24 June 2011

The Myth of Precision-Guided Coercion

Cross posted from Counterpunch

June 22, 2011
From Serbia to Libya
The Myth of Precision-Guided Coercion
By FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY, Counterpunch
Vieux Port, St Raphael, France
At the end of May the British press was filled with stories headlined "Gaddafi to be told to stand down or face Apache attack." As of this writing, the Apaches have attacked, but Gaddafi has not stood down.
The Apache threat is a case study in the sterile but financially lucrative marriage of coercive diplomacy to surgical strikes by precision guided weapons. What passes for a war strategy in Libya is now a comic opera starring NATO as an understrength, self-referencing techno bully, who acts as if he is now so fearsome that he does not even need a carrot to go with his stick.
In effect, the British press said NATO forces were telegraphing their punch. NATO was about to deploy eight attack helicopters, four British Apaches and four French Tigers, armed with Hellfire precision-guided missiles, like those fired from US Predator drones in Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya. The Hellfires were to be targeted against Qaddafi's forces besieging the Libyan city of Misrata in a desperate hope that that Qaddafi's forces would crumble or withdraw their support from him.
The psychology described in these reports was not an aberration; it reflects a techno-dependency that comes straight out of the US playbook. In fact, the US version of technological supremacy eliminates the need for cleverness in a military strategist. The mental labors of a Sun Tzu, Napoleon, Grant, or a Manstein are no longer needed, because they can be displaced by silver bullets spit out by machines. All that is needed in a 'strategist' is the ability to construct coarse threats, even when, as in the case of Libya, the bullies making those threats are manifestly out of altitude, airspeed, and ideas.
This kind of primitive thinking proves again the extent to which NATO has bought into the flawed US ideology that its technological advantage gives it the ability to coerce all opponents into doing their bidding, even though NATO's European forces can not afford to waste money on a scale remotely approaching that of the US. You would think a European planner would understand this economic limitation, if not the fallacy of ideology itself. After all, the European planners in NATO have seen this nonsense before -- in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, not to mention Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The central idea in the compound theory of precision-guided coercion is a marriage of the military theory of techno-war, especially the use of high tech surveillance systems and precision-guided weapons, to the political theory of coercive diplomacy. This marriage is more a product of the Pentagon's advocates of techno-war than the go-along bureaucrats in Foggy Bottom. The Pentagonians sold the succession of Presidents after 1990 on the idea of combining the cold-war inspired theory of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) with post-cold war foreign policies. The RMA (not to mention the Apache attack helicopter) was originally conceived for fighting the tank-heavy forces of the Warsaw Pact on the North German plain, although the roots of using precision guided weapons and surgical strikes can be traced back to the disgraced theory of gradual escalation in Vietnam and the theory of daylight precision bombing in WWII.
Its contemporary reincarnation was spearheaded by William Perry over a twenty year period between the mid 70s and mid 90s. Perry, a quintessential military-industrial operator, equally at home in the Pentagon, the boardroom, or in the lecture halls at Stanford University, got the ball rolling during the height of the Cold War when he was Director of Defense Research and Engineering in the late 1970s during the Carter Administration, and then he sealed it into the post-cold war mindset when he was Deputy Secretary and Secretary of Defense during the Clinton Administration in the 1990s. The Reaganauts merely followed his script during the interregnum in the 1980s by blindly pouring money into high-cost programs he worked so hard to start during the 1970s.
In the 1990s, when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact evaporated, the threat of a peace dividend terrified the Pentagon, the contractors, and their wholly owned subsidiaries in Congress. Perry helped save the day by twisting old cold-war ideas into their contemporary form by combining the military theory of precision strikes to the political theory of coercive diplomacy that had become so attractive to the self-styled foreign policy elite housed in think tanks and academia, awaiting their calls to government service. Most of these 'elites' are trained in political science (itself an oxymoron), have little or no military experience, are technological illiterates, and lust after the policy jobs in the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom -- in short, they are perfect consumers of the fools gold produced by the technically savvy alchemists of the MICC, like Perry and his ilk.
Coercive diplomacy assumes that carefully calibrated doses of punishment (sticks that would sometimes be accompanied by carrots, but not necessarily) will ineluctably persuade an adversary to act in a way that we would deem acceptable. There is, for example, no carrot in the case of Qaddafi, where Nato is trying to coerce him into leaving office, so NATO can send him to the dock in the Hague to stand trial for crimes against humanity. Some choice! In theory, the precision guidance technologies give the military a capability to carefully calibrate the coercion by surgically striking selected targets with so-called precision-guided weapons, fired from a safe distance, with no friendly casualties, and little unintended damage. Hi-tech surveillance systems would enable target identification and selection and then monitor the effects of the surgical strikes -- thus reducing strategy to a cybernetic negative feedback control system, a conception not unlike
that of a common household thermostat.
This marriage of primitive pop psychology with the simplistic promises of hi-tech weapons makes war look easy, safe, and cheap -- and therefore easy to sell to Presidents with little or no military experience but who are under political pressure to do something 'decisive.' These benefits quickly became evident in the United States' increasing addiction to pointless drive-by shootings with cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs in the 1990s -- e.g., bombing a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, or destroying an Al Qaeda obstacle course in Afghanistan, not to mention the endless attacks on Iraq's air defense sites in the 1990s. This mode of thinking is now clearly evident in NATO's operations against Qaddafi in Libya.
The military dimension of this theory was eagerly adopted by the US foreign policy elite during the 1980s and 1990s, because it mechanized their simplistic theories of coercion by giving them a tool to play their game. Madeline Albright, in particular, as Clinton's Secretary of State, became addicted to coercive diplomacy in the Balkans, backed up by tit-for-tat surgical strikes. According to General Colin Powell's memoirs, she once almost gave him an aneurism by demanding, "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about, if we can't use it?" Albright and Perry got their first chance to strut their stuff in Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia in September 1995. While they claimed it was a stunning success, and notwithstanding the uncritical acceptance of these claims by the mainstream media, the results were ambiguous, to put it charitably.
Some might argue I am being unfair. Surely, the damage done in 11 days by the 708 guided weapons striking 48 target complexes forced Slobodan Miloševic to the bargaining table at Dayton. Did that not prove, to paraphrase Richard Holbrooke's remarks to the annual convention of the Air Force Association in 1996, that more bombing leads to better diplomacy?
That argument, however, ignores the decisive effects of Operation Storm, the August 1995 Croatian ground offensive that cleansed the Krajina of more than 200,000 Serbs and changed the situation on the ground in Bosnia by cutting the Bosnian Serb supply lines. It also fails to consider that all the belligerents were exhausted and needed a rest. Nevertheless, the lesson the marriage partners wanted to learn, namely that a weak-willed Miloševic would respond predictably to precision-guided coercion, did have one effect: It set the stage for the gross miscalculation at the so-called Rambouillet peace conference.
This can be seen in an intelligence analysis of Miloševic's psychology in late 1998 and early 1999. A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate issued in November 1998 (quoted in the Washington Post of April 8,1999) said, "Miloševic is susceptible to outside pressure. He will eventually accept a number of outcomes [in Kosovo], from autonomy to provisional status with final resolution to be determined, as long as he remains the undisputed leader in Belgrade." An interagency report coordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency in January 1999 (reported in the April 18, 1999 New York Times) went even further, saying "After enough of a defense to sustain his honor and assuage his backers [Miloševic] will quickly sue for peace."
The Rambouillet "Accord" aimed to give Miloševic a chance to defend his honor. That NATO's demands were unacceptable should be no surprise. Like the infamous Austro-Hungarian diktat to Serbia in 1914, they were blatant infringements on Serbia's national sovereignty. The Accord's military implementation annex (Appendix B) proposed to give NATO forces "free and unimpeded access throughout the FRY" [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, i.e., Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo], immunity from "arrest, investigation or detention," and authorized NATO to "detain" Serbian individuals and turn them over to unspecified "appropriate authorities."
The plan backfired. Miloševic did not react predictably like a mechanical thermostat, but chose instead to escalate rapidly by unleashing his forces in Kosovo -- whereupon the "carefully calibrated" limited bombing campaign aimed at changing one man's behavior exploded into a general war against the Serbian people. NATO had expanded the target list to include the Serbian power grid and civilian infrastructure, the war settled into a grinding siege of attrition, and planners worried about running out of cruise missiles. The conduct of the bombing campaign was shaped more by the speed with which targets got through the approval cycle than by any strategy linking a particular target's destruction to a desired tactical or strategic effect. As a result, NATO bombers effectively destroyed the economic infrastructure of a tiny nation with an economy smaller than that of Fairfax County, Virginia.
U.S. military planners had predicted that a "precision" bombing campaign would force the Serbs to capitulate in only two to three days, but the air campaign ground on for seventy-nine days. At war's end, U.S. forces had flown only 15 per cent as many strike sorties as in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991, but had expended 72 per cent as many precision-guided munitions and 94 per cent as many cruise missiles.
When it was over, NATO intelligence determined that only minute quantities of Serbian tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, and trucks—all high-priority targets—were destroyed, in part because the Serbs fooled our complex surveillance and precision guidance technologies with simple decoys. There are even reports that they used cheap microwave ovens as decoys to attract our enormously expensive radar homing missiles. Serbian troops marched out of Kosovo in good order, their fighting spirit intact, displaying clean equipment and crisp uniforms, and in larger numbers than planners said were in Kosovo to begin with. Moreover, the terms of Serb "surrender," which the undefeated Serb military regarded as a sellout by Serbian president Miloševic, were the same as those the Serbs agreed to at the Rambouillet Conference, before U.S. negotiators led by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright inserted a poison pill (in the form of the
military annex mentioned above) to queer the deal.
Of course, the weapons makers love the marriage of high-cost precision weapons to coercive diplomacy, because it generates an astronomical need for a never ending flow of money into their financial coffers with orders for new weapons, even when the quantity of those weapons decreases. Congressmen love it because the money and patronage continues to flow to their districts. So, the economic result is what we in the Pentagon used to call a self-licking ice cream cone. And the cone has become particularly tasty in the age of perpetual small wars we have created after the Cold War ended in 1991. [Readers interested in the domestic causes of this perpetual war are referred to my essay, The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War.]
Will precision guided coercion get lucky and eventually work for NATO in its pissant operation in Libya?
Perhaps. After all, Qaddafi's forces are tiny, ill equipped and poorly trained. They can not possibly be compared in terms of effectiveness to the Serb Army in the 1990s. On the other hand, England and France cannot afford to waste money on the scale of the US. Moreover, it is by no means certain that the theory will work in Libya: it did not and has not worked in Iraq or Afghanistan, where the decapitations of Saddam and Osama were done the old fashioned way via lots of detective work coupled with by activities that looked more like those of a police SWAT team than a military combat operation. In any case, it is not at all clear that these decapitations are silver bullets that achieve anything beyond soothing our pride. The Pentagon and its wholly owned subsidiaries in Congress certainly do not want these decapitations to end the perpetual war. Indeed, Buck McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is madly trying to legislate the
idea that the terrorist threat posed by Al Qaeda has mutated and the long war will continue for the foreseeable future.
If the marriage of coercive diplomacy to surgical strikes succeeds in Libya, its proponents will trumpet it as a canonical proof of their theory. If it fails again like it did in Kosovo, it won't matter. There will be no divorce in the US, and the union will live on and grow richer. The high-cost of precision guided coercion may bankrupt England and France and reduce the foreign market for US weapons, but that is a small price to pay. It will not affect the money flowing into the coffers of the US Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex. That is because new, more-expensive weapons are always on the drawing board to discount any failures in the present weapons. In this way, the promise of new technology repeatedly washes the inconvenient truth of history from what is left of the critical faculties of the mind.
No one will question what is a patently silly way of thinking, because, as the late American strategist Colonel John Boyd used to say, 'the real strategy is don't interrupt the money flow, add to it' -- and that always works like a charm in Versailles on the Potomac, if not Brussels.
Franklin "Chuck" Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon. He currently lives on a sailboat in the Mediterranean and can be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

12 June 2011

Obama and Palestine

Attached herewith is an important essay on the long term implications of the Netanyahu - Obama spectacle of late May. The Author, William R. Polk, has kindly granted me permission to distribute it.
Polk is one of the most knowledgeable observers of the Middle East as well as the general politics of insurrection.  He was the  member of the Policy Planning Council responsible for the Middle East during the Kennedy Administration.  Upon leaving government service, he became Professor of History and Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago.  He was called back to the White House during the 1967 Arab-Israel war to write a peace treaty and still later, at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meyer, he negotiated the Suez Canal ceasefire with the Egyptian government. His short book, Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency, Terrorism, and Guerrilla War, from the American Revolution to Iraq is one of the very best books on the subject of guerrilla warfare and insurrection that  I have ever read.
Polk’s essay is no sound byte, and it should be studied carefully.  Essentially, he addresses the question What will it take to get Obama to move decisively on the Arab-Israeli issue? 
He takes the reader on a wide ranging, deeply informed, historical journey.  He does not end on an optimistic note, but with a suggestive comparison of imperatives implicit in the situation now facing President  Obama to those facing President Charles De Gaulle in the 1950s and early 1960s with regard to the crisis in Algeria.  To be sure there are many differences, but it is an interesting insight, if not carried too far.  Polk clearly recognizes this limitation and does not read too much into it ... his point is limited to the political imperatives on decision makers to change a policy involving occupation that is clearly not in a nation’s interest.
Whereas De Gaulle faced decisive pressure to act, Polk concludes that Obama does not yet face the pressures needed for decisive action, even though a course correction is definitely in US interests.  He ends by saying it will take some kind of catastrophic event to jar things loose.
He is probably right, but one lesson 9-11 ought to have taught us is that while catastrophic events do trigger policy changes, those changes do not always place a nation on a salutary pathway into the future.
Chuck Spinney
Bandol, France

Obama and Palestine

What will make Obama willing to move on the issue? 

William R. Polk
May 29, 2011
No international problem of modern times has been more studied, commented upon and disputed than the conflict between the Zionist movement and its Israeli successors, on the one hand, and on the other, the Palestinian Muslim and Christian people.  The conflict is embedded in deep historical memories, religious beliefs and great power struggles in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  Hardly any contemporary issue anywhere in the world is not to some degree affected by it. 

Can there be anything new to be said or done about it?    If ever there was an issue that  has played out the sequence of events predicted from the beginning, it is this one.   The British statesman, Lord Curzon put it succinctly in Biblical terms when the creation of a Jewish Home was first discussed in the British Cabinet during the First World War.  In response to the hope of one of his colleagues that Britain’s plan would be welcomed by the inhabitants, he retorted dryly that he doubted that they  would be content to be merely “hewers of wood and drawers of water" for the incoming Jewish settlers.

Britain did not credit Curzon’s dictum. Its wartime strategic needs overcame all other concerns.  Indeed, As Lord Balfour, the author of the founding document of what became Israel, the Balfour Declaration, wrote secretly to the Cabinet, “In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers  [that is, Britain itself] have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in letter, they have not always intended to violate."

And, in pursuit of their own objectives,  increasing numbers of the Jewish people adopted their own myth.  Driven by vicious anti-Semitism, first from Russia and then from other European countries, they saw the danger of extinction nearly realized in Nazi Germany.  They did not consider rights of the native Palestinians any more than incoming American settlers had earlier considered those of the Native Americans.  Indeed, one of the early fathers of Zionism, Israel Zangwill, coined a description of the Palestine issue that has permeated Zionism and Jewish thought ever since: Palestine was, he said, "The land without people for the people without land."   Echoing that assessment more recently, Prime Minister Golda Meir famously said  there weren’t any Palestinians except for the Jews. If they existed at all, Palestinians were regarded as simply not comparable human beings.

But the three quarters of a million natives did not, of course, accept this definition of their status.  Most were settled villagers whose lives, culture and social organization were rooted in the land.  Their identification with land was almost mystical.  The terrace walls of one’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather, the fields in which one played as a child and in which one’s ancestors were buried, the localities where saints have been venerated and besought, all these gave rise to emotions virtually impossible for Western urban (and virtually nomadic) man to fathom.  Before their diaspora, Palestinian villagers built their genealogies physically into the layout of their neighborhoods so that placement of dwellings corresponded to family trees.  Consequently, they had not only the sort of feeling most Americans have about our homes, temporary as they are to many of us, but a more intense, more permanent, more “living” sense of relationship to the earth.  Even in the cities, people recreated their villages as autonomous neighborhoods.  Over the past sixty years, I have talked with scores of individuals who have described for me rooms, houses,  gardens, orchards, streets as vividly as though they were seeing them at that moment.  And, in retrospect and in the mind's eye of the refugees, these scenes have taken on a melancholy longing that only loss can bring.  The idea that these people did not love their land or were wandering gypsies for whom any place is as good as another is not only nonsense, but is, itself, since the Palestinians are Semites,  an ugly variety of anti-Semitism.

 For the Palestinians, from the beginning and with increasing intensity, the incoming Europeans were alien colonists intent on taking their land and destroying their society.   They were right.  Already in 1937, David Ben Gurion wrote, "we must expel the Arabs and take their places.”  His voice was not alone.  Vladimir Jabotinsky, the father of “muscular Zionism” and the ideological mentor of  Israeli prime ministers  Begin, Shamir, Sharon and Netanyahu, told the 1936 British Royal Commission, which was trying to find a way to satisfy both Jews and Arabs, that the Zionists would never be satisfied with anything less than all of Palestine -- "We cannot.  We never can.  Should we swear to you we would be satisfied, it would be a lie."  

                  Thus, conflict was inevitable from the beginning.  The tragic story of a century of increasing danger, conflict and misery is well known.  There are not and probably never were any obscurities.  But what may be different now is that almost everyone agrees that the problem must somehow be solved.   Indeed, even that  sense of urgency is not new:  the British, having been instrumental in creating the conflict, staked out already in 1936 what has always seemed to outsiders to be the essential element in a solution:  dividing the land between the Jews and Palestinians.  To the British,  division seemed as sensible as the traditional saying, “half a loaf is better than no bread, ”  but to both the Arabs and the Jews, partition seemed subversion of their nationhood.  Undeterred, the British set up one commission after another to figure out how to accomplish it.

The British efforts were picked up after the Second World War by the newly established United Nations.  But nothing anyone thought up made any sense:  no matter how the little land was carved up, there were just too many Palestinian natives and too few Jewish immigrants.   The best effort proposed a Palestine with an Arab population of 725,000 and a Jewish population of 10,000 while the Jewish state would have 498,000 Jews and 407,000 Arabs.  Jerusalem was to be internationalized and would contain 100,000 Jews and 105,000 Arabs.  The Jewish state, which had all the best land, was estimated to have revenues about three times that of the Arab state, but with a higher birth rate, the Palestinian population would soon have been a majority even in the Jewish state.

That dilemma was solved by the expulsion of virtually all of the Palestinians in the 1948-1949 war. 

Expulsion made Israel possible, but it did not create peace. So, one “solution” after another has been  brought forward by American statesmen and their appointees.  Some of their plans  can be regards as only bizarre, even jejune, but they are worth remembering to show how desperate has been the search for a solution and to get a measure of what President Obama would face if  today he tried to reach a solution.  

Almost everything has been proposed – dividing the waters of the River Jordan (so the states would not clash over that vital resource, the “Johnston plan”), aid programs to create a labor shortage (so the refugees could be absorbed elsewhere, the  “Lilenthal Plan”), state-to-state negotiations (so as to by-pass the Palestinians, the Carter-Begin-Sadat “Camp David Negotiation”), honoring the right of return while making it unattractive (the “Johnson plan”).  My favorite among the fantasies was the brainchild of that dour, normally practical and certainly unemotional Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles.  He decided that since the Arabs and Israelis did not want to step on one another’s territory but needed to go from the various parts of their own, the frontiers should be redrawn in the form of intersecting triangles meeting at a point – over which, presumably,  each could jump, taking care not to bumb into one another!

Meanwhile, paying no attention to these flights of fancy, the Israelis steadily took over the land and today have incorporated about 78% of the former British mandate.  Additionally, they have effective control, with walls, fortresses, check points, garrisons and settlements over much of what the original UN decision designated as part of the Palestinian state.  While the Israeli settlement policy is a direct violation of international law and is in defiance of a number of United Nations resolutions, Israel has created not only a physical presence – with about 650,000 settlers living on the West Bank -- but also a political position  that would take great courage to dismantle. 

 Now, President Barack Obama has waded into the fray.  So what is he trying to do and how serious is his effort?

We cannot read his mind, but what we know is that he has made a series of statements.  As some of his critics have said, Obama will talk, even talk bravely as well as eloquently,  but he will not act.   Writing in The New York Review of Books this month, David Bromwich observed that throughout his public career, Obama “has a way of retreating into vagueness at just the point where clarity matters most…and has always preferred the symbolic authority of the grand utterance to the actual authority of a directed policy.”  Others believe his inaction is politically shrewd:  to win the next election he needs the votes and money of American supporters of the current Israeli government and its powerful lobby, AIPAC.    And then there is the prospective charge of anti-Semitism.

American academics, journalists and politicians today fear the charge of anti-Semitism as acutely as they used to fear the charge of pro-Communism.

Not fearing that charge,  Israelis evidently are more able to discuss America’s relationship to Israel than are Americans.  Reacting to the  Congress’  fawning and uncritical response to Binjamin Netanyahu’s speech last week,   the prominent Israeli statesman, former Knesset member and peace advocate, Uri Avnery,  was revolted by the sight of  “members of the highest legislative bodies of the world’s only superpower, flying up and down like so many yo-yos, applauding wildly, every few minutes or seconds, the most outrageous lies and distortions of Binjamin Netanyahu...The most distressing part of it was that there was not a single lawmaker – Republican or Democrat – who dared to resist.”  The blogger Mitchell Plitnick, chided that Congress, thoroughly beholden to AIPAC and completely indifferent to the best interest of not only the Palestinians but also Israel and their own  country, cheered the home team as it defeated the President of the United States…The home team, in this case, was Netanyahu.”   And, on the day after the speech, Ben Caspit of the Israeli newspaper Maariv, wrote that “Those who are scared of peace yesterday got their wish.  Those who are scared of war will be a lot more scared today.’

The domestic American political reality, of which Obama is obviously aware, is that Israel is above political discussion.  So, regardless of his obvious dislike of Netanyahu and his apparent belief that Israeli policies are not only wrong but dangerous to America,  he promised that massive American economic and military aid – regardless of the state of the American economy – will not only be continued but will be increased.  So, it appears to me almost certain that Obama will not grasp the Palestine nettle. 

Obviously,  that is what Netanyahu also believes.  So the Israeli response, from an advance copy of Obama's speech, was for Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak to authorize the building of still more settlement housing.  In a sense, this was a gratuitous act.  Netanyahu/Barak did not need to snub or insult Obama.  But, perhaps they felt that they needed to reaffirm the now traditional Israeli strategy -- their predecessors  first explained it  to me in the 1960s -- of building  "facts on the ground."  They have now done such a complete job of it that they want Obama to believe, and probably believe themselves, that no Israeli government can  change the geography of settlement on the West Bank because Israel's settler population won't let it.  

So, what will happen?

To move toward a prediction, I find it suggestive to compare Obama’s position on Palestine today with French President Charles De Gaulle’s position on Algeria in the 1950s and 1960s.  While there are obvious differences, there are similarities that cast light on possible policies today, and perhaps tomorrow.
What is similar, of course, is that both men recognized that a situation had arisen that was dangerous to their countries.  Obama has been told even by such different and opposing advisers as Secretary Hillary Clinton and General David Petraeus that the Palestine problem is the major cause of the terrorist threat to America.   And therefore, that the Israeli refusal to move toward compromise peace settlement is against American national interests.  Yet, the President is unwilling to risk moving to enforce a solution.   So far, at least, he can afford inaction.

In terms of personality, Obama is no De Gaulle, but De Gaulle was not a determined leader until France came to the brink of civil war and to the edge of losing its civic culture.    He saw that his regime risked being over thrown and perhaps himself be murdered  if he did not act.    Remember that  Paris was then ringed by anti-aircraft cannon and De Gaulle feared an army putsch.  So he went secretly off to Germany to assure himself of the army and the loyalty of the Paratroop leader General Jacques Massu before he moved.  Then, once he made up his mind to get out and was sure of his military base, he sent the army --  with tanks, artillery and bombers -- into "European" Algiers to crush the opposition to his decision.

Simply put, the situation had become so grave that De Gaulle was forced to assert French national interest.  Could any aspect of  Israeli-American relations reach such a level? 

Apparently not, because it did not when in 1967 the Israeli Navy and Air Force attacked and tried to sink an American naval vessel, hitting it with some 821 cannon shells, thousand pound bombs and napalm shells and firing five torpedoes.  They killed 34 US Naval personnel and wounded 171 others.  If  President Lyndon Johnson did not then feel under severe pressure, it is understandable why President Obama does not feel under pressure from events and policies far less damaging to American security today.

However, he may feel about Netanyahu personally or the Israeli suppression of the Palestinian version of the Arab spring – which closely resembles what he so opposes in Libya and Syria, firing into the ranks of peaceful demonstrators – he reverses President Teddy Roosevelt’s dictum by talking  eloquently but carrying a small stick. 

While I presume Obama believes that America has a compelling national interest in bringing about negotiations, Israel is determined not to heed his warnings.  Indeed, Netanyahu and his Likhudniks have given the settlers -- Israel’s version of De Gaulle’s enemies, the Pieds-noirs  of Algeria – a veto on negotiations.  They have now created an iron wall of "facts on the ground" that they believe Moses himself could not have moved.  Thus, Obama on May 13 accepted the resignation of his negotiator, Senator George Mitchell and apparently does not intend to appoint a successor. 

Viewing these events, Netanyahu  felt strong enough to throw down the gauntlet to Obama, daring him to pick it up – his  timing is perfect, his  supporters are lined up, his critics in America are scattered and unable to reach a mass audience.  It will take, I believe, some really catastrophic event to change the parameters.  A speech will not do it.

08 June 2011

Afghan Sitrep: A Grunt from the Front Sounds Off

Inside Versailles on the Potomac, pressure is building on President Obama to reduce his promised withdrawal of combat troops in Afghanistan to a cosmetic level, and perhaps more to the point, to protect the defense budget from efforts to reduce the deficit. The two -- i.e., perpetual war and the defense budget -- are joined at the hip (as I explained here).  The Pentagon's mouthpieces in thinktanks are therefore dutifully filling the op-ed pages with fact-free arguments to continuing the ten year war unabated.

Attached below is a more informed, less self-interested view.  It is from an email written by an active duty colonel who travels all over Afghanistan. For obvious reasons, he must remain anonymous, but it came to me from a trusted source.  This colonel, unlike many of his peers, actually goes on foot patrols with troops to see things for himself.  His message, which is only a few days old, is bad Ju Ju, I am afraid.  

[I vetted the colonel's email thru a retired Army officer, and he responded: "I talk to Soldiers and Marines of most ranks on a weekly basis, many of whom have just returned from Afghanistan. Not one says we are winning. They think Afghanistan is a waste of our time. Why doesn't anyone listen to the guys that know? Ivory-tower intellectuals in think tanks get listened too, but they are not walking the ground as a grunt or a combat arms dude."]

I urge readers to read the op-ed links embedded in in the colonel's email and then compare their intellectual content the Patrick Seale's essay, Washington Wrestles with Afghan Options.  Ask yourself who is better plugged into reality: The colonel and Seale or O'Hanlon and the Kagans?

Chuck Spinney
La Ciotat, France

Email To Col  XXX
The mendacity is getting so egregious that I am fast losing the ability to remain quiet; these yarns of "significant progress" are being covered up by the blood and limbs of hundreds - HUNDREDS - of American uniformed service members each and every month, and you know that the rest of this summer is going to see the peak of that bloodshed.
The article by Michael O'Hanlon last week (i.e. Success worth paying for in Afghanistan) and the one in today's WSJ by Kagan and Kagan (i.e., We Have the Momentum in Afghanistan) made me sick to my stomach - especially the latter.  Have you seen it yet?  It is the most breathless piece of yellow journalism I’ve seen in the entire OIF-OEF generation.  
According to the Kagans, "If Mr. Obama announces the withdrawal of all surge forces from Afghanistan in 2012, the war will likely be lost. Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and other global terrorist groups will almost certainly re-establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan. The Afghan state would likely collapse and the country would descend into ethnic civil war. The outcome of this withdrawal policy would be far worse than Nixon's decision to accept defeat in Vietnam, for it would directly increase the threat to the American homeland.  Apparently they forgot, "there's a commie behind every bush," "the Russians are coming!" and "if Vietnam falls, all of Asia falls to the Communists!"  That logic was absurd in the 1960/70s, and its even more laughable today - or it would be laughable if it didn't cost so damn many American lives to prop up the fantasy.  
These people are actually arguing for increased involvement.  In fact, they are saying that we should expect high casualties this summer (after which - without explanation - we'll have beaten the TB in the south), then we'll move the troops up to RC-East where there's still a lot of fighting - and as a result, we'll have another spike in the 'fighting season' of 2013, after which (according to the neat schedule the Kagans map out) we'll be ready to hand over control of the country to GoIRA and the ANSF on schedule in 2014.
 It’s sheer madness, and so far as I can tell, in the mainstream media and reputable publications, it is going almost entirely without challenge. 
Colonel YYY