Archive for category Foreign Policy

ISIS Advances Continue Despite Air Strikes

Turkish tanks
M-60A3 tanks of Turkish Armed Forces standing by at the Turkey-Syria border, as ISIS and Kurdish armed groups fight for control of nearby Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) on October 6, 2014. (Photo by Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The current situation in the war against ISIS, via CNN:

The United States and its allies have made at least 271 airstrikes in Iraq and 116 in Syria.

The cost? More than $62 million for just the munitions alone.

The effect? Negligible, some say, particularly in Iraq.

One by one, the cities have fallen to ISIS like dominoes: Hit, Albu Aytha, Kubaisya, Saqlawia and Sejal.

And standing on the western outskirts of Baghdad, ISIS is now within sight.

The Long War Journal reports that ISIS captured a battalion of tanks (that’s up to 54 tanks) at Hit after they were abandoned by fleeing Iraqi soldiers.

The U.S. is now flying risky missions around Fallujah using AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. This means the “air war” now openly includes ground combat, because American military doctrine (PDF) classifies an attack helicopter force as a maneuver element, the same as infantry or armor.

Meanwhile in Syria, ISIS is about to occupy the town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) on the Turkish border. Turkey has refused to aid the Kurdish defenders, despite U.S. requests. Air strikes in the vicinity of Kobani have failed to stop the three-week assault on the town.

UPDATES:
Why Everyone Is Sitting Back And Letting ISIS Conquer A Key Syrian Town
Turkey’s Refusal To Help Besieged Kurds Fight ISIS Is Backfiring
As They Battle ISIS For Kurdish Town, U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Question Support
This Is How Close The Fight Against ISIS Is To Turkey’s Border
Islamic State Advances Deeper Into Kobani
ISIS Battles Iraqi Forces Near Baghdad

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The Unknown Knowns Redux

ISIS

Former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld famously ruminated on the difference between “known knowns,” “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” in the intel business. It seems to me that our intelligence services (all 17 of them) have the most difficulty with sorting out the unknown knowns (i.e. things widely reported, whose significance is apparently unknown to the government). The news media told us about the the capture of Fallujah by ISIS 9 months ago. (At that time, ISIS was best known as the employer of fictional spy Sterling Archer). Ought to have been a wake-up call, don’t you think?

President Obama, unlike the last one, is at least able to acknowledge and take responsibility for a mistake:

America failed to recognize the threat posed by Islamic State terrorists and mistakenly relied on the hapless Iraqi army to combat them, President Obama admitted in an interview broadcast Sunday night.

In an about-face from earlier remarks that likened ISIS to a terrorist “JV team,” Obama told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he agreed with National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s recent assessment that “we underestimated the Islamic State.”

“Jim Clapper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated . . . what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said.

The president also called it “absolutely true” that the United States put too much faith in the Iraqi army, whose soldiers turned tail rather than wage war against ISIS fighters invading from Syria.

Obama’s comments marked his bluntest acknowledgment that the United States bungled the initial response to ISIS, which American-led planes began bombing inside Syria this month.

More info: ISIS Fast Facts

UPDATE: Tom Engelhardt: The Massive Failure of American Intelligence

[F]rom the Egyptian spring and the Syrian disaster to the crisis in Ukraine, American intelligence has, as far as we can tell, regularly been one step late and one assessment short, when not simply blindsided by events. As a result, the Obama administration often seems in a state of eternal surprise at developments across the globe.

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Destroy ISIS – That’s The Objective?

ISIS

President Obama is now the fourth President in a row who’s leading us into war in Iraq. Additionally, he again wants to attack Syria (but Washington seems to have switched sides in the Syrian civil war since a year ago). Considering the outcomes of previous American military adventures in the Middle East, is this really a good idea? The plan, such as it is, will consist of using mostly air power and special operations forces in cooperation with allied ground forces. The stated objective is to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” ISIS. However, we’ve failed to “destroy” any of the Islamic insurgent forces we’ve fought against over the past 13 years – they are all still thriving, including ISIS (which started out as al-Qaeda in Iraq).

Rajiv Chandrasekaran in the WaPo:

“Harder than anything we’ve tried to do thus far in Iraq or Afghanistan” is how one U.S. general involved in war planning described the challenges ahead… “This is the most complex problem we’ve faced since 9/11. We don’t have a precedent for this.”

Adding to the level of difficulty is the fact that the USA will be fighting on the same side as Bashir al-Assad, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Iran. And the nascent Iraqi government of of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is an uncertain ally at best. Probably half the Iraqi Army has been rendered combat-ineffective as a result of ISIS advances.

More info:
5 Questions About The War Against ISIS That No One Should Be Embarrassed To Ask

UPDATE:
John Kerry Says U.S. Is ‘At War’ With ISIS. Last week he claimed just the opposite.

58 Comments

Tom Engelhardt: ISIS Can Thank Washington

ISIS

At this point, I think everyone has finally realized that following the al-Qaeda game plan post-9/11 didn’t turn out well. The aim of strategy is to force the enemy to conform to your will. Al-Qaeda had a strategy, and we really didn’t. The Bush administration sent our military to chase after who-knows-who in some 60 countries. When President Obama says, “we don’t have a strategy yet” to avoid spending more trillions and more American lives to give ISIS exactly what they want, he is stating a fact.

Tom Engelhardt (emphasis added):

Though the militants of ISIS would undoubtedly be horrified to think so, they are the spawn of Washington. Thirteen years of regional war, occupation, and intervention played a major role in clearing the ground for them. They may be our worst nightmare (thus far), but they are also our legacy — and not just because so many of their leaders came from the Iraqi army we disbanded, had their beliefs and skills honed in the prisons we set up (Camp Bucca seems to have been the West Point of Iraqi extremism), and gained experience facing U.S. counterterror operations in the “surge” years of the occupation. In fact, just about everything done in the war on terror has facilitated their rise. After all, we dismantled the Iraqi army and rebuilt one that would flee at the first signs of ISIS’s fighters, abandoning vast stores of Washington’s weaponry to them. We essentially destroyed the Iraqi state, while fostering a Shia leader who would oppress enough Sunnis in enough ways to create a situation in which ISIS would be welcomed or tolerated throughout significant areas of the country.

“Blowback” can’t even begin to describe a strategic failure of this magnitude. It would be nice to think that the Obama administration has the intelligence and fortitude to design a new strategy that goes beyond “don’t do stupid shit.” I don’t think that. Nobody in Washington is prepared to call the Global War on Terror an utter failure, or admit that ISIS could not have triumphed without our help. It’s reasonable to predict the USA will keep doing the same thing (if only for lack of a better idea), hoping for different results.

UPDATE:
ISIS Is Beheading Journalists to Lure America Into Another Ground War. Remember the Iraq War’s Lessons

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Iraq War III

ISIS flag

Here we go again. Iraq War updates via HuffPo.

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‘Mowing the Grass’ in Gaza

Mowing the grass

Several announcements by Israel’s Ministry of Defense spokespersons during the first stage of their latest attack on Gaza stated that they were “mowing the grass.” This is their term for the periodic ritual slaughter of the Palestinians, which is politically popular in Israel and America but nowhere else.

“Mowing the grass” isn’t a winning strategy. It’s what you do to maintain the status quo, which is permanent war. It’s the Israeli government’s admission that they don’t want peace, because that would entail unacceptable compromises – for example, lifting the blockade of Gaza. It’s also a clue to the mindset of Israeli decision makers, who seem to regard Palestinian civilians as nothing more than blades of grass to be cut down.

The notion that repeated attacks on Gaza are nothing more than “mowing the grass” raises serious moral and strategic questions. Cutting down civilians, like the children playing on that Gaza beach, is not like cutting blades of grass. To compare the two is dehumanizing. And to embrace a policy that entails the killing of hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians with each application violates the conscience, if not the basic rule of law. Use of force should always be a last resort, not a premeditated policy of first choice.

Efaim Inbar and Eitan Shamir of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) are the leading spokespersons for “mowing the grass.” They wrote in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post:

Western thinking is solution-oriented.

This explains part of the lack of understanding in the West for what Israel is doing.

Against an implacable, well-entrenched, non-state enemy like the Hamas, Israel simply needs to “mow the grass” once in a while to degrade the enemy’s capabilities.

As anybody with a lawn can tell you, when you mow the grass the roots grow stronger. Hence the long-term stupidity of the Israeli plan. The use of force against civilians won’t ever bring them peace, but they keep on anyway because they have no imagination. Israel is perpetrating enormous war crimes, deliberately as a tactic of collective punishment of Palestinians. Why do we keep supplying weapons and ammo to Israel with our tax dollars?

More info:
Israel mows the lawn
‘Mowing The Grass’ In Gaza: A War In The Mideast Every Four Years?
Israeli code word for genocide: “Mowing the lawn”

UPDATES:
Israel Hits Gaza With Heaviest Bombardment In 3 Weeks
Heartbreak: Reporting on Gaza’s child victims
Gaza: This Is No Life
Why Don’t Palestinians Just Leave Gaza? They Can’t.
Gaza Death Toll Soars As Israel Presses Offensive
Strike On Gaza Market Kills At Least 15
Israel Kills 15 During Assault On UN School As Military Intensifies Attack On Refugee Camp
UN rights chief slams Israel’s ‘defiance’ of international law
FDL: Haunting the Conscience of the World

This is a turning point, Israel has crossed all the red lines and the world will hold them accountable for it. This long night for the people of Gaza will end, the light of justice will finally shine on them, and there will be no more darkness.

Gaza death toll surpasses that of Cast Lead as count hits 1,437

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Iraq Update – Depends On Who You Believe

ISIS truck column

The Iraqi Army is either locked in a stalemate in the battle for Tikrit and surrounding areas about 100 miles northwest of Baghdad, or (according to a claim by ISIS) has completely lost the city and Camp Speicher, a nearby military post and helicopter base.

Here’s the story according to The Long War Journal:

The Iraqi military made its first effort to retake Tikrit in late June, when it airlifted commandos into Tikrit University in an effort to gain a toehold north of the city. An advance on the city from the south was defeated. Then, on July 16, the Iraqi military launched Operation Decisive Sword. A large column of military and militia units entered southern Tikrit and thought they liberated the city, but as they celebrated they were ambushed with suicide bombers, IEDs, and conventional attacks. The Iraqi forces then withdrew from the city.

After the Iraqi military withdrew from southern Tikrit on July 16, the Islamic State immediately began its assault on Camp Speicher, as the base was the last remaining holdout of Iraqi forces near the city (Iraqi forces were withdrawn from Tikrit University sometime before the second offensive was launched).

The loss of Camp Speicher, and perhaps more importantly, the loss of the helicopters and its pilots if the Islamic State’s claims are true, is a serious blow to both the morale and the operational capabilities of the Iraqi military. The Iraqi military, which has failed to retake major cities and towns from the Islamic State and its allies, now may find it more difficult to support and defend the Bayji oil refinery just to the north, which has been largely resupplied by helicopters.

The Daily Beast cast doubt on the ISIS claim of victory in Tikrit:

On Friday, multiple news reports claimed that ISIS had won a major victory, seizing control of a vital army base outside of Tikrit and killing or capturing the hundreds of soldiers stationed there. If true, ISIS’s capture of Camp Speicher would signal a crucial turning point in the battle for the city and a humiliating setback for the Iraqi Army.

But the reports are false according to multiple Iraqi sources, who say Speicher was attacked on Friday but that ISIS never entered the base. According to an Iraqi Army soldier, who said he is currently stationed at the base: “Ten suicide bombers tried to blow themselves up at the gate so 15 more ISIS fighters in support could enter the base but we killed all of them. Only one Iraqi soldier was killed.”

Even if neither side is in control of Tikrit, the Iraqi government remains in deep serious trouble. A week ago The Long War Journal estimated that half of Iraq’s 15 army divisions have become ineffective or have completely disappeared.

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These Children Are Refugees

No deportations
Damian Dovarganes/AP

Several days of cable TV news watching haven’t answered the question that’s on my mind. Why are we even debating this? Desperate children, many of them unaccompanied, have been forced to flee Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and other countries. We’re expecting 74,000 to show up at our southern border this year.

On June 2, President Obama described it as an “urgent humanitarian situation,” asking Congress for an additional $1.4 billion to deal with the influx and creating a multiagency taskforce, led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to coordinate the federal response.

These children are refugees from violence and poverty. However, it’s been noted that essentially none of them come from Nicaragua, the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. Therefore poverty is a secondary factor. They’re fleeing for their lives.

Yet some politicians want to have a debate about how fast we can send these kids back to their countries of origin to die. Tea-GOPers even want to deny them the right to a court hearing. At the same time, the U.S. is telling Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to take in millions of refugees from the Syrian civil war.

Right-wingers and racists take note: No, these children don’t have Ebola. That’s a disease endemic in Africa– Ebola has never been reported in Latin America. What about other diseases? The migrants are better vaccinated than U.S. kids. The migrants are not hardened criminals, they are victims. They won’t destroy our economy – the Tea-GOP and Wall Street already did that. No, President Obama didn’t invite children to cross our border illegally – the law that guarantees due process for unaccompanied migrant children was signed by President Bush in 2008. It was uncontroversial at the time it was passed. The National Guard won’t stop the kids from coming, but maybe they could provide humanitarian assistance. Your term of opprobrium against undocumented immigrants isn’t spelled “ILEAGELS.” Also, the policy you oppose is not “AMENSTY,” or “AMNETY.”

More info:
Protesters turn back busloads of immigrants in Murrieta
GOP Candidate Mistakes YMCA Kids For Migrants, Describes ‘Fear In Their Faces’
Sarah Palin Wants President Obama Impeached For Following A Law Passed By Republicans

UPDATES:
This Bill Is Dubbed The HUMANE Act, But It Actually Hurts The Migrant Kids It Claims To Protect
Not the first time members of Congress have used Orwellian language to name legislation the opposite of what it is.

How Conservative Media Killed A Charity’s Plan To Help Migrant Children In Crisis

Politico Columnist Claims Obama “Ignored” Immigration Issues He Already Tried To Address

Politico’s Roger Simon distorted President Obama’s record to claim that his request for emergency funding to deal with the recent flood of unaccompanied minors crossing the border was tantamount to waking “from a deep slumber … to fight a problem he has ignored for years.” In reality, Obama has supported legislation in the past that addressed many of the underlying issues but the legislation has been blocked by the GOP.

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ISIS Declares Caliphate In Syria And Iraq

ISIS caliphate
ISIS declares caliphate – those little derrick symbols represent oil fields.

Osama bin Laden’s vision of a Muslim caliphate in the Middle East is now a reality, thanks in large part to the USA. On Sunday morning, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) pronounced the reformation of the caliphate—the historical Islamic state that once stretched over much of the modern-day Muslim world—with ISIS emir Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as the man in charge.

DSWright on FDL:

Al Qaeda’s strategy of trying to force a US overreaction with the 9/11 attack has proved considerably successful in destabilizing the regional regimes that opposed establishing a caliphate and promulgating fundamentalist Islamic law. …12 million people are estimated to live under the control of ISIS already and if the now declared caliphate continues its expansion it could be considerably more.

…Apparently using the US military to topple secular leaders did little to thwart the rise of Islamic extremism. In fact, it seems to have had the opposite effect.

Add to the “no one could have anticipated…” file. Which is getting pretty thick by now.

More info:
ISIS Declares Themselves an Islamic State
The Beginning of a Caliphate: The Spread of ISIS, in Five Maps

UPDATES:
According to Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal, the proclamation of a caliphate was “a controversial move that is sure to send shockwaves throughout the jihadist world.”

59 Comments

The War Power, The Sergeant, the Senator: Treason or Heroism

The Sergeant who some years ago left his post in that unnecessary and unwinnable war in
Afghanistan is either a hero, a traitor, or just a terribly young man in the wrong war at the wrong time. He spent terrible years of torture and probably said things he didn’t really mean.

Some years ago in Vietnam, Senator McCain was shot down over Vietnam, another unconstitutional war, and equally unwinnable war, confessed repeatedly to things he later recanted, once safely in the United States, and is, quite rightly regarded, despite his confessions to American war crimes, a hero. The two cases are not quite completely on all fours, as we say in the law. But the similarity is sufficient to compare with each other and with the undergirding of law.

Presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama, who are visited by war, either their own or, like Obama, inherited from another (in Obama’s case two other) fools who preceded them, have always had this power. While not yet president, and without this act may well not have become president, Ronald Reagan communicated with Iran, telling them, in effect, just to refuse to deal with Carter on releasing our citizens from the U. S. Embassy in Iran, and await his presidency. Their deal (which killed Jimmie Carter’s hope for a second term and by the way was treason, meriting a firing squad.)

The 30, 60, 90 day notification of Congress is also unconstitutional, but not for the reasons the Republicans and Democrats alike, trumpet. Saint Paul, as I recall, said “this trumpet has an uncertain sound.” And I know he said that some leaders have “zeal without knowledge.” This is Republican and Democratic leaders on steroids, just like my former wife.

The reason the War Powers Act is unconstitutional is not what is now said by either Republicans or Democrats, as I told Joe Biden when he was both Minority Senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate and when he was chair. I testified before his committee a few times, and he called me at the law school sometimes to chat about this. The reason is simple. Due to both a few but very senior Democrats and almost all Republicans, Congress forced the Demo’s to give the president 30, 60, or 90 days to play with Congress’ army while he picked his nose. War has not been officially declared since FDR did it in WW2. George Bush (the first) and Colin Powell, in my opinion, got it right, constitutionally, by voting 50-50 in the Senate, and then the Dark Lord, Vice President Cheney, broke the tie and we went to war in Iraq the right way by law; and they had the smarts to stop when their limited mission was accomplished. And until this time, the President, as Commander in Chief, has no constitutional power to use the United States armed forces, save self-defense.

In the Framers’ mind that means only when the United States of America, not our allies, are attacked. For Utahns, the reason J. Reuben Clark, my hero and a great patriot, a rock-ribbed Republican who served under many Republican presidents, served variously as chief legal adviser to the Department of State (then, as an deputy Attorney General on loan from Justice to State,,,,,,now called Legal Adviser to the State Department; and Vice Secretary of State, and Ambassador to Mexico; and advised many presidents between world wars one and two, on all arms control treaties between those to dreadful wars) opposed NATO was because it delegated the war power to a generation not yet born and for the defense of people, and nations, not yet born. Neither the United Nations (Korean War) nor NATO (Ukraine?) can declare war for the United States of America. This is the statement of law, the War Clause, that makes this beyond debate. Remember, that it is also the sole right of Congress: not the President of the United States, nor NATO, nor the United Nations, that decides what constitutes International law, as well. So, both Constitutional Law and International Law, save an attack on the United States, inform us that Congress, not the president or these international bodies, who determines for war or peace.

So screw the people and the Congress and president now living. When the president, any president, has this army to use, that army will never return to Congress’ care. This is unconstitutional because it is an illegal attempt to delegate to the President a plenary power, given exclusively, textually, to the Congress. Like the power over interstate commerce (the road by which most civil rights legislation is constitutional), along with the equal protection and due process of law clauses of the 5th and 14th amendments. It’s as if Congress were to say to Obama, “Say, friend, we’re so damned tired of life in Washington, despite the cherry blossoms, we will do what the Supreme Court does, and reconvene when good weather returns. We’re going to go to Balboa Island, California, where it’s nice and sunny, in ocean or on the beach, and pick our nose and scratch our butts. And better yet, we have one in eight chances not to pick both with the same finger. Even though we’ve proven, time out of mind, that we in Congress cannot chew gum and pick our nose, simultaneously (a great blessing). So, pres., you now have the taxing and the spending power, and we’ll sweeten the loaf by throwing into the pot, since you do have to stick around in this shitty weather, and give you the power also to fund and provide for the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Navy. And don’t sweat it about financing things by the provision in the Constitution that spending bills begin in the House. Since you already have the taxing and spending power, do all this in the White House. P.S. please instruct the Treasury Department to deliver our checks, our salaries, and all the REALLY big bucks from the armaments industry and all those other lobbyists. We really have earned this right by selling our souls to the devil. Have a good life.

I say that both Senator and Soldier are bona fide heroes. Ed Firmage xoxox

3 Comments

Benghazi: Does The GOP Protest Too Much?

Benghazi Chaffetz

Juan Cole has an excellent piece on Alternet about the Republican Benghazi obsession that again provides the answers the right-wing partisans have demanded over and over through four investigations. And Cole has a few questions of his own (emphasis added).

What the House should really investigate is who really funded and encouraged the production of that get-up ‘film’ attacking Islam, “The Innocence of Muslims.” It was redubbed after being shot, such that the cast had no idea they were in a bigoted attack film. The makers of the film, including a far right wing American militia figure, sent it determinedly to Egyptian hard line Salafi Muslims until part of it was finally shown on a Salafi television channel. They were clearly trying as hard as they could to provoke attacks on US facilities. Isn’t this a sort of terrorism in itself? Was it a Republican Party black money group hoping to provoke a diplomatic hostage crisis that would damage President Obama’s chances of reelection? Why did GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney keep comparing President Obama to former president Jimmy Carter in spring of 2012? Carter had been bedeviled by the Iran/ US embassy hostage crisis. Had Romney’s speech writers heard from the US Islamophobic network that there was likely to be embassy trouble that summer and that it might make Obama look weak? Why are GOP leaders so determined to deny that the film helped provoke the Benghazi attack? Are they afraid that sooner or later a link between GOP funders and the film will emerge, and they want to hold themselves harmless? Why do Muslim-hating political campaigns break out regularly every two years in the US, pushed by Republican candidates? Will there be another one in summer-fall of 2014?

Let’s hope the House Democrats have enough backbone to refuse to participate in yet another GOP partisan Benghazi investigation. And wouldn’t it be good if some non-partisan commission could find out if the anti-Muslim video, the embassy protests, and the attack on the Benghazi consulate resulted from right-wing political operators trying to embarrass the Obama administration?

17 Comments

Ed Schultz: ‘I Was Wrong’ On Keystone XL Pipeline

MSNBC’s Ed Schultz reversed his support for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Wednesday and said the United States shouldn’t allow it to be built. Last month he called the pipeline “a step in the right direction when it comes to energy independence.”

Of course, Keystone XL won’t be a pipeline TO the USA. It’s a pipeline THROUGH the USA to overseas export. It’s likely to cause a gasoline price hike in this country. What do we get from this pipeline? More groundwater pollution, and more climate change.

President Obama could stop this pipeline all by himself. The right-wing is clearly worried, and the Faux News crowd is even claiming that Keystone XL approval would be the answer to the crisis in the Ukraine!

h/t to HuffPo

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