World Watch Today

Russia's interest in Syria; it's all about Ukraine

12 24 2016aVladimir Putin

Syria’s civil war has created the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Over half the country’s pre-war population — more than 12 million people — have been killed or forced to flee their homes. According to the United Nations, life expectancy has dropped 14 years, to 56 from 70, since the war began, with an even greater plunge for Syrian men. the U.N. places the war’s economic cost at $255 billion, the nation in effect is bankrupt. Yet the war is not over, the nightmare continues.

But we have to ask the question, Why is Russia involved in Syria? Assad was Russia’s old ally. But that does’t mean much to Putin, he has no real interest in saving Assad. Russia does get port facilities in Latakia and an air base, but that is not why Russia is interested in Syria.

First of all, Putin understands that there has been a shift in U.S. strategy. He knows there will be no significant military response against Syria or Russia under President Obama. The greatest military response under President Obama was in Libya, which the president regrets deeply, calling it his worst mistake. So Putin saw the opportunity to show strength in Syria.

But the chief reason Russia is involved in Syria is leverage. Putin wants to use his authority in Syria to leverage his bargaining ability with America and Germany when it comes to Ukraine. And why is Putin so concerned about Ukraine?

Ukraine is of supreme importance to Russia, Syria is not that important. But Russia can use its influence in Syria to deal with America and Europe when it comes to the conflict over Ukraine. For Russia it is about protecting its western flank. Russia had survived for centuries because of strategic depth in terms of land. Historically, control over the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Belarus, and especially Ukraine had been essential for Russia’s survival. Without this buffer zone, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Adolf Hitler would have conquered Russia.

The last outcome Russia wants to see is having Ukraine move into the European Union orbit.
Nor does Russia want to see Ukraine flirting with the United States. Russia is threatened by any American presence in Ukraine. Russia views U.S. actions in Ukraine as an attempt to paralyze or destroy Russia. The U.S. and German fear is that with Ukraine under Russia’s control, Russia would be able to slowly enlarge its influence among former satellites, and from there, into the center of Europe.12 24 2016b

As of today there is an unofficial truce in Ukraine. The Kiev government remains in place, Russia still holds Crimea, and fighting in the eastern part of Ukraine is not out of control. What 2017 brings will be compelling to see. We now have a new American President. His policy toward Syria, Ukraine and Russia is unknown. For now Europe remains restless—And the tensions between Russia and the 44 million Ukrainians simmers.

Will the new President move cautiously when it comes to the Middle East and Ukraine? I am reminded of the proverb found in Proverbs 26:17: “He that passes by, and meddles with a quarrel not belonging to him, is like one that takes a dog by the ears”. That advice applies to leaders of nations as well.

As for Russia in the future, Syria will be the least of its worries. The Bible tells us that eventually (Daniel 11:44), “news from the east” will greatly trouble the king of the North (European dictator). Prophecy indicates that Russia, China and other nations from the East will turn to confront Europe militarily. These millions of troops will then be united in their hatred of the returning Jesus Christ. They will march against Him and be destroyed at Jerusalem in a great war (Zechariah 14:1-4; Revelation 19:17-21). Russia’s enemy is not the United States, its future enemy will be a European confederation that will dominate much of the world. We are not there yet, but it will happen, and it will most likely take place in your lifetime. —Steven LeBlanc

More Important than the Secretary of State

12 10 2016

Retired US Marine Corps four-star Gen. James Mattis.

Niall Ferguson (British historian) speculates that the post of Secretary of Defense carries more weight than the position of Secretary of State. He may be right. Below are extracts from his compelling article that appeared in the Sunday Times out of London on December 4th:

‘The press takes Trump literally, but not seriously. Voters take him seriously, but not literally.” This, by Salena Zito, was the smartest thing written about the 2016 election and deserves a place in every dictionary of quotations.

Now let me give you some advice about General James Mattis, who has been named Donald Trump’s secretary of defence. Take him both literally and seriously. Mattis is a dictionary of quotes in his own right. I like the way he meets and greets. “Do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for 10,000 years.” –With Mattis, however, you get much more than just words. You get deeds. As the commander of the 1st Marine Division in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Mattis earned a daunting reputation as a master of kinetic warfare. During the push to Baghdad, he relieved a colonel of his command for not advancing fast enough. In 2007 he wrote, with General David Petraeus, the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, the template for the successful “surge” in Iraq. So fond of combat was Mattis that the marines’ affectionate nickname for him was “Mad Dog”.

Secretary of state is the toughest call and Trump is right to weigh his options. The former presidential candidate Mitt Romney bad-mouthed him during the campaign and is on the record as a Russia-basher — hardly the ideal candidate when the No 1 item on Trump’s foreign policy agenda is to do a “great deal” with President Vladimir Putin. As a strategist, Petraeus is up there with Mattis, but it may be too soon after his rap for unauthorised disclosure of classified documents, and another general might give the administration the look of a junta. The former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani is a Trump loyalist who badly wants the job, but Senator Bob Corker looks the safer bet.

Yet Mattis at defence could prove to be the most important appointment of all. True, the secretary of state usually gets more headlines. But, as Donald Rumsfeld proved (for better and for worse) under George W Bush, the man who runs the Pentagon has more resources by far at his disposal and can easily turn that military muscle into political power. It is in Trump’s interests to make Mattis his right-hand man. Here’s why.

As president, Trump has the enticing opportunity to fix America’s broken foreign policy. His deal with Putin could end the war in Syria and resolve the not-so-frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine. A comparable deal with China could address the economic grievances of Middle America while creating a new basis for peaceful coexistence with the Middle Kingdom, addressing key flashpoints in the Asia-Pacific region such as North Korea, the South China Sea — and Taiwan.

The Trump presidency can also change the game in the Middle East by abandoning the Obama administration’s ill-conceived tilt towards Iran. And it can jolt continental Europeans out of their complacency, so that Nato ceases to be an alliance paid for by Americans and taken for granted by Germans.

However, to achieve all this will require more than Kissingerian diplomatic skill; it will also need the credible threat of force — for without that, America’s enemies and allies alike will take advantage of the businessman Trump just as they took advantage of the law professor Obama. This is where Jim Mattis comes in.

First, Mattis has unrivalled credibility. It is not only marines who love the man. Even Michèle Flournoy, who would have had his job if Hillary Clinton had won, speaks of him with reverence.

Second, Mattis is a hawk on Iran. Indeed, some say it was his readiness to contemplate military action against Iran that led to his being sacked from US Central Command by President Obama. He is unrepentant. In a lecture in April he called the Tehran regime “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East”.

Nevertheless, he argued against ripping up Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Mattis will advise Trump to keep the agreement, but to punish any future Iranian breaches of it with military retaliation. He will also propose tougher action against Iranian regional proxies, notably Hezbollah.

Third, unlike Trump, Mattis has no illusions about Putin. He has spoken out against the Russian invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, and has implicitly criticised the Obama administration for not being tough enough.

Finally, Mattis has a playbook for the Chinese, too. In his testimony before the Senate armed services committee in 2015, he stated that “efforts in the Pacific to keep positive relations with China” must be “paralleled by a policy to build the counterbalance if China continues to expand its bullying role in the South China Sea and elsewhere”.

Theodore Roosevelt’s mantra was to “speak softly and carry a big stick”. Under Obama, the US has lectured loudly and carried a limp twig. All that is about to change. Unlike Trump, Mattis speaks softly. And that big stick he carries is sharp, too. Take him literally. Take him very, very seriously.

Will the President listen to wise counsel from Mr. Mattis; that is yet to be seen. Clearly the post is of Secretary of Defense is not a small token responsibility: “Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war”—Proverbs 20:18.

Nationalist Fervor on the rise

Steven LeBlanc
12 04 2016a

Marine Le Pen (L), France’s National Front political party leader, kisses Netherland’s Geert Wilders, president of PVV (Party for Freedom) during the far-right French party’s congress.

The financial crisis of 2007–8, and the subsequent real-estate downturn caused households in the United States to lose trillions in wealth and led unemployment in countries such as Greece and Spain to rise to 20 percent and more, where it has remained ever since. It is barely unexpected that following the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the populist/nationalist movement is surging over in Europe.

The financial contagion of 2008-savaged Europe (creating high unemployment); crushed the world’s appetite for Chinese products and finally undercut the world market for oil. The effects of 2008 financial storm has steered countries in Europe in the direction of Nationalism, which is anti globalism, Nation-first thinking.

Nationalism helped elevate Donald Trump to the Presidency. The nationalist surge can be seen in countries of widely differing circumstances, from prosperous Sweden to crisis-ridden Greece.  For many, this new form of populism is fueled by resentment against the elite government politicians.  Almost everywhere, Nationalism has captured the public’s attention.

Nationalism is a form of Populism.  It means different things to different groups, but all varieties share an anger and hostility toward elites, mainstream politics, and established institutions. Populism sees itself as speaking for the forgotten “ordinary” person and often imagines itself as the voice of genuine patriotism. “The only antidote to decades of ruinous rule by a small handful of political elites is a bold infusion of popular will.  On every major issue affecting this country, the people are right and the governing elite are wrong,”—That was Donald Trump writing in the WALL STREET JOURNAL in April.

Amongst a migrant crisis, lethargic economic growth and growing disappointment with the European Union, far-right parties — some established, others newly created — have been achieving electoral victory in a number of European nations. Citizens in America and Europe want more dramatic solutions and a bold, decisive leader willing to decree them. In the United States and elsewhere, there is rising support for just such a leader.

This weekend I am watching closely voting outcomes in Italy and Austria.  All the focus is on the Italian referendum but on Sunday the Austria presidential election rerun takes place and pits Green-party-backed candidate Alexander Van der Bellen against far-right populist Norbert Hofer.

12 04 2016b

Candidate Alexander Van der Bellen versus far-right populist Norbert Hofer

If Norbert Hofer wins he has promised to call a referendum on Austria’s membership in the EU. “Sanity instead of extremism” is his campaign slogan.  It’s another sign that the open borders, open immigration; unguarded trade era is under attack. Each Nationalist success will embolden other right-wing movements in Europe.

If Mr. Hoffer wins, it will be the first time that Europe elects a far-right head of state since 1945.  Who comes to power in these countries is yet to be seen, clearly we have a fascinating year ahead of us.  Nations and individuals ultimately reap what they sow:  Do not be deceived: “God cannot be mocked. A man [or nation] reaps what he [or the nation] sows”—Galatians 6:7.  This is a big weekend for Europe!

Dangerous Italian referendum held December 4th

11 25 2016

Will Italy leave the European Union?

What we are seeing in Europe is the rise of the nation-state against the will of a German led European Union and National commitments that were made years ago. Italy is now facing serious questions about membership in the EU, NATO and questioning a basketful of trade agreements, and the right to control its own borders.

The fear is that eventually Italy may vote to leave the European Union.  The following commentary is taken from an interview reported on the web site entitled, The Ex-President Of Italy’s Constitutional Court Explains What Is At Stake When Italy Votes.  Most Americans are oblivious to the vote. European leaders fear a destabilization of the fragile EU and will be watching Italy’s vote on December 4th closely:

“Italians have always been Europeanists,” commented Professor Onida (the former President of Italy’s Constitutional Court), “Now, we see new political parties that are not Europeanist, and, on the contrary, they argue against the European institutions. There is a revival of nationalism. And not just in Italy, because Germany and France too have this kind of political subjects. But we now lack our traditional parties, that once made the European Union and now do not exist anymore. So, the risk is a growth of this kind of estrangement, if not even repulsion against Europe.”

Onida said this is a dangerous situation because the continued strengthening of integration and unity are vital for Italy’s future, as well as its European partners. “Nationalism is a great danger for Europe, for all the European countries. In the history of Europe, nationalism has always meant wars, and the last great war started right in the heart of Europe… The real breakthrough, made at the end of World War II is leaving behind nationalisms and national egotisms, to try and reach a greater continental and global unity. This also happened thanks to the foundation of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this, Americans were the first starters. I remember the role of Eleanor Roosevelt in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Now we risk losing this goal, this vision that identifies the future with international co-operation and European integration. We are barricading ourselves in our national borders. This is really dangerous.”

The current rise of nationalism in Europe is the result of European institutions’ failure to cut high unemployment and control the flow of immigrants coming into the EU.  Eight years after 2008, Europe still has not solved its economic problems. A year after the massive invasion of refugees into Europe, there is still no clear and efficient policy to address the issue of refugees.  Adding to the political chaos in Europe, and also troubling German, French and Italian leaders, is that Donald Trump has challenged the idea that free trade is always beneficial; and he is even questioning NATO.  Right-wing parties across Europe are asking the same questions.

We are seeing a return to nationalism in Europe and the United States, because to many in Europe and America, internationalism, which became popular after World War II, is viewed as stifling individual economies and neutering national sovereignty.

Eventually, in the not to distant future, we are told that political turmoil in Europe (Revelation 17), will lead to a newly formed confederation of states in Europe that will be beastlike (terribly destructive). European leaders will then choose one single dictator, the prophesied “beast,” which will set up a system that will be extremely brutal (verses 12 and 13). European extremism will return. Jesus Christ himself will destroy this end-time empire, and then Christ will establish the Kingdom of God on earth, that will rule the nations with justice and force. — Steven LeBlanc


Israel moving to the right

11 04 2016a

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hard right defense minister

Political change in Israel: A major political transformation is, and has been underway in Israel. More people in Israel are now embracing what the press calls “hard right policies”. Even Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned of “seeds of fascism” in Israel’s current government, while former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon drew comparisons to 1930s Germany. Some months back ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman was appointed Defense Minister.

Lieberman is the founder and leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party. He served as Israel’s minister of foreign affairs from 2013 to 2015 and 2009 to 2012.

While serving as the foreign minister in March 2015, Lieberman declared that Palestinian citizens of Israel who are treacherous should be beheaded: “Those who are against us, there’s nothing to be done – we need to pick up an ax and cut off his head,” Lieberman declared at Israel’s “Voting for Democracy –Elections” conference. “Otherwise we won’t survive here.” It was over ten years ago (2003) that thousands of Palestinian prisoners should be drowned in the Dead Sea; he then said he wouldn’t hesitate to provide the buses to take them to the Dead Sea. He never retracted the statement.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has already appointed colleague, far-right ultra-nationalist Ayelet Shaked as justice minister, she recently said:

We see nation-states collapsing all around us: Libya, Syria, Iraq. We do not want another failed state in our neighborhood, which would rapidly turn into a stronghold for terrorists, as we have seen in Gaza. We do not want tunnels to suburbs of Tel Aviv or missiles pointed at Jerusalem.

Some are describing Netanyahu’s coalition government the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history. Increasingly the electorate in Israel is moving to the right as well. Israelis are becoming deeply concerned about the chaos in the Middle East, a resurgent Iran and a deteriorating Egypt. They grasp the Middle East around them is spinning out of control; at least the “far-right” leaders will protect us—is the reasoning of more and more citizens who often vote for centrist parties, or vote for left leaning parties.

Also fewer people in Israel now support the idea of a Palestinian state. The idea of a 2 state solution is waning. Let me put it this way—the peace camp in Israel use to be quite large–—that group has withered considerably over the last year. Israelis…even those who are in favor of a 2 state solution, are now saying…peace with the Palestinians is simply unrealistic—the Palestinians hate us.

Religious Jews are gaining political power, in part, because they are having more children than the secular families in Israel. Notice the breakdown of Israel’s diverse population: 11 04 2016bWatching the rise of the right in Israel is important. In the not too distant future Israel will build an altar and daily sacrifices will begin once again. It would seem that there must be a religious revival in Israel for sacrifices to be accepted by a majority in the country.

Christ prophesied that “the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, [would be] standing in the holy place” (Matthew 24:15). He was referring to Daniel 11:31, which said: “Then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation.” Religious revival means that we will see the “right” in Israel dominate the country. We are not there yet, but we are moving in that direction.

Steven LeBlanc

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