By Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
In the Cradle of Civilization, which most remember as the Fertile Crescent, the pantheon of the gods was filled with protectors of the living and the dead. One was the goddess ISIS, who emerged in the Nile Delta and was later found in Greco-Roman civilization. ISIS had many roles; for some the protector of the dead, for others the protector of the downtrodden and children. Today, these gods are long forgotten, sometimes resurrected in college classes on religion or the origins of civilization. However, ISIS is all over the news and it has nothing to do with her or images of her that can still be seen on Egyptian tomb paintings along the fabled Nile River.
ISIS is associated with terror in modern-day Syria and Iraq. It is a violent and extreme Fundamentalist Sunni Muslim military group, an off-shoot of al-Qaeda that not only wants to erase the borders of Syria and Iraq but also create a transnational caliphate (Islamic state) based on the most strident interpretation of Sunni Islam. In its full name and not the abbreviation, we can understand its intentions and grasp its ultimate goal: I (Islamic) S (State) of I (Iraq) and S (al-Sham-Syria). Its black-clad cadres carry black flags and conjure up images of the SS on the move. In a well-planned and well-coordinated blitzkrieg assault, ISIS seized much of central and eastern Syria and is now moving through Iraq, its aim to isolate Baghdad and seize the south. It now controls the border crossings with Jordan and Saudi Arabia and many fear these nations are its next targets in keeping with its dream of a Sunni caliphate. It has seized banks, oil facilities, and weapons left behind by the USA for use by the now nearly defunct Iraqi army, including six Blackhawk helicopters and missiles. Overnight, ISIS has replaced Iran as the most feared threat in a region not known for stability.
If ISIS takes Baghdad and manages to consolidate its control over Iraq, the Middle East, as the world has known it for decades, may become a thing of the past. ISIS will have realized bin Laden’s ultimate goal: a major nation of his own to export terrorism and stand at the heart of a revived Sunni caliphate.
However frightening and dismal the situation appears, ISIS may have overreached itself; taking territory is one thing, holding on to it quite another. The Kurds are strong enough to repel an invasion and the Shi’a militias are battle-hardened after years of fighting the Americans. If the militias, working with the rump Iraqi army, arrest the ISIS assault and push them back, Obama may arm the Shi’a militias, our old foe. As a force on the move, ISIS is far from its home base in northern Syria and must loot what it needs to continue.
But ISIS is a very tough opponent; one has to be struck by the speed of its Blitzkrieg assault, picking up countless recruits and armaments along the way. We should be prepared for years of continued chaos filled with extreme brutality in Iraq. The mass murder of 1,700 Iraqi soldiers by the ISIS is a harbinger of what both sides will do to each other.
The United States has no intention of getting involved in a Third Iraqi War. However, if ISIS moves into Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the geopolitical situation in the Middle East will topple and the door will be opened to an assault on Israel, Lebanon, and perhaps Egypt. If our traditional friends and allies are placed in harm’s way, Washington will have to act using the full resources of the United States. A Sunni Muslim caliphate led by terrorist butchers is as unthinkable as the Germanization of Europe was in 1914 and 1939.
By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history
To understand why he took the action he did in the Ukraine, one needs to understand this about Russian President Vladimir Putin: loyalty to Mother Russia and to him is non-negotiable.
Putin was born in Leningrad in 1952, 10 years after the imperial city created by Peter the Great was surrounded and nearly starved to death by the Germans. Both of his parents served in the Red Army and a brother died of starvation. Putin passed his formative years in a Russia still recovering from a war that cost the nation over 20 million people. He holds an advanced degree in international law and worked for the KGB, first stationed in Dresden (East Germany) and later in Leningrad. Putin is a Russian nationalist to his core and to put it delicately, shares the same authoritarian tendencies of those who ran Imperial Russia. A new Stalin, he is not. He is a slick politician who emerged from his position in Leningrad to the post of president.
Aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, his first aim was to rebuild Russia’s lost sense of pride and self-confidence. At the Winter Olympics, held in a city rebuilt on the Black Sea, Putin paraded before his people and the world those who projected Russian power and culture, from Peter the Great to composers and writers. The outfits worn by the Russian athletes featured the symbol of Tsarist Russia on their jackets.
Putin believes the collapse of Russia was avoidable and he harbors a deep bitterness against those responsible. On Oct. 3, 1990, the two Germanys were reunited, Moscow withdrew its forces from Eastern Europe, and the once mighty Soviet Empire started to implode. This was accelerated by the actions and indecision of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. For reasons that are still unclear, in December 1991 the process of breaking up the empire started. An agreement was signed that stated that after Jan. 1, 1992, the USSR would no longer exist and each of the former Soviet Republics emerged as separate nations.
One of those nations, the Ukraine, remained in the Russian orbit but over the past decade, nationalists and liberal-minded politicians started to look West, hoping to reorient the nation as part of the European Union (EU). Ukrainians argued that their economy was in a freefall due to corruption and cronyism. With a GDP of only $293 billion and a per capita income of just over $6,000, they looked to the prosperity in Poland and the Baltic States as success stories and concluded that if the Ukraine was to be successful, it had to detach its economic ties with Russia and connect with the EU. While the pro-Russian president Victor Yanokovych was in control, hopes of moving in the direction of Europe were dashed. However, in late February of this year, he was ousted from office and an interim government was installed.
The prospect of the Ukraine being part of the EU and possibly NATO is unacceptable to Putin. When it was clear to Moscow that the aim of the effort to overthrow Ukraine’s president was to move the nation into the EU, Putin took steps to keep the country in the Russian orbit.
Talk of Putin rebuilding the defunct empire may be exaggerated as well as claims that a new Cold War is on the immediate horizon. However, to suggest that Russia in no longer a major power is wrong. Yes, its GDP of $2.4 trillion is far less than that of the United States ($16 trillion). However, Russia’s economic power was never measured in the production and consumption of consumer goods, rather in natural resources and military clout.
It has plenty of both.
It’s spring 2014.
What better time to talk about the 2016 presidential election.
It’s about 19 months before the first primary and more than two years before the electorate will cast its vote to determine President Obama’s successor. However, things are heating up already.
Will Hillary Clinton seek the Democratic nomination? What about Joe Biden? Are there other contenders?
And what about the Republicans? Can Chris Christie overcome his troubles? Will the GOP cast their lot with Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, or someone else.
Meanwhile, in the Empire State, Gov. Cuomo is up for re-election this November. The Republicans have not fielded a strong contender since George Pataki. Will they this time around?
And then there’s the mid-term elections. Can the GOP take the Senate?
Associate Professor of History Chris Leahy sorts it all out in this interview with Doug Lippincott, which aired recently on WFLR’s Keuka College Today.
Robert J. Duffy, lieutenant governor of New York state, will deliver the address and receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at Keuka College’s 106th commencement Sunday, May 25.
Former mayor of Rochester, his hometown, Duffy was elected the Empire State’s 76th lieutenant governor alongside Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Nov. 2, 2010 and began a four-year term Jan. 1, 2011.
Appointed by Cuomo as chair of the Regional Economic Development Councils, Duffy has focused on supporting the governor’s efforts to rebuild New York’s economy and position the state to be a global economic leader.
Cuomo also named Duffy chair of the Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission. In that role Duffy oversees an effort that seeks to make state government more modern, accountable, and efficient. Duffy has also played an instrumental role on the governor’s Mandate Relief Council, chairing a series of statewide mandate relief hearings that sought input from local government officials and constituents as the state seeks to reduce the statutory and regulatory burden on local governments and school districts.
Duffy presided over the historic passage of the Marriage Equality Act—one of Cuomo’s signature issues—on June 24, 2011 while serving in his capacity as president of the New York State Senate.
In 2012, Duffy was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, given annually by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations to honor notable American citizens who demonstrate a life committed to community service.
Duffy was elected mayor of Rochester in 2005 and was re-elected four years later. Prior to that, he had a 28-year career with the Rochester Police Department, the last seven as chief of police.
He holds a bachelor’s degree from RIT and a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.
Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition Saturday on NPR, will deliver the 26th Annual Carl and Fanny Fribolin Lecture Tuesday, May 6, at Keuka College.
Simon will speak at 6:30 p.m. in Norton Chapel. It is free and open to the public.
The lecture series carries the names of Geneva resident Carl Fribolin, an emeritus member of the College’s Board of Trustees and recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 2004, and his late wife.
In addition to Weekend Edition Saturday, which has an audience of 4.2 million listeners, Simon hosts the PBS television series Backstage With … that features his conversations with some of the biggest names in theater, including Tom Hanks, Patricia Heaton, and Katie Holmes. He also hosts Need to Know on PBS.
Simon narrated the documentary film Lincoln of Illinois for PBS, and was blown up by Martians in the Grammy Award-nominated 50th anniversary remake of The War of the Worlds (co-starring Jason Robards).
Simon has reported from all 50 states and every continent. He has covered 10 wars, hundreds of campaigns, sieges, famines, hurricanes, earthquakes, civil wars, scandals, state funerals, and opening nights. He has interviewed and profiled some of the most interesting personalities of the times, from Mother Teresa, Ariel Sharon, and Wyclef Jean, to roving street kids in Rio, and refugees in Kosovo, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Simon has received numerous honors for his reporting, including a special 1989 George Foster Peabody Award for his weekly essays. He was awarded the Studs Terkel Media Award in 2009 and is the only journalist to serve on the National Institute on Civil Discourse (other members of the Institute include Colin Powell and Bill Clinton). He is also on the board of the Hemingway Collection at the JFK Presidential Library.
Simon has written for The New York Times Book Review and op-ed pages, The Wall Street Journal opinion and book page, The Los Angeles Times, Friends Journal, and Gourmet Magazine (his article on “Conflict Cuisine” won the James Beard Award for Best Food Writing, as well as the International Culinary Professionals Award).
Simon’s book, Home and Away: Memoir of a Fan, was published in the spring of 2000 by Hyperion. It topped The Los Angeles Times nonfiction best-seller list, and was cited as one of the best books of the year in The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and several other publications. His second book, Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball, kicked off the prestigious Wiley Turning Points series in September of 2002, and was the Barnes and Noble Sports Book of the Year.
His most recent book, Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption, is a memoir about the subject of adoption and made the extended best-seller list.
In 2005, Simon published Pretty Birds, his novel about teenage girls during the siege of Sarajevo. Acclaimed as “the start of a brilliant new career,” it is now in its 13th printing. His most recent novel, the best-selling, political comedy Windy City, was chosen by The Washington Post as one of the best novels of 2008. Simon is working on a memoir about the life and death of his mother, tentatively titled Unforgettable (2015, Flat Iron Books).
A lover of ballet, Simon has appeared as Mother Ginger in the Ballet Austin production of The Nutcracker.