Even if we defeat the Islamic State, we’ll still lose the bigger war

 

 

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Residents of Syria’s Idlib province examine building damaged in air strikes on September 24. The United States and its Arab allies have opened a new front in the battle against Islamic State militants. (Ammar Abdullah/Reuters)

Andrew J. Bacevich, the George McGovern fellow at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, is writing a history of U. S. military involvement in the Greater Middle East.

As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extend into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

With our 14th front barely opened, the Pentagon foresees a campaign likely to last for years. Yet even at this early date, this much already seems clear: Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive.

Back in 1980, President Jimmy Carter touched things off when he announced that the United States would use force to prevent the Persian Gulf from falling into the wrong hands. In effect, with the post-Ottoman order created by European imperialists — chiefly the British — after World War I apparently at risk, the United States made a fateful decision: It shouldered responsibility for preventing that order from disintegrating further. Britain’s withdrawal from “east of Suez,” along with the revolution in Iran and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, prompted Washington to insert itself into a region in which it previously avoided serious military involvement.

At the time, oil — not freedom, democracy or human rights — defined the principal American interest, and stability was the goal. Military power offered the means by which the United States hoped to attain that goal. Armed might would keep a lid on things. The pot might simmer, but it wouldn’t boil over.

In practice, however, whether putting boots on the ground or relying on missiles from above, subsequent U.S. efforts to promote stability have tended to produce just the opposite. Part of the problem is that American policymakers have repeatedly given in to the temptation to unleash a bit of near-term chaos, betting that longer-term order will emerge on the other end.

Back in Vietnam, this was known as burning down the village to save it. In the Greater Middle East, it has meant dismantling a country with the aim of erecting something more preferable — “regime change” as a prelude to “nation building.” Unfortunately, the United States has proved considerably more adept at the former than the latter.

Mostly, coercive regime change has produced power vacuums. Iraq offers a glaring example. Although studiously ignored by Washington, post-Gaddafi Libya offers a second. And unless the gods are in an exceptionally generous mood, Afghanistan will probably become a third whenever U.S. and NATO combat troops finally depart.

In place of governing arrangements that Washington judged objectionable, the United States has found itself coping with the absence of any effective governments whatsoever. Instead of curbing bad behavior, spanking induced all sorts of pathologies.

By inadvertently sowing instability, the United States has played directly into the hands of anti-Western radical Islamists intent on supplanting the European-imposed post-Ottoman order with something more to their liking. This is the so-called caliphate that Osama bin Laden yearned to create and that now exists in embryonic form in the portions of Iraq and Syria that Islamic State radicals control.

Want to measure what America’s war for the Middle East has accomplished through its first 13 iterations? The Islamic State has to rank prominently on any list of achievements. If Iraq possessed minimally effective security forces, Islamic State militants wouldn’t have a chance. But the Iraqi army we created won’t fight, in considerable measure because the Iraqi government we created doesn’t govern.

Kurdish fighters defending Kobane warn of a likely massacre by Islamic State insurgents, while Turkey says it will do whatever it can to prevent the Syrian border town from falling. (Reuters)

President Obama did not initiate the long and varied sequence of military actions that has produced this situation. Yet he finds himself caught in a dilemma. To give the Islamic State a free hand is to allow proponents of the caliphate to exploit the instability that U.S. efforts, some involving Obama himself, have fostered. But to make Syria the latest free-fire zone in America’s never-ending Middle East misadventure will almost surely prolong and exacerbate the agonies that country is experiencing, with little ability to predict what consequences will ensue.

Even if U.S. and allied forces succeed in routing this militant group, there is little reason to expect that the results for Syrians will be pretty — or that the prospects of regional harmony will improve. Suppress the symptoms, and the disease simply manifests itself in other ways. There is always another Islamic State waiting in the wings.

Obama’s bet — the same bet made by each of his predecessors, going back to Carter — is that the skillful application of U.S. military might can somehow provide a way out of this dilemma. They were wrong, and so is he.

We may be grateful that Obama has learned from his predecessor that invading and occupying countries in this region of the world just doesn’t work. The lesson he will bequeath to his successor is that drone strikes and commando raids don’t solve the problem, either.

We must hope for victory over the Islamic State. But even if achieved, that victory will not redeem but merely prolong a decades-long military undertaking that was flawed from the outset. When the 14th campaign runs its course, the 15th will no doubt be waiting, perhaps in Jordan or in a return visit to some unfinished battleground such as Libya or Somalia or Yemen.

Yet even as the United States persists in its determination to pacify the Greater Middle East, the final verdict is already in. U.S. military power has never offered an appropriate response to whatever ails the Islamic world. We’ve committed our troops to a fool’s errand.

And worse, the errand is also proving unnecessary. With abundant North American energy reserves now accessible — all that shale oil and fracked gas — we don’t need the Persian Gulf oil that ostensibly made our post-1980 military exertions imperative. For whatever reasons, Washington’s national security elites seem oblivious to the implications these resources have for policy in the Middle East.

No matter how long it lasts, America’s war for the Greater Middle East will end in failure. And when it does, Americans will discover that it was also superfluous.

Conflict Resolution in Syria Impossible Without Assad

 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Conflict Resolution in Syria Impossible Without Assad

Washington, Britain, France, Israel and rogue regional allies are part of the Syrian conflict resolution problem – Russia and Assad key solution partners.
 
Sergey Lavrov stresses Assad’s importance, saying “(a)ll the forecasts made by (rogue Western states) and some other parties that the people would rise up and oust him never came true.”
 
“This means one thing: Assad represents the interests of a significant part of Syrian society (the vast majority, Lavrov stopped short of explaining based on polling data and his overwhelming June 2014 reelection). So no peaceful solution can be found without his participation.”
 
On November 19, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, Obama again demanded Assad must go. He lied calling his premeditated proxy aggression on Syria a “civil war,” saying he “do(es) not foresee a situation in which (it can be resolved) while (he) remains in power” – his latest assertion of rogue state arrogance, adding:
 
“Even if I said that was okay, I still don’t think it would actually work. You could not get the Syrian people, the majority of them, to agree to that kind of outcome.”
Fact: He wants Washington alone deciding who’ll lead Syria, not its citizens democratically.
 
Fact: He knows Assad remains overwhelmingly popular. Syrians want no one else leading them. Claiming he rules illegitimately is a bald-faced lie.
 
Fact: US-controlled puppet rule assures endless violence, instability and chaos – like in all nations where America intervenes. Peace and democratic governance defeat its imperial agenda.
Hopefully Lavrov is right saying growing numbers of world officials are coming around to Russia’s position on combating terrorism, and beginning to distance themselves from Washington’s destructive agenda.
“(L)evel-headed politicians are…realizing the need to concentrate on…stopping ISIS’ attempts to spread (its diabolical) influence globally,” said Lavrov. (It’s) trying to achieve its goal of creating (a) caliphate regardless of what happens in Syria and the attitude that anyone has towards Bashar Assad.”
Russia urges world unity in combating a common scourge. Resolving Syria’s conflict depends on it, impossible otherwise. “We are currently acting in Syria legally and are willing to cooperate in practice with (nations allied with Washington) that are prepared to respect Syria’s sovereignty and the goals of the Syrian government,” Lavrov stressed.
He urged passing a Security Council resolution, authorizing Chapter 7 military intervention to combat ISIS. Russia’s draft proposal seeks it, so far blocked by Washington and rogue partners Britain and France.
They oppose resolution language saying “anti-terrorist operations should be coordinated with the governments of the states, where such operations take place,” said Lavrov. 
“Unfortunately, we see the willingness to band together on an anti-terrorist platform only after tragedies” – often against wrong targets for lawless objectives. 
Lavrov urges mutual cooperation against ISIS and similar terrorist groups, the only effective way to defeat them – including stopping outside financial and military support from reaching them, the way it’s happening now, led by Washington, supported by its rogue partners including Israel, fueling the fire vital to extinguish.
A Final Comment
Russia’s Defense Ministry reported its aerial mission destroyed over 2,000 terrorist facilities in Syria since September 30. America’s 14-month bombing campaign eliminated NONE.
On November 19, Fars News reported top ISIS commanders and hundreds of fighters fleeing their Raqqa headquarters “after sustaining heavy casualties” from Russian airstrikes – according to intelligence assessments and “confirmed” eyewitness sources.
According to Arabic language al-Mayadeen television, ISIS elements are moving their families and remaining heavy weapons to Deir Ezzur. Syrian armed forces and Kurdish fighters continue making slow but steady gains against ISIS in northeastern Hasakah region. 
Russia’s main objective in Syria is neutralizing and containing ISIS enough for Syrian armed forces to continue regaining lost territory, as well as preventing the spread of this scourge elsewhere.
Author: Stephen Lendman
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”
Posted by Ainhoa Aristizabal

A Clinton Story Fraught With Inaccuracies: How It Happened and What’s Next?

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Make no mistake. A Clinton presidency would be disastrous – the worst of all possible deplorable choices, none worthy of any public office, all aspirants beholden to wealth, power and privilege exclusively.

 

By Margaret Sullivan – Public Editor’s Journal

July 27, 2015 10:00 am

Updated: July 28, 2015 | The story certainly seemed like a blockbuster: A criminal investigation of Hillary Rodham Clinton by the Justice Department was being sought by two federal inspectors general over her email practices while secretary of state.

It’s hard to imagine a much more significant political story at this moment, given that she is the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.

The story a Times exclusive — appeared high on the home page and the mobile app late Thursday and on Friday and then was displayed with a three-column headline on the front page in Friday’s paper. The online headline read “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email,” very similar to the one in print.

But aspects of it began to unravel soon after it first went online. The first major change was this: It wasn’t really Mrs. Clinton directly who was the focus of the request for an investigation. It was more general: whether government information was handled improperly in connection with her use of a personal email account.

Much later, The Times backed off the startling characterization of a “criminal inquiry,” instead calling it something far tamer sounding: it was a “security” referral.

From Thursday night to Sunday morning – when a final correction appeared in print – the inaccuracies and changes in the story were handled as they came along, with little explanation to readers, other than routine corrections. The first change I mentioned above was written into the story for hours without a correction or any notice of the change, which was substantive.

And the evolving story, which began to include a new development, simply replaced the older version. That development was that several instances of classified information had been found in Mrs. Clinton’s personal email – although, in fairness, it’s doubtful whether the information was marked as classified when she sent or received those emails. Eventually, a number of corrections were appended to the online story, before appearing in print in the usual way – in small notices on Page A2.

But you can’t put stories like this back in the bottle – they ripple through the entire news system.

So it was, to put it mildly, a mess. As a result, I’ve been spending the last couple of days asking how this could happen and how something similar can be prevented in the future. I’ve spoken to the executive editor, Dean Baquet; to a top-ranking editor involved with the story, Matt Purdy; and to the two reporters, Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt.

Meanwhile, I heard from readers, like Maria Cranor who wanted clarification and explanation on The Times’s “recent, and mystifying, coverage of the HRC emails. It appears that your reporters relied on leaks from the Gowdy committee to suggest that Clinton was involved in some kind of criminal malfeasance around the emails. The subsequent walk backs have not been effective, or encouraging. Please help us retain our wavering confidence in the Times’ political coverage!” (Her reference is to the Republican congressman, Trey Gowdy.)

Another reader, Paul Kingsley, demanded a refund for his Friday paper. “We all deserve one,” he wrote to me. And, complaining about the lack of transparency and the errors, he added:

1) please repost the original reporting;
2) provide an explanation as to how it made it to press and what was wrong.
3) what are you going to do to prevent such inaccurate bias in the future?
4) are you going to minimize using unnamed sources?

The story developed quickly on Thursday afternoon and evening, after tips from various sources, including on Capitol Hill. The reporters had what Mr. Purdy described as “multiple, reliable, highly placed sources,” including some “in law enforcement.” I think we can safely read that as the Justice Department.

The sources said not only was there indeed a referral but also that it was directed at Mrs. Clinton herself, and that it was a criminal referral. And that’s how The Times wrote it initially.

“We got it wrong because our very good sources had it wrong,” Mr. Purdy told me. “That’s an explanation, not an excuse. We have an obligation to get facts right and we work very hard to do that.”

By Friday afternoon, the Justice Department issued a terse statement, saying that there had been a referral related to the potential compromise of classified information, stating clearly that it was not a criminal referral. Mr. Purdy says he remains puzzled about why the initial inaccurate information was confirmed so clearly. (Update: Other news outlets also got confirmation of the criminal referral as they followed The Times’s story. They did not report, as an earlier version of this post suggested, that she herself was the target of the referral.)

There are at least two major journalistic problems here, in my view. Competitive pressure and the desire for a scoop led to too much speed and not enough caution. Mr. Purdy told me that the reporters, whom he described as excellent and experienced, were “sent back again and again” to seek confirmation of the key elements; but while no one would discuss the specifics of who the sources were, my sense is that final confirmation came from the same person more than once.

The reporters and editors were not able to see the referral itself, Mr. Purdy said, and that’s the norm in such cases; anything else would be highly unusual, he said. So they were relying on their sources’ interpretation of it. All at The Times emphasized that the core of the initial story – the request for an investigation – is true, and that it was major news, as was the later development.

Hindsight’s easy, but I’ll take a stab at it anyway. Here’s my take:

First, consider the elements. When you add together the lack of accountability that comes with anonymous sources, along with no ability to examine the referral itself, and then mix in the ever-faster pace of competitive reporting for the web, you’ve got a mistake waiting to happen. Or, in this case, several mistakes.

Reporting a less sensational version of the story, with a headline that did not include the word “criminal,” and continuing to develop it the next day would have been a wise play. Better yet: Waiting until the next day to publish anything at all.

Losing the story to another news outlet would have been a far, far better outcome than publishing an unfair story and damaging The Times’s reputation for accuracy.

What’s more, when mistakes inevitably happen, The Times needs to be much more transparent with readers about what is going on. Just revising the story, and figuring out the corrections later, doesn’t cut it.

Mr. Baquet, who is a former Times Washington bureau chief, told me Sunday by phone that he faults himself on this score, and he would do it differently now.

“We should have explained to our readers right away what happened here, as soon as we knew it,” he said. That could have been in an editor’s note or in a story, or in some other form, he said.

“The readers of The New York Times got whipsawed,” by all the conflicting reports and criticism, he said.

He agreed, as Mr. Purdy did, that special care has to come with the use of anonymous sources, but he believes that the errors here “may have been unavoidable.” And Mr. Purdy said that he thought The Times probably took too long to append a correction in the first instance.

But, Mr. Baquet said, he does not fault the reporters or editors directly involved.

“You had the government confirming that it was a criminal referral,” Mr. Baquet said. “I’m not sure what they could have done differently on that.”

None of this should be used to deny the importance of The Times’s reporting on the subject of Mrs. Clinton’s email practices at the State Department, a story Mr. Schmidt broke in March. Although her partisans want the focus shifted to these errors, the fact remains that her secret email system hamstrung possible inquiries into her conduct while secretary of state both by the news media and the public under the Freedom of Information Act and by Congress. And her awarding to herself the first cull of those emails will make suspicion about what they contained a permanent part of the current campaign.

Nevertheless, the most recent story is both a messy and a regrettable chapter. It brings up important issues that demand to be thought about and discussed internally with an eye to prevention in the future.

Mr. Baquet and Mr. Purdy said that would happen, especially on the issue of transparency to readers. In my view, that discussion must also include the rampant use of anonymous sources, and the need to slow down and employ what might seem an excess of caution before publishing a political blockbuster based on shadowy sources.

I’ll summarize my prescription in four words: Less speed. More transparency.

After all, readers come to The Times not for a scoop, though those can be great, but for fair, authoritative and accurate information. And when things do go wrong, readers deserve a thorough, immediate explanation from the top. None of that happened here.

(Update: An editors’ note, explaining the errors and stating that corrections should have been handled differently, was published late Monday, and appeared in Tuesday’s paper on page A2.)