Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

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.


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]


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.


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.


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.


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.


In Syria, two wrongs don’t make a right

November 4, 2015

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”    ==Bertrand Russell, 1956

Hospital emergency room staff in Douma, Syria, in August

Hospital emergency room staff in Douma, Syria, in August

I’ve written a good many posts on why I think it is a mistake for the U.S. government to arm terrorist rebels in Syria.  That doesn’t mean I should forget or ignore the crimes of Syria’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad.

Here is an account by Majed Aboali, a volunteer Syrian doctor, about the Syrian government’s systematic bombing of civilian populations, including hospitals.

Government airstrikes—barrel bombs, missiles, and vacuum explosives—are responsible for some 90 percent of the people killed over the summer.  On top of that comes the collective terror of the chemical attacks—chlorine barrels in 2015 and 2014, sarin in 2013.

What did the world do to stop the killing? It sent jets to bomb the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) but did nothing to stop the far greater killing of civilians by the Syrian government’s airstrikes. 

For my Syrian colleagues, IS pales as a problem next to Assad’s attacks on civilians. If the world would stop these attacks on civilians, we Syrians could stop the estimated 10 percent of the killings committed by IS.

The hospital in Douma has been targeted many times.  Somehow, they have avoided a direct hit.  But we do not know if they will survive the next attempt.  Which is why the world must act to stop the killing.


Why U.S. intervention in Syria is a mistake

October 31, 2015

Click on Mike Whitney for a transcript of this interview.

Weekend reading: Links & comments 10/30/2015

October 30, 2015

The Midwife to Chaos and Her Perjury by Andrew Napolitano for The Unz Review.

Republican attacks on President Obama and the Clintons generally amount to straining at gnats while swallowing camels.  The House Benghazi Committee’s questioning of Hillary Clinton fits this pattern.

She was questioned for 10 hours, nearly continuously, for her alleged neglect of security leading to the murder of an American diplomat in Benghazi, Libya.  But nobody asked her about why she instigated a war against a country that did not threaten the United States, throwing innocent people leading normal lives into bloody anarchy.

And incidentally providing a new recruiting ground for terrorists..

The 6 Reasons China and Russia Are Catching Up to the U.S. Military on Washington’s Blog.

China Sea Blues: A Thing Not to Do by Fred Reed for Fred on Everything.

Just because the United States has the world’s largest and most expensive military doesn’t mean we have the world’s best military.  We Americans are complacent because of our wealth, and because we have not faced a serious threat to our existence in 70 years.

Our leaders think we can afford to waste money on high-tech weapons that don’t work, and military interventions that aren’t vital to American security.  Other nations, which have less margin of safety and would be fighting near their own borders, may be a match for us.

FBI Accused of Torturing U.S. Citizen Abroad Can’t Be Sued by Christian Farias for The Huffington Post.

Nowadays the Constitution stops where national security and foreign policy begin.


Drifting toward war with China

October 30, 2015

China_pivot_US_troop_deployment_in_Asia_Pacific(306x400)The U.S. government treats China’s claim to the Spratley Islands in the South China Sea as a threat worth the risk of war.

It reminds me of 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon debated whether it was worthwhile going to war over Quemoy and Matsu, two tiny islands off the coast of China claimed by Beijing but controlled by Chiang Kai-shek’s rump government on Taiwan.

Yet Washington stands by while U.S. manufacturing industry is hollowed out by China, which is a much more real threat to the well-being of Americans.

If China really is a danger to the United States, our priority should be to free ourselves of financial dependence on China, and dependence on Chinese factories for vital electronics components.

But military power takes precedence over American civilian needs, and corporate profits take precedence over all.


Beijing summons U.S. ambassador over warship in the South China Sea by Tom Phillips for The Guardian.

The U.S. Ought to Un-Swivel Its China Pivot by Buddy Bell for Counterpunch.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Is the South China Sea Worth War? by Patrick J. Buchanan for The American Conservative.

The New China Syndrome: American business meets its new master by Barry C. Lynn for Harper’s.

Who will fight America’s wars?

October 24, 2015

When I was growing up, most American men had served or expected to serve in the armed forces.

In my home county, Washington County, Maryland, nobody was drafted because voluntary enlistments filled the draft quota.  But I enlisted anyway because I would have felt ashamed not to.

My enlistment was during the peacetime years of 1956 through 1958.   Probably if there had been a war going on at the time, I would have waited to see if the Army wanted me.

The armed forces were regarded as the employer of last resort.   Virtually any healthy young American man could enlist.

draft20151024_USM988I read an on-line article in The Economist that shows how much things have changed.  During the Korean Conflict, 70 percent of draft-age American men served in the armed forces.  During the Vietnam Conflict, the figure was 43 percent.   But now, according to The Economist, only 30 percent of draft-age American men are eligible to serve.

Among the 21 million draft-age American men, 9.5 million would be disqualified because they lack high-school diplomas or could not pass an elementary intelligence test.  Another 7 million would be disqualified for such reasons as being too fat, or criminal records, or tattoos on their faces and hands.

That leaves 4.5 million, of whom only 390,000 are interested in enlisting.

This fact makes a lot of things fall into place.  It explains why the armed forces no longer resist enlisting women, or gay men.  It explains why President Obama bases U.S. military strategy on drones and missiles, and elite Special Ops teams, and arming foreign fighters.

The whole basis of small-r republican government, going back to Rome, is that the men who fight for a society have the right to voice in how it is governed.   When the responsibility to fight is delegated to a small minority, how secure is our republic?  Then again, as Roman history showed, men who are willing to die to defend a republic are not necessarily willing to die to create an empire.


Who will fight the next war? from The Economist (via naked capitalism)

Weekend reading: Links & comments 10/23/2015

October 23, 2015

Iceland Just Jailed Dozens of Corrupt Bankers for 74 Years, The Opposite of What America Does by Jay Syrmopoulos of the Free Thought Project (via AlterNet)

Iceland sentences 26 bankers to a combined 74 years in prison by gjohnsit for Daily Kos (Hat tip to my expatriate friend Jack)

Icelandic courts have sentenced 26 bankers to prison terms for two to five years each—a total of 74 years—for financial fraud and manipulation leading up to the financial crash of 2008.

The important precedent here, and the great contrast with the United States, is that Iceland prosecuted individuals, not banks.  An organization structure cannot commit crimes, any more than a bank building can commit crimes.   It is the individuals within the structure who have criminal responsibility.

JADE: A Global Witness Investigation Into Myanmar’s Big “State Secret” (hat tip to Jack)

High-quality jade is the most valuable product of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.  But the government and people of the country get little benefit from it.  Instead the trade is controlled by military elites, corporate cronies and U.S.-sanctioned drug lords.

Nawal El Saadawi: ‘Do you feel you are liberated?  I feel I am not’ by Rachel Cooke for The Guardian (Hat tip to Jack)

An interview with the formidable 83-year-old Egyptian author, freethinker, feminist, medical doctor and campaigner against female genital mutilation.


Will Russia take sides in Shiite-Sunni conflict?

October 22, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

The Sunni-Shiite war is a tragedy, but it would burn itself out if Saudi Arabia and Iran were not using the two Islamic factions are proxies in their struggle for power in the Middle East.

The lineup is Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias on one side, and Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Turkey and the Sunni militias on the other.

The U.S. government has inflamed the conflict further by taking the side of Saudi Arabia.  This has undermined our “war on terror,” because Al Qaeda and ISIS are among the Saudi-backed Sunni militias warring against Syria.

Now Russia is befriending Iran and giving military assistance to Syria, and the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq is thinking of calling in Russian help.  All this is in the name of fighting ISIS, which is a good thing, not a bad thing.  But if Russia is lining up permanently with Iran’s proxies against the U.S.-backed Saudi proxies, this is quite another thing.

A U.S.-Russian proxy conflict would increase human suffering in the Middle East, and be of no benefit to the American or Russian peoples  It would be dangerous for the world..  Washington should open negotiations with Moscow to keep the conflict from escalating further.


Isis in Iraq: Shia leaders want Russian air strikes against militant threat by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent (via the Unz Review)

The Return of the Syrian Army by Robert Fisk for The Independent (via Counterpunch)

Putin Forces Obama to Capitulate on Syria by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Turkish Whistleblowers Corroborate Seymour Hersh Report of False Flag Syrian Gas Attack by Peter Lee for China Matters.


The passing scene – links & comments 10/21/2015

October 21, 2015

The Secret to Winning the Nobel Peace Prize: Keep the U.S. military out by Rebecca Gordon for TomDispatch.

Tunisia was the one country where the Arab Spring movement succeeded.  Four Tunisian organizations devoted to human rights deservedly won the latest Nobel Peace Prize.

Tunisia was the one country in which the U.S. government did not interfere, either militarily or politically, and it is the one country where the Arab Spring movement resulted in a stable, democratic government.

Rebecca Gordon, after reviewing U.S. policy in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, concludes that this is not a coincidence.  There’s a lesson to be learned here.

Obama Just Signed a Blank Check for Endless War in Afghanistan by John Nichols for The Nation.

Rep. Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, says it’s time to repeal the open-ended 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and have Congress decide whether to continue military intervention in Afghanistan and other countries.

How Credit Scores Treat People Like Numbers by Frank Pasquale for The Atlantic.

I commented on how Chinese credit card companies and maybe the Chinese government are linking all kinds of human behaviors to credit scores, and how this can be a subtle means of suppressing nonconformity.  Well, it seems the same thing is going on in the United States—maybe not with that conscious intent, but with the same result.


In search of a peace candidate

October 20, 2015

I wish there was a peace candidate in the Presidential race.  Though I like Bernie Sanders, he doesn’t qualify.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

He is less militaristic than Hillary Clinton and she is less militaristic than Ted Cruz and most of the other Republicans, but they all accept as a given fact that the United States must be ready to intervene militarily anywhere in the world at the sole discretion of the President.

I voted for President Obama in the hope that he would disengage from the disastrous U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not start any new wars.  Instead he invented new means of intervention that don’t involve large numbers of American troops.  Sanders would not break from Obama’s policy.

Most of the Republican candidates criticize Obama for not being war-like enough.  Jeb Bush endorses the disastrous policies of his brother, George W. Bush.

Compared to the rest of the GOP field, Donald Trump sounds relatively sensible.  As Patrick Cockburn wrote in Britain’s The Independent:

Asked by an NBC news presenter if Iraq and Libya had been better off when Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were in power, a question most politicians would have dodged, Trump said: “Iraq is a disaster … Libya is not even a country. You can make the case, if you look at Libya, look at what we did there – it’s a mess.  If you look at Saddam Hussein with Iraq, look what we did there – it’s a mess.”

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

This should not be controversial stuff.  Many Iraqis and Libyans are glad to have got rid of the old dictators, but they have no doubt about the calamities that have befallen their countries since the change of regime.  [snip]

Speaking about the White House’s policy of supporting the Syrian armed opposition, Trump truthfully said the administration “doesn’t know who they are.  They could be Isis.  Assad is bad.  Maybe these other people are worse.”

He said he was bothered by “the concept of backing people they have absolutely no idea who they are”.  Again, US officials admit that they have armed opposition fighters who, on entering Syria promptly handed their weapons over to Jabhat al-Nusra, the local representatives of al-Qaeda.

Trump added: “I was talking to a general two days ago.  He said: ‘We have no idea who these people are.’”

Then again, he has boasted of being “the most militaristic person in the room.”  He has advocated sending American ground troops to seize ISIS-controlled oil fields or destroying those oil fields through bombing.


Obama’s rules for drone strikes, and the reality

October 17, 2015

President Obama, in a 2012 interview with CNN, said these were his criteria for deciding to order someone killed with flying drones:

1. ‘ It has to be a target that is authorized by our laws.’

2.  ‘It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative.’

3.  ‘It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.’

4.  ‘We’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties.’

5.  ‘That while there is a legal justification for us to try and stop [American citizens] from carrying out plots… they are subject to the protections of the constitution and due process.’

Source: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

This is not the reality.

In Afghanistan, U.S. forces have a policy of targeting unusually tall people, on the assumption that they probably are Arabs or other foreign fighters supporting the Taliban.

Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill said that they targeted one man who turned out to be an Afghan man of normal height standing among a group of children.  The drone killed the man and all, or all but one, of the children.

Other targets are chosen through analysis of signals intelligence and meta-data or information from foreign intelligence services.  Any male of military age killed in a drone strike is assumed to be a terrorist.

When U.S. forces first invaded Afghanistan, I accepted that they were there to liberate the Afghan people from the tyranny of the Taliban.  But if any dead adult male is assumed to be an enemy unless proven otherwise, then the United States is waging war against the Afghan people as a whole.  This is not right, and it does not make Americans safer.


Whistleblower: 90% of Drone Fatalities Are Civilians on Washington’s Blog.

THE DRONE PAPERS on The Intercept.  A complete report on the whistleblower’s leaked documents.


War and peace – October 13, 2015

October 13, 2015

The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century by Gary Leupp for Counterpunch.

CIA Interventions in Syria: A Partial Timeline by Michael S. Rozeff for

Never get involved in a land war in (west) Asia by Thoreau for Unqualified Offerings.

The people in Washington who’ve planned military policy in the past 15 years must think that (1) the United States is so rich and powerful that no mistake can possibly have any fatal consequence and (2) the only proof that a policy is a mistake is an admission that it is a mistake.

War with Isis: Why Syria’s Christians can never go home by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

The right-wing nuts are right!  Obama really IS trying to impost Sharia law by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.

The radical jihadist militias that the U.S. government is arming want to impose Sharia law on Syria.  Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad, were ruthless dictators who’d stop at nothing to stay in power.  But they never persecuted Christians or other religious minorities merely because of their faith.

McClatchy Expected to Close Foreign Bureaus By End of the Year by Michael Calderone for Huffington Post.

The McClatchy newspaper chain had a different business model than its U.S. rivals.  Rather than catering either to the public or to the powers that be, their editors and reporters reported the news as they saw it, without fear or favor. Sadly this didn’t work out.

U.S. and Russian bases in the Middle East

October 3, 2015

U.S. bases in the Middle East

Russian bases in the Middle East

Russian bases in the Middle East

Vladimir Putin has sent Russian forces to Syria to prop up the regime of Russia’s ally, Bashar al-Assad.

He said he is joining in the war against the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).  The U.S. government said Russia is targeting the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army and other “moderate” rebels rather than ISIS itself.

I’m not sure how significant that difference is.  I don’t think it is realistic to think it is possible to overthrow Assad and keep ISIS out of power without sending American forces to occupy Syria—and even then the outcome would be doubtful.

Many countries besides the USA and Russia have conducted air strikes in Syria.   One list includes Australia, Bahrein, France, Israell, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and should have included Canada and Turkey.

I don’t think Russia is in a position to challenge the U.S. military presence in the Middle East directly.  I think Putin’s plan is to enhance the power of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah vs. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, but to minimize actual Russian activity.


Why doesn’t the U.S. help Iran fight ISIS?

September 14, 2015


The European refugee crisis is due mainly to the Islamic State’s reign of terror in parts of Syria.

Bashar al-Assad is a ruthless dictator who will do whatever it takes to stay in power.  But his regime doesn’t mutilate and kill people because of their religion or lifestyle.   People of different religions and ethnicities have co-existed peacefully under his government.

This is not true of the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh).  Under their rule, you are not safe unless you are willing to live under their extreme and wrong ideas of what Islam was like in the days of Mohammad.

Since the surge of millions of refugees into Europe directly affects U.S. allies, and since ISIS is the direct cause of this crisis, why does the United States hesitate to join forces with the Iranian government, which is the main enemy of ISIS?

Gareth Porter, writing for Middle East Eye, has a good idea of the reasons:

US policy toward the Middle East has long been defined primarily not by threats originating in the region but by much more potent domestic political interests, both electoral and bureaucratic.

The power of the Israel lobby in Washington, primarily but not exclusively over Congress, is well known, and that has imposed a rigid political and legal framework of hostility toward Iran on the US government for two decades, beginning with a complete trade embargo that remains in place and creates major obstacles to any shift in policy.

What is seldom acknowledged, however, is that the interests of the Pentagon, the CIA and the NSA have become tightly intertwined with those of the anti-Iran coalition in the Middle East.

A set of mutually reinforcing bureaucratic interests now binds US policy to an alliance structure and military and intelligence programmes in the Middle East that have come to replace objective analysis of regional realities in determining US policy.


Fourteen years after 9/11

September 11, 2015

During the months following the 9/11 attacks, I was surprised and shocked by how quickly the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were wiped off the blackboard, and how easily practices such as torture and assassination, which I had thought of as the defining characteristics of totalitarian countries, became accepted as normal.

I blamed George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and I hoped that as a result of the 2004 and then the 2008 election that country would return to what I regarded as normal.  It took me a long time to realize that the country I was living in was different from what I thought it was.

Terrorists in Sept. 11, 2001, killed more than 3,000 Americans, but what we did to ourselves and the world was worse.

Tom Englehardt, editor of TomDispatch, expressed very well what has happened:

shutterstock_308882264-600x726Fourteen years later and do you even believe it? Did we actually live it? Are we still living it? And how improbable is that?

Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa.

Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters.

Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks.

Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance).

Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing.


The origins of the world refugee crisis

September 8, 2015


Once a majority of the world’s refugees came from U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now these countries are overshadowed by refugees pouring out of Syria.

The top chart shows a history of refugee crises in the past generation.  Patrick Cockburn, writing in The Independent, noted that most of the world’s current refugees come from majority-Muslim or partly-Muslim countries, most of them in the grip of civil war, as indicated in the chart at the right.

refugees-mapSome people I know say that these conflicts are part of age-old hatreds that go back to the split between the Sunnis and the Shiites soon after the death of Mohammad.

But there have been many centuries in which the varied religious and ethnic communities lived together in peace.  They mostly did so under the Ottoman Empire.

Cockburn wrote that the conflicts grew out of the breakdown of Middle Eastern governments, which created a lawless environment in which terrorist movements such as the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL and Da’esh), Al Qaeda and their imitators could flourish.

He attributed this to the fact that these governments were organized around Western ideals such as nationalism and socialism, which failed to win the loyalty of the Muslim masses.  No Iraqi was willing to die in defense of the Iraqi government, although many Iraqis were willing to fight and die on behalf of their religious sect, their family or their local community.

I think there is truth in this, but he overlooks the role of the U.S. and other governments in breaking down the social order.


Will Russia intervene militarily in the Mideast?

September 3, 2015

I read a couple of interesting posts during the past couple of days about Russia increasing its political and maybe its military presence in the Middle East.

I don’t know what to make of them, and I have no way of knowing what is on President Vladimir Putin’s mind.


Syria’s al Assad and wife in Moscow

I do know that, if I were in Putin’s place, with the USA and its NATO allies stirring up trouble in nations bordering mine, I would look for ways to stir up trouble for the USA and NATO.

If I were Putin, I would see ISIS as a threat, and look join forces with Syria, Iran and other anti-ISIS forces.

A pro-Russian, pro-Putin blogger who calls himself the Saker says that Putin has neither the desire nor the power to project Russian power any great distance from what the Russians call their “near abroad.”

The Saker pointed to the Russian Federation’s military oath, which is to defend the Fatherland.  It says nothing about invading foreign countries.

But the American military oath is to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution.  It also says nothing about invading foreign countries, and this hasn’t proved a limitation.  As the Saker remarked, U.S. foreign policy resembles the old Soviet “international duty” to intervene globally wherever necessary to defend supporters and defeat enemies.


How will President Obama be remembered?

September 3, 2015

Future generations of Americans will surely look back at President Obama as not just a con-man, but as someone who blew several trillion dollars on continued wars around the globe; as someone who terminally destroyed the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, instead of rescuing these documents as promised; and as the president who, when given the last real opportunity to reverse climate change, ducked the challenge and pandered to the corporations that selfishly wanted short-term gain over long-term survival for humanity and the biosphere.

Source: Is Obama the Worst President Ever? by David Lindorff for Counterpunch

In 2000, I in my foolishness thought that the country would be reasonably safe no matter whether Al Gore or George W. Bush was elected.  I thought both were cautious, reasonable leaders who might not be strong reformers, but in whose hands the country would be safe.

I thought—such was my naivete—that it was a good thing that the inexperienced George W. Bush was guided by wise old Dick Cheney.

My moment of radicalization came with the USA Patriot Act.   President Bush with the support of a majority in
Congress tore up not only the Bill of Rights, but basic principles of the rule of law that went back to Magna Carta.

He invaded Iraq, a country that did not threaten the United States, and turned it into a hellhole of lawless, warring factions and a breeding ground for the terrorists the U.S. supposedly was against.  At home, he gave free rein to reckless Wall Street speculators and manipulators to crash the housing market and the stock market.

gallery-1432843145-obama-hope-poster1I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 not with the hope that he would be the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but that he would return the country to what I regarded as normal—that he would at minimum be a Gerald Ford who obeyed the laws and the Constitution and didn’t start wars.

Instead he doubled down on the Bush policies.  He invaded Libya and sponsored a proxy war against Syria, two other countries that never threatened the United States, resulting, as in Iraq, in thousands of harmless people being killed, raped and driven from their homes and in terrorists gaining new footholds.

While Bush claimed the right to imprison people in his sole discretion, Obama claims the right to kill people at his sole discretion.  And he has bailed out Wall Street bankers and financiers whose manipulations caused the 2008 financial crash while protecting them from prosecution.

The worst thing Obama has done is to use his great political talent to persuade liberals and progressives that what he represents is the best that can be hoped for.

The Obama administration has done good things, such as the NLRB’s recent joint employer decision, which wouldn’t have happened under a Republican administration.

But on the big life-or-death issues, I agree with David Lindorff.  Obama is even worse than George W. Bush.

Which doesn’t mean that his successor might not be worse still.


The political scene – August 25, 2015

August 25, 2015

The Do-Something-Else Principle by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

The simple-minded populism that controls the GOP by Paul Waldman for The Washington Post.

teaparty.GOP.USA.worldDoug Muder and Paul Waldman wrote about how the leading Republican candidates operate on the principle that “ignorance is strength”.

They not only are uninterested in the details of policy.  They lack understanding of how a Constitutional government works.  They seem to think that Presidents can do anything they want by decree, and the only qualities needed are decisiveness and average common sense.

Dr. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump have no experience or interest in government.  Senator Ted Cruz, although he holds public office, also manifests no interest in actually governing.  The popular appeal of such candidates is a measure of the frustration of the American public with the present bipartisan consensus.

One-party system: What total Republican control of a state really means by Herman Schwartz for Reuters.

The Republican Party has much more grass roots strength at the state level than the Democrats.  But except for those who think gun rights and the suppression of abortion are more important than anything else, they’re not governing in the interest of American working people.

The Age of Imperial Wars by James Petras.

Insouciance Rules the West by Paul Craig Roberts.

The establishment Democrats and Republicans understand the workings of government better than the Tea Party Republicans do.  But in their overall policies, they, too, are either disconnected from reality or powerless to change the direction of a government that is on automatic pilot for drone warfare, covert warfare and proxy warfare.


Jeb Bush blames Obama, Hillary Clinton for ISIS

August 15, 2015

Gov. Jeb Bush blamed President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the rise of the bloodthirsty Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) because they abandoned the policies of his brother, President George W. Bush.

In fact, Obama and Clinton contributed to the rise of ISIS by following the policies of George W. Bush.

jebbush-hillaryclintonThe Islamic State’s predecessor, Al Qaeda, had no presence in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  Al Qaeda and later ISIS were able to establish themselves in Iraq because the U.S. invasion destroyed the governmental structure of Iraq, and nobody was able to put it back together again.

But didn’t the withdrawal of American forces open the door to ISIS?  Whether it did or not, the withdrawal was begun under an agreement negotiated by President George W. Bush in his last year in office with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.   The reason for the agreement was that the American occupation was highly unpopular in both countries.

Realizing this, President Bush stopped listening to Vice President Dick Cheney and replaced Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates.   President Barack Obama retained Gates and implemented the Bush agreement.

President Obama’s most important foreign policy innovation was to make interventionism politically sustainable by finding a substitute for American boots on the ground—flying killer drones, Special Forces assassination teams and subsidies for Arab fighters.

During the 14 years since the 9/11 attacks, radical Islamist terrorists have grown stronger, and they gave grown strongest in those countries in which the U.S. military has been most active.  This includes Libya, which Hillary Clinton reduced to the same state of bloody chaos and ISIS-friendly environment as Iraq.

She and Jeb Bush are both war hawks.  She is the more experienced and knowledgeable war hawk, but there is no reason to think either would change the bad course of American foreign policy.


Memo to Jeb Bush: It was W’s surge that created ISIL, not Hillary by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.

Republicans Can’t Face the Truth About Iraq by Eric Margolis via Unz Review.  [Added 8/16/2015]

George Bush didn’t know anything about Maliki, but put him in charge of Iraq anyway by Zack Beauchamp for Vox.

The Planned Destruction of Libya by John Wight for Counterpunch.

Hillary, the Ultimate Hawk by David French for National Review.

A potential U.S.-Russia clash in the Arctic

August 14, 2015

saker-arctic-860x1024The Russian Federation has literally laid claim to the North Pole.  This is not a joke.

As the Arctic ice cap melts, Arctic oil is becoming available to drillers, and the USA, the Russian Federation, Canada, Norway and Denmark (which owns Greenland) have conflicting claims.

Unlike in the artificial crisis in Ukraine, this is a real national interest of the United States—at least until we American end our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels, which I hope will happen but don’t expect anytime soon.

A pro-Russian blogger called The Saker included this map in a post about Russian military capabilities in the Arctic, which are strong and long-standing.

I don’t think anybody in Moscow or Washington is crazy enough to start a nuclear war over Arctic oil.  But if both countries have nuclear-armed submarines in the Arctic to back up their claims, there is a danger of accidental war.

Canada is second only to Russia in the extent of its Arctic coastline, and the economic strategy of Canada’s Harper administration, like that of the Obama administration, is based on developing oil and gas resources.  I wonder whether Canada will join forces with the USA in a confrontation with Russia.

The way to avoid conflict is by means of negotiation and compromise, but that requires good will and a certain amount of trust among all concerned.


Russia Moves to Protect Her Arctic Interests by The Saker for the Unz Review.

The Battle for the Arctic by J. Hawk for SouthFront.  The view of another pro-Russian blogger.

The sinking of the Canadian Navy by Scott Gilmore for MacLean’s.  [Added later]  Canada may not have a sufficient naval force to assert its claims in the Arctic without backup from the US.

North Korea, the forgotten bombing

August 6, 2015

The North Korean government, as the above video shows, is a oppressive dictatorship based on a racist, totalitarian ideology.  But that’s not the only reason for North Korean anti-Americanism.

The US did in fact do something terrible, even evil to North Korea, and while that act does not explain, much less forgive, North Korea’s many abuses since, it is not totally irrelevant either.

That act was this: In the early 1950s, during the Korean War, the US dropped more bombs on North Korea than it had dropped in the entire Pacific theater during World War II.

This carpet bombing, which included 32,000 tons of napalm, often deliberately targeted civilian as well as military targets, devastating the country far beyond what was necessary to fight the war. Whole cities were destroyed, with many thousands of innocent civilians killed and many more left homeless and hungry.

via Vox.

“Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — 20 percent of the population,” Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, told the Office of Air Force History in 1984.

Dean Rusk, a supporter of the war and later secretary of state, said the United States bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” After running low on urban targets, U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops.

via The Washington Post.


The US is the enemy of the enemies of ISIS

July 30, 2015

One reason that Al Qaeda and ISIS are strong is that US attacks on Muslim countries create the conditions of chaos in which they flourish.  Another is that the US government has been more interested in undermining nations that happen to be enemies of Al Qaeda and ISIS that in fighting Al Qaeda and ISIS.

Kurdish people

Women of Kurdistan

The latest example of this is President Obama’s support of the Turkish government in its attack on the Kurdish people.  The Kurds are dedicated and effective enemies of ISIS and support democracy, religious toleration and women’s rights, which are supposedly the ideals the US government represents.

But Kurdish nationalism threatens the unity of Turkey, and the support of Turkey is essential to the covert war being waged by the United States against Syria, whose government also is an enemy of ISIS.

The “war on terror” which the United States began on Sept. 12, 2001, is on the one hand so urgent that we Americans are being asked to give up basic Constitutional liberties, but on the other hand not important enough to distract from overthrowing regimes that Washington has targeted—first Saddam, then Qadaffi and now Assad.


The Politics of Betrayal: Obama Backstabs Kurds to Appease Turkey by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

Turkey’s conflict with Kurdish guerillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

Has Iran cut off Hamas?  Is Hamas Turning to Saudi Arabia? by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.


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