The “military-industrial complex” in power

24 August 2017

Fifty-six years ago, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered a farewell address in which he warned about the threat to democracy in the United States posed by the growing convergence between military and corporate power.

The outgoing president cautioned against the expanding and “total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government” of the “military-industrial complex.”

Eisenhower, himself a five-star general and commander of allied expeditionary forces in the Second World War, had firsthand knowledge of the operations of the military. But even at the height of the Cold War, the influence of the military over political life paled in comparison to what exists today. With each passing month, the military consolidates more power over civilian authority, while democratic forms of rule are increasingly hollowed out and rendered meaningless.

This was exemplified by Trump’s speech Monday announcing an open-ended expansion of the US war in Afghanistan. The setting itself was significant. Trump spoke at Fort Meyer Army Base in Virginia to an audience of troops decked out in combat fatigues. He made clear that the military leadership, without any civilian oversight or the fig-leaf of Congressional authorization, would determine how many additional troops would be sent to fight in Afghanistan, and how long they would stay there.

Over the past week, the Army and Marine officials in Trump’s cabinet—retired Gen. John Kelly, retired Gen. James Mattis and active duty Gen. H.R. McMaster—have used the crisis surrounding Trump’s endorsement of the neo-fascist rampage in Charlottesville, Virginia to strengthen the grip of the military over the government.

But these developments, which in any genuinely democratic society would be treated with profound apprehension, have been welcomed by the “opposition” Democratic Party and its media mouthpieces.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post ran a lead article, “Military leaders consolidate power in Trump administration,” which noted that Trump’s elevation of a “cadre of current and retired generals” is “a striking departure for a country that for generations has positioned civilian leaders above and apart from the military.”

The Post, owned by billionaire Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and speaking for a substantial section of the US political establishment, presents the growing power of the military in the Trump administration as a positive development. It calls the generals “voices for moderation,” and presents them as “moral authorities” working to “guide” Trump away from “moves that they fear could have catastrophic consequences.”

It cites uncritically a member of a leading conservative think tank who declares, “The only chance we have of trying to keep this thing from blowing apart is some military discipline… It’s not military rule or a military coup.”

Along the same lines, Wednesday’s New York Times carried a column by Roger Cohen declaring that the generals are acting as the “adults in the room,” serving to “tether” Trump and “curtail his wilder instincts.” The military, Cohen writes, provides “something Trump will never have: a center of gravity.”

These pronouncements by the Post and the Times represent the consensus view of the ruling elite, and most particularly that of the Democratic Party, which has opposed Trump almost entirely on issues of foreign policy, criticizing his insufficient deference to the military and intelligence apparatus and his unwillingness to carry out a military escalation against Russia.

McMaster, Kelly and Mattis “are standouts of dependability in the face of rash and impulsive conduct” on the part of Trump, Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told the Post. “There certainly has been a feeling among many of my colleagues that they are a steadying hand on the rudder.”

Another example of the convergence between the press and the military/intelligence establishment is an op-ed published Wednesday by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times ’ chief foreign policy columnist. Friedman boasts of having “spent eight days traveling with the Air Force to all of its key forward bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates,” including a trip to a “strike cell” carrying out airstrikes in Iraq.

Friedman describes US air strikes in an urban area with undisguised enthusiasm. “Quickly, the smoke cleared and the 30-foot-wide building was smoldering rubble—but the two buildings to the sides were totally intact, so any civilians inside should be unhurt,” exults the Times columnist, without pondering the fate of any civilians who were in the building that was vaporized.

“This is the war in Iraq today in a nutshell,” he writes, suggesting that the American military as a true liberator focuses its energies on preventing civilian casualties. This criminal lie is, of course, contradicted by the reality of millions killed, wounded and uprooted by more than a quarter century of US wars in Iraq and surrounding countries in the oil-rich Middle East, including the recent leveling of Mosul. Unfortunately for Friedman and the Times, this panegyric to the moral purity of the American military appeared two days after a US air strike in Syria killed more than 40 civilians.

Friedman’s whitewashing of the homicidal activities of the US Air Force exemplifies the role of the press, led by the New York Times and Washington Post, as shameless cheerleaders for US military intervention, together with the major TV networks, which routinely present retired military officials as authorities on all questions of policy.

The prostitution of the press to the military is just one expression of the massive political influence of the US armed forces. The United States spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined, and military spending soaks up more than half of discretionary spending by the federal government. There are some two million active and reserve military personnel, and millions more employed either directly or indirectly by the intelligence agencies.

Local and state police across the country are being ever more tightly integrated with the military, in what Defense Department strategists call the “total army,” consisting of the military, police and intelligence forces. Police departments are being outfitted with military hardware and trained for urban warfare.

This “total army” has at its disposal the massive surveillance capabilities of the US intelligence apparatus, which can spy on nearly every phone call, text message or email all over the world.

The growth of the power of the military has been accompanied by its integration into the financial oligarchy, with hundreds of leading military figures receiving seven-figure incomes in the revolving door between the Pentagon, Wall Street and the defense industry.

The increasing power of the military over political life in the United States and its merging with the corporate/financial elite are the product of the protracted decay of American capitalism. A quarter century of unending war and decades of soaring social inequality have thoroughly eroded the social foundations of democratic forms of rule. Beyond the oligarchy itself, a privileged layer of the upper-middle class that forms the broader base of the Democratic Party has accrued significant wealth through the meteoric rise of stock prices, itself fueled by the destruction of working class living standards and imperialist aggression overseas.

America’s financial elite, increasingly unable to reconcile its domination of social life with democratic forms of government, feels that the ultimate backstop to its rule is military force. Despite the assurances of the Post, what is emerging is in fact direct rule by the military, allied with Wall Street and the CIA, with the civilian government functioning as a mere facade.

Andre Damon

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/24/pers-a24.html

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Iraqi sources place real death toll in US-led siege of Mosul at 40,000

By Bill Van Auken
21 July 2017

According to intelligence reports from Iraq, the US-led massacre in Mosul has claimed a staggeringly higher toll of Iraqi civilian lives than had previously been reported.

More than 40,000 men, women and children were killed in the grinding nine-month-long siege of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, according to a report published Thursday by the veteran Middle East correspondent for the British daily Independent Patrick Cockburn.

Cockburn’s source is the former finance and foreign minister of the Iraqi government, Hoshyar Zebari, an Iraqi Kurd with close ties to Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government. The figure was supplied by Kurdish intelligence.

“The figure given by Mr Zebari for the number of civilians killed in the nine-month siege is far higher than those previously reported, but the intelligence service of the Kurdistan Regional Government has a reputation for being extremely accurate and well-informed,” reports Cockburn.

The sheer scale of the killing makes the siege of Mosul one of the greatest war crimes of the post-World War II era. While before the city fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June of 2014 it had a population of approximately 2 million, by the time the siege began, there were still at least 1.2 million civilians trapped in Mosul. This population was subjected to horrific violence.

Earlier, the UK-based monitoring group Airwars had provided an estimate of 5,805 civilians killed in airstrikes by the US-led “coalition” between February 19 and June 19. This figure excluded those killed in the four preceding months of the siege, as well as those who died in the last three weeks of the intensive bombardment that reduced western Mosul’s Old City to rubble.

In his interview with Cockburn, Zebari attributed a significant share of the carnage to the relentless artillery bombardment of western Mosul by Iraq’s militarized federal police, using weapons that are inaccurate and of use only in terms of demolishing entire neighborhoods rather than targeting fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The report issued earlier this month by Amnesty International, “At Any Cost: The Civilian Catastrophe in West Mosul,” also pointed to the devastating effect of these bombardments, which were used to compensate for the lack of sufficient numbers of adequately trained Iraqi troops to throw into combat in the crowded streets and alleyways of Mosul’s Old City.

“Pro-government forces relied heavily upon explosive weapons with wide area effects such as IRAMs (Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions),” Amnesty charged. “With their crude targeting abilities, these weapons wreaked havoc in densely populated west Mosul, where large groups of civilians were trapped in homes or makeshift shelters. Even in attacks that seem to have struck their intended military target, the use of unsuitable weapons or failure to take other necessary precautions resulted in needless loss of civilian lives.”

The report described the artillery and rocket launchers employed by the Iraqi forces, working closely with US special forces “advisors,” as “indiscriminate weapons” that “must never be used in the vicinity of civilians.”

One indication of the scale of the killing has come, unintentionally, from the Iraqi government itself. Since proclaiming Mosul’s “liberation” on July 10, Iraqi officials have put out a statement claiming that its forces had “liquidated 16,467 terrorists.” When the siege began, US commanders estimated that there were somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 ISIS fighters in the city. An obvious explanation for this discrepancy is that any male Iraqi killed in the city, fighters and civilians alike, has been designated as a member of ISIS.

Despite the fanfare by the Baghdad government over Mosul’s “liberation” and victory over ISIS, fighting is still being reported within the city, with guerrilla bands carrying out lethal attacks on Iraqi government units.

At the same time, there have been multiple reports indicating that the government forces and allied militias have been engaged in savage acts of collective punishment against Mosul’s survivors, including mass summary executions and torture.

Human Rights Watch reported Wednesday that international observers had discovered an “execution site in west Mosul.” It recounted their testimony that they found inside an empty building “a row of 17 male corpses, barefoot but in civilian dress, surrounded by pools of blood. They said many appeared to have been blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their back.” The human rights group cited a large number of similar incidents along with “relentless reports, videos, and photographs of unlawful executions and beatings by Iraqi soldiers.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi made it clear that the government will do nothing to halt these atrocities. He described them as “individual acts and not widespread.”

The US corporate media has all but blacked out the reports of massive civilian casualties and the war crimes carried out since the retaking of Mosul. The Iraqi government itself has sought to bar reporters from the city in order to conceal the scale of the bloodshed and continuing executions.

While largely dropping its coverage of the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Mosul, the New York Times Thursday published a hypocritical editorial titled “Avoiding War With Iran,” which expressed some trepidation over the increasingly bellicose acts of the Trump administration aimed at provoking just such a conflict.

The “newspaper of record” suggests that “It is useful to recall the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War arguably America’s biggest strategic blunder in modern times.” It criticizes the Bush administration for launching a war to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein “even though he had nothing to do with Sept. 11 and had no nuclear weapons.” It adds, “Mr. Bush decided to fight a pre-emptive war without a solid justification or strategy. Such a stumble into war could happen again.”

Conveniently forgotten in this cynical presentation is the fact that the Times as an institution played a major role in advocating and facilitating the Iraq war.

Its senior correspondent Judith Miller worked intimately with US officials to promote and embellish upon phony “intelligence” on non-existent Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction.” Thomas Friedman, the paper’s chief foreign affairs columnist, churned out columns advocating what he openly acknowledged would be a “war of choice” against Iraq, justifying it in the name of democracy, human rights and oil.

The newspaper set the tone for the rest of the media in terms of propaganda that paved the way to a criminal war of aggression that claimed the lives of over one million Iraqis and continues to generate mass murder in Mosul.

Even more chilling was an editorial column on Mosul titled “The City Is the Battlefield of the Future,” that appeared in the Wall Street Journal Thursday under the byline of one Maj. John Spencer, deputy director of the Modern War Institute at the US Military Academy in West Point, New York.

“The battle for Mosul represents the future of warfare,” Major Spencer argues, adding “U.S. commanders ought to imagine how they would handle a similar environment.”

Clearly, they have more than imagined it–in terms of Iraq–with US commanders directing much of the destruction rained down on the city.

Echoing what is now standard Pentagon doctrine, the major insists that the wars that the US military will confront will be fought in “cities — dense, often overpopulated and full of obstacles: labyrinthine apartment blocks, concealed tunnels, panicking civilians.”

His primary concern is that the Pentagon presently has no systematic training of its troops for urban combat, and that the word “siege”–the barbaric strategy employed against Mosul–does not appear in its training manuals.

He insists that US forces “need to be equipped to operate in large cities with new equipment, formations and doctrine.” He advances a modest proposal for meeting this need: “Major cities such as Detroit and the outer boroughs of New York have large abandoned areas that could be safely redeveloped as urban training sites.”

In other words, American troops are to be trained in the art of urban combat and siege warfare inside American cities. The proposal suggests that what the major is really urging Pentagon commanders to “imagine” is using the military to suppress revolutionary upheavals in the US itself.

WSWS

Why Trump’s Warsaw Speech May Have Been His Most Ominous Yet

NEWS & POLITICS
All that was missing was a rousing chorus of “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube (The Guardian)

A surprising omission in Donald Trump’s Warsaw foreign policy address was the president’s failure to hail the 17th century Polish king, John III Sobieski. As Steve Bannon and his fellow hard-right history buffs in the White House must know, it was Sobieski who defeated the Turks in 1683 at the gates of Vienna – and saved central Europe from a Muslim invasion.

The Trump-Bannon worldview depicts Europe and America reeling from a second Muslim invasion. That is what Trump meant as he thundered: “The fundamental question of our time is whether the west has the will to survive … Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

The Trump advance team is probably high-fiving each other over their collective brilliance in choosing Warsaw as the venue for the president’s apocalyptic message to Europe. The combination of a welcoming rightwing government that shares Trump’s disdain for a free press and the emotional weight of Polish history seemed irresistible.

There was only one problem: the weight of Polish history makes the current threat from “radical Islamic terrorism” seem petty in comparison.

Trump himself conjured up that blood-soaked history as he talked of Poland being invaded in 1939 by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. As the president put it, choosing words of Churchillian eloquence: “That’s trouble. That’s tough.”

To Trump’s credit (a phrase I rarely type), his speechwriters did an artful job of conveying the horrors inflicted on Poland during the second world war, particularly the doomed 1944 uprising by the Home Army that ended with the Nazis leveling Warsaw.

But for all the attempts at Reaganesque rhetorical flourishes, the few sentences in the speech devoted to the Iron Curtain era came across as muted enough to win Vladimir Putin’s approval.

In Trump’s audience in Krasinski Square were Poles who had endured the worst that Hitler and Stalin could inflict on a subjugated nation. It would have been instructive to ask these elderly witnesses to history whether they agree with Trump that today “our freedom, our civilization and our survival” hang in the balance.

What, precisely, is the threat to western civilization?

Lonely religious zealots who drive trucks into crowds and set off bombs in concert halls? An Islamic State in full retreat in Iraq and Syria? Fanatical imams who preach hatred on websites and in YouTube videos?

This is not designed to belittle the cruelty of terrorism. Nor is it an argument against continued vigilance nearly 16 years after the Twin Towers were toppled on September 11.

But an ominous aspect of our era is that any sense of historical perspective has been dropped down the memory hole. In 1962, the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. Anyone who remembers, as I do, cowering under an elementary school desk as supposed protection against an atomic attack should realize what represents a true threat to “our survival”.

Trump’s political career is rooted in the stoking of fear.

After the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016, a CNN/ORC poll found that fear of terrorism was at its highest level since 2003. Trump fed this wave of emotion by declaring at the start of his Republican national convention acceptance speech: “The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.”

This is a president who dramatically declared in his inaugural address: “This American carnage stops right here and now.” Just a month ago – in the midst of undermining “our survival” by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord – Trump blamed an attack on a Manila casino on terrorism while the local police insisted the mass murderer was a disgruntled gambler.

Without blinding, unreasoning fear, the US probably would not have looked to a counterfeit Big Daddy figure for protection. Only if these are the worst of times would voters have disdained experience (both in the Republican primaries and the general election) and opted for a blustering former reality-show host.

For a president whose grasp of theology abruptly stops at “Two Corinthians,” Trump seems to revel in the concept of a holy war. For that was at the core of his inflammatory rhetoric about the survival of western civilization. About all that was missing from Trump’s Warsaw war cry was a rousing chorus of Onward Christian Soldiers.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/why-trumps-warsaw-speech-may-have-been-his-most-ominous-yet?akid=15838.265072.MmNXfI&rd=1&src=newsletter1079374&t=17

The folly of the next Afghan “surge”

The Folly of the Next Afghan “Surge”

The folly of the next Afghan “surge”
FILE – In this June 29, 2009 file photo, U.S. Army soldiers walk in a line at a reenlistment ceremony for a comrade in Baqouba, Iraq. New research published Wednesday, July 8, 2015 in JAMA Psychiatry shows war-time suicide attempts in the Army are most common in early-career enlisted soldiers who have not been deployed, while officers are less likely to try to end their lives. The study looked at data on nearly 1,000 suicide attempts among almost 1 million active-duty Army members during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, from 2004 to 2009. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)(Credit: AP)
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

We walked in a single file. Not because it was tactically sound. It wasn’t — at least according to standard infantry doctrine. Patrolling southern Afghanistan in column formation limited maneuverability, made it difficult to mass fire, and exposed us to enfilading machine-gun bursts. Still, in 2011, in the Pashmul District of Kandahar Province, single file was our best bet.

The reason was simple enough: improvised bombs not just along roads but seemingly everywhere.  Hundreds of them, maybe thousands. Who knew?

That’s right, the local “Taliban” — a term so nebulous it’s basically lost all meaning — had managed to drastically alter U.S. Army tactics with crude, homemade explosives stored in plastic jugs. And believe me, this was a huge problem. Cheap, ubiquitous, and easy to bury, those anti-personnel Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, soon littered the “roads,” footpaths, and farmland surrounding our isolated outpost. To a greater extent than a number of commanders willingly admitted, the enemy had managed to nullify our many technological advantages for a few pennies on the dollar (or maybe, since we’re talking about the Pentagon, it was pennies on the millions of dollars).

Truth be told, it was never really about our high-tech gear.  Instead, American units came to rely on superior training and discipline, as well as initiative and maneuverability, to best their opponents.  And yet those deadly IEDs often seemed to even the score, being both difficult to detect and brutally effective. So there we were, after too many bloody lessons, meandering along in carnival-like, Pied Piper-style columns. Bomb-sniffing dogs often led the way, followed by a couple of soldiers carrying mine detectors, followed by a few explosives experts. Only then came the first foot soldiers, rifles at the ready. Anything else was, if not suicide, then at least grotesquely ill-advised.

And mind you, our improvised approach didn’t always work either. To those of us out there, each patrol felt like an ad hoc round of Russian roulette.  In that way, those IEDs completely changed how we operated, slowing movement, discouraging extra patrols, and distancing us from what was then considered the ultimate “prize”: the local villagers, or what was left of them anyway.  In a counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign, which is what the U.S. military was running in Afghanistan in those years, that was the definition of defeat.

Strategic problems in microcosm

My own unit faced a dilemma common to dozens — maybe hundreds — of other American units in Afghanistan. Every patrol was slow, cumbersome, and risky. The natural inclination, if you cared about your boys, was to do less. But effective COIN operations require securing territory and gaining the trust of the civilians living there. You simply can’t do that from inside a well-protected American base. One obvious option was to live in the villages — which we eventually did — but that required dividing up the company into smaller groups and securing a second, third, maybe fourth location, which quickly became problematic, at least for my 82-man cavalry troop (when at full strength). And, of course, there were no less than five villages in my area of responsibility.

I realize, writing this now, that there’s no way I can make the situation sound quite as dicey as it actually was.  How, for instance, were we to “secure and empower” a village population that was, by then, all but nonexistent?  Years, even decades, of hard fighting, air strikes, and damaged crops had left many of those villages in that part of Kandahar Province little more than ghost towns, while cities elsewhere in the country teemed with uprooted and dissatisfied peasant refugees from the countryside.

Sometimes, it felt as if we were fighting over nothing more than a few dozen deserted mud huts.  And like it or not, such absurdity exemplified America’s war in Afghanistan.  It still does.  That was the view from the bottom.  Matters weren’t — and aren’t — measurably better at the top.  As easily as one reconnaissance troop could be derailed, so the entire enterprise, which rested on similarly shaky foundations, could be unsettled.

At a moment when the generals to whom President Trump recently delegateddecision-making powers on U.S. troop strength in that country consider a new Afghan “surge,” it might be worth looking backward and zooming out just a bit. Remember, the very idea of “winning” the Afghan War, which left my unit in that collection of mud huts, rested (and still rests) on a few rather grandiose assumptions.

The first of these surely is that the Afghans actually want (or ever wanted) us there; the second, that the country was and still is vital to our national security; and the third, that 10,000, 50,000, or even 100,000 foreign troops ever were or now could be capable of “pacifying” an insurgency, or rather a growing set of insurgencies, or securing 33 million souls, or facilitating a stable, representative government in a heterogeneous, mountainous, landlocked country with little history of democracy.

The first of these points is at least debatable. As you might imagine, any kind of accurate polling is quite difficult, if not impossible, outside the few major population centers in that isolated country.  Though many Afghans, particularly urban ones, may favor a continued U.S. military presence, others clearly wonder what good a new influx of foreigners will do in their endlessly war-torn nation.  As one high-ranking Afghan official recently lamented, thinking undoubtedly of the first use in his land of the largest non-nuclear bomb on the planet, “Is the plan just to use our country as a testing ground for bombs?” And keep in mind that the striking rise in territory the Taliban now controls, the most since they were driven from power in 2001, suggests that the U.S. presence is hardly welcomed everywhere.

The second assumption is far more difficult to argue or justify.  To say the least, classifying a war in far-away Afghanistan as “vital” relies on a rather pliable definition of the term.  If that passes muster — if bolstering the Afghan military to the tune of(at least) tens of billions of dollars annually and thousands of new boots-on-the-ground in order to deny safe haven to “terrorists” is truly “vital” — then logically the current U.S. presences in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen are critical as well and should be similarly fortified.  And what about the growing terror groups in Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Tunisia, and so on?  We’re talking about a truly expensive proposition here — in blood and treasure.  But is it true?  Rational analysis suggests it is not.  After all, on average about seven Americans were killed by Islamist terrorists on U.S. soil annually from 2005 to 2015.  That puts terrorism deaths right up there with shark attacks and lightning strikes.  The fear is real, the actual danger . . . less so.

As for the third point, it’s simply preposterous. One look at U.S. military attempts at “nation-building” or post-conflict stabilization and pacification in Iraq, Libya, or — dare I say — Syria should settle the issue. It’s often said that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Yet here we are, 14 years after the folly of invading Iraq and many of the same voices — inside and outside the administration — are clamoring for one more “surge” in Afghanistan (and, of course, will be clamoring for the predictable surges to follow across the Greater Middle East).

The very idea that the U.S. military had the ability to usher in a secure Afghanistan is grounded in a number of preconditions that proved to be little more than fantasies.  First, there would have to be a capable, reasonably corruption-free local governing partner and military.  That’s a nonstarter.  Afghanistan’s corrupt, unpopular national unity government is little better than the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam in the 1960s and that American war didn’t turn out so well, did it?  Then there’s the question of longevity.  When it comes to the U.S. military presence there, soon to head into its 16th year, how long is long enough?  Several mainstream voices, including former Afghan commander General David Petraeus, are now talking about at least a “generation” more to successfully pacify Afghanistan.  Is that really feasible given America’s growing resource constraints and the ever expanding set of dangerous “ungoverned spaces” worldwide?

And what could a new surge actually do?  The U.S. presence in Afghanistan is essentially a fragmented series of self-contained bases, each of which needs to be supplied and secured.  In a country of its size, with a limited transportation infrastructure, even the 4,000-5,000 extra troops the Pentagon is reportedly considering sending right now won’t go very far.

Now, zoom out again.  Apply the same calculus to the U.S. position across the Greater Middle East and you face what we might start calling the Afghan paradox, or my own quandary safeguarding five villages with only 82 men writ large.  Do the math.  The U.S. military is already struggling to keep up with its commitments.  At what point is Washington simply spinning its proverbial wheels?  I’ll tell you when — yesterday.

Now, think about those three questionable Afghan assumptions and one uncomfortable actuality leaps forth. The only guiding force left in the American strategic arsenal is inertia.

What surge 4.0 won’t do — I promise . . .

Remember something: this won’t be America’s first Afghan “surge.”  Or its second, or even its third.  No, this will be the U.S. military’s fourth crack at it.  Who feels lucky?  First came President George W. Bush’s “quiet” surgeback in 2008.  Next, just one month into his first term, newly minted President Barack Obama sent 17,000 more troops to fight his so-called good war (unlike the bad one in Iraq) in southern Afghanistan.  After a testy strategic review, he then committed 30,000 additional soldiers to the “real” surge a year later.  That’s what brought me (and the rest of B Troop, 4-4 Cavalry) to Pashmul district in 2011.  We left — most of us — more than five years ago, but of course about 8,800 American military personnel remain today and they are the basis for the surge to come.

To be fair, Surge 4.0 might initially deliver certain modest gains (just as each of the other three did in their day).  Realistically, more trainers, air support, and logistics personnel could indeed stabilize some Afghan military units for some limited amount of time.  Sixteen years into the conflict, with 10% as many American troops on the ground as at the war’s peak, and after a decade-plus of training, Afghan security forces are still being battered by the insurgents.  In the last years, they’ve been experiencing record casualties, along with the usual massive stream of desertionsand the legions of “ghost soldiers” who can neither die nor desert because they don’t exist, although their salaries do (in the pockets of their commanders or other lucky Afghans).  And that’s earned them a “stalemate,” which has left the Taliban and other insurgent groups in control of a significant part of the country.  And if all goes well (which isn’t exactly a surefire thing), that’s likely to be the best that Surge 4.0 can produce: a long, painful tie.

Peel back the onion’s layers just a bit more and the ostensible reasons for America’s Afghan War vanish along with all the explanatory smoke and mirrors. After all, there are two things the upcoming “mini-surge” will emphatically not do:

*It won’t change a failing strategic formula.

Imagine that formula this way: American trainers + Afghan soldiers + loads of cash + (unspecified) time = a stable Afghan government and lessening Taliban influence.

It hasn’t worked yet, of course, but — so the surge-believers assure us — that’s because we need more: more troops, more money, more time.  Like so many loyal Reaganites, their answers are always supply-side ones and none of them ever seems to wonder whether, almost 16 years later, the formula itself might not be fatally flawed.

According to news reports, no solution being considered by the current administration will even deal with the following interlocking set of problems: Afghanistan is a large, mountainous, landlocked, ethno-religiously heterogeneous, poor country led by a deeply corrupt government with a deeply corrupt military.  In a place long known as a “graveyard of empires,” the United States military and the Afghan Security Forces continue to wage what one eminent historian has termed “fortified compound warfare.”  Essentially, Washington and its local allies continue to grapple with relatively conventional threats from exceedingly mobile Taliban fighters across a porous border with Pakistan, a country that has offered not-so-furtive support and a safe haven for those adversaries.  And the Washington response to this has largely been to lock its soldiers inside those fortified compounds (and focus on protecting them against “insider attacks” by those Afghans it works with and trains).  It hasn’t worked.  It can’t.  It won’t.

Consider an analogous example.  In Vietnam, the United States never solved the double conundrum of enemy safe havens and a futile search for legitimacy.  The Vietcong guerillas and North Vietnamese Army used nearby Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam to rest, refit, and replenish.  U.S. troops meanwhile lacked legitimacy because their corrupt South Vietnamese partners lacked it.

Sound familiar?  We face the same two problems in Afghanistan: a Pakistani safe haven and a corrupt, unpopular central government in Kabul.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, in any future troop surge will effectively change that.

*It won’t pass the logical fallacy test.

The minute you really think about it, the whole argument for a surge or mini-surge instantly slides down a philosophical slippery slope.

If the war is really about denying terrorists safe havens in ungoverned or poorly governed territory, then why not surge more troops into Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan (where al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiriand Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin-Laden are believed to be safely ensconced), Iraq, Syria, Chechnya, Dagestan (where one of the Boston Marathon bombers was radicalized), or for that matter Paris or London.  Every one of those places has harbored and/or is harboring terrorists.  Maybe instead of surging yet again in Afghanistan or elsewhere, the real answer is to begin to realize that all the U.S. military in its present mode of operation can do to change that reality is make it worse.  After all, the last 15 years offer a vision of how it continually surges and in the process only creates yet more ungovernable lands and territories.

So much of the effort, now as in previous years, rests on an evident desire among military and political types in Washington to wage the war they know, the one their army is built for: battles for terrain, fights that can be tracked and measured on maps, the sort of stuff that staff officers (like me) can display on ever more-complicated PowerPoint slides.  Military men and traditional policymakers are far less comfortable with ideological warfare, the sort of contest where their instinctual proclivity to “do something” is often counterproductive.

As U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24 — General David Petraeus’ highly touted counterinsurgency “bible” — wisely opined: “Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction.”  It’s high time to follow such advice (even if it’s not the advice that Petraeus himself is offering anymore).

As for me, call me a deep-dyed skeptic when it comes to what 4,000 or 5,000 more U.S. troops can do to secure or stabilize a country where most of the village elders I met couldn’t tell you how old they were.  A little foreign policy humility goes a long way toward not heading down that slippery slope.  Why, then, do Americans continue to deceive themselves?  Why do they continue to believe that even 100,000 boys from Indiana and Alabama could alter Afghan society in a way Washington would like?  Or any other foreign land for that matter?

I suppose some generals and policymakers are just plain gamblers.  But before putting your money on the next Afghan surge, it might be worth flashing back to the limitations, struggles, and sacrifices of just one small unit in one tiny, contested district of southern Afghanistan in 2011 . . .

Lonely Pashmul

So, on we walked — single file, step by treacherous step — for nearly a year.  Most days things worked out.  Until they didn’t.  Unfortunately, some soldiers found bombs the hard way: three dead, dozens wounded, one triple amputee.  So it went and so we kept on going.  Always onward. Ever forward. For America? Afghanistan? Each other? No matter.  And so it seems other Americans will keep on going in 2017, 2018, 2019 . . .

Lift foot. Hold breath. Step. Exhale.

Keep walking . . . to defeat . . . but together.

http://www.salon.com/2017/06/30/the-follow-of-the-next-afghan-surge_partner/?source=newsletter

US forces accused of firing white phosphorus into Mosul and Raqqa

By James Cogan
12 June 2017

Videos published by the Amaq news agency show artillery exploding over Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria that analysts believe could be white phosphorus rounds. Amaq, which often publishes information provided by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sources, claims that the areas which are shown being bombarded are ISIS-held sectors of the cities still populated by large numbers of civilians.

One video was posted on June 4, showing a daytime barrage on what is said to be the Zanjiji district of western Mosul. An ISIS flag is flying at the top of one of some multistory buildings in the foreground of the area being bombarded. The artillery shells explode in the fashion of white phosphorus munitions, igniting fires.

A second video, dated June 8, shows several explosions, again consistent with white phosphorus shells, over the surrounded ISIS “capital” of Raqqa. The artillery also appears to immediately trigger intense fires.

Many militaries around the world still use white phosphorus munitions, ostensibly as a means of rapidly creating a dense smoke screen. It can, however, be used as an incendiary weapon. The “smoke” it produces sets alight combustible materials and causes horrific burns to human flesh. It was used extensively during World War II by US and allied forces to attack enemy troop concentrations and set areas ablaze. It was widely used during the American wars in Korea and Vietnam.

In 1980, the use of white phosphorus as an incendiary weapon to target civilians was ruled a war crime under international law.

It has continued, however, to be used to set ablaze urban areas and terrorize civilian populations. Documented or alleged cases include: the 1994 Russian assault on Grozny in Chechnya; the April and November 2004 US attacks on the Iraqi city of Fallujah; the 2006 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon; the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on the Palestinian city of Gaza; and by American forces in Afghanistan during the so-called “surge” ordered by the Obama administration in 2009.

There is overwhelming evidence that the US Marines—commanded by now secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis—used white phosphorus as an incendiary, not smoke-creating, weapon over civilian-populated areas of Fallujah. The Bush administration and Pentagon dismissed allegations of criminality, asserting that it was legitimate as American forces were seeking to force armed insurgents out of their defensive positions.

In a widely cited statement in November 2005, Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable explained US military tactics regarding its use as an antipersonnel weapon: “When you have enemy forces that are in covered positions that your high explosive artillery rounds are not having an impact on, and you wish to get them out of those positions, one technique is to fire a white phosphorus round into the position because the combined effects of the fire and smoke—and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground—will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives.”

US Marine artillery batteries, fielding 155mm howitzers and equipped with white phosphorus rounds, are participating in the assaults on both Mosul and Raqqa. An estimated 200,000 civilians are trapped in the ISIS-held areas of both cities.

Upon taking office in January, the new administration of President Donald Trump signaled that it had ordered the lifting of “restrictions” on American forces fighting ISIS that were purportedly limiting civilian casualties. Over the months since, the number and intensity of US air strikes on Mosul and Raqqa have dramatically increased, along with the toll of civilian deaths and injuries.

Secretary of Defense Mattis has stated on several occasions that the US and its local Iraqi and Syrian proxies are now implementing “annihilation tactics” against ISIS.

Prior to the allegations of war crimes relating to the use of white phosphorus, evidence had already emerged in Mosul of the torture and extrajudicial murder of alleged ISIS fighters by US-backed forces.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/12/wpho-j12.html

Understanding the geopolitics of terrorism

8 June 2017

The latest in a long series of bloody terrorist attacks attributed to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) unfolded in Iran early Wednesday with coordinated armed assaults on the Iranian Parliament (Majlis) and the mausoleum of the late supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini. At least 12 people were killed and 43 wounded.

The reactions of the US government and the Western media to the attacks in Tehran stand in stark contrast to their response to the May 22 bombing that killed 22 people at the Manchester Arena and the London Bridge attacks that claimed nine lives last Saturday.

The Trump White House released a vicious statement that effectively justified the killings in Iran, declaring, “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote,” an attitude that found its reflection in the relative indifference of the media to the loss of Iranian lives. It is clearly understood that terrorism against Iran serves definite political aims that are in sync with those of US imperialism and its regional allies.

For its part, Tehran’s reaction to the attacks was unambiguous. It laid the responsibility at the door of the US and its principal regional ally, Saudi Arabia. “This terrorist attack happened only a week after the meeting between the US president (Donald Trump) and the (Saudi) backward leaders who support terrorists,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said in a statement, published by Iranian media. The attack was understood in Tehran as a political act carried out in conjunction with identifiable state actors and aimed at furthering definite geostrategic objectives.

The same can be said of the earlier acts of terrorism carried out in Manchester and London, as well as those in Paris, Brussels and elsewhere before them.

The Western media routinely treats each of these atrocities as isolated manifestations of “evil” or religious hatred, irrational acts carried out by madmen. In reality, they are part of an internationally coordinated campaign in pursuit of definite political objectives.

Underlying the violence on the streets of Europe is the far greater violence inflicted upon the Middle East by US, British and French imperialism, working in conjunction with right-wing bourgeois regimes and the Islamist forces they promote, finance and arm.

ISIS is itself the direct product of a series of imperialist wars, emerging as a split-off from Al Qaeda, which got its start in the CIA-orchestrated war by Islamist fundamentalists against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan. It was forged in the US war of aggression against Iraq that killed close to a million Iraqis, and then utilized in the 2011 war to topple Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi. Fighters and arms were then funneled with the aid of the CIA into the war for regime change in Syria.

The latest round of terror has its source in growing dissatisfaction among Washington’s Middle Eastern allies and its Islamist proxy forces over the slow pace of the US intervention in Syria and Washington’s failure to bring the six-year war for regime change to a victorious conclusion.

The people giving the orders for these attacks live in upper-class neighborhoods in London, Paris and elsewhere, enjoying close connections with intelligence agencies and government officials. Far from being unknown, they will be found among the top ministers and government officials in Damascus if the US-backed war in Syria achieves its objectives.

Those who carry out the terrorist atrocities are expendable assets, foot soldiers who are easily replaced from among the broad layers enraged by the slaughter carried out by imperialism in the Middle East.

The mass media always presents the failure to prevent these attacks as a matter of the security forces failing to “connect the dots,” a phrase that should by now be permanently banned. In virtually every case, those involved are well known to the authorities.

In the latest attacks in the UK, the connections are astonishing, even given the similar facts that have emerged in previous terrorist actions. One of the attackers in the London Bridge killings, Yousseff Zaghba, was stopped at an Italian airport while attempting to travel to Syria, freely admitting that he “wanted to be a terrorist” and carrying ISIS literature. Another was featured in a British television documentary that chronicled his confrontation with and detention by police after he unfurled an ISIS flag in Regent’s Park.

The Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was likewise well known to British authorities. His parents were members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), who were allowed to return to Libya in 2011 to participate in the US-NATO regime-change operation against Muammar Gaddafi. He himself met with Libyan Islamic State operatives in Libya, veterans of the Syrian civil war, and maintained close connections with them while in Manchester.

What has become clear after 16 years of the so-called “war on terrorism”—going all the way back to the hijackers of 9/11—is that these elements move in and out of the Middle East, Europe and the US itself not only without hindrance, but under what amounts to state protection.

When they arrive at passport control, their names come up with definite instructions that they are not to be stopped. “Welcome home, sir, enjoy your vacation in Libya?” “Bit of tourism in Syria?”

Why have they enjoyed this carte blanche? Because they are auxiliaries of US and European intelligence, necessary proxies in wars for regime change from Libya to Syria and beyond that are being waged to further imperialist interests.

If from time to time these elements turn against their sponsors, with innocent civilians paying with their lives, that is part of the price of doing business.

In the aftermath of terrorist actions, governments respond with stepped-up measures of repression and surveillance. Troops are deployed in the streets, democratic rights are suspended, and, as in France, a state of emergency is made the overriding law of the land. All of these measures are useless in terms of preventing future attacks, but serve very well to control the domestic population and suppress social unrest.

If the mass media refuses to state what has become obvious after more than a decade and a half of these incidents, it is a measure of how fully the linkage between terrorism, the Western intelligence agencies and the unending wars in the Middle East has become institutionalized.

Innocent men, women and children, whether in London, Manchester, Paris, Tehran, Baghdad or Kabul, are paying the terrible price for these imperialist operations, which leave a trail of blood and destruction everywhere.

Putting a stop to terrorist attacks begins with a fight to put an end to the so-called “war on terrorism,” the fraudulent pretext for predatory wars in which Al Qaeda and its offshoots are employed as proxy ground forces, operating in intimate collaboration with imperialist intelligence services and military commands.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/08/pers-j08.html

Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?

The political noose is tightening around Trump’s neck, and he’s got only one way out: war. The U.S. involvement in the Syrian war is accelerating as Trump’s talons dig deeper into the conflict.  If he successfully clutches his prey he stands a chance of clinging to the presidency.

The Democrats, now circling a wounded Trump, will happily feast instead on a rotting Syria: the only thing that can keep the Democrats from destroying Trump is if Trump destroys Syria.

Trump’s strategy is based on how Democrats reacted after his first attack on the Syrian government on April 6th: they paused their toothless “resistance” to celebrate his bombing. Trump, at his most dangerous, exposed the Democrats at their weakest.

Now Trump has struck the Syrian government again: on May 18th U.S. fighter jets attacked the Syrian military in Eastern Syria, from a new U.S. military base functioning inside Syrian territory controlled by the Syrian Kurds, where there are at least 1,000 U.S. active troops.

Although the U.S. media underplayed Trump’s recent attack —— or ignored it completely — legendary U.K. Middle East journalist Robert Fisk explained the significance:

“…what was described by the Americans as a minor action was part of a far more important struggle between the US and the Syrian regime for control of the south-eastern frontier of Syria…”

Yes, the U.S. is already at war with the Syrian government for control of Syrian territory. The U.S. war on ISIS in Syria was never about ISIS, but about gaining a foothold directly inside Syria. Many pundits dismissed Trump’s initial attack on the Syrian government as “symbolic,” when in fact it began a new war. The New York Times confirms the motive of Trump’s war:

“Two competing coalitions that aim to defeat the Islamic State — one [Kurdish and U.S. fighters] backed by American air power, the other [the Syrian government] by Russian warplanes — are racing to the same goal.”

What is this goal?

“…[there is an] urgency among the competing coalitions fighting the Islamic State to be the first in southeast Syria to defeat the group [ISIS] and to occupy the power vacuum that its defeat would leave….Eastern Syria and the area around Deir al-Zour are mostly unpopulated desert, but they have Syria’s modest oil reserves…The area is strategically important to the United States, which wants to stabilize Iraq where it has a long-term military and political investment, and to Russia, which wants to strengthen the Syrian government’s control of as much territory as possible.”

In summary: the U.S. military wants to “occupy” the “power vacuum” left by ISIS, because Syrian territory is “strategically important” to the United States.

The war isn’t about ISIS because the U.S. military isn’t needed to defeat ISIS in Syria, since the group was doomed the day that Turkey decided to close ranks against them — by sealing their border with Syria — instead of openly supporting them as they had for several years.

Consequently, the Syrian government — with Russian and Iranian support — has no problem mopping up ISIS in Syria, and they’re racing to do it first before the U.S.-Kurdish alliance claims the territory for itself.

Establishment Democrats are cheer-leading Trump’s war goals in private, which is why they’re not denouncing them in public.  The Democrat-friendly New York Times published a revealing op-ed entitled “A Trump Doctrine for the Middle East?” In it the writer applauds Trump’s war aims:

“Despite the controversies at home, Mr. Trump may come away with a legacy-cementing achievement: a Trump Doctrine for the Middle East…it is false that American ‘soft power’ is the key to stabilizing the [middle east] region. Our ideals, such as promoting democracy, will work to our advantage only if we first restore order — a project that rests on American hard power [military intervention]. What’s more, the use of force is not inherently counterproductive…”

The article explains that Obama’s “soft power” (the Syrian proxy war) failed and that Trump aims to “restore order” with “hard power” (direct military intervention). As Trump’s bombs fall heavier Democrats will scramble to support a wider war that, crazily, increasingly threatens direct confrontation with Russia.  The Russian government loudly denounced Trump’s most recent bombing against the Syrian government, and sent more Russian troops to the region in response.

The U.S. war against ISIS in Syria has always been a pretext to undermine the Syrian and Iranian governments. Robert Fisk explains:

“Cutting Syria off from Iraq – and thus from Iran – appears to be a far more immediate operational aim of US forces in Syria than the elimination of the [ISIS] Sunni ‘Caliphate’ cult that Washington claims to be its principal enemy in the Middle East.”

How might this “race to defeat ISIS” end? Trump’s ominous trip to Saudi Arabia gives some insight into the Trump Doctrine. Trump made an enormous arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth $350 billion over 10 years, and wants the Saudis to use the money to co-lead an “Arab NATO” [military alliance]. Who will this alliance be aimed against? The Trump administration made it known that Iran was the main target, and thus Syria is the appetizer.

In a separate article Robert Fisk discussed Trump’s Saudi visit:

“The aim, however, is simple: to prepare the Sunni Muslims [the gulf monarchy U.S. allies and others] of the Middle East for war against the Shia Muslims [Iran, Syria, Hezbollah]. With help from Israel, of course.”

This is the real reason Trump prioritized Saudi Arabia as the always-important first stop on his initial trip abroad: Trump is clearly stating his commitment to the totalitarian monarchies, who main priorities are the destruction of its regional enemies:  Yemen, Syria, and Iran.

This “Arab NATO” is meant to act as a U.S. puppet army in the way that ‘official’ NATO does in Europe,  and the African Union’s “Standby Force” does in Africa, where U.S. allies share the responsibility of repressing neighbor states who defy U.S. interests, i.e. they refuse to abandon their political-economic self determination.

A U.S.-led “Arab NATO” wasn’t previously impossible because the U.S. is universally hated across the Middle East, for its longstanding alliance with Israel combined with its recent annihilation of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. The openness in which the Gulf monarchies are trying to form this alliance shows just how distanced from and hated by their own residents, who are prevented from expressing their hatred through elections or public protest.

The Trump-led alliance is especially foreboding because U.S. allies in the region feel deeply betrayed by Obama’s Middle East approach; they want concrete assurances the betrayal won’t be repeated, since U.S. allies risked a lot in regime change in Syria after Obama ensured them that regime change would be a safe bet.  Trump’s visit means, in practice, a fresh commitment to Assad’s downfall and renewed hostilities with Iran, nuclear deal be damned.

Trump’s current war strategy in Syria is similar to President Bush Sr.’s experiment in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War: he used a no-fly zone in Kurdish-majority northern Iraq that de-facto partitioned the country, allowing the Kurds to take power where they remain in power today, as an important U.S. puppet. The partitioning of Iraq helped weaken the country prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.

The Syrian Kurds are now being armed with U.S. weaponry and given similar promises as their Iraqi counterparts received, but the Syrian Kurds are rightfully nervous about their new alliance.

In their desperate fight against ISIS the Kurds have accepted an alliance with the world’s military superpower: the Kurdish homeland is infested with rats and they invited a tiger to deal with the problem; but once the rats are dead the tiger will stay hungry.  The Kurds also live next to another starving Tiger, the Turkish Government.

The history of the Kurds is one of constant betrayals by larger powers. And now they are pleading on the pages of The New York Times not to be betrayed again, since they see the writing on the wall:

“…[President Trump] give us your word that even after Raqqa’s liberation [in Syria] you will prevent attempts by Turkey to destroy what we’ve built here.”

Of course Trump’s “word” is meaningless (and even this he won’t give publicly). The Kurds are being used as battlefield pawns in a greater game. As Trump aligns with the Kurds in Syria, he simultaneously calls the Turkish Kurds “terrorists,” even though the Turkish and Syrian Kurds are closely aligned ideologically and militarily.

Like all “boots on the ground,” the Kurds are most useful to the U.S. as cannon fodder, while more powerful people profit from the fighting. The political power of the Kurds pales in comparison to their enemy Turkey, whose government has long-term interests (the destruction of the Kurds) that will outlast the short-term military objectives Trump.

The above contradictions are sharpening across the Middle East, nearing the point of yet another explosion. The Trump Doctrine is a flamethrower at a gas station that can instantly spark an even greater conflagration, beyond the horrors we’ve already witnessed across the Middle East. If the Trump resistance movement in the United States doesn’t quickly prioritize a real anti war strategy, there will be little resistance left to speak of as we descend into war.