State of the world & military conflict–21 Aug 14

Posted: August 21, 2014 in Geopolitics, Military Affairs/Thought

Dirty little wars of 2014 go back 100 years
Europeans must wake up to the fact that they live in a dangerous neighbourhood, says Timothy Garton Ash
The Globe and Mail (Canada) | August 1, 2014

There is war in Europe. No, I’m not using the historic present tense to evoke August, 1914. I’m talking about August, 2014. What is happening in eastern Ukraine is war – "ambiguous war" as a British parliamentary committee calls it, rather than outright, declared war between two sovereign states, but still war. And war rages around the edges of Europe, in Syria, Iraq and Gaza.

I do not say "Europe is at war." Most European countries are not directly engaged in armed conflict. Still, we should be under no illusions. For decades, we have lived with the comforting notion that "Europe has been at peace since 1945." This was always an overstatement. In parts of Eastern Europe, low-level armed conflict continued into the early 1950s, followed by the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In the 1990s, the former Yugoslavia was torn apart in a series of wars.

For all the differences, the dirty little wars of 2014 have an important connection to the horrendous "great" one that began in 1914. Many of them involve struggles of definition and control over patchwork territories left behind by the multiethnic empires that clashed 100 years ago, and their successor states. Thus, for example, the battle for eastern Ukraine is about the boundaries of the Russian empire. Some of the Russians, from Russia itself, who are now leading the armed proRussian movement in eastern Ukraine, have characterized themselves as "imperial nationalists."

During the Balkan wars of the 1990s, jigsaw pieces from the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires were fought over, and then reassembled into new, smaller puzzles, such as Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

Many of the frontiers on today’s map of the Middle East go back to the post-First World War settlement, when Western colonial powers spliced together disparate parts of the former Ottoman Empire into new protectorates – Iraq, Syria, Palestine. The big exception is of course the state of Israel; but that, too, can trace a lineage back to the deadly after-life of European empires. For Nazi Germany, which attempted to exterminate the Jews, was the last hideous fling of German racial and territorial imperialism.

So what is Europe going to do now about its own long-term consequences? The first thing Europeans must do is simply to wake up to the fact that we live in a dangerous neighbourhood. Being Greater Switzerland is neither a moral nor a practical option: not moral, because Europeans, of all people, should never be silent while war crimes are being committed; not practical, because we cannot insulate ourselves from the effects.

Today’s fighters in Syria will be tomorrow’s terrorists in Europe. Today’s dispossessed are tomorrow’s illegal immigrants. Let these little wars burn, and you will be shot down out of the sky on your way from the Netherlands to Malaysia on Flight MH17. No one is safe.

Whereas in the past the irresistible wake-up call was the annexation of a territory, most West Europeans slept through Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea. As Stephen Holmes and Ivan Krastev point out in Foreign Affairs, the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner on July 17 was a turning point, not least because commercial air corridors are the place where business people live.

Without that transformative event, it is unlikely Chancellor Angela Merkel could have persuaded German public opinion, and German business, of the need for tougher sanctions on Mr. Putin’s Russia.

But what use is the EU’s slow, soft economic power against the Kremlin’s rapid, hard power? Or, indeed, against all the rapid hard powers of the Middle East? What use is butter against guns? The answer is: more than you might think. Europe alone cannot stop war in the Middle East. Only working with the U.S., and with some more co-operation can it bring peace to Syria or Gaza. It does, however, have the power to punish Russia for having its artillery shell the regular Ukrainian army, from Russian soil, while that army tries to reconquer its own territory.

Even the minor sanctions that Europe has thus far implemented have been gnawing away at the edges of the Putin regime. The larger sanctions Europe agreed to this week will, with time, have a larger impact. Liberal democracies are usually slower to act than dictatorships, and a voluntary community of 28 such democracies is bound to be slower still. Economic measures take more time to bite than military ones, but they can be more effective in the end.

One hundred years ago we had "the guns of August," in Barbara Tuchman’s resonant phrase. Now we have the butter of August. Note the different role played by Germany, then and now. Slowly, step-by-step, the Berlin government is doing the right thing. Germany is bringing the unique weight of its economic relationship with Russia to bear, while quite reasonably insisting that the pain is shared with France, Britain and Italy. Some things do change. Some even get better.

Timothy Garton Ash is professor of European Studies at Oxford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution

Path Of Least Resistance Or A Shortcut To Chaos?
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON
Investor’s Business Daily | August 4, 2014

The Obama administration often denies responsibility for the current global chaos or claims it erupted spontaneously. Yet most of the mess was caused by, or made worse by, growing U.S. indifference and paralysis.

Over the last 5-1/2 years, America has had lots of clear choices, but the administration usually took the path of least short-term trouble, which has ensured long-term hardship.

There was no need to "reset" the relatively mild punishments that the George W. Bush administration had accorded Vladimir Putin’s Russia for invading Georgia in 2008.

By unilaterally normalizing relations with Russia and trashing Bush, Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton only green-lighted further Russian aggression that has now spread to Crimea and Ukraine.

There was no need for Obama, almost immediately upon assuming office, to distance the U.S. from Israel by criticizing Israel’s policies and warming to its enemies, such as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hamas.

Any time Israel’s enemies have glimpsed growing distance in the U.S.-Israeli friendship, they seek only to pry it still wider.

We see just that with terrorists in Gaza who launch hundreds of missiles into Israel on the expectation that the U.S. will broker a favorable deal that finds both sides equally at fault.

Sanctions had crippled Iran to the point that it soon would have grown desperate to meet U.S. demands to stop its nuclear enrichment. Instead, Obama eased trade restrictions just as they were coming to fruition. Iran is now on its way to acquiring a bomb, while supplying missiles to Hamas and Hezbollah.

We had an option in Libya to let the tottering but reforming Moammar Gadhafi government fend for itself. Or we could have taken out Gadhafi and then sent in peacekeepers to ensure a transition to ordered government.

But the Obama administration did neither. Instead, the U.S. participated in a multination bombing campaign and all but guaranteed that a failed state would be left on Europe’s doorstep. Now we have just closed our embassy in Tripoli and fled the country entirely.

There were once viable choices in Egypt. Instead, the administration managed to alienate the old Hosni Mubarak regime, alienate the elected Muslim Brotherhood that immediately tried to subvert the democracy, and alienate the military junta that stepped in to stop the Islamization of Egypt. All of these rival groups share one thing in common: a distrust of the U.S.

We could have made a choice in Iraq to negotiate a bit more with the Nouri al-Maliki government, leave behind a few thousand token peacekeepers and thereby preserve the calm achieved by the surge.

Instead, the administration pulled out U.S. soldiers to ensure that a withdrawal would be an effective re-election talking point. The result of that void is the present bloodletting and veritable destruction of Iraq.

The U.S. once had choices in Syria. We could have loudly condemned the Assad government and immediately armed the most pro-Western of the anti-Assad rebels. Or we could have just stayed quiet and stayed out of the mess.

Instead, we chose the third — and worst — option: loudly threaten Assad while doing nothing. Both a bloody dictatorship and its bloody jihadist enemies share a general contempt for a perceived weak America.

There were choices on our border too. Obama could have advised Central American governments that our southern border was closed to any who would cross illegally, while attempting to remedy the violence in those countries.

Instead, the administration opened the border, welcomed in thousands without scrutiny, and has all but destroyed federal immigration law. The result is chaos.

The Obama administration apparently has assumed that calm, not conflict, is the natural order of things. The world supposedly can run on autopilot without much guidance from its only superpower.

If conflict does arise, the U.S. counts on sermonizing without the need to back up tough and often provocative rhetoric with any action. When occasional decisions must be made, the U.S. usually chooses the easiest way out: withdrawals, concessions and appeasement.

Behind these assumptions also lie the administration’s grave doubts that the U.S. has in the past played a positive role in postwar affairs, or that in the present and future America can claim the moral authority — or has the resources — to confront aggressors.

In 2017, Obama may well leave office claiming to have reduced our military while avoiding conflict during his tenure. But will he also be able to assure us that China, Iran and Russia are less threatening; that the Middle East, the Pacific and the former Soviet republics are less explosive; that our own border is more secure — and that America is safer?

To paraphrase the poet Robert Frost: Two roads diverged in the world, and we always took the one of least resistance — and that has now made all the difference.

How to rein in the dogs of war
Peter Hartcher
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) | August 5, 2014

How are we supposed to make sense of a world that seems to be going to hell in a handbasket?

The Israelis and Palestinians are killing each other, dreadful enough as more than 1700 people have been killed to date. But right next door the civil war in Syria rages unchecked after more than three years, and where more than 170,000 people have been killed so far.

And spilling out of Syria is the new terrorist force, the savage Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. Apparently unstoppable, it continues to win territory in Iraq.

As Australians have recently become keenly aware, another war is escalating in Ukraine. Russia invaded Crimea and is now fighting to take more of its neighbour.

Then there’s Asia, where China is using its muscle to expand its territory at the expense of its neighbours. All of these clashes are continuing without any sign of let up.

These are just some of the troubling conflicts under way. Is this an unbalanced selection that makes the world seem bleaker than it really is?

Crisis Watch, a conflict-monitoring non-government organisation, publishes a monthly overview of the world’s wars.

It lists those where tensions are easing and those where war is intensifying. There are seven wars on the worsening list published on August 1. And on the improving side of the ledger? It’s blank.

Is there a way of seeing any sort of organising construct in this grim survey?

Two prominent US thinkers on foreign policy have offered prisms for viewing this worsening state of the world order. One is Thomas Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times and author of books including the 2005 work The World is Flat: A Brief History of The Twenty-first Century. He urges us to see the world through the prism of the Middle East. Specifically, the Arab-Israel conflict. Why? "Because it is to the wider war of civilisations what Off Broadway is to Broadway. A lot of stuff starts there and then goes to Broadway. So what’s playing Off Broadway these days?

"The Israeli-Arab conflict has become a miniature of the most relevant divide in the world today: the divide between the ‘world of order’ and the ‘world of disorder’."

As for dealing with disorder, Friedman expresses the hope the great powers may collaborate to impose order, but dismisses it as unlikely. "No power these days wants to lay hands on the world of disorder because all you win is a bill. And even if they did, it would not be sufficient." Friedman’s prescription? "In my view, the only way Israel can truly curtail the Hamas rocket threat is if the Palestinians of Gaza demand that the rockets stop … The only sustainable way to do it is by Israel partnering with moderate Palestinians in the West Bank to build a thriving state there, so Gaza Palestinians wake up every day and say to the nihilistic Hamas: ‘We want what our West Bank cousins have.’ The only sustainable controls are those that come from within."

Friedman’s analysis is striking for its narrowness. It makes the Israel-Arab struggle central. It proposes a possible solution, no matter how unlikely. But the Israeli fight with the Arabs takes up so much of Friedman’s view that he finds no room to see anything else. He ventures no responses whatsoever to the other great forces challenging order: ISIL, for instance, or Russia or China.

The other prominent thinker is Francis Fukuyama, a fellow at Stanford University and author of one of the most remarked-upon works of the late 20th century, The End of History, published in 1992.

Fukuyama also sees a world where order is being challenged, but his prism for dealing with it is a very different one: "The focus of today’s debate ought to be: how should we prioritise the threats facing us and how bad are the most serious?" he wrote in the Financial Times.

Fukuyama takes issue with his president. Barack Obama said in a key speech at the West Point military academy in May that the only direct threat facing the US was terrorism. "He said virtually nothing about long-term responses to the two other big challenges to world order: Russia and China," Fukuyama rebukes. "Despite the recent successes of ISIL, I would argue that terrorism is actually the least consequential of these challenges in terms of core US interests. What we are witnessing in Iraq and Syria is the slow spread of a Sunni-Shiite war," he says. "However, we could barely contain sectarian hatreds when we occupied Iraq with 150,000 troops; it is hard to see how we can act decisively now."

But Russia’s annexation of Crimea, says Fukuyama, threatens to impose tectonic instability with far-reaching consequences along Russia’s frontiers with Europe and central Asia.

China poses a similar danger, but on a bigger scale: "Russia’s power is based on a flawed economic model that in time will weaken its power," argues Fukuyama. "Not so with China." He summarises: "The extremism of ISIL will in the end prove self-defeating. By contrast, the allies the US is sworn to defend are now threatened by industrialised nations with sophisticated militaries."

Fukuyama’s solution? He urges Obama to apply US power to strengthening international institutions. NATO should be reinvigorated as a military alliance to deal with Russia. And Asia needs a multilateral order to deal with China.

Friedman is all about the Middle East; he’s resigned to inertia for the great powers. For Fukuyama, it’s about making use of the power of nations working together to impose order. But on one thing they readily agree: the forces of disorder are winning.

 

A World Desperate for a Little Good News
SERGE SCHMEMANN
The New York Times | August 10, 2014

”The world is too much with us,” wrote the poet, a sentiment President Obama most likely shared this past week as he reluctantly ordered warplanes back over Iraq. As he did so, another Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire ended in resumed bombardment, Vladimir V. Putin defiantly ordered his own sanctions against the West and a terrible virus spread farther through West Africa.

A president who has taken great pains to pull the United States out of the world’s squabbles, Mr. Obama made no effort to conceal his distress at being pulled back in, for even a limited mission to protect minorities. ”I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” Mr. Obama said on Thursday night. But the old ”slippery slope” cliché figured in more than one analysis of his decision.

Still, the markets somehow managed to find a hopeful note in a world that seemed totally out of tune. Though Russia was reported to be massing troops on the Ukrainian border, and the government imposed a ban on most food imports from the United States and its allies, American stocks rallied on Friday when the secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai P. Patrushev, said in an interview that ”Russia will continue to make all efforts for a very fast de-escalation of tensions.”

That ”continue” carried the dubious suggestion that Russia had been making such efforts all along, but the fact that the markets latched on to the secretary’s statement testified 1) to the predominance of the Ukraine crisis over the Middle East in the minds of market strategists, and 2) that ”the market is really tired of receiving one negative news item after another, and so is on the lookout for something positive,” as the Citigroup economist Ivan Tchakarov told Bloomberg.

Dragged Back Into Iraq

Following Mr. Obama’s authorization of the first significant military operation in Iraq since he pulled American ground troops out in 2011, the Air Force reported on Friday that two United States F-18 fighter jets had dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs onto an artillery target near Erbil, the Kurdish capital.

Mr. Obama’s hand in Iraq was forced by ISIS, the fanatical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and its advance in northern Iraq against the Kurds, reliable American allies who have maintained a modicum of order in their semiautonomous region. Thousands of Yazidis — an oft-persecuted religious minority — fled to remote Mount Sinjar, where they were stranded without food or water.

ISIS was left in control of a two-mile-wide hydroelectric dam on the Tigris River notorious for its structural instability. Even if ISIS did nothing, officials said, leaving the dam unattended could lead to its collapse, sending a 65-foot-high wall of water through Mosul.

Though Mr. Obama said he had ordered the strikes to protect American personnel, the fact that he did so only when the Kurds became threatened — and not earlier in the year when ISIS seized FallujaH? and marched through Mosul and on toward Baghdad — was bound to raise questions. One explanation was in Baghdad’s Green Zone, where Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki continued to resist all demands that he go away. The failure of Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, to include Sunnis, Kurds and others in a government of national unity is widely blamed for the disarray that made it possible for ISIS to rout the Iraqi Army. Even his lieutenants have urged Mr. Maliki to step down. But having made innumerable enemies, he is said to be demanding immunity and a security detail paid for by the state.

Mr. Obama has insisted that there is ”no American military solution” to the mess, and he no doubt hoped that limited strikes would enable Iraqis to turn the tables on ISIS. But what if they fail? Will he be forced to further action?

Israeli Fire, Russian Threat

Faith in military solutions, however, seemed to prevail in the fight between Israel and Hamas. No sooner had a 72-hour truce expired than rockets began to rain on southern Israel, and Israeli warplanes and naval vessels opened up on targets in Gaza. The pause in hostilities had been the longest since they broke out on July 8.

The Palestinians insist that the blockade of Gaza be lifted, and about 100 prisoners held by Israel be freed, if there is to be a truce. The Israelis insist that Hamas disarm. The Egyptians have been trying to get both sides to lower their demands, and to leave more complex issues for subsequent talks.

In the meantime, the Palestinian death toll stands at almost 1,900, mostly civilians, while Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians.

On the Ukrainian front, forces loyal to Kiev continued tightening their ring around Donetsk, the seat of secessionists armed by Russia.

There was no evidence that Mr. Putin was prepared to back down. On the contrary, his prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev, announced on Thursday, in retaliation against Western sanctions, a one-year ban on many food imports from the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia and Norway — a move that is likely to reduce food supplies and raise inflation in Russia. So far, his efforts to ”de-escalate tensions,” to use Mr. Patrushev’s words, have consisted of insisting that Kiev stop attacking the rebels and that the West stop helping Kiev. And there remains the chilling possibility that Mr. Putin could send troops into eastern Ukraine on a ”humanitarian mission” to the besieged denizens of Donetsk.

Ebola Spreads in Africa

Wars were not the only scourge making the news last week. With the death toll from an outbreak of the Ebola virus approaching 1,000 in West Africa, the World Health Organization on Friday declared an international public health emergency. And Doctors Without Borders called for a ”massive deployment” of medical workers to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries hit worst by the outbreak.

The Ebola virus causes a severe and often fatal illness, and while some drugs are being tested, there is no vaccine or treatment yet available to prevent or cure the disease. The virus is caught through close contact with the bodily fluids of infected people or animals.

Because it is not ”spread through the air,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the W.H.O.’s head of health security, it can be contained.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/opinion/sunday/a-world-desperate-for-a-little-good-news.html

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