Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

The nuclear temptation

April 28, 2016

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The Obama administration is preparing a new generation of tactical weapons that supposedly would give the U.S. the power to fight and win a war against Russia or China.

The weapon is called the B61 Model 12.  It is a precision-guided atomic missile, with a computer that can guide it to its target and a “dial-a-yield” feature that would control the size of the explosion.  It could be launched from bombers that also drop conventional bombs, creating uncertainty in the targeted enemy.

The argument for such weapons is that, being precise, they would be more effective militarily and result in loss of less innocent life.   The argument against is that, for this very reason, there is a greater danger they would be used.

The U.S. government and its allies are increasing their forces along the borders of both Russia and China, but it is unlikely that they were be a match for larger Russian and Chinese forces fighting in their own neighborhood.  But deployment of tactical nuclear weapons would not necessarily change that equation, because the Russian and Chinese military have their own weapons.

Both Russia and the USA are currently undergoing modernizations of their nuclear forces.  Modernization is estimated to cost the U.S. more than $30 billion a year—$1 trillion over 30 years.

Modernization does not, in and of itself, increase the threat of nuclear war.  If there are to be nuclear weapons at all, the machinery needs to be updated and replaced to avert the danger of an accidental explosion or accidental launch.

The development of battlefield-capable weapons, however, does increase the scope and likelihood of war.  But the greater mistake is a military buildup along the borders of Russia and China—two powerful nations that are not threatening the United States, but may be provoked into doing so.

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U.S. recruiting falls short of superpower needs

April 22, 2016

Senator Ted Cruz thinks the American military needs to be up-sized, not down-sized.

Our entire fighting force is shockingly undermanned and ill-prepared.  Last year, the Chief of Staff of the Army stated that his units were at “historically low levels” of combat readiness and the Commandant of the Marine Corps declared that “half of our non-deployed units are suffering personnel, equipment and training shortfalls.”

The Chief of Staff of the Air Force recently proclaimed that “we are getting too small to succeed.”  And, for the first time since 2007, the United States Navy was unable to maintain a carrier presence in the Arabian Gulf.  Every single portion of our Armed Forces has felt the strain.

In 2010, the U.S. Army was authorized 562,400 active duty soldiers, by the end of 2016 that number will have dropped precipitously to 475,000.

And this administration has plans to drive it even lower, to only 450,000 soldiers by the end of 2018. Unless our leaders are able to prioritize our national defense appropriately, there is a possibility that the Army could be reduced to as few as 420,000 soldiers by 2020.   Attempts to garner this “peace dividend” are assuredly met with enthusiasm by our adversaries.  [snip]

The entire end-strength of our Armed Forces must be rebuilt; we must strive to have a total active-duty force of at least 1.4 million Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines.   Anything less creates a continuing training and readiness gap that risks the lives of the men and women who volunteer to serve this great Nation.

Source: Cruz for President

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter wants to continue to project American military power worldwide—to deal with what he terms the national security threats of terrorism, Russia, China, North Korea and Iran on a global basis.

Ted Cruz is right to point out that our armed forces are not large enough, and well-enough equipped, to carry out such a global mission.   As Andrew Bacevich, a respected military scholar, points out, it probably would take 500,000 troops each just to pacify Afghanistan and Iraq, let alone Carter’s more expansive goals.

Recruiters and potential enlistees at Fort Sill, OK

Troops and potential enlistees at Fort Sill, OK

But the problem is that U.S. military recruiters are barely able to fulfill their recruiting targets as it is.  A large proportion of enlistees are rejected because they are obese, or high school dropouts, or have criminal records.

It is impossible to increase the size of the U.S. armed forces as Cruz proposes without doing one of two things.

  •  Lower standards for recruitment.
  •  Re-institute a military draft.

The Obama administration has responded to the recruitment problem by trying to figure out ways to wage wars with minimum numbers of troops—bombings, targeted killings and plans to deploy precision tactical nuclear weapons.  Opening up the military to women and to openly gay enlistees also helps the recruitment problem, but probably not enough.

I have an alternate suggestion.

  • Limit the mission of the U.S. military to defense of the American homeland.

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The threat of a global holy war

April 21, 2016

One of the worst thing that could happen is an escalation of the U.S. “war on terror” into a global war between Christendom and Islam.  That is the goal of al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS).

If it happened, the United States and much of Europe would become as beleaguered as Israel is today.  The devastation that has been visited on Gaza, Palestine, Iraq, Libya and Syria would be spread to the whole world.

That is why Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were careful to distinguish jihadist terrorists from Muslims in general.

Unfortunately, there are Americans, such as Lt. General (ret) William “Jerry” Boykin, who don’t.

President Bush fired him in 2007 from his post as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence for saying that the United States is in a holy war of Christian crusaders against Muslim jihadists.  Even though Boykin was a brave and patriotic soldier, Bush acted in the best interests of the United States.

Boykin has endorsed Ted Cruz for President, and Cruz has appointed him as one of his top advisers.  I think Cruz also wants to make the “war on terror” a religious war.

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Malik Jalal tries to get off Obama’s Kill List

April 15, 2016

Malik Jalal has traveled from Pakistan’s Waziristan border region to Britain so as to plead with President Obama to stop trying to kill him.

Malik Jalal

Malik Jalal

Malik is an honorary title that means “village leader”.  He is a member of the North Waziristan Peace Committee, whose mission is to negotiate with the Pakistan Taliban to reduce violence in the region.  The committee’s work is sanctioned by the government of Pakistan.

He has survived four attacks by Hellfire missiles and now sleeps out in the woods with his six-year-old son.  He wrote in The Independent that he has information that the U.S. military wants to stop the work of the Peace Committee because they think peace would give the Taliban a secure sanctuary.

Jalal wrote that the first attack came in 2010, when his nephew took his vehicle to a service  station  to get an oil change and to have the tires checked.   A Hellfire missile hit Jalal’s vehicle and another vehicle parked just beside it.  The nephew was injured and four innocent bystanders were killed.

The next time he was driving to a peace conference, with another vehicle on the road behind, which happened to be the same shade of red as Jalal’s.  A Hellfire missile destroyed the trailing vehicle and all four occupants, all innocent bystanders, were killed.

Jalal became sure that he was the target after the next attack.  He accepted a dinner invitation by cell phone and, while he was on the way, a Hellfire missile struck, killing three innocent people, including a father of three and a mentally retarded man.

The fourth attack came early in 2011, when the Hellfire missile struck a meeting of community leaders, killing 40 people, none of whom, according to Jalal were engaged in acts of violence.

Since then he has taken to sleeping out of doors on a mountainside far from his house and always parking his vehicle a long distance from any destination.  Recently, he said, his six-year-old son has joined him on the mountainside.  The little boy said it was unrealistic to think that the U.S. military would refrain from killing Jalal’s family just because he wasn’t at home.

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The Pentagon’s new war plan for North Korea

March 16, 2016

China watcher Peter Lee reports that the Pentagon has adopted a new war policy toward North Korea—a policy based on pre-emptive war rather than mere deterrence.

130410174145-lead-inside-a-pentagon-war-game-00011026-horizontal-galleryThe policy is that if American generals determine that North Korea is about to launch a war, they will order “surgical” strikes against North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and send in special forces teams to assassination North Korea’s leaders.

The problem with that, as Lee noted, is that if Kim Jong Un determines the U.S. is about to destroy North Korea’s nuclear defense and kill its leaders, he would try to strike first.  This is a racheting-up process that makes war more and more likely.

The Pentagon’s larger purpose, in Lee’s opinion, is to deter China—to, as the Chinese say, “kill the chicken to frighten the monkey.”

What’s interesting about Lee’s articles is that nowhere to they mention President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter or Secretary of State John Kerry.   The Pentagon evidently has its own policy independent of the policy set by the President and the Cabinet.

This is a vital Constitutional question.  Where does the power in government really lie?

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What it would take to rein in the Deep State

February 1, 2016

DeepState51cdQwM-Z8LMike Lofgren’s new book, The Deep State, describes the interlocking  U.S. military-industrial complex, financial oligarchy and police state which is not subject to either the rule of law or democratic control.   The particulars of his description are available in the previous two posts and in the linked articles.

Here’s what I think needs to be done in order to rein in the Deep State.

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authoritarianism9fd18cCongress should exercise the power of the purse to prevent the President from committing acts of war on his or her own initiative.  President Obama has stated that he considers himself free to attack foreign countries by means of bombing from the air, killer drones and Special Operations because these things are not war.  It is only war when large numbers of American ground troops are involved.

Refusing to levy taxes is the historic method used by parliaments and national assemblies to force absolute monarchs to cease aggressive wars and submit to the rule of law.  The U.S. precedent is the Case-Church Amendment of 1973 forced a cutoff of funds for military operations in Vietnam after August 15 of that year, and brought the Vietnam Conflict to an end.

Congress should pass a resolution ending funding for military operations and military aid and subsidies in the Middle East after a specific deadline, except for what is specifically authorized by Congress.

And if the executive refused to comply with that resolution?  The Constitutional remedy for this is impeachment.

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Congress should pass a law allowing prosecuted whistle-blowers to be acquitted if they can show that the information they revealed was kept secret in order to cover up lawbreaking, incompetence or failure, to limit business competition, or to suppress information that is not related to national security.

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How the Deep State can resist democracy

February 1, 2016

DeepState51cdQwM-Z8LThe Deep State is author Mike Lofgren’s term for power centers in Washington, Wall Street and, to an extent, Silicon Valley that determine government policy, yet operate in secret, without accountability to the law or democratic control.

He wrote in The Deep State that the USA is condemned to unending war and economic decline unless the power of the Deep State can be overthrown.

But can it be overthrown?

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Let’s look at the means the Deep State has to protect itself.

The power of moneyWall Street banks and military contractors have more money available to influence elections than any of their critics do.  The Supreme Court has ruled the corporate entities have the same rights as individual human beings, and that spending money can be an exercise of the right of free speech, so there is no practical limit on how much money can be spent on a campaign.

The power of subversionThe FBI has a long history of infiltrating civil rights and peace organizations with informers and undermining them from within.  Ditto for the CIA in foreign elections.  If the FBI and CIA felt threatened, is there any doubt they would use whatever tools they had to protect themselves?

DeepState-e1398185022722The power of information.  The NSA has the means of learning the personal habits and behavior of every American.  Who is there who doesn’t have something in their background that looks bad, or can be made to look bad?  The precedent for this is the FBI’s spying on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and its dissemination of information about his sex life.

The power of repression.  The police crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security, shows how the government treats peaceful protest movements as national security threats.

Suppressing the vote.  Many techniques exist for suppressing the vote or making votes meaningless.  New laws intentionally make it more difficult for members of targeted groups to vote or easier to disqualify them from voting.  The Dieboldt electronic voting machines allow vote tampering. and there is some evidence this is happening.

Financial power.  When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he intended to propose an ambitious program of public workers.  He never did, because he was told this would cause the “bond markets” to lose confidence in him, and interest rates to rise, choking off the economic recovery and increasing the national debt.  If a future President attempted to curb the power of Wall Street, is there any doubt that the financial markets would “lose confidence” in him or her?

Economic dependence.   The Department of Defense and other parts of the Deep State employ millions of people, almost all of them honest, patriotic people who believe they are serving their country.  Reducing the size of these institutions to what’s needed to defend the country would throw many of them out of work.  Without some alternative, this would not only damage the lives of these individuals, but possibly throw the country into recession.

Learned helplessness.  Many Americans have come to think of economic oligarchy and perpetual war as facts of life, about which nothing can be done.

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Mike Lofgren and the Deep State

January 30, 2016

This Bill Moyers broadcast is from 2014

Mike Lofgren is a Washington insider.  He was a Republican congressional staff member for 28 years, including 16 years as a senior analyst on the House and Senate budget committees.

DeepState51cdQwM-Z8LHe has written a book, THE DEEP STATE: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, about governmental and private institutions that operate above the law, and independently of the will of the citizens, and how they interlock in ways that mutually reinforce their power.

The Deep State includes the bankers who were prosecuted for financial fraud because they were “too big to fail” and CIA torturers who were not prosecuted or dismissed because that would demoralize the agency.

It is the force that makes the government engage in bank bailouts, warrant-less surveillance and undeclared wars.  It is the force that has made the American public accept endless war and economic stagnation as normal.  It is the explanation of why partisan gridlock and financial sequesters never affect the availability of money to subsidize foreign military forces.

Lofgren’s Deep State includes President Eisenhower’s “military industrial complex”, the FBI, CIA and NSA and their supposed overseers in Congress and the federal courts, Wall Street and its supposed overseers in the Treasury and Justice departments, and Silicon Valley.

They work together, and have revolving doors through which people can move from one to another—for example, General David Petreaus, after his retirement from the military, to a seven-figure job at KKR, a Wall Street private equity form.

None of this is the result of a conscious conspiracy, Lofgren wrote.  It is a natural evolution of power without accountability, and the “group-think” of people who never have their assumptions questioned.

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American military affluenza and the F-35

January 25, 2016

F22.F35.Screen-Shot-2016-01-22-at-5.08.21-PM-620x402Source: David Archibald.

American military strategy is based on air power.  In every military action since the Korean Conflict, the United States ruled the skies.

Two things could threaten this.  One is an oil shortage or lack of access to oil, which doesn’t seem to be a problem for the foreseeable future.  The other is a loss of the U.S. technological edge, which, according to a writer named David Archibald, is a real possibility.

The U.S. Air Force latest fighter-bomber, the F-22 is a superior aircraft, but it takes 42 man-hours of maintenance for every hour in the air.  F-22 pilots are restricted to 10 to 12 hours of flying per month, much less than required to maintain proficiency, because its operating cost is $58,000 per hour.

The F-35 on paper is a science-fictional wonder plane.  It has stealth capability.  Its computerized helmet supposedly gives pilots 360-degree vision and the ability to share data instantly with commanders and other pilots.

But, according to recent reports, it is like the F-22, only worse.  First planned in 2001, it still is not ready.  Development is more than $200 billion over budget.  It lacks maneuverability.  It doesn’t fly in cold weather.  The computers lack software pilots say they need for  combat.  The ejection seats don’t work.  The fuel tanks are vulnerable to lightning strikes.

But the Air Force is committed to it.  The main argument, according to Archibald, is the lack of a Plane B.  That, and the sunk costs and the jobs and profits that will be lost of the F-35 is canceled.

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Comparison of wars

January 18, 2016

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Hat tip to Tiffany’s Non-Blog.

Two other similarities:

  • The war on terror is also a war at home; the war on drugs is also a war abroad.
  • U.S. forces keep eliminating “kingpins,” but never get any closer to victory.

Why North Korea clings to nuclear weapons

January 9, 2016

Question 1– How many governments has the United States overthrown or tried to overthrow since the Second World War?

Answer: 57 (See William Blum.)

Question 2– How many of those governments had nuclear weapons?

Answer— 0

Source: Mike Whitney for Counterpunch

Of course there are other reasons for not attacking North Korea, such as not wanting to take responsibility for taking care of more than 24 million desperate hungry people.

I think that the only alternative is to negotiate with the North Korean government, totalitarian though it might be, and to provide assurances that the United States will end sanctions and guarantee not to attack if North Korea gives up nuclear weapons.

Mike Whitney and Peter Lee both wrote recently that, in fact, the purpose of North Korea’s recent nuclear test is to force the U.S. government to the negotiating table.  Without an agreement, the North Korean nuclear weapons program will continue.

As Donald Rumsfeld is supposed to have said, if a problem cannot be solved, it might not be a problem, but a fact.

LINKS

Does North Korea need nukes to deter U.S. aggression? by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

North Korea’s “H Bomb”: No Ado About Something by Peter Lee for China Matters.

The recklessness of declining powers.

January 8, 2016

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, wrote the following for Al Jazeera America.

The escalating tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran is the story of a declining state desperately seeking to reverse the balance of power shifting in favor of its rising rival.

160104_saudi_iran-map_0History teaches us that it is not rising states that tend to be reckless, but declining powers.  Rising states have time on their side.  They can afford to be patient: They know that they will be stronger tomorrow and, as a result, will be better off postponing any potential confrontation with rivals.

Declining states suffer from the opposite condition: Growing weaker over time, they know that time is not on their side; their power and influence is slipping out of their hands. 

So they have a double interest in an early crisis: First, their prospects of success in any confrontation will diminish the longer they wait, and second, because of the illusion that a crisis may be their last chance to change the trajectory of their regional influence and their prospects vis-à-vis rivals.

When their rivals — who have the opposite relationship with time — seek to deescalate and avoid any confrontation, declining states feel they are left with no choice but to instigate a crisis.

Saudi Arabia is exhibiting the psychology of a state that risks losing its dominant position and whose losing hand is growing weaker and weaker. … …

Source: Al Jazeera America

The observations I quoted would be just as true if Parsi had substituted “the USA” for Saudi Arabia and “China” for Iran.  Since the Vietnam era, American political leaders have entered into conflicts just to prove that we Americans were strong and willing to fight, while the Chinese leaders have quietly made their country stronger.

I don’t know what the future holds for Iran or China, but I have no doubt that we Americans need to change direction or we will lose what power we have.

Saudi leaders heat up Sunni-Shiite conflict.

January 7, 2016

Saudi Arabia is heating up the Sunni-Shiite conflict in the Middle East.  I think the U.S. government should think long and hard about letting the Saudis draw Americans further into it.

The Saudi Arabian government recently executed 47 opponents of the regime, including radical Sunni jihadists and the Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

I think this means that the Saudi government feels threatened by the radical Sunni jihadist movements, and wants to redirect their rage outward by stepping up the conflict with Iran and with Shiites generally.

Either Sunni jihadists are killed fighting in Syria and other places, or Saudi Arabia’s enemies—Iran and its ally Syria—are weakened.

Green indicates Shia predominance

Dark green indicates Shia predominance

The Sunni-Shiite conflict in the Middle East involved families who’ve lived side-by-side in peace for decades.  Why are they at each others’ throats now?

I thinks that it is because the Sunnis and Shiites are used as proxies in a struggle for political power among Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Iran, Turkey and Israel.

And this is overlaid by an economic struggle for control of oil and gas resources and pipeline routes.   It so happens that Shiites, although a minority in the Muslim world as a whole, are a majority in the oil and gas regions.

And all this has been made worse by the murderous and ineffective intervention of my own country, the United States.

But the tragic conflict also is kept going by the need of the Saudi royal family to appease Wahhabi jihadist clerics.

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We live in the world that Henry Kissinger made

December 28, 2015

When U.S. forces bombed and then invaded Cambodia in 1970, many Americans were shocked, both at the mass slaughter of bystanders and at the fact that it was done without a declaration of war.   Nowadays such actions have come to be regarded as normal.

Grandin.KissingersShadowHistorian Greg Grandin, in his new book, KISSINGER’S SHADOW: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman, says the normalization of military aggression and mass killing of civilians is due to the influence of Henry Kissinger, not just as national security adviser and secretary of state under the Nixon and Ford administrations, but as an influential public intellectual and elder statesman.

Kissinger’s bloody record includes the prolonging of the Vietnam conflict, the carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos, support for Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor and massacres of minorities and dissidents, the overthrow of the democratically-elected Allende government in Chile, sponsorship of South American death squads through Operation Condor, support for white mercenaries fighting African liberation movements and much else.

But U.S. military interventions, covert actions and war crimes did not begin with Kissinger nor, for that matter, with the Cold War, nor are such things unique to the United States.

The real significance of Kissinger, according to Grandin, was that he, more than anyone else, was responsible for the overcoming of the “Vietnam syndrome” – the idea that U.S. use of force should be restrained by morality, law and prudence, and that so many Americans have come, without realizing it, to accept Kissinger’s philosophy of power.

Kissinger was an admirer of the German philosopher and historian Oswald Spengler, who believed that civilizations rise when they have powerful leaders whose understanding is based on sound instinct and intuition.  Spengler believed they decline when leaders limit themselves to sterile reasoning and empirical fact.

While Spengler believed that Western civilization was in a state of irreversible decline, Kissinger thought that this could be reversed by statesmen with the strength of will to ignore the “fact men” and impose their vision on reality.

Kissinger, according to Grandin, believed that power was a dynamic process.  The only way a nation could maintain power was to participate in the struggle for power.  A nation whose leaders stayed on the sidelines would only become weak.

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Is there hope for peace in Syria?

December 22, 2015

Hope for peace in Syria depends on two things:

  • the defeat of the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh), because those fanatics cannot live in peace with anyone else
  • renunciation of “regime change” as a U.S. goal in Syria, because you can’t negotiate a peace with someone while you are openly bent on his destruction.

peace-in-syria-262x300Secretary of State John Kerry has said some things that indicate the United States might be willing to work with Vladimir Putin for a negotiated peace.  I hope this is so.  U.S. policy under President Obama has been marked by a steady drift toward war, interrupted by sudden lurches toward peace, as with the Iranian sanctions negotiations.

Almost all the Democratic and Republican candidates are worse on this issue than the current administration.  Hillary Clinton is a war hawk.  Bernie Sanders says that the destruction of ISIS should take priority over removal of President Assad of Syria, but removal of Assad should remain as a long-term goal.

The Republican candidates are all over the map.  I regret having given Donald Trump and Ted Cruz credit for certain glimmers of sanity when in fact they have no coherent policy.   The one voice of sanity is Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is a clear and principled opponent of regime change, but has little chance of winning the GOP nomination.

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Chinese and U.S. strategies in Africa

December 21, 2015

chinaafrica

Double click to enlarge.


 

Source: South China Morning Post.  (Hat tip to Barry Ritholtz)

China is Africa’s largest trading partner.  Its infrastructure investment are large and growing, although total Chinese investment in Africa is less than U.S. investment.

If all goes well, the infrastructure investments will result in building up Africa’s export industries, which will be used to pay off the Chinese loans.  If not, China will still have a claim on the food, energy and mineral resources of Africa, much as European and American banks did in an earlier era.

U.S. base locations. Click to enlarge

U.S. military sites in Africa.  Click to enlarge.          Source: Nick Turse for TomDispatch.

The United States meanwhile is increasing its presence in a different way.   Investigative reporter Nick Turse, whose articles are posted on TomDispatch, reports a growing number of secret U.S. military site in Africa, to advise and help the armed forces of African countries and supposedly to be in place to fight terrorists.

Which will be stronger in the long run—China’s economic influence or American military influence?

I think some Africans probably resent the growing power of China as a foreign economic power operating in their countries.

I think some African leaders would be grateful if the U.S. military could provide effective help against the Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria or the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa.

But overall, I’d bet on China.  The Chinese are creating jobs and building useful and visible public works, which foreign military bases and the presence of foreign troops are always resented.

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Good sense (relatively) from Cruz and Trump

December 16, 2015

I wouldn’t vote for Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, but they advocate a less dangerous foreign policy than Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush or even Hillary Clinton.

TedNRCover-775x1024They both recognize that U.S. military interventions in the Middle East have been disasters and that further military intervention is unlikely to produce any better result.   They both think that the best way to fight ISIS is to get out of the way of the enemies of ISIS – Russia, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

[Update 12/17/2015.  On the other hand, Ted Cruz thinks carpet bombing is the route to victory over ISIS, which cancels out any seemingly sensible thing  he might have said.  See the new Juan Cole link below. ]

That makes them significantly different from Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, who want to send ground troops to the Middle East.

The problem with Cruz and Trump is that, while reluctant to increase the number of America’s foreign enemies, they are eager to wage political war against domestic enemies.

trumpweb21n-1-webFor Cruz, these are atheists, secularists, abortionists and gays.  For Trump, these are Mexicans, Muslims and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

This is in contrast to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who seek harmony at home while treating the lives of foreigners in majority-Muslim countries as expendable.

I don’t see why Trump, who wants to bar Muslims from the United States, is morally worse than Rubio, Bush or Clinton, who support aggressive wars resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslim bystanders.

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Now Russia is drawn into the Sunni-Shiite conflict

December 15, 2015

ISIS, al Qaeda and the other violent jihadist fighters are not from any one country.  They are part of an international movement, so there are Arabs fighting in Afghanistan and Chechens fighting in Syria.  In a sinister way, they resemble the international brigades that fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

ISIS, al Qaeda and their supporters are inspired by teachings of the Wahhabis (or Salafis), an extremely harsh theocratic sect with roots in Saudi Arabia and a strong following in Pakistan.

But a report by Christoph Reuter of Spiegel Online indicates there is a parallel movement among the Shiite Muslims, whose strength is in Iran:

151007165249-putin-assad-syria-large-169Assad’s army isn’t just vulnerable, it also isn’t strictly a Syrian force anymore. For the last two years, the forces on his side have increasingly been made up of foreigners, including Revolutionary Guards from Iran, members of Iraqi militias and Hezbollah units from Lebanon.

They are joined at the front by Shiite Afghans from the Hazara people, up to 2 million of whom live in Iran, mostly as illegal immigrants. They are forcibly conscripted in Iranian prisons and sent to Syria — according to internal Iranian estimates, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 of them fighting in the country.

The situation leads to absurd scenes: In the southern Syrian town of Daraa, rebels began desperately searching for Persian interpreters after an offensive of 2,500 Afghans suddenly began approaching.

It is the first international Shiite jihad in history, one which has been compensating for the demographic inferiority of Assad’s troops since 2012. The alliance has prevented Assad’s defeat, but it hasn’t been enough for victory either.

Furthermore, the orders are no longer coming exclusively from the Syrian officer corps.  Iranian officers control their own troops in addition to the Afghan units, and they plan offensives that also involve Syrian soldiers. Hezbollah commanders coordinate small elite units under their control.  Iraqis give orders to Iraqi and Pakistani militia groups.  And the Russians don’t let anyone tell them what to do.

Source: SPIEGEL ONLINE

There is no inherent reason why Sunnis and Shiites should be at war.  They have lived side by side in peace for more centuries than they have been in conflict.

The main reason they are in conflict now is that it is in the interest of governments such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to use armed religious militias to advance their own political and economic objectives.  Another reason is the destruction of civil order as a result of U.S. invasions, so that the religious militias are the only source of protection.

There is a great danger to the world if the USA and Russia allow themselves to be drawn further into this conflict, the USA on the side of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Sunni fighters and Russia on the side of Iran, Syria and the Shiite fighters.

A confrontation between the world’s two main nuclear powers would mean that the killing and destruction now going on in the Middle East could spread over the whole world.

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Who will fight for the U.S. against ISIS?

December 15, 2015

The Syrian situation reminds me of a remark by Adam Smith in (I think) The Wealth of Nations — about how masterminds who think of themselves as master chess players, using other people like pieces on a chessboard, will find the people they think they are manipulating are actually playing their own game.

image-931841-panoV9free-whwk-931841The aims of the U.S. government in the Middle East are, in no particular order, to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, to counter the growing power of Iran and to destroy the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).

The bitter experience of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions means that the American people will not tolerate a large-scale intervention with ground troops, so American leaders, including the principal Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, look for pawns to carry out U.S. purposes.

Here is a rundown on these pawns and the games they are playing.

  • Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirate governments, all predominantly Sunni Arab nations, fear the rise of Shiite Iran and Shiite power in Iraq much more than they do Sunni Arab ISIS or al Qaeda.   To the extent they fear ISIS and al Qaeda, it is more as an internal threat, and they are happy to see their local rebels go off to fight and maybe die for ISIS.   The Saudi government doesn’t crack down on individuals who contribute to ISIS because they reflect the beliefs of Wahabism (aks Salafism), the harsh version of Sunni Islam that rules Saudi Arabia.
  • The Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq are fighting ISIS effectively, but they are fighting to defend themselves and their goal of an independent Kurdistan, to be carved out of the existing territory of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, not as part of any overall “war on terror”.  They aren’t going to give up that goal just because it is inconvenient to the USA.
  • The Turkish government desires the overthrow of the Assad government in Syria and the suppression of Kurdish nationalism more than suppression of ISIS.  Oil from ISIS-controlled territory enters Turkey, and money and arms go from Turkey to ISIS.  Turkish politicians talk of the glories of the Ottoman Empire and of the unity of ethnic Turks across Asia.
  • The Iraqi government desires to prevent breakaway movements, whether ISIS, other Sunni Arab fighters or Kurds.
  • CQfwkI2WwAALwwnThe Sunni Arab militias and tribal leaders in Iraq blame the United States for overthrowing Saddam Hussein and setting up an Iraqi government dominated by Shiite Arabs, so they’re not willing to be U.S. proxies in a campaign against ISIS.
  • The Shiite Arab militias in Iraq hate ISIS, but their leaders distrust the United States and won’t work with Americans.
  • The “moderate Arab” rebels in Syria primarily desire to get rid of Bashar al-Assad and talk about fighting ISIS primarily to obtain U.S. weapons – many of which wind up in the hands of ISIS, al-Nusra and like groups.
  • The Iranian government desires to support Shiite Muslims against all enemies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey or ISIS, and to defend Syria and also Hezbollah, which represents the Shiite Muslims in Lebanon.
  • The Syrian government is an enemy of ISIS because ISIS is an existential threat to its existence.  But the Assad regime regards the other Syrian rebels and the Kurdish separatists as equally threatening

This leaves Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Putin justifiably fears the influence of ISIS and other jihadist terrorists on the large Muslim population in the Caucasus and other regions of the Russian Federation.  He also wants to defend Russia’s Syrian ally and keep Russia’s naval station in Syria.  But for him, the war against ISIS is a war of self-defense, not merely a means of extending Russian influence.

If fighting ISIS is the top U.S. priority, then the U.S. government should find a way to cooperate with Russia against ISIS.  If the U.S. government is unwilling to cooperate with Russia against ISIS, then fighting ISIS is not the top U.S. priority.

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What is Russia’s real objective in Syria?

December 14, 2015

1.Russia-False-Narrative-in-Syria_13.Russian Airstrikes 30 NOV-02 DEC-01

Is Vladimir Putin’s objective in Syria to destroy ISIS or to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad?  It seems to me that the answer is “yes”.

I’ve read articles criticizing Putin for concentrating Russian airstrikes on rebels other than ISIS.  Some of these articles hint that Putin or maybe even Assad are secretly supporting ISIS.

I think this criticism mistakes the nature of air power.  Command of the air can be devastatingly effective when used in combined operations with ground troops.  But bombing alone, in and of itself, seldom defeats a determined enemy.

What these maps show is that Putin’s air strikes are concentrated on “rebels” not part of ISIS and not part of the al-Nusra front (formerly known as al Qaeda).

There is, however, no clear distinction between ISIS, al-Nusra and generic “rebels”.  Individuals and small bands change affiliations according to the situation, and U.S. weapons given to “rebels” are often acquired by ISIS through capture, gift or sale.

Christoph Reuter of Spiegel Online suggested that Assad wants to defeat the U.S.-backed rebels first and ISIS last, because, so long as ISIS is in the field, he can present himself as the only alternative.  I suppose this is possible, but the simpler explanation is that Russia is concentrating on bombing the troops that are actually fighting the Syrians.

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Bernie Sanders’ naivety on foreign policy

December 14, 2015

Bernie Sanders is a brave and intelligent opponent of the U.S. Wall Street oligarchy.  But I think his foreign policy is naive.

I don’t think he is naive about Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin or Hassan Roubani.  I think he is naive about Democratic presidents.   He takes their statements at face value.   He thinks the only goal of the “war on terror” is to fight terrorist organizations.

berniespeakupFBBernie Sanders is a person of good will.  He is not a warmonger.  I can’t imagine him cackling with glee over the death of a foreign ruler.   But good will is not enough to reverse the bi-partistan militarism of American foreign policy.

I think that if he were President, he would be more reluctant to go to war or overthrow foreign governments than George W. Bush, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.  But I do not think he does shows an understanding of the forces that drive the U.S. government into foreign interventions.

He would, like Obama, resist sending large numbers of American ground troops to fight in foreign wars.  He would prefer negotiations first, economic sanctions next and use of killer drones, bombing campaigns and Special Operations forces after that.  But he has said he is not a pacifist and that he would not absolutely rule out any kind of military action.

Sanders has called for reducing the size and the budget of the U.S. military.  In order to do that, it is necessary to reduce the mission of the U.S. military to the actual defense of the country and its allies.

If the goal of the United States is to be the dominant military power in every region of the world, that goal cannot be achieved on a Sanders budget.   Or even on an Obama budget.

Just because U.S. policy is to have troops all over the world, the number of troops available for actual fighting is relatively small.   The troops sent to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq were stretched thin and sent on repeated deployments until some of them reached the breaking point.

Obama’s answer is flying killer robots, air power and Special Operations.  What is Sanders’ answer?

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How Obama paved the way for Trump

December 4, 2015

Seeing the popularity of Donald Trump’s nationalism and authoritarianism, many liberals and progressives are reading up on the history of fascism in Europe and wondering about the future of democracy in the USA.

What really makes Donald Trump and other authoritarian Republican candidates so dangerous is George W. Bush and Barack Obama have already created a legal and organizational framework for exercising the powers of a dictator.

Consider the powers claimed by President Obama:

  • To wage war on his own say-so by means of bombs, drone attacks, Special Operations, proxy armies or any other means short of massive use of American ground troops.
  • To order the killing on his own say-so of any person he says is a threat to national security.
  • To preside over a secret national surveillance system that potentially reaches every citizen and covers the whole world.
  • To prosecute whistle-blowers who reveal abuses of power.
  • To give immunity from prosecution to torturers, crooked bankers and other high-level criminals.

authoritarianism9fd18cObama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered an attack on Libya, a nation whose government was no threat to the United States, and reduced it to bloody chaos, where radical jihadists flourish.  Now Obama is carrying on a proxy war to overthrow the government of Syria, which also was no threat to the United States, and which, if successful, would create more bloody chaos where ISIS terrorists would flourish.

The Department of Homeland Security exists in theory to protect Americans from jihadist terrorists from abroad.  But it was used to coordinate a nationwide crackdown on Occupy Wall Street protesters, which, whatever you think of them, constituted no threat to the security of the homeland.

To sum up:  The President has the power to commit acts of war, with no accountability.  He has the power to sign death warrants, with no accountability.   He presides over a vast surveillance apparatus which can be used to spy on dissenters and he prosecutes those who reveal abuses of power.

What power would be lacking for a would-be dictator?  Maybe you think President Obama has enough restraint and good judgment to be trusted with such power.  But he is not going to be in office after January, 2017.   Somebody else is.

Recently the U.S. Congress did enact one restriction on abuse of power.  Congress banned torture and limited interrogation to what is now permitted in the U.S. Army field manual.  But, oddly enough, this does not seem to bother Donald Trump, who continues to promise that, if elected, he would authorize torture.

How could Trump promise to do something that is against the law?  Well, torture was against international law all along.  And there is another law, called the War Powers Act, which forbids the President to engage in acts of war without congressional authorization except in an emergency, and then to get authorization within 60 days.   President Obama has disregarded this law, without consequences, so why couldn’t President Trump disregard the anti-torture law?

During the Watergate era, President Richard M. Nixon broke the law and abused the power of his office.  There were countervailing forces in Congress, in the courts, in the press and in his own administration that held him in check and made his accountable.   Where are today’s checks and balances?

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The American failure at nation-building.

November 19, 2015

If you attempt the impossible, you will fail.
        ==One of the Ten Truths of Management

If a problem cannot be solved, it may not be a problem, but a fact.
        ==One of Rumsfeld’s Rules

mason.strategiclessons.PUB1269Why was the United States so successful in building up Germany, Japan and South Korea as independent nations after World War Two, and such a failure in building up South Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan?

Chris Mason, in his book Strategic Lessons, wrote that the reason is that while it is possible to help an existing nation build up a stable government, it is not possible for outsiders to create a national consciousness among a people who lack it.

That is the reason for the failures in South Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan—not any lack of valor or professionalism among American troops, but the fact that they were given a mission equivalent to trying to make water flow uphill.

He said the U.S. military is well-suited for carrying out two kinds of missions:

  1. Defending allies from invasion by use of “intense lethality” against the aggressor.
  2. Intervening in a foreign country to protect American lives or interests by striking hard at a military target, and then leaving—preferably within 90 days.

If the American government is considering intervening in a country for an extended length of time, it should summon the best academic experts to assess whether the people of that country have a sense of nationhood.  If not, the only unity those people will have is in resisting the invader.

Actually there were people inside the government who understood what would happen in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and said so, but they were ignored, Mason said.   Instead decisions were made by people who knew nothing about those countries, but knew what to do and say in order to advance their careers.

Those are harsh words.  The fact that the Army War College has published his book shows that there are some people in the military who value intelligent dissent.

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Click on The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will Not Hold and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the text of Chris Mason’s book in PDF form.  I thank Craig Hanyan for suggesting it.

Click on America’s Future in Afghanistan for interviews by ARRA News Service giving the opposing viewpoints of Chris Mason and General John R. Allen, USMC-Ret.  [added 11/20/2015]

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U.S. decision-makers ignored Afghan realities

November 19, 2015

Military expert M. Chris Mason thinks the U.S. effort in Afghanistan was probably doomed from the start.  But two early-on decisions by the Bush administration destroyed what little chance there was for success.

The first was the decision to browbeat King Mohammad Zahir Shah, the only leader capable of uniting Afghanistan, into abdicating his throne in favor of a U.S. puppet.

The second was the decision to disband all existing Afghan armed forces and create a new army from scratch, consisting of recruits selected precisely because of their lack of any previous military experience.

mason.strategiclessons.PUB1269The results were a government that had no legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people, and an army that is incapable of fighting.

Mason, citing the great sociologist Max Weber, wrote in his current book that there are three things—two old and one new—that can make a government legitimate in the eyes of its people.  The two old ones are tradition and religion, which the Afghan people accept.  The new one is the democratic process, which, he said, they don’t understand.

Historically, he said, the only times Afghanistan was united is under the rule of kings.  Afghanistan has been in a continuing state of civil war since the king was overthrown in 1973.  Public opinion polls taken after the U.S. invasion indicated that 75 percent of the Afghan people wanted their king back.  He could have played a ceremonial role similar to the Emperor Hirohito under General MacArthur’s rule in Japan.

But American policy-makers didn’t want him.

The CIA had in mind to install a puppet, Adbul Haq, whom they could control.  Haq was betrayed by Pakistan’s intelligence service, and assassinated by the Taliban, Mason wrote.  So the CIA turned to the only other person on their payroll, the non-entity Hamid Karzai, who was respected by nobody.

The Taliban, on the other hand, exercise religious authority, which, according to Mason, is a more legitimate source of authority than election results.  The Taliban may not be popular, he wrote, but they are regarded as legitimate, which is something different.

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Chris Mason

Chris Mason

Mason said the other bad decision was to exclude from the Afghan armed forces anyone who had ever previously served in a military-type capacity, such as former mujahideen, former communist Afghan army troops and members of warlord militias.  Recruits in 2002, as part of a standard questionnaire, were asked, “Have you ever used a rifle before?”  If the answer was affirmative, they were disqualified.

Much the same thing happened in Iraq.  The armed forces were disbanded, but allowed to keep their weapons, a perfect formula for violent chaos.  Mason did not speculate as to what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had in mind.  Maybe he had some idea of starting over with a clean slate.

The result in both Iraq and Afghanistan was the recruitment of young unemployed men whose main motivation was pay.  They were mostly illiterate, but expected to master sophisticated American military technology.   The army’s problems included

lack of an air force, extreme over-reliance on weak and static police forces, nonexistent logistics, pervasive drug abuse … [and] the attrition that runs 50 percent per year in combat units in the south.

But the worse problem was lack of motivation.  The Taliban believe in what they’re fighting for.  Afghan government troops generally care only about themselves and their tribal groups.   It is not within the power of Americans to change this.

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Click on The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will Not Hold and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the text of Chris Mason’s book in PDF form.  I thank Craig Hanyan for suggesting it.

Afghan civil war predates U.S. invasion

November 19, 2015

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was an episode in an ongoing Afghan civil war that began 40 years ago and will probably continue after American forces leave the country.

The basic conflict is between the Pushtu-speaking people of southern Afghanistan and the Dari- and Uzbek-speaking people of northern Afghanistan.

The Soviet-backed government that was installed in 1979 mainly represented Dari and Uzbek speakers.  The rebellion against that government, backed by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States, was mainly Pustu speakers.  The Taliban are mainly Pustu speakers.  The U.S.-backed government in Kabul represents the same ethnic groups as the old Soviet-backed government.

mason.strategiclessons.PUB1269This is the analysis of Chris Mason, a military expert familiar with Afghanistan, whose latest book is available free on-line in PDF form from the United States Army War College.

Mason wrote that there are many ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, such that the English language cannot do justice to their complexity.

There are religious conflicts among the Taliban, moderate Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims.  There are ongoing conflicts the various ethnic groups—Pushtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Hazaras.  There are conflicts between tribes and clans.  If one clan supports the Taliban, the other is likely to look for help from the Americans, and vice versa.

The only time Afghanistan has enjoyed any kind of unity was been under its kings, who exercised a loose authority over diverse ethnic and religious groups.

This unity was broken, Mason wrote, when the Pushtun Afghan King Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin, Mohammad Daud, in 1973.  Instead of installing himself as king, Daud abolished the monarchy and tried to rule without traditional authority.  He was overthrown and killed in 1978 by the Afghan army, with the support of Afghan Communists—the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).

bellaigue-map_102810_png_600x540_q85The PDPA had two factions, the predominantly Tajik Parcham faction and the predominantly Pushtun Khalq faction.  With the help of Soviet Spetznaz commandos, the Parcham faction overthrew the Khalq faction.  The PDPA attempted reforms, such as redistribution of land and emancipation of women, which, although enlightened, were resisted by traditional Afghan religious leaders.

An uprising against the Soviet-backed government consisted mainly of Pustuns, Mason wrote.  Members of the other Afghan ethnic groups continued to serve loyally in the government’s conscript army.

From 1979 to 1989, the Soviets fought all-out against the insurgents.  They destroyed thousands of Pustun villages and massacred as many as a million Pustuns, he wrote.

The Soviets were merciless, murderous and went all-out to win.  I think their experience shows that mass killing is not the key to victory..

The Pushtun insurgents were backed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), which armed them with weapons provided by the CIA and paid for by Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan supported the Afghan Pustuns partly because many Pushtuns live in Pakistan’s northwest frontier area.  But the main reason Pakistan backed the Pustuns was the fear that their enemies would ally themselves with India, leaving Pakistan will have to face its main enemy on two fronts—Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The Afghan civil war continued after the Soviets withdrew.   Pakistan supported the Taliban, and provided its forces with air support and military advisers.  The opposing Northern Alliance—consisting of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and Turkmen—retreated until October, 2001, when the United States entered the Afghan civil war on their side.

The Bush administration authorized Operation Evil Airlift in November 2001 to rescue Pakistan troops trapped in Afghanistan.  Mason said Pakistan’s ISI used this as an opportunity to rescue key Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders as well.  Maybe one of them was Osama bin Laden.  Who knows?

The U.S.-backed government in Kabul is a Northern Alliance government, Mason wrote.  There are hardly any Pushtuns in the government or the army.  Official statistics to the contrary are bogus, he said.

When the United States finally withdraws, Mason expects Afghanistan to divide into a southern part controlled by the Taliban and a northern part controlled by the Northern Alliance, with neither side achieving a decisive victory in the foreseeable future.   Presumably the United States will try to aid the Northern Alliance and Pakistan will aid the Taliban.   It will be up to the various Afghan peoples, not any outsiders, to decide when they want to make peace.

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Click on The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will not Hold and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the text of Chris Mason’s book in PDF form.  I thank Craig Hanyan for suggesting it.

 


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