Category Archives: Military

Operation Inherent Resolve Inherently Hard to Nail Down

Operation Inherent Resolve is the new name for the 2014 U.S.-led intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. From military aid, advisors and humanitarian efforts, the operation has evolved into airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. also has troops on the ground, to serve as “military advisers,” to protect key infrastructure and U.S. installations, and to coordinate humanitarian interventions.

Though the “resolve” is allegedly “inherent,” President Obama maintains these troops will not engage in combat. What is not inherently apparent is whether the operation is constitutional, how its goals will be achieved, or how things are going thus far.

CONSTITUTIONALITY

Congress has not declared war. Air strikes commenced on August 8, 2014. The Commander-in-Chief’s sixty-day grace period under the War Powers Resolution—itself of questionable constitutionality—thus expired in early October.

Or maybe Congress has authorized the operation.

The White House claims that the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and/or the 2002 AUMF provide sufficient Congressional approval. The former authorized the use of force against anyone who aided in the September 11, 2001, attacks (whoever or wherever they might be). The latter authorized force against “Iraq” (whatever that is).

One can have some fun—and score some purely political points—arguing that, if the same authorization applies, then those “wars” were not successfully completed. Or if they were successfully completed, and this is a new and different conflict, then POTUS needs to go back to Congress.

THE STRATEGY

In late August, Obama stated “we don’t have a strategy yet” and that his administration was working to “cobble together” a coalition to come up with one. That same month, the Pentagon suggested that airstrikes alone “are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities,” have “a very temporary effect” and have neither “effectively contained” nor “br[oken] the momentum of the threat.”

It is now mid-October. Has the strategy been any more clearly defined?

While the U.S.’s involvement “is going to be a long term project,” the President nevertheless concedes that “[t]here is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.” Instead, the U.S. encourages the formation of an inclusive Iraqi government, which would in turn make Iraqi forces stronger and more cohesive in their efforts to defend themselves.

Wait.

We already did that once, didn’t we?

This effort will be complicated by the fact that, as the Times reported back in July, classified assessments of the Iraqi military find it to be “compromised” by extremists, making it too dangerous for US troops to work with them against ISIL.

That complication illustrates one of the overarching problems with the “war” on “terror” from the outset: We cannot tell who the enemy is and we cannot know when it has surrendered. How do we tell which people in Iraq and Syria are ISIL and which are ISIL’s victims? What would the “defeat” of ISIS look like? How do we know when it has happened? Does everyone who supports ISIL have to be dead? Do its leaders sign surrender documents?

Until we define the answers to these questions, our actions against ISIL will either be ineffective or never-ending—or both.

HOW IT’S GOING SO FAR

If it remains unclear exactly how the US will know when it has defeated ISIL or how long that might take, it is even murkier how it is going so far.

With $2 billion in assets and substantial support from Sunni Muslims around the world, ISIL’s ranks are swelling and it is drawing recruits from foreign countries everywhere. As ISIL continues to behead captives in retaliation for western interference in its endeavors, the fault lines of shifting alliances are as treacherous as ever.

In Syria, ISIL is fighting President Bashar al-Asad, who the U.S. agrees “must go.” The U.S. is trying to help Syrian “moderates” fight against both Present Bashar al-Assad and ISIL and other “non-moderate” rebels.

After Susan Rice claimed Turkey had agreed to let coalition forces use Turkish bases to assist the moderate Syrians rebels, Turkey repudiated any such agreement. Instead of helping in the fight against ISIL, Turkey has bombed a faction of Kurds called the PKK. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the U.S. But the PKK—along with other Kurds—is currently trying to defeat ISIL militants near Kobani, which the U.S. (and presumably Turkey) also wants to do.

U.S. ally Saudi Arabia officially condemns and opposes ISIL. It is one of the coalition members. But Saudi Arabia supports Sunni Salafism, which is the philosophy also followed by ISIL.

The U.S. and Iran do not get along, because the U.S. considers Iran a terrorist state and opposes its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. But Iran is helping support the Iraqi government against ISIL. In exchange, it wants concessions on its nuclear aspirations and a reprieve of sanctions. Fighting ISIL would help the U.S. and moderate Iraqis. It would also help Iran’s friend, Bashar al-Assad, who the U.S. says “must go.” At the same time in Yemen, Iran is supporting the Houthis, who are moderate Shiites and thus enemies of ISIL. This will anger U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, who is helping in the fight against ISIL in Iraq but who also supports Sunni Salifism, which is the philosophy of ISIL.

Clear as mud?

If not, you may have some sympathy for Rear Admiral James Kirby as he tries to answer a question about how things are going in Operation Inherent Resolve. “Military action is not going to be decisive in and of itself,” Rear Admiral Kirby explains. There are “areas where we are having success,” but it is a “mixed picture.” It is “gonna take a long time” and the U.S. will be “in this … for a matter of years.”

Whatever else may be said about the author of this meme that has been making the rounds on social media, the situation can aptly be summed up as follows:

So some of our friends support our enemies and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting against our other enemies, whom we want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win.

[And i]f the people we want to defeat are defeated, they might be replaced by people we like even less.

 

Miss me yet?

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Recovered From the Memory Hole: Bush Admin. Agrees to Date for Withdrawal from Iraq

As the carnage escalates in Iraq, American partisans are pointing fingers and making assertions as to “who lost Iraq.” The neo-cons say that Obama lost Iraq because he pulled the troops out prematurely. Those who opposed the war from the beginning say Iraq is Bush’s mess (something this author mostly agrees with). While these debates are important, what are the facts?

It turns out that in 2014 we have a nifty tool called Google. One of the most helpful tools is the advanced search that allows someone to enter in a range of dates (it’s the closest thing we have to a time machine). I remembered that the Bush administration set a date for withdrawal from Iraq soon after Barack Obama was elected to be the next POTUS (despite what the neo-con revisionists are trying to say now) but I didn’t remember exactly when. I set the range between November 1, 2008 to December 31, 2008 and entered “Iraqi withdrawal of US troops” in the search box.

As it turns out, I was right: it was President Bush, not President Obama who came to an agreement with the Iraqi government concerning the date U.S. troops would leave Iraq. In this article I found with this search from The Washington Post dated November 18, 2008, the author goes into a fair amount of detail explaining the circumstances surrounding Bush’s decision to withdrawal all U.S. troops by the end of 2011. The bottom line is that the Iraqi government wanted the troops to either leave or be subject to Iraqi criminal laws. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that was in place at the time stated that U.S. troops would take care to respect Iraqi laws but the U.S. military would take care of any violations. This aspect of the SOFA was something that did not sit well with the new Iraqi regime and the Bush administration wasn’t about to allow U.S. troops to be put in Iraqi prisons.

While it is true that Obama could have come to a different agreement with the Iraqi government he didn’t. The troops were withdrawn on his watch and not a moment too soon.

We can debate whether or not the timing was right for U.S. troops to leave Iraq when they did but do not allow the neo-cons and Bush apologists to get away with laying the latest horrors in Iraq at the feet of Obama without acknowledging the fact that he was doing so pursuant to Bush’s policy.

Declassified: CIA Aided Iraq’s Chemical Weapon Attacks on Iran

Bashar al-Assad has allegedly crossed what President Obama called a “red line” using chemical weapons against up to 1,000 people. The threat of chemical weapons and other WMD by such unsavory characters as Saddam Hussein was the major pretext for “preemptive” war with Iraq.

President George W. Bush argued that regime change was necessary due to the fact that Hussein used these awful weapons in the Iraq-Iran war and against the Kurds. In this post 9/11 world, “outlaw regimes,” particularly those he dubbed the “Axis of Evil” (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea) were a threat to the civilized world which could no longer be tolerated. Chemical weapons are so taboo, after all, even the Nazis opted not to use chemical weapons on the battlefield!*

But as this article in Foreign Policy points out in analyzing declassified CIA documents, the use of these weapons was not so taboo inside the CIA at the time when Saddam Hussein used them against Iran (yes, the very same event which would later be cited as a reason to attack Iraq about a decade and a half later):

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.

It seems that U.S. foreign policy is quite hypocritical, no? Using chemical weapons are fine as long as they are being used against a nation the administration at the time happens to dislike, for whatever reason…until a later administration decides differently. While the use of chemical weapons is very inhumane and rightfully condemned by the civilized world, the U.S. hardly has the moral high ground in deciding where any red line is or what action should be taken whenever it is crossed.**

H/T: AntiWar.com

*Not that the Nazis had some sort of moral objection to using such weapons when exterminating the Jews. The reason these weapons weren’t used on the battlefield was probably due to the difficulty in using chemical weapons in anything other than ideal weather conditions and that they did not want the Allies to use the weapons used against them.

**Assuming there is no direct threat to national security of the U.S.

Your Ox Will Eventually Be Gored

It seems logical that every American, regardless of political affiliation/philosophy, race, religion or creed, would be concerned about the revelations concerning domestic spying on the part of the NSA. If the Obama administration can spy on and mistreat the Tea Party and other right wing causes, the next Republican administration could spy on and mistreat Occupy Wall Street and other left wing causes.

As it turns out, this is not necessarily the case. According to an article by David A. Love, the black community has largely greeted this news with a shrug and a yawn.

Is this lack of concern because many blacks do not want to be critical of the first black* president? This might account for some of this shrugging but Love suspects that there is something much deeper at work here:

The black community has decades of experience being monitored, so this type of surveillance is nothing new. Given the long history of being spied upon, many blacks already assume they are being monitored by the government […]
[…]
African-Americans are no strangers to surveillance, as their activities were highly regulated through the slave codes, laws which controlled both slaves and free blacks.

The mistreatment of blacks did not end when slavery was abolished, of course. Love goes on to describe several other atrocities such as the Tuskegee experiment, J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal spying on Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and others.

Tragic chapters such as Tuskegee have been cited as a reason why African-Americans distrust the medical establishment and are hesitant to participate in clinical research. One study found that 67 percent of black parents distrusted the medical profession, compared to half of white parents.

As I read this, I wondered why there isn’t a similar distrust of the government as the medical establishment by blacks in general. The Tuskegee experiments were done at the behest of the U.S. Public Health Service, after all!

After finishing the article, I decided to read through the comments section (this is a blog that is dedicated primarily with concerns of the black community; the comments can sometimes be very illuminating). The very first comment by a user with the handle “Blackheywood Heywood” did not disappoint:

The US government began spying on Black folks before this government was created, yet it was no outrage.Give me a break, it seems slowly mainstream America is discovering how it feels to be thought of as suspicious or guilty before being accused, never mind arrested. Welcome to the world of the American Black male.

Heywood has a valid point. The answer to the question why the lack of outrage by the black community concerning the NSA and IRS scandals could just as easily turned against what Heywood called “mainstream America.” Indeed, where was the right (for lack of a better term) on these outrages? Where has the Tea Party been on the question of “stop and frisk,” in New York in which minorities are especially targeted to be searched, supposedly at random? Is this simply a case of “out of sight, out of mind?”

I believe there’s also another phenomenon at work: the memory hole. Near the close of the article, Love mentioned an event that took place in Philadelphia in 1985 I was completely unaware of:

On May 13, 1985, following a standoff, a Philadelphia police helicopter dropped a bomb on the house on Osage Avenue occupied by the black “radical” group known as MOVE. Police reportedly fired on MOVE members as they escaped the burning home […]
[…]
The 1985 bombing—which killed 11 people, including 5 children and destroyed an entire neighborhood of 61 row homes in West Philadelphia—marked the first such attack on U.S. citizens by government authorities. The survivors and victims’ families received $5.5 million in compensation from the city of Philadelphia.

I try my best to be informed about historical events as well as current events. How is it that this is the first I had ever heard about the Philadelphia Police dropping a freaking bomb on a neighborhood in an American city?** I must have been sick that day in American History class (I also didn’t learn about the Tuskegee experiments until well into my twenties; maybe I was sick on that day as well).

Maybe MOVE was a radical organization maybe it wasn’t*** but nothing could justify the police dropping a bomb on a neighborhood. Perhaps this atrocity is well known by people in the black community, both young and old but not so much outside the black community (or maybe I’m one of the few Americans who never heard about this but I doubt it).

MOVE probably wasn’t the first group the government described as “extreme” to a point where government officials ordered and used military force against its members; it certainly wasn’t the last. How many people out of a hundred know about what happened at Ruby Ridge? The Weaver family, why they were “extremists” after all and therefore, why should anyone care about their rights? How many people out of a hundred know about the conflicting accounts of what really happened at assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas? (Here’s a hint: a great deal more than what the MSM reported at the time). I suppose because these people were part of some sort of cult, their rights didn’t matter either!

This is where the real problem of indifference lies. I’ve heard far too many people with the attitude “it’s not my problem” or “it doesn’t affect me”. Even more disturbing is the attitude some people have that they are happy when someone of an opposing view has his or her rights of life, liberty, and/or property trampled on (i.e. “Screw them, they are ‘extremists’”). Far too often, concerns about civil liberties depend on whose ox is being gored at that particular time.

I would like to humbly suggest that if you are not as upset when its someone else’s ox, even if it’s the ox of your opponent’s, one day it will be your ox that will be gored. Perhaps Martin Niemoller said it best in his very short work “First they Came” describing how the Nazis took freedom away from the whole population, one group at a time. By the time the Nazis got around to taking freedom from what remained of the population, Niemoller concluded “there was no one left to speak for me.”

To be clear, I am not comparing the U.S. government to the Nazis. Such hyperbolic comparisons are not constructive and minimize the very crimes against humanity the Nazis committed. I am making a comparison about how populations respond to encroachments on liberty, however. As demonstrated in Love’s article, there are plenty of examples of injustice from American history.

Here are just a handful more:

  • The Indian Removal Act
  • Slavery
  • The internment of Japanese Americans
  • Jim Crow
  • McCarthyism

And many, many more.

Each of these policies were permitted to happen because the majority apparently felt that curtailing freedoms of these minorities would somehow not affect their own freedoms. We should acknowledge that these injustices occurred and try to learn the right lessons (rather than pretend the U.S. government or the American people have committed no wrongs ever) and move on.

Every injustice and every violation of rights of life, liberty, and property must be answered by all of us as if it’s our own liberty that is at stake.

*Yes, I’m aware that Obama is actually half black. However, if a man of his description was accused of committing a crime and at large, he would be described as a black man.

**In light of this, Rand Paul’s questions about government using drones to attack Americans on American soil no longer seem so far fetched, unfortunately.

***All I know is what I read in the cited article.

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