Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

Learning the lesson of Iraq (or not)

April 7, 2017

[Correction 4/8/2017: Sarin, as peteybee of Spread an Idea pointed out, is a liquid, not a gas.]

Back in 2003, I thought the U.S. invasion of Iraq might be a good idea.

I thought we Americans could atone for all the suffering we had caused the Iraqi people by the low-level war by the Clinton administration by overthrowing the evil tyrant Saddam—and, yes, he really was evil and a tyrant—and allowing the Iraqis to choose their own government.

The United States would then, so I thought, have a democratic ally in the Middle East whose people were genuinely pro-American, and would free ourselves from dependence on the Saudi monarchy.

The U.S. invasion made things worse, both from the standpoint of the Iraqi people and of us Americans.   Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, hundreds of thousands became refugees.

Maybe there would have been a different result if the U.S. occupation authorities’ priorities had not been to get control of Iraqi oil and create money-making opportunities for American contractors.

We have to recognize that policy is going to be carried out by the government we’ve got, not the government we wish we had.

I think an invasion of Syria would have the same bad result as the invasion of Iraq.

I think a stepped-up bombing campaign in Syria would increase the suffering of the Syrian people, but would not punish the individuals responsible for the gas attacks—if such attacks occurred.

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A realistic map of the Middle East

August 22, 2016

truemapofmiddleeastThomas_Map-01

This map of the Middle East, showing which entities actually control what territory, was published by Frank Jacobs on the Strange Maps web site.  Here’s Jacobs’ key to the map.

  • The Syrian central government (in light grey), based in Damascus, controls a coastal strip of territory in a patchwork shared with a number of rebel forces. The interior of the country is lost to government control, except a single light grey island in a sea of dark grey (for IS): the besieged city of Deir ez-Zor.
  • The ‘official’ rebels (in green) control a fragmented archipelago of territories, spread across the north, middle and south of the country – also concentrated in the east, but without coastal access.  Aleppo, in the north, is on the front line between government and rebel forces, with horrific consequences for the city and its people.
  • Large parts of northern Syria are controlled by the Syrian Defence Forces (in red): a contiguous zone in the northeast, and a smaller zone in the northwest.  Both are separated by the zone of contact between Turkey and Islamic State, although that zone has gotten a bit narrower since the takeover by the SDF of Manbij.  The SDF, by the way, are mainly Kurdish forces, and the area they control is often referred to as Rojava – Kurdish for ‘West’.
  • The Islamic State controls not only the largest part of Syria, but has also spilled over into Iraq, where it dominates mainly Sunni areas in the centre, up to and including the city of Mosul in the north.  The IS’s territory is surrounded by enemies, but has the advantage of being contiguous, with the exception of two exclaves, one in southwest Iraq, and another one in southeast Syria.
  • What remains of Iraq is controlled in the south by the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad (in light blue), and in the North by the Iraqi Kurds (in yellow).
  • The map also reflects the mainly unrecognised secession of Northern Cyprus (in dark blue) and the de facto secession of Hezbollah-dominated areas within Lebanon (in green) – both facts on the ground predating the Syrian conflict, and likely to survive it.

Source: Frank Jacobs | Big Think

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How the USA helps ISIS, AQ and the Taliban

December 7, 2015

syrianrebels

The U.S. government provides arms to ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban.  It sometimes does this directly, as in Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s and Bosnia during the 1990s.  Other times it arms ineffective and corrupt governments, warlords or insurgents who then give the arms of ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The U.S. government is an enemy of the nations fighting ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taiban.   These include Syria, Iran and Russia and, in the past, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  I’m not praising these nations’ governments.  I’m just pointing out they are the enemies of the terrorists the U.S. government supposedly is making war on.

The U.S. government declines to confront nations from which ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban draw support.   I’m thinking of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates and Turkey.   Oil flows out and money and arms flow in.

U.S. military intervention creates the kind of environment in which ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban flourish.   When the structure of civil government and civil society are smashed, as happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, only criminal, religious or military groups can flourish, or criminal religious warlords such as ISIS, al Qaeda or the Taliban.

One motive for joining ISIS is to take revenge for killing of bystanders in U.S. military operations.
Drone operations, bombing campaigns and support for oppressive governments create more terrorists than they eliminate.

Many Americans support the claims of ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban to be true representatives of Islam.   Presidents Obama and George W. Bush distinguished between terrorists and mainstream Islam, but many American politicians and journalists seem to be intent on turning a struggle against a tiny group of terrorists into a crusade against the world’s more than 1 billion Muslims.

Ironically, many Iranians and Iraqis believe that Americans intentionally created ISIS.   I’m sure there was no such intention.  I just think that certain people in the U.S. government sought to use the war on terror as a screen to achieve other geopolitical objectives which they gave higher priority.

One of these objectives was to be the dominant military power in the Greater Middle East.  Another was to control oil, gas and pipeline routes.  A third was to back Israel, Saudi Arabia and other allies against their enemies and rivals.

They neither achieved these objectives (unless waging war is a goal in itself) nor effectively fought terrorism.

§§§

If we Americans are serious about waging a war on terror, we should stop doing things that make the terrorists stronger.

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The American failure at nation-building.

November 19, 2015

If you attempt the impossible, you will fail.
        ==One of the Ten Truths of Management

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

mason.strategiclessons.PUB1269Why was the United States so successful in building up Germany, Japan and South Korea as independent nations after World War Two, and such a failure in building up South Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan?

Chris Mason, in his book Strategic Lessons, wrote that the reason is that while it is possible to help an existing nation build up a stable government, it is not possible for outsiders to create a national consciousness among a people who lack it.

That is the reason for the failures in South Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan—not any lack of valor or professionalism among American troops, but the fact that they were given a mission equivalent to trying to make water flow uphill.

He said the U.S. military is well-suited for carrying out two kinds of missions:

  1. Defending allies from invasion by use of “intense lethality” against the aggressor.
  2. Intervening in a foreign country to protect American lives or interests by striking hard at a military target, and then leaving—preferably within 90 days.

If the American government is considering intervening in a country for an extended length of time, it should summon the best academic experts to assess whether the people of that country have a sense of nationhood.  If not, the only unity those people will have is in resisting the invader.

Actually there were people inside the government who understood what would happen in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and said so, but they were ignored, Mason said.   Instead decisions were made by people who knew nothing about those countries, but knew what to do and say in order to advance their careers.

Those are harsh words.  The fact that the Army War College has published his book shows that there are some people in the military who value intelligent dissent.

∞∞∞

Click on The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will Not Hold and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the text of Chris Mason’s book in PDF form.  I thank Craig Hanyan for suggesting it.

Click on America’s Future in Afghanistan for interviews by ARRA News Service giving the opposing viewpoints of Chris Mason and General John R. Allen, USMC-Ret.  [added 11/20/2015]

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Will Russia take sides in Shiite-Sunni conflict?

October 22, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

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

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

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The passing scene – October 7, 2015

October 7, 2015

Why Free Markets Make Fools of Us by Cass R. Sunstein for The New York Review of Books.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack)

The TPP has a provision that many will love to hate: ISDS.  What is it, and why does it matter? by Todd Tucker for the Washington Post.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism)

Hillary Clinton says she does not support Trans Pacific Partnership by the PBS Newshour.

Q: Is the Obama Administration Complicit With Slavery? A: Yes by Eric Loomis for Lawyers, Guns and Money.  Slavery in Malaysia is overlooked for the sake of the TPP.

Houston is a lot more tolerant of immigrants than Copenhagen is on Science Codex.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Science Saves: The Young Iraqis Promoting Evolutionary Theory and Rational Thought to Save Iraq by Marwan Jabbar for Niqash: briefings from inside and across Iraq.  (Hat tip to Informed Comment)

The Amazing Inner Lives of Animals by Tim Flannery for The New York Review of Books.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Is the chilli pepper friend or foe? by William Kremer for BBC World Service.  (Hat tip to Jack)

The origins of the world refugee crisis

September 8, 2015

chartoftheday_3632_syria_is_the_worst_refugee_crisis_of_our_generation_n

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-map

Some 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.

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The USA can’t expect to always get its way

June 26, 2015

Everybody has met self-centered people who behave as if they are the only people in the world who matter, and everybody else exists only to carry out their wishes.

If they are sufficiently rich and powerful, they can get away with this for a certain amount of time.  But in the end, they wind up isolated and friendless.

Unfortunately the United States conducts its foreign policy as if we Americans are the only people in the world who matter, and everybody else exists only to carry out Washington’s wishes.

This is bound to end badly.

Peter Van Buren, who was kicked out of the State Department for writing about the fouled-up U.S. occupation of Iraq, pointed out in an article for TomDispatch how this is playing out in current U.S. policy toward Iraq and the Islamic State (ISIS)

The fundamental problem underlying nearly every facet of U.S. policy toward Iraq is that “success,” as defined in Washington, requires all the players to act against their own wills, motivations, and goals in order to achieve U.S. aims.

is_control_over_time_624_1805The Sunnis need a protector as they struggle for a political place, if not basic survival, in some new type of Iraq.

The Shiite government in Baghdad seeks to conquer and control the Sunni regions.

Iran wants to secure Iraq as a client state and use it for easier access to Syria.

The Kurds want an independent homeland.

When Secretary of Defense Ash Carter remarked, “What apparently happened [in Ramadi] was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” what he really meant was that the many flavors of forces in Iraq showed no will to fight for America’s goals.

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What we knew back then about Saddam

May 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

via Rolling Stone.

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The warmongering record of Hillary Clinton

March 4, 2015

The frustrating thing about the right-wing Republican critics of Hillary Clinton is they criticize her for all the wrong things.   I think I’m as strongly opposed to Clinton as they are, and they put me in the position of defending her.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

In the U.S. intervention in Libya, she is criticized for failing to arrange protection for the U.S. ambassador from the terrorist attack on Benghazi, a legitimate issue, and for mis-characterizing the attack as a spontaneous reaction instead of a planned terrorist attack, an insignificant issue.

But neither of these things matter as much as the total disaster she brought down on the people of Libya.

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to an article in Counterpunch that sums up what’s wrong with Clinton very well.

First Libya:

The results of “Operation Unified Protector” … … include the persecution of black Africans and Tuaregs, the collapse of any semblance of central government, the division of the country between hundreds of warring militias, the destabilization of neighboring Mali producing French imperialist intervention, the emergence of Benghazi as an al-Qaeda stronghold, and the proliferation of looted arms among rebel groups.

Now the whole Clinton record:

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How U.S. policy created ISIS

February 27, 2015

Hat tip to Cannonfire.

By destroying the governmental structure, social structure and infrastructure of Iraq, the United States created a chaotic situation in which a radical cult such as the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) could flourish.

By arming the Free Syrian Army to fight the Assad regime in Syria, the United States unintentionally armed ISIS, because the FSA readily sold its U.S. weapons to ISIS.

ISIS now controls vital oilfields in Iraq, which the United States is bombing to cut off ISIS revenues.  The United States and our allies, for some reason, are unable to stop the flow of oil out of ISIS-controlled territory or the flow of money to ISIS.  I wonder why.

Another problem, not mentioned in the video, is that key U.S. allies—Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states—are lukewarm or uninterested in fighting ISIS because they see their main enemies as Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, all enemies of ISIS.

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The billions nobody bothered to keep track of

October 16, 2014

Between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion in shrink-wrapped $100 bills, earmarked for Iraq reconstruction, reportedly turned up in a bunker in Lebanon, along with $200 million in Iraqi gold.

bagdad-money-palette-300x200

“Bricks” of cash in Baghdad

Stuart Bowen, a special inspector general appointed by President Bush to keep track of waste and corruption in Iraq, reported that he has been unable to persuade anybody in either the U.S. or Iraqi governments to check it out.  The U.S. embassy in Beirut denied him permission to go to Lebanon to look for himself.

The stacks of money are part of $12 billion to $14 billion in shrink-wrapped “bricks” of currency, provided by the Federal Reserve Bank.  The money was flown to Iraq on wooden pallets, to be handed out as needed. An additional $5 billion was sent via electronic transfer.

Bowen said most of the money was probably spent for legitimate purposes, but $6.6 billion is unaccounted for.  This is a staggering amount.

Notice the $2 billion margin for error in the estimate of what was sent.  That, too, is a staggering amount.

Why the lack of interest in what become of the money?

One possible explanation is that the U.S. government and the Iraqi government have a very good idea of who got the money, and don’t want it made known to the public.

Another is that they don’t know, and don’t want the public to be reminded that they don’t know.

 LINKS

Billions set aside for post-Saddam Iraq turned up in Lebanese bunker by Rory Carroll for The Guardian.

$1.6 billion in Iraqi cash seized in Lebanon by Ahmed Hussein for Iraqi News.  A good article with an inaccurate headline. The money was never seized and nobody knows whether it is still there.

Special Report: The Pentagon’s doctored ledgers conceal epic waste by Scot J. Paltrow for Reuters.  The bigger picture is that it’s simpler for the Defense Department to order new stuff than keep track of what they’ve got.  Hat tip for this link to Peter Van Buren.  He also had a post on the Lebanon bunker, but for some reason I can’t link to the post.  I’ll add the link when and if I can.

Previous post

“The biggest theft of funds in national history”

A look back at a former U.S. ally

October 16, 2014
Osama bin Laden in 1993.  Click to enlarge.

Osama bin Laden in 1993.  Double click to enlarge.

Some time after this interview, the Clinton administration and other governments pressured Sudan to expel Osama bin Laden as a terrorist.

Osama then relocated to Afghanistan, and the rest is history.

Robert Fisk is still reporting from the Middle East.  Click on The Independent for recent reporting and commentary.

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There are worse things than an evil tyrant’s rule

October 13, 2014

Although I had misgivings that the U.S. rationale for invading Iraq in 2003 was based on lies, I thought the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a good thing, not a bad thing.

Saddam HusseinHe had massacred his own people, the Kurdish people in the north and the Marsh Arabs in the south.  I felt ashamed that the U.S. government in 1991 called upon these people to rise up against Saddam and then left them to their fate.  I thought the invasion could be a way of making things right.

One thing that stuck in my mind is that Saddam issued an edict that those who insulted him or his sons would have their tongues cut out.  Amnesty International tracked down someone who suffered that fate.  Surely, I thought, nothing could be worse than such a tyrant’s rule.

But I was wrong.  The people of Iraq are worse off now than they were under Saddam.  At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed in the fighting in Iraq, and some claim as much as a million.  Nobody knows.  There are a million Iraqi refugees.  The age-old Christian community in Iraq is threatened with extinction.

There is something worse than the rule of an evil tyrant, and that is the collapse of governmental authority and, in extreme cases, the whole structure of society.   When people are faced with chaos and unpredictable, uncontrollable killing, robbery and rape, they will turn to anybody that offers protection and order—even the Taliban in Afghanistan, even (perhaps) ISIS in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Going to war for oil doesn’t make any sense

October 9, 2014

infographic.ime.oil.gas

One of the justifications for going to war in the Middle East is to make sure we Americans have access to oil.

During the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War, Secretary of State James Baker said the issue was “jobs, jobs, jobs.”  He didn’t explain, but what I and other Americans took him to mean that if Saddam Hussein cut us off from the oil of Kuwait, our industrial machine would falter.

But there was no danger of that happening.  Saddam Hussein was perfectly happy to sell Iraq’s oil, and would have been perfectly happy to sell Kuwait’s oil.

oilcorridorThe oil-producing nations have just as much need to sell their oil as the oil-consuming nations have to buy it.

U.S. interventions in the Middle East have reduced American access to oil, not secured it.  The sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, the continuing sanctions against Iran and the new sanctions against Russia have been intended to prevent these nations from selling their oil and natural gas.  The invasion of Iraq destroyed much of that nation’s oil-producing capability, which is only now recovering.

All this made oil and gas prices higher, not lower.

The only time U.S. access to Middle East oil was cut off was during the OPEC oil embargo of 1973.  But the embargo was broken without military action.  It was broken by the international oil companies who sold the oil to whoever wanted to buy it.  [1]

Since then there has never been another threat to U.S. oil imports.  The most strongly anti-American leaders, Libya’s Qaddafi and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, never refused to do business with the United States.  Politics was one thing; business, another.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 10/1/14

October 1, 2014

Why I Hope to Die at Age 75 by Ezekiel Emanuel for The Atlantic.

Bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, who’s now 57, wrote that he won’t undergo any medical treatment for the purpose of prolonging life after age 75.  He added that this is a personal decision, and not a recommendation.  But he sees the years after 75 as a period of decline that will add nothing to his life.

I am impressed that someone would be so satisfied with their life that they would be willing to wind it up at age 75.  I’m 78, going on 79, and I have unfinished business.

But it is true that, if I live long enough into years of decline, I will find life no longer worth living.  One disappointment is that I probably won’t be around to see if Emanuel carries through on his resolution.

[Added 10/2/14]  I note that Emanuel is a bio-ethicist.  In my opinion, the job of bio-ethicists is to rationalize doing things that physicians and others intuitively feel is wrong.

Another subtext to Ezekiel Emanuel’s “Why I Hope to Die at 75”: Hillary’s Too Old by Steve Sailer for The Unz Review.

If elected President in 2016 and 2020, Hillary Clinton would be 77 when she stepped down on Jan. 19, 2015.  Joe Biden would be 82; Jerry Brown, 86; Elizabeth Warren, 75 1/2; and Bernie Sanders, 83.  But Ezekiel’s brother Rahm, the Democratic mayor of Chicago, would be a vibrant 65.

ISIS at the Gates of Baghdad: Why Airstrikes Are Failing by Patrick Cockburn for Counterpunch.

Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn wrote that the only forces in Iraq capable of fighting ISIS are the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim militias.  But they terrorize Sunni Muslims, who look to ISIS for protection.  Cockburn doesn’t see any good way out of this dilemma for the United States.

World should not be oblivious to Russia’s calculated shift toward China by Hisayoshi Ina for Nikkei Asian Review.

Russia, China court India for regional bloc by Takayuki Tanaka for Nikkei Asian Review.

The world balance of power is changing, as the Russian government responds to pressures in Europe by strengthening its ties with Asia.

Andreatta: Cops and Manners on Short Street by David Andreatta for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, NY.

I think that if I was a policeman, I would find that every prejudice I had concerning any group of people would be confirmed by my experience, because the police see the worst of any group of people and see people at their worst.

This column by David Andreatta shows just how difficult it is to overcome such attitudes.

Why we fight

September 25, 2014

ByX_Ou3IYAADiaHAbove is a letter to the editor to The Daily Mail in London concerning what military intervention in the Middle East is all about.  Actually it’s a bit out of date.  The Saudi Arabian government doesn’t officially support the Islamic State militants any more, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t get any support from individual Saudi Arabs.

Another interesting question is where Israel stands in all this.  The Islamic State (ISIS) and the other Sunni Muslim militias fighting in Iraq and Syria are enemies of Israel’s Shiite Muslim enemies, especially Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militia and political party in Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s backer, Iran.

I am always in doubt at moments such as this as to whether the President (whoever he is at the time) lacks a clear purpose, or whether he has a purpose that is not revealed.

LINKS

War Without End: The U.S. may still be fighting in Syria in 2024, 2034, 2044 by Jack Shafer for Bloomberg News (via Naked Capitalism).

The War Nerd: Bombs away in the Middle East!  But why is Israel so quiet? by Gary Brechter for Pando Daily.

The Saudi roots of ISIS and the 9/11 attacks

September 22, 2014

It is impossible for the United States armed forces to put an end to Islamic jihadist terrorism.

That is because Al Qaeda, ISIS and their ilk have their roots in a country that is off limits to American military action.

In the same of fighting terrorism, the United States has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, helped overthrow the government of Libya, is working to overthrow the government of Syria and has imposed sanctions on Iran.

President Obama visits Saudi Arabia in March

President Obama visits Saudi Arabia in March

Yet the U.S. government does not touch Saudi Arabia.   Osama bin Laden was a Saudi and so were most of the 9/11 hijackers.  Sections of a Senate report that allegedly implicate elements of the Saudi government in the 9/11 attacks have been blacked out and declared as classified information.

The Saudi government, along with Qatar and other Gulf sheikdoms, provided the funding for ISIS and the other radical jihadist groups now fighting  in Syria and Iraq.  All these groups are adherents of Wahhabism, the most radical and intolerant Islamic sect, which is based in Saudi Arabia and supported by the Saudi government.

Why would the U.S. government, through Republican and Democratic administrations, tolerate such a situation?

The U.S. “deep state”—the permanent part of the government that is untouched by elections—is committed to protecting Saudi Arabia in return for Saudi help in regulating oil prices and oil supply.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s richest countries, and one of its weakest.  The sparse Saudi population is incapable of defending the country against stronger nations such as Iraq or Iran.  But none of those nations dare attack Saudi Arabia so long as the nation is under the protection of the U.S. military.

The problem is that the source of the Saudi monarchy’s power, the force that enabled the House of Saud to conquer the Arabia peninsula in the first place, is the support of the Wahhabi movement, a highly strict Muslim sect which regards all other Muslims as untrue to the faith.

Wahhabi teachings are incompatible with the self-indulgent lives of many rich Arabs, including some of the members of the Saudi royal family, so the Saudis buy them off by subsidizing Wahhabi schools throughout the Muslim world, and supporting Wahhabi jihads, which, conveniently, are usually against nations such as Iran, Syria or the Shiite government of Iraq that are rivals to Saudi power.

The CIA on occasion found them useful tools as, for example, the overthrow of Qaddafi’s regime in Libya and the ongoing fight against the Assad regime in Syria.

Bandar-Rice-Bush-King-Abdullah

President Bush receives a Saudi delegation

The Saudis meanwhile have close ties with American politicians and business executives.  Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, was a leading light on the Washington social scene.  He was so close to the Bush family that his nickname was Bandar Bush.

Matt Stoller wrote an excellent article about this for the Medium news site.  He pointed out that the Saudi monarchy is not a unified government, but consists of different factions with different aims.  The Saudi leaders have to be concerned with keeping a balance of power between the different factions and are not in a position to act decisively against any one of them.

The same is true of the government of Pakistan, which he didn’t mention.  Evidently there are factions in Pakistan’s government that are pro-Taliban, factions that are anti-Taliban and factions that think the Taliban is useful in fighting proxy wars against India.

Such a balance of power cannot be maintained forever.  Sooner or later there will have to be a showdown the Saudi monarchy and radical jihadist fanatics. which the monarchy may not win.

Last week the top Muslim clerics in Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa condemning ISIS and calling for public executions of its members.  Saudi Arabia has staged public executions of ISIS members.  That’s a welcome change.  I wish I knew enough to judge whether the change is permanent and whether the crackdown applies to top people in the Saudi power structure.

I must confess I don’t know what to do to prevent a jihadist takeover of Saudi Arabia, or what to do when and if it happens.  But if we Americans can bring our covert foreign policy out into the open, and discuss what to do, we at least will not be taken by surprise.

The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees free speech to all Americans.   Article One, Section 6, says Senators and Representatives cannot be called to account outside of Congress for anything they say on the floor of Congress.   It is high time they exercise these rights and powers.

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What I learned from being wrong

September 17, 2014

obama.foreignpolicy

A blogger named Lance Mannion issued this challenge to all those critics who think they’re smarter than President Obama.

Arguments [of many Internet doves] seem to me to be based on the assumption that we should get ourselves out of the Middle East no matter what because there’s basically nothing we can do to make things better and just by being in there we make them worse by stirring up suspicions and hatreds.  Those are the smart ones.  But I would think that since I’m inclined to agree.

I’m inclined to agree.  That doesn’t mean I necessarily agree.

There are others, though, who’ve based their case on the bumper sticker-profound idea that War is Never the Answer and plenty of others whose arguments are based on a vague and circular logic: “This reminds me of what George Bush did in some way I can’t put my finger on but it must be wrong because of that or else I wouldn’t be reminded of George Bush.”

17-40f10I’m not bothering with any arguments that are based on the assumption that whatever we do is wrong because we’re the ones doing it.

So I’m asking for help.

Should we do nothing?  Why or why not?  What should we do and how would that work?  And what I want to know, more than that you were right about Iraq in 2002, is if you think Bill Clinton failed morally and geo-politically when he did nothing about Rwanda.

Also what are your thoughts on Kuwait, the Kurds, Kosovo, Tora Bora, killing bin Laden, and Libya?

via Smarter than the President?  Not me.  I’m too smart not to know how dumb I am.

 I’ve been wrong more often than I’ve been right on all the issues Mannion mentions.  My claim is that, while it has taken longer than it should have done, I have learned something from my mistakes.

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The GOP contradiction on Iraq and ISIS

September 13, 2014

This comment by Kevin Drum of Mother Jones magazine seems like a just observation to me.

Republicans seem to universally hold the following two opinions about Iraq and ISIS:

  • President Obama is to blame for the military success of ISIS because he declined to keep a residual force in Iraq after 2011.
  • In the fight against ISIS, we certainly don’t want to send in combat troops.  No no no.

via Kevin Drum | Mother Jones.

 Either you are okay with American troops fighting in Iraq, or you aren’t.  You can’t have it both ways.

The newest Hitler

September 11, 2014

During the First World War, the British engaged in lying but successful propaganda against the Germans.  People believed that the Kaiser was a monster in human form, and that German soldiers liked to toss Belgian babies up in the air and catch them on their bayonets.

A quarter-century later, Hitler came along.   He was more of a monster than the British claimed the Kaiser was, but people who remembered the previous war’s propaganda were slow to believe it.   It’s an example of how, when you falsely cry “wolf” like the boy in the fable, people won’t believe you when the real wolf comes

Lately the U.S. government has been telling us Americans so ofter that we need to mobilize against new Hitlers—the Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Un, Bashar al Assad, Muammar Qaddafi, Vladimir Putin—that we are Hitler’d out.

In fact, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (aka ISIS or ISIL) is the closest yet to being the equivalent of the Nazis.  Like the Nazis, ISIS is carrying on a war of extermination.  Like the Nazis, the ambitions of ISIS are unlimited.

The difference is that the Nazis controlled Germany, one of the world’s great industrial and military powers.  The Islamic State merely controls many square miles of desert.

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Blood and treasure: Links & comments 9/10/14

September 10, 2014

Getting into is easier than getting out of.

Tonight President Obama will outline his policy for dealing with the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL), the murderous jihadists who have taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria.

There are many questions to answer.

Is ISIS is the USA’s top enemy, does that change U.S. policy toward the governments of Syria and Iraq?

Can the U.S. intervene once again in the Middle East without positioning ISIS as the defender of Arab and Muslim freedom from foreign invaders?

Can the United States wage war by means of special operations teams, flying killer robots and arms aid to selected foreign proxies?

I can’t see any good answers to any of these questions, and I doubt if the President can, either.

Pentagon Can’t Pay For Itself Amid Budget Woes, Increased World Conflicts by Paul D. Shinkman for U.S. News and World Report.  (via Rochester Business Journal)

The USA spends a greater part of its national income, by far, than any other country on our military.  Yet a Washington think tank called the Center for Strategic and Budget Analysis says that the Department of Defense cannot carry out all its missions, including protecting Ukraine, fighting the Islamic State and counterbalancing China, within its existing budget.  Either the budget must grow or the missions must shrink.

Murky Special Ops Have Become Corporate Bonanza, Says Report by Ryan Gallagher for The Intercept.

The U.S. Special Operations Command has spent billions of dollars on contractors to support killer drones, surveillance technology and psychological warfare.   The more the U.S. government outsources war-making, the more vested interests there will be in waging war.

U.S. treads on Islamic State minefield by Ehsan Ahrari for Asia Times.

Why Does the U.S. Support Saudi Arabia, Sponsor of Islamic Terrorism? on Washington’s Blog.

Obama strategy to beat Islamic State likely to draw U.S. into years of conflict by Hannah Allam and Jonathan S. Landay for McClatchy newspapers.

Defeating the Islamic State Is Going to be Kind of a Pain by Ryan Faith of Vice News.

To repeat: Getting into is easier than getting out of.

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We broke Iraq. Do we own it?

August 18, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk

Kurdish Peshmerga in Kirkuk

You break it.  You own it.

==The Pottery Barn Rule (per General Colin Powell)

Of all the arguments for sending troops back into Iraq, the most plausible (to me) is that we owe it to the Iraqi people—and in particular the Kurdish Iraqi people—to clean up the mess the original U.S. intervention created.

The people of Kurdistan and Baghdad would not be menaced by the would-be Islamic Caliphate (aka ISIS) if the U.S. invasion had not broken down orderly government in Iraq, and opened up an opportunity for these murderous fanatics.  So do we Americans not have a responsibility to fix the situation before we leave the Iraqis on my own.

But it was that very argument that led me, 10 years ago, to support the original invasion of Iraq.  I thought to myself that we Americans had supported Saddam Hussein in the first place.  Our government provided him with weapons, encouraged him to attack Iran and protected him from international sanctions when he used poison gas against the people of Kurdistan.   Then we turned against him, and waged a low-level war of blockade and bombing through the Clinton years.

So it seemed to me (wrongly) that by invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam, we could partly make up for the harm we had done to the Iraqi people.

And even now I sometimes think (wrongly) that the U.S.-led invasion would have worked out—

  • If the U.S. forces had recognized the local governments the Iraqi people spontaneously chose and worked with them, instead of installing puppets of U.S. choosing.
  • If the American authorities had not discharged the Iraqi army, had kept control of weapons and armories and had not allowed the country to disintegrate into anarchy.
  • If the United States had employed the Iraqi people in rebuilding their own country instead of turning Iraq into a vast cash cow for American contractors.
  • If Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had not excluded everybody in the government who knew anything about Iraq from the planning.

But when I think that, I am just fooling myself.  I am fooling myself when I think that the U.S. government had any goal in Iraq other than getting control of Iraq’s oil supply and establishing military bases on Iraq’s soil.

And even if American intentions were wholly good, democracy and freedom are not something that any country can give another country.  Every free country has to win and maintain freedom for itself.

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A bombing campaign in Iraq

August 8, 2014

I want to see the murderous Islamic State fanatics in Iraq stopped before they massacre more Christians and members of other minority groups in Iraq.

I guess I sort of more-or-less support President Obama’s decision to bomb the ISIS forces and drop supplies to the valiant people of Kurdistan.   [Update 8/10/14.  I’ve changed my mind.]

Given the experience of the past 10 years, I don’t want American ground troops being sent back to Iraq.

A bombing campaign, against an enemy without an air force or effective anti-aircraft weapons, is appealing as a virtually risk-less way to wage war.

But the experience of history shows that bombing campaigns don’t necessarily achieve their objective, and bombing campaigns conducted in isolation seldom do.   The ISIS forces aren’t going to gather in the open so as to be good targets.   They are going to mingle with the people we are supposedly trying to protect.

Now I understand that President Obama doesn’t think that bombs alone will do the trick.   The idea is to slow down and weaken the ISIS advance and put the Kurdish fighters and Iraqi government army in a better position to resist.

But what happens if ISIS keeps advancing?  Does Obama step up the bombing campaign?  Does he order ground troops back into Iraq?  Or does he at some point decide there is nothing more he can do?

I remember I supported the Vietnam intervention in its early stages because I thought the South Vietnamese could be saved from totalitarian Communism.   I supported the invasion of Iraq in its early stages because I thought the Iraqis could be liberated from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

I wasn’t wrong about Communism, nor about Saddam Hussein, but I was wrong about what it is possible to accomplish by invading another country (and also wrong about my government’s intentions, but that’s another issue).

So now I hesitantly kind-of in-a-way support intervention against ISIS, because I hate to think of my country standing by and doing nothing, and at the same time I think of all the ways in which things could go wrong.

I imagine President Obama has the same thoughts.  I don’t think I will criticize him on this one.

LINK

Why ‘strategic’ bombing doesn’t seem to work by Ian Buruma for the Toronto Globe and Mail

The passing scene: Links & comments 7/1/14

July 1, 2014

The Clintons’ web of wealth: Where did Bill and Hillary get all their money? by Zaid Jilani for Al Jazeera America.

After stepping down as President, Bill Clinton repeatedly received six-figure fees for speeches from Citicorp, Goldman Sachs and other banking and financial firms that benefited from his administration’s policies.  He also received six-figure speaking fees from business interests in the Middle East while his wife was Secretary of State.

This information is from financial disclosures required of office-holders and their spouses when Hillary Clinton was a U.S. Senator and then Secretary of State.   News reports indicate she has received two $200,000 speech fees from Goldman Sachs since leaving office.

While these facts raise suspicions of payoffs and conflicts of interests, Jilani pointed out that it isn’t unusual for Washington office-holders to cash in like this after they leave public service.

Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater by James Rissen of the New York Times.

Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq.

But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

People on the move by Dmitry Orlov.

Most Americans seem quite incapable of making the simple connection between destroying somebody’s house and having that somebody then move in to share yours.

An estimated 50 million people are refugees, displaced persons, asylum seekers and unauthorized immigrants.  Dimtry Orlov pointed out that a high proportion are from countries disrupted by the U.S. war on terror, the U.S. war on drugs or U.S. intervention to protect dictators against radical guerrillas.   These include 7 million from Mexico and 3 million from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.