Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

We broke Iraq. Do we own it?

August 18, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk

Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk

You break it.  You own it.

==The Pottery Barn Rule (per General Colin Powell)

Of all the arguments for sending troops back into Iraq, the most plausible (to me) is that we owe it to the Iraqi people—and in particular the Kurdish Iraqi people—to clean up the mess the original U.S. intervention created.

The people of Kurdistan and Baghdad would not be menaced by the would-be Islamic Caliphate (aka ISIS) if the U.S. invasion had not broken down orderly government in Iraq, and opened up an opportunity for these murderous fanatics.  So do we Americans not have a responsibility to fix the situation before we leave the Iraqis on my own.

But it was that very argument that led me, 10 years ago, to support the original invasion of Iraq.  I thought to myself that we Americans had supported Saddam Hussein in the first place.  Our government provided him with weapons, encouraged him to attack Iran and protected him from international sanctions when he used poison gas against the people of Kurdistan.   Then we turned against him, and waged a low-level war of blockade and bombing through the Clinton years.

So it seemed to me (wrongly) that by invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam, we could partly make up for the harm we had done to the Iraqi people.

And even now I sometimes think (wrongly) that the U.S.-led invasion would have worked out—

  • If the U.S. forces had recognized the local governments the Iraqi people spontaneously chose and worked with them, instead of installing puppets of U.S. choosing.
  • If the American authorities had not discharged the Iraqi army, had kept control of weapons and armories and had not allowed the country to disintegrate into anarchy.
  • If the United States had employed the Iraqi people in rebuilding their own country instead of turning Iraq into a vast cash cow for American contractors.
  • If Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had not excluded everybody in the government who knew anything about Iraq from the planning.

But when I think that, I am just fooling myself.  I am fooling myself when I think that the U.S. government had any goal in Iraq other than getting control of Iraq’s oil supply and establishing military bases on Iraq’s soil.

And even if American intentions were wholly good, democracy and freedom are not something that any country can give another country.  Every free country has to win and maintain freedom for itself.


Arguments for moderation: Links & comments

August 14, 2014

The West on the wrong path by Gabor Steingart, publisher of Handelsblatt, Germany’s leading financial newspaper.

A conservative German newspaper publisher criticized the U.S. tendency to escalate specific conflicts into epic global struggles—Al Qaeda terrorism into a global struggle with radical Islam, a secessionist movement in Ukraine into a new cold war with Russia.

Far better, he wrote, to follow the example of Willy Brandt who, as mayor of West Berlin and then as chancellor of the German Federal Republic, sought to minimize rather than escalate, and worked for peace in small practical steps rather than grandiose gestures.

How America lost the Middle East by Zach Beauchamp for Vox.  (Hat tip to Bill Elwell)

A thoughtful journalist points out that the Middle East situation is such that the United States can do little good and much harm by military intervention.  Far better, he wrote, to work for improvement in small, incremental steps.

It’s a thoughtful article, well wroth reading, but Beauchamp treats U.S. and Israeli policy as if they were defensive reactions to external events.  The real problem is in thinking that America can “lose” something we never owned in the first place.

How Money Warps U.S. Foreign Policy by Peter Beinart for The Atlantic.  (Hat tip to Corrente).

The division among Americans on foreign policy is not between Republicans and Democrats, but between the Washington establishment and the American public.   Every leading political figure, from John McCain and Rand Paul to Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, is much more belligerent than the rank-and-file of either of the two major political parties.

Why?  Beinart pointed out that this is what big campaign donors of both parties demand.

“Humanitarian bombing” is self-contradictory

August 9, 2014

If you believe it is your duty to protect people from their enemies, the only way to do it is to go stand by them.  Dropping bombs from the air in the hope you will hit some of their enemies will not do the job.  You’ll kill bystanders and create more enemies for yourself and them; you’ll very likely kill some of the people you’re trying to protect.

ISIS-Iraq-AttackSome of us Americans are concerned about the fate of Christians and other minorities in Iraq, currently under attack by the fanatical Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists.  But our concern does not reach the level of being willing to send Americans to fight the ISIS in person.  So it is tempting to many people, myself included, to think we can accomplish the same purpose, without risk, by dropping bombs instead.

But giving in to that temptation would be a big mistake.

  • The ISIS is a fanatic Sunni movement in rebellion against the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq and the non-Sunni government of Syria.  The only way to defeat ISIS is to separate it from the Sunni population of those two countries.  Bombing will kill Sunni bystanders, solidify Sunni support for ISIS and bring ISIS closer to Al Qaeda.
  • Intensive bombing of Fallujah and other parts of Iraq during the U.S. occupation never brought about any decisive victory.  Iraq in fact has an air force if it wants to use it.  There is no reason to think that an American bombing campaign will change anything.
  • Persecution of Christians and other minorities has been going on a long time.  More than half of Iraq’s Christians were killed or driven into exile during the American occupation.  Bombing ISIS will not bring them back or end persecution.
  • Once the initial small-scale bombing campaign fails, past history indicates the government will escalate U.S. military intervention rather than admit failure.

I admire the people of Kurdistan.  They are willing to fight for their own freedom and to allow people of other religions (they’re mostly Sunni Muslims) and heritages to live in peace.   I want the U.S. government to make sure they get all they need to defend themselves.  But I don’t want to make their war an American war.


The long odds against Israel-Palestine peace

August 9, 2014

The Israeli novelist Amos Oz is an example of a sincere Zionist who sincerely wants peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  He favors lifting the blockade against Gaza and recognition of a truly independent Palestinian Arab state.

But in regard the Israeli army’s attack on Gaza, he posed the following questions:

Amos Oz

Amos Oz

Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?

Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

via Deutsche Welle

I might say that if my neighbor had been the original occupant of my house, that if I’d kicked him out, and that if I had a record of killing my neighbor’s relatives, regardless of age, he would be exceedingly foolish to expect me to be deterred from anything by a child on his lap.

But this is not a meaningful answer to Oz’s argument, which is that Israel should try to make peace, including lifting the blockade on Gaza, but that so long as Hamas militants attack Israel, Israel has no realistic choice but to respond and retailiate.

Jewish peace advocates say Israel should negotiate a truce, end the blockade and freeze the settlements (or, which is highly unlikely, shut them down).   They are right in saying that so long as Israel bombs and blockades the people of Gaza, and expands settlements on the West Bank, there is no possibility of peace.

But if bombing, blockade and settlements ceased, the Palestinian Arabs would not necessarily be content to let bygones be bygones, and to sit in peace on the 22 percent of the original Palestine remaining to them.

In the one case, peace is impossible; in the other, peace is unlikely.

I don’t say this in any gloating spirit.  The government of my own country, the United States, has done a global basis what the Israeli government has done locally.   Both countries have operated like the Michael Corleone character in Godfather II—seeking safety by trying to kill all their enemies.

But perfect safety is an illusion, the number of potential enemies is unlimited and there comes a time when it is too late to escape the consequences of past actions.   I hope it is not too late for Israel.  I hope it is not too late for us Americans.


Read and listen to some other Jewish voices below.


A bombing campaign in Iraq

August 8, 2014

I want to see the murderous Islamic State fanatics in Iraq stopped before they massacre more Christians and members of other minority groups in Iraq.

I guess I sort of more-or-less support President Obama’s decision to bomb the ISIS forces and drop supplies to the valiant people of Kurdistan.   [Update 8/10/14.  I've changed my mind.]

Given the experience of the past 10 years, I don’t want American ground troops being sent back to Iraq.

A bombing campaign, against an enemy without an air force or effective anti-aircraft weapons, is appealing as a virtually risk-less way to wage war.

But the experience of history shows that bombing campaigns don’t necessarily achieve their objective, and bombing campaigns conducted in isolation seldom do.   The ISIS forces aren’t going to gather in the open so as to be good targets.   They are going to mingle with the people we are supposedly trying to protect.

Now I understand that President Obama doesn’t think that bombs alone will do the trick.   The idea is to slow down and weaken the ISIS advance and put the Kurdish fighters and Iraqi government army in a better position to resist.

But what happens if ISIS keeps advancing?  Does Obama step up the bombing campaign?  Does he order ground troops back into Iraq?  Or does he at some point decide there is nothing more he can do?

I remember I supported the Vietnam intervention in its early stages because I thought the South Vietnamese could be saved from totalitarian Communism.   I supported the invasion of Iraq in its early stages because I thought the Iraqis could be liberated from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

I wasn’t wrong about Communism, nor about Saddam Hussein, but I was wrong about what it is possible to accomplish by invading another country (and also wrong about my government’s intentions, but that’s another issue).

So now I hesitantly kind-of in-a-way support intervention against ISIS, because I hate to think of my country standing by and doing nothing, and at the same time I think of all the ways in which things could go wrong.

I imagine President Obama has the same thoughts.  I don’t think I will criticize him on this one.


Why ‘strategic’ bombing doesn’t seem to work by Ian Buruma for the Toronto Globe and Mail

The dangerous escalation of conflict with Russia

August 8, 2014

The conflict over Ukraine is escalating dangerously.

An estimated 700,000 people have fled eastern Ukraine for Russia, creating a major humanitarian crisis.  Russia replied to United States and European Union sanctions with sanctions of its own.  Now the question arises as to whether Russia’s covert support for Ukrainian separatists will escalate into open intervention.

The Vineyard of the Saker is a web log to which I ordinarily don’t link because the Saker’s support for Vladimir Putin is so extreme, but he gave an excellent summary of the far-reaching consequences of Russia’s boycott of food imports from the European Union and other pro-sanctions countries.

Food producers in these countries will not only suffer a loss of Russian markets, but depressed food prices as a result of a glut.  Countries that refused to back sanctions will be rewarded.

Russia’s actions will be a severe blow to many European nations, especially in eastern Europe, but will not affect the USA very much—thus driving a wedge between the NATO allies.

Russia’s own farmers will be able to expand their market without having to worry about competition from subsidized American and European imports.  Overall Russia will have an excuse to disconnect from banks and international organizations dominated by the United States and European Union and follow its own path.

Unlike the Saker, I am not a supporter of Putin, but I admit to a grudging respect for his diplomacy.

I was astonished to learn that there are more than 700,000 displaced people from Ukraine in Russia (plus, according to the United Nations, more than 200,000 internally displaced in Ukraine).  That is nearly a million people.

Will this be enough to cause Putin to openly intervene in Ukraine?  I don’t think so.  Putin’s Russia is bogged down in a quagmire war in Chechnya and public opinion polls indicate that Russians don’t want to get bogged down in another quagmire war in Ukraine.

Pepe Escobar wrote that Russia’s minimum demands are (1) no NATO membership for Ukraine, (2) recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, (3) no U.S. troops on Russia’s borders and (4) cultural autonomy for Russian-speakers in eastern and southern Ukraine.  The last is important because it is a political force to help guarantee the first three.

But if the United States and its European allies insist on bringing Ukraine into NATO, if they refuse to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crime, if the United States stations troops on Russia’s borders, then there is a real possibility of war with Russia.   And Russia is the only nation on the planet with sufficient nuclear weapons to threaten the existence of the United States.


NATO is desperate for war by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

You want to be Uncle Sam’s bitch?  Pay the price! by The Vineyard of the Saker.


Playing with nuclear fire in Ukraine

August 5, 2014

NATO expansion into Ukraine would open Russia to the threat of invasion.   It would bring an anti-Russian army almost as close to Moscow as Hitler’s armies got in two years of fighting.

NATO countries are in blue.  Click to viewFor the first time in modern history, Russia’s vast distances would cease to be a guarantee of safety against invasion.   Of course NATO is not the equivalent of Hitler’s New Order, and I don’t imagine that the proponents of NATO expansion actually intend to invade Russia—only to weaken Russia by making it vulnerable.

But of course Russia would still have its nuclear arsenal.  Russia’s nuclear arms make it the only nation in the world that might be able to physically destroy the United States.  It is a very bad idea to back Russia’s rulers into a corner in which this is a consideration.

Europe_under_Nazi_dominationUkraine’s inhabitants have as much right to be an independent nation as anyone else, and they have reasons to be wary of Russia.   Tsarist Russian suppressed Ukrainian culture, Stalin’s policies caused the deaths of millions of Ukrainians from starvation and in the Gulag, and Russia is under the sway of extreme nationalists who hold Ukrainians in contempt.

A new law allows Russia to grant citizenship to anyone born within the boundaries of the old Soviet Union, provided they speak Russian.  Ukrainians recall how Hitler annexed the Sudetenland, the border area of Czechoslovakia, on the excuse of protecting the German-speaking population there.  The annexation left Czechoslovakia defenseless, and unable to resist Germany’s annexation of the whole country.

Ukrainians say this is parallel to how Russia annexed Crimea with the excuse of protecting the Russian-speaking population there, and might try to annex western Ukraine with the same excuse.

But from the Russian point of view, the Ukraine as a whole is Russia’s Sudetenland.  On the pretext of protecting the independence of Ukraine, NATO would put itself in a position to threaten the very existence of Russia.

I don’t think the USA or its NATO allies actually intend a land invasion or would be capable of carrying it out if they tried, although they might help rebels in Russia to destabilize the Russian government.  But the point is not what I think, or even what is the case.  The point is what Russian leaders think and how they would react.


Israel from underdog to top dog

August 1, 2014


I am not Jewish.  I am not a Zionist.  I think of Israel as I think of Britain or France—as a foreign country whose people I wish well, but whose interests are not necessarily those of my own country.

But there was a time when I had considerable sympathy for the State of Israel.  The map above shows why.  The nations in green are members of the Arab League, whose 1967 Khartoum resolution reaffirmed a long-standing policy of no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.  The countries marked in dark green show the countries that went to war with Israel at one time or another.

As long as Israel was surrounded by larger and more populous countries dedicated to its destruction, I thought of Israel as the underdog.   Their situations were not comparable.

 There was never any possibility that Israel could threaten the existence of Egypt, Syria, Iraq or the other Arab nations.  But there was a very real possibility that the Arab nations together could wipe Israel from the map of history.

I argued that the Jewish people had as much right to create a new nation as the Germans or Italians in an earlier era.  I would argue that people who are in peril cannot be expected to follow moral rules.

I argued that if the Soviet Union was providing unlimited armaments to Egypt and Syria to destroy Israel, it was only right that the USA provide military aid to Israel.  I argued—I think that 40 or so years ago, this argument was plausible—that more Arab civilians, even more Palestinian civilians had been killed by Arab governments during Israel’s existence than had been killed by Israelis.

Nowadays I no longer make these arguments because I no longer see Israel as the underdog.  The map below shows why.

No Arab government threatens to attack Israel.  Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties.  Israel has committed acts of war against Lebanon, Syria and Iraq with impunity.

Their only enemies are the powerless, miserable Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank.  All the arguments I made in justification of Israel could now be made in justification of Hamas and Fatah.

The Palestinians have as much right to constitute themselves as a nation as the Israelis did.   People who are being killed indiscriminately have the right to fight back by any means necessary, especially against a nation being given virtually unlimited aid by the USA, the world’s largest military superpower.

There is no possibility that the Palestinians can threaten the existence of Israel.  But there is a very real possibility that Israel can eliminate the Palestinian presence in Gaza and the West Bank.



A Jewish critique of Israel’s policies

August 1, 2014

Rabbi Henry Siegman, former head of the American Jewish Council and of the Synagogue Council of America, in interviews on Democracy Now, calls for the Israeli government to cease its attacks on Gaza and to recognize the human rights of the Palestinian Arabs.  The interview is a excellent, objective summary of the situation.

I think Rabbi Siegman is representative of what is best in the Jewish tradition, which is older and much richer than Zionism.  I think he is right in advocating real self-determination for the Palestinians, as opposed to the fake self-determination they have now.

I would like to think that true self-determination would open a path to peace.  Peace is impossible otherwise.  But I fear Israel may have passed the point of no return.  Rabbi Siegman said in the interview that part of the purpose of the attacks on Gaza is to destroy the possibility of an independent Palestine and of peace talks that might lead to an independent Palestine.  That purpose may have been accomplished.

I recall a story about an American officer offering compensation to an Iraqi family for the killing of the father.  The eldest son said it wasn’t enough.  The American asked how much compensation would be enough.  The son replied, “Ten dead Americans.”

But I don’t want to write anything that, in however tiny a way, would diminish the chances for peace, however small they may be.  Age-old enemies have made peace in the past, as in Ireland.  It is up to Israelis and Palestinian Arabs, not to me, to say whether peace is possible.


Israel Provoked This War: It’s up to President Obama to end it by Henry Siegman for Politico.

The Liberal Zionists by Jonathan Freedland for the New York Review of Books.

I thank Jack Clontz for calling my attention to the Democracy Now interview.  It is well worth viewing in its entirety.

American world power: Links & comments 8/1/14

August 1, 2014

A chessboard drenched in blood by Pepe Escobar for the Asia Times.

Parsing the East Asia Powder Keg by Conn M. Hallinan on Dispatches from the Edge.  Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Early in his administration, President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in the hope and expectation that he would pursue a less belligerent foreign policy than President George W. Bush.  I wonder what the Nobel committee is thinking as the Obama administration drifts toward war not only with Russia, but with China.

One of President Obama’s saving graces is that he has been known to pull back from disastrous decisions before it is too late, as in intervention in Syria.  I hope he will pull back from his present course before it is too late.

Orban Says He Seeks to End Liberal Democracy in Hungary by Zoltan Simon for Bloomberg News.

Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary says he wants to Hungary to become an illiberal, nationalist state like Russia, Turkey or China.  I don’t know enough about Hungary to know how seriously to take this statement, but I think it is a straw in the wind.

The viability of democracy was severely tested during the Great Depression, and many people looked to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as viable alternatives.  If Russia and China weather the current economic crisis better than the USA does, much of the world will, unfortunately, find their form of authoritarianism appealing.

The Vulture: Chewing Argentina’s Living Corpse by Greg Palast.

Clintonians Join Vulture Fund Over Argentina by Conn M. Hallinan for TruthDig.  Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

A U.S. judge overruled a deal made by the government of Argentina with a majority of its creditors to make a partial payment on its debt and avoid national bankruptcy.  All debtors have to be paid in full, the judge ruled.

The reason a U.S. judge has jurisdiction is that the payments by Argentina to its bondholders go through U.S. banks.  I think a consequence of this decision will be that foreign governments avoid U.S. banks whenever possible.

American soft power rests on the fact that the USA is at the center of a lot of things, from the world financial system to the Internet.  But if our government and our corporations abuse this power, it is within the power of the rest of the world to create new systems that bypass the USA.


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