Don’t Give Up Too Soon – Iraq Will Defeat ISIS

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As of today’s date the media (a Latin plural, not a singular noun) are wringing their hands over ISIS’s capture of Ramadi. This morning CNN was proclaiming that Iraqi army soldiers had “lost their will to fight” and were fleeing Ramadi as fast as they could run. At least that was the way CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, Babara Starr, was telling it.

That view may change later in the day if it turns out that the Iraqi forces were simply retreating in the face of superior force, a sensible strategy that all armies employ when outnumbered and/or outgunned. The aim is to regroup and reinforce for a counterattack. The superior ISIS numbers were transferred, of course, from their base in Syria where there are few signs of any organized attempt to dislodge the islamists. Only the Kurds, never a pushover even when overmatched, have stopped ISIS in its tracks, forcing the would-be caliphate to seek easier objectives.

This is not to say that the Kurds are better fighters than the Iraqi army – only that their Peshmerga force is better trained, more experienced and led by more capable commanders than the present day Iraqi army.

As we now know, former prime minister Nuri al Maliki made Iraq’s army a political pork barrel for senior Shiite cronies. These political hacks were not merely ignorant of military matters; they were incompetent administrators who quickly made enemies in Sunni areas such as Anbar province. Many still maintain that the savagery of the islamic extremists, for all their mass executions and destruction of historic sites, is preferable to the corrupt misrule of Baghdad’s Shiite regime.

But let’s look more carefully at the military situation in northern Iraq. In the beginning Baghdad’s incompetence handed the region to ISIS on a silver platter. Kurdistan alone had the ability to counterpunch ISIS and halt its northward advance. Then, better late than never, American and Coalition special forces and training cadres showed up and began training Iraqi recruits to be real soldiers. Very soon, together with a campaign of air strikes by the anti-ISIS coalition, the islamist tide was halted, if not reversed. There was no longer a serious threat to Baghdad or any other important place south of Tikrit.

Nor do we (or our media) pay enough attention to what those Iran-sponsored non-government Shiite militias are doing. Under the personal guidance of Major General Qasem Soleimani and his Guardians Of The Islamic Revolution, the Shiite militias lost no time flushing ISIS out of the town of Husayba, demonstrating their ability to slug it out with ISIS and win. General Soleimani, by the way, has often been reported sipping tea on the front lines while his “ìrregulars” take on ISIS with a ferocity and skill we don’t yet see in the regular army of Iraq. Ample proof of what reports other than those of the US State Department have been telling us for some time now.

These reports also demonstrate, indirectly, the truth of General Soleimani’s assertion that agents of his AL Quds (“Jerusalem”) Force are effectively in control of Iran’s central government, pulling the strings of power as well as supplying manower and weaponry.

All in all, a striking wakeup call to a White House that has ever been slow, if not neglectful, in dealing with events in the Middle East. There is no question that the Bush administration’s lightening fast invasion of Iraq, followed by an avalanche of political policy errors, may prove to have been less disastrous than the Obama administration’s hasty decision to retreat from Iraq on the strength of little more than an election promise.

ISIS Upstages Ukraine And Ebola Upstages ISIS

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Golly! We haven’t been hearing much about Ukraine, Russia and the European Union lately. The Islamic State In Iraq And Syria and the sensational new Ebola health scare are just too darn interesting.

In fact the growing panic over Ebola is so powerfully grabbing public attention that you have to really dig to find out whether the Kiev government and the Eastern Ukrainian separatists are still honoring their cease fire according to the Minsk accord. We must continue to believe, I guess, that no news – or little news – is good news – or at least not too bad news.

But there are things going on behind the scenes that give us cause for hope that our dysfunctional relationship with the Russian Federation may not just cease deteriorating but may even turn around and begin to improve. Obviously the reason for the de-escalation of Washington’s anti-Russian invective, quickly echoed by Whitehall, is the even bigger demon of ISIS, the Islamic State In Iraq And Syria. The name preferred by public officials, notably President Obama, is ISIL, standing for Islamic State In Iraq And The Levant.

It’s clear that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s foreign jaunt through Eastern Europe and the Balkans produced some of the effects he was hoping for. After escorting President Putin through a formal inspection of snappily uniformed Serbian troops prime minister Aleksandar Vucic gave the resounding statement that “Nobody can force Serbia to damage its good relation with the Russian Federation.”

But the real payoff must have come when Putin arrived in Milan to confer with leaders of Europe and America. No doubt the original plan was to unleash even more empty threats over Ukraine, but the crisis of ISIS changed the game plan. With the islamist hordes advancing on Baghdad, not many were interested in brandishing toy swords like the yet-to-be-seen NATO Rapid Response Force. What happened instead was that Russia joined the anti-ISIS coalition. Beyond some very substantial humanitarian aid Moscow hasn’t yet provided warplanes (they have some of the world’s best) or support technology. But it’s a new tone of Russo-European discourse since Milan.

The recent mild shrinkage in deliveries of Russian natural gas to Western Europe, just as temperatures grow cooler, must also have served as a persuasive subtext to Moscow’s offer to rejoin the club in return for status quo diplomatic relations. Moscow blames it on new forms of Ukrainian skullduggery but it’s not hard to see a teeth-chattering winter ahead if Berlin continued its reluctant dance to Washington’s tune.

But just when things were beginning to look better in that diplomatic department, it was suddenly made clear to President Obama that West Africa’s killer epidemic of Ebola disease is a real danger to America. Cases have begun seeping into America, penetrating a costly but under managed security system in the nation’s airports and underlining a shocking unpreparedness in reputable hospitals.

Media news editors work to a scale of presumed news values known as the News Grid. The very top row of the grid is the category “Heart Strings.” You see so many of these every day that there’s no need to define this type of story further. Next comes “Purse Strings.” Well again, spotting this category of story on CNN or Fox is just shooting fish in a barrel. Big time editors eat, drink and sleep their News Grid.

Could any story other than Ebola push ISIS out of first place and relegate it to Number 2? We have our answer. And ISIS, now the second page news story, has pushed Ukraine and Russia down to an occasional appearance on the third rung of attention.

Andy Warhol exaggerated but he was right. We newshounds are a fickle bunch. We may give you more than Andy’s promised fifteen minutes but when something more exciting, bizarre, tragic or disastrous comes along, you’re yesterday’s paper, wrapping the garbage.

Singing Made Easy With Online Lessons

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Are you tired of buying books on singing that are just ineffective and disappointing? Do you want a fast, easy, and stress-free way to learn how to sing like an expert? If you said yes to any of these questions, then you are definitely looking for online singing lessons.

Online singing lessons are developed by expert vocal coaches from all over the country (and the world), and they were designed to convey to students all of the information that they will need to develop superior singing skills. One of the most popular and trusted online singing courses today is Aaron Anastasi’s Superior Singing Method. Let’s take a look at what Superior Singing Method has to offer promising beginners:

1. Since music today has become more dynamic and generally more demanding for singers, Superior Singing Method has included lessons on developing a reliable “mix voice” so your vocal range will improve dramatically.

When your mix voice is well-developed you can project really low notes and really high ones without missing a beat. That’s a great skill to have, especially if you like singing challenging pieces.

2. Another great lesson series that you will find in Superior Singing Method is the one on improving your vocal power while maintaining a professional vocal range.

Vocal range develops over time, and you need to know how to exercise your voice so that your range widens, and you can hit the right notes easily without overstraining yourself. If you strain too much whenever you sing you will end up damaging your vocal chords, and this will cut your singing days temporarily.

3. If you are completely new to pro-level singing, you are probably interested as well in proper posture and breathing. Anastasi also teaches his students how breathe deeply and how to exhale slowly while singing. It takes a while to master a true singer’s breathing pattern, but in time you will be able to master it. Just make sure that you sign up early, so you can start learning the soonest possible time.

4. Singing is a lot like working out – it is a physically demanding activity. That’s why you also have to learn how to warm up properly so your vocal chords and your whole vocal apparatus will work efficiently when you sing. Superior Singing Method features a special set of warm up activities for beginners, so you can sing with primed vocal chords.

5. If you’ve listened to amateur singers before, you have probably noticed that most of them have very uncontrolled, nasal tones. Nasality is an indicator that there is unevenness in the way voice is being projected.

Anastasi will teach you how to use the nasal cavities properly so your resonance will improve. Uneven resonance can “kill” a song at the beginning, so this is indeed a vital lesson that you need if you want to improve your singing.

6. Ever heard of pitch control? If you haven’t you probably haven’t been exercising your ability to slide your voice’s natural pitch up and down. Let the Superior Singing Method teach you how to do it!

[Guest post by Phil Williamson – http://tinyurl.com/lpg5toe]

Ukraine Losing Intelligence War: A Dialog

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An interesting and potentially enlightening exchange took place in the Comments section of the Foreign Affairs magazine website on November 8, 2014. The participants were “Tom,” “Hutin Puylo” and your correspondent. I reproduce it here.

The original post was in response to a Foreign Affairs article by Mark Galeotti, a Ph.D. in Politics who studied history and politics at Cambridge and the London School of Economics respectively. He now a full clinical professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. I very much respect his views even when I don’t entirely agree. And when were political scientists ever in full agreement about anything?

[http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/142321/mark-galeotti/]

The exchange begins with the disapproving comment of “griffinalabama,” who feels, as so many do, that much of the State Department’s narrative on Ukraine is more fiction than fact.

GRIFFIN: This article is a joke isn’t it? I can’t believe the Council On Foreign Relations actually put that assessment together. It is shameful and leaves out the fact that in 2014 it’s pretty much impossible to hide the atrocities of the Kiev junta online. The world has seen what is truly going on, the Russiaphobia being put out by the media is having a reverse effect. People know they are being lied to by our governments., the US and UK in particular. The wheels are coming off the bus because the video evidence has never yet matched the medias put forth narrative. It’s going to get worse for the west as the Kiev Right Sector battalions are impossible to control and they always film themselves conducting atrocities. Maybe the US COFR should think about that one before they jump into bed with real terrorists.

HUTIN PUYLO: What a load of BS! Another overpaid kremlin troll. The only joke here is you. Despite the overwhelming evidence, that Russia is a terrorist state, you still decide to ignore it… unless you are a terrorist too? Russians like you griffin are the most hated people on earth, next to ISIS.

JS (Me): What “overwhelming evidence?” Russia’s rulers are tough, smart and noticeably more perceptive than our people, but their policies don’t include terrorism. Why should they? They’ve defeated Ukraine’s NATO ambitions without a struggle, by covert operations alone. Russia has often been the victim of terrorism, as in Chechnya, but not a perpetrator. Those who so passionately believe NATO’s narrative on Ukraine need to remember that neither China nor India take it seriously. Washington, London and Brussels are hardly “the international community.”

TOM: You just named two most backward countries in the world to prove your point – China and India. Yeah, okay. You convinced me.

ME: No one argues with your appraisal of China and India, but it’s not relevant to a discussion of foreign policy. Nor do I seek to convince you. You’re welcome to your half-baked opinion. Your calling a previous comment “a load of BS” identifies you as a seriously misinformed commentator. In foreign policy it’s realities that count, not ideals. Still, you’re no worse than the Obama White House, which likewise see the world not as it is but as it would like it to be. Like yours, Tom’s ill informed reply to Griffinalabama relies not on fact but on the official US-EU fiction that Russia “invaded” Crimea and has sent troops into Eastern Ukraine. The fact is that Crimea’s referendum was as lawful as the one that separated Kosovo from Serbia with the loud approval of the EU and NATO. And it was indeed a good thing, but neither referendum is any more or less lawful under international norms. As for the Eastern Ukraine conflict, the presence of Russian “volunteers” and “borrowed” equipment is no different from that of the American special forces who helped the Northern Alliance shoot the Taliban out of office in Afghanistan. Certainly hypocrisy has its place in geopolitics. Cynics call it “the vaseline of political intercourse.” But it’s no substitute for intelligent diplomacy.

Noticing an attribution error, I followed up with a correction, and a more conciliatory tone, realizing that Tom and I were comparing apples with oranges. He was arguing ethics and morality – the wrongness he ascribes to Russia’s power politics – as against my brand of political pragmatism. I agree with Tom about the moral swamp in which foreign affairs are conducted, but as you may have noticed I deplore NATO and Europe’s tunnel vision strategy.

JS: I see I inadvertently attributed Hutin Puylo’s “BS” comment to Tom. Sorry Tom. You and I don’t disagree on what kind of world we’d like to see. My criticism is directed at the misguided strategy we repeatedly attempt to apply with such dismal results. It’s clear that George Soros’ democratization NGO, which has accomplished great things in eastern Europe, and has powerful influence on the Obama Democrats, has gone off the rails on this one and dragged governments with it.

TOM: Funny you mention Kosovo, when Russia, just like Serbia, does not recognize it (at least not officially). Also, the two, Kosovo and Crimea, cannot compare to each other, since the background on the Balkans that led to its independence is entirely different. There was no war between Russia and Ukraine directly before Crimea’s annexation. There was no ethnic cleansing committed by Ukraine’s government (Yanukovych himself was a Putinophile which Ukranians didn’t like). However, Russia’s propaganda helped get that referendum. Austrians too voted in favor of the Nazis at the plebiscite in 1938 when Austria was annexed to Germany. You can’t just enter a sovereign country and take a part of it just like that (even if Crimea used to be a part of Russia long time ago). It is obvious what Putin is doing and there is nobody in Russia who can stop him or oppose him (or else they end up dead like Alexei Devotchenko).

ME: What you say is true, or mostly so, and I agree with your legal and moral analysis. However I’m no lawyer defending Russia; I’m one of many political scientists who advocate realism in dealing with Russia’s ruling “thugocracy,” as Stratfor’s Robert Kaplan defines it. We see Kissinger’s experienced and realist assessment as correct and Brzezinski’s as misguided, which is not to say his anti-Russian bias isn’t well founded. For example the facts show us that you can indeed “just enter a sovereign country and take a part of it” if you’re NATO (in the case of Kosovo) or Russia (in the case of Ukraine). Both of them offer the usual self serving rationales and both excuses have merit. NATO portrays its intervention as aid to beleaguered freedom fighters. Russia points to its treaty with Ukraine which authorized up to 25,000 troops in Crimea and to the Crimean government’s referendum. That vote was fairly and lawfully conducted according to foreign observers, a fact that State Department press releases never mention. My fundamental point is that none of this should ever have arisen. Without the US/NATO/EU meddling the Ukrainians would have lost no time dislodging Yanukovych in the scheduled national election because like most Ukrainian politicians he was simply awful but didn’t bother to pretend otherwise. The tycoons who backed the Right Sector and other West Ukrainian nationalists were mistaken, as we now see, in thinking Ukraine to be a unitary state that could be controlled entirely from Kiev. These errors have had profound consequences. Ukraine is irreparably fragmented. Russia is now fast tracking its formation of a Russo-Chinese-Indian economic bloc, a more substantial misfortune than many on Capitol Hill realize.

Hypocrisy Is No Substitute For Diplomacy

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It is saddening to discover that Russia’s narrative on the Ukrainian crisis is much more credible than that of Washington, as articulated by UN Ambassador Samantha Power, Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama. Russia’s story fits the known facts. Ours does not.

If we turn our gaze away from the lurid power politics fantasies in the mass media and look instead at the economic reality of Ukraine, we see a totally different, and far more credible, scenario than what Ambassador Power sets forth on behalf of the Obama White House.

Russia neither wants nor needs to overpower Ukraine. Russia’s interests are in fostering an independent and prosperous Ukraine with an economy capable, inter alia, of repaying its $16 billion debt to Russia. And of course, decidedly not a member of NATO.

There is no vast Russian army massing on Ukraine’s eastern border. Ukrainian officials regularly inspect the Russian side of the border. They have a treaty that provides for inspection on both sides. The Ukrainians haven’t complained to Russia of any abnormal massing of forces. Nor did Russian troops invade Crimea. There were about 15,000 Russian troops in the region under the existing Russo-Ukrainian treaty, and several thousand more were sent in when tensions began to rise. The numbers stayed well within the 25,000 specified in the treaty.

Nor did the Crimea referendum take place at gunpoint as officials in Brussels and Washington began saying shortly after the vote. International observers who were actually present saw nothing but a well supervised referendum. Certainly the vote was held at short notice. That was necessary to forestall any attempt of the people in Kiev to frustrate the vote. The Crimeans voted, wisely, to bail out of the Ukrainian crisis and rejoin Russia.

At present Russia is making no demands on the Ukrainians except to get their act together. Moscow does favour a constitutional assembly to make Ukraine a federal state comparable to the Russian Federation and the United States of America, but is offering the idea as a suggestion, not a threat. A federal state would give the various regions essential rights on matters like language, religion, education and local governance.

This is the narrative that fits the facts we can see on the ground. Washington’s story, like that of London and Brussels, doesn’t fit these facts. If Pinocchio were the spokesman for America and the European Union, by now he’d have grown a nose like a pool cue.

Hypocrisy is not diplomacy. Empty threats are not diplomacy. President Obama has a better chance of leaping , like Superman, over the Washington monument in a single bound than of “isolating” Russia.

Cynics characterize hypocrisy as the vaseline of political intercourse. That is undoubtedly true of domestic politics, but statesmanship in the global arena is another matter. It requires an ability to see the world as it really is, a talent visibly missing in the Obama White House and, even more so, in the administrative rabbit warren of the European Union.