The sentence of the week is from Steve Negus:
It may be that the Islamic State's onslaught is the shock that transforms Iraq's political culture.
The sentence of the week is from Steve Negus:
It may be that the Islamic State's onslaught is the shock that transforms Iraq's political culture.
(...) the fact is that the first world war was a time when Muslims were generally used as pawns in European imperial games—whether they were Indians who fought for Britain, Senegalese or Algerians who fought for France or Turks who fought on the German side. Fighting on any side in the first world war was a pretty miserable experience, and that certainly deserves to be remembered. But Islam's collective memory of that period is probably a bit different from the European one.
From Sascha-Dominik Bachmann:
The changes to the world since the end of the “Cold War” in 1991 shaped the political landscape and also military strategy and doctrine. What we have seen so far was the evolving of a more liberal view on war as an instrument and continuation of politics — especially in the form of ‘humanitarian intervention’. Examples for this new liberalism in waging war, may be found in the US-led Iraqi campaigns of 1991 and 2003, the war in Afghanistan, Russia’s occupation of Georgian territories during the summer of 2008, the two Chechen campaigns and many more small scale interventions around the globe.
Some of these operations were questionable in terms of legality and legitimacy, and might qualify as the prohibited use of force in terms of Article 2(4) UN Charter. The planning and conducting of these operation would in the future fall within the scope of Article 8 bis of the ICC Statute (in its revised post Kampala 2011 version and coming in force only after 2017), potentially giving raise to criminal responsibility of the political leaders involved.
Sugary excerpt of the day from a must-read but incomplete article plagued unfortunately by a lack of nuance and a comprehensive vision on the Central African Republic from Graeme Wood:
The French arrived in what’s now CAR in the late nineteenth century, and their history suggests they wish they had never come at all. They initially tried enslaving the population and turning the country into a cotton producer. But that didn’t work. CAR ended up being the place where the French sent their dumbest colonial officers, and when French colonies gained independence in the early ’60s, Paris wasn’t sorry to see this one go.
Still, perhaps out of colonial nostalgia, the French have continued to interfere in Central African politics. CAR provided a station for French troops during the 1980s and 1990s, and prominent French politicians acquired stakes in gold and diamond interests. (French President Giscard d’Estaing did not visit Emperor Bokassa merely to hunt bongo and sample the imperial charcuterie.)
All of which explains why Paris treats the presence of anti-French elements in Bangui as a stick in the eye. The French are uncomfortable with the rise of Rwanda—a locally grown power whose regional significance has waxed just as theirs has waned. They are keenly aware that Bangui’s Muslims, whom the Rwandans protect, killed two Sangaris and now tag their neighborhoods with “NO TO FRANCE, THE DOGS OF EUROPE” graffiti. And the French have loudly condemned Rwanda’s alleged sponsorship of rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and assassination of political opponents. (Those opponents turn up dead with actuarially improbable frequency: At least one was shot dead in Bangui earlier this year, and Rwandan soldiers are rumored to have been responsible.)
Worrisome sugary excerpt from Nick Turse:
A new type of expeditionary warfare is underway in Africa, but there’s little to suggest that America’s backing of a former colonial power will ultimately yield the long-term successes that years of support for local proxies could not. So far, the U.S. has been willing to let European and African forces do the fighting, but if these interventions drag on and the violence continues to leap from country to country as yet more militant groups morph and multiply, the risk only rises of Washington wading ever deeper into post-colonial wars with an eerily colonial look. “Leveraging and partnering with the French” is the current way to go, according to Washington. Just where it’s going is the real question.
Sentence of the day from William Easterly:
Today, there is yet again a U.S. technocratic embrace of autocratic allies in Africa and elsewhere, this time for the "war on terror," still fueled by World Bank loans.
The reality is that Mr Putin sees holding Ukraine within Russia’s sphere of influence as a vital national interest that he is willing to run pretty big risks to secure. What is more, it seems highly probable that he does not take threats from Mr Obama particularly seriously. He has seen at close hand the American president’s disastrous vacillation over Syria, culminating in the scuttling away from his own red line declaring punishment for the Assad regime if it used chemical weapons. He no doubt also draws conclusions from big American defence spending cuts in the pipeline and Mr Obama’s extreme sensitivity to the war-weariness of American voters.
If Mr Putin believes (as he almost certainly does) that Mr Obama will do little more than deliver a petulant slap on the wrist, he will have no compunction in putting into operation a familiar playbook. (...) While it is easy to criticise Mr Obama’s infinite capacity for thoughtful inaction, the dilemmas for Western diplomacy are real enough. The problem is that like the fox, the West knows lots of different things but is not sure what it really wants, while Mr Putin is like the hedgehog that knows just one big thing, namely that Ukraine, especially in the south and east, is really part of Russia's world.
This is a country that likes trials of the century—a couple of them a year, if possible. We’ve also, as politicians remind us, been convulsed as a nation by the September 11th attacks, which are supposed to have changed our expectations of everything from Presidents to airplane rides and privacy. The one thing that the memory of 9/11 hasn’t had the power to do, strangely, is get us engrossed in the actual judicial proceedings involving members of Al Qaeda. When it comes to bringing terrorists to justice in a courtroom, we seem to get bored.
<div><iframe width="480" height="270" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" src="http://player.canalplus.fr/embed/?param=cplus&vid=1023017"></iframe></div><div style="width:472px;font-size:11px; background:#EBEBEB; border:1px solid #D6D6D6; margin-top:5px; padding:4px 0 4px 6px; font-family:Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; -moz-border-radius:3px; -webkit-border-radius:3px;"><a target="_blank" style="text-decoration:none; color:#666;" href="http://www.canalplus.fr/c-divertissement/c-le-grand-journal/pid6298-les-extraits.html?vid=1023017&sc_cmpid=SharePlayerEmbed"><span style="color:#000; font-weight:bold;">Appel de BHL sur la situation en Ukraine</span> - Le Grand Journal du 18/02</a></div>
Sugary excerpt of the day from Malise Ruthven:
Drones, for all their horror, are just the latest instruments by which powers based in urban centers (and not just those linked to the United States) beat into submission the peripheries—what Morocco’s rulers used to call the “Land of Insolence.”
I almost agree wholeheartedly with Patrick Cockburn on this:
The four wars fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria over the past 12 years have all involved overt or covert foreign intervention in deeply divided countries. In each case the involvement of the West exacerbated existing differences and pushed hostile parties towards civil war. In each country, all or part of the opposition have been hard-core jihadi fighters. Whatever the real issues at stake, the interventions have been presented as primarily humanitarian, in support of popular forces against dictators and police states. Despite apparent military successes, in none of these cases have the local opposition and their backers succeeded in consolidating power and establishing stable states.
Jeff Shesol sums up perfectly the American policy on Syria:
Foreign policy-making, unlike the domestic variety, is rarely compared to sausage-making, but what we have seen over the past couple of news cycles should be inspected by the U.S.D.A.
I would love to be having whatever Andrew Sullivan for Obamaland must be Eden when one is high.
To mourn the end of summer or rather celebrate my return to blogging life, sugary excerpt of my hiatus from Sandy Levinson;
:For reasons known only to himself, President Obama has decided to risk his presidency on the outcome of the congressional vote. As I see it, the best way to assure the destruction of his second term is to authorize a strike that makes almost literally no sense in terms of the public rationales that have been offered. There is literally no measure of what might count as "success," other than deterring additional use of chemical weapons. Given that there is no evidence that Assad ordered the use of those weapons in the first place, one might well imagine that he will make some efforts to make sure they are not used again. (There is something particularly indecent about the Obama Administration claiming that Commanders-in-Chief must be held responsible per se, a reversion, it appears to the Yamashita doctrine right after World War II. This, of course, is the Administration that has resolutely refused to hold anyone from the Bush Administration responsible for what is at least equally banned by international and domestic law, i.e., torture, or, for that matter, to pursue members of the Bush I Administration for their toleration of Saddam Hussein's use of poison gas against Iran and then Iraqis. )
It is ominous that Obama's chief domestic support is coming from John ("I never met a war I didn't want to get into") McCain. We all live with (and are victimized by) analogies. I keep thinking of Vietnam, in which thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lost their lives in order to vindicate American "credibility" and fight against the perception that we were a "paper tiger."
Sntences of the week from Ta-nehisi Coates:
The years between 2000 and 2010 do not simply constitute a war on marijuana, but a war on black people who use marijuana.A rising wave smashes Negroes first.
I agree with Corey Robin on this:
During the Vietnam era, liberals and leftists believed not only in social justice but also in mass protest. Whether the cause was democracy at home or liberation abroad, men and women afflicted by oppression had to organize themselves for freedom. Yes, some of yesterday’s activists were blind to coercion within these movements, and others joined elite cadres bombing their way to liberation. Still, the animating faith of the 1960s was in the democratic capacities of ordinary men and women, making it difficult for liberals and leftists to believe in conquering armies from abroad or shock troops from on high.
Many liberals, and some leftists, no longer hold these views. Their faith is guided not by the light of justice but by the darkness of evil: by the tyranny of dictators, the genocide of ethnic cleansers and the terrorism of Islamist radicals. Despite their differences—some of these liberals and leftists support the war in Iraq, others do not; some are partial to popular movements, particularly those opposing anti-American governments, while others favor constitutional regimes, particularly those supporting the United States—theirs is a liberalism, as the late Harvard scholar Judith Shklar put it in a pioneering essay in 1989, that seeks to ward off the “summum malum” (worst evil) rather than to install a “summum bonum” (highest good). Reversing Augustine’s dictum that there is no such thing as evil—evil being only the absence of good—today’s liberal believes there is only evil and progress is measured by the distance we put between ourselves and that evil.
Ah good intentions and the obsession with evil...
Drone technology has made it possible to use lethal force in many situations where we could not or would not have even considered it in the past. Unlike conventional military operations, drone attacks require no “boots on the ground,” and therefore do not pose a risk to American lives. Unlike bombings, they have pinpoint accuracy; they therefore reduce the collateral costs of killing and may be easier to disavow. Because drones can effectively travel the world while being controlled remotely from home, they permit the “war” to move far beyond the battlefield. And drones have made it possible for the US government to do something that was unthinkable before, and should be unthinkable still—to kill its own citizens in secret. In short, drones radically reduce the disincentives to killing. And that may well make a nation prone to use military force before it is truly a last resort. That certainly seems to be what has happened here.
Kenneth Anderson has a interesting take on the subject.
I agree with Tim Black on this:
Under Cameron’s gaze, the problems in Mali are simply collapsed into a grand narrative in which good people fight bad people, just as Blair, alongside President George W Bush, proceeded to view world affairs through the prism of the ‘war on terror’.
The narcissism of this essentially Blairite approach to foreign policy is as incredible as it is reckless. In each case, they really do think this conflict is about them. Arbitrarily chosen, far-flung trouble spots act as ad hoc stages on which a Western leader can show the people back at home just what a good person he is. For Cameron, it was Libya and now neighbouring African states. For Blair, it was the Former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq.
It was a grisly irony, then, that while Blair spoke of the necessity of intervention in north Africa, of trying to do the right thing, the stage of his most infamous display of doing the right thing – Iraq – appeared once more on the fringes of the world’s news bulletins: a suicide bomber, aided by several others, had attacked a police headquarters in the northern city of Kirkuk. At least 36 people were killed and 105 were injured.
At some point, there has to be the recognition that as Camus would say détruire n'est pas créer and that destroying monsters ( which is more often than not about seeking them desperately) isn't the same as fixing problems that are so complex that they require something more than the use of force.
That said power, faith and money have pierced Blair's eyes and ears, which explains why he isn't just irrelevant, but the epitome of what political success can do to the people who are more ambitious and self-righteous than anything else.
From the great Stephen W. Smith:
The bigger question is not why France decided to intervene but why America has held off. Is it simply imperial overstretch and war-weariness? That seems a little thin, given the hue and cry in Washington about ‘ungoverned spaces’ and ‘terrorist safe havens’. After all, the Sahara is six times as big as Afghanistan and Pakistan combined. And why sink money into the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership – more than $1 billion since 2005 – or foot the bill for Operation Enduring Freedom Trans-Sahara, if at the end of it all al-Qaida is allowed to march on Bamako? Why would Obama order more drone strikes than his predecessor against the leaders of Somalia’s al-Shabaab, a group with relatively weak links to international terrorism, but not lift a finger to stop AQIM from taking over Mali? Unless, of course, in addition to a division of labour with the French, the point is to ‘disaggregate’ the multiple terrorist threats in Africa, tackling each individually rather than addressing any common denominator, and so deny jihadism a chance to coalesce. In this regard, even if the French were drawn into the quicksand in Mali, Nigeria would most likely remain the region’s focal point for the US: with 150 million inhabitants, it is the most populous state as well as the biggest oil producer south of the Sahara, and has an active homegrown salafist-jihadist group, Boko Haram (‘Westernisation Is Sinful’). When I put these thoughts to a US military staffer involved in anti-terrorism in Africa, he replied tersely: ‘What we’re doing in Africa is a sort of Whac-A-Mole’ – a reference to an arcade game in which players force moles back into their burrows by hitting them on the head with a mallet. He went on to quote the sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams: ‘America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.’ Well, not any longer perhaps. But France has done precisely that.
THIS can't end well!
From Brendan O'Neill:
What the current instability in north Africa really reveals is not that Islamists are taking over the world, but rather that Western governments are utterly incapable of acting in their own interests on the international stage these days. The chasm that now separates what is in the West’s interests and what the West actually does in global politics is enormous. So determined were the British and French to score some PR points by bombing Libya in 2011 that they didn’t give a moment’s thought to the potential consequences – and now the French military, backed by Britain, is getting stuck into the Libyan fallout in Mali, and both governments are panicked by what is happening in Algeria. The true danger on the world stage today is not a global Islamist conspiracy to demolish Western values, but rather the fact that international affairs is now overseen by immature, narcissistic showboaters who know nothing of realpolitik, nothing of diplomacy, nothing of blowback, and nothing of history.
The trouble with hubris and incompetence is that they lead to a stubborn blindness that makes results inconsequential for the emphasis is placed on feeling good rather than on doing what works.
From Daniel Drezner:
Foreign policy pundits are just like the rest of the monkey-brain population -- we like to put things in clear conceptual boxes -- particularly when we lack specific knowledge of the particulars, as is the case with Mali. It will be easy, in the coming days, to put Mali into the "Afghanistan" box (bad) or the "Libya" box (good or bad depending on your partisan affiliation) or what have you. Given that France and the West African countries are willing to shoulder the primary military burden of this engagement, however, it would seem that the U.S. could ramp up some humanitartian assistance for the affected areas.
Ah haven't we seen all of 'THIS' before and has fixing it ever worked?
This from Gregory Mann is worrisome:
Mali differs from Afghanistan in important ways.
Mali is not (yet) a deeply militarized society — although in the months since Tuareg fighters returned from Qadaffi’s Libya that is changing rapidly.
Mali is not (yet) a narco-state. Northern Mali has become a lucrative zone for drug smuggling, which finances al Qaeda franchises worldwide. Yet none of those drugs are produced in Mali, where Afghanistan’s poppy growers have no parallel. Faced with stiffer surveillance and interdiction, smugglers will go elsewhere.
Finally, Mali is not (yet) a failed state. True, it is grievously weakened, and its army is in disarray. But the government continues to function in the territory it holds. Children go to school, civil servants go to work, and people go about their business.
I have the sinking feeling that most people are guessing when it comes to Mali just as they were about Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and that more often than not their guesses are not even educated, but based on hubris and wishful thinking.
From Robert Fox:
Once more we are hearing of the need to combat an international threat from global Islamist extremism. No one dares use the term ‘war against terror' any longer, but the West faces many of the same questions as in the campaigns launched by President George W Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq.
France is in danger of finding that it owns the Mali problem, so weak is the Mali government and its forces. A long and uncertain ground campaign awaits them.
It's always dangerous to own a country one doesn't understand, isn't willing to allow to grow up and to thus make its own decisions.
Pertinent stuff from James Blitz:
In May 2011, many believed the global jihadist movement had been dealt a decisive blow with the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Now, jihadist threats have emerged on two new and significant fronts. Whether AQIM in Mali and Jabhat al Nusra in Syria turn out to be movements with broad ambitions and which challenge western interests remains to be seen. What cannot be doubted, however, is that the toppling of Gaddafi, who was ultimately the west’s ally in the fight against regional jihadist groups, is a factor in their rise to prominence.
Unfortunately thoughtfulness and patience are not essential qualities in the elaboration and enactment of foreign policy of countries too worried about their power to focus on results instead of actions and reactions.
I don't know if it is possible to have a quagmire in a desert, but Mali may offer an example.
The problem is that wars nowadays are won on TV especially when the victims are more than likely going to be people with no media access and to whom most, especially journalists, will have a hard time relating to!
From Arundhati Roy:
What good are weapons if they aren’t going to be used in wars? Weapons are absolutely essential; it’s not just for oil or natural resources, but for the military-industrial complex itself to keep going that we need weapons.
Today, as we speak, the U.S., and perhaps China and India, are involved in a battle for control of the resources of Africa. Thousands of U.S. troops, as well as death squads, are being sent into Africa. The “Yes We Can” president has expanded the war from Afghanistan into Pakistan. There are drone attacks killing children on a regular basis there.
Well, America and the world for that matter love charlatans who are solely great orators!
Sugary excerpt from Stephen W. Smith must-read post on Congo and Rwanda on the London Review of Book's blog:
The post-genocidal regime in Rwanda has time and again been able to raid and plunder its Congolese neighbour with no, or little, risk of punitive sanctions. Britain finally seems to have reservations about the validity of washing away a genocide with a torrent of crimes against humanity, and the UN Security Council has demanded an end to outside support for the M23 rebels, but the United States is still shielding Kagame from blame. Thanks to American support, Rwanda is about to take up a two-year seat as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. (...)An estimated 700,000 Congolese have been driven from their homes during the last bout of fighting in the east. Tens of thousands of unarmed civilians have been killed by Rwandan forces in eastern Congo. An estimated five million have died as indirect victims of warfare, from hunger, displacement or disease. The combined charges against all the warlords so far indicted by the ICC, from the former Liberian president Charles Taylor to the M23 commander Bosco Ntaganda, a.k.a. ‘The Terminator’, fall short of the war crimes committed by President Kagame and documented by the UN. But the ICC doesn’t seem to know.
The trouble here is as always that the people who could make a difference refuse to see the situation in ordinary terms and instead 'africanize' it. Doing so dehumanizes ordinary Congolese for the insistence that Africa is a country condemns very different olaces on that continent to remain the heart of darkness/blackness.
From a fascinating BBC article on the American cult of the General by Daniel Nasaw:
With Gen Petraeus' public downfall, the American public can begin to grapple with why after 11 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan "we haven't won anything", [Andrew] Bacevich says.
The consequences of the myth of "the great heroic general" have been dire, he says.
"It's an excuse to not think seriously about war and to avoid examining the actual consequences of wars that we have chosen to engage."
Andrew Bacevich is too optimistic. The American public doesn't want to think seriously about war or about politics, economics, race, gender, sex for that matter.
The dumbest statement I have read this week so far from Francois Heisbourg of the Foundation for Strategic Research via the Washington Post:
This is like Afghanistan 1996. This is like when Bin Laden found a place that was larger than France in which he could organize training camps, in which he could provide stable preparations for organizing far-flung terror attacks.
Comparaison n'est pas raison. Comparing Mali to Afghanistan is as smart and as appropriate as comparing Cap-Vert to Monaco. Wrong similes and metaphors in international politics are always signs of impending doom.
From Glenn Greenwald:
One of the primary reasons war - especially protracted war - is so destructive is not merely that it kills the populations at whom it is aimed, but it also radically degrades the character of the citizenry that wages it. That's what enables one of America's most celebrated pundits to go on the most mainstream of TV programs and coldly justify the killing of 4-year-olds, without so much as batting an eyelash or even paying lip service to the heinous tragedy of that, and have it be barely noticed. Joe Klein is the face not only of the Obama legacy, but also mainstream US political culture.
I'm not sure this is just an American 'thing' for it has to do with power and the complacency that comes with a sense of entitlement.
Mali was first destabilized thanks to NATO’s intervention in Libya, which sent weapons and fighters streaming into the northern deserts, where they found little opposition from the government. Other Islamist fighters from the Middle East soon came flocking in to this sandy patch of ungoverned territory. Their ranks are reportedly bolstered by thousands of local child soldiers.
The Libyan afterparty—the unintended consequences of NATO’s little Libya misadventure—sadly drags on well into the night.
Why do I have the sickening feeling that the afterparty is just starting and instead of learning that intervention is not a panacea, idiots who have never been to Mali or n that region of the world (I do not mean Africa) are going to decide to fix everything with 'surgical strikes!'
Former National Intelligence director Dennis Blair on the use of drones by the Obama administration:
It is the politically advantageous thing to do--low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness. It plays well domestically and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.
Boy did Obama punk the Norwegian Committee which gave him the Novel Peace Prize believing that he would be a worldly American president because he asserted that he was a citizen of the world!
Juan Cole on the latest troubling 'incident' in Afghanistan:
An Afghanistan expert asked me, “How was an armed soldier able to leave a well-defended US military base at 3 in the morning without being challenged?” “There is more,” he said darkly, “to this than meets the eye.” Another troubling question is whether it was wise to send this man on 3 Iraq rotations and one Afghan one. Wouldn’t that warp a person, that intensity of years-long combat?
The fairness or unfairness of the contextless collage below is irrelevant to its emotional impact on Afghans whose sense of national sovereignty is being injured by the more-than-a-decade US occupation of their country. Going into homes where there are unveiled women, and exposing them to the gaze of 18 year old strange American men, is always going to anger Afghans. I’ve had US government people almost shout at me that such considerations cannot be allowed to come into play when you are doing counter-terrorism, that the chief thing is to find the weapons caches. But this kind of thing is why the Iraqi parliament voted the US troops right out of their country as soon as they could, and if the Afghan parliament had any real power, it would, too (some parliamentarians have already called for a jihad against the US over the Qur’an burning fiasco).
The disturbing thing is that it is possible to know how that the war in Afghanistan will end and the sole issue is how much the US will lose getting to the end because it cannot admit that it can't win.
The sugary excerpt of this Monday morning is from Adam Hochschild whose book King Leopold’s Ghost is a must-read:
We tend to think of wars as occasions for heroism, and in a narrow, simple sense they can be. But a larger heroism, sorely lacking in Washington this last decade, lies in daring to think through whether a war is worth fighting at all. In looking for lessons in wars past, there’s a much deeper story to be told than that of a boy and his horse.
It is frightening to come to the realization that war or the use of force through drones or other means is becoming the preeminent method for the United States to conduct its foreign policy.
The point here isn't Ron Paulian for the issue isn't about putting America first, but about whether wars can be won everywhere and achieve policy goals even when they deal lethally with immediate threats, which may not be the most dangerous ones.
Glenn Greenwald on the death of the American Born Al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki by American drones (Kenneth Anderson must feel that he is winning the argument on the necessity and effectiveness of drones):
Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President's ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki -- including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry's execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists -- criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.
From an authoritarian perspective, that's the genius of America's political culture. It not only finds way to obliterate the most basic individual liberties designed to safeguard citizens from consummate abuses of power (such as extinguishing the lives of citizens without due process). It actually gets its citizens to stand up and clap and even celebrate the destruction of those safeguards.
I'm going to munch on Greenwald's words, but it is pretty clear that in the so-called war on terror (I have to come to hate that term because it implies that war is the only way to fight terrorism), the end justifies the means and as a long time Camusian that fact bothers me.
I agree with Professor Bainbridge on this:
Supporting wars of choice where no vital national interests are at stake is not a very good litmus test of one's patriotism.
Even though I agree with Bainbridge, I wonder whether it is possible to be a dove even in cases of wars of necessity and to be a patriot. Does patriotism has anything or rather everything to do with wars or rather with supporting them? I have the feeling the answer is much more complicated that suggested above, but at least Professor Bainbridge begins to denounce the simplistic and vile notion that in wars, there are only two sides the patriotic and the unpatriotic ones.
For Hamid, by launching wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and funding the highly compromised Pakistani security forces – he calls them the “insecurity forces” – America has fallen into bin Laden’s trap. The fatal mistake, he says, was to take seriously the notion that al-Qaeda could somehow establish a “caliphate from Morocco to Indonesia”. That was always a chimera. By launching the unwinnable “war on terror”, Washington has curbed the civil liberties of its own people, stretched its finances to breaking point and helped radicalise the Middle East. In other words, it has done exactly what bin Laden wanted.
“He was one crazed mass murderer. His was not a coherent political, economic, social ideology and certainly not a particularly attractive one to most people between Morocco and Indonesia, or even a significant minority of them.” Bin Laden must have been surprised at how fully America rose to the bait, he says. “You’re sitting in your cave thinking, ‘You know, I’d really like to change how things in America work, I’d kind of like to create this new rift.’ And to get halfway there, or whatever, is an incredible success.
The indication that Obama, no matter how well he pronounces Pakistan, and is curious about the world around him, is like Bush on this issue is the fact he is obsessing about winning or rather about not losing any ground even if it means sacrificing the long term for the short-term. My argument isn't that neither Obama nor Bush understood the issue, but rather that they were too afraid of taking punches in the short term to make the right decisions.
On point analysis from Charlemagne:
It is not just the fate of Libyans that is in the balance in the war against Muammar Qaddafi, but the commitment of Europeans to maintain - and, when necessary, deploy - serious military forces. Responsibility to protect requires, first and foremost, the means to protect.
The Europeans failed the Libyan test because they didn't give themselves the means to succeed; they were obsessed with the fear that Libya might become their 'Iraq' or 'Afghanistan.' In short, one of the EU's major problems is that it knows that it has a parent, the US, who may have many children and who may sometimes be irritated by it, but who feels closest to it, most of the time(that closeness will change with time).
Oh no, not again:
Humanitarian intervention in Syria, under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine so often mentioned in the halls of the United Nations, would send a powerful message to Syrians and the Middle East. The people would feel validated, their plight recognized. Simply put: it would instill hope in a part of the world in dire need of it.
What we are learning from Libya and from the past is that humanitarian interventions remain wars that have to be fought and won. Good intentions, legitimating righteous uprisings and even fighting bad regimes are never enough to make humanitarian interventions work in a world where images are everything and where wars are fought on the cheap to put it bluntly!
I agree with Mick Hume on this:
Today, over Libya, NATO stands exposed as an empty shell, an alliance in name alone. The US no longer exercises global leadership through NATO. Instead it has effectively withdrawn from the Libyan conflict and pushed NATO forwards in its stead. Yet no other NATO member has the wherewithal or the will to take the lead. For all their pretensions to playing an independent role, even the French government is now reduced to complaining that the Americans should do more.
When the US, French and British leaders published their joint call to arms on Libya earlier this month, it looked less like a collective show of strength than an exercise in buck-passing, each trying to hide behind one another and the paper shield of NATO. It was striking that no NATO members responded to the request to send more warplanes to bomb the Gaddafi regime – not even US president Barack Obama. Lacking leadership and direction, the NATO states are now like longstanding members of a club who still begrudgingly pay their dues, but take little active part in its activities, while grumbling about one another’s habits and especially about the self-aggrandising committee members.
Just one question, no two : why does NATO still exist? And why did Sarkozy thought it was a brilliant idea for France to reintegrate NATO''s military command? The answer to one of these questions is pretty obvious.
Bernard-Henri Lévy on Germany's stand on the Libyan intervention (it abstained on the UN security council's vote of resolution 1973 establishing a No fly zone):
We lost a great deal of time because of the Germans, which is a disaster, mainly for the Libyans, but also for the Germans, who will pay bitterly for abstaining. What happened here will leave a lasting impression in Europe. And Germany will run into problems in its legitimate effort to secure a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel jettisoned all principles of German foreign policy since the end of World War II: There was the principle that something like National Socialism should never happen again. Never again crimes against humanity. Merkel and (German Foreign Minister Guido) Westerwelle violated this pact. This is a serious incident, not a minor detail. (...) Angela Merkel has the worst foreign minister Germany has had in a long time. Guido Westerwelle is a disaster. Immediately after the German abstention, he told your magazine: "Gadhafi has to go." It's really Westerwelle who ought to go, but he doesn't even seem to be ashamed of his decision, of this valley of shame.
I have stopped taking BHL seriously on those matters (it took me a long time because often I agree with his conclusions, but never with his argumentation) because even when he is right, he can't get out of his own way and resist the temptation of self-righteousness. The fact that he was so involved on Sarkozy's decision to take the lead in Libya worries me not because BHL is an unsavory and unserious character, but because he doesn't understand foreign policy when it becomes about more than postures, grand gestures, and cinematographic heroism.
Long sugary excerpt of the day from Glenn Greenwald on Obama, Libya and American exceptionalism:
The fact remains that declaring yourself special, superior and/or exceptional -- and believing that to be true, and, especially, acting on that belief -- has serious consequences. It can (and usually does) mean that the same standards of judgment aren't applied to your acts as are applied to everyone else's (when you do X, it's justified, but when they do, it isn't). It means that you're entitled (or obligated) to do things that nobody else is entitled or obligated to do (does anyone doubt that the self-perceived superiority and self-arrogated entitlements of Wall Street tycoons is what lead them to believe they can act without constraints?). It means that no matter how many bad things you do in the world, it doesn't ever reflect on who you are, because you're inherently exceptional and thus driven by good motives. And it probably means -- at least as it expresses itself in the American form -- that you'll find yourself in a posture of endless war, because your "unique power, responsibilities, and moral obligations" will always find causes and justifications for new conflicts.
It's a nice political point on the President's behalf to insist that he has proven his belief in American exceptionalism. That insulates him from a political vulnerability (i.e., from the perception that he rejects a widely held view), which is nice if politically defending the President is an important goal for you. But the harder -- and far more important -- question is whether this American exceptionalism that you attribute to him is actually true, whether it's well-grounded, and whether it should serve as a premise for our actions in the world.
I have never had a problem with American exceptionalism, maybe that's because I believe in it almost as much as believe in the exception française or that le Cameroun c'est le Cameroun. I think that the trouble comes when one defines exceptionalism as having rights and not as many responsibilities. The question isn't about Obama's belief in American exceptionalism for all American presidents come to believe in it at some point especially when it gives them a justification to do what they want to do,. The issue is about whether American exceptionalism will ever make Obama do something that requires something more than idealism and is expensive not only to him, but to its short term goals. America exceptionalism becomes a problem, when it becomes an excuse not to justify the problematic because then it becomes about faith and not much else.
In short, the issue isn't hat Obama says or believes, but again what he does, how well he does and how he reacts to failure and to adversity.
This sugary excerpt from Gideon Rachman is the best remedy to the headache I feel after a short weekend :
There has been a certain amount of sniggering about the fact that it was Obama’s female advisers who were most prominent in pressing for military intervention in Libya, while the men hung back. Amongst the interventionists were the evocatively-named pair of Power and Slaughter – that is Samantha Power on the National Security Council and Anne-Marie Slaughter, who recently stepped down as head of the Policy Planning staff at the State Department and tweeted effectively from her new perch at Princeton. And then there was Susan Rice, the US ambassador at the UN and, finally (and decisively), Hillary Clinton.
The implication of all this is that it was the women who turned out to be the real men – prepared to get tough – while the men were wusses, who hung back. In this account, Obama is cast as the hesitant king, with Hillary as Lady Macbeth, hissing – “Infirm of purpose, hand me the dagger.”
Ahhh I wish I could take all of this seriously, but I cannot because we are in 2011 and that I am over gender. That said I think the bigger point of Rachman's point is about Obama and about the fact that America needs its commander in chief to be firm and to look in command when it is 'at war.' Obama doesn't look in command because it is obvious that he knows that the Libyan intervention os problematic for America because it increases the uncertainty and the instability in a region key to its strategic interest.
I disagree strongly with the following assertion by Norman Geras:
Whatever you may think about it, similar to and/or different from the intervention in Iraq, the Libyan action is a vindication of sorts for Tony Blair and his doctrine of liberal intervention.
What!? Why by the same token isn't it a vindication of the crusades or simply of war in general? Geras's assertion is as true as saying as the financial collapse of 2008 is a vindication of Marxism.
It isn't all about the concept, the context does matter so do actions and their consequences. I'm sure that if people look hard enough they can find events to vindicate all the wrongs in history and those who made fanatically, in spite of evidence, the conscious decision to do the knowing full well that smart people like Geras will always find reasons in the future to clean their dirty hands. Juan Cole has a persuasive post, which explains why Libya 2010 isn't Iraq 2003.
Sugary excerpt of the day from Rory Stewart on the 'use of force' in Libya:
If the crises of Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, which have consumed more than 100,000 lives, four trillion dollars and absorbed a million foreign soldiers from 60 countries, have not made us more prudent, they should at least have made us wiser. For two decades our policies in these countries have been described, explained and criticised by political philosophers, civil servants, human rights activists, journalists, development workers, film-makers and 10,000 consultants. Parliamentarians round the world refer confidently to ‘Chapter 7 resolutions’, ‘no-fly zones’, ‘the experience of the Kurds’ and ‘the responsibility to protect’. But the basic questions about intervention seem to remain as obvious as they are unhelpful. You do not need to be able to name four cities in Libya to have four arguments against or for what we are doing. You can simply deploy those which were used in 1960s Vietnam, 1920s Syria and 1860s Afghanistan.
Just one question: does the rightfulness of an intervention depends on or is tied to its success?
Sugary excerpt from Lionel Barber's review of George W. Bush's memoirs Decision Points:
Like Tony Blair, painted in the book as a fervent supporter of the invasion of Iraq, Bush is a moralist. Like Blair, Bush insists all the major intelligence agencies thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and the threat of WMD falling into terrorist hands was too great to bear. Like Blair, he cannot understand why more people still do not accept the moral argument for removing Saddam. “I didn’t see how anyone could deny that liberating Iraq advanced human rights,” he writes.
I'm tempted to accept this excerpt with a quote from John Steinbeck: only fools do not learn fro experience. However, neither Blair no Bush are fools, they are just complaisant moralists who believe that God made them kings because it/s/he knew they could make the right decision based on faith, on what it/s/he wanted them to do. What is the difference between Bush, Blair, other political leaders who believe religiously that God is on their side and Ahmadinejad?
If you talk about international crimes being committed by the CIA, each and every time it carries out a strike, those are words with consequences. It is hard to talk about merely “correcting” state practices to conform to international law in some general sense of the government of the United States, when the paradigm is that there are individuals who under principles of international criminal law, should not be undertaking a course correction by the administration. If that’s what you mean — and, please to observe, I don’t think this is the case at all — but if that’s what you mean, well, It should be indictment, arrest, and prosecution. For murder and extrajudicial execution and assassination. That’s what you mean if you invoke about international crimes; the whole paradigm is designed, by its nature, to reach to individuals and not simply “sides” in international law and politics
I agree with Tom Engelhardt on this:
Tell me, what kind of a stake could Americans really have in one of the most impoverished lands on the planet, about as distant from us as could be imagined, geographically, culturally, and religiously? Yet, as if to defy commonsense, we’ve been fighting there -- by proxy and directly -- on and off for 30 years now with no end in sight.
Most Americans evidently remain convinced that “safe haven” there was the key to al-Qaeda’s success, and that Afghanistan was the only place in which that organization could conceivably have planned 9/11, even though perfectly real planning also took place in Hamburg, Germany, which we neither bombed nor invaded.
In a future in which our surging armies actually succeeded in controlling Afghanistan and denying it to al-Qaeda, what about Somalia, Yemen, or, for that matter, England? It’s now conveniently forgotten that the first, nearly successful attempt to take down one of the World Trade Center towers in 1993 was planned in the wilds of New Jersey. Had the Bush administration been paying the slightest attention on September 10, 2001, or had reasonable precautions been taken, including locking the doors of airplane cockpits, 9/11 and so the invasion of Afghanistan would have been relegated to the far-fetched plot of some Tom Clancy novel.
I am reminded when I think of Afghanistan of John Kerry and of what he asked during his days as an anti-Vietnam activist "how do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" Remaining in Afghanistan is a mistake not because it is Vietnam for all wars are different, but because the war is not winnable. It takes political courage to admit it and to realize that not every single battle against terrorism has to become an armed conflict. Whatever NATO does in Afghanistan there will always be Talibans and Al Qaeda. It cannot change that essential fact because what is happening on the ground isn't changing that reality is feeding the hatred against 'foreigners' because they cannot transform Afghanistan into Japan.
Johann Hari on the use of 'Women's rights' (I hate the expression by the way because it implies that women are so particular that Human rights aren't for them) to justify the Afghan war:
The other arguments that used to be used to justify the war have become a polite after-cough. Women's rights? My friend Malalai Joya is the most popularly elected woman in Afghanistan. She has been expelled from the parliament and silenced in the media for pointing out that "things have not improved for women," because the occupiers have "transferred power to fundamentalist warlords who are just like the Taliban."
I'm always annoyed or amused depending on the eloquence of the ones making the argument when people argue with a straight face that a war is fought to liberate women when all one has to do is to look at the fact that women's bodies are still the subject of a vicious ideological battle in the US for example to see that 'men' are never going to fight for the rights of 'foreign' women to have the same rights that they have when they aren't willing to do the same in their own backyard.
I agree with Tom Engelhardt on this:
What irks me is that this new form of American warfare can become popular and attractive not only with American presidents, but also with the American public because although it increases civilian deaths, 'collateral damage' it reduces greatly the number of American casualties. Unfortunately, the more American and modern warfare become like video games, the more likely it is that the world will experience more of them because war will become a 'clean,' effective and inexpensive solution for too many conflicts and issues instead of being used as the last resort.
Whether in the skies or patrolling on the ground, Americans know next to nothing of the worlds they are passing above or through. This is, of course, even more true of the “pilots” who fly our latest wonder weapons, the Predators, Reapers, and other unmanned drones over American battle zones, while sitting at consoles somewhere in the United States. They are clearly engaged in the most literal of video-game wars, while living the most prosaic of god-like lives. A sign at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada warns such a drone pilot to "drive carefully" on leaving the base after a work shift “in” Afghanistan or Iraq. This, it says, is “the most dangerous part of your day."
(...)Here’s the fact of the matter: in the cities, towns, and villages of the distant lands where Americans tend to make war, civilians die regularly and repeatedly at our hands. Each death may contain its own uniquely nightmarish details, but the overall story remains remarkably repetitious. Such “incidents” are completely predictable. Even General McChrystal, determined to “protect the population” in Afghanistan as part of his counterinsurgency war, has proven remarkably incapable of changing the nature of our style of warfare. Curtail air strikes, rein in Special Operations night attacks -- none of it will, in the long run, matter. Put in a nutshell: If you arrive from the heavens, they will die.
Telling Story from Jacques Roubaud (h/t: Lee Rourke) demonstrating that war movies and the media which glorify violence by making it seem as wars or violent acts were part of a video game can damage our understanding of history:
I met Primo Levi once. He was a friend of Italo Calvino, who was a member of the Oulipo. We were both at a meeting in Torino after Calvino’s early death; it was a few months before he himself died. He was a very nice man, very soft-spoken. At dinner he recounted a terrible experience he had just had. He had been invited to a high school in Rome to speak about his experience during the war, and he said that the students could not understand why he and his friends had not taken the Nazis’ guns and killed them. They knew only the Rambo movies. He could not make them understand that it had been impossible to resist. A few months later, I heard that he had committed suicide.
This statement from Julian Ku worries me because it's true:
There was a time when the debate over the use of force by the U.S. government focused almost exclusively on a domestic separation of powers conversation. U.S. legal scholars and elites would engage in debates about when and whether Congressional authorization is required before the President can use military force against U.S. enemies. I think that this debate is basically over, thanks to the Obama Administration.