Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Exceptionally Dangerous Idea: Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

The terrorism-sponsoring regime of Iran has long sought to build a robust nuclear program for the purposes of electrical power.  (Nod – nod, wink – wink.)  Everyone knows, however, that the truth of the matter is that this program is for the development of nuclear weapons.  Evidently it is not polite to point out this blatant falsehood in diplomatic circles however.

The fact that Iran has been the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism across the globe, even currently, in the days of ISIL and al Qaida, is something that seems to be intentionally overlooked by the Obama administration though.  Iran is an implacable enemy of the United States, and has been since the Carter administration when they stormed our embassy in Tehran taking our citizens hostage.  Iran calls the United States “The Great Satan,” and refers to what was formerly our strongest ally and only democracy in the Middle East of Israel “The Little Satan.”  Iran’s former president Ahmadinejad stated publically on multiple occasions that Iran’s goal is to wipe Israel off the face of the globe.  It is a goal that is backed by the ruling mullahs of Iran.

Why we refuse to take our enemy at their word is baffling.  As Americans, including our supposed regional diplomatic experts from the State Department, we tend to look at that type of rhetoric as mere political hyperbole for their masses. However, an understanding of the Middle Eastern mindset of this Shiite nation seems to be completely absent.

This is absolutely not just political bluster on their behalf.  As Americans, we cannot conceive of people believing with such unshakeable faith that they must kill the innocent, let alone understand that these people become homicide bombers in order to become martyrs and thus enter into paradise with Allah.  Shia Islam, which nearly all Iranians practice, tells of the coming of the twelfth imam, an Islamic messiah, to unite the world under Islam and sharia (Islamic) law.  In order for the coming of their messiah, the world has to be in complete and utter bloody chaos, even if that chaos is created by the very practitioners of that faith.  What better way to do this then to launch a nuclear weapon at Allah’s hated enemy of Israel thus thrusting forth a third world war in order to hasten the return of the twelfth imam?

Currently, the United States has crippling economic sanctions in place to try and convince Iran to give up their terrorism and nuclear ambitions.  The assumption is that Iran would negotiate, as any rational nation with a Western mindset would.  After all, they know that if they launched a nuclear attack on Israel, that they would be attacked in return. Are they really that crazy that they would sacrifice themselves? Yes, looking at this situation through their eyes – their beliefs – sacrificing even millions of their own people in order to eradicate Allah’s enemy of the Little Satan and thus bringing their messiah to unite the world under Islam would well be worth their martyrdom.  Their culture does not value life like we do.  Instead, they see death, especially a martyr’s death, as a gateway to paradise.

Iran is now negotiating to conclude an “oral agreement” with the United States to restrict their nuclear weapons program in exchange for the United States to remove these economic and trade sanctions.  The Obama administration hopes to have just such a deal in place with Iran by the end of today.  Secretary of State John Kerry has bent over backwards with concessions in order to ensure that a deal – any deal – is agreed upon before April Fool’s Day is upon us.  The regional, and indeed global, ramifications of such a deal are either non-evident or not important to Secretary Kerry and President Obama.

Due to these current negotiations, our supposed ally, Saudi Arabia, is forming a coalition with other Sunni Islamic countries such as Turkey and Egypt in order to counter balance a near-future nuclear-armed Iran. Many of them want to obtain nuclear weapons of their own, accordingly.  Where Shia Iran and its proxies are already fighting against Sunni fighters in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, the Saudi Kingdom and its allies fear what an unfettered Iran with nuclear weapons will be able to do to the regional balance of power.

“But, T. Paine, I thought the deal President Obama was making with Iran was to ensure that they don’t get a nuclear weapon?” you ask.  Yeah, well, not so much.  President Obama has argued that a “verifiable” deal is the best way to ensure the stability of the Arab states because it ensures that Iran does not get a nuclear bomb.  He argues that even a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would only temporarily set back its program.  This way, he argues, we can engage Iran and know when they begin their weapons program once again.  Oh yeah, and in reward for their temporary restraint in their on-going nuclear program, the United States will remove all economic and trade sanctions that were the cause of bringing Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.

Surely Iran will keep its word and cease with its weapons program though, right?  There is a concept of “taqiyya” in the Quran, Islam’s holy book, which permits faithful Muslims to lie to infidel non-Muslims if it protects the “believer” and/or furthers the cause of Islam.  It is exceptionally likely that Iran is not negotiating in good faith accordingly.  Iran’s Sunni neighbors don’t seem to believe that Iran will keep any deal stuck with the United States, and with distrust growing against America, they will all race to acquire and develop their own nuclear weapons.  It is speculated in some intelligence circles that Saudi Arabia might simply buy nuclear weapons from their Pakistani ally.  Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly pleaded with President Obama to abandon such a deal with Iran, as the state of Israel’s very existence is at stake should Iran obtain a working nuclear weapon.

President Obama has seemingly refused to listen to our friend in Israel and other allies in the Middle East.  Clearly he knows better than they do about what is best, as he continues with this foolish and unverifiable agreement that Iran is, historically speaking,  absolutely certain to break.  Press Secretary Josh Earnest assures us that President Obama is willing to walk away from the negotiating table if a deal cannot be struck.  He would rather have no deal than a bad deal, according to Mr. Earnest.  This, of course, begs the question of just what the hell they consider a “bad deal”.

This “oral deal”, as the Iranians are loathe to put anything in print, has been continuously altered over the course of negotiations, and always in Iran’s favor.  Iran is allowed to keep its centrifuges, which are needed to enrich uranium to levels necessary only for weapons grade material.  Its stock of enriched uranium was supposed to be sent to Russia for holding, but that too has been a point that Iran has reneged upon recently.  It is estimated that Iran could have a working nuclear weapon in less than a year, and in all likelihood probably much sooner.

President Obama’s desire for a deal – for some sort of legacy in the Middle East – is exceptionally dangerous.  Like Britain’s Neville Chamberlain negotiating with the Nazis in order to have “peace in their time,” it seems our President Obama is foolishly following the same course and is destined to repeat  history.  We need to stop thinking as Westerners and instead look at the world through the eyes of the Iranians with their perceptions of what America represents.  Only by doing this will we see what a horrifically bad idea striking such a “deal” with Iran will be.

UPDATE 4/1/2015: As a deal was not able to be reached with Iran by the March 31st deadline, President Obama has extended the time line for negotiations to today, April 1st, 2015.  This is despite Secretary Kerry ruling out any extension of talks with Iran back in February of this year, as per the Washington Post.  Evidently, the desire for a bad deal is just too enticing for President Obama to walk away from.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Best Dog in the World

I am a dog person.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that I will like your dog though, mainly because I think my dog was the best canine that ever wagged across the planet on four legs.  Let me tell you the story of the world’s best dog. 

It was a beautiful summer day back in 2002 that my family and I went to the rescue shelter to see if we could find a dog to become a part of our pack.  There were plenty of rambunctious and decidedly loud dogs in the shelter that day. They all rushed the gates as if to say, “Pick me!  Take me home!”  Strolling from one dog pen to the next, no particular dog stuck out at first, and then we saw a sweet puppy in the back of one of the runs.  She wasn’t frightened or timid, but simply well-mannered and hesitant.  It was as if she had been passed over by many potential owners far too many times to get her hopes up again.  Indeed, she had been passed over so many times that if she didn’t get adopted within the week, she would have been euthanized.

We asked the attendant if we could take this sweet dog to the visiting area to see how she would act with us.  She immediately came up and nuzzled my wife.  She did not jump up on us or act like an uber-hyper dog in need of a Ritalin prescription.  She was affectionate but not obnoxious.  Something just seemed to click with all of us and felt very right.  Somehow you just know. She was THE dog. 

She was obviously a mutt and was about six months old.  The veterinarian told us she was most likely a mix of Lab, Sharpei, and Pit Bull.  You could see a little of all three in her.  Whatever she was, she was the sweetest dog I have ever seen, and she was now ours.  The shelter had named her “Star”, which I immediately discarded as her name.  I wasn’t going to give my newest family member some stripper’s name.   She just didn’t look like a “Star.” Her coat was somewhere between a deep tan and auburn color and she had big golden-brown eyes that melted your heart.  We decided that Cinnamon would be our new puppy’s name. 

Dogs are wonderful creatures.  They aren’t like cats, which are the progressives of the pet world, who think that they are entitled and act as if your only purpose is to serve them.  Dogs seem to understand human emotions and react accordingly.  When my daughter or wife was sad, she would come nuzzle and comfort them.  When everyone was happy, she did the silliest things, seemingly just to amuse us.  She was in every way a member of the family. 

Cinnamon was very smart and learned lots of tricks, including the best trick of all, to weasel her way into all of our hearts.  There is nothing quite as gratifying at the end of a long work day as to come home, open the door, and have your dog wagging her tail so hard that it is going in circles like a propeller, just out of sheer joy of seeing you. 

Cinnamon would always listen to my then-teenage daughter’s stories and troubles that a teenager doesn’t seem to want to share with her parents.  Cinnamon would lay on the floor next to the bed to be close to my wife as she went through countless surgeries over the years.   And she was always wagging her tail. 

Cinnamon loved kids and other animals.  Whenever I would be doing yard work out front, she wanted to run off to play with the neighborhood kids.  Many people, at first seeing Cinnamon from a distance, were afraid of this “vicious” pibble. (“Pibble” was what my daughter misunderstood “Pit Bull” to be.)  After meeting her, folks could tell their fears were misplaced.  Cinny loved everyone and every critter.

Indeed, one day while mowing my front lawn, the neighbors across the street let their new little Chihuahua out front to do his business.  Cinnamon saw this as an opportunity to meet a new friend and went trotting across the street to say hello.  The Chihuahua didn’t like other people or dogs and immediately let Cinnamon know this by biting her on the nose.  Cinny was shocked at the rudeness of the Chihuahua’s reaction and probably assumed it was some peculiar breed of cat.  Anyway, she tucked her tail, yiped loudly, and came racing back to me at full speed.  I was caught in a rather embarrassing dilemma.  It wasn’t like I could call animal control and tell them that the neighborhood Chihuahua just beat up my Pit Bull.  Needless to say, Cinny stayed close by my side whenever that “cat-tankerous” dog was outside thereafter.

Over the years Cinny was there for the good and the bad times we had as a family and we couldn’t have loved her more. Eventually, my youngest daughter grew up and set out on her own adventures. But Cinnamon was always ecstatic with her propeller-wag happy-puppy dance whenever she came back home to see us.  Then suddenly, my wife of 23 years passed away.  Cinnamon and I were both devastated.  But Cinny always seemed to know when I was at my lowest and she would come up to me, sit down beside me, look inquiringly with plaintive eyes, and just nuzzle me.  She was my buddy before, but we really needed each other after my wife passed.

Well, life moves on and I eventually came to terms with the passing of my wife and the family has somewhat adjusted.  It will never be the same but we must move forward.  God is very good and in His love and mercy He brought a new love into my life.  I have asked her to be my bride and she has foolishly agreed.  We decided to buy a new house to start our life together and so we purchased one about an hour north of my old house. 

The day we moved was hectic, as one might expect.   When the movers left our new home that evening, Cinnamon was acting strangely.  She wanted to stay outside in the cold and just didn’t seem to be herself.  I eventually coaxed her into the basement, but the thought of going up the stairs must have seemed like a daunting task to her with her arthritis as she just stayed at the bottom looking up the stairs at me.  As Cinnamon was always such a faithful friend, I figured the least I could do was to bring her dog bed downstairs for her to sleep on.  She got on her bed, but I was concerned with her strange behavior.  I sat in the chair beside her bed and stayed with her until morning.  At dawn, I went upstairs to take care of a few things and when I went back downstairs, just ten minutes later, my beloved dog Cinnamon had passed away.  It just happened to be the anniversary of my wife’s death that day.

Needless to say I was distraught and devastated.  My fiancĂ© comforted me as I wept.  I called my daughter and told her I needed her to come over that day as soon as possible, without telling her why.  When my daughter arrived, I told her the sad news through many tears for both of us.  We then wrapped up the best dog in the whole world in her blanket, and gently lowered her into a grave we had dug in the rose garden at our new home.

Life goes on.  That chapter was now closed and so looking forward, I turned the page and opened a new chapter of my life.  Cinnamon was with me for the better part of thirteen years.  She was a loyal and faithful member of the family whose only response to every situation was love.  There is a prayer, “God let me be the person that my dog thinks I am.”  I know I would be a far better man if only I was what Cinny thought I was.  Cinnamon is gone now, but I smile when I think of her.  

My beautiful fiancĂ© just happens to have a wonderful dog that is now a part of my life.  His name is Luke and he, like Cinnamon, only wants to love and play with us.  Life is good; in fact, it is indeed a dog’s life.  And if there is a heaven for dogs, I know my Cinnamon is sitting beside my wife and wagging her tail in propeller-circle fashion.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

New Blog Introduction: Canoeing with God

Once every so often, a new blog comes along that truly is worthy of one’s time in reading it and keeping it on one’s favorite list to return to again and again.  My very best friend has started writing just such a blog.  It is entitled “Canoeing with God”.
My friend, Nicole, is an exceptional writer as she is able to paint vivid scenes with her words and communicate her points seemingly without effort.  She is a freelance journalist credited with myriads of published articles, essays, and even a documentary over the years.

On her latest project, Canoeing with God, her writing encompasses stories about life, and always how that life leads us to Christ.  In some of her posts, she begins to tell her continuing story of her past and how, through many exceptionally difficult trials and tribulations, it lead her to find and develop a wonderful loving relationship with Christ. 

In between those stories of her past challenges, she weaves in occasional stories of everyday challenges too.  Always, she finds God in the ordinary, and not just the extraordinary events of life. 
Nicole is a rarity in that she is very clear-eyed in how she sees the world, and yet she manages to do so, through God’s grace, with great optimism.  All too often we tend to become cynical as we grow older, particularly when one has been through the various heartaches that Nicole has.  And yet she finds the good in people and the love of Christ in all she does.  It is an attitude that comes out in her marvelous writing. 

When I first met Nicole, I noticed she had a tiny little model canoe adhered to the dashboard of her car.  I asked her about the significance of the canoe, and she responded, “If you notice, there aren’t any paddles in it.  God has them.”  And so He does.  And He leads her canoe wherever He chooses, just as He does for all of us.  It is simply up to us to trust in Him as He leads us through both the calm, serene waters and the turbulent rapids of life.  Nicole shares her journey in her wonderful new blog of precisely how she has done that thus far.

I would unabashedly like to give Nicole and her blog, Canoeing with God, my whole-hearted support and recommendation for all readers out there that have similarly traveled life’s difficult and beautiful streams.  In other words, I recommend it to everyone!

Monday, March 2, 2015

ISIS Brutality and The Nation of the Cross

Two weeks ago, ISIS terrorists lead a group of twenty-one Coptic Christians to a deserted beach along the Mediterranean Sea in northern Libya.  They then forced these Christians to kneel in the sand before black-clad, masked barbarians who summarily executed these martyrs of the Christian faith by beheading them.  Many of the martyrs could be seen saying words of prayer to our Lord Jesus Christ just before their grisly executions.

The New York Times reported last Friday that nearly 300 Assyrian Christians in a town in northeastern Syria have recently been taken captive or killed by ISIS barbarians.  This Christian community is one of the oldest in the world, with some of the people even speaking a modern-day version of Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ.

Everywhere throughout Iraq, Syria, and beyond, the ISIS terrorists are enslaving, burning alive, burying alive, beheading, or even crucifying any person that does not bow to their perverted and vile version of Sunni Islam.

Their intent is to draw western nations, particularly the United States, into a religious war with them.  They seek to enrage us and make us fearful of their inhuman brutality.  Their ultimate goal is to unite the entire world under one Muslim caliphate ruled by Sharia (Islamic) law.  They think the only way to do this is to hasten the return of the Mahdi, the Islamic messiah, to unite the Islamic world. They believe that bloodshed and chaos are required for this to happen.  So accordingly, ISIS is killing or subjugating anyone that does not adhere to their wretched faith.

Indeed, after the beheading of the Coptic Christians in Libya last week, these pernicious barbarians sent out a video entitled, “A Message in Blood to the Nation of the Cross.”  In other words, these terrorists have sent their challenge directly to the United States.  A challenge they will execute upon, whether we accept that challenge or not.  Theirs is a challenge that all Christians must convert to their mutated strain of Islam, become enslaved and pay a religious tax, or be put to death.

While I suppose America can still ostensibly be called the “Nation of the Cross”, often times today many people, including Christians, really don’t understand the full implications of the cross.  Many see the cross as some sort of an adornment… nothing more than a piece of jewelry to be worn.  The true significance of what the cross once was is lost upon most people.

The cross was a brutally effective instrument of torture in ancient Roman times.  It was an instrument that evoked great fear.  The Romans crucified those that were a threat to their laws and sense of order as an example to other would-be revolutionaries and rabble-rousers.  This is why Pontius Pilate had Jesus Christ crucified on Calvary. The cross of Christ stood near one of the gates into the city of Jerusalem, as a sign to His followers and others coming into the city for Passover that a similar fate awaited them if they vexed the Roman Empire.

Of course we Christians know the rest of the story.

Christ willingly allowed himself to be scourged and then crucified in expiation for all of our sins, including mine.  He did it out of a perfect love for us all.  He suffered a horrific death… a death on a cross.  And in so doing he conquered death, rising on the third day.  Christ took that instrument of barbaric torture and trembling fear and he turned it into a symbol of our very salvation.

Christ’s early followers then took up the cross, as it were, and appropriated it for themselves as their symbol.  No longer was the cross only an instrument of fear used by the Romans to maintain order.   Christians taunted the Romans with the sign of the cross by proclaiming our God is far greater than your symbol of torture, fear, and death.  Through your crucifixion of Him on a cross, He conquered death.  Your cross holds no sway … no fear… over us anymore.  Indeed, it has now become the greatest symbol of agape love possible because of our loving and merciful God.

As Tertullian noted so long ago, the blood of Christian martyrs is the seed of the Church.  He is right.  ISIS barbarians can continue their attempted reign of terror across the Middle East, but death to Christians --to Christians living in the “nation of the cross” -- know that their deaths are only temporal.  Our lives are eternal because our salvation was purchased two millennia ago by our God, who accepted a hideous death on a cross.

ISIS, your threat of terror does not envelop us with fear.  For just like those brave martyrs on the Libyan beach two weeks ago, we do not fear your instruments of terror.  While Christianity does indeed seem to be waning in many parts of the world today, the United States of America is still “the Nation of the Cross.”  It is something that even our enemies acknowledge, even if they do not understand. It is for our beliefs and love of Christ Jesus that we will stand even stronger, together as a nation. We will not come undone.