Nothing sums up the warped foreign policy fantasy world in which Republicans live more than when House Speaker John Boehner recently called Obama an “anti-war president” under which America “is sitting on the sidelines” in the increasingly chaotic Middle East.
If Obama is an anti-war president, he’s the worst anti-war president in history. In the last six years, the Obama administration has bombed seven countries in the Middle East alone and armed countless more with tens of billions in dollars in weapons. But that’s apparently not enough for Republicans. As the Isis war continues to expand and Yemen descends into civil war, everyone is still demanding more: If only we bombed the region a little bit harder, then they’ll submit.
In between publishing a new rash of overt sociopathic “Bomb Iran” op-eds, Republicans and neocons are circulating a new talking point: Obama doesn’t have a “coherent” or “unifying” strategy in the Middle East. But you can’t have a one-size-fits-all strategy in an entire region that is almost incomprehensibly complex – which is why no one, including the Republicans criticizing Obama, actually has an answer for what that strategy should be. It’s clear that this new talking point is little more than thinly veiled code for we’re not killing enough Muslims or invading enough countries.
Nobody will say that they want US troops on the ground to fight Isis, of course, since public support for such action is crumbling…
Those clamoring for more war are detached from reality: the US is already escalating – not pulling back – its involvement across the Middle East. In Afghanistan, the president has quietly delayed pulling US troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year so they can continue special forces raids and drone strikes, despite loudly celebrating the supposed “end” of combat operations during the State of the Union in January. In Iraq, US forces escalated its airstrikes in the so-called battle to re-take Tikrit, which the New York Times editorial board decried as a folly, but received scant scrutiny elsewhere. The Pentagon also confirmed last week that they expect the Isis war to last “3+ years.”
And if you think the United States is sitting on the sidelines in Yemen just because it’s not US planes physically launching the missiles (yet), you should have your head examined. The US has given Saudi Arabia an astronomical $90bn in military equipment and weapons over the past four years and, as the Washington Post reported, it will play a “huge” role in any fighting. US drones are also still patrolling Yemeni skies and even helping Saudi Arabia “decide what and where to bomb”…
This is America’s modus operandi in the Middle East: give its friends a ton of weapons and watch the weapons fall into enemy hands one way or another. In Afghanistan, the US gave the Afghanistan government nearly 500,000 weapons that are now unaccounted for (and that was a couple years ago). In Libya, shipments of arms reportedly sent by the CIA to Libyan rebels in 2011 via the Qataris ended up, in many cases, in the hands of Islamic militants… Neither stopped the Obama administration from arming rebels in Syria, where many of the weapons promptly fell into enemy hands as well…
Photographer Gregg Carlstrom succinctly summed it up last week as Saudi Arabia started to drop bombs on Yemen: “US praises US ally for bombing US-equipped militia aligned with US foe who is partnering with US to fight another US-equipped militia.”
Expecting the United States to sort out and withdraw from one or another of the factions in a centuries-old religious war is not something I’m holding my breath over. After all, that would be like expecting a White House spokesman to answer questions about Iran and nuclear research by acknowledged the only power with nuclear weapons in the region is Israel. They’ve had them for decades. It is the threat they brandish over all nations in the region. Those weapons are illegal according to all the accords we have initiated and signed. We do absolutely nothing about it.
We took over the role of imperial bully right after World War 2. The Brits were economically and ideologically over with maintaining a global empire. They had to recover from being the front line of a terrible war for most of a decade. Uncle Sugar’s condition was exceptional – mostly by virtue of oceans on either side. Use to be a helluva defense.
And Barack Obama is as likely to use military force anywhere in the world as any Republican or Democrat president since the end of that war 70 years ago.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was not speaking metaphorically when he said that France is at war with radical Islam. There is, indeed, a full-fledged war underway, and the heinous terrorist attacks in Paris were part of it. Yet, like most wars, this one is about more than religion, fanaticism, and ideology. It is also about geopolitics, and its ultimate solution lies in geopolitics as well.
Crimes like those in Paris, New York, London, and Madrid – attacks on countless cafes, malls, buses, trains, and nightclubs – affront our most basic human values, because they involve the deliberate murder of innocents and seek to spread fear throughout society. We are wont to declare them the work of lunatics and sociopaths, and we feel repulsed by the very idea that they may have an explanation beyond the insanity of their perpetrators.
Yet, in most cases, terrorism is not rooted in insanity. It is more often an act of war, albeit war by the weak rather than by organized states and their armies. Islamist terrorism is a reflection, indeed an extension, of today’s wars in the Middle East. And with the meddling of outside powers, those wars are becoming a single regional war – one that is continually morphing, expanding, and becoming increasingly violent.
From the jihadist perspective – the one that American or French Muslims, for example, may pick up in training camps in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen – daily life is ultra-violent. Death is pervasive, coming as often as not from the bombs, drones, and troops of the United States, France, and other Western powers. And the victims are often the innocent “collateral damage” of Western strikes that hit homes, weddings, funerals, and community meetings.
We in the West hate to acknowledge – and most refuse to believe – that our leaders have been flagrantly wasteful of Muslim lives for a century now, in countless wars and military encounters instigated by overwhelming Western power. What is the message to Muslims of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003? More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians – a very conservative estimate – died in a war that was based on utterly false pretenses. The US has never apologized, much less even recognized the civilian slaughter.
RTFA – for there is beaucoup sense and understanding of history. Regular readers of my personal blog often are aware of this level of content on the Web. Many aren’t. Many are wandering by for the very first time.
Understand that Project Syndicate is a review of science and society, economics and events, how they are interrelated, and attempts to direct a positive end. It is part and parcel of a number of men and women who very often are published in the Economist, a conservative journal [at least in my mind] published in the UK, global in scope.
In the time when American conservatism was concerned with science instead of the King James Bible, when American liberalism was dedicated to standing up for folks who work for a living, both of these magazines and what they offer would be considered a valuable resource. Nowadays, in a nation consumed with hatred and fear, led by fools and cowards, governed by creatures designed equally by Madison Avenue and Wall Street – those standards have evaporated.
The Web – more than anywhere else – still offers an opportunity for sane discussion, progressive change. The alternative pressed by useless two-party politics, I’m afraid, remains a cul-de-sac crammed full of rhetoric and little else.
Again, please read the article. Jeff Sachs is worth discovering for many of you. He’s walked away from a couple of rewarding potential careers to dedicate his intellect and understanding to the betterment of life for our unremarkable species. He’s turned out to be damned good at it. Worth listening to.
Here’s his conclusion:
It is time for the West to allow the Arab world to govern itself and to choose its path without Western military interference. And there are heartening reasons to believe that a self-governing Arab Middle East would wisely choose to become a peaceful global crossroads and a partner in science, culture, and development.
The Arab world has played that beneficent role in the past, and it can do so again. The region is filled with talented people, and the overwhelming majority in the region want to get on with their lives in peace, educate and raise their children in health and safety, and participate in global society. Their objectives – prosperity and human security – are our own.
The biggest economic news of the year came almost without notice: China has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy, according to the scorekeepers at the International Monetary Fund. And, while China’s geopolitical status is rising rapidly, alongside its economic might, the US continues to squander its global leadership, owing to the unchecked greed of its political and economic elites and the self-made trap of perpetual war in the Middle East…
With rising economic power has come growing geopolitical clout. Chinese leaders are feted around the world. Many European countries are looking to China as the key to stronger domestic growth. African leaders view China as their countries’ new indispensable growth partner, particularly in infrastructure and business development.
Similarly, economic strategists and business leaders in Latin America now look to China at least as much as they look to the US. China and Japan seem to be taking steps toward better relations, after a period of high tensions. Even Russia has recently “tilted” toward China, establishing stronger connections on many fronts, including energy and transport.
Like the US after World War II, China is putting real money on the table – a lot of it – to build strong economic and infrastructure links with countries around the world. This will enable other countries to boost their own growth, while cementing China’s global economic and geopolitical leadership.
Like the US after WW2, China has suffered no injury to productive capacity, as well.
By Brian McFadden
Same as it ever was…
The United Nations says more than 1,000 people were killed in Iraq in May, the highest monthly death toll for years.
The violence makes it the deadliest month since the wide sectarian violence of 2006-7, and raising concern that the country is returning to civil war.
The vast majority of the casualties were civilians, and Baghdad was the worst hit area of the country…
Figures released on Saturday showed 1,045 civilians and security personnel were killed in May, far higher than the 712 who died in April, the worst recorded toll since June 2008…
Analysts say al-Qaeda and Sunni Islamist insurgents have been invigorated by the Sunni-led revolt in neighbouring Syria and by the worsening sectarian tensions in the country…
On some days, Shia areas across Baghdad appear to have been the main target, while on others, the Sunni areas outside the capital saw most explosions.
One explanation is that Sunni militant groups linked to al-Qaeda want to provoke civil war in Baghdad and undermine the government in areas they see as their strongholds, our correspondent says.
But other explanations link the violence to the civil war in neighbouring Syria, he adds.
The bloodshed has been accompanied by unconfirmed rumours about sectarian militias roaming Baghdad for revenge, which have caused fear in many areas of the capital.
It’s not only inside Iraq that folks lay the responsibility for continued violence on Bush’s War. As violent and corrupt as was Saddam Hussein, the invasion demonstrated sovereignty means nothing in a world facing United States military power.
The people of Iran will never forget the democratic government overthrown by the United States. Good, bad or indifferent, Iraqis will never forget the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed and maimed in the name of liberation by the United States. Afghanistan, Pakistan, even Saudi Arabia watch the way we ignore accepted global law – and take whatever we want, however we wish. No one forgets.
Think this only showed on US television?
American influence on the world stage is being sapped by widespread distrust of US intentions, not just in the Middle East and south Asia but also among traditional European allies, according to a survey of global opinions.
Suspicion of America outweighed faith in its good intentions by large margins in the Arab world and Pakistan, and even its heavyweight European ally Germany was more sceptical than trusting, a YouGov survey found. British and French opinion was more positive but still deeply divided.
Negative Arab and Pakistani perceptions of America as overweening and untrustworthy clearly pose a daunting foreign policy challenge for the Obama administration. The fact that 78% of Pakistanis questioned by YouGov said they did not trust America to act responsibly underlines Washington’s serious lack of soft power in the region as it attempts to extricate itself from Afghanistan.
Attitudes towards the US in the Arab world were nearly as negative. Those respondents in the Middle East and north Africa who said they trusted America were outnumbered by more than two to one by those who said they did not, and 39% said they did not trust America at all.
Perhaps just as worrying for Washington is the lukewarm support among western European allies. More Germans questioned in the YouGov survey voiced misgivings than trust in the US. Perhaps surprisingly, in view of past wariness, French opinion was somewhat warmer: just over half of the French poll respondents trusted America, against 40% who did not.
The so-called special relationship between the US and Britain emerged from the survey as distinctly lopsided. There was widespread American affection for its close ally, but the sentiment was only partly requited, reflecting deep British ambivalence about America’s powerful role in world affairs…
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission
But why have I kept silent till now?
Because I thought my own origins,
Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,
meant I could not expect Israel, a land
to which I am, and always will be, attached,
to accept this open declaration of the truth.
Why only now, grown old,
and with what ink remains, do I say:
Israel’s atomic power endangers
an already fragile world peace?
Because what must be said
may be too late tomorrow;
and because – burdened enough as Germans –
we may be providing material for a crime
that is foreseeable, so that our complicity
wil not be expunged by any
of the usual excuses.
And granted: I’ve broken my silence
because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;
and I hope too that many may be freed
from their silence, may demand
that those responsible for the open danger we face renounce the use of force,
may insist that the governments of
both Iran and Israel allow an international authority
free and open inspection of
the nuclear potential and capability of both.
Günter Grass’s poem provokes outrage – among all the same people who always defend Israel’s policies. I don’t think his position requires any sort of radical politics in the United States. A simple rejection of imperial expansion, racist and bigoted policies both internal and external to the nation of Israel, a further rejection of nuclear blackmail by the rightwing governments that have infected the politics of that nation since the assassination of their last hope for peace – is adequate.
Most of the world will not find this poem offensive. Most of the world shouldn’t be called anti-semites by the most bigoted defenders of Israel’s policies and politics. We’re clear in our own minds of the differentiation between human beings whose ethnic background is as Jews – no matter what nation calls them citizen – and the domestic and foreign policies of the nation of Israel.
The heart of American foreign policy
The historian Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote a brutally clear-eyed piece in The National Review, looking back at America’s different approaches to Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan and how, sadly, none of them could be said to have worked yet.
“Let us review the various American policy options for the Middle East over the last few decades,” Hanson wrote. “Military assistance or punitive intervention without follow-up mostly failed. The verdict on far more costly nation-building is still out. Trying to help popular insurgents topple unpopular dictators does not guarantee anything better. Propping up dictators with military aid is both odious and counterproductive. Keeping clear of maniacal regimes leads to either nuclear acquisition or genocide — or 16 acres of rubble in Manhattan. What have we learned? Tribalism, oil, and Islamic fundamentalism are a bad mix that leaves Americans sick and tired of the Middle East — both when they get in it and when they try to stay out of it.”
And that is why it’s time to rethink everything we’re doing out there. What the Middle East needs most from America today are modern schools and hard truths, and we haven’t found a way to offer either. Because Hanson is right: What ails the Middle East today truly is a toxic mix of tribalism, Shiite-Sunni sectarianism, fundamentalism and oil — oil that constantly tempts us to intervene or to prop up dictators.
And Israel’s quest for lebensraum.
This cocktail erodes all the requirements of a forward-looking society — which are institutions that deliver decent government, consensual politics that provide for rotations in power, women’s rights and an ethic of pluralism that protects minorities and allows for modern education. The United Nations Arab Human Development Report published in 2002 by some brave Arab social scientists also said something similar: What ails the Arab world is a deficit of freedom, a deficit of modern education and a deficit of women’s empowerment.
So helping to overcome those deficits should be what U.S. policy is about, yet we seem unable to sustain that…
Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.
Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.
…There is no dispute among American, Israeli and European intelligence officials that Iran has been enriching nuclear fuel and developing some necessary infrastructure to become a nuclear power. But the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies believe that Iran has yet to decide whether to resume a parallel program to design a nuclear warhead — a program they believe was essentially halted in 2003 and which would be necessary for Iran to build a nuclear bomb. Iranian officials maintain that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes…
Not that fact has the slightest effect on the ideology of American chickenhawks.