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Interesting parallel between Vietnam War and American Revolution

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James Fallows has a column that points out similarities, along with a very interesting comment from a reader:

The Ken Burns / Lynn Novick 18-hour series on The Vietnam War began its run on PBS on Sunday night and continues through this week and next. I felt about as familiar with that era as I could imagine—with its tensions at the time, with the journalism and literature that came out of it, with the historical assessments, with the war’s role in music and movies and others parts of pop culture and public imagination. Even so I found this a tremendously revealing series. I recommend it very highly. Please find a way to watch—now, or in the many streaming and download alternatives they are making available.

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As with any attempt to grapple with a topic this vast and complex, and of such emotional and historical consequence, the Burns/Novick series is bound to be controversial. For one example of an avenue of criticism, see this review by veteran Asia-hand correspondent Jim Laurie, who was on-scene in Vietnam and Cambodia during the war.

Here’s another: When I did an interview with Burns and Novick for the upcoming issue of Amtrak’s The National magazine, I asked them about one of the central themes of their press-tour presentation of the project, as opposed to the video itself. Both Burns and Novick have stressed the idea that the divisions generated by the Vietnam war prefigure the polarization of Trump-era America.

To me, that seems a little too pat. Even though I argued back at the time that the “class war” elements of Vietnam were a central reason the U.S. remained engaged for so many years, so much has happened between then and now that it’s hard to trace a sensible connection from those times to these. Since the height of the fighting in Vietnam, we’ve had: the end of the draft; the disappearance of the Soviet Union; the emergence of China; multiple dramatic shifts in political mood (the arrivals of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, later Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump, were each seen as the dawns of new political eras); the 9/11 attacks; multiple wars; multiple booms and busts; multiple grounds for hope and despair. Donald Trump was on one side of the Vietnam class-war divide, with his student deferments and mysterious physical disqualifications. Figures as politically diverse as John McCain, Al Gore, John Kerry, Jim Mattis, and Jim Webb were on the other. But it’s hard to make a neat match of that cleavage 50 years ago to the multiple axes of disagreement now. To me, it seems easier to trace a line of descent from the Civil War –subject of Ken Burns’s first national-phenomenon film series, back in 1990—to Trump-era divides than from the Vietnam war.

I lay out this disagreement on a specific point as a set-up for emphasizing  how valuable and informative I think the series is overall. It is remarkable in interleaving the accounts of participants from opposite sides of the same battle – the Americans and South Vietnamese, but also the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong – all describing what they were afraid of, what their plans were, how they reckoned victory and defeat in struggles for control of a particular hill or hamlet. It offers abundant evidence of battlefield bravery and sacrifice, on all sides – but precious few examples of political courage or foresight, especially in the United States. It’s hard to say whether Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon comes off worse for the combination of strategic misjudgment and flat-out dishonesty in management of the war. The White House recordings from both men are spell-binding.

Please watch. And since most of today’s Americans had not even been born by the time the last U.S. forces left Vietnam, it’s all the more valuable for generations who know nothing about that era first-hand.

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Further on the theme of linkages between Vietnam and previous American engagements, a reader makes the evocative connection to the first war that troops of the newly formed United States ever fought.

A reader of the Vietnam era / Boomer era, who grew up in South Carolina, writes:

I saw your recent post in the Atlantic about the upcoming Ken Burns film on the Vietnam War and I remembered this place, the camp/hideaway for General Francis Marion and his irregular forces in the American Revolution. It is about as inaccessible now as then, even following designation as a national historic site. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 September 2017 at 10:21 am

Posted in Government, Military, Video

Chelsea Manning Has a Lot to Teach. Harvard Doesn’t Agree.

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I think Harvard was wrong to kill the invitation. I also don’t think Manning was a traitor or committed treason. There was no other country or power involved and the deed was not done to help a foe. It was simply a US citizen revealing to the US public what the US military is actually doing. It certainly violated laws regarding the handling of classified material, but it’s a great stretch to call it “treason.” Moreover, the anger at Manning seems driven in part that the materials released showed the US committing war crimes, and authoritarian organizations get very nasty when their misdeeds are revealed.

At any rate, Trevor Timm, executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, has an interesting op-ed in the NY Times:

On Wednesday, Harvard’s Kennedy School announced that Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower, would be a visiting fellow this fall. The reaction was swift: A day later, Michael Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A. and also a visiting fellow at the school, resigned from his own fellowship in protest. His resignation was quickly followed by the current director of the C.I.A., Mike Pompeo, canceling a speech scheduled at the school. In a statement, Mr. Pompeo unilaterally declared Ms. Manning a “traitor.”

On Friday morning, the school folded, disinviting Ms. Manning in a cowardly act that does immense disservice to its students and the public debate around government secrecy.

It’s remarkable that one of the country’s premier educational institutions would bow to C.I.A. pressure and reject a person who has arguably done more to contribute to the public’s understanding of world diplomacy than anyone else in modern times. In early 2010, Ms. Manning leaked a trove of hundreds of thousands of State Department and Defense Department documents, an archive that opened an unparalleled window into American foreign policy. Its documents have been referenced by major news organizations so many times that it’s impossible to count them.

The important revelations in the Manning documents — originally leaked to WikiLeaks and published in conjunction with The New York Times and other newspapers — are also too numerous to name, but they include the fact that the United States had killed far more people in Iraq than the government had admitted publicly, that United States soldiers turned a blind eye to torture by Iraqi soldiers and that the United States covered up the killing of civilians by American soldiers. . .

Continue reading.

I do understand why conservatives are so upset: conservatives value “loyalty” above all virtues, so anything that smacks of disloyalty really repels them—one reason they are unsupportive of whistleblowers and why cops (who tend to be quite conservative) don’t like those who report cries committed by cops: loyal to the oath, disloyal to the group, and the latter is more important.

Liberals, OTOH, rate fairness and care as their highest virtues, with loyalty ranked much lower. See this article and this interesting chart.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 September 2017 at 3:57 pm

RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War

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Also read “Will America finally wise up to the Russian media war on our democracy?“, by Sarah Posner in the Washington Post.

Jim Rutenberg writes in the NY Times:

Martin Steltner showed up at his office in the state courthouse building in western Berlin. Steltner, who has served for more than a dozen years as the spokesman for the Berlin state prosecutor, resembles a detective out of classic crime fiction: crisp suit, wavy gray hair and a gallows humor that comes with having seen it all. There was the 2009 case of the therapist who mistakenly killed two patients in an Ecstasy-infused session gone wrong. The Great Poker Heist of 2010, in which masked men stormed a celebrity-studded poker tournament with machetes and made off with a quarter-million dollars. The 2012 episode involving the Canadian porn star who killed and ate his boyfriend and then sent the leftovers home in the mail. Steltner embraced the oddball aspect of his job; he kept a picture of Elvis Presley on the wall of his office.

But even Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. “They are demonstrating — ‘Save our children,’ ‘No attacks from immigrants on our children’ and some things like that,” Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office’s fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor’s supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin’s tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three “Southern-looking men” — by which she meant Arab migrants — had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

By then, however, the girl’s initial story was taking on a life of its own within the Russian-German community through word of mouth and Facebook — enough so that the police felt compelled to put out a statement debunking it. Then, over the weekend, Channel One, a Russian state-controlled news station with a large following among Russian-Germans, who watch it on YouTube and its website, ran a report presenting Lisa’s story as an example of the unchecked dangers Middle Eastern refugees posed to German citizens. Angela Merkel, it strongly implied, was refusing to address these threats, even as she opened German borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants. “According to Lisa’s parents,” the Channel One reporter said, “the police simply refuse to look for criminals.”

The following day in Berlin, Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party held a protest at a plaza in Marzahn, a heavily Russian neighborhood. The featured speaker was an adult cousin of Lisa’s, who repeated the original allegations while standing in front of signs reading “Stop Foreign Infiltration!” and “Secure Borders!” The crowd was tiny, not much more than a dozen people. But it was big enough to attract the attention of RT, Russia’s state-financed international cable network, which presents local-language newscasts in numerous countries, including Germany and the United States. A crew from the network’s video service, Ruptly, arrived with a camera. The footage was on YouTube that afternoon.

That same day, Sputnik, a brash Russian-government-run news and commentary site that models itself on BuzzFeed, ran a story raising allegations of a police cover-up. Lisa’s case was not isolated, Sputnik argued; other refugee rapists, it warned, might be running free. By the start of the following week, protests were breaking out in neighborhoods with large Russian-German populations, which is why the local police were calling Steltner. In multiple interviews, including with RT and Sputnik, Steltner reiterated that the girl had recanted the original story about the kidnapping and the gang rape. In one interview with the German media, he said that in the course of the investigation, authorities had found evidence that the girl had sex with a 23-year-old man months earlier, which would later lead to a sexual-abuse conviction for the man, whose sentence was suspended. But the original, unrelated and debunked story continued circulating, drawing the interest of the German mainstream media, which pointed out inconsistencies in the Russian reports. None of that stopped the protests, which culminated in a demonstration the following Saturday, Jan. 23, by 700 people outside the Chancellery, Merkel’s office. Ruptly covered that, too.

An official in the Merkel government told me that the administration was completely perplexed, at first. Then, a few days later, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, held a news conference in Moscow. Bringing up Lisa’s story, he cast doubt on the official version of events. There was no way, he argued, that Lisa left home voluntarily. Germany, he suggested, was “covering up reality in a politically correct manner for the sake of domestic politics.” Two days later, RT ran a segment reporting that despite all the official denials, the case was “not so simple.” The Russian Embassy called Steltner and asked to meet, he told me. The German foreign ministry informed him that this was now a diplomatic issue.

The whole affair suddenly appeared a lot less mystifying. A realization took hold in the foreign ministry, the intelligence services and the Chancellery: Germany had been hit.

Officials in Germany and at NATO headquarters in Brussels view the Lisa case, as it is now known, as an early strike in a new information war Russia is waging against the West. In the months that followed, politicians perceived by the Russian government as hostile to its interests would find themselves caught up in media storms that, in their broad contours, resembled the one that gathered around Merkel. They often involved conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods — sometimes with a tenuous connection to fact, as in the Lisa case, sometimes with no connection at all — amplified until they broke through into domestic politics. In other cases, they simply helped promote nationalist, far-left or far-right views that put pressure on the political center. What the efforts had in common was their agents: a loose network of Russian-government-run or -financed media outlets and apparently coordinated social-media accounts.

After RT and Sputnik gave platforms to politicians behind the British vote to leave the European Union, like Nigel Farage, a committee of the British Parliament released a report warning that foreign governments may have tried to interfere with the referendum. Russia and China, the report argued, had an “understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals” and practiced a kind of cyberwarfare “reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion.” When President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia visited the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, at the palace of Versailles in May, Macron spoke out about such influence campaigns at a news conference. Having prevailed weeks earlier in the election over Marine Le Pen — a far-right politician who had backed Putin’s annexation of Crimea and met with him in the Kremlin a month before the election — Macron complainedthat “Russia Today and Sputnik were agents of influence which on several occasions spread fake news about me personally and my campaign.” . . .

Continue reading.

I will point out that protecting us from such things is exactly the job of the government, and specifically the Executive Branch of the Federal government (now under President Donald Trump), and more specifically yet it’s the job of the FBI and the US military. Can they do their jobs? Apparently not, at least no so far, and of course the President is not going to push them to take on Russia—quite the contrary, as we have seen. So the Russians are getting an enormous payoff from their modest investment in tinkering with our election through propaganda. Of course, as the article observes, they’ve invested heavily in that area over several years and now are reaping the benefits of that experience and investment.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 September 2017 at 2:35 pm

What Happens When War Is Outlawed

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Louis Menand has a very interesting essay and book review in the New Yorker:

On August 27, 1928, in Paris, with due pomp and circumstance, representatives of fifteen nations signed an agreement outlawing war. The agreement was the unanticipated fruit of an attempt by the French Foreign Minister, Aristide Briand, to negotiate a bilateral treaty with the United States in which each nation would renounce the use of war as an instrument of policy toward the other. The American Secretary of State, Frank Kellogg, had been unenthusiastic about Briand’s idea. He saw no prospect of going to war with France and therefore no point in promising not to, and he suspected that the proposal was a gimmick designed to commit the United States to intervening on France’s behalf if Germany attacked it (as Germany did in 1914). After some delay and in response to public pressure, Kellogg told Briand that his idea sounded great. Who wouldn’t want to renounce war? But why not make the treaty multilateral, and have it signed by “all the principal powers of the world”? Everyone would renounce the use of war as an instrument of policy.
Kellogg figured that he had Briand outfoxed. France had mutual defense treaties with many European states, and it could hardly honor those treaties if it agreed to renounce war altogether. But the agreement was eventually worded in a way that left sufficient interpretive latitude for Briand and other statesmen to see their way clear to signing it, and the result was the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War, also known as the Paris Peace Pact or the Kellogg-Briand Pact. By 1934, sixty-three countries had joined the Pact—virtually every established nation on earth at the time.
The Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, gets bad press. It imposed punitive conditions on Germany after the First World War and is often blamed for the rise of Hitler. The Kellogg-Briand Pact does not get bad press. It gets no press. That’s because the treaty went into effect on July 24, 1929, after which the following occurred: Japan invaded Manchuria (1931); Italy invaded Ethiopia (1935); Japan invaded China (1937); Germany invaded Poland (1939); the Soviet Union invaded Finland (1939); Germany invaded Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France and attacked Great Britain (1940); and Japan attacked the United States (1941), culminating in a global war that produced the atomic bomb and more than sixty million deaths. A piece of paper signed in Paris does not seem to have presented an obstacle to citizens of one country engaging in the organized slaughter of the citizens of other countries.
In modern political history, therefore, the Paris Peace Pact, if it is mentioned at all, usually gets a condescending tip of the hat or is dutifully registered in footnote. Even in books on the law of war, little is made of it. There is not a single reference to it in the political philosopher Michael Walzer’s “Just and Unjust Wars,” a classic work published in 1977. The summary on the U.S. State Department’s Web site is typical: “In the end, the Kellogg-Briand Pact did little to prevent World War II or any of the conflicts that followed. Its legacy remains as a statement of the idealism expressed by advocates for peace in the interwar period.”
The key term in that sentence is “idealism.” In international relations, an idealist is someone who believes that foreign policy should be based on universal principles, and that nations will agree to things like the outlawry of war because they perceive themselves as sharing a harmony of interests. War is bad for every nation; therefore, it is in the interests of all nations to renounce it.
An alternative theory is (no surprise) realism. A realist thinks that a nation’s foreign policy should be guided by a cold consideration of its own interests. To a realist, the essential condition of international politics is anarchy. There is no supreme law governing relations among sovereign states. When Germany invades France, France cannot take Germany to court. There are just a lot of nations out there, each trying to secure and, if possible, extend its own power. We don’t need to judge the morality of other nations’ behavior. We only need to ask whether the interests of our nation are affected by it. We should be concerned not with some platonic harmony of interests but with the very real balance of power.
A standard way to write the history of twentieth-century international relations is to cast as idealists figures like Woodrow Wilson, who, in 1917, entered the United States into a European war to make the world “safe for democracy,” and the other liberal internationalists who came up with the League of Nations and the Kellogg-Briand Pact. The Second World War proved these people spectacularly wrong about how nations behave, and they were superseded by the realists.
To the realists, such Wilsonian ideas as world government and the outlawry of war were quixotic. Nations should recognize that conflict is endemic to the international arena, and they should not expend blood and treasure in the name of an abstraction. Containment, the American Cold War policy of preventing the Soviet Union from expanding without otherwise intervening in its affairs, was a realist policy. Communists could run their own territories however they liked as long as they stayed inside their boxes. If our system was better, theirs would eventually implode; if theirs was better, ours would. The author of that policy, the diplomat George Kennan, called the Kellogg-Briand Pact “childish, just childish.”
And yet since 1945 nations have gone to war against other nations very few times. When they have, most of the rest of the world has regarded the war as illegitimate and, frequently, has organized to sanction or otherwise punish the aggressor. In only a handful of mostly minor cases since 1945—the Russian seizure of Crimea in 2014 being a flagrant exception—has a nation been able to hold on to territory it acquired by conquest.
Historians have suggested several reasons for this drop in the incidence of interstate war. The twenty years after the Second World War was a Pax Americana. By virtue of the tremendous damage suffered in the war by all the other powers, the United States became a global hegemon. America kept the peace (on American terms, of course) because no other country had the military or economic capacity to challenge it. This is the “great” America that some seventy-five million American voters in the last Presidential election were born in, and that many of them have been convinced can be resurrected by shutting the rest of the world out—which would be a complete reversal of the policy mind-set that made the United States a dominant power back when those voters were children.
By the nineteen-seventies, the rest of the world had caught up, and students of international affairs began to predict that, in the absence of a credible global policeman, there would be a surge in the number of armed conflicts around the world. When this didn’t happen, various explanations were ventured. One was that the existence of nuclear weapons had changed the calculus that nations used to judge their chances in a war. Nuclear weapons now operated as a general deterrence to aggression.
Other scholars proposed that the spread of democracy—including, in the nineteen-eighties, the Velvet Revolution in Eastern Europe and the dismembering of the Soviet Union—made the world a more peaceable place. Historically, democracies have not gone to war with other democracies. It was also argued that globalization, the interconnectedness of international trade, had rendered war less attractive. When goods are the end products of a worldwide chain of manufacture and distribution, a nation that goes to war risks cutting itself off from vital resources.
In “The Internationalists” (Simon & Schuster), two professors at Yale Law School, Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro, present another explanation for the decline in interstate wars since 1945. They think that nations rarely go to war anymore because war is illegal, and has been since 1928. In their view, the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact was not a Dr. Seuss parable with funny characters in striped trousers and top hats. The treaty did what its framers intended it to do: it effectively ended the use of war as an instrument of national policy.
Then what about the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and so on, down to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor? Those actions were carried out by nations that were among the Pact’s original signatories, and they clearly violated its terms. According to Hathaway and Shapiro, the invasions actually turned out to be proof of the Pact’s effectiveness, because the Second World War was fought to punish aggression. The Allied victory was the triumph of Kellogg-Briand.
O.K., so what about the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons? The spread of democracy? Free trade and globalization? Isn’t the Kellogg-Briand Pact just a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc—an exercise in feel-good diplomacy that happened to find confirmation many years later in a state of global affairs made possible by other means? On the contrary, Hathaway and Shapiro argue. If war had not been outlawed, none of those other things—deterrence, democracy, trade—would have been possible. The Kellogg-Briand Pact is the explanation that explains all other explanations.
Genuine originality is unusual in political history. “The Internationalists” is an original book. There is something sweet about the fact that it is also a book written by two law professors in which most of the heroes are law professors. Sweet but significant, because one of the points of “The Internationalists” is that ideas matter.
This is something that can be under-recognized in political histories, where the emphasis tends to be on material conditions and relations of power. Hathaway and Shapiro further believe that ideas are produced by human beings, something that can be under-recognized in intellectual histories, which often take the form of books talking to books. “The Internationalists” is a story about individuals who used ideas to change the world.
The cast is appropriately international. Many of the characters are barely known outside scholarly circles, and they are all sketched in as personalities, beginning with the seventeenth-century Dutch polymath Hugo Grotius, who is said to have been the most insufferable pedant of his day. They include the nineteenth-century Japanese philosopher and government official Nishi Amane; the brilliant academic rivals Hans Kelsen, an Austrian Jew, and Carl Schmitt, a book-burning Nazi; the American lawyer Salmon Levinson, who began the outlawry movement in the nineteen-twenties and then got written out of its history by men with bigger egos; and the Czech émigré Bohuslav Ečer and the Galician émigré Hersch Lauterpacht, who helped formulate the arguments that made possible the prosecution of Nazi leaders at Nuremberg and laid the groundwork for the United Nations.
The book covers an enormous stretch of historical ground, from 1603, when a Dutch trader attacked and looted a Portuguese ship in the waters outside Singapore, to the emergence of the Islamic State. The general argument is that it made sense to outlaw war in 1928 because war had previously been deemed a legitimate instrument of national policy.
The key figure in the early part of the story is Grotius, who, in contriving a legal justification for an obviously brigandly Dutch seizure of Portuguese goods off Singapore, eventually produced a volume, “On the Laws of War and Peace,” published in 1625, that Hathaway and Shapiro say became “the textbook on the laws of war.” Grotius argued that wars of aggression are legal as long as states provide justification for them, but that even when the justifications prove to be shams the winners have a right to keep whatever they have managed to seize. In Grotius’s system, to use Hathaway and Shapiro’s formulations, might makes right and possession is ten-tenths of the law.
That doesn’t sound like much of a legal order, but it placed some constraints on what nations could do. For one thing, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2017 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Books, Government, Law, Military

Vladimir Putin’s weirdly on-point analysis of North Korea

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Zack Beauchamp reports in Vox:

It’s strange to think of Russian President Vladimir Putin as a reliable source when it comes to geopolitical analysis. Yet when Putin talked about the US-North Korea nuclear standoff in a press conference on Thursday night, his assessment of the situation matched far more closely with what you hear from US experts on North Korea than anything that the Trump administration has said.

Putin’s core point is that the central strategy of US policy under Trump, Obama, and Bush — attempting to pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear program — has now conclusively failed. North Korea now believes that its nuclear arsenal is its best deterrent against an American invasion, and hence will not give it up no matter how much the United States tries to push them.

“They see nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction as the only way for them to protect themselves,” the Russian president said during the Thursday presser, held at an economic forum in Vladivostok, Russia.

That isn’t the Trump administration’s view. Just this week, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley called for “the strongest sanctions” to pressure North Korea into giving up nukes “before it’s too late.” Yet the consensus position among America’s North Korea experts is that it is, in fact, too late: that nothing the US can do to Kim Jong Un could offset the deterrent value of his nuclear weapons.

“There is very little chance that we are ever going to talk this guy out of his weapons, and none of us who have been watching the situation closely for years really thought we were going to,” as Mira Rapp-Hooper, a scholar at Yale Law School who studies North Korea, put when I spoke to her this week.

Putin also noted that harsh American rhetoric — like Trump’s promise to respond to inflict “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on the North — serves only to escalate the situation. “It’s counterproductive to inflate this military hysteria. This leads nowhere,” he said.

This, once again, dovetails with what American experts told me in interviews. They believe that threats tend to inflame the North’s fears of invasion, causing them to respond with provocations and further development of their nuclear program.

“They’re responding to our threats, it’s tit-for-tat,” Dave Kang, the director of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California, says. “Our policies are designed precisely to provoke the outcome we’re trying to avoid.”

Finally, Putin argued that the best way to handle the nuclear crisis going forward is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2017 at 6:13 pm

I Was a Mercenary. Trust Me: Erik Prince’s Plan Is Garbage.

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Sean McFate writes in Politico:

For the past year, Erik Prince has been peddling an idea that should alarm anyone who has followed his career: We should replace U.S. troops in Afghanistan with mercenaries, preferably his.

For those who do not know Prince, he was a founder of Blackwater International, the private military contractor that became so toxic, he had to change the company’s name. Under his management, Blackwater committed perhaps the worst war crime of the Iraq War: A squad of armed contractors killed 17 civilians at the Nisour traffic circle in Baghdad. The incident sparked a political uproar in Iraq, vastly complicated the mission of the State Department diplomats the contractors were ostensibly there to protect, and set off multiple probes into Blackwater’s conduct. A FBI inquiry later found that 14 of the 17 deaths were unjustified. For Americans, the “Nisour Incident” was a stain on their country’s moral character. For Iraqis, Blackwater’s reckless behavior and callous disregard for Iraqi lives seemed emblematic of America’s handling of the war as a whole, and helped to hasten our exit.

Now, Prince wants to privatize the Afghanistan War. And Afghans thought the worst we could do was bomb them.

The generals laughed at Prince, and thankfully the president went with the nonmercenary option. But Prince refuses to disappear, excoriating the generals in a recent op-ed for The New York Times, and pushing again for mercenaries, suggesting “it is not too late to alter the course.”

As a former military contractor, I cannot imagine a worse outcome for Afghanistan or the U.S. than handing everything over to mercenaries.

Prince’s argument has lots of problems. He insists contractors should not be stigmatized as “mercenaries,” even though he is proposing armed civilians in conflict zones—the classic definition of a mercenary. Instead, he says they are like the Flying Tigers, the popular name of the 1st American Volunteer Group that flew against the Japanese in 1941–42. Here is where his analogy takes a nosedive: The Flying Tigers were not mercenaries. Rather, they were U.S. military pilots who took off their uniforms to fly as civilians, so that FDR did not have to declare war. Once war was declared, they flew as American fighter pilots once again. That’s hardly the same thing as contractors being paid, often exorbitantly, to fight a war on our behalf.

Prince also compares mercenaries to SpaceX, the private space company, probably offending SpaceX employees everywhere. Elon Musk does not kill people for money.

Crazy as all this sounds, it is a marked improvement over Prince’s earlier op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, in which he advocates neocolonialism—a deeply un-American idea. He urged an American “viceroy” be installed to rule Afghanistan like a colonial overlord, backed by a mercenary army modeled on the old British East India Co. That’s like recommending plantations to assist African-Americans in poverty. Anger was swift. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s ex-president, tweeted this: “I vehemently oppose the proposal to the U.S. govt to outsource its war in Afghanistan to private security firms.”

Besides being offensive, Prince’s proposal is unworkable. I know because I’ve done these things. For years, I worked as a private military contractor in Africa and elsewhere. I built armies for clients, dealt with warlords, conducted strategic reconnaissance, worked with armed groups in the Sahara, transacted arms deals in Eastern Europe and even helped prevent a genocide in Central Africa. I use fiction to reveal the secretive world of mercenaries. It’s worse than people think.

Mercenaries are back, a dangerous trend occurring in the shadows. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 September 2017 at 10:59 am

The Photos the U.S. and Saudi Arabia Don’t Want You to See

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Nicholas Kristof has a strongly worded column in the NY Times, with a subhead “Let’s be blunt: With U.S. and U.K. complicity, the Saudi government is committing war crimes in Yemen.”

This is not a great surprise: the US itself committed war crimes in Afghanistan, though the US does not prosecute its own troops unles there is a lot of publicity. Normally, the crimes are simply ignored.

Read the article, look at the photos, and decide whether you are comfortable with what your government is doing.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 September 2017 at 3:06 pm

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