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Posts Tagged ‘IRAQ’

THE DOOM OF MEN

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 21, 2014 at 12:35 am

In  ”Excalibur,” director John Boorman’s brilliant 1981 telling of the King Arthur legends, Merlin warns Arthur’s knights–and us: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Not so Steven Pressfield, who repeatedly holds up the past as a mirror to our present.  Case in point: His 2006 novel, The Afghan Campaign.

By 2006, Americans had been fighting in Afghanistan for five years.  And today, almost ten years into the same war, there remains no clear end in sight–to our victory or withdrawal.

Pressfield’s novel, although set 2,000 years into the past, has much to teach us about what are soldiers are facing today in that same alien, unforgiving land.

Matthias, a young Greek seeking glory and opportunity, joins the army of Alexander the Great.  But the Persian Empire has fallen, and the days of conventional, set-piece battles–where you can easily tell friend from foe–are over.

Alexander next plans to conquer India, but first he must pacify its gateway–Afghanistan. Here that the Macedonians meet a new–and deadly–kind of enemy.

“Here the foe does not meet us in pitched battle,” warns Alexander. “Even when we defeat him, he will no accept our dominion.

“He comes back again and again. He hates us with a passion whose depth is exceeded only by his patience and his capacity for suffering.”

Matthias learns this early.  In his first raid on an Afghan village, he’s ordered to execute a helpless prisoner.  When he hesitates, he’s brutalized until he strikes out with his sword–and botches the job.

But, soon, exposed to an unending series of atrocities–committed by himself and his comrades,  as  well as the enemy–he finds himself transformed.

And he hates it.  He agonizes over the gap between the ideals he embraced when he became a soldier–and the brutalities that have drained him of everything but a grim determination to survive at any cost.

Pressfield, a former Marine himself, repeatedly contrasts how civilians see war as a kind of “glorious” child’s-play with how soldiers actually experience it.

He creates an extraordinary exchange between Costas, an ancient-world version of a CNN war correspondent, and Lucas, a soldier whose morality is outraged at how Costas and his ilk routinely prettify  the indescribable.

And we know the truth of this exchange immediately. For we know there are doubtless brutalities inflicted by our troops on the enemy–and atrocities inflicted by the enemy upon them–that never make the headlines, let alone the TV cameras.

We also know that, decades  from now, thousands of our former soldiers will carry horrific memories to their graves.

These memories will remain sealed from public view, allowing their fellow but unblooded Americans to sleep peacefully, unaware of  the terrible price that others have paid on their behalf.

Like the Macedonians (who call themselves  ”Macks”), our own soldiers find themselves serving in an all-but-forgotten land among a populace whose values could not be more alien from our own if they came from Mars.

Instincitvely, they turn to one another–not only for physical security but to preserve their last vestiges of humanity. As the war-weary veteran, Lucas, advises:

“Never tell anyone except your mates. Only you don’t need to tell them. They know. They know you.  Better than a man knows his wife, better than he knows himself.

“They’re bound to you and you to them, like wolves  in  a  pack. It’s  not you and them. You are them. The unit is indivisible. One dies, we all die.”

Put conversely: One lives, we all live.

Pressfield has reached into the past to reveal fundamental truths about the present that most of us could probably not accept if contained in a modern-day memoir.

These truths take on an immediate poignancy owing to our own current war in Afghanistan.  But they will remain just as relevant decades from now, when our now-young soldiers are old and retired.

This book has been described as a sequel to Pressfield’s The Virtues of War: A  Novel  of Alexander the Great, which appeared in 2004. But it isn’t.

Virtues showcased the brilliant and luminous (if increasingly dark and explosive) personality of Alexander the Great, whose Bush-like, good-vs.-evil rhetoric inspired men to hurl themselves into countless battles on his behalf.

But Afghan thrusts us directly into the flesh-and-blood realities created by that rhetoric: The horrors of men traumatized by an often unseen but always menacing enemy, and the horrors they must inflict in return if they are to survive in a hostile and alien world.

HISTORY LESSONS FROM HOLLYWOOD

In History, Military, Politics on January 29, 2014 at 12:30 am

January 26, 2014 marked the 129th anniversary of the fall of the Sudanese city of Khartoum to the dervish hordes of a fanatical Muslim leader.

Mohammed Achmed had proclaimed himself “The Madhi”–the “Expected One.”  He had raised an army and sworn to sweep the Islamic world clean of “unbelievers.”

Standing in his path: The 30,000 citizens of Khartoum, led by the famous British general, Charles George Gordon.

In 1966, this clash of historical personalities was vividly depicted in the movie, “Khartoum,” starring Charlton Heston as Gordon and Laurence Oliver as The Madhi.

It’s a film still loaded with drama and meaning–and lessons for the possible intervention of the United States in the lethal mess that is Syria.

What began as a popular revolt against a brutal and ossified dictatorship, Syria has now degenerated into a bloody civil war.

On the one side, is the Shiite Ba’ath regime, headed by “President” Bashar al Assad and supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

Opposing them Syrians–including defectors from the armed forces and others who have formed private militias–and thousands of foreign Sunni fighters (including elements of al Qaeda).

The neocons of the George W. Bush administration plunged the United States into an unprovoked war against Iraq in 2003.  After Baghdad quickly fell, Americans cheered, thinking the war was over and the troops would soon return home.

They didn’t count on Iraq’s descending into massive inter-religious strife, with Shia Muslims (who comprise 65% of the population) squaring off against Sunni ones (who make up 35%).

Suddenly, American soldiers found themselves fighting a two-front war in the same country: Fighting an Iraqi insurgency to throw them out, while trying to suppress growing sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shia.

Today, American politicians such as U.S. Senator John McCain are urging President Obama to militarily intervene in the Syrian civil war.

Once again, Americans are being urged to plunge headfirst into a conflict they know nothing about–and in which they have absolutely no stake.

Which brings us back to the lessons to be found in “Khartoum.”

In 1884, the British Government sends Gordon, a real-life hero of the Victorian era, to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum.  Mohammed Achmed, a previously anonymous Sudanese, has proclaimed himself “The Madhi”  (The Expected One) and raised the cry of jihad.

The Madhi (played by Laurence Oliver) intends to drive all foreigners (of which the English are the largest group) out of Sudan, and exterminate all those Muslims who did not practice his “pure” version os Islam.

Movie poster for “Khartoum”

Gordon arrives in Khartoum to find he’s not fighting a rag-tag army of peasants.  Instead, the Madhi is a highly intelligent military strategist.

And Gordon, an evangelical Christian, also underestimates the Madhi’s religious fanaticism: “I seem to have suffered from the delusion that I had a monopoly on God.”

A surprised Gordon finds himself and 30,000 Sudanese trapped in Khartoum when the Madhi’s forces suddenly appear.  He sends off messengers and telegrams to the British Government, begging for a military relief force.

But the British Government wants nothing to do with the Sudan.  It had sent Gordon there as a sop to British public opion that “something” had to be done to quell the Madhist uprising.

The siege continues and tightens.

In Britain, the public hails Gordon as a Christian hero and demands that the Government send a relilef expedition to save him.  Prime Minister William Gladstone finally sends a token force–which arrives in Khartoum two days after the city has fallen to the Madhi’s forces.

Gordon, standing at the top of a staircase and coolly facing down his dervish enemies, is speared to death.

When the news reaches England, Britons mourn–and then demand vengeance for the death of their hero.

The Government, which had sought to wash its hands of the poor, militarily unimportant Sudan, suddenly has to send an army to avenge Gordon.

As the narrator of “Khartoum” intones at the close of the film: “For 15 years, the British paid the price with shame and war.”

Americans have been fighting in the Middle East since 2001–first in Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda, and then in Iraq, to pursue George W. Bush’s vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

The United States faces a crumbling infastructure, record high unemployment and trillions of dollars in debt.  It’s time for Americans to clean up their own house before worrying about the messes in other nations–especially those wholly alien to American values.

GETTING HELP FROM YOUR ENEMIES: PART TWO (END)

In History, Military, Politics on January 7, 2014 at 12:15 am

Here’s another reason to welcome the coming of the New Year:

Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah have gone to war–with each other.

Al-Qaeda terrorists–now taking aim at Hezbollah terrorists

This is an event the United States could not have predicted or instigated.  But it is definitely one in which Americans can take hope.

In Part One, two of those reasons were outlined.  Here are the remaining eight:

Third, the United States is still fighting a brutal war in Afghanistan. By early 2012, the United States had about 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by the fall.

There has been no schedule set for the pace of the withdrawal of the 68,000 American troops who will remain, only that all are to be out by the end of 2014.

The initial goal of this war was to quickly destroy Al Qaeda–especially its leader, Osama Bin Laden–and its Taliban protectors.

But, over time, Washington policy-makers embarked on a “nation-building” effort.  And U.S. forces wound up occupying the country for the next ten years.

This increasingly brought them into conflict with primitive, xenophobic Afghans, whose mindset remains that of the sixth century.

On February 21, 2013, protests erupted throughout Afghanistan as reports emerged that NATO personnel at Bagram Air Base had burned copies of the Koran.

The books had been confiscated from suspected insurgents and inadvertently marked for incineration.

The incident sparked rabid anti-American demonstrations. At least 30 people, including four American troops, were killed, and many were wounded.

Two American military officers were murdered by a trusted member of the Afghan military.

As a result, American forces no longer trust their “brothers” in the Afghan army to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them against the Taliban.

One American officer stated that he would no longer meet with his Afghan counterparts unless there were five armed U.S. troops in the same room.

Fourth, intervening in Syria could produce similar unintended consequences for American forces–and make the United States a target for more Islamic terrorism.

Fifth, since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism. Among the terrorist groups it supports are Hezbollah and Hamas.

For many years, Syria provided a safe-house in Damascus to Ilich Ramírez Sánchez–the notorious terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal.

Sixth, according to U.S. defense reports, Syria has weapons of mass destruction–and the ballistic missiles to deliver them. Syria has an active chemical weapons program, including significant reserves of the deadly nerve agent sarin.

The recent destruction of much of Syria’s WMD stockpile–at the demand of President Barack Obama–doesn’t erase its ability to create more.  And this is likely to re-occur as soon as the United States becomes preoccupied with other concerns.

Seventh, the United States had no part in creating the Assad regime. Thus, Americans have no moral obligation to support those Syrians trying to overthrow it.

Eighth, China and Russia are fully supporting the Assad dictatorship–and the brutalities it commits against its own citizens. This reflects badly on them–not the United States.  America should focus world outrage against these longtime Communist dictatorships for propping up another one.

Ninth, the United States could find itself in a shooting war with Russia and/or China.

The Russians sent two warships to Syria in 2013 in response to President Obama’s threat to “punish” Assad for using chemical weapons against insurgents.

What happens if American and Russian warships start trading salvos?  Or if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an attack on Israel, in return for America’s attack on Russia’s ally, Syria?

It was exactly that scenario–Great Powers going to war over conflicts between their small-state allies–that triggered World War l.

Tenth, while Islamic nations like Syria and Egypt wage war within their own borders, they will lack the resources–and incentive–to launch attacks against the United States.

Every dead Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda member makes the United States that much safer.  Every dead supporter of Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda makes the United States that much safer.

The peoples of the Middle East have long memories for those who commit brutalities against them.  In their veins, the cult of the blood feud runs deep.

When Al-Qaeda blows up civilians in Beirut, it’s certain that their relatives will urge Hezbollah to take brutal revenge.  And it’s equally certain that Hezbollah will do so.

Similarly, when Hezbollah does, those who support Al-Qaeda will demand even more brutal reprisals against Hezbollah.

No American could instill such hatred in Al-Qaeda for Hezbollah–or vice versa.  This is entirely a war of religious and sectarian hatred.

This conflict could easily become the Islamic equivalent of “the Hundred Years’ War” that raged from 1337 to 1453 between England and France.

When Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, then-Senator Harry Truman said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis and vice versa.”

That should be America’s view whenever its sworn enemies start killing off each other.  Americans should welcome such self-slaughters, not become entrapped in them.

GETTING HELP FROM YOUR ENEMIES: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Military, Politics on January 6, 2014 at 12:37 am

Sometimes your worst enemies aid you in ways you could never help yourself.

From July 10 to October 31, 1940, hundreds of badly-outnumbered pilots of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) fought off relentless attacks by Germany’s feared Luftwaffe.

For Germany’s Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, it was a major setback.

He was forced to concede that he lacked the strength to destroy the British air force–thus making it possible for his navy to land German troop on English soil.

But Hitler wasn’t prepared to give up.  He believed he could so terrorize Britons that they would demand that their government submit to German surrender demands.

From September 7, 1940 to May 21, 1941, the Luftwaffe subjected England–and especially London–to a ruthless bombing campaign that became known as The Blitz.

St Paul's Cathedral surrounded by smoke after an air raid

The undamaged St. Paul’s Cathredal, December, 1940

More than 100 tons of high explosives were dropped on 16 British cities.  During 267 days (almost 37 weeks):

  • London was attacked 71 times;
  • Birmingham, Plymouth and Liverpool were attacked eight times;
  • Bristol was attacked six times; Glasgow, five; Southampton four; and
  • There was also at least one large raid on another eight cities.

Between 40,000 and 43,000 British civilians were killed.  About 139,000 others were wounded.

“London can take it” went the British slogan.  But, in the United States, Americans–including President Franklin D. Roosevelt–wondered: For how much longer?

Clearly, what Great Britain desperately needed most was a miracle.

Exactly that happened on June 22, 1941.

With 134 Divisions at full fighting strength and 73 more divisions for deployment behind the front, the German Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union.

German tank commander

Joseph Stalin, the longtime Soviet dictator, was stunned.  The invasion had come less than two years after Germany had signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union.

Hitler had turned on his partner-in-crime.  The two dictators had greedily split Poland between them when Hitler launched his invasion on September 1, 1939.

Now they were locked in a fight to the death.

People in England were also surprised–but also suddenly hopeful.   Britain now had an ally whose resources might tip the balance against Hitler.

In the United States, then-Senator Harry S. Truman spoke for many Americans when he said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis and vice versa.”

Today the United States faces just such an opportunity.

In Syria, two of America’s most deadly enemies are now waging war–with each other.

Yes, it’s Hezbollah (Party of God) vs. Al-Qaeda (The Base).

United Nations officials estimate that more than 70,000 people have died in Syria’s civil war since conflict began on March 15, 2011.  The trigger: Protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.  A sworn enemy of Israel, it has  kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hezbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.  It is intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Al-Qaeda has attacked the mosques and gatherings of liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other non-Sunnis.   Examples of sectarian attacks include the Sadr City bombings, the 2004 Ashoura massacre and the April, 2007 Baghdad bombings.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

On one side is the Ba’ath regime of Bashir al-Assad, whose allies include Russia, Iran, Hezbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

On the other side are a host of Syrians and thousands of foreign Sunni fighters some of whom have affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

And now that civil war has spread into neighborhing Lebanon.

On January 2, at least four people were killed and 77 injured when a car bomb exploded in a residential  neighborhood in southern Beirut.

The Shiite-dominated district, Haret Hreik, is known as a Hezbollah stronghold.

Two days later, an Al-Qaeda linked group claimed responsibility for the attack.

At a press conference for President Barack Obama on March 20, 2013, a reporter asked:

“Morally, how is it possible that for the last two years, tens of thousands of innocent civilians [in Syria] are being massacred and no one–the world, the United States and you–are doing anything to stop it immediately?”

That is entirely the wrong way to view this conflict.

There are solidly practical reasons why the United States should avoid this bloodfest–while cheering on each of its mortal enemies to do its worst.

First, the United States recently disengaged from Iraq.  On Dec. 15, 2011, the American military formally ended its mission there. The war–begun in 2003–had cost the lives of 4,487 service members, with another 32,226 wounded.

Second, the war in Iraq fell victim to the law of unintended consequences. The Bush administration invaded Iraq to turn it into a base–from which to intimidate its neighboring states: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

But while Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been a counter-weight to the regional ambitions of Iran, the destruction of the Iraqi military created a power-vacumn.  Into this–eagerly–stepped the Iranian mullahs.

POLITICS BY ORWELL: “WAR IS PEACE”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 5, 2013 at 1:40 pm

A two-year civil war is raging in Syria.

United Nations officials estimate that 6,000 people have died there trying to overthrow the dictatorial regime of “President” Bashar al-Assad.

And that’s sending jitters through the Washington elite.

Not the casualties.  The fact that they’re being shown in vivid color on YouTube and CNN.

And this, in turn, has led many members of Congress and the Obama administration to fear for their jobs. They dread that voters will blame them for not “doing something” to end the fighting.

Like sending in American armed forces to somehow stop it.

Another reason driving America’s headlong rush into war: Sheer stupidity.

Start with the neocons, who lustily supported the 2003 Iraq war have been spoiling for yet another war in the Middle East.

On March 21, 2013, House Foreign Affairs ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) introduced the “Free Syria Act of 2013,” calling on the Obama administration to arm the Syrian rebels.

And on May 27, Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain secretly entered Syria and met with commanders of the Free Syrian Army, who are fighting forces loyal to “President” Bashar al Assad for control of the country.

He was the first U.S. senator to travel to Syria since civil war erupted there in 2011.  And after he left, he told CNN that he was more convinced that the United States must become more involved in the country’s conflict.

President Barack Obama could have easily confronted these “give war a chance” enthusiests and put them on the defensive–had he wished to do so.

President Obama at press conference

He could have bluntly and repreatedly used the bully pulpit of his office to warn Americans:

  • Since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism.
  • There are no “good Syrians” for the United States to support.  There is a civil war between rival terrorist groups.
  • Among the terrorist groups supporting Syrian dictator al-Assad are Hezbollah and Hamas.
  • Assad’s enemies include another terrorist group–Al Qaeda.
  • Syria has never been an ally of the United States.
  • It is, after Iran, the foremost enemy of America’s ally, Israel.
  • The United States faces a crumbling infastructure, record high unemployment and trillions of dollars in debt.  It’s time for Americans to clean up their own house before worrying about the messes in other nations–especially those wholly alien to American values.

And, most importantly, Obama could have directly challenged the macho ethic of the American Right.

Especially those members of it who, while avoiding military service themselves, are always eager to send others into harm’s way at the slightest excuse.

The President could have officially established an all-volunteer brigade for those Americans willing to fight and possibly die in yet another pointless war.  And he could have offered to fly them to the border of Syria so they could carry out their self-appointed “conquer or die” mission.

Of course, many–if not most–of these armchair strategists would have refused to put their own lives on the line in defense of a “cause” they claim to believe in.

But then Obama could have brutally–and repeatedly–pointed this out.  Hypocrisy is something Americans understand all too well–and despise.

Instead, for a man celebrated for his oratorical gifts, Obama has managed to talk himself into a no-win situation.

Theodore Roosevelt claimed to operate by a South African proverb: “Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”

Obama spoke loudly about the “big stick” of American military power and said that if Assad’s regime used chemical weapons against its enemies, that would be “a red line in the sand.”

By doing so, he needlessly put his credibility as President on the line.

On August 21, the Assad regime was accused of using chemical weapons in Damascus suburbs to kill more than 1,400 civilians.

On August 30, the Obama administration said it had “high confidence” that Syria’s government carried out the chemical weapons attack.

Having boxed himself in, Obama felt he had to make good on his threat–even if it risked the lives of those flying combat missions over Syria’s formidable air defenses.

Yet, even at this late stage, Obama could find a face-saving reason for not intervening.  He could state that while there is apparent evidence of a chemical attack, there is no conclusive evidence that this was carried out by the Assad regime.

In short: He could shift the blame to one of the many terror groups operating in Syria–such as Hizbollah or Hammas or Al Qaeda.

This would take the United States off the hook–thus saving the lives of countless American soldiers and avoiding a potential nuclear confrontation with Russia.

But having needlessly put his own credibility–and ego–on the line, this is unlikely.

What’s more likely is Obama will continue to hurtle down the road to disaster.

POLITICS BY ORWELL: “WAR IS PEACE”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on September 4, 2013 at 12:00 pm

For the third time in 12 years, America is going to war in the Middle East.

The first war erupted in October, 2001.  The United States invaded Afghanistan to avenge its 3,000 citizens killed by Al Qaeda in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

The September 11 attacks destroyed the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, and would have demolished the White House or Capitol Building if the passengers on Flight 93 hadn’t heroically sacrificed their lives in trying to recapture the plane.

Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was being given sanctuary by the fundamentalist Taliban.  When its leaders refused to hand him over, America struck.

That war definitely made sense.  If a nation isn’t allowed to defend itself from brazen terroristic assaults, then there’s no point in having an armed service.

Even America’s bitterest enemies in the Islamic world realized that Bin Laden had gone too far and had brought upon himself–and Afghanistan–the justified wrath of a powerful enemy.

And the results: This October 7 will mark 12 years since the outbreak of that war.  That’s as long as Franklin D. Roosevelt served as President–and he won World War II in less than four years.

Children who were born on September 11, 2001, have never known a time when their country wasn’t at war with islamic enemies.

American soldiers–somewhere in the Middle East

By early 2012, the United States had about 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by the fall. There has been no schedule set for the pace of the withdrawal of the 68,000 American troops who will remain, only that all are to be out by the end of 2014.

The initial goal of this war was to destroy Al Qaeda–especially its leader, Osama Bin Laden–and its Taliban protectors. But, over time, Washington policy-makers embarked on a “nation-building” effort.

So the American military didn’t wrap up its campaign as quickly as possible and then leave the country to its own devices. Instead, U.S. forces wound up occupying the country for the next ten years.

This increasingly brought them into conflict with primitive, xenophobic Afghans, whose mindset remains that of the sixth century.

A series of murderous attacks on American soldiers by their supposed Afghan comrades-in-arms led to the inevitable result:  American forces no longer trust their Afghan “allies” to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them against the Taliban.

The second war broke out in March, 2003.   President George W. Bush had been looking for an excuse to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from the moment he entered the White House.

Bush blamed Hussein for the 1992 electoral defeat of his father, President George H.W. Bush, to Bill Clinton.  As the younger Bush saw it: If only his father had “gone all the way” into Baghdad during the 1991 Iraq war and removed Hussein, he would have won a second term as President.

Bush found his excuse with the 9/11 attacks–by repeatedly and falsely charging that Hussein had massed “weapons of mass destruction” throughout Iraq.

Even more falsely, he claimed that Hussein had conspired with bin Laden in plotting 9/11.

Nor was Bush the only culprit.  So were his Vice President, Dick Cheney; his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld; and his National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice.

To hear them tell it, America would go up in a nuclear mushroom cloud unless the country moved–fast–to overthrow Hussein.

So the country went to war again–on March 19, 2003.

The Bush administration invaded Iraq to turn it into a base–from which to intimidate its neighboring states: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

But this demanded that the United States quickly pacify Iraq. The Iraqi insurgency totally undermined that goal, forcing U.S. troops to focus all their efforts inward.

Another unintended result of the war: Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been a counter-weight to the regional ambitions of Iran, but the destruction of the Iraqi military created a power-vacumn. Into this–eagerly–stepped the Iranian mullahs.

The third war will likely start in September or October, under President Barack Obama.

A major reason: The American political elite is upset at all the depressing news they’re seeing on TV.

You know, all those images they’re seeing–of dead Syrians killed while trying to overthrow their brutal dictator, President-for-Life Bashir al-Assad.

It’s ruining their breakfast–and maybe their dinnertime as well.

Syrians have been fighting a brutal civil war for two years.  Much of the country is trying to overthrow its longtime brutal dictator, Bashir al-Assad, and the rest of it is trying to maintain him in office.

CNN has been covering the war to a larger extent than the formerly “big three” TV networks: CBS, ABC and NBC.

As they say in television journalism: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

And this, in turn, causes many members of Congress and the Obama administration to fear for their jobs. They dread that voters will blame them for not “doing something” to end the fighting.

Like sending in American armed forces to somehow stop it.

TEN REASONS WHY THE U.S. SHOULDN’T ATTACK SYRIA

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on September 3, 2013 at 1:00 am

Here are ten excellent reasons for not sending American soldiers to bomb and/or invade Syria.

1. The United States just disengaged from Iraq. On Dec. 15, 2011, the American military formally ended its mission there. The war–begun in 2003–had killed 4,487 service members and wounded another 32,226.

2. The United States is still fighting a brutal war in Afghanistan. By early 2012, the United States had about 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by the fall. There has been no schedule set for the pace of the withdrawal of the 68,000 American troops who will remain, only that all are to be out by the end of 2014.

The initial goal of this war was to destroy Al Qaeda–especially its leader, Osama Bin Laden–and its Taliban protectors. But, over time, Washington policy-makers embarked on a “nation-building” effort.

So the American military didn’t wrap up its campaign as quickly as possible and then leave the country to its own devices. Instead, U.S. forces wound up occupying the country for the next ten years.

This increasingly brought them into conflict with primitive, xenophobic Afghans, whose mindset remains that of the sixth century.

A series of murderous attacks on American soldiers by their supposed Afghan comrades-in-arms led to the inevitable result:  American forces no longer trust their Afghan “allies” to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them against the Taliban.

3. The war in Iraq fell victim to the law of unintended consequences. The Bush administration invaded Iraq to turn it into a base–from which to intimidate its neighboring states: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

But this demanded that the United States quickly pacify Iraq. The Iraqi insurgency totally undermined that goal, forcing U.S. troops to focus all their efforts inward.

Another unintended result of the war: Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been a counter-weight to the regional ambitions of Iran, but the destruction of the Iraqi military created a power-vacumn. Into this–eagerly–stepped the Iranian mullahs.

4. Intervening in Syria could produce similar unintended consequences for American forces–and make the United States a target for more Islamic terrorism.

American bombs or missiles could land on one or more sites containing stockpiles of chemical weapons.  Imagine the international outrage that will result if the release of those weapons kills hundreds or thousands of Syrians.

U.S. warship firing Tomahawk Cruise missile

Within the Islamic world, the United States will be seen as waging a war against Islam, and not simply another Islamic dictator.

Almost certainly, an American military strike on Syria would lead its dictator, Bashar al-Assad, to attack Israel–perhaps even with chemical weapons.

Assad could do this simply because he hates Jews–or to lure Israel into attacking Syria.

If that happened, the Islamic world–which lusts to destroy Israel more than anything else–would rally to Syria against the United States, Israel’s chief ally.

5.  Since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism.

Among the terrorist groups it supports are Hizbollah and Hamas. For years, Syria provided a safe-house in Damascus to Ilich Ramírez Sánchez–the notorious terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal.

There are no “good Syrians” for the United States to support–only murderers who have long served a tyrant and now wish to become the next tyrant.

6.  The United States doesn’t know what it wants to do in Syria, other than “send a message.”

Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist, wrote: “War is the continuation of state policy by other means.”  But President Barack Obama hasn’t stated what he intends gain by attacking Syria.

Obama has said he’s “not after regime-change.”  If true, that would leave Assad in power–and free to go on killing those who resist his rule.

So it appears that Obama’s “message” is: “You can continue killing your own people–so long as you don’t use weapons that upset American TV viewers.”

7. The Assad regime is backed by–among others–the Iranian-supported terrorist group, Hizbollah (Party of God).  Its enemies include another terrorist group–Al Qaeda.

When your enemies are intent on killing each other, it’s best to stand aside and let them do it.

8.  China and Russia are fully supporting the Assad dictatorship–and the brutalities it commits against its own citizens. This reflects badly on them–not the United States.

9.  The United States could find itself in a shooting war with Russia and/or China.

The Russians have sent two warships to Syria, in direct response to President Obama’s threat to “punish” Assad for using chemical weapons against unsurgents.

What happens if American and Russian warships start trading salvos?  Or if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an attack on Israel, in return for America’s attack on Russia’s ally, Syria?

It was exactly that scenario–Great Powers going to war over conflicts between their small-state allies–that triggered World War l.

10.  While Islamic nations like Syria and Egypt wage war within their own borders, they will lack the resources to launch attacks against the United States.

When Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, then-Senator Harry Truman said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis and vice versa.”

That should be America’s view whenever its sworn enemies start killing themselves off.   Americans should welcome such self-slaughters, not become entrapped in them.

SYRIA: A WARNING FROM HISTORY

In Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 1, 2013 at 4:48 pm

On May 27, Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain secretly entered Syria and met with commanders of the Free Syrian Army, who are fighting forces loyal to “President” Bashar al Assad for control of the country.

He was the first U.S. senator to travel to Syria since civil war erupted there in 2011.  And after he left, he told CNN that he was more convinced that the United States must become more involved in the country’s conflict.

Earlier this year, on March 21, House Foreign Affairs ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) introduced the “Free Syria Act of 2013,” calling on the Obama administration to arm the Syrian rebels.

Not so fast, says Dr. James J. Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute.  A Washington, D.C.-based organization, it serves as the political and policy research arm of the Arab American community.

In a June 1 column entitled, “Stop the Madness,” Zogby lays out the essential truths about this increasingly confusing self-slaughter:

“What began as a popular revolt against a brutal and ossified dictatorship, Syria has now degenerated into a bloody battlefield pitting sects and their regional allies against each other in a ‘dance unto death.’

“On the one side, is the Ba’ath regime, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

“Arrayed against them are a host of Syrians (some of whom have defected from the armed forces and others who have formed militias receiving arms and support from a number of Arab states and Turkey) and a cast of thousands of foreign Sunni fighters (some of whom have affiliated with al Qaeda) who have entered Syria to wage war on behalf of their brethren.”

And then Zogby warns:

“This deadly zero-sum game is both dangerous and fatally flawed, because in reality this is a war that no one can win, and the consequences of continuing it will only make the situation worse.”

The neocons of the George W. Bush administration plunged the United States into an unprovoked war against Iraq in 2003.  After Baghdad quickly fell, Americans cheered, thinking the war was over and the troops would soon return home.

They didn’t count on Iraq’s descending into massive inter-religious strife, with Shia Muslims (who comprise 65% of the population) squaring off against Sunni ones (who make up 35%).

Suddenly, American soldiers found themselves fighting a two-front war in the same country: Fighting an Iraqi insurgency to throw them out, while trying to suppress growing sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shia.

Once again, Americans are being urged to plunge headfirst into a conflict they know nothing about–and in which they have absolutely no stake.

It’s all very reminiscent of events in the 1966 epic film, “Khartoum,” starring Charlton Heston as British General Charles George Gordon.

In 1884, the British Government sends Gordon, a real-life hero of the Victorian era, to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum.  Mohammed Achmed, a previously anonymous Sudanese, has proclaimed himself “The Madhi”  (The Expected One) and raised the cry of jihad.

The Madhi (played by Laurence Oliver) intends to drive all foreigners (of which the English are the largest group) out of Sudan, and exterminate all those Muslims who did not practice his “pure” version os Islam.

Movie poster for “Khartoum”

Gordon arrives in Khartoum to find he’s not fighting a rag-tag army of peasants.  Instead, the Madhi is a highly intelligent military strategist.

And Gordon, an evangelical Christian, also underestimates the Madhi’s religious fanaticism: “I seem to have suffered from the delusion that I had a monopoly on God.”

A surprised Gordon finds himself and 30,000 Sudanese trapped in Khartoum when the Madhi’s forces suddenly appear.  He sends off messengers and telegrams to the British Government, begging for a military relief force.

But the British Government wants nothing to do with the Sudan.  It had sent Gordon there as a sop to British public opion that “something” had to be done to quell the Madhist uprising.

The siege continues and tightens.

In Britain, the public hails Gordon as a Christian hero and demands that the Government send a relilef expedition to save him.  Prime Minister William Gladstone finally sends a token force–which arrives in Khartoum two days after the city has fallen to the Madhi’s forces.

Gordon, standing at the top of a staircase and coolly facing down his dervish enemies, is speared to death.

When the news reaches England, Britons mourn–and then demand vengeance for the death of their hero.

The Government, which had sought to wash its hands of the poor, militarily unimportant Sudan, suddenly has to send an army to avenge Gordon.

As the narrator of “Khartoum” intones at the close of the film: “For 15 years, the British paid the price with shame and war.”

Americans have been fighting in the Middle East since 2001–first in Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda, and then in Iraq, to pursue George W. Bush’s vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

The United States faces a crumbling infastructure, record high unemployment and trillions of dollars in debt.  It’s time for Americans to clean up their own house before worrying about the messes in other nations–especially those wholly alien to American values.

MIND OUR OWN BUSINESS

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on March 27, 2013 at 12:01 am

At a joint press conference for President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 20, a reporter asked Obama:

“Morally, how is it possible that for the last two years, tens of thousands of innocent civilians [in Syria] are being massacred and no one–the world, the United States and you–are doing anything to stop it immediately?”

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at press conference

United Nations officials estimate that more than 70,000 people have died in Syria’s civil war since conflict began on March 15, 2011.  The trigger: Protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

But Israelis aren’t the only ones demanding that America “do something” to end the carnage in Syria.  So are members of Congress and the national news media.

TV reporters from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and other networks are eagerly training their cameras on the carnage.  As they say in television journalism: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

And this, in turn, causes members of Congress and the Obama administration to fear for their jobs. They dread that voters will blame them for not “doing something” to end the fighting.

Like sending in American armed forces to somehow stop it.

True, most of these officials never spent a day in military service. But it’s always easier to send someone else into combat than to take that risk yourself.

And this is a risk that–emphatically–the United States has absolutely no business taking.

First, the United States just disengaged from Iraq.  On Dec. 15, 2011, the American military formally ended its mission there. The war–begun in 2003–had cost the lives of 4,487 service members, with another 32,226 wounded.

Second, the war in Iraq fell victim to the law of unintended consequences. The Bush administration invaded Iraq to turn it into a base–from which to intimidate its neighboring states: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

But this demanded that the United States quickly pacify Iraq. The Iraqi insurgency totally undermined that goal, forcing U.S. troops to focus all their efforts inward.

Another unintended result of the war: Whereas Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been a counter-weight to the regional ambitions of Iran, the destruction of the Iraqi military created a power-vacumn.  Into this–eagerly–stepped the Iranian mullahs.

Third, the United States is still fighting a brutal war in Afghanistan. By early 2012, the United States had about 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by the fall. There has been no schedule set for the pace of the withdrawal of the 68,000 American troops who will remain, only that all are to be out by the end of 2014.

The initial goal of this war was to quickly destroy Al Qaeda–especially its leader, Osama Bin Laden–and its Taliban protectors. But, over time, Washington policy-makers embarked on a “nation-building” effort.  And U.S. forces wound up occupying the country for the next ten years.

This increasingly brought them into conflict with primitive, xenophobic Afghans, whose mindset remains that of the sixth century.

On February 21, protests erupted throughout Afghanistan as reports emerged that NATO personnel at Bagram Air Base had burned copies of the Koran. The books had been confiscated from suspected insurgents and inadvertently marked for incineration.

The incident sparked rabid anti-American demonstrations. At least 30 people, including four American troops, were killed, and many were wounded. Two American military officers were murdered by a trusted member of the Afghan military.

As a result, American forces no longer trust their “brothers” in the Afghan army to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them against the Taliban. One American officer stated that he would no longer meet with his Afghan counterparts unless there were five armed U.S. troops in the same room.

Fourth, intervening in Syria could produce similar unintended consequences for American forces–and make the United States a target for more Islamic terrorism.

Fifth, since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism. Among the terrorist groups it supports are Hezbollah and Hamas. For many years, Syria provided a safe-house in Damascus to Ilich Ramírez Sánchez–the notorious terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal.

Sixth, according to U.S. defense reports, Syria has weapons of mass destruction–and the ballistic missiles to deliver them. Syria has an active chemical weapons program, including significant reserves of the deadly nerve agent sarin.

Seventh, the United States had no part in instigating revolt against the Assad regime. Thus, Americans have no moral obligation to support those Syrians trying to overthrow it.

Eighth, China and Russia are fully supporting the Assad dictatorship–and the brutalities it commits against its own citizens. This reflects badly on them–not the United States.  America should focus world outrage against these longtime Communist dictatorships for propping up another one.

Ninth, while Islamic nations like Syria and Egypt wage war within their own borders, they will lack the resources–and incentive–to launch attacks against the United States.

When Senator Harry S. Truman learned that Nazi Germany had turned on its ally, the Soviet Union, in June, 1941, he said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis and vice versa.”  We should welcome these self-slaughters, not become involved in them.

* * * * *

All of this adds up to one, overwhelming conclusion: America should mind its own business–and let the Syrians attend to their own.

BOTH “CHI-COMS” AND REPUBLICANS HATE OBAMA

In History, Humor on January 25, 2013 at 12:05 am

Psssst!  The Republicans and Chinese Communists have something in common.

They both much preferred the foreign policy of George W. Bush to that of Barack Obama.

It’s one of the many fascinating revelations offered in Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Uses of American Power.

Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power

The author is David E. Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.

Early in 2011, Sanger had lunch at the Central Party School outside Beijing.  This is where the party’s leadership debates questions that are thought too controversial to air in public.

A retired general in the People’s Liberation Army sat down next to Sanger and, in a relaxed moment of candor, said:

“I sat through many meetings of the People’s Liberation Army in the 80s and 90s where we tried to imagine what your military forces would look like in 10 to 20 years.

“But frankly, we never thought that you would spend trillions of dollars and so much time tied down in Afghanistan and the Middle East. We never imagined that as a choice you would make.”

And, writes Sanger: “Not so secretly, the Chinese were delighted by the Bush-era wars.  The longer the United States was bogged down trying to build democracies in foreign lands, the less capable it was of competing in China’s backyard.

“But now that America was emerging from a lost decade in the Middle East, the Chinese began to ask: How should China respond?  With cooperation, confrontation, or something in-between?”

And the Chinese were equally thrilled that the United States had squandered so much of its treasury during the eight-year Bush Presidency.

In the decade following 9/11, the Pentagon went on an unprecedented spending binge.  The defense budget grew by 67%, to levels 50% higher than it had been per average year during the Cold War.

According to Sanger: “An estimate [the New York Times] put together for the tenth anniversary of the [9/11] attacks suggested that the United States had spent at least $3.3 trillion.”

These monies had gone on

  • securing the country;
  • invading and trying to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq; and
  • caring for wounded American soldiers.

“Put another way,” writes Sanger, “for every dollar al-Qaeda spent destroying the World Trade Center and attacking the Pentagon, America had spent $6.6 million in response.

“The annual Pentagon budget of $700 billion was equivalent to the combined spending of the next twenty largest military powers….

“The world had come to expect that America would underwrite global security, regardless of the cost.  Obama was determined to change that mind-set.”

In short, America became financially and militarily vulnerable during the Presidency of George W. Bush.

And this flatly contradicts the standard Republican line: Obama is a weak President–and is betraying us to the (pick one or both) Muslims/Communists.

It also speaks volumes that the two most important members of the George W. Bush administration declined to attend the Republican National Convention held August 27-30.

That, of course, meant former President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

And why was that?  Perhaps it’s because polls show that a majority of Americans continued

  • To blame Bush for lying the country into a needless, bloody and expensive war with Iraq.
  • To blame him for presiding over the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.
  • To see Dick Cheney as the Dr. Strangelovian manipulator of George W. Bush.

Even former President George H.W. Bush said he wouldn’t attend the convention.

It’s possible that Bush, Sr., didin’t want to serve as a reminder that his son left the White House with the lowest popularity rating of any modern President.

And that was just fine with those planning to attend the convention–especially its nominee-to-be.

They wanted to do with George W. Bush what Nikita Khrushchev and his fellow Communists did with the embarrassing Joseph Stalin: Bury him far from public view.

Romney wanted to use the convention the way Adolf Hitler used the Nuremberg rallies–to attack his enemies and glorify himself.

He didin’t want the viewing audience to be reminded that the United States sharply declined in wealth and prestige during the eight-year reign of George W. Bush and a Republican Congress.

Romney and his fellow conventioneers also didn’t want to remind the country of something else: That Obama had spent most of his own Presidency trying to undo the harm his predecessor did, in both foreign and domestic policy.

Thus the Republican party found itself torn.

On one hand, its leaders wanted to claim that Barack Obama was the worst President in the history of the Republic.

On the other hand, they knew that most Americans continued to view the last Republican President in just that way.

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