14 April 2017

Gas Attack in Syria: Cui Bono?


In the attached opinion piece, Uri Avnery, Israel’s leading peace activist, brilliantly dissects the question of whether or not Syrian President Bashar Assad had any incentive to launch the recent gas attack on his own people in Idlib, Syria.  In so doing, Avnery ends up with the deeper question of whether President Trump’s recent cruise missile attack on Syria was motivated by serious strategic military objectives or was simply a spasmodic reaction triggered by a toxic concatenation of domestic political interests with yellow journalism.  
Avnery is a self taught man of letters and a sensitive observer of the intersection of contemporary Arab culture with Israeli culture.  He is now in his mid nineties, having emigrated to Israel from Germany in the 1930s.  One of the last remaining prominent advocates of the so-called “Two State Solution" to the Arab-Israeli question, Avnery has an amazing personal trajectory: In his youth, he was a member of the Israeli terrorist organization, the Irgun, he was a hero of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and has served in the Israeli parliament — the Knesset.  Since the 1948 war, sometimes at great personal risk, Avnery has worked tirelessly for peace in the Middle East.  Today he is the spiritual leader of the Gush Shalam peace movement in Israel.  Interested readers can view this video celebrating his amazing bio.

CUI BONO? 
Uri Avnery, 15 April 2017
CUI BONO – "who benefits" – is the first question an experienced detective asks when investigating a crime.
Since I was a detective myself for a short time in my youth, I know the meaning. Often, the first and obvious suspicion is false. You ask yourself "cui bono", and another suspect, who you did not think about, appears.
For two weeks now, this question has been troubling my mind. It does not leave me.
In Syria, a terrible war crime has been committed. The civilian population in a rebel-held town called Idlib was hit with poison gas. Dozens of civilians, including children, died a miserable death.
Who could do such a thing? The answer was obvious: that terrible dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Who else?
And so, within a few minutes (literally) the New York Times and a host of excellent newspapers throughout the West proclaimed without hesitation: Assad did it!
No need for proof. No investigation. It was just self-evident. Of course Assad. Within minutes, everybody knew it.
A storm of indignation swept the Western world. He must be punished! Poor Donald Trump, who does not have a clue, submitted to pressure and ordered a senseless missile strike on a Syrian airfield, after preaching for years that the US must under no circumstances get involved in Syria. Suddenly he reversed himself. Just to teach that bastard a lesson. And to show the world what a he-he-he-man he, Trump, really is.
The operation was an immense success. Overnight, the despised Trump became a national hero. Even liberals kissed his feet.
BUT THROUGHOUT, that question continued to nag my mind. Why did Assad do it? What did he have to gain?
The simple answer is: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
("Assad" means "lion" in Arabic. Contrary to what Western experts and statesmen seem to believe, the emphasis is on the first syllable.)
With the help of Russia, Iran and Hizbullah, Assad is slowly winning the civil war that has been ravishing Syria for years, He already holds almost all the major cities that constitute the core of Syria. He has enough weapons to kill as many enemy civilians as his heart desires.
So why, for Allah's sake, should he use gas to kill a few dozen more? Why arouse the anger of the entire world, inviting American intervention?
There is no way to deny the conclusion: Assad had the least to gain from the dastardly deed. On the list of "cui bono", he is the very last.
Assad is a cynical dictator, perhaps cruel, but he is far from being a fool. He was raised by his father, Hafez al-Assad, who was a long-time dictator before him. Even if he were a fool, his advisors include some of the cleverest people on earth: Vladimir Putin of Russia, Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbullah.
So who had something to gain? Well, half a dozen Syrian sects and militias who are fighting against Assad and against each other in the crazy civil war. Also their Sunni Arab allies, the Saudi and other Gulf Sheikhs. And Israel, of course. They all have an interest in arousing the civilized world against the Syrian dictator.
Simple logic.
A MILITARY act must have a political aim. As Carl von Clausewitz famously said 200 years ago: war is the continuation of politics by other means.
The two main opponents in the Syrian civil war are the Assad regime and Daesh. So what is the aim of the US? It sounds like a joke: The US wants to destroy both sides. Another joke: First it wants to destroy Daesh, therefore it bombs Assad.
The destruction of Daesh is highly desirable. There are few more detestable groups in the world. But Daesh is an idea, rather than just an organization. The destruction of the Daesh state would disperse thousands of dedicated assassins all over the world.
(Interestingly enough, the original Assassins, some 900 years ago, were Muslim fanatics very similar to Daesh now.)
America's own clients in Syria are a sorry lot, almost beaten. They have no chance of winning.
Hurting Assad now just means prolonging a civil war which is now even more senseless than before.
FOR ME, a professional journalist most of my life, the most depressing aspect of this whole chapter is the influence of the American and Western media in general.
I read the New York Times and admire it. Yet it shredded all its professional standards by publishing an unproven assumption as gospel truth, with no need for verification. Perhaps Assad is to blame, after all. But where is the proof? Who investigated, and what were the results?
Worse, the "news" immediately became a world-wide truth. Many millions repeat it unthinkingly as self-evident, like sunrise in the east and sunset in the west.
No questions raised. No proof demanded or provided. Very depressing.
BACK TO the dictator. Why does Syria need a dictator? Why isn't it a beautiful US-style democracy? Why doesn't it gratefully accept US-devised "regime-change"?
The Syrian dictatorship is no accidental phenomenon. It has very concrete roots.
Syria was created by France after World War I. A part of it later split off and became Lebanon.
Both are artificial creations. I doubt whether there are even today real "Syrians" and real "Lebanese".
Lebanon is a mountainous country, ideally suited for small sects which need to defend themselves. Over the centuries, many small sects found refuge there. As a result, Lebanon is full of such sects, which distrust each other – Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, Maronite Christians, many other Christian sects, Druze, Kurds.
Syria is much the same, with most of the same sects, and the addition of the Alawites. These, like the Shiites, are the followers of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, cousin and son-in-law of the prophet (hence the name). They occupy a patch of land in the North of Syria.
Both countries needed to invent a system that allowed such diverse and mutually-suspicious entities to live together. They found two different systems.
In Lebanon, with a past of many brutal civil wars, they invented a way of sharing. The President is always a Maronite, the Prime Minister a Sunni, the commander of the army a Druze, and the Speaker of Parliament a Shiite.
When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, the Shiites in the south were the lowest on the ladder. They welcomed our soldiers with rice. But soon they realized that the Israelis had not come just to defeat their overbearing neighbors, but intended to stay. So the lowly Shiites started a very successful guerrilla campaign, in the course of which they became the most powerful community in Lebanon. They are led by Hizballah, the Party of Allah. But the system still holds.
The Syrians found another solution. They willingly submitted to a dictatorship, to hold the country together and assure internal peace.
The Bible tells us that when the Children of Israel decided that they needed a king, they chose a man called Saul who belonged to the smallest tribe, Binyamin. The modern Syrians did much the same: they submitted to a dictator from one of their smallest tribes: the Alawites.
The Assads are secular, anti-religious rulers – the very opposite of the fanatical, murderous Daesh. Many Muslims believe that the Alawites are not Muslims at all. Since Syria lost the Yom Kippur war against Israel, 44 years ago, the Assads have kept the peace on our border, though Israel has annexed the Syrian Golan Heights.
The civil war in Syria is still going on. Everybody is fighting against everybody. The diverse groups of "rebels", created, financed and armed by the US, are now in a bad shape. There are several competing groups of Jihadists, who all hate the Jihadist Daesh. There is a Kurdish enclave, which wants to secede. The Kurds are not Arabs, but are mainly Muslims. There are Kurdish enclaves in neighboring Turkey, Iraq and Iran, whose mutual hostility prevents them making common cause.
And there is poor, innocent Donald Trump, who has sworn not to get involved in all this mess, and who is doing just that.
A day before, Trump was despised by half the American people, including most of the media. Just by launching a few missiles, he has won general admiration as a forceful and wise leader.

What does that say about the American people, and about humanity in general?

12 April 2017

The Malleable Bi-Partisan Utility of Poison Gas


If there was a centerpiece to Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign for President of the United States, it was her struggle to convince the American people that Donald Trump was congenitally incapable of reacting rationally when surprised by a dangerous international crisis.  She struggled futilely to contrast her experience and gravitas to Trump’s reckless impulsiveness.  In a rational world, the recent Trumpian brain fart of firing  59 cruise missiles (worth about $90 million) at a nearly empty — and forewarned —  Syrian airfield should be a candidate case study to test Clinton’s psychological theory. But it won’t be. Mr. Trump merely did what Ms. Clinton called on him to do (see this video) a few hours prior to the attack.  Moreover, the political response to Trump’s attack has been one of widespread bipartisan support, with particular enthusiasm among senior Democrats [e.g, see 12  3]    

Trump's cruise missile attack was launched in reaction to the unproved (at least the American public has not been presented with the proof of) allegation that President Assad of Syria dropped poison gas bombs on his own people in Idlib province. This link will take you to an official statement of the assertions that now pass for evidence supporting the allegation.  Note the absence of photographic evidence of the mass casualties would attend any attack by weapons-grade sarin gas in a populated area.  

So, Trump’s allegation is a hypothesis taking the form of a narrative.  Bear in mind a “narrative” is simply a story consisting of real or imaginary connected events.  In this case, there are at least two alternative hypotheses, each made plausible in part by the limited nature of this particular gas horror: One alternative hypothesis is that the chemical release was a false flag operation concocted by jihadi rebels to trick the US and its allies to more actively join their war for regime change in Syria.  Another alternative hypothesis is that Assad's Air Force unwittingly bombed a Jihadi ammo dump containing chemical weapons. The rebels have long been suspected of having access to a primitive chemical weapons capability that would be more consistent with the nature of civilian deaths than would be the case if Assad used of weapons-grade sarin gas as suggested by Hillary Clinton and the White House.  The simple fact is that the American people have not been presented with a “slam dunk” proof of which, if any, of these hypotheses is closest to being the truth.  For now, the proof is “trust us."

There is, however, a reason to be suspicious of the government’s claims: Uri Avery, a hero of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, and Israel's leading human rights advocate, for example, penned a scathing critique of the White House "narrative."  Moreover, American politicians have a long and sordid history of manipulating public perceptions and constructing “narratives” with regard to the use of poison gas to kill large numbers of defenseless civilians in the Middle East.  The attached article by my good friend Andrew Cockburn offers an important reminder in this regard.   Andrew's subject — poison gas, war in the Middle East, and the malleable bipartisan utility it has offered to cynical US politicians — is a dispassionate warning that is particularly timely, given the hysterical nature of contemporary political debate in the United States.  It is leanly written but chock a block with information about real — not imaginary — events.  It is worth careful study. 


An Inconvenient Truth
In 1988 US officials helped disguise Saddam's chemical attack on Halabja. But when it came time to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, they acted outraged.
By Andrew Cockburn, The Nation, AUGUST 23, 2007
If the United States ever possessed a shred of moral authority for the invasion of Iraq, it came from Halabja, a Kurdish town of about 70,000 people nestling in a bowl in front of the towering mountain chain that fringes Iraq’s northeast frontier with Iran. Halabja was once famous among Kurds as the “city of poets,” and the townspeople were known for their love of books. It is doubtful that George W. Bush had ever heard of the poets, but he did find it useful to know that in 1988 Halabjans were the victims of the largest use of chemical weapons against a civilian population in history, thereby providing inspiration for Bush’s repeated observation that Saddam was “evil” and had “gassed his own people.”
Like Guernica or My Lai, Halabja (in Kurdish, “the wrong place”) suffered an experience of mass murder intense enough to transform the town’s very name into a historical event. That event occurred on the afternoon of March 16, 1988–a cold but pleasant day, with occasional showers, notes Joost Hiltermann in A Poisonous Affair  his comprehensive and powerful delineation not only of what happened that day but of all those who helped bring it about. The day before, Kurdish fighters, with Iranian encouragement and support, had occupied the town after driving out Iraqi government troops. Now the Iraqi air force had returned to deliver Saddam’s response.  (continued)

10 April 2017

Former UK Ambassador to Syria Goes Off Message


Oops!



"Trump has just given jihadis a thousand reasons to stage fake flag operations" BBC News

24 February 2017

Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia


Chuck Spinney and Pierre Sprey

[Appeared in Counterpunch, reposted in Consortium NewsRon Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, and Moyers & Company]
The Nuclear Question is becoming increasingly obfuscated by spin and lobbying as the West sleepwalks into Cold War II — a walk made all the more dangerous when the loose lips of the U.S. tweeter-in-chief announced that another nuclear arms race is a great idea (see link, link, link).  Two Cold War II issues are central and almost never addressed: What will be the Russians' understanding of all the propaganda surrounding the Nuclear Question and the looming American defense spendup? And how might they act on this understanding?  
Background
Barack Obama first outlined his vision for nuclear disarmament in a speech in Prague on 5 April 2009, less than three months after becoming President.  This speech became the basis for what eventually became the New Start nuclear arms limitation treaty.  But Mr. Obama also opened the door for the modernization of our nuclear forces with this pregnant statement: 
“To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same. Make no mistake: As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies –- including the Czech Republic.” 
Why call for nuclear disarmament while opening the door to nuclear rearmament?  
Obama’s speech paved the way to his Nobel Peace Prize in October 2009, but he was also trying to manipulate the domestic politics of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC).  By 15 December 2009, 41 Senators sent a letter to President Obama saying that further reductions of the nuclear arsenal would be acceptable only if accompanied by "a significant program to modernize our nuclear deterrent."
Viewed in retrospect, it is clear that the new President — either naively or cynically — acquiesced to that senatorial spending demand in order to keep the powerful nuclear laboratories and their allies in the defense industry and Congress from lobbying against his new arms limitation treaty.  In April 2009 Obama took the first steps that launched a huge spending plan to modernize U.S. nuclear forces across the board.  Eight years later, during his first call to President Putin on 28 January 2017, President Trump locked that program in place by denouncing Obama’s New START as a “bad deal,” saying it favored Russia.
A particularly dangerous component of the Obama nuclear spending plan is the acquisition of low-yield precision-guided nuclear bombs/warheads.  These weapons only make sense within a radical strategy for actually fighting a nuclear war -- as opposed to the almost universally accepted idea that our nuclear arsenal exists only to deter any thought of using these weapons — since actual use is unthinkable, with profoundly unknowable consequences.  Last December, the prestigious Defense Science Board — an organization replete with members closely connected to the nuclear labs and their defense industry allies — added its imprimatur  to this radical strategy by resurrecting the old and discredited ideas of limited nuclear options (LNOs).  LNOs are based on the unproven — and unprovable — hypothesis that a president could actually detonate a few nukes to control a gradually escalating nuclear bombing campaign, or perhaps to implement a psychological tactic of encouraging deterrence with a few small "preventative" nuclear explosions.
Adding to Obama's expansion of our nuclear posture is President Trump’s intention to fulfill his campaign promises to strengthen all nuclear offensive and defensive forces, with particular emphasis on spending a lot more for the ballistic missile defense (BMD) program — which implies expanding the current deployments of BMD weapons in eastern Europe within a few hundred miles of the Russian border.  
Early cost estimates — really guesses — for Obama's entire nuclear modernization program are for one trillion dollars over the next 30 years.  No missile defense costs are included in this estimate — nor are the costs of Trump's promised expansions.  
The components of the currently authorized program — e.g., a new bomber, a new ballistic missile carrying submarine, a new ICBM, a new air-launched cruise missile, a complete remanufacturing upgrade of the existing B-61 dial-a-yield tactical nuclear bomb that also adds a precision guidance kit, a new family of missile warheads, new nuclear warhead production facilities, and a massive array of new large-scale intelligence, surveillance, command and control systems to manage these forces — are all in the early stages of development.  Assuming business as usual continues in the Pentagon, the one-trillion dollar estimate is really a typical front-loaded or “buy-in” estimate intended to stick the camel’s nose in the acquisition tent by deliberately understating future costs while over-promising future benefits.   
The money for all of these programs is just beginning to flow into hundreds of congressional districts.  As the torrent of money builds up over the next decade, the flood of sub-contracting money and jobs in hundreds of congressional districts guarantees the entire nuclear spend-up will acquire a political life of its own — and the taxpayer will be burdened with yet another unstoppable behemoth.  
Readers who doubt this outcome need only look at how the problem-plagued F-35 Strike Fighter lives on, resisting reductions in money flows and even receiving congressional add-ons, despite mind-numbing effectiveness shortfalls, technical failures and unending schedule delays (e.g., see this recent 60 page report by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation).  
Locking hundreds of congressmen and senators into this nuclear modernization program guarantees that the money flow and cost overruns will increase without interference for the next thirty to fifty years.  Our many years of observing and analyzing DoD’s largest politically-engineered acquisitions makes it obvious that the initial buy-in guess of a trillion dollar total will turn into at least a three trillion dollar price tag by the end of three decades.  In short, the Pentagon is planting the seed money for another F-35-like disaster, only this time on steroids.
But there is more.  Once this multi-trillion dollar, self-sustaining money gusher is sluicing steadily into the boiler rooms of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC), U.S. force deployments, alliances, treaties and threat assessments will be shaped even more heavily than now to support the domestic politics of ever-increasing spending for the MICC.  Despite this, our nation’s foreign policy mandarins seeking to steer the ship of state from their perch on Mount Olympus will remain oblivious to the fact that their "policy" steering wheel is not connected to the ship’s rudder.  
As one perceptive Pentagon wag succinctly observed years ago, “In the real world, foreign policy stops at the water’s edge,” i.e., the domestic politics of the MICC always trump foreign policy.  President Eisenhower understood this, though he did nothing about it before leaving office.
As of now, no one in the MICC really gives a damn how the Russians (or the Chinese) might actually react to America’s looming nuclear (and non-nuclear) spending binge.  This is clearly seen in the cognitive dissonance of the Obama Defense Department: It was torn between insisting the Russians are not the target of the nuclear program but at the same time justifying the nuclear build up as a means to counter Russian conventional aggression.  Equally revealing, an 8 February editorial in the Pentagon's favored house organ, Defense News, described President Trump’s upcoming Nuclear Posture Review without once mentioning the Russians or Chinese nor how they might react to the looming American spending spree.  On the other hand, the editorial took great pains to explain in detail how the forces of domestic political consensus will ensure steady funding for Obama’s nuclear spending plans throughout the Trump Administration years.   
Do Actions Trigger Reactions (1)?
So, how might the Russians react to the threat of increased American defense budgets?  
Lets try to look at the nuclear modernization program — and the looming defense spendup — from the Russian leadership's point of view.
The Russians, particularly those internal political and industrial factions that benefit from Russian defense spending, are very likely to characterize the American spending program as an aggressive sharpening of the U.S. nuclear sword and a strengthening of its nuclear shield, synchronized with a threatening buildup of America’s conventional force. And that will be used to argue that Russia is spending far too little on defense because it faces an existential threat due to increased American spending.  
Don’t laugh, this is a mirror image of the argument used successfully by President Ronald Reagan in a televised address to the nation on 22 November 1982.  His subject was also nuclear strategy, as well as the need to increase America’s entire defense budget. Reagan said [excerpted from pp. 3-5],
“You often hear that the United States and the Soviet Union are in an arms race. The truth is that while the Soviet Union has raced, we have not. As you can see from this blue US line in constant dollars our defense spending in the 1960s went up because of Vietnam and then it went downward through much of the 1970s. Now, follow the red line, which is Soviet spending. It has gone up and up and up.” …
"The combination of the Soviets spending more and the United States spending proportionately less changed the military balance and weakened our deterrent. Today, in virtually every measure of military power, the Soviet Union enjoys a decided advantage” …
If my defense proposals are passed, it will still take five years before we come close to the Soviet level. 
Mirror imaging Reagan’s argument, Russian defense advocates emphasizing the dangers of the U.S. spendup are likely to point out that the United States and its allies are already spending far more on their military forces than Russia is spending. Moreover, America certainly intends to rapidly increase the size of this spending advantage, because the large new American nuclear modernization program is only part of a yet-larger long term spending buildup.
After all, have not President Trump and Senator McCain proposed  huge increases to President Obama’s defense budget to rebuild what Messrs. Trump and McCain claim is a “depleted” military (see link 1 and link 2 respectively)?  Advocates of increased Russian defense budgets might also ask, are not Messrs. Trump and McCain declaring an emergency by calling on Congress to exempt defense spending from the spending restrictions imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011
Indeed, Russian politicians, echoing Mr. Reagan in 1981, might construct a graphic using the West’s own numbers to prove their points, beginning perhaps with something like this (Chart 2):
Chart 2
A Russian defense advocate using the Janes’ metric in Chart 2 could argue that (1) Russia is now spending slightly less than Saudi Arabia, less than India, and less than the UK; (2) the size of Russia’s budget is only a quarter of China’s; and (3) the size of Russia’s defense budget is an astonishing one-twelfth of that of the United States!  
Add to the U.S. defense budget the contributions of its allies and close friends and the spending balance in favor the U.S. and its allies to that of Russia alone becomes an astounding 21 to 1! Even if Russia could trust China to be a reliable ally — which it can’t — the current spending imbalance is over four to one in favor of the U.S. and its allies on the one hand and Russia and China on the other. 
Advocates of increased Russian defense spending might even argue their comparison does not suffer from the gross distortions created by Reagan’s earlier chart because (1) the Ruble was not convertible into dollars in 1982 (whereas it is today), and Reagan’s comparison severely overstated Soviet spending levels using an artificial exchange rate; and (2) the dollar numbers in their Chart 2 comparison start from zero, unlike the deliberately truncated dollar scale (100 to 275) Reagan used in Chart 1 to exaggerate his point.
Do Actions Trigger Reactions (II)?
Of course, from a Russian leader’s point of view, the strategic threat goes well beyond the madness implied by the asymmetries in defense budgets.  
They might see the Trumpian expansion of both nuclear offense and missile defense as evidence the U.S. is planning to dominate Russia by preparing to fight and win a nuclear war — a radical shift from America's 50+ years of building nuclear forces only for deterrence (often referred to as Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD).
Faced with such a threat, militarist factions inside Russia are likely to insist on a rational application of the precautionary principle by the Russian nation.  
That principle will dictate a response, presumably a massive Russian nuclear arms race with the United States.  The obvious fact that the politically engineered U.S. nuclear program cannot be reined in or terminated by politicians in the U.S. is almost certainly understood by the Russians.  But that appreciation would serve merely to magnify the sense of menace perceived by patriotic Russian leaders.
Bear in mind, the Russians are unlikely to view the emerging nuclear menace in isolation.  For one thing, there is the toxic question of NATO’s expansion and the mistrust it created.
The vast majority of Russians, including former President Gorbachev, President Putin, and Prime Minister Medvedev, believe strongly that the U.S. and the West violated their verbal promises not to expand NATO eastward in return for the Soviet Union’s acquiescence to the unification of Germany as a member of NATO.  Many leaders of the West have either denied any promises were made or downplayed the import of any such understandings.  But reporters from the German weekly Der Spiegel discovered documents in western archives that supported the Russian point of view, and on 26 November 2009 published an investigative report concluding …
“After speaking with many of those involved and examining previously classified British and German documents in detail, SPIEGEL has concluded that there was no doubt that the West did everything it could to give the Soviets the impression that NATO membership was out of the question for countries like Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia.”
One thing is beyond dispute: The impression or understanding or promise not to expand NATO was broken by President Clinton — largely for domestic political reasons — making a mockery of President Gorbachev’s hopeful vision of a greater European home.  
Clinton announced support for NATO expansion in October of 1996, just before the November election, to garner conservative and hawk votes, the votes of Americans of Eastern European descent, and in response to an intense NATO expansion lobbying campaign mounted by the MICC — and to steal the issue from his conservative opponent Senator Robert Dole.  
The expansion of NATO eastwards combined with President Bush’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in June 2002, followed by the deployment of ABM systems to Eastern Europe certainly increased the Russians’ sense of mistrust and menace regarding U.S. intentions. To this day, Putin’s speeches repeatedly refer to the broken American promises.  
There is more to an appreciation of the Russian point of view.  In parallel with the NATO expansion, the European Union (EU) expanded eastward, precipitously like an expanding cancer, beginning in 1995 and continuing to 2013.  The EU’s exclusion of Russia from the “greater European home” further fueled an atmosphere of mistrust and menace.  
From a Russian perspective, the NATO and EU expansions worked to deliberately isolate and impoverish Russia — and the potential (though to date frustrated) expansion by the West into Ukraine and Georgia intensified the sense that Russia had been hoodwinked by the West. 
The perception of a deliberate U.S. and EU campaign to cripple Russia has a history dating back to the end of the First Cold War in 1991: Russian leaders, for example, are unlikely to forget how, during the Clinton Administration, U.S. NGOS combined with American pressure, supported the extraordinarily corrupt privatization of the former Soviet state enterprises in the 1990s (aka “Shock Therapy”).  In the words of the Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz (16 June 2000):
“In the early 1990s, there was a debate among economists over shock therapy versus a gradualist strategy for Russia. But Larry Summers [Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, then Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, now Secretary] took control of the economic policy, and there was a lot of discontent with the way he was driving the policy.
The people in Russia who believed in shock therapy were Bolsheviks--a few people at the top that rammed it down everybody's throat. They viewed the democratic process as a real impediment to reform.
The grand larceny that occurred in Russia, the corruption that resulted in nine or ten people getting enormous wealth through loans-for-shares, was condoned because it allowed the reelection of Yeltsin.”  
And in a touch of irony, given the current hysteria over President Putin’s alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election, it gets worse.  Russian leaders are also unlikely to forget American intervention on behalf of Boris Yeltsin in the Russian elections of 1996, including using American control of the International Monetary Fund to float a $10.2 billion loan in March to 1996 to help the corrupt and malleable Boris Yeltsin to win the election in June.
So, from a Russian perspective, the recent increasingly severe U.S. sanctions are not only hypocritical, they certainly reinforce the view that the U.S. led campaign to cripple the Russian economy is ongoing and perhaps endless.
Moreover, the rapid, opportunistic expansion of NATO and the EU created a kaleidoscope of internal frictions.  Now both institutions are in trouble, riven by contradictions and disharmonies.  Great Britain is leaving the EU but will remain in NATO. Northern Europe and the EU bankers are imposing draconian austerity measures on Southern Europe, particularly Greece. Turkey, long a key NATO ally, is turning to Russia while being rejected by the EU.  The destruction of Libya, Iraq and Syria, under U.S. leadership with European participation, has created an unprecedented flood of refugees into the EU, deeply threatening the EU'S organizing principle of open borders.  The increasing tide of European instability and chaos, accompanied by the looming specter of growing Fascist movements from Spain to Ukraine, inevitably add to the traditional Russian sense of being endangered and encircled.  
That sense of endangerment is certainly heightened by a recent creepy piece of nuttiness coming out of Poland, perhaps the most Russophobic member of the EU and NATO.  The German daily DW says Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a very conservative former prime minister of Poland, chairman of the ruling nationalist-conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), has called for a massive EU nuclear force — trading on Polish fears that the United States will not sacrifice Chicago to save Warsaw.  That France and Britain already have nuclear weapons and are members of NATO is, of course, left unsaid in Kaczynski’s demagoguery. 
Russian leaders cannot ignore the fact that Kaczynski called for a nuclear EU shortly after the U.S. 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division (3,500 troops and 2,500 vehicles) deployed to Poland.  Even worse, the commanding officer promptly declared the brigade is “ready to fight,” though it is intended to “deter” any threat to Poland.  One brigade is a trip wire … or a kind of blank check that might be exploited for nutty reasons to trigger a shooting war — and as Kaczynski just demonstrated, nuttiness is afoot in that part of the world.
Now, if you were a Russian; and 
(1) you remembered the West’s destruction to your homeland beginning in 1812, 1914, and 1941 together with the recent string of broken promises, economic exclusion, and destructive meddling in Russian internal affairs that made a mockery of the ideal of a post-Cold War common European home; and …
(2) you faced a country that excluded you from Europe, suborned your election and is intent on crippling your economy, a country already outspending you on defense by a factor of twelve to one while expressing an intent to increase that lopsided ratio in a major way; and …
(3) that country has already started a nuclear arms race with a hugely expensive across-the-board modernization program to buy atomic weapons some of which can be justified only in terms of fighting and winning nuclear wars;
What would you do?
To ask such a question is to answer it.  For patriotic Americans interested in increasing their real national security (rather than their national security budget), the nuclear issue boils down to a question of understanding the powerful impact of America’s spending decisions and actions on patriotic Russians.  In other words, it is a question of reasoned empathy and pragmatic self-interest.  
Yet the mainstream media and the politicians of both parties in thrall to our MICC are working day and night to pump up anti-Russian hysteria and hype fear to ensure Americans remain completely oblivious to the powerful, dangerous impact of our senseless Obama-Trump nuclear spend-up on the Russians — or on anyone else, for that matter.
—————— 

Authors' background: Chuck Spinney and Pierre Sprey, between them, have over 75 years of Pentagon and industry experience in engineering weapons as well as in analyzing military systems effectivness and defense budgets.  Sprey was one of the early whiz kids in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) in the 1960s. He led the Air Force's concept design team for the legendary A-10 attack aircraft and, together with colonels Boyd and Riccioni, fathered the enormously successful F-16 fighter. Working in OSD in the 1980s, Spinney’s critical analyses of the Pentagon’s defective planning and budgeting landed him on the March 1983 cover of Time.  Leaving the Pentagon in 2003, he did an in-depth interview on the military-industrial-congressional complex with Bill Moyers which resulted in a special Emmy Award winning edition of Bill Moyers’ Now that aired on 1 August 2003.  Sprey and Spinney have testified before Congress on many occasions and were founding members of the Military Reform Movement led by their close colleague, the renowned American fighter pilot and strategist, Colonel John Boyd.

01 February 2017

Trump's Muslim Ban (I): Strategic Effects


Attached below is an excellent essay by Patrick Cockburn, one of the most knowledgeable reporters now covering the wars in the Middle East.  He critiques the effects of President Trump’s decision to impose a travel ban on refugees or visitors from seven Muslim countries.  He analyzes the likely blowback effects of Trump's policy from the perspective of America’s military and foreign actions and goals in the Middle East.  It is well worth careful reading
.

Trump’s Muslim Ban Will Only Spark More Terrorist Attacks

by PATRICK COCKBURN, Counterpunch, JANUARY 31, 2017
(Reposted with permission of author and editor of Counterpunch)
Donald Trump’s travel ban on refugees and visitors from seven Muslim countries entering the US makes a terrorist attack on Americans at home or abroad more rather than less likely. It does so because one of the main purposes of al-Qaeda and Isis in carrying out atrocities is to provoke an over-reaction directed against Muslim communities and states. Such communal punishments vastly increase sympathy for Salafi-jihadi movements among the 1.6 billion Muslims who make up a quarter of the world’s population.
The Trump administration justifies its action by claiming that it is only following lessons learned from 9/11 and the destruction of the Twin Towers. But it has learned exactly the wrong lesson: the great success of Mohammed Atta and his eighteen hijackers was not on the day that they and 3,000 others died, but when President George W Bush responded by leading the US into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that are still going on.
Al-Qaeda and its clones had been a small organisation with perhaps as few as a thousand militants in south east Afghanistan and north west Pakistan. But thanks to Bush’s calamitous decisions after 9/11, it now has tens of thousands of fighters, billions of dollars in funds and cells in dozens of countries. Few wars have failed so demonstrably or so badly as “the war on terror”. Isis and al-Qaeda activists are often supposed to be inspired simply by a demonic variant of Islam – and this is certainly how Trump has described their motivation – but in practice it was the excesses of the counter-terrorism apparatus such as torture and rendition, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib which acted as the recruiting sergeant for the Salafi-jihadi movements.
The Trump administration is now sending a message to al-Qaeda and Isis that Washington is easily provoked into mindless and counter-productive repression targeting Muslims in general. Those affected so far are limited in number and about the last people likely to be engaged in terrorist plots. But the political impact is already immense. Salafi-jihadi leaders may be monsters of cruelty and bigotry, but they are not stupid. They will see that if Trump, unprovoked by any terrorist outrage, will act with such self-defeating vigour, then a few bombs or shootings directed at American targets will lead to more scatter-gun persecution of Muslims.
Like leaders everywhere Isis commanders will wonder how unhinged Trump really is. The banning order may in part be a high profile way of assuring Trump voters that his pledges on the campaign trail will be fulfilled. But demagogues tend to become the creatures of their own rhetoric and certainly Trump’s words and actions will be presented as a sectarian declaration of war by many Muslims around the world. Isis will also see that by pressing their attacks they will deepen divisions within American society.
Bush targeted Saddam Hussein and Iraq in response to 9/11, though it was self-evident that the Iraqi leader and his regime had no connection with it. It was notorious that 15 out of 19 of the hijackers were Saudis, Osama bin Laden was a Saudi and the money for the operation came from private Saudi donors, but Saudi Arabia was given a free pass regardless of strong evidence of its complicity.
Much the same bizarre mistargeting of Muslim countries least likely to be sending terrorists to the US is happening in 2017 as happened in 2001. Though 9/11 is cited as an explanation for Trump’s executive order, none of the countries whose citizens were involved (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Lebanon) are facing any restrictions. The people who are being refused entry come from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia. Since the main targets of al-Qaeda and Isis are Shia Muslims primarily in Iraq but also in other parts of the word, Iran is the last place which is likely to be their base.
Since Isis’s great victories in 2014 when it captured Mosul and conquered a vast area in in Iraq and Syria, it has been beaten back by a myriad of enemies. Though it is fighting back hard, its eventual defeat has seemed inevitable, but with Trump fuelling the sectarian war between Muslims and non-Muslims which Isis and al-Qaeda always wanted to wage, their prospects look brighter today than they have for a long time past.


16 January 2017

A Pig inside Chet's OODA Loop


A Book Review
Attached herewith is Chet Richards’ elegantly written and highly entertaining review of Robert Coram’s latest book, a personal coming of age memoir, Gully Dirt: On Exposing the Klan, Raising a Hog, and Escaping the South
I have known Chet since 1977, and he is one of my dearest friends as well as a close colleague.  Chet has a PhD in Mathematics and is a protégé of the late Colonel John Boyd, the subject of Robert Coram’s, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.  
But Chet also has his hidden sides.  One of the lesser known dimensions of Chet’s intellect is that he is a perceptive student of culture — he once held my wife and me in dazed silence for about 45 minutes as he described the vagaries of the now forgotten royal court of Poland.  
Chet grew up in the Deep South, and as this highly positive review of Coram’s memoir of Deep South reveals, Chet’s appreciation of culture is not limited to Poland. 
This must-read review just appeared on Chet’s website, Slightly East of New.
Chuck Spinney

A Pig Inside my OODA Loop
Chet Richards, Slightly East of New, 16 January 2017
[reposted with permission]

Book Review
Gully Dirt
Robert Coram
Five Bridges Press, Atlanta
January 2017
Way off in the southwest corner of Georgia, where that state, Alabama, and Florida come together, there’s a constellation of small towns that exist only to serve the farms that surround them. Peanut country. Edison is one of them. There were no Interstate highways when Robert Coram was growing up in Edison, and when they were built, the closest was 60 miles away. Television did arrive before the big highways, and on a good day, and with a tall antenna, you could pick up two stations.
In most of the rural South, life went on as it had for millennia. Outside of the towns themselves, most people did not have what we call “indoor plumbing.” If you’ve never had the pleasure of using the outdoor variety — yes, they did use the Sears Roebuck catalogue for toilet paper — Coram will fill in this gap in your experience.
His tales of growing up in that isolated corner of the rural South will fill in a lot of gaps for a lot of people. The KKK in the late 1940s and early 1950s, for example, was not some kind of benevolent civic organization any more than the mafia was back up north, D. W. Griffith to the contrary. Like the made men of La Cosa Nostra, klansmen felt no constraints in the amount of violence they used to enforce what they felt were their rights. One talked about the Klan very discreetly, if one talked about it at all. So what would it have been like to come face-to-face with the fact that many of the people you associated with every day were members of the hooded fraternity? Coram will put you there. (As an aside, there are no stories of lynchings in Coram’s book.)
Coram emphasizes the uniqueness of the rural South and how it scars those who grow up there, a theme that runs through the works of many Southern writers. In Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner has Quentin Compson answer the question “Why do you hate the South?” with a not-too-convincing: “I don’t hate it,” Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; “I don’t hate it,” he said. “I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”
Coram doesn’t exactly say that he hates Edison, but leaving is all he can think about as he nears graduation from high school. He concludes that the people of the town are just “mean.” This feeling, of course, is hardly unique to the South. In fact, the only uniquely southern event is the scouts from Georgia all taking their rebel flags with them to a jamboree at Valley Forge, PA.
Even the dreaded Klan had spread far beyond the South by Coram’s time (Google “KKK Indiana governor,” for example). The vicissitudes of farming are universal, as are parental abuse, underage drinking, discovering sexuality, and driving far too fast on unpaved country roads (I often think about a certain night in Mississippi when my best friend in high school let the left front tire wander a little too far onto a very soft shoulder). The urge to flee the nest will be familiar to most of us, too. We are all scarred, and Gully Dirt is our memoir, too.
The South, though, is unique in one big way — the sting and poverty that accompanied losing the Civil War and enduring Reconstruction. Today, hardly anybody south of Dalton can tell you where Chickamauga is, and the decisive battlefields around Atlanta are parking lots. When Coram was growing up, there were still lots of people who remembered their parents’, aunts’, and uncles’, stories of sitting by the fireplace listening to their parents tell what it was like when the Yankees were down here. One of the most popular novels of all times, Margaret Mitchell’s epic of life in the Old South, was published just before Coram was born. And the list of poorest counties in the USA is still dominated by counties in the old Confederacy. Coram’s Calhoun County, GA, is 38th in per capita income, with about half the national average.
At first, the red clay of rural Georgia might seem as far from our own hometowns as the red surface of Mars. But as you laugh and occasionally cry along with Coram’s tales, it doesn’t seem so strange. We all grew up. We all did things we shouldn’t have and a few that might have done us in. We all did some things that we had to do but which are not usually written about. We all had to figure out how to approach potential romantic partners and what to do when our partners then go and pick someone else. Although his relationship with his father will remind you of another southern writer’s with the Great Santini, he comes to realize its value, that after a 17-year boot camp wth his abusive retired master sergeant Daddy, the scowl of a pissant sheriff checking up on his daughter is as nothing. Neither is much else in life.
By the end of the memoir, which you may well finish in one sleepless night, you may not hate Edison, or even the South, but you’ll understand the mindsets of the people who grew up there. Coram talks about the scarring from his upbringing there, but I think all small towns had this potential back then because of the lack of other opportunities and the degree with which one interacts with one’s neighbors, whether one wants to or not. My wife, who also grew up in the rural South, pointed this out to me — “people who grew up in New York had libraries and parks and bookstores and museums and art galleries all just a few minutes away.”
At the end of the book, though, Coram finally claims “that cruel, God-struck, sun-blasted corner of southwest Georgia” as his home. He can do no other: The South does not release its children. However despite all this, I suspect that Robert has a soft spot for Edison somewhere. He points out with barely hidden pride that for all its faults, Edison was resolutely NOT anti-semitic, a rare virtue among so many places not so long ago. On his Amazon page, he assures us that “… southwest Georgia remains a big part of who and what I am” for which we can all be grateful. Even his mother didn’t blame Edison or the South for his father’s temper: “It was the Army,” she assured him.
Robert Coram is probably best known for his magisterial biography of the late USAF Colonel John Boyd, which fact will explain the pig. He’s also, however, a crime novelist (my favorite is Kill the Angels) and a storyteller in the grand tradition of Faulkner, Pat Conroy, Flannery O’Conner, Willie Morris, Eudora Welty and the list goes on. In this coming-of-age memoir, Coram spins a web of tales, all of which he assures us are the gospel truth. They may well be — Southern towns have provided the grist for many a literary mill.
Bottom line: Gully Dirt is a worthy new member of the clan that includes Rick Bragg’s All Over but the Shoutin’ Frank McCourt’s ’Tis, and one might throw in his friend the late Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini and its non-fictional companions. If you liked any of these, you’ll love Gully Dirt.

I’ve known Robert since about 2000 when he was working on the Boyd book [CS note - Amazon rating: 4.6 out of 5, 401 reviews, sales > 100,000]. He encouraged me to complete and publish Certain to Win [CS note - Amazon rating: 4.7 out of 5, 39 reviews], and he introduced me to his wife, Jeannine Addams, who gave me a home in her PR agency for the next dozen years. He may be the last of a lineage of tellers of tall tales extending back way past Faulkner to kitchens, parlors, and porches throughout the South, the last because even Edison has the Internet, now.

28 December 2016

Trump Inherits a Defense Budget Time Bomb


Ron Paul and Daniel McAdams interview Chuck Spinney on the budget time bomb that has been planted in the five year defense year plan that President Obama is bequeathing to President Elect Donald Trump.


Readers interested in learning more about the interconnected problems creating the time bomb summarized in this video and their deep bureaucratic roots will find some of the author’s contemporaneous analyses of them on the Blaster website at these links:

  • June 4 Statement to Congress - also at this link or this link (2002) — placed front loading and political engineering power games in the context of the Plans/Reality/Mismatch and the Pentagon’s auditing shambles. For current update reports on the Pentagon’s auditing shambles, see Senator Charles Grassley’s most recent speeches on the Senate Floor on 7 July 2016 and  8 December 2016.
  • Defense Budget Time Bomb (1996) — A case study of the tactical fighter/attack forces in the Air Force that (1) predicted the current meltdown and its consequences that President Elect Trump is inheriting and (2) described a notional escape option that could have corrected the current force structure aging crisis in the Air Force fighters.
  • JSF- One More Card in the House.pdf (2000) -- An op-ed I published in the Proceeding of the Naval Institute that summarizes the bureaucratic power games leading up to the F-35 and predicted the types of problems that are now plaguing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
  • F22: ATF Memo.pdf --  Three Reasons Why the ATF Should Not Be Approved for Engineering and Manufacturing Development (July, 1991) — An internal staff study laying out three reason why DoD and Air Force should not  front-load of ATF or F-22 into the Future Years Defense Plan as the Cold War was ending. 
  • Defense Death Spiral — lays out the relations between the defense power games, cost growth, and the Pentagon’s chronic modernization  and readiness and problems, and places these problems the context of the Pentagon’s Plans/Realty Mismatch and its auditing problems.  Described in more detail in the briefing slides at this link.