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Posts Tagged ‘Military’

We are arming al Qaeda-aligned rebels in Syria.  We are doing this because Bashar al Assad is supposedly a bad guy and now we are told there is a cassus belli in that he may have used chemical weapons.

Was it OK, by contrast, when the rebels massacred a Shia village earlier this week or shot government soldiers in cold blood and posted it on youtube?  Under what principle is it worse for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons than it is for the rebels fighting that government to engage in numerous, intentional, very brutal violations of the law of war?

One or another side’s tactics does not logically tell us that we ought to choose a side and go to war.  It matters a great deal what each of the sides are fighting for.  And it is even more important to assess whether assisting one or the other side is in our interest.  There is always the option of neutrality.  It should be adopted in the vast majority of cases.

Assad is no great guy.  He, like most Middle Eastern dictators, has little regard for the rule of law, has enriched himself at the expense of the public, has used disproportionate violence against his opponents, supported our enemies in Iraq, and has associated with Hezbollah, which is undeniably a terrorist group.  That said, he has led a moderately prosperous, orderly, and tolerant regime that is multireligious, protective of Christians, and otherwise stable and predictable. We’ve seen in recent years similar dictators deposed in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt with totally unpredictable results that are clearly worse than the status quo ante.  We can deal with dictators; we cannot manage anarachy.  Even if Assad deserves to be toppled–and I am doubtful of this–what business is it of ours to sign on with a rebel group that is even more hostile to our nation and its principles?

One may wonder why Russia has become so involved with this conflict, supplying sophisticated arms and a great deal of diplomatic support to Syria.  Two reasons seem clear.  Russia, like the US, has carried on some of its Cold War alliances out of habit, such as its friendly relations with Cuba and North Korea.   More important, Russia  is acting as the protector of Orthodox Christians throughout the world.  This is in line with Samuel Huntington’s thesis in Clash of Civilizations and explains at least a portion of Russia’s foreign policy. This was the chief reason for its support of Serbia during the Kosovo affair, for example.

Why this would be so in Syria is not readily apparent, as the Alawite minority ruling group is a subgroup of Shia Islam.  But there is a pretty obvious explanation.  The Alawaite Ba’athist regime in Syria, like Saddam’s Ba’athist regime in Iraq, grew out of a secular ideology and historically has found its greatest support in a hodgepodge of ethnic and religious minorities. These minorities are all scared of the numerical majority Sunnis and their increasing extremism.  In Syria, the Sunni extremists are part of the broader Salafist/Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam that finds its most militant expression in al Qaeda.

Thus, we have a war with secular and religious minorities (Christians, Shias, Alawites, Druze etc.) on one side, who favor law and order and the devil they know, and, on the other side, fanatical Sunni extremists aligned with increasingly irrelevant secular enemies of the regime. The rebel platform is essentially one of genocide and religious totalitarianism.  This is what we are supporting, and this is undeniably worse than what Assad has delivered throughout his time as leader, in spite of himself, because of the coalition nature of his minority support and the type of governance that flows naturally from such a coalition.

America and Reagan were criticized for “arming bin Laden” during the fight against the Soviet client state in Afghanistan.  This criticism always struck me as pretty stupid and facile.  It’s like saying we were incredibly wrongheaded in World War II to support the Soviet Union, whom we later opposed, in order to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  Things change.  Coalitions come and go. There was no easy way to predict what exactly would come of the anti-Soviet rebels back when there was no Taliban or al Qaeda and, more important, it was worth it at the time to contribute to the devolution of the Soviet regime, even when some risks were apparent.

Whether that criticism of US policy has any merit, it surely is absolutely ridiculous to arm al Qaeda-aligned rebels simultaneously when we’re fighting a war with such people. There is no need for a crystal ball, unlike the 1980s support of the Afghan mujaheddin.  The better analogy would be if the US had adopted a schizophrenic policy during World War II of  aligning with Nazi Germany, while we were fighting Imperial Japan, even as the two remained allies themselves.

Let’s not forget what the real Benghazi scandal is.  Libya spun out of control after the US and European powers in 2011 undertook a totally lawless campaign there, a campaign without UN Security Counsel or Congressional authorization.   The rebels killed Qadaffi in cold blood, when they were not killing black Africans allied with the government.  Soon Libya, like Syria today, became a magnet for the “jihad tourists,” who undoubtedly could not resist the American target. Learning nothing of the very recent past, we’re now going to arm al Qaeda rebels because the regime they are fighting against used one among many nasty weapons in what is invariably the most nasty of wars:  a civil war.

The law of war is important, as is respect for the rights of civilians and other noncombatants.  But violations of the law of war alone are not a reason to go to war.  This is doubly so when the so-called good guys are just as guilty of violating the law of war as those whom we now aim to oppose.  Most important, the people we are proposing to support with arms, in addition to fighting atrociously, are fighting for a goal that is fundamentally atrocious:  Islamist totalitarianism and mass murder of  the Assad regime’s supporters. 

For a guy who appeared to have some sensible, nonideological instincts to oppose a great deal of military intervention during the 2008 campaign, Obama has shown himself to be as deeply wedded to the Washington DC interventionist consensus as anyone before him.  Indeed, he has apparently doubled down in his recent elevation of the interventionist Samantha Power to the post of UN ambassador.

We find the answer to this apparent contradiction in Obama’s lifelong leftism.  Obama is not essentially a pacifist, but rather an anti-American leftist.  He most favors wars that have nothing to do with America’s interest. In the liberal imagination, such wars are far preferable to wars where strategic goods like oil or commerce may be affected, as these interventions are marked by purity of intention.  Thus, he proposed to fold up the tents and scale back the war on al Qaeda earlier this week, even as he propels our forces into messy civil wars in Libya, Egypt, and Syria.  Worse, Obama is willing not only to ignore America’s interest in these cases, but to work directly contrary to it by arming al Qaeda-aligned rebels in the name of “humanitarian war.”

This is more than misguided do-gooderism.  This is treachery that knows no bounds, as it is no ordinary betrayal of the common good, but rather a treachery that imagines itself as a cosmopolitan, universalist morality that transcends parochial and discriminatory notions of mere national interest.

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Some Marines in Afghanistan pissed on a dead Taliban.  And the Marines’ leadership is pissed off about it.  As they say, it’s better to be pissed off than pissed on.

These kinds of things are clearly not good, but they are also somewhat predictable.  Let’s not get carried away in our condemnations.  Americans, like our enemies, have done things like this before.  Eugene Sledge recalled with some horror how Americans pulled gold teeth from dead Japanese on Pelelieu.  American “ear necklaces” and trophy photos were not unheard of in Vietnam.  The pissing incident  is pretty mild and spontaneous in the historical scale of mutilating the dead.

The tone of the leadership is lacking all proportion. General Amos said the wrongdoers would be prosecuted to the “fullest extent.”  Defense Secretary Panetta described their actions as “deplorable.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she saw the video with “total dismay.” The corrupt Hamid Karzai uttered some words of condemnation.  And, as usual, we’re told this incident will inflame Muslim feelings.

Moral judgments must be intelligent, nuanced.  Even when there is an objective moral wrong–a violation of the law of war and a violation of Christian principles about respect for the dead–in every case there is also the question of culpability.  Here that question hinges on the mitigating effects of an extreme situation:  namely, a war against a brutal and uncivilized enemy that has no regard for the laws of war.

These Marines had likely just completed a fight for their lives.  They are young men whom we want to be aggressive and who spend the better part of boot camp being trained to kill enthusiastically.  It is quite a bit to expect these 19 year old, testosterone-fueled, scared, tired, stressed out, and angry young men also to behave exquisitely when they complete a firefight and discover, to their elation, that it is the enemy Taliban who are dead rather than themselves.

Plus, let’s not forget there are many worse war crimes, like mistreatment of civilians, looting, killing prisoners, mutiny, and other atrocities, atrocities with living victims.  To me this pissing incident is worrisome less for the harm of the underlying offense than its suggestion of a breakdown in discipline.  We do not want an undisciplined force for our own selfish reasons.   But even so, we recognize–or at least we should recognize–that military discipline is working against ordinary human instincts in wartime, such as aggression, thankfulness to be alive, hatred of the enemy, and contempt for this terrorist enemy in particular.  Our concerns for discipline must be realistic.

In other words, as in the civilian world, the law should take into account extreme emotional states and provocation in determining punishment and meting out justice. Obviously certain crimes go beyond mere misplaced aggression and suggest a psychopath; such individuals clearly must be identified and punished. This is not such a crime.  This is one of ordinary men committing ordinary human offenses under conditions of extraordinary stress and privation.  From our military and political leadership, some balance is called for.

The leadership outrage is not only excessive, but such occasional pirouettes of outrage are highly selective.  Is there equal outrage for the fact that this unlawful enemy tries every day to kill our troops and their own countrymen who may support us?  Will we condemn the widespread fraternization, adultery, and screwing around that occurs as a result of putting women in a combat zone? Or how about the crimes that thuggish guys in uniform sometimes commit at home, like the rape murder of a Marine couple that occurred in San Diego?   Will our leaders condemn with equal fervor the lawless attack on our airpower by Pakistani border guards?  (No, it is we who apologized to them.) Finally, will we note the relative scale of war crimes here, as it is the Taliban that ran a totalitarian state worthy of the Khemer Rouge before our arrival and who today sexually mutilate women who will not go along with their Satanic program?

I must say, I’m especially tired of hearing about how this will affect the enemy and his feelings.   Muslim feelings are already inflamed against America, let’s not forget.  Before Abu Ghraib and the death of bin Laden and the Koran burning pastor, we had the 9/11 attacks.  Before, during, and after this incident, Muslims have tried abroad and at home to kill our countrymen.  They likely will do so as long as we try to transform their backwards societies, and they will probably still hate us from afar even when this task is abandoned, because we are wealthy and powerful and, most importantly, because we are not Muslim.

As I said above, this kind of crime suggests a breakdown in discipline.  It needs to be punished for that reason, but that punishment should fit the crime.    It certainly does not deserve any jail time, the stupid video notwithstanding.

One might think that the video has necessitated extreme punishment because of diplomatic considerations.  I think that is only part of it.  There is a domestic agenda that these men and their unbridled warrior aggression threatens.   The video suggests their confusion, their youth, and their immaturity in more ways than one.  The men involved are especially unwise to forget the politically correct military whom they serve, a military whose leaders did cartwheels to defend diversity after Major Nidal Hassan killed 13 fellow soldiers, a military that has fallen over itself to integrate gays, and a military that has declared its traditional core of white males obsolete  in order to pursue the sacred goal of diversity, a military that is impossibly trying to “win hearts and minds” while deliberately ignoring the impact of totalitarian Islam.  I find these things 100 times more offensive than whatever a bunchy of lance corporals did to some Taliban corpse.

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Iraq Pullout

America really gave it the college try in Iraq, but in no sense of the word can it be said we “won.”  It was more like a draw or a mixed bag. We won everything worth winning back in 2004:  Saddam was gone, no WMDs were found, and we had lost a minimum of lives. But since then we’ve seen an insurgency arise that cannot be beaten, and we have empowered Iran and installed an Iranian-friendly government in Iraq due to the friendliness of these two Shia-majority regimes.

This week we left Iraq with little fanfare; indeed, we left kind of in a rush since the “friendly” Iraq government would not approve important details in a renewed status of forces agreement focused on training Iraqis.

The insurgency has ebbed and flowed during our tenure, and it still persists. Our military became really interested in counterinsurgency along the way, and this led to the rising star of General Petraeus for a time, but the military and politicians alike realized–perhaps without saying so explicitly–that we’re not really cut out for this kind of war, and that it cannot be won without a decent partner in the indigenous government, and that such a partner is nearly impossible to find when there is a tradition of nationalism and also the Islamic religion, i.e., in the entire Middle East.  So we left, and we’re soon going to be leaving Afghanistan for many of the same reasons under similar circumstances (and there, as well, finally having done something useful in whacking Osama bin Laden in spite of all the marginal results during the interim).

One thing wars do is expose a nation’s military in all its competence and glory–consider the Battle of Fallujah, the swift expulsion of the Taliban, or the death of bin Laden–but also in all its infamy, pettiness, and mismanagement, coupled with the casual dishonesty and misinformation that surround even the most basic affairs, such as the bestowing of a Medal of Honor.  Surely, these contrasts are not lost on the soldiers and veterans, many of whom now are learning what class of people run the VA bureaucracy or have found that a good war record can be turned into dust with a few bad fitness reports in garrison.

Thomas Ricks has an interesting observation that the type of war we have fought, where so little measurable progress can been made, particularly encourages various type of “chickenshit,” as  a means of restoring the illusion of control:

The main issue is this–a LOT of the senior leadership is lost in the sauce, has no idea what’s going on or how to accomplish anything concrete. So, they attempt to make themselves feel like they’re in control of the situation via a) imposing ludicrous chickenshit on those below them, and b) spending most of their time liaising with other senior Americans, doing coordination meetings, briefings, etc., etc., etc. That way, they feel like they are in control of their environment, and never have to encounter anything which would suggest differently. All this is done at the expense of their subordinates and of the war in general, but that’s ok.

Of course, peacetime militaries are notoriously worse in this department, and it will be interesting to see how the huge cadre of combat veterans reacts to these things as we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Ten years ago today, our country and my family received a terrible blow.  We were attacked.  Our countrymen were murdered.  We were shaken. 9/11 is an important historical event that has defined much of the last ten years, but it was also a family tragedy for me, as my Uncle Donnie Regan gave his life that day in the line of duty with the New York City Fire Department.

I distinctly remember the day, as I’m sure most Americans my age do.  I was living in Texas at the time–taking time off and about to start my first law firm job in a few weeks–and received a call from a close friend.  They were evacuating the Dallas Federal Building.  I turned on the TV.  The first tower was already down.  I was stunned.  The second tower came down soon thereafter.  My alarm at this took a little time; at first, I thought this was a replay of the first tower falling.  Then I realized that this situation was even worse than I thought.  Rumors of the “mall in DC” being on fire were on the news.  No one knew the extent of it.   I spoke briefly to my parents, when I heard that Donnie–my uncle and the father of my cousins to whom I am closest–may have been at the towers.

(more…)

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Another sad and typical story from Afghanistan:

A Marine lieutenant colonel and sergeant have died in Afghanistan in what appears to be a shooting by an Afghan policeman.  . . .

“While this is a serious incident, the actions of this individual do not reflect the overall actions of our Afghan partners,” said Marine Maj. Gen. James Laster, the International Security Assistance Force’s deputy chief of staff for joint operations. “We remain committed to our partners and to our mission here.”

We can’t win “hearts and minds” without supporting and building up an Afghan government.  And we can’t do that without recruiting policemen and soldiers.  But we really don’t know who we’re recruiting or why.  We don’t speak their language.  Even if we did, we’d be surprised at how hostile they are on account of their religion and primitivism.  The Taliban crazies and “friendly” elements in Afghanistan look much the same.

This type of thing has happened a lot lately, including in the 9 person massacre of American airmen last month. And our military always says the same thing, that this is some “rare exception.”

There is no easy answer, consistent with our impossible nation-building mission.  But there is one easy answer that will actually work to prevent this kind of horror and also restore our strategic flexibility:  Get Out! Indeed, we’re not in the more terrorist-saturated Pakistan, and obviously we have problems with al Qaeda there, but they can’t project power to us since we’re relatively far away, and yet we can still take out terrorists there from time to time, just as we do in Yemen and Somalia and other places where our forces are not stationed.  One thing is for sure:  the people we’re supposedly helping in Afghanistan hate us, frequently kill us, and we cannot trust “our partners,” all the way up to their president.

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Military tribunals make perfect sense for members of al Qaeda.  These individuals are non-citizens, their prosecution often depends on sensitive intelligence, and their presence in American courtrooms would be disruptive and a security risk.  In war, military tribunals have been used from the Revolutionary War forward, and their streamlined procedures, ability to hold proceedings in secret, and capacity for swift justice recommend them over civilian procedures designed for ordinary crimes.  Of course, the  years-long delays in trials for Guantanamo Bay prisoners and the failure, since 9/11, to execute huge numbers of al Qaeda members in our custody suggests the “swiftness” part is not taken seriously enough by the executive branch.  By contrast, in World War II, Germans using American uniforms to infiltrate allied lines and disrupt American units during the Battle of the Bulge were summarily executed.  But, even so, these tribunals are preferable to the alternative, even if their potential efficiency has not bee employed to great effect.

So it is with a mixture of happiness and schadenfreude that I learn the Obama adminsitration is going to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in a military tribunal down in Guantanmo Bay.  Recall that Obama and many of his supporters preened self-righteously about the demerits of preventitive detention, the need to accord al Qaeda detainees full POW status, the evils of military tribunals, the inhumanity of drone attacks and much else during the 2008 campaign and before.  That is, the left didn’t only rail against the War in Iraq, where they had a point.  They also railed against every aspect of the war against al Qaeda. 

On both fronts–preventitive war and the use of cedures for terrorists–Obama is in retreat.  He is realizing that most Americans don’t really give a fig about terrorists, they want them killed or captured, and simply have the minimal humane concern that innocent goatherders be returned to their families if they can be reliably identifiied.  We all know, and Obama and his buddies forgot, that the burdens of proof are shifted in wartime and that we must err on the side of safety, particularly as we face a foreign, ruthless, and uncivilized enemy that deliberately hides among civilians.  It is not America’s fault that the innocent Afghanis and al Qaeda terrorists appear similar; it’s al Qaeda’s, with their ragamuffin appearance and terrorist tactics. 

I’d like to think this decision is a sign of Obama growing in office, but it appears more like simple triangulation.  Just as he dropped his lifelong obsession with gun control once he became president and realized it was political dynamite, it’s obvious that his views on foreign policy and the law of war were mostly campaign props, instincts developed from years in liberal Hyde Park, rather than well thought out positions.  Here he has been temporarily burdened by the incompetent Eric Holder’s “true believer” implemntation of these principles, but Obama’s political instincts are not so terrible than a guaranteed loser–such as a face off with 9/11 Families in NYC–is going to be pursued to the bitter end. Even on his signature issue, race and American identity, he left his pastor of 20 years when it became a problem. 

We are reminded from all this and much else that Obama is not a man of high principle; his chief principle is his love of self and his interest in political survival.  And thus all that “hope and change” rhetoric is now quite obviously a bunch of gliterring genrealities uttered by a thoroughly ordinary politician.

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I’m really amazed, frankly, that for ten years the commanders of US efforts have said that “we’re making progress” as things seem, more or less, not to have changed much after the bulk of al Qaeda fled into Pakistan’s western tribal regions in early 2002.

Retired Marine Bing West’s new book looks very interesting.  He basically says we’re not winning, the commanders are full of it for self-serving reasons, that our strategic assumptions are wrong, and that the best thing to do now would be to scale back the mission radically and pursue the narrow American national interest in tamping down the international terrorist component over there.

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