Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

Putin’s ultimatum and the U.S. response

January 14, 2022

Russian troops on maneuvers. Source: Reuters,

President Vladimir Putin has threatened “appropriate retaliatory military-technical measures” if the USA does offer written guarantees of no military activities in Eastern Europe, no NATO membership for any post-Soviet country and no new military bases on the territory of former Soviet states.

This is what President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker promised President Mikhail Gorbachev in return for allowing reunification of Germany and withdrawing Soviet troops from Eastern Europe.

Subsequent U.S. presidents said this was just an informal verbal agreement and not binding. Russia had to submit because it was weak. Since then Russia has become powerful and is in a position to demand that the former promise can be kept. And this time put it in writing!

For Russia, this is a matter of national security.  For the USA, it is not.  For us Americans, it is a question of avoiding humiliation, not a question of survival.

Russia does not now threaten the U.S. homeland. But this could change.

Russia has not ruled out putting troops and missiles into Cuba and Venezuela, nor deploying submarines with its new hypersonic nuclear weapons into North American coastal waters.  What awwma more likely is that Russian subs would be allowed to refuel in Cuba or Venezuela.

I do not predict these particular things would happen.  Probably what Putin does would be completely unexpected.

There is no reason to think Russia plans to invade and occupy Ukraine or any other country.  That would be foolish.

Putin has learned from Soviet and U.S. mistakes to avoid quagmire wars.  His military interventions, like the recent one in Kazakhstan, have been short and decisive.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken does not claim Russia threatens the U.S. homeland.  He says Russia is a threat to the new “rules-based international order.”

This refers to the complex of alliances and free trade areas where U.S. hard and soft power guarantees access for global corporations and banks.

Russia, along with China and Iran, do threaten this U.S.-dominated international order.  But ordinary Americans have no stake in it.  This new international order does not benefit American working people. It does benefit the managers and stockholders of those countries.

Blinken says Ukraine and Georgia have the right as sovereign nations to ally themselves with NATO if they choose.  That is not the question.  The question is whether the USA has an obligation or need to bring these countries into an anti-Russian alliance.

I recall that we US Americans didn’t care about legal niceties when Nikita Khrushchev threatened our security by trying to put nuclear missiles into Cuba.

Besides, Ukraine is not a sovereign country in any meaningful sense.  Back in 2015 and 2016, then Vice President Joe Biden demanded that Ukraine fire the prosecutor who was investigating corruption in a company that employed his son, Hunter.  The prosecutor was fired and the investigation, after a short interval dropped.  In 2019, President Donald Trump asked the investigation be re-opened, and it was.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 1/7/2022

January 7, 2022

Here are links to some articles I found interesting.

The Cuban Missile War Timeline by “Amerigo Vespucci” for altnernatehistory.com.

I remember the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. I didn’t take the danger of nuclear war seriously at the time because I understood that neither President Kennedy nor Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were crazy enough to start one. What I didn’t understand was how easily things could get out of control.

A contributor to the alternate history web log wrote an interesting speculation as to what might have happened if a few things had gone otherwise than as they did—a U-2 plane shot down over Cuba, a Soviet submarine commander who thought he was under attack firing his nuclear missile.

The writer is well-informed about U.S. and Soviet capabilities, positioning of armed forces and likely military strategies. He presents a convincing account of what a nuclear war would have been like and what the aftermath would have been.

Yes, the USA could have “won” a nuclear exchange. More of us Americans would have survived than those on the other side. I don’t think the Chinese would have escaped unscathed as the writer assumes. Daniel Ellsberg’s book tells us that the U.S. nuclear strategy, in the event of war, was to obliterate the USSR and China both.

All too many people make light of the risks of going to the brink of nuclear war.  They say it hasn’t happened yet.  Yes, but it only needs to happen once.

Frederick Douglass’s library by Julian Abagond.

When I visit someone for the first time, I always sneak a look at the person’s bookshelf.  It’s one way of getting to know them.

Frederick Douglass, the great African-American freedom fighter, had a library of thousands of books.  A blogger named Julian Abagond listed some of the highlights.  Particular favorites, according to Abagond, included The Colombia Orator, a textbook on public speaking with selections from great speeches, and the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, the poetry of Robert Burns and Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.

Douglass of course owned and read works by and about black people and their history, struggles and achievements, but his interests were wide-ranging and included history, politics, literature and science.  The National Park Service has the complete list.  

He had no formal schooling whatever.  As a slave, he was not supposed to learn to read.  He did it on the sly, by paying a white boy to teach him his ABCs.  He went on from there to educate himself.  He associated on equal terms with some of the leading intellectuals of his time.

Lucille of the Libs by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Rod Dreher, a leading conservative Christian writer, wrote a moving article on the sacrifices required to be a good husband or wife, and a good parent.  He drew on the Kenny Rogers country-and-western song, “Lucille”; the movie, “The Secret Life of Dentists”; and an article by Atlantic senior editor Honor Jones about why she divorced her loving husband and father of her children in order to live for herself.

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How to avoid war with Russia and China

January 5, 2022

Click to enlarge. Source: The Sun.

The way for the United States to avoid a shooting war with China and Russia is to unilaterally stop waging economic, diplomatic and covert war against those two countries, and to stop positioning offensive military forces near their borders.

I use the word “unilaterally” for two reasons. One is that we the American people get no benefit from our government’s Cold War against these two countries. Therefore it costs us nothing to give it up.

The other is that the leaders of these two countries are not going to negotiate with us because the U.S. government has proved itself, in a Russian phrase, “not agreement capable.”

The U.S. government has broken agreements under both Democratic and Republican admininstrations.  President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker promised President Mikhail Gorbachev that, if he agreed to the reunification of Germany, the NATO alliance would not expand one inch eastward.  This agreement was broken by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.  

President Obama signed a formal agreement, along with five other countries, to lift economic sanctions against Iran, in return for Iran’s accepting restrictions on their nuclear development program.  This was a sacrifice on the part of Iran, which looks to nuclear energy as a source of power when the oil runs dry.  It cost the USA nothing.

Even so, President Trump canceled the agreement, and President Joe Biden says he will not reinstate it unless Iran accepts additional restrictions.  But why would the government of Iran trust the USA?  Why would China or Russia?

War hawks argue that President Vladimir Putin is a new Adolf Hitler, who intends to conquer the former Soviet republics first, the former Soviet satellite states next, and, after that, who knows?  I don’t see any evidence of this.  I don’t see any evidence of Russian troops having a permanent presence in any country where they’re not wanted.

Russian “volunteers” helped the Russian-speaking secessionists in Donetz and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine.  But President Putin has ruled out annexing these regions to Russia.  He wants them to remain as part of Ukraine, but with autonomy to shield their people from extreme Ukrainian nationalists and neo-Nazis.

Russia did annex Crimea, but most Crimean residents are Russians and Crimea is the long-time location of a vital Russian naval and military base.  

If Russia was interested in reconquering former Soviet republics, it would have had a perfect excuse to do so in 1991.  Georgia attacked Russian troops in a neighboring territory, and Russians responded by occupying all of Georgia in a swift five-day war.  But then the Russians withdrew.  

If Russian troops had remained in Georgia, or if Russia invaded Ukraine proper, the result would be a quagmire war, similar to Russia’s war in Afghanistan.  I think Russian leaders have learned from experience, even if U.S. leaders have not.

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Putin’s ultimatum and the threat of war

December 21, 2021

Destruction Is Still Mutually Assured by Freddie deBoer.

Russia Details Security Demands to U.S. and NATO by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama.

Only the Powerful Issue Ultimatums by Andrei Martyanov (a Russian view).

Russia’s Ultimatum to the West by the Saker (another Russian view)

A surprise Russian ultimatum: new draft treaties to roll back NATO by Gilbert Doctorow.  [Added 12/23/2021]

We’ve Seen the Ultimatum: What Is the ‘Or Else’? by Patrick Armstrong for Russia Observer.  [Added 12/23/2021]  A long list of things Russia could do short of nuclear escalation.

The passing scene: Links 12/1/2021

December 1, 2021

The Next European War by John Michael Greer for Ecosophia.  Peace in Europe is not permanent..

The War Nerd: The Tigray-Ethiopia War.  War is hell.

When All the Media Narratives Collapse by Andrew Sullivan for The Weekly Dish.  Big news organizations have forfeited trust.

Ten Million a Year: David Wallace-Wells on polluted air for the London Review of Books.

How Delaware Sold the Greatest, Most Insidious Financial Security Tool the World Has Ever Known by Casey Michel for CrimeReads.

Hayao Miyazaki Prepares to Cast One Last Spell by Ligaya Mishan for the New York Times.  Some good news to end with.

War, corruption and tyranny go together

October 7, 2021

The Big Business of Future Wars by Walter Bragman for The Daily Poster.

The Profits of War by William Hartung for TomDIspatch.

Instead of a Free Press by Patrick Lawrence for Consortium News.

Key US Witness Against Assange Arrested in Ireland by Joe Lauria for Consortium News.

The CIA plot to kidnap or kill Assange in London is a story that is being mistakenly ignored by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

CIA plan to poison Assange wasn’t needed | The US found a ‘lawful’ way to disappear him by Jonathan Cook.

Six-Month Sentence to Lawyer Who Took on Chevron Denounced as ‘International Outrage’ by Julia Conley for Common Dreams.

Steven Donziger Was Imprisoned by the 1 Percent’s Favorite Judge by Branko Marcetic for Jacobin.

Will the United States Officially Acknowledge That It Had a Secret Torture Site in Poland? by Raymond Bonner for ProPublica.

The real Great Game

September 27, 2021

THE GREAT GAME: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, by Peter Hopkirk (1990)

The Great Game was the 19th century cold war between the British Empire and Russian Empire for control of Central Asia.  To generals and statesmen in London and St. Petersburg, it must have seemed like a global game of chess.

Peter Hopkirk, in his book, The Great Game, told the story mainly from the point of view of the chess pieces —agents of empire, British and Russian, venturing alone, sometimes undercover, into territory where their governments could not protect them.

I read this book as a follow-up to reading Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, which was about a young boy being groomed to be a player in the Great Game.  Hopkirk referred to Kim in his book; he said the Mahbub Ali, Hurree Babu and Colonel Creighton characters were based on specific individuals.

Hopkirk gave a clear explanation of the geopolitical background, but his book also can be enjoyed as a series of real-life action-adventure stories.  The careers of some of the British political officers read like fiction.

While still in their twenties, they mastered local languages and customs well enough to disguise themselves as natives and penetrate unknown territory.  They were explorers, map-makers, spies, diplomats and sometimes commanders of troops in the field.

They command admiration—regardless of whether you think the game of empire was worth playing.

Their field of operation was mainly in what later became the Soviet Central Asian republics, but also included the Caucacus, Tibet and Xinjiang.  The Central Asian region historically has been a center of civilization, but in the 19th century, it had been overrun by warlords, bandits and slave traders. Dealing with them was no job for the timid or the trusting.

One political officer, Eldred Pottinger (not an action-hero name!), at the age of 26, was operating undercover in Herat in 1835. A Persian army with Russian advisers attacked and beseiged the city, and Pottinger offered his services to the local ruler.

He soon established himself as an effective and tireless leader. At one point, the besiegers broke through and the Herat commanders panicked, but Pottinger rallied them and drove back the attackers. In negotiations that followed, one of the Persian-Russian demands was that the Herat send Pottinger home.

This was only one of his exploits.  He died at age 32 of a fever.

Hopkirk focused mainly on British agents.  He did justice to Russian agents.  He barely mentioned the “pundits,” native Indian agents, because permanent records were not kept on them.

The pundits were regarded as more expendable than the white agents, but many of them, like Kipling’s fictional Mahbub Ali and Hurree Babu, faithfully served an empire treated them unequally.

In general, there was a high level of competence and realism on both sides. The one big exception was the occupation of Afghanistan in 1839, which replaced its ruler, Dost Mohammed, with a more compliant ruler. General Elphinstone, the commander, allowed his troops to outrage local sensibilities by drinking alcohol and seducing local women, but refused to take reasonable measures for security. The upshot was an evacuation and retreat, in which literally all but one of the 16,000 retreating troops were massacred.

What followed was 20 years of back and forth struggle for control of Afghanistan, which ended with the British inviting Dost Mohammed back.

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Military recruiting videos around the world

September 25, 2021

Anti-woke folks have been posting three military recruiting videos on the Internet—one each from China, Russia and the USA.

The Chinese video shows a Chinese husband and father, leaving his family to live a life of hardship and danger in order to protect his family and nation from enemies.

The Russian video shows a tough, muscular Russian trooper, ready to face and deal with whatever comes.

The US American video shows a nice young woman, who has been raised by two lesbian women, who has found the U.S. armed forces accept her for what she is.

The anti-wokesters say the videos show the difference in the martial spirit of the leaders of the three countries.

Someone like the young US American woman probably would not be a match for someone like the Chinese or Russian man on the field of battle.  And the nature of the video does say something about the feminization of US American society.  

Then again, actual warriors make up a small percentage of US American armed forces.  Most of them are technicians and support staff whose war is waged at a distance.

I spent all afternoon reviewing military recruitment videos from different countries.  I don’t think that, in isolation, any particular military recruiting video proves anything about the character of the nation that issued it.  Even so, the different kinds of reasons they offer for joining the military are interesting, at least to me.

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Big money in politics keeps forever wars going

September 2, 2021

After his appearance on Breaking Points, Matt Taibbi commented:

A lot of people want to look at the bright side with this withdrawal, and they should, up to a point.  However much he may have botched the planning, Joe Biden deserves credit for sticking to his timeline.  It is good news that the United States can eventually recognize that a war has stopped serving any purpose, and actually decide to leave a country ten years after the last theoretical reason for staying has expired.

However, the fact that both the government and the national commentariat remain essentially captured by contractor money remains as big a problem as ever, as this episode shows.  We haven’t even reached the stage of being able to identify the financial connections of the people occupying center stage on the national televised debate over military policy.  It’s a terrible look that the people willing to point things like this out mostly all work for independent media outlets, while the New York Times and Washington Post have to be harassed to do the ethical minimum on that score.

If we properly identified the sponsors of the people with the biggest voices in media and politics, a lot more of what America does at home and around the world would make sense.  We need more of that, and thanks to Krystal and Saagar for bringing the topic up.

On Afghanistan, the Revolving Door and Media Failure to Disclose Contracting Ties of Guests by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

Post-mortems on the Afghanistan invasion

August 23, 2021

Hat tip for the video to Alex Page.  Lowkey is the stage name of a British rapper, blogger and activist named Kareem Dennis.

The collapse in Afghanistan is no surprise.  It’s been obvious for years that it had to come someday, and the only question was when.  But I can’t stop reading and thinking about it.  Below are links to some of what I’ve been reading.

Observations on Afghanistan by Noah Carl on Noah’s Newsletter.

Celebrate the Heroes Who Warned Us That Afghanistan Would Be a Disaster by Ted Rall.  Rep. Barbara Lee was the one person in either the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives to vote against going to war in Afghanistan.  Where is she now?  Why isn’t she being interviewed?

Debacle in Afghanistan by Tariq Ali for New Left Review.  Someone else who was right.

The Taliban may pretend to show moderation—but the murderous reality is far different by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.  Maybe so.  Maybe not.  The fact that one side is bad doesn’t make the other side good.  Whatever the situation, it wouldn’t have been improved by having American troops in Afghanistan stay one more year.

The Taliban’s Rise to Power: As the U.S. Prepared for Peace, the Taliban Prepared for War by Kate Clark for Afghan Analysts Network.   Eric Berne wrote in Games People Play that winners aim to win, and usually succeed in the end, while losers merely aim to  avoid or postpone losing, and always fail.

Taliban Rule Is the Democratic Will of 13% of Afghans by Anatoly Karlin.  This public opinion poll surprised me.

Despair in the Empire of Graveyards by Fred Reed.  Recollections of the fall of Saigon by a former U.S. Marine who was there.

America Lies, Destroys, Breaks Promises, Then Runs by Linh Dinh.  Recollections of the fall of Saigon by a Vietnamese man who was there.

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Reality catches up with U.S. in Afghanistan

August 17, 2021

Updated 8/18/2021, 8/19/2021.

I think President Biden, despite his embarrassing press conference on July 7, made the right decision about Afghanistan. 

The war was unwinnable.  The military establishment has known this for at least 10 years. 

President Obama knew this, but did not have the moral courage to take the final step.  President Trump understood this, and scheduled a troop withdrawal to be completed after the 2020 elections.  It was left to Joe Biden to take the final step.

Saying the U.S. should have stayed longer in Afghanistan is like saying the Wile E. Coyote character in the Road Runner cartoons should not have looked down after he ran off the edge of the cliff.

Back during the George W. Bush administration, Karl Rove told a reporter that the U.S. was an empire that could afford to ignore the “reality-based community” because it had the power to create its own reality.  We now see where arrogance and willful ignorance lead.

As someone said, it is possible to ignore reality, but it is not possible to ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.

Below are some links to reality-based comments.  I may add more if I come across them.

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Afghanistan Meant Nothing. A Veteran Reflects on 20 Wasted Years| by Laura Jedeed for Medium

I remember Afghanistan well. I deployed there twice — once in 2008, and again in 2009–2010. It was already obvious that the Taliban would sweep through the very instant we left. And here we are today.

I know how bad the Taliban is. I know what they do to women and little boys. I know what they’re going to do to the interpreters and the people who cooperated with us, it’s awful, it’s bad, but we are leaving, and all I feel is grim relief. [snip]

I remember Afghanistan as a dusty beige nightmare of a place full of proud, brave people who did not fucking want us there.  We called them Hajjis and worse and they were better than we were, braver and stronger and smarter.

I remember going through the phones of the people we detained and finding clip after clip of Bollywood musicals, women singing in fields of flowers. Rarely did I find anything incriminating. [snip]

I remember how every year the US would have to decide how to deal with the opium fields. There were a few options.

You could leave the fields alone, and then the Taliban would shake the farmers down and use the money to buy weapons.

Or, you could carpet bomb the fields, and then the farmers would join the Taliban for reasons that, to me, seem obvious.

The third option, and the one we went for while I was there, was to give the farmers fertilizer as an incentive to grow wheat instead of opium poppy.

The farmers then sold the fertilizer to the Taliban, who used it to make explosives for IEDs that could destroy a million dollar MRAP and maim everyone inside.

I remember we weren’t allowed to throw batteries away because people who worked on base would go through the trash and collect hundreds of dead batteries, wire them together so they had just enough juice for one charge, and use that charge to detonate an IED.

I remember the look on my roommate’s face after she got back from cutting the dead bodies of two soldiers out of an HMMWV that got blown up by an IED that I have always imagined was made with fertilizer from an opium farmer and detonated with a hundred thrown-out batteries.  [snip]

And now, finally, we are leaving and the predictable thing is happening. The Taliban is surging in and taking it all back.

They were always going to do this, because they have a thing you cannot buy or train, they have patience and a bloody-mindedness that warrants more respect than we ever gave them.

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The U.S. leaving behind those who helped us

August 17, 2021

The least that we Americans as a nation can do is to offer refuge to those Afghans who trusted us and helped our misguided military effort.

But Reuters reported last Friday that the U.S. evacuation efforts are stalled because the government can’t speed up the process of approving their visas.  So foreign governments were being asked to take in refugees while the U.S. bureaucracy did its paperwork.

Meanwhile people who put their trust in the United States are going to die because our government prioritizes filling out paperwork correctly over saving their lives.

President Joe Biden’s administration has been holding secret talks with more countries than previously known in a desperate attempt to secure deals to temporarily house at-risk Afghans who worked for the U.S. government, four U.S. officials told Reuters.

The previously unreported discussions with such countries as Kosovo and Albania underscore the administration’s desire to protect U.S.-affiliated Afghans from Taliban reprisals while safely completing the process of approving their U.S. visas.

About 21,000 Afghans have applied for refuge under a special program.

With the Taliban tightening their grip on Afghanistan at a shockingly swift pace, the United States on Thursday announced it would send 1,000 personnel to Qatar to accelerate the processing of applications for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV). Afghans who served as interpreters for the U.S. government and in other jobs are entitled to apply for the SIV program.

So far, about 1,200 Afghans have been evacuated to the United States and that number is set to rise to 3,500 in the coming weeks under “Operation Allies Refuge,” with some going to a U.S. military base in Virginia to finalize their paperwork and others directly to U.S. hosts.

Fearful the Taliban’s advances are raising the threat to SIV applicants still awaiting processing, Washington is seeking third countries to host them until their paperwork is done and they can fly to the United States.

“It is deeply troubling that there is no concrete plan in place to evacuate allies who are clearly in harm’s way,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service resettlement organization.

“It is baffling why the administration has been taking so long in order to secure these agreements,” she said.

In short, the U.S. government cannot change its procedures to do what is necessary in an emergency, so it asks foreign governments that have no responsibility for Afghanistan to do what it cannot.

Taliban spokesmen say they have no interest in reprisals.  Let’s hope they mean it.  But the history of such statements by victors in revolutions and civil war indicates otherwise.

LINKS

Shame, Shame, Shame by Alex Tabarrok for Marginal Revolution.

In desperation, U.S. scours for countries willing to house Afghan refugees by Idrees Ali, Humeyra Pamuk and James Lindsay for Reuters.

US couldn’t win war games against China

June 14, 2021

Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer.  He served in the Soviet Union as an inspector implementing the INF Treaty, in General Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Gulf War, and as a UN weapons inspector in 1991-1998.

He wrote an article in April warning against going to the brink of war with China.

The US military has deteriorated to the point that the only way it could win a simulated war game in which it was called on to defend Taiwan from a ‘Chinese invasion’ force was by inventing capabilities it does not yet possess.

In 2018 and 2019, the US Air Force conducted detailed simulated war games that had its forces square off against those of China.

On both occasions, the US was decisively defeated, the first time challenging the Chinese in the South China Sea, and the second time defending Taiwan – which China sees as an integral part of its territory – against a Chinese invasion.

In 2020, the US repeated the Taiwan scenario, and won – but only barely. The difference? In both 2018 and 2019, it played with the resources it had on hand.

Last year, it gave itself a host of new technologies and capabilities that are either not in production or aren’t even planned for development.

In short, the exercise was as far removed from reality as it could get. The fact is the US can only successfully defend Taiwan from a full-scale Chinese invasion in its dreams.

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Trump blocked from bringing U.S. troops home

May 20, 2021

Then-president Donald Trump sent a secret memo to the Pentagon after he lost the election pushing them to withdraw US troops stationed around the world, according to a new report.

One of Mr Trump’s closest aides, John McEntee, handed a handwritten note to retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor on 9 November 2020, saying: “This is what the president wants you to do.”

The note said to “get us out” of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. It instructed the Colonel to “complete the withdrawal from Germany,” and to “get us out of Africa,” according to new reporting by Axios.

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A lot of people have worried about what happens if you get a reckless President who goes to war on impulse.  Are there legal or governmental mechanisms to stop him?

With President Trump, there was a different problem.  He impulsively tried to end wars.  And there were institutional mechanisms that stopped him.

Writers of an article on Axios told how all through his administration, he wanted to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and how the generals resisted him and told him it couldn’t be done.

It isn’t as if Donald Trump was a consistent lover of peace.  He broke the agreement President Obama and other foreign leaders had negotiated with Iran.  He stopped the normalization of relations with Cuba.

He left the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia and opposed renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), thereby increasing the possibility of nuclear war.

But at the same time, he wanted to wind down all the wars that the Obama administration had been waging.

Anytime he made a step, there was something to stop him—some atrocity story, later discredited, or some leak from Pentagon or intelligence source explaining why this would be a disaster.

Then, in his lame duck period, he wanted to order all troops withdrawn from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Germany and “Africa” before Joe Biden was sworn in.

In typical Trump fashion, he at first did not issue the order himself.  Instead he told an underling to tell the generals that was what he wanted.

The generals, quite reasonably, wanted a written order, and after some fumbling the order was issued.  By then, it was too late.

This was being done in secret.  There would have been a rebellion in Congress, not to mention the Washington press corps, if this had been known.

This is partly a story of Trump’s incompetence and weakness.  Recall that the Mueller investigation could not produce evidence that he obstructed the Russiagate investigation because he was never organized enough or forceful enough to actually obstruct anything.

But it is also a story of how Washington is biased toward war.  President Obama was more savvy than Trump, but he didn’t think he was able to overcome the generals’ resistance to ending the war in Afghanistan.

Continuous war is now normal.  It is the default position.  It no longer needs a justification, other than avoiding the humiliation of defeat.  We Americans depend on a war economy to create jobs, generate business profits and fund scientific research.

As in Germany in the time of Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm, as in many South American and Middle East countries today, the military is an independent or semi-independent part of government with its own policy.

President Biden decided to renew START, which would have expired in February.  He set a new deadline with withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, but there are reports that the U.S. will continue to intervene there by means of flying killer drones and covert operations.

Whether he will ramp up the new cold war with Russia and China, or wind down other wars, remains to be seen.  I’m not hopeful, but maybe he’ll surprise.

A President determined to end the forever wars would have to have an iron will.  He would have to face the possibility of being a one-term President.

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The sources and future of U.S. global power

April 20, 2021

Click to enlarge.

The goals of U.S. power.

With the fall of Communism in Russia in 1991, the USA found itself an unrivaled global power. Two factions in the U.S. governing establishment—the deep state, the establishment, the power elite, call them what you will—decided to keep it that way.

They set policy all through the Clinton, G.W. Bush, Trump and Obama administrations, and they continue to set policy today.

Neoconservatives sought full spectrum military dominance for the United States in every region of the world. Aside from the love of power for its own sake, they thought this would forever secure the United States from any military threat.

Neoliberals sought to give U.S. banks and global corporations access to every region of the world as a source of customers, raw materials and cheap labor. 

This meant suppression of socialist and nationalist regimes that opposed foreign domination of their economies, and, above all, any regime that refused to do business in U.S. dollars.

Other motives are loyalty to alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel and avoidance of the humiliation of obvious defeat.

No doubt there were and are individuals in the U.S. power structure who sincerely believe in using U.S. power to promote democracy, human rights, a “rules-based international order” and the like.  But they are not the decision-makers.  They are only allowed to speak when their ideals happen to coincide with U.S. policy goals.

The sources of U.S. power.

The main source of U.S. power is the dominance of the U.S. dollar in conducting world trade.

This gives the U.S. government the power to borrow money to finance the world’s most expensive military establishment, and not worry about paying it back.

The U.S. Navy dominates the world’s sea lanes, and the U.S. Air Force dominates the air over poor countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  This allows bombing with impunity.

By using air power and flying killer drones, special operations forces and subsidized foreign fighters, the U.S. military can wage war without large-scale sacrifice of life.

The Central Intelligence Agency has a record of plotting the overthrow of left-wing governments and installing U.S.-friendly dictators.  Latin Americans have a joke: There will never be a military coup in the United States because there is no U.S. embassy in Washington, D.C.

Another source of U.S. power is the thousands of weapons in its nuclear arsenal, the largest in the world.  The only nation with a comparable arsenal is Russia.  This means that no other nation except Russia can rule out the possibility of a nuclear attack.

The power of the dollar also gives the U.S. government control of the financial bottlenecks of world commerce, and impose sanctions and embargoes on foreign countries without having to worry about retaliation.

Much of the world’s commerce flows through the New York money center banks.  This gives New York banks the authority to impound the funds of nations such as Iran and Venezuela.  It also gives federal judges in New York jurisdiction over such things as Argentina’s settlement with his creditors or Ecuador’s fine of Chevron for environmental violations.

The SWIFT system—Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, based in Brussels—is a messaging system used by banks to transfer money and communicate information.  Being cut off from the SWIFT system means being cut off from the bulk of the world financial system, and SWIFT enforces U.S. sanctions.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are dominated by Americans.  They have a record of insisting that debtor countries impose “austerity”—higher taxes, fewer government services, higher prices and lower wages.  The debtor countries have to sell national assets and open up to U.S. and other foreign investors.

The 2014 coup in Ukraine came after the incumbent President decided to take a Russian loan instead of an IMF loan.  The new government took the unpopular IMF loan.

Click to enlarge.

The threat to U.S. power.

The greatest threat to U.S. power is neither Islamic terrorism, nor Russian subversion, nor China’s growing industrial power. 

It is the replacement of the U.S. dollar as the medium of exchange for doing world business.  Without dollar supremacy, all other sources of U.S. power would collapse.

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Boycott Israel? divest from Israel? sanction Israel?

April 8, 2021

In 2005, some 170 Palestinian civil society organizations—labor unions, professional associations, women’s organizations, resistance committees and others—called upon the world to boycott Israel, divest from Israel and sanction Israel.

Their movement has given rise to a huge backlash.  The British government, some 32 U.S. states and the German cities of Bonn, Frankfurt and Munich refuse to do business with anyone who supports BDS.

The BDS movement has been condemned by the parliaments of Canada, Germany, Austria, Spain, and the Czech Republic, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives.  President Biden opposes BDS, although he says there is a First Amendment right to support it.

The United States is committed to giving Israel $38 billion in military aid over 10 years, starting Oct. 1, 2018.  For decades, the U.S. has given more military aid to Israel than any other country.  In the past few years, it has been second only to Afghanistan. 

What does BDS call for?  And why is it considered so dangerous?  The BDS movement, in its own words, calls for:

1.  Ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall.  

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.  

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.  

Until Israel accepts these demands, the BDS movement favors boycotts, divestment and sanctions:

BOYCOTTS involve withdrawing support from Israel’s apartheid regime, complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions, and from all Israeli and international companies engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights.

DIVESTMENT campaigns urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from the State of Israel and all Israeli and international companies that sustain Israeli apartheid.

SANCTIONS campaigns pressure governments to fulfill their legal obligations to end Israeli apartheid, and not aid or assist its maintenance, by banning business with illegal Israeli settlements, ending military trade and free-trade agreements, as well as suspending Israel’s membership in international forums such as UN bodies and FIFA (internatiional footfall)

The Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, does not support the BDS movement.  It instead favors boycotts of businesses that actually operate on the West Bank.  Its leaders hope for a two-state solution, in which Israel continues to exist, but Palestinians have genuine sovereignty in their own land.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, does not officially recognize Israel’s right to exist.

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Israel’s barrier wall as of 2011. Click to enlarge.

Let me look into this in more detail

‘Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands”

When Britain in 1948 decided to end its rule of Palestine, the United Nations proposed a partition plan between Jewish and Arab areas. 

The Arab League refused to accept the plan, and troops from Egypt, Jordan (then called Transjordan), Syria and Iraq invaded. 

When fighting ended, Israel controlled all the areas awarded by the UN and much of the Arab areas.  Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip.  About 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were driven out of Israel into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where most of them and their descendants have remained ever since.

In 1967, after several more wars, Israel wound up in control of these territories. There was talk of a “two-state” solution – that the Palestinians would give up fighting against Israel in return for a greater or lesser degree of self-government on the West Bank and Gaza.

“dismantling the Wall”

The Wall refers to some 300-plus miles of security fence through the West Bank, cutting off Palestinians from some of their land near the border and from access to other land occupied by Jewish settlers.  The International Court of Justice has ruled the fence illegal.

Over the years, some 400,000 Jewish settlers have moved into the West Bank.  They are mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews who believe God has granted them the right to the land.

The settlers have taken possession of scarce water resources.  Even though a UN commission has determined that their settlements are illegal, they have received protection from Israeli forces.

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Is Zionism racist? Should Israel exist?

April 8, 2021

Kibbutz ceremony, 1951 (Wikipedia Commons)

It isn’t possible to understand Zionism without understanding that Jews have a basic, understandable fear of being wiped out.

In medieval times, Christians regarded Jews as Christ-killers.

In modern times, blood-and-soil nationalists regarded Jews as disloyal foreigners.

Both forms of antisemitism were existential threats.

One of the doctrines of Christianity is that Jesus is the prophesied Jewish messiah. The question arises: Why don’t the Jews recognize their own messiah?

One easy answer is that Jews must be an exceptionally wicked people.  And from there, it is an easy to to saying they must be persecuted, killed or expelled.

In modern times, Jews were allowed out of their ghettos to participate in civic life. But a new question arose. The basis of nationhood was blood and soil—a group of people of the same lineage occupying the same territory.

But Jews are of different lineage, and they have no territory.   How do they fit in with modern nationalism?  They don’t.  And from there, it is an easy step to regard all Jews as potential or actual traitors.

This form of antisemitism inspired the Dreyfus case., in which a French Jewish artillery officer was falsely accused of treason.  The older form of antisemitism inspired the Beilis case, in which a Russian factory manager was falsely accused of the ritual murder of a Christian child.

Justice eventually prevailed in both cases, but the founders of the Zionist movement believed that Jews needed a homeland of their own—not just as a refuge from antisemitism, but because they were a nation with the same right to a homeland in which they were in the majority..

That was one of the roots of Zionism.  The other was a fundamentalist religious nationalism, inspired by Biblical prophecies, that links the Jewish people to their ancient homeland.  There are fundamentalist Christian Zionists, based on the same prophecies.

Zionism in its early years was a controversial movement among Jewish people.  Jews in western Europe and North America mostly regarded themselves primarily as Americans, Britons, French, Germans and so on who happened to be a different religion than their fellow citizens.

This changed during the Second World War.  Hitler’s attempted genocide of the Jews was matched by an unwillingness of Allied nations, including the USA, to accept more than a token number of Jewish refugees.  The British government did its best to prevent Jewish immigration to Palestine, lest they provoke the Arabs into revolt.

I am old enough to remember the Allied war propaganda during the Second World War.  Hitler’s antisemitism was not emphasized.  Knowledge of the Holocaust was suppressed.  I think now that Roosevelt, Churchill and other Allied leaders feared to give credence to Hitler’s claim that the war was being fought on behalf of the Jews.

After the war, Europe was filled with “displaced persons” camps.  All the DPs had homelands to which they could return, except for the Jews.  So a lot of them headed for Israel.

Invading a country and driving out the inhabitants is now regarded as a crime against humanity.  But if I had been one of those Jewish DPs, I wouldn’t have cared.  All I would have cared about was having a place I could call my own.

Of course, if I had been a Palestinian Arab at the time, I wouldn’t have cared about the plight of the Jewish refugees.  I wouldn’t have seen any reason why I should lose everything because of events in Europe.

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Biden’s bombs and the forever wars

April 6, 2021

America’s Longest War: No Bang, No Whimper by Andrew Bacevich for TomDispatch.

Biden’s Foreign Policy Is Largely Indistinguishable from Trump’s, an interview of Noam Chomsky for Truthout.

The USA is haunted by the specter of fascism

April 5, 2021

There are certain resemblances between the present-day USA and Germany in the last days of the Weimar Republic.

We have an ineffective government that’s unable to deal with major problems or rein in its military.

We have increasing numbers of Americans who’ve given up on trying to change things by means of politics.

Many see no point in voting or following politics. Others think the only hope for change is in street protests.

Along with this is a loss of confidence in all sources of authority—government, religion, science, academia and journalism—and a hunger for something new.

Ross Douthat wrote a column in the New York Times wondering whether the history of the Weimar Republic could repeat.  I think there are other, more likely ways that American democracy could break down, which I will get to.  But let me examine the Weimar script first.

While there are similarities, there also are big differences between Germany 90 years ago and the USA today. 

American political parties don’t have paramilitary auxiliaries.  Neo-Nazis and avowed racists are few.  Compare the turnout for the “unite the right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 with the massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year.

But all this could change if there was a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s, particularly if it was accompanied by a humiliating military defeat.

Here’s how things could play out.  This isn’t a prediction, just a possibility.

In the wake of economic collapse, the streets of American citizens are filled with rioters, including extreme radicals and extreme nationalists.  A nationalist demagogue is elected President, and industrialists and the military look to him to restore order.  Congress votes him the power to impose martial law, which he does.  Martial law is never revoked.

The fascist movements in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s arose from a breakdown of social order and a fear of Communist revolution.  The same conditions could arise in the United States, except that revolutionaries wouldn’t necessarily be Communists and the President who imposes permanent martial law wouldn’t necessarily be a nationalist or a right-winger.

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The conservative Christian blogger Rod Dreher sees another path to totalitarianism—a kind of low-level bloodless Stalinism in the name of what’s called identity politics or “anti-oppression” or “wokeness.”

Individuals have every right to define themselves on the basis of race, sex, gender or any other attribute, and band together with others to defend their rights and advance their interests.  I would never deny that people are held back by prejudice, and have a right to organize to overcome discrimination.

The problem is that believers in wokeness have embedded themselves in institutions, and demand not only that people subject to those institutions passively accept their ideas, but actively endorse them. 

They also demand a certain kind of way of saying things, so you can get in trouble by saying  “all lives matter” instead of “black lives matter.”

That’s how the new ideology resembles Stalinism and Maoism.  They, too, demanded not only passive acceptance, but enthusiastic support expressed in a prescribed vocabulary and a required show of penitence for not measuring up.

A recent public opinion poll showed that six in 10 Americans have political opinions they’re afraid to share and three in 10 fear that their political views could harm their job prospects.  Half of all strong liberals would fire a business executive known to have donated to the Trump campaign; three in 10 strong conservatives would do the same to a Biden donor. 

I don’t equate this to Stalin’s mass executions or the Gulag.  But I do think there’s a widespread and well-founded fear of getting into trouble by inadvertently saying the wrong thing or offending the wrong people, and I do see people afraid to speak their minds as I think free Americans ought.

Some people make a practice of searching social media to find things that people have said that could be considered objectionable, and then using this information to attack their reputations and careers.

Dreher fears the emergence of a social credit system like the one in China, where everyone’s every move is tracked through surveillance technology and social media, and people are rewarded or punished according to the acceptability of their behavior.

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The forever wars are on track to continue

March 9, 2021

Click to enlarge

President Biden gives no indication of wanting to end the forever wars.  He does not plan to reopen negotiations with Iran or end the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia.  He is going along with a military buildup to confront China and Russia.  All this is bleeding the country dry, and making the United States weaker, not stronger.

LINKS

U.S. military budget: What can global bases do vs. COVID, cyber attacks? by Kim Helmgaard for USA Today.  “The U.S. has enjoyed military dominance for decades.  But in the face of emerging threats, some say a new strategy is in order.”

United States Counterterrorism Operations, 2018-2020 by Stephanie Saveli, etc., for the Costs of War project for Brown University’s Watson Institute.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Biden’s “Nothing Will Fundamentally Change” Promise Extends to His Foreign Policy by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama.

Rewarding Failure by William Astore for TomDispatch.  “Why Pentagon Weapons Programs Rarely Get Canceled Despite Major Failure.”  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Biden’s Protection of Murderous Saudi Despots Shows the Hidden Reality of U.S. Foreign Policy by Glenn Greenwald.  “That the U.S. opposes tyranny is a glaring myth.  Yet it is not only believed, but often used to justify wars, bombing campaigns, sanctions and protracted conflict.”

New President, Same Old Forever Wars by Jacob Silverman for The New Republic.  “Biden’s air strike in Syria shows how little is going to change about America’s military entanglements in the Middle East.”

The lasting military legacy of the Trump era

December 7, 2020

President Trump lasting military legacy, according to  Michael T. Klare, is not how Trump waged or failed to wage the global war on terror.

It is something far different—the conversion of the U.S. military from a global counterterror force into one designed to fight an all-out, cataclysmic, potentially nuclear war with China and/or Russia.

In the Cold War years, Western strategists generally imagined a contest of brute strength in which our tanks and artillery would battle theirs along hundreds of miles of front lines until one side or the other was thoroughly depleted and had no choice but to sue for peace (or ignite a global nuclear catastrophe).

Today’s strategists, however, imagine far more multidimensional (or “multi-domain”) warfare extending to the air and well into rear areas, as well as into space and cyberspace.  In such an environment, they’ve come to believe that the victor will have to act swiftly, delivering paralyzing blows to what they call the enemy’s C3I capabilities (critical command, control, communications, and intelligence) in a matter of days, or even hours.

Only then would powerful armored units be able to strike deep into enemy territory and, in true Patton fashion, ensure a Russian defeat.  The U.S. military has labeled such a strategy “all-domain warfare” and assumes that the U.S. will indeed dominate space, cyberspace, airspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum.

In a future confrontation with Russian forces in Europe, as the doctrine lays it out, U.S. air power would seek control of the airspace above the battlefield, while using guided missiles to knock out Russian radar systems, missile batteries, and their C3I facilities.  The Army would conduct similar strikes using a new generation of long-range artillery systems and ballistic missiles.

Only when Russia’s defensive capabilities were thoroughly degraded would that Army follow up with a ground assault, Patton-style.

Russia is a nuclear power on a par with the United States, and China also has nuclear weapons.  So the administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review called for development of a new generation of unclear weapons, including battlefield weapons.

 It called for the introduction of two new types of nuclear munitions: a “low-yield” warhead (meaning it could, say, pulverize Lower Manhattan without destroying all of New York City) for a Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile and a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.

President Trump scrapped the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which limited short-range nuclear missiles in Europe.  He has refused to renew the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires Feb. 5, 2021—just two weeks after Joe Biden’s inauguration.

At best, this commits the United States to an expensive new arms race at a time when government on all levels is short of money to maintain basic infrastructure and provide for basic needs.  At worst, it threatens a nuclear war that would destroy industrial civilization and a large fraction of the human race.

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Does Trump want peace or war? Does he know?

November 19, 2020

End Three Wars, Then Blow Up Iran? by Matt Purple for The American Conservative. What exactly is going on in the mind of Donald Trump?

Dem war coalition prepares to assume power

November 19, 2020

The New Ruling Coalition Opposition to Afghanistan Withdrawal Shows Its Key Factions by Glenn Greenwald. “An unholy union of the national security state and the neocon-backed and corporate-funded Democratic Party are about to assume power with media-supported Internet censorship a key weapon.”

It’s past time to get out of Afghanistan

November 17, 2020

If President Donald Trump could get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan before he leaves office, this would be a good thing, not a bad thing.

The only reason for keeping them there is so the military can avoid admitting defeat.

I doubt if he can bring it off.  Even if he could, future President Joe Biden would almost certainly send the troops back.

LINKS

Get Out of Afghanistan Now by Doug Bandow for Antiwar.com.

‘Decapitations’ at DOD: A Purge, a Coup or Something Else by Barbara Boland for The American Conservative.

Unelected Officials Overrride the President to Continue Wars, But Only Kooks Believe in the Deep State by Caitlin Johnstone.

Three Cheers for Leaving Afghanistan, No Matter Who Does It by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones [Added 11/18/2020]

A foreign view of U.S. political parties

November 11, 2020