“We are the death merchant of the world”: Ex-Bush official Lawrence Wilkerson condemns military-industrial complex -Salon

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A very critical look at the military industrial-complex from someone within the system, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff.

  • “Is there a penchant on behalf of the Congress to bless the use of force more often than not because of the constituencies they have and the money they get from the defense contractors?” Wilkerson continued.
  • Again, he answered his own question: “You bet.” “It’s not like Dick Cheney or someone like that went and said let’s have a war because we want to make money for Halliburton, but it is a pernicious on decision-making,” the former Bush official explained. “And the fact that they donate so much money to congressional elections and to PACs and so forth is another pernicious influence.

http://www.salon.com/2016/03/29/we_are_the_death_merchant_of_the_world_ex_bush_official_lawrence_wilkerson_condemns_military_industrial_complex/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

 

For an interesting interview with Wilkerson about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, see:

Iraq Confessions From Inside the Bush Administration

Egypt’s notorious police brutality record -al Jazerra

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This article provides a good, although brief overview of Egypt’s internal security organizations and their record. As the quote below illustrates, Egypt’s security forces have reputation for brutality:

  • “If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear and never to see them again, you should send them to Egypt,” the Former CIA officer Robert Baer said in 2004, six years before the Arab uprisings started.
  • In 2015 alone, more than 1,250 forced disappearance and 267 alleged extrajudicial killings were recorded in Egypt with well over 40,000 political prisoners.”

The institutions have evolved since 2010:

  • “During Mubarak’s times, three institutions mainly constituted them:General Intelligence Apparatus (GIA), the State Security Investigation(SSI – now renamed National Security Apparatus or NSA) and the Military Intelligence Apparatus (MIA).
  • The first is directly affiliated with the presidential establishment and has its own special status under the legal framework. The second falls under the Ministry of Interior, and by far the most powerful institution within it. The third belongs to the Ministry of Defence, and gradually grew in power and mandate – to dominate the two other institutions, and smaller ones since 2011.
  • “They [MIA officers] became the eyes and ears of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The rest of intelligence apparatuses were not trusted,” said a former brigadier-general, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the situation.
  • The eyes and the ears gradually became the brain, as well. The MIA intervened in parliamentary “elections”, ran political prisons, and formulated anti-opposition policies.”

Perhaps most interesting, the security services compete with each other and have their political agendas and security strategies:

  • ” Domestically, these armed security institutions competed to have “political wings”. In the 2015 parliamentary elections, each of them sponsored different multi-party blocs and individual candidates.”
  • “But these institutions also compete when it comes to foreign security policy. One of their public clashes occurred this month. The Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar – a former head of the NSA/SSI – declared that Palestinian Hamas was directly involved in assassinating the former Attorney General, Hisham Barakat.
  • Six days later, the GIA invited the political leaders of Hamas to Cairo to discuss security and military cooperation in Northeast Sinai, where the regime has failed to quell a growing insurgency. “So, one institution considers them terrorists and the other considers them counterterrorism official partners. Bamboozling … we certainly got multiple security policies, not a ‘bad-cop, good-cop’ one,” a former major-general in the Egyptian armed forces told me.”

 

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/03/egypt-notorious-police-brutality-record-160322143521378.html

 

Why Brussels? -Various Sources

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VOX asks Peter Neumann, a professor at King’s College London and the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation why Brussels seems to be at the center of IS activity in Europe. His response is fairly standard:

  • “First, the country has an especially longstanding and well-organized network of radical Islamist recruiters, making it easier for people to join up there than in other European countries.”
  • “Second, its police and intelligence agencies are epically undersized, making them incapable of dealing with the past five years’ massive surge in jihadist recruiting. The Belgian state, according to Neumann, mostly turned a blind eye to these problems. So it was “just a question of time until something happened.”
    In Belgium, like in France and other countries in Europe, you have these areas in cities that have over the past years, if not decades, become migrant ghettos. You had a lot of issues with social/economic deprivation — the best example of that is Molenbeek, the part of [Brussels] where all these jihadists seem to be coming from.”
  • Third, “…parts of Europe that have been completely abandoned by the state, by the authorities, by even Muslim communities. And for a long time, people were happy with that. They would be leaving us alone, and we would be leaving them alone.
    But over the years, this situation festered. Jihadist structures took advantage of that, and basically go about their business almost unhindered. What happened after 2011-’12 is that groups like Sharia4Belgium — a prominent group — went into these places and very systematically recruited large numbers of people.”

http://www.vox.com/2016/3/23/11290174/brussels-attacks-belgium-jihadism

Newsweek has a somewhat different take. The article argues a new generation of Jihadists have emerged in Europe:

  • “Their knowledge of Islam is quite limited; they are more like jihadi hipsters than dedicated Islamists, or what some experts in the intelligence community call “jihadist cool.” They celebrate what the Dutch coordinator for security and counterterrorism called “pop-jihad as a lifestyle.”
  • “These shallow Islamists have proved to be a challenge for European countries that use a traditional de-radicalization program for Muslims lured into the world of radical fundamentalists: It’s hard to re-educate people about Islam when they knew almost nothing to begin with. In what may be the most representative event depicting the nature of these new Islamist extremists, two British Muslims, both 22, purchased copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies in August 2014 just before they boarded a plane on the first leg of their trip to join ISIS fighters in Syria.”
  • “These are youths who gather in groups, such as the recently dismantled Sharia4Belgium. They know less about Osama bin Laden than they do about Tupac Shakur; Belgians who travel to Syria to fight often revere the deceased American rapper on social media, identifying themselves with his lyrics about life in the inner cities. But these attackers also have their own rap music, hip clothes popular with young Muslims that are sold by companies like Urban Ummah and slogans akin to what might be found on a bumper sticker (“Work Hard, Pray Hard.”) Their tweets often end with terms like #BeardLife and #HijabLife.”
  • In some respects, the Newsweek analysis is similar to that of VOX:
    “Based on interviews with European Muslims returning from fighting in Syria, foreign intelligence agencies estimate that about 20 percent of them were diagnosed with mental illnesses before they left for the Middle East. A large percentage of them have prior records for both petty and serious crimes. And the vast majority of them come out of urban neighborhoods torn apart by economic hardship.”

The big difference is that this article focuses on local culture, local social networks and “Rambo-envy.”:

  • “For foreign fighters the religious component in recruitment and radicalization is being replaced by more social elements such as peer pressure and role modelling,’’ said a January 18 report by Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, which deals with militant networks. “Additionally the romantic prospect of being part of an important and exciting development, apart from more private considerations, may play a role.”

This account would fit in well with the Feminist literature on how the formation of particular dysfunctional types of masculine identity leads to violence.

http://www.newsweek.com/belgium-new-extremists-jihadi-cool-brussels-attacks-439640?rx=us

 

Finally, the Economist’s Daily Chart provides some statistics on attitudes toward Muslims in Europe. The graphic tells a sad tale of Islamaphobia: “an Ipsos-Mori poll in 2014 found that on average Belgian respondents thought 29% of their compatriots were Muslim. The actual figure is closer to 6%.”

http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2016/03/daily-chart-15?fsrc=scn/fb/te/bl/ed/islamineuropeperceptionandreality

 

Will the Islamic State survive 2016? -al Monitor

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With another bombing in Europe, two questions come to mind. First, is this there a direct connection between the attack and the way the war in Syria is unfolding? Second, how much longer is this going to last?

The answer to the first question is: maybe. Attacks of the type we saw in Brussels and Paris earlier are consistent with a “globalist approach” being advocated by one faction within ISIS to compensate for losses in Syria and Iraq.

  • The main fissure is between those advocating spreading the struggle globally to overcome the pressures IS is under in Iraq and Syria, and those preferring a localist approach of standing firm in Syria and Iraq. This fissure is bound to widen as IS comes under heavier pressure in Iraq and Syria. The IS attack Jan. 12 against German tourists in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet and the March 19 suicide attack against Israeli tourists at Istanbul’s Taksim could well be interpreted as a move toward the globalist approach, to spill the clashes over to Turkey. By telling Turkey, “If you get tough against us, you will pay the price,” IS is also trying to divert attention from Iraq and Syria.

 

The answer to the second question is complicated. On one hand, ISIS is losing ground in Syria:

  • In 2015, IS lost 14% of the territory it once controlled. It has lost another 8% in just the first three months of this year,

However, the article argues we should not overemphasize the importance of territorial losses at this point:

  • The approach to IS should be a population-centric strategy that aims to slowly erode its popular support, which may take years. The endgame of this struggle should be reintegration of Sunni bodies to political processes in Iraq and Syria, first at local and then at national levels. This is what the current situation in the field, Iraq’s experience of the past 10 years and Syria’s crisis of the past five years tell us.

Jordan is Sliding Toward Insolvency -Carnegie Endowment for Peace

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This article provides an interesting overview of Jordan’s worsening economic situation. About 79% of the budget is covered by revenue. The remaining 20%+ is covered by a combination of debt and foreign aid. Not surprisingly, Jordan’s absolute debt has more than doubled in less than 5 years and there is little hope in sight. There does not seem to be much of an economic recovery plan and the economy is increasingly taxed by the refugee crisis.
Some of the “highlights”:
• The 2016 budget accounts for total expenses of 8.496 billion dinars ($11.983 billion), total revenues of 7.589 billion dinars ($10.704 billion), and a deficit of 907 million dinars ($1.279 billion), or about three percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Revenues are further divided into $9.558 billion from internal sources, such as customs and fees, and foreign aid of $1.148 billion….
• …Combined, this means that of overall 2016 spending ($14.7 billion), roughly 79 percent is covered by revenues ($11.6 billion), 9 percent by aid ($1.3 billion), and 12 percent is new debt ($1.8 billion).
• …an increase of $3.2 billion in the national debt in 2015—including regular deficit, new electricity debt, and accumulated interest—brought Jordan’s debt-to-GDP ratio to 90 percent and more than doubled its absolute debt in less than five years.
• ….Jordan is increasingly turning to foreign aid to offset its debt, particularly from the United States and the Gulf. The Congressional Research Service reports that 2016 U.S. aid for Jordan is set at “not less than” $1.275 billion, with additional aid above that level available through separate military provisions. While U.S. economic aid to Jordan dates back to 1951, it has increased substantially in recent years, and was still below $400 million per year in 2011, increasing to $700 million in 2014.
http://carnegieendowment.org/sada/?fa=63061&mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRovsqvMZKXonjHpfsX67uUoXaSg38431UFwdcjKPmjr1YoGRcR0aPyQAgobGp5I5FEIQ7XYTLB2t60MWA%3D%3D

I Love the U.N., but It Is Failing -NYTimes

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Here is a rather scathing review of UN operations by Anthony Banbury, the former United Nations assistant secretary general for field support. He lambastes the bureaucracy in particular:

  • “If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again.”

He also criticizes the way peacekeepers are deployed:

  • “Peacekeeping forces often lumber along for years without clear goals or exit plans, crowding out governments, diverting attention from deeper socioeconomic problems and costing billions of dollars”
  • “the United Nations decided to send 10,000 soldiers and police officers to Mali in response to a terrorist takeover of parts of the north. Inexplicably, we sent a force that was unprepared for counterterrorism and explicitly told not to engage in it. More than 80 percent of the force’s resources are spent on logistics and self-protection. Already 56 people in the United Nations contingent have been killed, and more are certain to die. The United Nations in Mali is day by day marching deeper into its first quagmire.
  • But the thing that has upset me most is what the United Nations has done in the Central African Republic. When we took over peacekeeping responsibilities from the African Union there in 2014, we had the choice of which troops to accept. Without appropriate debate, and for cynical political reasons, a decision was made to include soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and from the Republic of Congo, despite reports of serious human rights violations by these soldiers. Since then, troops from these countries have engaged in a persistent pattern of rape and abuse of the people — often young girls — the United Nations was sent there to protect.”

 

Russia’s Syria pullback: A catalyst for peace? -BBC

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“Vladimir Putin’s decision to pull much of his forces and air power out of Syria took the world by surprise. But it really should not have.
He has done exactly what he said he would do when he staged his surprise intervention nearly six months ago.
At that time, he said he had two goals: To stabilise the situation of the Syrian government, and to prepare the way for a “compromise political settlement” of a crisis that is now five years old.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35815064

Vladimir Putin’s pledge to withdraw at least part of his forces from the Syrian conflict has been taken by many as a hopeful sign. The logic is simple enough: Putin has stabilized the situation for the Syrian government and now he wants to extract himself from a messy conflict while demonstrating to the world that Russia still has clout by delivering his Syrian client to the bargaining table. Without Russian support, the argument continues, the Assad regime will realize it cannot win and therefore accept a settlement.
Maybe this will happen, maybe not. There are two problems with the argument. First, the Syrian opposition is still demanding a transitional process which involves guarantees that Bashar Assad will step down. This is probably something Assad will only do as an absolute last resort. Second, Putin may not have as much leverage as he thinks. While the Russians can credibly tell Assad that they have no intention of helping him retake the entire country, it is clear that Moscow is committed to the regime’s survival. Knowing this, Assad may feel that he can hold out for the deal he wants, one where he gets to stay in power. While Putin may not like it, the costs of turning his back on the regime now would be too high.

So far, this seems to be the calculation Assad is making. The Syrian government has already announced that it will not participate in direct talks with the opposition. (see: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35820823)

The situation as it stands, demonstrates the often complex power dynamics between patron states and their clients. Even if the patron is much more powerful and much richer, and even if the client is really desperate, if the patron is committed to the survival of the client they may not have that much influence over its actions.

Strength in Weakness: The Syrian Army’s Accidental Resilience -Carnegie

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An excellent article on the durability of the Syrian military. It provides a detailed analysis of the way the military was used as part of the regime’s patronage network and the many ways corruption was used to reward loyal officers. It also describes how the military has been able to outsource military operations to militias, which has taken pressure off the regular army officer corps (a key pillar of regime support) while also providing a more effective fighting force. ingenious ways in Here are some of the highlights:

“The army’s ability to hold territory vital to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the result of an unexpected paradox: the factors that had eviscerated its fighting ability in peacetime have become its main strength during the war. In particular, the army’s networks of patronage and nepotism, which predate the war, have morphed into a parallel chain of command that strengthens the regime. By withdrawing the army from select front lines, the regime has managed to bolster its social, political, and local community base after outsourcing its infantry needs to ad hoc militias. The parallel chain of command has enabled the regime to adapt its strategy to reflect the conflict’s quickly changing dynamics, secure its authority over loyalist paramilitary forces, and entrench itself in key territories.”
“Following the 2011 uprising, the Syrian army’s lack of professionalism actually facilitated the regime’s ability to overrule and bypass segments of the officer corps that objected to the army’s crackdown on the opposition. The defection of up to 3,000 mostly Sunni officers during 2011 had little adverse impact on the army’s cohesion and operational capability,8 since the formal structures they previously staffed were not critical to performance. Patronage networks thus emerged as the regime’s de facto, informal chain of command once the crisis became militarized in 2012. The regime could relay orders through an agile system of trusted figures linked closely by familial and sectarian ties, as well as shared business and financial interests.”

The Obama Doctrine -The Atlantic

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http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/

This is a very lengthy article chronicling Obama’s thinking on a variety of foreign policy issues, many of which we have dealt with directly in class. Although there is no clear formulation of a formal policy doctrine, there is a guiding principle:

“Obama would say privately that the first task of an American president in the post-Bush international arena was “Don’t do stupid shit.”..”

While it is easy to dismiss this as a simple wise-crack, its telling given the way Obama is characterized as a cautious retrenchment  president:

“Obama appears to be a classic retrenchment president in the manner of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Retrenchment, in this context, is defined as “pulling back, spending less, cutting risk, and shifting burdens to allies,” Stephen Sestanovich, an expert on presidential foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, explained to me. “If John McCain had been elected in 2008, you would still have seen some degree of retrenchment,” Sestanovich said. “It’s what the country wanted. If you come into office in the middle of a war that is not going well, you’re convinced that the American people have hired you to do less.” One difference between Eisenhower and Nixon, on the one hand, and Obama, on the other, Sestanovich said, is that Obama “appears to have had a personal, ideological commitment to the idea that foreign policy had consumed too much of the nation’s attention and resources.”

Beyond this, the interview clearly illustrates his frustration with the Middle East and the constant drain it puts on US resources and political attention. He is also clearly a President who believes that the US needs to be the leader of the international community and that it is a force for good. Not surprising but interesting none-the-less given the degree he has been characterized as an atypical American President. His thinking also seems to demonstrate the typical hybrid of liberal and realist principles common to US presidents:

“I asked the president how he thought his foreign policy might be understood by historians. He started by describing for me a four-box grid representing the main schools of American foreign-policy thought. One box he called isolationism, which he dismissed out of hand. “The world is ever-shrinking,” he said. “Withdrawal is untenable.” The other boxes he labeled realism, liberal interventionism, and internationalism. “I suppose you could call me a realist in believing we can’t, at any given moment, relieve all the world’s misery,” he said. “We have to choose where we can make a real impact.” He also noted that he was quite obviously an internationalist, devoted as he is to strengthening multilateral organizations and international norms.”

Below are a series of specific points that stood out:

On not following through on the threat to use force against the Assad regime after it used chemical weapons:

“I’m very proud of this moment,” he told me. “The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far. The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America’s credibility was at stake. And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically. And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America’s interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I’ve made—and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.”

This was the moment the president believes he finally broke with what he calls, derisively, the “Washington playbook.”

 

On the “Asian Pivot”:

“For years, the “pivot to Asia” has been a paramount priority of his. America’s economic future lies in Asia, he believes, and the challenge posed by China’s rise requires constant attention. From his earliest days in office, Obama has been focused on rebuilding the sometimes-threadbare ties between the U.S. and its Asian treaty partners, and he is perpetually on the hunt for opportunities to draw other Asian nations into the U.S. orbit…. Obama’s secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, told me not long ago that Obama has maintained his focus on Asia even as Syria and other Middle Eastern conflicts continue to flare. Obama believes, Carter said, that Asia “is the part of the world of greatest consequence to the American future, and that no president can take his eye off of this.” He added, “He consistently asks, even in the midst of everything else that’s going on, ‘Where are we in the Asia-Pacific rebalance? Where are we in terms of resources?’ He’s been extremely consistent about that, even in times of Middle East tension.””

This is not just realpolitik, but exasperation with the situation in the Middle East and what he seems to believe is a culture of violence:

“He then made an observation that I came to realize was representative of his bleakest, most visceral understanding of the Middle East today—not the sort of understanding that a White House still oriented around themes of hope and change might choose to advertise. “If we’re not talking to them,” he said, referring to young Asians and Africans and Latin Americans, “because the only thing we’re doing is figuring out how to destroy or cordon off or control the malicious, nihilistic, violent parts of humanity, then we’re missing the boat.”

 

On the Iranian-Saudi rivalry:

“Iran, since 1979, has been an enemy of the United States, and has engaged in state-sponsored terrorism, is a genuine threat to Israel and many of our allies, and engages in all kinds of destructive behavior,” the president said. “And my view has never been that we should throw our traditional allies”—the Saudis—“overboard in favor of Iran.”

But he went on to say that the Saudis need to “share” the Middle East with their Iranian foes. “The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians—which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen—requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace,” he said. “An approach that said to our friends ‘You are right, Iran is the source of all problems, and we will support you in dealing with Iran’ would essentially mean that as these sectarian conflicts continue to rage and our Gulf partners, our traditional friends, do not have the ability to put out the flames on their own or decisively win on their own, and would mean that we have to start coming in and using our military power to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.””

 

On Vladimir Putin and the Ukraine:

“Putin acted in Ukraine in response to a client state that was about to slip out of his grasp. And he improvised in a way to hang on to his control there,” he said. “He’s done the exact same thing in Syria, at enormous cost to the well-being of his own country. And the notion that somehow Russia is in a stronger position now, in Syria or in Ukraine, than they were before they invaded Ukraine or before he had to deploy military forces to Syria is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of power in foreign affairs or in the world generally. Real power means you can get what you want without having to exert violence. Russia was much more powerful when Ukraine looked like an independent country but was a kleptocracy that he could pull the strings on.”

Obama’s theory here is simple: Ukraine is a core Russian interest but not an American one, so Russia will always be able to maintain escalatory dominance there.

“The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-nato country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do,” he said.”

……A weak, flailing Russia constitutes a threat as well, though not quite a top-tier threat. “Unlike China, they have demographic problems, economic structural problems, that would require not only vision but a generation to overcome,” Obama said. “The path that Putin is taking is not going to help them overcome those challenges. But in that environment, the temptation to project military force to show greatness is strong, and that’s what Putin’s inclination is. So I don’t underestimate the dangers there.”

 

On China:

“I’ve been very explicit in saying that we have more to fear from a weakened, threatened China than a successful, rising China,” Obama said. “I think we have to be firm where China’s actions are undermining international interests, and if you look at how we’ve operated in the South China Sea, we have been able to mobilize most of Asia to isolate China in ways that have surprised China, frankly, and have very much served our interest in strengthening our alliances.”

On the environment:

isis is not an existential threat to the United States,” he told me in one of these conversations. “Climate change is a potential existential threat to the entire world if we don’t do something about it.” Obama explained that climate change worries him in particular because “it is a political problem perfectly designed to repel government intervention. It involves every single country, and it is a comparatively slow-moving emergency, so there is always something seemingly more urgent on the agenda.”

 

 

 

Donald Trump defends size of his penis -CNN

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Donald Trump assured American voters Thursday night that despite what Marco Rubio had suggested, there was “no problem” with the size of his hands — or anything else.

“Look at those hands, are they small hands?” the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination said, raising them for viewers to see. “And, he referred to my hands — ‘if they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.”

http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/03/politics/donald-trump-small-hands-marco-rubio/index.html

In a sense, this is just another fluff story about Donald Trump and the ridiculous things that come out of his mouth. However, from the perspective of feminist IR, its actually very illuminating. In bragging about his hmm… appendage, Trump is demonstrating the gendered ideas underlying contemporary politics. In particular, power is still equated with sexual potency and conflict is often driven by male insecurities about their sexuality. By that measure, Trumps use of the term “schlonged” to describe Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2008 primaries is hardly surprising.

see: http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2015/12/23/donald-trump-and-schlonged-the-long-and-short-of-it/#bf2b22b5c6df

Somewhere Carol Cohn is saying I told you so. see:

Carol Cohn, Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals Signs
Vol. 12, No. 4, Within and Without: Women, Gender, and Theory (Summer, 1987), pp. 687-718

IR theory aside, that comb-over has to be compensating for something….