Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Russia or IS?

Question: Is Pres. Putin of Russia or is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria the most significant danger to western civilization?  By "western civilization" I mean liberal democracy that protects freedom of speech and minority rights.  The problem with Russia is that under Putin Russia has become a near-dictatorship, with his switching from Pres to PM and back again.  His takeover by force of the Crimea from Ukraine has caused a major split between Russia and the West.  Now Putin has sent in a platoon of tanks as well as other offensive weapons, such as missiles that were used to shoot down the Malaysian Airlines plane with 318 lives lost.  In other words Putin is strongly supporting the pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine against the Ukrainian Government.  One could make a case that Ukraine as it exists is in fact easily divisible into two parts the pro-Russian eastern part, consisting of Donestsk and Luhansk, and the pro-European western part based in Kiev and Lviv.  But, it is an act of war to occupy and incorporate a part of another country's sovereign territory and that is what is happening.  The EU and USA cannot allow Russia to get away with this, otherwise Putin could justify taking over Transnistria (the Russian-speaking part of Moldova) and the Baltic States (again) as well as some of the Central Asian Republics to resurrect the Soviet sphere of influence.  So the question arises is, this the beginning of another Cold War?
Meanwhile, although the IS has suffered some setbacks, such as the loss of the Mosul Dam to Pesh Merga forces and the inability to take Kobani, nevertheless they still control a large swath of land through parts of Syria and Iraq.  This is mainly the Sunni heartland of the Arab Middle East, and there is widespread support for IS from the Sunnis who fear the dominance of the Shia majority in Iraq and the pro-Shia Alawites of the Assad regime in Syria.  But, the Muslim fundamentalists of IS are apparently treating the Sunni tribes of central Iraq very badly, since they are trying to dominate them and forcibly convert them to their form of Islam.  This has resulted in fighting between the two groups and massacres of Sunni tribesmen by IS fighters in Iraq.  But, IS is still a significant force, with a large income from oil sales as well as a great deal of up-to-date weapons captured from the US-supplied Iraqi Army.  There is no doubt that IS will not remain within its region of the Middle East, but has designs on Iraq, Jordan Lebanon, Syria and Israel, as well as undoubtedly sending individuals and groups back to their home countries throughout the world to bring terrorism and mayhem.
So the question remains, which is the greater threat to western civilization, Putin's Russia or the Islamic State?  At present I don't think anyone can say with any degree of certainty.  Russia is still nominally "western" and being dependent on trade with the West and the US it will certainly take a big economic hit by adopting these hostile actions.  In reality the US will have to counteract both of these threats, and it is already attacking the IS by air and making definite inroads against its capability and is applying sanctions against Russia.  The US needs a President who can act and plan ahead strategically so that the US can pursue both of these actions with increased resolve in the future.   


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