Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category
Peter Beinart tells us in the Atlantic why attacking ISIS is not a good idea. His recommendation carries more weight in view of his enthusiastic support for the Iraq War. Take a look at this Atlantic article from July 2015 that Beinart wrote:
I have a fantasy. It’s that every politician and pundit who goes on TV to discuss the Iran deal is asked this question first: “Did you support the Iraq War, and how has that experience informed your position?”
For me, it would be a painful question. I supported the Iraq War enthusiastically. I supported it because my formative foreign-policy experiences had been the Gulf War and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, all of which led me to exaggerate the efficacy of military force and downplay its risks. As Iraq spiraled into disaster, I felt intellectually unmoored. When my sister-in-law was deployed there for a year, leaving her young daughter behind, I was consumed with guilt that I had contributed to their hardship. To this day, when I walk down the street and see a homeless veteran, I feel nauseous. I give some money and a word of thanks, and think about offering an apology. But I don’t, because there’s no apology big enough. The best I can do is learn from my mistake. These days, that meanssupporting the diplomatic deal with Iran.
In his current article in the Atlantic, Beinart writes:
or close to a decade, the trauma of the Iraq War left Americans wary of launching new wars in the Middle East. That caution is largely gone. Most of the leading presidential candidates demand that the United States escalate its air war in Iraq and Syria, send additional Special Forces, or enforce a buffer zone, which the head of Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, has said would require deploying U.S. ground troops. Most Americans now favor doing just that.
The primary justification for this new hawkishness is stopping the Islamic State, or isis, from striking the United States. Which is ironic, because at least in the short term, America’s intervention will likely spark more terrorism against the United States, thus fueling demands for yet greater military action. After a period of relative restraint, the United States is heading back into the terror trap.
To understand how this trap works, it’s worth remembering that during the Cold War, the United States had relatively few troops in the Arab and Muslim world. When Ronald Reagan was elected president, Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, did not even exist. All of this changed in 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and President George H. W. Bush dispatched 700,000 troops to expel him and defend Saudi Arabia. After the war was won, thousands stayed to deter Saddam, and to enforce no-fly zones over Iraq.
Before the Gulf War, the Saudi native Osama bin Laden and his associates had focused on supporting the mujahideen, who were fighting to repel the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But after the U.S.S.R.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, al-Qaeda turned its attention to the United States, and in particular to America’s military presence in Saudi Arabia. In 1992, al-Qaeda issued a fatwa calling for attacks on American troops in the Middle East. After the United States intervened in Somalia later that year, Somali rebels allegedly trained by al-Qaeda shot down two Black Hawk helicopters. In 1995, al-Qaeda operatives took credit for bombing a joint U.S.-Saudi military facility in Riyadh. And in 1996, a truck bomb devastated a building housing U.S. Air Force personnel in the Saudi city of Dhahran. (Although Saudi Hezbollah carried out the attack, the 9/11 Commission noted “signs that al-Qaeda played some role.”) That same year, another al-Qaeda fatwa declared, “The latest and the greatest of these [Western] aggressions … is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places”: Saudi Arabia. On August 7, 1998, the eighth anniversary of the beginning of that “occupation,” al-Qaeda bombed America’s embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The fact that al-Qaeda justified its attacks as a response to American “occupation” makes them no less reprehensible, of course. And al-Qaeda might well have struck American targets even had the U.S. not stationed troops on Saudi soil. After all, as a global superpower, the United States was involved militarily all across the world in ways al-Qaeda interpreted as oppressive to Muslims.
Still, it’s no coincidence that bin Laden and company shifted their focus away from the U.S.S.R. after Soviet troops left Afghanistan and toward the United States after American troops entered Saudi Arabia. Key advisers to George W. Bush recognized this. After U.S. forces overthrew Saddam in 2003, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said one of the benefits “that has gone by almost unnoticed—but it’s huge—is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia.” The United States, he reasoned, had thus eliminated “a huge recruiting device for al-Qaeda.”
The problem was that to remove thousands of troops from Saudi Arabia, the United States sent more than 100,000 to invade and occupy Iraq. A dramatic surge in terrorist attacks against American and allied forces ensued. As Robert Pape, the director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism at the University of Chicago, has enumerated, the world witnessed 343 suicide attacks from 1980 to 2003, about 10 percent of them against America and its allies. From 2004 to 2010, by contrast, there were more than 2,400 such attacks worldwide, more than 90 percent of them against American and coalition forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Many of those attacks were orchestrated by al-Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate, which in 2006 established the Islamic State of Iraq. After weakening in 2007 and 2008 (when the U.S. paid Sunni tribal leaders to fight jihadists), the Islamic State strengthened again as the Obama administration’s inattention allowed Iraq’s Shia prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to intensify his persecution of Sunnis. Then, after Syrians rebelled against Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State expanded across Iraq’s western border into Syria, later renaming itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Significantly, when the last American troops left Iraq, in December 2011, isis did not follow them home. “In its various incarnations,” notes Daniel Byman, a counterterrorism expert who is a professor at Georgetown, the Islamic State “focused first and foremost on its immediate theater of operations.” Although isiswas happy if people inspired by its message struck Western targets, it made little effort to orchestrate such attacks. Research fellows at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment detected only four isis-related plots in the West from January 2011 to May 2014.
But beginning in the fall of 2014, . . .
It’s strange how little some politicians—mostly Republicans but some Democrats as well—care about the privacy and legal rights of Americans while guarding zealously the privacy of Israeli politicians, Israel being a country with a long history of spying on the US and indeed with instances of unprovoked firing on American ships with the intention of sinking the ship (the USS Liberty).
Of course, while these politicians find it perfectly acceptable for the NSA to spy on Americans, they are profoundly disturbed and visibly outraged when they themselves are spied upon (cf. Pete Hoekstra, Jane Harman, Dianne Feinstein, et al.).
Zaid Jelani reports in The Intercept:
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal revealed that the Obama administration had spied on the Israeli government and, in the process, roped in communications the Netanyahu administration had with members of the U.S. Congress.
This news sparked a denunciation by Florida Senator and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio. “Obviously people read this report, they have a right to be concerned this morning about it,” said Rubio on Fox News Wednesday morning. “They have a right to be concerned about the fact that while some leaders around the world are no longer being targeted, one of our strongest allies in the Middle East – Israel – is. I actually think it might be worse than what some people might think, but this is an issue that we’ll keep a close eye on, and the role that I have in the intelligence committee.”
Rubio’s newfound objection to surveillance appears to be limited to spying on the Israeli government. The senator has been a long-time defender of the NSA’s mass surveillance. “There is no evidence that these programs have been systematically abused,” he said in 2014, decrying what he described as “paranoia” around surveillance programs.
The previous year, he defended spying on foreign government officials, saying that “everybody spies on everybody, it’s just a fact.” In the most recent presidential debate, he accused rivals, like Ted Cruz, of endangering U.S. security by supporting modest reforms to the surveillance regime.
One reason Rubio may be carving out a special objection to spying on the Israeli government is that he is competing in the so-called “Adelson primary” — a contest for the financial backing of the pro-Israel casino magnate who spent $150 million during the 2012 election. . .
There’s a video at the link, but it’s not working for me.
Here’s the column. Ignore the footnote by-play. The point is quite serious, or so it seems to me.
Glenn Greenwald has a good article on the boneheaded PR programs from the State Department:
Few things produce darker and more warped comedy than when the U.S. Government launches new propaganda campaigns to “win the hearts and minds of Muslims.” Remember when George W. Bush dispatched his long-time political aide, Texas’ Karen Hughes, to the Middle East as a State Department official to change Muslim perceptions of the U.S. and that promptly (and predictably) resulted, as Slate put it, in a “jaw-dropping display of ignorance and malapropism that made her the laughing stock of the region”?
In fairness to Hughes and the State Department, she was vested with an impossible task. How do you convince the people of that region to like you when you’ve spent decades bombing, invading and droning them, arming and propping up the tyrants who suppress them, lavishing Israel with the weapons, money and UN cover used to occupy and brutalize Palestinians, and just generally treating their countries like your own private plaything for war and profit?
As a 2004 Rumsfeld-commissioned study about the causes of Terrorism put it: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies;” in particular, “American direct intervention in the Muslim world,” our “one sided support in favor of Israel”; support for Islamic tyrannies in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia; and “the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.” As a result, trying to change Muslim perceptions of the U.S. without changing U.S. policies of imperialism and militarism is the ultimate act of futility.
Destined though they are to fail, the propaganda efforts don’t have to be quite so comically bad: the government could, for instance, put people in charge of these campaigns who actually know something about the part of the world they’re trying to propagandize. Yet these efforts seem only to get worse. One of the most embarrassing tactics is when the U.S. government (and its media allies) select people whom they hold out to the Muslim world as the people they ought to follow; invariably, the U.S.’s selected “leaders” spout views and engage in conduct more anathema to the overwhelming majority of Muslims than the U.S. government itself is.
Last year, the State Department announced with great fanfare a new social media campaign to counter ISIS’ online messaging. They called it “Think Again, Turn Away,” and created Twitter and Facebook accounts in that name. Its self-described purpose on Facebook: “Our mission is to expose the facts about terrorists and their propaganda. Don’t be misled by those who break up families and destroy their true heritage.”
It was a massive comedic failure from the start. And that failure continues. Yesterday, Think Again, Turn Away’s Twitter account promoted and hailedsomeone they think will serve as an inspiring thought leader for Muslims around the world:
— Think AgainTurn Away (@ThinkAgain_DOS) December 14, 2015
Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali likely to be the effective messenger to the Muslim world which the State Department envisions her to be? Last year, she revealed her choice for who should win the Nobel Peace Prize: Benjamin Netanyahu; “he does what is best for the people of Israel, he does his duty,” she said. “I really think he should get the Nobel Peace Prize. In a fair world he would get it.”
Earlier this year, she told a gathering hosted by Israeli Consul General that she previously tried to convert to Judaism and hoped one day to try again. She has spouted some of the most virulent anti-Muslim bigotry, the worst of which may have been her 2007 interview with Reason, where she said she rejects the notion that “we” are at war only with radical Islam but instead are at war with Islam generally. Behold the State Department’s chosen Ambassador to the Muslim world: . .
President Obama’s address to the nation Sunday was intended to reassure anxious Americans that the United States will defeat the Islamic State, known as ISIS or ISIL, “by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power.” But success, he noted, “won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear. That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for.”
If that’s true, ISIS must have been cheered by the presidential field, most of whom did their best to talk tough and stoke fear without advancing any workable ideas.
Donald Trump, a bigot without foreign policy experience, showed that there is nothing he won’t say or support to sow hatred. On Monday he outrageously proposed barring all Muslims from entering the country. There is no precedent for denying immigration based on religion, experts say, and any such test would surely be used as an excuse to attack Muslim Americans.
Ted Cruz, Twitter warrior, pledged after Mr. Obama’s speech to “direct the Department of Defense to destroy ISIS.” He played soldier all weekend in Iowa, spouting “We will carpet bomb them into oblivion,” to a tea-party crowd in Cedar Rapids, adding “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out,” whatever that means.
Marco Rubio took to Fox News to remind Americans that they are, or should be, “really scared and worried.” He also said that “people are scared not just because of these attacks but because of a growing sense that we have a president that’s completely overwhelmed by them,” as if he alone had his finger on the pulse of America.
“Bolder action across the board is needed because our way of life is what’s at stake,” was the nonprescription from Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. “Also, when terrorists threaten us, our response can’t be to target our own constitutional rights. Our rights aren’t the problem, our unwillingness to act to defeat extremists is the problem. We need to decisively and aggressively protect our nation and our ideals. We can’t delay.”
Here’s Jeb Bush, on Fox News Monday morning: “The idea that somehow there are radical elements in every religion is ridiculous. There are no radical Christians that are organizing to destroy Western civilization. There are no radical Buddhists that are doing this. This is radical Islamic terrorism.”
What Mr. Obama called an “evolving threat” has taken a new form that authorities have long feared: via the Internet, Islamic extremists are inciting terrorist attacks inside the United States, without the foreign training and travel that makes such plans easier to detect and thwart.
On Sunday, before Mr. Obama spoke, Hillary Clinton suggested that social media companies like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter should “disrupt” the Islamic State by taking down its content and making it harder for the group to recruit fighters and communicate online. While this approach may seem appealing, it is deeply flawed because private businesses are not equipped to decide what online speech should be taken down or which users should be silenced. And even if big Internet companies were successful at keeping terrorist organizations and their sympathizers from using their services, those groups and people would find other ways to communicate, for example, by using websites that are not well known or online services based in other countries. . .
Continue reading. And do read it all.
In Mother Jones Kevin Drum points out:
Do any of the Republican candidates have a plan for defeating ISIS? As near as I can tell, most of them have offered up variations on this:
- Bomb ISIS, just like Obama, but better.
- Use Iraqi ground troops, just like Obama, but better.
- Put together a coalition of local allies, just like Obama, but better.
Am I missing anything? Aside from being more bellicose (the sand will glow, we’ll bomb the shit out of them, etc.), all of the candidates are saying that Obama’s strategy is basically sound, but they’d tweak it a bit here and there. They’d stop worrying about civilian deaths so they could drop more bombs. They’d somehow train Iraqi forces better than the Army is doing right now. And they’d put together a real coalition, though it’s never really clear what they mean by that or how they’d accomplish it.
James Fallows has an interesting column with an intriguing comment from a reader:
After President Obama’s speech on ISIS last night, I argued that he was make the least-bad sane, shrewd case about a long-term U.S. strategy, cable-news scolding about his “distance” and “dispassion” notwithstanding.
Reader arguments worth noting. First from a partner at a major law firm on the East Coast. He argues that as long as the United States relies on a drone-strike strategy, it cannot be surprised if people who lack conventional military strength react with the tools available to them. Namely, retail-level terrorism.
Additionally this reader says that the era of San Bernardino-scale terrorism may bring the Chickenhawk Nation era to its logic culmination. Only a tiny handful of Americans will ever see the battlefield, but larger and larger numbers could feel exposed to the blowback effects of their nation’s wars. Over to the reader:
It is the policy of the United States that it may kill anyone it wants in certain areas of the Middle East; the executive branch decides and kills. The claimed entitlement to kill includes not just those targeted but also anyone who happens to be nearby. The United States seeks to minimize this “collateral damage,” but accepts however much of it is necessary to achieve its killing objectives.
As a result, everyone in the affected areas of the Middle East has for a long time lived in peril of a sudden deadly attack by the United States. Reports on how many we actually have killed vary, but the number appears certainly to be in the hundreds and likely to be in the thousands.
This policy comes with a cost: the people who are subject to it and their sympathizers will seek to retaliate by such means as are available, even as we would do if a foreign country’s drones were hovering over Connecticut and killing people in the same fashion. The idea that such retaliation can be willed or persuaded out of existence is a fantasy. Retaliation might be forestalled by resort to the level of force used against Germany and Japan in WWII, but our country is not prepared to do that or pay for it.
Given that the people subject to U.S. violence will retaliate “by such means as are available,” what are we in for? It appears that their capabilities are limited, for now, to relatively small-scale random killings by suicidal attackers such as those in San Bernardino. U.S. authorities can prevent some of these attacks, but not all. At least so long as the U.S. pursues the discretionary killing policy described above, every American must bear the risk of being killed or maimed in the occasional retaliatory San Bernardino.
This state of affairs represents a possible exception to your “Chickenhawk Nation” diagnosis. Americans have persuaded themselves that their country can wage war on foreigners at no personal cost to them, but only because they refuse to see the connection between such wars and the desire of those subject to them to retaliate. They are persuaded by propagandists such as Fox News that what is really retaliation occurs because attackers “hate us for our freedoms.” We in fact are the front-line soldiers in the drone war.
And from an American reader who now lives in Asia, how the spectacle looks from there — and the underlying reasons why Obama’s opponents may dismiss his arguments.
The following may be in poor taste or easily twisted in a direction that is opposite of my intent, but here goes: . . .