CATEGORY: WarSecurity

Emphasis added: the foreign policy week in slices

The U.S. military, “witch burning,” negotiations with Iran, among other affairs.

Emphasis, as always, added.

A “fundamental problem with COIN.”

Where foreign forces go, violence follows.

. . . a wave of “insider-attacks,” perpetrated by members of the Afghan security forces, has killed 60 coalition troops this year (compared with 35 last year). Leon Panetta has described these killings as “kind of a last-gasp effort” of the Taliban to resist their inevitable demise. He also remarked, “It’s near the end of their effort to really fully fight back.” It’s hard to say which is worse: our president and defense secretary deliberately misrepresenting the situation in Afghanistan to such a degree, or our president and defense secretary genuinely misunderstanding it to such a degree.

The Last Men, Luke Mogelson, The New Republic

“Milicrats”

The promotion system reinforces professional ignorance. Above the company grades, military ability does not count in determining who gets promoted. At the rank of major, officers are supposed to accept that the “real world” is the internal world of budget and promotion politics, not war. Those who “don’t get it” have ever smaller chances of making general. … Its result is generals and admirals who are in effect Soviet industrial managers in ever worse-looking suits. They know little and care less about their intended product, military victory. Their expertise is in acquiring resources and playing the military courtier.

Rank Incompetence, William S. Lind, The American Conservative

The UK’s National Health Service: “a benevolent deity”

By now I am convinced that the NHS – and I hyperbolise, but only slightly – is the greatest achievement of humankind, the nearest we get to a benevolent deity, a goddamn superhero. It is an imperfect manifestation of a beautiful ideal – free care based on need, free care for all, without judgement, without reservation.

However long this [the author's father dying] goes on for, they’ll continue throwing resources at this individual and never show a single sheet of figures to any of his relatives.

This Is How You Healthcare: American Death in London, Sarah C. R. Bee, NSFWCorp

To Netanyahu, Syria Just Another “reason to blow Iran to smithereens”

Netanyahu can’t unring the bell in Syria either, but there’s little doubt that he’d like to. The Israeli prime minister remained suspiciously silent during the Syrian uprising’s first 90 days but then, as if testing the wind, began to cautiously support the rebels. By July of last year he was all in, but only after his silence bordered on the embarrassing. Even then, he characterised the May 2011 Houla Massacre (in which a reported 108 Syrians were slaughtered by Assad’s henchmen), as being carried out primarily with the help of Iran and Hezbollah. It was almost as if the Syrian military was a bystander.

This was all part of the same sad drumbeat, as if Netanyahu feared that (in the midst of the Arab Spring), we’d lose sight of the real agenda — which was finding a reason to blow Iran to smithereens. It wasn’t so important that the Houla Massacre was evidence of the Syrian government’s hate of its own people, (you see), it was important that it was carried out by people who hate Israel.

Israel’s democracy myth, Mark Perry, Al Jazeera

Protecting Papua New Guinea’s “Witches”

Even assuming the political will emerges to invest in stronger policing and community protection, it will be years before the terrorism fades in communities like Simbu, an epicentre for violence.…

Bishop Anton Bal, the Catholic bishop of Kundiawa, the capital of Simbu … argues that the catch-22 with sorcery is that the more it’s talked about, the greater its power and allure. So his programs include training up networks of local parish volunteers as a kind of resistance movement. Operatives deflect and douse conversations about blame as soon as a death in the community occurs. They go to the funeral and when someone brings up the question of sanguma they shift the topic — talk about the weather, shut it down. Or raise the alarm.

It’s 2013, And They’re Burning ‘Witches’, Jo Chandler, The Global Mail

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

A roundtable: Is the Taliban losing?

A panel of experts looks at the U.S. and NATO end game in Afghanistan.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus Blog Focal Points.

Recent coverage of Afghanistan by Newsweek-slash-the Daily Beast has been illuminating. On December 30 Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau wrote:

A shroud of anxiety hangs over the coming year in Afghanistan. It’s not only the country’s war-weary civilians who are beset with trepidation and uncertainty—even the Taliban are uncharacteristically worried. … To be sure, the Afghan insurgents unabashedly welcome the impending U.S. troop drawdown. Maybe now they can start to regroup and regain some of the momentum they’ve lost over the past three years. At the same time, however, they’re acutely aware that their ranks have been decimated, while the Americans have worked overtime to transform the Afghan National Army into a credible fighting force. The Taliban’s propaganda department keeps claiming that the ANA is a laughably hollow threat, unable to fill the vacuum left by the departing Western troops. But privately, the guerrillas in the field aren’t sure which side is stronger now.

Also …

… powerful former warlords are hastening to rebuild and rearm the private armies they commanded during the 1990s, preparing to fight the Taliban—and quite likely each other—once again.

Before that, on December 12, Yousafzai had asked Will the Taliban Destroy Itself?

A serious power struggle has broken out among the Afghan Taliban’s top leaders. … the two top-ranking members of the Afghan insurgency’s ruling council, the Quetta Shura, are battling each other for control. … Some insurgents blame [top-ranking members] Mansoor as well as Zakir for the Taliban’s setbacks. Both men have failed to gain territory in the southern Afghan provinces of Kandahar and Helmand. On the contrary, they have lost control of former Taliban strongholds. “… they’ve started pointing fingers at each other,” says [a] former cabinet minister. … To make the situation worse, he says, none of the other current leaders have any outstanding abilities as military commanders or as leaders.

A former Culture Ministry official told Yousafzai:  “Pakistan is sharpening its knife to remove the Taliban like a cancer from its body.”

As one who doesn’t follow Afghanistan as closely as he should, the idea that, once the United States and NATO leave it, Afghanistan will revert to Taliban rule was received wisdom. For added perspective on whether or not that prognosis has been upended, I enlisted the aid of a few colleagues.

The Roundtable 

Robert Naiman, Policy Director of Just Foreign Policy:

U.S. officials have been cited (not quoted) in the press as saying that when the U.S. leaves, it is de facto ceding control of Taliban-dominated areas to the Taliban. I don’t see how you can credibly call that “losing” for the Taliban. Of course, you can move the goalposts, and say that the Taliban lose if they don’t take Kabul. That the Taliban can be prevented from taking over the whole country seems like a very plausible goal; after all, the Taliban didn’t control the whole country before the U.S. invasion.

Mark Safranski, historian and proprietor of ZenPundit:

The Taliban controlled 95% of Afghanistan before the US invasion.

That was a different Taliban though than what exists today.

The Taliban has several strategic problems, if their goal is ruling Afghanistan as an independent government:

1. They are deeply dependent on the ISI for support, training, intel, safe houses, supplies, etc. Far more so than in 2001. They have not been able to move in large-formation units in open combat as they did against the Northern Alliance in years and most commanders with such experience are long dead. Shaking free of Pakistani Operational control will be very difficult.

2. They remain a radical Pushtun movement.  … They are also unpopular and feared which will come to the fore when America withdraws.

3. Without very generous foreign aid, the economy of Afghanistan is going to rapidly implode by orders of magnitude. Resulting in widespread destitution and likely, unrest and militarization of the population as groups scramble to grab what dwindling resources they can from whomever has or will offer any. Only some kind of negotiated settlement will keep the international aid flowing on which the economy of Afghanistan depends.  A Taliban victory by force of arms will end that aid, or most of it.

Steve Hynd, editor of the Agonist:

The unstated question is whether preventing the Taliban winning is the same as a victory worth the name. We’re talking about a reset back to the immediate post-Soviet civil war — I wouldn’t call that a win for anyone.

Naiman:

I agree that the situation has changed since before the US invasion. My point was simply that to the extent that the goal is to keep the Taliban from controlling all of Afghanistan, that’s a very realistic and modest goal, because it was true before even the US invaded. There are a whole bunch of folks who don’t want the Taliban to control all of Afghanistan who have the power and willingness to do something about it and have demonstrated that power and willingness in the past: armed Tajiks, India,  Russia,  Iran, for example. If in addition to everything they had before, they now have US airpower, and if the US accomplished anything in the last 10 years, it stands to reason that the Taliban are going to have a hard time taking back the 95% of Afghanistan they had before.

So, to the extent that some people in the Taliban think that they can restore the pre-US invasion status quo, they are likely to be disappointed. People can call that “losing” if they want. To the extent that their goal is to drive the US out, they can claim victory to the extent that the US leaves. Studies of the insurgency have indicated that fighting the Americans/the foreigners has been a prime motivation for many insurgents. To the extent that that is true, it stands to reason that if the US withdraws, some people are going to say, ok, I accomplished my goal, I defeated the Americans, now there’s no reason for me to die fighting fellow Afghans. In that sense, a US withdrawal will weaken the insurgency, but I don’t think this is the kind of “victory” that the Pentagon originally had in mind.

People in Afghanistan are talking about what happens when the US leaves. That’s good. It causes fear, and that’s not good, but it also makes people talk more realistically about the future. A similar dynamic happened in Iraq when people started to believe that the US was really leaving: they started to focus on other problems. The Taliban will likely come to accept that they can’t control all of Afghanistan; people in Afghanistan who don’t like the Taliban will likely come to accept that the Taliban, in some form, are a permanent feature of the Afghanistan landscape, whether they like it or not. Hopefully, people on both sides who want to live in a unified country in some sense will at some point decide that they prefer accommodation to continued war. It’s beyond of the power of the West to decide when that point will be, but it’s more likely to occur the more the West withdraws its ground troops.

Hynd:

I believe Yousafzai is dead wrong about Pak intentions re: the Taliban. What they’ve been doing is spreading money around with the Pak Taliban to get them to stop attacking Pak assets and ditto for trying to bring the Afghan Taliban back under their full control as a proxy force. Anyone who thinks the Pak military and ISI are going to excise the Taliban like a cancer is either a subject of Kayani’s Jedi mind tricks or smoking Afghan hashish. They’re too valuable a potential proxy – mostly to deny Indian influence, to act as a training ground for other proxy groups and to enable/allow Pakistani strategic maneuvering space in Afghanistan in the event of an Indo/Pak war – and that calculus has not been significantly changed by a decade of US involvement.

Naiman:

I’m not privy to the internals, but common sense broadly supports Steve’s view. If you believe that the ISI and Pakistani military have been pursuing this proxy policy to the extent that they could get away with it for the last 10 years, why would one expect them to cut off the Taliban now? It doesn’t make any sense. Particularly, given that the US is now “leaving,” and that the US recently has made noises in the direction of accommodating Pakistani concerns and trying to bring Pakistan onside in its “reconciliation” plans. If I’m Pakistan, I’m thinking: my policy has been vindicated. Now is not the time to cut; now is the time to play through. To cash in chips Pakistan needs to keep the Taliban as close as they can, not cut them loose. Pakistan’s main value to the US in all this now is not helping the US kill Taliban leaders but helping push Taliban leaders towards a deal.

We’ll leave the final word to Naiman:

As for unstated questions, my favorite is: how is the deal that the US can get with the Taliban now better than the deal it could have gotten from the Taliban in 2006? Who considers that difference justified by the additional bloodshed of the last six years?

America gets divorced: what about custody of the energy and the nukes?

Part three in a series.

First look at this map:

Now this one, which indicates the location of US military installations: Continue reading

Spasms of sensible thinking from surprising sources

My stars, what have we here? Two surprisingly sensible comments on defence spending from sources I would not have expected.

First up, Philip Hammond, Minister for Defence in Britain’s coalition government, who has now decided that maybe there are things that the private sector can’t do as well as the public sector. The background is, of course, the failure of private company G4S, which had won a contract to provide security for the Olympics, to fail so miserably at the task that several weeks before the election the Olympic organizers asked security forces—you know, the army—to provide security instead. Even Mitt Romney noticed, apparently. The happy result here was many thousand British men and women in uniform getting two or three weeks of hazardous duty wandering around Olympic Park, instead of spending time in Afghanistan or someplace else, and everyone had a good time talking with them. Continue reading

When old hawks retract their talons

In recent years, the annals of national security are replete with retired generals expressing second thoughts about how militarized the United States has become. The latest is Gen. (Ret.) James Cartwright, who chairs the Global Zero movement’s U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission, which recently issued a report titled Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure and Posture. It’s a radical departure from what you’d expect from a former chief of STRATCOM (the United States Strategic Command), which includes the U.S. nuclear-weapons arsenal. Continue reading

Nota Bene #122: OWStanding

“When I lie on the beach there naked, which I do sometimes, and I feel the wind coming over me and I see the stars up above and I am looking into this very deep, indescribable night, it is something that escapes my vocabulary to describe. Then I think: ‘God, I have no importance. Whatever I do or don’t do, or what anybody does, is not more important than the grains of sand that I am lying on, or the coconut that I am using for my pillow.’” Who said it? Continue reading

In the era of terrorism, whom have we become?

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

When a Hellfire missile fired from a drone aircraft operated by the Central Intelligence Agency struck ground in Yemen last month, it killed two American citizens. One was New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki, 40; the other was Samir Khan, 25, who publishes media for Al Qaeda promoting terrorism.

Al-Awlaki, says the American government, is a terrorist. Officials say he had crossed the line between propagandist and operations planner. That earned him a spot on a kill-or-capture list nearly two years ago. Is he a bad guy? Probably. Did he deserve to die? Perhaps. But neither “probably” nor “perhaps” is the standard for conviction in American criminal trials — beyond a reasonable doubt.

So, reports Charlie Savage of The New York Times, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel more than a year ago crafted a 50-page memorandum. Continue reading

Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Would America have been better off with President McCain?

by Guy Saperstein

As we think ahead toward 2012, ponder this: Consider the possibility that we would be better off if John McCain had won in 2008. Heresy?

Yes, but think about a few important points.

Although TARP was passed during Bush’s Presidency, it really was the beginning of Obama’s term, as it could not have passed without Obama’s strong public support and, indeed, as many books, such as Joseph Stiglitz’ Firefall, have outlined, he was intimately involved in the decisions which led to TARP, particularly the decision to pay Wall Street 100 cents on the dollar for toxic assets at a time when the private market was paying 20 cents, and decisions not to put strings and conditions on the money, such as requiring that 80% of the TARP money be lent out, not used for mergers and acquisitions, which have now enabled even greater concentration in the banking industry, thus putting the economy at even greater risk in the future. Continue reading

Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

Bin Laden's death, the end of a 21st Century Hitler

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Osama Bin Laden is dead.

The first news reports gave me an eerie feeling to know he died with a bullet to his head. It seemed more like a hit than a battle at that time. My Christian sensibilities rebelled at the thought of assassination and murder even of such an evil person.  My human sensibilities applauded the death of a man who orchestrated the murders of so many others, a 21st Century Adolph Hitler.

Continue reading

The Obama-Gates maneuver on military spending

by Gareth Porter

Last week Barack Obama announced that he wants to cut $400 billion in military spending and said he would work with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs on a “fundamental review” of U.S. “military missions, capabilities and our role in a changing world” before making a decision.

Spokesman Geoff Morrell responded by hinting that Gates was displeased with having to cut that much from his spending plan.  Gates “has been clear that further significant defense cuts cannot be accomplished without future cuts in force structure and military capability,” said Morrell, who volunteered that the Secretary not been informed about the Obama decision until the day before.

But it is difficult to believe that open display of tension between Obama and Gates was not scripted. Continue reading

A simple country boy's solution to the budget "crisis"

Some conservatives see all these fact-laden critiques of our various GOP manufactroversies (see Ryan, Paul) and wonder where are the Democratic plans to solve the financial crisis? (I have been asked this, quite vehemently, myself.)

The informed reply goes something like this:

  1. The crisis isn’t real. It’s been fabricated by the neo-liberal politicians whose goal is to eliminate all taxes on rich people and bust structures like unions that afford the non-hyper-wealthy with some leverage in the American political economy. It. Isn’t. Real.
  2. You’re blaming the wrong people. Continue reading

The town the War of 1812 built

by Talbot Eckweiler

Part four in a five-part series.

Constance Barone sits at her office desk and adjusts her spectacles. For the last eight years, she’s been the site manager for Sackets Harbor Historic Site near Watertown, New York. In 2012, the site will celebrate its bicentennial anniversary as one of the major sites of the War of 1812. While two hundred years makes for many a memory, for Barone, the site holds a personal history that spans three generations.

“My mother’s father was in the naval militia, so he was involved right here on this property,” Barone says. “My mother as a teenager grew up here, in this house. They lived here and this was my mother’s bedroom,” she says and nods at the office area.

The Lieutenant’s House, a pale-yellow brick building, was built in 1847 for the second in command of the navy yard. Narrow, low-ceiling staircases and uneven wooden floors lead to dark rooms settled in silent repose. In October, the peak tourist season has passed, and now the site settles down for winter. Continue reading

Anti-gay protests protected by U.S. high court

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

By an overwhelming majority of 8-1, the “Super Supremes” ruled today to protect the free speech protests of Westboro Baptist Church members who have been picketing at the funerals of dead soldiers.

It was a stunning victory for free speech and the First Amendment and really endorses earlier U.S. Supreme Court rulings that even reprehensible speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution. It’s one of the bedrock principles the country was founded on. Continue reading

Kansas rep, a friend of industry, axes product-safety database

A neophyte freshman representative from Kansas who slipped into Congress on the strength of hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations from heavyweight industries does not want you and me to see a product-safety database compiled by a federal consumer agency.

In 2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Among its mandates: Consumers will have access to a public database to report and learn about hazards posed by unsafe products. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has compiled that database, and it’s ready to launch next week.

But Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) doesn’t want consumers to see it. He does not want them to see “reports of defective products from a wide range of sources, including consumers, health-care providers, death certificates and media accounts,” reports Lyndsey Layton of The Washington Post. He does not want consumers to change how they make purchasing decisions. He does not want them to see a database that is “limited to complaints about safety and does not deal with product reliability or performance,” reports Layton.
Continue reading