Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category
Dana Priest tells us today about Donald Trump’s new National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn:
A lot of reporters and other civilians found Mike, as everyone called him, refreshing. A plucky Irish Catholic kid from Rhode Island, he wasn’t impressed by rank. He told his junior officers to challenge him in briefings. “You’d hear them say, ‘Boss, that’s nuts,’ ” one former colleague said.
….The greatest accomplishment of Flynn’s military career was revolutionizing the way that the clandestine arm of the military, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), undertook the killing and capture of suspected terrorists and insurgents in war zones….[Stanley] McChrystal, who was appointed to run JSOC in 2003, brought Flynn in as his intelligence chief….He “boxed him in,” someone who had worked with both men told me last week, by encouraging Flynn to keep his outbursts in check and surrounding him with subordinates who would challenge the unsubstantiated theories he tended to indulge.
Sounds like a good guy who just needs a little direction. So, um, what happened?
In 2012, Flynn became director of the Defense Intelligence Agency….“He made a lot of changes,” one close observer of Flynn’s time at the D.I.A. told me. “Not in a strategic way—A to Z—but back and forth.”
Flynn also began to seek the Washington spotlight. But, without loyal junior officers at his side to vet his facts, he found even more trouble. His subordinates started a list of what they called “Flynn facts,” things he would say that weren’t true….Flynn’s temper also flared. He berated people in front of colleagues.
….Flynn had been on the job just eighteen months when James Clapper told him he had to go….Flynn began saying that he had been fired because President Obama disagreed with his views on terrorism and wanted to hide the growth of ISIS. I haven’t found anyone yet who heard him say this while he was still in the military….As Flynn’s public comments became more and more shrill, McChrystal, Mullen, and others called Flynn to urge him to “tone it down,” a person familiar with each attempt told me. But Flynn had found a new boss, Trump, who enlisted him in the fight against the Republican and Democratic Party establishments.
Well, I guess it will all work out. Donald Trump will provide a firm hand at the—wait. What’s this? . . .
Continue reading. And do read the rest. It will send chills down your spine.
Louis René Beres writes in the OUP blog:
“I learn a science from the soul’s aggressions.”
— Saint-John Perse
Amid all current debate about the best way to defeat ISIS, one easily forgets that this Jihadist adversary is merely the most visible expression of a much wider and much deeper pathology. Failing to understand this vital hierarchy of importance will be very costly, no matter what one’s own subjective position on counter-terrorism strategy and tactics may be. After all, an inevitable consequence of any such failure would be to strike vainly against symptoms, and not meaningfully against actual “disease.”
The epidemic violence we continue to witness in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, is only microcosm. It is, more precisely, just the most visible reflection of far more pervasive determinants. They are,: (1) the relentlessly malignant tribalism of our world order system; and (2) the fusion of derivative and broadly sectarian violence with reinforcing claims of “sacredness.” The philosopher Hegel once commented: “The State is the march of God in the world.” This crucial nineteenth-century observation now applies equally well to an expansive amalgam of twenty-first century Arab/Islamic terrorist groups, and not merely to ISIS.
Looking ahead, we must consider yet another ominous fusion. This is the prospective coming together of atomic capability with decisional irrationality. Such a fearful prospect should come to mind, not only in such “front page” venues as Iran and Pakistan, but also North Korea. As earlier instructed by the Prussian strategist, Carl von Clausewitz (On War), world politics are eternally and relentlessly systemic. It follows, we must finally understand, that what happens in north Asia, just as an example, could also substantially impact Europe and/or North America.
We can never really hope to fix the “ISIS problem” until we have first understood the more underlying human bases and expected rewards of Jihadist-engineered insurgent conflicts. It is important, therefore, that we soon learn to look seriously and continuously behind the news.
Always, it must be recalled, the conspicuously grinding threat from ISIS is more a visible symptom, than an actual disease.
If we should mistakenly focus too much on ridding ourselves of this singular symptom, and not the underlying disease, we could then find ourselves exacerbating the ultimately more fundamental and more insidiously “metastatic” pathology. To wit, if American policy should wrongly focus upon the “War Against ISIS” as consuming and overriding, we would then simultaneously strengthen other foes in Syria, Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah.
For other examples, focusing too much on ISIS could undermine our counter-terrorist regime allies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who are presently engaged in combat operations against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, and also strengthen assorted Muslim Brotherhood forces, including Palestinian Hamas — the Islamic Resistance Movement — which is effectively the “Son of Muslim Brotherhood.” Of course, a too-consuming counter-terrorist focus on ISIS would correspondingly embolden a variety of core al-Qaeda organizations, groups from which ISIS itself had originally been spawned. . .
Trump has not stated any detailed policy positions, and he certainly shows no hesitation in denying that he’s said things that were videotaped so we have a record of him saying them, but some things he’s promised to do that should start to become visible in the next months:
Withdrawing support from NATO – not all support, presumably, but the US will have a much smaller role. Trump clearly intends that Europe see to its own defense, plus Trump seems quite admiring of Putin’s Russia. Perhaps some alliance may emerge.
Withdrawing from South Korea and Japan and SE Asia in general – Trump made it clear that he does not see the US as having a responsibility to protect South Korea and Japan, and he advised those nations to build their own nuclear weapons.
Lawsuits against the women who accused him of sexual assault – At Gettysburg he promised that once the election is over he would sue all women who accused him of sexual assault. He also said, though, that he had never even met any of the women, and yet one of them interviewed him for People magazine, so perhaps it’s folly to rely on the truth of his statements.
Shut down the Environmental Protection Agency – He may not be able to shut it down entirely, but he certainly can defund it and constrain its activities. The environment can look out for itself, apparently. I suspect that Federal lands will be opened for exploitation by private business: grazing, clear-cutting forests, strip-mining, oil-drilling (goodbye Arctic Refuge), fracking, etc.
The Supreme Court will change character quite a bit. He has one vacancy now, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg is not getting any younger. The Court could become quite conservative, with a 6-3 split in favor of conservatives. Given the Courts evisceration of the Voting Rights Act, which perhaps played a role in this election, I think there may be a general rollback of liberal programs.
Ending the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) – Congress remains under the control of the GOP in both houses, and I would expect Trump to sign legislation ending the Affordable Care Act. That will seriously affect many of the poor, but the GOP has never been concerned about that demographic.
Building a wall the entire length of the border between the US and Mexico – Trump promised that repeatedly and it was a mainstay of his campaign. It will be expensive, but it’s a public works program so may help unemployment a little (and will certainly fill the coffers of private corporations—not so good for them as the Iraq War, but not too shabby).
Abrogating trade agreements – Trump has said repeatedly our trade agreements are not to his liking, so he seems ready to back out of those and renegotiate better terms for the US.
Destroying ISIS – Trump repeatedly promised that he would destroy ISIS, but refused to give details. I suppose now we’ll see what those details are, but what he’s described would seem to require a large ground force in the Middle East for quite a while, and another war.
Given his nature, I assume he’ll also look for and find or create ways to benefit his personal finances from his new job (as, for example, his campaign funneled campaign funds to various of his companies). The fact that the Presidency has never before been a commercial enterprise will not, I think, stop him: he has shown he’s quite ready to violate political norms.
It will be an interesting four years. I suspect the US is going to take a sharp turn to an authoritarian model, and our police forces in general seem to be ready for that and are already substantially militarized. The Patriot Act will help in this transition, and of course the GOP controls both the House and Senate, so Patriot Act provisions may be strengthened and extended.
And I expect James Comey will get a very big reward for his efforts on Trump’s behalf.
James Verini wries in the National Geographic:
The Kurdish soldiers stood on a berm, next to a gunner’s dugout, in a corner of their position. It was one of several forward positions on a front line that ran along the crest of a mountainside and faced west onto the Tigris River Valley. The sun had set on a late summer day—the driest season in Iraq, when land and sky seem to merge. Still, through the thickening dark the soldiers could make out, on the river’s near bank, the lights of the city of Mosul. Though this was a vista they could have described in their sleep—for months these soldiers, who were with thepeshmerga, the army of Iraqi Kurdistan, had surveilled and mapped and discussed every inch—its fascination and menace never dimmed. Everything they looked at belonged to the Islamic State.
The battle for Mosul, long rumored, was finally at hand. An international invasion force had assembled. The Iraqi military had beaten ISIS out of Fallujah and was now fighting its way north toward Mosul. The peshmerga was pushing in from this mountain. U.S. troops were massing, as were Iraqi militias and foreign fighters from Turkey, Iran, and elsewhere.
Inside Mosul there was panic. The United Nations was expecting a humanitarian crisis. More than a million people would be displaced by the battle, it estimated. Civilian casualties would be grievous: ISIS was busy mining streets and booby-trapping buildings. Residents were fleeing the city by any means they could, and this Kurdish position was the terminus of a popular route of escape. Almost every night people scrambled up the mountainside and arrived here with only the clothing on their backs.
Tonight the soldiers were expecting a family of seven. The father, a nurse, had phoned a cousin who lived near the mountain. The cousin had notified the commander. Now cousin and commander stood on the berm together.
The family’s journey would be treacherous. If they were caught by ISIS trying to escape Mosul, they might be jailed, beaten, beheaded, or all three. If they got out of the city, that was only the beginning: Next they would have to get to Fazilia, the village the position overlooked, at the foot of the mountain. ISIS controlled Fazilia and sent up the slope homemade artillery—including, lately, crude chemical missiles—snipers, and suicide bombers. (Recently a pair had gotten to within 50 feet of where the soldiers now stood before blowing themselves up.) If the nurse’s family made it out of Fazilia, they would have to negotiate the mountainside’s boulders without aid of trail or light. With so much dust in the sky, not even the moon would help. . .
Isabel Kershner reports in the NY Times:
Israel’s long-smoldering debate over Jewish settlement in the West Bank reignited on Sunday with a fierce exchange between the government and a human rights organization that touched on broader arguments over definitions of patriotism and the very character of the country.
The latest cross-fire of accusations began after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced late Saturday that he would push for legislation to bar Israelis from volunteering for national service with B’Tselem, an organization that focuses on allegations of human rights violations againstPalestinians in Israeli-occupied territories.
On Friday, Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of B’Tselem, addressed a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council devoted to a discussion titled “The Settlements as the Obstacle to Peace and the Two-State Solution,” referring to the internationally endorsed goal of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The session was initiated by the Palestinians and requested by five countries, including Egypt, a regional ally with which Israel signed a peace treaty in the late 1970s.
Most of the world considers Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories that were conquered from Jordan in the 1967 war, to be a violation of international law. The Palestinians demand those areas as the heart of a future independent state, and continued Israeli building there has been a constant source of tension between Israel and the United States.
Mr. Netanyahu’s pronouncement was largely symbolic: Only three volunteers from a program for 18-year-olds exempted from compulsory military service on ideological, religious, health or other grounds have applied to perform national service at B’Tselem in the last seven years. Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for B’Tselem, said no other volunteers were in the pipeline. He described Mr. Netanyahu’s ban as “spin” and “a distraction from the actual issues.”
Yet it underscores the rawness of the political divide in Israel over the fate of the territories it seized nearly 50 years ago, the work of nongovernmental organizations that oppose the occupation, and the wedge that Jewish settlement there drives between Israel and the rest of the world.
“Anything short of decisive international action will achieve nothing but ushering in the second half of the first century of the occupation,” Mr. El-Ad told the Security Council. Living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank, he said, “mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily violence.”
Israel officially considers the West Bank disputed, not occupied, and it annexed East Jerusalem in a move that was never internationally recognized.
Mr. Netanyahu denounced B’Tselem and Americans for Peace Now, a sister organization of the leftist Israeli Peace Now group, on Facebook. He said they had “joined the chorus of besmirching Israel” and had repeated “the mendacious claim that ‘the occupation and settlements’ are the cause” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. . .
Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept:
From the start of the hideous Saudi bombing campaign against Yemen 18 months ago, two countries have played active, vital roles in enabling the carnage: the U.S. and UK. The atrocities committed by the Saudis would have been impossible without their steadfast, aggressive support.
The Obama administration “has offered to sell $115bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia over its eight years in office, more than any previous US administration,” as the Guardian reported this week, and also provides extensive surveillance technology. As The Intercept documented in April, “in his first five years as president, Obama sold $30 billion more in weapons than President Bush did during his entire eight years as commander in chief.”
Most important, according to the Saudi Foreign Minister, although it is the Saudis that have ultimate authority to choose targets, “British and American military officials are in the command and control centre for Saudi airstrikes on Yemen” and “have access to lists of targets.” In sum, while this bombing campaign is invariably described in western media outlets as “Saudi-led,” the U.S. and U.K. are both central, indispensable participants. As The New York Times Editorial Page put it in August: “The United States is complicit in this carnage,” while the Guardian editorialized that “Britain bears much responsibility for this suffering.”
From the start, the U.S.-and-U.K-backed Saudis have indiscriminately and at times deliberately bombed civilians, killing thousands of innocent people. From Yemen, Iona Craig and Alex Potter have extensively reported for The Intercept on the widespread civilian deaths caused by this bombing campaign. As the Saudis continued to recklessly and intentionally bomb civilians, the American and British weapons kept pouring into Riyahd, ensuring that the civilian massacres continued. Every once and awhile, when a particularly gruesome mass killing made its way into the news, Obama and various British officials would issue cursory, obligatory statements expressing “concern,” then go right back to fueling the attacks.
This weekend, as American attention was devoted almost exclusively to Donald Trump, one of the most revolting massacres took place. On Saturday,warplanes attacked a funeral gathering in Sana, repeatedly bombing the hall where it took place, killing over 100 people and wounding more than 500 (see photo above). Video shows just some the destruction and carnage:
— Samuel Oakford (@samueloakford) October 8, 2016
Saudi officials first lied by trying to blame “other causes,” but have since walked that back. The next time someone who identifies with the Muslim world attacks American or British citizens, and those countries’ leading political voices answer the question “why, oh why, do they hate us?” by assuring everyone that “they hate us for our freedoms,” it would be instructive to watch that video.
The Obama White House, through its spokesman Ned Price, condemnedwhat it called “the troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians” – ones, it did not note, it has repeatedly supported – and lamely warned that “U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check.” That is exactly what it is. The 18 months of bombing supported by the U.S. and U.K. has, as the NYT put it this morning, “largely failed, while reports of civilian deaths have grown common, and much of the country is on the brink of famine.”
It has been known from the start that the Saudi bombing campaign has been indiscriminate and reckless, and yet Obama and the U.K. Government continued to play central roles. A UN report obtained in January by the Guardian “uncovered ‘widespread and systematic’ attacks on civilian targets in violation of international humanitarian law”; the report found that “the coalition had conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure.”
But what was not known, until an excellent Reuters report by Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay this morning, is that Obama was explicitly warned not only that the Saudis were committing war crimes, but that the U.S. itself could be legally regarded as complicit in them:
The Obama administration went ahead with a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year despite warnings from some officials that the United States could be implicated in war crimes for supporting a Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians, according to government documents and the accounts of current and former officials.
State Department officials also were privately skeptical of the Saudi military’s ability to target Houthi militants without killing civilians and destroying “critical infrastructure” needed for Yemen to recover, according to the emails and other records obtained by Reuters and interviews with nearly a dozen officials with knowledge of those discussions. . .
Remember when President Obama got the Novel Peace Prize? We’ve come a long way, what with drone warfare plus our continuing support for both Netanyahu and the Saudis.
Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept:
In 2010, Israel’s then-defense minister, Ehud Barak, explicitly warned that Israel would become a permanent “apartheid” state if it failed to reach a peace agreement with Palestinians that creates their own sovereign nation and vests them with full political rights. “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic,” Barak said. “If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”
Honest observers on both sides of the conflict have long acknowledged that the prospects for a two-state solution are virtually non-existent: another way of saying that Israel’s status as a permanent apartheid regime is inevitable. Indeed, U.S. intelligence agencies as early as 45 years ago explicitly warnedthat Israeli occupation would become permanent if it did not end quickly.
All relevant evidence makes clear this is what has happened. There has been no progress toward a two-state solution for many years. The composition of Israel’s Jewish population — which has become far more belligerent and right-wing than previous generations — has increasingly moved the country further away from that goal. There are key ministers in Israel’s government, including its genuinely extremist justice minister, who are openly and expressly opposed to a two-state solution. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has himself repeatedly made clear he opposes such an agreement, both in words and in deeds. In sum, Israel intends to continue to rule over and occupy Palestinians and deny them self-governance, political liberties, and voting rights indefinitely.
Whether despite this aggression and oppression, or because of it, the Obama administration has continually protected Israel with unstinting loyalty and lavished it with arms and money. This rewarding of Israeli behavior culminated in the administration’s announcement just three weeks ago that it has signed a “memorandum of understanding” to significantly increase the amount of money the U.S. gives to Israel every year, even though Israel was already by far the biggest recipient of U.S. aid. Under this agreement, the U.S. will give Israel $38 billion over 10 years, by far a new record for U.S. aid commitments, even though Israeli citizens enjoy all sorts of state benefits that Americans (whose money is being given to Israel) are told are too costly for them, including universal health care coverage, and tout superior life expectancy and infant mortality rates.
This week, with its fresh new $38 billion commitment in hand, the Israeli government announced the approval of an all new settlement in the West Bank, one that is particularly hostile to ostensible U.S. policy, the international consensus, and any prospects for an end to occupation. The new settlement, “one of a string of housing complexes that threaten to bisect the West Bank,” as the New York Times put it this morning, “is designed to house settlers from a nearby illegal outpost, Amona, which an Israeli court has ordered demolished.” This new settlement extends far into the West Bank: closer to Jordan, in fact, than to Israel.
In response to this announcement, the U.S. State Department yesterdayissued an unusually harsh denunciation of Israel’s actions. “We strongly condemn the Israeli government’s recent decision to advance a plan that would create a significant new settlement deep in the West Bank,” it began. It suggested Netanyahu has been publicly lying, noting that the “approval contradicts previous public statements by the government of Israel that it had no intention of creating new settlements.” The State Department invoked the aid package the U.S. just lavished to describe it as “deeply troubling, in the wake of Israel and the U.S. concluding an unprecedented agreement on military assistance designed to further strengthen Israel’s security, that Israel would take a decision so contrary to its long-term security interest in a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians.”
Much of that, while a bit more rhetorically clear than usual, is par for the course: The U.S. — in vintage Obama fashion — issues pretty, pleasing statements claiming to be upset at Israel’s settlements while taking continuous actions to protect and enable the very policies Obama pretends to oppose. But the State Department denunciation yesterday was actually notable for what amounts to its stark and explicit acknowledgement — long overdue — that Israel is clearly and irreversibly committed to ruling over the Palestinians in perpetuity, becoming the exact “apartheid” state about which Barak warned:
Israelis must ultimately decide between expanding settlements and preserving the possibility of a peaceful two state solution. Since the recent Quartet report called on both sides to take affirmative steps to reverse current trends and advance the two state solution on the ground, we have unfortunately seen just the opposite. Proceeding with this new settlement is another step towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation that is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. Such moves will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from many of its partners, and further call into question Israel’s commitment to achieving a negotiated peace.
So Israel — in the words of its most loyal benefactor — is moving inexorably “towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation” that is anti-democratic: i.e., the equivalent of apartheid. And the leading protector and enabler of this apartheid regime is the U.S. — just as was true of the apartheid regime of the 1980s in South Africa. . .