Why Obama’s assurance of ‘no boots on the ground’ isn’t so reassuring

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A U.S. Marine on patrol. (Rebecca Sell/For The Washington Post)

Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, was an Obama administration appointee at the Defense Department from 2009 to 2011. She is married to an Army Special Forces officer.

Each time I hear President Obama assure us that there will be “no boots on the ground” in Iraq or Syria, I think of my husband’s Army boots, lying in a heap in the corner of the downstairs study. They’re covered in fine dust from his latest Middle East deployment, one that came nail-bitingly close to being extended by an unplanned stint in Iraq.

In the end, he wasn’t sent back to Iraq. He came home in July, though a last-minute change in assignments left most of his civilian clothes stranded in some Army transport netherworld. Deprived of his sneakers and sandals, he wore his Army boots pretty much everywhere this summer, even on playground outings with the kids. Watching grass stains from the local park gradually displace nine months of Kuwaiti dust gave me more happiness than I can say.

Even so, I can’t help feeling queasy every time I hear the president pledge that there will be “no boots on the ground” in America’s newest war. I wonder what that pledge really means — and just why we’re supposed to find it reassuring. It’s a pledge that seems to have everything to do with politics and little to do with the imperatives of strategy or security.

Here’s what “no boots on the ground” apparently doesn’t mean: It doesn’t mean that no U.S. troops will be sent to Iraq or Syria. Reportedly there are already 1,600 U.S. military personnel in Iraq. True, they’re present in an “advisory” role, not in a combat role — but surely one lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan is that combat has a habit of finding its way to noncombat personnel. Enemy snipers and IEDs don’t much care about a soldier’s mission or occupational specialty, and you can bet that fighters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State would be content with the heads of a few American advisers.

It’s also hard to know what publicly reported troop numbers really mean. When the Pentagon issues a Boots on the Ground report (known colloquially as a “BOG report”), it often excludes military personnel on “temporary duty” in combat areas, even though temporary duty may mean an assignment spanning five or six months. Similarly, Special Operations personnel assigned to work under CIA auspices are often left out of the BOG numbers. This makes it hard to know just who’s being counted when officials say there are 1,600 military personnel in Iraq.

“No boots on the ground” also ignores the many nonmilitary American boots (and shoes and sandals) present in Iraq and Syria. Our Baghdad embassy personnel presumably wear some kind of footwear, as do thousands more civilians working as U.S. government contractors in Iraq. In both Iraq and Syria, scores of American civilians also work for nongovernmental organizations and humanitarian aid groups.

The Pentagon keeps careful count of dead and wounded U.S. troops, but the government doesn’t systematically track dead or injured civilians or contractors (many of whom, of course, are U.S. military veterans). Though few Americans know it, there were often more contractors working for the U.S. government on the ground than there were U.S. troops at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and some estimates suggest that there were as many U.S.-employed contractors who died in those conflicts as there were U.S. troops killed.

Cynics might even suspect that this heavy reliance on contractors was part of an effort to keep those BOG numbers down while outsourcing military risk. After all, no one likes high BOG numbers — the very acronym is suggestive of that most dreaded military outcome, the “quagmire.”

If “no boots on the ground” means playing games with numbers and offloading military risk onto U.S. government civilians and contractors, we should take little solace in presidential reassurances.

And we should feel even less comfort if “no boots on the ground” ends up putting vulnerable local civilians at risk. Remember Kosovo? President Bill Clinton’s refusal in 1999 to put U.S. troops on the ground forced us to rely solely on airstrikes to prevent Serbian ethnic cleansing. To further minimize any risk to U.S. military personnel, we mainly flew sorties at a safe 15,000 feet above the ground. This worked out well for us: Aside from two Americans killed in a helicopter accident in Albania, there were no U.S. fatalities in the 78-day air campaign. It worked out less well for some of the civilians we were trying to protect; in several cases, for instance, NATO pilots mistook convoys of refugees for troop transports, causing scores of civilian deaths.

The primary goal of the current U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq isn’t civilian protection, but Obama has suggested that this is at least a secondary motivation. In his speech this past week to the U.N. General Assembly, for instance, he asserted that the Islamic State “has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria. Mothers, sisters and daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war. Innocent children have been gunned down. . . . Religious minorities have been starved to death. In the most horrific crimes imaginable, innocent human beings have been beheaded. . . . The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”

It’s hard to argue with the importance of dismantling a “network of death,” but no matter how careful we are, U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq will also end up killing some innocent civilians. Without eyes and ears on the ground, we’re more likely to make tragic targeting mistakes. We have to hope we’ll do more good than harm, but it’s hard to feel confident of that.

Numerous respected military and defense leaders — from Army Gen. Martin Dempsey , current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to retired defense secretary Robert Gates — have argued in recent weeks that ground troops will probably be required if our strategy is to be effective. So far, events seem to be proving them right: In Iraq, seven weeks of airstrikes have done little to push Islamic State fighters out of the territories they control, despite close U.S. coordination with Iraqi army units. In Syria, we have no similar local force with which to coordinate, creating a risk that U.S. airstrikes will increase the chaos without fundamentally reducing the threat to local civilians — or, in the longer term, to the United States.And that’s most worrisome of all — the possibility that our insistence on “no boots on the ground” also offloads present risks onto the future. Relying on airstrikes alone may merely prolong a bloody and inconclusive conflict, or strengthen other actors who are just as brutal as Islamic State fighters, from the regime of Bashar al-Assad to the al-Qaeda-linked rebels of Jabhat al-Nusra.Insisting that we’ll never commit U.S. troops to this fight plays right into every jihadist narrative, reinforcing America’s image as an arrogant but cowardly nation — happy to drop bombs from a distance but unwilling to risk the lives of our troops. Each time we reinforce that narrative, we give jihadist recruiting another big boost.

 

For a decade, we’ve relied on drone strikes as a top counterterrorism tool in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, but a few thousand dead terrorism suspects later, it’s far from clear that we’ve made ourselves safer. If anything, the global jihadist movement appears to have gained strength. As a former Defense Intelligence Agency director, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, recently noted: “In 2004, there were 21 total Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 18 countries. Today, there are 41 Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 24 countries.” Ultimately, our efforts to destroy the Islamic State from afar may similarly spark the creation of even more jihadist groups.

“I will not commit you . . . to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” Obama told troops at Central Command headquarters this month. I appreciate his desire to do right by America’s military personnel: My husband’s boots, like those of so many other members of the armed forces, have already gathered too much dust in too many dangerous places, over too many years. Right now, I want those boots to stay exactly where they are: here, at home.

But I don’t want to trade the safety of U.S. troops today for the safety of our children tomorrow. If Obama’s promise of “no boots on the ground” means we’ll be fighting a war of half-measures — a war that won’t achieve our objectives and that may increase the long-term threat — I’m not sure, in the end, that it’s a promise I want him to keep.

Who Downed Russia’s Metrojet Flight 9268?

 

IS THERE ANOTHER HAND BESIDES ISIS BEHIND THIS CRIME ?

 

Was it ISIS – or somebody else?

Kolavia-Flight-400x240First they said the downing of Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 was most likely due to Russia’s “notorious” regional airlines, which supposedly are rickety and unreliable. The Egyptian government denied that terrorism is even a possibility, with Egyptian despot Abdel Fatah al-Sisi proclaiming:

When there is propaganda that it crashed because of Isis, this is one way to damage the stability and security of Egypt and the image of Egypt. Believe me, the situation in Sinai – especially in this limited area – is under our full control.

However, it soon came out that the person in charge of Sharm el-Sheikh airport, where the Russia plane had landed before taking off again, had been “replaced” – oh, but notbecause of anything to do with the downing of the Russian passenger plane! As the Egyptian authorities put it:

Adel Mahgoub, chairman of the state company that runs Egypt’s civilian airports, says airport chief Abdel-Wahab Ali has been ‘promoted’ to become his assistant. He said the move late Wednesday had nothing to do with media skepticism surrounding the airport’s security. Mahgoub said Ali is being replaced by Emad el-Balasi, a pilot.

Laughable, albeit in a sinister way, and yet more evidence that something wasn’t quite right: after all, everyone knows the Egyptian government does not have the Sinai, over which the plane disintegrated in mid air, under its “full control.” ISIS, which claimed responsibility for the crash hours after it occurred, is all over that peninsula.

Still, the denials poured in, mostly from US government officials such as Director of National Intelligence James “Liar-liar-pants-on-fire” Clapper, who said ISIS involvement was “unlikely.” Then they told us it couldn’t have been ISIS because they supposedly don’t have surface-to-air missiles that can reach the height attained by the downed plane. Yet that wasn’t very convincing either, because a) How do they know what ISIS has in its arsenal?, and b) couldn’t ISIS or some other group have smuggleda bomb on board?

The better part of a week after the crash, we have this:

Days after authorities dismissed claims that ISIS brought down a Russian passenger jet, a U.S. intelligence analysis now suggests that the terror group or its affiliates planted a bomb on the plane.

British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said his government believes there is a ‘significant possibility’ that an explosive device caused the crash. And a Middle East source briefed on intelligence matters also said it appears likely someone placed a bomb aboard the aircraft.

According to numerous news reports, intercepts of “internal communications” of the Islamic State/ISIS group provided evidence that it wasn’t an accident but a terrorist act. Those intercepts must have been available to US and UK government sources early on, yet these same officials said they had no “direct evidence,” as Clapper put it, of terrorist involvement. Why is that? And furthermore: why the general unwillingness of Western governments and media to jump to their usual conclusion when any air disaster occurs, and attribute it to terrorism?

The answer is simple: they didn’t want to arouse any sympathy for the Russians. Russia, as we all know, is The Enemy – considered even worse, in some circles, than the jihadists.  Indeed, there’s a whole section of opinion-makers devoted to the idea that  we must help Islamist crazies in Syria, including al-Qaeda’s affiliate, known as al-Nusra, precisely in order to stop the Evil Putin from extending Russian influence into the region.

In a broader sense, the reluctance to acknowledge that this was indeed a terrorist act is rooted in a refusal to acknowledge the commonality of interests that exists between Putin’s Russia and the West. The downing of the Metrojet is just the latest atrocity carried out by the head-choppers against the Russian people: this includes not only the Beslan school massacre, in which over 700 children were taken hostage by Chechen Islamists, but also the five apartment bombings that took place in 1999.

The real extent of Western hostility to Russia, and the unwillingness to realize that Russia has been a major terrorist target, is underscored by the shameful propaganda pushed by the late Alexander Litvinenko, and endorsed by Sen. John McCain, which claims that the bombings were an “inside job” carried out by the Russian FSB – a version of “trutherism” that, if uttered in the US in relation to the 9/11 attacks, is routinely (and rightly) dismissed as sheer crankery. But where the Russians are concerned it’s not only allowable, it’s the default. A particularly egregious example is Russophobic hack Michael D. Weiss, who, days before the downing of the Russian passenger plane, solemnly informed us that Putin was “sending jihadists to join ISIS.” Boy oh boy, talk about ingratitude!

This downright creepy unwillingness to express any sympathy or sense of solidarity with the Russian people ought to clue us in to something we knew all along: that the whole “war on terrorism” gambit is as phony as a three-dollar bill. If US government officials were actually concerned about the threat of terrorist violence directed at innocent civilians, they would partner up with Russia in a joint effort to eradicate the threat: that this isn’t happening in Syria, or anywhere else, is all too evident. Not to mention our canoodling with “moderate” Chechen terrorists, openly encouraging them to carry on their war with Putin’s Russia. Our “war on terrorism” is simply a pretext for spying on the American people, and most of the rest of the world, and cementing the power of the State on the home front, not to mention fattening up an already grotesquely obese “defense” budget.

With the belated admission that the downing of the Russian passenger jet was an act of terrorism, we are beginning to hear that this a tremendous blow to Putin’s prestigeat home – something no one would dare utter about Obama’s or Cameron’s “prestige” if the Metrojet had been an American or British passenger plane. They say it’s “blowback” due to Russia’s actions in Syria, with the clear implication that it’s deserved. And yet, according to US officials and the usual suspects, the Russiansaren’t hitting ISIS so much as they’re smiting the “moderate” Islamist head-choppers – the “Syrian rebels,” as they’re known — who are being funded, armed, and encouraged by the West.

If that’s true, then what kind of blowback are we talking about – and from which direction is it coming? Given this, isn’t it entirely possible that Metrojet Flight 9268 was downed by US-aided –and-supported “moderates,” who moderately decided to get back at Putin?

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert andDavid Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Putin Blew the Whistle on Who Grew ISIS in 2014 (Video)

RUSSIA INSIDER
Mon, Oct 26, 2015

Putin Blew the Whistle on Who Grew ISIS in 2014 (Video)
But he can’t figure out if US did it out of stupidity or malice

This short video showing Vladimir Putin answering a question on ISIS from a US journalist was filmed at the Valdai International Discussion Club in late 2014. While millions of patriotic Americans still believe the simple narrative of ‘Russia is bad, USA is good’, Putin’s explosive comments blow that mindset right out of the water- and they also clearly explain why the Russian President has just decided to send in his military to support Assad’s fight against the Islamic State. After telling the audience that (unlike Obama’s view of him) he does not consider the USA a threat to Russia, Putin begins responding to a question about the ISIS problem.

The President begins: “Well who on earth armed them? Who armed the Syrians who were fighting with Assad? Who created the necessary political climate that facilitated this situation? Who pushed for the delivery of arms to the region?”

Yes, you guessed it: he’s talking about the USA.

Putin: US Neocons Created and Keep Supporting ISIS

Putin continues:

“Do you really not understand who is fighting in Syria? They are mercenaries, mostly. Do you understand they are paid money? Mercenaries fight for whichever side pays more. So they arm them and pay them a certain amount. I even know what these amounts are.” He explains how this insane foreign policy has backfired on the United States: the mercenaries don’t give back the arms, and when they find out they can earn more money fighting for ISIS, they swap sides- taking the USA’s weapons with them, and occupying the oil fields.But who is buying the oil from these terrorists, Putin asks, and why are sanctions not applied to those who purchase it?

“Do you think the USA doesn’t know who is buying the oil?” Putin asks his audience defiantly. “Is it not their allies that are buying oil from ISIS?” Putin then points out that the USA certainly has the power to persuade their allies to stop buying oil from the mercenaries who have deflected to the Islamic State. But, he suggests (here’s where it gets interesting) “they do not wish to influence them.”

Putin claims that in those areas of Syria where ISIS are extracting oil and paying mercenaries great rates of pay, more and more Syrian ‘rebels’ (anti-Assad fighters who were supposed to be on our side) are joining the Islamic State. “So you support them, arm them, and tomorrow they join ISIS. Can they not think a step ahead?” he says scathingly about US foreign policy. “I consider this absolutely unprofessional politics. We must support civilized, democratic opposition in Syria. We don’t stand for this kind of politics of the USA. We think it is wrong.”

If this is true- and concrete evidence suggests it is- Putin’s tirade is very difficult to argue with. Sure, the Russian President has a hell of a lot to answer for, but who is the real terrorist in this situation? Could it be that the USA was also behind the Ukrainian coup all along, supported by its minions in the corporate press who sought to lay the blame on Russia’s doorstep? After all, it was Putin, not Obama, who extended an olive branch to the American people by writing an op-ed in the New York Times in 2013 calling for peace and co-operation between the two powers.

Putin’s comments back up what many have been saying about ISIS and its strong connection to the USA since the start of this crisis. Please share this video to raise awareness of which war-mongering superpower is really to blame for the majority of the misery in this world. You might also like to check out Putin’s United Nations meeting speech late last month, where he talks more about these themes and asks the USA and its allies with reference to Syria: “Now do you realize what you have done?”

Transcript:

“Another threat that President Obama mentioned was ISIS. Well who on earth armed them?

Who armed the Syrians that are fighting Assad?

Who created the necessary political/informational climate that facilitated this situation?

Who pushed the delivery of arms to the area?

Do you really not understand as to who is fighting in Syria?

They are mercenaries mostly.

Do you understand they are paid money?

Mercenaries fight for whichever side pays more.

So they arm them and pay them a certain amount

I even know what these amounts are.

So they fight, they have the arms, you cannot get them to return the weapons of course, at the end..

Then they discover elsewhere pays a little more..

Then they occupy the oil fields wherever; in Iraq, in Syria.

They start extracting the oil-and this oil is purchased by somebody.

Where are the sanctions on the parties purchasing this oil?

Do you believe the US does not know who is buying it? Is it not their allies that are buying the oil from ISIS?

Do you not think that US has the power to influence their allies? Or is the point that they indeed do not wish to influence them?

Then why bomb ISIS?

In areas where they started extracting oil and paying mercenaries more, in those areas the rebels from ‘civilised’ Syrian opposition forces immediately joined ISIS because they are paid more.

I consider this absolutely unprofessional politics. It is not grounded in facts , in the real world.

We must support civilized democratic opposition in Syria.

So you support, arm them and then tomorrow they join ISIS.

Can they [USA] not think a step ahead?

We cannot stand for this kind of politics of the US. We consider it wrong. It harms all parties, including you [USA].”

Putin: US Neocons Created and Keep Supporting ISIS