Saturday, May 30, 2015

This is What Happens When You Play With Children With Guns

What happens is that you get dragged into futile combat missions in distant corners of the world with what are almost always lousy outcomes.

America's foreign policy in the Middle East/South Asia isn't confused, it's delirious.  It simply makes no sense.  It defies reality.  It's taken a variety of forms - the invasion of Afghanistan, the conquest of Iraq, the bombing campaign to achieve regime change in Libya.  Each and every time it's ended in failure to accomplish anything remotely worthwhile.

Afghanistan remains one of the world's very worst failed states, a criminal enterprise beset by warlordism and tribalism and plagued by insurgency (the Taliban) and terrorism (al Qaeda and now ISIS).  It's gotten so bad that the Taliban are now seeking help from Shiite Iran to tackle their new rival, ISIS. The Afghan Hazara (Shiite) must find that hilarious.

Libya?  Well we did help the opposition defeat Gaddafi's forces.  Yet it took so long to get the result and so confused was the fighting that al Qaeda had ample opportunity to set up shop in North Africa.  Now, ISIS has jumped aboard. Oopsie.

Then there's Iraq, the birthplace of ISIS.  You could say that the radical Sunni Islamist movement was spawned by the very government that the United States helped create, the Shiite regime in Baghdad.  Nouri al Maliki laid the groundwork for revolt by refusing to share power with Iraq's Sunnis who formerly ruled the place.  These former Baathists were Saddam's people and included the guys who commanded Iraq's once powerful army.  Those same guys are now commanding ISIS.  Along the way they had a lot of help from the anti-Shiite, anti-Iran Sunni princes and sheikhs of the Gulf States, especially the House of Saud.

So now we're over yonder again, this time waging an air war against ISIS.  In the course of our martial exercise programme we're loosely allied with Syria's ruling Assad regime and with the Shiite militias of Iran.  I wonder how that's going to turn out.

To complicate matters, the Iranian forces in Iraq seem to be better, by an order of light years, in fighting the Sunni Islamist ISIS forces than the Iraqi army itself. The US defense secretary recently lambasted the Iraqi army for refusing to fight.

Ours is a curious war.  We've smartened up a bit over the past 10 plus years. This time we're not fighting for democracy or human rights or any of that noble stuff we so singularly failed to achieve the first, second and third time around.  This time we're simply out to "reduce" the effectiveness of ISIS forces.  Dropping a bomb within twenty yards of an ISIS pickup truck accomplishes that.  Yippee, a war we almost can't lose because we're not even pretending we're hoping to win. When it comes to war you can't set the bar any lower without gathering your generals in a railway car to sign instruments of capitulation.  Does that make any sense to you?

There may be a way out.  It would come at a cost.  We would have to give up our post-war commitment to the inviolable territorial integrity of nation states.  In other words partition Iraq.  A Shiite state in the south.  A Sunni state in the middle.  A Kurdish state in the north.  Give the guys who are so successfully running ISIS a country to run, oil resources to manage, all that good stuff.  See how long they cling to this "caliphate" nonsense if they're offered a sovereignty deal.

You see Iraq never made any sense except to the Brits and French in the wake of WWI.  The spoils of that nightmarish bloodbath included all the territories that once were the domain of the Ottoman Empire which had imprudently backed the Kaiser.  New countries were created by the drawing of lines on a map to reflect British and French interests, lines that ignored ethnic and religious realities in the region.

The fanciful notion of the territorial integrity of Iraq is based on perpetuating the sins perpetrated on the region by the victorious Brits and French almost a century ago.  After all, Iraq functioned as a state only by the brutal repression of the majority Shia population by the minority Sunni forces that became the Baathist Party of Saddam Hussein.  What's not to like with that?

We didn't let territorial integrity stand in the way when we carved off the ethnic Albanian state of Kosovo from Serbia just as we allowed, even facilitated, the dismemberment of Yugoslavia into its constituencies.

Why then do we so stubbornly reject the partition of Iraq?  Is it because Iraq has vast reserves of oil that we want under unified management more or less beholden to us for its security?

After Afghanistan and Libya, Canada should use this adventure in bombing Iraq and Syria as an object lesson of the perils of enlisting in America's Foreign Legion.  Lesson Number One - just because you have all the King's Men and all the King's Horses doesn't mean you're going to win without plenty of statesmanship and good political and military leadership.

Lesson Number Two - America is currently in a very weird place as its brief unipolar dominance is eroded by the ascendancy of new states, the BRICS. History shows this sort of transition can be (usually is) destabilizing and very dangerous.  We're now at risk of major war breaking out, even if inadvertently, with Russia or, more likely, China.

Lesson Number Three - the world is caught up in several, high-risk arms races. The biggies are in Russia which is rearming against the West - new missiles, new warheads, new subs, new ultra long-range cruise missiles, new bombers, new stealth fighters; China with its new missiles and cyber technologies, new stealth warplanes and rapidly expanding 'blue water' navy for repelling (area denial) American intimidation,  countering the rise of India and expanding its domination (sphere of influence) of southeast and east Asia; and the Middle East which has collectively become the largest importer of Western and Russian armaments and may soon host a nuclear arms race.  This is not a good time to be tied too tightly to a nation that seems too ready to get into wars it's not prepared to win.

Lesson Number Four - we need to focus on our domestic defence needs, sovereignty and security, rather than squandering our forces and treasure on pointless and ineffective adventures on the far side of the planet.  This Foreign Legion role merely drains our resources and leaves us defenceless.  Under Harper our defence budget has fallen to just 0.89% of GDP while, on his watch, every branch of our armed forces has become operationally degraded.

We may be selling $15-billion worth of armoured fighting vehicles to Saudi Arabia for the looming religious holy war but our own army's kit is worn out from our failed mission in Afghanistan.  Our navy is at its lowest state of readiness since pre-WWII and we cannot sail even one task force to defend any of our three coastlines.  Our air force is completely misaligned with the task of securing our vast, sparsely populated north while Putin is vigorously remilitarizing Russia's north in anticipation of his nation's dispute of our territorial claims to the Arctic seabed.  Did we learn nothing from Georgia/Ossetia or Ukraine?  This guy can smell weakness and he's ruthless when it comes to exploiting it.  Harper has reduced Canada to Putin's lawful prey.

Harper may like to play warrior by sending penny packets of jet fighters to carve holes in the sky over the Baltics (now outdated warplanes that would last perhaps 10-minutes against Su-35s) or to drop bombs on ISIS units in Iraq and Syria but with every patrol, every bombing mission he's squandering money badly needed by a defence establishment whose funding he's choking into unconsciousness.  That's what happens when you play with children with guns.


A Kisaragi Colour said...

The West's adventures in the Mid-East have another common thread; the complete failure of the republican ideal.

In Afghanistan the loya jirga wanted to restore their king but the US was not having it. They preferred the pliable Hamid Karzai be president of a strong executive presidency. It really is unfortunate that the last legitimate ruler of Afghanistan was not restored as a constitutional monarch. Then perhaps the tribalism you mentioned could be put to a useful purpose.

Then along came Iraq and the US did the same thing. A strong presidential system guaranteed to be dominated by the Shiite majority (again tribalism). It would have been far better to have a Sunni as constitutional monarch to assuage fears that the Shiites were going to oppress them. It may well have made the Shiites more inclined to play ball too. With a Sunni holding the highest office in the land the tribes now loyal to ISIS would have had less reason to support them.

And then Libya. Qaddafi is the one who had overthrown the previous king. Said king had done what he could to unite the very different areas of Libya. Instead, Cyrenaica and Tripolitania may well be drifting apart.

And then there is what the US did to the Shah.

The US's record in this regard extends beyond the Mid-East but it has played out the same. The US establishes a republic that stumbles along until it disintegrates or a republican strongman rises to establish a bloody dictatorship.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, AKC, and thanks for your comments. I can't see how the US could restore the monarchy to Afghanistan. That surely first requires a degree of political stability that Afghanistan hasn't had since well prior to the Soviet intervention. The Americans inherited an unresolved civil war and, sadly, left the place in that same unstable condition. If you'll remember the last kind was mainly titular with power decentralized among the tribes and warlords. I can't imagine how long a monarch would last if he tried to suppress the country's narco-economy.

As for Iraq, Bush/Cheney 'assumed' they could simply implant a secular national government under Chalabi. The Shiites naturally rose up and al Sistani made it clear they'd settle for nothing less than a Shiite-dominated government. Bremer, who was never looking for much more than a flight out of Saddam International Airport, rolled over and the rest is history.

Let's not get into the Shah. Did you know that General Stormin'Norman Schwarzkopf's dad set up and trained the Shah's Savak secret police, the gang that made the Gestapo look like schoolgirls?

As foreign policy goes, the only thing coherent in America's has been the string of failed outcomes.

A Kisaragi Colour said...

No problem at all. I've been browsing the blogs on Progressive Bloggers while I wait for my blog to be evaluated.

Afghanistan hasn't had peace since King Amanullah Khan started modernizing the country in the 1920s. You are right that King Mohammed Zahir Shah did not rule himself for a good chunk of his reign (roughly the first 30 or 39 years). One of his acts was to bring in the 1964 Constitution which succeeded in liberal idealism and failed in execution. (as a side note, the King of Libya also introduced a liberal constitution which failed in execution).

US assumptions tend to get them into trouble. My point in the first comment was just this: the assumption that a republic (especially one with a strong executive) is always better than a monarchy (of any sorts) has repeatedly led them into trouble.

The last 'successful' regime change by the US was Japan, where they kept the monarchy. Further back you have the Philippines but that came about only after a huge lose of human life.

Anonymous said...

The somewhat more plausible explanation for current troubles in the Middle East (and elsewhere) is that USA (and most other countries) give a lip service to "liberté, égalité, fraternité" and instead, often brutally, pursue self-interests.

Mark Richard Francis said...

Sadly, Canada's foreign policy is now based upon nothing more than playing to local demographics and local political aspirations. As for our long-term needs? Lip service. I don't know why we don't have coastline drone surveillance, for instance. Seems cost-effective for Canada, especially since the looming F35s purchase will result in a smaller air force with a longer mission turnaround time.

But I digress.