Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

War and peace: Links & comments 7/22/14

July 22, 2014

Lessons from America’s War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich for Notre Dame magazine.

Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations, retired career Army officer and self-described conservative Catholic, talks as much good sense about American military and foreign policy as anybody I know about.

In this article, he traces American policy toward the Middle East from the 1980 Carter Doctrine, which stated that the U.S. would use force to protect access to the oil of the Persian Gulf, down to the present day.  He sees more continuity than differences between the Democratic and Republican administrations.

The policy is based on the hope that, by the application of force, the United States can counter tendencies in the Islamic war that threaten American interests.  The result has been death and destruction, with the result that the people of the Middle East see the United States as the main threat to their freedom and well-being.

Bacevich says its time to stop ignoring reality and attempting the impossible.

Ukraine Open Thread (and Links) on Naked Capitalism.

Fact-Free Zone by Dmitry Orlov on ClubOrlov.

‘It was Putin’s missile’ by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

I don’t know who shot down the MH-17 airliner over Ukraine.  I agree with President Obama that a thorough and complete investigation is needed to determine the facts.  Why, then, is he ramping up a cold war against Russia, as if all the facts were known?

Israel mows the lawn by Mouin Rabbani for the London Review of Books

The author says the policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to prevent, by any means necessary, the emergence of a Palestinian state that is independent in fact and not just in name.  The last thing Netanyahu wants is a peace process.

Reflections on an Unforgiving Day

July 18, 2014

The following is part of an entry in the Stratfor Geopolitical Diary.

What ties Ukraine, Russia, Israel and Gaza together is that they are all fighting for their lives, or interests that are so fundamentally important to them that they cannot live without them.

They are fighting for their nation and for that nation’s safety in a world where unspeakable things happen and where the only ones who will defend you are your family, friends and countrymen, and where all the well-wishers and advice-givers will quietly take their leave if dangers arise.

There is nothing easier and cheaper than advising others to get along. 

These conflicts are rooted in fear, and fear is always a legitimate emotion.

Others would have approached today by saying that the Russians are evil or the Ukrainians really the oppressors, the Israelis killers or the Gazans monsters.

We are sure we will hear from many condemning our moral equivalency, by which they will claim that the only truly moral position is theirs.

But this is not a moral equivalency that argues that Ukrainians and Russians, Israelis and Palestinians should therefore sit down and recognize that they really haven’t got anything to fight over.

This is a moral equivalency that says these people have a great deal to fight over, but that it is their fight, and that — as when the Romans began wiping out Europe’s Celts — it will be settled by steel and not by kindly advice or understanding.

The problem between these people is not that they don’t understand each other. 

The problem is that they do.

Click on Reflections on an Unforgiving Day to read the whole article.

Reprinted with permission of Stratfor Global Intelligence.   Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.


Is an Israeli-Palestinian peace even possible?

July 14, 2014

This video is an admirable effort by the Jewish Voice for Peace to describe the Israel / Palestine conflict objectively and to propose a constructive solution.  Sadly, I doubt a constructive solution is possible.  I’d be glad to be proved wrong.

I’m currently reading Empire of the Summer Moon, a history of the Comanche nation and its great chief, Quanah Parker.   The history of United States treaties with the Comanches and other American Indian nations is very like the various peace plans between Israeli and the Palestinians.

The problems with the Indian treaties were that, on the one hand, the United States government did not and maybe could not hold back white settlers who wanted Indian land, and that, on the other hand, Indians did not recognize the authority of negotiators making concessions in their names and did not consider themselves bound by the treaties.

I do not equate the Palestinian Arabs with tribal peoples of North America, but I do see parallels in their situations.  The only possible outcomes of the merciless wars between the Plains Indians and the white settlers were that the Indians would drive out the settlers, or that the United States Army would subjugate the Indians and force them to live on reservations.

Via Juan Cole.   Hat tip to Jack Clontz.


Syria’s chemcal weapons slated for destruction

June 26, 2014

Remember Syria’s chemical weapons?  The last of them recently are being over to be destroyed under U.S. supervision.  Reed Richardson noted in The Nation that this represents a huge foreign policy success by the Obama administration in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Nine months after entering into joint negotiation with the Russians and Syria’s tyrannical President Bashar al-Assad, the last of that country’s 1,300 tons of declared chemical weapons began a journey to a chemical weapons-eating ship in the Mediterranean for destruction by the US.  This follows the rapid destruction of all of Syria’s chemical munitions last fall.

And while a dozen chemical weapon facilities inside Syria still remain to be destroyed, Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), was uncharacteristically upbeat about what the US-brokered deal had just accomplished in the middle of the Syrian civil war:

The mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program has been a major undertaking marked by an extraordinary international cooperation.  Never before has an entire arsenal of a category of weapons of mass destruction been removed from a country experiencing a state of internal armed conflict.  And this has been accomplished within very demanding and tight time frames.

via The Nation.

Remember that the justification for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction—a goal that already had been accomplished by international agreement and international inspections.

The successful removal of all of Syria’s chemical weapons stores and munitions has now eliminated a nightmare scenario where extremist groups like ISIS capture them, either by chance or through a full-on successful coup of Assad.

If that seems unlikely, consider that the former scenario almost happened last week, when ISIS insurgents gained control over one of Saddam Hussein’s old chemical weapons complexes at Muthanna in southern Iraq.

Fortunately, post-Desert Storm inspections carried out by UNSCOM—a kind of prototype for the OPCW—had rendered all of these weapons useless years ago, long before Bush invaded.

via The Nation.

One of the favorite sayings of American statesmen is that “all options are on the table.”   Bombing and invasion are not necessarily the only options, the best options or the first options to consider—although, of course, diplomacy is strengthened if there is potential military force behind it.

Kurdistan, haven of religious freedom

June 24, 2014

kurdistan_people__2007_12_20_h0m58s56Not everybody in Iraq is a Sunni Arab or a Shiite Arab.  The country is full of other religious and ethnic groups, including Assyrian Christians who’ve been in Mesopotamia longer than the Arabs, and their hope of survival is the continued semi-independence of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Overall, I think the invasion of Iraq was a disaster, but one good thing to come out of it was freedom for the Kurds, a valiant people who’d been fighting for independence for generations, and without terrorism against civilians.

The Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslims, the same religion as the murderous I.S.I.S. militia, but their attitude toward freedom and tolerance is exactly the opposite.  And the Kurds are willing, able and armed to fight.

Military analyst Gary Brecher, who’s lived in Kurdistan, wrote:

The men and women of the [Kurdish] Pesh Merga—the Middle East’s only truly gender-neutral fighting force—are the only thing saving all the terrified, dwindling minority communities of Northern Iraq from the savagery—yeah, savagery; why lie?—of a new zombie generation of Wahhabized Arab/Sunni jihadis.  [snip]

Let me tell you, for a Sunni Kurd to say, “I have Shia friends, I have Christian friends” is about as brave and radical as it gets, short of suicide, in the Middle East. I never heard any of my Saudi students say anything remotely like it. Well, how could they?  By law, Shi’ism and Christianity are banned in the Kingdom.  So they didn’t have the opportunity, even if they’d had the mindset which they didn’t.

Something wonderful came out of the horrors of 20th century Iraq, among the Kurds of the Northern hills.  They became the only non-sectarian population in Iraq, and perhaps the only such group between Lebanon and India.

All the hill peoples, the few who’d survived Sunni pogroms, were kind to each other. When violence came into the hills, it came from the plains to the South.

All the vulnerable minorities in the Northern hills had been hit by waves of violence from the Sunni majority to the south: the few remaining Assyrian Christians who held out in little mountain towns like Zakho, a pitiful remnant of the genocides perpetrated against them by the Ottomans, and then by Sunni militias in the 1930s; the Turcoman, who are Sunni but Turkish-speaking—in other words, not Arab—and don’t you ever doubt that Arab chauvinism has a HUGE part in what passes for Sunni jihadism.

via The War Nerd:  PandoDaily.


Andrew Bacevich on the lessons of Iraq

June 21, 2014

Andrew Bacevich is a retired career Army officer, a combat veteran of Vietnam and a self-identified conservative.  I have great respect for him and for his views on American foreign and military policy and his recent interview by Bill Moyers is well worth watching.

Bacevich has been writing about military and foreign policy since the 1990s, and generally has been proved right by events.   It would be good if he was asked for his opinion by TV interviewers more often.

You can find links to transcripts of Bill Moyers’ interview of Bacevich by clicking on the following.

Full Show: Chaos In Iraq

Extended Interview: Andrew Bacevich

Next are articles on the pros and cons of neoconservative foreign policy.

Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire: what our tired country still owes the world by Robert Kagan in The New Republic.

A Letter to Paul Wolfowitz by Andrew Bacevich in Harper’s.

In a nutshell

June 20, 2014

You cannot win the hearts and minds of dead people, but you sure can help recruit their friends and relatives against you.

via Peter Van Buren | The Dissenter.

There’s nothing the U.S. can do to save Iraq

June 20, 2014

Here’s the lineup of forces in Iraq:


ISIS militia.  Photo credit: Christian Science Monitor

 A  jihadist force known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria  is conducting a successful rebellion against the Al-Maliki government in Iraq.

The Al-Maliki government is supported by the United States and the ayatollahs of Iran, and is hated by Sunni Arab Muslims in Iraq.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was supported by the United States and the monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait when it was fighting the government of Syria, and is hated by the ayatollahs of Iran and by Shiite Arab Muslims in Iraq.

So the choices for President Obama are to align with a despised, corrupt (though legally elected) government under the influence of Iran, or to stand aside and do nothing to stand in the way of a murderous jihadist group sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

He either alienates the Shiite Muslims, who are the majority of Arabs in Iraq, or he alienates the Sunni Muslims, who are the majority of Arabs in the world.

And the only means he has to influence the situation are to provide military equipment to one side or the other or to wage war by means of killer drones.  We know how that has worked out.

I sympathize with President Obama in this situation.   He inherited the Iraq conflict, just as President Nixon inherited the Vietnam conflict.   Everything that has happened is a playing out of decisions made during the George W. Bush administration.  Even the timetable for withdrawal of American troops was set during the last days of the Bush administration.

I don’t know what the President thinks he can accomplish at this point, besides “security theater”—creating the impression he is doing something even though the actions are futile.  Whatever he does or doesn’t do, he will be blamed for “losing” Iraq.   Whatever he does or doesn’t do, the poor Iraqi people will suffer.

That’s how it seems to me.  What do you think?


Why America Can Never Win in Iraq by Peter Van Buren for The Dissenter.

Who finances ISIS? by Andreas Becker for Deutsche Welle.   ISIS gets its money from bank robbery, extortion and sale of oil from wells in the regions it controls, but also reportedly from Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf states.

The Gall of Dick Cheney by Charles M. Blow for The New York Times.  Hat tip to Hal Bauer for this link.

There Are No Good Guys in Iraq by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.  Well, there are good people in Iraq, as anywhere else, but none of them are in charge of the factions contending for power.

The Guns of Folly by Tom Engelhardt for TomDispatch.

ISIS Iraq Offense: Can the Empire Reassert Control of the Jihadists? by Glen Ford for the Black Agenda Report.

Iraq heading for Yugoslavia-type breakup

June 18, 2014

iraq_religious-ethnic-map3_600px_01Iraq appears to be headed for a breakup, like Yugoslavia in the 1990s.  I don’t see any way the U.S. government can prevent this.

Iraq unity can only be preserved by a strong, effective central government that treats treats all ethnic groups the same, and this is not within the power of Washington to provide.

There are three main ethnic groups in Iraq—Shiite Arabs, who control the government; Sunni Arabs, who are in revolt, and Kurds, who already are independent in all but name.

The reason for the success of the Sunni I.S.I.S. revolt is the corruption and incompetence of the Maliki government.  As Andrew Cockburn pointed out:

By 2014, the going price for command of an Iraqi army division was reported to be around $1 million, payable over two years as the purchaser recouped his investment via fees levied at roadblocks and other revenue streams.  Little wonder that when called on to fight the disciplined and ruthless ISIS, the Iraqi army has melted away.

via Harper’s Magazine.

A breakup of Iraq would be a very bad thing.  It would be as bloody as the breakup of Yugoslavia, or maybe worse.

But I don’t think the U.S. government can keep Iraq together by giving weapons to the Maliki government, or by bombing I.S.I.S.-held areas, or by keeping a “residual force” in Iraq, or joining forces with Shiite Iran, or by any other means.


The War Nerd: Here’s everything you need to know about “too extreme for Al Qaeda” I.S.I.S. by Gary Brechter for PandoDaily.

Who are Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and what did we do to them? by Prof. Juan Cole.

Iraq’s tragedy of errors: Why the Sunnis are revolting by Ahmed Meiloud for Middle East Eye.

A foreign policy for Americans

June 16, 2014

The U.S.  role as the “world’s only superpower” is unsustainable.  We Americans need to give it up, and behave like a normal country instead.

A normal country’s aim is peace and prosperity for its citizens, not world military supremacy

hubris_172349597-3A normal country will go to war to defend itself, and to defend allies to which it is bound by treaty, but not invade foreign countries to achieve vague goals or because of hypothetical or imaginary threats.

A normal country will not interfere in the internal politics of foreign countries, nor give billions to foreign dictators to use against their own people.

The USA was once a normal country.  The reason we changed was because of the unique threat posed by Hitler and the Nazi regime.   Hitler aspired to world domination (a goal that we Americans rightly regarded as insane) and he had to be stopped.  We Americans woke up to that fact too late.

After World War Two we Americans saw Stalin and the Soviet regime as a threat equivalent to Hitler.  We committed ourselves to a generation-long global duel with the USSR and the world-wide Communist movement, which ended with Ronald Reagan making peace with Mikhail Gorbachev and the later break-up of the Soviet Union.

That was the point at which the U.S. government could have decided to relax and tend to the nation’s internal needs.   Instead policy-makers such as Paul Wolfowitz thought that the goal of the United States should be to maintain its position as the world’s only super-power, and to keep itself safe by crushing any potential rivals.



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