Tag Archives: Interventionism

The Quagmire to End All Quagmires, by Robert Gore

There are few good reasons to go to war, but the US faces the danger of being dragged into World War III for the worst of reasons. It will be fighting in a region in which it has no overriding interest, picking a side in a sectarian battle far older than the US, and allied with Machiavellian, despotic regimes who have no regard for its interests. Even proponents of the war cannot specify what a “victory” would look like. They nourish a vague hope that the two primary antagonists will somehow be vanquished and a government cut to the specifications of the US will be imposed by force and magically accepted by its subjects. Such a miracle would require a huge military commitment, trillions of dollars, and years, if not decades, of sustained effort. That miracle would require another miracle: after the last fifteen years of counterproductive and costly warfare in the Middle East, US politicians and the public nevertheless supporting the engagement for its lengthy duration.

Syria is a witches’ brew of conflicting internal and external forces. The US has been at odds with its leadership since Hafez al-Assad, father of the current leader, Bashar al-Assad, seized power in 1970. He aligned Syria with the Soviet Union and launched a war against Israel in 1973. He was a standard issue Middle Eastern autocrat in the Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi mold and his son has followed in his footsteps. The Assads’ Alawite Shiite Muslim sect, though a minority amidst a Sunni majority, controls the government and the leadership has fingers in all the worthwhile commercial and industrial pies. It has been religiously tolerant and politically intolerant.

The Obama administration saw an opportunity to change the Syrian regime under cover of the Arab Spring movement in 2011. Initially peaceful demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad soon turned violent as the government cracked down on demonstrators. Within a year, the military attacked resistance strongholds and Syria was engulfed in civil war. The main opposition came from an alliance of Sunni groups, mostly al Qaeda and its offshoots, including ISIS. The Obama administration pursued a confused policy that it advertised as aiding moderate Syrian rebels, who were supposedly opposed to both the Assad government and Islamic extremist groups. In truth, most of the ostensible moderates had ties to the latter. The few that didn’t either joined the extremists when confronted or fled, leaving their US-supplied weaponry and provisions behind.

None of this is news to either Obama or Congress. Nor is it a state secret that the Sunni extremists have received funding, supplies, and other aid from Sunni states—and US allies—Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey (See “With Friends Like These…” and “Who Needs Enemies?“). The US government wants to install a compliant regime in Syria, just as it wanted to install such regimes in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya. Those efforts failed, stifled by the Sunni-Shiite schism, guerrilla warfare and terrorism, blowback, Middle Eastern intrigue, and the US government’s ignorance, hypocrisy, and duplicity. Although it has done virtually nothing to stop ISIS, it still pretends that its main goal in Syria is the eradication of Islamic extremism rather than Bashar Assad’s government.

With his move into Syria and a remarkable speech at the United Nations, Vladimir Putin revealed the US government’s mendacity for all to see, except for the US public, where the mainstream media ignored his speech in favor of the usual government propaganda. (Some questions were asked about the efficacy of US efforts to defeat ISIS after the San Bernardino shootings last December, but they quickly faded.) At the invitation of Assad, Russia joined with the Shiites—the Syrian government, Iraq, Iran, and Hezbollah—and Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. The Assad alliance treats all those opposed to Assad as terrorist enemies. The tide has turned and the alliance has regained territory. It is on the verge of recapturing Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States are alarmed that the Islamic extremists they have funded and supported, and the US and its Western allies, have failed to depose Assad. If the Assad alliance cuts the rebels’ supply line from Turkey and takes Aleppo, it will not only solidify Assad’s hold on western Syria, but also solidify the influence of archenemy Shiite Iran in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. It is a make or break moment for the rebellion. The Sunni nations, especially NATO member Turkey, would dearly love to have their fight become Europe and the United States’ fight, too. If they can ensnare the Western nations, then Syria inevitably becomes the launchpad for World War III.

This next world war’s Archduke Ferdinand moment may come if Saudi Arabia, currently hosting a military exercise in its northern region called “Northern Thunder” involving at least 12 other nations, 350,000 soldiers, 20,000 tanks, 2,450 warplanes and 460 helicopters, leads that force into western Iraq en route to Syria. Or the trigger may come if Turkey, either in conjunction with Saudi Arabia or on its own, invades Syria from the north. With 600,000 troops, Turkey’s has the second largest armed forces in NATO. In addition to its loathing of the Shiites and Iran, Turkey fears Kurd nationalism. The Kurds, who have been the most effective fighting force against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, have long desired their own state. Kurdish separatists are also a vociferous presence in Turkey. The US government has embraced the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, but like the Turkish government, labels the Turkish Kurds as terrorists. Turkey would probably concentrate on subduing the Kurds before it went after Assad.

The US public is blissfully unaware either that the world is a hair’s breadth away from World War III or that their government has had an outsize role in creating that risk. The US may be dragged in by Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a corrupt, megalomaniac autocrat, or the corrupt, repressive House of Saud. The US will be in direct conflict with Russia and Iran, and lurking in the background, perhaps China. Neither the US’s so-called friends nor its foes care one whit about the best interests of the US and will in fact work against them. The blowback created will dwarf current levels of terrorism and refugee flows. The US’s degeneration into a police state will gain new momentum. Other than its deluded wish that both Assad and the Islamic extremists somehow disappear, the US government will have no clear idea of what would constitute victory, and consequently, no ability to attain it. And this war could go nuclear.

It will be the quagmire to end all quagmires, supported by the same coalition of mental and moral midgets who have backed every disastrous US military foray since Afghanistan. It’s questionable how long the US will retain the support of Europe. Its refugee flood will turn into a deluge as the war spreads from Syria outward to the rest of the Middle East, central Asia, northern Africa, and quite possibly to Europe itself. Nor is it a sure thing that financial markets will fund this war at today’s rock-bottom interest rates. The conflict will add more trillions to the US government’s current $19 trillion debt, and with a depression looming, the government’s ability to pay will be called into question. There would be no political support for a another protracted, expensive, and bloody military commitment in the Middle East if the American people were explicitly told that just such a commitment is under consideration, especially if they were also told that it could lead to World War III. A populace fooled into war is unlikely to back it for any length of time.

In Syria, the US will either fold or go all in. On past form, it will choose the latter and rue it ever after. Few Americans, inside or outside the government, realize either that those are the choices or that the stakes are so high. Sadly, such realizations may come only when their sons and daughters are drafted, or as the image of a mushroom cloud fills the screens of their mobile devices.

FROM A READER REVIEW: “This is a MUST READ for all who wonder what happened to the unflinching American spirit that sparked a revolution…”

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How To Succeed at Failing, Pentagon-Style, By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

One constant of US interventions since Vietnam: success is always just around the corner. From Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse at tomdispatch.com:

Iraq and Afghanistan are separated by more than 1,000 miles and, although they both exist in what is now known as the Greater Middle East, they had little in common — at least until March 2003, when the Bush administration followed up its 2001 invasion of Afghanistan by invading Iraq. Since then, they’ve had quite a bit in common, including vast infusions of U.S. funds and the massive levels of corruption that accompany them, as well as the way refugees from both countries have been joining the same flow of the desperate and dispossessed heading for Europe. These days, with the spread of an Islamic State franchise to Afghanistan, even their insurgents are becoming part of the same “brand.” And there’s one other thing they’ve had in common in these years: ghosts.

In both countries, the U.S. military has built, on paper, vast local security forces from scratch to the tune of at least $65 billion in Afghanistan and at least $25 billion in Iraq. Their armies and police forces have, however, both turned out to be remarkably spectral in nature. They are filled with “ghost soldiers” and “ghost policemen” who are being paid salaries but don’t exist. In some cases, they are quite literally already dead and wandering in the world of spirits. Their U.S.-funded salaries are, in turn, being pocketed by commanders and other senior military officials in an operation that couldn’t be more profitable or “successful” — at least until their ranks, sometimes thinned to nonexistence, are attacked by flesh-and-blood enemy forces. In Iraq, in 2014, after significant parts of that country’s American-built army had abandoned its weaponry and fled its posts in the country’s northern cities in the face of modest numbers of Islamic State fighters, the prime minister announced that there were at least 50,000 “ghost” troops in his military. (That figure was widely believed to be an underestimate.)

In Afghanistan more recently, as Taliban attacks have ramped up, similarly undermanned units have found themselves hard-pressed and have retreated, fled, or been defeated. The number of ghosts in the ranks of the Afghan security forces (as in its police) is unknown. Recently, however, the head of the provincial council of Helmand Province, a key area in the Taliban’s southern heartland, estimated that 40% of the Afghan soldiers there might, in fact, be ghosts. Whatever the specific numbers, what’s striking is the Pentagon’s strange skill when it comes to creating, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, spectral security forces of a remarkably similar kind in two such, until recently, disparate countries. Make of that knack what you will while reading TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse’s epic saga of how the Pentagon made special “progress” and racked up “success” after “success” over the last 12 years building Iraq’s spectral forces. Tom

The Pentagon’s Progress
Will American “Successes” Lead to More Iraqi Military Failures?
By Nick Turse

There’s good news coming out of Iraq… again. The efforts of a 65-nation coalition and punishing U.S. airstrikes have helped local ground forces roll back gains by the Islamic State (IS).

Government forces and Shiite militias, for example, recaptured the city of Tikrit, while Kurdish troops ousted IS fighters from the town of Sinjar and other parts of northern Iraq. Last month, Iraqi troops finally pushed Islamic State militants out of most of the city of Ramadi, which the group had held since routing Iraqi forces there last spring.

In the wake of all this, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter touted “the kind of progress that the Iraqi forces are exhibiting in Ramadi, building on that success to… continue the campaign with the important goal of retaking Mosul as soon as possible.” Even more recently, he said those forces were “proving themselves not only motivated but capable.” I encountered the same upbeat tone when I asked Colonel Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, about the Iraqi security forces. “The last year has been a process of constructing, rebuilding, and refitting the Iraqi army,” he explained. “While it takes time for training and equipping efforts to take effect, the increasing tactical confidence and competence of the ISF [Iraqi security forces] and their recent battlefield successes indicate that we are on track.”

“Progress.” “Successes.” “On track.” “Increasing tactical confidence and competence.” It all sounded very familiar to me.

To continue reading: How to Succeed at Failing

Trump vs. Jeb, by Justin Raimando

Donald Trump has deviated from Republican orthodoxy on foreign interventionism, and the Republican establishment may throw its support to Hillary Clinton (see “The Fix Is In,” SLL, 10/21/15). From Justin Raimondo at antiwar.com:

You may not like Donald Trump, for any one of a number of reasons, but anti-interventionists have to give him some credit for opening up the presidential debate to a critique of US foreign policy that hasn’t been seen or heard since the Ron Paul campaign. On Syria and on Iraq, he challenges the GOP/neoconservative orthodoxy in a way that Sen. Rand Paul hasn’t been able to do: indeed, one could argue that Trump has stolen Rand’s thunder – such as it is – in sounding the anti-interventionist note. And now Trump is upsetting the conventional GOP wisdom in an even more fundamental sense by challenging the “he kept us safe” theme that Jeb Bush has been pushing on behalf of his brother – you know, that former chief executive who left office with a popularity rating lower than any President in recent memory.

The Jeb-Trump contretemps played out over the weekend’s talk shows, with The Donald telling Fox News:

“Look, Jeb said we were safe with my brother – we were safe. Well, the World Trade Center just fell down. Now, am I trying to blame him? I’m not blaming anybody. But the World Trade Center came down. So when he said, we were safe, that’s not safe. We lost 3,000 people, it was one of the greatest – probably the greatest catastrophe ever in this country if you think about it.”


Jeb came back at him on CNN, the cable station nobody watches, protesting that brother George “united the country,” and going on to aver:

“I don’t know why he keeps bringing this up. It doesn’t show that he’s a serious person as it relates to being commander in chief and being the architect of a foreign policy. Across the spectrum of foreign policy, Mr. Trump talks about things that – as though he’s still on The Apprentice.”

I’m sure Jeb has never seen a single episode of “The Apprentice,” and that’s because he’s a Very Serious Person who is fast becoming the architect of his own defeat. This kind of condescending snootiness is a definite turnoff for voters, many of whom have seen “The Apprentice” and don’t appreciate being talked down to. Because in talking down to Trump, voters feel Jeb is talking down to them. That Jeb and his advisors don’t get this is the chief reason why the Bush campaign is sinking like a stone.

And just how serious is Jeb’s critique of Trump? If you parse it, it makes no sense: what does being commander-in-chief have to do with Trump’s criticism of brother Bush that, after all, the twin towers came down on his watch? What does being “the architect of a foreign policy” have to do with Trump’s assertion that the hijackers wouldn’t have even been allowed into the country if he had been President at the time? And what, exactly, does “across the spectrum of foreign policy” mean, anyway?

To continue reading: Trump vs. Jeb