Friday, February 22, 2013

Mysterious Deaths, Creeps, Crooks and Communists!

I recently posted a list of people whose association with the Clintons' led to strange events and in far too many cases their untimely and unexplained deaths.

In the case of the Obamas' their past history is more akin to associations with creeps, crooks ,Communists and other assorted radicals, ie. Black Panthers etc.

As with most of my friends, I too have met a large number of people in my lifetime but I do not recall many of them dying as a result and to the best of my knowledge few were creeps, Communists or crooks though I did know one Communist who was a dear friend of my family and who lived iNew York.

Most of those I have met (and still meet) were/are ordinary but exceptional down to earth people, quite talented and generally led/lead normal lives.  (John Fund being one of the more recent.) A few were politicians but most were involved in the private sector. I believe one was connected to the CIA as a covert agent by reason of  positions he held.

They say you are known by those you know.

It is a sad commentary that we seem to be electing presidents whose pasts and associations  should give us some clue as to what kind of presidency we can expect but we also seem to disregard these clues.

In the case of the Clintons' I would say sleaze was self-evident, and still is and in the case of the Obamas' intellectual dishonesty and opportunism would fit the description.

Perhaps we should become more discerning as to whom we select to lead our nation but it appears no evidence of this is emerging.

 I rest my case! (See 1 below.)
I am from your government and I am here to help you!  Please bend over! (See 2 below.)
Will Russia shove us aside and be the ones to shape the future of Syria's destiny?  Stay tuned. (See 3 and 3a below.)
Cliff May writes about the key nations impacting Kerry and Obama's strategy for their upcoming visit to The Middle East.

May's summation is right on target.

With respect to May's suggestion that America supply Israel with credible weaponry in order to send a convincing message to Iran, that is something Jack Kingston discussed when he came to the house several weeks ago for breakfast.

If you recall, I mentioned Jack said Israel needs several more refueling planes and weaponry that will penetrate Iran's buried nuclear facilities and this was something he would be trying to achieve. (See 4 below.)
A Stratfor Analysts discusses how wars start.

Several years ago I had the president of St Johns College's Santa Fe Campus speak here and he lectured on the lessons to be learned from studying  Thucydides.

Since we no longer teach history in grade school, because it does not lend itself to 'rap cadence,' perhaps our youth are more likely to repeat history's  mistakes than otherwise might be the case. (See 5 below.)
Have a great weekend.
1)Hillary Clinton's Middle East Legacy
By Thomas A. Oakes

Most of the time foreign policy barely registers on the radar screens of American voters. That's why it's easy for Hillary Clinton fans to promote the false notion that she was a first-rate Secretary of State despite her four-year string of failures.
"I've done what was possible to do," Clinton told reporters just hours before she resigned.
Apparently, it was not possible to strengthen our relationships with allies like Britain, Israel, Canada, Mexico, Poland, and the Czech Republic, but easy to throw the Middle East into turmoil.
Clinton's reset with Russia has been a diplomatic disaster.

The State Department pivot to Asia is a retreat from events that are spinning out of control in the Middle East. Attempting to contain China at the very time our navy is being downsized will result in increased Chinese assertiveness (see herehere, and here) and a further erosion of the trust our friends in the Asia-Pacific region have in us.

Women's Rights

In America, Hillary Clinton is touted as a global champion of women's rights. Yet the Arab Spring that took place on her watch has set Muslim women's rights back fifty years in newly-formed Middle East governments dominated by Islamic fundamentalists.
When the U.S. engages in sustained military activity, as in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, public interest in foreign policy is heightened somewhat. However, when we launched cruise missiles and used A-10 ground attack aircraft, B-2 stealth bombers, AV-8B Harrier jump-jets, and both F-15E and F-16 fighters in a brief war against Libya in 2011, few Americans bothered to ask why.
The State Department offered a flimsy, largely unsubstantiated justification for U.S. military intervention in Libya, and many people accepted it.
The U.S. role in destabilizing Libya, along with the secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) raids across North Africa authorized by John Brennan -- Barack Obama's then-Deputy National Security Adviser, and now his nominee to head the CIA -- have increased uncertainty in the region.
According to a recent book co-authored by former Navy SEAL Brandon Webb and former Green Beret Jack Murphy, entitled Benghazi: The Definitive Report, a JSOC attack on the Islamic group Ansar al-Sharia days before September 11, 2012 may have triggered a retaliatory strike against the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
Michael Kelly, writing for Business Insider, has reported the possible involvement of American Ambassador Christopher Stevens in the covert movement of heavy weapons from Libya to Syrian rebels. Stevens, along with three other Americans, was killed in the Benghazi attack, deaths that Hillary Clinton failed to prevent.
Early in the Syrian uprising, Hillary provided cover for Bashir Assad, calling him a "different leader" and citing "many in Congress" who believe Assad "a reformer." Clinton's reference to Congress was a nod to then-Senator John Kerry, a frequent visitor to Syria, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said "Syria is an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region."
Later, when it became impossible to disguise the fact that Assad's idea of reform was to slaughter his opposition, Clinton was unsuccessful in convincing the White House to provide protection or overt support for Syrian nationals opposed to Assad's murderous dictatorial regime. The death toll there is now over 60,000 people and still rising.
After four years of predictably unproductive diplomatic overtures toward Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has just rejected an American proposal for direct one-on-one talks regarding the Persian uranium enrichment program. By going all-in on its race to produce nuclear weapons, Iran's theocratic Shia leaders are betting that they can dramatically change the scope of the deadly gambit they initiated in 1979.
American involvement in, and reaction to the unfolding of the Arab Spring was the result of a major unannounced Middle East policy shift.
David Ignatius, a reporter for the Washington Post, wrote that the Obama administration placed a "cosmic wager" on the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, gambling that the governments that replaced the rulers forced from power in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya would enhance U.S. interests in the region.
So far, Egypt's new president Mohammed Morsi has pledged to abide by Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, and cooperate with Israel over security in the Sinai Peninsula. Last November, Morsi brokered a truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
On the other hand, Mr. Morsi's long history of fervent opposition to America, his enthusiastic embrace of Islamic totalitarianism, and his rabid anti-Semitic rants are troubling. Hoping for the best, our State Department continues to send F-16 war planes, M1A1 tanks, and considerable financial assistance to Egypt, conducting business as usual after throwing Morsi's secular predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, under the bus.
The Real Conflict in the Middle East: Sunni versus Shia
When the world thinks of the Middle East beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it tends to think of oil and the wealth it creates for its producers and users. Oil fuels the growth of developing nations and sustains the economies of countries that already support significant populations of middle-income people.
However, to Islamic jihadists, oil wealth is merely a means to an end. Their goal is to establish a global Islamic regime (dar al-Islam) governed by sharia law. That regime would be incomplete without control of Jerusalem.
The conflict between Israel and Palestinians is now a largely a contrived subterfuge. Peace was possible in the summer of 2000 when Bill Clinton convinced Ehud Barak to accept a two-state, land-for-peace agreement at Camp David.
Yasser Arafat was not permitted to accept this arrangement because it did not require Israel to surrender complete control of Jerusalem, and would have undermined the Islamic pretext used to rally world opinion and justify future wars against Israel like Arab nations waged in 1967 and 1973.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been successfully exploited to mask the real power struggle in the Middle East, which is between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, or more precisely, between Sunni Arabs and the Persian Shia who dominate Iran.
Any discussion of conflict in the Middle East that does not take into consideration the enmity between Sunni and Shia states would be tantamount to ignoring the role of Catholics and Protestants in the dispute over the fate of Northern Ireland.
To be sure, there are disagreements within each of the two major branches of Islam, but none as great as the theological dispute over the identity of the legitimate successor to Mohammed, which is the root of the quarrel between Sunni and Shia sects.
Although Persians have tried to expand their influence in the region by funding and arming militias like Hezbollah, training Hamas militants, and pulling on the strings of puppet states like Syria and Lebanon, they are greatly outnumbered by Sunnis.
Outnumbered though they may be, the influence of Persian Shia would rise considerably if, 1,376 years after the original Muslim conquest of the Old City in 637 AD, and 826 years after Crusaders surrendered it to Saladin in 1187, Iran was instrumental in recapturing Jerusalem.
As a sidebar, it's interesting to note that Saladin, a Sunni of Kurdish ancestry, rose through the ranks of the Egyptian-based Shia Fatimid Caliphate until he managed to take control of the government in 1171 and realign it with the Sunni Abbasid Caliphate based in Baghdad.
Iranian Shia leaders believe that Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, born in 869 AD, is the Twelfth Imam, the male descendant of the founder of Islam, Muhammad. They believe that he did not die, but was hidden by God in 941 and will reappear from his Occultation to create a perfect global Islamic caliphate after the world has fallen into chaos.
It does not require a great stretch of imagination to understand why Iranian leaders might believe that by acquiring nuclear weapons, they could induce global bedlam and summon al-Madhi, the ultimate savior of all humanity.
Although the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, has issued a fatwa stating that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam, the Shia doctrine of taqiyya (lying for the purpose of promoting the faith) essentially renders that fatwa null.
The Obama-Clinton Pro-Islamic Shift
There is more to the refusal of President Obama to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel than simply following past precedent. Prior American administrations have declined to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital because they wanted to avoid taking sides in peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinians.
This does not appear to be President Obama's motive.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama declared that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." However, heading into his second term, the gap between President Obama's rhetoric and reality on the ground is growing wider.
The nominations of John Kerry for Secretary of State and Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense signal a shift in President Obama's position on Jerusalem, and suggest an intention to further tilt American Middle East foreign policy in favor of Sunni Islamists.
Mr. Obama's pro-Islamic policies during the last four years have certainly not hurt him politically. He won 69% of the Jewish vote in the last election despite bullying Israel, being openly disrespectful of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and declining an invitation to visit Israel during his first term.
President Obama has clearly done his political math. The Muslim population in the U.S. has tripled during the last decade to almost 3 million people and will continue to grow. Globally, there are approximately 14 million Jews and 1.6 billion Muslims, 90% of whom are Sunni.
It would be difficult to underestimate the lengths that very wealthy and devout Sunnis would be willing to go to influence American foreign policy in the Middle East. No investment would be too great if it resulted in America standing down as Al Saud patiently maneuvers to gain control of Jerusalem, which along with Mecca and Medina, are the three holiest sites in Islam.
A Nuclear Wild Card in the Middle East
A nuclear-armed Iran would pose a very serious threat, not only to Israel, but to its Arab neighbors as well. Everyone but Chuck Hagel seems to have gotten the memo declaring that the official policy of the Obama administration is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons rather then attempt to contain it afterwards.
George Kennan-style containment is at best a temporary damage-control measure when two rational parties are involved. It is a suicidal strategy when one of the parties is led by fanatical Twelvers who are actively working to bring about Armageddon.
Last September -- well before Iran's recent announcement that it has begun installing advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear plant -- Mr. Netanyahu told the U. N. General Assembly that by the summer of 2013, Iran could have enough highly enriched material to produce a single nuclear bomb.
If Israel feels compelled to act alone to prevent its annihilation -- with or without the tacit approval of the U.S. -- and manages to set back Iran's nuclear weapons program, there would be ancillary global side benefits, including postponement of possible Saudi Arabian plans to acquire nuclear weapons as a deterrent, most likely via Pakistan.
Direct U.S. involvement in a successful military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would benefit Israel, but perhaps even more important to the Obama administration, it would also benefit Saudi Arabia by at least temporarily defanging the Kingdom's most powerful rival in the region.
Delaying Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons would help ensure that any near-term conflict that might arise in the region would remain limited to the use of conventional weapons or shadow clashes like the suspected 2012 Iranian cyber-attack that corrupted 30,000 computers at Saudi Aramco, the world's largest oil company.
The prospect of mushroom clouds rising over the Middle East understandably makes oil importing nations very uneasy.
If, however, Iran -- the fourth largest exporter of oil in the world -- does manage to acquire nuclear weapons, at minimum it can be expected to threaten the use of that capability to pull Iraq under its nuclear umbrella. According to a recent article in the Washington Times, Iraq is now the world's third largest oil exporter and has the potential to surpass Saudi Arabia.
Control of Iraq would give Iran game-changing influence over oil exports to a very long list of countries that includes China, members of the European Union, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Turkey, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Africa.
The global consequences of a successful oil related power-play by a nuclear armed Iran could be staggering.
Judging by the constant flow of criticism of Israel from the U. N., much of the world would shed crocodile tears if Israel were to disappear and Jerusalem reverted to Islamic custody, as long as the flow of oil from the Middle East remained reasonably priced and uninterrupted.
If world opinion -- and not deeply held principles -- guides U.S. foreign policy during the next four years, oil will continue to flow to the nations that demand it, even if it means the dissolution of Israel.
Assuming that Hillary decides to run for president in 2016 and is questioned about her roll in the unraveling of the Middle East, will she once again say "What does it really matter at this point?" And if she does, will American voters who have little interest in foreign policy and even less in the fate of Israel agree with her?
Thomas Archimedes Oakes is a pseudonym. The author is an unaffiliated analyst who wishes to remain anonymous. 


2)The Feds Want Your Retirement Accounts
By John White

Quietly, behind the scenes, the groundwork is being laid for federal government confiscation of tax-deferred retirement accounts such as IRAs. Slowly, the cat is being let out of the bag.
Last January 18th, in a little noticed interview of Richard Cordray, acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Bloomberg reported "[t]he U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [CFPB] is weighing whether it should take on a role in helping Americans manage the $19.4 trillion they have put into retirement savings, a move that would be the agency's first foray into consumer investments."  That thought generates some skepticism, as aptly expressed by the Richard Terrell cartoon  published by American Thinker.
Days later On January 24th President Obama renominated Cordray as CFPB director even though his recess appointment was not due to expire until the end of 2013.
One day later, in the first significant resistance to President Obama's concentration of presidential power, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington DC unanimously said that Obama's Recess Appointments to the National Labor Relations Board are unconstitutional.  Similar litigation testing the Cordray appointment to the CFPB is in the pipeline.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) created by the 2,319 page Dodd-Frank legislation is a new and little known bureau with wide-ranging powers.  Placed within the Federal Reserve, a corporation privately owned by member banks, the CFPB is insulated from oversight by either the President or Congress, its budget not subject to legislative control.  It is not even clear that a new President can replace the CFPB director on taking office.
Unusual legal and political environments have a significant impact on the CFPB. With Cordray's recess appointment in doubt several questions remain unanswered. 
1) What will become of the CFPB when Cordray's appointment is found invalid?  An indicator comes from the NRLB, which operated unconstitutionally for years without a quorum.  In 2007 the Senate threatened no NLRB nominations reported out of committee.
The NLRB continued operating with two members.  Then a Supreme Court ruling in June of 2010 invalidated the NLRB decisions for lack of a quorum.  Fisher & Phillips give the details about what was done next.
But recovery from the Supreme Court's sting was quick, with Liebman and Schaumber still on the Board and with two new Members confirmed, ... the suddenly full-strength Board simply added a new Member to the "rump panel" of the original decisions and managed to rubber-stamp many of the disputed Orders - at a record-setting pace - with the same result...
This may explain why President Obama renominated Cordray a year early.  Once confirmed Cordray can rubber-stamp decisions made while he was unconstitutionally appointed.  Otherwise those decisions will be invalidated.
2) What will the CFPB do with your money?  The CFPB incursion into individual personal savings, in order to control how you invest your money, isn't a new idea. Current proposals grew from a policy analysis as disclosed by Roger Hedgecock.
On Nov. 20, 2007, Theresa Ghilarducci, professor of economic policy analysis at the New School for Social Research in New York, presented a paper proposing that the feds eliminate the tax deferral for private retirement accounts, confiscate the balance of those accounts, give each worker a $600 annual "contribution," assess a mandatory savings tax on every worker and guarantee a 3 percent rate of return on the newly titled "Guaranteed Retirement Accounts," or GRAs.
How would that be accomplished?  The Carolina Journal reported Ghilarducci's 2008 testimony to Nancy Pelosi's House.
Democrats in the U.S. House have been conducting hearings on proposals to confiscate workers' personal retirement accounts "including 401(k)s and IRAs" and convert them to accounts managed by the Social Security Administration.
Your Government universal GRA investment savings account is an annuity managed by Social Security.  Hedgecock noted '[m]ake no mistake here: Obama is after your retirement money. The "annuities" will "invest" not in the familiar packages of bond and stock mutual funds but in the Treasury debt!' 
By 2010 Bloomberg published an article titled  "US Government Takes Two More Steps Toward Nationalization of Private Retirement Account Assets." In that article Patrick Heller observed that, with Democrat control of Congress and the Presidency:
[I]n mid-September 2010 the Departments of Labor and Treasury held hearings on the next step toward achieving Ghilarducci's goals. The stated purpose was to require all private plans to offer retirees an option to elect an annuity. The "behind-the-scenes" purpose for this step was to get people used to the idea that the retirement assets they had accumulated would no longer be part of their estate when they died.
So the Government would get the money, not the estate or family of the people who saved the money during a lifetime of work.  That's a one hundred percent death tax on savings.  Worse, the most responsible and poorest families will be penalized.
Democrats had a blueprint for diverting people's savings from private investment to government debt.  Then in 2010 the Tea Party won the house...
3) Why should the Government intervene in people's savings decisions?  The justifications for Government intervention in private financial decisions are varied.  Panic over the economy, Wall Street, mandating savings equity, eliminating investment risk, financial crisis losses, retirement security, much-needed oversight, your 401K becomes a 201K, shoddy financial products, and predatory investment bankers are just a few. 
If the financial industry is so predatory, how is it possible that savers keep any money?  More importantly, we have all those government agencies, FDIC, FINRA, SEC, Labor Department, Treasury Department, NCUA, Office of Thrift Supervision, FHFA, NCUSIF, Comptroller of the Currency, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, hundreds of criminal penalties, and state level regulators.  Are we admitting the Government is incapable of policing criminal and predatory behavior?  Do we have invincible predators plundering the people, or do politicians Cry Wolf?
And about that crisis in the economy.  Former Congressman Barney Frank, one of the authors of Dodd-Frank, admitted to Larry Kudlow that Government was to blame for the housing crisis.
Professor Ghilarducci said "humans often lack the foresight, discipline, and investing skills required to sustain a savings plan."  Professor Ghilarducci tells us that people are flawed, no argument there. 
Her solution, substitute Government decisions for the judgment of the millions of people who actually earned and saved the money.  She fails to mention the government bureaucrats wielding the power to compel you to comply are themselves imperfect.  Which is preferable, one faulty Government solution or millions of individual free choices?
4) Are there other forces pushing Government to confiscate people's savings?  With $16 trillion in debt the short answer is yes.  When governments embark on a path of spending money they don't have, they resort to financial repression.  According to Wikipedia
Financial repression is any of the measures that governments employ to channel funds to themselves, that, in a deregulated market, would go elsewhere. Financial repression can be particularly effective at liquidating debt.
Do we have any evidence that the US Government is pursuing financial repression?  Yes we do. Jeff Cox at CNBC.  "US and European regulators are essentially forcing banks to buy up their own government's debt-a move that could end up making the debt crisis even worse, a Citigroup analysis says."
An Investors Business Daily article, Banks Pressured to Buy Government Debts, notes that "[b]anks can't say no. They fear the political fallout. So they meekly submit to the government's dictates."
Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal reports that "[i]n 2011, the Fed purchased a stunning 61% of Treasury issuance."  Then a CNS News article revealed that  "[s]o far this calendar year [2013], the Federal Reserve has bought up more U.S. government debt than the U.S. Treasury has issued."
5) Is the health of Social Security (SS) a factor? There are several potential measures of when Social Security retirement goes broke.  One measure is when FICA tax income doesn't cover the cost of retirement checks.  We have passed that point already.  Others say that SS is fine until the lock box runs out of special issue bonds (IOUs).
Even though the SS bonds in the lock box cannot be sold on the open market, the Treasury Department remains under political pressure to honor that obligation by borrowing real cash to redeem the IOUs.   At least until the IOUs in the lock box are gone.  How long is that?  Based on a credible source, Bruce Krasting at Zerohedge suggests not long.
SS consists of two different pieces. The Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI). Both entities have their own Trust Funds (TF). OASI has a big TF that will, in theory, allow for SS retirement benefits to be paid for another 15+ years. On the other hand, the DI fund will run completely dry during the 1stQ of 2016.
So Krasting expects the President and Congress will soon be forced to choose between 4 solutions:
1 Increase Income Taxes
2 Increase Payroll Taxes
3 Cut disability benefits by 30%
4 Kick the can down the road and raid the retirement fund to pay for disability shortfalls.
Krasting predicts Congress and Obama will be behind door number four. His credible source is the Congressional Budget Office report Social Security Trust Fund--February 2013 Baseline.  In the footnotes it projects a $1 Trillion drain on the retirement fund which currently holds $2.8 Trillion.  That's a loss of approximately one third of the retirement IOUs.  
Krasting however omits another possible solution, politicians can raid private retirement savings to put more IOUs in the lock boxes and more real money in the Treasury.  Other people's money is a temptation and $19.4 Trillion is a very large temptation.
Social Security is the largest entitlement program with a trust fund of $2.8 Trillion IOUs, soon to be reduced by another $1 Trillion.  Can any politician, addicted to spending, resist that temptation of $19.4 Trillion?  That's real people's real money that will be spent by Government in exchange for IOUs given to the SS lock box.
Meanwhile newly minted Senator Elizabeth Warren has entered the debate.  Conservatives and Republicans have challenged the CFPB in the wake of the unconstitutional recess appointment.  Bloomberg speculates that Warren might agree to trim the CFPB powers in a compromise. Bloomberg reported:
"A strong independent consumer agency is good for families and lenders that follow the rules and good for the economy as a whole," Warren said yesterday in an interview. "I will keep fighting for that." [snip]
Some observers have suggested that Warren's original support for a commission-led bureau might mean she would be amenable to compromise on that issue. Warren spokesman Dan Geldon said such speculation is mistaken.
"Senator Warren thinks the single director structure makes sense and that CFPB should continue to be able to operate, like every other banking regulator, without relying on appropriations for its funding," Geldon said.
Bloomberg also notes that soon "the Senate will have to decide whether to vote to confirm director Richard Cordray in his post, which would make a legal challenge pointless."
Conservatives and Republicans challenge the surrender of legislative power to the bureau, the concentrated power of a single director, the unconstitutional recess appointments, and the violation of constitutional separation of powers.  The Republican position is the constitutional questions and litigation presently underway should be resolved prior to approving a director of CFPB. 
The constitutional issues surrounding Dodd -- Frank and the CFPB are beyond the space for this article.  For those interested in the legal issues, a good synopsis can be found at the Mark Levin Radio Show podcast for February 18th.  Mark is an attorney and his Landmark Legal Foundation has argued many cases before the Supreme Court.  He can explain complex legal issues in straightforward language


3) Hizballah on high alert, jockeys for a role in potential Syrian peace accord

Hizballah forces went on alert Thursday, Feb. 21, upon the expiry of a 48-hour ultimatum slapped down by Syrian rebels to halt the Lebanese group’s military support for Bashar Assad - in particular, its artillery and mortar backing for Syrian troops from bases in Lebanon.

Military sources report that relevant to this chain of events is the Syrian claim that its anti-aircraft missiles downed an Israeli drone Wednesday over the Lebanese village of Deir al-Aachayer in the Rashaya region.
Those events were touched off by the onset in Moscow of preparations for a political process between Syria’s warring parties for determining the country’s future. Representatives of Bashar Assad and the Syrian opposition will be facing each other under the Russian aegis, but Hizballah and Israel are also involved and the Lebanese group is bidding for a strong voice in the process on three issues:

1. Will the HIzballah-ruled Lebanese Beqaa Valley continue to serve Assad and his army as their strategic hinterland?

2. Will the Syria-based Hizballah units, especially those securing the Shiite villages around Homs, stay there under accords reached between Assad and the rebels?

3. Will the ceasefire deals on which talks are due to begin soon in Moscow apply to HIzballah?
The general wisdom in the West and Israeli media is that Assad’s fall is inevitable and imminent.

The facts on the ground tell a different story. Again military sources report Assad goes into political talks with his army controlling enough of the country to keep his regime in power for another two years at least, until the next presidential election expected to take place in 2014.

The Syrian ruler will seek to have Hizballah covered by a Syria ceasefire, hoping for Moscow’s backing on this point. Inclusion of this ally would strengthen his standing and boost his army.

It would also keep Tehran in the picture and gain its acquiescence to any deals struck in the Moscow talks. Assad understands that Iran will want to be sure Hizballah’s interests are protected and is fully capable of torpedoing any accords that throw its proxy to the wolves.
The downing of the Israeli drone Wedneday over the Beqaa Valley was a move by the Syrian ruler to push Israel out of any discussion on the future role of Hizballah and the Beqaa Valley, as well as putting a stop to Israeli Air Force flights over the Beqaa and the Lebanese-Syrian border.
Israel has not so far responded to this step, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will remain passive or stop its Lebanese overflights.
This chain of events could culminate over the weekend in the Syrian rebels making good on their ultimatum and attacking Hizballah targets. The Syrian civil war would then be thrust into the byway of a Sunni-Shiite showdown athwart the Syrian-Lebanese border.

Militarily, the rebels can’t stand up to Hizballah’s far more organized and professional capabilities. If they do decide to go on the offensive, they are liable to suffer heavy losses.

3a)Israel braces for action along the Syrian border
By Joshua Mitnick

The Israeli-Syrian border has been quiet under the Assad regime. But with government control slipping, and fighting sending errant fire into the Jewish State, Israel may be forced to act
 For nearly four decades, the Assad regime in Syria ensured that the border with the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights remained quiet. But in a treeless valley at the foot of snow-capped Mount Hermon, it's clear that is changing.
A sturdy new fence, surveillance sensors, and troop deployments along the Israeli side of the 65-mile border reflect concern in the Jewish state about the spillover from Syria's civil war and what comes after the expected downfall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Errant fire from Syria has already crossed into Israeli territory several times, prompting Israel to fire back once.
"Things can change dramatically in hours," says Kobi Marom, a resident of the Golan Heights ski village, Neve Ativ, and reserve Army colonel, as he surveys the valley. "We are trying to be prepared for a new situation in the region."
After two years of watching the Syrian conflict from the sidelines, the hostilities seem to have arrived at Israel's doorstep. Syrian rebels are fighting to wrest control of the border from the Syrian Army, and there's an increasing fear that militant groups on both sides of the civil war will get their hands on the country's advanced weapons arsenal and set their sites on Israel next. That presents a quandry for Israeli officials: Can they protect the country without getting sucked in to Syria's violence?
Analysts say that balancing between the two will be increasingly difficult if the central authority continues to crumble in Syria and multiple power centers emerge in the countrywide war.
But some Israeli officials and security analysts see an upside to the chaos. The fall of Mr. Assad could be a strategic boost for Israel because it would sever the "Shiite crescent" that stretches from Iranto Lebanon, connecting Hezbollah to its supporters in Tehran. And former chief of IDF intelligence Amos Yadlin recently said that Israel has become more secure because the Syrian Army no longer poses a conventional threat to Israel.

"The main question is the day after," says Bernadetta Berti, a fellow at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies. "From the Israeli perspective, a Syria not ruled by Assad is something that it should look upon favorably, but from my perspective the day after, Assad will be complicated."
On one front, Israel fears that rising chaos and the proliferation of Islamist militants just beyond the Golan Heights fence could lead to cross-border attacks like those from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula into southern Israel after the fall of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Israeli communities in the Golan Heights have already been put on alert, and local Army commanders said they have formulated a new defense doctrine to cope with the Syrian instability.
Israel also worries about the transfer of advanced weapons and chemical warheads from Syria to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a development Israeli leaders consider a "red line" because it could give the Iranian ally a major boost in a future war. In late January, Israeli airplanes reportedly bombed a convoy in Syria carrying anti-aircraft missiles to Lebanon — the first major Israeli attack on Syria since 2007.
Even though Israel never officially claimed responsibility, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said after the attack that Israel is serious about blocking the transfer of sophisticated weapons from Syria to Lebanon.
One Israeli Middle East analyst cautions that Israel risks becoming embroiled in the Syrian fighting, much like Israel became embroiled in the Lebanon civil war, culminating with an invasion in 1982.
"If you draw a red line, you will have to enforce that red line, and that will push you into the conflict," says Guy Bechor, a Middle East historian at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. "We have been there in Lebanon trapped in between religions and sects. This is not our war."
Back on the ground along the Golan border, Israeli soldiers and civilians can observe and hear the fighting less than a mile away.
A week ago, Israel accepted for the first time a small group of wounded Syrian rebel fighters who requested treatment, raising questions about whether Israel would become a shelter like other Syrian neighbors.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is pushing to complete construction of the Golan border fence, said afterward that as a rule Israel will not allow Syrians to cross into Israeli-controlled territory, but would make exceptions on "humanitarian grounds."
Senior Israel Defense Force (IDF) officers in the Northern Command began predicting last year that, amid Assad's collapse, the Golan might be targeted by militants backed by Iran or global jihadist groups who have flocked to Syria to join the fight against the Assad regime. The IDF declined to comment on the border situation this week, but Mr. Marom said reservists have been replaced by regular elite forces recently. Two months ago, a senior officer said the IDF had updated its intelligence gathering effort, and adopted a new operational doctrine.
"The combination of all of this is to meet the developing threat," said Brig. Gen. Tamir Heiman in a December interview with Channel 2 news. "I don't know if it will happen, but it's good to be ready."
In the Alonei Habashan farming cooperative, located just a quarter of a mile from the border, residents are also ready. The main gate is closed at night and residents say they are locking their doors for the first time for fear of infiltration. "We will get hit first," says Yiska Dekel, chairwoman of the local board.
Now that the Syrian regime is fighting rebel forces right on the border, the Army considers the border region an eyzor sfar — a "frontier region" — with a vacuum of authority, like Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. In the absence of a central "address" to retaliate against, the question for the Army becomes how to respond to infiltrations or the possibility of rocket strikes from Syria into Israel.
Military officers have spoken of retaliatory incursions. Another defensive solution would be to enforce a no-man's zone by shooting into a defined area along the Syrian side while staying on the Israeli side of the border — a tactic used by Israel in the Gaza Strip in recent years.
Israeli analysts believe the best-case scenario for a post-Assad Syria would be a Sunni-dominated government with ties to Turkey and the Gulf. However, that may be a long way off, and in the interim, further chaos is likely. Reserve Colonel Marom predicts that the power vacuum will continue over the next two to three years. If attacks on Israel escalate, Israel may find itself mulling the establishment of a security zone inside Syria — just as it did in southern Lebanon before withdrawing 2,000. That would entail a limited ground invasion
"I hope the Army has a plan for a security zone," says a security officer at a Golan Heights Israeli community who declined to give his name because he is subject to the Army. "I don't like it, but if no one gets control over Syria, we'll have no alternative."
4)Middle East Tour d'Horizon
By Clifford D. May

Next month, both President Obama and newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry head for the Middle East. They should listen to a range of views, see the sights and pause to smell the humus. As for policies: This would be a good time to consider a few adjustments. Below is a briefing — a briefer briefing than they will get from their advisors -- on the state of the states, the players in play and some different approaches to contemplate.
Israel and the Palestinians: Whatever peace process may have taken place in the past cannot be resuscitated in the present. The most that is possible now is the resumption of negotiations — without preconditions. The Israelis are not about to make concessions just to get Palestinians to talk with them — especially now that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has violated the Oslo Accords by attempting to change the status of the Palestinian territories unilaterally. Meanwhile, Hamas, a terrorist organization whose primary goal is not Palestinian statehood but Israeli extinction, remains firmly in control of Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005, receiving nothing but rocket attacks in return. Abbas is now 78, a heavy smoker in poor health. He has designated no successor. When he dies, Hamas will attempt to take over the West Bank as well. Israel will do whatever is necessary to prevent that. Surely, heading off a crisis this predictable should be a priority.
Lebanon: Hezbollah is both Iran's foreign legion and a terrorist organization — its most recent attack on civilians was in July in Bulgaria. Despite that — or perhaps because of it — Hezbollah has become the most powerful force in Lebanon. Hezbollah is installing missiles, at least 60,000 so far, not just in the south but throughout the country, including in densely populated areas where Lebanese civilians are being set up as human shields. The UN and the "international community" have done nothing in response. If these missiles are fired at Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem thousands of Israelis will be killed. Unless the situation changes, the next war between Hezbollah and Israel — a war for which momentum is now building — is likely to be exceedingly bloody. Time to put some effort into averting this catastrophe as well?

Syria: What started as a peaceful protest against an oppressive dictatorship has turned into a sectarian/religious/ethnic conflict that has taken nearly 70,000 lives — with no end in sight. Early on, the U.S. had an opportunity to support moderate Syrian factions. The Secretary of State, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the Chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff all advised President Obama to grasp that opportunity. He chose not to do so. Meanwhile, Iran and Hezbollah continue strongly backing the Assad regime. Foreign combatants with links to al Qaeda are fighting on the other side. Is it too late to identify and assist factions that share our values and interests so that they will have some clout after Assad falls? The question is worth exploring. Also: Syria's chemical weapons. What's the plan to make sure those don't end up in the hands of Hezbollah or al Qaeda?
Jordan: King Abdullah II, a moderate from an Arab clan that traces its ancestry to the Prophet Muhammad, faces enormous challenges. Among them: a flood of Syrian refugees, the rise of Islamism, and Iran's regional ambitions. Jordan needs American help and, like all the reasonable actors in the Middle East, benefits from American strength, and is endangered by American weakness and retreat.
Egypt: "The people of Egypt liberated themselves in eighteen days without a single IED or suicide bomb," then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry declared two years ago. That liberation turns out to have been short-lived. The government of President Mohamed Morsi now appears intent on establishing a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship. The good news is that millions of Egyptians are courageously standing up to him. Morsi must be made to understand that American support is not an entitlement. It's true that Morsi has not abrogated the peace treaty with Israel but that's not because he wants to sing Kumbaya with his Jewish neighbors — it's because he's smart enough to know that a war against Israel is not winnable, at least not now.
Iran: The 900-pound camel in the Middle Eastern tent. Iran's nuclear weapons program is a threat to the region — and beyond -- which is why the Arab/Sunni members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait) last week "categorically rejected" as a "provocation" Iran's proposal that its talks with the P5+1 — the US and five other Western countries -- due to take place in Kazakhstan on Feb. 26 be watered down with discussions of other issues. Policy recommendations: (1) Continue along the diplomatic track even though it is unlikely to make progress. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said earlier this month "I'm not a diplomat; I'm a revolutionary." Believe him and remember that a bad deal is worse than no deal. (2) Toughen sanctions to the point they cause the collapse of Iran's currency over the next 18 months. (3) Make the American military threat credible. That's probably not how it looked as Khamenei watched Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearings on his flat-screen TV. (4) Give Israelis military capabilities they don't now have. That will allow them to exercise more patience, while making Khamanei more nervous. Taken together, such policies would send this message: One way or another, the world's most threatening regime will be prevented from acquiring the world's most lethal weapons. Ordinary Iranians need to understand: They are suffering for no good reason.
Turkey: The only Muslim-majority member of NATO, Turkey has become increasingly Islamist since the AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power in 2002. And note that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto�lu recently declared that Turkey is actually a NATO "owner." President Obama's trust in and reliance on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo�an merits reconsideration.
What about Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Algeria and Morocco? Leave those for later trips. I'll leave those for later columns.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism. A veteran news reporter, foreign correspondent and editor (at The New York Times and other publications), he has covered stories in more than two dozen countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Ethiopia, China, Uzbekistan, Northern Ireland and Russia. He is a frequent guest on national and international television and radio news programs, providing analysis and participating in debates on national security issues.
5)How Wars Start
By Robert Kaplan

Just as Herodotus is the father of history, Thucydides is the father of realism. To understand the geopolitical conflict zones of the 21st century, you must begin with the ancient Greeks. Among the many important lessons Thucydides teaches in his History of the Peloponnesian War is that what starts a war is different from what causes it.

Thucydides chronicles how the Peloponnesian War began in the latter part of the late fifth century B.C. with disputes over the island of Corcyra in northwestern Greece and Potidaea in northeastern Greece. These places were not very strategically crucial in and of themselves. To think that wars must start over important places is to misread Thucydides. Corcyra and Potidaea, among other locales, were only where the Peloponnesian War started; not what caused it. What caused it, he writes in the first book of his eight-book history, was the growth of perceived maritime power in Athens and the alarm that it inspired in Sparta and among Sparta's allies. Places like Corcyra and Potidaea, and the complex alliance systems that they represented, were in and of themselves not worth fighting a war over -- a war that would last more than a quarter century, no less. That didn't matter. They were pretexts.

No one understood this distinction, which was perhaps made first in literature by Thucydides, better than Thucydides' most distinguished translator, the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes writes that a pretext for war over some worthless place "is always an injury received, or pretended to be received." Whereas the "inward motive to hostility is but conjectural; and not of the evidence." In other words, the historian or journalist might find it hard to find literal documentation for the real reasons states go to war; thus, he often must infer them. He often must tease them out of the pattern of events, and still in many cases be forced to speculate.

In applying the wisdom of Thucydides and Hobbes to conflict zones across Asia, a number of insights may be obtained.

The South China Sea conflict, for example, becomes understandable. Here are geographical features which, in their own right, are valuable because of the measureable energy deposits in surrounding waters. They also fall in the path of sea lines of communications vital for access to the Indian Ocean in one direction, and the East China Sea and Sea of Japan in the other, making the South China Sea part of the word's global energy interstate. Nevertheless, let's assume one is somewhat dismissive of these facts and says such specks of dry land in the middle of a great sea are in any case not worth fighting a war over. Thucydides and Hobbes would pronounce him wrong. They would say that it is the perceived rise of Chinese sea power -- and the alarm that it inspires among America's formal allies and de facto allies -- that, in turn, could be the real cause of conflict sometime over the coming decade. Thus, the features in the South China Sea, as important as they might be, would merely be the pretext.

Indeed, nobody would prefer to say they are provoking a conflict because of rising Chinese sea power; rather, they would say they are doing so because of this or that infringement of maritime sovereignty over this or that islet. All the rest might have to be conjectured.

The same is true with the conflict between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. Even if one argues that these islets are worthless, he or she would miss the point. Rather, the dispute over these islets is a pretext for the rise of Chinese sea power and the fear that it inspires in Japan, helping to ease Japan out of its quasi-pacifistic shell and rediscover nationalism and military power. (And by the way, the rise of Chinese sea power does not mean that China is able to engage the U.S. Navy in fleet-on-fleet battle. It only means, for example, that China can use the placement of warship patrols, along with economic and diplomatic pressure and the staging of protests at home, all together in a series of "combination punches" to undermine the Japanese and other East Asian rivals.)

Then there is North Korea. With a gross domestic product of only that of Latvia or Turkmenistan, it might be assumed to be another worthless piece of real estate. Geography tells a different story. Jutting out from Manchuria, the Korean Peninsula commands all maritime traffic in northeastern China and traps in its armpit the Bohai Sea, home to China's largest offshore oil reserve. China, as I've previously written, favors an economic takeover of the Tumen River region -- where China, North Korea and Russia intersect, with good port facilities fronting Japan. The fate of the northern half of the Korean Peninsula will help determine power relationships throughout northeastern Asia, therefore. Of course, all of this, as Thucydides and Hobbes would say, would have to be inferred, conjectured. North Korea's erratic behavior could start a conflict, but the causes might also lie elsewhere.

India and China have territorial tripwires in the Himalayan foothills, an area which, again, might be judged by some as worthless. But these tripwires become more meaningful as India partially shifts its defense procurements away from confrontingPakistan and towards confronting China. It is doing so because the advance of technology has created a new and claustrophobic strategic geography uniting India and China, with warships, fighter jets and space satellites allowing each country to infringe on the other's battlespace. If a conflict ever does erupt between these two demographic and economic behemoths, it probably will not be because of the specific reasons stated but because of these deeper geographical and technological causes.

As for India and Pakistan, I remember decades ago sitting with a group of journalists in Peshawar, reading about Pakistani and Indian troops confronting each other on the Siachen Glacier in Kashmir, terrain so high the troops had to wear oxygen masks. Could such territory be worth fighting over? Again, the conflicting claims were merely symptomatic of a deeper dispute over the very legitimacy of these states arising out of the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

Of course, Israel fears for its own survival, were Iran to develop a deployable nuclear bomb. This is a case where the start of a conflict (by the United States, acting as Israel's proxy) may largely overlap with its cause. Nevertheless, Israel has other fears that are less frequently expressed. For example, a nuclear Iran would make every crisis between Israel and Hezbollah, between Israel and Hamas, and between Israel and the West Bank Palestinians more fraught with risk. Israel cannot accept such augmentation of Iranian power. That could signal the real cause of a conflict, were Israel ever able to drag the United States into a war with Iran.

In all these cases, and others, the most profound lesson of Thucydides and Hobbes is to concentrate on what goes unstated in crises, on what can only be deduced. For the genius of analysis lies in quiet deductions, not in the mere parroting of public statements. What starts conflicts is public, and therefore much less interesting -- and less crucial -- than the causes of conflicts, which are not often public.

Robert D. Kaplan is Chief Geopolitical Analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical analysis firm, and author of the bestselling new book The Revenge of Geography. Reprinted with permission.

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