Informed Comment http://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 09 Feb 2016 06:40:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.2 Oil Dictator Dominos http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/oil-dictator-dominos.html http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/oil-dictator-dominos.html#respond Tue, 09 Feb 2016 06:40:41 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=158333 By Bill Emmott | Project Syndicate | – –

LONDON – Price movements as large and rapid as those that have upended oil markets since June 2014 are sure to cause pain to some and benefit others. Though the pain tends to capture the most attention, the benefit is just as important – if not more so. The 70% drop in the price of a barrel of crude represents a colossal transfer of $3 trillion in annual income from oil producers to oil consumers.

As a result, while sliding equity markets and a further decline in oil (and other commodity) prices have sparked much talk of another global recession, dire predictions are likely to prove overly gloomy and misdirected. To be sure, the dramatic drop in the price of oil will produce winners and losers. But the biggest dangers will be political, not economic.

The shift in fortunes can perhaps best be seen on the boarding passes of International Monetary Fund officials. Rather than going to Athens, they are now heading for Baku. Indeed, Central Asia’s oil-producing dictatorships, including Azerbaijan, have been among the countries hardest hit by the drop in prices – especially because, as ex-Soviet states, they remain heavily dependent on trade with Russia, another oil producer.

The biggest beneficiaries of the price slump will be the highly indebted, oil-importing countries of the eurozone: Greece, Italy, and Spain (Germany, too, is likely to benefit). Their export markets in emerging economies will suffer, damping hopes of a trade-led recovery, but that negative effect stands to be more than offset by the windfall from a big drop in energy costs. Growth in the eurozone will be based on the resulting increase in domestic demand, rather than exports.

The United States and the United Kingdom are simultaneously energy producers and importers, so the impact on their economics is likely to be more complicated. In 2013 and 2014, energy firms dominated business investment, and cutbacks in the sector will translate into lost jobs and dropping demand for the manufacturers and service companies supplying the industry.

On the other hand, consumer spending in both countries stands to rise. While US consumers have so far saved a large proportion of the windfall they have received through cheaper gasoline prices, the gains for households are starting to translate into higher levels of spending.

Economists are likely to spend months puzzling over why the effect of low oil prices has proved slow to emerge in the consumption statistics. But, ultimately, emerge they will, as they have every time such a large fall has occurred. The more important question is one for political scientists: Which governments will collapse this year, and with what consequences?

It is no coincidence that the last emerging-markets crisis, in 1997-1998, was also associated with a dramatic fall in oil prices. In that case, the two biggest victims were a dictator in Indonesia and a fragile democrat in Russia. In May 1998, nine months after the beginning of East Asia’s financial crisis, Indonesian President Suharto resigned after 31 years in office. A few months later, Russia defaulted on its sovereign debt as its currency collapsed. On December 31, 1999, President Boris Yeltsin resigned, leaving the country in the hands of his recently appointed prime minister, Vladimir Putin.

In attempting to predict which governments might face a similar fate this time, the basic criteria – in addition to the oil slump’s financial impact – are resilience and flexibility. Does a regime have the financial reserves with which to cushion the shock and buy time to adjust? Does a country have a robust banking system? Can its political system contain growing popular frustration or channel it through existing institutions? Oil-dependent regimes that fail to meet these criteria are in trouble.

This analytical framework yields surprising insights. As much as pundits like to predict the collapse of the Saudi Arabian monarchy, they are likely to be disappointed once again. The country is the world’s lowest-cost oil producer; and, though its political rigidity is beyond question, it is showing economic flexibility by cutting its budget and introducing wide-ranging reforms.

Russia, however, for all its bluster, may prove less fortunate. Its political robustness is not matched by financial and economic resilience. Putin will try to mask the pain, but at some point it is likely to become debilitating.

The potential victims are many, with worrying implications for geopolitical stability worldwide. Venezuela has been in financial crisis since long before the oil crunch, and Nigeria is looking a lot like Russia in 1998 – a fragile democracy facing a currency crisis.

As to who might become the next Suharto in the coming months, my best guess is one or more of the Central Asian oil autocrats in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. In any case, this year promises to be interesting – and harrowing, if you happen to be a dictator clinging to power in an oil-exporting country.

Bill Emmott is a former editor-in-chief of The Economist.

Licensed from Project Syndicate

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

BBC: “Falling oil prices: Is history repeating itself? BBC News”

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Is Netanyahu Readying the next Israeli Assault on Blockaded Gaza? http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/is-netanyahu-readying-the-next-israeli-assault-on-blockaded-gaza.html http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/is-netanyahu-readying-the-next-israeli-assault-on-blockaded-gaza.html#respond Tue, 09 Feb 2016 06:12:10 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=158330 By: Ramzy Baroud | (Ma’an News Agency) | – –

It is not true that only three wars have taken place since Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006 in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Other wars that were deemed insignificant or ‘skirmishes’ also took place. Operation Returning Echo in March 2012, for example, killed and wounded over 100 people. But since the death toll, relative to the other major onslaughts seemed trivial, it was not cited as ‘war’, per se.

According to this logic, so-called operations Cast Lead (2008-9), Pillar of Defense (2012) and the deadliest of them all, Protective Edge (2014) were serious enough to be included in any relevant discussion, especially when the prospective new Israeli war on Gaza is considered.

It is important to denote that most of the media, mainstream or other, adheres to Israel’s designations of the war, not those of Palestinians. For example, Gazans refer to their last confrontation with Israel as the ‘Al-Furqan Battle’, a term we almost never hear repeated with reference to the war.

Observing the Israeli war discourse as the central factor in understanding the war against the Resistance surpasses that of language into other areas. The suffering in Gaza has never ceased, not since the last war, the previous one or the one before that. But only when Israel begins to mull over war as a real option, do many of us return to Gaza to discuss the various violent possibilities that lie ahead.

The problem of relegating Gaza until Israeli bombs begin to fall is part and parcel of Israeli collective thinking — government and society, alike. Gideon Levy, one of the very few sympathetic Israeli journalists in mainstream newspapers wrote about this in a recent article in Haaretz.

“The addiction to fear and the eternal wallowing in terror in Israel suddenly reminded one of the existence of the neighboring ghetto,” he wrote in reference to Gaza and sounding of Israeli war drums. “Only thus are we here reminded of Gaza. When it shoots, or at least digs … (only then) we recall its existence. Iran dropped off the agenda. Sweden isn’t scary enough. Hezbollah is busy. So we return to Gaza.”

In fact, Israel’s exceedingly violent past in Gaza does not hinge on Hamas’ relative control of the terribly poor and besieged place, nor is it, as per conventional wisdom, also related to Palestinian factionalism. Certainly, Hamas’ strength there is hardly an incentive for Israel to leave Gaza alone, and Palestinians’ pitiful factionalism rarely help the situation. However, Israel’s problem is with the very idea that there is a single Palestinian entity that dares challenge Israel’s dominance, and dares to resist.

Moreover, the argument that armed resistance, in particular, infuriates Israel the most is also incorrect. Violent resistance may speed up Israel’s retaliation and the intensity of its violence, but as we are currently witnessing in the West Bank, no form of resistance has ever been permissible, not now, not since the Palestinian Authority was essentially contracted to control the Palestinian population, and certainly not since the start of the Israeli military occupation in 1967.

Israel wants to have complete monopoly over violence, and that is the bottom line. A quick scan of Israel’s history against Palestinian Resistance in all of its forms is indicative that the Israel vs. Hamas narrative has always be reductionist, due partly to it being politically convenient for Israel, but also useful in the Palestinians’ own infighting.

Fatah, which was Palestine’s largest political party until Hamas won 76 out of the legislative council’s 132 seats in the early 2006 elections, has played a major rule in constructing that misleading narrative, one that sees the past wars and the current conflict as an exclusive fight between Hamas, as political rival, and Israel.

When seven of Hamas fighters were recently killed after a tunnel collapsed — which was destroyed during the 2014 war by Israel and was being rebuilt — Fatah issued a statement that appeared on Facebook. The statement did not declare solidarity with the various resistance movements which have operated under horrendously painful circumstances and unremitting siege for years, but chastised the ‘war merchants’ — in reference to Hamas — who, according to Fatah, “know nothing but burying their young people in ashes.”

But what other options does the Resistance in Gaza actually have?

The unity government which was agreed on by both Fatah and Hamas in the Beach Refugee Camp agreement in the summer of 2014 yielded no practical outcomes, leaving Gaza with no functioning government, and a worsening siege. That reality, for now, seals the fate of a political solution involving a unified Palestinian leadership.

Submitting to Israel is the worst possible option. If the Resistance is Gaza was to lay down its arms, Israel would attempt to recreate the post-1982 Lebanon war scenario, when they pacified their enemies using extreme violence and then entrusted their collaborating allies to rearrange the subsequent political landscape. While some Palestinians could readily offer to fill that disreputable role, the Gaza society is likely to shun them entirely.

A third scenario in which Gaza is both free and the Palestinian people’s political wishes are respected is also unlikely to materialize soon, considering the fact that Israel has no reason to submit to this option, at least for now.

This leaves the war option as the only real, tragic possibility. Israeli analyst, Amost Harel highlighted in his article, “Hamas’ Desire to Increase West Bank Attacks Could Trigger New Gaza War” the reasoning behind this logic.

“To date, Israel and Palestinian Authority security forces have succeeded in scuttling most of Hamas’ schemes,” he wrote, referring to his allegations that Hamas is attempting to co-opt the ongoing uprising in the West Bank.

In one of several scenarios he offered, “The first is that a successful Hamas attack in the West Bank will spur an Israeli response against the group in Gaza, which will lead the parties into a confrontation.”

In most of Israeli media analyses, there is almost total disregard for Palestinian motives, aside from some random inclination to commit acts of ‘terror.’ Of course, reality is rarely close to Israel’s self-centered version of events, as rightly pointed out by Israeli writer Gideon Levy.

After his most recent visit to Gaza, Robert Piper, UN envoy and humanitarian coordinator for the Occupied Territories, left the Strip with a grim assessment: only 859 of homes destroyed in the last war have been rebuilt. He blamed the blockade for Gaza’s suffering, but also the lack of communication between the Ramallah-based government and Hamas movement in Gaza.

“There’s no changes to the underlying fragility of Gaza,” he told AFP, and the situation “remains on a frankly disastrous trajectory of de-development and radicalization, as far as I can tell.”

Of the blockade, he said, “It is a blockade that prevents students from getting to universities to further their studies in other places. It’s a blockade that prevents sick people from getting the health care that they need.”

Under these circumstance, it is difficult to imagine that another war is not looming. Israel’s strategic, political and military tactics, as it stands today, will not allow Gaza to live with a minimal degree of dignity. On the other hand, the history of Gaza’s resistance makes it impossible to imagine a scenario in which the Strip raises a white flag and awaits its allotted punishment.

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s editorial policy.

Via Ma’an News Agency

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: “Hamas Gaza chief: we’re ready for a “confrontation” with Israel”

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Kaj Larsen Gives a Debriefing on Boko Haram (Vice) http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/kaj-larsen-gives-a-debriefing-on-boko-haram-vice.html http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/kaj-larsen-gives-a-debriefing-on-boko-haram-vice.html#respond Mon, 08 Feb 2016 18:15:46 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=158317 ]]> http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/kaj-larsen-gives-a-debriefing-on-boko-haram-vice.html/feed 0 Israel frets about “Iran as Neighbor” if Aleppo falls & al-Assad Regime Wins http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/israel-frets-about-iran-as-neighbor-if-aleppo-falls-al-assad-regime-wins.html http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/israel-frets-about-iran-as-neighbor-if-aleppo-falls-al-assad-regime-wins.html#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 09:39:44 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=158313 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

An Arabic site that aggregates Facebook and other social media postings reports that Israeli officials are filled with anxiety and consternation about the possibility that the regime of Bashar al-Assad will conquer Aleppo with Russian and Iranian help, and will go on to reconstitute itself. It would be, in the view of Israeli hardliners, an Iranian puppet and would give Lebanon’s Hizbullah a free hand in the region. Yuval Steinitz, a cabinet member with a portfolio for strategic affairs, warned that the victories of the Syrian Arab Army in the Aleppo area constitute a long-term threat to Israel.

In the aftermath, Hizbullah could be even better armed. And Iran might have a permanent military presence in Syria, putting it on the Israeli border, including possibly on the Golan Heights that overlook Israel. Steinitz said Israel would nevertheless not intervene in the Syrian civil war. He described recent SAA advances as “a change in the strategic balance.” He said he feared the price of a defeat of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) would be Iranian troops deployed along the northern border of Israel with Syria. He complained that the barbarity of Daesh has convinced the world that it must be defeated, but that this focus has taken the limelight off the threat of Iran and Hizbullah. He warned that Turkey and Cyprus are also affected if “Iran reaches the Mediterranean.”

Israel’s Hebrew Radio 2 also expressed ‘anxiety and fear’ at these developments. The report said that the allies of the Syrian rebels had abandoned them. It said that the fall of Aleppo would represent the end of any threat to the regime. It asserted that President Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry have abandoned the Syrian opposition to Vladimir Putin, allowing al-Assad and Iran to prevail over it. The report said Turkey had been too afraid to do anything about this development because it did not want to take on Russia. The station said that if, after the fall of Aleppo, the SAA turns its attention to southern Syria and secures it, Israel might be facing Hizbullah and Iran in the Golan Heights.

Hebrew Radio 10 envisaged that Bashar al-Assad could now reemerge as a strongman with a powerful army.

Yisrael Ha-Yom, the newspaper of corrupt casino moghul Sheldon Adelson (chief backer of Mario Rubio for the US presidency) concurred in the dangers and could only see one counter to an al-Assad- Russian-Iranian victory, which would be an intervention by Saudi Arabia.

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Related video:

Ruptly: “Syria: Syrian Army makes push to fully encircle Aleppo”

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Would Trump or Cruz be worst President ever? & Why Jimmy Carter’s Answer will Surprise you http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/would-trump-or-cruz-be-worst-president-ever-why-jimmy-carters-answer-will-surprise-you.html http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/would-trump-or-cruz-be-worst-president-ever-why-jimmy-carters-answer-will-surprise-you.html#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 06:27:19 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=158310 By Ana Kasparian & John Iadarola | (The Young Turks Video Report) | – –

“Who would be worse for America as President, Donald Trump or Ted Cruz? Former President Jimmy Carter weighed in on the question of Trump vs Cruz. Ana Kasparian and John Iadarola (ThinkTank), hosts of the The Young Turks, break it down.

“Former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday that he’d prefer to have Donald Trump in the Oval Office rather than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Speaking at Britain’s House of Lords, the Democrat said he thought Trump was more of a malleable candidate than Cruz, according to Politico.

“I think I would choose Trump, which may surprise some of you,” Carter was quoted as saying. “The reason is, Trump has proven already he’s completely malleable. I don’t think he has any fixed (positions) he’d go the White House and fight for. On the other hand, Ted Cruz is not malleable. He has far-right wing policies he’d pursue if he became president.”

The Young Turks: “Jimmy Carter On President Donald Trump”

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After 14 Years it sinks in: Maybe US is just not Good at Asian Counter-Insurgency http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/after-14-years-it-sinks-in-maybe-us-is-just-not-good-at-asian-counter-insurgency.html http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/after-14-years-it-sinks-in-maybe-us-is-just-not-good-at-asian-counter-insurgency.html#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 05:47:22 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=158307 By Tom Engelhardt | (Tomdispatch.com) | – –

Here’s my twenty-first-century rule of thumb about this country: if you have to say it over and over, it probably ain’t so. Which is why I’d think twice every time we’re told how “exceptional” or “indispensable” the United States is. For someone like me who can still remember a moment when Americans assumed that was so, but no sitting president, presidential candidate, or politician felt you had to say the obvious, such lines reverberate with defensiveness. They seem to incorporate other voices you can almost hear whispering that we’re ever less exceptional, more dispensable, no longer (to quote the greatest of them all by his own estimate) “the greatest.” In this vein, consider a commonplace line running around Washington (as it has for years): the U.S. military is “the finest fighting force in the history of the world.” Uh, folks, if that’s so, then why the hell can’t it win a damn thing 14-plus years later?

If you don’t mind a little what-if history lesson, it’s just possible that events might have turned out differently and, instead of repeating that “finest fighting force” stuff endlessly, our leaders might actually believe it. After all, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, it took the Bush administration only a month to let the CIA, special forces advisers, and the U.S. Air Force loose against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s supporters in Afghanistan. The results were crushing. The first moments of what that administration would grandiloquently (and ominously) bill as a “global war on terror” were, destructively speaking, glorious.

If you want to get a sense of just how crushing those forces and their Afghan proxies were, read journalist Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, the best book yet written on how (and how quickly) that war on terror went desperately, disastrously awry. One of the Afghans Gopal spent time with was a Taliban military commander nicknamed — for his whip of choice — Mullah Cable, who offered a riveting account of just how decisive the U.S. air assault on that movement was. In recalling his days on the front lines of what, until then, had been an Afghan civil war, he described his first look at what American bombs could do:

“He drove into the basin and turned the corner and then stepped out of the vehicle. Oh my God, he thought. There were headless torsos and torso-less arms, cooked slivers of scalp and flayed skin. The stones were crimson, the sand ocher from all the blood. Coal-black lumps of melted steel and plastic marked the remains of his friends’ vehicles.

“Closing his eyes, he steadied himself. In the five years of fighting he had seen his share of death, but never lives disposed of so easily, so completely, so mercilessly, in mere seconds.”

The next day, he addressed his men. “Go home,” he said. “Get yourselves away from here. Don’t contact each other.”

“Not a soul,” writes Gopal, “protested.”

Mullah Cable took his own advice and headed for Kabul, the Afghan capital. “If he somehow could make it out alive, he promised himself that he would abandon politics forever.” And he was typical. As Gopal reports, the Taliban quickly broke under the strain of war with the last superpower on the planet. Its foot soldiers put down their arms and, like Mullah Cable, fled for home. Its leaders began to try to surrender. In Afghan fashion, they were ready to go back to their native villages, make peace, shuffle their allegiances, and hope for better times. Within a couple of months, in other words, it was, or at least shoulda, woulda, coulda been all over, even the shouting.

The U.S. military and its Afghan proxies, if you remember, believed that they had trapped Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda fighters somewhere in the mountainous Tora Bora region. If the U.S. had concentrated all its resources on him at that moment, it’s hard to believe that he wouldn’t have been in American custody or dead sooner rather than later. And that would have been that. The U.S. military could have gone home victorious. The Taliban, along with bin Laden, would have been history. Stop the cameras there and what a tale of triumph would surely have been told.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Keeping the Cameras Rolling

There was, of course, a catch.  Like their Bush administration mentors, the American military men who arrived in Afghanistan were determined to fight that global war on terror forever and a day.  So, as Gopal reports, they essentially refused to let the Taliban surrender.  They hounded that movement’s leaders and fighters until they had little choice but to pick up their guns again and, in the phrase of the moment, “go back to work.” 

It was a time of triumph and of Guantánamo, and it went to everyone’s head.  Among those in power in Washington and those running the military, who didn’t believe that a set of genuine global triumphs lay in store?  With such a fighting force, such awesome destructive power, how could it not?  And so, in Afghanistan, the American counterterror types kept right on targeting the “terrorists” whenever their Afghan warlord allies pointed them out — and if many of them turned out to be local enemies of those same rising warlords, who cared?

It would be the first, but hardly the last time that, in killing significant numbers of people, the U.S. military had a hand in creating its own future enemies.  In the process, the Americans managed to revive the very movement they had crushed and which, so many years later, is at the edge of seizing a dominant military position in the country.

And keep in mind that, while producing a recipe for future disaster there, the Bush administration’s top officials had far bigger fish to fry.  For them and for the finest fighting force etc., etc., Afghanistan was a hopeless backwater — especially with Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein there in Baghdad at the crossroads of the oil heartlands of the planet with a target on his back.  As they saw it, control of much of the Greater Middle East was at stake.  To hell with Osama bin Laden.

And so, in March 2003, less than a year and a half later, they launched the invasion of Iraq, another glorious success for that triple-F force.  Saddam’s military was crushed in an instant and his capital, burning and looted, was occupied by American troops in next to no time at all. 

Stop the cameras there and you’re still talking about the dominant military of this, if not any other century.  But of course the cameras didn’t stop.  The Bush administration had no intention of shutting them off, not when it saw a Middle Eastern (and possibly even a global) Pax Americana in its future and wanted to garrison Iraq until hell froze over.  It already assumed that the next stop after Baghdad on the Occident Express would be either Damascus or Tehran, that America’s enemies in the region would go down like ten pins, and that the oil heartlands of the planet would become an American dominion.  (As the neocon quip of that moment had it, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad.  Real men want to go to Tehran.”)

It was a hell of a dream, with an emphasis on hell.  It would, in fact, prove a nightmare of the first order, and the cameras just kept rolling and rolling for nearly 13 years while (I think it’s time for an acronym here) the FFFIHW, also known as the Finest Fighting Force etc., etc., proved that it could not successfully:

*Defeat determined, if lightly armed, minority insurgencies. 

*Train proxy armies to do its bidding.

*Fight a war based on sectarian versions of Islam or a war of ideas.

*Help reconstruct a society in the Greater Middle East, no matter how much money it pumped in.

*Create much of anything but failed states and deeply corrupt ruling elites in the region.

*Bomb an insurgent movement into surrender.

*Drone-kill terror leaders until their groups collapsed.

*Intervene anywhere in the Greater Middle East in just about any fashion, by land or air, and end up with a world in any way to its liking. 

Send in the…

It’s probably accurate to say that in the course of one disappointment or disaster after another from Afghanistan to Libya, Somalia to Iraq, Yemen to Pakistan, the U.S. military never actually lost an encounter on the battlefield.  But nowhere was it truly triumphant on the battlefield either, not in a way that turned out to mean anything.  Nowhere, in fact, did a military move of any sort truly pay off in the long run.  Whatever was done by the FFFIHW and the CIA (with its wildly counterproductive drone assassination campaigns across the region) only seemed to create more enemies and more problems.

To sum up, the finest you-know-what in the history of you-know-where has proven to be a clumsy, largely worthless weapon of choice in Washington’s terror wars — and increasingly its leadership seems to know it.  In private, its commanders are clearly growing anxious.  If you want a witness to that anxiety, go no further than Washington Post columnist and power pundit David Ignatius.  In mid-January, after a visit to U.S. Central Command, which oversees Washington’s military presence in the Greater Middle East, he wrote a column grimly headlined: “The ugly truth: Defeating the Islamic State will take decades.”  Its first paragraph went: “There’s a scary disconnect between the somber warnings you hear privately from military leaders about the war against the Islamic State and the glib debating points coming from Republican and Democratic politicians.”

For Ignatius, channeling his high-level sources in Central Command (whom he couldn’t identify), things could hardly have been gloomier.  And yet, bleak as his report was, it still qualified as an upbeat view.  His sources clearly believed that, if Washington was willing to commit to a long, hard military slog and the training of proxy forces in the region not over “a few months” but a “generation,” success would follow some distant, golden day.  The last 14-plus years suggest otherwise.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what those worried CENTCOM commanders, the folks at the Pentagon, and the Obama administration are planning for the FFFIHW in the near future. Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that, with almost a decade and a half of grisly military lessons under their belts, they are evidently going to pursue exactly the kinds of actions that have, for some time, made the U.S. military look like neither the finest, nor the greatest anything.  Here’s a little been-there-done-that rundown of what might read like past history but is evidently still to come:

Afghanistan: So many years after the Bush administration loosed the U.S. Air Force and its Special Operations forces on that country and “liberated” it, the situation, according to the latest U.S. general to be put in command of the war zone, is “deteriorating.”  Meanwhile, in 2015, casualties suffered by the American-built Afghan security forces reached “unsustainable” levels.  The Taliban now control more territory than at any time since 2001, and the Islamic State (IS) has established itself in parts of the country.  In response, more than a year after President Obama announced the ending of the U.S. “combat mission” there, the latest plans are to further slow the withdrawal of U.S. forces, while sending in the U.S. Air Force and special operations teams, particularly against the new IS fighters.

Libya: Almost five years ago, the Obama administration (with its NATO allies) dispatched overwhelming air power and drones to Libyan skies to help take down that country’s autocrat, Muammar Gaddafi.  In the wake of his death and the fall of his regime, his arsenals were looted and advanced weapons were dispatched to terror groups from Mali to the Sinai Peninsula.  In the ensuing years, Libya has been transformed not into a thriving democracy but a desperately failed state filled with competing sectarian militias, Islamic extremist outfits, and a fast-growing Islamic State offshoot.  As the situation there continues to deteriorate, the Obama administration is now reportedly considering a “new” strategy involving “decisive military action” that will be focused on… you guessed it, air and drone strikes and possibly special operations raids on Islamic State operations.

Iraq: Another country in which the situation is again deteriorating as oil prices plunge — oil money makes up 90% of the government budget — and the Islamic State continues to hold significant territory.  Meanwhile, Iraqis die monthly in prodigious numbers in bloody acts of war and terror, as Shiite-Sunni grievances seem only to sharpen.  It’s almost 13 years since the U.S. loosed its air power and its army against Saddam Hussein, disbanded his military, trained another one (significant parts of which collapsed in the face of relatively small numbers of Islamic State fighters in 2014 and 2015), and brought together much of the future leadership of the Islamic State in a U.S. military prison.  It’s almost four years since the U.S. “ended” its war there and left.  Since August 2014, however, it has again loosed its Air Force on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, while dispatching at least 3,700 (and possibly almost 4,500) military personnel to Iraq to help train up a new version of that country’s army and support it as it retakes (or in fact reduces to rubble) cities still in IS hands.  In this context, the Obama administration now seems to be planning for a kind of endless mission creep in which “hundreds more trainers, advisers, and commandos” will be sent to that country and neighboring Syria in the coming months.  Increasingly, some of those advisers and other personnel will officially be considered “boots on the ground” and will focus on helping “the Iraqi army mount the kind of conventional warfare operations needed to defeat Islamic State militants.”  It’s even possible that American advisers will, in the end, be allowed to engage directly in combat operations, while American Apache helicopter pilots might at some point begin flying close support missions for Iraqi troops fighting in urban areas.  (And if this is all beginning to sound strangely familiar, what a surprise!)

Syria: Give Syria credit for one thing. It can’t be classified as a three-peat or even a repeat performance, since the FFFIHW wasn’t there the previous 14 years. Still, it’s hard not to feel as if we’ve been through all this before: the loosing of American air power on the Islamic State (with effects that devastate but somehow don’t destroy the object of Washington’s desire), disastrous attempts to train proxy forces in the American mold, the arrival of special ops forces on the scene, and so on.

In other words, everything proven over the years, from Afghanistan to Libya, not to bring victory or much of anything else worthwhile will be tried yet again — from Afghanistan to Libya.  Above all, of course, a near-religious faith in the efficacy of bombing and of drone strikes will remain crucial to American efforts, even though in the past such military-first approaches have only helped to spread terror outfits, chaos, and failed states across this vast region.  Will any of it work this time?  I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Declaring Defeat and Coming Home

At some point, as the Vietnam War dragged on, Republican Senator George Aiken of Vermont suggested — so the legend goes — that the U.S. declare victory and simply come home.  (In fact, he never did such a thing, but no matter.)  Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and their adviser Henry Kissinger might, however, be said to have done something similar in the end.  And despite wartime fears — no less rabid than those about the Islamic State today — that a Vietnamese communist victory would cause “dominoes” to “fall” and communism to triumph across the Third World, remarkably little happened that displeased, no less endangered, the United States.  Four decades later, in fact, Washington and Vietnam are allied increasingly closely against a rising China.

In a similar fashion, our worst nightmares of the present moment — magnified in the recent Republican debates — are likely to have little basis in reality.  The Islamic State is indeed a brutal and extreme sectarian movement, the incarnation of the whirlwind of chaos the U.S. let loose in the region.  As a movement, however, it has its limits.  Its appeal is far too sectarian and extreme to sweep the Greater Middle East.

Its future suppression, however, is unlikely to have much to do with the efforts of the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  Quite the opposite, the Islamic State and its al-Qaeda-linked doppelgangers still spreading in the region thrive on the destructive attentions of the FFFIHW.  They need that force to be eternally on their trail and tail.

There are (or at least should be) moments in history when ruling elites suddenly add two and two and miraculously come up with four.  This doesn’t seem to be one of them or else the Obama administration wouldn’t be doubling down on a militarized version of the same-old same-old in the Greater Middle East, while its Republican and neocon opponents call for making the sand “glow in the dark,” sending in the Marines (all of them), and bombing the hell out of everything.

Under the circumstances, what politician in present-day Washington would have the nerve to suggest the obvious?  Isn’t it finally time to pull the U.S. military back from the Greater Middle East and put an end to our disastrous temptation to intervene ever more destructively in ever more repetitious ways in that region?  That would, of course, mean, among other things, dismantling the vast structure of military bases Washington has built up across the Persian Gulf and the rest of the Greater Middle East.

Maybe it’s time to adopt some version of Senator Aiken’s mythical strategy. Maybe Washington should bluntly declare not victory, but defeat, and bring the U.S. military home.  Maybe if we stopped claiming that we were the greatest, most exceptional, most indispensable nation ever and that the U.S. military was the finest fighting force in the history of the world, both we and the world might be better off and modestly more peaceful. Unfortunately, you can toss that set of thoughts in the trash can that holds all the other untested experiments of history.  One thing we can be sure of, given the politics of our moment, is that we’ll never know.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Tom Engelhardt

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News from a couple of weeks ago: ” More Ground Troops In Iraq, Says Pentagon”

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European Union rebukes Israel for home demolitions, squatter settlement expansion in Palestine http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/european-union-rebukes-israel-for-home-demolitions-settlement-expansion.html http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/european-union-rebukes-israel-for-home-demolitions-settlement-expansion.html#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 05:18:59 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=158303 Ma’an News Agency | – –

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — The European Union on Saturday called on Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, and reiterated “the EU’s firm opposition to Israel’s settlement policy.”

In a statement, the EU said Israel’s most recent moves in the occupied West Bank — from settlement expansion to Palestinian home demolitions — undermine “the viability of a future Palestinian state” and only continue to “driv(e) the parties yet further apart.”

Digital StillCamera

Digital StillCamera


EU HQ h/t wikipedia

The EU specifically mentioned Israel’s actions on Feb. 3, when Israeli forces demolished a number of Palestinian structures in the south Hebron hills.

Israeli watchdog B’Tselem estimated at the time that around 40 structures in the area had been marked by Israel’s civil administration to be demolished.

The EU said news of the demolitions were “particularly concerning both because of the extent of the demolitions and also the number of vulnerable individuals affected, including children who need support,” adding that a number of the “demolitions included EU-funded structures.”

“EU humanitarian activities are carried out in full accordance with international humanitarian law, with the sole aim of providing humanitarian support to most vulnerable people. We call on the Israeli authorities to reverse the decisions taken and to halt further demolitions.”

While demolitions in the occupied West Bank decreased by 10 percent in 2015 from the previous year, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 539 Palestinian-owned structures were still demolished, leaving many Palestinians homeless.

The majority were demolished in Area C, on the grounds of lacking building permits, around 20 percent of which were built using humanitarian assistance from international organizations.

In order for Palestinians to build in Area C, which is under full Israeli control, land owners must obtain building permits from Israeli authorities.

OCHA found that between 2010 and 2014, only 1.5 percent of 2,020 building permit requests submitted were approved.

“Official data released by the Israeli authorities indicate that over 11,000 demolition orders — affecting an estimated 17,000 Palestinian owned structures, including homes — are currently ‘outstanding’ in Area C of the West Bank,” OCHA said in a statement last year.

At least 77 percent of demolition orders against structures are located on private Palestinian land.

via Ma’an News Agency

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Parable of the Elephant (GOP Pathologies) http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/parable-of-the-elephant-gop-pathologies.html http://www.juancole.com/2016/02/parable-of-the-elephant-gop-pathologies.html#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 05:14:47 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=158300 Paul Jamiol | ( Jamiol’s World Cartoon ) | – –

jwfeb9_16

Via Jamiol’s World .

Wikipedia notes:

“Rumi, the 13th Century Persian poet and teacher of Sufism, included it in his Masnavi. In his retelling, “The Elephant in the Dark”, some Hindus bring an elephant to be exhibited in a dark room. A number of men touch and feel the elephant in the dark and, depending upon where they touch it, they believe the elephant to be like a water spout (trunk), a fan (ear), a pillar (leg) and a throne (back). Rumi uses this story as an example of the limits of individual perception.”

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