ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant)
The most extreme Islamic terror group on the planet, hated by all other Islamic terrorists, was defeated but not destroyed in 2017. It was driven underground where, if tradition holds, it will fester for a generation or so and then revive and repeat. In effect this is a chronic problem. It is an unending Moslem civil war between those (mainly Islamic terrorists) who want a worldwide religious dictatorship run by themselves, versus those representing the majority of Moslems who are getting tired of being threatened and murdered by Moslem religious fanatics. This religious radicalism has always been around, for Islam was born as an aggressive movement that promoted the use of violence and terror to expand. Past periods of conquest are regarded fondly by Moslems, who are still taught by many of their religious leaders and teachers that non-Moslems ("infidels") are inferior and can only be saved if they submit to Islam. The current Moslem enthusiasm for violence in the name of God has been building through most of the 20th century. Historically, Islamic radicalism has flared up into mass bloodshed periodically, usually in response to corrupt governments, as a vain attempt to impose a religious solution on some social or political problem. The current violence is international because of the availability of planet wide mass media (which needs a constant supply of headlines), and the fact that the Islamic world is awash in tyranny and economic backwardness. This is why the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, and their desire to establish democracies, may do some permanent damage to the Islamic terrorism tradition. There are already more condemnations of Islamic radicals by Islamic clerics and media in Moslem nations. These changes have not come as quickly as many hoped, but at least they finally arrived. This came as a surprise to many Moslems. That’s because the past has had a huge influence on Islamic societies. For many, this resistance to change is considered a religious obligation. Many Moslems consider democracy a poisonous Western invention. There is still a lot of affection for the clerical dictatorship of legend; a just and efficient government run by virtuous religious leaders. The legends are false and there are centuries of failed religious dictatorships to prove it. But this legend have become a core belief for many Moslems and tends to survive assaults by reality or the historical record. Islamic radicalism itself is incapable of mustering much military power, and the movement largely relies on terrorism to gain attention. Most of the victims are fellow Moslems, which is why the radicals eventually become so unpopular among their own people that they run out of popular (new recruits and cash) support and fade away. This is what is happening now because the first target of Islamic terrorists are Moslem “heretics” with innocent bystanders considered “involuntary martyrs.” This violence kills so many Moslems, especially women and children that the Islamic radicals lose their popularity among Moslems. The sharp decline in the Islamic nation opinion polls was startling for al Qaeda and ISIL since the 1990s. Yet as soon as the Islamic terror threat was reduced in a Moslem country the popularity of Islamic terrorism slowly returns (but only if it happens to someone else, like a different kind of Moslem or a non-Moslem). More Moslems are admitting this is a problem, something that has been going on (without much notice in the West) for nearly a century.
The defeat of ISIL changed the outcome of the rebellion, or did it? Until late 2017 everyone more (the West and their Arab allies) or less (Assads, Russia, Iran, Turkey) concentrated on fighting ISIL. This effort appeared to have destroyed the rebel advantage because early on most Syrian rebels embraced Islamic radicalism. This was because most of the population was Sunni Moslems who the Shia Assads suppressed and exploited for decades. That meant that after 2012 Islamic radical rebels spent most of their time fighting other rebels. With the defeat of ISIL the rebels are much weakened but more willing to cooperate with each other. Meanwhile the coalition that saved the Assads is falling apart. It goes like this.
Russia, Iran and the Assads find themselves facing (and often fighting) and informal coalition of Turkish and American troops along with SDF (predominately Kurdish rebels) and some Sunni Islamic terror groups that appear to be cooperating with the Turks. To further complicate matter the Turks want to eliminate all armed Kurdish groups west of the Euphrates River. Then there is the problem of who is in charge. Technically the Assads are still the legal (internationally recognized) government of Syria and control the UN seat and the Syrian embassies. The Assads invited Iranian and Russian forces into the country, but not the American or Turkish forces. At the same time Turkey has made it clear that it does not want any peace deal that leaves the Assads in power. The Turks have never got on well with the Assads, especially since the 1980s when the Assads became allies with Iran (because both Iran and the Assads were Shia and both were enemies of the Sunni minority dictatorship in Iraq that was then led by Saddam Hussein). The Turks are not getting on with their Russian allies either. Russia accuses the Turks of collaborating with Islamic terror groups and assisting some of these groups in making attacks on Russian bases in Syria. Turkey does not want to see Russian and Iranian bases in Syria. Russia is also pressuring the Assads about any Shia groups that might be attacking Russian bases with assistance from the Assads or Iran. Meanwhile the Syrian Kurds have the military and diplomatic backing of the Americans and diplomatic support from the Russians. The Assads are trying to back out of their long (since the 1980s) alliance with Iran and have the backing of Russia for that. Wanting Iran gone from Syria is a common goal for Turkey, Iraq, Kurds and Israel. Most Lebanese also agree with that (but Hezbollah does not). Israel believes the Assads are hostile to a permanent Iranian presence because that might lead to an Israeli invasion, which would give the Syrian rebels a boost. And the rebels are still the rebels (although the Kurds have always been flexible when it comes to the Assads). The Syrian government forces by themselves are still very weak and depend on Iranian mercenaries (mainly Afghans, Pakistanis and Iraqis led by Iranians) and Russian air support (and technical assistance of all sorts). The Syrian rebellion is not over and the end is still in doubt.
Colombia Subdues La Violencia
Colombia has finally ended over 70 years of fighting and general misery. In 2017 the main leftist rebel force (FARC) made peace and the much smaller ELN is negotiating a similar deal. The death rate is way down as is crime in general. The drug cartels are moving their operations out of the country and the economy is one of the healthiest in Latin America. There is still much to do but the situation no longer seems hopeless. As with so many other countries it was angry farmers and obvious crimes committed against them that were the major reason for the undeclared war that began in the late 1940s. Eventually referred to as "La Violencia" (The Violence) the seemingly endless fighting went on to leave over half a million dead, and millions injured or displaced. Millions more simply fled the country, either into neighboring states, or distant destinations like the U.S. or Europe. La Violencia kept going for many reasons and was ultimately a bloody struggle between leftists and conservatives. There was a lull in the late 1950s and early 60s, when moderate leftists and conservatives worked out a compromise. But the worldwide upsurge in leftist activism in the 1960s reignited La Violencia. The leftist FARC and ELN rebels got another boost in the 1970s when cocaine became a big business, and the leftists used their muscle to protect the drug gangs from the government. Half a century after the peacemaking compromises that ended the first round of La Violencia, the conservative government managed to work out a similar deal with the leftist rebels. FARC and the smaller ELN took their time trying to negotiate a deal that allowed them to keep much of what they had stolen, including rural land. FARC and ELN always said they were fighting to get justice for farmers while at the same time being a major source of the injustices farmers demanded be put right. The Colombian government made their big comeback after 2000 by concentrating on protecting the population, which made it possible to revive the economy. FARC's guns and slogans could not compete with this but the farmers feel they are still being ignored. By 2017 there was peace, but also the possibility of reviving La Violencia. While most Colombians prefer urban life the rural injustices are still a big deal.
Chinese Military Technology
China has been building modern warships at a record rate, something rarely seen in peacetime. China has been building world class warships faster and cheaper than anyone else. There is nothing magical about this, the Chinese simply were practical and ruthless in catching up. Practical in the sense that they managed to merge a market economy with a communist police state. That rather unnatural act may yet come apart but since the 1980s China has been learning from what Russia did wrong during the Cold War and putting their more effective methods into practice. First the Chinese allowed Western firms in and created a situation where everyone made money. More importantly China was able to import Western manufacturing techniques (which Japan, South Korea and other Asian nations had already done with great success) and by the turn of the century were competitive in many manufacturing sectors. The government provided plentiful financing to key industries (ship building, electronics, machinery) and supplied them with lots of stolen (from Russia and the West) tech. The Russian tech was necessary because it enabled Chinese weapons manufacturers to proceed more smoothly to building Western quality weapons. Russia was never able to do this while the Soviet Union existed because the Soviets clung to their command economy and the lack of economic freedom and competition meant Russia could never match Western standards of manufacturing quality. China eventually could, a process which is still under way in areas like jet engine manufacturing and nuclear submarines. But in most other categories China can be competitive, along with cheaper and faster. The Chinese are catching up by being practical and persistent. They accept that it will take longer to maser certain techs but have been able to go through that process making money with “good enough” weapons that are cheaper and appeal to a larger market than the world class Western stuff. A lot of this Chinese military technology performs well enough to keep customers coming back. China keeps demonstrating what it can do. For example, China’s second aircraft carrier (CV-17 Shandong) was launched (in the water) by April 2017. That was 25 months after construction began. At the end of 2017 CV-17 was at dockside being prepared for sea trials, which will apparently begin in early 2018 and have CV-17 in service by 2020. That’s less than half the time a Western nation would require and at half the price. It’s not just aircraft carriers. China has demonstrated the same efficiency with other ship classes (destroyers, frigates, amphibious, sustainment, floating docks and so on).
The American F-35 has entered service and mass production is under way and on schedule. The F-35 was much maligned for all sorts of problems but suddenly pilots are finding that the F-35 is not what the media described. For example in mid-2017 F-35s completed their first 100,000 flight hours. That is the point when a new aircraft is seen as mature. The F-22 reached that point in 2010. But the F-35, unlike earlier jet fighters, reached 100,000 flight hours without any crashes. However the F-35 did suffer three “Class A” accident (defined as an aircraft incident that killed someone or cost at least $2 million to repair). That’s a record low accident rate for a new aircraft but that rate may increase a bit before it settles down. F-35s are entering service in large numbers (a hundred plus a year) over the next few years and will be used operationally. Some are already operating near combat zones, like the ones Israel has put into service. Israeli pilots, and all others who have flown the F-35 agree that the software and the degree of automation built in is spectacular. The F-35 has a large number of sensors (receivers for electronic signals, six cameras and a very capable radar) and the fusion of all that data and presentation to the pilot based on the current situation is impressive and makes the F-35 much easier to fly, despite all the additional capabilities it has. This sort of thing is not a new idea. By the 1990s it was recognized that this new technology; data fusion, would be a key capability for combat aircraft (as well as ships and ground forces). Put simply, it's all about taking real-time vidcam, radar and other sensor data (sensor fusion) and other information about the battlefield situation (all sorts of databases and reports), and combining it to provide commanders with a better understanding of current operations, preferably in real time if you are a fighter pilot. The F-35 is apparently the best working example of this so far and what is learned from the F-35 software will be the basis for updated software for older aircraft. But beyond the data fusion (and automatic sharing with other aircraft or systems on the surface) the pilots were impressed about how effective the “pilot assistant” software was. This is another concept that has been around for decades and more frequently installed in new aircraft. These minor advances get reported but never make headlines. But given the F-35s stealth, maneuverability and sensor/data fusion, most pilots quickly become enthusiastic proponents of the aircraft. Some of the early pilot reactions were dismissed by critics as PR. But with the Israelis it is different because they are most likely to use those new capabilities in combat first and Israeli pilots have a reputation for delivering very blunt assessments (both public and otherwise) of aircraft performance. That bluntness has always been encouraged in Israel. For decades the U.S. has been building new combat aircraft and upgrades based on input from Israeli experience and that input has generally been very useful.
Israel and Arabs Unite
In 2017 it finally happened. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait went public in support of an Arab-Israeli alliance to oppose Iran. Many (Arabs, Israelis and Iranians) believe that such an alliance won’t last long but that is not crucial. The alliance only has to last long enough to halt the spread of Iranian power and influence. Israel has been through this before. The peace deals with Jordan and Egypt have largely held even though there are ups and downs. The Israelis know that the anti-Semitic attitudes in the Arab world go back to before the emergence of Islam in the 7th century and have waxed and waned ever since. Anti-Semitism is again widely tolerated in Europe. But the United States has a new president who grew up in and around New York City, built a fortune there, has a Jewish son-in-law, Jewish grandchildren and a pro-Israel attitude that is more decisive and imaginative than that of the last few American presidents. Currently the Arabs of Arabia, or at least key leaders, have decided that decades of denouncing Israel, the one nation in the region with a functioning democracy, the most advanced and successful economy and the most powerful armed forces, ought to be rethought. So now Israel is seen as a potential ally not a battlefield opponent. As a result Arab journalists and leaders are speaking openly, and more frequently, about such an alliance. Some countries, like the UAE (United Arab Emirates), can now speak openly of the discreet (and often not so secret) commercial, military and diplomatic links they developed with Israel over the years. To a lesser extent Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian connections are now admitted. The motivation here is survival against an increasingly aggressive Iran. Hang together or hang separately. Israel already has powerful allies for dealing with Iran and welcomes an Arab alliance, even if it won’t last, or at least will be under constant attack going forward, as was the case with the Jordanian and Egyptian peace deals. Then there is a new generation of Saudi leaders. The young Saudi crown prince (and soon to be the king as his elderly father announced his abdication) pointed out that Iran is officially obsessed with destroying Israel while a growing number of Arabs see Israel as a potential ally. Everyone knows that before the current religious dictatorship took control of Iran in the 1980s Israel and Iran had many diplomatic and economic links, far more that Israel had with the Arab world. But Iranian religious leaders decided that Israel was at the top of the list of things that had to change if Iran was to become popular with non-Iranian Moslems. Next on the list was who should control the Islamic shrines in Saudi Arabia and so on. Iran has always been scary to its neighbors but was usually ruled by some aristocrat. Now that the Iranian Shia clergy (who were long known to be aggressive) are in charge it is time for neighbors to reconsider traditional alliances.
It’s been a long time coming but the Palestinians are losing all their primary sources of income and special status with the UN. The Americans, long the largest contributor, are withdrawing support as are a growing number of European donors. The Arab oil states are also cutting way back because of Palestinian corruption, inability to unite and the Palestinian refusal to make some kind of peace deal with Israel. The Arab oil states are also mad at the Palestinians for supporting Saddam Hussein’s plans to conquer all of Arabia (starting with Kuwait in 1990) and now working with Iran. Then there is the common attitude in the Arab world that the Palestinian mess is all the fault of the West and they should pay for it. That worked for a while but no longer. This all began in 1949 when Arab nations refused to accept and absorb Moslems who fled (mostly) from the newly created Israel on the promise of the Arab nations soon mobilizing sufficient military strength to destroy Israel, drive the Jews out and allow the refugees to return home. That never happened and it was quickly recognized that there was a serious refugee problem. The UN established a program to take care of these refugees but in a very unusual move the 750,000 original (later called Palestinian) refugees were allowed to pass on their refugee status to their children. No other refugee group was allowed to do that by the UN and now there are calls from major donor nations to rescind that rule. About the same number of Jews were driven out of Moslem countries after 1948 and they were all accepted and absorbed by other nations, mainly Israel and the U.S. Since 1947 the number of “Palestinian refugees” has grown to five million and Arab states continue to refuse to absorb them. Many Palestinians have managed to find acceptance (and citizenship) in other nations (usually not Moslem majority ones) but few have renounced their rights as hereditary refugees. This situation was all about Arabs believing they had the right to decide who can live in “Moslem territories” and for them Israel was a major offense. This is nothing new. Moslems had been driving infidels out of Islamic nations for a long time. That’s why most Arab-Americans are Arab Christians. Despite having been there before Islam came along, Arab Christians (and Arabs professing other religions) were always under pressure to either convert, or leave. Many of those who left over the past two centuries, came to America, and prospered in a much more tolerant society. For decades, Arab propaganda, including stuff included in schoolbooks for kids, insisted that the Israelis were illegally occupying Arab land, were not capable to doing so without the assistance of other nations (especially the United States), committed the most outrageous (and non-existent) atrocities, and that there could be no compromise on this issue of Palestinian control. The message was clear; Israel must be destroyed, and Arabs were not at fault in creating the situation. Thus a growing number of Moslems (especially Palestinians) feel they are being oppressed by the UN and the West for condemning righteous Islamic terrorism. With all that Islamic terrorism efforts against Israel have not been very successful. In desperation Palestinian terrorists adopted the use of suicide bombing against Israel in 2000. The Israelis eventually developed tactics which emphasized going after the key people involved in planning and carrying out the suicide attacks. This worked and defeated the effectiveness of suicide bombing. On the down side the Palestinian attacks destroyed the substantial support within Israel for a Palestinian peace deal, and increased support for stronger measures against Palestinian terrorism. The Palestinian terrorists are still at it, although many Palestinians admit that the tactic has failed and has been counterproductive. Despite that opinion polls show Palestinians continue to favor violence over peaceful resolution.
Pakistan fears the United States and India will carry out more air strikes and commando operations in Pakistan against Islamic terrorist targets. Pakistan is particularly concerned with protecting the Haqqani Network, an Afghan led group that has prospered under Pakistani protection and is now believed to control the leadership of the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan has long denied any connection with Haqqani, much less control of the group, but there is much evidence that ISI (Pakistani Intelligence) works closely with Haqqani. Growing American (and international) pressure has forced Pakistan to say it is acting against Haqqani. There is little evidence of that. Meanwhile Pakistan insists that most Islamic terrorism inside Pakistan is the work of India with the help of the Americans and Israelis. Pakistan now describes this as an American secret strategy of creating perpetual instability in South Asia. Pakistan is the only South Asian nation that agrees with this analysis. Actually the foreign policy of the Pakistani military is to stage such attacks itself, in Afghanistan and India. This is now the Pakistani military justifies and perpetuates its dominant position in Pakistani politics and the economy. It is how the Pakistani military manages (successfully so far) to run the government without actually being the government. Power without responsibility plus generous retirement benefits, immunity from prosecution for most crimes and all those nifty uniforms and parades. No wonder a military career is so popular among the best families. Since 2011 the Pakistani military has fewer secrets. That’s because of the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout and left with the bin Laden corpse and massive amounts of documents, many of them detailing how the Pakistani military had lied to the world about secret support for al Qaeda and many other Islamic terror groups. After 2011 the military made a few changes like going to war with Islamic terror groups that carried out unauthorized (by the military) attacks inside Pakistan. This included shutting down sanctuaries these groups (particularly the Pakistani Taliban) had long used. The army literally invaded the main sanctuary (North Waziristan) in mid-2014 and is still fighting there and nearby areas. This greatly reduced Islamic terror related deaths inside Pakistan. There was still such violence inside Pakistan but most of it was done without permission from the military. What Islamic terrorism the military still used inside Pakistan had a specific purpose. Case in point is the growing use of blasphemy charges by Islamic religious parties against those who threaten military power. Most of these parties are either allies of the military or literally on the army payroll. This program includes the new Islamic political parties formed by Islamic terror groups that have long worked for the military to carry out attacks inside India. The Pakistani military wants to protect these Islamic terror groups and turning them into political parties is the latest ploy. The covert violence against foreign (Afghan and Indian targets) is against Pakistani and international law and the Pakistani military continues to claim that it is not involved. The Americans are going to cut military and economic aid to Pakistan over this are pressuring the UN to act against Pakistan. China and Russia could block some of that, but these two countries have apparently told Pakistan they are not willing to do much more to back the lies and secret support for Islamic terrorism.
After decades of effort the Philippines has finally made decisive progress in dealing with its endemic corruption, communist rebels and violence by Moslem separatists and bandits. In 2015 the Moslem separatist group MILF agreed to proceed with the peace deal even if the legislature does not approve all aspects of the autonomy package. The current government is insisting that MILF must deliver a convincing effort to shut down Islamic terrorists and other Filipino Moslem groups opposed to the peace deal. Countrywide there is a lot of popular opposition to the MILF autonomy deal and even MILF accepts that they will never have the votes in the legislature to get everything they want. The major problem down there in that a sizable minority of southern Moslems (ten percent or more) want to hold out and keep fighting to establish a separate Moslem state in the south. MILF leaders know this is impossible because a majority of the people in the south are opposed. That includes a majority of the Moslems and the nearly all the non-Moslems down there. Moslems are only eight percent of all Filipinos, and represent an even smaller proportion of the economic activity. MILF wanted control of more of the economy, which meant control of "ancestral Moslem areas" in the south that are now populated by Christians. The Christian majority in the legislature refused to allow domination by Moslems in a larger and more autonomous Moslem south. MILF settled for a smaller autonomous area (Bangsamoro) that had about four million people and a Moslem majority. This issue is still a big deal for many Moslems and could still turn into an armed rebellion against MILF and the collapse of the plan for an autonomous Moslem area in the south. But in 2017 that was attempted and failed as over a thousand Filipino ISIL adherents tried to take over a southern city and lost. Most of the Islamic terrorists died, as did nearly all their senior leaders. After this mid-year defeat Islamic terrorist activity in the south declined considerably. So did piracy, kidnapping and drug smuggling. Meanwhile the new government has demanded that China pay more for Filipino cooperation in the South China Sea. China and the Philippines do not trust each other, which is about as healthy as such a relationship can get.
Iran Hits A Wall
For the second time since 2009 Iran is undergoing a nationwide protest against the religious dictatorship. It’s not an armed revolution. The protestors have been loud but not violent unless attacked. Nearly all the deaths have been protestors attacked by the security forces. The government has called out its supporters (or simply those with a government job) to stage pro-government rallies. These are well guarded and thoroughly covered by state controlled media. The goal of the protests is to, at the very least, get the clerical dictatorship to openly discuss the mess they have made of the economy and much else in Iran. The implication is that if the clerics do not make themselves useful they will eventually lose power and much else. It has happened before. The last major outbreak of demonstrations was in 2009, when it was mostly about fair elections. It was put down, somewhat gradually, with force. Now the protestors are calling for the corrupt religious rulers to be removed. Some protestors call for a return of the constitutional monarchy the religious leaders replaced in the 1980s (after first promising true democracy). Even more disturbing is that some of the protestors are calling for Islam to be replaced with something else, like Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion that Islam replaced violently and sometimes incompletely in the 7th and 8th century. After decades of mandatory rallies where you had to shout “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” these same young Iranians were now shouting about who they believe is really the enemy rather than who they were ordered to pretend was the enemy. The government says it has things under control while admitting that the protestors do voice some (unspecified) legitimate grievances the government must deal with. Young Iranians have, like their Arab neighbors, noted the success of Israel (a former ally, before the current religious dictatorship took over in the 1980s) and are now demanding changes that involve less foreign trouble making. The cost, in terms of money (billions) and Iranian lives (thousands) of operations in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, South America, Africa and elsewhere does most Iranians no good at all and makes the people on the receiving end hostile to Iran. The operation in Syria was seen as particularly wasteful and expensive, especially with Israel threatening to use whatever it takes (including their nukes) to prevent Iran from creating a military presence there. Iranian history is one of frequent rebellions and civil wars. The current Iranian rulers were young men in the 1970s and 80s many can sense a bit of déjà vu here. Since the senior leaders are nearly all clergy, some have always been critical of the corruption and more of them are speaking out. The monarchy ignored the signs in the 1970s and four decades later it is happening again with the new rulers. This has resulted in a divided leadership. In Iran if you promise change and don’t deliver there are consequences. Surviving this sort of unrest requires a strong, united and ruthless leadership. That is hard to achieve when most of the leaders are clergy, even if a lot of them are corrupt. Arab nations seem pleased with the unrest in Iran, because the demonstrators have expressed anger at the government efforts to exercise more control in Arab countries. It has also been noted that Turkey supports the Iranian government while a lot of Turks support the protestors. This is also seen as a positive development in the Arab world who have felt the impact of what they call “Iranian and Turkish imperialism.” This is seen as Iran and Turkey both trying to increase their political, economic and military power at the expense of Arab countries.