Posted tagged ‘libya’

The Key Question – Why?

August 12, 2014

The news media is reporting that President Obama’s approval rating is hovering around 40. Pretty low for a President.

The media normally introduce this information when also reporting some foreign event which is either bad in itself or uncertain as to how it would ultimately turn out. Cause and effect? Or just a random occurrence?

The President is and has been a poor communicator as it relates to providing both context and rational for American actions or lack of actions. There is no doubt in my mind that the President has thought about foreign events, has considered consequences of possible actions (or non-actions), and has chosen the path which maximizes the possibility of not getting deeper involvement. Avoiding foreign entanglements was a chapter of history Barack Obama must have studied well.  He just can’t find the way to explain it.

So why would these new media sources constantly reference the President’s approval rating? While his approval rating is news worthy, it is far more likely the reporter is trying to question wisdom of the Presidents decision without appearing to be providing editorial content.

So lets follow this “why” a little further.

  • Why did the US not get involved on the ground in Libya? The US did participate in the Qhaddafi regime change but chose not to stay around for the next phases.
  • Why did the US not get involved in the Syria insurgency? The US did clearly indicate it favored the removal of Assad but has been reluctant to provide arms and supplies to rebel groups.
  • Why has the US not laid out terms for what it thinks is a just settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? The US (and the world) pretty much agree on the broad outline of a just settlement.
  • Why has the US not inserted itself into the Ukrainian situation more forcefully and threatened Russia with military force? The US has clearly stated that it wants the Russians to let well enough alone.
  • Why has the US not shown greater support for Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines in their dispute with China over who owns what in the South China Sea? The US has expressed the wish that the parties would resolve this issue through negotiations.

In many regards, each of these situations lies on a slippery slope which ends (or could end) with US military involvement. In addition, even with a military successful solution in any of these situations, it is difficult to see the future state related to any US national interest.

Of course humanitarian considerations are motivating (stop the hunger or senseless killing) but why would that be a US national interest? Who made us king? And more basically, who in the US is willing to pay for it?

One can imagine a future state where too many regions of the world have open armed conflicts or have become populated with pirates and rogue states. International commerce could become captive and such a state of affairs could negatively hurt the US economy and our quality of life.

But can you imagine such a state and it not also hurting Russia, China, and Europe too?

As the run up to the 2016 Presidential elections unfolds, we will hear all sorts of descriptions of what’s in the US national interest. One might even recall hearing that invading and occupying Iraq was in America’s national interest. Be careful.

Today US domestic politics are horribly confused. Some advocate deep cuts in government spending without any plan to deal with the consequences (economically or socially). Others advocate a moral code and see that code applying to all Americans while others are as adamantly opposed.

Others see the US as exceptional and propose our way of living as the model for the rest of the world. And still others see no place for US involvement in world affairs. There is no consensus.

Any foreign policy which brings with it the probability of a slippery slope to armed conflict is very dangerous given the lack of national resolve.

The US economic and political model is as good as any, and probably the best, in the world. Our model, however, is not so good as to have the capacity to take on all the problems the world has to offer.

Our government needs to have the confidence that very limited foreign engagements (the path we appear on) are superior to whole scale military efforts.

It would, however, be special if President Obama could say this like Bill Clinton would have.

The Three, No Two Musketeers

November 15, 2012

In the days of GOP hubris, and George W Bush’s “Dick Cheney style” foreign policy, there were three men who rode forth in support.  These “three musketeer-like” figures were John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman.  There wasn’t a matter involving homeland security, al Qaeda, or the Middle East that didn’t have them as its champion.

Now there are two remaining.  Joe Lieberman wisely did not stand for reelection.

There seems, however, more than enough for McCain and Graham to do.  Allowing the sequestration bill to take effect has been their cause for some time.  They neglect to say that the only reason there is a sequestration bill is that the GOP insisted upon budget cuts in exchange for raising the national debt limit.  McCain and Graham moan about the negative impact of the sequestration’s $500 billion ($50 billion per year) automatic defense spending cut.  For these two, there are no good cuts if it involves defense.

So it should be no surprise that the last two musketeers have been dead against the US getting out of Afghanistan or Iraq.  “Al Qaeda will follow us home”, McCain breathlessly intoned.

So lets fast forward to today.  President Obama has just won a clear but close (3% point) popular vote election.  In terms of electoral votes, the President was the hands down choice 320 to 200.  The election certainly reflects a majority of Americans preferring President Obama’s foreign policies over that offered by the GOP.

Just before the election, on September 11, there were Arab uprisings in Egypt and Libya.  In Benghazi, Libya a well armed crowd broke into an unofficial American Consulate (we now know it was a CIA outpost), and in the ensuing battle 4 Americans were killed.  Libya is pretty much a lawless land with various tribal leaders and their militias holding fort in their district.

For reasons that are not clear, initial US government reports described the tragedy as a result of protests getting out of hand.  (The Libyan government, at the same time, was claiming that terrorist groups were responsible.)  UN Ambassador Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows (again, why was this necessary) and repeated the White House version.

Susan Rice is now the center of speculation that President Obama may nominate her as the replacement for Secretary of State Clinton.  The two musketeers have cried out “no way”.

McCain and Graham have gone over 4 years without great issues to champion.  In their heart of hearts they must realize that despite the economic attractiveness defense spending has for military industrial companies, the American public is finally saying we are spending too much.  Iraq and Afghanistan have gotten us no place.  Why continue on that path.

In the past the argument could be made that defense spending is key to a strong, healthy, and growing economy.  Most everyone does not make that connection today.  Voters are looking for jobs and some resolution to the deficit which does not bankrupt them personally.

The two musketeers apparently see the potential nomination of Ambassador Rice as a heavenly opportunity.  This issue can boost their own importance, and the best part, supports the argument for more defense department spending, not less.

Can irrelevance be far away?

A Pictures Tells A Thousand Words

September 26, 2012

In today’s newspaper, there is a picture of Japanese and Taiwanese Coast Guard vessels circling and spraying water on each other.  These were grown men dispatched by grown men’s governments playing like children.  It must have been pretty important to assemble all those ships.

The good news, of course, is they were shooting water at each other, not bullets.  This is actually a giant step up compared to the Syrian Government or the Libyan dissidents.  But why shoot water anyways?

How about control of uninhabited rocks lying in the Sea that separates China and Japan?  Sovereignty is pretty important each country says.  What they don’t say is that the minerals lying under the sea are pretty important too.  Which do you think is the greater motivating influence?

The hoot of this picture is that the Chinese vessel is from Taiwan, not mainland China who has previously claimed sovereignty over the entire sea area down to and including Vietnam and the Philippines.  I wonder what the Taiwanese are going to do if the real Chinese shows up?

So here’s a question.  Which area of the world seems more important to US interests, the Arab world or the Southeast Pacific?

In the olden days, the US would dispatch a warship or two to the regions.  Local countries that were acting out would suddenly get the message and simmer down.  Those days are gone.

But living today does not mean that international incidents up to and including hot shooting are impossible.  What needs to be different, however, is the role the US chooses to take.  In the Middle East, we are looking at third world mentality countries, desperately poor and largely uneducated.  And worst of all, dominated by a middle ages religion.

In Southeast Asia the conditions are quite different.  Southeast Pacific countries are engaged in international trade and have economies that are strong, populations that are educated, and no dominating theology.  So where should the US place its chips?

It would seem that geographically, the waters and their minerals, should be split among those neighboring countries.

Inviting representatives from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan to a US water park for negotiations might be an out of the box process starter.



Your Mouth and Your Wallet

September 13, 2012

GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s campaign is sputtering along.  It is not that Romney could not still win the November election, rather it is that his campaign momentum seems stationary or possibly in reverse.  Is it possible to revive his election bid?

Former NBC anchorman Tom Brokow said earlier this year when asked who he thought would win the election, “it is just too soon, too often events not known today will swing the election”.

Will that happen and favor Romney?   Maybe but with Romney we first have to look at how he has gotten to where he is.  His lack of momentum is no accident in my opinion.

At this stage in the campaign most voters do not know who the real Mitt Romney really is.  They know what he has said and what he promises to do if elected.  Unfortunately, Romney has a record of having supported in the past the opposite position of each of his campaign promises.  So what will he do now?

Secondly, Romney has felt it necessary to adopt one lame brain right wing conservative idea after another.  These ideas (or ideology) don’t make sense in a modern scientific world, yet Romney swears to them as if they were one of Newton’s laws.  Romney’s stand on immigration, homosexual discrimination, women’s rights, balancing the budget, and how to get the economy going are not favored by the majority of voters.  Compounding that, the GOP naked grab for power by implementing photo ID laws and the conservative Super Pacs seemingly unlimited use of money and negative political ads have added to the electorate’s sour view.

Now back to Brokow’s comments.

The outbreak of middle east violence with attacks at the US Egyptian Embassy and Libyan Consulate (with the killing of 4 Americans) is the type of unforeseen event that Brokow might have been thinking.  Enter the Romney team.

Romney issued a statement criticizing the Obama Administration for its reaction to the Cairo attack.  Romney claimed that a statement released by the Embassy distancing itself from a reputed anti-Islam video was an apology when in fact, Romney said, the Government should have been denouncing the attack in the strongest of terms.

Precedent has been that in matters of national emergencies, especially foreign affairs, Presidential campaigns hold off any criticism.  Not this time.  So as the dust settled and the timing of events became clear, voters learned that the Embassy statement was issued 6 hours before any demonstrations and subsequent attack on the Embassy.

Republican leaders were caught off guard.  While politically they could see the poor judgement in Romney’s remarks, they also could see the possibility of opening a “foreign affairs leadership” front.  “President Obama is weak in foreign policy and has allowed America’s leadership to weaken”, they called out.

Senator John McCain saw his 15 minutes of fame opportunity and did not let it pass.  McCain whined that with the US military departure from Iraq, the announced withdrawal from Afghanistan, and refusal to draw a clear “red line”, as Israel has demanded, against Iran, the President has weakened the US in the Middle East.

What is he thinking?  Does he think we should beef up the US military presence in the Middle East and pay for it with Medicare and Medicaid reductions?  Does he think we should put the lives of other people’s sons and daughters at risk and allow those with greater means to skip military service?

There is a reason Mitt Romney’s momentum has faded.  His policies seem to support those who already have and do little for those who do not have or are still trying to get ahead.  If Romney supports the feelings of people like McCain, than Romney will need to change his “no new taxes” pledge and put his wallet where his mouth is.

Egypt Teaches Syria Well

June 2, 2012

Former President Hosni Mubarak’s conviction yesterday and the sentence of life imprisonment is a clear lesson for President Bashar al-Assad.  Don’t remain in your own country if you get toppled from power.

There is no doubt that Mubarak, his family, and close friends have profited handsomely from his years in power.  No doubt that a portion of foreign aide money found its way miraculously to Mubarak et al’s pockets.  What they syphoned off did not help the poor.  While this is wrong, show me another country where the supporters of the leader do not profit more than the average citizen?  It is all about degree.

Recent events, however, have shown us that every day Egyptian people when given a chance, view Mubarak poorly.  While the politics are unclear, and for sure some see opportunities to grab power for themselves, the net effect is that Mubarak is the bad guy and must take the fall.  So far, the Egyptians have spared his life.

Assad took his first cues from Muammar Gaddafi.  When Gaddafi did not savage the Libyan opposition soon and complete enough, with outside help, he was overthrown and killed like a dog.  So far Assad cannot be accused of going too soft on Syrian insurgents.

Now wait.  The issue is not whether Mubarak and Gaddafi did not deserve to be overthrown.   It is also not the case that they may have deserved the death penalty.  The unintended consequence of overthrowing these leaders is that it sends a message to each and every remaining dictator.  Watch your back!  Keep your foot on the people’s neck!  Don’t give them a chance!

Maybe this is inevitable.  Regime change creates a situation where the new players do not want to see the old cast coming back.  What better way than to put them in jail, or even better put them to death.  There is something about this that cries out, “what goes around, comes around”.

Pragmatists will argue that the West should invade Syria or at a minimum arm the insurgents.  Assad is not going to come out of this current struggle a change man, warm and fuzzy.  They will assert that we have the opportunity, the reason (motive), and the means to strike.

I am struck by the not so distant past when “W” heard god say it was proper to invade and occupy Iraq.  What unfolded, when someone arguably worse that Assad, was overthrown should make anyone cautious.  Iraq is not the poster child for regime change.

We cannot, however, make believe that the Syrian horrors are not taking place.  The question is how can the Syrians self determine?  Outside intervention with ships, planes, and soldiers seems not the right answer.  Covert aide might balance the strength between the insurgents and the government.  More balance may possibly cause more deaths, but this route has the highest chance of finding a “self determination solution”.

Forget about democracy.  Forget about freedoms as westerners know it.  But a new crowd that found ways to raise all ships economically, that would be worth a lot of deaths.

Hmmm.  Maybe not much chance of that either.

The Middle East’s Muddled Message

February 10, 2012

The Middle East is a mess.  This is not new news.  It was that way when President George W Bush invaded in 2003.  Some people just don’t need facts or background to commit other people’s children to war.

Now people are saying the Arab Spring has cast the Middle East in a somewhat different light.  We are told “look what the power of social media can do.  People thirst for democracy and freedom.  If given a chance, they will throw out the tyrants and…”

If you look at the details, however, it really is the same picture.  Most of these countries are dirt poor and poorly educated.  Governments cling to power with behind the scenes deals with Muslim leaders.  The first function of these governments is to ensure the leaders and their bureaucrat supporters get a privileged cut of the meager national resources.  Keeping their citizens poor, uneducated, and dependent upon the government, works well and has been a well practiced formula.

With Iraq today, we are seeing that you can put a new dress on but that doesn’t change the person inside the dress.  Iraq has traded a Sunni tyrant in Saddam Hussein for a sharply partisan, ineffective Shiite lead government whose main interests are in garnering as much power and wealth as they can.  This time, Shiites rather than Sunnis, see the wealth as their right.

Tunisia was the first Arab Spring country to topple its tyrant in 2011.  Not much has changed there but things also have not deteriorated.

Egypt followed with a dramatic ouster of Hosni Mubarak.  The West chose not to support him.  Democratic elections have followed and Islamic groups have gained a large majority in their legislature.  In and of itself, this is not a problem.

What is a problem is that these new elected officials want the military (the former power behind Mubarak) to cease interfering with the daily administration of government.  Again why should this be a problem?  The answer is that the military controls revenue producing businesses and that means money.   Trying to take this money away from the military will have unforeseen consequences.

Libya was home to the next worst despot, Muammar Gaddafi.  When uprisings began the West intervened.  “The west thought it could help these brave people gain freedom and democracy”.   After a protracted, but one sided fight, Gaddafi was ousted, and later killed.  Hurray, democracy had won and Libya was better off without Gaddafi.  (Sound like Dick Cheney and Iraq?)

Oh, wait, Libya is currently splintering into numerous armed militias all trying to gain enough power and land to ensure they receive a generous share of oil money.  Different land but the same story.

Syria now commands the front pages.  The Arab spring one year later has engulfed Syria.  No surprise, Bashar al-Assad was not sleeping during the Arab Spring.  He saw what happens when a government loosens its power and even more clearly, what happens to that county’s leaders.  Backed by Russian help, the Assad government has adopted exceedingly strong measures to put down those who want a new government.  The cruelty with which the resistance is being subdued is appalling.  The alternative for Assad would not be pleasant either.

So what is the message here?

Intervention can achieve short term goals.  Longer term, however, a different group of chickens may come home to roost.  US foreign policy with respect to the Middle East better be pragmatic and short on idealism.

Justice, The New Way

October 21, 2011

Muammar Khadafi met his just reward yesterday.  Or did he?

Reports indicate Khadafi was riding in a convoy which was struck by a “predator missile”.  This means the drone aircraft had been given some reasonably reliable intelligence in order to complete its mission.  Someone ratted on Khadafi.

It is still unclear whether Khadafi met his fate from the missile attack or whether he has dispatched subsequently by one of the enthusiastic anti-Khadafi rebels.  It may be putting a fine point on this seek and destroy mission.

Following on the killing of Osama bin Laden (accomplished by an elite Navy Seal team), Khadafi’s death was no accident either.  The only questions are the details.

Members of the Haqqani network might do well to pause and think hard about their methods.  It is becoming increasingly clear there are other effective and far less costly methods of dealing with insurgencies and rogue leaders.  An $800 billion Iraq style war is not necessary to defeat asymmetrical leaders.