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Thursday, November 15, 2012

U.S. picks up the tab for China's security


All right, kids, we’ll begin our class on world affairs, with an article from today’s Herald Tribune.
It says that the United States is sending robotic mine clearing equipment to help protect tanker traffic through the Straits of Hormuz, in the event the Iranians try to block that waterway. Those narrow Straits, you’ll remember, are how most of the oil from the Middle East and the Gulf is shipped to the world.
Protecting them is the main reason that the United States maintains a large naval base in Bahrain for its aircraft carriers and destroyers and mine sweepers and so on. All this costs us tens of billions of dollars a year. But we’ve always been told that it’s worth it.
Back in 1980, Jimmy Carter warned that the U.S. would go to war to protect that vital region. That kind of thinking got the U.S. involved in two hugely expensive Gulf wars, and it has remained bedrock policy.
This past September, for instance, the U.S. carried out a massive joint naval exercise in the Gulf. Among the other countries practicing what they would do to keep the Straits open in the event of hostilities, were the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Yemen, Jordan, New Zealand, Estonia, Netherlands, Italy, Australia, Canada—but, apparently, not China.

Which, kids, is kind of ironic—Why?

Because with the huge increase in domestic petroleum production, the U.S. will soon no longer rely at all on the Gulf. In fact, the country for whom the region and the Straits of Hormuz are essential for its petroleum needs is China.
You would think Americans would be furious that they’re paying huge sums for China’s oil security. Indeed, following Jimmy Carter’s logic, it’s the Chinese who should carry the burden of patrolling the Gulf. But that specter terrifies many American officials.
In the same way, you would think the U.S. might welcome China’s new naval modernization program. They don’t. In fact—though the U.S. navy is much mightier than China’s, many—like Mitt Romney—argue that the U.S. should ramp up its own naval program to keep far ahead of the Chinese.
But, wait, the story is even more complicated: The reason the U.S. navy is bringing that sophisticated new mine clearing equipment to the Gulf is to free up other U.S. ships currently patrolling those waterways. Free them up to go where?
To the Pacific—to join the forces that Obama is shifting to the region to confront-----the Chinese.
O.K. class. Any questions?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It's The Sex, Stupid!



After an interminable presidential campaign, in which many of the basic questions facing the U.S. were ignored or glossed over, there’s nothing like a smarmy sex scandal to get Americans to finally zero in on fundamental issues: like should one of America’s most vaunted military leaders, General David Petraeus have resigned because of an adulterous liaison with Paula Broadwell, his sometime jogging partner and biographer? Or, how exactly was Petraeus able to arrange for Ms. Broadwell to be in Afghanistan at the same time that he was?  Or, who was the FBI agent who sent bare-chested pictures of himself to Jill Kelley a Florida housewife, also, somehow, involved in the affair?  Or why exactly did General John Allen, the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, become such an active email buddy of the attractive Mrs. Kelley?   

It goes without saying that talk shows hosts and news editors are much more interested in tempting their public with the red meat of what could be mistaken for a new hit cable TV series, than focusing instead on the fact that General Petraeus’ strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan were not, in the long term, a stunning success. Those directing our media might also consider the remarkable fact that General Allen is the fifth—that’s right the fifth—American general to be running that war, now in its 11th year, yet was one of those subjects—along with climate change--never seriously debated--in the presidential campaign.

Instead of clucking over the thousands of emailed pages that General Allen sent to Mrs. Kelley, they might highlight the fact that 68,000 American soldiers are among the 100,000 Nato troops still fighting in Afghanistan and that, despite the U.S. having spent 400 billion dollars on the Afghan war effort, the Taliban are still firmly entrenched.

And further, even as the President Obama warns it may be necessary to bite the bullet and cut back on vital domestic programs, the U.S.is still pouring two billion dollars a week into an Afghan conflict that no one feels is winnable.

As remarkable as a catfight between two women over an American general, is the fact that U.S. military planners are still talking about leaving a “follow-on force” of some 15-20,000 American troops in Afghanistan ---even after 2014!  This in a land where corruption is rampant, billions in U.S. funds have simply disappeared, and the security forces that the U.S. has already worked so hard to build are as a much a threat to their American trainers as is the Taliban.

As for the huge sums in aid that the U.S. has spent so far to get Afghanistan back on its feet, a recent Congressional Research Service report concluded, “Even if these economic efforts succeed, Afghanistan will likely remain dependent on billions in U.S. foreign aid indefinitely."

Instead of salivating over other recent tales of adulterous military commanders, the media might look at the underlying premises of American Exceptionalism driving its foreign policy. That ideology, in the end, is what continues to fuel the endless War against Terror, justifies the more than 1,000 military bases the U.S. has abroad, and creates the need for American soldiers to be absent from their mates for so long and so often

Instead of seeing who can be the first to get THE interview with Petraeus or Broadwell, network TV star reporters might assign some of their staff to prepare a report on the outrageous phenomenon that while, over the past ten years, the U.S. has spent literally trillions of dollars supposedly to safeguard America’s strategic interests and trade routes in the Middle East and Central Asia, the Chinese, without trying to overthrow any regimes, dispatch any boots on the ground, or Predators in the air, continue to make huge commercial inroads throughout those same regions.
Now we have a new Whac-a-Mole situation:  As U.S. forces finally withdraw from Afghanistan, many of them transferred to the Pacific to meet a supposed Chinese threat—the Chinese are already poised to fill the vacuum in Afghanistan, not with their military, but with huge new contracts in that mineral rich country.

As the U.S. leaves, “the Chinese”, according to one recent report, “will become the dominant power in Afghanistan.”
In fact, if they weren’t so besotted with sexy new terms like “The Bathsheba Syndrome” , [go ahead, check the link] our talk show hosts might consider whether President Obama’s new buildup in the Pacific, rather than convincing the Chinese to back off their own military spending and claims to mineral resources in the South China Sea, might actually trigger a totally opposite response: a potentially disastrous arms race between the globes two major powers.
America’s opinion makers might take a breather from the Petraeus sex caper to focus on such issues…but don’t hold your breath.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Saudi-Israeli Nexus (2)



“What was the real cost for not recognizing Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, health care, and the infrastructures instead of wars? But the hardest question that no Arab national wants to hear is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people.”

A quote from an Aipac press release or a briefing from Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Nethanyahu?   Guess again. These questions are posed not by a source we would normally think of as sympathetic to Israel, but in a recent column in the major English-language newspaper in Saudi Arabia, the Arab News--a paper controlled by the son of the Crown Prince; the author, retired Saudi naval Commodore Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

His premise: that it’s not Israel and its American ally responsible for the current plight of the Arab world, but the Arabs themselves-specifically, their leaders.
 
“…the destruction and the atrocities are not done by an outside enemy. The starvation, the killings and the destruction in these Arab countries are done by the same hands that are supposed to protect and build the unity of these countries and safeguard the people of these countries….

“The Arab world wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and lost tens of thousands of innocent lives fighting Israel, which they considered is their sworn enemy, an enemy whose existence they never recognized. The Arab world has many enemies and Israel should have been at the bottom of the list. The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good health care, lack of freedom, lack of respect for the human lives and finally, the Arab world had many dictators who used the Arab-Israeli conflict to suppress their own people. These dictators’ atrocities against their own people are far worse than all the full-scale Arab-Israeli wars.”

“Finally, if many of the Arab states are in such disarray, then what happened to the Arabs’ sworn enemy (Israel)? Israel now has the most advanced research facilities, top universities and advanced infrastructure. Many Arabs don’t know that the life expectancy of the Palestinians living in Israel is far longer than many Arab states and they enjoy far better political and social freedom than many of their Arab brothers. Even the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip enjoy more political and social rights than some places in the Arab World.”

In another column, the Saudi Commodore speculated on what would have happened if, rather than attacking the Zionist state, the Arab countries had recognized Israel back in May 14, 1948. The result he claimed would have been better for all parties concerned, particularly the Arabs:

 “…the Palestinians would have been able to free themselves from the hollow promises of Arab dictators who kept telling them the refugees would be back in their homes, all Arab lands would be liberated and Israel would be sent to the bottom of the sea. Some Arab leaders used the Palestinians to suppress their own people and stay in power.
“Since 1948, if an Arab politician wanted to be a hero, he had an easy way of doing it. He just needed to shout as loud as he could about his intention to destroy Israel, without mobilizing a single soldier (talk is cheap.” 

The history of the entire region would have been radically changed, according to this column: among 
other benefits, there would have been no Nasser, no Saddam Hussein, no Muammar al-Gaddafi.

“Even a non-Arab country (Iran) used Palestine to divert its people from internal unrest. I remember Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declaring that he would liberate Jerusalem via Baghdad, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad making bellicose statements about Israel, though not even a firecracker was fired from Iran toward Israel.

“Now, the Palestinians are on their own; each Arab country is busy with its own crisis – from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Somalia, Algeria, Lebanon and the Gulf states.”
Intrigued, I called the retired Commodore to ask if he’d had any problems publishing such outspoken views in what is essentially a semi-official Saudi publication. None at all, he said.

“This is read by many from the Saudi Royal family. Nobody was upset. If they were, they would have told me not to write my weekly articles any more. But they haven’t I’ve never been stopped. That doesn’t mean that they agree with it.  It’s an idea that they are interested in having out there.”

On the other hand, when you stop to think about it, such apparently pro-Israeli views in the semi-official Saudi media are not at all that surprising.

One of the most curious of alliances in the Middle East have been the clandestine goings on between the Zionist State of Israel and the Saudi royal family, the guardians of Mecca, among the most conservative of Arab monarchs. As I wrote in a previous blog, that relationship is based on a venerable political tenet:  the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The common enemy, in this case, being Iran, radical Islam, and the political upheaval known as the Arab Spring.

Both Israel and the Saudi royals are threatened by the rise of Iran, the crumbling of the old order, the end of brutal dictators, the explosion of popular political and religious passions.

This is true, even though the Saudis (and Qataris) helped finance the fall of Gaddafi, who they despised, and are backing the rebels in Syria against Assad. They hope to use their money and influence to control the outcomes, to safeguard their own monarchies.

Though Commodore Al-Mulhim decries the brutalities of dictators like Assad, Nasser, and Gaddafi, other columns speaks glowingly of the traditional links between the Saudi people and their benevolent royal family.
The continued political turbulence stoked by the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is also a threat to the Saudi 
royals. And the Commodore’s tough-worded critique of the Arabs’ refusal to recognize Israel dovetails perfectly well with a peace plan the Saudis first put on the table in 2002. In exchange for the Arab states normalizing relations with Israel , Israel would withdrawal to the 1967 borders.  
Indeed, over the years, the Israelis have joined forces clandestinely with the Saudis to take on other mutual enemies.

In 1962, for instance, when civil war broke out after the monarch was toppled in Yemen, a coalition of the Mossad, the Saudis, and the British SAS took on rebels backed by the armed forces of Egypt’s President Nasser.

Again in Beirut in March 8,1985 the Saudis and the Mossad joined in an attempt to assassinate Muhammad Fadlallah, the cleric who founded Hezbollah. According to Bob Woodward, William Casey then director of the CIA claimed that the Saudis helped organize placement of an explosives-laden vehicle, which went off in front of Fadlallah’s home. Several buildings collapsed,80 people were killed, but Fadlallah survived.

It’s a good bet that similar clandestine adventures between the Israelis and the Saudis continue to this day.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Saudis Bankrolling Israel's Mossad?

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A friend, with good sources in the Israeli government, claims that the head of Israel’s Mossad has made several trips to deal with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia—one of the results: an agreement that the Saudis would bankroll the series of assassinations of several of Iran’s top nuclear experts that have occurred over the past couple of years.  The amount involved, my friend claims, was $1 billion dollars. A sum, he says, the Saudis considered cheap for the damage done to Iran’s nuclear program.
At first blush, the tale sounds preposterous. On the other hand. it makes eminent sense. The murky swamp of Middle East politics has nothing to do with the easy slogans and 30 second sound bites of presidential debates.
After all, nowhere more than in the Middle East does the maxim hold true: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And both Israel and the Saudis have always detested Iran’s Shiite fundamentalist leaders. The feeling is mutual. Tehran has long been accused of stirring up trouble among Saudi’s restless Shiites.
Israeli and Saudi leaders particularly fear Iran’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons. Thus, it would only be natural that (along with the U.S.) they would back a coordinated program to at least slow up, if not permanently cripple, Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  
It also makes perfect sense, that, in retaliation for the cyber attacks on their  centrifuges, the Iranians reportedly launched their own cyber attack on a Saudi state-owned target: Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable company.  Last August 15th, someone with privileged access to Aramco’s computers was able to unleash a virus that wreaked havoc with the company’s systems. U.S. intelligence experts point their finger at Tehran.
Indeed, a report earlier this year by Tel Aviv University cites Saudi Arabia as the
last hope and defense line for Israel. With most of Israel’s traditional allies in the region sent packing or undermined by the Arab Spring, the Saudis are the Jewish State’s last chance to protect its political interests in the Arab world.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

U.S. to Defend Israel?Key question never answered.



Several questions asked in the third presidential debate were never clearly answered. One of the most vital concerns Israel: What exactly is the U.S. commitment to that country?  It's a question that an American president may suddenly be confronted with, some chaotic night at three A.M.

The reporter moderating the debate attempted to get an answer.

BOB SCHIEFFER: “Red lines, Israel and Iran. Would either of you —Would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States, which of course is the same promise that we give to our close allies like Japan?
And if you made such a declaration, would not that deter Iran? It’s certainly deterred the Soviet Union for a long, long time when we made that — when we made that promise to our allies.

[[Good question…a request to clarify what has been a very intimate but imprecise relationship--challenging an American president --or future president--to make a stark commitment to Israel on his own accord, without seeking the consent of the Senate or Congress. Which, who knows, one chaotic night at three in the morning, he might be called upon to do.]

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, Israel is a true friend. It is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel.
I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency. And —

[Just a minute, he didn’t really answer…but the moderator was there:]

MR. SCHIEFFER: So you’re saying we’ve already made that declaration?

[Good question, but dodged again:]

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I will stand with Israel if they are attacked.

[Unasked question: What does  “stand by” mean, Mr. President? Cheer from the sidelines? Send emergency arms, dispatch rockets to shoot down incoming missiles, as was done in past crises by the U.S? 
But Obama went on.]

OBAMA: And this is the reason why, working with Israel, we have created the strongest military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries in history. In fact, this week we’ll be carrying out the largest military exercise with Israel in history, this very week.

[Unasked Question: Does that mean, Mr. President, that American armed forces would become directly involved if Israel were attacked?…if say, its perimeter defenses were overwhelmed?  If the Arabs or Iranians were marching on Tel Aviv?
If not, what is the point of carrying out the “largest military exercises in history” with Israel? Exercising for what?”]

[Next to a question about economic sanctions against Iran…]

OBAMA: …the reason we did this is because a nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security and it’s threat to Israel’s national security. We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.

[Unasked question: Nuclear arms race? Hasn’t Israel had nuclear weapons for decades now, Mr. President? ]
[And now to Romney on Israel:]

MR. ROMNEY: Well, first of all, I — I want to underscore the — the same point the president made, which is that if I’m president of the United States, when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And — and if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily.  

[Unanswered Question: Uh, again, what does that mean, Governor? Would you commit boots on the ground? Cruise missiles? Destroyers? Under what circumstances?]

[Then, when the subject of Egypt’s shaky new government came up]

OBAMA: They [the Egyptians] have to abide by their treaty with Israel. That is a red line for us, because not only is Israel’s security at stake, but our security is at stake if that unravels.

[Mr. President, could you explain why America’s security is dependent on a treaty between Egypt and Israel?]

[If these question weren’t asked during the debate, did any one hear them raised afterwards-- by any of the army of pundits?]



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Un Pain au Chocolat-France, increasingly divided.


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France is in deep trouble. As I blogged yesterday, this country has spent several billions of Euros over the past 11 years sending its troops, planes and ships, to join the War against Terrorism in Central Asia. Now, however, the French are finally discovering the threat of radical Islam is at home, under their own noses. 

According to a poll in today’s centre-right Figaro, 82% of the 44,000 French questioned fear an increase in Islamic terrorism in France. Provoking this fear, sensational headlines about a network of 12 jihadis—converted in overcrowded French prisons—and rounded up by police over the past few days.  
But, more serious, than the threat of radical Islam is the fact that France is menaced by mounting racial tensions stoked by extremists on both sides.

I discussed the rise of radical Islam among France’s five million Muslims in previous blogs. An equally alarming development is that, on the other side, Islamophobes are  also on the rise.

This past weekend, one of the most prominent of Nicolas Sarkozy’s former ministers, Jean-Francois Cope, who is campaigning to become leader of his party, the UMP, , made headlines with the story of a good “French” working class family, whose son, as he was leaving school, had his pain au chocolat ripped from his hands by “a young punk”  (obviously Muslim) who told the distraught little boy he had no right to be eating during the Muslim fast of Ramadan.

Overnight, the little French boy losing his pain au chocolat to a brutish Muslim kid has, in the eyes of many French, become a symbol of what’s really wrong with this country.
 It’s also become endlessly discussed on French television.

On the Grand Journal last night, one of the commentators, Jean Michel Aphatie, pointed out that, if you check the dates of Ramadan –which was in the summer for the past couple of years--there’s no way this incident could have recently happened, if it did happen at all.

In any case, as Aphatie pointed out, Cope’s views are far from original. He presented a video of former French President Jacques Chirac, delivering a stunningly crude anti Arab/Mulsim diabtribe at a banquet in Orleans in 1991: 

Imagine, said Chirac, a working man, who together with his wife makes 15,000 francs a year, and is sitting on the landing of his little flat and sees across from him, on the same landing another “head of a family with three or four wives and twenty kids, who, naturally without working, is making 50,000 francs a year--from welfare.

“You add to that,” said the President of France, “the noise--and the smell--and the French worker goes crazy.”

The only difference between Cope and Chirac, suggested, Jean-Michel Apathie, was that Chirac was probably a little drunk at the time.

Indeed, here in Paris, my wife is constantly being forwarded some astonishingly blunt  racist videos--from well meaning friends. Like one received today, that apparently originated with a Catholic professional, we know, an educated, upper class man; who sent it to another Jewish friend of ours, also charming and highly educated; who forwarded it to us:

It’s called “Les Envahisseurs” and is a dubbed takeoff of the science fiction series, The Invaders, from the Sixties. While the original series dealt with evil creatures from another star system trying to take over the earth, this modified version substitutes the intergalactic villains with, of course, the Muslims in France.

They’re fomenting jihad, taking over the streets with their prayers, demanding that schools serve only hallal meat. When the hero turns for help to the authorities, he finds that it’s too late—they too are Muslims!

The furor over Cope’s pain au chocolat tale was still on the mid-day TV news today in Paris.
-We watched as France’s Prime Minister proclaimed his determination to go after all forms of “extremism.”

On the same show there was also video of hundreds of outraged French workers, whose jobs are at risk because of factory shutdowns, being blocked by riot police from entering the lustrous automobile show currently going on in Paris. One of the factories being shut down is Peugeot.

-The TV news also had live coverage of French President Holland presenting his plan to totally overhaul France’s creaking education system. Unemployment among French under 25 is 23%.

After the President had finished, one expert interviewed on the news show asked, with the government having to drastically cut back its budget, where the money for reform would come.

As he was talking, a crawl ran across the bottom of the screen, a bulletin about the round up members of the internal investigation unit of the Marseilles police. Turns out 19 of them have been hauled in, targets themselves of corruption charges.

-One bright spot:  A sponsor of the TV News today was the French Justice Ministry, with a major job offer: they’re looking for more prison guards.

 Meanwhile, some 1200 French troops remain in Central Asia, continuing to support the “War on Terrorism.”


Monday, October 8, 2012

France misses the target: Jihad is homegrown.


Have to admit there’s a certain bitter irony in today’ s headlines in France about an Islamic terrorist network being rounded up in Strasbourg, Paris, Nice and Cannes, at the same time as the TV news shows French forces beginning their withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

Why the irony? Because while France has spent billions of Euros over the past ten years to battle the threat of radical Islam in Central Asia, they find once again the threat is homegrown, fostered in their own schools, decaying neighborhoods and prisons.  

As I’ve written in previous blogs, It’s got much more to do with economic stagnation, bleak job outlooks, mounting food prices—in short, increasingly bitter frustration, particularly in the poorer suburbs of cities like Paris and Marseille.

Anger is particularly high among second and third generation Muslim youth. France’s population of 5 million Muslims is Europe’s largest, and, partially because of the woeful economic situation in this country, France has had a difficult time absorbing them.

Some of those outraged young people have turned to criminal activities—from petty to violent. And one of the major areas where their conversion to violent jihad takes place is not so much in Central Asia’s barren hinterlands, but in overcrowded French prisons.

Further, a number of those for who have espoused jihad, were not born Muslims at all, but are recent converts—also proselytized in French prisons. That’s exactly the background of Jérémie Louis-Sidney, the 33 year old member of the terrorist gang who was gunned down after shooting at police attempting 
to arrest him last Saturday in Strasbourg.

It’s the background of many—perhaps all- of the 12 supposed members of the “terrorist” ring currently being questioned by French police.

Bottom line, forget humanitarian interests. From the coldly pragmatic view of defeating radical Islam, the French would have been—and still would be--much better off deploying the billions of Euros they’ve squandered sending troops, planes and ships to Central Asia, deploying those funds back home where they really might make a difference.  

It goes without saying, that so would the United States.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What You Won't Hear Debated:the Trillion Dollar Misunderstanding


It’s estimated that, for defense and national security, the U.S. spends about one trillion dollars a year—which amounts to more than 80% of this year’s expected deficit.

Mitt Romney is promising to spend even more—an additional 2.1 trillion dollars over the next ten years. President Obama has called for some cuts, but is loath to challenge the premises that underlie those enormous expenses.

Why the caution? There are too many powerful interests at play--what President Dwight Eisenhower in 1961  portrayed as the Military-Industrial complex—interests sustained by that massive hemorrhage of American treasure. And those interests- corporations, labor unions, the pentagon, think tanks, politicians--use their massive clout to keep the torrent flowing.

To get a sense of that endless outflow, check out a site called Danger Zone Jobs. It’s aimed at those—mainly ex-military--looking for work in America’s sprawling “defense” establishment. To that end, the folks running DZJ, regularly troll hundreds of major “defense” corporations to produce a list of potential job opportunities.

Barack Obama may talk about ending the surge in Afghanistan, pulling out of Iraq, and so on. But the list of new military contracts being let tells a very different story.  210 major U.S. companies are currently offering jobs in “Afghanistan, Kuwait, and other high risk areas.”
On Tuesday, September 25th, 2012, for instance,

L-3 Services Inc., Alexandria, Va., was awarded an $84,420,000 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract. The award will provide for the modification of an existing contract to supply services in support of the Law Enforcement Professionals Program. Work will be performed in Afghanistan. 

Comment: But aren’t all U.S. troops supposed to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014?  And what about, the New York Times report that the U.S. has also quietly given up on one of its major goals in Afghanistan—“battering a Taliban into a peace deal “
Instead, after having spent 1.2 trillion dollars over the past 12 years, lost 2,000 men and 17,000 wounded, surged in and surged out,

“The once ambitious American plans for ending the war are now being replaced by the far more modest goal of setting the stage for the Afghans to work out a deal among themselves in the years after most Western forces depart, and to ensure Pakistan is on board with any eventual settlement.

Despite the bleak views of  U.S. military and civilians in Afghanistan, the list of new contracts for that country spews on.   

Friday, September 21, 2012

Eiden Systems Corp., Charlottesville, Va., was awarded an $8,494,620 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract. 
The award will provide for the necessary services in support of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command. Work will be performed in Charlottesville and Afghanistan.

Thursday, September 27, 2012
--ECC International L.L.C., Burlington, Calif., was awarded a $13,734,629 firm-fixed-price contract. The award will provide for the construction of three buildings for the Afghanistan National Army.

Thursday, September 27, 2012
-Serco Inc., Reston, Va., was awarded an $11,396,739 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract. The award will provide for the services in support of the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program. Work will be performed in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq.

Then there’s Iraq:
-American Science and Engineering Inc., Billerica, Mass., was awarded a $20,799,851 firm-fixed-price contract. The award will provide for the contractor logistic support services to the Government of Iraq.

In fact, the U.S. may be winding down in Iraq, but they’ve sure been winding up in neighboring Kuwait. September 27th must have seemed like Christmas for defense contractors involved with that oil-rich.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012
--Exelis Systems Corp., Colorado Springs, Colo., was awarded a $434,442,522 cost-plus-award-fee contract. The award will provide for the operations and security support services in Kuwait. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012
--ManTech Telecommunications and Information Systems Corp. was awarded a $61,077,332 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to procure contractor logistics sustainment support services for Route Clearance Vehicles, Special Operations Command and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Family of Vehicles.

Thursday, September 27, 2012
--September Science Applications International Corp., McLean, Va., was awarded an $82,142,479 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the necessary logistics support across all configurations of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Family of Vehicles.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

--VSE Corp., Alexandria, Va., was awarded a $13,210,858 firm-fixed-price and level-of-effort contract. The award will provide for the maintenance and repair services in support of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Family of Vehicles in Kuwait.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

--Honeywell Technology Solutions Inc is being awarded a not-to-exceed $6,900,718 cost-plus-fixed-fee task order to provide contingency equipment support on various military vehicles. Work will be performed within Kuwait.

But, with more than 1,000 American bases spanning the globe, according to Nick Turse who follows the phenomenon, job opportunities are by no means limited to old standbys like Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. Check out the action in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012
KBR’s wholly-owned subsidiary KBR Federal Services was awarded the U.S. Naval Facilities (NAVFAC) Engineering Command construction contract for the aircraft logistics apron, taxiway enhancement and parking pads upgrade at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, 
Question: How many millions? Doesn’t say.

Thursday, September 27, 2012
Tetra Tech EC Inc., Lakewood, Colo., is being awarded a $59,030,099 firm-fixed-price construction contract for the design and construction of Bachelor Enlisted Quarters and containerized living units for expeditionary lodging at Camp Lemoniier, Djibouti, Africa.

Hold it! Airfields and bachelor enlisted quarters. Sounds like they’re settling in for a long stay. But you’re not really sure where Djibouti is? And you’ve never heard of Camp Lemoniier? You don’t know what CJTF-HOA stands for? [ Would Romney or Obama?]   

It’s the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (HOA). It was set up in 2002 to help rout out possible terrorists in the area—think Somalia, Yemen, the Sudan--and, obviously, it’s flourishing.

Sunday, September 16, 2012
Rome Research has been awarded $14.2m for IT Telecommunication Services in support of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and other tenants at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.
Question: Other tenants??

Sunday, September 16, 2012
Washington Consulting Group was awarded $7m to augment the staff at Ambouli International Airport in Djibouti, Africa and train personnel in order for them to become certified in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS).

For those of you who thought the U.S. had plunged into a massive undertaking when it invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, just listen to the audacious goals of CJTF_HOA as proclaimed on their web site. 

“CJTF-HOA builds and strengthens partnerships to contribute to security and stability in East Africa. The task force’s efforts, as part of a comprehensive whole-of-government approach, are aimed at increasing our African partner nations’ capacity to maintain a stable environment, with an effective government that provides a degree of economic and social advancement to its citizens. An Africa that is stable, participates in free and fair markets, and contributes to global economic development is good for the United States as well as the rest of the world. Long Term stability is a vital interest of all nations.

The government may be cutting back on vital services in the U.S. but when you read their press releases, it’s clear that CJTF-HOA is spending America’s money on all kinds of stuff. Ever heard of VETCAP?  

Sep 22, 2012, Fifteen Tanzanian animal healthcare professionals, Soldiers from the U.S. Army 448 th Civil Affairs Battalion, and the Joint Civil Affairs Team in Tanzania assigned to Combined Joint Task Force- Horn of Africa came together to participate in a two week Veterinary Civic Action Program, or VETCAP, training session in Mkinga District, Tanzania Sept. 3-14.

Question: Whatever ever happened to the U.S. Agency for International Development?  And then there’s AFRICOM:

From September 19th to 21st, the folks from CJTF-HOA also took part in a conference attended by 20 military chaplains from the US Africa Comnand (AFRICOM) and nine East African countries, for the third annual AFRICOM-sponsored African Military Chaplain Conference in Djibouti City.
Question? Did everyone get a souvenir coffee mug and T-shirt.

Meanwhile in the Central African Republic…also on September 27, 2012
Evergreen Helicopter Inc was awarded a $10,122,153 firm-fixed-price contract. The award will provide for the transportation services for personnel and equipment. Work will be performed in Central African Republic.

Checking out what the U.S. might be up to in the Central Africa Republic, I found a fascinating New York Times article written last April that could have been penned by Kurt Vonnegut:
“One hundred of America’s elite Special Operations troops, aided by night vision scopes and satellite imagery, are helping African forces find a wig-wearing, gibberish-speaking fugitive rebel commander named Joseph Konywho has been hiding out in the jungle for years with a band of child soldiers and a harem of dozens of child brides.

“No one knows exactly where Mr. Kony is, but here in Obo, at a remote forward operating post in the Central African Republic, Green Berets pore over maps and interview villagers, hopeful for a clue…Picture towering trees that blot out the sun, endless miles of elephant grass, and swirling brown rivers that coil like intestines and are infested with crocodiles; one of them recently ate a Ugandan member of the force.

“This is not going to be an easy slog,” said Ken Wright, a Navy SEAL captain and the commander of the joint American detachment assisting in the Kony hunt.”

Indeed, American forces and their African allies are apparently still trying to run  Kony down.

Those troops are among some 5,000 American troops and DOD personnel [remember those job offers] currently defending U.S. interests across the African continent.

Question: Under Barack Obama?!

[For more on the U.S. in Afghanistan, please check out my latest blogs].




Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Benghazi 2012-Tehran 1979: Another big screwup


A U.S. administration is accused of not increasing security at a sensitive diplomatic outpost in the Middle East, despite warnings from its own intelligence agencies. The results are catastrophic.
We’re talking not just about Libya today---but Iran 30 years ago—when 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.
According to several top secret U.S. government documents, which we revealed on 60 Minutes on  March 2,1980, the administration of Jimmy Carter failed to heed warnings from top Iranian officials and its own diplomats about the dangers if the U.S. were to admit the deposed Shah of Iran to the United States.
On November 4, 1979, several hundred radical Iranians, outraged at the U.S. decision to admit the Shah they detested to New York for medical treatment, stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, overwhelmed the security guards, and took the American diplomats hostage.
It looked as if the Carter administration was innocent, overwhelmed by events:  they had simply extended a humanitarian hand to a former ally who suddenly and desperately needed medical treatment.
It later turned out that the taking of the embassy was far from spontaneous. On the other hand, as we discovered, U.S. government planning for the Shah to come to the U.S. had begun months before, and had continued despite ample warning of looming disaster.
Ironically, chapter and verse of those warnings were provided by files seized during the embassy takeover. As the mobs surged through the gates, officials inside frantically shredded thousands of documents. The hostage-takers, however, turned over that supposedly illegible mountain of debris to an army of local Iranians—many of them supposedly skilled weavers. After months of effort, they painstakingly pieced hundreds of documents back together. They were then published and put on sale –outside the American Embassy itself, for instance, where we picked up a copy.   
Among that trove was a State Department document classified “secret sensitive.” written in August 1979 and titled “Planning for the Shah to come to the U.S.” That was three months before the Shah’s arrival in New York. It said that once Khomeini is firmly established “it seems appropriate to admit the Shah to the United States.”
The discussion between officials in Washington and Tehran continued. In September, 1979, the embassy’s charge d’affaires, warned that the Shah’s coming to the U.S. could spell trouble to the embassy.  “I doubt that the Shah being ill, would have much ameliorating effect on the degree of reaction here.”
About that reaction, a State Department report specifically warned of “the danger of hostages being taken” and advised “When the decision is made to admit the Shah, we should quietly assign additional American security guards to the embassy, to provide protection to key personnel until the danger period is considered over.”
Despite that warning, Henry Precht then head of the Iranian Desk at the State Department, admitted to us that, “those guards were never provided.”
The Carter administration attempted to defend itself by claiming that Iranian officials had assured them that, if the Shah were to come to the United States, the Iranians would still protect the embassy.  
But Ibrahim Yazdi, Iran’s former Foreign Minister, gave us a different story. He told us that he was officially informed by the U.S. only 24 hours before the arrival of the Shah in New York.
Yazdi said that he then warned the State Department, “You are playing with fire. There will be a very drastic reaction.”
When President Carter asked then Secretary of State Cyrus Vance if the embassy could be protected, Vance later told Mike Wallace, “We said that we could. But we didn’t.”

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Afghanistan: U.S. out, China surges in.


There’s got to be some symbolism—if not irony--in the fact that just as the last of the 33,000 troops surged by Obama two years ago supposedly to pacify Afghanistan pulled out, the highest ranking Chinese official to visit Afghanistan in almost half a century pulled in—arriving in Kabul for a secret round of meetings with top Afghan officials. .

Question: How will China deal with the country that proved such an expensive and bloody disaster for both the U.S., its NATO allies--and the U.S.S.R before them? 

In a brief visit, unreported until he had left Kabul,  Zhou Younkang, China’s chief of domestic security, met with Afghani leaders, including President Hamid Karzai. They talked about drugs, international crime, terrorism, and developing Afghanistan’s huge natural resources—just as visiting Americans have done for years. 

The result, a cluster of agreements, among them an announcement that 300 Afghan police officers will be sent to China for training over the next four years.

Which is another irony of sorts—coming at the same time as news that the U.S. and its allies have been obliged to scale back joint operations with the Afghan military and police, because they can no longer trust the men they’ve trained. American troops in the field with their Afghan allies now keep weapons ready and wear body armor even when they’re eating goat meat and yoghurt.

So far this year 51American and NATO troops have been gunned down by Afghan military or police:  a startling 20% of all NATO casualties this year.

The off-the-wall video from California ridiculing the prophet Mohammed has only further fueled anti-American hatred.

As the New York Times quoted one 20 year old Afghan soldier, NATO casualties could even be higher.
 “We would have killed many of them already,” he said, “but our commanders are cowards and don’t let us.”

There are still some 68,000 American troops based in Afghanistan, but the plans are for them all to be out by the end of 2014. Which means that China will be confronting serious security problems of its own in Afghanistan. They already have direct investments of more than $200 million in copper mining and oil exploration, and have promised to build a major railroad east to Pakistan or north to Turkestan. [See my January 2012 blog]


But they could pour in billions more if Afghanistan were a secure, well-ordered country, free from the Taliban, free from kleptocratic war lords and venal government bureaucrats, patrolled by well-trained Afghan soldier s and police:  in other words, exactly the kind of country the U.S. would like to have left behind—and didn’t.


Instead, of course, despite America’s huge sacrifice in men and treasure --more than half a trillion dollars since 2001--things haven’t worked out that way.  [For a dramatic, running count of the enormous hemorrhage that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still represent to the U.S. economy check out costofwar.com.]

Meanwhile, corruption is rampant, and it’s by no means certain that Afghanistan has—or ever will have--a national army and police force worthy of the name.

The U.S. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, peered into the Pentagon’ s 1.1 billion dollars fuel program to supply the Afghan Army, and concluded that there was no way to be ascertain how much if any of that fuel is really being used by Afghan security forces for their missions. There was also no way to know how much was stolen, lost or diverted to the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Almost half a billion dollars worth of receipts detailing with fuel payments over the past four years have been shredded.

With the Americans heading for the exits, the challenge facing the Chinese—and anyone else, like India--interested in investing in the country--is how to navigate this imbroglio.  

Indeed, the Chinese have apparently already run into problems in Afghanistan. Work at the Mes Aynak copper mine in Lograr Province is already behind schedule, and no work has begun on the promised Chinese-built railroad yet. Various impediments have turned up, like recalcitrant bureaucrats, tensions provoked by the need to displace local populations, the discovery of Buddhist ruins, as well as ramshackle Soviet-era mines that first had to be cleared.

And then there’s the rival, rapacious warlords, who see the country’s resources as a way of fueling their own ambitions—like General Abdul Rashid Dotsum, who the government has accused of attempting to extort illegal payoffs from the Chinese oil company.

However, in their dealings throughout the developing world, from despots to democracies, the Chinese have shown themselves adept at navigating such quagmires. There’s no talk from Beijing of Chinese “exceptionalism”. They’ve been taking on the world as it is—not as someone in a Chinese think tank would want to remake it.

They’ve generally turned a blind eye to considerations of human rights, opted to pay off or work with the powers that be, and used offers of huge new infrastructure projects as bait, steadily increasing their share of the globe’s resources.

Many potential investors still shy away from Afghanistan. They have no idea what lies on the other side of the political abyss after 2014 when the U.S. completes its withdrawal.

China is also wary, but they’re also seriously planning their Afghan strategy for the post-American future.

As Wang Lian, a professor with the School of International Studies at the Paking University in Beijing, put it,

"Almost every great power in history, when they were rising, was deeply involved in Afghanistan, and China will not be an exception."

Unmentioned, of course, was what an unmitigated disaster that involvement turned out to be for the British in the 19th Century, the USSR in the 20th, and the US and its Nato allies --not to mention Afghanistan--to this day.

We’ll see how China fares. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sabra-Shatila 1982-Iran 2012?


The outburst of anti-Americanism sweeping much of the Arab world was ignited by an off-the-wall film insulting Mohammed, but the underlying outrage is fed by decades of resentment against the U.S. and its ally, Israel.

Nothing fueled that anger more than the massacre of between  800 to 2,000 Palestinian refugees in Beirut on September 16, 1982 in the camps of Sabra and Shatila,

An Op Ed piece in today’s New York Times detailing U.S. complicity with that slaughter is a must-read for anyone trying to fathom the dynamics between Israeli and American leaders. It is, eerily relevant to the current virulent demands of Israeli Premier Nethanyahu that the U.S. support a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Recently declassified Israeli files, analyzed by Seth Anziska, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, reveal the bare-knuckle discussions between U.S. and Israeli leaders thirty years ago, as American officials were essentially bullied and brow beaten to do nothing to prevent the slaughter of the Palestinians, nearly all of them elderly men women and children, murdered, raped dismembered. The slaughter went on between September 16th and September 18th while Israeli troops surrounded the camps, their flares lighting the cramped ramshackle streets and homes within. 

The killings were carried out by fanatical right wing Christian Phalangist militias, allied with the Israelis, who had invaded Lebanon in June, 1982. Israel’s goal was to eradicate the PLO which had set up a state within a state in Lebanon, and to ensure the rule of the country by Israel’s Lebanese Christian allies.  

Ultimately, President Reagan dispatched several hundred U.S. marines to Beirut to help establish a cease fire, and oversee the evacuation of thousands of Palestinian fighters to other Arab countries.

But, after Israel’s ally, Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, the Israelis broke the truce and occupied West Beirut where thousands of Palestinian civilians were still living.   

Israeli leaders claimed the presence of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)  was necessary because there were still thousands of “Palestinian terrorists” in West Beirut.  But, U.S. officials had helped coordinate the withdrawal of thousands of Palestinian fighters a month earlier. They knew the Israeli claim was false and they feared a massacre if the Phalange were allowed into the Palestinian camps. Many top Israelis had the same fears. 

On September 17, 1982 American Envoy Moris Draper and Ambassador, Samuel Lewis  met with General Ariel Sharon and other Israeli officials to attempt to force an Israeli withdrawal from West Beirut.

According to Anziska,  “The transcript of the Sept. 17 meeting reveals that the Americans were browbeaten by Mr. Sharon’s false insistence that “terrorists” needed “mopping up.” It also shows how Israel’s refusal to relinquish areas under its control, and its delays in coordinating with the Lebanese National Army, which the Americans wanted to step in, prolonged the slaughter.

“Mr. Draper opened the meeting by demanding that the I.D.F.  pull back right away. Mr. Sharon exploded, “I just don’t understand, what are you looking for? Do you want the terrorists to stay? Are you afraid that somebody will think that you were in collusion with us? Deny it. We denied it….

“Mr. Draper, unmoved, kept pushing for definitive signs of a withdrawal. Mr. Sharon, who knew Phalange forces had already entered the camps, cynically told him, “Nothing will happen. Maybe some more terrorists will be killed. That will be to the benefit of all of us.”

“Continuing his plea for some sign of an Israeli withdrawal, Mr. Draper warned that critics would say, “Sure, the I.D.F. is going to stay in West Beirut and they will let the Lebanese go and kill the Palestinians in the camps.”  

“Mr. Sharon replied: “So, we’ll kill them. They will not be left there. You are not going to save them. You are not going to save these groups of the international terrorism….”

“Mr. Sharon exploded again: “When it comes to our security, we have never asked. We will never ask. When it comes to existence and security, it is our own responsibility and we will never give it to anybody to decide for us.”

“By allowing the argument to proceed on Mr. Sharon’s terms, Mr. Draper effectively gave Israel cover to let the Phalange fighters remain in the camps.

Once the extent of the massacre had become known U.S. officials from President Reagan on down expressed their outrage…but writes Anziska, “the belated expression of shock and dismay belies the Americans’ failed diplomatic effort during the massacre. The transcript of Mr. Draper’s meeting with the Israelis demonstrates how the United States was unwittingly complicit in the tragedy of Sabra and Shatila.

‘The Sabra and Shatila massacre severely undercut America’s influence in the Middle East, and its moral authority plummeted. In the aftermath of the massacre, the United States felt compelled by “guilt” to redeploy the Marines, who ended up without a clear mission, in the midst of a brutal civil war.

“On Oct. 23, 1983, the Marine barracks in Beirut were bombed and 241 Marines were killed. The attack led to open warfare with Syrian-backed forces and, soon after, the rapid withdrawal of the Marines to their ships. As Mr. Lewis told me, America left Lebanon “with our tail between our legs.”

“The archival record reveals the magnitude of a deception that undermined American efforts to avoid bloodshed. Working with only partial knowledge of the reality on the ground, the United States feebly yielded to false arguments and stalling tactics that allowed a massacre in progress to proceed.

“The lesson of the Sabra and Shatila tragedy is clear. Sometimes close allies act contrary to American interests and values. Failing to exert American power to uphold those interests and values can have disastrous consequences: for our allies, for our moral standing and most important, for the innocent people who pay the highest price of all.”

What Seth Anziska fails to examine in his Oped piece is the extent to which American officials at the time were not just being confronted by rabid Israeli leaders, but, at the same time, by the powerful pro-Israeli lobby back in Washington. It’s a good bet that  AIPAC and its allies, publicly and behind the scenes—were also demanding that Israel be given a free hand. 

Those same volatile dynamics are playing out today, thirty years later, as  intimidated American officials confront a blustering Israeli Prime Minister demanding that the U.S. join in an attack against Iran