US military

The Overlooked, Under-Reported and Ignored Stories of 2017

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/12/2017 - 6:15am in

This time every year, BillMoyers.com asks reporters, editors and bloggers which key story they feel the mainstream media failed to cover adequately over the last 12 months. See what they had to say. Continue reading

The post The Overlooked, Under-Reported and Ignored Stories of 2017 appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Osama Bin Laden’s America 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/11/2017 - 2:30am in

This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Honestly, if there’s an afterlife, then the soul of Osama bin Laden, whose body was consigned to the waves by the US Navy back in 2011, must be swimming happily with the dolphins and sharks. At the cost of the sort of spare change that Donald Trump recently offered aides and former campaign officials for their legal troubles in the Russia investigation (on which he’s unlikely to deliver) — a mere $400,000 to $500,000 — bin Laden managed to launch the American war on terror. He did so with little but a clever game plan, a few fanatical followers and a remarkably intuitive sense of how this country works.

He had those 19 mostly Saudi hijackers, a scattering of supporters elsewhere in the world, and the “training camps” in Afghanistan, but his was a ragged and understaffed movement.  And keep in mind that his sworn enemy was the country that then prided itself on being the last superpower, the final winner of the imperial sweepstakes that had gone on for five centuries until, in 1991, the Soviet Union imploded.


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President Donald Trump shakes hands with US Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, his new national security adviser, at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on Feb. 20, 2017. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

The President Who Loved Generals

BY William D. Hartung | March 14, 2017

The question was: With such limited resources, what kind of self-destructive behavior could he goad a triumphalist Washington into? The key would be what might be called apocalyptic humiliation.

Looking back, 16 years later, it’s extraordinary how Sept. 11, 2001, would set the pattern for everything that followed. Each further goading act, from Afghanistan to Libya, San Bernardino to Orlando, Iraq to Niger, each further humiliation would trigger yet more of the same behavior in Washington. After all, so many people and institutions — above all, the US military and the rest of the national security state — came to have a vested interest in Osama bin Laden’s version of our world.

 
Apocalyptic Humiliation

Grim as the 9/11 attacks were, with nearly 3,000 dead civilians, they would be but the start of bin Laden’s “success,” which has, in truth, never ended. The phrase of that moment — that 9/11 had “changed everything” — proved far more devastatingly accurate than we Americans imagined at the time. Among other things, it transformed the country in essential ways.

The Donald, Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, White House chief of staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster were Osama bin Laden’s grim gift to the rest of us. Thanks to him, literally trillions of taxpayer dollars would go down the tubes in remarkably pointless wars and “reconstruction” scams abroad that now threaten to feed on each other to something like the end of (American) time.

After all, Osama bin Laden managed to involve the United States in 16 years of fruitless wars, most now “generational” conflicts with no end in sight, which would only encourage the creation and spread of terror groups, the disintegration of order across significant parts of the planet, and the displacement of whole populations in staggering numbers. At the same time, he helped turn 21st-century Washington into a war machine of the first order that ate the rest of the government for lunch. He gave the national security state the means — the excuse, if you will — to rise to a kind of power, prominence and funding that might otherwise have been inconceivable. In the process — undoubtedly fulfilling his wildest dreams — he helped speed up the decline of the very country that, since the Cold War ended, had been plugging itself as the greatest ever.

In other words, he may truly be the (malign) genius of our age. He created a terrorist version of call-and-response that still rules Donald Trump’s Washington in which the rubblized generals of America’s rubblized wars on an increasingly rubblized planet now reign supreme. In other words, The Donald, Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, White House chief of staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster were Osama bin Laden’s grim gift to the rest of us. Thanks to him, literally trillions of taxpayer dollars would go down the tubes in remarkably pointless wars and “reconstruction” scams abroad that now threaten to feed on each other to something like the end of (American) time.

Of course, he had a little luck in the process. As a start, no one, not even the 9/11 plotters themselves, could have imagined that those towers in Manhattan would collapse before the already omnipresent cameras of the age in a way that would create such classically apocalyptic imagery. As scholar Paul Boyer once argued, in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Americans never stopped dreaming of a nuclear attack on this country. Our pop culture was filled with such imagery, such nightmares. On that September day, many Americans suddenly felt as if something like it had finally happened. It wasn’t happenstance that, within 24 hours, the area of downtown Manhattan where the shards of those towers lay would be dubbed “Ground Zero,” a term previously reserved for the spot where a nuclear explosion had taken place, or that Tom Brokaw, anchoring NBC’s nonstop news coverage, would claim that it was “like a nuclear winter in lower Manhattan.”


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Members of a US color guard wait to greet Britain's secretary of defense, Michael Fallon, at the Pentagon on July 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The American Military Uncontained

BY William J. Astore | September 13, 2017

The sense of being sneak-attacked on an apocalyptic scale — hence the “new Pearl Harbor” and “Day of Infamy” headlines — proved overwhelming as the scenes of those towers falling in a near mushroom cloud of smoke and ash were endlessly replayed. Of course, no such apocalyptic attack had occurred. The weapons at hand weren’t even bombs or missiles, but our own airplanes filled with passengers. And yes, it was a horror, but not the horror Americans generally took it for.  And yet, 16 years later, it’s still impossible to put 9/11 in any kind of reasonable context or perspective in this country, even after we’ve helped to rubblize major cities across the Middle East — most recently the Syrian city of Raqqa — and so aided in creating landscapes far more apocalyptic looking than 9/11 ever was.

As I wrote long ago, 9/11 “was not a nuclear attack. It was not apocalyptic. The cloud of smoke where the towers stood was no mushroom cloud. It was not potentially civilization ending. It did not endanger the existence of our country — or even of New York City. Spectacular as it looked and staggering as the casualty figures were, the operation was hardly more technologically advanced than the failed attack on a single tower of the World Trade Center in 1993 by Islamists using a rented Ryder truck packed with explosives.”

On the other hand, imagine where we’d be if Osama bin Laden had had just a little more luck that day; imagine if the fourth hijacked plane, the one that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, had actually reached its target in Washington and wiped out, say, the Capitol or the White House.

Bin Laden certainly chose his symbols of American power well — financial (the World Trade Center), military (the Pentagon) and political (some target in Washington) — in order to make the government and people of the self-proclaimed most exceptional nation on Earth feel the deepest possible sense of humiliation.

Short of wiping out the White House, bin Laden could hardly have hit a more American nerve or created a stronger sense that the country which felt it had everything was now left with nothing at all.

Short of wiping out the White House, bin Laden could hardly have hit a more American nerve or created a stronger sense that the country which felt it had everything was now left with nothing at all. That it wasn’t true — not faintly — didn’t matter.

That it wasn’t true — not faintly — didn’t matter. And add in one more bit of bin Laden good luck. The administration in the White House at that moment had its own overblown dreams of how our world should work. As they emerged from the shock of those attacks, which sent Vice President Dick Cheney into a Cold-War-era underground nuclear bunker and President George W. Bush onto Air Force One — he was reading a children’s bookMy Pet Goat, to school kids in Florida as the attacks occurred — and in flight away from Washington to Barksdale Air Base in Louisiana, they began to dream of their global moment. Like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the partially destroyed Pentagon, they instantly started thinking about taking out Iraq’s autocratic ruler Saddam Hussein and launching a project to create a Middle East and then a planet over which the United States alone would have dominion forever and ever.

As befitted those Pearl Harbor headlines, on the night of Sept. 11, the president was already speaking of “the war against terrorism.” Within a day, he had called it “the first war of the twenty-first century” and soon, because al-Qaida was such a pathetically inadequate target, had added, “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there.”

It couldn’t have been stranger. The United States was “at war,” but not with a great power or even one of the regional “rogue states” that had been the focus of American military thinking in the 1990s. We were at war with a phenomenon — “terrorism” — on a global scale. As Rumsfeld would say only five days after 9/11, the new war on terror would be “a large multiheaded effort that probably spans 60 countries, including the United States.” In the phrase of the moment, they were going to “drain the swamp” globally.


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President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of the US Congress on February 28, 2017 in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Donald Trump Goes All In for the Military-Industrial Complex

BY John Nichols | March 1, 2017

Even setting aside that terrorism then had no real armies, no real territory, essentially nothing, this couldn’t have been more wildly out of proportion to what had actually happened or to the outfit that had caused it to happen. But anyone who suggested as much (or something as simple and unimpressive as a “police action” against bin Laden and crew) was promptly laughed out of the room or abused into silence. And so a call-and-response pattern that fit bin Laden’s wildest dreams would be established in which, whatever they did, the United States would always respond by militarily upping the ante.

In this way, Washington promptly found itself plunged into a Global War on Terror, or GWOT, that was essentially a figment of its own imagination. The Bush administration, not Osama bin Laden, then proceeded to turn it into a reality, starting with the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, from the passage of the Patriot Act to the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, a newly national-securitized Washington would be built up on a previously unheard-of scale.

In other words, we were already entering Osama bin Laden’s America.

 
The War Lovers

In this way, long before Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson began downsizing the State Department, George W. Bush and his top officials (who, except for Colin Powell, had never been to war) committed themselves to the US military as the option of choice for what had previously been called “foreign policy.” Fortunately for bin Laden, they would prove to be the ultimate fundamentalists when it came to that military. They had little doubt that they possessed a force beyond compare with the kind of power and technological resources guaranteed to sweep away everything before it.  That military was, as the president boasted, “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known.” What, then, could possibly stop it from spearheading the establishment of a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East and elsewhere that would leave the Roman and British empires in the shade? (As it happened, they had absorbed nothing of the 20th-century history of insurrection, rebellion and resistance in the former colonial world. If they had, none of what followed would have surprised them in the least.)

And so the wars would spread, states would begin to crumble, terror movements would multiply, and each little shiver of fear, each set of American deaths, whether by such movements or “lone wolves” in the US and Europe, would call up just one response: more of the same.


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President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired US Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club on Nov. 19, 2016 in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Trump’s Generals Have Failed Up

BY Tom Engelhardt | September 6, 2017

Think of this as Osama bin Laden’s dream world, which we would create for him and his fellow jihadists.

I’ve been writing about this at TomDispatch year after year for a decade and a half now and nothing ever changes. Not really. It’s all so sadly predictable as, years after bin Laden was consigned to his watery grave, Washington continues to essentially do his bidding in a remarkably brainless fashion.

Think of it as a kind of feedback loop in which the interests of a domestic security and surveillance state, built to monumental proportions on a relatively minor fear (of terrorism), and a military eternally funded to the heavens on a remarkably bipartisan basis for its never-ending war on terror ensure that nothing ever truly changes. In 21st-century Washington, failure is the new success and repetition is the rule of the day, week, month and year.

Take, for example, the recent events in Niger. Consider the pattern of call-and-response there. Almost no Americans (and it turned out, next to no senators) even knew that the US had something like 900 troops deployed permanently to that West African country and two drone bases there (though it was no secret). Then, on Oct. 4, the first reports of the deaths of four American soldiers and the wounding of two others in a Green Beret unit on a “routine training mission” in the lawless Niger-Mali border area came out. The ambush, it seemed, had been set by an ISIS affiliate.

Think of this as Osama bin Laden’s dream world, which we would create for him and his fellow jihadists.

It was, in fact, such an obscure and distant event that, for almost two weeks, there was little reaction in Congress or media uproar of any sort. That ended, however, when President Trump, in response to questions about those dead soldiers, attacked Barack Obama and George W. Bush for not calling the parents of the American fallen (they had) and then got into a dispute with the widow of one of the Niger dead (as well as a Democratic congresswoman) over his condolence call to her. The head of the Joint Chiefs was soon forced to hold a news conference; former four-star Marine Gen. and White House chief of staff John Kelly, whose son had died in Afghanistan, felt called upon to go to the mat for his boss, falsely accuse that congresswoman and essentially claim that the military was now an elite caste in this country. This certainly reflected the new highly militarized sense of power and worth that lay at the heart of bin Laden’s Washington.

It was only then that the event in distant Niger became another terrorist humiliation of the first order. Senators were suddenly outraged. Sen. John McCain (one of the more warlike members of that body, famous in 2007 for jokingly singing, to the tune of an old Beach Boys song, “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”) threatened to subpoena the administration for more Niger information. Meanwhile his friend Sen. Lindsey Graham, another war hawk of the first order, issued a classic warning of this era: “We don’t want the next 9/11 to come from Niger!”

And suddenly US Africa Command was highlighting its desire for more money from Congress; the military was moving to arm its Reaper drones in Niger with Hellfire missiles for future counterterrorism operations; and Secretary of Defense Mattis was assuring senators privately that the military would “expand” its “counterterrorism focus” in Africa. The military began to prepare to deploy Hellfire Missile-armed Reaper drones to Niger. “The war is morphing,” Graham insisted. “You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less; you’re going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you’re going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in the field.”

Rumors were soon floating around that, as The Washington Post reported, the administration might “loosen restrictions on the US military’s ability to use lethal force in Niger” (as it already had done in the Trump era in places like Syria and Yemen). And so it expectably went, as events in Niger proceeded from utter obscurity to the near-apocalyptic, while — despite the strangeness of the Trumpian moment — the responses came in exactly as anyone reviewing the last 16 years might have imagined they would.

All of this will predictably make things in central Africa worse, not better, leading to… well, more than a decade and a half after 9/11, you know just as well as I do where it’s leading. And there are remarkably few brakes on the situation, especially with three generals of our losing wars ruling the roost in Washington and Donald Trump now lashed to the mast of his chief of staff.

Welcome to Osama bin Laden’s America.

The post Osama Bin Laden’s America  appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

The American War Machine Is Already on the Death March Across the African Continent

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/11/2017 - 3:24am in

This post originally appeared at AlterNet.

On Oct. 4, US military personnel were on their way back to their forward operating base in Niger. They had been on a reconnaissance mission to the village of Tongo Tongo, near Niger’s border with Mali. US Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford says that 50 ISIS fighters ambushed them. The soldiers did not call for air support for the first hour, said Gen. Dunford, thinking perhaps that they could handle the attack. By the time the drones came along with French fighter aircraft, ISIS had disappeared.

Tongo Tongo is in the middle of a belt that is ground zero for the illicit trade that defines the Sahara. West of Tongo Tongo is Gao (Mali) and to its east is Agadez (Niger). These are the main ports for South American cocaine, flown in on various kinds of aircraft (Air Cocaine, as they are called) and then driven across the Sahara Desert in trucks to be taken by small boats across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Evidence of the cocaine trade is everywhere — whether in Gao’s neighborhood known as Cocaine Bougou or in the nickname of one of the leading chiefs in Agadez — Cherif Ould Abidine — known as Cherif or Mr. Cocaine.

Cocaine is one dramatic commodity. There are others: refugees and guns. This belt of towns just below the Sahara played a historic role as caravanserais for the old trades in gold, salt and weaponry. The creation of nation-states closed off some of these routes. In particular, Libya — under the previous regime of Moammar Gadhafi — largely shut down the illicit commerce from Mali and Niger. NATO’s war against Libya, which created chaos in that country, opened these routes up. Fleets of white Toyota trucks arrived in the desert to carry refugees and drugs to Europe and to bring weapons into central and western Africa. The trucks run from Agadez to Sabha (Libya) before they find their way to the port cities. There are several kinds of refugees — the adventurers (les aventuriers), many single young men who are leaving behind deserts of opportunity for Europe, and war refugees. Both are desperate, fodder in the hands of the smugglers who must get them — and the drugs — across the forbidding sands.


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US Army Brigadier Gen. Donald Bolduc (left) and Senegal's Army Gen. Amadou Kane review the troops during the inauguration of a military base in Thies, 70 km from Dakar, on Feb. 8, 2016, the second day of a three-week joint military exercise between African, US and European troops, known as Flintlock. (Photo by Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images)

Mission Impossible: Keeping Track of US Special Ops in Africa

BY Nick Turse | September 7, 2016

Firmly opposed to the refugee traffic across the Mediterranean, the European Union (EU) has joined hands with governments in Niger and elsewhere to make this southern border of the Sahara their frontier. Niger passed a draconian law in 2015 against smuggling. The EU provided funds to Niger’s military and police, which have started an all-out war against the smugglers. In 2016, Niger arrested over a hundred smugglers and confiscated their vehicles. People in towns like Agadez, a World Heritage site for its beautiful red buildings, say openly that they are vulnerable to extremist groups. There are many to chose from — al-Qaida in southern Mali and southern Algeria, ISIS in southern Libya and Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and into areas near Lake Chad. No wonder that the United States calls the belt from Mali through Niger the ‘ring of insecurity.’

It is notable that the pressure on the traffickers has not decreased the terrible situation for the refugees and the ‘adventurers.’ They continue to come for reasons that have nothing to do with an open border or a closed border. But the new military presence has meant — as the International Organisation of Migration says — that the smugglers are abandoning the refugees at the first sign of trouble in the dangerous desert. The United Nations has rescued over 1,000 abandoned refugees and many hundreds are said to have died along this route. The Nigerien Red Cross says that one group of 40 refugees died in May when their truck broke down. It is legible to believe that the death count will never really be known as the European border moves south, from the northern edge of the Mediterranean to the southern edge of the Sahara.

Five hours drive north of Agadez is the town of Arlit, one of the key sources of uranium. Readers might remember that the United States had accused Saddam Hussein’s government of procuring yellowcake uranium from Niger. This turned out to be a hoax, uncovered by Ambassador Joe Wilson when he went to Niger and met its former Prime Minister Ibrahim Assane Mayaki. The accusation against Iraq was false, but the Arlit mines are real. The town is a fortress of European mining companies, from Niger’s own government company to a series of French firms, most prominently Areva. The road out of Arlit is known as Uranium Highway. It is this road that was used by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb when it came and kidnapped five French employees of an Areva mine in 2010. The Areva mines were also attacked by a car bomb in 2013. French Special Forces operate to protect these mines and the close to 2,000 Europeans who live in this uranium town. “One of every three light bulbs is lit thanks to Nigerien uranium,” noted Oxfam in 2013. It is too precious for the French to be ignored. That is why France’s Operation Barkhane runs from across the Sahel, from Mauritania at one end to Chad at the other. It has its headquarters in Chad’s capital of N’Djamena.

The French are not alone. The Americans not only have thousands of troops across Africa, but also have many bases. The most public base is in Djibouti (Camp Lemonier), but there are also bases in Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as forward operating positions across the Sahel. The United States is also building a massive base at the cost of $100 million in Agadez. Air Base 201 will be mainly a drone base, with the MQ9 Reapers flown out of Agadez to collect intelligence in this resource-rich and poverty-stricken area. This base is being constructed in plain sight

It is, therefore, surprising to hear Sen. Lindsey Graham — who is on the Committee on Armed Services — say, ‘I didn’t know there were 1,000 troops in Niger.’ He meant US troops.

There has been no evidence presented to the public that those who killed the US forces near Tongo Tongo were from ISIS. Privately, US intelligence officials say this is a guess. They are not sure about the combatants. In fact, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) officials concur, saying it is “inappropriate” to speculate about the incident and those who attacked the US forces.

There is a particularly dangerous soup at work here. Certainly extremist groups operate in the region, such as the militants who freed over 100 prisoners from a prison in Mopti (in central Niger). The dreadful desiccation of the Sahel has produced various feuds amongst herder communities in eastern Niger, where these have morphed into ethnic conflicts (and where certain groups — such as the Mohamid and Peuls — have used the opportunity to accuse the Boudouma of being, therefore, part of Boko Haram). Such opportunism was frequently used in Afghanistan, where tribes used American airpower to settle scores with their old adversaries (to blame someone for being Taliban was sufficient to call in an air strike).

The root causes of the conflicts are the same as elsewhere: environmental destruction, joblessness, war and the commodities (such as Cocaine and Uranium) that are essential to the West. None of this will be addressed. More troops will arrive in Niger. More destruction will follow. More sorrow. More anger. More war.

There will be no interest in the newly formed North African Network for Food Sovereignty (formed in Tunis on July 5) and in its sensible charter of demands. Nor will there be any reflection on the assassination of hope for the Sahel, when Thomas Sankara — president of Burkina Faso — was killed 30 years ago on Oct. 15. “We must dare to invent the future,” said Sankara. What is before us from the American and French Special Forces and the militaries of Niger and Chad is not the future. It is wretched.

The post The American War Machine Is Already on the Death March Across the African Continent appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

How the US Paved the Way for ‘Generational’ War

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/10/2017 - 4:43am in

This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.

It took 14 years, but now we have an answer.

It was March 2003, the invasion of Iraq was underway, and Maj. Gen. David Petraeus was in command of the 101st Airborne Division heading for the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Rick Atkinson, Washington Post journalist and military historian, was accompanying him. Six days into a lightning campaign, his division suddenly found itself stopped 30 miles southwest of the city of Najaf by terrible weather, including a blinding dust storm and the unexpectedly “fanatical” attacks of Iraqi irregulars. At that moment, Atkinson reported,

[Petraeus] hooked his thumbs into his flak vest and adjusted the weight on his shoulders. “Tell me how this ends,” he said. “Eight years and eight divisions?” The allusion was to advice supposedly given the White House in the early 1950s by a senior Army strategist upon being asked what it would take to prop up French forces in South Vietnam. Petraeus’ grin suggested the comment was more droll quip than historical assertion.


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US soldiers on M113 armored vehicles take part during the Warrior Strike VIII exercise at the Rodriguez Range on Sept. 19, 2017 in Pocheon, South Korea. The United States 2ID (2nd Infantry Division) stationed in South Korea operates the exercise to improve defense capability from any invasion. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

How We Learned Not To Care About America’s Wars

BY Andrew Bacevich | October 10, 2017

Certainly, Petraeus knew his history when it came to American interventions in distant lands. He had entered West Point just as the American war in Vietnam was beginning to wind down and did his doctoral dissertation at Princeton in 1987 on that conflict (“The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era”). In it, he wrote,

Vietnam cost the military dearly. It left America’s military leaders confounded, dismayed and discouraged. Even worse, it devastated the armed forces, robbing them of dignity, money and qualified people for a decade… Vietnam was an extremely painful reminder that when it comes to intervention, time and patience are not American virtues in abundant supply.

So no wonder he was well acquainted with that 1954 exchange between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and former Korean War commander Gen. Matthew Ridgeway about the French war in Vietnam. Perhaps, the “droll quip” aspect of his comment lay in his knowledge of just how badly Ridgeway underestimated both the years and the troop numbers that the American version of that war would eat up before it, too, ended in disaster and in a military as riddled with protest and as close to collapse as was imaginable for an American force of our era.

In his thesis, Petraeus called for the military high command to be granted a far freer hand in whatever interventions the future held. In that sense, in 1987, he was already mainlining into a 21st-century world in which the US military continues to get everything it wants (and more) as it fights its wars without having to deal with either an obstreperous citizen army or too many politicians trying to impose their will on its actions.

And by the way, though his Najaf comments have regularly been cited as if they were sui generis, as the Ridgeway reference indicates, he was hardly the first American military commander or political figure to appropriate Joan of Arc’s question in Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan: “How long, oh Lord, how long?”

As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam recounted in his history of the Vietnam years, The Best and the Brightest, for instance, President Lyndon Johnson turned to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Earle Wheeler in a June 1965 meeting and asked of the war in Vietnam, “What do you think it will take to do the job?”

Wheeler’s answer echoed Ridgeway’s 11 years earlier, though in the escalatory mode that was typical of Vietnam: “It all depends on what your definition of the job is, Mr. President. If you intend to drive the last Vietcong out of Vietnam it will take 700,000, 800,000, a million men and about seven years. But if your definition of the job is to prevent the Communists from taking over the country, that is, stopping them from doing it, then you’re talking about different gradations and different levels. So tell us what the job is and we’ll answer it.”

 
A Generational Approach to America’s Wars


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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting the Korean People's Army Tank Crews' Competition-2017 at an undisclosed location. (Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Can a War of Words Become a World of War?

BY Bill Moyers | September 26, 2017

Not so long after that moment on the outskirts of Najaf, the 101st Airborne made its way to Baghdad just as the burning and looting began, and that would only be the prologue to David Petraeus’ war, to his version of eight years and eight divisions. When an insurgency (actually several) broke out in Iraq, he would be dispatched to the northern city of Mosul (now a pile of rubble after its 2017 “liberation” from the Islamic State in Washington’s third Iraq War). There, he would first experiment with bringing back from the Vietnam experience the very strategy the US military had hoped to be rid of forever: “counterinsurgency,” or the winning of what in that war had regularly been called “hearts and minds.” In 2004, Newsweek was already hailing him on its cover with the dramatic question: “Can This Man Save Iraq?” (Four months after Petraeus ended his stint in that city, the police chief he had trained there went over to the insurgents and it became a stronghold for them.)

By the time the occupation of Iraq turned into a full-scale disaster, he was back at Fort Leavenworth running the US Army’s Combined Arms Center. During that period, he and another officer, Marine Lt. Gen. James Mattis — does that name ring any bells? — joined forces to oversee the development and publication of Field Service Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency Operations. It would be the first official counterinsurgency (COIN) how-to book the military had produced since the Vietnam years. In the process, he became “the world’s leading expert in counterinsurgency warfare.” He would famously return to Iraq in 2007, that manual in hand, with five brigades or 20,000 US troops, for what would become known as “the surge,” or “the new way forward” — an attempt to bail the Bush administration out of its disastrous occupation of the country. His counterinsurgency operations would, like the initial invasion, be hailed by experts and pundits in Washington (including Petraeus himself) as a marvel and a success of the first order, as a true turning point in Iraq and in the war on terror.

A decade later, with America’s third Iraq War ongoing, you could be excused for viewing the “successes” of that surge somewhat differently.

In the process, Petraeus (or “King David” as he was supposedly nicknamed by Iraqis during his stint in Mosul) would become America’s most celebrated, endlessly featured general and go on in 2008 to head US Central Command (overseeing America’s wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq). In 2010, he would become the US Afghan commander, largely so that he could perform the counterinsurgency miracles in Afghanistan he had supposedly performed in Iraq. In 2011, he became Barack Obama’s CIA director only to crash and burn a year later in a scandal over a lover-cum-biographer and the misuse of classified documents, after which he morphed into a go-to expert on our wars and a partner at KKR, a global investment firm. In other words, as with the three generals of the surge generation now ascendant in Washington, including Petraeu former COIN pal James Mattis (who also headed US Central Command), he presided over this country’s failing wars in the Greater Middle East.

And only recently, 14 years after he and Atkinson were briefly trapped outside Najaf, in his role as a pundit and prognosticator on his former wars, he finally answered — and not quippingly either — the question that plagued him then. Though his comments were certainly covered in the news (as anything he says is), in a sense no one noticed. Asked by Judy Woodruff of the PBS News Hour whether, in Donald Trump’s America, it was “smart” to once again send more US troops surging into Afghanistan, he called the Pentagon’s decision “heartening,” even as he warned that it wasn’t a war that would end any time soon.

Instead, after so many years of involvement, experience, thought and observation, in a studio without a grain of sand, no less a dust storm in sight, he offered this observation:

“But this is a generational struggle. This is not something that is going to be won in a few years. We’re not going to take a hill, plant a flag, [and] go home to a victory parade. And we need to be there for the long haul, but in a way that is, again, sustainable. We have been in Korea for 65-plus years because there is an important national interest for that. We were in Europe for a very long period of time, still there, of course, and actually with a renewed emphasis now, given Russia’s aggressive actions. And I think that’s the way we need to approach this.”

In proposing such a “generational struggle” to be handed on to our children, if not grandchildren, he’s in good company. In recent times, the Pentagon high command, too, has been adopting a “generational approach” to Afghanistan and assumedly our other wars across the Greater Middle East and Africa. Similarly, the scholars of the Brookings Institution have urged on Washington’s policymakers what they call “an enduring partnership” in Afghanistan: “The US-Afghan partnership should be recognized as generational in duration, given the nature of the threat and the likely longevity of its future manifestations.”

Even if, under further questioning by Woodruff, Petraeus wouldn’t quite cop to a 60-year Afghan war (that is, to a war lasting at least until 2061), his long-delayed answer to his own question of the 2003 invasion moment was now definitive. Such American wars won’t end. Not now. Maybe not ever. And in a way you can’t be much blunter or grimmer than that in your assessment of the “successes” of the war on terror.

 
A Military Success Story of the Strangest Sort


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Members of a US color guard wait to greet Britain's secretary of defense, Michael Fallon, at the Pentagon on July 7, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The American Military Uncontained

BY William J. Astore | September 13, 2017

Until James “Mad Dog” Mattis hit Washington in 2017, no American general of our era was ever written about as much as, or in a more celebratory fashion, than David Petraeus. Adulatory (if not fawning) profiles of him are legion. Even today, in the wake of barely avoided felony and other charges (for, among other things, lying to the FBI) — he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in the handling of classified documents and was sentenced to two years of probation and a fine — he may still be this country’s most celebrated general.

But why exactly the celebration? The answer would have to be that he continues to be lauded and considered a must-quote expert because in Washington this country’s war on terror and the generalship that’s accompanied it are now beyond serious analysis or reconsideration. Sixteen years after the invasion of Afghanistan, as America’s wars continue to spread across the Greater Middle East and Africa — thanks in part to Donald Trump and the need for “adult day care” in the White House — are still treated like the only “adults in the room” in our nation’s capital, like, in short, American winners.

And yet consider recent events in the central African country of Niger, which already has an operating US drone base, another under construction, and about 800 American troops quietly but permanently stationed there. It’s also a country that, until this moment, not an American in a million would have been able to locate on a map. On Oct. 4, four Green Berets were killed and two others wounded during a “routine training mission” there. Patrolling with Nigerian troops, they were ambushed by Islamic militants — whether from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb or a new branch of ISIS remains unclear. That officially makes Niger at least the eighth country, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya, to be absorbed into Washington’s war on terror and, in case you hadn’t noticed, in none of them has that war ended and in none have US forces triumphed.


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President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired US Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club on Nov. 19, 2016 in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Trump’s Generals Have Failed Up

BY Tom Engelhardt | September 6, 2017

And yet you could comb the recent mainstream coverage of the events in Niger without finding any indication that those deaths represented a modest new escalation in the never-ending, ever-spreading war on terror.

As was inevitable, in Iraq and Syria, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic “caliphate” is finally collapsing. The city of Mosul is back in Iraqi hands, as is Tal Afar, and more recently the town of Hawija (with a rare mass surrender of ISIS militants). Those were the last significant urban areas controlled by ISIS in Iraq, while in Syria, the “apocalyptic ruins” of the Islamic State’s “capital,” Raqqa, are also largely in the hands of forces allied with and supported by the air power of the US military. In what are now the ravaged ruins of Syria and Iraq, however, such “victories” will inevitably prove as hollow as were the “successful” invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq or the “successful” overthrow of Libyan autocrat Moammar Gadhafi. Meanwhile, the Islamic State may have spread its brand to another country with US forces in it. And yet, across a vast swath of the planet, the wars of David Petraeus, James Mattis and the other generals of this era simply go on and on in a region being fractured and devastated (and whose vast numbers of displaced refugees are, in turn, helping to fracture Europe).

Worse yet, it’s a situation that can’t be seriously discussed or debated in this country, because if it were, opposition to those wars might rise and alternatives to them and the by-now brain-dead decisions of those generals, including newly heightened air wars and the latest mini-surge in Afghanistan, might become part of an actual national debate.

So think of this as a military success story of the strangest sort — success that can be traced directly back to a single decision, now decades old, made by a long-discredited American president, Richard Nixon. Without returning to that decision, there is simply no way to understand America’s 21st-century wars. In its own way, it would prove an act of genius (if, at least, you wanted to fight never-ending wars until the end of time).

In any case, credit, when owed, must be given. Facing an anti-war movement that wouldn’t go away and, by the early 1970s, included significant numbers of both active-duty servicemen and Vietnam veterans, the president and his secretary of defense, Melvin Laird, decided to try to cut into its strength by eliminating the draft. Nixon suspected that young men not endangered by the possibility of being sent into the Vietnam War might be far less eager to demonstrate against it. The military high command was uncertain about such a move. They worried, with reason, that in the wake of Vietnam it would be hard to recruit for an all-volunteer military. Who in the world, they wondered, would want to be part of such a discredited force? That was, of course, a version of Nixon’s thinking turned upside down, but the president moved ahead anyway and, on Jan. 27, 1973, conscription was ended. There would be no more draft calls and the citizen’s army, the one that had fought World War II to victory and had raised such a ruckus about the grim and distasteful war in Vietnam, would be no more.

In that single stroke, before he himself fell prey to the Watergate scandal and resigned his presidency, Nixon functionally created a legacy for the ages, paving the way for the American military to fight its wars “generationally” and lose them until hell froze over with the guarantee that no one in this country would seem to care a whit. Or put another way, can you truly imagine such silence in “the homeland” if an American draft were continually filling the ranks of a citizen’s army to fight a 16-year-old war on terror, still spreading, and now considered “generational”? I doubt it.

So as American air power in places like Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan is ramped up yet again, as the latest mini-surge of troops arrives in Afghanistan, as Niger enters the war, it’s time to put Gens. David Petraeus, James Mattis, H.R. McMaster and John Kelly in context. It’s time to call them what they truly are: Nixon’s children.

The post How the US Paved the Way for ‘Generational’ War appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

The One Government Institution That Isn’t Run By Climate Change Deniers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/09/2017 - 4:00am in

This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Deployed to the Houston area to assist in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, US military forces hadn’t even completed their assignments when they were hurriedly dispatched to Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands to face Irma, the fiercest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who had sent members of the state National Guard to devastated Houston, anxiously recalled them while putting in place emergency measures for his own state. A small flotilla of naval vessels, originally sent to waters off Texas, was similarly redirected to the Caribbean, while specialized combat units drawn from as far afield as Colorado, Illinois and Rhode Island were rushed to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Meanwhile, members of the California National Guard were being mobilized to fight wildfires raging across that state (as across much of the West) during its hottest summer on record.


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 Don't Trump our Planet" as they stand next to a giant balloon of the Earth with a haircut alluding to US President Donald Trump in front of the Chancellery in Berlin on June 29, 2017. The activists called on Merkel to "stand up to Trump by leading the 19 remaining countries to commit to a 100 percent clean energy future" prior to a meeting of Merkel with western European allies to draw up a battle strategy a week before she hosts a fractious G20 summit. (Photo by John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump and the Truth About Climate Change

BY Joseph E. Stiglitz | July 19, 2017

Think of this as the new face of homeland security: containing the damage to America’s seacoasts, forests and other vulnerable areas caused by extreme weather events made all the more frequent and destructive thanks to climate change. This is a “war” that won’t have a name — not yet, not in the Trump era, but it will be no less real for that. “The firepower of the federal government” was being trained on Harvey, as William Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), put it in a blunt expression of this warlike approach. But don’t expect any of the military officials involved in such efforts to identify climate change as the source of their new strategic orientation, not while Commander in Chief Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office refusing to acknowledge the reality of global warming or its role in heightening the intensity of major storms; not while he continues to stock his administration, top to bottom, with climate-change deniers.

Until Trump moved into the White House, however, senior military officers in the Pentagon were speaking openly of the threats posed to American security by climate change and how that phenomenon might alter the very nature of their work. Though mum’s the word today, since the early years of this century military officials have regularly focused on and discussed such matters, issuing striking warnings about an impending increase in extreme weather events — hurricanes, incessant rainfalls, protracted heat waves and droughts — and ways in which that would mean an ever-expanding domestic role for the military in both disaster response and planning for an extreme future.

Until Trump moved into the White House, senior military officers in the Pentagon were speaking openly of the threats posed to American security by climate change and how that phenomenon might alter the very nature of their work.

That future, of course, is now. Like other well-informed people, senior military officials are perfectly aware that it’s difficult to attribute any given storm, Harvey and Irma included, to human-caused climate change with 100 perent confidence. But they also know that hurricanes draw their fierce energy from the heat of tropical waters, and that global warming is raising the temperatures of those waters. It’s making storms like Harvey and Irma, when they do occur, ever more powerful and destructive. “As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures increasing and severe weather patterns are accelerating,” the Department of Defense (DoD) bluntly explained in the Quadrennial Defense Review, a 2014 synopsis of defense policy. This, it added, “may increase the frequency, scale and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities” — just the sort of crisis we’ve been witnessing over these last weeks.

As this statement suggests, any increase in climate-related extreme events striking US territory will inevitably lead to a commensurate rise in American military support for civilian agencies, diverting key assets — troops and equipment — from elsewhere. While the Pentagon can certainly devote substantial capabilities to a small number of short-term emergencies, the multiplication and prolongation of such events, now clearly beginning to occur, will require a substantial commitment of forces, which, in time, will mean a major reorientation of US security policy for the climate change era. This may not be something the White House is prepared to do today, but it may soon find itself with little choice, especially since it seems so intent on crippling all civilian governmental efforts related to climate change.

 
Mobilizing for Harvey and Irma

When it came to emergency operations in Texas and Florida, the media understandably put its spotlight on moving tales of rescue efforts by ordinary folks. As a result, the military’s role in these operations was easy to miss, but it took place on a massive scale. Every branch of the armed services — the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard — deployed significant contingents to the Houston area, in some cases sending along the sort of specialized equipment normally used in major combat operations. The combined response represented an extraordinary commitment of military assets to that desperate, massively flooded region: tens of thousands of National Guard and active-duty troops, thousands of Humvees and other military vehicles, hundreds of helicopters, dozens of cargo planes and an assortment of naval vessels. And just as operations in Texas began to wind down, the Pentagon commenced a similarly vast mobilization for Hurricane Irma.


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President Donald Trump and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announce the US withdrawal from the Paris climate change accord in the Rose Garden at the White House on June 1, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Trump’s Climate-Change Sociopathy

BY Jeffrey D. Sachs | June 14, 2017

The military’s response to Harvey began with front-line troops: the National Guard, the US Coast Guard and units of the US Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), the joint-service force responsible for homeland defense. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott mobilized the entire Texas National Guard, about 10,000 strong, and guard contingents were deployed from other states as well. The Texas Guard came equipped with its own complement of helicopters, Humvees and other all-terrain vehicles; the Coast Guard supplied 46 helicopters and dozens of shallow-water vessels, while USNORTHCOM provided 87 helicopters, four C-130 Hercules cargo aircrafts and 100 high-water vehicles.

Still more aircrafts were provided by the Air Force, including seven C-17 cargo planes and, in a highly unusual move, an E-3A Sentry airborne warning and control system, or AWACS. This super-sophisticated aircraft was originally designed to oversee air combat operations in Europe in the event of an all-out war with the Soviet Union. Instead, this particular AWACS conducted air traffic control and surveillance around Houston, gathering data on flooded areas, and providing “situational awareness” to military units involved in the relief operation.

For its part, the Navy deployed two major surface vessels, the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship, and the USS Oak Hill, a dock landing ship. “These ships,” the Navy reported, “are capable of providing medical support, maritime civil affairs, maritime security, expeditionary logistic support [and] medium and heavy lift air support.” Accompanying them were several hundred Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, along with their amphibious assault vehicles and a dozen or so helicopters and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

The previously peripheral mission of disaster relief is threatening to become a primary one for an already overstretched Pentagon and, as top military officials are aware, the future only holds promise of far more of the same. Think of this as the new face of ‘war,’ American-style.

When Irma struck, the Pentagon ordered a similar mobilization of troops and equipment. The Kearsarge and the Oak Hill, with their embarked Marines and helicopters, were redirected from Houston to waters off Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. At the same time, the Navy dispatched a much larger flotilla, including the USS Abraham Lincoln (the aircraft carrier on which President George W. Bush had his infamous “mission accomplished” moment), the missile destroyer USS Farragut, the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima and the amphibious transport dock USS New York. Instead of its usual complement of fighter jets, the Abraham Lincoln set sail from its base in Norfolk, Virginia, with heavy-lift helicopters; the Iwo Jima and New York also carried a range of helicopters for relief operations. Another amphibious vessel, the USS Wasp, was already off the Virgin Islands, providing supplies and evacuating those in need of emergency medical care.

This represents the sort of mobilization you would expect for a small war and is characteristic of how, in the past, the US military has responded to major domestic disasters like hurricanes Katrina (2003) and Sandy (2012). Such events were once rarities and so weren’t viewed as major impediments to the carrying out of the military’s “normal” function: fighting the nation’s foreign wars. However, thanks to the way climate change is intensifying the weather, disasters of this magnitude are starting to occur more frequently and on an ever-larger scale. As a result, the previously peripheral mission of disaster relief is threatening to become a primary one for an already overstretched Pentagon and, as top military officials are aware, the future only holds promise of far more of the same. Think of this as the new face of “war,” American-style.

 
Redefining Homeland Security

Even if no one else in Donald Trump’s Washington is ready or willing to deal with climate change, the US military will be. It’s already long been preparing in its own fashion to take a pivotal role in responding to a world of recurring natural disasters. This, in turn, will mean that in the coming years climate change will increasingly dominate the domestic national security agenda (whether the Trump administration and those that follow like it, or even admit it) and such domestic emergencies will undoubtedly be militarized. In the process, the very concept of “homeland security” is destined to change.

When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established in November 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, its principal missionsincluded preventing further terrorist assaults on the country as well as dealing with drug smuggling, illegal immigration and other similar issues. Climate change never entered the equation. Even though FEMA and the Coast Guard, major components of the DHS, have found themselves dealing with its increasingly disastrous effects, the department’s focus on immigration and terrorism has only intensified in the Trump era. The president has ensured that this myopic outlook would reign supreme by, among other things, calling for a sharp increase in the number of Border Patrol agents (and greater infusions of funding for border control issues), while working to slash the Coast Guard’s budget.


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President Donald Trump shakes hands with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt after announcing his decision for the United States to pull out of the Paris climate agreement in the Rose Garden at the White House, June 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Trump Has Made the 2020 Election a Referendum on Climate Change

BY John Light | June 2, 2017

He has also, of course, ensured that all parts of the government other than the military that might in any way deal with climate change were staffed and run by climate-change deniers. Only at the Department of Defense do senior officials still describe climate change in a more realistic fashion, as an observable reality that will pose new dangers to America’s security and create new operational nightmares.

“Speaking as a soldier,” said former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gordon Sullivan back in 2007, “we never have 100 percent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.” The same, he continued, was true regarding climate change. “If we keep on with business as usual, we will reach a point where some of the worst effects are inevitable.”

Gen. Gordon’s comments were incorporated into a highly influential report that year on “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change,” released by the CNA Corporation (formerly the Center for Naval Analyses), a federally funded research center that aids the Navy and Marine Corps. That report focused with particular concern on the risk of an increase in overseas conflicts from the impact of climate change, particularly if prolonged droughts and growing food scarcity inflame existing ethnic and religious schisms in a range of poor countries (mainly in Africa and the Greater Middle East). “The US may be drawn more frequently into these situations, either alone or with allies, to help provide stability before conditions worsen and are exploited by extremists,” the report warned.

The same climate effects that could trigger a more embattled world would also, military analysts came to believe, produce increased risk for the United States itself and so generate a greater need for Pentagon involvement at home. “Extreme weather events and natural disasters, as the US experienced with Hurricane Katrina, may lead to increased missions for a number of US agencies, including state and local governments, the Department of Homeland Security and our already stretched military,” that CNA report noted a decade ago. In a prescient comment, it also warned that this could lead to clashing strategic priorities. “If the frequency of natural disasters increases with climate change, future military and political leaders may face hard choices about where and when to engage.”

With this in mind, a group of officers — active duty as well as retired — endeavored to persuade top officials to make climate change a central focus of strategic planning. (Their collective efforts can be sampled at the website maintained by the Center for Climate and Security, an advocacy group former officers established to promote awareness of the issue.) These efforts achieved a major breakthrough in 2014, when the Pentagon released a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, a blueprint for Pentagon-wide remedial action in a warming world. Such an effort was needed, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel explained in his foreword, because climate change was sure to generate more conflict abroad and more emergencies at home. “The military could be called upon more often to support civil authorities, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the face of more frequent and more intense natural disasters.” As a consequence, the DoD and its component organizations must begin “integrating climate change considerations into our plans, operations and training.”

The same climate effects that could trigger a more embattled world would also, military analysts came to believe, produce increased risk for the United States itself and so generate a greater need for Pentagon involvement at home.

For a time, the armed forces embraced Hagel’s instructions, taking steps to reduce their carbon emissions and better prepare for just such a future. The various regional combatant commands like NORTHCOM and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which covers Latin America and the Caribbean, responded with increased training and other preparations for extreme storm events and for sea-level rise in their areas of responsibility, a change reflected in a 2015 DoD report to Congress, “National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and a Changing Climate.”

In the past, such efforts, only beginning, were never allowed to distract the services from their main presumed function: contesting America’s foreign adversaries. Now, as with Harvey and Irma, the military’s domestic responsibilities are on the rise just as the president is assigning them yet more (or more intensified) missions in the never-ending war on terror, including a stepped-up presence in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq and Syria, more intense air campaigns across the Greater Middle East, and a heightened pace of military maneuvers near North Korea. As shown by a series of deadly collisions involving Navy vessels in the Pacific, this higher tempo of operations has already stretched the military to or even beyond its limits in various conflicts it has proven incapable either of winning or ending. The result: overworked crews and overstretched resources. With the massive response to Harvey and Irma, it is being pushed yet further.

In short, as the planet continues to heat up, the armed forces and the nation at large face an existential crisis. On the one hand, President Trump and his generals, including Secretary of Defense Mattis, are once again fully focused on the increased use of military force (and the threat of more of the same) abroad. This includes not only the wars against the Taliban, ISIS, al-Qaida and their numerous spin-offs, but also preparations for possible military strikes on North Korea and perhaps even, at some future date, on Chinese installations in the South China Sea.

As global warming intensifies, instability and chaos, including massive flows of refugees, will only grow, undoubtedly inviting yet more military interventions abroad. Meanwhile, climate change will increase chaos and devastation at home and there, too, it seems that Washington will often see the military as America’s sole reliable response mechanism. As a result, decisions will have to be made about ending American conflicts abroad and refocusing domestically or that overstretched military will simply swallow even more of the government’s dollars and gain yet more power in Washington. And yet, whatever else the armed forces might (or might not) be capable of, they are not capable of defeating climate change, which, at its essence, is anything but a military problem. While there are potential solutions to it, those, too, are in no way military.

Despite their reluctance to speak publicly about such environmental matters right now, top officials in the Pentagon are painfully aware of the problem at hand. They know that global warming, as it progresses, will generate new challenges at home and abroad, potentially stretching their capabilities to the breaking point and leaving this country ever more exposed to the ravages of climate change without offering any solutions to the problem. As a result, the generals face a fundamental choice. They can continue to self-censor their sophisticated analysis of climate change and its likely effects, and so remain complicit with the administration’s headlong rush into national catastrophe, or they can speak out forcefully on its threat to homeland security, and the resulting need for a new, largely non-military strategic posture that puts climate action at the top of the nation’s priorities.

The post The One Government Institution That Isn’t Run By Climate Change Deniers appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

My Sister Served in the Army. The Biggest Threat to Her Survival is Congress.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/09/2017 - 4:00am in

This post originally appeared at Talk Poverty.


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Mary Mayhew, commissioner of Maine's Dept. of Health & Human Services (left) and Gov. Paul LePage answer questions during a news conference to announce changes to the MaineCare system in Augusta, Maine, on Dec. 6, 2011. (Photo by Joe Phelan/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

The War on Medicaid Is Moving to the States

BY Greg Kaufmann | September 5, 2017

My older sister, Lynn, was always getting into trouble when we were kids. I was the goody two-shoes in the family, but if I did ever get myself in trouble, she’d get in even more trouble to help me out. She was a good sister in that way — always looking out for me. When I was little, I didn’t like to sleep by myself during thunderstorms, and she’d let me crawl into bed with her because she knew I was afraid.

Now, in some ways, I’m her big sister. I do my best to take care of her.

Lynn — a 62-year-old army veteran — cannot walk. Her dementia makes it impossible for her to remember to take her medicine. Her forgetfulness has life-or-death implications, since she has diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. As a result, Lynn has been in a nursing home for the past four years. Medicaid pays the bills for that — just like it does for most people who need nursing home care — and I’m terrified of what would happen without it.

She’s not trying to take more than her fair share of the pie.

Lynn joined the army right out of high school. When she was in boot camp, she had a traumatic head injury during basic training. The military doctors held her for observation, diagnosed her with a concussion and then released her. She served her time as a private, then was honorably discharged and got married.

A few years later, she was struck by a car. She was at a crosswalk, and the car in front of her stopped to let her cross. But the car behind it was impatient, so it swerved around the first car, plowing into the crosswalk and hitting my sister. That left her with her another traumatic head injury, as well as the beginning of hip problems that will plague her for the rest of her life.


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An elderly woman shows her gratitude to President Lyndon B. Johnson for his signing of the Medicare health care bill in July 1965. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

LBJ Launches Medicare: ‘You Can’t Treat Grandma This Way’

BY Bill Moyers | July 30, 2017

Over time the hip problems worsened, until she finally had a hip replacement in her mid-50s. She was able to walk without pain for a while, but she then contracted a MRSA infection in her new hip joint. That can happen with artificial joints — it’s rare, but once you have the infection it’s hard to remove. Lynn’s infection spread quickly, and it almost killed her. Doctors tried to treat her with some very powerful drugs at first, which made her thoughts so fuzzy that she said her brain was buzzing.

Eventually, doctors had to remove her hip bone to control the MRSA. Medicaid paid for this surgery, too — otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to afford it.

Just four years ago, Lynn was working multiple jobs to put her daughter through college: in the cafeteria at her daughter’s school, at Walmart and at a deli. Now Lynn can no longer walk, or work. The doctors say the drugs impaired her brain and made her dementia onset much more quickly.

But this isn’t a sob story. I don’t want you to feel bad for her, or take pity on her. Lynn is still the same person I’ve always known, full of life and warmth. She can break the tension in a moment better than anyone I know. I still remember a moment a few years ago, when she was recovering from her first hip surgery. She flew into Washington, DC, to visit us, and we were trying to get her out of baggage claim and into the elevator in her wheelchair. The doors started to close, and nobody wanted to hold them — she was far away, and she was moving so slowly. But she shouted, “I’m coming as fast as I can!” across the airport. They actually held the door for her. In the elevator, she chatted with them amicably, asking how their Christmas was going. Strangers were smiling and talking to her — that’s a rare sight in DC.

Lynn would be lost without Medicaid. She served her country and worked hard to provide for her family. She’s not trying to take more than her fair share of the pie. She’s just somebody who needs care — and she didn’t expect to need the care that she needs as young as she is.

When our elected representatives decide to cut Medicaid — whether through repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act or a budget that cuts $3.6 trillion from services such as Medicare and Medicaid — they should think about what this means to people like me and my family. They should think about Lynn, and the millions of other veterans who have turned to Medicaid.

The post My Sister Served in the Army. The Biggest Threat to Her Survival is Congress. appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

The American Military Uncontained

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/09/2017 - 1:00am in

This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.

When it comes to the “world’s greatest military,” the news has been shocking. Two fast US Navy ships colliding with slow-moving commercial vessels with tragic loss of life. An Air Force that has been in the air continuously for years and yet doesn’t have enough pilots to fly its combat jets. Ground troops who find themselves fighting “rebels” in Syria previously armed and trained by the CIA. Already overstretched Special Operations forces facing growing demands as their rates of mental distress and suicide rise. Proxy armies in Iraq and Afghanistan that are unreliable, often delivering American-provided weaponry to black markets and into the hands of various enemies. All of this and more coming at a time when defense spending is once again soaring and the national security state is awash in funds to the tune of nearly a trillion dollars a year.


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President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired US Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club on Nov. 19, 2016 in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Trump’s Generals Have Failed Up

BY Tom Engelhardt | September 6, 2017

What gives? Why are highly maneuverable and sophisticated naval ships colliding with lumbering cargo vessels? Why is an Air Force that exists to fly and fight short 1,200 pilots? Why are US Special Operations forces deployed everywhere and winning nowhere? Why, in short, is the US military fighting itself — and losing?

 
It’s the Ops Tempo, Stupid

After 16 years of a never-ending, ever-spreading global war on terror, alarms are going off in Asia from the Koreas and Afghanistan to the Philippines, while across the Greater Middle East and Africa the globe’s “last superpower” is in a never-ending set of conflicts with a range of minor enemies few can even keep straight. As a result, America’s can-do military, committed piecemeal to a bewildering array of missions, has increasingly become a can’t-do one.

Too few ships are being deployed for too long. Too few pilots are being worn out by incessant patrols and mushrooming drone and bombing missions. Special Operations forces (the “commandos of everywhere,” as Nick Turse calls them) are being deployed to far too many countries — more than two-thirds of the nations on the planet already this year — and are involved in conflicts that hold little promise of ending on terms favorable to Washington. Meanwhile, insiders like retired Gen. David Petraeus speak calmly about “generational struggles” that will essentially never end. To paraphrase an old slogan from ABC’s Wide World of Sports, as the US military spans the globe, it’s regularly experiencing the agony of defeat rather than the thrill of victory.

To President Donald Trump (and so many other politicians in Washington), this unsavory reality suggests an obvious solution: boost military funding; build more navy ships; train more pilots and give them more incentive pay to stay in the military; rely more on drones and other technological “force multipliers” to compensate for tired troops; cajole allies like the Germans and Japanese to spend more on their militaries; and pressure proxy armies like the Iraqi and Afghan security forces to cut corruption and improve combat performance.


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President Donald Trump looks on during a bilateral meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 7, 2017. (Photo by Mikhail MetzelTASS via Getty Images)

Trump is Not Cause, But Consequence

BY Andrew Bacevich | August 9, 2017

One option — the most logical — is never seriously considered in Washington: to make deep cuts in the military’s operational tempo by decreasing defense spending and downsizing the global mission, by bringing troops home and keeping them there. This is not an isolationist plea. The United States certainly faces challenges, notably from Russia (still a major nuclear power) and China (a global economic power bolstering its regional militarily strength). North Korea is, as ever, posturing with missile and nuclear tests in provocative ways. Terrorist organizations strive to destabilize American allies and cause trouble even in “the homeland.”

Such challenges require vigilance. What they don’t require is more ships in the sea lanes, pilots in the air and boots on the ground. Indeed, 16 years after the 9/11 attacks it should be obvious that more of the same is likely to produce yet more of what we’ve grown all too accustomed to: increasing instability across significant swaths of the planet, as well as the rise of new terror groups or new iterations of older ones, which means yet more opportunities for failed US military interventions.

Once upon a time, when there were still two superpowers on planet Earth, Washington’s worldwide military posture had a clear rationale: the containment of communism. Soon after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 to much triumphalist self-congratulation in Washington, the scholar and former CIA consultant Chalmers Johnson had an epiphany. What he would come to call “the American Raj,” a global imperial structure ostensibly built to corral the menace of communism, wasn’t going away just because that menace had evaporated, leaving not a superpower nor even a major power as an opponent anywhere on the horizon. Quite the opposite, Washington — and its globe-spanning “empire” of military bases — was only digging in deeper and for the long haul. At that moment, with a certain shock, Johnson realized that the US was itself an empire and, with its mirror-image-enemy gone, risked turning on itself and becoming its own nemesis.

The US, it turned out, hadn’t just contained the Soviets; they had contained us, too. Once their empire collapsed, our leaders imbibed the old dream of Woodrow Wilson, even if in a newly militarized fashion: to remake the world in one’s own image (if need be at the point of a sword).

Since the early 1990s, largely unconstrained by peer rivals, America’s leaders have acted as if there were nothing to stop them from doing as they pleased on the planet, which, as it turned out, meant there was nothing to stop them from their own folly. We witness the results today. Prolonged and disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Interventions throughout the Greater Middle East (Libya, Syria, Yemen and beyond) that spread chaos and destruction. Attacks against terrorism that have given new impetus to jihadists everywhere. And recently calls to arm Ukraine against Russia. All of this is consistent with a hubristic strategic vision that, in these years, has spoken in an all-encompassing fashion and without irony of global reach, global power and full-spectrum dominance.

In this context, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the full scope of America’s military power. All the world is a stage — or a staging area — for US troops. There are still approximately 800 US military bases in foreign lands. America’s commandos deploy to more than 130 countries yearly. And even the world is not enough for the Pentagon as it seeks to dominate not just land, sea and air but outer space, cyberspace and even inner space, if you count efforts to achieve “total information awareness” through 17 intelligence agencies dedicated — at a cost of $80 billion a year — to sweeping up all data on Planet Earth.


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President Donald Trump is briefed by Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command Commander, during a visit at MacDill, AFB, Florida, Feb. 6, 2017. (DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen/Released/Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/ flickr CC 2.0)

Prepare, Pursue, Prevail!

BY Andrew Bacevich | March 22, 2017

In short, America’s troops are out everywhere and winning nowhere, a problem America’s “winningest” president, Donald Trump, is only exacerbating. Surrounded by “his” generals, Trump has — against his own instincts, he claimed recently — recommitted American troops and prestige to the Afghan War. He’s also significantly expanded strikes and US drone bombing throughout the Greater Middle East, and threatened to bring fire and fury to North Korea, while pushing a program to boost military spending.

At a Pentagon awash in money, with promises of more to come, missions are rarely downsized. Meanwhile, what passes for original thinking in the Trump White House is the suggestion of Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, to privatize America’s war in Afghanistan (and possibly elsewhere). Mercenaries are the answer to Washington’s military problems, suggests Prince. And mercs, of course, have the added benefit of not being constrained by the rules of engagement that apply to America’s uniformed service members.

Indeed, Prince’s idea, though opposed by Trump’s generals, is compelling in one sense: If you accept the notion that America’s wars in these years have been fought largely for the corporate agendas of the military-industrial complex, why not turn warfighting itself over to the warrior corporations that now regularly accompany the military into battle, cutting out the middleman, that very military?

 
Hammering a Cloud of Gnats

Erik Prince’s mercenaries will, however, have to bide their time as the military high command continues to launch kinetic strikes against elusive foes around the globe. By its own admission, the force recent US presidents have touted as the “finest” in history faces remarkably “asymmetrical” and protean enemies, including the roughly 20 terrorist organizations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater of operations. In striking at such relatively puny foes, the US reminds me of the mighty Thor of superhero fame swinging his hammer violently against a cloud of gnats. In the process, some of those gnats will naturally die, but the result will still be an exhausted superhero and ever more gnats attracted by the heat and commotion of battle.


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President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of the US Congress on February 28, 2017 in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Donald Trump Goes All In for the Military-Industrial Complex

BY John Nichols | March 1, 2017

I first came across the phrase “using a sledgehammer to kill gnats” while looking at the history of US airpower during the Vietnam War. B-52 “Arc Light” raids dropped record tons of bombs on parts of South Vietnam and Laos in largely failed efforts to kill dispersed guerrillas and interdict supply routes from North Vietnam. Half a century later, with its laser- and GPS-guided bombs, the Air Force regularly touts the far greater precision of American airpower. Yet in one country after another, using just that weaponry, the US has engaged in serial acts of overkill. In Afghanistan, it was the recent use of MOAB, the “mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear weapon the US has ever used in combat, against a small concentration of ISIS fighters. In similar fashion, the US air war in Syria has outpaced the Russians and even the Assad regime in its murderous effects on civilians, especially around Raqqa, the “capital” of the Islamic State. Such overkill is evident on the ground as well where special ops raids have, this year, left civilians dead from Yemen to Somalia. In other words, across the Greater Middle East, Washington’s profligate killing machine is also creating a desire for vengeance among civilian populations, staggering numbers of whom, when not killed, have been displaced or sent fleeing across borders as refugees in these wars. It has played a significant role in unsettling whole regions, creating failed states and providing yet more recruits for terror groups.

Leaving aside technological advances, little has changed since Vietnam. The US military is still relying on enormous firepower to kill elusive enemies as a way of limiting (American) casualties. As an instrument of victory, it didn’t work in Vietnam, nor has it worked in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But never mind the history lessons. President Trump asserts that his “new” Afghan strategy — the details of which, according to a military spokesman, are “not there yet” — will lead to more terrorists (that is, gnats) being killed.

Since 9/11, America’s leaders, Trump included, have rarely sought ways to avoid those gnats, while efforts to “drain the swamp” in which the gnats thrive have served mainly to enlarge their breeding grounds. At the same time, efforts to enlist indigenous “gnats” — local proxy armies — to take over the fight have gone poorly indeed. As in Vietnam, the main US focus has invariably been on developing better, more technologically advanced (which means more expensive) sledgehammers, while continuing to whale away at that cloud of gnats — a process as hopeless as it is counterproductive.

 
The Greatest Self-Defeating Force in History?

Incessant warfare represents the end of democracy. I didn’t say that, James Madison did.

I firmly believe, though, in words borrowed from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, that “only Americans can hurt America.” So how can we lessen the hurt? By beginning to rein in the military. A standing military exists — or rather should exist — to support and defend the Constitution and our country against immediate threats to our survival. Endless attacks against inchoate foes in the backlands of the planet hardly promote that mission. Indeed, the more such attacks wear on the military, the more they imperil national security.

A friend of mine, a captain in the Air Force, once quipped to me: you study long, you study wrong. It’s a sentiment that’s especially cutting when applied to war: you wage war long, you wage it wrong. Yet as debilitating as they may be to militaries, long wars are even more devastating to democracies. The longer our military wages war, the more our country is militarized, shedding its democratic values and ideals.

Back in the Cold War era, the regions in which the US military is now slogging it out were once largely considered “the shadows” where John le Carré-style secret agents from the two superpowers matched wits in a set of shadowy conflicts. Post-9/11, “taking the gloves off” and seeking knockout blows, the US military entered those same shadows in a big way and there, not surprisingly, it often couldn’t sort friend from foe.

A new strategy for America should involve getting out of those shadowy regions of no-win war. Instead, an expanding US military establishment continues to compound the strategic mistakes of the last 16 years. Seeking to dominate everywhere but winning decisively nowhere, it may yet go down as the greatest self-defeating force in history.

The post The American Military Uncontained appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Trump Flip-Flops on Afghanistan, Opts for Years-Long Quagmire

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/08/2017 - 1:21am in

This post first appeared at Informed Comment.

The 16-years-long Afghanistan War has bedeviled Washington decision-makers since the US invasion of fall 2001, which came in response to the attacks of Sept. 11.

The US probably does not need to stay in Afghanistan to ensure that America is not attacked from that country again.

In his speech on Monday night, Trump was primarily attempting to manipulate American domestic politics. He was trying to look presidential and play the patriotism card after he called neo-Nazis and KKK members in Charlottesville very fine people. Almost nothing he said about Afghanistan and South Asia made any sense, and of course Trump does not know anything about any of those subjects. His military advisers only know these subjects through the lens of military action, which isn’t very helpful if the problems are cultural.

It is a low-risk strategy. I don’t find the American public interested in Afghanistan in the least. The US media does not much cover that war, and announcements of US troop deaths are carried on page 17 of the newspapers. So Trump can shift the focus to foreign policy without risking a backlash.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis once said it is fun to shoot Taliban. He is in for a lot of fun.

Trump depicted the radical groups in Afghanistan as dangerous to the United States. This assertion is probably incorrect. It is true that, as Trump said, the 9/11 attacks were planned out by Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan. But they were also planned out in Hamburg, where al-Qaida had the good fortune to recruit some high-powered engineers. They were not planned out by the Taliban, whose leaders probably did not even know about the plans to attack the United States. In the aftermath, Taliban angrily denounced Bin Laden as having provoked a foreign occupation of their country.

Of course, al-Qaida would not have existed at all if Ronald Reagan had not encouraged a private army of Muslim fundamentalists and tribal forces to attack the Communist government of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

That al-Qaida had training bases in Afghanistan was important to their movement, but those bases wouldn’t have been much use if the American airlines did not have shoddy security precautions against hijackings. Jet planes are enormous bombs, and it was only a matter of time before someone figured out how to use them as such. Likewise, mistrust between the CIA and the FBI caused two of the hijackers, who had been under surveillance at an al-Qaida summit in Kuala Lumpur but then entered the US and settled in San Diego, to fall between the cracks.

And, of course, al-Qaida would not have existed at all if Ronald Reagan had not encouraged a private army of Muslim fundamentalists and tribal forces to attack the Communist government of Afghanistan in the 1980s. And that government wouldn’t have been there, in all likelihood, if Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union had not invaded and occupied the country, which began its long-term destabilization.

In short, the US probably does not need to stay in Afghanistan to ensure that America is not attacked from that country again. The obverse is that being in Afghanistan does not protect the US from attacks hatched elsewhere, including possibly in Europe itself. The main point is that the US needed better security at point of use in dangerous systems such as the airline industry.

Still, for ISIS or al-Qaida to reestablish training camps in Afghanistan would be a highly negative development. Such camps would be difficult to discover and bomb from the air, if the US withdrew, since it would need to fly missions against them from aircraft carrier battle groups in the Gulf, and would need overflight permission from Pakistan or Iran.

As for why the Taliban in particular have made a comeback and may control a third of the country, there are some basic reasons for this, some of them explained by Sarah Chayes, who knows more about the real Afghanistan than the entire US government does.

First, Afghanistan is desperately poor. It is one of the 25 poorest countries in the world. Despite the fake news sometimes put out from DC think tanks, it has virtually no natural resources of any value. Its population is still largely agricultural, but much of the country is arid. This poverty contributes to a weak government that does not raise enough in taxes to mount a proper government. If it weren’t for foreign aid, Afghanistan could not afford to pay its tens of thousands of troops and police. Low salaries and salary arrears encourage corruption. Dire poverty does not necessarily turn a country into a failed state. Senegal does better than Afghanistan. But it is a strike against the country and hard to overcome.

Second, its high rates of population growth often outstrip economic growth, so that per capita income is actually declining.


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Northern Alliance soldiers watch as a US B-52 bomber circles overhead, October 31, 2001 in Bagram, Afghanistan. Shortly after the plane dropped a series of bombs on Tota Khan Mountain, a Taliban base. (Photo by Tyler Hicks/Getty Images)

A 9/11 Retrospective: Washington’s 15-Year Air War

BY Tom Engelhardt | September 9, 2016

Trump’s determination not to do nation building differs little from the actual US policy of the past 16 years, which is to put much more money into bombs than into the country’s economic development. Since lack of development is a big driver of the failed state and of guerrilla violence, giving it up won’t be helpful.

Third, as noted above, its government is extremely corrupt. Officials prey on people, steal land and other resources from them, and generally act like a plague on the land. Warlord rule is common, i.e., rule by what are essentially violent mobsters. This extreme corruption drives some of the population into the arms of the Taliban, who are fanatical puritans and who do lay levies on people, but are for the most part not personally corrupt.

Fourth, Afghanistan has some deep ethnic divides. Some 40 percent of the population is Pashtun. They speak Pashto and practice a relatively strict form of Sunni Islam. They are the potential constituency for the Taliban. Another 22 percent or so is Hazara Shiites, who speak Dari Persian and have the same form of Islam as neighboring Iran. Ten percent are Uzbeks, who speak a Turkic language and practice Sunni Islam, though many of them are secular-minded as a result of the influence of neighboring Uzbekistan. Most of the rest are some form of Tajik, Sunni Muslims who speak Dari Persian. Tajiks are disproportionately urban and literate and often fill government offices, to the annoyance of the rural and tribal Pashtuns.

As Sarah Chayes has pointed out, deep ethnic divides and hatred exacerbate public reaction against corruption. If a Tajik governor of a province is stealing from Pashtuns, the latter may well turn to the Taliban for protection.

The Western Pashtuns have never bought into the US-established government in Kabul, which has all along had a strong element of the Northern Alliance (Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks) who had fought the Taliban in the 1990s. Last I knew, 2 percent of the army is from Helmand and Kandahar provinces, Pashtun strongholds.

The country, in short, is in a stalemate, and the best the US can likely do is to be like the little boy who stuck his finger in the dike to stop a flood. You kind of have to keep your finger in the dike forever.

Sixth, outside powers also play on the ethnic divides. Many Tajik politicians have strong relationships with India. Most Pashtun are pro-Pakistani. Pakistan is regularly accused of promoting the Taliban and Muslim fundamentalism as a way of asserting Pakistani influence and countering Indian inroads. Pakistani generals consider Afghanistan their “strategic depth” with regard to India. (I don’t think they understand the concept properly; you want your strategic depth between you and the enemy, not behind you.) Hazaras have not been as close to Iran as you might imagine, but some of their leaders do have links to Tehran.

The ordinary troops of the army are reluctant to risk their lives fighting for a corrupt government. There are high desertion rates and high rates of drug use in the army. While in some battles some units have fought bravely, despite its training, size and equipment it is regularly successfully challenged by smaller bands of Taliban.

If Trump had pulled the US out of Afghanistan, as he threatened to during the campaign, my guess is that Kabul would have fallen to the Taliban within a year. The US no longer does much active war fighting in this country, but special forces and US fighter jets can intervene to stop a Taliban offensive.

The country, in short, is in a stalemate, and the best the US can likely do is to be like the little boy who stuck his finger in the dike to stop a flood. You kind of have to keep your finger in the dike forever.

Trump’s demand that India invest in Afghanistan was overly dramatic. India already invests in Afghanistan. But I don’t know what he expects. It is a desperately poor country with few natural resources. Although the Indian middle class has greatly expanded, much of India is still mired in rural poverty, and those villagers are a much bigger constituency for the BJP government than are the villagers of Afghanistan.

Trump’s slam of Pakistan as giving safe haven to terrorists and extremists is the sort of thing it is better to say privately. You say it publicly, Pakistan’s urban elites are likely to tell Washington to jump in a lake. They consider Afghan fundamentalists as a vector of their soft power in a neighboring country. Already, Pakistan is being deeply embedded in China’s economic expansion westward, and Islamabad could easily turn to Beijing as its major foreign patron. And, by the way, the Pakistani military has fought some hard campaigns against extremists inside the country, and lost many troops to these battles.

In the end, Trump just kicked the can down the road. The fawning over him by some tele-journalists for doing so (and seeming decisive and “presidential”) was truly disgusting. If Afghanistan’s curses are corruption, fanatical identity politics and a hatred of globalization, its more problematic organizations resemble most of all… Trump’s base.

The post Trump Flip-Flops on Afghanistan, Opts for Years-Long Quagmire appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Do You Trust Donald Trump’s Finger on the Nuclear Button?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/08/2017 - 1:00am in

Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on July 24, 2017 at The Nation. We thought it was worth revisiting today given this week’s events.

The United States is not a monarchy, but in times of nuclear crisis it sure feels like one. In his capacity as commander in chief, the president of the United States has sole authority over whether to launch a nuclear strike. He does not need to consult his military advisers, he does not need approval from Congress, it is his call alone. That is a risky protocol under any circumstances, but when the Oval Office is occupied by someone with the temperament of Donald Trump, it should trouble Americans of all political persuasions. This is especially true when the United States confronts an adversary whose own leader, North Korea’s Kim Jung-Un, seems to be itching for a fight.

The Korean conflict is escalating by the day as the two men’s macho posturing intensifies; we are fast approaching a situation like the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when the US and Soviet Union came perilously close to blowing each other to bits. It is imperative to immediately ratchet down tensions between the US and North Korea and above all to make sure no nuclear weapons are fired. Even a single nuclear blast would unleash “inconceivable death and destruction,” James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, told CNN last night.


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Airmen with the 106th Rescue Wing conduct chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense training at FS Gabreski ANG Jan. 9, 2015. (Photo by (Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy/New York Air National Guard)/ flickr CC 2.0)

Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia

BY Chuck Spinney and Pierre Sprey | February 27, 2017

To lessen the chances of catastrophe on the US side, senior leaders in Congress from both parties should immediately communicate to the White House that the president must not launch a nuclear first strike without obtaining a congressional declaration of war. Congressional leaders should also urge the president’s top military advisers — the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the national security adviser — to take all measures available to assure that the president does not launch a nuclear attack without the advisers’ express agreement that such an attack is unavoidable to protect the American homeland. Meanwhile, efforts to engage in diplomatic dialogue with North Korea — aided by its sponsor state and neighbor, China, which doesn’t want nuclear war either — must redouble.

Whoever might start it, everyone loses in a nuclear war. It is by no means clear that Donald Trump understands this core truth of the nuclear era. Until he does, we need to get his finger off the nuclear button, or at least broaden the circle of officials with the authority to make that awesome decision. We need to demand dialogue rather than escalation. Public servants with inside influence should be sending this message loudly and clearly to the White House, and so should ordinary citizens. Now is the time for marches in the streets urging no nuclear war, and especially no first strike.

The United States must proceed with steadiness and resolve but also reason and prudence. Alas, the current commander in chief demonstrates none of these qualities. Common sense dictates that a president with Donald Trump’s volatile temperament and erratic judgment should not be empowered to single-handedly start a nuclear war.

Leave politics and ideology aside for the moment; this is not a partisan plea. It is not a call to lower America’s guard against potential nuclear attack by North Korea, which is an undeniably dangerous and nasty regime. But North Korea now has the capacity to strike the US mainland with a nuclear weapons, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency and independent analysts, and that changes everything. The United States must proceed with steadiness and resolve but also reason and prudence. Alas, the current commander in chief demonstrates none of these qualities. Common sense dictates that a president with Donald Trump’s volatile temperament and erratic judgment should not be empowered to single-handedly start a nuclear war.

At present, US law and long-standing policy give president Trump unilateral, unstoppable authority to launch a nuclear attack. He need not present a compelling reason for such an attack; perhaps he simply decides that it’s time to teach North Korea a lesson. He need not notify, much less obtain agreement from, leaders in Congress or the secretary of defense or other military officials. Trump’s status as commander in chief empowers him and him alone to unleash nuclear weapons at a moment’s notice.

“Seven hundred strategic warheads in silos and submarines are poised for immediate launch, and the president has absolute, unchecked authority to order their launch with a single verbal command to the Pentagon War Room,” Bruce Blair, a former nuclear-launch officer for the US Air Force and current scholar with Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, told The Nation. Trump need only turn to the military officer who carries the nuclear-codes suitcase, who is never more than a few feet away. The officer opens the suitcase (the so-called “football”), Trump makes one phone call authenticating his identity, and he orders the warheads unleashed — warheads that, once launched, cannot be called back.

“Four minutes after he gave the order, missiles would fly; 30 minutes later, they would explode on their targets,” explained Joe Cirincione, a former staff member of the US House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services and current president of the Ploughshares Fund. “Hundreds of targets. As quickly as he could post a tweet, Trump could destroy human civilization.”

All US presidents of the nuclear age have possessed the same awesome, unfettered authority Trump currently holds. But none of those presidents, with the possible exception of Richard Nixon during the darkest days of Watergate, displayed the psychological profile of the current commander in chief. Donald Trump “has shown himself time and again to be easily baited and quick to lash out, dismissive of expert consultation and ill-informed of even basic military and international affairs — including, most especially, nuclear weapons,” stated a public letter Blair and nine other former US nuclear launch officers released a month before the 2016 presidential election.

Could the military veto an ill-advised attack order from Trump? There is precedent: When Nixon was brooding and drinking heavily in the final months of his presidency, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger reportedly instructed the Joint Chiefs of Staff that “any emergency order coming from the president” should first be cleared with Schlesinger or the secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. Have Trump’s secretary of defense or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff implemented any similar measures? The Pentagon press office declined to comment.

Set aside political ideology and partisan calculations for the moment. For the sake of the nation and indeed humanity, it is imperative to reform US nuclear-weapons policy.

Defense Secretary Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Dunford “are sober, prudent and intelligent individuals who must be concerned about Trump’s impulsiveness and have surely considered how to ensure that he does not make a bad nuclear call,” said Blair. “They may well have taken extraordinary steps to ensure that a presidential command to use nuclear weapons would require their approval under unusual circumstances — e.g., out of the blue the president orders a preventive nuclear strike against [North Korea].” Steven Pifer, an arms-control expert at the Brookings Institution, also praised Mattis and Dunford as “sober-minded individuals” who “might try to intercede if they saw an inappropriate order.” However, Pifer stressed, “the system is not designed to give others a veto over a presidential decision.”

The system, then, must be changed. Set aside political ideology and partisan calculations for the moment. For the sake of the nation and indeed humanity, it is imperative to reform US nuclear-weapons policy. Start with three concrete, common-sense measures: The United States should take its nuclear weapons off of “hair-trigger” status; it should declare a policy of “no first use” of nuclear weapons; and it should prohibit this or any president from unilaterally launching a nuclear attack. Instead, it should require the president to act in concert with military and congressional leaders — except under exceptional circumstances, such as an adversary’s imminent nuclear attack.

Launching a nuclear attack is “a decision [so] momentous for all of civilization [that it] should have the kinds of checks and balances on executive powers called for by our Constitution,” said William Perry, the US defense secretary from 1994 to 1997. Perry has urged Congress to pass the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017, introduced in January by Sen. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California. To bring Congress into the decision-making loop and prohibit the president from acting unilaterally, the bill stipulates that “the president may not use the Armed Forces of the United States to conduct a first-use nuclear strike unless such strike is conducted pursuant to a declaration of war by Congress that expressly authorizes such strike.”

“In addition to passing Markey-Lieu, the single most important other step would be to take our nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert,” said Cirincione. “Currently, four minutes after Donald Trump gives an order, hundreds of nuclear warheads could be launched. Each is many times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is insane. There is no need for this rapid-launch capability. Having our missiles ready to launch in hours, days or weeks instead of seconds would provide some time for reflection, debate and possible reversal of a launch command. Secretary Mattis could do the nation a great service by recommending in his Nuclear Posture Review, due out late this year, that this Cold War practice be ended.”

None of these reforms will happen without strong, sustained public pressure. “Removing nuclear weapons from hair-trigger alert, adopting a no-first-use policy and passing the Markey-Lieu legislation…will require grass-roots energy and political will that, until Trump, has been dormant for decades,” Meredith Horowski, the global campaign director for the NGO Global Zero, told The Nation. “Now many Americans are waking up to the nuclear danger posed by Donald Trump,” she said. “That’s why in the coming weeks Global Zero and partners are mounting a new large-scale grass-roots campaign — of students, activists, community leaders, universities, institutions, cities and elected officials — to powerfully reject Donald Trump’s sole authority to launch us into nuclear war.” The campaign is slated to begin with a Day of Action in Washington, DC, on Sept. 25.

There is no more urgent issue confronting the nation than Donald Trump and the nuclear button. Climate change, which likewise poses an existential threat to civilization, does not have such a short fuse. Fights over health care, immigration, budgets and taxes — these can be won or lost today but resumed tomorrow. Go wrong with nuclear weapons, and there may be no tomorrow.

The post Do You Trust Donald Trump’s Finger on the Nuclear Button? appeared first on BillMoyers.com.