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Obama Couldn’t, Maybe Paul Can

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NATO-Russia Talk Missile Defense

NATO ministers and Russia meet today in ongoing discussions about a European defense system.  The Obama Administration axed the large-scale system anchored in Poland and the Czech Republic, saying they threatened Russian security.  But Russia hasn’t changed its mind about the one under discussion either.  Under the doctrine of ‘mutually assured destruction’, Russia believes a defensive shield that near its borders would threaten its offensive capability.

NATO, the Russians say, do not understand their position.  NATO says the defense is meant only for short and medium ranged missiles from the Middle East, and that would also help Russia.  I’m not sure telling Russia what might help it defend herself is a good NATO strategy.  Russia’s countered the START Treaty on strategic arms.  According to the Christian Science Monitor:

As frustration mounts among NATO officials, Russians have countered that the West does not understand their position. Alexei Arbatov from the Center for International Security told the Voice of Russia that his nation wants its interests taken into consideration and written guarantees that Europe will reconsider the missile defense system if the Iran nuclear threat diminishes.

“NATO’s position is not impeccable and inviolable, as the alliance’s chief claims it to be,” Mr. Arbatov said. “Besides, NATO should not force its will on Russia or dictate to it, not if it wants to have Russia as a reliable partner.”

Why missile defense is even an issue at this point is puzzling.  It is aimed at defense against Iran.  But of course Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons, although it is testing ballistic missile capability.  That project was set back by last month’s huge explosion at an Iranian defense plant that killed Iran’s top ballistics engineer.

 

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Does IAEC Report Say Anything New?

Not according to the Arms Control Association:

The broad outline in the IAEA’s latest report on the military dimensions of Iran’s program is not new, but rather, provides greater detail regarding weapons-related activities outlined in previous public reports.

The IAEA report and annex reinforce what the nonproliferation community has recognized for some time: that Iran engaged in various nuclear weapons development activities until 2003, then stopped many of them, but continued others.

The activities documented in the IAEA report, including research related to nuclear warheads, underscore that Tehran’s claims that it is only seeking the peaceful use of nuclear energy are false.

Iran’s warhead work also contradicts its obligation not to pursue nuclear weapons under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), under which states parties commit “not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

The report suggests that Iran is working to shorten the timeframe to building the bomb once and if it makes that decision. But it remains apparent that a nuclear-armed Iran is still not imminent nor is it inevitable.

The report should prompt greater international pressure on Tehran to respond more fully to the IAEA’s questions, allow for more extensive inspections of its nuclear facilities, engage more seriously in talks on its nuclear program, and to agree to confidence building steps to help resolve the crisis.

In other words, Tehran is moving towards being capable of building a nuclear bomb and war-head delivery system, does not have one now nor is the IAEA is reporting an imminent threat.

The ambiguity in Iran’s intentions, not to mention those of Israel and the US, also shows no sign of lifting anytime soon.


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Drone and Insurgencies

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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Global Arms Sales Decline 38%

Total global foreign arms sales dropped 38%, to $40.04 billion in 2010 from $65.2 billion in 2009.  The US continues to dominate the market at a 52.7% market share, followed at a distance by Russia at 19. 3%, then France, Britain, China, Germany and Italy.

“In view of budget difficulties faced by many purchasing nations, they chose to defer or limit the purchase of new major weapons systems…or limit their buying to upgrades…,” a specialist in international security at the Congressional Research Office, Richard Grimmett, said.

Developing nations account for 3/4 of world-wide deals.   India topped the list ($5.8 billion) followed by Taiwan and Saudi Arabia at $2.7 and $2.2  billion, then Egypt, Israel, Algeria, Syria, South Korea, Singapore and Jordan.  US share of arms sales to developing nations jumped from 30.3 % to 48.6%.

 

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Now, Everybody’s Gotta Have a Drone

Welcome to Arms Race 21st Century.  There seems to be a crippling contradiction between the US arms industry’s insatiable appetite for profit and America as the ‘indispensable nation’ for war technology.  Why else would the US sell drones to 50 other countries (though only weaponized ones to a few close allies).  A must read article in the Washington Post reports:

Military planners worldwide see drones as relatively cheap weapons and highly effective reconnaissance tools. Hand-launched ones used by ground troops can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. Near the top of the line, the Predator B, or MQ9-Reaper, manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, costs about $10.5 million. By comparison, a single F-22 fighter jet costs about $150 million.

The problem?

“They could reduce the threshold for going to war,” said Noel Sharkey, a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield in England. “One of the great inhibitors of war is the body bag count, but that is undermined by the idea of riskless war.”

You know the world has changed when the most sophisticated arms makers (excluding US) and exporters are Israel, China, India and Russia – no European countries listed.  You know it’s changed when Iran tests its own drone-like predator the ‘ambassador of death’.  And when Pakistan already announces that it bought surveillance drones from China, so that’s where it will purchase the weaponized version as well.  Drones are the haute courtier of the arms race – everyone’s trying to scoop the next guy and impress the market.

At this point the US isn’t even worried about the competition.  It is far ahead of any other nation in applied robot technology and systems to support its lead in warfare of the future.  And in an era where Congress wants to cut meat inspection, education, health and nutrition for poor babies and environmental safeguards, let it be known that the US government is spending millions to help US drone manufacturers, one in particular called  General Atomics,  market their product far and wide.

Vice Adm. William E. Landay III, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency overseeing foreign military sales, said at a Pentagon briefing recently that his agency is working on preapproved lists of countries that would qualify to purchase drones with certain capabilities. “If industry understands where they might have an opportunity to sell, and where they won’t, that’s useful for them,” Landay said.

The government has already approved General Atomics for sales to the Middle East and Latin America and is in talks with the usual suspects:  Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt.

No US arms story would be complete without appropriate China-bashing and fear-mongering.

In recent conflicts, the United States has primarily used land-based drones, but it is developing an aircraft carrier-based version to deploy in the Pacific. Defense analysts say the new drone is partly intended to counter the long-range “carrier killer” missile that China is developing.With the ascendance of China’s military, American allies in the Pacific increasingly see the United States as the main bulwark against rising Chinese power. And China has increasingly framed its military developments in response to U.S. capabilities.

Here’s the kicker.  US arms sales continue to expand in a never-ending spire.  Because of its technological prowess, when other  nations catch-up, the US has a new weapon ready to spring on the world.

A sea-based drone would give the United States the ability to fly three times the distance of a normal Navy fighter jet, potentially keeping a carrier group farther from China’s coast.This possible use of U.S. drones in the Pacific has been noted with alarm in news reports in China as well as in North Korea’s state-run media.

Some people think things will go on this way forever.   That America is immune from competition or revenge from other countries. Or that all these arms flowing from country to country won’t inevitably lead to war.  The US has armed the middle east with conventional weapons and is arming it now with predator drones, as if politics and allies will be the same in twenty years as they are today.  What’s to prevent Saudi Arabia using their drones against Egypt if it gets too democratic?

And it’s not hyperbole to say that the US needs war and other types of armed conflict to perfect its weapons systems. The Iraq War lead to armed drones and the prototypes of air and sea-based versions.  In fact, every military in the world benefits from our wars.  Technologies gained through US operations are quickly adopted globally.  The size of militaries throughout the world expand and civilian control is impossible.

 

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