Category Archives: US Foreign Policy

Commentary on world affairs and American behavior in the world

My take on the latest uproar

The brat (my word) in the Whitehouse has decided that we need to be “protected” from terrorists native to countries that have never perpetrated a mass attack on anyone in the US.  His ban on those from 7 countries in the Middle East and Africa (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen) is the first step to a complete ban on all Muslims (unconstitutional).  Just give him time.  Along the way, he sows disrespect  for our justice system on Twitter by attacking judges whose opinions or decisions cross him.

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The Donald is always right, never wrong about anything he on which chooses to have an opinion.   If only he had some real knowledge to back up those tweets! What does he know about those countries, their histories, their cultures?  Does he really think that because a person is a Muslim, that person is “bad”?  Does he understand that no one in the US has been killed by any person from those 7 countries?

More twitter tantrum on judge Robart’s original decision:

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“Ridiculous” to try to protect the separation of Powers outlined in the Constitution? And why is Trump having fearful nightmares about “bad people” who do not, in fact, pose a threat?  Women and children threatening?  Our “President” has a bad case of paranoia based on little but scare mongering pushed by Breitbart, Fox News, and the Drudge Report.  We do not make America GREAT by showing the extent of our fears to the world, and lashing out against anyone who disagrees with the man a few of us elected to the Presidency.

 

Libya, the blunder

The Globalist today had an essay by Hardeep Puri who was President of the UN Security Council in August 2011 and November 2012.  He pins responsibility for the present mess in Libya on feelings of guilt in the West over its inaction in Rwandan genocide in 1994 during Bill Clinton’s Presidency.  The use of military force was supposed to rid the country of Libya of a terrible dictator and protect the people from his supposedly brutal treatment of his population.  There was no government structure as the west might recognize such.  Gaddifi was all there was.  This was to be “humanitarian regime-change”, at least that was how it was sold.  And the result?

The result is out there for the world to helplessly watch – a desperate migration crisis leaving hundreds of thousands of refugees either dead or deserted, and an unraveling country overrun by mercenaries, militia, and the world’s worst nightmare today – the ISIS – with a paralyzed government at the apex.

Whether the West likes it or not, there is a reason the Libyan “mad dog” managed to rule the country for 42 years. The articulation of pro-Gaddafi sentiment and demonstrations in what’s left of Libya testify exactly to that.

Our adventure in Iraq has taught us nothing, and sadly, it could still be true that we will sell ourselves on the idea humanitarian “rescue” of a country we do not understand.

Assad and Syria

An article in the Boston Globe dated yesterday expresses the Russian view that all of Syria must be “liberated” before there can be any move toward removing Assad from power.  Regime  change seems to have become a western knee-jerk reaction to dictators without much thought as to what, if anything, is to replace the hated present regime.  Assad is definitely not a “nice” man.  He’s directly responsible for the deaths of thousands and the destruction of some of his own country’s cities.  He could have avoided much of the bloodshed by talking with the protesters back in 2011, but he chose to shoot them instead. The battles that followed have led to terrible destruction of once beautiful cities.  We’ve all seen the photos many times over, and well as the pitiful ones of children caught in the battle.

Brutal though he may be, his is the only government there is in Syria since we can’t really claim that the so-called Caliphate in Raqqa is anything like a recognizable government, unless, of course, the West is looking to make sure they seize power over the whole country.  The theory that there are “moderate” islamists that deserve support seems to be just that, a theory.  While there may be individuals who embrace some western ideas, they have undoubtedly left by now, or are busy fighting over bits of territory among themselves.

From Josh Landis’ Syria Comment:

The sad truth is that those hoping for a quick resolution to this crisis are likely to be disappointed. Contrary to expectations, the US is unlikely to enter into war with Russia over Syria. The moral argument for intervention cannot out-weigh the immense risks that the US military would be taking were it to engage in a direct and costly war with Russia. Despite the hawkish rhetoric of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, chances are that once in the White House, she will come to the same conclusion about using American military force as President Obama. Real world constraints reduce the chance that US will deploy force in Syria. The Syrian opposition and their backers will be forced to rethink their current path.

Political Solution

Most policy makers involved in the Syria crisis insist that “there is only a political solution to the Syria crisis.” The unstated problem with this argument is timing. Can a political solution be arrived at before a clear military winner emerges on the battlefield? Mustn’t one side realize that it has no choice but to accept a settlement before both sides will come to the table? The answer to this question is clear. No political solution can take place before a clear winner emerges on the battlefield. The longer this process is delayed, the longer the crisis will drag on, and the greater will be the death count.

Based on our sad experience in Iraq, I find these arguments persuasive.  Everyone who thinks should read Ehsani’s entire post, even though it’s unlikely now that we’ll try what failed so miserably in Iraq in Syria.  For once, the Russians seem to be right.

There’s another interesting piece from Aaron David Miller at the Wall Street Journal Blogs well worth a careful read.

Who lost Iraq?

Iraq was never really ours to lose, so the blame game going on in Washington and London is really some kind of a farce. If you really want to know what happened that brought us to today’s disintegration of the country, just take a good long look at this article in Vanity Fair by David Rose which appeared in 2009:

The game was up in 2004 when people like Paul Wolfowitz were more interested in “proper channels” and his personal view of Iraqi Sunnis as “Nazis” in ignorance of who they actually were or their circumstances.  Reading the article again brings back the anger at the total stupidity of what happened in disbanding Saddam’s  army, and allowing the shias to bring in Iran back in 2004.

In truth, Iraq was lost before the war ever started in all the lies told in order to get our soldiers there.  The fact that the war was illegal has never been accepted by those who supported the effort, even when that support came from so-called “humanitarian” concerns.  Now these same people want us to make the same mistakes all over again, putting our military noses in one way or another into what has become a regional sectarian war between the various sects of Islam.  We have absolutely no business getting involved again.

They want us to do air strikes.  On what?   And on whom?  All airstrikes have accomplished in that part of the world is chaos and more chaos.  Look at Libya and Iraq.  What earthly good did any of those strikes ever do?  More drones to kill more civilians and innocent bystanders?  Now wouldn’t that just make us more popular!

Fallujah

A few months ago (back in March) I wrote about how people were ignoring what was going on in Iraq.  Once President Maliki sort of threw us out, people in the US seemed to think we’d had a complete victory, and that this “Young Democracy” would flourish just as the Bush administration had sold its propaganda to us.  It’s amazing to me how gullible the American people are.  There was no chance that Maliki was going to do anything in Iraq except become the kind of government that was all they’d known since the advent of Saddam Hussein.  It was just going to be Shia authoritarianism instead of Sunni dictatorship.  In spite of his promises to the contrary, Maliki has never made any real attempt to include Sunnis in his government.  He even went so far as to chase some of them out of the country and throw others in jail.  People who were members of Parliament.  The Vice President.  Sunni fighters were rarely welcomed into the army or the police and lost access to jobs and paychecks to support their families.  Support was withdrawn from the members of the “Awakening” which had turned to help the Occupiers.  He sent in his “special” troops to break up a peaceful demonstration, and that was the last straw before the latest explosion.

Anger and resentment has been building among the Sunnis since the Americans left.  It is not surprising, especially with the turmoil going on in Syria, that jihadi fighters have returned and helped the rebellious Sunni in Anbar province retake Fallujah.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for the marines who fought and gained the city back in 2004.  They thought they were doing the right thing.  They fought hard, hand-to-hand in many cases, and lost a lot of comrades in the bloodiest of bloody battles.  Many came home missing body parts and with severe cases of PTSD.  Even so many thought they had done the right thing in answering the call to war.  Those responsible for sending them and lying to the American public about Saddam’s connection to 9/11 and his WMD have never been held accountable for their betrayal of the public trust and the trust of their soldiers.  The prize those leaders sought was never to be had, no matter what they did to engineer something that looked a bit like representative government in Iraq.

It’s a bitter, bitter pill to swallow.

From Hoover to the NSA; Raines’s to Snowden

The New York Times today has an article and a video on the 1971 robbery of a small FBI office in Pennsylvania. The video is stunning:

http://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000002635482/stealing-j-edgar-hoovers-secrets.html?playlistId=1194811622182

It brings back an entire era for those of us old enough to remember it.  The protesters became paranoid for very good reasons.  They knew the FBI was watching everyone it could.  The Agency didn’t have the same kinds of tools it does today, but the attitude and the justification for secrecy was the same (“National Security”).  The difference was the numbers of people who would not accept that what the FBI was doing was right.  People today have let their fears control them and inhibit their objections to the NSA’s shenanigans, but it has taken the same kind of gutsy individual courage to expose the facts as it did then.  The only difference is that the Raines and their friends were able to maintain their secret identities for 42 years.  Edward Snowden didn’t have that chance.  Neither did the reporters who worked with him, because apparently government has become even more paranoid about covering up it secrets than it was during the Nixon/Hoover era.  We should give that difference some real deep thought.

Excessive secrecy in government has always led to abuse, but the abuse has so far equally  found a way to leak out into public.  It makes you wonder why government in a democratic republic like ours keeps trying to pry into the lives of its citizens to protect itself from them, and other phantoms of their imaginations, when its greatest strength lies in openness and truth.  Maybe that has something to do with why democracies have never succeeded for long.  It’s past the time when Americans and their government let fear overrule common sense.

Decision time

It’s coming soon now.  Next week we will have the votes in Congress that determine to a large extent whether the US attacks Syria or not.  The administration has certainly been trying its best to stir up support both at home and abroad without a great deal of success.  The media seems to be behind Senator McCain’s pro-war, pro-rebel stand to a great extent, but the larger public keeps saying, “no”.  Little of the mainstream media is skeptical of this possible effort, and the reports that cast doubt on Administration propaganda are mostly ignored.  If the President decided to  wait for a Congressional decision, he doesn’t seem to have wanted to use it to change his mind, which I hoped for at one point.  This morning’s New York Times talks of air raids by US and French planes as well as the missiles to “degrade” Assad’s ability even more.  That would mean even more civilian casualties, death, and destruction than there has been already.  I fail to see how such a plan would deter the Assad regime from the path it is already on.  If it is true, that the regime feels itself as backed into a dire corner between life and death, as I believe it does, it is bound to choose its own survival by whatever means.  Nothing much that the West can do aside from wiping the slate clean as in Iraq, will have much effect.  All sides in this fight have been incredibly brutal, and to pick one as the incarnation of evil is to misread the people involved and the facts on the ground.

The article also contains this statement:

“They are being pulled in two different directions,” a senior foreign official involved in the discussions said Thursday. “The worst outcome would be to come out of this bruising battle with Congress and conduct a military action that made little difference.”

I think that’s what’s likely to happen anyway, no matter what John McCain and the hawks say. The President has not seemed to want another war, and has tried to reassure people about no boots on the ground.   That doesn’t mean he can’t be dragged into more agression.  Once begun, military action of any kind has been rather self-perpetuating.  If the military action makes little difference, it might cause an uproar here at home among the war party, but it will not change the ultimate outcome in Syria, even if there are cries for more attacks.  The Syrians themselves have to sort out what is to become of them.  Whoever or whatever caused the deaths by poison gas, our entry into a local civil war will not change the ultimate resolution on the ground.  Morality has nothing to do with this other than as a propaganda tool.

Nothing we did in Iraq turned the country into that shining example of democracy that President Bush promised.  It only served to make most Iraqis detest us for the foreseeable future.

Trust in government

July 30:

Syria in ruins.  These are Reuters photos that make me wonder why people still believe that there’s something heroic in fighting each other.  When it’s all over, as it will, eventually, be over, won’t they say, “What was it all for?”  They will have nothing.  Will anyone help rebuild such self-destruction?  What if the old city of Damascus gets destroyed along with everything else?  Was one man’s life (Assad), worth the destruction of thousands of years of culture?

August 1:

Tim Wiener of Enemies: A History of the FBI and Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, has an editorial in today’s Cincinnati Enquirer that appears generally sympathetic to Pfc Bradley Manning.  I have admired Mr. Weiner’s writing, especially his history of the CIA, but he has some phrases in his column today that I find deeply disturbing.  Perhaps I misinterpret, but read the piece for yourself and decide what you think.

Speaking of the files leaked to Wikileaks that had to do with the Iraq war, Weiner says this:

“What the files reveal is a slice of what life during wartime was like under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. And understanding what war is, and what it does to people, is dangerous knowledge.” (Italics are mine)

Why does Weiner say this is dangerous knowledge?  Understanding what war is may well make us less willing to go off on similar disastrous adventures in the future.  Understanding the depths of brutality and depravity war causes in people should make us wary of ever engaging in it except for the defense of our nation on our own soil.

He goes on:

 When the Pentagon Papers were first leaked to the New York Times, White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman shared a fascinating insight with President Richard Nixon. Haldeman had been talking about the papers with another Nixon aide – Donald Rumsfeld – who had said that “to the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook.”

But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing,” Haldeman told Nixon. “You can’t trust the government. You can’t believe what they say. And you can’t rely on their judgment“. (Italics are mine)

Well…?  Relying on “their” judgement is exactly what we should not have done in 2003.  Is that lack of trust in government what’s “dangerous”?  Frankly, I’m not ready to put away my critical faculties or the ability to see what’s real in favor of some higher power that calls itself my government.  As Americans, we need to treasure the skepticism our nation was born with, not relinquish it to some Washington DC power that tries to tell us what to think.  That’s what the Germans did before and during WWII to their sorrow.  That’s what many of the citizens of Communist countries did during the Cold War, and that’s what we did during the long fight for Vietnam that turned out not to be the “domino” we were sold.  Unquestioning trust in any authority usually leads to some sort of disaster after which we live with the dead, the maimed and impaired, the suicides and substance abusers, the broken and scattered families, the homeless former warriors who walk our neighborhoods as pariahs, and the fanatics with murderous intentions.

Seems to me Life is more precious than that.  Think about those Reuters photos of Syria and think about the people who did the destruction and what it has done to them and those whose lives were destroyed.

Total trust in government is what gets us to the point where we don’t mind that our government can mine everything we say and do on the Internet or other electronic device, where something we believe to be safety leads us to relinquish our rights as citizens.  I think it could well be a slippery slide to authoritarianism.

June Ramble

It seems as if every Muslim leader, when confronted with popular upheaval is prone to crack the whip instead of seeking compromise.  Even Turkey’s democratic leader Erdogan has refused to budge on his plan to bulldoze Taksim park.  Maliki hasn’t listened to the peaceful protests of Sunnis in Iraq, but gone after them with guns instead.  Assad wouldn’t talk to the peaceful protesters in Damascus and earned himself a civil war and a destroyed country.  Mubarak wouldn’t talk to the protesters either, nor would the leaders of Tunisia and Libya.  Their countries are all in various stages of coming apart.  Is this reaction the traditional one of the Muslim leader at any level, including fathers?  Or is this something that just affects the dictators?  Why do Muslim leaders all seem to become authoritarian while proclaiming democracy?  Is there something about the way they raise their sons that gives them a dictatorial bent?  Would leaders who are women be the same?  Is the seduction of power so great even when there are riots in the streets?

Morsi in Egypt has followed the same pattern.  Escalating without talking, and the results have been ugly.

(Note added in July:  Morsi’s inability to govern in a way that made the lives of people better, his inability to get the military or the bureaucracy on his side doomed his rule.  An election does not establish democracy.  Others now have the awesome job of avoiding mob rule and the disintegradion of Egypt.)

Who’s to say the same won’t happen here?  How would Republicans react to huge demonstrations in the street?  Law & Order crackdown?  No concessions?  Our government has already inched in this direction under Obama.  Washington doesn’t seem to be  listening to the real concerns of people about jobs and health care, inequality and fairness, black and white issues and food security.  It wouldn’t take much of a push for conservatives to justify martial law and the imposition of authoritarianism.  We’ve already given away so much in search of that non-existent “safety”.

Ramblings in May

This is more of the same type of all-over-the-place stuff I posted earlier.

Wed., May 1

 

Yesterday I scanned through the newest items at Josh Landis’ Syria Comment.  With McCain and Grassley and their ilk shouting for war, reading through it made me realize how stupid that pressure is (as usual).  I got a picture of splintered groups of fighters, some true Freedom Fighters, some Salafi al-Nusra types, and some just thugs out to make money stripping factories and offices of equipment and other things to sell in Turkey.  There was even a video of people who have learned to “refine” Syrian oil for resale inside the country – gasoline, kerosene for cooking etc.  It sounds more like Somalia and Iraq than anything else, and it is certainly not a place for the US military.

(I’m sitting in the computer lab, baby-sitting kids who aren’t being tested, or who are late getting to school as well as those who finish before the rest of their class is done.  There are 2 “velcro” IA’s in the room plus the gym teacher, me and 6 kids.  Overkill.)

Richard Falk from his blog of April 19 on the Boston bombing and America’s place in  the world- the last paragraph:

 

     “Aside from the tensions of the moment, self-scrutiny and mid-course reflections on America’s global role is long overdue. Such a process is crucial both for the sake of the country’s own future security and also in consideration of the wellbeing of others. Such adjustments will eventually come about either as a result of a voluntary process of self-reflection or through the force of unpleasant events. How and when this process of reassessment occurs remains a mystery. Until it does, America’s military prowess and the abiding confidence of its leaders in hard power diplomacy makes the United States a menace to the world and to itself. Such an observation is as true if the more avowedly belligerent Mitt Romney rather than the seemingly dovish Barack Obama was in the White House. Such bipartisan support for maintaining the globe-girdling geopolitics runs deep in the body politic, and is accompanied by the refusal to admit the evidence of national decline. The signature irony is that the more American decline is met by a politics of denial, the more rapid and steep will be the decline, and the more abrupt and risky will be the necessary shrinking of the global leadership role so long played by the United States. We should be asking ourselves at this moment, “how many canaries will have to die before we awaken from our geopolitical fantasy of global domination?” “

 

Ok.  Ok.  So the hawks finally drag Obama into arming rebels, a no-fly zone and bombing raids.  Then what?  The FSA is not a coherent group, and doesn’t seem to have the capacity for governing.  It has set up no councils in its areas, nor has it seemed to hand out much in the way of relief to battered civilians.  Al-Nusra seems to be better at all that, and it is allied with Al-Qaeda.  Even if our help would bring down Assad, there is nothing but a vacuum to replace him, and there won’t be any Occupation as in Iraq to force unappetizing solutions down the throats of the locals.  What then?  And why is McCain so determined to get us into another war?  What’s in it for him?

Our own government seems to be falling apart.  1. The IRS over does going after TeaParty claims for 501(c)(4) status.  Really?  It’s too bad they weren’t smart enough to pepper “progressive” groups the same way, if only to cover themselves. (Only, as it turned out later, they did)

2.  The Justice department has gone after the phone records and other data of AP reporters who reported on an operation in Yemen that was supposed to be secret.  Part of the drone assassination plans?

3.  Then there’s the hoopla in Congress about the supposed cover up of the real “facts” about the tragedy in Bangazi.

 

On the first two.  The trend began in the Bush administration driven by Cheney’s fear of the “enemy”, but the administration under Obama seems to have taken it to a huge extreme charging people with violating the “Espionage” Act which has been used over time since 1917 as a government tool to punish people it didn’t like – “reds”, “Communists”, government employed leakers of information, reporters, and others.  Few of these seem to have posed any real dire threat to the US. Much of the time, the government simply wants to avoid being embarrassed as in the WikiLeaks affair.  If private Manning remains in jail for years, or gets the death penalty because he had a moral perception of right and wrong would be a gross miscarriage of justice.  Embarrassment musn’t produce that kind of an ending.

 

The President doesn’t have a magic wand.  He sits atop of the government, but he doesn’t have control over all of it.  These days, he can’t even put his own nominees in charge of the various departments.  Looking in from the outside, some of us Americans seem naively to think that the President personally directs every department of government.  He’d never get anything done if that were true.  His appointees must carry out the policies he lays down, and when such people turn out to be less than adequate managers, disagreements and scandals can happen.  Obama does not have a machiavellian prince like Cheney with hands on all the threads to make people push the same policies.  Congress also has itself to blame for stalling even the most mundane appointments, and basically crippling the State Department by denying it funds.  All the “leadership” in the world is not going to change that.  Bush sent  the military on diplomatic missions for this reason, but generals, no matter how intelligent and well trained, are not diplomats and that caused other problems, mostly in places like Pakistan where they don’t take kindly to being ordered around by America.  Lastly, we as voters need to take responsibility for our own government.  We put these people in office so we must share the blame for whatever goes wrong, and we have elected some pretty stupid people over the past 12 years.

 

May 22: Wonderful quote:

“You want another great president, pray for another great crisis. Only nation-encumbering calamity tames our political system, making elites and the public receptive to allowing a president to lead America the Unruly.”  Aaron David Miller in Foreign Policy

(Maureen Dowd should read this article.  Maybe then she wouldn’t keep harping on the lack of presidential “leadership”.  The office of the President doesn’t give the man a magic wand to make to world perfect in her eyes.)

Reflecting on the impossibilities of the job, Mr. Miller sums it up this way:

“What to do? Just get over it. Lower expectations. Don’t give up the search for quality leaders, but be honest about what a president can and cannot do. Don’t wait around to be rescued by The One — that’s not the American way. Maybe by controlling our presidential fantasies, we can stop expecting our presidents to be great, and allow them to start being good.”

Seriously, one of the most thoughtful pieces I’ve read in a long, long time.

 

Stephen Walt has a wonderful blog post in the same issue of FP titled “Top 10 warning signs of ‘liberal imperialism'”

 

As cure, he recommends the following:

 

…reading Alexander Downes and Jonathan Monten’s “Forced to Be Free?: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Rarely Leads to Democratization” (International Security, 2013), along with Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan and Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.

 

I’ll have to look for the first 2.

 

May 28:

 

McCain has turned up in Syria for an obviously well-planned meeting with leaders of the Opposition.  They undoubtedly have told him exactly what he’s been wanting to hear, so he will come back to the Senate and demand that the US provide a no-fly zone, heavy arms and ammunition, and more to the rebels.  Trouble is that McCain’s credibility on these trips reeks of all the mistakes he made in Iraq, including the fraudulent walk in the market without a flak vest to prove how “safe” it was, ignoring all the hundreds of soldiers who had been detailed to protect him.  He wants to support the rebels in Syria hoping that “democracy” will emerge if they win, but there’s no guarantee of that, and it’s far more likely that the country will fall apart into fighting factions of warlords, spreading even more unrest in that part of the world than there is already.  He’s also undermining Obama’s efforts to gather a peace meeting between all the parties, which might have a chance of starting some negotiations between Assad and those fighting against him.   Some rebels have refused to meet with the dictator which may make that angle fruitless.