Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

Obama’s legacy is normalization of war

September 15, 2020

The Obama foreign policy was a continuation of the Bush foreign policy by other means.  

It is a mistake to think of Obama’s election as a change of direction, as I and others hoped and expected at the time.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ex-General Wesley Clark, former commander of NATO, visited old friends in the Pentagon.  

One of them showed Clark a copy of the long-range strategy.  After a supposidly easy victory in Iraq, U.S. forces would go on to invade Syria, Libya, Somalia and other countries including Iran.

The American public, thinking this had something to do with fighting terrorism, went along with this for a while, but after a while became sick of seeing their sons and brothers coming home in flag-draped coffins for no apparent reason.

Barack Obama, running in 2008, said, “I’m not opposed to wars.  I’m opposed to stupid wars.”  He instead waged “intelligent” wars based on flying killer robots, teams of trained assassins and subsidies to local armed factions who supposedly would serve U.S. purposes.

He did not end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and instigated new wars in Libya and Syria.  Yes, there were pro-democratic protests in those countries that provided an excuse for intervention, but the purpose of U.S. intervention had nothing to do with those purposes.

The war in Syria would long ago have died down if not for U.S. forces there, U.S. bombing and U.S. and Saudi subsidies to rebels, many of whom are Al Qaeda rebranded.

The U.S. meanwhile has special forces carrying on war in more countries in Africa, Asia and Latin American than any member of the public and probably any member of Congress knows.  

I don’t know to what degree Obama’s policies represented his sincere conviction and how much he simply acquiesced in what he thought he had to do to protect his political career.  I do give him credit for trying to establish normal diplomatic relations with Iran and Cuba.

On the other hand, his administration instigated a new proxy war in Ukraine.  It engineered the overthrow of an unpopular and corrupt but legitimate government before the incumbent could be removed by means of an election.  This set off a conflict that continues to this day.

I think one purpose of the Russiagate investigations, now largely discredited, was to cancel the possibility that Donald Trump might make peace with Russia.

Donald Trump from time to time talks about winding down wars, but then backs down.  He has stepped up drone warfare and war by economic sanctions, and increased the danger of nuclear war with Russia by canceling important arms control treaties. 

There is no reason to think Joe Biden will be any better.  Normalization of the forever wars is the continuing Obama legacy.

LINKS

Let’s Be Real: President Biden Would Probably Be More Hawkish Than Trump by Caitlin Johnstone.

On Foreign Policy, Biden Is Worse Than Trump by Ted Rall.

Expect More ‘Liberal Interventionism’ Under a Joe Biden Presidency by Derek Davidson and Alex Thurston for Jacobin.

The end of war as we know it

September 12, 2020

A brief history of the arms race

August 6, 2020

Russian bounties: the latest pro-war fake news

July 14, 2020

The newspaper articles on supposed Russian bounties on U.S. troops on Afghanistan have turned out to be—what a surprise!—fake news.

It turns out that the reports originated from unverified Afghan intelligence reports that were passed on to U.S. military intelligence and widely disbelieved by certain other U.S. intelligence agencies.  The Afghan government of course has good reason for fearing U.S. withdrawal from this unending stalemate war.

Although the report has been discredited, it has done its job.  The Trump administration will not draw down troops from Afghanistan this year.

My rule of thumb, ever since the debunking of claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, is to automatically disbelieve any leak from secret intelligence sources by anonymous persons without evidence.  This rule has not misled me yet.

It is a sorry state of affairs when bloggers such as Caitlin Johnstone and Moon of Alabama’s “b,” and relatively obscure news sites such as Consortium News and The Intercept, provide more reliable information than the New York Times.

LINKS

The Latest Russiagate BOMBSHELL Took Just One Week to Be Exposed as Dud | What Was Its Source? by “b” for Moon of Alabama.

BOUNTYGATE: Scapegoating Systematic Military Failure in Afghanistan by Scott Ritter for Consortium News.

Seriously, Get the Hell Out of Afghanistan by Caitlin Johnstone.

House Democrats, Working With Liz Cheney, Restrict Trump’s Planned Withdrawal of Troops from Afghanistan and Germany by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

The lives that don’t matter

May 24, 2020

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.  (George Orwell, 1946)

The War Nerd: How Many Dead Yemeni Nobodies Does It Take to Equal One Washington Post Contributor?

Death tolls: COVID-19 vs ‘war on terror’

May 1, 2020

Sirte, Libya, after NATO bombing (via Craig Murray)

Craig Murray, a former British Foreign service officer, had an interesting observation on his blog.

Nobody knows how many people died as a result of the UK/US Coalition of Death led destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and, by proxy, Syria and Yemen.

Nobody even knows how many people western forces themselves killed directly. That is a huge number, but still under 10% of the total.

To add to that you have to add those who died in subsequent conflict engendered by the forced dismantling of the state the West disapproved of.

Some were killed by western proxies, some by anti-western forces, and some just by those reverting to ancient tribal hostility and battle for resources into which the country had been regressed by bombing.

You then have to add all those who died directly as a result of the destruction of national infrastructure. Iraq lost in the destruction 60% of its potable drinking water, 75% of its medical facilities and 80% of its electricity.   This caused millions of deaths, as did displacement.

We are only of course talking about deaths, not maiming. This very sober analysis from Salon makes a stab at 2.4 million for Iraqi deaths caused by the war.

[snip]

There are also the vast unintended consequences. The destruction of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria launched a wave of refugee migration which led to politicial instability throughout Europe and contributed to, among many other consequences, Brexit.

For the purposes of argument, I am going to put an extremely conservative figure of 5 million on the number of people who died as a result of Western military intervention, direct or proxy, in the Middle East.

Now compare that to the worldwide death toll from coronavirus: 220,000.

Let me say that again. Western aggressive wars to coronavirus: 5,000,000 : 220,000.

Or put it another way. The total number of deaths from coronavirus in the UK so far is about half the number of civilians killed directly by the US military in the single city of Mosul.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? There are four horsemen of the apocalypse, and while of course I do not blame people for focusing on the one which is riding at them personally, do not forget the others.  

Coronavirus has not finished killing. But then nor have western wars.

Source: Craig Murray

That’s not all.  U.S. economic warfare against Iran and Venezuela is helping the virus to spread in those countries.

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Trump escalates U.S.-Russia nuclear arms race

February 23, 2020

Source: The Gray Zone.

Far from being an appeaser of Russia, President Trump is ramping up a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race and greatly increasing a real danger of nuclear war.

The USA has a bad bipartisan foreign policy

February 15, 2020

The so-called War on Terror is bipartisan.

George W. Bush ran in 2000 on a promise to adopt a more “humble” foreign policy.  He said the United States should stop dictating to the rest of the world.

But following the 9/11 attacks, he not only got authorization for an invasion of Afghanistan, whose government had given refuge to Osama bin Laden, the planner of the attacks.

He obtained authorization for an invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, based on false claims that its ruler, Saddam Hussein, was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

General Wesley Clark, the former commander of NATO, said he was shown a plan by the Secretary of Defense shortly after 9/11 that called for invasion of seven countries in five years—Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.

Barack Obama voted against the authorization to invade Iraq.  But during his administration, the US continued the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and financed radical Al Qaeda-like militias to overthrow the governments of Libya and Syria.  The U.S. also bombed Somalia and stationed troops in Sudan, among many other countries.

In fact, nobody knows how many countries U.S. forces have bombed or how many they are bombing right now.

Obama did try to ease hostilities with Iran.  He negotiated an end to international economic sanctions on Iran in return for the Iranians renouncing a nuclear weapons development program that never existed in the first place.

Donald Trump is continuing all the wars of the Bush and Obama years, including the ones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, while working up to a possible new war with Iran.

He also is doubling down on the use of economic sanctions, which is a form of war.  The use of U.S. financial power to try to cut off Venezuela and Iran from world trade is the same as surrounding these two countries with ships and troops to prevent trade from getting in.  It creates just as much suffering as other forms of war.

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What the impeachment report really said

February 3, 2020

U.S. Senate holds impeachment trial

Michael Tracey of Real Clear Politics is probably one of the few people who read the House Judiciary Committee’s 658-page impeachment report.

The basis of the report is not just that President Trump abused the power of his office to harm his political rival, Joe Biden.  It is that his pause of military aid to Ukraine was actually a “betrayal of the nation” because it helped Russia.

The rhetoric reminds me of Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s and his “twenty years of treason.”  McCarthy said U.S. foreign policy toward the Soviet Union was not only wrong, but a conscious betrayal by Communist sympathizers, up to and included General George C. Marshall.

The impeachment report contains the same rhetoric.  According to Tracey, the report uses the phrase “impeachable treason” and states, “At the very heart of ‘Treason’ is deliberate betrayal of the nation and its security.”

“Such betrayal would not only be unforgivable,” the report’s explication of treason reads, “but would also confirm that the President remains a threat if allowed to remain in office. A President who has knowingly betrayed national security is a President who will do so again. He endangers our lives and those of our allies.”

This language is then imported into the impeachment articles almost verbatim: “Wherefore President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office.”

The report mostly uses the word “betrayal” rather than “treason” because treason has a specific Constitutional definition.  Treason consists of fighting for an enemy in time of war or giving “aid and comfort” to the enemy in time of war.  Conviction of treason requires confession by the accused or testimony of two independent witnesses of the treasonous act.

Although the Constitution gives the President the authority to determine foreign policy, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate on treaties and major appointments, the report does not recognize that authority.

 It accuses Trump of going against the official “national security policy” of the United States, which supposedly is determined by the national security bureaucracy and not by the President.

This is consistent, it says, with Trump requesting help from Russians in the 2016 election.  So the Russiagate accusations are folded into the new accusations.

Democrats who voted for these impeachment articles voted not simply to punish Trump for soliciting an investigation of Biden.  Rather, they also voted to impeach him for committing treason at the behest of Russia.

And in turn, they ratified a number of extremely fraught New Cold War assumptions that have now been embedded into the fabric of U.S. governance, regardless of what the Senate concludes.

It’s crucial to emphasize that this is the first impeachment in American history where foreign policy has played a central role.

As such, we now have codified by way of these impeachment articles a host of impossibly dangerous precedents, namely:

1) The U.S. is in a state of war with Russia, a nuclear armed power;

2) the sitting president committed treason on behalf of this country with which the U.S. is in a state of war;

3) the president lacks a democratic mandate to conduct foreign policy over the objections of unelected national security state bureaucrats.

So the articles of impeachment are not just an indictment of President Trump.  They are an attempt to define objection to U.S. war policy as treasonous and not subject to debate.

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The other side of Qasem Soleimani

January 20, 2020

Qasem Soleimani

I knew little about Qasem Soleimani prior to his assassination by drone.  My original reading about him left me with a highly favorable opinion of the man as a military leader.

The other day I read articles by Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn, two seasoned Middle East correspondents, on Soleimani’s ruthless side.  I recommend reading their articles for a more balanced view of his record and insight into the complexities of Middle East policies.

LINKS

Was Qassem Soleimani a monstrous kingmaker or simply an enabler? The truth is as murky as Tudor history by Robert Fisk for The Independent.

Blundering Into War: Patrick Cockburn on what Trump doesn’t know about Iran for the London Review of Books.

The problem with Gene Sharp’s nonviolence

January 17, 2020

Gene Sharp

The late Gene Sharp was a political scientists who aspired to be the Clausewitz of nonviolence.

He said you didn’t have to be a pacifist, although he was one, to embrace nonviolence.

He claimed that nonviolent struggle was a tactic, the same as armed struggle, and often a superior tactic.

His great insight was that the power of oppressors comes from being able to compel the obedience of the oppressed.  Once the oppressed lose their fear, the oppressor has no more power.

Of course that only applies to an oppressor who wants to enslave you.  If his aim is to kill you, things are different.  Nonviolence worked for the Danes against Hitler.  It wouldn’t have worked for the Jews.

One great advantage of nonviolence is that its leaders have to inspire voluntary followers.  The leaders don’t have the option, unlike, say, Michael Collins’ IRA or the Vietnamese NLF, of killing members of their constituencies to keep them in line.

I was and still am favorably impressed with Gene Sharp, but I saw him in a new light after reading an article by one Marcie Smith about how the CIA weaponized Sharp’s tactics to take down anti-U.S. governments.

She wrote a second part, which is newly published, about the shortcomings of Sharp’s philosophy as a way of bringing about social change in the USA.

Both articles are long, but important if you are interested in nonviolent action or social change.  They report on a lot of history I hadn’t known.

Afterthought.  I am not a pacifist. I did not object to doing military service.  I believe there is such a thing as a right of revolution.  I am a citizen of a country that was founded on that principle.   But I think revolutionary violence is a last resort, not a first resort or a default choice.

Nonviolent tactics need not have a religious or pacifist basis.  The late Saul Alinsky was a skilled practitioner of nonviolent struggle.

LINKS

Change Agent: Gene Sharp’s Neoliberal Nonviolence (Part One)  by Marcie Smith for nonsite.org.

Change Agent: Gene Sharp’s Neoliberal Nonviolence (Part Two) by Marcie Smith for nonsite.org.

Bloodless Lies by Lorenzo Raymond for The New Inquiry.

Scott Ritter on the Iranian crisis

January 12, 2020

The normalization of assassination

January 10, 2020

Most of President Trump’s critics, at home and abroad, saw nothing morally wrong with  the killing of Iranian General Qasim Soleimani.  They criticized the murder on pragmatic and procedural grounds.

They said that while Soleimani was a bad person who deserved to die, killing him at this particular time until these particular circumstances without proper consultation would have dire consequences.

I don’t claim to know what happens next, but right now it looks as if the consequences might not be all that dire.  If so, the critics seem like a bunch of nervous nellies—provided you see nothing wrong with assassination in and of itself.

President Trump

Iranians fired missiles with pinpoint accuracy at two U.S. military bases, causing damage but not casualties.  Their action was a demonstration of American vulnerability and Iranian restraint.

It’s worth remembering that the United States simulated an invasion of Iran in the Millennial Challenge 2002 war games, and lost badly.  An all-out shooting war is not in the interest of either side.

Iranian and Hezbollah leaders said they will take revenge in the form of stepped-up attacks on U.S. troops.  They said they will spare American civilians.

I think Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper regard increased American military casualties as an acceptable loss.  If they cared about the lives of American troops, they would have wound down the futile Afghanistan campaign years ago.

One danger is that Trump, Pompeo and Esper will regard Iranian restraint as weakness.  Pompeo has said he hopes increased economic pressure will make the current Iranian government fall.

That’s entirely possible, but the replacement Iranian government would be more fiercely anti-American and less restrained than the current one.

For now, both sides have stepped back from the brink.  What many feared did not happen.  Trump’s procedural sins do not seem all that bad.

But a precedent has been set – that the assassination of foreign leaders is one more foreign policy option that has to be considered.  Killing leaders of foreign governments may be expedient or inexpedient, but we think about it on a case by case basis.

Here are some of that bad consequences that can flow from the new ethical normal.

  1. Our government, having decided that it is all right to commit criminal acts against foreigners, would decide it is all right to commit criminal acts against citizens.
  2. Democratic foreign governments would decide the United States is a rogue state and unite to stop it.  This would more likely come in the form of economic boycotts, divestment and sanctions rather than a military alliance..
  3. Authoritarian foreign governments would take the United States as a role model.  Assassinations would become commonplace, and some of them would be of American leaders..

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Soleimani was one of history’s great commanders

January 8, 2020

I had only vaguely heard of General Qasem Soleimani prior to his murder last week.  But from what I’ve learned about his career, I think he will go down in history as one of the great commanders.

Qasem Soleimani

He came up from the ranks.  Even his enemies acknowledge that he was motivated by patriotism and not personal gain.

He won a long series of victories against enemies with greater firepower and resources than his.

He deserves the chief credit for the defeat of the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Daesh) and Al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria.

He was not a terrorist.  He waged war against military forces, not unarmed civilians.

He led troops in foreign countries who welcomed his leadership.  He was not the kind of guerrilla leader who had to kill defectors and dissenters to keep his own side in line.

His enemies were unable to capture or kill him when he was in the field.  They had to resort to a treacherous assassination when he was on a peace mission.

I think his campaigns will be studied by military historians and strategists in years to come, the same way they study the campaigns of Stonewall Jackson.

His murder made him a martyr and enhanced his reputation.  It was his final contribution to his cause.

Added 1/20/2020.

I have added articles by Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn, two seasoned Middle East correspondents, on Soleimani’s ruthless side.  I recommend reading their articles for a more balanced view of his record and insight into the complexities of Middle East policies.

LINKS

The Shadow Commander by Dexter Filkins for The New Yorker (2013)

Who Was Iranian Maj. General Qassem Soleimani? by Nassir Karimi and Jon Gambrell for Huffington Post.

Instead of Assassinating Soleimani, Americans Should Have Built Him a Monument by Marko Marjanovic for Anti-Empire.

Millions Come into Streets for Slain Gen. Soleimani in Biggest Rallies in Iran’s History (And, No, They Weren’t Coerced) by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.

Iran’s Qasem Soleimani Was a Great General, One of the Very Few Our Era Will See by Gary Brecher, the War Nerd.

Was Qassem Soleimani a monstrous kingmaker or simply an enabler? The truth is as murky as Tudor history by Robert Fisk for The Independent.  [Added 1/20/2020]

Blundering Into War: Patrick Cockburn on what Trump doesn’t know about Iranfor the London Review of Books.  [Added 1/20/2020]

The killing of General Soleimani was a crime

January 6, 2020

The killing of General Qasem Soleimani was more than a blunder.  It was a crime.

He was invited to Baghdad by the Iraqi government, a U.S. ally, with the knowledge of the U.S. government, to use his good offices to help negotiate peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

He came without protection because he thought he was on a mission of peace.  His killing was an act of treachery as well as murder.

Qasem Soleimani

We Americans find it hard to accept the criminal nature of this act because we have been incrementally brought to believe that assassination, along with waging undeclared wars, is normal behavior.

Most of President Trump’s critics say that although Soleimani was an evildoer who deserved to die, his killing was inadvisable under the circumstances, or that Trump should have consulted with Congress before he acted.

What was his crime?  Soleimani’s Quds force organized and led resistance in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen against foreign invaders – Israelis, Americans, Saudis and Islamic State (ISIS) and Al Qaeda terrorists.

He acted on behalf of Iranian interests and against U.S. (perceived) interests and was therefore an enemy.  But there was a time when honorable soldiers could respect a brave and capable enemy.

Northern generals in the U.S. Civil War respected Robert E. Lee.  Allied generals in World War Two respected Erwin Rommel.   They wouldn’t have encouraged Lee or Rommel to come to neutral ground and then killed them from ambush.

President Trump has led the United States to the brink of war with Iran.  But even if war is avoided, it is still an established principle that a President can order invasions and killings on his own personal judgment, and so more murders of foreign leaders are nearly inevitable.

What has happened, will continue to happen, unless we the people put a stop to it.  We have not seen the worst.

LINKS

Iraqi PM reveals Soleimani was on a peace mission when assassinated, exploding Trump’s lie of “imminent attacks,” by Max Blumenthal for The Gray Zone.

Soleimani’s assassination and the muddled moralism behind it by Robert Wright for Nonzero.

How to Avoid Swallowing War Propaganda by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

Edward Snowden on the 9/11 attacks

December 3, 2019

The following is from Edward Snowden’s new book, Permanent Record.

Nearly three thousand people died on 9/11

Imagine everyone you love, everyone you know, even everyone with a familiar name or just a familiar face—and imagine they’re gone.  

Imagine the empty houses.  Imagine the empty school, the empty classrooms.  All those people you lived among and who formed the fabric of your days, just not there anymore.

The events of 9/11 left holes.  Holes in families, holes in communities. Holes in the ground.

Now consider this: over one million people have been killed in the course of America’s response.

Will Trump restart the nuclear arms race?

November 22, 2019

Click to enlarge.

President Donald Trump has threatened to allow the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to lapse when it comes up for renewal in 2021.

Renewal of the treaty would mean a drastic reduction in nuclear weapons.  Failure to renew would mean a resumption of the nuclear arms race and, sooner or later, a virtual certainty of nuclear war.

The Federation of American Scientists reports that number of nuclear warheads has been reduced from a peak of about 70,300 warheads in 1986 to 13,890 early this year.  That’s good progress, but no reason to stop now.

The USA and Russia still have enough nuclear weapons to obliterate each other and much of the rest of the human race in the process.

We the human race have been lucky so far.  The world has come close to the brink of war, but avoided it.  We can’t count on being lucky forever.

If you don’t count nuclear warheads retired, but not yet dismantled, the USA has 3,800 and Russia has 4,490.  The new START, if renewed, would reduce the number to 1,550 each.

President Trump has said he will not renew the treaty unless it covers China as well.  China has an estimated 290 warheads, which is not trivial.

Pakistan only has an estimated 160 nuclear warheads and India has 140.  Analysts say that if those two countries found a nuclear war, just the dust and soot from the nuclear explosions (never mind the radioactive fallout) would darken the skies and bring about nuclear winter.

It would be desirable for all the smaller nuclear powers, including France, the UK, Israel and North Korea, to accept an upper limit on their numbers of nuclear weapons.  But it is unlikely they would cut back so long as the USA and Russia have thousands of weapons.

So what is Trump’s motive?  My guess is that either he or the national security establishment thinks that, by restarting the nuclear arms race, the USA can force Russia to spend itself into bankruptcy or accept U.S. global military supremacy.

Click to enlarge

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Why risk war with Russia over Ukraine?

November 15, 2019

The impeachment hearings are about allegations of President Donald Trump’s interference with the criminal justice system in Ukraine..

How and why did the United States become so deeply involved in Ukraine in the first place?  The video above of an interview of Prof. Stephen F. Cohen, a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, gives a good background of this.

The conflict in Ukraine stems from a U.S. effort to draw Ukraine into an anti-Russian alliance, and from a military coup in 2014 that brought an anti-Russian government to power in Ukraine.

The Russia of Vladimir Putin is not a country I would want to live in.  There are too many unsolved murders of investigative journalists and opposition leaders, too much wealth in the hands of corrupt oligarchs, too much power in the hands of secret intelligence agencies.

But Putin is not paranoid to see a threat to Russia in an American-dominated Ukraine.  Look at a map of the greatest advance of the Nazi armies during World War Two, and then look at a map of a NATO including Ukraine and Georgia and you’ll see why.

President Zelensky of Ukraine is a political unknown who was elected by an overwhelming majority on a promise to seek peace with Russia.  He is hemmed in by his dependence on U.S. aid, and by the anti-Russian faction, including neo-Nazis, in the Ukrainian government.

President Trump wants to be a peacemaker and he also wants to dominate.  But he lacks the knowledge, skill or constancy of purpose to pursue either peace or power effectively.

His foreign policy is incoherent.  He is like a drunkard staggering along a sidewalk, sometimes to in the direction of peace, sometimes in the direction of war.

But when he staggers in the direction of peace, he bumps up against a wall—the war hawks in the Pentagon and CIA and in Congress.  So the likelihood is that he will wind up in the gutter and blunder into war.

The USA and Russia are the main nuclear powers.  Each has the power to totally destroy the other.  I don’t think that President Trump or President Putin desire to go to war, but the present confrontation along Russia’s borderlands creates a danger that it could happen anyway.

LINKS

Ukraine for Dummies by Ray McGovern for Consortium News.  A timeline of recent Ukrainian history.

Why Are We in Ukraine? by Stephen F. Cohen for The Nation.

We’re More at Risk of Nuclear War With Russia Than We Think by George Beebe for POLITICO.

Trump, the Kurds and the forever wars

October 9, 2019

Kurds protest Trump troop withdrawal plan (Getty Images)

Getting into is easier than getting out of.

(Old saying)

If something cannot go on forever, someday it will stop.

 (Stein’s Law)

We can endure neither our disorders nor the cures for them.

(Livy, History of Rome)

One of the promises made by Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign was to wind down U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Every time he tries to keep this promise, he gets so much resistance from war hawks in Congress and inside his administration that he backs down.

Not that President Trump is a lover of peace.  His preferred method of waging war is to try to starve other nations into submission through economic sanctions, as with Venezuela and Iran.  Economic war is real war, and produces real suffering, and creates its own type of danger of blowback.

Nor is troop withdrawal without adverse consequences.  Pulling American troops out of Syria will leave U.S. allies in Kurdistan open to attacks by Turks and by the Assad government, not to mention a possibly revived Islamic State (ISIS).

Donald Trump, in his usual thoughtless way, forgot about the Kurds when he announced the Syrian troop withdrawal and tweeted a lot of silly things when he was reminded of them.  I have no idea what happens next.

I try to free myself of the habit of seeing foreign conflicts as a fight between good guys and bad guys.  But I can’t help rooting for the Kurds.  They practice religious tolerance.  They don’t massacre civilians.  The Kurdish community in Rojava is attempting a radical experiment in democracy.  If somebody smarter than me has a plan for guaranteeing safety for the Kurds, I would be all for it.

I think it was Daniel Ellsberg who said that the American goal in Vietnam after 1965 was to postpone defeat until after the next election.  I don’t see any purpose in keeping troops in the Middle East or Afghanistan other than postponing admission of defeat until after the next election.

As in Vietnam, withdrawal will result in death and misery for many, especially for those who supported U.S. forces.  But withdrawal at some point is inevitable.  The only question is how to minimize the harm.  It would take a wiser and braver statesman than Donald Trump to answer that question.

Update.  It appears that President Trump doesn’t intend to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria—only to move them out of the way of the Turkish forces moving into the Kurdish-held areas.

LINKS

Damned if we do.

Eight Times the U.S. Has Betrayed the Kurds by Jon Schwartz for The Intercept.

In which I try to make some sense of Donald Trump’s Middle East policy by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

Not Just Ethnicity: Turkey v. Kurds and the Great Divide Over Political Islam and the Secular Left by Juan Cole for Informed Comment [Added 10/10/2019]

The Annihilation of Rojava by Djene Bajalan and Michael Brooks for Jacobin.  [Added 10/10/2019]

Damned if we don’t.

Is Trump At Last Ending Our Endless Wars? by Patrick J. Buchanan.

Trump Pulling U.S. Forces Out of Syria? by Kit Knightly for Off-Guardian.

America Doesn’t Belong in Syria by Doug Bandow for The American Conservative.  [Added 10/10/2019]

Why the Syrian Kurds Aren’t Necessarily Out Friends by Scott Ritter for The American Conservative.  [Added 10/13/2019]

Whistleblowers, leakers and spies

October 7, 2019

A spy is someone who provides information of military, diplomatic or political significance to a hostile foreign power.

A whistleblower is someone who reveals secret information about crimes and bungling to the general public.

A leaker is someone who reveals selected secret information to the general public in order to further some goal of the organization he or she works for.

In general, governments pursue whistleblowers with much greater ferocity than they go spies, while leakers are rewarded.

President Trump’s confidential conversation with Ukraine President Zelensky was revealed by a leaker, not a whistleblower.  Unlike with a whistleblower such as Chelsea Manning, there is no attempt by the CIA to track down and punish the leaker.  That shows it was an authorized leak.

Just as one of the benefits of red tape is to give power and prestige to those who can cut it, one of the benefits of classified information is to give power and prestige to those empowered to reveal it.

What would be the motive of the CIA is trying to promote impeachment of President Trump?  No doubt one is that CIA officials, like many members of the American public, regard Trump as a dangerous and unpredictable loose cannon.

But there also is the possibility that Trump just might wind down the wars in the Middle East and end the new cold war with Russia.  From the CIA’s perspective, that would be a great threat.  Much better, from their standpoint, to have Mike Pence in the White House.

If a future President Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or some libertarian Republican tried to make peace, that also would be regarded as a great threat, and no doubt would be met with a CIA attempt to undermine them.

LINKS

The Ukrainegate Whistleblower Isn’t a Real Whistleblower by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.  As usual, Taibbi hits the nail on the head.  Highly recommended.

A Weak Whistleblower, a Ridiculous Impeachment by Peter Van Buren for The American Conservative.  Van Buren, a former career State Department employee, lost his job and was threatened with prosecution for writing a book about the bungling of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Onward, Christian Soldier: Imagining a Pence Presidency by Barbara Boland for The American Conservative.

U.S. is unprepared to wage war or make peace

September 13, 2019

It’s been a long time since the United States has won a war.  Fred Reed, a Vietnam veteran and former military correspondent, wrote a good article earlier this week on why this is so.

There are a lot of reasons, but the basic one is that the U.S. government is not serious about war because American survival has not been at stake in any recent conflict.  This may not always be true.

President George W. Bush, listening to the advice of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, launched invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under the illusion that victory would be quick and relatively easy.  By the end of his administration, he learned his lesson.  He fired Rumsfeld, stopped listening to Cheney and began troop withdrawal from Iraq.

President Barack Obama did not quite have the nerve to completely wind down Bush’s interventions and be the one to have to admit defeat.  He did try to improve relations with Iran and Cuba.  But mostly he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looked to other ways of waging war—drone strikes, targeted assassinations, Special Forces operations and arming foreign fighters to serve as U.S. proxies.  Of course the foreign fighters had their own goals, which weren’t necessarily U.S. goals.

President Donald Trump so far has not shown the nerve to completely wind down Bush’s and Obama’s interventions and thereby be the one to admit defeat.  He has at least talked about improving relations with Russia and North Korea, although with Trump, it is hard to know what he will do next.

Mostly he and his advisers have looked to yet another way of waging war—economic sanctions, a seemingly cruel but safe war tactic that can do much harm as bombings and arming proxy fighters.  But economic warfare is a two-edged sword.

The power of the U.S. to impose sanctions rests on the fact that the world does business in dollars.  Targeted U.S. enemies are looking for alternatives to the dollar and, once they succeed, the U.S. will be as vulnerable to sanctions as any other country—maybe more so, if we Americans are as dependent on global supply chains as we are now.

We Americans need a government that can make peace with the rest of the world.  We have gotten so used to war that this is hard to imagine.

LINKS

Unused Militaries by Fred Reed for The Unz Review.  Why the world’s most expensive military is unprepared for serious war, in specific detail.

Trump’s Afghanistan ‘Peace” Will Be Vietnam All Over Again: A Mess American Leaves Behind by Col. Andrew Bacevich for Common Dreams.  Not primarily an anti-Trump article, but a reflection by a Vietnam veteran and retired career military officer on the human suffering caused by U.S. interventions.

The U.S. Massively Underestimates the Trade War Blowback by Robert Berke for OilPrice.  A financial analyst reflects on the economic costs and unexpected consequences of waging trade wars.

When did American democracy lose its way?

August 28, 2019

The president of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use, and be authorised to use, in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.  

He could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen.  He doesn’t have to check with anybody, he doesn’t have to call the Congress, he doesn’t have to check with the courts.

==Dick Cheney, Fox News, Dec. 21, 2008

We Americans live under a government whose executive has the power to attack foreign countries, order assassinations and kidnapings, imprison people without trial, commit crimes and prosecute those who reveal those crimes.

When did this start?  The historian Garry Wills, in his 2010 book BOMB POWER: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, argued that it began with the Manhattan Project.  The creation of the atomic bomb set the pattern for exercise of vast power in secret, without legal authority, with national security as the justification.

General Groves, the organizer of the project, operated without authorization from Congress and outside the norma military chain of command.  He spent billions of dollars back when that was real money.  He authorized major industrial facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Hanford, Washington, plus the research and test facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico.  All this was done without knowledge of the public (although spies told the Soviet government about it.)

The original purpose was to develop an atomic weapon before Hitler’s scientists did.  When Germany was defeated, that purpose became moot. The purpose became the justification of the project’s existence.

If Groves had not had a uranium bomb to drop on Hiroshima and a plutonium bomb to drop on Nagasaki, he might have been court-martialed, or at the very least, subjected to a congressional investigation, for usurping power and wasting the government’s money.

On the contrary, the atomic bomb became the core of postwar American military strategy.  Congress lost its authority to declare or refuse to declare war.  A decision to respond to an attack, nuclear or otherwise, had to be made within minutes.

Only the President controlled the Bomb and, by extension, the fate of the world with no Constitutional check.  The President came to be regarded not as Chief Executive of one of three branches of government, but as Commander in Chief of the whole nation.

The secret Manhattan project set a precedent for the vast secret powers of the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and the rest of the national security state.  Congress’s power of financial oversight was shut off by a veil of secrecy..

It is true that the U.S. government has a history of suspending civil liberties in times of war, but, prior to World War Two, life returned to normal after the war ended.

 In the nuclear age, the shooting war against Germany and Japan morphed into a global struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union.  And when the Soviet Union fell apart, the Cold War morphed into a supposed war against terror that had no defined enemy.

The wartime footing became a constant in American life.  Only the designated enemies changed.

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What if Hitler had been assassinated in 1930?

August 21, 2019

What if Adolf Hitler had been assassinated in 1930?  How would history have been changed?

I believe there would have been no Second World War in Europe.  The more than 20 million troops who died in battle and more than 20 million civilians who were killed would have lived out their natural lives.  But the consequences after that?  A mixture of both good and bad..

Some say history might not have been changed all that much.  They say some other Nazi, such as Goebbels or Goering, would have stepped into Hitler’s shoes.   And that leader, they add, might not have made Hitler’s mistakes.  A more capable leader might have won the war.

Adolf Hitler

I don’t think so.  The Nazi party was organized around the cult of Hitler’s personality.  It wouldn’t have been so easy to find a substitute with his charisma.  I don’t think any of the others would have had his ability to maneuver his way into the chancellorship, then leverage that power into absolute dictatorship and lead a reluctant German officer corps into war.

In the absence of Hitler, Germany might well have become an anti-semitic right-wing dictatorship anyhow, like Poland, Hungary and other European countries.  The German government might have included a few Nazis.  Germany certainly would have re-armed and resumed its place among the great European powers.

But the German generals did not want to go to war with Britain and France.  We now know they would have attempted a coup if the Allies had resisted the remilitarization of the Rhineland or the annexation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.  If Hitler had not tamed them, they would not have consented to starting a general war in Europe.

After the war, the German generals claimed they might have won if Hitler had not rejected their advice on strategy and tactics.  But Hitler had a better strategic sense than they did.  He recognized that without a dependable source of oil, the blitzkrieg tactic would have stalled, because it depended on large numbers of motorized vehicles moving quickly.  He prioritized the invasion of Ukraine and the Caucasus, but the main objective of his tradition-bound generals was Moscow, the enemy capital.

 No Hitler, no Second World War in Europe.  What follows from that?

There would have been no atomic bomb in 1945 or perhaps.  Without a Hitler, there would have been no reason to undertake such a project.

Only the United States had the wealth and industrial power to undertake the Manhattan Project, and even then, the project would not have succeeded without the help of European refugee scientists.

There probably would still have been a Pacific War between the United States and Japan.  The cause of that conflict was the U.S. oil embargo against Japan to enforce a demand that Japan withdraw its forces from China.

Rather than comply with that demand, Japan seized the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), the only important source of oil in the Far East.  The Japanese attempted to neutralize British and American forces by conquering the Philippines, capturing Britain’s Singapore base and bombing the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Even though the United States would have lacked an atomic bomb, there would have been no need for an American invasion of the Japanese islands.  U.S. forces could have bombed and starved the Japanese into submission without an invasion and without nuclear weapons, probably with as much or more loss of Japanese lives than in the actual war.

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Lessons from Hitler’s rise to power

August 6, 2019

Benjamin Carter Hett’s THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic is a month-by-month account of the politics of the years leading up to the Nazi conquest of power in Germany.

Hett described how Hitler went from 2.8 percent of the popular vote in the 1928 elections to 37.6 percent in 1932,  how he leveraged Nazi voting strength to make himself chancellor by legal means in 1933 and how all pretense of legality ended in the “night of the long knives” in 1934.

That was when Hitler destroyed all remnants of legality by simply ordering the execution-style murder of his opponents, including dissidents in the Nazi party.

Adolph Reed Jr. said in an Interview that Hett’s book is not only good in itself, but it throws light on contemporary U.S. politics.  In fact it does have lessons for the present-day United States, although not in a straightforward or obvious way.

A number of European countries, following defeat in World War One and with middle classes threatened by powerful Communist movements, became right-wing dictatorships.  Fascist Italy led the way.

Germany followed a different path.  A Communist revolution was crushed by a government supported by Social Democrats.   Socialists then joined forces with the Catholic Center Party and moderate conservative parties to form a democratic government.

The democratic coalition worked for a number of years.  The economy recovered.  Inflation was curbed.

Germany became a model for democratic socialism.  Labor unions were powerful.  The government provided compulsory wage arbitration and a strong social safety net.  Homosexuality and abortion were legal.

But, like today’s USA, Weimar Germany struggled with the issue of globalization vs. economic nationalism.

One big issue Weimar Germany had in common with the present-day USA was the question of globalization vs. economic nationalism.

The governing coalition accepted the need to pay reparations for Germany’s supposed guilt for starting World War One and to back their currency with gold.  Both were seen as the price of participating in the world economy.

The right-wing nationalists, including the Nazis, objected to these policies because they denied Germany the means to pay for rearmament and a large army.  They also objected to globalization on principle.  The Nazis wanted to end reparations, abrogate international trade treaties, limit foreign trade and make Germany as self-sufficient as possible.

The refugee crisis was another big issue.  An estimated 1.5 million refugees entered Germany between 1918 and 1922.  Most of them were Germans from former German territory in France and Poland, and many were refugees from Bolshevik Russia, but a lot of them were Jews.

Many Germans worried about their country’s inability to secure its borders. The Nazi position was to expel all refugees and also all Jews, refugees or not.

Weimar Germany had its own version of identity politics, which however was based on social class and religion rather than race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.  By identity politics, I mean politics based on an affirmation that your own group is good and other groups are bad, rather than politics based on getting what you and your group want.

The identity group to which the Nazis and other right-wing nationalists appealed were the rural and middle-class German Protestants.  The American and British image of Weimar Germany is based on Berlin, but more than a third of Germans lived in villages of fewer than 2,000 people.  Rural Protestants tended to be highly religious, respectful of authority and nostalgic for the Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm.

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Hitler lost WW2 because he ran out of gas

July 12, 2019

I came across an interesting history video that explains how access to oil was Adolf Hitler’s main goal in World War Two, how it determined his strategy and why his failure to achieve that goal doomed Nazi Germany to defeat.

It provides good food for thought, both about history and today’s geopolitics.  Here is an outline of what it said.

Adolf Hitler believed that Germany could not be a powerful or even an independent nation so long as it depended on imports for food and energy.  His long-range goal was to acquire the farmland of Ukraine and the oil of the Caucasus for Germany.

Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 was a step toward that goal.  If Britain hadn’t declared war on Germany in 1939 or had agreed to a truce in 1940 or 1941, he might have succeeded.

The United States during that period produced 70 percent of the world’s oil.  Most of the rest came from the USSR and Venezuela.  Even after Germany conquered most of Europe, including the oil fields of Rumania, the British blockade remained in place.  Germany was cut off from the oil of the USA and Venezuela and the USSR did not supply enough to meet its requirements.

Germany’s blitzkrieg strategy depended on tanks and other motorized vehicles operating on a broad front.  But Germany lacked enough oil of its own to conduct long campaigns.

The German army “demotorized” in order to provide enough fuel for the tanks.  It used horse-drawn vehicles to move supplies.  Messengers rode bicycles rather than motorcycles.  It also used an expensive process to synthesize oil from coal, even though coal supplies also were limited.

This meant Germany had a limited time in which to invade Soviet Russia and obtain the oil it needed.   Otherwise it would run short of the fuel needed to power its tanks and trucks.

That is why Hitler did not plan for a long campaign, and why he wanted his generals to concentrate on the Caucasus rather than Leningrad and Moscow.

The 1941 invasion failed.  After that Germany had one last chance of victory—by using what fuel reserves it had in 1942 to make one last stab at Maikup and Grozny in the Caucasus while conquering Stalingrad so the Soviets could not transport oil up the Volga River from refineries in Baku.

Lack of fuel was why Hitler ordered troops to stand fast and hold the line at all costs rather than allowing his generals to engage in a war of maneuver.

If the Nazis had succeeded, Russia would have been cut off from both the oil of the Caucasus and the Ukraine breadbasket.  Soviet forces would have been hard put to find the means to keep on fighting in 1943 and 1944.

But the Nazis failed.  From then on, Germany’s only goal in fighting was to prolong the war in hope of a negotiated peace.

All this shows that while Hitler was evil, he was not a madman—at least not where military strategy was concerned.  He understood strategy better than his generals.

It also shows the British blockade and American oil were as important to victory as the actual fighting by the Red Army.  If Winston Churchill had not become Prime Minister in 1940, Britain might have made a separate peace with Germany, and the German army would have had the fuel it needed to blitzkrieg Russia.

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