Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

Is the U.S. instigating an arms race with China?

June 17, 2015
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Click to enlarge

There’s a school of thought that says the Reagan administration brought down the Soviet Union by conducting an arms race that the USSR couldn’t sustain.

A smart writer named Mike Whitney thinks Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter plans to use the same strategy against China.

China is on track to become the world’s largest economy in less than 10 years.  But the thinking is that this could change if China is forced to devote significant resources to defending its position in the South China Sea.

This is a perverse idea—that a peaceful China is a greater threat to American global supremacy than a militaristic China would be.   It shows the wrongheadedness of world military supremacy as a goal.

And there’s a question as to whether it would even work.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that the USA’s military budget for 2014 was $581 billion, while China’s was $129 billion.

American military spending was estimated at 3.3 percent of the total US economy (gross domestic product) while China’s was 1.2 percent.  Russia’s military spending was an estimated 3.7 percent of GDP.

The Chinese might well be capable of quadrupling their military spending while sustaining economic growth.

They have other options.  They could embargo vital electronic components that we Americans no longer produce.  They could stop buying U.S. Treasury bonds, which would add to cost of financing the U.S. budget deficit.

And while the burden of the Cold War may have brought the Soviet Union to the brink of collapse, it was an endurance contest that also sapped the strength of the United States.

We Americans would do well to follow the example of the Chinese and build up our own nation rather than dissipating our strength in undermining others.

LINK

Seven Days in May? Carter Takes Over by Mike Whitney on the Unz Review.

The USA isn’t invincible, and never was

June 5, 2015

 I’ve written several posts pondering why the United States of America, which has the world’s most extensive and expensive armed force, no longer wins wars.

As I think about it, it seems to me that we Americans have an exaggerated idea of our invincibility in the past.

In the War of Independence, we prevailed against the much larger and more powerful British Empire, in which, however, we needed the help of our French allies.  In the Civil War, we fought with each other, and were fairly evenly matched.

An F-16 jet fighter takes off from Nato airbase in Aviano, northern ItalyOur casualties in both the War of Independence and the Civil War were a proportion of our population equivalent to millions today.   Europeans suffered proportionate casualties in the 20th century world wars.  We Americans did not.

In the First World War and in the European Theater of the Second World War, it was our allies, the British, French and Russians, who bore the brunt of the fighting.  We Americans joined the fight in the middle and, while our intervention may have provided the margin of victory, I sincerely doubt that we could have won all by ourselves.

I do not of course question the valor of Americans who fought in these wars.  They went through things I am glad I have never had to do.   But the British, French and Russians, and the Germans and other nations also were brave.

The idea of American military exceptionalism is an illusion, and a dangerous illusion, because it prevents us from understanding reality and learning from mistakes.   It leads American military officers and politicians to think we can successfully confront the Russians and Chinese in their own neighborhoods.

I think we Americans would fight as bravely as our ancestors did if our homeland were attacked.  But I don’t think many of us are interested in shedding blood to support a claim that the USA is the world’s sole superpower.

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G.K. Chesterton on the rise of nations

June 5, 2015
G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton

It may be said with rough accuracy that there are three stages in the life of a strong people.
First, it is a small power, and fights small powers.
Then it is a great power and fights great powers.
Then it is a great power, and fights small powers, but pretends they are great powers, in order to rekindle the ashes of its ancient emotion and vanity.
                ==G.K. Chesterton

Why can’t the United States win wars any more?

June 4, 2015

If you are attempting 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 Donald Rumsfeld’s Rules

The United States of America has the world’s largest military and spends many times more on our military than any other nation.  Yet our military interventions mostly fail.  As the old expression goes, we can’t win for losing.  Why is that?

The industrial might of the United States provided the superior firepower that brought victory in the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Indians wars, the Spanish-American War, World War One and World War Two.

I don’t question the valor of American troops, but fighters on the other sides were brave, too.  It was firepower that provided the margin of victory.

militarytechnologyAmerican firepower and industrial might enabled the United States to defend the independence of South Korea as well.   I remember that Americans in that era were angry that the Korean Conflict did not end more decisively than it did.  But if we had succeeded in preserving South Vietnam as an independent country as we did South Korea, we would have counted it as victory.

Air power and firepower give U.S. forces the power to reduce any nation to anarchy and rubble, as was done most recently to Libya.

But I don’t think destruction was not the goal.   The goal was to install a government that would serve U.S. interests.  What the United States is doing today is like British and French trying to preserve their empires in the 1950s and 1960s.   The U.S. government is equally unsuccessful and for the same reasons.

The editor of a blog called Sic Semper Tyrannis argued, in an article to which I link below, pointed out that no army will fight well for a foreign puppet, and this is precisely what Washington expects the Iraqi army to do.   It is possible to tip the balance in a civil conflict by aiding one side, but if that side is truly independent, it will not necessarily do what Washington wants.

Meanwhile the United States is gradually losing the industrial and technological edge which is the basis of U.S. power to project military strength.  This will not end well.

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The risk of war in the South China Sea

May 22, 2015

chinasea-1x-1The Chinese People’s Republic seeks to control the South China Sea.  It is building artificial islands which it will claim as Chinese territory.

Its claims are in conflict with the claims of smaller nations of Southeast Asia, which, so far as I can tell, are equally valid in international law.

The Obama administration is preparing to confront China militarily over these claims.  This is a big mistake.

map_disputed-reefsThe sea routes in the South China Sea are vital to China and not vital to any other nation.   The South China Sea route is the cheapest and most convenient sea route for Japan, Korea and the nations of Southeast Asia.  But if worst comes to worst, they could take a longer route.  The Pacific Ocean is a big body of water.

The United States government is currently confronting Russia and China, the only two nations in the world that are beyond the reach of American naval and air power, over matters that the Russian and Chinese governments see as vital to national survival, and which are not vital to the United States.

artificialislandIn the case of Russia, it is the goal of bringing Ukraine into an anti-Russian military alliance and making Crimea a possible base for NATO forces.  In the case of China, it is the goal of U.S. domination of the sea routes to eastern Asia.

I am not an admirer of the Russian or Chinese governments.  They both abuse human rights.  They both believe in their own versions of exceptionalism, believing they have the right to dominate their smaller and weaker neighbors.   An increase in Russian or Chinese power is a bad thing, not a good thing.

But I don’t think trying to roll back the existing Russian or Chinese spheres of influence is worth risking war over, any more than Russia or China would think it worthwhile to risk war over U.S. domination of the Caribbean and Central America.

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The enigma of Barack Obama

May 21, 2015

HarpersWeb-June2015-Cover-302x410Anyone who voted twice for Obama and was baffled twice by what followed — there must be millions of us — will feel that this president deserves a kind of criticism he has seldom received.  Yet we are held back by an admonitory intuition.  His predecessor was worse, and his successor most likely will also be worse.

One of the least controversial things you can say about Barack Obama is that he campaigned better than he has governed.  The same might be said about Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, but with Obama the contrast is very marked.

Governing has no relish for him.  Yet he works hard at his public statements, and he wishes his words to have a large effect.  Even before he ascended to the presidency, Obama enjoyed the admiration of diverse audiences, especially within black communities and the media.  The presidency afforded the ideal platform for creating a permanent class of listeners.

via Harper’s Magazine..

I am more disappointed in Barack Obama than in anyone else I ever voted for.  His speeches are often eloquent and wise, but his actions have no seeming connection with his words.  He is conciliatory toward his American political enemies, and tough with his core supporters.

I read The Audacity of Hope in 2008 and was under no illusion that Obama was a progressive reformer.  In that book, he presented himself as one who understood both liberals and conservatives and, by showing his reasonableness, could reconcile the two.  This was either hypocrisy or naivete.

What hoped for was that Obama as President could restore the country to normal after the excesses of the George W. Bush administration—a country in which the President respected the Constitution, didn’t start wars and kept his distance from Wall Street.  But none of these things happened.

There are three possible explanations of this.  One is that the entrenched power of Wall Street and of the covert military-intelligence complex—the so-called deep states—are too powerful to overcome, and that Obama is the best we can hope for.  I hate to believe that because it means there is no hope for my country.

Another is that Barack Obama has certain character flaws that make him ineffective.  The third, which is what I tend to believe, is that Obama’s intentions are not what his liberal supporters think they are.  Although he ran on a platform of hope and change, he is a very effective defender of the status quo.

David Bromwich, writing in the June issue of Harpers magazine, examined the Obama record in terms of his character.   The article worth reading, but it is behind a pay wall, so you have to buy the magazine or go to a public library to read it.  I subscribe to the magazine, so I can provide the highlights.

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What went wrong in Afghanistan

May 19, 2015

Adam Curtis is a documentary filmmaker for the BBC who makes connections that other people don’t see.

In his new documentary, Bitter Lake, he shows how Afghanistan has been a focal point of a three-way struggle among Anglo-American capitalism, Soviet Communism and Saudi Arabia’s radical extremist Wahhabist Islam.

While Soviet Communism has collapsed and Anglo-American capitalism is in crisis, Wahhabism is spreading and growing stronger.

Curtis doesn’t offer a policy for dealing with Wahhabism, but his documentary shows that mere firepower is not the answer, nor is providing money and weapons to prop up corrupt warlords and governments.   The First Rule of Holes applies: When you’re in one, stop digging.

The embedded YouTube video above is a history teacher’s abridgment of Bitter Lake which covers all the main points.  Click on Bitter Lake if you want to see the full version or if the embedded video doesn’t work.

What we knew back then about Saddam

May 18, 2015

Matt Taibbi thinks it is silly to question Jeb Bush about what should have been done about Iraq “in the light of what we know now.”  Any sensible American knew enough then to realize what a bad idea invading Iraq was, he wrote.

The Iraq invasion was always an insane exercise in brainless jingoism that could only be intellectually justified after accepting a series of ludicrous suppositions.

dick-quizFirst you had to accept a fictional implied connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. Then you had to buy that this heavily-sanctioned secular dictator (and confirmed enemy of Islamic radicals) would be a likely sponsor of radical Islamic terror. Then after that you had to accept that Saddam even had the capability of supplying terrorists with weapons that could hurt us (the Bush administration’s analysts famously squinted so hard their faces turned inside out trying to see that one).

And then, after all that, you still had to buy that all of these factors together added up to a threat so imminent that it justified the immediate mass sacrifice of American and Iraqi lives.

It was absurd, a whole bunch of maybes piled on top of a perhaps and a theoretically possible or two. O.J.’s lawyers would have been embarrassed by it.

via Rolling Stone.

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Russia and Ukraine: sources of information

May 11, 2015

Dances With Bears

Euromaidan Press | News From Ukraine

The Vineyard of the Saker

These are my main sources of information for what is going on in Russia and Ukraine.

Each of these linked sites is an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle, but none of them provides a complete picture.

I would be grateful for suggestions of links to add.

IRRUSSIANALITY: Russia, the West and the world [Added 6/1/2015]

Foreign Intrigue: Localizing the Globe {Added 6/29/2015}

A heroic girl sniper of World War Two

May 4, 2015

Hat tip to Jack Clontz

Body counts and the new normal

May 1, 2015

Physicians for Social Responsibility, in a report issued several weeks ago, estimated that more than 1 million people died in Iraq during the past 15 years as a result of U.S.-led military operations, and more than 300,000 people died in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’m not certain these numbers are accurate.  I do think they are as close to being accurate as is humanity possible.  I don’t find them unbelievable.  They’re partly based on verified reports, partly on statistical sampling methods most Americans find credible when applied to everyday subjects.

The worst thing to me is not the number, but the indifference of the American public.  We as a nation don’t care about bystanders, except when American citizens happen to be among those accidentally killed.

Somebody might argue that people were killed in larger numbers, and more indiscriminately, in World War Two.  But the war against the Axis powers had a definite purpose and came to a definite end.  There is no expectation of when the so-called long war on terror might be won, or exactly what winning would consist of.

We talk about the moral breakdown of society.  When I think about the moral breakdown of society, I don’t think about sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.   I think of the President of the United States drawing up a weekly list of assassination orders, as if this were the most normal thing in the world

LINKS

Why the U.S. “war on terra” is a fraud by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Body Count by Physicians for Social Responsibility.  The full 80-page report.

Libya invasion fostered chaos and terrorism

April 21, 2015

I read this morning about Islamic State militants beheading Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya.

So far as I know there was no ISIS / ISIL presence in Libya until after the U.S.-backed invasion and reduction of the country to chaos.   That has been the result of all the U.S. invasions—the creation of chaos in which terrorism spreads.

What Could Go Wrong?Muammar Qaddafi, the ruler of Libya, was a dictator and a supporter of terrorism in his day.  He was an imperialist who had designs on Chad and other countries to the soul.

But he was an enlightened despot who channeled his country’s oil revenues into schools, hospitals, roads and other internal improvements, provided free education and health care and improved the condition of women.

Libya under Qaddafi was a country in which a law-abiding person could lead a normal life without living in fear.  Now Libya has been reduced to chaos, many innocent people have been killed and the country has been given over to lawless militia bands and religious fanatics.

Who did that benefit?  Not Libyans.  Not ordinary Americans.  Qaddafi had tried to make peace with the West.  His overthrow and murder will be remembered by other rulers who are tempted to do the same.

Refugees are swarming across the Mediterranean from Libya and other countries, and being turned back.  Maybe the governments of Italy and France should have thought about that possibility before initiating the invasion of Libya.

Empires of the past imposed order.   We the American people do not want to take on the burden of empire, so all our government’s accomplsih is to spread death and destruction.

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Yemen intervention is dangerous for the US

April 21, 2015

The U.S. government should beware of being drawn into the conflict in Yemen.

The fight among Shiite Houthi militia, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the government of Yemen are part of a wider Middle East conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

sunnishiitemap5_0

Source: Zero Hedge.  Click to enlage.

That religious conflict is overlaid with a conflict between two alliances of Middle East powers—Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Shiite militias on the one hand, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, the Sunni militias in Iraq and Syria and Turkey, with Israel as a silent partner, on the other.

Washington sides with Saudi Arabia and Israel.  I have come to realize that sanctions against Iran were never about the imaginary danger of nuclear weapons, but to keep Iran weak.   Now Iran has found an ally in Putin’s Russia.

This is a highly dangerous situation.  National governments are keeping the religious wars going by sending arms and money to the different religious factions.  But religious wars are not controllable.  Being drawn in to these wars serves no national interest of the United States, does not benefit the people of the region and puts the American people at risk of being drawn into a wider war.

The USA has had a strange relationship with Iran during the past 35 years.  While waging economic war against Iran, the U.S. government strengthened Iran’s position by defeating its main enemies, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.  A defeat of ISIS would further strengthen Iran.

By agreeing to end sanctions, the Obama administration appeared to accept Iran as a major power in the Middle East.  Now Obama is sending warships to checkmate Iranian power.

I’m by no means an expert on the religious and cultural geography of the Middle East, but I don’t see this ending well.

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A former Viet Cong fighter tells his story

April 6, 2015

A former Viet Cong fighter recently told his story to, of all people, a representative of Cracked.com.

pleiku_1966__operation_paul_revere_viet_cong_prisoners__vietnam_war_upi_wire_photoIt seems that he and his friends were not the deadly jungle fighters as portrayed in Hollywood movies.  Rather they were confused young men stuck in the middle of a bad situation they didn’t understand, something like American GIs, but much worse.

He said recruits didn’t have the benefit of such things as “functional equipment” or “the slightest idea of what to do.”  Training was rudimentary or nonexistent.  So were weapons.

The AK-47s the Soviets send via China to aid the Viet Cong were mostly kept by the Chinese, who sent Chinese imitations and World War Two surplus to Hanoi, which were mostly kept by the North Vietnamese.  His troop got the leftovers.

He said the Vietnamese jungle was a more fearsome adversary than the Americans.  His troop regularly lost men to tigers.

What’s most significant to me about his story is the motives for joining the Viet Cong.  Hardly any recruits had any concept of ideology, he wrote; they thought Communists were followers of somebody called Commun, and some thought they were still fighting the French.

No, the main motive was to take revenge for the death of a parent, loved one or child, or, in the narrator’s case, for having the U.S.-backed government confiscate his family’s home and land and give them to a rich guy.

My guess is that this is the main reason for joining insurgents against American forces in Afghanistan [1], Iraq or anywhere else—taking revenge for the death of a relative or friend, or for what was done to you by the corrupt U.S.-backed government.

And the longer Americans remain as an occupying force, the more people there are with a motivation to take revenge.  The U.S. forces literally can’t win—not until we Americans become so fanatically evil as to commit to a war of annihilation and a permanent occupation.  Thankfully we aren’t like that, not yet, and it might not even work anyway.

LINK

8 Things Vietnam War Movies Leave Out (By an Enemy Soldier) by Nguyen Hao Giai as told to Evan B. Simon for Cracked.com.  His story is grimly humorous, and worth reading the whole way through. Hat tip to Unqualified Offerings.

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Hiroshima’s Shadow: crossing a moral line

March 24, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Source: Professor Olsen@large

Seventy years after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we live under the possibility that nuclear weapons will be used again—possibly but not necessarily by us Americans or on us Americans.

I’m trying to understand the reasons for Hiroshima and Nagasaki by reading Hiroshima’s Shadow:Writing on the Denial of History and the Smithsonian Controversy, edited by Kai Bird and Lawrence Lifschultz, which was recommended by my e-mail pen pal Tanweer Akram of the Bertrand Russell Society.

The book was published after the Smithsonian Institution in 1995 canceled an exhibit about the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, after the American Legion and the Air Force Association objected to inclusion of material questioning the necessity of the bombing.

It is plain to me as I read this book that  the decision to use the atomic bomb mainly reflected the momentum of two earlier decisions:

  • The decision to wage war against civilians by bombing enemy cities from the air.
  • The decision to develop atomic weapons for that purpose.

Hiroshima's Shadow 0_After these choices were made, I think the decision to bomb was, if not inevitable, the path of least resistance.   Once the original bright moral line was crossed, the only issue was whether to do the same thing by means of a new and more horrible method.

I think the consequences of these decisions would still be with us even if the tragedy of Hiroshima could have been avoided.

Americans and Britons once were shocked by the German Zeppelin raids on London during World War Two, the destruction of the village of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, the bombing of Shanghai by the Japanese and of the bombing of Rotterdam and Warsaw by the Germans.

But we soon came to accept the fire-bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, first as regrettable necessities and then as the new normal.

That new normal is still with us.  Bombing is still the basic American military tactic, even when it doesn’t work.  When your only tool is air power, everything looks like a target.

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