I have suspended writing new posts for this blog. I watch the Republican presidential debates and listen to the debate about bombing Iran and am speechless. There is hardly anything left to say.
Once again, blogs are on fire. This week, Andrew Sullivan, the maestro of the blogsphere, endorsed Ron Paul for the GOP nomination. (He still supports Obama for the general elections.) Others, including other media, criticized Fox News for their condescending and unfair coverage of Paul’s campaign, and Fox ended up giving Paul an unusual amount of time in this week’s debate to explain his ideas.
Jonathan Chait is astounded that many left-of-center politicos or pundits so appreciate a man whom he chronicles as promoting some serious racist views. Frum blames everything sectarian about today’s GOP on the libertarian trend that Paul represents.
Wow! The ‘intellectuals’ -both right and left – seem obsessed with Paul. Why? After all, Paul had an intense and vocal following in 2008 which got him into the GOP debates as a sid-show.
This year is different. He may even win Iowa and has shown stamina in other states leading up to the primaries. More importantly, at a time when it’s downright embarrassing to listen to what comes out of the mouths of each GOP candidate for the presidential nomination, Paul is at least consistent, humble and genuine. This in itself is attracking attention.
But Paul’s real contribution to American politics in 2011 is his uncompromising anti-interventionist foreign policy framework.
In 2008, Obama held out the promise of the new path for US foreign policy. He was against the Iraq war and pledged to ‘talk to’ enemies like Iran and to solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Obama instead has proved a ‘realist’ without the scope and vision that once defined realism nor does he offer an integral, unique vision arising from his own views.
Here comes Paul. The Iraq war was a huge waste of money. So are all the other costs of America policing of the world. Iran isn’t a threat; it doesn’t even have the flying ability to reach the US. In fact, Iran reacts to what it sees as American military moves all around it, primarily American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this summer NATO actions in Libya, with threats against its ally, Syria. Iraq is in defensive, not offensive, mode.
Israel is more a problem than an asset for the United States. Why should the US stay involved in the ‘peace process’? Let them figure it out on their own.
Paul is the only politician within the Democrats or Republicans who can and does consistently advocate a new way of looking at the US role in the world. His world view counters establishment ‘realism’, ‘neoconservatism’ , ‘liberal imperialism’, an ill-define and muffled ‘Obama’ doctrine and other theories so in vogue in America since it became a Great Power after WW2 – a phenomenal rise for a country not yet 200 years old!
Paul appealed to strong sentiments within the American electorate in last night’s GOP debate. Why are we trying to change the world: we have too many problems here. All the money going into war would be better spent here.
Paul ignores ‘popular’ intellectual discussions about, say, Iran. He offers up a completely different world view. It’s no longer ‘should we have given more support to the Green movement’ or ‘how close are the Mullahs to possessing a nuclear bomb’?
It’s ‘why are we in this conflict with Iran in the first place’? Maybe Iran is reacting to the Anglo-American coup against their democratically-elected government in 1953; the forced installation of a brutal Shah; support for Iraq during the Iraq/Iran war; the rejection of Iran’s olive branch to the US after 9/11?
I voted for Obama because I thought he would put American foreign policy on a new track. I thought he might actually do something with Iran on the same level that Nixon did with China. But that takes skill, patience and sometimes years of preparation, not to mention a clear understanding on both sides of what each gets out of it. It didn’t happen.
I thought Obama would actually work behind the scenes for a regional solution to Iraq and Afghanistan. Deals with Assad. Deals with Saudi Arabia. That did not take off.
Paul dismisses all that. As a candidate he asks: could America help build an international order based on trade that could move beyond the balance of power politics that has been the foundation of international relations for several centuries.
I may be reading too much into Paul’s views as well as Obama’s. But the world went from a regional balance of power framework for understanding foreign policy relations, into a two superpowers framework, and now into something variously described as a’unipolar’ model, a ‘multi-polar’ world or a ‘hyper power’ framework. If not these, then the foundation is ‘American decline’ and paralysis among everyone else.
This is too much, too fast. Someone who can get the stage has to advocate for a competing world view. That wasn’t Obama. At least for a moment, it’s Paul
Right now, private contractors provide security to billions of dollars in Afghan aid projects. President Karsai plans to replace them with Afghan troops in March. The problem? Only 1/3 of 165 criteria to judge the training of the forces can be met. Karsai is standing firm to his committment. NATO has little choice but to bail him out once again. Together with the US state department, it expects to field up to 170 advisor/trainers with an added cost of $40 million dollars to maintain the guard training program that the Interior Ministry has defunded and strangled in incompetency.
Forty million dollars is not a lot of money in context of the billions already deployed and wasted by the US in Afghanistan to prop up its weak, venal President. But the fiasco of the guard training program, managed by the Afghan Interior Department, is one more example, along with renewed militant attacks and assassinations of high-profile Afghan politicians, of the continued deterioration of the Karsai government.
It seems evident that the security situation in Afghanistan is little improved on what it was three years ago or will be three years into the future. Nothing the US does between now and 2014, when the last of US troops are scheduled to leave, is going to make much difference. Buying off the population with special projects hasn’t worked and the Afghan military’s ability to provide leadership and stability after the US leaves is dicey.
A political settlement to end this part of the tragic Afghan history would provide just enough cover for the US to leave in 2014 and buy a year or two more before the country collapses into warlord fiefdoms once again.
1. Obama amps up use of drone warfare
(Source: New America Foundation)
2. Redefining military strategy - use of special ops, drones for quick-strike regional wars and/or fighting terrorism: Libya, Somalia, Yeman, Sudan. This began under Bush but given new flesh under Obama.
3. Leaving Iraq paves way for new footprint (‘security architecture’) in Persian Gulf, including sending more U.S. naval ships through the Gulf as show of force to Iran, maybe US troops in Kuwait for quick deployment to Iraq or Iran. From there, can expand footprint into Central Asia, an underdeveloped oil-rich region.
4. Maintaining position in E. Asia by excluding military supporting this area from US defense department budget cuts, more naval exercises.
If you ever thought that Barack Obama would change the post-Cold War/War on Terror assumptions and find a new direction for US global security policy, the last nail has been hit into the coffin of hope.
The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.
It is clear that the US ‘footprint’ in the Persian Gulf and Middle East will continue to expand with both the goal and justification of encircling Iran. Although overthrowing Saddam Hussein removed the ‘natural enemy’ of Iran, thus enhancing the latter’s influence in the region, it was also a war to clear the path of an aggressive US national security strategy. The US needed both an excuse and a place to establish a strong military presence in the region and was counting on a weak Iraq to provide both.
In addition, last year the Administration agreed to sell Saudi Arabia $60 billion in weapons and began building a tailored down ‘missile defense system’ against Iran. It will send more naval ships through international waters in the area and strengthen the Gulf Cooperation Council, composed of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other assorted emirships and kingdoms (do we still need to add ‘undemocratic’).
Nuclear issue only part of Iran story?
The US is actively challenging Iran on its nuclear program. But this is only half the story. The real goal is to halt China and Russia from expanding their influence and economic partnerships in the region.
This is the stuff World Wars are made of.
Next time you hear a blowhard complain that a country such as Libya, whose rebels the US supports, dare to proclaim their state an Islamic Republic or their constitution based on Sharia Law and Islamic values, remind them that George Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld supported constitutions in Iraq and Afghanistan that did the same thing in 2004 and 2005.
Juan Cole translates:
Article One Ch. 1. Art. 1: Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic, independent, unitary and indivisible state.Article Two Ch. 1, Art. 2: The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.
Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.
Ch. 1, Art. 3
In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and laws [ahkam] of the sacred religion of Islam.
First: Islam is the official religion of the State and is the primary basis for legislation:
A. No legislation may be enacted that contradicts the established laws of Islam
B. No law may be enacted that contradicts the principles of democracy.
C. No law may be enacted that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in this Constitution.
Second: This Constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the
Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights to freedom of religious belief
and practice of all individuals such as Christians, Yazidis, and Mandean Sabeans.
American politicians running for office love to bash China and its ‘aggressive military build-up’. There are a few problems with the charge. China’s military budget is a fraction of the US, and China has no military bases outside China. The latter may change soon.
China wants to open its first base abroad in one of Pakistan’s frontier areas to counter Al-Queda-supported Chinese rebels who want to create a Muslim state in Xinjiang Province. Terrorists have been operating in the province for a decade, and bomb attacks at the end of July killed eighteen people. This upped the ante for the Chinese leading to several delegations of Pakistani officials meeting with counterparts in Beijing and vice versa.
Although Pakistan has asked China to build a Navy Port at Gwadar, China specifically denies any intention of doing so. Such a base could be threatening to India. According to China’s Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, China is interested only in protecting its ‘core interests’ which he described:
The core interests include anything related to sovereignty, stability and form of government. China is now pursuing socialism. If there is any attempt to reject this path, it will touch upon China’s core interests. Or, if there is any attempt to encourage any part of China to secede, that also touches upon China’s core interests related to our land, sea or air. Then, anything that is related to China’s national economic and social development also touches upon China’s core interests.
China shares borders (some disputed) with Pakistan and Kashmir. Any Chinese incursions into or presence in Pakistan greatly threatens India.
The Obama Administration recently publicly ‘pivoted’ from concentration on the Middle East to a new focus on East Asia. On his recent trip to the region, Defense Secretary Panetta assured Japan, South Korea and other American allies in the region that the US has no intention of cutting back on its committment to the region, including its 85,000 troops in South Korea and Japan. Panetta said the US position in East Asia will not erode because of budget cuts intended to decrease the US deficit.
Good luck with that. If the deficit committee established by Congress fails to come up with over $1.4 trillion soon, automatic cuts will go into effect. Again, the whole world is watchin.
Check out Asia Times
The co-called War on Terror has conditioned Americans to take for granted two far-reaching changes in Pentagon strategy. The first is that state-to-state warfare is unlikely for the near-term future. Therefore, the military is focusing on smaller, expeditionary strike forces that can enter and leave a country with speed and flexibility, with or without that country’s government approving or even knowing about the mission. The second is the use of drone planes to target terrorists, either bands of fighters or individuals. The killing of Bin Laden and al-Awlaki are examples of both.
Some people praise drone warfare because drone precision causes less ‘collateral damage’, a/k/a civilian death and casualties. We’ve come a long way since Dresden and Hiroshima! Or have we?
Some of us were shocked when we grew up and learned an Anglo-American coup overthrew the parliamentary government of newly independent Iran in 1953. Or that the CIA helped the brutal Belgium regime assassinate Patrice Lumumba, one of the most respected and talented leaders coming out of the African independence movements, as he assumed leadership of Congo in 1961. Or that the Gulf of Tonkin ‘incident’ that ‘started the Vietnam War’ never happened. Many of us became committed anti-interventionists.
However, two years ago, some of those same anti-interventionists were arguing the merits of counter-insurgency (COIN) vs. counter-terrorism in Afghanistan. A smaller number refused to consider either, saying the US should leave Afghanistan as fast as possible.
The War on Terror has legitimized targeted, cross-border actions, including assassinations, that were once CIA directed special and black ops. At the same time, with the use of sophisticated remote technology, the US is capable of taking out the bad guys antiseptically. Not only are there fewer civilian casualties, but no American lives are in danger. Drones are directed remotely by pilots who go back to their homes after work.
In fact, the military made the killings of bin Laden and al-Awliki, set against the intensified ‘search and destroy’ anti-terrorist operations ordered by President Obama shortly after coming to office, look almost easy. And that’s the point. US drone technology is unfettered at this time. Although the US has sold drones or their technology to several countries, none has so far been able to weaponize them for combat. We’ve entered the post-’mutually assured casualties’ (if not destruction) era of warfare. American soldiers can bomb or blow up the enemy remotely with blood only spilled on the other side.
It’s a matter of time before other countries weaponize drones. Still, the US military seems confident that its next weapons systems will be ready to neutralize the drone combat it initiated in the first place when that need arises.
The conventional arms race is out of control, but the US alone has 52% of the global market, followed by a distant 19% for Russia. It’s impossible to tell how, by and against whom this technology will be used in the future.
It’s difficult to believe that US military sales to other states are geared towards protection of those states, when the same systems are sold to their declared enemy (Saudi Arabia and Israel). And why would the US sell drones, even for surveillance, to other countries? We are stuck in a self-proliferating cycle of military innovation, arms sales, more innovation, more sales. Very few of these weapons are ever used; they just drain money from other needs. Some are used against the buyer’s own citizens. Most are used by the US.
Food for thought.
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