Monday, September 9, 2013

The Line Of Courage and Determination In The Sand

2181 years ago a Roman consul Gaius Popillius Laenas, delivered one of the earliest known “Line In The Sand” ultimatums against King Antiochus IV of Syria.   Is there a message buried in a two millennium old event that might inform Barack Obama as he rattles the military might over which American voters handed him title of Commander In Chief (CIC)?

Antiochus was a descendent of Seleucus, an Alexander the Great general who had taken Syria as his quarter of Alexander’s Empire upon the young Emperor’s untimely death. Antiochus had violently conquered, pillaged, and generally run amuck around the Eastern Mediterranean controlling Israel, capturing Cyprus and overrunning all of Egypt, except for Alexandria.

When Antiochus decided to also take control of Alexandria in 168BC, Rome’s tolerance for his exploits withered. Rome’s Senate appointed a Roman Consul as its ambassador to stop Antiochus’ further advance.  The Senate sent Gaius Popillius Laenas, bestowing in Popillius Authority to carry the full power of Rome’s military might, and to speak and act on Rome’s behalf.  The assignment commissioned Popillius to stop a powerful army marching under Antiochus’ leadership.
In 168BC Rome was the most powerful nation on Earth with the largest army. Popillius’ commission might have seemed straightforward enough, were it not for the fact that the Roman Senate dispatched their envoy by ship along with only a dozen attendants (lictors) in support.
History tells us that Popillius landed at Alexandria, and confronted King Antiochus confidently leading a wall of Syrian soldiers marching along the Nile toward the great ancient city.  The confrontation was apparently short and effective.  Antiochus intructed Popillius that Rome had no business in Egypt, to which Popillius replied that neither did Syria.  Then Popillius did something which must have taken some degree of daring and courage.  He told Antiochus that he was offending the Roman Senate, and the people of Rome and that he had been instructed to make the King return to Syria. What scene that must have been – a dozen men facing an army, and telling its leader to go home.
Not surprisingly, the request was met with laughter, and the 168BC version of Oh yah, you and whose army?  with Antiochus asking,  “how are you going to make me go home? Where is your army?”
Popillius explained to Antiochus something like, “I am everything that is Rome. I am Rome. I am Rome’s largest army. Go home.”
If observed from one hundred feet above the setting just outside Alexandria through the eyes of a falcon, this is one of those moments in history, which would have provided boundless admiration for an almost solitary Roman Consul.  Gaius Popillius Laenas remained steadfast through the exchange, and with another, “No,” from Antiochus, Popillius drew a complete circle around the King in the Egyptian soil, with his staff.
Against the backdrop of the Syrian army looking on, Popillius instructed their King, “Before you step out of this circle, think again, and when you do step out of it, be facing East, and go home to Syria.”
History informs us that King Antiochus IV turned around and marched with his army out of Egypt.
Much can be learned from Popillius and his superiors in 168BC, including:
1.  Understand the power you have at your disposal and how to use it.
2.  Establish its most effective and beneficial application.
3.  Effectively negotiate with a strategy to do so, rather than ad libbing on the fly with whatever non-sense your ego feels necessary.
4.  Delegate authority.  If you’re surrounded by head-nodding advisors, the bench isn’t deep enough to be delegated any authority.  Deepen your bench.
5.   Deliver the message concisely, clearly, emphatically and with uncompromising confidence.  That dramatically affects the reception of the message.
6.  Here is a simple one which seems a long reach for the current CIC – Mean what you say.
7.  When you set out on a mission, have a plan and hold the determination to implement it.
8.  Don’t blink.

.... Read more!

Obama's Syrian Distraction

Who would ever have thought that examination of the continuing dire economic struggles distressing most Americans would completely disappear from the headlines and from public discussion?  Who would have believed that America’s stature in the world would be shaken over a failed state like Syria?   But here we are.  Americans are scrambling for part-time jobs, while listening to dictators insulting the resident of their most powerful office – the office they revere above all others.
The Oval Office has been imbued with almost magisterial spirit by a Nation founded on revolutionary determination.  The Presidency has since Washington been expected to personify the resolution, character and tenacity of those who first recoiled against the unreasonable arrogance of royalty.  That inspiration, which America breathed into the Oval Office since its creation 224 years ago, has lifted many common men who sought and accepted the responsibilities of the office to become greater than they were.

Whoever it elects to its Oval Office, America looks for the individual to fill that room fully.  It has every right to expect that person to ‘rise to the occasion,’  and it wants to feel that in that four or eight year undertaking, the President will reflect America’s own dreams, aspirations, resolution, forthrightness, and honor.  America wants its President to reflect its greatness.  Today, in a time of economic distress, Americans more than ever need a President who can provide the prospect of diminishing anguish.
No one expects a President to have all the answers, but it is reasonable to expect a President to attempt leading positively, surrounded by the best minds America has to offer for input on strategic thinking, analysis, design and implementation.
After five years of an Obama Presidency slamming business and industry, and littered with scandals ranging from IRS targeting conservatives, to Benghazi lies, to Solyndra, and to the NSA, America is presented with a deliberate provocation of the international community and an insane debate on WAR.
What WAR?  Obama’s WAR.  The Western MSM is misrepresenting the most important question:  Who will Obama’s ego be fighting?  We’ve heard it’s just a “shot across the bow” of Assad.  Let’s be clear, this is not a WAR about abuse of internationally prevailing modes of conduct on the use of poisonous chemical gas, although such provides poignant carriage, lifting emotions enough to confuse common sense. This is not about indignation on the death of an estimated 100,000 dead Syrians.  It can’t be.  Many times that number have died at the hands of Iranian leaders, Chinese leaders, and sundry African war lords without consequence. This is not really about Iran and Israel.
The WAR noise is about ego and vexation, with a dose of revenge to be inflicted on a seemingly weak adversary (Assad) on the part of a slighted personality who made serious missteps in front of the world, Barack Obama.  Not a slighted Office of The President, but a slighted individual, Barack Obama.
Other scandals grown from this Administration’s mismanagement and ineptitude, have cost lives, . . . Benghazi and the ATF ‘Fast and Furious,’ to name two.  Syria’s civil war has been used as a personal platform to rebuild the Obama Administration’s disintegrating credibility, erase the long list of scandals from public consciousness, assuage an ego in dire need of approval, and provide Obama with a lasting legacy on the world stage.  Whatever the wishful thinking, missiles fired into Syria will provide none of these.
Barack Obama going to WAR  with “My military” will inevitably ignite widescale slaughter across the Middle East.
At some point, Barack Obama became convinced that he could flex some military might.  After all, spiking the ball immediately after the hit on Bin Laden had been so well received by the devoted.  Even many conservatives had approved. Had it not been a glorious hour? Too many secrets were blurted out, endangering certain members of “His military,” but what marvelous triumph that operation had been.  And all the media had cheered.
Knowledge, capacity for strategic thinking based on engaged practical understanding, analysis based on input from depth of counsel equipped with independent, even contrarian minds,  experience,  and propensity to be decisive, are required when that so-called 3:00am phone call comes in.  The WAR  discourse which the world is now enbroiled in, did not get launched by a  3:00am phone call.  It comes from the imagination of Barack Obama.  The man who actually said this past week while in a foreign country, “my credibility isn’t on the line. . . . . America’s credibility is on the line” lacks all of those competencies.
Libya presented no long term calamitous consequences because it presented no significant import to foreign unfriendly Nations.  Egypt offered even less of material consequence to serious foreign rivals. Both Libya and Egypt also offered little of strategic substance to our foes.
Syria (Assad), presents a completely different strategic creature to two very powerful adversaries, Russia and Iran, or more accurately, Vladimir Putin and Ali Khamenei.  Putin has been buoyed by the stratospheric prices which oil and gas have enjoyed in recent years. Assad has been a useful customer of Putin arms, and provides Putin with a growing naval presence on the Mediteranean, Tardus, which is his only foreign military base.  Putin also has long term plans for Syria’s geography. He has a cozy relationship with Khamenei who needs to sell his oil and gas, particularly his gas in the vast South Pars gas field. Putin wants his Gasprom to build the pipeline through Syria which will quench the gas thirst of energy-consuming countries, particularly those of the EU.  Assad provides Putin and Khamenei an agreeable conduit for gas, as well as a pathway for arms and ammunition with which Iran can continue to attack Israel and kill its citizens.  For icing on his energy cake, Putin has his eye on the undeveloped offshore gas fields which can be accessed from Syria’s Alawite region on the shores of the Mediteranean.
An attack on Assad, is a provocation which threatens Putin and Khamenei at home, and in their pocket books.  Putin may not care if Syria remains whole, as long as enough of it remains under his control, and enables him to fulfill his ‘energy’ dollar objectives.
And Israel?  It would applaud the disintegration of Syria by anyone and by any means. Who could blame it?  Its priority is a removal of Assad and his replacement with someone less antipathetic to Israel in its conflict with Iran.  Israel may not be confident that it can control whoever the ‘rebel leader’ might be who will rise to power if Assad is removed, but what it is certain of, is that it cannot ‘deal’ with Assad.  It is looking for a new Syrian leader, and does not subscribe to “better the enemy you know.”  However, Israel expects a severing of relations between Syria and Iran, should a new leader be installed. That can only occur with force since Khamenei is not about to let Israel and the United States gain an upper hand in Syria.
Putin may be considered coarse, but he is a strategic thinker.  He took total control of Russia’s vast disjointed socioeconomic and political landscape through a thorough, effective, forceful, sometimes ruthless, campaign.  He now rules that nation with a firm hand. In order to maintain his ‘strongman’ image at home, Putin can hardly allow loss of Syria from his sphere of influence.  He also knows that for different reasons, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar want to weaken Syria’s relationship with Iran.
Putin has not forgotten his loss of Gaddafi’s billions in contracts when he failed to prevent the obliteration of the Libyan regime, from his seat on the UN’s Security Council.  How could this Administration not have fully grasped that a blow on Syria would be nowhere near as much a slam on Khamenei, as it would be a blast to Putin, to his ego, and to his personal pocket-book.  How could it not envisage that Putin would not stand down?  Could NOT stand down?
Putin also knows that Obama made such a mistake on Syria, that he purposely tweaked Obama’s ego with a reference to his being a “Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.”   Putin is the man in charge of Syria and he has declared himself its protector. He is the only one with whom a deal can be negotiated.  Syria, being decimated by a conflagration of disparate armed insurgents, will end up not only broken psychologically, but will end up divided into zones of ‘influence.’
Obama has successfully blustered American taxpayers for five years, but he isn’t so effective at deceiving, or negotiating with Putin or Khamenei.
Obama’s bluff has been called.  Barack Obama must stand down unless he wants to militarily engage Putin, militarily engage Khamenei, find the overnight blockage of the Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz, and watch the price of oil rise sharply, further burdening America with higher costs of living.  Obama should not seek more excuses for his “shots across Assad’s bow” to indulge his own image. He must back off on the fearmongering and warmongering.
As Europe continues to teeter on the edge of an unprecedented debt abyss, and the U.S. cannot find a foothold on the path to recovery,  American taxpayers cannot afford, and will not afford, Barack Obama’s self-satisfaction through military action against Syria.  Barack Obama has not risen to the occasion of the Presidency.
The Oval Office will survive his insecurities and maladroit management of all things Presidential, but Obama’s image may not recover from his Syrian diversion.

.... Read more!