The antiwar President starts a war of his own

Posted on November 9th, 2014 in War by Robert Miller

ISISWhen Obama was elected President in 2008, he campaigned on the idea that the war in Iraq was the bad war while the war in Afghanistan was the good war, primarily because it was targeting those that committed the atrocities of 9/11. Of course it didn’t matter that Al-Qaeda, the presumed 9/11 perpetrator, was vanquished across the Pakistani border and our troops in Afghanistan were then fighting the Taliban who were not responsible for the stateless crime of 9/11; when we invaded Afghanistan we precipitated a regime change. Subsequently our enemy in Afghanistan has been the people we dispossessed:  the Taliban are interested in taking back what we took away from them when we invaded their country. But two years into his second term has President Obama thinking more like the militarist he replaced. Indeed, it seems that he has taken a page out of the necon handbook and, beginning first with the avoidable crisis in Ukraine, has now started an unwinnable war against the Islamic State (IS; which also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which is an unrecognized state and a Sunni jihadist/Al-Qaeda group active in Iraq and Syria. In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over Muslims worldwide, and aims to bring most Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control, beginning with territory in the Levant region, which includes Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus, and part of southern Turkey. It is a brutal organization who prefer to publicly behead their captors, especially if they are American or British; they do not recognize the normal international entitlements of “journalists.”

As Obama immerses himself and the country into another war in the Middle East (Iraq and Syria), with an uncertain coalition to provide boots on the ground, it  has the ear marks of a military solution that cannot succeed and was poorly thought out to begin with: it’s more like we are going to war because that’s what we do best. Will the new, more intense drone war achieve the goals Obama has in mind, or will it merely widen the war in the Middle East? When you have allies such as we do in the Middle East who are conflicted over who the enemy is, it is surely time to try the diplomatic hand rather than choose war as the preferred option. It is only natural I suppose that the very people who helped engineer our disaster in Iraq have urged the President to double down and do it all over again. Indeed the neocons came out of the woodwork to support this new war while at the same time claiming no responsibility for creating the conditions that gave rise to ISIS in the first place and when they use the bullhorn of Fox News, they have a media outlet to instantaneously convince millions of Americans, especially those who suffer from amnesia about the Iraq war of 2003, that this is another good war. There is no doubt that Bush’s war on “terror” is responsible for starting the reactionary movement of Jihadist cells throughout the region that collectively form ISIS. Each Jidhadist I have seen interviewed claims that our reaction to 9/11, which was thinly disguised as a war against Muslims, is the reason why ISIS has emerged to threaten the region with a new form of terrorism in which Muslims who don’t convert to their brand of faith can be killed on the spot; already ISIS has killed thousands of Muslims for this reason.

A quick review of the gnarly circumstances that created the disaster in Iraq is worth the effort, even if it only serves to clean our whistles, so we that we can blow into them again when another war starts. First, we, Americans, acting through our agents GW Bush and Dick Cheney created ISIS. It first started with our illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. When Bush appointed Paul Bremer as the head Iraqi authority in May, 2003, he was given the authority to rule Iraq by decree, just as if we had installed royalty in the form of an ordinary white guy.  Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 1 was to disband the Ba’ath party in all forms. The Ba’ath party was the political party that Saddam Hussein used in his rise to power in Iraq. Bremer’s second Coalition Provisional Authority Order was to dismantle the Iraqi army. This was followed by Paul Bremer’s attempt to illegally sell off the Iraqi assets, as if our invasion had given us control of all the Iraqi assets to sell as we saw fit. But, no one was going to buy the Iraqi assets as everyone invited to the fire sale concluded that what Bremer was doing was against International law, which it was: you don’t invade a country for the purpose of disposing of its wealth! The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was first and foremost about oil: only a fool would suggest otherwise. Yes Saddam Hussein was a gruesome dictator who ruled with an iron fist. But we helped arm him and encouraged his disastrous war with Iran, primarily to get even with the ruling regime because they stole the oil deal we had worked out with the Shah. Saddam was going to be our man in Tehran if he ever got there.  Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki was installed as the prime minister of Iraq under the Bush administration. He had been a long-time member of the Dawa party and was under a death  sentence by Saddam before leaving Iraq in 1979. He was brought back and placed into power as a Shiite prime minister of Iraq in 2006, a position he held until he was forced to step down in 2014. What al-Maliki proceeded to do was continue with de-Bathfication in Iraq, which meant firing Sunnis who worked in the government, followed by killing large numbers of Sunnis, especially when Al-Qaeda reappeared in Iraq in 2013.

When American troops left Iraq in late 2011, al-Maliki came to the United States to ceremoniously acknowledge the event. During that visit Obama waxed on about how Iraq was now a stable, democratic and inclusive government, none of which were true. While al-Maliki was in the United States, he received a phone call warning that one of his own cabinet members, Vice President of Iraq,  Tariq al-Hashimi, was planning assassinations against his government; he relayed this information to President Obama and was told that he needed to solve this problem on his own using the legal means available to him. That was the key that led al-Maliki to conclude that Washington was not going to interfere with his actions.  As soon as the last American soldier left Iraq, al-Maliki announced a death sentence against Tariq al-Hashimi who by then had fled to Qatar. Al-Maliki increasingly waged a secular war against the Sunnis, purging those that were in parliament and replacing them  with Shiite members that he felt he could trust. As he carried out his own murderous practices against the Sunnis he became increasingly paranoid that he would eventually fall to former Bathists (this must have been particularly troublesome for al-Maliki as he ordered the execution of Saddam Hussein). As he carried out more killings of Sunnis, his popularity grew among his fellow Shiites.

In the meantime, the decimated members of Al-Qaeda in Iraq,  entered the war in Syria against Assad’s regime. It was there that Al-Qaeda got reinvigorated as a force and began to make headway through successful military operations and improved recruiting. They captured oil wells and began to have a stable source of income that fueled the purchase of armaments. Their rise to prominence as a fighting force appealed to the Sunnis in Iraq as they continued to be persecuted by al-Maliki. In December 2012 al-Maliki accused his finance minister of plotting against him and had his body guards arrested. To many in al-Miliki’s cabinet this was the last straw that confirmed al-Maliki had gone over the edge. In the spring of 2013 the black flag of Al-Qaeda began to appear in Sunni occupied cities, which made al-Maliki rush into a confrontation, killing hundreds of peaceful demonstrators. It was about that time that this group began to refer to themselves as ISIS. Within 12 months ISIS became a powerful and effective military organization.   When Al-Qaeda re-entered Iraq they received a warm reception from the Sunnis, many of whom joined forces with Al-Qaeda which not only swelled the ranks of ISIS, but former Bathist military leaders assumed positions of military leadership in ISIS and helped forge the group into an even more effective military juggernaut.

One of the key victories of ISIS was in taking Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with a population of 1.8 million. A group of 800 ISIS members went into Mosul intent on liberating prisoners, but to their surprise, they found that the Iraqi armed forces gave little resistance and surrendered immediately, after which they were all bound and shot and their bodies dumped into the Tigris river.  For al-Miliki it was too late to reverse his course and while he initially did not agree to step down as the Iraq Prime Minister, he was forced to do so, though no one knows for sure what arguments were made to induce him to change his mind.   When the GW Bush government became aware of the sectarian nature of al-Maliki’s rule, advisers to Bush suggested that al-Maliki should be forced out, but Bush liked al-Maliki and allowed him to stay on and continue with his purging activities against the Sunnis. When the Obama administration became aware of the sectarian damage that al-Maliki had done, at first Obama wanted to let him stay on and see if he couldn’t fix the problem, but finally al-Maliki was forced out in August, 2014 with the title Vice President of Iraq. ISIS has waged a propaganda war against al-Maliki, referring to him as an “underwear salesman” and  stating he “lost a historic opportunity for your people to control Iraq, and the Shiites will always curse you for as long as they live.” In response to the gains by ISIS, perhaps threatening Baghdad itself, Obama has initiated a drone war against ISIS and taken the gloves off. In this new war there are no civilians killed by drones because, by definition, anyone killed by a drone attack against ISIS must be in collaboration with ISIS forces: end of story.

The incompetency of Bush and Cheney in managing the affairs of Iraq has created ISIS. Obama’s choice to initiate drone strikes against ISIS is waging war against the very forces that need to be brought into the government to make Iraq whole again. In the meantime drone strikes, largely against Sunni forces makes little sense since these are the very people that should be treated more inclusively in the government. First al-Maliki killed Sunnis and now we are going to kill more Sunnis to stop ISIS. Right now the murderous nature of ISIS prevents any discussions of reconciliation, but it seems clear that eventually Sunnis will have to be brought back into the government if Iraq can be saved from internal disintegration. There were no car bombs in Iraq until we invaded the country in 2003. Now they are almost a daily occurrence and with ISIS controlling oil assets, coupled with their capture of American weapons, and the resources to purchase new ones, they seem poised to engage the U.S. in a very long, protracted war.

The new conditions in Iraq represent is a tragedy of epic proportions. A well-meaning President tried to end a war that should never have been started. But his insistence on not interfering with the war in Syria allowed ISIS to grow and become more formidable and now our reluctant warrior President has started a war of his own that will undoubtedly require troop commitments that he wants to avoid. Today an article in the NY Times points out that he is committing an additional 1500 troops to help in the war. Perhaps he can avoid sending huge numbers of additional troops, but does it make sense to go to war against the people that you are trying to bring back into the government?

The new Iraqi prime minister is Haider al-Abadi; he has already taken steps to be more inclusive towards the sectarian diversity in Iraq. His cabinet includes a Shia politician as interior minister, a Kurdish politician as finance minister, and a Sunni, who had formerly served in Saddam’s army, as defense minister. The challenge is formidable. To succeed he will have to overcome the efforts of Bush, Cheney, Bremer and al-Maliki to make the country whole again. My vote is that it can’t be done, that we will have to live with ISIS for many years to come and even then  the best we might achieve is to have Iraq divided into three sectors, including a Shia centered in Baghdad, the Kurds with their capital in Erbil and ISIS centered in Mosul. This solution would only work if ISIS stopped its pathological need to kill those not willing to accept their religious interpretations. Is there yet a diplomatic solution to this carnage?


PS: if you are interested in knowing what happened in Iraq after the American troops left, an excellent documentary on the subject is available from FRONTLINE

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Paul Krugman does make mistakes once in a while

Posted on August 22nd, 2014 in War by Robert Miller
Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman

Yes Paul Krugman does make mistakes once in a while, but unlike so many other columnists, he is willing to admit when he’s wrong. Last Monday, he was wrong about pinning the Ukraine conflict on the Russians and Vladimir Putin. Fortunately in this case we have Mark Weisbrot, writing in The Hill, to clarify the issue about who started the conflict in Ukraine and how the civil war could have been avoided entirely. Yes, America initiated a coup that led to the fall of a democratically elected government (this is not the first time we have done this—the truth is we don’t give a damn about democracy, even our own). And Russia will never allow additional encirclement by NATO, but that is the intended plan for welcoming Ukraine into the EU, if in fact that ever happens. If you want to read more about Ukraine, an additional posting can be viewed here. So if you are a little rusty on this issue please read Weisbrot’s article which allows one to quickly get up to speed. To be specific, here is what Krugman said in his op-ed piece of August 17th 2014; “Recently Justin Fox of the Harvard Business Review suggested that the roots of the Ukraine crisis may lie in the faltering performance of the Russian economy. As he noted, Mr. Putin’s hold on power partly reflects a long run of rapid economic growth. But Russian growth has been sputtering — and you could argue that the Putin regime needed a distraction.


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Guess what? The Iron Dome doesn’t work!

Posted on August 18th, 2014 in War by Robert Miller

We have heard impressive reports about the efficiency of the Iron Dome, the interceptor defense system that Israel uses to blast Hamas rockets out of the sky so they don’t do their intended damage. Israel claims that 90% of the Hamas rockets are successfully destroyed with the Iron Dome interceptor system. The United States is providing most of the funding for this system. Recently the Senate Armed Services Committee suggested doubling the $175 million budget for the Iron Dome project, in view of its heavy use in this round of the never ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But does this system really work?

Theodore Postal, physicist and professor of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT claims that studies of rocket and interceptor contrails (the smoke trails that follow the rockets and interceptors) forces one to conclude that the success rate is probably no more than 5% and perhaps even less. Postal and his colleagues examined the system during the current crisis as well as the 2012 Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Based on his analysis of photographs and imagery of Hamas rocket and Iron Dome interactions, he concluded that the system remains fraught with problems coupled with marginal outcomes. Although his analysis of the July 2014 interceptor accuracy is still underway, it is unlikely that the system has been improved substantially from the 2012 conflict which he argues had an unequivocally high rate of failure. The Postal site has a slide show which provides additional insight into the problems facing the interceptors. Postal argues that the low incidence of Israeli deaths from Hamas rockets can be attributed to the civil warning system that effectively warns citizens in time for them to seek shelter, either in their own homes or within the vast array of public safety shelters. From the Postal Article: [What performance characteristics make a rocket defense effective? To successfully intercept an artillery rocket of the type Hamas has been firing, an Iron Dome interceptor must destroy the warhead on the front end of the rocket. If the Iron Dome interceptor instead hits the back end of the target rocket, it will merely damage the expanded rocket motor tube, basically an empty pipe, and have essentially no effect on the outcome of the engagement. The pieces of the rocket will still fall in the defended area; the warhead will almost certainly go on to the ground and explode. Destroying an artillery rocket warhead is a considerably more demanding mission than damaging other parts of the targeted rocket—or, in the analogous situation of aircraft defense, successfully damaging an airplane, causing the failure of its mission. Analysis of photographs of contrails left by Iron Dome interceptor missiles can show whether or not an attempted rocket intercept could have been successful. Such analysis focuses on two connected facts: To have a realistic chance of destroying an artillery rocket’s warhead, an Iron Dome interceptor must approach the rocket from the front—in fact, almost directly head-on. And for all practical purposes, an Iron Dome interceptor has no chance of destroying the warhead if the interceptor engages the rocket from the side or from the back.” ]

Hamas interceptor rocket dynamics

Figure 1. A successful interceptor action requires the rocket and the interceptor to have a frontal position with one another and even then the chances of a success are low

Studies of the Hamas and interceptor contrails show that the majority of engagements are either from the side or with the interceptor trailing the rocket: neither of these approaches are likely to result in successful destruction of the rocket warhead. Figure 1 should help to understand what must happen if the interceptor is going to destroy the Hamas rocket warhead. To have a realistic chance of destroying the Hamas rocket, the interceptor must approach the rocket from the front. The Grad artillery rocket illustrated was first produced by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and is now readily available to Hamas. The blue dashed line represents the line of sight of the interceptor’s “laser fuse”. It represents a beam of light that reflects off the rocket. Through its control system the interceptor can determine when the rocket is passing; the interceptor warhead is positioned well behind the light beam; timing mechanisms allow the interceptor warhead to explode at an optimum position for destruction of the rocket warhead. This is why Postal argues that frontal positioning of the Iron Dome interceptor with the approaching rocket is the optimal spatial relationship and positions that deviate from a purely frontal approach have a dramatically lower chance of success. According to Postal, even the frontal positioning of the rocket and interceptor has a slim chance of success, just better than zero because of all the timing issues that come into play in order to get a successful engagement.

A successful Iron Dome interceptor bringing down a Hamas rocket

their Figure 2. A successful Iron Dome interceptor bringing down a Hamas rocket

Figure 2 shows what a successful interceptor destruction of a Hamas rocket looks like. In this example the Iron Dome interceptor and the Hamas rocket have a frontal approach with one another. You can see the explosion from the Iron Dome interceptor, while the asymmetry of the debris field indicates that there were two explosions in quick succession. The blast from the interceptor produces a forward momentum of debris. The approaching Hamas rocket also explodes with a smoke cloud on the left, while the contrail below probably indicates the path taken by a section of the rocket’s motor. This photograph was the only successful engagement Postal and his colleagues found during their very extensive searches of voluminous photographic and video evidence of Iron Dome interceptor rocket interactions in November 2012.

If the Iron Dome interceptor system has such a low rate of success, why are the Israelis and the Americans touting its effectiveness and lavishly funding it as if it was a well established system? The most obvious answer is that it gives a psychological boost to the Israeli citizens who believe they are benefiting from the system, while at the same time it provides Hamas with the idea that most of their rockets are being destroyed by a system far in advance to the relatively small rockets they are aiming at Israel. And, perhaps we should add that funding it from our budget gives additional largess to our armaments industry. The Hamas rockets only have a 10 to 2o lb explosive. If it hits you or the room you are staying in directly, it will probably kill you, but if it doesn’t make a direct hit you will probably survive and perhaps come away unscathed.


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