenk and Peralta have become a part of American history.

Maybe being an "American" is an attitude rather than an accident of birth. Since people today aren't digging the Erie Canal or building the transcontinental railroad; today's settlers are instead working in an Iowa meat-packing plant or cutting lawns in Bucks County, PA. Hard work never hurt anyone Grandpa Ljubon used to tell me; and as Grandpa's Strenk, Peralta, and Pham surely told their boys; with hard work you can accomplish almost anything.

So raise a glass to our 239th birthday -- with more hard work and immigrants like these, we'll be celebrating 239 more.

Happy Independence Day.

May 12, 2015

Book Review: "Choosing Courage"

 "Choosing Courage"
by Peter Collier
Artisan Books, 2015

The word 'hero' has been dumbed-down these days. Schoolchildren with perfect attendance are called heroes, as are those popular cartoonish Robert Downey Jr – Transformer movies. Computer-generated fiction? Let's be honest; while going to school regularly is a good thing, real heroes are the Marines fighting their way off the Iwo Jima beaches, or clearing Fallujah house-by-bloody-house.

Peter Collier's fine book “Choosing Courage” helps the reader understand today's hero. Collier takes the stories of Medal of Honor awardees from WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and tries to find a common thread to their stories. At the same time, he intersperses the actions of a few brave civilians and compares them to see if they match those inspiring stories of the combat veterans – and he finds that thread.

While many Medal of Honor recipients are reticent of their fame, and prefer to phrase their actions as 'I was just doing my job,” a few have taken a more articulate view. Col Jack Jacobs, USA (ret) is one. Jacobs, awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in 1968 Vietnam, is a thoughtful man who explains how in the midst of battle, wounded in an ambush that killed many of his troops and with a piece of shrapnel in his eye, remembered the question posed by the Hebrew scholar Hillel of two thousand years ago “If not you, who? If not now, when?” Jacobs knew that if someone didn't take charge, the slaughter would continue, and if he was the only person capable of action, then he needed to get on with it. That's far cry from today, when people's first response to an emergency is to pull out their cellphone and make a video for TMZ or FB.

Eleven months later, Col Wesley Fox, USMC (ret) was leading a rifle company of Marines that was ambushed by a far larger force of North Vietnamese soldiers. Like Jacobs, Fox was wounded, as were all his platoon commanders. But training trumps fear, and as the young Marines stepped up to take charge, Fox had no time for fear as he worked to keep his Marines fighting. When the Marines were finally extricated, they'd suffered 70 Marines killed or wounded, but the NVA lost more than 100 killed.

There are civilian equivalents to combat, Collier writes, and provides two breathtaking examples. Jencie Fagan, a gym teacher, was putting up a volleyball net for her first-period class when she heard gunshots. Running down the hallway to where she thought the noise had come, she encountered students running in terror (and a teacher who locked herself in a classroom), Fagan saw a student with a handgun and slowly approached him. Talking soothingly to him, she stood in front of him so he would have to shoot her in order to shoot any other students. Fagan talked him into dropping the pistol and she then hugged him until the police arrived.

Of the many heroic stories coming from 9/11, “Choosing Courage” picks that of Rick Rescoria, a British native who joined the American Army and fought in 1965 Vietnam., earning a Silver Star at Ia Drang. Becoming an American citizen after the war, in 2001 he was the Director of Security for Morgan Stanley on 9/11. Due to the prior training he'd instituted, almost all of Morgan's 2,700 employees got out of the South Tower, however Rescoria was last seen going back into the building to be sure all of 'his' employees were out. The South Tower collapsed a few minutes later; Rescoria's body was never found.

That's what Peter Collier's “Choosing Courage” illustrates. Courage comes from within the individual, and in response to a crisis situation. No sane person looks for these situations, but as Jacobs says “I didn't want to look back years later and realize I could have done the right thing, but didn't.” It's really a simple question, Fagan realized later; which way will you run??

"Choosing Courage" is Highly Recommended!!

Choosing Courage

by Peter Collier
Artisan Books, 2015
ISBN # 978-1-57965-596-9