Tag Archives: Middle East

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

How Americans Came to Die in the Middle East, by Craig Cantoni

This is an excellent and  straightforward historical exposition and explanation of America’s involvement in the Middle East. From Craig Cantoni via Mike “Mish” Shedlock at mishtalk.com:

This is a guest post, sent to me on Tuesday, by reader Craig Cantoni, a former military officer whose father is in a veteran’s cemetery.

Cantoni presents a historical picture on many levels as to what has happened and is still going on in the Middle East.

How Americans Came to Die in the Middle East by Craig Cantoni

The writing of this historical synopsis began yesterday, Memorial Day. It is an attempt by this former artillery officer with a father buried in a veteran’s cemetery to understand why brave Americans were sent to their death in the Middle East and are still dying there.

The hope is that we finally can learn from history and not keep repeating the same mistakes.

It’s important to stick to the facts, since the history of the Middle East already has been grossly distorted by partisan finger-pointing and by denial and cognitive dissonance among the politicians, foreign policy experts (in their own minds), and media blowhards and literati on the left and right, who now claim that they had nothing to do with grievous policy mistakes that they had once endorsed.

The key question, as in all history, is where to begin the history lesson.

We could go all the way back to religious myths, especially the ones about Moses and the Ten Commandments and about Mohammed and his flying horse. Or on a related note, we could go back to the schism that took place between Shia and Sunni Muslims in the seventh century. Such history is relevant, because American soldiers have been foolishly inserted in the middle of the competing myths and irreconcilable schism, but without the inserters acknowledging the religious minefields and steering clear of them.

We also could go back to the First World War and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, when France and Britain carved up the Middle East into unnatural client states, when Arabs were given false promises of self-determination, when American geologists masqueraded as archeologists as they surreptitiously surveyed for oil, and when the United States joined Saudi Arabia at the hip through the joint oil venture of Aramco.

Another starting point could be 1948, when the United States, under the lead of President Truman, supported the formal establishment of the Jewish State of Israel, thus reversing the longstanding opposition to Zionism by many (most?) American and European Jews and non-Jews. One can endlessly debate the plusses and minuses of our alliance with Israel, as well as the morality of Israel’s violent founding and the violent Palestinian resistance. But it’s undeniable that the alliance has led many Muslims to put a target on Uncle Sam’s back.

Still another starting point could be the 1953 coup d’état against the democratically-elected Iranian President Mohammad Mosaddegh, orchestrated by the CIA in conjunction with the Brits. The coup was triggered when Mosaddegh demanded an auditing of the books of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a British company known today as BP. He threatened nationalization when the British refused to allow the audit. He was replaced by the Shah of Iran, who was seen by many Iranians and Arabs as a puppet of the United States. (Ironically, during the Second World War, Great Britain and the Soviet Union had occupied Iran and deposed an earlier shah.)

To continue reading: How Americans Came to Die in the Middle East


Been There, Done That The American Way of War as a Do-Over , by Tom Engelhardt

From Tom Engelhardt at tomdispatch.com:

With General John Campbell’s tour of duty in Afghanistan finished, a new commander has taken over. Admittedly, things did not go well during Campbell’s year and a half heading up the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) there, but that’s par for the course. In late 2015, while he was in the saddle, the Taliban took the provincial capital of Kunduz, the first city to be (briefly) theirs since the American invasion of 2001. In response, U.S. forces devastated a Doctors Without Borders hospital. The Taliban is also now in control of more territory than at any time since the invasion and gaining an ever-firmer grip on contested Helmand Province in the heart of the country’s poppy-growing region (and so the staggering drug funds that go with it). In that same province, only about half of the “on duty” Afghan security forces the United States trained, equipped, and largely funded (to the tune of more than $65 billion over the years) were reportedly even present.

On his way into retirement, General Campbell has been vigorously urging the Obama administration to expand its operations in that country. (“I’m not going to leave,” he said, “without making sure my leadership understands that there are things we need to do.”) In this, he’s been in good company. Behind the scenes, “top U.S. military commanders” have reportedly been talking up a renewed, decades-long commitment to Afghanistan and its security forces, what one general has termed a “generational approach” to the war there.

And yes, as Campbell headed off stage, General John Nicholson, Jr., beginning his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan, has officially taken command of ISAF. Though it wasn’t a major news item, he happens to be its 17th commander in the 14-plus years of Washington’s Afghan War. If this pattern holds, by 2030 that international force, dominated by the U.S., will have had 34 commanders and have fought, by at least a multiple of two, the longest war in our history. Talk about all-American records! (USA! USA!)

If such a scenario isn’t the essence of déjà vu all over again, what is? Imagine, for a minute, each of those 17 ISAF commanders (recently, but not always, Americans, including still resonant names like David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal as well as those like Dan McNeill and David McKiernan already lost in the fog of time) arriving at yearly intervals, each scrambling to catch-up, get the big picture, and run the show. Imagine that process time after time, and you have the definition of what, in kid culture, might be called a do-over — a chance to get something right after doing it wrong the first time. Of course, yearly do-overs are a hell of a way to run a war, but they’re a great mechanism for ensuring that no one will need to take responsibility for a disaster of 14 years and counting.

How to Play Do-Over

For journalists, when it comes to twenty-first-century American war, do-overs are a boon. From collapsing U.S.-trained, funded, and equipped local militaries to that revolving door for commanders in Afghanistan to terror groups whose leaderships are eternally being eviscerated yet are never wiped out, do-overs ensure that your daily copy is essentially pre-written for you. In fact, when it comes to American-style war across the Greater Middle East and increasingly much of Africa, do-over is the name of the game.

To continue reading: Been There, Done  That The American Way of War as a Do-Over 

Will the Middle East Crisis Worsen in the New Year? by Jack A. Smith

This is an excellent survey of the current Middle East situation. From Jack A. Smith at antiwar.com:

Washington’s extensive military maneuvers in the Middle East since Sept. 11, 2001, have largely failed, creating far worse calamities at great cost to the people and countries of the region – and there is little reason to suspect this will change for the better in New Year 2016.

Actually, it could get much worse despite UN talks in Vienna later this month to seek a temporary cease-fire in Syria and the beginning of discussions on an eventual new Damascus government. The abrupt break in diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, plus the formation of a new Sunni coalition to “fight terrorism” and new maneuvers by an assertive Turkey could exacerbate existing conflicts.

Here’s a brief look at the three largest wars in which the U.S. is deeply involved at the moment – in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria – plus additional information about the region:

IN AFGHANISTAN, THE TALIBAN IS ON THE OFFENSIVE, battering Afghan troops in Helmand province. The so-called Islamic State (IS) is now a growing presence in the country. Al-Qaeda – the reason George W. Bush bombed and invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 – is making a comeback, according to the Dec. 30 New York Times which revealed:

“Even as the Obama Administration scrambles to confront the Islamic State and a resurgent Taliban, an old enemy seems to be reappearing in Afghanistan: Al Qaeda training camps are sprouting up there, forcing the Pentagon and American intelligence agencies to assess whether they could again become a breeding ground for attacks on the United States…. The scope of Al-Qaeda’s deadly resilience in Afghanistan appears to have caught American and Afghan officials by surprise.” Again.

A day earlier USA Today reported “Afghanistan’s security situation is so tenuous that the top US commander there wants to keep as many US troops there as possible through 2016 to boost beleaguered Afghan soldiers and may seek additional American forces to assist them.” There are nearly 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan today and half are scheduled to depart by the end of 2016 – but Gen. John Campbell, the U.S.-NATO commander in Afghanistan, suggested the larger number, and perhaps more, should remain indefinitely.

The US war in Afghanistan has lasted 14 years and four months and is expected to continue for more years. The cost to US taxpayers so far is over $1 trillion, according to the Financial Times, and the final cost will be much higher. The only American victory in this war will be that of the US armaments industry.

To continue reading: Will the Middle East Crisis Worsen in the New Year?