Tag Archives: Middle East

The Real Danger From Trump Is Ignored, by Sheldon Richman

Trump’s evolving polices in the Middle East pose more danger than anything he might have done with the Russians. From Sheldon Richman at antiwar.com:

While the chattering classes spend all their time rehashing Donald Trump’s alleged – there’s a word you don’t much see in the media anymore – coordination with Russians over their alleged – there it is again – hacking of the Democrats’ email, a story with far more ominous implications is being ignored. I refer to Trump’s trip, beginning today, to Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Whatever Trump might have done with the Russians, if he did anything at all, it has none of the potential for death and destruction that his meddling in the Middle East has. He is doing far more than doubling down on what his predecessor, Barack Obama, did. For a guy who promised to concentrate on domestic matters, he’s sure engaging in a lot of empire preservation. But, then, some of us are not surprised. His words were never to be trusted.

The two most destabilizing countries in the Middle East are Saudi Arabia and Israel. Both want to reduce Iran to insignificance, and that starts with getting rid of Iran’s ally, Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad. Trump says he wants to concentrate on ISIS and not Assad, but his actions belie his words. Witness his launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase after unproved and seriously challenged assertions that Assad used chemical weapons against Syrians. U.S. forces have also hit pro-Assad forces twice in recent months, including on Thursday.

The “radical Islamic” Saudi antipathy to Assad and its sympathy for the various stripes of bin Ladenites are well-known. So is that fact that Israeli leaders have more than once said they prefer militant Sunni Muslims (like al-Qaeda) to Shiites, that is, Iran. For nearly three years the Saudis have been committing genocide against the people of Yemen – indispensably facilitated by the US government – in the name of fighting al-Qaeda’s adversary, the Houthis, who practice a form of Shia Islam but who are not Iranian proxies. Obama signed on to the Saudis’ war to ease their discomfort over the Iran nuclear deal.

All this is apparently fine with Trump. After all, he demonizes Iran every chance he gets. He would agree with Barack Obama, who told an interviewer some years ago that removing Assad would have the benefit of harming Iran. Hillary Clinton agreed.

To continue reading: The Real Danger From Trump Is Ignored

 

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Ready for War With Iran? by William J. Astore

Iran, and before Iran, Persia, has been an important part of the Middle East for 2500 years. The US has only been a nation for less than a tenth of that time. Yet it is the US which blusters into the Middle East and accuses Iran of destablizing the area. Who is truly the destablizing force? From William J. Astore at antiwar.com:

General Joseph Votel, U.S. Centcom commander, testified to the House Armed Services Committee this week that the greatest destabilizing force in the Middle East is Iran, and that the US must be prepared to use “military means” to confront and defeat the Iranian threat to the region.

No doubt Iran is a pest to US designs in the Middle East. No doubt Iran has its own agenda. No doubt Iran is no friend to Israel. But the greatest destabilizing force in the Greater Middle East? That’s the USA. We’re the ones who toppled Iraq in 2003, along with the legitimate government of Iran 50 years earlier.

Iran/Persia has lived in, and sometimes dominated, the Greater Middle East for 2500 years. By comparison, the USA is a newcomer on the block. Yet it’s the Iranians who are the destabilizers, the ones operating in a nefarious “grey zone” between peace and war, at least according to US generals.

Besides the disastrous US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which accidentally helped Iran, the US continues to sell massive amounts of weaponry to Iran’s rivals, most especially Saudi Arabia. US military operations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East have both destabilized the region and created marketplaces for US weaponry and opportunities for economic exploitation by multinational corporations.

I’m no fan of Iran and its leaders, but can one blame them for resisting US military and economic incursions into their sphere of influence? Recall how we reacted when the Russians put missiles into Cuba. Look at all the hostile rhetoric directed today against Mexico and its allegedly unfair trade practices vis-à-vis the US.

To continue reading: Ready for War With Iran?

 

How Many Civilians Can We Kill? by Robert Koehler

When collateral damage—deaths of innocent civilians—becomes just another war metric. From Robert Koehler at antiwar.com:

“The wooden carts that residents use to carry vegetables and other wares in the once busy market area instead ferried out cadavers recovered from the rubble last week.”

And so . . . another “precision” bomb strike in America’s war against terror. This was the scene in Mosul earlier this month, as reported by the Washington Post. Possibly more than 200 civilians died, buried in the rubble of several buildings, which had been jammed with terrified residents of Iraq’s second largest city who were seeking shelter from the war. Many of them – including women, children – may have died slowly, buried beneath the rubble, as rescue operations took a week to mobilize.

Words fail me. So I borrow some from Air Force Brigadier Gen. Matthew Isler, who told U.S. News and World Report in the wake of the Mosul strike: “The density of the local fighting for those ground forces has changed. What has not changed is our support, our diligence in making sure we are taking the appropriate levels to make sure we are avoiding any harm to innocent civilians.”

The article, which addresses the controversy that President Trump has “relaxed” the rules of engagement in the war against ISIS, causing an increase in civilian casualties, goes on to note: “Isler specifically said the risk calculus – the number of civilian casualties acceptable to war planners, at times including the president, when considering missions – has not changed.”

The tremor I feel in these words goes deeper than another Trump controversy: “the number of civilian casualties acceptable to war planners . . .”

Even if these words were more than just PR blather and had a core of moral integrity, they stop me in my tracks. Of course, there’s nothing surprising here. This is how war works, especially today, when battlefields are coterminous with civilian living and working space. Innocent people are unavoidably taken out along with the “enemy.” This is the collateral damage that comes with every decision to wage war.

To continue reading: How Many Civilians Can We Kill?

Prepare, Pursue, Prevail! Onward and Upward with U.S. Central Command, by Andrew J. Bacevich

Someone could write 10,000 pages and not run out of material for a black satire on the US military the past few decades. US Central Command would get several lengthy chapters. This article features vintage military bureaucrat-speak. From Andrew Bacevich at tomdispatch.com:

By way of explaining his eight failed marriages, the American bandleader Artie Shaw once remarked, “I am an incurable optimist.” In reality, Artie was an incurable narcissist. Utterly devoid of self-awareness, he never looked back, only forward.

So, too, with the incurable optimists who manage present-day American wars. What matters is not past mistakes but future opportunities. This describes the view of General Joseph Votel, current head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Since its creation in 1983, CENTCOM has emerged as the ne plus ultra of the Pentagon’s several regional commands, the place where the action is always hot and heavy. Votel is the latest in a long train of four-star generals to preside over that action.

The title of this essay (exclamation point included) captures in a single phrase the “strategic approach” that Votel has devised for CENTCOM. That approach, according to the command’s website, is “proactive in nature and endeavors to set in motion tangible actions in a purposeful, consistent, and continuous manner.”

This strategic approach forms but one element in General Votel’s multifaceted (if murky) “command narrative,” which he promulgated last year upon taking the helm at CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa, Florida. Other components include a “culture,” a “vision,” a “mission,” and “priorities.” CENTCOM’s culture emphasizes “persistent excellence,” as the command “strives to understand and help others to comprehend, with granularity and clarity, the complexities of our region.” The vision, indistinguishable from the mission except perhaps for those possessing advanced degrees in hermeneutics, seeks to provide “a more stable and prosperous region with increasingly effective governance, improved security, and trans-regional cooperation.” Toward that estimable end, CENTCOM’s priorities include forging partnerships with other nations “based upon shared values,” “actively counter[ing] the malign influence” of hostile regimes, and “degrading and defeating violent extremist organizations and their networks.”

At present, CENTCOM is busily implementing the several components of Votel’s command narrative across an “area of responsibility” (AOR) consisting of 20 nations, among them Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. As the CENTCOM website puts it, without batting a digital eyelash, that AOR “spans more than 4 million square miles and is populated by more than 550 million people from 22 ethnic groups, speaking 18 languages with hundreds of dialects and confessing multiple religions which transect national borders.”

To continue reading: Prepare, Pursue, Prevail! Onward and Upward with U.S. Central Command

How We Got Here The Misuse of American Military Power and The Middle East in Chaos, By Danny Sjursen

A devastating critique of the repeated failures of US foreign and military policy in the Middle East, from Army Major Danny Sjursen at tomdispatch.com:

The United States has already lost — its war for the Middle East, that is. Having taken my own crack at combat soldiering in both Iraq and Afghanistan, that couldn’t be clearer to me. Unfortunately, it’s evidently still not clear in Washington. Bush’s neo-imperial triumphalism failed. Obama’s quiet shift to drones, Special Forces, and clandestine executive actions didn’t turn the tide either. For all President Trump’s bluster, boasting, and threats, rest assured that, at best, he’ll barely move the needle and, at worst… but why even go there?

At this point, it’s at least reasonable to look back and ask yet again: Why the failure? Explanations abound, of course. Perhaps Americans were simply never tough enough and still need to take off the kid gloves. Maybe there just weren’t ever enough troops. (Bring back the draft!) Maybe all those hundreds of thousands of bombs and missiles just came up short. (So how about lots more of them, maybe even a nuke?)

Lead from the front. Lead from behind. Surge yet again… The list goes on — and on and on.

And by now all of it, including Donald Trump’s recent tough talk, represents such a familiar set of tunes. But what if the problem is far deeper and more fundamental than any of that?

Here our nation stands, 15-plus years after 9/11, engaged militarily in half a dozen countries across the Greater Middle East, with no end in sight. Perhaps a more critical, factual reading of our recent past would illuminate the futility of America’s tragic, ongoing project to somehow “destroy” terrorism in the Muslim world.

To continue reading: How We Got Here The Misuse of American Military Power and The Middle East in Chaos

The Most Dangerous Candidate, by Robert Gore

U.S. Conducts Airstrikes Against ISIS in Libya reads The New York Times’ August 1 headline, capturing virtually everything wrong with US foreign interventionism. Tracing the strands emanating from that headline regrettably requires a deep dive into an ideological and moral cesspool, on which Hillary Clinton luxuriates in a floating lounge chair, sunning herself and sipping a piña colada, evidently not put off by the stench.

What’s ISIS doing in Libya? It’s an offshoot of ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, which is an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq. That group was formed from an embittered core of Sunnis dispossessed of positions and property and jailed by the US government-installed majority Shiite government after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Al Qaeda’s family tree starts with the mujahideen in Afghanistan, who were backed by Presidents Carter and Reagan in their war against the Soviet Union. The goal was to draw the Soviet Union into a protracted and debilitating quagmire.

The strategy worked, but not without unfortunate consequences. Allies can turn into enemies. The leader of the mujahideen, Osama bin Laden, became the US’s implacable foe after the US set up permanent military bases in Saudi Arabia, home of sacred Islamic shrines Medina and Mecca, during the first invasion of Iraq in 1990. His anger was reportedly the impetus behind 9/11. The Afghanistan success also taught US policymakers a “lesson” they would have been better off not learning: supporting local groups in armed conflict could produce low-cost, desirable outcomes.

Clinton supported the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. She claims it was a mistake now, but the invasion was, in light of later events, fully consistent with her stance on US interventionism. In subsequent situations, she has repeated her Iraq “mistake.” Afghanistan and Iraq were the first neoconservative forays into regime change and replacement with US-compliant governments, securing oil supplies, and nation building on the way to an efflorescence of democracy and increased regional toleration of Israel.

That’s not the way things have worked out. After a financial tally in the trillions of dollars, thousands of military casualties, and a civilian death toll in the millions, Afghanistan and Iraq are sectarian hell holes, beset by ISIS; US military forces are still present in both nations (Afghanistan counts as the longest war in US history); US intervention has been a major spur for Islamic extremism and blowback terrorism, and Afghans and Iraqis are part of the refugee flood overwhelming Europe.

There is no darker stain on Clinton’s record than Libya. The brutal regime change that led to chaos in Iraq was repeated in Libya, except the death by sodomy of Muammar Gaddafi was more grisly than Saddam Hussein’s comparatively dignified hanging. She was the prime proponent within the Obama administration of the Libyan fiasco, remembering everything but learning nothing from Iraq. Donald Trump’s campaign would be well advised to show Clinton’s infamous, “We came, we saw, he died…cackle” video over and over, juxtaposed with scenes of the chaos that has engulfed Libya, where three rival “governments” contest for control of the country. And let’s not forget Benghazi.

Clinton, her neoconservative cohorts, and the US’s Sunni allies in the Middle East—Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey—have their hearts set on yet another regime change in Syria. (Many of these allies have made large donations to the Clinton foundation.) One shudders to think of the death they have envisioned for Shiite Bashar Assad if they’re successful. Clinton fully supports the US’s muddled policy of getting rid of Assad by using Islamic extremists pursuing the same goal. The US has quietly succored ISIS and affiliated jihadists while appearing to fight them, and has done nothing to stop its allies from doing the same.

However, they have been stymied by the Russia-Iranian-Hezbollah alliance, which has proven far more effective against ISIS and its affiliates than the US alliance. Clinton’s proposed response? Institute a no-fly zone over northern Syria, potentially risking a confrontation with the Russian air force and stifling its ability to fight ISIS.

Clinton continues to embrace neoconservative goals, presumably expecting different results than the chaos, instability, inability of the US to disengage, blowback terrorism, and refugee flows which mark their strategy as an abysmal failure. Per Einstein’s famous dictum, that’s insanity. Failed as it has in second-tier countries throughout the Middle East and northern Africa, the idea of directing it towards Russia, the world’s second strongest military power, is beyond insanity. Yet, there has been no more vociferous supporter of the US effort to stigmatize and replace Vladimir Putin, and isolate and provoke Russia, than Clinton.

Accept as gospel US government and media propaganda concerning Ukraine since 2014 and policy there still amounts to deranged. Even if the revolution in 2014 was spontaneous and had no US sponsorship, even if the duly elected and deposed president, Viktor Yanukovych, was corrupt, authoritarian, and a Russian pawn, even if the annexation of Crimea by Russia contravened international law, even if the rebellion in eastern Ukraine has been supported by Russia, so what? By what rational calculation does the US have an interest in Ukraine?

It’s been part of Russia for most of its history and was the doorway for Napoleon’s and Hitler’s invasions. The administration of Petro Poroshenko is stocked with neo-Nazis and is no less corrupt, incompetent, or repressive than the one it replaced. The country is bankrupt, dependent on IMF bailouts that break its own rules. Russia’s only port on the Black Sea, Sevastopol, is in Crimea and a substantial majority of its populace would rather align with Russia than hapless Ukraine. Belying US rhetoric about Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, Putin has not moved to take it over, although his forces could do so in a week or two.

If they did, it would take—judging from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria—at least a century for the US to “liberate” it, absent resort to nuclear weaponry. Ukraine is as vital an interest to Russia as Canada and Mexico are to the US. Any Russian attempt to insert itself into Canadian or Mexican affairs to the same extent as the US has inserted itself into Ukraine’s would rightly be regarded as provocative, demanding a response that could escalate into war.

So far Russia has demonstrated restraint, although the government and media have tried to portray Russia military exercises within Russia as aggressive. Russia appears intent on securing its sphere of influence. The US has insisted on securing its sphere of influence since the promulgation of the Monroe doctrine in 1823. The Crimean annexation and aiding eastern Ukraine’s rebels fit Russian aims, but there is no evidence to support the endlessly repeated claim that Russia and Putin are bent on reconstituting the old USSR and eventual world domination. Attempting to dominate the world is a much more accurate description of US policy. The only purposes of US aggression towards Russia in Ukraine and eastern Europe has been to try to diminish Putin in Russia (which has failed) and to goad his government into a military response, which would provide cover for a US military response. Maybe Putin should make a large donation to the Clinton Foundation.

Fortunately the US effort, fully supported by Clinton but questioned by Donald Trump, has to date not worked. Both countries can inflict global nuclear devastation. Putting Russia’s safety in doubt, backing it into a corner from which it has no other choice but to fight, would be suicidal, beyond insane.

Yet that is the policy Clinton has pushed. Victoria Nuland, wife of neoconservative doyen Robert Kagan and a staunch neoconservative in her own right, stands accused of stage managing Ukraine’s 2014 “revolution” and is an ardent hardliner against Russia. She is a contender for Clinton’s Secretary of State. Clinton has likened Putin to Hitler and accused Russia of hacking DNC emails, a charge for which only the flimsiest of proof has been offered.

The Democrats, the mainstream media, and various “important people” within the intelligence community have spun tales of undue influence and a “bromance” between Trump and Vladimir Putin. For argument’s sake accept that as true. Wouldn’t a measure of amity between the Russian and US heads of state be vastly preferable to escalating tension? Negotiation or nuclear holocaust? Which is the most dangerous policy, and who is the most dangerous candidate?

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America’s Recent Achievements In The Middle East, by Eric Zuesse

Eight pictures can be worth 8,000 words. From Eric Zuesse at zerohedge.com:

Here are before-and-after pictures of what the U.S. government has achieved, in the Middle East:

What’s especially interesting there, is that in all of these missions, except for Iraq, the U.S. was doing it with the key participation of the Saud family, the royals who own Saudi Arabia, and who are the world’s largest buyers of American weaponry. Since Barack Obama came into the White House, the operations — Libya, Yemen, and Syria — have been, to a large extent, joint operations with the Sauds. ‘We’ are now working more closely with ‘our’ ‘friends’, even than ‘we’ were under George W. Bush.

As President Obama instructed his military, on 28 May 2014:

When issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, when such issues are at stake — when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us — then the threshold for military action must be higher. In such circumstances, we should not go it alone. Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action. We have to broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law; and, if just, necessary and effective, multilateral military action. In such circumstances, we have to work with others because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed.

So: ’we’ didn’t achieve these things only on our own, but instead in alliance with the royals of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, and other friendly countries, which finance jihadists everywhere but in their own country. And, of course, all of ‘us’ are allied against Russia, so we’re now surrounding that country with ‘our’ NATO partners before we do to it what we’ve previously done to Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. America is becoming even more ambitious, because of ‘successes’ like these in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Ukraine.

The United States has been the great champion of ‘democracy’ throughout the world. And these are are some of the results of that ‘democracy’. ‘We’ are spreading it abroad.

‘Our’ latest victory has been ‘our’ spreading it to Ukraine. No country is closer to Russia than that.

Inside America, the term that’s used for referring to anyone who opposes this spreading of ‘democracy’, is ‘isolationist’, and this term is imported from the meaning that it had just prior to America’s joining World War II against Hitler and other fascists. Back in that time, an “isolationist” meant someone who didn’t want to defeat the fascists. The implication in the usage of this term now, is that the person who is an ‘isolationist’ is a ‘fascist’, just as was the case then. It’s someone who doesn’t want to spread ‘democracy’. To oppose American foreign policy is thus said to be not only ‘right wing’, but the extremist version of that: far right-wing — fascist, perhaps even nazi, or racist-fascist. (Donald Trump is rejected by many Republicans who say that he’s ‘not conservative enough’. Democrats consider him to be far too ‘conservative’. The neoconservative Democrat Isaac Chotiner, whom the Democratic neoconservative Slate hired away from the Democratic neoconservative The New Republic, has headlined at Slate, “Is Donald Trump a Fascist?” and he answered that question in the affirmative.) George Orwell dubbed this type of terminological usage “Newspeak.” It’s very effective.

To continue reading: America’s Recent Achievements In The Middle East