Tag: US Military

How Should We Be Thinking About the Red Line Crisis?

How Should We Be Thinking About the Red Line Crisis?

Paul Merkley

The Bayview Review, Sept. 6, 2013



The Armageddon Question


It was bound to happen eventually. As the world contemplates the escalation of the civil war in Syrian and studies the implications of all those demonic elements that have raised their flags within Syria’s borders and are announcing their plans for at last accomplishing what the Prophet long ago declared to be Allah’s ultimate mandate for mankind, significant bits of Biblical vocabulary about How It All Ends have begun to slip from the lips of our proudly secularist statesmen.


Responding to a warning from one of his own veteran Tory Members that the tough language he is using about Assad’s use of chemical weapons could “create Armageddon,” Prime Minister David Cameron suggested: “In a way you have put the Armageddon question round the other way … If no action is taken following President Obama’s red line and if no  action is taken following this appalling use of chemical weapons,  you have to ask yourself what sort of Armageddon are the Syrian people going to be facing.”


I would suggest that the senior Tory MP has at least a partial grasp of the meaning of the word “Armageddon” and the Prime Minister does not grasp it at all.  David Cameron speaks of a limited catastrophe affecting large numbers of innocent people, whereas the Senior Tory MP, while off the mark in suggesting that we have it in our power to “create” Armageddon,”  does use the term in its contextual meaning: the great global war that marks the beginning of the end of everything. [“Syrians face ‘Armageddon’  without military action, says  David Cameron,” theguardian.com, September 4, 2013.]


This weekend, most people in our part of the world will give this present crisis as much attention, and no more, as it gives nowadays to other confusing crises figuring in the headlines. There are major sports events to be watched and God-only-knows how many new sitcoms to be discovered. There are new blockbuster movies to be viewed – leaving no time to wallow in reality. Many of the new movies, are about ultimate global catastrophes; but these are more interesting than the news, as the agents of disaster in the movie will be gigantic natural forces abetted by long-deceased pre-historic species of monsters resurrected from fossil remains by mad scientists (assisted by aliens.)

Background to the Present Red Line Crisis


When the “Arab Spring” began back in December 2011 with the spark of massive protest in Tunisia, that spread to  Algeria, to Morocco, to Sudan, to Egypt, to Yemen, to Jordan even to Bahrain, the consensus among Middle East commentators was that, of all the Arab regimes,  the one most likely to stay intact was that of Bashir al-Assad of Syria. The thinking here was that Syria had the most professional armed forces and that these were bound in extraordinary loyalty to their President by the fact that they were mainly recruited from a closely-bound sectarian minority called the Alawites. The Alawites, who derive from a branch of Shia Islam but are regarded by both Shiites and Sunnis as defectors from Islam (the worst kind of heretics), knew that they would  face the long pent-up rage of both Sunnis and Shiites should they ever relax their grip on power. This is sufficient explanation for the astonishing ruthlessness of Assad’s army and of the Shabiha, Assad’s all-Alawite version of Hitler’s Waffen-SS.


Popular insurrection against the regime started up rather later in Syria than in most places, but by the time it had became an irresistible force the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, had the recent history of Tunisia and Libya and Egypt to contemplate. From this history he drew the lesson that it would be foolish to quit under promise of quiet exile or retirement (as Mubarak did) or that democratic method would save Syria (as our leaders believed that it would save Egypt.) Western powers had already drawn from their  experience of intervention in Libya, the conclusion that political mayhem could not be halted by judicious application of political influence to the white hat side in an Arab  civil war.


Syria’s own recent history seem to provide the lesson that popular discontent is always manageable, if the ruler is ruthless enough. Most encouraging for Assad was an incident that had gone by without ever appearing on the front page of any major newspaper in the West in February, 1982.  This was the two-week campaign of massacre. by Hafez al-Assad’s military of at least 20,000 mainly Sunni civilians in the city of Hama who had dared to go into the streets in non-violent protest. The expert wisdom was that memory of that event was strong enough that no one in Syria would ever try that again. Thus, as public protest against the tyrant Assad spread throughout the land during 2012, it had to be significant that Hama was again, as thirty years ago, in the front ranks of this dangerous resistance.


By now, the Syrian conflict has exceeded all the others in all categories of loss. About 100,000 have been killed and six million made refugees (either internally or externally.) A large part of its Army defected fairly early on and formed the Free Syrian Army. Some long-serving political figures also defected fairly early, in order to participate in a Free Syrian government-in-exile in Turkey.

Escalation of the Possible Costs of Intervention.


Those (like myself) who said out loud in mid-2012 that Assad’s regime was doomed [“Iran’s Campaign to mobilize support for Assad’s doomed regime,” The Bayview Review, September 6, 2012.] need not, I believe, recant, but we do need to admit that the deathwatch has been prolonged beyond expectations. All efforts at diplomatic solution have failed. UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan was humiliated by Assad’s unresponsiveness, as was a delegation sent by the Arab League in early 2013. A collective response either of diplomatic or military character has been thwarted by the exercise of veto in the Security Council by both China and Russia. As each effort at a negotiated conclusion has been tried and failed the cost of failure has increased. And, more significantly, the risks of proceeding to more robust action have also increased – exponentially.


Until these last few days, the President of the United States and other Western leaders were relieved by knowledge that any policy more red-blooded than that of wringing hands and talking piously about suffering does not have broad support with the public and will therefore not have to be tried. That may still prove to be the case.


All proposals for our military to intervene and rescue the people of Syria have so far been stymied by the generally-acknowledged fact that no one of the elements now playing a major role in the crisis has both competence in government and commitment to the principles that are necessary for democratic method. None of them is committed to basic freedoms, including religious freedom. Not incidentally: all of them blame Syria’s troubles on the Zionists. All of them promise a more vigorous pursuit of war to the death against the Jews than was on offer from the Assad regime, a regime that was sleeplessly invested in support of terrorists organizations and dedicated to the eradication of Israel and the liquidation of the Jews.


Most sensible people concluded long ago that our interests are best served for the near future at least by deadlock among the several internal forces. The vacuum of authority that has developed in Syria as the domain of the government of Assad shrinks has made it possible for all of the Islamist groups to set up their tents and raise their flags and start developing mini-states, governed by gangs – as in Somalia.  These gangs all hate each other more than they hate us. Some of this mutual hatred follows from the Sunni/Shia split, going on for fourteen hundred years, some follows from recent history – as for example the three-way feud among ethnic Turks, Arabs and Kurds.


We do not have a dog in this race any more than we do in Egypt’s internal  politics. There is no such thing as an Arab democracy; there has never been a peaceful Arab kingdom or republic based on consent of the government and nurtured by respect for the freedoms that are all engrossed in UN charters.  Efforts to change this equation by intervention make things worse. Our salvation must lie in containment.


The Significance of the Red Line


Ironically, it was not until it became clear, just a matter of weeks ago,  that Assad might, against all expectations,  be regaining ground, and that there was a prospect of his imposing a peace (the peace of the grave)  upon the land, that we began to notice that our own security interests came into play. This is, I believe, the most efficient way of expressing the meaning of the concept of a RED LINE. By introducing chemical and perhaps other WMD Assad has brought into play weapons whose only real value is in killing masses of unarmed people; armies, after all, can be protected by gas masks or sheltered in large dedicated facilities. These are the weapons that rogue regimes, regimes that do not even in words recognize a rule of law in world affairs,  will depend upon to level the playing field when and if they decide it is time to punish us.


In  1925, the League of Nations called upon its members to sign a “Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous, or other Gases, and of Biological Methods of Warfare. This convention, like other grandiose gestures intended to compel lawful behaviour upon dictators, was mocked by the Italians, the Japanese and the Germans – all of whom walked out of the League over the next few years rather than comply with declarations of that body which hindered their plans for greater empire.


Closing the Circle: Realism and Idealism in Convergence


An honest verdict on the performance of the United Nations as the Parliament of Mankind would have to be every bit a negative as that on the League. The UN’s “peacekeeping”  exercises almost always fail and unusually end up being hindrances to peace. And so today it has fallen  to the President  of the United States to call upon “the world” to fulfill its duty under these almost ninety-year old treaties. This situation has come about because the United Nations, which holds these treaties in trust for mankind refuses to acknowledge any such responsibility.  The bottom line is that the UN’s right to act is invested in the Security Council, where China and Russia exercise their veto power against all useful action.


Inherent in this most recent development is an intriguing and paradoxical turn of logic. Obama’s belated discovery of America’s “national security interest” in this oncoming scenario follows from his reckoning that Americans like everybody else on earth will suffer if these weapons get put to use in this conflict – a conflict that has hitherto seemed to be “local”.  For as long as I have been a student and a teacher of American History, there has been a conventional idea among academics that advocates of foreign  policy action – both the politicians and the academics –  fall into either the “idealist” or the “realist” camp. The first camp essentially coincides with the “universalists” and the second with “unilateralists”. The logic is that practitioners of American foreign policy are inclined either to  advocate unilateral action, depending on the goodness of American purposes for rationalization – or they argue for policies that they say are necessary outcomes of the responsibilities that Americans have as citizens of the world, as human beings for whom patriotism is secondary. But this has never been a clear dichotomy  – as this present episode dramatically reveals.


There seems little prospect today of the United States putting together a Coalition of the Willing for the task that it proposes; and there is no chance whatever of a mandate from the Parliament of Mankind. Paradoxically, this seems to leave the US with the self-imposed mandate of  upholding a commitment made by the League of Nations, nearly ninety years ago, and never rescinded, but likewise never honoured. As the United States does so, its is being chastised by the Secretary –General of the UN and it is  being denounced as a rogue-unilateralist  by UN Security Council members (China and Russia) who are preventing it international action. In fact, just today (September 6) the Russian President told the G20 conference meeting in St. Petersburg that “the U.S. decision will drive another nail into the coffin of international law.” The positive aspect – you might even call it the refreshing part of this – is that we have  at last  reached the point where we can speak frankly of our own self-defense – our own national defense. Everything depends on our recognizing that although this threat is not yet upon us it is over the hill.  These weapons, once distributed to the arsenals of rogue nations and Islamist gangs, are capable of reducing geographical distance to irrelevance and rendering irrelevant the massive military advantage of mighty nations.


We are compelled (ironically) by this demonstration of a great humanitarian crisis that does not affect us YET to take action clearly called for to defend ourselves. Here the cause of mankind (“righteousness”) and our own self-interest (“peace”) have (as the Psalmist says “kissed each other.”

The Ups and Downs of Islamist Fortunes in Yemen, Somalia, and Mali

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(Please Note: articles below may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click on the link for the full article.)


Why Yemen is the Scariest Challenge Facing Obama Abroad: Bruce Riedel, The Daily Beast, Nov. 9, 2012     —The scariest terrorist challenge facing the re-elected President Obama comes from Yemen. Obama will have to face the growing menace of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the failing state in Yemen that it thrives on.


Somalia’s Tentative Recovery: Irfan Husain, Dawn, Dec.10, 2012—Finally, some good news from Somalia: In large measure, this return to normalcy is due to the defeat of the terrorist group Harkat al-Mujahideen al-Shebab by the forces of the African Mission for Somalia established by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).


A Trip Through Hell: Daily Life in Islamist Northern Mali: Paul Hyacinthe Mben, Der Spiegel, Oct. 30, 2012—For months, an Islamist regime has been terrorizing northern Mali. Hundreds of thousands have already fled the region, and those who have stayed behind are experiencing new forms of cruelty with each passing day. A Spiegel reporter documents a two-week journey through a region Europe fears will become the next Somalia.


On Topic Links



Losing Yemen: Gregory Johnsen, Foreign Policy,  Nov. 5, 2012

Saudi Arabia – Yemen Border Dispute: Chris Murphy, ICE Case Studies,  Nov., 2006

Remote U.S. Base at Core of Secret Operations: Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, October 25, 2012

In Yemen Trading Girls is Economical: Hind Aleryani, NOW Lebanon, December 10, 2012





Bruce Riedel

The Daily Beast, Nov 9, 2012


The scariest terrorist challenge facing the re-elected President Obama comes from Yemen….Obama will have to face the growing menace of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the failing state in Yemen that it thrives on. The response must be nimble and careful because AQAP’s real goal is to drag America into another bleeding war in the Muslim world, this time hoping it will spread into the oil rich deserts of Saudi Arabia….


The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia by Gregory Johnsen is a detailed narrative account of the development of AQAP [see link in On Topic below – Ed.]….The story is fascinating, this is a group that was virtually destroyed in 2004 by drone attacks and effective counter terrorism operations, and then it recovered, helped immensely by the Arab world’s anger over the American invasion of Iraq. In 2009 it rebranded itself with new leadership composed of Saudis and Yemenis, several of whom had been prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. It’s number two, Saeed al Shihri, spent five years America’s Cuban prison before being released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 where he fled into Yemen. A drone had allegedly killed him last month, then he reappeared alive in a message threatening more attacks on America.


Since 2009 AQAP has tried to attack the American homeland at least three times. On Christmas Day 2009 it almost succeeded. [A] suicide terrorist…successfully penetrated American security and got a bomb on a Detroit bound flight that day. President Obama was absolutely right when he said after the fact “we dodged a bullet, but just barely” because the bomb failed to detonate properly. Johnsen reveals that AQAP’s master bomb maker, a Saudi named Ibrahim Asiri has now built a bomb with two detonators so it can’t fail.


The Arab Awakening came to Yemen in 2011 with a vengeance and has left the country completely fragmented. AQAP has thrived. Yemen has always been a difficult and inhospitable place. Its most desolate region, where Osama Ben Laden’s family comes from and Shihri was nearly killed, is the Hadramawt which means “death has come” in Arabic and is said to contain the gate to hell in one of its wadis. Today Yemen is running out of oil and water, more than half the population is under 18, half goes to bed every night hungry and the national government barely controls even parts of the capital.


For over a decade America has been trying to fight al Qaeda in Yemen without getting dragged deeper and deeper into its internal dysfunctional politics….America’s key ally in this war is Yemen’s bigger and richer brother, Saudi Arabia, the real prize in the struggle. Bin Laden and his protégés in AQAP have always had their focus on the Kingdom and the House of Saud. Johnsen details just how deeply the Saudis have become involved in the war in Yemen including how its intelligence service has foiled two AQAP plots against America and its Royal Saudi Air Force is now flying bombing strikes against AQAP targets deep inside the country.


AQAP entitled the video it produced about the Christmas Day plot “the Final Trap.”  Shihri was one of the narrators. What the title meant was that al Qaeda hopes to draw America deeper and deeper into a quagmire with more and more boots on the ground in Yemen. It wants another Iraq, another Afghanistan. An attack in America that killed hundreds would force America to take on the challenge of rebuilding Yemen with our own hands, a final trap that would bleed America’s military, our economy, and our morale.


President Obama has wisely avoided the trap for the last four years but the Yemeni threat has not gone away and the slow collapse of the Yemeni state offers little hope that it will.  Washington has a long-term challenge in Arabia…..


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Irfan Husain

Dawn, Dec.10, 2012


Finally, some good news from Somalia: according to a new issue of the French weekly Paris Match, the Somali shilling has doubled in value against the dollar over the last two years. The international airport at Mogadishu has been refurbished, and now boasts of a duty-free shop. Turkish Airlines operates three weekly flights to Istanbul as a result of a visit by Recep Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister….The same issue of the magazine informs us that the price of fish has shot up because of new restaurants opening up to cater for the increasing number of foreigners and returning expatriate Somalis. A new six-story hotel is coming up in the capital. Male and female students are returning to schools and university.


In large measure, this return to normalcy is due to the defeat of the terrorist group Harkat al-Mujahideen al-Shebab by the forces of the African Mission for Somalia established by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). This force, sanctioned by the UN, has been very successful in pushing the terrorists out of Mogadishu, and from other towns as well. The effort to eject the extremist thugs out of the country began last year, and has made steady success.


The other factor underpinning the Somali success story is the return of some 300,000 migrants who had been forced to leave their country due to the complete breakdown of law and order. With their money and their entrepreneurial spirit, the rebuilding of Somalia is under way. Scattered across North America and Europe, this diaspora made its mark by dint of hard work and self-help.


Considering that Somalia was for years synonymous with our notion of a failed state, this recovery is nothing short of miraculous. For decades, the country was caught up in murderous tribal warfare that destroyed much of Mogadishu. A slice of this mayhem was captured by the Nineties film Blackhawk Down that depicted the failed American effort to restore some order and bring in food supplies. In the event, Bill Clinton pulled out US forces after they lost a number of soldiers….


Whatever was left was demolished by the Shebab in their bid to impose a Taliban-like theocracy on Somalia. These holy warriors modelled themselves on the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, banning everything from music to sports. Symbolising the return to sanity is the reopening of the National Theatre, a building earlier used by the Shebab as an arms depot and then as a public toilet….


Repeated bouts of famine, in part caused by the civil war,…hastened Somalia’s descent into chaos. After a provisional government was established with international support, the country was again subjected to yet another round of violence when the Shebab attempted to take control. For years, Mogadishu was a divided city with the young terrorists calling the shots. The country is also plagued by a nest of pirates who prey on ships sailing hundreds of miles from the coast. Their links to the Shebab have been reported, and their depredations have been the subject of widespread international concern and action….


The return of a tenuous stability augurs well for this east African state. If it can build democratic institutions, it might well emerge from decades of violence and abject poverty. Luckily, it has many well-wishers: the West as well as its neighbours realize that a collapsed Somali state means trouble for the entire region…..


One lesson from Somalia is that given political will and firm military action, the extremist scourge can be defeated. The reality is that jihadis, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, have very little public support. Even though they fly the Islamic banner, they are actually fighting for power and money. They recruit poor, gullible young men to their cause, but the leaders are cynical killers who use religion as a ploy to silence their opponents.


In Somalia, the Shebab faded away when confronted with well armed and disciplined troops. While they killed and terrorised unarmed civilians, they were no match for the OAU force….


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Paul Hyacinthe Mben

Der Spiegel, Oct. 30, 2012


For months, an Islamist regime has been terrorizing northern Mali. Hundreds of thousands have already fled the region, and those who have stayed behind are experiencing new forms of cruelty with each passing day. Northern Mali is virtually inaccessible to journalists at present. Sharia law has been in effect there since last spring, when fundamentalists took control of a large part of the country, which had been considered a model nation until then. The fundamentalists stone adulterers, amputate limbs and squelch all opposition. They have destroyed tombs in Timbuktu that were recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site….


A checkpoint set up by the Islamist police on the road to Gao marks the beginning of the region controlled by the new rulers of northern Mali. Adolescents wielding Kalashnikovs stand at the barrier with their legs apart. The oldest one keeps repeating the same instructions through a megaphone: "No cigarettes, no CDs, no radios, no cameras, no jewelry," an endless loop of prohibitions, a list of everything that's haram, or impure, with which this journey to the north begins. The men stand guard in the name of the Prophet Muhammad.


With arrogant gestures, they stop the few long-distance buses still coming from southern Mali. One of the men, holding his weapon at the ready, inspects the busses by walking down the aisle and checking to make sure everyone is in compliance with the Islamists' rules: Are women and men sitting in separate areas? Are the women wearing the hijab? And are the men wearing trousers that reach to their ankles, the kind of trousers that radical Muslims believe the Prophet favoured? They are now obligatory in Gao….


Mali has been a divided country since April, when Islamists took control of a region in the north larger than France, while the south is still administered by a government that is incapable of defending itself. This spring, forces with the Tuareg ethnic group drove the Malian army out of the country's northern regions within only a few weeks. They proclaimed the Tuareg nation of Azawad, which no nation in the world has recognized.


Then came the Islamists, armed to the teeth with what was left of the arsenal of the former Gadhafi regime in nearby Libya. The Islamists are also well connected with al-Qaida fighters who for some years now have found a safe haven in the Maghreb region of North Africa and the countries of the Sahel zone south of the Sahara Desert. Those Tuareg who didn't join the Islamists were driven out. The fronts of buildings in Gao still show traces of the power struggle between the two groups, including bullet holes and blackened and crumbling walls. The world is now deeply concerned that Mali could turn into another Somalia or Afghanistan.


In principle, the United Nations Security Council has already approved the deployment of international troops against the north. The European Union has decided to send military advisors, and the United States is even considering the use of remote-controlled drones to fight the Islamist leaders. Northern Mali, less than a five-hour flight from Paris, cannot become a new hotbed of terrorism or a second Somalia, says German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. His US counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, believes that the Islamists in Mali were behind the attack that led to the death of the American ambassador in the Libyan city of Benghazi seven weeks ago.


Gao, a city of 100,000 people, has become a lifeless place since the Islamists took over. It was once a stopping point for tourists traveling to Timbuktu, but now the roadside stands have disappeared, bars and restaurants are boarded up and music is banned. The new strongmen proclaim their creed on signs posted at street corners, written in white Arabic lettering on a black background, that read: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger."


To make matters worse, garbage collection has been suspended, leaving waste to rot in the streets at temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Around 400,000 people have already fled the Islamists. Most who have left represent the better-educated parts of the work force, like the engineers who kept the power plant and waterworks in operation. Foreign aid organizations are gone, as are government officials who were in the process of implementing a new road construction program.


"Gao is a dead city," says Allassane Amadou Touré, a mechanic, as he drinks tea in the shade. He is unemployed, like many in the city, and says that Gao's economic output has "declined by 85 percent" since the spring. The Islamic police have become the city's biggest employers. Ironically, their headquarters are on Washington Street in downtown Gao. From there, the armed police officers, most of them young men who are little more than children, are sent out into the neighborhoods to drum into residents what is considered "haram" and "halal," or pure.


Until recently, the Sharia courts' sentences were also carried out on Washington Street, but now the Islamic police have become more cautious. Since an angry crowd managed to rescue people who had been convicted of crimes from the executioner, hands and feet are now being severed in secret. The Sharia court uses a former military base outside the city to carry out its grisly punishments.


One of its victims was Alhassane Boncana Maiga, who was found guilty of stealing cattle. Four guards drag Maiga, wearing a white robe, into a dark room and tie him to a chair, leaving only one hand free. A doctor gives the victim an injection for the pain. Then Omar Ben Saïd, the senior executioner, pulls a knife out of its sheath. "In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful," he calls out, takes the convicted man's hand and begins to slice into it, as blood squirts out. It becomes more difficult when Saïd reaches the bone, and it's a full three minutes before the hand drops into a bucket. The executioner reaches for his mobile phone, calls his superior and says: "The man has been punished."…


One of the masterminds behind Islamist terror in Mali is Iyad Ag Ghali. He lives in Kidal, 320 kilometers (200 miles) northeast of Gao, in an opulent house near the airport, which is now closed. A short man with a long beard and sunglasses, Ag Ghali is constantly surrounded by a throng of heavily armed men with the group Ansar Dine, or "Defenders of the Faith."

Ansar Dine is a new organization. Until last year, Ag Ghali was known as a leading Tuareg separatist. He vacillated between seeking dialogue with Bamako and declaring an independent Tuareg state. Ag Ghali had a reputation for smoking and drinking, but he was also considered unreliable, so the Tuareg rebels marginalized him politically last November. That was probably the moment Ag Ghali discovered Islamism. From then on, instead of calling for a Tuareg nation, he promoted Sharia, saying: "All those who do not walk on Allah's paths are infidels." His change of heart secured him the support of al-Qaida and other extremists from the Maghreb.

His group is also involved in the drug trade in the Sahara. South American cartels send cocaine by ship to Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. From there, the drugs travel northward by land, transported — in return for a hefty share of the profits — by rebels, revolutionaries and bandits, like the Ansar Dine combatants. Kidnappings are another source of income for the "Defenders of the Faith." When the UN approved the deployment of troops to northern Mali in mid-October, Ansar Dine threatened to kill French hostages under its control. Ag Ghali has little to say to the visitor. "Welcome to the Islamic city of Kidal," he says, before getting into his SUV and racing off, followed by his entourage.

But Kidal isn't really welcoming at all. Half of its residents have fled to Mauretania or Niger, and Islamic police in pickup trucks patrol the streets. The market is closed, and women are no longer permitted to go out in public alone in the city.  The men were instructed to grow beards. Those who do not obey the muezzin's call to prayer are either whipped or jailed for three days. Listening to the radio is banned, and the new rulers have simply sawed off satellite dishes on the roofs of houses.


Yacouba Mahamane Maiga is dozing under a tree. He is wearing a washed out T-shirt and shorts. He was one of the richest men in the city before the Islamists came to Kidal. "I can't stand any of this anymore," he says, making a fist and pointing it in the direction of the boys with the Kalashnikovs. Before the takeover, his construction company had just been hired to build a new prison and a new courthouse, both government contracts worth millions. Maiga invested €1.5 million ($1.9 million) in new excavators and cranes.


But there has been no construction in Kidal since the Islamists arrived, and Maiga is forced to look on as his country falls apart. His machines are covered in desert dust, and his employees have fled. "I worked with these hands my entire life," he says. "Those stupid Salafists." He refuses to take them very seriously and isn't fooled by their piety. He calls them bandits, not holy warriors.

Tirades in public can be dangerous. The Islamic police are everywhere, and yet Maiga no longer makes any effort to hide his anger. There are more than 20 ethnic groups in Mali, and until now, Muslims, Christians and animists coexisted peacefully. Religion was always a private matter, says Maiga. He is convinced that the Islamists have no popular support, and he says that the people of Kidal are tired of being pushed around by adolescents.

Maimouna Wallet Zeidane, 27, is one of the people who are trying to organize the resistance that is popping up everywhere. When it was still allowed, she was very athletic and shared a two-room apartment with her boyfriend in the Etambar neighborhood. Now she lives alone. Thugs with Ansar Dine wanted to cut off her boyfriend's hands, because they were living together. He has since fled to Algeria. "We live in 2012. How can they try to turn back time to the days of the Prophet?" Zeidane asks.

She wears jeans and a T-shirt at home, but if she wore such clothing outside she would be beaten with a stick. She has spread out sheets of paper in her living room and started writing out slogans. One reads: "Islamists = Drug Dealers." There is a knock at the door, and she quickly puts away the paper. "If the Islamic police find this here, they'll burn down the building." She puts a veil over her head and opens the door, by only a crack at first, but then all the way. Three women, her fellow campaigners, walk into the apartment. They call themselves the "Kidal Amazons." The group also consists of 250 women, and it grows larger at every demonstration, they say.

They'll be back on the streets in a few days, holding up their banners, in the middle of the Islamic city of Kidal. They'll risk beatings, each consisting of at least 40 lashes with a stick or a whip, and they'll go to prison. But Zeidane is determined to take that risk. The Islamists have destroyed her life, and she is no longer afraid of the men with the beards and guns. "They should all burn in hell," she says.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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Losing Yemen: Gregory Johnsen, Foreign Policy,  Nov. 5, 2012—AQAP has repeatedly tried to strike the United States — with a pair of parcel bombs in 2010 and another underwear bomb that was uncovered in early 2012 — while the United States has responded with ramped-up drone and air strikes along with increased economic aid to the central government in Sanaa.


Saudi Arabia – Yemen Border Dispute: Chris Murphy, ICE Case Studies,  Nov., 2006—Even though a common border was delineated by the Taif Treaty in 1934, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have had continued conflict over the issue. The possible oil reserves, civil war, and Saudi interventions in Yemeni politics have driven the conflict for much of the last century.


Remote U.S. Base At Core Of Secret Operations: Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, October 25, 2012—Around the clock, about 16 times a day, drones take off or land at a U.S. military base here, the combat hub for the Obama administration’s counterterrorism wars in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.


In Yemen Trading Girls Is Economical: Hind Aleryani, NOW Lebanon, December 10, 2012 —Exchange, or tradeoff, marriages provide a suitable solution to address the problem of high dowries and dire living conditions in Yemen. Basically, whoever is unable to pay the dowry of the girl he wants marry has to offer his sister to be married to the bride’s brother. Both men thus avoid paying dowries, while the bridegroom’s sister is denied her right to choose her husband, or even her right to a dowry.



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Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2012

President Obama [on January 8] put in a rare appearance at the Pentagon, flanked by the four service chiefs and his Secretary of Defense. Saying that now is the time to cash in a peace dividend, he unveiled plans for a significantly slimmed-down military. This dance was choreographed to convey strength. Everything else about it showed how domestic entitlements are beginning to squeeze the U.S. military.

This self-inflicted attack on defense comes at a strange time. True, the U.S. cut deeply after World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War—and in each case came to regret it soon enough when new threats emerged. But peace doesn’t characterize our time. Mr. Obama wielded his familiar line that “the tide of war is receding,” which will please his antiwar base but will come as news to the Marines in Afghanistan or the Navy ships patrolling the tense Strait of Hormuz.

The Pentagon shouldn’t be immune to fiscal scrutiny, yet this Administration has targeted defense from its earliest days and has kept on squeezing. The White House last year settled with Congress on $450 billion in military budget cuts through 2021, on top of the $350 billion in weapons programs killed earlier. Defense spending next year will fall 1% in nominal terms. The Pentagon also faces another $500 billion in possible cuts starting next January under “sequestration,” unless Congress steps in first.

Taken altogether, the budget could shrink by over 30% in the next decade. The Administration projects outlays at 2.7% of GDP in 2021, down from 4.5% last year (which included the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan).… As recently as 1986…the U.S. spent 6.2% of GDP on defense with no detrimental economic impact.

What’s different now? The growing entitlement state. The Administration is making a political choice and sparing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which are set to hit nearly 11% of GDP by 2020. And that’s before $2.6 trillion for ObamaCare, which will surely cost more. These entitlements are already crowding out spending on defense and thus reducing America’s global standing, following the tragic path that Europe has taken. The difference is that Europe had the U.S. military in reserve. Who will backstop America?…

The real message to the world is that the Administration wants to scale back U.S. leadership. This was part of the rationale behind the White House’s reluctance to take the initiative in the Middle East last year, as well as the attempts to mollify Iran’s mullahs and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Now the Administration plans to draw down troops and America’s profile in Africa, Latin America and Europe. The Navy can easily match Iran’s threats in the Persian Gulf now, but what about in 10 years?

President Obama ended his remarks by quoting Dwight Eisenhower on “the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.” The line comes from his 1961 Farewell Address, better known as the “military-industrial complex” speech. Mr. Obama’s new defense posture brings to mind another Eisenhower line, offered two years earlier: “Weakness in arms often invites aggression.”

Jim Lacey

National Review, January 11, 2012

In 2010, Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, waded into a domestic political debate he would have been well advised to avoid. By declaring that “Our national debt is our biggest national-security threat,” Admiral Mullen painted a bull’s-eye on the Pentagon for every shortsighted budget-cutter in Washington to aim at.… After all, if the organization responsible for securing America is declaring our national debt to be the number-one security threat, then it must, of course, lead the way in taking the cuts that will help reduce that threat.

[On January 8], we saw the outcome of Admiral Mullen’s misjudgment, when the president crossed the Potomac to announce his administration’s new strategic guidance to the Department of Defense.… There are some things about it that all Americans must be made aware of. The most important is that this is not a strategy aimed at securing the country. Rather, it is designed for one purpose only: to cut hundreds of billions of dollars out of the defense budget—consequences be damned.

The new guidance declares that “preventing Afghanistan from ever being a safe haven” for terrorists is one of its “central” goals. Then, in the very next paragraph, it discusses our impending withdrawal from Afghanistan. As part of “deterring and defeating aggression,” the new guidance says the military must be able to “secure territory and populations,” but then goes on to state that it only has to do this “on a small scale and for a limited period.” The administration forgets that the enemy gets a vote on the scale and length of any conflict.… In another insult to clear thinking, the guidance sets one of the military’s “primary missions” as conducting “stability and counterinsurgency operations.” In keeping with its established pattern, however, it then goes on to state: “U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.” After our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, how is it possible that the administration appears not to be aware that such operations are always and everywhere prolonged and troop-intensive?…

Despite this, the Army and Marine Corps are planning for mandated cuts of approximately 150,000 troops from their strength, much of that cutting to come from the combat forces. Such cuts would be an unmitigated disaster for the security of our nation. Only through the most drastic means were the Marines and Army just able to scrape together enough forces for Iraq and Afghanistan.…

One of the great fallacies believed by those with only a limited knowledge of the military is that we have a large number of combat troops. In truth, what the military calls the “point of the spear” is rather thinly manned. If you put all of the Army’s and Marine Corps’s combat troops (infantry, armor, and artillery) inside the Rose Bowl, you would still have over 30,000 empty seats. If the Army ever again took losses that were typical of a single day’s hard fighting in many of our past wars, our current force would be decimated beyond its ability to recover.

This is the force the strategic guidance is setting up for a gutting. Given the host of challenges and the growing power of our potential enemies, this appears a particularly bad time to consider a unilateral disarming of the force that has underpinned the Pax Americana for almost 70 years. Unfortunately, Vegetius’s words “If you want peace, prepare for war” remain as true today as when he wrote them 1,600 years ago.…

Remarkably, even the administration does not believe its guidance is a good idea. How do I know? Its own guidance document says so. At one point, the document instructs the military to reduce the force in such a way that it can be rapidly “regenerated” in the event of an emergency. At another point it says “reversibility…is a key part of our decision calculus.” When before has a nation ever announced a new defense strategy in which a major part of the plan involves reversing everything the plan sets out to do?…

As a percentage of GDP, however, the military budget is set to fall to its lowest point since before World War II, and well under half of what we maintained throughout the Cold War. It is not the military budget that is bankrupting the nation. Rather, it is runaway entitlement spending that is set to wreck the nation’s economic future.…

It is only a matter of time before a potential enemy calculates that we have weakened ourselves to the point that it can roll the dice. If you think staying prepared for war is expensive, try getting caught up in one when unprepared.

(Jim Lacey is the professor of strategic studies at the Marine Corps War College.)

Bret Stephens

Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2012

It’s never entirely easy to distinguish between retrenchment and retreat.

For three years, the Obama administration has followed what it believes is a strategy of retrenchment—withdrawing from Iraq, setting a deadline for Afghanistan, calling off further expansion of NATO, signing arms-control treaties, asking the Europeans to take the lead in Libya, preferring sanctions to military strikes, and now slicing into the Pentagon’s budget—all on the commendable theory that America must learn once again to pick its spots, match its ambitions to its means, and pursue a “sustainable” foreign policy.

The only problem is, the theory is wrong. What the administration would like to have you believe is a matter of vision is seen by others as a function of weakness.

Consider the Strait of Hormuz, 2012 edition. The administration kicks the year off by imposing sanctions on Iran’s oil trade and persuading the Europeans to follow suit. The Iranians conduct military drills and warn the U.S. not to send an aircraft carrier back to the Persian Gulf. Then a potential diplomatic deus ex machina appears in the form of the USS Kidd’s high-profile rescue of some Iranian sailors from their pirate captors. Iran repays the gesture by sentencing to death 28-year-old Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, an American citizen of Iranian descent.

The lesson of this parable is that you don’t get more by doing less. The administration’s policy toward Iran amounts to avoiding direct confrontation at all costs on the view that the last thing the U.S. needs is another war in the Middle East. But the result is that Iran is more truculent than ever (and much closer to a bomb), while our allies are more skittish than ever about the strength of U.S. commitments. Sooner or later, the U.S. will have to prove the worth of those commitments in the face of an adversary that’s more likely to test them. How sustainable is that?

This scenario has been playing itself out with depressing regularity since Mr. Obama came to office. About Iraq, Hillary Clinton said in October that the U.S. would not tolerate Iranian meddling. Yet the likelihood that the promise will be tested is far greater now than when we had a residual force in the country, even as the prospective cost of honoring the promise has become almost unaffordable. About Afghanistan, we surged our forces but attached a deadline. The upshot is the U.S. expending itself on temporary triumphs over the Taliban as Pakistan waits and plans a pro-Taliban end game.

Or consider Mr. Obama’s favorite subject, nuclear proliferation. In April 2009, he gave a speech in Prague dreaming of a nuclear-free world. Almost immediately, North Korea tested a weapon, Pakistan expanded its arsenal, Iran moved ahead with its illicit programs, and China and Russia undertook extensive nuclear modernization schemes.

Now the president wants a retrenched military.… Unfortunately for the president, the tide of war does not ebb or flow according to his wishes—unless he refuses to meet any provocation with force as a matter of principle. Our financial disorders are not the result of excess military spending but of entitlement programs Mr. Obama refuses to touch and has done much to expand.… Today’s military has half as many ships and nearly 600,000 fewer active duty troops than it did at the end of the Cold War. Whatever else he’s doing, Mr. Obama is not taking his budget knife to a bloated force.

In the history of any great power, there is always a point when the downward trend becomes unmistakable and irreversible. For France it was 1940; for Britain 1947; for the Soviet Union 1989. A case may soon be made that for the European Union the year was 2011. It would be silly to suggest that the U.S. is anywhere near that type of inflection point. It has suffered no comparable military or economic disaster; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a sneeze compared to World War II.

The current vogue in declinism confuses the failures of (and disappointments in) an administration with the health of the country as a whole.… We will not husband our resources by spending less on defense: We’ll just squander the money elsewhere, probably less productively. We will not lessen tensions overseas by diminishing our military footprint: We’ll just create vacuums into which others rush and to which we’ll eventually return, at a cost.

That’s the Obama administration’s foreign policy legacy in a nutshell. Its failures…are becoming clearer by the day to U.S. allies and adversaries alike. Eventually Americans will get the picture, too.

P. David Hornik

Frontpage, January 17, 2012

Are Israel and the U.S. fighting again? Is the cancellation of a major joint U.S.-Israeli military drill part of the frictions? The news from the last several days gives that general impression.

Last Wednesday Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, director of uranium enrichment at the Natanz facility, was assassinated in Tehran. Iran quickly blamed Israel and the U.S.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, hastened to “categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran.” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added that the “United States strongly condemns this act of violence and categorically denies any involvement in the killing.…” For Israel it was a disconcerting message. If getting rid of someone helping a fanatic regime obtain weapons capable of annihilating millions of people is a “violent act” to be condemned, is the Obama administration really serious about the threat? Or still dreaming of dialogue and “understanding” with that regime?…

On Sunday Israeli deputy prime minister Moshe Yaalon complained publicly about U.S. policy. He compared it to Britain and France, who “are taking a very firm stand [on Iran] and understand sanctions must be imposed immediately”—whereas “In the United States, the Senate passed a resolution, by a majority of 100-to-none, to impose…sanctions [against Iran’s Central Bank], yet the U.S. administration is hesitat[ing] for fear of oil prices rising this year, out of election-year considerations. In that regard, this is certainly a disappointment, for now.”

Not many hours after that, it was reported that the U.S.-Israeli military drill—which was to be the largest joint exercise ever between the two countries—had been postponed at least to sometime later this year. Originally planned for April, “Austere Challenge 12” was aimed at improving antimissile defense systems, as well as cooperation between U.S. and Israeli forces.

Whatever the impact of this development on the Israeli leadership, on Monday it was Netanyahu himself who continued in his deputy Yaalon’s vein, telling a Knesset committee that “The sanctions employed thus far are ineffective, they have no impact on [Iran’s] nuclear program. We need tough sanctions against [its] central bank and oil industry. These things are not happening yet and that is why it has no effect on the nuclear program.” He also said Iran had been quickly penetrating Iraq since the U.S. withdrew its forces, and that Israel, as a result, had to strengthen its defenses against possible attacks from the air and the ground.

In an atmosphere, then, of implicit and open accusations and counteraccusations, it is tempting to see the cancellation of “Austere Challenge 12” as a U.S. slap at Israel.…

[US] Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey is on the way to Israel this week to hold talks with the Israeli chief of staff and other top brass. It comes as no surprise, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that the U.S. is increasingly worried about an Israeli strike on Iran.…


Last Friday, US President Barack Obama announced that “the long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year,” marking the conclusion of a nearly 9-year war that cost the U.S more than 4,400 lives, more than 33,000 injured servicemen and servicewomen, and upwards of one trillion dollars. As the approximately 45,000 American troops in Iraq begin their phased withdrawal, many questions remain, primary of which is whether Iraq is in fact “safe, stable, and self-reliant,” as the White House claims, or whether a war-torn society, governed by a fractured and frail government, can resist and overcome the challenges that lie ahead. And lurking in the shadows is Shiite Iran. As described this past July by then-Joint Chiefs Chairman US Adm. Mike Mullen, "Iran is playing an out-sized role [in Iraq].” The departure of US forces from Iraq stands to further empower Tehran’s mullahs, as another roadblock to their pursuit of nuclear weapons and Middle East hegemony will soon be removed.



Washington Post, October 22, 2011

“The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year,” President Obama announced [last] Friday afternoon. That will be true only for American soldiers. Iraqi insurgents, including al-Qaeda, continue to wage war against the country’s fragile democratic government; Iran sponsors its own militias and has been accelerating its effort to dominate its neighbour.… And a tense standoff goes on between ethnic Kurdish and Iraqi government forces in northern Iraq—where Turkey has just launched its own armed incursion.

It could be, as White House officials argued, that the government of Nouri al-Maliki and its armed forces can manage all these threats without help or training from American soldiers, who have already played a secondary role since the end of combat operations last year. But Mr. Obama’s decision to carry out a complete withdrawal sharply increases the risk that painfully won security gains in Iraq will come undone; that Iran will be handed a crucial strategic advantage in its regional cold war with the United States; and that a potentially invaluable U.S. alliance with an emerging Iraqi democracy will wither.

Mr. Obama portrayed the complete pullout of the 43,000 remaining U.S. forces as the product of “full agreement” with Mr. Maliki, whom he invited to Washington in December to work on a future partnership. In fact, both governments were internally divided. The majority of Iraqi leaders sought a continued U.S. troop presence as a check on Iran and a guarantor of a strong alliance—just like other American allies in the Persian Gulf. But Mr. Maliki found it hard to face down the Iranian-backed party in his government; he eventually brokered a bad compromise under which Iraq proposed that U.S. training forces remain but be denied the legal immunity the Pentagon insists on elsewhere in the world.

That gave Mr. Obama a ready reason to side with White House advisers who had argued against a stay-on force all along. U.S. military commanders, with an eye on Iran, had planned for a troop contingent of up to 18,000. But civilian aides argued that U.S. and Iraqi security forces have demonstrated the ability to maintain control even as U.S. forces have pulled back.… Washington, they say, has the means to maintain influence through its arms sales to Iraq and the trainers who will accompany them—not to mention a U.S. embassy that will be among the largest in the world.

The next year or two will show whether that calculation is correct. In the meantime Mr. Obama will surely boast on the campaign trail, as he did at the White House, that he has fulfilled his 2008 pledge “to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end.” End it will, for Americans if not for Iraqis; as for “responsible,” count us among the doubters.


Ryan Mauro
FrontPage, October 24, 2011

President Obama has announced that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, with the exception of 160 soldiers to guard the embassy. The premature withdrawal will force the Iraqi leadership into Iran’s arms, bringing the regime closer to its dream of creating a Shiite crescent to destroy Israel. And in a shrewd political maneuver, President Obama took credit for the “success” and left out the inconvenient fact that the timeline he followed was signed under President Bush.

The administration is deceitfully saying that this was the plan all along when that is demonstrably false. The U.S. pressured the Iraqis to come to an agreement on extending the U.S. stay into 2012, and almost every Iraqi political party approved. General Lloyd Austin asked that 14-18,000 troops remain; a number that did not make President Obama happy. The number was reduced to 10,000, earning the support of Secretary of State Clinton. That, too, was too much for President Obama. It fell to 3-4,000, raising significant concern about whether it’d be enough. Now, it has been announced that all of the remaining 39,000 troops will come home by Christmas.…

Left behind will be 5,000 security contractors for the State Department and 9,500 for the Defense Department. Thousands of more American contractors will stay for logistical support. Also staying in Iraq will be Iran’s proxies like Moqtada al-Sadr, who vowed to target every single U.S. soldier remaining in Iraq next year. Let’s hope he doesn’t view the contractors as legitimate targets, because the U.S. won’t have the forces on the ground to fight his forces. Other Iranian-backed militias like Kaitab Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Promised Day Brigade will also still be around, and will outnumber the Americans.

It is true that the final decision to carry out a complete withdrawal was based on the Iraqi refusal to grant immunity to American soldiers. Prime Minister al-Maliki wanted to grant them immunity, but it was politically impossible because the Sadrists could bring down his government. The U.S. was defeated politically by al-Sadr, but it didn’t have to be that way.

The U.S. could have put the soldiers on the payroll of the U.S. embassy, automatically granting them diplomatic immunity, instead of seeking the approval of the Iraqi parliament. The issue would have been separated from the negotiations. Additionally, the U.S. failed to reach out to other Iraqi political parties and figures, such as Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite opposed to Iran, whose support could have allowed al-Maliki to approve immunity. There was already bad blood between Allawi and the Obama Administration. After Allawi won the elections in 2010, he complained that the U.S. wasn’t supporting his attempts to form a government because it wanted to appease Iran.…

There is a direct correlation between U.S. strength and Iraqi willingness to stand up to its enemies. When the security situation was at its worst in 2006, the majority of Iraqis wanted U.S. forces to depart. Once the surge began, al-Maliki took on the Iranian-supported militias. Moqtada al-Sadr fled to Iran. The Iraqis looked upon the U.S. presence more favorably as the country stabilized. This summer, when Iran escalated attacks on American forces, the U.S. said it would not stand for it and would take action. The Iraqis privately confronted Iran, and the attacks sharply and quickly fell. On the other hand, when the U.S. declined to back Iraq in its confrontation with Syria in 2009, [Iraq] decided to mend its ties with the Assad regime. The Iraqi government is now taking Assad’s side as he tries to crush the uprising against him.

If Iran dominates Iraq, the regime (especially Ahmadinejad) will view it as the fulfillment of prophecy and a vindication of its End Times-based worldview, as expressed in its documentary, “The Coming is Upon Us.” Iraq plays a central role in Shiite Islamic prophecy. A senior Hezbollah official in Lebanon was not coy about what will follow a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. A “Shiite crescent” will form, bringing together 100 million people against Israel. Hundreds of thousands of “martyrs” will die and Israel will use nuclear weapons, but the Jewish state will be destroyed. There were two things stopping this, he said: The U.S. presence in Iraq and the potential overthrow of Bashar Assad in Syria. The U.S. withdrawal removes these two barriers.

Secretary of State Clinton warns Iran to not interpret the withdrawal as U.S. weakness. She points out that the U.S. still has bases and allies in the region. However, Turkey is far from a reliable ally now. Egypt, Yemen and Jordan are threatened with Muslim Brotherhood takeovers, which the Iranian regime also views as the fulfillment of prophecy. Qatar has moved into the Islamist camp, and Iran has the capability to massively retaliate against pro-American Arab regimes. Even if the pro-American Arab governments stand by the U.S. now, Iran will essentially have a border with Israel if it dominates Iraq and if a war commences, these states will be politically forced to side with Iran.…

Iraq has made immense progress since the days of Saddam Hussein and since its near-collapse in 2006. The security forces have improved in their ability to protect the country, and nearly 5,000 American soldiers have lost their lives to get Iraq to this point. If Iran steers the direction of Iraq, then it will have gone a long way in creating its Shiite crescent and the U.S. will have paid the cost for it to happen.


Josh Rogin

Foreign Policy, October 21, 2011

The Obama administration is claiming it always intended to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of this year, in line with the president’s announcement [last Friday], but in fact several parts of the administration appeared to try hard to negotiate a deal for thousands of troops to remain—and failed.…

Deputy National Security Advisors Denis McDonough and Tony Blinken said in a White House briefing that this was always the plan. “What we were looking for was an Iraq that was secure, stable, and self reliant, and that’s what we got here, so there’s no question that was a success,” said McDonough, who traveled to Iraq last week.

But what about the extensive negotiations the administration has been engaged in for months, regarding U.S. offers to leave thousands of uniformed soldiers in Iraq past the deadline? It has been well reported that those negotiations, led by U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and White House official Brett McGurk, had been stalled over the U.S. demand that the remaining troops receive immunity from Iraqi courts.

“What the president preferred was for the best relationship for the United States and Iraq going forward. That’s exactly what we have now,” McDonough said, barely acknowledging the administration’s intensive negotiations. “We talked about immunities, there’s no question about that.… But the bottom line is that the decision you heard the president talk about today is reflective of his view and the prime minister’s view of the kind of relationship we want to have going forward. That relationship is a normal relationship,” he said.

Of course, the U.S.-Iraqi relationship is anything but normal.… “Iraq is not a normal country, the security environment is not normal, the embassy is not a normal embassy,” said Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, managing director at the Institute for the Study of War, who traveled to Iraq this summer and has been sounding the alarm about what she saw as the mishandling of the negotiations ever since.…

Sullivan was one of 40 conservative foreign policy professionals who wrote to Obama in September to warn that even a residual force of 4,000 troops would “leave the country more vulnerable to internal and external threats, thus imperiling the hard-fought gains in security and governance made in recent years at significant cost to the United States.” She said that the administration’s negotiating strategy was flawed for a number of reasons: it failed to take into account Iraqi politics, failed to reach out to a broad enough group of Iraqi political leaders, and sent contradictory messages on the troop extension throughout the process. “From the beginning, the talks unfolded in a way where they largely driven by domestic political concerns, both in Washington and Baghdad. Both sides let politics drive the process, rather than security concerns,” said Sullivan.…

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon(R-CA) echoed those sentiments in a statement and expressed skepticism that Iraq is as “safe, stable, and self reliant” as the White House claims. “Multiple experts have testified before my committee that the Iraqis still lack important capacities in their ability to maintain their internal stability and territorial integrity,” McKeon said. “These shortcomings could reverse the decade of hard work and sacrifice both countries have endured to build a free Iraq.…”


National Review, October 24, 2011

If the Iranians pride themselves on playing chess while we play checkers, they never could have expected us to walk away from the board.

But that’s our next move in Iraq. President Obama announced [last] Friday that all of the roughly 40,000 U.S. troops will leave the country by the end of the year. We are thus handing the Iranians a goal they have sought for years—to remove us from Iraq entirely so they can better influence the country for their ends. It once seemed that Iraq could be a strategic ally and base for our influence in the Middle East; it now may become both those things for our foremost enemy in the region.

The Iranians must think they either are very lucky or—more likely very good. The announcement of our total withdrawal comes just weeks after the revelation of an Iranian plot to execute the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. on our soil. It comes as Iran’s key Arab ally, the Assad regime in Syria, is rocked by a revolt. Just as Tehran’s dangerousness is put in stark relief and as events in Syria threaten to deal it a strategic setback, it gets this windfall.

The Obama administration is talking out of both sides of its mouth on Iraq. On the one hand, it says the total withdrawal is the blessed advent of one of President Obama’s most cherished campaign promises, proof of how committed he’s always been to ending the Iraq War. On the other, it says on background that this is all the Iraqis’ fault, that we wanted to maintain troops on the ground after 2011 but the Iraqis wouldn’t budge. It appears that the first factor played into the second—the administration’s lack of commitment to Iraq was the crucial backdrop to its poor handling of inherently difficult negotiations with the Iraqis.

To continue to maintain troops in Iraq after the expiration of the current deal for our presence at the end of the year, we needed the Iraqis to agree to give our troops immunity. This is obviously always a sensitive issue. And negotiations with the Iraqis over almost anything tend to drag out to the breaking point. None of this should have necessarily deep-sixed a deal, given how many top Iraqi leaders say privately that they want to keep American forces in the country. The Obama administration foolishly insisted that the Iraqi Council of Representatives endorse an immunity deal, a political impossibility. But it’s hard to believe that if the administration truly wanted to make a deal happen it couldn’t have worked something out with enough patience and ingenuity.

Instead, President Obama took to the podium on Friday for a snap announcement of the end of the war.…

Our pullout is a bonanza for Tehran. Its militias were already active in Iraq. Now, it can use Iraq for bases for its proxy forces to spread its tentacles in the rest of the Persian Gulf. Independent ayotollahs in Iraq will have an incentive to keep their heads down. Political decisions of the Iranian-influenced Shiite bloc running the country are sure to begin to tilt more and more Iran’s way. Our diplomatic leverage will diminish, even as we maintain our largest embassy in the world in Baghdad. The Iranians will crow in Iraq and throughout the region that they were right that the Americans would eventually leave.

We expended a great deal of blood and treasure to topple Saddam Hussein, and then to establish enough order so that George W. Bush’s successor would only have to consolidate our gains. President Obama is careless enough to risk throwing it all away, and shameless enough to call it success.


Michael A. Walsh
NY Post, October 24, 2011

President Obama’s decision to withdraw all US troops from Iraq means that, after nearly nine years of one of our most divisive wars, which cost more than 4,000 American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, all our forces will be coming home by year’s end.

The wisdom of the complete pullout will be hotly debated, but what’s not in question is the valor, skill and sheer decency of the American troops. No matter how the Middle East turns out, they should come home to a hero’s welcome—and the unconditional thanks of a grateful nation.

In the decade since 9/11, American fighting forces have distinguished themselves once more as one of the finest in the world. Operating under battlefield rules of engagement that would have hamstrung their World War II and Vietnam-era counterparts, their every action monitored by military lawyers, parsed by an ideologically hostile media and lampooned by Hollywood, they shattered an unscrupulous and ruthless foe who ignored the laws of war in pursuit of its murderous ideology.

They also developed and perfected a new kind of modern warfare, with new weapons, tactics and a whole new way of thinking about special forces. The massed tank battles of Desert Storm, which drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991, may well be the last the world ever sees.

In their place have come electronic warfare, drones, body armor and sniper rifles that can kill an enemy a mile and a half away. Special Forces—once the “tip of the spear”—have become the spear itself; it was the Navy SEALs and the crack helicopter unit, the 110th SOAR, who took out Osama bin Laden.

Our forces dispatched Saddam with ease and wrapped up the first phase of combat within weeks of the 2003 invasion. When the Bush administration made the near-fatal mistake of confusing the rout of Saddam with victory, they rallied through the fog of war and hung tough until the 2007 Surge finally brought the restive country under control.…

Our all-volunteer armed forces have distinguished themselves time and again in the face of relentless provocations and cowardly attacks.… Despite the animosity from the elites on the home front, especially in the run-up to the 2004 election, our forces persisted. One of the reasons there has not been a successful al Qaeda operation in America…is that al Qaeda was destroyed as an effective fighting force in Iraq.…

It’s a bittersweet victory, to be sure. The Iraqis can’t wait to see us go, and there’s plenty of worry about what comes next there. Yet nothing can diminish what our troops have achieved or tarnish what they have done—and only a lack of national will can stop them from doing it again when destiny calls.





Max Boot

Contentions, June 22, 2011


L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!” To Napoleon and other great generals the willingness to be bold and audacious was the key to victory. Barack Obama is no Napoleon. He seems to believe that timidity is the key to success—that flip-flopping and triangulating can somehow convince our enemies to make nice. He is sorely mistaken, and it is our troops in Afghanistan and their allies who will pay the price for his unwillingness to back them all the way to victory.

Having ordered a surge of 30,000 troops back in 2009, Obama is now pulling the plug on the effort just when it was showing success.

During the past half year our troops had taken back large portions of Helmand and Kandahar provinces from the Taliban. They are now holding that ground against determined Taliban counterattacks. But this is only stage one of a well-thought-out campaign plan designed by Gen. David Petraeus. Stage two calls for extending the security bubble to Regional Command-East—to the treacherous, mountainous terrain where the Haqqani Network, the Taliban, and the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin have their strongholds. By electing to pull out 10,000 surge troops this year and 20,000 more by next summer, Obama is making it virtually impossible to implement this campaign plan. He is even throwing into doubt our ability to consolidate gains in the south.

But nor is he simply opting for a counter-terrorism strategy of air strikes and commando raids as advocated by Vice President Biden. We will still have 70,000 troops in Afghanistan by the fall of 2012: too many for a purely counter-terrorist approach but too few to successfully implement a counterinsurgency strategy.

Obama is making life much more difficult for the troops that remain. He is ham-stringing them, forcing them to assume high levels of risk, and throwing into doubt their ability to accomplish the job they were sent to do—namely to create an Afghanistan strong enough to resist terrorists and insurgents. It is not just that we will now lack the troop numbers needed to secure such a vast and spread out country. We will also lose the all important element of momentum which we had gained with the surge and the ensuing counterinsurgency campaign.

When, last fall, Obama agreed at the NATO summit in Lisbon that our forces would not transition security to Afghan control until 2014, he signaled a long-term commitment. That made ordinary Afghans more willing to trust us and turn against the Taliban. With his speech [last week] he signaled hesitation, doubt, and irresolution. Why should anyone in Afghanistan, or for that matter Pakistan, trust us now? They will assume we are on the way out and therefore not worth risking their necks to help.

As usual Obama said nothing about seeking victory in Afghanistan over the Haqqanis, the Taliban, or other extremist groups closely allied with Al Qaeda. Instead he spoke above all of his desire to get out of Afghanistan. “This is the beginning—but not the end—of our effort to wind down this war,” he said.

That is all our enemies need to hear. They will now be convinced that we do not have the will to see the war through and will act accordingly.

Clearly Obama’s motivation is political–he wants the surge troops out before he must face the voters in November 2012. Certainly there is no operational reason to pull so many troops out so quickly—a step he is taking in the face of unanimous military advice to the contrary. As a short-term political ploy this may be successful. But history will not be deceived. Obama will be judged not on how quickly he pulled troops out but on what kind of country they leave behind. With his feckless announcement, he has greatly increased the possibility of a historic defeat for American forces in Afghanistan. If that were to happen, posterity will not judge him kindly.…


Bret Stephens

Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2011


What does it mean that the U.S. will now be withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan on an accelerated and defined timetable in order to focus, as President Obama said last week, on “nation building here at home”?

It emboldens the Taliban, which thanks to Mr. Obama’s surge and David Petraeus’s generalship had all but been ousted from its traditional strongholds in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. “My soul, and the soul of thousands of Taliban who have been blown up, are happy,” Taliban field commander Jamal Khan told the Daily Beast of his reaction to Mr. Obama’s speech. “I had more than 50 encounters with U.S. forces and their technology. But the biggest difference in ending this war was not technology but the more powerful Islamic ideology and religion.”

It increases the risk to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, where the fatality count was finally starting to come down after peaking in 2010. Fewer troops means that U.S. commanders will have to make an invidious choice between clearing territory of enemies and holding and building it for friends. “Whether it is Nangarhar or Ghazni, Kandahar or Herat, the place where we decide to ‘surge’ with remaining forces will leave a window open—and the Taliban will crawl in,” says a U.S. military official with experience in Afghanistan. “Any commander who has experienced a withdrawal under pressure knows that it is perhaps the most difficult operation you can conduct and certainly the most dangerous; it gives the attacker a feeling of superiority and demoralizes the withdrawing force.”

It strengthens already potent anti-American forces in Pakistan and weakens the hand of moderates. Skeptics of the U.S. within Pakistan’s government, particularly the army, will mark the U.S. withdrawal as further evidence that Washington is a congenitally unreliable ally. Opponents of the U.S. outside of the government will capitalize politically on the perception of American weakness. Drone strikes, which outgoing CIA director Leon Panetta has called “the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership,” will likely come to an end. Islamabad will also find new reasons to patch up its differences with erstwhile allies in the Taliban and other terrorist groups as a way of keeping its options open.

It strengthens the hand of Iran, which, as the Journal’s Jay Solomon reported, “is moving to cement ties with the leaders of three key American allies—Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq—highlighting Tehran’s efforts to take a greater role in the region as the U.S. military pulls out.” As a demonstration of those ties, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi paid a visit to Kabul last week to sign a bilateral security agreement. “We believe that expansion of joint defense and security cooperation with Iran is in favor of our interests,” said his Afghan counterpart Abdulrahim Wardak.

It further weakens NATO, whose future is already in doubt given its inability to oust Moammar Gadhafi from Tripoli. In the last decade it became the fashion to say of the alliance that it was either “out of area”—meaning Europe—or “out of business.” Leaving and losing Afghanistan spells the latter.

It gives Hamid Karzai opportunity and motive to reinvent himself as an anti-American leader. The Afghan president is already well on his way to forging a close political alliance with insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is believed to have given Osama bin Laden safe passage out of Afghanistan in 2001 and is wanted by the U.S. on a $25 million bounty. Mr. Karzai is said to be furious that the Obama administration made no effort to get a strategic forces agreement that would have left a residual U.S. force after 2014. “I think the reality of their complete withdrawal has struck home,” Afghan Human Rights Commissioner Nader Nadery tells the Associated Press. “Now he sees they may go and they don’t want a [military] presence here…and perhaps now he is thinking, ‘Who will protect me?’”

It accelerates Afghanistan’s barely suppressed, and invariably violent, centrifugal forces. There are already reports that the old Northern Alliance, which held out against the Taliban in the 1990s and took Kabul in 2001, may be reconstituting itself as a fighting force in anticipation of a hostile government in Kabul. This is a formula for civil, and perhaps regional, war; it is not clear what kind of “partnership” the U.S. could hope to build, as Mr. Obama promised to do, with whatever emerges from its ashes.

Finally, it signals that the United States, like Britain before it, is a waning power. In his speech last week, Mr. Obama waxed eloquent on the point that “what sets America apart is not solely our power—it is the principles upon which our union was founded.” Very true. But a nation that abandons to the Taliban those it was once committed to protect shows that it lacks power and principle alike.

At the end of “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the film quotes the late congressman saying: “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world.… And then we f—ed up the endgame.” To watch President Obama’s Afghan policy unfold is to understand exactly what Wilson meant.


George H. Wittman

American Spectator, June 23, 2011


There have been many characterizations of “victory” with respect to the Afghan conflict, but none of them appears capable of being put into effect. Perhaps the reason for this is that Afghanistan is a country defined by no other purpose than to be the site of constant disagreement.

There is no central order—nor has there ever been—demanding peace. There is no single Afghan language. There is no ethnic unity. There is no modern economic dynamism other than the country’s role as a trading crossroads—and today in monetary terms that primarily means varying forms of drug production, processing, and distribution. The arable land is about ten percent and that which is cultivated is a little more than half of that. Afghanistan’s economy is predominantly subsistence level, and has been for centuries. From the Afghans’ point of view, the closest thing to victory would be just to be allowed to go about their lives with minimal interference.

President Hamid Karzai, the urbane, multilingual, pretend leader of the nation, has essentially said: “Train and equip our indigenous security forces; provide a continuing fund for reconstruction and development; declare victory, if you wish, then leave. Afghanistan will handle the rest. But please do it quickly because we really need to have all you foreigners out of here.”

The response from Washington has been: “We can’t leave until al Qaeda can’t reestablish itself in your country and we know the Taliban can not take over the country; the drug trade is eliminated or at least controlled; and the nation can be drawn together in mutual security.” In other words, the country known as Afghanistan must be reborn as a peaceful, self-sustaining entity. Of course there is little chance of that happening unless the history of the nation since the early 1800s is ignored.

Out of an approximate population of 30 million, of which about 12% live in Kabul and its environs, there are hundreds of tribes, sub-tribes, and families divided among seven principal ethnic groups. As an example, the largest ethnic group, the Pashtun, include some 60 tribes and 400 sub-tribes. The overriding allegiance of all Afghans is to their family/clan structure. This is not a base for a modern cohesive national structure unless a dominant leader arises who can bring the disparate elements together. Anyone with that ambition usually is restricted by his own ethnicity or else ends up assassinated by a rival group. This calculus is the basis for continuing internal competition and combat between and among the various partisan elements. The Taliban originally came to power in that environment.

Purportedly, General David Petraeus had submitted several options for withdrawal to the White House. President Obama also had recommendations from his own political advisors. It is certain that Gen. Petraeus would have loaded his options to provide ample military cover for withdrawal. Nonetheless he knew that Obama also would weigh his own political advantages in making a decision. This does not make for the best possible military strategic situation to evolve, but guarantees that troops would be withdrawn in a manner that satisfies White House re-election politics.

A mantle of pseudo-military science has been placed over the issue of withdrawal from Afghanistan. The terms counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism have become the shorthand for differing types of continuing involvement of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. One concept, counter-insurgency, takes more military forces than the other. But the other attacks this theme of “pacification” by limiting action to political/military target-specific operations. Field-experienced observers know that one actually does not exclude the other. In any case when the self-serving rhetoric is stripped away, the actual result is that troops are being removed before a definitive result has been obtained.…

Obama is now in full obfuscation mode as he struggles with the domestic political problem of attempting to run for reelection while at the same time justifying his espousal of what he termed “the real war.” That war he effectually now seeks to end by bringing the Taliban into a “unity” government in Kabul. In other words, he would seek to turn a defeat into a victory simply by altering the characterization of the original aim.

The entire concept of truly defeating the Taliban has been based on denying these forces a sanctuary in Pakistan. This strategy has evolved as politically and militarily impossible—certainly in the current time frame. What President Obama’s intention now appears to be is to turn Afghanistan over to Pakistan as their problem. And how, Mr. President, do you think the increasingly influential pro-Taliban political forces in Pakistan will deal with that?


Fotini Christia

Foreign Affairs, June 26, 2011


U.S. President Barack Obama’s June 22 speech on withdrawal from Afghanistan made an already tense situation on the ground tenser. He called for an accelerated withdrawal of 33,000 U.S. troops from the country over the next year. The Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan police are stronger than they were before the U.S. troop surge, he said; Afghans have returned to markets and other public places; and women are starting to seize new opportunities to get an education or a job. But where Obama touts success, Afghans see fragility.

In fact, most striking for Afghans, Obama’s speech was not about “transition,” the euphemism for withdrawal the United States typically favors, but about abrupt disengagement, with no convincing commitment to seeing Afghanistan through to peace. The speech was clear on the plan to bring U.S. troops home but vague on the specifics of how to leave behind a stable Afghanistan, beyond asserting that the Afghan government would now have to take the lead. But Afghanistan’s weak government and embattled president do not inspire confidence. Afghans seem convinced that the country will relapse into all-out civil war after the United States withdraws.

Many Afghans understandably fear for their lives. During a large international development agency’s recent meeting in Kabul, an Afghan employee asked “What is the plan for evacuating local staff when the United States withdraws?” Amid charts illustrating dwindling aid deliveries, she foresaw Kabul becoming another Saigon.…

Afghan President Hamid Karzai often declares the country ready to manage its own security. He even routinely threatens to limit NATO’s operational freedom by preventing troops from targeting private homes, allegedly to avoid civilian casualties, despite intelligence suggesting that some are serving as Taliban safe houses. His bluster has some appeal for Afghans who take pride in never having been defeated by foreign invaders. But, in essence, most Afghans see his rants as delusional. They know that the government is not ready to guarantee their security. Ethnic divisions and seasonal attrition plague the ANA and corruption, illiteracy, and drug abuse plague the police.

Moreover, Afghans are concerned about the economic losses that will come with the U.S. withdrawal. They realize that the country’s strong growth rate is fleeting, mostly a reflection of the billions of dollars and huge quantities of goods shipped into the country to maintain the foreign forces stationed there and heaps of development aid. The armies will take their money with them when they leave and development aid is already on the decline. In 2010, the U.S. Department of State and USAID spent $4.2 billion, but the budget was reduced to $2.5 billion for 2011 and is expected to dwindle even further in the coming years.

For the Taliban, of course, the United States’ upcoming withdrawal is no “drawdown from a position of strength,” as Obama called it. In their public reactions to the speech they used an evocative term, farar, to describe the Americans as “running away” from defeat. Although clearly Taliban propaganda, the idea is not entirely farfetched. In recent months, the Taliban have reclaimed territory in the wild eastern province of Nuristan and they continue to wage a countrywide campaign against district governors and chiefs of police. They also continue to perpetrate frequent suicide attacks in the capital and the country’s south and east, often by attackers dressed in police uniforms. They intend to show—as indeed they have shown—that they have infiltrated the Afghan National Security Forces, the institution that is supposed to provide the security that will enable the United States’ timely exit.…

If Obama were intent on alleviating some of the Afghans’ fears, he could have framed the speech differently, focusing on the number of U.S. troops left behind—in 2012, still a whopping 68,000—and the ways they will work to secure gains on the ground, however fragile. He could have talked about the billions of dollars in development aid pledged to the country and how he intends to channel the funds. But even these factors are not enough to save Afghanistan.…

With Obama’s speech, the United States signaled that it is not in Afghanistan to stay. What is important, then, is to be clear about what the United States commits to delivering on the way out—in terms of money, security, and the creation of a sustainable future. The administration has so far avoided defining what success in Afghanistan actually means and it cannot be vague any longer. There is much confusion on the ground, and the Afghan girls and women attending school and the others sacrificing their lives fighting against the insurgency deserve a straight answer as much as the people in the United States do.