Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

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.

Is our world actually becoming less violent?

July 7, 2015

Double click to enlarge.

Source: Our World in Data

Hat tip to Barry Ritholtz

The information in the charts above and below indicate that the world is becoming less murderous after having emerged from a uniquely bloodthirsty period.   Of course that’s no reason to feel complacent about the wars now going on.  And things should change at any moment.  Hardly anybody in 1910 expected the two world wars or the rise of totalitarian governments.


Washington’s victory at Monmouth, 1778

July 3, 2015


When I think of the Revolutionary War, the first names that come to mind are Bunker Hill and Valley Forge.

But Bunker Hill was an exercise in survival, like the evacuation of the British army at Dunkirk in 1940.  And Valley Forge was an exercise in endurance.

I read a couple of articles the other day that make the case that the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, in which George Washington’s Continentals met the best of the British army head-on, and won, was the real turning point, and the battle we should remember.

Whether or not you agree with that particular contention, you will see, if you read the articles linked below, that the battle showed the greatness of Washington as a commander and the valor of Americans fighting for their independence.


June 28, 1778.  Battle of Monmouth by “streiff” for RedState.

Battle of Monmouth by the HistoryNet staff.

John Paul Jones, American hero, Russian admiral

July 2, 2015
John Paul Jones in 1781

John Paul Jones in 1781

John Paul Jones is remembered by Americans as a naval hero of the Revolutionary War and the founder of the American Navy.

He then had a remarkable short second career in the service of the Empress Catherine the Great in Russian’s conquest of Crimea.

He was born John Paul, the son of a poor gardener in Scotland, in 1747.  He went to sea at age 13 and was a captain by age 21.

In 1773, he was put on trial in Tobago in the West Indies for allegedly running a would-be mutineer through with his sword.  He fled to Virginia instead and changed his name to Jones.

When the Revolutionary War began, he took service in the new United States Navy, and quickly rose to the rank of captain.   On his first command, he captured 16 British ships in six weeks.

jpj4-05He was sent to French waters in 1778 to take the war to the British, which he did.   As captain of the Ranger and later of the Bonhomme Richard, he raided British ports, captured British merchant ships and defeated British warships in British waters.

This was astonishing achievement.   The American rebels had no navy or naval ships at the outbreak of the Revolution, and the British Navy was regarded as invincible at sea.

John Paul Jones’ most famous battle was in September, 1779, when he commanded a squadron that attacked a British merchant fleet protected by British ships of war.

He sailed directly for the lead British warship, the H.M.S. Serapis.  They fired broad-sides at each other at close range, and within an hour or so, the two ships were actually lashed together.

bhrichrdCaptain Pearson of the Serapis asked Jones, who was getting the worst of it, if he wanted to surrender.  Jones replied, “I have not yet begun to fight”—or words to that effect.

Jones personally fought with a pike to help repel a boarding party from the Serapis.  Then one of his crew threw an exploding grenade at one of the hatches of the Serapis, igniting gunpowder that lay along the deck and slaughtering many of the British crew.  The British captain surrendered soon after that.

The Bonhomme Richard sunk, but Jones sailed back to port in possession of the Serapis.

After the war ended, Congress disbanded the Continental Navy.   Jones took service with Catherine the Great of Russia in 1787 under the name Pavel Ivanovich Jones.


Yorktown 1781: Glory to the French

July 1, 2015
Lord Cornwallis surrenders to French and Americans at Yorktown

Lord Cornwallis surrenders to French and Americans at Yorktown

As we Americans prepare to celebrate Independence Day, it is worth remembering that we didn’t win our freedom all by ourselves.

And when an American mouths off about French military history, he’s not just being ignorant, he’s being ungrateful.  I was raised to think ungrateful people were trash.

When I say ungrateful, I’m talking about the American Revolution.   If you’re a true American patriot, then this is the war that matters.  Hell, most of you probably couldn’t name three major battles from it, but try going back to when you read Johnny Tremaine in fourth grade and you might recall a little place called Yorktown, Virginia, where we bottled up Cornwallis’s army, forced the Brits’ surrender and pretty much won the war.

Well, news flash: “we” didn’t win that battle, any more than the Northern Alliance conquered the Taliban.  The French army and navy won Yorktown for us.  Americans didn’t have the materiel or the training to mount a combined operation like that, with naval blockade and land siege.  It was the French artillery forces and military engineers who ran the siege, and at sea it was a French admiral, de Grasse, who kicked the shit out of the British navy when they tried to break the siege.

Long before that, in fact as soon as we showed the Brits at Saratoga that we could win once in a while, they started pouring in huge shipments of everything from cannon to uniforms.  We’d never have got near Yorktown if it wasn’t for massive French aid.

So how come you bastards don’t mention Yorktown in your cheap webpages?  I’ll tell you why: because you’re too ignorant to know about it and too dishonest to mention it if you did.

via Gary Brecher – The eXiled.

Expressed a bit harshly, but true.

His whole article, which is about French military history, is worth reading.


The War Nerd: Glory to the French by Gary Brecher for The eXiled.

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

June 17, 2015
Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The USA isn’t invincible, and never was

June 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


G.K. Chesterton on the rise of nations

June 5, 2015
G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton

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

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

June 4, 2015

If you are attempting the impossible you will fail.
         ==One of the Ten Truths of Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The risk of war in the South China Sea

May 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The enigma of Barack Obama

May 21, 2015

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

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

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

via Harper’s Magazine.

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

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

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

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

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

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


What went wrong in Afghanistan

May 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

What we knew back then about Saddam

May 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

via Rolling Stone.


Russia and Ukraine: sources of information

May 11, 2015

The Vineyard of the Saker

Euromaidan Press | News From Ukraine

Dances With Bears

IRRUSSIANALITY: Russia, the West and the world

The Interpreter

I would be grateful for suggestions of links to add.

A heroic girl sniper of World War Two

May 4, 2015

Hat tip to Jack Clontz


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