Friday, July 5, 2013

Why Zimmerman and Not Egypt?

On one hand, a guy either defended himself from attack or murdered someone in a Florida town.  On the other, the military of a strategically significant country overthrew an elected leader to the delight of the people.

Why did the world shaking news of the Egypt coup rate a minor blip on the American cable news scene?

Part of it comes down to the nature of criminal trials.  What role do they play in culture?  The adversarial nature of a criminal trial combined with the subjectiveness of a jury judging the success or failure of a prosecution's case gives it a baser significance.  Trials, always more so than sports, represent social release.  The Roman emperors used to hold gladiatorial games to distract the people and channel their passions.  They "played" for stakes of life and death.  At times, the head of state got to weigh in on whether a combatant lived or died.

For better or worse, jury trials for centuries have fulfilled that role in America. 

Go back to the 1700s.  The capital murder trials of the Boston Massacre soldiers, defended brilliantly by the patriot John Adams.  No trial has ever matched that one for high drama.  An opponent of British rule convinces a blood bent Massachusetts jury to acquit the soldiers who killed several in the Boston Massacre.  The drama and the bigger issues made it a landmark of justice.  Like many equally famed trials later, the jury required a strong standard of proof to convict despite the social pressure to do so. 

The Zimmerman trial, however, does not reflect current issues as much as it resuscitates the ghosts of conflicts of ages past.  Hispanic on black racism?  Class judgment?  Just a guy trying to be the neighborhood tough guy going one step too far? Or was it a man watching out for his neighborhood?

Racism is as much of a modern issue as anti Catholicism.  It will always lurk in the background, but it no longer looms as large as it once did.  Times change, but memories remain.  Those running the news outlets today grew up in those times and lived in that context.  It is hard for them to understand that America has moved on.  The old paradigm is gone forever.  Nevertheless, it is good politics in some quarters to keep the fading issue alive.

News outlets believed that the Zimmerman trial formed a confluence of trial drama and race debate.  They spent a lot of time and money preparing to cover it as intensely as possible.  Egypt's military rudely launched a coup, disrupting the American media's preferred order.  It had no experts on scene, no reporters breathlessly standing in parking lots outside the coup, packed with meaningless or old information.

Americans proved to be more interested in the coup.  They packed social media, following reporters on the scene.  Online, they turned to BBC, Reuters, and other international outlets.  History was in the making.  A man that the people had elected had tried to transform himself into a tyrant.  They got the military's help in declaring independence from him.

Judging from the reaction of Obama and some other nations, not many understood the fact that an election confers a trust to follow the law, not a mandate to impose one's will.  The people and armed forces of Egypt acted on that very ideal.

And that should have been the big debate of the day.  The role of elections and the responsibility of the elected.  News outlets should have recognized the drama, understood the significance, and devoted analysis to the possibilities good and bad that could arise. 

But they didn't.  And that is why we do not trust our media.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Egypt's Least Bad Option: Military Coup

As of right now, the Egyptian military has launched a coup to remove the Muslim Brotherhood party and President Mohammed Morsi from power.

Military leader General Al Sisi held meetings with national leaders, including the Coptic Christian pope, to secure support for removing the radicals from power.  Meanwhile, BBC reports portray a rabidly angry Muslim Brotherhood equally willing to take to the streets "with martyrdom on their minds."

Tanks have taken to the streets of Cairo and, according to Reuters, hundreds of soldiers are ostentatiously marching on parade near the Presidential Palace.  Some have claimed that the president now lives under house arrest. Armored vehicles defend national broadcasting outlets.  The opposing sides even took to Facebook to launch rhetorical attacks.

Since Morsi ascended to office, the international community has watched his regime with concern.  Relations with Israel and the United States cooled.  Unprovoked and unpunished attacks on women and Christians rose.  Morsi also unconstitutionally centralized power into the executive branch and attacked the independent judiciary.  These almost always preface the evolution of a quasi democracy into a dictatorship.

Their goal was the implementation of Islamic religious Sharia Law.  This is the code that mandates punishments for raped women, for educating girls, and oppresses millions across the Eastern Hemisphere.  Egyptians have rallied against the imposition of religious totalitarianism, to their credit.

A coup would be the least bad option for Egypt.  Its strategic location means that any increasingly radical state could play a very destabilizing role in the next few years.  Military seizure of the government is the best chance of returning moderation to the country's foreign affairs.

It would also restore order, although in the short term any upending of a constitution disrupts rule of law. 

Rarely is the case that a nation should go to such extremes to ensure order, even over law.  But some cases beg for this step.  Wouldn't history have taken a better course if the German Army's aristocratic officers overturned the elected Hitler government that they despised?  Waiting would only entrench Morsi more securely.  We can't wait for the Islamofascist Muslim Brotherhood to grow confident enough to attack Israel or even U. S. interests in the area.

Fortunately the Egyptian Army obviously feels the same.  Thus the reason for launching the least bad option.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Other Thoughts

A century and a half ago, the bloodiest battle on American soil erupted.  Over the course of three days, more American soldiers died than in ten years of fighting the Vietnam War.  Lessons and meanings from this battle both shaped the next century of warfare and were also ignored.  Following are a few in no certain order of importance:

Gettysburg set the tone for many 20th Century battles  Every officer educated in warfare in the first half of the 1800s learned Napoleonic ideas of the war of movement.  Robert E. Lee generally followed those precepts.  Military thinkers going back to classical Europe and ancient China warned against attacking a superior enemy on his own ground.  Lee, understanding the accelerating degeneration of the Confederate home front, sought to attack a stronger enemy well entrenched on the high ground.  Had Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson had lived and been there, he certainly would have counseled Lee to wait until a portion of George Meade's Union force became isolated, then throw the whole weight of his army on it, annihilate it, then move on quickly.

Instead, Lee on the final day attacked the center of the Union line across open ground.  Confederate troops marched in formation against artillery and infantry positioned behind a stone wall.  Lee lost the core of his army that day.

World War I is full of "Gettysburg" type battles.  Troops bashing themselves against unmovable obstacles of enemy formations for four years.  Amazingly, few in Europe learned about modern warfare from this.  The dash of the Prussian Army against France's unprepared forces in 1871 seduced Europe. 

Gettysburg may have prevented a Northern revolution We remember the sanguinary days early in July 1863 in Pennsylvania, but forget the horrific events in New York City at about the same time.  New York had suffered economically from the elimination of Southern trade.  Almost as much as Baltimore, New York City sympathized with the Rebellion.  Economic problems combined with the grind of a seemingly (at that point) unwinnable war, the draft, and a substantial black population created a catalyst for social explosion. 

These were some of New York City's darkest days.  Rioters attacked draft offices, then turned their attention to the black population.  Victims hung from street lamps.  Not even an orphanage for black children was spared.  Republican editors handed out guns to defend their lives and newspaper property.  Overwhelmed, the New York City police had to be reinforced by regiments from nearby Gettysburg.  If those units had been much farther away, the riot could have bloomed into something much worse.

Don't forget the other battle that officially ended the same day July 4th marked the last day of Gettysburg.  George Meade won the field; Lee stumbled away dazed.  In Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant won a victory no less significant.  The Siege of Vicksburg had actually ended a few days prior, but Grant insisted that the Confederates officially surrender on July 4th.  From then, Union forces dominated the length of the Mississippi River.

Grant's victories meant that Lincoln could follow his instinct and move the fighting general into command, despite the many naysayers.  Meade's inability to crush Lee's army after Gettysburg also made this decision an easy one.

Intelligence  For the first time in American history, an official and permanent military intelligence bureau played a key role in a battle.  Stonewall Jackson had been a pioneer in his insistence upon accurate maps, but these came from local help.  Meade had the services of the Bureau of Military Intelligence.  They employed spies, mapmakers, and analysts to track and predict the movement of Lee.  Lee relied on traditional intelligence gathering, the cavalry.  Unfortunately, Lee's cavalry was gallivanting across the rich countryside. 

No one would ever give Meade credit for being a superior general to Lee.  But his information gave his teh advantage over Lee's relative blindness.

Military thought  Lee, McClellan, and other generals on both sides thought in Napoleonic ways.  Points on a map represented strategic objectives.  Capture an important city and win the war.  Why anyone thought the capture of Richmond in 1862 (when Union forces approached within ten miles of it) would halt the war remains unclear.  Frederick the Great never quit when Russians seized Berlin.  George Washington gave up New York and Philadelphia.  So long as his army remained intact, he fought. 

Lincoln came to understand that the strategic objectives of the Union Army had to be the military might and resources of the Confederacy itself.  William Tecumseh Sherman attacked the farmland and infrastructure of Georgia.  Phil Sheridan systematically annihilated the Shenandoah Valley's farmland.  Grant only pushed against Richmond because Lee's Army of Northern Virginia insisted on defending it.

World War II saw a similar dynamic in three dimensions.  Strategic bombing aimed to eliminate industrial resources and infrastructure.  Hitler's armies and Japan's navy needed to disappear before the Allies could move against their respective homelands. 

In the 1940s the Allies attacked the enemy population themselves.  Royal Air Force bombers launched attacks against German neighborhoods.  The Red Army pillaged, massacred, and raped German civilians in Prussia (to be fair, Germans acted the same while in Russia.)  Just like when Sherman fired civilian homes in Georgia, this did little to eliminate the will to fight.  It merely inflamed the hatred. 

Just a few thoughts as we pause to remember Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and their meanings in war.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Dangers of Meddling in Syria

Last month, experts testified to a House committee that inaction in Syria emboldened Iran.  Not long after that, Senator John McCain predicted that "the entire Middle East is up for grabs, and our enemies are fully committed to winning."  He urged Obama to lead.

The New York Times cited an estimate from the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that over 100,000 have died so far in the four year conflict.  As in many such wars, civilians and their property take the brunt of the violence.  Both sides seek to terrify the population into supporting its cause.  Resources must be destroyed to deny their use to the enemy.

Such is the nature of "civil war."  Even in the American Civil War, Union generals used artificial famine as a weapon in Georgia and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Because of the misery inflicted by this war, many have urged Obama to get directly involved.  Some cite humanitarian issues.  Others point to Russia's support of the Assad regime, a government which has historically acted out against American and Israeli interests.

Just because there is a "bad guy" does not mean that he is opposed by a "good guy."  President Assad is an authoritarian tyrant and supporter of terrorism.  But would he be replaced by anything better?  Rebel murder of a Syrian Roman Catholic priest tells the Western world otherwise.  He was decapitated with an ordinary kitchen knife as fanatics shriekingly chanted "God is great!"

Do we really want that to run a Middle Eastern nation state?

Syria occupies a keystone position in the Eastern Mediterranean.  North is Turkey, grumbling against a somewhat Islamacist government.  Nearby lies Egypt, seemingly ripe for a military coup.  Bordering Syria is Lebanon, who suffered a horrific civil war of its own in the 1980s.  Spillover from the war could be destructive.  A jihadist regime replacing Assad could be even worse.

The correct U. S. response should be a pox on both your houses.  Do not get sucked into a race with the Russians over arming sides.  Leadership should take the part of cooperative quarantining of the war within the bounds of Syria.

Yes this is a particularly horrible war.  But there is nothing that the United States can directly do that will not make it worse on Syrians and threaten the degenerating stability of the region.