Category Archives: Foreign Policy

How America Armed Terrorists in Syria, by Gareth Porter

The real US goal in Syria has never been to fight Islamic extremists, it has been to depose Bashar al-Assad. In furtherance of that goal, rather than fight the extremists, the US has armed them. From Gareth Porter at americanconservative.com:

Three-term Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, has proposed legislation that would prohibit any U.S. assistance to terrorist organizations in Syria as well as to any organization working directly with them. Equally important, it would prohibit U.S. military sales and other forms of military cooperation with other countries that provide arms or financing to those terrorists and their collaborators.

Gabbard’s “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” challenges for the first time in Congress a U.S. policy toward the conflict in the Syrian civil war that should have set off alarm bells long ago: in 2012-13 the Obama administration helped its Sunni allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar provide arms to Syrian and non-Syrian armed groups to force President Bashar al-Assad out of power. And in 2013 the administration began to provide arms to what the CIA judged to be “relatively moderate” anti-Assad groups—meaning they incorporated various degrees of Islamic extremism.

That policy, ostensibly aimed at helping replace the Assad regime with a more democratic alternative, has actually helped build up al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise al Nusra Front into the dominant threat to Assad.

The supporters of this arms-supply policy believe it is necessary as pushback against Iranian influence in Syria. But that argument skirts the real issue raised by the policy’s history.  The Obama administration’s Syria policy effectively sold out the U.S. interest that was supposed to be the touchstone of the “Global War on Terrorism”—the eradication of al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates. The United States has instead subordinated that U.S. interest in counter-terrorism to the interests of its Sunni allies. In doing so it has helped create a new terrorist threat in the heart of the Middle East.  

The policy of arming military groups committed to overthrowing the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in September 2011, when President Barack Obama was pressed by his Sunni allies—Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—to supply heavy weapons to a military opposition to Assad they were determined to establish. Turkey and the Gulf regimes wanted the United States to provide anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to the rebels, according to a former Obama Administration official involved in Middle East issues.

To continue reading: How America Armed Terrorists in Syria

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A Wide World of Winless War, by Nick Turse

American special operations forces have already deployed to 137 different countries this year. You didn’t know the US was at war in 137 different countries? From Nick Turse at tomdispatch.com:

The tabs on their shoulders read “Special Forces,” “Ranger,” “Airborne.” And soon their guidon — the “colors” of Company B, 3rd Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group — would be adorned with the “Bandera de Guerra,” a Colombian combat decoration.

“Today we commemorate sixteen years of a permanent fight against drugs in a ceremony where all Colombians can recognize the special counternarcotic brigade’s hard work against drug trafficking,” said Army Colonel Walther Jimenez, the commander of the Colombian military’s Special Anti-Drug Brigade, last December.  America’s most elite troops, the Special Operations forces (SOF), have worked with that Colombian unit since its creation in December 2000.  Since 2014, four teams of Special Forces soldiers have intensely monitored the brigade.  Now, they were being honored for it.

Part of a $10 billion counter-narcotics and counterterrorism program, conceived in the 1990s, special ops efforts in Colombia are a muchballyhooed American success story.  A 2015 RAND Corporation study foundthat the program “represents an enduring SOF partnership effort that managed to help foster a relatively professional and capable special operations force.”  And for a time, coca production in that country plummeted.  Indeed, this was the ultimate promise of America’s “Plan Colombia” and efforts that followed from it.  “Over the longer haul, we can expect to see more effective drug eradication and increased interdiction of illicit drug shipments,” President Bill Clinton predicted in January 2000.

Today, however, more than 460,000 acres of the Colombian countryside are blanketed with coca plants, more than during the 1980s heyday of the infamous cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.  U.S. cocaine overdose deaths are also at a 10-year high and first-time cocaine use among young adults has spiked 61% since 2013.  “Recent findings suggest that cocaine use may be reemerging as a public health concern in the United States,” wrote researchers from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in a study published in December 2016 — just after the Green Berets attended that ceremony in Colombia.  Cocaine, the study’s authors write, “may be making a comeback.”

Colombia is hardly an anomaly when it comes to U.S. special ops deployments — or the results that flow from them.  For all their abilities, tactical skills, training prowess, and battlefield accomplishments, the capacity of U.S. Special Operations forces to achieve decisive and enduring successes — strategic victories that serve U.S. national interests — have proved to be exceptionally limited, a reality laid bare from Afghanistan to Iraq, Yemen to the Philippines. 

To continue reading: A Wide World of Winless War

When the Detainee Is American… by Robert Koehler

The death of Otto Warmbler, the American student sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for taking a propaganda poster off the wall in his hotel in North Korea, is obviously a tragedy. However, the North Korean government is not the only one that devalues human life. The US government certainly does the same. From Robert Koehler at antiwar.com:

The corpses pile up like sandbags along the planet’s geopolitical borders.

“Perhaps his condition deteriorated and the authorities decided it was better to release him in a coma than as a corpse.”

So said an expert on North Korea recently, quoted in the New York Timesfollowing the death of 22-year-old Otto Warmbier, six days after he had been released in a comatose state from a North Korean prison. He had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor a year and a half ago because he had taken a propaganda poster off the wall in his hotel. He had been with a tour group.

Oh Lord. The shocking wrongness and horror of this young man’s death – the absurdity of his arrest, the razor slash of his tears – is all over the news. Of course. Who couldn’t identify – with him, with his parents? He had been dehumanized. He had a future, but it got pulled away from him by uniformed lunatics, or so the news presents this tragedy: in the context of America and its enemies.

And there’s no enemy out there with less legitimacy than North Korea. Any time the country and its supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, show up in the news, they look, you might say, like evil cartoon characters. But they possess, as the Times story informed us, “nuclear arms and missiles capable of striking the United States.”

And this is the context of the news and the limit, apparently, of the consciousness of the U.S. media. But the arrest, abuse and death of Otto Warmbier took place in a context more complex than good vs. evil. It’s still a horrific tragedy, a wrong that should never have occurred, but the devaluing of human life isn’t simply a game played by the so-called bad guys.

To continue reading: When the Detainee Is American…

 

Everything You’re Not Being Told About the US War Against ISIS in Syria, by Darius Shahtahmasebi

This is a good effort to make the terribly confused situation in Syria somewhat understandable. For a satirical look at the situation in Syria, see Prime Deceit. From Darius Shahtahmasebi at theantimedia.org:

(ANTIMEDIA) It’s time to have a sane discussion regarding what is going on in Syria. Things have escalated exponentially over the past month or so, and they continue to escalate. The U.S. just shot down yet another Iranian-made drone within Syrian territory on Tuesday, even as authorities insist they “do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS.”

Col. Ryan Dillon, chief U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, seemed to indicate that the coalition would avoid escalating the conflict following Russia’s warning that it will now treat American aircraft as potential targets. He stated:

“As a result of recent encounters involving pro-Syrian regime and Russian forces, we have taken prudent measures to reposition aircraft over Syria so as to continue targeting ISIS forces while ensuring the safety of our aircrews given known threats in the battlespace.”

So what is really going on in Syria? Is the U.S. actually seeking an all-out confrontation with Syria, Iran, and Russia?

The first thing to note is that a policy switch under the Trump administration has seen the U.S. rely heavily on Kurdish fighters on the ground as opposed to the radical Gulf-state backed Islamist rebels, which the U.S. and its allies had been using in their proxy war for over half a decade. Even the Obama administration designated the Kurds the most effective fighting force against ISIS and partnered with them from time to time, but Turkey’s decision to directly strike these fighters complicates the matter to this day.

Further muddling the situation is the fact that the U.S. wants the Kurds to claim key Syrian cities after ISIS is defeated, including Raqqa. However, the reason this complicates matters is that, as Joshua Landis, head of the Middle Eastern Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma explains, the Kurds have “no money” nor do they have an air force.

To continue reading: Everything You’re Not Being Told About the US War Against ISIS in Syria

To Ted Cruz: Further Militarizing Mexico’s Drug War Is a Horrible Idea, by Brain Saady

Ted Cruz proposes spending billions more on the futile drug war, sending the US military down to Mexico to help its government. At least now you’re not considering a flaming crazy if you suggest legalizing various drugs. The needle moves, but slowly. From Brian Saady at antiwar.com:

Ted Cruz recently provided an exclusive interview to Breitbart News. He asserted that the U.S. military should be working in conjunction with the Mexican government to fight the cartels. He didn’t suggest a full-scale invasion, but he did propose something similar to our program, “Plan Colombia.”

If you’re not familiar, Plan Colombia is officially the U.S. foreign military aid program for Colombia aimed at preventing drug trafficking. The U.S. has provided the Colombian government with $10 billion of military aid over the last 15 years.

Senator Cruz said of Plan Colombia, “It was treated less as a law enforcement matter than as a military matter. Where our military went into Colombia and helped destroy the cartels.” His assessment was partially accurate because Plan Colombia isn’t purely an anti-drug strategy. Instead, it is essentially part of a broader U.S. geopolitical strategy in which our country uses the pretense of the drug war to resurrect Cold-War-style intervention.

However, Cruz’s belief that Plan Colombia helped defeat the cartels is completely wrong. First of all, that gives the impression that the program effectively reduced drug production. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The White House released a report in March stating that cocaine production in Colombia had reached record levels last year, roughly 710 metric tons.

Secondly, the program went into effect in 1999, which was many years after the Medellin Cartel had fallen and not long after the leadership of the Cali Cartel had been captured. Plan Colombia was first implemented when the most powerful drug trafficking organizations weren’t traditional crime organizations. Instead, the drug trade was fueling the country’s civil war between the right-wing paramilitary group, the AUC, and the communist rebels, the FARC.

Proponents of Plan Colombia believe that U.S. military support was a factor that led to the eventual disarmament of the FARC and the end of Colombia’s 52-year civil war. That point is debatable. But, even if you concede it, “peace” was reached at what cost?

To continue reading: To Ted Cruz: Further Militarizing Mexico’s Drug War Is a Horrible Idea

Ever Closer to War, by Brian Cloughley

The two largest nuclear powers are cutting lines of communication, which certainly doesn’t diminish the chances of war. From Brian Cloughley at strategic-culture.org:

The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has warned that the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear war is closer than since 1953. As explained by the Bulletin, in 1947 it devised the Doomsday Clock «using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet».

Each year «the decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel laureates». In 1953 the Clock was at two minutes to midnight. In the worst years of the cold war it was at 3 minutes to midnight when, in 1984 it was recorded that «US-Soviet relations reach their iciest point in decades. Dialogue between the two superpowers virtually stops. Every channel of communications has been constricted or shut down; every form of contact has been attenuated or cut off…»

And now, in 2017, it is apparent that channels of communication with Russia are being deliberately cut off — and the hands of the Doomsday Clock have been placed at just two-and-a-half minutes from midnight.

Disaster looms.

And as it looms, the United States Senate is heightening its global confrontational approach and announced that it intends to penalise Russia for a number of supposed misdemeanours.

Senator Lindsey Graham told CBS News that the Senate will «punish Russia for interfering in our elections» — concerning which allegation there has not been one shred of proof provided by anyone. All-embracing inquiries are under way, of course, but be assured that if there were the slightest, tiniest, most microscopic morsel of actual proof of any interference, it would by now have been leaked to the media and made headline news.

Senator Graham excelled himself by telling President Trump, via CBS News, that «You’re the commander in chief. You need to stand up to Russia. We’re never going to reset our relationship with Russia until we punish them for trying to destroy democracy. And that starts with more sanctions».

To continue reading: Ever Closer to War

The Militarization of US Policy on Latin America Is Deepening Under Trump, by Jake Johnston

This seems like a great idea. After Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Northern Africa, what could go wrong? From Jake Johnston at the Institute for Policy Studies, fpif.org:

southcom-latin-america-carribean-pentagon

In a high-level meeting Friday, the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador will discuss the region’s security with American and Mexican officials.

Innocuous enough, you may think. But part of the meeting will be held on a U.S. military base in Miami, Florida — the headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command, the Pentagon’s regional subsidiary that oversees American military operations throughout Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. Under President Donald Trump, the militarization of U.S. foreign policy is about to stretch more deeply into Central America.

Central America policy-making, hardly an open book to begin with, is set to become more secretive.  With the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America just days away, there is no official agenda of speakers or publicly listed events and no involvement of civil society organizations — even press access is extremely limited. What we do know is U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be there, as will Vice President Mike Pence — and of course, General John F. Kelly, the director of Homeland Security and the previous head of SOUTHCOM.

These high-level government officials will be joined by a coterie of elite Central American businessmen, invited to the conference by its hosts, the U.S. and Mexico. Trump’s budget envisions a massive cut in U.S. economic assistance to Central America, so officials will apparently be asking the country’s most rapacious and corrupt economic actors to fill the void.

“We must secure the nation. We must protect our people,” Secretary of State Tillerson told his staff last month in a discussion around Washington’s new “America First” foreign policy. “And we can only do that with economic prosperity. So it’s foreign policy projected with a strong ability to enforce the protection of our freedoms with a strong military.” By linking economic success with military operations, Tillerson telegraphed which way the foreign aid dollars will be blowing.

To continue reading: The Militarization of US Policy on Latin America Is Deepening Under Trump