Tag Archives | NATO

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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After 10 Years, Afghan Security Guards Untrained

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.





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Why is Israel Considered a Strategic Ally?

I’ve wondered why Israel was ever considered a ‘strategic ally’ of the US in the Arab world?  And I especially don’t get it now.

Some people peg it to the Cold War.  If the Soviets supported Nassar, the US needed to counter-balance with Israel.  Others say we share democratic systems with Israel, calling it an oasis of democracy in an authoritarian part of the world.  Unfortunately, the US has seldom made democracy a top priority for its allies, and after OPEC was founded America assiduously courted all the Arab authoritarian oil-producers with promises of security garauntees and arms sales.   In return, led by Saudi Arabia, OPEC kept the price of oil within a set range by manipulating supply. That’s strategic!  Even before OPEC, the US displayed a rather cynical view of democracy in the region, having supported a British-inspired 1953 coup d’etat  against the democratically elected government of newly independent Iran and replaced it with the brutal rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi.  We’ve been paying ever since.

Israel as a state grew out of the carnage of WW2.  One factor in the US and Western embrace of Israel was certainly that the Jewish people had a right to a state with defensible borders. And the European Jews who emigrated to Israel during and after Nazi rule were certainly more familiar culturally than the Islamic-Muslim states nearby.  American Jews have been going back and forth to Israel in droves since it was established. So there is a social cultural bond that spans continents.

Maybe I don’t understand the term ‘strategic ally.’  Certainly none of the above reasons explains why so many American politicians in both parties have developed a myopic ‘Israel right or wrong’ policy that directly conflicts with twenty years of official US policy concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli settlement expansion.

Israel is an ally but so is Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and several other smaller Persian Gulf states.  Calling Israel a ‘strategic ally’ gives it an importance that is harder and harder to justify.

George H. W. Bush was the last in a line of GOP presidents to seek a balanced policy in the Middle East,  at least to the extent of convincing the PLO to sign the Oslo Accords believing that Israel would negotiate if it had US security protocols backing it.   George Bush 41 famously held up loan guarantees to Israel until it signed the Oslo Peace Accords.  Unfortunately, the Oslo process turned into a joke over the last two decades, with no American President holding either side accountable for throwing new obstacles up to the peace process on a yearly basis.

Meanwhile,  AIPAC and other politically oriented American Jewish groups shifted into overdrive to build their numbers and influence in American politics.   And under Bush 43, they merged their interests in an informal marriage of convenience with Christian fundamentalists who support Israel based on Biblical  prophesy  in Revelations that predicts the conversion of Jews to accept Jesus Christ or their damnation in hell.

Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said that while evangelicals had a role, the changed post-Sept. 11 world should not be underestimated as a factor. Republican presidents such as Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush operated in a Cold War arena in which cultivating allies among Israel’s rivals and enemies may have made sense — but that is no longer the case, he said.

“There were elements in the realist camp who may have seen Israel not as a strategic ally,” Brooks said of the presidency of the first George Bush. “Given how things have developed — the global war on terror, the rise of militant Islam — that doesn’t make any sense anymore.”

Brooks is one who makes no sense.  9/11 changed US strategic interests, and Israel has thumbed its nose at some of those changes for twelve years.  America’s interest in 2001 was to isolate and destroy the terrorists while assuring Arab and Muslim countries that America was not at war with them.  Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have been the one act which, after the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, might win back some good will among Arabs towards America. By the time President Bush got serious about peace six years after 9/11, it was too late.  Although the Bush Administration, like Clinton, threw a Hail Mary pass for Middle East peace during the last months of its second term, it was too late.

In taking office, Netanyahu courted the far right in Israel and solidified the ‘refusnik’ branch of the Israeli body politic.  Although General Petraeus, six former NSC heads and most recently Defense Secretary Panetta have warned that continuation of the Israel/Palestine conflict runs counter to US interests in the area, both Presidents Bush 43 and Obama continued with uncritical support of the Netanyahu government.

Israel under Netanyahu is openly dismissive of US security interests and proves it by making no attempt to restart peace negotiations.  The US Congress, afraid of offending donors, has caved to Netanyahu’s hawkish narrative to the extent of supporting Israeli policies directly at odds with US foreign policy and undermining the President of the United States.

Israel’s increasingly hard-line refusnik policy towards peace, its unrepentant settlement expansion deep into the West Bank and Netanyahu’s desire to wipe the negotiation history of over 20 years clean and start over – all have hurt the US standing not just in the Arab world but globally.  Large parts of the Arab world think peace negotiations are a sham and ridicule the tail-wagging-dog relationship between Israel and Washington.

Over the past year, Israel’s ‘strategic alliance’ with the US has taken an even more ominous direction.  While the formerly autocratic post-independence Arab autocrats are being replaced by more open, democrat governments, Israel doubles down, saying it’s impossible to have peace with so much upheaval.  More pointedly, Israel has destroyed its own relationship with Turkey, a NATO member and real ‘strategic’ ally of the US and Egypt, with whom its co-existed peacefully for over 30 years.

A strategic ally doesn’t ignore all requests by the US to ease up on settlements.  A strategic ally doesn’t manufacture a fight with the President on US soil to court members of the opposite party.  A strategic ally tries to work with its partner in influencing the direction of diplomacy in a region.  It doesn’t kiss a NATO ally of its ‘strategic partner’  goodby and good riddance over a hubristic refusal to apologize for killing nine of its citizens.  It doesn’t keep throwing the region out of balance by its own blunders even as the region navigates upheavals of its own.

Israel is no strategic ally to the US.  Maybe President Obama should study Bush 41′s playbook and get serious.



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Attack in Kabul Tests Afghan Security Transfer

Al Jazeera reports:

Taliban gunmen armed with suicide vests and heavy weaponry have launched coordinated attacks in Kabul, targeting NATO’s headquarters, the US embassy, and the Afghan intelligence agency.

Heavy gunfire continued to be heard on Tuesday as Afghan forces battled to clear a building in the city’s diplomatic quarter which had been taken over by heavily armed fighters. Rockets have reportedly been fired at the US and other embassies in the area.

The attacks came from multiple directions with Taliban using gunfire, mortar attacks and suicide bombers .  It is unclear how many have died. However, it appears that Afghan security forces and military are leading the counter-strike with air support from NATO

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Who Asked for NATO Troops?

The AP and a large part of the media reports that NATO will not send ground troops into Libya.  What is wrong with this story?

1.  Nobody asked NATO to send ground troops into Libya.

2.  The National Transition Council in Libya already ruled out any ground troops from any nation.

3.  The NTC has been consistent in rejecting the idea of foreign troops since it asked NATO for bombing help five months ago.


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Does Sarkozy have a Napoleonic Crush?

Let’s start with the basics. The Frogs did it. It’s always worth repeating; this is a French war. The Americans don’t even call it a war; it’s a “kinetic action” or something. The “rebel” Transitional National Council” (TNC) is a French invention.

And yes – this is above all neo-Napoleonic President Nicolas Sarkozy’s war. He’s the George Clooney character in the movie (poor Clooney). Everybody else, from David of Arabia Cameron to Nobel Peace Prize winner and multiple war developer Barack Obama, are supporting actors.

I figured the European connection with oil, but Pepe Escobar, writing in Asia Times writes a lively column about the French connection.

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Europe Couldn’t Have Done it without US?

The unraveling of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime is a milestone for the European armed forces providing the air support that turned the tide for Libyan rebels, who were on the verge of being overrun only five months ago.

Yet despite the scenes from Tripoli of rebel forces advancing with the help of European airstrikes, the first North Atlantic Treaty Organization campaign not led by the U.S. has shown the limitations of the Continent’s military power in an era of crushing national debt and slashed defense spending

“The fact is that Europe couldn’t have done this on its own,” said NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in an interview last month, citing essential U.S. intelligence support. “The lack of defense investments in Europe will make it increasingly difficult for Europe to take on responsibility for international crisis management beyond Europe’s borders.”   – Wall Street Journal

I’m not sure what this article means.   Maybe it’s intended to bolster the argument against ‘leading from behind’.  Or to once again underscore that the world would fall apart without the US projection of power far and wide or its technological prowess in warfare.

(PS: I remember back in the Nixon and Reagan years: every time the Europeans wanted to beef up their military separate from the US, Washington nipped the prospect in the bud fearing competition or eventual separation from the US ‘security umbrella’.)

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Libyan Rebel Victory Reactions

Andrew Sullivan at Daily Beast rounds up reactions from right and left.  More responses below:

Qaddafi had lost popular support across the board and was in power only through main force. Once enough of his heavy weapons capability was disrupted, and his fuel and ammunition supplies blocked, the underlying hostility of the common people to the regime could again manifest itself, as it had in February. I was moreover convinced that the generality of Libyans were attracted by the revolution and by the idea of a political opening, and that there was no great danger to national unity here.  Juan Cole, Informed Comment

Libya is not Iraq. Most notably, this was a revolution by the Libyan people, not a foreign invasion. To be sure, this day would not have come nearly as quickly — if at all — without months of air strikes by the United States and its NATO allies against regime assets.  But the Libyan people appear to have almost universally wanted Qaddafi gone and did much of the heavy lifting to make it happen.   James Joyner, The Atlantic


The reactions yesterday once again show the potent and real demonstration effects which characterize today’s highly unified Arab political space.I don’t see how anybody watching al-Jazeera, following Arab social media networks, or talking to people in the region could fail to appreciate the interconnected nature of Arab struggles. It’s the same sense of shared fate and urgency that those who follow the Arab public sphere could feel in February and March. I supported the NATO intervention in Libya in large part because of that powerful Arab popular demand and the likely impact of the outcome in Libya across the region.

Now, as Syrians march chanting “Qaddafi is gone, now it’s your turn, Bashar!” and excited protestors in Yemen’s Change Square shout “our turn tomorrow!” there’s suddenly a chance to recapture some of that lost regional momentum. It has been a long time since there has been such a unified Arab public sphere, or such hope that the long summer’s stalemate might be broken and the momentum of January and February reclaimed. As one put it, “the fight isn’t over in Yemen & Syria; Libyan friends remind us when we think its over we’re closer to victory than we think.”  -Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy

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