Saturday, March 28, 2015

The 500th birthday of Teresa of Avila

"To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that."  
                                (Saint Teresa)


Excerpts from a column in the British Telegraph newspaper:
It is 500 years since the birth of St. Teresa of Avila. Her birthday is March 28, but the whole of 2015 is full of commemorative events. 
There’s no doubting her influence. The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote a book about her. He had read her autobiography as a teenager. Edith Stein, too, had read the autobiography, all one night in 1921. “When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth.” She was murdered by the Nazis in 1942 and is recognised as a martyr. 
St Teresa is approachable, down to earth, humorous. Friendship was one of her talents. In 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church. But what is she meant to teach us?
I think it is something particular about prayer. But it has little to do with her visions... or the locutions she heard in her mind’s ear. I don’t doubt them, and I’d be surprised if most people haven’t had something of the sort at some time. But she declared that they were of no importance, and from the first distrusted them...  
One [book on spirituality] that changed her life, when she was 25, had the title of The Third Spiritual Alphabet, by Francisco de Osuna. 
She took from him the idea that anyone can undertake mental prayer, contemplative prayer, not just saying prayers verbally. Specifically, Francisco explains that the teacher of prayer is Jesus Christ. No earthly teachers can really tell another how to pray. All they can advise is to be constant in devoting a given time to prayer. 
Teresa was very taken with the knowledge that God is present inside human beings. She spoke of “keeping your eyes” on Jesus, who was crucified. She did not mean that people should limit themselves to imagining what Jesus might look like. It was a question of presence. 
I had forgotten, till I came across it again while writing this, that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in discussing prayer, quotes St Teresa: “Contemplative prayer (oración mental) in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” So it is a two-way process. 
Indeed, her conviction that distractions in prayer were to be ignored, and made no difference, was supported by her awareness that the presence of God in prayer was real, not just a subjective state of mind to be captured. The activity of prayer was that of God in the soul more than that of the Christian sitting in his presence...           
Teresa, for years bereft of discernible thoughts during her daily hours of prayer, knew that God’s work in the soul was not always apparent to the imagination, or even the intellect. If at all, it could be seen by the way the praying person embraced the will of God in her life. 
Teresa’s way of prayer was not a sort of mystical Buddhism. What made it different was her reliance on the humanity of Jesus, the fact of his having become a man and retained the human flesh to which human beings are so accustomed in their own lives that they either overlook it or mistake it for an obstacle. 
This incarnational spirituality brought Teresa’s life of prayer into her daily life of pots and pans and outwitting the bureaucratic or malign characters who tried to squash her energies in returning to the essential spirit of the Carmelite order she reformed.

A prayer written by Teresa:

"Let nothing disturb you,
 Let nothing frighten you,
 All things are passing:
 God never changes.
 Patience obtains all things.
 He who has God
 Finds he lacks nothing;
 God alone suffices."

  The medieval walls of Ávila (70 miles west of Madrid) 

"Teresa had a definite goal in mind when she began the reforms: 'All my longing was and still is that since He [Jesus Christ] has so many enemies and so few friends that these few friends be good ones. As a result I resolved to do the little that was in my power; that is, to follow the evangelical counsels [poverty, chastity, and obedience] as perfectly as I could and strive that these few persons who live here do the same.'

"These reformed nuns were called Discalced Carmelites because they wore sandals. In Teresa's time, there were various reform movements happening within religious orders. This was a response to the Protestant Reformation occurring in Europe. All the reformed orders wore sandals as a sign of their reformation and were thus called 'Discalced,' from the Spanish descalzo, which means 'barefooted.'

"The Discalced Carmelite nuns wore habits made of cheap material... They returned to the perpetual abstinence from meat and the six month fast (from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on Sept 14th to Easter) which were required by the Rule. They had two hours of meditation every day, laid heavy emphasis on poverty, and kept silence throughout the day. All these monastic practices were meant to provide an atmosphere of continual prayer and penance. These in turn were meant to lead the Sisters to fraternal charity and service: love of God and neighbor -- the sum of perfection. In her lifetime, Teresa founded seventeen monasteries of nuns."

Monday, March 23, 2015

Map on Monday: KOREA

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing North Korea.


by A. Joseph Lynch 

The Korean Peninsula is home to almost 75 million people, with approximately 25 million living in the communist north and 50 million living in the south. The peninsula remains divided since the Korean War, which ran from 1950-1953 but has never officially been resolved. Finding itself a bridge between China and Japan, Koreans have tended to mistrust their immediate neighbors. For example, in a 2014 poll 79% of South Koreans were found to hold an unfavorable view of Japan. Nevertheless, Japan and South Korea have tenuous military relations aimed at containing China and North Korea. Although the south has double the population, the north is better endowed with natural resources including: coal, petroleum, lead, tungsten, zinc, graphite, magnesite, iron ore, copper, gold, pyrites, salt, fluorspar and hydropower.

Geopolitical tensions remain between the north and south with the resumption of war a looming possibility at all times. Although the north continues to be loud and threatening, Stratfor argues that this is a three-part "Ferocious, Weak, and Crazy" strategy that has worked well in the past. The South continues to hold a strong alliance with the United States and depends on it, along with the Japanese to some degree, for its long-term strategic security. CNN has posted some excellent videos on what a war on the peninsula may look like today along with how military officers have war-gamed an outbreak of hostilities. The results were not promising. As the US military pivots to Asia, it will need strong allies in any future regional war. Such allies must include the Christian Philippines, Sunni Muslim Indonesia, and even a militarily resurgent Japan. Or the pivot may include stepping back and  accepting the hegemony of China in the region while working to help reunify the great people of  Korea. Christianity could play a crucial role in reconciliation.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, March 21

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


Until then, study biographies to understand the dilemmas of the South - Protection, Politics, and Manhood in Mexico.


This review of the current best-selling novel in Europe, Soumission by Michael Houellebecq, is a stunning depiction of the French version of what Whittaker Chambers called the real debate of the Cold War: shall man live without God? It isn't about the Cold War, of course, but the sequel to the Cold War - the next line of battle between those who maximize human autonomy and live without God, and those who think the goal of life is to do one's duty as a creature of God. This novel came out the day the Frenchmen were shot in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The Right said the novel was cultural suicide. The Left called it Islamophobic. Read this review - the novel  is something very different and very needed.


Prime Minister Netanyahu has been clear since his book on Israel's Place Among the Nations why a true Palestinian state on the West Bank of the Jordan is a military geographic impossibility. The states that do exist - Iran and Israel - need to be assured their right to exist, before policy aims at assembling a new state. It is no surprise that he doesn't accept a Palestinian state - the issue is his revolutionary approach to Iran. He seems to think the Shia state is fundamentally illegitimate. The nation which must be imagined and constructed is a Sunni Arab state in the contested areas of Iraq and Syria contiguous with Jordan. That is the region that ISIS is currently calling home. The "international community" insists on a Palestinian state while marginalizing the Israeli state. The Swedish government has already recognized non-existent Palestine as one of its first alternate reality acts of feminist foreign policy. One of the central conflicts in the Mideast is about legitimate states fighting tribes and religious movements. Netanyahu brings clarity to these discussions like no other nation man in the region. Though we deeply disagree with his characterization of Iran, his re-election keeps the public conversation reality-based which is the first condition for all good foreign policy.    


Spiritual worldliness is reforming the world apart from the joyous message of the Gospel. To evangelize is to center the message to the poor on the reality of Christ in the Church.


Sweden cancels an arms deal after the Saudis cancel a talk. Sweden is a country of 10 million and is not a member of NATO. The foreign minister seriously speaks of a feminist foreign policy, which is very important to expose to open light. Many shades of American foreign policy have come under the feminist rubric, and thus a more open advocacy of this worldview will show its relation to realism with welcome clarity. Here is another European take on Sweden's ambitions in foreign affairs.


Syrian and Iraqi Christians flee to Lebanon. They will be protected by the enemies of ISIS - the Shiites of Hezbollah and the Maronite Christians and Sunni Lebanese who believe in their own nation. It is sad that the honest hand-wringing in America over the plight of the Mideast Christians is not matched by embracing the strategic allies who will actually act in their defense.


Here is a practical appreciative look at how Australia's strategic role is centered first on its geographical identity as a nation of Asia.


One year after Russia's absorption of the Crimean Peninsula into the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin has signed a treaty with the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia. This area of Georgia declared independence in the '90s but came under Russian dominance in 2008 after Georgia sought entrance into NATO. The new treaty paves the way for South Ossetia's full admission into the Russian Federation. A map of the region shows its proximity to Georgia's capital of Tbilisi and Russia's presence in the heart of Georgia. Russia has also been busy along its frontier with Europe. Recent Russian military exercises have been conducted in the Black Sea to the south, and in the Baltic and Arctic Seas in the north. While Russia has had larger military exercises in the past, this latest activity is unprecedented in its wide scope along Russia's front with NATO. Russia also has a keen eye to the Arctic north, upgrading many of its twelve fortifications along its Arctic coast. On the political front, Vladimir Putin's week-long absence came during a time of a rumored political rivalry between the FSB (the successor to the KGB) and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Meanwhile, three former US Ambassadors to Ukraine have foolishly argued that the 70th anniversary of VE Day be celebrated in Ukraine.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday BookReview: Matthew Ridgway and the Korean War

How long a period is required to take the measure of a man? Watch and listen for twenty seconds to the sagacity of one of America's finest warriors.

Matthew Ridgway --
West Point class of 1917; died 1993

When Harry Truman relieved Douglas MacArthur of command of the war in Korea, this was the man called to step into those big boots.

"As difficult as the situation in Korea was, it's hard to imagine a commander better suited to handling it than Matthew Bunker Ridgway. Like MacArthur, he had literally spent his entire life in the U.S. Army. The son of an artillery colonel, Ridgway [attended] West Point, where the yearbook described him as, 'Beyond doubt, the busiest man in the place.' 
"Having just missed the fighting in France, Ridgway worked his way through a series of peacetime assignments, including stints in China, Nicaragua, and the Philippines. But in 1942 he was named commander of the 82nd Division, just before it was turned into one of the army's new elite airborne divisions. He made the most of it, leading the 82nd into Normandy on D-Day before moving on to a corps command. 'A kick-ass man,' one subordinate said of Ridgway, who became known as 'Tin-tits' among his men for the hand grenades prominently strapped to his chest at all times."

Excerpts from a reader's reaction to General Ridgway's 1967 book, The Korean War:
I am a retired US Army colonel. During my time on active duty, I was an instructor and department chair at the US Army War College. During that time we used incidents from the Korean War for the purpose of historical case study. So I believe I can comment on this book with some authority. 
At the outset, however, I must confess that I am biased toward the author. I believe that Matthew B. Ridgway was the greatest general between Eisenhower and Creighton Abrams. I say that because he overcame what I believe is the greatest challenge that any commander could possibly face: taking command of a beaten, demoralized army and leading it to victory. In holding this opinion, I find myself in distinguished company. No less a luminary as General Omar Bradley described Ridgway's work turning the tide of the Korean War as "the greatest feat of personal leadership in the history of the Army." 
Ridgway's battlefield achievements are well documented and need no embellishment here. What I find even more interesting is his contribution to the art of high-level joint and multinational command. Matthew B. Ridgway is the only man I know of to have commanded three of the unified commands created as a result of the National Security Act of 1947: the Caribbean Command, the Far East Command, and the European Command. He was single-handedly the man who made the Allied military command structure work during the Cold War, first on the battlefields of Korea and then in Europe. He re-oriented America's strategic thinking to deal with the new kind of threat posed by the Soviet Union and communist China, and contributed materially to the implementation of the resulting strategy. That is an unmatched record of achievement. 
His book on the Korean War is a personal history. Those looking for detailed tactical or operational studies will have to look elsewhere. But the book is well worth reading to appreciate the character that was required to turn the Korean War around in the dark days following Chinese intervention. The best parts of the book deal with that. 
Ridgway's solutions to the problems he faced were first and foremost practical. When he assumed command of the Eighth Army there were no bombastic speeches; no self-promoting public appearances; no laying of blame on his predecessor, his subordinates, or his superior. Ridgway called his corps commanders together and as a team they identified the problems and worked out solutions. For the most part, these solutions were just good soldiering -- better use of the terrain, more disciplined movements, more attention to intelligence analysis. But in two ways Ridgway did more than improve procedure -- he installed a new collective ethos in the entire Eighth Army. He made sure that everyone knew that the Army was going to attack the enemy, not run from him. And he made sure everyone knew what he was fighting for. Ridgway believed that one of the main reasons for poor morale was the fact that the soldiers did not understand this new form of war. So he issued a simply worded circular explaining in straightforward language what was at stake and why it was worth every person's sacrifice. The results were impressive. 
Ridgway's voice in this book assures the reader on every page that he is sharing the thoughts of a man of character -- of self-discipline, loyalty, selfless service, modesty, and the willingness to accept responsibility and admit mistakes -- which Ridgway himself said is the "bedrock on which the whole edifice of leadership rests." His language is direct and lucid, suggesting that he was a man both cultivated and rugged. It is a good American book. 
Another point I found interesting was Ridgway's discussion of African-American soldiers. Contrary to popular belief, President Truman did not desegregate the Army with a stroke of his pen in 1948. Many 'all-black' units deployed to Korea. Ridgway is the man who desegregated them, and as one would expect, he did it for both practical reasons (desegregation facilitated a more efficient use of military manpower) and for moral reasons (it was the right thing to do). He did not do it overnight, but rather in a methodical sequence, battalion by battalion, making sure that military discipline never suffered. [Representative Charles Rangel's 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, for example, was an 'all-black' unit well into 1951.] In the early days of the Korean War there was a lot of controversy over the alleged poor performance of all-black units like the 24th Infantry Regiment. After Ridgway's tour in command there was no more controversy because there were no more segregated units. Each soldier stood on an equal footing regardless of color. 
Ridgway is very mild in his criticism of the poor battlefield decisions and misjudgments made before his arrival in theater, even though those decisions and misjudgments were the proximate cause of the appalling situation he inherited...
His most serious criticism is reserved for MacArthur, who died three years before this book was written. 
Ridgway takes MacArthur to task for one thing and one thing only: insubordination. He very carefully recounts his respect and professional relationship with MacArthur, which began when MacArthur was superintendent of the Military Academy and Ridgway was Director of Athletics. He consciously does not second-guess any of MacArthur's operational decisions, even though some of them were disastrous. He demolishes the criticisms of the most vociferous MacArthur detractors -- especially the ones that portrayed the great general as a war-monger. All those make Ridgway's real critique of MacArthur more persuasive and more worthy of the reader's consideration. Ridgway argues that MacArthur's sin was in thinking that any theater commander, regardless of how well renowned and esteemed, could set strategic policy for the United States as a whole. MacArthur's public pronouncements that the President did not appreciate the true value of Asia in the nation's overall strategy undercut the President's overall authority, and that is what could not be tolerated.

"Ridgway retired from the Army in 1955, but thirteen years later he was part of a group advising President Lyndon B. Johnson to limit U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Greater troop strength and increased bombing could not lead to victory in Vietnam, the group argued, advising Johnson to seek a negotiated peace with North Vietnam.
"Johnson heeded the group's advice and announced in March, 1968, that he would de-escalate the war and begin negotiations. U.S. involvement in Vietnam did not end, however, because Richard Nixon won the presidency later that year with the promise of a 'secret plan' to end the war. The fighting would drag on for five more years before the Nixon Administration negotiated a U.S. withdrawal.
"Author David Halberstam sent Ridgway a copy of The Best and the Brightest, his definitive work on U.S. involvement in Vietnam, in which he had written on the flyleaf: 'For General Matthew Ridgway, the one hero of this book.'"

Here is a brief timeline of the Korean War. This documentary (about 40 minutes) is a good overview, with excellent maps.


This is a picture taken at the Korean War Veterans Memorial (on the National Mall) which opened in the summer of 1995. Click here for a night-time photo.

Today, South Korea has more than 50 million people; North Korea is about half that number. Archaeologists believe the ancestors of today's Koreans came from Mongolia and Siberia.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Map on Monday: MONGOLIA

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing Mongolia:

Mongolia is a landlocked nation set between the two powers of Russia and China. The geography of its borders with China, however, gives Mongolia some natural boundaries with the rising power. To the south and east lies the Gobi Desert, and Mongolia's west is anchored by the Altai Mountains. Many ethnic Mongolians live within the borders of China's Inner Mongolia, which acts as a buffer zone between Mongolia and China's inner-core region. The land area of Mongolia is about the same size as Iran. Its Kuwait-sized population of 3 million, 45% of which lives in the capital of Ulan Bator, however, makes Mongolia a sparsely populated nation.

More central to Mongolia and its history than deserts and mountains is the steppe. Steppe refers to an eco-region of semiarid grassland plains too dry to support forests but not as dry as a desert. Such an area is generally unsuitable to cultivation. Today, less than 1% of Mongolia's arable land is used for crops (due to extreme weather and climate variations, Mongolian growing seasons last a short 95-110 days of the year). Nevertheless, agriculture plays an important part of Mongolia's economy. This is because most people in Mongolian agriculture use the steppe for what it's best at: nomadic animal husbandry.

The Eurasian Steppe: Stretching from Manchuria to eastern Europe, the Mongols under Genghis Khan took advantage of it to use armies on horseback to conquer much of the Eurasian landmass.
The steppe was also the means by which the Mongols came to dominate much of Eurasia during the 13th century. Steppe lands are extremely useful for horseback riders -- and an army on horseback in good terrain was very difficult to defeat. Using great political skill and generalship, Genghis Khan was able to create a vast Mongol Empire during the 13th century. The empire soon lost internal cohesion, however, and broke apart in civil war between feuding family claims and succession disputes. Although its vast empire was short-lived, the old Mongol threat remains embedded in the psyche as a part of the fear of the east that plagues many a European and American.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, March 14

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


Congressman John Lewis (a veteran of "Bloody Sunday," March 7, 1965) introduced President Obama in a remembrance of that pivotal event which achieved the Voting Rights Act in August 1965. Mr. Lewis was a true hero of that day. President and Mrs. Bush, as well as a few surviving veterans of the march, many civil rights activists and congressmen (almost all Democrats) attended. We will have an extended essay later this week questioning (as did these black pastors) the appropriation of this sacred memory by President Obama to lend emotional sustenance for the immorality of the sexual Left. That should not cause any of us, however, to forget the deep religious and political significance of this event in our nation's history.


The use of a private email hooked to a private server guarded in her own home is being discovered at this late date because the House committee investigating the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, is trying to reconstruct the events and subsequent explanations of the evening. This is Mrs. Clinton's explanation. She classifies all discussions she has with her husband as private, though it seems the whole revolutionary idea of that power couple is a man and a woman who share deeply intertwined business interests and an election apparatus -- without pretensions of domestic intimacy. What is private and what is public: who's to know these days? We have always described Mrs. Clinton's rule of the Democratic Party to be akin to the sociobiology of a queen bee in the hive. Her rule was not won like the fight among males for control of the herd. Her dominance is presently a biological fact, and it is so complete as to eliminate serious competitors. But when the pheromones of the queen bee weaken, the collapse is complete. That is our prediction for her candidacy as commander-in-chief of the United States in this time of war.


Forty-seven senators sent a letter, not to our president, but to a foreign government reminding them of certain features of our constitutional government. They are absolutely correct that binding treaties and war-making is a duty of the Congress. A real debate must begin; and the first big speech was made, also, by a member of a foreign government. Another view with a reminder we are also at war with ISIS is Pat Buchanan's take on Iran and the Mideast.


Shall we make peace with Russia or are they our enemy? Peter Hitchens explains that the withdrawal of Russia from eastern Europe and NATO's expansion eastward points out who the real empire-builders are. While the Obama administration, including the new Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, rejects the idea of Russia having a sphere of influence, NATO seeks Ukrainian and Georgian membership and more military forces immediately on Russia's borders. Meanwhile, America pivots further east to China -- some offering a negative assessment of its leader, President Xi Jinping, while others look at the nation more positively.


Reform of the Vatican begins under a strong hand in Rome: Pope Francis supports the authority of Cardinal Pell in making the Vatican more financially transparent. Francis has much to do in a brief time as he expects his pontificate to last a short 4-5 years. If this math adds up, what could be the final year of his pontificate may well begin this December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in what Francis has declared the first day of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The best biographer of the Argentinian pontiff, Austen Ivereigh, reports on a major theme of his book and the pope's episcopacy: Latin America as a source Church.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Map on Monday: CHINA

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing China:

by A. Joseph Lynch

With a population of almost 1.4 billion people (roughly 19% of the total global population), China is the most populous nation on earth. Most of her people, however, are concentrated in China's east, thus making the regions of Manchuria (i.e. Heilongjiang), Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet important buffer regions. These same regions are also often host to many non-Chinese ethnicities (e.g. the Mongols living in Inner Mongolia) and religions (e.g. the heavy Muslim population living in Xinjiang province). In China's ethnic and population eastern core, economic prosperity and urban development have literally changed the landscape of the region. Since 1978, six cities the size of New York City have sprung up; by 2018, an estimated 60% of Chinese will live in an urban setting.

Shanghai in 1987 (top) and Shanghai in 2013 (bottom)

While China's territory of 3.7 million square miles is comparable to America's roughly 3.8 million square miles, China's borders are nearly twice as long -- and touch fourteen nations compared to America's two. Historically, this has made China wary of her neighbors. In his book On China, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger explained Chinese foreign policy in terms of the board game Go in which players attempt to create formations of linked stones that encircle and capture other stones. Surrounded by many nations, China seeks to keep its formation "living" by maintaining its northern, western, and southwestern buffer zones while securing its southern borders with Burma and Vietnam and expanding its sea claims to secure its eastern coast.

China borders Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Vietnam. Beyond the China Sea are the island nations of Japan, Philippines, and Indonesia.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, March 7

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch 


The Israeli prime minister made his case for blocking any American nuclear deal with Iran, given the nature of the regime. It is a speech worth listening to. Prime Minister Netanyahu is a true nation-man, and his fear that Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution is an existential threat to Israel is not his alone. His 1993 book A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World is a stunning historical, military,  and geographic argument explaining why Israel could never allow a truly sovereign Palestinian state on the West Bank. At the same time he argued that more democracy in the Mideast would produce regimes willing to deal with Israel as fellow nations. He makes the democracy argument much less these days and, in fact, is quite open that the territorial boundaries necessary for the defense of Israel will soon preclude a "one-man one-vote" democracy for all residents. Israel is first and foremost a Jewish state, and her domestic and foreign policies will defend that communal reality. It is hard to imagine any American statesman who could make the kind of arguments for a grand strategy for his own country that Mr. Netanyahu has made for his.


It probably would have been more fitting for the Prime Minister to testify to a Senate committee with the chance for debate and questioning, rather than giving him such an uncontested forum to undermine the goals of our Secretary of State negotiating with Iran. But his voice and argument had to be heard. It is not clear if he will be properly answered. He stated: "Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sanaa. And if Iran's aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow." In each of these places Shiite Muslims have risen to assert their rights to function as a political body. In Iraq it was not Iranian mullahs but the blood of American soldiers that ensured a democratic election in which Iraqi Shiites forged an elected, though embattled, government. In Yemen it was the Houthi tribes on their own initiative who asserted themselves against a lackluster government and a threatening Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula. In Damascus, does anyone really think that President Assad is taking orders from Tehran? Most Christians in Syria are glad to be protected by Assad and welcome Iran's help in fighting ISIS. In Lebanon, the Maronite Christians will see Hezbollah as militarily competent Shiite allies in the fight to keep their multi-group state free from the Sunni purification movement of al Qaeda, ISIS, and Wahhabi Islam. They will look for Sunni Lebanese allies against the Sunni extremists.

Apparently, as Bill O'Reilly once said: "Shia-Sunni, Sunni-Shia: the American people don't care about that." Well, maybe most Americans can't learn about such religious and military distinctions. It is why we have senators and congressmen -- not opinion polls -- to determine foreign policy. It is why seasoned political journalists were once the only men considered capable of becoming news anchors. Newsmen and senators alike had better learn about the Sunni and the Shia, for we are being drawn into the wrong side of the Sunni/Shia war if we follow the applause lines of Mr. Netanyahu's speech. To equate a nation state like Iran with the nation-hating caliphate of ISIS is to deliberately confuse. The necessary alliance of  the Shiite government of Iraq with their neighboring government - the Islamic Republic of Iran - is providing the reality of "boots on the ground" that everyone agrees is necessary to dislodge the territorial base of ISIS. If Iran is not yet our friend, then certainly they are our co-belligerents. America needs Shia allies in our fight against the twisted form of Sunni Islam incarnated by ISIS and financed by Saudi Arabia. The Prime Minister knows the difference between a Persian and an Arab, a Sunni and a Shia.  He was depending on the abysmal deficit of historical and religious knowledge of our Congress to applaud him as he dismissed the crucial role of Iran in aiding our fight against the enemies of the Iraq government. Iran is part of a larger Islamic civilization. They will be an important part of the overall peaceful solution in the Mideast.

Today, Iran is an enemy of our friend Israel; that does not make them our enemy. Their alliance with the US, Syria, and Iraq against ISIS is an alliance of nation states against the caliphate. We are seeing the first contours of an alliance of Christians, Shia, and Sunni in the civilized form of states striking against the unrestricted caliphate ambitions of ISIS. This is most definitely not "competition for the crown of militant Islam." In the tradition of President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles during the Suez Crisis of 1956, President Obama and our State Department will have to make clear to our Israeli allies that the enemy of our friend is NOT necessarily the enemy of the United States.

The Saudis are organizing the Sunnis in the Middle East. The Turkish Prime Minister actually condemned the fighting alliance of Shia-Iraq and Shia-Iran in taking back Tikrit from ISIS. He agreed with the bombastic overkill of the Saudi Foreign Minister that "Iran is taking over Iraq." This comes from a Turkey who, as we wrote earlier, has kept its sizable military forces as a bystander in fighting ISIS. There are other Turks who warn against an alliance with Sunni Arabs, seeing Iran as their more natural ally: against an all-Sunni alliance.  Here is how the world looks inside Iraq from a Shiite militia leader. Mr. Netanyahu's speech was well received in Saudi Arabia (which is now in de facto alliance with Israel, playing the American card against Iran -- each for its own reasons.)


Here is a rundown of the nations with nuclear arms. The president and senators supporting him have not yet convincingly refuted Mr. Netanyahu's position on the nuclear negotiations with Iran. It is an argument that can be made; we just haven't heard it yet in the same rhetorical key as the prime minister's address.

Here is a good reminder of some historical ups and downs of the US-Israel relationship from George Friedman at STRATFOR.