Hillary Clinton has a plan for defeating Islamic State in Syria. Donald Trump has one, too. With the conflict in Syria spreading beyond its borders, it’s essential to understand the new president’s strategies – and how they may need to be adjusted over the next four years.
Trump: Safe Zones
Trump has advocated for a “safe zone” for Syrians to ride out the conflict. Such a zone would be a swath of territory inside the country, where today’s refugees would reside instead of fleeing to Europe and elsewhere. Trump has offered no details on how such a zone would be created, or by whom. American support for this initiative, Trump has made clear, would be limited to some economic assistance, with the bulk of the costs borne by the Gulf States. Though Trump does not support a no-fly zone per se, it seems difficult anyone could create and protect a safe zone without a no-fly-zone.
Clinton: No Fly Zones
Clinton has also made the case for safe zones, as well as consistently proposing a no-fly zone. America, under Clinton’s plan, would make a portion of Syrian national airspace inaccessible to any but potentially its own planes. Russian strike aircraft and Syrian government helicopters would risk being shot down.
Clinton has said the no-fly zone would “create those safe refuges within Syria, to try to protect people on the ground both from Assad’s forces, who continue to drop barrel bombs, and from ISIS. And of course, it has to be de-conflicted with the Russians, who are also flying in that space.” She has also stated that “A no-fly zone would prevent the outflow of refugees and give us a chance to have some safe spaces.”
Clinton’s no-fly zone, and in practical terms, Trump’s safe zone, both open the same door to a greatly enlarged conflict.
General Martin Dempsey, the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained in 2012 imposing a no-fly zone would require as many as 70,000 American servicepeople to dismantle Syria’s air defense system, as a no-fly zone could not coexist alongside the possibility Assad might shoot down American aircraft. An attack on Assad of that magnitude would almost certainly demand a response; how would Russia come to the defense of its ally?
In addition, any no-fly zone (or safe zone for that matter) must address the near-certainty it will be challenged by the Russians; it almost has to be, given the struggle for dominance in the region. Shooting down a Russian plane would enlarge the conflict in Syria while at the same time risking a retaliatory move that could take place anywhere in the world, perhaps even in cyberspace.
The possible juice from a no-fly or safe zone just isn’t worth the squeeze of an enlarged conflict with nation-state level, global implications. President Barack Obama has rejected the idea of a no-fly/safe zone in Syria for years. Would President Clinton, or Trump, really roll the dice on possible direct military conflict with Russia when their predecessor did not?
Boots on the Ground
Another Syrian strategy option, sending in American ground forces, will also be on the table for the next president to weigh.
Trump appears to have split with running mate Mike Pence over Syria; Pence says the United States should meet Russian “provocations” with strength, backing the use of military force to do so. Trump, when asked about that statement, claimed “He and I disagree.” Though the notion of a disagreement has been walked back, the nature of a Trump administration policy towards American forces deployed in Syria remains unclear.
Despite Clinton’s assertions that her plan for Syria does not include boots on the ground, and Trump’s apparent interest in not introducing troops, the new president will inherit an evolving situation: the boots are not only already firmly on the ground, their numbers are growing. Since April President Barack Obama has overseen the largest expansion of ground forces in Syria since its civil war began, bringing the number of Special Forces deployed to about 1,500. A year ago the United States had only 50 soldiers in Syria.
Experience suggests mission creep in both scale and headcount is likely. The current fight against Islamic State in Iraq has seen American ground forces grow to some 6,000 on regular deployment, with an additional, unknown, number of Marines on “temporary duty” and not counted against the total. The mission has also expanded, from advising to direct action, including artillery and helicopter gunship ground attacks.
In Syria, the tactical picture is even tougher than in Iraq. The United States faces not only Islamic State, but also potentially troops from Russia and Syria, Iranian special forces, and/or militias professionally armed and trained by Russia, Syria, and Iran. The American side of the equation sweeps in an ad hoc collection of Syrian groups of questionable loyalty and radical ideology, Kurds who oppose Turks, Turks who oppose Kurds, and perhaps third party Arab fighters.
Any new strategy for Syria will unfold on a complex game board.
As long as Assad stays in power, even without Islamic State, the bloody civil war will continue. If Assad goes, who could replace him and not trigger a new round of civil war? Who will pay for Syria to rebuild at some point?
Enlarging the picture, how will the Kurd-Turk struggle be managed now that the genie of Kurdish independence is out of the lamp? How will the next phase of the Sunni-Shi’ite relationship in Iraq affect Syria? How will growing Iranian influence in Iraq, a likely consequence of any defeat of Islamic State there, factor in? The Russians are now on the ground again in the Middle East. What effect will that have on the broader regional and global strategic balance?
The task facing the next president is not just defeating Islamic State inside Syria, but doing so even as the local problems there have metastasized into broad issues with global consequences. President Clinton or President Trump may find their current proposed plans will run into the same vexing realities the Obama administration has struggled with for years. The candidates’ current proposed plans do not seem up to the task. The new administration will have to quickly devise strategies that have otherwise eluded America’s best strategic thinkers since the earliest days of the Syrian civil war.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Does free college threaten our all-volunteer military? That is what writer Benjamin Luxenberg, on military blog War on the Rocks says. But the real question goes deeper than Luxenberg’s practical query, striking deep into who we are as a nation.
Unlike nearly every other developed country, which offer free or low cost higher education (Korea’s flagship Seoul National University runs about $12,000 a year, around the same as Oxford), in America you need money to go to college. You need the bucks for tuition and books, and for most students, you need the bucks to not work full-time for a couple of years. Typical of America’s top end schools, Harvard charges $63,000 for tuition, room, board and fees. That’s more than a quarter of a million dollars for a degree. Even a state school wants $40,000 a year.
Right now there are only a handful of paths to higher education in America: have well-to-do parents; be low-income and smart to qualify for financial aid, take on crippling debt, or…
Or join the military.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides up to $20,000 per year for tuition, along with an adjustable living stipend. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Harvard is located, that stipend is $2,800 per month. There is also a books and supplies stipend. Universities participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program make additional funds available without affecting the GI Bill entitlement. Some 75 percent of those who enlisted said they did so to obtain educational benefits.
And in that vein, Luxenberg raises the question of whether the free (Bernie Sanders) or lower cost (Hillary Clinton) college education is a threat to America’s all-volunteer military. If so many people join up to get that college money, if college was free or cheaper, would they still enlist?
It is a practical question worth asking, but raises more serious issues in its trail. If people are enlisting in significant part because college tuition is not affordable, does that imply tuition costs need to stay high to help keep the ranks filled? That an unequal college costs playing field helps sustain our national defense?
Of course motivation to join the service is often multi-dimensional. But let’s look a little deeper, and ask what does it say about our nation when we guarantee affordable higher education to only a slim segment of our population. About seven percent of all living Americans were in the military at some point. Less than 0.5 percent of the American population currently serves. Why do we leave the other 99.95 percent to whatever they can or can’t scrape together on their own?
The issue of money always comes up, and was used by Hillary Clinton to knock down some of Bernie Sanders’ education proposals. Donald Trump may bring up the same question in the upcoming debates about Clinton’s more modest proposals.
Money matters, but what the country can get for its money is also important. Let’s round off the military higher education benefit, tuition and living stipend, to $53,000 a year. An F-35 fighter plane costs $178 million.
Dropping just one plane from inventory generates enough money for 3,358 years of college money. We could even probably survive as a nation if we didn’t buy four or five of the planes. A lot of people who now find college out of reach could go to school, even more if we reduced the stipend to where the difference could realistically be made up with 20 hours of minimum wage work a week.
The final question many people will be asking at this point is one of entitlement. What did those civilians do that makes it so the United States should give them college money?
Leaving aside the good idea of expanding “service” to include critical non-military possibilities, the answer is nothing. Nothing, but maybe it is more important than that.
Security is defined by much more than a standing military (and that does not even touch the question of how say an eight year occupation of Iraq made America more secure.) The United States, still struggling to transition from a soot and steel industrial base that collapsed in the 1970s to something that can compete in the 21st century, can only do so through education. More smart people equals more people who can take on the smarter jobs that drive prosperity. It is an investment in one of the most critical forms of infrastructure out there.
No one suggests veterans should have their benefits reduced. But for a nation that can clearly afford to pay for a broader base of accessible higher education, it seems very wrong to simply leave that process — or the nation’s future — to a Darwinian system of financial survival of the richest.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
We’re instituted full background checks, body scanners and cavity searches at my home for all guests and pets (can’t be too careful!), which keeps me pretty busy, so this will be a short post. Because they hate our freedoms, we’ve taken them away for safekeeping.
So here’s our fun thing for today: reflecting. So let’s get started:
State of Things September 11, 2001
— There was no Islamic State.
— Syria and Libya were peaceful places more or less.
— There was no global refugee crisis.
— There was no Saudi war ongoing in Yemen.
— Iraq opposed Iran, helping establish a balance of power in the Middle East. Any danger Saddam was worth was contained by the no-fly zones and had been, successfully, since 1991.
— Iran’s plans were cooled by an enemy on its western border, Iraq, and one on its eastern border, the Taliban.
— The Taliban controlled much of Afghanistan.
— The U.S. was not at war, and 4,486 Americans had not died in Iraq and 1,935 had not died in Afghanistan. A bunch o’ brown people were still alive. Suicide was not the most common cause of death in our military.
— The U.S. was not known as a torturer, a keeper of secret prisons, an assassin with drones.
— The Saudis were America’s friend and helped finance jihad (in Afghanistan.)
— America was represented abroad primarily by diplomats.
— Americans at home were secure, protected from abuses by their government by the First and Fourth Amendments.
State of Things September 11, 2016
— There is an Islamic State (and still an al Qaeda) that makes war across the Middle East and commits terrorism in Europe.
— Syria and Libya are failed states, at war, and sanctuaries for Islamic State and al Qaeda.
— There is a global refugee crisis that threatens the stability of Europe.
— There is a Saudi war ongoing in Yemen.
— Iran has become a dominant power in the Middle East, with well-established ties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
— The Taliban control much of Afghanistan.
— The U.S. government actively and continuously spies on Americans, particularly through electronic means. Once aimed only abroad, the NSA now devotes a substantial portion of its mighty resources inside the U.S.
— The U.S. government drone assassinates American Citizen abroad without trial.
— The Saudis were America’s friend and help finance jihad (in Afghanistan, Syria, maybe for a day in New York.)
— We’re all scared as hell about terrorism all the time.
Crystal is the traditional material of the 15th anniversary gift. Fitting, in that it breaks easily.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Last night’s MSNBC Commander-in-Chief Forum featured two candidates who couldn’t be more in love — with “The Troops.”
The troops were spoken of as if they were a they, maybe that group huddled outside smoking or something. Both Trump and Clinton made it clear they are ready to do anything to support the troops. Good, we owe the troops a lot for having to take the big hits for some dumb foreign policy decisions.
But it is only Hillary who cites her “experience,” so let’s take a look at that. Specifically, during the years she was secretary of state, how did her organization implement veterans preferences in hiring new Foreign Service Officers (FSOs; America’s diplomats)?
Bottom Line Up Front: Vets got the short end of the stick at State.
Veterans preference as we talk about it here is a set of laws and regulations within the Federal government that gives eligible veterans preference in hiring over many other applicants. In accordance with Title V, United States Code, Section 2108 (5 USC 2108), veterans’ preference eligibility is based on dates of active duty service, receipt of a campaign badge, Purple Heart, and/or a service-connected disability. It can get complicated, but the basic idea is to give vets a leg up in the hiring process over other applicants.
While most Federal agencies apply a points-based preference system to veterans right at the time of first application, where it will do the most good, Hillary’s State Department said no. Her leadership basically negated most of the preference and all of the goal, as well as maintaining several vet-unfriendly policies.
State’s FSO hiring process is slow, employing a number of steps/hurdles to thin down a large pool of wannabe-diplomats. Let’s see how it handles vets.
FSOs are not political appointees, but rather professional career positions. The steps to are pass a long written exam, then if you do that pass an essay test (“QEP”), then if you do that pass a full-day oral exam, then if you do that pass medical, security and “suitability” tests. The few applicants left at that point are placed on a register, a rank ordered list based on intended job title. So a person who makes it through all of the hurdles can end up number 23 on the list of future economic officers. If State only needs 22 people, you’re SOL my friend. Usually 18 months after entering the list, if you aren’t hired, you’re dropped and can do nothing more than start over.
In other words, the vet gets no preference for the written test, the essay test, the oral test, and the medical, security or suitability tests. During those s/he competes with the masses of college students who typically make up the applicant pool.
State’s veterans preference basically amounts to “not much.”
On November 9, 2009, Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13518, Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government, which established the Veterans Employment Initiative. The Initiative is a strategic approach to helping the men and women who have served our country in the military find employment in the Federal Government. State’s contribution? All of an aging website populated with generic links.
Oh, sorry, State also set up an online forum for vets. There are all of nine threads. To the extend that State answers inquiries, the responses are generic links or suggestions to email someone else.
As you can imagine, the process for all applicants to become an FSO takes a l-o-n-g time, 12-18 months for most. In order to have a job when s/he leaves the service, a military person has to figure out a way to do all those required steps while still in the military. Maybe not so hard if you’re stationed to a Navy facility outside Washington, DC, real hard if you’re sitting in the sh*t in Afghanistan.
And that oral exam? Needs to be done only in person on an assigned day, and almost always at a single location in Washington. College kids hop on the bus from Boston; military folks, well, hopefully First Sergeant will loan you his frequent flyer miles to get there.
State also does not offer any special credit for foreign languages earned in the service, even with a Department of Defense official score, over another applicant self-reporting her wonderfulness in Chinese. Same for any military skills, included very applicable things such as intelligence work, civil affairs, judge advocate and the like. State loves to talk about the value of leadership skills, but does not offer vets any special treatment even if they’ve lead a brigade in combat. Nope, same line for everyone, take your place in the back, soldier.
BOTTOM LINE TIME: What did Hillary do as secretary of state for the troops? Not a hell of a lot.
And here’s Hillary with some troops she really loves, Libyans:
Checking out the news these days, it might seem pretty clear why the U.S. is at war in Syria: destroy ISIS. That is almost certainly the way the two main presidential candidates will see it during their upcoming first debate, in a rare point of agreement.
The funny thing is that ISIS did not become the reason for what now is a major regional war until late in the game.
If we rewind about three years, the original justification was to “rid the world of the dictator,” Syrian president Bashar Assad. The U.S. involvement was started under the pretext that Assad was using chemical weapons against the other side in what was once confined to a civil war. American declared Assad thus had to go to avoid a genocide and humanitarian disaster.
FYI: If you read no further, remember anytime a politician uses the word “genocide” these days we’re about to be dragged into another conflict that will morph into a quagmire.
So here’s a reprise of something I wrote three years ago. Let’s revisit it and see whether or not any of the current disaster, political and humanitarian, could have been anticipated.
From Three Years Ago:
As for intervening in Syria, the United Nations does not say to do it. The United Kingdom voted against it, the first time in two decades the UK has not supported U.S. military action [the UK later changed it’s policy and is now involved across the Middle East again]. The U.S. Congress will not have an opportunity to vote on it, though many members have reservations. Many in our own military have doubts. Half of all American oppose it. Why does the president insist America must attack Syria?
Obama’s reasons seem vague at best, something from the 19th century about “firing a shot across Assad’s bow” as if this is a pirate movie. Or maybe protecting the U.S., though Syria (and others) have had chemical weapons for years without threatening the U.S. Even Saddam did not use chemical weapons against the U.S. during two American-led invasions of his own country. To protect the women and children of Syria? If that is the goal, the U.S. might best send doctors and medicine to the refugee camps, and nerve gas antidotes into Syria itself.
Vagueness is a very poor basis for the U.S. entering into another war in the Middle East, throwing itself deeper into a chaotic and volatile situation it little understands.
So let’s reprise our handy questions summary:
— The U.S. is intervening in Syria’s civil war because maybe it was Assad who used poison gas.
— The poison gas killed a couple of thousand people. A horrible thing by any measure.
— Close to 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war to date [in 2013; the death toll is now likely in the millions].
— The U.S. is thus going to war again in the Middle East because a tiny percentage of the deaths were caused by gas instead of artillery, aerial bombs, machine guns, tanks, rockets, grenades, car bombs, mines, bad food, or sticks and stones.
Because it seems Obama is not asking himself some important questions, here’s a list he may wish to consult:
— Is it Iraq again? That went well.
— Does it have oil?
— Does it pose a direct threat to America, i.e., knife to our throat?
— Can you define specifically what U.S. interests are at stake (no fair just citing generic “world peace” or “evil dictator” or a magical “red line”)?
— Does the Chemical Weapons Treaty say it is the U.S.’ job to take punitive action against violators? [Trick question; it does not.]
— Is Syria’s evil dictator somehow super-worse than the many other evil dictators scattered across the world where the U.S. is not intervening?
— Did Syria attack any U.S. forces somewhere? Kidnap Americans? Commit 9/11?
— Does the U.S. have a specific, detailed follow-on plan for what happens if Assad departs or is killed?
— Does the U.S. have a specific plan to ensure weapons given to the rebels, some of whom are openly al Qaeda [Now ISIS], won’t migrate out of Syria as they did in Libya?
— Does the U.S. believe its secret deal with the “rebels” whoever the hell they are to hand over Syria’s chemical weapons after they take power is airtight?
— With that in mind, can the U.S. tell with accuracy the “good” rebels from the “bad” rebels?
— Has the U.S. considered in detail what affect a rebel (Sunni) victory in Syria will have on chaotic Iraq next door and the greater Middle East?
— What are the possible unintended consequences of another military strike? Are they worth whatever is hoped to be gained by the strike?
Obama, if the answer was “No” to any of the above questions, you should not intervene in Syria.
NOTE: Obama did intervene, and golly, who could have thought it, look what happened!
It was about two years ago to the day I was blacklisted at CNN.
I don’t want to remind them they were sadly wrong, but they were. So write this off however you prefer, but understand that we were lied to again to drag us again into an open-ended war in Iraq-Syria. Last time it was Bush and those missing Weapons of Mass Destruction. This time is was Obama and saving the Yazidi people from genocide.
Wait, what? Who are the Yazidis? How they get us back into Iraq?
Ah, how fast time flies.
Two years ago a group of Yazidis, a minority spread across Iran, Iraq and Turkey, were being threatened by a group called ISIS few American were focused on. Obama declared a genocide was about to happen, and the U.S. had to act. U.S. officials said they believed that some type of ground force would be necessary to secure the safety of the stranded members of the Yazidi group. The military drew up plans for limited airstrikes and the deployment of 150 ground troops.
No Congressional authorization was sought, no attempt was made to secure UN sanction, no effort was made to seek Iraqi military help to save their own people inside their own country. However, promises were made by the White House of having no American “boots on the ground” and that the airstrikes to kill people were for a humanitarian purpose.
Two years later the U.S. has some 6,000 troops on the ground, including artillery units and aircraft based inside Iraq and Syria. The limited airstrikes have expanded to a 24 month broad-based bombing campaign, which has spread into Syria, with the sideshows of complete collapse of democracy in Turkey, a Russian military presence in Syria, and an Iranian military presence in Iraq. For the record, the Yazidis are pretty much fine, as are ISIS and Syrian president Assad. The Yazadis do occasionally show up in fear-mongering, unsourced stories about ISIS sex slaves, usually spoon-fed to American media, and only American media, by pro-Yazidi ethnic groups safely in the west.
In fact, other than a massive regional death toll and no progress toward whatever the actual goal for the United States is (um, whatever, “destroy” ISIS), things are pretty much the same after two years, +chaos. And whomever is elected this November will be the fifth U.S. president to make war in Iraq.
Back to CNN.
As the Yazidi situation was unfolding, I was invited to tape a discussion there alongside the usual retired U.S. military colonel. I was asked a single question, explained in my answer that the U.S. was in fact using the Yazidi “humanitarian crisis/faux genocide” as an excuse to re-enter the Iraq quagmire, and equated it to George W. Bush’s flim-flam about weapons of mass destruction in 2003.
The host literally said I was wrong. I was not asked another question, though the colonel was given several minutes to explain the urgency of the situation, demand America act where no one else would, and assure the public that Obama planned only limited, surgical strikes and that was it, one and done.
My question was edited out, the colonel’s lengthy answer was played on air, and my very brief moment in the glow of CNN was ended even though I wore a nice suit and a tie. Oh well, we still have each other here, and hey, CNN, my number’s still the same if you wanna call.
Ho, ho, ho, here’s a scenario no one could have possibly anticipated: some complex thing in the Middle East as a temporary patch to some previous complicated thing in the Middle East turned out to backfire for the U.S. because of a lack of any semblance of an actual policy as opposed to a series of random actions linked only in temporal order. Soon a new thing will be needed to counteract the lastest old thing, but that’s for next week.
The most current thing is that Russia deployed bomber and fighter aircraft to Iran for air strikes on rebels in Syria, the first time in 37 years that Iran allowed foreign forces to base and deploy from its territory. The new basing dramatically cuts into the number of frequent flyer miles the Russian air forces needs to bomb Syria. Flying out of Iran instead of from inside Russia means more sorties a day, maybe lower maintenance burdens, maybe heavier payloads.
Iran has, for now, walked back the arrangement, apparently embarrassed at the publicity. The larger issues still remain.
So a review, to put things in context. We’ll go quick here, kind of like the opening song of the Big Bang Theory, where they cover the history of the whole universe in 30 seconds of jaunty song:
— About 13 years ago Iraq was a stable place, just another crappy Mideast stinkhole run by the same dictator it had been for decades. U.S. invades to “free Iraq,” chaos ensues through two presidencies with a third teed up. The more or less stable Iraqi-Syrian border became a porous sore for Sunni baddies to enter and leave the fight, precursor foot soldiers to ISIS. The Sunni collaboration with (then) al Qaeda to protect themselves from Shiite militias spread into Syria.
— Five years ago Syria was a stable place, just another crappy Mideast stinkhole run by the same family of dictators it has been since the 1960s. The U.S. had tolerated, dealt with and cooperated with the Assad family during much of that time. Why, post-9/11, the U.S. even outsourced some torture to them. There were no Syrian aid agencies, no orphaned kids of Aleppo, no global refugee crisis.
— The Arab Spring starts in 2011, U.S. sees an opening, fans the flames in what started as a legitimate people’s revolt in Syria. Assad fights back, U.S. keeps intervening just enough to keep the fires burning but not much else, chaos ensues. Hillary and David Petraeus demand more U.S. war in Syria, end up instead getting a new U.S. invasion of Libya as a consolation prize from Obama and another failed state is created in another crappy Mideast stinkhole that had been run stably by the same dictator for decades. But we digress.
— Blah blah, time passes, people die, U.S. declares Assad an evil dictator who “must go,” thinks it negotiates the Russians into the new war to help “free Syria.” Russians grin wildly as they establish new full-force, on-the-ground military footprint inside Syria without a shot fired. They’re back into the game in the Middle East, half-invited by the U.S.!
— The oops! It turns out the sneaky Russians support Assad (who knew???), as America used to, and aren’t fighting him, like America wants them to. Bad, bad. John Kerry flies around Europe ignored by the White House (“sure, John, off you go, don’t forget to write and let us know how it’s going”) with his trademark Muppety “cautious but optimistic” face.
— But oops! Things change; the U.S. doesn’t like Assad, no sir, evil dictator kills his own people genocide barrel bombs poison gas save children, but isn’t going to attack him either like the Russians won’t attack him, because the war isn’t about “taking him out” per se except when asked to say that on TV news in America, it is about
defeatingdestroying ISIS. So, the U.S., Russia and hey, sure, why not, Iran, are all on the same side, fighting ISIS.
— BONUS: The U.S. and Iran are also “fighting ISIS” in Iraq. Iran, the big winner of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is grinning wildly as it establishes a new full-force, on-the-ground military footprint inside Iraq without a shot fired. They’re back in the game, half-invited by the U.S. Iran had been training and equipping the people who had been fighting the U.S. in Iraq 2003-2011. Now they are helping U.S.-supported Iraqi Shiite militias who had been fighting the U.S. in Iraq 2003-2011 retake the same cities U.S. soldiers died taking 2003-2011.
And that brings us to this week, where Assad is still around, ISIS is still around, Iraq is still a sectarian mess, Iran more or less controls the Iraqi government and the powerful Shiite militias except for the ones who might just rebel and/or slaughter Sunnis to complete a slow-burn civil war, Turkey a newly-collapsing crappy Mideast-ish stinkhole run by a new dictator and Russia and Iran, always a bit wary of one another, are cooperating militarily to attack ISIS (U.S. thumbs up!) in support of Assad (U.S. thumbs down!)
And that’s all before we get to the Kurds, who are well on their way to creating a confederacy of Kurdistan carved out of parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. That will be the impetus behind the next war inside the Middle East, with most of the same players now in Syria joining in. Figure maybe a year from now or so.
There is a nasty pattern in American political speech, going back into the 1980s at least: when a senior U.S. official labels you a thug, often times wars follow. Thug is the safest word of American Exceptionalism.
So it is with some concern that lots of folks are pushing each other away from the mic to call Putin a thug (fun fact: Putin has been in effective charge of Russia for 15 years. As recently as the Hillary Clinton Secretary of State era, the U.S. sought a “reset” of relations with him.)
While the current throwing of the term thug at Putin is tied to the weak evidence presented publicly linking a Russian hacker under Putin’s employ to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computers, there may be larger issues in the background. But first, a sample of the rhetoric.
Putin the Thug
Obama on Putin: “a thug who doesn’t understand his own best interests.”
Mario Rubio on Putin: “A gangster and a thug.”
Paul Ryan’s spokesperson on Putin: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug.”
John McCain on Putin: “A bully and thug.”
And for fun, Sir Peter Westmacott, Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. in 2014, on Putin: “A thug and a liar.”
Thugs in American Military Adventurism
That word, thug, seems to be a sort of dog whistle that when blown signals Americans and their media to psyche up for a new fight. For example:
John Kerry on Bashar Assad: “A thug and murderer.”
John Kerry on Islamic State: “Daesh [ISIS] is in fact nothing more than a mixture of killers, of kidnappers, of criminals, of thugs, of adventurers, of smugglers and thieves.”
George W. Bush on al Qaeda: “If we let down our guard against this group of thugs, they will hurt us again.”
George W. Bush on Saddam Hussein: “He is a thug.”
Bernie Sanders on Gaddafi: “Look, everybody understands Gaddafi is a thug and murderer.”
But Why Putin, Now?
Perhaps what we’re seeing here is a realignment for the next iteration of America’s perpetual war. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the conclusion of the Cold War (“the end of history”, as one author called it), there was no global enemy. No big nasty to spur weapons procurement, or to justify a huge standing military with hundreds of bases around the world, or to pick fights with to allow a boring president to morph into a superhero war president.
A lot of people had a lot of power and money in play that demanded some bad guys. An attempt was made in the 1980s to make narco lords the new major bad guys, but they were too few in number and the popularity of drugs among Americans got in the way. Following 9/11, the bad guys were supposed to be “the terrorists.” The George W. Bush administration riffed off that theme, appointing Saddam a massive weapons of destruction threat and tagged on Iran and North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil, because, well, no one knows, things sound good in groups of threes.
Saddam turned out to be a bust, and the Iraq War ultimately very unpopular. Bin Laden never launched a second attack on the U.S., and the Taliban were hard to picture, coming and going as they do. The U.S. made a good faith effort trying to label all sorts of others, Gaddafi, Assad, ISIS, et al, as global enemies worthy of perpetual war but they either were defeated, or are just plain are kicking American butt. Meanwhile, the Middle East in general turned into a huge, complicated, sticky clusterf*ck quagmire.
A New Hope Emerges
Like Batman, Washington needs an Arch Enemy, preferably one poster-child kind of guy who can be shown on TV looking like a Bond villain. With actual nukes (Washington spent years trying to convince us the terrorists were a 24/7 nuclear threat [smoking gun = mushroom cloud] and the damn terrorists never complied.)
Enter Putin The Thug.
Americans are already well-prepared by the old Cold War to see Russia as an evil empire, and Putin does look the part. A new Cold War with Russia will require lots of expensive military hardware, plus a large standing army and new areas of Europe to garrison. It might breathe new life into a NATO wondering why it still exists.
For politicians, shouting about Muslim threats has proven to have a downside, as it has enflamed many Muslims and pushed them toward radicalization. It turns out also there are Muslim voters, and people who like Muslims, in the U.S. Putin doesn’t vote, only a handful of hippies think he’s a good guy, and he can be slapped around in sound bites relatively without risk.
It is a political-military-industrial complex wet dream.
And so I predict in the coming Hillary regime a tamping down of terrorism stuff and a ramping up of a new Cold War. After all, isn’t that what her mentor Henry Kissinger would do?
So, Afghanistan. America’s longest and wackiest war will soon enter its 16th year, and is scheduled to run through the next administration, as no one can remember why the U.S. is fighting there anymore and so no one knows when this thing is over. Did we win yet? How would we know?
None of that matters of course, because plenty of American contractors are in their 16th year of getting filthy rich, thanks to extraordinary amounts of money being spent with no effective oversight by the Department of Defense. Let’s have the latest example.
Our friends at the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) are the poor b*stards charging with keeping track of all this waste. Once upon a time the point of an Inspector General was to point things out to upper management, like generals or Congress, so problems could be addressed. In 2016, the point of the Inspector General is to be ignored because no one in Washington actually care to fix anything.
Nonetheless, SIGAR has its job, and so has published an audit of America’s Afghan National Army Technical Equipment Maintenance Program, designed to maintain Afghan army vehicles at our expense and develop a vehicle maintenance capacity within the army.
It has not gone well. The audit notes:
— The five-year contract, originally valued at a fixed price of nearly $182 million, increased to $423 million due to contract modifications. The thing is still amusingly referred to as a “fixed price contract,” because words mean something else in the land of fairies and procurement.
— The failure of the contractor, Afghanistan Integrated Support Services, to meet its most basic contract requirements and program objectives, and Department of Defense inaction to correct contractor deficiencies and seek repayment of funds, has resulted in not only the waste of U.S. taxpayer funds but in the need for a new maintenance contract that is projected to cost more than $1 billion over the next five years.
— The contract was originally structured based on the assumption that the Afghan army had the capability to provide spare parts when and where they were needed, and that the Afghan army was capable of performing higher-level maintenance tasks, even though it had ample evidence that such capabilities did not exist.
— The U.S. placed orders for spare parts for Afghan army vehicles without accurate information as to what parts were needed or already in stock.
— The contract performance metric did not accurately assess contractor performance or progress toward contract objectives.
— The contractor was cited 113 times for failing to fulfill contract requirements.
— SIGAR found a number of instances where DOD could have demanded, but did not demand, repayment for services not rendered or inadequate services rendered.
— The contractor was compensated for repairs it made based on the number of vehicles in the Afghan vehicle fleet and not on the actual number of vehicles repaired. Payments to the contractor based on Afghan army vehicle inventory and not vehicles actually repaired resulted in escalating per-vehicle repair costs from a low of $1,889 to a high per-vehicle repair cost of $51,395.
— The Afghan army continues to suffer gaps in vehicle readiness, accountability, maintenance management, and supply chain management, and that these gaps affected their ability to execute military operations.
Some of this could possibly explain why the U.S. keeps losing the war.
It’s interesting that accusations that Putin is trying to swing the election to Trump peaked, for now, in the midst of the Democratic Convention, and distracted nicely from what was revealed in the hacked emails. Hmmm.
Putin was then ushered off stage, to be replaced by the Wrath of Khan and their son, who died in Iraq 12 years ago. I wonder now when Putin will be brought back. He will of course be brought back, being far too good a bad guy to waste in this most obscene of elections.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no global enemy for America to face down. No big nasty to spur weapons procurement, or to justify a huge standing military with hundreds of bases around the world, or to pick fights with to allow a president down in the polls to morph into a war leader.
A lot of people had a lot of power and money in play that demanded some real bad guys. An attempt was made in the 1980s to make narco-lords the new major threat, but they were too few in number to sustain the meme, and too many American loved their dope. Following 9/11, the bad guys were “the terrorists.” The Bush gangsters anointed Saddam a WMD threat and christened Iran and North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil.
The Iraq War was ultimately very unpopular, and is never-ending. Meh. Bin Laden never launched a second attack on the U.S., and the Taliban had no poster child leader like him to snarl at for 15 years. Iran and North Korea just make a lot of noise. The United States made an effort to label others — Gaddafi, Assad, Islamic State — global enemies worthy of perpetual war, but the Middle East in general has turned into a quagmire we all want to really wake up sober from.
Washington really needs an Arch Enemy, a guy who looks like a Bond villain with nuclear weapons he’ll brandish but never use.
Americans are already well-prepared by the old Cold War to see Russia as an evil empire, and Putin does look the part. A new Cold War will require America to buy more military hardware, plus discover new places like the Baltic states to garrison. It might even straighten out a NATO confused about its role regarding global terrorism.
Forget Trump and Clinton; Putin is the political-military-industrial complex dream candidate.
Last Thursday night, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, Khizr Khan paid tribute to his son, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq on June 8, 2004, after he tried to stop a suicide bomber.
As for every parent, husband, wife, brother, sister and friend who lost someone any war, I grieve with them. I am sorry for the Khan’s loss. I am a parent and can all too easily be sent to thinking about the loss of a child.
So go ahead and hate on me. But of the almost 7,000 American families who lost sons and daughters in the last 15 years of American war of terror, why did the Democrats choose a single Muslim family to highlight?
No one knows how many hundreds of thousands (millions?) of non-American Muslims were killed as collateral damage along the way in those wars. Who spoke for them at the Convention?
I found the Democrats’ message shallow. It was pandering of the most contemptible kind, but not as some say simple pandering for Muslim votes from those alienated by Trump’s rhetoric.
The Democratic pandering was to an America that wants to believe we have good Muslims (who express their goodness by sending their kids to fight our wars) and “they” have the bad Muslims (who express their badness by sending their kids to fight their wars.) The pandering was to the cozy narrative that makes the majority of Americans comfortable with perpetual war in the Middle East and Africa.
MORE: At one point Khan challenged Trump, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.” True. But let us also remember the Clinton family sent no one to war. Their daughter did not serve any more than any Trump kid. Bill and Hillary served exactly as many days as Trump and Melania. Khan should have been more inclusive in his condemnation.
I would also like to ask Khan how he reconciles his son’s death with the fact that only a few years later Iraq is still deep in war.
Trump is an ass and I do not support him in any way. I am particularly troubled by his hate speech directed at Muslims, and Mexicans, and everyone else he hates.
It is not disrespectful to discuss these things. Khan choose to put himself and his son’s death on television to serve a partisan political purpose. We need to talk about what he talked about.
I always found myself giggling during the Democratic debates when Hillary would ask Bernie how he was going to pay for things like healthcare or college tuition, and then Bernie stammering to find an answer.
They both knew the secret but neither would say it — there’s plenty of money, we just don’t want to spend it on Americans.
We think of that as freeloading, unearned stuff. Go get a job, moocher. But then move the same question overseas and everything changes. There is always plenty of money, and the people getting free stuff from that money aren’t moochers. They’re allies.
So how much healthcare would $1.7 billion buy? Because that’s how much money the United States just laid out to buy radios for the near-useless Afghan Army. And while I don’t know how much healthcare the money would buy, I do know it will purchase a helluva lot of radios. Is everyone in Afghanistan getting one? Maybe we’re buying them for the Taliban, too.
Anyway, the $1,700,000,000 radios for Afghanistan contract was just recently awarded to the Harris Corporation. And here’s a funny thing: only one company — Harris — actually put in a bid for the contract.
But the Afghans must need more stuff than just radios, and so the U.S. has money ready for that.
The United States will provide $3 billion to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces from 2018 to 2020 for, well, we don’t really know. Meanwhile, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan said the White House planned to ask Congress for about $1 billion a year in development and economic assistance for Afghanistan through 2020. And if that isn’t enough, the United States and its allies are expected to raise $15 billion for the Afghan National Defense and Security forces at a NATO summit scheduled for next month in Warsaw.
There’s money. You just can’t have any of it, moochers.
Syria passed a grim milestone this week. The country now has more displaced people/refugees without homes than people still living in their homes.
The only significant response to this humanitarian crisis, a slow motion genocide, from the West has been more war, both from foreign aircraft and special forces directly, and via more support for the militias on the ground. The Syrian people are treated as simply part of the landscape being fought over. Destroying them seems as consequential as blowing up the buildings they used to live in.
That serves as background — literally — to the striking Pokemon Go images (above) created by Syrian artist Khaled Akil and others. They are trying to use the international frenzy over the game to keep attention on the plight of their people.
Here, they say, is what politicians’ claims to “destroy ISIS!” really mean.
The war in Syria, now in its sixth year with no end in sight, has killed more than 280,000 people. It is as if the only real question to be decided is if the West will run out of ammunition, or Syria out of people, first
Another artist, Syrian Saif Aldeen Tahhan, posted showing Pokemon Go players holding smartphones and seeking not Pokemons but medical care, school books, or undamaged homes. One image depicts a smartphone in front of a rubber dinghy of refugees at sea, with the user trying to capture a life ring.
“I am in Kafr Nabal in Idlib province, come and save me,” reads text underneath a Pikachu on a poster held by a young boy.
Since the wave of Islamic State suicide bombings in May – killing 522 people inside Baghdad, and 148 people inside Syria – American officials have downplayed the suicide bombing strategy as defensive. Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy in the fight against Islamic State, said the group “returned to suicide bombing” as the area under its control shrinks. The American strategy of focusing primarily on the “big picture” recapture of territory seems to push the suicide bombings to the side. “It’s their last card,” stated a compliant Iraqi spokesperson in response to the attacks.
The reality is just the opposite. Just a day after the June 26 liberation of Fallujah, car bombs exploded in eastern and southern Baghdad. Two other suicide bombers were killed outside the city. An improvised explosive device exploded in southwest Baghdad a day earlier. And now the latest, with a death toll approaching 200.
Washington should know better than to underestimate the power of small weapons to shape large events. After Donald Rumsfeld labeled Iraqi insurgents as “dead enders” in 2003, they began taking a deadly toll of American forces via suicide bombs. It was the 2006 bombing of the Shi’ite al-Askari Golden Mosque in Samarra that kicked the Iraqi civil war into high gear. It was improvised explosive devices and car bombs that kept American forces on the defensive through 2011.
To believe suicide bombings represent a weakening of Islamic State is a near-total misunderstanding of the hybrid nature of the group; Islamic State melds elements of a conventional army and an insurgency. To “win,” one must defeat both versions.
ISIS differs from a traditional insurgency in that it seeks to hold territory. This separates it from al Qaeda, and most other radical groups, and falsely leads the United States to believe that retaking strategic cities like Fallujah from Islamic State is akin to “defeating” it, as if it is World War Two again and we are watching blue arrows move across the map toward Berlin. McGurk, following Fallujah, even held a press conference announcing Islamic State has now lost 47 percent of its territory. That may be true, but it also does not really matter.
Simultaneously with holding and losing territory, Islamic State uses terror and violence to achieve political ends.
Islamic State has no aircraft and no significant long-range weapons, making it a very weak conventional army when facing down the combined forces of the United States, Iran and Iraq in set piece battles. It can, however, use suicide bombs to strike into the very heart of Shi’ite Baghdad (and Syria, Jordan, Yemen, and Turkey – as Tuesday’s bombing reminds us), acting as a strong transnational insurgency.
Why does such strength matter in the face of ISIS’ large-scale losses such as Fallujah?
Violence in the heart of Iraqi Shi’ite neighborhoods empowers hardliners to seek revenge. Core Sunni support for Islamic State grows out of the need for protection from a Shi’ite dominated military, which seeks to marginalize if not destroy the Sunnis. Reports of Shi’ite atrocities leaking out of the ruins of Sunni Fallujah are thus significant. Fallujah was largely destroyed in order to “save” it, generating some 85,000 displaced persons, mirroring what happened in Ramadi. Those actions remind many Sunnis of why they supported Islamic State (and al Qaeda before them) in the first place.
Suicide strikes reduce the confidence of the people in their government’s ability to protect them; Prime Minister Abadi was ridiculed at the site of the most recent attack, and a member of his cabinet forced to resign. In Iraq, that sends Shi’ite militias into the streets, and raises questions about the value of civil institutions like the Iraqi National Police. Victories such as the retaking of Ramadi and Fallujah, and a promised assault on Mosul, mean little to people living at risk inside the nation’s capital.
American commanders have already had to talk the Iraqi government out of pulling troops from the field to defend Baghdad, even as roughly half of all Iraqi security forces are already deployed there. This almost guarantees more American soldiers will be needed to take up the slack.
Anything that pulls more American troops into Iraq fits well with the anti-American Islamic State narrative. Few Iraqis are left who imagine the United States can be an honest broker in their country. A State Department report found that one-third of all Iraqis believe the Americans are actually supporting Islamic State, while 40 percent are convinced that the United States is trying to destabilize Iraq for its own purposes.
The suicide bombings — in Iraq and elsewhere — are not desperate or defensive moves. They are not inconsequential. They are careful strategy, the well-thought out application of violence by Islamic State. The United States downplays them at great risk.
Here’s where things stand.
The only mainstream candidate in recent decades to come along with new ideas, a model of not accepting big money with strings attached, and willing to address the critical issues in America of economic inequality and lack of health care for many, is done.
Unless Lin-Manuel Miranda does a musical of his life, Bernie’s just a footnote in the history books. But the stigma that he won via a set of tricks to include the “superdelegate system,” some election fraud, and overt partisanship by the Democratic National Committee and much of the media, never mind what Obama does with the FBI report into her mishandling of classified information, lingers like the smell of ripe sh*t in a stadium toilet.
The Republican candidate pulled in a helluva lotta votes via old-fashioned demagoguery, modern racism, and some clever Tweets. Trump is running strong in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. But his own party hates him, many refuse to endorse him, a lot of people are hoping he self-destructs, and many more want some magic process to replace him with one of the “good Republicans” who already failed in the primaries.
And then Hillary. She has famously high negatives, is distrusted by a vast number of Americans, believed to be an actual criminal by large numbers, and has yet to answer for her emails and her corrupt Clinton Foundation. She is the textbook case of big money, big donor politics, and a lifetime Washington insider. Republican hatred for her assures Congress will do as little as possible for any agenda she puts forward if elected, assuming she has one other than to immediately start her campaign for a second term while further enriching herself.
That all adds up to a miserable picture of America in 2016. We have a reality TV star and real estate developer running against the only candidate in American history seeking the White House while under an active FBI criminal investigation.
What’s a voter with still intact critical thinking skills to do? Fall victim to the emerging meme of both candidates, vote for the lesser of two evils, pick me or you’ll get the other one? Are we really supposed to participate in an electoral process that is subtitled “Pick the One That Sucks a Little Less?”
No. Let the whole damn thing burn down and collapse.
Let Trump/Clinton take us into as many wars as they hope to, bleed our youth and our treasury dry. Stand back as three military personnel a day commit suicide. Fight the Russians, ISIS, the Chinese, militarize Africa like 21st century colonialists, set up more secret prisons, expand Guantanamo, torture, hell, rape the families of “terrorists” in front of them to force confessions on anything and everything and then use that info for a new war. Fake WMDs in Iraq? That was amateur work.
Let them concentrate more and more wealth into a tiny group, such that the concept of the “One Percent” is quaint; let it be the .01 percent. Let them deliver cash and gold directly to the front door of the White House and stop pretending such things are “contributions.” Let people go hungry, make higher education only for the rich or those stupid enough to take on a lifetime of student loan debt. Watch people suffer from lack of basic health care. Stop wasting money on infrastructure that wealthy people never use anyway. Thin out the herd with lead-soaked water.
Throw up billboards reminding everyone that the NSA is spying on everything they do, and make kids rat out their parents who smoke weed. Unleash the drones over America and stop wasting money “prosecuting” American terrorists. Keep the prisons looking like plantations.
And then stand back and watch it all burn down. Turn us loose to eat each other. Make us fight for scraps and scavenge trash piles. If anything is left after all that, then maybe we can try again. If not, we should all just smile and welcome Chelsea Clinton to the White House in 2024.
One of the concepts that emerged from the Vietnam War was that of destroying a village to save it.
The idea was that by leveling a place where people once lived, the area would be denied to the Viet Cong. The people? Well, they’d just have to find somewhere else. And you’re welcome, for your freedom!
The same cynical policy seems very much underway now in Iraq, in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State.
The current focus is on the city of Fallujah. During Iraq War 2.0, the United States captured the city twice, the final time via a siege that would have embarrassed the Nazis outside Stalingrad. White phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons were used against a civilian population living amidst some groups of Sunni militias and al Qaeda terrorists. No one knows the civilian death count.
In Iraq War 3.0, 2016 edition, beleaguered Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was quick to declare victory in mid-June after Shia militias reached the center of Fallujah, displacing the Islamic State (an official in the U.S.-led coalition said Iraqi forces had so far taken only half of Fallujah, but why does that matter.)
Whomever is winning, the fighting has forced more than 85,000 residents to flee in a humanitarian crisis you’ll need to work hard to learn more about. One of the few Western journalists actually on the ground in Fallujah, the Washington Post’s Loveday Morris (follow her at @LovedayM if you have any interest in Iraq at all), described the scene as “No tents, latrines, water tanks for some. Aid agencies just can’t keep up. In 4.5 years covering Syria and Iraq I’ve never seen conditions this bad… No words.”
It will be years, if ever, before Fallujah is a functioning city again. How do we know? Because of Ramadi.
Ramadi was the city before Fallujah that was destroyed to free it from Islamic State. Some six months after that victory, the city remains a disaster zone. Estimates are that almost 80 percent of the buildings in Ramadi, including the majority of around 32,000 residential housing units, infrastructure, government departments and schools, have been damaged or destroyed. ISIS did its share of damage, but the U.S. launched thousands of airstrikes, artillery barrages and rocket attacks into the urban areas. Shia militias did the rest.
Special engineering committees were created to assess the damages, award compensation and schedule re-building. Forms are still being given out to members of the public who venture back into the ruins. According to local administrators, around $19.5 billion will be needed to rebuild the city.
Since the committees started work in May, they have received around 17,000 applications for compensation, says the mayor of Ramadi. About 50,000 are expected. Staff have managed to process 3,000 applications so far and have made the required site visits at a rate of only 30 and 50 per day.
So far, the Baghdad central government has only provided about one million dollars. That’s Ramadi. Fallujah awaits.
Despite over 400,000 dead and ongoing ground and air campaigns inside the country by the U.S., Russia and several others, 51 U.S. diplomats are publicly demanding the Obama administration launch strikes directly against Bashir Assad in Syria.
The Assad family has ruled Syria since the 1970s with an iron hand, employing secret police and other standard dictator tricks to suppress dissent. Things got so cozy between Syria and the U.S. that in the early days of the war on terror the CIA was sending “suspects” to Syria for some outsourced torture, as nobody can run a secret prison better than Arabs.
Papa Assad passed away and his son Bashir assumed the presidency in 2000. Some ten years later Assad did the same thing most Arab dictators did, including U.S. allies like Egypt, and ordered crackdowns on Arab Spring protesters. The U.S. then decided in an on-again, off-again fashion to “remove” Assad. When no one in the U.S. really liked the sound of that following the disastrous regime changes in Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the U.S. attacked Syria anyway in the name of smiting Islamic State [ISIS]. Assad, whatever else he is and he is no doubt a real bastard, is also at war with ISIS. Some 400,000 Syrians have died so far in the civil war.
And there’s a photo above of Secretary of State and Bashir Assad hanging out in better days. Times change, man.
With that as background, 51 mid-level American diplomats took the brave stand of writing a memo (technically known as using the State Department dissent channel.) The memo was promptly leaked to the press.
Oh, a memo calling for more war written by people who wear suits and ties to work (technically known as chickenhawks.)
The memo says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of standoff and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”
Robert Ford, former ambassador to Syria, said, “Many people working on Syria for the State Department have long urged a tougher policy with the Assad government as a means of facilitating arrival at a negotiated political deal to set up a new Syrian government.”
Regime change. Bloody change, as it seems odd to imagine Assad would negotiate his own ouster.
What the Memo Left Out
The dissent memo makes no suggestions, actually no mention at all, about who would succeed Assad, or how this regime change would be any different than the failed tries in Iraq, Libya or Yemen, or how ISIS, who also seeks the end of the Assad regime through violence, would not be further empowered, or how the U.S. would get away with airstrikes given the overt Russian support for the Assad regime. Everyone except for those brave memo-ists has seen this movie before.
Also missing from the memo are any notes on what if any military service the 51 signatories have amongst them, or why this call for more blood comes from the State Department and not from the military, whose commanders have raised questions about what would happen in the event that Assad was forced from power. Their questions are likely motivated by the fact that they would be asked to risk their lives to clean the mess.
Finally, no one seems to remember anymore why “we” need to “take out” Assad. He is no doubt a terrible person who kills to protect his power. But leaders like that are not in short supply across the Middle East, in Africa and places like North Korea. It seems a more specific rationale, tied directly to some clear U.S. strategic interest, is needed (remember, Assad is fighting ISIS and has never sought to export terror to the U.S.) Assad also enjoys support inside his country by some minority, who will not go away quietly if he is changed out. See what happened to the Baathists in Iraq, who organized some of the first resistance to the U.S., and went on to help staff up ISIS.
That said, it sure is a nicely-typed memo. Luckily no one in Washington pays much attention anymore to the State Department. So, State, go back to what you do best: hiding emails, and leave this stuff to the adults.
BONUS: Funny thing about that “dissent” memo. It seems that the dissent expressed in fact parallels the feelings of Secretary of State John Kerry, and possible next-president Hillary Clinton, that the U.S. should attack Assad directly. Leave it to State t find a way to change dissent into ass kissing.
We may have achieved peak military-industrial complex: the U.S. is in part supplying both sides of the Iraq-Islamic State conflict and through that, creating the need for a new class of weapons to be sold as a counter measure. As arms manufacturers across our great land say, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Islamic State militants have not only acquired a grand majority of the military Humvees gifted to and then abandoned by the Iraqi Army, they are now re-purposing them into car bombs to use against the Iraqi Army (Hint: don’t leave the keys in the car next time.*)
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi confirmed that 2,300 are in ISIS hands, more than two-thirds of all Humvees provided to Iraq by the U.S.
While the vehicles make for handy battlefield transportation, it turns out they are almost tailor-made for use as suicide car bombs.
“There’s a simple reason the militants are using Humvees and other armored vehicles as rolling bombs,” reported Foreign Policy. “Their armor plating prevents defenders from killing the trucks’ drivers before the militants can detonate their loads, while the vehicles’ capacity to carry enormous amounts of weight means the Islamic State can pack in a ton of explosives.”
What to do when the weapons you gave to the Iraqi Army ended up as a super weapon of the enemy? Why, you sell new weapons to the Iraqi Army!
And so the U.S. has outfitted the Kurdish Peshmerga with 1,000 AT-4 anti-tank missiles last year, and plans to send 2,000 to the so-called Iraqi Army. Germany has provided the Peshmerga with the Milan guided missile, which has also been proven effective against the Humvee bombs. Assuming the Iraqi side holds on to their American-made missiles, they can be used to blow up the American-made Humvees.
The things work well. In fact, according to the Daily Caller, the anti-tank missiles are so popular, one Kurdish family even named their child after the weapon.
* Joke! They don’t have keys.
A new report in the Wall Street Journal reveals emails in which then-Secretary of State Clinton approved CIA drone assassinations in Pakistan from her unsecured Blackberry.
Top Secret/SAP Messages
The timing and location of these strikes are considered Top Secret/SAP [special access program], in that revealing such data could allow the targeted humans to escape, and embarrass U.S. ally Pakistan, whom many believe is tacitly allowing the United States to conduct such military operations inside its sovereign territory.
At specific issue are 22 emails that were on Clinton’s private server. These messages were not publicly released, withheld entirely. However, the broad contents were leaked to the Journal by anonymous congressional and law-enforcement officials briefed on the FBI’s investigation.
Clinton’s role in approving the drone kills stems from concerns by lower State officials that the attacks’ timing and location might interfere with broader diplomatic engagement. So, from 2011 on, the State Department had a secret arrangement with the CIA, giving it a degree of say over whether or not a drone killing would take place.
Then-Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter reportedly opposed certain covert operations that occurred during especially sensitive points in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. As he later described the process “I have a yellow card. I can say ‘no.’ That ‘no’ goes back to the CIA director. Then he has to go to Hillary. If Hillary says ‘no,’ he can still do it, but he has to explain the next day in writing why.”
Clinton allegedly objected only to “one or two” attacks out of thousands.
Clinton Says None of That is True
As regards these emails, Clinton has said “the best we can determine” is that the emails in question consisted solely of a news article about drone strikes in Pakistan. “How a New York Times public article that goes around the world could be in any way viewed as classified, or the fact that it would be sent to other people off of the New York Times site, I think, is one of the difficulties that people have in understanding what this is about.”
However, the Wall Street Journal states the e-mails were not merely forwarded news articles, but consisted of informal discussions between Clinton’s senior aides about whether to oppose upcoming CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. When a potential strike was imminent, or if it occurred during a weekend or holiday when State Department staffers were away from government computers, the covert operation was then debated openly over unsecured wireless networks that anyone with a modicum of knowledge could intercept.
As a matter of speculation, the Russian and Chinese embassies in Washington DC likely employ people with a modicum of knowledge about wireless communications.
A Matter of Personal Convenience
One official said “If a strike was imminent, it was futile to use the high side [classified communications], which no one would see for seven hours.”
There is no built-in delay in classified communications. The official is likely referring to an unwillingness by Clinton’s staff to return to the office to conduct classified business on the proper system. Since there has been no suggestion or evidence that CIA officials also used unclassified systems to discuss drone strikes, one can assume they were willing to be at the office when U.S. national security issues mattered.
Actual Black Person and National Security Advisor Susan Rice told graduates at Florida International University in a commencement speech a week or three ago that the presence of too many “white, male, and Yale” personnel in America’s national security agencies she helps staff and run is posing a threat to the very security of the United States.
“Too often, our national security workforce has been what former Florida Senator Bob Graham called ‘white, male, and Yale,'” Rice stated. “In the halls of power, in the faces of our national security leaders, America is still not fully reflected. I’m not talking about a human resources issue. I’m highlighting a national security imperative.”
So what the hell exactly is Rice talking about that’s so dangerous besides herself?
“By now, we should all know the dangers of ‘groupthink,’ where folks who are alike often think alike. By contrast, groups comprised of different people tend to question one another’s assumptions, draw on divergent perspectives and experiences, and yield better outcomes.”
So that means all people of a certain melanin ratio think the same way? I think that’s the same kind of racist hate that many still say about people of color.
Or that once in government, Blacks, Whites, Latinos, gay people and all others don’t all become weasels and suckups who always agree with their boss? Also, one can’t help but notice that Rice, in her powerful position, is already Black. And that other guy, the one who sits at the head of the table, he also looks Black.
And about that “Yale” part of the equation Rice also does not like. Rice attended elite Stanford University, and then went on to even more elite Oxford University in England, kinda on the Yale spectrum. Her boss, Barack Obama, went to Columbia and Harvard, so so much for diversity there. Maybe she should resign in favor of someone who went to Ohio State on a football scholarship.
Rice wasn’t done in her commencement speech, as she had to explain her views on the utter shallowness of diplomacy, about how America can fool foreigners with funny costumes that for sure matter more than policies such as drone strikes against civilians and overthrowing governments:
“Moreover, we want our national security leaders to reflect America’s best self to the world and inspire others to follow our example. Not by preaching pluralism and tolerance, but by practicing it. Think of the LGBT person in Bangladesh who knows that someone at the American embassy understands who she is. Think of the Iraqi soldier, learning to fight alongside Iraqis from other religious sects, who takes inspiration from America’s own multi-ethnic force. Think of young Haitians drawn to converse with a Foreign Service officer who has dreadlocks like their own. That is how we build bridges and deepen partnerships in an increasingly globalized world.”
Damn, that’s it. If only more of our diplomats grew dreads things would be working better for America out there.
BONUS: I am in favor of diversity. But the arguments Rice is making were made in part years ago about bringing more women into government. We did, and it didn’t change sh*t about the way America conducts itself in the world.
Barack Obama called the drone assassination on May 21 of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, “an important milestone.”
It might turn out to be. But I doubt it. My advice is every time you hear an American official use the term “milestone,” run the other way.
For example, back in September 2014 Secretary of State John Kerry claimed the formation of a new Iraqi government then was “a major milestone” for the country. But on the same day that Obama was proclaiming his own milestone, protesters stormed the Green Zone in Baghdad seeking the end of that previous milestone government.
But in case you’re not convinced, let’s take a look back at milestones and their companion, turning points, from the last Iraq War.
“This month will be a political turning point for Iraq,” Douglas Feith, July 2003
“We’ve reached another great turning point,” Bush, November 2003
“That toppling of Saddam Hussein… was a turning point for the Middle East,” Bush, March 2004
“Turning Point in Iraq,” The Nation, April 2004
“A turning point will come two weeks from today,” Bush, June 2004
“Marines Did a Good Job in Fallujah, a Battle That Might Prove a Turning Point,” Columnist Max Boot, July 2004
“Tomorrow the world will witness a turning point in the history of Iraq,” Bush, January 2005
“The Iraqi election of January 30, 2005… will turn out to have been a genuine turning point,” William Kristol, February 2005
“On January 30th in Iraq, the world witnessed … a major turning point,” Rumsfeld, February 2005
“I believe may be seen as a turning point in the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism.” Senator Joe Lieberman, December 2005
“The elections were the turning point. … 2005 was the turning point,” Cheney, December 2005
“2005 will be recorded as a turning point in the history of Iraq… and the history of freedom,” Bush, December 2005
“We believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it’s a new chapter in our partnership,” Bush, May 2006
“We have now reached a turning point in the struggle between freedom and terror,” Bush, May 2006
“This is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens.” Bush, August 2006
“When a key Republican senator comes home from Iraq and says the US has to re-think its strategy, is this a new turning point?” NBC Nightly News, October 2006
“Iraq: A Turning Point: Panel II: Reports from Iraq.” American Enterprise Institute, January 2007
“This Bush visit could well mark a key turning point in the war in Iraq and the war on terror,” Frederick W. Kagan, September 2007
“Bush Defends Iraq War in Speech… he touted the surge as a turning point in a war he acknowledged was faltering a year ago,” New York Times, March 2008
“The success of the surge in Iraq will go down in history as a turning point in the war against al-Qaeda,” The Telegraph, December 2008
“Iraq’s ‘Milestone’ Day Marred by Fatal Blast,” Washington Post, July 2009
“Iraq vote “an important milestone,” Obama, March 2010
“Iraq Withdrawal Signals New Phase, But War is Not Over,” ABC News, August 2010
“Why the Iraq milestone matters,” Foreign Policy, August 2010
“Iraq Milestone No Thanks to Obama,” McCain, September 2010
“Hails Iraq ‘milestone’ after power-sharing deal, ” Obama, November 2010
“Week’s event marks a major milestone for Iraq,” Council on Foreign Relations, March 2012
“National elections ‘important milestone’ for Iraq,” Ban Ki Moon, April 2014
“Iraq PM nomination ‘key milestone,'” Joe Biden, August 2014
On May 27, Barack Obama became the first sitting American president to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the site of the world’s first atomic bombing. Though highly photogenic, the visit was otherwise one that avoided acknowledging the true history of the place.
Like his official predecessors (Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Peace Memorial in early April, as did two American ambassadors before him), Obama did not address the key issues surrounding the attack. “He [Obama] will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb,” Benjamin Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, stated.
With rare exception, the question of whether the atomic bombs were necessary to end World War Two is debated only deep within the safety of academic circles: could a land invasion have been otherwise avoided? Would more diplomacy have achieved the same ends without the destruction of two cities? Could an atomic test on a deserted island have convinced the Japanese? Was the surrender instead driven primarily by the entry of the Soviets into the Pacific War, which, by historical accident, took place two days after Hiroshima—and the day before Nagasaki was immolated?
But it is not only the history of the decision itself that is side stepped. Beyond the acts of destruction lies the myth of the atomic bombings, the post-war creation of a mass memory of things that did not happen.
The short version of the atomic myth, the one kneaded into public consciousness, is that the bombs were not dropped out of revenge or malice, immoral acts, but of grudging military necessity. As a result of this, the attacks have not provoked or generated deep introspection and national reflection.
The use of the term “myth” is appropriate. Harry Truman, in his 1945 announcement of the bomb, focused on vengeance, and on the new, extraordinary power the United States alone possessed. The military necessity argument was largely created later, in a 1947 article defending the use of the atomic bomb, written by former Secretary of War Henry Stimson, though actually drafted by McGeorge Bundy (later an architect of the Vietnam War) and James Conant (a scientist who helped build the original bomb). Conant described the article’s purpose at the beginning of the Cold War as “You have to get the past straight before you do much to prepare people for the future.”
The Stimson article was a response to journalist John Hersey’s account of the human suffering in Hiroshima, first published in 1946 in the New Yorker and later as a book. Due to wartime censorship, Americans knew little of the ground truth of atomic war, and Hersey’s piece was shocking enough to the public that it required that formal White House response. Americans’ general sense of themselves as a decent people needed to be reconciled with what was done in their name. The Stimson article was quite literally the moment of creation of the Hiroshima myth.
The national belief that no moral wrong was committed with the atomic bombs, and thus there was no need for reflection and introspection, echoes forward through today (the blithe way Nagasaki is treated as a historical after thought – “and Nagasaki, too” – only drives home the point.) It was 9/11, the new Pearl Harbor, that started a series of immoral acts allegedly servicing, albeit destructively and imperfectly, the moral imperative of saving lives by killing. America’s decisions on war, torture, rendition and indefinite detention are seen by most as the distasteful but necessary actions of fundamentally good people against fundamentally evil ones. Hiroshima set in motion a sweeping, national generalization that if we do it, it is right.
And with that, the steps away from the violence of Hiroshima and the shock-and-awe horrors inside the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib are merely a matter of degree. The myth allows the world’s most powerful nation to go to war as a victim after the tragic beheadings of only a small number of civilians. Meanwhile, the drone deaths of children at a wedding party are seen as unfortunate but only collateral damage in service to the goal of defeating global terrorism itself. It is a grim calculus that parses acts of violence to conclude some are morally justified simply based on who held the knife.
We may, in fact, think we are practically doing the people of Afghanistan a favor by killing some of them, as we believe we did for tens of thousands of Japanese that might have been lost in a land invasion of their home islands to otherwise end World War Two. There is little debate in the “war on terror” because debate is largely unnecessary; the myth of Hiroshima says an illusion of expediency wipes away any concerns over morality. And with that neatly tucked away in our conscience, all that is left is pondering where to strike next.
Japan, too, is guilty of failing to look deep into itself over its own wartime atrocities. Yet compared to the stunning array of atrocities during and since World War Two, the world’s only use of nuclear weapons still holds a significant place in infamy. To try and force the Japanese government to surrender (and no one in 1945 knew if the plan would work) by making it watch mass casualties of innocents, and then to hold the nation hostage to future attacks with the promise of more bombs to come, speaks to a cruelty previously unseen.
For President Obama to visit Hiroshima without reflecting on the why of that unfortunate loss of lives, acting as if they occurred via some natural disaster, is tragically consistent with the fact that for 71 years no American president felt it particularly important to visit the victimized city. America’s lack of introspection over one of the 20th century’s most significant events continues, with 21st century consequences.
The thing that always struck me about Hiroshima was simply being there. The train pulled into the station under an announcement that you had arrived in Hiroshima. It was another stop on the bullet train’s long run from Osaka to Fukuoka, so they called out the name as if it was just another stop. I’d get off the train, step out into the sunlight — that sunlight — and I was in Hiroshima. I had the same feeling only once before, taking a bus out of Munich and having the driver announce the next stop as Dachau. Somehow such names feel wrong being said so prosaically.
I guess no matter how many times I went to Hiroshima, I always expected something different to happen, when in fact nothing happened. There were 200,000 souls out there that no matter how much concrete and paving had been laid down could not have been buried deep enough. I couldn’t see them for the crowds of people pushing into the station, and I couldn’t hear them over the traffic noise.
But past lives lingered. It couldn’t be helped. The mountains that form the background in the old photos are still backstopping the city. A lot of tall buildings of course now, but the Ota River delta, where thousands drowned trying to cool their bodies and extinguish their burning flesh, is right there. In that way the Japanese had of trying to make the war go away as quickly as they could once it was over, most of the bridges and streets were rebuild right where they’d been before the bomb. Same for most pubic buildings. With a map and some old photos, you could see where you where in 2016 and where you would have been in 1945.
In August, Hiroshima is hot as hell and twice as humid. You can’t really sweat, there’s so much moisture in the air. Take a fast walk and you feel like you have asthma. But in 2016, you can duck into a McDonald’s not far from the Dome and absorb as much free air conditioning as you’d like. An American there, or in the Peace Park, is as likely to be ignored as just another tourist as he is to become the target of some nice Japanese person wanting to practice English.
Hiroshima is an imperfect place, and one which will not easily allow you to forget the terrible things that preceeded its day of infamy.
While grieving for the victims, many outside of Japan feel the Japanese government has yet to fully acknowledge its aggressiveness in plunging East Asia into war, preferring to portray the nation as a victim.
Indeed, the otherwise moving Hiroshima Museum inside the Peace Park has been chastised by some as focusing too exclusively on a single day, out of a war that began years earlier and claimed millions of innocent lives at the hands of the Japanese military. The criticism is particularly sharp right now, given a rise in militarism occurring under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
There have also been issues between Japan and Korea regarding Hiroshima. An estimated 40,000 Koreans were injured or killed in the atomic blast, many of them slave laborers kidnapped from Korea and brought to work in Hiroshima’s factories.
The centerpiece of the Peace Park, the Memorial Cenotaph, was created as the final resting place for the ashes and bones of the bomb’s victims, many of whom were never fully identified. Under Buddhist tradition, without such interment, the souls of those men and women will never rest. Japan, however, only allowed those remains believed to be Japanese to be placed in the Memorial.
There is still much to atone for, and much to reconcile. The U.S., above all, remains unrepentant. It was only on the 60th anniversary of the bomb that the first American Ambassador ever came to Hiroshima on an August 6th morning to pay respects. Ask most Americans about the bombing, and it would be surprising not to hear the phrase “the Japs deserved it.” There is still not enough for some, even seven decades later.
Perhaps the oddest part of my visits to Hiroshima was always at the end. I simply got on a train, and left it all behind me.
Or so I thought each time I tried, because at night my dreams always sought revenge. I hope the same happens to Obama.
What other nation on earth would signal its intent to “bury the hatchet, and what it believes to be the start of a new relationship, other than the United States, by lifting an arms embargo?
The United States is rescinding a decades-old ban on sales of lethal military equipment to Vietnam, President Obama announced at a news conference in Hanoi on Monday, ending what the New York Times called “one of the last legal vestiges of the Vietnam War.”
“The decision to lift the ban was not based on China or any other considerations,” Obama said. “It was based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving toward normalization with Vietnam.”
So, to sum up: the sale of weapons is a sign of normalization. Appropriate, in that that is what is normal in America’s foreign relations in the 21st century. Not whether a nation is an ally or adversary per se, but whether they are a customer for our defense industry. For example, Saudi Arabia. Sure, they fund Sunni terrorism globally and played a role in the horrible events of 9/11, but they are also one of America’s most prolific buyers of weapons, and so are courted.
As for the arms ban being “one of the last legal vestiges of the Vietnam War,” one does wonder what the Vietnamese might have say about that.
Started under false pretenses and brutally fought for unclear purposes, America’s war on Vietnam took a terrible toll. No one really knows, but estimates of the death count on the Vietnamese side run from half a million to a million and half. That is before you include the untold numbers who continue to die or suffer birth defects due to the prolific use of defoliants like Agent Orange. While the American deaths in the war were “voluntary” in the sense that America started the war and pointlessly continued it for years, the Vietnamese had no choice.
To now say that bygones are bygones, and seal the deal with the export of American weapons into Vietnam, seems a new low in cynicism by a fading American Empire.
One of the most popular apps these days is Snapchat. It allows the sender to set a timer for any photo dispatched via the app, so that a few seconds after the recipient opens the message, the photo is automatically deleted.
The evidence of what you did at that party last night is seen and then disappears. POOF!
I hope you’ll forgive me if I suggest that the Iraq-Syria War against the Islamic State (ISIS) is being conveyed to us via Snapchat. Important things happen, they appear in front of us, and then… POOF!… they’re gone. No one seems to remember them. Who cares that they’ve happened at all, when there’s a new snap already arriving for your attention? As with most of what flows through the real Snapchat, what’s of some interest at first makes no difference in the long run.
Just because we now have terrifyingly short memories does not, however, mean that things did not happen. Despite the POOF! effect, events that genuinely mattered when it comes to the region in which Washington has, since the 1980s, been embroiled in four wars, actually did occur last week, last month, a war or two ago, or, in some cases, more than half a century in the past. What follows are just some of the things we’ve forgotten that couldn’t matter more.
It’s a Limited Mission — POOF!
Perhaps General David Petraeus’s all-time sharpest comment came in the earliest days of Iraq War 2.0. “Tell me how this ends,” he said, referring to the Bush administration’s invasion. At the time, he was already worried that there was no endgame.
That question should be asked daily in Washington. It and the underlying assumption that there must be a clear scope and duration to America’s wars are too easily forgotten. It took eight long years until the last American combat troops were withdrawn from Iraq. Though there were no ticker tape parades or iconic photos of sailors smooching their gals in Times Square in 2011, the war was indeed finally over and Barack Obama’s campaign promise fulfilled…
Until, of course, it wasn’t, and in 2014 the same president restarted the war, claiming that a genocide against the Yazidis, a group hitherto unknown to most of us and since largely forgotten, was in process. Air strikes were authorized to support a “limited” rescue mission. Then, more — limited — American military power was needed to stop the Islamic State from conquering Iraq. Then more air strikes, along with limited numbers of military advisers and trainers, were sure to wrap things up, and somehow, by May 2016, the U.S. has 5,400 military personnel, including Special Operations forces, on the ground across Iraq and Syria, with expectations that more would soon be needed, even as a massive regional air campaign drags on. That’s how Washington’s wars seem to go these days, with no real debate, no Congressional declaration, just, if we’re lucky, a news item announcing what’s happened.
Starting wars under murky circumstances and then watching limited commitments expand exponentially is by now so ingrained in America’s global strategy that it’s barely noticed. Recall, for instance, those weapons of mass destruction that justified George W. Bush’s initial invasion of Iraq, the one that turned into eight years of occupation and “nation-building”? Or to step a couple of no-less-forgettable years further into the past, bring to mind the 2001 U.S. mission that was to quickly defeat the ragged Taliban and kill Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. That’s now heading into its 16th year as the situation there only continues to disintegrate.
For those who prefer an even more forgotten view of history, America’s war in Vietnam kicked into high gear thanks to then-President Lyndon Johnson’s false claim about an attack on American warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The early stages of that war followed a path somewhat similar to the one on which we now seem to be staggering along in Iraq War 3.0 — from a limited number of advisers to the full deployment of almost all the available tools of war.
Or for those who like to look ahead, the U.S. has just put troops back on the ground in Yemen, part of what the Pentagon is describing as “limited support” for the U.S.-backed war the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates launched in that country.
The new story is also the old story: just as you can’t be a little pregnant, the mission never really turns out to be “limited,” and if Washington doesn’t know where the exit is, it’s going to be trapped yet again inside its own war, spinning in unpredictable and disturbing directions.
No Boots on the Ground — POOF!
Having steadfastly maintained since the beginning of Iraq War 3.0 that it would never put “American boots on the ground,” the Obama administration has deepened its military campaign against the Islamic State by increasing the number of Special Operations forces in Syria from 50 to 300. The administration also recently authorized the use of Apache attack helicopters, long stationed in Iraq to protect U.S. troops, as offensive weapons.
American advisers are increasingly involved in actual fighting in Iraq, even as the U.S. deployed B-52 bombers to an air base in Qatar before promptly sending them into combat over Iraq and Syria. Another group of Marines was dispatched to help defend the American Embassy in Baghdad after the Green Zone, in the heart of that city, was recently breached by masses of protesters. Of all those moves, at least some have to qualify as “boots on the ground.”
The word play involved in maintaining the official no-boots fiction has been a high-wire act. Following the loss of an American in Iraqi Kurdistan recently, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter labeled it a “combat death.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest then tried to explain how an American who was not on a combat mission could be killed in combat. “He was killed, and he was killed in combat. But that was not part of his mission,” Earnest told reporters.
Much more quietly, the U.S. surged — “surge” being the replacement word for the Vietnam-era “escalate” — the number of private contractors working in Iraq; their ranks have grown eight-fold over the past year, to the point where there are an estimated 2,000 of them working directly for the Department of Defense and 5,800 working for the Department of State inside Iraq. And don’t be too sanguine about those State Department contractors. While some of them are undoubtedly cleaning diplomatic toilets and preparing elegant receptions, many are working as military trainers, paramilitary police advisers, and force protection personnel. Even some aircraft maintenance crews and CIA paramilitaries fall under the State Department’s organizational chart.
The new story in Iraq and Syria when it comes to boots on the ground is the old story: air power alone has never won wars, advisers and trainers never turn out to be just that, and for every soldier in the fight you need five or more support people behind him.
We’re Winning — POOF!
We’ve been winning in Iraq for some time now — a quarter-century of successes, from 1991’s triumphant Operation Desert Storm to 2003’s soaring Mission Accomplished moment to just about right now in the upbeat third iteration of America’s Iraq wars. But in each case, in a Snapchat version of victory, success has never seemed to catch on.
At the end of April, for instance, Army Colonel Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesperson, hailed the way American air power had set fire to $500 million of ISIS’s money, actual cash that its militants had apparently forgotten to disperse or hide in some reasonable place. He was similarly positive about other recent gains, including the taking of the Iraqi city of Hit, which, he swore, was “a linchpin for ISIL.” In this, he echoed the language used when ISIS-occupied Ramadi (and Baiji and Sinjar and…) fell, language undoubtedly no less useful when the next town is liberated. In the same fashion, USA Today quoted an anonymous U.S. official as saying that American actions had cut ISIS’s oil revenues by an estimated 50%, forcing them to ration fuel in some areas, while cutting pay to its fighters and support staff.
Only a month ago, National Security Adviser Susan Rice let us know that, “day by day, mile by mile, strike by strike, we are making substantial progress. Every few days, we’re taking out another key ISIL leader, hampering ISIL’s ability to plan attacks or launch new offensives.” She even cited a poll indicating that nearly 80% of young Muslims across the Middle East are strongly opposed to that group and its caliphate.
In the early spring, Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy to the global coalition to counter the Islamic State, took to Twitter to assure everyone that “terrorists are now trapped and desperate on Mosul fronts.” Speaking at a security forum I attended, retired general Chuck Jacoby, the last multinational force commander for Iraq 2.0, described another sign of progress, insisting that Iraq today is a “maturing state.” On the same panel, Douglas Ollivant, a member of former Iraq commander General David Petraeus’s “brain trust of warrior-intellectuals,” talked about “streams of hope” in Iraq.
Above all, however, there is one sign of success often invoked in relation to the war in Iraq and Syria: the body count, an infamous supposed measure of success in the Vietnam War. Washington spokespeople regularly offer stunning figures on the deaths of ISIS members, claiming that 10,000 to 25,000 Islamic State fighters have been wiped out via air strikes. The CIA has estimated that, in 2014, the Islamic State had only perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters under arms. If such victory statistics are accurate, somewhere between a third and all of them should now be gone.
Other U.S. intelligence reports, clearly working off a different set of data, suggest that there once were more than 30,000 foreign fighters in the Islamic State’s ranks. Now, the Pentagon tells us, the flow of new foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria has been staunched, dropping over the past year from roughly 2,000 to 200 a month, further incontrovertible proof of the Islamic State’s declining stature. One anonymous American official typically insisted: “We’re actually a little bit ahead of where we wanted to be.”
Yet despite success after American success, ISIS evidently isn’t broke, or running out of fighters, or too desperate to stay in the fray, and despite all the upbeat news there are few signs of hope in the Iraqi body politic or its military.
The new story is again a very old story: when you have to repeatedly explain how much you’re winning, you’re likely not winning much of anything at all.
It’s Up to the Iraqis — POOF!
From the early days of Iraq War 2.0, one key to success for Washington has been assigning the Iraqis a to-do list based on America’s foreign policy goals. They were to hold decisive elections, write a unifying Constitution, take charge of their future, share their oil with each other, share their government with each other, and then defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq, and later, the Islamic State.
As each item failed to get done properly, it became the Iraqis’ fault that Washington hadn’t achieved its goals. A classic example was “the surge” of 2007, when the Bush administration sent in a significant number of additional troops to whip the Iraqis into shape and just plain whip al-Qaeda, and so open up the space for Shiites and Sunnis to come together in an American-sponsored state of national unity. The Iraqis, of course, screwed up the works with their sectarian politics and so lost the stunning potential gains in freedom we had won them, leaving the Americans heading for the exit.
In Iraq War 3.0, the Obama administration again began shuffling leaders in Baghdad to suit its purposes, helping force aside once-golden boy Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and pushing forward new golden boy Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to — you guessed it — unify Iraq. “Today, Iraqis took another major step forward in uniting their country,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said as Abadi took office.
Of course, unity did not transpire, thanks to Abadi, not us. “It would be disastrous,” editorialized the New York Times, “if Americans, Iraqis, and their partners were to succeed in the military campaign against the Islamic State only to have the politicians in Baghdad squander another chance to build a better future.” The Times added: “More than 13 years since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, there’s less and less reason to be optimistic.”
The latest Iraqi “screw-up” came on April 30th, when dissident Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters broke into the previously sacrosanct Green Zone established by the Americans in Iraq War 2.0 and stormed Iraq’s parliament. Sadr clearly remembers his history better than most Americans. In 2004, he emboldened his militias, then fighting the U.S. military, by reminding them of how irregular forces had defeated the Americans in Vietnam. This time, he was apparently diplomatic enough not to mention that Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese 41 years ago on the day of the Green Zone incursion.
Sadr’s supporters crossed into the enclave to protest Prime Minister Abadi’s failure to reform a disastrous government, rein in corruption (you can buy command of an entire army division and plunder its budget indefinitely for about $2 million), and provide basic services like water and electricity to Baghdadis. The tens of billions of dollars that U.S. officials spent “reconstructing” Iraq during the American occupation of 2003 to 2011 were supposed to make such services effective, but did not.
And anything said about Iraqi governmental failures might be applied no less accurately to the Iraqi army.
Despite the estimated $26 billion the U.S. spent training and equipping that military between 2003 and 2011, whole units broke, shed their uniforms, ditched their American equipment, and fled when faced with relatively small numbers of ISIS militants in June 2014, abandoning four northern cities, including Mosul. This, of course, created the need for yet more training, the ostensible role of many of the U.S. troops now in Iraq. Since most of the new Iraqi units are still only almost ready to fight, however, those American ground troops and generals and Special Operations forces and forward air controllers and planners and logistics personnel and close air support pilots are still needed for the fight to come.
The inability of the U.S. to midwife a popularly supported government or a confident citizen’s army, Washington’s twin critical failures of Iraq War 2.0, may once again ensure that its latest efforts implode. Few Iraqis are left who imagine that the U.S. can be an honest broker in their country. A recent State Department report found that one-third of Iraqis believe the United States is actually supporting ISIS, while 40% are convinced that the United States is trying to destabilize Iraq for its own purposes.
The new story is again the old story: corrupt governments imposed by an outside power fail. And in the Iraq case, every problem that can’t be remedied by aerial bombardment and Special Forces must be the Iraqis’ fault.
Same Leadership, Same Results — POOF!
With the last four presidents all having made war in Iraq, and little doubt that the next president will dive in, keep another forgotten aspect of Washington’s Iraq in mind: some of the same American leadership figures have been in place under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and they will initially still be in place when Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump enters the Oval Office.
Start with Brett McGurk, the current special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS. His résumé is practically a Wikipedia page for America’s Iraq, 2003-2016: Deputy Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran from August 2013 until his current appointment. Before that, Senior Advisor in the State Department for Iraq, a special advisor to the National Security Staff, Senior Advisor to Ambassadors to Iraq Ryan Crocker, Christopher Hill, and James Jeffrey. McGurk participated in President Obama’s 2009 review of Iraq policy and the transition following the U.S. military departure from Iraq. During the Bush administration, McGurk served as Director for Iraq, then as Special Assistant to the President, and also Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008 McGurk was the lead negotiator with the Iraqi Government on both a long-term Strategic Framework Agreement and a Security Agreement to govern the presence of U.S. forces. He was also one of the chief Washington-based architects of The Surge, having earlier served as a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority from nearly the first shots of 2003.
A little lower down the chain of command is Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland. He is now leading Sunni “tribal coordination” to help defeat ISIS, as well as serving as commanding general of the Combined Joint Task Force. As a colonel back in 2006, MacFarland similarly helped organize the surge’s Anbar Sunni Awakening movement against al-Qaeda in Iraq.
And on the ground level, you can be sure that some of the current colonels were majors in Iraq War 2.0, and some of their subordinates put their boots on the same ground they’re on now.
In other words, the new story is the old story: some of the same people have been losing this war for Washington since 2003, with neither accountability nor culpability in play.
What If They Gave a War and No One Remembered?
All those American memories lost to oblivion. Such forgetfulness only allows our war makers to do yet more of the same things in Iraq and Syria, acts that someone on the ground will be forced to remember forever, perhaps under the shadow of a drone overhead.
Placing our service people in harm’s way, spending our money in prodigious amounts, and laying the country’s credibility on the line once required at least the pretext that some national interest was at stake. Not any more. Anytime some group we don’t like threatens a group we care not so much about, the United States must act to save a proud people, stop a humanitarian crisis, take down a brutal leader, put an end to genocide, whatever will briefly engage the public and spin up some vague facsimile of war fever.
But back to Snapchat. It turns out that while the app was carefully designed to make whatever is transmitted quickly disappear, some clever folks have since found ways to preserve the information. If only the same could be said of our Snapchat wars. How soon we forget. Until the next time…
The decision by President Obama, egged on by his then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to depose Libya’s long-time leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, led to near-complete chaos inside a country that had been otherwise stable since the 1960s.
This lead directly to the tragedy at Benghazi, a massive flow of weapons out of Libya into Syria and elsewhere, the spread of violence into neighboring Mali and French intervention there, and turned Libya into an ungoverned space and a new haven for ISIS and other terrorists.
Not content with that, the U.S. is about to double-down on the mess with the deployment of additional troops on the ground.
The U.S. military’s top general said Thursday the Libyan government is in a “period of intense dialogue” that could soon lead to an agreement in which U.S. military advisers will be deployed there to assist in the fight against the Islamic State.
“There’s a lot of activity going on underneath the surface,” said Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We’re just not ready to deploy capabilities yet because there hasn’t been an agreement. But frankly, any day that could happen.”
There is interest among some NATO nations in participating in the mission, Dunford said, but the specifics of who and what would be involved remain unclear. “Unclear” and “Interest” when used in that way typically mean the U.S. will be going it more or less alone, with maybe a smattering of British and French thrown in for political/PR purposes.
“There will be a long-term mission in Libya,” Dunford said.
U.S. Special Operations troops have been deployed in the Libyan cities of Misrata and Benghazi since late last year, though the Pentagon only officially admitted that recently. The U.S. has conducted sporadic air strikes into Libya over the past few months.
The advising mission will be complicated by political issues. Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj’s “government” that the U.S. thinks it will be supporting in Libya has not yet been accepted by existing rival “governments” in Libya. For Sarraj to hold power, he will require support from militias in Misrata and forces loyal to General Khalifa Hifter, a former Libyan military officer who launched his own war inside the country in 2014.
The Misrata militias and the Hifter militias have fought one another from time to time, and uniting them behind a third party seems a difficult task.
NOTE: If you chose to get in bed with the Devil, well, don’t be surprised if you get screwed.
There’s no past in Washington. There is no sense that actions taken today will exist past today, even though in reality they often echo for decades.
A video making the rounds online shows a fighter from a Kurdish group known as Kurdish Workers Party, or, more commonly, the PKK. Using what appears to be a Russian model shoulder fired portable air-to-air missile, the fighter is shooting down a Turkish military, American-made Cobra attack helicopter.
The attack helo is made by the United States and supplied to NATO ally Turkey;
The missile is of Russian design but could have been made and could have come from nearly anywhere in Eastern Europe. However, such weapons were flooded into the Middle East after the United States deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. Many such weapons simply entered the black market when the Libyan army more or less dissolved, but many appear to have been sent into the Middle East by the CIA as part of a broader anti-ISIS strategy. Some say one of the functions of the CIA station overrun in Benghazi was to a facilitate that process.
Turkey and the United States official consider the PKK a terrorist organization. Many believe the U.S. surreptitiously supplies the PKK weapons in their fight against Islamic State. Turkey is a U.S. NATO ally who is engaged in active war against PKK.
The U.S. supports Kurdish forces in their fight against Islamic State. The PKK is not officially supported, but anyone who believes the PKK and the “official” Kurdish militias are not coordinated parts of the same entity is either a fool or works in Washington. Or both; the Venn diagram is nearly two overlapping circles.
The primary motivator of the Kurdish fight against ISIS is to push them out of northern Iraq and Syria to help create an independent nation of Kurdistan. This would dissolve the nation now known as Iraq. One of America’s stated goals is to preserve a unified Iraq.
The U.S. supports NATO ally Turkey in a fight against Islamic State. Turkey allows the U.S. to fly drones and other aircraft out of its air bases, but also allows ISIS foreign fighters to cross its border into Syria one way, and ISIS oil to reach market by crossing the border the other way.
If you can understand how all of those things can be simultaneously both true acts of the foreign policy of the United States, you are not a fool and you do not work in Washington. Or both; the Venn diagram is nearly two overlapping circles.
If at where you work you spent $759 million on something, and then told your boss you have no idea if anything was accomplished, and that the little data you do have is probably fraudulent, how might that work out for you?
If you are the U.S. government in Afghanistan, you would actually have no problem at all. Just another day at the tip of freedom’s spear, pouring taxpayer cash-a-roni down freedom’s money hole.
The ever-weary Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), chronicling U.S. government hearts and minds spending in Afghanistan over the last 15 years, issued a new audit on Department of Defense, State Department and USAID’s $759 million “investment” in primary and secondary education in Afghanistan. Here’s what they found:
— While USAID had a defined strategy for primary and secondary education in Afghanistan, DOD and State did not. They just spent money here and there without adult oversight.
— DOD, State, and USAID have not adequately assessed their efforts to support education in Afghanistan. DOD did not assess the effectiveness of its education efforts, and State only evaluated self-selected individual programs. Same for USAID.
— Without such comprehensive assessments, DOD, State, and USAID are unable to determine the impact that the $759 million they have spent has had in improving Afghan education. They agencies do, however, continue to spend more money anyway.
— In 2014, USAID cited Afghan government data showing increased student enrollment from 900,000 students in 2002 to a whopping million in 2013 as evidence of overall progress in the sector. Unfortunately, USAID cannot verify whether or not the Afghan data is reliable. In fact, both the Afghan Ministry of Education itself and independent assessments have raised significant concern that the education data is not true.
Interest from the American public remains at exactly zero, because we don’t need no education about where our government spends our money.
BONUS: Anyone’s town out there in America that would not benefit from a handful of cash out of that $759 million spent on Afghan schools? Flint? Newark? Philly? Bueller? Anyone?
Hey everyone, Happy bin Laden Day! It was five years ago May 2 that “we” got bin Laden. How did you celebrate?
For the CIA, marking the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden was as simple as fake live tweeting the raid by SEAL Team Six on the Al-Qaeda founder’s compound in Pakistan. Using the hashtag #UBLRaid, the CIA blasted out updates of the May 2011 strike as if it was unfolding in real time, all so we could savor the sweet, sweet taste of revenge which brought back to life everyone killed on 9/11.
Tweets included the now famous picture of President Barack Obama and other high-ranking U.S. officials watching matters unfold from the White House’s Situation Room.
1:51 pm EDT – Helicopters depart from Afghanistan for compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, read one tweet.
3:30 pm EDT – 2 helicopters descend on compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. 1 crashes, but assault continues without delay or injury, read another.
That was followed just minutes later by: 3:39 pm EDT – Usama Bin Ladin found on third floor and killed.
Think about how much has changed since that momentous day. In 2011 the U.S. was at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, facing the threat of a vicious global terror organization that had already killed Americans. Oh, wait, that looks just like 2016, only now we are also at war in Syria, too, still at war in Afghanistan (16 years in!) and back at war in Iraq. And al Qaeda is known as ISIS, and the Homeland remains a jittery mess on the verge of electing either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, both of whom have enthusiastically endorsed lots more war in the Middle East.
It’s as if Nothing. Has. Changed.
Anyway, the CIA’s anniversary tweets open up the idea of live tweeting other American victories. How about a minute-by-minute live tweet of a waterboarding session? Or maybe, for a really special date, a live tweet on August 6 of the Hiroshima bombing?
BONUS: Proving we have learned absolutely nothing, amid the bin Laden tweetstorm, CIA chief John Brennan said Sunday that taking out the head of Islamic State would have a “great impact.”
“If we got Baghdadi, I think it would have a great impact on the organization. And it will be felt by them,” he said.
Like about 90% of the news today, this would be terrific satire, if it wasn’t true.
America is dropping so many bombs on ISIS that the country is in danger of running out.
“We’re expending munitions faster than we can replenish them,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has asked Congress to include funding for 45,000 “smart bombs” in the Defense Department’s 2017 budget. But it could take a while to rebuild the stockpile.
“The U.S. maintains a pretty steady inventory of bombs and missiles,” says one aerospace and defense policy analyst. “But 2.5 years of fighting ISIS and continued bombing in Afghanistan have exceeded weapons-use projections.”
Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.’ military intervention against Islamic State, strikes ISIS targets with laser- and GPS-guided bombs, Joint Direct Attack Munition bombs, Joint Standoff Weapons, and air-to-ground missiles, such as the Hellfire. Per unit price tags on these munitions range from around $25,000 to close to $400,000. In the early days of the Syrian campaign the Navy fired multiple Tomahawk cruise missiles, which go for about $1 million a piece.
But bombs away, the overall cost of the fight against Islamic State in dollars is staggering; more than $2.7 billion so far, with the average daily cost around $11 million.
Since the June 2014 start of Inherent Resolve, the U.S. and its coalition partners have flown 9,041 sorties, 5,959 in Iraq and 3,082 in Syria. More are launched every day. The U.S. claims it has killed between 10,000 and 25,000 Islamic State fighters, quite a spread, but still, if accurate (which is doubtful), at best only a couple of bad guys per bombing run.
Not particularly efficient on the face of it, but — as Obama administration officials often emphasize — this is a “long war.”
The CIA estimated Islamic State had perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters under arms in 2014. So somewhere between a third of them and all of them should now be gone. Evidently not, since recent estimates of Islamic State militants remain in that 20,000 to 30,000 range as 2016 began.
Somebody in Washington better do the math on this one.