The American who did not return

Robert Levinson did not come home with the rest of the released  prisoners from Iran.  His family has been on a number of stations, including CNN and Fox.  People are suddenly interested in those Obama didn’t get released from Iran.

His case is quite different from the other Americans. In Mr. Levinson’s case, the leaders in  Iran say they don’t know where Mr. Levinson is.  They deny having any involvement with his disappearance.  Hence, it is difficult to negotiate for the release of a missing person.

I’ve combed the internet looking at what could have happen to Mr. Levinson.  Is there proof that Mr. Levinson is alive?   Honestly, I really hate to say this but the evidence is weak.  But, the family believes strongly that he is in fact, still alive and imprisoned in Iran.  They believe the Iranian officials are lying when they deny any knowledge of his whereabouts.  Their hope increased as the Iran deal was negotiated, and hope Mr. Levinson would be”found” and returned to the US as part of the negotiations.

There have been two photographs of Mr. Levinson, received by his family.  It is possible that these are fakes.  It is terrible that anyone could intentionally inflict more pain on the family by creating fake photos. But there are all sorts of very weird people in this country.

The proof that Mr. Levinson went to Iran in year 2007 is rock solid.  He was staying on Kirk Island which is part of Iran.  His signature on a check out bill, dated March 9, 2007 from a hotel in Kirk Island.  It was reported in the Iranian state  run PressTV  on April 4, 2007 that he had been take into custody on March 9, 2007 and would be released shortly.  His family has confirmed that his name does not appear on any flight manifests leaving Kirk Island.   This is where the trail goes cold.   And it’s been cold for nearly 9 years.

Unlike the other prisoners,  Iran has never accused Mr. Levinson of doing anything wrong.  In fact, when members of his family went to Kirk Island in December 2007,  they say the Iranian officials treated them well.

There are a lot more details on Mr. Levinson’s trip,  which had been summarize in Wikipedia:

Wikipedia- Robert Levinson

His family has created a website,  with many links to news media stories:

Help Bob Levinson Website

It is just possible that  Iranians just might be telling the truth.  Anyone who has knowledge of Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts, can make a quick 5 million dollars, courtesy of the FBI.

Of course, the news media has jumped all over the prisoner release and Mr. Levinson’s case.   Republican candidates like Marco Rubio has widely condemned the prisoner swap, as putting American’s imperil.  I guess the idea is that a president of any country can just scoop up a few Americans, and negotiate with the White House to get their countrymen released as part of an exchange.  It is pretty silly, as most of the foreigners in our prisons are people their own governments want to be released.

Travel always carries some risk, and in general, more care has to be taken in a number of countries.  I happen to have some experience with this, having visited a number of countries in South America, Africa and the Middle East, including Syria, Libya, Colombia  and Angola.  There is always a risk of kidnapping and robbery.   Interestingly, kidnapping of foreigners is rare in the Middle East countries, but theft occurs in all major cities.  Miami has a lot of theft too.   Take my word for it!

But Americans were safe from the possibility of kidnapping in Iran, because money could not be wired into the country.  But, with the lifting of sanctions, this has changed.   However, I do not expect kidnapping to be a major problem, as most tourists will travel in organized groups.   Any money wired into the country for ransom will be quickly tracked down, and the kidnappers will be arrested.

Countries like Egypt,  Algeria and  Libya can pose risks for foreign journalists, but not for tourists.  A journalist who is relocated to Iran from Nigeria may actually feel more secure.  It is all relative.  Tourists must behave themselves.  This is probably rule number 1 in travel: Respect,  courtesy  and patience are absolute requisites- it’s not your country.

A lot of good tips are available on the internet for the intrepid traveler.  The cell phone is your friend and constant companion.  Learn speed dialing!  If you enjoy wandering around strange places, as I do, learn to keep a low profile.   Learn from nature- it is always better to travel in a group.  Local contacts can be essential.

But, I seem to be digressing here.   Bob Levinson’s  disappearance is a tragedy.  The information on his disappearance is very sparse. The disappearance should not become political.   There is no evidence Iran is hiding him, and it is not particularly useful for the US to demand release of a missing person or to accuse Iran of lying.    The 5 million dollars reward by the FBI for information was a good idea.  Americans traveling abroad to Iran in general should not be worried about being detained by the Iranian government, but also follow safe traveling tips.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

 

 

Hope for Libya

It has been a busy week.  It is hoped that the rival factions in Libya will finally sign a peace accord on December 16.   This was announced on December 11 at the conclusion of a two day meeting in Tunis.  See link below.

The Arab Spring in 2011 resulted in the overthrow of Gaddafi, and a National Transitional Government took over.  The calm came to an end in 2014, with open warfare broke out among the  various ethnic/ religious  groups.

The internationally recognized government is located in Tobruk, located on the far eastern side of Libya, close to Egypt.  The rival government is located in Tripoli, on the western coast, the traditional capital of Libya.  In the western desert areas, bordering Algeria,  the Tuareg forces are in control.  They were loyal to Gaddafi during the 2011 civil war.

ISIL apparently controls Sirte located on the coast in the center of Libya,  the birth place and the city most  loyal to Gaddafi.

Kerry flew to Rome today to take part in a high level ministerial meeting, and voiced strong support for a cease fire and the peace agreement.

I believe the strategy to unification , obtain a cease fire “peace” agreement between the Tobruk and Tripoli governments, and  then work jointly to defeat the more extreme  jihadist factions.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

A fierce battle for control of Libya’s deserts 

Kerry goes to Rome for talks on Libya unity government

Libyan parties set 16 December as date to sign political agreement – UN envoy

Libya – Wikipedia 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solutions to terrorism

No short term solutions.   There is no single action the US can do to defeat ISIL.   Eliminating ISIL or similar groups with the jihadist philosophy is likely impossible, in that it only takes a couple of fanatics to pull off an act of terrorism.   What Obama and the rest are focused on, is helping Iraq and Syria take back their control of cities and cutting off access to resources.  This is what I concluded after listening to President Obama on Sunday, December 6 and Susan Rice on CNN, which aired on the same day.  What began, at least for the US, under George Bush, and continued under Obama, will continue to be a problem for the next president as well.

Susan Rice is President Obama’s National Security Advisor.   The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, CA made this interview very timely.  She was interviewed by Fareed Zacharia, as part of his normal weekly program, CNN-GPS.

The lack of US troops in Syria is being construed as a) a lack of leadership, lacking in resolve,    b) not being in touch with reality, delusional  (Lou Dobbs prefers the latter) or  c)  ignorant of the facts.   The strategy is actually a result of being very informed of the facts, on a daily basis.   McCain has blasted Obama for not sending in large numbers of troops into Syria, saying the US has not plan.  Truth is we don’t have his plan.

Susan  Rice was asked if the Obama administration underestimated the force of ISIL.   She sidestepped the question by responding that  since mid-2014, the Obama administration has been considered ISIL a major threat to both Iraq and Syria, and  steps have been taken to destroy their organization.   But, it’s clear, Obama underestimated the threat.  The infamous “Junior Varsity  comment” occurred in January 2014, shortly after Fallujah fell in Iraq.     This year, ISIL has  shown to be incredibly resourceful and organized  in establishing new bases in other countries.

ISIL 

Rice did not want the interview to focus on  prior mistakes.  The list of mistakes is long and goes back George Bush’s administration.  But, it is not likely in late 2013 and early 2014, there was much the Obama administration could have done.

The question of whether we are winning or losing the war against terrorism, is another one that Susan Rice chose not to directly answer.  There are a number of scorecards.  Since San Bernadino, there is a real gut feel that we’re losing to terrorism.   It particularly hit home, when they were showing the stockpiles of arms and bullets these two terrorists had accumulated.  But, this is not my scorecard.  I see it more as the cities under their control and the growth of the organization world wide.  A major defeat occurred when Boko Haram pledge allegiance to ISIL.

I agree with President Obama, that putting troops in Syria, beyond the small special op’s group, would be counter-productive.   It would be seen as an invasion force by both the Syrian  government and ISIL, and recast the fight against terrorism as a fight against the Muslim world, which we must avoid at all costs.  There are 1.6 billion Muslims in this world,  obviously outnumbering us 5 to 1.   We have far more latitude in Iraq, and may be able to increase are presence there- but it must be a multinational presence.

Susan Rice in her interview, was asked if the world is becoming less stable place to live.  This clearly open the discussion to go beyond ISIL.  She responded to the many initiatives taken by the Obama administration to lower tensions and help solve world problems.  The Ebola epidemic is one success.   The Iran deal is another one- yet it is way to early to know if this succeeds in the end.   The end of a policy of containment of Cuba, is another initiative to lower tensions- and hopefully create a more durable relationship with our neighbor.   A lot of crises which are hardly resolved, including Libya were not discussed.   Conflicts with Russia are a colossal regional  destabilizing threat, and Rice simply stated that the US is looking for common ground.

I was thinking how much opposition the Obama administration has gotten with each of these initiatives.  I remember how much flack Obama got when he sent 3,000 troops to Africa to help with the Ebola crisis in the transport of supplies.   Fox News commentators acted like Obama was insane- saying there will be 3,000 infected troops coming back to the US,  and pretty soon the numbers will be be 3 million or 30 million Americans with Ebola.   Ebola is a case where international cooperation produced incredible success.

Most of the really important efforts will take enormous  international cooperation.  This includes the international climate change accords, likely to come from the Paris summit.   It’s a tough road ahead, to find unity abroad, while there is so much division in the US.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

 

Libya- and the diminishing hope for peace

Avoiding a catastrophic war takes more cleverness than hubris- although both work.

“Force is all conquering, but it’s victories are short lived.”
Abraham Lincoln

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall take flack from both sides.”- Unofficial UN Motto

Imagine putting together a puzzle, and all of sudden, the pieces of the puzzle start dividing into more pieces.  But the pieces are hardly made of cardboard, but have money, arms and in many cases hold the most valuable resources of Libya- its oil fields.

Blessed UN  peacemaker Bernardino Leon of Spain has been attempting to negotiate a peace agreement among rival factions  in Libya.  It is far easier to topple a unpopular dictator, than to create a  unified country.   If Syria is the ultimate in a failed state and civil war by proxy,  then Libya easily qualifies for second place.

It has looked for many months as a peace agreement might be close at hand,  chiefly between the Tripoli based government and the Tobruk based government, but to also  include other rival factions.  The 42 year reign of Gaddafi came to an end in October 2011, after approximately 10 months of fighting.

There was great hope for a far more open and democratic society, post 2011 throughout Libya.  Things appeared to be returning to normal, with the election of a new President in 2013 – but there was a political storm brewing below the surface.  The second civil war began in May 2014 with Operation Dignity followed by Operation New Dawn.  These military operations captured the airport in Tripoli and drove the elected government out of Tripoli.

Leon’s time in Libya appears to be ending soon as he has accepted a position to head a thinktank in UAE, but not without controversy as UAE supports the Tobruk based government.

Leon Bernadino – New Assignment and Controversy

He will be replaced Martin Kobler, a German diplomat,  with extensive background in the Middle East.

German to take up UN Libya Post

The UN representatives can only make peace if the rival factions want peace.  If they believe more will be gained by waging war, then the Libyan civil war will continue.   But,  this immediately ends the attacks on Leon Bernardino, by the Tripoli based government, which I believe  were done  for popular support.  Bernardino had hammered out a peace proposal among the rival parties, but the Tripoli based government refused to sign it. Libyans have been fleeing their country in record numbers since last year as the civil war has continued.

So, perhaps the Tripoli government will sign the accord now, with Bernardino out of the picture.  Or more chaos will ensue.

Stay tuned,

Dave