When the time came for us to leave Persia and make the long trek back to Iraq, we stopped again for a few days with Robertson in Kermanshah. Then I said good-bye to my host, my Persian friends, and to his house with keen regret — with, as a matter of fact, a secret personal regret.
As a junior officer in the first World War, I had been presumptuous enough sometimes to hope that if I survived and were not found out, I might with tremendous luck, by the time the next great war arrived, be a general. Then, I fondly imagined my headquarters would move from château to château, from which I would occasionally emerge, fortified by good wine and French cooking, to wish the troops the best of luck in their next attack. Alas, when the time did come and, by good fortune in the game of military snakes and ladders, I found myself a general, I was so inept in my choice of theatres that no châteaux were available. More often than not, I had to make do with a plot of desert sand, a tree in the African bush, or a patch of jungle, while my cuisine was based on bully beef and the vintages of my imagination were replaced by over-chlorinated water. Once or twice, however, I did get, if not my château with its chef and its cellar, at least an excellent substitute — an oil company bungalow. Once having sampled its comfort I would not have swapped Robertson’s house for all the châteaux of the Loire. Dug in there, a delectable future had spread before me in which I achieved my youthful ambition and conducted the war from linen-sheeted bed and luxurious long bath. But, like other youthful hopes, the vision faded. I was once more, had I known it, destined to châteaux-less wilderness.
Field Marshal William Slim, “Persian Pattern”, Unofficial History, 1959.
October 13, 2013
September 12, 2013
Steve Chapman thinks Barack Obama is a very lucky man indeed:
In assessing the feasibility and probability of Russia’s proposal to secure Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons, one overlooked factor should be paramount in our minds: Barack Obama is the luckiest politician on the face of the planet. If he were tied to a railroad track, the train would levitate and pass harmlessly over him. He’s always the windshield, never the bug.
In this instance, Obama got himself into a box that would flummox Harry Houdini. In a procession of careless comments, he said Assad had to go and that if he ever used chemical weapons against rebels, he would face “enormous consequences.”
When the Syrian dictator used them anyway, Obama was forced to prepare for a military strike that found scant public support. When he tried to gain the upper hand by asking for congressional authorization, he got an Arctically frigid reception.
So he faced two unpleasant possibilities: Congress would refuse, in which case he would look like a chump. Or it would agree, forcing him to carry out an attack that was likely to accomplish nothing except to wreck his approval rating.
But then along came the Russians to open an escape route. Acting in response to another unscripted remark, from Secretary of State John Kerry, they proposed to place Syria’s chemical gas arsenal under international control. The Syrians responded by not only admitting that they had such weapons, but offering to surrender them.
The proposal sounded implausible and impractical, but it had too many things going for it to be passed up. Most importantly, it serves the interests of every important party. It spares the Syrian regime a damaging attack by the United States. It spares the rebels being gassed again. It validates the great power status of Russia — and might even win Vladimir Putin a Nobel Peace Prize.
Not least, it saves Obama from looking like an appeaser, a warmonger or an incompetent. It even allows Kerry to portray the administration as unsurpassed in its diplomatic brilliance.
September 10, 2013
At Reason, Gene Healy explains why the authorization should not be granted to President Obama by congress:
Tonight, President Obama, who rose to the presidency on the strength of stirring speeches, goes back to the well with a prime-time address urging Congress to authorize an attack on Syria.
He admits it’ll be “a heavy lift.” And how: per the Washington Post’s latest whip count in the House, even if all 170 undecideds break their way, the administration won’t be within shouting distance of a majority.
That’s good, because the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that’s on the table deserves to fail. It’s TARP with Tomahawks.
The provisions purporting to restrict the president to a brief, “limited and tailored” war are too weak to stick.
What’s more, they’re undermined by the AUMF’s gratuitous overstatement of presidential power: “The President has authority under the Constitution to use force in order to defend the national security interests of the United States.”
Wrong. The Constitution gives him the power to “repel sudden attacks” against the U.S., not launch them whenever he imagines they’ll promote our “national security interests.” That language practically invites Obama to ignore the limits and wage a wider war.
Update: In another post at Reason the current polling certainly encourages congress not to cave to the President’s wishes.
As the country debates launching airstrikes on Syria, President Barack Obama’s standing on foreign policy has taken such a hit that the latest Reason-Rupe poll finds 64 percent of Americans, including 68 percent of independents and 41 percent of Democrats, believe President Obama’s handling of foreign policy is worse than, or the same as, former President George W. Bush’s handling of foreign policy.
President Obama famously said he opposes “dumb wars.” Nearly three-quarters of Americans, 74 percent, say it would be “unwise” for the United States to launch airstrikes on Syria without the support of the United Nations or Great Britain. Just 17 percent say U.S. strikes on Syria would be wise.
When it comes to launching U.S. military action across the globe, 47 percent of Americans say the “political establishment in Washington D.C.” is more likely to favor military action than they are. A majority of independents, 57 percent, say D.C. insiders are more likely to favor war than they are. In contrast, just 17 percent of Americans say the Beltway establishment is less likely to favor military action than they are, and 30 percent say the establishment favors war about the same amount as the public.
At The Diplomat, James Holmes explains the odd fact that China is a “good citizen” in their coalition work with other countries fighting piracy away from home, but bullies its neighbours in the waters closer to home:
The analogy is the doctrine of “no peace beyond the line” practiced in late Renaissance Europe. To recap: in a nifty bit of collective doublethink, European rulers struck up a compact whereby nations could remain at peace in Europe, avoiding the hardships of direct conflict, while assailing each other mercilessly beyond a mythical boundary separating Europe from the Americas. In practice this meant they raided each other’s shipping and outposts in the greater Caribbean Sea and its Atlantic approaches.
It feels as though an inverse dynamic is at work in the Indo-Pacific theater. Naval powers cooperate westward of the line traced by the Malay Peninsula, Strait of Malacca, and Indonesian archipelago. Suspicions pockmarked by occasional confrontation predominate east of the South China Sea rim, a physical — rather than imaginary — line dividing over there from home ground.
A non-Renaissance European, Clausewitz, helps explain why seafaring powers can police the Gulf of Aden in harmony while feuding over the law of the sea in the East China Sea and South China Sea. It’s because the mission is apolitical. Counterpiracy is the overriding priority for the nations that have dispatched vessels to the waters off Somalia. Few if any of them have cross-cutting interests or motives that might disrupt the enterprise. It’s easy to work together when the partners bring little baggage to the venture.
You see where I’m going with this. The expedition to the Gulf of Aden is an easy case. It proves a trivial result, namely that rivals can collaborate for mutual gain when they have the same interests in an endeavor. Now plant yourself in East Asia and survey the strategic terrain within the perimeter separating the Indian from the Pacific Ocean. China views the South China Sea, to name one contested expanse, not as a commons but as offshore territory. Indeed, Beijing asserts “indisputable sovereignty” there.
Such pretensions grate on Southeast Asian states, while the United States hopes to rally coalitions and partnerships to oversee the commons. But if Beijing is serious about the near seas’ constituting “blue national soil” — and our Chinese friends are nothing if not sincere — then outsiders policing these waters must look like invaders. How else would you regard foreign constables or armies roaming your soil — even for praiseworthy reasons — without so much as a by-your-leave?
September 7, 2013
Zero Hedge conducts its own poll on this question:
As President Obama continues to push for a plan of limited military intervention in Syria, a new poll of Americans has found that though the nation remains wary over the prospect of becoming involved in another Middle Eastern war, the vast majority of U.S. citizens strongly approve of sending Congress to Syria.
The New York Times/CBS News poll showed that though just 1 in 4 Americans believe that the United States has a responsibility to intervene in the Syrian conflict, more than 90 percent of the public is convinced that putting all 535 representatives of the United States Congress on the ground in Syria — including Senate pro tempore Patrick Leahy, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and, in fact, all current members of the House and Senate — is the best course of action at this time.
“I believe it is in the best interest of the United States, and the global community as a whole, to move forward with the deployment of all U.S. congressional leaders to Syria immediately,” respondent Carol Abare, 50, said in the nationwide telephone survey, echoing the thoughts of an estimated 9 in 10 Americans who said they “strongly support” any plan of action that involves putting the U.S. House and Senate on the ground in the war-torn Middle Eastern state. “With violence intensifying every day, now is absolutely the right moment — the perfect moment, really — for the United States to send our legislators to the region.”
“In fact, my preference would have been for Congress to be deployed months ago,” she added.
August 31, 2013
James Joyner suggests a new rule of thumb needs to be used:
Could anyone have imagined a decade ago a scenario when the United States would go to war with France by our side and England on the sidelines?
I anticipate English muffins being renamed Freedom muffins any day now. And jokes about kippers eating surrender bulldogs or some such.
More seriously, perhaps recent experience has provided us a rule of thumb: if Washington can not persuade both London and Paris of the advisability of military action, perhaps said action is inadvisable?
August 29, 2013
Twitter just lit up with the news that Prime Minister David Cameron’s motion to allow military action against Syria has been soundly defeated in parliament. The reported voting line was 272 in favour and 285 against. This was not a confidence motion — the government will not be forced to resign over this vote, but it’s a strong slap in the face to Clegg and Cameron.
House of Commons votes against the Government motion on #Syria by 285 votes to 272
— House of Commons (@HouseofCommons) August 29, 2013
"I believe in respecting the will of the House of Commons. The British people do not want to see military action. I get that," Cameron.
— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) August 29, 2013
Dignified, decent, democratic response by the PM. A truly stunning shift in power from executive to legislature.
— Daniel Hannan (@DanHannanMEP) August 29, 2013
Sir Humphrey points out that the Syrian situation actually shows how thin the US Navy’s resources have become:
This crisis has been dominated by impressive images of US warships firing cruise missiles, and maps showing large warships steaming menacingly in the Eastern Med. Publicly we know that four USN escorts are currently in the region, each armed with a significant quantity of missiles. What is so striking though is how this illustrates just how thinly stretched the USN is these days. Until the end of the Cold War, the Med was practically a British, then US lake. Dominated by naval bases, and home to large numbers of carriers, escorts and other vessels, any crisis would quickly have seen an almost overwhelming concentration of US firepower.
Today, the 6th Fleet has no permanently assigned escorts, and is instead reliant on other vessels transiting the area. At present it seems that three US vessels were in the area (although it is unclear I they were taken off other tasks) and one more has joined them. This is the totality of the US escort fleet in the Med (and quite possibly Europe as a whole). It is telling that there is no carrier deployed in the AOR, and that the next nearest escorts and Carrier are deployed in the Gulf. Although they could move, this would leave the Arabian Gulf without a carrier, and it is questionable whether any commander would be willing to see a CVN conduct a Suez transit right now, particularly if strikes against Syria are occurring. Partly this is a result of fewer ships, and also an impact of sequestration, where planned deployments were cancelled. The harsh reality though is that US naval power has been heavily emasculated — claims of the Med being a US lake are simply no longer true.
The worry is that this problem is only going to get worse with time; the USN faces a major challenge in keeping hull numbers up, and more importantly maintained to a reasonable level. The challenge of handling major budget cuts is that this sort of presence will inevitably be reduced. So, perhaps closer attention should be paid to how the US is meeting the response, as this is likely to be the sort of thing we’ll see in future — not overwhelming numbers of ships and aircraft, but a small number of escorts, taken off other tasks in order to do the job. One lesson is clear — the USN remains an immensely potent navy, but its ability to project the sort of power that the world is used to is perhaps far less than many realise.
August 28, 2013
Zero Hedge passes on a bit of analysis from Stratfor:
In the event of a punitive strike or a limited operation to reduce Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s chemical weapons delivery capability — for instance, by targeting key command and control facilities, main air bases and known artillery sites — the United States already has enough forces positioned to commence operations.
Four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers — and probably a nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine — are already within Tomahawk cruise missile range of Syrian targets. In addition, the United States can call upon strategic bombers based in the continental United States as well as B-1 bombers from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. In such an operation, the United States would be able to carry out standoff attacks beyond the range of Syrian air defenses, while B-2 bombers could stealthily penetrate the Syrian air defense network to drop bunker-busting bombs with minimal risk.
Considering that al Assad’s forces have a number of ways to deliver chemical weapons, ranging from air power to basic tube and rocket artillery, an operation that seeks to degrade the regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons would necessarily be far wider in scope and scale. This means tactical aviation would have to play a key role in such a campaign, which in turn would entail the deployment of significant enabler aircraft such as aerial refueling tankers and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.
Update: The Iranian Farsnews site says the US military will be in for a serious defeat if they attack Syria.
Syria’s supersonic and anti-ship missiles as well as the Lebanese Hezbollah movement will inflict astonishing damage on any invading force, specially the US Navy’s giant warships, an expert said, adding that the missile capability is working as a deterrent to a US naval attack on Syria.
“The supersonic and long-range anti-ship Yakhont missiles of the Syrian army and the Lebanese Hezbollah (resistance movement) are serious deterrents to a US naval attack by its warships in the Mediterranean Sea,” Dr. Mostafa Zahra, a military analyst and strategic studies expert, told FNA on Monday.
He said that Syria’s Iskandar high-precision ballistic missiles and its anti-ship Scud missiles will also target the US warships in case of a US naval invasion of Syria, reminding that the American military vessels are not equipped with any weapons system to intercept or divert the Syrian anti-ship missiles.
Did you hear that, Great Satan? “Astonishing damage“. You’d better back off now, infidel.
August 26, 2013
Zero Hedge pulled a quick summary of US, French, and British naval units in light of the rumours of some kind of attack on Syria:
- A U.S. military source said on Friday the U.S. Navy was increasing its number of cruise missile-carrying destroyers in the Mediterranean to four from three by delaying the return to the United States of the Arleigh Burke class destroyer USS Mahan.
- The aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman, by far the most powerful warship in the region, left the Mediterranean last weekend, passing through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea.
- Defence experts say the carrier could still strike Syria from south of Suez. As well as the strike aircraft carried by the Truman, several of her escort ships are also capable of firing Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles.
- Since earlier this year, the United States has also had F-16 jets in Jordan, where they remained after a major military exercise this year at the request of the Jordanian government. It also has a major air base at Incirlik in Turkey that could easily house multiple aircraft as part of a wider military campaign.
The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is still in or near Toulon, while the Royal Navy is said to have at least one Trafalgar or Astute class submarines in the Mediterranian. The RN no longer has in-service aircraft carriers, so any British air support would have to be from the RAF, possibly based in Cyprus (but subject to local government approval).
Update: This report says that the USS Ramage is also being retained in the Mediterranean along with the USS Mahan.
Update, 27 August: It was just mentioned (no link) that the Charles de Gaulle has been ordered to leave port, bound for the Eastern Mediterranean.
August 25, 2013
Strategy Page on the upcoming “negotiations” over the Israeli-Palestinian situation:
Why are the Palestinians participating in yet another round of American- sponsored peace talks with Israel? It’s mostly about money. This round was forced on the Israelis and Palestinians by the U.S., which threatened to withhold aid (1.3 billion a year to Israel about half as much to the Palestinians) if the two did not at least go through the motions. Many knowledgeable observers see another round of talks as pointless. Arabs and Palestinians have not changed their “kill all Jews” attitudes towards Israel and the Israelis have still not agreed to just disappear. Because of the continued Arab intransigence over Israel, opinion polls show that most Israelis are opposed to any peace deal with the Palestinians that involves withdrawing Jews from the West Bank or Jerusalem and believe the peace talks will fail.
The Americans want the talks for domestic political reasons. The Israelis don’t mind having another opportunity to force the Palestinians to admit all their hypocrisy and anti-Semitism. The Palestinians don’t care about that because they are in big trouble. The current Fatah leadership (Hamas, which runs Gaza, is not participating) is in a desperate situation. Fatah is committed to pushing for “statehood” in the UN, but has been told by the U.S. that such a move will mean withdrawal of $600 million a year in American aid. Israel said it will withhold $100 million a year in customs taxes it collects for Fatah. Backing away from the UN statehood effort would be very embarrassing. The “peace talks” provide a credible excuse to back off.
Given the heat Fatah has been taking from Palestinians over more than a decade of increasing corruption and poverty, losing $700 million a year in aid would put Fatah out of power and probably out of business. So Fatah will go through the motions to calm down the Americans and Israelis while a new strategy is developed and sold to Palestinians. The current one got going in 2000, when Fatah turned down the best peace deal it was probably ever going to get (and would probably accept today) because the Palestinian radicals threatened civil war if Fatah took the Israeli offer. In retrospect that was a hollow threat, but at the time it seemed a good idea to turn down the peace offer and start a terrorist campaign against Israel. That failed, and was largely defeated by 2005. But it all made the Palestinian radicals stronger and too many Palestinians unemployed, broke and angry. It also allowed Islamic radical group Hamas to take control of Gaza, where 40 percent of Palestinians lived. To make matters worse the great Palestinian patron Saddam Hussein lost power, and his life, cutting off another source of cash. Palestinian children are still taught to honor and praise Saddam, which has become something of a media liability. Other Arab allies have become less supportive and more insistent that the Palestinians make peace with Israel and stop being professional victims and career beggars.
August 16, 2013
In Foreign Affairs, Jacob Shapiro looks at the management side of the terror “business”:
But the deeper part of the answer is that the managers of terrorist organizations face the same basic challenges as the managers of any large organization. What is true for Walmart is true for al Qaeda: Managers need to keep tabs on what their people are doing and devote resources to motivate their underlings to pursue the organization’s aims. In fact, terrorist managers face a much tougher challenge. Whereas most businesses have the blunt goal of maximizing profits, terrorists’ aims are more precisely calibrated: An attack that is too violent can be just as damaging to the cause as an attack that is not violent enough. Al Qaeda in Iraq learned this lesson in Anbar Province in 2006, when the local population turned against them, partly in response to the group’s violence against civilians who disagreed with it.
Terrorist leaders also face a stubborn human resources problem: Their talent pool is inherently unstable. Terrorists are obliged to seek out recruits who are predisposed to violence — that is to say, young men with a chip on their shoulder. Unsurprisingly, these recruits are not usually disposed to following orders or recognizing authority figures. Terrorist managers can craft meticulous long-term strategies, but those are of little use if the people tasked with carrying them out want to make a name for themselves right now.
Terrorist managers are also obliged to place a premium on bureaucratic control, because they lack other channels to discipline the ranks. When Walmart managers want to deal with an unruly employee or a supplier who is defaulting on a contract, they can turn to formal legal procedures. Terrorists have no such option. David Ervine, a deceased Irish Unionist politician and onetime bomb maker for the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), neatly described this dilemma to me in 2006. “We had some very heinous and counterproductive activities being carried out that the leadership didn’t punish because they had to maintain the hearts and minds within the organization,” he said, referring to a period in the late 1980s when he and the other leaders had made a strategic calculation that the Unionist cause was best served by focusing on nonviolent political competition. In Ervine’s (admittedly self-interested) telling, the UVF’s senior leaders would have ceased violence much earlier than the eventual 1994 cease-fire, but they could not do so because the rank and file would have turned on them. For terrorist managers, the only way to combat those “counterproductive activities” is to keep a tight rein on the organization. Recruiting only the most zealous will not do the trick, because, as the alleged chief of the Palestinian group Black September wrote in his memoir, “diehard extremists are either imbeciles or traitors.”
August 15, 2013
Brendan O’Neill says that we should not be surprised by the bloody turn of events in Egypt … after all, we collectively acted as enablers:
There is ‘world outcry’ over the behaviour of the Egyptian security forces yesterday, when at least 525 supporters of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi were massacred. The killings were ‘excessive’, says Amnesty, in a bid to bag the prize for understatement of the year; ‘brutal’, say various handwringing newspaper editorials; ‘too much’, complain Western politicians.
Such belated expressions of synthetic sorrow are not only too little, too late (hundreds of Egyptians have already been massacred by the military regime that swept Morsi from power); they are also extraordinarily blinkered. To focus on the actions of the security forces alone, on what they did with their trigger fingers yesterday, is to miss the bigger picture; it is to overlook the question of where the military regime got the moral authority to clamp down on its critics so violently in the name of preserving its undemocratic grip on power. It got it from the West, including from so-called Western liberals and human-rights activists. The moral ammunition for yesterday’s massacres was provided by the very politicians and campaigners now crying crocodile tears over the sight of hundreds of dead Egyptians.
The fact that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the Egyptian armed forces who swept Morsi from power on 3 July, feels he has free rein to preserve his coup-won rule against all-comers isn’t surprising. After all, his undemocratic regime has received the blessing of various high-ranking Western officials, even after it carried out massacres of protesters campaigning for the reinstatement of Morsi, who was elected with 52 per cent of the vote in 2012.
Baroness Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s chief of foreign affairs, who, like al-Sisi, is unelected, visited Egypt at the end of July. She met with al-Sisi and his handpicked, unelected president, Adly Mansour. She called on this junta disguised as a transitional power to start a ‘journey [towards] a stable, prosperous and democratic Egypt’. This was after it had massacred hundreds of protesters, placed various politicians and activists in prison, and reinstated the Mubarak-era secret police to wage a ‘war on terror’ against MB supporters. For Ashton to visit al-Sisi and talk about democracy in the aftermath of such authoritarian clampdowns was implicitly to confer authority on the coup that brought him to power and on his brutal rule and actions.
Meanwhile, the US has refused to call the military’s sweeping aside of Morsi a coup. The Democratic secretary of state, John Kerry, has gone further and congratulated al-Sisi’s regime for ‘restoring democracy’. Kerry said the military’s assumption of power was an attempt to avoid ‘descendance into chaos and violence’ under Morsi, and its appointment of civilians in the top political jobs was a clear sign that it was devoted to ‘restoring democracy’. He said this on 2 August. After hundreds of Morsi supporters had already been massacred. If al-Sisi’s forces believe that killing protesters demanding the reinstatement of a democratically elected prime minister is itself a democratic act, a necessary and even good thing, it isn’t hard to see where they got the idea from.
August 5, 2013
Ted Galen Carpenter on a big blind spot in US policy:
U.S. officials too often succumb to the temptation to try to impose order and justice in unstable or misgoverned societies around the world. The temptation is understandable. It is hard to learn about — much less watch on the nightly news — brutality, bloodshed, and gross injustice and not want to do something about it. Some foreign policy intellectuals, including the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, have become strident lobbyists for the notion of a “responsibility to protect” vulnerable populations.
But it is a temptation that wise policy makers should avoid. U.S. meddling has frequently caused already bad situations to deteriorate further — especially when Washington has based its humanitarian interventions on the false premise that the subject of our attentions is, or at least ought to be, a coherent nation state. As I point out in an article over at The National Interest, U.S. administrations have made that blunder in Bosnia, Iraq, Libya, and other places.
In many parts of the world, the Western concept of a nation state is quite weak, and the concepts of democracy and individual rights are even less developed. The primary loyalty of an inhabitant is likely to be to a clan, tribe, ethnic group or religion. U.S. officials appear to have difficulty grasping that point, and as a result, the United States barges into fragile societies, disrupting what modest order may exist. Washington’s military interventions flail about, shattering delicate political and social connections and disrupting domestic balances of power.