Belmont Club

Belmont Club

Ten Cents a Dance

May 3rd, 2015 - 7:32 pm

The outbreak of Arab Spring in late 2010, coupled with the Obama administration’s rapid withdrawal from the Middle East replicated on a large scale what Democrats accused president George Bush of doing: destabilizing the existing regimes.  But while Bush was held responsible for toppling Saddam Hussein, the subsequent events which rocked Egypt, Libya, Syria and provided an opening through which Iran extended its influence into Iraq and Lebanon, replicated instability on a region-wide scale.

With press attention focused on Egypt and Syria, Yemen was largely ignored by the media despite the fact that the administration regarded “al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) … the greatest direct threat to the United States”.   Yet despite its importance, the sense that it was “all quiet on the Yemen front” prevailed because of the administration’s repeated claim that Yemen was its shining example of smart counterinsurgency.

As late as March of 2015, long after the recognized Yemeni government had been toppled and American advisers had been driven from the scene, Josh Earnest continued to insist “that Yemen did serve as a template for the kind of strategy that we would employ and have employed to mitigate the threat from extremists around the world.” But in fact, Yemen was disintegrating.

  • The Arab Spring threw American counter-terrorism policy in Yemen into crisis. That policy had relied on the exchange of military, economic, and counter-terrorism assistance for cooperation from the Yemeni government in the fight against AQAP. When challenged by popular protest, the Saleh regime predictably focused its resources on protecting the Yemeni state rather than on pursuing al Qaeda, and the U.S. withheld assistance for fear that it would be used to oppress the Yemeni people.
  • AQAP has exploited the ongoing instability in Yemen and established sanctuaries from Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia to the southern coastline. A local militant group linked with AQAP has secured territory in the south and implemented shari’a rule in areas under its control.

After it disntegrated it actually got worse.  Yemen became a battlefield between the two major contenders for Islamic supremacy, Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Now it became a vortex pulling in superheated air from all the surrounds feeding the fires that were already burning within.

To review: We have Sunni and Shia (a Shia sect, to be sure, but nonetheless backed by Tehran) in the Yemeni capital. To the east, where the country’s main gas pipeline runs, rebel tribes are engaged in a campaign of sabotage to extort political and financial concessions from the central government. Further east, in the energy heartland, local grievances over money and governance have meant freedom of movement for AQAP. And finally, there’s the south, once independent, where secessionists are gaining ground again and…you got it…making room for AQAP.

In short, the trouble in Yemen is not simply sectarian woe in Sana’a, and the challenge for the United States is not merely in ensuring that we have a partner in the Yemeni capital. The trouble is with what President Barack Obama memorably labeled “the Yemen model.” At this point, it’s not just that the model itself — partnership with local government to defeat al Qaeda and associated movements — is in trouble; it’s that the entire nation of Yemen may well cease to exist as we know it. And doubling down on the notion that all that matters is the presidential palace in Sana’a is mindless.

John Kerry, perhaps disbelieving Josh Earnest’s assurances about templates, is desperately trying to glue the remaining pieces together again into some facsimile of a state.  How far he will succeed remains to be seen.

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The Big 21

May 2nd, 2015 - 3:28 am

There are some weeks when you know it’s the 21st century not because the last seven days are markedly different from its immediate predecessor, but because a confluence of  news stories emphasizes how different the problems — and the opportunities — of the current age have become.

Think about it.

A major league baseball game played to an empty stadium, but most of the audience could still watch it.  An American billionaire space entrepreneur has launched a tourist spacecraft from a Texas spaceport to compete with the one in development from a California spaceport.  A probe is nearing Pluto, the last of the “classic nine” planets to be visited.  Then it will be on its way to the Kuiper Belt objects beyond Pluto.

Another American space billionaire has announced a consumer energy storage device that promises a limited amount of independence from the grid.  Microsoft has launched an augmented reality product  that will superimpose holographic images on the “real world.”  Robots are now commonplace. Perhaps most fascinating of all, a research group at NASA claims it has asserted that propellantless drive works  — although very serious questions remain over whether the results are a false positive or even fraudulent.  However, if it’s real then the articles point out that we will be able to travel to other planets in weeks, rather than years.

But here to remind us there’s another side to the 21st century are demands by Muslims for a “right of return” to Spain, because their medieval ancestors were unlawfully dispossessed.  The Atlantic says studies show that the millenial generation will be relatively childless, saying that “today’s twentysomethings have a lower birthrate than any previous generation. … For Hispanic and black women, the majority of the fertility decline was explained by falling birth rates among unmarried women. … For white women, though, the story was very different: ’81 percent of the decrease in fertility is attributable to declining marriage rates.’”  In Baltimore, employment is as low as the murder rate is high.  Not a single Fortune 500 company is headquartered there.  If the 21st century is here, they haven’t gotten the word.

It seems, as Dickens would put it, “the worst of times and the best of times.”  A time of divergence.  A moment when people are going backward while some are looking forward. The reason that both aspects often appear together is suggestive.  Creation is destructive.  The American health care system,  which Europeans rightfully revile as the world’s highest-cost system, is also history’s most inventive.  ”America is a global leader in medical innovation. The US solely developed or contributed significantly to 9 of the top 10 most important medical innovations since 1975 as ranked by a 2001 poll of physicians, while the EU and Switzerland together contributed to five. Since 1966, Americans have received more Nobel Prizes in Medicine than the rest of the world combined. From 1989 to 2002, four times more money was invested in private biotechnology companies in America than in Europe.”

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Run To the Left

April 30th, 2015 - 5:42 pm

How does one put the following data points together?

  • The mayor of a major American city faced with riots tells her police for to “let them loot, it’s only property.”
  • Economists were surprised by an unexpected decline in US growth from an expected 1.0% growth to an actual 0.2% in the first quarter of 2015.
  • The administration is now in the business of helping families pay ransoms to Islamic kidnappers as Josh Earnest told reporters “Speaking generally, helping with a ransom payment … is not tantamount to paying a ransom.”
  • Former Gitmo prisoners are now demanding reparations from the US taxpayer.
  • Navy ships are now escorting American flagged vessels through the Straits of Hormuz as Iran’s foreign minister boasts that Congress can’t stop Obama’s deal with Tehran. John Boehner agrees he doesn’t have the votes to stop the president.
  • The Clinton Foundation failed to disclose 1,100 foreign donations as Frank Giustra responded “we’re not trying to hide anything.”
  • Hillary Clinton, in a major speech, broke her silence on the riots in Baltimore and proposed  an “end to the era of mass incarceration”.
  • Vermont Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, has announced he is running for president.
  • The administration will not let states even ask people to establish they are citizens when they register to vote.
  • A poll shows that a “strong majority of young voters would like to see a Democrat stay in the White House in 2016.”  The millennials can’t wait to see Hillary, or preferably Warren or Sanders, in the White House.

How to put those data points together? By remembering how the migrant boat from Libya sank on the way to Italy. The passengers crammed into the ship rushed blindly to one side to catch a glimpse of a freighter, thereby capsizing it.  The perfectly describes the Left, who , facing catastrophe on every front is doing the only thing it knows how: doubling down on Leftist canon.  Everyone is now stampeding left, because that will save the boat.

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Two Conflicts

April 29th, 2015 - 2:12 am

Despite the administration’s attempts to make nice to Iran, the press has reported that a total of two US ships were intercepted by the Iranian navy in the Gulf.  Only one ship, the Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel, was taken into custody.  Media reports suggested the actions were in retaliation for the turn-back of an Iranian convoy to Yemen a few days ago.

Iran’s seizure of the Maersk Tigris is the second time in a week it has harassed transiting vessels under U.S. protection in the Strait of Hormuz.

A senior defense official at the Pentagon said that on Friday, the Maersk Kensington, a U.S.-flagged cargo vessel, was intercepted by four Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy patrol craft.

“In the incident, the [Iranian] patrol craft at one point encircled the Maersk Kensington, and eventually followed the ship as it continued on its course. The [Iranian] units eventually withdrew from the area,” the official said.

Iran’s harassment of ships in the Strait follows its attempt last week to send a convoy of vessels to Yemen, which was eventually turned away after the arrival of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

The incident with the Kensington, however, differs from Tuesday’s seizure of the Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel. The Marshall Islands is a protectorate of the U.S., and dependent upon the U.S. for its defense and security.

The other possible motive for the naval action is Tehran’s desire to retaliate for Saudi airstrikes which blew up a Yemeni runway which an Iranian plane was about to land on. “CAIRO/ADEN (Reuters) – Jets from a Saudi-led alliance destroyed the runway of Yemen’s Sanaa airport on Tuesday to prevent an Iranian plane from landing there, Saudi Arabia said, as fighting across the country killed at least 30 people.”

The tit-for-that comes as a political shakeup is under way in Saudi Arabia. According to the New York Times “King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a series of surprise royal decrees early Wednesday, shaking up the line of princes slated to succeed him to the throne, replacing a number of ministers and further enhancing the power of his own line.” Salman also replaced the top internal security and foreign affairs officials.

In moves announced on Saudi state television, Salman replaced Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and named the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as next in line.

He also named his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as deputy crown prince and relieved the long-serving foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, who has shaped the kingdom’s foreign policy for nearly four decades.

This reshuffle follows the announcement that 93 persons were arrested in connection with a plot to attack the US embassy in Riyadh.  ”The timing of the alleged attack coincides with a U.S. decision to halt all consular services for a week starting March 15 at the Embassy and diplomatic missions in Jiddah and Dhahran. The list of targets recalls a wave of attacks launched by Al Qaeda inside the kingdom from 2004 to 2007 … and threatened the stability of one of the world’s most important oil-producing nations.”

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The Crisis of the Blue Model

April 27th, 2015 - 10:38 pm

The greatest ship disaster in American history is probably one of the least known. The river steamboat Sultana, laden with over 2,400 passangers, blew her boilers and sank with the loss of 1,800 lives on April 27, 1865.   That was more than the number who perished on the Titanic but the story of the Sultana was overpowered by more dramatic contemporaneous events, notably the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth.  Everyone remembers the Lincoln assassination.  Nobody remembers the steamboat.

In similar fashion, the story of the Corinthian College closures in California have been eclipsed by continuing race riots in Baltimore. The narrative in Baltimore has all the drama and visuals,  but the saga of Corinthian College is in its own way as important as events in Maryland,  being about the wholesale destruction of the futures of tens of thousands of young people — or whether they ever had any at all.

The Corinthian network of schools, based in California has shut down Heald College, Everest College and WyoTech College leaving 16,000 students across six states “with questions about how they would finish their educations and how they would pay off the loans that they had taken out to ‘get ahead.’”  But perhaps “education” isn’t exactly the right word for what they were offering. The system is being closed in response to accusations of being a diploma mill that encouraged students to take out government student loans amounting to over a billion dollars. This enormous debt enabled the hopeful to pay Corinthian fees in exchange for instruction of questionable quality that left many unemployable but loaded with student loans.  The LA Times relates the case of one aspiring dental assistant.

Julio Colis, 19, said he was worried about the $10,000 in loans he took out to finance his education. He was studying to be a dental assistant, and said his plan B was to go to East Los Angeles College.

“I’m worried about the debt we have, like what we would have to pay on it,” he said. “I had talked to one of the counselors before about getting a bad feeling about this place and she said, ‘Don’t worry.’”

“Don’t worry.”  These are famous last words that often signify you’re about to have the rug pulled out from under you.

The school knew it was closing but never told students or helped them get into other schools. It goes to show how greedy they were. They should offer some kind of refund for their deceit.

High levels of student debt have been a central issue for Corinthian, which has been under investigation by more than a dozen state attorneys general and federal investigators over allegations of aggressive and fraudulent marketing, and unfair financial aid practices.

Median federal loan debt for Corinthian’s Everest College programs in Southern California ranged from $9,000 for a dental assistant program to $28,000 for a criminal justice degree, according to school disclosures. The average price at one of Corinthian’s Everest campuses in Southern California is $20,000 to $25,000 per year, according to federal data.

It’s partly a California saga, the story of a well connected cabal ripping off the taxpayer. The New Republic described how Corinthian, with a bevy of Democratic party heavy hitters on its board, was investigated by California AG Kamala Harris for going too far after having been given a second chance at the last minute by Jerry Brown, until it finally shut itself down.

On June 6, 2007, the California attorney general’s office was on the verge of suing Corinthian Colleges for intentionally and blatantly lying to prospective students about the company’s record of placing graduates into jobs. The AG’s complaint against the giant, publicly traded for-profit higher education company had been written, and a request prepared for a preliminary injunction to bar Corinthian from continuing to make false claims about its job placement rates. The press office was busy contacting reporters to let them know that there would be a news conference the next day announcing the suit.

The press conference was never held. At the eleventh hour, Attorney General Jerry Brown surprised the lawyers in his office by telling them he was stopping the lawsuit. A month and a half later, Brown (who is now California’s governor) announced that his office had reached a $6.5 million settlement with Corinthian, which has annual revenues of about $1.6 billion. The agreement required the school chain to provide $5.8 million in restitution to students who had been misled. It also forced the company to shut down nine of its campuses’ worst-performing programs. And it permanently enjoined Corinthian from continuing to deceive students about its job placement rates.

Yet in another way the Corinthian story is universal, of a piece with the Baltimore riots and the now fading Atlanta Public School cheating scandal.  The question these events jointly pose is whether the Blue Model has any life left in it. For years lower-income people, especially African Americans, have been sustained by the dream of a middle-class prosperity that lay at the end of government funded-conveyor belts.  Corinthian was the epitome of a people-mover into the good life, a process that Hillary Clinton calls middle-class economics.  The deal was is that if one voted for those who promised to “spread the wealth”  they in return would open doors closed for centuries by racism, patriarchy or gender specificity so that the masses could enter the broad uplands of the Dream.

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President Wile E. Coyote

April 26th, 2015 - 4:38 am

“We’re sort of seeing the world order cracking around the edges,” says Robert Kagan, a conservative author and historian whose writing has caught the president’s attention. “The only thing Obama can hope is that it doesn’t completely collapse while he’s still president.”

Him and everybody else. Michael Crowley in Politico writes, “Obama took office vowing to end America’s wars. Now we’re in at least five, and U.S. officials are unsure what to do about it.” In the meantime the public can listen to him tell jokes.  That is probably the highest and best use of his time until Hillary Clinton becomes president — an event which the press believes is foregone.  A survey of 70 journalists assigned to the White House revealed that 63% of White House correspondents think Hillary will be the next president. 21% think it will be Jeb Bush. Marco Rubio is given only at 4% of making it.

Out among Obama’s wars regimes are struggling to survive.  Yakub Halabi of Ynet believes that Saudi Arabia is fighting for its life in Yemen.

The new Saudi King, Salman, fears that a prolonged war south of the kingdom will lead to the Syrianization of Yemen, where amid the political vacuum, transnational Jihadist allied with either al-Qaeda or the Islamic State will enter Yemen to fight against the “infidel” Shiites.

Saudi estimates that a protracted war will sooner or later spill over into the Kingdom. Hence, this war is not a competition over hegemony in the Arab Peninsula between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but a war over the survival of the Saudi monarchy.

Obama’s wars are not linear but chaotic. Gains by the Kingdom’s proxies in Syria do not necessarily offset its setbacks in Yemen. The Al-Nusrah Front, which is the local name for al-Qaeda forces in Syria this week captured the city of Jisr Al Shughur, opening the road across the mountains to the Alawite heartland on the coast. They are now poised to resume their long-cherished goal of investing Syria’s main port of Latakia and bringing war to the very homes of Assad’s ethnic community. This comes on the heels of the fall of Idlib, a move that threatens to cut Damascus off from its remaining redoubts in the North.

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The Saudi Blockade

April 24th, 2015 - 8:47 pm

Is there a blockade around Yemen?  Who is blockading whom?  Where will it lead?

Helene Cooper of the New York Times says the administration is claiming credit for turning back a flotilla of Iranian ships which may have been carrying arms for Tehran-backed rebels. “Pentagon officials on Friday credited the deployment of an American aircraft carrier group in waters off the coast of Yemen for a decision by Iran to turn back a naval convoy suspected of carrying weapons bound for Shiite rebels.”  From this one might get the impression it is the Obama administration that is preventing the Iranians from using the sea to resupply its allies.

But a closer reading of the story suggests that USN’s true purpose was to keep the Iranians from challenging the Saudi blockade, which was already in place.  ”Although it was unusual to dispatch such a large American naval force to the Arabian Sea on an interdiction and deterrence mission, Pentagon officials said the deployment — and Iran’s apparent response — had lowered tensions in the continuing regional proxy war between Tehran and Saudi Arabia.”

Far from delivering an ultimatum to the Iranians,  the administration claims it never even tried to communicate with the Iranian flotilla.

Defense Department officials said there were no communications between the American and Iranian ships, and they could not say what type of cargo was being transported, although an arms shipment was suspected.

It was unclear whether the United States would have tried to board or stop the Iranian convoy if it had continued toward Yemen; such a move would have risked escalating the conflict in Yemen, and could have stymied fragile negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.

The Saudis themselves have claimed responsibility for blockading Yemen’s ports. But perhaps “blockade” is not entirely the right word for the situation.  The Saudis are hanging onto the ports, defending against a Houthi advance from the interior.

The Saudi-led coalition that’s fighting against Shiite rebels in Yemen said it completed a blockade of the country’s ports and is ready to step up airstrikes. Bombing missions are seeking to stop the Shiite Houthis from moving forces between Yemen’s cities, Ahmed Asseri, a Saudi military officer, told reporters in Riyadh on Monday. Coalition aircraft and warships targeted the rebels as they advanced toward Aden, the southern port that’s the last stronghold of Saudi Arabia’s ally in Yemen, President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi. Shipping routes to and from the ports are under the coalition’s control, Asseri said.

The Wall Street Journal emphasized this, saying “Saudi officials warned Iran that its sailors would try to search any ship that tried to dock in Yemen.” The American concerns were not quite coincident with the Saudis. While the Saudis were probably trying to prevent the Houthis from being resupplied, the principal American concern was that the Iranian ships were loaded with threats to ‘navigation’, that is to say, anti-ship weapons.

“What we’ve said to them is that if there are weapons delivered to factions within Yemen that could threaten navigation, that’s a problem,” Mr. Obama said on MSNBC this week. “And we’re not sending them obscure messages. We send them very direct messages about it.”

‘Threats to navigation’ is probably a code word for anti-ship missiles and mines that could be deployed in the Bab-el-Mandeb, “a strait located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. It connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.” The strait is exceedingly narrow and vulnerable to interdiction.

The Bab-el-Mandeb acts as a strategic link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. In 2006, an estimated 3.3 million barrels (520,000 m3) of oil passed through the strait per day, out of a world total of about 43 million barrels per day (6,800,000 m3/d) moved by tankers.

The distance across is about 20 miles (30 km) from Ras Menheli in Yemen to Ras Siyyan in Djibouti. The island of Perim divides the strait into two channels, of which the eastern, known as the Bab Iskender (Alexander’s Strait), is 2 miles (3 km) wide and 16 fathoms (30 m) deep, while the western, or Dact-el-Mayun, has a width of about 16 miles (25 km) and a depth of 170 fathoms (310 m). Near the coast of Djibouti lies a group of smaller islands known as the “Seven Brothers”.

While Washington wants credit for turning back the Iranians, one of the things the administration does not want to take responsibility for is starving Yemen. Yet that is also an outcome of the Saudi control of the ports. An editorial from the same New York Times, places the blame for a blockade squarely on Saudi Arabia. “Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen’s civil war was always a risky gamble. Now there’s evidence showing just how damaging four weeks of airstrikes have been: more than 1,000 civilians killed, more than 4,000 wounded, and 150,000 displaced. Meanwhile, the fighting and a Saudi-led blockade have deprived Yemenis of food, fuel, water and medicines, causing what a Red Cross official called a humanitarian catastrophe. Yemen has long been a weak state, and with each day it draws closer to collapse.”

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Live and Let Live

April 23rd, 2015 - 2:00 am

Adam Taylor of the Washington Post says there are 250,000 people eager to migrate to a country which may not exist, at least not in the conventional sense. The country, called Liberland,  is based on territory nobody wants. Disputes in the Balkans left a kind of no-man’s-land there for the taking.  ”Since the Yugoslav Wars … a few other territories went unclaimed by either side.” One of those unclaimed territories is a 3 square mile patch by the Danube River.

This created an opening for  Vít Jedlička, a 30 something Czech Euroskeptic who believes “socialism is the false belief that the state will spend your money better than you would”. He decided to establish a country based on the contrary principle.  Liberland consists of a woody area with no known residents and but a single old shack in evidence.  The Washington Post says that Jedlička, ”realizing that the land was claimed by no one … claimed the approximately 3 square miles by the Danube river … set up a Web site, created a flag, a coat of arms, a motto (“To live and let live”) and drew up laws and a constitution.”  According to Wikipedia, “there are plans for an official cryptocurrency system, although all other currencies will be allowed … politicians will be constitutionally forbidden from indebting the nation … an electronic voting system will be used to elect members.”

Territory, a quarter million immigrants, investors.  What more do you need? Apparently much more. Adam Taylor says that “with most of these self-proclaimed states, there’s an element of the absurd. Often, the states seem less of an attempt to make a functioning state than just an attempt at a provocative statement.” In the conventional view Liberland is not a serious country because of its dissimilarity to ‘real’ states, which have capital cities, bureaucracies, presidents who travel in vehicle convoys and the other trappings of statehood.

But why can’t Liberland — or something like it — be a state? There are probably millions of people literally roaming the planet as ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ whose only relationship to their country is a passport and a tax return.  To them Liberland might be as good or better than, say, Uganda. One could imagine a state whose primary existence is virtual yet which can perform all its function by contracting individuals. It would never need more than 3 square miles of woods and a shack.

The objection can’t be size or population.  After all, the Vatican is nearly 18 times smaller than Liberland and has a population 300 times smaller than the 250,000 applicants for citizenship in Liberland.  If the problem is lack of diplomatic recognition then why is ISIS, to all intents and purposes, something like a state?  Wikipedia says ISIS (or ISIL if you prefer) is “an unrecognized state  that seeks the establishment of a transnational Islamic caliphate. The group controls territory in four countries, including Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, with operations or affiliates in Lebanon, Egypt, and other areas of the Middle East,  North and West Africa,  South,  and Southeast Asia.”

While nobody formally recognizes ISIS over 60 countries are directly or indirectly waging war against it, including NATO and the EU.  That is a kind of recognition by negation. Why is it absurd to apply for citizenship in Liberland while Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter and countless others can apply to ISIS for citizenship with a straight face.  ”I formally and humbly request to be made a citizen of the Islamic State,”Hasan says in a document addressed to “Ameer, Mujahid Dr. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  It would be an honor for any believer to be an obedient citizen soldier to a people and its leader who don’t compromise the religion of All-Mighty Allah to get along with the disbelievers.”

People might regard ISIS as unspeakable, but most would regard it as real. The mechanism for joining ISIS is pledging allegiance through what is known as the bayat.  If you make your bayat and are accepted, you’re in.  Then you have to conform to policy and fork over a percentage of whatever loot you take. Dr. Theodore Karasik describing how the Islamic State views itself and the process of expansion, emphasizes that ISIS is not strictly based on territory.  Individuals from discontiguous places can apply for inclusion by pledging allegiance to one of the vilayat or administrative subdivisions.    Karasik writes:

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Europe Migrants Photo Gallery

Yesterday, survivors of the smuggler’s boat that overturned off the coast of Libya rest on the deck of an  Italian Coast Guard ship in Valletta’s Grand Harbour. The UN estimates more than 800 people were believed to have drowned in the weekend sinking of a boat packed with migrants trying to reach Europe, making it the deadliest such disaster in the Mediterranean. (AP Photo/Lino Azzopardi, File)

According to EU’s border chief, up to one million refugees are waiting on the Libyan beach to board ship for Europe. “Up to one million migrants could reach Europe from Libya amid collapsing security in the northern African country, the European Union’s border agency chief has warned.”

Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri said he expects asylum seekers’ crossings to skyrocket in 2015 and urged EU governments to ready themselves to “face a way more difficult situation than last year”.

“We are told there are between 500,000 and one million migrants ready to leave from Libya,” Leggeri told Italian news agency Ansa. “We have to be aware of the risks”.

One of the more interesting aspects of this flood of human misery is that it is not entirely spontaneous.  Jihadi groups are doing their best to encourage it.

With the country now locked in a three-way power-struggle pitting government troops against different Islamist groups including Islamic State (Isis) affiliates, fears have been raised that extremists could mingle with the hundreds of migrants crossing by boat every week or drastically increase the number of crossings to strain EU border forces.

“We have evidence that migrants have been forcibly boarded on vessels at gunpoint,” Leggeri said. “I do not have elements to say they were terrorists but there are worries among states.”

That would not be surprising. In 2004 Europe agreed to pay Muhammar Gaddafi four billion pounds a year in exchange for a promise to halt people smuggling to Europe.

Experts have also drawn links between the massive rise in would-be migrants and a so-called ‘deal in the desert’ struck by Tony Blair in 2004 – which saw the late Muammar Gaddafi agree to crack down on human traffickers as well as renouncing Libya’s possession of WMDs and decommissioning the country’s chemical and nuclear weapons programs.

In 2008 Gaddafi sought to stiff the European Union for £4.1 billion a year in return for halting the flows of migrants in and out of Libya. …

As Blair’s much touted ‘deal in the desert’ turned sour, Gaddafi gave people smugglers in Zuwara the green light to resume their trade and the migrant routes have flourished ever since.

The people-smuggling networks once controlled by the Duck of Death have almost certainly been taken over by the Jihadis, who have turned them to their own purposes. This view is not yet widely shared. The general perception is that the refugee flood is a “humanitarian crisis.” The Washington Post, for example, exhorts the Europeans to take more migrants to solve the problem. “Europe needs to take a lead role in solving the African migrant crisis.”

Only the European Union can help these migrants, especially once they take to the sea. Shamefully, however, governments under pressure from domestic anti-immigrant parties have shrunk from the task. Last year Italy undertook its own, much-praised operation to rescue people from boats, saving many; but it was scaled back in October after other governments declined to join in and some complained, wrongheadedly, that the effort itself might be attracting migrants. In recent months a much smaller E.U. search-and-rescue mission has been limited to Italy’s territorial waters, making it far more likely that sinkings and other accidents will lead to mass deaths.

Thankfully, the weekend disaster appears to have galvanized — or maybe shamed — E.U. governments, who agreed to hold a summit meeting Thursday to consider solutions. The starting point should be obvious: the resumption of a large-scale search-and-rescue operation like that abandoned by Italy. But European leaders should also consider providing more legal ways for African refugees to seek refuge in their countries, without having to board smuggling boats; and they should consider more forceful steps to combat the smugglers and to help restore order in Libya. What shouldn’t be an option is continuing to ignore the humanitarian crisis spilling into the Mediterranean.

While the refugee flood is most certainly a humanitarian tragedy, it is very probably a deliberate component of the rapid advance of Islamist forces through North Africa, Arabia and the Levant.  The probable reason why the establishment can’t see this is because they’ve willed themselves not to see the war.  The constant mantra is that there is no war on terror; that the enemy is nothing to do with Islam.  See the war and you can see the tactic. In fact, it is reminiscent of the old Nazi 1940 method of driving refugees onto the roads before them to tie up the French while the Panzers advanced behind them.

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Escape From Humanity

April 20th, 2015 - 5:28 am

Drownings in the Mediterranean now account for 75% of all illegal immigrant deaths worldwide, the waterways filled with a constant stream of people from Africa and the Middle East fleeing their culture in the hope of re-establishing it again on the European shore.  In 2014 the number topped 200,000, twenty times greater than number than four years before.  The numbers for 2015 are on track to equal 2014.

The overwhelming majority now come from Syria, which is largely destroyed.  ”The civil war, which began in 2011, has left over 220,000 dead so far. Over half the 22 million people of Syria have fled their homes since 2011. … Even many Assad supporters, living in the parts of the country largely untouched by the war, are fleeing.”

Under this enormous weight, the normal mechanisms of relief and compassion are breaking down. “Foreign donors are spending over $8 billion a year to keep these refugees outside Syria alive. Turkey and Lebanon have taken most of the refugees and Turkey is spending nearly $4 billion a year to support their portion.” As in wars past, people smugglers are profiting from the desperation and shipping boatloads packed like sardines to Europe, many of whom drown at sea.  The Mediterranean, says Time, is becoming a “mass grave”.

Italy is constantly pulling people out of the water or from foundering vessels, dumped by people smugglers who are sure the Europeans will rescue them. Over 13,500 have been rescued in the last 7 days. Italian PM Matteo Renzi, whose coastguard is overstretched, has denounced the tide as “21st Century slavery” and “singled out Libya as the key problem, saying it was the starting point for about 90% of the migrants reaching Italy by sea.”  There is a sense of hopelessness in the task, because the more rescued, the more come. “Some Italian politicians had called for a naval blockade but Mr Renzi said this would only help the smugglers as there would be more ships to rescue migrants.”

Blockades only attract refugee boats. The Telegraph says the smugglers actually make for the European navy and then sink the ship when close enough.  They know the Europeans have orders to save them.

Trafficking gangs dispatching migrants on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean are tipping off Italian officials in advance so that their boats can be picked up by coastguard and naval vessels.

The gangs have become so confident that their boats will be picked up that they even reduce the amount of fuel each vessel has before it sets out from north Africa, a former manager in the UK Immigration Service has revealed.

The disclosure from Graham Leese, who was also a special advisor to Frontex, the European Union’s border control force, will add to concerns that “search and rescue” operations in the Mediterranean are encouraging traffickers by making their deadly trade easier. …

The EU-funded Operation Mare Nostrum was launched in October 2013, in response to a previous tragedy in which 350 migrants drowned within sight of the Italian island of Lampedusa. It rescued more than 100,000 refugees from the sea, but was discontinued last September amid concerns about the £6m-a-month cost, and fears that it was simply encouraging illegal immigration into Europe. The replacement service, Operation Triton, has fewer vessels and limits itself to European territorial waters rather than ranging out to near the Libyan coast.

Efforts by the Italians to stay away are falling to a new tactic by people-smugglers who are locking hundreds down below decks, thus guaranteeing gigantic death tolls if naval units are not around to effect a rescue. Some 950 people are believed to have drowned in the latest sinking where “hundreds of terrified migrants including women and children drowned ‘like rats in a cage’ on a smuggler boat because they were locked in the hold .”

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