Tag Archives: Middle East

The Persistent Myth of US Precision Bombing, by Nicolas J.S. Davies

Precise does not always mean precise, and it never means non-destructive. From Nicolas J.S. Davies at consortiumnews.com:

Opinion polls in the United States and the United Kingdom have found that a majority of the public in both countries has a remarkably consistent belief that only about 10,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Estimates of deaths in Iraq actually range from 150,000 to 1.2 million. Part of the reason for the seriously misguided public perception may come from a serious belief in guided weapons, according to what the government tells people about “precision” bombing.  But one must ask how so many people can be killed if these weapons are so “precise,” for instance in one of “the most precise air campaigns in military history,” as a Pentagon spokesman characterized the total destruction last year of Raqqa in Syria.

The dreadful paradox of “precision weapons” is that the more the media and the public are wrongly persuaded of the near-magical qualities of these weapons, the easier it is for U.S. military and civilian leaders to justify using them to destroy entire villages, towns and cities in country after country: Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul in Iraq; Sangin and Musa Qala in Afghanistan; Sirte in Libya; Kobane and Raqqa in Syria.

An Imprecise History

The skillful use of disinformation about “precision” bombing has been essential to the development of aerial bombardment as a strategic weapon. In a World War II propaganda pamphlet titled the “Ultimate Weapon of Victory”, the U.S. government hailed the B-17 bomber as “… the mightiest bomber ever built… equipped with the incredibly accurate Norden bomb sight, which hits a 25-foot circle from 20,000 feet.“

However, according to the website WW2Weapons, “With less than 50 per-cent cloud coverage an average B-17 Fortress Group could be expected to place 32.4% of its bombs within 1000 feet of the aiming point when aiming visually.”  That could rise to 60 percent if flying at the dangerously low altitude of 11,000 feet in daylight.

The inaccurate B17 “Flying Fortress”

 

The U.K.’s 1941 Butt Report found that only five percent of British bombers were dropping their bombs within five miles of their targets, and that 49 percent of their bombs were falling in “open country.”

In the “Dehousing Paper,” the U.K. government’s chief scientific adviser argued that mass aerial bombardment of German cities to “dehouse” and break the morale of the civilian population would be more effective than “precision” bombing aimed at military targets.  British leaders agreed, and adopted this new approach: “area” or “carpet” bombing, with the explicit strategic purpose of “dehousing” Germany’s civilian population.

To continue reading: The Persistent Myth of US Precision Bombing

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The Battle For The Iranian Nuclear Deal: China Vs The US, by James Dorsey

An interesting analysis of the Chinese perspective on the Middle East, and China’s role in it. From James Dorsey at middleeastsoccer.blogspot.com:

Conventional wisdom has it that China stands to benefit from the US withdrawal from the 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran, particularly if major European companies feel that the risk of running afoul of US secondary sanctions is too high.

In doing so, China would draw on lessons learnt from its approach to the sanctions regime against Iran prior to the nuclear deal. China supported the sanctions while proving itself adept at circumventing the restrictions.

However, this time round, as China joins Russia and Europe in trying to salvage the deal, things could prove to be different in ways that may give China second thoughts.

The differences run the gamut from an America that has Donald Trump as its president to a Middle East that is much more combative and assertive and sees its multiple struggles as existential, at least in terms of regime survival.

Fault lines in the Middle East have hardened because of Israel, Saudi and United Arab Emirates assertiveness, emboldened by both a US administration that is more partisan in its Middle East policy, yet at the same time less predictable and less reliable.

Add to this Mr. Trump’s narrow and transactional focus that targets containing Iran, if not toppling its regime; countering militancy, and enhancing business opportunities for American companies and the contours of a potentially perfect storm come into view.

That is even truer if one looks beyond the Gulf and the Levant towards the greater Middle East that stretches across Pakistan into Central Asia as well as China’s overall foreign trade.

China’s trade with the United States stood last year at $636 billion, trade with Iran was in that same period at $37.8 billion or less than five percent of the US volume.

The recent case of ZTE, one of China’s largest IT companies, tells part of the story.

Accused of having violated sanctions, the US Department of Commerce banned American firms from selling parts to ZTE, bringing the company to near bankruptcy. Mr. Trump appears to be willing to help salvage ZTE, but the incident significantly raises the stakes, particularly as China and the United States try to avoid a trade war.

That is but one consideration in China’s calculations. Potentially, other major bumps in saving the nuclear agreement lurk around the corner and could prove to be equally, if not more challenging.

To continue reading: The Battle For The Iranian Nuclear Deal: China Vs The US

The Donald’s Done – The Deep State Wins Its War On America First, by David Stockman

Not for the first time, David Stockman writes off the Trump presidency. However, his hopes seem to spring eternal, so we can probably look for him to say something positive about Trump before too long. From David Stockman via antiwar.com:

The Donald’s action to ash-can the Iranian nuclear deal marks the War Party’s complete and baleful triumph. There is now nothing much left of America First.

Trump’s reckless, unwarranted and utterly irrational action will pull Washington ever deeper into an incendiary middle eastern vortex of political and religious conflict that has absolutely nothing to do with the safety and security of the America people.

To the contrary, picking a fight with Tehran is an exercise in unprovoked Imperial aggression. The Iranian regime has no means to attack America militarily and has never threatened to do so. Nor has it invaded any other country in the region where it was not invited by a sovereign government host.

Even Iran’s minor skirmishes with American forces in recent years have been owing to the happenstance of Washington’s far-flung imperial ventures.

For example, Washington destroyed Saddam’s Sunni/secular government in Iraq and installed a Shiite regime in Baghdad, thereby leaving the Sunni lands of western Iraq in chaos. Only then did Baghdad invite their shiite co-religionists from Iran to help excise the scourge of ISIS that formed from the remnants of Saddam’s army and government.

Likewise, Washington and its allies sent thousands of jihadist warriors and billions of aid and supplies into Syria to topple its dully elected government. Only then did the Alawite (Shiite) Assad regime invite help from its confessional compatriots in Tehran.

And you can’t find any more ludicrous example of the cat calling the kettle black than the Donald’s claim that Iran is a terrorist state because it is aligned with the Shiite population of Lebanon represented by Hezbollah.

For crying out loud. The War Party pretends Washington has turned much of the middle east into rubble and barbarism in order to spread democracy – whether they wanted it or not, and whether they were ready for it or not.

But Lebanon is a serviceable democracy and last weekend Hezbollah and its allies – including certain Sunni factions – won an overwhelming election victory. They now control a clear majority in its legislature, where Hezbollah will have the power to name a new Prime Minister (a Sunni) and Speaker of the Parliament (a Shiite) – both of whom will be pledged to work with the country’s Christian president.

That particular outcome of democracy the War Party can’t abide. But it fairly violates the english language itself to call it state sponsored terrorism.

To continue reading: The Donald’s Done – The Deep State Wins Its War On America First

The Politics of Water and Peace in the Middle East, by M. Reza Behnam

Most people outside the Middle East have no idea how water shapes the politics there. This is a very good analysis of the water situation there. From M. Reza Behnam at antiwar.com:

The Middle East, oil-rich but water-poor, with about six percent of the world’s population, has only one percent of the earth’s renewable water resources. Fourteen Middle East and North African (MENA) countries are among the 33 most water-stressed in the world.

Climate change, drought and population growth have increased the demand for water in this arid region, fueling conflict and instability. Clashes over water access have aggravated an already volatile Middle East. For many MENA countries water scarcity has become a national security issue.

Middle Easterners are dependent on four main sources of water: aquifers, precipitation, rivers and desalinized sea water. The underground aquifers, however, are drying out at alarming rates. Increasingly the oil rich Persian Gulf states are depending on desalination for water security. Only Iran and Turkey have been self-sufficient in water.

Once known as the Cradle of Civilization, the fertile soil of the Middle East gave birth to agriculture. Grains thrived in the rich soil of The Fertile Crescent, “the land between the rivers” – Tigris and Euphrates. With an abundance of barley, beer brewing/production flourished in ancient cities along the Tigris-Euphrates, under the auspices of the Sumerian goddess of beer brewing, Ninkasi, circa 3900 BCE.

However, today most countries in the region are net food importers, especially grains. Aridity, drought and climate change have contributed to food insecurity and surging food prices. Water scarcity contributed to the 2011 uprisings in Egypt and Syria, and was embodied in the protestors’ rallying cry, “Food, freedom and dignity.”

Egypt, for example, imports 90 percent of its wheat from Russia. Consequently, its economy was disrupted in 2010 when wild fires and a heat wave in Russia led to a 30 percent increase in Egyptian food prices. Additionally, in 2004, the government of then President Hosni Mubarak privatized the country’s water supply – a condition mandated by the World Bank to secure loans. Revolutionary fervor intensified as the government diverted water to wealthy enclaves, while across Egypt water access became more difficult and prices doubled. Little wonder that some Egyptian commentators called the January 2011 Arab Spring a “Revolution of the Thirsty.”

To continue reading: The Politics of Water and Peace in the Middle East

A Most Sordid Profession: Sanguijuelas, Garrapatas, Piojos, Capulinas, Lampreys, by Fred Reed

As currently constituted, the US military is doing the US far more harm than good. From Fred Reed at theburningplatform:

A few thoughts on our disastrous  trillion-dollar  military:

It is unnecessary. It does not defend the United States. The last time it did so was in 1945.  The United States has no military enemies. No nation has anything even close to the forces necessary to invade America, and probably none the desire. A fifth of the budget would suffice for any real needs.

“Our boys” are not noble warriors protecting democracy, rescuing maidens, and righting wrongs. They are, like all soldiers, obedient and amoral killers. Pilots bombing Iraq or Syria know they are killing civilians. They do  not care. If ordered to bomb Switzerland, they would do it. This is the nature of all armies. Glamorizing this  most reprehensible trades is just a means of usefully stimulating the pack instinct which we often call patriotism.

The militarily is America’s worst enemy. It does enormous damage to the United States while providing almost no benefit. Start with the war on Vietnam that cost hugely in money and lives, ours and their, with no benefit. Iraq: high cost, no benefit. Afghanistan: High cost, no benefit. Syria: High cost, no benefit.

The costs in lives and money do not include the staggering cost of weapons that do nothing for America or Americans. Do you, the reader, believe that you are safer because of the F-35? Do a dozen aircraft carriers improve the lives of your children? Will the B-21, an unbelievably expensive new thermonuclear bomber, make your streets safer? Then add the bleeding of engineering talent better spent on advancing America’s economic competitiveness.  The country has many crying needs, falls behind China, but money and talent go to the military.

We cannot escape from the soldiers. The armed forces have embedded themselves so deeply into the country that they have almost become the country. America is little more than a funding mechanism for what clumsily may be called the military-industrial-intelligence-media-Israeli complex. Some of these entities belong to the military (NSA). Some depend on it (Lockheed-Martin). Some use it to their own ends (Israel),  but the military is the central infection from which the other symptoms flow.  Congress? A storefront, a subcommittee of the Knesset or, as P. J. O’Rourke put it, a parliament of whores. Factories, jobs, contracts, towns depend on military spending. If the Second Marine Division  folded, Jacksonville NC would dry up and blow away. So would dozens of other towns. Without military spending, California’s economy would crash. Universities depend on military research funding.

To continue reading: A Most Sordid Profession: Sanguijuelas, Garrapatas, Piojos, Capulinas, Lampreys

Russia’s New Energy Gamble, by Bruno Maçães

This article offers plausible conjectures about Russia’s strategy in the Middle East. From Bruno Maçães at thecairoreview.com:

Russia aims to position itself as a leader among energy-producing equals in Eurasia. Since 2015, Russia has sought to play a more active role in the Middle East, setting its sights on the region’s energy resources to achieve this strategic goal.

Workers attend a training class at LUKOIL, Basra, Dec. 25, 2012. Atef Hassan/Reuters

Having abandoned any attempt to join the Western global political order, Russia seems to have quickly found a new self-image: as the center and core of the Eurasian supercontinent, it can reach in all directions and provide a bridge between Europe and China on both ends. In this context, the Middle East has emerged as a central axis of Russia’s strategic concerns, perhaps for the first time in the country’s history.

In his recent book What Is Russia Up To in the Middle East?, Dmitri Trenin shows how the Middle East was always marginal to Russian geopolitical interests. When progressing south, Russian military expansion had its eyes on the Balkans or Istanbul, in some periods extending to British India, Afghanistan or northern Iran, but a serious push beyond those areas was never considered. Against Ottoman Turkey, Russia waged twelve wars. It took the czarist army half a century to prevail over the mountaineers of the North Caucasus. Russia also conquered Central Asia and invaded Afghanistan, a military adventure that left little appetite for a return to the heart of the Muslim world. But neither the Russian Empire nor the Soviet Union had ever fought directly in Arab lands. In 2015, something genuinely new and unexpected took place. Russia stepped into the Syrian conflict.

Any exercise considering what the Kremlin’s intentions and goals might have been has to start by noting how Syria offered a unique opportunity for promoting Russian strategic interests. By 2015 the United States had exhausted all choices there and showed signs of disinterest and disengagement. A Russian military intervention would constitute something of a revolution in global affairs. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, a country other than the United States would be projecting military force far away from its borders without consulting or involving Washington in the decision.

To continue reading: Russia’s New Energy Gamble

Circle of Absurdity: Killing the Extremists We Create, by Danny Sjursen

The US has made countless allies its enemies, and vice versa. Al Qaeda may be the most noteworthy example of the former.From Danny Sjursen at truthdig.com:

The U.S. military remains mired in countless wars in the Greater Middle East. Ironically – and tragically – it tends to combat Islamists that Washington either armed or birthed.

We, Americans, truly are a strange lot. Our government in Washington – ostensibly representative of “We the People” – speaks of peace, but wages endless war, prattles on about “freedom,” but backs absolute monarchs and authoritarian strongmen the world over. A bipartisan array of politicians warns of the evils of radical Islamic (though Islamist is more accurate) terrorism; and yet, truthfully, the US once supported and/or funded those same extremists not too long ago. In some cases, and certain circumstances, it backs them still; until, that is, all those guns are turned on the US military, or those fighters threaten Washington’s (ever shifting) “interests.”

Perhaps, one imagines, there are lessons here: be careful who you arm; be careful where you meddle; today’s “friends” are, all too often, tomorrow’s enemies; and, in the turbulent Middle East, sometimes less is more.

Washington would do well to remember that before its next – and there will be a next – intervention.

Russia, it seems, is once again center stage in the Middle East. Congressmen and Senators – usually neocons or hawkish liberal interventionists – warnthat Russia is “running wild,” or will “win” Syria. In fact, they argue, the US military must stay put in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere, indefinitely one presumes, to block potential Russian gains. US troops must also back assorted proxies, even some nefarious characters, in order to deter Russian efforts in the region.

The whole presumption, of course, is flawed and simplistic. We are led to believe geopolitics is a simple zero-sum game, whereby any “gain” for Russia (or Iran) is somehow a “loss” for the United States. Much evil, and plenty of mistakes, stem from such warped assumptions.

To continue reading: Circle of Absurdity: Killing the Extremists We Create