Archive for the On Foreign Affairs Category

What to Do About ISIS?

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on February 5, 2015 by playthell
 ISIS murder of JapaneseAdvertising the murder of Japanese Citizens

 They Must be No Longer at Ease

These days I find myself of one heart with the ancient Roman Senator Cato the Elder, who ended every speech with the declaration: “Carthage must be Destroyed!”   The rational for the Senator’s demand was that the North African nation’s very existence posed a danger to Rome.  After all, Carthage had been the staging ground for the invasion of Rome by the great general Hannibal, who surprised and amazed the Romans by crossing the Alps with elephants. Today a rag tag group of armed Islamic zealots pose a clear and present danger to the international order by carving out a fanatical Islamic Caliphate in the sands of Syria and Iraq that refuse to recognize the legitimacy of international law, or man-made laws of any kind, especially if they are the product of a democratic process.

In their view only Sharia is valid, the laws dictated by God/Allah to the Islamic prophet Muhammad.  If God has given you the law it is perfect, they argue, how can man improve upon it? They see blasphemy in the thought.  Calling their desert stronghold the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq aka ISIS, their supreme leader Caliph Ibrahim, an Islamic theologian with a PhD in Sharia Law, is so convinced that he is carrying out the will of God/Allah he routinely orders gruesome murders of captives – citizens of sovereign states big and small – and films them for display on the internet.  These shocking crimes have provoked a howl across the globe, with multinational voices chanting: “Isis Must Be Destroyed!”

Indeed ISIS has left the citizens of the world little choice.  The pacifist may cry out for negotiation but their pleas are destined to fall on deaf ears.  It is clear to anyone who have been paying attention to the murderous antics of ISIS that negotiating with them is a fool’s errand…a pipe dream induced by ideological opiates.

Alas, one cannot negotiate with people who are led by a religious potentate with a doctorate in Islamic Law, and is convinced that he alone holds the blueprint for constructing the perfect world.  When this belief is accompanied by the idea that the end justifies the means and mass murder is an acceptable process for bringing about the new world order, plus they are recruiting Jihadists from among your populace and training them for attacks on their home land, the international community is left no choice but to destroy the aggressive state or movement.

The belief that ISIS must be destroyed has been declared by no less an Islamic authority than the theologians at the University of Al Azhar in Egypt, the land that gave birth to the modern Jihad. (see: *Of All the Places in the Islamic World, Why Egypt?)  After watching the video of Jordanian pilot Mouath al-Kasaesbeh being burned alive by ISIS militants, Muslim Scholars at the 1000 year old University of al Azhar, the most revered authority on Islamic doctrine in the Sunni world, denounced the Sunni militants in ISIS.

Their statement expressed deep anger over the lowly terrorist act” and called ISIS “a Satanic terrorist group.”  And the Qatar based International Association of Muslim Scholars, led by the widely respected theologian Youssef al-Qaradawi, called the burning a crime and issued this statement: The Association asserts that this extremist organization does not represent Islam in any way and its actions always harm Islam.”

Upon first hearing of these statements I was surprised that the Scholors at al Azhad finally spoke out on the theology of ISIS, as they have repeatedly refused to comment on the authenticity of ISIS’ interpretation of Islam.  Hence I naturally assumed that the issuing of collective statements on behalf of institutions provided a smokescreen by which the scholars could mask their individual identities….and for good reason given the murderous proclivities of ISIS.  However many scholars have courageously stepped forward and issued critical statements in defense of their religion under their own name and authority which amount to scathing denunciations of ISIS; declaring their beliefs and actions “un-Islamic.

First among these is Ahmed al-Tayeb, The grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, who said the ISIS militants ought to be “killed, crucified or to have their limbs amputated.”  Salman al-Odah, a prominent Saudi Imam, called the incineration an abomination and declared: It is rejected whether it falls on an individual or a group or a people, only God tortures by fire.” Most compelling of the condemnations is that of Abu Sayaf, a Salafist Imam from Jordan whose nom de plume among the Jihadists in al Qaeda is Mohamed al Shalabi.

Sayaf is no stranger to militant Islamic activity, having served ten years in a Jordanian prison for organizing an attack on US soldiers, but he views the actions of ISIS as a misrepresentation of Islamic teaching that is destructive to the Islamist movement. Sayaf argues:

“This weakens the popularity of Islamic State because we look at Islam as a religion of mercy and tolerance, even in the heat of battle, a prisoner of war is given good treatment.  Even if the Islamic State says Muath had bombed, and burnt and killed us and we punished him in the way he did to us, we say, ok. But why film the video in this shocking way, the method has turned society against them,’’

The principle theme in all of the condemnations of this type is the vindication of Islam through the rejection of ISIS’ atrocities, which the militants justify through the application of Islamic law.  However they have a big problem: Since there is no central authority that the billion Muslims in the world can look to as the final authority on Islamic doctrine – like the Catholic Pope or the Mormon Prophets – the matter of doctrine is open to various interpretations.  Which allows Caliph Ibrahim, who is an authority on Islamic law, to dismiss his critics as ignoramuses and charlatans, even worse they can be declared apostates and have their heads lopped off with a scimitar.

Apparently anticipating a theological dustup about their public torching of a Sunni Muslim pilot, ISIS issued a Fatwa; a religiously inspired death penalty that can be ordered by a high ranking religious leader against anyone deemed to have profaned the Islamic faith.  The Fatwa placed on the Indian Muslim novelist Salman Rushdie by the Ayatollah Homeni, leader of the Islamic revolution in Iran, is the most poignant case of a condemned man under Fatwa; he is still in hiding and running for his life after two decades!

In the Fatwa issue by ISIS, the theological justification for burning the Jordanian pilot is argued with a scholarly rigor that sets forth chapter and verse.   In a February 2, 2015 analysis titled, Fatwa: How Islamic State Justifies Burning Pilot Alive, written by Raymond Ibrahim, a widely respected expert on militant Islam, we are told:

 “The brief fatwa argues that “the Hanafis and Shafi‘is [two of Sunni Islam’s four orthodox schools of jurisprudence] permit burning’ people.  Next the fatwa quotes the eminent Hafiz ibn al-Hajar (d. 1449) who comments that ‘the deeds of the companions [of Muhammad] evince the permissibility of burning, and the prophet put out the eyes of the men of Urayna with a heated iron [he also cut their hands and feet off], and Khalid bin al-Walid burned some of the people who apostatized’… None of this is surprising…every atrocity IS has committed—whether beheading, crucifying, raping, enslaving, or now immolating humans—has precedents in Islam, whether in the deeds of Muhammad, that most “perfect” and “moral” man (Koran 33:21, 68:4) or his revered companions.”

 No Shame in his Game: Caliph Ibrahim believes ISIS is following Sharia
ISIS Burns Pilot 
The fire this time!

 As we can see by comparing this exegesis on the theological foundation of ISIS’s Fatwa, which justifies the burning of the Jordanian pilot, with the denunciations of the Islamic scholars cited above, there is no agreement on what the correct teaching of Islam is on the critical issue of human immolation.  The obvious consequence of this ambiguity of interpretation is that the preachments of those scholars who oppose ISIS will fall on deaf ears.  And I suspect that after some of these are deemed apostates and murdered it will be harder to find oppositional theologians who are willing to go on record.  All of this leads to one conclusion: ISIS must be destroyed with military might…and the sooner the better!

But how is this to be accomplished when the US President has promised the American people that he will never, ever, ever, send American ground troops to fight ISIS? Whatever solution President Obama decides on it cannot involve American “boots on the ground!”  But even if he were willing to order troops to the area right now victory would not be easily won.

This is because fighting ISIS requires getting involved in a quagmire of conflicting religious and ethnic grievances whose roots lay deep in centuries of tortured Islamic history.  Tom Friedman, the three time Pulitzer Prize winning Foreign Affairs columnist for the New York Times, provides an insightful summation of the problem in a September 2, 2014 essay titled “Ready, Aim, Fire. Not Fire, Ready, Aim.

 To defeat ISIS you have to address the context out of which it emerged. And that is the three civil wars raging in the Arab world today: the civil war within Sunni Islam between radical jihadists and moderate mainstream Sunni Muslims and regimes; the civil war across the region between Sunnis funded by Saudi Arabia and Shiites funded by Iran; and the civil war between Sunni jihadists and all other minorities in the region — Yezidism, Turkmen, Kurds, Christians, Jews and Alawites. When you have a region beset by that many civil wars at once, it means there is no center, only sides. And when you intervene in the middle of a region with no center, you very quickly become a side.”

Yet, even so,  given the increasing dangers posed by ISIS to everybody that disagrees with them, American intelligence agencies should be tasked with finding the factions that will work in a coalition with the limited objective of defeating ISIS.  And since bitter experience has demonstrated that giving weapons to any “side” in this complicated conflict usually results in them ending up in the arsenals of the Jidadist, prudence dictates that we seek another strategy. Here is the ideal opportunity to finally take the historic step of removing the restrictions placed on Japan in the aftermath of World War II, which prohibits them from deploying armed forces beyond their borders to resolve international disputes.

Many members of the US Congress have called for the lifting of this prohibition – which was written into their post-war constitution under American direction as part of their “unconditional surrender” after being devastated by American atomic bombs during World War II. And regional Pacific powers such as Australia, feeling threatened by the growing might of China, are also calling for Japan to play a larger military role in international affairs.  It is no secret that this would be to the liking of the Japanese Prime Minister Abbo, who has made no secret of his desire to strengthen Japan’s military posture…even  acquiring nuclear weapons.  The Prime Minister has openly questioned the reliability of the American “Nuclear Umbrella” by raising the critical question of whether Americans whould risk nuclear war with China to defend Japan.  However in my view, any deal that would allow Japan to become a nuclear armed nation would be a dangerous Faustian Bargain and the Devil will one day claim our bodies and souls….it would be just a matter of time.

Hence what I have in mind is a far less grandiose plan.  Although if other nations that are less developed and technically competent than Japan such as India, Pakistan, Israel, South Korea, et al are allowed to build nuclear arsenals it is just a matter of time before Japan joins the Nuclear club….to think otherwise is self-deceptive folly.  But for the time being Japan could supply an affective armed force to confront ISIS on the ground. The brazen public murders of Japanese citizens on the internet while the Japanese government pleaded for their lives as they tried to work out a deal, has created public support for a Japanese invasion force to take the field against ISIS.

They have all he means to do the job and I think this could be their moment to renter the international arena as a military power.  No nation in the world has a longer history of military distinction than Japan, and some of their most influential thought leaders have made it plain that they do not like being known as  “a nation that produces beautiful flower arrangements.”   And they are anxious to remind the world that they are a great warrior nation.  I say let the remind us by taking the field against ISIS and removing them from the face of the earth….with the full backing of the rest of the world!  What to do about ISIS?  Therein lies your answer.



Playthell The Elder
On the Road
February 4, 2014










Reaping What You Sow

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags on January 25, 2015 by playthell
Terrorists shootout in Paris
Islamic Jihadists firing assault rifles on Parisian Street

 Darkness in the City of Lights

If the terrorists attacks that struck Paris recently were not such tragic events, listening to the attempts by western journalists to explain the causes of the random slaughter of innocent patrons in a Kosher butcher shop and the planned assassinations of twelve workers at the Parisian magazine Charlie Hebdo that repeatedly published cartoons of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, the founding prophet of Islam – which millions of devout Muslims consider blasphemous – their vapid prattle would be funny.  More often than not their explanations boil down to the conclusion that it’s just some crazy Muslim terrorists who fell under the spell of mad mullahs that are jealous of the wealth and progress of western civilization, lost souls wilding on the streets of Paris with machine guns.

According to this narrative the shooters – native born French Muslims of Arab/African origin – are a murderous, misguided lot who are ungrateful to the French nation and people for graciously allowing their parents to settle in the affluent enlightened realm of French Civilization, rescuing them from the backwardness and poverty of their Arab homelands. Even Barack Hussein Obama, the son of an African Muslim, offered a paean to the superiority of French civilization and their “shared values” with American civilization – cherry picking the admirable ideals while conveniently forgetting the values that produced a history of oppression, slavery and genocide against people of color spanning centuries – helping to create the backward conditions in these countries. Viewed from the perspective of western commentators the terrorist actions are inexplicable; there is just no way to explain it logically.  This accounts for the endless stream of confusing prattle that masquerades as serious analysis from government officials and media talking heads.

However it is not ignorance alone that accounts for the low level of commentary, self-censorship is also at play.  For instance, President Obama is a brilliant man who is an astute observer of world affairs and knows this is self-serving BS, but he dare not admit that the Jihadists are motivated by any complaints that reasonable people can understand.  For to admit even the possibility of a rational motive would amount to challenging the master narrative that these terrorists are not inspired by any real grievance against western civilization but are driven to madness by a poisonous irrational Islamic theology.

The news anchors well understand that to admit the Jihadists have any legitimate complaint against domestic conditions in France, or the aggressive foreign policy of western nations against the Islamic world, could quickly end their careers.  Hence self-censorship is the rule…mum’s the word.  If it were not for the independent experts featured on these news shows we would have no understanding at all of what motivates the Paris assassins.

As I listen to the conversation I find myself reflecting on an encounter I had while strolling about the grounds of Notre Dame on a clear February morning during a visit to Paris in 1996, when the city was on high alert for terrorist attacks.  I had come to deliver a lecture on Wynton Marsalis at the Sorbonne.

The Gardens of Notre Dame
Notre Dame cover_image_492
Overlooking the Siene it is one of Paris’ grandest landmarks

As on previous trips I noticed the tentative somewhat downtrodden posture of black Parisians as they went about their business.  There was a kind of “hang dog” attitude that seemed to hover about them which was so different from the bold posture projected by black Americans as they strode about the streets of New York, exuding an attitude of confidence that the streets belonged to them as much as anyone. So when I happened upon a black man in the gardens of Notre Dame, and discovered that he had lived in the city for over twenty years, I pounced upon him with a barrage of questions about black life in Gay Paree.

Having been nurtured on tales about the French fascination with Black American music and dance; their racial tolerance, and the open cosmopolitan milieu of Paris that provided a safe haven for Afro-American artists and intellectuals – Josephine Baker, Sydney Bechet, Richard Wright, Chester Himes, et al. and produced the first black military aviator in the Ace fighter pilot Eugene Bulliard.  A people who cared so little about racial etiquette that the First lady of France had caused a major scandal in the US when she kissed the great Afro-American pugilist and elegant bon vivant “Sugar Ray” Robinson in the 1950’s.  I wondered how much of that racial good will remained.  It was hard to tell in the circles I was moving in because the only blacks I met were academics who dwelled in the rarified atmosphere of the academy.  So I put my questions about how the folk were faring to the brother in the garden.

Like Othello, he told “a round unvarnished tale.”  As it turned out his name was Trevor and he was of Jamaican origin.   He had migrated to Paris from London to pursue his profession as a thespian.  A triple threat actor, singer and dancer he initially found success and had a royal ball.  But then an anti-immigrant sentiment began to grow in France; the more that black Africans from Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Afro-Arabs from Algeria, Libya and Morocco poured into France the more intense anti-immigrant racism became.  He told me that the atmosphere had become so poisoned that he was moving to Berlin.  On the morning that I met him he was just walking about the city conjuring up fond memories before bidding the City of Lights adieu.

Trevor went on to explain that Paris was still a tale of two cities, only now it would have been more accurate to call it a “tale of three cities” because Charles Dickens’ reference in his classic novel was to the class divide; now the city was divided on the basis of class, race and religion.  He explained that you don’t see many blacks on the streets of Paris at night because they lived in the suburbs where the bulk of poor blacks and Arabs lived. They were out of sight and definitely out of mind.  Most had but little contact with the swells, the creme de la crème who dwelled in the city.  And what is worse, even Arabs and blacks who had acquired advanced university degrees in business and the professions often could not find employment commensurate with their training.  The situation sounded a lot what I had observed in London in 1981 (see: “On Being Black in London, ” posted on this blog, which is why Trevor had quit London for paris in the first place.

That same morning I noticed for the first time platoons of Africans in overalls and rubber boots washing down the streets and the monuments that adorn this sparkling squeaky clean city.  In such a social environment, where the life’s chances of young people are circumscribed by race and religion, there is bound to be a critical mass of alienated dispossessed youths seething with anger i.e. social dynamite.  Just nine years later, on October 27th 2005 these suburbs exploded and it took French authorities three weeks to quell the riots/rebellions.

The rioters, who were described as largely unemployed youths from the projects located over two hundred towns and villages ringing Paris, set fire to almost 10, 000 cars and many buildings of all sorts including daycare centers and schools.  Almost 30,000 people were arrested and over 100 policemen were injured.  A year later on October 1, 2006 in the same suburbs, and there have been violent flare ups as recent as 2013.  It is safe to say there will be more.  The poet Langston Hughes asked the essential question here: “What happens to a dream deferred….does it corrode or does it explode!”

What we are witnessing with the rise of home grown terrorists in France is an explosion of pent up anger and frustration whose causes lay not just in local conditions but in their identification with the wider world of Islam.  Hence their anger has taken on a sense of religious purpose which provided inspirational myths of a glorious past and a triumphant future through the establishment of a global Caliphate based on Sharia Law; which is the vision of Al Qaeda and ISIS.   The vehicle by which the New Islamic empire will be brought into being is the Jihad; it is a vision that limitless legions of young Muslim men are prepared to kill and die for.

 Wall Art in the Suburbs of Paris
Wall art in Paris Suburbs
An accurate reflection of the mood of many alienated Afro-Arab Youths

 Consider the statement of Boubakar al Hakim, a French Jihadists who fought American forces in Iraq, given to a French Radio station from the battle front in 2003 and reprinted in the New York Times on January 12, 2015.   “All of my friends…I tell them to come do the Jihad.  All of my brothers who are over there, come to defend Islam.  They are wimps, wimps and buffoons. The Americans aren’t anything.  I am ready to fight on the front line.  I am even ready to blow myself up, to put dynamite and Boom! Boom!  We will kill all of the Americans.  We are the Mujahedeen.  We want death.  We want paradise.”  We hear echoes of this declaration in the statements of the Kouachi brothers who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo and announced that they sought “Martyrdom.”  It proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In a country with a Muslim population numbering in the millions there is obviously no easy solution to the problem of Jihadists.  The French President Francois Hollande has strongly denounced the terrorists and called for “moderate” Muslim clerics and scholars to repudiate the theology of the Jihadists, and for assimilated Muslims to engage with the youths to show them the error of Jihadist tactics.  Added to the police powers of the state these initiatives represent the core of government involvement with Muslim youths.  Central to their strategy is to vigorously deny that there is a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West; hence they must insist that the Jihadists are misrepresenting Islam.

The problem is that such a strategy has little chance of working with alienated youths fed up with the racism and economic discrimination heaped on them by white French society.  It is a policy that amounts to little more than a public relations offensive but offers no concrete solutions to the real problems faced by Africans and Arabs in France, which are exacerbated by the prolonged stagnation of the French economy and the rising racism expressed as anti-immigrant xenophobia fanned by the far right National Front Party headed by Marine Le Pen.

 Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen, National Front Leader
Is She the Next President of France?

During my 1996 visit to Paris I blundered into a demonstration by the National Front at which its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, called “The Devil of the Republic” by his opponents, was the featured speaker.  It was a raucous affair and the hostility of the stares directed at me and my companion was palpable, because they had no way of distinguishing me from the hated Africans they wanted to drive out of the country.

A former intelligence officer and Paratrooper with battle decorations Le Pen witnessed the collapse of the French empire in Southeast Asia and North Africa symbolized by the French defeats in the battle of Diem Bien Phu and the Algerian War.  He is a ultra-right wing nationalist politician who champions the superiority of French culture and built a loyal political constituency among those who feel threatened by nonwhite immigrants.  Although he fought to preserve the French Colonial Empire he now demonizes their former colonial subjects who have immigrated to France.

 Jean-Marie Le Pen
Purveyor of a racist xenophobic populist politics of rage

Back then they were a fringe party, now they are the largest party in France by some estimates.  Spurred by the Jihadist assault, a resurgent right wing political force is making their agenda crystal clear; there was no shame in their game.  Angered by not being invited to what many are saying was “the largest mass demonstration in French history,” Marine Le Pen sounded like Sarah Palin – the Alaskan Barbarian who almost became Vice President of the United States.

For instance, casting herself as an outsider, and her disparagement of Paris,  sounds quite familiar.  “Ms. Le Pen’s embrace of exclusion perfectly fits her politics.” Reports the New York Times.*  “Using old tropes of the far right in France, she took pride in avoiding the capital, Paris, which she and her supporters view as the center of political corruption an cynicism, for ‘La France Profounde,’ the ‘real France’ of genuine patriots tied to their land and their provinces.”

It is amazing how the right wing everywhere adopts these silly tropes of the virtuous provincials vs. the corrupt cosmopolites; sounds remarkable like the new Republican Senator from the hayfields of Iowa who delivered the Grand Obstructionist Party’s reply to President Obama – Columbia, Harvard, Chicago, the ultimate cosmopolite!  When coupled with her racist rants against the African and Arab population in France, Ms. Le Pen’s arguments echo Hitler’s appeal to the German Volk.  It’s just new wine in old bottles.

Alas this reactionary attitude will not, indeed cannot, bring peace and internal stability to France.  Confronted with clandestine Islamic Jihadist forces composed of soldiers who welcome death and thus are not deterred by the threat of dying, this is essentially a war of ideas….and Ms. Le Pen is propagating the wrong ideas.  It may make her followers feel good, just like Sarah Palin, but it won’t win the hearts and minds of the alienated Muslim youths of France who are joining the Jihad in increasing numbers.  In fact, should they take power in the next election, as many observers are predicting, Marie Le Pen and the National Front will make a powerful recruiting poster for ISIS.  And they shall reap what they sow.


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Janurary 25, 2014

The Day After….

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Foreign Affairs with tags , , on December 19, 2014 by playthell
che_and_fidel_castro El Commandante Fidel and Comrade Che Guevara

 Cuba beyond Castro!

As the Cuban Revolution neared its 50th anniversary, much speculation occurred regarding what course Cuban society will take once its aging leader Fidel Castro passes from the scene. Any conjecture on the direction of Cuban society in the post-Castro era begs the question of what will be the character of US/Cuban relations in the future. Internal policy in Cuba has long been shaped by American foreign policy toward that Spanish-speaking Caribbean island ninety miles from the shores of Florida—the largest and most richly endowed island in the region in terms of natural and human resources.

It is impossible to understand the character of Cuban society today and seriously contemplate its future without taking the realities of the 1959 revolution and the American reaction to it into account. Whether we consider the poverty that plagues the island, the repressive internal policies, the refugees who brave the Florida straits, the ignorance of many young Cuban Americans about the motivations of the revolution that transformed the island in 1959 and the man who led it, any review is incomplete without an understanding of US policy toward the island nation. This is because the revolution, which has shaped contemporary Cuba more than any other event in the twentieth century, was in reaction to a system of social and economic relations largely determined by US interests.

In extensive interviews with American journalists Frank Mankiewicz and Kirby Jones, some fifteen years after the revolution, Castro spoke candidly about the conditions that gave rise to the revolution:

“To understand this it is necessary to understand Cuba as it was before the revolution. We had for example, close to 600,000 unemployed men out of a population of 6,000,000…We had a 30 percent illiteracy rate, more than a million illiterates. We lacked sufficient schools; more than 50 percent of the children did not attend school. We had a very bad public health situation, a high infant mortality rate, and other very serious problems, such as prostitution—close to 100,000 women lived off prostitution. We had gambling and beggars on the streets. In today’s Cuba you do not find any of these problems. Unemployment among the male population has disappeared and close to half a million women have joined the work force in addition to those already employed. Prostitution, begging, gambling, were eradicated. Illiteracy was overcome.”

Later, when Ballantine published these interviews as With Fidel, Arthur Schlesinger, a historian and former advisor to President Kennedy who had once supported aggressive policies toward Cuba remarked that “the time has come to rethink our policy toward Cuba.” His words ring true a quarter of a century later as the Bush Administration, driven by the local politics of the Miami based Cuban exile community, has returned to the aggressive policies Schlesinger rejected.

Saul Landau, American journalist and filmmaker, and professor emeritus at California State Polytechnic University,  has documented Castro in four separate films, corroborates the charismatic leader’s sentiments. “Infant mortality rate is equivalent to that of the U.S. and is certainly better than Washington D.C.; their life expectancy is the same as in the U.S. When the Cubans wash ashore, the “desperate” refugees have no cavities. [They] don’t suffer from diseases that people in the Third World tend to suffer from.” Literacy and infant mortality rates indicate how a society invests its resources, and the latter specifically correlate to the general health of the population. So in comparison to Brazil, the largest nation in Latin America that had five times more infant mortality—140 per thousand births vs. 27.4 per thousand—the stunning achievements of Castro’s regime in the area of developing human capital become evident.

 Sao Paulo: A Tale of Two Cities
Brazil's Darwinian class divide A Portrait of Brazil’s Darwinian Class Divide

Socialist order, people-oriented economic priorities, hard work, and discipline are the mainstays of Cuba’s achievements, but without Russian subsidization of their sugar production not nearly as much could have been accomplished. Russia’s economic support effectively shielded Cuba from the drastic fluctuations of the world market and the misguided protracted American economic embargo.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of those subsidies, along with an American embargo which was reinvigorated under the Bush administration, are at the root of the present economic crisis in Cuba. As a result, Cuba has placed renewed effort on promoting the tourist industry, which was de-emphasized during the early years of the revolution – as the Jamaicans say: “Empty belly mek dog lick sore foot.”

The Cuban revolution began as a democratic nationalist movement. It was a struggle against economic exploitation of the laboring classes and the police-state tactics of the rich, corrupt Cuban oligarchy and their armed agents who were prepared to use as much force as necessary to maintain the status quo. In his book The Mafia in Cuba, award-winning Cuban historian Enrique Cirules documented the underworld’s involvement in Cuban life as going far beyond the influence of whores, gambling, cocaine, or even control of the major nightclubs, hotels and casinos.

The Mob also became a major force in politics and economics. Less than two years before the revolution, Cirules wrote that “the US press assured readers that Congress was accumulating evidence to imprison the principal Mafia leaders on home soil. In Cuba, however…they ran a network of untouchable businesses, in which semi-legal control merged with gang-style law…because the Mafia’s contacts reached everywhere, even to the presidential office.”   The American government was more than familiar with the Mafia presence in Cuba and there is irrefutable evidence that the CIA turned to heavyweight Mafia Don Sam Giancana to try and assassinate Castro, in an attempt to promote counterrevolution.

 Fulgencia Batista: Cuban Dictator and American Puppet
Cuban Dictator Batista His Corruption and Ruthless Oppression Sparked the Revolution!

 Added to the injuries suffered by the poor in Cuba was the outrage felt by those principled middle class nationalist intellectuals—like Fidel and his comrades, who became the theorists and organizers of the revolution  – about the pervasiveness of crime and corruption in their society.  Under Batista the Mob had free reign in Cuba. Indeed, they were major factors in Castro’s radicalization. Few Americans who criticize contemporary Cuban society and its suspicion of American intentions understand the powerful role of organized crime in pre-revolutionary Cuba.  Furthermore, “legitimate” American businessmen often conducted themselves little differently, making it a distinction without a difference for the Cuban people.

 Meyer Lansky: Notorious American Jewish Gangster

Meyer Lansky

 He was a very big man in pre-revolutionary Cuba

Castro was a bourgeois lawyer with a social conscience and a belief in democratic reform until General Batista overthrew the government and set up a military dictatorship in 1952, which led a disillusioned Castro to conclude that democratic reform in Cuba was impossible. This realization drove him to become a revolutionary, and sixteen months later, he led the attack on the Moncada Barracks that launched a years-long Cuban Revolution which would force Batista into exile and bring Castro to power on New Years Day in 1959.

Reflecting on her youth in the 1920’s, when the white Cuban upper class experienced a wave of prosperity due to the high price of sugar post-WWI, Fichu Menocal, the daughter of a banker and granddaughter of Mario G. Menocal, the US-backed president of Cuba from 1912 to 1920, paints a poignant picture of the corruption and decadence of the deeply racist white Cuban elite that was wiped away by the Revolution.

 The Precincts of Wealthy White Cubans
Cuba's San Souchi Hotel
The San Souci Hotel and Club

Fichu recalls that among the island’s wealthy families “…there was a rivalry—who was going to have the most fantastic party; Parties that could cost $50,000. At that time that was an incredible amount. I went to practically all those parties. And we forgot absolutely what was below. We drifted so high on that cloud of golden prosperity…everybody just went to Paris and bought their frocks. Summer frocks, winter things.” But their taste for French finery hardly stopped there. “Everybody, they either had a Florentine chateau, or a Versailles-like chateau and everybody was rolling in millions…when I look back on that display of wealth, who could think at the time that anybody in Cuba could be miserable.”

Her remembrances of those halcyon days for the clueless Cuban elite reminds me of the entries in the diary of Louis XVI of France on the morning before the revolutionary Jacobins stormed Versailles palace, took he and Marie Antionette prisoner, shipped them off to Paris and beheaded them in the Place de la Concord before a cheering crowd. When Fichu’s reveries of white upper class life in pre-revolutionary Cuba are contrasted with the remembrances of Nicholas Guillen, an Afro-Cuban and poet laureate of the nation, it is easy to see why there was a revolution. Guillen sums up the situation for the masses of working class Cubans, urban and rural, and black Cubans in particular, in his epic poem I Have: “I, John-only-yesterday-with-Nothing, and John-with-everything-today, with everything today, I glance around, I look and see / and touch myself and wonder / how it could have happened?”

 How The Poorest Blacks Lived in Pre-revolutionary Cuba
Afro-Cuban Poverty- HavanaSlums 1954 This is why Afro-Cubans Defended the Revolution!
 Yet Even Back in the Day, the Solid Working And Middle Classes

Afro-Cubans Dancing at an Afrocuban social club

 Gave elegant affairs at the Buena Vista Social Club

Still other white Cubans hearken back fondly to the days before Castro’s revolution. Mariano Molina, president and owner of a mechanical engineering firm in the U.S., left Cuba in 1959 to study at North Carolina State College in Raleigh. He describes his initial experience in the college town as “a big surprise to me. North Carolina in the 1960s [was] completely segregated; blacks and whites would not be together. I thought the south was very culturally primitive in terms of racial issues.” His memories of the culture he left behind are of “Cuban people [who] were really happy with the way things were, for the most part. Obviously, the wealthy ones were really happy.”

Alas, to my black American ears this sound like the white folks I  interviewed in Florida during 1988 about the 1950’s, they speak fondly of the civility of race relations and mourn the passage of “The Beloved Southern Negro after Dr. Martin Luther King came to town.”   However having grown up in Florida in the 1950’s I know that’s a fiction of silly deluded southern WASPS.  And Molina’s memories of a “really happy” Cuban people belong to the same class of fairy tale.

Those “Beloved Southern Negroes” Led Astray by Dr. King

Civil rights revolt on the Beach

Were did they Go?

I have interviewed many Afro-Cubans over the years who tell a very different tale.  And all of them who grew up in Senor Molina’s Cuba fervently supported the Revolution.  The blacks who deny this should be viewed through the same lens as Michael Steele, the black hustler who is the front man for a racist Republican Party that tries to convince the world that the racist elitist Republicans are friends of Afro-Americans.

I Heard About White Cuban Racism first Hand
 Me and dorothy
 From My Afro-Cuban Wife and her Family
And my Good friend, the Afro-Cuban master percusionist/composer/bandleader


Mongo Santamaria, who was a fierce defender of the revolution

Critics of the revolution often overlook areas of Cuba’s contemporary infrastructure that parallel or surpass the standards of more developed nations. This is particularly true for Cuba’s education system, which is without question one of the most advanced and resourceful in the world! Castro’s government approaches learning as a lifelong process and treats quality education,  like adequate health care, as the birthright of each Cuban citizen.

From pre-school care to educational programs for parents, citizens of all ages benefit from the demanding expectations and highly trained teachers that are the hallmark of Cuban learning. In fact,  an estimated 30,000 senior citizens will have graduated from Cuban universities as a result of the program for older adults initiated in 2000. And over 630,000 Cubans have received a free university education under Castro.

Cuba budgets nearly twice as much of its GDP for educational spending, more than any other Latin American nation, and its secondary schools consistently rank among the highest in the world in math and science performance. Likewise the island’s 48 universities are among the most highly respected in the Western hemisphere. More than 76,000 international students from 123 countries (including the U.S.) have received free educations from Cuban universities, and 6,000 will be granted scholarships next year alone. Cuba’s medical schools and the health care system they support are so highly regarded that each year over 100,000 foreign patients travel to Cuba for treatment. Moreover, Cuban ophthalmologists are universally considered to be among the finest in the discipline—all of this despite the island’s crippling economic crisis.

At the same time, Castro’s focus on cultivating a highly educated society created a potential thorn in his side.  “When you have an educated population of leaders and thinkers, you cannot expect them to be submissive,” notes Alejandro de la Fuente, author of A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in 20th Century Cuba. “You cannot educate people and tell them—as they told us—‘Now you are educated can you please shut up.’ We wanted to say things. We want to debate. We didn’t want violence.

“When perestroika was happening in the Soviet Union we hoped there was going to be space for a free and open debate about the future of the country. That hope was very much crushed, foreclosed, and never allowed to happen. I felt we had no voice, and couldn’t have any voice. Anything we said could be seen as an attack; once you are in that position, you either leave, go to jail, or you conform and lower your head and take it. I was too young and not ready to lower my head or go to jail so I left.”  De la Fuente, now a professor of Latin American/Cuban History at the University of Pittsburgh, took his leave of the island in 1992. He says:

“Power has its own logic. [The government] realized it was easier to not have to respond to an active, critical citizenry. They don’t care if you complain about a lack of food or electricity as long as you don’t criticize Fidel and don’t do anything about it. Again, it is a question of power. Once you open that door it is hard to close. The experience of the Soviet Union terrified them, and they wanted to keep that door shut because if people were allowed to demand explanations they would have a lot of explaining to do. So it was better to impose silence.”

Not only has Castro’s insistence on widespread educational opportunity yielded unpredictable results, but state-sponsored arts initiatives have also seen periods of bounty and scarcity. “In the 60s the Cuban Revolution obviously had a huge impact on Latin American film,” notes María Cristina Saavedra, assistant professor of Spanish and English at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. “Film was really seen as an arm of the revolution and a way of fomenting revolution. After 1990 production went down incredibly; it was quite dramatic. The money just wasn’t there. This led to a lot of co-productions in many countries, one of those being Spain. That is one way people have gotten around the whole issue of a lack of funds.”

Lack of resources notwithstanding, Saavedra is impressed with what she calls a “much more committed cinema that stands in great opposition to the hegemony of Hollywood.” She directed the university’s recently aborted study abroad program in Cuba, which she had hoped would grow its relationship with the University of Havana, but she foresees little hope for the program’s revitalization given recent US governmental restrictions placed on study abroad programs in Cuba.

She points out that “filmmakers in Cuba have always tried to link the current social and cultural context of the revolution with the political processes on the island and revisionist view of colonial Cuba. In Suite Habana there is no dialogue; what you are hearing are the sounds of the city. It is a very stark view of the city and what daily life is like in Havana, sort of looking at things from a much more realistic and not ‘politically correct’ perspective.”

She also notes the 2001 award-winning film Video de Familia, which she says portrays “some of the issues that are confronting average Cubans in terms of the dynamics of family abroad. It is supposed to be set up as a family video to be sent to a family member in the States. In the context of the film family secrets come out…It’s a really fine work.”


 Afro-Cubans have many festivals…..
Afro-Cubans -alacrantrumpets
That combine African and Spanish rituals
Afro-Cubans Are some of the World’s Greatest Musicians!
Afro-cuban Allstars II
The Afro-Cuban Allstars
Laura Lydia Gonzales
Afro-Cuban Bass Clarinetists Afro-Cuban Bass Clarinetists__Laura_Lydia_Gonzalez_and_Gilceria_Gonzalez
A virtuosso on the Bass Clarinet
Paying Homage to the World’s Greatest Pianist
Chucho and Me
Chucho Valdez: Ambassador of Afro-Cuban Music

That world-class art continues to spring from the small island is  incredibly surprising to many outsiders, especially the music and dance, which just as in the US is the gift of the neo-African culture of black Cubans. “You have got to keep one thing in mind: Cuba has been the cradle of salsa music. We could go back before Cuba and say we owe this to the Africans,” says Jesse Herrero, band leader and producer of Son Sublime, a Cuban charanga orchestra in the New York area

Herrero, who is a vice president at JP Morgan Chase, got his first instrument when he was nearly ten. “I lived under Fidel for five years, and things were rationed in a way that if you wanted something you had to get in line and sometimes you would sleep there and wait for a store opening. I was on line to buy a toy, but the people before me got everything. The only thing I could get was an accordion, which was probably better than any toy I could have gotten.”

Herrero’s passion for classic Cuban rhythms—Rumbadanzón, mámbo, chá-chá-chá, són, bolero, guaracha, and son montuno, all essential to the formhas brought him an appreciation of the work of contemporary Cuban artists like Los Orishas, a popular hip hop group whose style incorporates traditional Cuban rhythms, pays homage to the birthplace of hip hop in New York, and tackles themes familiar to Cubanos. “In one of their songs they did an arrangement that is wonderful, like chá-chá-chá. I think that rap is not easy to listen to, although it can be poetic.”

 Afro-Cuban Rappers

Afro-Cuban Rappers Los Orichas

 Cuban Hip hop voices address serious Afro-Cuban concerns

The legendary hip hop impresario Fab Five Freddy, who hosted the first rap show on MTV, Yo! MTV Raps was shocked by the rap scene he discovered in Cuba. “I met a brother there named Pablo Herrera who was the pivotal figure in the hip hop scene. Pablo was an incredibly knowledgeable cat who spoke English like he grew up in Brooklyn with me. And he knew the whole history of hip hop, all the old school stuff and everything. They even had tapes of my TV shows!”

Ariel Fernandez, founder and editor of Movimiento, a state-funded hip hop magazine, told me when I interiewed him on WBAI:

“Rap music is the voice of the Afro-Cuban in popular culture. It aggressively asserts our cultural identity as black people, which is not recognized in official government policy which asserts that ‘we are all Cubans.’ But we insist that we are culturally different from white Cubans in significant ways,  and this is based on our African heritage and centuries of historical experience with racism on the part of Hispanic Cubans. Although instititional racism has been outlawed, the ideology of white racism remains embedded in the culture. If you listen to Cuban hip hop you will see that the artists use rhythms from our Afro-Cuban musical culture.”

However this is not the first instance of cross-fertilization of Afro-Cuban and Afro-American musical forms.  During the first half of the 20th century, the virtuoso Afro-American trumpeter, bandleader and Jazz innovator John Berks “Dizzy” Gillespie collaborated with Mario Bauza, an Afro-Cuban multi-instrumentalist who was fluent in the language of European classical music, Jazz and the Afro-Cuban musical tradition. Together they produced a hybrid musical genre known as CuBop.

It was a blending of elements from the modern complex improvisational style invented by Gillespie and Saxophone genius Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, called BeBop, with the Son Montuno Afro-Cuban orchestral form.  CuBop is the basis for all “Latin Jazz.”  The Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra featuring the Afro-Cuban congero Chano Pozo became the signature American exponent of CuBop, while Machito and his Afro-Cubans became the Cuban vehicle for the new sound.  All Latin Jazz has its roots in CuBop, whether they know it or not.  It is a sound that continues to flourish.

I first heard Afro-Cuban music in 1959, the year the Cuban Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the fascist Batista military dictatorship. I was a student at the all-Black Florida A&M University and there were several Afro-Cuban students studying in the world-famous music school, which had produced the renowned saxophonists and trumpeter Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and his brother Nat.   The Afro-Cuban students would play Jazz with the Afro-American musicians, and on occasion they would get together and play the Son Montuno.

I fell in love with the music upon first hearing.  At the time I played the trap drums, but I would later ditch them and study the Conga drums, which led to my longtime friendship with the great Mongo Santamaria and my marriage to an Afro-Cuban woman.  I even became a good enough congero to substitute for Mongo himself with his great band – which featured the brilliant flautist Hubert Laws – in concert.  Mongo’s band created a new fusion of styles that combined  Afro-Cuban Music, Jazz, and Rhythm and Blues.  My love of playing the Conga drums remains undiminished after half a century; hence I am a living example of the power of Afro-Cuban culture and its influence on US culture.

 Sitting in For Mongo and playing his sequined Congas cica 1966

playing with mongo's band - Close Up Edit

 At Pep’s Show Bar in Philly: Hubert Laws is at Far right
 At Red’s Java Hut
Jamming with the functionaries 013
San Francisco  2009


In addition to a festering race problem, Cuba has failed to deal with the problem of rising expectations in an increasingly youthful population who do not remember the glory days of the revolution and are tired of the sacrifices it continues to demand. And considering the men who are most likely to succeed Fidel, this generation gap is bound to widen.

The Cuban Constitution decreed that the First Vice-President will succeed the President, which means that Fidel has been succeeded by his brother Raul, who as head of the party, military, and the state, thus controls all the instruments of power in the Cuban government. He can be expected to surround himself with the same kind of people who advised Fidel—people like Vice President Ricardo Alarcon, a foreign policy specialist who is committed to Castro’s vision for Cuba.

In the days following President Bush’s second inauguration, Alarcon was frank in an interview with Landau. “I think that there are discrepancies in his second inaugural address. He talked about carrying the fire of freedom throughout the world. Without sounding rude, I’d say this is, at the very least, an over-statement. He isn’t going to carry anything much further. He’s already having difficulty in maintaining this fire in Iraq. If he wants to do that around the world he will not succeed. Indeed, he’s not succeeding in Iraq.

“Cuba is one of the places mentioned, not by Bush but by [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice, the day before. I advise them not to try. It will cost a lot of lives if the Americans attack us, more than those dying in Iraq, because this is not a divided country or society that has been suffering under a dictatorial regime. The opposite is true. You will find here a free society, finally emancipated from half a century of oppression and corruption imposed by the US.

We attained our independence in 1959 from US domination. That is a fact of history. From an ethnic or cultural point of view we are a unified country, an island on which a common culture and common identity has evolved. We are prepared to make life impossible for an invader.”

The armed Cuban masses have always een Prepared to Defend Their Revolution
Afro-Cuban cuban soldiersistas
From Maids to Militants!

Castro has pointed to the sustained American embargo as the root cause of Cuba’s economic problems, while more and more of America’s allies are ignoring it. Most European and Latin American countries trade with Cuba, and Canada and New Zealand have publicly rejected the embargo policy as a violation of their national sovereignty. The decision of the Cuban government to relax its economic laws to encourage foreign investment has already resulted in hundreds of joint ventures with foreign companies that are reinvigorating the economy. Furthermore support for the embargo’s demise is growing in the American business community, Congress, and even among the younger generation of Miami’s Cuban-Americans. If sentiments continue to build in that direction, the embargo may well not continue after the Bush Administration.

“Everybody is waiting for the day Fidel dies and I think most people in and out of Cuba think that no significant changes are going to happen as long as Fidel stays in power,” says Professor de la Fuentes. “The big question is what happens afterwards. Most people believe there will be some sort of process of transition. For ordinary Cubans there are several important issues; first the social programs that have been established since the 1960s.

Cuba has fairly successful healthcare and education systems that by Third World standards are pretty good, and for people in the street, these are the things that matter. Then there is the issue of property; many people live in property that belonged to others in the 50s. What is going to happen to these people? There is also unemployment, which is fairly low in Cuba only because the public sector is inflated tremendously. Many people have jobs in public sector that would disappear under different conditions.”

“My hope is that when the change takes place it includes a combination of social and domestic policy freedoms with an emphasis on social programs, including care for the poor and disadvantaged in society. That is one thing that has kept Cuban socialism in power. Care for the poor and disadvantaged is not a bad thing.  My guess is committee government,” says Landau. “His brother will be the nominal president, and I am pretty sure there is no one else that will command consensus. Fidel said his brother will take over. They have been operating for 46 plus years; there is no reason to think there is much uncertainty. There is only one Fidel a century—for good or for ill. There is only one person who ‘when he walks into the room the wind does as well’. He is charismatic in the sense of going back to the root, meaning god-like attributes. He is not replaceable.”

 “I wanted with all my heart to paint the drama

of my country, but by thoroughly expressing

the Negro spirit, the beauty of the plastic arts of the blacks

In this way I could act as a Trojan horse that would spew forth

Hallucinating figures with the power to disturb,

The dreams of exploiters”

Wilfredo Lamb, Cuban artist
 An Evening At The Tropicana!!
At the Tropicana Club 
The Most Fabulous Night club in the World!
Double Click to view  live show at the Tropicana
Double click on link to view Afro-Cuban Allstars

Double click to view Los Orichas Live!
Double Click to View Chucho Valdez
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Originally published on 1o/26/09

In Suppressing Hong Kong Protestors

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags , on October 26, 2014 by playthell
Hong Kong Demnstrations II 
A Mass Demonstration in Hong Kong

 China is really aiming at the Elephant in the Bushes!

When China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong from British rule in 1997 – the city had been stolen by Britain and turned into a Crown Colony in 1842, under the terms of the Treaty of Nanking which ended the first Opium War – they didn’t envision the probability of the kind of mass demonstrations they are facing today; the implications of which spell real trouble for mainland China. Hence I would argue that the strategy employed by the Chinese Communist Party leadership in suppressing the “pro-democracy” movement led by students is really intended to send a message to the rest of China that mass demonstrations will gain them nothing.

In accepting the Basic Law, which amounts to a mini-constitution tailored for Hong Kong under which the city would be governed, the Chinese government announced a unique philosophy of governance based on a two tiered policy: “One Country two Systems.”  This policy was intended to reassure the banks and other financial institutions – the most powerful in Asia – located in the rich and beautiful sea side city that they had nothing to worry about from the Communist Party that ruled the mainland with an iron fist and promoted policies that are anathema to “free market” capitalism.

The Chinese rulers made it clear however, that there would be no attempt to nationalize the “private sector” that had generated so much wealth; indeed they would use it as an engine for generating foreign exchange and an instrument for financing business deals with the capitalist economies.  In other words they viewed the business acumen of Hong Kong as a boon to China’s paramount objective: to achieve a high degree of economic development and modernization in the shortest possible time.

China’s domestic and foreign policy is directed toward this aim. We can readily observe this in their policies on family planning as well as their foreign policy of strict non-interference in the affairs of other countries and their steadfast refusal to become involved in foreign military adventures, while building a formidable technological infrastructure designed to propel their economy into a dominant force in the 21st century, and a military machine that makes an invasion of China unthinkable!

The Chinese communist have shown a unique ability to tailor Marxist dogma to Chinese realities going back to Mao Tse Tung’s scrapping of a fundamental tenet of Marxist/Leninist analysis: that the industrial proletariat is the historically appointed class to lead the socialist revolution.  Instead Mao decided that in China, a quasi-feudal pre-capitalist society with no industrial proletariat to speak of, the revolutionary peasantry would assume the historic task of leading China to socialism. For Marxist this was like denying the theory of evolution to biologists; for the Marxist believes Marxism to be as scientific a method of analyzing the “laws of society” as biology is for analyzing the living world.  In fact, Frederick Engles – a biologist, close intellectual comrade and patron of Karl Marx – argued as much.

The adoption of a policy of allowing a bastion of unfettered capitalism to exist under the rule of a communist party was viewed as no less a heretical act by doctrinaire Marxist.  But as in the beginning the Chinese continue to shape Marxist theory to fit Chinese realities, rather than follow the Russian model of “dismissing reality when it didn’t fit our theories,” which the official ideological advisor to former premier Andropov gave as the major reason for the collapse of Russian communism.   I would argue that this willingness to adjust to reality and innovate is the major reason for the spectacular success of the Chinese Communist Party in converting China from a footstool of the western capitalist nations into a world power in just 66 years!   It also explains why they are still in power even as their would-be Russian Communist “tutors” have receded into history.

By any objective measure – i.e. free of ideological considerations – this is a remarkable achievement.  As I have written elsewhere, I believe the Chinese Communist Revolution is the greatest mass transformative movement in history.   However the Chinese Communist Party is now faced with an unintended consequence of their reclamation of Hong Kong, a spontaneous mass uprising demanding an unfettered democratic process where those who would rule over the people of Hong Kong must have the consent of the governed achieved through popular elections!

In the Basic Law governing Hong Kong agreed to by the Chinese government 19 years ago, the people were given the right to choose their officials through universal suffrage i.e. one person one vote. The present dispute centers around how the candidates will be selected.  The masses of people who have turned out in the pro-democracy demonstrations, led by Student Federation, just like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the fight for Afro-American voter rights in the American south during the 1960’s, insist that the candidates who stand for office should be also selected by a popular vote like the US primary elections.

However the Leader of Hong Kong’s government C. Y. Leung, whose official position is Chief Executive and is backed by the Chinese government in Peking, views the matter differently.  Leung firmly supports the selection process now in place in which a selection committee appointed by Chinese premier Xi Ping will screen and pick the candidates for whom the people of Hong Kong may vote.  Ironically, despite all of the self-righteous chatter from the US State Department, this process resembles the “white primaries” that shaped racial politics in the American South which maintained “white supremacy” based on a legal racial caste system well into the twentieth century, in which black Americans could only choose between pre-selected white racist candidates.

And notwithstanding US denunciations of the Chinese interpretation of “universal suffrage,” the recent Supreme Court decision in “Citizen’s United” will increasingly have the effect of offering up candidates that have been pre-selected by the plutocrats.  Thus one could argue that in essence these two systems of selecting candidates represent a distinction without a real difference: Both are the antithesis of popular democracy. It took a mass movement to attain true universal suffrage in all regions of the US, in which blood was shed and lives were lost as a result of a collaboration between government and white terrorists, which bears a shocking resemblance to the goons now attacking the pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong who appear to have covert government backing.

On Tuesday representatives of the Hong Kong government sat down with leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students to explore the possibility of devising a solution to the crisis.  Alas, based on the statements issued by both sides to the press at the end of their meetings they were like Jack the Bear, made some tracks but got nowhere.  CEO Leung decided to play past the powowaltogether and dispatched his second in command, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who offered the following statement to the press.  “”We should work within the system and enhance the transparency and competitiveness of the system as a whole.  This is a good opportunity and a meaningful dialogue. I hope the community will stay united.”

The student leaders made it abundantly clear that they weren’t buying what the government was selling.  Like all people who are about serious business Alex Chow wanted to establish a time table for reaching specific decisions.  To him this went right to the heart of the matter: deeds not words.   He asked: “Why did people come out? People felt like they had no choice. They had to come out and make their voices heard.”  Secretary Lam assured them that the government heard the voices of the students and added, “But no matter how lofty the sentiments, you must take legal means.”  This is evidently the party line issued from Peking because the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, said almost the same thing to American Secretary of State John Kerry at a their recent meeting in the US.

However the Hong Kong students, just like the members of SNCC during Freedom Summer 1964, feel that the law does not address their just grievances and therefore they must petition the government for redress through mass protests by the citizenry.  The resemblance to the US student movement is uncanny.  For instance student leaders, led by their Secretary General Chow, even showed for the meeting with government officials dressed in black T shirts with a favorite slogan of SNCC “Freedom Now!” emblazoned across the front.

And like Afro-American students in the far more oppressive and murderous environment of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, et al – the entire southern half of the USA – the Hong Kong students are willing to pay the price for speaking truth to power. Lester Shum, an aide de camp to Mr. Chow, asked some poignant questions that went straight to the heart of the matter. “”Why are we willing to be arrested? Why are we willing to camp out for 24 days? Why are we willing to bear the risk of being tear gassed, smashed on the head with batons?   We just want the right for democracy.”

When Secretary Lam assured the student leaders that she was compiling a through report on all that has transpired since the demonstrations began, Mr. Chow asked “What concrete change will this report lead to?  Will it help lead to adjustment of the framework or the future direction of legislative council elections?”  His question went unanswered, and thus the stalemate.  However the students can garner some encouragement from the fact that four high ranking members of the government did meet with them to discuss their grievances, and it was broadcast live on television from an auditorium at the Hong Kong  college of medicine and many of the seven million residents of the city tuned in.

Yet when all is said and done the students did not achieve any of their demands from the government, all they got was hollow promises and spurious rhetoric. Hence when viewed in the light of present realities in Chinese politics I fear that the student movement is doomed to defeat.  If the issue was merely a matter of Hong Kong politics perhaps Peking could find a way to accommodate the student’s demands; it would be considered the price of peace.

But they will not make concessions to the demonstrators at the expense of destabilizing the mainland, which they justifiably fear would demonstrate to the billion and a half citizens across the vast expanse of China that government policies can be influenced by mass action.  That is the danger that Peking fears most.   They have witnessed the fall of the Russian Communist Party, and watched numerous well entrenched authoritarian governments all across the Middle-East collapse like paper tigers during the “Arab Spring,” and they do not intend to follow them into oblivion.

When we look at the major ally of the Communist Party in thwarting the popular democratic movement in Hong Kong, we find eloquent testimony to the enduring veracity of Lenin’s axiom: “politics makes strange bedfellows.”  For next to the Communist Party the folks who most want to crush the movement for a wider democracy through universal suffrage are the Hong Kong capitalist elites.  Consider the opinions of CEO Leung Chun Ying regarding true universal suffrage.  After making it abundantly clear that he had no intention of stepping down from his high office, despite student demands, and that he fully supported the committee method of selecting his successor, he offered some candid opinion.

According to the New York Times CEO Leung said: “You have to take care of all the sectors in Hong Kong as much as you can.  And if it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month.  Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies.”  Shades of Marie Antoinette and Mitt Romney; these gluttonous cretins seem to always be the same wherever they pop up on the historical stage, which exonerates the insights and lends gravitas to CLR James axiom: “The rich can only be trusted when they are running for their lives.”

The Chinese communist understand this well as adherents to the communist vision of Marx, but they have made yet another deviation from classical Marxist dogma in their brazen collaboration with the class enemy in order to achieve a larger goal: maintaining the stability of Mainland China so that they can continue a steady march on the path to rapid modernization. Chinese President and General Secretary of the Communist Party Xi Jinping, who is considered the “Paramount Leader” – a title formerly reserved for the late father of New China Mao Tse Tung – is committed to the belief that in order for China to effectively carry out its modernization program the Party must be firmly in charge of the nation’s affairs. He has left no doubt that the Party leadership is totally committed to achieving their goals by any means necessary.  Hence when weighed against maintaining a stable disciplined society, crushing the Hong Kong student movement is no big deal.

 The Chinese are building a 21st Century Infrastructure
American businessmen marvel over this Airport with high speed trains


Playthell G. Benjamin

October 24, 2014

Turkey Fiddles While Kobani Burns

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on October 9, 2014 by playthell
kobane Burns
ISISL’S Scorched Earth Policy

 On the Anatomy of a Bloody Quagmire

As I write, President Obama is meeting with his military advisors to discuss US strategy in the war against ISISL, which is on the verge of capturing yet another city and annexing it into their newly formed Caliphate under the ruthless leadership of Caliph Ibrahim – a radical Muslim theologian who regards himself as a soldier of Allah.   It’s a sure bet that anyone with an affection for puzzles, make believe, and games of self-deception would be mightily entertained by the proceedings when Barack meets with his war counselors.

It is obvious to any candid observer well acquainted with the realities of the Sunni Jihad in Syria and Iraq, and the Caliphate they have established,  in an area that includes land from both countries which they intend to extend from Damascus to Baghdad, that the present American policy will not work.  In fact, it is more than fair to say that in the fight with ISISL the US is working at cross-purposes with itself.

There are so many contradictions among the various forces fighting in Iraq and Syria that as the bullets continue to fly, the conflict will increasingly resemble a circular firing squad!  For instance the coalition that could quickly and efficiently wipe out ISISL would include Iran, Turkey and the Kurds, led by US airpower and intelligence.  Since they are the ones directly menaced these countries should supply the main ground forces, with whatever number of American advisors they require on the ground.

But President Obama has repeatedly pledged not to put “American boots on the ground” in any of these countries.  Furthermore identifying an effective coalition is one thing, while being able to forge a working alliance is quite another.  The problem in the present instance is that there are longstanding grievances between the various parties who would make up the coalition, and the kind of wise statesmanship based on realpolitik that the situation demands is sadly lacking.

Alas, since the United States has taken an ironclad position that Iran is our mortal enemy, no alliance can be made with them.  Yet it is the US that has repeatedly launched aggressive actions against Iran, who has no history of aggression against the US, while Iran and the US both share a vital national interest in destroying ISISL.  It is all too clear that eschewing an alliance with Iran is a shortsighted view of diplomacy that may yet prove disastrous, for the paramount US objective in the region is the defeat of the ISISL Caliphate.  Yet as I write the Jihadist forces are advancing on every front.  They are literally at the Turkish border.  However the Turks are content to park their tanks on the hills above Kabone in a show of force while ISISL wreaks havoc below.  Pleas from the Kurds for the Turks to engage ISISL and prevent them from taking the city have thus far fallen on deaf ears. In fact Turkish President Erdogan has said on record that he considers the PKK, the Kurds’ major militia that the US is now arming, to be just as much a group of terrorists as ISISL   The US formerly shared that view.

 Turkish Tanks cover the Hills
Turkis Tanks on Hill above Kabone
All Show and No Go

As of Thursday morning the Turks have refused to engage ISISL Knowledgeable observers of events in the region believe that ISISL forces will soon occupy Kobane because American airstrikes are ineffective in preventing it.  This is largely due to the fact that ISISL forces are now mixed with the civilian populace, which limits the use of bombs lest the US end up killing more innocent people and winning more recruits for the Jihad.

However the hesitation of the Turks is largely due to the fact that they do not wish to see the Kurds armed with state of the art weapons, because the Turks have been engaged in a long standing fight against the creation of an independent Kurdistan.  It also explains why the Turks have blocked the Kurds from using Turkish territory as a thoroughfare to ferry men and materials needed for the fight against ISISL in Kobane, despite the swelling chorus calling for them to do more in the effort to defeat the Jihadists.  But the Turks reply that they see no need to get involved in “a fight between two terrorist groups.”

Furthermore, the US’s stated objective is defeating ISISL but the Turks are also interested in defeating the Assad regime in Syria, which is not part of the US Mission, although the Obama Administration is on record as opposing that regime.   However by opposing ISISL, al Qaeda, the al Nuesra Front and any other offshoots of the radical Sunni Islamists, the US is an objective ally of the Assad regime who also oppose these same forces.  Hence when we consider the main US plan of action which is to arm and train a ragtag force of military novices called “The Free Syrian Army,” whose paramount objective is to defeat the Assad regime, there is not much room for optimism.

Lest we forget, the US spent a decade training the Iraqi National Army and equipping them with top shelf American weaponry, but in their first real battle against ISISL four divisions fled like terrified school boys and left all of their weapons in the field!  Those weapons are now part of ISISL’s arsenal. The question begged by this recent history is: What makes American military planners believe the “Free Syrian Army” – which it is estimated will be ready to take the field in a year – shall fare any better against ISISL forces?   One does not need a crystal ball to see the future here: Any weapons the US supplies to the so-called “Free Syrian Army” are destined to end up in the hands of the Jihadists.

This will make ISISL forces even harder to defeat as they become firmly ensconced within the territory they have claimed for the caliphate; which means that those tasked with extracting them could end up on the job for a long time.  In testimony before the House Committee on Armed Services on July 29th 2014, Dr. Stephen Biddle, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, argued that there was little hope for an Iraqi “government offensive able to regain control over ISIL-occupied areas in the old Sunni Triangle.   Even U.S. Army and Marine forces with massive air support found these areas difficult to control before 2008; this goal will remain beyond the Government of Iraq’s reach for a long time to come. “

Referring to the statistical data regarding civil wars like those in Iraq and Syria Dr. Biddle testified to the committee “Wars of this kind are rarely short. Of 128 civil wars fought between 1945 and 2004, only one-fourth ended within two years. Datasets vary slightly with war definitions and other details, but most put the median duration of such wars at 7-10 years, with an important minority of conflicts dragging on for a generation or more.”  Hence when critics of US policy aimed at “eradicating ISIL”  refer to it as a new  “thirty year war,” such as longtime conservative pundit and presidential advisor Pat Buchannan, they are not just engaging in anti-Obama hyperbole.

In view of these grim realities the US appears to be trapped in a quagmire from which there is no foreseeable road to victory, and no acceptable path of retreat.  It is as if the entire Middle East is a giant quicksand pit in which US forces – like our dreams for a peaceful, prosperous, stable and pro-American region –  are trapped and slowly sinking.  Alas, despite America’s air strikes Kobane burns from ISISL’s fire while our allies the Turks – who possess a formidable military arsenal of almost 4000 tanks and hundreds of aircraft – fiddle away on the hillsides and watch the action as two “terrorist” groups slaughter each other.  In fact the blase Turks wonder what all the American anxiety is about.  “The civilians have all fled Kobane,” said a spokesman for the Turkish government, “there is no tragedy here.”





Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 9, 2014



Dead Men Walking!  

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on September 28, 2014 by playthell

Arab supporters of US against ISIL- Dead Mem Walking

Arab Leaders Allied with the US in Fight against ISIL

 Secular Princes and Powers are marked men among the Jihadists

Much is being made of the fact that the leading Sunni Arab nations have joined a US led coalition formed to fight and destroy the ISIL Caliphate that has seized control of large portions of the territory of Iraq and Syria.  Under the leadership of Caliph Ibrahim – aka Abubakari al Baghdadi – they have instituted Sharia Law in the conquered territory, which is larger than Massachusetts and devised a system for raising revenues by selling oil and ancient treasures on the black market.

They are estimated to have a treasury of a two billion dollars, and are prepared to defend the boundaries of the Caliphate with state of the art American weaponry seized from a fleeing Iraqi army.  This is no hit and run affair that is typical of terrorist groups, the leaders of ISIL regard themselves as pioneers, holy warriors establishing a 21st century Caliphate based on Caliphates of the middle ages, when Islamic civilization was the marvel of the world.

Caliph Ibrahim may be a madman but he is no light-weight; he holds an undergraduate degree in history and a doctorate in Sharia Law.  He is also a poet.  Before the US invaded Iraq he was an Islamic scholar and Imam; after the invasion he became a part of the Sunni resistance movement and was captured by US forces.  He was released after four years of imprisonment and turned over to the Iraqi government, who later released him.  But during his incarceration he met seasoned al Qaeda militants and was tutored in the techniques of terror.    Thus by the time of his release he had become such a committed holy warrior an American Army officer remembers him smirking and saying :”See you guys in New York.”  I bet they wish they had capped him now!  As the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq was devastated, al Baghdadi rose up the ranks and eventually became the most powerful commander of the Iraqi insurgency.


Holy Warrior: Caliph Ibrahim of ISIL


 The Self-proclaimed “Leader of all Muslims”

 He has broken with the central command of Al Qaeda claiming they are too  passive and denounced HAMAS for seeking a cease fire with Israel, despite the shellacking they were taking.  Disgusted with what he precieves as the timidity of the Muslim world in the face of insult and injury from the western world and the transgressions of their Zionist agents, he went on to set up his own caliphate on territory that straddles Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic Caliphate of Iraq Syria and the Levant is governed by strict Sharia Law and practices from the  Islamic Caliphate of the 8th century’  Music is banned and all women are forced to wear veils – indeed they are flogged for “immodesty” and the mere suspicion of adultery, which could result in stoning if she is found guilty.  Thieves have their hands cut off, drinking or smoking are banned, and those who do not submit to Allah and their version of the Koran or profess a belief in Christianity, Judaism and even the Shiite version of Islam will be crucified.  ISIL has routinely destroyed many beautiful and ancient Shiite Mosques, which prompted the Leader of Iran to denounce them as godless barbarians promoting a fake version of Islam.

ISIL is the most vicious organization the Jihadi movement has produced thus far, being too radical even for al Qaeda!  Leaders throughout the Muslim world are terrified to death of them, and for good reason too. Caliph Ibrahim has declared himself the only true servant of Allah and ISIL is the only true Islamic society.  All the leaders of Muslim societies whether monarchs, military men or democratically elected representatives of the people are apostates who should be put to death.

Hence Ibrahim’s intention is to foster their overthrow and annex their countries into the Caliphate he is building.  And he teaches his followers that this objective is to be carried out by the same methods as those employed by the original Jihads that spread Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century, which were characterized by invasions of many countries and mass slaughters of unbelievers.  Beheadings was a common punishment for those who refused to convert.

Hence those who argue that he is not practicing “real Islam” have a difficult argument to make because Caliph Omar insist that he has gone back to the foundational practices of Islam…and it is they who are the apostates.  As an Islamic scholar it will be hard to discredit him in the eyes of the zealots who are flocking to his ranks.  And in any case the Caliph is not inclined to settle this dispute in polite theological debate; rather he has denounced them as enemies of the faith.  And he has declared that terrorism is the proper method for Muslims to deal with the enemies of Islam; there is no shame in their bloody game. That’s why they video tape their beheadings and put them on the internet.  Their intention is to terrify all who would oppose them and judging by the way the well-equipped, American trained, Iraqi national army fled and left their weapons in the field when they encountered them it is safe to conclude that their strategy is working.

Since it is their avowed intention to put all of the present leaders of Muslim countries to the blade, preferably lopping off their heads in public executions, it is no wonder that they have flocked to Barack’s banner in his campaign against ISIL.   They are literally trying to keep from losing their heads.  But they are all as skittish as cats on a hot tin roof, because by joining forces with the number one enemy of the Muslim world – given the history of US policy in the region this is an easy case to make – they risk revolts in their own countries.  This fear causes them to adopt more and more repressive policies in an attempt to ferret out any trace of radical Islam in the populace, which in turn drives more youths to radicalism…it becomes a symbiotic relationship.  Hence they have joined the US led coalition as an act of self-preservation.

Ironically, some of these countries have contributed to the rise of radical Islam, especially Saudi Arabia with their Wahabbist version of of the faith.  Lest we forget, about half of the Jihadist who crashed the planes into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon were Saudis.  It was Saudi Arabia that gave a home to members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood when Colonel Nasser turned on them in the early 1960’s, even commissioning Dr. Muhammad Guthb -the brother of Sayeed Guthb, father of the modern Jihad, who was hanged by Nasser in 1966 – to develop an Islamic Studies department at King Faisel University.  The ideas generated by the Muslim theologians in this program produced Osama bin Laden’s fanaticism and is a bedrock element of Caliph Ibrahim’s theology.

The fact that radical Islamist movements have received financial backing from rich Arabs residing in the countries that now make up the Arab contingent of the Obama coalition, testifies to the shaky ground on which these leaders stand.  They, even more than we, want to see the demise of ISIL and the Jihadist movement in general, because as long as the Jihadist are alive and well, the secular princes and powers that rule the Muslim world are dead men walking.  The problem for Caliph Ibrahim is that by declaring war on the entire world – following the logic of the Jihad based on his understanding of the mandate of the Koran which he believes reveals the will of God – he has made himself the target of a lot of big guns – even the Russians have announced that they are joining the coliltion.   Thus the Caliph has put himself squarely in the sights of laser guided bombs and computer programmed drones whose itchy fingered triggermen are anxious to get a shot at him….so he too is a dead man walking.




Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

President Obama at the United Nations

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on September 25, 2014 by playthell
68th Session Of The United Nations General Assembly Begins
Calling for the world to join the fight against ISIL


The Security Council Tackles the ISIL Menace

In an extraordinary session of the UN Security Council chaired by President Obama, the question of Islamic Jihadist terrorism – specifically the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant aka ISIL – and what to do about it was explored.  Due to the gravity and urgency of the matter, even governments that are not members of this omnipotent body were invited to participate in the deliberations if their countries   were menaced by Islamic Jihadists. After discussion and comment Resolution 2170 was passed by the Security Council.

The Resolution was drafted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which authorizes “ACTION WITH RESPECT TO THREATS TO THE PEACE, BREACHES OF THE PEACE, AND ACTS OF AGGRESSION.“  The action that may be taken by UN member states is spelled out in articles 41 and 42 of the Charter which authorizes military action by “Land, Sea and Air.”   A document of nearly 5,000 words, the resolution is titled “Condemning Gross, Widespread Abuse of Human Rights by Extremist Groups in Iraq, Syria,” was passed by the Council and details a plan of action which addresses issues ranging from “Terrorism,” “Foreign Terrorist Fighters,” “Terrorist Financing,” and Sanctions against those who give financial support to the Jihadists, taking the unprecedented step of naming individuals in the text of the resolutions.

In an earlier speech before the UN general Assembly, President Obama declared “There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.”  This declaration will no doubt be viewed as self-serving apologia by many observers around the world, since the US is already bombing Syria without requesting the consent of the Syrian government.  Indeed the Iranians and the Russians have already called these attacks a violation of international law.

This fact, coupled with the long history of the US unilateral intervention in the internal affairs of other nations – over a hundred times in the 20th century – often overthrowing legally constituted governments to impose its will such as in Iran and Iraq, must leave many delegations wondering who is the greater menace to their national security – the Jihadists or the US.  Unfazed by this reality, and convinced that the horrors of ISIL are such that the motion of history is on his side the President declared a no holds barred war on ISIL.

After some opening remarks stating the reason for the Security Council session, President Obama turned the microphone over to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, who laid out the dimensions of the problem.   At this top level meeting attended by Heads of State and Foreign Ministers, the various delegates spoke, giving their analysis of the crisis spawned by Islamic terrorism.   It quickly became clear that there is a multiplicity of views on the phenomenon.  For instance, while the US president only wanted to talk about the evils of radical Islamic Jihadists, the role of Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people was a recurrent theme among the other delegates.

For instance Christina Fernandez, the President of Argentina, expressed scepticism about the US approach to fighting Islamic terrorism.  In an eloquent impassioned speech suffused with frustration and bewilderment, she pointed out that the American decision to arm the so-called “Free Syrian Army” is just old wine in new bottles.  She recounted similar American actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, each time with a certainty that such actions would solve the problem of Islamic terrorism, but in each instance the Jihadists come back stronger.  She pointed out that the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIL was born of such policies.

Christina Fernandez: President of Argentina

Argentinian President

Asking Penetrating Questions

President Fernandez also pointed out that we really don’t know who the forces are fighting against the Assad government, and to arm them with sophisticated weapons might well result in a replay of past blunders.  She also pointed out that the Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people was a major recruiting tool for the Jihadists, and expressed the view that military power alone would not defeat Jihadism; only addressing the underlying issues that feed the movement with new recruits can accomplish this.

The Russian Foreign Minister reiterated this theme, and called for a deep analysis of the problem that would address the root causes of Jihadist movements.  Among the factors he cited for the dramatic growth of ISIL is the policies Israel imposes on the Palestinians.   Herein lies the problem for President Obama, he cannot honestly discuss the role of Israeli policies in the radicalization of young Muslims everywhere who are then recruited into Jihadist movements like ISIL.  Hence when the President passionately opines that the opponents of radical Islam must win the hearts and minds of young people in the Arab world it comes across as just so much hypocritical mumbo jumbo.

Thus we are once again confronted with the age old paradox, one man’s “terrorist” is another man’s “Freedom fighter!” To the Palestinians and their supporters the Israeli’s are the most dangerous terrorists in the Middle East, and they are by far the oldest; having seized their land by armed force and subjected them to a reign of terror for 60 years!  Yet while the US blocks all criticism of Israel in the UN, it supplies the arms Israel used to kill Palestinians who are virtually defenseless.   They also witness the US slaughtering Muslims everywhere under the banner or fighting tyranny, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.  When confronted with these facts by radical Arab youths, their elders have no convincing arguments.

Their radicalized children see them as spineless cowards who have surrendered in the face of western aggression in Muslim lands, which they regard as disgraceful and wish to regain the honor of the Islamic world.  That’s why young Muslims of all classes are flocking to join the global Jihad.  Now the US is leading the fight against the ISIL Caliphate, the first Sunni state based on Sharia Law with a territorial base larger than Great Britain, which once ruled much of the world.   Given this fact, I wouldn’t bet the farm on Obama’s chances of “winning the hearts and minds” of radical Arab Youths.


Alas, as I have pointed out in a previous essay, President Obama’s actions does not match his rhetoric, he has promised to destroy the ISIL Caliphate while quickly assuring the American people – who have demanded that he “do something” to retaliate for the Americans who were beheaded on the internet by ISIL executioners while essentially saying “fuck you pussy!” to the American President and people – that there will be no American boots on the Ground.”  Instead Mr. Obama has restricted America’s military actions to air strikes, intelligence gathering and drones.  But no military expert that I have heard  – and I’ve heard aplenty – believes that ISIL can be destroyed with this strategy: degrade maybe….destroy, not too much.

Given the fact that Barack Obama, like Jimmy Carter, is real swift on the cap, a genuine intellectual, there is no way he does not see the limitations of his program.  If I can peep the flaws in his game plan based on the limited information I can glean from public sources, it’s a safe bet that given the multi-billion dollar world-wide intelligence services that produce the intelligence “product” he reads at the beginning of each day, Barack can see it too.  Yet we have no reliable ground forces, without which it is impossible to destroy ISIL.  When Hillary Clinton and John McCain first suggested that President Obama arm the so called “Free Syrian Army,” the President called the idea “a fantasy.”

Now he has done an about face and announced that the  US will arm and train the Free Syrian Army  as a “moderate Islamic” force to fight both the Jihadist In ISIL and the Al Nusra Front and the Assad government in Syria.  The projection is that 8000 of these summer soldiers will be ready to take the field and wage a war on three fronts against seasoned combat forces armed with state of the arts weapons and employing a scorched earth policy.   I put their chances of success as being less than the chances of a snowball in a pizza oven!  So what’s the real deal here, why is Barack selling woff tickets to the world?

After pondering this enigma I concluded that he must be taking a page from the political playbook of Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, whom he is known to admire.  After meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and getting the low down on the Nazi’s, with whom the British were already at war, Roosevelt came away convinced that Hitler was a murderous mad man who must be stopped and the US had to enter the war to stop him.  However he was up for reelection and needed the vote of Irish Catholics to win.  But memories of their troubles under British rule were so fresh and bitter they would oppose any effort to save Britain, let alone go to war.

So Roosevelt lied to them in order to serve the greater goal of defeating the Nazi’s: He swore he would never send their sons to war in Europe….while all the time planning to do just that.  Since I believe Barack Obama is the most honest, humane and honorable man to ever occupy the Oval Office, a peacenik in his heart of hearts, it seemed to me that Barack had chosen a similar path and is prepared to send American ground troops if that’s what the defeat of ISIL requires.

However, University of Michigan Professor  Juan Cole, one of the world’s most thoughtful scholars on the Middle East and a careful student of American foreign policy in the region, suggests another scenario:

What if Obama is a sharper reader of the Middle East than his critics give him credit for? He knows ISIL is likely not going away, just as, after 13 years, the Taliban have not. US military action may even prolong the lifetime of these groups (that is one argument about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) even as it keeps them from taking more territory.  Don’t listen to his expansive four-stage program or his retooled, stage-managed John Wayne rhetoric. Look at his metaphors. He is telling those who have ears to hear that he is pulling a Yemen in Iraq and Syria. He knows very well what that implies. It is a sort of desultory, staccato containment from the air with a variety of grassroots and governmental forces joining in. Yemen is widely regarded as a failure, but perhaps it is only not a success. And perhaps that is all Obama can realistically hope for.

Perhaps Dr. Cole’s analysis in the present war will prove as prescient as his predictions regarding the Bush Invasion of Iraq.  Whichever scenario proves to be true we are in yet another war in the Middle-East; this time with cheers and well wishes from around the world, as none of the delegates at the Security Council meeting opposed Resolution 2170.


Now They are the Targets

ISIS Mass Killings

We shall see how they fare under sustained fire


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 25, 2014


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