Friday, February 13, 2015

Yemen and the Gateway of Tears

By now you have probably learned that the up close and personal relationship the United States once had with the mid-eastern country of Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula has dissipated, since Yemen has been taken over by violent extremists who just happen to be Muslims with close connections to the Al Qaeda terrorist syndicate, as well as ISIS.

Maybe you're saying "so what," and feeling more than a little agitated about all this terrorist nonsense taking up broadcast and print space that could just as easily be devoted to the most recent entertainment awards show or political disputes. "What," you may be asking, "does any of this have to do with me?"

Well, welcome to the Gateway of Tears. What is the Gateway of Tears? It is a narrow waterway between Yemen and the east African country of Djibouti, which sits very uneasily between Ethiopia and Somalia.

This small body of water – 80 miles long by only about 20 miles wide at its widest point – is officially known as the Bab-el-Mandeb or the Mandeb Strait, and informally as the Gateway of Tears or the Gateway of Anguish. It connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, or, in reverse order it connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea which further connects to the Gulf of Suez, the Suez Canal and ultimately to the Mediterranean Sea.

Why does this matter? Oil, ladies and gentlemen, oil.

You see, while 90 percent of all international trade moves by ship – at least according to the US Navy – and the oceans of the world are vast and wide, there are less than a dozen or so chokepoints around the globe through which the vast majority of international shipping must move. To circumvent these chokepoints means thousands of extra miles per trip, per ship, and billions in extra annual costs.

Mideastern oil moving to international markets has two outlets from the Indian Ocean which is the preeminent body of water in that part of the globe.

Oil moving to European and American markets travels out of the Persian Gulf, through the Straits of Hormuz (chokepoint number one) and into the Arabian Sea which merges into the Indian Ocean. Traveling west the ships go to the Gulf of Aden, through the Mandeb Strait (chokepoint number two) to the Red Sea, Suez Canal (chokepoint number three) and onward. (If that ship passes out of the Mediterranean to Atlantic markets it must navigation the Straits of Gibraltar, chokepoint number four.)

To get to the Pacific markets ships must move through the Straits of Hormuz (chokepoint number one) and into the Arabian Sea which merges into the Indian Ocean, and from there through the Malacca Strait, (chokepoint number two for that trip) into the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean.  You may recall that recently an Air Asia jetliner disappeared in that area and the Malacca Strait gained international notoriety.

Control even two of those chokepoints and you control international oil transport. The freedom of movement through those chokepoints has been pretty much guaranteed for the past four decades, but now that is no longer certain. It is true that Iran regularly threatens to close down the Straits of Hormuz, but it also is true that the rest of the world regularly ignores the Iranian threats.

Now, however, we are facing another challenge. Djibouti is not a truly stable country, despite more than a decade of one-party rule. It has a small armed force and certainly could be seen as a viable target for manipulation to exert control over the Mandeb Strait, in collaboration with the new regime in Yemen. If it doesn't agree to do so peacefully, it could be coerced by threat of force.

So what are we going to do? Send drones over to teach them a lesson? Disarm the rest of our armed forces the way the State Department ordered the disarmament of the Marine embassy guards when the embassy in Yemen was abandoned? Engage in heartfelt discussions in which we try to see things from the terrorists' point of view?

Send out a sternly worded letter?

We need a plan; or expect to see oil prices skyrocket once again. Needlessly. Any ideas?
Sunday, February 01, 2015

Note to FOX on THE FIVE – Muzzle Beckel on Vietnam

Watching the FOX News Channel current affairs show The Five, so named due to its five co-hosts and that it airs at 5 p.m. weeknights, is a constant in my home. If we can't watch it live, we record it to watch later.

There are myriad reasons for our loyalty but prime among them is the fact that my wife, who is not a political junkie by any means, has long been impressed by the knowledge, strength and delivery of Dana Perino, one of the show's co-hosts. Her admiration for Perino goes back to the days when Perino was White House Press Secretary under George W. Bush.

Added to Perino's charisma are the equal but different strengths of Kimberly Guilfoyle and Andrea Tantaros. Basically my wife believes these women – well educated, experienced in national and world matters, and possessing high levels of common sense – are good role models and she makes it a point to keep informed on issues of the day by listening to them on The Five.

Personally I also have noticed that these women, who rotate their appearances, are strikingly beautiful, but hey, that could just be me. Male co-host Greg Gutfeld brings another dose of much needed common sense, often with an infusion of righteous indignation, and Eric Bolling comes across as a father figure with an extensive knowledge of finance and business.

Then there is Bob Beckel, the lone, self-described, long-suffering liberal, who occasionally is spelled by Juan Williams. Beckel refers often to his early, hands-on involvement alongside his father in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Beckel does and should take great pride in his personal history in that tumultuous time, sometimes going on tirades if he thinks the issue is being disrespected or taken lightly.

However, Beckel also has a annoying habit of shooting from the hip, making comments on issues in which he has an emotional interest, but little in the way of direct knowledge. That in turn gets him a lot of whacks in the social media, some of which come from me when he goes off on issues related to the Vietnam War.

Such was the case on Friday's show when the panel was discussing the case of Army Private Bowe Bergdahl, who disappeared from his unit in Afghanistan, and later turned up in the company of the Taliban. His fellow soldiers say he is a deserter and traitor but President Obama traded the solider for five General-level international terrorists, promoting him to Sergeant as well.

The debate was whether we should engage in prisoner swaps, and whether that has been our history as a country. After virtually the entire panel repeated the inaccurate mantra that the US leaves no soldiers behind, the issue of POWs left in Korea arose, followed by Beckel speaking of prisoners left behind in Vietnam after the American involvement ended. Beckel made the unforgivable, reprehensible comment that those left behind were "deserters" and then mumbled something about the US attempting to rescue them.

This is a total crock on both counts. I have researched this issue both personally and as an investigative reporter for three decades and even though the Internet of late has been inundated with false "research" attempting to debunk the POW issue, there has been a ton of solid research which maintains that American  POWs were left behind in Laos after the Paris Peace Accords of 1973.

Substantial research indicates that then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and others in the Nixon administration refused to negotiate directly with the Laotian communists, the Pathet Lao, who held the American prisoners. Since there were no direct negotiations with the Pathet Lao and subsequently no payment of billions in reparations allegedly promised by the Nixon administration, the Pathet Lao kept somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 US POWs, mostly airmen shot down over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the final years of the war.

They were honorable American troops serving the country they believed in; and they were deserted by their government. How many is not relevant. That they existed is relevant. They were not deserters and many Americans believe with good reason that the US government worked over decades – both parties – to hide their existence, not rescue them.

This is not new; Americans were left behind after WWI, WWII (Bill O'Reilly touches on this in his book Killing Patton), Korea and Vietnam.

Bob Beckel owes Vietnam veterans, Fox viewers, the American military and the families of those who were left behind by the government a sincere apology. And FOX should sit down with Mr. Beckel and impress on him the importance of speaking the truth, or staying quiet.

To be fair, there are times when I completely agree with Bob Beckel, and I hope that doesn't give anyone a heart attack. But it wouldn't hurt if someone at FOX reminded him of the saying that at times "It's better to keep your mouth closed and have people think you a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt."


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