Later On

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Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category

The Iraq War evaluated from the British side

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In the NY Review of Books Goeffrey Wheatcroft has a very interesting review of three recent books on Britain’s part in the Iraq War failure, one of which is the Chilcot Report. The review is definitely worth reading. The review begins:

How did it happen? By now it is effortless to say that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by American and British forces was the most disastrous—and disgraceful—such intervention of our time. It’s also well-nigh pointless to say so: How many people reading this would disagree? For Americans, Iraq is their worst foreign calamity since Vietnam (although far more citizens of each country were killed than were Americans); for the British, it’s the worst at least since Suez sixty years ago this autumn, though really much worse on every score, from political dishonesty to damage to the national interest to sheer human suffering.

Although skeptics wondered how much more the very-long-awaited Report of the Iraq Inquiry by a committee chaired by Sir John Chilcot could tell us when it appeared at last in July, it proves to contain a wealth of evidence and acute criticism, the more weighty for its sober tone and for having the imprimatur of the official government publisher. In all, it is a further and devastating indictment not only of Tony Blair personally but of a whole apparatus of state and government, Cabinet, Parliament, armed forces, and, far from least, intelligence agencies.

Among its conclusions the report says that there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein; that the British “chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted”; that military action “was not a last resort”; that when the United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix said weeks before the invasion that he “had not found any weapons of mass destruction and the items that were not accounted for might not exist,” Blair wanted Blix “to harden up his findings.”

The report also found that deep sectarian divisions in Iraq “were exacerbated by…de Ba’athification and…demobilisation of the Iraqi army”; that Blair was warned by his diplomats and ministers of the “inadequacy of U.S. plans” for Iraq after the invasion, and of what they saw as his “inability to exert significant influence on U.S. planning”; and that “there was no collective discussion of the decision by senior Ministers,” who were regularly bypassed and ignored by Blair.

And of course claims about Iraqi WMDs were presented by Downing Street in a way that “conveyed certainty without acknowledging the limitations of the intelligence,” which is putting it generously. Chilcot stops short of saying directly that the invasion was illegal or that Blair lied to Parliament, but he is severe on the shameful collusion of the British intelligence agencies, and on the sinister way in which Blair’s attorney general changed his opinion about the legality of the invasion.

Planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam “were wholly inadequate,” Chilcot says, and “the people of Iraq have suffered greatly.” Those might seem like statements of the blindingly obvious, as does the solemn verdict that the invasion “failed to achieve the goals it had set for a new Iraq.” It did more than merely fail, and not only was every reason we were given for the war falsified; every one of them has been stood on its head. Extreme violence in Iraq precipitated by the invasion metastasized into the hideous conflict in neighboring Syria and the implosion of the wider region, the exact opposite of that birth of peaceable pro-Western democracy that proponents of the invasion had insisted would come about. While Blair at his most abject still says that all these horrors were unforeseeable, Chilcot makes clear that they were not only foreseeable, but widely foreseen.

Nor are those the only repercussions. Chilcot coyly says that “the widespread perception”—meaning the correct belief—that Downing Street distorted the intelligence about Saddam’s weaponry has left a “damaging legacy,” undermining trust and confidence in politicians. It is not fanciful to see the Brexit vote, the disruption of the Labour Party, and the rise of Donald Trump among those consequences, all part of the revulsion across the Western world against elites and establishments that were so discredited by Iraq. And so how could it have happened? . . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 September 2016 at 10:59 am

Good news but need more: 27 U.S. Senators Rebel Against Arming Saudi Arabia

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An important step in the right direction, reported by Alex Emmons in The Intercept.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2016 at 2:39 pm

Latest Estimate Pegs Cost of U.S. Wars at $4.8 Trillion Since 2001

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Are we really and truly getting our money’s worth? Had that money been spent on domestic programs (such as infrastructure repair and maintenance, improvements to railway service, and so on), what an enormous difference it would have made. Naomi LaChance reports in The Intercept:

THE TOTAL U.S. budgetary cost of war since 2001 is $4.79 trillion, according to a report released this week from Brown University’s Watson Institute. That’s the highest estimate yet.

Neta Crawford of Boston University, the author of the report, included interest on borrowing, future veterans needs, and the cost of homeland security in her calculations.

The amount of $4.79 trillion, “so large as to be almost incomprehensible,” she writes, adds up like this:

  • The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and other overseas operations already cost $1.7 trillion between 2001 and August 2016 with $103 billion more requested for 2017
  • Homeland Security terrorism prevention costs from 2001 to 2016 were $548 billion.
  • The estimated DOD base budget was $733 billion and veterans spending was $213 billion.
  • Interest incurred on borrowing for wars was $453 billion.
  • Estimated future costs for veterans’ medical needs until the year 2053 is $1 trillion.
  • And the amounts the DOD, State Department, and Homeland Security have requested for 2017 ($103 billion).

Crawford carried out a similar study in June 2014 that estimated the cost of war at $4.4 trillion. Her methodology mirrors that of the 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict by Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz.

There are even more costs of war that Crawford does not include, she writes. For instance, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2016 at 12:40 pm

Benjamin Netanyahu Added 100,000 Settlers. Now the U.S. Rewards Him With Largest Aid Package Ever.

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It’s almost as if the U.S. is encouraging Netayaho to expand his program of illegal settlements in Palestinian territories and, presumably, his aggressive actions against the Palestinian people, such as the destruction of people’s homes. Zaid Jilani reports in The Intercept:

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION on Wednesday signed a formal memorandum of understanding that would increase the annual military aid package to Israel, rewarding it with a record $38 billion over 10 years.

This increase in aid comes as the Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government, which took office in 2008, has vastly expanded the network of illegal settlements deep into the Palestinian territories in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Shortly before Netanyahu took office, 474,000 Israeli settlers were living in these territories. By the end of 2014, the last time the Israeli government released comprehensive statistics on the matter, that number had grown to around 570,000.

The United States and the international community consider these settlements to be a primary obstacle to Palestinian independence. The network of military checkpoints, erected barriers, and private transportation networks that sustain them cut deep into Palestinian territory, undermining its territorial contiguity.

Watch an AJ+ explainer on the topic: . . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Hillary Clinton has already made it clear that she will support Israel regardless of whatever actions it takes, and I imagine she will continue to pour billions into the country.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2016 at 12:33 pm

Facebook Is Collaborating With the Israeli Government to Determine What Should Be Censored

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Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:

Last week, a major censorship controversy erupted when Facebook began deleting all posts containing the iconic photograph of the Vietnamese “Napalm Girl” on the ground that it violated the company’s ban on “child nudity.” Facebook even deleted a post from the prime minister of Norway, who posted the photograph in protest of the censorship. As outrage spread, Facebook ultimately reversed itself — acknowledging “the history and global importance of this image in documenting a particular moment in time” — but this episode illustrated many of the dangers I’ve previously highlighted in having private tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google become the arbiters of what we can and cannot see.

Having just resolved that censorship effort, Facebook seems to be vigorously courting another. The Associated Press reports today from Jerusalem that “the Israeli government and Facebook have agreed to work together to determine how to tackle incitement on the social media network.” These meetings are taking place “as the government pushes ahead with legislative steps meant to force social networks to rein in content that Israel says incites violence.” In other words, Israel is about to legislatively force Facebook to censor content deemed by Israeli officials to be improper, and Facebook appears eager to appease those threats by working directly with the Israeli government to determine what content should be censored.

The joint Facebook-Israel censorship efforts, needless to say, will be directed at Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians who oppose Israeli occupation. The AP article makes that clear: “Israel has argued that a wave of violence with the Palestinians over the past year has been fueled by incitement, much of it spread on social media sites.” As Alex Kane reported in The Intercept in June, Israel has begun actively surveilling Palestinians for the content of their Facebook posts and even arresting some for clear political speech. Israel’s obsession with controlling Palestinians’ use of social media is motivated by the way it has enabled political organizing by occupation opponents; as Kane wrote: “A demonstration against the Israeli occupation can be organized in a matter of hours, while the monitoring of Palestinians is made easier by the large digital footprint they leave on their laptops and mobile phones.”

Notably, Israel was represented in this meeting with Facebook by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, an extremist by all measures who has previously said she does not believe in a Palestinian state. Shaked has “proposed legislation that seeks to force social networks to remove content that Israel considers to be incitement,” and recently boasted that Facebook is already extremely compliant with Israeli censorship demands: “Over the past four months Israel submitted 158 requests to Facebook to remove inciting content,” she said, and Facebook has accepted those requests in 95 percent of the cases.

All of this underscores the severe dangers of having our public discourse overtaken, regulated, and controlled by a tiny number of unaccountable tech giants. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 2:39 pm

Technology, the two-edged sword: Hacking the election, open to all countries, political parties, individuals…

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Note that “countries” and “governments” are not equivalent: a given country may have an intelligence service actively working to control or disrupt the election, calling outcomes into doubt, to achieve (their) government goals—or, worse, their organizational goals, with intelligence service A competing with intelligence service B competing with law enforcement competing with the three branches of the military, but perhaps the military is now a more unified thing . Each of those organizations is quite free to take action on its own to achieve national goals in terms of adding power to the organization itself: a strong [organization] makes for a better government. You can use the name of any governmental (or indeed commercial) entity to see the dynamics and incentives. (To use US examples: CIA, BATF, FBI, NSA, DEA, plus various state, county, and city police departments.) But that same country—say, Russia—also has an active, organized, and technologically advanced criminal organization(s).

One can understand William F. Buckley, Jr. when he wrote, “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

David Goldstein reports in McClatchy:

Is it time to panic about Election Day?

Not about the choices for president, but about whether the votes that millions of Americans will cast Nov. 8 will be secure.

“My level of concern is pretty high,” said Thomas Hicks, chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, an independent, bipartisan group created to develop guidelines following the disputed 2000 presidential election.

Experts are warning that in a year of unending political drama, still more might be in store, from Russian hackers to obsolete voting machines prone to breakdowns, all with the potential for causing considerable political chaos.

Consider these developments:

– The FBI issued a “flash” alert this summer to state election officials that foreign hackers had breached the election systems in two states, Arizona and Illinois. Arizona shut down its network for a week.

– Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson suggested that the nation’s election system, an uneven mosaic of 50 state-operated fiefdoms, should be viewed like the national power grid, part of the country’s “critical infrastructure.”

– Johnson volunteered his agency’s help by offering to inspect state election systems for holes hackers could crawl through. Several states have taken up his offer. Others – such as Georgia, which has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1996 but where polls now show the race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump tied – have spurned it.

Georgia uses older voting machines that don’t automatically produce ballot paper trails, which many election security experts think is a must-have feature.

In an email to the website NextGov, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp labeled Johnson’s offer “a vast federal overreach” and an effort toward “federalizing the election under the guise of security.” . . .

Continue reading.

It’s a fine kettle of fish, but it’s here, so we had better figure out how to handle it.

See also: “U.S. investigating potential covert Russian plan to disrupt November elections.” Hope they are also looking at North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Israel, ISIS, and some guy in New Jersey who’s known only to his close neighbors, who consider him a very quiet guy.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 September 2016 at 12:17 pm

Despite 10,000 civilian casualties in Yemen — 13 per day — U.S. reaffirms support for Saudi Arabia

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Wonder whether this plays any role in driving Islamic terrorists? One I would imagine that they have the same regard for their civilian fellows as we do in the U.S., and the U.S. really gets bent out of shape when some foreign power casually kills one American citizen, much less 13 per day. Maybe—just maybe—those on the receiving it do not like it a lot, and observe the U.S. role.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2016 at 2:32 pm

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