Because, More War: Senators Introduce Legislation to Directly Provide Weapons to Kurds

Because America does not have enough war in the Middle East at present, and because more American arms introduced into any situation always make things better, Senator Joni Ernst introduced on Wednesday legislation to provide arms directly to the Kurds in Iraq, ostensibly so they could fight Islamic State (IS).

Cosponsors include Senators Barbara Boxer, Lindsey Graham, Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio.

A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives and has some bipartisan support.

The Current Situation

For those who accidentally landed here thinking this was a Game of Thrones fan fiction site, a quick recap of what is going on with the Kurds, Iraq and IS.

Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country’s three major ethnic/religious groups — the Sunni, Shia and Kurds — were held in rough togetherness by Saddam and his police state. The U.S. broke all that, but failed to replace the police state with a functioning nation state. Hilarity ensued, plus 13+ years of internecine violence.

IS moved into Iraqi territory more or less on the side of the Sunnis in 2014. The Shia-led central government, supported and armed by the U.S. and Iran, along with the Kurds, went to war against IS.

The U.S. likes the Kurds, because they are non-Arab Muslims and have supported the many U.S. interventions in Iraq over the years. The Iranians do not really care for the Kurds, as they fear Kurdish independence inside Iraq will enflame their own Kurd minority.

The Kurds, who are essentially a de facto independent nation inside the rotting shell of “Iraq,” made common cause with the Shia’s against the threat of IS. The Kurds, however, have big plans for their own state, and are kept in check in part by the U.S.

One tool for that is making sure (most of) their weapons flow through the central Shia government.

Why This New Legislation is a Bad Idea

Not supplying weapons directly to the Kurds is not much of a policy, but it is what Obama went to war with, and it is not altogether bad. A balance of power in Iraq serves American interests and gives the U.S. leverage over the Shias.

The new Senate legislation will not likely pass, and even if it does, it will not force Obama to do anything. The actual on-the-ground policy toward the Kurds and their weapons is unlikely to change in the near-to-midterm. Only another collapse of Shia forces in the face of a new IS advance will alter policy.

Still, the action by the Senate reveals how clueless some Senators are toward the complex reality on the ground in Iraq (the Democratic supporters) and how willing to play politics with global events some are (the Republicans, especially Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, both presidential contenders.)

Just because we already know nothing good is going to come out of this latest Iraq War does not mean we still can’t find ways to make it even worse.

I had the chance to talk about all this on RT.com (the announcer says I am in Baghdad, not true. I am happily thousands of miles away, in New York):

Crossposted at WeMeantWell.com

What Happened in Tikrit After Victory Over IS?

If there was a single, overriding lesson to crawl out of America’s failure in Iraq War 2.0, it is that destroying a government/leader is the easy part. Replacing what you have destroyed with a functioning government is the key to lasting victory. If you do not, all you get is chaos and, eventually, more conflict. That’s what paved the way for IS into Iraq, and is the real test of “victories” over the Islamic State (IS) such as Tikrit.

The much-hailed victory over IS is seen by many in the west as a model for the eventual defeat of IS throughout Iraq. It may indeed be such a model, but, once again, not the one America thinks it will be.

A Quick Tikrit Primer

The Islamic State occupied and controlled the city of Tikrit from June 2014 until last month. IS is largely a Sunni entity, and was generally welcomed by the majority Sunnis in Tikrit as a bulwark against the Shia forces of the Iraqi government, the Iranian forces on the ground and especially the Shia militias unleashed by both. The United States assisted in the Iranian-led take over of Tikrit in April 2015 in part by providing close air and tactical bombing support to the Iranian and militia forces.

Occupied Tikrit

With the declaration of victory, American forces were distracted by some other shiny object elsewhere in Iraq, and the media which followed the fight as if it was a sporting event, moved on. No one seems to be paying much attention to what is happening in Tikrit now that the shooting has stopped. However, if the Iraqi government fails to secure control of the city in an equitable way that is inclusive of the Sunni residents, and if someone cannot stop the Shia militias from taking bloody revenge on the Sunnis, the schedule ahead will be simply more war.

So let’s visit Tikrit, alongside the one journalist that has bothered to go there.

Revenge and Disarray

A reporter for NIQASH (a network of Iraqi correspondents managed by an international team of editors at Media in Cooperation and Transition, a non-profit media organization based in Berlin, is a generally reliable and non-sectarian news source) had this to say (excerpted) after making his way into Tikrit: (more…)

Clinton Charity Hid More Foreign Donations Than First Realized

The State Department said Monday it has no evidence that any actions taken by Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state were influenced by donations to the Clinton Foundation or former President Bill Clinton’s speaking fees.

That may indeed be true, but it misses the real point. Simply because her actions may not have risen to provable criminal levels, the real issue is about trust. The numbers don’t lie. And this is not a partisan attack, it’s accounting. And accountability.

The Boston Globe seems to get that. It reported a huge Clinton charity failed to report its foreign-government contributions to the State Department as required.

When Hillary became Secretary of State in 2009, she agreed to have her family’s foundation submit new donations from foreign countries for State Department review. This was designed to avoid potential conflicts of interest, given her new government role. The arrangement was made by an Obama administration covering its flanks over the appearance, at a minimum, of impropriety.

Rules are for Fools

The Clinton Foundation repeatedly violated this agreement with the Obama White House.

The Washington Post reported in February the Clinton Foundation failed to disclose $500,000 from Algeria at the time the country was lobbying the State Department over human-rights issues. Bloomberg reported the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, a Clinton Foundation affiliate, failed to disclose 1,100 foreign contributions.

But the Globe’s report on the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), yet another foundation affiliate (these people have more shell groups than a Mafia crime family), may cover the most notable omissions yet. Tens of millions of dollars went undisclosed to the State Department.

“Government grants to CHAI, nearly all of them from foreign countries, doubled from $26.7 million in 2010 to $55.9 million in 2013, according to the charity’s tax forms,” The Globe reported. CHAI “makes up nearly 60 percent of the broader Clinton charitable empire” and has an annual budget of more than $100 million.

“The failures make the Clinton Health Access Initiative… a prominent symbol of the broken political promise and subsequent lack of accountability underlying the charity-related controversies that are dogging Clinton as she embarks on her campaign for president,” The Globe wrote.

About that Agreement with the White House

A CHAI spokeswoman told The Globe that her organization “didn’t think” it needed to report many of the contributions because they were simply increased payments from existing donor countries.

The memorandum of understanding the Clinton Foundation reached with the White House, however, indicates otherwise under CHAI’s section of the agreement:

Should an existing contributing country elect to increase materially its commitment, or should a new contributor country elect to support CHAI, the Foundation will share such countries and the circumstances of the anticipated contribution with the State Department designated agency ethics official for review.

More on CHAI

A spokesperson for Secretary of State John Kerry said CHAI should have disclosed the contributions.

“We would have expected that CHAI identify for the Department the foreign-country donors that elected to materially increase their donations and new country donors. The State Department believes that transparency is the critical element of that agreement,” the spokesperson told The Globe.

The Boston Globe reported CHAI also failed to disclose numerous payments from new donor countries. CHAI offered several explanations: Switzerland was an “oversight.” Rwanda’s $300,000 was considered a “fee” rather than a contribution. CHAI did not consider Flanders a “foreign government” because it is part of Belgium rather than an independent country.

The agreement the Clinton Foundation struck with the White House, however, said CHAI contributions should be considered “a foreign country” if they are from “an agency or department of a foreign country, as well as a government-owned corporation.”

Crossposted at WeMeantWell.com

‘Killing Jews is Worship’ Posters to Appear on NYC Subways and Buses?

A story of our times, with massive First Amendment issues embedded.

Kill Jews

A federal judge ruled that a group (more below, who they are makes this case even more complex) may put up posters on New York’s public buses and subways saying “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.” The poster features a young man in a checkered headscarf with the additional words “That’s His Jihad. What’s yours?”

The poster is now at the epicenter between public safety and free speech. On Tuesday, a District judge ruled New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) cannot stop the controversial ad.

The MTA argued the ad could incite violence against Jews.

However, MTA officials “underestimate the tolerant quality of New Yorkers and overestimate the potential impact of these fleeting advertisements,” the judge stated in his ruling. “Moreover, there is no evidence that seeing one of these advertisements on the back of a bus would be sufficient to trigger a violent reaction. Therefore, these ads — offensive as they may be — are still entitled to First Amendment protection.”

The MTA has now fired the next shot in the struggle, banning all “political” advertising on its subways and buses. You can certainly expect that decision to be challenged by a very broad range of actors.

The Speaker Versus the Speech

The issues surrounding the “Kill Jews” poster are complicated, in that the sponsor is a pro-Israel, anti-Muslim organization. Pamela Geller, the president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), the group that purchased the ads and sued the MTA to run them, was overjoyed at the court’s decision to allow her to post the, to some, inflammatory ads.

The Southern Poverty Law Center considers AFDI an “anti-Muslim” hate group. For example, earlier this year AFDI organized a portrait of the Prophet Mohammed contest, despite objections from Muslims who consider images of the Prophet blasphemous.

The presumed purpose of the “Kill Jews” ads placed by a pro-Israel group is to conflate the murder of innocents of one religion by smearing all members of another religion.

But can they say that kind of thing? Isn’t it Hate Speech and isn’t that illegal?

The Limits of Free Speech

The right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution isn’t there for the easy cases; it is there for the tough ones.

The Supreme Court has thus been very reluctant in modern times to issue limits on free speech; what is now commonly called “hate speech,” things like the Klu Klux Klan using the N-word, or religious fundamentalists protesting at veteran’s funerals by way of anti-gay slurs, have been ruled repeatedly to be protected acts of free speech. You get the good with the bad, no matter what you personally consider the good parts and the bad parts.

See how it works?

Some Bad History

The broad concept of free speech is somewhat recent in the Supreme Court’s mind.

One of the most shameful examples of restraint comes from the early 20th century case of U.S. v. Schenck. In that case, the Court decided Charles Schenck, the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America, could be convicted under the Espionage Act for writing and distributing a pamphlet that expressed opposition to the draft during World War I. It was in that case that Justice Holmes made his famous statement in favor of restraint, the one about free speech not allowing someone to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre.

So hate speech is illegal, like shouting Fire! and panicking a whole theatre full of people, right?

That Was Then, This is Now

The Supreme Court then did a 180 degree turn in the 1969 case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, which basically overturned Schenck. The Court held that inflammatory speech, even speech advocating violence, is protected under the First Amendment unless the speech “is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

That is where today’s New York District judge’s specific wording came from. When he said that New Yorker’s would understand the broader political point of the “Kill Jews” poster and not actually be moved to murder, he was confirming the standard set in Brandenburg v. Ohio: you have to do more than just announce an intent toward violence, your statement has to be such that people will be actually willing to follow it.

Back to the New York Buses

Of course predicting what people might do in response to any bit of speech is very hard stuff. But the Supreme Court in fact granted that power to predict to the judicial system. In the “Kill Jews” case, the judge clearly decided no one would see the ads and decide, based on that, to actually commit murder.

And that brings us back to Justice Holmes, the same Supreme Court judge who gave us the “fire in the crowded theatre” lines. Holmes later recanted, and became a firm advocate of nearly unrestrained free speech. Holmes wrote (Abrams v. United States) that the marketplace of ideas offered the best solution for tamping down offensive speech:

The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

In other words, let the ads play out on the New York buses and subways. The people are smart enough to know garbage when they smell it.

Crossposted at WeMeantWell.com

Who Asked for Leniency for Petraeus for Leaking Classified Material? It’s Classified

Sluts all.

After selling America a bill of goods that he claimed won Iraq War 2.0 (i.e., “The Surge,” yeah, how’d that work out Dave?), General Dave went on to head the CIA, where he strongly supported long prison terms for whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and John Kiriakou, claiming in the latter case that secrecy oaths “do matter.”

Then of course when it became his turn, General Dave happily handed over higher classified data than either Manning or Kiriakou even had access to, all to his adulterous lover and so-called biographer, Paula Broadwell. How’s that for a two-fer, violating both his oath of secrecy and his oath of marriage in one soggy gesture?

But this is America, where justice is blind and all. Right?

So when David Petraeus was sentenced last week to a mere two years of probation and a fine that is only a fraction of what he gets paid to make a speech these days, questions were asked. Why did Petraeus get off, so to speak, so easily?

Apart from the general sleaze in Washington DC, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler said as part of the plea deal he received letters supporting leniency for the general. In fact, Keesler received nearly three dozen such letters, including some from “high-level military and government officials.”

“The letters paint a portrait of a man considered among the finest military leaders of his generation who also has committed a grave but very uncharacteristic error in judgment,” Keesler said at the sentencing hearing.

It might be interesting to see who in Washington supported a confessed leaker of highly-classified documents. But despite Petraeus’ light sentence being based in part on those letters, no one can see them. The letters were filed under seal by Petraeus’ lawyers, which the judge agreed to. No explanation was given by the lawyers or the judge about what public interest was served by keeping the authors and the contents of the support letters hidden.

Several media outlets, from The Associated Press to The Washington Post, filed suit Monday with Keesler demanding that he unseal them. But unless the judge is also sleeping with Paula Broadwell (who, by the way, was never charged with unlawfully receiving classified documents) and also, um, leaks, we may never know.

Crossposted at WeMeantWell.com

What to Do if You Think You’re on the No-Fly List

It has come to this. There is a self-help guides from the ACLU on what to do if you think you are on the U.S. government’s no-fly list. Oh, and the TSA says 99 percent of the people who contact them about no-fly have been denied boarding only because their names are similar to a real bad guy. In most applications, a 99 percent failure rate is cause for alarm for an organization. In America, it is cause for alarm for us.

Background

On September 10, 2001, there wasn’t any formal no-fly list, though the FBI held a folder of 16 names of suspicious flyers. Among the many changes pressed on a scared population starting September 12 was the creation of two lists: the no-fly list and the selectee list. The latter was for person who would undergo additional scrutiny when they sought to fly. The former, like its name, meant if your name was on the list you simply could not board a flight inside the U.S., out of the U.S. or from some other country into the U.S.

The flight ban can also extend far outside of America’s borders. The no-fly list is shared with 22 other countries.

Names are nominated for no-fly or selectee by one of perhaps hundreds of thousands of government officials: an FBI agent, a CIA analyst, a State Department visa officer and so forth. Each nominating agency has its own criteria, standards and approval processes, some strict, some pretty sloppy. Your name may end up on the list based on scraps of online postings or as the result of a multi-year detailed investigation or because of a bureaucratic typo. The nominated name is sent to The Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), located in a classified location in suburban Northern Virginia. TSC is a multi-agency organization administered by the FBI, staffed by officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and all of the intel community.

A key issue is that people are never notified they are on the no-fly list. The only way to even get a hint is to buy an airplane ticket and be prevented from boarding once you arrive at the airport after at check-in the airline receives a “no-fly” message. Through the interrogation process you may (or you may not) learn you might live in the list. You will never have any idea why you are on the list; maybe you share a similar name with some real or imagined bad guy. Still on the list? The only way to tell is to buy another ticket and see if you can board. Repeat.

What Do You Do?

For the most part, once denied boarding, you are on your own to get home. It is a long walk home from L.A. if you live in New York. But, in the topsy-turvy post-9/11 world, though the U.S. will not let you on an airplane (Twin Towers!) you can, for now, as a suspected terrorist, travel by ship, train, bus, rental car, horseback, donkey cart, unicycle or other means. Of course none of those conveyances have even rudimentary screening or security.

One option if you find yourself denied boarding is to contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) via their TRIP Program and ask them to remove your name from the no-fly list. You might succeed just by asking nice; the TSA itself says that 99 percent of individuals who apply for redress are not on the terrorist watchlist, but are misidentified as people who are. To start, you simply use DHS’ online form. They strongly encourage an online submission, warning on their web site that “if documents are mailed, it may take 10-15 business days to receive your submission due to federal government mail screening requirements,” something left over from the very small and long ago anthrax powder letters mailed to a handful of people in 2001. Careful though– proving you are not a terrorist must be done in a 10 meg attachment or less or DHS will reject your request.

If DHS agrees you are not a terrorist, you get a redress number which you can use when booking a ticket. There is never an explanation, and DHS is not allowed to tell you you are still on the no-fly list, or ever were, or why they did or did not issue you a redress number. If you never hear back from DHS and wonder if you are allowed to fly, the only way to tell is to buy another ticket and see if you can board. Repeat. Even with a redress number, DHS advises arriving at the airport extra early in anticipation of extra screening and questioning. (more…)

Government Can Kill Cell Service During “Emergencies”

The government can kill all cell service in a designated area of its choice during “emergencies,” and does not want to disclose any details about how or when they might employ this.

Implications for the First Amendment are made clear by one known local use — San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit System disabled service to quell protests in four downtown San Francisco stations over the fatal shooting of Charles Blair Hill by police.

Standing Operating Procedure 303

The Department of Homeland Security came up with the Federal-level plan — known as Standing Operating Procedure 303 — after cellular phones were used to detonate explosives targeting the London public transportation system in 2005. Unbeknownst at the time to the public, the government shut down cell service in various locations in New York City, primarily around tunnels to and from Manhattan.

SOP 303 spells out a “unified voluntary process for the orderly shut-down and restoration of wireless services during critical emergencies such as the threat of radio-activated improvised explosive devices.” Since the details of SOP 303 remain secret, no one is certain when or how it might be invoked.

FOIA Lawsuits

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in February sided with the government and ruled that the policy did not need to be disclosed under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC.) The court agreed with the government’s citation of a FOIA exemption that precludes disclosure if doing so “could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.”

EPIC asked the court to revisit its ruling. On April 10, the court ordered the government to respond, a move that suggests the appellate court might rehear the case.

EPIC originally asked for the document in 2011 in the wake of the shut down of mobile phone service in the San Francisco Bay Area subway system during a protest. The government withheld the information, EPIC sued and won, but the government then appealed and prevailed.

Who Decides When to Kill the Network?

Under the direction of the so-called National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, SOP 303 allows for the shutting down of wireless networks “within a localized area, such as a tunnel or bridge, and within an entire metropolitan area.” That Advisory Committee is a Reagan-era, presidentially-appointed body composed of up to 30 senior executive-level representatives from communications, information technology, banking, and aerospace companies.

Since SOP 303 is not a law, it cannot be enforced. However, the telecoms have agreed to cut off cell service voluntarily whenever the Federal government requests SOP 303 be invoked.

The process of shutting down the cell service goes through the National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications (NCC), a coordination body set up by Ronald Reagan in 1984. The NCC, which includes representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Security Agency, every important cabinet department, and a few dozen big telecommunications and defense companies, takes shutdown requests from state and national Homeland Security officials, verifies whether they are “necessary,” and passes those requests on to wireless carriers in the affected areas.

First Amendment Questions

Because cutting off communications imposes a prior restraint on speech, it’s unclear whether SOP 303 is constitutional, and of course the specifics of the agreement are secret and the limits of government authority in this area have never been tested in court.

According to Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, governments in places like China regularly shut down cellphone service to quell protests. “They did it in Egypt as well,” she explained, during the protests that deposed former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

The exact decision-making process in the United States is classified. But you’ll know when it happens — check your phone for bars.

Crossposted at WeMeantWell.com

Too Little, Too Late? Clinton Foundation To Limit Foreign Govt Donations

By coincidence, only days after Hillary announced her candidacy, The Clinton Foundation announced changes to the way it handles donations and accountability.

Let’s look at the BS Factor on two of the most important “changes.”

Foreign Money

After years of accepting donations from foreign governments, The Clinton Foundation said it will “limit” donations from foreign governments to six countries that already support it: Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom.

Until, well, a day or two ago, the Foundation imposed no such restraints on itself. According to The Wall Street Journal, the foundation has already received funding from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Australia, and Germany. A Canadian government agency that supports the Keystone XL oil pipeline has also given money to the foundation.

No potential conflicts of interest here, right? Let’s see:

— The Canadian Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development agency donated between $250,000 and $500,000 (the Clinton’s only report donations in such ranges.) The Journal, however, claims the exact amount of the donation was somewhere around $480,000.

— Last year, the United Arab Emirates donated somewhere between $1 million and $5 million.

— Saudi Arabia’s donations total between $10 million and $25 million.

— The Australian government has given between $5 million and $10 million in 2014. It also gave in 2013, when its donations fell in the same range.

— Qatar’s government committee preparing for the 2022 soccer World Cup gave between $250,000 and $500,000 in 2014. Qatar’s government had previously donated between $1 million and $5 million.

— Oman, which had made a donation previously, gave an undisclosed amount in 2014. Over time, Oman has given the foundation between $1 million and $5 million.

BS Factor: Very High. Despite appearances, nations like Canada still have need to influence the possible next president of the United States. In addition, does anyone really think just because donations stopped this week, the previous millions given by the Saudis and others will have no influence? Finally, we have seen this before. The fact that the Foundation previously stopped seeking such donations when Hillary became Secretary of State, then restarted them again after she left office, only makes things seem more sleazy and hypocritical.

Donor Transparency

The Clinton Foundation also said it will now disclose its donors more frequently, publishing the names of new contributors four times a year. Where have we heard this before?

Oh, right, from the The Clinton Foundation.

According to Reuters, in 2008, Hillary Clinton promised president-elect Barack Obama there would be no mystery about who was giving money to her family’s charities. She made a pledge to publish all the donors’ names on an annual basis to ease concerns that as Secretary of State she could be vulnerable to accusations of foreign influence. The Clinton Foundation did indeed publish a list of donors at first, but, in a breach of the pledge, the charity’s flagship health program, which spends more than all of the other foundation initiatives put together, stopped making the annual disclosure in 2010.

Officials at the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the foundation confirmed to Reuters no complete list of donors to the Clintons’ charities has been published since 2010. CHAI was spun off as a separate legal entity that year, but the officials acknowledged it still remains subject to the same disclosure agreement as the foundation. CHAI published only a partial donor list, and only for the first time, and only this year.

BS Factor: Very High. Nothing in the past suggests any reason to trust these folks. Hey, if you want to publish your donor lists, just do it. Today. Now. Online, in searchable form.

We’re Ready, for Hillary.

Crossposted at WeMeantWell.com

America’s Refusal to Face the Hard Moral Issues of War

(Today we feature, with permission, a guest post by Daniel N. White. The post originally appeared on Contrary Perspective. All opinions are the author’s.)

James Fallows, a noted journalist and author of National Defense (1981), is tits on a boar useless these days.

That’s my conclusion after reading his Atlantic Monthly cover story, The Tragedy of the American Military, in which he asks, “Why do the best soldiers in the world keep losing?” It is a truly terrible article that, regrettably, is mainstream U.S. journalism’s best effort by one of their better talents to answer a vitally important question.

Right off the bat, I’m going to have to say that the U.S. Army doesn’t produce “the world’s best soldiers” — and it never has. We Americans don’t do infantry as well as others do. This is reasonably well known. Anyone who wants to dispute the point has to dispute not me but General George Patton, who in 1944 said: “According to Napoleon, the weaker the infantry the stronger the artillery must be. Thank God we’ve got the world’s best artillery.” Operational analysis of us by the German Wehrmacht and the PLA (China) said the same thing. We should know that about ourselves by now and we don’t, and the fact that we don’t, particularly after a chain of military defeats by lesser powers, says a good deal bad about us as a people and society. The Atlantic and James Fallows are both professionally derelict to continue printing these canards about our infantry prowess. “The world’s best” — there is no excuse for such hyperbolic boasting.

Why the U.S. keeps losing its wars, and why James Fallows has no clue as to why, is revealing of the American moment. It’s painfully obvious the U.S. has lost its most recent wars because it has lacked coherent and achievable objectives for them. (Or no objectives that our ruling elites were willing to share with us.)

Just what, exactly, was the end result supposed to be from invading Iraq in 2003? If the Taliban were willing as they stated to hand over Osama Bin Laden to us, why did we invade Afghanistan? Why did we then start a new war in Afghanistan once we overthrew the Taliban?

Of course, this isn’t the first time in recent history that the U.S. has fought wars with no coherent rationale. Vietnam had the same problem. The Pentagon Papers showed that insofar as we had a rationale it was to continue the war for sufficiently long enough to show the rest of the world we weren’t to be trifled with, even if we didn’t actually win it. Dick Nixon was quite upfront in private about this too; that’s documented in the Nixon tapes.

Not having clear and achievable political objectives in a war or major military campaign is a guarantee of military failure. Here’s what arguably the best Allied general in WWII had to say about this, William Slim, from his superlative memoirs, Defeat into Victory, writing of the Allied defeat in Burma, 1942:

Of these causes [of the defeat], one affected all our efforts and contributed much to turning our defeat into disaster — the failure, after the fall of Rangoon, to give the forces in the field a clear strategic object for the campaign… Yet a realistic assessment of possibilities there and a firm, clear directive would have made a great deal of difference to us and to the way we fought. Burma was not the first, nor was it to be the last, campaign that had been launched on no very clear realization of its political or military objects. A study of such campaigns points emphatically to the almost inevitable disaster that must follow. Commanders in the field, in fairness to them and their troops, must be clear and definitely told what is the object they are locally to attain.

Anyone who wishes to dispute the lack of clear and achievable objectives for America’s wars should try to answer the question of what a U.S. victory in Iraq or Afghanistan would look like. What would be different in the two countries from a U.S. victory? How would the application of force by the U.S. military have yielded these desired results, whatever they were? (more…)

The Iranian Ascendancy


John Kerry basically took up residence in Switzerland to negotiate with the Iranians. He sat at the table in Lausanne bargaining while Tikrit burned, Syria simmered, his country was chased out of Yemen, with hardly a word to say about any of those events

Twelve years later, we know the winner in Iraq: Iran

The US is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its enemy actually is. The result is just what you’d expect: chaos further undermining whatever’s left of the nations whose frailty birthed the jihadism America is trying to squash.

And in a classic tale of unintended consequences, just about every time Washington has committed another blunder in the Middle East, Iran has stepped in to take advantage. Consider that country the rising power in the region and credit American clumsiness for the new Iranian ascendancy.

Today’s news – and some history

The US recently carried out airstrikes in support of the Iraqi militias that Iran favours as they took back the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS). At the same time, Washington began supplying intelligence and aerial refuelling on demand for a Saudi bombing campaign against the militias Iran favours in Yemen. Iran continues to advise and assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington would still like to depose and, as part of its Syrian strategy, continues to supply and direct Hezbollah in Lebanon, a group the US considers a terror outfit.

Meanwhile, the US has successfully negotiated the outlines of an agreement with Iran in which progress on severely constricting its nuclear programme would be traded for an eventual lifting of sanctions and the granting of diplomatic recognition. This is sure to further bolster Tehran’s status as a regional power, while weakening long-time American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.

A clever pundit could undoubtedly paint all of the above as a realpolitik ballet on Washington’s part, but the truth seems so much simpler and more painful. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, US policy in the region has combined confusion on an immense scale with awkward bursts of ill-coordinated and exceedingly short-term acts of expediency. The country that has most benefited is Iran. No place illustrates this better than Iraq.

Iraq redux (yet again)

On April 9, 2003, just over 12 years ago, US troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolically marking what George W Bush hoped was the beginning of a campaign to remake the Middle East in America’s image by bringing not just Iraq but Syria and Iran to heel. And there can be no question that the invasion of Iraq did indeed set events in motion that are still remaking the region in ways once unimaginable.

In the wake of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the Arab Spring blossomed and failed. (The recent Obama administration decision to resume arms exports to the military government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt could be considered its coup de grâce.) Today, fighting ripples through Libya, Syria, Yemen, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa, and other parts of the Greater Middle East. Terrorists attack in once relatively peaceful places like Tunisia. There is now a de facto independent Kurdistan – last a reality in the 16th century – that includes the city of Kirkuk. Previously stable countries have become roiling failed states and home to terrorist groups that didn’t even exist when the US military rolled across the Iraqi border in 2003.

And, of course, 12 years later in Iraq itself the fighting roars on. Who now remembers President Obama declaring victory in 2011 and praising American troops for coming home with their “heads held high”? He seemed then to be washing his hands forever of the pile of sticky brown sand that was Bush’s Iraq. Trillions had been spent, untold lives lost or ruined, but as with Vietnam decades earlier, the US was to move on and not look back. So much for the dream of a successful Pax Americana in the Middle East, but at least it was all over.

You know what happened next. Unlike in Vietnam, Washington did go back, quickly turning a humanitarian gesture in August 2014 to save the Yazidi people from destruction at the hands of the Islamic State into a full-scale bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq. A coalition of 62 nations was formed. (Where are they all now while the US conducts 85 percent of all air strikes against IS?) The tap on a massive arms flow was turned on. The architect of the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and a leaker of top secret documents, retired general and former CIA Director David Petraeus, was brought back in for advice. 24/7 bombing became the order of the day and several thousand US military advisors returned to familiar bases to retrain some part of a US-created army that had only recently collapsed and abandoned four key northern cities to Islamic State militants. Iraq War 3.0 was officially underway and many pundits – including me – predicted a steady escalation with the usual quagmire to follow.

Such a result can hardly be ruled out yet, but at the moment it’s as if Barack Obama had stepped to the edge of the Iraqi abyss, peered over, and then shrugged his shoulders. Both his administration and the US military appear content for the moment neither to pull back nor press harder.

The American people seem to feel much the same way. Except in the Republican Congress (and even there in less shrill form than usual), there are few calls for… well, anything. The ongoing airstrikes remain “surgical” in domestic politics, if not in Iraq and Syria. Hardly noticed and little reported on here, they have had next to no effect on Americans. Yet they remain sufficient to assure the right wing that the American military is still the best tool to solve problems abroad, while encouraging liberals who want to show that they can be as tough as anyone going into 2016.

At first glance, the American version of Iraq War 3.0 has the feel of the Libyan air intervention – the same lack of concern, that is, for the long game. But Iraq 2015 is no Libya 2011, because this time while America sits back, Iran rises. (more…)