10 September 2014

The Struggle for Palestine (II)

Who Won the Gaza War?

I am pleased to post Part II of William R. Polk's three part series, "The Struggle for Palestine."  This posting is long (almost 14,000 words including end notes) but it is well worth the investment of your time.  
The 2014 Gaza War just ended in a truce, with both sides declaring victory. But as Uri Avnery (Israel's leading peace activist, a former Knesset member, and a hero of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) concluded here: Israel may have have won at the physical level of the conflict in the sense that Israel inflicted the more punishing damage, but Hamas seems to won at the mental and moral levels of conflict. In his words, "the delegitimization of Israel throughout the world is accelerating."
Indeed, the 2014 Gaza War may prove to be a watershed.

In his theory of conflict, the American Strategist Colonel John R. Boyd explained why the physical, mental and moral effects of any military strategy should reinforce each other.  In so doing, he also showed why the moral level is by far the most important level of conflict.    But in the Gaza Siege, the massively destructive physical effects of Israel's attacks were offset, at least to some degree, by the mental and moral effects of the resistance by Hamas and worldwide revulsion at Israel's brutality. 

My previous post, Photoshopping the Gaza War, and Gareth Porter's followup report reveal how Israel's efforts to manipulate mental effects are still backfiring at the moral level of conflict. Further evidence of this backfiring can be seen the asymmetry of approval ratings: In Gaza, notwithstanding its horrendous material destruction, a recent poll indicated the approval rating of Hamas is at an all time high, whereas Netanyahu's approval rating has tanked.  Moreover, according to Israel's defense minister, the cost of only 52 days of fighting was $9 billion. This amounts to almost three years of U.S. military aid to Israel and to over half of Israel's $14 billion annual defense budget.  

To be sure, these and other physical, mental, and moral asymmetries flowing out of the Gaza War are lost on most of the members of Congress, who will, no doubt, accede to Israel's demands for additional military aide to make up for all or part of Israel's material consumption.   These asymmetries are also lost on the mainstream media.  

Once you begin losing at the moral level of conflict, it becomes almost impossible to recover your previous position of moral legitimacy or even respect -- but if left uncorrected, that slippery slope becomes a prescription for evolving into a grand strategic disaster over the long term.
Regardless of whether you think any of the above is correct, one thing is clear: The latest round of the Gaza Siege did not satisfy the central criteria of a sensible grand strategy, because it did not end on terms that do not sow the seeds for future conflict.  

The struggle for Palestine  will continue and is likely to escalate and become uglier.  
Therefore, given the shifting sands made visible in 2014 Gaza Siege, and particularly the disinformation and propaganda surrounding this conflict, it behooves us all to learn about the Arab-Israeli question, particularly its history, to understand why it continues without an end in sight.  

Understanding the Arab-Israeli conflict is important for another reason: The U.S. approach to its own war on terror -- a pure attrition strategy whose measure of success is based on targeted killing (i.e., a 21st Century variant of the notorious body count in Vietnam) -- is similar to the Israeli approach to solving its Palestinian Question.  Like the Israeli style of war, the U.S. style of fighting its war on terror appears to be a losing proposition that is escalating without end, at ever increasing cost.  Like Israel, the U.S. is not addressing the root causes of its conflict ... and, its primitive attrition strategy is creating enemies faster than it can kill them.  

And like the wars of Israel, the cost of our global war on terror (GWOT) is going though the roof: After removing the effects of inflation, the GWOT is now the second most expensive war in U.S. history, exceeding the far larger Civil War, WWI, Korean War, or Vietnam.  Only WWII cost more.  And yet, as this post is being written, President Obama is about to announce yet another escalation of the GWOT and the defense budget.  

Bill Polk's three-part series on the Struggle for Palestine is a good place to start learning about the Israeli problem, and by extension, about much of what lies underneath our own problems in the Middle East.  Part I can be found here, attached below is Part II.  If you prefer PDF files of these reports, they can be down loaded at these links: Part I and Part II.  Part III will be posted when it becomes available.

(Part Two: 1947-1973)
William R. Polk, August 31, 2014

The British Foreign Secretary told Parliament on February 18, 1947 that "there is no prospect of resolving this conflict by any settlement negotiated between the parties." Further, he said, according to the League of Nations mandate, the legal basis for Britain's rule over Palestine, Britain did not have the authority to partition the country as everyone thought would be necessary.  Thus, the British government had decided to turn the problem over to the United Nations.  The Foreign Secretary did not mention, but it was obviously a significant factor, that Britain could no longer afford to keep nearly 100,000 troops employed in an increasingly vain effort to keep the peace in what was in comparison to India a relatively unimportant area.
In response to Britain's  request, the UN Secretary General on April 2, asked that the General Assembly (UNGA) take up the question of what should be done about Palestine.  Five of the member states thought they already knew what to do: Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia,  proposed ar "The termination of the Mandate over Palestine and the declaration of its independence."  Their motion was rejected by the UNGA which instead, voted to establish a "Special Committee for Palestine" (UNSCOP)  to recommend a different solution.   It should have been sobering to the members of this, the last in the long line of inquiries, to hear the British delegate say, 
We have tried for years to solve the problem of Palestine.  Having failed so far, we now bring it to the United Nations, in the hope that it can succeed were we have not.  If the United Nations can find a just solution which will be accepted by both parties, [we would] welcome such a solution [but ] we should not have the sole responsibility for enforcing a solution which is not accepted by both parties and which we cannot reconcile with our conscience.
UNSCOP was to be composed of a diverse group, representatives of Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia.  As diverse as the committee was, its members shared one characteristic:  none of them knew anything about Palestine.  And they could not expect that they would get a "balanced" view since the representative of one party, the Palestinians, decided to abstain from collaboration with UNSCOP.  In default of the Palestinian voice, the general ignorance of the members of the Committee and sporadic demonstrations in Palestine against its inquiry,  the Jewish Agency dominated the proceedings.  
Despite these problems, UNSCOP set out, or at least signed,  a generally fair and informative appreciation of "the Elements of the Conflict" in its Report to The General Assembly.  In summary, it portrayed two populations, one European, technologically advanced, united and determined, numbering about 600,000, and the other, numbering 1,200,000, Asian, divided both religiously and geographically into about 1,200 autarkic, self-governing communities and "native quarters" of the few cities, suffering from all of the inherited problems of colonialism, living in one small (26,000 square kilometer/10,000 square mile) area of which "about half ...is uninhabitable desert" with seasonal and limited rainfall and access to ground water only from fragile and (what ultimately have proven to be) endangered aquifers.  Palestine was almost totally without minerals other than the potassium and sodium salts of the Dead Sea.   
The delegates must have thought there was little to divide.
UNSCOP accepted as given, probably on legal advice, that it should work within the intent and functioning of  the League of Nations mandate.  In retrospect curiously, UNSCOP did not apparently consider the utility of negotiating with and between the Palestinians and the Zionists.  Nor, as in various contemporary and subsequent instances of decolonization did it regard the majority community as the presumed legal heir to the colonial government.  Only the Arab states thought of turning the "case" over to the International Court.
Viewing the mandate document as tantamount to a constitution for Palestine, UNSCOP emphasized that the Mandatory Power (Britain) had been obliged to "secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home," to "facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions" and to "encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish Agency...close settlement by Jews on the land..." while it "speaks in general terms only of safeguarding or not prejudicing the 'civil and religious rights' and the 'rights and position' of the Arab community in Palestine."  
In attempting to balance these unequal obligations, the Committee observed, the "Mandatory Power has attempted, within the limits of its interpretation of the 'dual obligation' of the mandate, to provide some satisfaction of Arab political desires," but such moves "were generally rejected by the Palestinians and vigorously opposed by the Zionists." 
UNSCOP was told that the Zionists demanded the right of "return" for European Jews in numbers defined only by the "economic absorptive capacity of the state." The Zionist representatives declared, however, that "The immigrant Jews [would] displace no Arabs, but rather [would] develop areas which otherwise would remain undeveloped."   In an earlier communication (March 19, 1899) to an official of the Ottoman Empire, Theodore Herzl had written that the Zionist movement was "completely peaceful and very content if they are left in peace.  Therefore, there is absolutely nothing to fear from their immigration...Your Excellency sees another difficulty, in the existence of the non-Jewish population in Palestine.  But who would think of sending them away?   It is their well-being, their individual wealth which we will increase by bringing in our own."⁠1
The basis of the Zionist claim to Palestine was, as from the beginning of the movement in Theodore Herzl's words,  "Palestine is our ever-memorable historic home." 
In a separate opinion, the Representative of India held that the Jewish contention that they were the "original" natives was both historically questionable and,  if held to be the basis of a legal claim,  would be a recipe for chaos since virtually all modern states would be open to similar claims based on ancient history.   As he wrote, 
To found their claim on their dispersion from Palestine after a period of approximately 2,000 years, whatever religious sentiment may be attached by them to the land occupied by their Prophets, appears to me to be as groundless as anything can be.  A multitude of nations conquered various countries at various times and were eventually defeated and turned out of them.  Can their connexion, however long, with the land which they had once conquered provide them with any basis after the lapse of even one century?  If this were so, Moslems might claim Spain, which they governed for a much longer period than the Jews had governed part of Palestine...[moreover] this claim  cannot be made by those who were subsequently converted to Judaism.  Khazars of Eastern Europe, Turco-Finn by race, were converted to Judaism as a nation about 690 A.D.  Can their descendants possibly claim any rights simply because the ancestors of their co-religionists had once settled in Palestine. 
There is no indication that UNSCOP as a whole reacted to the Indian delegate's demarche.  But it was, in part, foreshadowed by the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee which "postulate[d]  the 'natural' right of the Arab majority to remain in undisputed possession of the country, since they are and have been for many centuries in possession..."  [continued]

07 September 2014

Photoshopping the Gaza War

A Metaphor for the Post-Information Era
Beginning in the early 1970s, advocates of de-industrialization argued that the United States was entering another economic revolution, a post-industrial era so to speak. The they named it the Information Age or the Information Revolution.  They argued that emerging information technologies would create a rich knowledge-based society, wherein the exploitation of information would yield better decisions and greater economic rewards for a than would industrial production in the United States; and therefore, industrial production could be left to less economically developed societies in the increasingly globalized economy.  To be sure, the technology industry — computers, sensors, software, connectivity — grew exponentially since the mid-1960s; it transformed the nature of our society, bringing benefits and hitherto unimaginable capabilities to many. Today, we live in a very different world than in 1960. 
Yet this societal transformation also coincided with a welter of increasingly objectionable developments, including inter alia
  • rising wealth inequality and a stagnation of middle class wages; 
  • sluggish job creation, with most of the job growth in low wage service industries;
  • a growing loss of control in government decisions, including a breakdown of comity in government, manifested by increasing paralysis and chaos, together with an increased dependence on multi-thousand page, incomprehensible omnibus legislative packages; 
  • a growing displacement of analysis by ideology in the economic, scientific, social, and foreign policy spheres of decisionmaking; 
  • more frequent and sharper recessions, caused in part by the rise of massive financial corruption and speculation, hidden by arbitrary assumptions buried deeply inside incomprehensible computer models, notwithstanding the appearance of increased scientific rigor; 
  • a dumbing down of the mass media to a degree that reflects the fear expressed by James Madison in his 1822 letter to W.T. Barry (i.e., "A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”); 
  • a computer-driven domestic spying system, based on unreliable assumptions (especially artificial intelligence based on arbitrary Bayesian assumptions) buried in data analysis algorithms that has turned the Bill of Rights into a hollow shell; 
  • a well documented breakdown of decision making in the Pentagon created by the predictions of an un-auditable, corrupt bookkeeping system that is driven by the conscious bureaucratic gaming of the world’s most elaborate, computer-driven program planning system; 
  • and perhaps most destructively, the rise of a political system that is growing ever-more dependent on manipulating information to fuel the politics of fear and perpetual war.  
To be sure, correlation or coincidence is not causation. There are many other independent causes in each of these developments, and information manipulation is as old as mankind.  Also, information technologies are neutral and can be used for good or ill. The normative question has to do with their application.  Nevertheless, the pervasive negativity in these developments embodies at least one common theme that is diametrically opposed to the central promise of the information revolution: each development can be interpreted as an outward indicator of decay in society’s collective capacity to make salutary decisions.   
Since all decisions are based on the processing of information, is it reasonable to ask how the information revolution or knowledge based society could be coincident with the explosion of these kinds of developments? 
The answer is obvious: these technologies have revolutionized the ability for individuals and factions to create, propagate, and hide inside alternative impressions of reality when they are competing for resources and authority.  This is true whether the competition for advantage takes place in economics, science, politics, or war.  At the very least, these alternative impressions of reality create an atmosphere of ambiguity, if not outright deception. While Sun Tzu first wrote about the benefits of deception in 400 BC or so, more recently Colonel Boyd explained why creating an atmosphere of ambiguity and/or deception is crucial in the struggle to get inside your adversary’s Observation - Orientation - Decision - Action loop in any kind of competition.  Ambiguity and deception free up room for quicker maneuvering by enabling a competitor to get inside the head of his adversary, and thereby paralyze him with a welter of unexpected ‘shaping' operations to collapse his observations of and orientation into a mass of disconnected and disorderly images.  Boyd showed how this will cause your adversary to over and under react to changing conditions that drives him further away from his goal.  If you doubt the importance of ambiguity’s paralyzing effects on the mind, spend a Sunday morning trying to make sense out of the alternative realities that are sold as analysis and spouted with absolute certainty by the self-assured pundits and politicians on the different talk shows.
As one wag in the Pentagon said to me in the 1980s when we were discussing the mental and moral problems created by the alternative realities in DoD's Plans/Reality Mismatch, “Welcome to the Post-Information Era; think of what Joseph Goebbels could have done with our information technologies.”  
Attached herewith is a concrete example illustrating how the hi-tech game of creating alternative realities is played in the 21st Century.  In this case, it is being played for the most nefarious of reasons related to the promotion of a self-interested agenda.  The author of this report, Gareth Porter, is one of the finest investigative reporters left standing in the fight to offset the alternative foreign-policy realities created by Amerika’s ruling war party.  

Exclusive: Israel's Video Justifying Destruction of a Gaza Hospital Was From 2009

By Gareth Porter, Truthout, 06 September 2014 09:29

The video clip showing apparent firing from an annex to the hospital was actually shot during Israel's 2008-09 "Operation Cast Lead," and the audio clip accompanying it was from an incident unrelated to Al Wafa. (Screengrab: The Times of Israel)
A video distributed by the Israeli military in July suggesting that Palestinian fighters had fired from the Al Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatric Hospital in Gaza City was not shot during the recent Israeli attack on Gaza, and both audio and video clips were manipulated to cover up the fact that they were from entirely different incidents, a Truthout investigation has revealed.
The video, released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on July 23, the same day Israeli airstrikes destroyed Al Wafa, was widely reported by pro-Israeli publications and websites as proving that the hospital was destroyed because Hamas had turned the hospital into a military facility. But the video clip showing apparent firing from an annex to the hospital was actually shot during Israel's 2008-09 "Operation Cast Lead," and the audio clip accompanying it was from an incident unrelated to Al Wafa.
The misleading video was only the last in a series of IDF dissimulations about Al Wafa hospital that included false claims that Hamas rockets had been launched from the hospital grounds, or very near it, and that the hospital had been damaged by an attack on the launching site.  … continued

22 August 2014

Why Washington’s War on Terror Failed

The Underrated Saudi Connection
by PATRICK COCKBURN, Counterpunch, AUGUST 21, 2014
There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are attracting surprisingly little attention. In Iraq, the U.S. is carrying out air strikes and sending in advisers and trainers to help beat back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (better known as ISIS) on the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The U.S. would presumably do the same if ISIS surrounds or attacks Baghdad. But in Syria, Washington’s policy is the exact opposite: there the main opponent of ISIS is the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds in their northern enclaves. Both are under attack from ISIS, which has taken about a third of the country, including most of its oil and gas production facilities.
But U.S., Western European, Saudi, and Arab Gulf policy is to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, which happens to be the policy of ISIS and other jihadis in Syria. If Assad goes, then ISIS will be the beneficiary, since it is either defeating or absorbing the rest of the Syrian armed opposition. There is a pretense in Washington and elsewhere that there exists a “moderate” Syrian opposition being helped by the U.S., Qatar, Turkey, and the Saudis.  It is, however, weak and getting more so by the day. Soon the new caliphate may stretch from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean and the only force that can possibly stop this from happening is the Syrian army.
The reality of U.S. policy is to support the government of Iraq, but not Syria, against ISIS. But one reason that group has been able to grow so strong in Iraq is that it can draw on its resources and fighters in Syria. Not everything that went wrong in Iraq was the fault of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as has now become the political and media consensus in the West. Iraqi politicians have been telling me for the last two years that foreign backing for the Sunni revolt in Syria would inevitably destabilize their country as well.  This has now happened.
By continuing these contradictory policies in two countries, the U.S. has ensured that ISIS can reinforce its fighters in Iraq from Syria and vice versa. So far, Washington has been successful in escaping blame for the rise of ISIS by putting all the blame on the Iraqi government. In fact, it has created a situation in which ISIS can survive and may well flourish.
Using the al-Qa’ida Label
The sharp increase in the strength and reach of jihadist organizations in Syria and Iraq has generally been unacknowledged until recently by politicians and media in the West. A primary reason for this is that Western governments and their security forces narrowly define the jihadist threat as those forces directly controlled by al-Qa‘ida central or “core” al-Qa‘ida. This enables them to present a much more cheerful picture of their successes in the so-called war on terror than the situation on the ground warrants.
In fact, the idea that the only jihadis to be worried about are those with the official blessing of al-Qa‘ida is naïve and self-deceiving. It ignores the fact, for instance, that ISIS has been criticized by the al-Qa‘ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for its excessive violence and sectarianism. After talking to a range of Syrian jihadi rebels not directly affiliated with al-Qa‘ida in southeast Turkey earlier this year, a source told me that “without exception they all expressed enthusiasm for the 9/11 attacks and hoped the same thing would happen in Europe as well as the U.S.”
Jihadi groups ideologically close to al-Qa‘ida have been relabeled as moderate if their actions are deemed supportive of U.S. policy aims. In Syria, the Americans backed a plan by Saudi Arabia to build up a “Southern Front” based in Jordan that would be hostile to the Assad government in Damascus, and simultaneously hostile to al-Qa‘ida-type rebels in the north and east.

The powerful but supposedly moderate Yarmouk Brigade, reportedly the planned recipient of anti-aircraft missiles from Saudi Arabia, was intended to be the leading element in this new formation. But numerous videos show that the Yarmouk Brigade has frequently fought in collaboration with JAN, the official al-Qa‘ida affiliate. Since it was likely that, in the midst of battle, these two groups would share their munitions, Washington was effectively allowing advanced weaponry to be handed over to its deadliest enemy. Iraqi officials confirm that they have captured sophisticated arms from ISIS fighters in Iraq that were originally supplied by outside powers to forces considered to be anti-al-Qa‘ida in Syria.
The name al-Qa‘ida has always been applied flexibly when identifying an enemy. In 2003 and 2004 in Iraq, as armed Iraqi opposition to the American and British-led occupation mounted, U.S. officials attributed most attacks to al-Qa‘ida, though many were carried out by nationalist and Baathist groups. Propaganda like this helped to persuade nearly 60% of U.S. voters prior to the Iraq invasion that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and those responsible for 9/11, despite the absence of any evidence for this. In Iraq itself, indeed throughout the entire Muslim world, these accusations have benefited al-Qa‘ida by exaggerating its role in the resistance to the U.S. and British occupation.
Precisely the opposite PR tactics were employed by Western governments in 2011 in Libya, where any similarity between al-Qa‘ida and the NATO-backed rebels fighting to overthrow the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was played down. Only those jihadis who had a direct operational link to the al-Qa‘ida “core” of Osama bin Laden were deemed to be dangerous. The falsity of the pretense that the anti-Gaddafi jihadis in Libya were less threatening than those in direct contact with al-Qa‘ida was forcefully, if tragically, exposed when U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by jihadi fighters in Benghazi in September 2012. These were the same fighters lauded by Western governments and media for their role in the anti-Gaddafi uprising.
Imagining al-Qa’ida as the Mafia
Al-Qa‘ida is an idea rather than an organization, and this has long been the case. For a five-year period after 1996, it did have cadres, resources, and camps in Afghanistan, but these were eliminated after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Subsequently, al-Qa‘ida’s name became primarily a rallying cry, a set of Islamic beliefs, centering on the creation of an Islamic state, the imposition of sharia, a return to Islamic customs, the subjugation of women, and the waging of holy war against other Muslims, notably the Shia, who are considered heretics worthy of death. At the center of this doctrine for making war is an emphasis on self-sacrifice and martyrdom as a symbol of religious faith and commitment. This has resulted in using untrained but fanatical believers as suicide bombers, to devastating effect.
It has always been in the interest of the U.S. and other governments that al-Qa‘ida be viewed as having a command-and-control structure like a mini-Pentagon, or like the mafia in America. This is a comforting image for the public because organized groups, however demonic, can be tracked down and eliminated through imprisonment or death. More alarming is the reality of a movement whose adherents are self-recruited and can spring up anywhere.
Osama bin Laden’s gathering of militants, which he did not call al-Qa‘ida until after 9/11, was just one of many jihadi groups 12 years ago. But today its ideas and methods are predominant among jihadis because of the prestige and publicity it gained through the destruction of the Twin Towers, the war in Iraq, and its demonization by Washington as the source of all anti-American evil. These days, there is a narrowing of differences in the beliefs of jihadis, regardless of whether or not they are formally linked to al-Qa‘ida central.
Unsurprisingly, governments prefer the fantasy picture of al-Qa‘ida because it enables them to claim victories when it succeeds in killing its better known members and allies. Often, those eliminated are given quasi-military ranks, such as “head of operations,” to enhance the significance of their demise. The culmination of this heavily publicized but largely irrelevant aspect of the “war on terror” was the killing of bin Laden in Abbottabad in Pakistan in 2011. This enabled President Obama to grandstand before the American public as the man who had presided over the hunting down of al-Qa‘ida’s leader. In practical terms, however, his death had little impact on al-Qa‘ida-type jihadi groups, whose greatest expansion has occurred subsequently.
Ignoring the Roles of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
The key decisions that enabled al-Qa‘ida to survive, and later to expand, were made in the hours immediately after 9/11. Almost every significant element in the project to crash planes into the Twin Towers and other iconic American buildings led back to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden was a member of the Saudi elite, and his father had been a close associate of the Saudi monarch. Citing a CIA report from 2002, the official 9/11 report says that al-Qa‘ida relied for its financing on “a variety of donors and fundraisers, primarily in the Gulf countries and particularly in Saudi Arabia.”
The report’s investigators repeatedly found their access limited or denied when seeking information in Saudi Arabia. Yet President George W. Bush apparently never even considered holding the Saudis responsible for what happened. An exit of senior Saudis, including bin Laden relatives, from the U.S. was facilitated by the U.S. government in the days after 9/11. Most significant, 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission Report about the relationship between the attackers and Saudi Arabia were cut and never published, despite a promise by President Obama to do so, on the grounds of national security.
In 2009, eight years after 9/11, a cable from the U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, revealed by WikiLeaks, complained that donors in Saudi Arabia constituted the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide. But despite this private admission, the U.S. and Western Europeans continued to remain indifferent to Saudi preachers whose message, spread to millions by satellite TV, YouTube, and Twitter, called for the killing of the Shia as heretics. These calls came as al-Qa‘ida bombs were slaughtering people in Shia neighborhoods in Iraq. A sub-headline in another State Department cable in the same year reads: “Saudi Arabia: Anti-Shi’ism as Foreign Policy?” Now, five years later, Saudi-supported groups have a record of extreme sectarianism against non-Sunni Muslims.
Pakistan, or rather Pakistani military intelligence in the shape of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was the other parent of al-Qa‘ida, the Taliban, and jihadi movements in general. When the Taliban was disintegrating under the weight of U.S. bombing in 2001, its forces in northern Afghanistan were trapped by anti-Taliban forces. Before they surrendered, hundreds of ISI members, military trainers, and advisers were hastily evacuated by air. Despite the clearest evidence of ISI’s sponsorship of the Taliban and jihadis in general, Washington refused to confront Pakistan, and thereby opened the way for the resurgence of the Taliban after 2003, which neither the U.S. nor NATO has been able to reverse.
The “war on terror” has failed because it did not target the jihadi movement as a whole and, above all, was not aimed at Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the two countries that fostered jihadism as a creed and a movement. The U.S. did not do so because these countries were important American allies whom it did not want to offend. Saudi Arabia is an enormous market for American arms, and the Saudis have cultivated, and on occasion purchased, influential members of the American political establishment. Pakistan is a nuclear power with a population of 180 million and a military with close links to the Pentagon.
The spectacular resurgence of al-Qa‘ida and its offshoots has happened despite the huge expansion of American and British intelligence services and their budgets after 9/11. Since then, the U.S., closely followed by Britain, has fought wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and adopted procedures normally associated with police states, such as imprisonment without trial, rendition, torture, and domestic espionage. Governments wage the “war on terror” claiming that the rights of individual citizens must be sacrificed to secure the safety of all.
In the face of these controversial security measures, the movements against which they are aimed have not been defeated but rather have grown stronger. At the time of 9/11, al-Qa‘ida was a small, generally ineffectual organization; by 2014 al-Qa‘ida-type groups were numerous and powerful.
In other words, the “war on terror,” the waging of which has shaped the political landscape for so much of the world since 2001, has demonstrably failed. Until the fall of Mosul, nobody paid much attention.

This essay is excerpted from the first chapter of Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, with special thanks to his publisher, OR Books.  

18 August 2014

The Messy Side of Precision Warfare

Since the 1920s, air power theorists and technologists in the United States have been obsessed by the idea of precision bombardment of critical targets or nodes deep in the adversary's infrastructure.  From famous Norden computing bombsight of WWII to the so-called precision guided weapons launched by a network of drones today, successive generations of advocates of precision warfare have predicted that new technologies promised surgical levels of destruction that would produce revolutionary increases in both economy effort and and combat effectiveness.  It is the promise of the silver bullet or free lunch.

In January 1988, for example, a Pentagon accepted a report, Discriminant Deterrence by produced for the Secretary of Defense the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, a blue ribbon panel composed of the bluest of defense bluebloods.*  Their predictions included inter alia: 

"The precision associated with the new technologies will enable us to use conventional weapons for many of the missions once assigned to nuclear weapons.” [pg. 8] and  
"The equipment, training, uses of intelligence, and methods of operation we have developed mainly for contingencies involving massive worldwide attacks by the Soviet Union do not prepare us very well for conflicts in the Third World. Such conflicts are likely to feature terrorism, sabotage, and other "low intensity" violence. Assisting allies to respond to such violence will put a premium on the use of some of the same information technologies we find increasingly relevant for selective operations in higher intensity conflicts. The need to use force for political purposes and to discriminate between civilian and legitimate targets is even more evident here. In particular, we will need optical and electronic intelligence, communications and control, and precise delivery of weapons so as to minimize damage to noncombatants.  We will need advanced technologies for training local forces. These will be important both for obtaining local political support and support in the United States and elsewhere in the West.” [pg. 67 emphasis added]

In short, the same technologies used to deter the Soviets will enable the surgical use of force in coercive diplomacy to mold third world countries and terrorists to our will, while providing the grist to build political support at home.  

As for the promise of economy of force, suffice to say that the use of these technologies in the low intensity war on terror that began after 9-11 has now made it the second most expensive war in US history, exceeded only by WWII, but exceeding the costs of the far larger, more intense Civil War, WWI, and Viet Nam wars (after adjusting for the costs of inflation).  

As for effectiveness, every extended precision bombardment campaign conducted by the United States — i.e., WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, The First Iraq War, Kosovo, and now the War on Terror -- has been accompanied by wildly escalating target lists suggesting (1) an inability to surgically discriminate important from unimportant targets in real war or (2) frustrated expectations about the actual effectiveness attending to those targets successfully destroyed or (3) both.

The drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia represent the apotheosis of the precision surgical strike mentality so evident in prognostications of the wise men of 1988.  The obsession with critical targets may have devolved from the destruction of industrial nodes like ball bearing works in WWII to the targeted liquidation individual terrorist leaders in the war on terror, but as in all previous precision bombardment campaigns, the actual conduct of the drone war reveals a far messier reality.  Add this limited effectiveness (or worse, counter productiveness and blowback) to the theory that these surgical strikes can be combined with tit for tat coercive diplomacy and you have a indiscriminate prescription for perpetual war.

Attachment 1, introduced below, are the opening paragraphs of an outstanding report that indirectly supports these points.  It was written by Gregory D. Johnsen for Buzz Feed News, and his subject is collateral damage caused by drone strikes in Yeman.  It is impressively researched and is one of the best descriptions yet of how fatally flawed assumptions implicit the precision bombardment theories propping up the drone the war are bogging the United States from the President on  down in the mental and moral quagmire of perpetual war.  

This report is long but well worth the investment in time.  This is where thinking like that in Discriminent Deterrence takes us, because the real name of the game is shoveling money to the MICC at the expense of John Q. Average American; or as one defense expert told me, the Discriminant Deterrence report may not have been on the money as far as effectiveness and economy go, but its authors certainly understood how to get the money! 
* The members of the commission was a who’s who list of the Beltway Establishment, including: Anne Armstrong, Zbigniew Brzesinski, William P. Clark, W. Graham Caytor, Gen. Andrew Goodpastor, Adm. James Holloway, Samuel Huntington, Henry Kissinger, Joshua Lederberg, Gen. Bernard Schriever, and Gen. John Vessey. With respect to their prognostication abilities,  even a causal perusal of their 1988 report reveals the Soviet threat is portrayed as being 10 feet tall and growing, with superior capabilities in many dimensions to those of the United States.  It contained no hints of any discriminating awareness of internal problems that were then causing the Soviet Union to crumble from within, leading inevitably to its dissolution only four years later in 1991.  A more accurate threat appreciation could have been found five years earlier at far less cost by buying and reading my friend Andrew Cockburn’s, The Threat: Inside the Soviet Military Machine (1983).

Attachment #1

Nothing Says “Sorry Our Drones Hit Your Wedding Party” Like $800,000 And Some Guns
On December 12, 2013, a drone struck and killed 12 members of a wedding party in Yemen. If the U.S., which claims the strike was clean and justified, didn’t pony up the $800,000 in cash and guns as reparations, then who did?
Gregory D. Johnsen, Buzz Feed News
Michael Hastings Fellow

Posted on Aug. 7, 2014, at 10:29 p.m.
Muhammad al-Tuhayf was relaxing at his house late in the afternoon on Dec. 12, 2013, when his iPhone rang. A boxy, tired-looking Yemeni shaykh with large hands and a slow voice, Tuhayf heard the news: A few miles from where he was sitting, along a rutted-out dirt track that snaked through the mountains and wadis of central Yemen, U.S. drones had fired four missiles at a convoy of vehicles. Drone strikes were nothing new in Yemen — there had been one four days earlier, another one a couple weeks before that, and a burst of eight strikes in 12 days in late July and August that had set the country on edge. But this one was different: This time the Americans had hit a wedding party. And now the government needed Tuhayf’s help.
The corpses had already started to arrive in the provincial capital of Radaa, and by the next morning angry tribesmen were lining the dead up in the street. Laid out side by side on bright blue tarps and wrapped in cheap blankets, what was left of the men looked distorted by death. Heads were thrown back at awkward angles, splattered with blood that had caked and dried in the hours since the strike. Faces that had been whole were now in pieces, missing chunks of skin and bone, and off to one side, as if he didn’t quite belong, lay a bearded man with no visible wounds.
Clustered around them in a sweaty, jostling circle, dozens of men bumped up against one another as they struggled for position and a peek at the remains. Above the crowd, swaying out over the row of bodies as he hung onto what appeared to be the back of a truck with one hand, a leathery old Yemeni screamed into the crowd. “This is a massacre,” he shouted, his arm slicing through the air. “They were a wedding party.” Dressed in a gray jacket and a dusty beige robe with prayer beads draped over his dagger, the man was shaking with fury as his voice faltered under the strain. “An American drone killed them,” he croaked with another wild gesture from his one free hand. “Look at them.”
A few miles outside of town, Tuhayf already knew what he had to do. This had happened in his backyard; he was one of the shaykhs on the ground. Only three hours south of the capital, the central government held little sway in Radaa. Like a rural sheriff in a disaster zone, he was a local authority, someone who was known and respected. And on Dec. 12, that meant acting as a first responder. Tuhayf needed to assess the situation and deal with the fallout. Every few minutes his phone went off again, the marimba ringtone sounding with yet another update. Already he was hearing reports that angry tribesmen had cut the road north. Frightened municipal employees, worried that they might be targeted, kept calling, begging for his help. So did the governor, who was three hours away at his compound in Sanaa.
It didn’t take Tuhayf long to reach a conclusion. The Americans had made a mess, and to clean it up he was going to need money and guns.
This is the other side of America’s drone program: the part that comes after the missiles fly and the cars explode, when the smoke clears and the bodies are sorted. Because it is here, at desert strike sites across the Middle East, where unsettling questions emerge about culpability and responsibility — about the value of a human life and assessing the true costs of a surgical war.
For much of the past century, the United States has gone to war with lawyers, men and women who follow the fighting, adjudicating claims of civilian casualties and dispensing cash for errors. They write reports and interview survivors. But 
  • what happens when there are no boots on the ground? 
  • When the lawyers are thousands of miles away and dependent on aerial footage that is as ambiguous as it is inconclusive? 
  • How do you determine innocence or guilt from a pre-strike video? 
  • When everyone has beards and guns, like they do in rural Yemen, can you tell the good guys from the bad? Is it even possible? 
  • And when the U.S. gets it wrong, when it kills the wrong man: What happens then? Who is accountable when a drone does the killing?

On Dec. 12, 2013, a U.S. drone carried out a strike in Yemen. Little of what happened that day is known with any degree of certainty. Most of the facts are adrift somewhere in the shadowy sea of a classified world. Identities shift and change depending on the vantage point, and what appears true thousands of feet up in the air often looks different on the ground. Following two reviews, the U.S. claims it was a clean strike and that all the dead were militants. Yemen disagrees, calling the attack a tragic mistake that killed civilians. Two countries, two conclusions. But one of them paid the families of the dead men a lot of money.
Yemen is a U.S. ally that says it approves every drone strike, but it is also so strapped for cash that the government has implemented numerous austerity measures. Either it handed out the money and guns to cover for its partner, or the U.S. privately paid money to the families of men it publicly describes as al-Qaeda while simultaneously promoting the man responsible for the strike. 

In truth, only three things are known for certain: Twelve men are dead, $800,000 in cash was delivered, and the dead can’t be both guilty and innocent …. continued

09 August 2014

The Gaza Siege and the Struggle for Palestine (Part I)

Introduction to the Struggle for Palestine (Part I) by William R. Polk

The Gaza Siege
Chuck Spinney

Siege is the oldest, most primitive, and surest form of warfare, if the besieger has the resources to sustain the  isolation of the besieged.  Therein lies the rub.  For a siege to work, the besieger must seal off the flow of material, energy, and information between the besieged and the outside world.  That takes time and resources.  The starvation requirement also makes siege the most expensive form of warfare.  Not only does a siege consume resources at prodigious rates, the “sunk cost” expenditure phenomenon locks the besieger’s mentality into the game as much as the besieged.  Moreover, the besieger’s task is complicated because necessity is the mother of invention:  The “steady-state” nature of a siege makes it relatively easy for the besieged to orient itself to the nature of the threat and evolve mitigation tactics that marginally lessen the direct effects of a siege.  The mitigation effects prolong a siege's time horizon, thereby forcing the besieger to increase his expenditures.  From time immemorial, such mitigation effects have been seen to build up the moral strength of the besieged, even when they were faced with the certainty of total defeat.  That moral effect makes it difficult for a besieger to end a siege at something less than total victory, because failure can not be hidden if the besieger leaves the battlefield without annihilating the besieged or compelling its unconditional surrender. (The moral effects of Germany's failed siege of Leningrad being a case in point illustrating both the demoralizing effect on the Germans as well as the positive moral effect on the Soviets.)

The latest Gaza War may be a watershed in the Arab - Israeli conflict in the sense that there is a growing world wide revulsion at Israel’s thuggish behaviour.  Israel may be winning tactically, but is losing grand- strategically   This is due in large part to modern communications technologies that make it impossible for Israel to stem the flow of information describing the horrific effects of its brutal actions in Gaza. In short, communications technology has made Gaza a leaky siege in terms of the flow of information.  Even in the United States, recent polls hint that a sea change of attitudes may lie in the offing, with a majority of younger Americans being more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.  Hamas, the besieged fighting force, has staked out a position that has captured the moral high ground — i.e. the Gaza blockade must end, so its people can live normal lives that interact with the world.  Hamas will find it difficult to back away from from this goal.  By putting up a feisty defense, its fighters are becoming gallant heroes to the committed Gazans and Arabs in general, and more importantly, to the uncommitted peoples around around the world.  The fact that Netanyahu recently felt compelled to ask US lawmakers for help in fending off Palestinian claims that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza is an indicator of how this shifting moral balance is affecting the mentality of the besieger.  Netanyahu, ironically, seems concerned that Israel is fast assuming the role of the Romans at Masada and Hamas the role of the martyred Israelites and apparently fears who will live longer in the popular imagination. 

Or consider the tunnels.  With its portrayal of Palestinian tunnels being an existential threat, Israel is both revealing the ingenuity of Palestinian mitigation tactics and exhibiting signs of the kind of hysterical desperation that has effected besiegers from time immemorial: Israel is now consuming resources at a rate that cannot be sustained, yet its only option in searching for a key to victory is to escalate the general level of  barbarity, because the expenditures to date are not having the predicted effect. But escalation requires an expenditure of even more resources that can only be justified by portraying Hamas and Gazans generally as something less than human. (The revolting pictures of Israelis in Siderot gleefully watching the bombing of Gaza illustrates where this mentality leads.) Here again, given the nature of modern communications, all the world is watching.  Moreover, in this particular case, the only way for Israel to obtain the resources is to increase its poisonous intrusion into U.S. domestic politics in a way that becomes more repulsive to more and more American citizens who see the pictures and videos of Gaza.   

In short, the Gaza war is creating a very dangerous, increasingly desperate, unstable situation.  And, because war gains a life of its own, this war can escalate along unpredictable pathways.  Will the Gaza siege, for example, spill over into the West Bank by triggering a 3rd Intifada that threatens Israeli settlements?  Will Israel feel compelled to Annex Area C  because its time window for doing so is perceived to be running out?  Bear in mind, Israel already completely controls Area C which comprises 60% of the land in the West Bank and, by driving Palestinians out of Area C, settlers now outnumber Palestinians.  Moreover, Area C provides Israel with access to water in the West Bank aquifer that supplies one third of Israel's water needs.  So, while no one can predict the future, the Gaza siege has increased the potential for a truly bloody, dehumanizing escalation. 

Such an evolution would convert the West Bank into a multitude of disconnected, parched mini-Gazas, sealed off and under permanent siege by Israel, as can be seen in the attached UN map — the 'tan' areas are those now under some degree of Palestinian control.

How can this all end?  Multiple sieges in perpetuity? Ethnic cleansing? Genocide?

There are no easy answers to these questions.  At the very least, a lasting solution will require wise statesmanship heretofore lacking by world leaders, backed up by informed and determined citizens who understand the historical roots of this never ending intensifying crisis. 

For readers interested in learning more about those roots, this link will take you to Part I of The Struggle for Palestine.  This is the first part of a three part series analyzing those roots.  This is a work in progress, and I will distribute Parts II and III  as they become available.  The Struggle for Palestine as been written by my good friend and well-known historian William R. Polk    He has specialized in the Middle East for over 50 years in academia and government.  The essay is long (10,000 words), but as you will see, the Gaza Crisis has very deep roots indeed.  I urge you to read it. 

18 June 2014

Announcement: Maneuver Warfare: German Experiences in WWII

I am pleased to announce that the following interviews have been converted to electronic format and are now publicly available for downloading.  This entry will be permanently stored in a special page on the Blaster website, immediately to left of this posting.

Chuck Spinney

16 June 2014

Polk Report

How to Evolve an Exit Strategy From America’s Foreign Policy Shambles


Attached beneath my introductory comment is an essay by the American historian William R. Polk.  His subject is the American predilection for non-learning in foreign policy. My comment is intended to set the stage by summarizing the dangerous shambles that now passes for foreign policy in the United States.
Introductory Comment
In a nutshell, recent events in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and Ukraine show there is no grand-strategic focus to America’s increasingly militarized foreign policy.  A German officer in the old imperial army might say, ‘kein Schwerpunkt!’ 
What we call foreign policy and grand strategy in the 21st Century — i.e., that ‘you are either with us or with the terrorists’* — has devolved into a self-righteous welter of bluster, threats, arms transfers, puny demonstrations (e.g., deployments of two or three B-2s), proxy wars, and bombing (especially, targeted liquidations with drones from a safe distance instead of a bullet in the back of the head), all aimed ad hoc in reaction to any crisis du jour.  The pattern is more like a giant whack-a-mole game than a sensible grand strategy aimed at ending conflicts on favorable terms, while paying due regard to strengthening our bonds at home and with our allies, undermining the cohesion of our adversaries, and coping efficiently with the internal constraints limiting our actions.
Consider, please, the following: Last month President Obama announced we would extend our stay in Afghanistan — a war we have clearly lost — until the end of 2016.  Last week, Mr. Obama, after months of procrastination, said he was considering sending weapons to the Syrian Sunni insurgents fighting President Assad.  The most effective of these insurgents are the ISIS Jihadis who are fighting and defeating, as well as stealing or buying weapons from the other insurgents.  This week Mr. Obama opened the door to the possibility of bombing ISIS Jihadis in Iraq to support the floundering Shi’ite government we installed.  Yet, as Patrick Cockburn** of the Independent has reported, the ISIS Jihadis in Syria and Iraq are coalescing into one proto-caliphate in their common Sunni areas (see map below).  This raises the real possibility that we could end up arming and bombing the same Jihadis.  Such a development would increase the potential of unknowable blowbacks throughout the entire region, especially for the Kurdish ethnic groups in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran, as well as the state of Turkey itself (see here).  It is obvious that Obama’s prevarications and reactiveness are, at least in part, reflective of a need to cope with the welter of domestic attacks by his pro-war opponents at home.  And there is more.

Credit: Wikimedia

Consider Libya: Since we fomented the violent downfall and liquidation of Qadaffy by leading “from behind” in Libya in the name of preventing a massacre, that country has become less a nation than a region of murderous tribal warlords, whose predilections for killing people are spilling over into nations to the south like Mali as well as exporting arms and Jihadis to Syria.  The United States supported the return of a military authoritarian government to Egypt that took power by overthrowing and imprisoning the leaders of a duly elected democratic Islamic government.  Israel just turned the American-led peace process with the Palestinians into a sick joke.  And the octopus-like tentacles of AFRICOM are spreading thoughout Africa.
In the Ukraine, Obama’s State Department colluded with a western-leaning cabal that included neo-fascist elements to overthrow a duly elected, if corrupt, government. Afterwards, the Ukrainian elections in May simply rearranged the seating arrangements of some of the same corrupt oligarchs.  Moreover, in response to the Ukraine crisis, the United States is making militarily inconsequential but provocative “show of force” deployments to Eastern Europe and the Black Sea.  There is also talk of increasing aid  and expanding NATO or its influence to Ukraine, Georgia, and even Moldova and Azerbaijan.  Instead of promoting strategic neutrality among the eastern European countries between Russia and the West, we are seeking alliances with distant countries (about which we know very little) in a transparent effort to undermine the historic centerpiece of Russian security since Napoleonic times — strategic depth in the West. Together, these actions have opened up the possibility of starting a new and totally unnecessary cold war with Russia.  And these examples by no means exhaust the list of the 1000 cuts slicing US foreign policy into disconnected pieces, say for example, those in the South China Sea or Iran.
Yet at home, poll after poll says the American people are tired of perpetual war and the accompanying politics of fear (see my essay, The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War).  Moreover, the US economy supporting these adventures is in trouble: recovery from 2008 meltdown has been sluggish, to put it charitably; the banks that created the 2008 meltdown are even bigger and more vulnerable today than when the government bailed them out of their follies; income and wealth inequality have risen to obscene levels, and the American middle class is fast becoming a historical curiosity (see Thomas Piketty’s path breaking work summarized here and here ); the tax base has deteriorated and the private debt to GDP ratio remains at a dangerously high level; and powerful domestic factions with vested interests in staying the course, like the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex, the Banksters, and Big Pharma, effectively own Congress and are using their oligarchal political influence (thanks in part to the Supreme Court’s recent decisions to equate money to free speech) to purchase legislation that ensures their factional welfare remains protected at the expense of the people’s welfare.
In short, the ‘chickens’ of our self-referencing “you are either with us or against us” grand strategy are coming home to roost. At the same time, the domestic will and capacity to correct matters is dangerously atrophying.  This is a problem that should concern all Americans, but our dysfunctional domestic politics are keeping the masses distracted and political decision makers and media elites are focused inward in playing ‘gotcha’ with each other — the current hoohrah surrounding the Bowe Bergdahl POW swap being a case in point.
So what should be done?
My good friend Bill Polk, a historian of American politics and diplomacy, with a concentration on the Middle East, is writing a book on the history of America’s interventionist warmongering.  Based on that effort, he has written the attached essay examining our predilection for non-learning the lessons of past follies.  While Bill’s focus is on our dysfunctional foreign policy as opposed to the factional domestic interests fueling America’s march to folly, all of his recommendations are aimed at exorcising some of the deepest domestic roots of America’s predilection for perpetual war.
I urge you to read Polk’s essay; he has put his finger on the central problem — ignorance and passivity at home, but this problem’s generality and intractability is scary.  His recommendations go to the heart of the matter, but they are quite general.  Indeed, they  go to the heart of the American ideal by recalling James Madison’s famous 4 August 1822 letter to W.T. Barry.  Madison opened that letter by stating the importance of popular education to public accountability by saying, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
Polk is correct:  We need to create a popular government with popular information to displace the politics of “The Post Information Era,” a phrase coined by the the Pentagon Reformers to describe bureaucratic decision making in the last decades of the 20th Century.  How to do that without another American revolution remains an open question.
Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. 
* See Senator Hillary Clinton (Sept 13, 2001) and President George W. Bush (September 20, 2001).
** See these reports:
William R. Polk, June 12, 2014
America appears once again to be on the brink of a war.   This time the war is likely to be in Syria and/or in Iraq.  If we jump into one or both of these wars, they will join, by my count since our independence, about 200 significant military operations (not all of which were legally “wars”) as well as countless “proactive” interventions, regime-change undertakings, covert action schemes and search-and-destroy missions.  In addition the United States has  provided weapons, training and funding for a variety of non-American military and quasi-military forces throughout the world.  Within recent months we have added five new African countries.    History and contemporary events show that we Americans are a warring people.
So we should ask:  what have we learned about ourselves, our adversaries and the process in which we have engaged?
The short answer appears to be “very little.”
As both a historian and a former policy planner for the American government, I will very briefly here (as I have mentioned in a previous essay, I am in the final stages of a book to be called A Warring People, on these issues), illustrate what I mean by “very little.”
I begin with us, the American people.  There is overwhelming historical evidence that war is popular with us.  Politicians from our earliest days as a republic, indeed even before when we were British colonies, could nearly always count on gaining popularity by demonstrating our valor.  Few successful politicians were pacifists.
Even supposed pacifists found reasons to engage in the use of force.  Take the man most often cited as a peacemaker or at least a peaceseeker, Woodrow Wilson.  He promised to “keep us out of war,” by which he meant keeping us out of big, expensive European war. Before becoming president, however, he approved the American conquest of Cuba and the Philippines and described himself as an imperialist; then, as president, he occupied Haiti, sent the Marines into the Dominican Republic and ordered the Cavalry into Mexico.  In 1918, he also put American troops into Russia.  Not only sending soldiers: his administration carried out naval blockades, economic sanctions, covert operations — one of which, allegedly, involved an assassination attempt on a foreign leader — and furnished large-scale arms supplies to insurgents in on-going wars.
The purpose, and explanation, of our wars varied.  I think most of us would agree that our Revolution, the First World War and the Second World War were completely justified.  Probably Korea was also.  The  United States had no choice on the Civil war or, perhaps, on the War of 1812.  Many, particularly those against the Native Americans would today be classified as war crimes.  It is the middle range that seem to me to be the most important to understand.   I see them like this.
Some military ventures were really misadventures in the sense that they were based on misunderstandings or deliberate misinformation.  I think that most students of history would put the Spanish-American, Vietnamese, Iraqi and a few other conflicts in this category.  Our government lied to us — the Spaniards did not blow up the Maine; the Gulf of Tonkin was not a dastardly attack on our innocent ships and Iraq was not about to attack us with a nuclear weapon, which it did not have.
But we citizens listened uncritically.  We did not demand the facts.  It is hard to avoid the charge that we were either complicit, lazy or ignorant.  We did not hold our government to account.
Several wars and other forms of intervention were for supposed local or regional requirements of the Cold War.  We knowingly told one another that the “domino theory” was reality: so a hint of Communist subversion or even criticism of us sent us racing off to protect almost any form of political association that pretended to be on our side.  And we believed or feared that even countries that had little or no connections with one another would topple at the touch — or even before their neighbors appeared to be in trouble.  Therefore, regardless of their domestic political style, monarchy, dictatorship. democracy., it mattered not, they had to be protected.  Our protection often included threats of invasion, actual intervention, paramilitary operations, subversion and/or bribery,  justified by our proclaimed intent to keep them free.  Or at least free from Soviet control.  Included among them were Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Iran,  Indonesia, Vietnam and various African countries.
Some interventions were for acquisition of their resources or protection of our economic assets.  Guatemala, Chile, Iraq, Iran and Indonesia come to mind.
Few, if any,  were to  establish the basis of peace or even to bring about ceasefires.  Those tasks we usually left to the United Nations or regional associations.
The costs have been high.  Just counting recent interventions, they have cost us well over a hundred thousand casualties and some multiple of that in wounded; they have cost “the others”  — both our enemies and our friends — large multiples of those numbers.  The monetary cost is perhaps beyond counting both to them and to us.  Figures range upward from $10 trillion.
The rate of success of these aspects of our foreign policy, even in the Nineteenth century, was low.  Failure to accomplish the desired or professed outcome is shown by the fact that within a few years of the American intervention, the condition that had led to the intervention recurred.  The rate of failure has dramatically increased in recent years.  This is because we are operating in a world that is increasingly politically sensitive.  Today even poor, weak, uneducated  and corrupt nations become focused by the actions of foreigners.  Whereas before, a few members of the native elite made the decisions, today we face “fronts.” parties, tribes and independent opinion leaders.   So the “window of opportunity” for foreign intervention, once at least occasionally partly open, is now often shut.
I will briefly focus on five aspects of this transformation:
First, nationalism has been and remains the predominant way of political thought of most of the world’s people.  Its power has long been strong (even when we called it by other names) but it began to be amplified and focused by Communism in the late Nineteenth century.  Today,  nationalism in Africa, much of Asia and parts of Europe is increasingly magnified by the rebirth of Islam in the salafiyah movement.
Attempts to crush these nationalist-ideological-religious-cultural movements militarily have generally failed.  Even when, or indeed especially when, foreigners arrive on the scene, natives put aside their mutual hostilities to unite against them.  We saw this particularly vividly and painfully in Somalia.   The Russians saw it in Çeçnaya and the Chinese, among the Uyghur peoples of  Xinjiang  (former Chinese Turkistan).
Second, outside intervention has usually weakened moderate or conservative forces or tendencies within each movement.  Those espousing the most extreme positions are less likely to be suborned or defeated  than the moderates.  Thus particularly in a protracted hostilities, are more likely to take charge than their rivals.  We have seen this tendency in each of the guerrilla wars in which we got involved; for the situation today, look at the insurgent movements in Syria and Iraq.  (For my analysis of the philosophy and strategy of the Muslim extremists, see my essay “Sayyid Qutub’s Fundamentalism and Abu Bakr Naji’s Jihadism” on my website, www.williampolk.com/.)
What is true of the movements is even more evident in the effects on civic institutions and practices within an embattled society.  In times of acute national danger, the “center”  does not hold.  Centrists  get caught between the insurgents and the regimes.   Insurgents have to destroy their relationship to society and government  if they are to “win.”   Thus, in Vietnam for example, doctors and teachers, who interfaced between government and the general population were prime targets for the Vietminh in the 1950s.
And, as the leaders of governments against whom the insurgents are fighting become more desperate, they suppress those of their perceived rivals or critics they can reach.   By default, these people are civilians who are active in the political parties, the media and the judiciary .  And, as their hold on power erodes and “victory” becomes less likely, regimes  also seek to create for themselves safe havens by stealing money and sending it abroad.  Thus, the institutions of government are weakened and the range of enemies widens.  We have witnessed these two aspects of “corruption” — both political and economic — in a number of countries.  Recent examples are Vietnam and Afghanistan.
In Vietnam at least by 1962 the senior members of the regime had essentially given up the fight.  Even then they were preparing to bolt the country.   And the army commanders were focused on earning money that they sold the bullets and guns we gave them to the Vietminh.  In Afghanistan, the regime’s  involvement in the drug trade, its draining of the national treasury into foreign private bank accounts (as even Mr. Karzai admitted) and in “pickpocketing” hundreds of millions of dollars from aid projects is well documented.  (http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/inspections/SIGAR-14-62-IP.pdf., the monthly reports of the American Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.)
Third, our institutional memory of programs, events and trends is shallow.  I suggest that it usually is no longer than a decade.  Thus, we repeat policies even when the record clearly shows that they did not work when previously tried. And we address each challenge as though it is unprecedented.   We forget the American folk saying that when you find yourself in a hole, the best course of action is to stop digging.  It isn’t only that our government (and the thousands of “experts,” tacticians and strategists it hires) do not “remember” but also that they have at hand only one convenient tool — the shovel.  What did we learn from Vietnam?  Get a bigger, sharper shovel.
Fourth, despite or perhaps in part because of our immigrant origins, we are a profoundly insular people.  Few of us have much appreciation of non-American cultures and even less fellow feeling for them.  Within a generation or so,  few immigrants can even speak the language of their grand parents.  Many of us are ashamed of our ethnic origins.
Thus, for example, at the end of the Second World War, despite many of us being of German or Italian or Japanese cultural background, we were markedly deficient in people who could help implement our policies in those countries.  We literally threw away the language and culture of grandparents.   A few years later, when I began to study Arabic, there were said to be only five Americans not of Arab origin who knew the language.  Beyond language, grasp of the broader range of culture petered off to near zero.  Today, after the expenditure of  significant government subsidies to universities (in the National Defense Education Act) to teach “strategic” languages, the situation should be better.  But, while we now know much more, I doubt that we understand other peoples much better.
If this is true of language, it is more true of more complex aspects of cultural heritage.  Take Somalia as an example.  Somalia was not, as the media put it, a “failed state;” it was and is a “non-state.”  That is, the Somalis do not base their effective identity on being members of a nation state.  Like almost everyone in the world did before recent centuries, they thought of themselves as members of clans, tribes, ethnic or religious assemblies or territories.  It is we, not they, who have redefined political identity.  We forget that the nation-state is a concept that was born in Europe only a  few centuries ago and became accepted only late in the Nineteenth century in Germany and Italy.  For the Somalis, it is still an alien construct.  So, not surprisingly,  our attempt to force them or entice them to shape up and act within our definition of statehood has not worked.   And Somalia is not alone.  And not only in Africa.  Former Yugoslavia is a prime example: to be ‘balkanized’ has entered our language.  And, if we peek under the flags of Indonesia, Burma, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Congo,  Mali, the Sudan and other nation-states we find powerful forces of separate ethnic nationalisms.
The effects of relations among many of the peoples of Asia and Africa and some of the Latin Americans have created new political and social configurations and imbalances within and among them.    With European and American help, the  governments with which we deal have acquired more effective tools of repression.  They can usually defeat the challenges of traditional groups.  But, not always.   Where they do not acquire legitimacy in the eyes of significant groups — “nations” — states risk debilitating, long-term struggles.  These struggles are, in part, the result of the long years of imperial rule and colonial settlement.   Since Roman times, foreign rulers have sought to cut expenses by governing through local proxies.  Thus, the British turned over to the Copts the unpopular task of collecting Egyptian taxes and to the Assyrians the assignment of controlling the Iraqi Sunnis.  The echo of these years is what we observe in much of the “Third World” today.  Ethnic, religious and economic jealousies abound and the wounds of imperialism and colonialism have rarely completely healed.   We may not be sensitive to them, but to natives they may remain painful.  Americans may be the “new boys on the block,” but these memories have often been transferred to us.
Finally, fifth, as the preeminent nation-state, America has a vast reach.  There is practically no area of the world in which we do not have one sort of interest or another.  We have over a thousand military bases in more than a hundred countries; we trade, buy and sell, manufacture or give away goods and money all over Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe.  We train, equip and subsidize dozens of armies and even more paramilitary or “Special” forces.   This diversity is, obviously, a source of strength and richness, but, less obviously, it generates conflicts between what we wish to accomplish in one country and what we think we need to accomplish in another.  At the very least, handling or balancing our diverse aims within acceptable means and at a reasonable cost is a challenge.
It is a challenge that we seem less and less able to meet.
Take Iraq as an example.  As a  corollary of our hostility to Saddam Husain, we essentially turned Iraq over to his enemies, the Iraqi Shia Muslim. (I deal with this in my Understanding Iraq, New York: HarperCollins, 2005, 171 ff.) There was some justification for this policy.  The Shia community has long been Iraq’s majority and because they were Saddam’s enemies, some “experts” naively thought they would become our friends.  But immediately two negative aspects of our policy  became evident:  non-specialists:  first, the Shias took vengeance on the Sunni Muslim community and so threw the country into a vicious civil war .  What we called pacification amounted to ethnic cleansing.  And, second, the Shia Iraqi leaders (the marjiaah)  made common cause with coreligionist Iranians with whom we were nearly at war all during the second Bush administration.  Had war with Iran eventuated, our troops in Iraq would have been more hostages than occupiers.  At several points, we had the opportunity to form a more coherent, moral and safer policy.  I don’t see evidence that our government or our occupation civil and military authorities even grasped the problem;  certainly they did not find ways to work toward a solution.  Whatever else may be said about it, our policy was dysfunctional.
I deserve to be challenged on this statement:  I am measuring (with perhaps now somewhat weakened hindsight) recent failures against what we tried to do in the Policy Planning Council in the early 1960s.    If our objective is, as we identify it, to make the world at least safe, even if not safe for democracy, we are much worse off today than we were then.  We policy planners surely then made many significant mistakes (and were often not heeded), but I would argue that we worked within a more coherent framework than our government does today.  Increasingly, it seems to me that we are in a mode of leaping from one crisis to the next without having understood the first or anticipating the second.  I see no strategic concept; only tactical jumps and jabs.
So what to do?
At the time of the writing of the American Constitution, one of our Founding Fathers, Gouverneur Morris, remarked that part of the task he and others of the authors  put it, was  “to save the people from their most dangerous enemy, themselves.”   Translated to our times, this is to guard against our being “gun slingers.”  All the delegates were frightened by militarism and sought to do the absolute minimum required to protect the country from attack.  They refused the government permission to engage in armed actions against foreigners except in defense.  I believe they would have been horrified, if they could have conceived it, by the national security state we have become.  They certainly did not look to the military to solve problems of policy.  They would have agreed, I feel sure, that very few of the problems we face in the world today could be solved by military means   So,  even when we decide to employ military means,  we need to consider not only the immediate but the long-term effects of our actions.   We have, at least, the experience and the intellectual tools to do so.  So why have we not?
We have been frequently misled by the success of our postwar policies toward both Germany and Japan.  We successfully helped those two countries to embark upon a new era.  And, during the employment of the Truman Doctrine in Greece, the civil war there ended.   There were special reasons for all three being exceptions.  Perhaps consequent to those successes, when we decided to destroy the regimes of Saddam Husain and Muammar Qaddafi, we gave little thought of what would follow. We more or less just assumed that things would get better.  They did not.  The societies imploded.  Had we similarly gone into Iran, the results would have been a moral, legal and economic disaster.  Now we know — or should know –  that unless the risk is justified, as our Constitution demands it be by an imminent armed attack on the United States, we should not make proactive war on foreign nations.  We have sworn not to do so in the treaty by which we joined the United Nations .  In short, we need to be law abiding,  and we should look before we leap.
Our ability to do any of these things will depend on several decisions.
The first is to be realistic:  there is no switch we can flip to change our capacities.  To look for quick and easy solutions is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The second  is a matter of will and the costs and penalties that attach to it.  We would be more careful in foreign adventures if we had to pay for them in both blood and treasure as they occurred. That is, “in real time.”  We now avoid this by borrowing money abroad and by inducing or bribing vulnerable members of our society and foreigners to fight for us..  All our young men and women should know that they will be obliged to serve if we get into war, and we should not be able to defer to future generations the costs of our ventures.  We should agree to pay for them through immediate taxes rather than foreign loans.
The third is to demand accountability.  Our government should be legally obligated to tell us the truth.  If it does not, the responsible officials should be prosecuted in our courts and,  if they violate our treaties or international law, they should have to  come before the World Court of Justice.  We now let them off scot-free.  The only “culprits” are those who carry out their orders.
Fourthin the longer term, the only answer to the desire for better policy is better public education.  For a democracy to function, its citizens must be engaged.  They cannot be usefully engaged if they are not informed.  Yet few Americans know even our own laws on our role in world affairs.   Probably even fewer know the history of our actions abroad — that is, what we have done in the past with what results and at what cost.
And as a people we are woefully ignorant about other peoples and countries.   Polls indicate that few Americans even know the locations of other nations.  The saying that God created war to teach American geography is sacrilegious.  If this was God’s purpose, He  failed.  And beyond geography, concerning other people’s politics, cultures and traditions, there is a nearly blank page.  Isn’t it time we picked up the attempt made by such men as Sumner Wells  (with his An Intelligent American’s Guide to the Peace and his American Foreign Policy Library), Robert Hutchins, James Conant and others (with the General Education programs in colleges and universities) and various other failed efforts to make us a part of humanity?
On the surface, at least, resurrecting these programs is just a matter of (a small amount of) money.  But results won’t come overnight.  Our education system is stogy, our teachers are poorly trained and poorly paid, and we, the consumers, are distracted by quicker, easier gratifications than learning about world affairs.  I had hoped that we would learn from the “real schools” of  Vietnam and other failures, but we did not.  The snippets of information which pass over our heads each day do not and cannot make a coherent pattern.  Absent a matrix into which to place “news,” it is meaningless.   I have suggested in a previous essay that we are in a situation like a computer without a program.  We get the noise, but without a means to “read” it, it is just gibberish.
Our biggest challenge therefore comes down to us:  unless or until we find a better system of teaching, of becoming aware that we need to learn and a desire to acquire the tools of citizenship, we cannot hope to move toward a safer, more enriching future.
This is a long-term task.
We had better get started.

William R. Polk  (see bio)  was a member of the Policy Planning Council of the State Department during the Kennedy Administration and is a historian, who specializes in the Middle East.  He is the author of many books, including Violent Politics: Insurgency and Terrorism, Understanding Iraq, Understanding Iran.  He lives in Vence, France