Views From Fonzi’s Foxhole

Doubling Down on Denial

It is a rare day that a member of the Democrat Party’s congressional delegation and I  agree, but in the case of Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D) Hawaii, she is spot on in her evaluation of what needs to be done to fix our broken Middle Eastern policy in Iraq.

Gabbard is the first Samoan American, female member of Congress, with two prior tours of duty in Iraq with the Hawaii Army National Guard. She is quite critical of President Obama’s policy regarding ISIS, Iraq and “leading from behind.”

On national news programs last week she laid out her analysis and recommendations of what should be done. She blamed the rise of ISIS and similar groups to the U.S.-backed overthrow of Quaddiffi in Libya with only a naïve hope in “Arab democracy” which actually consisted of radical Islamists ensuring there was one vote, one time. The same misguided policies inspired the disruption of the Asad regime in Syria with the follow-on civil war, extension of false hope to anti-Asad insurgents (no U.S. assistance was forthcoming) and the rise of ISIS in Syria.

What occurred in Syria led to the rise of ISIS in Iraq with absolute inertia by the U.S. State Department and refusal by the Obama administration to take any meaningful action to check the advance of this murderous terrorist army into Iraq. Subsequently, we have witnessed the genocide of religious minorities in Iraq in areas captured by the ISIS army. War crimes have become the order of the day with each week presenting ever more heinous atrocities. The much-vaunted airstrikes against ISIS have been spectacularly ineffective according to most intelligence reports emerging from the area as ISIS knows when the strikes will occur and take shelter among the civilian population, knowing that Allied aircraft will not attack if civilians are present.

Gabbard was harshly critical of Obama’s steadfast refusal to accurately identify the enemy or the nature of the threat from ISIS, which is Islamic to its core, the most radical version of 7th Century Islam as manifested in the Wahabi sect of Islam. This sect is practiced and exported from Saudi Arabia, which bans all other religions from its borders, sentences critics to 1000 lashes administered in doses of 50 per week and instead of ice cream flavors specializes in public beheadings of criminals. From the perspective of ISIS, the Saudis are too liberal.

In the last week author Graeme Wood published a lengthy article in Atlantic Magazine titled “What ISIS Really Wants” and pulls no punches about its background and objectives. It cites distinguished Islamic scholars, including Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel who is considered among academics to be the leading scholar on the ISIS theology.

Reading his article is chilling, as the objective of ISIS, according to Haykel, is to kill vast numbers of people, millions of people, starting with Jews and Christians, but especially those they consider to be apostates. An apostate is any Muslim not sufficiently adhering to the ISIS interpretation of the Koran. First on the list are Shia Muslims, all 200-plus million of them in the Middle East.  Terror is the strategy of choice; it results in quicker capitulation of religious communities that refuse to submit to Islamic domination. ISIS has been quite efficient in accomplishing its terrorist objectives to date and dominates an area approximating the size of the British Isles. In one year they have expanded their numbers from a few thousand to nearly 50,000 with hundreds more arriving from around the world weekly.

The Obama response is to aggressively deny that ISIS is Islamic, an absurdity echoed by administration officials from virtually every government department, regardless of Egyptian President al-Sisi or King Abdullah of Jordan’s statements that ISIS is absolutely Islamic, representing a medieval interpretation of the Koran but armed with modern weapons. Last I heard both President al-Sisi and King Abdullah were lifelong Muslims; they should know.

ISIS has a millenarian philosophy, an apocalyptic vision to bring about the end of the world and a global Islamic caliphate. Martyrdom is an objective, not a consequence for most of its members, making them extremely dangerous in combat. Many of their fighters wear explosive suicide vests to avoid being captured alive. Recognizing the immediate and long-term existential threat, being willing to call it what it is, an extremely dangerous Islamic sect, is the first step in developing a strategy to defeat ISIS. Prominent democrats such as Leon Panetta, Hillary Clinton, even Chris Matthews of MSNBC agree on this point.

Gabbard called for a military response, including ground troops, accompanied by appropriate political, counterterrorist and information campaigns to destroy ISIS. I agree. A strong military ground campaign could end in months what otherwise will be drawn out for years with unpredictable and dangerous long-term consequences if we hesitate.


Reporters and War

I can’t remember his name but the Vietnamese Saigon Bureau Chief for Time Inc., which formed the information hub for major news outlets in the Vietnam War was a North Vietnamese intelligence officer with the rank of colonel. Time staffers were shocked to learn this as they prepared to evacuate Saigon in April, 1975 as North Vietnamese troops were entering the city; the colonel showed up in his office in the uniform of a Colonel in the Army of North Vietnam. For ten years he had used his position to shape the interpretation of events for dissemination to the world press. The Russians, who trained North Vietnam’s intelligence operatives, are very good at this and have a formal doctrine for disinformation operations which are incorporated into every major operational plan.

As for other reporters, the press pool in Vietnam tended to hang close to Saigon or major bases in reasonably secure areas. For every Joe Galloway who went in harm’s way with the troops (he jumped on a helicopter and went into the Ia Drang Valley in the middle of the 7th Cavalry’s fight at LZ X-ray) there were 20 or 30 others who spent their time in bars and brothels, taking their stories from information provided by others.

I also remember a discussion after the war about the role of the press in war. A prominent CBS reporter, I believe it was Dan Rather, insisted that even if they knew of information that would save the life of American troops, such as an ambush set up in a certain area, they would not share that information as it might compromise their role as journalists.

In WWII the press were war correspondents and knew who the good guys were. After WWII, the press began to take on a different attitude and distanced themselves from their nationality and strove so hard to be viewed as “neutral” that they left their moral compass behind. I also believe that once the fight was an ideological fight between the East and West, their leftists sympathies with socialists and communists prevailed over their duty to report the truth. The public was no longer presented black and white pictures of conflict but muddled versions of news events. For instance, the 7th Cavalry fight at LZ X-ray, which was a tactical victory of U.S. forces over the North Vietnamese Army, (1800 enemy dead and disruption of a major NVA base area) the press emphasis was upon the 66 US fatalities and the 165 wounded and the human cost of that battle. The Army didn’t help much by emphasizing enemy dead over larger objectives and using MacNamara’s insistence on quantifying progress (enemy body counts) the Army threw away any strategic advantage gained by that fight.

The first Gulf War in 1990-91 changed that equation somewhat as reporters embedded with units and became empathic with the soldiers they accompanied. Also, Saddam Hussein was easy to dislike and his handling of the media was extremely stupid, with exceptions like Peter Arnett who self-destructed by his over-the-top hostility towards the U.S. led coalition.

The worst reporting I’ve seen since Vietnam was coverage of the war on terror, especially in Iraq as media hostility towards President Bush colored everything that was reported. It went a long way towards turning the American people against the war if not the troops, even as the military had begun to turn the war around with the surge.    Unfortunately, once the public turns against a war it manifests into political change that elects a political opportunist like Barack Obama. We will experience the adverse consequences of this for decades to come, even to the peril of the survival of the nation as the public has been immunized against involvement in foreign affairs even as new threats of strategic magnitude are emerging.

Written by Al Fonzi
5th District Chairman, Republican Party, SLO County
Past President, SLO County Lincoln Club

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