The Rule of the Drug Cartels

The Mexican drug cartels can read the signs. Come on in. The weather is fine. They oblige and are now rapidly adding to the forces already here across an open border which is controlled by the cartels. It’s almost as if it’s their border, all 2,000 miles of it. Undermanned with no responding strategy, U.S guards hardly get in the way. Drugs and people flow freely in.

The last time I looked illegal migrants in El paso and across the river in Juarez were almost all vigorous males, not the least hesitant about entering the U.S. Robust and amiable, they patiently awaited the cartel command as to when and where to cross. They obviously don’t qualify for asylum and aren’t looking for jobs. These are assured on the vast drug cartel distribution network spanning the U. S. or among the tens of thousands of illegal armed marijuana farms proliferating in the American west – slices of Mexico recovered from what was lost to the U.S. in the 1840s war The cartels have their own notion of empire.

Almost all U.S. attention is focused on the hordes of illegal migrants now entering the country. While they are difficult and overwhelming some cites, they are rarely killing people. Drugs are, especially deadly fentanyl, which is combined with more everyday drugs, an unsuspected killer. This is tolerated because of the polarization in the U.S. between those who take the drugs and those who promote them, wealthy, well placed individuals and organizations who enjoy the profits and are indifferent to the victims. Perhaps this is the greatest inequality of all.

Much encouraged, the drug cartels are moving south as well as north. Ecuador is their present destination for a southern takeover. They demonstrate this by breaking into a tv studio in the port city of Guayaquil, brandishing their guns, threatening the staff and announcing who is boss in Ecuador until they are hauled off by late arriving police. Riots in prisons with kidnapping of guards have further signaled the arrival of the cartels – vast drug traffic along with a surge in murders and other violence to keep people in line.

Screen grab of live video of gunmen taking over television studio in Guayaquil (TC Television network)

And this in Ecuador of all places, one of the most peaceful countries in Latin America. If only it were not next to Colombia, a top producer of cocaine. Colombia had the traffic all to itself until a U.S. sponsored crackdown put it out of business. Then, as author Eduardo Gamarra explains, it’s a balloon effect. Squeeze in one place, the bulge appears elsewhere. Ecuador is now living with this deplorable bulge.

President of Ecuador Daniel Noboa (Fernando Sandoval / Asamblea Nacional, 23 November, 2023)

Newly elected Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa has promised to react with an “iron fist” by imposing a state of emergency and using the military to bring the cartels under control. In this he is following the example of the Central American nation, El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele has adopted harsh security measures and jailed close to 100,000 people to restore peace. Also under cartel control is Honduras, which like Mexico, is a virtual narco state. The cartels are the state. Other Latin American nations face a similar threat. The iron fist reaction is not kind to customary civil liberties, but the people are desperate for relief from this especially violent rule.

The Carlson Conundrum

The usual choice for a Vice President is a conventional politician sufficiently obscure not to overshadow the Presidential candidate. All the more surprising, then, that a hugely popular and highly controversial TV commentator, Tucker Carlson, is under serious consideration for the running mate of former President Trump who has a commanding lead in the polls. Does this make sense?

Not to the many critics of Trump who view Carlson as almost as objectionable. Here are two combative, combustible personalities with no respect for convention or normal rules of order, double trouble for the electoral system. But that’s just the point, insists Revolver News, which has close ties to Trump. Carlson reinforces Trump’s populist instincts and as Vice President would assure his legacy after his final four years in office. The conventional politician, shifting with the wind to suit his ambition, could not be counted on.

Tucker Carlson

That legacy doesn’t appeal to critics, even frightens them as an antidemocratic trend to something much worse. Words like fascism arise. Scare words, scoff Trump or Carlson who say they want to revive an imperiled democracy. At issue, in particular, is the formulation of U.S. foreign policy dominated by the neocons since the turning point of 9/11. Going their own way under both Democratic and Republican administrations, they have promoted a series of wars and other military interventions that have turned out badly and made a mess of the Middle East and surrounding areas. Israel would supposedly benefit, though it is now in greater danger than ever and the Arab world is enflamed.

This war making is an example of the Deep State in action that escapes the notice of the public. Timely intervention is needed. In fact, a Carlson on hand could prevent such a lapse as the neocon-driven assassination of top Iranian general Soleimani. Aside from the fact that assassination is a cowardly form of warfare that seldom achieves what it intends, Soleimani was just the kind of adroit international operator with whom a Trump could do business.

Critics pounce on Trump’s seeming indifference to overseas conflicts and his talk of scuttling NATO, which was set up to deter an aggressive Stalin who no longer exists. Isolationism, they claim. But the military doesn’t have to be called on to solve everything. There are other ways to deal with competitive or adversarial nations. The U.S. can try its hand once again at diplomacy and skillful use of its prestige and economic maneuver to accomplish its ends. In his own way ambitious, anti-West President Xi of China is doing exactly that. His moves across the global chessboard may be challenging and unsettling, but they avoid the catastrophe of war.

Standing in the way of the development of a coherent foreign policy is the enormous roadblock of money. Lavishly pouring out of various lobbies, its many millions promote policies that can be irrelevant or injurious to the body politic, a society of greater economic inequality than ever before. The top one percent thrives at the expense of the remaining ninety-nine per cent. Reform is stymied because the politicians in charge are beholden to this money to win elections and keep their jobs.

That being the case, let’s speculate. It would be truly democratic as well as populist to submit any proposed war or serious military intervention to the vote of the entire American public, a national referendum. The outcome from a commonsensible population would be far better than the money-driven policies of a compromised leadership. Probably all the recent useless wars, including the one fizzling to an inglorious end in Ukraine today, would have been voted down. It’s not exactly what the Founding Fathers, far-seeing as they were, had in mind. But who could have predicted this tyranny of money?

The Dresden Model

Israeli generals say they are doing no more in Gaza than U.S. bombers did to German cities like Dresden in World War II. But that was not the finest hour of the allies. With the war almost over three waves of British and U.S. bombers obliterated one of the most esteemed ancient cites in Europe that had little, if anything, to do with the Nazi war effort and had no military value whatsoever. It was an act of vengeance mindless of humanity.

So, Israelis are saying perhaps more than they intend. Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, U.S. military historian Robert Pape says the Israeli assault on Gaza is “one of the most heavy bombing campaigns in history, a massive collective punishment against civilians.” In densely packed Gaza, 17,000 people, including large numbers of children, have been killed to date with more to come since there’s no letup in the bombing. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says it will continue until all Hamas is destroyed, a formidable task that may be limited by the extent of Israeli casualties of which we are unaware so far.

In a hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis veteran British surgeon Tom Potokar is doing his best to cope with the unending stream of wounded and dying, half of them children, that are brought to his care. Having worked in conflicts in Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen, he says this is the worst yet. So many casualties in so short a time.

Dr. Tom Potokar (The International Committee of the Red Cross)

The Independent reports that he is presently treating a burns patient whose wounds are septic since the dressing had not been changed for days. On the next bed lies a three-year old boy whose legs had been amputated the night before after an air strike. An eight-year-old boy’s brain is exposed since bombing damaged his skull. An eye has been removed from a teenage girl because every bone in her face has been smashed. Another badly burned child is screaming for his mother he doesn’t know is dead. There are not enough pain killers to relieve his suffering.

Israel is completely dependent on weaponry from the U.S. to continue the war. These include precision guided small diameter 250lb bombs and earth-shaking 2000lb bombs that seem to turn the ground liquid as they flatten everything below. It’s said the U.S. could stop the war on a dime if it cut off the weapon supply. But the Biden Administration has backed the Israelis to the hilt while urging more caution in bombing. One angry phone call from U.S. President Ronald Reagan halted Israel’s 1982 assault on Lebanon.

Palestinian children wounded in Israeli strikes at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. (Ali Mahmoud/The AP)

The present conflict has given rise to unusual antisemitism around the world, including American college campuses. It has been denounced and college presidents have been rebuked or removed for apparent nonchalance about it. But the best way to stop antisemitism is to stop the slaughter in Gaza.

The Price of War

It’s estimated that half a million Iraqi children died from starvation and disease as a result of U.S. sanctions after the ‘91 Gulf War. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, then in office, was asked if that price was worth it to try to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. She replied famously or infamously, yes, it was worth the price. Children are expendable for the loftier aim – however misguided – of war.

The same question might be put to supporters of the current war in Gaza where the deaths of Gazans are at 15,000 and counting as Israeli forces move south after destroying the north. To what purpose? Partly revenge after the brutal October seven attack by Hamas, but also, as declared by many, to create a greater Israel with the expulsion of Palestinians. Out of sight, out of mind.

Palestinians search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, October 31, 2023.
(Anas al-Shareef | Reuters)

But not really. After the days of carnage so visible on tv the regional Arab world will be united in horror. The division between Arab countries hostile to Israel and those willing to reach an accommodation will be sealed, not to mention the Gazan refugees burning for revenge. As for the rest of the world, the attitude of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is indicative. He resists U.S. efforts to make him less supportive of Hamas and less critical of Israel. He could well set an example Inasmuch as Hamas is a rallying cry as well as an armed marauder. One way or another it’s going to be around postwar.

Israel itself is hardly united on this war if unanimously appalled by Hamas. With his reputation as a peacemaker, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told CNN that it was current prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who initially built up Hamas as a foil to the Palestinian Authority, thereby dividing his enemies. Today he faces a monster of his own creation. Let the more pacific minded Israelis prevail.

In the fever of war its outcome is largely ignored. The conclusion of World War II is still being reexamined up to the present day. Understandably, Americans were filled with hatred of Nazis even to the point of letting their prisoners of war starve to death after they had surrendered. But then, quite suddenly, the U.S was confronted with an equal, if not more formidable foe in Stalinist Russia, which seized eastern Europe and was ready to move on the West. The Germans were quickly revived as allies in the struggle ahead. Why had we been so solicitous of the Stalinists in the war?

Ehud Barak at Pentagon (photo by Robert D. Ward)

Conservatives want to conserve family, tradition, pride of nation. But what about conserving lives on whom all these other values depend? First things first: lives. Conservative commentators on tv, clamoring for scalps, should be required to take a course in military history – say reading Julius Caesar who won wars with calculation not hate – before lecturing us on the air.

If the Gaza war is allowed to continue, the price will not be worth it. Sorry, Madam Albright.

Gaza Under Siege

How does such a small stretch of land like Gaza – 25 miles long, six miles wide – have such a giant set of problems? It’s unfortunately situated between Israel and the Mediterranean and therefore in the center of the everlasting Israeli-Arab conflict. It’s currently experiencing the worst bloodbath yet as Israeli bombs have so far killed over 13,000 people, including 6,000 children. It’s not just local since neighboring states and groups are poised for possible intervention, and even distant powers – the U.S. Russia, China – are keeping a wary, nervous eye on unfolding events.

The Palestinians were the first to strike. At dawn on October 7 2,000 militants from Hamas, which nominally governs Gaza, broke through Israeli border defenses and proceeded to attack three military installations, burning tanks and other vehicles, killing and capturing soldiers whom they dragged away as hostages along with many civilians whose presence in Gaza is unknown.

Israelis were astounded. How did ragged militants from Gaza pull this off? In fact, it had been planned for a long time in Gaza’s frustration at an Israeli blockade that has caused severe shortage of basic necessities, resulting in what is called, an “open-air prison.” Israel replied in kind, massively bombing northern Gaza, ordering Palestinians to move south and threatening to destroy Hamas to the last man.

Leading the Israeli assault is Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who has built a career on reviling Arabs and leads a Likud Party that supports their removal from Israel altogether. He also backs the angry, armed settlers who continue to help themselves to Palestinian land on the West Bank. The war came to his political rescue since he faces severe charges of corruption like taking bribes from a Hollywood producer involved in sending U.S. nuclear secrets to Israel.

The bombing he ordered has been intense. There seems to be little left standing in northern Gaza as the war now moves south. Israelis have in particular targeted hospitals which they claim provide cover for Hamas command posts. With tanks and troops, they invaded Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa, and found an opening in the ground that may lead to a network of tunnels beneath, though it has yet to be proved. There’s a question as to whether Israel would risk entering the well-fortified tunnels where battle hardened Hamas has an advantage.

A child runs in front of damaged buildings after airstrikes by Israel hit buildings in Gaza City.
ALI JADALLAH/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

The toll on children’s lives is staggering. In such a concentrated population every wayward bomb makes its mark, and there is no end to the strikes. A New York Times reporter on the scene describes desperate parents in search of missing children, children crying for parents they no longer see. Four-year-old Ahmad Shabat lies in a hospital bed with both legs amputated. Unaware, he keeps wanting to walk and asks for his mother and father who were killed along with several other family members by the same Israeli bomb. Doctors, overwhelmed with patients and lack of medicine, try to comfort him. A Red Cross worker at a Gaza shelter says children stay awake all night pleading “Please protect me. Please hide me. I don’t want to die.”

Netanyahu says Israelis don’t mean to kill civilians. That’s a casualty of war. But some stalwarts among his followers say killing children is permissible since they won’t be able to grow up to be terrorists.

Photos of this violence over the internet have led to pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the world and to a global spike in antisemitism. Neighboring Arab states and groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon are under pressure to intervene. Even great powers like the U.S., Russia and China have some involvement and could be drawn into this local maelstrom of destruction if it continues.

Wounded Palestinians wait for treatment at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City following the al-Ahli Arab Hospital explosion.(ABED KHALED/AP)

What to do? There’s a simple overarching answer. Give the Palestinians what they have been promised over and over but then denied – a state of their own. This would not only end the turmoil between Israel and Palestine but also much reduce the terrorist attacks that are justified by unwavering U.S. support of Israeli policies. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes that first of all Netanyahu must be removed given that he is the worst leader in Israeli history, maybe in all Jewish history. Then Israel must establish a center-left, center-right national unity government that can cope with the war and hopefully spell finish to a conflict that has plagued the country and the region for over seventy years.  

An Israeli Major for Palestine

One night on patrol Major Nir Avishai Cohen saw two figures approaching the other side of the fence surrounding Gaza. The order was clear: shoot anyone attempting to climb the fence on the assumption he was a terrorist. A sniper fired. Two fell. One was killed, the other wounded. In terror, the surviving seventeen year old boy explained that he and a friend were going to look for work in Israel since none was available in destitute Gaza. That turned out to be the case.

This and similar incidents started Cohen thinking about the job he was assigned to do; namely, patrol in the occupied Palestinian territories. Why were they occupied and what sense did that make? He concluded that he was there largely to protect the Israeli settlers who thought they were Biblically entitled to the land where Palestinians live. Aside from injustice, this left Israel less secure where no border in fact exists and terrorists, if they choose, can easily cross. He writes in his book, Love Israel, Support Palestine, the settlers of Messianic bent are the main barrier to a peace treaty with the Palestinians.

Selfie of Nir Avishai Cohen posted on Facebook, October 9, 2023

Understandably, Cohen has been vilified with ample curses and death threats. In the military he’s tolerated as a skilled machine gunner who expresses his views as well as he shoots. He’s particularly concerned to reach a wider public, especially the young who have experienced only a hard right government for most of their lives. He says that as a man of the left, he wants to wake up Israeli’s rather somnolent left.

It would have been hard to predict this stance when as a small-town farm boy, he delighted in picking mangos. But there was also the lure of military life, and he prepared himself with long grueling runs. The enemy? Nowhere to be seen. He never visited the Arabs a mere twenty minutes away. “Giant invisible walls were built and nurtured between the Jews and the Arab settlements.”

Today, he writes, the Israeli government is stalling on a solution. But the status quo is not sustainable as the present disastrous war clearly shows. “There are two populations – Jewish and Arab -who Ivie in the same territory but have two different legal systems. The Jewish population is subject to Israeli law while the Arab population is subject to martial law.” This isn’t democracy, he writes, but apartheid.

Damage following an Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal aera in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. Photo by Naaman Omar\ apaimages

Cohen has tried his hand at politics with minimal success. His dream is the creation of a Jewish-Arab political party. A tentative move in that direction is a group he joined called “Breaking Silence,” which consists of former military men anxious to tell what they have learned about Palestinians in their service. The group has run up against what Cohen calls “a well-oiled incitement machine with a lot of money and media know-how that acted and continued to act against anyone who dares to go against Israel’s presence in the territories.” But they figure their service counts in their favor. Since they have risked their lives in defense of their country, they can hardly be accused of not loving it. So please listen to us.

Here Comes the Roman Empire

Among the amusing videos offered by Tik-Tok is one that is definitely out of character: the Roman Empire. What’s it doing in this lighthearted crowd? Puzzled women are asking men how often they think about the long-gone empire because apparently they do. The answers are startling – maybe once a month, said some. Once a week, replied others, .and more than a few admitted they thought about it every day. That’s a lot of Rome.

The Last Senate of Julius Caesar by Raffaele Giannetti

They didn’t explain their reasons, but we can surmise. Rome stood for strength, cohesion and a near unbeatable army. Today in the U.S. that’s lacking. Since the turn of the century, we have engaged in a number of wars without winning any of them. Rome sets a better example. Let’s think about it.

More American macho, scoff women who note their gender had a much subordinate role in the vaunted empire. But there were significant exceptions, especially in times of crisis. Honoria, sister of Emperor Valentinian, was infuriated at being sent into exile for an indiscrete love affair.  In retaliation she sent a message offering herself to Attila,  indomitable leader of the invading Huns. With the promise of a top-level bride to be, he demanded half the empire and almost got it until he was defeated in the famous battle of Chalons

Still, empire was mainly a man’s business, and manliness was expected and prized. A Roman was tested by adversity which was never lacking in an empire under continual threat by outside forces accurately described as barbarians. Character and courage were the traits needed to make their mark and promote the interests of Rome. When these lapsed in later years, the empire was destined to fall, according to many historians. Herein lie character lessons for an inquiring man today.

Yet there was more. The great 18th century British historian Edward Gibbon wrote in the opening pages of his multi-volume “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “If a man were called to fix the period of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would without hesitation name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian (AD 96) to the accession of Commodus (AD 180). The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors whose character and authority commanded involuntary respect.”

The Romans fought hard to gain their empire and governed well to maintain it. Harsh when necessary to keep control, they left localities alone to govern themselves with their own values and gods. It was an instruction in self-government that assured an era of peace that the region had not known before or has known since.

Barbarian sack of Rome

This was exemplified by Julius Caesar who in his famed memoirs showed that aside from personal glory, he fought not to destroy neighboring Gaul but to bring it into the Roman Empire. No visionary or ideologue while a great general, he respected and didn’t hate the enemy he fought and was always negotiating while fighting. Come let’s all be Romans together, he said, and Gaul agreed.

This empire had a long run as empires go but eventually succumbed to barbarian pressures with emperors and armies that could no longer cope. But if we’re going to think about Rome, why not think big? What if it had managed to stave off the invaders and continued to exist through subsequent centuries? There would be no dark ages since arts and letters continued to flourish under Roman rule. No need for a Renaissance to revive them. Brilliant, creative European nations would develop under a watchful Rome able to prevent them from trying to destroy one another, culminating in two apocalyptic world wars whose savagery would have appalled even the barbarians who sacked Rome, while admiring it. Rome is gone, but understandably and thankfully, not its memory. See Tik-Tok