Cynical Synapse

Sun, 23 Oct 2011

Changing Landscapes of the Arab World

Arabian desert

Much is and has been changing in the Middle East. Syria is a holdout against the Arab Spring, but, in the first free, democratic elections in decades, Tunisians are voting today. Of course, one problem is we—the US—may not like the outcome of the election.

Second to depose its despot, former President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has not made any substantial progress toward elections. Libya became the third Arab state to win its freedom with the killing of Muammar Gaddafi a few days ago. In a bizarre twist, Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Office called for inquiries into the manner of Gaddafi’s death.

Presidents Obama and Mubarak

Despite public diplomacy in support of the Arab Spring uprisings, the US gained substantial benefits from close ties with authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. In Bahraini ports, the US has headquarters for its Fifth Fleet. Last month’s killing of Anwar al-Awlaki had Yemeni complicity, if not outright support. Despite these cozy relationships, Pres. Obama warned the oppressers their time was short:

Across the Arab world, citizens have stood up to claim their rights. Youth are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship, and those leaders that try to deny their dignity will not succeed.

Yesterday, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Sultan Abdul Aziz al Saud, 83, died at a New York hospital. Al Saud served as his country’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense and Aviation. He was Saudi King Abdullah’s half-brother. While Saudi Arabia will likely remain a close US ally in the region, uncertainty of Saudi succession and other key governmental changes leave the future at least somewhat unpredictable. On top of that, on Friday Pres. Obama announced all but a couple hundred US troops will leave Iraq by year’s end. Those remaining will provide security and other diplomatic-related services as US missions, a common practice around the world.

New Year’s 2012 will usher in a Middle East vastly different from what the US is accustomed to. That’s new, and unpredictable, territory for the presidential candidates.
 


 

Fri, 07 Oct 2011

Global War on Terror 10 Years Later

US 10th Mountain Div. Soldiers in Afghanistan

Today marks the 10th anniversary since US forces began fighting in Afghanistan. It marks the start of the Global War on Terror and was a direct result of Taliban refusal to turn over Osama bin Laden, an issue that predated the 9/11 attacks. Al Qaeda’s leader was already wanted by the international community for embassy bombings in Africa and other terrorist acts.

I was glad I had not voted for Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential elections. There’s no doubt he wouldn’t have responded as decisively as George W. Bush, who started off right. (Concerning the distraction that became Operation Iraqi Freedom—which I was no in favor of—that’s for another post.) In Afghanistan, US forces, along with those from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, completely ousted the Taliban from power within 2 months. The hunt for bin Laden was on and efforts to build a stable Afghan government began.

Pres. Karzai opens session of Afghan Parliament

What do we have to show after 10 years at war?

Is our national security better off? The verdict is still out, and it’s a subject for much debate. From my view, we’re about even. China’s rise as a world power and the Arab Spring have certainly changed the geopolitical landscape, on which Russia is still a somewhat contrary power not to be discounted. We have less to fear from international terrorists and terror organizations, but a growing trend in so-called homegrown radicals means we must stay vigilant. To counter international and domestic threats, we have willingly surrendered freedoms in exchanged for a perception of security.
 


 

Sun, 25 Sep 2011

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! Pakistan Denies Haqqani Ties

Filed under: Allies, Global War on Terror, Government, National security, Pakistan, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 11:04 am

Pakistani military officers and prime minister

Pakistan is decidedly not happy with Adm. Mike Mullen’s testimony to Congress that Pakistani intelligence supported the Haqqani terrorists. Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) “supported [the] Kabul [US] embassy attack” on 15 September. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Mullen testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

The fact remains that the Quetta Shura [Taliban] and the Haqqani Network operate from Pakistan with impunity. Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers.

Senior military officials in Pakistan wasted no time before blasting the allegations. Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, is also outraged and called the blame game self-defeating. In a policy statement, Gilani said:

We strongly reject assertions of complicity with the Haqqanis or of proxy war. … Pakistan’s credentials and sacrifices in the counter-terrorism campaign are impeccable and unquestionable.

stop drone attacks

To be sure, Pakistani-US relations have resembled a marriage on the rocks almost since the beginning. As much as they dislike and distrust each other, however, the simple truth is they need each other. Journalist Eric Margolis told RT:

The US is sort of handcuffed to Pakistan, unhappily, and the other way around even more.

Here’s the deal. Mullen must have had good reason for making his statement before the Senate panel. The US needs the use of Pakistani infrastructure to keep NATO forces in Afghanistan supplied. And the US does make use of ISI intelligence leads. For its part, Pakistan gets money, training, and plenty of opportunities to call the US arrogance for what it really is. No one else gets to do that like Pakistan. And, so, the dance goes on.
 


 

Wed, 21 Sep 2011

Two-Faced, Schizophrenic Nature of US Foreign Policy

Filed under: Allies, Arab states, Diplomacy, Hypocrits, Israel, Libyan War, Middle East, Oil, Palestine, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 1:50 am

schizophrenic

No wonder allies and enemies alike are confused by US foreign policy. We talk a good game, but we often fail to follow through. It seems we’re not very good at walking the talk; we don’t do as we say. Sometimes, in our arrogance, US motives are misperceived.

Consider the similarities and differences between Libya, where the US supported intervention, and Syria, where the US simply huffed and puffed, doing nothing. Syria is largely Arabic and Muslim; Libya is even more so. Syria is in the Middle East while Libya is in Africa. France and England have considerable interests in Libyan oil, but not in Syria. When the rebellion began in Libya, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—mostly France and Britain—decided civilians needed protection from the regime’s heavy-handed response to the uprising. I wonder at what point did Libya cease being a sovereign state so such foreign military intervention became legitimate. Not that I’m a Qaddafi supporter, but the rule and application of law is not supposed to be just a matter of convenience.

Syrian police beat protestors

With Syria, the regime also responded with military force against rebelling civilians. The result has been at least 2,700 Syrians killed and probably double that as refugees. From NATO? Sanctions and finger-wagging.

The US praised the Arab Spring, the regime change it brought in Egypt and Libya, and the freedom and democracy it harkens. Why doesn’t this apply to the Palestinians? The US has long supported a two state solution between Israel and Palestine. I’m a slow learner, but recently it dawned on me, why do the Palestinians need Israel’s permission to become a sovereign state? Maybe the Palestinians realized the same thing and that’s why they’re going to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and Security Council.

West Bank settlements

As for Israel’s opposition to Palestine’s bid for statehood, it should be obvious. A sovereign Palestinian state means Israel can’t invade at any whim or fancy, it can’t build settlements wherever, and it the Israeli state has to treat a Palestinian state as an equal. Even if Palestinian statehood is in Israel’s long term interests, it is happy being the dominant party in the ongoing feud.

If When they make their case before the UN Security Council, the Obama Administration intends to veto Palestinian statehood. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks about a two-state solution, I have to agree the US official position is on a collision course for disaster.

We are set to squander whatever remaining goodwill we have in the region at a crucial time, while demonstrating at the same time that we are incapable of being even-handed mediators in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As one European diplomat put it the other day “it’s almost as though the U.S. wants to be seen as being isolated with Israel.”

Israeli security check

When you consider Israeli raids, security checks, and property usurpation, it seems to me Israel took its lessons from Nazi Germany. Only paranoid states take national security to totalitarian and arbitrary extremes. And, we wonder why Muslims distrust us.

Previously on Israel and Palestine:

Fri, 16 Sep 2011

Mission Distraction Redux: Train the Libyans

Filed under: Africa, Allies, Arab states, Budget, Global War on Terror, Government, Libyan War, Middle East, Oil, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 9:07 am

Libyan rebels capture another city

I don’t know what the real deal is with Libya, but I’ll tell you “we” (the US/NATO) had no business there from the beginning of the uprising. Say what you want, but intervene not; until everyone looked the other way, Libya was a sovereign state. As for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), they said preventing civilian casualties was their primary purpose. So, why not NATO (or even United Nations) action regarding the thousands of casualties in Syria? A little huffing and puffing by the international community has accomplished nothing.

On the surface, Syria and Libya seem like very similar “Arab Spring” situations. There are distinct differences, however. Key US allies, in particular France and Britain, have substantial stakes in Libyan oil interests while none of the western countries have appreciable involvement in Syrian resources. Ugly as it is, that’s the simple reality of it.

volunteers receive military training in Tripoli

Since the French, especially, and British are the key stakeholders, I say let them train the Libyans in security and defense matters. Except the Brits and French want no part of supporting a new Libyan regime. Unfortunately, because we always have to have our fingers into the pie, US State Department officials are offering US assistance to Libya. From my perspective: what part of Iraq do you not realize was a distraction from the Global War on Terror? Why would you not think Libya is also a distraction?

In the Global War on Terror, which political correctness now calls “Overseas Contingency Operations” (OCO), the Taliban, especially in Afghanistan, has always been the enemy of concern. I believe the war in Iraq distracted us—the US—from the key fight against terrorism and allowed the Taliban to build the insurgency we are now battling. We are paying a price—in lives, dollars, and public support—for failing to keep the focus where it needed to be.

Despite such recent history, my concern is we’re about to repeat the same mistake regarding operations in Afghanistan as we did in 2003. It doesn’t matter if it’s as big as Operation Iraqi Freedom or as small as training teams for Libya. In the likely future of constrained resources, we can’t afford anything taking our eye off the ball. And in my mind, we cannot permit the Taliban, who aided and abetted the 9/11 terrorists, any appreciable powerbase in Afghanistan.
 

Previously on Libya:

Sat, 13 Aug 2011

China’s Aircraft Carrier is a Threat No Matter How You Paint It

Filed under: Allies, China, Engineering, Military, National security — cynicalsynapse @ 10:18 am

Chinese military marching

I should know better, but it used to be I considered China’s military capabilities as behind the former Soviet, today’s Russians, the biggest threat being the sheer numbers the Chinese could field. The Chinese have no capability to directly threaten the United States. China is clearly a rising star (no pun intended) on the world stage, growing in prestige, consumption, and military might. It’s somewhat amusing to me the politically correct saw fit to change the Red Dawn remake invaders from Chinese to North Koreans. While the North Koreans are certainly pursuing a more aggressive, in your face, approach to their “national security”, they certainly have far less capability than China.

Meanwhile, China has been quietly improving its military capabilities, just as it has modified its economy. Significantly, China is leapfrogging, technologically, not increasing the size of its military substantially. While China claims its national security strategy is defensive, an international political expert at Peking University said:

At a time when China’s interests span the globe, it does not fit China’s national interests to have a naval defense strategy restricted to its territorial waters. It needs aircraft carriers to expand its sphere of operation throughout the world.

China's first aircraft carrier

The former Soviet varyag (Admiral Kuznetsovclass aircraft carrier) Chinese aircraft carrier began sea trials on 10 August 2011. While the carrier is most likely not state-of-the-art, it is one of many designs the Chinese have and are studying. Despite claims the as yet unnamed carrier is a research and training vessel, the Chinese implemented substantial security perimeters for the carrier as it departed on its sea trials.

One possible name for the Chinese carrier is Shi Lang, after the admiral who conquered Taiwan in 1681. That seems to give some credence to possible Chinese consideration to retake Taiwan by force or threat of force. As a result, Taiwan is very interested in China’s carrier program.

Chinese J-20 stealth fighter

China claims the carrier is for defensive purposes only. It will allow Chinese air power the ability to protect Chinese interests beyond the range of land-based aircraft. Having a carrier is also a matter of prestige for countries.

Nonetheless, northwest Asian countries are concerned about China’s carrier program. Japan and Vietnam have territorial disputes with China. And the Chinese plan more carriers according to a diplomatic source:

Based on the technological know-how gained from developing the Shi Lang, China will build two or three more conventional aircraft carriers and a nuclear-powered carrier.

Although not a significant threat to the US military, the Chinese buildup could threaten US interests and allies. China’s carrier is a game changer that bears close watching and strategic thinking.

Sun, 07 Aug 2011

Honoring the Warriors Shot Down by the Taliban

Filed under: Afghanistan, Allies, Global War on Terror, Heroes, History, Military, National security, Terrorism — cynicalsynapse @ 1:20 pm

Revs. Jackson and Sharpton

Yesterday, I had the priviledge of attending the 1225th CSSB’s homecoming ceremony at the Detroit Light Guard Armory. The Combat Sustainment Support Battalion was deployed in August 2010 to Afghanistan. These Soldiers set logistical support records and earned a Meritorious Unit Citation. More importantly, everyone came home without serious injury. I served many years in that Battalion and personally know several of the Soldiers in the unit. I’m proud of them!

I was truly saddened when I learned the Taliban shot down a Chinook helicopter, killing all 38 on board in eastern Afghanistan. Those killed were 30 US military personnel, including 20 Navy SEALs, 7 Afghan special forces, and a civilian interpreter, who is most likely also Afghan. These heroes paid the ultimate price in the service and defense of their countrymen. The Commander of International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), Gen. John Allen summed it up best:

No words describe the sorrow we feel in the wake of this tragic loss. All of those killed in this operation were true heroes who had already given so much in the defense of freedom. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who are now waiting for their loved ones to return home. We will do everything in our power to support them in this time of need. We also mourn the loss of our heroic Afghan partners who fight with us shoulder to shoulder, every day.

Afghan National Policeman on guard

Far more Afghans than most people realize have taken the risk, for themselves and their families, to serve with the Afghan National Army and National Police. Do some have ulterior motives. Certainly, but so do some of our service members, such as Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan. Those who question Afghan resolve should talk with some of my comrade who have been there mentoring Afghan Army and Police, unanimously described to me as rewarding experiences.

We mistakenly assess things from our very ethnocentric perspective. Afghanistan is a poor country with minimal infrastructure, traditions of tribalism instead of a central government, and proud people whose culture includes very little of what comprises our culture. None of that is wrong; it’s just different.

Afghan National Army soldiers marching

Lest anyone forget, the Taliban harbored bin Laden and al Qaeda when they were in charge in Afghanistan. This sanctuary allowed al Qaeda to plan and conduct the attacks on 9/11.

If we do not ensure a stable Afghanistan, capable of preventing the Taliban from reasserting itself, we will end up recommiting US forces at some future point. It will cost less blood and treasure to finish the job now than it will to start over again.

Regarding the propaganda coup for the Taliban in killing these highly trained special operations warriors, I’m angry. If reports they were members of sEAL Team 6 are true, the Taliban gets twice the bragging rights. It, in no way, dimishes the sacrifice and patriotism of our warriors, however. And it will not even dent our progress toward success as long as we maintain our political resolve. Even thouh we now call it Overseas Contingency Operations, we are still fighting the Global War on Terror.
 

Sat, 26 Mar 2011

Inconsistency, Questionable Morality Mark War in Libya

Filed under: Africa, Allies, Arab states, Budget, Government, Hypocrits, Libyan War, Military, Oil, Opportunists, Politics, President — cynicalsynapse @ 11:40 am

US F-15 crash in Libya

Operation Oddity Dawn might be a better name for US military actions in Libya instead of the Pentagon’s Operation Odyssey Dawn. The Libyan war marks an increase in US military commitment without Congressional approval. There was no message from President Obama to the American people. And yet, US military are engaged in hostile missions over Libya on a daily basis. Never mind where funds are coming from to pay for this major operation by a US fleet in Libya while under a continuing resolution. By definition, continuing resolution means funding at previous year levels and no new programs or expenses.

Beyond domestic politics and policy, why Libya? President Obama says the basis of intervention is preventing a “humanitarian threat.” But how is Libya different from Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, or even Darfur? Certainly there were or still are humanitarian threats in those places. But no international hue and cry and no international intervention. With inconsistent policy and unpredictable actions, we should not be surprised other countries view the US with suspicion and a degree of mistrust.

Qaddafi compound hit by air strike

Last time I checked, Libya was a sovereign state; a full member state of the United Nations. Whether you like Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi or not—and I don’t—he is recognized as head of state. Clearly, the popular uprisings—revolution—is strictly an internal matter. There is no legitimate basis for the UN to sanction military action against the Libyan regime absent some threat to the international community.

At best, the “humanitarian threat” is a selectively applied rationale for attacking Libyan forces. The as-yet nebulous mission morphed from establishing a no-fly zone to attacking Libyan ground forces to regime change. Those are all questionable escalations of force or end state. Consider, also, the disproportionate use of force in attacking ground troops with jet combat aircraft and precision guided munitions.

NATO air strike in Libya

So, why did a western coalition come together so quickly? Simply put, Western Europe has a lot of business interests in Libya and there’s a lot of oil there. And what of the driving force behind the UN resolution on Libya? It seems the Arab League is not actively involved in the no-fly zone. It is more likely using Western forces to its own ends.

Here’s the real question: will Libya be better off without Qaddafi? Will the world?

Mon, 14 Feb 2011

US Position on Egyptian Events Dorked Up

Filed under: Allies, Diplomacy, Government, Indecision, Middle East, National security, Politics, President — cynicalsynapse @ 7:49 pm

IHOP pancake revolution

Official US reactions to events in Egypt have been adolescent and inconsistent at best. During the campaign, I was on my way to the airport after a conference in DC. A talk show was on the radio in the cab and the remark was made Barack “Obama’s foreign policy experience comes from eating at an International House of Pancakes.” My main issue with candidate Obama was experience. He was a first term US Senator; that doesn’t make you presidential candidate material in my book. According to Niall Ferguson:

President Obama is one of the least experienced men, in terms of foreign policy, ever to occupy the White House. And, yet, he has advisors around him who are, frankly, second, if not third, rate.

On top of that, after winning the election, Obama chose the equally inexperienced Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. As for events in Egypt, the two have not been in synch and it becomes evident the US has no clear policy or objective concerning governance in Egypt.

Praying to Mecca

Some argue Mubarek’s abdication and the Army’s sole rule for the next six months, including disolving the Parliament and suspending Egypt’s Constitution, represent submission to the will of the people. Really? Military rule means victory for democracy? At the opposite end of the spectrum, Egypt could become an Islamic state.

The US enjoyed special privileges with Egypt, including priority use of the Suez Canal. Those are all at risk now, and the implications for our national security cannot be overstated. Lack of a focused, informed, long range Middle East policy could now have significant, long-term negative consequences.

Sun, 13 Feb 2011

What’s Next for Egypt?

Filed under: Allies, Business, Diplomacy, Government, Middle East, National security, Politics — cynicalsynapse @ 10:20 pm

Egyptian protests

While hundreds of thousands of Egyptians celebrated Hosni Mubarek’s ouster as president, others were more skeptical. Numbering a few hundred, they stay in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of demonstrations that forced Mubarek’s resignation. They want a civilian-led interim government and an end to emergency laws. Amr Shalkami said:

The rest of the revolution is not complete. Since the beginning of the revolution we have trusted our army but if we leave the square our revolution will die. We must keep the revolution alive so that we get the 100% freedom we are asking for.

Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces promised democracy, saying the military will:

guarantee the peaceful transition of power in the framework of a free, democratic system which allows an elected, civilian power to govern the country to build a democratic, free state…The Arab Republic of Egypt is committed to all regional and international obligations and treaties.

Egyptian military near Tahrir Square

It’s ambiguous what the Egyptian populace wants. It becomes clear, however, the Egyptian military is pro-Western and wants to honor the Camp David Accords. A democratic Egypt that honors existing agreements is an ideal situation.

Apparently, Defense Minister and head of the military Supreme Council, Field Marshal Muhammed Hussein Tantawi, said “The army is not an alternative to the authority of the demands of the people.”

Field Marshal Muhammed Hussein Tantawi

Nonetheless, Field Marshal Tantawi leads the interim government in Egypt. The Egyptian military confirmed this in Communique 5. The document dismisses the parliament and suspends the civil government and parliament (with the Military Supreme Coucil in charge) until new elections.

Egyptian Ambassador to the US, Sameh Shoukry, said Egypt foresees maintaining close ties with the US.

These issues are driven by mutual interest, by Egyptian interest and the interest remains a close association to the United States.

Previously on Egypt:

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