Posts Tagged ‘Military intervention’

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

September 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

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

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

The U.S. air war on Somalia

March 15, 2019

Hat tip to Bill Elwell.  Source: Stats for The Nib

The U.S. Senate did a good thing the other day by invoking the War Powers Act for the U.S.-backed war in Yemen.  But why stop there?  It’s not just regime change wars that we Americans need to withdraw from.

LINK

American military intervention in Somalia (2007-present) Wikipedia article.

Escalation in Somalia is a foreign policy failure in progress by Bonnie Kristian for Reason magazine.

Trump’s Backward Move on Drone Civilian Casualties by Daniel R. Brunstetter for Consortium News.

U.S. Air Strikes in Somalia Kill Civilians, Amnesty Report Says by Amanda Sperber for The Intercept [Added 3/19/2019].

Eight Dem lawmakers pledge to end ‘forever war’

March 5, 2019

Eight Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have signed a pledge to act to bring America’s “Forever War” to “a responsible and expedient conclusion.”

The pledge was also signed by Rep. Mark Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Reps. Ilhan Omar, Ro Khanna and Rashida Tlaib; and Senator Jon Tester, who’s considered a moderate, but was elected on an anti-war platform.

The pledge reads as follows:

The United States has been in a state of continuous, global, open-ended military conflict since 2001.  Over 2.5 million troops have fought in this ‘Forever War’ in over a dozen countries – including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Niger, Somalia, and Thailand.

I pledge to the people of the United States of America, and to our military community in particular, that I will (1) fight to reclaim Congress’s constitutional authority to conduct oversight of U.S. foreign policy and independently debate whether to authorize each new use of military force, and (2) act to bring the Forever War to a responsible and expedient conclusion.

I applaud the signers of this resolution.  I also point out that the words “responsible and expedient” are doing a lot of work.  Was the U.S. exit from Vietnam “responsible and expedient”?

President Nixon said he wanted “peace with honor,” but this was not achievable. Those who supported the U.S. cause suffered a terrible vengeance.  But I don’t see how this could have been avoided by prolonging the war even longer than it was.

There aren’t any good choices for the U.S. military in winding down its wars.  Innocent people will suffer no matter what.  There is no substitute for victory, and victory in these wars is out of reach.

This is a good reason not to start new wars.

One important point about the resolution is that it mentions Yemen, Somalia and other wars in which U.S. is involved without large-scale commitment of troops.

The resolution was sponsored by Common Defense, an organization of anti-war veterans and military families.

LINK

Sanders, Warren, Ocasio-Cortez and Other Lawmakers Sign Pledge to End America’s “Forever Wars” by Alex Emmons and Ryan Grim for The Intercept.

War Weary: Why Washington Needs to Bring Its Troops Home by Doug Bandow for The National Interest.

Talkin’ Bout My Generation: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman by Alan Brown for Tor.com.  The Forever War is the title of a classic science-fiction novel by Vietnam veteran Joe Haldeman.

‘You’re either for us or against us’

January 30, 2019

Every time a U.S. President targets some nation as an enemy, and tries to drag other countries into the conflict, he creates the possibility of a backlash.

“You’re either for us or against us.”  Say that too many times, and the answer is likely to be, “we’re against you.”

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Why the push for ‘regime change’ in Venezuela?

January 29, 2019

National Security Adviser John Bolton explains U.S. Venezuela policy.

I think I’ve seen this script before.  The unpopular ruler of an oil-rich country cracks down on the opposition.  The U.S. government sees an opportunity and tries to bring about a change in regime.

What can go wrong?  In Iraq, this led to an inconclusive quagmire war in which thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives.  In Libya, it led to the collapse of civil order, leaving Libyans worse off than before.  In Syria, it led to another inconclusive war, benefitting no one.   The chief result of these wars was the European refugee crisis.

Now the U.S. seems to be playing out the same script in Venezuela—doing the same as before and expecting a different result.

The Trump administration has recognized Juan Guaido, the leader of the National Assembly, as the legitimate president of Venezuela, and called for the overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro.  Guaido is indeed the leader, but that’s because the leadership is rotated among the parties, and the Trump administration’s decision happened on his watch.

To support Guaido, the administration has blocked Venezuela’s oil company from collecting revenue from its oil exports.  Instead the money goes into a blocked account until Guaido takes power.

And if he doesn’t?  “All options are on the table.”

As far as I’m concerned, this is a pass-fail test of political leadership.  Only those who oppose intervention are lovers of peace.  So far Bernie Sanders passes this test, as do Democratic Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna, Ilhan Omar and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

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A closer look at Tulsi Gabbard’s war on terror

January 17, 2019

After the 9/11 attacks, almost the whole world proclaimed its solidarity with the United States, including leading Muslim clerics and pro-US sympathizers in Iran.

This would have been a great opportunity for the United States to lead the world in suppressing Al Qaeda and other jihadist terrorists.

 Instead the George W. Bush administration chose to use the “war on terror” as an excuse to invade Iraq.  The Obama administration actually armed jihadist terrorists to overthrow the governments of Libya and Syria.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii and a long-shot candidate for President, wants to replace the bogus war on terror with a real war on terror.

After serving with the U.S. military in Iraq, she concluded that intervention was a mistake.  She opposed “regime change” proxy wars against Libya and Syria.  She courageously questioned the official narrative about chemical weapons in Syria.

After some misgivings, she endorsed the nuclear deal with Iran.  She opposes U.S. support for the Saudi war on Yemen.

She is not a peace candidate.  She just wants to replace the bogus war on terror with a real one.

She has praised President Assad of Syria for fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Nusra (successors to Al Qaeda) fighters.  She has praised President el-Sisi of Egypt for suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood.  She is aligned with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, a radical authoritarian anti-Muslim nationalist.

She favors drone warfare and continued Special Operations missions against terrorists.  She has said that the root of terrorism is in “radical Islam” and criticized President Obama for his refusal to use that word.

The Al Qaeda terrorists were in fact members of an extremist Muslim sect, the Wahhabis or Salafists, who are the established religion of Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis have promoted their version of Islam all over the world, especially in Pakistan.

This is true, but it is not the whole truth.  Just being an extreme Muslim authoritarian doesn’t make you a terrorist.  The reason terrorism has cut an appeal is the U.S. military presence in so many majority-Muslim lands, U.S. manipulation of so many majority-Muslim governments and the death and destruction caused by U.S. forces in so many Muslim lands.

U.S. policy serves the interests of Saudi Arabia more than it does Americans.  That’s because of a long-standing deal, going back to the 1970s, in which the Saudis agree to guarantee an oil supply, buy U.S. weapons and keep the oil profits in dollars in return for U.S. military support.

Gabbard is right to oppose wars to serve Saudi interests.  Her policy would be an improvement over Trump’s, Obama’s and George W. Bush’s.  She is not a peace candidate, but right now she is closer to being one than any of other candidates I know about.

At the same time, her policy is compatible with maintaining the Pentagon budget and the military contractor establishment in all its bloated glory.

Killing terrorists, in and of itself, won’t end terrorism, any more than killing drug dealers will end drug addiction.

LINKS

Tulsi Gabbard Wikipedia page.

Tulsi Gabbard and the Great Foreign Policy Realignment by James P. Pinkerton for The American Conservative.

Tulsi Gabbard, controversial 2020 Democratic candidate, explained by Zack Beauchamp for Vox.

Tulsi Gabbard Is Not Your Friend by Branko Marcetic for Jacobin.

Yes, Tulsi Gabbard Opposed the Iran Deal by Branko Marcetic for Jacobin [Added 1/19/2019]

Tulsi Gabbard is more of an anti-war candidate

January 15, 2019

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, is more of an anti-war candidate than Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or any other presidential candidate who has announced so far.

She opposes “regime change wars” on principle, which no other high-profile politician has been willing to say since Rep. Ron Paul left Congress.  Such wars, as she pointed out in the interview, have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and enormous suffering to ordinary people in the Middle East and elsewhere without making Americans safer or better off.

Ending regime change wars would be a big change for the better, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean giving up the U.S. empire of bases and cutting back the U.S. military mission to defense of the homeland and fulfilling treaty obligations to allies.  If you really want to crush Al Qaeda’s successors and imitators, the first step would be to stop arming them to so as to bring about regime change.

Most of the commentary on Gabbard’s announcement ignored all of this.  Instead it focused on her opposition to gay rights moe than 15 years ago..

She is one of a number of people who was raised as a social conservative, and changed their minds over a period of years.  I can understand this, because my own opinions, including on LGBT issues, have changed in the past 15 years.  But some commentators think this will sink her campaign before it gets started.

Gabbard comes from an unusual background.  According to her Wikipedia page, her father is part Samoan and a Catholic; her mother is a convert to Hinduism.  She was elected to the Hawaii state legislature at the age of 21, then was deployed to Iraq as a member of the Hawaii National Guard.  She is now serving her fourth term in Congress.

In 2016, she resigned from the Democratic National Committee in order to support Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president.

The video of of an interview with Joe Rogan gives a good overview of what she believes.  It runs an hour and 43 minutes, a little long to watch on a small screen.  Here are starting points of the highlights:

  • 7mn.  Why North Korea has nuclear weapons
  • 9mn.  Regime change wars (the key segment)
  • 22mn.  Authorizing war with Iran
  • 30mn.  Russian troll farms.
  • 32mn.  Why she supported Bernie Sanders
  • 49mn.  Paper ballots and electronic voting
  • 1hr4mn  Pros and cons of universal basic income
  • 1hr13mn  Affordable higher education and health care
  • 1hr22mn  Threats to civil liberties
  • 1hr33mn  Legalizing marijuana

I agree with everything she said in the Joe Rogan interview and most of her views as given on her Wikipedia page.

My main concern about her is her praise of the authoritarian nationalist government of President Narendra Modi of India and her alignment with  Hindu nationalists in the Indian-American community, which is reportedly a large source of her funding.  I also object to her statement in a 2014 interview that torture may be justified under certain circumstances.

Aside from this, I’m favorably impressed with her, not only because I think she is right on policy, but because of her calm, self-assured and well-informed way of answering questions.  Also, that she was not afraid to say “I don’t know.”

Win or lose, she will force the Democrats to debate war and peace issues on a more fundamental level than before.

LINKS

Tulsi Gabbard Wikipedia page.

Five Reasons I’m Excited About Tulsi Gabbard’s Candidacy by Caitlin Johnstone.  Lots of good links with this.

Tulsi Gabbard’s 2020 Campaign May Be Over Before It Starts by Ryan Bort for Rolling Stone.

Tulsi Gabbard Is a Rising Progressive Star, Despite Her Ties to Hindu Nationalists by Soumya Shankar for The Intercept.  Why her ties to right-wing Hindu nationalists are troubling.

Bernie Sanders wants to crusade for democracy

November 9, 2018

The big weakness of Bernie Sanders as a political leader has been the lack of a consistent peace policy.  His tendency has been to oppose wars launched by Republican Presidents and support wars launched by Democratic Presidents.

Now, according to an article in POLITICO, he is rethinking foreign policy.  His idea is to make American foreign policy a crusade in favor of human rights and democracy.

Bernie Sanders

The problem with that is that all the recent disastrous U.S. military interventions have been justified as a duty to support human rights and democracy.  What would keep Sanders from being led down the same path?

The Clinton administration bombed Serbia supposedly to protect the human rights of the Bosniak Muslims and Kosovar Albanians.  The George W. Bush administration invaded Afghanistan and Iraq supposedly to free the Afghan and Iraqi people from the tyrannies of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.  The Obama administration engineered the overthrow of Qaddafi and attempted the overthrow of Assad supposedly to protect pro-democracy people.

Economic warfare against Venezuela and Iran, with a goal of reducing their people to destitution and misery, is justified in the name of protecting their human rights.  A ramp-up to military confrontation to Russia, with the risk of triggering nuclear war, is justified as resistance to the tyrant Vladimir Putin.

Here’s what Sanders had to say in a speech last September—

“Today, I say to Mr. Putin: We will not allow you to undermine American democracy or democracies around the world. In fact, our goal is to not only strengthen American democracy, but to work in solidarity with supporters of democracy around the globe, including in Russia.  In the struggle of democracy versus authoritarianism, we intend to win,” Sanders thundered.

He continued: “Inequality, corruption, oligarchy and authoritarianism are inseparable. They must be understood as part of the same system, and fought in the same way … Kleptocrats like Putin in Russia use divisiveness and abuse as a tool for enriching themselves and those loyal to them.”

Source: POLITICO Magazine

What statements like this imply is some kind of support for anti-Putin forces in Russia, continuation of sanctions against Russian oligarchs and possibly attempting to draw Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.

We’d be telling Vladimir Putin that our goal is to drive him from power.  That means it would be a matter of survival for him to interfere in U.S. politics and try to change that goal.

If I were part of the liberal democracy movement in Russia, the last thing I would want is some American politician announcing support for people like me.  It would be poison.

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U.S. interventionism started long before Trump

January 15, 2018

Click to enlarge.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a supporter of Donald Trump.  But American foreign policy was on the wrong track long before Trump took office.   It’s not enough to just put things back the way they were in 2016 and before.   It is necessary to abandon worldwide military intervention as a policy and worldwide military intervention as an achievable goal.

LINKS

U.S. Counterterrorism Forces Are Active in Many More Places Than You Know by Catherine Bateman and Stephanie Sowell for U.S. News.

Trump Isn’t Another Hitler, He’s Another Obama by Caitlin Johnstone for Medium.

When Washington Assured Russia NATO Would Not Expand by Andrew J. Bacevich for The American Conservative.

The Duplicitous Superpower by Ted Galen Carpenter for The American Conservative.

Tulsi Gabbard gets what’s wrong with U.S. wars

November 2, 2017

Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii, is a dedicated surfer and accomplished athlete, a Hindu and vegetarian and a member of the National Guard who volunteered for service in Iraq.

Not a typical background for an American politician!  But in my opinion, she represents the future of the Democratic Party—if it has one.

She understands something that most Democrats still do not, which is the futility of the 15-year U.S. policy of worldwide military intervention.  She understands that the first step in fighting radical Islamic terrorism is to stop subsidizing terrorists.   She acts on that understanding even though it is unpopular.

I read a good article about Gabbard in The New Yorker online this morning.   The things that the writer finds questionable about Gabbard’s record make her respect her even more.

Right after the election, she met with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss foreign policy, and came away hopeful that he might adopt a less interventionist foreign policy.   “Less hopeful now,” she is quoted as saying.

She traveled to Syria in January to talk to President Bashir al-Assad about the possibility of ending the Syrian civil war.

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Is there hope for peace in Syria?

December 22, 2015

Hope for peace in Syria depends on two things:

  • the defeat of the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh), because those fanatics cannot live in peace with anyone else
  • renunciation of “regime change” as a U.S. goal in Syria, because you can’t negotiate a peace with someone while you are openly bent on his destruction.

peace-in-syria-262x300Secretary of State John Kerry has said some things that indicate the United States might be willing to work with Vladimir Putin for a negotiated peace.  I hope this is so.  U.S. policy under President Obama has been marked by a steady drift toward war, interrupted by sudden lurches toward peace, as with the Iranian sanctions negotiations.

Almost all the Democratic and Republican candidates are worse on this issue than the current administration.  Hillary Clinton is a war hawk.  Bernie Sanders says that the destruction of ISIS should take priority over removal of President Assad of Syria, but removal of Assad should remain as a long-term goal.

The Republican candidates are all over the map.  I regret having given Donald Trump and Ted Cruz credit for certain glimmers of sanity when in fact they have no coherent policy.   The one voice of sanity is Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is a clear and principled opponent of regime change, but has little chance of winning the GOP nomination.

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In search of a peace candidate

October 20, 2015

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

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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The passing scene – October 14, 2015

October 14, 2015

On Building Armies (and Watching Them Fail) by Andrew Bacevich for TomDispatch.

Andrew Bacevich is a West Point graduate, a Vietnam veteran and a retired career Army officer who now teaches political science.  He said the goal of the neo-conservative faction in the U.S. government is military domination.

Since most Americans are unwilling to fight except against actual threats to the nation, the neo-conservatives try to use foreign fighters as proxies.  But foreigners also are unwilling to fight for American neo-conservative goals.

Those who are willing to fight have their own agendas, which is not the same as the U.S. agenda.  The latest example is the attempt to train “moderate” Syrian rebels.   Where, asks Bacevich, did Americans ever get the idea that they are especially good at training foreign armies?

I would be interested to hear from anybody who could make a case that the American people are better off for any of the U.S. military interventions during the past 15 years, or that the people of the target countries are better off, or that the world is better off.

Aerospace Trade: Trump’s Winning Card by Eamonn Fingleton for the Unz Review.

Eamonn Fingleton, a former editor of Forbes and the Financial Times, says Boeing is a prime example of the failure of U.S. trade policy, which is based on obsolete ideas about free trade.

As a condition for doing business, Japan, China and other countries insist that U.S. companies such as Boeing shift not only manufacturing operations to their countries, but share vital technological know-how.  The short-term benefit is a boost in profit for the U.S. company.  The long-term cost is a hollowing out of American industry.

He thinks it would take an outsider such as Donald Trump to change this.  I agree it would take someone not beholden to the American business establishment.

How to Protect Your Personal Data—and Your Humanity—From the Government by Walter Kirn for The Atlantic.

Electronics, the Internet and computer algorithms give governments and businesses the means to monitor your every move and draw conclusions—not necessarily accurate ones.

I’m reminded of the old definition of a paranoid:  Someone who lacks the normal person’s ability to diminish awareness of reality.

A History of Secret Torture at Guantanamo Bay by Bonnie Tamres-Moore for the Washington Spectator.

For Murdoch and Fox, the chickens may be coming home to roost by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Svetlana Alexievich: The Truth in Many Voices by Timothy Snyder for the New York Review of Books.

War and peace – October 13, 2015

October 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Libya invasion fostered chaos and terrorism

April 21, 2015

I read this morning about Islamic State militants beheading Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya.

So far as I know there was no ISIS / ISIL presence in Libya until after the U.S.-backed invasion and reduction of the country to chaos.   That has been the result of all the U.S. invasions—the creation of chaos in which terrorism spreads.

What Could Go Wrong?Muammar Qaddafi, the ruler of Libya, was a dictator and a supporter of terrorism in his day.  He was an imperialist who had designs on Chad and other countries to the soul.

But he was an enlightened despot who channeled his country’s oil revenues into schools, hospitals, roads and other internal improvements, provided free education and health care and improved the condition of women.

Libya under Qaddafi was a country in which a law-abiding person could lead a normal life without living in fear.  Now Libya has been reduced to chaos, many innocent people have been killed and the country has been given over to lawless militia bands and religious fanatics.

Who did that benefit?  Not Libyans.  Not ordinary Americans.  Qaddafi had tried to make peace with the West.  His overthrow and murder will be remembered by other rulers who are tempted to do the same.

Refugees are swarming across the Mediterranean from Libya and other countries, and being turned back.  Maybe the governments of Italy and France should have thought about that possibility before initiating the invasion of Libya.

Empires of the past imposed order.   We the American people do not want to take on the burden of empire, so all our government’s accomplsih is to spread death and destruction.

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The Cookie Monster in the White House

February 11, 2015

cookies

Why would ‘boots on the ground’ even work?

February 10, 2015

Conservative and Republican leaders are calling on President Obama to put American “boots on the ground” to resist Putin in Ukraine and the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Middle East.

And the President reportedly plans to ask for authorization to use military force against ISIS.  Since he does not consider aerial bombing, drone strikes or Special Operations missions to be military force, it must be “boots on the ground” that he has in mind.

troops-on-the-groundMy question is:  Given the failure of “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Afghanistan and, before that, in Vietnam, why would you expect success this time?

Over the years, the American armed forces have taught insurgents in countries they occupy how to defeat us.  The Pentagon has not learned how to defeat insurgents.

The U.S. military has the power to attack virtually any nation except Russia or China and reduce it to chaos.  What is doesn’t have the power to do is to pacify the nation afterwards and make its people submit.

Or, as a friend of mine remarked during the Vietnam era, the United States had the power to kill all the North Vietnamese and kill all the South Vietnamese, but it didn’t have the power to make any Vietnamese do what the US wanted.

Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.  This insanity is the real Vietnam Syndrome.

LINKS

Boots on the Ground? Yes by Thomas Donnelly for The Weekly Standard.

John McCain: US Boots on the Ground Better Than ISIS on American Soil by Greg Richter for Newsmax.

Gov. Scott Walker Wouldn’t Rule Out U.S. Boots on the Ground in Syria by Jessica Puckett for ABC News’ The Note.

Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham at Odds Over ‘Boots on the Ground’ by David Knowles for Bloomberg Politics.   Interesting that Cruz resists being sucked into this.

Obama readying request to use force against Islamic State by Patricia Zengerle for Reuters.

It’s the lessons the U.S. didn’t learn from Vietnam that makes its loss there the real tragedy by Robert Freeman for Salon.  (Hat tip to Cannonfire).

Burying Vietnam, Launching Perpetual War by Christian Appy for TomDispatch.

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How did Washington lose touch with reality?

December 10, 2014

When I was younger, I thought the great competitive advantage that democracy had over dictatorship was the reality check.

An absolute dictator such as Stalin did not have listen to what he does not want to hear—such as, for example, that his ally Hitler is planning to attack him.

Leaders of a democracy, so I thought, were saved from disconnect with reality by a loyal opposition forcing them to justify their actions, and by the fact of being accountable to the voters every so often for the state of affairs.

How is it, then, that the leaders of the United States have become so committed to a foreign policy that manifestly does not work?

Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov

Dmitry Orlov, on his ClubOrlov web log, listed all the ways in that American foreign interventions during the past 15 years have led to the opposite result from what was desired.

With his usual sarcastic wit, he said the USA has added Defeat Is Victory to George Orwell’s War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery and Ignorance Is Strength.

The elder George H.W. Bush, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, stated that the United States would use its unchallenged power to create a “new world order”.  But everywhere that the United States has intervened, the result has been death, destruction and arenas of lawless violence in which terrorism can thrive.

Albert Einstein allegedly said that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.  Why do policy-makers in Washington keep doing the same thing and expect different results?

One minor reason is the “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone” mentality.  Too many people in government fail to look beyond their own personal careers and the next term of office.

Another is the drift away from the idea that American patriotism is loyalty to the Constitution rather than loyalty to the government.

Yet another is the unquestioned assumption that cruelty and ruthlessness are inherently more realistic than obedience to law and to codes of honor.

The most important reason, I think, is that the United States of America is too rich and powerful for our own good.

Wealth and power shield you from the consequences of your actions—up to a point.  If you’re rich enough or powerful enough, you can do stupid and morally wrong things and get away with them—up to a point.

Power not only corrupts.  It makes you stupid.  But no person and no nation, no matter how rich and powerful, can escape the consequences of stupidity forever.

 

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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Decades of war haven’t made the USA safer

October 8, 2014

American intervention in the Middle East is not a reaction to anti-American Muslim terrorism.  Anti-American terrorism is a response to American intervention in the Middle East, which goes back long before Al Qaeda or ISIS.

The Reagan administration’s naval bombardment of Lebanon and aerial bombing of Libya were acts of war, and created a precedent for further acts of war.

_78096355_iraq_syria_air_strikes_20140810_976_v2Such acts have become so common that we Americans have come to think of them as normal, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the opinion the relatives and loved ones of the civilians killed in those bombings.

Al Qaeda’s original complaint against the United States, remember, was that American troops didn’t belong on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia.   U.S. troops came to Saudi Arabia as part of the war to drive Saddam Hussein’s troops out of Kuwait, and remained there as part of the low-level war against Iraq through the 1990s.

I’m not trying to justify Al Qaeda, or ISIS, either.  To the contrary!  I’m just recalling known historical facts.

Andrew Bacevich, writing in the Washington Post, counts 13 majority-Muslim countries that the United states has invaded, occupied or bombed since 1980, without either bringing stability to the region or making Americans more secure.

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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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Colin Powell’s forgotten doctrine

February 1, 2014

General Colin Powell, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993, formulated what came to be known as the Powell Doctrine. He said the United States should not go to war unless the decision-makers could answer “yes” to the following questions:

General Colin Powell

General Colin Powell

  1. Do we have a clear and attainable objective?
  2. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  3. Have all non-violent policy means been exhausted?
  4. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  5. Have the consequences of our actions been fully considered?
  6. Is the action supported by the American people?
  7. Do we have broad international support?

If the Powell Doctrine had been used as a basis for decision-making, the United States would have seldom if ever gone to war in the past 20 years — which perhaps was his intention.

The objection to the Powell Doctrine was expressed by Madelaine Albright, UN ambassador and later Secretary of State during the Clinton administration. She reportedly asked Powell: What is the point of having the world’s largest military if you’re never going to use it?

If a government has the world’s largest hammer, it is hard to avoid the temptation to treat every problem like a nail.

The slippery steps from words to war

September 5, 2013

Eric Martin, a contributor to the Democracy Arsenal web log, wrote a post about two years ago outlining six slippery steps that take the United States into military quagmires.

Step 1:  How can the President not at least condemn [Regime X] publicly for its abhorrent actions?  A public condemnation is the very least the President can do.  It wouldn’t cost much, but it would be an important show of our resolve and support for freedom!

Step 2 (with Regime X still in place):  So what, the President condemned the regime publicly with some harsh words and called it “illegitimate.”  Words are cheap and inconsequential.  We need sanctions and coordinated efforts to isolate the regime.  That will do the trick!

a308_marines_kandahar_2050081722-12811Step 3 (with Regime X still in place):  Sanctions?  Regime isolation?  Is that all the President is going to do in the face of Regime X’s perfidy?  Those timid jabs will never work, and the President’s dithering will make us look weak and lacking in resolve.  Our enemies will be emboldened.  The President must use our military to deal a swift blow.  No one is advocating a prolonged occupation, just a decapitation maneuver, and then a rapid hand off to the indigenous forces for democratic change.

Step 4 (with Regime X toppled by our military):  Now that we’ve committed our military, and brought about regime change, we have a moral obligation to see the mission through to the end.  Besides, if we withdraw, chaos will erupt and our enemies will fill the vacuum.  We owe it to the locals, we can’t afford to lose face, we can’t show weakness and our credibility depends on staying until a relatively stable, friendly nation emerges from the rubble.

Step 5 (repeat as needed):  We’ve turned the corner, shifted the momentum and victory is within reach.  The next six months should prove decisive.

Step 6:  I was critical of the handling of this military action from the beginning.  I would have conducted the operation differently.  Regardless, no one ever said it would be quick or easy.  But the difficulties encountered don’t discredit the policy!

Click on On Rhetoric and Regime Change to read Martin’s full post.  Hat tip to James Fallows.

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A traditional conservative vs. neo-conservatives

June 23, 2011

Hat tip to The American Conservative.

The case for getting rid of Qaddafi

April 2, 2011

[Update 4/17/2017.  It is now, of course, obvious that intervening in Libya was a terrible decision.  It should have been obvious to me at the time.]

I have misgivings about intervening in Libya.  But maybe I’m wrong.  Aaron Bady and Juan Cole, two scholars who know more about Libya than I do, and have the same values that I do, think that getting rid of Qaddafi is worth the risk.

Muammar al-Qaddafi

Aaron Bady cites Qaddafi’s record of funding dictators and war criminals in Africa, and Juan Cole points out that neutrality is an illusion, given Qaddafi’s overwhelming superiority in high-tech weapons sold by the West.

Click on Libya, Waiting to See for Aaron Bady’s full comment.  Click on An Open Letter to the Left on Libya for Juan Cole’s full statement.

Click on The Libyan intervention for my earlier post and links to arguments against intervention.

I’m now undecided what position to take on this.  I recall the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.  I thought then that even though the Bush administration was transparently lying about weapons of mass destruction, it would still be a good thing to get rid of Saddam Hussein.  He was a cruel and evil person; one of his decrees was to cut out the tongues of people who maligned him or his sons.  Iraqis initially welcomed the U.S. troops.  Maybe a more intelligent approach could have avoided all the killing, destruction and civil conflict that followed.  Maybe a more intelligent approach will be taken toward Libya.

Of course it doesn’t matter what position I take, because nothing I say or do will affect the government’s decisions or the outcome.  The decision has already been made; it was made weeks ago, before any announcement was made, when CIA agents were sent into Libya to pick out targets.  All I can do is watch and see what happens.

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