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Andrew Bacevich: Drama from Obama

5:43 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here

Here is the strangeness of our moment: the U.S. has no rival on the planet. Its global military stance is historically unparalleled and largely uncontested. And yet somehow, in crucial areas of the world, Washington’s power to do anything is significantly, visibly lessening. Consider this: In 1990, in the very last days of the Cold War, our former ally in the Persian Gulf, Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein (whom we supported in major ways when he was using chemical weapons against Iranian troops in the mid-1980s), invaded Kuwait. He may even have thought that he had gotten a green light from Washington to do so.

Bacevich cover

Andrew Bacevich’s latest.

President George H.W. Bush then formed what he called a “grand coalition” of 30 nations (his son, when president, would use the phrase “coalition of the willing”), got the backing of Congress, drove Saddam’s troops out of Kuwait, and invaded Iraq. Other countries, including the Gulf States, Japan, and Germany, were even willing to shoulder a significant part of the financial burden of the build-up to war and the actual campaign. Twenty-two years later, preparing to launch a far more limited missile and possibly air assault on Syrian military facilities, President Obama tried to do the same. His officials even resurrected the term “coalition of the willing.” He instead found himself in a coalition of one — and a half, if you count French President Hollande, two-and-a-half, if you count the Saudis. Much of the rest of the world proved to be a “coalition of the unwilling.“ This could certainly be taken as a measure of waning American power in the Greater Middle East and, for that matter, Europe over the last two decades.

Think of this Obama moment as one in which the chickens have literally come home to roost — and by chickens I mean everything from the manipulations that led us into a “slam dunk” war in Iraq to the recent NSA revelations of Edward Snowden, which have left enough of the planet ticked off to make the formation of an American-sponsored coalition of anything that much harder. Today, Andrew Bacevich catches the strangeness of how all this is playing out domestically in the onrushing Syrian congressional debate (or perhaps “debate”). For the last 12 years, it has also played out in a military-first set of global initiatives that have turned what used to be called “foreign policy” into a kind of permanent war policy run by an ever more engorged national security state. The pressures on the actual military have been striking. In Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country, his new book published this Tuesday, Bacevich lays out the ways in which that military has essentially been abandoned by a public that heaps endless praise on “the troops,” but leaves them to fend for themselves as something ever less like a citizen’s army and ever more like a foreign legion. Tom

The Hill to the Rescue on Syria?
Don’t Hold Your Breath
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Sometimes history happens at the moment when no one is looking. On weekends in late August, the president of the United States ought to be playing golf or loafing at Camp David, not making headlines. Yet Barack Obama chose Labor Day weekend to unveil arguably the most consequential foreign policy shift of his presidency.

In an announcement that surprised virtually everyone, the president told his countrymen and the world that he was putting on hold the much anticipated U.S. attack against Syria. Obama hadn’t, he assured us, changed his mind about the need and justification for punishing the Syrian government for its probable use of chemical weapons against its own citizens. In fact, only days before administration officials had been claiming that, if necessary, the U.S. would “go it alone” in punishing Bashar al-Assad’s regime for its bad behavior. Now, however, Obama announced that, as the chief executive of “the world’s oldest constitutional democracy,” he had decided to seek Congressional authorization before proceeding.

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Nick Turse, The Snags, Snares, and Snafus of Covering the U.S. Military

6:40 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

The 30-year-old history of U.S. foreign policy: now, there’s a dynamite issue!  Explosive, in fact.  Far too dangerous, it turns out, for Americans to be informed about or have access to basic documents about — so you might conclude from a recent report at Steven Aftergood’s website Secrecy News.

U.S. Africa Command C4ISR Senior Leaders Conference, Vicenza, Italy, February 2011

U.S. Africa Command C4ISR Senior Leaders Conference, Vicenza, Italy, February 2011

According to him, “A 1991 statute mandated that the State Department publish the documentary record of U.S. foreign policy (known as Foreign Relations of the United States, or FRUS) no later than 30 years after the events described.”  They were years behind when President Obama, still in his sunshine mode, hit the Oval Office and ordered State “to complete the processing of the backlog of 25-year-old records awaiting declassification by the end of December 2013.”

Didn’t happen, of course.  And that, it turns out, is the least of it.  A State Department historical advisory committee (HAC), a “panel of distinguished historians,” has just weighed in with its own fears that “a substantial percentage of those records that have been reviewed by the NDC [National Declassification Center] have not been cleared for release to the public.  In the opinion of the HAC, the relatively high number of reviewed documents that remain withheld from researchers and citizens raises fundamental questions about the declassification guidelines.”  The historians wonder, in fact, whether the majority of the FRUS volumes will ever see the light of day.

History, too, may need its Edward Snowden, a rogue historian with access to those State documents and the urge to travel to Hong Kong or tour the bowels of Moscow’s international airport terminal.  If no such historian appears, then Americans curious about the documentary history of our past may get another 30 years of the good old runaround — and even then it’ll be nothing compared to what TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse, author of the bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, received from the U.S. military. Tom

The Classic Military Runaround
Your Tax Dollars at Work Keeping You in the Dark
By Nick Turse

There are hundreds, possibly thousands of U.S. personnel — the military refuses to say how many — stationed in the ochre-tinted country of Qatar.  Out in the searing heat of the desert, they fly fighter jets or fix them.  They equip and arm troops headed to war.  Some work in a high-tech command-and-control center overseeing U.S. air operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Greater Middle East.  Yet I found myself sitting in a hotel room in Doha, Qatar’s capital, about 30 miles east of al-Udeid Air Base, the main U.S. installation in the country, unable to see, let alone talk, to any of them.

In mid-May, weeks before my arrival in Qatar, I sent a request to the public affairs office at the base to arrange a visit with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, the unit that, according to the military, carries out a “criti­cal combat mission that spans nearly 6,000 miles from the Horn of Africa to Northern Afghanistan.”  Or at least I tried to.  Day or night, weekday or weekend, the website refused to deliver my message.  Finally, I dug up an alternate email address and sent in my request.  Days passed with no word, without even an acknowledgement.  I followed up yet again and finally received a reply — and then it began.

The initial response came on May 28th from the Media Operations Chief at Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs.  She told me that I needed to contact the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing’s Public Affairs liaison, Captain Angela Webb, directly.  So I repeatedly wrote to Captain Webb.  No response.  On June 10th, I received an email from Susan Harrington.  She was, she told me, “taking over” for Captain Webb.  Unfortunately, she added, it was now far too close to my arrival in Qatar to arrange a visit.  “Due to time constraints,” she wrote me, “I do not think it will be possible to support this request since we are likely already within that 30 day window.”

Don’t think I was surprised.  By now, I’m used to it.  Whether I’m trying to figure out what the U.S. military is doing in Latin America or Africa, Afghanistan or Qatar, the response is remarkably uniform  – obstruction and obfuscation, hurdles and hindrances.  In short, the good old-fashioned military runaround.  I had hoped to take a walk around al-Udeid Air Base, perhaps get a glimpse of the jumbotron-sized screens and rows of computers in its Combined Air and Space Operations Center.  I wanted to learn how the drawdown in Afghanistan was affecting life on the base.

Instead, I ended up sitting in the climate-controlled comfort of my hotel room, staring at a cloudless sky, typing these words behind double-paned glass that shielded me from the 106 degree heat outside.  For my trouble, on my return to the United States, I was detained at Kennedy Airport in New York by agents of the Department of Homeland Security.  Their question for me: Was I planning to fight against U.S. forces in Afghanistan?

Base Desires in Africa

If you are an American citizen, you’re really not supposed to know about operations at al-Udeid Air Base.  The men and women there on your dime can’t even “mention the base name or host nation name in any unsecured communications.”  Instead, they’re instructed to say that they are at an “undisclosed location in Southwest Asia” instead of “the Deid,” as they call it.

It isn’t the only base that the Pentagon wants to keep in the shadows.  You’re also not supposed to know how many bases the U.S. military currently has in Africa.  I learned that the hard way.  As a start, let me say that, officially speaking, there is only a single U.S. facility on the entire continent that the military formally calls a “base”: Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, a tiny nation in the Horn of Africa.  U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) is adamant about this and takes great pains to emphasize it.  Internally, however, they do admit that they also have forward operating sites (aka “enduring locations”), contingency security locations (which troops periodically rotate in and out of), and contingency locations (which are used only during ongoing operations).  But don’t try to get an official list of these or even a simple count — unless you’re ready for the old-fashioned runaround.

In May 2012, I made the mistake of requesting a list of all facilities used by the U.S. military in Africa broken down by country.  Nicole Dalrymple of AFRICOM’s Public Affairs Office told me the command would look into it and would be in touch.  I never heard from her again.  In June, Pat Barnes, AFRICOM’s Public Affairs liaison at the Pentagon, shot down my request, admitting only that the U.S. military had a “a small and temporary presence of personnel” at “several locations in Africa.”  Due to “force protection” issues, he assured me, he could not tell me “where our folks are located and what facilities they use.”

That July, with sparing assistance from AFRICOM, I published an article on “Secret Wars, Secret Bases, and the Pentagon’s ‘New Spice Route’ in Africa,” in which I attempted to shed light on a growing U.S. military presence on that continent.  This included a previously ignored logistics network set up to service U.S. military operations, with critical nodes in Manda Bay, Garissa, and Mombasa in Kenya; Kampala and Entebbe in Uganda; Bangui and Djema in the Central African Republic; Nzara in South Sudan; and Dire Dawa in Ethiopia.   I also drew attention to posts, airports, and other facilities used by Americans in Arba Minch in Ethiopia, Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, and the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean.
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Nick Turse, Blowback Central

6:57 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

An Africom soldier

Today’s US military operations in Africa set us up for tomorrow’s blowback.

The other day, Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-supported Afghan president who was once sardonically nicknamed “the mayor of Kabul,” had a few curious things to say about American policy in the Muslim world.  Karzai, of course, is a man whose opinions — whether on U.S. special operations forces and their (out of control) militias, U.S. night raids on Afghan homes, or U.S. air strikes on Afghan villages — Washington loves to ignore.  He is considered “volatile.”  Sometimes, however, it’s worth listening to what our subordinate allies, uncomfortable nationalists-cum-puppets, think and say about us.

As Josh Rogin reported at the Daily Beast, Karzai recently suggested that, starting in the early 1980s when the Reagan administration and the CIA buddied up with the Saudis and Pakistani intelligence and backed a set of extreme fundamentalist Afghan rebels against the Soviets, the U.S. has been, advertently or not, promoting Islamic radicalism in the Greater Middle East.  As Karzai said of that long-forgotten moment, “The more radical we looked and talked, the more we were called mujahedin. The consequence of that was a massive effort toward uprooting traditional Afghan values and culture and tolerance.”  In his speech at the 2013 U.S.-Islamic World Forum, he made a case for the ways in which Washington’s destabilization of the region has never ended, provoking ever more extreme blowback as it goes.

Without a doubt, the central event in the multi-decade fiasco that for a few years was known as the Global War on Terror was the invasion of Iraq, Washington’s preeminent act of folly so far in the twenty-first century.  Its disastrous effects have yet to be fully absorbed or assessed.  Yet without that invasion, it is hard to imagine a whole series of developments, including the present killing fields in Syria, the potential disintegration of Iraq itself, the Arab Spring, or the spread of extreme Islamic factions ever more widely in a vast region.  The irony, of course, is that the Bush administration and the neocon types who set so much of this in motion used to refer to the Greater Middle East from North Africa to the Chinese border disparagingly as “the arc of instability.”  Today, it increasingly looks like an arc of chaos and, as Nick Turse indicates, the process, far from ending, seems to be spreading — in this case, deep into Africa.

Turse, author of the recent bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, has been following the latest U.S. global command, AFRICOM, as it embeds American military power ever more fully on the African continent. (In the process, he has engaged in full-scale public debate with that command over the nature of what it is doing.) Today, he offers a magisterial overview of what can be known about the increasing American military presence in Africa and how it is continuing a now more than three-decade-old process of spurring destabilization, the growth of radical Islamic movements, and blowback in a new region of the planet. Tom

The Terror Diaspora
The U.S. Military and the Unraveling of Africa
By Nick Turse

The Gulf of Guinea. He said it without a hint of irony or embarrassment. This was one of U.S. Africa Command’s big success stories. The Gulf… of Guinea.

Never mind that most Americans couldn’t find it on a map and haven’t heard of the nations on its shores like Gabon, Benin, and Togo. Never mind that just five days before I talked with AFRICOM’s chief spokesman, the Economist had asked if the Gulf of Guinea was on the verge of becoming “another Somalia,” because piracy there had jumped 41% from 2011 to 2012 and was on track to be even worse in 2013.

The Gulf of Guinea was one of the primary areas in Africa where “stability,” the command spokesman assured me, had “improved significantly,” and the U.S. military had played a major role in bringing it about. But what did that say about so many other areas of the continent that, since AFRICOM was set up, had been wracked by coups, insurgencies, violence, and volatility?

A careful examination of the security situation in Africa suggests that it is in the process of becoming Ground Zero for a veritable terror diaspora set in motion in the wake of 9/11 that has only accelerated in the Obama years.  Recent history indicates that as U.S. “stability” operations in Africa have increased, militancy has spread, insurgent groups have proliferated, allies have faltered or committed abuses, terrorism has increased, the number of failed states has risen, and the continent has become more unsettled.

The signal event in this tsunami of blowback was the U.S. participation in a war to fell Libyan autocrat Muammar Qaddafi that helped send neighboring Mali, a U.S.-supported bulwark against regional terrorism, into a downward spiral, prompting the intervention of the French military with U.S. backing.  The situation could still worsen as the U.S. armed forces grow ever more involved.  They are already expanding air operations across the continent, engaging in spy missions for the French military, and utilizing other previously undisclosed sites in Africa.

The Terror Diaspora

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Tomgram: Sandy Tolan, The Occupation That Time Forgot

6:56 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

"israeli-wall" by Wall In Palestine on flickr

"israeli-wall" by Wall In Palestine on flickr

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

 

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I’m reminded of how Chinese premier Zhou EnLai supposedly answered a question in 1972 about the significance of the French Revolution. “Too early to tell,” was his reputed reply; and though he may never have said it, how true it is that the major events of our world carom through history in ways that remain unpredictable even hundreds of years later.  How then to arrive at an assessment of the Arab Spring — and now far harsher Summer and Fall — of 2011, other than to say that it has proven monumental?

Perhaps all that can or should be said is that history’s surprises have their joys (as well as horrors), and that the young people who propelled the Arab Spring, toppling some regional autocrats and tyrants, challenging others, and leaving still others shaken, offered genuine hope (Yes, We Can!) in a region where it had been a scarce commodity.  Their many and complex uprisings and serial demonstrations have clearly destabilized significant parts of the Middle East that had been in a kind of deadly stasis.  Who knows what will shake out from it all?  At this early date, however, one of the losers from these cascading events seems to be the ever more right-wing government of Israel which — as its autocratic allies in the region totter or fall — has been left in a state of growing isolation and anxiety.

The Arab Spring has evidently even offered a kind of confused and bedraggled hope to a Palestinian not-exactly-state, the Palestinian Authority, about as powerless as an entity could be, which is heading this week for the U.N. to do it’s-not-quite-clear-what.  Its decision signals, at least, the utter bankruptcy of the former “road map” to peace in the region — there are no roads, only checkpoints and obstacles, and as for maps, the Israelis control them.  The zombie-style “negotiations” Washington has long been brokering in the region are now officially dead, no matter how many diplomats rush from one capital to another. Read the rest of this entry →