Let’s Remember Stalin

Adolph Hitler has got his just deserts over and over and over. Hardly a day goes by when his evil is not recalled one way or another. Any autocrat who comes to power, however limited his domain, is dubbed “another Hitler.” Meanwhile Joseph Stalin remains a rather sinister figure lurking in the shadows as if long after his death he is still to be feared. Let’s not talk about him more than we have to.

Lies matter. Hitler, in fact, told the ugly truth. From the outset he made clear that he wanted to establish a tightly controlled racist regime from which “undesirables” like Jews would be excluded and persecuted.  He said he would reclaim German lands lost in the First World War and would push militarily eastward until he confronted his great antagonist Stalin. He was as good as his word though ultimately unsuccessful.

Stalin preferred to lie, and it served him well. People were prepared to believe him or perhaps were afraid not to. All through the massive starvation of his collectivization program and the vast purges of friends and enemies alike, he offered a benign explanation that was accepted and even applauded. The dishonesty was colossal, writes Adam Ulam in his biography Stalin. “One day, when nearly every family had yielded a victim to his terror, Stalin would address the nation:  ‘Brothers, sisters… I speak to you my friends.'”

Joseph Stalin

Yet Stalin was powerfully assisted by the doctrine he espoused; namely communism. At the time it had a global following, often fanatical. It held out the promise of a better world to be achieved almost overnight by revolutionary thought and action. Turn the tables on the predators currently in charge and all would be well. Stalin saw an opening and lunged.

Like other true believers, fun loving New York editor Max Eastman was thoroughly taken in by the foment over revolution as he describes in his book Love and Revolution. which eloquently captures the atmosphere of the time. He equated love of revolution with his passion for the woman of his life, Russian born Eliena Krylenko. With the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, “we had unbounded hopes of a new world coming to birth.” Visiting Moscow on this joyous occasion, he became a close friend of Bolshevik mastermind Leon Trotsky, later assassinated by Stalin. Indeed he missed seeing Stalin who was operating as usual behind the scenes and would not have been interested in Eastman, though he later called him a “gangster of the pen” when he renounced the dictator.

Eastman recalls that “all his thoughts then took place in a rather opaque cloud of optimistic emotion. I was unaware of the beastlike struggle for power that was in progress behind the scenes. I was unaware of the existence of Stalin,” who turned out to have a long reach. After Eastman disavowed communism, its adherents in New York joined Stalin in denouncing him as a traitor. They made sure he and others sharing his views didn’t get printed or published in “an astute and unremitting infiltration of centers of communications.”

When he was later able to publish a book, he titled a chapter “Stalin Beats Hitler Twenty Ways.” But such was the climate of opinion that nobody in high office in Washington paid any attention, thus helping Stalin make his territorial grabs at the end of the Second World War. His lies had paid off handsomely. So today he  deserves to have at least one local tyrant dubbed “another Stalin.”

The Media Discovers the Drug Cartels, Sort Of

In the absence of any genuine reporting or analysis of the Mexican drug cartels, Fox News has now filled the void in part. Reporter Lara Logan went to the area in Mexico where nine Mormons were slaughtered by the cartels and interviewed survivors of the attack in a gripping presentation but had little to say about the cartels or how they operate – a media tendency.

If there is any significant area of the world which the Americana media fails to cover, it is right next door, Mexico. Yet it is one of the most dangerous places on earth, where the cartels murder with impunity as they send their poisonous drugs to the U.S with earnings approaching 100 billion dollars a year.

Maria Ronita Miller and four of her children, including 7-month-old twins, killed in cartel attack.

Even so, the media slumbers with far more coverage of lesser violence in such far away places as Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan. Fox news has now broken the pattern with an hour long feature on the killing in November 2019 of nine Mormons – three mothers, six children, including baby twins – that is truly heart-wrenching. Yet as the program fails to make clear, this is an every day affair in Mexico with one of the highest murder rates in the world and still climbing.

Don’t Mexican lives matter? Racism might be a conventional response, but it’s rather a vast, inexplicable indifference to the suffering south of us. Ignored by the media and the government, it doesn’t exist for Americans. Out of sight, out of mind. The Mormons interviewed by Logan tell compelling stories, but it has to be said that they are American citizens living in Mexico. They get attention because of that while Mexicans keep getting murdered in the shadows.

At a break in the Fox program, someone is caught saying the Mexican situation is a U.S. national security issue. Indeed. Along with enormous quantities of drugs, cartel bosses are crossing the U.S. border and even took over an Arizona border town until an aroused citizenry threw them out. Enthusiasts like to compare today’s expansive U.S. with the long lived Roman empire. But it’s as if Rome treated neighboring Gaul – about the same size as Mexico – with similar indifference. Do as you like, we don’t care. Julius Caesar would be dumbfounded and the Roman empire would not have lasted.

The U. S. deserves a better fate. The Fox program is a step in the right direction. Much more is needed.

Traveling Safely in Mexico

The Wall Street Journal devotes a full page to the delights of Tulum, a Mexican resort town on the Caribbean. The accompanying pictures help tell the story: bicycling on the road, relaxing on the beach. We’re informed there’s cultural and culinary abundance.

The beach, Tulum, Mexico

There is, to be sure, the danger of Covid which afflicts Mexico along with the rest of the world. Having too much fun may hide the danger, the article notes. Visitors should make sure masks are worn throughout. Even so, while fewer Americans are visiting Mexico these days, they are staying longer. Paul Safarti, an international tour operator, says a small hotel he owns in Tulum is nearly full. “They’re partying like there’s no Covid.”

The streets of Tulum

But something far worse than Covid is overlooked by these enthusiasts – a rising, high violent crime rate in Tulum as in the rest of Mexico. Ana Pereira, a local resident and author of The Tulum Safety Guide, writes that she is getting increasing reports of serious crimes against tourists.

Last December visitors from Sweden, Martin Graham and his wife, were walking along a main street at nine in the evening when they were accosted by a small kid with a gun who demanded money. Graham refused and the boy pulled the trigger. Fortunately, the gun didn’t fire, and the pair managed to escape to their hotel where they called the police. Three hours later the cops arrived but wouldn’t take a report because it would be bad for business. For the Grahams it was back to Sweden in a hurry.

This incident illustrates a recruitment ritual of the cartels. An aspiring member of the criminal organization must prove his worth by randomly killing someone, a Mexican usually, but a foreign tourist will do. “Cartel violence is now part of Tulum,” says Lilly who lives there. Executions occur in broad daylight, she says, and armed muggings are common. She concedes that tourists are not likely to be hit by stray bullets, but they can easily witness some gruesome act during their stay.

While urging visitors to come to Tulum, author Pereira nevertheless offers a long list of warnings. Among them: Don’t wander too far in the daytime and don’t walk anywhere at night. Keep emergency money hidden, and when you pay for something, keep larger bills out of sight. Don’t keep your phone out all the time. If someone tries to take your stuff, let him. Safety first. These could be usefully included in the Journal’s next story on bountiful Tulum.

Armed woman in Michoacan

Coincidentally, the same day – January 16 – of the Journal story the Associated Press reported on women who are organizing against the Jalisco cartel in the crime ridden state of Michoacan. They had little choice since the cartel had killed or kidnapped most of the men in the community – husbands, sons, fathers, brothers. Carrying assault rifles and posting road blocks, the women are taking the fight to the enemy much to the applause of long suffering Mexicans. This story rings true.

Assange Invited to Mexico

A British judge has prevented Julian Assange’s deportation to the U.S. which has been doggedly pursuing him for disclosing reams of secret and embarrassing government documents. For Assange, currently imprisoned in Britain, Mexico beckons perhaps. “Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance,” says Mexican President Lopez Obrador. “I am in favor of pardoning him.”

Julian Assange

In a breathtaking irony, the country where more journalists are murdered than anywhere else on earth has now offered asylum to one of of the world’s most famous journalists. Revenge is at hand. The drug cartels which basically control Mexico resent U.S. efforts against them like the wall and legalizing marijuana, their chief product. Assange is a handy cudgel to bat the threatening northern neighbor.

How would Assange live in Mexico presuming he could somehow get there? No doubt quite well. The cartels’ word is law and if they can readily condemn Mexican journalists, they can just as easily save an American one. “Assange’s harsh imprisonment is the equivalent of torture,” says President Lopez Obrador who should know. Torture is a specialty of cartel rule. Considering his value, Assange might be the only person in Mexico exempt from torture.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador

How would the U.S react? The American media which basically ignores Mexico or misreports it (crime? what crime?) might be spurred to action since the U.S. is involved. The cartels might then let Assange respond in a battle of the headlines. To silence these the U.S could launch a covert action to recover the errant newsman and end its humiliation by a lesser country.

In the meantime, the cartels could bask in their new found glory, enjoying fame as civil libertarians while chalking up record profits from drug sales – a win-win situation.

Whoever thought the case against Assange would lead to this?

Trump’s Parting Sanctions

All the tumult over a disputed election and the protest march on the Capitol obscure a possibly greater danger overseas. The Trump White House with a foreign policy under the control of the war-fixated neocons has imposed a stream of crippling sanctions on Iran that could lead to a possible military clash before the Democrats take charge.

The White House understandably fears that President Biden will restore the agreement that President Obama made with Iran: a suppression of its nuclear activities in return for a lifting of U.S. sanctions. It was by no means perfect but a way of reducing tensions with Iran, a Middle East power, much the way Trump eased hostilities with nuclear-armed North Korea. As Bob Woodward writes in his none too favorable account of Trump in his book Rage, “…it was not by the Establishment playbook, but as Trump says repeatedly, we had no war. That was an achievement. Diplomacy should always be worth a try.”

But Trump has done the opposite with Iran without apparently noting the contradiction. He has applied sanctions not only to Iran but to companies doing business with Iran. These have been added weekly since November, perhaps a record in economic punishment short of war. Secretary of State Pompeo adds that Iran has joined al-Qaeda as “partners in terrorism,” which is reminiscent of the charge that Iraq was allied with al-Qaeda, a fiction that helped lead to the disastrous U.S. Iraq war.

Iran is of little danger to the U.S. It vies with Israel for power and influence in the Middle East. Israel has nuclear weapons, but Iran does not, and Israel wants it to stay that way. Like other countries – the U.S., Israel, China, Russia, whatever – Iran pursues its national interests. While these can be unsettling, they are not the menace of the fanatical, death-dealing ideologies that imperiled the world for close to a century. We’re dealing with practicalities of statecraft today even if nuclear weapons hover in the background. Containment worked before. It can work again.

Stopping Drugs At Sea

The U.S. Coast Guard may be the least celebrated of the US. military services. It’s a law enforcement member of the intelligence community, but its glamour is limited. It doesn’t take lives, but saves them – those in peril at sea and those who may perish from deadly drugs on their way here. The Coast Guard’s reach is global, but its mission is to protect America. America first but internationally oriented, an enviable combination.

Catching the enemy in the act is not easy. It takes a seamanship that might be admired by a John Paul Jones. First a suspicious vessel has to be sighted among all those at sea. A drug carrier may elude attack by mingling in a congested area near a port the way a drug laden truck squeezes among other vehicles at a land entry. Heavy traffic is the smuggler’s boon. If his boat is farther out, say 300 to 400 miles, it’s pretty clear he has something to hide.

A Coast Guard team approaches the likely suspect and calls for it to stop. It usually does since it’s much harder to run away at sea than on land. There’s seldom violence because the operation follows a pattern understood by both pursued and pursuer. If the boat carries a U.S. flag, the team can board right way once it seems to be safe. If there’s a foreign flag, the team must get approval from headquarters that can be done quickly or may take a few hours.

Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team (US Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class LaNola Stone)

Then comes the challenge of finding the suspected drugs which can be ingeniously concealed. The Coast Guard must match wits with some of the most inventive criminals on earth. The contraband may be in a secret compartment or under a false floor or in a spare engine on deck. In Miami Lt. Commander Daniel Delgado notes that on one occasion some fresh concrete seemed suspicious. Back in port, a jackhammer cut through the concrete to reveal the profitable cargo below.

Sometimes the trafficker may toss the drugs overboard to avoid detection and arrest. What floats to shore are known as “wash-ups,” debris that is often spotted by beach goers who pick it up and turn it in. It’s not a suitable souvenir.

For obvious reasons there are far fewer drug busts at sea than on land, but each haul is many times larger. The traffickers take their losses in stride. They can easily make these up in the trips that get through. Despite its best efforts, the Coast Guard estimates it only stops abut fifteen per cent of the sea smugglers.

There may be something if not purifying, at least cleansing by water. The Coast Guard is spared the every day scandals of land enforcement. There’s a going rate of $10,000 for a guard who lets a drug laden truck across the Mexican border – a pittance compared to what’s inside. A seagoing Coast Guard team faces no such temptation and can take pride in its accomplishments – not to detract from the heroism of the U.S. border patrol who can face every day violence from the aggressive drug cartels

At some point the U.S. must withdraw from its highly dubious efforts to intervene militarily in nations overseas with an idea of reforming them. Then more attention and budget can be given to the Coast Guard, a prime defender of the U.S. and those who want to come here without, to be sure, drugs.

Afghans Betrayed

U.S. treatment of Afghans in the unending war has been a mixture of confusion and indifference. Friends and enemies may be indistinguishable, the friend today may be the enemy tomorrow in multi-faceted Afghanistan. How is a hapless Washington bureaucrat going to keep up with all of this? That said, Major Mohammed Naiem Asadi was clearly on our side.

A decorated helicopter pilot, he has logged thousands of flight hours and is said to have destroyed more of the enemy than anyone else in the Afghan air force. In response the Taliban have threatened his life on the ground. They told his father hand over your son or we’ll kill your entire family.

Major Mohammed Naiem Asadi

Knowing the threat is serious, Major Asadi asked for asylum in the U.S. and apparently it was granted. But just before he and his wife and daughter were about to board a plane to the U.S., the decision was reversed on Washington orders. The reason? Like so much else in the Afghan war it was unclear. But orders are orders.

Now Asadi is in hiding no less a target of Taliban wrath.

Mullah Mohammed Khaksar was intelligence chief of the Taliban until its leader Mullah Omar had some doubts and demoted him to deputy interior minister, where he still had control of a large police force. When I met him in Kabul on an assignment for Voice of America a year before 9/11, he seemed friendly and hospitable but clearly the voice of the Taliban.

No so. At great personal risk, he was in contact with the CIA and was furnishing not only useful information but plans on how he and other defecting Taliban leaders could link with an anti-Taliban military force and overthrow Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. He told Kathy Gannon, a top reporter covering Afghanistan: “There were people in the Taliban who wanted to work with the international community, who didn’t want the foreign fighters, who wanted them gone. But with no help from the outside, we couldn’t do anything, and then it was too late.”

Mullah Mohammed Khaksar

With the war underway, he offered information on where bin Laden might be found. That too was ignored. Knowing he was now an obvious target of the Taliban, he asked for some protection from the U.S. He was turned down and soon executed by the Taliban in the city of Kandahar.

Mullah Khaksar of the past and Major Asadi of today may serve as bookends for a  war that didn’t have to be, and their plight can symbolize what a beautiful country and proud people have endured.