Alan Lis: The case of ‘Fort Trump’

Since the collapse of communism, the United States has been widely recognized as the main ally of Poland, and the core guarantor of Polish sovereignty and security. For many years now, Polish authorities (nevermind of their political and ideological identification) have tried to secure the permanent presence of the US Army on the Polish soil. Over time, this issue has become also an element of a domestic political game. The current government formed by Law and Justice party (PiS) and its smaller allied parties, has been trying to get the US to establish a permanent US Army base in Poland. President Andrzej Duda, while visiting the White House in September 2018, suggested establishing such base, which would be named after the US president – Fort Trump. 

For many average Poles, the main external threat to the country comes from Poland’s powerful neighbour, Russia. Society’s views on that issue are reflected on Polish parliamentarians, vast majority of whom, if asked, would openly claim that Russia poses the greatest danger to Poland’s sovereignty. Such views, which strongly inform Polish mentality, have inevitably been inherited from the few decades of the oppressive communist rule. Since it collapsed, Poland has made a turn to the West, and became a member of both EU and NATO, which, along with the alliance with the US, constitute the ‘security umbrella of Poland’. Through the membership in the EU, Poland is politically and economically bound with almost thirty other European states, whereas NATO offers more of a military protection, especially since the outcomes of the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw were introduced and multinational battalion battle group was deployed in Orzysz, north-eastern Poland.

However, if, as already mentioned, NATO already provides security provisions, then why ‘Fort Trump’ is important for Poland? Mainly because it is widely believed that an additional form of protection from Russia and its expansionist policies would not be harmful. Despite Poland is a member of both, the EU and NATO, none in Poland would see a permanent US Army base as exaggeration, especially considering what has been going on in Eastern Ukraine since 2014. Additionally, the permanent presence of the US Army would undoubtedly strengthen Poland’s position in the region- by many means, Polish authorities have been trying to portray their country as the leader of the Central and Eastern European region over years- and would highlight the close relations between Warsaw and Washington. 

Before that happens, funding for this project must be approved, and the idea itself needs to find the support of the majority of American lawmakers. However, there are strong voices in the US towards enhancing its military presence in Eastern Europe, considering deterioration in bilateral relations with Russia. The Atlantic Council, think tank based in Washington, issued a report in December 2018 arguing for just that, and pointing at Russia’s military build-up in the Kaliningrad Region (the one Poland shares border with) and hybrid warfare that Moscow has engaged in.

Understandably, Russia is not likely to favour the idea of a permanent US Army base in Poland. It is very probable that ‘Fort Trump’ would fuel Moscow’s argumentation that Western states and organizations, by deploying their forces so close to Russia’s borders, ultimately not only undermine its security in theory but actually pose a direct threat to Russia and its security and interests in a closeness of its traditional sphere of influence. Whether establishing ‘Fort Trump’ would be a direct reason for a more serious escalation between Washington and Moscow remains to be seen once the base is officially set up. What is going to be a likely outcome is deterioration of bilateral relations between Warsaw and Moscow, as well as further Russian military build-up in Kaliningrad, and perhaps, Belarus. However,  the bilateral relations between Warsaw and Moscow will, with a high dose of probability, experience deterioration. 

Setting up the permanent base is, however, not only in the interest of Poland but also the US and NATO. It would vitally increase the security of the Eastern European NATO members against the aggressive actions carried out by Russia- be it by using its regular units or ‘little green men’. It would also prove President Trump’s support for NATO and its multinational forces deployed in Poland- notably, majority of whom are American- after showing a rather dismissive attitude towards NATO for a prolonged period of time. As President Andrzej Duda is expected to visit the White House on 12th of June, the eventual decision should be made public exactly then.

Alan Lis: The rise of right-wing terrorism

Although many associate terrorism with Islamic extremists, which – quite understandably – have attracted the lion’s share of media’s attention in recent decades, it needs to be remembered that they are not the only perpetrators of such. While the focus of media that has been put mostly on Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other groups of such type is justified for the fact that the current wave of terrorism, as terrorism expert David Rapoport claimed, is religious in its nature with Islam being the most important religion in it, right-wing terrorists cannot be forgotten and ought to be acknowledged as a serious threat.

Amongst the most common drivers of right-wing terrorism one undoubtedly can find the anti-immigration views of its perpetrators, as well as their belief in the supremacy of their race over the others, and hatred towards people of other religions. Especially the first one is commonly pursued by far-right nationalist political parties, which have risen to prominence in many countries over the last couple of years.

Right-wing populist rhetoric encompasses also creating a dimension of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, which degrades ‘them’ to have fewer rights and generally be of lesser ‘value’ from ‘us’. Inevitably, such extremism of views leads to an eruption of violence and results in deadly attacks. The spread of such radical thinking has become much easier than it used to be in the past due to the advances of social media and communication platforms that have enabled propagation of such on a far broader scale and with far greater speed.

Recent months and years have been exceptionally rich in violent terrorist attacks motivated by right-wing extreme ideology, to the point that some experts now openly recognize right-wing terrorism as more of a threat coming from terrorist attacks committed by Islamic radicals, particularly in the case of the United States. More significant recent examples include the mail bombing attempts of October 2018, where a perpetrator with far-right extreme views, known also for his support for right-wing conspiracy theories, sent pipe bombs to several individuals involved in a critique of President Donald Trump via the US post. Fortunately, none of the parcels’ receivers was harmed. Additionally, in the very same month, the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting took place and left eleven people killed.

However, not only the US has experienced right-wing terrorism in recent years. Example of Andreas Breivik and attacks he perpetrated in Oslo and on the Utøya island, Norway, constitute one of the most-or indeed the most – disastrous examples of right-wing terrorist attacks committed in Europe, and killed over 70 people. What is also tragic is that Breivik has been a source of inspiration for others who share his radical views. The perpetrator of the recent Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand, Australia – born Brenton Tarrant, claimed in his manifesto that Breivik and his actions had a significant influence on him. This attack came as a shock in the open to multiculturalism New Zealand. As it was live-streamed on Facebook, it may have served the purpose of inspiring new recruits to perpetrate similar attacks.

The attack carried out by Tarrant had yet another devastating consequences. The Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, which targeted Christians, are said by many to have been carried out in retaliation for the Christchurch attack. The ties between the perpetrators and ISIS are being investigated, as Amaq – the ISIS’s news agency – claimed after the attacks that their perpetrators were Islamic State fighters. This relation between those two terrorist acts illustrates that Islamic and right-wing dimensions of terrorism are somewhat interlinked and mutually fuel each other – perpetrators of one commit violence and by that motivate the other side to carry out a lethal response, encouraging the circle of violence to continue.

President Trump, when asked back in March whether in his opinion white nationalism was a threat, had dismissed it, saying it was a terrible problem, but applying only to a small group of people. Unless leaders of the most powerful states in this world come to an agreement about the ways to tackle this peril and get on board with countering violence motivated by right-wing and nationalist ideologies, they will remain a strong appeal for many, and as such a deadly threat in many countries.

Furthermore, both the role of social media in spreading such and the easiness that characterize communication between right-wing radicals need to be dealt with. Right-wing terrorism will also require intelligence and security agencies to partly shift their attention from Jihadi perpetrators of terrorism to far-right extremists. As claimed by the New Zealand’s PM, Brenton Tarrant was not on the radar of either Australian or New Zealand intelligence agencies. In order to avoid, or at least reduce right-wing terrorist attacks, this would need to change. 

Alan Lis: Designing each others’ military forces as terrorist organizations and growing tensions between Iran and the US

During recent months, the relations between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran have worsened severely. Washington and Teheran have entered the path of mutual threats- not that this is something new, of course, but with the nuclear deal signed between Iran and the group of world powers back in 2015 one could expect a slight of brighter future and more stability and security in the Middle East, as well as generally in world. The more recent occurrences, however, have seemed to demonstrate an utterly opposite direction that the Iranian-American relationship goes. 

The series of events that have further deteriorated relations between Iran and the US began with President Trump withdrawing from the nuclear deal in May 2018. He did so despite other states- which sat at the same side of the negotiating table and signed the agreement along with the US- who publicly claimed that they had not noticed Iran violating terms of the agreement. Mr. Trump, however, was not eager to reason with such appeals-he had torpedoed the treaty and his predecessor in the White House who brokered the deal heavily in his presidential campaign in 2016 and criticized attempts to achieve long-term stability and security with Iran through such. This decision, understandably, angered Teheran and further complicated its, already difficult, relations with Washington.

Furthermore, the designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization by the US contributed largely to the significant intensification in tensions between the two countries. This constitutes the first example of this kind in history when a part of another state’s military was labelled as such. IRCG was established after the Islamic Revolution that took place in 1979 and is officially tasked with protecting the Islamic nature of the Iran’s system of government. Its members constitute the elite of the Iranian military, and the Guard Corps holds a tremendously significant position in Iran, which goes beyond the military sphere. The IRGC has for a long time enjoyed strong political and economic influences, reaching nearly all economic sectors. Amongst the numerous companies controlled by the IRGC, particularly those in construction and business sectors, as well as oil and gas industries, are worth being pointed out. 

Out of all units and divisions constituting the IRGC, the Quds Force- responsible for conducting intelligence, foreign covert and military operations and led by charismatic Qasem Soleimani- seems to have caused most troubles and influenced most the Washington’s decision to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, particularly due to its support for Hamas, Hezbollah and other non-state actors that the US, and the Western world in a large part, consider to be terrorist in nature. Through supporting mentioned organizations, as well as Shia militias in Iraq and Houthis in Yemen, the Quds Force serves as a tool of shaping foreign policy and allows Iran to increase its position in the region. The Quds Force is vital to Iran’s foreign policy, as well as national security.

The decision to designate the whole IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization not only angered average Iranians and further alienated them from the US (if Washington tries to ultimately win Iranians’ hearts and minds and through such weaken the theocratic regime and lead to its overthrow then it pursues the wrong path of doing so), but also met with a response from the authorities in Teheran who, in an act of revenge, designated the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in the Middle East, as well as its allies, as terrorist organization themselves. Since these occurrences took place last month, the bilateral US-Iran relations have been a downhill to an extent not seen in a prolonged period of time.

Last Wednesday, President Trump ordered a new set of sanctions to target Iran’s iron, aluminium, steel, and copper sectors, further pressuring the state’s economy. Simultaneously, Washington deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier, which serves as ‘floating American diplomacy’, and later the Air Force bomber task force. The Americans are clearly increasing their military presence in the Middle East, but as the officials claim, this is not done for the purpose of starting a war- Iran shall rather see it, as many US officials came to explain, as a form of protection of American interests and security.

It is highly doubtful that Teheran would indeed recognize growing American military presence as such. Iran has already decided to walk away from some of the restrictions imposed by the nuclear treaty signed in 2015. While the direct military conflict between the US and Iran is somewhat unlikely, the intensification of instability in the Middle East, already deeply troubled, will certainly occur, and further downgrade in relations between the US and Russia, who stands behind the Iranian regime, is a likely outcome.

Alan Lis: Shamima Begun, or rather the case of Westerners in ISIS’s ranks

A couple of weeks ago citizens of the United Kingdom found yet another topic, like if Brexit was not enough, that divided them into two opposing camps: those that wanted to give Shamima Begum a second chance and accepted the idea of her coming back to the UK formed one camp, whereas the other one was created by opponents of her being anywhere near the British borders. The example of Shamima Begum is only a single illustration of a complicated problem that many countries have been facing these days, namely- what is ought to be done with men and women that willingly left their homelands in order to join the ranks of ISIS in Syria and Iraq?

Shamima Begun, at this moment 19 years old, left her family and home in the United Kingdom for Syria at the age of 15. With two other girls, she flew to Turkey and joined the jihad in Syria crossing the border between the two countries. In her latest interview, Begum confirmed that one of her friends that had traveled with her to Syria died and that she had no information of the whereabouts of the other. Not long after joining the ranks of jihadists, Ms. Begum got married to a Dutch ISIS fighter, with whom she had three children. Sadly, all of them died. The youngest, only three weeks old, reportedly died of pneumonia in the first week of March 2019, not long after the world heard Shamima’s story mainly because of the two interviews that she gave.

The main motivation For Shamima to go back to the UK was her newborn, whom she said it would be impossible to raise in the refugee camp. Ms. Begum said she wanted to have her son live a better life than he would in Syria. This is of course understandable. However, what is significant and needs to be acknowledged, during the interview with Sky News she did not seem genuinely sorry for the victims of the Islamic state- dead men, raped women, orphaned children- and she still seems to support the strict Islamic Sharia law. Since the second interview, Ms. Begun has been said to have left the camp she was living in because of death threats she received from others that found shelter there.

Allegedly, Shamima Begum neither took part in combat nor was she trained to do so. She claims to be a wife of an ISIS fighter and thus to have been preoccupied with what housewives do all around the world- at least that is the story she decided to stick to. The truth is that it would be extremely difficult for security services to verify her words against her deeds and therefore no one can be sure what Begun was really up to.  Of similar opinion on this topic is a large part of the British society, amongst whom is the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, who ordered stripping Ms Begum off her British citizenship, making an argument that she is eligible for the citizenship of Bangladesh, and therefore would not become a stateless person (had she been to become one,  according to the British law Mr. Javid would not have been able to give such order). However, the government of Bangladesh denied Mr. Javid’s argument and refused to take any action with regards to Ms. Begum, saying that it has nothing to do with this matter of the British government.

As far as the security of British people is concerned, allowing Ms. Begum to return to the UK would be putting them in danger. No one knows for sure what she has really been up to in Syria- she might have been, as she claims, only an ISIS’s fighter wife, not involved in perpetrating any sort of violence; but there is a chance that she lied during the interview and she had received some military training indeed, and that she might be involved in a plot against the UK now. Although if that is the truth it would be a very much short-sighted plan on the part of ISIS- if Ms. Begum indeed took part in a terrorist plot against the UK, this would certainly minimize chances of other ISIS followers to be allowed to return to their homelands, and thus somewhat reduce ISIS’s ability to strike against the US or European countries using Westerners in its ranks.

Her example illustrates well the situation of hundreds (if not more) foreign fighters who now that ISIS lost its last scraps of territory, face the uncertainty as to their future. There are voices that many of them, just like MS. Begum, want to go back to their home countries, however, one can justifiably question their will for a peaceful life upon their arrival. Indeed, news reports have it that a number of these fighters openly say that they do not regard the territorial collapse of ISIS as the end of their struggle, and they aim at continuing their fight. Neither the US, nor the UK, nor any of the European countries for that matter would welcome their citizens coming back from Syria or Iraq with open arms. Some of those countries openly claimed that they will not take them back. From the domestic security perspective, they seem to be right.

Shamima Begum, as any returning jihadist, is a goldmine when it comes to possessed information and knowledge and is thus invaluable for intelligence and secret services. The question is, however, whether she or other jihadists would be willing to share the information they possess. Their fate is, at this moment, unknown and the perspective of them returning to their home countries is uncertain, to say the least. When it comes to Ms. Begum and others like her, politicians, intelligence and secret services, and the average citizens face a political, security, and moral dilemma. One thing is certain- ISIS may have lost its territory indeed, however, as long as its followers remain hostile towards everybody else, no one can speak of a de facto end of this terrorist organization.

Alan Lis: U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria

The decision to withdraw the US troops fighting ISIS, known also as ISIL and IS, in Syria is one of the most controversial ones made by President Donal Trump. This announcement came as shocking news, as the ISIS fighters, have not been entirely defeated yet. Although it is true that the overwhelming majority of the IS units have been crashed by either side taking part in the military struggle in Syria-be it the Americans, Russians, Iran-backed Hezbollah, or the forces loyal to Syria’s president, Bashar al Assad- there are still some units of ISIL fighters defending what is left of their Caliphate.

The decision of Mr. Trump met with an extraordinary astonishment of many, including some of his advisors, and criticisms of even more. James Mattis, the, now former, Secretary of Defense resigned from his post, largely motivating his resignation with this very decision of Mr.Trump, expressing his opposition towards bringing American troops back home in a letter to the president, and suggesting Mr Trump that he deserves a secretary of state whose views are to a larger extent similar with his. Clearly, losing a Secretary of Defense of such military experience- Mattis is a four-star retired general- has been a profound loss for the Trump administration. More recently, Pentagon admitted that there is a chance of ISIS resurging in the months to come. In addition to that, General Votel, who has been leading the fight against the IS officially disagreed with Mr. Trump’s decision pointing at two things: that ISIL has not yet been defeated, and that US-backed forces in Syria are not able to effectively counter its threat on their own. 

Trump’s decision of withdrawing troops from Syria strikes as similar to Obama’s military withdrawal from Iraq. There is one fact, however, that is often looked over- Mr. Obama withdrew the US troops because he did not have much choice- the Iraqi government did not agree to let them stay longer. Indeed, in 2011, the Obama administration failed to negotiate the stay of, at least some part of, the American forces in Iraq, what resulted in bringing American troops home. In effect of such, President Obama fulfilled his election-campaign promise, the US budget was relieved to an extent, and the Iraqi authorities were pleased to clear their country out of the US military- both countries, one may assume, should have been satisfied. However, in the result of American soldiers going back home, Iraqi society lost its shield protecting from Maliki and his sectarian rule. Iraqis became vulnerable to Maliki’s violent and oppressive government, which only strengthened peoples’ frustration and mobilised many young and desperate men to seek protection for them and their families in extremist jihadi groups. As one of such was ISIS, it could be argued that the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 was a factor that eventually contributed, to an extent, to the rise of this very organization. Now, one may only wonder what will happen in Syria once the US troops will leave. 

To be fair, there has already been a taster of what to expect. Almost a month after Trump announced his decision, on the 16th of January, four Americans and at least 10 other people died in the explosion, responsibility for which was claimed by ISIS. That attack suggested, as argued by General Votel, that Syria is not ready for the US forces to be withdrawn. Violence does continue and certainly will do so.

The US forces shall remain present in Syria until the military capabilities of ISIS are destroyed completely and the internal situation of Syria becomes more stable. Although it is fairly impossible to eliminate every single terrorist affiliated with ISIS, the international effort, led by the US, must be continued until virtually all networks are destroyed and every scrap of a territory is recaptured, so that ISIS does not hold any stronghold. Otherwise, there is a great risk that either the resurgence of ISIS or creation of the ISIS’s successor, would take place sooner rather than later.


Short link: