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The Coming Egyptian Civil War: Disaster Beckons

Cairo protesters

History has a strange way of playing itself out in the lives of individuals, nations and peoples. I wish that I was wrong bit as I look at the situation in Egypt today I see a situation which is as fluid as the shifting sands of the desert and as dangerous as the legendary Biblical plagues of the time of Moses.

When the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak was overthrow by the military in 2011 it was hoped by many that Egypt would defy he odds of history, not Islamic or Egyptian history, but human history in that a revolution of a people without their own history of freedom and representative democracy seldom in its initial stages produces freedom and representative democracy.

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In Europe alone Britain, France, Spain, Germany and Russia have endured bloody civil wars following the overthrow of autocratic regimes. Likewise the same is true of the history of South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East the history of most successful oppressed peoples who do not have practical experience in democratic government tend to fight things out and even endure more oppressive governments before eventually, often at great cost to themselves and their neighbors achieve peaceful, stable and representative democratic rule.

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Egypt has great potential, many of its people have exactly in temperament, education and wisdom what is needed to become a leading democracy in the region. That being said there are many obstacles to this. First is the longstanding tension between the radical Islamists of the Moslem Brotherhood, secularist military leaders, Social Democrats and others. Second the underlying religious and social tensions between rival Islamic denominations as well as Coptic Christians with generations of internecine bloodshed being played against one another by outside powers, the Ottoman Turks, the French, the British and even to a lesser extent the Soviets and Americans.

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The fact is that Egypt as much as I do not want it to admit is that I believe that there is little that can save Egypt from a bloody civil war with unknown outcomes. The only thing that is sure is that thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of Egyptians will die before the end of it and that Egypt’s instability will exponentially increase the violence and instability of the region.

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I think the best outcome is that a coalition of Social Democrats and militarists will cobble together enough of a government to stabilize the situation, but it will not be without much bloodshed. It will likely be like the early days of Weimar Germany when an unlikely coalition of military leaders and Social Democrats fought a Civil War against the extreme Soviet style Communists and then resisted Right wing extremist putsch attempts. Unfortunately that democracy died as the economies of the world melted down and the cost of reparations levied by Allied Powers at Versailles and radicals of the extreme Right and Left eventually leaving Hitler in power. It took another World War to eventually end that tyranny.

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I guess that a best prospect is pretty much as bad as the worst prospect.

The ouster of the Moslem Brotherhood’s elected President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian military follow the protests of the vast majority of the Egyptian electorate is as much of a bad thing as it is a good thing. Morsi was to be sure democratically elected but he governed as an autocrat with increasing dictatorial tendencies. The reaction of the people and the Army was a natural reaction, as one Egyptian boy put it we did not overthrow a dictatorship to replace it with a dictatorial theocracy.  In effect both sides killed the democratic process, Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood for the sake of Islamic religious power, the military for the sake of their place in society, stability and control and the protestors and democrats the sake of democracy and freedom.

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The situation is much like the days following the the Army High Command’s forced abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, when in the face of a Communist revolution the German military establishment represented by Field Marshal Paul Von Hindenburg wrote to the new Socialist Chancellor Friedrich Ebert:

“I am convinced that only the following measures can help us overcome the present difficulties: 

  1. Summoning of the National Assembly in the course of December.
  2. Until then, or until the decision of the National Assembly can be carried out, conduct of the administration solely by the government and legitimate administrative organs. 
  3. So as to fulfill the justified wishes of the working class… qualified people of working class origin should be attached to the administrative authorities in an advisory capacity….
  4. The security service must be solely in the hands of the legal police organs and of the armed forces.
  5. Safeguarding of the orders of government by a reliable police force and, after the restoration of discipline, by the army.   

   In your hands lies the fate of the German nation. It will depend on your decision whether the German nation will rise once more. I am persuaded, and with me the whole army, to support you without any reservation…” (Letter from Field Marshal Hindenburg, likely written by General Groener to Chancellor Ebert December 8th 1918. In The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933 by F.L. Carsten, Oxford University Press, London 1966 pp.13-14)

The unfortunate thing is that no one will be happy until they achieve their goals and that will probably not only mean bloodshed, but a full scale civil war. No matter what the talking heads and experts say this has little chance of ending well. Centuries of injustice, dictatorship, colonialism, religious intolerance and economic inequities argue against other eventualities.

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The fact of the matter is that whether or not advocates of democracy like it at the present time no elected government in Egypt can survive without the support of the military. Like Weimar Germany, the fate of Egypt’s democracy will in large part lie in the hands of a military that at its heart is not democratic. It is a conundrum that we would rather not see, but it is reality.

All that being said there is always hope that things can turn out differently and we had better hope, for the people of Egypt, the region and the world that it does, because an Egyptian Civil War now will be disastrous.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Arab Spring Fever: The Revolution Begins Anew in Egypt as Syria Begins to Melt Down

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Tunisian Demonstrators

It began in such an innocuous manner. A Tunisian street vendor named Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself due to what he viewed as harassment and humiliation by a local government official who confiscated his goods when he could not afford to pay bribes to the police. He died a few weeks later. That act set in motion widespread protests that led to the overthrow of long time Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ten days later.

The events in Tunisia sparked revolts throughout the Arab World, including the largest and most influential of the Arab States, Egypt and Syria. The situation in Egypt ended in the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak and free elections where Islamists gained a majority in Parliament and the election of Moslem Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mursi as President. The situation in Syria led to minor reforms before the government of Bashir Al Asad began a series of repressive and violent crackdowns against protestors. This led to a armed revolt that has only continued to gain ground and achieve a modicum of international recognition.

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Egyptian Demonstrators calling for the Ouster of President Mursi

It appears that Egyptian President Mursi and the Islamic Brotherhood may have bit off a bit more than they could chew when they hurriedly wrote a new draft constitution that maximized their power and limited freedoms of non-Islamists including Coptic Christians, Democrats and secularists. Mursi compounded his mistake by issuing an edict that gave him practically unlimited power. The backlash from the Egyptian judiciary, journalists and opposition parties has been dramatic. Protests on the order of the original demonstrations against the Mubarak regime have engulfed Egypt, Mursi has  annulled his decree that granted him those powers and the opposition is calling for his overthrow. The Egyptian military has again become a player in the unfolding drama.

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Free Syrian Army Soldiers in Action

In Syria the opposition is nearing complete control of many areas of the country and Bashir Al Asad’s regime is believed by many to be on its last legs, only the endgame remains to be played out. Some believe that Syria’s regime may be willing to use chemical weapons, particularly Sarin nerve gas agents against the opposition. The leaders of Western nations, especially the United States have announced that the use of such weapons would be unacceptable.

There are continued demonstrations, protests and political actions ongoing in several countries including US Allies Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain.

Throughout the Arab World the Arab Spring has had marked repercussions. The long term dictators of Yemen and Libya were both overthrow, with Yemen’s case Ali Abdullah Saleh was able to negotiate his exit from power, while in Libya the regime of Muammar Ghadaffi was overthrown in a bloody manner following a protracted civil war. Ghadaffi himself was brutally murdered following his capture.

The Arab has also has had effects on the foreign policy of nations, particularly the United States, Russia and the European Union and others around the world who have stood to gain by maintaining the status quo in the region, playing off the interests of their Arab “friends” for their own benefit. The fact is that most countries or alliances with military, economic and political, diplomatic and intelligence interests are still trying to make sense of the new Middle East and how it will impact their interests.

The problem is that most people outside the region have little understanding of it or how different the culture, history and social considerations of each part of the Arab world is different than others. We like to take about the “Arab Street” or the “Moslem world” but the fact is that neither the Arab Street or the Moslem world is monolithic and what is the case in one country is not necessarily true in other countries.

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T.E. Lawrence with members of Arab delegation at Versailles

What we know as countries in many cases are nothing more than disparate Arab peoples of different, Tribal affiliations, cultural traditions, history as well as Islamic and Christian factions. There is no generic Arab country or people and in many Arab countries there is internal conflict based on tribal, ethnic or religious lines. This was something that T.E. Lawrence noted in his works and something that we in our desire to shape events to our liking, need to remember.

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British Troops Enter Baghdad in 1920

During and after the First World War, European powers, particularly the English and French, but also the Italians used their military, economic and diplomatic power to divide the Arab World, recently free of Ottoman-Turk domination through the Sykes-Picot agreement, agreements made at Versailles and San Remo. In doing so they prevented a natural development of Arab freedom and helped poison relations between the Arabs and the West for generations and in the case of Saudi Arabia led to the domination of the Wahhabi house of Saud.

The Arab world is a mosaic of different peoples, cultures, traditions and histories. As the Arab Spring continues to unfold it is very important that we, who are not Arabs understand the various tensions at play and make vague assumptions about them or what the Arab Spring portends in Egypt or elsewhere.

Yes, we have important interests in the region. However as chaotic as it may seem the Arab Spring is a natural outgrowth of a region and its peoples finding themselves after centuries of foreign domination, be it that of the Roman, the Byzantine, the Turk, the Persian, or various countries of Europe and even the United States. It is important that it play out with as little foreign interference as possible. The lesson from history is that the last century of Western domination, imperialism and interference in Arab affairs have not helped and that these events will have to play themselves out, and that may take at least a generation.

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Whether we like it or not, what is happening now, despite the violence, strife and chaos is a necessary part of their story. How can we not understand? How many centuries of ethnic, cultural, religious and political war and strife have the nations of Europe and America endured to come to some semblance of working peacefully together?

The Arab Spring will be with us for a while because Arabs, regardless of their nationality, tribe or religious sect must determine their fate.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Year in Review and Predictions for 2012: The Best Jibber-Jabber on the Web

Once again it is that time of the year when I look back at the events of the last 12 months and say “that was some year.” And what a year it was.  So many things happened at home and around the world that it makes one’s head do the Linda Blair 360.  Yes the year was crammed full of events too numerous to mention and full of the jibber-jabber of “expert” analysis of news commentators, pundits, politicians and preachers.

Every major news agency and many writers publish what they believe to be the major stories of the year about this time and sometimes prognosticate about the coming year. Mostly these articles are so much jibber jabber and I don’t claim this to be inclusive of everything that happened but these are what I think are some of the highlights of the events that occurred in 2011.  Call it my end of year jibber-jabber.

The Environment: Yes there is an environment and whether one wants to assign credit or blame to God, the Devil, Mother Nature or the theory that “shit happens” it has been a year full of natural disasters.  We begin with the 9.1 earthquake and Tsunami in Japan which triggered a nuclear disaster when the Fukishima nuclear plant melted down. There was Hurricane Irene which though only a category one storm was so big and slow moving that it that caused massive damage to the East Coast, especially North Carolina. I got to experience Irene.  Even more frightening was the massive F5 Tornado that pretty much wiped the city of Joplin Missouri off the map. There was a series of wildfires in Texas that burned nearly 4 million acres of land and one fire around Bastrop Texas that destroyed over 1600 homes.  Over in Asia there was flooding that put Bangkok underwater for an extended period of time.

Prediction for 2012: Cable News networks will continue to rake in the bucks covering human misery in all parts of the nation and the world as natural disasters occur.  I predict that there will be major earthquakes, fires, famine and flood, hurricanes  and that many will be really bad.  Sure that’s rather generic but I can be surge that I am not wrong in making this prediction.

World Events: Overseas there was the Arab Spring revolts that brought about the fall of dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and quite probably Yemen. Syria appears to be on the brink of civil war and Bahrain with the help of Saudi Arabia put down its own Arab Spring revolt.  Jordan and other Arab states are quite nervous and the situation in Egypt which began with so much hope has deteriorated as the military faces off against demonstrators as Islamic parties make headway in elections.

Who would have thought that in 2011 that Moammar Ghadaffi would be overthrow and killed by his own people, that Osama Bin Laden would meet his end at the hands of US Navy SEALS and that Kim Jong Il, the nutty leader of North Korea would die.  The European Union looks like its days could well be numbered as the contagion of economic crisis which began in Greece has spread to much of the EU.  The United States withdrew its forces from Iraq just in time for the Iraqis to start to undo everything that their soldiers and ours had fought to achieve since 2005, Iran continues to build nukes and attempt to provoke the United States, Western Europe and Israel while the Israelis prepare to whack Iran. The war in Afghanistan grinds on and Pakistan is more of a pain in the ass than it ever has been.

Padre Steve’s Prediction: You thought things were bad in 2011… they will really be sporty in 2012.

United States Domestic Politics: The United States has had its own political and economic problems as the government seems pretty much to have become a parody of itself.  The President has had an approval rating below 50% for almost the whole year and the Congress God bless them has an approval rating of just 11% a new record which will undoubtedly be broken in 2012.  President Obama is unchallenged in the Democratic primaries and the Republican candidates seem to be doing all that they can to ensure that whoever wins the nomination will lose the general election next year as each takes his or her turn to give their followers hope and then implode.  I mean really, despite all of our economic problems the United States would, if our politicians could get their collective shit together have a bright future compared to the EU and the “new” economies in China, India and Brazil which despite all their success are dependent on us to buy their stuff.

Meanwhile the Tea Party movement has become the kingmaker in conservative politics and the Occupy Wall Street movement gathered steam before going into winter hibernation.

Padre Steve’s Predictions: Expect that both the Tea Party and OWS movements despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum to continue to influence both major political parties. In 2012 the Congress will sink to even lower lows and for President, Congress and Presidential candidates to do even more stupid things to get just enough of the vote to be elected in November. You thought that 2011 was bad…well it was just the warm up for 2012.

Sports: The sporting world produced its share of excitement and agony as great team and individual accomplishments were overshadowed by scandals. Baseball had a most amazing end to its season in which the St Louis Cardinals defied all odds in winning the World Series after being written off as dead in late August. The Red Sox went from the sure thing to win the World Series to greatest regular season collapse ever seen which resulted in manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein leaving the team.  A potential scandal has come up with the alleged positive test for some kind of performance enhancing drug by National League MVP Ryan Braun. The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for Bankruptcy amid the McCourt family feud and Albert Pujols collected his halo as well as about 260 million dollars for the next 10 years from the Angels.

The NFL endured a strike and player lockout by the owners which threatened the beginning of the season but the NFL’s stupidity was totally blown away by the actions of NBA players and owners in their strike and lockout. There were scandals in college sports outside the SEC the most notable being the sexual abuse scandal that shook the nation at Penn State University which brought about the inglorious end to the career of the legendary coach Joe Paterno. The BCS Bowl system appears to have gone from controversial to nearly pathetic in the selection of teams for the BCS bowls.

Padre Steve’s Prediction: The Chicago Cubs will not win the World Series and thereby prove that those that believe that the world will end in 2012 wrong. So as bad as everything seems it could be worse.

So with all that said there was so much more that I could mention but I have to stop somewhere.  I won’t go into the lives and scandals of celebrities because frankly though sometimes titillating they really don’t matter a hill of beans, unless it is your hill and they are your beans.  Likewise the year isn’t over yet and who knows maybe something will happen that will cause me to have to revise this article.

Until then and until tomorrow…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Arab Spring Articles: Tahir Square to Sirte

It is hard to believe that Moammar Gaddafi is dead and that the people of Libya have thrown off the shackles of his tyrannical dictatorship which caused them and the world so much grief.  These are links and brief descriptions of the articles of this series.  There have been revolts across the Middle East as oppressed people have risen up peacefully against their repressive governments only to be met with force. Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and now Syria, each is rooted in history and each is different. Taken together they are inspiring others around the world.  I have not written much on Yemen or Syria but expect in the coming weeks and months there will be plenty of opportunities to look at the history, culture and unique aspects of these revolts and their potential impact in the region and around the world.  It is my belief that they are helping usher in a new age of revolution with results that will be as dramatic and important as the fall of Empires at the close of the First World War.  Looking at each article you can see how my thought process has evolved as the situation has developed.

Also a page update. I have updated the Middle East Page found in the top menu.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Walk Like an Egyptian: The Egyptian Revolution and the Radicalization of the Middle East Published31 January 2011. An analysis of the probability of the radicalization of the Middle East as revolution spreads.

The Beginning of Chaos in Egypt: Watching and Waiting as the Situation Deteriorates Published2 February 2011 as the situation began to deteriorate in Egypt as Mubarak loyalists attacked protesters in Tahir Squar.

Egypt: As Mysterious as the Sphinx and as Dangerous as a Cobra….What Next? Posted11 February 2011.  A continuation of my observations of  the revolution in Egypt prior to the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

Danger in the Arabian Gulf: The Fires of Protest Spread to Bahrain Posted18 February 2011. The article deals with the protests in Bahrain and my experiences and observations having traveled there many times.

Damned if you do…Damned if you Don’t: The Middle East Protests and U.S. Foreign Policy Posted 19 February 2011. An examination of the difficulties facing U.S. Foreign policy officials in light of the recent spread of revolution in the Arab World.

To the Shores of Tripoli: The Flames of Revolution Spread to Libya as Gaddafi Fights Back Posted February 21st as the protests in Libya provoked a response from dictator Moammar Gaddafi. Saif Al Islam Gaddafi said We will take up arms… we will fight to the last bullet… We will destroy seditious elements. If everybody is armed, it is civil war, we will kill each other.”

Göttdammerung in Libya: Shades of Hitler as Gaddafi Promises to Die as a Martyr Published 22 February 2011 Moammar Gaddafi promises “I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents … I will die as a martyr at the end… I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired … when i do, everything will burn.”   Moammar Gaddafi accurately predicts his death.

The Guns of March Published 9 March 2011. “War is the unfolding of miscalculations” Barbara Tuchman Libya in the context of the broader Middle East and US Military capabilities.

Gaddafi Taunts the West and Kills his People: Our inaction speaks so loud he can’t hear a Word that we are Saying  Published 11 March 2011.  The cost of inaction and the risks of making threats that you do not back up with force.  When I wrote this I believed that if nothing was done that Gaddafi or terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and others could turn this revolt into a regional war.

Strike on Libya: The Unknown outcome of Operation Odyssey Dawn Published20 March 2011. The beginning of the NATO air campaign in Libya.

Damned if you do and Damned if you Don’t: The Allied Intervention in Libya Published March 21st 2011.  War is the province of chance. In no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. It increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events.”- Karl von Clausewitz The opportunities and peril associated with the NATO intervention in Libya.

Gaddafi’s Götterdämmerung: The End in Tripoli Published 21 August 2011.  The fall of  Tripoli, the Libyan Rebels drive out Gaddafi.

The Promise and Peril of Revolutionary Times: A Warning From History  Published 18 October 2011. Putting revolutions around the world in context.

Gaddafi is Dead so what happens Now? Published 20 October 2011. The death of Moammar Gaddafi and questions of what comes next.

Why the Libyans were able to Overthrow Gaddafi and what We can learn from It: A Lesson from the work of T E Lawrence  Published 21 October 2011 What NATO and theUnited States did right inLibya and a look at Middle East History.

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Adjusting Strategy to Reality

Taliban Fighters

“The core goal of the U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater remains to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida in the region and to prevent its return to either country…” US Strategy in Afghanistan for 2011

“The aim of war should be the defeat of the enemy.  But what constitutes defeat?  The conquest of his whole territory is not always necessary, and total occupation of his territory may not be enough.” Carl Von Clausewitz

Strategic goals cannot remain fixed on geographic objectives which have lost their strategic importance because it is no longer the enemy’s center of gravity. On September 11th 2011 the Taliban ruled Afghanistan which harbored Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist organization became the central front in the new “War on Terrorism.”  For about a year Afghanistan remained the central focus of United States efforts against Al Qaeda until President Bush and his administration changed the primary effort to the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime.

The effect of switching the American strategic focus from Afghanistan where we were making headway despite the limited resources provided to Iraq was a mistake of epic proportions that only became evident when Iraq did not go the way that the Bush administration led by Vice President Dick Cheney. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer the head of the Coalition Provision Authority planned.  Instead of a quick withdraw a series of mistakes and miscalculations turned the majority of the Iraqi people who had welcomed US Forces with open arms against us and an insurgency which claimed over 4000 American military personnel deaths and over 30,000 wounded became our primary focus.  We are still trying to figure out how to end our involvement in that country hoping that Iraq will not sink into another civil war.

Contrary to expectations Iraq became a front which consumed U.S. Forces and limited strategic flexibility in other regions of the world including Afghanistan.  In that country the indigenous Taliban which had been driven from power in 2001 began a gradual and deliberate return to political and military viability which was finally noticed by the United States in 2008 and 2009.  The Taliban were supported by the Pakistani Taliban, elements of the Bin Laden organization and in many cases duplicitous elements within the Pakistani military and intelligence services which were using the situation to support their own strategic goals of gaining influence in Afghanistan while strengthening their position against their perceived mortal enemy India.  Throughout the war the Pakistanis acted in their own interest while placating American demands to do more against the Taliban and Al Qaeda operating in Pakistan proper.

The Obama administration attempted to regain the initiative with a “surge” of 30,000 additional troops which raised the overall commitment of the United States to a force of over 100,000 troops assisted by NATO Allies and the corrupt, ill-trained and often Taliban Afghan Army and Police.  The surge was controversial and marked with controversy was the US Commander General Stanley McCrystal was relieved of command after an article in the Rolling Stone magazine which made it appear that he held the Obama administration in contempt. Since McCrystal recently returned to the Administration in a civilian capacity one wonders if the administration discovered that the article was meant to discredit McCrystal. McCrystal was relieved by his superior CENTCOM Commander General David Petreaus who had helped devise the strategy which in conjunction with the Anbar Awakening turned the tide against Al Qaeda and indigenous Iraqi insurgents in 2007-2008.  It achieved some success but even the United States recognizes that whatever success has been wrought is fragile and could easily be erased.

Unfortunately while the United States and its Allies continue to reinforce the campaign in Afghanistan their efforts are often undercut by the corrupt and duplicitous regime of Mohammed Karzai as well as our supposed Pakistani allies.  The Karzai regime hunkered down in Kabul has little influence outside the Presidential Palace except in its dealing in the Opium trade which helps finance the Taliban. The Pakistanis have over the 10 year duration of the war failed to maintain the security on their side of the border and often have clandestinely supported the Taliban and according to some may have given sanctuary to Al Qaeda.  The most recent setback came today when the Pakistani Chief of the General Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chief of Intelligence Ahmed Shuja Pasha issued a demand for the US to stop Predator Drone strikes in the border regions, cut Special Forces and CIA Staff and give the Pakistani Intelligence Service, the ISI visibility on CIA operations.  This has been long in the works but came to a head with the arrest of a CIA contractor under the suspicion of murdering two Pakistanis.  The incident created quite a rift in US and Pakistani relations in part brought about by internal Pakistani politics.  Of course the ISI has long been a source of aid to the Taliban so the United States has good reason not to trust the ISI with information that could endanger American lives.

Protests in Bahrain: The Arabian Peninsula as the new Center of Gravity

The fact is without full Pakistani cooperation and substantial Afghani political reform to end corruption and provide real security to Afghani people there is no way to set conditions for a US withdraw that would leave Afghanistan a less dangerous place for its own people and for US and Western security interests. After all no one wants another 9-11 attack.  The US plans to begin withdrawing forces this year but the mission has been extended to at least 2014 at a cost of 119.4 billion dollars per year at the estimated 2011 rate and has increased exponentially since the US involvement began in 2001. The cost of the Afghanistan war in human, material and economic terms has imperiled other strategic priorities and limits the flexibility of the United States in other more vital regions.

Afghanistan is now an expensive sideshow in a larger war where the strategic center of gravity has shifted decisively to the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean where Al Qaeda seeks to use democratic revolts against autocratic despots to further its own ends. The key countries are Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict boiling over.  While all of these crises grow on what seem to be a daily basis the United States and its Allies are mired in Afghanistan reinforcing failure.  Our troops on the ground have not lost a battle but like our brothers in Vietnam could “lose” the war.

This is the point where political and military leaders have to count the cost of the operation and weigh them against our actual strategic interests. The fact is if we withdrew the bulk of our ground combat forces and shifted to a lower footprint special operations and CIA campaign with a goal of ensuring that Al Qaeda cannot operate in Afghanistan with impunity as they did before 9-11 that we would likely be no worse off than we are now and have a greater amount of strategic flexibility to deal with other crises, political, military and humanitarian around the world.

The real crux of the issue is that Afghanistan is much like Stalingrad to the Germans in 1942. It has become a psychological more than a military campaign. We have invested so much in it that we do not believe that we can withdraw even though a scaled back presence would do much to improve our overall strategic situation.  Hitler denuded more important areas to attempt to capture Stalingrad and lost everything. Yes Al Qaeda used Afghanistan as its base to attack us in 2001 but they have moved on and Al Qaeda in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula is a far greater strategic danger simply because of the oil supplies and strategic waterways in the area.

We simply need to look at all components of national strategy and decide where to concentrate.  Sometimes a strategic withdraw is necessary and actually vital to recover the initiative and set the stage for long term success. In Afghanistan this is not an admission of defeat but rather an acknowledgement that the central focus of the war and our strategic interests are elsewhere.  Our enemies would love to have us continue the campaign in Afghanistan in its current form, they know that our commitment drains our military, imperils our overall strategy and bleeds us dry economically all the while providing propaganda grist for them in their war against us.

However despite the cost the political situation in the United States keeps President Obama invested in Afghanistan. If he withdraws his opponents will say that he lost the war. Unfortunately the war in Afghanistan was ceded to the Taliban in 2003 when we decided that Iraq was more important. Now we reap the terrible consequences of that decision.  Now we have to decide how to make something positive out of this unenviable strategic position. But as Napoleon Bonaparte said “In order to govern, the question is not to follow out a more or less valid theory but to build with whatever materials are at hand. The inevitable must be accepted and turned to advantage.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Damned if you do…Damned if you Don’t: The Middle East Protests and U.S. Foreign Policy

Stark Choices for U.S. Diplomacy in the Middle East

I have always loved the “Far Side” cartoon that serves as the theme for today’s short essay. I have been thinking about this ever since the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia and comments from a couple of my regular readers regarding yesterday’s post about Bahrain brought the cartoon to mind.

In the Middle East the United States as well as most of the Western World is caught in the horns of a dilemma of our own making. Ever since the Iranian revolution we have chosen to ally ourselves with despots and dictators because they promoted stability in the region. To some extent this is good, stability and having allies that have an interest in ensuring that no more radical religious regimes such as Iran’s is in our interest. However this stability has come at a cost. We have betrayed the ideals that we have promoted in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and even what we have partnered with other Nations in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.

We have backed rulers of countries that while they to some degree support our foreign policy aims have in many cases repressed the legitimate political, economic and social desires of their people.  Finally after many decades we are seeing the end of regimes that we have supported and face the uncertainty of what comes next.

In a sense we face a conundrum. If we continue to wholeheartedly support the leaders and governments that have been for the most part reliable allies in the region we will be seen by the majority of the people in the region as siding with oppressors. On the other hand if we elect to abandon them we will be seen as an untrustworthy ally by others that we have depended on in our attempt to contain the influence of Iran, contain the spread of militant revolutionary Islam, keep the fragile “Cold Peace” that Israel has enjoyed with Egypt and Jordan intact and in our war against Islamic Terrorism spearheaded by Al Qaeda.

On one hand we have our ideals on the other we have legitimate foreign policy, economic and security concerns. If we fall too far to either side we run significant risks. If we try to maintain a balance between these interests and ideals we run the risk of appearing to stand for nothing and be despised by those that we have allied ourselves for decades and those who desire the same freedoms that we have enshrined for ourselves and which we have held out as a beacon to the world.

There is also the reality that not all of the protestors are actually protesting for freedom and democracy but simply to overthrow regimes that they disagree with in order to establish radical anti-western and anti-Israeli regimes which support the overthrow of the West and the establishment of a new Caliphate.

While this is going on we are divided at home and have little in the way of a national consensus in our foreign policy and in fact are doing all that we can to destroy each other in the name of our own political and social agendas.  Meanwhile American and NATO troops are engaged in a bitter struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan which is not going well.

I think that we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. It is a classic “lose-lose” situation. I only hope that we are able to ensure that no matter what happens that our losses are kept to a minimum.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Danger in the Arabian Gulf: The Fires of Protest Spread to Bahrain

Protesters attacked in Bahrain (AP Photo)

It is weird when you see a place that you have been many times explode into massive protests, violence and potential revolution. That I have been to Bahrain many times and it is strange to see what is going on there. My first couple of times I was assigned to a ship, the cruiser USS HUE CITY on port calls while deployed in the Arabian Gulf. Later I would make frequent trips there as chaplain for the Marine Security Forces.

In the days following the downfall of Tunisia’s President Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak the flames of revolution have spread across the Middle East. Protests have taken place in Yemen, Libya, Jordan and Bahrain and the situations have become violent as security forces attempted to put down the protests. Even Iran is beginning to boil over as protestors who feel cheated by the results of the contested 2009 elections rise up against the Iranian regime. However, the situation in Bahrain is the most troubling if one looks at the potential impact on US strategy in the Arabian Gulf and always tense situation with Iran.

Bahraini Shia women with black flags. The Black flag is commonly flown in Shia neighborhoods and villages in Bahrain (AP Photo)

As I said before I have been to Bahrain many times. It is one of the most socially progressive countries in the Middle East and unlike most other Arab nation’s alcohol can be purchased in stores and not just upscale hotels that cater to foreigners, businessmen, military personnel and diplomats. It is a wealthy nation which though not prosperous as Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain has managed to diversify its economy with a per capita income of $25,420.  It is a frequent vacation destination of many well off Saudis and has over 230,000 expats from other countries who call Bahrain home. According to a United Nations report Bahrain has 807,000 residents including the expats.

One thing that I remember about Bahrain is that the wealth is not very evenly divided. For the most part the Shia population is incredibly poor and their villages stand in stark contrast to the wealth of the Sunni. This is one of the biggest causes of the tensions which have brought about the protest movement which was ignited by the success of the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

Bahrain Army units deployed in Manama (AP Photo)

The population of Bahrain is divided between the Sunni ruling class which comprises approximately 30% of the population and a less well off Shia population. The Khalifah family has ruled the country since driving out the Persians in 1783. It became a British protectorate in 1861 and the Kingdom attained its independence in 1971 and became a constitutional Monarchy in 2002 with some elected representatives.  The current King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah is a graduate of Cambridge University and the U.S. Army Command and Staff College. He has reigned since March of 1999 when his father died.

Iran considers Bahrain a rebel province and is viewed as a threat by Bahrain has sought over the years to foment dissent in Shia community which believes that it is discriminated against by the Sunni rulers.

NAVCENT Headquarters in Bahrain (Navy Times Photo)

Bahrain is a vital part of the U.S. strategic presence in the region as a counter to the Iranian threat. It hosts the headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet, Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and Marine Forces Central Command (MARCENT). It is a frequent port of call for U.S. and Allied Navy ships that operate in the Arabian Gulf.  As such the current instability and violence is a matter of grave concern for the United States and its Allies in the Gulf.

As I said I have been to Bahrain numerous times in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. I would stay in hotels with the best security which happened to be the 5 Star locations and dine at various Irish, British or Arab restaurants mostly with fellow Marine or Navy Officers or expats.  The difference between that world and the Shia villages and neighborhoods is amazing the contrast between the vast wealth of some and the absolute poverty of the other troubled me because I could see that it was a ticking time bomb. The Shia population also has limited political rights and is often targeted by the police.  They are certainly infiltrated by Iranian agents who I would guess are helping to stir things up.

The violence that has overtaken Bahrain does not surprise me. The Bahraini military is primarily composed of Sunnis from other Arab countries and has little love for the Shia. They are basically a mercenary force absolutely loyal to the government. There will be no Egyptian style coup in Bahrain. Since the population is small and the Army, police and other security forces wedded to the government I expect that the protests will be put down and that the regime will survive.  It will not be pretty and could well have an impact on U.S. Forces in Bahrain.

Back after 9/11 military dependents were sent home and force protection increased. A couple of years ago dependants were allowed back in but I think that we will see them extracted again. The security forces at the base are robust and work closely with the Bahraini security forces. I would expect that whatever Marine Expeditionary Unit is in theater will be on alert and that additional Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams could be flown in to reinforce the base.

The broader ramifications of a continued violent crackdown on the protestors will be felt throughout the region. With the success of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts people in many parts of the Arab World are now boiling over as protests and revolts against the old authoritarian regimes spread. As the situation continues to build I expect the probability of more regimes being overthrown with very unpredictable consequences. What may be true for Egypt may not be true anywhere else. What is for sure is that the Middle East that existed in December will look far different by the end of this year and that could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on just how it all shakes out and the possible impact on American and NATO operations in the region as well as impact on American overseas counter-terrorism operations especially in Yemen.

We can only wait and see and hopefully influence peaceful and democratic change in the area, but revolutions in countries that repress their populations tend not to be peaceful.  Egypt so far is an exception to that. If you believe in prayer I recommend that we pray hard my friends.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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