Recommended: Vanity Fair’s ‘Hell in the Hot Zone’

The October 2014 edition of Vanity Fair has a chilling but informative article by Jeffrey E. Stern on how the Ebola virus originated in “Meliandou, nestled in the Forest Region of southern Guinea” and the global mobilization of doctors to treat victims and epidemiologist to contain it. I highly recommend “Hell in the Hot Zone.”

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CNN, Bloomberg Digital Teams Prepare for Elections

On May 4, 2014, Bloomberg Media Group CEO Justin B. Smith and Bloomberg News Editor-In-Chief Matthew Winkler announced through Bloomberg Now that Bloomberg Politics would make its debut in 2014. It is scheduled to launch on October 6, 2014, and gear up to cover politics in the United States leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the Huffington Post reported on September 2, 2014, the digital site “will feature political coverage on the Web, mobile, TV, radio and in print…”

Meanwhile, on September 11, 2014, Politico reported that “CNN's Politics Digital team, led by former POLITICO managing editor Rachel Smolkin, hired three POLITICO journalists on Wednesday (September 10, 2014): Congress editor Steven Sloan, deputy breaking news editor Jedd Rosche and POLITICO Pro’s Eric Bradner, who will serve as a breaking news reporter.” You can find more here.

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Al Arabiya News: Iraq Asks U.N. For Urgent Help

Al Arabiya News reported in a dispatch dated June 27, 2014 that, “Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari (in photo below), in a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, appealed for urgent support and recognition of the growing threat of the insurgency in his country.” See Iraqi Foreign Minister2Exclusive: Iraq’s FM appeals to U.N. in letter.”

According to Al Arabiya News, “The four-page letter was obtained exclusively by Al Arabiya News Channel’s New York Bureau Chief Talal al-Haj and shows Baghdad’s increasing concerns about the insurgency.”

“In it, Zebari stressed that Iraq faces dangerous threats by several international terrorist organizations and hence is seeking the support of the international community and world powers.”

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A Fresh Look at U.S. National Interests in the Middle East

The sudden rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) should force the United States (U.S.), Iran, Iraq, Israel and Syria - and probably most Middle Eastern nations - to begin a dramatic reassessment of where their national interests reside. Or to put it simply, is the enemy of my enemy, now my friend? Until now, the concern of many U.S. political pundits and leaders has focused on the same old shibboleths: President Barak Obama should arm the resistance trying to overthrow the cruel regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Iran and Hezbollah are the implacable enemies of the U.S. and Israel, more so than an al-Qaeda. But now reconsideration of such conventional wisdoms cries out for discussion.

The U.S. should determine what represents the greatest threat to its and other nations' interests in the Middle East. The dramatic advance of ISIS in northern and central Iraq throws the conventional wisdom about our interests out the window, requiring a rethinking of who are our allies and who are real enemies. It should be obvious now that the advance of radical Sunni forces in Iraq with the apparent ability to create their "Caliphate" in Iraq and in parts of Syria poses an imminent threat to the U.S., moderate Sunni governments and every Shiite government or force in the region. Moreover, the rise of ISIS also poses a challenge to Israel, as well as to the Palestinians, to rethink their interests, including the potential dangers that following their current policies could create. A look at the new configuration of interests for each country or force may cause some geopolitical talking heads to have severe headaches.

The U.S. now confronts a geopolitical challenge to consider reconfiguring who are its friends and who are its enemies. An answer to this question starts with an honest assessment about who wants to hurt us the most and who does not like us, but who have no interest or ability to attack the Homeland. Obviously, al-Qaeda represent the most serious and immediate threat. While some Shiite groups have a deep antagonism to the U.S., the re is no evidence they are prepared to attack the U.S. homeland. Sunni groups seem more likely to focus much energy on the far enemy - that is, the U.S. - while struggling to create what some may consider this fantasy theocracy, the Caliphate. While groups like ISIS will now confront the fantasy-shattering reality of attempting to govern the slices of Iraq and Syria that they control, the threat they present to the U.S. both in the short and long term emerges as deeply problematic. So how should the U.S. reconfigure its foreign policy positions in light of this new world order?

Looking at the situation from an unusual position for a leftist, maybe "realpolitik" suddenly assumes both the most realistic response and lesser of the proverbial one, two or three of lesser evils. The U.S and Israel, now find that they have a de facto set of interests with governments and forces that oppose the Sunni forces comprising al-Qaeda. The U.S.finds that its interests are now aligned closely with the government in Iran, the much derided government in Syria and the militias battling Sunni fighters in Syria. Of course, there are also the ne'er-do-well moderates in Syria, but they seem like bit players in this drama. So, can the U.S. escape this glaring reality requiring a rethinking of its national interest? In the short term, probably not, but if ISIS consolidates its power base in the areas its blitzkrieg has occupied, more of the thinking class may start to ask questions.

If ISIS consolidates its power, then the U.S. will inevitably be drawn toward an alliance with ISIS' enemies. Among the now defunct "axis of evil" are likely Iran, Bashar al-Assad's Syria, Iran's ally Hezbollah and whatever is left of southern Iraq. The now effectively independent Kurdistan in Iraq also opposes ISIS, as does Jordan. Whether these forces can manage such a reorientation of interests, or to what degree they can, remains an open question because of ideological and political dogma on all sides about who are the U.S.' friends and enemies, and who are Israel's friends and enemies. The extent of this reorientation will depend in part on how well ISIS can consolidate its position in Iraq. Because many Sunnis who welcome them now may soon be fighting them if ISIS attempts to impose a rigid version of Islam, ISIS's threat may not be as strong as the current news cycle projects. But ISIS will most likely be a growing threat. We are now entering a topsy-turvy world.

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U.S.’ Mid-East Allies Should Forge Own Destinies

Sarwar A. Kashmeri, an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Norwich University, and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Association, offers a logical suggestion for dealing with the military crisis in Iraq, which has brought Bush Administration neo-conservatives out of the woodwork to defend the mess they made with the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq in 2003. Former U.S. Vice-President Richard Cheney and other war advocates, who appear to be re-writing the history of their unjust war in Iraq, blame U.S. President Barack Obama for president_official_portrait_hiresthe rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They want him to send more than the 300 military advisors dispatched to Iraq to stiffen the spine of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s military. Numerous media reports say some of Iraq’s military units laid down their arms, doffed their uniforms and fled when confronted by ISIS forces.

Mr. Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011, and has vowed not to commit troops to the current sectarian conflict. Will he change his mind? It remains to be seen.

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll, “suggests that most Americans back some of Mr. Obama’s approaches to the crisis in Iraq, including majority support for the possibility of drone strikes,” The Times reported on June 23, 2014. “But,” The Times noted, “the poll documents an increasing lack of faith in the president and his leadership, and shows deep concern that further intervention by the United States in Iraq could lead to another long and costly involvement there.”

Carrie Dann, a national political writer for NBCNews.com, reported June 24, 2014, that:

A divided nation finally agrees on something overwhelmingly: the war in Iraq was simply not worth fighting.

Seventy-one percent of Americans now say that the war in Iraq “wasn’t worth it,” a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll shows, with skepticism about the lengthy war effort up substantially even in the last 18 months.

Just 22 percent now believe the 2003 war effort was worthwhile. See “Not Worth It: Huge Majority Regret Iraq War, Exclusive Poll Shows.”

So, how can Mr. Obama achieved his objectives, which is to halt ISIS’ impressive advances in Iraq, shore up the Iraqi government and keep the country from fragmenting along sectarian lines?

Mr. Kashmeri's suggestion in an article in the June 24, 2014, edition of The Huffington Post headlined “Time for America's Middle East Allies to Forge Their Own Destinies” deserves consideration. He notes:

Baghdad is 900 miles from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; 500 miles from Amman, Jordan; 300 miles from Kuwait, and 1000 miles from Ankara, Turkey, countries that are allies of the United States, and armed to the teeth with American weapons. With over 700,000 soldiers, 6000 tanks, 2000 warplanes, and some 5000 conventional and rocket launched artillery pieces between them they vastly outnumber and outgun the forces of the so-called Independent State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that is determined to set up a medieval brutal Caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.

If these heavily armed American allies that are minutes away from the killing fields of Iraq choose not to step in and rectify the rapidly unfolding chaos in their midst, why should the United States, some 7000 miles from Iraq spill its blood and treasure in another futile quest to remake the Middle East for them? A futile quest that has over the last decade chewed up the minds and bodies of 56,000 brave American soldiers, including some 4,700 killed.

Mr. Kashmeri said, “Over a trillion dollars have been spent over the last 12 years in the disastrous 2003 American invasion of Iraq and its attempt to remake the Middle East. Estimates are that a similar amount will be required over the next two decades to care for the American soldiers who have thankfully survived the war in Iraq and returned to their anguished families.”

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Why is China Turnings Its Focus Westward?

Minghao Zhao, an adjunct fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, reports that, “The growing bloodshed in Iraq and Syria is being watched as keenly in China as anywhere else in the world. Indeed, the greater Middle East is becoming an ever greater focus of Chinese foreign policy,”  The executive editor of China International Strategy Review writes in a June 20, 2014, opinion post in The Japan Times. He noted:

At the just-concluded sixth ministerial conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, held in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping called upon his Arab counterparts to upgrade their strategic relationships with China, by deepening bilateral cooperation in areas ranging from finance and energy to space technology.

Minghao Zhao said, “This reflects China’s broader goal — established partly in response to America’s “pivot” toward Asia — of rebalancing its strategic focus westward, with an emphasis on the Arab world.”

For more of Minghao Zhao perspective on why China is turning its focus westward, please see “China turning its attention to the Middle East.”

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Expediting U.S Access to Middle East Oil and Gas

“Following the bulk of western reporting on the Iraq crisis, you’d think the self-styled ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’ (ISIS) popped out of nowhere, took the West completely by surprise, and is now rampaging across the Middle East like some random weather event.” contends Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, investigative journalist, international security scholar and executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development in London, in a June 19, 2014, opinion piece in Al Arabiya News.

The author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization said, “The reality is far more complex, and less palatable. ISIS’ meteoric rise is a predictable consequence of a longstanding U.S.-led geo-strategy in the Middle East that has seen tyrants and terrorists as mere tools to expedite access to regional oil and gas resources.”

Mr. Ahmed perspective is thought-provoking. He notes that: “What is playing out now seems startlingly close to scenarios described in 2008 by a U.S. Army-funded RAND Corp report on how to win ‘the long war.’ Recognizing that “for the foreseeable future, world oil production growth and total output will be dominated by Persian Gulf resources,”

I highly recommend “The rise of ISIS in Iraq is a neocon’s dream.”

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Obama’s Instincts About Syria and Iraq

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asserts in a June 16, 2014, column that, U.S. “President (Barack) Obama’s instincts about Iraq and Syria have been sound from the beginning: Greater U.S. engagement probably cannot make things better but certainly can make them worse, both for the people of the region and for our national interests.”

According to Mr. Robinson,“What’s happening in the Middle East is the erasure of artificial borders drawn by French and British diplomats almost a century ago. Engagement seems to mean that today’s great powers, led by the United States, should enforce those old borders or impose new ones. Why should anyone think this is a recipe for stability?”

For more, please see “Obama got it right on Iraq.”

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Are City-States in Iraq, Libya and Syria’s Future?

Omar Shariff, deputy opinion editor at the Dubai-based English language Gulf News, notes in a June 14, 2014, post that: “The Middle East and countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan are currently reeling under the impact of violent sectarianism and rising extremism. This situation has reached a stage wherein the very existence of some nation states as united entities is under question.” See “‘Sectarian fault lines are bleeding the region dry.’”

Mr. Shariff quotes Abdel Bari Atwan, “Gulf News columnist and editor-in-chief of digital newspaper Rai al Youm (Today’s Opinion)” as saying:“We are witnessing a war to consolidate sectarian divisions. Co-existence has become impossible.”

“There are going to be three states in Libya, three in Iraq and maybe three to four in Syria,” contends Mr. Atwan, who spoke to Gulf News from London. “We are reaching a stage where we will have city-states.”

I found Mr. Shariff’s analysis informative and worth reading.

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Curbing Internet Access in Iraq Won’t Stop ISIS

“The Iraqi government moved Friday (June 13, 2014) to block access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in a bid to disrupt the social media tools deployed by insurgents (from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) ) as they have swept through the country in a bold drive toward Baghdad,” according to Washington Post tech writer Craig Timberg. See “Iraq tries to censor social media to disrupt ISIS communication, but its success is limited.”

Mr. Timberg said “…the initiative ran into a hard reality of warfare in the 21st century:Losing physical ground means losing control of cyberspace as well.”

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